Lead With Value

I messed this one up this week.

My brother and I have been gearing up for the launch of our new web app Benchmark, which goes live on March 30th.

Part of this “gearing up” was completing a Typeform Quiz that would help those who take it to quickly identify the current stage their business is in and what they could focus on to grow.

But I broke one of my rules.

Lead With Value

To lead with value means that you serve and contribute before any transaction occurs. That could be a monetary transaction, or even signing up for something with an email address. You’re still transacting – trading an email address for more information or access.

I hate that. 

I don’t want to be promised that the value lies just beyond this $1 signup, or entering my email address. I want you to prove to me that you have the goods.

It’s like that movie, Hitch. You come 90, I come 10.  

My mouth was open, Albert!”

The order matters. YOU come 90, then I come 10.

Not the other way around. 

Well, I messed this up. 

In the Typeform, I made the email question required, even though the wording said it was optional.

Meaning that I put the order in reverse. I was promising value on the other side of that email transaction, but hadn’t done anything to actually provide any value up to that point.

Oof. 

The results speak for themselves:

12 people started the quiz. Zero got past question 2, “what is your email address”.

Whoops.

Once I spotted the error, I quickly fixed it and double checked that it was CLEAR that people didn’t have to enter their name or email in order to take the quiz. 

People started taking the quiz and getting the feedback they needed from us, which was the whole point of adding a quiz to the website in the first place.

Now, I could have approached it differently and said, “well, we only had 12 people try it, so we just need to get more traffic and get that number up in the thousands”. 

But the principle is the same – people don’t want to transact first. They want you to prove to them the value that you have created and show them the results before the transaction. 

I highly recommend approaching your business in a value-first way. Don’t think about optimizing funnels, adding more people to the “top of funnel”, or any of that nonsense. 

Treat people with respect. Show them the goods before you ask them to transact with you. Prove your value and give them some results up front, and the right people will be naturally pulled toward you and your business.


PS – If you want to take the quiz for yourself, you can do so at http://benchmark.app/#quiz

Also wanted to shout out two great people that I came in contact with this week. Randall Kanna has being doing amazing things in growing her Twitter account, and just launched CrowdFox, a new tool to help you manage your Twitter growth.

Stefan sent me an email about a new tool to help get control of your calendar back. Rather than having people schedule blocks of time on your calendar for meetings, they can now, using his tool Callworthy, just get in line, and you can decide when and who you want to call when it works for your schedule. Pretty brilliant. 

You can use code DARENSMITH at checkout and get 10% off for the first year. It’s a pre-order, so if you’re hipster like me and getting in early on awesome new products, this one is a perfect opportunity to do just that.

The Resilient Creative Business

Here’s the story of how I built a resilient business.

man on edge of cliff
Photo by Sead Dedić on Unsplash

In the fall of 2009, I’d been working in the film industry for a few years. It completely shut down as the economy went through the biggest recession in my lifetime.

A friend and I were in the middle of raising money for a feature film. We were even making some progress, but it all stopped overnight.

I had to take a job selling cars – I couldn’t find anything else. I got married a few months earlier and needed to provide for my new family. It was the only job I could find that would pay me enough for the life we had started together.

So, I did what I always do – I got to work. I figured out what would lead to making more money and more sales. I did months’ worth of training on the cars that I was selling in a matter of weeks. I got Porsche, Audi, and VW certified by Christmas, and became one of the top sellers that month.

I still have the Audi watch that they gave me for selling the most Audis of any salesman in December.

The quick success, it seems, was too much for some of the other salesmen. Rather than working harder, they decided to lie about a sale that I made – they claimed that I stole the customer from another salesman.

I was working at my desk, putting in the info from the sale, when all of a sudden the computer locked me out. Confused, I tried logging back in when the phone at my desk rang. My boss, the general manager upstairs asked me to come up and talk…

He told me that I was being fired for lying and theft of company property.

And just like that, my job was over. Income, gone. It was the only time I’d ever been fired in my entire working life, and still is to this day.

What I learned from that experience is that I never wanted to have a boss again. That way, I could never be fired ever again.

That single point of failure was just too risky for me and my family.

Working For Myself

Fast forward to 2017. I technically have a business, but it’s not great. My business partner and I are making maybe $150k total in a good year – which, after expenses and taxes and overhead, means we’re barely taking home $50k each.

The business isn’t working. The partnership is strained. The clients we have aren’t happy with the work we’re doing and we’re struggling to find new projects.

I end up going over $15k in debt to keep the business afloat and to try and save it, but it doesn’t work.

While I had removed the possibility of getting fired, I found new points of failure in my business. There was no way to save it.

So I need a business where I can work for myself. I need to remove all the constraints and the single points of failure. And, it needs to be a business that pays me enough to have the lifestyle that I want.

It’s not a big ask – low six figures would do it.

No boss that could fire me, no single points of failure…

a resilient business.

Into The Unknown

But I had no idea how to build it.

Who was gonna teach me? Who was gonna help me?

I bought courses. I signed up for seminars. I followed people on Twitter and bought their books and signed up for their email lists.

It was a tough lesson, but I finally realized that more information wasn’t the answer.

I had to build it myself.

So I did what I always do. I got to work.

I started by making sure I had enough money – the first point of failure. I now needed to have enough money to provide for my family of five, our house, everything. Cash flow in a business is like oxygen, it can’t survive without having enough of it.

The first thing I did was find a big client that was going to keep me busy – and paid – while I worked on the other areas of my business. Now I could breathe.

I started adding more clients. This time, however, only clients that I wanted to work with. I removed the single point of failure of only having one client.

If one client represents a huge percentage of your cash flow, it’s no different than the risk of having a boss that could fire you.

Get more clients.

I built systems for the other constraints in the business – sales, marketing, finances, and growth.

I found new partnerships – ones that were beneficial to both of us, rather than dependent on each other. Partnerships where working together wasn’t just 1+1 = 2, but had an exponential possibility, where 1 + 1 could equal 3, or 5, or 20.

I started creating and leveraging assets that I created rather than only trading time for dollars, which diversified the ways that I made money so that the business became even more resilient.

I built a resilient business over the last 3 years, and now I’m building two more this year. Craftsman Creative will be a resilient business in about 12 months from when it started. Benchmark App within a year as well.

Building A Resilient Business For Yourself

It’s a framework that’s built using a process that works.

Now that I’ve figured it out, the only thing I want to do is to help others to do the same: To build their own resilient creative businesses.

The process is straightforward. You start by building a solid foundation and systematically build on top of it, one brick at a time.

If you do the work, it works.

The process inevitably leads to a resilient business that supports your work and the lifestyle you want for yourself and your family

I’m devoting a huge part of my time, focus, and effort to helping other artists, creatives, and freelancers build resilient businesses in 2021.

I’ve created a 12-month, interactive coaching program. It involves monthly training, accountability, a community of peers on the same journey, and one-on-one coaching to give you everything you need to build your own resilient business.

If you’re ready to get to work, I’m excited to join you on the journey ahead.

Your Mindset And Skillset Determine The Results In Your Business

Your mindset is such an important thing to understand and implement in your creative life and business.

bottom view of building
Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

The Results In Your Business Come From Your Mindset And Skillset

Whatever your current business looks like, it’s directly traceable to your mindset and skills.

The perfect example is how many businesses threw up their hands in the first few months of the pandemic and all of it’s second-order effects.

Many artists and creatives were hit incredibly hard. The gig economy shut down overnight and still hasn’t recovered.

Currently many states are seeing a second lockdown, government orders to stay home and limit gatherings.

Hard to have a show with hundreds or thousands of people to come hear you perform in those conditions.

Yet, none of those things are in your control. They never were.

Whether a venue owner booked you on a show, whether people showed up, sure, you could influence those things, but you never had 100% control over them. If you did, every show would be sold out and you could play to the same crowd multiple times a week at $100 per ticket.

That’s not reality. Not now, not then.

The main difference between those that are thriving right now and those that no longer have any income from their art is their mindset.

Your Mindset Is More Important Than Your Skillset

There are plenty of other musicians, photographers, artists, filmmakers, stylists, designers, and more that have the same level of skills – or greater – than you do.

Yet some people who lack on the skillset still have managed to grow their business this year, find new ways to make an income, and are reaching more people than ever before.

With the right mindset you can use your skillset in new ways that lead to new opportunities. With a bad mindset you, instead, decide that the events around you are too large to overcome and you give up.

Two quick examples –

When the pandemic hit the U.S. my wife’s photography business stalled. Rather than lament the loss and postponing of shoots, the channeled her energy into a side-business with her sisters and started doing photo shoots and even video interviews of people who were using the product she created.

Those highlights and videos were viewed hundreds of times and led directly to sales of their planner.

Same skillset, different mindset.

Hayley Barry is a hand-lettering artist. When the pandemic hit, she wanted to bring some awareness to local shops that didn’t have the budget to advertise and saw a dramatic decline in foot traffic to their businesses.

She decided to take her hand-lettering skills and apply it in a different way to help others, like here and here.

She saw things a different way than others and has grown her audience and her income over the last 8 months because of it.

It’s not the skills you have that determine how well your business works. It’s your mindset.

Whatever you’re experiencing in your business right now, you can change or improve it with just your mindset.

The answer isn’t to work harder – it’s to see the situation in a different way and approach it with a different mindset so that you can not just survive, but thrive.

A few questions you can ask to help focus your mind:

  • what outcomes do I truly care about?
  • who do I want to serve?
  • what do they really need right now?
  • how can I use my skills to help them?
  • what other assets do I have that I can use in different ways?

Take Action

None of this really matters if you don’t do something about it, right? Here are some quick wins that you can implement immediately to start affecting your mindset.

  1. Start your day with gratitude – think about what you are grateful for, what you’re excited about, and the people in your life that make you happy.
  2. When things occur that knock you off your game, give yourself just 1 or 2 minutes to feel the emotions, then brush it away. Reset, and get back into a state that helps you create.
  3. Go into every interaction with someone in a “peak state” – a 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. Show up as your full self in everything that you do.
  4. If there’s something you need to get done that you’re resisting, see if you can find a way to change the meaning – or change your mindset – to approach it a different way.

If Your Business Isn’t Growing It’s Because You’re Doing The Wrong Things

Or, “want to grow your business? What got you here won’t get you there…”

focus photography of car shift gear
Photo by Alok Sharma on Unsplash

I’ve written about leverage before, and I guarantee I’ll do it again. it’s become one of these fundamental principles for my business as I’ve been focusing on growing it into not just something sustainable, but something that can have a bigger impact than I ever imagined.

The Power Of Leverage

I shared this on Twitter earlier this week and have been thinking about it a lot the last few days:

It all starts with a desire to change the way your life looks. Maybe you no longer want to work for a boss, or want more freedom of expression, more control, more opportunities, more growth.

That desire sparks an ideawhat if I started my own creative business?

So you start executing. You get up earlier, stay up later, and start working on your project whenever you can.

You’re often trading “time for dollars” – play a gig, get paid.

Take someone’s photos, get paid.

Film a video, get paid.

Write an article, get paid.

Then at some point, when you realize that, “hey, I’m actually good at this!”, you decide you want to turn it into a real business.

So what do you do? You work harder.

This is the point that separates those that succeed and grow their business and those that struggle for years and years with their creative business.

When you look back on that tweet, is the next step “Execute Harder”?

NO!

The way to grow your business from a few thousand dollars to a real business that can pay you a full-time salary is not to work harder. Execute more. Make more of whatever it is you make.

NO – the way to grow your business from this point is to build systems.

What does that mean?

It means that your business can grow without you needing to directly work on it.

You’re no longer trading time for dollars.

Maybe you create an email list, so that when people visit your website they can sign up to get something valuable from you – a download, a checklist, an ebook, an email course – and then they automatically get a series of emails over the next few days or weeks. That email system does a lot of the work for you, so that you don’t have to send every single email manually.

That email system, when it’s operating properly, can start delivering new clients to you.

You set up the system once and it works every day, every hour, even when you’re sleeping.

That’s just one example. You can have systems for getting leads, getting sales, marketing, content, and more.

The sooner you can shift from more work to better systems, the sooner your business will be free to grow.

But, what then?

Many – I’d even argue most creatives – would be happy to make $100-200k a year and have a great life. In most parts of the world that level of income for your business means that you can pay yourself enough to have a house, a car, provide for a family, save a portion of what you make, and retire happy.

But some want more. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – maybe they want to reach more people. Serve more, create more, provide more.

At this point, the answer to get there is not building more systems.

It’s not working harder.

It’s not coming up with a new idea.

NO!

At this point, you need leverage.

There are a very small number of one-person businesses that make $1M per year.

The reason is that you need systems and leverage to get from that six- to seven-figure level.

Leverage means that when you do something, the result is 10x greater than that same effort without leverage.

For example – I created my own course in April 2020. It sold about $1,000 in that first month.

Now, in May, I released a course with a partner. Same amount of work to film and edit the videos, create the website, and launch the course.

However, because I leveraged her audience, which was 10x the size of mine, she did $10,000 in that first week.

Same amount of work, 10x the results. That’s leverage.

I see this often with my friends that create videos on YouTube. They build a system that helps them release a video a week on their channel.

Unhappy with the results, they decide to work harder and release two videos a week!

Their results, however, merely double.

It’s still not enough.

It’s not until they apply some leverage that their channel begins to grow. They reach out to bigger channels to collaborate, tap into their audience, and see massive growth from subscribers and views.

Where Are You And Where Do You Want To Go?

So, where are you right now? Are you doing a few hundred a month in your business? A few thousand? Low five figures?

Where do you want to go next?

The way forward is not to do MORE of what you’ve been doing. The way forward is to understand whether you need an idea, more execution, better systems, or more leverage.

They also have to happen in order. It’s much harder to get leverage at the beginning when you haven’t put in the work yet or built any systems. That leverage is way more effective when it’s added on top of that hard work and systems that you’ve built.

What if you wanted to 10x your business next year? How would you do it?

Let me know where you’re at in the process. I’d love to see how I can help you get to that next level.

Your Mindset Determines The Results In Your Business

You are 100% responsible for the results in your business. What you do with that information – your actions – will determine whether you succeed or not in the future.

a man holds his head while sitting on a sofa
Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

This post is part of the 60 Day Project – one post a day to help you prepare your business for success in 2021. Subscribe using the button below to get new posts sent straight to your email.


I wanted to take a stab at a fundamental business mindset – taking responsibility.

When COVID-19 hit the US this year, it affected everyone. From individuals and families who have dealt with the virus and lost loved ones, to businesses that have closed, and governments who have scrambled to lead, I can’t think of anyone whose life hasn’t been affected in some way.

However, when we talk about how COVID-19 affected us, our mindset is quickly revealed.

Covid wiped out my business”

“The shutdowns have ruined everything”

People just aren’t XYZing anymore”

What do you say when you talk abou the affects on your business?

Our Actions Reveal Our Mindset

I’m not saying that you’re wrong – you might be completely accurate in what happened to your business. There certainly is a pandemic, shutdowns have occurred, and the economy has been hit hard.

But none of those things determined the current situation in your business.

Rather, your actions in response to those events – or your lack of action – is what caused the current reality.

If you had a mindset of resiliency, of responsibility, of taking action and getting resourceful, you likely have not only survived this year, but have even found new avenues to grow your business and reach more people.

If your mindset was one of victimhood, then you were able to justify doing nothing. Waiting for someone to come save you.

I’m not judging you one way or another, as neither is an inherently “right” or “wrong” stance to take. I do believe, however, that you can directly link the results to the mindset.

The Success Of A Business Is Determined By The Mindset And Skills Of The Business Owner

What’s more, 80% or more of that success is determined by the mindset of the business owner.

Today – to keep things short – I want you to think about the language that you’re using when it comes to the impact COVID has had on your business.

Are you being resilient and resourceful? Are you feeling like a victim who has no options left?

The reality, I believe, is that you are 100% able to create the reality that you want for you and your business. It comes down to your mindset and the actions that that mindset inspires.

If you’re struggling right now, check your mindset. Check your actions. Take responsibility for the current results you’re experiencing, and then do something to change it.