Top 10 Lessons: How to Overcome a Broken Business, No Customers, Zero Clarity, and more…

A month ago, I shared my Q1 2022 reflection in this blog post here (wow, can you believe that was only a month ago!?)

Between January – May, I went through a turbulent time where I saw my profits tank, underwent one of the most stressful launches my business has gone through, and also significantly downsized our team as a result of discovering how much bloat existed in our company.

At the end of that blog post, I mentioned that my focus moving forward was to focus on taking things slow, rebuild team culture, and simplify the business even more.

In an effort to recalibrate, I took a 4 day trip to Montana to work with my friend and Relationship / Customer Journey Expert, George Bryant (@itsgeorgebryant on Instagram).

It was a 3-day intensive and I took my Ops Director, Kylee, on the trip so we could not only learn more about how we want to map out our business moving forward, but also to learn a whole new philosophy when it comes to scaling a business.

For context, my friend George has had experience scaling multiple 7 and 8 figure companies, and has seen the backend of companies that are similar size to us, all the way to companies doing over 100M.

I was curious to learn more about ways that we could improve our business, and so, we decided to pay him a visit. Here’s a cute photo of us!


📝 Table of Contents:

Table of Contents

In this blog post, I’ll be sharing my top 10 lessons, divided into the following categories:

Categories:

  • Mission and Movement

  • Org Dev and Team

  • Customer Journey / Product


Why these categories?

When we kicked off Day 1, George asked us “What would you like to cover?”

To which I responded:

”I want to talk about our offers first. Then what team members we’d need based on those offers. Finally, if there’s time, I’d like to talk about what the next 5 years might look like because I don’t really have a clear plan.”

George mapped out my wish list on the board, like so:

Once he was done he said:

”These are all really great buckets, but there’s a problem.

The problem is that it’s completely backwards.

How we should really be tackling this is:

1. Get clear on the overarching vision first.

2. Ensure you have the right people on your team that aligns with that vision, regardless of the offers.

3. Once #1 and #2 are clarified, the offers figure themselves out. What matters is the customer journey.”

If you would like to watch the behind the scenes of our time, including a full week in my life, check out this VLOG over on my Youtube channel:

🚀 Movement and Mission:

🌟 Lesson #1: If your offers and content feel fragmented and disconnected, it’s likely because you don’t have an umbrella movement.

Something I’ve been struggling with for years was coming up with a “5 year plan”.

What offers do I create?

What things do I launch?

I was feeling stuck. Frustrated. Uninspired.

Turns out I was doing it all opposite, and by focusing on my product suite, I not only had tunnel vision, but lack of long-term direction.

Here’s what was missing: A movement.

Having a movement creates a home for people, whether or not there is a transaction.

Your business should have a movement that unites everyone together: Your customers, your community (even if they haven’t paid), and your team.

For example, George’s movement is all about “Relationships Beat Algorithms”, meaning he stands behind the idea that deep connection and relationships matter at the end of the day.

All of his products, content, offers, events, etc. falls under this movement.

His entire team also stands behind this movement, alongside their company values.

George makes this movement clear to his community (both free and paid) to the point where members of his community will hashtag #RelationshipsBeatAlgorithms on their stories whenever they are doing something or sees something that aligns with this movement.

Sometimes when people see scummy marketing tactics that neglect the relationship completely, they’ll even screenshot it and tag George because they believe in this movement so strongly.

Your movement is something that you want people to advocate for, and that all our content and offers embody.

It’s the DNA of your brand, and is so strong that your community also absorbs it as a part of their identity.

Here are other examples of movements:

My friend, Eric Siu, is all about Leveling Up.

He has a book about Leveling Up, a Youtube channel where each content piece embodies this philosophy, a NFT community called Leveling Up Heroes, and his Leveling Up podcast.

Another example could be Evan Carmichael, who often wears his hoodie with a yellow paper plane, and has this logo everywhere in this marketing. The yellow paper airplane signifies his #Believe movement.

He even has a hand signal for it (and when I saw him speak on stage, he used this hand signal in his intro and outro) :

 

We even took a photo together and it was his sign!:

Others you may also be familiar with:

Apple with Think Different.
Grant Cardone with his 10x Movement.
Ramit Sethi who’s all about having a Rich Life.
And of course Nike inspires us to Just Do It.

Even Alex Hormozi, who doesn’t have offers to sell, has certain movements like:

#Mozination, that is the name for his community that embodies his philosophies

#NeverSkipDessert, that is all about how you don’t need to sacrifice dessert to achieve your health goals

And his newest one, #MoziMobiles which is a movement for Millionaires who have average cars and live below their means.

Literally, hundreds of people have tagged him in their stories showing their average cars: 

As you can see, creating and being consistent in advocating for your movement essentially creates a social trigger and promotes advocacy for your brand.

It makes people feel like they belong, AND if you are consistent with sharing your movement, it prompts people to always think about your brand whenever they do or see something that’s either FOR the movement or AGAINST the movement

(ie: The example of how George’s community will call out bad online marketing tactics that are against the movement.)

This definitely got me thinking about the movement that I wanted to create, and of course… Trademark.

What was also interesting, is that the moment I brainstormed a few movement ideas, I was able to come up with infinitely more content ideas, offers, events, product ideas, and everything else.

Try it and watch your mind explode with ideas on how to further your company.

🌟 Lesson #2: Money isn’t as important as you think it is and won’t be displayed on your tombstone.

If you are still not sold on the idea of having a movement, let me share something that George said that changed my entire perspective:

“The amount of income you make is not going to be displayed on your tombstone.

I measure my impact not based on how much money I’ve made, but by how many people in the world would be willing to take care of my family after I die.”


Wow.

Kylee and I were both left speechless, because it’s true.

Ask yourself if you were to pass away tomorrow, how many friends, clients, fans, people out there in the world would genuinely offer to take care of your family?

I am not talking about words of condolences or dropping something off someone’s door step.

I am talking about really going out of one’s way to take care of someone else’s family.

Something I’ve really admired about George as I got to know him better is how he genuinely cares about other people. He truly embodies his mission and movement.

Here’s a story that he shared candidly over breakfast, that really inspired me:

There was a coffee barista at the local coffee shop he goes to who casually expressed that her dream was to be a photographer.

When George asked her how come she hasn’t realized this dream yet, she said that it was because she’s saving up for a camera.

The same week when George was in his office, he noticed a camera that was collecting dust in his storage. It was a camera worth well over a couple thousand dollars, but it was a camera that he wasn’t using anymore.

The next day, he gave his camera to the barista.

Naturally, she was shocked and ask how much to pay George.

To which George said,

”You can pay me whatever you think it’s worth when you’ve made it as a photographer.”

Several months later, the Barista ended up having a successful photography business, booking multiple clients.

To George, it wasn’t about the money. It was about investing in a relationship without expectation of anything in return. It was about having a genuine belief in that girl’s dream. It was about embodying his mission.

I share this story not to encourage you to give out free cameras.

I share this story to help you understand that your life is not measured by the money you make, it’s measured by the impact you’ve made on others.

🌟 Lesson #3: Stay in your lane.

A point of resistance I had when brainstorming my movement (and eventually the details of my future offers) was when I truthfully told George and Kylee:

”… But [Insert Name Here] already does something similar.”

Or

”… But [Insert Name Here] offers similar things at half the price.”

Here’s a story that George shared which I really loved, that I hope helps you too if you ever find yourself comparing to others:

At one of the Olympics, a competitor lost the race to Michael Phelps by 0.01 seconds.

They were head-to-head at the finish line, with the competitor being slightly ahead.

But right near the finish, the competitor took a quick glance over at Michael Phelps.

This one glance costed him 0.01 seconds and as a result, he lost the Gold Medal.

Think about this story the next time you concern yourself with your competitors. It only holds you back when you focus on everyone else except yourself.

🚀 Team and Org Dev:

It’s hard to move your mission and movement forward if you do not have the right team culture, people, and processes in place.

This next section covers my top “ah-ha” moments when it came to managing a team and building an organization:

🌟 Lesson #4: Have 3 core values and stick to them. These 3 values should intentionally exclude people.

How many of you have a list of “core values” that no one on your team really remembers?

At our company, we had 6 (?) and I guarantee no one on our team can tell you all 6 of them. Including myself.

Your company values should be clear and simple.

It should also intentionally exclude people. It’s not meant to be “feel good”.

Rather, it’s meant to be the filter you use to determine who joins the team, who stays on the team, and who gets rewarded on the team.

It seems simple and straight forward, but you would be surprised by how many businesses don’t have clear company values that everyone on the team can recite by memory.

OR how many companies don’t use their values as a filter when making decisions.

We then got to brainstorming, we spent time thinking about what type of qualities we appreciate the most from our staff, and which qualities we wished to see less of.

Here were the 3 we came up for our company:

1. Simplicity:

A big problem that has caused our growth to slow was the huge amounts of complexity that existed for our company.

We had processes upon processes. Tech upon tech. Layers and layers of rules. Multiple steps and projects that don’t really move the needle. Too many roles on the team for a company our size, which created managerial complexity. Lots and lots of overthinking.

As such, we decided that if we want to truly reform the company, it was important that our core value was simplicity.

Meaning:

How can we get the result in the least amount of steps?

Who can identify bottlenecks and fluff, and remove those for the benefit of the team?

Who can explain something in the simplest form instead of overcomplicating concepts?

The list goes on…

2. Personal Responsibility

One thing I value a lot in team members is attention to detail and initiative.

Especially as a personal brand based business, making silly mistakes and publishing it under my name can often be a sore spot for me.

A term that an old manager used to say to me is that we must always “dot our i’s and cross our t’s”.

This means Diligence. Follow through. Attention. Care.

This is something that has always stuck with me, and overtime I realize that I’m a huge stickler for the details, and not making the same mistakes more than once.

If I have to repeat myself over the same issue, it’s a problem.

Not only this, follow through was one thing that we learned was incredibly important to us.

Are you going to do what you say you are going to do?

Do you take ownership over your work? Will you take initiative to bring up not just problems, but also solutions?

Will you bring forth new and improved ways to do things?

Especially as a small, yet fast moving company, these aren’t just things that are important to us, but it’s how a team member would naturally flourish in this type of environment.

3. Agility

Lastly we realized that agility was important.

We’ve had team members leave the company because they didn’t like the constant company changes and pivots.

We have also had to let go of roles who could not adapt to changing priorities.

On the flip side, we learned that our best staff members are those who embrace change and are quick to pivot when needed.

Some people may hate this type of environment, but we learned that not only as a start up, but also a start up within the ever changing world of online marketing AND a start up run by 20 year olds who are ALSO learning new things every day about entrepreneurship….

Agility and the ability to adapt quickly to change is important.

As a result of getting hyper clear on our core values (aka our non-negotiables), within just 2 weeks we’ve let go of a few roles, lost a few roles, and also promoted a few roles.

Narrowing down to 3 clear values instantly gave us the clarity we needed on decisions that we were unsure for months.

Remember:

Your core values aren’t supposed to please everyone. It’s supposed to filter the people who would thrive in your company AND serve as a decision making filter when considering projects and new roles.

🌟 Lesson #5: Scale comes from simplicity. Slowness comes from complexity.

My company operated like we had 50 products, when in reality we currently only have one: The BOSSGRAM Academy.

For example, we mapped out the number of software we use just to deliver on one funnel.

The answer? 12.

12 different softwares to execute one funnel:

Leadpages, Kajabi, WordPress, ShowIt, Deadline Funnel, Webinar Jam, Active Campaign, Kajabi, Thrivecart, Zapier… the list goes on.

This meant more tech issues, more troubleshooting, and a fragmented customer journey overall.

Not only this, it created liabilities in our company because we would need to hire dedicated tech roles to help troubleshoot issues because no one else on the team knew how to operate the tech since there were so many platforms and integrations to keep track of.

This meant if the person in tech was sick or was absent, we’d be fucked.

As we head toward simplicity, our next step as a company is to streamline the number of platforms down to just 4, and to train everyone on our team the basic of tech AND encourage them to lean on each software company’s customer support team when troubleshooting is needed.

Tech is only one aspect of the business that felt overly complex.

Another issue we had is we started to get confused as to why our company had so many team members, yet very low momentum when it came to results.

As we added more people, things felt even slower.

The answer?

We were spending hours on admin tasks or activities that weren’t actually moving the needle. We were not being efficient.

In fact, we asked team members to time track their activities, and it further confirmed our suspicions that time wasn’t being allocated efficiently.

This is when we started to visually map out each department, the core outcomes (KPIs) for each department, and the essential needle moving activities to reach those outcomes.

By the end of it, we had something like this:

Ultimately, anything that doesn’t relate to the needle-moving activities are not essential to the business.

Not only this, it’s also important not to use hiring as a bandaid solution.

One thing we realized was we would hire more people whenever team members would say that they’re at capacity, or we would hire more people thinking that would lead to faster results.

In reality, what we should have done is audited where time is being spent first, get to the root of the issue, and simplify processes instead of hiring on top of existing inefficient and broken processes.

It wasn’t until we truly audited every aspect of our business where I realized that it’s no wonder I’ve been so resistant to launching any new products…

I felt like I was already drowning with just one!

PS: If you’re a solopreneur reading this right now, this also applies to you.

Before you start hiring your first VA, it’s important for you to audit your time and audit your business.

Do you really need to hire a VA to answer each question that’s asked in your free facebook group, or do you just need to set better boundaries?

Do you really need to hire a copywriter to do all your emails, or can you create and use templates instead?

Remember: It’s a money suck when you hire people to maintain processes and activities that shouldn’t be in your business in the first place.

Automate, simplify, or remove the process first, then hire if it’s truly an essential task.

And finally: Simplicity Scales. Fancy Fails.

🌟 Lesson #6: Hold people to their highest potential instead of meeting them where they’re at right now.

This lesson relates to not only Team, but can also apply to Clients, Non-Clients, and anyone in general.

A theme that we talked about a lot was co-dependency.

Us being afraid to hire more because it would mean more people to manage.

Me being afraid to do more coaching calls because it would mean burning out even more.

Me being worried about being too open with inviting people to DM me, because it would mean getting even more bombarded with requests and “tell me what im doing wrong with my Instagram” messages.

But upon review of these 3 areas, we realize that we were constantly doing work for other people instead of holding them to their highest potential.

👉 Example #1: Clients

A client could spend 5 minutes to submit a question like “I’m not getting any sales. What am I doing wrong?” in a coaching form.

I’ll spend 1 hour creeping their socials, entering their funnels, and giving them a full audit on their business.

Instead what I should be doing is setting clear expectations and containers that train the client to come prepared when they show up to the call:

Audit your own business and tell me what you found. Share all your links and come prepared with your own analysis so we can go from there.

No preparation, no answer.

Here’s what I realize:

Doing work for the client is not holding them to their highest potential because in the real entrepreneur world, being able to audit your business is an essential skill.

If you don’t know how to do this, you won’t survive entrepreneurship.

Not to mention, you won’t always have a Vanessa to do the work for you in your corner.

These are skills you need to do for yourself.

👉 Example #2: Team

When it comes to team, we realize as Leadership, we would swoop in to solve problems for other people.

Not to mention, hours of time would be spent doing weekly follow ups, reminding people to do things, or creating additional processes so other people could manage their time better.

Some instances so you have context:

Instance #1: We once had a contractor accidentally go over their allotted hours

We wanted to help this person pay better attention to their hours, so we developed a whole new process and created a whole new SOP for contractors to better track their time.

What we really should have done was hold this person to their highest potential as a contractor, and create the expectation that this cannot happen again, and put the responsibility on them to come up with a solution.

Instance #2: One of our managers would spend hours in slack because she would be constantly follow up with people on their tasks or things they said they were going to do.


Instead of taking up her precious hours to do other peoples reminders, what we realize should be happening is holding people accountable when they miss their deadlines or don’t respond to a slack message in a timely manner.

Putting the responsibility back on them, and setting clear expectations of what happens when deadlines are missed because this is their responsibility to follow up on their own work.

👉 Example #3: Community

If you were to look at my DMs, about 80% of the thousands of messages that are in the inbox are mostly from people who are asking for help.

”Tell me what I’m doing wrong on my Instagram.”

”How come I haven’t made any money yet.”

“Please audit my business.”

“How do I get more followers?”

I have a love/hate relationship with the DMs, because while I love to serve others, it takes a lot of mental and energetic bandwidth to respond, and then I feel guilty when I know I can’t help everyone.

But here’s something that George said that really spoke to me:

”Just because you offer your support for free to everyone, it doesn’t mean it’s on their terms. It’s on your terms. Relationships are an equal investment.”

What does this mean?

This means setting clear containers and context when someone is asking you for help in the DMs.

Instead of spending your precious time to help someone who’s only spent 1 minute throwing their problem at you, what we could be doing instead are ideas like:

Sending them a self-assessment PDF to fill out or sending them a series of questions for them to answer.

For example, if someone asked me “What am I doing wrong on my Instagram?”, instead of going to their page and doing the audit for them, what I could do is create a self-assessment where the person will need to go through the steps and audit their own page.

In other words, “I’ll answer your question after you put in the work first.”

If someone can’t even spend 30 minutes to fill out a form, answer a series of questions, or do any type of work themselves…. This is a person who doesn’t actually want genuine help.


Not to mention, by encouraging people (EVEN if they aren’t clients) to do the work first, it is ultimately holding them to their highest potential as a business owner, a creator, a <insert thing here>…

Because c’mon, if you aren’t even willing to self-audit your Instagram…. Good luck actually growing your account.

Remember: A co-dependent relationship only hurts everyone.

And if you “feel bad” for pushing back responsibility onto others, remember that operating from a place of guilt only enables other people’s bad patterns to continue.

🚀 Customer Journey / Product:

🌟 Lesson #8: You do not find customers, you create customers.

Something that a lot of business owners obsess over (including myself) is how to get new customers.

Do I need to post more Youtube videos?

Fix my SEO?

Run paid ads?

Do more IG reels to go viral?

Our focus is constantly on getting more traffic and leads instead of nurturing and empowering the people we already have.

For a lot of us, our biggest opportunities is likely not another lead generation strategy.

Our biggest opportunity is making the most out of the people we already have.

Which leads me to my next lesson…

🌟 Lesson #9: Our job isn’t to get a transaction, but to move customers forward in our ecosystem.

A mistake a lot of us online business owners and online marketers make is what George likes to call “Drowning the Journey”.

Whether we realize it or not, for many of us, we want the sale so badly that we will unintentionally (or intentionally) rush the relationship.

For example, within the first email someone gets, we’ll already cram all the information about our company, what product to buy, what all the resources are, how to work with us, etc.

One thing George has said that always spoke to me is to think about how Online Marketing would play out in the real world.

Let’s think about “upsells”.

Imagine if you bought something from a store for the very first time and you’re just about to leave.

BUT a sales associate comes up to you and asks you to buy more product.

You kindly decline.

The sales associate now offers you two additional things.

You say No.

Now you’ve left the store and you’re on the way to your car.

The sales associate stops you from entering the car and gives you yet another offer and tells you how shitty your life is going to be if you don’t say yes.

You. would. lose. your. mind.

If this type of behaviour is NOT okay in real life, why do we think it’s okay online!?

At the end of the day, we must realize that there is another real human being on the other side of the screen, and just like real life, a relationship takes time to nurture.

The issue is that we’re so wrapped up in getting a sale right away that we overwhelm people in the beginning and rush the relationship into a sale.

What really should be happening is just focusing on getting the person to the next best step and to take things one step at a time.

The goal is not to get the transaction or the sale.

The goal is to move the person forward 1 step at a time.

Someone found you on Youtube?

Next step is to download your free guide.

Once they download the free guide, do you send them to your offer?

No.

You send an email congratulating them on taking the first step, and to encourage them to celebrate themselves.

You future pace and you tell them that tomorrow you’ll email them with some instructions on how to execute the guide, but until then, you hope that this person celebrates hard and gets excited for what’s to come.

The next day, do you send them your offer? Do you send them even more information?

No.

You explain the first tip that you shared in your free guide. You walk them through it. The goal is to actually help them execute the content from your free guide, so they can get a win.

You future pace again, and you tell them that the next day you’ll be checking in to see how they do with that one simple step.

The next day comes, and you genuinely check in.

You repeat the process of guiding them through executing each step of the guide, you root them on, you encourage them to celebrate, you check in in between.

You let them know it’s okay if the execution is imperfect and messy. This is to be expected.

It’s even okay if they missed a few steps. You reassure them that momentum and progress is better than perfection.

Missing steps, not seeing results, and getting frustrated are to be expected, but you are here to guide them through it. You prehandle the objections.

This same concept not only applies to free content, but it applies to your paid programs as well.

In a nutshell, here’s what’s happening:

  1. You aren’t bomboarding them with even more information than the information they opted to receive from you.

  2. You are more focused on helping them get a win with your free material before you expect them to pay you for your paid material.

  3. You are genuinely helping this person and getting them one step deeper into your ecosystem, instead of rushing them to this finish line and therefore creating friction in the relationship.

  4. You are prehandling their objections.

As George said to me,

“If we wait to address objections until the customer brings it up, it’s already too late. Resistance is inevitable and when you prepare your customers for it, it only allows them to ask for help, not blame.”

This is how you build trust. This is how you create customers.

Finally, two important things:

#1: Personalization isn’t about saying their name. It’s about going one step deeper than everyone else.

And

#2: If all you want is people to consume your content, you’re doing it wrong. You want people to implement your content.

🌟 Lesson #10: No matter what your business will always break.

A theme we uncovered during our 3 day intensive is despite my intentions to grow the business, deep down I had a fear of the business getting “too big”.

As I mentioned in Lesson #5, my business was so unnecessarily complex that it conditioned me to think that more growth = more complexity = more things breaking = more burnout.

Not only this, in Lesson #6, I talked about how I enabled myself to double up on work because I was shouldering the responsibilities of others.

Both of these things then created incredible resistance towards launching my next offer, which would be a step up from The BOSSGRAM Academy.

What if it gets too big and I can’t handle the volume?

What if I pour a lot of resources in it and it flops?

What if adding this extra product will break my business?

But here’s something that George said that really spoke to me:

Even if your launch made 0 or 10M, something is guaranteed to break.

He’s right.

Even if your business were to 3x overnight, you would need to deal with the headache of keeping up with the growth.

Even if your business were to -3x overnight, you would need to deal with the burden of recuperating the losses.

No matter if it’s extreme success or extreme failure, problems will always exist in your business, and as business owners, we cannot get stuck overthinking and overanalyzing the inevitable.

Nothing is ever perfect and what’s most important is how we adjust.

So launch the offer.

Hire that team member.

Create that movement.

And remember:

Take it one step at a time.

Not just with your customers, team members, and prospects, but also with yourself.

🧠 Final Thoughts

While I don’t have all the answers since my trip to Montana was literally only a week ago, what I can say is I have a whole new philosophy to business now.

Whatever gut feelings I had were validated, and whatever fears I had were quieted and conquered. 

I hope that by sharing these 10 learning lessons with you, it helps you become an even stronger Creator and CEO.

If you liked this blog post, please let me know by screenshotting your favourite part and tagging me on IG stories (just don’t forget to tag me @vanessalau.co).

Most importantly, if you feel this post could help another entrepreneur in need, please send it their way!


My mission in writing these lengthier blog posts is to transparently show the evolution of entrepreneurship, especially as I aim to solve my business’s biggest problems.

I hope you got value out of this and at least one lesson resonates ❤️️

As for me, my next steps have already begun!

Since coming back from Montana, we’ve made changes to our team and are in the process of developing a movement we can all stand behind.

Not to mention, we’ve now embarked on a process to streamline our backends as we prepare to launch our next big thing.

I’m so excited, and I thank you for joining me on this crazy journey!


Finally, if you are someone who would like reflections like these in a more bite-sized format, feel free to subscribe to my weekly newsletter: Confessions of a Content Creator to CEO.

Every Monday, I drop a weekly email that shares the candid lessons and stories of what it’s really like being a CEO AND Content Creator. Click here to subscribe!

Lately, I’ve enjoyed calling it the “anti highlight reel” of running a business, because often times I share things that most don’t share publicly on social media.

If this seems like something that’s up your alley, then feel free to subscribe here, and I’ll catch you in your inbox every Monday.

As always, thank you so much for reading my post.

You paid me attention, and I don’t take that for granted.

I appreciate you and I love you.

With gratitude,

Vanessa Lau

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