Stop spinning your wheels and start getting ahead: What Works is all about the nuts & bolts of what it takes to build a stronger business. Tara McMullin talks to experienced small business owners & entrepreneurs about marketing, management, mindset, operations, product development, sales, customer service, and more--so you can learn what's really happening behind the scenes. No gimmicks or fads. Just an inside look at how coaches, educators, lawyers, digital product creators, agency owners, writers, consultants, and more make it work.
EP 358: Imagining New Ways To Work With Future Proof Skills Lab Founder Liz Wiltsie
In This Episode
* How Future Proof Skills Lab founder Liz Wiltsie has build her business on her North Star values & the movements she belongs to* How she makes room for difference, both in her own business and in her work with clients* What she’s decided not to do with her business because of her values
Imagine yourself sitting at a table. In front of you, there are all your favorite art supplies. Maybe there are paints, crayons, or pastels. Maybe there are stacks of magazines and illustrated books you can cut up for a collage. Maybe your art is music and your favorite instrument is on the table. Or maybe, like me, your favorite art supply is a tablet—one you can draw & paint with as well as create written art.
On their own, the art supplies don’t amount to much, right? The value of a tube of paint, a trumpet, or a pen is based on what we have the potential to do with it. Art supplies are tools and raw materials for creating. We imagine something and start to make it, or we get inspired and follow that inspiration.
Our values can also be raw materials for what we create in the world.
They give us something to work with, make with, imagine with.
The strength in our values isn’t simply in knowing them or putting them on our websites—their strength is in what we do with them.
What’s more, we can express those values in different ways.
Just like you and I will create something completely different with the same palette of paint, you and I might build very different businesses even if we’re working from the same set of values. The way I build my business model or core competency based on a value for community care is going to be different than the model or competency you build out based on your value for community care.
So maybe now, you imagine sitting at a table with your values in front of you. They’re the raw materials you have to play with. Also at the table is what you have to offer and who you’re offering it to. Now, you get to make art!
That might sound like a simplistic or even naive way to think about business-building. But let me tell you: it works. And not only that, it makes choices like how to market, what price to set, or how sell much much easier too. Starting with your values as raw materials helps you shape your business, instead of letting shoulds & supposed-to’s shape it.
My guest today is a perfect example of this. Liz Wiltsie is the founder of the Future Proof Skills Lab and the host of Sustainably Human At Work. She’s a trauma-informed, abolitionist skill builder on a quest to support small business owners to create more intentional, imaginative, and connected workplaces.
Liz and I talk through the values her business is built on, as well as the movements her business uses as the focal point of her work. Plus, she sheds some light on how both our needs and our values end up manifesting in different ways, as well as how that applies to the workplace.
Now, let’s find out what works for Liz Wiltsie.
Some of the thinkers Liz mentioned in our conversation:
Janaya Future KhanJake ErnstJames-Olivia Chu HillmanDrive by Dan Pink
EP 357: Building A Business Based On What Matters With Coach Mara Glatzel
In This Episode:
* The key values that coach Mara Glatzel has built her business on* How her human-first approach to business gives her a framework for caring for herself and for her clients* The belief systems she’s worked on unlearning to better fulfill her values* How being “well-resourced” gives her what she needs to respond when things get stressful
Years ago, I was the trainer at the Borders Books & Music I worked at.
It probably won’t surprise you that I loved this role. I poured over the training manuals. I thought about better systems for acclimating a new bookseller to a store with some 90,000 titles. I took seriously my job to communicate company policy, as well as the special privilege of working for a company with a mission and values like ours.
You can imagine me now putting air quotes around “special privilege.”
Understandably, I couldn’t remember the company’s mission and values now. So looked them up and found them on an old Blogspot blog from around the time I reciting them to my trainees in the fluorescent-lit breakroom.
Ready for this inspiring list? As of 2005, the values for Borders Group, Inc were: Leadership, Results orientation, Respect, People development, A positive workplace, and Customer service.
Yeah. Nothing innovative there. You could probably look in the training manual for most mass retailers and find something remarkably similar.
That’s the thing about company values, right?
They seem to be there to sound good, to tell trainees that the company cares about more than profit. We roll our eyes or tune out completely. In practice, these values mean nothing.
They mean nothing because they are rarely operationalized in any meaningful way. When Borders said they valued “respect,” how does that translate to the daily work of the average bookseller or warehouse employee? And who or what is doing the respecting? My fellow booksellers and I respected each other—for the most part, it was a great group of people to work with. But did I feel respected by corporate? Rarely.
That’s not to say that I don’t believe any large corporation is capable of operationalizing their values. Patagonia, for instance, has a set of values that is designed to impact its decisions as a company and the daily work of employees. Patagonia’s values are more like directives: build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to protect nature, not bound by convention.
Damn, that’s good.
I can imagine sitting in a meeting about product development, or warehouse operations, or marketing and actually using those directives to guide both strategic direction and execution.
And essentially, that’s what I mean when I talk about operationalizing your values.
It’s taking what you say is important to you & your company and turning it into material decisions, procedures, and ways of working. It’s finding ways to get creative with “the way things are done” so that the way you’re actually doing things reflects what matters to you.
I think this is of unique concern to small business owners because we have incredible potential for doing things differently—and so often just don’t.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much we take existing systems and ways of working for granted—and then find ways to operate within those conventions that make us feel lik...
EP 356: Creating A System Of Care
Systems have a reputation.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, as I have, “Oh, I’m just not a systems person,” you might know what I mean.
Often, the way we talk about systems is tangled up in talk about software, procedures, rules, and a sort of legalistic structure for “this is how we do things here.”
When you say, “I’m not a systems person,” you’re likely expressing the kind of claustrophobic feeling that comes from being confined to a set of rules—even if they’re rules you yourself created!
When you say, “I am a systems person,” you might very well be expressing the relief that having clear instructions and a solid expectation of how a goal is accomplished can deliver. Systems are a way of easing anxiety for you.
I can easily find myself in both camps.
I might identify as a “systems person” in the morning and “not a systems person” by the afternoon.
And I’ve noticed that, for me, there’s a moral component to how I’m feeling about systems at any given time.
When I’m feeling like a systems person, I get the moral high ground of being someone who follows the rules and does things “the right way.” When I’m feeling like I’m NOT a systems person, I get the moral high ground of being a creative, think-outside-the-box kind of person.
Of course, it’s just as easy to get down on myself about either side of the moral equation too. When I’m feeling especially systems-oriented, I often feel I’m not as creative as I should be. When I’m feeling creative, I often beat myself up for not following the rules.
I have no idea if my moralizing about my waffling identity around systems is normal or not. But I suspect that I’m not alone.
I bring all this up because I think it’s easy get caught up in moralizing about the way we run our businesses. It’s easy to translate “this is how we do things” to “this is the right way” to “I’m good because I do things the right way” or “I’m bad because I don’t do things the right way.”
Morality, suffice to say, is also a system—it’s a cultural system for understanding what is good and what is bad, as well as what makes someone a good person and what makes someone a bad person. And like every paternalistic either/or system I can think of, moralizing tends to do more harm than good.
Maybe you don’t see your identity around systems and your business as a moral issue. I might be way off in left field here!
But, I gotta tell you, I hear a lot of confessions from business owners.
They confess that they have procedures but don’t follow them. They confess that they don’t have a marketing system. They confess that they’re so tied to their procedures that they can’t think strategically about whether what they’re doing is actually creating the results they want. They confess that they’re stuck in analysis paralysis because they’re looking for the best system for achieving their goal.
In other words, I hear confessions of perceived sins on either side of systems as a moral issue.
EP 355: Cash Flow Is A Feminist Issue
In This Episode:
* Tara explains how using a system-thinking approach to money makes it easier to invest in the growth of your business* Why cash flow is a 3-dimensional way to think about your business’s money* How the different components of a cash flow system work together to create a desired outcome* Why managing for cash flow creates the conditions to live out feminist values in your business
It’s easy to think 2-dimensionally about the money in your business: revenue and expenses. But 2-dimensional thinking makes it much harder to find the money to grow. If you can start to think 3-dimensionally (revenue + expenses + time), then you can expand your opportunities.
Managing for cash flow gives you a way to see the interconnected components of money in your business. Plus, it’s a way to powerful financial systems and live out feminist & anti-colonialist values.
Find this episode in article form by clicking here.
EP 354: Making Sales A System With Coach Pony Founder Christie Mims
In This Episode:
* Why Coach Pony founder Christie Mims uses 2 “competing” sales funnels to accommodate for different ways of buying* How she melds both sales automation and a human approach to produce 7+ figure sales* The nuts & bolts of what both sales funnels entail and how they actually work together* Plus, why Christie’s approach is inspiring but, ultimately, might not be the best approach for you
How reliable are your sales?
How steadily do new customers buy? How loyal are your retainer clients or repeat customers?
Every business owners wants to feel confident when it comes to sales. Not just how to close a sale, but really how the chance to make a sale presents itself, how the process evolves, and how that final decision gets made.
Can you engineer a more reliable sales system?
Yes, you sure can. But it’s not the “if this, then that” kind of process that many reductive sales courses try to sell you on.
It would be awesome if I knew that every time I did a particular task, I could count on a sale. It would be awesome if I knew that stringing together a series of specific actions would supercharge my sales.
But so many things impact the way people buy… that it’s impossible to reduce sales to a single process or procedure.
That said, we can still dance with our sales systems!
So let’s return to Donella Meadows’s article on dancing with systems. Meadows encourages us to “celebrate complexity.”
Now, you might be thinking…
“But Tara, what about building simple business models? What about creating simple marketing procedures?”
I’m glad you asked! The reason we actively build simple structures, models, and procedures for our businesses is because the world is a complex place. When we focus on simplicity in how we design our businesses, we really can celebrate complexity in the world and our customers’ lives.
There’s something within the human mind that is attracted to straight lines and not curves, to whole numbers and not fractions, to uniformity and not diversity, and to certainties and not mystery. But there is something else within us that has the opposite set of tendencies, since we ourselves evolved out of and are shaped by and structured as complex feedback systems.
When it comes to sales, I believe our goal is to create the simplest system that celebrates the reality of complexity in the environment.
So what makes the environment we’re selling in so complex? Timing, trends, current events, seasons, budgets, competition, competing messages, personal histories, family needs…
The list could go on and on.
Every customers brings their own complex set of influences to the table when they interact with your business—especially in the sales process.
This is one of the reasons that “sales funnels” so often fail. A sales funnel is usually built from the business’s perspective—a perfect scenario of “if this, then that” actions that assume a lot about the people who are going through that funnel.
But no matter how niche your target customer or client is,
EP 353: Dancing With Systems In Clickup With Lou Blaser & Sean McMullin from YellowHouse.Media
In This Episode:
* Why Sean McMullin & Lou Blaser, from YellowHouse.Media, switched their project management software from Notion to Clickup (and why it’s not the right move for everyone!)* How they’ve reduced their podcast management procedure from 75 sub-tasks to 11 umbrella tasks* Why streamlining the procedure has allowed them to bring a more customized approach to each podcast they produce* How focusing on the system behind podcast production has helped them create a lot more capacity for new clients
A couple of months back, I read a downright beautiful article about systems.
Yes, you heard that right: a beautiful, thoughtful, and useful article about… systems.
It was written by Donella Meadows, an influential environmental scientist and leading thinker on systems change in the 20th century.
The article outlines 14 principles for *dancing* with systems. But today I want to focus on the first: get the beat.
When we talk about business systems, it’s easy to default to software, automation, or project management.
But a system is much more organic than that.
And if we don’t allow for a system’s inherently organic nature, we miss out on really understanding that system in order to work with it, dance with it.
Meadows explains that a mistake we so often make when we approach systems is that we see understanding the system as a way of predicting and controlling its output.
She writes, “The goal of foreseeing the future exactly and preparing for it perfectly is unrealizable.”
I get that that might be frustrating—especially as we see data and the ability to instantly connect with customers as modes for the ultimate in business predictability.
It can also be a relief.
If the goal of understanding systems isn’t to control them or predict their output but to dance with them and learn from them, we don’t have to be so hard on ourselves!
And that brings me to Meadows first dance step—get the beat. The mistake I see business owners make with systems is that they try to impose systems on their businesses. They create or build systems for different areas of their businesses.
But that negates the systems already at work in a business. And inevitably, trying to create a system instead of investigating a system, leads to frustration.
Meadows writes, “Before you disturb the system in any way, watch how it behaves.”
So let’s say you want to work on your marketing system. If you start with a blank page and start building something from scratch, you’re missing out on all of the data & feedback that already exists in your marketing system as it is now (whether you know it’s a system or not).
If instead, you map out your existing marketing system, no matter how haphazard or messy, you can start to ask some really interesting questions about that system:
* How did we get here?* How else could this work?* What might happen if we don’t make a change?* What are the long-term ripple effects of allowing this system to continue to play out...
A Must Listen ✨✨
I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you for creating such an impactful podcast! I believe that we all have a voice that deserves to be heard. Thank you for putting this into the world! BE UNBROKEN! @MichaelUnbroken
Love the witty interviews and commitment to values. Looking forward to listening to more
@schulmanArt host of The Inspiration Place podcast
Game changer in any part of business!
Tara’s podcast really highlights all aspects of business, self improvement and even more in this can’t miss podcast!The host and expert guests offer insightful advice and information that is helpful to anyone that listens!