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EP 84: Ensuring Stability for Digital Agencies, with Brent Weaver


On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Brent Weaver, founder of UGURUS and Maverick for Cloudways, talk about how digital agency owners can achieve peace of mind through the diversification of strategic partnerships and recurring revenue. 



EP 84:Ensuring Stability for Digital Agencies

Duration: 21:47


Kelly: So welcome back to this week's episode of Thrive, your agency resource. Today, the conversation is all about ensuring peace of mind for digital agency owners. And I am thrilled to talk about this more in depth with Brent Weaver. You may know him as the Founder and CEO of UGURUS, which is essentially a business training and education company, specifically for digital agencies. He also hosts The Digital Agency Show podcast, which you may be familiar with. And he's one of the brand ambassadors or Mavericks for Cloudways, which is a managed cloud hosting company. We're going to get into all of that today. Brent, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it. 


Brent: Thanks for having me, Kelly.


Kelly: So, the thing is, COVID, we're 9 months into it. What I'm seeing from my end is that there are a lot of agency leaders who have literally just started saying yes to everything, their clients are needing all sorts of things that are sort of in or out of their wheelhouse. They're saying yes to them, because they're worried about where revenue is going to come from. And while we understand it, it's also kind of presenting some issues, both short term, and then going to present some issues long term. So can you talk a little bit about that?


Brent: Yeah, for sure. And, I definitely don't fault anyone for saying yes, to as many things as possible. And I think that one of the things that we've told our clients, is to first and foremost protect your core business. And for a lot of people, that means ensuring that you've got revenue, cash flow coming in and making sure that bills are getting paid, that you're getting paid and the core business is healthy. So I think, if anything, saying yes to everything in the short term is a solution to a problem, which is either fear of not having enough revenue coming in, or actually not having enough revenue and kind of grasping at anything. But I think Kelly, as you said, it is creating a problem or will eventually create a problem when we start to feel a little bit of burnout, a little bit of the lack of peace of mind, for agency owners out there.


Kelly: Yeah, for sure. So agency owners, when they are saying yes to some of these things, they're really just looking for project based work, they're looking for anything that's going to come in, but the Holy Grail is sort of this like passive recurring revenue, right? Like that's all any of us want. But there are some critical issues to trying to do things that are outside of your wheelhouse in house and trying to use your existing resources for just quite honestly, the things that they are not really skilled up. And I know that you have sort of a horror story that we can all relate to. I certainly could, when you told it to me at first.


Brent: Yeah. So we had been running, hosting as part of our agency's business. And we had said yes to that, partly because we wanted that passive recurring revenue. We looked at it as an opportunity to make some income from hosting, that kind of automated credit card charge type revenue. But also because clients I think, came to us and asked us to host their websites. We were there web guys or we were their web gals, right? And I think a lot of people take that. And they kind of just say, oh, yeah, I guess I should do hosting, because I designed their website. And there is actually a case for that. But it was quite a while ago.


We had about 50 sites on a server. Got a client call. Hey, our website's down. Oh, yeah, I'll take a look at it. I mean, that website is down. And another, phone rang again. I'm on the phone with this client, right? Then another client is like beeping in my cellphone, started to ring. And all of a sudden we're just swamped with all these phone calls about websites and emails that are down. Well, turn out, one of our servers’ hard drives crashed. We have like a single server in a colocation environment. No RAID hard drives. No backups. No failovers. Nothing. And this thing was a beast. I mean, it had been online, probably going on, like the better part of a decade and had just run, and we'd never questioned it. And yeah, we made some money on it. But it wasn't like massive money. I mean, we were pretty much charging commodity level rates, which means that we were kind of barely breaking even on this server, and then all of a sudden goes down.


So 48 hours of pretty much hell of trying to get this thing back up, looking at all of our old archive site files, trying to rebuild sites that we didn't have updated sites for and we eventually got the server back up and running. I'd say 85% sites were like maybe 3 weeks old kind of thing and the content wasn't like as new as it should have been. But it was pretty much back up. And I went home and my head at the pillow and it probably wasn't three hours later, I got a phone call. My phone started blowing up again. And I'm like what is going on?


Turns out RAM failure. And this second server got up and running, which basically just reset the clock. I mean, everybody came back to the office and had to get this thing up and running. And so that kind of like put a bad taste in my mouth about hosting. And I think a lot of agencies have experienced something similar. At the time, we had like one, I'd call him like, he was the systems admin in our agency’s team, but he was really a .NET developer. And he was kind of like the de facto’s hosting guy. Because he just knew the most in the office, but we really didn't have like a team in place. And we really didn't know what we were doing when it came to hosting. But I think we had the right intent, which was passive revenue, recurring revenue, maybe a little bit of diversified revenue.


Kelly: The right desire, let's say.


Brent: Yes, okay. We had the right desire, but our game plan wasn't really great. And the problem was something like hosting when it's not crashing or going down, it is out of sight, out of mind. And it's something that you kind of stopped thinking about and our clients don't think about it. They don't think about it when it is working. They just think about it when it’s not working. And so, on a long enough timeline, if you don't have the right infrastructure in place, and you're taking that money, you can cause all sorts of problems.


Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. And, I think every single one of us who have owned a digital agency for any period of time, we not only have that almost exact story, but we all have done the thing where you've got the one lead developer or someone who just knows enough to be dangerous about web architecture and running the actual servers. And that's what we do to get by. It's an early mistake. It's a common mistake. I don't think that there's a single agency owner out there who hasn't done that, or has some kind of story that's similar to that. So definitely understand it. When crisis hits like that though, it's really in the diversity and the depth of your strategic partnerships, because we really shouldn't be doing these things in house. We should really be back to what you said before, stick to our core business services, what we're great at. But those partnerships, if they are strong, they become really critical moments like these moments where COVID, if 50% of your clients leave, but you also have that recurring revenue, and a strong partner to manage that. That can actually be really a saving grace because people's websites, as you have said before, aren't going down just because of COVID. They're still up. If anything, they're even more critical now, because people are spending more time online. So can you talk a little bit about the importance of the diversification from your experience?


Brent: Yeah, so at the time, initially were like, screw this. We are never touching hosting again. This was a painful lesson. And we're never going to do this again. So our initial reaction was actually to get rid of hosting as being part of our business. So we started to actually push clients away from our company, and said, hey, you're responsible for hosting your website, which I think is also something that I see out there in the marketplace, which I think has a good desire, as you said. To say, I'm just not dealing with this. We're gonna find other ways to make recurring revenue. But because we were still the companies that we’re building the websites, and my clients had my cellphones, we would put them on like GoDaddy hosting and be like, oh, you got to call GoDaddy for issues, but because we were the company that was building their website. And anyway, they have my cellphone, right? They don't have CEO of GoDaddy, his cellphone.

So what we found was we actually pushed that money away. And we still had the same problem, except now we had, let's say, I mean, we were assigning about 50 clients a year at this time. So we had 50 to 100 clients over a couple of years that we're all on random hosts, and then they were all still calling us for all their problems. And so this created like almost a death by 1000 cuts, right? We no longer had the revenue. We weren't diversified in that way anymore. But we still had the problem. Now, our stuff wasn't going, if one host went down, or one client site went down. I mean, the only benefit was that, we didn't have 50 clients go down at the same time.


But we decided to kind of change our tune. So at the time, about 3% of our revenue was from recurring. I would say I didn't have the stability. I didn't feel like I had peace of mind. We really didn't have that diversification. So we said, look, let's put some effort into building up our recurring revenue and the very base layer of that became the infrastructure. If our clients call anyways, let's at least make that a profitable part of our business.


And at the time we were charging our clients, 20 bucks a month or something like that for hosting on our shared servers, but they had my cell phone. So what's the value in that? Like, I can pay GoDaddy, 8, 9 bucks a month. But I also don't have their cellphone. I'm calling somebody who has no idea who I am, all that kind of stuff. So we looked at it as kind of three different components in the recurring revenue side. We wanted to get our infrastructure straightened out. We didn't have enough revenue to hire a full sysadmin team. We couldn't have enough of the right people on our team to be able to do that.


So we had to find a cloud based partner to do that. But our clients still had us as that middle agency layer. So we just decided, hey, we can probably charge $100 to $200 a month to be that kind of not human layer, but kind of a translator layer, where our clients didn't have to talk to sysadmin.


Kelly: The intermediary.


Brent: Intermediary. So we decided we could charge 100, 200 bucks a month. We called it web care. We bundled hosting into that. We had a really strong cloud hosting provider. We stopped doing any kind of sysadmin level hosting work internally. We relied 100% on our partner. So if a server went down, it was all of their responsibility. And we kind of played crisis manager. We kind of would monitor them. We kind of figure out what was going on. And we would keep our client up to date whenever issues like that happened. And then the other layer on top of that though that became really interesting for our business’ stability was the ongoing maintenance and management of our client sites. Once we had a reliable infrastructure layer, that next layer became a really profitable part of our business where we were doing website updates, plugin updates, those types of things that aren't really that exciting, but it kind of keeps the trains running on time.


Kelly: They're necessary. Right?


Brent: Yeah, right. Somebody messaged me the other day about a client of their site got hacked because it had an outdated plug in, like it's not that sexy, but it happens. When it happens, everybody feels that, knows about it.  But I think what ended up driving the most recurring revenue for us was kind of that growth driven design layer, where we went to our clients and started really working with them on strategic initiatives, helping them run campaigns and launches, building additional websites for them, micro sites, that kind of stuff, where one client would turn into 10, 20, 30, $50,000 a year in additional kind of growth revenue. And none of that would have been possible, at least for us without really nailing those first two layers. Right?


Kelly: Absolutely. And your partner now is Cloudways. I know that you recently joined them as a Maverick, which is essentially like a brand ambassador, but you've been a client of theirs for some time. Can you speak a little bit from your firsthand experience with them?


Brent: I mean, I've been in the agency space now for 20 years, and I've been kind of enamored with the companies in our market that really make an extra effort to work with agencies directly versus the kind of direct to client type of business where agencies are just kind of like a different type of customer. And so what I saw, Cloudways is really making that move to support agencies as a unique type of client, because every agency might not be supporting one website. So if they have issues, they might have 30 clients, 40 clients, 50 clients, and they really need to be dealt with a little bit differently. And they probably don't need to have those like standard support channels.


And so when I saw their moves, going more towards that part of the market, it was really exciting. So we decided to move all our stuff over to them. And it's been cool, because it's made us a lot more profitable. I think we cut our costs by about 70%. And I didn't want to do that unless stuff performed better. So I had my team, basically benchmark all of our sites beforehand. And we actually experienced about a 2x lift on speed across all of our sites. So it felt really good. Once we saw that, I was like, okay, we saved a bunch of money and stuffs a lot faster. And they're making huge plays towards helping agencies. And so, kind of approached them and said, hey, I'd love to help you guys get more people in our market to be aware of this, because we think this could help them with that stability, with that peace of mind. Everything we've kind of talked about in this episode.


Kelly: Yeah. And then as an added benefit, they didn't actually mention that lift in speed is actually helping your clients from an SEO perspective, right? Like Google loves nothing more than a really super fast site. So that's great. That's a completely added benefit. I can't believe the 70% increase in profitability, did you? Do you think that that's something that can be expected across the board or did you have a situation where you were just kind of admittedly overpaying with the previous provider?


Brent: I mean, probably overpaying and probably some of us. I still have some scars from that month’s lost of my productivity and of my life. I mean, never gonna get it back. I wake up every morning, and I put on that hosting crash t-shirt and I think, oh, gosh. But I think that there's probably some truth to that, of wanting to make sure that we have a partner, that we're paying for in case, a lot of people say, you don't pay for when things are good, you pay for when they're bad. And so I think we had that kind of experience. And we wanted to make sure we had somebody that was going to make sure this was never gonna be a problem for us again.


And so we probably did overpay a little bit. But that being said, I think that the WordPress managed hosting market has changed and evolved. And I think as an agency, I mean, most agency owners have, maybe they have like 20% of their clients or like high performance websites that need to be on their own server. They need to have like lots of infrastructure behind them. And so we want to make sure we have a hosting partner that can help with that. But then there's that 80% of sites that like we don't necessarily need to have. It’s like a local restaurant or whatever that's getting 100 visits a week, which obviously, we should be working to help them grow that but maybe they're on getting huge traffic.


And so that's, I think, where there's an opportunity to create a lot of profit, assuming that you have a solid hosting partner. And so that's kind of where we looked at it. The high performance sites probably about, even in terms of profitability, because we had to create our own infrastructure there. But it's those sites that we could leverage a little bit more buffer on, those where we saw a big lift.


Kelly: Yeah, cool. Now, Cloudways has an actual formal agency partner program that they have in the works. I know there's like a waiting list for it right now. Do you know about that program? And can you tell me a little bit about what the specific benefits would be for agencies? Like, if I still had my agency, why would I sign up for that?


Brent: Yeah, so one of the reasons I joined as a Maverick was basically to go all in with their agency partner program. So it's still in kind of early pilots. They have a handful of agencies, a few dozen agencies that are in the program right now. And they're in the process of accepting additional agencies into that program. So if you do go and sign up, depending on when you listen to this episode, you might have to join a short waitlist.


But for the three big things, one is priority support. So as I mentioned earlier, agencies need a different kind of support than your retail hosting support. So they have a few different channels, including Slack channels for some of their higher performance partners. So literally, you've got Cloudways on demand for your agency. If you have an issue, you've got them essentially on live chat all the time through their Slack channels. They also have kind of a growth program where they're going to help with co-marketing and also some discounts. So if you're actually joining the program, you can kind of as I mentioned, increase our profitability, partly because we're able to get better pricing on some of their cloud hosting and support.


And then the last part is relationships. So you get a dedicated partnership manager, which is kind of your main account manager, if you will, where you can contact them, talk about what's going on with your clients, if you got some big clients you're about to sign, maybe you've got some additional clients that are getting featured or need some kind of higher traffic, or you just see your agency growing, and you want to be able to work with somebody on their sites, you've got that a dedicated partnership manager.


And then you've got people like me on their Mavericks program. We're running some additional training for those agencies that are in that partner program, some additional coaching and support to help them not only with the hosting and the tech stuff, but also to really help them grow their business, which is one of the things that I'm most excited about.


Kelly: Yeah, that's amazing. And it feels very, very support centric, like everything that you just mentioned; it's not just about Cloudways just wanting to sign more clients. It really feels like they thought it through, and that they're really providing all of the things that historically have been pain points for digital agencies when they thought about maybe getting into bed with a partner like this to outsource their hosting.


Brent: That's one of the things. When I joined, that project had already been, let's say 80, 90% completed, but I was blown away, one of the other Mavericks has been working with our team in this like intensive user experience research study. So they've been talking to dozens of agencies within their network and doing interviews, proposing what those plans might look like, iterating them, testing them, doing more interviews, lots of feedback. They're like going really, really slow with the program right now. And I've been really impressed because a lot of people are like, oh, we should make money and agencies. And they just like launched a discount code, launched like a dedicated email address. But there's no real background process on that. And so I've been really impressed by seeing what they've done to create this program. And I think there's a lot more in store with what they're offering.


Kelly: Yeah, it seems like it. So if there are any digital agency owners or leaders out there, and you're interested in checking out that partner program, you can just head over to And that'll take you right over to that agency partner’s page. I think they're also doing a discount if you're just interested in trying out the hosting, like as a trial run for maybe one or two sites, maybe for your own site, maybe for a new client. And so if you just enter thrive as a promo code at checkout, you'll be able to get an exclusive discount. Obviously, I'm going to put all of that in the show notes if you didn't catch it. But, Brent, thank you so much. I mean, I think this is incredibly valuable, not only in general and support of agencies and growth and stability, but also as we're all sort of navigating this new normal. And so having these really strong partnerships that can add to our growth, add to our recurring revenue, like nothing is more important than that right now. So I just want to thank you for all that you're doing as well.


Brent: Yeah, thanks for having me on the show.

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EP 83: Remote Ritual and Agency Life, with Ezra Bookman


On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Ezra Bookman, founder of Ritualist, discuss how the art of ritual plays an important role in our agencies where our team members need to both collaborate and process emotion but cannot be in the same physical space.



EP 83: Remote Ritual and Agency Life

Duration: 31:24


Kelly: So this week's episode of Thrive is all about the practices we create within our agencies. I'm joined by Ezra Bookman, founder of Ritualist. It's a boutique consultancy transforming companies and communities through the art of ritual. Ezra actually came onto my radar recently, because Karl Sakas, my agency growth consultant friend, actually clipped out the article from the New York Times and mailed it to me. And he basically knew that this would really resonate with me, and the work that I do with agency leaders. So I was really appreciative. Thank you Karl. If you're watching this, I reached out to Ezra immediately. And here we are. So thank you for being so generous with your time and having this conversation with me today.


Ezra: Thank you. It's an honor and a pleasure to be here. And I love the old school clipping the actual article out. That's awesome.


Kelly: Do you know how excited I was to get that in the mail? I was like, this is great. When is the last time I held a New York Times?


Ezra: I only have the digital. So I didn't even get the paper. And so I put out a call for like, if anyone actually has a physical paper, could you do exactly that? And then I was like, oh, we were on the front page. I had no idea.


Kelly: Amazing. So for those who are tuning in to watch or listening to this conversation, I would imagine that they're probably coming to the table with a lot of different preconceived notions about what ritual is and what it is not. So I'm curious how you define it or describe it when you're talking about what you actually do.


Ezra: Yeah, thank you for that question. Ritual is one of those things that have like an infinite amount of definitions. It's like my hobby to collect definitions of rituals.


Kelly: I saw that in Instagram. That's a great collection.


Ezra: That's like just scratching the surface. They're kind of all true. There is a great ritual theorist, Catherine Bell, who famously wrote a book on ritual. And she famously would never define it, because she said, like how you define it says a lot more about you than it is about the people, or the practices that you're observing. From my perspective, there's two big misconceptions about ritual. One is that it has to be spiritual or grounded in some sort of religious tradition, which was not true, right? We are immersed our whole lives in all kinds of rituals, outside of religious tradition, both in our personal lives, and obviously, in our professional lives as well. And I think a second misconception is that you need to do it 1000 times for it to become a ritual, or you can continue to repeat it. But there's all kinds of rituals that we've only done once in one specific moment. My definition of ritual is that it's an intentional, symbolic action, that heightens impact, importance, or meaning. And so I think what it does, is really super important to helping frame what a ritual is.


Kelly: Really interesting. I was thinking about this this morning, because I'm like, oh, I've never actually asked myself the question, how would I define ritual? And after a couple of attempts, I came up with a ritual seems to be something that creates space in which emotion is welcome. Any emotion. So I thought, oh, that's interesting. It was just something I was playing with. And as a follow up to that, so you have that definition, right? Which is a great definition. I love it. But if you take that a notch deeper, what does ritual mean to you on a personal level? Like, what does it mean to you, not to how you're describing what you do for a living.

Ezra: For me, personally, rituals are the tools that I use to make meaning out of my life and to have a deeper, richer experience of life. And I think that goes in a lot of directions, right? They have rituals that helped me connect to something larger than myself, something bigger than myself, expand outside, and reduce the kind of hyper individualism that I think in a lot of us seem to be habitually on the pathway of, connect across time to reflect on, to ground myself in what is, and set intentions for what I want to be. That's often how I use rituals in my life.


Kelly: Yeah, beautiful. So as we're thinking about this in the context of people, leading agencies and having employees at those agencies who are now needing to collaborate on different work for brands, but not able to be in the same physical space, how can ritual play an important role in in those situations?


Ezra: Yeah, I always knew that this work was important and COVID, and all of us switching to remote work overnight, I think the whole world realize just how necessary it is. Because all of the things that we used to rely on is just like automatic, just being in the same space, culture would happen, and connection would just sort of happen. Now, we really need to be intentional about designing and being purposeful about it and asking for it, and showing up for it with full presence. So when you focused internally on your own company's culture, what are the ways in which you're providing spaces, containers for your employees to connect with each other, to slow down, and recognize each other's work, to have the interpersonal moments like a web connection that an agency really is. Because it's made up of people. The agency is really just a collection of people. And who are they? Are they able to show up? I love the phrase, like, show up with your full self, as if that's a choice. We we're full humans, right? We will show up with our full selves. We might not express it. We might tamp it down. And we try to leave it in the car and pretend like it's not happening, but it's there. So if you're the director of an agency, recognize the full humanity of the people that you're working with.


Kelly: Right. Yeah, I always like to say, without its people, there is no agency. You’re not selling widgets. You're essentially selling the ideation and strategic thinking and the doing of those people. So I think so much more focus needs to be placed on culture and supporting those employees in all of these ways. With what you just mentioned, are there a couple of specific examples you can give about how that shows up? Like when you go into an organization, maybe even a particular creative agency or technology agency, how does ritual play a part? And, what are some of the examples as to how you might help that culture deepen, or work through certain things that they might be experiencing?


Ezra: Yeah, it's an expansive question. And I think each agency and each client that I'm working with is coming with really specific problems. Some people are dealing with, like, the fact that creativity and brainstorming is really difficult in Zoom and remote work. Like that sort of flow that can happen when you're in person is really difficult. Some people are just starting out, and they want to be intentional about crafting their culture from the very beginning. And the rituals that mark time and the transitions and movement through the company. I think what's most important is to recognize that no matter what, like the culture will exist, whether you create it or not, there is a company culture already. It's just whether or not you're going to be intentional about crafting it. And be specific about what it is and how it will manifest. Where I always start is, what are the core fundamental values of this agency? What is your vision of the world? Not just what is the next client that you're trying to chase after, but what is the bigger vision. And get people to step back and zoom out. And when you do that, you can think about what are these tangible manifestations of how I can connect my employees to that larger vision to their day to day work, right? We're in this like, just like deluge of emails and the micro and all this sort of stuff. When I'm in that, I can zoom out. I can take a step back and I can remind myself what the bigger vision is that I'm working towards. I think that's really core.


Kelly: Yeah, I think its core also. And in my work with agencies, I think that that's probably the biggest disconnect that I see, is that an agency leader or leadership team may have a vision, you may have a mission statement. You may have core values written on the pre-COVID office walls. But there is a disconnect between the employees really embodying, feeling, understanding, and living that every single day because there is just not that connection and it's a lot harder to be not in person.


Ezra: Yeah, I think that a lot of vision statements and value documents exist as documents.


Kelly: Yeah.


Ezra: But we don't have these embodied practices that bring them to life and put them into actual practice. So that their lived experiences, rituals are our lived experience of our values in the world. And they embody those values and create communal experiences around them, so that we can also hold each other accountable to them. I can say from my own personal work like knowing that value exists, but having no mechanism on which to hold either my fellow employees or even my employer accountable to like, is that what's happening in this moment? And rituals are those touch points that we can say like, oh, this is important, we're taking time, we're slowing down, and we're marking this as important, we're putting a big circle around it. So then it becomes more fluid, it becomes part of the life of the organization.


Kelly: Yeah, one of the things that was mentioned in that Times article, and I believe it was you that mentioned it, as an example of ritual, was holding a grief ritual for the loss of a client or the loss of a client account, or even holding like a funeral for that, instead of just a simple or traditional retrospective. I thought that was really, really interesting. Can you talk a little bit more about that?


Ezra: Sure. I think it's important to recognize that we are full emotional beings, and that it's okay to have an emotional experience around our work. Because if we care about our work, we care about what we're doing, if what we're doing is an extension of who we want to be in the world. And, a lot of studies are showing that that is where the trend is going. Then, those moments of failure, as well as success will have a big impact on our emotional lives. And if we expect to just sort of cruise right through it, and ignore it and pretend like it didn't exist, then that un-incorporated and unintegrated emotion is going to have an effect on our future work. And so something like I mean, the form of what that grief ritual could take is really infinite. And again, this should always be a reflection of who the team are, what their values are and traditions that they find to be important in their lives. But at the very least, like you said earlier, creating a container for people to have that emotional experience. And to let it go to ultimately let it go, which is what all rituals really enable us to do, is to eventually name it, feel it, and move on.


Kelly: Yeah. So this article that I keep mentioning, it was actually called Doing God's Work in Corporate America. I'm not sure how you feel about the title itself. But one of the other people that was mentioned or featured in that article was the co-founder of Sacred Design Lab. And I found it really interesting. He said something like the next white space in advertising and brands is spirituality. And I thought that was a really, really interesting comment. I guess the question that I have around that is, how do you feel about that site? I could imagine there might be some thoughts you might have there. And my real question is like, why do you believe that spirituality or divinity or even ritual has been kept so distance from business? Why have we or even talk about it from the standpoint of emotions? Why do you believe we have kept these things so distant? Like an emotional being state and like doing work. I'm just curious what your thoughts are on that.

I know, I know. Well, you can come back for another one. But let's at least touch it. And then we'll do a part two, maybe.


Ezra: All right. Well, the easier part of that question is I don't consider myself a divinity consultant.


Kelly: I know. That was a really strange term that they use.


Ezra: Yeah, I would never identify myself as that. Like I said at the beginning, our graduation ceremonies are not necessarily connected to any spiritual or religious tradition and yet they can create meaningful moments in our life. So rituals exist outside of divinity. It doesn't need to be sacred; it just needs to be special. And so that's my position. I think that we will of course, learn from, grow from, and be inspired by the people who have been investing thousands of years into the exploration of ritual. In my design practice, which is called the ritual lines, which identified the seven key components of impactful and transformative experiences is certainly influenced by, I spent six years as the artistic director of an experimental spiritual community as well as my art practice. I'm not trying to bring God into the workplace by any means. Why spirituality?


Kelly: Well, let's talk about it from the standpoint of emotion because I feel like the whole spirituality component in the way that the New York Times article couched everything, really took it in a direction that the people who were featured may not actually believe in. So I would say the better question might be, why have we kept emotion so distant from business for so long?


Ezra: Yeah, we used to believe in work is what you do, and then all the meaning in your life is at home. And then we switch to this concept of like, work-life balance, which now seems almost like quaint, right?


Kelly: Also impossible.


Ezra: Exactly. And I think what we're moving into right now is an understanding of a fluid experience of life. And that we are trying to live fully integrated lives in all of our entire life. And so those things are blending, we're moving beyond that and thinking of just having them in balance, but having them fluid and connected. And worse, we spend the vast majority of our lives at work, more than home, more than anything; we spend it at work.


Kelly: Basically sleeping and working. Right?


Ezra: Right. And then like the occasional, I don't know, nice meal. And so if we're spending all of our time there, of course, people are starting to ask and demand that their work is a positive extension of their values and who they are in the world. And, for me, that's a signifier that we can actually move beyond a purely exploitative kind of capitalism towards a more compassionate or a more human centered capitalism, that is still within the marketplace, of course, but has human flourishing and human growth and human value at its core. And in order to do that, we need our internal practices to reflect that as well as our external practices. And so that's probably a little bit of emotion, that's empathy. That's sort of soft values that we thought we need to like, cut off of ourselves and show up in this aggressive, hyper masculine patriarchal kind of mode of doing and working. That is also thankfully, finally starting to fray and we've realized the negative impacts of that on our environment, on our client, on our climate, on our souls, on our happiness, and our ability to be engaged at work. I am not sure if I answered but, again, I think we need to hold.


Kelly: I was gonna say, the reason why I paused was I was having this moment of like, what you said in the last two minutes. I don't know if I've ever felt more alignment with words coming out of another human’s mouth. I mean, if you would like to host the rest of the show, I'm happy to have you do that. 


Ezra: You’re doing a great job.


Kelly: No, it's great. And this is all what I've been talking about and writing about and doing keynotes about. And I agree with you like thankfully, this is where we're at. Right? Thankfully, we don't have to over index on that masculinity or that masculine energy. The audience is very used to me saying being versus doing energy.


Ezra: I guess, maybe just one other point, one other thing that I sort of failed to note is that there's also a loneliness epidemic that is very real right now.


Kelly: Thank you for bringing that up.


Ezra: It has a significant impact on our health. There's a recent study that says loneliness has the effect of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, on your longevity, and so, and right now, especially with remote work, a recent study says that 58% of remote workers feel disconnected from their coworkers, and that 44% feel more isolated and lonely now. And so we're at work with other humans with other people, some people that we even actually believe it or not like, and enjoy those professional interactions that we have. And building a community or building a strong culture that embraces that, can be one of the tools that we'll use to ultimately tackle that loneliness epidemic. So at the very least, you can feel a sense of belonging at work.


Kelly: Yeah. And that's what it's all about. So for those whose curiosity has definitely been piqued here, how might they apply that ritual in their culture, their operations? If they're interested in how, what that might look like? Where would you typically have someone like that start? How would they start to think about it? What might they ask or what would you typically advise them to do if they were interested in really being intentional about incorporating ritual into their agency?


Ezra: Yeah, great question. I think the first and easiest place to start is to identify transitions. Rituals have often been used to help hold and create a container around the inevitable anxiety and fear that comes with transitions.


Kelly: So when you say transitions, can you talk to some examples of that in the agency world?


Ezra: Sure. I mean, it's any movement from one state to another. So if it's onboarding a new employee, if it's signing the actual deal with a new client, if it's the completion of a project, if it's a change in leadership, if it's a shift in strategy, any shift, change, movement that is happening, that's a good place to start to think about, how can I actually slow down and create an intentional experience that names what's happening and gives people an opportunity to express, to use some sort of symbol that will ground them, and help them metabolize the fear and anxiety because in a transition, there's always a loss, there's always something that's being lost and separated from. And it's beautiful, because you can actually move into something new, but there's that middle stage, the desert, so to speak, where you haven't fully integrated into that new state. And that really can be a chaotic place; it can be an anxiety inducing place. And so that's where I would recommend people start.


Kelly: So interesting, as you were talking, I got this very strange visual, that just kind of came into my mind. It was like a clear plastic line filled with water. And, this was the line of how we typically operate in our day to day at an agency, exactly all of the things that you just said. We might onboard a new client or a new employee. We're collaborating on some strategy for a brand, whatever these things are, we might change course, here and there, might be someone promoted. So something throughout the lifeline, and then I almost had this idea that ritual was like injecting an air bubble at those moments, creating that pause, where it's not just rushing through, but creating that little container or that pause or that space where you can say, hey, how is everyone feeling about this? Or, as you said, whatever the ritual is, based on the values of that agency. I don't know why as you were talking, I was like, oh, air bubbles.


Ezra: It's a beautiful image. And one, interestingly, that I've used before, like creating a bubble in time. And rituals are often the sorts of places where magic can happen, where transformation can happen. And so, there are great experiences. There are people who work a lot in transformation and talks about the magic circle, that you like, cross into this space where anything can happen. And, creating a safe container for people to step into. And then also to step out of, go back to work. I always say that, especially with onboarding, like most people when they onboard, like there's the bathrooms, here's your computer password, right?


Kelly: Very transactional.


Ezra: Right, like you're here. And if you have the desire for that person to feel connected to their other colleagues, or to feel connected to the larger vision of your organization, you didn't do it. And ritual can help. But the ritual, you also still need to show them where the bathroom is, and tell them what their computer password is, those things go hand in hand, which was not this panacea that will just cure everything, that all the issues that you have, and make up for not having those actual business practices that are going to actually do the work and move the work forward. But if you do all that work, and don't take an opportunity to celebrate it, to amplify it, to make sure that it lands and lives and breathes, and is embodied, then you put a lot of effort and a lot of time and a lot of money, and haven't actually achieved everything that you can prove from that experience.


Kelly: Right. And for the people who are thinking about this, from exactly what you're saying, taking that in, but also thinking about the bottom line, what we're really talking about here is creating more trust among your team members, creating a culture in which people feel more supported in a culture in which people feel like they have the opportunity to ask questions, to voice their opinions, or concerns or give feedback. And ultimately, what that does is it makes the work better, which makes your work more effective, more valuable. Your agency then becomes potentially more irreplaceable in the minds of your existing clients and prospective new clients. So what we're talking about here is like, money following value, right? And, this is good for business. So it's not just good for your people. It's also good for business. Those things, I think we need to stop looking at them as too siloed ideologies, right? Like this is all part of the same circle.


Ezra: It's an important point for sure. It's not necessarily what I lead with, because I am trying to lead people to value different things. But the research is really clear. There's Emma Seppala, a PhD at Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism. And she's done a lot of really fascinating research on engagement, which I know can be like a word, or a little buzzy. But first of all, there's very real business impact to an unengaged employees, lower profitability, productivity, lower job growth, lower retention. And again, her research is showing that employees prefer workplace wellbeing to any kind of material benefits. Company companies are spending millions on the Ping-Pong table, and the food, which is great. But ultimately wellbeing is really what employees are after and what will ultimately result in higher engagement. 


Kelly: And when you're saying wellbeing, you actually really do mean emotional wellbeing.


Ezra: Yes, full bodied, holistic, whole human wellbeing. There's also a really interesting research from this organization out there called meaningful brands. And they did this whole study, trying to determine how meaningful a brand is, and showing pretty consistently that meaningful brands had like 40% higher KPI on all sorts of metrics. And so I think that's really what Casper was saying, when he was talking about spirituality being the new white space, is employees are demanding a more full, rich experience of their workplace, but also consumers are demanding that the places that they're interacting with, that the clients or the products that they're purchasing are also a reflection of their values and who they want to be in the world. So how are you as an agency going to respond to that? And how are you going to help your clients who are trying to reach those people respond to that?


Kelly: Well, I'm really happy that we're at this time that we're seeing all of this come to fruition. It's really exciting. And I will put notes, show notes to the New York Times article and also to your website, which is as well. Thank you so much for being here. And I really, really appreciate it.


Ezra: And Kelly, thank you for these fantastic questions and for your curiosity and inquiry, and all the work that you're doing, hosting these really important conversations and thank you to everyone that's listening. I hope whatever you're doing in the world grows and is strengthened. Thank you.

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EP 82: Strategies for Curated Content + Resourcing, with Steve Pockross


On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Steve Pockross discuss Verblio’s approach to curating a thousand copywriters for content marketing across nearly all verticals, as well as the value to writers and agencies alike.




 EP 82: Strategies for Curated Content + Resourcing

Duration: 21:46


Kelly: So welcome to this week's episode of Thrive, your agency resource. I am super excited to be joined by Steve Pockross, CEO of Verblio, a curated two-sided marketplace for writers and agencies, and other digital marketers in SMBs, other types of organizations. I have been super fortunate to be a partner of Verblio for a long time. And actually some of the writers on their platform write my own blog posts, which some people may not have known.  So Steve, thank you so much for joining me. I'm really excited to talk to you today.


Steve: It's great to be talking to you again.


Kelly: So you took this marketplace over at some point over the last decade, and it eventually became branded as Verblio. I think it was BlogMutt or something like that before, right? If I remember correctly.


Steve: That is correct.


Kelly: Let's talk about it from the standpoint of how is the entire value proposition of Verblio changed in the context of COVID. Because you're seeing a lot of this from the back end. And I'm wondering if that data is telling you an interesting story.


Steve: It is definitely telling us an interesting story. We have a super unique courtside view of what great digital marketers are doing. So we have over a thousand digital marketers and 400 plus agencies that we watch every month. And so our expertise is less in what you should do in content marketing and more in reporting back what great content marketers are doing. And so, what we're seeing is some big trends and kind of a really dramatic shift in the marketplace. I'm sure, doesn't surprise people. First on the portfolio side, which is of course, that SMBs got hit the hardest. And so, we saw a big drop off. And I've been saying that this is kind of like watching a drone strike on TV. You just watch the numbers go down as a couple SMBs are leaving every day and you can just kind of feel the pain of the economy and what's out there. They were rapidly replaced by bigger players that were going much bigger into content, as content was always an amazing channel for marketing, but there was just a few others left, and it became even more effective with more eyeballs at the same time. So that's one of the biggest trends. Those who believe that they're in it for the long run, they're investing in marketing went a lot bigger in marketing. There's two other trends. And one is I think really related to what agencies are probably hearing conversations of every day is the wait for your SEO to kick in and actually start driving those organic results. As we promised, within six to nine months, you're going to have an amazing channel that turns out customers forever as opposed to your paid advertising. The patience for those type of long term programs is really going down. I'm sure you're hearing that from all of your agencies. And so we're doing a lot more kind of content that has more immediate impact, not just SEO, although much of it is an SEO but also all the other benefits of content, like moving customers through your funnel, creating sales, collateral things of that nature. And so there's been a big focus on, we're getting more and more requests for content refresh projects. You’ve already created great content. How do you get your best performing content to perform better? We've gotten a ton of repurposed content requests. So podcasts that we’re turning into blog posts or into white paper, or multiple podcasts that are now becoming eBooks, and really kind of either going from micro to macro content or back or forth, and moving much more across channels than it ever did before. We're getting a lot of video conferences that they want to have a written piece on each one of them and add video to it as well. Yeah. Those are the big trends.


Kelly: Yeah, it's so interesting. So that brings up three different questions like right off the bat for me. It almost seems like people are focusing more on strategy more than ever, and then compounded with that, it's like what is the low hanging fruit? You talked about refresh projects and kind of overhauling some of the existing content. How does that perform better? And Verblio essentially had this marketplace, this platform that was there when the need arose, when people started turning that eye inward to say, okay, well, we know we have to do content marketing even if we've historically pushed back or resisted. Now, there are so many eyeballs, especially during COVID. And for the foreseeable future, so many eyeballs online, how do we do this? And how do we not necessarily break the bank? So talk a little bit about how the platform has evolved over the last 10 years. And then specifically in the last six months as well.


Steve: It is super fun. There's nothing better in business than when you create something and you pour a lot into it and all the sudden, your clients figure out better ways to use you than you'd even thought of before. It's just like, there's just no better feeling. So I took over this company four years ago. The founders were a journalist and a developer, 10 years ago what they were trying to jump on is the big trends in SEO, which is if you write words on a page, and you write more and more then Google appreciates that. You get free traffic.


Kelly: That sounds like SEO 10 years ago.


Steve: Yes. And so there it was. I came over four years ago. As everything had evolved, everything was moving more long form, the algorithm was catching up with humanity, we were reading for people as opposed to the machine. And we had to really dramatically change the system. And so I think we were part of a movement that was called crowdsourcing, and we're trying to replace that with marketplace services 2.0, or something of that nature. The idea being that, when people think of the gig economy and freelancer economies, they really think of the two models. So they think of either the Upwork model where you go out, and you have to go through all of the work of finding your contractor, you vet them themselves, you set up an individual relationship, you give them part-time work, which gives you the flexibility and the lower price. But it also means that they might be less reliable, and you had so much more effort to go into it. So you have that model. And then you have like the Uber model, which is humanity gets basically turned into widgets, and the platform delivers everything, but the people are not there for skilled labor. So I think those are the two models that were out there. This movement was really started in the early 2000s. It was originally called crowdsourcing and the idea was how do you bring in the concepts of SAS, which is you understand a deeper way one specific work type. Salesforce starts this with sales, then it goes into HR, and every single work type has now been developed. You understand it better, you deliver it better, you make it flexible and on demand. But there is very little people involved. So at some point, you need to bring skilled labor and skilled freelancers into this process and marry them together to produce something more valuable. So if you're doing this, you're producing higher quality content at scale with deeper subject matter expertise for any niche. And that's what we aspire to do. And so basically, when I took over, I was trying to revamp a broken marketplace. So the marketplace has gotten to a place where more generic content wasn't helping our clients. It wasn't helping our agencies or our businesses do the SEO impact they wanted to. But it also wasn't working for the writers. And I think this is a key part of the story, which is everybody understands the concept of financial incentives, which I think is deeply important. And we try to pay more than anybody else in our industry. We actually raised our writer pay on April 1 right after this began when we had a choice of lowering writer pay. Because we have a commitment to raise writer pay consistently to be the best in the market. I think the more interesting one is the passionate economy that these writers are looking for more than just pay. They're looking for a career development. They're looking for a sense of community, and they're looking to stay interested, that you don't write because you want to write about a financial service product again, and again, 50 times a month. And so part of our model is that we give writers the choice of what they want to write about. They select our clients. They select the project, and they get to learn more as they're going. And they have to prove themselves to the client to make that higher level quality. But we think that creates a more motivated writer, which creates a better product for our client.


Kelly: Yeah, and I can speak to that just like on the customer side. There are two particular writers and I've been using Verblio for many years now. There are two particular writers that every single time I put a request in for my own marketing. I know that one of those two will probably pick it up. Because either with those particular writers, I have never needed to request any edits from them. They just nail it. And I always give them like a glowing review or write them a little note to say like amazing job. And I think that that's also part of the value of the platform. It's not just you put the requests out there. And any one of these four or 5000 writers in the network will select it. It's the fact that you can actually say I prefer to work with this writer or these 10 writers or what have you. And from the way that I understand it works is that my request will then go to them first. Is that true?


Steve: It is this true. Well, first of all, thank you for the endorsement. We greatly appreciate it. And I'm glad that it's working out for you. And you're gonna find out kind of another major kind of evolution of model. So crowdsourcing really stalled at the point of how do you deliver this better for skilled labor. And so one of the first things that I did is we used to have 10,000 writers and now we have about 1000. And so to me, it's about right sizing the pool. You want to be able to curate upfront. We only accept only 4.5% of the writers who take our writing test, pass the test, to go in. So that upfront curation is deeply important. You want to have that perfect balance of the smallest pool that you can with the most diversity and the most confidence in the skill they'll deliver. And so, that pool has gotten smaller. And the idea that we're trying to put forward is exactly how we're using it, which is we want you to choose. You have your own team of writers that understands your preferences so they have the reliability. So if one of your writers went on vacation, you wouldn't be stuck in the exact same way. So the request goes out. The preferred writers know that you're going to choose them first. They write for you more often. And then it goes to another pool of qualified writers that gets to see if they can compete for your business.


Kelly: Yeah. And one other thing that I'll kind of add in there. I have been really, really impressed with the turnaround time. So that's probably another question on the minds of some of the listeners. How long does it take? After I've put forth my submission, whether it's for a blog post or a white paper. Obviously, the type of content that I'm requesting is going to dictate how long it's going to take to get that back. But for me, utilizing it mostly, I would say, 95% of the time for blog posts, sometimes for case studies, but mostly blog posts, and I have gotten those back within 6 to 12 hours. I mean, to me, that is like unbelievable. It is absolutely unbelievable.


Steve: I'm glad to hear that. It is kind of one of the hidden benefits of the system, is that we basically inverted the laws of kind of like the incentive structure of supply and demand where the writers are kind of competing for your business. But they know once they have it that you're their person, and they're looking for you to come up.


Kelly: Yeah.


Steve: We do think we have the fastest turnaround times. Our average I think for a thousand word blog post is 48 hours. Our SLAs are much longer than that. But that's our average turnaround time. For edits, it’s less than a day.


Kelly: Right.


Steve: Yes.


Kelly: Metrics that you can be super proud of, though.


Steve: Thank you.


Kelly: Yeah. So we've sort of been throughout this conversation, sort of touching upon little features, little functions, little this, and that, and giving people a little bit of a flavor. But can you give us sort of an overall download of the platform itself? How does it work from the macro or micro level? However you want to answer that. And then how do you talk about the value for both sides? For the agencies and then also for the writers because I would imagine that both might be listening.


Steve: For sure. Yeah, I think we touched on pieces and parts here. So I’ll try not to talk too much of it. But from a high level, we're trying to rethink this model. I think there is value in rethinking how does a marketplace of skilled labor work with a SaaS model to deeply understand a vertical like content creation. And so we are reinventing us all the time. I think we have the largest investment in our technology team in the business. And so a lot of what I’m saying I hope sounds different to you, is we're trying to evolve the space. I know many of your agencies and many of your listeners have used services that pretend to do similar type of services before and have had not great experiences. And so I would like to say we're rethinking this and we think we have a better mousetrap now. And so that mousetrap is thinking about our marketplace on both sides. For the writers, we talked about better financial incentives, more secure work, and larger amount of work. So for them, writers didn't get into the business to do business development and account management. They did get in to do great writing about things that they find interesting and use a skill set that I marvel at every day, because I'm not a professional writer. I was a journalist for six months in Chile once but that's a side story. So I think the financial piece, taking the headache of the business development that all services people who start off your business because you're an expert, and then find out you have to run a business is just painful.


Kelly: Nothing that you've said will resonate more than that statement.


Steve: It's amazing. I even got an MBA. I'll get back to the point. But I got an MBA, which should be about like how do I run my own career and my own business and all they taught me was how to help other companies make more money and nothing about my own career either.


Kelly: You got it.


Steve: What do you learn? So first is financial incentives. Second is like just make an easier life, that's predictable. And like, how do you turn this into a career? I think the third is that motivation of staying interested and engaged, learning new topics. Yes, you're my legal and financial go-to writer and you've proven yourself in those spaces, but 52% of my clients indicate their vertical as other which means that you can still focus on those verticals and also write for the long tail of diesel tractor engines, or I think we write more about Kim Kardashian than any other company that I know of right now. I think that's important. And then I think community is so important. We have a really active forum where our writers are writing back and forth. They're in their own worlds. They're basically very isolated, and the smaller we can make that group, tight-knit, the more they can talk to each other online and try to create that space. And we're trying to think more actively about how to create a better overall experience. So the way that we live up to that model is we put our money where our mouth is, that we pay more, but we also put more into our product as far as writer development than we think anybody else, which is, I've worked with enough crowdsourcing companies now. I think there's like five that I've done this. And the people that always get screwed are the community and the workers because all of the product fixes go towards the clients who are screaming a lot larger and pay the checks. That's for the writer side. For the client side, you get the ability to, I think some of the natural value propositions for working with freelance platforms are obvious, you get flexibility, scalability. You don't have to have full time labor on your staff, and you get more affordability is in general than bringing on full time people. I think the more interesting things are that when you think about content creation, most companies that have internal hires are thinking about content creation of how much can I create, as opposed to how much should I create. And so if you're seeing a great impact with your content or new directions, or a new type of topics, and tones, you should follow that. You can do that with a freelancer platform like ours. If you have an internal hire, you're really restricted to basically doing that much content. And if you don't do enough content, then you're not utilizing that asset as fully as possible. I think that's really interesting. And the last is the subject matter expertise. When you have a pool of 1000 plus writers, you have people who have written on everything. When we had a legal client come to us and say that they needed a lawyer to edit every piece of content, we had 10 lawyers in our pool to edit all that content. We have the same for architects. I think one of the most interesting trends is thinking of content less as this is something that I need to do and something that content is a competitive advantage. What could I do? What if I had an architect review every piece of my home services content? What if I created 100 pieces a month because I could affordably give myself a month around every other client that nobody else can do? We're doing a lot more of those, just insanely large clients right now that I think is pretty cool.


Kelly: Yeah, amazing. As we start to wrap up here, how would you guide agency leaders as they're really starting to consider at this point where to invest in 2021? Because, I think it seems like we're kind of in this new world, this new now, for the foreseeable future. I don't think things are going to change too much. People are still going to be mostly working from home or hybrid models and things like that. So there still are going to be an influx of eyes, right? Consumers are spending more time online. Content marketing is only going to go up. You see the trend happening. I don't think that that's going to change. So if that's the case, the agency leaders that are listening and sort of wondering, how do I budget for this, like where do I invest for next year and even potentially beyond that? How would you answer that? How would you guide them?


Steve: Well, just a point of clarification. Invest for their own marketing or invest for their clients marketing?


Kelly: You could answer it either way, or both? Because I think that they probably have the same question for themselves and for their clients.


Steve: Indeed, I think you're right. So my point of view is based on observing marketers, but also what we're doing with our own content. So we produced about four times as much content in the last five months, the last two years combined. So we are going harder on content and trying to live up to that expectation. Because we believe that that's where everything is going. I just wrote a blog post that I like the title called Content Was King – But It Got Promoted. And I totally think that's true. There are other quotes out there about it's amazing how much you can believe in something if your paycheck depends on it. So that for a grain of salt, but I really do believe that content is only going to increase in value. We are putting most of our efforts there. We are starting to do actual outbound sales and paid marketing more and more as well using that content in a more effective way. Because we think that's kind of arms, those opportunities. So I will say that there's probably about a third of our strategy right now. The digital marketers that we're seeing are basically seeing about a 50% increase in the amount of content that we're producing. So I would say, think strategically about how to, if you want to go into your clients and talk about a higher retainer for content upfront, if you want to invest more of an upfront kind of content package, this is what you're going to get so it goes quicker. I highly recommend that. Thinking about customizing programs per client. We're broken down into verticals. So it's really easy to just start off clients that way as well. I think it's going to become more important. And then going back to the trends I was talking about which were content refreshes and repurposing content. Other channels are becoming more important too. So you're going in, you're analyzing your clients’ assets. Do they have podcasts? Do they have videos? What else could I use to just amplify the amount of existing content through a partner? Could I take every one of their pillar pieces and turn it into 100 blogs and use our partner to do something of that nature?


Kelly: Yeah. This is great Steve. This is really great, good stuff. And I think it's going to help a lot of the agency leaders and, the captains of their teams to go back to their clients and say, hey, we could put together the strategy. This is kind of what we would advise. These are absolutely great takeaways, and I just want to thank you so much for sharing and thanks for joining me today.


Steve: Well, thanks so much for having me. I hope that was helpful.

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EP 81: The Inflection Point of Data-Led Experience, with Todd Myers


On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Todd Myers of BRANDthro talk about the arrival of the emotion economy, and how we can blend neuroscience and AI to create experiences that are predictably more engaging for humans—and therefore much more effective for consumer brands and social impact organizations alike. Watch or listen (and share!).



 EP 81: The Inflection Point of Data-Led Experience

Duration: 18:22


Kelly: So welcome to this week's episode of Thrive. I am very excited because today we're talking about the impact of gathering emotional data and augmenting it with machine learning and AI. I'm actually joined today by Todd Meyers, who's the co-founder of BRANDthro. BRANDthro is a neuromarketing consultancy using AI and neuroscience to create a richer understanding of humans, brands, and content, but through the lens of personality, brand, experience, and language, all connected to emotion. So, that may have been a mouthful, but we're gonna dive into all of that, and really talk about the inflection point of data led experience. So Todd, thank you so much for joining me today. I am super, super stoked to have you.


Todd:  Thank you for having me.


Kelly: So let's really just kind of unpack. The emotion economy has arrived. Right? What role would you say empathy should play in customer experience?


Todd: Well, that's a big question.


Kelly: It's a big question.


Todd: It's a big question. And what's interesting is that if you'd asked me that question 5 months ago, I would have said it's a critical importance to understand how people are feeling so you can understand how they'll behave, and how they'll act. And when we say customer, look at everyone as a customer, so employees as a customer outside inside. So it's critical we understand from the C-suite perspective, how important customer experience and employee experience are, and more importantly, we determine the importance of employee advocacy, and customer advocacy as part of that experience. Well, everything changed. If you asked that question before March 13 and you kind of look at with deer in the headlights, what does that mean? Well, we, all of a sudden understood what advocacy mean starting March 13th, saying it now means safety, security, and somebody has my back. And that pervasive understanding of what someone is feeling in this current state is critical for any brand to succeed. Then the world changed again on March 25 after George Floyd murder, and we understood a whole another texture and a whole another layer of what does safety and security mean. And so, let's start with the employee experience first, because everyone being a customer, and by understanding how you're going to engage, and what are the key experiences that are going to be most resonant with them in a remote environment for most of us, and then what is actually going to make them feel safe and secure through multiple lenses, and what's the best language to use to actually engage them and make them feel engaged, productive, and a part of making change. All those things that vary from brand to brand, but have an overall arching theme that has to be throughout all societies. So that at its highest level is what we're talking about when the importance of understanding how people are feeling when creating experiences, whether it be internally or externally.


Kelly: I think that's a good overarching frame. Most people are going to say, “Well, what about the economics”? So let's get into the economics. When we talk about them from both qualitative and quantitative KPI standpoint, how does emotionally or data lead experiences really impact a moment to drive an action?


Todd: So it's my favorite question. We are an insights company. But what good are insights just for insights sake? So our objective is to look at the economics of emotion. So understanding by creating emotionally optimized communications, emotionally optimized experiences, emotionally optimized, you fill in the blank wherever you're actually going to touch a customer. By making them feel something, you'll be able to move them to act. And actually, the more intense that emotion is, the higher the emotional intensity a brand has with its target, the higher degree of trust, loyalty, and spend will result. So in a world where no one knows where to turn to feel safe and secure, you were looking to brands and we will look to brands to make us feel safe, secure and trust.

Kelly: It actually makes me think of the recent Nike spot. I don't know if you saw that. Someone posted it on LinkedIn. I think it was Rod Hess from Rally Marketing who posted it on his LinkedIn, a client of mine and I shared it. It was such an amazing spot, incredibly emotional, really, really well done in terms of like the video production. And, again, it's exactly what you're talking about, right? It covered all of those emotional, obviously it was very on brand in terms of, it was showing the athletes in many different sports and sort of like showing them transitioning from one to the other of all different backgrounds and really kind of this very in solidarity type of message. But it was just incredibly done. I don't think that there was even a word spoken in the entire spot. It was just all done visually, but incredibly emotional.


Todd: Nike is a great brand, a great example, who hits the emotional button every single time.


Kelly: Every time.


Todd: And there are some brilliant strategists out there, some brilliant creatives out there. What we're saying is, what if you were to actually test those themes, test the language before you actually spent however many millions of dollars on a spot to test, what if you actually test it before it went to market. So you knew how somebody was going to feel before you spent a dime. So our whole philosophy is playing at the strategic phase of any sort of experienced development, whether it be a commercial, or whether it be a cultural event, or whatever it is, what somebody was going to feel, what their reaction was going to be and what their behavior would be before you spent a dime. So from an efficiency and efficacy perspective, and the economics perspective, we support optimizing not only your spend, but optimizing your emotional engagement.


Kelly: Right. I just want to go back for a second because you mentioned George Floyd. And I was wondering like, is there an example or some anecdote that you could share about how the proprietary approach that you're taking at BRANDthro is really going to benefit organizations as they respond to social justice and diversity inclusion efforts in their own organizations.


Todd: Absolutely. I can speak about it anecdotally. So we're working with a number of brands that have had particular interest right now around cultural development. And understanding that while D&I has been a guiding light for many brands today, it's taken on a whole new context right now. And I think that it's no longer business as usual. It’s no longer checking boxes. We know there is going to be an opportunity to optimize the language you're using when talking about what does race mean, what does it mean to be diverse, what does it mean to be inclusive, and what are the various kind of lenses you need to look at that including social justice, to say, how are we going to behave, how are we going to stand up as a brand internally, and we believe that, especially now, it's important to start with the employee and culture because then it halos out. And again, back to economics, that will improve productivity if someone is feeling safe and more comfortable in their in their own skin, in their own workforce, and then the ability to actually attract other employees because there is such a strong approach to diversity inclusion, and I don't believe it's the same approach. I believe now's the time that we're going to really see some catalysts of change. And we hope, and what we're working to do is identify what are some of those pivot points that we can actually take advantage of to not only benefit the organization as a whole but benefit society. So how do you ultimately stand up in an authentic way? Because every brand has to do it in the most authentic way possible. Because we've seen some of these steps already.


Kelly: Right. Yeah, it's interesting. There are a couple of really great organizations that are I think, leading this newer movement that is really rooted in the fact that talking about language, diversity and inclusion as a term, D&I as a term, maybe kind of misses the mark. And so there's this whole movement that's like, could we stop talking about D&I? It was really just checking boxes. Right?


Todd: Well, it's interesting you say that. We had our 2020 trend report that we put out for this year 2020 that we reframe D&I in a concept of brand justice.


Kelly: Oh I love that.


Todd: So it's all encompassing, and it's really understanding how does a brand step up. D&I still has connotations of checking boxes. Okay, we have this person, this person, this person, but yet, they don't have a voice. They don't necessarily have a seat at the table. There is no cross pollination of ideas. And that's the benefit of having a more diverse environment, is the diversity of ideas. I absolutely agree we've been testing different types of language. We did a bunch of testing. We did a study around COVID language and Black Lives Matters language, to see how it was resonating with voters who are 19 to 40 that are male, female, and that are white and nonwhite. So again, looking at how people feel emotionally and react to specific language, and then identify what language they are most emotionally resonating with. Again, this was not brand specific, but the opportunity is to customize it to a brand to ensure that they're using the right language to connect with their target and their employees.


Kelly: Right. So that 2020 trend report that you're talking about?


Todd: Yes.


Kelly: You did that in December, but then you just mentioned some stuff around COVID and racial strife and things along those lines. Was that report updated since then? Or is the report that you're talking about from December?


Todd: The report I'm talking about is from December. We've just begun to release some of the insights from a study that we actually just completed a couple of weeks ago.


Kelly: Okay, great.


Todd: That’s a research study. Yeah.


Kelly: Okay. Got it. So definitely, we'll put the link to the 2020 trends reports in the show notes, for sure.


Todd: Yes.


Kelly: So let's talk a little bit about the technology itself, because I think that that's kind of interesting. What are the downfalls of sort of that, like, positive, negative neutral effect from third party technologies compared to what you're doing with BRANDthro?


Todd: Okay, well, what's typically available, there are a lot of people out there doing very well is what's called sentiment analysis. And sentiment analysis is really reactive language. So they're calling, let's say, Twitter, Facebook, all the other channels. They're saying, listen, your target is using this language when talking about your brand. And then they're inferring what's positive, what's negative, and what's neutral; however there are false positives and false negatives. So the limitation is that is that there's no true science behind it. What we're doing is primary research; that before anything is created, we're looking at both through the lens of personality and brand experience; that we're looking at understanding who the target is. So creating commercial intimacy. And then we're looking at brand language through both primary and secondary emotions. So primary emotions predict behavior, secondary emotions identify where there are underlying tensions that might lie beneath that primary emotion. And then we're able to weigh the emotional intensity that someone feels when reacting to a piece of language because the higher the emotional intensity, the higher the degree of trust, loyalty, and spend will result. What's unique about our approach is that we're using data science and not statistical analysis. So statistical analysis can be applied to an environment where everything is black and white. There is no multiple choice. Well, you can have multiple emotions. You can have multiple emotions to any one piece of language. So emotion is thought not to be in equilibrium. So when applying statistical analysis models, they're flawed because there are too many assumptions. But by applying data science, which is something that our head of data science created an algorithm that is able to say, measure what that weight is of that emotion or continuum of love to anger. We're able to predict with accuracy of 99% with sample size of only 100. So we're basically putting math behind emotion. So it is the data and its math. So it's accurate to .01 decimal places. So 99%.


Kelly: Unbelievable. The power of that. If you really think about putting math behind the motion. Yeah, incredible.


Todd: And again, back to the idea of Nike. When you're not Nike. The power is, you may have great ideas and we may identify there's just subtlety between the ideas, but yet one is better because it's math. It is better than the other because of we've measured how somebody is actually emotionally reacting to it.


Kelly: Yeah, so because we have or you have the ability to do that to that level of accuracy, and all of the gradient and all of the spectrum in between, which statistical analysis does not provide, there's a huge opportunity in that and the opportunity is to create these experiences that are extremely interactive and extremely engaging because you have the ability to predict that they will be. So I guess as we start to wrap up, what are some of the discussions that you've been having either internally or with other organizations in terms of the types of applications that this could be used for. Because I would imagine that, really, it's almost unlimited what you could apply this to.


Todd: So we're marketers that have created a technology for marketers. We saw two major pain points being everyone out there who's listening knows that your customer segmentations just don't tell you enough. And they're not actionable and they're stale by the time you get them. So we have the ability to actually create a rich understanding who they are through the Big Five OCEAN model. So that's our personality framework views. We're able to look at brand experience features that are most important to the target. And again, because we need small sample sizes, we're able to get to micro targets within that overall sample. So it's very exciting. You can create niche understandings, let's say within a vodka drinker, you're able to get to three ethnicities within the vodka drinker community, and create custom experiences for each of those microsegment. So we're able to understand not only the experiences that are most important to them, but then actually do some analysis to do some pairwise analysis to actually drive innovation within that space related to that target. And then we're able to look at brand language to create customer experiences that actually will move the needle. And we know from experience that we're able to move the needle on engagement and actually drive sales. So that goes back to the whole economics of really what is one of the most exciting things about how we are applying what it is we're doing right now.


Kelly: Yeah. Unbelievable. I mean, it's absolutely fascinating.


Todd: Thank you.


Kelly: I will put a link to the website in the show notes. And thank you so much for coming on. Really want to stay in touch and hear how this is going. I don't know. It's really exciting. And I love the fact that yes, we are at this inflection point, we're finally really taking emotion seriously. So that's exciting to me.


Todd: I think it's an exciting time in culture because I think that what this quarantine has shown us how important empathy is. Finally, it's kind of like something we've been talking about for years. And really what drives empathy is language. In response to your last question, it does have application wherever there's a customer engagement. So wherever there's a customer, there's a need to improve your emotional engagement and your emotional EQ. So you're absolutely right. There's broad application.


Kelly: Yeah, great. Again, thank you so much, Todd.


Todd: My pleasure. Thank you.

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EP 80: Delegate to Attain Work/Life Integration, with Nate Hirsch


On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Nate Hirsch from Outsourced School talk about delegation as a means to one of the ultimate goals for every agency leader: living a fully integrated life. Watch or listen (and share!).



 EP 80:Delegate to Attain Work/Life Integration

Duration: 19:27


Kelly: So welcome to this week's episode of Thrive. I am joined by Nate Hirsch. She's the co-founder of Outsource School, which is an educational platform for entrepreneurs that want to learn a little bit more about how to scale their businesses with reliable virtual assistance. We're going to be talking about how to delegate in order to attain that elusive work-life integration, not balance, but integration. Nate, thank you so much for joining me today.


Nate: Yeah Kelly, thanks for having me. Yeah, it should be a lot of fun. Excited to be here.


Kelly: So we talked a little bit earlier that prior to Outsource School, you actually founded FreeUp, which is how I've known you for the last couple of years. You ran that for about five years straight, and you were able to turn a $5,000 investment into a $12 million company which you're able to sell. Can you go into a little bit more of that story? And even some backstory before that. How were you able to do all of that? And, what did you learn from all of it?


Nate: Yeah, so before that, I mean, when I was 20, I started off buying and selling people's textbooks. That's how I first got into being an entrepreneur. I was a sophomore in college, and I started doing that. And I actually got a cease and desist letter from my college telling me to knock it off. And my parents were both teachers. So I didn't want to get kicked out of school. That wouldn't have gone over too well. So I pivoted, and this was 2008, 2009. Amazon was bursting onto the scenes. They were just starting to sell things more than books. And I had sold books there. I had an Amazon account. And I thought it was so cool. I could have this 24/7 storefront that would automatically deposit money in my bank account, like all this stuff was new. And I started experimenting, and I tried products I was familiar with. Through a lot of trial and error, I eventually got really good at selling baby products for whatever reason. If you can imagine me as a 20 year old single college guy selling millions of dollars of baby products on Amazon. That was me. And I got in a really good time. The business was scaling and I needed help. I had to start hiring people. And I tried hiring college kids, they were pretty unreliable. They were smoking weed and drinking on the job and over sleeping shifts. So I had to pivot out of necessity. And a buddy of mine told me about the oDesk of the world, the online hiring platforms. And I started hiring people there. And at first I had no idea what I was doing. It took me years to develop a really good hiring process, which we actually now teach at Outsource School. But I also didn't like those platforms. It took forever to post a job, get 100 applicants, interview them one by one. I wanted something better, something faster. And eventually I said, you know what, I'll build this myself. And so my business partner, Connor and I, we took $5,000, we built this very crummy software that no one really liked And we took it to market. And we had, at that time, a really good hiring process and a really good Rolodex of VAs and freelancers that were reliable that knew the Amazon space well. So we started going after Amazon sellers. And our whole pitch was we pre-vet people before we let them in on our platform, which Upwork and Fiverr don't do. We’ll match you up quickly. If you need a designer, we'll get you someone within an hour, within a day and you can get started right away. You don't have to go through 50 applicants. And if even the smallest thing goes wrong, we'll have great support, great protection in the back end. If someone quits on you, we’ll cover all replacement costs. And while people hated our software, they loved the VA and freelancers. They liked the support. And we were able to scale. And I think that there are lots of reasons why we were able to scale. I think, going into the lessons that we learned. And I'll let you jump in here too. I mean, with the Amazon business, we had no idea how to hire. It took us years to figure that out. And when we started FreeUp, we knew how to hire, we could hit the ground running. But we didn't have any idea how to market because with Amazon, you pay Amazon the 15%. They get all the customers for you. And with FreeUp we're having on website, we have to get SEO or we have to learn SEO, we have to learn how to market, we have to have an affiliate program, like all this stuff was new. And we started doing a lot of trial and error figuring out. Hey, how do we set up a really good affiliate program? How do we get on podcast? How do we set up partnerships? How do we put out great content? Networking is a big thing that I started doing. I'm a big proponent of networking. And how do we get in front of the influencers that promote us and that's really the organic marketing playbook that we learned how to do with the help of VAs. Our VA is doing 80 90% of that. And now that we do Outsource School, we're kind of applying the hiring, applying the organic playbook, and teaching other people how to do the same thing.


Kelly: Right, right. So what would you say are some of the advantages of actually going with a VA over hiring someone that's well, in person is an interesting word right now, but as an employee who's not a virtual assistant? What are some of the advantages of one over the other specifically for the agency leader himself or herself?


Nate: Yeah, so before I answer that question, you have to understand how I define a virtual assistant because some people think that everyone that works from home is a VA which is fine. When I'm talking about a VA, I'm really talking about followers. So there's three different levels that an entrepreneur, that an agency leader can hire. That's followers, doers, and experts. So, followers think 5 to 10 bucks an hour, non-US, they might have years of experience, but they're there to follow your system, your process. If you don't have a system and process in place, you can't hire the follower. And that's what I'm talking about virtual assistant. The doers are graphic designers, video editors, writers. You're not teaching a graphic designer how to be a graphic designer, but they're not consulting with you either. They're there to do that one task at a high level. And then you've got the experts, high level freelancers, coaches, consultants, could be agencies or white labeling, labelling their own system, their own strategy to the table. And just like you wouldn't hire an expert and say, hey, I'm gonna train you how to do this, you wouldn't hire a VA and say, I don't know how to run Facebook ads, go run my Facebook ads. That's not gonna work out too well for you. So when you're just talking about the followers, and I like hiring US people for the doers and the experts. If you hire let's take customer service, for example, or executive assistant, you hire an executive assistant in the US for 15 bucks an hour, which isn't a terrible rate, isn't an amazing rate, it’s pretty average. And let's say best case scenario, you spend a lot of time training them, they're a rockstar, they're really good at their job, but how long are they going to be happy at 15 bucks an hour? Eventually, they're going to want 18, 20, 25. And then you run into a tough position as a business owner because your options are, you drastically overpay for a following position, or you start all over and all that investment you made in them is gone. And if you hire someone, let's say in the Philippines, 5 bucks an hour, which minimum wage in the Philippines is $12 a day. So 5 bucks an hour is a pretty great opportunity for them. Let's say best case scenario, they're a rock star, pay them 7, pay them 9, pay them 11, they're going to be with you for a very long period of time. So a lot of agency leaders aren't thinking about that long term. They're just more focused on the convenience of having someone in the US short term.


Kelly: Okay, so that's great. So that gives us an understanding of that follower, doer, and expert. Are there additional advantages specifically for the followers, hiring the VA versus the in person? I guess we could call it, you know, it's so funny we have to change our language. So instead of in person employee, now we would just say maybe someone who's on payroll in some capacity.


Nate: Right. So you go back 20 years ago, and you have to hire people full time, you have to hire people in your town or the towns around you. You need an office. And fast forward to today, you not only don't need to hire people in your town or the town around you. You can hire people from all over the world at different price points, different skill sets; you can hire them. I just hired a bookkeeper 5 hours a month. I have an EA that started off 10 hours a week. So you have a lot more flexibility as an entrepreneur that you didn't have before. There's also a factor of time zones. Most businesses now run 24/7. And while people in the Philippines might be willing to work graveyard shift because they're a little bit more used to that, getting people in the US to work overnight usually doesn't happen. So by hiring people from all over the world, you get to really make your business run 24/7. You get access to a lot more talent, and you make it a lot more flexible than if you're only hiring people in the US.


Kelly: So you use a VA yourself. Maybe you use multiples, I don't know. How do you personally think about designing your ideal day? And then how does that fit into how you utilize those VAs?


Nate: Yeah, so with FreeUp, we had 35 full time remote VAs in the Philippines. That company was obviously acquired. And now we have two VAs that are working with us in Outsource School and we'll build up from there. For me a big part of being an entrepreneur. And I wish that I had learned this a long time ago is figuring out what my ideal day looks like. And what works for me might not work for other people. But what I start with is what are the most productive hours for me? And for me, it's right when I wake up from 7 to 9 AM. That's my most productive. I have a buddy who's most productive from 2 AM to 4 AM. That's his thing. And that's fine too. He better be maximizing that every single day. So when I wake up whatever the most important thing is that day, that's what I'm doing. And what I have a VA do is they wake up before me from 5 AM to 7 AM. They clear my inbox. They book all my podcasts. They schedule my meetings. And that gives me a head start to every day. So instead of spending the first hour of my day answering emails and booking things, I can get started on that big project right away. Then I know that I want to break. Once I've spent two hours working on the most important thing, I want to go to the gym for an hour. I do very intense workouts. That's my break. And when I come back, I usually have another good hour left in me of maybe not the most important thing but some kind of project that day. I'm also a big proponent of going on podcasts. I go on a podcast today. I'm booked out through August. And for the most part, I like doing my podcasts between 11 AM and 1 PM. I don't want to do them first thing when I wake up. I don't want to do them later in the day when I'm exhausted. So my one podcast is scheduled during that time, and then the from 12, or 1 to 3 o'clock. And I try to end my day at 3 so that I can focus on my fiancé, my dogs, whatever. That's the time that I'm doing phone calls, and now I work remote so I can walk outside. I don't necessarily have to be in my office or at my computer, whether it's an internal call, an external call, like a networking call. So that's how I structure my day. And that's the same foundation that other entrepreneurs can use, to do the same thing.


Kelly: Yeah, that's great. And I think a lot of people are like, wow, that sounds amazing. I could never structure my day like that. But the reality is, you have the choice to do that. And delegating gives you that ability to have that work-life integration, which is precisely what you've just described.


Nate: Right. And there are exceptions to every rule, right? Like Roland Frasier invited me on his podcast last week, and he had an open spot at 7 PM. I'm not going to say oh sorry, I only do podcasts from 11 to 1. Like, at some point, there's a certain element of common sense where you'll make exceptions, but you want to make your ideal day as consistent as possible, as many days as possible on the weekend.


Kelly: Allowing for a lot of that flexibility.


Nate: Yeah.


Kelly: So with Outsource School, and the fact that it's an educational platform to really help entrepreneurs understand more about all of the different facets that go into hiring a virtual assistant, what are some of the most common mistakes that you've seen some of those entrepreneurs make prior to coming to Outsource School?


Nate: So I like to divide hiring into four parts. You have interviewing, onboarding, training, and managing. Most entrepreneurs know you need to interview someone. Most entrepreneurs know you need to train someone. And most groups know on some level you have to manage them. Where everyone messes up is the onboarding. And I'll give you an example. Let's say that you interview a bunch of VAs. You like Jane, you want to hire Jane at 5 bucks an hour. What the average entrepreneur does is they say, Jane, that was a great interview, you're hired at 5 bucks an hour, let's jump into training. Well, what we teach people to do at Outsource School is what we call our SICC method, which is Schedule Issues Communication Culture. And we go to Jane, and we say, that was a great interview, we want to hire you at 5 bucks an hour. First, let's make sure you're really good with 5 bucks an hour. Maybe she got another job offer. Maybe her other clients are paying her 10. And if she is, we'll talk about bonuses and raises, so she knows what to expect. And then we'll have a 20 to 30 minute conversation where we go over the schedule for me, what other commitments she has, what other clients she has, what are their schedule, how many hours is she working total, is she already working 100 hours a week before she adds my hours. So we go through that. We go through issues which could be personal, computer, internet, power, weather, for every issue we want to know how often you had that issue. What is the backup plan when you have it because we don't work with VAs that are one issue away from not being able to work for an extended period of time. And how are you going to communicate that issue? If you lose power, we're not just going to wait for you to come back in five days. How are you going to get a hold of me or my team? Then we go through communication. What channels we use? Do I like email? Do I hate email? Am I using Time Doctor, am I not. We want to make sure they like the software and agree to use the software that we use to communicate. And then lastly, we go through culture, which everyone's culture is different. But we set the expectation that we don't care how talented you are, how good at your job you are, if you're not a culture fit, you're not going to last in this business. We don't put up with drama. We don't put up with any of that. And once we've gone through rate, bonuses, raises, schedule issues, communication culture, we give the VA a chance to ask questions, and we give them a chance to back out. And we would much rather that the VA backs out than for us to find out that our expectations were too high down the line. That 20 to 30 minute conversation can save you tons of hours, tons of money down the line in issues.


Kelly: I agree with that. My natural question to the last C about culture is so you're sort of telling them upfront, this is what our culture looks like. Do you fit into that? You're having that conversation. How do you I guess from an onboarding standpoint, how do you educate your clients on Outsource School as to how to best support that VA? So you're saying culture from your end to theirs? But how do you support them, so that they're set up for success as well?


Nate: So they understand what their culture is. Is that what you’re saying? 


Kelly: Yeah, so instead of it being just this is the agency culture like you're either a fit or not, or like where is the reciprocity? Or where's the support for them as an individual in that.


Nate: Sure. So culture is a tough thing. There's kind of three parts to it. You have to figure out what your culture is. You have to find people that are fit your culture and then you have to maintain that culture down the line. So step one is figuring out what your culture is. And we share what ours is. We're all about ideas and feedback. And people that don't just say yes, because I'm the boss, I'm the owner that will speak up if something's wrong and bring stuff to the table. And we also teach them what we look for in VA. We want someone that has an entrepreneurial spirit that doesn't just care about money, that cares about self-improvement, and learning and building. And they can tweak that however they want. And by time you get to onboarding, you've already done an interview process and our interview process, we call it the care method, which is Communication, Attitude, Red flags, and Experience. And when you go through the attitude, that's when you find out what's important of the VA, that's when you tell them a little bit more about the culture. So by the time you get to the onboarding, you already know what the VA is like from the interview, you've already kind of told them what the culture is. And the onboarding is more of that chance to reinforce it and make it very clear what you put up with, what you don't put up with, and really encourage the VA that, hey, like, it's okay, if you're not a good fit for the culture, like we want to create a win-win for you and for us, where if there's a company that's a better fit for you in what you're looking for, then we want you to go take that opportunity. So it's really educating our client base to figure out what their culture is, figure out how to find out if the VA has that culture and how to communicate that to the VA, that isn't in an intimidating way where they're maybe a little bit shy, they might accept the job because they need a job and really making sure that it's a fit for everyone.


Kelly: Got it. Okay, so you are making sure that they understand that they have a voice as well. And they can bring up different concerns or different things that they need in order to do their jobs well to support the organization.


Nate: Absolutely. We have clients that will send us screenshots of them communicating with the VA, and sometimes people in the US, including me back in the day tend to be a little bit more direct, a little bit more aggressive when we're handling issues or something comes up and sometimes we have to teach them to hey, take a step back, approach this a little different way. Because a lot of times they'll just retreat and become shy and tell you what you want to hear, which isn't really good for anyone.


Kelly: Right. Well, that's where the more feminine language comes in.


Nate: Hundred percent.


Kelly: All of that. Yeah. Okay. So as we start to wrap up, I mean, what would you say is your very best piece of advice or pieces of advice for agency leaders who are not already working with a virtual assistant, but are considering doing so especially right now?


Nate: So there's two steps that I would take before you even get into the interviewing, onboarding, training, and managing, and that's figuring out what your budget is, which is incredibly important. A lot of people skip this step. They hire someone, and they realize I can't afford them. And we have a free VA calculator on the Outsource School site. You can do the math yourself, but you want to figure out how much money do I make every month. How aggressive do I want to be in my hiring? Do you want to invest 50% of your profits? 10%? I tend to be around 20 to 30. And from that, you can figure out, hey, the average VA is 5 to 10 bucks an hour. How many VAs can I afford? Can I hire, afford three full time, one part-time, 10 hours a week, 20 hours a week, whatever it is. Once you have that, create a list of everything you do on a day to day, week to week basis.


Kelly: And not just you as the agency owner, but some of your team members as well?


Nate: Exactly. I like to start with the actual owner, because usually there's a lot of very easy stuff that can just quickly get off their plate and you can get the 5 to 10 hours a week back but then it becomes your team depending on what your budget is and how many VAs you can afford. And by ordering it easiest to hardest, that's a really good starting point to find the easiest tasks that you can relocate 5 hours from day to day operations or repetitive tasks that you know how to do into the strategy, the sales, the expansion, the marketing. And once you figure out how many you can afford and what tasks you want to take off your plate, then the interview process begins.


Kelly: Okay, great. Well, I'm definitely going to put a link to that as well as just a general link to into the show notes. And Nate, just want to say thank you so much for joining me today. This has been really, really helpful.


Nate: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

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EP 79: Bringing Awareness to Our Blind Spots, with Amira Alvarez


On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Amira Alvarez talk about how past programming keeps agency owners from leveling up and why it’s so hard to visualize ourselves being in alignment with what we want. Watch or listen (and share!).



 EP 79: Bringing Awareness to Our Blind Spots

Duration: 28:11


Kelly: Welcome to this week's episode of Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we're talking about how to bring awareness to our blind spots. And I'm joined by Amira Alvarez, founder and CEO of The Unstoppable Woman, which is essentially a global coaching company, helping entrepreneurs and creatives achieve their dreams and goals in record time. Amira, thank you so much for being here. I'm really excited.


Amira: I'm excited to be here. Thanks for having me.


Kelly: So your personal story is really rooted in figuring out how to get out of your own way, which is like the thing that none of us can seem to figure out in a short amount of time. So can you do a little storytelling for us to kick off the episode? 


Amira: Absolutely. So my personal story is like life is good but it's not great. It's not extraordinary. And without diminishing the good, how do you get to great, how do you get to extraordinary, how do you get to be living the life that you have in your mind's eye, like your aspirational life, without diminishing the fact that we're humans with human struggles? And there's going to be stuff that comes up, but like, how do we really go for more. And I looked around and there were people who actually had pinnacle lives. And in their lane, they had pinnacle success. And I'm more of a renaissance person. I'm not Michael Jordan who's gonna be like the best, or let's use a female example, Serena Williams. They are in their lane. How did they do that? It was almost like I used that as an excuse, like, oh, they're just a tennis player. They can concentrate all that. And here I am. I'm a generalist at life. I want to excel in my business, of course. Well, that was enforced to me. But I also want to have this delighted lit up life in all aspects. And so, I kind of use that as an excuse. And at some point I realized, I don't have a clue how to do this. I'm staying in the good all the time, right? It never got to pinnacle. And, you'd have these little moments of highlights, but it never really got to that high level of success. And it never dropped super terrible.


Kelly: So like complacent? Do you think it was complacency?


Amira: I didn't see myself as complacent. I saw myself as an action taker, actually kind of driven and ambitious and like top of my class and all of that. I would never have self-describe myself as complacent or lazy or any of that. In fact, I think that's a real key part of this story, which is, I understood hard work. I understood drive. I understood going for excellence. I understood that but I wasn't actually getting the results that I thought that equation like hard work, I bought it, hook, line, and sinker, “Hard work gets you the results you want.” And hard work is part of it. Life, you need to put effort into things. But that wasn't the key for me in terms of scaling my business. And when I had this wakeup call, it was the end of another 12, 14, 15 hour day like it was a long day. And I was at the end of the day, I was sitting on the floor of my office leaning up against the couch that I had in there with my laptop on my lap, trying to get one more thing done and here's the sort of behind the scenes ugly truth of it. I was still in the clothes that I had slept in. They weren't sexy clothes. They were dog haired covered sweats with like the big T-shirt. I'm all about comfort also, but like, it was not an elevated experience. I hadn't taken a shower that day and I hadn't brushed my teeth and it was like 7 PM at night. So there I was, sitting on the floor of my office, like all of this. I hadn't brushed my teeth. I hadn't washed my face. And my husband is like, hey, baby, come down for dinner. And I'm like, calling down. Yeah, I'll be right down. Just need to get one more thing done. And of course, one more thing was another thing, was another thing, was another thing, and 20 minutes, 40 minutes passed, and he's like, hey, baby, I'm starting for dinner. Not out of resentment or anything but like, you do you but I'm gonna have my dinner. And I was like, I cannot sustain this. I'm not getting the value out of this. I'm not actually getting ahead. I'm just in fear. I'm in fear that if I don't do the next thing, the House of Cards is gonna fall apart. And so at that point, I was like, there's got to be a better way. I understand that intellectually, I'm using my rational brain here. And there's got to be a better way. But I'm not I'm attached to this way of being. And I can't see myself out. And at that point, I went on a search for how to break through, how to actually do life and do business differently. I studied the tactics, the strategies, marketing, and how to create your business and all that, which is absolutely essential. And what the key for me was learning how my subconscious programming was stopping me and how I had a self-image that was attached to doing in a particular way that I didn't even understand existed, but was driving all my actions and not consciously but unconsciously on autopilot. When I figured this out, and took the next level actions, like because the awareness is one part, but then there's action, I went from making 138 a year to making 700K a year. That blew my mind like that was something that I personally thought I could do it. That wasn't my self-image. It’s what I wanted, but the reason it blew my mind was I didn't think I could do it, but I did it. And then keep scaling, keep going across the 7 figure mark, all of that. And now this is what I teach regularly, and help people break through.


Kelly: Right. So you hit on something that the episode that I had Aaron Rose on. He talked about past programming. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because that's probably a little bit more of an unfamiliar concept to most of the people listening or watching.


Amira: Absolutely. So ever so briefly, we have a conscious mind and we have a subconscious mind. Conscious mind can accept or reject things, can make choices. It's where we think rationally about X, Y & Z then PDQ. All of this stuff. Our subconscious mind is where our programming lies. We were an open fishbowl. Meaning, we couldn't reject anything from our outside environment up until the age of say, 7 to 10. And so we're like this open fishbowl, everything in our environment comes in, and we create a belief structure, our paradigms, the meaning, the lens through which we see the world and our self-image, the meaning that we are ourselves. And, this works in a lot of ways. This is how we're socialized. This is how we're raised. In lots of ways that works, but in some fundamental ways, it doesn't work if you were brought up to think, say you're in business for yourself and you know that you need to make sales to run your business. Otherwise, it's a hobby and it's not a business. But if you were brought up to think asking for something, asking for what you want is overstepping, or you're asking for too much, then you're gonna have a really hard time asking for the sale. And that's a very specific example. When we're kid, we're in the toy store, and we're like, hey, mommy, I want the big wheels or I want the new tennis racket or the Barbie or whatever your thing was. And maybe ask mommy, maybe ask daddy, whatever it was, you asked for something. And your parent probably said something that either was a no or not now, or maybe later or if you jump through this hoop, you can get it or if you put that on the list, you can get it. There's something around asking that wasn't okay. And then we layer onto that. They probably had money stuff, 98% of people have money stuff. And they were like, oh, I can't afford that. We're not going to make rent this month. And I'm going to say something to deflect it. But energetically, we know that we've done something wrong because they feel guilty about saying no, or they don't feel clean about that.


Kelly: Right. And we've caused that, in that primal parent, that primer.


Amira: Correct. And then you have a belief in your programming and your subconscious programming that says, you're not conscious about this at all, okay? It's like just this underlying thing. Asking for what you want is dangerous because mommy gets mad and cuts off the love. And we know that our love, like how we survive as kids, how we know we're gonna survive, is if that love connection is still there. Because mommy and daddy were parents. They were where the survival came from. We know that instinctually. So there's a ton of these. This is just one very obvious example. That wasn't obvious to me at all when I was starting this. Now to finish this teaching point, the subconscious is running this program. It's on autopilot. And it is telling your conscious mind what to think about everything that comes into your world. So using that sales conversation example, again, you're in a conversation with a potential client, you're presenting your proposal, and they say, I want to think about it. Your subconscious says, oh, okay, that's fine. I'm not going to ask for anything else. So it doesn't put a follow up, call on the schedule. I teach people how to have a sales conversation. You have to ask some follow up questions there. You have to say, what is it that you need to think about? I'd love to speak to your concerns. What is it that you want to go back and think about? Because oftentimes I can help you work through that. Not pushy, not creepy, or weird; it's of service. But if you don't think you can ask, you will interpret that as oh, they'll just get back to me. And then you wonder why you're not making any sales.


Kelly: You’re not closing.


Amira: Right.


Kelly: It's so interesting. There was a blog post that I wrote a few months ago, that was along these very similar lines, but it was using the attachment style theory or attachment theory. Mary Ainsworth study in psychological development and how attachment theory from my perspective leads to exactly what you're talking about, difficulty with new business, difficulty for asking for what you need. Difficulty closing the sale. And like how a person's response, whether they decide, hey, we're gonna choose a different agency, or whatever the situation is; how that response and how you respond to their respond is actually from childhood. I mean, we might call this like past programming or attachment style or all of these different things. There's a ton of different ways that you can sort of contextualize it. But it all comes down to the same thing, it's this program that's running underneath the surface. And so, what about in terms of like our self-image, being in alignment with what we want? Obviously, this is part of why it's so difficult, but I would imagine that there are other reasons or other factors why it's so difficult for those two things to be in harmony.


Amira: Absolutely. So one of the ways that I help people intellectually understand this because we need to have an intellectual grasp on it. So we can then use our conscious mind to make different decisions because your subconscious is going to just keep going. The way to change is to make a different decision. But that's very hard if your subconscious is telling you what to think about every decision that you have to make. So we have to reprogram our subconscious. And one way, we need to do is to look at this our self-image and remap that. So, if you have a self-image that says like, I am someone who only can charge a certain amount. So let's say you have the self-image that you're not supposed to be the pinnacle person or the person who knocks it out of the park and you're not supposed to be using the example that I started off this conversation with, or the bottom of the class, but you're supposed to be like top of the class but don't stand out too far. And you have the self-image. And you have that self-image that you have to struggle for your success. That was one of mine. Like, if I didn't struggle for it, I wasn't worthy. There's many more but you have this image of yourself of how the world works and who you are in it. And you have a cybernetic mechanism, which is your subconscious programming that's going to, here's your self-image, it's like a target on the wall, and you're going up to your new idea of what you want your business to go to, Kelly's coaching you and you're like going gangbusters, and then realizes that you're going to miss that target and it will pull you back down. And this becomes this famine cycle, all of that because you have a target that says, this is who you are. It's like a heat seeking missile or like the cybernetic mechanism on your thermostat. If you set it to 70 and you get to 72, it's going to bring you back to 70. You drop back to 68, it's going to bring you back to 70. That's how we work. So we're constantly doing things that bring us back to our self-image, our target, and we're completely unconscious that we're doing this.


Kelly: And that's where I think some of these things like fear of failure, fear of success, a lot of those like the big fears that our subconscious or unconscious, those are the things that bring you back to that thermostat setting. I think that's a great analogy.


Amira: Yeah. And it comes out in the most reasonable ways that you will agree with. So like, let's use the sales example, again. You're doing great. You're making sales. You're on target for your new big goal. And then your subconscious is like, whoa, you're going in the wrong direction. And suddenly you'll have a team issue. Three people leave. You have to hire new people. There's a real issue there. It's not that there's not a real thing that you have to deal with. But you take your eye off of the sales ball for a month, and you start, you don't make sales. This is the feast or famine cycle. But it your subconscious got you to agree with stopping to make sales because you had to deal with this team issue. So it's completely reasonable. But it's this mechanism at play. And you have to break through on that, on all these friends but consistently, stick to where you're going, and take action that's in alignment with your true goal, not with your subconscious. And it feels like oil and water, like all of you is going to be saying, you got to deal with the team stuff. And that comes first. When you really have to be consistent. Did I do my outreach today?


Kelly: So what we're overarchingly talking about are really these blind spots that we have, because they're blind because they are unconscious. So at a high level, what is your methodology when you work with clients? What is your methodology for helping people see those blind spots and bring awareness to them?


Amira: Yeah, so there's a lot of different angles, pathways to that; of course, not one size fits all. But fundamentally, I ask them about where they want to go. So we get super clear on their goals and we make sure that there's more meaning behind them, that they want it badly enough because mediocre goals, you won't do the work that's required to break through. You need to be madly in love with it even if it scares you. So for instance, that year that I made a big quantum leap. I was saying, I want to make a million dollars. I heard that you could make a million dollars a year. Why can't I? Okay, I'm gonna try for that. I didn't know how to do it. I made the decision. I was going to do it before I knew how it was a big juicy goal. And if I had chosen like I had made 138 the year before, if I had chosen say, let's get to 200 this year, which is a completely reasonable incremental goal. I would not have been as excited or pushing, really driving myself. And having that bigger goal created new ideas of how and methodologies and where. So first, I really get clear on where someone truly wants to go and then we look at what's stopping them, what has consistently gotten in their way. We have a whole conversation about that. And then we come up with two prongs there. There's like coming up with the tactical plan to get them from where they are now to where they want to be like the business model, all of that. And then in the process of talking about the business model, generally speaking, all the resistance comes up. I can't do that because X, Y & Z, and then we go under the surface. Where did that start? Like, where did you learn that? Because here's one of the things about working with someone who has done it before has done what you want to do. They're at a higher level of awareness than you are. When I hired my mentor. I had to get over my DIY. Like, that's the only way to do it. That was a self-image thing. And I can only be truly successful if I do it on my own, scale life, much less a business. Like if you do everything yourself. I was really stuck in that. So I hired someone who had a higher level of awareness to bring me up to that level of awareness. I was working here, not here. And that's one of the tricks of quantum leaping. Like you bust through that level of awareness. So when I'm talking to someone, I'm working from that higher level of awareness, and very directly and emphatically, like I don't dance around things, and I will tell them how they're not seeing the truth of the situation. I will tell them specifically, you're caught in this lie. This is the lie you're in. That's not true. Let's look and I will show them how it's not true.


Kelly: And where does it come from.


Amira: Yeah. Because here's the thing, Kelly, we think it's true. We're in the forest for the trees. It's not like, I don't want to believe it, or that happens to other people but not me. We actually think it's true. So busting that open very directly and then really quickly giving them a new action that's going to create an effect that's different, so that they solidify the work.


Kelly: Yeah. So let's sort of wrap up by talking a little bit about universal law. So this is like the concept or the principle by which you're guiding these clients. I definitely subscribe to this theory or this concept as well. So yeah, let's talk a little bit about that. Because that's just a fun topic.


Amira: Oh, my goodness. So actually, it's more than a fun topic for me, like it is. I mean, I know what you're saying. I love it. It is what changed my world, understanding the universal laws of success, and studying them and not just studying them, but living them, holding myself to a higher standard. So like, what does this mean? I'm having some negative experience right now. What truth do I need to bring to this to bring me to the next level of awareness beingness experience? And when I use these laws, it clarifies everything. It gave me the roadmap to success. And here's the thing, Kelly, I don't know about you. But growing up, I was very reactive. I was a child that wanted to please my parents and I learned right and wrong from that reactive place. And it wasn't based on some core principle of truth. It was very outside driven. So if you'd see me 10 years ago, you would have seen someone who outwardly looked confident, but internally was jumping through hoops and trying to figure out how to do the right thing. And you have no idea what you're talking about. Like, if it's the right thing, it's the right thing. And I didn't have an internal grounding of that. And so I was completely outside driven. I was completely reactive. I was living in fear all the time, even though I wouldn't have necessarily named it that way. Like did I do it wrong? If someone is upset at me. Am I going to fuck this up? Like, all of that that's fear. And it was because I did not understand. I did not understand where security comes from. And as part of that, to be very specific for people in business, but also for people in the workplace and jobs where they work from silence for someone else, I did not understand where money came from. And in our culture in our society, if you don't know how to create money, you will always be in fear in all your relationships. Because money touches all those relationships. And so you are going to be jumping through hoops trying to do the right thing for other people, because you are afraid of not having enough for survival. Because you actually don't know how to create the money you want when you want it. It's like a mystery. And when I learned these laws of success, which I love teaching, I got it like I understood the creative process. I understood how to create anything I wanted, whether it was money or some other goal. Like we were joking earlier about having great sex. And like, my company stands for delightful life in all areas like let's be unstoppable everywhere. And I did not used to think that that was possible for me. So I had to change my self-image. I had to do the belief work, but I also had to learn the creative process. And part of that is using the laws of success in universal law. One of them is the law of clarity, which says if the desire is felt, the supply is ready to appear; everything is created as a whole. There are no halves or fractions or a human creation. But in life, there are no halves. So if I want to be someone who's in a lit up relationship, having amazing sex, having intimacy, whatever you want, that was one of the things I wanted, the desires felt the supplies ready to appear. Now I have to understand how to work that to the next level.


Kelly: Right. It doesn’t just appear and then like, okay, great, I'm done.


Amira: Yeah. But understanding that if you want something, if you truly want it, it's there for you. Now it's your job as a human being to tap into your creative agency to make that happen.


Kelly: Right. I love sort of just like underscoring the whole conversation with this, because it really pinpoints that this is about an integrated life. Like we're talking about money, we're talking about relationships; you're talking about business development, all of these things. And like, as an agency owner, creative leader, there's no difference between you as an individual and you as the owner of a business, like you're the same person. And so what you're talking about in terms of the whole, you could sort of apply that into the integration of life, like you're not a fraction of a person here and a fraction of a person here. Your one whole. So I just I really appreciate wrapping up with that because I think this whole idea that we've had for so long about work life balance is such a misnomer. It's work life integration. And the better that you get at these things in your personal life, it's just naturally going to transcend into how you're running your business because you're showing up fully. And I think that's what it's all about, delightful life.


Amira: Yes, absolutely.

Kelly: Amira, thank you so much. I love this conversation. Totally speaking my love language, as you know. So thank you so much for joining me today.


Amira: You're so welcome.

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EP 78: Remote Team Success, with Ryan Malone


On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly talks with Ryan Malone of SmartBug Media about how remote teams at service-based firms can be successful. If your team is still struggling to make WFH work without the whiteboard to huddle around, listen or watch (and share!).




 EP 78: Remote Team Success, with Ryan Malone

Duration: 17:45


Kelly: So welcome to this week's episode of Thrive. I've got Ryan Malone here, CEO of SmartBug Media. Today, we're going to be talking about remote team success and what that looks like in our current world and the future of it. So Ryan, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm really excited about the conversation.


Ryan: I appreciate it. Thank you much for having me.


Kelly: So tell me a little bit about your agency and your entrance into it because I know that that looks a little different from how most CEOs started their companies.


Ryan: Yeah, we took a little bit different path. My background, I ran product marketing division of Seagate, and then did a couple early stage companies in executive marketing roles. And what we found was that when we hired agencies, the partners would typically sell the work and then we did a lot of marketing strategies. So people that weren't really tuned to do marketing strategy did a lot of the work. And we felt that there was a different way. So I asked my friends that were also technology marketers if they had the same issue, and they did. So I decided to quit. And the big decision that we made was when I was 17, my father passed away. And so I knew that I didn't want to be the CEO who didn't see his kids because life matters. And at the same time, everybody's been, they've worked for that leader where you come to work and they’ve never been to battle with their team. They have no camaraderie. They don't have any scars on their back to show. And nobody wants to work for that person. So I didn't want to be the CEO who was never there. And to us the only option at the time, and this was, gosh, 12 years ago, was to be remote. And so we felt like if we could create a company that offered a challenging work environment with people who you had this deep intellectual trust for, doesn't mean you're going to be best friends, but you should go to work knowing you have smart people that have your back. But at the same time, create room for memories, because the truth is you and I are not going to remember this phone call when we're older. But you're going to remember what you do this weekend with somebody you care about. We would have a winning formula to create great people and grow our business. And that's what we set out to do.


Kelly: Yeah, great. So talking about remote teams, how do you think our experience with this pandemic has shown leaders of service based organizations how efficient remote work can actually be?


Ryan: Well, it's interesting, right? Resiliency does interesting things to people. And when you're put into a situation where you don't have the things that make you a creature of habit, it forces you to adapt. And so if I'm in an office, the little things like nonverbal communication and the chitchat at the office, like in the coffee area, and things like that, those are kind of the glue that holds the company together, but they also for some people can be big distractions. Like when we interview people, we look for people that, let’s say things like, oh man, that period of time where I can just shut my door in the morning or when no one's there, I'm really efficient. And so you start to figure out when you don't have these comfort things that it can actually be much more efficient because you end up focusing on process and handoff, I always say like in a relay race, it's not the speed of the runner, it's the efficiency of the handoff. So when you don't have an office, and you're forced to literally give somebody everything that they need, the first time you start to get really efficient. Your communication has to be better, or else you fumble. And so those things illuminate all of these areas that you can make for a more effective company.


Kelly: Yeah, and illumination is a big key right now. Right? A lot of things are coming to light. I think that there's been sort of something that you've said in the past that there are a lot of CEOs who feel like there's this false sense of trust, when they can see like the tops of their employees heads over their cubicles, right? Talk a little bit about that for a second, because I do I like the idea of it being a false sense of trust. But I think that a lot of people might have some pushback against that, that might trigger something or that might hit them in a certain way. Because maybe they really believe that intrinsically there is a trust that's created. If I can see you sitting in your desk and working, that must mean you're working. And that must mean that we're doing good things and that you're productive. And my agency is going to be profitable. And like there's the script that runs. So yeah, so talk a little bit about that, because I find that really interesting.


Ryan: Yeah, it's funny, and I can tell you a story that illustrates it. So a number of years ago, I'm on this master's group with some other agency owners. And a number of years ago, one of the agency owners was so excited because he was installing the software that would take a screenshot from a webcam every like two minutes or three minutes or something like that. And he was like, it's so great because I can see that everybody's working and this and that. And after I pulled myself off the chair, I was trying to articulate that you just spent two weeks, three weeks a month vetting this person. They’ve spent countless hours demonstrating their trustworthiness. You've had four or five people interview them. You've decided that you're going to invest the capital of your company, and if you're a business owner, like a piece of your potential future in this person, but you don't trust them enough to let them sit at their desk and do their work. And so I think, there's this kind of like, legacy, feeling of distrust, where if I see you across the room, I see the back of your head that somehow that means you're productive. When you could very well be just be hanging out on Facebook, and it doesn't matter and you get this like weird, kind of false sense of security. And so I try to tell people that if you trust first and know that 99% of the time the person that you've gone through all of this vetting with is going to be just as active and happy in a remote environment as they are in an office environment. In fact, they might be more productive. We often find that people that come here from an in house situation say that they have tighter relationships with people and feel more like they're more supported. Like that shift in outlook of, hey, I did my homework, let's give them a chance to be great, is usually really empowering for agencies. And you have no choice to do that. But in a remote environment, you just have simply no choice but to take that path. And I would encourage people just to take a deep breath and know that you did probably a pretty good job and let them have some runway to do great things.


Kelly: Yeah, and I want to kind of stay with this for a second if it's okay, because I do think that from my work with agency leaders, from being an agency owner in the past, you're an agency owner, there have been many of agency leaders on the show. I feel like the recurring theme over and over again as to why we default to really making sure that people are in seats. I think it all comes down to trust and distrust, right? And so there was an episode that I did. I don't know way back called the trust-first mindset with Jay Tinkler, who's also an agency coach. And I think this is really important. This is the reason why everyone sort of had this freak out at the beginning of the pandemic. It's like, oh, my God, my team is not set up for this. How am I going to trust them? How am I going to know that they're not just lounging around in their pajamas all day? And like, where does that come from? And how is there some piece of advice that you could give to try to change that mindset for leaders who are still kind of like, oh, I can't wait to get back to the new normal where everybody's in the office full time and like that's what I really want because this is this is uncomfortable. This remote situation is uncomfortable. What do you say to those people?


Ryan: Well, I've done some of my best work in pajamas. So the first thing that I would say, but no, I think you have to focus on results. I mean, the simple truth in any professional service environment is that you will know because if somebody is not doing their job, whether it's good or not, because either their colleague will tell you, or your customer will tell you, and they will tell you faster than you will ever know by micromanaging them. And so, I would say instead of trying to micromanage every little thing that they do, and try to grip onto it, just wait for that, like trust your team. Put some controls in place so that teams are working together and let them go do their thing and try it. If you're really nervous about it, try it with one team. Just promise yourself, you're not going to micromanage one person. Let them do their thing, have them set goals, measure them against their goals, and you'll find that you hired good people. And if you just give them some rope, they will do well. It's all about like exposure therapy, right? Everybody's in this shock of doing something different. So if you can just let yourself deal with the discomfort for one piece of your team, they will prove to you that it's just the same. And in fact that you will probably find out that they're more efficient and effective than they were in the office when they had tons of distractions. So just kind of dip your toe into it a little bit, and it won't be that bad.


Kelly: Yeah, that's good advice. I mean, at this point in time, like I think the shock is definitely over or has waned significantly. But there is still like this culture question, right? So with regard to culture, what happens when we don't have that whiteboard to sort of huddle around?


Ryan: So in an agency environment, and even in a larger team, oftentimes when you get to a certain size, people tend to aggregate around the team that they work with or the department. The finance people go out with the finance people. The owners of account x go out with the owners of account x. If it's a big team in a remote environment, that stickiness is gone and what you find is that the stickiness is really common interests. So we do things like get to know you call. So when you start you do a 20-minute get to know you call with everybody at the company. And the only rule is you can't talk about work. And it seems really hokey. But the whole purpose of that is to let people find their tribes, because once they find their tribes, there's no more barriers. It's now like, hey, I have a group of people that are coffee aficionados, or basketball lovers or whatever. And now I've got people that I have an instant connection with across departments. And that glue I found is a better replacement for this departmental account oriented glue that you see in house and I would argue that that one tactic is one of the things that you can do from a culture perspective to get people tighter because when they start at your company, they have instant camaraderie. They have an instant support network. They have a group of people that they feel comfortable asking questions of, and it's just a great way to lay a solid foundation.


Kelly: And then from a collaboration in maintaining that perspective, you find that you have to kind of force it a little bit. So as a manager, you have to work really hard to just ask how people are doing because you might be having a terrible day, but you've got your game face on now. And then when this call is over, you're terrible day may continue, but I know that's not us. So I know that's not what's happening. But for a lot of people that is and so you can't, if I'm in an office, I can easily walk by and see that somebody's having a bad day. Grab them, go get a cup of coffee but in a remote environment, I can't. And so you have to just be almost awkwardly deliberate and just talk to people every once in a while and say, how are you? How can we make our company better at SmartBug? We have this thing called healthy SmartBug, which is like as a parent, you want to make sure your kids are happy, healthy, safe, and resilient until they can do it on their own. And so we will call people regularly and just say how can we make SmartBug healthier and the feedback that you get from that, and the culture that you build from that is really powerful because you know that they're heard. And you get the context behind it. And it really kind of pulls everything together.


Ryan: Yeah. And you're also letting them know that their voice matters. And like, isn't that kind of what we all want?


Kelly: Yeah.


Ryan: We just want to matter. We just want to be living fulfilled lives and doing good work. And yeah, I love that. I think that's a great component or a great aspect. Do you think that that healthy SmartBug is the component that sort of really acts as like a glue for the fact that you are such a successful remote team? I think it contributes a lot, right? So if you look at the phases of kind of your time at an agency, there's the on boarding phase that we talked about first. So how do you get somebody to the point where they're comfortable? They have a crew, a tribe that they can run with, and they have a support mechanism as they learn the business. And then the second piece he says, how do you optimize that over time. And that's where the healthy smartphone piece comes in. Because long after the 90 days, or 120 days, when people are getting acclimated, it's like people want to know that they have a voice. To your point, they want to know that the company listens. I think people are sensible enough to know that not every idea ends up being done, but they want to know that they do have a voice in everything. And I think as a leader, as a manager, you have to be far more attuned to the way people are feeling. And you don't have a lot of intangible ways to do that, that you typically do otherwise. And so that healthy SmartBug piece goes a long way in showing the human side of a manager. Because in an in-house environment, let's assume that I run into you in the coffee room. We chat for 10 minutes. We've built up some political capital with each other such that at 4 o'clock when they go to your office, and I'm like, hey, you're two weeks late on this thing. I really need this thing from you. If you've already, it's a tradeoff. Right? You've built up some capital. They know you're not the boogeyman in a remote environment. If I just send somebody a Zoom message, and I'm like, hey, where's that thing that you mean? It gets interpreted wrong. And so things like healthy SmartBug and face to face feedback, and this deliberately asking people like how they're doing replaces that political capital so that when you do have to do managerial things like tradeoff is there again.


Kelly: Yeah, yeah, that's a good point. As we're starting to kind of wind down, I think there's a little bit of an elephant in the room that there is still a fair amount of uncertainty. I think it’s going to continue to be a lot of uncertainty, even as we move toward at the end of this year. How do we build a successful team around work life integration as a means for predictability?


Ryan: Yeah. So I think the one thing with all the uncertainty that's around and well after all the health stuff is gone. But just people are going to be new models and some people are going to think it's great and some companies are going to decide it's good for them, but not all the employees are going to be comfortable with it. And so all the things, those like create your comfort things that you're used to might be gone for a lot of people. But if you can say to somebody look, in a remote world, you have a flexible work schedule, there's stuff that you really need to do during work hours. And there's stuff that you really don't need to do during work hours. And to the extent that you can say to somebody, look, if there's something that's going to create a great memory for you and create a good life experience for you and you want to do it at 2 o'clock on a Tuesday, that's fine, because you're professional, and you're going to decide. I'm going to do that on Tuesday at 2 PM and on Saturday morning. I'm going to have a cup of coffee and I'm going to catch up on some admin stuff. I think to the extent that you can integrate your life and your work now, work life integration becomes kind of an anchor while all of this uncertainty is swirling around you. You can kind of hold onto that, because it's no longer the choice between work and social. It's like this work life integration enables all of those things more on terms and you can just get that done in a much easier way in a remote environment.


Kelly: Yeah. And also, isn’t it about like the owner or the agency leader really subscribing to and advocating for that flexibility that you're talking about?


Ryan: Yeah, we tell people to pick the two or three things at the beginning of the week. When you plan your week, pick the two or three things that are going to create a great life memory for you, put those in your calendar first and then work stuff around it, because you're gonna have to get your stuff done. It's just the way it is. There's going to be fires that pop up. It's just agency life. But if you know that no matter what happens during that week, those three things that you can write a journal entry on or have a great memory about. It totally changes the mindset of the employee to the point where now the company is enabling them to have a great life and you're getting the work done at the same time. Everybody wins.


Kelly: I love the fact that you specifically said, take those things that are going to create that great life memory and put them in your calendar. First, I really want to underscore that because that tells me a lot about who you are as a leader, and how much you actually care about your team. And your team knows that too.

Ryan: I appreciate that.


Kelly: Yeah. Awesome. Ryan, thank you so much. This was a great conversation and really, really grateful that we had it.

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EP 77: How Emotion Dictates Our Behavior, with Kevin Perlmutter


On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Kevin Perlmutter discuss how emotion dictates behavior in the new now, the neuroscience behind it all, and how brands need to shift in order to speak to the rapidly changing emotional states of being.



 EP 77: How Emotions Dictates Our Behavior 

Duration: 23:56


Kelly: Welcome to this week's episode of Thrive, your agency resource. I'm joined today by Kevin Perlmutter, founder and chief strategist of Limbic Brand Evolution, the consultancy helping brands increase desire, engagement, and loyalty with a distinct focus on emotion. And that's actually what we're going to be diving into today. How does emotion dictate our behavior? And what are brands and creative agency leaders need to know, as we sort of enter the new now or are in the midst of the new now. So Kevin, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.


Kevin: Thank you so much for having me.


Kelly: So I do always like to start, especially with agency leaders, and I know that you've had some in house brand experience as well. What is the origin story of Limbic and why did you feel the need to go out on your own and create this consultancy? 


Kevin: Yeah, I started Limbic in early 2019. And it was after many, many years of working in the business for other agencies. I spent the first 16 years of my career working at ad agencies. And then for 7 years, I was a Senior Brand Strategy Leader and Client Relationship Leader at Interbrand, which is a global brand consultancy. And there I became a full on brand strategy leader for the clients that I was working with. I actually had an incredible opportunity to launch their first ever customer experience practice.


Back in 2008 or 2009, I created the infrastructure for that practice, train strategists in multiple offices around the network, spoke at a conference or two. And it was just an incredibly influential time for me in my career growth because I was really starting to think about the customer perspective, having come from advertising. This was really important to me at that time, and becoming really important in marketing and branding. I did a lot of other things there. But then in 2014, I had the opportunity to join a music studio that focuses on Sonic Branding, and my job there was Chief Strategist and Chief Innovation Officer.


And the role that I played there was one as an internal business architect to help the company evolve, to help think about offering expansion to help deepen the strategy capabilities and the innovation, ways of working for that company and for its clients. But more importantly, for me, the bigger takeaway was a deep understanding of behavioral science, and learning how to think about brand strategy and brand experience through the lens of emotion and how you want people to feel. One of the capabilities that I created there was a neuroscience based research capability. And I did that in partnership with an outside research agency. We customized it to be an exclusive capability of this music studio. And I really learned a lot about neuroscience based research, how emotion impacts behavior, and lots of other things that we'll get into details as we go.


Kevin: Yeah, for sure. So, yeah, so let's just talk about that. How does emotion dictate our behavior in what you're sort of calling or terming, the “new now”? How does that work? And like just from a 101 standpoint?


Kelly: Yeah, well, when I decided to form Limbic and bring all of these things together, I felt that there was a really distinct opportunity to think about emotion, and apply emotion to how brand leaders and CMOs strengthen relationships with their customers. This is something that is often talked about, and it's something that most friend leaders, most CMOS don't really give a lot of credence to. So one of the things that I think about quite a bit is the power that emotion has on people's decisions. So 95% of the decisions we make are subconscious and instinctive, only about 5% give or take depending on a situation are rational decisions. We're constantly making these instinctive decisions all day long.


And it's guided by our feelings. The name of my company is Limbic Brand Evolution. And that comes from the limbic system, part of our brain, which guides emotion, motivation, behavior, and memory. So all the time when I'm thinking about how to work with clients, and how to bring emotion based techniques into the relationships, I'm thinking about how is it going to make people feel, and using that as a lens for the different ways that I guide them forward. So another statistic that's really important is that when people are emotionally connected to a brand or an experience, they're 50% 53% more valuable than people who are just highly satisfied. So it really has tremendous impact on the way people behave. And sort of the value that they bring to a company as a customer. So I might not have answered your question exactly.


Kelly: What do you mean by 53% more valuable? You mean in terms of like monetarily as a lifetime?


Kevin: Yes, that's exactly what I mean, because they are more eager to buy your products. They're more interested in talking about them positively. And I carry that experience with other people. They'll go deeper into your product line. They'll be willing to try new things. They'll be more forgiving if they have a bad experience once in a while. On the flip side, 47% of customers according to the CMO Council, 47% of customers will abandon a brand experience if it's frustrating and personal, or they're just having a really bad experience, if they have not developed that loyalty to that brand. Definitely, I'm sure the statistic is higher for those who have not developed the loyalty because on the other side, it's gonna be a lot lower for those who are more forgiving.


Kelly: Right. So let's talk a little bit about the neuroscience behind it all because I think that that's probably the most interesting part. I mean, we all know, because even all of those CMOS and all of the people watching who are creative leaders, or listening are creative leaders, we ourselves are consumers. So we know that what you're saying is true. We know that our emotions guide our purchasing decisions and our behaviors in general in the world. But I think the neuroscience aspect of it is the most interesting and I think that gives a lot of credence to just as human beings, being sort of detectives, like wanting to know why do I do this? So neuroscience really helps to explain that.


Kevin: Yeah. So there are a few different things going on in neuroscience that actually do explain why emotion is so powerful. One of them has to do with the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and there's a great book that was written many years ago called Drive. And that book really explains this theory really well. And there are many others out there. But basically, what this book calls motivation 2.0 is really rooted in extrinsic motivation. And that's like give and get scenarios that if you do this, you'll get that and there's all sorts of information about customer relationships and employee to employer relationships, where extrinsic motivation and almost bribing people with a reward for doing something well, has a limited life span.


But when people are motivated intrinsically, it's based on something that they really desire, based on something that they really feel, something that motivates them to actually get up in the morning and do things. So as it relates to brands as one scenario, if brands are doing things to make people's lives better, which I believe is the appropriate calling for any brands in the world today, is to make people's lives better. If brands are really doing that, and communicating what they're up to in a way that gets people excited, that draws them into the experience, that makes them feel that emotionally, this is going to be something that they want to be a part of, associated with, that it's going to solve some unmet need or even unarticulated need in their lifestyle, that they're going to be drawn to that brand more deeply.


So intrinsic motivation is a huge piece. There are also things that happened to our emotions around cognitive biases. So we're walking around with cognitive biases all day long. And there are many very effective cognitive biases that can be applied to marketing and are successfully applied to marketing everyday by smart marketers, to help people make decisions in your favor. And I don't believe for a second that any of that is manipulative. Anyway, it's really tapping into the neuroscience of how brains work. And it's helping to guide people towards decisions that you would hope that they would make in favor for brands. Because it means something to them. But you can offer things up like the scarcity effect, when something is out of stock soon, when there's only a few that are available for sale, that's going to cause people to feel a little bit more compelled to maybe take advantage of it sooner if it's something they're interested in. If there are choices that people need to make between different options, there are lots of different cognitive biases that we have that inform those choices.


So for instance, the ambiguity effect means that if there's too many choices, people just are unable to make their decision. But if you know there's another one out there called the decoy effect, which this familiar example for the decoy effect is like as old as a wine list in a restaurant. There are certain wines that are on the book ends of the spectrum of that list that they know most people aren't going to buy. Most people aren't going to buy the most expensive wines. And very few people are going to be with guests and friends with the restaurants and buy the cheapest bottle of wine. But they'll typically buy something else within a range that's in between the two. And those are choices that marketers could make to help address how people think and how they make decisions.


Kelly: Yeah, I think about that in terms of like SAS platforms as well when you can subscribe on a monthly basis or an annual basis for some SAS platform and you have sort of like the good, better, best, the good options, but entry level option typically has very few bells and whistles, if any; maybe there’s like a free and then good, better, best. You might do the free version just as a trial. But once you jump up, most people jump up to the better option because they like sitting in the middle. So yeah.


Kevin: Yeah, it definitely helps to draw people in. But depriving them of a few things along the way is going to help them move forward. But when I think about the neuroscience of this, I want to make it clear. I'm not primarily focusing strategy on cognitive biases that sound like they're manipulative. If you're listening in the wrong direction. What I'm really thinking about is what's going to motivate people, what's going to help people make decisions in your favor, because they fully believe that what you do out there is most important. So when I'm working with clients, in addition to helping to think about the consumer motivations and how to link with consumers in a way that addresses their need, I'm also incredibly interested in thinking about what motivates the brand leader or the company leader, thinking about what it is that they feel is the most important thing they could be doing to help others is super important to my process.


And another area of neuroscience that I bring into it has been to do with the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. And the difference between the two is that the sympathetic nervous system is really about fight or flight. It's really about asking questions that make people concerned and nervous and kind of put their guard up. So a technique that we all use with our clients with executive interviews, helping to understand what makes them tick. And I'm really leaning into questions that tap into the parasympathetic nervous system, when I'm asking interview questions. I want to understand from a client when their business is working in the way it should, what is their best day? What are they most excited about, that they do for the customers that they want to serve? What is it that they wish people knew about their organization that they fear some people don't and would give them a better impression of the reality of what the organization's purpose in the world is. So I bring neuroscience into the work that I do because it taps into the way people actually make a lot of decisions; the way it dictates their behavior.


Kelly: Right. And so the natural question for me after that is, how does all of that translate into branding? And then how do brands need to shift in order to speak to this rapidly changing emotional state of being that consumers are faced with at this moment in time? Which is different from anything that we've seen in history.


Kevin: It's such a great question, and it's the question that I've been dealing with for the last several months while all these have been going on in the world. And as a brand consultancy leader who prides himself on having, I think it's distinct and important approach to the way I serve my clients. I keep trying to think how it can become more distinct or what's most relevant in the work that I'm doing right now. I actually started this business with a belief that a focus on emotion, in how you want people to feel is the most important thing that marketers should be thinking of. And in the last few months, it's become clear to me that that is even more important than it ever has been before. I think it's super important to understand your customers. So first and foremost, understanding what makes your customers tick, what's driving their decisions and their behaviors is a lifelong pursuit of any marketer.


But right now, there have been so many shifts and changes in the way people are feeling and the way people are behaving and what they have access to and what they're afraid of. So people right now are looking for greater security. They're looking for more normalcy. They're looking for emotional releases from the stresses that they're dealing with. These are all things that brand leaders can tap into if they understand them. But on the flip side, they’re looking for things like contactless payments, contactless interactions with brands. They're looking for more healthy alternatives. They're looking to be more value conscious. There are some industries that are going to change dramatically forever moving forward, health and wellness and the tremendous increase in virtual health care is going to continue.


The doors are open. And as a great marketer, a friend of mine once said, “You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube.” I mean, these things are out and they're going to happen and they're going to continue and people are enjoying them. So the things that marketers should be thinking about right now is in the new now, as all of this is changing on a daily basis. You need to stay in touch with what's going on in your customers minds. What's changed for them recently, that could impact not only how they might no longer need or desire, what you've been offering in the past. But what is it that you do in the world that you can actually bring into their lives that will make their lives better? That's what you should be thinking about.  How can you adapt your services to suit the needs that they have right now?


Kelly: And thinking about those things is super important. Right? But how do you recommend getting the data from the consumers themselves? How do you recommend like, either serving or what are the ways in which you think are the most impactful in order to get the most honest answers from the consumers that these brands are essentially trying to serve?


Kevin: It's such a great question. And it's just the question is, how much does a car cost? It's that age old question where there are so many ways to approach it, from a limited budget to a large budget. So if you have a limited budget or you're a small business owner. be observant, talk to your customers, understand what's changed in their lives. Look at research. Do a Google search on brands in your industry and how they've adapted to serve the customers in their local markets. Look at consumer trends and what's changed. If you look online, there's so much information you could find right now that robust research may not be necessary. You can send out surveys to your customer base to understand what they need most now and what things you can do to better serve them.


You can just talk with people. That's super important. But on the flip side, there are incredible research capabilities out there. When I have the opportunity, I like to use cognitive and behavioral science based research capabilities that truly understand what needs people have, what their fears are at a subconscious level. There are studies you can do rather inexpensively that allow you to tap into the subconscious, and then even understand how that subconscious reaction affects conscious behavior choices. So there’s an incredibly high correlation between how somebody feels, and then how they act. And sometimes research spends a little bit too much time, a lot of traditional research spends a little bit too much time asking people how they will act. But it's not wholly accurate, right? Because you're not tapping into how they feel. And they're getting back to cognitive biases or stated bias. The way people describe what they're going to do sometimes isn't the reality of their instinctive reaction. So I like to use research techniques that combine the two when I have the opportunity.

Kelly: What I'm curious about and this is a little bit of a curveball, but what I'm curious about is, so right now, if we're talking about emotion, when we're talking about either surveying or talking to people or whatever the methodology you're using, there are a lot of people, let's be honest about it, maybe myself included. Some days that we don't know how we're feeling from on a day to day basis. I mean, sometimes my emotions can change hour by hour. And maybe you don't have the answer for this, but I'm assuming that you could at least lead us in the right direction. How do we account for the fact that people are either overwhelmed? They're feeling so many things, or they're actually pretty numb, and don't necessarily know how they're feeling? How do you get the information that you need as a brand in a situation like we're in right now?


Kevin: Well, it's such an important question. It's such a great question. And, like everyone else out there, I'm feeling it too just that time when things change on a moment to moment basis, because of all that we're dealing with right now. And I think that the answer to the question relies on flipping. Flipping the perspective a little bit. So you asked a great question about how do we tap into consumers. How do we do research? How do we understand what they're feeling? But we're all humans. We're all consumers. And as a marketer, the most basic thing you can do, just focus on how you want people to feel. Think about how you want people to feel, think about what is in your arsenal, what is in your product line, what can your brand do in the world right now to help people feel better? What is it that you do that makes your brand special, your business special? And how can you put that out there in a way that makes people feel better? I really think that that's the most important thing you can do with or without consumer research. You can probably figure out some good answers.


Kelly: Do you find that some of those answers are really just doing a lot of maybe North star vision, mission, purpose statements, things along those lines? I mean, even though those change, like we know that those change over the course of time, but do you think that some of those answers are embedded in doing some of that work with what you said before, part of the beginning of your engagements is to talk with the executives.


Kevin: Yeah.


Kelly: I would imagine that some of that probably comes up in those conversations.


Kevin: It definitely does. I mean, brands are never going to be static. They're going to start a brand. Any brand, any business started because a leader felt that there was something important that they can do in the world to make people's lives better. Let's give the benefit of the doubt that that's how these brands and businesses started. Sometimes they get a little off course. Sometimes the world around them changes, the dynamics change. And what I like to do when I'm entering a relationship with a client is help them focus. I like to help them focus on what makes them unique and desirable. What is it that they are in the world do for people to make their lives better? And then how can we start to express that in ways that give them that guiding light.


And then when we think about the flip side, which is the questions we already talked about, related to what the consumer is feeling and what the consumer needs, I like to create that intersection. I said the name of my business is Limbic Brain Evolution. Limbic is that part of the brain that controls emotion, motivation, behavior, and memory. And my objective when working with clients is to create what I call limbic sparks, and limbic sparks happen when your audience is emotionally motivated by what you're all about. So everything I'm doing when working with clients is looking at those two sides.


What is this brand all about? What is their purpose? What is their guiding light? How can we bring that out in a way that is meant to help people? And on the flip side, what is it that the consumers, the audiences they want to reach need, want, desire could use right now, whatever the right question is, and then how do we connect the two? How do we find ways for that intersection to happen, because we're talking here about how emotion dictates behavior. And if you're creating limbic sparks, you're tapping into emotions that people have and your driving behavior.


Kelly: Really, really good stuff. I love this conversation. Kevin, thank you. Thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate your time. And best of luck with everything.


Kevin: Thank you so much for having me on the show.

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EP 76: The Sustainable Money Mindset, with Robina Bennion


On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Robina Bennion uncover why the conversation around money is so difficult for creative leaders and how to transform one’s relationship with self-worth.




 EP 76: The Sustainable Money Mindset 

Duration: 19:57


Kelly: So welcome to this episode of Thrive, your agency resource. Today, I am actually here with Robina Bennion, a relationship coach for the soul, the self, and money. We are going to have an amazingly interesting conversation. Robina, thank you so much for joining me on the show today. I really appreciate it.


Robina: Thank you, Kelly. I am so excited to be here today.


Kelly: So today, we're talking about what we've determined we're calling the sustainable money mindset. And I'm kind of curious to know what that really means to you, and then how that sort of unfolded or manifested in your own life, bringing you to the career path that you've taken up to this point.


Robina: Sure. So to me a sustainable money mindset would be making choices with my money that I can maintain long term. Often the choices can be based on emotions or things that are happening unconsciously. And so I'm trying to be mindful of those choices and ensure that they're not coming from fear and I'm doing something that I feel like will benefit me in the short term. But really, if I look at it down the road, a couple of months, it really does not help me or my business. And for me personally, where I feel like I've implemented that in my life is when I left my career in public accounting. I'm a CPA. And I practiced for 23 years. I had gotten to a pretty high level in my career. So I was making a decent amount of money when I decided to transition out of that and that required me to make some big choices about my finances, and how was I going to structure things differently so that I could sustain my business in the long run.


Kelly: I'm curious to know, so it sounds like you were really successful with the CPA business. Did you choose to leave that because it just wasn't kind of feeding your soul anymore? It wasn't making you happy? Or what was the reason for that pivot?


Robina: Yeah, that's exactly what it was. I started working with a coach and I started answering questions that really I didn't even ponder which was, what do I want to do with my life?


Kelly: Oh I can relate.


Robina: Because I decided at 15 I was going to be a CPA. And that's what I did. And I just kept going forward and going on that path and doing everything that you're supposed to do within that career. I decided that when I was 15. I've changed a lot since then.


Kelly: I’m just laughing because literally we have the same exact track. I was like, I'm gonna be a graphic designer when I was 15 years old. And I was like, that's it.


Robina: Yes. It provided me a wonderful life but I got to a point where I wasn't happy. My career had kind of taken over. Whereas the majority of my career, I made it a part of my life, and then it became my life. So I was really unhappy with just who I was in general. And going down that path and asking the question of what I wanted, I realized, there's so much more that I feel I could be contributing to the world than just doing tax returns.


Kelly: Yeah. That's awesome. Yeah, we're definitely aligned. I think that this is such a resonant conversation for so many people who are listening, who are maybe owning creative or technology or media agencies, or other organizations. And I would bet a good number of the people listening are kind of nodding their head like, I've thought about that. But I've taken that thought, and I've really pushed it down because I don't want to look at that. Change is hard.


Robina: It is.

Kelly: Yeah. And I won't say that it was an easy process for me. It took me a long time to even decide to leave my career. I mean, 23 years is a big investment.


Robina: Yeah. I mean, that's almost basically your entire adult life.


Kelly: Right. So one of the things that I kind of picked up on from your website, which really, really struck me was woven into goals, dreams, and fears. There's always this underlying element of money. So the question there is, why is the conversation around money so difficult? I mean, it's difficult for maybe not every person, but it's difficult for a lot of people and specifically here we're talking about creative leaders, in whatever context you want to define that. But why is that conversation so hard?


Robina: I think I can only speak for myself personally. And I think part of it is that, again, there's these emotions that we don't even know that we have. There are beliefs and behaviors that we pick up early on. And then we kind of mimic them in our life in how we view money. Money isn't talked about. We talk about our relationships. We talk about our children, but we don't talk about money. And everybody has their own emotions woven into that, even how they set their goals and how they structure their business. Like you're saying, for creative people. I find when I work with creative people, they want to go into creative direction, but people would say, well, you can't make money out of that.


And there's this real love hate relationship with money and how it shows up in their business. And so I think there is this perception that when it comes to money, if you're not handling your money right, you're doing something wrong or people are just real private about it, like there's something to be ashamed of. And even for myself as a CPA, everyone would think, oh, you must have it all dialed in, you balance your books every month, and you're doing all of this. And so quietly, I was thinking, man, I must be doing something wrong because I had great spreadsheets. But my goals and my results, they didn't always line up. And that was the piece I felt I was missing like why are my goals and my results not lining up? And there was something happening at an underlying emotional level that was into all of that, that I wasn't aware of.


Kelly: Yeah. So I'm sort of talking specifically about that, a lot of the work that you do with clients is helping them create a guide to transform their relationship with money. So what does that often look like when you're working with someone?


Robina: Yes. So it's different for every client because every person is different, their history is different, and where they are currently is different. But I will take an example of one of the clients that I worked with when she came to me. She wanted help getting her finances kind of back in order. She had accumulated a little bit of debt and she tends to want to be debt free, and just wanted to help realign. But that was the same conversation that you and I were having, as she wasn't really happy in her career. And she wanted to make a transition in her career. It's all interwoven, because people are afraid to leave their jobs because of money, or they're not able to step up higher in their career or transition into a job that they're really qualified for, that they don't believe that they are.


So we started having conversations around all of that and what her end goal was, but it all started with going back to well, let's talk about your childhood and your life and events and look at what's happened and through that talk, through how those events have impacted the way that you're showing up today. And in that, when we first started talking, she didn't really share finances with her husband. They didn't talk about it. They maintained everything separately. So looking at where did that come from in her childhood? Why is she approaching her relationship with her husband that way around money? We just started uncovering all of that. And because we do that, I'm able to work with her, then when we get further down to create a guide for her, so that when something happens that can kind of rock the boat and get a little bit uncomfortable, it doesn't throw. It didn't throw her completely off track.

In fact, as we worked together for quite a while, towards the end, her husband got laid off from his job before all of this happens. So it allowed her to have a conversation with him. Even before then, they had started having conversations about money, they started putting things together jointly because she was able to identify where some of those fears were coming from and they weren't resting on him. They were resting in her, and then coming together working on their finances so that when they hit this rough patch, they're able to actually navigate it together. And she was able to do it with a lot less fear and a lot more comfort. But that's also in creating tools that were comfortable for her, because what works for me as a tool may not work for somebody else, and we have to take all of that into consideration. Otherwise, I'm setting them up for failure.


Kelly: Right. Yeah, it is about the holistic view. I know that we share a really, really similar approach and philosophy about how we can't look at these different things in our lives, whether it's money, or relationships or our businesses or whatever. We can't look at them as silos. Interwoven is a good word. Integration, but I think I guess just in our society, it's kind of like the things that are private, and more emotional, are over here in one bucket, and then who we show up at work with the perception that we convey to the external world has to be different.


Robina: Right.


Kelly: And I think that part of the world that we're living in now is that there is essentially a collapse of that happening in a really positive way that we can sort of let these guards down and start to really integrate these two, almost like different aspects of ourselves that we've created in terms of the differentiation but now they're coming back together. And I think it just makes for stronger relationships, like you say with yourself, and with money and with everyone else in your life so it's really good.


Robina: I was going to just touch that a little bit. And I agree, the one thing that I've been thinking about with everything that is going on, is there's not one person who isn't impacted. Whereas these last few years, I'm out in California, and we've had a lot of fires, but those fires impact a community. So while I may sympathize with where they are, I haven't been through it. So I don't necessarily know what it's like to lose your home whereas it's like we are collectively going through this. So it really opens the door to have a conversation with anybody, like how are you doing? How are you navigating this? How are you? How is your business? Like, I have business owners saying hey, can we talk this week? I'd love to know how other people are handling this, what's happening in business. And so, for me, personally, I'm enjoying that aspect of this. I can't say that I'm enjoying everything but at least that aspect makes my heart shine a little bit.


Kelly: Yeah, having the same experience. So kind of to bring it back a little bit to money and maybe business development. Having a business development strategy in order to increase our income and revenue on our companies, and to really develop that sustainable money mindset, that business development strategy is necessary. We can all agree on that. Some organizations don't have one. That's why they hire coaches and consultants and things like that. But having the strategy is not enough. So if an organizational leader, someone who is sort of sitting at the top of an organization has their own inherent self-worth or self-value issues, then any implementation of that strategy is really not going to be executed in the way that is going to set that organization up for success. So I want to talk a little bit about that because I think that’s something for whatever reason, we just have avoided. I don't know if it's just in the United States or if it's globally, but we avoid this conversation and I really, really want to talk about it.


Robina: Yeah, I agree with you but part of what I do is working with businesses and we have these plans in place, but we're not taking into account the emotional aspect of it. We're not looking at the whole picture and how it impacts the business. So what I do with business owners even, is like we break it down into compartments, and it's maybe you have your marketing piece and your sales piece. You have your administrative piece, you have your vision piece, and really how are you showing up in each of them. Because by looking at each of those components, you can see where maybe you're showing up the strongest and other areas where you're not. And with that awareness, then you can bring in somebody else from your team or if you need somebody from the outside and put them in place.


If they're stronger maybe in sales, for example, for creative people, I feel like for me, when I move into my creative space, it's a little bit more challenging for me to move into that marketing piece of it. Because I just don't feel as comfortable. So then it's, I might draw back from that. But having that awareness and knowing that whatever is happening in me, personally, is keeping me from pushing into that in the same way that I would another area of my business allows me to go out and get help from other people. But I think also it is just having an understanding, like, I'm just human, and it's natural, and that's going to happen in our business. But in order to move it forward, we have to also be willing to ask for help.


Kelly: Right. And one of the things that we chatted about a little bit earlier was this phrase that you've kind of coined like worthy is the new wealthy. I'm definitely stealing that. But I think it's great because I do think that this is where the conversation is going. I think we're going to be able to, and we've already started to see more emotional dialogue even in the context of business. And as we start to open up to other people, it gives us the permission to start opening up to ourselves. And if we realize that we have some issues around our relationship to money, and we've realized that that's rooted in self-worth, and we start to like really dig up all what's going on underneath the surface, if we can bring that up and start to really work through that, it really is worthy is the new wealthy. It says it all. So well done on that.


Robina: Thank you. I think it also helps when we start looking at that and I think identifying what it is that we're working against, but also understanding like this is something that came with us and we are truly worthy. And each person is, but it helps also to shift from that, like why is this happening to me? Like, how can I take this and turn it into something different? Like it changes the questions that we're asking. And I feel like when I just sit and say, well, why is this happening or why did that person do that, I'm almost just stagnant and dead in the water. I'm not making any forward motion in my business. But when I can move into like, okay, well, that happened, like I'm working with a company, and they're having to make some changes. And so I'm going to be one of those changes. And I could either be upset and say, well, why is this happening? Or I can just say, okay, well, how can I do something different in my business? Or how can I take this in and transform it into something new. That's the other thing that I'm looking at, like what new can I create in my business from this?


Kelly: Right. So as we are starting to wrap up a little bit here, how might you suggest that creative leaders start to take what we're talking about today, and sort of train for the marathon? Like this is a long term play. This is about change. It's about real change, very deep rooted like introspective change that's going to then extend itself to our relationship with money, how we run our businesses, all of that. How do we set people up for success for that long term play?


Robina: I think looking at it, just from what you're saying, like from a marathon perspective, is we have the tools; each person has those tools within them. They were running their business before we got to this point. Obviously, things are a little bit different in each person. It's different. But for me, personally, I went back to this plan that I created when things weren't kind of, going sideways so that I always had something to go back to. And it reminds me of doing marathon training. It's like I trained. I know what I need to do. I have the skills to do it. It is just like, don't be thinking about I want to get to the end faster. I want to make sure that I get to the end. So it's like creating a plan. I think of being, taking your time, don’t rush into stuff.


It's like I think of if you're in a storm, for example, and your boat is tossed around, your ship is tossed around, you don't just start setting sail in whatever direction. You stop when the water is calm. It's kind of like you get your bearing. You stop. You figure out what direction that you're going to want to go and then start charting the course to get there. So I do believe that's really important that as we come out of this and as every phase and whatever wave comes towards us, is even for myself personally is taking that moment to just get my bearings each time something happens so that I'm not making an emotional response. And I think another thing that I have found to be really important is having people that you can reach out to and connect with. If I share with people in advance like hey, this is kind of my plan if things go awry. Can you be there for me? Then we're supporting each other through that. And it's kind of like what I do is when I'm on a call with somebody, I can tell that everything is wrapped in emotion and they're not coming from that thinking part of their brain. It allows me to help guide them back on course, so that they're making choices from that thinking part versus from an emotional response.


Kelly: Right. Yeah, that's great advice. Well, Robina, thank you so much for coming on the show today. Really, really excited to have you on and really appreciate it.  


Robina: Oh I appreciate it too. Thank you.



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EP 75: Integrating Feminine + Masculine as Leaders, with Emily Soccorsy


On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Emily Soccorsy of Root + River get curious about how balanced feminine and masculine traits make the most effective leader




 EP 75: Integrating Feminine + Masculine as Leaders

Duration: 26:52


Kelly: So welcome to this week's episode of Thrive. I am joined by Emily Soccorsy, who is the co-founder and strategist at Root + River, an intrinsic branding agency for defiant leaders looking to scale their brand around their mission. Today, we're going to be diving into the integration of feminine and masculine aspects of leadership. And I've been so looking forward to this conversation. So Emily, thank you so much for joining me.


Emily: It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.


Kelly: So let's just, put it out there right from the beginning. The positioning of your agency is not like anything I have ever seen and that compelled me to be very drawn to it. So can you share sort of the path of how you arrived at it? Because it is just so different. It's so unique, and I'd love to just hear a little bit more about how that started. Maybe some of the work with your very first client.


Emily: Absolutely, yes. So thank you, because we work really hard to come at things from a different perspective and it comes naturally to us. But, yeah, let's see, 6 or 7 years ago, I was working. I was the VP of Corporate Communication for a human behavioral research company. And it had grown massively over the last 10 years in particular. So the brand was all over the place. I work directly with the CEO and he had 1000 ideas a day, and bought websites for all of them, bought URLs for all of them.


Kelly: I know not of what you speak.


Emily: Yeah, right. I remember I'd never forget, he handed me like the printout of all the URLs he had purchased. And I was like, wow, like, my God, Lord. And so I was really trying to get my arms around the brand in a very tangible way. My background is in journalism, mainly, and I get some PR mixed in there as well. And so I'm always looking for the story, right? I'm always looking for the lead. And it was just very difficult, very dynamic situation. And so, one of our major distributors knew somebody and he was a brand strategist. His name is Justin Foster, who ended up becoming my co-founder. But he and I began to have conversation around the brand, what it could be. He is brilliant and ended up bringing him into the company to help me sort of figure out what the brand was all about. When he came in, he did an amazing job. But he was like a street performer, right? He was playing guitar, hitting the drum kit, had the harmonica in his mouth. He's like facilitating and taking notes and doing strategy all at once and I just sat there going, that's pretty amazing, but I could make it so much better. And he had never really experienced someone like me where I was like, went up to him later and I'm like, this could be so much better. He's like, who are you? And let this conversation actually occurred. And I said, who are you? And so we have this like clashing of swords right away, but also, this deep alignment around the idea that every great brand is a spiritual experience. And people in business are so driven and they're so passionate, so spiritual in that sense, like they’re spirit is poured in their work, in their business.


Kelly: I like that you're redefining the word spiritual in this context.


Emily: Yes. I mean, that's how I deeply feel. I mean, having met hundreds of entrepreneurs and business owners. And yet, when it comes to articulating that, it's like a cliff. It's like they can't even navigate that paths themselves. And to me, that's a big injustice being a person who translates emotion into words just naturally throughout my life. So anyway, Justin and I had this meeting of the minds around this so he had a gig coming up and invited me. He's like, why don't you come join me for this gig? And, I'm gonna do my thing. I think he was maybe thinking he'd have another go and super impress me or whatever. But it was definitely this opportunity to work with somebody who is in the manufacturing industry in Chicago like hard-boiled Chicago guy. It was in Dallas, Texas. We rented like a conference room in a comfort suites or something like that, and spent the day and working with this guy, and going deep. I've always been an artist sketcher. Started college as a fine art major and left that behind. But it's always been a part of my soul. And I've always taken visual notes. So I just started taking notes in my notebook. And about halfway through the session, he's like, what are you doing over there? And I'm like, Oh; this is just the way I take notes. And he's like, well, can I see it? Like, yeah, sure. And so it was this moment of like bringing some worlds together. And at the end of the day, kind of immersed in our strategy and this deep dive into the soul. He was a puddle of tears essentially. And he said to both of us, I would have paid you 10 times what I paid you if I had known the power of what we were going to do. And we left the comfort suites. We got in the car. And it was just sort of that moment of like, exhale. And either I said, or Justin said, what was that? And the other person said, I don't know. But let's do it again. And it was just like, from there, we were sort of off and running. That was all we needed to realize this was bigger than both of us, and almost like a calling for us to come together and give people this missing piece, help them for that Canyon, and find a way to bring that energy of passion into the way that they articulated themselves in their business. So that has been what we call our intrinsic branding. We've played with the idea of calling it something else because it's so deep and it's pretty magical but it’s where we haven't done that.

Kelly: Yeah. I like the word intrinsic. I think, it's one of those memorable words that certainly like I said before, like compelled me to say I've never heard of an intrinsic branding firm. What are you talking about? Who are you? So yeah, learning a little bit about it certainly made me lean in. What I'm hearing is that there was sort of this balance or this dichotomy between you and Justin. And so I think, if you think about that, from the aspects of feminine approach, or feminine quality and a masculine quality, like being energy versus doing energy, we have this separatism around this. And what you showed just in that one story with that first client is that the magic and the power of what happens when you actually integrate the two of those because you need both of them.


Emily: Correct.


Kelly: I think that there's a lot of misconceptions in our culture about what feminine aspects and masculine aspects actually mean. I think that we have a lot of stigma around it. And I think that there's just a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication. There was actually a book that you recently recommended to me Shakti Leadership. See that everybody? You have yours too. I mean, you told me about it. And I was like, I'm going right this second as we're talking to Amazon. But I actually wanted to share an excerpt from one of the books, early chapters, which is called transitioning from old to new, because I think that can sort of provide a little bit of basis for our conversation today. And something about it just really spoke to me. So I'm just going to read this if that's okay. There are structures and belief systems that have become rigid and calcified, causing people to behave in ways that are inconsistent with their humanity. This by no means makes us bad people. When we can look from the depth of our humanity and the humanity of others, we see that we’re all caught in some sort of a weird trance. If we can wake up from it, what’s waiting for us is love, compassion, forgiveness, commitment, courage and authenticity — true power. It’s just been blocked by the old way of doing things. There's something very powerful about that. And I think it's sort of embodies a lot of where we are right now. So just curious to hear your thoughts on that.


Emily: I agree. I love the word calcified.


Kelly: Yeah.


Emily: I love that because it is not cut off. The way that we did things in what we term, the old world and not in any derisive way. But in the way that things were, it is not concrete. It's just calcified. So there needs to be an energy through it and what else struck me out of what you read was looking from the depth of our own humanity. And I think that separateness really has been a division between that depth of humanity and everything else that we were doing and paving in life. And it was like this idea that we had to set that aside, really coming out of the industrial age, and even the imperial age of conquering and a lot of masculine energy and not in a bad way. Like that's why we have penicillin. Like, that's why we are able to have sophisticated water systems sanitation. Like there's so many beautiful things that came out of that. But we kind of did it in a very separate way in general.


Kelly: Yeah, it was imbalanced.


Emily: Yeah. And it was heavily weighted exactly towards that. And now we have this opportunity to sort of shake that off, break up that calcification, recalibrate from the deepness within us. And that's okay. That's actually what makes things easier and more difficult. Because I think there was another lie or another idea that was out there, that if you came from the depths of humanity, if you were that vulnerable, if you did show your spirit and your work, that was a dangerous thing. And I think that was true, because there were a lot of forces that wanted to bridle that energy. And in my experience, that has not been true for me. When I unleashed a little bit, and pushback against the way even I thought I was supposed to behave with those feminine qualities in a work setting, or even in my personal life; when I pushed back and I let it out, and I was unapologetic about it. That's when people rallied. That's when leadership was like, okay, let's try it your way. And so I really feel strongly that looking from the depths of our humanity at the way where we behave every day and that will lead to that loosening of those calcifications and new understandings of how we can be in the world, bringing the feminine, and also integrating the masculine. And Justin and I definitely do have that dynamic. And sometimes, we often say in our sessions, we set out what we call elements of trust, sort of create the space that we can work in. And one of them is there's no silent dissent. Silent dissent is this huge killer of ideas and momentum and breaking through to new ideas and understandings when we keep that dissent inside of us. But even in our relationship, we'll say like mom and dad fight, but they still love each other. Like we are going to have conflict where that is good, because we're bringing both of those energies forward and they do sometimes, but it's in the moment when they clash and then you keep moving.


Kelly: Yes.


Emily: That you keep integrating, and you keep searching and you release some things and you say, well, maybe that's overplayed there. Let's bring this in. Let's leave that out or no, this is the right way to go. Just that moment of collaboration. That's really where the magic happens. And for our clients, that results in better work for them.


Kelly: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. It's about having those difficult conversations, because there will always be difficult conversations. There's always going to be some whether it's in your personal life or in business with a client, a team member, whatever it is, there’s always going to be things that arise because everybody's bringing their stuff to the table. And so, if we have these difficult conversations, and we both can show up in a way where I'm going to listen to you, you're going to listen to me, I may not agree with you, but if we keep walking and we keep exploring, I think it's the exploration process where all of that magic is. And you relinquish a little. I relinquish a little. There's compromise. There's compassion and respect for one another. There's empathy on both sides of the table. But that's a practice, right? That's a practice. And having those difficult conversations or moving through conflict, whatever conflict means. It doesn't have to be aggressive. Conflict could just be, hey, this is how I'm feeling. And I know it's not gonna make you feel good to hear this.


Emily: Yeah.


Kelly: How can we move through this together? Are you in an emotional space right now where you're able to hear me? So this is all nuance, and I feel like as much as the society masculinity gets associated with power, I was absolutely of that mindset for pretty much my entire life. But now I'm on a completely different end of it where I'm like, no, all the power is in the femininity. And masculinity is for execution because we have to get something done. Like, we can't just all be staying in that being energy, but there's so much power in that.


Emily: I think the power right now is in the feminine because it has been so long sidelined and like pushed aside. And so we've neglected this power source that is available within all of us male or female. It's there. And so now it's something that you're finally coming back to, and it's this wellspring of opportunity. And it's like the masculine has just been so drained and so convoluted and used for other ends, manipulated in a way and it's really taken to the far extreme and I think that's an injustice to that masculine energy.


Kelly: Absolutely.


Emily: But I do feel that that power rising in the feminine and you mentioned too, it's how you come to the table and we're all ready to like have a coffee. But I think in actuality, people come to the table and they armor up. Like okay, we're going to have a conversation or we're going to dive into the soul of our brand, whatever the moment is, we just naturally armor up. And what I try to do in my life and work is just let down a little bit of those guards, let go of the old ways that are coming up. And one of our other elements of trust is you might be wrong. Have a beginner's mind. So this idea that whatever's coming out, like it might be, I might be dug into something, my ego might be leading here. I might be following an old way of doing things and it's okay in this moment to not attach to any of those ideas.


Kelly: Yeah, I think there's an element of surrender there. Right?


Emily: Yeah, absolutely.


Kelly: Surrender and grace. And these are things that we don't talk about in the business context. And I think we need to change that. I feel very strongly about that.


Emily: I think that's where the power lies, that's where the creativity begins. And for me creativity of power just like side by side. And that's what really comes through. And it's funny in our sessions with our clients, we say in the beginning, this is a time to let all the shit, bubbled up and been pushed down, whether it's emotional ideas, whatever stuff from your past, come up. Those are the moments when people allow themselves to do that and say, hey, guys, I'm not sure how this is relevant, but it's coming up for me. Let me share, that's when we start on the real path to finding something that's true and resonant. But it's that moment and you have to give yourself permission to go there. It's transformative.


Kelly: So your brand is basically well, let's put it this way, though. The way that you convey the services that you provide or the value that you provide is that you say, your brand is the culmination of your leadership decisions, right? So within that context, why is this integration between the feminine and the masculine aspects so vitally important?


Emily: It goes back to that division and I'm a huge fan of Parker Palmer. He writes about this in the Hidden Wholeness quite a bit. It's this idea that I'm a leader. I have leadership skills. Also, I have a company and that has a set of systems and processes, and oh the brand, this other separate thing.


Kelly: Silos.


Emily: Yeah, exactly. Right. And, no, it's all in one messy jar. I like mixing together all the time. And it's our rational mind constantly trying to separate them out and that's really a fool's errand. I mean, it really is. So the more we can go okay with all of that together, we often say that brand is the only thing in your work that touches every other thing. So how you live your life, how you live your work life, which is one of the same again, it is your brand. So your being the way you are a leader is the way your brand is. Our definition of brand is how other people experience what you believe. And I don't know a successful leader who doesn't have a set of beliefs that are guiding her and a lot of times they're guiding them in a very covert way, not that they're being hidden, but they're in a unconscious way. They haven't sat down and really done that deep work in their soul to say, this is what I believe, here's why I chose that word, and here's how I'm going to live it out. And they may have gone through a values process, but typically those are just again, done in a silo mentality. And they're done without the silos mentality and now we know that as a leader like one of our beliefs at Root + River is in beauty. And so the standard that's associated with that is create every day. And for me, that's like a constant reminder, a mantra. If I believe in beauty, what have I created today? How can I add beauty into this thing that we're working on? And so that is where as a leader, if you're tapping into the masculine, the feminine, consistently and you're really being mindful of how those are showing up in your beliefs, you can create a truly integrated leadership and brand style that will be also very genuine to your values and what moves you. And so it is a practice as you said earlier, but the main thing is like, do it in a way that it's all welcome. It's all one thing and there is no separation between your leadership style in your brand.


Kelly: Right. So just maybe to give some examples like how does that show up or guide creatives with respect to living their mission in their lives and their businesses? As you said, one in the same. Like, what are some examples as to like how they can really embody that mission, and then sort of transmit that or convey that in their lives.


Emily: So, again, kind of broken record here. It starts with the deep work of understanding truly what your mission is. And we often tell people, your mission, people will say in sessions, okay, do you mean like my personal mission or like for the company? It's like, yep. One in the same. Your personal mission, which in our definition is the thing you're here to do that only you can do, that has a direct line of sight into your work, into your agency.


Kelly: Does that show up like in the way that they build cultures? Does that show up in the way that they communicate with clients?


Emily: Yes, it should inform. It will inform the client experience. It will inform the culture inside of your institution, or your team. So for Root + River, our mission is to inspire leaders to go inward. It means the top and the bottom. Like if we're not doing that every day, then we failed. And also, if we do that in a way that will make a dent in the universe, like it will expand out and change people's mindsets. And so every day we're like, okay, is what we're working on inspiring them to go inward, and we're getting really practical, which we love to do. So let's add some magic back in here. Let's pause. Instead of telling, let's have them do a journaling exercise. So really can help be this wonderful guideline to help you make sure that you're being very mindful about the brand experience that you're creating every day.


Kelly: So it's almost like a measurement against the actions, the verbiage, like how we're showing up every day as leaders, in every context of leadership or life or whatever you want to talk about it. But it's a measuring stick of how are we showing up and are we truly integrating these two different aspects of ourselves, that feminine, that masculine.


Emily: Yes. Another client that we have. Her name is Suzanne Daniels. She is the owner of Brentwood Social House in Austin, Texas, which is a gathering space, tea, coffee in Austin. Her personal mission is she believes people need a place to experience love. They need more places to experience love. And so she has made Brentwood, this place where people can come and feel loved. And so that goes into every aspect, the food she serves. She recently added a play structure in the back of the facility so that families could come, so that people feel welcome to bring young children, that people weren't like locked in. And she's carrying that out right now even during the pandemic time. So she’s doing obviously takeout and she has blackboards out where people can leave messages of things. And the way that she's operating in this time in particular still focused on how am I going to make people feel loved when they're coming here to buy their coffee or their tea. So really informs the brand experience. And, when it's so emotional, we often say like our rubric for mission, it's got to be evocative of emotions. Because if you don't feel it, nobody else is gonna feel it either. It's got to evoke emotions. And it's got to be big enough to make a dent in the universe. And here's the tricky one Kelly. Your mission will bring up insecurities for you. It's tough. It's like, am I big enough to do this? So those are some guidelines to help people understand like the depth they need to go to understand what that mission is.


Kelly: Yeah. So I always like to ask as we start to wrap the conversation up, what piece or pieces of advice would you give to leaders who are just starting to consider all of this new language and the idea of integration of their authentic selves?


Emily: Well, this has been really helpful for me lately. So I love to share things that have resonated. So recently, I read The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, and there was a line in there that we appreciate. And as a very driven individual, myself, I like to move fast. I like to get things done, and I'm very driven to be excellent at all I do. And I think in that pace, and that mindset sometimes really robs me of slowing down to appreciate whether it's things that I need to still work on, or excellent things I put out there and just sort of cast aside, to move onto the next thing. And I think looking at our abilities and looking at our masculine and feminine traits and how they're showing up, taking a moment to pause and appreciate the way we have showed up and then look at how we might show up in the future is an example of how we can appreciate what's within us and then let it go forward and then build upon itself and iterate in maybe more impactful ways. So I'd offer that up. That taking a moment to appreciate what you've done, where you've been, and then appreciate where you are in the moment and where you want to go. And really I love the word appreciate because it's not about self-gloss. It's not about being promotional or leaning too heavily on your strengths. It's about what we appreciate will grow for us. And that's a practice.


Kelly: Absolutely. I love that. Well, Emily, thank you so much for being here with me today and I use the word being on purpose. This is the conversation. This is where it's all going. So I really appreciate it.


Emily: It was just a pleasure to be with you. Thanks, Kelly.


Kelly: Thank you.


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