Today I’m talking with Scott Voelker, author of the book The Take Action Effect: Proven Steps to Build a Future-Proof Business & Create Your Ultimate Freedom. Scott is a serial entrepreneur who has founded several lifestyle businesses, in addition to hosting The Amazing Seller Podcast, Scott doesn’t refer to his success in terms of numbers or revenue earned.
Instead, he looks at it through the lens of flexibility and the freedom to enjoy time with his family. But just like the rest of us, Scott’s life hasn’t always looked like this. There was a time when he worked at a job in construction with long hours that kept him away from his family. Scott felt stuck. He began taking one action followed by another, resulting in a series of actions that moved his life in a direction he wanted–a direction that provided him with fulfillment, freedom, and a life that looked how he wanted it to.
In this interview, Scott talks about the ways we get stuck, how we can begin to move toward a more satisfying life and career, and how his new book will help people do precisely this.
Nikki Van Noy: Scott, one of the things that really stood out to me is that you talk about the businesses that you built over the years, not in the context of the revenue that they’ve garnered, but that they allow you the flexibility and freedom to enjoy time with your family. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?
Scott Voelker: That’s exactly why I decided to, over eighteen-years-ago now, to do something different. Myself and my wife, we saw very early on when we had kids that I did not want to be away from my kids and miss those moments in their lives.
Because of that, it really opened my eyes to what I really wanted, and I really drill down in the book about figuring out your why in life. You get that why and it is crystal clear like it was for me, it was about my kids and being able to create flexibility, more than anything. It’s not that I don’t want to work, it’s just I want to work on my own terms. If I want to work late at night because my kid’s stuff is during the day, I can do that, but a boss will tell me I need to come in from eight to five.
Really early on, I felt like there had to be something, but I didn’t know what it was. At the time, I felt like I didn’t have the skills, I didn’t have the talent or the expertise to do anything else than what I was already doing. But it was very crystal clear that I did not want to work for someone else. I just didn’t know how that was going to happen.
Nikki Van Noy: Let’s talk a little bit about your background. When you came to that realization that you wanted this flexibility to really be hands-on and be around your kids and your family, how far away was that from your reality at the time?
Scott Voelker: It was pretty far, to be honest, I graduated high school and went right into my father’s construction business. I thought I was going to own that company one day. That was my blue sky, that was the thing that I was working towards. I thought that was the only way I was going to own a business was to take over my father’s business, which he started from scratch. I’ve watched him work hard through the years, but I was working a lot of hours.
I was working sixty-plus hours a week. I just knew that, yes, I could possibly own this company one day, but am I still going to be working as much as I am? Yes, I own a company, or I might be part owner or partner, but I’m still working more than I should be because I need to support my family. It seemed really far off for me because I never thought of working smarter, I always thought of working harder.
Nikki Van Noy: That strikes me as a tough situation because I imagine that there had to be some sense of accountability involved because it was your dad–like you talk in your book about this feeling we can sometimes have of being stuck. Did you feel any of that because of the situation?
Scott Voelker: I felt so stuck. I mentioned it in the book, there was a moment when I was sitting in a living room that we didn’t’ really use in the house. This house that I was living in at the time, I built from scratch, working full-time. I built a house in eleven months. I’m no stranger to hard work and I really illustrate that in the book. But I was sitting in this living room that we never really use because, who uses a living room when there’s a family room, right?
We had a living room and I was sitting there, we had a desk in there, and I remember after work, sitting down, I was burned out and I was sitting there in that chair, and my wife was in the room and I was going through the want ads in the paper, looking for something that I could work seven to three. I was so unpredictable–I’d go in every day at the same time at 6:00 in the morning, but sometimes I wouldn’t get home till 8:00 at night.
The job had to get done. I wanted banker’s hours, but I knew with banker’s hours, I couldn’t make the money that I wanted. I was trying and trying. I remembered that moment so vividly and feeling so stuck and having no idea what I was going to do. My wife came to me and said that she watched an Oprah Winfrey episode last week and she said that we should do something that we’re passionate about.
I said, “Well, what are we passionate about?” And then, she said, “I kind of like photography and we take our kids to get their pictures taken.” I said, “But we haven’t gone to college for any of that.” She said, “I don’t think you have to. I just think you have to be pretty good.” That’s how we got into that whole thing and that was one of those take action moments that I talk about in the book, we all have them. That moment forever changed my life. That one moment.
Following Your Passion
Nikki Van Noy: Before you got to the point of taking action, how did you and your wife figure out what that passion was?
Scott Voelker: Well, again, it’s so funny. When you look back at all of the pieces, it all kind of makes sense. Now that you look back at it you see it, but at the time you don’t’ see it. I didn’t care at the time about my passion. I just wanted to get out of doing what I was doing.
My wife said, “Well, I mean, we do go to the photography studio.” We actually went to this photography studio, which was really high end, but we went there for the free 8×10 and then they up-sold us. Now I know what up-selling is, but I didn’t know it back then. They up-sold us the higher package that I couldn’t afford. My wife said, “I love pictures, I’ve taken them since I was a kid.” She always did really have a good eye.
That wasn’t my passion, but it was hers. So, I thought, well, let me help her and support her and see where this goes. I’ll just be somewhat of a business guy–I was helping my father in his business and I can do that. But I wasn’t a marketing guy.
Once we got involved in photography, I didn’t realize it for a year and a half or two years after, but I started to fall in love with Photoshop and editing. Then, I started falling in love with marketing. I thought I have got to get people in the door, I’m going to learn how to do that. When I did, it was really fun. I started to find the passion that I liked.
I think we all have passions that are going to evolve. We’re going to find new ones as we get into things. But, you have to sometimes piggyback off of someone else’s passion, or help someone that has expertise. I always tell people that as you’re building something, you’re learning through every single thing and you’re also identifying what you’re passionate about, and what you aren’t.
We started, just like everyone in photography, to do some weddings. Very soon, my wife said, “Not my passion–I don’t like it. Let’s focus on family photography.” That’s what we did, and we never did weddings after that. It wasn’t a passion. We niched it down. I talk a lot about niching down in the book because it’s so important.
Nikki Van Noy: When you look back at your own life, can you identify one specific action you’ve taken that has been the most impactful?
Scott Voelker: It’s funny because my daughter, who is twenty-four, she asked me this question the other night at dinner. We were talking about the book and she wanted to know. I still haven’t let my kids read the book. Not yet, not until it’s officially out, and I know that right now when this is being recorded, it’s not.
I want it to be a surprise for them because a lot of it is them, and it sounds cheesy, but I’m going to say it anyway. Really, there’s one moment in my life that changed my life forever and that was meeting my wife.
I met my wife and we went out, both on the same night. I was in between a girlfriend and she was in between a boyfriend. I wasn’t going to go, and she lived forty minutes away–one way. I lived the other way and my buddies dragged me out one night, and then her girlfriend dragged her out, and it just happened that we ended up in the same spot. Now that I look back, I know that moment right there changed my life forever.
We have three beautiful kids, and we’ve built multiple businesses together. We still get along. We still love each other. We have been married twenty-five years now. That one moment changed my life forever.
The second one would be when I gave my two weeks’ notice at my father’s company. That was a huge moment. I was scared out of my mind and I just said, “You know what? What’s the worst that’s going to happen? If it doesn’t work, I’ll just go work side jobs” because I was in the construction business, and I could always go out and find work. I never had to swing a hammer after that day, but I had that backup–that little safety net. That was another moment in my life that changed my mindset. It changed my mindset because it helped me to believe in myself and after I did it, I said, “Holy crap, I can do this.” I actually surprised myself. I started to build a little bit more confidence in myself after I took that risk.
Nikki Van Noy: Let us talk about that particular action and risk. At what point were you when you gave your notice? Had you already somehow figured out how to supplement that income? What was your scenario?
Scott Voelker: We started our business on the side–our photography business. I was still working my 60 plus hours a week, and our kids were young at the time. I think my son was two and my daughter was five. At that point in time, we literally were just doing it on the side. We put some ads in the penny saver, we’d get people that would come in, and we were building our portfolio.
There was no digital back then, so it was all film. We would shoot it, and we would test things, and we would get them developed at a one-hour photo. We did that for 18 months, and then my wife came to me and she said, “You know…” because Christmas time was coming up and that was our biggest season. I think it was in the middle of the summer.
She said, “You know, last year we did pretty good. I think we can do better this year. This might be the year you have to leave because if not we’re going to have to turn a lot of people away and this would be a really good time to try to grow our business.” And so, I had a number. I had a number in my head. I needed to make at least $10,000 in a chunk of time to carry us a little bit. I did all the math and then went to her and I said, “Well if we are going to do it, we’re going to do it.”
I talked to my father, which I talk about in the book. There was a very bad partnership between my father and his partner. That was one of the reasons I knew I wasn’t going to own the company one day and I didn’t want to. I learned a lot about partnerships throughout that, but he was actually relieved when I told him that I was thinking about leaving. Then once I got the green light from him, I went and told his partner.
That was probably the best feeling in my life, but he actually doubted me to my face. I grew up with that guy and my father was his partner for over twenty years, and I looked at him as almost like a second father. He said, “Okay, give it a try. Let me know when you want to come back.” I never came back. So, he motivated me.
That was November 1st and it was my first day not working at my father’s company. I will never forget walking downstairs and looking out the window. We had a big field–we were on two acres and I looked out my window, had a cup of coffee. I was normally at work at that time and I just said, “Wow, I hope this thing really works because this feels amazing.”
Nikki Van Noy: You know you have made this point a couple of times and it really resonates with me. It is this idea of retrospect, that we can look back at our lives and very easily pinpoint all of those moments that mattered and why all of our risks were worth taking, but the whole point is you don’t know that in the moment. I feel like it can be particularly tricky for some people to take those leaps when they are feeling stuck.
Can you talk to people about that a little bit?
Scott Voelker: It is frustrating. When I was in the photography business, then we grew that to a really sizable company for my wife and me, and we were a six-figure business. Then we had a brick and mortar local business, but then we moved that to the online space. That was a whole other leap. That was a whole other transition, but I think when people are stuck, they don’t have a strong enough why or a work ethic. That is one thing I was raised with. I was always raised that things are not going to come to you. You have got to go out there and get it.
I would work late at night, even in my other business that I would work on during the day, but I would work on my side hustle whenever I could squeeze it in because I wanted it so bad. I think so many people say, “Oh I am stuck, and I hate my job,” or, “I don’t like my current situation, or I don’t have this, or I don’t have that.”
It is a lot of complaining, but there is not a lot of action being done. Sometimes people complain over and over and over again and then they don’t do anything. I’ve got friends that I have told exactly what to do, play-by-play and I follow up I’ll ask, “So what’s up? Have you recorded a video and posted it on YouTube?”
“No, I haven’t done it yet. I still need to figure out my cables or I still need to do this other thing.” And I say, “No, you are just making excuses because you don’t want to actually do it because you are afraid you are going to fail.” It is normal, but I really dive deep in the book about tackling the mindset. Because that is a huge part of why people either get started, build momentum, and succeed or they never get started.
Nikki Van Noy: I feel like we all need someone like you in our lives. There is something that’s so motivating about having to tell someone no.
Scott Voelker: Oh yeah, 100%.
Nikki Van Noy: You also talk in your book about scenarios where you’ve built a business, but you are not sure that you even like it. That strikes me as a really unique and tricky can of worms. Because there’s been this investment and building towards something. What do you tell people who are in that sort of scenario?
Scott Voelker: I look at it as a pivot. We have pivots in our journey, all the way through. I mean, right now, I’m doing this book. Something that I never thought that I would do. Never thinking that I was going to be able to do it. I did it.
When you go through these different pivots in your life, you have to recognize them, and then you have to say, what do I truly, really want? The other thing is, people think because they’ve invested time and money that they don’t want to give up on it or that they don’t want to sell their business. In my world, we build something and sell it. It’s happening every single day with six-figure businesses, all the way to 10 million-dollar businesses. They are being sold online.
Whether it’s a content site, whether it’s FBA, which is fulfilled by Amazon. We can build stuff and sell it if we get tired of it, or that might even be our strategy. I’m going through a semi-pivot right now as we’re recording this. I started a podcast almost five years ago, focusing, in the beginning, all about Amazon. Then all of a sudden, I woke up one day and I thought, wait a minute, I don’t want to just be the Amazon guy, I know so much more, and I can offer so much more. I want to be able to help people get out of their own way and be able to see what they can do in the future for themselves if they really want to.
Right now, I’m going through this same thing and I think that you just can’t feel like you’re building something, that you’re going to arrive, and it’s going to be it forever. As entrepreneurs, we get bored. But we learn, and you need to understand that what you’re doing right now is setting you up for what you’re going to do next.