Today we are going to talk to small business consultant and advocate Aaron Young about how you can build a business brand that goes beyond your individual efforts. In addition to running his company, Laughlin Associates, Aaron has developed the Unshackled Owner program. We will explore how to put systems in place to create a business that is bigger than you, hire the right people that will help free your time to focus on business growth, and create a business system that can run on autopilot without you.

Listen to the Podcast here:

The following is an edited transcript of this podcast. Since how we talk and how write is often very different, this transcript may contain uses of the English language (including grammar) that are not 100% correct. We are counting on your understanding in advance.

Grow Your Small Business Brand Beyond Yourself

Karen Leland, Branding Expert: My guest today is Aaron Young. He is the CEO of Laughlin Associates, and he is also the creator of The Unshackled Owner Program. Today we are going to talk about how you can grow your small business brand beyond yourself.

I am so happy to have you joining me on the podcast today.

Thanks, Karen. I love being with you. You know that. We have worked together on lots of stuff; it’s a blast to be with you.

Today we are going to talk about how you can grow your small business brand beyond yourself, which is something you know a lot about personally. Can you tell me how you got to be an expert on that topic?

I have been starting my own companies for 34 years. I started my first business when I was 18, and it was all built around the brand of being a college student by paying my way through school. I learned early on that by creating a mental image that your customer can buy off on and get excited about, it will lead you to keeping your customer a lot longer. I learned it by accident with the first business way back when. Thankfully, that has paid off most of the time. Authenticity tends to pay off.

You are the author of the book The Unshackled Owner. Can you tell us what that is?  What is your definition of being an unshackled owner?

I know a ton of people who have businesses but are stuck in this horrifying place where they started out loving what they were doing, but as they grew, they did less of what they loved and more management. They were not really trained as managers, and they find themselves in this miserable place where they are slave to their company and are not finding the joy in their business that they once had.

My definition of an unshackled owner is someone who has built a business in a very intentional way, so that as they add employees, as they bring them on correctly, as they train them up right, as they bring in key management, and as they begin to relinquish this god-like control, they will then find out that the company did not only survive, but it got better. It also gives the owner a lot more flexibility to do more in growing that company, look at more opportunities, or take some time to spend on family or their church — or whatever it is that floats their boat. That is being an unshackled owner. It doesn’t mean that you are sitting at a beach with your laptop.

If you want to have a real business that works even if you are not there, you’ve got to build a team that can run it. What you then do is that you oversee it as a director. That is unshackled.

How does that apply to someone who is an entrepreneur who let’s say makes a million dollars every year, but if they stop working, the income also stops coming in. How does that entrepreneur or a solopreneur, make that leap to being an unshackled owner, if they don’t have a staff or a group of people?

Branding Blowout | Grow your small business brand

You don’t have to be Billy Joel to grow your small business brand beyond yourself in becoming an unshackled owner. | Image via Samira Khan

Let me tell a story because this may be of use to your listeners. Here is Billy Joel, one of my favorite recording artists. He was frustrated as he was going through divorce, and he was making this record while living in the studio. He was writing everything in the studio. He started riding his motorcycle over to the place, and one night, he gets onto this motorcycle, gets in an accident, and breaks his hand. This is Billy Joel, who makes all of his money playing the piano. He thought that his career was going to be over. But the thing is, all through his career, he had been recording music where the music was all written down. There was a way for his people to take his creative genius, multiply it, and leverage it, even if his hands were broken. Elvis Presley is worth more money now than when he was alive, because there was enough stuff created along that it can be leveraged.

What you have done, Karen, is that you have taken your most important stuff that you teach on the stage, and you built it into an online course. What happens now is that when people find out about the online course, even if they were never to hire you one on one, you could sell thousands or tens of thousands of online programs. Who knows what the limit is. That is part of becoming unshackled. It is not requiring you to need the client. When you start building stuff around your intellectual property that can be leveraged in your absence, that is the beginning of becoming unshackled.

To really do it well, you have to get somebody else. Let’s say you want to go on a photography trip to India. You make enough money on your consulting business that you can afford to go on the vacation, and you are still going to have clients. But if you had somebody who is back home, who is on your team, and who is even a virtual assistant, they can be taking orders, fulfilling orders, answering questions, booking interviews, and doing all kinds of stuff while you are off having a great time. Your business does not go on hold just because you went on a trip to India.

I love the story that you told about Billy Joel. It is a great example. There are two paths to this: one is you need to hire people, so that it doesn’t all fall on you; the other one is that you have to create intellectual property that lives on its own when you are not there.

It depends on what you’ve got. In your case, you are doing marketing, branding, and consulting. You have also built the key elements to a do-it-yourself course. Someone else might have a bakery, for example, that might have thousands of recipes. That’s intellectual property. The point is the baker might get the flu over Thanksgiving, which might be their biggest time to sell pies. If they don’t have other people working in the bakery, and if they don’t have somebody else trained to follow their process, then they are shackled.

But as you take what you know and what you are great at and you bring in other people to do some of those things, you multiply and magnify yourself. What happens is that it becomes less dependent on you, your health, and your creativity. Sometimes life derails us when something happens, but that does not mean that the business is also derailed. There was a time in my career when I couldn’t be there. But because the business worked without me, not only did it survive but it also did great. I still made a ton of money even though I couldn’t be a contributor for a period of time.

Why were you away from the business? And how was the business able to function even if you weren’t there? It still made money and was still successful. Can you tell us that story?

I was in federal prison. There was an IRS charge, and they said that I knew or should have known what somebody else who was a vendor for us had done. I didn’t know that I could go to prison for that. What happened was, I was gone for 14 months and 1 week. But I was really gone a lot more than that. I fought very hard for almost three years before I did a plea agreement. The fight, fear, and the terror of going to prison consumed me for several years; then, I was actually gone for 14 months. I then came back, but I was still at this phase. What I wanted to do was just hold my kids on my lap and just cuddle my wife.

It was not just 14 months.  It was like 5 years. The process, culture, and everything that we built at my company Laughlin Associates just worked even though I did not function as the leader that I wanted to be.

I couldn’t even be a contributor for that 14 months and a week. The point is, you can either just have a lifestyle business, where you make money and have a grand time…. There is nothing wrong with that, and that is what a lot of people do. The idea of being an unshackled owner is tied to the idea that you’ve got to build something that can function without you, or at least it is working harder for you than you are working for it.

I always feel guilty whenever I talk to you. I bury my head in my hands because that is me, and I’ve got to do something about that. You are right.

You are doing something about it! But when we first met, it was just a fuzzy concept that you knew you should. But life and being successful with clients gets in the way of doing the hard work of putting something together.

For small business owners, this can feel a bit like being a deer in the headlights. It can be overwhelming to create what you are talking about. How do you get out of being so busy working on your business, that you have enough time to build it?

It’s not because nobody has heard of this stuff; it is not some kind of miracle that is coming down from the hand of God, but this is taking stuff that is tried and true. In my case, 34 years of never having to apply for a job or have a resume, this is just me making millions of dollars based on my own learning, applying, experimenting, crashing, and burning. You start to learn what needs to be done. It is not that I am a genius that came along with these original thoughts; it is because I have taken things that are being talked about for a long time, and organized it in a way that is reminding and guiding.

How do we do this? Most of us read a book or listen to something, and we just go back to our old behaviors. We just don’t do it. What I say to my students and clients is, “I know this is a lot to try out, but do me a favor. Just do an experiment on this one thing per week, and see what happens.” You have to begin to experiment. If you just hear or read about it, you go and say that it sounds good. It doesn’t matter how many videos or digital courses you studied; if you don’t start, then you don’t know how to do it.

You just need to have a general idea of where you want to go then? Is the power in the starting?

Ninety-five percent of success is just getting started. We are all making it up as we go along. You try it by studying the successes and failures of others. The idea of becoming unshackled is: Here is the result I want to have. Reverse engineer it to get there. What are the steps that I think I have to do?

This is what it means to be unshackled. It’s not that you have a million employees; it’s that you have to start thinking about how do I leverage the thing that everyone comes to me for?

Someone I know said that to really build a business beyond yourself, you have to get next to a bigger pipeline or lane.

Years ago, there was this house sitting on a few acres near me. I figured I could divide the land and sell it. But how do you know if you can trust the contractors? How do I divide and sell the land? I didn’t know how to do it, and they wanted me to spend half a million dollars to buy this place. I bought this place, and I divided it. I sold the other two lots, and I made approximately $300,000 in a few months. I thought, “How the hell did I not know this before?” Once you start it, people show up in your life and make it easier. That is a big part of becoming unshackled.

Begin with the end in mind. If you know what you are trying to do, you are off to success. Most of the people are just doing what they have been doing for years. The only way that they make more money is to work more hours or more days. As long as they have the money and do things, they are grateful. But in their heart, they are miserable because they are not doing what they love anymore. They are just managing this thing that is a constant burden for them, instead of them being lighted up by the things that they want to do.

I’ve heard you say that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. If you don’t like the results in your life, change the people that you are hanging out with.

Your social life, your financial net worth, and all of that is how you become the average of the people you spend time with. If you are at home and a single mom, and you’ve got three kids, and you are trying to get your business started from the kitchen table, your three kids are not the three people that you count in that five.

You need to figure out, who is it that is lifting you up? Who is it that you feel better when you are around them? You feel smarter when you are with that individual. Start figuring out ways of getting to know those people. I never want to say that you should abandon your old friends, but certain people will grow with you, and other people will fall behind. You just have to be willing to do that. Most of us are afraid with the new stuff. The difference between success and stagnant is you are fearful, but you do it anyway.

When I was a musical theater major in college, I learned to hear “no” a lot, be afraid, and realize it does not mean anything. I think the more people develop that muscle, the more they become an unshackled owner and can grow their small business brand.

We only have a certain number of days or hours that we are going to spend on this planet. It is unfortunate to see people who have a unique talent but who are paralyzed by fear. They stay stuck in a job that they don’t like. They are stranded by their own fear. People get paralyzed by indecision. They don’t know the right thing to do. One of my favorite quotes is “It is more important to be certain than to be right.” In other words, you just have to make a choice and go, and quit worrying all the time, as if this is the perfect divine right thing to do at this moment of your life. You just need to get moving on it, because if you do this, the whole world moves with you.

I see this often with clients. They do three social media sites, all poorly. I always say, “Just pick one and do it 100%; that will lead you to the right path.” How important is picking a direction to being an unshackled owner? Are we basically talking about the inherent capability to be decisive and move? What if you fail or are on the wrong path? Do you just pivot and change to the right path?

The difference between a great artist and a successful artist is audacity — the audacity to put a price on your painting, or to get it hanging somewhere. That audacity is what makes money. You may be a phenomenal painter, but if nobody knows you are doing it, you are never going to get paid for it. In business, you may not be the best person in your area, but if you are the best one in marketing yourself and in finding innovative ways in delivering your service, you are going to be the richest one.

To be unshackled, you need to have a team. The team doesn’t have to be a sales team. They can be virtual. But they can be doing stuff when you are doing something else. They are fulfilling something while you are doing something else. In that way, when you go on a vacation or when you go on to take care of a sick parent, or find yourself being sick, you won’t be worried, because you have a team. In my case, while I was in prison, the company just went on and the revenue didn’t go down.

I just hired an executive assistant, and with the things that she is taking off my plate, I have probably written four times more proposals in the last two months. It is because I am able to give her things that I don’t have the time to do right now. I am able to be more focused in building the business in a certain way.

I have a college student who is a young woman doing the job of putting up my blogs. I give her a fair price for it, and she makes me look better than I myself could. She writes down what I said, and she cleans it up in a way that I would not have the time to do. How do I keep doing what I am best at? I am creating new content, I am doing interviews, I am traveling and speaking, and I am putting together deals. That is what I am doing. The team makes all of that work.

The team also does the things that you are not particularly skilled at. We have the things that we are brilliant at and the things that we are not good at. If it is not in your wheelhouse, then giving it away to someone else is really empowering.

One of the things that I see with people who are stuck and bottlenecked and are on the hamster wheel wherein no matter how fast they run, they make no progress, is that they are often earning good money. They moved into a nice home, are driving a nice car, take a nice vacation. Now, they know logically that they need to bring on somebody else, like one key employee who is really going to help their business grow. But because they live off of all of their income, they know that in order to bring on that person, they are going to have to take a pay cut. There is insecurity. They don’t bring on a team because they know that they are going to sacrifice for a little while in order to maybe get the outcome.

I bet you that people listening to us right now know exactly what we are talking about. I would say to do an experiment. If you are wanting to grow your small business brand, if you don’t have somebody else to clean your house or cut your grass or whatever, start there. Don’t just sit on your butt all the time while they do the work; you should be working that time. Instead of spending time to clean your house, have somebody else to do that and pay them fairly. If I am cleaning my dishes instead of building my business, that would be a poor use of my time. The idea here is how you start offloading things that are bad use of your time.

Your brand still has to be represented by everybody who represents you. You have to make sure that that person or those people are representing the brand the way you would represent it; otherwise, you run into a problem. How do you make sure that there is a consistency of that branding?

One of the things that we teach in the Unshackled Owner class is the critical importance of building a corporate culture. What I see in you is that you are a brand on paper, on a website, and whatever, but you also embody the brand. You are true to the brand. If you build a culture, you then inform your team about what you do and why you do it.

What does Laughlin do to help grow your small business brand?

If I ask my employees, “What business are we in?” they would say that we are in the fortress-building business. We build a fortress around our clients’ business and personal assets. They know that they are not selling corporations. They know the business that we are in. The business is keeping our customers safe.

We know that sometimes we try these things and we fail. You have to learn to fail fast if you want to create a bigger business brand. What do you mean by this?

It should be realistic, influenceable, and measurable. If we try two things and one works better than the other one, scrap the one that didn’t work and do something else. My career has been failing forward. When it doesn’t work the way we hoped it would work, let us just look at that as the tuition that we paid to learn the lesson.

My dad always told me to look at business losses as part of the nature of doing business, something to just move on from. “You will get it back,” he used to say. In business, you will have successes and failures as you grow your small business brand. That is the nature of business.

Branding Blowout | Grow your small business brand

Even Steve Jobs had his setbacks among his many successes. It’s expected to have these too as you grow your small business brand.

Steve Jobs got fired from Apple, his own company. Do you think that was a crappy day for him? Of course! He came back and became an icon. This also worked for Thomas Edison and JK Rowling. You still say to yourself that you get to play the game. Every time I wake up in the morning, I wiggle my fingers and toes and say, “Thank you. I am still here. I get to go again.”

Folks, if you want to be entrepreneurs, learn the ways to make it a pleasure. Even on the hard days, be thankful that you are in the game. I don’t even curse the one who put me into IRS problems. Your problems are just a part of the ride.

You have a five-step process in terms of how to grow your small business brand and building a business that’s bigger than you. Can you just say one or two sentences on each?

Step 1: Evaluating Your Market Score

If nobody wants your stuff, then you shouldn’t be trying to start it. Find out what the market wants, and go out and provide it for them.

Step 2: Building Your Team

What are you great at? Where are you weak? Make sure you work your strengths and hire your weaknesses.

Step 3: Create Your Board of Advisers

Don’t be afraid to go to people who you think would not advise you. Some of your biggest heroes will become good mentors to you. Some of the most successful people are the most available people. It’s not that we aim too high and miss; it’s that we aim too low and hit. Surround yourself with the best people you can.

Step 4: Design Your Strategies

Most of us don’t know what our target is, so you need to be super clear on your target. Begin with the end in mind. You’ve got to reverse engineer the end goal.

Step 5: Develop Checks and Balances

When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates. Know the key metric that you are following. For a solopreneur, the way you are going to go from being busy to being wealthy is by figuring out the things you need to measure and then measuring them. It is like doing a food journal. You are trying to lose weight, everything you eat goes into the journal.

We could go on like this forever, but I really want to thank you for being on the program. My guest is Aaron Young. He is the CEO and founder of the Laughlin Associates. He is also the creator of The Unshackled Owner program. If you are interested in finding out more, please go to

Aaron, thank you so much for your generous time, humor, and information on how to grow your small business brand beyond yourself.

I love my time with you, Karen.

Important Links

Branding Blowout | Grow your small businessAbout Aaron Scott Young – Author of The Unshackled Owner and CEO of Laughlin Associates

For over 20 years, Aaron Young has been empowering business owners to build strong companies and proactively protect their dreams. An entrepreneur with several multimillion-dollar companies under his own belt, Aaron has made it his life’s work to arm other business owners with success formulas that immediately provide exponential growth and protection and will grow your small business brand beyond yourself.

Listen | Download | View

Hear the episode of the Branding Blowout Podcast by using the player above OR Click to Download any Episode

This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.