In the episode:
00:58 – A personal branding choice
02:35 – From musician to teacher
05:54 – The value of journaling
07:25 – A powerful daily decision
09:41 – Realizing there’s a choice
14:03 – Dealing with difficult people
17:55 – Getting past assumptions
20:14 – Of whom much is given….
22:34 – Updating employment concepts
25:24 – The boss-team relationship
26:30 – From solopreneur to leader
28:34 – A light bulb moment
31:28 – On single-point sensitivity
32:25 – Chatbots versus humans
37:41 – Membership rates and billing
40:31 – A closing thought
James: James Schramko here. Welcome back to SuperFastBusiness.com This is Episode 696. We’re going to be talking about Start with Your People with Brian Dixon from BrianDixon.com. Hello, Brian.
Brian: Hey, James. Thanks so much for having me.
James: I wanted to see how many times I could mention Brian in that introduction.
A personal branding choice
Brian: It’s all personal branding, right?
James: Well, you’ve chosen a personal brand website. I’m interested why you did that, because I get that question a lot. Should I have a personal brand website? Should I brand a business website? And I’m curious if you’ve tried alternative approaches and what led you to that choice.
Brian: I have. I actually have a few different businesses that I’ve run. Some I’ve run well, and some I’ve run into the ground. So those have all been branded. The one that’s working really well right now is a membership community for writers we just crossed over 3000 monthly recurring paid members, and that’s called hope*writers. So it’s mostly, it’s in the female – how niche is this? The female, inspirational, want to write a book, moms of two kids or more space?
Brian: So I’m the growth guy, you know, for that team, and co-founder of that company, and what I found is, I started out doing a lot of behind the scenes, marketing, business systems, you know, implementing funnels and email systems and things like that. So I was very behind the scenes, and that’s where I just started BrianDixon.com, as a place where people could learn about, you know, my work as opposed to just hitting me up on Facebook. And then that kind of grew into doing more speaking and coaching.
So I realized, when people kept asking, Hey, I want to see, I want to check out your stuff, where can I go? And I just realized pointing them to some social media that might change tomorrow is probably not a good idea.
James: Yeah. So it’s very strong personal branding. And it means you can lend yourself to other vehicles. So I guess hope*writers isn’t going to be the entire portfolio of your pie. That’ll be one slice.
Brian: That’s right.
From musician to teacher
James: So you’re a doctor.
Brian: I am. I have my doctorate in education with a focus in technology. So I started out with the dream of being a rock star. You know, this was middle school, high school. I learned to play guitar and just fell in love with the idea that, you know, between class breaks, literally between class breaks, I was the kid in the hallway that took my guitar out and would try to write songs, and that you could record a song and you could make a product from that song. So at the time, I’m, you know, I’m a little older. So we were making tapes and CDs, we weren’t putting anything online yet. And then you could sell it. And now you could take this idea you had in your head, and then people, you know, in your little social circle, now could listen to the thing that you invented. Like, that was just mind-boggling to me. And so that’s kind of where I got my start.
And as I was doing the music thing, you know, along the way, most of us musicians realized, wait a second, I’ve got to get something that actually pays the bills. And I came from a family of teachers, and my parents said, Listen, you can still be a musician, but maybe be a teacher during the week. And so that was really how I got started becoming a teacher, you know, going through a teacher certification program.
But it was one of my first days of that internship (they call it a practicum) where you go to a real school with real kids, and you kind of observe, and there were these three computers in the back of this classroom. It was a second grade math classroom. And these kids, James, these kids looked bored out of their mind. And there were three computers in the back of the classroom, more than a month into school, so the teacher never even plugged in these computers, and I didn’t know anything about teaching, but I did know how to plug computers in. And so, you know, on the recess break, when all the kids went out to play outside, I asked the teacher, you know, can I plug these computers in? And can I get these computers going? And she, you know, she just grumpily said, Sure, whatever, you know, they’re not gonna use it anyway. I plugged it in. And you know, five minutes later, when the kids came back in from recess, when they saw that the computers were on, their faces lit up. And it was in that moment that I realized how technology can actually enhance education.
So that just set me on a journey of being a classroom teacher. And then eventually I got to found a charter school, which is kind of like an educational startup. And through that process, just fell in love with marketing. You know, we used the Facebook ads to recruit students to come to our school. I had to learn marketing, because I had a message that I wanted to share with people. And that’s where I found people like you that were teaching really, really savvy systems for marketing.
James: It’s really interesting. I’ve got a lot of people with similar skill sets in my world. We’ve got a couple of musicians who teach music.
Brian: Love it.
James: They’ve really stack those two things together. Some of them have 15,000 members in their music academies. There’s literally half a dozen music teachers inside SuperFastBusiness membership. I’ve got a teacher who teaches technology to kids. It’s directly what you’re talking about. But he does it for Google, Microsoft and Apple. And he’s doing particularly well in that field. I remember when the computer room was there when I was at school.
James: It was the most interesting thing possible. We were playing games, like, simulating Wall Street, we could buy and sell stocks and build up your portfolio. There was also some other game where you had this 3D maze, and you could actually hunt down all the other people in the computer room and destroy them.
Brian: That sounds amazing.
James: It was really cool. They were networked.
James: This is in the late 80s.
James: So it was kind of pretty exciting. But the computers couldn’t do anything like what they can now, even what our phones can do.
Brian: That’s true.
The value of journaling
James: I imagine what they’re teaching in the course you did might be significantly different than when you went through it.
Brian: Oh, absolutely. You know, I did my doctoral degree in 2008. And I studied, so, we call them reflective video journals. But you know, we know that that’s actually just personal vlogs, video blogs. And so I had my dissertation research for the doctoral program, I had 12 students for eight weeks, and I studied their meta cognitive level. So they’re learning about their own learning, their awareness of their own learning, by creating a vlog, which the university wouldn’t even allow the kids to post it online. So like, vlogs that they keep on their local computer, and it was just answering a few questions about the week and what was the week like. And it was early social, like, it was what you see on TikTok; it’s what you see on YouTube and on Instagram; it’s basically kids talking about their life. And what I found in my doctoral research is that it actually improves the learning experience. Kids are more attentive, more focused on the learning when they know they’ll need to report on it, even if reporting on it means staring at a web camera and no one’s watching. So there’s a lot of value in the social media tools that we have and the technology that we have for education.
James: I’ve noticed journaling every day in my own community, and a lot of the other members do this in the SilverCircle one. I’ve been doing it for about seven years. And I’ve noticed that just that daily reflection on what I did for the day, it holds myself accountable.
James: It’s just that little internal question, did I achieve anything useful today? It’s just that micro step of progress that keeps you moving forward.
Brian: It’s so powerful.
A powerful daily decision
James: I want to sort of link that up to some themes that are contained within your book, Start With Your People, which went particularly well, when it was released. The subtitle is, “The daily decision that changes everything”. What’s the daily decision that changes everything?
“Choose the people in your life over the projects that are right in front of you.”
Brian: The daily decision is to look towards the people, to choose the people in your life over the projects that are right in front of you. And as an example, you know, you’re rushing out the door to get to a meeting, or you’re about to hop on a Skype interview or a Zoom coaching call, and then you are met face-to-face with your four-year-old son or your spouse, you know, that person in your life. And you have a choice, you know, you have a choice to turn away from them and get to work and get to your project, or you can look at them and say, Hey, is there anything I can do to make your day? Or you could say, you know, Hey, I’m about to hop on this call real quick, but just want to check in with you a little later, see what’s going on in your life. Like, that’s all it is, is just looking to the people in our life and checking in with them.
And what I found is that I wasn’t doing that, that I was so focused on growing my business. You know, I left a traditional job, like many of your listeners. That’s the dream, right? Is to take the job that you don’t love and finally build that online business or take that online business you started and scale it. And as I was doing that, I neglected some of the most important people in my life. Not every day, but there were these decisions that I was making on a regular basis to not include my wife in my dreams, to not include my kids in the process. And I really discovered the value of bringing along your people with you.
James: So powerful. I also have lived both of those lives.
James: I was actually working seven days a week for quite some time there, and it gets a bit old. And obviously, with my book, Work Less Make More, and the way I live my life now, which is a three-day workweek, predominantly, I flipped a switch. I’m really making up for all those lost weekends and time with family. And you can’t get it all back. Of course, there are some losses along the way. And it really comes around to personal awareness. I saw some discussion around the Mirror Manifesto, and I thought that was intriguing, because for the longest time in my presentations I’ve used an illustration of a mirror, and I’ve said, that’s really where all the answers are. Everything you can have in life starts with that mirror, staring yourself in the mirror.
Brian: So true.
Realizing there’s a choice
James: And taking that ultimate responsibility to choose. And this is what I find interesting. When I post a picture of surfing or whatever on my Instagram, it does ruffle some feathers with people. You know, they use words like jealous or whatever. And I think No, don’t be jealous. Choose. Choose that life. When did you realize you had a choice?
Brian: That’s such a good question. You know, I’ve been trying to trace back the roots of when I realized that. I think I was still a teacher; it was at a religious school, at a Christian school. And so we would have this chapel, you know, every, I think it was like, every Wednesday, and there was a band. So we had, like, music, and you know, they’d sing songs and stuff. And I remember there was a speaker system, you know, for the band at this chapel. And the speaker system was getting older, and I think one of the speakers was blown, and it sounded terrible.
And I made a comment to one of the moms of the kids at the school and she said, Oh, we’ll take care of that. And I didn’t know what that meant, you know? And so I followed up with her and said, What did you mean by like, you’ll take care of it? She said, Oh, yeah, we’ll just write a check for you guys. This was a private school in San Diego. And she was quite affluent. And so she said, just send me a proposal, just like, write up your dream equipment. Like, she just sort of said, like, Just write up your dream equipment, you know? So I’m like, my dream equipment? Like, I had no idea where to start, because I had this long list. And so I didn’t even give her like, all the best. I gave her two options. I gave her sort of like, the entry level and then my dream. And I remember my dream was $10,000. Ten thousand dollars of equipment. It wasn’t even for me, right? It was for the kids. And so I gave her this list and she said, Okay, no problem. Like, Okay, no problem? What in the world?
So she writes this check, I order all this equipment, it all gets delivered. I think it’s Christmas for me. Like, I was so excited about having this new equipment and it’s not even mine, right? It’s just for the school. And James, there I was with these two brand new speakers, and they had to be mounted to the ceiling, which is pretty high. So I didn’t put in the budget, installation. I had such a poverty mindset that I thought, well, she’ll pay for the speakers, but I’ve got to do the installation myself. And I’m not a speaker installer, right? So I’m on this 25-foot ladder…
James: They were probably quite heavy, too.
Brian: They were so heavy. And so I’m holding this, I’m like, ratcheting, you know, like ratcheted the speaker up to the ceiling. I’m on the top of this 25-foot ladder. And it just hit me. I’m listening to a podcast from Dan Miller, 48 Days to the Work You Love, and he’s talking about entrepreneurship and how you don’t, you know, you can find work you love. And I’m at the top of this ladder, probably about to die, and I’m just thinking about this lady that spent $10,000 on these speakers, how I had such a poverty mindset that I didn’t even think to ask to pay for somebody to install it. And Dan’s in my earphones, talking about work you love. And it just hit me in that moment: there’s got to be a better way. And that’s when I discovered, maybe I could be an entrepreneur. Like, maybe this is for me as well.
James: Isn’t that interesting? It must be something to do with heights. I remember painting the ceilings; I actually had to scrape them. I had this beautiful California bungalow in a suburb of Sydney that I’d purchased. When I say purchase, the bank purchased most of it, and I put in a token gesture. And I was scraping the ceiling and then painting them. It was a heatwave in Sydney – it was about 35 degrees Celsius, so it’s probably getting near 100 degrees, maybe not quite, Fahrenheit, and I was sweating. And I was listening to some audio MP3s of people like Marlon Sanders and Yanik Silver…
James: And Dan Kennedy, on my PC, which was under plastic wrapping, for the paint splatters. And every time that it needed sort of the next audio to be loaded, I’d have to get down from the ladder and go and cue it up and then go back up. And I spent hours doing this. But it’s in those moments of reflection where you think, this has got to improve. I really felt painted into a corner, with that whole, you know, I’m doing the manual labor and I’m not good at – I’m okay with it, I’m handy, but I’m not a tradesman.
Brian: That’s right.
James: It’s not my living. And I would rather have hired someone to do that. And over the years, I actually started playing this game where I would get somebody to come around and mow the lawn. And while he’s mowing the lawn, I’d build a website or I’d write an article that could hopefully pay for more than what it cost me to have the lawn mowed. I’d start balancing out that hourly amount. But it’s a difficult process to go from the education system, because that’s almost especially the opposite of entrepreneurs.
Brian: It is.
James: It’s really systemizing people to follow instructions and spend a lot of time in places and become experts where they get paid by the hour in many cases. So you’ve done well to break free from that.
Brian: Thank you.
Dealing with difficult people
James: And another thing that sort of comes to mind, speaking to you, you’re clearly a very nice person. You just sound nice. I’m sure you are nice. How do you go when you bump up against difficult people?
Brian: Yeah, it’s funny. You know, I thought when I left my job and I became a full time online entrepreneur, that that was the end of having to work with difficult people, you know? That everybody online’s cool, like, everybody’s surfing at 10am. Like, you know, this is the life. And then I started working with people, right? And whether it’s a client or it’s a contractor, or it’s somebody on your email list that sends you a really negative comment, you know, we’re just going to continue to face people who are, whatever it is – they’re not having a good day, they’re not having a good life. You know, they’re just having a really tough time and sometimes we’re the ones that they take it out on.
“Difficult people are always going to be around.”
So a few things that I’ve learned about difficult people. Number one, they’re always going to be around. You will meet people that are tough to work with. But number two is thinking about the fact that someone in their life – like, I’ve yet to have somebody prove me wrong in this, so I’m happy to be wrong – but my theory is that someone in their life thinks they’re awesome. You know, maybe it’s their dog, right? Or maybe it’s their kid or it’s their spouse, but somebody thinks they’re awesome.
And what I found is when there’s somebody that’s difficult that I’m dealing with in my life, is there’s a reason that I’ve put them in that position. I want to take 100 percent responsibility for it and realize there’s something that I can do to flip the situation around. And generally, the best words to say is, Hey… (I love to clear the air) like, Hey, can we clear the air? You know, it’s just asking a question like that.
And it could be something really simple. Like you have a new neighbor, you know, and you’re just not getting along. You’re like, Oh, no, I have to live next to this person now? And just saying, Hey, can we clear the air? Hey, can we hang out sometime? And I know, it’s like, it’s a risk to do that. It’s easier to just sort of live in the mud, you know, and just in that resentment. But you know, every time, every single time that I’ve taken that, kind of that deep gulp, you know, and said Hey, can we clear the air? Usually, like every time for me, but most of the time, from what I’ve heard from other people that I’ve recommended this to, is that there’s a little difficult conversation, and then it gets better. Like, it actually gets better.
And it’s empathy. We just need to bring empathy to the table, because we rarely know the whole story. We rarely know what else is going on in that person’s life. And just through, I don’t know what you’d say, like, luck or providence, some of the most difficult people in my life that I ruled out, and that I, you know, I was telling myself a story about them, years later, I hear the rest of the story. I hear that they were going through a divorce at the time, or that their kid was dealing with a drug addiction, or they were secretly bankrupt and they were hiding money from everybody, or hiding that shame. And I’ve just found that if you live long enough, you realize there’s a reason people act the way they act. And if I can figure out what that reason is, and encourage people, often I can be the one person that can actually make a difference in that person’s life. And so that’s what I found when it comes to difficult people.
“If you live long enough, you realize there’s a reason people act the way they act.”
James: I think often people are being difficult because of some circumstance you can’t see. So I was interested when you said, you take responsibility for that. Yeah. Because you can’t really be responsible for their kid taking drugs, or…
Brian: That’s right.
James: …for them going through a divorce.
James: So I guess you might be the one person who’s not dismissive of them or just buying into their bullshit. And you’re actually saying, Hey, let’s clear the air here – what’s really going on? And maybe they’ll ‘fess up and tell you about it. I think empathy is such a great skill to have if you’re a coach, if you’re any kind of communicator, if you write sales copy, if you are a comedian. Any of those things need empathy; you have to be able to tap into other people. I think that’s a strong skill set. Clearly, as someone who’s a teacher, it would help you coach someone through their learning if you can really feel what they’re feeling and to help them make the next moves, the right moves.
Getting past assumptions
Brian: Well, you’re right and thank you for that. But we make so many assumptions, you know? And I made so many assumptions. I was raised in Canada, and then I came to the States, to America, to become a teacher. And you know, I’m an American citizen, was born in America, but I lived in Canada for 10 years. My dad was a college professor, so that’s why we moved up to Canada. And then we moved back down. I started teaching in South Carolina. So you know, in the States, South Carolina is, like, in the bottom three or four states when it comes to education, you know? Southern poverty. And I was approaching the students in my classroom as a fairly affluent, you know, Caucasian male. And my experience was that you come from a two-parent home, you know, both parents have a car, we have a house – like, this was my experience. And I was assuming that my kids would have similar experiences, my students would have similar experiences.
And one day, it was my first year teaching, I think I was about three or four weeks into teaching, and I was wrapping up the day and it was late, because you’re a first year teacher, you’re preparing all the lessons and trying to just catch up with what you’re supposed to be doing as a first year teacher. And I was walking to my car, and one of my students was still there. And it must have been maybe 6:30 at night, so this is hours after school ended. Maybe three, three and a half hours after school ended. And he missed the bus, and he had no way of getting home, and he was going to stay there overnight. I’m like, I can’t let that happen. So I said, Well, you know, I’m not supposed to, but I’ll give you a ride to your house. And he was very shy about it. He didn’t want me to give him ride. I’m like, No, come on, you’re not going to stay at the school all night. He had no way to call his parents.
And so he gets in my car, and I drive him to his house a few miles away. And we get to the edge of this field. Like, we’re driving down this road, and there’s just a field on the side. And he says, Pull over here. So I pull over. And he wanted to get out. And I said, Wait, what are you doing? He said, I live over there. I’m like, No, I want to meet your parents. I’ll drive you to your house. He said, But I live over there. James, he pointed to the woods on the edge of the field. So I drove my car across the field. And I got to the edge of the woods and there was this, what looked like an abandoned shack, no windows, no electricity – it was now after dark – and that’s where he lives. And no wonder he’s having trouble paying attention in my class. No wonder he’s having trouble finishing his homework if I give them a lot of homework and he has to do it at night, because he has no way of reading at night. And just bringing empathy to a conversation, to a situation, to a relationship, can open up so many doors for connection, and so many doors of opportunity as well.
Of whom much is given….
James: And how does it make you reflect when one of your kids asks for a new game or something?
Brian: Well, you know, I just believe that we just have such an opportunity as parents. I love being a parent. I never knew I’d love being a parent as much as I do. Like, so my son – we have three kids, and my oldest (actually, my oldest two) are in a Chinese immersion program, they’re in a Mandarin immersion program. And my son was complaining about his Chinese, because he doesn’t speak Chinese, right? And he’s really trying hard to learn Chinese. This was today, and I said, you know, let’s watch a video on why being bilingual is important. So we load up YouTube on our big TV and I go to a TED talk on the value of bilingual education and how it provides advantage for you in the future. And he and I sit and we watch this, like, 12-minute TED talk on bilingual education, why that’s important.
I bring that up because to him who’s given much, much is required. Like, my kids have been given so much. Like, the fact that they have a dad who’s entrepreneurial, you know? The fact that they have high-speed internet and devices and, you know, access to whatever they ever would want to read, or sports, like, all the things that they’re able to do. I look at that as assets that need to be stewarded well, right? It’s like, you don’t want to waste it. And the reason you don’t want to waste it is because those tools are not for you. I believe this for myself, and I believe it for my kids as well. The tools that they’ve been given are not for them; it’s to serve their people, right? To serve their ideal client in the future, to serve the company they work for, or probably the company that they’ll start, to serve their clients, to serve their community.
And we’re just so blessed and so fortunate enough… I mean, you and I, talking for free over Skype, it’s incredible. And I look at it as, it’s such a gift. How blessed are we to live in 2019 where we can do this for a living? And it just makes me – two things, when I think about the poverty of the students that I’ve worked with through the years. Number one is just gratitude. Like, there’s something so powerful about being grateful for the assets and the resources that we have. And number two, we’ve talked about it already, is empathy, how can I reach out and lift somebody else up? How can I share what I’m learning, or share my resources in a way that encourages and inspires somebody else? And I think that’s the lesson I learned from education as a teacher, that I’ve taken into the online business. And it’s actually really accelerated my online business, having that kind of level of empathy.
Updating employment concepts
James: Yeah, that’s really interesting. It kind of connects with the concept of hiring team. Because I feel that’s one way I can really spread some of the resources I have, is we have a little team and they’re all able to have a great life as well. We have a really nice little team ecosystem in my business, with them coming up to 10 years now, which is terrific.
I’d love for you to talk on that topic of team, because I know that’s part of your core, the relationship between your team members and in that. Because there can be some outdated concepts of employees versus the employer. You know, like, there’s lots of big bad employers, and there’s lots of rogue employees. But somewhere else, you know? Like, in my case, I think what we have is very special. And I love my team members, and I think they love working in our business. And they have a huge degree of freedom and flexibility and scope to work on things that interest them within our business. And I’m sure that’s not the case with all businesses. But I wonder what your philosophies are around that.
Brian: You know, it’s so amazing that we get to hire people from all over the world. Here’s a lesson I wish I knew earlier in my online business. There are people who would love to work with you that, let’s say for example, you know, you’re trying to figure out something in Photoshop, or you’re trying to update your website, and you’re just hitting a wall. What I recommend is you give yourself a certain budget of time. Say, I’m going to try to do this for 30 minutes, or I’m going to try to do this for an hour. So set a timer, you know, use that Pomodoro technique, set a timer. And then when an hour passes, and you’re still trying to figure out how to do that thing, how to Photoshop or update your website or whatever it is, realize that it’s time to hire a plumber; it’s time to find somebody who’s actually good at it, instead of you trying to become your own plumber. And then go to Upwork.com, or wherever you hire a virtual assistant – you know, even Fiverr is a place to start – and just post your problem on there. And so I do this frequently. We did this today, we hired somebody because we’re trying to migrate a system and it was pretty complicated. We went on Upwork, typed in our problem, and people from all around the world bid.
“People love to do work that they’re really good at.”
And the thing is, they love being able to do that. People love to do work that they’re really good at. And that’s such a limiting belief that many entrepreneurs that are starting out have, is that there aren’t people that want to help. There are people that want to help; there are people who would love to work with you and to help you. So I think recognizing that, number one, is so foundational, just realizing that for somebody to start managing your Instagram is their dream; like, somebody would love to manage your Instagram. And you paying a reasonable wage to help them, to allow them to do that, takes your online business to the next level; it takes your online brand to the next level. And they get to do that for a living. It’s win-win. Everybody’s winning that situation. That’s the first big tip when it comes to your team, is just realizing that people want to work with you, and it can help them live out their dreams by you giving them that opportunity.
The boss-team relationship
James: Very nice. And how do you manage the relationships with your team members? Like, you’ve talked about loving your job and winning over your boss.
James: I suppose your team members read your book?
Brian: I hope they did. Yeah. I mean, they have. A few of them have read it more than once, because they’ve been involved in the process. You know, writing a book is a really collaborative process, and so, you know, I really value their feedback. And the challenge with being a leader and writing a book and having a team is, if you’re talking about how you treat your team, like, it better be true, you know? Right?
James: Oh, God. I mean, imagine the things I say on my podcasts and my team transcribe it. They create little snippets, they put them all over social media, they review every video of every conference. And I’ve literally recorded a thousand podcast episodes across our other podcasts, and they hear it all. I’ve always got to be authentic or they’ll call me on it straight away. In fact, they’re very proactive. Sometimes in a call, I might mention that I’m going to ask my team to put together this or that resource, and then they just send me the resource. I don’t even have to ask them, because I know they’ve heard it.
Brian: That’s aspirational. James, I want to get there one day, and I’ve got a lot to learn from you.
From solopreneur to leader
James: Well, you know, the leadership thing is a fascinating one, because I’ve been doing it for so long in the real world, and then came across to the online world. My goal when I started online was I’m not going to have any stock, I’m not going to have any physical premises, I’m not going to have any staff. Because I came from having 71 staff. And then over time, I realized this is ridiculous. I’m the one up late at night doing my articles for Ezine articles and writing my sales copy and updating my own website, and I realized there’s a limitation to how far I’m going to scale at that pace. So I got my helpdesk person. And then I got an article writer, who I recruited. She was the receptionist at the Mercedes-Benz dealership that I was working at.
James: Then I had a client who I was doing online marketing for and I said to them, You know what you could do? You could actually hire someone to work with you, and you could pay them. Then I thought, you know, they’re going to do a terrible job of that, because a lot of people really suck at leadership. So I hired someone and then had them work on that account, and then worked on my business in the meantime, and then I got another one and a few more. And before you know it, we had like, 65.
James: It just went out of control. And that was great. And for seven years, we ran the SEO business and website development business. And then I sold them, and I just kept six. So I’ve got this team of six, which in my mind is the smallest, tiniest little team. In fact, it’s so easy to run a team of six. For a lot of the people I’m coaching, they’re yet to get one or two, and they’re just stuck in the basics. And you know, if you have a podcast like this, the very last thing I want to do when I hang up from this podcast is then go back and edit and tag and strip out any uhms and ahhs and clean up the audio sound and balance the levels and then put the artwork with it and load it up to Amazon S3 and then go and make a blog post about it. I don’t want to do that.
Brian: That’s right.
James: And nor should I. It’s not the highest use of my time. Like you said, the people in my team are far more talented at all of those tasks than I am. Even if I wanted to do it. I’m not the best at it.
James: So it’s a big step to take, but it’s a worthwhile one.
A light bulb moment
Brian: Absolutely. You know, the first time I realized that the grunt work, you know, the work that you’re talking about, which is the transcription and the loading and the editing and things like that – I just looked at it as, well, I might as well do it because there’s nobody else that wants to do it. And I was speaking at a conference for people that want to be speakers, and there’s this one guy in the room that I’m talking to at a break. He works at an aquarium. Not an aquarium, a scuba shop. And he doesn’t even scuba. Like, this wasn’t even his thing. Like, scuba is awesome, it just wasn’t his thing. But he’s working in a shop. He doesn’t know anything about scuba, he doesn’t want to be in scuba, but he’s just working this JOB, this just-over-broke job, you know, that he just doesn’t love at all. And I said to him at the break, I’m like, why are you here? What’s your dream? He said, My dream is to work with podcasters. Because podcasters are great at creating content, but they’re terrible at publishing content. And I said, you can do that.
This is years ago. And it was like this light bulb, like, went off in his mind; just like, Are you kidding me? Like, I can have a business where I just finish people’s podcasts; they record it, and then I just do all the other things? And it was a lightbulb moment for him, but it was a light bulb moment for me, to realize that there are people that their options are, their regular job that they do not like at all, or doing something that they love and working from home. And maybe it’s because they have, you know, a young child at home, or maybe there’s a family member with an illness and they need the flexibility of being able to work online. And us allowing them to work with us is actually service to them.
So as an example, you know, one of our companies, hope*writers, we started out with just three of us. For years, we didn’t hire anybody; it must have been two years before we hired anybody. And then we realized, wait a second, why are we doing all these things ourselves when there’s, like you said, there’s other people that are better at it? It’s not our zone of genius. Let’s just see. And I remember the first job posting, we posted for a social media manager, and we thought, like, five people are going to apply. And we had over 500 people apply for this position.
Brian: It was, you know, five hours a week at 12 or $15 an hour, something like that. It was just a starter position. But we found an incredible person who had much more skills than just what we were looking for. She took our business to the next level, and we’re now a team of 11 total. And there’s the three of us plus the rest of our team. And it’s like, there’s no way we could run that business without each of these team members. I love what you talked about in your book, the Noah principle. I mean, I use that all the time.
James: Oh, good.
Brian: We just hired new support team members, and we’re about to go into a launch, and we realized we’ve got to have a little bit more help with the support, with account support. And so instead of hiring one person, we hired two. They help each other; they both figure it out together; and if one of them leaves, the other one can train the next person that we bring on. So there’s so many ways that we can find people to help us move our businesses forward.
James: And the best thing is, whenever you hire the next person, you’re not the one having to do it again.
Brian: That’s right.
On single-point sensitivity
James: Which is really one of the main reasons I wanted that. But I learned many lessons about redundancy and backups in business. Like, the harshest one was probably for me. At one point in my career, when I worked for a digital telephone company called Vodafone, I was the only person who did a particular role. There was two of us initially. There was one person who did this role; in a very unfortunate situation, she was involved in a car accident, which was fatal. And then the next thing was, it was just me. And so there was two teams relying on me, and I was the one choke point for the whole business to be able to interface between the sales team selling stock and getting it out of the warehouse. Like, that came down to me as an administrator. And at the same time, I found out we were going to have a baby, and I needed to get a sales job. And they would not let me. They would not let me move to sales because there was no one else.
James: And I had to go outside the company to get that sales job. And it was a huge lesson for me. I’ve been very sensitive to that single-point sensitivity.
Brian: Very wise.
James: Of course, systems are a big part of this, too.
Chatbots versus humans
James: And these days, there’s a lot of tools that can start automating and doing things without the human interaction part. However, I think some people might get a bit tied up with that – they get too caught up in their chatbots or their automations. Do you see a bit of a gray line there, where we might start losing touch and stop connecting with our customers and leaving it up to robots?
Brian: There is a balance, isn’t there? We went right up against that line, probably crossed that line with our chatbot, with our, you know, we use ManyChat, and our follow up sequence, to a point where people thought they were talking to a real person. And realizing that just ethically, just a human being perspective, we wanted them to know that if you feel like you’re talking to a human, you should probably be talking to a real human. And so we pulled back on some of that strategy, because we want it to be authentic. And we realized that there is, like you said, there’s this gray area, or maybe it’s like this line. And I think it’s different for your industry. It’s different for each business. And maybe you’re the only one that knows. And sometimes it’s like, you don’t even know where that line is, until you’ve crossed it. And then you went, wait a second, that was a little too automated, you know?
And these tools really are amazing for scale. They’re amazing for scale. But sometimes we lose some of the human interaction, which is what sets our business apart.
James: I remember someone sent me an invitation where I was going to do a webinar with them. And they said, We can pre-record it, and then they’ll just run a “fake live webinar”. And they actually typed those words and sent that out as a request. And I thought, not only do they cross the line, I don’t think they realize what they’re doing.
James: And then there’s people who maybe don’t use automation, but they use pretend names and stuff, you know, like where they’re pretending to be them, but it’s not actually them. I get that every now and then. I actually know someone, but then they, you know, “they” reached out to me with a request as if they’d never heard of me before. And it’s like, Dude, like, We’re friends, right? What are you talking about? And it was someone in their team being them. And I think that lacks integrity.
Brian: That’s the issue right there. And the trick is, it’s really easy to choose tools over people, because tools are easier, right? Tools don’t have feelings. They don’t have crying babies in the middle of the night. They don’t get sick. They’re available 24-7. They’re cheaper, they’re faster. And it makes sense to use tools. And I love tools; like, tools are great. But there are points in our business where it makes a lot more sense to have a human, an actual real person.
So as a specific example, for hope*writers, you know, we just had a big, big launch; you know, we open and close three times a year. So we had this big launch. And we added something new to our opt-in forms this year, where it’s first name and email, and we started putting phone numbers so we can text them. And it was optional, but you know, so we can text them reminders of the webinar or the cart’s closing, things like that. And then this time around, I had a little checkbox on all our opt-in forms that said, Click here if you’d like to be contacted by a member to ask your questions. And it was like the floodgates opened. I had no idea.
So we reached out to our current members, like people that are paying us monthly to be members, and said, Hey, we’re looking for a few people, like maybe 10 or 12 people, who would volunteer to talk with people who are considering the membership. We’re happy to pay you an hourly rate, and you can even use your affiliate link. We have a recurring commission. So they were excited. So we had people apply, I screened them, and we just picked 12 people. And in the course of our launch, I think it was 537 people that clicked that checkbox to talk to a real person. They were so excited to talk to a real person, because it makes a difference in their decision-making process, you know? I could hear all these things from the company and from their email sequence, but having a real person answer my questions, having an actual customer, give me feedback and let me know if it’s a good fit or not, can be invaluable.
And instead of automating that process, which would have been really easy to do, we had this little funnel of the follow-up sequence. And I wanted the first text message to be automated, like, “Hey, (name), it’s (name), good to connect with you. Let’s schedule a time.” Like, I was going to automate the first interaction. And I realized, that is not going to be authentic. That for us was crossing the line and questions, you know, kind of our integrity in that. And so I had to find a system, a CRM, that would allow us to build out the sales pipeline. And so it was a little cumbersome, you know? Somebody, when a new contact came into the system, then one of our 12, we call them “progress coaches”, our member progress coaches, how to claim the contact manually, and then manually sent a text. But those two manual activities, those two manual actions, added such personality and such relationship, connection between them and the potential member, that our conversion rate was so much higher, more than paid for this program by itself. And the next time we launch, we’re definitely going to scale this program beyond what we did.
James: What an innovative thing. There’s a lot of membership owners listening to this program right now, which is such a great share. If that was me, I would create a task in Ontraport that is sent to the person who’s going to do the call, with the prospect’s details on it. That’s what my team have set up for me to send out lumpy mail for people when they join my program.
Brian: Love it.
James: It sends me a task with their name and address and T-shirt size. Very simple system, but it’s good. Anything that goes outside the norm like that is high touch and very much appreciated.
Membership rates and billing
How much do people pay for membership, and what sort of billing program have you set up for that?
Brian: Yeah, they pay $47 a month or $479 a year. And the billing program, so because we’re a distributed team – it’s funny talking to the systems king right now, because I feel like there’s going to be all kinds of ways I can…
James: I have these conversations pretty much every day.
Brian: Yeah, right. But what we realized in our company is that, you know, I had all the keys. And so everybody had to login as me, or I was the only one to make changes. And as a team culture, the three of us co-founders, because there’s three of us that are on the company, is that I wanted them to be able to have access and be able to be part of the process. And so we opted for an all-in-one as opposed to a bunch of different systems. So we moved all in on Kajabi, for this particular business, and it has been so helpful. There’s obviously cons too, there’s negative aspects of having an all-in-one. But for us, everybody having their own login, being able to see the numbers, being able to, you know, check the email open rate or, you know, check to see where’s the sales page at or what’s the current membership look like, has been really helpful. So we just do it right through Kajabi. It ties into Stripe, into PayPal.
Let’s see – in terms of payments, we hired Casey’s company, Casey Graham’s company, Gravy, and they do follow-up on failed transactions.
Brian: So that’s been really helpful, because, what is it? Credit cards expire every, on average, at least once a year.
James: Oh, you get a lot of failed rebills if you have monthly billing, for sure.
Brian: Yeah. So that’s been really helpful. And then just the personal follow-up, you know, just noticing things. Like, Kajabi will send an email to our support automatically when a credit card details have changed. And then having one of our, now, four support team members send a text message or a Facebook message, like really personal, just saying, Hey, just want to check in, it looks like we’re having some billing issues. I just want to see what’s going on. Is everything okay? We’re here to support you.
And we’ve figured out ways to, like, pause the charge for a month, so you can do it in Stripe. So basically, I don’t know the technical details, I think it was like, post-date the charge. Little things to do that we can show a little bit of grace to our members can really go a long way.
James: Nice. Yeah, community. I mean, you’ve got that nurturing family-type vibe. And I think if you have a membership, it’s like being a parent.
Brian: It really is.
James: And that’s a good skill set to have.
What a great chat. We’ve really talked about quite a range of topics here, from having a job to working your own business to team and relationships and empathy and the rise of technology, the gratitude we have for what a great start in life we have been given, and how we can share that with others and provide opportunities, right down to memberships.
A closing thought
So, Brian, just as a sort of closing thought, what do you think someone would get out of reading Start With Your People? What do you think the big lesson for them is, if you want to tie that up in a bow?
Brian: Absolutely. You know, the way that we crafted the book, that we sort of outlined the book is, it’s based on your relationships, and realizing that there’s at least one relationship in your life that is kind of sucking your life, like it’s just sucking your energy, you know, when you think about your day and you’re like, oh, I’ve got to meet with that person. It’s like, you dread that. And if that specific chapter could turn that one relationship around, what would your life be like? Is it worth the investment of either downloading the Audible version or going through the physical version of that book? I would say it is if that one difficult person – and let’s face it, maybe that person is the person you’re married to – you know, turning your spouse from your kryptonite to your superpower, being on the same page as a team, like, if that could change, what would be possible for your business?
So, realizing the importance of people in our life and in our business, because, listen, we’re really here for people. That’s what our business is all about, is serving people and helping them get results. And when we start with the people in our lives, it will literally change everything. It’ll change the way our days go, it will change the way that we impact people.
James: That’s really nice. Thank you so much, Brian. This episode is 696. It will be fully transcribed. I’ve been chatting with Brian Dixon from BrianDixon.com. We’ve been talking about his book, Start With Your People, which is available wherever, Amazon, I’m sure, and all good bookstores. And thank you so much, Brian. Really great to catch up.
Brian: Honor to be here. Thanks so much, James.
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