Behind the Scenes of Explosive Growth with Empathy Cards creator Emily McDowell

Behind the Scenes of Explosive Growth with Empathy Cards creator Emily McDowell on Profit. Power. Pursuit. with Tara Gentile

It’s tempting to think that “lucking” into explosive growth is all that’s standing between you and the lifestyle you dream of as a small business owner.

All you need is a tap on the shoulder from a big influencer, or a blog post that goes viral, or a product you create to appear on Oprah. But explosive growth is often uglier than it is exciting or lucrative.

On this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., my guest is Emily McDowell the founder of Emily McDowell Studio and the creator of the wildly popular greeting card collection Empathy Cards.

When Emily realized that the Valentine’s Day cards that were on the market didn’t really reflect the relationships many people found themselves in (ya know, dating–sorta–but only if that’s okay with you), she decided to try her hand at producing an alternative.

It said, “I know we’re not, like, together or anything but it just felt weird to just not say anything so I got you this card. It’s not a big deal. It doesn’t really mean anything. There isn’t even a heart on it. So basically it’s a card saying hi. Forget it.”

Etsy–kingmaker for independent designers and makers–put it on their Facebook page and Emily was inundated with orders. She received a whopping 1700 orders in 1 week and had to refuse to sell more.

What would YOU do if you received 1700 orders for your product overnight? Could you fulfill them? Do you have the customer support to keep everyone happy and informed?

It would be easy to say that Emily’s success was a fluke, a stroke of luck.

But Emily tapped into a key strategy for product design.

She says: 

“I was really focusing on what I didn’t see versus what I was seeing and what I was seeing done successfully.”

Whenever you’re trying to “get creative” about what you’re going to bring to market, when you’re trying to innovate on something as ubiquitous as a greeting card (or an online course, a coaching package, a wedding photography package, or a t-shirt), you might think the best plan is to shut off the internet, go into a cave, and wait until lightening strikes.  

Emily had the opposite approach.  

As a former creative director, she knew the best way to create something new and remarkable was to really look at the market. By examining what else was available, she started to see the hole–the opportunity–where there was great need. 

It wasn’t luck. 

It was a process. 

And because Emily had a process for tapping into the market with her products, explosive growth didn’t stop with that one card. Emily created a line of 40 cards she presented at the National Stationery Show and received an order from Urban Outfitters. 

Each time she’s experienced that kind of explosive growth, she’s had to figure out how to make things work… even as what she knows might feel like it’s crumbling around her.

Now, her company’s mission is to identify universal emotional truths and observations on being human and turn them into products that help people feel understood.

Emily and I talk about the other side of explosive business growth. We talk about what went on behind the scenes when her very first greeting card design went viral and sold 1700 units in one week. We also discuss how things have evolved from landing a big order for Urban Outfitters at her first trade show to licensing the production of her gift line to another company.

Click here to listen on iTunes and, while you’re there, be sure to subscribe & leave us a 5-star review.

And, find Emily’s new book, There is No Good Card for This, on Amazon.

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Building Relationships & Communities to Fuel Your Business with Justin Shiels

Building Relationships and Communities to Fuel Your Business with Justin Shiels on Profit. Power. Pursuit. with Tara Gentile

When it comes to networking, I’m a little intense. I’ve actually reserved every Wednesday at 3pm for a meeting with a close friend or a new stranger who I’m interested in meeting. So I literally email, Facebook, or Instagram someone who I think is doing something interesting.

— Justin Shiels, marketer, speaker, and community builder

This week’s Profit. Power. Pursuit. guest is Justin Shiels the founder of This Creative Lab and Curious Tribe. Justin has over 9 years experience in communications, marketing, and graphic design. He uses his passion for community and his hometown of New Orleans to fuel his work. In 2014 Justin cofounded Venture Pop, a conference for creative entrepreneurs.

Justin and I talk about the power of nurturing relationships, the specific tactics he uses to connect with new people, and his value of diversity in building creative communities.

A Simple Networking Tactic Even You Can Use Every Day

Aside from his weekly standing meetings to get to know new people, Justin also recommends a networking tactic (oy, that sounds so cold and impersonal for such a friendly thing) for staying in touch with the people he meets. I’ve been trying to implement this networking tactic myself all year–and it’s panned out beautifully.

The process is simple: 

If you read something, see something, hear something, or think something that reminds you of someone you know, let them know. Don’t let the thought pass and wonder why you haven’t talked to them in forever.

Drop them an email, text them, post on their Facebook wall…

…heck, pick up the phone and call them!

Share the thought, article, or video that made you think of them and tell them why. That’s it!

These small gestures–whether you actually reconnect with the person or not–puts you (and your business, mission, movement, ideas, etc…) back on the top-of-mind for the person you just thought of.

It’s a little thing that can have big results.

Take Action Now

In fact, why not give it a try right now.

Who do you know who is a natural relationship-builder? An authentic networker? A consummate community-wrangler? 

Let them know what Justin’s interview made you think of them. Tell them how much you appreciate their curiosity, friendliness, and openness.

Love this episode? Subscribe on iTunes and while you’re there, leave us a review, too! It helps us reach more smart & ambitious small business owners like you.

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4 Lies About Your Business You Shouldn’t Believe in 2017

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I’m pretty lucky that my job isn’t just to build my business but to watch businesses being built. And from my perch in the online business market, I see a lot of lies about building businesses.

Some are obvious. Others… are more pernicious.

Many lies are distortions of truths that have been passed along in a sort of entrepreneurial game of telephone. These are the ones I find most damaging.

What you’ll find below are 4 of the lies–most definitely grounded in some truth–that are stifling the prospects of businesses left and right.

Lie #1: Your most important goal is to build your list.

A few years ago, there was a major shift in the community of people building businesses in the wake of the rise of social media.

They realized that social media—on its own—wasn’t going to produce the financial results they were looking for. The platforms got more crowded, it got harder to earn attention, and followers became elusive.

There was no way to predict whether anyone would see your message—let alone click or buy.

What was working was email marketing—as it has since it was created—and savvier new marketers started to put more and more energy into ushering new people onto their email lists.

They found people who were interested in what they were offering, signed them up to “the list” for free, nurtured their blossoming relationships with content, and then made an offer.

Money was made.

A mantra was born: The money is in the list.

By the way: I’ve been–unintentionally–as guilty as almost anyone of perpetuating this lie.

Soon, everyone was talking about list-building. List-building, list-building, list-building.

There were list-building challenges, courses on how to get your first 1,000 subscribers, webinars on how to turn Instagram followers into email subscribers…

Everywhere you looked, someone had an answer for your list-building problem.

Only… you never had a list-building problem.

List-building isn’t the real goal of any business.

Finding customers is the goal.

Attracting people who want to buy from you is the goal.

List-building be damned.

As you think about your email list moving forward, remember that your goal is to fill it with potential customers, not just to add to the numbers on MailChimp or ConvertKit or Infusionsoft.

There might be a hot new “list-building” tactic out there and it may potentially add hundreds or thousands to your list but that doesn’t mean it will add new customers.

Be intentional, think socially, and grow your audience with purpose this year.

Lie #2: If you can’t scale, you can’t succeed.

Tech startups, software-as-a-service companies, and of course, online education businesses are all the rage.

All around you, you hear about the promise of scale: serving hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people with the same amount of work you use to serve one.

Scale is awesome. And, yes, the internet makes scale more accessible than ever before. But it’s not the end game for every business.

Businesses have been succeeding and making their owners millions of dollars without scale for the entire history of capitalism. Think about advertising agencies, construction companies, hospitals, and architecture firms.

Certainly, building this type of business is a challenge in and of itself. But if you have strong values for personalized service, bespoke results, and deep experiences, this is the growth path you should be on.

You don’t need to build an online course to grow a successful business. You don’t need to create an app. You don’t need to build a media site that tallies their visits in the millions. Those are all viable models—but they’re not the only model.

Lie #3: You have to work harder to make more money.

Now, this is a tricky one. Because it’s a lie that seems to have been debunked early in the rise of the New Economy.

However, for those of us with working class upbringings or ingrained Protestant work ethic (and I’m sure for many others too), this lie dies hard.

In a virtual planning retreat, I facilitated last week, several of participants expressed concern that their new, bigger goals would mean that they’d have to work really hard to reach them.

They were signed up for this event specifically to create a plan that would allow them to work less and earn more. And yet, they still struggled to get past this mental block.

As I’ve written many times this year, the main difference between a business that earns 5 or 6 figures and a business that earns 7 figures is not the work ethic or schedule of the owner. It’s a matter of design.

Design your business to produce more with the effort you’re already giving it. Change your behavior, don’t do more of the same. Build creative solutions instead of working harder. Adjust what you’re offering to produce the results you want, don’t pile on more, more, more.

Lie #4: Learn first, then do.

Having access to a wealth of information both free and paid is fantastic.

My pre-2003 self is still amazed at how effortlessly I can access news, opinion, education, and tutorials on any subject.

This wealth of information at our fingertips has created a strong culture of learning and exploration online. In many ways, this is extremely positive.

However, that learning and exploration culture can also prevent many people from taking action. There’s extreme FOMO when it comes to new ideas, new tactics, and new trends:

If you don’t learn something because you’re off doing something, someone else might learn it first.

The truth is that learning doesn’t actually happen until you do something.

All those courses you’ve taken, blog posts you’ve read, podcasts you’ve listened to, and coaches you’ve hired haven’t actually taught you anything until you put their teaching to use.

That’s just how learning works.

Keep investing your time and money in learning, but take action before you’re ready and as part of the learning process—not something that happens later.

(This 4th lie inspired by Mary Ann Clements, founder of Jijaze.)

The most important truth you can take with you into 2017:

Critically examining what you perceive to be your limitations never fails.

If you bump up against an obstacle time and time again, it will always pay to ask yourself why you’re bumping up against it and how you can get around it or over it instead of pushing through it.

The Fastest, Simplest Way to Your Goal

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Transcript, edited for readability:

Over the course of this year, I’ve noticed something happening with a lot of small business owners like you. Even I haven’t been immune from this problem as my business has grown and grown.

That problem… is overcomplicating things on the path to success.

This problem shows up in a lot of different ways:

You might be stuck in analysis paralysis… not sure which way to go.

You might feel spread thin… trying to do a little bit of everything to figure out what is going to stick.

You might be nearing burn out and just trying to keep it together.

Or, you might be excitedly planning for the next phase of your business and oblivious to how difficult you’re making things for yourself.

There are 2 main reasons this problem crops up in the first place:

1) You work forwards instead of backward.

You’ve got a new goal and you’re ready to build on the success you’ve already had (whether that’s the decision to start your business in the first place or a long track record of making things happen). You start with what you’ve already got and look to add on to that.

And you add and add until your goal is in sight.

That’s working forwards. And it makes sense… but…

When you word forwards toward your goal, you layer idea on top of idea, or solution on top of solution.

You say, “I’ll work with 10 private coaching clients. Then I need to sell 100 courses. Then I’ll sell 500 books.”

You just keep adding things on until you reach your goal.

This creates a complicated and nearly impossible-to-follow plan.

When you work backward, you start with a goal and ask yourself, “What’s the fastest, simplest way I could reach my goal?”

You might discover that it’s by simply taking on 15 private coaching clients with a 50% price increase, which people will happily pay because your attention isn’t divided between them and trying to make your complicated plan happen.

Or, you might discover that it’s by simply selling 200 courses and putting all your attention on making your sales process as effective as possible, something you have time to do because you aren’t also seeing 10 private clients.

That’s not to say that multiple streams of revenue are bad or wrong. It’s just that layer upon layer, complication upon complication, in the service of hitting some far off goal isn’t going to get you where you want to go.

Focus your plan by working backward from what you want to achieve and keep it as simple as possible.

The other reason this problem occurs is:

2) You set incremental goals instead of exponential goals.

And that brings me to a personal story:

When my partner Sean and I moved back to Pennsylvania a year ago, he quit his job to pursue his creative interests including fiction writing.

He’d dabbled in writing for quite some time, working on character development or penning short vignettes, but he’d never devoted himself to it. He couldn’t find the discipline to take a single idea from start to finish.

And he knew that no matter how many days he worked on character development or short vignettes, he wasn’t going to end up with a completed novel until he changed the way he was approaching the whole pursuit.

So he gave himself a massive challenge…

…he decided to tackle NaNoWriMo.

If you’re not familiar, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and it happens every November, right alongside No Shave November (for which he is also a faithful participant). The goal is to write approximately 1650 words every day of the month so that you end the month with a 50,000-word manuscript.

You do it knowing full well that the manuscript will likely be terrible…

…but at least it will be done.

This was going to be a real test: going from a scant 100-200 words per day to 1650 words per day? How could he manage it?

Well, he did. He actually finished early and proudly printed off the entire 50,000+ word manuscript on November 30, 2015.

The reason he accomplished it was simple…

He made structural changes to the way he approached writing. He was no longer just trying to get in some writing 100-200 words at a time, he structured his day around achieving the necessary 1600 words.

It wasn’t a matter of time or hustle. It was a matter of design:

  • He stopped writing in a notebook and started writing in a Google Doc.
  • He stopped writing at the pub and started writing in an office.
  • He stopped putting it off til the end of the day and started prioritizing the action first thing.
  • He stopped second-guessing every artistic choice he made and started moving through the plot bit by bit.

These 4 simple changes meant that he octupled his production in largely the same amount of time he was spending on writing before. Not only that, but he actually set a goal and reached it.

He could have forced himself to sit and work on character development and tiny plot points a few more hours a week, hoping that the extra work would eventually see his novel finished.

But that would have never worked.

It’s the same way with your business.

When you set a goal that’s just incrementally higher (maybe 10%, 20%, or even 50%), your brain automatically thinks that doing more will get you there. You’ll add photographing one more wedding to your schedule, you’ll work harder at building your list, you’ll pump out 2 more websites, you’ll sell a few more courses…

How long will you be able to keep that up?

How tired are you already?

The only way past this is to set a goal so much higher than what you’ve done before that you’re forced to consider an entirely new way of doing things, just like Sean.

You stop adding more clients, you stop building new content upgrades, you stop jamming more webinars into your schedule, and you look at the way your business is fundamentally structured.

Then, you can work backward and find the fastest, simplest way to this amazing new goal.

Now, let’s tackle two listener questions and apply this to their situation.

First up is Yvonne Radley.

Yvonne has a niche publicity and coaching practice for fitness and wellness business owners. She’s found success with a small email list but she’s looking to ramp up and break into new markets next year. Her best list-builder to date has been an email challenge she’s been running for 4 years.

So now she wants to know:

“What else can I do to grow my email list and break into new markets?”

Yvonne’s question is one that I’m sure is on a lot of minds for next year.

And our “fastest, simplest way” philosophy is going to come in handy.

First, realize that “list-building” has become a monster as a marketing mantra.

About 2 years ago, once every finally realized they weren’t going to be able to build their businesses with social media alone, the gurus started talking about list-building.

List-building, list-building, list-building.

And… everyone forgot that the goal isn’t to build your list.

The goal is to find the right people to become customers of your business.

You heard me: the goal isn’t to build your list.

Instead, you need to be 100% focused on finding the right people to become customers.

You don’t need to have tens or hundreds of thousands of people on your list to have a million dollar business.

So… what’s the fastest, simplest way to find the right people to become customers of your business?

It sounds like Yvonne already knows: it’s this challenge that she’s been running for 4 years.

I would look for ways to amplify that, to spread that challenge into new segments of her market. And I would do that 2 main ways:

1) By tapping into the people who have already gone through the challenge and asking them to share.

Her existing list is going to be a huge help in growing her audience. Craft a campaign specifically around re-engaging these people and asking them to share the wealth with their friends and family.

At this point, I’d also look for technology that can help to simplify this: a referral system, viral marketing campaign software, etc… She should be rewarding people (even if it’s just with a “thank you” email) as people refer their friends and she should be making it as easy as possible for them to do it.

2) Paid Advertising

When you have something that you know works to turn interested people into buyers, it’s time to invest in advertising and then look for ways to scale the campaign once it’s working. Plus, since Yvonne has her customer defined soooooo well, she’ll be able to target them easily and speak to them directly—which makes any advertising campaign much more effective.

I’d start by advertising some really great content related to the challenge: a video, a blog post, even a few photos. Build general awareness about your brand and the value it provides.

Then, I’d advertise the challenge itself.

You can even run a concurrent ad to the people who have done it in the past asking them to share it with their friends!

Finally, I’d use advertising to ensure the people who are signed up are actually consuming the content you’re sending them and following up on your pitch!

If Yvonne invests all her audience-growing energy into that 2-fold strategy, she should have a great chance at both building her list and finding the right people to buy.

Our second question comes from Michael, who’s just starting his business and wants to know how to set goals.

“As a new business owner, at what interval should I be setting goals and how often should I be reevaluating them?”

At Quiet Power Strategy, we do goal setting a little differently—and you guessed it, one of the big reasons is because I like to simplify and keep things focused.

So I ask clients to choose a Chief Initiative—the main driver of their activity for a period of time, generally 3, 6, or 12 months. That Chief Initiative is the core focus and single goal for that length of time. It’s the 1 thing you want to have created or accomplished in that time frame.

For a new business owner or even an established business owner who is looking to make some big changes, I recommend a 3-month Chief Initiative.

For Michael, that might mean securing 4 client contracts in the first 3 months of next year.

In order to do that, he’ll need to accomplish some supporting things as well. I call these Projects. Your Chief Initiative might have 3 Projects, it might have 10.

Michael will identify each of these Projects, things like completing his website, contacting warm leads, or creating a proposal template. Then, he’ll make a list of the actions he needs to complete for each Project.

Each of those Projects needs to have a definitive milestone or metric associated with them so you can measure their completion.

Finally, Michael should complete a pre-mortem for his Chief Initiative. All that means is brainstorming all the ways his plan could go wrong… and putting new actions or safeguards in his plan to keep those things from happening.

He can then work in 3-month blocks throughout the year to keep the business growing and keep him and Elizabeth feeling focused and productive.

If you’d like to dive deeper into this goal-setting technique and the idea of working backward instead of forwards, check out Episode 47 of Profit Power Pursuit, called Lead Yourself Backwards.

Plus, there’s more good goal-setting advice in Episode 28 Microplanning for Success with Natalie MacNeil and Episode 25 How to Focus & Get Stuff Done with Pam Slim.

That’ll do it for this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. Remember to keep things simple, work backward, and set exponentially higher goals as you plan for next year.

Next week, I’ll be back with another listener-inspired episode so keep your questions coming! Simply write or record your question and email it to podcast@taragentile.com. Remember to include your name, what you do, and where we can find you online so that I can give you a shout out!

If you loved this episode or any of the 60 deep dives we’ve done with successful small business owners over the last year, please subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

 

5 Ways to Improve Your New Year Business Plans: Inspired by Listener Questions

5 Ways to Improve Your New Year Business Plans on Profit. Power. Pursuit. with Tara Gentile

Transcript, edited for reading:

It’s that time of year!  Time to make your business plans for the new year.

It’s time to assess what’s worked in your business this year and make plans to make more money, take more time off, and grow your influence in the market next year. 

Now, if you’re like me, you’ll be taking time away from the inner workings of your business over the next eight weeks to make those plans.  In this special episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., I’ve got five ways you can improve on your plans. 

Now, that’s no matter what planning system or strategy you’re planning to use.  Plus, these tips have all been inspired by listener questions. 

You ready?  Here we go.

The first question comes from Aerie North, who you can find at Skillshare.com/AerieNorth. 

She says, “I’m never 100% sure if adding a new product or service to my business will confuse my existing clients.  I’m an artist and art teacher, and as an art teacher, I know how to create in many mediums.  I sell art prints and coloring books online, and I also make crochet sculptures for art galleries.  I’d like to add teaching crochet sculptures in my online classroom, but I already have several different art modalities represented in my online classroom.  Will adding new and different types of art classes turn off my existing students?

This is a really great question, and it’s something that I hear from listeners and readers no matter what market they’re in.  Aerie is in art and art education, but of course, I hear very similar questions from life coaches and designers and photographers, consultants, all types of businesses, and this is also a really common question at this time of the year.

Because the end of the year or even the beginning of the next poses some really special challenges for business owners, and the most insidious of those challenges is, of course, the temptation to try new things, whether that’s new products or new list-building tactics, new messages, new packages.

And… I get it…

Trying new things is fun, it’s exciting, and it could be a huge opportunity, which is exactly what Aerie is wondering about: is this a big opportunity, or is it potentially a distraction or worse?  Because any time you add something new, it could be great, or it could completely dilute what’s already working. 

As Mike Michalowicz says in The Pumpkin Plan, there is always a “direct correlation between diluted focus and a diluted bank account. 

That’s pretty clear, and I completely agree with Mike on this, and I’m sure that you’ve probably experienced this in the past as well.  Or you might be able to look at your business right now, and say, “Oh, yeah, my diluted bank account is coming from my diluted focus,” and so we want to avoid this when we’re planning for the new year. 

So the first way that you can improve your new year business plans is to double down on your positioning. 

1. Double Down on Your Positioning

Now, what’s positioning?  Before I get into the rest of the answer to this question, let’s talk a little bit about what I mean specifically by positioning. 

Positioning is where your business sits in the market.  It’s the stories that your customers tell about your business.  It’s the message that you put out.  It’s how you do what you do differently.  It’s the price you set, it’s the packages or offers that you make, it’s how you show up in the market, and all those things come together to give you your positioning.  In other words, where you sit in the market. 

Now, if you’re tempted to start something new, to add to your offerings, expand your audience, take a step back.  Does what you’re creating reinforce your brand?  The story it tells about your customers, the value you have to offer, or does it dilute your focus? 

Now, for Aerie, that means taking a look at how she wants to be positioned in the market, what she wants to be known for, how she wants her customers to talk or think about her business, and what message she wants to lead with, and then determine if those new classes will reinforce that positioning or dilute it.  And the key here really is in the answers to those specific questions, and I’ll come back to that in just a minute. 

But Aeries’s positioning may not be based on the particular art method she’s teaching.  It might be based on the particular value she’s offering through art, or maybe it’s based on who she’s helping her customers become. 

Her positioning could be based on lots of different things, not necessarily the modality or the method in which she’s teaching, and that’s so important here, because to know whether it’s a distraction or not, to know whether it’s confusing or not, to know whether it’s going to interrupt what’s already working and dilute her focus when it comes to her brand, we need to know what that specific positioning is.  We need to know where it comes from and what she wants it to be, and so that here really is the key, because until she knows exactly what that positioning is, she can’t know for sure whether she’ll confuse customers with a new offering and slow the growth of her business. 

So for Aerie and for everyone listening, you need to be able to answer these three questions:

First, when people talk about your business, what do you want them to say? 

This question’s really important because we tend to think about positioning as something that’s sort of inherited, it’s something that is done to us, it’s a place that we are put in the market, but positioning isn’t like that. 

We get to choose where we’re positioned, how we’re positioned in the market in regards both to our own business and in relation to other people’s businesses, so you get to decide what you want people to say about your business by the types of offers that you put out, by the messages that you use, by the types of marketing that you engage in, the prices that you set, all of those different pieces there tell a story that lets you position your business specifically.  So you’ve got to be able to answer that question to know whether a new offer or a new tactic is going to help you or hurt you.

The second question is what’s different about what you’re offering than what others are offering? 

Positioning isn’t just based on your business, it’s based on your business in relation to the rest of the market, in relation to other businesses. 

Now, I know the temptation here is to kind of fall into some, you know, competition spiral, where you worry about what other people are doing, but this is really an opportunity to take control of that, to break yourself out of that competition downward spiral, and instead, really focus on what you can do to actively position your business relative to other businesses, and to do that, you do have to be paying attention. 

You’ve got to look at what other people are doing so you can do things differently.

Then the third question is what story does your business tell about your customers? 

What story does your business tell about your customers?  A lot of times, with branding and with marketing, you’re focused on the story that you want to tell.  Your story.  The story of your business.  Why you do what you do, how you got here, what kind of interesting things have happened in your life or your work experience that have led you to this place, but that is the least important part of the story that your business is telling. 

The most important part of the story your business is telling is the story where your customers are the hero.  The part where your customers are the star.  So your business has to actively tell a story where your customers get to be the hero, and the clearer you are about that story, the more upfront you are about with that story, the more it affects your positioning, and the clearer your positioning becomes.  So with every decision you make about the next year, make sure you’re reinforcing those answers, and then doubling down on your positioning.

Aerie, for you, that could mean that those new classes go one way or the other, but you won’t be able to figure that out until you have the answers to those three questions.

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Now, our next question comes from Jody Riddick of JustJodieLeigh.com. 

She asks, “How do you get the most out of mastermind?” 

Now, I love this question, and it leads me to the second way you can improve your business plans for the new year, which is to get support from diverse sources. 

2. Get Support From Diverse Sources

I named 2016 the Year of the Mastermind for me, and it’s proven to be an extremely helpful strategy.  I have taken part in three different masterminds over the course of this year, you know, where I am a participant, and I’ve also led two different masterminds over the course of this year, where I’m working with clients in a mastermind group, and I have seen and felt the power of masterminds firsthand all year long. 

I can tell you in also watching what is so powerful about masterminds that there are three ways that people most often go wrong with masterminds, and there are then three ways, of course, that you can improve on what your past experience with masterminds might have been. 

So the first thing is that people seek out mastermind partners who are kind of going at the same pace they are, which might be slow to non-existent, and so the first way that you can get the most out of a mastermind is to actually…

Seek out people who are moving at a faster pace than you. 

You want the people that you’re masterminding with, as a business owner, to actually push you, to challenge you, to inspire you to get a little more uncomfortable, to do things a little more outside of your comfort zone, and really use that to propel your business forward.  So that might mean that you have to introduce yourself to some new people to put a really effective mastermind together.  Or it might mean you need to revisit some contacts that have gone stale, because those people have been moving at a faster pace than you’ve been.

This also means that you’ve got to be willing to say no to masterminding with people who could hold you back, and I know that that is something that gives people butterflies in their stomach, it makes them feel bad, and I know, I’ve totally been there, too, but this is something that really will make or break your mastermind experience. 

So as you are building a mastermind for next year, and I really, really hope that you do, do seek out people who are moving at a faster pace, who are trying new things, who are setting bigger goals than you, and I think very, very quickly, you’ll find that you’re getting more and more out of those interactions.

The second thing that people do wrong with masterminds is that they put together groups of people with very similar businesses, people who run in the same circles as they do, and of course, you can fix this one simply by…

Putting together a mastermind with people who have different types of businesses from yours, and people who run and move in different circles of influence from you. 

So you guys don’t all want to have the same mentors.  You don’t want to all have the same influencers.  You don’t want to all be reading the same blogs or listening to the same podcasts.  You want to put together a mastermind group of people who are getting information and ideas and inspiration from different sources, and you want to put together a mastermind group of people who are operating different businesses than yours.  Or at the very least, operating their business very differently from yours. 

The problem with putting together kind of a really homogenous mastermind group is that there’s a lot of confirmation bias that happens there, and you end up kind of doubling down on strategies that are just what you’re already doing.  They’re already the things that don’t seem really to quite be working, but if instead, you know, if you’re a life coach and you mastermind with a photographer and a website designer and a B2B business consultant, you’re going to see opportunities in what they’re doing that you would have never considered as part of your kind of life coach-y business brain way of thinking. 

It’s not that things in the life coach business sphere are bad or that things in the photography business sphere are bad or that things in the B2B consulting space is bad, it’s just that there is more creative ideas out there, if only you would break out of your sphere of influence and into someone else’s, and masterminds are perfect for this. 

You’re going to find out what’s working in other industries, you’re going to find out what’s working in other business models, and you’re going to be able to get creative about what to do with that in your own business simply because you’re not going to be so close to that idea, so close to that tactic, so close to that strategy that you can only think in terms of what you’ve already done or what’s already worked or what you already know.  So that’s the second thing that you can do to get the most out of a mastermind.

Another reason masterminds go wrong is because they’re unstructured.  If you want to get more out of your mastermind group next year…

Use a structure. 

Make sure there is an agenda to every meeting.  Prepare for each meeting.  Know what you’re going to share. 

In most of my masterminds, it’s some variation on a very simple structure, and I have Jaime Masters from The Eventual Millionaire Podcast to thank for this in a couple of different forms, but in most of my mastermind groups, the structure is simply having a round-robin group share at the beginning.  That can be around challenges, it can be around victories, it can be around what you accomplished over the last week productivity-wise, and then spending the rest of the time focused on one person or one issue or one goal in the group. 

And simply by breaking up time like that, everyone gets heard, everyone has an opportunity to speak up, to share something, and then everyone also has the opportunity to focus on just one thing, and this really has been the difference between, again, mastermind groups that make it and mastermind groups that get broken. 

So make sure you’re using a structure, and it’s going to feel a little weird at first.  It’s going to feel awkward, I promise you that, so just be prepared for it.  If you’re the person kind of imposing the structure on your group, it will feel strange, but that strangeness will wear off over time as people just come to know what the expectation is week in and week out, and that structure, again, will give everyone a chance to kind of relax and focus and get the most out of the mastermind group.

But above all of those things, regardless of what’s going to work for you, or you know, what you’re want to take or leave from what I just offered there, I do hope that you set a goal to create and meet with a mastermind group next year, whether that’s monthly or biweekly or weekly.  Most of my groups meet weekly, and I highly recommend it.  Even if not everyone can meet each, you know, week in and week out, that’s okay, but that weekly structure, it keeps the pace moving.  It keeps people on topic.  It means there’s less catch-up time every time you meet, and so I find that weekly frequency really, really helpful.

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Our next listener question comes from Leslie at MischaLee Jewelry.  She says, “How do you manage your time when there are a lot of really different business tasks that have to be done?  I feel pulled in so many directions sometimes.” 

Of course, the answer to this question is the third way you can improve your business planning for the new year, and that is to know your top priority at any given time. 

3. Know Your Top Priority At Any Given Time

Now, one of the biggest benefits of planning ahead, whether it’s for the month, the quarter, or the year, is that it becomes easier to spot your top priorities. 

These priorities will show themselves as specific goals.  So if you look, at your next year’s plans or your next quarter’s plans, you’ll see some specific goals, hopefully, that you’ve set for yourself.  The more specific, the easier it will be to know what’s important for you and your team to be focused on. 

But underlying your specific goals, the things that are really important to you at any given time, there’s going to be three currents.  Think of them as ocean currents, so no matter what direction your ship is traveling in, you’ll get influenced by the current that you are currently in.  You need to take that current into account, and adjust for it as you go.

Now, the first current is bringing in revenue… 

and this is maybe the current that most of us are in most of the time, and it’s also the most powerful current, because if you don’t feel like you have this taken care of, if you don’t know where the money is coming from, you really can’t focus on anything else.  Most specific goals can serve this current, which is a really good thing. 

If this is where you’re going to be a lot of the time, you need to know how any of your specific goals can help you bring in revenue so that you’re going in the direction that you want to be going in. 

So if you’re building your list, make sure you’re making offers to new people who join your community, making money off of that specific goal of growing your audience. 

If you’re aiming for a book deal, make sure you know what that advance from the publisher needs to be to keep your business running, so you know that when you sign that contract, there’s going to be an amount of money coming in that leaves you comfortable, that leaves you, again, steering that ship in the right direction. 

If you’re growing your team as your specific goal, make sure that you know how each new team member will allow for new revenue to come in.  So again, each time you hire, you’re not feeling like, ech, that expense of paying them every week or every month, instead, you’re saying, ooh, I get to bring in this new team member, and they’re going to bring in this many thousands of dollars to my bottom line every month.  That’s a much better way to look at that, and it’s going to keep you a lot more focused.

Now, the second current is building your base or filling your pipeline…

and you can’t ever really ignore the need to know where your next lead is coming from, but sometimes, this is the biggest priority. 

Maybe things have tapered off, or you know that you really need to accelerate building your audience, filling your pipeline in order to get to that next place that you want to be in your business.  Now, again, if this is a need for your business right now, or you know that it will be sometime over the next three, six, or twelve months, look at how you can leverage specific goals.  Maybe like a big launch, a speaking gig, or a media campaign to grow your audience and fill your pipeline.  Look at the things that you want to accomplish next year, and figure out how you can use them to steer your business in this current of building your base.

The third current is optimizing internal systems. 

Now, as my good friend, Natasha Vorompiova from SystemsRock.com would tell you, every business has systems.  It’s just that some of us pay attention to those systems, and some of us don’t, and so at any given time, you might feel a priority in your business for focusing and paying more attention to those internal systems.  Your specific goals can be used to focus on optimizing these systems.  Making them work smoother, delegating more of their pieces, or codifying them as part of your operations. 

So if you want to know how to manage your time, know what your priority is right now by knowing what specific goal you’re working toward and how the current you’re in is affecting how you approach that goal. 

Just about any goal that you see in your plans over the next three, six, or twelve months can be leveraged within one of those three currents, so that you’re not feeling conflicted, but instead, you are moving in the direction you want to be moving in.  So instead of balancing, you know, going after that book deal and bringing in money, you see how those two things can work together.  Or instead of, you know, managing a big launch and having that conflict with optimizing internal systems, you can see how those two things work together.

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Now, the next question, and this is a very popular one, is from Kay at The Happiness Detective.  She says, “How can I improve my sales technique?  I have the shop, I have the products, I’m out there promoting the best I can, but so far, only crickets.” 

Now, the answer to this one, is the fourth way, of course, that you can improve your business plans for the new year, and that is to separate your marketing plans from your sales plans. 

4. Separate Your Marketing Plans From Your Sales Plans

Separate your marketing plans from your sales plans.  I want you to make sure that you have campaigns in place that serve two different, though related, purposes. 

One, building awareness of your business and your brand, and two, converting sales. 

Way too often, especially in online business circles, but this is pretty much in every business circle, I see these two objectives overlapping, and it makes each of them less effective.  So if you’re overlapping building awareness with converting sales, you’re probably not building as much awareness as you’d like to be doing, and you’re probably converting sales less than you would like to be doing, and no small business owner wants to be in that situation. 

We want to know that our base, our audience is growing all the time at a pace that’s going to allow us to grow our revenue, too, and of course, we want to know that the sales are coming in.  We want to know when they’re coming in, and so this is kind of a, maybe a counterintuitive against trend recommendation, but based on what I see going on in the small business marketplace right now, I want to encourage you to, on some level, separate your marketing plans from your sales plans, and that means that you are focused on, you know, whatever blog post is going out, whatever podcast episode is going out, whatever emails you’re sending, whatever list-building campaigns you’re engaged in, you know what the main goal is. 

Is the goal of this tactic or strategy to build awareness about your brand?  To grow your base?  To build your audience?  Or is it to convert people who know about you into buyers?  Which is it? 

Now, I’m not going to say across the board that campaigns can’t do both, but if you find yourself struggling in this area, I think this is one of the most effective things that you can do, and I think that that’s where most of our listeners find themselves in, and even if you’re finding that you are marketing well and you are selling well, I think that drawing attention to this and looking at these two different opportunities can help you do even better with that as well. 

Any time you are marketing and selling, or promoting as Kay said, for your business, make sure that you know whether you are focused on building your audience or converting your audience into buyers. 

Now, the biggest opportunity here is really to give other people an opportunity and a reason to say yes right now whenever you’re looking for sales.  It’s really hard to do that when you’re focused on building your audience.  Building your audience gets people excited, it gets people engaged, it gets people sharing, it gets people commenting, liking, opening emails, clicking on things, right?  But it doesn’t generally get people buying. 

The kind of mechanisms at play there are pretty different. 

When you want to shift gears and focus on sales, when you want to get people to buy, you really have to be focused on giving people a reason to say yes right now, and so that means first and foremost giving them a clear call to action. 

You’re not just posting pictures of the work that you create, you’re not just talking about the service that you offer, but you’re actually asking them to buy.  You’re asking them to set up an initial consultation.  You’re asking them to register now for a workshop.  Make that call to action really, really clear, and then back that call to action up with natural urgency. 

Natural urgency is simply the answer to why buying now is more important to your customers, or potential customers, than putting off, and why it’s important now has to do with them.  It’s a situation that’s happening in their life.  It’s a way that they feel.  It’s a goal that they’re working toward.  It’s a problem that they keep bumping into.  An obstacle that they can’t overcome.  So think about what that is.  Be as specific as possible, create that call to action, then back it up with that piece of natural urgency.  If you can do that, and at the same time, separate out those things that are just there to build awareness, just there to build your audience, I think you’re going to get a much better return on your time and your energy when it comes to sales.

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Now, the final way that you can improve on your plans for next year is inspired by my friend Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin from The Gaia Project for Women’s Leadership. 

She says, “Talk to me about how to handle the emotional transition from solo to CEO.  Releasing task responsibility, delegating without fear has been my challenge for about the last six months,” and I know a lot of our listeners are in a very similar position here. 

So the fifth and final way that you can improve on your business plans for the next year is to make a plan to step back while letting your business grow. 

5. Make a Plan to Step Back While Letting Your Business Grow

Now, a lot of people are going to put delegation and team-building on their new year business plans, but it’s not enough to just hire people to ease your workload.  As my friend, Peter Lang, from the Uhuru Network marketing agency, told me in regards to myself and my own business, you have to offload responsibility, too.

This is where so many small business owners go wrong, myself included, from time to time. 

Now, when I say responsibility, I don’t mean the responsibility for whether a task has been done properly.  Whether the blog post gets uploaded, whether Facebook posts go out on time, whether the customer service emails get answered, etc.  What I mean is responsibility for important indicators in the business, important metrics, the things that really make our businesses tick. 

In other words, if you’re really looking to step into your CEO role and give yourself some space in your business, you need to be able to say, “I have a marketing person who does more than post to social media and plan my email marketing.  They’re in charge of making sure my subscriber count goes up month by month.  They’re also in charge of insuring our conversion rates during launches maintain a certain benchmark.” 

Or maybe for your business, you need to be able to say, “I have a customer service manager who isn’t just in charge of answering email.  She also looks for ways to improve our net promoter score and owns our customer retention efforts.” 

See the difference there?  It’s not just about the individual tasks that need to get done, getting individual activities off of your plate as you delegate.  It’s also about delegating a higher level of responsibility.  Responsibility for something that is key to the way the business runs. 

In the first example, it was about conversion rates and subscriber counts.  In the second example, it was about net promotor score and customer retention. 

Now, when you plan for that type of team management, you’re not just offloading tasks.  You’re not allowing yourself to continue to be the bottleneck for decision-making and strategy. 

You’re actually creating a team that knows how to create value for your organization, and they actually have the space and capability and responsibility to do that, even without your direction.  That then allows you to step back and still watch your business grow.  And so to that end, for next year, don’t just plan to make changes in your team.  Don’t just plan to add new team members or delegate tasks that should have been delegated a long time ago. 

I also want you to plan for time off.  Plan for time off such that your business continues to grow.  Plan for time off in your quarterly or annual plans, and don’t allow yourself to make this time that the whole business is taking off. 

This isn’t just time that you can afford to step away because the business doesn’t need to grow during that time.  Make this time that the company is growing without you, and if you can delegate that level of responsibility, if you can assign that level of responsibility and let people take charge of those important indicators, those important metrics for your business, the important strategy-level decisions, you’re going to be able to do just that.

So again, let’s go over those five ways that you can improve on your business plans for next year so that you can get the most out of what is a beautiful new opportunity, which is starting fresh, whether that’s in January or April or July or September.  You can start over again with your business at any time of the year.

The first way you can improve on your plans is to double down on your positioning, making sure that every decision you make for your business reinforces the story that you want to tell about your business and its relationship to the rest of the market. 

The second way you can improve on your plans is to get support from diverse sources.  Put together a mastermind group. Seek out people who are moving at the same or faster pace to you.  Seek out people who have different types of businesses, and use a structure to make sure that those meetings are as productive as possible.

The third way you can improve on your plans for next year is to know your top priority at any given time.  Know both what your specific goal is for any week, month, quarter, or for the year, and at the same time, pay attention to the current of your business.  Do you need to bring in revenue?  Do you need to build your base?  Do you need to optimize your internal systems?  And allow your specific goal to become leverage for getting those things done as well.

Fourth, separate your marketing plans from your sales plans, and in doing so, make sure that when you are actually selling, you’re making a clear call to action, and you’re giving people a good reason, an urgent reason to say, “Yes,” right now.

And finally, make a plan to step back and let your business grow.  So as you’re looking at opportunities to build your team in your business plans for the next year, use it also as an opportunity to give people responsibility over important indicators and metrics in your business, so that you really can step away and continue to see the business grow without you.

Want me to answer your busines question in an upcoming epside? Leave a comment here or–better yet–use your phone or computer to record yourself asking your question (plus who you are, what you do, and where we can find you online) and email the file to podcast@taragentile.com.

Subscribe to Profit. Power. Pursuit. on iTunes and, if you loved this episode, leave us a review and let us know!

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Why You Must Consider Your Personal Brand–Even If You’re Building a Company

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Personal brands aren’t just for celebrity entrepreneurs.

Take my friend Amanda Steinberg.

Amanda has built 3 companies, including DailyWorth which delivers financial advice to over 1 million subscribers every day.

She has poured her heart, sweat, and tears into her brands. But for her latest project, she needed to consider a new brand…

…her personal brand.

Amanda, as we discussed when I interviewed her for Episode 16 of Profit. Power. Pursuit., is writing a book called Worth It.

Companies–and the brands they embody–are great at fulfilling a message.

But when it comes to sharing a message, keynotes, books, and op-eds rule.

Company brands don’t give keynotes, write books, or pen op-eds. People do.

And, if you want your message to have the chance to be heard, you’ll want to work on your personal brand, as well as your company brand.

Your company will give you credibility but your personal brand will share the message and make it human.

Contrary to what many believe, personal branding is not a popularity contest.

Even Amanda said, “the personal brand marketplace is getting crowded inside a torrent of social media one-upmanship.”

Your personal brand isn’t about having the best looking office on Instagram or the most popular hangouts on Facebook Live. It’s not about who can be the pithiest on Twitter. It’s not even about who can drive the most traffic to their blog.

Your personal brand is what makes you most compelling, most effective, and most unique.

That’s your Quiet Powerto use my own parlance.

Your personal brand and Quiet Power inform your company brand, too. So working to understand what your personal brand is all about will serve you very well in the long-term of growing your business.

You have a message that needs to be heard, an idea that needs to be used, or a movement that needs to be started. One of the key ways you can do that is to be recognized.

  • Amanda wouldn’t have been able to tell her story and be preparing to change the money lives of so many women through Worth It without cementing her personal brand.
  • Being Boss wouldn’t be such a beloved podcast without Kathleen and Emily having strong individual personal brands.
  • Heck, Apple wouldn’t be the kind of brand it is today without the personal brand, message, and collective work of Steve Jobs.

So what should you do if you want to better understand your personal brand and how to use it to your advantage? Answer these questions:

1) What really makes your blood boil?

The things in which we most passionately believe are the language in which our brands are written–to paraphrase the inimitable Anne Lamott.

Tap into what gets you ranting and raving and you’ll be well on the way to discovering a key piece of your personal brand.

2) How would you want people to introduce you to someone else?

The words you want them to use point to your most deeply held personal values. Those values shape the message behind your personal brand.

3) How do you want to make people’s lives meaningfully better?

Forget the work you want to do. Forget the value you offer.

Hone in on how what you do or the value you provide makes people’s lives meaningfully better.

Once you have the answers to these questions, make sure you’re utilizing them. Sometimes, you can do it explicitly–like in an About Page. Other times, you can hook people in and help them get to know you more covertly–like in the opening story to a talk or webinar.

Just knowing your answers and keeping them top of mind while you’re crafting content, being interviewed, and sharing your perspective will help to solidify your personal brand…

…and give you the platform to deliver the message you most want to deliver.

Another person who has worked hard to build her personal brand–in addition to playing a key role in the growth of many companies and organizations–is Debbie Millman–my guest this week on Profit. Power. Pursuit.

Debbie is the host of the first and longest running design podcast on iTunes!

She’s interviewed some of my personal heroes like Seth Godin, Dan Pink, and Alain de Botton.

We talked about how she’s used podcasting to build her personal brand and create a platform for her best work.

We also talked about the 10 to 12 hours she puts into interview prep, how she started with just a phone line back in 2005, and the opportunities that have come her way thanks to the podcast.

Click here to listen to the podcast or read the transcript.