Ash Roy (00:20): Welcome back to the Productive Insights Podcast. This is Ash Roy, the founder of productiveinsights.com and the host of the Productive Insights Podcast. Today, I have a very special guest Shelley Brander, and we are going to talk about Minimum Viable Offers and lots more after a successful career as a copywriter and a broadcast producer, creating campaigns for AT&T, Hardrock and other large corporations, Shelley followed her passion and started an improbable side hustle. She opened a local yarn store. Yes, you heard that right – a local yarn store. She and her team of Loops troops have since grown LOOPS into a global brand that’s on the forefront of the Modern Maker Movement and includes loopslove.com, loopsclub.com and Knit Stars, a global online learning adventure. She’s on a mission to knit the world together, and goodness knows we need that right now. She’s the author of the book, Move The Needle, which is coming soon to a screen or a bookshelf near you and something I’ve had the pleasure of having a quick sneak peek at, so thank you for that Shelley. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Shelley Brander from knitstars.com. Welcome Shelley!
Shelley Brander (01:33): Hi! Thank you so much for having me today. I’m so glad to be here with you.
Ash Roy (01:37): It’s a real pleasure to have you Shelley, and thank you very much for sharing the manuscript with me. I’ve had a quick look at it and I absolutely love that little story you share about the tricycle at the very start. So we’re going to come and talk about that in a minute, but before we talk about that story, can you give us the quick download on how you went from being a broadcast producer and copywriter for big brands like AT&T and Hardrock to a yarn store, specifically, talk to us about how you came up with that minimum viable offer – that little seed that led to a thriving business, which you now have in a very unlikely niche.
Shelley Brander (02:14): Sure. Yes. It was definitely a giant pivot. And the number one question that I get asked, and for me, I sort of hit that wall with advertising. I loved the storytelling. I loved getting to know people and I love connecting with people, but I got to the point that the selling part of it just, I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. And I felt like, you know, I just don’t want to be 70 years old and I’m selling cable and casinos, right? I’d always love knitting and the minimal viable product, the thing that really made it work, I think was that I recognized that when I started as a knitter, I was 16 years old and I would go into these yarn stores and everything was very grandma. It was what everyone expects, right? It’s very stereotypical piles of pot.
Shelley Brander (02:59): You know, you could just feel that it closing in on you piles of itchy wool and scratchy acrylic, and, you know, designs that a 16 year old didn’t necessarily want to wear out in the world. Right? And so my minimum viable product was this thing that I called the hot loops wall. My vision was that I would walk into a store and be able to find something really cute and fashionable that I could knit up fast and wear. So I was more of a product knitter than a process knitter, I guess I wanted to finish the product and wear it out in the world. So that was the difference I wanted to make a more modern yarn store or a modern yarn store. Right. Because there really wasn’t much of any modern yarn store. So that was my original thought for what was the difference maker, right? The minimum viable was a different kind of yarn store or a different kind of yard experience in general. Right. And so maybe retail in retrospect, wasn’t the best way to go, but it was the right way to go with the big picture when the business really took off was when we started to figure out online. So that’s kind of the next chapter.
Ash Roy (04:01): Yeah. And you’re figuring out online happened when you discovered Jeff Walker, is that right?
Shelley Brander (04:07): Yep. That’s right. It was Jeff Walker and I had never even heard of online courses or summits or any of that stuff. I actually played tennis and there’s a whole story involved with that, but it came across my Facebook feed. I was just like attracted to how real he was and how non-slimy he was. And I was very interested in, of course I was interested in branding but it seemed like a different sort of approach. And so I just, I bought his course and I just binge watched it. And I just assumed everybody that buys the course watches the course. Silly me. And so I started a yarn subscription and my very first idea, my very first online idea just went crazy right out. I followed Jeff’s formula just to the letter. I had a wall literally full of yellow legal pad, you know, Sharpie and yellow legal pad. And my very first idea, which was a yarn subscription, an on-trend effortless upscale, yarn subscription, physical subscription is why it went crazy. So when I launched it that first week, my very first launch did $75,000 and then a few weeks. Yeah. Yeah. And then a couple of months later, I, that was my beta. And then I relaunched it and it did $150,000 and then it just, I ended up, he made a case study about me and that led to knit star. So, you know, it’s just that first step. So I got pretty lucky.
Ash Roy (05:32): That’s pretty incredible. So this podcast is turning out to be a little bit of a Jeff Walker alumni, because we had Julie Cannes who talked about a $6 million turnaround on one of the previous episodes. And then we had Michael maidens who talked about offer creation, and now we’re talking to you, which is amazing. And every one of you has had a lot of success. Now tell us, how does one go about creating a $70,000 launch in the knitting niche? Or how does that happen?
Shelley Brander (06:01): I think the bottom line is the same as it really is for branding. And for anything else, it is starting with your passion. So putting your passion first, the thing that you’re truly passionate about, not just a niche that the research shows you will be successful, but the thing that is your true passion, because you know, the entrepreneurialism is not for sissies, right? I mean, we all work, work, work, work, work. So when you love it, you know, you stay with it. So number one is the passion. And number two is finding the difference, finding the thing that’s really different about you. And when I was in branding, that was always the thing that we really had to work with the clients to focus in on. Like, they were always thinking about what everybody else was doing and when we could get them to settle in and really think about what is the difference maker?
Shelley Brander (06:46): What makes you different from everybody else? Not what makes you the same. And it sounds so simple, but that was the blind spot for every client like client after client. They wanted to follow where everyone else was going. It was like, let’s go the other way. And so for me, that was a more modern youthful approach to knitting. Right. Sounds counter counterintuitive. But I find even now, and the truth is even though we have a really broad audience, right. Of all ages, all backgrounds, all genders and everything, it’s, it is still, if you look at my Facebook insights, you know, it’s still empty nesters and up, but I mean, I’m a lot closer to that than I was when I started out right. Everybody wants to look cute, everybody wants to be fashionable.
Shelley Brander (07:28): People aren’t like necessarily going for the grandma look. Right. You know, it turns out it hit a chord and it does bring in a lot. I mean, it’s a bigger pot, right. Because you know, everybody wants to be fashionable. So it’s a wider age group. And yeah, I think those are the two key things. It’s like, put your passion first, you know, there’s that book. And it’s a great book profit first, right? I mean, a lot of people, a lot of people are aware and it’s a really smart way to go about, you know, a lot of people have been really successful with that, with their finances. But for me, it’s passion first. You’ve got to put the passion first because even once you have the money, like we did in the Brandy business, if you don’t love what you’re doing, the days aren’t much fun. So, you know, ideally you should be able to do both. And that’s what I really want to get across to people is like, you know, do the thing that you love to do, do the thing that you love to do. And you can make it, your life’s work. You know, you can’t.
Ash Roy (08:27): It’s now a seven figure business. Was that right? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Wow. That’s amazing. Speaking of passion in your book, you share a story about a little four year old girl who really follows her passion. And that ends up with, with, with a smack on the bottom of, do you want to tell us that story?
Shelley Brander (08:50): Sure. Okay. Um, yeah, this turned out to be the intro to my book because it is such a formative story for me when I was four years old, my mom was getting ready to go to the grocery store and I really wanted to go with her. I was bored at home. I was always bored. So I wanted to go. And she said, no, and I didn’t like that. And so she left. She said, I’ll be right back. She took off. I told my dad that I was going to get the mail and I don’t lie. I’m very honest. So I got on my tricycle and I motored out to the mailbox, which was like an out by the Bush in front of, you know, a little ways away. And Oh, he said I could go cause I was just getting the mail. Right. So I got the mail and I tucked it under my little chubby arm. Shelley Brander
(09:34): And I got back on my bicycle and I rolled down the street and then turn a corner. And then I crossed one of the busiest streets in my city. It’s, you know, half a million city, five o’clock, traffic everywhere. And it was like that game Frogger. Right. If you ever seen that video game. Yeah, it was like, and I motored across the street and started up, it was really like a highway towards the grocery store. Very determined to get to that grocery store. And my mom, by that time had already finished her shopping because it was a quick errand apparently. Yeah, this is in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Yeah, a city of about a half a million. She’s driving back and she’s like, who would let their kid out of the street? Wait a second, that looks like Shelley.
Ash Roy (10:25): That is Shelley.
Shelley Brander (10:29): Yeah. So she’s fixing the car. The jig is up. She drives me back home. And my dad who is a wonderful man, but was so mad and I’m sure he knew what was coming from my mom for letting me out. Right. They just pull the switch off the nearest tree and spanked me with it. There was no time to go get, you know, a paddle or anything. It was like the switch, you know, I’m sure they were completely terrified. I just still remember that feeling of like, yes, I made it happen. Like, yes, I am going to make this happen. No matter what, like I was, I did not regret it. It was worth the spanking.
Ash Roy (11:06): There’s a lesson in that too. And I think that is that if you take risks, there can be consequences. And you got to be willing to accept the consequences of taking risks. And that’s where you need to be intelligent about the risks that you take. You need to hedge as well as you can. At some point you do need to take the leap as Seth Godin says. In episode 200, I interviewed Seth Godin and then he talked about empathy, which is something you talk about at the end of your book. And I’ll come back to that in a minute. Something you mentioned earlier on, I just wanna touch on that. You said the importance of being different. I remember I did this course with Seth, it’s a freelancers course. And he talked about the importance of getting clear about that idiosyncratic difference, that thing that you do that is unique and that allows you to charge more.
Ash Roy (11:55): In fact, in our conversation, he said that if you want to buy a Seth Godin book, there’s only one place you can get it from. And that difference, that uniqueness is what can become your competitive advantage, that differentiator. So I just wanted to reinforce that point and say that I completely agree with. Seth also talked about the importance of generosity. And I talked about the importance of empathy actually. And he agreed. He said, empathy is something that’s very important. And then he said also generosity. Now at the end of the, your book, you talk about empathy and integrity. So can you tell us a little bit about that and how that played a role in this business of yours and helped it to grow?
Shelley Brander (12:36): It was one of the biggest findings that I discovered as I wrote my book, I realized that there was this common thread through all of my life. Definitely. It was one of the founding like underlying principles of Loops. And then for branding before that, and it all comes from… it took me back to this story again with my dad about empathy. And to me, it all is so rooted in empathy because that’s what helps you really understand what the need is, what other people need. Right. And so, yeah. So do you want, would you like the story about my dad? Yeah, absolutely. So, because this is so foundational. I was in middle school. I came home one day and I was destroyed as middle girl in middle school girls will often be. Some other girls. Some mean girl had sent, said something, done something to me.
Shelley Brander (13:24): I don’t remember the girl at all now, but I remember that I was just sobbing, you know, in my room. And I’m like, how could she be so mean and I was mad. I was going through all of that. And so my dad came and checked on me and he said, come down and talk to me when you can calm down. I’m like, okay. So after I calm down, I go and talk to my dad. And I remember sitting on the couch, like we had this screened in porch and he said, okay, I want you to close your eyes. And I’m like, what? He’s like, just close your eyes. So, okay. And he said, I want you to imagine that you’re this girl that did this thing to you. I’m like, Oh, it was so awful. She was so mean, no, just close your eyes, close your eyes.
Shelley Brander (14:08): Like, okay. He said, no, really imagine that you are her, like you are in her body. You’re her – her face is your face. Her feelings are your feelings. And just, he gave me a minute to just kind of sink into that. I didn’t know anything at that point about meditation or anything. My dad was a lawyer. It wasn’t a Woowoo household. Okay. But like thinking to it and he’s like, now replay the whole scene, but you are her. Replay exactly what happened. And I did and I slowed down and I literally thought through it, it was like an exercise as a muscle. I had not exercised before. Right. To imagine being her. And it was like, Whoa. It was like, I totally see why she did what she did. I just remember it was more about her.
Shelley Brander (14:54): Like her own insecurity just got it out of me. It was about her, her own lack that she was feeling at the time. And once I realized that it was like this huge light bulb went on and just that I could try it and have it, somebody else’s, you know, mind & perspective. And so as I was writing my book, that was the thing I realized like, Oh, this is really the secret sauce. I never realized that when I was doing it, but not when I was doing branding, we would do a lot of testimonial things. And it would be rooted in interviews like this, right. Where I would spend some time getting to know somebody and then write commercials, write testimonials, write ads. And the same thing applies to knitting. The thing that we tap into a lot is the isolation that people feel when they first learned to knit, they love it.
Shelley Brander (15:43): There’s an addiction that happens immediately. People that are drawn to this, right. But they feel very isolated often for a very long period of time because it’s seemingly such a weird little niche. Now knitting becomes popular off and on. It’s big right now with the pandemic, you know, it ebbs and flows, but people feel very isolated and often they’ll go into a yarn shop. And most of them are, a lot of them are the kind I was describing earlier. Just kind of more old-fashioned and not so much service-oriented. They’ll leave feeling, you know, different or other. And so there’s a lot of that feeling in knitting that I felt once I learned to tap into that and then create a really vibrant community experience, whether it was our subscription or, or in the store or any of our online stuff, that was when things started to change.
Shelley Brander (16:31): And so I come back to that all the time. And like my friend ran in the back, you know, the ask method, like asking, getting to know people, understanding their real motivation that they have. You know, that it’s not just sticks and string, it’s not sitting, it’s not just a commodity. It’s like, what are their deeper motivations? What do they love about this? What connects them to other people that do this? You know, how can you help them feel like they’re part of a tribe? I think empathy is everything. I think it’s the number one strength you can have as a marketer. And I also do think it’s a muscle. You really have to exercise it once you exercise it, like the more and more you do, then the more that it just comes, naturally, the stuff you get out of yourself and start to understand what people really need and want.
Ash Roy (17:15): Well, if you’re watching this conversation on YouTube and I recommend you do, you can go to youtube.com/productiveinsights, and you can, you’ll see us chatting on there. When this goes up and gets published. Ryan Levesque was a guest twice on this podcast and he was on episode 26. I don’t think that one is published yet to the YouTube channel, but you’ll find it on productiveinsights.com/26. And he talks about the ask method and explained his 6-step breakdown really well. So we’ve talked about the importance of empathy and how it allows you to step into your ideal customer’s shoes and experience of world the way she sees it, or he sees it in my 9-step mind map, which I use currently as an opt-in on my website, it’s basically a 9-step business growth mind map. And one of the steps is about creating an empathy map. So the first one is about getting clear on your mission. The second step is about understanding your audience and doing a customer avatar. And it also is about creating an empathy map. Then you get clear on your customer’s problem. That’s the third step, you get clear on the customer’s problem. And the fourth step is creating an offer and so on and so forth, and it goes on to scaling and so on.
Shelley Brander (18:28): I saw that it’s a really cool tool and I can’t believe you give it away for free. So thank you.
Ash Roy (18:32): That’s very kind, I really appreciate that. And episode 201 with Amy Porterfield will be recently recorded that we talked about the importance of empathy there as well. And it’s very clear that people who have very successful businesses and Amy, I believe has now got an eight figure business, mind you it’s taken her 11 years to get there. So this is not one of these get rich quick schemes things. It’s I think it takes time to build a valuable and successful business, but she is somebody who I believe really deeply empathizes with her audience. So I can’t stress enough, the importance of deeply understanding our audience, empathizing with them and try to see the world the way they see it. And to me, creating an empathy map takes things one step further beyond just creating your customer avatar or your ideal customer persona, an empathy map, forces you to ask yourself, what is my customer thinking, hearing, feeling, seeing, doing in their world.
Ash Roy (19:29): And ideally if you do want, before they buy your product while they’re consuming your product and after they’ve consumed a product, even maps the experience, the transformation, the whole journey, which can be invaluable in writing your copy, in creating meaningful offers and being able to really use languaging that your customer is using. If you do things like research on Amazon, you know, look for books that have been written on that niche and look at the reviews and look at what people are saying to get the language and so on. Anyway, that’s, that’s gonna go off and do a lesson on copywriting. So let’s bring it back to your minimum viable offer. So take us back to that point. Then when you said, okay, you were passionate about knitting, you felt there was something in this, how did you create that first offer? And then how did you test it in the market for viability and make those first few sales? And tell us about the point when you went, you know what, I can actually make this my day job. I don’t have to do the selling of cables and Hardrock cafes or whatever it is anymore.
Shelley Brander (20:37): I Will break this into two things? I think the second part will maybe be more useful, but the first minimum viable product was actually at the store. And I wouldn’t recommend that most people do a whole retail store, brick and mortar for their first, you know, minimum, but there’s a funny story associated with that. So I would, I’d love to tell you that and how that works, because I didn’t have any retail background and I don’t know why something was telling me to open an actual brick and mortar, but this was 15 years ago. Right. So really 17 years ago when I started to think about it. And so what I did was, I knew I wanted it to be in it. I had a definite vision for it and I felt something just continually pulling at me. So there is, there is like a Woowoo element to that, right?
Shelley Brander (21:17): I’m like, okay. you know, I had a job since I was 15 years old. I worked in different retail stores, but I did not have an MBA. I didn’t have Seth’s MBA. All I had was, you know, like this grit. So I wrote a business plan and I submitted it to the guy that owns this, the best shopping center in town. Right. And he was a billionaire, an oil Baron in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Right. But this was his little baby was a shopping center and I couldn’t, I didn’t get a response. And so I kept on going with my branding and I had three kids under five at the time. And, but every month or so I would call and say, Hey, has he looked over this my proposal? You know, but two years went by and I still didn’t have a lease offer. And at that point I was really starting to max out with the branding and I thought, well, I’m going to give it one last shot. I ordered some cashmere yarn from New York city. Cause you couldn’t get a hundred percent cashmere in Oklahoma. And I made a really spectacular cable scarf for the oil Baron. His name was Walt Helmrick and I figured out where he lived. I stalked him just a little bit.
Speaker 3 (22:29): Yeah.
Shelley Brander (22:29): And I wrapped it up really nice. And I put a letter with it, that I want to build a more modern yarn story. I want it to originate out of Tulsa. I envisioned this being the flagship store someday of a global business. I dropped it off with his doorman on Christmas Eve. And I got the lease offer on new year’s and the day after new year’s. So it was like, you know, after two years the minimum viable product, I mean, that was a whole yarn store. The thing that was really key was that what we called that Hot Loops Wall, which was that different kind of come in, get a project, get going, something cute, something on trend. It took seven years before I actually made a true profit at that business. I made a zillion mistakes, like a zillion mistakes. And my original intention was to franchise. We had two stores for a while. And then I went through a process of feeling a huge failure when I decided to close one of those stores that ended up being the springboard to our online, really taking off. So, so fast forward to the next phase, which is what I think would be more beneficial to people that watch this probably. Not as entertaining necessarily,
Speaker 3 (22:29):
Shelley Brander (23:32): But it was beneficial. And that was when I started that first Loops club kit. Right. Because knitting is very seasonal. So it was always a big struggle. It would be feast or famine. It was feast through the winter months when everybody to knit and then famine during the summers, which are getting longer and longer in Oklahoma where it’s very hot. And so that was my big struggle was paying the bills in those in-between months. So when we did a subscription business, I knew it was, if it worked, it would help solve that cause we’d have consistency of income. So, so when you back to the original question, which is, how do we test it? You know, how do we know, how can we try? There’s a lot of ways nowadays that you can start really small. I think the simplest is just a free Facebook group or a YouTube channel.
Shelley Brander (24:12): There’s so many more options now, even than when I did Loops club almost seven years ago. But for us, that first kit was really based on Jeff’s concept of the seed launch or there’s other people that have similar ideas. Right? The basic idea is, you know, how do I do a launch that doesn’t require a huge investment upfront? That’s a, that’s a way for me to kind of learn what my audience wants as I go along and adjust what they actually pay. They’re paying you to do it, right? So it’s lots of different things out there and different ways to go about this. I think Stu McLaren has a way too, but it’s, it’s a very simple launch, some kind of launch that lets you get direct customer feedback. So that first kit that we sent out, we, we got a ton of feedback from the customers.
Shelley Brander (25:00): Again, it was a little riskier, but not as risky as a whole retail store. Right. Sit down first, came out and then we asked people, what do you think about it? What would you prefer to see in your next kit? You know, we started it on my community so we could get a lot of feedback. And so it was just that first, that first little step, you know, so, you know, I think people, there’s a lot of ways to do it with less risk and investment than I’ve done it. I’ve known people who do, free Facebook groups are an awesome way to start. I think you do a free challenge, a free 21-day challenge or a free 7-day something and you gather feedback and then you get ready to launch, launch bigger product. And, and again, so many more tools and you know, so many more ways to do it. Now there’s more noise out there too, but I think it’s all, if you do that empathy work upfront, then you can, you know, get relatively close and then you just keep optimizing and adjusting as you go along. I mean, even today we’re six years into loops club. Now we’re in the sixth year. I mean, we’re still asking people every week. What do you want to see? You know, it’s a constant, it never stops. We keep asking, how can we make it better? How can we make it better? You know? Yeah.
Ash Roy (26:11): I did it with my membership program, which is relatively new. I only launched it just over a year ago. I was terrified of launching a program that didn’t have many members, that it was going to be a ghost town. So for three years I held off and I didn’t have any kind of a membership. Eventually I just mustered up the courage. And what I did was I just offered insane amount of value. I gave people four hours of my time, face-to-face for $99 a month. And I said, you can cancel after a month. Now I said to myself, I’m going to see this as market research, but this was four hours onboarding. So it wasn’t four hours ongoing. It was just when they first signed up. And I tried to give them that much value that they wouldn’t want to leave. And nobody who actually used the membership and logged in left.
Ash Roy (27:06): What I did over time was that reduced the number of face-to-face calls. So now I’m giving away two face-to-face calls. I’m grandfathering people in I’ve increased the prices of the membership, but the founding members are grandfathered and it’s a potential strategy, which I learned from one of my mentors. I think that’s a great way of putting in sweat equity upfront without having to necessarily build a physical store and so on. You can just give your time initially when you have an abundance of it and you can scale that down. If you offer it as an onboarding thing, rather than an ongoing thing.
Shelley Brander (27:38): I think he said something too, that I think a lot of people miss, they think if I don’t have enough people, I’m sometimes somehow a failure or those other, those people, those 17 are going to think I’m a loser. Cause I only have 17. No, it is the opposite of that. They recognize they’re going to get a huge amount of value. And when you call it beta, which I call the beta and now founding member, they are so psyched to be part of that. Absolutely.
Ash Roy (28:03): That’s exactly right. And that’s what I discovered after. And this is the point after I launched, because I didn’t know this was going to happen until I took the plunge. Right. But after I launched in that first conversation, I remember saying to that person, listen, you are my first member, but there is a plus side to this. And that is, you will get my undivided attention, which if you joined in a few months or a few years time, you probably won’t get, because I’m expecting the membership to grow a lot. There is definitely truth to what you said there, but a lot of these things don’t become apparent until you take that first step. And for three years I just sat there and agonized over. What if it’s a ghost town? How do I solve my ghost town problem? When the answer was right there, just on the other side of the wall, if I was willing to just peek over it, which I didn’t do.
Ash Roy (28:56): And it’s silly because the membership is really growing now and I’m getting a lot of referrals coming into the membership. I’ve created a one-to-one program now, which is a higher end program. I’m increasing my prices consistently. People are still happy to pay for it. Oh, and by the way, when I first launched it, I was scared to charge $19 a month. And someone talked me out of doing that and at least charge $99 a month because $19 is too little. And I’m so glad I listened to them because imagine if I was charging $19 bucks a month, I would be so much further behind in terms of my revenue. Now I’ve split the membership into multiple levels as well. So the $99 a month now is just completely leveraged delivery. So they get access to content. They can get access to stuff that is pre-recorded and available inside their membership.
Ash Roy (29:47): But the stuff that my founding members got for $99 a month is now $399 a month. And that includes things like these productive sprints, which we do two or three times a week, where we get together and work using the Pomodoro technique on each of our respective projects. There’s no agenda. You know, we just bring our own work to the table and we just work on a zoom room and it’s just about being focused and productive. So it’s about actually taking stuff off people’s plates rather than giving them more content to consume. And then we have two mastermind calls a month, but now that’s only available in the pro plan. And then the one-to-one plan is where they get to 45 minutes sessions. Face-to-face with me every month.
Shelley Brander (30:28): Well you’re right. None of this happens that I should take that leap. And you kind of put yourself down saying, I took those years, but guess what? You did it, there are people who go lifetimes and never do it.
Ash Roy (30:40): Yes.
Shelley Brander (30:40): I know. Just do it. And you know, I bet those 17 people became huge. They’re like your super fans. And they’re probably like the people that are going out and telling everybody else about you. I mean that first person probably was amazing and people will just stop themselves. It’s it’s very sad. Yeah. It’s just like go for it.
Ash Roy (31:00): And some of the people in the membership, they’re just amazing people. Like one of them is an Emmy nominated TV producer in the States. One of them is my careers advisor from when I was doing, when I did my MBA. One of them isn’t world runner up in the Toastmaster championships. He’s an Australian, but he competed in the States. There’s lots of mums and dads too, who are just trying to grow their businesses. But it’s a really nice close knit community of people. Excuse the pun.
Shelley Brander (31:29): Yeah, it happens, you know, you know, it’s funny you say that too. I think a lot of people, they think it’s all about the should I’ve should, should, should I was with somebody filming this last week. They were, they said, don’t should me, you know, stop shoulding me. That was a good one. It needs to be the people that you are attracted to. And the you attract. And I remember with our first season of knit stars when I was first starting that out and we were choosing who our stars would be, right? So it’s like an online festival and online experience sort of like a summit evolved. And the first couple people I asked her and me down and I was just devastated. And I started to really doubt the whole idea and think maybe we shouldn’t even do this. It’s too big of a risk.
Shelley Brander (32:09): And someone said, step back and think about the people that you just would love to run into at a cocktail party, or when you go to a trade show or whatever you go to and you see those faces of the people that just light you up and you just enjoy being with them, ask those people. And so I went, the first person that I asked was a huge, yes, she ended up being the first quote that I got from my new book. You know, she’s become a very good friend and, and that shifted the whole perspective for me. It’s like attract, you know, like for like attract, you know, who you should attract and then you’ll enjoy looking at it. I mean, you’d light up talking about your membership and it’s cause you love it. I mean, you love it. You can tell that you love it. And it, life is just too short to spend doing something that you hate and waiting for the day that you can retire and do the thing you love. Like why not do the thing that you love right now? Why spend your whole life waiting to retire when you’re maybe too tired to enjoy it? Right.
Ash Roy (33:03): You know, another really important element of that is community, right? It’s building that community that you love and that loves you and that you can facilitate in a way that is fair and meaningful to everybody in the community. And I think one of the secrets to building a good community is not so much seeing yourself as a leader of the community, but rather seeing everybody as a leader in the community and just facilitating that process. I don’t see myself as a leader in the sense, in the traditional sense of the word. I see myself as someone who leads from behind in the sense that I facilitate that. I try and create the infrastructure, which works for everybody, not just for me or for certain people. I think that needs to be a certain sense of fairness and equity.
Shelley Brander (33:54): And it reminds me of my kids went to Montessori school and you know, they consider themselves not teachers but guides and they prepare the environment very thoughtfully. And so that the children, just learn naturally. And then the guides find that they get more from it as well. I think that’s what I just heard from you. Well, I’m in Jeff’s mastermind. He says every time and he gets as much or more from it than we do just the learning is huge. So it just feeds you lights you up, you know, and you can see it. So
Ash Roy (34:27): Really important what you said about environment. I remember I was interviewing James clear in Episode 175 and we were talking about productivity and he said, you don’t plant a seed in the ground and then scream at the seed and say, grow faster. All you can do is cultivate an environment around the plant for it to grow and you nurture it regularly. And consistently he was talking in the context of habits. He was also explaining that how you arrange your environment to a significant extent, dictates the habits that you stick to and don’t. And I think most of us are quite intellectually arrogant. And we think that our intellect controls our decisions more than it probably does. And we don’t give enough credit to our environment. You know, he talked about how, if you want to watch less television, don’t have your lounge facing the TV, have it facing away from the TV, for example, or don’t have a TV, right?
Ash Roy (35:22): I think there’s a lot to be said for environment and building a good community is about building a conducive environment for people to thrive and doing it in a way that is valuable to all people in the community. We’ve talked about a lot of very things and I’m going to quickly go over them. And then we’re going to talk about challenges. So we talked about how initially you didn’t really like selling. I don’t really enjoy selling either, but if you solve a problem, then you can facilitate a purchase. I like to actually call it purchase facilitation rather than making a sale. It has less of a pushy sound to it. And it’s got more of an inductive feel to it. You talked about how you pursued your passions and you followed your intuition. In fact, you talk about this in your book as well.
Ash Roy (36:08): You talk about the Steve jobs quote, where you talk about how he said you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, but you can take that first step. And in fact, I’m a big fan of that Stanford address. I’ve actually written a long blog post on our website about it. And I’ll get my team to link to that in the show notes of this episode, which you can find that productiveinsights.com/203. Now you also talked about risk taking, or we talked about it and the importance of it, something we didn’t talk about, but I know that you did do with Jeff Walker’s stuff is you implemented what you learned. A lot of us tend to just become perpetual students and we miss the implementation, but it’s better if you consume a small amount of stuff and you implement it rather than consume a whole amount of stuff and feel like you’ve achieved something, but you haven’t actually implemented it. We talked about the ask methodology, which helps you to develop your empathy and really understand where your audiences so you can solve a problem. From the audience’s perspective, you shared how you use free challenges, Facebook groups, to develop that initial momentum in this very unlikely niche. You’ve worked with many businesses, it’s taken you many years to get to this point. It doesn’t happen overnight. What are the biggest challenges you’ve seen when it comes to creating this minimum viable offer? And what’s the quickest way to overcome these challenges?
Shelley Brander (37:33): I’ll tell you the very first thing that comes up for me there is team. And the reason is like I knew this intuitively when I started the store. I knew that I would need other people working with me because I wouldn’t be able to run a store 24-40 hours a week and then also have my branding business and even I had my limits, right. I hadn’t figured out cloning yet. So I knew that upfront, but that was me thinking about hiring extra people to help out, rather than people, people that had more experience than me to lead me. Right. And that worked great in the beginning. And then the time when I was really foundering, you know, seven, eight years into the business and about to just give it up. I had my moments, I was ready to just quit.
Shelley Brander (38:21): If I had found more mentors and hired strategically people that could do the things that I was hating to do – the things that most, a lot of entrepreneurs hate, right? Accounting, technology, right. Project management. We are great at vision and ideas and some of us are good at those things. And I figured out how to do all of them, not very well good enough to get through. Right. And what I wound up with was what I call affectionately Franken systems. Right. I had the biggest cluster you can possibly imagine, right? Of all you name it. If every tech I had it in just barely hanging on by threads. So I think the number one thing is the second you can afford it and maybe even before you think you can afford it is start to look at outside help. And nowadays there’s so much more availability than that.
Shelley Brander (39:13): Again, then there was, for me, seven years ago, there are things like VA services and you can hire, you can hire somebody that knows something for a few hours of their time, right. Pay what it’s worth, but you there’s independent contractor, there’s coaches, there’s so much resource out there. And I think people, we tend to put our heads down and just plow through. My husband used to call me a bull in a yarn shop, you know, like plow through and not reach out for help and I just encourage people so much. I have a good friend who just started a business this past year. She does like influencer marketing, social media marketing. She’s got some really big influencers as clients, but I can tell she is struggling. And I’m like, you know, there’s these things called VAs. Have you ever heard of Upwork or Fiverr or, you know, she had no idea.
Shelley Brander (40:05): And she’s like, I’m spending all this time replicating templates and things, and like are sources. So, you know, cultivating your mentors and cultivating more team and more coaches. That’s the biggest blind spot that I had that I would love to go back in time. I think I probably would have accelerated twice as fast, at least. Right. But I’m very grateful for what I have now. And I do feel like that things like back to the dots quote, right. Things do happen the way they’re supposed to happen. If you follow that hunch, that really strong hunch, that thing that just won’t stop nagging at you, follow those things and then get help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. In fact, my very first business plan, again, I didn’t have an MBA. I didn’t really have any business training in journalism training. Right. I found a friend. I’m like who in my friend group has an MBA, you know? And I took him for sushi. And I still remember that was my first time to have umami and I didn’t know that you were supposed to get to get the peas out. Right.
Ash Roy (41:05): I did the same thing. That’s disgusting. Oh man, do people eat a lot of fiber?
Shelley Brander (41:24): And you know, he helped me come up with my business plan, that first business plan that I ran across recently. So there’s people in your circle that want to help you. You just have to remember to ask for help. And then yeah, you do have to implement. And then the biggest thing is you have to hit that send button on that very first time. You know that first hitting that send button, that can be so scary. But it’s back to that Do one thing every day that scares you. When that happens to me now, when I run across something that does scare me, I literally get excited. I’m like, yes, because I know that this is a path to something big, right? Like I look at things. So
Ash Roy (42:02): There’s a lot of other tools that are really handy as well. So we use Asana in our business and one of the things I like about Asana is that it allows you to release certain jobs when certain jobs are complete and stuff. I don’t know a whole lot about it and deliberately. So because I have someone on my team that just manages the whole thing. But it’s a good piece of software for project management at a fairly basic level. I used to use teamwork, but Asana is actually quite a lot better in my experience. Okay, cool. Also, if you use a Mac, there’s a lot of really useful tools that you can use. It does take a little bit of learning, but I use something called Alfred, which is basically spotlight that user a Mac, but it’s on steroids. So you can send emails with just some keyboard shortcuts.
Ash Roy (42:47): You can launch applications, you can open websites without using passwords or typing in URLs, literally three keystrokes. And I can be inside a website. And that saves you a lot of mental actions, which then frees up brain space to be doing, thinking while the website is loading. And I can’t even start to express how valuable that is. So there’s a lot of little tools that you can equip yourself with just to increase your personal productivity. I only know these around a Mac, but I’m sure we can do these things around a PC as well. I also know about things like did I already mention Keyboard Maestro? That’s another tool which allows you to automate several sequences in your Mac. So you can do a whole lot of stuff on automatic. There’s a lot of stuff you can do to actually free up a lot of your personal brain space. But I agree building a team, nurturing the team, helping that each person on the team to find their superpower and nurturing that is a great way to really ratchet things forward.
Shelley Brander (43:50): Awesome. My favorite hack, as far as what you were just saying, I’m like writing that down – Alfred. I’m going to have to watch this back, Alfred and keyboard Maestro.
Ash Roy (43:58): I’ll give you a quick tutorial.
Shelley Brander (43:59): Okay. Awesome. So the thing that has really skyrocketed my productivity besides the team because that has started to free up my time. I’m like, okay, well, how can I best use my time? Right. I have brain space to do that. Excuse me. So when I was starting to write the book, I had to block off time. So I would work on the book, right? So it forced me into that. So this is the simplest thing. But in my Google calendar, it is set every day from 9:00 AM to noon that it just has writing. I actually ate 8 to 11. It just says writing, but it’s blocked off. So nobody can schedule over that time. My director of operations is always asking, you know, can I I’m like, Nope, Nope. Well, so I had that time when I was writing the book and I did that every day.
Shelley Brander (44:40): But I left it after I finished the book. And so now it’s my time because I figured out that’s my time that I’m most productive. I love to write. I love to create and I was in a place where I wasn’t doing that. I was in email all the time. I was in technology all the time. So I made that space. And now that’s my space every single day, my sacred creative space. So I might be in the mood to like do photos or do like, I love that stuff. I love photos. I love photography. I love Canva. I love playing with graphics too. But every day I do some type of more like heart-centered, writing creative time. That is my sacred creative time. And man, if I had done that 15 years ago, I mean, I not only would I have gone faster. I would have had a lot more fun, I think in the way. Right?
Ash Roy (45:28): Absolutely. Yeah. In episode 142, I spoke to professor Srini Pillay. He’s a psychiatrist and he’s one of the assistant professors of Psychiatry or was at the time I interviewed him at Harvard medical school. And we talked about the power of the unfocused mind in terms of productivity. And I can’t agree with you more having that sacred space really allows your brain to move into creative mode. Going for walks without your phone, without any agenda allows your brain to actually come up with those insights that it needs to come up with. It gives that breathing room. A lot of our members actually use these productive sprints. You should come along to one. They use these productive sprints as their sacred time. So like I said, there’s no agenda on these sprints. The only thing we do in these sprints is we have 3 Pomodoro sprints of 25 minutes each.
Ash Roy (46:20): And we break for about five minutes, but we’ve got it down to a fine art. So now we do it like in about like maybe a minute or something, but we go around the zoom room and we say, we do two things- we say, how would you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of your focus levels? No one rates anybody else, you just rate yourself. And the second thing we say is what are you focusing on in your next sprint? So I just facilitate that. And what that does is after each sprint, if we give ourselves a rating of say four, we say I was pretty unfocused. You know, the dog walked in and I got distracted or I saw a notification on my phone and I got distracted. I was checking Facebook. When you call that out, particularly in a group setting the brain fortifies itself against making that same mistake again.
Ash Roy (47:04): And so we’re finding that in the second and third sprints, people are giving themselves nines, eights, tens, you know, because just the act of saying it, that awareness, to me is i’d like to think of it as objective mindfulness, which I’ve been practicing for many years. Giving that number, gives yourself that self evaluation. I learned that from my wife who is a doctor and they often talk about how would you rate your pain on scale of one to 10? How do you rate your focus on a scale of 1 to 10? The other thing I learned from her is I use my podcast episodes as prescription pills. So, Oh, you’re having difficulty copywriting go listen to Episode 61 with Kevin Rogers.
Shelley Brander (47:44): ‘ve got to say Ash, I’m so impressed with your encyclopedic knowledge of what number your podcast is. And now I’m like, okay, I’m 203. So we’re going to have to come up with a one word for that. I’m going to plant it in your mind. So I hope 203 brings much value to people for years to come.
Ash Roy (48:01): And that’s very kind, thank you. But the other thing we do is when we say, okay, this is what I’m going to be focusing on the next sprint, we are setting our intentions. But if we’re doing it in a group setting and I’ve always believed that we are social creatures. And when we make these commitments, whether it’s committing to marrying someone or a baptism or whatever it is. When we do it in the presence of a community, it’s more likely to stick because a few thousand years ago, we were traveling in herds. And if we got kicked out of the herd, it meant certain death. So I believe it’s in evolutionary imperative. The most important thing I think is building a community and being able to be mindful about how you spend your time, making better decisions about what tasks you choose to focus on. So what action steps would you recommend people take? If there’s one thing or two things that would take away from this, what would you say they should?
Shelley Brander (49:04): My number one is just step back and put your passion first. I mean, if they’re in your circle already, they’re already tuned into that, right? But there’s probably a whole lot of people listening to this right now that are in their main gig. And they maybe have a side hustle or they just have that again, that secret passion that they loved to do, but they’re waiting until someday to do it. So they retire until they have enough money, until they can figure out how to make all parts of it work. Number one is put the passion first. And if you haven’t taken time to really think about that, like think back to when you were a little kid and what was the thing that you love to do then you would just lose track of time when you did it. Right? And then the weirder, the better. The weirder, the more unusual, the more niche, the better. And if it’s not weird, figure out what can make it different. What can separate you from the pack, right? I love that I had never heard about the blue ocean strategy until someone first read my manuscript and said, Oh, you were always going for the blue ocean. And if people don’t know what that is, that’s like when you’re in the ocean and there’s a bunch of sharks, the water turns red and we have an idea. And then other people pile on the idea and the idea, and it’s the ocean turns red, you got to swim for the blue ocean. So find the thing, the one thing that separates you from all the others and go towards that and keep going towards that. And when they get closer to you go farther, right?
Ash Roy (50:34): One of my dearest friends actually worked with those people that wrote that book. Yeah, he did his MBA from the same business school I went to.
Shelley Brander (50:48): But I heard somewhere and it really stuck with me. I didn’t make it up, but somebody said maybe, you know who, “Creative is the new currency.” Maybe it was Seth. I read Seth’s emails everyday. I have, for years, he’s like the one person I’ve never unsubscribed from. I mean, I think even the early days loops, but creative is the new currency. And I think there’s a lot of people, especially right now with COVID either they’ve lost their job. Like it’s giving everybody a moment to pause, right? There could be a gift in that because absolutely recognizing like with AI and everything coming, a lot of jobs are going to become obsolete. If you feel like you’re in a factory in your mind, you know, it probably needs to go. And you need to get towards the blue ocean of your creative side whatever that is. Create is undervalued. Creatives in ad agencies, creative people that knit people that do creative things, they always undervalue it. And it is where the value lies and the more you can embrace that. If I could take something like knitting and turned it into a global movement, I promise whatever your thing is, you can turn it into something.
Ash Roy (51:57): With, the tectonic shifts that are happening as a direct result of COVID. I believe that there’s going to be a move from globalization back to localization because supply chains around the world are breaking down. There’s going to be shifts from manufacturing, from China to other countries. I think Apple is looking at manufacturing in India. Now there’ll be some manufacturing moving back to the United States and I think that’s actually a good thing. I think that we became a little bit too obsessed with specialization, and it was at the expense of local producers and local economies, and at the expense of the planet. A lot of very ecologically unfriendly practices were happening. Transportation in a lot of cases, I believe becomes unnecessarily emphasized upon if all manufacturing happens in just one part of the world. And then you were transporting everything across rather than manufacturing locally. There’s a lot of shifts I believe that are going to come. We’ve we just have the tip of the iceberg right now. And this is the time to really drop into your creativity. Take a beat. I understand it’s a difficult time for all of us, but let’s try and really use this time to dig deep, find something that is meaningful, valuable, and try and turn inward rather than just going for this more, more, more obsessive greed-driven, acquisition-driven, grabbing behavior that we’ve had as a species.
Shelley Brander (53:34): It damages things and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. People do not resonate with that. It won’t work because people won’t buy it. They might in the short term, but it definitely won’t work to keep, make you happy in the longterm. I mean I was selling cable and pizza and casinos, and I mean, there’s good things about pizza, but it’s, you know, it just is not going to work. It’s not viable long-term. You maybe can’t find that minimum viable product, but it’s not going to be the long-term viable solution for you or the planet or other people. It’s not what everybody’s looking for. Right.
Ash Roy (54:10): One takeaway from me from this conversation is how do I figure out what is enough instead of looking for more. I don’t need more computers, more phones, more iPad. I just need to be happy with what I’ve got and be creative with what I’ve got and make something out of it instead of just acquiring stuff.
Shelley Brander (54:31): That’s it. Really knitting as part of the whole, the slow movement, right? The slow, like back away from fast fashion back to like making your own stuff, something, you feel amazing that you made it right. I mean, and making handmade gifts for people, you know. It’s at the center of the whole digital movement, which is like the ironic thing, right? So the faster everything gets, the more we we want, we just like need to slow down. We need that counterbalance. Right. And that’s why things like knitting and painting and like all of these slower things are coming back. You know, everything. Everybody is playing music. All of the things that we need to do to like feed our soul and slow ourselves down as a counterbalance to these screens that we’re in all the time.
Shelley Brander (55:18): And you’re right. It is a scary time. It’s scary to say to somebody who’s in the midst of all of this panic of like slow down and think about what’s going to really make you happy. But I think if people just create a little space in their day to, you know, it just, again, they’ll build that muscle of where, what is my creativity? You know, you just gotta make the space for yourself to be able to think about it. Put the do not disturb on the door. So the kids can’t come in lock, put the gate up. So the dogs can’t come in and give yourself time to like dream a little bit. Right? Yeah.
Ash Roy (55:47): Give yourself something to dream. I love that. Thank you so much for being on this podcast. I was absolutely delighted to talk to you. It will be published on YouTube soon. You’ll be able to find all the show notes at productiveinsights.com/203. And if you’re listening to this on iTunes or on your podcast app, or you’re watching this on YouTube, take some time dream, and then write about it, draw something, put it down on paper, make it real in some way. I challenge you and invite you to do that. So thanks for being on the show, Shelley.
Shelley Brander (56:24): Thanks Ash, it’s been a blast.