Vanessa Van Edwards on Profit. Power. Pursuit.

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During the 2014 Pioneer Nation conference, I had coffee with my friend and Profit. Power. Pursuit. guest Kari Chapin. Kari started raving about this woman who could read body language, harness the power of color, and up confidence with power posing.

When we got back to the conference, Kari introduced me to Vanessa Van Edwards. Vanessa is an author, behavioral investigator, and self-proclaimed recovering awkward person.

She decided to study human behavior and the art of interpersonal communication because, as a kid, she was stumped by it. As Chase Jarvis would say, she started her business to scratch her own itch.

Vanessa Van Edwards, founder of Science of People, on Profit. Power. Pursuit. with Tara GentileVanessa’s natural curiosity and analytical approach make her one heck of an entrepreneur. Instead of avoiding what she doesn’t know, she embraces it. She told me:

“When you get to something you don’t know, it means you’re doing something right.”

In fact, she says that if you’re not finding something that makes you say, “Hmmm… I better Google that!” on a weekly basis, you need to push yourself further.

I know how frustrated you get when you don’t understand something about your business, there’s a problem you don’t have a solution for, or you simply missed an important piece of information. I get frustrated with those things, too!

But Vanessa provides a great counterpoint to this. She said business is like a sport. First, you train. Then you start playing in recreational leagues. Then you play JV, Varsity, and continue to move up the ranks.

Entrepreneurship is the same. You can’t expect to go from training to MVP status. You need to work at improving your skills, problem-solving, and imagination every single day to reach the performance level you want to be at.

On the latest episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., I spoke with Vanessa Van Edwards about why independent research is so important to her, the unique ways her business generates revenue, and how she uses the science of people to manage and motivate her team.

Click here to listen on iTunes.

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Check out Vanessa’s CreativeLive classes, Master Your People Skills and The Power of Body Language.


Tara: How do you balance the pursuit of art and ideas with the pursuit of profit? That’s the fundamental question we tackle on Profit. Power. Pursuit. I’m Tara Gentile, your host, and together with CreativeLive, we explore the unique strategies that creative entrepreneurs use to take control of their lives, profit from their passion, and pursue greatness.

Today’s guest is my friend and mastermind buddy, Vanessa Van Edwards, an author, a behavioral investigator, and self-proclaimed recovering awkward person. She’s a professional people-watcher, speaking, researching, and cracking the code of interesting human behavior for audiences around the world. Vanessa’s groundbreaking workshops and courses teach individuals how to succeed in business and life by understanding the hidden dynamics of people. Vanessa and I talked about how she approaches figuring out people the way she figures out math problems, the profile she uses to better understand her team and he customers, and the weirdest experiment she’s ever conducted.

Vanessa Van Edwards, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. Thank you so much for joining me.

Vanessa: Thank you. You know, I love alliteration, so this podcast is already off to a good start.

Tara: Yes, we had a very alliterative episode the other day. But I’d love to start off by talking about why you got into studying the science of people to begin with. You shared this at a talk at Pioneer Nation a couple of months ago that I was at, and I would just love for you to share that with our listeners as well, and just tell us why this topic interests you so much.

Vanessa: Sure. So I like to joke that I’m a recovering awkward person, and people skills just did not come very naturally to me. I was the kind of kid who would sit in at recess and beg the teacher to let me like clean the whiteboard so I didn’t have to go out to recess, and that’s … I just didn’t … I didn’t understand conversation nor how people worked. I was constantly confused by friendships, and so, finally, in college, I was arguing with a professor over a group project, and we were having this debate back and forth, and I was like, “I’ll write 20 more pages if I don’t have to work with a group.”

Tara: (Laughing) Oh, my word. Been there, done that.

Vanessa: And he looked … Oh, yeah. Yeah. And he, and I was like, you know, he looked at me, he said, “Vanessa, this paper is not about the writing skills, it’s about the people skills.” And I looked at him, just totally perplexed, and he said, “You know what? Let me give you a couple books.” He knew that I was like very kind of book oriented, that I liked formulas and chemistry and I liked to understand why in black and white, and he’s like, “I want you to study people like it’s a math problem.” And so he gave me, you know, a couple sociology books, an anthropology textbook, a bunch of psychology books, and he’s like, “I want you to study people like they’re a subject, like I’m going to test you on it,” and so I took all the books, and I’m not joking,Tara, this is horrible, but I would make like flashcards for conversation starters, and I would carry them around with me in my purse. I mean, I was like … I studied it. That’s just how I learned, and finally, I realized that actually, focusing on my people skills, my relationships, my communication was far more important than anything else I could have learned in school, and that’s what led me to start the blog.

Tara: Wow. That is … that’s incredible, and I think if anything, you know, it’s … of course, it’s an amazing story, and it’s an amazing genesis to your business, but it’s also like a really good lesson in how you can apply your natural curiosity to whatever it is that you need to learn next, and I think for so many of our listeners, it’s business that they need to learn next, and they don’t necessarily know how to apply what their strengths are, what their natural curiosity is to making strides ahead in their business. Have you approached your business kind of in a similar way?

Vanessa: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting that you say that, because I think that the, you know, for me, it was a total lightbulb when my professor said to me, “Study it like you would study for a math problem or a math test,” and you say, you just said that with business, it’s the same way. I think that a lot of us, we get into business, and you know, for me, I started my blog, started to, I don’t know, even keep the books or you know, hire my first employee, and instead of saying, “Oh, okay, I’m going to go study this like a math problem, like I would have in school,” I’m like, “I should know this.”

Tara: Hmm.

Vanessa: I should just know this, but of course, we don’t know it, and so we almost feel embarrassed having to study something from the starts without school, and that’s exactly what business is. It’s studying something without the structure of school, even though you need to study it like school.

Tara: Yeah, that is such a good point, because I find people get really caught up in that learning curve. Like if there’s a learning curve, then that must not mean that this is the right thing for them. Like come on.

Vanessa: Yeah.

Tara: We’ve been in the middle of learning curves our whole life, and it just so happens that you’re at the beginning of this one, and you just need to push through a little bit harder, and I think, you know, for you, it’s approaching it like a math problem. For me, I think it’s very much like approaching it like the study of religion, right? Like I want to figure out why people believe the things they do and act the way they do, and maybe for some other people, it’s approaching business like a piece of art, and how are you going to build that, build your art to, and also build your business at the same time in the same kind of way, so I love that you’re really talking about this in terms of what your natural strengths and your natural way of following your curiosity is.

Vanessa: And also, it’s you’re okay to now know. Right?

Tara: Mm-hmm.

Vanessa: Like, it’s … there’s going to be different points, and I had these all the time, constantly, still have them. Had, there’s nothing past tense. I have these all the time where I’m like I literally don’t know what I’m doing, and that is okay. For a long time, I beat myself up over that. Like the idea of being a newbie or not knowing actually made me feel ashamed. Like I was a bad business owner, or that I was behind everyone else, when if you … when you get something that you don’t know, it means you’re doing something right.

Tara: Mm, that is a great takeaway. Yes.

Vanessa: Like that means you’re challenging yourself. That means you’re trying something different. That means you’re growing. So if you don’t have something on a weekly, I’ll say weekly basis, where you’re like, “Hmm, I better Google that, I better call someone, or I better listen to a podcast on this,” that means you are doing something right.

Tara: Yes. Abso-fricking-lutely. You know, and I think that we forget that, you know, the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who are, you know, who have business that are valued in the billions of dollars are doing exactly the same thing. They’re running up against things that they don’t know, either, and they’re figuring those things out, and that kind of, to me, that brings me to what’s become a common thing on this podcast, which is the imposter complex, and sort of that inner critic voice, and I think that what often separates a business owner that stays kind of stuck or stays in that cycle of fear around what they don’t know versus someone who finds success kind of figuring things out as they go is their ability to reprogram their imposter complex or face their inner critic in some way. How do you do that on a daily basis?

Vanessa: Whoo, that’s so hard. I think that there was a mentality that I was introduced to a few years ago, and ever since then, it’s been a lot easier to deal with my inner imposter syndrome, and it was that your business is like a sport. Right? Like you’re playing a sport, and I am not a sports person, so like my sports analogies go really shallow, but I think you can probably follow me on this. So basically, but like you’re playing a sport, right? And at the very beginning, just like in a sport, you’re in training, and then when you start to get good, you start to hit your stride, you get on the JV team, and you’re playing JV, and slowly, like, you get to be a starter, you get to be a good player. Maybe eventually, you’re MVP, you’re the top of your JV game, and then you make the next leap to varsity, and I think that when I started to realize that like that is exactly how it goes, like you cannot jump from like pre-training all the way to varsity MVP, so when I get to a place where I’m like, “Wow, I’m really sucky at this, like this is not going well.” I open up a newsletter to see my analytics on my open rates and my click rates, and I’m like whoo, those are a lot of archives, right? Like, I did not like my open rate on that email. I’m like all right, like I am still playing JV on this. I do not understand email marketing as well as I could, and I know that that’s part of JV. I know I’m not varsity on it, yet, and so it’s almost like accepting the level that you’re at that helps me not get so angry at myself that I’m not playing varsity MVP.

Tara: Hmm, I like that. So your training and the articles that you share on your site are a great mix of research that’s done by others and research that you’ve done yourself, which I think could, might be kind of scary for people. The idea that, you know, we’re curating so much content and we’re sharing so many other people’s findings, but we don’t see a ton of people generating research or analysis for themselves. Why is it important to you to do your own research to contribute something new to the conversation?

Vanessa: Yeah. Can I tell you something really geeky?

Tara: Yeah.

Vanessa: Okay, so I think it’s really important to, at the very beginning, not do your own research, unless you are brave enough to do that. I was not. So in the very beginning, this is so geeky, I did not know my own voice. I did not know how to write sounding like myself, I did not know how to speak sounding like myself, so what I would do is I would memorize TED talks. Like TED talks are about 18 minutes, so I would memorize them, like down to the word, down to the hand gesture, down to how they move their body on stage, and then I would film myself regiving their TED talk in exactly the same way, manner, and style, and I wouldn’t post it anywhere, but I would do it to see if it felt like me or not.

Tara: Wow.

Vanessa: Which is like a crazy, crazy thing. That’s just how I learn, and I would watch myself giving a talk. Like Simon Sinek, you know, and his exact mannerisms, the exact way he holds his hands, the exact way he wrote on the board, and that’s how I figured out what felt good to me, so there was talks that I would do and be like, “Oh, man, this is great, but it doesn’t feel like me.” Or there was like a small section of a talk, maybe the first, you know, the middle seven minutes of Brene Brown’s talk, where I was like, “We’re getting close,” and I would look at what those were, and I would very, very slowly, I started to figure out what felt really good so I could have my own voice, and so I think that I want to honor the people who’ve done research before me, but doing my own original research, now I have a lab, is finally about finding my voice, and that’s why I think it’s so important for people to, yeah, definitely, curate the best content, quote other people, use other people’s photos, but eventually, know that you’re going to take your own photos and you’re going to make your own quotes and you’re going to write your own articles, and for me, that’s like a graduation. Like that feels like a huge success after many, many years of watching the greats and feeling like maybe, maybe I could try to make something myself, and that’s why I like to do our own lab experiments.

Tara: Nice. So can you tell me how you go about setting up experiments? How do you decide what you’re going to test next?

Vanessa: Yeah, so I love puzzles. I love looking at things that I can’t quite figure out or things that don’t make sense. Like I feel like when I’m eating at a restaurant or my poor friends, when they sit out to dinner with me, I’m always kind of trying to think of puzzles, and I usually will set up experiments based on those puzzles. So for example, I watch TED talks every day at lunch, speaking of TED talks, and I was sitting there one day searching on the TED website, and I was searching for leadership. So I typed in leadership in the little search bar on, and up popped two talks. Both from the same month of the same year, September 2009, with almost the same title. And I looked at these two talks, and I’m like, “What’s the difference?” One of them had over 20 million views, and one of them had less than 40,000. And these were talks that came out in the same time, same topic, I watched both of them, they were both awesome, and they were both by people who were not famous before their TED talks. So one was Simon Sinek’s, and the other one was another really well-known author, but still same kind of level as Simon was when he first put out his TED talk, and I was like why? Why is it that one of these talks went viral when they’re both great, and one didn’t? That was the very kernel of one of the first big experiments we ran where we coded thousands of hours of TED talks looking for patterns, and we found that there were five different patterns between the top TED talks and the bottom TED talks, and that’s exactly how we were able to do our first research experiment.

Tara: Wow. Can you share?

Vanessa: Yeah. Sure. Yeah.

Tara: What those results were?

Vanessa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re shockingly easy. They’re so predictable that we can watch the first seven seconds of a TED talk and tell you if that talk is most likely to go viral or not. That’s how specific they are.

Tara: That’s incredible.

Vanessa: Yeah, so you know … you know … Something in your body … Like if you watched a lot of TED talks, you … in the first seven seconds, you get this feeling like, “Ooof, this is going to be a good one,” and one of those things is the top TED talkers use an average of 465 hand gestures in 18 minutes. That’s a lot of hand gestures. That’s a lot of hand gestures. And we painstakingly, my poor researchers, I love them, I love you guys if you’re listening, they painstakingly counted every single hand gesture in all these talks. The bottom TED talks, the least popular TED talks have an average of 272 hand gestures in 18 minutes, so that’s almost half. That is because our hands are our intention and our explanation, so when we have hand gestures moving along with our words, our retention goes up, entertainment goes up, our excitement goes up, our trust goes up. So that’s a super easy simple thing, but just having hand gestures or explanatory hand gestures helps with, you know, the virality of your videos.

So that’s one. Smiling was one. Certain kinds of smiling. Vocal charisma. Your first impression, so your first 4 to 7 seconds, and your non-verbal. Those were the biggest markers of the most popular TED talks.

Tara: Fascinating. I love what you do.

Vanessa: It’s easy.

Tara: Yeah. Can you tell me about the weirdest experiment you’ve ever conducted in your business?

Vanessa: Yeah, I can. So I had this idea, it’s so dumb. Okay, I had this idea that people’s smell, like the way people smell, really, more than we think, affects how people are attracted to you or not, and I figured this out. This is very weird, but when I’m on a trail, I hike six days a week in Portland, I live right on the forest in Portland, and I noticed that I would be like hiking and someone would run by me or I’d run by them, and like, you’d like smell like a giant whiff of their like kind of testosterone pheremony cloud, and sometimes, I was like, “Ugh, horrible, get deodorant,” and other times, I was like, “Mmm,” ridiculous. And I was like, “I wonder what it means.” And I thought to myself, you know, I did some research online, I always do research on Google Scholar just to start off our experiments to see what existing research is out there, and I found some existing studies that said that men always prefer the smell of food, always. And so I’m like, well, if I rub myself with like different kinds of food, will that make people like me more? And so I decided to do exactly that. This is just me, I did not make any of my researchers do this, although I’m sure that they would be down. They’re adventurous.

So I did. I took three different kinds of things. I did popcorn, popped popcorn. So I took the inside of a bag of popcorn, and I rubbed it on my, nothing weird, on my wrists, the inner parts of my wrists and my neck. Like your pulse points where you put perfume. And then I did just regular perfume, then I did cookie do, because what guy doesn’t like cookie dough? And then I did something like I think mint, like mint leaves. Yeah. And you know what? I know this is crazy, but man did those guys like the popcorn one.

Tara: Well, since my man loves popcorn, that does not surprise me in the least.

Vanessa: I cannot even tell you, and I did this a couple different times. It was very anecdotal. Like I took notes of how many people approached me, how many people mentioned it. When I was wearing that popcorn scent, guys were like, “Wow, wow…” This … They didn’t know it was me. So they did not know it was me, right. They didn’t assume that that smell came from me, but they were like, “Wow, it smells so good.” And I’d be like, “Oh, I think it’s my perfume.” Like I would say, “I think it’s my perfume,” and I’d give them my wrist, and they’d be like, “Man, what is that,” and I’m like, “Oh, it’s a new scent I’m working on.” So it got so many comments.

Now, I don’t still wear popcorn when I go out usually, unless I really have nothing else to wear, but that’s one of the weirdest experiments I’ve ever done.

Tara: Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Elizabeth and I are practically in tears.

Vanessa: Do you want me to share a more helpful one? Because that’s not very helpful, but that’s …

Tara: Sure.

Vanessa: That’s … Like the TED talk one is probably the most … The most useful one, but you know what, if you ever want to try out different scents, I highly recommend it, because scent is an under looked aspect of the brand experience, and I will also tell you that I have tried out different scents in waiting rooms and in my car, and that also affects buying behavior, so think very carefully. If you have a waiting room or if you have a gallery or if you are … think very carefully about the scents that you have.

Tara: Fascinating. Actually, I was going to ask next if you could tell me about some research or an experiment that you’ve done that then you’ve applied to your online presence in some way. Your social media, your website, your branding, anything like that.

Vanessa: Yeah, there’s a lot of them, so one of them we did was on pictures. So you know, because I have such a strong digital presence, I know that, you know, my pictures … My pictures are often my digital first impression, and I know that first impressions are incredibly important, so everything from my LinkedIn picture to the headshot on my website to my Facebook picture to things that are on my brochures or on my emails, like my little Gmail avatar, I know that those are really important. So we ran an experiment where we looked at the difference between popular faces and least popular faces, and we found that, you can actually, we still have this one up if you want to play in our lab. If you go on, and we … I won’t tell you which ones they are, but if you … We had people go into our lab, and we had three different women and three different men. One of the women had 100 followers on Twitter, one of the women had 1000 followers on Twitter, and one of the women had 10,000 followers on Twitter, and same with the men, and we mixed them up, and we asked people, “Who’s the most popular?” Now remember, they have no … Nothing but their picture. No handle, no nothing. And the majority of the time, over 70% of the time, people are accurately able to pick the most popular person.

Tara: Wow.

Vanessa: And we specifically picked people who were the same level of attractiveness. So they ranked on the same, they were all … I don’t want to say what they were, because I don’t want to offend anyone if they’re listening, but they were all the same number. They got the same attractiveness rating. So it’s not about attractiveness, and we realized there was very specific patterns of profile pictures where people think of that person as likable, as trustworthy, and so we used all of those rules in all of our pictures.

Tara: Fascinating. I’m going to totally go check that out when we’re done with this.

Vanessa: Yes.

Tara: All right. Let’s shift gears to money now, because Profit is an important part of our equation here. Can you tell me just what are all the different ways that your business is currently generating revenue?

Vanessa: Sure. So we have business side of our business and a consumer side of our business, so on the business side, we do corporate consulting, so I go out and do corporate trainings and workshops. Then we also do, I do spokesperson work. So I’ll go on like a … I’m the spokesperson for Dove right now. I was … I’ve been working … I’ve worked for American Express, Clean&Clear, where we do like media tours for them, and then we also … I have group of about 52 trainers who do consulting for us. So I’ve licensed them to teach my materials. We book them in Germany. We have them in about twelve different countries. I book them, we get a request in Germany, I send them out in Germany, and we get a rev share on their payment, so that’s the business, the corporate side of the business. And then the consumer side is we have online courses and books. That’s the only way that we generate income from our consumer side business. We don’t do online advertising. We found that was a very ineffective way of generating income, so yeah, just books and courses. And we also don’t do consulting and coaching for consumers.

Tara: Awesome. So a lot of the things that you’ve talked about so far in terms of doing your own research sound really expensive to me, so how do you balance creating profit with reinvesting in your business?

Vanessa: Yeah, you know, we’ve actually found pretty easy ways, surprisingly inexpensive ways to do the research. First of all, we have a huge database of people, right, so we’re able to use, leverage the power of numbers. We’re able to set up very basic experiments. Like I think that we, yeah, we use a service called [Pro Profs] which is like a survey, kind of like a Survey Monkey kind of a thing. They do bigger quizzes and things, so that’s $30 a month.

Tara: Oh, wow.

Vanessa: So we set up one, yeah, real cheap, we set up one quiz on there and we send it out to $60,000 people. That’s a pretty cheap way to do an experiment.

Tara: Yeah.

Vanessa: Really easy. And then of course, you know, our InfusionSoft monthly, but actually, you can absolutely do your research in very inexpensive MVP kind of ways. Minimum Viable Product kind of ways.

Tara: So then what kind of things are you kind of investing in for your business right now?

Vanessa: Yeah, so for so long, let’s see, I started my business eight years ago. It was like so bootstrapped that there was no idea of reinvesting. The only thing I could put in my business was time. Sweat equity. And then about three or four years ago, we started to realize, okay, like we have some money to play with. So that’s when I first started bringing on new team members. Bringing on, like hiring, like getting softwares that worked for us, so we just switched from a smaller email provider. We were using Aweber, and now we’re using Infusionsoft. Trying to do a little bit more advertising. We don’t do a ton, but experimenting on Facebook advertising. And the biggest thing is, the biggest investment is building the team.

Tara: Mmhmm.

Vanessa: Is trying to get the right people to help me in the right areas, because the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

Tara: Yes, absolutely.

Vanessa: So, yeah, like if I’m not good at it, I should not be doing it. I should be hiring someone who’s really, really good at it, and trying to find teammates who are … Specialize in things that I’m not good at. So for example, one of my teammates, Danielle, she is extremely good at visual things. She’s really good at like making images with headlines. She’s great at making pdfs, and so instead of me even trying, now I just send her Word documents, and I’m like, “Can you just make this a beautiful PDF?” We call it do magic on or do post magic on it, and so she’ll go crazy, and she loves it, right? So for her, not only is she better at it, but it’s actually fun for her. So the biggest reinvesting is paying for people’s hours and talents in areas that I don’t have those talents.

Tara: Nice. So can you detail for us what your team looks like right now?

Vanessa: Yeah, sure. So we … So Danielle and Hailey are my longest teammates, and Danielle does, she runs our blog, she helps me with the corporate side of our business, with our trainer program, so as I mentioned, we have 52 trainers. She helps teach them, manage them, get them work. And then Hailey does all of our social media and community management, so she is … mans my Twitter, mans my Facebook, helps with Buffer posts. We have a big, robust set of forums on our website beyond just the comments, so she goes and she responds in forums, makes sure everyone’s good, posts helpful links, answers all of our support, she does a lot of our support messages that come in. We get a couple hundred emails a day, so she helps with all that. And then the rest of our team help with the research. So Jose, Robbie, and one of our interns, Adam, they all help with my research, so right now, we’re working on a couple really fun experiments. One is … Well, I won’t even give it away, yet. We’re working on some really cool experiments right now, and so they help me code and pull all that data together.

Tara: Nice. And what kind of Science of People mojo knowledge do you use in motivating and managing your team members?

Vanessa: I wish … I wish I had a really good answer to this, because I should. You know, because I should. I think the hardest part about managing a team … Well, first, it’s giving away control, right? Like knowing that … And that was the scariest part about bringing on a team member is worrying that, you know, you’re … you’re not … it’s not going to be authentic if it doesn’t sound like you or if it’s not you doing it, or truly trusting someone with your baby, and your business in a weird way it is your baby. Even every blog post is kind of like a baby, right?

Tara: Oh, yeah.

Vanessa: And I especially found in the beginning when I was first starting my writing, I was very boring. I sounded like everyone else. Especially sciency, and it was extremely dry and black and white, and I realized that I was bored reading my own posts, and so I realized that I had to start adding my own voice to it, and I had to start knowing that I wasn’t going to please everyone. I think it’s the same thing with managing a team is not everyone is going to like the same things you are. Not everyone is going to respond or communicate the same way you are, and so I try to apply what I call the Platinum Rule. So you know the Golden Rule?

Tara: Mm-hmm.

Vanessa: Everyone, you know, treat others the way you would like to be treated. I like the Golden Rule, I don’t love the Golden Rule. I much prefer the Platinum Rule when it comes to team members, and the Platinum Rule says treat others as they would treat themselves. So I think that it’s really exciting to look at each of my team member’s personalities, strengths, talents. I think I’ve had them test themselves on it. I know all their top five personality traits, and we can talk about that if you want. Their intelligences, their talents, and I try to only give them things that I know that will come naturally to them and they will really like.

Tara: Yeah.

Vanessa: And that way, I’m treating them as they would like to be treated, not as I would like to treat them or as I would like to be treated.

Tara: Yeah, and it sounds like that’s a really, really good way for you to then weave the team together, even if they’re virtual, or even if, you know, they’re working on really disparate projects, they really feel like you’ve got their best interest in mind.

Vanessa: Yeah, so the … What’s cool about sort of communication and being virtual, as you just mentioned, is so the five personality traits, very basically, are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. And so those all dictate how someone wants to be spoken to, how much they want to be tapped into. For example, conscientiousness, that’s people who are high in conscientiousness love to do lists, routines, they love color coding, they love alphabetizing. If I say those words and that kind of turns you on a little bit, that means you’re high conscientious. Low conscientious, you like flexibility, you like creativity, you like big ideas, broad strokes. You like thinking really big. And so what happens is if you have someone who is high conscientious on your team, and they email a team member a big schedule and to do list, they love, they spent hours putting it together, and they send it over and they’re like, “Hey, here’s the content calendar for the next four weeks, I’ve color coded it based on topic and I’ve outlined each social media channel in columns G, H, and I.” A high conscientious person would love that. Would love getting it and would love sending it. Whereas a low conscientious person gets that and feels like they’re being boxed in. They feel like they’re being told what to do. They have no flexibility, no creativity, and their work happiness drops tremendously.

So that in itself, knowing that some of my teammates really like big ideas, they don’t like long, bulleted lists, versus my teammates who love to chat on the phone versus you know, it’s really important to know what your team, what your spouse, what your colleagues, what your customers personality traits are so you can match them, and I do the same exact thing, by the way, with my customers.

Tara: Mmm. Okay, so I want to talk about that in just a second, but I just have to tell you Elizabeth was so excited about the color coded content calendar, and I, as a very low conscientiousness person, apparently, was like, “No, you can keep that to yourself, thank you.” Which my team members know to do. They make the charts, and then they post them so that technically, I could look at them if I wanted to, but they know that I don’t.

Vanessa: So that is perfect, right? Like the two of you in this room, like you can get along so well with someone who’s the opposite personality style, and that’s okay, it just means you have to approach each other differently, and I want us to accept those differences, as opposed to begrudge our colleagues for those differences.

Tara: Yes, absolutely, and I think you know I’m a huge fan of the Fascination Advantage system, and that’s what we use in my business to kind of … at least to better understand where people are coming from and how they can contribute value to the team, and it’s the same thing. I look for people who do not have the same profile as me, although, interestingly, my now sort of second-in-command person has a twin archetype to mine, but what that does is allow her to really kind of step in for me, which is great, because then I don’t have to make all the decisions.

But enough about me. I want to hear one what is this, what’s the test that you’re using, because I love these things, and two, how are you doing this with your customers?

Vanessa: Yeah, sure. So we actually have it for free on our website. It’s called The Big Five. It’s a 44 question, really fast kind of inventory, and we say it will take you no time at all if you’re not lying to yourself, because you know, because sometimes, what we wish we were is not what we actually are. Like I will say, without any judgement of myself, this has taken me a long time to be able to say it, I am a high neurotic, and that’s okay. And so what … Sometimes what you wish you are, you aren’t always, and that’s okay, so it’s, if you go to, it’s a free quiz on there, and what I do, and I really highly recommend you do this, and I can walk through what it’s like for my business is I sat down with this personality test, I did it for myself, and then I actually had my husband and my best friend take it as me.

Tara: Mmm.

Vanessa: To check myself, and that was, by the way, like a total mind … I can’t use that word, mind blowup …

Tara: You wouldn’t be the first person.

Vanessa: Okay, well, I didn’t … I didn’t say it. I was a total mind blowup, because it checks you, right? Like you do what you are, and then my husband and my best friend did it as me, and it’s how they see me, so it was fascinating just that in itself, and I went, “Wow, there’s something really to this.” And so I sat down with my ideal avatar, like my ideal customer, and I have a very specific ideal client, and they’re typically most of our readers. Very high, above-average intelligence, professional go-getters, very successful, very professional. Always demand more of themselves. Typically, are overworked and overwhelmed because they take on too much, and so I knew this person. I was like, “I wonder what this person’s personality traits are,” and so I actually asked a couple of my like best readers to take this test, and sure enough, they were very similar. So high, high open. So openness is how much you like new experiences. So they love, like trying new things, going on big vacations, they have long bucket lists. They have tons of new restaurants, they love going to different places. So I know that they’re high open. So I will write blog posts always challenging and tickling that high open part of their personality. Almost always, I end with a challenge. Whereas if you had a low open ideal avatar, so they love habit, routine, ritual, tradition, you’d be much more likely to try to honor their own habits and traditions, to help them set up their little rituals and their morning habits. That would be much more effective for them, whereas I almost never talk about habit, ritual, and routine on my blog.

Second is I know that most of them are very high conscientious. They love lists, they love having steps, and so you’ll notice that almost all my posts have a one through five, one through ten, checklists, steps, bullets, pdf download checklist, because that’s a … I know that that’s what gets them going in a similar way to me. If you have a low open kind of readership, so much more creative, much more imaginative, you would not want to give them steps and to-do lists. You’d want to give them visualizations. So broad sort of visual graphics of your ideas. Inspirational quotes, photos that demonstrate your concepts. That would much more resonate with a low open reader.

Then I go through the other, I can go through the other three if you want. Do you want me to go through those?

Tara: Sure, yeah, please.

Vanessa: Okay. So and then extraversion. This is how you orient to people. So I know that my readers typically are ambiverts, so they can turn on or off their extraversion. A lot of them need their alone time to recharge and refuel, but if they’re in the right situation, the right, around the right people, they are, they fly. They’re themselves, and so I will typically write posts that speak to that exact thing, where I encourage my readers to always take recharge and refuel time, and say no to the events that aren’t perfect for them, and only say yes to the things that work for them. I’m constantly talking about getting … banning toxic and difficult people from their lives, because ambiverts always say yes to people, just because they think they should, and say yes to things because they feel guilty, and I’m constantly challenging them to, giving them permission to not to that. So if you have an introvert, you’re going to be talking about much more solo activities, journaling, reading, meditating, mindfulness, painting, creating. If you have a lot of extrovert readers, you’re going to be talking about conferences, networking, concerts, meeting with new people. They’re going to orient more towards those kinds of activities.

The last two, neuroticism. So neuroticism is how someone goes to worry. So I am a high neurotic, which means I worry a lot. We tend to think about the worst possible thing that could happen, and then prevent or try to prevent that from happening. We actually have a greater response to negative events. So high neurotics like to know every eventuality. If you’re ever selling a product, you must have 30-day guarantees, you must have lots of social proof, you have to be able to have a really, really good support mechanism, so they can hear from you right away, and a lot of transparency. Whereas low neurotics have much more faith in the system, they have much more trust, they kind of go with the flow, they’re like, “No problem, I’ll see what happens.” They kind of like the mystery, right, so that’s like, “Do you trust me? Click the buy button.” A high neurotic would never click that button. We would archive it and spam that message being like, “Pssh, no way, that person is crazy.” So that’s a very different kind of buying process.

And the last one is agreeableness, and this is how cooperative you are, how much you like working in a team, how easy going you are, and so that one, luckily, whether you are high or low in terms of products and getting along, that’s going to be about if you’re going to have support forums or not. So typically, high agreeable people, they love to comment, they love support forums, they love Facebook groups, they message you a lot. Whereas low agreeable people, you never hear from them. They read avidly. They open all your emails. They click, but they do not like to talk to you. So it’s a very … You know, building your products around your ideal person makes them feel like they are at home with you.

Tara: Mmm, well, I love that, because I just totally like profiled my customer in my head.

Vanessa: Awesome.

Tara: Yeah, which … with … which this is also something that we do as well, because I have all of my clients take the Fascination Advantage test, so that I can do the exact same thing, but with that system instead of this system, but I like having lots of systems, and so I’m looking forward to figuring that all out for myself, but yeah, I just did a quick rundown in my head as you were going along, and I’m really excited about it.

Vanessa: And I,Tara, I can send you, or whoever wants it, I can send you the raw code for the test if you want to embed it in your site, too.

Tara: Oh, cool. Yeah, sweet. Yeah, that would be awesome. So your business, the way you talk about it, the team that you have, the way you pump out content, is extremely mature by a lot of … I think by a lot of entrepreneur’s standards, and I’m wondering if you had this vision for your business when you started off 8 or 9 years ago, I forget what you said, or if this is something, a vision for your business that’s kind of evolved over time.

Vanessa: I actually did have this vision. I know what … what my 30 year vision is, and the reason for that is because my mom took … my mom is a lawyer, and so is my dad, actually. They’re both … they’re both lawyers in Los Angeles, and my mom said to me, at a very young age, she said, “I do not want you to have to work for your hours.” She’s like, “When I was younger, being a lawyer was the absolute thing.” Right? You were a doctor, you were a lawyer. Those were like her two options in my family. Same with my dad. They actually dated in high school. And so they were like, “Lawyer is it.” And she said, “I am chained to my desk. I have to …” Even though she runs her own firm, she has to, you know, count her hours. She’s like, “I only have so many hours in the day.” She’s like, “I don’t want that for you.”

And so when I was 18, she took me to a seminar, it was a Millionaire Mind seminar by T Harv Becker, and it was the first time I had ever been giving any kind of financial education, and in that seminar, I learned something that totally changed my life, which was the idea of passive income. And I had never heard this term before at that time, and this was … This was in, how old am I, I’m 32, this was 12 years ago. So this was a long, this was, you know, way before blogging was even really a thing, and he explained the idea of setting up a business where you were not chained to your hours, where you have passive income generating, and you’re helping people. And so when I was 18, I was a freshman in college, I was like, “That’s what I’m going to do.” And I was like that means, he had it all up on a little white board up there. I have pictures of it still in my computer of the 6 different things you need to be able to have a passive income business, and I went, I set off, all through college, I started my business my senior year of college, checking off each and every one of those things, and I think I’m at five, I have one more to go, and so I did have a very specific idea of what I wanted and where I want it to go, which is kind of crazy.

Tara: Hmm, I love that though. Yeah, I love that. Thank you for sharing that. I wish I would have gone to that seminar, too.

Vanessa: I know. ButTara, butTara, now, we get to talk all the time, and we’re in the seminar together.

Tara: Well, yes, yes. I mean, I’m not bemoaning where I am in life, but I just … yes. It took me awhile to get introduced to these concepts. So I think kind of as we start to wrap up, one of the questions that I’ve been asking just about everyone we’ve had on the podcast is how do you balance the role of artist and executive in your business, and I think for you, it’s probably a little bit different. The question is probably more how do you balance the role of scientist and executive in your business. So what does that look like for you?

Vanessa: Mmhmm. I, it’s true you have to balance them. They are different, and I do think scientist, artist, creative is actually they all do fall into sort of the same bucket.

Tara: Mmhmm.

Vanessa: Whereas like business executive, CEO falls into the same bucket, marketer, same bucket, and they have to be separate. I found that you actually cannot really combine them. They are two different sides of your brain, they’re two different sides of your soul and your heart. What I do is I have a not to do list system. So I have, of course, a to do list, but I found that my to do list actually didn’t work for me the way I needed it to. I needed a not to do list. So I split up my days so that on certain days, I am only doing scientist, creative, imaginatary artist, bucket things. And on that day, I have my to do list for all those things, and I have a not to do list. Which means I’m not allowed to check email. I’m not allowed to do any marketing. I’m not allowed to check social media. I’m not allowed to do any podcasts. I’m not allowed to do any study reading on those days.

Whereas on my business days, I put on my business hat, and I have a to do list for that. On that day, I am not allowed to do any … Any sort of creative endeavors, because they tend to get tainted, and so on my not to do list are things like dreamstorming, outlining experiments, looking over data, creating blog post outlines, visualization charts, none of that. So that, I actually literally have to separate it out like that, and I highly encourage people to split their tasks up into themes of where is your brain when you’re doing each task. So if you sit down and think about, “Where is my brain? What is my feeling when I sit down to do Facebook?” Is that the same as when you sit down to do email? Is it the same as when you cold pitch clients? Or is it different? Because sometimes, your customer service hat is even different that your marketing hat, and so I think that thinking about your to do list in terms of framework or mindset actually helps you do it in your best possible way.

Tara: Hmm. What are you pursuing next?

Vanessa: So I am working on my next book, which is very exciting. It’s going to be a very, very research heavy book, so we have 14 different experiments in the pipeline we’re going to be starting in the next … We’ve started six this month, we’re going to be doing another five next month, and probably another four or five in January, which means a lot more work for my researchers, and all of those experiments will go, it’ll be original research going into the book.

Tara: That’s incredible.

Vanessa: Yeah, I’m excited. All the puzzles. We finally got funding for it. All the puzzles I’ve been waiting to solve, we are actually doing it. We’re doing it right now.

Tara: That’s fantastic, and that’s a great place to leave off for today. Vanessa Van Edwards, thank you so much for joining me.

Vanessa: Thanks so much for having me.

Tara: Vanessa can teach you to master the science of interpersonal intelligence in her CreativeLive class, Master Your People Skills, which you can find at On the next episode, we’ll talk with Grace Bonnie, founder of Design Sponge, to talk about how she makes money from her blog and her belief that paying creative people fairly is vital.

That’s it for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. You can download other episodes of this podcast and subscribe in the iTunes store. If you enjoy what you heard, we appreciate your reviews and recommendations, because they help us reach as many emerging entrepreneurs as possible. Our theme song was written by Daniel Peterson, who also edited this episode. Our audio engineer was Jaime Blake. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Madariaga. You can catch up on older episodes in the iTunes store, where new episodes are added every week, and you can learn more by going to