“My first business was wildly successful except for never making any money,” is something that you’ll often hear me say.
That first business was Phoenix Games, and it created a robust and valuable community that was a great value for many of the people who were part of it.
Ultimately that community was done in by the scarcity created by the lack of money and by my own youthful arrogance.
I’ve always been a community builder. I personally crave connection, and I have never been terribly good at keeping track of individual friends. When I build a community, a space, whether physical or virtual, where the kind of wonderful people I like to associate with can come together, I can find the connection that I seek.
I hope that this also helps the other people in the community to find the connection, support, and love that they seek as well.
As I have been building the Entrepreneur Mentor Community, I have been giving a lot of thought to what would make it successful. Yes, I would like it to be profitable. It’s not a charity. It is a business. But money is a side effect of doing it right.
Too many people try to build “communities” that are nothing more than sales funnels. They are icky and gross. They are a pale simulation of community. Worst, they feed on our deepest desires as humans and feed us fake connection with the intention of manipulating us out of our money.
Then there are some who do an amazing job at building a loving and supportive business community. Joint Venture Insider Circle does an incredible job of this. When I attended their live event in October, it was like a family reunion. Hugs and smiles all around. Sure the event had good content, but what made it worth the trip was the feeling of connection.
So, what is my KPI on the Entrepreneur Mentor Community and other communities I might build? It’s my funeral. And my anniversary. And my birthday party.
I have come to realize that the ultimate measure of success for me is not how much money I can get in my bank account. It’s how many people will show up to my funeral. You show up to the funeral of someone who has touched your life, someone who has made a difference for you.
I want a community where there is true connection. I want the kind of place where if someone in the group hears that you’re coming to town, they’ll say “The door’s unlocked. Come on by.” I want a community of people that I’d trust to teach my daughter.
It’s not that money’s not important. My first community failed because money is the lifeblood of any enterprise. Without it, you can’t keep the lights on.
Money is so important that it must be made the right way.
And the right way is to build that community of trust, support, and love. People want to do business with people that they can trust. Not some artificial “know, like, and trust” but honestly and authentically knowing, liking, and trusting them.
That cannot be achieved through any funnel or any marketing strategy. It can only be achieved by putting good people in proximity (physical or virtual) over time to develop relationships.
As I look at the list of people I have invited as Mentors, and those I am continuing to invite. I give no thought to how much revenue they can bring to the project. I invite people who have the right spirit, the right energy, and the right character. I invite people who can help build this kind of space, and who, hopefully, are as excited as I am to be part of it.
Sure, we’ll make money, but my mission is to create something so much more valuable than that: a community.
They identify the right kind of potential clients, tease them with a preview sufficient to get them excited and into the right state of psychological arousal. At the proper moment, when the prospect is at peak excitement, they make their offer, and the client happily hands over their money for the services they are excited to receive.
Of course, what I am describing is the funnel sales process that many successful coaches use. Only a small proportion of coaches are actually able to use this strategy effectively while most struggle to get clients. If you are in the second group, you will find this article very interesting.
2020 was going to be my year. The year I broke the six-figure barrier. The year I began living my best life. I had never heard the phrase “Covid pivot,” but I was soon to learn it very well.
It had been three years since I wrote my first book, The Guy Who Knows a Guy, sharing how I had built my network in my local area. During that time, I had connected a lot of people, helped a lot of people, made money for a lot of other people. The time had come for all the work I had done to pay off.
As the sun rose on the first day of 2020, I was a publisher for Best Version Media, running two magazines in Southeast Connecticut. Over the previous years, I had laid the groundwork. The magazines were established and popular. All that remained was to line up two new sponsors per month, and I’d be serving the community and making a good six figure income by 2021.
January: two new sponsors. February: two sponsors. March: two more. On track.
For a few months, I’d been hearing news of some new virus out in Asia. It was just a bad flu or something. The media was doing their usual catastrophizing, calling it a pandemic to get ratings.
There was talk of closing our local schools. Closing the schools, for a new kind of bad flu: Ridiculous!
On March 12th, I had a conversation with our state representative who had been briefed by the state health officials. This wasn’t a bad flu.
This was the real deal. This was serious. The Novel Corona Virus, which had recently been officially named COVID-19, required a profound and immediate public health response.
Covid Pivot Online
While I had been blissfully ignorant of the coming pandemic, Dave Durand, the CEO of Best Version Media, had his ear to the ground. In January, he was also following this Novel Corona Virus. As a CEO, part of his job is to look over the next hill and know what might affect the business.
He learned that COVID-19 could spread asymptomatically, and that’s all he needed to know. Lockdowns were coming.
Best Version Media had always been an in person, face to face kind of company.
They created community magazines serving hyperlocal audiences. The only way to build such a publication was to get out in the offices and coffee shops, face to face with our partners and sponsors. There was no other way to to do it.
Until there needed to be.
Upon learning of the coming threat, BVM immediately began the development of a Remote Guided Presentation. What had been unthinkable was now necessary, and the company would be ready.
Best Version Media was ready. By the middle of the next week, the Remote Guided Presentation (or RGP) was ready to go. While many companies were caught flat footed, we were ready to keep the engine running in changing times.
This was a very good thing. The BVM publications are positive, local magazines that make people feel happy and connected. If there was ever a time that such a thing was needed it, was the spring of 2020.
While there would be dramatic adjustments with remote learning and locking down in our apartment, I could continue my business… sort of.
Networker Gotta Network
I’m a networking guy. I wrote a book on networking. I went to every networking event I could find. That’s how I connected in the community. That’s how I found prospects and new business.
Over two thirds of my sponsors in my magazines came from in person networking.
Opinions vary as to why networking was so crucial to my success, but it was. Regular cold calling, which serves many other publishers very well, did not work for me. Whether it was my style or this particular market or my own limiting beliefs, I could not replace prospecting by networking with prospecting by cold call.
My pace of two sponsors per month became one sponsor per quarter.
While I did find some interesting virtual networking events, none of our local networking organizations were doing much in the virtual space. There was no platform that would allow me to make the connections I had been making through live networking events.
I tried hiring call setters, but that just filled my calendar with low quality appointments.
Some businesses were paralyzed by the fear of Covid, not knowing what would happen so they would not invest. The larger issue was that it was a certain type of business that was a fit to be a sponsor, and the best way to sift through to find the right ones was a conversation. A conversation which was easy to have face to face at a friendly networking event and difficult in the space of a cold call.
Go Ahead, Make My Data
As I was struggling, I spoke to a fellow publisher, and she referred me to a site called Make My Data. They sold lead lists. Lists of business information to call.
I signed up to buy leads from them, and I was contacted for an onboarding call which would change the course of my business and my life.
They had an interesting arrangement with a coach named Brandon Tillia. Brandon would handle their onboarding calls, finding out what the client wanted to do with the data, making sure it was something legal and ethical, explaining how the site worked, and helping them use the data strategically. In exchange for talking to all the new clients, Brandon got to talk to all the new clients.
Pretty brilliant arrangement, actually.
My intention had been to simply take the data from MMD and grind away on the phones, but Brandon taught me about some other technologies that might be effective.
I put them to work, and I was able to book more appointments, but I still was not getting effective results.
He then taught me a selling system, which I would later refer to as Solution Oriented Marketing. It was a powerful selling strategy for coaches. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a coach. I was a publisher. It didn’t work well for me as a publisher at all.
You’d Make a Great Coach
I shared with Brendan that the system seemed great but wasn’t doing anything for me to get sponsors for the magazines.
“I think you’d make a great coach,” Brandon suggested across the Zoom link from his New Jersey home.
“I have always wanted to be a coach,” I replied, thinking out loud. “I have always been the person people came to when they had problems because they knew I could figure them out. I do have two decades of varied business experience. I certainly have the knowledge. I just never had an effective way to get clients.”
Brandon allowed me to continue my line of thinking.
“But, I do now, don’t I?”
“Yes, you do,” he said.
Continuing to plug away trying to find sponsors for the magazine, in July I took some time to put this new strategy to work.
Around the same time, a few people who had known me for a while and followed me on social media actually reached out and asked if I did coaching, and I took them on as clients.
I didn’t have any kind of business structure. I didn’t even know what I was going to charge to how I was going to collect payments. I was jumping off the cliff and building the airplane on the way down.
And it was starting to fly.
Around the World Without Leaving My Chair
When the lockdown first began and everything went online, I saw an opportunity. I was a member of BNI and our group had gone online, as had every other group.
I had made the rounds many times, visiting all the chapters in our area. Of course, that was limited. There’s only so far you can drive to a 7 AM meeting to visit.
But not anymore!
I made a post in the BNI Members Facebook page saying that I’d like to visit groups around the world, and many reached out to me. One of the first I visited was Millennium BNI in Malaysia. It was an incredible meeting. They were so well organized you would have thought there was a producer in a booth managing the whole thing.
I visited groups in Australia, Washington state, Canada, England, and beyond. I made connections around the country and around the world.
I was evolving from The Guy Who Knows a Guy in Southeast Connecticut to The Guy Who Knows a Guy everywhere.
I joined a coaching group called Envision and Thrive Academy, run by Michelle Jacobik, through which I made connections which would lead to larger and larger communities. It was through there that I connected with Nicole Majik who would introduce me to Strategic Alliance Live in 2021. It was there that I met Amy Flores-Young who would introduce me to Matt Ward whose networking event would connect me to many of the people who would become Conference21 speakers the following year.
I had taken a step into a wider world, and there was no turning back.
Following the Path Laid Out Before Me
By October, two things were clear about my publishing business. Nothing I was doing was getting traction. While many other publishers were thriving in the new situation, it was not working for me. At the same, time my coaching business was taking off.
I was making more as a coach than as a publisher. I also felt that I had found my calling. I have always enjoyed helping people. I love solving problems. I am driven to bring people together and create connections. Coaching is all this and more.
It was time for a transition, and in October of 2020, I resigned as a publisher to become a coach full time.
My path since then has not been a straight or simple one. I have had many false starts and corrections, but I have learned from each one.
While I knew a great deal a year ago, today I would say I know many multiples more about the world of business and the opportunities and pitfalls that entrepreneurs face. In the past year, I have had conversations with and learned from over 600 entrepreneurs, experts, and authorities. I have learned what works and what doesn’t.
I now find I can be very helpful to others following the same path, whether they have been in business for 10 weeks or 10 years. I have accumulated an encyclopedic knowledge of business. Like the encyclopedia, I know a little bit about almost everything. I don’t have depth, but where depth is needed, I have my network to lean on and refer to.
One year after I left Best Version Media and stepped into coaching full time, I am putting that knowledge and network to work serving other entrepreneurs with my Inner Circle program and the new Power5 Podcast. In the Inner Circle, members can bring any challenge or distraction that they are facing. I can save them time and money. Rather than having to spend days or weeks researching an obstacle or opportunity, I can skip them to the end by directing them right to the answer they need.
While the pandemic has been tragic for many people, for me, it has been a great opportunity to step into my calling, to live my best life, and to serve others at the highest level.
I’d love to share with you what I have learned. Here is a link to my calendar. Let’s schedule a call and see how what I’ve learned on my journey can help you on yours.