EP 329: The Anatomy Of An Opportunity

Mar 30, 2021 | Growth, Mindset & Identity, Podcast

Sometimes it can feel like you don’t find opportunity, opportunity finds you.

But even then, it’s the fact that you were paying attention—listening, watching, taking it all in—that allows you to act on it.

It can make me sick to my stomach to think of all of the opportunities I let slide because I wasn’t paying attention!

All this month, we’ve been looking at identifying opportunity and making exciting things happen. To kick off the series, I shared a framework for examining your business through the lens of sustainability to discover your next opportunity.

Then, I talked with Anna Wolf from Superscript Marketing about how she realized that the building sustainable structures & systems for her business was her big opportunity.

Next, we turned our attention to financial sustainability and I shared my 2019 conversation with Systems Saved Me Founder, Jordan Gill.

Finally, I shared my conversation with business coach Justine Clay and we looked at how identifying choice is a big part of realizing you have an opportunity–and how to navigate the crossroads when it is time to make a choice.

As we close out the month, I have 3 more inspiring stories for you—all on the exact same theme: paying attention.

Zoe Linda Pollard shares how she went from working in a digital marketing agency to starting a social media strategy business to finally discovering that her big opportunity was to focus on helping business owners build & run affiliate marketing programs.

Erin Detka shares how she went from running a massage studio to starting a web design business in mid-2020 and how it helped her to get back to the kind of lifestyle she really values.

And finally Corinna vanGerwen shares how she started her business doing something that–at most–only a few people had done before. And how paying attention to her past experience and the current market helped her find the perfect niche opportunity!

Before we get to those stories, though, I thought I’d add my own in.

In the last 12 years, I’ve certainly spotted and acted on plenty of opportunities. I wrote & sold one of the first ebooks in the craft & maker business world. I created a group business coaching program before that was a thing. I took the leap to appear on CreativeLive in front of 10s of thousands of live viewers and teach 12 classes over 4 years.

But I’m incredibly proud of the story behind YellowHouse.Media and how paying attention helped us spot the right opportunity and build a fast-growing business.

I can remember back in 2015 when I started jonesing to host a podcast… I had no idea how podcasting-as-marketing worked. I knew that I had an opportunity to connect with my existing audience and connect with new people to grow my audience.

But it was early enough—which wasn’t very early at all—in podcasting that “if you build it, they will come” still applied.

I worked with the team at CreativeLive to develop the show and, honestly, aside from the questions I asked, it really wasn’t different from other small business shows. After I got through most of the initial new podcast host nerves, I looked for ways we could make the show better.

It didn’t take long to land on the premise of the show that we have today.

What did take quite a bit longer was developing a strategic approach to the show so that we could produce the highest quality content we could while also creating a solid marketing foundation for our business.

We finally landed on it about 3 years ago now. And that’s when the next opportunity started to dance in my peripheral vision.

We got really, really good—if I do say so myself—at producing this show. And I couldn’t help share how we did it with other podcasters or aspiring podcasters.

It quickly became clear that no one else was producing a podcast this way. We weren’t going for all-out downloads because were weren’t interested in sponsorship. We weren’t just having fun because this was a core marketing channel for us. And we weren’t just trying to copy & paste a blog into an audio format.

We were really focused on how podcasting as a medium could tell the stories we wanted to tell and get people asking the questions we wanted them to ask, all while building our brand credibility and giving us a trusted platform to share our offers from.

But it wasn’t just our approach to the content and strategy of the show.

It was also our approach to getting the thing done. We’d worked hard on creating a seamless internal production workflow, something few other businesses of our size had.

So when Sean started thinking about starting his own business, podcast production seemed like a no-brainer to me.

At first, Sean approached things as a freelance editor and producer. But we could quickly see the opportunity was much bigger than that.

So by summer 2019, we had agreed we partner on a production agency. And we wanted to solve 2 core problems that we had spotted among small business owners who podcast.

First, we knew that most podcasters had no strategy behind the content they were cranking out every week. And so they were doing something that they loved, but it seemed extraneous to the business… because it virtually was. We could change that.

And second, we knew that most podcasters were either haphazardly project managing their own production and outsourcing to an editor, a virtual assistant, or just trying to it all themselves. So it was a rough process with lots of frustrations and unmet expectations. We knew we could change that, too.

Our path forward has been to create a soup-to-nuts production packages that covers show development, content strategy, workflow set up, project management, editing, marketing support, and—of course—moral support as needed, too!

I honestly thought it might take some time to ramp up to a full slate of clients. It took 4 months.

We brought on additional help, and we were at capacity again in another 4 months.

We brought on more help and have topped out again. We’re currently booked through September 2021 and I have two sales calls on the calendar right now that could mean we’re booked out to the end of the year by the time you listen to this.

To be clear, no one was asking me for a full-service production agency. No one said, “Hey, Tara! You like podcasts. Can you take this off my hands?”

But because I was paying attention, I could feel the need and knew we could meet it in a way that no one else was doing. It was a risk—but not a risky one.

There is one other aspect of this opportunity that I want to touch on and that was how I’d matured as a business owner over the years. 10 years ago, I could not have built this business in this way. I didn’t have the required focus, discipline, or process-orientation. I’d put a focus on developing those qualities over the last 5 years–and the result was being able to take advantage of this opportunity.

Sometimes the “old” me looks at YellowHouse.Media and is just in awe of what we’ve built. Not necessarily the revenue it’s generating–although that’s good, too. But I’m in awe of the systems and procedures we’ve developed. I’m proud of helping to create a container that allows Sean to thrive without me most days—since most days, I’m still focused on What Works.

I’m not telling you this to brag. I’m telling you because opportunity is there if we’re paying attention and willing to take action. If we’re listening, we can hear the opportunities—sometimes in whispers but often in shouts. If we’re watching, we can see the crossroads where we have the chance to take the road less traveled.

Alright, enough about my story. Let’s get to Zoe, Erin, and Corinna’s stories!

Tara McMullin: This special episode of What Works is brought to you by Mighty Networks. Mighty Networks makes it easy to bring your audience, content, courses and events all together under one digital roof. Instead of sending your customers to three or four different spots on the internet to get what they need, you can give them easy, simplified access to all your best stuff and others who are working toward the same goals. At What Works, we've been a Mighty Network's customer for almost five years. They've helped us build our brand, nurture our community and explore new ways of supporting small business owners like you. What could Mighty Network help you do? Find out for yourself by starting your free trial at mightynetworks.com

Sometimes it can feel like you don't find opportunity, opportunity finds you. But even then it's the fact that you were paying attention, listening, watching, taking it all in that allows you to act on it. It can make me sick to my stomach to think of all of the opportunities I let slide because I wasn't paying attention. I'm Tara McMullin, and this is What Works. The show that explores how small business owners are building stronger businesses without the should's and supposed to's. All this month, we've been looking at identifying opportunity and making exciting things happen. To kick off the series, I shared a framework for examining your business through the lens of sustainability to discover your next opportunity. Then I talked with Anna Wolf from Superscript Marketing about how she realized that building sustainable structures and systems for her business was her big opportunity. Next, we turned our attention to financial sustainability and I shared my 2019 conversation with Systems Saved Me, founder, Jordan Gill.

Finally, I shared my conversation with business coach, Justin Clay, and we looked at how identifying choice is a big part of realizing you have an opportunity in the first place and how to navigate the crossroads when it's time to make a choice. Now, as we close out the month, I have three more inspiring stories for you all on the exact same theme, paying attention. Zoe Linda Pollard shares how she went from working in a digital marketing agency to starting a social media strategy business. To finally discovering that her big opportunity was to focus on helping business owners build and run affiliate marketing programs. Erin Detka shares how she went from running a massage studio to starting a web design business in mid 2020 and how it helped her to get back the kind of lifestyle she really values.

And finally, Corinna vanGerwen shares how she started her business doing something that at most only a few people had ever done before. And how paying attention to her past experience and the current market helped her find the perfect niche opportunity. Before we get to those stories though, I thought I'd add my own end. In the last 12 years, I've certainly spotted and acted on plenty of opportunities. I wrote and sold one of the first e-books in the craft and maker business world. I created a group business coaching program before that was a thing. I took the leap to appear on Creative Live in front of tens of thousands of live viewers and taught 12 classes over four years. But I'm incredibly proud of the story behind Yellow House Media and how paying attention helped us spot the right opportunity and build a fast growing business.

I can remember back in 2015, when I started Jones into Host a Podcast, I had no idea how podcasting as marketing worked. I knew that I had an opportunity to connect with my existing audience and connect with new people to grow my audience, but it was early enough, which in fact wasn't very early at all in podcasting that if you build it, they will come still applied. So I worked with the team at Creative Live to develop the show. And honestly, aside from the questions I asked, it wasn't really that different from other small business shows. And after I got through most of my new podcast host nerves, I looked for ways we could make the show better. And it didn't take me long to land on the premise of the show that we have today.

What did take quite a bit longer, was developing a strategic approach to the show so that we could produce the highest quality content we could while also creating a solid marketing foundation for our business. We finally landed on it about three years ago now, and that's when the next opportunity started to dance in my peripheral vision. We got really good if I do say so myself at producing this show. And I couldn't help, but share how we did it with other podcasters or aspiring podcasters. And it quickly became clear that no one else was producing a podcast this way. We weren't going for all out downloads because we weren't interested in sponsorship. We weren't just having fun because this was a core marketing channel for us. And we weren't just trying to copy and paste a blog into an audio format.

We were really focused on how podcasting as a medium could tell the stories we wanted to tell and get people asking the questions we wanted them to ask all while building our brand credibility and giving us a trusted platform to share our offers from. But it wasn't just our approach to the content and strategy of the show. It was also our approach to getting the thing done. We'd worked hard on creating a seamless internal production workflow, something few other businesses of our size had. So when Shawn started thinking about starting his own business podcast, production seemed like a no-brainer to me. And at first John approached things as a freelance editor and producer, but we could quickly see the opportunity was much bigger than that.

So by summer 2019, we had agreed to partner on a production agency and we wanted to solve two core problems that we had spotted among small business owners who podcast. First, we knew that most podcasters had no strategy behind the content they were cranking out every week. And so they were doing something that they loved, but it seemed extraneous to the business because it virtually was. And we could change that. And second, we knew that most podcasters were either haphazardly project managing their own production and outsourcing to an editor and a virtual assistant, or they were just trying to do it all themselves. So it was a rough process with lots of frustrations and unmet expectations. We knew we could change that too.

Our path forward has been to create a soup to nuts production package that covers show development, content strategy, workflow set up, project management, editing, marketing support. And of course, moral support as needed too. I honestly thought it might take some time to ramp up to a full slate of clients, but it took four months. We brought on additional help and we're at capacity again in another four months. We brought on more help and have topped out again. We're currently booked through September, 2021, and I have two sales calls on the calendar right now that could mean we're booked out to the end of the year by the time you listen to this. Now, to be clear, no one was asking me for a full service production agency. No one said, "Hey, Dara, you like podcasts. Can you take this off my hands?"

But because I was paying attention, I could feel the need and knew we could meet it in a way that no one else was doing. It was a risk, but not a very risky one. Now, there is one other aspect of this opportunity that I want to touch on. And that was how I'd matured as a business owner over the years. 10 years ago, I could not have built this business in this way. I didn't have the required focus, discipline or process orientation. I'd put a focus on developing these qualities over the last five years. And the result was being able to take advantage of this opportunity. And sometimes the "old me" looks at Yellow House Media, and is just in awe of what we've built. Not necessarily the revenue it's generating, although that's good too, but instead I'm in awe of the systems and procedures we've developed. I'm proud of being helping to create a container that allows Sean to thrive without me most days. Since most days, I'm still focused on What Works.

And I'm not telling you this to brag, of course. I'm telling you because opportunity is there if we're paying attention and willing to take action. If we're listening, we can hear the opportunities sometimes in whispers and sometimes in shouts. If we're watching, we can see the crossroads where we'll have the chance to take the road less traveled. All right. Enough about my story. Let's get to Zoe, Erin and Corina's stories. First up, Zoe Linda Pollard, an affiliate marketing expert, and the creator of the Affiliate Program Toolkit, the complete guide to building and growing an affiliate marketing program. How did Zoe land on affiliate marketing as an opportunity? I'll let her explain

Zoe Linda Pollard: One way I identified opportunity in my business was when I niched down. So originally when I started my business, I was super focused on social media strategy because that's what I had known when I was working full-time job, but I also knew influencer marketing. So when I saw that, that was not very many people talking about influencer marketing in the world of online entrepreneurship. And this was back in 2016. I realized I wanted to kind of take what I knew from my digital marketing agency experience and kind of bring it to this world, but it didn't go so well. I launched why say launched, I create a course and launched it to crickets. And then what I kind of noticed was it wasn't necessarily about "influencer marketing" as much as it was about affiliate marketing. And basically taking everything I knew about influencers and strategies that I knew about influencer marketing and bringing it basically like meeting online entrepreneurs in the middle, instead of like asking them to change the way that they are currently marketing and doing that business.

So essentially I went from being a social media, like consultant and social media strategist to going all in with being an affiliate program wizard. And I set up affiliate programs for people. And the more I started to reach out to people on behalf of my clients, inviting them to become affiliates, the more responses I would get saying, "Oh, I didn't realize that was a person that did this. Specifically, I want an affiliate program too, can I hire you to also reach out to people for me?" And it kind of snowballed from there. And I think since then, I've been very... I would say like, I'm quite quick to take action on things where I do see an opportunity because I know how well it worked in the past. And I also have like very little expectations. Like if I go with my gut on an idea, I don't really have like a set goal or a set figure in mind.

I just know that I have to take action on it. If I see that there is something that isn't really being spoken about or isn't really being told, or there's a service that isn't really being offered. And I know that there's people who need help with it. It's not something that I just kind of decide off the top of my head. It's all reactive based on what I've heard. And just from basically like social listening, seeing what my ideal customer need and then kind of identifying that need and going with my gut on it. And yeah, since making that shift from social media strategy to really niching down and being wanting to be the go-to person for affiliate program strategy and affiliate program management at the time, that had a huge impact on the way I run my business.

Tara McMullin: Finding a specific unique niche is a perfect way to find or create an opportunity for your business. The reason is that when you're as clear as a bell about what you do and who you serve, it's so much easier to build an audience, develop an offer and make the sale. Would you rather be a life coach for women or a life coach for women rising through the ranks of the tech industry? Sure. There are less women in tech than there are women in total, but women in tech is still a huge underserved market. Niching down doesn't have to mean finding the teeny tiniest segment of the market to set up shop in. It just means being incredibly clear about who you serve as well as how and why you serve them and not being afraid to say it. Next up, let's hear from Erin Detka, the founder of DTK Studios, a web design agency.

Less than a year ago, Erin was a massage therapist, but the pandemic threw her business into a tailspin, a change that was not entirely unwelcomed for Erin. Erin kept paying attention though, and eventually spotted her opportunity.

Erin Detka: My entry into entrepreneurialism was starting a private massage therapy practice in 2014. In becoming an entrepreneur, I was guided by the following three pillars. First, I love being part of a person's team. I am happy to be in the background acting as a guide, making sure they are informed and prepared and then watching them grow and succeed. Second, I love the foundational aspects of starting and running a business. I knew massage therapy would not be my forever career. I was good at it. I enjoyed the work and I enjoyed the relationships with my clients. I knew being good at something and being passionate about something are different. I didn't feel the passion from massage that I wanted out of a career. And my third pillar was that I am creating a life where I can take time off to visit my family and explore and experience the world without having to ask my boss for permission.

My awareness around recognizing a need to shift and pivot came about in mid 2018. My goal of having a full schedule of clients booked out a month in advance had been achieved. What I wasn't willing or able to see was how much meeting this goal compromised my third pillar around lifestyle. Unless I saw more clients or raised my prices or shared my space with other people to cut costs, my income was capped. Due to the physical nature of being a massage therapist, some of my hobbies were now put up on a shelf in order to keep my body healthy and strong for my job. And I felt obligated to limit my vacation time due to having consistent weekly and bi-weekly clients. I wasn't ready to let go of my massage practice at this point. However, I was ready to diversify my income to allow more flexibility in when and where I worked.

I began researching careers online where I could still work directly with clients, but have more flexibility in my work hours and have the ability to work remotely. For a large portion of 2019, I developed a product based business focused on incorporating meditation into a massage session. I was preparing for a launch in April, 2020, and we all know what happened in 2020. In those first few months of the pandemic, I realized that my massage practice and my ready to launch meditation massage business would both be put on hold indefinitely. I did try to continue to develop the meditation massage business, but without a massage practice to turn to, my heart just wasn't in it. As I navigated the closing down of my massage practice, I explored and meditated and sought counsel and support on what my next path would be.

My three pillars still stood strong. I wanted to support people in their success. I love the process of starting a business and I needed the flexibility to see my family more and experience more of the world. What ended up happening is a longtime mentor who helped with the meditation massage business, offered up his time and expertise to those interested in starting a website design agency. I jumped on board and I am so glad I did. Creating a web design agency has been fun and challenging and overwhelming and wonderful. I was not expecting so much fulfillment from the creative aspect of the profession. I get to be a person behind the scenes for fellow small business owners to help showcase their services and products.

I get to learn about many different businesses and business owners and use that knowledge to continue to grow my skills and provide a high quality service. And I have the ability to do some work remotely so I can visit my family, scale my business beyond myself and my time to allow more income and take those hobbies off the shelf to lead a more balanced and thriving life. What I've learned through this process is how much awareness and presence I've developed in looking for opportunities, having the courage to ask for help and the grit and determination to learn and create something new. And remaining flexible and open to creating something from scratch. I'm now in the process of building a business and lifestyle that I can thrive in, both professionally and personally.

And I have the confidence in myself that I can continue to pivot and adjust and refine my business when life says so.

Tara McMullin: I love how Erin can so clearly define what she's looking for from her business and how she recognized that her massage practice was no longer meeting those needs. Now, opportunity doesn't always look like starting a brand new business with a brand new skill, but it can. And because Erin was paying attention and willing to give it a go, she's really blossoming as an entrepreneur. Finally, let's hear from Corinna vanGerwen. Corinna is a gift stylist and dreaming up that business idea was her first opportunity, but like Zoe, Corinnna's second opportunity came from figuring out exactly who she could serve and why they would value what she was doing.

Corinna vanGerwen: Most people probably haven't heard of a gift stylist before, and that might be because I'm pretty sure I made up the term. When I started 10 years ago, I found only three people online who were running a business wrapping gifts. Two overseas and one in the states. There was no one in Canada, as far as I knew other than me. And as far as I know there's still isn't. A gift stylist is exactly what it sounds like. I wrap presents for a living and it's as amazing as it sounds. I got to work with gorgeous materials every day and create beautiful gifts. And I'm so glad I made up this job. Plus I did a mix of personal and corporate wrapping for various types of clients and jobs. It was a real mixed bag and I was having a bit of trouble finding my niche.

All I knew was that I wanted to build a business around gift stuff. That's what my passion was. That's what I was obsessed with. And then sometime in my fourth year of business, or so, it slowly dawned on me that I knew exactly who my audience was. My background is as a magazine editor. And when I was an editor, PR agencies would send me things all the time. Products to test out that they hoped we would feature in the magazine. Sometimes items would just arrive in an envelope or a bag, but sometimes the package would be quite unique. And it was always the beautiful and unusual packages that stood out. Those products didn't automatically get featured in the magazine, but I definitely spent more time considering them. And if you're trying to get your brand featured in a magazine, that extra attention is gold. After I worked in magazines, I did about a year stint at a boutique PR agency where I was exposed to that other half of the equation, putting together and sending out product to the media.

And so about four years into working as a gift stylist, I was like, "I know who I can serve. I know that the PR industry is constantly sending products to the media and these days to influencers as well. They need to grab their attention and try to get people to cover these products and brands. And I can help them. I can help them make their packages Instagram worthy, capture that attention." At the time of the different types of projects, I was getting, working with PR and marketing professionals on their gifting campaigns, those are my favorite jobs. And that's how my niche was born. It took me a long time to recognize that niche, but I don't know that I would have recognized it without all that experimentation. Trying different things, different types of services and the different types of clients. That allowed me the space to discover where my services would be most useful and most profitable and who I was most passionate about working with.

Once I recognize that opportunity, I homed in on it. Focusing on a narrow audience, made everything in my business come together so much easier because I know exactly who I'm talking to. I understand what their needs are, what they're trying to achieve, who they're trying to reach. I speak their language. I was able to write my marketing copy better. It was easier to figure out where and how to market my business, but not only did I have a clearer picture of how to position myself. I also had a better idea of how to tailor my services to that market. I could fine tune my offerings. Everything just got so much easier. I'm just grateful I was able to figure it out. It took me four years until I figured out my niche.

And sometimes I can get down on myself for that. "Why did it take me that long to see what was right in front of me?" But then I try to remind myself that those four years are what laid the groundwork for that discovery. Sometimes you need time to see what staring you in the face, especially if there's no one to model myself after. I've built something from scratch that no one else is doing. And it takes time and trial and error to do that. The reward has been a business that's uniquely me.

Tara McMullin: I just love Corinna's story because like I shared earlier with podcast production, no one was asking for her to style their gifts, but she knew there were people who could do their jobs more effectively and have a better chance of success if they worked with her to get noticed. Paying attention and listening for your opportunity, doesn't have to mean waiting for someone to beg you for something new or different, although that can certainly happen. Your opportunity might come from connecting the dots to notice the opportunity right under your nose or being softly whispered in your ear. Huge thanks to Zoe Linda Pollard, Erin Detka and Corinna vanGerwen for sharing their stories this week.

Next week, we're going to kick off a month all about simplifying your business and it's going to be good. Speaking of which I'm leading the What Works Network through a monthly, deep dive on simplifying as well. Specifically, we'll be taking a closer look at how simpler businesses are thriving businesses and how without fail, make more money in a more sustainable way than complicated businesses do. Each week in April, I'll be sharing some ideas for finding the opportunity for simplicity in your business and helping you build a simple one page business plan that I'm calling the stronger business map. Now, if you want to get in on the fun, go to explorewhatworks.com/network and join us by the end of April 1st. No fooling.

What Works is produced by Yellow House Media. Our production coordinator is Sean McMullin. Our production assistant is Lou Blazer. This episode was edited by Marty Seafel and special thanks to Shannon Paris for being our contributor wrangler. What Works is recorded on the ancestral homeland of the Susquehannock and Conestoga peoples in what is now Central Pennsylvania. The Yellow House is located on the unseeded land of the Gatunaha Nation in what is now Northwestern, Montana.

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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