EP 331: Embracing Simplicity With Brigitte Lyons & Sophy Dale

Apr 13, 2021 | Operations, Podcast, Software & Services

In This Episode:

  • How Sophy Dale decided to let go of 2 of her 3 businesses and just focus on one and why figuring out a novel distribution strategy was a key part of the decision
  • Why Brigitte Lyons paid attention to what would break if her business grew to figure out how things needed to become simpler
  • Why Brigitte chose to focus on long-term client engagements
  • How Sophy is actually able to get more support now that her business is simpler
  • The tools and software that they use to run their streamlined businesses
  • And, of course, the incredible results of all of this simplification!

So… things have gotten complicated.

Your business is a mess of competing priorities. Mismatched marketing messages. Dusty old brand positioning. Stale offers. And the clutter from all the times you’ve tried to solve problems by doing more.

It’s easy to think that all of this unproductive complexity is a sign that you screwed up—that you’re not very good at this whole building a business thing.

But that ignores the fact that all of us have been programmed from birth to equate more work with good work, checking more things off the list with checking the right things off the list.

Today, I’ve got part 2 of my conversation with Brigitte Lyons & Sophy Dale about simplifying their businesses. But first, I want to explore a key aspect of how we let things get so complicated in the first place.

Last month, I read a book that I just can’t stop quoting or recommending—and I’m not gonna start today.

The book is Can’t Even: How Millennials Because The Burnout Generation. Yes, I’m a millennial—an elder millennial to be specific. And I deeply and profoundly relate to everything in this book. But as the author, Anne Helen Petersen, points out the systemic causes of our burnout culture are felt by every generation—just with slightly different results.

Petersen writes:

Barring a significant, psychology-altering intervention, once someone equates “good” work with overwork, that conception will stay with them—and anyone under their power—for the rest of their lives.

She goes on to say:

We’ve conditioned ourselves to ignore every signal from the body saying This is too much, and we call that conditioning “grit” or “hustle.”

If that’s feeling a little too real to you right now, you’re certainly not alone.

I’m quite certain that there are many listeners out there releasing a collective OOF.

Here’s the thing, we can say we started our own businesses to gain more flexibility in our lives, more control over our schedules, more time to spend with family or on our art or in our communities…

…but we haven’t had the psychology-altering intervention that would allow us to actually make that happen.

We’ve been taught that unless we pay our dues through overworking and overproducing and overdelivering, we can’t be successful.

And the way that plays out in our businesses? Complexity.

More offers. More clients. More emails. More marketing tactics. More social media posts. More lead magnets. More Zoom calls. More deliverables.

When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, right?

Doing more and inevitably making things more complex is the main tool we’ve been trained to use.

This leads to all sorts of predictable challenges, though—challenges like the ones I talked about last week with Brigitte Lyons & Sophy Dalethings like scope creep, lack of traction, unsustainable working hours, and less revenue.

It can also lead to leaky boundaries, resentment, anxiety, relationship troubles, and, yes, burnout.

If you identified with their stories and the consequences of Brigitte & Sophy’s more complex businesses, keep listening. This week, we’re talking about what they did to simplify and the incredible results they’ve created.

And if you’re wondering whether this could be the problem you’re experiencing… that you might have made things harder and more complex than they needed to be… but you’re not quite sure yet…

I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say, “Yep, that’s probably true.”

Today’s conversation should give you hope.

Alright, let’s dive into how Brigitte & Sophy actually restructured things, how doing business is different today, and what the results have been—hint: they’re both making more money.

Now, let’s find out what works for Brigitte Lyons and Sophy Dale!

Tara McMullin: So, things have gotten complicated. Your business is a mess of competing priorities, mismatched marketing messages, dusty, old brand positioning, stale offers, and the clutter from all the times you've tried to solve problems by doing more. It's easy to think that all of this unproductive complexity is a sign that you screwed up, that you're not very good at this whole building a business thing, but that ignores the fact that all of us have been programmed from birth, to equate more work with good work, checking more things off the list, with checking the right things off the list.

I'm Tara McMullin and this is What Works, the show that takes you behind the scenes to explore how small business owners are building stronger businesses. Today, I've got part two of my conversation with Brigitte Lyons and Sophy Dale about simplifying their businesses, but first, I want to explore a key aspect of how we let things get so complicated in the first place. Last month, I read a book that I just can't stop quoting or recommending, and I'm not going to start today.

The book is Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. Yes, I am a millennial, an elder millennial to be specific, and I deeply and profoundly relate to everything in this book. But as the author Anne Helen Petersen points out, the systemic causes of our burnout culture are felt by every generation, just with slightly different results. Petersen writes, "Barring a significant psychology altering intervention, once someone equates good work with overwork, that conception will stay with them and anyone under their power for the rest of their lives."

She goes on to say, "We've conditioned ourselves to ignore every signal from the body saying, 'This is too much,' and we call that conditioning, grit, or hustle." Now, if that's feeling a little too real to you right now, you are certainly not alone. I'm quite certain that there are many listeners out there releasing a collective, oof.

Here's the thing, we can say we started our own businesses to gain more flexibility in our lives, more control over our schedules, more time to spend with family or on our art or in our communities, but we haven't had the psychology altering intervention that would allow us to actually make that happen. We've been taught that unless we pay our dues through overworking and over-producing and over-delivering, we can't be successful, and the way that plays out in our businesses, complexity. More offers, more clients, more emails, more marketing tactics, more social media posts, more lead magnets, more Zoom calls, more deliverables.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Doing more and inevitably, making things more complex is the main tool we've been trained to use. This leads to all sorts of predictable challenges, though, challenges like the ones I talked about last week with Brigitte Lyons and Sophy Dale. Things like scope creep, lack of traction, unsustainable working hours and less revenue. It can also lead to leaky boundaries, resentment, anxiety, relationship troubles, and yes, burnout.

If you identified with their stories and the consequences of Brigitte, and Sophy's more complex businesses keep listening. This week, we're talking about what they did to simplify and the incredible results they've created. If you're wondering whether this could be the problem you're experiencing, that you might have made things harder and more complex than they needed to be, but you're not quite sure yet, I'd be willing to go out on a limb and say, yeah, that's probably true.

Today's conversation should give you hope. All right. Let's dive in to how Brigitte and Sophy actually restructured things, how doing business is different today and what the results have been. Now, let's find out what works for Brigitte Lyons and Sophy Dale. Sophy, why don't we start with you. In thinking through the choice to go all in on one business, was it just letting go of the other two, or were you also making changes in that third business so that you were sure it was going to meet your needs and meet your goals?

Sophy Dale: Yes, the second of those. So I went through a kind of designing visioning process for what I wanted my life to be like and what I wanted our life as a family to be like, and really what my values were, what my purpose was in the world, what matters most to me and which of the businesses lined up best with that, but the thing that was probably the deal breaker, the one that was the deciding factor was what do I want my day to day life to be like.

So a really big stumbling block for me for the book coaching business and really, I had two book coaching businesses was that, for the most part, my clients were in the States, and I am in the UK. Many of them were on the west coast in the States. So it's an eight hour time difference. So I had to work in my evenings in order to do live coaching calls with them, and it's an intensive process. You don't like speak to somebody once and then go, "See you later, when you've written your book." You're really in there with them, supporting them through that process, or at least that's the way I like to do it.

I just couldn't see a way of restructuring that business so that I didn't end up working in the evenings, and I think when I set that business up, my daughter was a baby and then she was a toddler. Aside from the business, I was at home, stay-at-home mom, and my husband was busy in the daytime and then he was available in the evening to look after my daughter. So it actually really made sense that my commitments, my time commitments were in the evenings, but fast forward to now my daughter is 10.

She's at school all day, she comes home at the point of which America wakes up, and all the sort of family time and the making dinner and helping with homework and the chatting about the day and the bath time and all of those things happen in the window where I'm still awake, and my American clients want to talk to me and that was really unsustainable in and of itself. So I realized I was either going to have to massively change the book coaching business to, in some way work around that issue. Or I could do something which was a little more straightforward, which was work with the copywriting messaging business that was much less time intensive, and which I could see a way of having a copywriting course that I was really excited about, that was much where I still do a lot of one-to-one feedback, but it's asynchronous.

So that made my way that I wanted to live my life, I could totally see how I could do that if I just committed to that business, whereas if ... I'm sure there's a way of doing it with a book coaching, but it wasn't clear to me how I could keep the bit that I loved about the book coaching and have my evenings. It seemed to be an either or.

Tara McMullin: I appreciate you putting that constraint on the decision making process, adding on to the re-envisioning process as well. I'm curious what other kinds of constraints you were working with to decide, this is the model that I'm going to pursue, this is how the business is going to run.

Sophy Dale: So the other thing that I was thinking about was, I had already got one smaller copywriting course out there in the market and when I talked to web designers, I knew that there was this huge need for them to simplify their process by having an affordable alternative to somebody working with a done-for-you copywriter, when it came to designing their site. And that because people didn't have that option, it was derailing the web designers in their processes and their schedule was getting really messed up by people just not producing the copy and with the best will in the world, you can't actually finish a website with no words.

So I could see this opportunity to create this course, that would meet both the needs of the end user, and the possibly more urgently felt needs of the web designers and that I could have an affiliate based relationship, based course that would scale and that would do something really helpful. That wouldn't require me to have a huge audience or do big launches, which is the thing that puts me off courses generally. Because if I had a group of affiliated web designers who worked with small service based relatively early on in their business, entrepreneurs, then this would be a popular package for those people and that would sell itself in effect.

I didn't have an equivalent idea for either of the other businesses. So once I had seen that that could be a way in which somebody who likes building close relationships with a relatively small number of people, and I've always had loads of web designers as clients in that business for some reason, without any particular intention to do that. So I already had a small network.

It just, once I'd had that idea, I could see how that could be the center of the business and then I could still do ... I love doing deep dive messaging, one-to-one work with people. I didn't want to stop doing that, but that didn't have to carry the whole financial weight of the business, because there was this other element that is more leveraged and more scalable, that I could just ... I really liked the model of it and I wanted to do that model. So yes, that was the final deciding piece, I think, for going with this business.

Tara McMullin: This is brilliant, because I love that part of simplifying your business was bringing the marketing piece and the sales piece into the visioning process, as opposed to something that you tacked on afterwards, because I think one of the places where people tend to over-complicate things, is they come up with this brilliant idea that they are just creatively in love with, or they're convinced that people really need and it might be a brilliant idea.

It might be super creative, and it might be something people really need, but they have not considered the repercussions of that on their marketing. So then they just go out and try to make it work and add more and more and more to it, and I just fricking love the simplicity that comes from building that into the idea from the get go and I really appreciate you sharing how that worked for you. Brigitte, how did you start visioning, envisioning re-envisioning how you are going to simplify the model for your new business or new iteration of the business?

Brigitte Lyons: So because I knew at this point that I was looking for a model that I could build to sell, and the way I thought about that build to sell was just like whether or not I decide to sell it, it will be a stronger business, because it means that we have a lot of IP, the business can run without me, and we have a book of recurring revenue. So I knew that it doesn't matter. Ultimately, whether I sell it or not, this is the kind of business model that is more sustainable for the next decade.

So what I did is actually went out and hired a coach or joined a group coaching program with a guy named Alex McClafferty and he had built a startup called WP Curve and he had sold it to GoDaddy. So he had a whole thing about how to productize a service based business and I was like, I really just feel like I need someone to hold my feet to the fire of doing this.

At the same time, I'm still working with Nicole Lewis-Keeber who was helping me with all the mindset stuff. So it was like my dream team of Alex being like, "Just break your business model. It's fine, just do it." Then Nicole, just holding space for me, and let me cry it out on the phone with her. So I think a big part of it was just getting support, because I knew that there were going to be a lot of scary changes and I knew that I wasn't going to stick to it alone and it ended up being this really amazing process.

So one of the early exercises that I did was just figuring out what my competitive advantage was, and I realized that it really is just in the podcast space. We'd already been moving in that direction, and that I needed to rebrand the company. So that's when Podcast Ally came into existence as a brand. I literally ... First time ever, all of my other website integrations, I'd hired a designer. So my first time ever just installing my own template, that website is still up a year and a half later, that I just did with something like stock photos and my own work, because I was like I have to go in on this, I have to do it.

Then the other thing that I really had to work on was figuring out how to have a scalable model and remove myself from client delivery, and that was really the hardest part of the process was unpacking and working with some of the assumptions that I had. So I can give you a really specific example. So Alex, one of his exercises that he had us do, which I still to this day work with is, he asked us in a document ... God, when I tell you this you will understand why I hated these questions so much. What in your business model breaks, when you're serving 20 clients, when you're serving 50 or when you're serving 100?

At the time, my max client capacity had been like six. So I'm like, "Everything? Me? I don't know Alex. You tell me. What the hell am I supposed to do with this?" I really sat with those and had to think about it and one of the things that I came up with is that our onboarding process. So we had a new client come in. A big part of our work is also with our messaging. What about our clients messages are we going to pitch? What is going to work with a podcast?

I have been doing this onboarding process with clients for, I don't know, six years, maybe, where I had a series of questions that I would take them through. I would give them the questions in advance, but we would get on the phone for 90 minutes, and I would guide them through it, and ask all these follow-up conversations and highlight what I thought the angles would be, because I've been in this business so long that when you're talking to me about your story and your expertise, as long as I know your market, I can immediately identify what's going to make your story interesting to the media we're pitching it to, so the podcasters in this case.

With 20 clients that totally breaks down. Like how am I save 20, 90 minute onboarding calls? Let's just 50 or 100. It was almost impossible for me to even think about my client getting there, or a client load getting there. So I realized that I had to work myself out of the onboarding upfront messaging process in a way that really, really scared me and I had to question my assumptions. So what we ended up doing, and there's some more that goes into this, but we launched a trial offer.

We got, originally three people signed on. I think we had like six upfront for that first launch of this offer and the very first thing I tested was, can we actually onboard people through a form? Can we have them fill out a document and have not me, but their team lead, go through it and come up with pitching goals.

At first, I give us 30 days to do it, then I realized that we actually needed to speed up the process. So can we do this in 10 days, 10 business days? I'm reviewing it in the beginning, although I've just hired a team lead. So I'm working myself out of that now, too. Because that's one of those things that my business totally broke, and it turned out that the case was yes. My assumption that only I could do it, that it had to be in a phone call, that clients wouldn't feel seen or heard or cared for, if we did another way, was totally wrong, was totally backwards.

In fact, it's better for them to be dealing with a team lead from the beginning, because they need to have the trust that the lead who is going to be pitching them is the one who's actually developing their message strategy. So not only was I wrong, but I think I was actually holding back and harming the business with that assumption. There's another really scary change that we made at the same time with this initial offer, too, which is I really sat down and thought about what makes a client successful, what's good for them, what's good for us.

I realized that having a long term committed client, because of the long lead times with podcast, is always better. So sometimes, when I'm really vibing, with somebody and we're talking in a call and they say, "Can I just work with you for three months, or can we just try it and see for one month," I'm like, "You might as well just throw your money in the toilet. You are going to sign up with us, get the plan. We're going to pitch a podcast no one's going to respond to a month one because of their production schedules. They're going to hold on to your pitch until they're ready to look at it. You're going to say, 'No, no, this isn't going to work.'

You might as well just take that month one retainer and throw it away, because you're going to decide it doesn't work for you if that's your evaluation period." So at the same time, because the other goal was recurring revenue, having more financial stability in the business. I actually launched this annual plan offer where clients sign up with us for 12 months, and it's a fixed fee for 12 months. Now we have a four month offer, which takes you towards the first phase of that, but we have, I think it's like 18 active clients right now and there's only two clients who are on that shorter offer.

All the rest opt in an annual plan. I believe, no way is somebody going to sign up for a year of peer service with us. There's no way somebody is going to meet with me on a 45 minute phone call, see our services page and give the money but that is what happens every time.

So I think a lot of the process of simplifying really is about, for me, what were the assumptions that I was bringing in about the things that I had to do, or that people really wanted from me and throwing those away and doing small tests. So I did a very small beta launch to test it out. I didn't go out and do a JV thing and do a bunch of webinars. I just did it with some people that I had relationships with and turns out I was wrong about a lot of things.

Tara McMullin: Oh my goodness. So I have got to inject my own experience here too, because both of those things, solid Yes. So we have been going through the exact same process at Yellow House where it's like, when we were starting off, Sean and I would lead people through a 90 minute kickoff strategy session where we would just get in the weeds around what their podcast premise was going to be, how they were going to write their trailer, all of these things.

Then we started to think toward like, these are good resources. We actually had the resources built, they just weren't standalone yet and we had started to work toward putting them into a membership site. We were onboarding some new clients and I thought, I'm just going to try and see if I can get someone to do this stuff before we even get on the phone with them.

So we've done two people like that now, and that first 90 minute call did not need to be 90 minutes, because they already did all the work and it was wonderful. I could just be like, "This, this, this. This is great. I'm going to revise your trailer, and we're going to get to it." So much easier, so much simpler.

Then today, I actually have a consultation with someone who sent us part of the homework that she wouldn't get from us, if she were working with us. This is a sales call. So now I've got homework from someone who isn't even working with us yet, something that we could use if we move forward. Amazing. Then the other thing you had mentioned was the like, would someone actually buy all of this. For you, it was length of term. For us, it was, podcast production is currently being sold essentially, as either you're a podcast editor, and you cut up tape and put it together and make it work for a podcast.

Or you're a virtual assistant that has experience with podcasting, and people were then project managing those two people, but that's really the only way the podcast production services were being sold, or at least, that I could see were being sold and that I knew people were purchasing. My hypothesis was, well, what if we just do it all? Literally, what if we do everything other than recording the damn podcast? That's going to be a big sale. It's going to be hard to get people on board with that. It has not been hard. It has been so easy. It has been overwhelmingly easy, in that we do not have any room for any clients until September.

Maybe those two spots are going to be gone here in the next couple of days, too. So anyhow, I had to throw that in there because everything you said yes, yes, yes, there are so many operational assumptions we have that end up making our businesses more complicated and I really appreciate you breaking those two specific things down because operational changes was exactly where I wanted to go next.

You're going to hear about the operational changes that Brigitte and Sophy made as they simplified in just a minute, but first, a word from our What Works partners. What Works is brought to you by Mighty Networks. Sheena Collier turned a hashtag into a thriving community with her mighty network. Sheena had built a life in Boston, but recognized that the city wasn't always welcoming, especially to its black residents.

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So Sophy, I'm going to toss this over to you. What are some of the operational shifts that you've made internally in the business as it has become simpler?

Sophy Dale: Well, I think, weirdly, now that I only have one business to focus on, I've started bringing in much more external support, when you would have thought it would be the other way around but I think because I am so much more focused and because it's much clearer, to me, the difference between my zone of genius versus all the other stuff that needs to get done, it's been much easier. And also, because my revenue flows so much clearer, I can see where the money's coming from and I can see where the bottlenecks are much more clearly, than when it appears that the bottleneck is that I've just gone off and worked on the other business for a while.

So now I can track what's happening with much more detail and accuracy. So I think the biggest ... Well, yeah, so that's one big operational change is bringing in much more support and people who are actually in some way team members. I don't have any employees, but I do have people who are regular contributors to getting the work done.

The other thing was thinking a lot more about how to productize the services that I ran. So obviously, the biggest example of that is the copywriting course, which is still very much a service in that there's a lot of one-to-one feedback, but it's either by Loom video type feedback on each page of people's draft copy, or it's through running office hour sessions, rather than having one-to-one calls with people.

Because it's an evergreen course, it's a slightly different structure from running it live, but I still do the things like co working sessions and office hours, and so on. So thinking about how to productize what I was doing, and even productizing the one-to-one messaging services, now much more productized than it was. I still do bits of done-for-you copywriting but I actually use the materials from the course and send people materials from the course and get them to fill that in for me and so on.

That's easier for them and it's easier for me, and I'm realizing I don't need, and this chimes with what both you were saying. Previously doing the copywriting I was spending ages on Zoom calls with people drawing out the information slowly. Very, very slowly in some cases and now I'm giving them a lot more resources and they're completing stuff through Google Forms and things like that and just emailing me information and having shared Google Docs and all those things, which was set up much more for the course. Now also working to my benefit and the clients benefit in the things that are still done-for-you services.

So I think those are the two biggest issues, are bringing in more external support, and really thinking about how can I turn this into a streamlined system, and really thinking about how ... I think one of my resistances to doing that was feeling like that would make it less valuable. Because hand holding somebody through Zoom calls felt very supportive and caring, and that is my image of myself as a business owner is that I am somebody who will really support somebody else through the process. But actually, it was taking up a lot of their time, as well as taking up a lot of my time, and most people want to get the work done well, in the least amount of time from their end, that's possible. That's a benefit to them, the fact it's going to take them less time. I don't know why that wasn't obvious to me, but it is now. It's all I can say.

Tara McMullin: Oh my gosh, I love that. Oh, man. We could spend many more hours talking about the operational shifts, because this stuff fascinates me and I also really love how while we started in different places with both of you, how much overlap there is now that we're looking at what you've developed, which means there are some very, very valuable takeaways here. And you've both gotten into just some really good territory that I think people can take and use or interpret for themselves in a way that's going to work for them in some really business changing ways, which I'm very excited about.

Real quick before we start wrapping things up, you've both mentioned technology tangentially or more directly, as you talked about the operational changes that you've made. So I'm curious how maybe the technology piece of your business has simplified or how technology has made it so that the way you run the business is simpler and I'm curious about the specific tools that you're using right now too. Sophy, you mentioned Loom and Google Docs. What are some of the other things that you're working with?

Sophy Dale: So Voxer, I'm finding super helpful, both with the more ongoing longer term one-to-one work, and also is a really amazing way of giving people a lot more benefit. A one off call that's followed by 24 hours of Voxer support is so much more helpful to people because all those questions that they didn't quite manage to get to the tip of their tongue during the original call, they can percolate over in 24 hours and come up with and get quick answers to, and that, I think, has really, hugely benefited my clients and it has also helped me with the asynchronous nature of how I wish to be able to support. So that's been something that I didn't use very much up until about a year ago, and I now use all the time.

I am hovering on the brink of moving over to Notion, but then overwhelming myself with how big that will be. Because I think a lot of the things that I'm gluing together with Google Docs and different bits and pieces that I'm using different bits of technology for could probably all live together more smoothly in Notion, but I haven't quite tipped over the edge to doing that yet.

Tara McMullin: Brigitte, same question to you. How has the way you use technology changed?

Brigitte Lyons: I really want to keep this succinct and I don't know if I can, because this is a pretty substantial thing for my business. So we use all of the things that Sophy just mentioned, and I just moved my count over to LastPass team. So our team is growing. When I did this rebrand, I had an intern then I hired a second person. Right now, my husband and I, our team is seven.

So we've been growing a lot. So we use LastPass teams to make sure everyone has access to our tools and a big thing that we use technology to do, and Sophy mentioned, asynchronous communication and that's really, really big with us, too, is in a PR agency, when people hire somebody to do PR, they think I'm going to hire that agency or that person because they have relationships.

In my experience, the way this really works in an agency is that each individual team member has a relationship and when they go it all goes with them because there's no sharing. When I knew that I wanted to grow, this is one of the key issues that I wanted to solve for is how do I transfer the knowledge and the relationships that I have with a podcaster, or somebody I've known in this space to the rest of my team seamlessly. So we use two main tools for that.

We use ... Actually, it's just a Google email account that I call our pitch box. So everyone on our team pitches from the same email account, which means that Tara, if somebody went to pitch you at What Works, they could go and look and see every single email that has been sent out by any team member and what kind of response you got, but in addition to that, we use Airtable. So we had a custom database developed for us by Natasha Vorompiova before I started all this, that moved everything I had in Excel spreadsheets into a database, where we're logging and we're tracking everything we do.

So you can go to any of the podcasts, like I said, over 1,000 in our database and literally see, who have we pitched them to before? Who have they booked? Who have they declined? What have they said? What kind of intelligence have they given us? So anybody walking into the team can say, "Podcast Ally has a relationship with this podcaster. What is that whole story like before the event pitch for them?"

So I have been really leaning on technology as a way to knit our team together because we're all remote. All of our clients are remote, but I don't want to have it where everybody is coming in pitching every podcast with amnesia as to what happened before. All these tools are really transformative for our business, for sure.

Tara McMullin: Awesome. We need to start wrapping things up, but I have one more big question for you and I have one more little question for both of you. So the big question is, results wise, how are things different for you today? I would love to hear about money, I'd love to hear about time, I'd love to hear about energy levels. However you're measuring how things are different for you, or however it stands out the most for you. What are the results that you've experienced from simplifying your business? Sophy, you want to start us off?

Sophy Dale: Sure. So I think all of those things, I think, hugely more energy and enthusiasm and I keep using the word head space and capacity, but both of those things, I feel I have a lot more of. Much more traction, because whenever anything positive happens in the outward facing element of the business, it all feeds back to the same business. So that means that things build on other things. Whereas if they used to just kind of dissipate, and I would build a little bit in the other business, and then a little bit in the other business, and it wouldn't all create a ladder that rose up.

So much more traction. Much more in the way of referrals, because people are not confused about what I do. Whereas the people, my online business friends from the last 10 years, would be getting in touch saying, "Are you still doing the book coaching or whatever it was? Because if you are, I might know somebody who ... But I wanted to check in with you before I told them."

Now people just know what it is I do, and it's much more straightforward for them to refer people and as a result, there is a steady stream of referrals. So income wise, my income has increased. I'm only a few months into this process. So I would say at the moment, I think I'm earning about ... Between a third and half as much again, as I was when I was splitting my energies between the different businesses. I'm not working more hours and I've got my evenings mostly back.

I am still doing ... I have a long term book coaching client who I helped to get a book deal with last year, and now she's writing her book. So I really wanted to honor that commitment and finish that work with her. Inevitably she's in California. So I am still doing some evening work with her, but that's an end limited thing. So other than that I have got my evenings back. I don't ever need to work beyond six o'clock in the evening, and that's huge.

So I think most of all, it's that feeling of lightness, and that feeling of alignment and possibility and seeing new possibilities for the business, because I'm always thinking about the one business, I think I can see more opportunities into the future, because I'm not getting distracted by the different businesses.

Tara McMullin: Well, you've just made the case for simplifying. Sophy, thank you for that. Brigitte what kind of results has simplifying brought to you?

Brigitte Lyons: Well, I already told you, it's allowed us to build our clients and our team. So when I first launched this new offer, we had six clients. Right now we have 18, and we're max capacity at the moment. I've just hired some more people. So we're looking to grow all that, but I think the bigger things that are brought to me are a lot more clarity around our cash flow, and what levers can be pulled to do what. So when I bring a team member when they're ... I have part time and full time. So if I bring them in to manage client accounts, I kind of know, this is how many clients they can handle in the beginning and what they can scale up to, and I know how many clients they need to have for us to be profitable.

So I can really plan out my year. So like this year, I actually entered 2021 with more revenue under contracts for the year than I've ever made and a previous year, like just starting out. I'm about-

Tara McMullin: Damn.

Brigitte Lyons: Yes. I'm not entirely paying myself as much as they should be because we're in a growth mode, but that's a choice that I'm making, because I want to grow and I feel like we've got to get the staffing in there. I feel like I can make that choice in the short term because like you said, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I know if I add this much staff member, this is how many calls I need to book to fill them and it's just like so wide open and clear. There's no, oh, can I do it? What's it going to take?

I think another thing too, is that the discipline of doing all this is what gives me so much more clarity and confidence. As part of this, I built out controls and dashboards within our business so that I can look and see how people are doing. So the biggest thing for me is because I built out these dashboards, I know that our quality hasn't gone down. So our booking rates for our clients across all of our acting clients right now are 15%.

So one in six to one in seven podcast pitches we send out leads to an interview for a client. When I was doing it myself ... Actually they've been going up. I think it's pandemic related. It was around 10%. So it's actually increased.

Tara McMullin: For anyone who doesn't have a baseline on what that means, oh my God, that's really good.

Brigitte Lyons: Part of it is because I have a rule against stretch pitches. So we don't pitch people to things that they couldn't get booked on. So that's part of it where I call us a quality over quantity kind of shop but it's like, I know this. I know that if I hire somebody, what does success look like for them?

How do I measure their performance? How do I measure a client's performance? I've done an analysis of our clients, like what kind of clients ... What does it take to become one of our most successful clients so I can set expectations. It's like, we have one offer. We know what we do well. We do it very well and all of my days are just focused on, do I build the team now? Is there something else to help the team where they're servicing capacity, but it's so clear what needs to happen every day?

So it's just been like a completely transformative change for me, and I feel for the first time ... People say like, "Act like a CEO. Don't just act like a consultant selling your time." I feel like the first time I'm really inhabiting that space and I know what that means.

Tara McMullin: Also so powerful, such a great case for simplifying. Brigitte, what are you excited about right now?

Brigitte Lyons: Oh my goodness. So I told you about this thing about like, what would you do if you believed in your vision with your whole heart? So I just made a really big hire in my team. So I'm having a new team lead come on. Her name's Amanda. She is produced podcasts for Buzzfeed. She has produced podcasts Oprah has named as one of her favorite podcasts, because part of my vision is just like, we are the best in this industry and it's like, what would it take? What would it look like if we were the best and we had the best network and the best people?

So I already know that we pay a little better than a lot of our competitors, but we're also just like ... I put this unicorn job posting out, was like, can I get somebody from the podcast production side that's on the receiving end of getting all these pitches so she can take our team to the next level and help me recruit and also replace me as a creative director for a team over time.

So that review of the plans, that's the last piece that I'm involved in, in the client delivery. So she just said yes yesterday. So she's starting with our team and it's like this big, giant leap forward to hire somebody like that onto our team but I feel tingly inside talking about it. It's just the next level for us. I'm super excited.

Tara McMullin: I am very excited for you. That's awesome. Sophy, what are you excited about right now?

Sophy Dale: I think what I'm excited about is all the potential that I see unfolding because the business in its current form is still so new. It's only a few months in this iteration of just doing this one thing, and I think that one of the things that I resisted previously in terms of thinking about productizing and going down a courses route and so on was, it was so important to me to have a business that was around building relationships and doing deep work with people. A, I've been able to keep that by having the messaging strand in there, but B, I've started to see that the web designers who are the affiliates, those are the people I'm building the long-term working relationships with, and I've created a Mighty Networks community for them.

I'm creating a podcast for them and I'm really leaning into those relationships are maybe more how my book coaching, long-term working relationships were. It's not the same model, but it's the same kind of relationship and being able to see how having those relationships will build the business and build the affiliate side of the course element of the business and really make it something that I can do on my own terms, in my daylight hours and have that freedom that is the reason I got into business in the first place and the reason I didn't want to be an employee. Seeing all of that start to come together is just so exciting.

Tara McMullin: I am so excited for you two. Brigitte and Sophy, thank you so much for giving us the low down on how you've simplified your business, how they ended up over complicated in the first place. The emotional pieces, the operational pieces, the amazing results that you're both experiencing. I am so grateful for this conversation and I know that our listeners will be as well.

One of the things that strikes me about this conversation is how the transition from a more complex business to a simpler business allow both Sophy and Brigitte to think more inclusively about the problems they could solve and the value that they could create. What I mean by that is that so often when you're getting a business off the ground, you're thinking about how you can get your needs or your family's needs met.

There are financial needs, of course, but Sophy also talked about wanting to do things she enjoyed and Brigitte talked about learning new things. Those are personal needs, too. I think that as we start to meet our initial needs, we start to glimpse more needs. Maybe they're true needs, maybe they're wants. That doesn't really matter.

We learn more about what we need for ourselves and what our businesses can provide, and that's great, truly, but providing for you, it's only one thing your business can do. Building a business can be a tool for providing for the needs of others as well. Sophy realized that she could meet a need that web designers have by sharing her copywriting course with their clients. Brigitte is motivated by creating great jobs for others.

Now, I know that considering other's needs can feel like a tall order when you don't feel like all of your needs are being met, and I'm not in any way suggesting that you try to fill people up from an empty cup. What I am saying though, is that viewing your business system with a wider lens can help you build something that's more sustainable for yourself and for others. Your business can be a structure that doesn't just take care of your needs, but makes life better for everyone involved.

The only way to do that is to examine the business as a whole, which is almost impossible to do when it's riddled with complexity. A simple business that's designed to work as a simple self perpetuating system can benefit everyone involved including you. Now next week, I'll share a bit about how we've resisted complexity at Yellow House Media and some of the incremental improvements we've made over the last 18 months to make a simpler business, even simpler.

Huge, thanks to Brigitte Lyons and Sophy Dale for agreeing to experiment with this format. You can find out more about Brigitte Lyons and Podcast Ally at podcastally.com. Find out more about Sophy Dale at sophydale.com. What Works is produced by Yellow House Media. Our production coordinator is Sean McMullin. Our production assistant is a Lou Blaser. This episode was edited by Marty Seefeldt. Get more of What Works delivered to your inbox every Thursday. What Works Weekly brings you more ideas for building a stronger business, plus my picks for resources from around the web. Go to explorewhatworks.com/weekly to sign up free of charge.

Host of What Works

Tara is a podcaster, small business community leader, strategist, and speaker. She’s been helping small business owners build stronger businesses for over a decade.  

Tara McMullin, What Works Weekly Newsletter

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