Losing a Job, Finding Entrepreneurship, with Courtney Canfield

In April 2020, Courtney Canfield saw a layoff coming a mile away. Like many, she lost her job because of COVID-19. But instead of sitting around, Courtney made something out of nothing – and now she’s running a successful business while becoming a pet influencer (yes, a pet influencer!).  On the show today, Courtney talks to Don about her journey, then starts asking Don questions about how to build a successful marketing agency.

Courtney Canfield Pet Influencer on the Donald Thompson Podcast

Donald Thompson: Welcome to the Donald Thompson podcast, and my guest today is Courtney Canfield, an influencer, a social media, expert a all around phenomenal business person. And Courtney, welcome to the Donald Thompson podcast.

Courtney Canfield: Thank you so much for having me. This is a pleasure.

Donald Thompson: So one of the ways that I got to know you is I got a chance to see a clip on our local TV, and it was really talking about how COVID-19 had impacted you professionally and how, not only did you not let it get you down, but you created personal momentum and growth through that process. Tell us a little bit about that.

Courtney Canfield: All right. Yeah. So I was laid off from my job the end of April, and it was something that, to be perfectly honest, I was kind of expecting because of the way things were going with our business.

And I had been working as a remote employee already. So, it just, it, it seemed like it was something that was going to be happening. So, I had been thinking about for a while exactly what I would do after the layoff, trying to be a little proactive, at least in my mind, about it. You know, just because I’m a planner, I’m constantly planning my life. Like, I can’t not plan things. I can’t roll with the punches all the time. Like, I have to know what’s happening. So, when I was laid off, I was thinking like, “OK, do I want to start scrambling and jumping right back in to trying to find a job frantically.” And, and when I say frantically, I mean, like, that’s kind of like the feeling and the emotion that I was kind of feeling a little bit, right? Yeah, because I mean, at the time people are saying, “Oh, like COVID-19. No one can find jobs, and everyone’s getting laid off. And unemployment is, you know, on the rise,” and whatnot. And so it kind of took a step back and it was like, “OK, wait. You know, what, what I really want to do with this time is to make the most of it. I don’t want to come out of this thinking like, ‘Oh, I could have done something better for myself. I could have done something better for my future. I could have handled things a little bit differently,'” and I didn’t want to do the same thing that I would normally do. Meaning, scramble to find a job immediately without really thinking things through, right? So what I wanted to do was I wanted to spend the time learning as much as possible from, not just, you know, webinars – I’ve been attending general assembly webinars every Friday. They have free Friday webinars, which are just really cool. I’ve been doing those. I’ve been watching a lot of things online.

I’ve been of course, listening to podcasts, hello. And I’ve also wanted to be learning about, you know, different things from friends and, you know, whoever else was also either laid off or at work, or just had some more extra time on their hands. So, I put out a call to my friends on Facebook to start and I asked them, you know, I was kinda thinking, I was like, “Oh, this will be something that no one really responds to. You know, everyone’s going to be like, ‘Wow, Courtney’s laid off. She has a lot of time on our hands, all right.'” Which I felt like at the time that I did. So, I posted it on Facebook. I asked any, if anyone wanted us to do a skill swap. And a skill swap, to me, is something like I would share with them, I don’t know, something about like social media strategy or influencer marketing strategy, right? And in turn, they could teach me something about either photography, ’cause that’s something that I really want to get better at is photography, whether it be like product photography or even photo editing.

I also put on there, let’s see, email marketing and a few other things. So, and I had great response and I was so surprised because apparently a lot of other people are in my position, duh. Right? So, and I also put something, I posted something in The Create Cultivate Facebook page, Facebook group, as well as a Woman in Influencer Marketing Facebook group.

And I had quite a few responses there as well, so since then I’ve been doing a few skill swap sessions online on Zoom with some friends who –  most recently with a friend who’s a photographer. I’m also working with a woman who’s local in Greensboro who’s a dog trainer, so she’s going to help me with some dog training kind of things, which is really fun.

And, I’m also working on a weekly basis with a woman who’s based out of Chicago. So I’m helping her with social media and she’s helping me with influencer contract. So, I’ve expanded my network exponentially since this started. And like, it, it still feels like, you know, COVID-19 things are a little crazy and whatnot, but here I am.

Actually spending the time in a way that’s worthwhile to me, rather than just sitting on the couch eating Cheetos, so.

Donald Thompson: Cheetos are good, but not for extended periods of time. Now, what a great way to think about learning, growing, and when you’re active and focused on learning something new, you get to think about the future.

That’s super powerful. And one of the things that in reading your bio and background, I understood the social media experiences we had. But you’ve got the dog, named Rambo, with like, 300,000 followers on Facebook or Instagram?

Courtney Canfield: Yes. On Facebook – his Instagram is a little bit smaller, it’s about 10% of that, but we definitely have an audience of very active middle-aged to boomer-aged women, which is like, the best on Facebook.

It’s so much fun to create content for them. And yeah, so I started his page. God, what year is it? 2020? I started it about eight years ago. So, yeah, eight years ago, this is kind of a funny story – and we’re all about stories here, so I’m going to tell it – so, eight years ago I was working. I just graduated college, right? And I graduated with a degree in Spanish and global studies. And I was like, what do I want to do? I have no idea. So, so I started working at a law office as a Spanish translator, and soon I realized that I was awful at translating Spanish. Like, it was so much fun to meet these people, especially right now.

It’s like this thing that I graduated with a degree in, and I was terrible at it.

Donald Thompson: A bad translator. That’s awesome.

Courtney Canfield: But you know, you all have to like, you know, you have to figure out what you’re good at. And so, while I was at this law office, I was given a puppy as a present and that ended up being Rambo, right? And Rambo really made my life so much better because I was kind of miserable working at a job that I just, I was really terrible at.

Thank God it was terrible at it. So, I started posting to his social media. And I realized that I was actually pretty good at social media. So, I started doing some consulting work on the side while also working at the law office. It’s actually when I first met our mutual contact, Lisa Melvin. I had posted on LinkedIn and asked, at the time, like if anyone needed some help with social media for free, and she was like, “I don’t want to do, I don’t want you to do it for free. I want to pay you.”

So, that was taking off, my dog’s channel’s were taking off, which at that point I actually got my first real job in social media. So, I like to say that I owe it all to my dog Rambo for helping me get my first real job in social media, helping me get my real big break or whatever, and kind of just grew from there, so.

Donald Thompson: That’s no – that is an awesome story. One of the things I was, I’ve been, I wanted to ask you a lot of people think about influencer marketing and they think about the big names, right? You think about Beyonce or the Kardashians, or you think about an NBA player, you know, Chris Paul or LeBron James, but there’s so much marketing that’s done from micro influencers.

Can you describe the thought process of really looking at business from a more targeted, more engaging a persona of a micro influencer and share with our audience what that can mean for brands and businesses.

Courtney Canfield: Sure. Yeah. So micro influencers are hugely powerful. I’d like to say they’re actually more powerful than the celebrity sized influencers, right.

And that’s because micro influencers have a more engaged network to begin with, more authentic followers. Typically they have less fake followers, which is really key, you know, if you really want to be reaching actual, real audiences. A lot of them have very like niche specialties, right?

Like for example, myself, as a pet influencer, I recently came across an influencer who was a micro influencer who specializes in vegan dishes on the road or something like that. It was just, it was so cool. And I mean, think about the kind of people who are following this person. If a brand engages them, they’re going to have truly engaged followers checking out this brand, learning more about it through the influencer, and it’s just a more authentic way to engage people online through these micro storytellers.

Donald Thompson: No, that is very, very powerful. When you think about the advent of social media, the different platforms. How would you educate somebody on the right platform for their business?

Courtney Canfield: You know how many times people ask me this question? And it’s, you know, it really depends because it’s not a question that’s typically easy to answer. What I usually say is that you have to figure out who your audience is, who your consumer is, who your, your target customer is and figure out where they are online.

And you’d be surprised. Like, a lot of people are like, “Oh, well, my brand targets middle-aged women,” or whatever it is, you know, it doesn’t really matter. That’s something that is, you know, maybe they’re not as socially inclined, but you still have to consider platforms like TikTok because they’re on there surprisingly enough.

So you have to understand who your target customer is and then kind of go from there. But typically, you want to be on all the big social channels. You don’t really want to not have a presence on any of them because that will disappoint a customer if they go to look for you on Twitter or Facebook and they find you don’t either have a presence there, or you just aren’t engaged online there, so.

Donald Thompson: How do you stay current on all the different platforms? Like how do you, like, how do you stay current with the tips and tricks and so that you can be good at it? Like, what are some of the things you do read listen to, to stay progressing in that social media landscape?

Courtney Canfield: Sure. Well, you see this thumb here? I scroll a lot. I actually, I’ve had to learn how to massage my thumb daily because of how much I scroll. And that sounds like, you know, I’m constantly just on social media, but truly you want to be constantly observing what influencers are doing, what your friends are doing, how brands are using Instagram live, how influencers are adapting to new platform updates on TikTok. I am the kind of person who is, I wouldn’t say obsessed with, but really enjoys being the first to know something like a platform update. So, in addition to constantly scrolling and having to massage my thumb, I keep up with a Feedly account. So I have a bunch of sources in my Feedly account.

It’s like an RSS feed, essentially. And I just go through those every single day. I have keywords set up for influencer marketing, social media strategy, so I just try to stay current that way and reading, you know, whatever breaking news comes out.

But like I said, the scrolling is a huge, huge part of that.

Donald Thompson: Yeah, no, that’s powerful and I appreciate that. And it’s really like, stay engaged in the platform so that you kind of naturally pick up what’s new. Right? I think that’s a great, that’s just a phenomenal point. There’s no magic, right, pill, no magic book to read, right. It’s changing that fast, right? So you gotta be a participant to stay expert status. When you think about brands that you admire, talk to me about a couple of brands,  when you think about how they do their marketing, how they look at their social, how they engage with their communities, what are some of the brands that you admire?

Courtney Canfield: Oh, that’s a really hard question because it changes, it seems to change daily. Like There will be a brand that I see on Instagram that’s using Instagram in a really innovative way, and I’ll be like, “Wow, that’s really exceptional. I need to follow this brand.” I used to get Stitch Fix. I don’t know if you guys know what’s – yeah, so it ended up being –

Donald Thompson: I think my wife uses it.

Courtney Canfield: I think it has Stitch Fix for men, though.

Donald Thompson: Probably.

Courtney Canfield: Well, I recently saw a post by Stitch Fix about standing with Black Lives Matter, which was something really exceptional. And it wasn’t just standing with them, but it was also something where they talked about the steps that they would take to make a difference and not just their internal culture, their company culture, and the way that they interact with the communities around them, but also how they’re going to give back to the organizations that were truly at the center of the movement, which I just thought was exceptional. And it wasn’t something like truly like, “Hey, they’re creating really amazing content,” but it was more like how they were using the platform to get a message out that was so important.

And honestly, I haven’t seen many brands doing that recently, lately at all. So them and Ben and Jerry’s, I know everyone’s been talking about Ben and Jerry’s recently too, which I love because, one, their ice cream? Awesome. But I think that right now, authenticity is the name of the game, so any brand that’s conducting themselves in a way that speaks to that is the brand that I want to follow right now.

It’s not so much the brand that is creating really cool stop motion videos or cinema graphs for Instagram, and you know, doing dances on TikTok – though, I would tell you that probably my favorite brand to follow on TikTok is the Washington Post. They have this one guy who is their social media guy, and he’s been posting everything from home.

And he’s just, I don’t know if it’s because I’m an elder millennial, so to speak, but I think it’s just everything they’ve been doing is just really funny. And they’ve also been using the platform for education as well. So, talking about Black Lives Matter and like why, what defend the police means and whatever else.

And just trying to use it as a, a educational tool in addition to an entertainment tool. So, those are the kinds of brands that I’m really looking to right now versus the brands that are just like, “Let’s be creative!” Because creative is amazing, right? Yeah, well, it’s awesome to be creative and do innovative things, but it’s more about the authenticity.

Donald Thompson: No, I think that is a powerful way to do it. I mean, people want to feel like they have a personal interaction with the brand, right? Creative creates a wow moment, but not a friend.

Courtney Canfield: Absolutely

Donald Thompson: Authenticity creates that, that digital friendship, and that’s what people want to be a part of. And I think with all of these social tools over the years, we’ve actually gotten a little bit more distant.

I think that’s one of the reasons that brands that really speak to their authentic self -you mentioned Ben and Jerry’s because they really gave their full self into what their view was, right? They called out white supremacy.

Courtney Canfield: Yeah.

Donald Thompson: Right? That they, they, they didn’t make a statement, they took an aggressive stance.

Courtney Canfield: Yes.

Donald Thompson: Right? And that is bravery. And so, even if you don’t fully agree with that stance, the bravery still comes through.

Courtney Canfield: Absolutely. Not mind blowing, but just like off, like knock yourself off your feet kind of thing. And that’s what we need nowadays because we have these brands that are just like, “We stand with the movement! OK, let’s post a picture about clothes.” Like, you know, it’s not, there’s no meaning in that. And there’s, there’s no connection in that, but truly like, exactly what you said. It’s bringing people closer together and those kinds of moments that are truly authentic.

Donald Thompson: No, that’s powerful. When you think about marketing, and you mentioned helping people with their brands and the skill swap, I work a lot with businesses and businesses that have some size and scale, but there are a lot of folks that are in businesses that have one person, they’re solo entrepreneurs, they have two people have five people. What advice would you give to those people, that are at the beginning of their journey in dream, about how to brand themselves and build that personal narrative?

Courtney Canfield: You know, that’s actually one of the questions I want to ask you, want to ask you as well because that’s something that I’ve been strug – no, I haven’t been struggling with, but I’ve been thinking a lot about because, you know, while I’m great at working with large companies on social media and I can do social media for a dog all day, as well as a cat, Fluffy Pants, but one of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about, and trying to learn a lot about, is how to brand myself as a individual business owner consultant, because eventually that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to go back to working full time for a corporation that, you know, I have to kind of like mold myself to fit. I want to be able to lead my own journey and trying to figure out exactly how to brand myself, that is the big question, right? So, maybe if you want to take that one.

Donald Thompson: Yeah, let me ask you one more and then we’ll flip it. So we’ll say, we’ll say that. When you think about your career, talk to me about something where you feel like you really moved the needle in what you brought to the table. Tell me a success that you’re just like, “I was really proud of that work. It was challenging. It was a little difficult. It was scary. It might’ve not been great, and then we turned it around.” Tell me about one of those stories in your professional career that means a lot to you.

Courtney Canfield: Sure. So, the first one that comes to mind is probably the most recent job that I had. I was working at a influencer marketing agency. Again, I was a remote employee for this agency based out of Brooklyn, New York. And, at the time when I started, which was about this time last year, they weren’t doing any white listing, so boosting of influencer content, and right now with social media being a pay to play kind of world, even with influencer content, I was seeing that there was a huge missed opportunity there.

Right? Because approaching influencer marketing from the standpoint of, “Oh, because we’re paying influencers, that means that this content is going to be seen regardless,” that’s not the case anymore. So, I did some research and looked into platforms that could help us do white listing, at scale, for this particular company and their clients.

And it actually took a while to get everyone on my side and the terms of, you know, trying to sell in a platform that yes, it costs money and yes, it would take some time to learn how to use. Yeah, so it would take some time to incorporate language into our influencer contracts about, you know, I agree to use XYZ platform for white listing if I joined this campaign or whatever, but after a while I was able to successfully get everyone on my side because I don’t take no for an answer.

But I also really do believe in this and I’ve been, myself, part of white listing campaigns on the influencer side of things, and I’ve really seen the impact that it has on not just the success of my content in terms of like a reach sort of thing, but also like how it drives clicks and how it drives even more followers to my channels, which is really great.

So, I was able to get everyone on my side for that, and we signed up for the platform, ran our first like minor white listing campaign, I wouldn’t even say big white listing campaign. And we drove, like, I think it was like 10 times the results that we had promised as an organic campaign, for the client.

And that was pretty impressive. So, for every single campaign after, every single influencer campaign after, I insisted the white listing be part of the budget, right. It always has to be part of the budget because it’s just one of those tools in our toolbox that we want to use to, you know, get the content out there and have the successful campaign for the client. And I can tell you that the campaigns that didn’t use white listing for whatever reason, not only were they not as successful, but the clients definitely weren’t as happy with them, so.

Donald Thompson: No, that’s powerful. That is awesome. I mean, basically it’s a way that you learned, then you scaled, right. You tested something, it worked, and created that infrastructure to do it again and again. And so I think that’s part of, right, sometimes brilliance is just doubling down on what works.

Courtney Canfield: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: I couldn’t say it better myself.

So, alright, so it’s, let’s, let’s turn the tables and, I’m gonna take a drink of water. You get your questions ready and –

I have my sad ice coffee.

And then we’ll take a few minutes and fire away.

Courtney Canfield: Sure. Sounds good. So, I’m actually interested. What is your experience working with influencers and running influencer campaigns or running any type of campaign that had an influencer component in them for your clients?

Donald Thompson: So one of the things that’s been really valuable for us at Walk West over the last year, since we’ve worked with a lot of influencers, and one of our partners, Penn and Kim Holderness are very successful influencers.

We have a different advantage over most in that we have some of that built into the DNA, and so we can really understand what campaigns work with influencers and what don’t. Influencers aren’t the right strategy for every marketing campaign. And then how do you select the right influencers? And so one of the things that we’ve learned, and we talked about this a little bit earlier, is you can go after the big name, somebody with a million followers, things like that.

Professional athlete, an actor, but targeted campaigns, same budget, but 10 micro influencers instead of one perceived celebrity, gives you the opportunity to try, fail and adjust at so many levels of your marketing campaign, that it is, it just goes without saying. And in fact, we typically lead with that first because you get to test message against a very predictable budget, and then you can double down with the micro influencers or you have the right associated scripting when you want to go big.

And so, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that, number one, you have to be selective of the type of influencers, just because somebody is creative and talented on YouTube or on Instagram doesn’t mean they can authentically integrate that talent with your brand. Right? So a lot of times what happens and what we see in the space is that people that are not actually good at being influencers and marketers, it comes across as canned and staged and awkward.

And that kind of defeats the whole purpose because the relationship with an influencer and their audience is authenticity. So, if the audience starts to feel like the influencer is doing it just for money, that actually has the reverse effect, right? You might as well have not spent a dime. And so it’s really important to do that testing upfront so that if you do have a mismatch, you haven’t blown a million dollar budget, $500,000 budget, you’ve done your testing with 25, $50,000 or whatever percentage that you’re working with, and then you scale once you have the messaging and the authenticity right. And so that’s kind of my feeling on our view with influencing.

Courtney Canfield: I love it. It’s so progressive too, because a lot of people will see influencers as just a way to spit out a message you know, send a message, and that just drives me bonkers

Donald Thompson: It doesn’t work. And it’s actually, you know, maybe we’ll create a blog, right? The lazy marketer, right? The just, the lazy marketer wastes your money. And it’s really a cop-out a little bit not to do your testing first, not to understand that right fit with style and message and optics and then, and then scale from there.

So no, that’s a great question.

Courtney Canfield: Absolutely. All right. So I do want to switch gears a little bit because I was totally not stalking your website, the other day, but I was, and I noticed that you do a lot of speaking engagements and as someone who has had stage fright her entire life and who is also pretty much an introvert, not saying that’s makes me antisocial, but definitely like my me time, right? And also, you know, not getting up in front of a crowd. You know, it’s not really my thing. What kind of advice would you have to someone who does want to get more involved in – once COVID-19 is over of course – but you know, industry conferences, maybe even doing some speaking engagements.

Donald Thompson: So, a couple of things in, one, practice, practice, practice.

And what does that mean? Let’s use you, for example, you talked about the skill swap. So now when you do that with a person, tell them to invite three friends, and do it at the Zoom, and then you get used to being on stage in a small enough group that you can control, but a large enough group that you want to do really well.

And you’re still going to have a few butterflies, right? Because there’s four or five people on the Zoom, and so you practice, number one. The second thing that you think about, and I still think about this, even though I’m more comfortable as the years go on, is I’m really just trying to help. If I’m trying to sell you the perfect talk or the perfect widget, then I’m going to be more nervous if I’m trying to help you, then I’m talking to friends and I’m not trying to get the words perfect, I’m trying to get the message perfect.

Courtney Canfield: That makes sense.

Donald Thompson: And that, and then you, you really, you trick yourself into being a giver and most people are more successful when they’re in the giving mode than when they’re in the selling mode, right? And so, that’s what I do to kind of think about two things. Number one, to make sure that I speak as myself, not some canned version of myself, number one, but then number two, how do I relate to my audience? Whether it’s one person, five people or 5,000. I’m here to help.

And that gives me room to not have to be perfect in that moment, but to be prepared enough that my message is perfect for the moment that I’m in. And that’s how I try to think about it so that I don’t overanalyze unnecessary details, but I’m really trying to communicate a message in a way that gives people the encouragement, right, that they can move forward with their goals tomorrow. And when I think about it like that, that’s what helps give me the confidence and the other folks that I coach that maybe are working through some of those same things. The third thing that I will say is having notes is not a bad thing when you’re getting started as a speaker. Don’t have an entire notepad that looks weird, right?

A full stack of them, but having a couple of index cards that you can have in your pocket, a lot of times you don’t need them, but knowing that they’re there if you do relaxes you to go ahead and push through.

Courtney Canfield: Gotcha.

Donald Thompson: It’s almost like in a, you probably never did this, but occasionally in my academic career, I’ve written some notes on my hand before tests.

Courtney Canfield: Oh, totally.

Donald Thompson: Yeah. Maybe I’ve done it. A lot of times, the effort of putting all that information and hiding it and thinking about it, now you’re taking the test and like, “Oh, actually I learned this by writing. Like, I don’t even need this,” right? Because the act of writing the notes created that memorization and that’s back to the practice, the verbalization and all those different things so that you can create that level of readiness, right, through your preparation. And then the other thing that I’m really, really big on is dry runs, right? You have to care enough about the people that you’re speaking to, to practice, to have a mock audience, to go through your elements from rehearsal and to ask people that are experts. Sharon McLeod is a part of our team, and she is an Emmy award winning journalist and marketer and PR extraordinaie, but she’s gave her first Ted Talk a few months ago.

She’s an expert in the area of communication. Before I go and speak, I always consult with her and get a few tips. So as good as I may think I may be, there’s somebody that’s better that can give me a different perspective, a way to read the room, a way to get ready, and so I like to seek advice from people that are stronger than I am.

Courtney Canfield: That’s great advice. I mean, honestly, most people just say, you know, “Just imagine everyone in their underwear,” and like, that would make me even more nervous for God sakes, right? That would be like, imagine everyone, like wearing a Llama costume. I’m like, “That would just make me lose it,” like for God sakes. So, all right. So that brings me to my next question.

So, as I mentioned, I am going to be going out on my own and starting my own consulting company at some point in the future. And at some point, it’s probably going to be pretty soon. So, what kind of advice do you have for someone who’s going to be a new business owner, doing the whole self employed thing, working on their own, offering probably social media and influencer marketing consulting services.

What advice would you give someone like me?

Donald Thompson: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. And I want to use some of the things that you already do well to incorporate into the new venture. Use the same thought process around the skill swap, except do it with businesses. If you were to call me and say, “Hey, Don, I need some instruction on how to sell and market my business, but I have some information and some knowledge in marketing and social, and I could do an audit for one of your clients or any of your team,” that would be interesting to me as a business owner, the same way it was for your friends, except you would do it in a more hyper-targeted way. You would do it with people that you actually wanted to be clients.

So do a little research, different things. And that thought process is actually pretty unique. Like if you, if you pitched that to me, like, I’d be like, “Well, that’s  interesting. OK.” Like, I would trade you an hour of sales training for an hour of marketing training or two hours of what you know, or whatever.

And now all of a sudden you do that for 10 or 15 business people that you’d like to be in business with, and that’s a pretty authentic way to create some relationships. So that’s number one, and you’re already doing it. It’s just tweaking it, right? The second thing that I would do is, it’s very tough in business to start something new without a sounding board or a mentor or coach because what you need when you’re starting something new is a sounding board. You need somebody that you can talk to without fear, without judgment about how you’re feeling that day, what you’re working through, what you need to understand that you might not. And the faster that you can work through those cycles of uncertainty, right?

The better off it will be in terms of getting to the end goal and to the prize. What happens to most people in business and in life is they spend too many cycle times in that mental ping pong where they’re not making any progress, versus that 15 minutes they need with somebody that can help them. So the second thing that I would do is you gotta find somebody that you believe in, and that believes in you, that can spend a little bit of time, maybe an hour a week.

Not, it’s not unbelievable because you’re smart, talented there’s things that you have to offer, it’s just putting all those things together in a package, right? The third thing I would say is, is writing down your goals and reading them every day, right? And there’s a difference – there’s two things, right?

There’s goals, and then there’s motive, right? Motivation is the thing that you want so much that you push through the pain. Maybe it’s financial freedom, right? Maybe it’s to make enough money that you don’t have to go get a job. Maybe it is that you want to make enough money, that you can create a legacy and start a foundation.

Right? Maybe you’ve got kids that you need to get to college, and so you want to make sure that there’s enough there. You got to figure out, not what the goal is “I want 10 clients,” not with the goal is “I want to make a hundred thousand dollars,” what is the goal that creates emotive motivation because that’s what you will need when you want to quit, right? And that’s, and that’s very, very important, the things you have in place for when you want to quit. Right? Most people that start something by themselves struggle because it’s hard to be your own best cheerleader.

Courtney Canfield: Totally.

Donald Thompson: Right? So if you’re a solo entrepreneur, that’s why you need that mentor.

But that’s also why a lot of businesses that started small that grew big, were partnerships. You think about Google. You think about Microsoft. You think about Apple. Everybody thinks about Steve jobs, but there’s Wazniak. Everybody thinks about Bill Gates, but there was Paul Allen, right? All of these partnerships, right?

Because they had different skills that they balanced off each other, but more importantly, there was an emotional give and take during the tough times, right? As, as you pushed through it. So those are a couple of things that I would have people think about as they chase their dream as an entrepreneur.

Number one, is that I would tell you is I’m super proud of you. I think it takes a lot of courage to step out there on your own. I’m good enough. What was that thing on Saturday Night Live? I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And dog gonnit, people like me. I forget was it Stuart Smalley or something? I don’t, I don’t know what it was, but I remember it, but like, I know that sounds super like cheesy, but like, I think like that, right?

Like if I’m like, I’m good enough, I have enough skill to be valuable. Right? I’m smart enough. I’m not the smartest person, but I’m smart enough. Right? And you know what, I’m going to find some people that like what I have to offer, and I’m going to just keep talking to people till I find those people.

Right? And then I just keep it simple when I’m selling something or building a business or doing something like that, and then that allows me to kind of push through. And so those are some of the things that I think about when I’m doing something new.

Courtney Canfield: Wow. Well, that was the best cheerleading session I’ve ever had.

Thank you. That’s really, that’s some really great advice. And also, you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about like, is this something that I want to do? Is this unique enough? And like, honestly, one of the things that I’ve been wrestling with is that there are so many other people who are out there who are doing exactly what I’m doing.

And I know this because I’ve been doing research and, you know, these websites have been tracking my, you know, every move. And now I’m seeing these ads in my feed for, you know, small business social media consultant. And I’m like, “Dang it.” You know, but I, I do know that the, this thing isn’t the first thing, the first time anyone has thought about, you know, doing small business social media consulting.

Right? So, it doesn’t have to be unique, but it does have to be good enough. And I think that that’s a really powerful message. So, thank you for sharing that. I’m going to put one of those quotes up on my wall.

Awesome. So let’s see, one of the things that I have experienced in my career, and this might be like a weird kind of question, but, one of the reasons why I’m going out on my own is because I do have this entrepreneurial type spirit, and I know that I’m not the only one. Right? But every single one of the companies that I’ve ever worked for seems to have kind of let me down in a sense, you know, like, has either tried to put me into a box or, you know, not really leaned in or let me lean into that to truly make a difference in the company.

So for someone who’s like me, I do have quite a few friends who are like me, someone who’s like me, what would you say to them or say to the companies that they’re working for, that – how can they make the most of that kind of spirit without having to go off on their own if they don’t have the means to do so?

Donald Thompson: Yeah. That’s a great, great question. So one of the things that people do is they pick a job based on the title of the job and the type of work that is being described versus the manager, right? The most important thing in any company is who you’re going to be working with on a day to day basis, right?

You could be in love with the Red Hat brand or the Google brand or the Walk West brand, right, and that’s fine. And we think – everybody thinks they have an amazing company, but that core group of people that you’re working with every day is who you’re really pushing through with, and you’ve got to make sure that that person or persons is really supportive of you and that you align.

Right? But that alignment is there. And so that’s really, really important. And then the other thing people do, is they stay in the wrong job too long, right? There’s people that have a love affair with what we’re doing at Walk West, and there’s some people that just don’t, right? That doesn’t make either bad.

That just means that the fit and the alignment with purpose and with passion and the perspective you view the business is so important, and you’ve got to really work until you find that right fit versus kind of staying still in that average situation because you’re afraid to move, right? And that’s what catches, I think, a lot of people.

And so, a lot of times, it’s not necessarily that everybody should be self employed, but some people might need a change of scenery in their workplace, right, and they need to use the situation they’re in to build enough skills so that they have the skill power to move, right? A lot of people are miserable because they feel stuck, right?

That’s not your boss’s fault. That’s not the company’s fault. You got to raise your skill and your performance enough that you have the power to move, right? And you can control your personal development, your personal value, your work ethic, things that you learn, things that you’ve read, courses you go to on the weekend, and everybody has the ability to do two things.

And what you’ll find is a couple of things will happen. One of the things that occurs  is it, you think people are not treating you right, they don’t appreciate your brilliance and all of that stuff, right? And I get it, people accuse me of that all the time, and then somebody steps their game up, right? They’re getting trained, they’re getting, and it’s amazing how high performers are treated better.

Sometimes you’re not as good as you think is the problem.

Courtney Canfield: That’s funny, but you know what? I think back to people that I’ve worked with who have had those kinds of complaints and I hate to say it, but I think you’re right.

Donald Thompson: That’s right. I mean, it’s really, it’s tough. Right? Like, and the thing with me, and the companies that I’ve led and grown, is that, you know, I’m a pretty straight shooter in terms of the way that I communicate, and I try to do it with more grace than I did as I was maturing as a leader. But nonetheless, I’m pretty open for feedback and I’ll share feedback.

I was on stage, and there was maybe 700 people, a thousand people in the crowd, and I was on a panel and we got some questions and one of the questions was “How do I get my management to listen to me? Right? I push forward ideas, and they just won’t listen.” And I was like, “Well, maybe the ideas aren’t good.”

Right? And, and like, and I said that out loud in front of 700 people and people were like, “Oh my God, that was so bad.” Like it, because like everybody’s point of view is that I’m not being listened to because management doesn’t want to hear my idea. If somebody shared an idea with me as a CEO that can make me millions of dollars, I’m going to listen to it, right? Your idea’s not good just because you thought of it in the shower. It’s not good because you wrote it down in your magical idea notebook. That doesn’t make it valuable. Right? If your idea is valuable to the business, it typically can get an audience, right, to sell your idea.

Most people think their idea is good based on the merit of it being their idea, and then they get offended when their idea’s not accepted. Most people sell their ideas to other people the way they view the idea, when selling anything, and idea, a product has to be sold based on the needs of the person you’re talking to.

And so a lot of times, there’s a disconnect between your idea, how you feel about your job, and how you’re communicating what you want to people who view the business and your talent differently. Now that doesn’t mean some people aren’t actually in a bad situation, and I think they should move or change that.

But my point is, most things are a two way street. And so, what I try to coach and teach people is how to look at things from the leadership’s point of view and sell them ideas in a way that moves the needle for the leadership, and then not change the idea, sell the idea in a way. And that typically gets you kind of more thoughtful, but I’ll tell you I’ve never turned down – I’ve probably turned down a million dollar idea, but I’ve never not wanted to hear an idea that could make me more money, save me more money or reduce my risk. Make me money, save me money and reduce my risk. I want to hear about that.

Courtney Canfield: And that’s a really interesting thing because I think it’s so interesting – we were talking about the white listing campaigns and, you know what not. At first, when I approached it, it was like, “We’re doing this all wrong,” and you know, not bringing a solution to the table, but when we put it into perspective in the ways of, you know, what, how much money you can help make us that’s when things totally did a 180 and people were completely on board, so I totally agree with that.

Donald Thompson: No problem.

Courtney Canfield: Awesome.  So, okay. I’m glad we can get to this question. So what kind of personal branding tips and tricks do you have for someone who needs to get better at personal branding? I’m great at personal branding for my dog, right? Like oh my God, like talk to me about personal branding for a fluffy little dog, and I can tell you how to do it all day, but when it comes to the human behind the dog, being me, what kind of tips would you have in terms of, you know, personal branding on LinkedIn maybe, or even on my website or what things would really get people to notice me and my value as I try to go out on this career path that I’m trying to?

Donald Thompson: Yeah, that’s phenomenal. So a couple things, right? One, your personal brand, voice and story, I can’t really create in a question, right? Like we’d have to know each other a little bit deeper and talk a little bit more, but a couple of things that people can do immediately to move down that path is talk about things you’ve done for others that have worked, and how that can apply for a broad group on LinkedIn. Tell people what you’ve learned. Tell people what you have learned, and applied, and the results that they got.

Courtney Canfield: Sure.

Donald Thompson: Right? So that’s number one. The second thing is talk about mistakes that you’ve made. This would be for your building, as you’re building a brand, what you’re trying to build is authenticity. So if I read a post and somebody says, “Hey, listen, I just want to share some mistakes I made, hope somebody learns from it.”

I trust that person. So now I’m building authenticity, right? The other thing is now you’re building yourself as an educator. When you’re telling something, when you’re teaching something somebody doesn’t know, and then cheer for people, right? Talk about things that you see, where brands have done something well and applaud them. Posts that you see where somebody has written something that’s been very valuable and you share it and build it up.

So now you’re sharing and you’re a cheerleader for others, that makes you authentic. You’re teaching people something, that’s authentic, and you’re telling people about mistakes you’ve made and learned from, that’s authentic. So while you’re figuring out what your appropriate brand voice is, you’re building authenticity, and authenticity works with any brand persona.

Courtney Canfield: I love that. Authenticity works with any brand persona. And I love that even your personal brand obviously, or most, especially with your personal brand.

Donald Thompson: That’s exactly right. So well, I’m enjoyed it. It was good to meet you. And it was fun. I look forward – I’m probably going to follow a Rambo. Do you call him Rambo or do you call him Bo?

Courtney Canfield: I call him Rambo, Rams, the Rams, Mr. Stinker, or whatever you want to go. He would love a follow from a fellow North Carolinian.

Donald Thompson: That’s awesome.

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The Donald Thompson Podcast is hosted by Walk West CEO, mentor, investor, and Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Donald Thompson.

Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.

The Donald Thompson Podcast is edited and produced by Earfluence. For more on how to engage your community or build your personal brand through podcasting, visit Earfluence.com.

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