Growing Your Business and Brand in an Internet Age

Growing Your Business and Brand in an Internet Age

The Internet has created a new way for businesses to brand and market themselves, and Ken Courtright, founder of knows just how to help companies do business in the Internet age. Based on his popular system on how to “Grow any business in any industry at any time,” Ken shares his insights on how to build company webpages that avoid coming off “salesy” but build social proof and establish trust.

Listen to the Podcast here:

Growing Your Business and Brand in an Internet Age

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.

Karen Leland Branding ExpertThank you so much for joining me on our podcast today. My guest is Ken Courtright. He is the founder and CEO of He is an expert on doing business in the Internet age.

Ken, I’m so happy we could finally get this scheduled to be together on this call.

Thanks for having me.

It is my pleasure. You travel a lot, and one of the things you do is travel all over the world talking about, among other things, how people can make money on the Internet. But it’s really way more than that. It’s really about doing business in the Internet age and this whole way people now brand and market themselves. Can you talk a little bit about your company, on what you do and what your mission is?

Well sure. We’re about 24 years old. I’d like to start off quickly correcting people; they think we’re a web-based company, an Internet marketing firm, or an SEO shop when they find out about what we do. The reality is we have 87 employees, and over half of them have nothing to do with Internet marketing and things like that. But what we specifically do is we live by our 24-year-old roots as a growth-consulting firm. We like to think that we can meet a business owner, ask a few questions, look them in the eye, and comfortably tell them that we can grow their business.

Usually their first questions will be, “How exactly can you grow this? It has been a family business for 20 years,” or, “We just started and are hitting a brick wall. You don’t even know us. How can you say you can grow us?” We have a tagline that we can grow any business in any industry at any time. The reason is, we don’t think traditionally. We had the ability and the serendipity in 2009 to step outside the box, if you will, to look at our own growth-consulting firm and say, “What is something that could be done in any business, in any industry, at any time that could add a second, third, or maybe fourth and fifth revenue stream to a business?” We can quickly surmise that if you add a website that is industry specific, that is built for no other reason than pure monetization, you can add that type of website to any business, in any industry, at any time. We have spent the last six years building a team of 80 incredibly sharp people who strategize certain industries one at a time.

We meet people at their needs. If they need leads for their business, we’ll build a website for that. They just need cash flow to stabilize the company, or a household, or maybe keep their wife from going to work, or maybe keep the husband from the second or third job; we’ll build a website or buy a website just to add extra income to the household. If we were to summarize it in one sentence, we help people, businesses, or private equity firms add additional revenue streams to their main source of income. We do it through monetized web properties.

BB008 | Brand in an Internet Age

The team at Income Store know how to grow a brand in an internet age through monetized web properties.

Wonderful! By the way, I want to say it for the listeners, I don’t think you meant keep your wife from going to work if she wants to work. I think you meant if she wants to stay home and raise children or do something else, so that she doesn’t have to work.

Yeah; unequivocally yes. My wife works 80 hours a week.

She does. Your wife is your partner in your business there—a fabulous businesswoman and wife.

Yes. She loves what we are doing. She would have just corrected me, just like you.

That’s why she and I are friends. I’ve heard you say a lot in the conferences I’ve been to where you have spoken that trust trumps everything, especially today. I want to know what you mean by that. Also, how do you think that this idea of trust trumps everything impacts the business and the brand in today’s world?

That’s excellent. For a year and a half, that was my main talk. I have a book coming out that you’re aware of. That is the centerpiece, and it goes like this: For a couple hundred years, the business and marketing books would teach the concept that if you’re selling something, for people to truly buy something, they have to know you. Then they have to like you. Then they have to trust you.

I’ll give you an example: You could take an insurance salesperson, a marketing expert, even a school teacher who wants to do part-time work on the side or over the summer, when these people go into the marketplace to position themselves so people would want to buy from them, anything today in 2016, that is let’s say more than a hundred dollars, the odds are well past 50 percent, that somebody is going to Google that person’s name, and then they’re going to Google the company name. They are looking for certain trust factors. Does this person have a social media presence? Are they on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook? Do they have a website? The single most important aspect of trust trumps everything was the 6- to 10-year run that companies were doing at what is now known as social proof. Social proof proves that if we, as business owners, say that our product is the best, we as business owners are looked at as salespeople.

If our website said that we have the number-one product in this space, and people look at websites like salespeople, they’re simply not trusted. However, if the world says it’s so, it must be so. The definition of social proof is, if the world says it’s so, it must be so. If, for instance, the website of TOMS Shoes, the fastest-growing shoe company in history, has nothing but shoes all over the homepage claiming they are the best, it’s just a website selling shoes. The fastest-growing shoe company in history, TOMS Shoes, has no shoes on its homepage. It’s a picture of a gentleman named Blake—the founder—sitting next to a mountain, and right under the picture of Blake, it’s explaining that, “If you buy a pair of shoes here, we’re going to put a brand new pair of shoes on a kid who has never worn shoes before.” He does not sell shoes. He sells a message. The message is well received, and he’s not pumping shoes down people’s throats. The world tells the world how great TOMS Shoes is. Right underneath that picture where Blake is right next to a mountain, he has literally hundreds of testimonials of his customers telling the rest of the world how great TOMS Shoes is so he doesn’t have to do the work.

Right now, today, in 2016, the websites that can deliver the most upfront trust and comfort are the ones that are excelling and growing the fastest.

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Your website is your brand in an Internet age, it needs to establish the know-like-trust factor.

It’s amazing to me how many people in businesses—both individual entrepreneurs or small businesses and even larger companies, middle-sized companies—really don’t get that. They don’t understand the importance of establishing that trust in the website. I’ve talked to so many people where they know they need a website. They will say, “Well, I hired my aunt, or my uncle, or my cousin, my friends’ son, who isn’t really a web designer, a writer, or a brander,” and they have those people do that work and put up a website that’s really mediocre. They will often say to me, “Does it really matter that much?” I’m very shocked that people don’t know that. Do you find that? That a lot of people still aren’t aware of what you just said?

Definitely. As much as there was a lot of homework done on social proof, none of the foundations or the industries or the institutions that did the homework have anything to gain by following up on the publishing of their findings. It’s up to the marketers to see what’s really working in the marketplace. I’ve never seen that being brought into business—social proof. My podcast and a few other books I’ve read touch on this subject. I don’t think it’s a commonly understood formula of success.

The scary thing is, I’m seeing just as much of the 4 P’s today as I did a few years ago. The 4 P’s are: product, pricing, positioning, and promotion. That was taught for 100+ years. You get the right product to the right niche market. You do the right pricing, make sure the positioning against competitions is on point and the pricing matches, and then, you promote it. The old adage is, “Tell more; sell more.” If the other 3 P’s are in place when you do your promotion, that product is going to make it.

The reality is, that’s not true today. The fact of the matter is, and I’m going to say it as simply as I can, that nobody wants to go first. If somebody starts a business today, they launch a website. They hire a web designer. They get all excited. They will have a 10- to 20-minute interview of, “What would you like for the homepage, frequently asked questions, about us, products and services, and tools and resources sections?” They set up what was a great website in 2000. That doesn’t work today. The reality is, when you live by the 4 P’s, you’re actually making these millennials gag. The last thing they want to see when they open your homepage is a product with a dollar sign with it. They buy stories. Quite frankly, the reality is that people today, especially the millennials, they buy cool people in cool companies. They don’t necessarily buy cool products. They want to do business with the people who are very cool, very cutting edge, even comedic and funny. They want to buy companies with big hearts with deep, worthy causes that matter.

Quite frankly, even the millennials who don’t necessarily have the big bank rolls, they will find the money to buy the right products from the right companies. I agree with you; I don’t see a lot of people who are paying attention to social proof and trust trumps everything. They’re still focused on the 4 P’s. Honestly, it’s just a matter of time. They will go by the wayside like the taxi cab is going by the wayside with Uber.

It’s interesting about the 4 P’s, because in branding work that I do so often, that’s how people are able to find their brand. It takes me an entire day to sit down with people and help them look at their brand in another way, and I think you’re absolutely right; today you have to define a brand in a much deeper and broader way that includes your story and contribution. It’s essentially what you said: You have to have a narrative about your brand. You can’t just have, “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.”

In his incredible book No BS Marketing to the Affluent, Dan Kennedy wrote something that, when I was riding in an airplane as I read it, I physically felt my heart stop. He said, “Over six years, we studied the top 10 reasons that the affluent make a buying decision.” I want to say that he said there were 280 to 300 interviews. The number one reason that the wealthiest people buy anything, believe it or not, it’s the story behind the brand. The story goes, when someone is making a decision between three $30,000 watches, what he envisions is himself playing poker with his buddies. They will say, “Oh, nice watch!” Then he goes, “Let me tell you about that watch.”

The wealthy want to make a buying decision about the company or the brand behind the product because they really want to buy a story. It is exactly why the 2007 book Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk went absolutely ballistic as one of the best-selling marketing books of all time, because he told the story of how he turned his father’s liquor store from a $1-million-a-year liquor store into a $20-million-a-year liquor store in under a year. He did this by simply taking a bottle of wine every single night, going to the basement, Googling that wine brand, and telling the brand story to a flip phone for 5 to 7 minutes. He proved to the world that the story sells wine, that the brand sells wine. The wine sitting on the shelf at the right price point doesn’t sell wine.

There is a counter-side to this, which is—just to be devil’s advocate for a moment—that you can be telling a great story and have a lot of social proof, but if you’re not delivering a product of quality, eventually, you’re not going to be making it.

No question. The reality is that the tipping point to a potentially explosive business is the brand story, but then it just tips it over what I call the flat table. The flat table is supported by the legs. You better have an incredible product. You better have a great customer service division, because we’re in the world of customer service. You better have still-legitimate pricing. If you’re pricing yourself out of the market, you’re going to be looked at sideways. If you’re underpricing, pricing is branding; you are also going to look like something’s wrong. You’re going to need a great product. You need a great customer service support team. You need a great price point. The bottom line is you need a serious business. You need real employees doing great work.

If you want to be explosive, it can’t be just about the product or the pricing. You said it; the perfect word is your narrative. You’ve got to have a narrative story that resonates. A lot of people today are still living in the 4 P’s. They’re not positioning their product in their customer’s language. Here’s an example from about 2 to 3 months ago, right before our last event: I’m sitting at the kitchen table, and we only have one phone in our home, it’s a very old phone from a very old fax line. Nobody has the number, not even my dad. All of a sudden, I’m sitting 20 feet away from the home phone, which is the 911-emergency phone, and the only other person home at this time is my 14-year-old daughter. I know she is about six feet away from the phone, because she’s in the garage outside the door putting on her roller skates. She’s going roller skating.

All of a sudden, the phone rings. I know that the only people that have this number are my wife and my three daughters. I know where my wife and my two other daughters are. They’re unreachable. The only other person that has this number is my 14-year-old, who’s six feet away from the phone. I realized very quickly this son-of-a-gun pulled her cell phone out of her back pocket; she is closer to the phone than I am, but she’s still dialing that number. So I got up from the kitchen table, walked up to the phone, answered, and said, “Can I help you?” I know it’s her.

Cameron says, “Yeah, dad. Can you do me a favor? I left something on the counter. Can you bring it to me?” Here’s what’s crazy. I think most people would get angry and upset at their 14-year-old who is closer to the phone than the adult was. I remember being spell-bound, holding the phone thinking, “Oh my goodness! This is how my 14-year-old’s brain works. Her cell phone is in her hip pocket. It’s faster and more convenient to her to reach her father by calling the phone, than it is for her to very quickly pull out of her skates, walk up six steps, open the door, and yell at me.”

In reality, it’s an incredible business lesson. How many business owners today are still branding their product, marketing their product, and building their websites the same way they did five years ago? Every year on the Internet is like dog years. Five years ago on the Internet is 35 years ago in business. Does that make sense?

It makes total sense.

We have to remember that these millennials, they are the future of this country. They’re the influencers. They influence the seniors on how to use the Internet. They influence their parents on how to communicate online.

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Millennials are the future, does your brand in an internet age match with an online and mobile presence?

I’m seeing some very grave mistakes out there. We have 700 revenue-generating websites to do this split testing on. It’s not fair for me; I have a little bit of an edge on the game; I can see it coming before it’s coming. It is painful for me to sit back and see people sleeping and not understanding. They don’t know how to reach out to us.

That’s something that I’ve always talked about is doing business with your customers the way they do business with you, not the way you want to do business with them.

You better believe it. You nailed it.

Then, that’s how you do it. It’s interesting. You have all these websites. You are managing over 700+ websites for people. Is that correct? How many are there?

There are 716.

The 716 websites, can you give 2, 3, or 4 of the best practices today in terms of a website that is well-branded, well-marketed. They reach the audience, the millennial audience, that’s out there?

First and foremost, as a business owner, you have to understand the difference between mobile, mobile-ready, and mobile-responsive. In the last two and a half to three years alone, there has been a huge shift in getting websites mobile, and then there is mobile-ready, which ESPN just pulled off about 13 months ago. ESPN shut the site down for two hours and flipped it to mobile ready. This way, everything they have shows up both on a desktop and on a phone at the same time. The difference is, not every advertisement shows up and not every app or every distributor shows up. The next wave is mobile-responsive. That’s where any tablet, smartphone, any desktop, every ad, everything, shows up 100 percent; nothing is cut off, nothing is left off.

Google is so passionate about making sure the world understands this, they decided to penalize, without telling you they penalized you, those that are not mobile-responsive. They’re not saying it’s a penalty, so you technically can’t quote me, because you’re not going to find any of the guys at Google saying the word “penalty.” Just take my word for it. If your site is fully mobile-responsive, and all things are considered equal—social signals match, linkbacks match—if everything matches up to your competitor, and you are mobile responsive and they’re not, I assure you that you are going to rank higher than them.

Number one, you’ve got to make sure that you understand that 65 percent of every page view online today on a mobile device—this is all pushed and led by the millennials—is on a mobile of some kind. So that’s the first thing.

Number two is, we can’t forget yesterday. I had a podcast on this, it’s podcast number 2, called “How to Read Your Client’s Mind.” We can’t forget the fundamentals of using the Internet. This is the first time that business owners have been able to communicate directly with the client without talking to them.

In the old days, the times of Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, his mantra was white shirt. You get in front of your customers. You ask them a million questions until you know exactly what they want. Then, we’ll build them what they want. You have to physically talk with the client. Today, there are so many tools, like Google’s Adwords keyword planner, SEMrush, Quantcast, that can physically show the world what your client is typing into a search bar. We can see what they want unequivocally with the data of how many times they search that every month.

We know, if we know what tools to use, exactly what content to write on a Monday, once a week, or once a month. People are forgetting the old-fashioned getting to your client, getting what they want. Build what they want, and don’t build what you think will sell. That’s the key.

That is an excellent point. I know from working with you that one of the strategies that is working effectively is finding out those key words and key words phrases and just continually writing about those. I have never paid a dime for Google Adwords. I’ve gotten very high ranked in some my areas, and I’ve had clients ranked high just by using that strategy.

It’s just a simple strategy. It’s almost too simple that people don’t believe that it’s possible. It is what you said. It’s founded in that old-fashioned idea of giving your customer what they want. What they want is what they searched for. It’s giving them what they searched for, not what you think they will search for.

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Google Adwords is a key tool to use in building your brand in an internet age.

We have a website called As of December 7, 2015, it became the number-1 plumbing website in the world. It ranks on 162,000 plumbing terms. What’s scary is that we’ve only written a piece of content every Saturday for three and a half years, which is not a tremendous amount of content, and we’ve done really little traditional marketing. They key is we asked Google ahead of time—we stay six weeks ahead of the website—we asked Google via this Google Adwords keyword planner tool: What is the world searching for right now that we have yet to write on? It physically talked back to us. As long as we’re writing on what Google has proven the world’s looking for, Google has an internal algorithm that balances the amount of pages written that are titled a certain way. Let’s call that title an answer to a key phrase.

Google was saying: We’ve got this key phrase, “How to fix a leaky toilet,” that only 10 people in history have written on. If you’re going to write a piece of content on how to fix a leaky toilet, Google is already craving that because they’ve only got 10 pieces worldwide. If we make it 11, we’re pretty much assured to get 9 to 10 percent of that traffic. It’s just pure math. For whatever reason, we’d like to do the hard work and the labor of finding that stuff out. If you write on that, it works for everybody.

That’s a great strategy. So many people say, “I can’t rank if my key word is ‘money’ or ‘Internet.’” You can’t rank for that pure key word, but you can rank for those longer tails and phrases using key words and questions, which you were just talking about.

Yes, completely. You nailed it. You start with a long-tail and find a five- to seven-word phrase. You can almost assure yourself that not very many people have written on that five- to seven-word phrase. Then you can get to the top one, two, or three positions on that phrase just by continually writing on that phrase differently. Those are called the authoritative pointers.

If Google sees that you are toward the top of page one on seven to 1ten long-tails all of a sudden in that industry—and Google doesn’t know any better; it’s a computer program—they think you’re an authority. So when you write on a three- to four-word phrase, you’re going to become an authority quicker. Then you write one- to two-word phrases, and that’s exactly the strategy we used for

That’s funny because in a way, what you’re doing is showing Google your social proof by doing it that way. That’s interesting. You talk about the success wheel. Can you say a little about what that is and why it’s important for building a brand today?

After a presentation, we found out our flight was delayed. We have to stay an extra night in that town. The convention organizer ran up to me, “Ken, I heard your flight was delayed. Could you do one more talk? Just 25 minutes?” I said that I hadn’t prepared anything. He said, “We’re just going to ask you some questions. We’re just going to mic you up. You sit on stage. It’ll be centered on a talk you previously gave.” I figured it’d be fine, so I got up on stage.

What this gentleman asked me is one simple question that they wanted that 25-minute answer for, which was this: “In 24 years, you’ve had three huge growth spikes in your company’s career. One growth spike, then you went not just flat, but you almost lost everything. Then, you grew back and went flat for four years in a row. Now, you’re growing again faster than you’ve ever grown before. Can you map out for us over 24 years, what are some of the critical decisions you made to grow, to get out of almost losing your company, to grow again, to get out of going flat, and then to grow again?”

I said, “That’s probably going to take longer than 25 minutes, but I can at least take a rough stab at it.” I walked up to a flip chart and big markers out there. The first thing I figured out when I was 22 years old is I was very ignorant on business. I knew I had to get my brain around business owners, so anybody that came through Chicago—like Brian Tracy, Zig Zigler, Tom Hopkins, and Tony Robbins—anybody that remotely sounded business savvy to me when I was 22, I attended their event. I became what I called a conference junkie. I noticed there is something very interesting when you go to these conferences: You can definitely tell the people from stage that are pure-hearted and the people who are just going to sell you some cassette tape, which was the thing to do at that time.

I can’t tell you how many of these huge clam-shelled cases of cassette tapes I came home with. The cool thing was, as much as I wanted to buy their cassettes to further get to know these people, what I found way more intriguing was that the pure-hearted people would often, on purpose or accidentally, drop hints of what they’re currently reading or what they just read. I would literally sit there waiting, sometimes through a two-and-a-half-day session for them to mention a couple of books they’ve read. I would go home to the local book store, and whatever book these “superior” businesspeople mentioned they were currently or just finished reading, I would read them like crazy.

Usually when I draw this in front of a group, I’ll put “conferences” at the bottom left as a word with a little circle around it. Then from conferences, I draw an arrow up and to the left, indicating that they drew me to certain books. Then I draw a circle around the word “books.” At the very top of the piece of paper, I write “IP,” which stands for intellectual property.

What I found so intriguing after a year and a half on this, what I call the success wheel, is the books more than anything because I can read them and I can reread them. I can consume myself in these books. They gave me so much IP, intellectual property, that in a very short period of time, before I was even 24, I could walk into a chamber of commerce event or some kind of a networking event, I would only be halfway into an event, and I’d have a crowd of people around me wanting to know what I knew.

I, at the time, had a low self-image. I didn’t date anybody in high school and very few in college. I never drank a beer or anything like that. I was a complete introvert, yet, you put me in a room of businesspeople, I felt completely in control because I felt that I read more than these people, I studied more than these people. Sometimes they were 40-, 50-, or 60-year-old businesspeople with 40 years of business experience on me.

Something dramatic had happened in year three of this success wheel. Conferences led me to the books. The books led me to intellectual property. The intellectual property would allow me to go to these events and these meetings and bump into businesspeople who would want to either buy products from me through marketing services or just partner with me and do a joint venture. I made some great friends in my first few years in business, many of whom would do actual business deals with our growth consultant company, so at the bottom right of this wheel I would write “deals” or “business flow” and circle that.

The success wheel is this: After a few years of growing, we doubled five out of seven years, and then we went flat for two years and almost lost everything. In the three-year period of time, I asked myself, how in the world could we go from doubling every year, almost tripling sometimes, to flat and then backwards? Then I realized, I actually said to myself when I was 28 years old, “I probably should stop going to these conferences, because I think I know more than these people. If I keep going, I might dumb myself down.” I didn’t realize it for 10 years. That was the dumbest thing I ever could have said to myself.

There’s a phrase in business, “When the students are ready, the teacher appears.” I found out the second time around the wheel, when I was about 28 or 29; I jumped back to the exact same conferences, exact same ones with the same speakers. All of a sudden, even though it was almost an identical presentation as when I was 24 years old, everything was speaking to me at a whole new level. I realized it wasn’t the speaker; it wasn’t even the information. It was that my business and my person were at a different level. I needed different material. I needed different input.

All of a sudden, the same people, the same Tony Robbins, the same Brian Tracy, these people are still out there talking on stages with the same and new information. It was speaking to me so differently. The most critical aspect is hearing them recommending different books. I jammed on the books from 1998 to 2003. I read one, at least, if not two business books a week for five years. My intellectual property of how to grow or market a business exploded.

Just one quick question about that: When you say “intellectual property,” I know you don’t mean it this way, so this is just to clarify for the people listening; I know you don’t mean that you took ideas from those books and used them, because that’s their intellectual property. You mean that those intellectual properties helped you grow your business.

Correct. When I say IP, it’s just a very general sense that my business smarts, my business knowledge, my knowledge base in business overall, my personal intellectual property grew unbelievably. I wasn’t really quoting Brian Tracy. I wasn’t quoting anybody else out there. I wasn’t using any of their techniques. It’s just my overall, general understanding of the book. I always think of the book The E Myth; Michael Gerber has done an incredible job of describing why solopreneurs get stuck, why they can’t grow past themselves.

Yes, that’s a great book.

My intellectual property, the second time around the wheel, exploded our company. The real magic came when I went four years in a row. I was very satisfied. I had a great life 10 years ago. I started having a bunch of kids. We moved three times in I don’t remember how many years.

Things got very comfortable. I got very scared because I know in life, you’re either in a storm (things are very difficult), or you’re coming out of the storm, or you’re about to go inland. I felt so comfortable, I said, “I must be so comfortable that I’m about to go into a storm.” I remembered looking back and thinking, “I haven’t gone to a conference again in four years.”

Here’s what’s amazing; one thing I didn’t stop was reading. This time when I went back into the conferences, the conference coordinators of almost every event I was going to got to know me. They remembered me since I had been going to a conference now for 15 to 20 years.

They would start to ask me, “Ken, how come you’re in the audience? How come you’re not on stage?” Then I’m like, “What are you talking about? I’m not a speaker.” They told me that I might want to consider it. I started getting on the stages of the events I used to attend. What I learned in business through books and conferences was enough meat to propel my business forward.

BB008 | Brand in an Internet Age

I realized that one of the greatest ways to learn is to teach. I realized I really need to know what I’m talking about if I’m going to teach people. It’s not just helping them grow their businesses. There’s another level of accountability when you’re a teacher. This third time around the wheel, which I’ll be on the rest of my life when I die with my boots on, I found one item of the success wheel that brings more people more success than anything else in business; I have yet to find anything that can beat this. It goes like this: If you’re on a success wheel—and everybody’s on their own success wheel—it could be  books. It could be watching TV. Who knows? Everybody has their own success wheel whether they admit it or not. What I found is that if you attack your own personal success wheel to build your own personal intellectual property bucket, something dramatic happens.

The bigger players, when they want to get around you, they bring their success wheel with them. They bring their whole black book of contacts with them. They bring their whole book of clients with them. The deals we started doing on our third time around the success wheel, the size of these deals was staggering, to the point where our average deal size just six years ago was about a $14,000 contract. Our average deal size today is a $172,000 contract. It’s because we got around people who played a bigger game. Does that make sense?

It totally makes sense. I went to a financial class once about 30 years ago that totally changed my life. They said, “There’re only two ways to make more money: Either you increase the amount you’re charging to a very narrow stream, or you get next to a much larger stream. There are only two ways to do it.”

What I love about what you’re saying about the success wheel, and it’s something people miss so often, is you have to keep learning. Whether they’re personal or business brands, the strongest brands are brands that continue to evolve, grow, and learn rather than stay stagnant.

The most underused and dustiest room in everybody’s home is the room for improvement.

We met at a conference. You’re obviously very successful with what you do. I just have to honestly say, Ken, that the humility that you have in terms of listening to the speakers in what you are willing to gain from them, you probably knew 99 percent of what those speakers were saying, but you never had that attitude. That is something that is a source of your success.

Yes, I appreciate that. The reality is we can always learn something from everybody. I don’t go there with the understanding that I’m going to gain two golden nuggets today or I’m going to get three great contacts from this conference. I’m there because I actually feel I’m supposed to be there. There is something that’s going to come off from that stage that if it isn’t for me today, it’s supposed to teach me something that I’m going to need in six months.

It’s more of an attitude of just going there to receive, and even today, I’m a faculty, as you are, of CEO Space, I’m a regular at Secret Knocks, I’m a regular at New Peaks, I’m probably a regular at seven major events. But when there’s somebody there speaking, I would still be part of the audience, not backstage farting around with the other speakers. I think that’s where I’m supposed to be is in the audience.

I know you’re the CEO and founder of, and you’ve won the Inc. 5000 two years in a row, is that right?

Two out of three years, and then apparently, from what it looks like right now, we’ve grown more in this past year than the other two that we won. It looks like we’re going to do it three out of four years, which is fairly unprecedented.

Can you say a sentence or two about the conferences that you do so that the people can know about that and take a look at them?

We have Digital Footprint, which you’re a regular speaker at: Forbes says it is ranked one of the top-5 must-see, can’t miss business conferences of 2016. They’re held twice a year, and we do those east coast, west coast. The next one is late October in the L.A. area.

The concept is simple: The greatest business model ever created is to follow a working model. If you look at Burger King, all they do is move in next to Mc Donald’s. That’s not me saying it; it’s their physical demographic model. The greatest, quickest path to success is to model someone else’s success, because it takes away a lot of thinking.

Digital Footprint was created to show businesspeople how business was done for the last hundred years by using working models. We flipped the working model into just digital pieces. If you just want to model someone’s website, what would you look for? If you want to model somebody’s e-mail campaign, how would you look for that? How would you model it?

By the time people leave the conference in three days, they’re walking out of there with five to twenty-five models they can follow. We give away an iPad to somebody who can find the most things that could be created or duplicated for free or nearly free. One girl who won the iPad heard 202 different things in three days from our stage that she could model for free or nearly free. We have four people who found 150 things they could model freely.

People can find out or register at, correct?

You either go to, under “events,” or to the actual event page at

BB008 | Brand in an Internet Age

Digital Footprint Conference is the can’t miss business conference of 2016.

I’ve started asking everybody who appears on this podcast three questions at the end. They’re not specific to what you do in general, but I think there are things that are important. The first one is, who’s that one person in your life who had a really deep positive impact on you? What did you learn from them?

No question. It is Brian Tracy. When I was 24, I picked up the book The Psychology of Selling. It transformed our business. It definitely changed my life. There is one specific part of the book where he talks about an income barometer, that every person will earn exactly what they think they’re worth. He proved it. It wasn’t just Brian proving it; I think it was Yale that did a study, another group did a study in the 1930s, and then another study went back across different countries for a couple hundred years. The reality is that one chapter of that one book showed and proved that I’m going to create a company the size of what my worth is: my personal worth. That told me I don’t need to work on my company size. I need to work on my personal worth size, my income barometer. Because of that book, I went so deep into self-improvement books like Awaken the Giant Within and Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins and See You at the Top by Zig Zigler. It was part of my mission of absorbing anything that got in front of me. I think The Psychology of Selling is maybe one of the top five business books ever written. That is what definitely hit me the most.

The second question is, who is the person who had a negative impact on your life? What did you learn from that? Don’t tell us the name of the person!

I won’t name the person, but it was partly because of something I read in a Brian Tracy book. He mentions that if you want to grow ten-fold in your company in two years, you’ve got to go headhunt someone who’s at that level of a manager at a company that size and bring them in to work for you. In the mid ’90s, I did exactly that. We were what’s called a Microsoft-type of company. Just to tell people how it was back then in the late ’90s, we got things done very quickly, made snap decisions. We were growing so quickly.

This person had what’s called a Procter & Gamble mentality; it would take this person four months just to order a stapler. I mean that. He would want paperwork done. It was oil and water or jumbo shrimp, whatever oxymoron you can come up with. We did not mesh. Because of how we didn’t get along with that, I let it go on for six months. It literally took our chain of video stores down. It cost us a million dollars.

He was great as a person, but it was a terrible business decision for me to bring him on. I did not vet the person at all, and he definitely had a negative impact on me.

It’s a good lesson there! If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, from the age you’re at right now, what would it be?

It sounds almost impossible to believe. I would tell my younger self, as much as I’ve read, READ MORE. I’m doing it now, reading two books a week. The growth came because I read and studied what I knew I should, where everybody else was watching TV and going out with their buddies, doing what average people do. I didn’t. Now, we look like overnight wonders. It took us 24 years to get here. I could have cut the time in half had I been more specific in my studies.

Ken, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much for being on the podcast to talk about building your brand in an internet age.

My pleasure; it’s been great.

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About Ken Courtright – Founder and CEO of The Income Store

Ken courtright head shotKen Courtright is the founder and CEO of the Inc.5000 company Income Store. Income Store helps people and businesses grow their income through Building or Buying “Revenue Generating Websites.” “Income Store” now manages close to 700 Money Making Websites for their website partners. Every website they build or buy comes with a lifetime performance guarantee of 11% – 22%. Because of the performance guarantee, Ken’s model has attracted hundreds of partnerships with individuals, business owners and private equity firms.

A Best Selling Author in 5 Categories, Ken has recently been featured on WLS, FOX, CBS, A&E, Forbes and most recently on the Biography Channel. Their portfolio of 700 revenue generating websites are viewed almost 200 Million times each year. After doubling revenues 6 years in a row, in 2013, 2015, and now again in 2016, Ken’s 23-year old company was ranked in Inc. Magazine as one of the 1,000 Fastest Growing U.S. Companies.


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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.

Can Being Funny Help Build Your Brand?

Can Being Funny Help Build Your Brand?

Being funny is not just a natural talent you are born with. It is also a skill you can learn. And it’s a skill that can be invaluable in building your personal brand. My guest today is David Nihill, founder of FunnyBiz – a company that specializes in helping people be funnier in print and in front of an audience. Among other things we will talk about how doing improv comedy can make anyone a better public speaker, how to use humor to connect with your audience, and the tips and tricks you can borrow from professional comedians – to get a laugh.

Listen to the Podcast here:


Creating Thought Leadership for Women CEOs and Executives

Creating Thought Leadership for Women CEOs and Executives

Marlene Williamson, CEO of Watermark, discusses how to create thought leadership for women CEOs and executives. Watermark, which started 22 years ago in the San Francisco Bay area, has a mission to increase the representation of women in leadership positions. Learn about the work required to become a thought leader in more male dominated fields such as engineering and three top recommendations to become a thought leaders in your field.

Listen to the Podcast here:

Creating Thought Leadership for Women CEOs and Executives

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.

Karen Leland Branding ExpertToday, my guest is Marlene Williamson, the CEO of Watermark, and we will be discussing the importance of creating thought leadership for women CEOs and executives.

What is Watermark and what do they do?

BB4 | Thought Leadership for Women - Marlene WilliamsonWatermark has been in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 22 years. It was started by a wonderful female entrepreneur named Denise Brusseau, who was very challenged years ago in finding likeminded female entrepreneurs in the Bay Area. She said, “I am going to start an organization of female entrepreneurs.” She called it The Forum for Female Entrepreneurs. It grew and expanded to include corporate executives. She then changed the name to The Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives. It was quite the mouthful of a title, so a few years ago, the board changed the name of the organization to Watermark.

But despite the name change, our mission has never wavered — and that is to increase the representation of women in leadership positions in creating thought leadership for women. We do that in three primary ways: We produce over 50 events a year in the San Francisco Bay Area. Second, we do a variety of networking events. Thirdly, we produce conferences on innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills.

A lot has been said today on the lack of women in top positions at high-tech companies. Why do you think we are still lagging behind in women being in top positions, particularly in high-tech companies, its it a lack of thought leadership for women?

The high-tech industry is dominated by engineering talent. The pipeline for engineering talent has always been predominantly men. Consequently, in the high-tech arena, most of the senior executives have been men because they have been groomed in engineering skills. The pipeline for female technical careers is critical, and Watermark feels passionately that we need to pay it forward. While we are a nonprofit, we do raise money for girls’ leadership programs, some of which are focused on STEM skills, to address the pipeline issue.

Why do you think that there are not more women going into engineering? Is it because they are not encouraged? Is it because it is harder for them to get into engineering schools, or maybe because they don’t think of themselves as engineers?  

They are not going because, especially in junior high, girls’ self-esteem is fragile. Many of them do not want to be perceived as geeks, which is why they tend to shy away from math and science. There are so many great organizations now that are showing young women that you can be a fabulous executive, have a fabulous career, and learn math and science. It does not mean that it is going to turn you into a geek. Geek has a negative connotation to young women. That is a very real issue that many young girls and organizations, including the Girl Scouts, are trying to rectify.

Is the personal brand that a woman leader creates different in any way from the way a male executive might create his brand? Do you feel that there is a difference in the way female leaders create thought leadership for women or men versus male executives?

We have all heard about how women are perceived as bossy and aggressive, whereas the man is perceived as a go-getter. There is that bias. There is no doubt about it. There is a lot more attention paid to her, right or wrong, on how she performs, and how the company performs with a female leader at the helm. That said I know of no female CEO or executive who wants to be known as a female CEO. They want to be known as a great CEO, and they just happen to be female.

You make a good point. When I work with CEOs on creating thought leadership for women specifically or on creating thought leadership in general, it is always about the thinking and the content that they are bringing to it. It is always about the expertise. It is not about their particular race, gender, age, or background.  

It is true. There is a wide variety of evidence now to show that diversity of thought drives the bottom line. A female perspective or a person-of-color perspective does bring a different filter or lens, and the variety of the diversity of that thought is what drives wonderful leadership teams to success.

BB4 | Thought Leadership for Women - Marlene Williamson

Watermark hosts Women Like Us (WLU) Network events as part of the many things they do to promote creating thought leadership for women.

How important do you think creating thought leadership for women CEOs and executives is?

I think creating thought leadership is important for any executive, because you are the face of the brand and you represent the brand. You need to have a unique point of view to distinguish your company from your competition. It will get you the attention that you deserve by having a point of view and marketing that point of view very effectively. That is Marketing 101 and it is extremely important because the rest of the world will stand up, take notice, and pursue you for your opinions because of being a thought leader on that particular issue.

Whenever I work on creating thought leadership for women CEOs and executives, they often say to me, “I don’t want to brag.” I tell them that it is not bragging; it is about owning your expertise and what you do, and showing it to the world. When it comes to personal branding, thought leadership for women, CEO branding there is a big difference between bragging and authentically owning what you have accomplished and what you have to contribute.  

I totally agree with you. It is interesting when you are seeing folks who are competing for a job or a promotion. They are looking for the ideal candidate that has these 10 qualities. The man says that he has two of them and he is in; then the woman says that she has two of them, and she is not qualified. It is crazy.

Everyone is so searchable today that people look you up and can find information about you almost instantly. In my opinion, you must have a public online presence. It may either be podcasting, blogging, or speaking at conferences. You have to establish your leadership presence, because that helps promote the brand of your company. I talk to my clients about creating a parallel brand where you have a CEO or executive brand that is parallel with your business brand.

Yes creating that CEO brand is critical. It drives your stock price, it drives your revenue, it helps you attract and retain employees, and it is a critical checkbox. Your board is evaluating your efforts in that area. That is just as important as anything else that a CEO is held accountable for. It is not something that a lot of people are comfortable with. I remember years ago that I had the pleasure of working at Apple Computers with John Sculley, who was the CEO, who described himself as an introvert. I was doing public relations for him in the company, and John would say, “This doesn’t come naturally to me because I do consider myself as an introvert. I do it for the company; I do it for the brand, because I know what is important for the stock price.”

I have observed that there is a gap between CEOs and executives. I think creating a personal brand and putting it out there is just as important for executives as it is for CEOs. So many C-Suite executives I talk to really don’t understand why it is important for them to do that. More to the point, their companies do not understand. I get at least one or two calls a week from a C-Suite executive from a Fortune 1000 company or an Inc. level 500 company who say, “I know that I need to create a stronger personal brand, and I know that it is going to benefit my company. But I am paying for this myself because I can’t get my company to pay for it because they don’t see the value in it.” What is your perspective on it?

I do think that it is a fine line when you are the CEO. You don’t want to market yourself personally, because it is important to market the company and you just happen to be the CEO. You could be the CEO of another company, or doing something differently tomorrow. It is important to market the company. You just happen to be holding the torch. You happen to be the CEO today, and your brand is a reflection of the company. I know many CEOs who walked that fine line very carefully because they don’t want to market themselves as the brand. They market the company, and they happen to be the spokesperson.

I agree and disagree. First, I think a CEO brand has to be in parallel with the business brand. It can’t compete with it, or be at odds with it. I agree with that you are the CEO and the torchbearer of the company, but where I disagree is an example like Tony Hsieh or Zappos, who I feel created a very separate thought leadership brand for himself, but it was connected with his business. It was in parallel with his business. Every time you hear of Tony Hsieh, you think of Zappos. Every time you hear of Zappos, you think of Tony Hsieh.

I feel that in today’s world, there is value in a CEO and executive being known as both a thought leader in some particular space, and the CEO or executive of a company. There is a value in the CEO or in the executive having somewhat of a personal thought leadership brand themselves. It is connected with the business, but it also stands on its own to some degree.

You make an excellent point because in that particular example, Tony Hsieh is known for social entrepreneurship. He can be a thought leader on that particular topic, while representing an individual brand or a company that he just founded. No matter what he chooses to do in his future endeavours, he will still be known for that.

What are the top three recommendations you give to women CEOs and executives to establish themselves and create thought leadership for women in a particular space?

The first thing is that I try to encourage people to think of that process as part of their DNA as an executive and as a leader. You are expected to do this. Whether you like it or not, it comes with the territory. You aspired to that rung on the ladder, and that is what comes with it. Speaking of creating thought leadership, I think of networking and branding as your 24-hour fitness for your own personal development.

I don’t find that that is the case right now. I don’t think most CEOs or executives realize that it is part of their DNA and part of their job. I think a lot of them still look at it as a nice add-on if they have time for it, as opposed to that it is actually part of the job description.

I agree, as I have had so many conversations throughout my career with CEOs. I looked them right in the eye and said, “You have a night job, you have a weekend job, and it is called as being a thought leader.” They then look at me and go, “Oh my gosh.” But they get it.

If you are an accountant by trade, and all of a sudden you are a CEO, or perhaps you are an engineer and you loved to code, and then all of a sudden you are a CEO, and it just does not come naturally to you, the smart people say, “I asked for this thing; I’ve got to jump in.”

What is your second recommendation to create thought leadership for women?

I would say, having a point of view and marketing that point of view — being known for something. The human brain can only handle so much data. When they look at you representing your company, they are going to remember one particular image and concept. Marketing that concept over and over with that point of view is very important.

This idea of having a point of view is so important, because you don’t create thought leadership for women in the middle of the road. You build it on anecdotes, stories, very specific ideas, and on particular content that you have come up with.

What is your third recommendation?

My third recommendation for creating thought leadership for women is, to be a CEO and an executive who knows all aspects of the business. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, no matter where your roots have been planted and what kind of discipline or function that you rose up the ranks. You have got to spend time and energy learning enough about the other functions of the business to clearly articulate a strategic level. Be conversive enough on the other areas to really succeed in that CEO role.

I’m not sure I think that the challenge of being a leader is fundamentally any different for men and women.

I totally agree with you. There are some nuisances and challenges that are unique to women. However, I want to add something, which is that the best workshops that we at Watermark offer are focused on leadership skills for both men and women. They learn from one another. We can talk about how the male brain operates differently than the female brain, as well as how men negotiate differently. You can see the light bulbs going on in their heads, but giving leadership skills to both men and women is extremely important.

We do emphasize that creating a culture that is welcoming and supportive of a diversity of thought, which includes women, is extremely important because there are too many female executives that are recruited to new environments, cultures, opportunities, and they leave, because the culture was not welcoming to them. That is something that we have to work on, that women don’t have to change themselves, that the culture is supportive of a diversity of thoughts.

I completely agree with that. As a management and marketing consultant, I see this all the time in many high-tech companies who struggle with a lack of diversity, and diversity makes a richer, better, more productive, and happier workplace.

BB4 | Thought Leadership for Women - Marlene Williamson

Any final thoughts?

I see that so many female executives who are busy working so hard, and trying to balance their home life with their career. When something goes wrong with their career and they did not get that promotion, or perhaps lost their job — at that point, they say they   should work on their network. In my opinion, at that point it is too late.

It should be something that you should always be working on at all times, because you never know when you are going to need it. If you do that, good things happen when it is unexpected, thanks to your network, your ecosystem, and relationships that you have developed over the years.

People know you, that you have a perspective, a point of view, and you are a thought leader. Then they they will seek you out, and that will help you propel whatever career aspirations that you have.

I always tell my clients, “You want to be creating your brand by design and not by default.” When you are in an emergency, it is almost always by default. I think it is very important to start working your CEO brand and thought leadership today. There is no time like the present.

Marlene, thank you so much for the interesting and lively conversation today. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule as a CEO to create thought leadership for women in being here and enlightening us.

My guest today has been Marlene Williamson. She is the CEO of Watermark. If you want to find out more, please go to

Important Links

About Marlene Williamson – CEO of Watermark

BB4 | Thought Leadership for Women - Marlene WilliamsonMarlene Williamson is the Chief Executive Officer of Watermark, an executive organization focused on gender diversity in business.  Previously Marlene was Chief Marketing Officer of a number of technology companies including Alfresco, BigMachines (sold to Oracle) and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (sold to Western Digital).

Prior to joining Hitachi, Marlene was vice president of global marketing for Ericsson.  She has held vice president of marketing roles at Symantec, IBM, Polycom and Acer.  Earlier in her career, she led global consumer marketing at Apple.  Her expertise is in go to market & digital strategies for enterprise software companies.

She has been named Marketer of the Year by the American Marketing Association, Partner of the Year by Yahoo, Innovator of the Year by Google, Outstanding Female Executive in Silicon Valley by the YWCA and a Woman of Influence in Silicon Valley by the San Jose Business Journal.  She is a current board director of Watermark, a board advisor to several technology companies and a former board member of the CMO Council and the Association for Corporate Growth.

She holds an MBA from DePaul University, is accredited in corporate governance from Harvard and is a frequent  speaker on high tech go to market & digital strategies, leadership & gender diversity issues.

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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.

Personal Mastery and Leadership with Shayne Hughes

Personal Mastery and Leadership with Shayne Hughes

Shayne Hughes, President of Learning as Leadership discusses the connection between personal mastery and leadership presence.  What happens when leaders learn to step away from their aggressive egos, and eliminate workplace politics? We will explore how CEOs and C-suite executives contribute to office turf wars and how they can move from reactive feelings in times of crisis and stress to being their authentic selves.

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.

Personal Mastery and Leadership with Shayne Hughes

Karen Leland Branding ExpertHi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me today. My guest is Shayne Hughes. He is the president of Learning as Leadership. We are going to talk today about personal mastery and leadership. Shayne, thank you so much for joining me today.

It is my pleasure.

I am really happy that you could be here. I just wanted to start by asking you straightforwardly how you define personal mastery.

Personal mastery is our ability in any given moment, particularly in moments of stress, conflict, or challenge, to show up and respond with our best selves, with our most creative and flexible capacity and strengths. What tends to happen in moments of crisis or challenge is that we often feel our success threatened in some way, or we feel threatened by the conflict with the other person. These situations tend to bring out our coping strategies, our reactive behaviors. In fact, in the moment when we most need our strengths and intuitions, we tend to show up with fight and flight behaviors or more inflexible responses. We tend to be suboptimal the moment we need to be optimal. Personal mastery is learning to break out of that paradigm.

It is interesting because a lot of work I do is about branding and personal branding. I work with a lot of CEOs and executives. It’s interesting because I find that people often go away from their authentic brand in those moments of stress. Their true, authentic brands tend to flip into the background when they get into that reactive space, and they don’t have personal mastery skills yet.

Yes, I connect with that. What I see for myself, and also for a lot of clients, is that our authentic brand is about bringing in our true selves, our thoughts, perspectives, and our feelings, to bear in a situation, to show up in an open-hearted and straightforward way, which is the key to personal mastery. Moments of conflict and threat often trigger it. From our perspective, we often talk about how it triggers our ego and our preoccupation of our self-worth, and one of the ways in which we most often get it triggered is around what other people are thinking. Are they being critical of me? They are judging me. They are better than me. They are trying to hurt me. They have an agenda. We have all sorts of thoughts in our minds that make other people feel like a threat to us.

In that moment we are more liable to want to try to protect our image in their eyes and our eyes. So we will do or not do certain things in order to manage the relationship and the other person’s view of us. Those behaviors tend not to be our most authentic selves because when we don’t feel safe, one thing that does not feel okay to do is be authentic. Yet when we don’t feel safe, often, we most need our most authentic selves. Generally speaking if I am not feeling safe with you in an interaction, it’s probably because you are not also feeling safe with me. The question is: Who is going to step forward first?

BB003 | Personal Mastery

Staying true to our authentic selves when triggered by thoughts of, “Are they judging me? Am I good enough?” etc is part of personal mastery.

That’s interesting, because I think about some of the people that I deal with like executives, and when they feel threatened, it is like they disappear. Something else shows up. It’s like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Someone else shows up in their place. If they do that often enough, what happens is that people start to view them in an untrustworthy way because they are inconsistent. They do not know who’s going to show up. They are often seen as having an inconsistent brand or inauthentic brand because they don’t show up in a consistent way that shows they have great personal mastery of their reactive emotions. You never know how they are going to react. I do not know if you see that a lot in the work that you do because you deal mostly with senior executives and leaders of corporations, yes?

Yes. Broadly speaking, in those moments of conflict, people tend to either withdraw and shut down or to get aggressive and attack. Some people do a little bit of both. Most usually have a dominant response. One of the things that tend to happen that I see is that over time, other people tend to summarize us in their mind as to whatever that behavior is. If I come across as abrasive and aggressive, personally I have an anger problem that I worked on a lot in the past, so if I get angry once or twice, that’s enough. The next time I raise my voice, the other person thinks, “Here he comes again.” People tend to be on the lookout for that. Or if I withdraw but I am still judging you in my mind, I think people sense that. That tends to trigger their own feelings of being judged or not feeling safe, so they get guarded with us. That’s when communication breaks down, and we tend to begin seeing each other in one-dimensional ways. Shayne is this way. Karen is that way.

That’s really well said. In that whole issue of personal mastery, what I hear you saying is that personal mastery is learning to catch that reactiveness before it happens. So that you can make a choice about the way you want to be rather than that default way of being. Would that been an accurate way to say it?

Yes, absolutely. In other words, each of us has our own coping strategies that have developed throughout the course of our lives. When we get down to the root of them, because we are emotionally charged, it feels so personal. To be able to notice that in a moment and realize, “Oh, it’s like my rejection hot button coming up or my feeling-criticized hot button coming up.” We then see that we’re going in our automatic behavior; to catch it in a moment and to re-center is a crucial skill.

Personal mastery also is interwoven in leadership at a broad level, because when you are a senior executive, for example, how you behave has a huge impact on culture and the context around you, the atmosphere that you’re creating. These reactive behaviors tend to ricochet off each other like a pinball machine. If I, as a leader, am able to notice that in a moment, come back, and show up differently, I’ll be able to set a tone for a more functional interaction. If I let myself get hijacked, especially if I’m in a position of authority where I have consequential influence over someone on my team in terms of their performance review or their feeling of safety with their job, there can belong a shadow to those reactions. We tend to underestimate the negative ripple effects when we’re not attuned to those moments.

I really love the way you’ve said it. I’ve never heard it said that way. You said there is a context around you? That’s a great way of saying it. What’s fascinating about that in a lot of ways, what people’s personal brands really are, especially when you’re a leader at work, even if people don’t say this, is the way people experience the context they are in when they’re around you. I’ve never quite heard it put like that; that’s a really brilliant way to say it.

We tend to see context, because our culture is somewhat external, like a static thing. “My organizational culture is like this,” and it’s much more malleable. It’s constantly being created and re-created. In fact, how I show up really has an enormous impact on the atmosphere and on the context. Either I’m leading it to the direction of more transparency and openness, or often in my reactive behaviors, I’m creating an atmosphere of tension, threat, or feeling judged. We started at the outset by saying that personal mastery is learning to notice what happens when I feel threatened, and this pinball machine that I was talking about is this: When I act in a way that’s defensive and you feel threatened, you respond, and over time you can create an organizational culture that is fairly dysfunctional, and people feel they’re under siege.

It becomes the pattern of you and the person as well.


A lot of your work focuses on dealing with the ego and its impact. What can you say when talking about the ego and your company? What specifically are you referring to? What do you think that impact is on the executives and leaders? On how they’re seen and what they see in other people?

We define the ego, because it’s a commonly used word, in a very specific way, which is the constant preoccupation with our self-worth.

No one listening has that problem, including you and I!

The way to recognize the experience that I’m talking about is to recognize the voice that’s in the back of your mind. It’s constantly chattering about, “Was that smart? Was that intelligent or insightful? Are they criticizing me?” or “That was stupid.” The conversation goes on; it’s a constant chatter. We judge a lot, or say, “I’m my own worst critic.” This is the constant voice of our ego evaluating: I am good or bad, I have succeeded or failed, I am better or inferior to. That preoccupation can become background static, and many people can be overwhelmed by the dominant noise in their brains. That really takes up lot of their creative space and a lot of their emotional energy. So this ego and the noise in our head, they influence our perception and generate emotions, stress feelings, and all of those drive behaviors.

The problem is our ego directs all our behavior, a lot more than what we realize, and it directs our behavior a lot more than our actual most cherished goals. Personal mastery is quieting this ego. One example that I can give is a CEO that I knew. First thing he realized was that one of his very precious goals as a CEO was to unleash the potential of his team. He really wanted to mentor and grow people and help people be their fullest selves. He identified, though, that one of the ways which he evaluated his worth, which was around his intelligence. . That looks something like managing how smart he was in his mind and evaluating, “Am I smarter? Was that a better idea?”

BB003 | Personal Mastery

Personal mastery is quieting the ego and the voice in the back of the mind that second guesses all actions and statements.

You mean like having to be the smartest person in the room? That sort of a pattern?

Exactly. One of the things he realized was that, in a very unconscious way, he always had to have the very best ideas and ended up not welcoming the input of his team. Not really being able to question in the moment whether his idea or someone else’s idea was the best idea was highlighted as a blind spot for him.

The challenge of this, Karen, was that we all know the correct behavior: to be open, to be curious and not hung up on our idea, and to welcome others’ input. So it’s not a question of do we know what it means to show up in our best way. It’s that if it happens, at some point, that my feelings of worth around my intelligence get triggered, and all of a sudden my goal in that moment becomes to prove my intelligence and not to help my team formulate the best idea even if I look inferior, getting in the survival state in that.

Personal mastery can be, on the one hand, very overwhelming. Why I really love this work and believe in it so much is because we all have a much deeper part of ourselves. We all have this desire to contribute to something larger, to feel connected to other people; to feel like we belong to an effort that really matters to us. This is connected to our sense of purpose. In our modern world, where we are evaluated around our strengths, our performance, and our progression in our career, how are we compared to our MBA cohort back at school? We have this obsession with our self-worth that disconnects us from the “why” and our desire to create things with others. So when we can extract the ego in that way, it’s like creating a sense of inspiration and collaboration for teams and organizations.

It somehow links to the part that I was going to ask you; so, being driven by ego has sort of a negative impact. What’s the alternative?

Sometimes it’s interesting that people say, “Oh, I want people with strong egos. They get things done and drive things forward.” While people with strong egos, in the short term, can sometimes look like they’re successful, in the long term and in a context of team and organization, what happens is that we have a lot of internal jostling, competition, and perceived agendas, because there is always a background tension of “Is this person trying to one-up me?” And so, in organization, what happens is they try to defend their worth and success first, they do their job second, and they worry about the organization’s mission third. And that can actually be reversed.

That’s a great way to say it. I run across people, not frequently, but I do run across people who say, “Look, my brand is that I am just tough.” I actually had a CEO of a fairly large company say to me the other day, “I will settle for nothing less than totally annihilating the competition through complete humiliation.” I sort of didn’t know what to say to that guy, because that’s the opposite of how I think about things in general. I was trying to talk to him about it, and he was so proud that that was his brand and that’s how people knew him. It was his whole orientation around himself.

I don’t see it very often, but I do see it, and I’m sure you must see it in what you do. I guess if someone has spent their whole life doing that and it’s “worked for them,” they are successful, they have money, what’s the motivation for them not to be that way?

This is what we usually hear from people: “This has been my success formula. I drive hard and tend to leave dead bodies in my wake, but I get it done. And if you want me to change that, you’re asking me to give up my success formula and I will lose my edge.” If I can say something blasphemous, I think that’s a fallacy, that we’re actually less successful than we could otherwise be, but we don’t realize that because we are not very connected to the consequences of these behaviors. So people who operate with that mindset; they never feel satisfied on the inside. It doesn’t matter how much success they get, there will always be something missing in them, like there’s always one more thing that they have to do. Maybe it has caused them to show up in their personal life in ways that are dissatisfying.

If you scratch beneath the surface in their organizations, people may be really working very hard, feeling driven and maybe getting a lot of things done, but there’s no inspiration there. Ultimately, in organizations that are really inspired by what they’re doing, I’ll take over the organization that is working very hard every time because the discretionary effort really comes from caring, from really feeling in the core that something really matters. I often hear leaders in organizations who come to our program at the onset, “I want to be the best leader that I could be,” or, “I want to be the best in class in our industry,” or, “I want to be the organization that people envy or people want to be a part of.” That’s a manifestation of a collective obsession that we all have — being the best. But in fact, the best is something that’s all about trying to measure myself over other people.

So it’s a constant competition paradigm. There’s something more than that; personal mastery actually creates even greater performance — and that’s when we don’t worry about whether or not we’re the best. What we’re really connected to is to what we’re doing. Why does it matter? What are we trying to create? We’re creating a culture where people aren’t worried about where they are in the pecking order or who is better than whom. We are creating a context in a culture where we are constantly talking about what we’re doing, why we care about what we’re doing — that’s when you get the whole person. When you get the whole person across an organization, you create something completely different in terms of performance.

What I get from the perspective of the brand of an organization, or of an individual, the brand isn’t just one thing. It’s not some sort of one-dimensional thing. It’s a very rich, complex, multi-faceted dimension. When somebody is really in that place, there’re all those dimensions to it. People are saying that Steve Jobs had a very strong brand. Well, he really did have a strong brand; he had a strong public brand. But it’s very one-dimensional. He was seen, not to take anything away from him, because he was a genius, but a lot of his workers describe him the same way: that’s very one-dimensional. There’re not a lot of complexities about how they talked about him. They talked about him with respect and admiration, but very one-note. There are no people who talked about him with a much richer, deeper, almost in an affectionate way because they brought their whole person to it.

BB003 | Personal Mastery

There’s nothing wrong with a strong ego, so long as the person has personal mastery over it and knows how to quiet it when needed.

We have a mutual friend, Joel Kimmel, who was also interviewed in this podcast. He said that he woke up from a dream and he was thinking, “What would my life be like if I stopped blaming myself or anyone else for anything?” And then he said that this became his practice. He was going to stop blaming himself or anyone else for anything. Not that he was going to stop taking responsibility or holding people accountable, but actually stop “blaming people” and himself for anything. Which, as he has said to me, it’s a practice—he’s not always successful at it.

His wife, Judy, and I were actually having lunch a year after this and Judy said, “I think I’m going to try that,” and I said, “Me too.” That has actually proven to be so unbelievably rewarding and unbelievably hard. There’s a part of us where there is that survival instinct. It’s something that kicks in and it’s something to fight against, to do with what you’re talking about. Is this what you call personal mastery? Personal mastery is like a muscle that you exercise. It takes an enormous amount of rigor to be able to catch yourself just before you go into whatever your response is and stop, go for some of the bigger and higher things that we’re talking about. So what’s your take on that?

A couple of thoughts. One, I find it helpful to remember that blame is really a reaction of our ego, and sometimes we’re blaming other people and sometimes we’re blaming ourselves. Typically in the situation where there’s a lot of blame and frustration going on, you’ll notice that we go back and forth, almost from one second to the next, where we ask, whose fault is this? We get caught up in each thought of blame as if it were true and valid, when in fact, it’s just a reaction. The whole cycle is just a reaction, and we get caught up in the moment. It’s like I’m in the wrong paradigm in the moment. It’s completely irrelevant, most of what I’m thinking. For those who have had the situation where they were really worked up, or where they often fall to a blame cycle, you see it’s really hard to get out of it. It’s kind of what Joel was pointing to: “If I didn’t spend my time blaming myself or others, what would my life be like?”

I think that part of this is, you’d probably gain back 75 percent of your mental energy. I’m not exaggerating. There can be almost nothing else going on for us — that’s the one thing. I really feel that’s big, and I think about being right in the same way. I’m just not interested in trying to be right about things because in those moments, I’m the one who’s agitated, the one poisoning myself, the one who’s not thinking about what I want to create in my life right now. Because that’s my present moment, and that’s precious. I don’t want to give that away. Being right in blame is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies; it doesn’t work.

The second thing I want to mention, though, you mention that it’s something that we need to fight against, and I think I would come back to that work and challenge how we think about it because I also relate to what you’re saying, when I’m blaming, or judging, and I try to stop myself from doing it. It’s like trying to stop a wave from the ocean and standing in front of a train and slowing it down. It’s very hard to do, and so you feel like it’s a big fight. I think that’s because that’s not where our leverage is.

Just before this phone call, I also had a phone conversation with someone. I hung up, and there’s this spin going in the back of my mind: self-blame and resentment toward the person. I had stuff going on about other people. So I tell myself, “Oh, I’m in this spin, so what am I going to do about it?” The first thing to do is I shut it down, go to my device, and ignore it. I said to myself, “Wait, what I am feeling here?” When I followed the thread back, that blame cycle always starts in a very specific moment; there’s always a before and an after.

We call that moment a pinch, an emotional pinch, like someone has pinched your arm. Something happens and I have that first burst of hormonal response. The blame then is what follows. That moment was the key to recognize, as it occurs in particular, when something about my self-worth has being triggered. If I can go back and learn to recognize what in my ego has gotten set off there, and extract that out of the situation, it deflates 85 percent of the tension. So in the example I have given you this morning, I realized that something happened, that that person had said something. I didn’t notice it until I went back. These things are like mosquitoes that zoom by your ear.

But they take a micro-second.

They do, and they’re gone. I realized in tracing back to the moment where my discomfort first happened, this person said something, and I had a sense of, “Oh, I’m not making progress here, and I’m failing.” It was my ego threat. “I’m failing right now, and there are other people outside that are going to judge me.” All of a sudden, it was there and gone in an instant, when I began behaving differently during the call and trying to be more convincing as opposed to me drawing the other person out.

You mean more convincing as the reaction to that feeling you had?

I was trying to convince the person to go to my direction as opposed to drawing out some questions like, “What are you trying to say? What do you mean? What’s going on?” The right decision is to ask a question in that moment and not try to convince, but I lost that because I had a pinch where my sense of competence, success, and fear of being judged and failing came out. I was able to go back and recognize, “Ah, right. I got it.” After that, I was off track. So, what’s my goal? Because my goal here is not around my self-worth. My goal goes around what I want to be creating in the world and what I want to be creating with this person. Coming back to that, all the blame evaporates like a San Francisco mist on a hot sunny day. All is just gone and you can see clearly again.

So what you’re saying is that’s where the leverage is, not in the fighting against it but in identifying where that ego pinch happens and going to what the bigger goal is.

Exactly, because when we identify the ego threat, with practice, we can learn to have distance from it. Instead of it being a runaway freight train, it’s gone. What remains is, “What do I want?” and so there’s no fight. Because our natural state, Karen, is to be connected with what we want to create, our sense of purpose, our desire to connect with other people. It’s just that when we’re triggered, we lose all of that…but it comes back right away.

I have done your personal mastery programs for years, and I wouldn’t give myself a gold star for this; however, I would say that certainly I notice there’s a great percentage of time that something will happen and I’ll tell myself, “Karen, that is just your ego in the way you’re talking. It’s just your image. You’re just trying to manage your image; stop it.” So I notice that the ability to see it is far greater than it was before I started the work with you. Personal mastery makes the difference, in a way that you don’t take yourself so seriously. Do you know what I mean?

Absolutely. I think part of what you’re saying is that personal mastery is so subtle. Really, it’s a challenge to recognize it. What’s kind of counterintuitive about it is often, there’s a real feeling of threat that goes on. It’s not like, “Oh yeah, you’re in your ego and you should get over it.” Right now, if this person thinks, “I’m incompetent; they’re not going to respect me anymore,” It results in thinking, “I’m not going to be needed or wanted or be part of the team.” It’s almost like it’s a question of life and death.

It does. It feels like survival.

It really does. That’s why it can be very important. At the same time, if affects when we realize that the tempest that we’ve made of it is not really at stake. So when you say, “Oh, that’s just my ego, and I’m not going to take myself so seriously,” part of that is learning to recognize that there’s not much at stake.

No, not at all. The change is really fast once the swirl stops. The swirl makes it seem a lot more important than it actually really is in 99 percent of the cases.


Can you talk about Learning as Leadership, your role there and what the company does to foster personal mastery?

So Learning as Leadership, we are really focused on helping leaders and organizations become more aware of how this ego dynamic we’ve been discussing plays out in our leadership and our organizational culture. One of the tragedies of workplace politics and turf wars is that nobody wants them, but we are all caught up in them and powerless about it. What we think is it’s somebody else; it feels like it’s the organization or it is the other person. Our goal is to help executives learn to recognize ways they’re inadvertently and involuntarily reacting and perpetuating this and become much more comfortable in self-diagnosing and talking about it transparently, creating a culture in their team where it becomes commonplace. After that, we dig deeper into an organization with some on-site programs to really help them bring transparency and this self-awareness to their entire culture. My role in Learning as Leadership is as the president, and my focus is on the development and the delivery of our executive programs and of direct client work that we do with large and small organizations.

So can you give your website where people can go and check your work out at?

It’s You can also put They all go to the same place.

You have a new book coming out on personal mastery and ego. Can you just talk a little bit about that?

Absolutely. We worked with a company called Encore Capital, which was in the financial services sector for about eight years, and the CEO came with his management team. Over the course of this time, we worked with the direct executive team and then with the top 150 leaders in the organization to really bring this level of awareness and more functional behavior to the company. They went through this incredible journey in terms of reinventing what their mission was, how they interact with their clients. During the recession of 2008 and 2009, about 90 percent of their industry went bankrupt. During that same time frame, their growth was 300 percent. They were able to stand up to a subsidiary in India that became number fourteen on the great places to work in all of India. When most of their industry was trying to do the same strategy and nobody was making any money, they were able to extract the dysfunction so the people’s focus was on the work at hand. When he left we decided to work on a book together describing this journey.

We wanted to write a book that was a page-turner, that was engaging to read. I did not want to bore people with all of our concepts and case studies. What we have is our two voices interwoven. He tells the story as a first-time CEO, stepping into this world in a time of intense challenge and all of the ups and downs that he went through in guiding the company. Each chapter has three sections from him and three sections from me where he tells part of his story and I comment on it and relate it to other aspects of our methodology or, more often, tendencies and broader issues that we tend to see in either individual development or in organizations. There is a back-and-forth to give an engaging story that is not a fable. It is a real-life story with real people, and all the results are actually what happened.

That’s an interesting way to do it. What’s the title?

I wish I knew.

Does it not have a title yet?

We have different working titles. The publishers have a whole titling process right now. Our working title is The Ego-Free Organization.

I like that title.

I like it too, but it has ups and downs. What I like about it is that we are trying to say, in everything that we have been talking about now, I can imagine someone going, “I have an organization where we can really eliminate the ego, and what we have instead is people’s creativity, collaboration, and sense of purpose. Sky’s the limit.” I want that, right? But I think, as I mentioned earlier, there are people who like the ego. Ego’s good, and that’s the people that get things done. Our concern is that it could be an initial turn-off because there are people who think that the ego is helpful. They don’t yet realize that the negative ripple effects are dramatic.

An uncontrolled ego can have dramatic negative ripple effects.

Interesting. I have two more quick questions for you. I ask everyone these questions. So the first one is this: Who is someone in your life who had a negative impact on you, and what did you learn? Don’t say the person’s name!

There is someone who had an influence on me that was very negative, and a lot of it came through how they communicated their expectations and their perceptions. It came across as judgmental and dismissive. There was often anger mixed in with it. I internalized that in a toxic way. When I think about how I mentor other people, how I say the difficult message, whether it is to someone in one of our programs, a client, someone in my team, and I practice it every day with my children, honestly, it is searching and learning to say the message in a direct and blunt way with love.

That’s great.

It’s a challenge because I have a tendency, like many of us do, that I hold back and not say it because I don’t want to hurt their feelings or I don’t want them to not like me. At some point it builds up and comes out with an abrasive edge, and the person will mostly hear that I am judging them, and they are not really hearing the message. It’s really a challenge for us because if we are delivering a difficult message, someone right away will bring their own self-judgment, right? And their own ego triggers. I have to find a way to be clear and yet emotionally present in connecting with my intention for them, so that I can help them hear the message not only behind my dysfunctions but behind their effectiveness. There are two barriers for us to go through.

Thank you so much for joining me today to talk about personal mastery.

My guest has been Shayne Hughes, the president of Learning as Leadership.

Important Links

Branding Blowout | Personal Mastery with Shayne HughesAbout Shayne Hughes – President of Learning as Leadership

Shayne is President and Culture Change Partner at LaL. Shayne’s expertise in creating cultures of open communication and collaboration has lead to substantial improvements in organizational and personal performance for such clients as Fairchild Semiconductor, NASA, Sandia National Laboratories, Shell Oil, and Encore Capital. He has also taught leadership at the University of California Haas School of Business, the University of Michigan’s Executive MBA Program and the Darden School of Business.  He was recognized in 2009 as one of the Forty Under 40 most remarkable up-and-coming leaders in Northern California. Shayne co-authored an article on “Ecosystem Leadership” in Harvard’s Du Bois Review, was profiled in Psychology Today, and has been published in Diversity Executive Magazine, and the Huffington Post. When the Running Began: A Young Man’s Journey to Show Up in Life is his 2015 memoir exploring how the pains of his past became infused with the coping strategies of his ego, and what it took to grow beyond it.

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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, is due out from Entrepreneur Press in May of 2016.


Grow Your Small Business Brand Beyond Yourself

Grow Your Small Business Brand Beyond Yourself

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.

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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.

How to Build your Entrepreneur and CEO Brand with Podcasting

How to Build your Entrepreneur and CEO Brand with Podcasting

Podcasting is one of the fastest growing media opportunities, with over 57 million repeat listeners in the Unites States per month. On today’s show, Tom Hazzard, co-founder of Podcast Start Point and co-host of WTFFF?! a 3D printing podcast, discusses how to tap into podcasting as a way to build your personal brand and establish yourself as an industry expert.

Listen to the Podcast here:

How to Build your Entrepreneur and CEO Brand with Podcasting

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.

Karen Leland Branding Expert: Tom, welcome to the podcast.

Thank you so much for having me. I am happy to be here.

I am really thrilled you’re here. I met Tom and his wife Tracy, when we were at a conference a year ago. I was talking to one of my clients and and saying I am really interested in podcasting. My client said, “You have got to meet Tom and Tracy Hazzard. They’ve got this podcasting thing down.”

Thank you so much. We enjoyed meeting you at the conference. Podcasting is a wonderful thing. We did it for ourselves and now we’re hoping that others can do it.

For the people who are listening that aren’t familiar with it, What is the actual definition of podcasting?

Well, it is a modern on demand radio. You, as a listener, no longer have to go to a particular station, listen at a particular time. If you’re not there then you will miss it. Radios are not like DVRs, you can’t just rewind and play. In podcasting, you can. The great thing about podcasting, there are many subjects that you can listen to. Whatever your area of interest is, there’s probably a podcast for that. If not entirely, there’s been an episode about it done by somebody. You can just search and find it. Download the ones that you want to your smartphone or just listen to it over your computer’s speaker when you want to and where you want to.

It is also nice because it’s a great equalizer. When I go on long car trips, I will download Terry Gross on Fresh Air. But at the same time I will download an entrepreneur I want to listen to. Once you’re on iTunes then people can download you and find you by that topic, correct? You don’t have to be a Terry Gross, who is famous and well-known.

That’s absolutely true. You don’t have to be famous. It’s the democratized radio, and broadcasting to a large extent. There are a hundred and fifteen thousand English-speaking podcasts out there. There’s many to choose from, and most of those are not very well-known people.

Branding Blowout | How To Build Your Entrepreneur and CEO Brand with PodcastingTom you are the co-founder of Podcast Start Point and Hazz Design. Your starting point for your podcast was as a spin-off to your core product design and development business, Hazz Design, right?

We’ve designed and developed retail products for our whole careers. Then we got more involved in 3D printing. I really enjoyed that aspect of the product design and development process. We thought “there’s a real opening here and nobody’s doing a good podcast on how to use 3D printing in business.” It was an opportunity for us to establish ourselves as experts in that particular niche area of the field. We researched how to start a podcast and eventually started our own.

How did you make that leap from starting your own podcast and wanting to teach, and work with other people, on how to podcast?

We read over a dozen books and listened to fifty different podcasts and watched many YouTube videos. The reality is, they were all giving you the basic steps on how you do it but no one’s telling all the details. Once we realized what those missing pieces were, we put our plan together. We realized that there are so many people, entrepreneurs, start up founders, and small businesses out there that could use this information to build their business and personal brands. But they needed to know how to do it. We put together systems, and put procedures in place to actually produce our own podcast. Most people don’t want to spend all their time doing all the tech themselves, editing, dealing with voice over artists, etc. So we set-up systems to do that. We started another spin-off business for that.

That’s great. It is part of what we talked about. I know how to brand but basically I am not good at the technical stuff. I think a lot of people don’t podcast because of the technical piece. How easy is it to turn over the technical part to someone, so you can just focus on what you do well?

If you don’t have a system in place to do that, there are services that will produce it for you. All you have to do is record and upload your content. You just have to decide what your content might be. Either you want to interview somebody or you will just record your own stories from your experiences, or talk about whatever your subject matter is. Once you do the prep work, it is fairly easy with a little technical knowledge. If you use a laptop or desktop, it won’t be too difficult.

The investment in the basic equipment is a couple of hundred dollars, is that correct?

Yes, almost. There’s very good equipment now for about a hundred and fifty dollars or two hundred at most. Along with using your computer, you can produce a fine quality podcast. If you really want to produce high quality because you have a bigger audience, it may be an eight hundred dollar piece of equipment to produce a DJ quality or radio quality podcast.

It is amazing when you think about the world in terms of people making their own media. That’s an extremely low amount of money to produce that high a quality of podcast.

You’re right. People used to go to book a recording time in a studio with very high rates per hour to get that kind of quality. You don’t have to do that anymore.

Podcasting, just like how blogging, speaking, writing articles, or video blogging, isn’t for everyone. Who’s an ideal audience for podcasting?

You need to have something to say. You need to have some experiences, history, and area of interest. You also need to be very comfortable in speaking. You can’t be shy about it. As long as you have an area of interest and you have something to say. As a person in business, you have to decide how that will benefit you. It takes some time even if you just record and upload. There’s preparation that is involved. If you have the time and interest, there’s so many benefits for you, as you establish and grow a podcast.

What are some of those benefits from your experience?

For entrepreneurs and people who are in business for themselves, let’s talk about people that don’t have a known name already or have a high-profile position. For them, they get to establish themselves as an expert, because if they interview others, people will listen to your podcast in order to listen to those guests. You then become well-known and famous for delivering that good content and get credibility, as an expert in that field.

It can also give you access to dream clients. Say, for example, I am in physical fitness and I do a podcast about that. I have that ideal dream client that I want to get who is high a profile leader in the field.  I go and make them a guest on my podcast. I get to know them. I build a trust relationship with the guest that I interview.

This is also true for marketing and branding today.  It’s about relationships and trust. In my point of view, if I invite someone to be a guest on my podcast, I have two things that I am interested in. First, I want to make sure that I provide high quality content for my listeners. Second, I want to make sure that I’m doing a good job of promoting my guest’s business and personal brand.

If it happens to turn out that I have something I can do that can help them in their business, I want them to know about that but for me personally, I don’t want to interview people to get business from them. I think that you’re saying that this can be a side benefit of podcasting. You should be interviewing people in my opinion who have something to contribute and that you actually want to support. F

No question about that. It is a side benefit but there are a couple of very well-known stories that have been published on other podcasts that you can get access to. People you couldn’t get before because of your credibility there.

I always teach my clients that they need leverage for credibility, whether it’s on a website, a podcast or on a blog. Anytime that you are associated with someone who’s top of your field, you end up with leveraged credibility. The world today runs on credibility. Trust and credibility.

I do a lot of CEO branding and executive branding. These are busy people. They are running companies and a lot of them will say to me, “I don’t have the time to podcast and what would I talk about?” My experience is that a lot of them really do have thought leadership to contribute. Whether it is on entrepreneurship or running a particular type of business or certain topic. What do you think the benefit for a CEO brand or a C-suite executive brand is in doing a podcast?

Those executives and CEO’s have the advantage of already being very high-profile. They are well-known, and to build a podcast audience when you’re already in that high-profile is relatively easy. It does not take very long to do it. But what they can gain is to establish themselves as a thought leader to a wider audience. It could also be used as proving ground for launching a book they are considering writing. There are a lot of advantages for executives like that. They may want to be a keynote speakers at events around the country or around the world. Having that podcast helps establish some credibility on subjects they might speak on or write about. When they do launch a book, there is a bigger audience for it.

If your personal brand as a CEO or as an executive gets expanded via a podcast, it can help promote your business. I have clients that are fabulous at talking – but horrible at writing. For those people, I always tell them that podcasting is a great way to go because you can get a podcast and turn the transcriptions into blog posts. Can you talk about how that works?

This is one of the best benefits of podcasting that we discovered last year. Every episode that we do is transcribed, but not just transcribed word for word. The old way in podcasting was that you would transcribe a podcast and produce a PDF and make that downloadable from your website. Today we transcribe the podcast into a readable format, but it still has the essence of the spoken words in the podcast. Once your established, Google checks on your website every day, and new blog posts get indexed. Those with keywords can get on the first page of Google.

That’s an important point. Does what you name your podcast make a difference?

It makes a difference when listeners are searching on iTunes.  Let’s say people find your podcast because you have interviewed someone that has a big social media following. Your guest will post on their social media when they are on your podcast and some of their followers will become yours.

That’s a really important point. How do your grow a podcast? If I start doing a podcast, how will anybody find it?

In this modern world, social media is your friend. If you have a big social media following, it would be easier. If you don’t, that’s okay. We would recommend a new podcast do interviews with people who have a big audience or social media following. We find LinkedIn to be extremely valuable, to push out podcasts to a larger audience. Certainly put it out on Facebook. Twitter, You can post it on Instagram. There are many ways.

How often should you podcast and when?

It depends on the podcast. We do five podcasts from Monday to Friday on WTFFF!? On Mondays, we do business subjects for people with 3D printers about building a business involved in 3D printing. We do one interview per week. Here’s a little secret about podcasting that no one told you that we want everyone to know to succeed in podcasting. It is cooperative, not competitive.

If you have the time to record the content in advance, you will build up a lot of episodes – faster. When people are searching for podcasts on iTunes, one thing they are looking for is credibility, including how many episodes you have.  One aspect about that is when you have many episodes, you can actually have more plays. One thing in podcasting that gives credibility, is how many plays and downloads you have. Your stats will go up faster the more podcasts you have.

Being in a car and listening to a podcast will actually change how I feel because I am getting educated, interested and engaged. Are podcasts like blogs, where you can record a whole bunch of them at once and put them on hold until you’re ready to roll them out?

We will have an editorial meeting and lay out our calendar of what we’re going to talk about a month in advance. Then every Monday we record as many podcasts as we can. We usually record one or two weeks worth of content in one session. We publish one interview in a week.

How long should a podcast be?

That’s probably the most frequently asked question I get from new podcasters. There are several schools of thought on it. There is no absolute right or wrong answer. Initially, we had the length of our podcast around the average length of the American commute which was 25 or 30 minutes long. Every episode was under 30 minutes. Within three months, we had our audience communicating with us and telling us they wish our podcast was longer. We listened to that and we lengthened our podcast, especially the interviews making them 45 to 50 minutes long. I am not saying that is right for everybody. I think you should look at your subject matter, how long does it take to communicate about it? Sensing your audience, are they bored or wanting more?

Ok, but let’s say I’m not doing an interview style podcast, but rather, I am talking solo for 15 minutes about a particular subject, does it bore people?

I don’t think it is boring for the listeners if the content is interesting for them. Also, if the podcaster is a good speaker. If you understand the subject, you know your stuff and you can talk about it well, it will be interesting. It was easier for us, as co-hosts, because we can have a dialogue back and forth. We like these kind of interviews that are just discussions. It should be real. It shouldn’t be rehearsed. When you’re speaking alone in a monologue, you need to have a plan. You need to talk about things that are going to be easy for you. Sometimes in our Tuesday episode, 3D printing subjects, it would be very technical and it bores my co-host. So I will do that episode myself. Personally, I like conversations and interactions.

I think enthusiasm goes a long way as well. You should sound enthusiastic and interested in your own topic. I think that comes across. When I interview people and they have a natural enthusiasm, even if they are not saying every word perfectly, that feeling and energy comes across. Is that an  important piece of podcasting?

It really is. Our podcast didn’t start quite that way. As time went on, we listened to ourselves and got feedback from others. I highly recommend that as you start to do it, you listen to your recordings and let others give you feedback. You should be willing to accept constructive criticism. We as a society, have interest in the reality of people. Being genuine and real is the most important thing.

When you go into a studio and record, you might use a script. I am thinking that having a script is not the best way to go on a podcast? 

I agree. I don’t do scripts. I do have a plan for what I will be talking about. I have a few questions jotted down especially when it is an interview, but I will let the conversation go where it goes. Sometimes I will ask someone about their business’ experiences. Based on what they talk about, I’ll pick up on something. and go that way.

Exactly. I find joy in interviewing people because they will say something that sparks a question that ends up in wonderful information I didn’t plan on discussing.

Right. I think you can’t plan everything when it comes to podcasting. Just like in radio interviews. It is really fun and exciting,  that’s why I enjoy doing it.

How has podcasting grown? Can you give me some statistics on where we are with it?

In the English language, there are about a 15o,000 podcasts. That’s not episodes, that’s actual shows that are available. That’s growing all the time. There are several studies that were published expecting that in 2016, podcasting will experience ten times growth. There was a point where podcasting was still new in early 2005, it seemed to be leveling off. But there seems to be a level up in the last two to three years. Part of that is generational, with the younger generation being a huge adapter of online content in podcasts.

How will they sort the good from the bad?

There are many ways that people can evaluate podcasts. They actually have a popularity indicator. A measurement of popularity of how many people downloaded a particular episode. You can also think of the length of the podcast. It surprises me sometimes that popular podcasts are very long.  It works for people in that area of interest. The way that you get a word through social media and with your transcribed content that will help people find you in when searching in iTunes or in Google.

What makes a good podcast? What are the two or three things that make a podcast excellentt?

I think it is about knowing your audience and what you’re going to talk about. The content should be educating or controversial. That’s the thing that makes for good podcasting. We don’t always agree with the opinions of the people we interview on our podcast. We have our opinions and we express them, but we always have a respectful dialogue. We can agree and disagree. That controversial subject might be entertaining and informative. You’re either helping them learn something or you’re getting them to think.

If you can make them laugh and inform them at the same time, you really have a winning combination.

I agree.

What information do you want to give your podcast audience about your business?

I don’t give my home address and my cell phone number. We have a designated email address for our podcast. We’re connected to our audiences in a disciplined manner. We do provide an email address. We provide our social media address and web addresses for our website where they can find our blog posts. We encourage them to go to our blog post because there are things that we talk about that need visuals. We also provide links located in our show notes.

Can you please explain what an editorial calendar is and how it works for podcasts?

Depending on how many episodes you have on a week, an editorial calendar is just a way to try to lay out what subjects you’ll talk about for a period of time. Last week was Earth Day, we did the entire weeks’ worth of episodes. We called it Earth Week. We have an educational podcast about 3D printing. We do establish some themes.

We also have a different theme daily. We started doing this a few months ago. Every week we have a new format where, Mondays are business related topics. Tuesdays are tech topics. Wednesdays are wildcard. Thursdays are our interview episodes. Fridays are design inspiration day. We have a format. We established these weekly themes. It takes a little planning and a little work, so we have an assistant now that is helping us to do it.

How similar is this to a contact marketing strategy based on a written or video blog?

It is very similar. It’s just the medium that is different.

I find an editorial calendar very useful. For example at the holidays, I like to talk about gratitude. When it is 4th of July, it is about freedom. In the summer, it is about vacationing and traveling. And then you can look at what’s happening in the world at that time. In addition to the evergreen content do you want your podcast to be relevant and timely?

Yes. But we try to be careful so that the podcast is still relevant 9 month later. Most podcasts, especially those podcasts that have the biggest following and get more downloads, have good content that’s related to something useful over the long term.

That’s a really important point. In terms of executive and CEO branding, you want to talk about topics that are evergreen, so if someone downloads a podcast that you recorded a year ago, it would still have relevant information.

That doesn’t mean that the podcast has to fall out of relevance because you can do an update episode and reference to an earlier podcast. We can actually recap. The blog post can be updated too. There are ways where you can even get content that otherwise would become less relevant and update it and keep it relevant.

How easy is it to edit a podcast when you first do it, then in the future if you want to change something?

Well, we save everything that we record, and we encourage other podcasters to do that. You can have your computer and have your editing staff back it up. It can be done. It is not that hard but one key factor that podcasters need to know is that when you go back and edit something in the podcast, you need to make sure that you really resave that podcast and with the exact same file name. It is slightly technical. Every podcast has a statistic to associate with as it lives over time, how many downloads it has, was it all downloaded by people on iTunes, mobile phone, or computers? Those are the stats that you’re going to see about your podcast.  You don’t want to lose these stats. If you change the file name all the stats will go away. You will need to replace the existing file with the new one, using the exact same name.

That’s a good technical tip. What do you think is the future of podcasting?

I just see it continuing to grow. I think it will continue to be relevant. If you look how television has changed, we use to have the core three channels. Now we have a thousand stations on Direct TV or however you get your cable through. Podcasting is growing as a medium. The audiences can split to so many fine subjects. There are so many demands for this content. I don’t want to predict the future entirely, but I think that if you need to establish, or you desire to establish a personal brand, ceo brand, etc. credibility for yourself or for your business, it will be very hard to do that without adapting a comprehensive social media and content strategy plan. Every website has to be involved in podcasting. There are great benefits for that.

If your podcast gets big enough, is sponsorship possible?

Absolutely. In fact, we are rolling out our first sponsor. It is a year later after starting podcasting, our audience has grown enough that people are actually paying us. I think it will be more profitable as a podcast.

Are there podcasts out there that are profitable and actually make money in podcast?

Absolutely. In fact, there are podcasts that openly publish what they make like Smart Passive Income by Pat Flynn. He publishes how much he makes from his podcast every month; the advertising, the affiliate marketing. There are many ways he makes money. People are seeing value in reaching our audience to promote their brand, it is really what they are doing, not advertising a particular sale on an item or anything. They are doing brand awareness building for their company.

I would assume that if you do podcasting well, it fills your funnel of potential clients who go to your website to find out about your services and your products and then buy.   

No question. It is our goal to establish ourselves as thought leaders and experts in our field of 3D printing. We know we would market something to that audience at some time, but we didn’t know what it was or when it would be. Sponsorship and advertising has been one of the things that have happened along the way.

It is interesting because I’ve always believed that whether you’re giving a speech, or writing a blog post, if you focus on providing content and value, business will naturally come out of that. Podcasting seems to be the same. the same thing. If you really put your focus on providing useful information, connecting with people and contributing, naturally those opportunities will happen.

I agree. That’s the best way to look at it. When you think about how many people can be reached with your podcast just in terms of networking. You reach people whom you will never reach otherwise. The opportunities  increase significantly when you provide value.

I think that’s really the ultimate point. You are able to reach a ton of people that you haven’t reached before.

The great thing is how you let people know. You have to market and advertise. Right now you can do that for a small amount, or no money, just by usingsocial media promotion. The organic nature of interviewing people who will then introduce your podcast to their audience. It is very inexpensive.

For those people who want to go to your website and learn more, where should they go?

It is or they can also go to our Facebook group and join.

I just want to say that if people are looking for product design and development they can also go to

You can find us anywhere in social media @hazzdesign and also for those who are interested in 3D printing subjects, our podcast is WTFFF?! 3D Printing podcast at

Important Links

Branding Blowout | How To Build Your Entrepreneur and CEO Brand with PodcastingAbout Tom Hazzard – Co-Founder of Podcast Start Point

Tom Hazzard is the co-founder of Podcast Startpoint and the host of WTFFF?!3D Printing Podcast, the 3D start point for the next industrial revolution. Tom is also Co-Founder and COO of design firm Hazz Design, has over 20 years of experience in product design and development, and is a faculty mentor for CEO Space International.  Tom holds 37 utility and design patents with an 86% commercialization rate and co-designed of 253+ consumer products bought everyday generating over $950 million for his clients. His upcoming book, IP Battle Scars, Lessons and Evasive Tactics, chronicles his experience and intentional invention process.

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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.