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.
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.
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.
When the warm up exercise included doing monkey bars, I knew I was in over my head.
Rewind to a few weeks ago: I noticed a post on Instagram about our local bouldering gym having a women-only beginner bouldering class.
It was starting in 2 days and–for some reason–I decided I needed to do it. I had no climbing experience. Not even tree climbing.
Superman might have arms of steel. I have arms of aluminum foil.
The very first class wrecked me. I was sore for 4 days.
The second class was better. But I still couldn’t get to the top of the “boulder.”
During the 3rd class,I made it higher than I ever had before. I was just one foothold away from topping it out…
…but I didn’t have one more foothold.
I held on and on and on, trying to figure out how to I could get the leverage I needed to go just one step higher.
Soon enough, my arms and legs started to shake.
At that moment, I shifted my focus from going up to getting down.
Now, there’s only one way down.
I put energy and brainpower into figuring out how to fail–even though there was a giant pad directly under me.
I already had what I needed to fail. I didn’t need to put energy into it. I could have stayed up there until my muscles gave out looking for a way to get over the top.
But I didn’t. And that’s where things got really dicey.
I’ve gotten pretty used to falling in 3 short weeks.
When I fell this time, my neck snapped back pretty good.
Eventually, I had to call it quits because I knew what was happening to my body… and that I was going to have a rough few days with some muscle spasms in my back.
Once I was up from the fall (it really wasn’t that bad), the instructor pointed out that there was, in fact, one more foothold. I just didn’t see it.
I couldn’t have seen it because I let my energy focus on failing instead of forging ahead.
Why didn’t I see it?
I didn’t scope out the route (or the “problem” as we call it in bouldering-speak) before I started.
Because I assumed I would fail.
I have failed every time I’ve attempted to climb so I didn’t properly prepare.
You can bet I won’t be doing that again. I’ll know my line of attack, I’ll have taken account of all of my resources, and I’ll know some options should I get hung up.
And if I fall again? No worries. Falling isn’t bad–but not anticipating what I need to succeed is.
Now, dear reader, this isn’t just a story about my poor attempts at climbing over a fake boulder.
This is a story about your business–of course.
I want to know if you’re planning to succeed or merely paying success lip service.
I want to know if you have all of your energy and focus on your idea of success or if you’re regularly refocusing on what will happen when you fail.
Planning to succeed doesn’t mean just having a plan or even “doing the work.” It means making decisions and taking actions that prepare your business for meeting your goals.
Are you taking into account everything you’ll need to succeed? Or are you spending more time thinking about what you’ll do when you inevitably fail?
For instance, consider your year-end revenue goal. Maybe it’s $50,000. Maybe it’s $500,000. Maybe it’s $5 million.
Have you considered how many customers you’ll have to enroll to actually hit that number?Have you considered the number of hours it will take to service that many customers? Do you have the right team or schedule to process that customer service? Do you have the right processes in place to fulfill orders?
In other words:
Is the business you have now (systems, tech, team, management, service) the business you need to hit your goal?
It’s tempting to think that you need to hit the goal first to have or even earn “that kind of business.”
But you have to build the business that has the capacity to reach your goal in order to reach your goal in the first place.
That can mean making some uneasy decisions about the kinds of offers you want to sell, the people you want to hire, and they money you want to spend. When you’ve planned to succeed and created the capacity to reach your goals, you’ll feel so much more confident actually going out to make it happen.
And that confidence will translate into action that produces much, much better outcomes.
Finally, I want to say that contingency planning is important too. You should know what you’ll do if things don’t go to plan. But don’t let contingency plans inadvertently influence the action you take. That’s how self-sabotage happens.
This is Natasha Vorompiova. She helps teams amplify their impact by creating systems for scale.
Natasha has made a lot of changes in her business in the years that I’ve known her. What’s more, she’s helped me make a lot of changes in my own business—training our COO Rosie, changing the way I think about business systems, and constantly demanding (in the nicest way possible) higher and higher levels of work from me.
She’s the kind of person who takes intentional and decisive action when it comes to the growth of her business (and her clients’ businesses too).
We spent a week together in the Flathead Valley of Montana talking about what’s next for her business. And, I have no doubt she’ll succeed at making the pivot she’s working on now.
I’ve watched a lot of people make plans to change their businesses over the years.
Some, like Natasha, succeed—they earn more, grow their teams, stay focused, and stress less.
The ones who don’t succeed wait for the right time to make a big change. They wait for their bank accounts to have a certain amount of extra padding. They wait for their schedules to thin out enough. They wait for permission from the universe, from social gatekeepers, or the market.
Most of these business owners are still at it.
They’re still plugging away at their businesses the way they’ve always worked. They’re still selling the things they’ve always sold. They’re still working the schedules they’ve always worked.
There’s never a right time to make a big change in your business.
There’s only now.
Right now, it’s scary and uncertain to consider pulling the plug on the offer that’s consistently made you money (but sucks you dry).
It’s scary and uncertain to let go of the team member who’s been with you for years (but hasn’t kept up with the direction of your business).
It’s scary and uncertain to stop doing what you’ve always done (but hasn’t given you the results you want).
You can mitigate risk—but you can’t avoid it.
You can’t avoid taking a leap of faith—if you really want what’s on the other side of the gap.
I’m fond of saying that we don’t set big goals to achieve them, we set them to change our behavior.
Changing what you do is the only way you can change your situation.
If you want a different business model, you have to make a change. That likely means you have to stop offering something, start offering something else, and focus on making the new way work.
If you want a different customer base, you have to make a change. That means you have to stop catering to some people, start wooing others, and focus on building relationships with the new folks.
If you want a different schedule, you have to make a change. That means you have to cancel appointments, shift responsibilities, mark days off, and focus on making that schedule work.
That probably all seems obvious but so few people actually do it.
They wait and wait and wait.
They grow more and more frustrated that things aren’t going to plan. That their plans must be broken. That they’re just not good enough to make it work.
…they haven’t even started on the new plan. Not really.
Now, it’s time for some deep introspection.
Reader: am I talking about you?
If I am, there is no shame in that.
Now you know.
You know that it’s time to make the change you crave.
It’s time to pull the plug, make the call, send the cancellation.
It’s time to start the new thing. Make it happen. Focus your attention.
Because the only time to make the change you want is now.
Rebecca Tracey did just that a couple of years ago. She realized that she wanted more space in her business. She wanted to be able to pursue rock climbing, backpacking, and spontaneous travel.
But she was stuck in a cycle of launching her core offer 6 times per year.
So she pulled the band-aid off.
It required a leap of faith, a bit of investment in going big, and an iron will to make it work.
And now she can take months away from her business if she wants to.
My kid loved her 3rd grade teacher so much that she threatened to repeat 3rd grade.
When I informed her that, if she tanked the last bit of the year so she could repeat, there would be no way she would have the same teacher.
“They’ll assume he failed you, sweetie. Just don’t do it.”
Of course, she wasn’t serious…
…but she was completely serious about her love for her teacher.
At her school, they get “tickets” for certain behavior and achievements. These tickets act like currency for certain prizes (pencil erasers and such) or experiences.
(I have mixed thoughts.)
My kid saved up her whole year’s worth of tickets so she could have a private lunch with the teacher.
I’m not going to lie, I would have done the same thing at her age!
When she cashed in on her lunch, she was allowed to invite two friends to dine with her. She invited one of her little besties and she also invited the newest girl in the class.
I teared up a little when she told me.
It was such a kind thing to do.
She had plenty of other friends she could have invited but she chose a girl she barely knew.
I can imagine that that girl will become one of my daughter’s close friends. She’ll be there for her when things get rough and she’ll cheer her on when she’s working toward a big goal (like becoming a mathematician—her current career aspiration).
This girl will also, no doubt, remember that kindness for a long while, possibly for the rest of her life.
Now, this isn’t a story about kindness on its own. It’s really a story about power.
Power, as Dacher Keltner defines it in his book The Power Paradox, is “our capacity to make a difference in the world.”
Sure, you can make a bad difference…
But I love how this definition of power puts us in the mind of doing good. We can rise to power—as leaders, business owners, change-makers—in order to make a positive in the world and the lives of the people in our networks.
My daughter gained a little power the day she decided to reach out to someone new. And I have a lot of confidence she’ll use that power for good.
Now what does this have to do with running your business?
Quite a bit.
Especially if you want to use your business to further your mission and improve people’s lives (and I know you do).
Every day is a new opportunity to gain power for yourself and your business by reaching out to others, share your experiences through stories, offering some help, or simply collaborating on a project.
But first, I have a new podcast episode that’s a great corollary to this idea. I interviewed Jordan Harbinger, host & co-founder of The Art of Charm, for Profit. Power. Pursuit. this week.
The Art of Charm is one of the top podcasts on all of iTunes.
I’ll admit: I was very, very nervous before this interview.
But Jordan put me at ease right away and assured me that he wanted to give me the best interview he could.
His take on the benefits of reaching out & developing new relationships? “The only way to maximize your return on your networking is to help everyone you can without actually expecting anything in return.”
So if the idea of reaching out makes you nervous, or you’ve had bad experiences with networking in the past, or you just don’t even know what networking looks like beyond bad cocktail hours, this interview is for you.
I’m not the kind of person who wakes up early to exercise.
I’m not the kind of person who is outdoorsy.
I’m not the kind of person who makes a lot of money.
You have a story (probably many) about who you are and what you’re about.
Those 4 were some of mine.
Have a minute? I’d like to share more–but it’s personal.
In January 2016, I hired a personal trainer because I thought I needed someone to hold me accountable for exercising on a regular basis.
I didn’t like the way I felt, the way I looked, or the amount of energy I had. It seemed like a reasonable solution to the problem.
Guess what? I went to the first 2-3 sessions of the package I purchased and didn’t show up for the rest.
In January 2017, I decided I was going to set my alarm for 6am and start the day with a workout.
I’ve massively succeeded. I feel more comfortable in my body, I love the way I look, and I have pretty boundless energy.
The difference? When I hired a trainer, I told myself, “I’m not the kind of person who exercises on her own.”
When I got serious about changing my routine, I told myself, “I am the kind of person who wakes up early to take care of herself.”
And, now I am.
I moved to the coast of Oregon 5 years ago.
Every day, I felt like a “city person” in our small fishing town.
I loved spending time outside in the temperate rain forest, at the beach, or in the state parks. But I looked at Sean’s friends–who would hike up a mountain and then ride their bikes 20 miles on the beach in one weekend–with jealousy.
They were “outdoorsy” people.
When I moved back to PA 2 years ago, I grieved the loss of the wild outdoors. I wanted mountains, beaches, and rivers. But I realized that PA Dutch countryside, deciduous forest, and rail trails were cool too.
We bought a Subaru. We got a bike rack. I bought hiking shoes.
And we used them.
One day Sean said, “I think we’re becoming the kind of people who go hiking & biking every weekend.”
I said, “We already are.”
When I started my business, I set my earning goal at about $30,000.
That’s how much I had been making in my previous job.
After all, the person I am–the interests I have, the skills I have, the way of thinking I have–isn’t the kind of person who makes a lot of money.
Luckily, I met a lot of women (and men) who were exactly the kind of person I knew myself to be (smart, ambitious, values-driven, philosophically-minded…) who were making a lot of money running fabulous businesses.
I changed my mind: I am the kind of person who makes a lot of money.
Not only that, I’m the kind of person who leads a company that makes a lot of money.
And now I do… and now I do.
What I’ve discovered is that, quite often, when I say, “I’m not that kind of person…”
What I mean is that “I wish I was that kind of person. Too bad I’m not.”
What’s more, I’ve discovered that I can be any kind of person I really want to be simply by changing my story and taking action to make it real.
Now, left to my own devices I might have been perfect (dis)content to limit myself to my preconceived notions of who I am and what I’m capable of.
But I make a point to surround myself with savvy, fiercely intelligent, healthy, and happy friends. They’re business owners who are constantly improving themselves, their companies, and their craft.
They’re the members of CoCommercial–an online community of small business owners serious about making waves in the New Economy.
Yesterday, during CoCommercial‘s The New Economy & Your Money virtual conference, I asked our members to consider their money stories.
They shared the “kind of person” they believed themselves to be.
And many, many of them realized that the kind of person they believed themselves to be was only a shadow of who they truly wanted to be.
They realized that by shifting their money stories, their entrepreneurial stories, or their personal stories, they could change the action they took and the reality they lived in.
Think about the reality you’re creating with the stories you’re telling yourself about the person you are.
If you don’t like the “kind of person” you believe yourself to be, take action to change it. When you do differently, you become something new.
When you become something new, it might be the person you’ve been all along.
Interested in surrounding yourself with the kind of business owners who can help YOU make this kind of leap?
Tara Gentile is on a mission to turn the small business owners of today into the economic powerhouses of tomorrow. She's the creator of Quiet Power Strategy®, a business design system and entrepreneurial family. She's also the host of Profit. Power. Pursuit., which Entrepreneur named one of the 24 top woman-hosted business podcasts.