Over the course of their professional career, Tom and Mike have encountered many paradigm shifts and epiphanies that have changed the course of their entrepreneurial journey. In this article, they share lessons and takeaways that can change your business.
If you are in a rush, here are the key takeaways from this article:
- Serve your audience, don’t use them
- Do what you love, the money will follow
- Understand the active audience & ignore the big impressive vanity metrics
- Sharpen your soft skills
- Give first
- Systems run the business, people run the systems
- Aim for product/market fit
- Find your tipping point
- Find a way to be the best
- People in bigger companies are no better than you
For all the juicy stories that Tom and Mike have never shared before, click on the topics above or keep scrolling.
10 Lessons that will Transform your Business
Serve your audience, don’t use them
One of Tom’s previous mentors Chase Reeves once said to him: you can either use your audience or serve them. He went on to elaborate how 99% of people use their audience to drive sales, get more followers, more likes, and so on. When you understand how they operate, you realise that they’re using selfish means to get what they want.
It’s not what your audience can do for you, it’s what you can do for your audience.
This nugget allowed him to shift to a service-based mindset and tailor his services to best suit his audience. How can you provide a five-star service to as many members of your audience as possible? This can lead to real actionable things that you can layer over your content, marketing strategies, branding, customer service and community management. You will then be able to deploy empathy and put yourself in your customer’s shoes to understand what they really need or what their pain points are using your product or service.
Salespeople often make the mistake of pretending to be the customer’s friend, and then immediately following up with a sales pitch. But the true satisfaction that comes from forming this connection is more altruistic in nature. The immediate reward is knowing that you helped someone and the by-product is financial gain of some kind. Both Tom and Mike have paid services and content, but they don’t try to aggressively sell them to the audience. They are not focused on selling, but on serving people without much in return.
Ask yourself: How can you bring more joy or a better experience for your audience? How can you give more? How can you serve better?
Do what you love, the money will follow
Don’t choose a career because you’re eager to make a bunch of money. Choose something that you love to do and let money be the result of you being passionate about it and excelling in it. Mike learnt this lesson from a book his parents gave to him, and this caused a paradigm shift in his career – he decided to become a creative. And because he did what he truly loved, he out-earned most doctors his age.
When Tom started his career, he had moments of jealousy because many of his friends went into investment banking and he felt like he was very far behind financially. It’s easy to fall into that vortex of self-doubt when you see your peers doing better than you. But after a few years, many of them confessed that they were increasingly unhappy and dissatisfied with their careers, while Mike’s happiness was compounding.
Choose a career path that compounds happiness, money will follow.
The price of happiness: There are many places in the world that have challenging economic conditions, but one could argue that the people who inhabit these places are not any less happy. Money doesn’t buy happiness. It’s been scientifically proven that people who earn 60,000 pounds are equally happy as the people who earn a million. Your happiness may scale with the amount of money you earn, but then it will reach a plateau. Once you start earning enough wealth to cover your needs, not worrying about paying bills or putting food on the table, you will realise that everything beyond that is merely surplus. So, if you can get a handle on your finances and reach that threshold, you can focus more on happiness, fulfilment, impact and service.
Understand the active audience and ignore the big impressive vanity metrics
Back in the day, everyone would only talk about top-line vanity metrics – how many followers they had, how much traffic they got, how many email subscribers they had etc. It took Tom many years to understand that none of those numbers really mattered.
1000 true fans: Tom and Mike talked about Kevin Kelly’s concept of 1000 true fans in one of their previous episodes. When it first came out in 2008, it was prophetic and became a big idea for many entrepreneurs.
What really matters is your active audience – how many people are actually engaged and care about you. For instance, if you have a hundred thousand people on your email list and 15,000 actually open your emails, you really have an email list of 15,000 people. Take a look at your email list and determine: How many people actually open and click on your emails? How many are engaging with your content? How many people become customers? And how many people continue to buy your product? These are the numbers that really matter.
It’s about the audience engagement and not the size.
Sharpen your soft skills
Mike echoes a quote from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People: 15% of your success comes from your technical skills while 85% of your success comes from human engineering and social skills like your ability to get along with people, leadership and communication. This skillset was the differentiator between him and people who had comparable technical skills.
Mike’s experience with leading a team: At age 28, he was managing a team of people at Fox Studios, many of whom were senior to him. The reason he was chosen to lead the team was because of his leadership skills, his ability to communicate, run meetings, and delegate responsibility.
For example: There are a ton of incredibly proficient guitarists out there who practise ten hours a day, and are technically sound. However, there are very few successful rockstars. Aside from having a characteristic playing style and songwriting skills, rockstars also create a compelling character and personal branding that appeals to a large audience. While being a skilled guitarist might help you become a session musician behind the scene, it won’t help you become the next Slash.
If you are starting out in your career, start honing and developing your people skills. Start reading books and practising techniques to improve your human engineering skillset because it will definitely yield big returns in the future.
Pro-tip: Listen to Tom and Mike’s episode on personal branding to learn more about human engineering and creating a brand for yourself.
Get out of that classic sales mindset of always trying to get what you need from another person. Tom was inspired by Gary Vaynerchuk who often talks about how he prefers the other person to get 51% in a partnership so that they both walk away from it feeling satisfied. This idea was a game-changer for Tom in many ways, professionally and personally. Now he makes sure his partners and collaborators feel like they’ve won and are slightly better off than him. If they felt like they were losing slightly, they probably wouldn’t want to work with you again.
Ask yourself: What can you do for the other person? How can you bring more value to them?
There are so many ways you can be compensated than just financially. This ‘give first’ mindset will add more value to your partnership that goes beyond just monetary. Your compensation will come from knowing that you built new relationships and brought a ton of value to them. This principle has led to Tom having partnerships that have lasted 10 years or more. The people he works with have now become his good friends. He believes it’s the best way to do business. So give first for a win-win partnership.
Systems run the business, people run the systems
For consistent results and experience for your clients, create systematic processes for everything in your business so that people you hire just follow the process and there’s less room for error. This principle changed the entire course of Mike’s business.
If your systems and processes are in place in the event that something goes wrong, you know exactly where to look. Tweak or fix the process so that it never happens again. Another benefit of rock-solid processes is that it becomes easy to identify if someone is doing the job right – either the process is broken or someone was told to follow a process and they deliberately didn’t.
For example: Say you’ve hired Johnny as an employee of your company. While he’s working on a project, he does a bad job. Johnny followed the system, but it blew up. This makes you realise that the system is clearly broken. Then you and Johnny take a look at the system together and make certain tweaks because ultimately you’re both on the same team. Occasionally, Johnny might not follow the system. You ask Johnny to follow it in the future, but he doesn’t and the project keeps failing. This impacts the business negatively. That’s when you know you have to let Johnny go. Hire people who are qualified enough to manage the system. That’s your metric.
Tom’s analogy: Within his company, Tom uses the analogy of a steam roller. What if any one of his employees was run over by a steamroller? What would happen? When you don’t have a system in place, it can be a very dangerous place to be in because an entire system can’t operate on a single person’s head. With this realisation, Tom made sure all systems and processes were in place. Now if someone ever got sick or wanted to leave, he can just drop a new person into the pre-existing system.
Aim for product/market fit
Building a business can often feel like pushing a boulder uphill. But if you find the path of least resistance or a great product/market fit, the task becomes simpler.
For example: Tom has a student who has been doing workshops around lettering. Shortly after, she started lettering on crystals. It became so successful that now she has to fulfil pre-orders. It isn’t because she suddenly became more talented. She just kept trying different things till she found something that could attract an audience.
Now Tom does it with everything, not just products or services. He even does it with business partnerships. As soon as he finds something that’s working, he doubles down on them. So if you find opportunities that might work, pursue them.
Find your tipping point
The idea of tipping points comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s book. It states that there is always that one thing that eventually tips the scale in your favour. Find those tipping points for your business. Keep grinding, keep tweaking the dials to find that one thing that’ll make your business explode. Stay in the business long enough to find such tipping points.
An example that really stuck with Mike was the one about Hush Puppy shoes. In the eighties, Hush Puppies was struggling as a business for many years. Then one day, they started to get crazy sales. When they traced it back to what happened, they realised that there was a girl in a popular nightclub in New York who wore Hush Puppies. And the next thing you know, people started buying the same shoes. The tipping point for the brand was that one influencer who turned the tides and single-handedly made the company more profitable again.
This idea was valuable for Mike when he started running his own business because he read it when he was in the early days of hiring people. He started to look for these tipping points that changed the course of his business.
Tom’s company Design Cuts launched a bunch of different product sections in their marketplace, but unfortunately not all blew up and became successful. Once they zeroed in on the products that worked, they began to focus on them more and pursue them aggressively.
Lean into wherever the traction is and you’ll be able to find your tipping points.
Find a way to be the best
Tom would measure his success by looking at successful companies. He hypothesised that if he did 10% as good a job as them, he would make 10% of their gigantic revenue. But he very quickly realised that no one would want something that is only 10% good. Instead, they would prefer to go with the best in the market. This proved to be a real paradigm shift in his career. Tom realised that he needed to find a way to be the best at something. This involved systematically breaking down every facet of his competitors and trying to beating them on every single front.
For example: It’s not about being the best from day one. Tom did a case study on his Instagram about a bulb and energy company that happened to be the fastest-growing startup in UK history. Although they’re now worth a billion, they started from zero. Despite competing with juggernauts in the same space, they began grabbing market share because they were simply the best. There are many opportunities to become the best, especially when the bar is set low.
No one wants to be in a position where you believe a customer would be better off with your competitor instead of you because they have a much better offering. If you are the best in an area, then you will be able to comfortably say that you’re number one. As a result of that product/market fit becomes easier, people gravitate towards you because you have the best offering and it gives you an immense amount of confidence in your work.
People in bigger companies are no better than you
Mike was 28 years old when he got a job offer as a creative director at Fox Studios. He moved from Phoenix, Arizona to LA and realised that he had been given the opportunity to work with the greatest designers in the entertainment industry.
But within the first month, he realised that the people at this big company weren’t any better than the people at a smaller startup in Phoenix. This proved to be a huge lesson for him:
People at bigger, greater companies weren’t any better or more capable than him. They’ve just found their tipping points, they’ve created the right systems, they’ve mastered human engineering, found product/market fit and all the other things mentioned in this episode. And they’ve become successful as a result of it.
This opened the door of opportunity in his head where he believed if they could do it, so could he. While he aspired to be like a company that could hire 40 employees, he knew that they weren’t necessarily better than him because someday he too was going to be able to hire 40 employees of his own.
In this episode, Tom and Mike promised life-changing tips that helped them excel in their career. And with these nuggets, you will be able to truly transform your business.