Customer Portrait: Joel Marshall explains how simplicity is the key to success

December 5, 2011


Ever wonder how other FreshBooks customers run a business and do what they love? Customer portraits connect you with your fellow FreshBooks peers to share guidance and inspire you.

We recently sat down with longtime FreshBooks customer, Joel Marshall. It turned out to be a little bit of a catch-up since we last talked with Joel in 2007. Joel is a comedian and actor, which he finds time for by running his own business and having his own schedule. Joel took us through how he runs a successful Podcast Fat Free Film, keeps his IT business as simple as possible (great advice!), and much to the amusement of his clients, how he gets paid faster by using their computer to print invoices.

How did you start your business?

I have a business called “Supportus Maximus” and I’ve been in business for about six years. I was working for a law firm doing tech support and realized that a lot of people were asking me to work in their homes or for their small businesses after work, and also on the weekends. From there, it just grew into a business of its own so I was able to leave the law firm and make the switch to start my own company. I get to learn a lot. I’m a custom training and tech support person. I am often in a mixed environment with Macs and PCs and I come in there and help unify it all.

You are also an actor and a comedian, did having your own business help you?

Having my own business made it a lot easier to find the extra time to take on jobs that I might not have been able to take if I were working for another company. Often they’re independent film jobs or gigs where I had to go out of state. Actually, I’m in an independent film that’s coming out where I have a good scene with Eric Stoltz. It’s called “Fort McCoy” and please look for it in your theaters.

You also have a podcast. Tell us a little bit about that.

My podcast is called “Fat Free Film.” It’s about independent filmmaking. I wanted to learn a lot more about the filmmaking industry as I was trained to be a Shakespearian stage actor. I needed to learn about filmmaking quickly and I wanted to learn from people that were actually doing it. I just started going around interviewing people and at the time, podcasts were not as common. A lot of times people didn’t know what I was doing.

I remember when I interviewed Leonard Nimoy. We went over to his house and he said, “I don’t know what we’re doing, but let’s go ahead and do it.” Some of the people are very forthcoming, especially people that have been in the industry for a long time and have had a lot of experience; they’re very willing and open to share with the people that are coming up. The podcast has been a great tool for learning on my own and it’s great to share that with as many people as possible.

What’s the one thing that was a complete surprise for you coming out of your podcast?

I’d say the biggest thing is that everybody’s journey in the entertainment industry is different. The main thing that gave people success was when they stuck to their own voice and their own vision and didn’t let people deter them as they went along. Over and over again, it seems that the people who really stick to their guns are the ones who really get things done.

Many folks have been reflecting on how Steve Jobs is a good example of someone who experienced success for firmly standing by his vision, would you agree?

He’s a perfect example. A lot of us have been reading his quotes lately because we realize what a remarkable person he was. One of the things that really stuck with me is his quote, “I tried really hard to keep my thoughts simple and keep simplifying my thought process.” I think that’s one of the reasons that Apple was so successful; they were able to convey complicated technological innovations to everybody. They did it through commercials and they did it through their product line.

Have you ever transferred any of this approach to your business?

When you start a business, you have to learn about business. Supportus Maximus is a technological business. The mistake that I’ve made so far is learning a lot about technology, which is important, but not learning enough about business except for the stuff I was picking up as I went along.

Now I’m in the process of learning more about the business of doing business. I’m learning to simplify. Simplify my services. Simplify what I do. I try to find the things that I’m really good at and make a business that’s not what everybody is doing, and then streamline that process. Much like Steve Jobs’ thoughts and process.

I’ve been with FreshBooks for at least five years and one of the things that FreshBooks did for me was simplify my billing process and keep track of my clients. FreshBooks has its own structure that I just plugged into, and that’s been the one thing in Supportus Maximus that has been solid the whole time. I don’t know if it’s because Steve Jobs passed away, but the day he passed away my hard drive failed on my computer. But I wasn’t worried about my bookkeeping at all because it’s all in FreshBooks.

 What’s next for you?

I’ve started to sell broadband through my company. There’s a really new technology that is very high speed that I can provide to studios, law firms and other clients of mine who really need to move large files quickly as part of their day-to-day operations. It’s done through micro-waves. What happens is we beam it from the hilltops and from buildings around Los Angeles to the top of whatever building you happen to be in. It’s great to have larger bandwidth as we upload more and more things to the internet. It’s especially important for production companies, who have to move large video files quickly, so I’ve been focusing on providing it to them.

For my podcast, I want to get more into a more regular interview process. Right now, it’s every month or so we do an interview but I’d like to get it more like back to a once a week. In the blogging and the podcasting world, consistency is really everything. I always am inspired by people like Leo Laporte wwho has built an entire network out of tech podcasting. There’s also a guy, Marc Maron in Los Angeles who’s a comedian. He’s doing pretty much what I’m doing with the film interviews, but with comedians. I get a lot of inspiration from both of them.

FreshBooks is known for wacky things, what’s the wackiest thing you’ve ever done?

There are two things that come to mind. One is a show I did called “The New Adventures of Robin Hood.” It was shot in Lithuania and Montel Williams played my buddy in it. Between the horse I’m riding and my hairdo — it’s pretty wacky. You can see it on my website, JoelMarshall.com.

The other thing is, when I was in high school, my buddies and I started doing this thing that we called face dancing, which is pretty much laying facedown on the ground. We used to do it in public places and in groups and things like that. FaceDancing has evolved into this thing called “planking” right now, which I see on the Internet and on a recent episode of The Office. Too bad nobody called me on that.

Finally, do you have any tips for getting paid faster?

One of the things that I’ve learned is if you can get paid on the spot, do it! The great thing about FreshBooks is, if I’m onsite, I can just print out an invoice — even on the person’s computer there — hand it to them and get paid on the spot. That’s the fastest way to get paid. Sometimes they say, “What, you’re using my ink to charge me?” I’m like, “OK, I’ll take it off the bill.”

The other thing that I just wanted to say is, the biggest crime in having a business is charging less than your services are worth. It degrades your business and will erode the business that you’re in. Don’t undersell yourself.


about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.