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“Focus on Your Customers”, With Douglas Brown and Jo Barnes of ‘Your Lifestyle Business’

Focus on Your Customers. Many businesses, particularly small businesses, will be created to scratch your own itch. And that’s a great way to start a business. The chances are if you have a problem that needs solving, others do too! All too many entrepreneurs create products to serve their own needs rather than the needs of […]

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Focus on Your Customers. Many businesses, particularly small businesses, will be created to scratch your own itch. And that’s a great way to start a business. The chances are if you have a problem that needs solving, others do too!

All too many entrepreneurs create products to serve their own needs rather than the needs of their audience. Myspace all but killed itself by trying to build a social network just so it could serve ads, as opposed to Facebook, whose overarching goal was and always has been ‘connectivity’ and who built their audience long before the ads came along.


As a part of my series called “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jo Barnes, founder of Your Lifestyle Business, a blog dedicated to empowering solopreneurs to build a business they can run from anywhere in the world. As a globe-trotting lifestyle entrepreneur Jo has explored 30+ countries in the last ten years while building six & seven-figure online businesses and is currently locked down in Thailand. 😎🏝https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/5751fc42b4af438581e82dd72501d675


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Sure! Thanks for the opportunity to be part of your interview series. Originally from the UK, I built a middle to senior management career in my 20’s & early 30’s. However, having been raised by an entrepreneurial father, I became disillusioned with making money for someone else’s business and decided to pursue the entrepreneurial lifestyle. Desperate to leave the dreary & wintry UK soon after the recession of 2008/2009, my then partner (now husband) and I began talking about our plans to chase the sun around the world.

As luck would have it, we had a friend who ran his business entirely online, lived in Cyprus, and was looking for house sitters for the summer. In less than a week, we sold everything we owned, packed three suitcases, and with our four-year-old under our arm, boarded a plane, never to look back!

That was ten years ago. Since then, we’ve traveled to over 35 countries, built both six and seven-figure businesses while traveling, and are currently based in Phuket, Thailand, waiting out the pandemic!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

It would have to be the time I bumped into Mark Zuckerburg on the Great Wall of China. Seriously!

Pre Covid, my Sister & I would go traveling every year for around three weeks to spend time together and create lots of content for my business. In 2016, we did a city tour, which included visiting Shanghai & Beijing. On this particular day, we were huffing and puffing our way up some very steep steps on the great wall (which was spectacular, by the way) when a group of youngsters bounded past us on the way up to Tower One. As I looked up, I saw a guy who looked like Chris Martin from Coldplay. On double take, I realized it was Mark Zuckerburg. I shouted down to my sister, ‘it’s Mark Zuckerburg!’. She shouted up, ‘I thought it was Chris Martin.’ At which point, Mark looked down, laughing at our exchange.

I quickly whipped out my flip camera and fired up Periscope, but he and his entourage were too fast for me. My recording was me puffing my way up to Tower One as quickly as I could go. I did manage to get a sneaky photo of him on his way down, however, and a quick chat with the guys he was with who were super friendly.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have two incredible people I have to mention. When starting my digital marketing journey, I became great friends with a chap called Chris Farrell, who taught me how to build an audience and a membership site. He was hugely influential in helping me to achieve my first six-figure week online and growing my business overall. Secondly, when building the ecommerce arm of the business, my husband and I followed the teachings of Jason Fladlien, who thinks and approaches business in an incredibly unique way. He’s a very talented man. Without a doubt, his knowledge and experience helped us to achieve our first seven-figure year. I can’t express enough how important it is to find a mentor or guiding light when building a business. Look for someone who’s done what you want to do or is where you want to be and listen to what they say by all means, but more importantly, watch what they do!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have hundreds as I am a total quote junkie. I have quotes popping up on my computer, on my phone, on my walls at home. Quotes are a massive motivation for me. But for this particular subject, the quote ‘Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone’ — Neale Donald Walsch, seems most apt.

I have never moved out of my comfort zone more than I have while building a business. Making videos for the first time, hosting a webinar for the first time, launching a course for the first time, networking and building relationships, outreach, promotion. You name it! Almost every new strategy has taken me from where I was to where I am now, each time stretching my mind even further.

I wish I could say it gets easier, but as you get comfortable with one thing, something else pops up! However, I can assure you that you get a bit more comfortable with being uncomfortable at some point along the way. It comes with the territory, I’m afraid!

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

My company inspires and guides purpose-driven action takers and solopreneurs to build a business that funds their lifestyle and can be run from anywhere in the world. The pain point we’re helping to alleviate is ridding yourself of financial and physical restraints and becoming the master of your own destiny while also impacting the world around you. We live in a different world these days, and the opportunities to reach a global marketplace with your products and services is greater than ever. Plus, you can do so from your kitchen table or a beach in Fiji!

Perhaps you make jewelry and have an ambition to expand to fair trade resources and start selling across the globe. Maybe you’re a health guru and can help women over 50 keep their bones supple. You might be a budding author excited to get your message out to the world or a fantastic designer looking to offer your services to businesses while employing resources from developing countries. No matter your niche or skill set, if your goal is to start small, turn your passions into profits, and help and inspire others in the meantime, my content is for you!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

When I started this business, I didn’t realize we were walking our talk. We wanted to travel the world, chase the sun, and needed to fund our lifestyle. As I taught myself the various online business models and marketing techniques, I would derive great pleasure from sharing what I was learning and helping other people build their skill sets and businesses at the same time. All the while traveling, visiting different countries and cultures, and building the business around our lifestyle. Even now, as I answer these questions, I’m in Phuket, Thailand. The sun is shining, the ocean is calling, and I’ll be kayaking across the Andaman Sea by eleven o’clock this morning!

For the last ten years, I have been living what I teach, and that’s what makes our business stand out. I can’t remember who said this, but on one of my whiteboards are the words ‘the greatest influencers act before they talk!

When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?

To be able to travel and chase the sun around the world. So fed up with the wintry and dreary UK, which was reeling from the recession of 2008 at the time, we wanted out! We were looking for sunshine and a different way of life. I know great business advice is to start with the end in mind (I even say it myself), but we made it up as we went along, learned to identify opportunity, and I think the secret to our success was the extent to which we were willing to share what we were learning with our communities.

What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?

The underlying reason for running our business hasn’t changed. We still want to travel and chase the sun around the world. I would say the desire has intensified as my mind has broadened so significantly with all the places I’ve visited and people I’ve met. There’s still so much of the world to experience!

What has changed is we now have a clear direction our business is taking. I want to impact as many purpose-driven solopreneurs as possible and inspire them to build their own lifestyle business and achieve their own goals and dreams. I’m just an ordinary woman who had a plan to see the world, and if I can create this kind of freedom in my life, then anyone can, as long as they have the desire to do so!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Oh my gosh, so many!

I’m currently focused on growing my website to over 100k visits a month. I’ve developed substantial social media communities in my past, extensive email lists, ran big product launches, etc. But moving forward, I want to build the business for longevity and create a super-strong foundation that can’t be rocked by an algorithm or platform change.

I’m also launching a beauty brand with my fourteen-year-old daughter to show how to build a business with your kids. We have our own line of solopreneur diaries and journals we’ll be launching later in 2021. Plus, our ultimate goal, which has been sidelined a bit due to Covid, is our solopreneur retreats, which will probably start in 2022.

As ever, we’re helping people by acting first and then sharing how and what we’re doing to grow our business.

The topic of this series is ‘Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue’. Congratulations! Seven figures is really a huge milestone. In your experience what was the most difficult part of being able to hit your first million-dollars in sales revenue?

Consistent, focused action. I have preached about it for years, but I’m attracted by bright shiny objects just like the next person! Being able to put the blinkers on, laser focus on what you want to achieve, and do the repetitive and mundane tasks required every single day without fail is a skill in itself.

Building a seven-figure business sounds sexy, but in reality, it’s being able to roll your sleeves up and put in the hard, grinding work to make it happen. As someone who is not a creature of routine and loves exciting new adventures, that is, without doubt, the most challenging part, even now.

The trick is to focus on one primary goal at a time and don’t stop until you hit that first milestone. Then, identify the next one and don’t stop until you hit that one and so on. If you see other people successfully multitasking, they’re likely at a different stage of the journey than you are and have built a team to help them grow. If you’re doing it on your own, slow and steady wins the race, my friend, one goal at a time.

Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?

Without hesitation, our number one sales strategy is content marketing. I don’t sell. I demonstrate I guide, I inspire, I teach, but I never sell. A mentor once told me, ‘people love to buy, but they hate being sold to.’ That has stuck with me ever since. Just think, Nike, Dove, Redbull, Apple. They don’t sell. They talk about their higher purpose, their why, their brand ideal. They stir up emotions when you visit their websites or social media accounts. They get you engaged. As a consumer, you begin to identify with their brand and therefore buy their products.

I heard a fantastic quote by Nuseir Yassin, creator of Nas Daily say recently on a podcast interview;

If you optimize for money, you will lose attention. If you optimize for attention, you will get money.’

It’s not quite as simple as ‘build it, and they will come,’ and I wholly advise anyone starting a business to have a monetary goal in mind. But, if your focus is on how your product or service can truly make a difference in your target audience’s lives, you will get much farther, faster.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you or your team made during a sales process? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh my goodness, so many mistakes over the years. An absolute doozy, however, was when we’d planned an entire day of online seminars. We had guests from all over the world, up to 1000 attendees. We’d been promoting it for weeks, and then on the day there was a huge storm where we were based, which caused a power outage, and the internet went down mid-interview No 1.

We rushed to a local cafe to find the interviewee had continued independently; however, it wasn’t long before they too had a power outage. We again jumped in the car and ended up in a pub on the other side of town where we could finish out the day. It ended up being a fairly lucrative day for all concerned, but not sure it was worth my stress levels!

The trials and tribulations of building a business on the go!

Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

We have a content team rather than a sales team. We have a content manager, outreach manager, a graphic designer, specialist social media assistants, and writers.

I teach people how to build small solopreneur style businesses; therefore, my advice is based on building a team that supports your mission of working from anywhere in the world. Our team is spread across South America, Latvia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.

The beauty of the world we live in is that you no longer need to hire someone full time, which can be a substantial budgetary strain. There is now a large pool of talented freelancers looking for contract work, so you can hire someone as and when you need them, for just a few hours a week or one-off limited-time contracts.

Using sites like upwork.com, freelancer.com, guru.com, fiverr.com, my most important tip is to post a clear and specific job description. The biggest mistake I’ve made when hiring is being too vague, completely trusting the freelancer knows more than I do, and letting them run free, only to realize they’ve gone in the wrong direction and I’ve completely wasted my money!

Unfortunately, until you know every aspect of your business intimately, this may happen once or twice. Always try to be as specific as possible, one job for one person until they’re proved they can do more, and always, always do a face-to-face interview via Skype or Zoom before you hire.

Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”. Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Find a Mentor

As we continue to grow the business, I look for people who have achieved what I want to achieve, and I watch what they do. Sure, people will give you advice but rarely are we any good at following our own advice. The best way to learn is to watch.

When I was learning from my mentors in the early days, I got more from watching how they created and hosted webinars, put together sales funnels, and listened to their audience than from any courses I bought or one to one coaching sessions I had. You don’t have to get yourself knee-deep in debt to learn from a successful person. The world is so transparent now; just watch what they do and how they do it, and all the clues for success are there.

2. Build a Strong Brand

It’s an extremely competitive world. Rarely will you find a unique idea anymore. A good friend once said to me, ‘there are no unique messages anymore, only unique messengers.’

Nowadays, to stand out from the crowd, you need to focus on your brand’s ‘why.’ What’s your higher purpose? How will you connect with your audience? As Simon Sinek says, ‘people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

Anyone can start a business selling t-shirts, trainers, bags, and caps. But it’s the belief that you can align yourself with your favorite athletes, that you’re an action taker, that you achieve your highest goals, and when in doubt ‘just do it,’ that means you buy from Nike.

Why do people want to buy from you? What do you believe, and who believes what you believe? That’s the foundation of a strong brand.

3. Focus on Your Customers

Many businesses, particularly small businesses, will be created to scratch your own itch. And that’s a great way to start a business. The chances are if you have a problem that needs solving, others do too!

Joy Mangano created a retail empire after inventing the self-wringing mop to make her own life easier. However, as you grow, the key to success is focusing relentlessly on your customers. What do they need? What do they want? How can you solve their problems/add value to their lives?

All too many entrepreneurs create products to serve their own needs rather than the needs of their audience. Myspace all but killed itself by trying to build a social network just so it could serve ads, as opposed to Facebook, whose overarching goal was and always has been ‘connectivity’ and who built their audience long before the ads came along.

Why is Amazon the largest ecommerce company in the world?

“The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer. Our goal is to be earth’s most customer-centric company.” Jeff Bezos

4. Do the deep work that has the most impact

I am very easily distracted. I am your typical scroller! I have to block the social media and news apps from 5am — 9am so I don’t wake up and start scrolling.

Similarly, there is so much I want to do in the business, and I want to do it all yesterday! But unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day, and it’s up to you as a business owner to figure out the 20% of what you do that has the most impact and spend 80% (if not more) of your time doing that!

It’s easy to be busy and think you’re working hard, but if you feel like you’re pedaling like a crazy person and going nowhere fast, you need to look at where you’re spending your time. You’re likely doing the bits you enjoy rather than the hard graft that will get you to where you want to go.

Hot tip, if you’re willing to do the hard graft for 12–24 months, I promise you’ll be able to do more of what you enjoy forevermore!

5. Build Something You Believe In

There seems to be a never-ending argument online about whether the priority is to build something you’re passionate about or build something there’s a buyers market for. The ideal answer would be both, but that then reveals a whole host of challenges with people searching for a passion that can be turned into a business.

However, the truth is that although we may be passionate about something, that doesn’t necessarily mean we want to build a business around it.

I’m passionate about travel, but I don’t want to start a travel company. My husband is passionate about football, but he wants to watch and play, not create a business about it.

More important than passion is to build something you believe in.

I believe in freedom. Financial, physical, and emotional freedom. For me, this is realized by inspiring others to build a lifestyle business that gives them that freedom. Freedom to do what they love from where they love surrounded by those they love.

If you’re trying to develop the perfect business idea, change the question from, ‘what am I passionate about?’ to ‘what do I believe in?’

Video — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rk2ImZ28MmI

What would you advise to another business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill? From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

Firstly know that you’re not alone. It took us five years of trial and error, ups and downs, and huge moments of doubt before we cracked seven figures.

My advice would be to take a breath. Are you on the right path? Are you doing something you believe in? Have you got a strong enough why to push you through the tough times? If not, you may need to pivot, which you must not be afraid to do.

People will often stay on a path they’re not aligned with simply because of the effort they’ve already expended, the assets they’ve built, and the sinking feeling of having to ‘kill your darlings’ (writers speak for killing words you worked hard to create.)

Greg McKeown talks about this in his book ‘Essentialism.’ He uses old clothes in our wardrobe as the perfect example of how reluctant we are to throw away things we’ve already invested in. He urges us to ask the question, ‘If I didn’t have this current opportunity, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?

If your answer is, ‘I would pay not to have acquired it,’ then it may be time to pick a new path or adjust your direction.

In your specific industry, what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Insanely valuable content specifically targeted at your ideal customer. Over the years, I have used ebooks, webinars, worksheets, videos, podcasts, blog posts, and social media posts to attract a community of people to join my Facebook groups and my email list. These strategies have allowed me to develop deeper relationships with my ideal audience.

The most important aspect of this strategy, however, is specificity. I often see companies offering contests or giveaways to entice people to leave an email address, yet the giveaway is unrelated to their brand. As an example, just recently, I saw a finance company giving away AirPods on Facebook. My fourteen-year-old would leave her email for the chance to win a free pair of AirPods, but she sure doesn’t need financial advice right now.

The first step is getting to know your target audience intimately. Who are they? What do they need? What keeps them up at night? How can you help them? Then armed with that knowledge, create content that meets those needs, whether it’s an ebook, a video, a blog post, a quiz, or a free trial.

Your biggest job as an entrepreneur is to ensure your brand connects with your audience in such a way, your customers become your biggest marketing force.

Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

This question brings back the image of my husband sitting in front of the computer in a birthday hat, sending out ‘Happy Birthday’ messages to our customers. If you knew him and how poe-faced he is, that is a very funny image.

Undoubtedly the most important strategy is that your customer feels seen, heard, and valued. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

When they email, respond quickly. If they send a message on social media, respond quickly. If they have a problem, fix it quickly.

All the bells and whistles you may add, such as creative welcome emails or a gift for becoming a customer, or a phone call on their birthday, will count for nothing if you ignore their emails, messages, or cries for help.

As a consumer and customer myself, the one thing I can’t stand is how hard a company will work to get your sale and then ignore you once you’ve invested. Don’t be that company! Check in, genuinely, to make sure everything is ok. Give customers a phone number or instant chat tool so they can quickly get in touch. And if you’re a small company and need sleep, add a message to explain your office hours and when you’ll be back in touch.

There is no excuse for bad customer service. Sure we’ve all made mistakes, but put your customers front and center, and you won’t go far wrong.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

Years ago, as part of our business, we ran a membership site and regularly studied attrition & churn rates. Some strategies we employed were firstly to try to work out why the churn was occurring. Where in the process were we losing customers, and why weren’t we retaining their business?

We would send out surveys to customers who had left and offer a gift card in return for some feedback on what caused them to go. We tried incentivizing customers to stay with us longer using various offers along the way. We offered excellent customer service, and we always tried to ensure our content was up to date and engaging.

There was, however, one compelling method of limiting customer attrition that had the best results out of everything we tried, and that was to offer membership of a community alongside access to all the educational material. By becoming part of a ‘tribe’ and engaging with like-minded people, customers would remain members for far longer.

This goes back to what I was saying about building a strong brand. If a customer identifies with your brand so strongly that they feel part of it, you will naturally have a far higher customer retention rate.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

About five years ago, quite by chance, while in a thrift store, I bought a book called ‘Half the Sky’ by award-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Little did I know the impact that book would have on my life. Full of terrifying stories of atrocities against women and girls in developing countries, the book also told of all the incredible organizations and people creating change and giving chances and opportunities where once there had been none.

One such organization was The Grameen Bank, founded in Bangladesh in the ’70s by Dr. Muhammad Yunus. He wanted to find a way to informally lend small amounts of money to groups of villagers, to build small sustainable businesses to increase hope and opportunity. His initiative has now grown into a multi-national financial movement that supports over 200 million people who don’t have access to traditional funding routes.

Microfinance, as it’s called, which is the practice of lending small amounts of money to those unable to access traditional capital markets, allows women in developing countries to build businesses that both transform the lives of their family and, in some cases, their entire village. From the book, one such story about a woman in Pakistan who turned her whole family’s life around with a loan of just 25 dollars to make and sell head scarves will bring tears to your eyes.

That’s why I want to bring more attention to the practice of microlending. Kiva.org is a non-profit company that partners with NGOs, trustees, and field partners to crowdfund loans to men and women worldwide, giving them the opportunity to afford tuition, build businesses, or buy farming equipment. Kiva gives you the chance to create your own branded lending team, so your clients and customers can lend from within your team, giving the whole thing a community feel. I have a lending team called Micro Angels with a goal of raising 1million dollars over the next few years.

The beauty of this model is that it’s a loan, not a donation, so the money gets repaid and lent again! With just one 25 dollars loan, you can affect hundreds, even thousands of people’s lives.

So if you want to make a difference and are unsure where to start, check out micro-lending, look up Kiva.org and come and join the Micro Angels!

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’d love to chat with Tim Ferriss simply because he was the inspiration that got my lifestyle business started! If it wasn’t for his book, I’m not sure I would have known it was possible, and that’s one of the great misgivings of life, not knowing what you don’t know yet! So should he ever read this, thanks for the information and the inspiration Tim. The fact you were willing to share your knowledge and experience has changed my life, the life of my family, and hopefully all those I’m paying it forward to now.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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