The Nitty-Gritty

  • Tara shares the story of how the seeds she panted at the beginning of her business journey have grown into The What Works Network
  • How a small action now can turn into big success for your small business down the line
  • Why your next big idea will probably come from the small ideas that you are planting today
  • And a sneak peek at the candid conversations coming up in April

Well before he was a New York Times bestselling author, Chris Guillebeau penned an ebook called 279 Days To Overnight Success.

In it, he outlined all the hard work he put into becoming a full-time writer over the course of 10 months.

The point was simple: fulfilling his dream of becoming a full-time writer didn’t happen because someone tapped him on the shoulder and made him a full-time writer.

It didn’t even happen because he got a big media break or a had a viral hit.

Chris planted seeds with every blog post he wrote and connection he made. He did the work of raising those seeds into saplings and watched them grow into trees. All along the way, he continued to plant seeds.

Chris is now the author of 5 books, the host of a remarkable conference, and an international speaker. But he certainly didn’t get there overnight.


The first seed I planted in my business was my first post-collegiate blog: Handmade In PA.net.

I had no idea what I was doing at the time. I just knew that I loved blogging and I loved the new maker movement.

When I started that blog, my only plan was to sell some advertising in the sidebar to cover a few lattes per month. I can remember telling a reporter from the local paper how much I was charging for advertising and he chuckled.

It wasn’t much.

But, low and behold, I got a few advertisers and made a little money.

More importantly, the site was a hit among a very niche, very small group of people. I wrote consistently, I connected with the audience, and I connected the audience to each other. They loved it.

Now, this is not a story about how Handmade In PA.net beat the odds and grew into a behemoth indie craft site. It did not.

Instead, it’s a story about how my vision grew.

By starting out small, I started. I turned words into pixels. I met people. I learned things.

I went from a local craft blogger to a global craft blogger. I went from a blogger to a writer and teacher. I went from a writer and teacher to a coach. I went from coach to trainer, facilitator, podcaster, and CEO.

My vision grew and grew and grew to what it is today.

The second seed I planted in my business started with a mind map.

Back in 2012, I worked with clients through a one-off consulting session model.

They’d share their goals and challenges through an intake form. I would pour over the intake form, research their digital presence, examine their market, and create a overview of where I saw opportunity and what they could do to seize it.

I loved these sessions and the businesses I got to work on in that model. Even more importantly, my clients loved these sessions and got great results.

And often, they’d come back looking for more.

They’d want something longer-term and they’d want something that would present them with challenges they couldn’t even see yet.

This was an intriguing prospect.

So I made a list of all the people who had expressed interest or who I thought would be a perfect fit. I looked for patterns and identified common goals.

And then I started mind mapping.

I put everything I wanted to share with them into a giant, complicated mind map.

Once I had it all on paper, I started to sort it out into a curriculum. It was messy. It was overwhelming. And, it was exactly how I would not advise people to approach building a learning experience today!

Now that I had an outline and goal for the program, I started reaching out to people.

20 people said yes and enrolled in the first group. Another 15 enrolled a few months later. Every 4 months or so, I would take on a new group of people.

And as I did, the program got better and better and better. My clients made more progress and enjoyed the process more.

Finally, I was ready to go bigger. Now that I had a system that worked, I wanted to teach that system to others.

Again, I started small and scrappy. It wasn’t pretty but it worked.

I’d train 5 or 6 strategists at a time and take them through the system. Once they were trained, they could work with their own clients… and they could work with me to coach my clients.

I could take our client load from 15 people at a time to 30 or 45 without sacrificing the intimacy of the experience and the personalization of the support.

This seed became our Quiet Power Strategy program, an over $1 million line of business in its lifetime.

Finally, let me tell you about the seed that I’m currently spending the most time tending and nurturing.

Also back in 2012, I wanted to create a way for the people who followed me to get exactly what they needed, in terms of business support, when they needed it.

The way I knew how to do that then was to create the resources they were asking for, little by little. I figured that they would pay an annual fee for unlimited access to these resources.

And they did!

But, it wasn’t long before they wanted more. Specifically, they wanted a way to talk to each other about what was going on in their businesses and ask for help.

So, reluctantly, I created a group where they could talk to each other.

For years, this small group posted questions, helped each other out, and waited to hear what I’d have to say about their challenges or ideas. And, despite my initial reluctance, I grew to love the time I spent interacting with them.

There was something about this group of people: down to earth, honest, and thoughtful. The group never suffered the same drama that so many other online groups suffered.

It was a positive and constructive place to be.

Unfortunately, it just didn’t fit into my big plans. It was always on the back burner.

Then, at the end of 2016, I decided to pull the plug on our main offer, Quiet Power Strategy. I was ready to grow something bigger and even more useful for small business owners.

And I had just the seed to do it with.

That small community was going to turn into our entire business.

Instead of pretending I had all the answers to all the business questions, I would create a space where someone really did have an answer, observation, or life lesson in response to any question.

Today, our whole company is built around what was a small seed for many years.

That seed grew into The What Works Network, What Works Masterminds, and this very podcast.

It’s not yet the mighty oak I know it will be—but it’s growing and thriving, nonetheless.

Your next big idea will start small.

Despite “overnight” success stories or massive product launches that seem to come out of nowhere, the first step to making any big idea real is a small action.

It’s a trial run, an experiment, or a note scribbled on a napkin.

You may or may not know that the action you’re taking is the first step to something much bigger.

You may or may not have the seed of massive success already in your business somewhere.

But eventually, that seed will start to sprout. Your job is to take notice and help it thrive.


Coming Up On What Works In April

This month, I’ll be sharing 6 candid conversations about how small actions turned into big success. Plus, we’ll be celebrating our 200th episode and sharing the stories of how entrepreneurs weather the ups and downs of being in business over the long haul.

You’ll hear from Bonnie Gillespie, the author of Self-Management for Actors, who will share how a bridge job writing about the entertainment industry over 20 years ago helped her create the content that has fueled her success and built her empire.

You’ll also hear from Val Geisler, the founder of Fix My Churn, a marketing and customer experience agency for software-as-a-service companies. Val turned a 2-hour workshop into a 12-week program that netted her $90,000 in just a few weeks.

I also spoke with Allison Puryear, the founder of Abundance Practice Building, about how a chance conversation at a networking event led her away from private practice therapy and into helping therapists build their businesses.

Racheal Cook, the creator of Sweet Spot Strategy, will explain how she took an experimental 1-day in-person retreat and used it to restructure her whole business model.

Brittany Berger, the writer behind the Work Brighter newsletter, will share how the project she took up for fun while working at a marketing agency has become the focal point of her business.

And finally, you’ll hear from Claire Pelletreau, a Facebook ad strategist, about how she regrew her business little by little after extended maternity leave.

Now… I want to hear from you!

This month, I want to highlight your story of planting a seed and watching it grow.

Throughout the month, I’ll be looking for your contributions and sharing them with the What Works family. To be featured, tell your “Planting A Seed” story on Instagram and use the hashtag #explorewhatworks and tag me, @tara_mcmullin.

I can’t wait to see what’s growing for you!