Interview with Marlee Ward of Metamorphoself
- Danny Iny
You know what I’m talking about – you’ve just lost a client, your latest campaign isn’t working, and you feel like your business is sucking you dry?
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
But sometimes, we’re lucky enough to be visited by the spirit of inspiration. She comes to us and reminds us why we do what we do, and fills us with energy and enthusiasm.
This isn’t a mythical spirit – it’s Marlee Ward.
And no, I’m not kidding or exaggerating. For example, watch this video. Do it in as bad a mood as you like – I dare you not to feel uplifted by the time it’s done.
I’ve only recently connected with Marlee, but she was kind enough to join me on the phone for a fantastic interview.
Okay, I know you’re excited and ready to go, so I’ll turn the floor over to Marlee. Here it is, 33 minutes for you to enjoy:
Here’s the full transcript:
Danny: Hey Marlee.
Marlee: Hey Danny, how’s it going?
Danny: Fantastic, how are you?
Marlee: I am very excited.
Danny: I’m very excited too; it’s a pleasure to be speaking with you.
Marlee: Thank you! Thank you so much for the opportunity.
Danny: Oh, for sure, I’m just really excited that you’re taking the time to do this interview. For the benefit of our listeners, Marlee Ward runs a really fantastic blog called Metamorphoself, that I just recently discovered, and Metamorphoself is a word that she defines as “a conspicuous pursuit of passions that result in a transformation of self”. So Marlee, your blog is full of really great content in a combination of text and really well put together videos on the subject of online and offline entrepreneurship, particularly, but not exclusively for women, as well as marketing, productivity and a bunch of other stuff. Have I got the gist of it or have I missed something important?
Marlee: Most definitely you have.
Danny: Cool. So, maybe you can start by telling our listeners a bit about yourself. You used to be a lawyer, I read on your site. Can you tell us a bit about the path that led you to your Metamorphoself?
Marlee: Oh definitely. Wow. I think a lot of what has occurred for me has been by default, and what I mean by that is I always knew that I wanted to pursue business entrepreneurship, but I didn’t exactly know how, and I didn’t know exactly in what form. And so because of the desire, but not really knowing how to bring it to action, so I just followed stuff that I felt I was supposed to follow. So I graduated from high school, I went to college, I got a corporate job, I worked in the corporate world and then I realized that I wanted more than that, I wanted to be able to create more, and have more control over what I did and what I offered to the workplace. So I thought, okay, I need to get an advanced degree, because that’s what you do when you want to make more money and you want to achieve things in the corporate world and I was terrified of numbers, so I was like “the MBA was not going to be for me, I think I should go to law school”. Law school is one of those versatile degrees because I could do business law, or I could do entertainment law, and so I went to law school. And as I started going through the process of gaining a legal education, the entire time there was a voice within me, a nagging voice that was saying: “You don’t really want to be a lawyer! Why are you doing this? You don’t really want to be a lawyer?” And I’ll never forget, I used to sit in my corporations class where they teach you all the legal mumbo jumbo about business and the forming and the formation of corporations and all those legal aspects, and I had an incredible professor, Professor Kelch, who used to scream at the top of his lungs: “If you want to have money, don’t be a lawyer! Go into business!” He was actually in the process of getting his MBA while he was teaching law school, so he was a huge advocate of entrepreneurship and business, and by the time that I realized that I really wanted to step out and take the risk of entrepreneurship, I was already getting ready to graduate from law school and there was a real conflict of wills at that point within me, because, I’d put all this time, energy and money into getting a legal education, and now I don’t want to be a stinking lawyer! It’s the worst feeling, and so, I really felt like, you know, you’ve got to stick this out, and so I went ahead and I pursued a legal career, and I really tried every single facet of the law that you can imagine, I did litigation for a period of time, then I went into corporate law, then I went into real estate finance law, I actually got an in-house job working for a bank, and no matter where I moved to within the legal profession I constantly found myself in the same place. And so during this time period, I was spending all of my free time learning about business, learning about business opportunities, creating business plans. I mean, I have, like, a little mini library of business ideas, that I would go through, and I would always get to a place where I felt like “Oh, I can’t do this, I don’t have enough money, or I don’t have the resources, or I don’t know who could help me do this, and I have to build a team, and how do I build a team?” And so I was always coming to these dead ends, and then the financial crisis of 2008 hit, and the legal community was dropping like flies. In terms of business slaw, real estate law, the jobs just weren’t there anymore and so I had the opportunity to either go and become a part time lawyer with the in-house company I was working with or take a meager severance pay and go on my way. And I thought: “You know what? This is the opportunity for me to cut the cord now because the longer I wait, the harder it will be for me to make the change, make the transition.” And because I had been doing so much preparation, mental preparation behind the scenes and learning behind the scenes, I really felt like I had the confidence to go ahead and step out and do something. Actually the first business that I started was a marketing firm that targeted the health care industry, and that’s where I started. And through that process and through that learning experience, getting the hands on entrepreneurial experience, I developed Metamorphoself to help other entrepreneurs take those preliminary steps and get those core elements down that would help them bring their business to life. And I focus primarily on online business, because for me, the thing that held me back from entrepreneurship the most was what I considered to be a barrier to entry in the marketplace. And I feel that being able to become an online entrepreneur has really eliminated that barrier for a lot of people.
Danny: Wow! Well that’s quite a story! How long were you actually practicing law for?
Marlee: Well I was actually, I swore the bar lawyer beginning in 2007, and I practiced law in Florida for, I guess, almost three years, because even though I had stepped away from practicing in-house, I continued to do freelance legal work to help support my healthcare marketing business. So I didn’t completely cut ties with the legal world until I was making significant revenue in my healthcare marketing business. So that was really important to me, and the funny thing is, while I was going through that process, I started to dislike my legal work more and more, because, as I was getting opportunities to do work that I really enjoyed, my legal work was becoming more distasteful. I was doing, you know, referred cases, one on one cases, I was doing a lot of foreclosure work, and bankruptcy kind of stuff, and I didn’t even want to take the work, even though I knew it would be lucrative, because I wanted to have time to cultivate what really interested me. So I guess you could say, practicing on my own, it was about three years, and I did internships during law school.
Danny: Okay. You make a very interesting point about how important it is when you’re starting something, because it is, it takes a significant amount of time for a new business to be producing a viable income in most cases, I mean we hear about the random success stories that, you know, “I quit my job, and three weeks later I was making millions.” But that doesn’t really happen with the vast majority of people. Starting a business really takes time, so you do need that cushion, or that cash flow to come from somewhere.
Danny: Marlee, maybe you can share with us a bit about your business education? Because you’ve learned a lot, you share an awful lot on your site. I mean, just talking to you, it’s very clear that you’re very literate and savvy from a business standpoint; but you didn’t study business formally, right? You were self-taught in business.
Marlee: Primarily yes, that’s true. I would say though that I had a lot of experience with business. Not necessarily in business, and so when I matched that with what I studied and what I learned, you know, from a theoretical perspective, from a principle perspective, it actually was very easy for me to turn around and implement, and you know, I have to say, I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. So, you know, my grandfather started his own business, my father has his own business, and so I constantly saw that, and I was always exposed to that; I worked in the family businesses. So there were a lot of things that I saw from that perspective. And then, being a lawyer, and working in corporate law, I saw the structural aspects of business and I saw the inner workings of business, and then of course, having my own endeavor, at one point, I had that experience. So I think it’s the culmination of those things that really have given me the business education that I have and I believe in being a learner for life, so I’m always looking to do that. But I think something that’s really important to point out here is that when you learn something, the best thing you can do for yourself is try to apply it in your life and your experience immediately, because that solidifies your knowledge in a way that really gives you a skill that you can then turn around and use to help other people, to help yourself, and perhaps use as an asset to build your own business.
Danny: You know I really like what you were saying about, it rang a bell for me when you were talking about growing up and your grandfather was an entrepreneur, your family is a family of entrepreneurs, so you were just exposed to it. A marketing professor of mine, Ken Wong, he also grew up in a family business, and he was saying how that amounts to a wealth of experience, it’s like: “as a child I would attend 50 board meetings a year. We called them dinner!” And that’s hugely valuable, and some of that is being in the right place at the right time, but the other part is kind of paying attention and thinking about how to apply what you are exposed to. I mean obviously you can go to business school and get an MBA, you can pick up some books –there are resources out there, but for people who are thinking about: “I want to start my business,“ or “I’ve recently started my business, you know I’ve been in it for six months, a year, two years.” These people tend to be very, very busy, right, they’re doing forty things at once, they have very little time on their hands. Where would you recommend they go to start and round out that education? I mean obviously I’d like to think Mirasee is on that list, but in addition to that, where, what resources have you found to be very valuable?
Marlee: Well you know, I think building a community of other business owners that you can talk to and bounce ideas off of, and present problems and questions to is incredibly helpful, so I guess something like that of a mastermind. And you can formalize that in a lot of different ways. I guess I’m not really answering your question because I’m not giving a specific resource, because like you said there are so many resources, and really at the end of the day, if the information is good information, it’s appropriate information, it just boils down to who you like and who you want to learn from. But in terms of really being able to get that education, there’s nothing more valuable than being able to communicate with someone who’s living it and who’s in the trenches, and so I would highly recommend you connect with people who have been ahead of you in the learning curve; they’ve been in business a little bit longer than you. I always suggest that you try to build a network of entrepreneurs around you that are a little bit behind you and a little bit ahead of you, because you learn the most when you teach, and then you also learn by what you see in other people, so you can gather from those who are ahead of you in the process then turn around and teach it to people who are a little bit behind you in the process. And I think that’s where you’re going to find your most valuable lessons in terms of becoming self-educated in business, because there’s a lot of things you can’t fully understand in business until you see them in practice. And so having those relationships with people, where you can say: “Hey, I’m facing this right now in my business, what did you do, how did you handle it?” Then that gives you an opportunity to see it working in real life and in my opinion, there’s no better way to learn something than seeing it.
Danny: That’s great! Marlee, actually one of the resources that grabbed my attention on your site was your One-Page Business Plan. We’ll link to it from the transcript of this interview, but for the benefit of our listeners can you tell us how you came to create it, what’s on it and how it should be used?
Marlee: Certainly. Well the way that I came to create the One-Page Business Plan was literally out of frustration, and I find that sometimes some of the best ideas you have come out of a problem that you have, and, so I actually had done a lot of traditional business planning prior to deciding to launch an online business, so I had become really familiar with the 20 page, 30 page, indexed business plan with an appendix and charts and graphs. I mean, it was such a painstaking process, creating those types of documents, but I had this idea in my mind that it’s what I absolutely had to do, if I was going to be able to have a plan that I could follow and be successful. I think really, those types of business plans are for entrepreneurs who are seeking to do really large scale ventures, that are looking for venture capital, bankers and actually big time investors, because they want to see those things. But in terms of being a solo entrepreneur, even a small entrepreneurial operation, I’ve found that those types of business plans just were not that functional, and the fact that they were so difficult to create kind of made me resist doing it at all. And so, I thought, okay, maybe if I got business planning software, it could make it much easier and it wouldn’t be so dreadful. So I actually went out and invested in the BPlan software, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, but it’s pretty popular in terms of some of the mainstream entrepreneurial resources and so I purchased that, and basically it was like a data entry software, where you answered all the questions and it prompted you with all the questions that you needed to be able to answer and then it put it in a pretty format for you. It put all the graphs in there for you and then let you know where there were problem areas, if you had ratios that were out of whack, or if you were going to run into cash flow problems down the road. Nonetheless I did this for my first business, my healthcare marketing firm, and I found it completely useless. It didn’t at all match up on paper with what I had envisioned in my mind, and I thought, “you know, this just isn’t going to work for me.” And so, I was like: “I need to get down to basics.” So what I did is I went through this very detailed business plan, and I said to myself: “What are the critical things that I need to focus on to make sure that I successfully carry out this business venture?” And I went through all the sections and I highlighted those sections, then I kind of did a reverse extraction, and I said: “Okay, well now what are the questions that I need to ask to be able to get that answer?” And when I did, I ended up with 20 some odd, 30 some odd questions, and I was like “Ahh! This is it! And I can make it all fit on one page. So this is all I ever need to create a business plan.” And that was the birth of the One-Page Business Plan.
Danny: And did you use this process for Metamorphoself?
Marlee: Yes, actually, and one of the things that I really like about using the one page business plan is that it’s incredibly flexible because it’s so simple. Metamorphoself has, which is so ironic, because I named it Metamorphoself, but it’s undergone a series of changes within a really short period of time. Even still right now, it’s undergoing changes because it’s such, it’s so closely related to how I work with people and the engagement that I experience. Some of the products and services that I provide have shifted, the way that I deliver them has shifted. So the benefit in having a one page business plan, I’ve been able to go to that one section and say “This is how I tweak the way that I deliver this.” Or “This is the way that I need to price or package this product, because this is how my audience is best responding to it.” So having that one page business plan has made it very easy to do that, and I don’t think that you can really get that same flexibility out of thirty pages with graphs and stuff like that because you’re sifting through a lot of fluff. Whereas with the One-Page Business Plan you can just get to the heart of the matter. So I have used that for Metamorphoself, and you know, as I post on my blog, I provide that to any and all of my coaching clients, and I say: “Listen, even if you have a business plan, go through this, because it simplifies things.”
Danny: And how long would you say it takes to fill out this one page business plan? To create it?
Marlee: Well I really think that depends on the type of business that you want to start, and I don’t think it’s something that, just because it’s one page, should be taken lightly. I don’t think you can sit down and do it in an hour. In fact, I’ve never sat down and done one in an hour; I’ve never coached a client through one in an hour. It’s always taken, you know, a few sessions, a series of sessions, and then, I believe that it also takes implementation and analysis, because what you may perceive or understand about what you originally want to do may turn out to be completely different. And so, I think that it’s kind of like a living document. So I would say initially, you want to spend a week or so with it, and then, moving forward, you want to keep coming back to it to see how well you’re implementing what you set forth and whether or not what you’re implementing is really working for you.
Danny: Okay. Marlee, you mentioned coaching clients and that kind of leads to what I was going to ask you about next, is in terms of the plan for Metamorphoself, I mean, Metamorphoself really is a fantastic website, your content is great, it’s informative, it’s uplifting, I really enjoy it.
Marlee: Thank you.
Danny: And I know that there is a contribution aspect to your business and I believe very strongly that for you to create value for people in general you’ve got to be doing good stuff and creating good stuff that people want and they’re getting stuff out of. So, you know, I’m completely there with you on that, but I also realize that it’s not an act of altruism completely, I mean, it is a business.
Danny: So how does Metamorphoself make money? What is the, I know there’s the level of the free content, that everyone is lucky to have access to, what do people have the option to pay for?
Marlee: Well at this time, the primary revenue builder for Metamorphoself is all one on one coaching, and this is the area of the business that is undergoing a Metamorphoself, as we speak. I’m actually going to be launching some new coaching packages that are going to deliver the services that I offer in a variety of ways, for very specific people because I found that in working with clients, there are really specific areas that keep coming up over and over and over again. So I’m going to now target some of those specific ways that I help people, so that people know: “Okay, this is exactly what I need to work on, and here’s how I want to do that.” So primarily, the coaching is where that comes from. But there are also some products that are in the works right now, one of which is a membership site, and another which is an eBook. So those are two things that will be coming forth in the future. But the reason that I chose to stick with coaching to begin with is that I believe the best way that you can serve your target audience is by knowing what they need. And the best way to know what your target audience needs is to get in the thick of it with them and find out what their problems are, and find out what their issues are. And so even though I know that a lot of entrepreneurs suffer with problems like marketing and productivity and organization, I wanted to get to the heart of the matter with people, and so once I was able to do enough coaching sessions with people, that I started to hear recurring themes, recurring issues with new entrepreneurs, I thought: “Okay, aha! These are my pinpoints, these are my pressure points.” And that’s one thing that I would suggest to anyone looking to start a business, or maybe someone who is struggling with finding the best way to serve their target audience is get in the trenches with the people that you want to help and try to figure out what those points are specifically, so that you’re not guessing about what you’re bringing to the marketplace, so that you don’t spend six months to a year creating a product or creating a service that nobody really wants. Because that’s one of the worst things that you can do. So the benefit that I have is that my healthcare marketing firm is still active, and I have a very strong solid client base that provides me with a very substantial revenue, so it enables me to really take my time with crafting my products and services for Metamorphoself because I’m not under the gun to make money, you know, extreme money from the site, in that way.
Danny: Mmmhmm. And that narrowing down of focus is very consistent with the coaching that you offer. I mean looking at your site, there’s a lot of focus on helping clients find their “sweet spot”.
Danny: So, what… do you want to share with us what those sweet spots are for you? For people who are listening to this who might fall into that sweet spot in terms of who they are, in terms of the problems they’re having, like who might be listening to this that should be like: “Ding! I should call Marlee?”
Marlee: Well, I think that first and foremost, the people that I find myself working with the most effectively are people that know in their hearts that they’re fully committed to entrepreneurship. People that are on the fence about it, usually don’t end up working well with me, because I’m very action oriented, and I’m all about implementation. And so, if I’m going to spend a lot of time with you helping you develop a business that is based on your sweet spot, then I need to know that you’re equally committed to actually bringing it to fruition. And there are a lot of dreamers in the world, and I think that’s a beautiful thing, but unfortunately, dreaming is not going to make you a business. So first and foremost, there has to be the level of commitment to entrepreneurship. And then I would say the second thing is that there’s a struggle between figuring out how they can use their natural skills, abilities and knowledge, and how to monetize that in an online business, because that’s where a lot of the coaching and the structural training comes in. Where I’m able to help people create products, understand how to market those products and develop a pretty solid business structure, where they can start generating revenue. So people who are primarily new entrepreneurs that are looking to build something and they need clarity and direction in that area, and they need to know how to do those things, or people who have started something and they’re not really on track with where they want it to go, or things haven’t turned out the way they wanted things to turn out. One client that I work with who is incredibly talented was doing a lot of Joomla work, and he really has a burning desire to do comic work. And as we started out coaching process together, he became more and more clear that he was wasting his time with these Joomla clients, because they were driving him nuts and he was miserable and spending all of these hours doing work that he didn’t really want to enjoy, and meanwhile, his potential comic abilities, using his – and when I say comic, I don’t mean humor, I mean actually drawing graphics and comics – he wasn’t bringing that full scale. And so, when I helped him figure out that he was really wasting his time with that, we set forth a plan for him to actually build a business around what he wanted to. And when we started going down that path, the enthusiasm for what he was doing, and the drive that he felt for bringing that into reality was just bursting, it was unbelievable, and he had never realized how easy it was to monetize what he loved. He just hadn’t been able to put it together in the right way, so he was just headed down the wrong path. And I tend to be able to nip people in the bud, so to speak, and turn them in the right direction.
Danny: Okay. Marlee, we talked a little bit about where people struggle and where they need help, and I find it’s also helpful to explore some examples of where people are doing things right. Whether this is after your intervention or, just, you know, you meet people and you’ve gotten to know them and they’re doing the right thing. People who are going the right direction, doing the right thing, they’re successful, they’re happy with what they’re doing – what do they have in common that might be beneficial to our listeners to emulate.
Marlee: Wow. There’s a lot that goes into that, but I would say that the first thing is that they’re consistent, and I’m sure you can speak to this Danny, because, you’re the marketing expert here. Marketing is the lifeblood of the business, and when you get that right and you do your marketing properly and consistently, a lot of the other problems that you face sometimes seem to solve themselves, and that’s for various reasons. But I think that the people that are very happy, and that are very successful, they’re consistent in what they’re doing and they have developed systems around the things that they do to help them continue to do revenue-generating activity. So they’re not bogged down in the unproductive behaviors that you see a lot of new entrepreneurs get bogged down in. And a lot of that has to do with their mindset and their mental state, and this is one thing that I integrate into what I do at Metamorphoself, and that I talk about at Metamorphoself, is really for personal development. Because the way that you develop as a person greatly impacts the way that your business will develop, particularly if you’re a solopreneur. And so, there are things that you have to pay attention to if you’re really going to be able to take your business to the next level, and if you’re really going to be able to build a business that can support you. So I would say that, the people that are really happy and people that are really doing what they love and actually making money doing that are using the fundamental principles that they learned in a consistent manner, over and over and over again. And they’re not looking for whiz-bang, over night results (note: these don’t work!). They realize what’s involved and what they’re trying to create, and they just keep bringing the level of commitment to that time and time again.
Danny: I agree with you completely. In a lot of ways I think business is a lot like relationships, particularly marketing because it’s really about customer relationships and communication and all of the things that make relationships work. And just like a relationship it is not an event, it’s a practice, it’s something ongoing, so, I mean, you can’t build a happy marriage by an intense weekend of talking to your spouse. It’s something that has to happen on an ongoing basis. So, yeah, exactly, the same applies to your marketing and all of the foundations to your business. They have to be consistent.
Marlee: Right, and it’s learning to love the fundamentals. I know that when I first started learning about entrepreneurship, I had Shiny Object Syndrome. I was like: “Oh look at that, that’s so cool! Omigosh look at this! Ohmigosh!” All these things kind of got my attention and if I had had the financial capacity, I probably would have bought every single program under the sun, because they just all seemed so fun and appealing. But what I began to learn was that, as I was exposed to more and more, I kept seeing that they call came back to these fundamental principles. They might have talked about it in a different way or had different ways of implementing them, but they call came back to the fundamental principles. And when you start looking at the fundamental principles of building a business, of marketing, you know, of managing your finances, of managing other people, it can sometimes get really boring! You know, like, “this is not fun! I want to do the woo-hoo stuff! I want to be on fire!” And it can get old, like: “Really? We’re doing this again?” You know one thing that I notice, especially with new entrepreneurs in marketing is that they get tired of their own marketing very quickly. And what they don’t realize is that the people they’re targeting probably haven’t even noticed you yet. And so before they’ve even given something time, the time it needs to take effect and really start working and take effect, they want to do something different, and they haven’t even really gotten to a place where they can measure results from what they have decided to implement. So being able to stay in that quote unquote “boring foundational place” will allow you to do the more wiz-bang stuff because you’ve got a really solid foundation.
Danny: That’s very well put! Marlee, your time is valuable and we’re running up on the limit we had set, but before we wrap up, I want to make sure that our listeners walk away from this interview with a very clear action step that they can take to improve wherever they are in their business. We’re also very action oriented at Mirasee. Can you tell us what is the most common problem you see people struggling through, and what one thing they can do or practice they can adopt right now, today. You know, if they’re like: “Damn, this is important, I’m blocking off two hours this afternoon and putting it into this.” What should they do with those two hours?
Marlee: Wow. You know, I would say that, it’s my philosophy that business and life are not really separate, if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, that’s a part of your life, it’s your lifestyle, it’s who you are. And who you are in life is going to be who you are in business, so if there are areas in your life that you need to work on, become better at, grow in, you need to give as much time to those areas as you do to the fundamental practices of growing your business. Because where one falls short, the other will suffer, and it needs to be a joint effort. And so if I could give just one actionable thing, it would be to sit down and assess what you really want for yourself, what that’s really going to require of you, and then take, or set forth a few steps, maybe just three or four steps that you can take to immediately start doing those things. And I think that if you start doing those things, you’re going to see that everything, holistically, will improve for you. Your business will improve, your happiness will improve, your personal development will improve, and the way that you show up to everything in your life is the way that other people will see that. And that’s something that is very important in entrepreneurship because, especially if you’re a solo entrepreneur, you are your business, and you need to make sure that those things are properly synched up. So do what you love. Know what you want, and pursue that with a burning desire. And if you can do those things, you’re going to have incredible success in your life.
Danny: Marlee that is fantastic advice. I want to really thank you for taking the time to do this interview, I’ve enjoyed it, I know that it’s going to be very valuable to our listeners. I encourage our listeners to check our Metamorphoself, subscribe, watch the videos, which are really, really well put together, read the content, you’re going to enjoy it. It’s just a fantastic resource. And Marlee, I want to wish you tons of success for your business with the incredibly vibrant community that’s growing at Metamorphoself, and that I’m looking forward to being a part of.
Marlee: Thank you so much Danny, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you, and I certainly look forward to seeing what you bring to the table with Mirasee as well, because you’ve got a great thing going on there too.
Danny: Alright, thanks a lot! Have a wonderful day!
Marlee: Okay, you too Danny. Take care.
And don’t forget that you can also download the transcript of this podcast.