Welcome to ProofFactor's Entrepreneur Interviews - We've taken ProofFactor clients who are building business from the ground up and ask them the hard questions. Watch the video or read the transcript below to learn how to successfully navigate the challenges of starting a business.
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John, thanks for joining us on ProofFactor's weekly podcast on entrepreneurship. We want to learn a little bit about what you're doing, what you're working on, and why don't you give us a little background and talk about what you're working on.
John: Sure, thanks for having me on here Val, it's kinda come full circle... I interviewed you a couple of months ago about hustle porn, which is a favorite new word, that I'm sharing with everyone and now here we are... Yeah, so I'm a professional speaker, author, and executive coach, and I work mostly with people to improve the team and improve their mindset. You being in the tech space, I think our mindset and how we lead is really the software that drives the hardware for us, and also the people we lead.
Tell us about how you got involved in that, what brought you to work on this?
John: It's an interesting career transition kind of a second career for me if you will. I was a college lacrosse coach for 12 years, I coached minor sport at small college level. And this is how you know, it's become a big business, when coaches are getting fired at a small college level, in minor sports... I was fired in 2004 on my birthday for not winning a National Championship. We had gone to the NCAA Final Four, two years prior, we had all Americans, academic All-Americans a road scholar candidate, the nationally ranked in top 10 each year. It just completely blind-sided us and I was probably due for change, I was kind of burning out. The change wasn't necessarily my idea. My boss fired me on my birthday and I kinda look at that as he didn't really give me a present, but he did give me a gift, and that was a gift of me kind of having an opportunity to recalibrate reinvent myself. And I look at that day. June 14th, 2004 really is the day I became an entrepreneur.
So I worked at broadcasting for ESPN Radio and I started writing and speaking out on my own and then a couple of years later, I made the break from broadcasting and became a "solepreneur."
Got it, very cooL! So tell us a little bit about what went into getting started on this, and I know you had the website, coaching groups, how did you start talking to potential clients, to help with the coaching? What was the process there?
John: Yeah, it's a great question because I think there's a common thread that we find with all people at various points in their life, but the common thread "being we go through life, K12 then typically for many four years of college". So you're looking at 17 years that you've had a significant mentor. If played a sport you've had some coaches. You've had a lot of mentoring, and a lot of leaders, coaching you. If you look up the word coach in the dictionary, the definition for coach and teach, are identical, and it's to provide instruction.
So we have this structure and this form of mentoring, formal and informal for all of our formative years. And then, we graduated. We get put out into the workforce and sink or swim. There is typically no formal or significant mentor or coach, in your life.
And I just found that a lot of my clients tend to be very type A personalities, hard-charging in leadership roles. Many who were former athletes, whether it's high school athlete, college athlete, professional athlete, whatever it may be, and that missing structure in their life, in business, is not having a coach. You look at the best of the best, whether it's Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Michael Jordan, all these guys, they didn't just have a coach, they wanted a coach. These are people at the top of their game, the top of their profession, but they were smart enough and self-aware enough to realize that they can't see the picture, when they're trapped inside the frame, and they need an outside perspective who can help them if not get to another level they didn't know existed, at least stay on top of their game. That's really kinda where I come into the picture with most of my clients.
**That totally makes sense. I look back in my history, I was pretty active, mostly in a high school frankly, on a sports team and I'd say fairly competitive on a state level. I look back at the coaching that I had, and frankly, a lot of them were really formative to compete at the level of compeating at... And I look back and even just a lot on life, a lot of the lessons I learned from them, I still apply today, and I have mentors now, that I consider on the business side, but it's not the same thing.
And now having a coach would be actually really, really beneficial.
What I'm curious about is when you made that transition, how was the coaching within a business context, different then coaching in an athletic context...**
John: It's surprisingly similar. I get a lot of "REALLY"... People are shocked when I say that but I think fundamentals are fundamentals on anything, the fundamentals in anyone that performs at a high level and enjoys what they do. There are certain fundamentals, there's a certain mindset, routines performance rituals, whatever the case may be. And I like to say when people ask me this question or just kind of how different is your second career? Yeah, I just say I'm still coaching, I'm still recruiting, it's just my recruits are different and my office is a little different; working with corporate athletes. The only thing that really changes is the setting or the environment that you're working in, but leadership is leadership, and that's really how I got started in this career, and when I wrote my first book, it's called "The Coach Approach: Success Strategies from the Locker Room to the Board Room". And it's amazing, the parallels, and it isn't until you get out and you're kind of preaching the gospel and spread the word, whether it's speaking or writing, that people can start to connect those dots. Especially if they haven't been an athlete or competed anything at a high level, it's just kind of foreign territory to them and you take the unfamiliar and you make it familiar for them.
If you're a CEO of a company, you're leading a team, if you're a college coach, you're a captain of a team, your manager of a professional sports franchise, you're leading a team. Those fundamentals aren't different. You've got to develop some chemistry; Team morale is important. Just so many parallels. That's a whole episode in of itself.
I believe it, I believe it. So when you got started you, you were doing the broadcast on ESPN, you wrote your first book, but once you got that first book out, did you find that people were coming and asking [to work with you] or was it more of like recruiting process where you were trying to identify people that you thought had high potential, and maybe needed a little extra help?
John: Yeah, I think it's a little bit of both. Writing a book is some of the best expert positioning that anyone in any industry could possibly ask for. The word "authority" literally, the first half of that word contains the word author.
So writing a book really was a way for me to showcase my process, give people a sneak peak into what it's like to work with me, how I coach, what they can expect, and just sort of the principles that I live and work by.
I think everyone's life well-lived is worth being well-written about and everyone who's done anything significant ought to be writing a book.
So let's flip the script a little bit. One of the things that you do, is you help others think about their goals for the future what they're trying to accomplish? What are your goals what are you trying to accomplish?
John: So I think since I got into this business in 2008, the business has changed dramatically, and everyone thinks, "Well my business is different, I work in the tech space, it's totally different than any other industry" or "I'm an author that's completely different than any other field that you could work in." And that's a fallacy and the way I look at my business is I'm performer no different than musician, entertainer, and everything we do, no matter what business you're in, it's a performance. If you have a public facing brand, and you have customers, they wanna be intrigued, they wanna be entertained, you have to entertain them well before you can ever educate them on anything, that's just reality.
But things have really changed since I got into writing in 2008. And what I mean by that is... And how industries aren't all that different, the publishing industry really mirrors the film industry and the music industry. The playing field has been leveled. There's no gatekeeper, independent artists can get their music on Spotify as easily as Taylor Swift with the record label. An independent self-published author can get his her books out there on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, every platform as easily as Stephen King... With that there's a lot of clutter in the marketplace... You're competing when you launch a book with roughly 60,000 other books that are released that very same week.
So how do you cut through the clutter is the key to it.
And that's changed a lot. So one of the changes and I've had to evolve or perish, one of the changes I've made as opposed to writing a full length book, what I'm doing is what a lot of musicians are doing right now. They're not releasing albums they're releasing singles. And they may release a single with a new video, every single month at the end of the year people can buy it as a bundle in the form of an album.
So what I find myself doing is I'm not gonna release a book a month that would be exhausting but I am releasing a small book each quarter for the remainder of 2019 and into 2020, that's how we consume things. Our attention spans have changed, but if we're interested, we'll binge watch something on Netflix.
But what we want is just a small taste first, and then we want the choice to choose to continue to consume more of it, right? So that's kind of the way I approach my work this year and next is bite-sized pieces that are easily digestible, but also still have great value, and solve a problem for people.
Yeah, got it. And you see the same pattern in the late night TV shows. We had people like Jimmy Kimmel and Colbert and all that stuff. They're over YouTube and now, people just watch the small little clip that they find funny as opposed to sitting down and watching, the 45 minutes, hour of their whole interview series. And that's actually been a very deliberate strategy that I've read about and how they're transitioning, over to really have this new cultures change, a little bit where one wants that little snippet of what's good, what's interesting just to meet and it like it's the same in publishing as well, so that's very, very interesting.
John: Yeah, I think the success leaves clues for everybody. Your best idea, and this is my number one principle, your best ideas will always come from outside your industry.
And an example I love to give is, if you take a look at the tip of the ballpoint pen, the inventor of the ballpoint or the inventor of a roll on deodorant the original, I think it's called ban brand. Roll on deodorant got the idea for roll-on deodorant, from looking at how ink is distributed on the tip of a ball point pen.
And there are examples after example, Southwest Airlines, got their competitive advantage, not because they had a big budget or they weren't in any major hubs, when they started out the lead a few planes they could get up and down, they couldn't compete against the big boys. Well on the weekend, Herb Keller, you may have heard the story, His friends invited him to a NASCAR race. He is not a Nascar fan, but what he found himself intrigued by, was watching the pit crews jump over the wall, change the tires, fill the gas, give the driver a drink of water, clean the windshield, and get them back on the road in a matter of seconds.
He walked away from that race and said That's what I'm gonna do with airplanes. We're going to get them up and down faster because we can't add more planes, we can't get into major hubs, but it will be more efficient.
And that was the competitive advantage and now I think the literally the only airline not in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
So I think your best ideas always come from outside your industry, and it's very hard because we're in the day-to-day in our own industry and we need that outside voice that has a fresh lens. Different set eyes.
It's like you said earlier, when you're in the frame, it's hard to see outside of it, and sometimes have thoughts from the outside help you navigate and look at things differently; a different perspective can be really an official...
John: Yeah, so some of the informal mentors and coaches in my life and I think if you're a coach, you better walk your talk, you better have coached this. Some of the most influential people, in terms of helping me advance in my career, are completely outside of my industry. It's not other professional speakers or authors. I'm sitting down with and tapping into the great minds of some stand-up comics, musician, song writers, and they're all in the business of performance, and they give me a fresh perspective that I can apply to a completely different industry.
Let's talk about challenges, tell us a little bit about some of the challenges that you face and the obstacles and how were you able to overcome them?
John: So I think one of the challenges right now that I'm dealing with, and I venture to say a lot of people are, is online in social media. There's Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, they own that real estate, you don't own it, so they can throttle you down. I'm not talking about politics and "shadow banning" or de-platforming but they can control how many people view your post because it's their real estate. And it used to be that when you posted something on Facebook, all your fans on your business page would see it, all your friends on your personal page would see it, and now you have to pay to boost that post. I read something like 60% of the internet traffic is fake, like these bot farms and what have you. I'm not real familiar with exactly the terminology, but we've got to evolve.
I think that if you're a solepreneur that doesn't have a huge advertising budget, I think analog, is the new digital and personal outreach within your community or getting on an airplane and investing the money to travel and take a face-to-face meeting is sort of the next evolution. I think technology, they change the game for the better and the world is a much smaller place. But now, you don't quite have that organic reach that you used to. And I think investing in real relationships is sort of... As strange as it sounds because it's kind of old school, but it's the new frontier is actually the old frontier.
Everything old is new again!
So if you had to start over today, knowing everything that you know, what would you do differently?
I would invest more time, energy, and resources into building my email list. On the heels of your last question what I mentioned with social media, you hear people saying, "You know what, "I'm gonna take a break from Facebook" or "I'm sick of all the politics or just... It brings out the worst in people or I'm sick of cat videos and looking at people's food.
But you never hear anyone, so say "you know what, I'm gonna take a break from email." We live and die by our emails, we check it like 30 times a day, I think is a latest statistic. To invest in relationships, growing my list, earlier it's sort of an epiphany I had a few years ago. There's a little story behind that but just invest in growing my list, and building personal relationships. It is still a very personal medium one-to-one relationships with my readers, and subscribers. And the example I'd give you is I don't know if you remember anyone who's watching this remembers the app "ThunderClap"?
I don't remember it.
Okay, so ThunderClap - the webpage is ThunderClap.IT - But what it was, was you could set up an account, and you could post you could pre-schedule a social media post that would go out on a certain day, at a certain time on... It's not like Hootsuite or any of those other social media aggregators but... You could schedule the post to go out at a certain time, and date like for a product launch got it and you could invite all of your fans, friends, followers, LinkedIn connections, email subscribers, you can invite all those people to give ThunderClap permission to automatically schedule that same tweet or Facebook post to go out. Let's say, Tuesday at 9 AM. Tuesday is the day that all books are released, new books are released of the market, 9 AM is when people, typically in the East Coast, sit down to the computer and start work. It's literally like a ThunderClap.
It's all at once hitting a social media in the marketplace with your message.
So I share that with you because for my last book, launch April, April 4, 2017 I released my book Stadium Status, and I had this huge ThunderClap campaign, the former founder of the platform reached out to me. He said "This is probably one of the largest most successful book campaigns we've had since Tim Ferris's Four-Hour Work Week, I'm curious what your results were." I reached 27 different countries on every reached every continent, a couple million people. I used the unique URL for that one, and then I sent a separate call to action announcing my new book was available to my readers on the email list.
My email list at the time was maybe 6 or 7,000 people, only... And I sold exponentially more books to that small list than I did to 27 different countries every continent, a few million people via social media.
So that's why I share that story because I think it's a cautionary tale that a lot of people put a lot of stock in social media versus real, one-to-one relationships on an email list that someone voluntarily opted into. They want to hear from you on a regular schedule assuming you're entertaining and engaging, and it's a value to them. So yeah, I think email if I were to do it over, double down on email and spend far less time tweeting and posting and trying to build fans on real estate platforms, I don't own.
And the interesting thing is that I think a lot of entrepreneurs that get started by actually start on social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a lot of that is because frankly... It just seems easy to work a lot of folks are there every day, and it's like, "Oh I'll just do posts on my business."
But in the end, it's like you maybe are reaching people, but if they have no connection to you, it's such a quick little instant thing and then they move on from that and they forget about you 'cause they don't have any reason to remember.
And earlier, having that real connection with someone and email really is a real connection - they had the option, they said, "I would want to learn more" as opposed to social media where it's more of us trying to jump in front of them, and hope that you can make some sort of impact on them, but it's not easy. So that's very, very insightful.
John: Yeah, I think another quick story related to that is, think social media is kind of a fun house mirror yeah, it doesn't accurately reflect anything in real life. It's an illusion of popularity, an illusion of engagement and why I say that is one of my friends is a comedian, he's a stand-up comic lives in another part of the country... The East Coast is not a home base to him, but he has an enormous social media following. He gets billions of YouTube and Facebook Live views, has a massive following on Twitter. And he came out here and did a date at a comedy club in Boston right and given all the promotion online surrounding all of his tour dates he sold 20 hard tickets, to that event - 20.
I think that's the illusion of engagement and it's not a critique of him, it's reality today online. Fans, likes, retweets, do not equal actual qualified prospects much less customers.
So along those lines, are there other things that you've found particularly helpful or advantageous as you build out your business?
John: Well, yeah, ProofFactor, obviously, we have to include that.
John: I'm not kidding, I really, really am enjoying and appreciate having that plug into my shopping cart and it does bring up a good point, and that is the whole concept of social proof in your business.
What do you do, what problem does it solve who do you work with, how do you work with them? And it's a subtle form of highlighting exactly those things, who bought what for me where are they, and why did they buy it? If you're buying my book, "Seeds of Success", you're very different type of reader than if you're buying "The Coach Approach", and there's the geography to all that as well, I think, plays a role. So it's been fun to seeing if it's been fun to see that amplify sales in my shopping cart as well. It's a shameless plug for ProofFactor but...
We love the fact that you find it helpful.
John: I'm not kidding, I really love it. So that's been a blessing to have connected with you and discovered that and I forget your question, at this point.
I went into evangelist mode for your product and I forgot the question, it was what's particularly helpful in my business?
John: It's word of mouth, I think as I get a little older and a little wiser, than when I first got started, I put less stock in advertising, whether it's digital or print, or whatever it is, and more and word of mouth because there are so many fake Amazon reviews for example, you can buy followers on Twitter and Facebook, but what are people really saying? Like people who really opened up their wallet, cracked open their wallet, took out the credit card bought something, and you transform the results. Or change their life, where do they say?
Those are the voices that matter and I think to have that social proof in the form of legitimate customer referrals, and testimonials is huge. There's so much skepticism out there today.
Yeah, we all, in some way shape or form work in sales, Val. The Gallop company, they do these gallop surveys and survey all kinds of stuff. They're a research company, well, every year they publish a report the least trusted profession in America, and every year, as you can imagine what's the number one least trusted professional?
Val I don't know, I wanna think something like lawyer.
John: Okay, you're really close. So sales is at always number one, a lawyer is number two, politician is number three.
One thing about politicians are just recovering lawyers.
Constantly selling us stuff.
John: Yeah, those two are fairly synonymous, politician and lawyer. But it's always sales. And yeah, you think of the typical sleazy used car salesman - the cheap suit who is a fast talker, and that's the stereotype, but the reality of it is, if you're a business owner, if you work at a company in virtually any capacity, you're in sales, even if you're a custodian, you're the "Director of First Impressions" at your company. Someone's either gonna be sold or not sold based on their first impression.
I think that we have to look at that as this is a very distrusting society right now for a variety of reasons, and it's probably not getting any better any time soon. We need to find real ways to connect in an authentic legitimate way to build that trust, person-to-person. And it's not convenient, 'cause we love as entrepreneurs, we love to talk about scale, but you build your fan base one fan one customer at a time, and there's no shortcuts to that.
Funny storystory about sales. My fiancee when we first got together, when we started dating. She didn't know I had a sales background, and she found out pretty deep in our relationship several dates, to where she knew she liked me already, and she said, recently that if she knew that I had a sales background earlier, on, we might not be here today because she doesn't like sales people.
John: Well no one likes to be sold but everyone looks to buy stuff. That's just the reality.
So along those same lines, and specific advice for our entrepreneurs that are just starting out?
John: Absolutely I think the way to elevate and separate yourself from the sea of sameness, that we're all-in in whatever market you serve, whatever industry you're working, is positioning. What problem do you solve how do you solve and how can people work with you and to be able to demonstrate your expertise.
You may not write a full-blown book, but you can write a consumer guide, how to hire someone like you. So one of the things I publish as a consumer guide, and how to hire a coach, and you can make damn sure that every single one of those how-tos, I matched the spec, personally, and I'm not overtly selling in that consumer guide, but I make sure that it's helpful. These are interview questions, you can use when you're interviewing any coach. Not necessarily me, but I make sure I walk my talk, but in my case, the number one question is, who's your coach?
People should be asking that, and if you're an executive coach or a business coach, and there's any length of silence before you answer that, the answers is in the silence. It's not in whatever they say, because if that answer isn't top of mind they don't necessarily walk their talk. They're not invested enough to spend their own money on coaching, but they wanna take yours.
So to answer the question, I think it's publishing something.
Yeah, and that could simply be a brochure that helps people make a buying decision not necessarily with your product, but a buying decision. And then you match those specs.
Something smaller, is probably better because it's more digestible, but to be seen as different, and elevate yourself from a positioning standpoint, is huge. The second piece of advice that we give is take your business seriously, you have to, but don't take yourself too seriously.
You know, I've got a 13-year-old and 15-year-old at home today and they're at that age where Dad just doesn't cool. So taking myself seriously as an act in futility, with them, and I don't know that the marketplace is really any different. If you take yourself too seriously, you're not gonna be fun, you're not gonna be engaging. Playful much less interesting and people don't find you interesting and entertaining.
You're never gonna get that foot in the door, so don't take yourself too seriously, Have fun.
Anything else on your mind?
John: I'm curious if I could turn the tables back to you and I call this inexpensive experience. There's expensive experience where you go out and blindly sort of attempt to do something and you make a mistake, it costs you a lot of money and you might damage your reputation. Versus inexpensive experience, which is asking someone kind of the question you just asked me... What do you know now that you wish you knew when you got started?
And I'm curious what your answer is to that.
It's a million dollar question folks.
It is, and it's funny because getting started really is the hardest part, and I think that very early on, it's really challenging to know exactly where to get started, especially with the new business in a new industry. And if it's your first time doing especially, you just don't know, you don't know where to start.
And I'll just say to most people, the right advice is that it almost doesn't matter, just get started, start doing something, and naturally you'll get feedback on whether you're doing the right things are not. If you're doing the right things, and you keep do more of that if you're not doing the right today, you'll notice it because you're not connecting the customer, you're not engaging people, like you said, you're not really making those one on one connections and you'll figure that out really quickly and you'll start to adjust.
And it's like, it's like a sunflower follows the Sun across the sky.
John: It analogy. That's a great analogy.
**You going to start following and start going the direction of your customers and eventually you'll get there.
So if you're starting out you're new entrepreneur, you don't know where to start, just start anywhere, start talking to anyone - to customers - someone you think is gonna be a customer. From there you can figure out very, very quickly if they are or are not and if it's not just keep on doing things and eventually you'll get there.**
John: Yeah, I think people want a definition for entrepreneurship. The best answer I can give those and it's an experiment is really, and that's what you just described. Test something tweak it, re-test it, get feedback and then adjust and being able to do that, turn on to dime and adjust on the fly however you wanna say it? It's all an experiment.
I learned, talking about an experiment and listening to customers and feedback, I held a contest online to help title my new book and it's a book about entrepreneurship and I got a lot of really boring vanilla answers. And then one person... She's actually a dietician that lives in my community here, nutritionist, she gave the she gave the answer "You ought to name it, Entrepreneur AF... And I'll leave it to everyone to figure out what AF stands for - You can look it up on UrbanDictionary.dot.com.
I'm like, "You know what, I don't know that I wanna name my book that but I'll take an under advisement and then someone said that would make a great t-shirt and then someone else chimed in on that thread, and said, "Yeah, you really ought to make t-shirts like that", And then someone else said, "count me in on order. I'm an extra large my wife, co-owner of our business, she's a medium." People were telling me, giving me all this feedback before even created anything to looking at that. Like, "you know what, I'm gonna sell these t-shirts, it's an entrepreneur AF and get a really cool graphic done, and I'm just gonna include the book when I ship the shirts, it'll be a bundle, you'll get the book, it's not a long book, it's re-purpose content that I've already written but it's a cool slogan for a t-shirt, and I immediately resonated with every entrepreneur in my tribe.
And that's just an example of like, you think you're going one direction with something but then the market tells you otherwise, and it's sort of best of both worlds.
I'll make sure I make sure I get you one of them. What size are you?
Gotcha, so then tell us about where someone can learn more.
So I'm just gonna give you a one place - https://coachbru.com/ from there you can learn more, follow along and find all of my socials!