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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 email@example.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.
“The way I structure my day is my creative work is always first, so if I am doing interviews or I’m outlining a new program or I’m copywriting or writing emails, creative work is first.” — Melanie Duncan
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Tara: Welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. I’m your host, Tara Gentile, and together with my friends at CreativeLive, we talk to powerhouse small business owners about the nitty gritty details of running their businesses, making money, and pursuing what’s most important to them. Each week, I deep dive with a thriving entrepreneur on topics like time management, team building, marketing, business models, and mindset. Our goal each week is to expose you to something new that you can immediately apply to growing your own business.
My guest this week is Melanie Duncan, a serial entrepreneur with businesses in a variety of industries from apparel to customized home decor. She now runs a multiple seven-figure empire with her husband, Devon, and lives the work-from-wherever lifestyle that so many dream of. Melanie has also translated her passion and experience into her role as an online educator, helping thousands of people start and grow successful businesses of their own.
Melanie and I talk about the role of digital marketing in product-based businesses, how she manages working with her spouse, and the importance of company culture, whether your company is large or small.
Melanie Duncan, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. Thank you so much for joining me.
Melanie: It is an honor to be here. Thanks for having me.
Tara: I’d love to start off by talking about the two ecommerce businesses you founded. Can you tell me how you and your now husband got the idea for that first Greek college apparel company?
Melanie: Yeah, so we have a business called Custom Greek Threads that creates customized apparel for sorority and fraternity members. So those organizations and groups in college here in the United States, and the funny little side note about that is neither my husband and I are in the or were in the Greek system. So what happened is we were in college, and noticed that a lot of people were spending, my husband’s sister in particular, spending a lot of time and money and effort into these really cool, customized tote bags and sweatshirts and all sorts of sweat pants and gifts for their fraternity and sorority sisters and brothers, and there was really no one offering it very well online, so they were having to drive off-campus, bring in their own sweatshirts, find stuff, bring it into some little, you know, quilt shop or something, and kind of hodge podge together these creations. We decided to bring it online and create a fully, customizable website, where you could come in and basically design the dream Greek garment that you wanted to create for yourself or someone else by selling direct-to-customer, and by using and learning online marketing principles, we were able to scale it into a multi-million-dollar business in a very niche market.
Tara: Yeah, that’s fantastic. I love how that story really starts off by you guys identifying a need in the market, you know? Not necessarily something that you had expertise in or even experience in, but something that you could see as a clear need and starting from there. That’s something that is so important for people to hear and to recognize. Let’s dig a little deeper here. Can you tell me where you got the money to start up that first business?
Melanie: Yes. So that is, you know, the kind of ugly side of business, and don’t let me forget to tell you about Luxury Monograms, also, because there is another ecommerce business, but yeah, that first business was really kind of a terrible business to start with, to be honest with you, because to create these garments, we identified there’s screen printing, which I’m sure a lot of people in your audience are familiar with for creating garments, and there’s embroidery, and embroidery ended up to kind of be our sweet spot in the market, because there were less people doing it, there was less competition, and it was easier to create one-off garments, instead of screen printing a lot of times you have to do really big runs, and since we were offering, or are offering a very customized, one-off type of item, embroidery ended up being our sweet spot. But embroidery machines, at least the ones we needed to do the type of we were doing, you know, crests and all the sort of really cool customization, thousands and thousands of dollars. I think our … the machine we bought, the first one, was $13,000, which we did not have the money for, so we just leased everything. So we leased this machine, and actually, I think it took us ten years or something to actually pay it off. They wouldn’t, once we started making money, they wouldn’t let us pay it off.
Tara: Oh, no.
Melanie: Yeah, so that one machine ended up being, we ended up, now, I think we have a couple dozen of these embroidery machines that we all paid for in cash after the business turned profit, but that one machine, the time we were actually able to pay it off, it was this big celebration, because they wouldn’t let us pay off that machine, but to answer your question more directly, we, it was very much bootstrapped. We leased everything that we could. You know, I don’t like saying this, because I don’t recommend this as what you do, but you know, we did whatever was possible. We tried, we used some credit cards, but really, we just, we were in college, so we kind of had the beauty of having really low personal expenses. I will probably never do this again now at this point in my life when I have a home and a child and all of those things, but you know, we had our rent covered, luckily, by our parents at that time, so any money that we made, we didn’t pay ourselves for years, it just kept being reinvested in the business.
Tara: Oh, wow. That is amazing. Where do you think that kind of vision came from for you? You know, to be able to say I’m going to lease this stuff, not pay myself, put this money back into the business, I think that takes an amazing amount of vision, even foresight, to be able to work towards that kind of goal. Was that kind of vision something that you always had? Something that just kind of got sparked by this idea? Where did that come from?
Melanie: Well, I think a really important part of it, and this was something, you know, when … when you’d sent me a lit bit of some ideas of what we might be discussing today about, you know, what was something that had a really disproportionate influence on my success, it was definitely my business partner. So as you mentioned, my husband, Devon, we work together now. We’ve worked together in every business we’ve ever operated together, but it was having someone by my side that whenever one of us said this is too hard or I don’t want to be working in a warehouse until 4:00 a.m. in college when everyone else is off at parties. It was having that anchor, that other person that was like yes, we can do this, you’ve got this, and that honestly is what … we kept each other going, and we had, you know, big dreams. I don’t want to get all like mushy on you, but we had big dreams for what we wanted our lives to be and what we wanted to be able to accomplish and the freedom we wanted to have. I mean, I was able to graduate and immediately go into working for myself. We were able to take a three-month honeymoon around the world, because we made that investment, we knew what we were working for. We didn’t want to have to graduate college and just go into some, you know, corporate job. We had big stakes ahead of us, and we knew that.
Tara: Oh, wow, that’s incredible. Is there anything that you do today to keep that vision moving forward? To make sure that you’re always moving closer to that goal?
Melanie: You know what’s so funny is that, you know, I definitely teach a lot about goal setting and read a ton about it, but to be completely transparent with you, after doing this for 10+ years, it honestly has become almost second nature, where there’s just nothing that’s unrealistic and there’s nothing that’s kind of out of sight, it’s just about identifying what you want, and then working backwards. Okay, you want to make $10 million, what does that mean you need to do in the next three months to like create that first step to get there? So everything we do now is whenever we have a big vision or a big goal, something we want to accomplish, we just break it down section by section. What are the projects that are going to get us there? What is the timeline that needs to be implemented if we need to hit this by a certain date or by a certain time frame, and it’s just taking those bigger visions and not trying to play too small. I think that’s honestly the biggest mistake I see with the clients I work with is their goals aren’t big enough, or if they’re big enough, they’re too general and not specific enough. Make really big, specific goals, and then just work backwards.
Tara: Oh, we are so on the same page with that, and I do want to talk about that a little bit later on, but you did mention your luxury monogram business, and I want to find out more about that. Can you tell us how you got started with that business?
Melanie: Yes, thank you. Another … another funny story. So the Greek apparel business, we created, we had always built that business with leaving in mind, not just necessarily in selling, but we wanted it to be something that we didn’t have to personally have our finger on top of, so after, oh let me get the timing right, I think after about three and a half or four years after we started that business, and it was not all rainbows and roses, so don’t let me give you that misrepresentation, but after four years of a lot of very hard, very specific and strategic work, we were able to move to New York City, which is where we ultimately wanted to end up and leave the business in Southern California and manage it remotely. So once we did that, there were a couple of different factors that came into play. I started making friends with a lot of different really dynamic business owners in New York City. A lot of them happened to be interior designers. I got very interested in interior designing.
The second part of the equation was our Greek business, we were having a really big challenge where there were very big spikes and valleys in the revenue, because we were very, very busy in spring and fall, which is right around when recruitment is in the Greek system, so a lot of people buying stuff, really engaged, but then we were dead, dead, dead in the summer, and having a huge facility, having lots of trained staff, our overhead was nuts, and we were basically dead in the summer, so we were testing out different ideas. We kind of dipped our toe into the souvenir market, creating, you know, like the San Francisco, or you know, different novelty items, because we do all of our own manufacturing, but that didn’t really pan out. What did work, though, is I created a site called Luxury Monograms, which following the same vein in terms of our offering, it created customizable home items. So home decor, whether it was placemats, pillows, napkins, using our same machinery, our same staff, our same facility, everything, but we … the booming season for that is in the summer, because there’s a lot of bridal showers and a lot of weddings, and monogram gifts are very hot for bridal showers and weddings, so that enabled us to kind of round out the overall demand on our resources for those two businesses.
Tara: Oh, man, that is serious leverage.
Tara: So, can you tell me something that surprised you in starting up the luxury monogram business when, you know, you’d already been so successful with the Greek apparel company?
Melanie: Yeah. What really surprised me was how hard it was. I think that, I don’t know if this speaks to anyone else that may be listening that has started more than one business, but I think I was a little over cocky. I had started one business, so I thought, oh, this’ll be, and you know, in a very similar vein, I thought this’ll just be rinse and repeat, but I kind of forgot that I was essentially building an audience from scratch. I mean, we had a tiny bit of crossover, some, you know, Greek people that were into monograms in the south and that sort of thing, but essentially, I was targeting a very different type. I was, you know, selling $75 pillows, so I was needing to go after a more luxury market, people who were more into home decor, entertaining. We have a lot of interior designers that purchase from us, so building an entirely new audience in a different industry was more challenging. You know, we were able to do it, and it took a lot of, you know, testing a lot of different things, staying flexible, and being very persistent, but I was able to kind of crack the code again with online marketing and got our company featured on Good Morning America and on NBC and figured out how to get a lot of press for that business without using a PR agency, and that was really what got that company up and off the ground.
Tara: Okay, so now I want to talk about the online marketing and the online marketing space since you’ve mentioned that a few times.
Tara: Eventually, I want to talk about it in relation to the business that you have now, which is an information-based business, but first, I’d love to know what specific online marketing techniques or practices you use to build your two ecommerce businesses. What specifically were you doing to market those businesses and grow them?
Melanie: Yeah, so believe it or not, you know, when we started Custom Greek Threads 10+ years ago now, it was still kind of the wild, wild west of the internet, which makes me feel really old, but I still remember, you know, we were, when we originally started that business, we had an online business, we had an online website, we were taking all of our orders online, however, we were not marketing online. We were still cold calling different Greek organizations, going door-to-door on Greek rows around the country. We were setting up exhibitor booths at all the big Greek conferences. We were not marketing online, which sounds just kind of asinine at this point, but you know, I think it was eleven years ago, so when we made the switch, we start reading … My husband, actually, I still remember him buying SEO for Dummies and Google AdWords for Dummies, and just reading all these … all these pages of books, and we thought, oh, that’s so crazy, and I still remember our first sale we got from Washington, D.C., and we both looked at each other and went we’ve never done any conferences in Washington, how did we get a customer in Washington, D.C.? And it was because we’d paid some guy $500 to search engine optimize our website, and we started getting ranked for terms like Greek sweatshirts or, you know, Delta Gamma tote bag, and that really, that was the first piece that made a big difference in how we were able to scale that business into the, not just success, but multi-million-dollar realm.
Tara: Oh nice. And have you branched into social media marketing with those two businesses as well?
Melanie: Of course, of course, yes. So SEO is really what we kind of got our hook in, and then since then, we started with, you know, okay, our customers, I still remember my husband and I, we were on our honeymoon, and we were sitting in the gardens outside the Louvre in Paris, and I looked at him and I said, you know, when we were in college, we had just graduated, we spent a lot of time on Facebook. I bet our customers, and again, this sounds so stupid now, but I go I bet a lot of our customers are on Facebook, too. I think we should try Facebook ads. And my husband goes okay, well, you know, I don’t really know anything about them, which is hilarious, because now, he’s like a Facebook ad ninja, but back then, he’s like, well, I don’t know, why don’t you just take a stab at it, and so I started running our Facebook ads accounts, and yes, we now spend, I mean, just a … hundreds of thousands of dollars a month on Facebook. Not just for the Greek business, but across all of our different businesses and on paid traffic strategies and yes, we definitely use social media a ton.
Tara: Ah, how about email marketing?
Melanie: Of course. Of course. Another thing that, you know, like, we talk, I do teach all of this now, but it’s so funny to think about I still remember we had Custom Greek Threads for I think a year and a half before we ever started building an email list. A friend of ours that sold surfboards online said hey, you know, like you should really be doing this thing called getting your customer’s emails, and then you can, you know, like remarket to them, and again, it sounds so silly now, but yes, email marketing is really the foundation of all of our online businesses now.
Tara: Awesome. So I will totally admit that I’m asking, you know, leading questions, because I think so many people forget that whether it’s Facebook ads or your Facebook page or Pinterest or search engine optimization, you know, all these different things apply to different kinds of businesses, and those different kinds of businesses may use them in different ways, but they’re still using them. So whether it’s Greek apparel or luxury monograms or an information-based business, these are the things that move the needle on sales and growth. Now, kind of speaking of which, one of the conversations I often have with clients and with my audience is, you know, that the struggle to see how online marketing for information businesses and online marketing for product-based businesses is actually pretty similar, and you have such a unique perspective on that, in that you are both. So can you talk about the similarities and differences between how you market the information side of your business and how you market the product side of your business?
Melanie: Yes, and I will say, actually, that I think this is probably one of the most challenging areas is there is so much information out there now for marketing online and online information business. So how to use webinars to sell your programs and all that type of stuff, and I think that a lot of ecommerce owners, at least … I don’t know your audience specifically, but mine is really underserved, because yes, they should be using a lot of the same platforms, and yes, the overall concepting of how to serve an audience and how to serve a customer is the same, but I can tell you, they are two totally different animals. I mean, running an ecommerce, physical product business and selling something like a pillow is totally different than trying to sell a personal brand, trying to build a personal brand, and trying to position yourself as someone that people should listen to as an expert, and I know that all too well from, again, being overly cocky, and when I transitioned out of having ecommerce … I mean, I still have ecommerce businesses, but working in them day-in, day-out, and then trying to position myself as an online educator, I didn’t understand how difficult and different it would be to sell information and vice versa. I think a lot of people who teach online marketing but have no experience with physical product businesses don’t get how different and difficult it actually is.
Tara: Interesting. Interesting.
Tara: So let’s transition a little bit now. You’ve mentioned your husband a couple of times. Can you tell us what it’s like working with your spouse?
Melanie: You know, it’s really, really wonderful. It definitely comes with its own challenges, but I think it’s actually so much more of a benefit than anything else as long as you structure it properly. Something that has just been very helpful is my husband and I are very different and we have very different skillsets, so he owns the things. Like, he runs our programming team. He runs all the backend logistics and a lot of the more metrics-oriented type things, where I get to focus more on the creativity and the copywriting and the branding and the marketing, and so it’s kind of a dream situation for both of us. The only time we butt heads is when one of … we try to step into the other person’s realm, but other than that, it’s really a beautiful partnership.
Tara: Well, that sounds like a lot of non-spousal partnerships then, too.
Melanie: Exactly. Yeah, you just gotta be very clear about expectations and letting that person own their own roles and responsibilities.
Tara: And then is that reflected in your personal life as well? Do you guys have really specific roles and responsibilities at home?
Melanie: I don’t think so. No, not specifically. I mean, when we’re at home, you know, I’m very much of the little bit more European mindset. It’s like, you know, you’re just as capable as I am to throw in a load of laundry or change Olivia’s diaper, so there’s not … I mean, I love to cook and he doesn’t, so there might be that division, but no. I mean, we both run businesses and work full-time, and we both run our family and our home full-time together.
Tara: Hmm. Awesome. I love that. So you know, while I was preparing for our interview, I was talking with my producer about, you know, what you’re all about, and said that one of the things he admires most about you is your eye for details. Can you tell me how you keep track of all the details that are involved in bringing together a brand, bringing out a new product, creating a marketing campaign, things like that?
Melanie: Yeah. I mean, there … there are a lot of details to business, and I am a very detail-oriented person. I think that that honestly just comes back to systems. When there are so many moving pieces, and you know, as you’ve referenced, I do run multiple companies at this point, so that means managing a lot of different pieces and people and processes, so you know, I really have to reply upon I’m only as strong as my systems. So we use Asana for our project management, and I’m in that every day, but I also am very, very devoted to my own personal processes, my routines, how I structure my time, if you want to talk more about that, but that’s the foundation for my success.
Tara: Yeah, actually, let’s talk about that, because that’s one of the big questions that I get requests for our guests, which is you know, how do these amazing people structure their time? So what does that look like for you on a daily basis?
Melanie: And I do, I kind of hate to say this, and to be honest with you, throw up in my mouth a little bit about morning routines, because I feel like everybody talks about morning routines, but you know, if everybody’s talking about it, there’s probably a reason why. My morning routine is non-negotiable. Even, you know, I mean, does this happen every single day? No. You know, if my daughter has a fever, like no, my morning routine goes out the window, but the days I work the best, the days that I’m the most productive, the most fulfilled, and create my best work are the days that I follow my routine, and I get up every morning. It’s a lot earlier now that I have a baby. It used to kind of be whenever I woke up, but now I make sure to get up in enough time that I can have a good breakfast, I go, I work out even if it’s just for 20 or 30 minutes in my apartment, and I always read at least three pages of a book every single morning, and the way I structure my day is my creative work is always first, so if I am doing interviews or I’m outlining a new program or I’m copywriting or writing emails, creative work is first. I break my day in half at noon or 1:00 for lunch. I take a good lunch where I actually do not work during my lunch, it’s not allowed, so I go out or I spend my time with my daughter and have lunch with her, and then my second half of my day is reactive, so that’s when I’m going into Asana, I’m having my team calls, I’m answering people’s questions, I am reviewing my team’s work, but creative work is first, reactive work is the second half of the day.
Tara: Oh, that is a really good philosophy to follow, and I love that you called out that you’re prioritizing your creative work every morning.
Melanie: Yes, or else you just don’t get to it, and that’s the most important work to be doing.
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Tara: Okay, so I’d love to talk more about, you know, this philosophy idea, because you have a philosophy for your business that you lay out really clearly on your website, and it’s clear in that philosophy that you think a lot about company culture, which is a topic that I love, and one that I think gets real short shrift in online business circles. So why is company culture so important to you?
Melanie: Well, let me ask you a clarifying question. What do you mean by company culture? Just in terms of like the way that my team and I work together or like what I project outwards?
Tara: You know, I think for me, it’s a combination of both. It’s that … it’s how your insides match your outsides and how the way you represent your brand also reflects back on how you work with yourself, how you work with your spouse, and how you work with your team members.
Melanie: Yeah, at the end of the day, you know, something that I always keep in the front of my mind is, you know, I started my own business not just to have a job. So any time that my work feels like a job, I’m doing something wrong. And that’s not to say that it’s always like that or that it’s like that in the beginning, because in the beginning, you just do what needs to get done, and if you’re avoiding important work because you don’t feel like doing it, you’re probably, at the beginning, unless you’re at a point where you can delegate it to someone else or find a way to eliminate it, you need to be doing everything that needs to get done, but when you get to a certain point in your business where you’re breathing a little bit of relief, you’ve got some consistent clients or customers, you really have to start making strategic decisions about business being a marathon and not a sprint. So how are the choices that I’m making? Like I don’t work one-on-one with very many clients. I have a ton of demand to work one-on-one with people, but it really limits my own freedom in getting to choose to do what I want to do when I want to do it.
You know, if I wake up and I don’t feel like working, my nightmare is that there’s something that I have to work on that day. I enjoy a lot of freedom and flexibility to work on Monday or work on Sunday depending on where I am and what I feel like doing, and that’s not something I want to compromise. So that’s just something I think you have to constantly be asking yourself, and I do a lot of … again, I feel so ridiculous saying this because I’m not a very woowoo person, but journaling is really helpful. I always try and focus on every morning, not just what … I try to think of something I’m grateful for, but I think about what would make today great? So I try and think of one thing, and it’s always hilarious, because usually, it’s not that big of a deal. You know, it’s like I’d really like to go for a run in the park today. I live right by Central Park. Or I would really like to meet a friend for lunch. Like, you know, what would make today great doesn’t have to be like oh, I’d love to go buy a $10,000 handbag, but you know, just sometimes, you think about what would make today really a good day, and it’s something very attainable. But the second part of that is I review my day at the end of every single day, and I think about what made today great and what could I do to make tomorrow better, and by asking those two questions, you start to become really aware of the things that you enjoy doing in your business and the things that you don’t enjoy and how to be responding and editing and kind of changing things around to improve the experience of your work each day.
Tara: Hmm. And is that something that you encourage your teams to do as well? Or is that more just kind of your personal way of working?
Melanie: No, they have to do everything I don’t want to do. No, I’m kidding, no. Very much so. You know, something that, particularly when you’re trying to attract and keep top talent, which I would really encourage you to do regardless of what phase you’re at in your business. It doesn’t mean that you have to pay a bunch of money. You know, people will … the best people in the world will work for free if they really believe in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and so I always really try to … when you’re attracting top talent and working with them, a huge part of it is making sure that they are feeling challenged, appropriately challenged. Challenged enough but not too much, but also creatively fulfilled by what they’re doing, so I’m always checking in with my team on, you know, what are you liking? What are you not liking? You know, what type of the work are you really enjoying? What are you enjoying about it? How can we get you doing more of that? Because when you get great people on your team, you want to keep them, and you want to figure out and really zone in on their sweet spot, and figure out how you can shift assignments around so that’s what they’re working on, because that’s how you’re going to get the best work out of them and how they’re going to want to work for you forever.
Tara: So good. And that really just kind of leads me right into my next question. You know, you say right on your website that you value people who can handle their own business. You say we’re a team of leaders who can self-manage, work independently, and collaborate, and I love that. I love that that is a guiding principle for your company, and I think that that’s something that a lot of other people should really be incorporating into their teams as well, but how do you structure your team to kind of facilitate that kind of independence?
Melanie: Oh, well, it’s a big part of what goes into hiring, and to be honest with you, that could be like a totally different interview, because it’s … it’s really in-depth how we do our hiring and our marketing processes for our team, but it is … I do very aggressive interviewing and trial projects when I bring on people, and they have to be fiercely independent. Most of our employees, they end up working for themselves, eventually, within a few years, because we really attract a lot of people that are very entrepreneurial, because I am not a hand-holder. Like to a fault. Like people have to be able to come on and like really own their role and their position. I only do one call a week with my team. We do it first 10:00 Eastern every Monday. Other than that, I maybe talk to them a couple of times, like for feedback on Asana, but they are very much remote workers, and because of that, I have to pick people with the right personalities that will actually thrive in that situation. We’ve hired people from corporate backgrounds before that are used to, you know, the meetings and getting connected with people every day and getting constant feedback, and it just doesn’t work in our environment, so we have to be very clear about that from the beginning to attract the right people.
Tara: Interesting. So continuing this topic of philosophy or philosophy of business, you also say right there on your website that, quote, “We believe in creating the best.” How do you and your team measure that? How do you set that standard for yourself and make sure that you’re measuring up to it on a daily basis?
Melanie: That is such a good question. That might be one of the better questions I’ve ever been asked. You know, I don’t know that I really need to qualify what that is. I think that that statement does exactly what it’s supposed to just by putting it out there, because there are two types of people. The people who are looking to kind of do the bare minimum to get by and, you know, get that paycheck, and there’s the people who, when you say that, they get excited, and they say yes, push me, I want to grow, I want to be challenged, and that’s why that is there is to get those people’s attention.
Tara: I love that. I think that’s a perfect answer to that question.
Melanie: Oh, good.
Tara: So last one now on this philosophy stuff. You know, you say you measure output, not the time spent working on a task.
Tara: So what kind of systems do you use to assign work, manage expectations, and insure that the output meets or exceeds your needs? How are you measuring output so that you’re not having to focus on the time spent working on a task?
Melanie: Yeah, so one of the … I was a psychology major, so I’m kind of into mind games. One of the … one of the trial projects when I’m going through an interviewing phase with candidates is I usually do it in groups of like 20 to 30 people if it’s for a particular position, and I’ll give them all the same assignment, and I’ll say … well, I do a couple of things where I say you’re allowed to ask questions, but you will be evaluated based upon the number and the quality of questions that you ask, because again, I’m not looking for someone who’s going to be, you know, messaging me every day with a bunch of silly questions, but I don’t give them a deadline for the project. I say please submit the project when you feel it’s been done to the best of your ability. And I like to see and compare and contrast what quality of work people are able to get done within what time frame. Because there are some people who will turn in something super-fast, but they cut corners. There’s, you know, grammatical errors, it’s not well thought out. There’s some people who turn in great work, but it takes like three and a half weeks, and it’s just like, oh my gosh, like the world has changed in three and a half weeks, it can’t take that long.
And what I’m looking for is the people in the middle who can do really great work but are also very conscious of getting things completed, getting things done, and not too much … I don’t like working with perfectionists. I like people who do great work, but who get work done. I think perfectionists sometimes get too hung up in the process, and ultimately, as a business owner, you know, I can’t make money, we’re not producing revenue until something is shipped, so you’ve got to be able to get it done. So that’s how I kind of evaluate that specifically in the hiring process is what quality of work people are able to get done and within what timeframe, but when it comes to … when it comes to my team after actually on it, I don’t enforce a lot of deadlines. Most of the projects are done, they’re so planned in advance that I don’t, it’s not like I need them on Monday because we’re sending out the email on Monday. It’s more so like here are the things you need to get done this quarter, and because I’m choosing people that I’m confident in their ability to be able to produce great stuff quickly, I don’t have to be as … as much of a governing force in terms of when they get things done.
Tara: Oh, yeah. You know, that planning piece is just so huge.
Tara: You know, you can work with so much less stress if you just know what’s coming even a month or two in advance.
Melanie: It’s all on the front end. Our hiring process is normally anywhere from six to eight weeks.
Tara: Wow, that’s great. Awesome. So let’s shift gears a little bit as we start to wrap things up here, because I would love to spend some time on the topic of money and profit, and I know you’re not shy about saying that part of your mission is to help business owners push past the million-dollar revenue mark. You know, but I know from my own work that many business owners, women especially, have mental blocks around this number. Why is the seven-figure or even eight-figure mark important to you?
Melanie: Well, it … You know, honestly, it came from a place of I have multiple million-dollar businesses, so it just seemed natural that I could speak to that type of business, because that’s what I operate within. That doesn’t mean that I can’t relate to a six-figure business or a five-figure business or a zero-figure business, because I’ve been there. We’ve all been there, but I speak specifically to the million-dollar mark, one, because I like the type of people that attracts, the people who are thinking bigger and pushing bigger and planning bigger. It’s also something that I just feel very personally, I guess very personally passionate about, because I think that we do need more women thinking bigger. I think that it’s too easy to limit ourselves and to think, oh, well, you know, I’m going to start a family, so I’m not going to be able to dedicate that much time. It’s not always a time issue. It’s about if you’ve got that bigger goal in mind, it’s about working backwards, like we talked about. Figuring out what does that mean? What does that look like in your life and your business, and what you need to be thinking about in terms of how you’re going to scale and how it’s going to affect your offerings. But I mean, a seven-figure is more money, it’s just more impact. So whether, you know, maybe money’s not your thing. Maybe you want to change the world and help more people. Money’s just the vehicle to help you do that, so it’s not about, you know, having a closet full of Prada purses. It’s about giving you the freedom to choose what that ultimately looks like for you.
Tara: Yeah, and I love that you said that ultimately, it’s not about time, it’s about how you structure your business, how you make those plans, and you know, what you’re really working towards, and you can do that. In the same amount of time it takes a five-figure business, you know, you could be building a seven-figure business if it’s set up properly. And that kind of leads me into a perfect follow-up question, which is in your experience, what separates a five- or six-figure business from a seven-figure business?
Melanie: So separates a six-figure from seven-figure?
Tara: Yeah. What do you see? Is there a mental block? Is there a structural issue? What do you think separates a six-figure business from a seven-figure business?
Melanie: That’s a really great question. There’s probably quite a few things. There are different ways I could answer that. One thing that I think could be just really helpful for everyone listening is a big difference between a six-figure business, you can run a very successful six-figure business doing what you love, being in love with your products, or being in love with your services. I think when you’re a seven-figure business, you are not just in love with your products, you are not just in love with your services, you are in love with your customers, because to have a seven-figure business, you’re serving your customers or you’re serving your clients in more lateral directions. So it’s not just about creating that great signature product, or it’s not just about having that great signature offering, but it’s you’ve become so obsessed and so centered on the people you’re serving that literally the sky is the limit in terms of what you can create and how you can help and what you can offer them.
Tara: Well, that was a phenomenal answer. I hope everyone was paying special attention to that. So Melanie, what’s next for you and your companies?
Melanie: Well, you know, right now, I’m at a really beautiful place. I just had a baby girl about five months ago, so I’ve actually gone through a process of a lot of clarity, for lack of better words. Where before I had her, I was working on a lot of different things, launching a lot of different programs. My ecommerce businesses are now fully automated, so I don’t spend a ton of time in the day-to-day of those anymore, but really, what I focus on, I have a program called Business Class that’s become my flagship program. It’s a monthly membership community, and I work with business owners on scaling their online presence, on scaling their revenue, on scaling their offerings, and that’s my focus right now is I work inside that community with those people, and we work on teaching them how to expand their exposure, how to work on email marketing, social media, everything that I have learned specifically in my own businesses, I take that experience and that platform, and I use it to help them leverage what they’re doing.
Tara: Well, fantastic. Melanie Duncan, thank you so much for joining me.
Melanie: It has been a pleasure. Thank you for having me. I hope this is helpful and inspired and been insightful for everyone.
Tara: Find out more about Melanie at MelanieDuncan.com, and find her class, Unlock the Power of Pinterest, by going to CreativeLive.com/business.
My guest next week is author and coach, Andrea Owen. Andrea and I talk about the very first thing she did to get clients as a coach in training, how she changed the money story that was holding her business back, and how she collaborates with others to create amazing experiences for clients.
CreativeLive is highly-curated classes from the world’s top experts. Watch free, live video classes every day from acclaimed instructors in photography, design, audio, craft, business, and personal development. Stream it now at CreativeLive.com.
This has been Tara Gentile. Discover how to accelerate your earning as a small business owner with my free class, Revenue Catalyst, at QuietPowerStrategy.com/PPP.
That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., a CreativeLive podcast. Download more episodes of this podcast and subscribe on iTunes. If you appreciate this kind of in-depth content, please leave us a review or share this podcast with a friend. It means the world to us.
Our theme song was written by Daniel Peterson, who also edited this episode. Our audio engineer was Kellen Shimizu. This episode was produced by Michael Karsh. We add a new episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. every week. Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you love to listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.