EP 328: Navigating The Crossroads With Business Coach Justine Clay

Mar 23, 2021 | Mindset & Identity, Money & Life, Podcast

In This Episode:

  • How business coach Justine Clay decides whether or not to pursue an opportunity
  • Why she starts with feelings first and how she builds a “scaffolding” around those feelings with practical execution
  • What she did in the midst of the Great Recession to create a new opportunity by generously serving out-of-work creatives
  • How Justine views working on herself as an opportunity for growth

Opportunities always come at a crossroads.

Sometimes they’re intersections with big flashing lights and signs pointing to what’s ahead in either direction.

Other times, it’s impossible to know where each path goes. Maybe it’s even hard to see that there is a choice of direction in the first place.

But when we can really take notice of all the places we choose to go one direction or another, we can see that there are opportunities all around us—even when they’re not the opportunities we were looking for.

This month, we’ve been exploring how we spot opportunities and what we do with them once they’re in view.

Opportunities are, in effect, choices.

And while we don’t all have equal access to the same quantity or quality of choices, I think it’s valuable to notice when you do have a choice and how often you make a choice without even realizing it.

With every new opportunity—every choice—there’s a trade-off.

You might have the opportunity to hire someone to help you—but that means you’re trading off some amount of control.

You might have the opportunity to try out a new marketing channel—but that means you’re trading off time and effort you’ve been putting into another marketing channel.

You might have the opportunity to develop a new offer—but that means you’re trading off the focus you’ve put on what you’re currently offering.

Trading between one option and another isn’t a bad thing, of course.

It just is.

No matter what we choose or what opportunity to pursue, there’s something else we’re not choosing or pursuing. That’s opportunity cost.

If I hire someone for my business and trade off some control, I’m potentially missing out on keeping things simpler and more streamlined.

If I pursue a new marketing channel, I’m missing out on the potential growth that continuing to focus on my existing marketing channel could create.

If I develop a new offer, I’m missing out on the potential revenue that doubling-down on my current offer could generate.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Opportunity cost exists with every choice, on both sides of the crossroads.

Except that we rarely notice it.

When we make a choice or pursue an opportunity without realizing the trade-off, or when we fail to see we’re making a choice at all…

…we rob ourselves of the chance to truly evaluate the direction we want to take next.

We’re so eager to consider the benefit of choosing one direction or the other that we rarely stop to weigh what we’re giving up no matter what we choose.

This week, my guest is Justine Clay, a business coach for creatives. Justine is one of the most thoughtful decision-makers I know. And her story proves that taking the time to really weigh your options doesn’t mean you’ll never take a big step in a new direction.

In fact, during this conversation, you’re going to hear about a number of really big opportunities that Justine made—including moving to the US with her rebound boyfriend, taking a job she had no experience with, starting her own business, and then making a big pivot in the midst of the Great Recession.

Justine shares how she processes her opportunities and, ultimately, how she makes the choices she makes.

Now, let’s find out what works for Justine Clay!

Justine Clay: So I had literally all of these creatures beating a path to my door, because they thought I was an agent, so I must surely have access to some secret pile of jobs. I didn't. But because of my tendency to always go to that support mode, I would literally see anyone who asked. So people would come by, we talk, and over that time, I was without realizing kind of coaching them.

Tara McMullin: Opportunities always come at a crossroads. Sometimes they're intersections with big flashing lights and signs pointing to what's ahead in either direction. And other times, it's impossible to know where each path goes, maybe it's hard to see that there is a choice of direction in the first place, but when we can really take notice of all the places we choose to go one direction or another, we can see that there are opportunities all around us, even when they're not the opportunities we were looking for.

I'm Tara McMullin, and this is What Works, the show that explores how small business owners are building stronger businesses. This month, we've been exploring how to spot opportunities and what to do with them once they're in view. Opportunities are in effect choices, and while we don't all have equal access to the same quantity or quality of choices, I think it's valuable to notice when you do have a choice, and how often you make a choice without even realizing it.

You see, with every new opportunity, with every choice, there's a trade off, you might have the opportunity to hire someone to help you, but that means you're trading off some amount of control, you might have the opportunity to try out a new marketing channel. But that means you're trading off time and effort you've been putting into another marketing channel. You might have the opportunity to develop a new offer, but that means you're trading off the focus you've put on what you're currently offering.

Trading between one option and another isn't a bad thing, of course, it just is. No matter what we choose or what opportunities we pursue, there's something else we're not choosing or pursuing. That's opportunity cost. If I hire someone for my business and trade off some control, I'm potentially missing out on keeping things simpler and more streamlined. If I pursue a new marketing channel, I'm missing out on the potential growth that continuing to focus on my existing marketing channel could create. If I develop a new offer, I'm missing out on the potential revenue that doubling down on my current offer could generate.

Again, these trade offs aren't necessarily a bad thing. Opportunity cost exists with every choice on both sides of the crossroads, except that we rarely notice that. When we make a choice to pursue an opportunity without realizing the trade off, or when we fail to see that we're making a choice at all, we rob ourselves the chance to truly evaluate the direction we want to take next. We're so eager to consider the benefit of choosing one direction or the other, that we rarely stop to weigh what we're giving up no matter what we choose.

This week my guest is Justine Clay, a business coach for creative entrepreneurs and freelancers. Justine is one of the most thoughtful decision makers I know, and her story proves that taking the time to really weigh your options, doesn't mean you'll never take a big leap in a new direction. In fact, during this conversation, you're going to hear about a number of really big opportunities that Justine took advantage of, including moving to the U.S. with her rebound boyfriend, taking a job she had no experience with, starting her own business and then making a big pivot in the midst of the Great Recession.

Justine shares how she processes her opportunities, and ultimately, how she makes the choices she makes. Now, let's find out what works for Justine Clay. Justine Clay, welcome to What Works. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Justine Clay: Thank you for having me. I'm super excited.

Tara McMullin: All right. So, I am really looking forward to hearing your story from start to not finish, but to present day, and all of the changes, all of the evolutions that you've made as a business owner and a coach over the years. So, let's go ahead and just start at the very beginning, when and why did you first go into business for yourself?

Justine Clay: Sure. I'm actually going to backtrack a little bit even before that. So when I moved to New York in 1996, because I feel like in my life there have been this really like pivotal moments that quite often came out of the blue and sent me on a completely different path. I consider my life in, before 1996 and after 1996 terms. So, I moved here from London with a guy I had been dating for three months when we moved here. I had never been to the States before, I've never been to New York before. We literally arrived with a backpack each and that was it. So, I land in this new city and if anyone who was in New York in 1996 will remember that's when we had this enormous blizzards, when there was six feet of snow.

Tara McMullin: Oh, yes.

Justine Clay: There's me, little English girl in a little thin woolen winter coat, because we don't have puffer jackets or anything, we don't need them, we just need umbrellas. So I was woefully ill equipped, really in every capacity. So, I fell into the industry that then became my industry, which is working with creative entrepreneurs and freelancers. I landed a job after my, obviously, prerequisites stint of waitressing which, of course, you have to do if you're going to have a New York story. Then I landed a job for an art director.

So, that was probably the first opportunity I seized. I didn't know what an art director was at that time. It was before the internet, so I couldn't even Google it. So I pretty much just showed up and was just like, "Okay, what shall I do?" He said, "Can you send this fax." I had never sent a fax. So use the fax machine. I mean, I was so green around the gills, I almost cringe thinking about it now. But I just saw an opportunity, and I'm going to learn everything I can, I'm going to be as useful as I can be, and I'm just going to really make this work.

So I worked with him for a year. That's why I really got my first glimpse into what small business ownership looks like, and all of a sudden multitude of hats that people have to wear, and really just doing a lot of things that I had never done before, and had to ask for a lot of help on which was embarrassing, like, "How do I use this fax machine, even though you've hired me to send a fax for you?" Now, not only are you sending the fax yourself, how much do you show someone else how to do it. So, it was this real baptism with fire in many ways. He was a lovely person.

A year later, I was hired by his agent. So, this is 1997, and she was a rep for art directors, copywriters, and fashion illustrators. Anyone who's been in this industry will know that at that time, those people didn't have reps, like photographers had reps, hair or makeup people had reps, stylists had reps, the other folks didn't, they were left to their own devices. What was really fascinating about that job is, to rep a photographer, you kind of put together the quote on the estimate and all of these things and bill at the end, right, and [inaudible 00:07:47]

With an art director, you have to manage the entire project. So you have to be able to write the proposal at the beginning of the project. So you have to be able to forecast what that project is going to look like, you really have to really understand the entire creative process, and to be able to build that out ahead of time with the client. That's just one of the things. Right? It's actually a very complicated endeavor. It was a huge learning curve. The woman I worked for was a real industry veteran, and kind of get the pants off me. It was not like a softer learning experience, let's say. But I learned so much. So, over those eight years with her, I really became her right hand, really her partner in the business and everything but legal status in the business.

So I learned everything, and I had got, it was about 2006 at that point, we'd gone through, 2001, after 9/11, we'd gone through all of these really big things. I really cut my teeth in a lot of really extreme circumstances and really touching every piece of the business. So, 2006 arrives, I had really gone as far as I could go in that business, I'd gone as far as I could in terms of responsibility, in terms of my role, in terms of my pay level. Everything was capped out. So, I think it was about 35 or so, and I felt like, this is my window where I feel like, I'm still completely terrified of starting my own business, and have all the imposter phenomenon and all that around that, but I feel like I know enough to be able to give this a good college try.

This is my window because I didn't have kids yet, I wasn't married yet. It just felt like this is it. This is the opportunity I've got to just seize the day. So I started my first business, which was a creative management agency called Plum Creative. That's the story of how I got from being a sociology graduate to being a business owner in New York City representing creative talent in the fashion industry.

Tara McMullin: Got it. So first of all, yes, the winter of '96 was terrible, even if you were from here, and we're used to that sort of thing. It was bad. Second, you said that your first opportunity in New York was working for this art director, but it seems like the first opportunity you really seized was actually coming to the States in the first place. The decision ... I had totally forgotten about the story, by the way, and so I'm so glad you started there. The decision to make a transoceanic move with someone you'd been dating for three months, what was happening in your head? How were you thinking through that decision in that moment?

Justine Clay: I'm so glad that you asked that question, because it's my story, I forget about these things too. I should preface this, I would say to people, "I'm not this really impulsive person." Right? I'm not someone that's just like, "Sure, why not? Let's move 3000 miles away where I have no support network." But again, I was at a crossroads. So, I had done a four year degree in sociology and psychology. I was at that crossroads where I had to make a decision, what am I going to do next? I was going to have to do a master's in something, whether it's going to be social work, or to move into a therapy kind of direction, I was going to have to make a decision.

So again, I went to my go to place which was working in restaurants and stuff while I figured it out. I'm a big fan of like, "Let me take a breath and think about what I want to do the next step." The guy who ended up moving here lived above the restaurant I worked in London, and it was one of those beautiful row houses, and one those really quaint streets in northeast London. He was a hairdresser in the fashion industry. So he worked on photo shoots and stuff like that. He was planning to move over here in February. So I met him in like the December.

Now the funny thing is, we had been friends, we were running in a circle, and I had come up with like a really disastrous college boyfriend relationship toxic, blah, blah, blah. I was just having this nice rebound, palate cleanser with this hot hairdresser before he disappears off and does his thing. So when a month into our relationship, he says, "You know what? I really, really like you and I want you to come with me." Again, I just had this moment where I thought, "This is an opportunity, and it's never going to come back again, you'll never have this option again. There's nothing in your own self motivation that would make you move to New York without questioning yourself out of the decision, and it's here right now."

So, I knew at that point ... I asked myself questions, I would say, if you want better answers, ask better questions, which includes yourself. I thought, "How would you feel if you didn't take this opportunity?" I knew I would only ever feel regret, because the only reason I would have not done it would have been because I was scared, and that would be intolerable for me to live with that feeling. So, I came here ready with my eyes very wide open, and I thought, "Well, this thing, we've been dating three months at best, it has a 50,50 chance of success, just because we don't have history under our belts."

So, my only stipulation with this guy was, if we break up, and I can't get home because I had no money, I can't get home under my own steam, will you pay for me to get home? He said yes. Now, eight months into being here, he breaks up with me. I'm devastated. I mean, beyond devastated. But you know what? I was too proud. I'm like, "I'm not going to go home yet, because I'm not going home because my boyfriend dumped me. I know that in three months, I'll probably feel at least a bit better. So I'll give it three months. If I still feel this terrible, then I'll revisit the idea of going home." Then three months later, I felt still pretty terrible, but not quite as terrible. So I said, "Okay, I'll give it six months." And 25 years later, I am still here. Still here.

Tara McMullin: Oh, Justine, I love how much of optimistic realist you are, so logical in terms of the decision making, but also it takes someone with a really special brand of optimism, I think, to make those logical leaps. I just love that about you, and I love that about that story. I want to get into the rest of your business in a minute. But this story begs for me a question that I find so challenging to answer, but also incredibly intriguing, which is, when an opportunity lands in your lap. How do you figure out whether you want to do it because it's just there and it's easy, or whether it is the "right decision" to make?

Justine Clay: I think that's so interesting. I think that the way I approach it is ... I do think I'm a Pisces with a Virgo rising. So, I'm very intuitive and creative, and then I'm also very practical and pragmatic. So, I think that says a lot about how I make decisions. A lot of it is that feeling. So, you'll notice that when I said ... when I was thinking, "Should I go? Should I not go?" Of course, I was in love, I mean, I was in that first heavy stages of love. So of course, everything is saying, "Go." Right?

But the questions were, how will you feel if you do go? How will you feel if you don't go? And what would be the ramifications of that down the line? So, I think I really always start from a feeling place, and then I start to scaffold around it. What the realities? What the consequences of that choice will be? What will I do? When I look back now, I mean, I was 24, and I look back now and I say, "Even the fact that I had the presence of mind to say to him, here's my one stipulation that we have to agree to. It was very practical, get me home if I can't get home. Right? And I want to. Right?

So, I think I always go with my instincts, because they always are pretty good. Then I think it through based upon that. So, I wouldn't have moved here with a guy that was unstable, I wouldn't have moved here if I felt like I was putting myself in any danger to do so. Right? Or in any kind of jeopardy. So, I think that's how I do it.

Tara McMullin: Okay. I swear, we'll get to the rest of it soon. I love that you point out that the first question you ask is how am I going to feel? How would I feel if I didn't take this opportunity and just really feel into the decision. As someone who doesn't wear feeling, doesn't come easily, or I shouldn't say that, as someone who's learned to suppress their feelings, to get things done. I also find it really intriguing what that actually means for people. So when you say, "How would I feel?" Are you looking for a feeling in your body? Are you looking for an emotional state? What is it that you're actually feeling?

Justine Clay: That's a great distinction, because I know a lot of people ... Valerie and Kate from the Mastermind, they'll talk about this somatic feeling, that orderly feeling. I don't think that really is how I interpret my feelings. It's an emotional response to something. So for example, the feeling of, if I did this and it worked out, I would feel really proud and empowered, and it would have proved I could do something that was really scary to me. Right? So empowerment would be the feeling that I would have. If I had not gone, then the feeling would be regret, like wondering what if? Disappointment in myself. So I think it's an emotional response rather than a somatic response to things.

Tara McMullin: Okay, thank you. That's very helpful. You're going to hear what Justine's first few years of business were like, plus what happened to her business during the Great Recession in just a minute. But first, a word from our What Works partners. What Works is brought to you by the What Works Network. The What Works Network is where experienced business owners come together to level up how they run their businesses. Our shared goal is to build businesses that run smoothly, cost your headaches and sustainably make more money.

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Now, if that sounds like the kind of business support community you've been looking for, we would love to meet you, get all the details on the What Works Network, including the tools, events and training that come with your membership by going to explorewhatworks.com/network. What Works is also brought to you by Mighty Networks. When it comes to working our plans and realizing our goals, one of the biggest challenges is isolation. Trying to do it all without the support or input of others is a drag at best and a deal breaker at worst.

I'm betting you know exactly how this feels. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely, isolating endeavor. I bet you also know that your customers and clients feel the same way. They have changes they want to make, things they want to learn how to do and ideas they want to explore, but it's hard to do it on their own. That's where Mighty Networks comes in. Mighty Networks makes it easy for you to bring your customers fans or clients together so they can experience the support of a community of people working on similar things.

And your Mighty Network makes it easy for you to leverage your leadership expertise or creativity to support the people who gather with you through online courses and events. Plus Mighty Networks gives you the tools you need to charge for membership courses and even bundles. Find out for yourself by setting up a Mighty Network free of charge. Go to Mightynetworks.com to get started. Okay, so let's go back to 2006. Now you decide to go out on your own, you start Plum Creative. What were those first couple of years like in business for you?

Justine Clay: So again, being ever the practical Pisces that I am, I decided, "Okay, so here's my window of opportunity. This feels like the right time to do it. So, what do I need to do now?" So I decided I'm going to work from my second bedroom in Queens. Now, it should be known that I was a New York City girl through and through. I was running around town in my little cute shoes and my outfits, my red lipstick, my handbags. So for me to be like in Queens in my second bedroom was hard, it did not feel good to me at all, I felt really out of the loop.

So that was really a sacrifice and the choice that I made, but my choice was, I'm going to keep my expenses as low as possible, and I'm just going to give it a year and see how viable this is, as a business. I'm not going to go to the expression. This is again, 2006. So you know the building websites at that time was not an easy or cheap endeavor. Right? So I was like, "I'm not going to build a website, I'm going to have a business card, I'm going to come up with some press packet that I can ... PDFs I can send to people, I'm going to get on the phone, and I'm just going to do it old school, and just pound the pavement and see what business I can bring in.

One of the first ever jobs that I brought in for a copywriter that I worked with was Bloomingdale's, and it was a big project. We were off to the races. That was literally for me doing a cold call, trotting in there with portfolios, pitching what we did. So the first two years were great. One of the reasons why I decided to even start the business at that time was, like I said, I had learned so many of the ropes from somebody else. I'm forever grateful for her mentorship and her guidance. That said, she did business in a very different way than what I would do, and she was a different person than I was.

I felt like I wanted to build a business that reflected my values, that reflected who I was, reflected my taste level, that reflected how I wanted to show up in a business. So, I was able to do that, and it made it really freeing to not be working within the constraints of another business owner, to be the sidekick, to have it be your own thing, felt really great. So, we were going great, I was making more money than I ever made. I felt financial ease for the first time and it wasn't like tons of money. But it was 20 grand more than I'd ever made at the height of working for someone else. That was in my first year.

So I felt really great about it, and it was fabulous for two years, and then of course 2008 recession hits. Then the bottom just fell out of my business because as anyone in the creative especially the advertising industry knows that creative budgets are the first to get cut in a recession. Especially when you represent talent, not a 15, $100 a day, they're definitely not being hired. So, that was what those first two years were like, they were really great and then they were really bad.

Tara McMullin: Okay, so let's talk about the Great Recession and the opportunities that came out of that. You started to notice that the kinds of people that you worked with needed to do things differently, they needed to manage their careers differently, and you started to figure out what that could look like. Can you just talk us through what that process of noticing that shift was like, and then how you started to make it part of what you offered in terms of business?

Justine Clay: Sure. So, I was an agent in that capacity. So, how that works is, you have creative talent on your roster, you get gigs, you find the right person for that project, you manage a project, and you take 25% of the fees for managing the project and being the agent and bringing in the job. So, that's the business model. When the recession happened, like I said, the bottom fell out of the business. When things get hard, my go to place is always, how can I support people? How can I share what I know to help people at least feel better and not hopeless in this moment?

Of course, all creators were having a hard time. So creators were getting laid off from agencies, they were getting laid off from in house design departments. If they were freelancers already, their work could disappear too. So I had quite literally all of these creatures beating a path to my door, because they thought I was an agent, so I must surely have access to some secret pile of jobs. I didn't. But because of my tendency to always go to that support mode, I would literally see anyone who asked. Someone could call me from the corner on a payphone, which was going to help people do things then. I need to come show you my portfolio, can I do it? And I'd be like, "Sure." Because I had more time than I had product at that time.

So people would come by, and we'd talk and I would start to realize ... and I would give them an hour, an hour and a half because why not? Right? I would realize that over that time I was without realizing kind of coaching them. So by the end of it, I would have helped them figure out what their unique gift was, I would have helped them figure out who their ideal client was, I would have reworked their portfolio right there in front of them, I would have given them, because they had [inaudible 00:27:29] portfolios, I would have given them three or four or five names of people to call, and I would send them out of the door with at least a rudimentary plan. Right? Some clarity and some next steps.

They literally would leave 10 pounds lighter. That was where the shift came. Not that I thought all creators need to know how to market themselves better, but it was more how I could serve creators. I'm like, "Okay, I can either work in this business model." I kind of just inherited it, it wasn't one that I developed, I inherited it because that was what I knew how to do, where I represent basically this very elite, small roster of talent, maybe like 12 people, and yet there's this whole creative community that thinks that the only way they can make money is by having an agent take them on and take 25% of their fees. And not all agents, I felt like I was an agent and had integrity. Not all agents did. Right? Or do.

I was like, "Well, I'm a creative, and I learned how to do this, why don't I just teach people how to do it for themselves?" The realization of it wasn't as clear as that, it definitely came in, fits and starts, but my feeling is always that when your back is up against the ropes as mine wasn't a business, my business literally was not making any money. I had to figure something out. I saw this need, which in the end was an opportunity. Right? You see a need in the market, it becomes an opportunity. Then I thought, "Well, how can I look at what I do differently?" Instead of having it be like, "While I do these things for you, let me turn these things into steps and a curriculum, and let me start seeing if anyone wants me to teach it to them."

I do remember someone who was in an accountability group at that time. She said, "Well, aren't you cannibalizing your own business in doing that?" I'm like, "I don't care, I think there's always going to be people who want someone to do it for them, and there's going to be people who are going to want to be empowered to learn it themselves." But I essentially wanted to be able to teach people how to be their own agent if they wanted to. Then if they wanted an agent, it would just be because it was another string to their bow, another person out there with eyes and ears open, not because that was the only stream of well being and money that flowed to them.

So, that's how that happened. That's where my coaching business was born, and it was a very new version of it. So I had both businesses for about four years, as I build up the coaching thing and took on clients that I didn't charge a lot of money and just tested it and saw what worked and what didn't work and built it little by little.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. I really liked the distinction you made between inheriting a business model from an industry really to reworking things for yourself from the ground up based on a need. I think that, when you say, "Well, I realized that I could teach people how to do this for themselves." I think that today sounds like, of course, that's the direction you took, that's the direction you're supposed to take. Right? But one, then that wasn't true. Two, today, I think, the inherited business model is often, "Oh, I'll teach people how to do what I do." Which doesn't make it a bad model, but it does mean that you lose out on some of the opportunity that comes from figuring something out based on the need, and based on how you can show up and serve and finding that overlap between those two things.

I don't know if I have a question there, but I was just really intrigued by that distinction. I think it's a really, really important one. So I appreciate you sharing it. Actually, I want to shift gears a lot now, and talk less about the structure of your business and how that came to be, and talk more about your psyche as a business owner. I think of you as someone who is always working on herself in really profound ways. I'm so inspired by the way that you work on yourself. I know that one of the things that you worked on early on as a business owner was around your money stories. What made you focus on your money mindset, and how has that work impacted the way you do business?

Justine Clay: Sure. That was a big one for sure. I appreciate the compliment. I do work on myself a lot. Whenever something is not working, I always assume I'm at least 50% responsible for it. Right? So even if I'm in a terrible relationship, which I have been, and the other person is clearly doing some messed up stuff, I'm always just like, "Well, I am here, what am I bringing to this dumpster fire?" So, it's always my MO, which is, what am I bringing to this?

Now, around the money mindset, this is really interesting. I always thank my lucky stars that my first business even though it wasn't the one that is like my purpose driven business, which is what the one I currently have now is, it taught me so much. One of those things was, I was representing top level talent. The only reason I was representing top level talent was, the first business I worked on with this woman represented top level talent. So, that was a good inheritance. Right? So, we would be pitching a project, and I would say to the creative, "Okay, so they want this, they want that, let's talk about pricing and fees." They would say, "Well, I want $10,000 to write that brand book." I would be like, "Oh, how much?"

I mean, to me, it was astronomical amount of money, you'll make $1500 a day to write, right? But because I was acting on behalf of these people, and I can clearly see that talent, and I could see that these people were paying for it. I'm like, "Well, if I think that's a lot of money, what's my hang up around value here, and creativity? What is it about that makes me gasp that way. So, I learned through doing it for other people and advocating for other people how to assign value to something that is as subjective as creativity.

So, I'm forever grateful that I got to cut my teeth on other people's talent, which I could appreciate, rather than my own talent, which is oftentimes [inaudible 00:34:15] to see. Right? So, that was the first thing, I was being exposed to these big budgets, I was being exposed to these very fabulous people in New York, who were fascinating and talented. I went to this writers party, Michael Cunningham, the author is there and I'm talking to him, these are just such exciting circles to be in. You start to see the discrepancy of what your mindset is around money and what other people's are. So, I was rolling in these more ... and it wasn't even moneyed circles, but no one had a poverty mindset in these circles, and everyone was fabulous and creative, "I'm doing great." Right.

It was really weird. I was working in the fashion industry, I was working in New York, and there was this tendency to like, "You have to look a certain way." So I was overspending, I was not saving anything, I was not making what I needed to make. I'm like, "Hang on a minute, something is out of whack here, what's missing?" Once I started to even understand that money mindset was a concept ... Self help, I love it. Personal development, lay it on me, I cannot get enough of it. So, that just happened to be one of those things I initially started on earth a little bit.

I would [inaudible 00:35:46] the more I read, the more I heard, I'm like, "This is me, this is me, this is me." There's a way that you can actually change how you engage with money. Money is one of those things that we bump up against, probably 100s of 1000s of times a day. Right? It's not something you can't be cool with if you want to have it. So, once I started to even just do a little bit of digging, it was very clear where my scarcity mindset came from. I grew up in a middle class family in the '70s, where we had the oil crisis, where there was a recession, where there was inflation issues. I was like, "My parents were poor middle class for a long time." I remember them worrying about money.

So, we always had what we needed, but there was never a penny extra. Never. Right? So that was something I grew up on, and I saw my parents giving us everything we needed, but how much of their time and energy and worry went into accounting for every penny? I think one of my core tenants in just life and business and how I coach is that, everybody has gifts, and has a purpose. Your gifts are how you live your purpose, and you create positive impact and how you touch the lives of others and help them transform in whatever ways they need to.

If you're spending even a moment of time worrying about money, that's a moment of time and energy that you're not putting somewhere else in the service of other people, in the service of yourself, in the service of your family, advocacy, wherever you should be spending your time or want to be spending your time. If you're even spending one moment worrying about money, that's a wasted moment. So, my belief is also that as a coach, I will never ask someone to do what I won't do myself or haven't done myself.

So, the creative community also typically struggles with scarcity mindset issues around money. Right? Because they were steeped in stories and references from culture, from their teachers, from their family, that if you are creative, you can never make money, you can't get a real job. There's something a little bit odd about you, is frivolous, whatever it might be. Right. So, as far as earliest people can remember, if they're on the creative field, they've been told whether or not they realize how much they internalize it, that is not a way that you can thrive. That is not really valuable.

So, it was really critical for me that I figure out how to get past this and have a tactical proven methodology that I could help other people do the same, because that to me is probably the biggest obstacle that people have in building a thriving profitable creative business, is just all these issues around money. It doesn't have to be that way. It's not actually even that complicated.

Tara McMullin: Yes, I love that. Is there a particular example that comes to mind of a change that you made in your business and your pricing and an offer that you made, because you realized there was some sort of scarcity story or maybe a lack of confidence around value, and how changing that allows you to make a different decision about that particular component?

Justine Clay: Sure. So I will say that when I started this business, like I said, it was like a side business, and the other first business did rebound, and that was really the primary income generator. I made it a very deliberate choice, at the beginning I think I charged like $700 for coaching. It was just enough that they would have to think about writing the check, but not really that much that I felt like it's not amazing, it's not too terrible. Right? So I was really learning on the job, and I was charging just enough for them to show up basically and do the work.

I incrementally raised my rates. I remember when I went from 700 to 900, and then I went from 900 to 3600, or something, I just made this bigger leap because I thought it's okay at the beginning that I did this, is not okay that I just incrementally inched it up, because my expertise and experience is exponentially compounding, and I am not in the same ballpark as my peers, and I need to be. I need to be in the same price range as other people who [inaudible 00:40:38] otherwise, people will not value what I do, they won't. People will value you less if you under charge for your services, and if you charge what is valueless, which can come with a steep price tag sometimes.

So, I would still consider my pricing to be very reasonable for what people get out of it. But it's certainly much more than it was. So I would say, when I started to see like "Okay, I feel like I've got enough experience to be able to hold my own in the peer group I want to be in, now I'm going to make that leap." It is terrifying. Right? You, of course, think that no one's going to buy it [inaudible 00:41:21] and then you sell that first package. And you're like, "Oh, all right. I guess this is the price now." Then you can always make that next jump again. Each time I make a jump in pricing, I always really think about it, because I want to make sure that it is based upon value, but I am being fairly compensated for the results.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. As we start to wrap up here, I'm curious what opportunities you see on the horizon? Is there something that you have your eye on, something that maybe nagging at you a little bit that you're like, Oh, I'm going to be thinking about that?"

Justine Clay: Sure. So, in my business, I always say to people like, "Focus on the things that you love to do, and try to actually build the business that supports you staying in your zone of genius." The things that I love to do are coaching, writing, and speaking. These are the three things that I love to do. So, I've got my coaching services in such a place now, I feel really good about them. They speak to my target clients, which are established creative business owners who've been in business like five plus years, there's components where people can come in at different entry points, they can do group, they can do one on one, they can do a VIP day. Right? There are these differences, build your own adventure.

So I feel really good about the coaching piece of it. I have deliberately chosen a high touch model because I really like being in it with people. I don't want to build an XP School. Right? I like being in it with people. The speaking, I love speaking to people, I love it. I love it. I love it. Last night I did a webinar for CreativeMornings FieldTrips. Just to have people there that are from all over the world. So whether it's virtually, whether it's in person, giving presentations, because I'm really good at, again, the Pisces and the Virgo of just taking ideas and then turning them into a really well thought out beautiful presentation. I love doing that, and I love being in community with people and bringing my personality to it.

So I'm a bit of a showman really, when it comes to that, and being on stage, I love that too, so when we can do that again. So, more speaking, whether it's virtually or teaching workshops, I would love to do more, because I think I'm an ambivert. Right? I definitely need my time to go away and think and do my things that then put me on a stage or in front of who, and I'll just do my little pony show. Then the other thing I keep threatening to do it, is to write a book. That is the thing that keeps nagging at me a little bit. I think I know enough about myself now that I do see an opportunity, and I see when the timing is right.

This may percolate for another few years. I don't know, I've got two really little kids. One of them is home right now. It's not the time to take a year off and write a book. Right? So, I will know when the time is right, and I'm sure that there will be a book in me at some point.

Tara McMullin: I love the spaciousness and also the confidence in that answer. It's so good. Justine, what are you excited about right now?

Justine Clay: I always felt excited. Honestly, even when things are bad, I always feel excited because I think I'm always really hopeful. Again, that's optimism piece of my personality. I'm excited for us to be moving out of what has been a really, really horrible period in American history, we're still very much in so much of it. But I'm excited that there have been big wins in what I consider to be the right side of history. I'm excited to see where that can go. I'm always excited for how people and businesses evolve. I think that's why I love personal and professional development. I feel like we're all evolving all the time.

If we're willing to be in that place of seizing opportunities, doing uncomfortable things, putting ourselves in community with like minded people, great things can happen, miraculous things can happen. So I'm excited for what 2021 as we emerge from this pandemic, what could be possible, and I'm not Pollyanna about it, I know that there's always going to be a lot of things that are just as wrong as they are right. But I feel excited about being on an upswing.

Tara McMullin: That is just a wonderful answer. Justine, thank you. Thank you for talking us through how you see opportunity, how you seize the opportunity, and how you're continuing to evolve and adapt as a business owner and as a human being. I really appreciate, this was a fantastic conversation.

Justine Clay: Thank you, Tara, I love talking to you.

Tara McMullin: Justine brings a thorough thoughtfulness to the way she navigates the crossroads that have come up in her life and business. Before I wrap things up here, I want to come back to a piece of Justine's thought process that I've been thinking about quite a bit in the weeks since this interview. Justine said she starts with the question, how will you feel? And then builds the scaffolding for the decision and how she's going to take action on it from there. She uses both her intuitive and practical natures to evaluate her choices and make plans. You don't have to be a Pisces with a Virgo rising to do that, we all have some mix of intuition and practicality.

Most of us have learned to lean on one more than the other. But what would happen if you found an equanimity between these two ways of processing your opportunities? How could you benefit from bringing a more intuitive approach to the way you navigate crossroads? And how could you benefit from a more practical approach? Find out more about Justine Clay at Justineclay.com. Next week, we'll have an episode full of more stories of navigating crossroads and pursuing opportunities, and then in April, we're going to be talking all about simplifying.

What Works is produced by Yellow House Media. Our production coordinator is Sean McMillan. This episode was edited by Marty Seefeldt, our production assistants are Kristen Runvik and Lou Blazer. Get more of What Works delivered to your inbox every Thursday. I share a letter on business building and leadership, plus resources from around the web on building a stronger business in our free newsletter, What Works Weekly. To subscribe, go to explorewhatworks.com/weekly.

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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