Since founding his company SEO National in 2007, Damon Burton Writes for Forbes has been featured in publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, BuzzFeed, and USA Weekly. He's helped high-profile clients make more in a month than they used to in a year. Not only does Burton bring an easy to follow approach to increasing your revenue and online visibility, but he’s also a trusted educator on this subject and has literally written the book on how to outrank your competition. His book, Outrank, serves as a guide to those who want to dominate Google's search results without paying for ads.
I was looking into your website and I'm intrigued by the story about how you beat a billion-dollar company in showing up higher than them in the search engines. Can you share that with our listeners?
Yeah, that's a fun story. It was actually kind of in the infancy of when I jumped into the SEO world and it was just a little hobby site. So this around 2007, my wife was watching the Bachelor and she says, "Hey, babe, it's the season finale, come in to watch this with me. So I went in and watched a little bit of it and from what I remember from watching season finales with her before, is that they wouldn't announce who the next bachelor was going to be, they'd leave a cliffhanger and you'd have to wait. What was interesting about this year, and now in subsequent years, is they announced who the gentleman was going to be. So I was curious about why they did that and I went and looked him up, assuming that I would find information on their website about it and I couldn't find anything on their website. But it was this guy who was a Navy Captain, and he runs triathlons. So I thought to myself if I'm not really that interested in it because it was more just a brief curiosity and all these huge diehard fans are going to be interested in it, they're certainly looking. So I told my wife, I said, "Hey, I'm gonna be in here for a little bit," and so that night, I spent 90 minutes building a website, and cataloged any public information I could find about this guy and put it up. By the end of the week, it was the number one website for this bachelor guy and we were able to outrank The Bachelor website and ABC is a multi-billion dollar brand so it's a fun story to share. So at the time, I was in my early 20s, and I put AdSense on there so I was making like 1000s of dollars a month in passive income. But at the core, why that's such a good success story is because I solved the problem. I answered questions that the consumers were demanding and so that's a simplistic way of looking at SEO. That was not the most beautiful website, but it solved the problem. It had some pictures of the guy that people were looking for, had the bio on the guy that people were looking for, had resources on the guy that people were looking for, and then I'm hesitant to admit it, but then I started adding updates at the end of each show that season about what was going on with his story on The Bachelor.
Let's talk about ads in search engines a little bit, why would you pay for ads when you can get sales from search engines for free?
There are some pros and cons to any marketing campaign. The nice thing about ads is that they're quicker than SEO, SEO is a slow game, but that's the only advantage. The disadvantages of ads are that you always have an ad budget. So as that space becomes more competitive, you have to pay more, you have to increase your budget. Then there's also a shelf life to your ad. A lot of people will be familiar with the term "ad fatigue," where someone has an ad on Google or Facebook and it runs great for six weeks, and then you wake up the next day, and it's dead. So you're always having a scramble on turning these ads off and on. A lot of people I know that actively run aggressive ad campaigns, they are literally in their ad campaigns every day and that becomes tiring. So to the opposite of that, I'm not wanting to say that SEO is the only way, I think there's a time in place for all of them. But with SEO, the advantages and disadvantage of the complete opposite of paid ads. The goal with SEO is to show up higher on search engines without paying for ads by building up the credibility of your website. So the only downside to SEO is that it's a slower play, you can easily be into it for six months to a year before you see any movement. I tell all our new clients that you need to mentally commit to at least a year. So you have to have not only the patience but you have to have the cash flow and the runway to pay for something that's not going to drive a return for probably at the earliest three to six months. But once it kicks in, then you have all these other advantages. You don't have the daily ad fatigue that you have to check all the time, you don't have a fluctuating ad budget, you have a fixed management fee to your SEO agency. Once you get to the top, unless you're playing in the gray area of SEO and doing some risky tactics, you've got to work pretty hard to screw it up. Once you're there, you're there and then you can start to snowball your reach of showing up for this handful of keywords and leverage your newfound credibility to show up for another handful of keywords. So as long as you have the patience and cash flow to cover that investment in the early months, it's way more consistent and stable with less drama.
I imagine when you talk about ads and retargeting ads, if you invest in SEO, then you're spending less money on retargeting if that's a strategy versus trying to get additional paid users to your site.
Yeah for sure. I've owned SEO national for 14 years and other than a few experiments out of curiosity, we have literally never spent $1 on advertising and we've done business with multi-billion dollar companies. You can build a hugely successful, scalable business without having to pay for ads.
I agree 100%. People go to Google because they have a challenge and as long as your site is set up to prove that you can solve that problem, Google's gonna display you.
Yeah, depending on the industry, organic listings will have a better buyer too, especially when you start comparing against Facebook paid ads. Because what happens on paid ads is you are the shiny bubble gum wrapper at the checkout stand. Maybe not so much on Google ads, but definitely on Facebook ads and social ads because you interrupted them and you're like, "Hey, look at me." So then they might go, "Oh, yeah, I've been thinking about that thing," but with search engine traffic, people made a proactive decision to go search something very specifically. So you have a higher quality lead with better buyer intent because they are the ones that initiated the query to find the right solution, which is hopefully you.
Can you share with our listeners one of your favorite networking experiences that you've had?
So my business model is largely based on relationships. We do SEO for ourselves, but other than that, we don't do paid ads, as I mentioned. I would say referrals are probably 90% of our business and the other 10% is through networking relationships. So a couple of years ago, we were introduced to the Utah Jazz and they were looking to increase their sales of retail merchandise, hats, and jerseys through their division called team store. So what happened was, I had a gentleman reach out on LinkedIn that said, "Hey, I saw your post about XY and Z, can you come in and chat." They just happened to be local, which was interesting, because most of our clients, I've never met in person, and they're in other states. So this guy was about 15 minutes away and I went into their boardroom and had a very formal conversation with all the head honchos. Then when I left, he hit me up an hour or two later and said, "Hey, thanks for coming in, what doesn't happen often is usually you leave a marketing meeting more confused and that wasn't the case with you, you came in and not only did you tell us the advantages of what you offer, but you also told us the disadvantages, you told us that it takes time." So he ended up moving forward and becoming a client. Two weeks after they were a client we were still going through the onboarding process, but he could see how organized we were in how we launched the campaign, how we sequenced certain engagements and actions. So two weeks into the campaign, he says, "Hey, when I introduce you to my neighbor, he works for this law firm in Vegas," and so I said, "Okay, great, let's talk." So he sends the introduction to this guy, we end up onboarding his Vegas law firm. So here within three weeks, from one post, we have two clients. Then with this law firm guy, one week later, he says, "Hey, I want to introduce you to the Utah Jazz," like that’s out of the left field. In my mind, I thinking like, "Yeah, of course, that's awesome, but who are you?" So come to find out, he was the guy, he was the exiting vice president of their retail sales. They were restructuring how their team store was ran, he was taking a different opportunity with some friends at the law firm to do their logistics and marketing. So he was the guy and I could not have spent a million dollars on Facebook paid ads, Google ads, postcards, anything, to get that introduction to make that meeting to have that type of relationship to work with the Utah Jazz.
How do you stay in front of and best nurture these relationships that you're creating?
One thing that I try to protect is the personal side of it because logistically, you get to a point of scale where it's hard to manage all those individual relationships. So you have to consider bringing on a team and VAs to help with that, but then you don't want to delete the message and the brand, and you don't want to delete the relationship. So for me what I found is you're growing so fast that you have to make some quick changes and so part of those changes is how I manage my LinkedIn network. What I've done is I'm hyper-protective of the relationship, like I want these relationships. I don't know if it's for selfish reasons, because they just make me feel good and I like talking with people, but I like the non-business side of business and I want to protect that. But I don't have the time anymore to respond to all of these comments on the post, which is awesome and I don't have the time to check my inbox every day, which is an awesome problem, but at the same time, I don't want to just pass it to a VA. So what I've done is I've documented guidelines for my team. So I have one person that works on comments, and one person that works on my inbox. What I've done is I've said, "Hey, anything, that's a general comment, go ahead and acknowledge it, give it give thanks, whatever is applicable, but anytime there's anything that either is an opportunity to build a relationship or is an SEO specific question that I can help somebody with, let me know." So every morning I wake up, and my team members that handle this, we communicate through Skype. So every morning, I wake up, get in Skype, and I’ve got like 26, links to LinkedIn in my Skype of comments that they've identified and they're like here's an opportunity for Damon to be Damon. Or somebody that replied to a new contact, whether it was them engaging me or me, engaging them, where they actually asked a question. So I've built these roles that allow me to scale the personality and nurture relationships in the way I want to without bottlenecking it. So I think that'll help a lot of people. I don't think it's the answer for everybody, but I think what I would try to emphasize out of that example is to think outside of the box and stop thinking that you can't scale a personality. If you have a problem, figure out what the solution is, and then try to reverse engineer your own way to accomplish it. I'm confident other people are out there, talking and offering courses or coaching or whatever on doing what I just did, but I've never seen it and so I just came up with a solution that I felt would solve my problems and protect what I wanted to protect.
What advice do you have for that professional that's looking to grow their network?
Stop looking for the shortcuts. The further along I get in my career, the more I realize I'm kind of the oddball out because I've never spent any money on ads, my entire team is remote, I've never met any of them, my longest employee has been with me for 12 years, and I've never had an employee quit. So all these things I've realized in retrospect, I didn't realize the value and the safety net of reoccurring invoicing, the safety net that provides. So all these things have become this huge blessing just because I did them because it felt right. It certainly wasn't the quickest game, but to come all the way around to the question of what advice can I offer, I would say, to carve your own path. One of the biggest things that I know contributed to what I've been able to accomplish is by being uncomfortable with the unknown. What I mean by that is, I started my agency 15 years ago and I had no idea that this was going to be my career, but I was okay with that. I was confident that at some point, I'd be self-employed, I didn't know that I'd own a company. I certainly didn't know in what capacity that company would operate, but I was okay with that. I think the problem that a lot of people run into, especially now with social media. Social media is cool for whatever it's cool for, but the downside is that it just glorifies so much. You should glorify your entrepreneurial wins, but you shouldn't be obsessed with other people's entrepreneurial wins, because you have no idea what went on behind that. There's that cliche quote that overnight success usually takes 10 years and it's totally true. So just try to stay in your lane, don't be obsessed with other people's shiny objects, don't be obsessed with what chapter in life other people are on, and don't prematurely commit to something you're going to regret later, yeah, it might be attractive now, but if you know that's not what you want to do long term, you're gonna hate yourself in 5-10 years, and then you're gonna think, "Holy crap, I just waited 5-10 years." I think it's a little bit of delayed gratification and if you're willing to play by that rule then you'll be happier in the long run.
Connect with Damon:
As a business mindset coach and rapid transformational therapist Cyrina is passionate about helping business owners understand how to navigate growth. Their business is leading them to a place that is amazing, but also unfamiliar. Her work focuses on mindset and becoming confident to step into the next level, bringing you scientifically proven techniques to get your subconscious on board so you have 100% of your mind working with you and for you, no longer working against you.
Why don't you share a little bit about how our subconscious affects our business?
So the main thing to understand is that science can hook up things to our brains and measure them. I think there's a lot of misconceptions about your subconscious that it’s this deep dark place or whatnot, but it's our autopilot, it's our programming, and what happens is there's a state they can measure brainwaves. So there's a state that we're living in, between the age of birth and 10, where that's all getting programmed. Then around 12, you start being able to think abstract and more logically, and all that kind of stuff. So that programming is set, and then it's running and a lot of times the way we were raised, the experiences we had, the beliefs about money, the beliefs about relationships, and success, and all those kinds of things are in contrast to the direction we want our business to go. We might have grown up learning that rich people are snobs or greedy, or we don't want to be like those people, or money is evil. You might not notice them until then, and as a business owner, we have to show up more, we have to put ourselves out there, we have to accept more money, we have to raise our prices, we have to sell. So all those things, if there's anything in your past that goes against where you're headed in your business, it's going to mess with you. So it's affecting business owners anytime you're struggling to take the action that you want to take and I think it's something inherent in all of us as well, this idea to put yourself out there and selling your product and service. That takes a lot of belief in ourselves and there's not a ton of people that had the ideal growing up experience where you didn't hit any bumps in the road that knock that down and take your confidence and have at least a couple of beliefs that go against how you need to show up in your business.
What is one way to change a limiting belief?
To me, the number one thing is knowing that we can change. Old science was like, Oh, well, you're wet cement before age 10 and you're getting imprinted or whatever and then you're just stuck. I think a lot of the belief to overcome is like, "Oh, I just don't do that, I can't do that, that's just not my personality." But when you know, any challenge that you're coming up against, you can change. To me, that's the most powerful one. But it's awareness, it's knowing, okay, I raised my prices and I'm procrastinating, I'm not taking action to let anybody know, maybe there's something here. That process of self-reflection and awareness is a huge step. I have people get out a piece of paper, write anything that they're struggling with, and ask why am I not showing up? Why am I afraid to raise my prices? Why am I freaking out and procrastinating about this? Just that process of asking that question and listening is crucial because our consciousness is just thinking, thinking all day long, your heartbeats and your lungs breathe, and your mind thinks. But if you write down a question on a piece of paper, you ask yourself a question, and you listen, then you're automatically in that different state, instead of just like this constant diatribe from your brain, of all the things, you just kind of get quiet and listen and see what comes up.
How is this different than positive thinking? Because that's another avenue that I see is just to remain positive to have a positive mindset, but this seems like it's a different approach.
It's funny because your subconscious runs around 95% of your brain. So if in your conscious, you're going, I'm successful, I'm amazing. I'm a millionaire. And you have a subconscious belief, it's going to kind of be like, Yeah, no, whatever. So it's understanding that to make lasting changes, you've got to get that subconscious on board. If you're saying these things to yourself in front of the mirror, a lot of people like the affirmations and these kinds of things, and there's a part of you that's arguing with it. Again, it's really important to listen to the part that's arguing and figuring out okay, what's that belief. That's why a lot of times the affirmations and the things we do in our conscious, don't work as well, because it's only 3% or 5% of our mind. Now, a lot of things you can look in the mirror and say, I'm wonderful, and I'm good and if there's no argument, if there's no part of your mind going, "Yeah, whatever, you're full of crap," then you're good. But if that comes up and you're finding yourself saying them and getting nowhere, that's when you know, there's something going on that's deeper that needs addressing.
Can you share with our listeners, one of your favorite networking experiences that you've had?
Yeah, so I lived for the past 20 years and Central Wisconsin a couple of hours north of Milwaukee, and moved down here, August of 2019. When I still lived in Central Wisconsin, I had just started my business three years ago, and I was looking for Facebook Groups and I googled, "women helping women in Wisconsin," and "women, Wisconsin entrepreneurs," I just googled it in the Facebook search to see what was there. I found Melissa Blair's group, Wisconsin Women Helping Women Entrepreneurs. So as part of that group already, when I was moving down here, I was like, "Okay, I'm going to just make a post and ask, I need an office, I'm going to look for an office," and someone responded right away. I had we lived down here, I think just a couple of weeks, and I met with a woman named Sarah Feldman. We ended up talking in her office for at least an hour and I told her my whole story. She was really generous with her time and she's like, "Okay, I'm having a women's event in a month, and I want you to be on the panel," And I was like, "Okay, that sounds great!" So it was and it was a fabulous event. She's like, "Let's just cut through the bull, and have women entrepreneurs really talk about it and their struggles and, be open about it." It was a really cool event, you had some amazing speakers. Then at that event, I met Todd Reed, who since then have collaborated and connected with their community. Their networking community is phenomenal, the people are awesome and that was just from a random Facebook post looking for an office.
How do you stay in front of and best nurture the network and community that you've created?
It's a love-hate relationship with Facebook because this is where a lot of them live. I kind of ebb and flow like I'm on a good amount and then I go over to way too much and then I pull back. But what I try to do in groups is answer questions, share recommendations, share any free content that I have, videos that I make, or podcasts. My main thing is helping people overcome anxiety. So whatever those limiting beliefs are, they show up most of the time and anxiety and overwhelm and so explaining to people grab a piece of paper, start asking questions. You can do that for free right now and you may be surprised what comes up when you just have that conversation. Those kinds of things like sharing whatever info that I'm that I have, that may be helpful really helps, just giving.
What advice would you have for that business professional who's looking to grow their network?
I think the biggest thing is to show up. Put a post, ask a question, speak up, share. I've heard from a lot of people and I've certainly experienced this myself, where you walk into the room, and you feel like you don’t belong. I think it's having that belief that I do belong here, people want to hear what I have to say, I have something to contribute, I have something to give and walking into it like that like we're all equals, and realizing I'm probably not the only one that's a little nervous right now changes everything. I know in my own life, saying people want to hear what I have to say is a really powerful statement. Again, coming into the networking group space with that, what can I give here, how can I serve here attitude allows people to tell that you're there to give.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
The main thing for me, in my 20s I was just trying so hard to be a success and get people's approval and prove my worth. So the main thing I would say is "Sweetie, you are good, you're valuable, you're worthy, you're enough just the way you are," and instead of trying to earn the worth, get the worth first, then do your business, it'll be a lot more fun. Work on your self-worth, then you're gonna be able to do your business with a whole different healthy way of operating.
We've all heard of the six degrees of separation. Who is someone that you'd love to connect with and do you think you could do it within the sixth degree?
So I have a four-day-old relationship with a person that I've seen on YouTube that I greatly respect. His name is Dr. Greg Carr. So the YouTube channel is called In Class with Carr and he's like this history Encyclopedia. So when I work with my clients, I empower them with knowledge, right? Like even the conversation we had, is it normal to do this? Yes. When you know it's normal to behave the way you're behaving, you have tons less stress because you don't think you're insane. So to me, he's providing that knowledge around our current political environment going, "Hey guys, here's the deal, here's the history," and just providing so much knowledge that for me is taking my anxiety away. He's in DC and my brothers in Virginia Beach so I feel like my brother might know someone who knows someone in DC. Then there's another networking group that I'm part of called polka dot powerhouse. I would guess, if I said the Facebook page, "Hey, I'm looking to connect with someone, he's at Howard University in DC, does anybody know anybody there?" I bet I could at least get a good start there.
What any final words of advice to our listeners around the topic of growing and supporting your network?
Just show up, share your gifts, and set that intention. I'm here to meet people and serve. Trust that sales are going to happen, you don't need to worry about that and, always having that intention of giving. Lastly, just have fun!
Connect with Cyrina:
Joe is a Wisconsin native with a long history in the Milwaukee SMB community who owns a local tech company for 20 years. After divesting that he invested in a couple of startups. One of them is security-related and the cool one is Lite Zilla, a Milwaukee manufacturer of jumbo lite brites, yes, just like the ones you played as a kid. His day job is Mother G, a compass MSP that goes beyond offering managed services. They're 100% dedicated to providing lightswitch dependable technology to Wisconsin SMBs.
What would be your number one technology tip for small businesses?
My number one tip would be to check your security settings. If you don't know what that means, find a partner or a vendor who can help you check your security settings. A lot of small businesses, when I say confused, they feel like they're small so nobody wants to hack them. The reality is, it's all automated, it's all a business. In 2020, for the first time, the amount of money flowing through cybersecurity hacks exceeded the amount of money in the illicit drug trade in the world. They're not picking on you, because they want your secret widget designs, they're picking on you because you have an IP address, it's that simple. Look at your security, look at your vendor security. There been a couple of vendors in town, who you know, have been exposed, who've been hacked and once they get through there, they've got your keys to your kingdom. So be really, really careful, only the Paranoid survive.
Can you speak a bit about how COVID impacts SMB technology?
One of the big ones is the whole work from home thing and the whole remote connectivity, but that certainly ties back to the security factor. Those are all entry points into your company network. There's a lot of great tools out there. We use a lot of Microsoft Teams, and I've been using it for a couple of years since I joined Mother G. Probably the biggest impact of COVID is that a lot of those remote communications, remote collaboration, productivity tools have pushed down into the Small Business space because people couldn't come to the office. By the same token, on that security side, the bad guys are certainly taken advantage of people's uncertainty, people's conductivity, and frankly, people's people's goodwill, in terms of sending phishing emails to make a donation or support people who are out of work, that kind of thing and it's the bad guys trying to get your credentials and empty your bank account. So the security risks have gone up in the last nine months since everything shut down last March. So those are the two biggest impacts is the connectivity stuff and the security risks.
What are your thoughts on the future of SMB technology?
Not to beat a dead horse, but security is only going to get bigger. The other big thing that we're seeing with a lot of customers is looking at the productivity factors. One of the hidden benefits, if you will, of the whole experience of the last nine or ten months in terms of SMB technology is people starting to think differently. A year ago, there were a lot of small business owners who would think that everybody's got to be in the office and they can't be productive if everybody's not in the office and that's not the case. Now, at the same time, there are better and less good ways to do it. I think one of the biggest things looking forward to the future is how do we, as business leaders, and as business owners, you know, you own your business. You've got a staff of X number of people, you want to keep them both happy and productive, you probably have an entirely new appreciation today than you did a year ago, in terms of the struggle that some of your employees have. What does that mean to them on a day in, day out, based on how can the technology help to bridge those gaps, keep them productive, while helping them to balance the very real, very distinct responsibilities between the work in their family, between their job and their kids kind of thing. So I think the biggest way for small companies is looking for ways to leverage those tools to maintain that productivity to maintain that balance. So whether that's Teams, Zoom, or SharePoint, cloud-based MRP, and CRM systems where you don't have to be necessarily tethered to a local area, wired network in an office, you can access things remotely.
Can you share with our listeners one of your favorite networking experiences that you've had?
So here's my all-time favorite story. There's a guy, his name is John Mariano and he's an exceptional business banker here in town. So my friend and I were in a group together for a long time and he had his 25th-anniversary party. I'm standing at one of these high top tables and this guy walks up, you know, mutual friends, and there's probably three or four of them standing there. On the table in front of me is a glass of wine, and I'd never met this guy so he walks up to the table, he sets his drink down and he extends his hand to shake mine and then in doing so, blows a glass of wine all over the front of me. The look on his face is mortified, beyond mortified. I just started laughing which sort of breaks the tension. We got to be really good friends, that was several years ago. That's my best intro and we still laugh about it every time I see him now. You know it happens, we're all human. Right?
How do you stay best in front of or nurture these relationships that you've created?
I think the most important factor there is just to be intentional about it. I have been doing this a long time and you do learn things over the years. Sometimes it's digital stuff, sometimes it's in-person stuff. Having heard some of your conversations with other folks, certainly, it's been more digital stuff in the last 9-10 months, and a lot of people are missing that personal connection. But the way to stay in front, and the way to nurture and stay connected, is just to be intentional about it. Make sure that you do it doesn't have to be a big production. If you're on LinkedIn, and somebody posts something it strikes you as cool, share it, if it strikes me as important, chances are a good enough segment of the people that I'm connected to are going to agree, and they're gonna have a look. Whether it's a personal story, or whether it's somebody's success or their new job, or whether it's a cause worth supporting, or a business pivoting to a new market, share it and share directly with that person. We all appreciate the acknowledgment and affirmation, but I think the biggest key is to be intentional about it and make it part of your normal routine.
What advice would you offer those that are looking to grow their network?
My biggest bit of perspective beyond to be intentional about it is seek first to help, seek first to give, to be useful. Don't go into it with the perspective of asking for something or looking for something, but being real is incredibly important. Lead with being real in terms of how you can help. A long time ago when I was just getting started in sales there was an in-person networking group I was in. Remember those days when there were actually in-person networking groups and groups of people would gather for breakfast and coffee and they would stand up and do their networking spiel in person? Those were the days. But the whole model of the group was givers gain if you give you will gain and I think that's really important. I think that's arguably the single most important thing. I'm a firm believer in it goes around and comes around and do the right thing and that would absolutely be my first advice to somebody looking to grow their network.
Back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
The one thing that I would tell myself is, when I was in my early 20s, my first job out of college, I had a dear friend, and I'm old enough that back in those days, we didn't have email to send memes round. So she actually faxed me. between our offices, we work for the same consulting company, a poem or whatever you call it, it's called The Station by Robert Hastings. It's basically about life being a journey and the joy is in the trip kind of thing, right? So it struck a chord and if I could tell myself one thing it would be to internalize that even better than I did. It's just a really good reminder and it's that lesson of doing the right thing, enjoy the trip and live every day. But by the same token, don't get too caught up in the minutia. That certainly goes for the business world where you're gonna have victories, you're gonna have defeats, you're gonna have successes, you're gonna have challenges and, you'll learn something from the things that go wrong which you'll apply to make more things go right. Focus on the fact that it's the journey, not the destination that we're looking for.
What would be your final words of advice to our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
Keep it real. The easiest way to turn somebody off is to pretend to be something that you're not because the truth always comes out. So keep it real, be who we are, if it's not a fit move on, and if it's not a relationship worth continuing then move on, another bus comes along every time every 20 minutes. There was always another chip in the bag, reach in the bag and grab one. So be who you are, be real, try to help, what goes around comes around, and be intentional about it. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the second-best time is today so get after it, and be yourself and go have fun with it.
Connect with Joe:
Ashley is the first and only networking concierge that puts you in the right situation or gets you out of the wrong one. As a networking concierge, Ashley trains coaches and speaks on becoming an authority at generating revenue by networking with intention. Ashley is the host of two digital TV talk shows on RVNTV and THIS IS IT TV speaking and interviewing on the topic of tactical networking.
As someone who speaks, talks, teachers, coaches, all things networking, what has been the most effective networking tip that you have ever received?
The best one that I received, which I try to talk about all the time is nobody gives a damn about what you do. Nobody cares, they care how you make them feel and what value can bring to their lives. So I think the biggest challenge a lot of people have in that capacity is that people always forget, when they're in a networking situation or, doing networking activities that they always have to be on. There is a level of good perception and good manners and being respectful, but at the end of the day, people buy or work with or connect with people that they know, that they like, and that they trust. So having that stigma of trying to sell something or trying to impress that person needs to go away because there's no room for that we've got things to do.
How do you know how you're making someone feel?
You look at their body language, and you can understand or at least start to be more in tune with how they're perceiving you as a person. If you're framing out a conversation that is beneficial to the two of you, you always want to lead with service. So one of the things that I try to tell my clients is that we are lucky to be able to network, really, how lucky are we to be able to do that. So when you are of service, and when you are communicating with somebody new, it's really important to make them feel good, but also to allow them to showcase their businesses. Ask the right questions, be naturally curious. You as somebody who enjoys to network has to lead them in a way that's beneficial to them. You'll get the information that you need from them, whether they're in a small business, big business, or if they're looking to meet that particular kind of person, but the goal is to be naturally curious, and you can make them feel comfortable by having actual interest in what they do.
I'm interested in your coaching process, how do you educate your audience on what networking is?
The thing I try to focus on is that networking took a significant change in the logistics, and the fluidity of it, so everything went virtual. A lot of groups and organizations did have virtual options, but it was kind of more cliche, and everyone would typically go to events. So the way that I coach my clients was different before the pandemic than what it is now because you adjust and you grow within the needs of your client, that's what any good coach does. As a coach, I have a responsibility to train my clients in a way that's meaningful to them, which means that my personality may not match everybody else's personality, but they still need my help. So my job is to make sure that I understand how they make decisions and what drives them to complete tasks. So within my coaching sessions, I run a disc profile on them, it's an emotional intelligence assessment so I know what activities to align their decision-making process with the networking activity. For example, for an introvert, I'm not going to put them into a 60 or 90 person networking event, even if it's online, because they're not going to have the ability to communicate in a way that's beneficial to them. Whereas identifying good groups to be a part of and giving them strategies to connect with people one on one, and how to ask for those meetings and putting more of a stress on LinkedIn is the better option for them so they feel more comfortable. Networking is a personal activity, it's not a one size fits all thing. So the way that I coach my clients is understanding that there is fear attached to networking, it's putting yourself out there. I can empathize with that and it's my job to one, champion them and make sure my client feels that they have me at all times to help them navigate through these activities and two, to be that person in their army. To me a network is not a support system, it's not a fan base, it's not an audience, you're building an army. When you build an army, for you to lead people to fight for you in that army, you have to fight for them tenfold before they can even think about running into battle with you. So when you build a network, you're building an army. For you to lead that army and to advocate for you or to fight for you when you're not in the room, you have to do that for them way more than they'll ever do that for you. So my job is to be that number two for them so they can feel comfortable, they can brainstorm, and they can work with me on a monthly basis and navigate through the activities that bring the results of building a very robust and strong network.
What would you say the biggest stigma about networking is?
The biggest stigma I feel about networking is in the midst of two different things. One is not everybody who blatantly tries to sell to you is bad. The reason why is because I feel like they're just not educated yet, in best practices. So when I see somebody come up to me and throw a business card in my face, starts to do the whole salesy bit in a networking environment, I take it as a really interesting challenge and a teachable moment to ask them the questions that allow them to think differently. If they can do that, then I can guide them into a better experience with me, a more conducive experience for myself, and allowing them to see a different way of having the conversation. I don't necessarily blame people for that activity, because they just don't know yet. If I have the pleasure and the privilege of doing what I do, then I want to help pivot their mindset, even if it's in the first 15 minutes to show them a really good way of actually having a conversation and getting out of it what we both want. So I think the biggest stigma is everybody who that that shifty salesperson isn't necessarily a bad person, they just aren't educated yet on best practices. The second biggest stigma is that people feel like they have to meet with everyone, and you don't. This was a hard lesson for me to learn at the very beginning of this business because I thought that the quantity of how many people I had in my network was the validity of my business. I learned very quickly that a great group of people who advocated for you when you're not in the room was better than the 14 new people that I met that day. The difference between a network and a friendship is in the follow-up, you're staying top of mind, but you're also providing value. You do not have to be with every single person, but you also have to identify what time you're spending on nurturing a network and building one.
How do you say no, without feeling like a terrible human being and how do you identify the right investment of my time with this person?
I can say no without saying no. There is there's a boundary that you start to build and I think it came from the fact that I was spending so much time with new people that I started feeling guilty about not nurturing the network that I had currently built to the most of my ability. So what I decided to do was not necessarily say no, but just decrease the amount of time allocated to the things I wanted to say no to. So in the beginning, I would have introductions, phone calls with people for half an hour, then I would have consultation phone calls with people for half an hour before they jumped into all the training stuff that I have. What I found was beneficial was to do 15-minute phone calls only, do not take every new person on a zoom call, because zoom fatigue is 100% real and just make sure that when you say yes to a new person for a 15-minute phone call, you know why they want to talk to you, and then also have at the ready resources that you can share so you can still be a value to them. Everybody's got 15 minutes for somebody looking for your help. I think the reason why I stress that so much is because I take every phone call I get and I answer every email. I stick to that because when I was working as a waitress, I lost my job due to my employer losing her mind and firing her entire staff. So when I got back home to Jersey, I felt completely defeated and devalued. I had a gentleman and two people come over and sit at my table and they asked me what kind of burger should we get today. I was doing bits with each of these guys and saying, "Maybe you want this burger and add some jalapenos," and of course I was upselling them, but the goal was just to enjoy the conversation I had with them. At the end of the meal, they reached back out to me and said, "Hey, would you send us your resume?" I said, "Okay, thank you, but show it in the tip, guys, thanks very much, show your appreciation in the tip," I didn't believe them. The next day, the owner of that company, who was my customer came over and talked to my boss and said, "Can you grab Ashley?" and when he came over he said, "Hey, you never gave us your resume." So within a week, I went over, had aa interview with them, and within 24 hours, I had a 401k, I had a salary, I had benefits and I had a job working for an online e-commerce furniture company and it was because they gave me the time of day, they saw the value when I saw nothing in me, they gave me the opportunity and they plucked me out of being a waitress. I have a fear of missing an opportunity to not give back the way that those guys did for me. So I'll always take the call, but I do understand decreasing the amount of time for those activities that don't make sense.
Can you share with our listeners one of your favorite or most successful stories or experiences you've had networking?
So I was giving a presentation to a technology startup group and I had a woman come over. Before she introduced herself, I saw her and she had such sadness and defeat in her eyes. I just felt incredible, overwhelming compassion for this one before she even came up. So we started talking, and she said to me, "I enjoyed your story, I think that your background is inspirational," which made me itch because I can't take a compliment. She was telling me she was a CPA and she had an idea for a business and I said, "Okay, well, tell me about your experience." This woman could have had a doctorate in CPA-isms, she had 18 years and incredible certifications, but she was so dismissive of it and it angered me because of how she dismissed her credentials. I asked her almost aggressively, "What's the worst that can happen? You try it for six months, see where it goes, give yourself a deadline." She looked at me like I had either given her the key to the city or completely blew up her house. A year later, I get a call from a friend of hers who I've never met and she goes, "I don't know if you remember this woman, but she came to a presentation," and I was like, "Yes, of course, I remember." She goes, "I don't know if she's ever called you, but she started that business and she said to me, oftentimes that you are the reason why she's successful." I haven't spoken to the woman since I believe her name was Anne, I remember her not the name. It was one of the moments whereas an entrepreneur, that was just so fulfilling. That was my favorite networking story because me talking to her for 15 minutes and having the impact that I truly didn't even know I had on her was exactly why I started the business was to do what those guys did and that was the first instance of that happening.
How do you retain, nurture, and stay in front of this community that you're building?
It's all in the follow-up and the follow-up can come in different ways. So the follow up could be giving kudos on LinkedIn, it could be saying thank you, in an email, it could be reaching out to somebody and saying, "Hey, you should meet this person," just activities that keep you top of mind. It's just being helpful in that capacity. One of the ways to also stay in front is to do something, I like to call the tier one and tier two people. So when you build a network, the follow-up practices revolve around it can get overwhelming. You want to build your "A" team and your "B" team. What you do is you'd grab all of the company names off of LinkedIn, and throw them into an Excel file. Then whoever comes top of mind when you look at those industry names, throw their names into that Excel file, and that's your "A" team. The goal is you want to be able to nurture those people the most, because you've built the know, the like, and the trust factor with them. Your B team is people that you built the know, and the like, you will eventually trust them, you just need more time for you to start giving them referrals or making introductions. When you follow up, the goal would be to nurture the "A" team with any new people that you come in contact with. So by nurturing and by utilizing an Excel file to view your "A" team, when you're jumping on a call with somebody new or getting introduced to somebody new, and they are looking for other strategic partners. Now you're nurturing the "A" network by building networking equity by introducing them to that new person. It seems a little convoluted, but what you're doing is just making sure that the people that you built the know, like, and trust factor are nurtured by the new people that you can introduce them to.
Back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
I honestly would just encourage and just say keep going. On Facebook, I look at time hops from like 10 years ago, and I write to my past self. Afterward, I share the post and I say, "Don't worry 2010 Ashley, you'll be able to do this, this and this," and it's just so therapeutic. You suffer for so long, thinking that you don't have any value, and then by the time you get to the point where you have the resources, the tools, and the experience to build something and get back and do what you want it to do it's a very euphoric feeling. I think the only advice I would give to my 20-year-old self is just keeping going, it'll get there, and ever everything is worth it.
What's your final piece of advice that you'd like to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
Build your group of champions to become your army!
Connect with Ashley:
Pat's business, The Idea Coach helps small business owners understand their customers and refine their positioning so they can stand out and sell. Pat left a career in broadcast radio after 22 years to help small business owners grow. He focuses on coaching, content creation, and community hosting for small business owners. He hosts a weekly small business talk show called The Idea Collective Live, and two communities; The Idea Collective on Facebook, and The Idea Collective Collaboration Community.
How is running a small business or being an entrepreneur different than being an employee in a corporation?
The biggest difference comes from what happens every two weeks. I was in a corporation for a long time, 20 some odd years working for somebody else. One thing provided you're not in a terrible corporation you can count on is that paycheck. Now maybe it's not as big as you want it to be every two weeks, but it happens every two weeks. So that's what happens when you work for somebody else in a corporation. When you run your own thing, you eat what you kill. So if you run your own business, if you want to get paid every two weeks, you got to go out and sell something. Now it's kind of a scarcity mindset to focus on, Oh, I gotta go do something so I can make some money." But it also allows you to look at it from a supply-side and say, "Woah, if I go out and sell a bunch of stuff, I can make a lot of money!" So there is just a big difference between your personal relationship with your bank account when you work for somebody else, and when you work on your own.
Can I get your perspective on how content creation ties into building a network and these relationships?
It's something I've used a lot, creating content in order to get known. I know that sounds silly, but getting to know more people by creating content is not necessarily trying to become an influencer. You see on LinkedIn or on other social media platforms, or even just on people's websites, I'm going to do a blog, I'm going to do a podcast, I'm going to do a show and they think by doing content, people will know who they are and they'll get famous. But to me creating content is interviewing other people and using it as a networking strategy. So I create a weekly show called Idea Collective Live which is built on interviewing other people. I do that because there are a lot of smart people in our network and when you interview smart people, people give you the benefit of the doubt because you're hanging out with smart people. So they start thinking that you're pretty smart and then you also get yourself exposed to the smart people's network. So if I have Lori on my show, Lori has a lot of people who respect her and when she's on your show, then people who know Laurie know you. By doing content and building a stage or having a spotlight and shining it on other people allows you to go out and get known by the leading players in your network and meet people who don't already know you. It's a strategy that I've used quite a bit through live shows, podcasts, education nights, and networking events. The strategy has always been to build the stage and give it away because when you do that, you get a chance to extend your network to more people.
What's missing for most small business owners’ lives that would help them to perform better?
Time off, rest, support, all of this soft, squishy stuff that you don't learn in business school. I went to business school, they never talked about any of that stuff. They talk about finance, accounting, strategy, business plans, marketing, and sales. They talk about all that stuff, but they don't talk about all of the squishy, personal stuff that you need to be a great small business owner. Being a small business owner is a lifestyle, it's not a job. When you build your own company, and you build your own thing, it consumes everything around you. You make sacrifices with what you eat when you work out, how often you see your family, what time you get up, what time you go to bed, where you go, what you do. Everything changes to suit what you need to do to make money and grow your thing. So that support idea is what I built the Idea Collective Community about. The phrase that we use in the group is, "Don't grow it alone." When you're growing your small business alone, you end up not having accountability partners or people to celebrate your success with or people to just bounce questions off of. That's the market opportunity for the idea collective. It's not just business, it's business and life because like I say, being a small business owner is really a lifestyle and not a lot of people talk about that and I wish more people did.
Can you share with our listeners, one of your most successful or favorite networking experiences that you've had?
I think my favorite one goes all the way back to the beginning because I came out of corporate America from 20 some odd years in the radio business. When you work in radio, you know a lot of people and what I mean by that is you do business with a bunch of people. So I was the director of marketing and innovation for WTMJ radio in Milwaukee and I knew all the people in the Packers organization and all the people in the Bucks organization and the Brewers organization, and even more, because TMJ does a lot of business with some really interesting people. But then when I left corporate America, I realized I didn't know these people at all. I did business with them, but that's different than networking with people. My favorite experience was walking into the Brookfield chamber, which is my networking home base, and realizing here's a roomful of people doing business who don't know who I am because TMJ is not in my name badge anymore and I don't know who they are because I've never really had a good networking conversation in my entire life. They taught me how to network and that is as simple as, "How can I help you?" and then shutting up and listening and then helping if you can. Then you rinse and repeat for the rest of your life. So my favorite networking memory is walking into the Brookfield chamber for the first time and realizing the difference between knowing people and networking with people and it was the start of the journey.
How do you best stay in front of and nurture your network?
That's a challenge because if you're networking in a couple of different places, you have to consistently show up. There are days when you don't want to show up and there are times when maybe you're not showing up as often as you should be, but showing up is the rule and getting in front of even the people you think you know, well, and asking them consistently, what do they need, how can you help, is the challenge. The other thing that goes along this line of maintaining relationships is being someone on their speed dial, that they know, you're going to help them no matter what. There are people who don't want to provide free service, they don't want to provide free help and sometimes they're very vocal about it. The way I think of it is if someone thinks of me first, and calls to talk for 20-30 minutes about a problem they're having, that will go into the goodwill bank long term and you will be a trusted member of their community. If you're not standing there every time they want to ask you a question with your handout. So I always try and help first. I would rather be someone on someone's networking mind as a helper, and there for them when they need it rather than someone who wouldn't help out, I don't like to work that way.
What advice would you offer to that business professional who is looking to grow their network?
I think it's common for people to think of new places to go network, I like to go deep in the places that I'm at. I like to have a few places that are really home base, places that I can get to know a lot of if not all of the people in the organization, as opposed to being involved in a bunch of different networking groups and only knowing 5% of them. I like to show up and be someone that's known in the groups. You earn that by giving and showing up and offering help and getting to know people. But I would recommend that people go deeper into the groups that they're in before they add more groups. That's something that could pay off better in the long term than just knowing some random people from 10 or 12 different groups.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
Wow, my 20-year-old self I had hair back then! Oh man, I would say Enjoy your hair, so that's the first thing! The second thing is going to get my MBA. I spent a lot of my career trying to change the industry I was in instead of changing industries and that was a mistake. I saw things I wanted to do differently, but I wasn't in a position to actually make those changes to my own self. So that would be the advice I give myself, many, many, many years ago to do your own thing, and don't rely on other people to make the changes that you want to see happen.
We've all heard of the six degrees of separation, who would be the one person that you'd love to connect with, and do you think you could do it within the sixth degree?
I would say Marcus Lemonis and I think I could do it within the Six Degrees if I got a little bit of help, because he has Milwaukee ties and a lot of folks in our network know him. I've been trying to connect with him for a long time, but that's one of those big picture asks. My dream is to have him do an event for The Idea Collective because I think he's inspirational to a lot of people that do what we do. So I think with a few good introductions and a lot of elbow grease, I might be able to get there. He's someone that I would love to connect with and I think we could get it done, I just would need some help with people between me and him.
What final words of advice would you offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
I would find a way to interview someone. I don't care what modality it is, but I would create a show or a blog, or a podcast. It doesn't need to be big and 10,000 people a day don't have to watch it, but I would find some way to offer the stage to someone that you admire or want to learn from or you think better yet that your audience wants to learn from or they admire. To me, it's been the way I've grown my network and it's also because I was a radio guy, and I did it forever so that's natural to me. If you're a writer, start a blog and have guest bloggers where you interview them and if you're a podcaster, create a show and really get inside people's heads. It makes them feel good, first of all, and they'll also share your stuff and tell people how great you are. But that would be the thing that I would recommend, everyone needs some sort of content creation where you can give a stage to somebody else because it's worked for me and it might work for you.
Connect with Pat:
Coming from almost three decades and alternative healing, Grace is currently merging permanent health and wealth solutions to create a platform for metamorphosis. She shows individuals and businesses how to thrive using potent tools to evaluate wellness potential.
You talk about permanent healing in your messaging, what exactly is that?
Yeah, so you know, the way that I've been creating permanent healing with people is essentially, as a Sherpa, sharing tools with people who basically can use that to then create this internal alchemy, using vocalizations of sounds in different parts of the body and micro-movements to open up energetic channels. What I've noticed is that when people get these tools that they can use to shift their biochemistry, consciously. The basis for permanent healing really lies in that change in that internal terrain, where it is about accessing their DNA where they can turn it on and off at will and essentially be able to rewrite that genetic material. So that, to me, is really the foundation of where it needs to begin.
So I read you talk about combining health and wealth, can you share a little bit about why and how you decided to combine those in your professional journey?
Yeah, you know, it's really through my own personal journey through COVID and I'm sure a lot of people are impacted as well, along with myself. It's understanding and seeing wow, you know, through COVID, because my practice in Hilo was really very one with people. I do the testing where, yes, I'm tracking their biochemical changes that they're creating with these practices that I teach them and then being able to see the long term impacts on their cellular structure itself, in the blood. And through COVID, having to close down my own private practice really allowed me to transition on to a bigger platform and realizing where the other piece of the puzzle needed to be is. I can be the healthiest person on planet Earth, but without resources, we can't even meet our basic needs. From there, it's wanting to create impact, because that is really part of the meaning of life, for me, at least. So working on that healing piece of the financial piece of my life allowed me to then be able to access some potent tools that now I'm able to shift people's financial trajectory by teaching them essentially tools that the wealthy have always had and created for themselves, and now being able to use that for themselves in their own lives.
I think there's a lot of truth to combining health and wealth. Would you put a prioritization on one over the other?
You know, it's interesting, right? As you look at these two pieces of the puzzle, it's like I can be the wealthiest person without that health piece. I'm literally dead in the water, right? You can't do anything without that piece. And so they're really critical and practical pieces of life that we need to have both of them as that springboard from that space of having both of those pieces in place to be able to bring our soul gifts to the rest of the collective. For me personally, it really is about that collective transformation, because every single soul is precious. So when we can hold that space, and have these basic things in place for people to manifest from, that's really the only place that we can work with in terms of that foundation.
Can you share with our listeners, one of your most successful or favorite networking experiences that you've had?
So since COVID, what I started doing was really, you know, this is how you and I met too Lori is actually through LinkedIn. So that's mainly my platform in terms of networking, and what I'm doing on LinkedIn really is just reaching out for connections and getting to know people in my network and hopping on one on one calls, and really just meeting face to face if we can to engage all the senses. Through COVID, we can't meet in person, for sure now, as much as we have in the past. In fact, it's quite limited. So this is a really great way for me to basically get to know the other person and see how we can basically support each other, and continue to deepen that relationship and that bond and see how we can basically collaborate, like on this podcast together and make powerful introductions or whatnot. And that person is basically now in my awareness. We can use these connections to enlarge and to include other people as well, in that vortex of influence.
As you've continued to expand your network, how do you nurture these relationships that you are cultivating?
For me, there are certain people that I vibrate with or resonate with better, and it's creating these friendships over time and supporting each other that way. It's interesting, every time that I get on these calls with someone, either it is a monthly call, or you know, bi-weekly call kind of thing. And you just deepen and deepen in terms of just exchanges and interactions, you get to know them more and you get to see aspects of them that perhaps on the first initial meeting, you never knew about this person. So that's what I love most in terms of that continuation of that bond, of that connection, and adding elements to it and seeing how we can add value to each other's lives and how we can contribute. So that's really my focus in any of these connections with anyone.
What advice would you offer a business professional who's looking to grow their network?
Just the heart is really what it's about, right? And it's really about opening your own heart so that you can then be available to, first of all, make that connection. And then second of all being available to add value to someone else's life, so I always start from that heart space. It's about giving first, and it's always about giving first and nurturing these relationships that basically will lead to other things. That's really the part that I love about networking the most is about these friendships that you get to build with people and collaborations as well down the line.
Let's go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
OMG, that's such a great question! As I'm looking at my kids’ lives, right? My son Donald is 23, and my daughter, Jessica's 20. What a different life that they get to have because they had the freedom in terms of to self discover. So when we moved to Hawaii on the Big Island, I decided to homeschool and this is them coming from the public school arena. We were living in California prior to moving to Hawaii and so through that self-learning process, both the kids have become really, really independent. In fact, Donald tried college for a semester, and basically came back and said, "Mom, thanks a lot, but this is really not for me." So both he and his sister started their own business and so that's what's happening right now they get to explore pieces of themselves that are in this free space, where I just get to support their soul journey in terms of just that self-discovery. Looking back at my 20-year-old, I would say to her, "You know, Gracie, look inside, because all the answers are really there, and it's all inside of your heart, and just follow that."
Who would be the one person that you definitely want to connect with and do you think you can do it within the six degrees of separation?
Yeah, interesting, you should ask that six degrees, right. And that's why I love networking, it's because you just don't know who's gonna lead you to who and what kind of connections can happen. So I'm actually just open to making connections with people and building friendships. I love meeting other consultants and coaches in the health arena, or even the wealth arena because we would have some commonality there in terms of speaking. Ultimately it's really meeting that person in their heart right, kind of like you and I, Lori, we met we had a blast, have a conversation and understood what you're creating in your world. And, you know, a brand new thing to me right marketing, it's like, wow I get to see what Lori is doing and what she is creating for herself in terms of all these years and your aspirations and things like that. So I'm always interested in terms of just these open doors for connecting.
Do you have any final word or advice for our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
Besides the heart piece, it's really staying open, because you just don't know what the universe wants to bring you and knowing and seeing each encounter as a gift, in a sense of, okay, what is this encounter, or this visitation going to bring about and not even with an expectation, but really is like, how is the divine going to show up in this particular visit with me, and who's showing up for gifting me with a lesson with something that I need to learn or just something that I need to see in myself. So that's been a true gift. It was something that I heard from my spiritual and health mentor. I heard from one of his recordings this weekend because my mind and heart was just open to hear it and it's been such a blessing, that I've been using just the beginning of this week meeting with all the people that I'm scheduled to meet with this week, so really grateful for that.
Connect with Grace:
Connect and message Grace if you are interested in learning more about her 50% off offer for her health and permanent solutions beta course.
Jacob first found his passion for global development in Peace Corps Ghana. He worked on projects focused on food waste elimination, value addition, and gender empowerment. Afterward, he created a grain distribution business in northern Ghana and has developed over a dozen global supply chains of specialty ingredients. As Agricycle's COO, he oversees a network of 40,000 farmers upcycling natural fruit abundance into value-added income for their families.
Let's start with the Peace Corps, tell me a little bit about your time there.
So I started really straight out of college, went to Peace Corps in northern Ghana, and was an agricultural volunteer. So I probably wouldn't even have been able to keep a plant alive for a week, it was kind of half of my cohort, and then here we are in northern Ghana, finding ourselves involved in a community develop their agricultural scene. So it was a huge learning curve and it definitely brought me out of my comfort zone in every regard from the actual task at hand, as well as the cultural language, barriers, differences, things like that, and total geographic isolation compared to suburban, Minnesota. So then I got my hands wet in education. So I went to schools and would teach whatever classes were needed that semester, and I went to the health center and the clinic they had there and helped out where I could with babies taking nutritional panels, even some metrics, and things like that for the doctors. Then some of my favorite initiatives were besides just dancing and playing with the kids and boot camps and things like that were just the economic stimulating business discussions and initiatives that took place mainly with the women of the community. Typically any initiative that comes into men gets the opportunity. So one of my favorite ones was a jewelry making business and I just never would have thought in high school or college that I'd be sitting in a tiny village in northern Ghana for making jewelry with women and trying to create value-added income for them through means of creation. There is some time dye batik fabric making all sorts of initiatives like that. And then those cultural ones, creating farming groups and subsidized inputs, things like that for increased outputs, a whole lot of different initiatives that was just life-changing experience.
So why don't you tell us a little bit about your supply chain development experience across Sub Saharan Africa?
During Peace Corps, I started seeing a demand for a need that was not met in my village and in the northern part of Ghana itself. There's very poor infrastructure to store and transport grains and so one of the main problems that occur in northern Ghana is in boarding schools. So kids come from all over the country and then food is shipped to the kitchens that cooks can provide food for the boarding students. In southern Ghana, it's really no problem, they can start right away, but in northern Ghana, there's a lack of up to maybe a month or two before the food reaches the northern half of the country. So some of the students are unable to go to school, or at least they're at school but unable to go to classes because they're they can't eat and after two months, some go home, it's really just a difficult situation. So one of the things we tried to do was create this business, a distribution company for grains and create that supply chain that can get to the schools. All that's really needed is just an initial capital investment and then proper storage techniques to buy low at market saturation and then distribute later throughout the year. So that was kind of the initial idea for getting my feet wet in the industry. I got an opportunity to work with a friend who I met in Botswana in Peace Corps as well to develop about a dozen supply chains across Sub Saharan Africa and connecting smallholder farmers and some larger farmers processing fonio was the main one and other specialty ingredients to larger buying markets in America and the largest wholesale distributors of specialty ingredients and grains in America. So making that connection was something I didn't really have experienced too much beforehand. But then after a year of just being thrown in the ground and having to figure it all out, you become able to navigate the terrain pretty well.
So you've talked a lot about what you've been doing on a global level. I know you're in Milwaukee here, what community initiatives are you currently working on?
So one that we had just finished up working on was a fundraiser for Secure Bridges, which is a nonprofit in Milwaukee, combating human trafficking. It turns out Milwaukee and the Midwest, in general, is actually a pretty big hub for it. So we did a virtual month of fitness fundraiser for people across America and anywhere really. You just log on to this app and then do different fitness challenges, things like that. For all the proceeds, we donated to Secure Bridges to help them fight their aim. Then another one we're working on currently is a 10,000 smiles campaign with our Jolly Fruit Co. our sun-dried fruit. We are donating 1000s of bags to companies in the Milwaukee area, we stood in line with voters and distributed some bags to kind of put cheer in people's face and help them if they're out in line voting in the cold for hours on end to give them a little boost and nutritious snack that hopefully will put a smile on their face. And it tells all about the story of where it came from. And then so partners, individuals, and people throughout the Milwaukee area, giving away these bags to hopefully put a brighter end to the year that wasn't one of the greatest we've had in a while.
Can you share with our listeners one of your most successful or favorite networking experiences that you've had?
Yeah, so it's, it's got to be how I got a job at Agricycler. So I was coming back from one of my trips to sub-Saharan Africa, and I went to school in Madison, Wisconsin. So I came through going to Chicago to see some college buddies on the way back home to visit my family in Minneapolis. I had one day for the kind of like a speed dating session to all my friends from back in the college days and just see them again, catch up, have a good time, and see what everyone's up to. So pretty much like every hour, I had someone scheduled or a group of people or something. It was just such a fun day for me and then it was one of the later times around dinnertime, I had dinner with a buddy and then I had one person in like an hour. So I was like, "Oh my goodness, I actually have an hour off, who's left in the city, I gotta call somebody up!" So it turned out being a friend of mine from club basketball and it turns out they were an entrepreneur, creating this great startup who was distributing solar energy and solar lights for charging and phone use and electricity in the Congo. They were in an incubator and accelerator with its other startup who is doing global development in Sub Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, who needed some supply chain logistical support. So we were just doing sharing stories on development, Sub Saharan Africa just kind of catching up and then the conversation turned to you know, you really should connect with this guy, I think you guys would have so much in common and he's just as passionate about the same things you are, I think it would really work out. So I continued the night and saw my friends and stuff and went back to Minnesota a couple of days later, I called up this guy who was Josh and shot him an email to say, "Can we can we talk, Aaron introduced us." Then we had like a two-hour conversation right away, we just hit it off really well, exactly what he needed. I had experience in exactly what I was wanting to do kind of without even knowing it is what he was creating. And so he is the founder and CEO of Agricycle now, and I'm the CEO now. So it's just a very interesting way that's a random networking opportunity, just seeing friends led to my career path, and then my biggest passion right now.
I imagine in your role with Agricycle you've had some global travel, and you've probably met some amazing people. How do you best stay in front of and nurture these relationships in this community that you've created?
Yeah, it's so important to do so and it's something I need to do better at. I work at it and try to keep up with my network, but it's so important to do so. And some of the things that I've learned, I'll shares a list of them. So one of them is starting with when you go into meetings, and then you create a list, you have a document wherever you want to store it of this person, the title, or the fit, and then little details about it. So you just grow this huge list and then every once in a while, you reach out to them. Even maybe it's not even having to do with a specific request. It's just "Hey, how you doing checking in that was really great meeting you, what are you up to?" Something like that, just very simple. And even a personal angle, it can go to personal or professional, which is very important to reach back out. It could be a one minute email, you send out no problem. But sometimes, these are the ones I've sent, where I say "Hey, how's it going," have led to really great things, or vice versa, someone does that to me, and then we ended up creating a partnership that we didn't see coming. But that's one I would say. Get into communities. With COVID and ever-increasing digital platforms that were on slack channels, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, I'm in a couple of different slack channels, they upcycle food associations, a great one, startup CPG, another great one, then some Facebook groups too. Just be in there and try to be active here and there and say who you are, what you're doing, and maybe an ask or what you can offer something like that. But even just passively listening to see what's going on. And you can interject here and there and say, Oh, I can meet that need or something like that. Being in as many of those groups as possible, take some time to seek those out, and then the connections that it might lead to are well worth the time.
What advice do you have for that business professional who is looking to grow their network?
You never know what a reach out could lead to. I tell people all the time and talking to them that a no change is nothing but a yes can change everything. You send out 10 messages and 9 come back no, you're literally in the same place that you started. Nothing has changed your career, life is no different. But that one yes that you might get could lead to so many greater opportunities, you never know. So just being fearless than that and not worrying about a couple of no's here and there because you're never gonna get all yeses. But all those yeses are so important. Don't be intimidated, don't have the fear to get out of your comfort zone. If you're comfortable, you're probably not doing enough, like comfort is good in a sense. But you have to be a little uncomfortable if you're going to grow. Once you get out of your comfort zone and you become comfortable in that task, that's a great sign of growth, and then reach out to a different subgroup of that task or something like that and become uncomfortable again. Then repeat that cycle and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
Yeah, I think this one might not be terribly popular with parents, but for grades, just past. I spent so much time having to get the perfect grades. And it's good, it's great to do. But I think no, you know, after graduating college and all the years of school that I go through, I think it's much more important that you have the drive to get those grades than to actually getting those grades in the first place. Work to do the best at everything you can do, but if I had that option of getting all A's, or go working two part-time jobs, or an internship or starting a company or something, I would much rather have my 20-year-old self, try and even fail at starting a company than spend 60 hours a week studying or whatever people are doing. There's never been an interview that where there are two people absolutely equal, at least in my experience, and one person has done amazing stuff, started their own company, and the other person has a 4.0 versus the other person who started the company and all these community initiatives and has 3.0 or something. Look at that number, it just doesn't really matter. So get grades, pass, it's great. But do the extracurriculars, put yourself out there. You're trained that comfort is getting good grades, like push yourself to get good grades. Don't put yourself outside the box because it's risky, it's not as important, the ROI isn't as good. I completely disagree.
So we've all heard of the six degrees of separation. Who is the one person that you'd love to connect with and do you think you can do it within the sixth-degree?
So I'd say definitely, on the sixth-degree question, I think you can get to anyone and like in half that like three or four. I'm so confident in that, especially without digital The world is today and the globalized nature of society. It's not easy to just snap your fingers and get there, but if you have the connections lined up, you can I think six is even overshooting it. The Dream person for me is Serena Williams. She's just such a role model in every regard. Especially since I started working with Agricycle, empowering rural women farmers in Sub Saharan Africa, and Serena is such a symbol of female empowerment, especially women of color empowerment. I would love to even just have a conversation with her. But if we could take a step further and get like a brand ambassador, like the face of one of our brands, oh my goodness, Serena, where are you at? I feel like some connections we have with startups and next-gen is connected with NFL play 60 and I made a connection through that because Serena is actually invested in Miami Dolphins, so going through that route. She also has her own fund and she invested in Impossible Foods and some other brands but Impossible Foods, a plant-based protein are the ingredients. So I go through Impossible Foods' CEO or someone their company reaches her, I feel like in three to four connections arise.
What final advice do you have to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
It's definitely tied to the theme of not worrying about no’s, not being afraid. Definitely just seek opportunities, you might think it's a silly networking event. Just try it! If if the silly networking event takes an hour of your time, and you haven't gotten a connection, and that stinks, that's unfortunate. But hopefully, you learned something, you have to take something away from it, if not some good connections. If you're in an event, don't just sit and think that the connections will come to you. Maybe they will, but go be your own advocate. If you're scared to go talk to someone, someone else probably scared to go talk to you. So just put yourself out there, don't worry about being scared. I always think that probably won't ever see these people again and that's like the worst case, so again, nothing changes. But if you do see them again, that's probably because you had a connection that you created. So the worst thing that could happen is nothing, no difference, and then the best thing is great connections. If you're on a webinar or listening to speakers, try to remember a couple of key points and what they're saying and if it resonates with you, shoot a message with those key points to show them you're listening and show them you're engaged and then use that to kind of springboard whatever conversation you'd want to get out of it. Then just say yes to opportunities, even if it's more of a mentorship opportunity. You never know what those connections could lead to. You never know you're gonna learn from teaching others. I'm just all about taking as many opportunities as you can so just take opportunities when they come or create them, and then take them.
Connect with Jacob:
Olympia radically three x's income, fun, and freedom for six and seven-figure business owners who are overworked and want more. Olympia loves working and playing in the realms of millions and billions. She's an award-winning business consultant and speaker, a fortune 500 company partner, and a leader of the highest national security programs. By the age of 33. She was a corporate executive leading multi-billion dollar programs, making more than $50 million in sales and facilitating sales of more than $10 billion.
Why is collaborative lead generation the best way to get lots of high-quality leads that are easy to convert to sales?
That is a great question. Doing collaborative lead generation is the best way because you get to accelerate your sales and your success. You do that by getting access to your perfect clients through other people who already have them in their client database in their target market. When you do that, you're also elevated in status, and your credibility is also elevated because that person who you're collaborating with is basically recommending and endorsing you. So you really get to what I like to call have OPA which is other people's audience, and OPR other people's resources, you get to leverage those. I just came up with this metaphor today. So it's like, you want to see wild animals. You decide first, which ones you want to see, then you determine where are they located and who has them. Are they in a zoo? Are they in Africa or Asia? And then how will you get there? And do you want to explore on your own, or do you want to take a safari that guarantees that you're going to see these animals that you want to see and that you get the whole experience? So that is all about collaborative lead generation because you want to go where the wild animals are that you want to see and you want to get access to them by people who already have access and knowledge to them.
So I know that you're an advocate for the gamification of marketing. What exactly is that and how can it help businesses and entrepreneurs grow income, fun, and freedom?
Okay, gamification marketing is the latest and greatest in how to market your products and services, but then also how to amplify your actual products and services. So I'll talk about the marketing part first. Gamification really is about play and it's about triggering those four centers in your brain that are wired for happiness, fun, and play. Those four centers are dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin. So basically, you can think of these as your feel-good chemicals. The metaphor here is Pavlov's dog, you've probably heard the story where this guy, Pavlov had a dog, and he trained the dog to expect a treat when the bell rang, so every time the bell rings the dog gets super excited because he's going to get a treat. Well, that's basically what gamification is. In our application, we're putting it into marketing. So you can put it into your emails, in your website, on your landing pages, you can use it when you're speaking to people, whether it's in a networking situation, or online. So when you do that, you will get at least a 30% increase in your response rate and in the retention rate, retention of information. So, for example, when you use gamification marketing, it's going to increase how many clients you attract, it's going to keep their attention longer, it's going to increase sales conversion. And your sales will be much easier, by the way, they'll be easier and faster and funner for you, so you get a side effect of the fun aspect of gamification. If you have it in a, say a course or program, your students will retain more, they will be 80% more likely to complete that program. Then they will have the success and the results that you promised from your program and they will be the Pied Piper singing your tune and referring their friends and family to you.
How does one get their perfect clients to say, "Oh, my gosh, I need you now, how can I start working with you?"?
I love this one. So we have to back up the bus a little bit because to get them to say that and feel that there need to be some things in place. So we're going to go back to the beginning of this chain of events that lead up to that. Step number one is you got to make sure that you are in fact focusing on your perfect clients, the ones that really light you up and the ones that can benefit from what you're offering in your product or your service. So you need to define them and if you don't do that, you're going to suffer from any number of business problems. I'll give you some examples that are like symptoms of not having a honed target market. Things like not enough clients, or typical clients, or bad spitting clients, or poor profitability and if you're not loving your work, you also don't have perfect clients. So that's kind of step one, you've got to get the perfect clients and you need to know what are their pain problems, the ones that they both have the ability to pay to solve and are hungry to solve. That's because if they don't have both of those, you are lost in the wind, my friend. It doesn't work if you have just one, they need to have both. Then step two is, okay, so you've identified who they are, you've identified their problem that you can solve and now you need to give them the solution in the form of your product or service. That is the dog whistle that they can hear and then they're gonna respond with, "Oh, my gosh, she gets me, she understands my problem and where I am, she's been there, and you're the obvious one for me, and how can I work with you?"
Can you share with our listeners one of your most successful or favorite networking experiences that you've had?
One of my favorites is one of my collaborative lead generation partners, her name is Ann Bennett. She and I work very closely together now, referring people to each other, but also, we give each other speaking opportunities, we make introductions for each other, we share our clients with each other, if we see that the other person has a service that could help a client then we do that. So I met Ann at two different places, I met her at an IAW meeting, it's a networking meeting called the International Association of Women and I also met her at eWomenNetwork. She and I were both on the board of the IAW chapter here in Southern California. So we met, and we just started really getting to know each other first before doing any type of business together. And I think that's a key thing for people to know is that when you're networking, it's so rarely the case that you meet someone, and instantaneously they become their client. It's more the case that you're building that trust factor, you're getting to know the person, and then deciding whether or not you want to actually do business with them, or you want to be more of a power partner. However, sometimes, and this has happened to me, but it is not the majority of the time when all the stars align, and you meet someone, and there is the person you're meeting, who's first of all aware of the problem that you have the solution for, and they have already been looking for a solution. That's only 3% of people, 3% meet that criterion. Then that's when they can move quickly into being a client. But what about that other 97%? That's where the majority of your business and your relationships are going to be made so we need to have a whole strategy and system for that.
How do you stay in front of and best nurture your relationships?
Well, I do a variety of things, it really depends on the other person and how our relationship is set up. So for some people, I actually send them handwritten cards and I do that regularly. And you want to talk about a Pavlov's dog response, they love it, and if they don't get their card, you know, whatever it is once a month or once every two weeks, I hear about it. They're like, "Where's my card, were you not thinking about me this week?" Other examples are things like doing Facebook Lives together, where maybe I'll go on the other person's Facebook Live and have a conversation about what I do and how that could help that audience and vice versa, they could come on my Facebook groups, and we do a Facebook Live. It's really about sharing information that's going to elevate everyone. So when we work in collaboration, which really is a lot about networking, it's co elevating and co-creating, so that everyone is being lifted at the same time.
What advice would you offer that business professional who's really looking to grow their network?
I think the best one would be, and I know we've already talked about it, but really to do it in collaboration with other people. Because when you're growing your network, you really want to give yourself the best opportunity to do that. The best opportunity is going to be with other people so that you don't have to be alone, you don't have so much hard work and drudgery to do. When you do it with someone else, you also get the added benefit of being in a community and those good feelings of having support from somebody else, being able to share wins, and just having somebody else who has your back. So all of those can be felt and they are all somewhat intangible though you can't just put a number like 20% of people who have done this or that and have had support from somebody do better. There's really not the numbers, but it's the feeling and it is the actual application and the results. You will get results so much faster if you do it in collaboration.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self? What would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
I think one of the things that I would do, or tell myself would be to follow up more. Don't be shy about following up, because I used to have a lot of blocks, and sometimes they still show up in different forms and I'll talk myself out of following up. I'll say, "Oh that person went really wasn't that interested," or "They're not going to remember me," or "I don't really know what to say," or, "I don't want to feel rejected," you know, all of this mind chatter would be going on. Meanwhile, the days keep ticking by and then I get to whatever point a week, two weeks out, or two months out, and I'm like, "Oh, well now it's too late to follow up, they're really not going to remember me." So I would give myself the advice to just be bold, and have the confidence to follow up because nowadays, how I look at it is those people who I would follow up with, they have actually expressed some kind of interest when we were together. Also, they have a need, and if I don't help them solve that problem that they have, who's going to help them? It's like not giving food to somebody who's starving, and you got plenty of food? Right? Really you are doing yourself and the other person a huge disservice by not following up with them, connecting with them, letting them know what solutions you have for them. Then they get to decide if the timing is right and if it aligns with their value in terms of the price, but then it also if it aligns with what specifically they feel like they need and how confident and what kind of a rapport they have with you to give them that solution.
Do you have any final advice to offer our listeners about how to grow and support your network?
Well, I think the best advice is to just get out there. You can't win the game if you're not in the game. So just get out there and do the best you can. A lot of people are self-confident about going forward and networking, but you know what? The people you meet are probably going to be in a similar boat if that's you. These days, especially now more than ever, people are having a lot of compassion for other people's situations and if you don't say exactly the right thing, people are very forgiving and understanding and people just basically want to connect, and they want to know you. Of course, they want to know about your business, but people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Connect With Olympia: