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Transcript of Getting the Most Out of Your Content

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John Jantsch: Producing content’s become a marketer’s primary job. But how do you maximize your reach? How do you make sure that there’s some ROI every time you hit publish? Well this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast, I speak with Pamela Wilson, author of Master Content Strategy, and that’s what we’re going to talk about. How to make content drive the bottom line.

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This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth focused e-commerce brands drive more sales, with super targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook and Instagram marketing.

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast, this is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Pamela Wilson. She’s the founder of Big Brand System, and the author of a book we’re going to talk about today, Master Content Strategy: How to maximize your reach, and boost your bottom line every time you hit publish. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Pamela, thanks for joining me.

Pamela Wilson: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. That is definitely the goal, right? To maximize your reach and get your ideas out into the world.

John Jantsch: All right, so let me start with a word that’s in the title. What is content strategy look like? I’m sure a lot of us marketers have been talking about you need a content strategy, but define that for somebody who maybe isn’t a marketer.

Pamela Wilson: You know, it might be easiest to say what it’s not. It is not throwing pasta at the wall to see what sticks. It is approaching your content with some kind of over-arching goal for the people you want to reach, and what you want it to accomplish for your business. The way I talk about it in the book is that the needs of your website change during the lifecycle of your website. So, what you need in the early days of your website is very different than what you need if your sight has been live for six, eight, 10 years.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and you know, I actually think that you can take it a step farther, and I mean, one of the strategies might be what can you actually get done? Or, how can you actually do things in a way that allows you to get more done, or to be more efficient in producing your content? Because I think for a lot of my listeners, and a lot of small business owners, this whole need to produce content has become the biggest task of all.

Pamela Wilson: Right. Yeah, and I recognize that, when I talk about the lifecycle in the book, I talk about how one of the big goals in the first year of your site is to just become a better content creator. Just to tain confidence. The way you do that is producing a lot of content. It’s like anything else in life, you get better at it, the more you practice. My recommendation for the first year is to write a new piece of content every single week as your minimum goal. Which sounds really overwhelming, but if you do it on kind of a schedule, and you get yourself into this routine where you’re producing and publishing content on the same day every week, it’s not that bad, and the more you do it, the better you get at it. Plus, as you know, the search engines love that you’re just putting out this nice, fresh content every single week. So, you’re giving your website a chance to get found.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and I think that ultimately you look up after a year, and you’ve built an asset. I think that that’s the part that is so hard when you don’t have a strategy, and you’re just throwing like you said … You use pasta at the wall. I mean, I think if you look at this as this is a long-term game … What will I have at the end of a year? You kind of map it out accordingly, I think you end up building something that’s going to serve you for a long time.

Pamela Wilson: You’ll have 50 pieces of content, plus a lot more confidence and skills that you can then build on. That’s what I talk about in the book, that once you have those basic skills in place, then going forward you can do slightly more sophisticated things with your content, because you have those skills to count on.

John Jantsch: One of the things, and you already alluded to this … I think a whole first section of the book, in fact, is called, “The Lifecycle Approach to Content Marketing,” so you want to unpack that?

Pamela Wilson: Yes. The Lifecycle Approach basically recognizes that your site needs different things at different points in its life. In the first year, what I recommend is what we just talked about which is try to publish a new piece of content every single week. This is going to build your skills, it’s going to build this content asset. As you said on your website, search engines will find you, I mean there are all these positive things that will come out from that really big push that you do in the first year. Then, in the second year, what I call your second through fifth year, this is your growth time. This is where you can kind of build on the skills that you’ve developed that first year. In some cases, if you have managed to publish every week in the first year, you might be able to dial it back to publishing every other week.

But, what I’m asking you to do in the book is to write deep dive content. Write content that goes into more depth, it’s longer, maybe it starts to incorporate things like multimedia, so maybe you start exploring video or audio, or you build some slide shares, and you weave them into the post or you incorporate images. It’s just asking you to take your content quality to a slightly higher level. If that means that you have to publish less often, that’s fine, during those growth years. Years two through five.

Then what happens, and this point was driven home for me when I took over managing the copy blogger blog back in 2015, what happens is, you get to this point, somewhere around year six. If you have kept this up consistently, where you need to start changing your strategy yet again, because you just have a ton of content, and some of the pieces of content that you’ve created over time you want to resurface those for people who never got a chance to see them.

You’re going to be going back and refreshing things, updating them, in some cases putting a new publishing date on them, and republishing them so people see them again, and you may go back for your most popular posts, and you may add again multimedia. Something that was maybe you did it in your first year, and it was very popular, lots of people are still hitting that piece of content, maybe you add a video to it. Maybe you interview a thought leader in your space, and you add that video to it. Or, you create a slide share. You just kind of polish it up, and give it a new life on your website.

John Jantsch: You mentioned video a couple times, and I do think that there is a need for short form, long form, video, images. How do you reconcile giving people advice on … I mean now, I not only have to produce all this content, I have to have it in all these different formats.

Pamela Wilson: Right. Exactly. And that’s where we come back to this concept of a lifecycle. I am not asking you to do all of this in year one. I just want you to develop skills so that you feel confident, and you can build on those skills very organically over time. Just like any new skill that you’re learning. You learn the basics, and then you start to learn the more complex skills as you go along.

The one thing that I tell people when they’re thinking about multi-media is do not try to master everything at once. Find something that builds on your existing skills. Maybe you feel very comfortable working with images. Maybe you just start by adding more images to your longer posts. You break them up with images that maybe every 400, 500 words you add an image, just to break up the page a little bit.

Or, maybe you are somebody, one of those rare unicorns, who feels incredibly comfortable in video. I’ve met a couple, but there aren’t that many of us. You just do a camera … You talking to the camera on video, where you just chat a little bit about the content of the article, or maybe it’s even a podcast episode. That’s the other thing I talk about is when you’re thinking about multi-media, it’s not so much that you’re always adding video, for example. It’s that you are taking the existing piece of content and changing it into something else.

For example, here we are, we’re recording a podcast. We could take this podcast and turn it into an ebook. It’s audio and it becomes something written. That’s the idea is to repurpose it, so that you turn it into something that has a slightly different format, and it’s going to appeal to a different audience that way.

John Jantsch: Want to remind you that this episode is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo helps you build meaningful customer relationships by listening and understanding cues from your customers. This allows you to easily turn that information into valuable marketing messages. There’s powerful segmentation, email auto-responders that are ready to go, great reporting.

You want to learn a little bit about the secret to building customer relationships they’ve got a really fun series called Klaviyo’s beyond black Friday. It’s a docu-series, a lot of fun, quick lessons. Just head on over to Beyond black Friday.

Let’s talk about topics. You mentioned that you work with a lot of folks starting up an online business. Is there foundational content that you need to produce first, or could you keep talking about year two, and year three, but a lot of times, if I’m starting a business, what content is going to serve me now?

Pamela Wilson: Right. Well, typically people go into creating an online business and they’ve been asked questions about their area of expertise. They’re building a business around some kind of expertise that they have, or passion, or interest. They’ve heard questions. You and I have heard this lots of times. It’s a really solid piece of advice. Think about the questions that people typically ask you about your area of expertise, and start at just answering those. That can provide a really great guide for when you are just starting out.

For example on Big Brand System in the early days, I was talking a lot about design, and branding topics. My first 10 posts were called design 101. It was all questions that I had been asked by clients over the years, and all things that I sort of wish they knew, because it was this foundational knowledge. I always recommend that people go back to what is the foundational knowledge, what are the questions that you get from people who are really beginners with this topic that you want to talk about and that you want to build a site around.

John Jantsch: Yeah, it’s funny. I work with a lot of content producers, and a lot of times people will hire a marketing person say at a technical company and tell them, “Go produce content.” They’re like, “Well, I don’t know this stuff.” It’s amazing how much content is in the sent emails of the technicians, and the engineers, and sometimes that can be a great place to find content.

Pamela Wilson: Customer service. Right? You attack your customer service people and you find out what people are asking. Sometimes if the person writing is kind of a beginner, that actually puts them in a wonderful position to know what the very basic questions are.

John Jantsch: You have a chapter called, “The Four Day Content Creation System,” and that seemed like the closest thing to a magic bullet that everybody is looking for. Why don’t you describe the Four Day Content Creation System.

Pamela Wilson: You know, I came up with this, because when I made this recommendation for people to write a piece of content every week, it sounds so daunting. But this is a way to approach it that it breaks the process down over several days, and what I have found in all creative work that I … I’ve done creative work my entire career, right? So whether it’s design or writing. Any kind of creative work really benefits from being left alone to rest for a little while, and having you come back to it with what I call fresh eyes. You see it with fresh eyes. That’s what this system builds on. It’s this idea that you take a break from your piece of content, and then you come back to it.

Day one, what you’re trying to do is create some kind of a backbone for your piece of content. This could be written content, but it could also be a podcast. Day one what you want to focus on is writing your headline, and your subheads. Once you get your headline written, and this … It could change in your final piece, but you want to have a working headline that you’re pretty happy with, and your basic subheads that sort of lay out the premise of what you’re going to be talking about. It’s basically an outline straight from English class in middle school. But we’re not going to call it an outline, we’ll call it a backbone, because it sounds less daunting.

That’s day one. You do that, and then you walk away. Then on day two what you want to do is write your first draft. Start to finish, I always tell people write forward, don’t write backward. Don’t go back and try to edit, you have a whole day for that. But on day two, just get your first draft written. Once you’ve done that, you come back on day three, and you edit. You polish. You get it all ready to publish on the next day, and then on day four you’re publishing it, and you’re promoting it, and you’re really putting it out there, because it’s fresh new content. You want to get out there, and kind of advocate for it on the fourth day.

John Jantsch: I spent the first maybe 10 years or so of my blogging career writing every day.

Pamela Wilson: Oh wow. Yeah.

John Jantsch: I wrote a post every day, including Sundays. I didn’t have the luxury of doing that, but a lot of times, I wish I did, because another thing that your system does is it probably avoids silly mistakes.

Pamela Wilson: You know, the thing is the mistakes kind of … They jump out at you on the page. Right? You can see them, because you’ve given yourself a break, and you haven’t looked at it for maybe 24 hours, and then when you come back to it, it’s like, “Oh well, clearly this is a grammatical error, or clearly I have not supported my argument here, and I need to just add more information, this part isn’t clear.” I mean, things just really jump out when you give yourself a break.

John Jantsch: Back in 2005, ’06, ’07, ’08, I had the grammar police that would come on and make comments, back when we used to have commenting turned on, on all of our blogs.

Pamela Wilson: Right.

John Jantsch: I would hear from people very loudly. But I had fun with it, because I figured that was part of the format.

Pamela Wilson: Yeah. Absolutely. And that makes people feel useful. What can you do?

John Jantsch: One of the things that I like … I like when books do this, and you’ve done a good job with this. You have all of these checklists in the back of the book that kind of walk people through not only the stages, but then each fit promotions to your content strategy, the body of work approach to content creation. I love those. Pamela, where can people find out more about Big Brand Systems and about where they can find your book?

Pamela Wilson: The best place is go to They can find my website there. There’s all sorts of great stuff. I have a page where I’m … I’ll send you a link … Where I have lots of free stuff. I have it all gathered on one page. It’s

John Jantsch: We’ll have that in the show notes, too.

Pamela Wilson: Yes. Absolutely. They can find the book right on the website.

John Jantsch: Well, Pamela, thanks for joining us, and hopefully we’ll run into you someday soon out there on the road.

Pamela Wilson: That sounds great. Thanks John, it was good to chat with you.

Transcript of Growing Your Business While Growing as an Entrepreneur

Transcript of Growing Your Business While Growing as an Entrepreneur written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

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John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused e-commerce brands drive more sales with super targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook, and Instagram marketing.

Gusto Logo_full berry_smallStuff like payroll and benefits are hard. That’s why I switched to Gusto and to help support the show Gusto is offering our listeners an exclusive, limited time deal. You sign up for their payroll service today you’ll get three months free once you run your first payroll. Just go to

Hello and welcome to another episode of The Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Jill Nelson. She is the founder and CEO of Ruby Receptionists, a company she started back in 2003 and has seen double digit growth every year since it’s inception. Jill, thanks for joining me.

Jill Nelson: John, thank you so much for having me on your show. I’m a big fan.

John Jantsch:  Well, I love speaking with entrepreneurs and I really love speaking with entrepreneurs that have just blown up. Tell me how Ruby got started.

Jill Nelson: Yeah. Well, you know, like many of the listeners out there I just had this idea that I was just determined to get out there but the original idea was something different than what Ruby is today. I wanted to do what I guess we would now call a coworking space, like the We Works of the world, but it was more old-fashioned and it was executive suites with small private offices but shared receptionists, shared secretarial, if you will, shared copier services.

Yeah. It was in a part of Portland that was up and coming and I always loved serving small businesses. It was just a thing I grew up with. I didn’t have any money and I didn’t have any business experience so I couldn’t find a landlord willing to build out class A office space on my behalf.

Just took that and noodled on, “Well, if I can’t do that what can I do with the small resources that I have?” Just really got fascinated with that important phone piece and started thinking about how I could still deliver receptionist service to small businesses even if they weren’t sitting right next to us.

Went searching for an off-the-shelf software solution and hodge-podged a phone system together that worked with it and in 2003 launched. Along the way lots and lots of lessons learned and here we are today as Ruby with really a platform that at its core is the same as it was day one, help small businesses grow through creating a great first impression for their callers but leveraging the on-demand economy and the technology tools that we have today to be even more valuable.

John Jantsch: Fast forward to today, I mean, 500 employees, thousands and thousands of customers, all kinds of accolades but it’s interesting because when you started this even in 2003 … I’ve been in business longer than that. Answering services have been around effectively forever but they were always pretty cruddy. What do you think you did that changed the game?

Jill Nelson: Yeah. Well, first, I actually never even thought about Ruby as an answering service from day one. From day one, I was really thinking about how to solve a problem for small business. In my mind back then I presumed, “Of course everybody would answer the phone. That’s table steaks for winning new customers and great customer service but it must be really challenging when you’re wearing many hats as a small business owner.”

I really from day one was thinking about how could I really be of service to small businesses throughout the day? Ruby was never intended to be a backup service. It was never intended to be a catchall messaging thing. It was to be a part of that small businesses’ team and so understanding what small businesses needed in order to win business in the day just … It was there from day one.

The software was different. I had been a receptionist. I knew how calls went. From day one, we intended to sound just like we were in our small businesses’ office. In fact, there’s stories of our customers’ customers bringing cookies for the receptionist because we were so integrated into their day and sounded just like we were right there that they literally thought Ruby was a real person that they felt propelled to bake cookies for.

John Jantsch: I’d say the really key ingredient there was the whole different point of view. You weren’t just offering some service to fill a gap. Your whole point of view was, “We wanted to be a part of that business.” I think that that … I mean, I’m sure that that led to who you hired and how you trained and [crosstalk]

Jill Nelson: Absolutely.

John Jantsch: That’s a different game really.

Jill Nelson: It really is. Again, the original premise was we were going to solve a problem for small businesses, which is like how to just free up their day, but it was actually very early on that they told us that the value proposition … That was a secondary thing but it was really we were winning business for them. We were literally hearing customers say … Their callers would say, “Well, I’m giving you my business because you answered the phone and you were nice to me.”

Sometimes that’s really all it takes because your competitors aren’t doing that. Also, we heard, “Gosh, I really care about my customers. I can trust you to give them that special care and I have peace of mind to relax and go about my day.”

We know small business owners, just like I am still today, many small business owners start their business because they have a craft that they’re passionate about and they feel really compelled to serve their customers in a better way than perhaps they did when they worked for another company.

I think pride of customer service is pretty prevalent among small business owners. We really understood very early on from what they told us that that’s what we were helping them with, not just a catchall like you would think of us as a backup overnight answering service.

John Jantsch: How did you get clients in the early days? What did your marketing look like?

Jill Nelson: Well, again, this is some time ago. I was a very inexperienced business owner. This was the first business, the one and only business I’ve started, and I had been a salesperson early in my first job out of college and I hated it.

My idea was, “I hate selling so I really need to find customers and make them so happy with us that they never leave us and they tell other people about us.” That was the whole idea.

Then finding them really was a wonderful time in the course of the internet history. Google AdWords had just launched. I had stumbled across it late night doing research on how to market to customers, experimented with some 10 cent clicks, and had some people from the East Coast calling us before we even launched our business.

Actually because of that we launched as a national service day one. The original idea because I was thinking of it as this executive suites thing was going to be local. And so Google pay-per-click got us launched and I remember talking to the first customer ever who I believe is still with us today. I need to double-check our records but last I heard they were. It’s a little software company in New York City. I remember them asking how many customers we had. I didn’t want to be dishonest but I said something like, “Well, we’re working towards 20.” Something like that.

John Jantsch: [inaudible] as soon as you sign up we’ll have one, right?

Jill Nelson: Yeah. Exactly.

John Jantsch: All right.

Jill Nelson: Later on we let him know. We let him know he was literally our first.

John Jantsch: What does your marketing look like now? I see full page ads and things like that. You have a full-blown marketing agency inside your organization.

Jill Nelson: That’s right. That’s right. But still always learning. There are some things that don’t change and today just like day one, still our largest source of new customers is from word of mouth referrals and still we’re really about keeping the customers that we have happy and …

One thing I will say we have learned there, it’s not just about being responsive and making them happy and being nice to them. It’s really about insuring we’re driving real business value. If we say we’re going to help your business grow let’s make sure that the service is doing everything we can to help your business grow. That’s been an interesting shift.

Learning to engage with our customers and marketing has shifted probably like many of your listeners that we are actively engaging with them and really trying to just share some of our own expertise certainly around being a receptionist and giving a great phone experience as much as possible and just engaging with our customers even before they’re ready, helping them when we can and when they’re ready hopefully they’ll think of Ruby when they are ready to have an outsourced platform to handle their company and receptionist service.

John Jantsch: Wouldn’t it be great if in your business all you had to do was the stuff you love, the reason you started the business, and not all that administrative stuff like payroll and benefits? That stuff is hard. Especially when you’re a small business.

Now I’ve been delegating my payroll for years to one of those big corporate companies. I always felt like a little tiny fish but now there is a much better way. I’ve switched over to Gusto and it is making payroll and benefits and HR easy for the modern small business.

You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits, and great service to take care of your team. To help support the show, Gusto is offering our listeners an exclusive limited time deal. If you sign up today you’ll get three months free once you run your first payroll. Just go to

In the time you’ve been in business, certainly the time I’ve been in business, the phone itself has changed. Not just the technology but really how it’s used in business. Obviously it used to be you had a whole bunch of phones plugged into a whole bunch of walls and people sitting at desks and now people are all over the world working for businesses.

In a lot of ways I’m sure that that’s driven some of what you’re doing but how have you managed or how do you foresee managing changing ways that people want to connect with companies and different technologies that are out there? I have 30 year olds and they rarely want to talk on the phone even it seems like.

Jill Nelson: Yeah. Yeah.

John Jantsch: What do you do to stay abreast?

Jill Nelson: Yeah. A couple of things on that. The world is changing. You know, way back then I always was like, “I don’t know. Will the phone call be around in 15 years time?” I’m actually more surprised than I am not that here we are sitting talking on if the phone call is actually more relevant than ever, the internet and the mobile devices, click-to-call, are actually driving more phone calls and where we used to use phone calls for everything they now are really your best source, I guess your best channel, of new customer acquisition. Something like that 40% of inbound calls to businesses are customers ready to buy.

Then you talk about the on demand economy. The people want what they want and they want it now. That click-to-call and making sure that you’re there to catch that business at that moment of opportunity is really important and then you talked about the mobile … Everyone is going mobile.

Our mobile app that works with our service that is integrated with our customers calendars and contacts so we know who they know and we know whether or not to put calls through and our phone number travels with them and they can make calls from their mobile phone and have it go out their business caller ID and they can send and receive text messages on their business number that we provide.

We’re really helping our customers be more mobile that way but we’re also very excited to announce … I think this will be the first place I am publicly announcing that we have acquired a very aligned customer-service centric human connection-based chat company because we know that while phone calls are still the most important touchpoint to drive new customers you want to be there for your customers, ready to communicate with them when they would like to communicate in the channel of their choice.

It’s phone call, yes, but it’s increasingly also texting and messaging and right there in your Google search results there’s all kinds of options to engage with your customers and we just want to be there for our small businesses to be able to represent them in a really human way that wins them business.

It’s a huge transition in our history. 15 years of receptionists and [inaudible] and service and now we’re branching out. We’re still at the core we create beautiful, meaningful human connections that win small businesses new customers and loyal fans but on a multitude of platforms.

John Jantsch: I want to remind you that this episode is brought to you by Klayvio. Klayvio helps you build meaningful customer relationships by listening and understanding cues from your customers. This allows you to easily turn that information into valuable marketing messages. There’s powerful segmentation, email auto-responders that are ready to go, great reporting.

You want to learn a little bit about the secret to building customer relationships they’ve got a really fun series called Klayvio’s Beyond Black Friday. It’s a docu-series, a lot of fun, quick lessons. Just head on over to, Beyond Black Friday.

I mean, that’s such a natural evolution frankly because that behavior has just become a part of how people conduct business. I think a lot of times if somebody is going to buy a service for the first time or engage a company they want to have that phone conversation or face to face meeting. In a lot of ways I think this will be a great way for you to add additional customer service channels for your customers.

Jill Nelson: Absolutely. Exactly. That’s exactly what we’re doing and we’re very excited about it. This particular company there’s a number of chat services out there. When we surveyed our customers we know they’re leery of bots and then they’re leery of … You know, just in the same way they want to trust who is handling their phones. They want to trust whomever is representing their business.

This particular company all of their employees are here right here in the US just like all of our employees and they really, really dedicate many training hours and just keeping their employees happy. Just super aligned with Ruby. Getting to see firsthand what they do for their customers is pretty exciting. Something like 40% of their chats turn into leads.

John Jantsch: I think it’s a brilliant evolution and I think will just serve your growth quite well. Let me turn to you personally. You at the beginning of this talked about the humble beginnings and you had never really started a business and you even by your own admission kind of stumbled into where you ended up. However, you are now the CEO of what people would call, what I would call, a significant business.

Jill Nelson: Oh, thank you.

John Jantsch: How did you grow personally? Because not everybody is capable of doing that. What you did in 2003 is significantly different from what you do in 2018 I suspect. How did you grow personally into that role?

Jill Nelson: Well, I’m still growing and I’m figuring out along the way and I think one of the things that has allowed me to stay in this seat is that I’m probably at my happiest when I don’t know what I’m doing or when I’m figuring something out, I’m figuring out a puzzle, I might have a theory and I want to put it to the test. That curiosity and thirst for learning and always changing it actually has kept it exciting and so the job feels as new today as it did 15 years ago.

The biggest challenge is certainly in the leadership of people. That is an inspiring and humbling and probably my biggest challenge because I care so much about them and I want people here to feel like they’re doing something meaningful, that the time spent here is time that will help them achieve their professional and even personal goals.

Man, I do not always do it perfectly and whether it’s hiring right or getting people in the right seats and being clear about what it is you’re asking for. It’s just a constant learning experience and it’s one that I laugh about because when I wrote the business plan for Ruby I actually didn’t even consider management. I just had it in my mind like you just hire these people and you say, “Hey, I’m going to pay you this amount of money and please come at this time and do this thing” and didn’t think about training or any of that and just thought it would all magically happen exactly as I had written in the plan.

That’s been the biggest learning along the way is just working with all of the amazing array of personalities and different types of people who communicate differently and add different strengths to the mix.

John Jantsch: You know, I’ve spoken with thousands of entrepreneurs over the years and I don’t think I’ve ever heard one say, “I was such a good manager I decided to start a business.”

Jill Nelson: Yeah.

John Jantsch: It just doesn’t happen. It’s the challenge … I think it’s the biggest challenge for most entrepreneurs quite frankly.

Jill Nelson: Yeah. That doesn’t surprise me.

John Jantsch: Good segue here. How does Ruby consistently show up on the best places to work list?

Jill Nelson: Ah, thank you. Well, we could rattle off … In fact, today being just a day in which we’re all dressing up for some theme of the moment and there’s always fun to be had but that’s not really what I would point to as why we make those lists.

It really comes back to our core mission, which is we are here to keep alive those meaningful personal connections that are increasingly lost in today’s technological and virtual space, that human kindness between robots or that we’re all going a million miles an hour. It just is really special and we actually are biologically conditioned to need that.

We do feel like we’re doing meaningful work and we hire people who are like, “Yes, a day spent trying to make somebody else’s day is a day well-spent.” Then we have a set of core values that we subscribe to that help us deliver on the mission and we work really, really hard to use our mission and our values as our guiding post and deliver on those not just to our customers but our employees as well. That’s the guiding principle.

Then the fundamental system that makes it work is what we call a people-powered culture. Everybody owns culture and they are welcome to bring their passions … We have Rubies that teach fitness classes or have running clubs or knitting clubs. We have beautiful spaces but we also allow our employees to access them 24/7 so that they feel welcome to use them for whatever their extracurricular activities are and really just empower everyone across the organization to bring their own passions and things that they have to share with the community to Ruby and say yes essentially.

John Jantsch: This is probably unfair because it would have been better if I had given you some time to think about this but I’m guessing maybe you have a phone call or two or a story or two about some kind of crazy call or crazy over the top win you got for a customer or something. Any of those rattle around that you want to share?

Jill Nelson: Yeah. Well, just last week I got a LinkedIn message from a customer who said we literally saved his marriage and in two weeks of service have brought in $75,000 of new business and something else around improving his profit margins some crazy amount. He was pretty happy with us. That was really great to hear.

Yeah. Those stories come in pretty much every day. The ones that we probably take personally as wins is when somebody calls and is really frustrated. Maybe not even very happy with our customer and it’s a personal challenge to win that caller over to make them feel heard and when they call back and say, “You know what? I was having such a tough day and the receptionist was so kind. They really turned it around for me.”

We’ve even had stories where we’ve literally saved people’s lives. It’s not just helping small businesses win new business. It’s hopefully making a difference, a small difference, in the world too.

John Jantsch: You know, I bet the hardest job at your organization?

Jill Nelson:  The receptionist?

John Jantsch: The receptionist. Yeah.

Jill Nelson: That’s right. That’s right.

John Jantsch: You probably have such a high bar, right?

Jill Nelson: It’s a really, really … It’s not easy. You bring compassionate and kindness and exceptional listening skills and problem solving skills and a desire to truly help every one of our customers and their callers. Yeah, when you love doing it then it’s really rewarding.

John Jantsch: Tell people how they can find out more about the various services and see if it makes sense for their business.

Jill Nelson: Yeah. Thanks so much for asking. You are always welcome to visit Of course, it wouldn’t be a receptionist company if I didn’t invite you to call us at 866-611-RUBY. That obviously is also on our website. If you visit our blog you can get all kinds of tips on how to deliver exceptional customer experience yourself too.

John Jantsch: I’ve been doing this show for years and I think that might be the first guest that gave their phone number on this show.

Jill Nelson: Yay. Phone calls win business. It’s true.

John Jantsch: Absolutely. Well, Jill, it was an absolute pleasure. Ruby is an awesome company.

Jill Nelson: Thank you, John. [crosstalk]

John Jantsch: Hopefully next time I’m in Portland I will stop by.

Jill Nelson: Please do. Thank you so much for having me on your podcast.

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John Jantsch: Everybody wants that next big idea for your business, but sitting down and thinking up big ideas is kind of a really great way to freeze your brain up. In this week’s episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast I speak with Mike Brown. He is the author of Idea Magnets, and presents, really, a great framework for asking questions that lead to those big ideas, check it out.

Asana logoThis episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Asana, a work management software tool that we use to run pretty much everything in our business. All of our meetings, all of our product launches, all of our tasks. I’m going to show you how you can try it for free a little later.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Mike Brown founder of The Brainzooming Group and author of a book we’re going to talk about today called Idea Magnets. So welcome, Mike.

Mike Brown: Thank you, John, I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and your listeners.

John Jantsch: I interview people all over the world, but today I’m interviewing somebody across town.

Mike Brown: Yeah, we’re close, not too far away.

John Jantsch: Which is always fun. So, let’s start…you know, brainzooming is not an everyday name, in fact you’ve trademarked it. So what does brainzooming actually mean and do?

Mike Brown: Well, brainzooming, the name is probably about 10 years old. Came out of some work I was doing in the corporate world of trying to help people who weren’t strategists be better strategists. And not marketers be better marketers. We’d surround them with exercises and tools, and we were actually doing a session for a class at Baker University, which is in the area. And the teacher wanted four or five exercises within the course of 50 minutes. I was sitting at my desk, and I didn’t really have a name for what we were doing. I was thinking about trying to get all that done, and I just thought, you know, at that point it’s not even brainstorming, it’s brainzooming.

I looked up and said, “Thank you, God. That may be a name.” And googled it, and it was available, I had the URL that night. Basically, it’s really from that start was how you provide structure for people so that when they look at strategic planning, or they look at trying to innovate, that can be a pretty daunting task, but when you give them structure, and frameworks, all of a sudden they can apply what they know about their product, or what they know about their customers, or their markets in a really productive way versus handing somebody a template or a form to fill out and they go, “I don’t know what to put in here.” Started it on the corporate side, and have just started to do it across industries and into nonprofits and educational organizations, community, cities as well.

John Jantsch: Do you sometimes find that it’s kind of hard to explain to people what it is you’re selling unless they’ve really experienced the problem?

Mike Brown: Every time, John. Every time. Particularly if they’re coming to us for strategic planning, so rarely have people ever experienced that where they felt good about it, it’s tough for them to wrap their head around, it could be fun and it could be engaging, and people beyond the senior management team could participate. So we do a lot of things whether that’s workshops or I’m out speaking, or we’ll do community events where people can experience it, and then they go, “Oh, I get it now.” It’s tough to describe for sure.

John Jantsch: Yeah, you’re in one of those categories of business where you’re solving a problem sometimes people don’t know they have.

Mike Brown: Yeah. It’s funny. A couple years ago, I was looking at traffic on our website, and we were getting a ton of hits for a post on fun strategic planning, and nobody is really out talking about fun strategic planning. I’ve discovered over time, if people are out looking for that, and one of our biggest clients, they did a google search for fun strategic planning, and found us. If somebody is looking for that, they’ve already made it way past, “I hate doing strategic planning. I want to get people in.” They know they want something different but typically can’t find anybody who can bring that to life for them. So it’s not only difficult to describe at times, there’s no common category of, “Oh, it’s this demography, and this size company.” It’s a lot more about the leader and their philosophy and what they’re looking to accomplish in the organization.

John Jantsch: So when the book title first came across my desk, Idea Magnet, I’m a marketer I’m thinking, “Oh, this is a way to attract more clients somehow.” Then the subtitle, of course, 7 Strategies for Cultivating and Attracting Creative Business Leaders, made me kind of pause and say, “Okay, so who is this book for then?”

Mike Brown: Yeah, good question. It’s really across almost any business leader, or any leader of an organization where the genesis of it came from, I had a long corporate career, so I was 18, 19 years on the corporate side. I tended to pair up with, particularly for a long stretch, a guy who was just a wildly creative person. He would come up with ideas that you’re just like, “I don’t know how you ever thought of that.” Then I was the person that said, “Okay, let me operationalize that. I’ll figure out how much we can deliver, how we’re going to do it, and carry some of that enthusiasm out to the team.” But I sort of took this role as I’m more the implementer of the big idea.

When I jumped out and started brainzooming eight, nine years ago, I realized I don’t have that person paired up to me anymore, and I had clients looking at me going, “Okay, we want the big ideas from you.” It was … what I did at that time, and I’ve described Idea Magnets almost as a presentation and then a book from the road, I went back and said, “These big creative leaders I’ve worked with over time, what did they do? How did they motivate themselves? How did they energize a team? How did they move this through to implementation?” And really just try to reverse engineer it and say, “That’s not exactly me, but I need to step into that role. What are frameworks? What are tools? What are exercises that can make that happen?” even if that’s not my natural bent.

So that’s where people who are wildly creative, it may not be the first pick for them in a book, because that just comes from them naturally, but I think maybe we all hit those creative dry spots, that could help them. But for somebody who feels like, “Wow, there’s a lot of pressure in business, and we’ve got to grow, we’ve got to do different things.” Ideally, it’s going to be targeted at them where it will be a resource to help them step up into that role and be more successful with it on a more predictable basis.

John Jantsch: Yeah, there’s certainly a lot of people out there, leaders of organizations or departments that probably suffer from that, “I’m just not very creative.” I think part of what you’re saying is that you just don’t have a creative process.

Mike Brown: Exactly. Often when somebody says they’re not creative, they’re thinking about, “I don’t draw, I don’t write, or I don’t make music.” But you say, “Well, what’s your favorite thing to do?”, it’s, “I love to fish.” “Tell me how you fish?” Then they have all kinds of ideas, and hacks, and ways that they’ve discovered. I always say, “There’s your creativity. Apply those same lessons to other things and all of a sudden you’re creative.” So getting to that inspiration in the tools, the process, the structure, it just lights people up that, “Well, I can do this, I can do this predictably.”

John Jantsch: Hey, as I said in the intro, this is brought to you by Asana. It’s a work management software tool that we’ve been using for a long time, our entire team, it just allows us to be so much more productive, to unify our communication, to keep track of tasks, to assign and delegate pretty much everything from meetings all the way up through our client work. You can get it and try it free for 30 days, because you are a listener. So get started at That’s Asana, A-S-A-N-A, .com/ducttape.

So, and you don’t have to go through these one by one, but anytime somebody comes up with, “Seven strategies for something,” you know, it begs to say, “Okay, explain a few.” So I’ve got them listed out here, but maybe pick your favorite couple that could give people a flavor of what they might find.

Mike Brown: I think number three is attracting opposites is one of my favorites. The heart of that is really that easy to put ourselves into a box and say, “Well, I’m an implementer.” Or, “I come up with ideas. But then I hand them off to somebody else.” The thing that I saw in the Idea Magnets I work with, and continue to meet is they’re both of those things. They come up with ideas, but they know how to implement them. They can generate a bunch of ideas but they can also make really good decisions and prioritize. There was a, since we’re both from Kansas City, there was a billboard a couple years ago in the Waldo area, and it was all these pairings of contrary perspectives, and it was a company saying, “We want all those people.”

I think that’s what Idea Magnets embody is they’re not just one, they’re really good end thinkers and end people in how they approach business. I think another one I really like, again, maybe based on my background is number six, which is implementing for impact. That it isn’t just fine to come up with 20 ideas, or 100 ideas, or 1000 ideas, you’ve got to weed through them and be able to bring them to fruition. Whether that’s a business objective, or a personal objective, or an organization you’re involved with. Ideally, you’re also pulling on number five, which is encouraging other people and their ideas as well.

I’ve always loved that idea of a diverse team, I think you get better thinking and I think you get better implementation. You’re just more successful whether it’s a formal team in an organization, or even if you’re a solopreneur, who are those other business people that you’re surrounding yourself with who can give you a different kind of perspective than you have. That’s two or three that are personal favorites of mine.

John Jantsch: I mean, in some ways, as I hear you describe those, it’s almost like you’re saying these are attributes that you need to develop or these are talents that you need to find in other people. I mean, it’s almost like there’s nobody that’s going to be all seven of these things, I don’t think, but they can work on some of [inaudible].

Mike Brown: Exactly. You’re right at the heart of that, John, that nobody is equally good at all those things, and in some of them you’ll excel at, some of them you’ll rely on more directly or more frequently, but you’re working to develop the others. As you said, you’re surrounding yourself with people, whether it’s organizationally, or more informally, that you know you’ve got gaps, but other people can step in and help fill in those gaps and help create success for you, but importantly create success back for them, growth opportunities for them as well.

John Jantsch: So, one that you didn’t touch on, so I’m going to bring up one more. Because I’d love to hear how…your take on how this actually works in a creative leadership role, that’s embodying servant leadership. I’d love to hear how, I think I know what the opposite of that does, but I’d love to hear maybe how you apply that.

Mike Brown: Yeah, I think for a lot of people, I think of sort of the classic command and control leader of somebody’s articulating the direction and the vision, and then everybody follows. I guess I grew up under leaders who were much more open to the idea of we need to collaboratively come up with this vision. You know what? Somebody who’s on the team, even though they may be the most junior person, can help shape that or have an insight that can change that in a material way. You’ve got to be open to that. I think about it as servant leadership and the idea that an idea magnet isn’t in it just for themselves. Yeah, they have personal aspirations, they want to grow, they want to make money, but they realize they’ve got to work with other people and other people are going to help the team, or help the organization be more successful.

We had a video that we were doing just as an example that sort of came to mind. We were doing a video at our corporation, it was the leadership as young kids. None of us who were in senior roles wanted anything to do with it. It was like this could be bad. There was a guy on my staff, he stepped up, he helped write the script. He helped in the casting, and really shaped it like three levels through the organization because he was the person that was inspired by the creative vision. So leaders can use chain of command, but I think they can be so much more effective if they reach beyond organizational ties to the people who really light up with ideas and bring them in no matter where they fit in an organization.

John Jantsch: So a lot of my listeners are solopreneurs, very small businesses. I think when you start talking about things like chain of command and strategic planning, you know, they’re like, “Oh, you’re not talking to me.” How does the idea of an idea magnet apply to that very small solo business.

Mike Brown: Yeah. I think in a couple of ways one is, as I said in Brainzooming, is small business. I have people that I reach out to that are very close, but through social media, or through net working, or just personal connections. Try and surround myself with people who have very different perspectives than I do. So, again, it may not be formal, but it may just be informal of if you’re an entrepreneur, you know it too, it’s tough to just go that road by yourself. You need to be around other people. So I think that’s a way to start to apply that idea of I’m reaching out to other people who can help me along this path. It doesn’t have to be somebody who write me a paycheck too, or giving money for it. It may just be informally as well.

The idea of strategic planning is funny too. Because I actually went through that last week. I had one of my collaborators was putting me through strategic planning because I’ve said, “I can’t plan for myself. I need somebody else’s outside perspective.” It doesn’t have to be, and it shouldn’t be 75, 80 pages of a document, because who’s going to use that? I think it’s in our world using questions and structure. So you’ve thought about your objectives, you’ve thought about your direction and in the world of what we do have had conversations about it, so it becomes sort of almost an oral tradition for the organization. Yeah, strategic planning shouldn’t be scary, it should just be basically saying we’re trying to look ahead, focus on what matters with some insights and some innovation to how we’re doing it.

John Jantsch:  I always tell people for me the best part of strategic planning is deciding what not to do. I think that’s the other aspect…it’s really easy to come up with 19 priorities for this quarter.

Mike Brown: Exactly, [crosstalk] right now.

John Jantsch: But whittling it down to three, now that’s a harder job isn’t it?

Mike Brown: Absolutely. Absolutely. We see that when we work with bigger organizations or even just smaller organizations. They’ll come up with the ideas, then they’ll put 90% of them into the next six months, and I always say, “You’re not going to do that. It’s fine to load them up, but be prepared to have those spread out, because we just can’t tackle all that stuff at once.”

John Jantsch: So, I’m going to do to you what…When I go out to speak so often I’ll talk for an hour, and give lots and lots of ideas and inevitably somebody comes up at the end and says, “Okay, that was all really good. But what’s the one thing that if I did that everything would change?” So what’s the one thing in Idea Magnets that you want small business owners to take away?

Mike Brown: There’s questions throughout that book, John, that if you’re trying to come up with bigger ideas, there’s questions that you can use. If there’s ways that you’re trying to think about your business in unexpected ways, maybe a fresh perspective, there’s questions. I think that to me is [inaudible] take away that I’ve learned over the course of a career that really started as a researcher is the power of very targeted questions. I think as an entrepreneur, as a small business person, put together that list of five, six, seven questions that tie to what’s going to be important for you in the year ahead, or the years ahead.

You can keep coming back to those questions in new situations and come up with new ideas, new perspectives. All of us, if we know what the different ways we want to look at our business are and have a set of questions like that, can be tremendously effective.

John Jantsch: Speaking of questions, you’ve got an ebook for our listeners, why don’t you tell us about that?

Mike Brown: Yeah. We’ve got special one, it’s called 49 Idea Magnet Questions for attracting big ideas. I always tell people the worst question you can ask is, or the worst thing you can demand is, “Hey, let’s come up with big ideas.” Because typically people shut down. What we try and do is say instead of big ideas, use big questions that stretch your thinking, stretch your perspective, and the ideas will come and a lot of those will be big. We’ve got this ebook, it’s free, and we’ve got an excerpt of Idea Magnets in that, and specifically for your listeners can get it at, for Duct Tape Marketing, it’s out there, and it’s free. It’s a great start of questions that they can use in the year ahead to improve how they address opportunities, tackle challenges, and maybe stretch themselves and their organizations in new directions.

John Jantsch: Of course, we’ll have as always a link to that in the show notes at Duct Tape Marketing. Tell people where they can find the book, Idea Magnets, and anything about Brainzooming.

Mike Brown:, it’s out on Amazon. You may have to search a little bit, you may get some kitchen magnets, but Idea Magnets is out there, you can also get it at The Brainzooming side of things, which is [inaudible] strategic planning, innovation is at We’ve got, I don’t think I have as much writing as you, John, but about 2500 blog posts out there, not about how we do stuff, but tools, frameworks, the types of things that show up in Idea Magnets. Where you can focus in and use those to improve your business prospects.

John Jantsch: Awesome. Mike, thanks for joining us, and a lot of times I end this show by saying I hope to run into you out there on the road, but I guess I’ll say, I hope to run into you out there at the grocery store, or the pub, or something.

Mike Brown: Absolutely, John. Thank you so much for the opportunity, I really appreciate it.

Transcript of The Secrets to Leading Creative People

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John Jantsch: Leading or managing people in an organization is a tough job. It gets just that much tougher when the folks that you are choosing to lead are highly creative. In this episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I visit with Todd Henry. He’s the author of Herding Tigers: Be The Leader That Creative People Need. If you or your organization has creative people, and let’s face it, that’s what drives a lot of business today, you need to check it out.

Hello, welcome to another episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Todd Henry. He is a speaker, consultant, advisor, and author of a number of books including the book we’re gonna talk about today, called Herding Tigers: Be The Leader That Creative People Need. So, Todd, welcome to the show.

Todd Henry: John, it’s so great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

John Jantsch: I can’t believe it’s taken me this long. I’m a big fan of your previous work, Die Empty, in fact you were awesome enough that you just happened to be passing through town and we flagged you down to come speak at one of my events and it was very, very motivating for everybody.

Todd Henry: It was so much fun, and I just have to say as encouragement to you, you’re the most humble person in the world so I know that you would never toot your own horn, but just seeing your community there and seeing how people responded to you and responded to what you have built there, it just really showed me the kind of integrity that you bring to your business, because you were able to attract people from all over the place to come to Louisville to spend some time with you, learning about the things that you wanted to teach them.

Just as encouragement to you, it was really, really amazing to see your community in action there as well. You didn’t ask me to do that, but I wanted to do it anyway.

John Jantsch: Well, I appreciate that, but longtime listeners know I’m not really that humble.

Todd Henry: Okay.

John Jantsch: So let me ask you the big question that came to my mind as I was reading Herding Tigers. How does leading creative people differ from being a creative leader?

Todd Henry: Oh, that’s a great question. No one has ever asked me that, actually. Listen, we’re all creative. We all have to solve problems every day as a function of our job. That’s just the nature of the modern workplace. So, if you have to go to work, solve problems, figure things out, if you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re a business owner, you are creative to a certain extent. What I wanted to do in this book was talk about the dynamics of leading highly creative people.

Leading highly creative people is different from being a creative leader, because you can be a creative leader and lead a team of engineers or a team … which, by the way, engineers are incredibly creative and incredibly bright in that way. But, you can be a highly creative leader and be leading a more mundane, process oriented business and still be highly creative, because you still have to solve problems, figure out systems, et. cetera.

This book really is about leading highly creative people. People who maybe think a little bit differently from the norm, maybe people who might be a little more difficult to wrangle. What I wanted to do is really address some of those common dynamics among teams that are highly creative. What is it that makes them especially difficult to lead, and how can leaders, especially leaders maybe that are stepping into a role of leading highly creative people for the first time, how can they better position themselves to set their team up for success?

That’s the goal of the leader is to help their team succeed, not necessarily for them to succeed because if their team succeeds, then they will succeed.

John Jantsch: I guess it kind of begs two questions. Maybe you’re defining creative person in a very strict sense like the graphic designer or the writer or the video editor. Is that fair?

Todd Henry: I think it is fair, but I think that this applies to really leading any group of people that has to figure it out and make it up as they go, so if you’re a sales organization, you’re having to come up with creative solutions all the time to reach potential clients, having to re-strategize all the time. Like I said, if you’re leading a group of engineers, that is a project based business, a project based function, but it’s highly creative because you are doing nothing but problem solving all day. You’re looking out, exploring what Steven Johnson calls the adjacent possible, looking for potentially useful fodder for your creative process.

All of those industries have some of the same dynamics I describe in the book. Now, that said, yes, my background, my experience is in leading the ‘traditional creative’ which is the designer, the writer, the videographer, those kinds of people. Yes, I was writing specifically from those kinds of experiences, but I think that the advice in the book applies more broadly to any group of people who have to solve problems and make it up as they go.

John Jantsch: So fundamentally then, what does this group, what do these creative people need that is fundamentally different?

Todd Henry: There really are two primary things that creative people need from their manager in order to thrive. The first one is stability, and stability is about ensuring that you have clarity of process, clarity of expectations, that they know that the rules of the game aren’t gonna change midstream. In a lot of industries that don’t require a tremendous amount of overhead in order to accomplish the work, it’s not that big of a deal if the objectives change midstream, because okay, now we’ve got a new strategy, that means my job is gonna be different tomorrow.

But, when you’re doing highly creative work that requires a tremendous amount of ramp up and forethought and then iteration, when the rules of the game change midstream it can be extremely frustrating. If somebody isn’t bought in to a strategic direction, and let’s say you get two weeks into the project and suddenly your boss’s boss swoops in and says, “You know what? This isn’t really working for me.” Well, your team has spent two weeks iterating on that idea, and now they have to go all the way back to the beginning, re strategize and start all over again, simply because someone wasn’t bought in.

That’s tremendously expensive to the organization. It’s very frustrating to a team of people, and so over time, the team of people just basically says, “Alright, I’m just gonna wait until you tell me what to do. I’m not gonna bring my best thought to the table or my best effort until I know it’s not gonna be wasted effort if the rules are constantly changing.” They need some degree of stability.

There’s a myth, John, that highly creative people just want complete freedom. Just don’t fence me in, give me no boundaries, I just wanna do what I wanna do, but that is a myth, because the reality is that healthy creative process has boundaries. It has rails in order to focus the creative energy. Without that, that energy is just gonna wither up and die. So, stability is the first thing that we need. Clear boundaries, clarity of expectations, clarity of process.

The second thing that highly creative people need is they need to be challenged. They need to be pushed. They want to know that their leader has faith in them. That their leader sees things in them maybe they don’t even see in themselves yet. They want to be pushed to be the best that they can be and to try new things, to tackle new kinds of projects, to venture out into those risky territories, and to know that if they fail, that somebody has their back.

This is also very important, people won’t take risks unless they know that the leader is there to have their back. If it’s a strategic risk, not if it’s a stupid risk, but if it’s a strategic risk then the leader needs to have their back and they need to know that they’re not just walking on thin ice. Hey, you could die and lose your job at any moment, or else people will begin to hold back just a bit.

The problem with stability and challenge is that they exist in tension with one another. As we increase the amount of challenge, we tend to destabilize the organization. This is where a lot of startups and entrepreneurial organizations live. We’re building the bicycle as we’re trying to ride it and we’re going a hundred miles an hour down the highway and we’re trying to avoid traffic and, oh isn’t this just wonderful?

Yeah, it’s wonderful for a little bit, but then over time, people begin to fry. They begin to burn out because we’re not wired for that kind of challenge without the supporting infrastructure to support that challenge. Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, you have organizations that settle in and they’re so processized that there’s no challenge any longer for the people on the team. People get bored, they get stuck, they start looking for broader horizons, and this is often where you hear people say things like, “I’m just not really challenged around here. I just don’t feel like I can really do my best work here. I feel like I’m not growing.”

Sometimes it’s because they don’t feel challenged. They don’t feel like they’re getting what they need from you as a leader in terms of challenge. As a manager, as a leader, as an entrepreneur, somebody who runs a business full of talented people, you are in the unique position to be able to identify that right mix of stability and challenge for those people on your team. If you notice somebody seems to be burning out pretty frequently, well, you need to ask, is it because there aren’t processes in place? There’s no stability there to support what I’m asking from them in terms of challenge, or if somebody’s constantly complaining they feel bored, they feel stuck, is it because I’m not giving them an opportunity to grow themselves, to challenge themselves, and to venture into those uncomfortable places?

John Jantsch: One of the places that you spend a lot of time, and I was glad to see this because I see this actually in lots of organizations with lots of small business owners even, whether they’re managing creatives or not, if they’re managing people, so often they get in this weird cycle of giving work, assigning work, creating process and structure, and then the minute something gets a little hard, they take it all back. There’s no way to grow for anybody, including the organization if you keep taking the work back. I think you called it stop doing the work.

Todd Henry: Right.

John Jantsch: You need to learn this. First off, what do you feel leads to that, and I guess, secondly, how do you solve that?

Todd Henry: I think that especially for entrepreneurs, think about somebody who started a business, I know a big chunk of the people who follow your work are small business owners, entrepreneurs. There’s a tremendous amount of identity wrapped up in starting a business, in the business itself. So, you identify yourself by the output of that business. Sometimes in healthy ways, and maybe sometimes in not so healthy ways. As you start to grow your business and you start to hand off more and more responsibility to other people, it becomes difficult sometimes to separate yourself a bit from the business from an identity standpoint, so that you’re allowing other people to take ownership of certain aspects of the business so that you’re not the one constantly there over their shoulder.

If you are the person constantly over their shoulder, then again, they’re just gonna say, “You know what? Just tell me what you want me to do.” You’ve hired great people and then you’re gonna look over their shoulder and micromanage every decision they make, that’s not the way to scale a business. It’s easy for that to happen, because so much of your identity is wrapped up in the work that gets done, in the business.

What we have to do is we have to transition from a maker mindset to a manager mindset. We have to transition from a mindset of presence to a mindset of principle, or from a mindset of control, which is what really all this is about, it’s about us wanting to control the work of the organization, to a mindset of influence.

We need to establish rails. We need to have a clear leadership philosophy. We need to help people on our team learn how we think about the work and how we think about decisions that we make, not just which decision in a specific scenario is the right decision to make according to us, and so I think it’s difficult to make that transition, to move from control to influence. I think a big part of that is just extricating yourself.

I think about the world that I come from, somebody maybe was a great designer or a great writer and they get promoted. What happens typically in organizations is somebody is really good at something and so somebody comes along and says, “You know what? You’re a really good designer. You know what you should do? You should lead other designers.” That’s a fundamentally different skill set, that’s a totally different thing, and yet that’s exactly what we do. This person, basically they’ve built their entire career upon the fact that they’re really good at a thing. That thing may be is design, or maybe that thing is financials or whatever it is. But, they’ve been really good at that thing and now, all of a sudden, they’re transitioning to not doing that thing, but leading other people who are doing that thing.

How do they identify themselves? Who are they anymore? What is the value they contribute? Before, they could point to a thing and say, “I did this.” Now that you’re leading other people, what is it exactly that you do? I think that’s where the identity crisis often resides in this. Our job is to shift our mindset from a maker mindset, from control, to influence, which means I’m going to teach my team a series of principles to help them make better decisions on their own. I’m gonna teach them how I think about what a good idea is. How I think about a good risk versus a bad risk. I’m gonna teach them how to determine the quality of a product and say, “Okay, is this good? Is this a good output, or is it not quite there yet?”

How do we define excellence as an organization? I’m gonna teach them how conflict should be handled so they can handle conflict between themselves instead of having to come to me every time there’s a conflict on the team. Once we begin to teach these principles, then we can step back and do the job that we’re actually accountable for, which is either growing the business, or leading the team to grow the business, depending on the type of business that we’re running.

John Jantsch: I think for me, at least, over the years, the lessons I’ve really learned is that this has to be very intentional, of course. But, there are times when I’m doing my thing. Like you, I’ve go out and I speak and I write and I’m doing the work really, in the business. But, I have a team of people too, and it’s almost like I have to switch on that hat and remember that now I’m leading, so I’m not supposed to have all the answers. That to me is the hardest part because people come to you as the leader, and they say, “Todd, should I do this?” And your response, or at least my response is usually, they ask me a question, I’m gonna give ’em the answer and what I’ve learned over the years is you’ve gotta establish this practice of giving it back to them, saying, “What would you do in that situation?” Or something of that nature.

Todd Henry: Yes.

John Jantsch: Then, of course, the other challenge is you’ve gotta stay so consistent, I think, with it, because how many companies have read a book like yours and the person goes back and says, “It’s gonna be different now!”

Todd Henry: Yes, that’s exactly right. The challenge in all of that is either that we, as a leader, our area of greatest insecurity is the place where we have the potential to do the most damage. As a leader, if we’re not aware of that, the fact that it’s really hard for us to let stuff go, the fact that it’s really difficult for us to let our team run with things, those areas of insecurity become the places we have to turn into watch points personally, because your area of greatest insecurity is the place where you have the potential to do the most damage to your team, and ultimately to your business if you’re not careful.

John Jantsch: How much of the job of the leader, because I think creative people seek inspiration. They tend to be maybe a little more curious about how things work and why they work and don’t work. How much of the job of the leader in this case is to keep those folks inspired?

Todd Henry: I think it’s a huge percentage of the job is keeping them inspired and keeping them focused on the right things. Setting good rails, making sure that they’re looking in the right places. “Hey look over here! Hey, have you seen this? Hey, let’s not focus on that right now, let’s look at this thing over here, because this seems to be the thing that has the most potential.” That’s not the same thing as doing the work for them, that’s basically doing traffic flow for them. It’s making sure that they’re windowing out the stuff that you can see is really not essential and focusing them then on the things that are actually most important.

The thing is, if we wanna be an inspirational leader, then we have to be inspired ourselves. This is something I find often in the lives of leaders; they want to inspire their team but they’re not building practices into their own life to keep themselves inspired. They’re not dedicating time for study, for going out, for exploring, for tilling the soil and looking for potentially useful things in the environment that they can funnel to their team. They’re not doing any kind of personal and professional development themselves and yet they expect their team to be doing that, but they’re not developing themselves.

I think the first thing we have to recognize is that if we wanna be an inspiring leader, if we wanna be the kind of leader that’s bringing ideas to the table and pushing our team in the right place and is able to think systemically in a way that’s actually valuable and useful to our team because we’re seeing the patterns that are emerging in the work and in the team dynamics, then we have to be dedicating time and energy to developing ourselves, to studying, to looking for patterns out there in the marketplace and patterns out there in the environment.

That’s really one of the things we’re uniquely positioned to do as leaders because of our perch, and yet often we don’t do that. If you are not inspired, then you cannot inspire your team.

John Jantsch: One of the things that’s gotta be part of any leader is we’ve got objectives, we have key results that we’re trying to do, we have deadlines, there are things that have to be measured and tracked. I would suggest that some people would say that that’s harder to do with creatives? Maybe a deadline works, maybe it doesn’t, but how do you define and track what might be different with a creative team?

Todd Henry: That is a really great question, because you’re right. If we’re doing accounting, it’s pretty easy to tell whether we got it right or not. You could sorta say, “Numbers aren’t adding up. Okay, let’s figure this out. This isn’t working right.” It’s a different kind of problem. With creative work, it is highly qualitative often. In the end, somebody is either gonna give you the thumbs up or thumbs down based upon, in some cases, their subjective opinion. No matter how research based your work is, no matter how tight your rationale is, they’re gonna give you the thumbs up or thumbs down, and it’s basically based on what they perceive to be right or not right with regard to the work.

So, one of the tools that I like to teach people to help them determine, in a little bit more of a not quantitative way, but a little bit more of an objective way, which idea is the right idea? It spells the word EPIC, which, I don’t like doing things like that where, hey it spells this, but it does, it spells EPIC, is, if you have a handful of ideas you’re trying to evaluate, you’re trying to decide between, I encourage you to use this framework to do it. It works really, really well.

The first thing is, you’re gonna ask, is it effective? Is this idea effective? Does it solve the problem we set out to solve, or does it not? You can even rate this on a scale of one to ten, so you can put these ideas up next to each other and say, “Okay, which of these is most effective? On a scale of one to ten, how well does it actually solve the problem that we’re trying to solve?”

The P is practical. How practical is it for us to execute this idea, given our resource constraints, given our time constraints, given the fact that we only have a couple of team members who can work on this. How practical are each of these ideas, again, on a scale of one to ten?

Then, is it interesting and cool is the final metric here. On a scale of one to ten, how excited are we about this idea? Because sometimes maybe there’s an idea that doesn’t seem as effective, but it’s really cool and so somebody is really arguing for it. Okay, well, that’s fine, give it a 10, but it’s only a four on effectiveness, or a five on effectiveness, which means maybe it’s not the best idea even though it’s got a lot of energy in the room, because it is cool, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem we’re trying to solve.

Once you’ve ranked all of your ideas using this framework, effectiveness, practicality, and then is it interesting and cool, then you can actually have a meaningful conversation. You can say, well, idea two isn’t quite as practical as idea one, but I think we can make it more practical if we dot dot dot. So, it’s a great jumping off point for iteration. It also, as a leader, it gives you an opportunity to do some teaching with your team about how you think about ideas, or how you think about practicality, or how you think about resource allocation, or how you think about what is cool and what actually is interesting from a creative standpoint.

This is, in a world of highly subjective measurements, I find this tool to be really helpful because it gives teams a framework to have meaningful discussion instead of just saying, “Well, I like it. Why don’t you like it?” Which isn’t always helpful.

John Jantsch: I grew up in a really big family and my parents, I don’t really ever remember seeing them argue or fight. I think it made me very conflict averse as well. One of the things you talk about is that really healthy teams can fight in a positive way.

Todd Henry: Yeah. Yeah, this actually happens pretty frequently. I’ll have a manager approach me and say, “We’re a really healthy team. We never fight.” I just wanna grab them lovingly by the shoulders and say, “You are the most dysfunctional team I’ve ever encountered in my life!” Listen, if you have healthy, talented, creative people in the room together, there is going to be conflict. Conflict is the natural result of talented driven people bumping into each other. It’s going to happen. If there’s no conflict it means, A, there’s no accountability on the team, so nobody feels the need to speak their mind or bring their opinion to the table, B, people are just phoning it in, people really don’t care about the work, or, C, you’ve created such a culture of fear and conformity that people feel like they can’t speak their mind without risking losing their job.

If there is never conflict, it means that there’s something that is not healthy in your organization. Now, that doesn’t mean that free-for-all conflict should be the norm. No, of course not. We have to have some healthy principles for conflict, and this is one of the things that I went into in Herding Tigers. There are a couple of rules, I think, that we have to follow, whenever we have some kind of argument about an idea or about a direction or something. I think number one, we have to agree on common ground from the start.

I think sometimes, especially in today’s culture and you’re seeing this play out in the political arena right now, we’ve seen it in the marketplace in a handful of ways, we are seeing scorched earth strategy playing out everywhere. It’s, I will destroy the ground between you and me, and I’m gonna fossilize around my opinion, and I’m just gonna fight just because I’m fighting, because I disagree with you. I think it’s important in any conflict when we disagree, to agree on the common ground from the start and say, “Okay, are we actually fighting about the same thing here?”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen in a lot of organizations I’ve worked with where two people are having an argument, and then they get about halfway through and realize, oh, we’re actually not even fighting about the same thing. I didn’t realize that. We were just fighting to fight, but we weren’t even talking about the same thing here. We actually have a lot more common ground than we thought. That’s the first thing.

The second thing I always encourage people to do is try as much as you can to articulate the other person’s point of view before you disagree with them. Make sure that you understand their argument as well, so not only that you’re arguing about the same thing, but that you understand their perspective and their argument. Try to articulate their point of view and even share with them, here’s where I agree with you, and here’s where we diverge. That way you can see what you’re actually fighting about.

The third thing is, you always fight over ideas, you never fight over personality. The moment a conflict gets personal, everybody loses. When I talk about conflict, I’m not talking about, “Oh I hate those people. I hate that person. I can’t stand that … so I’m just going to muscle up every time they introduce an idea.”

That’s not healthy conflict, that’s just stupid conflict. We can’t allow conflict to get personal. It has to always be about ideas, not personality. If we follow these principles, then we’re going to have an environment where people feel like they can bring their ideas to the table, an environment where people feel like they can disagree and we can even hash it out and it can get really animated.

Another thing I wanna say that is a little bit controversial but I think is also important to recognize, I hear often people say, “Oh, our team is a family. We’re like a family.” Well, maybe you’re like a family, but you’re not a family. I think that’s a very unfair thing that managers do or business owners do, is when they say it’s a family because I don’t know about your family, but I’m not kicking someone out of the family if they don’t do their chores this week. They’re still gonna be a member of the family. There might be consequences, but they’re not gonna get kicked out of my family because they didn’t do their job. There’s a baseline level of performance you have to maintain in order to stay employed, so saying to a group of people, oh, we’re a family, no, actually you’re not, because somebody in this room might be fired at some point if they fail to do their job.

We have to make sure that we’re treating people in our organization with trust and respect. We don’t have to like everybody we work with. You probably won’t like everybody you work with, that’s okay as well, but we have to treat them with trust and respect and we have to fight well. If we do that then our culture is gonna get sharper and sharper and sharper and more and more focused and more and more refined over time and people will trust one another, because they’ll know that people are speaking up.

John Jantsch: One of the things I love when books do this is that each chapter you kinda have some summary points. Here’s some actions, here’s ways that you can talk with the team, here’s some habits you can develop so you kinda give people a whole toolbox of ideas to end each chapter rather than saying, “Do X.”

Todd Henry: Yeah.

John Jantsch: So, Todd, where can people find more about you and about Herding Tigers?

Todd Henry: The best place to find Herding Tigers is wherever books are sold, so wherever you shop for books you can find it. The best place to find me is at That’s where our podcasts are and all the other work that I do. That’d be the best place to find me.

John Jantsch: Well, you have, as I know, the book is in some ways a starting point. You have, of course, training and workshops and everything that you do around that as well, don’t you?

Todd Henry: Yeah, that’s correct. We have a Herding Tigers workshop that is basically our two-day in person workshop, but it’s distilled down to basically a four hour video course with exercises and workbooks and all kinds of things. Basically it’s like me coming to your company for two days, only you can get through it in four hours. Now, four hours to experience it, but then you have to do the work beyond that, but it’s basically that distilled into a video course.

John Jantsch: You don’t do the work for us? Darn it.

Todd Henry: No, unfortunately I can’t do the work for you. Sorry. It would be so much better if I could. No, I’m sorry, I can’t do the work for you.

John Jantsch: Well Todd, thanks so much for joining us, spending time with us, hopefully next time I’m in Ohio or somewhere out there on the road we can bump into each other again.

Todd Henry: Yeah, that’d be great. John, thanks for the great work that you do.



Transcript of Finding Success and Happiness as a Company of One

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John Jantsch: Everybody wants to scale up these days. Big topic, right? Well, in this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I visit with Paul Jarvis and we talked about, he has a nice book; Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business. Check it out.

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, my guest today is Paul Jarvis. He teaches online courses, runs several software businesses and hosts a handful of podcasts from his home. He’s also the author of Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business. So Paul, welcome to the show.

Paul Jarvis: Hey, thank you very much John, I appreciate it.

John Jantsch: So your intro, I think is almost intentionally sort of small-sounding, isn’t it?

Paul Jarvis: I think a little bit, but I also think, it was funny because one of the first things my agent and book publisher asked was, “Well, what awards do you have?” Or that sort of thing. And I was like, “I don’t actually have any.” I’ve never actually tried to win an award, I don’t know what I would get an award for. So, I think some of it’s intentional, some of it’s that’s just the way that my work works.

John Jantsch: Well I guess what the point of that comment really is that, those who know you know that you’re quite accomplished in what you’ve done and I think that in some ways you’re maybe giving people hope that, “Hey, it’s okay to record a podcast from your home, you can still have success on those terms” right?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, exactly. I’m also Canadian, so there’s a bit of a lack of hubris sometimes I think.

John Jantsch: You haven’t apologized yet, though. So, you know the big term, of course the big concept right now, is scaling. So, in some ways, people could make a case for saying you’re sort of anti-scaling.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, that’s kind of the point, so I guess the point of the book and the point of kind of where my thinking around this idea has been is not that scaling is bad, it’s just that scaling should be thought about first. I think this actually applies to a lot of things, that we should probably think about things before we do things. For the most part, it kind of makes sense to do that. So it’s not really a book about anti-scaling, it’s more a book about considering whether it makes sense or not, because it doesn’t always make sense to scale.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and that’s a great point, because I think a lot of people just get caught up in the, “well if I start a business, that’s the goal”, right? And not necessarily “what do I want?” Is it?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah. I think a lot of times, people kind of, they start the business, and then work backwards, trying to make it work for the life that they want. And to go the opposite way, we can think about the life that we want, and then build a business that, obviously that’s profitable because that’s the point of business, but that also supports the life that we want. Like for myself, I don’t want to have to manage a team or have to work 16 hours a day to make enough money to survive. So I don’t want to build a business like that, because that doesn’t support the life that I want. And I think lifestyle business gets a bum rap, but I kinda think that every single business is a lifestyle business. Like the friends that I have that have venture-backed, Silicon Valley tech companies, they have a very specific lifestyle that their business makes them have, right? So I think every business has the possibility of being a lifestyle business, in so much that you can kind of pick what you want–

John Jantsch: You know, I sometimes think there’s a lot of confusion around the terms growth and scale, that people kind of see them as the same thing. One of the things that I’ve seen at least, is that I think scale can imply doing more with less. I think it can also imply that you’re more profitable, because you’ve developed systems of things. I think sometimes scale gets a bad rep.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, you’re speaking my language here. I think that there’s things that are really good for scale that don’t necessarily mean growth, and I think a really good example of that is a newsletter. It takes me as much time to write an email to one person as it does to write an email to 30 thousand people. So that to me is a great example of scaling my reach for example that doesn’t require, I don’t need 30 thousand people writing one email to 30 thousand recipients. So I think scale a lot of times, if we do it properly, doesn’t have to require the growth or the expenses required for that growth.

John Jantsch: Freelancing is, I don’t know what the numbers are, but I’m sure it’s in the multi-hundreds of times percentage growth, that pretty much everybody that has a job is freelancing today, it seems like. One of the points I know that you make in the book and I know that you do this in your courses and a lot of the work you’ve done is that, you know, a lot of freelancers just think of themselves as just gig-workers or you know, “I’ve got some spare time to do this…” you know, it’s not really a company. So, how is freelancing different than a company of one?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, I think they can be the same, but where they’re different is, and I know this just from experience of teaching thousands of freelancers, mostly in creative industries, is that they tend to work in their business so much that they don’t think about working on their business. And what I mean by that is we can get caught up in client work, and I mean if our business is doing well as a freelancer, we have a lot of client work. But if we don’t stop to think about filling the funnel a bit further down the road, then they’ll be this feast or famine thing.

If we don’t think about things like taxes or accounting, we could get into trouble at the end of the year with our governments. So, I think that there’s, and we also need to think about things like how word of mouth is working fr a business. A lot of freelancers, that’s their main source of finding new clients; it’s keeping in touch with people and keeping that network really strong. So I think that a lot of freelancers don’t treat their business like a business, and either way, it’s still a business. So, I think thinking about how to make freelancing into a business, and keep thinking about it like a business is always really, really important, because like I said, it is a business, whether you think it is or not.

John Jantsch: So is there a critical mindset shift that occurs when somebody decides, “Yeah, I’m a company.”

Paul Jarvis: Well, I think that definitely when they start to consider profit, that’s always important. I think there’s a lot of things that can be hobbies, and hobbies are great and you don’t need to worry about profit if it’s hobby. The best thing about a hobby is you don’t have to worry about the money side. But when you want something to support you, you have to start to, especially in freelancing or when you work for yourself and build solo products, I think we have to consider what enough is.

So, what would be enough to sustain this as business longterm, or even in the beginning, what would be enough to sustain this month to month. Like, “how much income do I need?” Because if we figure those things out, then we can work backwards. Say we need $5000 a month ad we wanna charge $1000. Well, can we find five clients per month to cover just those bases? And then six or more to be profitable, right? So I think we need to start to think about what enough is, like, “How many clients is enough?”, “How much profit is enough?”, “How big our audience should be is enough.”, “How much time spent on the business is enough?”.

I think a lot of times, the ‘enough’ question is probably one of the most important things, it’s probably the main reason why I wrote the book. Because we all start from zero, right? We all start a business without a backlog of clients, it’s really hard to start like that. But we all start at zero and build up. So, we all need that growth mindset to get to enough. But where a lot of us don’t think about it is, if we don’t consider what enough is and then change based on if we’ve reached enough or not. So if we have enough revenue, then maybe we don’t need to keep growing and growing and growing, we can start to optimize for that revenue instead. And so I think that’s probably one of the most important things.

John Jantsch: What are the challenges that a lot of people getting started, even if they have that plan like, “here’s where I think I wanna get”, it’s the– and I hate the term shiny object, but no question opportunities pop up, “Gosh, should I chase that? Should I chase that?” Do you or did you have a filter that allowed you to decide? Because sometimes opportunities sound great, and sometimes they’re dead ends, sometimes they just are distractions, maybe they just replace the money you were making over there. So do you have a process that you go through to say, pros, cons, how do I consider this?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah. For me the first thing mindset-wise, is I consider what the maintenance costs, because every opportunity has an associated cost, right? So I consider; if I say yes to this thing, what does that mean for a whole bunch of things, so, what does that mean for my profit? What does that mean for my existing customers? What does that mean for my happiness? And what does that mean in terms of maintaining this longterm? Like say I wanted to add another course to my roster, or add another client, or add another feature to a product. I’m going to have to then be able to sell that new feature. I’m going to have to support that new feature.

I’m gonna probably build other things around that feature to make it work better. So everything has a cost and I think if we start to think about, “What’s a reason we started this thing in the first place? This business, this freelancing, whatever we want to call it. What’s the reason we started this and what do we want to get out of it?” And I think if we have, it sounds a little hippy-dippy, but I think the more that we have and consider what our purpose was for starting, and it can change granted, it can definitely change, but if we have a purpose, I feel like that’s the best lens for decision making we can have when we work for ourselves. So if we have a purpose in mind for what we want to get out of it, or why we’re doing it in the first place, then we can say, “This opportunity doesn’t line up with this purpose, therefore it’s okay if I turn this thing down. It’s okay if I maybe lose a bit short term, but gain a bit in the long term. Because I’ve been doing this for 20 odd years, I kinda think longterm with a lot of the decisions that I make.

John Jantsch: Yeah. And obviously, experience ends up teaching you that. Because I think there’s this like, “I’ll never get this chance again.” Kind of mentality. I think experience teaches you “yes you will”. And so I think once you get confident in that it makes it a little easier to trust your gut I think. My favorite chapter in the book; a chapter called The One Customer, and I think that a lot of freelancers kind of tend to think, you know, you think of an Upwork project or something, you know, it’s done, I never really met the customer, I delivered the product, I don’t really even think of it a customer, its more of a project. But I think that the one big mindset shift that you identify is that I think when somebody decides they have a company of one, all of a sudden this customer is something to grow, isn’t it?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, I think that in all I’ve done all sorts of types of business and I’ve worked with all sorts of customers, from Fortune 100 startups to entrepreneurs. It’s, business is always, and I hate business sayings for the most part, but there’s one that I actually like, and I think it’s, “Business is all bout who you know.” So I think building relationships and fostering relationships in the longterm just makes a lot of sense. I think, whether it’s startups or freelancers, I think we tend to focus more on acquisition than retention, and its cheaper to retain customers if you’re a freelancer if you’ve already worked with somebody; the sales cycle can be shortened. Because you don’t need to convince them to work with you anymore, they did, they hopefully liked it, they just have to say yes or no to a new project. If it’s a tech company or a SAS product, then retaining the customer just means that they don’t cancel and turn out. So I think focusing on making, and these are the people who are already paying attention, these are the people who probably already like our work if we’re doing good work. Then, it makes sense to pay attention to them, it makes sense to listen to them, it makes sense to not let those relationships die.

Even looking back to when I did freelance work, I had some customers that were probably 13, 14 years of work, and sometimes we would go a year without working together, but because I would keep in touch with them, and because I would reach out to them often, even if there was a bit of a slow time, all I had to do was email my existing customers and say, “Hey, just checking in, see how your business is going, see if there’s anything I can help with.” Just in doing that, I could fill my client roster for a month or two. So I think keeping in touch with people is such an under-utilized skill.

John Jantsch: Yeah. And that one tip really works for any business. If you’ve got a list of past–

Paul Jarvis: It’s a magic email.

John Jantsch: Yeah, it really is. If you’ve got a list of past happy customers, and it’s a slow Friday, just send out an email. So, one of the things that’s made this company of one idea so viable really is all of the tools and technology and automation that we have available. What’s some of your, let’s make this a two-part question. What’s some of your favorite tools for automation, and then what are some of your famous no-nos for abusing automation?

Paul Jarvis: So, I really like email. I think email, so one, email marketing newsletters accounts for most of my revenue, so I would be silly if I didn’t really like that. So I think, and for me, the way that I use it, and it’s funny because everybody’s like, “Oh emails, Dad emails, Dad…”, and I feel like I’m the guy in the back raising my hand, like, “I don’t think so.” So I’ve had a newsletter, a weekly newsletter, which is good because it’s called the Sunday dispatches, so it makes sense that I send it once a week. I’ve had a newsletter since November 2012, so it’s about six years old, and every week I send an article to my list and that just keeps in touch with people, it keeps reminding people that I exist.

And it also, I sometimes have things to sell; not all the time, but sometimes there’s something to sell. And by keeping this cadence as really regular cadence, of showing up for people saying like, “Hey, I still exist, here’s some thoughts that I have.” It shows people that like, “Oh, okay, I really resonate with these things that Paul is saying.” Some people, not all people but some people. And then when I do have something to sell, it’s not like I’m just hounding them to get something for myself, it’s I’ve been providing value for them, sometimes for years; sometimes people are on my list for years before they buy something, so then it feels like there’s some reciprocity there. So then, the sales cycle just becomes, “Hey I made this thing, maybe you wanna check it out.”

John Jantsch: Yeah, you know, I laugh because I get those notes all the time, “I’ve been following you for 10 years, and finally decided to buy–” it’s like I gotta figure out how to shorten the sale cycle so—

Paul Jarvis: Yeah I think that can be good. And then as far as things that I don’t really like using; I don’t like any tool that is realtime or that shows my status. So I really dislike products like Slack because it feels like there’s—so things like that, I don’t even need to single out slack, but just any service that shows my status; even Skype, I only sign in to Skype to use it. And I think that a lot of times we have this FOMO about, “Oh, I’m gonna miss something so I need to stay logged in to everything, or I need to get notifications for all of the things.” I don’t know how I could work, I don’t know how I could accomplish the tasks I need to do on any given day if I was interrupted when I’m doing my work.

So if I’m working on something I can’t leave Slack open, I can’t leave Skype open, I can’t even leave social media open. So, if I’m writing the only thing I have open on my computer is my writing software. If I’m on Twitter, the only thing I have open on my computer is Twitter, and I don’t get notified of things that I’m not focused on or things that I’m working on. So I think that there’s a lot of technology now that allows us, like we were talking about, that allows us to scale without growth, which is awesome, but I also think that we can fall into the trap of just being interrupted by all of these great technologies, so I try not to let that happen as much as possible, because I like to get my work done, and then be done work for the day.

John Jantsch: So, I’m curious, and this is just on a personal note, what is your writing software?

Paul Jarvis: I use, so I like IA writer for just me writing, it’s just a markdown minimal software app. I use for collaboration I use Google Docs, because it’s just the easiest thing when I’m working with copy editor and editor, or collaborator. But then, my publisher, and I think all publishers are old school, so I also use Word, but I begrudgingly use Word. I actually had to buy a license to word for the first time in ten years just to–

John Jantsch:  That’s so funny. We’re getting ready to bore our listeners to tears here, but my current book, I’m working on another book right now, and I’m writing the entire thing in Google Docs and I convinced my traditional mainstream publisher to take the manuscript in Google Docs, can you believe it?

Paul Jarvis: Awesome.

John Jantsch: So excited about that.

Paul Jarvis: Your power of persuasion is greater than mine. I tried to do the same thing; it didn’t work.

John Jantsch: One of the things that, I was really happy to read this line because I’ve believed this forever, but you said this really well. That education is a serious marketing channel. And I don’t think people appreciate that. We’ve all bought into, you know, “Yes, educate, educate, useful content.” But I think you took it a step further really, and talk about it as the tool to actually grow your existing customer base and that you should teach everything, you should look at that as a product opportunity. And I think a lot of people who do, say design or really any kind of work, really underestimate the power of that.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, I mean, it was funny when I was doing web design, I noticed that the only thing that web designers wrote and shared on the internet were things for other web designers. And I always found that weird because, no web designer would ever hire me because I was a web designer too, we had the same skill set. So when I started to think about content, I thought about, “Okay, well what can I do to create content for people that hire web designers?” So I started to write articles on the subject, I wrote a book on the subject.

And then I noticed that my schedule was so full I didn’t know what to do with it because people were reading the things that I was writing, that were looking to hire web designers, and because they had read that from me, they thought, “Okay, this Paul guy is the expert on this subject, so why wouldn’t I want to hire the expert on educating clients on successful design projects? Because he’s the one who’s sharing this knowledge.” And it became a really easy sell at that point, it was just, people had already heard of me, it was more just a matter of seeing if it was a good fit to work together than having to pitch or sell anything. So I’ve kind of taken that and run with it for the rest of my business life.

John Jantsch: And I think a lot of people, people are getting off of this a little bit, but imagine 10, 15 years ago, nobody was really educating, you know, you were selling. And so, when I was out there telling people that, “No, tell them everything, reveal all the candy, don’t hold anything back.” Because they don’t wanna actually do it themselves, they just wanna know that you know how to do it. And that’s the best way to demonstrate it, and I’m glad we’ve come around.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, people feel like they’re backed into a corner if they feel like they’re being sold to, but people listen a lot more if they feel like they’re learning something; they pay attention, and that attention is gold when you are trying to sell something. If you don’t pay attention to the selling, you pay attention to the teaching, and then you’re right, they’re just gonna be like, “This person knows what they’re doing, I’m just gonna pay them.”

John Jantsch: Well, or they go out there and try it and they go, “Gosh dang this is hard, I am gonna hire somebody.” So, you mentioned hippy-dippy, so let’s finish on a concept that I love and I’d love for you to expand on how you apply this to a company of one. And that’s this idea of finding your true north.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah. It’s funny because I think that, and even, I think I kinda felt that way too. I mean, I live in the woods on an island that’s very hippy-dippy on the West Coast of Canada, so I feel like I’m surrounded by this, and I feel like I push against it. And so, I think that in the beginning I though that having a purpose or a north star for my business was too in the realm of like, “Well businesses are supposed to be profitable, so why would I worry about applying my values and what I want?” And I think that that was to my own detriment.

I think a lot of times, we get tired from having to make decisions all the time in our business. And if you run a business, you have to make decisions all the time and that tires you out. It’s funny, I was reading an article in the Atlantic about how tiring making decisions is, and I was like, “This article is speaking my life.” So I think to come around to the part about having a purpose, I think like I said earlier, I think that having a purpose alleviates some of the decision making. Because if we know why we started the business and why we want to run the business and kind of where we want to take it, and if I think about success, I see what success looks like in the media, and then I think about, if I applied myself to that version of success, one of two things would happen.

I would either get it, which means I would win at what I was challenged by, but I would be left with somebody else’s version of success which wouldn’t be mine, so I kind of wouldn’t win. And if I didn’t win at achieving that person’s version of success, I would be left feeling like I failed. But I failed at something I didn’t actually want in the first place. So I think if we define what success looks like to us, and it’s different for every single person. I did so many interviews for the book, and what success means to you isn’t what it means to me. There could be similarities, sure, but it’s always different. So I think if we have a purpose then it becomes a wholly pragmatic exercise, which is the opposite of hippy-dippy, at least in my mind.

John Jantsch: I’m getting ready to print t-shirts; “fail at something you wanted to fail at”, I love that.

Paul Jarvis: Exactly. It just makes more sense from a pragmatic standpoint to be able to do that. So I think having a purpose just makes it easier to make decisions and it makes it easier for us to align with where we want to go. Because we’re the ones steering the ship, so if we end up somewhere we don’t like, it’s our fault.

John Jantsch: I seriously am stealing that, you’re gonna see it in my next book. So, speaking with Paul Jarvis, author of Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business, depending upon when you’re listening to this show, it’s out on the shelves January of 2019. So Paul, tell people where they can find more about you and your work.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah. So my newsletter, The Sunday Dispatches is at, or if you search in Google for Paul Jarvis, I’m the first page. And then the book, Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business, is on all digital shelves and should be in most bookstores as well, and the website for that is

John Jantsch: Excellent. Paul, it was great visiting with you, hopefully we’ll catch up with you out there fishing or something in the West Coast of Canada.

Paul Jarvis: Sounds good John, cheers.


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John Jantsch: You know the CrossFit brand is an amazing, powerful brand and if you were a gym owner and you started a CrossFit Box or gym, there was a lot of power in that. But, there was also some negative that eventually came with that. In this week’s episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I visit with Matt Scanlon. He is the founder of one of those CrossFit gyms that is now expanded and grown into be something entirely different, into a really a healthcare or wellness mecca. Check it out.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Matt Scanlon. He is the founder of The Hill KC, CrossFit Memorial Hill. It’s also referred to as, happens to be a local person. I rarely get to do a Kansas City show, so, even though we’re just across town, it doesn’t get much closer than this. So, Matt, thanks for joining me.

Matt Scanlon: Yeah, I appreciate it, John. Thanks for having me.

John Jantsch: So, I would kind of fumble around and say what The Hill is but I’m going to let you describe in the glorious terms that you now tell people when they say, “So, what do you do, Matt?”

Matt Scanlon: Yeah. The Hill has gone through a lot of different iterations. We are a health and wellness facility here in Kansas City. Under that umbrella, we do your standard group exercise classes, personal training and things like that. And that was sort of the bread butter of how we started out but since we’ve formed in 2012, we’ve kind of expanded to do some things on the corporate wellness front. We actually have some digital products that we now do remotely with some different offices around the Midwest. We have started a non profit organization under our umbrella that serves people with disabilities, cancer survivors and senior citizens on a fixed income and most recently, we have expanded that non profit organization to include some veteran services for veterans coming out of active duty service.

What basically started out as people working out has grown into a little bit more complex of an organization like it has.

John Jantsch: So, under the umbrella rather than just being a gym. I mean you’re calling it a wellness facility or wellness business, right?

Matt Scanlon: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

John Jantsch: So, let’s go back to your beginnings. You were initially, at least my understanding and I have a little bit of history.

Matt Scanlon: Yeah.

John Jantsch: You were initially a CrossFit, I think you might even call it a Box at the time.

Matt Scanlon: That is correct. Yeah.

John Jantsch: Talk to me a little bit about that. CrossFit has, you know, I’m one of those people that, you know, CrossFit has had a lot of its negative, it’s had a lot of positive. I happen to think that it revolutionized this whole idea of the social aspect and group exercise aspect but as far as it being where it was 2010, 2012, it’s kind of come under, I don’t know even know the right term but it’s certainly not what it was maybe five years ago, was it?

Matt Scanlon: Yeah. 100% and actually I would even say, on a more fundamental level, John, I think it’s a crazy thought to think that the fitness industry as a whole probably was more predicated on people not going to the gym than people actually stepping foot into a gym. If you were to think about your typical, your typical, I won’t name any brands or anything like that but you pay-

John Jantsch: Nothing like 24 Hour Fitness or Gold’s Gym or I’m sorry, I’m naming them for you.

Matt Scanlon: No, you’re spot on. So, you had to think, you know, for 50 years of this industry, these businesses survived on low utilization rates. If less than 10 people that pay me actually use my business, I’m in good shape. So, I would say on a very fundamental level, CrossFit came on the scene and is like, “Guys, this is a joke. If people are going to have a gym membership. They should actually be getting in shape. They should actually be going.” And so because of that, it was a very disruptive voice in the fitness industry and along with that came certainly some negative attitudes.

John Jantsch: And I think that, it was probably was compounded by the fact that they started cropping up like mushrooms everywhere and so unfortunately, that meant there were some people that weren’t as committed to people’s safety as maybe they should have been and there weren’t necessarily people who ran businesses like real businesses and so you had a lot of fall out, I think from the industry as a whole didn’t you?

Matt Scanlon: Most certainly. Yeah, the roots of CrossFit were, it was an open source community that started on the internet, first and foremost. So, by nature it was wild west. You had people opening affiliates in their garage and really taking, it was kind of first time that, you know, we’re talking 2001, people are taking this information off of the internet and turning into these brick and mortar locations where people were working out. So, the best practices did not really become evident for probably five to ten years after that first organic wildfire took off.

And it’s something that we’re certainly, now it’s very evident what best practices and coaching and teaching and business are and that’s become more widely available to the affiliates and it’s matured a lot since then I would say.

John Jantsch: And, you still offer the CrossFit programming, right?

Matt Scanlon: Correct. Yeah. That’s the core of what we do. About 55% of our business is what you would consider to be your traditional CrossFit classes.

John Jantsch: So, have you, how have you or have you, I should say, kind of shaken the sort of what people’s perception of, people who didn’t know necessarily, their perception of CrossFit and maybe the fact that somebody who wanted to get into shape was sort of intimidated by CrossFit.

I mean, you’ve changed the name, you in your intro didn’t mention CrossFit so, you’ve clearly are positioning your gym, even though that’s the programming, you’re positioning it for maybe somebody else?

Matt Scanlon: It’s an interesting thing, John, that I would say even today, I am still struggling with how do I interact with that brand. On one hand, you as a marketing expert, you understand that for somebody to have that instantaneous brand recognition and almost that like. “Choose a side.” Really you can’t pay enough money for that kind of brand recognition. So, on one hand, I’m struggling with that, like the general public knows what that means, whether they like it or hate it, there’s still recognition there and that to me is, an important factor.

But, then there’s this other side of the coin to where I realize we started to have people coming into the gym who were stroke survivors and I remember talking, I mean, in our gym, it is not uncommon to see people walk for the first time after an accident and these are people doing CrossFit and learning to walk and learning to stand up and learning to training [inaudible] wheelchairs and they identify as CrossFitters. But then, I would turn around and maybe reach out to their physical therapist or maybe they’re on colleges and I would say, “Hey, listen, I’d like to get a confidentiality signed so we could integrate this treatment protocol a little bit.”

And I realize if I was emailing them from, I’m never getting a response. Now, if I’m emailing them, oh, I’m immediately getting a response from these physicians. So, I’m stuck between these two very different worlds where the thing that’s occurring inside of our four walls versus the perception of what’s occurring are two pretty desperate experiences. So, I’ll tell you what, this is definitely something I’m wrestling with at this very moment to be honest.

John Jantsch: And I suspect that it will continue to mature and who knows where the brand will be in five years but my guess is the reality of CrossFit is quite than the perception particularly the perception from five years ago.

Matt Scanlon: You know, I had this moment where, we were, as we’re transition, we’re in the middle of expanding our space and really kind of bringing all these businesses under the same umbrella and so we’ve been having this conversation of branding a lot lately and I realize that, I started to ask some of our members, take them out for coffee and ask them about their experiences and I realize that all of these people, whether they came in for CrossFit or not, once they were in the door, they began to identify themselves as CrossFitters.

And, I realize that they weren’t, they don’t identify as a CrossFitter because of the methodology or because there’s this perception of it being dangerous or hard. They’ve created that identity because they did something that they were maybe afraid of doing. And maybe like this idea, this CrossFit was such a massive mountain that they could never climb and then all of a sudden they did it and so there’s a part of me that I don’t want to necessarily take that away from them. Maybe I don’t want to remove the fear or the hesitation that they have because once they conquer, that feeling of accomplishment is amazing, right?

Nobody identifies as a, nobody has a Pilates bumper sticker. Nobody feels that doing a Pilates class was the biggest fear of their life that they conquered and so I’m kind of, that’s not something I want to take away from my members, you know?

John Jantsch: And I think, I mean, I think the key and you’ve certainly headed down this path is education, education, education.

Matt Scanlon: Yes. Certainly. Yeah. And it’s one of those things where it’s, we’re trying to tell a story of it’s quality coaching, it’s good programming and relationships and whether you’re a personal trainer at Gold’s, got a internet certification and they could be an amazing coach, they could be a terrible coach. It really just comes down to those relationships.

John Jantsch: Wouldn’t it be great, if in your business, all you had to do was the stuff you love? The reason you started the business and not all that administrative stuff like payroll and benefits. That stuff’s hard especially when you’re a small business. Now, I’ve been delegating my payroll for years to one of those big corporate companies and I always felt like a little tiny fish but now there is a much better way. I’ve switched over to Gusto and it is making payroll and benefits and HR easy for the modern small business.

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So, let’s talk a little bit about where you’re trying to take The Hill KC. You alluded to some expansion and not just expansion of physical space but of programming in general.

Matt Scanlon: Yeah. The idea, we’re trying to bring more people under the umbrella of what we’re doing and we’re actually bringing in a lot of healthcare providers into the mix. So, my background prior to owning and operating the gym was in healthcare management and I realized very early on in managing some different healthcare facilities and state programs that there’s a big chasm in what the general population needs for their preventative health and the infrastructure that traditional healthcare has. And so the goal is to begin to bridge that gap.

Now, we’re having conversations with physicians and chiropractors and dieticians and acupuncturists. I mean really everything is on the table because our ultimate mission is to solve preventative health issues and that’s what we do. That’s the core of exercise and nutrition so we’re realizing, okay how much can we bridge the gap between traditional healthcare model and preventative and so this expansion is bringing as many people that actually care about solving that problem to the table as possible.

John Jantsch: So, my question is, I think a lot of people are headed this direction and I think ultimately, I don’t know, seems like it should have happened already but in 10 years, this will be healthcare I think but at what point do, you know, it’s still looked at as alternative in many circles. At what point do we cross over to where actually this is traditional healthcare?

Matt Scanlon: That’s a great question. This is the stuff that gets me going, John. So, it’s at the point that it becomes, it’s at the point that the current model becomes cost prohibited and we’re at a pretty close tipping point. I mean, I am in my mid 30s, super healthy. I don’t know that I’ve been to the doctor in two years and I’m paying health insurance premiums that are absolutely ridiculous. It’s almost $500 a month in catastrophic health insurance premiums and as people bring more creative solutions to the marketplace, the cost of care as it exists now bloats so much, I think it will hit a tipping point towards no longer considered alternative.

And I hope, like really my hope and what we’re trying to solve here is that this model of healthcare isn’t reserved for a privileged few but that there can be a proof of concept I guess to kind of show how to deliver good preventative health services to people.

John Jantsch: And I think it’s like everything. I mean, you’ve got generations on both ends of the spectrum, right now. I have aging parents and so I spend some time in the traditional system that is ill equipped to do anything but give out drugs and beds and it pains me to see but I think we’re, I think because these things don’t, you don’t like stroke a pen and it’s changed. I mean, I think we’re a generation away from what ultimately is obvious.

Matt Scanlon: You nailed it. My mother in law recently had a very extensive emergency surgery that most people her age really don’t recover from. I mean, it results in significant interruption of life and you go in her garage, she’s got a barbell in her garage, she’s swinging kettlebells. She’s up at five in the morning, like getting after it everyday. When you see things like that and you see, oh because of her daily preparation and caring about her nutrition and working out, all these things that you should be doing, her quality of life now and her ability to still work and travel and do the things that she wants, it’s still there.

She’s able to do these things with 40 minutes a day of just preventative maintenance. It’s a great value proposition when you see it occur in that way.

John Jantsch: Absolutely. So, a lot of businesses, I mean your business has evolved dramatically as we’ve just talked about it. A lot of businesses come up with a real challenge when they attempt to do that and you had some of those original people that wanted to hang out in the Box, right? That were some of the folks that were originally attracted to you. How has and maybe it hasn’t changed at all but how has your client today changed and how have you kind of managed growing into something that you weren’t originally, when it came to obviously keeping your existing clients happy?

Matt Scanlon: Yeah. Oh great question. It’s had more, honestly it’s had more to do with me figuring out what I want out of this thing than it has had to do with my clients themselves. And, it’s sort of me kind of finding. I mean, you know this, John. You build a business and it takes everything from you especially in the first five years. You are sacrificing pretty much everything for this business and there were plenty of moments where I had to ask myself, “Is this sacrifice worth exercise? Do I truly enjoy exercise to the extent that I’m willing to make this sacrifice?”

And the answer that I came to is like, “No. I don’t actually enjoy the fitness industry. I don’t necessarily, I’m not that passionate about exercise.” So, I had to figure out, well what is the thing that I’m trying to do here. What initially drew me to this thing? And it really was, it was the health and the mental fortitude like getting better, trying new things and overcoming difficulty. Like, these are the things that I personally got out of bed for. And, so then I kind of realized that our clientele either they were the same people that sort of followed suit and got fired up about that or maybe they left and they were replaced by new people that got fired up at the prospect of this holistic betterment of oneself and their community.

John Jantsch: So, one of the things that, particularly a lot of what I would call traditional brick and mortar businesses suffer from is you can only attract clients for whom your geographic location works for them and their life and so in some ways your market’s a little restricted to that but you have taken what I think is a very wise step for almost any business today and that is to start creating digital projects, products, to start actually creating products for the industry. I think you have something called 321GoProject that is just that.

What’s been your thinking in terms of trying to expand in that manner?

Matt Scanlon: Just what you said. There’s the geographical issues. There’s also this element of scalability and relationships, realizing that the secret sauce of what we have is the fact that, you know, I’ll walk outside my office right now and I’ll see some members. I’ll know all their first names, I’ll know what their kids are up to, I’ll know where they went to college and know what they did over the weekend and there are very real limits on the amount of people that you can have a relationship like that with and so realizing that if I wanted to scale this thing up and provide additional career opportunities to other people under this umbrella, that we would have to figure out ways to do that without sacrificing our core competency which is relationships.

So then, we kind of moved into creating a ton of digital assets and content, pulling a lot of stuff online, working with companies remotely and really thankfully, we live in a day and age where that’s not terrible difficult to do and at the time that we opened the, I mean, 2011 and 12, there’s no way that that would have even been on my mind.

John Jantsch: So, Matt, I’m running to the end of our time, here. So tell people where they can find out more about what you’re up to, whether they’re in Kansas City or not.

Matt Scanlon: Yeah. So, It’s got everything there. It’s got all of our programs there. There’s a cool little feature called Coaches Corner that people can go to. That’s were a lot of our digital assets live and then for the work that I do on the industry side of things, I’m a part of a company called 321GoProject where we take best practices, we’ve recently developed a really cool software on behavior change in businesses like ours so, yeah, and is where I’m at.

John Jantsch: Awesome. Well, thanks for joining us, Matt and I have no excuse not to stop by and see you.

Matt Scanlon: All right. Thanks, John.

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John Jantsch: Leadership is leadership. Doesn’t matter what role you’re in, if you’re running a company, if you’re an elected official. In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I visit with Jason Kander. We talk about his book, Outside the Wire, getting outside your comfort zone to learn the lessons of leadership. Check it out.

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Jason Kander. He is husband, father, former Army captain who served in Afghanistan. He is also Missouri’s former Secretary of State, and the president of an organization called Let America Vote. He is also a candidate for the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, and we’re gonna talk about his book called Outside the Wire: Ten Lessons I’ve Learned in Every Day Courage. Jason, thanks for joining me.

Jason Kander: Thanks for having me.

John Jantsch: So, I’ve had a lot of authors, thousands of authors I’ve interviewed and I don’t think I’ve had one that has written a political biography yet on the show, so this is a first, but in reading your book, which I really loved, there’s so many lessons in there that are really leadership lessons in the truest sense, and I think entrepreneurs in the truest sense, the successful ones anyway, are leaders at heart, so I want to unpack the book really in that vein, if that makes sense.

Jason Kander: Yeah, it makes sense to me. Thanks.

John Jantsch: Let me start with the title, “Outside the Wire.” In kind of common military jargon, that’s sort of the idea of being beyond the safe base camp area, so how does that metaphor really kind of set the subtext for the book?

Jason Kander: Well, for me, the experience of going outside the wire in Afghanistan, going like you said, off the safety of the base, that’s an event in my life that a lot of times I kind of think about my life I guess as before and after that moment, and I think that’s true for a lot of people who have experienced anything like that, anything that can be just scary to do and forces you to get literally outside your comfort zone. At the same time, the book is mostly about … I mean there are stories in the book as you saw and lessons in the book, from my time in the military and specifically from my time in Afghanistan, but mostly what it’s about is my time going figuratively outside the wire in politics, going out and taking positions that may or may not have been unpopular, may or may not have been what I was advised to say but it’s what I believed, and so really the book is just about the idea that if you want to create change, if you want to get anything done, you’re never gonna do it from within your comfort zone, either literally or figuratively.

John Jantsch: There’s … and I don’t know if you’ll be able to do this, I’ve written a number of books and sometimes I’ll be interviewed, and they’ll say, “You know, you were telling that one story,” and I’m like, “Gosh, I wrote that a while ago. I don’t know if I remember that.”

Jason Kander: I’ve only written one book, so don’t worry, and it wasn’t that long ago so I’m probably gonna be able to get it.

John Jantsch: Awesome. Well, I’m gonna try to set it up and then you tell the story, because one of the really great things about why the book works so well for me is you’re a really good story teller and I’d love to have people hear the story part, so there’s one of the early lessons that you basically said you went out and kind of failed at this training thing, and you thought you were gonna get really taken to task over it, but it went a different way when you actually met with the sergeant. The lesson in that was really that here’s how real tough guys act, and I think that there are a lot of leaders and companies that feel like they have to be the authoritarian, dress everybody down, use fear in some cases, as a leadership tool. I wonder if you’ve … hopefully I’ve jogged your memory enough to know that story I was talking about.

Jason Kander: Yeah, absolutely. One of the lessons … the book’s organized into lessons which are just the chapter titles, and one of the lessons is experience is good, but perspective is golden, and that’s one of the early stories in that lesson. What happened was I was pretty new to the Army, I was an Army ROTC and we were doing land navigation training and we were doing nighttime land navigation training, which means that I was out in the woods, pitch dark in pretty heavy woods at an Army base and I had a compass and a protractor and a map and I was supposed to find these very difficult to find points, which are just like little sticks that stick up in the woods. They have little numbers on them and you’re supposed to write them down on your card to prove that you could navigate to these points. It was pouring rain. It was pretty quickly evident that I wasn’t doing well at this, it was my first time doing it at night. My map disintegrated in the rain. It was just a bad scene and it was a low morale moment, so to speak.

What the context of this is that that weekend out in the woods, we had with us an instructor who had only been with us this one time and he was this guy, Master Sergeant Matt Eversmann, and while most people listening to this will have no idea who that is, a lot of people actually have seen him portrayed on the big screen by Josh Hartnett in a movie called Black Hawk Down. The main character in that movie, it’s based on a true story, and the main character in that movie is Matt Eversmann, who at the time was a very young sergeant, and now by the time that I met him, he’s this Master Sergeant with a lot of combat experience and this was pretty soon after 9/11 that I had joined, so at that point very few people had deployed, so he was very unique. Now, somebody with that level of experience would be a lot less unique, still commendable, but a lot less unique. At that time, he was like … we were all like, “Oh my god. That’s Matt Eversmann.”

So I’m scared to death because I’m going back to turn in my score card which has nothing on it. I actually didn’t know whether I’d see him. I was just expecting, okay, some sergeant’s gonna get up in my face and tell me how awful it is that I got lost and how if I got lost in combat while I was commanding troops everybody would die, so I just figured, “Okay, I’m about to be humiliated. That’s fine. I’m soaking wet. I just want to change into dry underwear. Whatever.”

So I’m in line, I get to the front and I realize it’s Master Sergeant Matt Eversmann who I have to turn my card into and then I’m just feeling humiliated because I figure all he’s about to know about Cadet Kander is that he sucks at land nav, and that seemed mortifying. So I get up to the front of the line and he looks down at me and he says, “How’d you do, Cadet?” I said, “Not well, Sergeant. I got zero points.” I’m bracing myself. He says, “Well, you still got your weapon.” I had it over my shoulder. I said, “Yes, Sergeant.” And he slaps me on the back and he says, “Success. Get in here. It’s freezing out there. We got coffee in here.”

So I get in there and some officer comes in, a lieutenant comes in, and is demanding to know why a bunch of cadets have been given hot chocolate and coffee and Master Sergeant Eversmann pipes up and he says, “I did it, sir.” He says, “You don’t have to train a soldier how to be miserable, they already know.” Of course, given his level of experience, the officer had nothing to say to Master Sergeant Eversmann about that.

For me, the lesson was a guy like Sergeant Eversmann with what he had seen and done, he had no desire whatsoever, no need to feel that he had to prove himself to any of us, and he had the perspective to understand that we all knew that if we didn’t get any points to turn in that we knew we screwed up and we were soaking wet and we were freezing, but there was no learning point in being hard on us, and in fact I think the learning point he decided to teach us was you gotta care about your people, and you don’t gotta prove yourself, because that’s what it is to be a real tough guy is to not have to show anybody.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and you obviously learned and probably grew in your respect far more than him getting in your face, as you said, would have ever done.

Jason Kander: Yeah, absolutely.

John Jantsch: I think that’s a true, again, going back to entrepreneurs, I think that is a true leadership lesson. Part of it is reading the situation, but also clearly taking care of your people is a big part of what you have to do in a company.

So, there are a lot of lines where you have bolded them or put them in bigger text, and they just really jump out inside the chapters. There’s one that I think applies to so much of what we’re experiencing today I think, and it is “Your dignity, unlike your integrity, is negotiable.” I think that’s a lesson then, I don’t know if you have a story that I can bring forward with that, but I think that’s a lesson that, boy, integrity seems to be hard to find in a lot of corners today.

Jason Kander: Yeah. What I was trying to get across there is that there’s a lot of people who when they run for office or as entrepreneurs when they start going out to pitch or … and I think this is particularly true by the way both of politicians and entrepreneurs who have been in an environment where, maybe it’s a corporate environment where they were successful and they had a lot of help around them, and they didn’t really find themselves in a position where they had to ask for things and had to put themselves out there, that they frequently will … it feels like they are mistaking dignity and integrity for being the same thing when they’re not. You should never compromise your integrity under any circumstances. I make that point several times in the book, but I also make the point that it ain’t the same thing as dignity.

One of the stories I tell in the book is about when I was Secretary of State of Missouri and I had to go into the office of a state legislator who controlled the purse strings of our office, who chaired the committee on appropriations that decided whether we had the resources to do the important work that we were doing, and there were many things about that experience, and I’ll let people read the book, there’s some funny parts to that where it’s pretty demeaning, but nothing about it is compromising my integrity, it’s just … it’s a little demeaning and so it compromises my dignity, but that should be completely worth it. I should be … if it is a good cause, if it doesn’t compromise my integrity at all, I should be more than willing to cash in any level of personal dignity to do the right thing for somebody else. It doesn’t hurt me at all to do that.

Another place where I talk about that a lot is I’m pretty open in the book about what it’s like to have to go around the country and fund raise for a competitive United States senate campaign, and just one of the things I talk about is dragging my little rolling suitcase behind me everywhere I go all the time and how I always wanted to just plop it up on the table at the beginning of a meeting and say something like, “Wait until you see these vacuums.” Because I just felt like a traveling salesperson, but I believed in the mission and I never would have compromised my integrity to raise money, but look, it’s not always the most dignified process. You gotta get over that.

That’s what I see new candidates for office struggle with a lot. When they tell me things like, “I think I could do all of it. I’m really good at all of this, but I’m not very … I’m not sure I could do the fundraising.” I always tell them, “Why not? It’s just staying on the phone. That’s all it is. It’s just being willing to be dogged.” They’re like, “Well, asking people for money.” I’m like, “Well, you should never ever compromise your integrity. You should never do anything for a contribution, but that’s how our system works right now until we change it. If you want to do the right thing for people, you’re probably gonna have to go out there and do the work that it takes to win your campaign.”

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I don’t know if I’ve ever gone to the back cover of a book and read one of the blurbs, but I want to do this one because I think it’s … it works. “After reading this book, I concluded Jason Kander is too funny and too smart to be in politics. His motives are suspect and he should be removed from public service immediately,” Jimmy Kimmel. Where did that come from?

Jason Kander: It was very nice of him. I know Jimmy through a mutual friend and got to know him a little bit and asked him to read the book and he did and I guess it made him laugh, which made me feel really good about the book to be honest. That was a big compliment coming from him.

John Jantsch: That’s awesome. I want to dive into another one of those things that jumped out at me, and again, I think a lot of business owners, they get so, “Here’s our idea. We’re going this way. Who’s with me? We’ll never quit,” and at some point somebody has to tell them, “You know, you might be wrong about this idea.” I think that admitting that you might be wrong and that doesn’t mean giving up on your dream, but not always having to be right is an amazing leadership lesson. How did that … hopefully I again jogged your memory again on the point you were trying to make there, but that one really stood out to me.

Jason Kander: Yeah. There’s a few different stories in the book about that and it definitely is relevant … before I get into the story, it’s definitely relevant to entrepreneurs. I have not been an entrepreneur but as you know, I’m married to one, and Diana now, my wife, does a lot of innovation consultant work, and it’s always interesting to either overhear or to hear about her conversations with entrepreneurs who are just sure that they have a billion dollar idea, and when someone questions it, not in a mean way, but just the way entrepreneurs need, just sort of, “Oh, have you thought about this?”, the ones who are gonna be successful are the ones who don’t take that questioning as “I just need to convince you,” but instead are the ones who are like, “Oh, let me think about that. Let me go back and see if that works.”

My favorite story from that section of the book is I talk about how my mom picked my brothers and I up, my brother and I up from baseball practice and we were in seventh grade and we’re driving back home and she asked, out of nowhere, she says, “What would you boys think about it if a girl played on your baseball team?” We didn’t quite understand at that point yet that the objective in our life was soon to be to spend more time, not less, around girls and so we very stupidly and immaturely said, “Well, that doesn’t make any sense,” and she was like, “Why not?” I think my brother said, “Well, it’s tradition. Girls don’t play baseball.” The lesson that my mom then taught us was she pulled the car over and she kind of smiled and she opened the car door and said, “I guess y’all better walk.” We were very confused and she said, “It’s tradition. Girls don’t drive.” She didn’t make us walk home, but we got the point.

It also was just kind of a way of delivering to me the message that something that you were really sure of might not be right at all, and really, my mom had … she was a huge supporter of ours, she came to every game and every sport, but until that moment, she had never had an opinion on anything we did in sports, because I don’t think she really cared. She just was there to support us and that was the first time she did and it really stuck out to us.

Then I talk about how I carried that through life in a lot of different ways in the book, but probably one of the more fun stories there is a story I tell … fun now, in retrospect, a story I tell about when I was in Afghanistan. I was working as an intelligence officer and I was sitting with the Attorney General of Afghanistan and I was in this meeting with an FBI agent and she and I were meeting with him, talking about these things and he had this gentleman sitting next to him who was from eastern Afghanistan, spoke no English, the Attorney General of Afghanistan spoke English very well, he had gone to school in America, and he says to us at one point, because he’s talking about this gentleman, he says, “Don’t worry. He doesn’t speak a word of English,” and he says, “He is very corrupt and has been involved in several unsuccessful attempts to kill me,” assassination attempts. We were a little weirded out by that but we just made sure not to make eye contact with the gentleman. We all kind of laughed, like, “Oh, this is funny,” and in fact this gentleman he was talking about even laughed to indicate he understood a joke was told, but clearly didn’t seem to understand any English.

So then my partner I was with, the FBI agent, she goes outside to have a cigarette and this other gentleman decides he’s gonna leave, and he leaves and then she looks kind of shaken when she comes back and when we get in the vehicle to leave she tells me that she got out there, bummed a cigarette from her or something and they stood there in silence for a while, and then in perfectly unaccented English asked her where she’s from and tells her about his farmland in Nebraska. To me, that was a lesson I learned in always be very careful of what you assume is absolutely right because the Attorney General of Afghanistan had clearly made some dangerous assumptions about his subordinate there.

John Jantsch: I’m gonna give you one more and, again, this just hits so home for me with what it is … you know, a lot of times as entrepreneurs, certainly in politics, it’s easy to get caught up in people telling you how great you are, but you live your life with your family and friends and not your accomplishments.

Jason Kander: Yeah, that’s actually a quote from Royal’s third baseman, hall of famer, George Brett, from his Hall of Fame induction speech and I’m a big George Brett fan. Yeah, to me, in that … I don’t remember the exact story really that comes out though there’s several. I guess for me, the biggest thing I remember from that lesson that I was trying to get across is that it’s important, and everybody has said this, everybody always says, “It’s important to be able to slow down and appreciate your family and those things,” and I was getting that point across but I also wanted to get across some things like the most memorable stuff for me has been the human moments where I’ve been able to make a difference in people’s lives.

A big part of why I decided to run for mayor of Kansas City is because every campaign that I’ve been a part of, every office that I’ve held, it feels like so often when a voter or a constituent brings me an issue so often, I’ve actually had to respond to with “Well, you know, that’s more of a city issue,” because I’ve been at the state level. I think that the best opportunity I have to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives is if I’m fortunate enough to be elected mayor.

One of the stories I tell there is that when I was Secretary of State, we were able to do a lot of things that looked big and so much sweeping policy changes, but one of the things that sticks out most to me is driving home one day from Jefferson City and I see this gentleman on the side of the road holding a sign, and it was pretty clear to me that he was a veteran, he was my age and sometimes we can just kind of spot each other. It’s a military [inaudible] thing. He was homeless. I got out and I talked to him for a bit.

I won’t tell the whole story, but at the end of it what was clear was our office was able to help him and he ended up getting on his feet and a few months later he came to the office to visit and we talked for a while and as we were walking out, he asked me not only why I had stopped to talk to him but why I had stopped several times. I kind of kept at it to convince him to accept our help and I told him, I said, “Look, it’s just timing. If things had gone a little differently for me in Afghanistan, had gone more like how they went for you in Iraq,” he had been wounded and struggled with PTSD afterwards and traumatic brain injury. I told him, “It would have been me standing on the side of the road and it would have been you driving by,” and he said, “Yeah, I would have stopped for you.” I said, “I know.”

That’s the kind of stuff that really stuck for me is we were able to make a difference in his life and that’s only one person, but it was the relationship that I had the opportunity to develop with him that … that’s one of the things I’ll always remember from being Secretary of State.

John Jantsch: You want to tell us a little bit about Let America Vote?

Jason Kander: Sure. Thanks, I’m happy to. So about a year and a half ago I started Let America Vote. Our mission is to create political consequences for voter suppression, which really means that it’s our job when there are politicians in office who make it harder to vote, we make it harder for them to get reelected, and we do that by running boots on the ground campaigns against them. There are folks, unfortunately, across the country and I’m not trying to be partisan, it’s just a fact. This is a Republican party strategy. I am a Democrat and all that, but this is just a fact. Republicans have decided, the top of the party Republican officials, have decided that if they can make it harder for certain groups of people to vote, groups of people who they think have a bad habit of not voting Republican very often, then they can make it a little easier for themselves to get reelected. I just think that’s un-American and wrong and so rather than just battle them in court, which is still important and there’s a lot of good groups doing that, we decided that we wanted to also take that argument beyond the court of law and into the court of public opinion, so we knock on doors and make phone calls for pro-democracy candidates who are running against candidates that are making it harder to vote.

John Jantsch: Is there a website for folks who want to support?

Jason Kander: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate it. Yeah, they can go to

John Jantsch: So you kind of touched on this, you’re running for mayor in Kansas City, Missouri. That would be in the spring of 2019, is that right? Did I get that right?

Jason Kander: That’s right.

John Jantsch: Dependent upon when you’re listening to this is why I put that date in there, you were a statewide office holder in Missouri. You ran for senate and quite frankly had it been a little different time you probably would be serving in the United States Senate right now. President Obama called you the future of the Democratic Party. It didn’t seem like this is where we were gonna see your name on a ballot next. Any thoughts on that?

Jason Kander: Yeah. A lot of people had some very flattering theories and ideas as to what they thought I might do next, and just as I was saying a moment ago, over the years so many people have come to me with issues that were really city issues that I really wanted to be able to dig in and solve because they seem to be the stuff that was making the biggest difference in people’s lives and that’s what I’m most excited about, is being able to here in my home town, my family got to Kansas City in the 1880s, I’m a fifth generation Kansas Citian. My wife and I are raising a sixth generation Kansas Citian, my son, True.

The opportunity to try and make a difference for people in a real meaningful way in my home town is really exciting to me and it’s something I’m really passionate about and I’m really enjoying the campaign quite a lot. My vision for the city, where I want us to go, is I want to take all this progress that we have and it’s been great, my friend Sly James, our current mayor, is term limited, he’s done a tremendous job. I just want to take as much of that progress as we can and leverage it, continue that progress, but also leverage it to make a difference in the lives of people who haven’t seen that progress in their lives yet. There’s plenty of places in our town where that’s the case and we’ll know we got there when there’s nobody in Kansas City who feels like in order to live the life they want and they deserve who feels like in order to do that they’ve got to move out of town or across town to make it happen. I’m pretty passionate about that. Thanks for the chance to talk about it.

John Jantsch: Well you bet, and we’ll have links to all the stuff we talked about in the show notes, and just one parting thing. A couple years ago I went to the Royals fantasy camp down in Arizona prior to the season and George [inaudible] was my coach.

Jason Kander: I went this past January. He was not my coach, but it was a great experience. He was there and at one point … I went with my brother and my brother’s 6’5″ and a really good athlete and I was at one point okay at baseball. Now I’m less good. It turns out a lot of these skills are pretty perishable. Anyway, so we played Brett’s team and so I come up and I hit it straight back to the pitcher and I’m coming back from first base and George Brett’s like, “It was a good swing, though, Jason.” I’m like, “No, it really wasn’t,” and he’s like, “No, no it wasn’t.” He was being honest but trying to be charitable and then my brother comes up and he misses a home run by like a foot and I’m shooting video on my phone and immortalized, what we will always have, we idolized George Brett growing up, and we will always have this video of Mel just stroking this ball and you can hear in the background George Brett go, “Oh, nice hit, Mel,” and clearly really means it. So he’s got that over me now.

John Jantsch: Well Jason, thanks for joining me. We probably better let people go and hopefully we will catch up with you and have a beer in KC.

Jason Kander: All right. Thanks so much.

Transcript of Using Technology to Build Connections in the Real World

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John Jantsch: I love technology. I love the fact that we can communicate and work virtually, however there’s no question that these tools and technology have created a sense of isolation for a lot of people in companies, a lot of marketers with their customers. In this episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, we’re going to talk with Dan Schawbel, and we’re going to visit his book called Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation. Check it out.

Gusto Logo_full berry_smallStuff like payroll and benefits are hard. That’s why I switched to Gusto. And to help support the show, Gusto is offering our listeners an exclusive limited time deal. You sign up for their payroll service today, you’ll get three months free once you run your first payroll. Just go to

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. And my guest today is Dan Schawbel. He is a New York Times bestselling author, partner and research director at Future Workplace, and the founder of both Millennial Branding and He’s also the author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation. Welcome back, Dan.

Dan Schawbel: So happy to be here. I was thinking this morning. I’m like, “I’m going to talk to John.” And when did I first connect to him? I mean, it’s got to be 2006, 2007 when there was the Ad Age 150. Remember that?

John Jantsch: Yeah, I kind of do. Yeah.

Dan Schawbel: And when it went up I’m like, “Huh. Well, I aspire to be on that list.” And I think strategically it’s probably good to know everyone on there because they all love marketing, and I’m a marketer, even though I’m a marketer in HR now. It’s always my skillset and I always looked up to you. You always provided incredible content consistently. You were passionate. You had a great model. I just really liked it, and I think you do a great job.

John Jantsch:  Well, thank you very much. I guess we’ll pass out compliments here because just in watching what you’ve done over the last decade, a lot of people have jumped on this personal branding thing years ago. And you have done as good a job of building a personal brand as really anyone online. And mainly it’s because you’ve been so consistent.

Dan Schawbel: Thank you. I appreciate it.

John Jantsch: Let’s get into the book. I’m kind of reading this because I want to get it right. But I want to let you unpack this. Back to Human reveals why electronic and virtual communication, though vital and useful, actually contributes to a stronger sense of isolation at work than ever before. I’m guessing that’s the main premise of the book, so unpack that for me.

Dan Schawbel: Absolutely. Technology has created the illusion that we’re so connected, but in reality we feel very disconnected, isolated, lonely, less committed to our teams and organizations over the overuse and misuse of technology. It’s not like technology’s a terrible thing. It’s really about how you use it. And so I interviewed 100 young leaders from 100 of the best companies in the world, so Johnson and Johnson and GE and Uber and Instagram. And everyone described technology as being a double edged sword. It’s done some great things. But at the same time, it’s made us think we have a ton of friends, Facebook friends. And it’s made us think that we are being incredibly collaborative and accomplishing great work, when the reality is we might get some stuff done, but the relationships we have with our coworkers are not as strong. And it’s much easier to leave a team of acquaintances that you sometimes email and work with than a team that feels like a family.

John Jantsch: Yeah. And it’s funny because technology has obviously enabled us to work differently. I have a client in London. I have a client in Toronto. I’ve never sat face to face with either of them. I have employees that are in seven different states, and rarely do we ever see each other. It’s enabled us to work in different ways, but there’s no question there’s a whole new set of practices I think to try to kind of regain some of that humanness, as you talked about in the book. Aren’t there?

Dan Schawbel: Yeah. And it’s interesting because I think especially today when people are working so, so hard, in America the average workweek is 47 hours a week. And not having your phone is the new vacation. We’re always kind of on the hook. We’re always kind of on duty. We feel guilty if we’re not responding to a business email on vacation or after “work hours.” Right? Because of the remote work revolution and the ability to do work using technology and connect wherever and whenever you want to, the downside is that we get burned out. We have weaker connections. We feel stress and anxiety, so it can be bad for our health. And the most fascinating finding, I worked with Virgin Pulse. My company, Future Workplace, and Virgin Pulse partnered in a study of over 2000 managers and employees in 10 countries. And it revealed something really fascinating. If you work remote, you’re much less likely to want to say you want a long-term career at your company.

Working remote has all these positive things that people talk about, having the freedom and flexibility to do work when, where, and how you want. And it lowers commuting costs, of course. But the downside never gets talked about. And that’s isolation, which creates loneliness and then unhappiness. It’s all connected. And so consciously, as someone who’s worked from home for almost eight years, I’m always thinking about: How can I break up my day so I’m meeting people, whether it’s for business or personal? And it’s like when we look at our calendars, our calendars are created for business. Right? And we always say things like, “If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist.” We let the technology try to do the work for us.

If we’re going to let the technology do the work for us, it should also have aspects of our personal life on our calendar. That’s part of what I’m saying when it comes to work, life integration and being conscious about if you’re working so many hours and you’re kind of always working, how do you break up the day so you’re fully maximizing your time, and you’re fulfilled personally and professionally? And the first chapter is called Focus on Fulfillment. You need to become fulfilled before you can sit down with all of your team members and help them accomplish their goals and service their needs. And the things that remain consistent, as you know, you’re born, you pay taxes, you die. That’s the big joke. Right? Probably through multiple generations.

Well, what about we only have 24 hours in a day? And then our needs in terms of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs remain the same regardless of how much technology we have. We need food and shelter, and then to be loved and have friendships. Otherwise, we’ll never be self actualized. We’ll never be able to reach our full potential and be the most productive worker imaginable for our company.

John Jantsch: And you know what’s interesting, there’s so many companies today that have distributed workforce. And I find myself falling into this habit. I have our check in meetings, and at the end it’s just like, “Get to it. Work. Work.” It’s like we never have that what we used to call, around the water cooler time, where it’s like, “Hey. How was your weekend?” It’s just like, we’ve got this call, it’s scheduled. It’s for a purpose. It’s like a meeting, so we never have that time to in some ways get to know each other. One of my favorite chapters in the book is this idea of shared learning, where you may be … I think you have to carve out these things. Don’t you?

Dan Schawbel: You know what’s amazing? So many people have said they’ve liked that chapter. And the reality is the reason why I think that chapter is so in the now is because true power, and you’ve done that, we’ve grew up in the world of blogging, so we know this very well, is true power and influence in our society is not the people who hold onto the information. It’s those who distribute it freely. And I think that’s a big shift from maybe 10, 20 years ago versus today.

And we need to share what we know with the people we work with and care about, so all of us can keep up with the speed of business and adopt the changes that are inevitably happening, whether we like it or not. The average relevancy of a learned skill is only five years, so we have to keep on moving. The big skills now are artificial intelligence, machine learning, data scientists. You’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to keep up with what’s changing. And if you don’t, the tasks you did five and 10 years ago are just not going to be as relevant. You’re going to get paid less for them and you’re going to struggle.

And in order to know this information, in order to know the trends that are going on in your industry, learn the new skills, see the latest research study, we have to count on each other because we’re finding more and more information through our network. I mean, that’s the brilliance of Facebook. Right? It’s like, I don’t have to figure out what’s going on in the news. It’s going to come to me based on who I follow and friend.

John Jantsch: Yeah. And I think you could take that a step farther. I know in our organization, what we try to do is almost task people with saying, “Hey. Go find out about that and come back and teach us all.” And I think what it does is, it has the dual effect of, as you said, we get to learn some more. But as you know, nothing makes you learn something better than if you know you’re going to have to teach it to somebody.

Dan Schawbel: Well, actually now that you bring that up, I did a whole presentation on this. Google has a G to G program, where employees teach other employees what they know. And it’s all volunteer basis. But I think people naturally want to be teachers. They might not want to be part of the school system, but they want to share what they know with others because it helps them learn and master it more. And it’s good for your career. Right? You become an expert. You’re sought after. You build a network. It’s really the crux of personal branding, what I did earlier in my career. Right? It’s become the best at what you do for a specific audience, or become really good at multiple things when combined give you a competitive advantage. And then just give freely. I mean, between us, how many pieces of content you think you and I have generated in 10, 20, 10 or 15 years? Like, thousands, right?

John Jantsch: I’ve got 4000 blog posts.

Dan Schawbel:  Yeah. And, I think we hit 5700. And then if you add LinkedIn, Facebook, all the other networks, writing articles, like we have books. It’s a lot.

John Jantsch: Wouldn’t it be great if in your business, all you had to do was the stuff you love, the reason you started the business, and not all that administrative stuff like payroll and benefits? That stuff’s hard especially when you’re a small business. Now I’ve been delegating my payroll for years to one of those big corporate companies. And I always felt like a little tiny fish. But now there is a much better way. I’ve switched over to Gusto, and it is making payroll and benefits and HR easy for the modern small business. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits, and great service to take care of your team. To help support the show, Gusto is offering our listeners an exclusive limited time deal. If you sign up today, you’ll get three months free once you run your first payroll. Just go to

Another thing I like about your book is that you put a lot of exercises in there so people can try what they kind of have read about. And you’ve even created a test or an assessment, the Work Connectivity Index. Tell us about that.

Dan Schawbel: Yeah. I always wanted to do an assessment for my book. I saw what Sally Hogshead did with Fascinate and what Gallup did, and Tom Rath with Strength Finder. And I was very inspired by them. I’m like, “Huh. I’d love to do it someday.” And on this book I had the idea. If I’m studying work connectivity, what about having an assessment to tell people how strong of connectivity they have within their organizations? Right? And so you get low connectivity score versus high connectivity score. And people are all in the middle of that. And so I reached out to seven professors. It was like first come, first served. The first one who was really excited about working with me got it, so it was Kevin Rockman, a professor at George Mason University helped me create the assessment. It’s on When you take it, you’ll get a score. And of course, if you have a low score it means that you’re not getting enough face time and you’re not building the type of relationships that are required to be happy and fulfilled and successful in today’s working world.

John Jantsch: You’ve also created a LinkedIn learning course, which I think is awesome. I’ve done about, I think I’m up to about seven courses with them. They’re great people to work with.

Dan Schawbel: Wow. You win.

John Jantsch: You know what it is, you go out there and they go, “This guy’s easy to work with and he gets done fast. Let’s give him another one.”

Dan Schawbel: Especially when, I know this probably true to you as well, I finished I think three hours ahead of time, and they love that because the beach is right there.

John Jantsch: Exactly. I love going to Santa Barbara. But they told me they had one person come in and it took them four days to do a course. I was like, “Wow. I would shoot myself.” One of the things that you are so good at, and I think a lot of people neglect this today in the online world, is you have done a great job at attracting mainstream media. Obviously, you’ve picked some hot topics, and that’s one of the ways to get attention. But I’ll ask this question really for business owners, but other authors out there. What’s been your secret to get so much pub? You get as much as anybody in the mainstream, I think.

Dan Schawbel: Yeah. I think I’ve generated, it’s definitely thousands of media impressions at this point, or media hits, I would say. And you know what, it’s a cross between right topic, right time, trying to be original, staying in my lane. Any time I venture out of my lane, things don’t work out well. I’ve done a whole research campaign on politics that failed. Anything that’s outside of my domain, it typically doesn’t do well because you have to be seen as the expert in what you’re publishing, or publish what you want to be an expert in. And if you aren’t doing that, you’re not going to be seen as a credible source no matter what you’re putting out there. Focus on your strengths. Stay in your lane. Double down.

And think of something original. For me, I’ve led 45 research studies surveying about 90,000 people in 20 countries in six years, so I’ve been all in with research because it allows me to create something new, find something and share and disseminate and distribute those findings through books and speeches and media and various forms. I think you need a good network. I have an advantage being in New York because the media’s here, clearly. That has helped. I won’t deny that. Second, I think you need to figure out what makes you unique. Right? What topics do you think that you have something to say about? If you have nothing to say, and so in interviews, that interview’s not going to go well, and you won’t be invited back.

The other thing is start small. Back in the day, I was doing local TV, radio, some of the smaller outlets, which prepared me for the bigger outlets. If my first interview was on the Today Show, I would’ve bombed it because I didn’t have the experience. So I bombed a local ABC affiliate. I didn’t bomb it, I just didn’t perform at my best. But that was good because it was a learning experience. And then I knew that even if they give me the questions, that they might not ask the questions. They might do a trick question, so it’s being prepared for everything. And then I think it’s just being easy to work with, like what you’re saying. It’s like being very responsive. For me, I’m very responsive. I get immediate inquiry, boom, I just go for it.

Back then, I’ll tell you, phase one in my career with personal branding, it was my only goal was to own the search results for personal branding in Google. That was the only strategy I had, but of course that connects to doing a lot of other things right. And that got me almost all my original media that allowed me to build my platform. And then I think phase two has been more on the research, so it’s harder to get press now, so I need to create news instead of hoping that I can fit into the news that’s currently happening.

John Jantsch: And the media loves statistics, [inaudible 00:16:56].

Dan Schawbel: Yeah.

John Jantsch:  It’s something that can be simplified into one sound bite. And unfortunately, that sometimes is what it takes.

Dan Schawbel: And I think phase three, the way I’m seeing it now is really building your own platform. I just started my own podcast. It’s called Five Questions with Dan Schawbel, really active on Instagram, two posts a day, seven days a week. Instagram is my new blog. It’s exactly what I did. How I’m operating Instagram is exactly what I did in the early blog days. Back then, I posted twice a day. And it was longer form with blogging. And I commented on every Instagram, or blog profile, or blog website, sorry, that mentioned personal branding. Today, I’ve chose maybe six or seven profiles and I’m always commenting. And between commenting and posting every day, I’ve gone from four to 26,000 followers organically in a little less than four months. That’s it. That’s all I’ve done.

And of course, people I’ve met have read the book, so I get some followers just based on reputation. But most of it’s earned, and it’s just a lot of work. And people don’t want to hear that it takes time. I think phase three is you’ve really got to double down on your own platform because the probability of getting seen in traditional media is declining significantly. I used to do campaign. My first campaign, John, was in 2012. Literally went viral. I analyzed four million millennial Facebook profiles, Today Show, CNN. It was everywhere, 70 national media outlets, so people saw it.

Now it’s like maybe you get 10 at most. And I’ve been doing this for six years consistently. In one year, I did nine studies. And I’m telling you, now if you do something like that, it’s much harder to break through. Books, it’s harder to break through. So that tells me, that to me is feedback that, okay, I need to double down on social media and building my own platform and leveraging everything I’ve done to do that because the future could be grim. I think a lot more of these media companies are going to go under, and new media’s going to be rising. I think you’ve got to shift strategies as this is happening. And that’s the call I made, is I’m moving my efforts.

John Jantsch: Perfect segue to the last question I wanted to talk about. We’ve been talking about social media here for a minute. And there’s a lot of people that would claim social media has actually made us less human, probably one of the biggest culprits of making us less human. How do you, in the vein of how great leaders create connection in the age of isolation, how do you do that with the realization the social media is an important channel?

Dan Schawbel: Great question. The motto for the book is to let technology be a bridge to human connection and not a barrier. Use the technology to schedule a podcast interview. But when you’re in the interview, hopefully it’s audio or maybe video, and so you’re getting to know the person. Use it to connect with others to get them to go to a meeting, or a networking event, or an office birthday party. And by the way, found through the book that the number one thing that leaders should do is create more social events and company outings because that is what employees really are looking for right now, is to build relationships in that respect. And it’s lacking. Only 20% of companies have those type of social events, and that’s kind of broken.

I think, let technology lead you to the human interactions instead of just relying on it as crutch, thinking that technology’s going to do all the work for you. Use it in order to make those initial connections. And what you’ve been so good at this too is in the early days, you would connect with so many bloggers. But then there would be blogger meetups. And you’d meet them in person. For me, as an introvert, it’s much easier to reach out via email or text, and then actually meet in person. I feel more comfortable because I feel like I already know you. I think when and when not to use technology is what we have to think about.

John Jantsch: Awesome. Speaking with New York Times bestselling author Dan Schawbel. We’re talking about Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation. We’re going to have links, of course. We always do, to everything we talked about, like the assessment and the book itself, of course, and even the LinkedIn course. But Dan, tell people where they can reach out and connect with you.

Dan Schawbel: Absolutely. You can go to That’s And you can go on Amazon or your local book retailer and pick up Back to Human, and then listen to the podcast, Five Questions with Dan Schawbel. Thank you.

John Jantsch: Thanks Dan. It’s always great to catch up with you. Hopefully we’ll run into you out there on the road.

Dan Schawbel: You got it, my friend.

Transcript of How Human Connection Elevates Marketing

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John Jantsch: You’re never gonna get your message across until you understand the problems and the challenges and you empathize with those people that you’re trying to get the message across to.

In this episode of Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I am visiting with my old friend, Seth Godin. Everybody’s favorite marketer and we’re talking about his new book called, This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See.

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Seth Godin. He is the author of 18 international bestsellers but I better check ’cause it may have changed by the time-

Seth Godin: It’s 19 now, ding, ding, ding.

John Jantsch: I knew I should have checked. And certainly to be translated in many, many languages, many of you listeners know that Seth’s been on when we talked about Unleashing the Ideavirus, maybe even Permission Marketing if we go back that long. Purple Cow Tribes. I’d run out of time if I list them all. But today we’re gonna talk about This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See. So, welcome back, Seth.

Seth Godin: Well, thank you. I think the keyword is, you said, “Another episode.” And your persistent generosity is the secret of marketing. So, bravo.

John Jantsch: Well, thank you very much. And again, I can spend five or six minutes talking about your generosity. But let’s get to the content, shall we? Let’s unpack this first element. Until you learn to see. What does that mean?

Seth Godin: Well, there’s two kinds of marketers. There’s the selfish marketers who are short term, short cutting narcissists. They are the ones who are getting in front of people because they want to market to them. And there’s the other kind of marketer. The long term player, the one who’s making a difference, who’s marketing with people. But you can’t market with them until you see them, until you know who they are, until you have the empathy to want what they want or at least, to help them get what they want. And too often, we’re in such a hurry ’cause we feel like we’re drowning that we forget to offer other people, a life vest.

John Jantsch: Yeah. And I work with lots and lots of very small businesses who, they wanna cut down trees and they wanna repair plumbing and things like that. And marketing is actually sort of a nasty thing that they feel like they have to do sometimes and I think the real challenge for a lot of folks like that is that they kinda just copy what they see so many other people doing even if it is wrong. I mean, how do you take somebody like that, that is essentially not a marketer, who says, “I’ve gotta market” but, you know, all the examples, that are, but, not all, but a lot of the examples that I see are teaching me the wrong things.

Seth Godin: Well, first I’d say, they are marketers. They might not be marketing on purpose but if you’re out in the world trying to make a change happen of any kind, you’re marketing, that’s what marketers do. And they, you know, I got a piece of spam from somebody, a week ago. It said, “Hi, I’m an intern from BYU. Can you please answer this survey for my company?” And there were so many elements of it that were clearly spam. And I had nothing better to do, so I wrote back and I said, “You know, you don’t have to do work you’re not proud of even when you’re an intern.” That it begins a pattern of saying, “Well, I’m just doing my job.” You don’t have to do that. You could do work that matters instead.

And the kid was sort of stunned and wrote me back a nice long note which was gratifying but my point was, if you wanna be a plumber, if you wanna be a tree surgeon, the fact is, you will be judged and you will be judged on how you treated our precious attention and you will be judged by how you kept your promises. And you will always be able to find someone who will go lower than you. Always. You wanna race to the bottom because the problem with racing to the bottom is you might win. The alternative is to say, “I know how I would like to be treated. I know how I would like to be seen and that’s the way I’m gonna treat other people.”

John Jantsch: You make it sound so logical.

Seth Godin: Well, you know, I’m not trying to make it sound easy but we see it everywhere. So, like, for example, the heating and boiling guy, the boiler repair guy came to my house yesterday. And even though we’d been working together for years ’cause stuff breaks, he insisted on putting booties on before he came into the house. And I said, “You don’t have to put booties on. We’re just going straight to the basement.” He said, “No, no. It’s a habit. This is the way I do it and it’s what I ask people to do before they come into my house.” And, so the book is basically a metaphor for, “Put your booties on.”

John Jantsch: So, I’ve believe at least, a great deal of this book is drawn from a project that you’ve been involved in for a few years, The Marketing Seminar.

Seth Godin: That’s right. It’s 6,000 people have taken this online, workshop takes about three months to go through and I had the privilege of watching people do it. Because, you know, you’re sitting like a pharmacist up at the top and you can see everything in the store. And, so I could see where people were getting stuck. I could see what resonated. So, once it came time to write the book, it wasn’t particularly difficult to write because I just built it and lived it for two years.

John Jantsch: And there were a lot of questions, right? And I’m assuming that you learned a great deal from not just where people got stuck but just the questions they asked and their answers.

Seth Godin: That’s right. We saw people have their lives changed and their businesses change because they were putting this into practice. And that’s what I do, I’m a marketer, I make change happen and I’m a teacher. So, seeing the lights go on, that’s what drove me to write the book. As I said, there’s a lot of people who will pay 600 bucks to take a seminar but I bet you, if I can give them this handy package, not only will they read it but they’ll share it with their peers.

John Jantsch: Because I think that’s one of the real challenges. In the last five years, you know, there’s 5000% more courses out there, from people and I think most course makers, seminar makers would agree that the real challenge is getting people to actually do it. And look at the way you structured this project, it really does compel people to complete it, doesn’t it?

Seth Godin: Well, so, yeah, I think it’s really important to distinguish between online courses and online workshops. Online courses are everywhere and I’ve made some. It’s a bunch of videos, it’s a different way to absorb content. And they’re fun to make but in my experience, they don’t lead to profound change. Change comes from when you actually do the work. So, what we do with these various workshops and seminars, you know, the altMBA has a 96% completion rate and that’s because it’s expensive and time gated and there’s a coach who’s watching you all the time. And there’s a peer group and a mastermind group.

So, people would missed if they were gone. And at the other end of the spectrum are self paced, come and go as you please kinda MOOCs. I think the opportunity we have, if we care enough to level up, is to put ourselves into a position where when it gets hard, and education always gets hard, we don’t quit. And so, for some people, that’s just get an audiobook instead of the regular one. ’cause the audiobook keeps turning the pages whether you want it to or not.

And for other people it’s, get a coach or get into a workshop where there are coaches because that is what they need to move forward. But, one thing we know for sure, if you’re over 25, there are no tests and there no grades. So, we need a better incentive than that to learn things.

John Jantsch: So, I’m curious. The etymology of MOOC. I’ve not actually heard that one before.

Seth Godin: Oh, it all started with this idea of the massive online course. What the second ‘O’, open, Massive Open Online Course. So, open because you don’t have to apply to get in. The famous one was the one out of Stanford on artificial intelligence. And a 105,000 people took it. And, what the professor who ran it said was that the 100 people who took it and got an A+ were better than any of the students at Stanford who took it. What he didn’t mention is that, 96,000 people in the course, dropped out.

John Jantsch: Or never started.

Seth Godin: Perhaps.

John Jantsch: So, I get asked this question a lot because I’ve been doing this a long time and you’ve probably been doing it longer than me. What’s changed the most about marketing? I always love people’s answers to this.

Seth Godin: What’s changed is really clear. Which is the marketer used to buy attention, cheap, that marketing was a bargain, that you spend a 100 dollars, you’d make 200. And the big change is attention is not cheap anymore. And as a result, marketers are racing to buy every little shortcut they can find and they’re getting trash attention, they’re getting trash clicks, they’re getting bots and trolls showing up on their doorstep.

So, Procter & Gamble and the big marketers can no longer buy their way to a new brand. It hasn’t been done in 10 years, it’s over. On the other hand, smart marketers are thinking like direct marketers now. They pay a lot for a little bit of attention but they take care of it and as they take care of it, they turn it into something valuable.

John Jantsch: I’ve been a fan of as I know you have as well. Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools.

Seth Godin: Sure.

John Jantsch: That he’s been doing for, probably coming up on 20 years and I know you’ve been a guest on there. And I found, you mentioned this in the book and I found actually an episode where you talk about Penguin Magic and I actually have taken note of the fact that you like magic shops, don’t you?

Seth Godin: Well, I don’t like the old kind anymore. Penguin Magic has spoiled me. But yes, I grew up going to magic shops. I love the tension of, “I just saw something, it’s impossible but of course the laws of physics apply so how could it be impossible? I need to know how it’s done. Oh, here’s some money. Now it’s mine.”

And there aren’t very many things in our life where we can get that cycle with no side effects for ten bucks in five minutes. It’s a thrill.

John Jantsch: And there actually are countless cases throughout history where people have actually killed other magicians and things to find their secret, haven’t they?

Seth Godin: I hope that’s not happening lately. If it is, we should tell Penn & Teller before it’s too late.

John Jantsch: So, there’s a bit in this book, current book about going out of business sales. And what they kinda do to us and maybe how they hurt us as marketers. You, kind of wanna expand on that?

Seth Godin: Well, the challenge that we have as marketers is everything that we would do to make something work in the short run isn’t what we should do in the long run. That is not true for any other profession. That what’s good for a surgeon in the short run is good for a surgeon in the long run. Add it up, keep going. The problem that marketers face is that the stunts and the shortcuts and the hustle, I hate the hustle most of all, is tarring us with this paint, this tar that won’t let go. And that’s why if I could invent a new word for marketing, I would.

Because, the good kinda marketing which is the marketing you talk about and that I talk about and the marketing that works doesn’t involve any of that hustle. But, the internet has brought the hustle to the fore and I think we’ve gotta figure out how to walk away from it as fast as we can.

John Jantsch: One of the words that you, I think are proposing, maybe that takes the place of marketing, is this idea of developing an empathetic posture. How do we do that?

Seth Godin: So, what’s practical empathy? It’s a simple idea which is, “You know something I don’t know. You believe something I don’t believe. You want something I don’t want. And you care about things I don’t care about.” So, if I’m gonna engage with you, sell to you, serve you, do business with you, either, I need to force you to think the way I think or I need to have the humility and the generosity to accept the fact that you think, the way you think and maybe I can help you.

But, too often, particularly small business people insist that they’ve worked very hard to get to where they are and they are right. And they’re not willing to move an inch toward what somebody else wants or believes. Or, it feels manipulative. And I don’t think it’s manipulative. I think that, if for example, you are somebody who sells draperies and blinds and you sell them in the suburbs, an upper income suburb, you might be the kind of person who doesn’t have any drapes and blinds in your house. You might be the kind of person that would just go to Kmart or Home Depot and buy the cheapest thing.

But your customer, she wants something that’s gonna make her feel special. And she’s willing to spend 800 dollars for it. If you can’t go to where she is, then you can’t help her. And if you think that where she is, is she wants to see a spreadsheet, an RFP, a comparison of A versus B, you’re not being very empathic. That what we get to do is to go to where people are and help them see what they wanna see.

John Jantsch: I read an article the other day that said from 2011 to 2017, 5000 marketing technology companies, apps, tools, whatever you wanna describe ’em have come on the scene. Is that phenomenon making this harder to do marketing the right way?

Seth Godin: Wow, I love that stat. I would have guessed it was even more than that. The thing is, the programmatic, the idea that you don’t know where your ads are running and a system is busy buying and selling everything behind the scenes makes a certain kind of of marketer happy because it lets him or her off the hook and it lets you buy a certain kind of demographic scale really fast. It’s hands free, it’s not human.

And particularly for a small organization, we need to run away from this as fast as we can. You cannot outdo Hyatt Hotels. You cannot outdo Google at this game. You just can’t, you have no chance. It’s like trying to win at the stock market by being a day trader. That, the place where you can win, where you have an enormous unfair advantage is that you can look a human being in the eye and you can say, “I made this.” And you can say, “I see you.” And you can say, “How will we together make something work?” That is where 10,000 times more than all this crazy software.

John Jantsch: Yeah, there are lot of small businesses that we work with, you know, that advertising kinda becomes a trap because it kinda works. But the bad part about it is then they don’t build a website that works and they don’t write content that works and they don’t do the things that I think, they long term are going to make or break their business.

Seth Godin: Yeah, let me just do a quick Google math so that people understand why Google is one of the most valuable companies in history. If you buy a Google ad, a Click for six dollars, knowing that it’s worth 20 dollars, that every time someone clicks, you’re gonna, on average, make 20 dollars in profit and you’re paying six, that’s thrilling.

But then your competition comes along and buys that Click for seven. So the question is, should you pay eight? The answer is, probably and an auction ensues until it’s at 19. Now, at 19, should you pay 20? Well, some people will say, “Yes, because I don’t want my competitor to get this person.” Some people will say, “No, that’s crazy.”

But, either way, at 19 dollars, here’s what’s happening. The person that did all the hard work, who makes the product, who does the warranty, who built everything makes a dollar and Google makes 19 dollars. Now, multiply that by every product and service sold by Clicks on Google and now you know what’s going on. They’re clearing the table of all the profit in every industry that touches them.

John Jantsch: And it’s, it’s gotten worse. The local service ads are making them actually be part of the transaction now, not just a click. But, you sold 4000 dollars, great, I get a piece of that. So, yeah, I think that trend’s not going away. So, stories are hot. They’re a big part of this book. People talk about them now. 15 years ago, people thought they were silly but now they talk about them. But I still don’t see many people doing or getting this idea of stories. How do you make storytelling a big part of your marketing?

Seth Godin: Well, this is another word that’s getting in the way, right? Because storytelling doesn’t mean “Once upon a time.” And “Lived happily ever after.” Story could be, what kind of handshake do you have? Story could be, is your office in a strip mall or in a fancy building? Story could be, when I look at the people who work for you on your website, do I see people who look like me?

These are all stories, stories in the sense that they’re symptoms and symbols that we use to guess about further behavior and meaning. And so, we all live stories and we can build those stories on purpose or we can let them happen to us. So, one way to think about the value of a brand or a story is this, if Nike opened a hotel and that’s all you knew, is it Nike has a hotel? I’m guessing, with your eyes closed, you could imagine a whole bunch of things about that hotel and you’d be right.

On the other hand, if Hyatt or Hilton made a pair of sneakers, you’d have no clue what they would be like. None. That’s because Nike has a story and Hilton and Hyatt do not.

John Jantsch: Great example. So, [inaudible]. We’re getting towards the end, so, here’s a softball you can hit out of the park for me. I don’t really think people want what we sell. What do they actually want?

Seth Godin: Right. They don’t want what we sell at all. They want the change and the status that it offers. They want belonging, they want security, they want to feel like they are part of something. If the Grateful Dead had never been invented, they wouldn’t have invented the Grateful Dead. But they would have invented something that made them feel the way the Dead did.

John Jantsch: So, you just gave me an example but my last question was gonna be, is there a company or two that you wanna point to and say, “Hey go check out what these people are doing because they’re doing it right.”?

Seth Godin: Here’s what I would say. Think, right now of a logo that you admire. Let’s say, you’re talking to a designer. Think of a logo. I’m going to bet you, 10 to 1 odds, that the logo you thought of is not a pretty logo but is in fact something that adorns a brand that you care about.

This brand you care about, why do you care about it? Why do you pay extra for it? Why do you cross the street to engage with them? So, you get to pick the example. I don’t need to. Because if there’s a brand you care about, it is a brand you care about because of the ideas that are in this book.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and that’s a great lesson because everybody has a brand or two that they care about so then you can personalize that and turn it into a learning lesson. Great, great advice.

So, Seth, what kind of people are gonna know, that are gonna be able to find This Is Marketing everywhere but is there anything you wanna share in terms of how they would connect with you, how they’d find out, maybe about joining the Marketing Seminar?

Seth Godin: I made a bonus page at which stands for This is Marketing and I’ve got a video there and some bonuses and links to all sorts of juicy stuff as well.

John Jantsch: Well, once again, I really appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Another great book. Congratulations and hopefully we’ll run into you soon, out there on the road.

Seth Godin: I hope so. Always a pleasure.

Transcript of Communicating with Empathy in the Digital World

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John Jantsch: Has technology in the virtual world that we live in made it easier to communicate or harder? Sure, in some ways it’s made it easier to have distributed staff and have clients all over the world, but we’ve lost the emotional impact of our communication when we don’t have that face-to-face. Think about our emails that maybe don’t quite get the point across that we were trying to make. We have to learn how to communicate differently in a virtual world. And in this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast, I visit with Dr. Nick Morgan, author of Can You Hear Me?

This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by CloudPhone. You can get big-time modern virtual phone functionality at a fraction of the cost. In fact, keep listening. I’m going to tell you how to get 50% off.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Dr. Nick Morgan. He is considered one of America’s top communications coaches and he’s the author of a book we’re going to talk about today. Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World? So, Nick, thanks for joining me again.

Nick Morgan: John, great to be back with you.

John Jantsch: There are lots of pros to this virtual world. I mean, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I mean, it used to be if somebody wasn’t in your town, and you couldn’t get in the car and go drive to them, you couldn’t have them as a customer. Certainly, you couldn’t have an employee that wasn’t there kind of sitting at a desk. So a lot of pros, but obviously your book suggests that there are some inherent hurdles as well. So you want to kind of map out those hurdles that we maybe haven’t considered that now so many of us are doing a lot of our work virtually.

Nick Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. First I should acknowledge you’re absolutely right, that there are huge advantages to the virtual world. That’s why it’s taken the work world and a lot of our personal lives as well by storm. And the greatest acceleration has been in the last decade with mobile phones; they really transformed our lives. After a decade, it’s just become clear that in spite of what we thought at the beginning, it’s not all good. So on the positive side, we get what they call a reduction in friction out in Silicon Valley. Meaning it’s much easier to send emails and everything else. It’s also virtually free. Your reach extends enormously and as you said, it means that we can do things like work remotely and all that sort of thing. There’re huge amounts of good. It’s not going away. I’m an audiophile myself, an early adapter.

I love gadgets. I have all my Apple gadgets line up. So your listeners should understand, I’m not saying that this is a bad thing or it’s going to go away either one. I’m saying that there are some problems which we’re now slowly beginning to understand that really need to be paid attention to. It was a couple of studies that caught my eye.

First of all, there are two cohorts as the statisticians like to say that have been studied pretty closely and you may find it surprising they are teenage girls and retired people for their usage of virtual media, virtual means of communication. Teenage girls, of course, because mobile phones have transformed their lives perhaps more so than anybody else. They spend more time on mobile phones than any other group as far as we know.

The other group, perhaps surprisingly again, is the retired population, shut-insurance, and folks who are less mobile perhaps. And the whole idea for them was that the virtual would be great because it would enable them to keep in touch with their grandchildren and their kids and enable them to stay connected to a world, which, otherwise might be harder for them if they were less mobile, so on and so forth.

Studying those two populations was really shocking. As I saw the research, there’s a direct correlation between the amount of time those two populations spend on their mobile phones or in virtual media and their likelihood of being depressed. The basic equation or the basic deal that this will enable you to stay connected isn’t working for those two populations and it isn’t working for everybody else. When I saw that I thought I have to understand this a little bit better. So I dove further into the research and I came up with five problems that the virtual world has that we need to address and we need to do our best to fix. So let me pause there for breath.

John Jantsch: I wonder if you know, I don’t think there’s too many teenage girls listening to the show or too many retired folks. What you’re suggesting is that that translates to some percentage of everybody who is doing this, including people who work for companies remotely and distributed. Would it be fair to say that you could also frame these as differences? So in other words, are there not just a problem necessarily? There’s just a different way that we have to communicate given the technology that we’re using?

Nick Morgan: Yes. That’s the nice way to put it, John, and I have no problem with that. The other stat I should throw in there, by the way, is that employee disengagement as the number of virtual workers and the amount of virtual work we do goes up, employee disengagement also increases and it’s currently at an all-time high. It’s roughly two-thirds here in the United States and it’s higher worldwide. It seems to be affecting the work population too, although there is a correlation, we haven’t an established a causation, but there’s a very strong correlation and that’s the caveat here. So yes, we do and that’s exactly the point of the book. We do need to learn a new way of communicating, but first, we have to understand what’s going wrong so that we can communicate better.

John Jantsch: Yeah. Because one of the themes that comes up time, and again. And not just in your book, anytime people have talked about technology. Technology was supposed to make us more connected in study after study shows that we’re now lonelier than ever.

Nick Morgan: Yes, exactly. That’s what starts me off, and I thought, let’s understand why, and it’s because that’ll tell us what we can do about it. So the first big problem is that we’re still communicating as if we were communicating face-to-face. In other words, when I get on the phone, I don’t think consciously I’ve got to do something fundamentally different than when you and I are having a face-to-face conversation. And yet I do because here’s what happens on email and on the phone and even in video conferencing, although to a slightly lesser extent. What happens is this huge wash of emotional information that normally gets exchanged between people easily and unconsciously, most of that gets lost. And I don’t mean to be mysterious about this. Let me give a simple example.

So when you’re sitting there conversing with somebody face-to-face, and you say something a little smart ass, “Your hair’s on fire, John,” you can tell by the expression on my face that I’m kidding. Let’s hope. And I can tell if I say something that hurts your feelings, or it goes a little too far, I can tell right away by the look in your eye or the fact that you winch or something like that. That’s what I mean, those kind of simple human exchanges of intent are profoundly important for us humans. We care enormously about other people’s intent and not just whether they like us or not, but are they on the team, are they enthusiastic about this idea? Are they going to work hard to carry it out or are they just kind of lukewarm, or are we carrying them? Those kinds of day-to-day work-related concerns about other people’s intent, and our own intent are incredibly important to effective working.

John Jantsch: Well, and I suspect we get conditioned too, unconsciously, to take that feedback in. Right? I mean we don’t even know we’re doing it.

Nick Morgan: Yeah, exactly. We’re not even aware of consciously that we’re doing it. We don’t have to think about it, but then we get on the phone and it’s just that much harder and I could go into the technical reasons why that’s the case. It has to do with data compression and the way voices are compressed over the phone, but let’s not worry ourselves in the details. The point is, Justin, that it gets harder to detect that same emotional information. It’s a much narrower bandwidth, is a simple way to think about it And then, of course, you think about email, it’s much, much worse. How many times have you sent an email with a clever little joke in it that you thought was hilarious and the other person for some unbelievable reason got offended? And then you had to spend six or seven emails sorting out the problem that you inadvertently caused because the other person was so dumb. Couldn’t have been me.

John Jantsch: I’ll give you another one example that I remember vividly. The first time I did a webinar, and actually it’s so long ago, Nick, we called it a teleseminar, there was no video involved. People just got on the phone and listened.

Nick Morgan: Fantastic.

John Jantsch: I remember I had been speaking publicly to audiences for a number of years by that point. And I remember the first time I did that, I had trouble breathing because I was getting no feedback at all and I had no idea if what I was saying was landing at all. And I remember how different and odd that was.

Nick Morgan: Yes. And you bring up the further point, which is really important for your audience to get, which is our brains are constantly seeking that emotional feedback and that feedback just about our surroundings and imagine us in the evolutionary state as a beings walking through the African Savanna, looking for shadows because one of them might be a tiger. It’s to our advantage to assume the worst in a situation like that because that’s liable to keep us alive. So you can imagine people evolving to be the ones who survived to be a little more nervous than the folks who got eaten by the tigers.

As a result, when we don’t get that emotional information precisely to your point about your talk, the first time you talked, then what we do is we assume the worst. We assume that those people hate us or they’re disinterested or they’ve checked out or they’re falling on the floor, falling asleep. And so we tend to get more anxious and more panicked and the communication tends to turn negative. At the far end of this, of course, is trolling. And that’s why there’s so much trolling in the virtual world because everybody’s busy unconsciously assuming the worst about each other.

And that’s the first real serious hazard of virtual communications and one that we certainly didn’t intend back when we invented or embraced, I should say, because I didn’t invent it, but it embraced the email world, and then all the other aspects of the virtual world.

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Nick Morgan: Well, and I’m probably jumping around here, but I’ll throw that around to the audience that is listening, I know now because I watch people all the time and you hear anecdotally from people and now that we have this technology, it’ll say how much of your audiences multitasking while you’re talking when you’re on a Webinar or something. I know I don’t attend to a lot of webinars and things myself because it’s extremely hard for me to stay focused.

It is, it’s just there’s less emotional input, throughput if you will, coming through. That leads to the second problem that really, you just described it, which is without the emotional feedback that we’re getting, we don’t stay engaged and we have a lack of empathy. That is, we’re less worried about the other people because we don’t know how they’re feeling, so we assume they’re feeling kind of bad. But our empathy quotient, it really go way, way down. And as a result, again, trolling is the final outcome of that. And that leads to the next problem which is, and this one may surprise people, when you take out the empathy, when you take out the emotional information, then it gets harder to make good decisions. Now, that’s surprising perhaps because we tend to think of decision making as a logical exercise.

For Star Trek fans this is Mr. Spock versus Captain Kirk. Spock is the decision maker. He’s the logical but, in fact, the way we make decisions is what we learned as a child. It’s not logical. It’s imagine that moment when you were two years old and you walk into the kitchen and there’s this pretty red glowing object on the stove and you think, “Oh, that’s cute. I’m going to go touch that.” So you put your finger on it, what happens? You’re suddenly awash and pain and anger and shock and horror and fury, and so you never, ever, ever do that again.

Now, that’s a very simple example of how memory works and how our brains are constructed. We have little experiences it’s like little videos running in our head and we try stuff out and according to how well or badly it works, we attach emotion to it and file it away in our brains. And so most of our decision making is really goes to like the following. So you go, “Okay, so I’m thinking about buying a new car. Well, the other times I bought a new car, it went like this. It was easy. It was hard. I got screwed by the salesman. I didn’t. I got a good deal, good doing this.” So we compare it to past experiences and then we make an emotional decision accordingly depending on how painful or pleasant it was.

Now, if you take out the emotional attachments, it gets harder for us to make decisions. It gets harder for us to measure the importance of what we’re doing because we’re just not that interested. So imagine, for example, a work team on an audio conference that they do every single week and the boss is droning on and everybody’s got it on mute and they’re keeping up with email while they’re talking or not talking while the boss is talking. And then the boss suddenly says, “Okay, so what do you want to do about X?” And it’s very hard for people at that point to make a good decision because they’re not invested in the conversation. They might be bored if they were face-to-face, but chances are it’s a little harder to get away with and the boss would know and, and people would see each other and as a result, they’d calibrate accordingly. So that’s the next problem that happens online and it’s a subtle one and it means we really have to watch ourselves because it’s likely that the decision making, the quality of the decision making in virtual conversations is going to be poor.

John Jantsch: Again, I know we’ve spent more than half the show allotted show telling people what’s wrong, what the problems are. So let’s flip it completely around and say, “Okay, what do we need to be doing?” Because I mean, the reality is we, in some cases, have to work this way. So what do we, what can we do to actually take those inherent challenges and say, “Okay, we need to be aware and so we need to do X.”

Nick Morgan: Great. Yeah, excellent question. And that’s what the book is about. And the bad news, if you will, is that there isn’t one big thing you can do that will cure everything. The good news is there are a lot of fairly simple things you can do to begin to make the situation better and none of them is particularly complicated. What we’re trying to do here is put in the emotional subtext that’s been taken out. What I say is we need to learn a new language, and it has the great advantage of if you start practicing this at home and then you have teenage kids, it’ll make your teenage kids think you’re really, really weird and that’s always good. So this is worth trying.

John Jantsch: Is this going to end with emojis in some fashion?

Nick Morgan: Absolutely, John. Emojis are going to be involved. But the first thing to do and a little more seriously is you need to think about asking yourself the question or asking your team the question and you may even ask it out loud, but the question that really begins to get you thinking along the right lines is, “How did what I just say make you feel?” Now, if I asked that question to myself and I’m in a conversation with you, John, and I realize I don’t know the answer to that question, then I need to slow down and ask it perhaps out loud or ask some related questions that let me know, “How is John really feeling about this? Was this successful or not?” And one of the simple ways I recommend for people, for example, to do this, who have a weekly staff meeting, let’s say a team meeting, that’s virtual and the team is spread out all over the world. It’s in Singapore, in California and Europe or something.

You want to make this easy on yourself because you’re going to be doing it every week. So just start the meeting by saying, “Okay, I want everybody to go around, check-in, like a stoplight, red, yellow or green. And Red means I’m facing a disaster. I shouldn’t even be on this call. Yellow means things are a little tense so there’s something going wrong, but I can cope. I’m here. And Green means everything is great.

And so that’s a very easy thing to do. People have permission to do it. And then whoever the team leader is, or whoever’s convening the conference call, if somebody says red, they can say, “Oh, John, I’m sorry to hear that. Do you want to tell us what’s going on? Or do you want to be led off the call?” It gives them permission to address the issue in a way that’s much, much harder to do if you just say, “Okay, let’s get started. Everybody. How is everybody first?” They’re one of those kinds of things that we tend to do where the person is really upset or really fuming or really got a real disaster is just sort of beginning to try to think, “Ah, how can I say this?” Or, “How could I talk about it? I don’t want to talk about it.” And then by the time he or she has figured out the answer to what they’re going to say, everybody’s already moved on and you just don’t have time to kind of get that inside.

The red, yellow, green allows you the space and the respect of everybody to give an honest answer in that situation. And then you can ask that question again at the end of the meeting just to see how the meeting affected people. But it’s really about slowing down and starting to put in little markers like that, that allow people, give people the room, the space, the respect to be able to say how they’re feeling. We just have to get more conscious of that because we can’t keep communicating as if we were face-to-face.

John Jantsch: I think that, that’s one of the things that, this mind-body connection that is so important. Half of that lost. I think by being virtual but again, I go back to the fact that, that’s the way we work today. And so I think we just need to come up with new habits, new ways to work. And one of the things I remember reading in the book is that, and I think this is what you’re alluding to, this kind of chit-chat period and the beginning. How’s everybody doing? Yeah. But the reality is that we used to do that when we’d walk down the hall from each other. And so we’d know how people were doing or we’d know what was going on in their family. And now that may be the only opportunity we get is that kind of first five minutes in the weekly status call. I struggle with that sometimes. How do you have that moment? Do you need to separate that moment and make that another meeting somehow?

Nick Morgan: Yeah. I recommend a number of strategies, and you can pick the one that works for you. The problem with the beginning of that typical conference call is think how it actually goes. You’ve got a sound that lets you know that somebody else has come on. So here’s how it goes. You sign in. Let’s say you’re the team leader, and you’re responsible, and you sign in a minute beforehand. So you’re all ready to go, and you hear the first boop when somebody else signs, and you go, “Oh, who’s that?” And it says, “John.” “Oh, John a great how you doing?” And we have something that corresponds to a one-on-one conversation. And we start into that for about 15 seconds and then there’s another boop and somebody else goes, “Oh, who’s that?” “Oh, it’s Bill.” “Okay, Bill. Great. Well, Bill, it’s Nick and John on the call. How are you?”

And then Bill, since it’s a three-way conversation, we have a little different response and it kind of a three-way conversation than we do a two-way conversation. And so Bill starts in on how he is, but perhaps not as honestly. Then he’s two seconds in and we hear another boop. Then, “Who’s that?” So you end up with this really idiotic … It’s typically the first five minutes of one of these calls where there’re just endless interruptions and it’s really hard to get a clear conversation going with anybody, let alone the whole group. And so I suggest a couple of things.

The stoplight approach is one. Another is to say, “We’re all going to sign in at such and such a time and the first X minutes are going to be chit-chat. We encourage you to join and then we’ll start the business at such and such a time.” that relies on people being honest and good timekeepers, and we all know in the business world, some are better than others.

Another one is to get people, and this works really well for teams that are in different countries. Is to get people to record little 30-second videos of themselves, of their surroundings, have a conversation they’re having or the look from their desk or just anything about their local culture that matters to them or a fun thing they did on the weekend. You can set the assignment so everybody has permission to do it and you’d be surprised how well that brings people together because everybody gets a chance to see the videos as the meeting starts and laugh at them or celebrate with them or, responded accordingly. That’s another one that works.

And yet another one is to put the, and this one, it depends on having a good team already, a strongly united team, but you can put the chit-chat at the end because that then avoids all the interruptions. That can feel a little more artificial unless the team is really strong. But the point is that you need to separate out the chit-chat as you were calling it, but it’s really the emotional connection. The trust-building, let’s say is a better word for it, better term for it. The trust-building part of a call like that, and then the business transaction part of the call like that because it’s hard in a virtual setting to do both cleanly and well. So it works much better to separate them.

Then, of course, another and even the better way to go about this is to insist on regular face-to-face meetings. The general argument in favor of virtual communication and against face-to-face meetings is expense and time. That’s the great advantage of the virtual world. It’s free. You don’t have to travel, you save enormous amounts on your travel budget. And it’s very convenient. Well, think about how actually rich a face-to-face conversation is in the ways that which we’ve been talking. It’s an actually very efficient way for humans to communicate and so if trust is at all an important part of what your team does, or what you do with your customers, if this is a customer call, then you should be enhancing that virtual conversation with a face-to-face one every now and then and you’ll save yourself enormous amounts of effort online just because when we’re face-to-face, all that communication happens so effortlessly. Even as we move further and further into the virtual world, don’t forget the importance and the ultimate efficiency of a face-to-face conversation.

John Jantsch: One of my daughters worked for a few years for a company, I think they had about 100 employees at the time, and they were all distributed. So there was no office for the company at all. Three times a year or so they would take a week and go somewhere really cool. But they all work for the week. It wasn’t just play. I mean, it was let’s work on, it was a software company, let’s work on code together in the same room and I think that, that really, they, they still had an incredibly strong culture, I think by virtue of taking that money that they might’ve spent on an office building and putting it into what I think was probably a more cultural enriching expenditure.

Nick Morgan: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s the best of both worlds. Something like that is the best way really to handle the virtual aspect and the face-to-face aspect.

John Jantsch: I want to end on one, that I think haunts everyone. That’s if you had a couple of tips for email. I know over the years, as it’s become such an important tool, I know the one thing that I definitely do is I spell everything out as plainly as I possibly can and make no assumptions that they understand what I’m trying to point … I’ll go back and read it and go, “Okay, could that be, should I have used a noun there instead of a pronoun there?” I mean, I really sweat over no important emails that they probably end up a little longer, but I hope that they’re clear.

Nick Morgan: Yeah, you’re doing exactly the right thing. One of the sort of implicit of things that happens as we get more important and rise up through the ranks in an organization is, all the studies show this, our emails tend to get shorter and shorter and there’s kind of, there’s a reason for it as presumably as you go up the ranks, you’re answering more and more email so you’ve just got more to cope with. But it’s also part showing off too, isn’t it? “I’m so busy and important I can afford or I have to respond with a one-word response.” Well, it’s almost better to type out the one-word response on a piece of paper and then set it on fire rather than sending a one-word email because the likelihood that you’re going to be misunderstood, especially as you become more important in the organization, we care more and more about your intent and we care most of all about the CEOs or the president’s intent and so that it’s most incumbent on him or her to be most clear.

And so I recommend in the book a format that sort of ensures that you start with a headline and says what the email is about and then you give the substantive part of it and then you talk about the emotions at the end. And then you ask, you give the other person permission to ask, how does this make me feel or to answer how this makes me feel? I also recommend, and people may find this funny, of the use of emoji’s and emoticons because early on there’s some research that suggested that in the business world, people look down initially on folks who use the emoticons and emoji’s because they were seen as sort of childish or something, but they can save a lot of hurt and time. You put a smiley face at the end of something that’s intended to be a joke.

Then just maybe the other person won’t get as offended by the tone in it and maybe they’ll say, “Okay, yeah, he was just kidding. I’ll forgive him.” And so it’s a huge time saver. So I would say use the emoji’s, especially the millennials are going to use them anyway. And so in a few years, it’s going to be second nature. You’re going to have to use them or you’re going to look like somebody who’s out of touch. So get used to emoji’s, use them because they’re going to save you a lot of emotional angst.

John Jantsch: Yeah. And I would say my own experience too, you get in a hurry and you’re just trying to answer what somebody asked you. And you forget to say thank you for responding to my email and giving me such a thorough answer. I think that’s not intentional. I think it’s just the person’s not there. So I just, I didn’t quite have the cue to say thank you first. And I think that, that’s one thing I certainly try to work on.

Nick Morgan: Yeah. And you’d do that automatically if the person was face-to-face, so one of the little tragedies I learned about the other day was studies of kids who have Alexa in the household or the Google equivalent. They actually learn to demand things of other people that sound incredibly rude when you’re face-to-face. So they’ll say to somebody, “Daddy, get me some cookies.” Right? Whereas normally they’d learned, “Can I please have some cookies?” Or, “Daddy, would you please get me some cookies?” Because that’s what works with Alexa. I’ve heard, and I don’t have the direct evidence to support this, but I’ve heard that Alexa and some others are now creating child versions that demand you say please and thank you to Alexa, which I think is a very good idea if that’s who’s teaching us how to communicate.

John Jantsch: You’d get a kick out of this. I actually ask Alexa to please tell me a joke. I don’t demand it because I think you’re absolutely right and she or he or whatever Alexa is, will respond even if you ask politely.

Nick Morgan: There you go. It’s good practice, John, for when you actually talk to a real human being. You’ll remember how to do it.

John Jantsch: Well, Nick, this was fun. Thanks for joining me today. I’m speaking with Dr. Nick Morgan, author of Can You Hear Me? So, Nick, tell us where people can find out more about you and your work as well as the book?

Nick Morgan: Sure. Thanks. It’s is our website and there’s lots of free information there about public speaking, my passion, as well as the hazards of the virtual world. So have a look there and there’s a contact form that you can ask me questions directly or just send it to my email,

John Jantsch: Maybe I’m not stealing your thunder here because maybe you’re already in conversations with people. This ought to be a college class.

Nick Morgan: I think you’re right.

John Jantsch: All right.

Nick Morgan: I think we all need it.

John Jantsch: Yeah, absolutely. So thanks again and hopefully we’ll run into you out there on the road someday soon.

Nick Morgan: Excellent. Thanks, John.