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“I have known about you for few years now. I started following and supporting you from when you had a just few thousand followers on YT and IG.
I actually applied to work with you when you were offering 1 on 1 coaching services and even invited you on to a podcast I was producing because I wanted to do whatever I could to support your growth.
However, I never received a response from you.
We want to promote the brands and people who are helping lift others up in this article, and I personally didn’t get that experience from you.
For this reason, I’m deciding not to move forward with interviewing you for the Forbes article.
Sorry for the inconvenience of receiving the invitation and then receiving this email.”
It’s May 12, 2021 and I just got invited to be featured in a Forbes article.
I’m over the moon.
“Is this really happening!?””Am I finally going to be in a Forbes article like all the other entrepreneurs I look up to!?””Is this how it happens!?”
I’m jumping up and down, mind blown that I was invited to this opportunity by my friend Selena Soo (who at the time, I had only spoken to via email – so I was genuinely surprised that I was thought of in the first place!)
Then on the morning of May 14th, I get the email that you would have just read at the header of this week’s Content Creator to CEO newsletter.
When Selena connected me to the opportunity, she had connected me to Celinne (who would be interviewing for the article), and Hanson (who was in charge of the SEO for the article).
The email where I was uninvited to be featured in Forbes was written by Hanson.
My heart dropped.
I was embarrassed, ashamed, and speechless.
I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out.
It wasn’t only the fact that I was uninvited to the Forbes opportunity (opportunities come and go)…
But it was the fact that someone had such a negative experience with my brand that they did not feel I was a good fit to be a part of an article that was all about entrepreneurs who lift others up.
In this week’s Content Creator to CEO newsletter, I want to share the lessons I learned about my experience of being uninvited to be featured in Forbes, and the story of what happened next.
1. Don’t let building an audience get in the way of building a community.
When I received Hanson’s email, the first thing I did was search him on Instagram and check our message history.
Yup – he’s right.
Back in 2019, I had responded to him here and there, but eventually dropped off.
Following this, I looked him up in my database of previous 1:1 coaching applications.
Yup – he applied but I never got back to him.
At the time in 2019, this was when my business really blew up.
I went from being able to serve everyone because my following was small, to suddenly not being able to even keep up with the influx of messages and applications.
Even though I knew that this was an unfortunate situation where I had genuinely missed his messages, I couldn’t help but feel ashamed.
I was ashamed because deep down, it was true.
At some point in my journey, as my audience grew, I started seeing everyone as a number.
I remember when I got my first few applications to my 1:1 coaching – I was over the moon!
I would creep every applicant, DM them, and give them the whole VIP treatment – even before they became a client.
But once the applications grew from 10, to 50, to 100… each application just looked like a number to me.
The same goes for followers and subscribers.
I thought that,
“Hey, I have 20k followers now. I don’t need to respond to DMs anymore.”
“I have 50 applications now. I don’t need to send a rejection email. They’ll get the message that there’s no space for them.”
“I have way too many clients. I don’t need to do coaching calls anymore!”
Of course, as your platform grows, it WILL almost be impossible to get to every single DM, text, or email.
I had this problem at 20K followers, and I still have this problem at 200K followers.
There is a fine line between giving massive amounts of value to your community, and enforcing your boundaries as a creator, CEO, and human being that also as your own needs.
However, getting uninvited to be featured in Forbes taught me the lesson that
the people who interact with you online aren’t just numbers you see on the screen.
Speaking of people, here’s some of our lovely clients from our BGA mentorship call last week!
👉 2. Ask yourself: Do your actions actually line up with your values?
One of the most embarrassing things about receiving that email was that just two weeks before the incident, we had launched our new website with our company values plastered in the “About” section.
Specifically, it read:
“We deeply care about our customers, team mates, audience members, and our world community. We always do our very best to make sure our people feel seen, respected, and heard – even at scale. We aim to leave lasting impressions and experiences with the impact we make.”
Talk about ironic.
How often do we as business owners prioritize “revenue generating activities” over interactions with our communities?
How often do we decide who is worth our time based on the amount of followers they have?
How often do we roll our eyes because “Ugh… people keep DMing me without paying me!”
The reason why Hanson’s email stung was because it gave me the painful realization that no matter how fancy my website was, I wasn’t living the values displayed on the page.
And if I wasn’t living my values, then my team wasn’t either.
At the time, responding to DMs, comments, and emails that weren’t either,
A) Prospects, or
… were not a company priority.
A reason was team capacity, but if I’m being honest, it was just something we simply didn’t prioritize because we didn’t actually see it as important.
Of course, a lot has changed since receiving Hanson’s email, because shortly after realizing how misaligned my values and my actions were – no matter my intentions, I:
Held a team-wide meeting sharing Hanson’s email and my learning lessons, while also using it as an example to explain to my team WHY it’s important for all of us to make people feel seen, heard, and appreciated at every level NOT just the paid level.
Created a year long plan to restructure our paid programs to be more aligned with our true values, hire more people to help with emails and DMs, and increase the time & resources dedicated towards building community (which by the way, many of these things you’ll see this year in 2022!)
Personally dedicate 30 minutes a day myself to respond back to my own DMs and checking my inboxes. Yup – to this day, I still send voice notes to the few people I catch in my inbox!
Of course, I am still not perfect, and there is still a lot of work to do especially for an understaffed and high growth company.
However, as much as it was embarrassing to be uninvited from a Forbes opportunity…
I am so grateful that Hanson had the courage to uninvite me in the first place because his email was the kick in the pants I needed to start walking the talk when it comes to my values and intentions.
Because at the heart of it, we must remember one thing:
When you have a goal:
It’s not about your intention.
It’s about whether you did it or not.
👉 3. Be OK to admit when you’re wrong and learn from it.
It took me many hours of deep reflection to figure out how I wanted to respond back to Hanson.
At the time, it wasn’t about losing the Forbes opportunity that mattered most.What was most important was apologizing for the negative impression I had on Hanson, and articulating what I would be taking away from it – because as embarrassed as I was, I truly was grateful for the interaction.
To this day, I am so glad I received this type of email in my 3rd year in business, rather than my 10th year in business.
So here’s what I responded back with:
After going back to our DMs and your 1:1 application to see what happened, this decision makes sense.
Please know on my end I don’t feel any awkwardness at all and I am grateful that you are upfront on why you have decided not to interview. This way I can learn from this experience and see what I could do better for the future, so I thank you for that.
First and foremost, I know I disappointed you and I am sorry.
Especially as someone who tried to consistently support me in 2019 when I started my business, I totally understand this decision and how it might be out of integrity for you and the article. I wouldn’t want to interview me, either!
I also want to make sure you know what I’ll be walking away with from this interaction:
You supported my business during a period where I had little to no systems in place to manage large influxes of inquiries, applications, and messages.
Looking back (and in the future), I should have prioritized those things more to make sure the people who support me feel seen and heard.
It’s ironic because a recent company value I shared is to make sure as many people in our community feel seen, heard, and respected, yet this interaction alone proves to me that there is still so much more work left for me to do.
I want you to know that my intention was never to make you feel ignored and unappreciated, and I’m grateful for this full circle moment that will teach me an incredible lesson for life.
I wish you all the best with the interview and your future projects, Hanson.
Hopefully in the near future and if you’re open to it, you can give me another shot to make things right.
In the meantime, you’ve helped me see what areas in my business I need to work on, and how I may want to change the way I approach my own time management to prioritize building stronger relationships with others, no matter the size of the platform.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be in business if it weren’t for people like you who support it, and those 1:1 interactions and acknowledgement mean the world.
Thanks again for the opportunity and sending you all my best,
To my surprise, this is what he responded back with (see screenshot):
So in the end, to my utter surprise, I did in fact end up getting featured in Forbes.
(even more shockingly, I was stunned to see that I was the first entrepreneur featured.)
Fast forward to today, Hanson and I remain good friends. Celinne and I remain good friends. And Selena and I remain good friends.
So what are the key takeaways I’d like you to take away from this story?
Let me break it down:
1. Don’t let building an audience get in the way of building a community.
When you start hitting your milestones, it’s easy to start forgetting why you started and the people who supported you along the way.
You’ll get caught up in getting more followers, making more money, and achieving more things.
Soon enough, getting likes, comments, and followers will start becoming a number – like a video game.
While you think this mindset might only apply to people like me with bigger audiences, the same pattern tends to also happen to those who are just starting out, too:
“Ugh! I only got 30 likes on this post. I’m never posting again.”
Okay… what about the 30 people who showed up to support you?
“Ugh! I only got 10 comments. I’m not even going to bother responding.”
Okay… what about the 10 people who took time out of their day to root you on?
“Ugh! These people keep DMing me asking me for free shit. I’m so over this. DELETE!”
Okay… but what if pointing this person to the right direction could actually cause them becoming a paying customer when they are ready?
Hansons email left an impact on me – but I hope that it leaves an impact on you too.
Remember: Building community is different from building an audience.
2. Treat the janitor with the same respect as the CEO.
While this is NOT to say that Hanson is a “Janitor”, I couldn’t help but think about this saying when I reflect back on the Forbes interaction.
If I’m being honest with myself, I am pretty sure back in 2019, if I knew Hanson was a part of the Forbes team, I would have responded differently.
I likely would not have ignored him, and I likely would have kept in touch.
How many of you would have done the same thing?
While it’s easy to follow this philosophy in real life (because we’re decent human beings)…
I realize that this philosophy is much harder to follow when it comes to social media when all you can see is the other person’s username and profile picture.
Just as much as Hanson’s email was a wakeup call for me – I really hope that it’s a wakeup call for you, too.
3. Ask if your actions line up with your values – even as your business grows.
We see so many businesses post their values on their bio or website, including ourselves.
But how often are we actually living those values?
And if you have a team: Are you leading by example?
Because remember: Your team will also be an extension of your company values.
Not to mention, this becomes even trickier as your business grows.
As business owners, we prioritize our time focusing on making more revenue than we did last month, instead of sitting down to revaluate our processes and updating them to be aligned with our values.
For example, just a few weeks ago I made a major announcement to my paid clients about switching our program,
4. Be OK with admitting when you’ve hurt someone, and genuinely learn from it.
Lastly, my biggest takeaway of being uninvited to Forbes, and then being invited back again was the power of apologizing – and actually meaning it.
To this day, I constantly think back on the lessons I learned from Hanson’s email because I meant what I said when it comes to changing my business for the better.
Of course, it will take time, I am not perfect, and I will make mistakes.
Even though my story still had a happy ending, I know many of us will not be able to get the same opportunity.
^ And no, I’m not talking about the Forbes opportunity.
I’m talking about how many of you reading this may not be as fortunate as me to have someone explain how your actions made them feel.
This is the exact reason why I decided to share this story in todays newsletter.
Because as fearless content creators who are diligently growing our platforms…
I want this story to remind you to never lose sight of the people who support you in the first place.
Boss, wow – that was a real one.
I didn’t think I would be sharing a story like this, but that’s the beauty of the Content Creator to CEO Newsletter, because you never know how personal I might get!
By the way:
If you enjoyed this email and would like me to share more candid stories like these, please do me a favour and
share your favourite section of this newsletter and share it on your Instagram stories (tag me @vanessalau.co so I know!)
As always: My mission is to help you become the content creator you dream to become, while also helping you becoming the CEO you’re born to be.
I hope I achieved this mission today by sharing this Forbes story.
Until next week,
Vanessa – your content creator to CEO mentor
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