Josh Bernstein, Josh Bernstein Media
Josh Bernstein joins us today to talk all things freelance. As the owner of Josh Bernstein Media, Josh is an expert in Google Ads and paid search and has been running his own business for over 10 years. Sanjay and Josh sit down to debunk myths about freelancing, give important tips on starting out, discuss maintaining a healthy work-life balance while being your own boss, and suggest when to choose a freelancer over an agency.
Episode 12 – Josh Bernstein, Josh Bernstein Media
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: After working for 10 years in media buying and planning at various agencies, Josh Bernstein started his own business in 2012, Josh Bernstein Media. Josh serves his clients by providing expert advice on all things Google Ads and paid search. Though Josh primarily serves clients in the metro Atlanta area, his services are available worldwide. Here today to talk about family and work and also debunk common myths about freelancers is Josh Bernstein. Josh, welcome to the show.
[00:01:28] Josh Bernstein: Thank you. Glad to be here.
[00:01:30] Sanjay Parekh: I'm excited to have you on, but before we get into kind of the guts of it, I'd love for you to give us like a 30 second background on you more than what I just explained in the intro.
[00:01:41] Josh Bernstein: Yeah. I've been in advertising for about 20 or so years now. About the first 10 started out as a traditional media buyer. So TV, radio, print, newspapers — you remember those — magazines, billboards. And these are billboards when they use paper. That's how, I guess how old I am now. Not this fancy pants, digital stuff. These are, paper billboards that would, you had a bad storm, you got to redo it and all, things like that. Yeah, I had started out at a traditional media buying agency, then went over to the digital side. That was for about three years. Had enough of that and went over to a client-side role for about two years and then they got acquired and how acquisitions go and things like that. So, basically, I said, we can get more into this later, enough is enough. Why don't we try instead of looking for a job, looking for work? And I think there's a big difference there. And then literally went after it by the seat of my pants way before working at home was a thing. And here we are about 10 and a half years later.
[00:02:57] Sanjay Parekh: It's funny that you made me think with the billboards and the paper version of it like in, I don't know, some number of years, are kids going to be like, wait, that was a thing. Just like payphones, wait, was, that was a thing, people used to paste stuff up, to do billboards?
[00:03:13] Josh Bernstein: Payphones and then even rotary phones that used at home, right? With, if you get number wrong, you got to start over. Things like that. The big wheel if you will, things like that.
[00:03:25] Sanjay Parekh: Or if you went one short, you could try to pretend and do it by hand and catch the thing to add. That almost never worked.
[00:03:31] Josh Bernstein: And it's funny I think you and I, seems like it'll be like we're similar to my age. It's funny because I'm the age where I did my college applications on a typewriter at the time still, but by the time I got out of college, it's okay, here's email. It's taking off. The internet really, the early days of the internet, the early two thousands, all the dot coms. So I’ve seen a big transition. From tradition, not just traditional media obviously, but traditional ways of communication. Versus what, things that would take you hours to do you now can do in 10 minutes and email it, or, down, upload it away.
[00:04:16] Sanjay Parekh: I definitely applied to college with a typewriter and thankfully the college I went to did not require any essays. That would've been painful. And I'm not a great essay, or at least I wasn't a great essay writer then. I probably still am not now. But let me ask you about you. Like why is it that you've been working in advertising all of this time? What is it that interests you about advertising and kind of marketing like this?
[00:04:42] Josh Bernstein: I think it's just, really, regardless of the channel you're doing, whether it was traditional or digital, it's really getting a sense to help people out, first of all, and really leaning on clients to help them out. That's a big thing I tell all my clients, is, okay, you know business the best. Let me use my expertise and you use your expertise and let's join forces to get the best out of it. And what I mean by using the client's expertise is they know their business. So, for Google advertising and paid search, what I do now, say, tell me more about your business. Tell me how you interact with clients. Do you interact with them remotely? Are you doing online sales? Do they come to you? Are you a service provider? Do you go to people's homes? Things like that.
And from there I'm able to get a sense of how you want to sort of structure these campaigns for advertising. Also, how you want to set up geo-targeting for these campaigns. That's a big deal, obviously. You only want to show ads where your clients want to do business. You never want to assume, oh, you're just, we'll just show ads wherever you want in Atlanta or wherever. It's not the best strategy. So, I want to always go ahead and, okay, talk. Rule one is like, how do you onboard with clients, which is one of the dumbest things I always get asked because I talk to them. I ask about their business; I want to know what they want to accomplish. When somebody goes to your website, what do you want them to do? It's not just about, oh, I have a website and what do I do with it? That's, that's not why you need a website. Whether it's for information, people doing research, they want to buy something, they want to set up an appointment, they want to make a reservation, etc. The end goal is always best articulated by the client at the end of the day. Because I can send a thousand clicks a day to a website. If the website stinks, we've wasted a lot of time and money.
That's the other thing, so when it comes to why do I do what I do, circling back, okay, why advertising? Because it's a chance to help people who need a service and just don't have the time and it's like any other service. Sometimes I'm not going to do my own plumbing, usually. I'm not going to repair my car usually. And it's the same way. Especially when you're dealing with potentially large sums of money on these advertising platforms, you got to have somebody who knows what they're doing and knows how to set it up so you're not spending money you don't have to spend, and everything's being targeted and sent to potential customers and clients for somebody the right way.
[00:07:43] Sanjay Parekh: What's interesting, that's fascinating why you think advertising is the way for you. But I'd love to hear, was this your first time doing something entrepreneurial? And did you even view it as entrepreneurial when you went to do this? Or is there something like when you were younger, when you were a kid, like what's the first entrepreneurial thing you did?
[00:08:05] Josh Bernstein: No, this was really the first. Never thought of it this way. It was more about, being out of a job, having a little bit of a cushion, at least financially because of severance and some other things that you know, happened with my last full-time employer, getting with some stuff. So had a little bit of...
[00:08:28] Sanjay Parekh: How long of a runway did you have?
[00:08:31] Josh Bernstein: Oh, I don't know for sure. It wasn't a long runway because I took a few months off and then I was like, all right, stuff started to happen and then, yeah. So, it's not like I planned any of this. It's okay, I've got X amount here. I can do this and live off that for a little bit. I didn't do, no, wasn't any kind of forward thinking that way.
[00:08:54] Sanjay Parekh: So, this was a total accidental entrepreneur kind of situation?
[00:08:58] Josh Bernstein: Yeah. Total accident, not even entrepreneurial to start. More like, okay, who do I know? Not many people, in terms of like people who could, give me work. So, it was a lot of networking, LinkedIn, networking, things like that, and starting to meet people, then starting, step by step, getting some referrals and then getting more referrals back from people. So, it's really starting to build a base and a name for everything. And that's how things got rolling and, clients come and go obviously, but thankfully I’ve been able to maintain a very good pace overall and support myself and family now for the last 10 plus years. And that's really the biggest objective of all this is you got to make money. Because you're spending money, you're going to spend money whether you like it or not. So, you've got to keep it coming in.
[00:10:02] Sanjay Parekh: So, when you had to step out when all of this happened, how did you get started? How did you find your first customer or your client? Did they come to you? Did you go to them?
[00:10:16] Josh Bernstein: Yeah, it’s funny. The first customer was actually the old company. They sort of got me back on track, but this time as a freelancer, as a contractor. So, I was basically doing the same stuff for a while until they got bought out, meaning like they, they everything got moved to this company's corporate office, one of those deals.
[00:10:41] Sanjay Parekh: But it was a good foundation, I assume, for you because you already knew...
[00:10:45] Josh Bernstein: It was a good foundation because financially it was good enough at the time to support some things and then I had enough bandwidth to start really building something that I really didn't know I was building it at the time, but it sort of all fell together that way.
[00:11:01] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Was there anything when you were doing this that kept you up at night? Like concerned you, worried you about doing this on your own versus being like, hey, I'm just going to go get another job?
[00:11:14] Josh Bernstein: Yeah, there was also a, it wasn't a concern or a fear per se, it was more of the balance. Was I still looking for jobs at the time? Probably. But there was just a lot of stuff I'm like, eh, I’m not interested, really wasn't interested in going back to an agency full-time. It had to be an absolute, great fit. And the corporate side of things, just, it is not, can be great at times for people and just sometimes just not great at all.
[00:11:48] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Do you remember, was there something that flipped for you and made you be like, you know what, I'm done. I don't need to keep looking for jobs. This is my thing now.
[00:11:57] Josh Bernstein: I think after two or three years, once I saw, once you start adding up revenue, I guess revenue is what I earned basically. It's not really much else because I can't really say it's a salary at that point. Once I saw that, and once I was adding it up, comparing and contrasting to what I made at previous stops and definitely how I was, paid at the last agency, I'm like, okay there's a considerable gap here. Even with some of the things you have to deal with as a freelancer, being self-employed and also taking into account the lack of a commute, the lack of a 40-hour-a-week job. And this is way before anything we've encountered in the last few years. And now we're like, hey, this is a pretty good gig, if it's got some legs to move forward. And thankfully it has for the most part.
[00:13:05] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, what was the number? Did you hit the salary that you were making before, and that's where you're like, okay, this is the way to go. Or was it before then that you're like, oh, I think I'm going to get there. And then more than that?
[00:13:19] Josh Bernstein: I think it was a combination. I didn't really have any benchmarks or expectations into measuring it up one versus the other. But it became pretty clear after, like I said, after two, three years and tracking some numbers and versus what benefits or lack thereof, of being where I used to be. It's like okay, this is, I've got some staying power. I've got some pretty good connections to start. Again, freelancing is not for everybody. But the path I saw myself on was, just like, okay this is something that might work. And it, and thankfully it has. So, there was no there was no like, one moment, obviously, it's like you can't pinpoint a date or anything, but it's like, all right. Okay. This might be good.
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[00:14:36] Sanjay Parekh: So, the way you're explaining this, it makes me feel like this next question fits perfectly in. So, think about like stress and managing stress and now doing it on your own versus working before. It sounds like you had, you worked less hours, for making reasonably the same amount of money or close enough or, whatever it was that you needed. Do you feel like your stress was less or more when you started doing this on your own? And how have you managed that over time?
[00:15:11] Josh Bernstein: I think the stress was more in line with, okay, how am I going to get clients? And that's still a stress all the time, no matter what, even, for entrepreneurs, self-employed freelancers even, goes back to even if I was at an agency, even though I didn't handle any of the account new business side of things, they're always, because agencies get dumped by clients all the time. So, you're all in the same boat, but with me, I've got a hundred percent say in who I work with. And the biggest differential is I don't work for anybody anymore. I work with my clients who I consider partners, but I work for one person. And you're looking at them. And that's a big difference because you're not — you can do what you want. I could take a two-hour lunch every day and nobody's going to know the difference because, as long as I get the work done. As long as you get results and you've seen that shift, especially, post-covid okay, we don't need big corporate offices. We don't need 40-hour work weeks. Now, new trend, we don't need five days of a work week anymore even. And, that's one thing I do, I try to schedule, okay I'll take meetings four days a week and scan them, but I need, one day a week I'm doing nothing but work and whatever else I need to get done.
[00:16:51] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, do you feel like this stress and having to worry about clients and all that, do you feel like that's, more or less, or the same as when you were working at an agency or corporate or whatever?
[00:17:06] Josh Bernstein: It's more of a stress in terms of, okay, because I need clients, or I don't make any money. It's not as stressful overall as actually working 50-plus hours a week at an agency for less than what I was making, adding on a 60-minute commute, perhaps. Some days, on a bad day. Trying to get out of certain parts of Atlanta that will remain nameless, sort of near where you went to school. But it's one of the things like, yeah, technology has been a massive help with this. But again, when I first started, yeah, we didn't have Zoom. We didn't have much of podcasting. We didn't have everything remote. We didn't have Google Meet, we didn't have a lot of technologies I could do. And I'm like, I still will go onsite to see clients if they request it, but, and a lot of them are like, hey, we can get this done in 10 minutes. Send me a link or, we'll schedule a meeting and hash stuff out and it makes things a lot easier on everybody.
[00:18:31] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, now that you've been doing this for a good decade now or more, how have you been balancing, then, work with life and family and friends and all of those things, right? It's really easy for those of us that have our own companies or businesses to let that bleed into everything else, right? Because like you said, you've got one boss, that's you, and that boss will let you work as much as you want, and that could become a lot, right? How do you control that?
[00:19:07] Josh Bernstein: Self-discipline. And family always comes first. I don't care who you are, I don't care how long you've been a client, and honestly, most of my clients are very reasonable. They know about my family and how it's grown. They're all, these good long-time clients, they know, hey, and because they deal with the same thing, they're right. It's not like I'm the only one out here freelancing. Nobody freelancing or working full-time has no responsibilities, obviously.
[00:19:43] Sanjay Parekh: Everybody's got a family, right?
[00:19:44] Josh Bernstein: But for me, it's my work revolves around my family, not the other way around, if that makes sense. That's also in terms of scheduling my hours and scheduling meetings and times to talk to people and windows that make sense for me.
[00:20:10] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Do you limit the amount of hours per week that you work? Do you have a fixed number that you're like, I'm never going to go over this number?
[00:20:20] Josh Bernstein: No, but I know when I've set up my meetings and with my Calendly links and all that, every week. I know, okay, this is when I'm going to be out of the house for various reasons. School, meeting with people, whatever. And then I'm going back, okay, this is okay. And that's why I use Calendly, one of the best tools out there. I'm like, here it is. Some people get put off by it. I'm like, you know what? That's just the way it is, you know, too bad. That's the way it is. I'm not going to do a call at 9:00 AM when I know I'm not going to be home. I'm not going to do a call at 4:30 PM when I have two kids running around here. Just keep it simple and let's just, work and get things done when you can in terms of when you have the most time to be productive and things to yourself, essentially.
[00:21:16] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, we talked at the top end of the show about debunking myths about freelancing. Is there like a myth that you thought, or you hear about a lot, that you'd like to debunk?
[00:21:31] Josh Bernstein: I think especially a few years ago, people were like oh, the whole deal, like you need an agency for certain things, and you definitely do for certain things depending on your line of business. Especially in this world with digital media like, especially when it comes to things like, I got to build a website, or if I'm running at an e-commerce store and things like that, you need an agency to handle your, if it's a full digital web agency, you're talking about website hosting, website construction, constant URL and page management, content writing, SEO, social, paid search. Whatever else falls under that. It's a lot depending on what you want to do, but there's also the myth that one person can be an expert in everything. And I find that very hard to believe.
I tell people yeah; I don't do website development. I don't do hosting. I don't do content writing. I don't blog. I don't do social media management. I don't do SEO. I do Google advertising and I'm very good at it. And if you want somebody else, I can find you a referral. But people who tell me, there are definitely people who can do SEO and paid search both very well, and there are people you can do that. But to stack things on top of that and become not just proficient, but making sure you're an expert and making sure you're an expert enough where clients can trust you to do it all. That's where you’ve got to be careful when choosing a freelancer versus an agency.
If you need a whole bundle of services, there are great agencies in this town that I can refer you to for various things. But if you're looking for a specialist, that's where I think a freelancer comes best. And the other thing I'll say, the biggest myth with freelancers is, oh, they can't do the same quality of work and after 10 plus years, I think I've debunked that because my work's been pretty good. I'm not the best, I'm not in the top 10 paid search experts in the universe, but with a guaranteed income of zero every year, I think I've done pretty well. And that's the biggest thing is, hey, if I wasn't any good at this, I wouldn't still be doing it. Because I got to, you got to make money.
[00:24:11] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, thinking back about your 10 plus years of doing this, you've picked up a lot of learnings and lessons along the way. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently and why?
[00:24:25] Josh Bernstein: I'd probably be more proactive at vetting certain clients, mainly because, listen, not everybody is going to be on the same wavelength as you. Not everybody's going to be easygoing. Not everybody's going to be professional or cordial, and you’ve got to work with people you want to work with. How much is a tradeoff between income versus stress and headaches from clients? And sometimes you’ve got to know, if the ROI is not there, first of all, sometimes that makes the call a lot easier. But you can say, hey, this isn't going to work out, and say, here you go. And then move on to others, whatever's next. Because, listen, there are a lot of good people in this industry, but there are sometimes not so good people, especially in the advertising industry as well.
[00:25:32] Sanjay Parekh: And I think that's true across almost all industries, right? And I think the thing that you're touching on is a hard thing for entrepreneurs, especially when they're starting, right? Because you want to just grab every dollar because you're like, I don't know if there's another dollar that's coming after that.
[00:25:49] Josh Bernstein: Correct.
[00:25:52] Sanjay Parekh: And so, it becomes really hard to say, notice some business, even though maybe in your gut you know that this is not a good fit. When you were starting out, did you have to do that and how did you deal with it if you did have to do that?
[00:26:08] Josh Bernstein: No, but I learned pretty quickly, dealing with, some places that, these aren't good people at times. And that's really the bottom line, sometimes.
[00:26:23] Sanjay Parekh: They weren't good people for you. Maybe is what they were.
[00:26:28] Josh Bernstein: Sometimes they just weren't good people in general. They were just not very… And you can tell by the way, they interact with me. You could see how they interact and email. And socialize with their employees as well, and I've seen that firsthand. Yeah. It's okay, this guy is just not, does not get it or he is not a good person.
[00:26:58] Sanjay Parekh: Life's too short to deal with people that are not good people.
[00:27:03] Josh Bernstein: Right. People get frustrated and they, you can have disagreements and you can go back and forth about things like strategy and things, but I don't need you emailing me at 10:45 at night, berating me with questions. Because I'm not going to answer you, first of all, and especially when it's yes, I've answered this three times and yet you still don't want to understand or you're conveniently forgetting things. So, it makes it a challenge. So, I've learned to vet that pretty well. And if I know, hey, this, if the opportunity's good, I'll take it, but it's going to be a short term on my terms, basically.
[00:27:43] Sanjay Parekh: What would you tell somebody who's thinking about, now, you took the leap accidentally by just happenstance. But now thinking about somebody else who's thoughtfully thinking this through and trying to take the leap and launch a side hustle or a small business, what advice would you give that person?
[00:28:05] Josh Bernstein: Don't be afraid to just contact people. Reach out. If they say no, they say no. Whatever. Definitely have a plan, but don't feel like it's going to be etched in stone because it's not. Get a good lawyer, get a great accountant, because those are going to be important for you because it, going from being employed full-time to yourself is going to be a big difference, especially when you have, with taxes. That's one thing. And with dealing with some clients, especially in the non-paying type of clients, that's where a good attorney can be helpful to collect funds. That is not uncommon with a lot of freelancers because sometimes clients may think, they're freelance, what resources do they really have to come after me? Everybody knows somebody once in a while and, thankfully I haven't, I think 90, 95 plus percent of my clients have been great in terms of fulfilling their sides of the contract and things like that. But sometimes you have to reach out outside of your own resources, put it that way.
[00:29:30] Sanjay Parekh: A gentle nudge from a helpful third party is sometimes good. Josh, listen, this has been a fantastic conversation. I love kind of your history of doing all of this and being an accidental entrepreneur. Where, if our listeners are interested, where can they find and connect with you?
[00:29:52] Josh Bernstein: You could find me on LinkedIn, obviously. That's always the easiest way, it’s Josh Bernstein Media. And you'll see in my picture, and you'll see big banner about, LinkedIn. Not LinkedIn, I mean about Google Ads and all my experience obviously. You can find me at jdbmedia.com. That's my website, it’s not the greatest website, showing you that I am not a website design expert. But you'll find recommendations, client history, which ranges from e-commerce, nonprofit, retail, travel, medical, service industries, things like that.
And the one thing I know we haven't really talked about Google Ads itself a lot, but the one thing I'll say is you, if you have a business and need to get qualified leads, this is the best channel for you, because with Google Ads, people are already actively searching for your products or services, all the time somewhere. So why not capture them when they're looking for you? You don't go looking for them. They come looking for you within your service area. And the best thing, nobody really talks about this with Google Ads, there is no minimum or maximum spend. You are free to spend as little or as you much as you want per day. And that's a big plus I think.
[00:31:19] Sanjay Parekh: Awesome. Josh, thanks so much for coming on the show today.
[00:31:23] Josh Bernstein: Thank you. It's been a blast and hope we can do it again soon and really appreciate it.
[00:31:32] Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit www.hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I'm your host Sanjay Parekh. You can find me on Twitter at @sanjay or on my website at www.sanjayparekh.com.