EP 330: Letting Go Of Complication With Brigitte Lyons & Sophy Dale

Apr 6, 2021 | Money & Life, Podcast

In This Episode:

  • How Sophy Dale ended up running 3 separate businesses—and what made her realize it was all too complicated
  • How Brigitte Lyons realized that her PR agency was letting scope creep make it feel like she was still throwing spaghetti at a wall
  • What both Sophy & Brigitte did to approach simplifying their businesses
  • And the personal reasons why simplifying was the ticket to creating businesses that worked both for their bank accounts and for their lives

What I wish every small business owner knew about making more money is…

…it doesn’t have to be so complicated.

I mean that literally.

Creating a more complicated business doesn’t guarantee you a bigger paycheck, a bigger audience, or a bigger impact in the world.

Adding more and more moving parts to how your business runs doesn’t get you more happy customers or more personal satisfaction, either.

Of course, this doesn’t put a stop to the anxiety of feeling like, if only you could do more, things would be better.

I am certainly not immune from overcomplicating things and feeling despair that there aren’t more hours in the day.

I’ve created intricate marketing plans, business models, and schedules all with the hope that I could pass a threshold of doing enough to make it big.

But looking back over the last 12 years…

I can easily see that my greatest successes have come from keeping it simple.

So what does this mean for you?

Whether you want to make more money or you’re looking to make a bigger impact or you’re looking for more time, we’ve got to get down to the fundamental challenges that exist in your business.

What I mean by that is that “not making more money” isn’t actually a problem to solve. It’s a symptom, an indicator that there’s something else going on.

Making more money is the result of solving a more specific problem or set of challenges.

It might be a positioning problem. Or a pricing problem. It could be a customer challenge or a capacity issue. It might be a marketing problem—although, I wouldn’t bet on it.

It might be a business model challenge or an operational issue.

Or, it could be any combination of those things.

By addressing those root challenges, we can create simple, sustainable businesses that make a lot more money.

Or we can build simple, sustainable businesses that afford us more time, flexibility, or a greater impact in our communities.

Today, we’re kicking off both a series on simplifying and a set of two episodes with businesses owners who have direct experience with dramatically simplifying their businesses—and in turn, creating immense growth.

Brigitte Lyons is the founder of Podcast Ally, a PR agency specializing in getting experts and idea people booked on podcasts.

Sophy Dale is a copywriting mentor, messaging coach, and brand storyteller who helps coaches, designers, and course-creators write compelling copy.

Both Brigitte and Sophy know what it’s like to run complicated, bloated businesses.

And both of them figured out what the real problem was they wanted to solve. For Brigitte, it was scope creep that caused her to always be reinventing systems and getting involved in projects she shouldn’t have. For Sophy, it was a lack of traction due to the fact that she was actually running three businesses so no one quite knew what she was offering when!

In this episode, we’re going to get into how they ended up with complex businesses in the first place, how they identified the need to simplify, and what the process of actually letting go of that complication looked like.

In next week’s episode, we’ll dive into how they 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: What I wish every small business owner knew about making more money is that it doesn't have to be so complicated. I mean that literally. Creating a more complicated business doesn't guarantee you a bigger paycheck, a bigger audience or a bigger impact in the world. Adding more and more moving parts to how your business runs, doesn't get you more happy customers or more personal satisfaction either. Of course, this doesn't put a stop to the anxiety of feeling like, if only you could do more things would be better.

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. Now, I'm certainly not immune from over complicating things and feeling despair, that there aren't more hours in the day. I've created intricate marketing plans, business models and schedules, all with the hope that I could pass a threshold of doing enough to make it big. But looking back over the last 12 years, I can easily see that my greatest successes have come from keeping it simple. What does this mean for you?

Whether you want to make more money, or you're looking to make a bigger impact, or you're looking for more time, we've got to get down to the fundamental challenges that exist in your business. What I mean by that is that not making more money isn't actually a problem to solve. It's a symptom, an indicator that there's something else going on. Making more money is the result of solving a more specific problem or set of challenges. It might be a positioning problem, or a pricing problem. It could be a customer challenge, or a capacity issue. It might be a marketing problem, although I wouldn't bet on it.

It might be a business model challenge or an operational issue or it could be any combination of those things. By addressing those root challenges, we can create simple, sustainable businesses that make a lot more money. Or we can build simple, sustainable businesses that afford us more time, flexibility, or a greater impact in our communities. Today, we're kicking off both a series on simplifying and a set of two episodes with business owners who have direct experience with dramatically simplifying their businesses, and in turn, creating immense growth. Brigitte Lyons is the founder of Podcast Ally. A PR agency, specializing in getting experts and idea, people booked on podcasts.

Sophy Dale is a copywriting mentor, messaging coach and brand storyteller, who helps coaches designers and course creators write compelling copy. Both Brigitte and Sophy, know what it's like to run complicated, bloated businesses. Both of them figured out what the real problem was they wanted to solve. For Brigitte, it was scope creep that caused her to always be reinventing systems and getting involved in projects she shouldn't have. For Sophy, it was a lack of traction due to the fact that she was actually running three businesses. No one quite knew what she was offering and when.

In this episode, we're going to get into how they ended up with complex businesses in the first place, how they identified the need to simplify, and what the process of actually letting go of that complication looked like. In next week's episode, we'll dive into how they actually restructured things, how doing business is different today, and what the results have been. Hint, they're both making a lot more money. Now, let's find out what works for Brigitte Lyons and Sophy Dale.

Bridget, and Sophie, welcome to What Works. Thank you so much for joining me today. I am really excited to dig into your shared and also different experiences with simplifying your businesses. But before we can do that, I think we need to get a better idea of what was going on in your business before you simplify the thing. Brigitte, why don't we start off with you? Can you describe your before business and how you noticed it was over complicated or just not as simple as it could be?

Brigitte Lyons: Yeah. Well, before I launched the Podcast Ally brand, I was running a PR full service business. We were also doing training. When I compared our business model to other PR agencies, I actually felt like we really were simplified, that we had a lot of systems in place, a lot of structures to make selling and delivering our services much easier. What I started to realize is that I had done a lot of work upfront on the sales process in streamlining our proposals, but I was still making a lot of exceptions and we still had a few different packages that we were doing. What was happening is that I was selling projects much faster than our team could actually fulfill them, because I was always needing you to jump in and say, "Okay, this one's a little bit different. Let me train you on how to do this."

We had a moment when I realized that this was absolutely not working for us. When I realized for one of our packages, we weren't even doing PR really at all. We were doing SEO work, we were doing Pinterest optimization, we were actually helping that client relaunch their website, and these were all things that I was personally really interested in, but they weren't things that the rest of the team had any clue how to deliver on, they hadn't been hired for. It was like, "Yeah, compared to other PR agencies who also were dabbling in these other things, our core PR business is relatively simple." But I was making so many exceptions and complicating things all the time.

Tara McMullin: That I think is a really valuable thing to call out. I also appreciate you really calling out that you noticed that the services that ... The ways that you were serving your clients weren't in line with the core competency of the business, which is automatically going to make it more complicated and harder to run than it has to be. That's a great jumping off point. Sophy, what did your before business look like?

Sophy Dale: Well, I think the first thing to say is it was three businesses.

Tara McMullin: That's complicated.

Sophy Dale: That was complicating things quite considerably. I think I realized that it was time to change when I kept hearing myself giving advice to other people that I was so completely not following myself. I persuaded a couple of clients out of setting up a second business. Then I was like, "How can ..." The hypocrisy is quite significant. I hadn't obviously set out to have three businesses. I'd had a business that I had started when my daughter was a baby, when I would have been on maternity leave. That was a book coaching and editing business. That played in absolutely directly to what I had been doing prior to becoming a parent.

Then a few years in, I started a second business. That was around business coaching and copywriting. That was really ... That came out of people asking me to help them with things. Then I took a little bit of time to think about the two businesses. Unfortunately, my solution to the two businesses was to set up a third business, which was to bring the two together because I loved business. I loved the book coaching and I also loved the work with entrepreneurial clients. I thought, let's bring the two things together and have a business that is for entrepreneurs who want to write books.

At the time, I thought this was a stroke of genius. But in fact, I found I couldn't quite let go of the other two businesses. In the end, I realized I was asking myself the wrong question. I don't know, it might be the right question for some people, but the question I was asking myself is, what do I most enjoy? What do I most enjoy doing? What do I love the most? The problem was, it was like trying to choose between your favorite children. I loved all of them and it just wasn't a helpful question to work out how to simplify.

Tara McMullin: That feels very familiar. It also relates to the episode that we did with Justine Clay, 328, where I talked about opportunity cost and really understanding the trade offs of following an opportunity versus sticking with the path that you have and how often we don't even notice that there's a decision being made that is essentially. Well, I'm going to keep doing this thing and also do this other thing, and also do this other thing too.

Sophy, I'll loop back to you and then ask a similar question of Brigitte, which is, as you were building those three businesses, or as you were spotting those opportunities, it sounds like there was the question that you were asking, which is what do you like doing? There was also, you mentioned people are asking you for some specific things and so you're responding to that demand. But when you thought about like, "I'm going to set this up as another business," was there a particular goal that you had in mind? Was there a revenue need that you were trying to meet? Was there a creative itch that you were trying to scratch? What was the goal you were trying to achieve with all of that?

Sophy Dale: I think by the time I set up the one that was chronologically the third business, I think what I was trying to do was trying to simplify and my intention was to let go of the other two businesses and then I just I completely failed to follow through on that. Totally had three businesses up and running all of that time. I think my intention wasn't to off base, although it hasn't ended up being that business. That business [inaudible 00:10:15] out of the three, that's not the one that I'm still doing now. But I think it was the follow through that was the problem for me. It was the how do you let go of other things that you enjoy when your criteria for choosing what you do is that you enjoy it.

Tara McMullin: Yes, yes. I think that's going to be very familiar to many listeners. Brigitte, that makes me think back to what you said about all of those exceptions. I'm wondering if there wasn't .... And you mentioned that. Like a similar intent behind that. I'm going to allow these exceptions because that's an interesting project and I want to explore that. Can you speak to the motivation behind those exceptions that you are creating.

Brigitte Lyons: Yeah. When that was happening, I think I really justified it to myself by saying, "I'm a multi passionate entrepreneur, that's why I'm an entrepreneur," because I always felt like there were these moments in my business of expansion and contraction. Sometimes I would get really focused on one offer and then I would feel like, "Oh, it's time to expand and try something else and add something else in," and it was often based on something that I was personally interested in with my own business that would coincide. Like public relations, getting media placements, and search engine optimization actually go very well together, because media links are very good backlinks to your website and help drive traffic.

I had this one sense that I think was justification and part true, where these services would be integrated, it would be a growth path for our business. There's a lot of businesses out there in PR today that follow this model and are very successful. But I also started doing, about a year and a half ago, some personal work with someone I know you know as well, is Nicole Lewis Keeper. She helps you look at the ways that big and little t trauma, as she talks about, play out in your business relationships.

When I look back at it with the benefit of doing all that work, what I realized is that I was really trying to soothe that sense of fear and uncertainty I had about my business model. That it wouldn't be stable, that it would fail me, that ... Well, let's just face it, public relations is a brutal business, because you are constantly cold pitching people or even warm pitching the media on behalf of clients. You almost never get a response back.

I think that there was this part of me that was like, "I'm setting myself up in this industry that is so brutal and I couldn't really emotionally handle all that all the time," and I just desperately seeking something that would give me more comfort within my business. All of that was externally trying to fix something that until I did that inner work, I would never have the peace and the confidence to actually simplify and go all in on what I ultimately believed was the right thing for my clients and for me.

Tara McMullin: Okay, that's good and deep and I love it. It leads into this idea of letting go that Sophy brought up initially. I want to come back to that and I'm going to make myself a note. But before we get there, I want to talk about the consequences of over complicating things. Whether it's multiple businesses or multiple ways that you weren't supposed to be serving a client in the first place. Brigitte, what were some of the consequences of always allowing those exceptions to be made and exploring? Allowing yourself to self soothe the uncertainty through diversifying your business?

Brigitte Lyons: Yeah. Well, I was constantly putting myself into new situations, which is absolutely the worst way to make yourself feel better. I was constantly having to face the situation again and again, where I go into a new situation with a client. I've been in PR marketing for 20 years. I definitely know my stuff but I was always having to create a new package, create a new way of measurement, and also create a new way of working within my team because building up a team has always been a priority for me and having a business. I always knew that that was something that I wanted.

Just the drain on creating new systems internally, trading team members, what the ultimate consequence meant was that we always had just enough. Just enough time to get things done, just enough revenue, just enough profit margin to get through the next few months. But there was no long term sustainability. When I [inaudible 00:14:54] about sustainability, I don't actually just mean financial sustainability, I actually mean more like emotional sustainability, sleep sustainability for all of us. All of those capacity issues that when you're always doing something new, you can never really build and improve on what you've got or settle into a rhythm.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. Yeah, I've been talking a lot lately about, yes, financial sustainability, but also we got to look at operational sustainability and we have to look at personal and social sustainability. I appreciate you. Teasing those things out that yes, there can be harm done to your business in its financial model, when things are over complicated and that's a very real, very common problem. But there's also all of these other things that are personally harmful to us as business owners, and also harmful to our team members too. I really appreciate you calling up that piece out. Sophy, what were some of the consequences? I mean, I'm sure we can get some of them. But I'm curious as you were trying to run these three businesses all at once, what was some of the things that were happening that tipped you off to like [inaudible 00:16:08] this isn't working.

Sophy Dale: I think partly that as opportunities came up in any one of the three businesses. You would do a podcast interview or you take part in a community project or something like that. Then obviously, things don't necessarily get publicized at the moment that you record the interview or whatever. Then by the time the interview went out, or the project went live, or whatever, I would be focusing much more on one of the other businesses. That's much worse than the same thing can happen within one business where you do a podcast interview, that's mostly about a particular service, then by the time it comes out you're promoting something else.

But it's all still part of the same business. If somebody follows the link and comes back to you, they may still become part of your world as a result. Whereas in my case, people were finding me and then getting confused because there wasn't a great deal happening in that particular business at that particular moment and time. That was one of the ways in which it was obvious that this really wasn't working. I think also to chime in more with what Brigitte was saying, that issue around ... This is a word I've heard you use a lot recently, Tara and it's really been reverberating in my mind is capacity. That sense of if you divide yourself between three businesses, and in my case it's not like I had a team in any of the businesses.

I did collaborate with some people on some things, but there wasn't an in place team of people who this was their priority. I was the only person for whom it was a priority. I think the extent to which your capacity just is automatically overstretched before you're doing anything in particular in any of the businesses is looking back on it. I just can't imagine why I did it for so long. Because the moment I stopped, the relief and the headspace of just focusing on one business, and making everything line up within that one business was so much easier. There was so much more alignment and so much more flow and everything was so much more straightforward. That I don't know, in retrospect it seems truly insane that I did things the way I did for as long as I did. But at the time it didn't seem insane, at the time it seemed logical.

Tara McMullin: Perfectly logical, perfectly rational. Yes. Sophy, I want to come back to how you actually made the choice to simplify and to choose which business you are going to move forward with in a minute. But I want to follow up on how were you actually dividing your time? Because to your point in the moment, it can seem really logical. It can seem really rational, but when you start to take a more analytical view of it, you realize, "Oh, wait, that's not happening." I'm thinking that maybe if you talk through the way you divided your time, some other people might be able to say, "Oh, wait, I'm doing that, too."

Sophy Dale: I think for me what I tended to do was, one of the businesses tended at any given time to be the front facing business that I was launching something in or talking about socially or whatever. The other two would be sitting on the back burner, but I would actually be doing client work in the other two, because mostly my projects were quite long term especially, I mean book coaching, very long term commitment to work with people. Then getting recurring clients and people returning would mean that somebody would come back even though I wasn't ...

That business was practically silent or dark. But as far as a previous client was concerned, they would just email me when they were ready to carry on working again. The way I would divide my time, would be that most of my time probably, I would say about three quarters of my time in any given week, would be directed towards the front facing business, whatever that was at that moment in time. Then around 10% would be going to each of the other businesses in keeping up with a particular client project or something along those lines.

I guess that's why I didn't feel as thinly stretched, because I wasn't trying to market three businesses at the same time. I think that's how I allowed myself to continue in that circumstance for as long as I did. But what I didn't understand or what I didn't appreciate or notice until I stopped was that issue about the headspace and the capacity. Because even though I wasn't actively marketing, or working towards the other two businesses, they were still there and I was still using up some baseline capacity on them. I think that's the bit that I didn't see.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. I'm wondering too if those businesses that were in the 10% role at any given time, if you felt like they were getting away from you, or that they were dying a little bit or at least withering a little bit? Or did it seem like, "Oh, no, they're fine."

Sophy Dale: Generally, it felt like they were fine. Particularly the oldest one which has always been mostly word of mouth business through literary agents that I knew through my previous work. Those literary agents would get in touch and say, "This is person, they're not ready yet. Can you help them get their book ready or can you help them with their book proposal or whatever." That business never needed ... I mean, I'm sure it could have been more successful with more attention, but it ran itself on that word of mouth background. I knew that it could run forever, on that basis, probably gradually dwindling as I did less too in terms of outreach, but it would still keep going in a small way. The other two, whenever I wasn't putting any attention towards them, I would start to feel that one sliding away. Yes, it was a bit different with the other two.

Tara McMullin: Got it. Speaking of sliding away, let's move the conversation for this idea of letting things go and not just making the decision to let things go, although I'm really interested in that as well, but also the emotional process. You'll hear how Brigitte and Sophy ultimately made the decision to simplify 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 recognize the city wasn't always welcoming, especially to its black residents. At first, she took the lead on putting together a book club, a dinner club and even a finance club. Then she launched the Collier Connection, an event planning consultancy aimed at helping companies create more inclusive events. That led to working with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce to help them leverage the business community to address issues of access and equity. That led to the Boston wall black hashtag.

She took the traction she got from tweeting Boston wall black and organized an in person forum to offer a platform for a wide range of stories and experiences. From there, Sheena decided to launch a community at the beginning of 2020. Originally, the community was going to be organized around in person gatherings. But of course, the pandemic threw her a curveball. Thanks to Mighty Networks, she was able to quickly pivot into offering the community online. Today, Boston wall black boasts over 290 members paying $30 or more per month, or joining through employer sponsored memberships.

The community organizes around monthly themes, hosts community leaders for Boston wall black, unfiltered sessions and even host DJs for a monthly virtual party. If Sheena story sounds awesome to you, then it's time to explore how Mighty Networks can help you turn your idea into an awesome community. To get started, go to mightynetworks.com and if you're looking for more stories of awesome to inspire your Mighty Network, go to mightynetworks.com and click stories. Sophy let's talk about the decision. Tell me about the day or the week or the season in which you decided, enough of this. It's time to choose and it's time to pare down.

Sophy Dale: I think it came up because what I now focus mostly on in the business, that has remained, is messaging work with people. Obviously, the messaging work you want to have a concise, clear message that remains consistent and that people can understand easily, and so on and so forth. I think I heard myself talking to a client and just thought this cannot go on. I cannot continue to have three businesses. This just does not make sense. I think that was the road to ... Where is it? Damascus moment of just this can't go on in this particular way.

Then I had read the book Essentialism, when it first came out. But I think I must have just skim read it and thought, "Yes, yes, yes. I'm very, very good at simplifying things and I'm not going to think about this anymore." Then I reread it. I have a couple of bones to pick with it as a book, but its core issue, the core idea behind it, really resonated on second reading. I think that was the moment where that realization started to crystallize and I started to really think about, "Okay, how do I make these trade offs? How do I decide? I can't prioritize three businesses? How do I decide what I'm actually going to go forward with? How do I decide what to go all in on?"

Then I think around the same time in that way that ... You know when you're pregnant, you notice lots of pregnant people, or when you've just bought a yellow car, you see yellow cars everywhere. Because it was very much on my mind, I think I started seeing people who were going all in on one thing. That helped to reinforce the idea that these people were having success doing that and therefore, I think I had a little bit more momentum to do that too. Around the same time, I had decided to step away from Facebook and Instagram and the whole Zuckerberg empire.

That bit of simplifying one element of my business and stepping away from some of that online noise and that comparison which tends to affect you, even when you don't think you're being affected by it. I think all of that helped me to take a step back and just think about things from the point of view of what worked for me and not be so taken up with what other people were doing. Because I think that was definitely something that would catch me back into a loop with the other businesses because you would see somebody doing something interesting and it would be obvious that one of the three businesses was better suited to doing that thing and that would reignite my enthusiasm for that particular business. I think not seeing as much of that was helpful, as well.

Tara McMullin: Brigitte, tell us about the day, the week, the season in which you realized, "Okay, I got to do things differently. I got to let some stuff go."

Brigitte Lyons: Yeah, I had been inching towards it because the moment happened at a time where we were already predominantly doing podcast outreach packages. But of course, still making exceptions, still not leading into our zone of genius and I got an email. Tara, you and I met a decade ago. [crosstalk 00:28:39]

Tara McMullin: Oh, dear God.

Brigitte Lyons: I'm really sorry. When I was 30 at the World Domination Summit, the very first one. A little over a year and a half ago, I got an email like, "The World Domination Summit is ending in the future for its 10th year." I haven't been to that event in a long time, but because I had quit my job and the next week gone to that event, it had always had this very special meaningful place for me and I'm meeting people like you and so many people I'm connected with today. I just remember reading that email and being like, "Oh, my God. My business is going to turn 10 years old. A year and a half in the future, I personally am going to turn 40."

"I've been doing this for almost a decade now. Do I really want to be sitting here in another decade while I'm 50, throwing spaghetti at the wall, recreating things all the time?" I'm feeling so emotional right now just recounting that moment to you because of course not. Of course, that's not what I want. That thinking about my business has survived this long, for almost 10 years. My husband had quit his job. We were supporting ourselves through the business. I was starting to believe the revenue will come when I put my plans and starting to believe in myself a little bit more then.

It really opened a door for me to think about what I wanted for myself, for my life in a bigger way. Ultimately, I just really realized that I don't just want my company to be this hustle that I'm always doing that is helping me live, that is even helping ... I mean at the time I just had ... I think at that time I was just working with basically an intern. For me in a small team, living our lives. I was like, "I want to build a brand. I want to build a company. I want it to exist outside of me. I want to be able to either sell the business or put somebody in a management position so that I can take real time away."

Realizing that made me realize that I had to approach my model completely, completely differently. I started looking into what all of that would take. I started looking up, like, "What does it take to sell a consulting business or a service based businesses." This is highly simplified but for what I found is I would need three things. You need intellectual property. That's a bonus for a service based business. I realized, "Wait, I have that in the podcast space. We are one of the first companies that's ever worked with podcast. We have systems, we have tools for reaching podcasts and we have a database of 1,000 podcasts that we've hand pulled together."

You also need a business that can run without the owner and you also need a book of recurring revenue. I had the first element, which shocked me. Then my whole focus was how do I get the next two? Of course, that brings us back to like the whole topic. It's all about the simplification. But without that email, honestly, embarrassingly enough, making me feel not just my own age, but my age as a business owner and feeling like, "I can do better than this. I don't have to ... 10 years in, am I really in this loop? No. I don't want to be that person." That was such a huge turning point for me.

Tara McMullin: I appreciate you using the phrase throwing spaghetti at the wall. Because again, I think it's something that so many people can relate to and at the same time knowing your business pretty well. I know that from the outside, it didn't look like throwing spaghetti at the wall, right? It didn't look like you were all over the place. It looked like you were super focused always on what you did best, how you did it differently than others on how your business ran or runs. I don't entirely know what my question is here. But I just ...

I guess I'm curious about the difference between the outside perspective and the inside perspective of feeling like, this is what I'm doing or no way even, this is what I'm doing. I'm trying to hold out for that thing that's going to work. The next thing I try, that's going to be the ticket to success, versus from the outside having what looks like a very sophisticated and mature way of running your business. Does that make sense?

Brigitte Lyons: Yeah, it does. It feels really vulnerable to talk about this, because I appreciate you saying that and I do think that is the perception of my business and it's like I don't want to throw away. I don't think it's entirely untrue compared to most PR agencies, we really did have our niche, we had our focus. When somebody would come in and say, "Can you do PR for me in spaces that we don't work in," I would always refer them out. I did have a lot of discipline already. I think the way that it felt inside, that you guys weren't seeing on the outside, was that we were always doing these experiments.

We would have 80% of our work was probably in this one streamlined way that everybody saw, and then there'll be this 20% of play that we were doing a new spaces or taking on clients. This might resonate with people listening. I've been in business, like I said, for almost ... It's going to come up on 10 years now, and I have a lot of relationships in the industry. People would just reach out to me and they'd say, "Brigitte, I have this project. I really want to work with you on it and here's what it is." I would love them and just want to make that work. We found ourselves doing these random projects like for one old client who I had done a PR job for a few years ago.

She wanted us to help her build up affiliate relationships for a launch that she was doing. We're like, "Well, that's not that different than what we're doing." It's sending outreach emails, making connections. You can see it's like ... There's huge, the Venn diagram between PR and those affiliate emails is there's an overlap, except we don't have a database of affiliates. My intern at the time didn't know anything about what those were. It was like, even though that felt like a 20% difference from what we were doing, I couldn't just hand that off, I was having to step in all the time.

This is jumping ahead. But what I really realized, my zones of genius are in sales 100%, in building the systems to make my team successful. Basically, those two things. Those two things are my job. Everything else that I do outside of that, literally stalls my business. At the time I was having this whole process that we're talking about, I had this visualization that came to me where I was like, "My company is a hot air balloon and I am the rock holding it down. I'm the rock. I'm the person holding it back." Because I keep saying, "Oh, yeah, we'll make that work." Or, "I'd love you too. Let's go forward and figure out a package for you."

It was just meant that I couldn't do any of those things that had to be done, like investing in the team training, doing more sales call because I was constantly ... [inaudible 00:36:24] You had the episode on The Squeeze. I was squeezed all the time and sometimes I feel like that still, but at least I'm squeezed in time doing the right things. I think it's really a small shade. I like this and this is why Sophy and I are so different with our stories of, she had three, I had one from outside look together. But that 20% of distraction was just completely keeping us from growing and the way that we could.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. Thank you for teasing that out with my very not well thought out question.

Brigitte Lyons: I hope that was the kind of that way you were looking forth.

Tara McMullin: Exactly. That was a good. I didn't even know what I was looking for, but that I know is going to be really helpful to people, because I see that all the time. To your point about this idea of being squeezed, I'll find the episode number for that. But I wrote a follow-up piece to that on the difference between being busy and being squeezed. I think when you're squeezed, things tend to be over complicated. You're all outside of your zones of genius. You're ignoring the business's core competencies and just chasing after things constantly running experiments.

But once you have it to a place where you're like, "No, this is the thing. This is what I'm 110% committed to," you might still be busy. But you know that that busy is in service of a higher goal and you can see there's light at the end of the tunnel. When you're squeezed, it feels like, "I don't know how this is ever going to and. I hope that it's going to end, right?" Like an every other thing you squeeze in there is an attempt to make it end. But with busy, you're like, "Okay, I just need to get to this spot. I'm going to work through this busy season.

When I hit this milestone or when this date comes, I'm going to pull back. I'm going to take my foot off the gas a little bit. Yes, super helpful. Okay. Sophy, I'm wondering if Brigitte's hot air balloon metaphor visual for us is similar to your feelings of needing to let go. Needing to untie the rope from around the rock. Talk us through for you, what did that process of actually saying goodbye to the other two businesses? What did that look like? And what did that feel like for you?

Sophy Dale: I definitely resonated with a hot air balloon metaphor. I think for me, I felt like there was a rock on the ground or maybe two rocks on the ground with the two other businesses than the hot air balloon was tethered to and that I was going to need to cut both of those ropes in order for the hot air balloon to rise into the sky. To follow through with the rope metaphor, I think I felt like I was pulling lots of different ropes or strings to do different things for the different businesses and none of it cohered.

Whereas if, once I was just thinking about one business. When I pulled, everything came in that direction all at once. That was the really big shift was feeling like it's all lining up. It's all pointing in the same direction. I might be doing different things within the business, but it's all leading to the same eventual place. Whereas if by definition, if you have three different businesses, they can't all be leading to the same eventual place.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. Did you have any grieving process around letting go of the other two businesses?

Sophy Dale: Not by the time I actually did it, I think. At the time I actually did it, I was so ready to do it. Even though I think that process of readiness was invisible to me for a long time running up to making the decision, I think I have a couple of times left relationships in the past, similar thing has been going on. I've been cutting ties mentally, but not being that aware of it and then suddenly, things come to the surface and you become aware of it. It actually felt really freeing and liberating to do and really lightening to do.

Tara McMullin: I love that and ties right into the hot air balloon metaphor. Brigitte, did you have a grieving process? Because I'm wondering if your original more complicated business was tied to some deep identity things you had about your career in the PR agency or in the PR world?

Brigitte Lyons: Yeah, it's such an interesting thing with PR for me, because I got into this whole business because my major was creative writing and I just wanted a writing career. I ended up in PR. While I was still in college, I did my first internships and it was where I was. I feel like until you ask that question knowing that I've always felt conflicted about that, if I were to go back is that what I would do? There was definitely a part of coming a piece with it, where I think in some ways it was more deeply committing to the identity I have more of a founder owner than as a PR person. That felt good.

I think, though, something that I did feel, Sophy talked about this earlier, which is, whenever you see somebody else doing something where you're like, "I could do that. Oh, I could be making money doing that. Why are they doing that and I'm not, and I could be having that slice of the pie." I think that that can be a positive force. I like to look at, "Okay, what am I feeling here? What am I not getting that I feel I need?" Honestly, the answer is usually recognition, right? That they're getting referred. Especially when you go into Facebook groups or forums where people are getting referred all the time, you're like, "I know how to do that. Why aren't I getting referred?"

You just have to find the appropriate way, I think, to meet that need. I have this question that I asked myself now that I think is related to this, which is, what would you do if you believed in your vision with your whole heart? Chasing that and saying, "Okay, sometimes maybe my vision does require me to go and have more recognition for what I'm doing here. It doesn't mean that I need it for doing all the things though. It just really helps me center in my vision and just say, "Do you believe in this vision or do you not?" And let go of that, those other forces that are not your highest and your best self. I think more than grieving, it's embarrassing, but it's more of that. Okay, I could do that.

Tara McMullin: Both Brigitte and Sophy's stories, remind me of something that I talked about in the commitment blueprint. That is the validation spiral. How it leads simultaneously to over committing and under committing. We start out wanting to be useful and feel like we have something valuable to contribute. In everything we say yes to goes toward creating that sense of usefulness. It could be a parenting responsibility, or an event you've been asked to help out with, or a new offer. A new client or an entirely new business. Because feeling useful and having something valuable to contribute feels good, or at least gives us a sense of identity even when it doesn't feel good, when you say yes to more and more things start to get complex.

As time goes on, we simply don't have the resources to allocate appropriately to each of our responsibilities. Now at this point, the only way we can continue is to either compromise our commitment to our responsibilities and do them half heartedly or continue on and burn out. Either way, we end up feeling pretty useless. The spiral starts again. The validation spiral certainly doesn't cover all of the reasons we tend to overcomplicate our businesses, but it covers a lot of them. If you're wondering whether you've overcomplicated your business, a helpful question to ask yourself is, do I have all of the resources I need to make this business as it's designed, work well.

Do you have the time, the money, the audience, the mental bandwidth, the energy to make it happen? Do you have access to others, who can supplement the time, money, mental bandwidth and energy required to make it happen? If the answer is no, there is absolutely no shame in that. It's just an indication that it's time to let go of the complication and design a simpler business that can get the results you want with fewer resources. Now, I know that sounds easier said than done. But what if it was as easy as it sounds, because I truly believe that it can be.

Now next week, you're going to hear how Brigitte and Sophy designed their simpler businesses, how things are running now and what results they're seeing. In the meantime, find out more about Brigitte Lyons and Podcast Ally at podcastally.com. And find out more about Sophy Dale at Sophydale.com. Finally, if you love conversations like this one that break down common assumptions and conventional wisdom about building a strong small business, you're going to love the What Works Network. All this month, we're talking about simplifying and I'm guiding the community through completing a one page business plan called the stronger business map.

Next month, we'll be digging into unconventional conversations about building your audience. In June, we'll be talking about getting help and building a team. Want to get in on the action, request your invitation to our next new member enrollment at explorewhatworks.com/network. What Works is produced by a Yellow House Media. Our production coordinator is Shawn McMillan, our production assistant is [New Blazer 00:46:39] and this episode was edited by Marty Seefeld. Until next time, keep doing what works.

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

Get What Works Delivered Straight To You

Every Thursday, I share fresh thoughts on leading your business along with hand-selected resources for becoming more effective, efficient, and profitable. Enter your email address to subscribe to What Works Weekly.

No spam. No fees. Unsubscribe at any time.

Thank you! Check your inbox to confirm your subscription!