Joellyn Sargent spent years as a marketing executive, building the life everyone said she “should” have. In spite of her success, it felt like something was missing. So in 2010 she left the rat race and followed her heart, helping passionate entrepreneurs succeed in business and in life. Joellyn is the author of Beyond the Launch: The Practical Guide to Building a Business that Thrives. Her latest adventure was a 7 months sabbatical in 2018, which she spent hiking 1800 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
2:46 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Never give up. Keep looking for the right opportunities.
Joellyn talks about her entrepreneurial journey where she is now on her 3rd business having started her first business when she was 26. She has applied all her learnings from her first ventures along with her corporate experience in marketing. The mortgage industry meltdown few years ago provided her the needed motivation to start her 3rd venture.
5:45 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Keep investing into the business during its formative years.
Joellyn explains the experience of getting her first customer from outside her network and how it gave her enough confidence to jump right in. She talks about the need to invest into the business and how she kept investing in mentors so she could expand her consulting business instead of just doing projects like website design etc.
9:06 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Strategically quit projects when they are not working out to keep reinventing yourself
Joellyn talks about the first two years of roller coaster ride with her business and how she has weathered them. She talks about what she called ‘strategic quitting’ where one should entertain strategically quitting few projects or engagements if they are not working out.
12:52 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Don’t be afraid to fire bad clients
Joellyn etalks about the need to find right customers and not any customer as bad clients ‘breed bad clients’. It is important to ensure that you are happy working with the right clients so the entrepreneurial journey is worthwhile.
14:17 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Entrepreneurial journey is about personal growth and self-discovery and not just about freedom and income.
Joellyn explains the characteristics of business owners who succeed. They are (1) introspective (2) open minded (3) desire to grow (4) indulge in self-reflection.
17:29 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Keep refining your target customers to find your ideal set of customers
Joellyn talks about the sweet spot customers who are business owners who either are starting out or on their second or third journey. She also wants to consult with business owners whose business may have been going well for some time but now has slowed down.
22:59 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Reflect on what you want to do that customers will pay for
Joellyn wants would-be entrepreneurs to think about 3 things on their way to a successful journey (1) Is this what you want to do? (2) Would customers pay for what you want to do? (3) Are you in this for the long term? The scariest part of your journey is when you quit your day job so you should be ready for that with these answers.
24:58 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Reflect on what you want to do that customers will pay for
Joellyn reflects on her experience and gives advice to balance between brand building and revenue. As an example, her focus on speaking engagements (where she was not paid) were not a path to revenue in few cases and she says she should have cut down those kinds of engagements. Joellyn talks about the amazing but scary journey of being an entrepreneur and encourages all to do it instead of sitting on the sidelines.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone, welcome to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance and possibilities. Today we have a guest who actually helps other entrepreneurs how to build their businesses. Her name is Joellyn Sargent. Joellyn spent years as a corporate marketing executive. Building the life everyone said she should have. In spite of her success, it felt like something was missing so she left her cushy job in 2010 and left the rat-race as well and followed her heart helping passionate entrepreneurs succeed in business and in life. Joellyn is also the author of a book Beyond the launch; the practical guide to building a business that thrives. Her latest adventure was a seven-month sabbatical in 2018, where in which she spent hiking 1,800 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Wow that is interesting. So Joellyn welcome to a podcast.
Joellyn: Well thank you very much. I'm happy to be here with you.
Ramesh: Wow 1,800 miles.
Joellyn: Yes, that's a lot you know and the whole trail is almost 2200 and I really really wanted to finish. But unfortunately, it wasn't in the cards.
Ramesh: Wow I mean why did you think about this? Why Appalachian Trail? Why hiking 1,800 miles?
Joellyn: Partly because I was getting a little bit bored with my work and I felt like I needed to do something really cool and it may sound a little bit morbid. But I don’t want to die having not done anything really unique. I don't live too far from the southern of the trail in Georgia. So, I met people who hiked and I just though that sounds like something really need to do and I would want to challenge myself and figure out if I can do it, you know if I have what it takes, and I did learn that lesson. I mean I do believe that I have what it takes even though I didn't quite finish that I had some health issues and some other things come up during the trip that slowed me down. But it turned out to be a really great experience and I learned a lot that I could bring back to my business, which I wasn't expecting. It's a very pleasant surprise.
Ramesh: Yeah, I mean actually I hear about it, people who climb Mount Everest and all the kinds of things and bring a lot to their business. You look like adventurous persons seeking adventures, so how did your business adventure start in 2010? Why you wanted to quit, and did you have in your mind what you wanted to do when you quit?
Joellyn: I did actually, and this is my third business. I started my first business, I was 26 and I had a new baby and we had actually just lost our home in a hurricane and, so we decided to relocate, and I said, well if we're going to move I might as well just start fresh and start a business and so I had a marketing agency at that time. But we did it in a small town and unfortunately, I didn't realize the dynamics of being in a small town where you're not from and so there were definitely some challenges there and it was successful. But then at the same time I was realized I was kind of fighting the tide a little bit in terms of some of the local connections and I was losing business opportunities to people who hire their brother-in-law and things like that. So, I went from that into corporate, actually working with United Parcel Service corporate. So that was a huge change to jump back into corporate. But I learned so much in corporate life and I even had a sideline business for a while, my second business was more of an online business doing you know fair trade arts and crafts and that was fun, but it was a little bit more of a hobby and, so I always had it back in the back of my mind I want to go out and do it again. But I want to use everything that I’ve learned both in corporate and in my two other ventures to do it right and to do in a way that really satisfies what I'm looking for out of life and not just you know business just to make money. So, I knew that I wanted to start a consultancy, but I didn’t, and I wanted to bring my marketing, my branding experience to the table, but I didn't want to be a marketing agency and I was in a position where I was fortunate enough to see my layoffs coming, I was actually working in the mortgage business. So, I knew that my time was limited. When the mortgage meltdown that happened a few years ago was just, it was in full swing and so it's okay yeah, I can see the writing on the wall, but I'm going to work as hard as I can, save as much money as I can, so the day that that axe falls the next day I couldn't put out my shingle and be ready for business and that's what I did.
Ramesh: So, when you actually started your business second time, the more recent one I'm talking about, did you already have your clientele in hand or you left the job and then you started actually starting from scratch?
Joellyn: Pretty much from scratch. I didn't have my clientele. But I did have a pretty strong network and, so it probably took me about a month just to get my web site up and running and get my business cards ordered and things like that, to really get out there and start soliciting new business. But then I just really started talking to everybody that I knew spreading the word about what I was doing and just started drumming up business right away.
Ramesh: So was it like the one customer, the first customer that gave me the confidence or you had a slew of customers coming at the same time. If you could talk about the initial journey of the first customer, please.
Joellyn: It started slow. But I did have confidence that it would happen and actually one of my first customers was not somebody in my network, it was somebody that was referred to me. So that was kind of cool that while somebody who doesn't even know me, it's got the face to hire me. That gave me extra confidence and I think I did have some confidence. Because I knew I could win business, I had done it in the past with my prior company and, so I knew that it could happen. It was just a matter of you how do I make it happen.
Ramesh: So, then you started the business and then you started from your strengths, which is your marketing and branding and that kind of stuff. But what are the areas that you felt uncomfortable in running your business?
Joellyn: Oh, that's a good question. I think sales has always been something that I haven't been a hundred percent comfortable with and really focusing on consulting work, because I had worked consultatively in corporate. But I had not been a consultant and so I felt like I had a lot to learn in terms of how do you run a consulting business versus a business where you're doing projects for people and that was a challenge, because while I was learning I found that I would tend to fall back into that comfort zone of, oh yeah I can create a website for you or I can help you put your social media marketing together and things like that, because they were easy. Which in hindsight was not a bad thing, because that revenue coming in as I was building more focus on the consulting work. So, I entered it in a way that it was very an evolutionary process as I grew the business. But I did identify some very strong mentors to help me develop that consulting expertise and as the money came in, I made the decision to invest in some of those mentors rather than just saying oh you know the scarcity mind, if I don't have money I can't hire anybody to help me. I said I'm going to put more money into my business and it's myself and that's a step of faith too. To say okay I'm going to spend you know sometimes thousands of dollars on getting coaching or getting support from somebody, but I think that's critical if you recognize what you don't know you've got to figure out how to learn it, how to learn it. Not only quickly, but learn it well.
Ramesh: Right Joellyn in that area actually I myself have experienced and many people told me they've experienced is finding the right mentor. Because you know you go from one mentor, one coach to another and then you get disappointed, after a while you kind of give up. I mean how did you find the right mentors?
Joellyn: It is a little bit of trial and error. Because you've got to find somebody that you mesh with, but at the same time you're not looking for a friend. So, you have to have that mutual respect. You have to you understand and believe and have faith that they can identify some of your challenges and help you figure out what's best for you. But then at the same time you have to be able to just kind of swallow hard and be like yeah maybe I don't like this advice, but I respect this person enough to take it and I think if you're in a situation with a mentor where you don't respect them, or you don't trust them, then that's not a good relationship and you need to get out and go work with somebody else. But sometimes you don't know that till you start working with somebody. You might think they're great and then you start working together and figure out it's not a match made in heaven and time to regroup you know.
Ramesh: Right right yeah so along those lines I mean how long did it actually take for you to feel comfortable with your business?
Joellyn: I think I felt comfortable from the beginning. But there's always that discomfort or that uncertainty of not knowing what the future holds and not knowing you know are you going to beat the odds. Most businesses fail in two years, am I going to get past that? So there were milestones that I guess made me nervous and one thing that I really had to kind of learn to live into is the fact that when you're self-employed when you're a solopreneur, it is a bit of a roller coaster ride and so there are going to be times that are great and times that are slow and rather than kind of wallowing in self-pity when the business is slow, I said I'm going to ride the roller coaster and I'm going to recognize when things start to slow down, that's time for me to invest in my business. That's time for me to work on projects that I haven't been working on and use that time to fuel the growth that I knew then would be coming around the corner.
Ramesh: Yeah actually I'm talking about the down times. I'm sure there are times like for many of us that you thought to yourself that man it's not working out. I probably I'm going to quit or something. So, question is doing you go through those moments or it's been a smooth ride, that's the number one. Number two, if you did have those down times how did you get over them?
Joellyn: Well I kind of think that anybody who tells you that their business has been smooth sailing all the way is lying. Yeah you like life. It might go great for two years and you might have a really rough year. And yeah, I definitely had those times and it's funny that you say that about quitting, because I was thinking this morning about writing a blog post about that. You know how do you know when to quit and I'm a believer also in what I call strategic quitting, where there are certain things where you have to say okay I tried this and it's not working and I'm making a strategic decision to not continue and that's not failure, that's just being smart you know. But yeah no I definitely had some of those tough times and I’ve had days where as you walk out of a meeting with a client and you're like that just did not go well and you just go sit in your car and cry.
Ramesh: But how did I get over them?
Joellyn: I think I'm an optimist at heart and I think that helps a lot. Sometimes I just let myself wallow in it. yeah this really stinks, but I'm going to give myself a day to be miserable or I'm going to go do something fun and get some perspective and then I'm going to come back at it. But I’ve never had days where I thought I just need to quit you know. Because I'm too passionate about what I do, now there have been definitely days where I’ve been okay I need to reassess, and think is this the right path, or do I need to shift a little bit and honestly my business has been in constant evolution for the whole nine years that I’ve been in business. Partly because I'm constantly looking for what's going to make me happy as well as what kind of work, you know if I'm happy I can do better work for my clients. So, I always want to be happy with what I'm doing so that I can do a better job for my clients and I also want to respond to what their needs are and their needs change. I mean over the past nine years things and business have changed a lot and, so I have to be responsive to that and I’ve also learned to really really focus on my target customers and who that should be versus you know it's so easy to say okay I can work for everybody or I can work for anybody and I’ve been constantly refining and refining and refining to get more and more focused on who that person is for me and that's helped a lot.
Ramesh: Actually, that is a very interesting idea that bring in. Because many people I’ve been talking to for the podcast series they talked about finding the right customer, not any customer. Like one of the you know guest said she had to fire some customers. I mean did you have to go through that exercise of selecting your customers?
Joellyn: Absolutely and that is very good advice and actually I tell my coaching clients is that you know bad customers breed more bad customers. Because what happens if you're working with people who aren't a good fit, number one, you're not doing your best work. Number two, you're not happy and number three, they're going to refer you to people who are just like them. Who are just going to make you unhappier. Yeah so because referrals are so important in almost any business you want to be working for the right people who are going to refer you more people like them. So, it is super important to understand who your best clients are, who are your best customers and it's also a lot more fun to work with those people and I mean that's a big thing for me. Cause if I wasn't having fun doing what I’ve been doing, then I should just go work somebody else and collect a paycheck and be done with it. But yeah, I mean I have some great client relationships people I’ve worked with for several years and it's so much fun to just see their business develop, see them grow, see their success and they give me good feedback too. Because we've built that relationship over time. So, if they think I'm not doing something that's going to serve them, they'll tell me as well. So, it's nice to have a little bit of a two-way communication of how can we both grow together by helping each other in different areas.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, as you're working through so many entrepreneurs what kinds of a characters or attributes that you're seeing in these people that are you know differentiating the successful ones from the ones who are not doing well?
Joellyn: A lot of it is mindset. I'm actually rereading the book by Carol Dweck on mindset. Because it's really really good. But it's the positive attitude and the understanding that even if things are not going well, you have the power to turn it around. Because if an entrepreneur kind of has the mindset that things aren't going well, and everybody hates me, or their world is against me or I'm a failure or I could never get better, then they're not going to be able to grow and entrepreneurship is definitely, it’s a journey of growth and self-discovery as much as it is a journey to freedom and income. So, I think that ability to be introspective, ability to be open minded and the desire to grow is really critical.
Ramesh: I mean talking about the self-discovery and entrepreneur like looking at your own journey, like you said you always wanted to be an entrepreneur. So, the question to you is why? What is your why? Why you want to be an entrepreneur?
Joellyn: I was asking that question and I didn’t even know why. I mean I think I really craved that freedom and that independence to design my own lifestyle and I think that was a big part of it. I mean I really really enjoyed corporate and a lot of the work I was doing, a lot of the travel that I got to do. But I wanted to be kind of the designer of my own destiny and even though I didn't know exactly what that was going to look like, I just knew that was something that I had to do. Because I think you know your called to entrepreneurship when you can't not do it.
Ramesh: that's interesting. So, talking about little bit about your business. So, if you could talk about who are your target customers and what are the services that you offer?
Joellyn: My target customers are people who are starting a business and it may not be their first business, they might be kind of in my shoes. But they know that they need some guidance in getting the business up and running and also people who had a business for a while that either just aren't complete and satisfied with how it's going or that just feel like they want to aim higher or do something really really distinctive and dramatic and, so they really want to stand out in their business and they need some help doing that. So, this is a key thing for me narrowing my business focus is just realizing that I am only going to work with business owners and not marketing executives and things like that. So that’s what I do is I just roll up my sleeves and we develop a very close partnership and I work with them either in a coaching capacity to help them get through some of their challenges, some of their fears, some of the things they don't know, some of their marketing and branding issues. But then I also do consulting projects. So particularly with a business that's been around for a little while, they may come to me wow! We were growing great and it slowed down, now what do I do? And so, then I come in and maybe look with them and really figure out, asking a lot of really tough questions sometimes to figure out what is it that's holding them back and try to remove those roadblocks, so they can get back on that path of growth.
Ramesh: So, I mean how does Joellyn Sargent differentiate herself from other people who may be doing similar things?
Joellyn: That's really a key and it's not just for me, it's for anybody who's doing similar work and it took me a long time to understand this. But what really differentiates you is not what you know, but your perspective and how you do what you do. So, there may be a lot that I don’t have to do but very little what I do. Plenty of them out there in the world. But nobody's going to have the same relationship with the client that I have and they're not going to think of things the same way, they're not going to have the same point of view or the same perspectives and what that means is that some people are going to mess with me as a client in a wonderful way and other people, yeah that's not for me. But that's okay, because it's about what's that relationship, how does that relationship with me and them how does that work? How does work, how does that help your business grow.
Ramesh: So Joellyn that's interesting. Because the things that we talked about are some of the softer qualities. Like how do you communicate that to somebody that like me comes to you and says, I'm looking for a coach or a consultant. But how do you communicate to me that you are the person that I should work with.
Joellyn: Yeah, I talk with them a lot about their you know mindset and things that are going on emotionally. Because I'm such a big believer that so much of business is wrapped up in that. I mean it's your life, that's how you're spending your life and so when I talk to people that and if they get to they have that feeling you know and that's some of the questions I'm asking are resonating and like yeah, I'm not quite happy or yes this isn't what I thought it was going to be, but I know it could be better. Then that's a clue that maybe we should be working together. So, I can quantify that, and I can tell them, okay you know I’ve had clients that have made it to the Inc 500 list. I've had clients that have one of them and six months of working together, he hit over half a million in revenues and I can give them those numbers, but that's not a promise that they're going to have the same results. So, I can give great examples of here are our customers that I’ve worked with in the past. But if somebody is looking at working with me is not willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work themselves and be open and willing to take some risks, then they're not going to have the same results.
Ramesh: So, coming to your own personality apart from yourself who else supported you unconditionally, who was your inspiration? Who was your motivation to do the things that you're doing in your life?
Joellyn: You know the number one support team is my husband. Because he's indulged me, leaving that cushy job and starting on my own. He is not a risk taker. So, I give him a lot of credit for you kind of stepping back and letting me do my thing. But my mentor of Allen Weiss, who's very well known in consulting circles is he really was very influential for me. As well just some other, yeah I have some peer groups that I meet with on a very regular basis and we've just supported each other continuously for one group that we have breakfast about once a month and there are four of us and we were talking about the other day, we've been meeting for almost eight years and helping each other along our journey and just you know supporting each other and you know being there to cry when things weren't going well and I think that's really important just to find a group of people that you really can trust and it will support you and you know be frank with you too and tell you if you're doing something stupid. Because you know we all do stupid things sometimes. Okay maybe that is not the best idea that you've ever had.
Ramesh: So how do you get, how do you build your customer pipeline?
Joellyn: Mainly through referrals and I am doing more now online and so that's kind of an interesting adventure, it's just putting myself out there online. Because it's not, it's a different dynamic to get online business versus referral business. But a lot of it is just people who know me, who've met me, who've heard me speak, who've seen things that I’ve written, seen my videos come to me and they say okay I think you know you might be somebody that I want to work with, so let's talk and see if it's a fit.
Ramesh: So many times, I get questions about what tools should I be using, how do I scale my business. So, what have you been using? What kind of the tools helped you?
Joellyn: Actually, I have a page on my website for tools that I use. But I’ve tried a lot of different things in terms of scheduling and productivity and things like that. The ones that I find our best are actually the simplest and just things like I'm on the Apple platform and so for me to be able to say hey Siri make an appointment for Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. Or 9:00 a.m., you know that's so simple and it worked and, so I’ve tried some very sophisticated software tools for scheduling and for a tracking client and that's great for capturing data and being able to segment and look back at where did I meet this person and things like that. But sometimes that's kind of a rabbit hole and you end up thermic time with the tool or learning the tool or that it's you're not as productive as you could be if you just went with the simplest route. So as of about a year and a half ago I said I'm just going to simplify and use what works even if it's not the sexiest tool in the world.
Ramesh: Right, yeah so, I mean as we come towards the tail end of the podcast, couple of questions I have. Number one is, if I'm a business owner, if I have a dream of starting my own business sitting at home listening to the podcast, what advice can you give me?
Joellyn: I would say think about what that reality might, and I actually just did a series on YouTube on starting a business. So, there's a couple of videos in there that might be very helpful, but really thinking about what it is this you want to do, is that something that people will pay you for, is it something you want to do for the long term? Because if it's something that's just a passing interest, then you're going to get bored and not want to stick with it. But if it's something you feel like you can do for five or ten years, then that's promising. But you have to be able to make money doing it, so if it's a hobby and you're trying to turn a hobby into business, that can be really challenging. But those things putting together a good team like we talked about, people that can support you and just having confidence that you can do it and at some point, in that journey you have to rip off the band-aid and say I'm going in full force and that's the scariest part of all is that day you think quitting the day job, I'm going to make this happen. But it can be done.
Ramesh: I mean just aside, so do you outsource some tasks, because your solopreneur or you try to do most of the things yourself?
Joellyn: I do outsource some things and I also with my clients will refer them or help them find partners for things like social media management or website development and things like that. One thing that I’ve realized in my journey is that the things we should outsource or sometimes the things that we enjoy doing the most, like in my weeks working on a website, it's fun. But that's not the best use of my time.
Ramesh: Writing articles, I mean some things you would write and some you want to outsource, you know that stuff. So, going back on your own entrepreneurial journey, things that you think that you could have done better, should have done earlier anything's that piece of advice.
Joellyn: Yeah, I think, and this is kind of a tough one being more revenue focused sometimes. As I was building the consulting business I was very concerned about kind of building my brand, building my authority and so I did a lot of the things in the name of branding that I should have been thinking of not only branding and I’m not saying you shouldn't have been focused on branding, that's branding as well as revenue. Because some of those dips that we talked about were sort of self-inflicted, because I kind of lost sight of the fact that you can't just do all this fun for fun or you can't just say for example go do a bunch of speaking engagements, if it's fine if you're getting paid to speak. But if you're not and you're speaking and you're not getting anything out of it in terms of revenue, then maybe that's not really, it's the best thing to do. So, there were a few times where I did things more for that brand awareness or for authority that I didn't have a career path to what's the revenue going to be from doing that.
Ramesh: That’s a very good. you don't have a sales funnel established out of that engagement or things like that. So, the second time, but that’s a really good piece.
Joellyn: Yeah and it's not just you know you don't necessarily have to say for speaking in particularly for example you don't have to say I'm going to go to the speaking engagement and I'm going to walk out with three clients. But you do need to know how being in front of those people can eventually lead to revenue. Whether it's their, people that are in your audience and then you're going to start communicating with them and build a connection or if they're people that can refer you to your best client’s things like that. But just knowing that and thinking that through is important.
Ramesh: That's good. Joellyn anything else that we have not touched upon things that do you think we should know.
Joellyn: I just think that people should know that it's an amazing journey and it can be very scary. But at the same time if it's something you feel called to do, I would encourage somebody to do it. Because there's nothing worse than sitting on the sidelines and then looking back in ten years, wow! I really wish that I'd done that or at least tried it. You know I mean if you try it and it doesn't work out, there's no harm because you tried. But just dreaming and not doing is you know, it's sad if you miss that opportunity. So, I'd encourage everybody just take the risk, be bold, make it happen.
Ramesh: That's very good. So Joellyn if you don't mind me asking at the beginning you said you had to leave your place because of a hurricane, which hurricane was that?
Joellyn: Hurricane Andrew in Miami.
Ramesh: I remember, its a category 5, wasn’t it?
Joellyn: It was. We lost our house, but actually you know I tell people now that was actually one of the best things that happened to me. Because it really taught me at a young age how to deal with adversity and you know some of those lessons I had with the hike too of just really understanding you know how do I deal with adversity and how does that kind of mold you and make you stronger and it taught me, one of the best lessons I got from the hurricane because I am an introverted person and I'm quiet and I was brought up to be very self-sufficient and I learned through that experience that it's okay to depend on other people and that there are people who will come out of the woodwork to help someone when needed. Really powerful.
Ramesh: Yeah, I cannot imagine going through it my self. I myself travel a lot. But that's Wow! It's an incredible experience. Jocelynn thank you very much for your time and it's a very fascinating journey you have, a very adventurous one. So, I wish you in a good luck and very best in your business.
28:31Joellyn: Oh, great well thank you very much, I appreciate the talk about you, it was fun.