Your Business Is A Mess: Why Your Plans Fail You And What To Do Instead

Your business is a mess.

Or, to put it another way:

Your business is a series of interwoven systems, mechanisms, and information that impact and influence each other so that no one component can be singled out as a problem or a solution.

Russell Ackoff, a pioneer in both management science and systems thinking, said:

Managers are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other, but with dynamic situations that consist of complex systems of changing problems that interact with each other. I call such situations messes. Problems are extracted from messes by analysis. Managers do not solve problems, they manage messes.

If you feel like you solve one problem only to discover another, this is why. If you feel like every time you make an incredible discovery about your business it changes everything, this is why. If you feel like everything you learn about growing your business seems to influence everything you’ve experienced running your business, this is why.

It’s a mess.

And that’s okay.

Your job is to manage this mess.

That means being willing to adapt, try new things, experiment, and — most importantly — accept that the work is never done.

Every change you make to your website has the potential to ripple through the rest of your business. Every adjustment you make to your pricing can set off a chain reaction. Every revision you make to your plan could create a counteraction later on down the line.

The more aware you are of the messy nature of your business, the more you can use the mess to your advantage.

You’re not planning for the mess.

When you plan for your business — whether it’s setting goals for the year or simply planning your actions for the week — you are most likely setting discrete goals or tasks. It’s a form of projection or forecasting that can feel downright silly when there’s a tiny voice in the back of your head that says either “Yeah, right,” or “Nice try but there’s no way you’re getting that all done.”

Ackoff has an answer for this too:

The future is better dealt with using assumptions than forecasts.

Assumptions — or as I’ve referred to them before, hypotheses — help you deal with the mess. In fact, they can help you use the mess to your advantage. You can expect the unexpected and anticipate a vast array of scenarios.

When you decide on an assumption or a hypothesis instead of a goal or task list, you’ll see it as flexible. The flexibility of your hypothesis means you’re more likely to adjust it instead of abandon it when you’re presented with challenges.

The more you adjust your hypothesis, the more you learn about your business, the mess, and how it works. The more you learn about your business, the better you’re able to manage the mess and anticipate how ripple effects or chain reactions will occur in the future.

Here’s how to get started:

Look at your goal or projects for this quarter.

Most likely, you’ve set those goals as definitive statements:

  • Enroll 30 new customers
  • Generate $25,000 in revenue
  • Complete a new online course to sell

Nothing wrong with those… but those goals don’t reflect the mess that is your business, right?

To reflect your mess, you want to identify the individual, overlapping, and inter-influencing systems that make up the way you achieve each goal.

For instance, you could say:

If I write 12 new blog posts with a Call to Action over the next 12 weeks, then I’ll generate 1000 new leads. If I market my program to those 1000 new leads, then I’ll enroll 30 new customers into my program.

Now, you can see the mess!

Writing blog posts with a Call to Action that generates appropriate leads is (at least) one system. Nurturing new leads and marketing your program to them is another system. Enrolling new customers is yet another system.

Each is interdependent on the others. If your blog writing & lead generating system doesn’t quite gel, you won’t generate the leads you need. If you don’t generate the leads you need, you won’t have enough people to market to to close 30 sales. If you don’t know what you’re selling and how you’re selling it, you won’t be able to write effective blog posts and generate relevant leads.

When things work out, you don’t worry about how these systems work together. You also don’t learn much about what works for your business.

When things don’t work out, you can be so focused on the disappointing outcome that you miss the obvious opportunities to improve on your plan and get a different result.

When you have a hypothesis instead of a forecast, you won’t simply bemoan the fact that you didn’t reach your goal. Instead, you have an immediate plan of action for how to improve your work and do better next time. You could adapt the type of posts you write, the frequency with which you write them, the Call to Action, etc…

Once you recognize your mess, you can start to see planning, goal-setting, and taking action as a process and not something that’s set in stone once created.

You can adjust your plans instead of abandoning them.

The Big Gamble: Do The Work Or Run The Business

“The only way I can earn more is to work more.”

That’s the realization that occurs at some point in the life of every coaching, consulting, writing, teaching, designing, or developing business. Sure, you can continue to raise your rates little by little, break into new markets and serve clients willing to pay more, and hone your skills so you can deliver more valuable outcomes… but at the end of the day, your pay is still based on the hours you put in.

Breaking the time-for-money trap has long been a topic of conversation inside the freelance and small business worlds. The universality of the experience of “topping out” your earning makes it fodder for gatekeepers to try to sell you the key to breaking the cycle, whether that’s developing online courses, blueprinting, or selling retainers.

It’s a problem that seems to be solved by changing your business model. But…

The answer to breaking out of the time-for-money trap isn’t to change your business model, it’s to change your identity.

Until you see yourself as someone new, someone who occupies a different role in your business and does something different to earn your keep, you will never fully break out of trading your precious time for a paycheck.

I used to manage a Borders Books & Music.

It was a fun job where I learned quite a bit about the challenges of running an organization. It was also incredibly stressful, as my tenure there coincided with the waning years of the company.

Ultimately, however, this job wasn’t a great use of my best skills. I’d gone to school for religious studies and music with a big emphasis on writing and communication.

When I became a mother after 5 years in retail management, I started thinking about other ways I could earn a living. My top goal was fulfilling, meaningful work that utilized my capabilities. I’d never had aspirations of earning even a median salary so enjoying my work was plenty.

I researched and researched and discovered the world of blogging, freelancing, and micro business. I’d actually started my first blog back in 2003 (oh, Xanga, I will never forget you) so it was an easy leap to see how earning money blogging would help me utilize my writing skills and create more meaningful work.

Six months into my journey blogging, I was off to the races. First I added a few hundred dollars to the family bottom line each month, then a few thousand. Soon, I was making more than my original full-time salary — and we still weren’t paying for childcare.

It was around this point that I realized I needed to change up my business model if I wanted to earn more.

And, boy, did I want to earn more…

I started teaching, coaching, and consulting.

I loved the creativity of my work and I relished my ability to move others to action with a blog post or an email. My little business earned more and more — and as it did, I realized that my goals were still small in comparison to others. I had so much farther I could go!

Now, the decision had to be made:

Was I going to continue coaching and consulting so that I could do this work that I loved?

Or, was I going to move fully into the role of business owner, manager, and entrepreneur?

This decision felt like a huge gamble.

It was the sure-thing versus a chance at something that could be even better, plus a much bigger payout.

Now, it would be a huge lie of omission to not tell you that this decision actually took years to be made — heck, it took years to fully realize that the decision had presented itself. Yet, it was the key decision I faced on my path forward.

To move on and continue exploring a path I had never dreamed of as a child — that of the entrepreneur & business owner — I needed to choose between work I knew I loved and the potential promise of running a business.

Sure, I’d been running a business all this time. But 90% of my time had been devoted to doing the work of the coach, consultant, educator, and writer. I could continue to grow in those capacities and increase both my revenue and impact — but only incrementally. As Breanne Dyck would say, I was my business instead of owning my business.

If I wanted to reach my increasingly expansive goals, I needed exponential growth and I needed to spend 90% of my time on running the business — not coaching, consulting, and writing.

Would I love running a business? Could I find the same flow, meaning, and fulfillment in becoming a CEO?

I decided I was willing to find out.


You don’t have to make the same choice.

You can continue to love doing the work of a coach, designer, consultant, developer, writer, educator, or practitioner. You can continue to level up your prices, your clients, your outcomes, and — ultimately — your payout little by little. You can even take steps toward more freedom by offering packages, outsourcing some work, or putting clients on retainer.

But your rewards will always be tied to your ability to work and produce results in the capacity others hire you for.

This is the key problem with all the time-for-money trap solutions that exist in the market today. Someone will gladly sell you the framework for scaling your coaching business with online courses but they don’t explain that — in doing so — you trade in your coach’s hat for a CEO’s hat (many of them don’t realize this tradeoff themselves). Someone else will gladly show you how to change your bespoke design offerings into a productized service but they don’t explain that — when you do — you trade in your designer’s hat for a manager’s hat.

Because most of us started small businesses to create more meaningful work for ourselves, our identities tend to be tied to our titles.

I am a coach. I am a designer. I am a developer.

Trading one hat for another can become a virtual existential crisis. Wading through this crisis is the only way to get to the other side — if the other side is where you want to go. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t functionally be both a designer and the founder of a design agency. You can’t functionally be both a coach and the CEO of an emerging training company.

While the work may overlap, your identity can not. You can try to hold the duality in place but you’ll always default to what is known and comfortable. You’ll forget you’re the founder, CEO, owner, manager. You’ll make decisions for yourself and not for the business.

Now, I say it’s virtually an existential crisis because, of course, you can always be a coach, a designer, a developer, a consultant. But, if you choose to truly break out of the time-for-money trap, that will no longer be your role in your business.

If that sounds awful, don’t do it! You can have a meaningful, thriving, lucrative business doing the work you love. You might not make much money in your sleep… but you’ll do just fine and be incredibly happy as long as you define your own success and don’t let the entrepreneurial gatekeepers shape your goals for you.


Are you still with me?

Are you willing to wade through this existential crisis and find a new role in your emerging company?

Kudos! Everything looks different from this side. Your budget, your schedule, your next steps. You’ll find you are comfortable with things that seemed impossible before (hiring help, letting others talk to your clients, divorcing your self from your brand, etc…). At the same time, you’ll find all sorts of old things that are now incredibly uncomfortable — and you’ll be okay with it.

You might even find that you love your new role even more than the old one.


5 Non-Obvious Ways To Put Your Brand & Business In The Spotlight

When you don’t know what works, marketing your business feels like a gamble.

Each new article, email, social media post, podcast episode, or video feels like it could be a home run or it could be just another invisible effort to get your business seen.

To make matters worse, the instinctive response to not knowing what will work seems to be to try everything. You chase every new platform, tactic, or fad that bubbles to the surface.

But by the time you’ve had a chance to try the “hot new thing,” it’s stopped working and you’re back to square one.

Tactics, platforms, and fads don’t make for great marketing.

Instead, great marketing comes from an acute understanding of what makes your brand, your offer, and — yes — even you, the marketer, a standout. Great marketing spotlights your brand not because you’ve executed a particular tactic perfectly but because you’ve tapped into something bigger, deeper, and more meaningful.

When you stumble onto great marketing, it’s because you’ve accessed an inherent capacity for influence that every person has and every brand should have. The “trick” is discovering how to tap into that capacity over and over again so that you can create great marketing more consistently and earn more visibility for your brand.

Marketing is about visibility. Visibility is about power.

In his book, The Power Paradox, Dacher Keltner shines some light on how we can connect our brands and their missions to powerful marketing through the lens of how individuals gain power in groups. He writes that power is really the ability to influence others and make a difference in the world.

Brands need power and influence to woo the right group of people and change their lives (in big ways or small) through their products. In essence, your marketing is an effort to establish power in your community or marketplace. When people are paying attention to your marketing, they’re granting your business the power to influence them.

So, marketing and power go hand-in-hand. Which is why we, as marketers, need to pay attention to what Keltner discovered are the 5 ways to earn more power in any group. While we might assume that there are sneaky methods or coercive tactics at play, power (and visibility) is really the reward granted to those who practice a more subtle art form rooted in authenticity.

He says:

We have a deep cultural intuition that nice guys finish last, that one must step on others to rise in the ranks, and that acquiring power requires the cold-blooded dispensing of rivals and even allies. But nothing could [be] further from the truth.

Visibility and power are found at the intersection of authenticity and strategy.

The 5 non-obvious ways to earn power that Dacher outlines can become a guideline for 5 strategies for crafting marketing that earns visibility through authenticity. Instead of marketing on a whim or eschewing strategic action to just do your own thing, you can combine intention and planning with a truly personal approach.

You and your brand determine what works for you but you create a strategy so it’s no longer a gamble.

Let’s take a look at these 5 non-obvious ways to put your business in the spotlight and how each are being applied by other small business owners:

1. Openness

The first way to earn visibility is remaining open to new perspectives, feedback, and information. It requires genuine curiosity, creativity, and plenty of communication.


Jenn Giles Kemper, the founder of Sacred Ordinary Days, used Openness to fuel the launch of her latest liturgical year planner. She’s created a community around her brand and uses that community to solicit feedback and suggestions for making her line of planners better.

The company had its best day yet when it released its latest iteration. Jenn even received emails from people saying, ‘You really listened!’ They appreciated the honest and curious way that Jenn asked for feedback and responded with an overwhelming number of sales.

At CoCommercial, we invest heavily in Openness too. Unlike other social networks that are algorithm-based, we pride ourselves on being human-powered. Our community managers are paid to invite new members into the network, show them the ropes, and solicit feedback. We could automate more of this process and reduce cost but the human touch means that we’re truly able to remain open to feedback and stay curious about ways to improve the experience for members. In turn, our members reward us by sharing the network with their friends and colleagues — meaning we earn the kind of word-of-mouth marketing that money just can’t buy.

Your turn: What can you do to incorporate curiosity into your brand or product marketing?

2. Perspective

While certainly some brands and media outlets garner attention by riling up a frenzy, sustained visibility and influence comes from offering a sense of calm and a fresh perspective. Instead of syncing up with the latest freakout, your brand can represent a different way of looking at things.

The market rewards brands that don’t react frantically every time there’s a change or new challenge.


Take a look at Productive Flourishing founder Charlie Gilkey. While other business strategists flail around every time there’s a new hiccup in the marketplace, Charlie is calm, focused, and reliable. He consistently creates exceptional content that markets his sane approach to building a business in the 21st century.

In our marketing at CoCommercial, we provide an alternate Perspective by highlighting the real efforts of business owners who have been there, done that, and are still doing it every day. Instead of relying on experts or gurus — and the personality cults they create — we’re focused on distributed expertise.

We know there is no 1 expert who can have all the answers, so we shine a light on how different business owners handle different situations. We do this through the Help Yourself blog here on Medium and in a series of weekly live Help Yourself shows. This has been a great way for our members to find a safe-haven for discussion and alternative approaches to their pressing challenges.

Your turn: What are you willing to say or do that is counter to the current freak out?

3. Kindness

Marketing that utilizes Kindness is cooperative. It draws others in, recognizes their contribution, and lifts them up. When you shine a light on others, your brand also shines.


Tanya Geisler, a women’s leadership coach and impostor complex expert, is one of the kindest people I know. But she’s also one of the kindest marketers I know.

Tanya’s first thought is always to spotlight others. So much so that when she wanted to develop a weekly live podcast, she named it “In The Spotlight With Tanya Geisler.” She talks to both influencers and clients about how they approach life in the spotlight, what holds them back from taking on a bigger role, and how they’re working to fulfill their personal missions. She regularly recognizes and amplifies their brilliance — and, in doing so, amplifies her own.

At CoCommercial, we take a similar approach. In keeping with our value for distributed expertise as I mentioned earlier, we highlight the stories of our members in weekly “I Am The New Economy” Member Features and use these same profiles throughout social media to earn attention from new potential members. We also crowdsource in-depth articles and workshops like this one on how Seth Godin (but really our members) taught me the importance of Constructive Encouragement.

Your turn: How can you shine a light on others?

4. Focus

Focused marketing is imbued with purpose. It is driven by your Why and executed with intention. We respect Focus because it gives us context and a sense of stability. Visibility emerges from Focus slowly but powerfully. Without Focus, earning sustainable attention is nearly impossible.


Communication Rebel founder Dr. Michelle Mazur is extremely focused on her audience. She knows they want to earn more paid speaking gigs and reach bigger audiences with their unique messages. Everything she does to market her business is based on their questions, challenges, and misconceptions about how to do just that.

She hosts a podcast called Rebel Speaker that addresses her audience’s hot topics little bit by little bit. She also does regular Facebook Live videos that take advantage of that same knowledge. Whenever she puts her brand in the spotlight, it’s with the same intense Focus that’s earned her higher and higher coaching fees over the last 3 years and kept her practice full.


Similarly, Budget Nerd founder Mark Butler is so focused that his marketing is almost entirely internal. He doesn’t feel the need to be plastering his message all over social media or even regularly blogging. He knows what his target client needs, what they want, and how to deliver it to them in a way that generates new clients. Word of mouth marketing from his existing clients drives the engine.

It’s easy to think that more, more, more is the answer to all of your marketing questions but Focus allows you to truly focus on less-but-better.

Your turn: What message are you willing to stick with for the long haul?

5. Enthusiasm

Dacher Keltner’s research on power makes one thing clear: enthusiasm is the #1 predictor of who receives influence and power in a group. It’s the same with your business. If you allow your brand to be ecstatically enthusiastic about what it’s all about, people will pay attention.

My husband always says, “I love to listen to anyone geek out about something they love.” Let that be a lesson for the way you market your business. Geek out, go on a rant, rave with excitement, follow an idea down the rabbit hole.

Pay attention to when your Enthusiasm makes you shine. Pay attention to when it makes your brand and business shine. Recreate that light as often as possible.


Sue B. Zimmerman, Instagram expert and social media educator, has an infectious personality. Her enthusiasm for marketing small businesses seems to know no bounds! She seamlessly channels that into Instagram, live video, and live events — and her audience has grown massively because of it.


Amanda Steinberg, founder & CEO of DailyWorth and WorthFM, has a fierce Enthusiasm driven by her mission to help women manage their money better. She’s relentless in her pursuit of learning, transformation, and better ways for engaging women on the topic of money. She’s used her Enthusiasm to find funding, break into the “boys’ club” of the financial world, amass over a million subscribers, and nurture relationships with major influencers.


L’Erin Alta, a spiritual guide for women in transition, has a soulful Enthusiasm. If you watch one of her videos or attend one of her events, you can’t help but be transfixed by her presence. L’Erin is conscious of her own power of Enthusiasm and channels that into soulful writing, a podcast, and videos that show her at her best. Her marketing is a beautiful blend of the authentic and strategic.

We’re enthusiastic at CoCommercial, too. We’re passionate about transforming today’s small business owners into tomorrow’s economic powerhouses. We have a vision for influencing public policy to better support freelancers, small business owners, and the self-employed. I talk about this mission as often as possible — though, possibly, not often enough — and, every time I do, we receive amazing comments, new referrals, and fresh perspectives inside our network.

Your turn: What message makes you shine?

It’s not the platform, the tactic, the frequency, or even the production value of the marketing you use that determines your success. Any “strategy” that starts there is bound to fail.

To put your brand & business in the spotlight, your strategy needs to start with authenticity grounded in openness, kindness, focus, perspective, and enthusiasm. Look back over the 5 questions I posed with each method and allow yourself to get creative about how you or your brand could show up and embody those qualities.

There is no right way to market your business, earn attention for your brand, or find the spotlight for your message.

There is only your way.

How To Know When It’s Time To Quit A Project, Goal, Or Business

“The real workout starts when you want to stop.”

That’s what Meghan Takacs, a personal trainer for Aaptiv, says in my ear several times a week while I’m working out in the morning.

When I started running earlier this year, the idea of sticking with it for more than 2 or 3 minutes at a time seemed impossible. But quickly, my level of fitness improved so that 2 or 3 minutes seemed easy. Four or 5 minutes seemed challenging but totally doable.

When I past 5 minutes, something else started to kick in: my brain. My brain told me that I was bored. My brain told me I was tired. My brain told me my heart rate was too high, my ankles were too sore, or my hips were too tight.

I would quit — not because I needed to, but because I wanted to.

“The real workout starts when you want to stop.”

As every runner will tell you, it’s not becoming more fit that’s hard. What’s hard is training your brain to shut up and let you run.

Over the last 9 months, I’ve surpassed running for 10 minutes straight, then 20 minutes straight, and — just this week — I hit 30 minutes straight. When the workout was finished, I still had more run left in me.

As I’ve progressed, I’ve learned that the 10 minute mark is my do or die moment. I’m good to go for the first 4 minutes. At that point, I start thinking, “I don’t have to make it the whole way. It’ll be okay if I take a break.” The mental chatter gets louder and louder until it peaks around 10 minutes.

I just have to keep it together until then, one foot in front of the other. Once I’m past 10 minutes, the chatter quickly dies down, my muscles relax, and I start enjoying the run.

“The work starts when you want to stop.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about commitment and small business lately. My workout this morning reminded me of a common question I receive when I talk about “sticking with 1 thing” in your business:

How do I know when it’s actually time to quit?

The final time Meg said, “The workout starts when you want to stop,” this morning, I thought: I’m good for now — but what if I really should stop another time? How do I know?

Injury or illness could mean I need to stop pushing, stop telling my brain to take a chill pill, and stop putting one foot in front of the other in the future. So how do I know when to stop?

With our bodies, as with our businesses, short of a compound fracture or an empty bank account, there is no definitive time to stop. There are only degrees of risk you are able to tolerate and varying signals you are listening to.Ultimately, it’s an educated guess as to when it’s the right time to stop.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Nathan Barry, the founder of ConvertKit, about how he decided to stick with building his new software company — even when it seemed obvious that it was a failure. Hiten Shah told him that it was time to shut it down or decide to give it the time and attention it needed to succeed.

Nathan faced a crisis: stick with it or quit.

Ultimately, Nathan stuck with it and ConvertKit has grown into a darling of the bootstrapped SaaS industry. However, the method he used for getting to that point could help you decide if it is, indeed, time to quit.

He told me he asked himself 2 questions about his fledgling company:

Do I still want to be the CEO of a SaaS company as much as when I started down this path?

Have I given this company every possible chance to succeed?

Who you want to be matters as much (or more) as what you want to achieve.

Nathan’s first question might not, on the surface, seem relevant to your situation but the purpose of this question is to remind you that your actions transform you. Ideally, your actions transform you into the person you want to be.

Too often, business owners start down a path because of what they want to achieve (earning $100,000 per year, selling out their program, writing a book) and don’t consider how those actions will fundamentally change their identity. The problem with this is that you might realize, on the path to those goals, that you don’t want to become what those goals require of you.

I run because I want to be a powerful performer with endurance for miles — not simply to lose weight or win races. Those might be wonderful side effects — but my purpose is to become the person I want to be. I am in business to become an advocate for the New Economy and the independent workers who are creating it — not simply to make money or even build a great product. Again, wonderful side effects but not my core purpose.

If you’re considering quitting a project, giving up on a goal, or changing course in your business, consider whether you want to become the person that project, goal, or business requires you to become.

If you don’t want to be that person, quit now.

If you do, ask yourself what else you need to do to fully become that person?For instance, I realized that running wasn’t enough to become the powerful performer I wanted to be. I needed to add strength training, yoga, and climbing into my workout routines. Each of those actions make it easier to put one foot in front of the other when I am running.

You can quit when you’re truly out of options.

Assuming you do want to become the person you need to be to achieve your goals, the next step is to consider what other options are on the table.

At this point in our lives, we have a usual bag of tricks. We know what’s worked in the past and our first instinct is to go back to that over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But our usual bag of tricks will not solve every problem. It is not full of every option at our disposal.

With running, my usual bag of tricks only included stopping to walk for awhile. Eventually, I learned that interval training helped keep me interested in the workout. Finally, I added rhythmic breathing, targeted muscle relaxation, arm positioning, foot strike positioning, and more to my bag of tricks. Now when I’m sore, tired, or bored, I know exactly what to do to keep going.

Before you quit a project, goal, or direction for your business, you owe it to yourself and your mission to search out new options. Try something different (again and again and again). Talk to people with a completely different perspective, experience, background, and bag of tricks from yours.

The options you’re accustomed to using aren’t the only options available. New options might be uncomfortable but they just might get the job done.

Quitting is smart.

I’m the first to admit that knowing when to quit is one of the secrets of my own success. More often than not, I’ve realized that I don’t want what I thought I wanted — that achieving the goal means becoming someone I don’t want to become.

Quitting is a smart, acceptable course of action — but not until you’ve gotten very clear about why you’re quitting and what that means for your next steps. It takes work to figure that out and, when you do, you have more clarity about where you’re headed than you ever have before. Each time you quit is a chance to do the work of figuring out what’s next.

After all, the real work starts when you want to quit — even if you decide that’s the best thing to do.

How To Use Other People’s Ideas for Fun & Profit (Without Copying)

Joanna Wiebe on marketing her new content marketing and writing app, Airstory

The more you learn about copywriting (or sales and marketing in general) the more you realize that half of your job is using other people’s ideas.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating for copying other people’s work.

Is that clear?

Okay… what I mean is that…

Business is always a process of identifying what works and creating from that knowledge.

Copywriters do this by paying attention to what really grabs their attention, turning that into a formula, and then creating completely original content on top of that formula.

Now, copywriting is a particular passion of mine. I love learning about how it works and I love the way it trains me to think differently.

And when I think copywriting, I think Joanna Wiebe from Copy Hackers.

I had the chance to talk to Joanna about her approach to marketing a brand new project that Copy Hackers has been working on, Airstory.

When I asked her how she was approaching the marketing for Airstory–which Joanna describes as what would happen if Google Docs & Evernote had a baby and let Trello raise it–she said she was really inspired by a marketing campaign that Blue Bottle Coffee had come up with.

They decided they wanted to use the idea too.

Blue Bottle had created a beautiful video “course” on Skillshare that explained the process of brewing exceptional coffee from start to finish. As Joanna told me, the result of watching it was that you couldn’t think about coffee the same way again.

In order for her to use the idea… 

Joanna needed to reverse engineer it.

Her goal is to get people to rethink the way they’ve always done a frequent task: content marketing specifically and writing generally.

After all, that’s what Blue Bottle did. It’s not really about the videos, it’s not really about putting it on Skillshare. The really important part is to understand the mechanism that made that campaign go viral: rethinking the way you do a daily task.

Further, Joanna told me, the real idea is teaching people to be a better consumer of your product so that they’ll only want to choose your product in the future. It’ll be the only one that now meets their standards.

Once she knew that, she could approach marketing Airstory with the “how and what” of the Blue Bottle campaign but with her core goal being to create better writers instead of better coffee brewers.

The videos and distribution channel for the marketing campaign became what I call the “building blocks” of her marketing. But her own product, brand, and customer perspective become what the building blocks are made out of.

You can do the same thing with any successful marketing or sales assets.

What’s more: you should.

I teach our Quiet Power Strategy clients to start looking at every sales page that catches their eye or every email that moves them to click as an opportunity to create a template.

That template is inevitably made up of building blocks that you can use if you only sub in what’s particular to your product, brand, and customer perspective.

Take this blog post, for instance!

  • The first building block (at the beginning) is a shocking or counterintuitive statement that seems to go against cultural norms.
  • The second building block (the bulk of the email) is an explanation of this idea referencing a conversation, in this case, one I had with a successful business owner.
  • The third building block (what you’re reading right now) is a call to action around how to apply this to work for you.
  • The fourth building block (it’s coming, read on!) is a final call to action to check out the whole conversation.

So what are you waiting for?

Listen to Joanna explain this whole process–plus how she interviews prospects to come up with product ideas and how she’s built out two teams to support both the training side of the business and the software side of the business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Emily tapped into a key strategy for product design.

She says: 

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

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

Emily had the opposite approach.  

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

It wasn’t luck. 

It was a process. 

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

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

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

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

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

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