Why I’m Changing My Name After 10 Years Of Building A Personal Brand
When I got married 11 years ago, I was depressed, ashamed, and feeling like I had no opportunities left — in the way only a 25-year-old can feel.
I had always planned to keep my maiden name, which was Seefeldt, but I also planned to be a successful academic with a published work or two under my belt by the time I got married. Instead, I was a grad school drop out working as a retail manager earning less than $30,000 per year.
When I met my husband, I was so depressed that I hadn’t been able to eat solid food in about a week. My weight had plummeted and, instead of a solid size 8 and 145 pounds as I’d been most of my life, I was struggling to keep my size 0 pants on my boney frame. I was a complete mess.
Marrying my husband — in my tortured mind — seemed like the only solid opportunity I had left.
Of course, when you’re that depressed and unwell, making the decision to get married is never a good one. You could be marrying the best person on earth, even the best possible match for you, and you’d be in trouble.
But marry I did.
I was pregnant — by choice and plan but, again, after a life-to-that-point of not wanting children — within 3 months.
While pregnant with my daughter, I was put on Zoloft in an attempt to quell the early symptoms of prenatal depression. It worked beautifully. The medication took the edge off and helped me to see new possibilities. I started to feel more in control, more confident, and more capable again.
This state of mind helped me make room for starting a small business — the business that has grown into What Works. I started doing things that made me feel like me again — writing, reading, and thinking.
At the same time, it became clear that my marriage was just not going to work. It was a rough time and I didn’t handle it very maturely — but eventually, we made the mutual decision to split up.
This was a really positive step in the right direction, even if it caused some logistical difficulties initially.
One such difficulty was realizing that I had started to build a brand and a reputation with a name that didn’t feel like my own — Gentile. I considered changing it as we finalized our divorce but going back to Seefeldt seemed like a domain name nightmare and I wasn’t creative enough come up with something on my own!
That was then. This is now.
When I created my 2018 goal list, I put changing my last name on it — along with climbing a V5-graded boulder problem (done), doing 10 unassisted pull-ups (I’m at 6), running a sub-30-minute 5k (I did 28:18 last month), and hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park (on the schedule).
Even if my long-time partner and I weren’t going to get married, I was going to change my name to something else.
Well, we are getting married in 2 weeks and, luckily, marriage makes the paperwork a little easier.
We toyed with the idea of both of use changing our names but, in the end, I decided on simplicity and doing — for the second — the decidedly un-modern thing of taking his last name.
Starting June 28, I’ll begin the transition to calling myself Tara McMullin.
Personally, this was an easy decision. Professionally, it causes me anxiety.
I’ve spent the last decade building name recognition, credibility, and a reputation as Tara Gentile. I’ve done podcast interviews, spoken at events, been a featured expert, written books, and been a bestselling business instructor on CreativeLive.
As the time for the change looms large on my schedule, it’s finally starting to sink in how big of an undertaking this is.
Some of the changes will be (or have been) easy. I’ve changed email addresses already. I’ll redirect my personal website to one with my new name. I’ll take on new social media handles.
But there will doubtlessly be difficult changes, too. The difference now is that I am fit — mentally, physically, and business-wise — and ready to tackle the challenge.
Yesterday, I asked a group that we run to consider the stories they have around themselves and their businesses. I realized today, reading through their reflections on our discussion, that this is my opportunity to write a new story for myself and this is just the prologue.
Who will Tara McMullin be as a leader, an executive, and a movement maker?
What story will she live? How will she create the change she wants to see in the world?
I think I’ll spend the next couple of weeks figuring that out.
Crafting An Ultra Informative Social Media Strategy with Creative Genius Law Founder Patrice Perkins
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The Nitty Gritty:
- Why Patrice works with creative entrepreneurs, small business owners, and veteran business owners at Creative Genius Law, a boutique law firm based in Chicago
- What Patrice’s social media strategy looks like and where she discovers ideas to write informative Instagram posts about (spoiler alert: music videos are one of them!)
- How she came up with her mini masterclass series, Legal Coffee Chat, that she hosts not only online but also in-person at her clients’ homes
- What the future looks like for Creative Genius Law, plus how and why Patrice will expand to markets outside of Illinois
Patrice Perkins is the Principal Attorney at Creative Genius Law, and in today’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., she takes us behind the scenes of how her intellectual property law firm operates, where she finds ideas for Instagram posts, and authentically connecting with your customers and clients (and much, much more!)
We release new episodes of Profit. Power. Pursuit. every week. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.
Making social media work for you
I decided that I needed to do my own social media in a way that worked for me. So the best way to do that for me was with no strategy. I’m a full-time attorney and I’m building the law firm, so I had to figure out how do I do this in a way that doesn’t feel like too much pressure or in a way that I feel I can’t keep up with.
— Patrice Perkins
Sometimes no strategy is a strategy in itself. That’s definitely the case for Patrice! She doesn’t schedule content in advance and she never developed a brand voice guide because she’s bringing her authentic self to the table. For her, that worked best so she could engage with potential and existing clients in a genuine way — and so she wouldn’t have to outsource the work to someone else.
Patrice posts most often to Instagram. Her posts are inspired by intellectual property news she’s reading, shows she’s watching like Silicon Valley, and even music videos she’s checking out, like Finesse by Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B. She shares her authentic thoughts, in the moment, on Instagram and, organically, those posts sometimes turn into larger case studies.
Here’s Patrice’s post on the Finesse video that released earlier this year. She used the video to talk about copyright infringement, something she specializes in, and the post eventually turned into a Legal Coffee Chat, a mini masterclass Patrice hosts online and occasionally in-person, on a specific legal topic. Hosting these masterclasses gives her a way to display her firm’s expertise and to grow her email list.
Using intellectual property education to empower creatives
It’s not laziness or just not being interested — it’s a lack of knowledge. For me, it became the way that I can help creatives not have to work so hard for the rest of their lives.
— Patrice Perkins
Protecting intellectual property is becoming more and more the norm for creatives today. As the marketplace expands globally, so does the reach of our work — and Patrice is at the center of conversations online to help educate creatives around IP and copyright law.
For some creative entrepreneurs and small business owners, it’s hard to visualize the value of their ideas. It’s not something we’re taught to place monetary value on. Yet as the global marketplace grows, creatives are finding that their ideas — whether they capitalize on them or not — are extremely valuable and worth protecting.
Listen to the full episode with Patrice Perkins to hear more about her work at Creative Genius Law, how she approaches social media, and her plans for the future of her firm.
Building An Unpredictable Business with Woke Up Knowing Experience Creator Dyana Valentine
The Nitty Gritty:
- How Dyana came to call herself an oracle (plus why she initially resisted that label)
- Why she does not offer refunds on her work — and how she decided on that policy
- How the Woke Up Knowing Experience came to Dyana and how she beta tested it among her existing community as well as critics to grow her confidence
- How Dyana created a structure around her offerings
Dyana Valentine is an oracle. As esoteric or “woo” that might sound, Dyana says that it’s really not. Just like any service provider, Dyana develops and beta tests programs and works with clients one-on-one in a way that suits her strengths.
In this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., Dyana shares the nitty gritty of what it means to be an oracle and how she develops a structure around what she does. Dyana also talks money and how to grow confidence in what you do to serve others.
We release new episodes of Profit. Power. Pursuit. every week. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.
On naming your work… and having others do it for you
I didn’t name myself oracle. I didn’t use that term and I resisted it for the first probably three or four years of the work because it’s much like other terms that are used in specialized sort of astral plane or other plane.
— Dyana Valentine
For some creatives, it’s hard to nail down exactly what you do in a single word. You may flip flop from one title to another through your years of work — and eventually, something sticks.
Sometimes it’s your clients who do the naming for you.
One of the first public titles Dyana received was that of instigator. She admits that she was initially offended by it, “because in my life, being an instigator was not a compliment.”
When it came to defining her work, Dyana heard not only instigator but also evangelist and oracle. She admits that she resisted them at first but soon realized that the people giving her these names were the same people who were paying to work with her — and that there must be something to it.
Squashing self-doubt and growing confident
I dreamt for people who gave me questions and languages I don’t know. I dreamt for people who were huge critics and cynics and never did anything woo. I actively recruited people who were hostile to the work. I worked with young people, old people, people from different cultures, and I took notes and told myself: “If it works over some period of time, then I’ll keep doing it.” And when it got to that time, I extended the deadline by another year and another year.
— Dyana Valentine
When you’re creating something new, it’s common to experience self-doubt — and wise to put the work in front of people to get their feedback. Dyana took this approach but she took it another step further by inviting her critics to experience the work, too.
She did this all because she needed to grow her confidence. As she mentions, Dyana extended the deadline because she thought that maybe this work was too wacky or weird — but she felt a calling to it and did it anyway.
While this particular situation of beta testing with both her community and her critics, the process of beta testing a new offering is always a smart choice. Especially when you’re launching something new, beta testing grows your confidence and puts some of your self-doubt at ease (and provides you with valuable feedback to make what you offer even better.)
Creating structure around your work
I pay attention to tracks of information or data tracks that other people don’t pay attention to or haven’t practiced in. I look at it very logistically in that way so I feel like a technician yet I think my work is not seen as technical work. But I see it as technical work because I practice at it and I’ve created structures that help me make sense out of this work so that I can actually use it for good.
— Dyana Valentine
While Dyana’s work is nontraditional, it doesn’t mean she can’t create structure around it. What I loved most about this part of the conversation is Dyana’s metaphor for placing a structure around anything: it simply comes down to what you do with the knowledge you have.
For example, a dentist is going to look at your x-rays and your dental record to make a sound recommendation the same as a cardiac doctor might review your echocardiogram before implementing a treatment plan. It’s all about what they do what what they know.
The same goes for your business. You are the curator of the experience with your client — and you are the one with the specialized knowledge in what they’re seeking. As Dyana says, understanding what she’s doing as an oracle and what her client is doing. “That sets a framework for people who I really enjoy working with,” says Dyana, “who are straight shooting, ambitious, curious people who are not afraid to be told the truth.”
It really is that simple.
Listen to the full episode with Dyana Valentine to hear more about the work she offers as an oracle, why she doesn’t offer refunds, and how she attracts clients.
The 12-Month Evolution Of A Digital Product Pricing Strategy: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Pricing digital products is incredibly difficult…
even for people who supposedly know what they’re doing.
More so than services or physical products where you’re starting with a set rate for labor or variable costs based on materials and shipping, the price of a digital product is about telling a story.
Of course, it’s not the price itself that tells the story. It’s what the price makes you think of that tells the story.
For instance, if I see a ring with a shiny clear crystal and yellow metal that is priced at $25, I will assume that crystal is plastic and that the metal is an alloy. If it’s priced at $150, I will assume that the crystal is quartz and that the metal is gold-plated or filled. If it’s priced at $5000, I will assume the crystal is a diamond and the metal is 14k gold.
I don’t need tags, a salesperson, or a lengthy product description to give me a good idea of “what” the ring actually is. The price tells me a great deal. In an instant, it tells me whether the product is actually what I’m looking for or interested in.
The same is true of most offers — but especially digital products.
The story that is most enticing to your customers often dictates the price of your product. Sometimes that means pricing it higher and sometimes that means pricing it lower. While market and customer research can point you in the right direction, you often don’t know the “right” story and the “right” price until you experiment.
Another factor making pricing digital products a challenge is that, contrary to many assumptions, digital products do have costs.
There may not be materials that need to be purchased or labor that needs to get paid out for every sale but there are delivery costs, sales costs, support costs, and hosting costs. Some digital products have extremely large profit margins and some do not.
If you fail to account for those costs, you might have a product that sells easily and puts you out of business at the same time.
Now, I understand these things because they are my struggle as an entrepreneur, product developer, and marketer, too. Despite having received somewhat of a reputation for being “good” at pricing, I will admit that it is an art and not a science. And, sometimes, art misses the mark — a few times in a row.
Over the course of 2017, I took my company through a sizable pivot, away from being an education and coaching company and toward being a community and support company. We chose to sunset our signature program, Quiet Power Strategy®, and focus on our support community for digital small business owners, CoCommercial.
I’m thrilled with the results of the product we’ve built, the team we’ve assembled, and the community that has stepped forward.
But one area we haven’t quite nailed is price.
The 2 main reasons we haven’t nailed price yet are the two challenges I outlined above: the story and the costs.
Digital products tend to fall into 2 categories: high-priced courses that promise clear and measurable outcomes and low-priced resources that promise to sell you a high-priced course.
Membership communities, like our support community, are neither and remain challenging to sell because they defy those expectations. That said, I still believe that membership communities are a huge opportunity in the digital small business marketplace and the success of fitness apps like Aaptiv and MyFitnessPal confirm this. Further, I still believe that a support community is exactly the kind of value I want to create to serve this market.
To that end and to honor our company value for transparency, I want to share how we’ve evolved our pricing strategy over the last year. The truth is: we don’t have it figured out yet but that doesn’t mean we haven’t learned a lot.
Stage 1: Premium Membership
Our initial offer and price was a holdover from when we offered membership as additional support for our training and coaching programs at $59 per month.
The story we wanted to tell was that our community was full of people who were committed to both their businesses and the community. It was intimate, friendly, and super smart.
We also offered a 30-day free trial to entice people to check it out and make sure it was a perfect fit.
As we looked to scale the community quickly, though, we found this price was getting in the way. It was more challenging than it should have been to enroll new free trials and those who did enroll would often not convert to paying members or would request a refund when they noticed that charge for the thing they signed up for and forgot about hit their credit card.
Our numbers weren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination but they weren’t getting us where we wanted to go. Plus, we didn’t feel we had enough time with each new member to share with them all the community had to offer.
Around the time that I was realizing we might need to make a change to the pricing strategy, I received an email from our partners at Mighty Networks. Because we had a white label app in in the Apple App Store, we needed to adjust our pricing to conform to their standards. In other words, it had to end in 99 cents.
The idea of selling a membership for $59.99 per month really, really irked me. I like round-ish pricing. Ninety-nine cents might make sense when you’re talking about a $2.99 app or a $9.99 per month fitness service… it does not make a lot of sense when you’re talking about prices higher than about $25 and it does not say “premium membership.”
We needed to make a big change and we needed to make it quickly.
Stage 2: The Leaders Circle
Spoilers: we decided we needed to go with a lower price point. But we had plenty of happy customers at the higher level and we wanted to keep them (and keep them happy)! I believed we could do both by introducing some great new member benefits. Plus, plenty of bootstrapped SaaS apps have converted a premium-first business strategy into highly profitable companies.
I made the choice to invest in additional support for the community as we were ramping up membership by self-funding the expense through more hands-on coaching offers. This meant I had a fabulous new team member who could spend time actively working with the community and hosting events.
We announced 2 new weekly meetings: Flash Mastermind and Coworking Chats. Plus, we added monthly day-long community Work & Learn sessions.
Members were thrilled and churn slowed to a crawl.
Stage 3: Introducing A Crazy Low Price Point
As I mentioned, I’m cool with .99 pricing to a certain point. Plus, I thought we had an opportunity to tell a different story.
Instead of telling a “premium” story (although all those things are still true), we decided to tell a story about our community being like the other tools (largely subscription SaaS apps) you use to run your business. We’re there for you whenever you need us, we take care of you and anticipate your needs, and you don’t have to give up other tools to take advantage of us.
We decided on $14.99 per month.
It was a big change. The initial results were incredible. Our assumption was right: many more people would give us a try with this new price point (and the new story).
But in the end, the story still wasn’t right. Many of our fears — like that the quality of new members would go down or that people wouldn’t think it was good — were proved wrong. However, the rate of new trials was still too low and the cost of acquisition was still too high.
Cashflow was crunched and we started looking for other options.
Stage 4: A Similar Price Point — With A Twist!
I still loved the story we were telling about CoCommercial being that go-to tool that small business owners use, not for email marketing or landing pages, but for help and personalized support. But it just wasn’t quite clear enough… it lacked urgency… it lacked concreteness.
I also realized that I had missed the mark on how many of the SaaS apps small business owners used were now selling their wares. Instead of a low monthly price point, many had switched to an annual fee.
Why? Commitment, investment, cash flow.
The same things we need to make our community work (commitment from new members, investment in getting the help you crave, and solid cash flow to support our hands-on staff) were what SaaS companies needed too.
I also noticed that “free trial” just wasn’t resonating with our audience. They were used to spending thousands on online courses but didn’t “click” with an offer to get quality support free of charge for 30 days. Instead of being continually baffled by this (and truthfully, I get their concern), I decided to regroup entirely.
“Let’s make it a 30-day money back guarantee. Let’s make it an annual fee,” I said.
So in the next week, we’re rolling out some new pricing. The annual price for CoCommercial is going up to $200. And, because Apple is Apple, it still needs to be $199.99… but I won’t be speaking that out loud!
We’re doing away with our monthly plan and free trial as we experiment with this new pricing strategy. Instead, we’ll remove the risk by offering a 30-day money back guarantee and our team will work hard to help everyone who joins get more than they’ve paid for out of that first month’s experiences.
At the same time, we’re revamping our marketing strategy and messaging. The story that CoCommercial is there for you whenever you have challenges or questions about your business will remain. But the context will be much clearer. I’ll leave the explanation of that for another day — but I’m incredibly excited about it.
Stage 5: Who Knows?
I wouldn’t say that pricing your digital products is a negotiation with your audience. But it is a process. Just because a price is set doesn’t mean it can’t change.
Even if I wouldn’t recommend making as many changes as we have over the last year!
As you consider adjusting the price of your products — or services — in the next year, make sure you’re also considering the story you’re telling and the real costs you’re accumulating. Make sure that the price you set isn’t just a number but a full accounting of where you want your offer to be in the market, how it fits into your customers’ lives, and the story they’ll tell themselves when they see the price.
Your Business Is A Mess: Why Your Plans Fail You And What To Do Instead
Your business is a mess.
Or, to put it another way:
Your business is a series of interwoven systems, mechanisms, and information that impact and influence each other so that no one component can be singled out as a problem or a solution.
Russell Ackoff, a pioneer in both management science and systems thinking, said:
Managers are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other, but with dynamic situations that consist of complex systems of changing problems that interact with each other. I call such situations messes. Problems are extracted from messes by analysis. Managers do not solve problems, they manage messes.
If you feel like you solve one problem only to discover another, this is why. If you feel like every time you make an incredible discovery about your business it changes everything, this is why. If you feel like everything you learn about growing your business seems to influence everything you’ve experienced running your business, this is why.
It’s a mess.
And that’s okay.
Your job is to manage this mess.
That means being willing to adapt, try new things, experiment, and — most importantly — accept that the work is never done.
Every change you make to your website has the potential to ripple through the rest of your business. Every adjustment you make to your pricing can set off a chain reaction. Every revision you make to your plan could create a counteraction later on down the line.
The more aware you are of the messy nature of your business, the more you can use the mess to your advantage.
You’re not planning for the mess.
When you plan for your business — whether it’s setting goals for the year or simply planning your actions for the week — you are most likely setting discrete goals or tasks. It’s a form of projection or forecasting that can feel downright silly when there’s a tiny voice in the back of your head that says either “Yeah, right,” or “Nice try but there’s no way you’re getting that all done.”
Ackoff has an answer for this too:
The future is better dealt with using assumptions than forecasts.
Assumptions — or as I’ve referred to them before, hypotheses — help you deal with the mess. In fact, they can help you use the mess to your advantage. You can expect the unexpected and anticipate a vast array of scenarios.
When you decide on an assumption or a hypothesis instead of a goal or task list, you’ll see it as flexible. The flexibility of your hypothesis means you’re more likely to adjust it instead of abandon it when you’re presented with challenges.
The more you adjust your hypothesis, the more you learn about your business, the mess, and how it works. The more you learn about your business, the better you’re able to manage the mess and anticipate how ripple effects or chain reactions will occur in the future.
Here’s how to get started:
Look at your goal or projects for this quarter.
Most likely, you’ve set those goals as definitive statements:
- Enroll 30 new customers
- Generate $25,000 in revenue
- Complete a new online course to sell
Nothing wrong with those… but those goals don’t reflect the mess that is your business, right?
To reflect your mess, you want to identify the individual, overlapping, and inter-influencing systems that make up the way you achieve each goal.
For instance, you could say:
If I write 12 new blog posts with a Call to Action over the next 12 weeks, then I’ll generate 1000 new leads. If I market my program to those 1000 new leads, then I’ll enroll 30 new customers into my program.
Now, you can see the mess!
Writing blog posts with a Call to Action that generates appropriate leads is (at least) one system. Nurturing new leads and marketing your program to them is another system. Enrolling new customers is yet another system.
Each is interdependent on the others. If your blog writing & lead generating system doesn’t quite gel, you won’t generate the leads you need. If you don’t generate the leads you need, you won’t have enough people to market to to close 30 sales. If you don’t know what you’re selling and how you’re selling it, you won’t be able to write effective blog posts and generate relevant leads.
When things work out, you don’t worry about how these systems work together. You also don’t learn much about what works for your business.
When things don’t work out, you can be so focused on the disappointing outcome that you miss the obvious opportunities to improve on your plan and get a different result.
When you have a hypothesis instead of a forecast, you won’t simply bemoan the fact that you didn’t reach your goal. Instead, you have an immediate plan of action for how to improve your work and do better next time. You could adapt the type of posts you write, the frequency with which you write them, the Call to Action, etc…
Once you recognize your mess, you can start to see planning, goal-setting, and taking action as a process and not something that’s set in stone once created.
You can adjust your plans instead of abandoning them.
From Personality Cults to Collective Intelligence: The Democratization of Education Online
There’s a major shift occurring in the world of small business education, coaching, and training.
One group of bloggers, content marketers, and educators have gone on to start self-funded software companies. Another group has moved toward building agencies and practices that deliver precise execution and hands-on support.
A third group is saying, “It’s just not working anymore.”
Those that say “it’s not working” are largely those who have relied on personality-driven brands and the development of the online course market. This market developed out of a desire for education to be accessible to the masses. Unfortunately, what was envisioned and sold as a democratization of business education has become anything but. The premium personality brands peddle their wares with the help of mobs of fawning affiliates while aspiring personalities aim to get a small piece of the pie.
This third group has employed the “gatekeeper model” — which thrives by sequestering “the good stuff” behind a paywall. The reason they’re experiencing diminishing returns is simple…
The rest of the market has already moved away from gatekeepers and towards the Access Economy.
We have access to people’s spare rooms when we’re on vacation. We have access to restaurant reservations at the touch of a button. We have access to a taxis in our pockets.
We have access to flexible labor that we can contract to do just about anything. We have access to time-saving technology that allows us to do things we only dreamed about 5 years ago. We have access to amazing amounts of data that we can use to learn more about our customers than we thought possible.
And, we have access to unprecedented amounts of information.
In the Greek and Roman Empires, access to information was limited to the town square and local gossip. In the 1400s, the printing press revolutionized people’s ability to access ideas and information — but only for the few who were literate and rich enough to afford books. In the early 1900s, radio and then television brought news, entertainment, and information to the masses.
Of course, the 1990s brought the internet and completely changed the game. With access to IMDB, Genius, Quora, and, of course, Google, you can find the most minute piece of information quickly — and cheat at your local pub trivia night. Even high-value education — Ivy League schools and specialized technology programs — have entered the Access Economy.
The democratization of education is here — and it’s a key part of the Access Economy.
Yet, when it comes to our businesses, we’re still relying on gatekeepers.
The gatekeeper model starts with developing a popular personality brand (and, often, cults of personality), moves on to creating DIY online learning courses, and finally sells them to us for thousands of dollars. Information is delivered in videos, articles, or audios and the “learning” is done in worksheets or small homework assignments with no collaboration or oversight from an instructor or learning community.
This is less education and more information regurgitation.
The gatekeeper model offers the bare minimum in terms of access for the most amount of money. True access to learning — and not mere information — includes access to a dynamic, collaborative learning environment full of people who are invested in helping themselves while they help you. That’s what is so valuable about traditional learning environments like universities.
This is where the small business gatekeeper model fails so miserably. It’s what has let you down time and time again.
So while some will worry this opportunity is crumbling…
I believe we’re seeing a much needed rebalancing of what people value and how they invest in what’s useful that happens to be in line with the direction of every other market in today’s consumer economy.
I first felt this rebalancing in early 2016. My team and I were working to create a more immersive experience for a group coaching program we had sold for the last 4 years while at the same time trying to automate it for those who couldn’t invest at a higher level. It did not go well.
First, my heart wasn’t in it. Second, we divided our focus. Third, we didn’t clearly define the value of either option.
It ended up being our best sales campaign to date… but it was also a flop.
That’s when I really started to rethink things. I have been passionate about collaborative learning and coaching since the beginning. Yet, I had started to abandon that approach in favor of what seemed like an easier sell and a more profitable offer.
Not a smart move.
I was at risk of missing a much bigger opportunity.
The gatekeeper model has missed the big opportunity — and left us in the cold.
Look inside the inboxes of most small business owners and you’ll find a myriad of emails all pitching some $2000 course about Facebook ads, project management, social media, selling on webinars, or writing copy. Many of these classes are very good. Some are exceptional. Others are not.
There are many savvy, successful, experienced small business gatekeepers. It’s not that the courses that are priced at a thousand dollars or more aren’t “worth it.”
I’ve bought them, I’ve enjoyed them, I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth.
However, no $2000 course has made growing my business much easier. A course can even out our journeys, level our learning curves a bit, or answer a particular question. What a course can’t do for us is support us in the daily ups and downs that running and growing a small business entails. It can’t help us evaluate ideas, get feedback on something we’ve created, or make a personalized recommendation. It can’t offer truth-telling, constructive encouragement, or even cheerleading.
An expensive course certainly can’t give us that on-demand access that we’ve come to expect from AirBnB, Lyft, and OpenTable.
Ask any successful small business owner (I’ve talked to hundreds over the years) and they’ll tell you that long-term, sustainable success comes not from nailing a particular formula or following a particular set of instructions butsimply having the fortitude to show up every day with the desire to make things more efficient, reach more people, and take action on their strategy.
In other words, the key to business success is access, not learning. Learning happens, yes. But it’s not the truly valuable deliverable, it’s a side effect. We need access to encouragement, honest conversations, real feedback, and — we need access to people who are on a similar journey to ours.
This kind of access allows us to synthesize, integrate, systematize, optimize, and perfect what we do already know. No course — even the best — is made to do that.
The gatekeeper model got the opportunity wrong. The big opportunity isn’t in selling information. The opportunity is to create, nurture, and sell an environment where real growth can happen. Of course, that’s a much bigger challenge than packaging what you know into an online course. It requires a bigger investment and an intentional approach to culture development.
Imagine a world where access to good information, constructive encouragement, and honest conversations about your business were as accessible as an Uber ride.
If you had a question about how the Facebook algorithm might affect your social media strategy, you’d know exactly where you go for help. If you had a cash flow challenge, you’d know exactly who to talk to for some creative fundraising ideas. If you had a difficult conversation you needed to have with a team member, you’d know exactly the people to lean on for support.
The answers to your questions would always be personalized — instead of the anonymity of a Google search. The creative ideas would always be contextualized — instead of the one-size-fits-all approach of a blog post. The support would be from people who care about you — instead of the faceless detachment of an Instagram meme.
In this world, action is prioritized over more learning.
You do more because you’re not constantly experiencing FOMO at what you should be learning to keep up with everyone else in the personality cult. You ask questions that help you move on to the next task or clarify your action plan instead of learning things that don’t matter for your strategy.
In this world, you call the shots — and ask the questions.
The gatekeeper model relies on control to maintain its position in the market. Those that use it need to be able to influence the questions you ask and the problems you consider worth solving.
Your strategy might not depend on learning how to sell from webinars, build your list from Facebook ads, or sell high-ticket consulting proposals but they will insist it does. They’re not necessarily trying to manipulate you — they’re just very good at casting their nets for prospective customers. When you have access, you have a much bigger chance of staying on track, maintaining your focus, and sticking with your strategy.
Your questions are your own, not a gatekeeper’s.
In this world, you cover all the bases.
Gatekeepers are human, too. They don’t have all the answers and they can’t help with every problem. Sure, they’ll send you to another gatekeeper when they can’t answer your question… but then you’re back at square one.
When you have access to a network of people who have experienced scads of business challenges and successes, as well as have talents and skill sets in a variety of areas, you don’t have to worry about going elsewhere.
You can rely on the distributed expertise of the network instead of the siloed expertise of the gatekeeper.
In this world, you never worry about obsolescence.
New information is always emerging. New techniques, tactics, and strategies make their way to the mainstream. Technology changes fast and the market changes faster. With gatekeepers, you have to worry that what they’re peddling could become obsolete at any moment.
With access, the conversation goes with the flow of information, technology, and the market. When a new idea emerges, the network will evaluate it.
This is the world of collective intelligence.
We believe in a world where you can prioritize action over learning, call your own shots, ask your own questions, cover all the bases, and stay up-to-date.We believe the reason so many in the small business space are worried “it’s not working anymore” is because the gatekeeper model has finally given way to the deep desire to tap into collective intelligence and finally realize the promise of democratized education.
What’s more: we believe building a system for collective intelligence in the small business space is more than possible and that access to it should be a part of every small business owner’s arsenal of tools.