From Writer to Entrepreneur, a Journey of Seeing Changes

Episode #18
Jan 16, 2019

It is through adaptation that allowed early humans to survive in any environment and evolved to what we are today. And this special trait of man is what Michael Wailes used. By adapting to changes and trends in journalism and technology, he evolved and became a successful entrepreneur. Unlock this special trait in you by listening to today’s episode as Michael shares his journey with Jon. Don't miss this one!


“It's not about being able to predict the future with a high degree of specificity but just having a general sense of direction where the future is going.”

-Michael Wailes


01:01 - About Spectrum Interactive Group and how Michael transition from being a writer to entrepreneur

04:29 - How Michael apply his passion as a journalist to marketing and where he got his inspiration and motivation to study more about web development

09:17 - Becoming successful in the web development world, working in a great agency and how he got to thinking of putting his own company

11:29 - His struggles working at his own company and how he still able to see the trends and knew what the clients will need

14:18 - How the stress at building his own company affected his health

18:19 - How his perspective in life and his lifestyle changes after he got sick plus the best exercise gadget he uses today

20:16 - Facebook and Instagram advertising as a trend that will continue to grow and how to see the trend and adapt quickly and accordingly to be successful in the future


 Connect with Michael:


Intro: Welcome to Agile Living, The Entrepreneur's Journey. A show dedicated to discovering how entrepreneurs and digital leaders are doing more with less. I'm Jon Voigt. Your host and CEO of Agility. And we're on a journey across the country to learn from top digital entrepreneurs on how to live a more agile, adaptable, and fulfilling life. Thank you for joining me today. And let's dive in.


Jon Voigt: This week I have Michael Wailes from Spectrum Interactive Group. We just met and I learned that Michael had an amazing story. He started out as a writer and ending up as an entrepreneur. The thing I loved about his story was he's able to see trends and pivot throughout his career adapting and adjusting as needed. Michael thanks so much for being on the show.


Michael Wailes: Thanks for having me Jon.


Jon Voigt: For sure. Perhaps you can tell the audience a little bit about what you're up to right now and then we can jump back to when you were a writer and hear about the story that got you where you are now.


Michael Wailes: Ok. Well as you mentioned I'm with Spectrum Interactive Group. I'm the Founder and Chief bottle washer, I guess. Spectrum Interactive Group is a full-service digital marketing agency primarily focus on web development. About 80 to 85 percent of our work is in the web development world. And of that we niche down pretty hard as an agency, support agency. So, we do a lot of work for other agencies. That can be development project management just helping them out wherever they have a shortcoming. Whether it's they don't have the resources to complete the job or they have way too much work to handle. We step in and fill that need for them.


Jon Voigt: Awesome men and you know you started all the way back from a writer and then got where you are now and even though writers come from the agency world, there's a lot of writing done there. You know it still seems like a big jump. So yeah maybe we can spiral back to when you were a writer and tell the audience how you kind of got here.


Michael Wailes: Sure. So yeah. My background is in journalism. I spent over a decade working as a journalist both in the newspaper world and in radio. I was a reporter. I worked my way up into the under the desks and ended up as editor-in-chief slash general manager of a couple weekly newspapers. And it was at that time. So, this was early 2000s, turn of the century right. We can say that, let's put it at the turn of the century.


Michael Wailes: And I noticed the trend of especially for newspapers. Things were starting to move to an online format. And so, I personally wasn't sure what that would entail or what that meant. But I could just see that that was the trend and that's where things were heading.


Jon Voigt: The tidal wave was coming.


Michael Wailes: And again, I have no idea what that, if that was even a tidal wave but knew that a tide was changing. Let's put it that way.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Michael Wailes: And so, I ended up going back to school. I was fortunate enough. We have a great community college in my neck of the woods who had, they had a great web development program. And I didn't really know what I should be studying. I didn't know what was going to be what the future was going to hold. But I got involved in one of their degree programs and worked through some web development. I think I told you this when we spoke earlier that they called it a ‘deviner’ and that was a combination between a graphic designer and a web developer. So, they came up with the word ‘deviner’. Web deviner. And so yeah, I started heading in that direction. Learn Web development. Started applying it at the newspapers that I was working with and then got the opportunity to move into the marketing world as a developer. Yeah just started getting my, cut my teeth on web development at a larger agency.


Jon Voigt: Right. So. So that's such a big shift even from writing. You know writing is very, almost I guess development is creative as well but writing is a different mindset. I feel you know, what was it that you detour or just that you saw something was coming and you saw this trend and you realized you'd fall behind. Even though you'd worked up to a desk job and all these things where you were.


Michael Wailes: Yeah. That's exactly kind of how I augment. Again, like I said at the time I didn't know where it was going to go with newspapers online. Just knew that there was a change coming. And I needed to be prepared for it. It was a tough transition for me to go from the newspaper world to the marketing world. But the one key element that I've enjoyed about that is I've always enjoyed telling other people stories. Helping other people get their story out. And that's why I had such success as a journalist and got a lot of enjoyment out of it as well. Now I can apply that in the marketing world. It's a difference. It's a different storytelling but it's still kind of that same bottom line principle of you know, I'm helping people tell their story to others.


Jon Voigt: Right. So, did other people that you were work with see this trend to or and it was a discussion in in the kitchen or something, at the office or was it just something that you kind of saw and you went off on your own and kind of saw that trend?


Michael Wailes: There was one individual that I worked with who and that was actually his job was he was actually our I.T. guy. And he got you know back in those days I.T. meant everything. It involved a computer. the I.T. department was in charge of it. And so, he was actually in charge of setting up these websites that we were starting for all these papers I worked for. The company I worked for owned about 60 weekly newspapers across the nation. So, he was back in their corporate headquarters but he was setting up these websites for all these little newspapers. And so of course, he was sold on it.


Jon Voigt: Yeah, I'm sure.


Michael Wailes: He had a feeling more of what the future was going and so I got a lot of inspiration and a lot of motivation from him. And we did spend probably more time than he wanted to spend on the phone with me. But you know talking about how was this future going to look for our newspapers.


Jon Voigt: Right. Right. And so, you became a developer. You learn these kinds of skills and you know I started out my career as a developer as well and when I started the company and it feels like it's still a super long journey from that to entrepreneur and leaning in an agency like what you're doing. What came next as a developer? Where do you go from there?


Michael Wailes: So I started in the development world. One thing I, again the one thing I really enjoyed doing was being close to the clients, talking with the clients. Learning as much as I could about the clients and that was just the journalist in me you know asking the questions and listening. And then trying to come back and put together the story. And so, I got really good at that piece about listening to the people, listening the clients, finding out what their needs are, and not even what their needs are but what their problems were. And then being able to come back with solutions. Solutions that they might not have been looking for. That kind of led me to a role of project manager. One of the things with development is again you know the future of technology is, it's nebulous. I'm definitely not one who can peer into the future and say this is what tomorrow's technology is going to look like.


Jon Voigt: Yes. Yes, changing so fast.


Michael Wailes: Right. Or these are the frameworks that we're gonna be using. But I have enough of a technical acumen where I can sit down with somebody and say this is where I think you should be investing in your money. As far as your marketing is going in technology. These are the platforms you should be looking at. This is the functionality you should be looking at. Not necessarily having all the answers and being able to give them line by line code but being able to say you know I think this is for the budget you're working with and the solutions that you need, let's leverage these resources. And so, I get really good with that. And then and so moved more into that project management role and now director roles, some of them are called. But where I could talk with the client, help them on a day by day basis figure out what those issues are that they're dealing with and what types of solutions might be available for them.


Jon Voigt: Right. So, it's interesting even as a writer you were kind of talking to a lot of people and how they were solving their problems. So, you know that guy who is in the I.T. side. He was just solving the next problem in terms of how to distribute the paper. And it seems that you were reaching out to a lot of people and connecting with a lot of people and put yourself in a position where you can learn what those trends are. What's the next thing? What's coming or what are these problems that need solving? So what technologies are doing it and what not.


Michael Wailes: Right. And you know that's one of the. It's one of the cool things about doing that. If you just talk to people. If you just listen to what they're saying. You know a lot of times they'll give you the solution. But they just have to put it all together yet. And so yeah. So, you know I enjoyed considerable success in that aspect. What ended up happening was I worked for a great agency. I had a great job, great pay, awesome benefits, minimal travel, and it was close to my home. And I have to give a lot of credit to the people who own that that firm. They empowered their employees to make the decisions. Like I was making, working with clients and helping them find solutions. But they empowered us to be beneficial to all the stakeholders, the clients, the company, and ourselves. And I got a lot of growth out of that. I learned so much about the business, the marketing business just from being in that environment. And so, there's always they will always have a fond place in my heart.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Michael Wailes: Unfortunately, they did bring in a new middle management team that didn't share that same forward-looking perspective. And there were, we started developing a lot of friction, a lot of conflict internally. And I just kind of got to the point where I knew I wasn't going to be as effective with them as I could be somewhere else. And I remember coming home and having a discussion about it and saying something to the effect of you know, somebody is going to lead one of these larger agencies this year. Strike it. Strike out on their own right. And they're going to make a million bucks. Why. Why shouldn't that be me? And so, with that. Yeah. I took this step. About three and half years ago I went out on my own and never looked back.


Jon Voigt: Congrats. Well that's amazing. So. So how is that transition for you and you know running a business? Are you still able to connect with the customers and see the trends that are coming now?


Michael Wailes: To a fairly strong degree, yes. Of course, as you know going out on your own there's a whole lot of other things that you think you understand and you think you know about that that you don't. Let's put it that way. You don't know what you don't know. And so yeah that's been one of the chief struggles initially for me is you know doing the work, getting the work and keeping the client happy and all of that. And so, for me it's been a lot about developing process, finding the right way to keep people to work the process for me. And just allow me the time to stay engaged with the clients, engage with the customers, getting their feedback, hearing what their problems are, and again coming back and trying to develop solutions.


Jon Voigt: Right. Well congrats it's always awesome day at going on things. I guess how did you pick on your, kind of little bit of a focus on doing work for agencies. Wait where did that come from? Just because you had come from that world. You knew what they needed or you know, what kind of funnel do you there?


Michael Wailes: So that was a lot of it you know just having the background and knowing where there could be some shortcomings. The agency that I left, they ended up losing a lot of people during that time and a lot of people went and started their own agencies. Now these were people who came from all different areas within that agency so we had graphic designers, video people, copywriters, project managers, who all struck out on their own. And so, they kind of exemplify who are primary client is it at this time. They have a strong knowledge base in a particular area but don't in a lot of other areas. And so, we can step in and fill that void for them. So, you know, one of my clients is a copywriter. I mean that's what she does by trade and she has no idea about technology. She has no idea with graphic design and she doesn't have any grasp on project management. And so, we can step in and fill those for her right and deliver her a quality product that she can then turn around and give to her clients. And her client you know and I hate to say this her client doesn't need to be any the wiser to it. Because we can just, we can seamlessly fill those voids for them.


Jon Voigt: Right. So, I know that we also talked about a bit of a health issue that you went through, through all that. So, tell us a little bit of what happened there because obviously you know all this sounds like a lot of work to begin with. But then to have some other things nagging at the health side can really affect things.


Michael Wailes: Yeah. So, it was about, it was almost a month after I struck out on my own. I had gone to the gym. I worked out fairly regularly. I was a power lifter and I was at the gym. I had just finished having some meetings with some clients, worked out and I ended up having a heart attack while I was at the gym.


Jon Voigt: So scary.


Michael Wailes: Yeah, I was, I knew what was going on I had had two previous heart attacks. They were very minor. This was a massive heart attack. I was two blocks away from the hospital. I drove myself to the emergency room. And I tell people I do not recommend you do that. But I did and I don't have much memory of it but they said that I walked in the door told them I was having a heart attack and then I collapsed. My heart stopped beating and heart stopped beating for about 30 minutes. So yeah it was a, I was placed in a medical coma for three days and yeah, a week later I was sent home and try to get back get back to work.


Jon Voigt: So crazy. So, was that stress from the previous organization and all the chaos? Do you think it was stress from moving on? Like why do you think that happened? Was that related to all this, you know demand on yourself.


Michael Wailes: You know I believe it was a combination of all. I was under a considerable amount of stress when I was working for the other agency. And then of course you know without a doubt there is some uncertainty when you step out on your own. And I kind of stepped out in a bootstrap fashion. You know a lot of my former co-workers they took a year or two to plan, to save, to develop how their businesses were going to look. I didn't have that luxury. I was, I had gotten to the point where I just had to get out. And so, it was a kind of a do or die situation for me to step out on my own and so I think naturally there was probably a considerable amount of stress involved in that.


Jon Voigt: Right. Yeah. It's amazing because I have had quite a few talks on health and how important it is that you make big pivots and big changes in your life. But you know you were at the gym working out right? Like you know we were like, I'm healthy, I'm doing this, I'm doing whatever. But it's amazing how things can sneak up on you and especially from another podcast I'm about to launch around sleep and stress you know those ones are the silent killers because you don't notice them until something drawn.


Michael Wailes: I mean they really are. And I you know I had spent time in the, when I was a reporter and I can remember doing stories about guys who were about my age who just dropped it. You know one that always sticks out my mind was a little league football coach. He went to the football practice. They were tossing the ball around and he collapsed and died and the guy was in his late 30s. And it's yeah, it's the stress is what stress will kill you. I mean people say the stress will kill you. Well I mean it's not they're not being figured a bit will it will it will eat you up.


Jon Voigt: Yeah. And this world is not getting less stressful of an environment. And so, you know we just got to find ways to reduce that stress and clear our minds more. And I think that's why so many people are looking at meditation and things not for the spiritual side but for the relaxation stress side of it.


Michael Wailes: Absolutely. Yeah, it's part of my daily practice.


Jon Voigt: Yeah. So, you're now working for your own organization. You're working you know bringing a lot of benefit to some customers and to agencies and you know you've gone through this kind of heart attack episode. You know how did your life change after the heart attack and what are you doing now that's kind of keeping you know tip top?


Michael Wailes: Well, I'm still away from tip top. I'm still human.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Michael Wailes: I mean this is the time of year that that happens but you know what. One thing that I took away from that is perspective. There's a lot of things I would love to be able to do to be successful. And I I'm driven to be successful but I'm not driven to the point where I'm going to sacrifice myself again like I did. I have a young family. I want to spend time with them and so that's one of the nice things about where I'm at as I'm in a position where I can go have lunch with my daughter at school. And I do that frequently whereas before that would have never been a possibility. I try to make as much time for my family as possible and you know there's medicine there. Of course, I try to eat. I try to eat healthy. I still work out but not as power lifter anymore.


Jon Voigt: Yeah. Yeah.


Michael Wailes: I actually spend a lot of time jumping rope so I think for the greatest exercise tools that's available. I read that somewhere. I can't remember where I read that. But he said that you know one of the best exercise gadgets you can buy is a jump rope.


Jon Voigt: So easy to do anywhere right anywhere, right?


Michael Wailes: And if you can jump at once, jump at once tomorrow come back and jump twice. And so yeah that's how I kinda keep myself going now. Just clean living.


Jon Voigt: All right. Right. Nice. So, you know I think looking at where you got where you are it was all about kind of seeing trends and seeing changes and reacting. You know is there anything you see that's going to come up and change for your business or for your customers that you know you see right now that you're adjusting and reacting to? Or is it you know you're just waiting for that next kind of shift?


Michael Wailes: Right. So, it's a little bit of both. I mean I definitely have some focus on a few areas. You know I really I. Right now, I'm really seeing Facebook and Instagram as being a key area for people to get involved as far as advertising is concerned.


Jon Voigt: Yes.


Michael Wailes: You know I just, you think about from my background anyway from a broadcasting perspective and using that term as it's intended to be used as a broadcast. Television was always the medium of choice if you really wanted to get your message out. You used television. The problem with television was or the benefit of television was you can reach a wide audience and again that's broadcast. The problem with that was is you reached a wide audience. If you're selling tires you know...


Jon Voigt: What percentage wanted tires?


Michael Wailes: Yeah. What percentage of people own cars? What percentage of people who own cars make that decision to purchase tires? I mean there's the beautiful thing about Facebook advertising is it allows you to have that ability to broadcast. It allows you to really specify where it is you want to be focused in your message to and who you want to be talking to.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Michael Wailes: So, as far as being very specific I see that as a trend that I think is just going to continue to grow. It'll be interesting to see how others may start playing off of how Facebook has adapted their advertising. You know Google ads is probably going to head in that same direction or you're going to be able to fine tune who you're delivering those ads to. And so, trying to stay on the cutting edge of that a little bit. But you know a lot of this stuff you know it's not really about being able to predict the future with a high degree of specificity but just having a general sense of that direction that the future is going. And I like to almost think of it as when you're standing at the craps table and you have the come and don't come bet you know, being able to make that bet that hey, I think things are going to be going in this direction or they're not going to go that direction. The only notable exception with that is you should have some research and some facts to back up your position. A gut feeling and intuition can get you started.


Michael Wailes: But you know being able to find some support for it. I think you can find some success and then you adjust as you go. And that goes back to my web development training. When I started, I didn't know the difference between dot net and PHP and JavaScript and XML. I didn't know any of that. But as you start developing some of the skills and you start digging a little deeper the path becomes a little wider and a little more apparent.


Jon Voigt: Right. Well I think your ability to pivot so quickly is a huge thing too. Because as you said you can't really, you can predict some trends and some things but you can't foresee the future. And with technology and the way things are going to change so fast that there's always going to be things you're wrong about or that you would guess wrong. But if you can pivot and shift when you do see it go wrong or go this other way can really help you keep on top of it. You know just like when you started development you know, if you wait another couple years who knows how that may have pushed your whole trend of where you're going now. And that organization that was you know, having some difficult times if you wait another year or two you maybe didn't wouldn't want to go into what you're going to do because you might have been turned off in the industry completely. So now the ability to pivot can be hard sometimes. Hopefully the heart attack is not a result of fast pivot. I'm promoting fast pivoting here but. But I think you know you were able to move really quick there even if you said you were ready. Look at where you are now and it's only been out three years or so.


Michael Wailes: Yep. No exactly.


Jon Voigt: Well this is awesome, Michael. I think it's a really unique story, coming from a writer to entrepreneur and how you balance a shift in change. If people want to reach you, learn about your business and reach out to you for any reason, how can they find you?


Michael Wailes: You know the best place is to find us just online at Spectrum Interactive Group and its


Jon Voigt: Ok awesome. Well thank you so much. I really appreciate having you on the show. It's been great to hear the story and I wish you all the best going in to 2019.


Michael Wailes: Thank you John.


Outro: Thanks a lot everyone for spending some time with us today. You've just taken the first step towards a more fulfilling life. To continue the journey, I'd love if you subscribe to my podcast. That way you won't miss out on the smallest little detail that can make the biggest difference in your life. You can also join our community on Facebook. We've just started the community there of digital leaders that want to do more with less. And all you have to do is go to Facebook and type in the search bar, The Agile Community and join the group there. If you want to hear more about this topic or have a topic of your own, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. I love talking about this stuff and happy to talk about it offline as well. So now let's get out there and make a difference by doing more with less. Until next week. This is Jon saying, stay agile.

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