Paul Zelizer is one of the first business and marketing coaches to focus specifically on the needs of conscious entrepreneurs and social impact businesses. He’s seen thousands of examples of what works – and what doesn’t – in this sector. Paul is also the founder of Awarepreneurs, a popular podcast and community in this space.
Mighty Networks https://www.mightynetworks.com/
Sonali Fiske https://www.sonalifiske.com/
Mark Silver https://www.heartofbusiness.com/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/PaulZelizerConsciousBusinessCoach
Chris Ippolito 01:08
Paul Zelizer 01:09
Hey, Chris. Thanks for having me on, man.
Chris Ippolito 01:11
You’re welcome. Thanks for being a guest and welcome to the “Get Coached Podcast,” where I talk to coaches, like yourself, and just extract as much value as we can get out of your guys because it helps me out and it really helps out the audience. I really appreciate your time and you accepting the offer to be a guest.
Paul Zelizer 01:36
It’s an honor to be here.
Chris Ippolito 01:38
I was hoping that you could share a little bit about yourself. Give us a bit of a rundown of your journey as far as how did you get to where you’re at, and all those great stories along the way.
Paul Zelizer 01:50
Oh, gosh. The one-word answer is nonlinear, Chris, it’s been a nonlinear path for me. If there’s anybody in the audience who’s on a nonlinear path, high five, I feel you. The very short version is I did a first career, 15 years, in community mental health and community organizing. I did things like bring restorative justice into small communities and working to end domestic violence, I have a master’s degree in counseling. And, yeah, 15 years in community mental health, was an executive director of a nonprofit engaging young men as fathers, etc., etc. And it was fabulous work, and it’s also hard work, I saw lot of domestic violence and intergenerational substance abuse.
And after about, yeah, 12 years of that I was pretty tired and pretty burnt out, started to reinvent myself, got interested in coaching. And I was reinventing myself about the same time as a friend of mine, I live in New Mexico, who also lived in New Mexico was reinventing himself. And the two of us got on social media pretty early, we got on Twitter in 2008, and there was a very small group of people back them that were using social media and we were very interested in conscious business, how business could be used as a force for good.
And suddenly we found ourselves at Zappos talking to Tony Hsieh and the leadership team on the day they were handing out T-shirts saying “thank you for making us a billion-dollar-a-year company” about positive psychology at Zappos. And then we were at Google. Again, all through connections we knew on social media. Now Google is very well known for an initiative called Search Inside Yourself, there’s a whole leadership training institute and a book. But back in the day that was very quiet, they were teaching emotional intelligence and mindfulness to their employees in this program called Search Inside Yourself and we went to Google to find out about it, etc., etc.
And he eventually started a conference called Wisdom 2.0, it just happened last weekend. And that conference is now a chain of conferences, 8 or 10 conferences that happen around the world. I went to work for him on the marketing team and one thing led to another and I went from community mental health and organizing to conscious business and having positive impact through entrepreneurship. And 13 years later now that’s what I do full-time.
Chris Ippolito 04:34
Nice. And I’m glad you shared that because I didn’t know that from our initial conversation.
Paul Zelizer 04:41
It’s nonlinear. “How did you get here?” Well, it’s just being in the right place at the right time, yeah.
Chris Ippolito 04:46
I want to go back to the beginning part of it because I find that is a really common career choice for people who have that desire to do good and help people out, and you had mentioned and it happened to you. Whenever I talk to somebody who’s been in that industry for around that time frame, 10-plus years, they almost all say the exact same thing. I don’t know if you’re a person who believes in regret, but would you have done things differently knowing basically what the outcome was 12, 15 years later, would you have still done the exact same thing?
Paul Zelizer 05:30
That’s a great question. It wasn’t the easiest path. And I learned a lot about the human nervous system and how humans make choices and a human change process that’s effective. If you really want to know that stuff, coaching is a great, fabulous profession, you get six months of training, I got years of training with supervision. The depth of understanding I got about humans and human change processes is off the charts. And now I could say I’m really grateful, but the transition into entrepreneurship from a mental health counselor training was not an easy one. Along the way it was pretty turbulent and now it’s a fabulous background, but at other times earlier in my journey I wish I had done much more business training, an MBA or something that would give me some of the business mindset and strategy that I’ve had to work a long time to develop because I don’t have that formal training. Now wouldn’t change a thing, earlier on in my journey I wished I had made different choices, absolutely.
Chris Ippolito 06:48
Right. Yeah, it sounds like the one main thing being that you wish you had learned a little bit more about entrepreneurship, business, and creating your own thing. Because I totally get why people want to pursue that type of career as far as wanting to help people out. I mean, if anything, I wish there were even more people that had that type of mindset and that spirit in their heart. But as you mention, I could only imagine how emotionally draining that would be to have to deal with that kind of environment on a day-in, day-out basis, especially over such a long period of time.
Paul Zelizer 07:32
Yeah. Now there’s also more resources in place for people. There’s incubators and accelerators and business coaching programs, and that’s a significant part of how I make my living these days, there’s communities. Go back 13, 15 years when I was starting to look at that transition, there was much less in place, let’s say, if you didn’t go to Stanford Business School. There wasn’t as much of a resource network as there is now. If somebody is in that transition now, the good news is there’s much more in place and there isn’t as much barrier to entry. The technology is easier to learn, there’s more people doing it, there’s more support networks. Back then, yeah, we were pretty early adopters.
And, like I said, we were getting on Twitter. I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, nobody in New Mexico knew what Twitter was in 2008, right? I was having these very incredible conversations in Silicon Valley or going to Las Vegas and meeting with Tony Hsieh and the leadership team talking billion-dollar-a-year business, and then coming back to my little network of people who were mostly counselors and nonprofit leaders who were like, “You did what?” They had no reference point.
Yeah, I think there’s easier pathways for some of these transitions now than there was when I was doing it.
Chris Ippolito 09:06
Right. Being such an early adopter of Twitter, you’ve obviously seen it go through quite the evolution. Do you feel it’s still the same kind of platform as it once was? I mean obviously it’s not, but I mean in spirit, we’ll say. Is it really the same as it once was?
Paul Zelizer 09:27
I don’t connect there in the same way. I use it to get news, I love Twitter. Back in the day if you met somebody on Twitter, and you had many social channels, and you had a shared interest, there were so few people, you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, another one. Here’s a human who cares about this topic that I’m really passionate about.” And you try to find a way to meet or you jump on a call. And, yeah, I have colleagues that I’ve known for 12, 10 years from back in those early days. And now there’s just more people on social channels, it’s not quite such a unique phenomenon to find somebody that has those shared interests. I still am a deep believer in social as a tool for connection and finding people who have aligned values. It felt almost revolutionary back then, “Here’s somebody who shares this, oh my god,” right? And now it’s like, “Oh, cool, Chris, you and I, we connected, nice, we have some shared values.” It isn’t quite so revolutionary.
Chris Ippolito 10:36
Right. Yeah, that makes sense. Because being so early on and such a new concept, in a sense, it was a fantastic tool to connect with people. You thought you were unique in the sense, “I feel like I’m the only one,” but then all of a sudden social media opened up the world, in a sense, to, “Well, out of the trillions of people, I’m sure there’s a handful of people that feel the same way as I do.”
Paul Zelizer 11:05
There’s at least one somewhere, right? Yeah. And also, in this industry, the intersections of what I do, we’ll talk about my podcast eventually, but there’s a Venn diagram of conscious business, social impact, and awareness practices. That’s what I’m all about in the work that I do. Back in the day there were very few people who were openly talking those topics, and now there’s just more people blogging about it and have YouTube channels about it and posting on social media and have podcasts about it and stuff.
Again, I love social channels and love connecting people that way. Like I said, when Google was learning about mindfulness and emotional intelligence at work, they were seeing the numbers of what the results were and it was off-the-charts effective, but they were playing their cards very close to their chest because it wasn’t quite as acceptable for a business to be talking about those practices in a business setting. Or like a social impact brand, social entrepreneurship is now one of the most popular majors, fastest-growing majors on college campuses all around the U.S. and around the world. Back in the day, there were fewer people talking about it.
Yeah, there are both the social channels that have changed, and also just the general conversation. A decade later there are just more people who’ve been in these conversations longer and we’re in a different cultural-political context than we were a decade ago.
Chris Ippolito 12:44
Right. Quite a bit, I would say. Zappos is very well known for its focus on building positive culture and a positive customer experience and just that in general, so is Google. And now there’s a lot of bigger companies that are in that space, as well, Netflix and, jeez, it feels like all the Silicon Valley type companies. Why do you suppose an institution, an old institution like, we’ll say, the financial industry, because I’m going to refer to that because I spent so long in it, why do you suppose an institution like that, it’s not that they’re against it, but they’re slow to adopt something that the biggest companies in the world have basically proven there’s a ton of value in this? Why that slow adoption rate for something like the financial industry?
Paul Zelizer 13:45
That’s a great question, Chris. The short answer is I don’t care.
Chris Ippolito 13:53
I like that, actually.
Paul Zelizer 13:54
Because they’re not my clients. Part of what I’ve been doing over the past decade is really getting clear on what my values are and who I’m a fit to serve. I have some ideas about that, which is more traditional, more single bottom line-ish companies are struggling with the idea of culture and values. Whereas people who are in the more triple bottom line world which is where I’ve planted my garden, so to speak, it just makes sense that culture and how you treat not just your employees, but also where you source your products and your customer, that matters and that’s part of your brand.
Yeah, Tony Hsieh was talking about that, yeah, like I said, many, many, many years ago and there are other people in the more innovative large company space that have been talking about that for a long time. But I ultimately got to the place that trying to change financial institutions or Walmart or Monsanto, that’s not what I’m on planet Earth to do. I leave that conversation to other people and my passion is about helping values-based small to medium-sized companies that are really pushing the envelope in terms of positive impact and doing values-based business. And I leave the other stuff to people who have more of a passion for it than me.
Chris Ippolito 15:23
Right, that makes sense. I really, actually, appreciate the answer that you don’t care.
Paul Zelizer 15:28
Chris Ippolito 15:29
Because I think there’s a lot of people that would just, “Well, I don’t know, let me form an opinion on it on the spot.” Whereas you’re like, “I really don’t care.”
Paul Zelizer 15:37
If people listen to this episode, Chris, and get nothing else, the one thing. And we’re going to talk about podcasting and why I think it’s awesome, but this is even more important than podcasting. Do business in a way that’s aligned with your values. I am so tired of people chasing after, I call it, marketing by shiny object, right? The next strategy, whether it’s podcasting or video or Facebook Ads or Instagram, whatever the hottest thing is supposed to be, is nowhere near as effective as knowing your values and doing business both in terms of the choices you make of who you do business with and what you put into the world and who you’re collaborating with and how you treat your employees and customers and people you source your products and services from. There is nothing more important than knowing your values and embodying them in your business, way more important than a single strategy like podcasting or any other strategy I know.
Chris Ippolito 16:42
Right. Before we get on that topic, I have to ask, because it’s been stuck in my mind, what does “triple bottom line” mean? Because I don’t know and I’m sure there’s a few people listening that would be like, “What is that?”
Paul Zelizer 16:56
Sure, that’s lingo in the social entrepreneur world. Traditional business would be called “single bottom line,” it’s all about the money. You walk around, you try to be a nice person, but basically Paul is a wallet. Your job as a company if you’re doing business as a single bottom line is to get the cash out of the wallet. Right? You’re trying to make money. Which, hey, I’m a businessman, I like money, right? But in the world that I move in it’s more than just, “Hey, Chris, let me treat you like a wallet,” and, “Which buttons do I push or what do I say in the market that can extract money from your wallet?” That’s single bottom line.
“Triple bottom line,” or you’ll even hear people more than three, but looking at things, you’ll oftentimes hear people, planet, and profit. Right? The humans matter in the business, the environment and the natural world is very important, and the impact we’re having on the environment and the natural world. And profit is also important, but those things are equally valued rather than it’s all about the money in a mercenary “nothing else matters” kind of way. Which in the world that I feel aligned with we’ll say it’s probably the single biggest reason why we’re in such a mess as humans, that doing business where we’re only thinking about the money and not paying attention to the humans that are impacted or what our impact is on nature, we’re going to drive ourselves off a cliff and make this planet uninhabitable if we continue to do business in a single bottom line way.
Chris Ippolito 18:29
Okay. Well, thanks for explaining, now I understand.
Paul Zelizer 18:32
Chris Ippolito 18:34
Yeah, let’s dig into the podcast a little bit. Do you want to share a little bit about your podcast? I mean the preface of this whole episode, we connected mainly on the topic of what the whole podcast is, and you had asked, “What’s that one thing that you’re maybe looking for that you haven’t found yet?” And it was actually somebody who’s taken a podcast and grown it into a source of revenue to help fund their business or as a separate line item, in a sense, of their business. With that, do you mind sharing a little bit about your podcast and even the story a little bit behind that?
Paul Zelizer 19:14
Sure, not at all. Let’s just widen back. The way I would talk about this, Chris, I’m a huge fan of podcasting. As a matter of fact, I like to joke, “Hi, my name is Paul and I’m podcast-obsessed,” right? I say that a lot.
Chris Ippolito 19:28
Paul Zelizer 19:29
“Podcast Paul,” right? Yeah, whatever hashtag, #PodcastIsAwesome, however you want to tag me with that is great. But if we just widen back for a little bit to some vocabulary that I teach my clients. Like “Band-Aid” is a bandage, right? Widening back, it’s something you need if you get cuts, and there’s other brands besides Band-Aids, right? The generic language that I teach my clients is I think in this environment, when there’s so much noise, what everybody who wants to grow a business or grow their influence and being able to attract customers and clients is you need a featured marketing channel. A featured marketing channel.
Now I happen to like podcasting, but I honestly don’t care, it can be a blog, it can be a YouTube channel, it can be a podcast, right? But the basic idea is where there are so much sound bites and not very deep and scattered attention on the Internet, Seth Godin has a ton to say, we live in an attention economy, right? An attention-deficit economy. Your featured marketing channel is where you take a stand for going deep. Right? My podcast, we do 55 to 60-minute episodes, right? If you’re looking for sound bites, you don’t want to listen to my podcast because we don’t do that. By definition it’s a place that I’ve created where there’s room for deep dialog, and who I invite and the topics we talk about are very intentional. But I don’t want to make it sound like podcasting is the only place you can do that, you can do that on a YouTube channel or you can do that in a blog.
That’s the generic term that I use with my clients, a “featured marketing channel.” And I would make the argument that if you want to grow a business, you have to have a featured marketing channel, otherwise you’re just out there making noise. Growing a business by doing memes on Instagram, that’s a rough way to go, right? There’s a lot of people who are trying it and there’s just no depth inherent in the medium you’ve chosen. Now that doesn’t mean I’m against memes on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or whatever, memes aren’t a bad thing, but somewhere in your brand and in your storytelling of what you’re about there’s a place where you go deep, and that’s the idea of a featured marketing channel.
And I’ll talk about why I love podcasting as that place that I’ve chosen, right? But I’ll also say I started off doing long-form blogging because Google back in the day, if you did a 2,000-word post 13 years ago and you had certain keywords and you had enough links and people backlinked to it, that was really good. Then I did a Facebook Live show actually for a number of years called the Conscious Business and Conscious Living Show, three episodes a week, right? I’ve always had a featured marketing channel, but it’s only been a podcast for about three and a half years.
Our podcast is called Awarepreneurs. The first part of the word “awareness” and the second part of the word “entrepreneurs,” practicing entrepreneurship in a way where you’re aware of your values, you’re aware of your state, your emotional intelligence state, you’re aware of what you’re trying to accomplish with your business. There’s a lot of reasons we chose that name. And yeah, we just published episode 112 yesterday. And I’ve probably got another six or eight in the can, right? It’s a thing now. And we not only have a podcast, but we also have a membership community, which is the monetization strategy called the Awarepreneurs Community. Been at it, for the first year and a half we did it twice a month and it took me time to find my ground and what I was doing and clear the space. We’ve been weekly now for about another year and a half, about three years total, and would love to see us go to twice a week. And when we continue to grow the community, I think we’ll get in that direction.
That’s a little bit of what it looks like from a nuts and bolts perspective. A weekly, at this point every Tuesday, published podcast with an affordable membership. We have membership levels that start as low as $5 a month and go up to as much as $250 a month. That’s the monetization and how it works. In the podcast, the membership, that’s what we promote. Most podcasts that have sponsors, it’s like Squarespace, a website platform, or a meal plan delivery service, or a clothing company, or supplements. We don’t have any of that. Our members sponsor the podcast and what they get in return is they get, depending on what level they join at, to be in a community, they get resources and referrals, “Who can build a website that knows these brands?,” or do Facebook Ads, or a copywriter. They also just get support.
Like right now, as we’re in this conversation, the coronavirus is a very significant thing. South by Southwest France, for instance, it was just announced that it was canceled. A lot of live events have been canceled. We just postponed one until the fall that we’re doing here in New Mexico, a small one for about 50 people. But a lot of our members are like, “Oh my god, this is having a major impact on my business. This one has been canceled, I’m trying to negotiate with the venue, can I get my money back?” Other people haven’t canceled it yet or, “I’m doing a conference, I’m doing an event, should I cancel it or not cancel it? What’s the liability issues?” All the decisions that entrepreneurs face in this economy.
That’s what we do in this community, both the support aspect and also just the day-to-day decisions of growing these kinds of businesses. That’s why people join this community.
Chris Ippolito 25:46
How long into it did you make the decision to form the community through Patreon, I believe is what you’re using for the platform, right?
Paul Zelizer 25:58
Yeah, at this point we’re using Patreon. As the community grows, we’re looking at going to something called Mighty Networks. And we can talk about the platform, but, yes, right now we are on Patreon, that’s the membership platform we’re using.
Chris Ippolito 26:09
Okay. I’m just curious, how long until you started the Patreon community subscription model, in a sense, it is, right? Was it a year and a half, a year? Like at what point in the development of the podcast? Or was it right out of the gates?
Paul Zelizer 26:29
Well, it’s a little complicated. We had a former iteration of the brand and we rebranded about three years ago now. And then we started the podcast. I want to say it’s been about two and a half years that we’ve had some semblance of a membership, but maybe it was a year. Maybe it’s been about two years, right? At this point we have 300-plus members, I think 318 or something like that. And, yeah, we’ve been on Patreon the whole time. Like I said, there are some features in Mighty Networks we’re thinking might be useful for us as we grow for a community, like threaded conversations that you can’t do in a Facebook group. Our platform is Patreon for payment processing and getting e-mails to our members, and then we have a Facebook group which is where people go on a daily basis if they want to post. Mighty Networks would put all that in one place.
Anyway, we’re talking about all that, but, yeah, we launched, I want to say, about two years of actually growing the membership.
Chris Ippolito 27:44
And how were you making the audience aware, was it during the episodes? Like you had said, instead of doing ads and sponsorships, do you guys just promote the membership?
Paul Zelizer 27:56
That’s the only thing Awarepreneurs promotes, is our community to people who are listening. I, along the way, realized that there was a lot of value here. Where else could you go if you’re thinking about a Web design question? We have at least a dozen Web designers who very much get these kind of brands. And I was making referrals. Somebody today e-mailed me and said, “Hey, I’m looking for a Web designer with this kind of a brand,” and I mentioned seven different designers. All seven of them are in the community.
That’s a big reason people join. I’ve been at this for 13 years now, I know a few people, right? I used to work for one of the biggest conferences in the space, I know some folks. People approach me a lot and I’m like, “If I’m going to make referrals like this on a regular basis and somebody is benefiting, if somebody makes a website and they get $5,000, they can afford to give me $25 a month so I can go out and help them get more business.” That’s the value proposition, is the people, if there in this kind of space and they’re doing something that they’re getting compensated well, if they get a Facebook Ads client and that client pays them $7,000 over the next six months, it’s worth it to them to send a little money Paul’s way to help Paul free up some of his time.
It’s not the only thing I do, I also do marketing consulting as a separate part of my business. But this part is growing and the reason why is because of this networking. And part of it was, the community growing, was me wrapping around in my brain that all I had to do was to “sell it.” In other words, all I had to do was just start telling people, “Hey, if you’ve got a business like this, no big pressure, but you might want to come check out this community, it’s 300 people who know this space really well.” And what happens when members join is they tend to get more business. You can be out there alone trying to figure it all out, or you can join a community of hundreds of people who have similar values and there’s constantly somebody in that community asking for some kind of referral in this space, it happens daily. Why wouldn’t you want to be in a community like that?
Chris Ippolito 30:18
Right. Yeah, part of the curiosity for me was I’ve always looked at the podcast as an asset, in a sense, right? It’s not just a platform for me to connect with great people, and then share what I’m learning with an audience, it really becomes an asset. And hopefully an asset, most assets anyway, start generating income. That’s where I’m at, “All right, well, how do I eventually turn this into an income-generating asset?” Because the idea being that your average millionaire, or multimillionaire, has multiple streams of income. As you had shared, the podcast is one, you’ve got the consulting business, then coaching, I’m sure there’s even a few more that you’re doing.
And that’s why I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got to focus on one thing,” which is the podcast right now. But I need to also start strategizing and thinking, “What are some of the options that make the most sense?,” right? I don’t know if I like the idea of ads and sponsorship. Because I listen to a lot of podcasts, too. It’s pretty common, the ones you hear on podcasts, and I don’t even know if I see a fit for what I’m trying to do. It’s like what I’m trying to do, then all of a sudden there’s this ad for some supplement and I’m like, “That doesn’t really make any sense.” I like the community idea a lot because even going into it that was my intention, was to build a community of entrepreneurs and coaches and try and find a way to get them connected. Yeah, definitely something I’ll have to explore and consider going forward.
While I’m thinking about that, I’ll just throw out another question. What would you say is one of the biggest lessons learned during your three years of the podcast? Or it’s been longer, but the three years since the rebranding of the podcast.
Paul Zelizer 32:34
Two big ones. One is the guests and the topics really matter. I see a lot of podcasters just get on the circuit. Maybe not intentionally, but be lazy about their guests and the topics that they’re having on their shows. And it really matters. Let’s say we do an hour today, Chris, right? That’s a big chunk of time for somebody to devote.
Chris Ippolito 33:03
Paul Zelizer 33:04
Right? People are busy. One of the things I’ve done, especially over the past year, is just get more, I’m going to use the word, fierce about the topics and the guests that I bring onto the show. Being thoughtful about my audience and getting to know them and thinking about the choice points and the visions that they want in their businesses.
I actually have gotten more direct, now I meet with every guest before we turn on the recording button and just say, and you did this, Chris, you did a great job, “Hey, here’s what I’m thinking about and this is what I am desiring for my podcast, I’m thinking this might be a topic,” and we get to know each other a little bit. If you’re going to do a podcast, it’s awkward to just be like, “Oh, hi, Chris. We’ve never met before, but we’re supposed to have a world-transforming conversation. Go.” That’s a really awkward thing to do. And when you ask your audience to listen and that’s the level of consciousness you’re bringing, I’m going to suggest that it’s possible to do something else than that, shall we say?
That was number one, both in who I’m asking on the show, what the topics are, and the preparation work that I do with my guests have really deepened that over the three years. And that’s having an impact, let’s say.
Chris Ippolito 34:38
What does that process look like for you?
Paul Zelizer 34:43
Oh, goodness. Well, because we’ve been around for a while and we have social capital, you could say. If you go to iTunes, we have more than one review there, right?
Chris Ippolito 34:54
Yeah, you’ve got a few, I checked.
Paul Zelizer 34:56
We have a few. Brands are coming to us now. Like I get pitched anywhere between two and three dozen times a week, we only publish one episode.
Chris Ippolito 35:07
Sorry, did you say two to three dozen times a week?
Paul Zelizer 35:10
Two to three dozen times a week.
Chris Ippolito 35:12
Oh, wow. That’s a lot of pitch.
Paul Zelizer 35:13
It’s a lot of pitch. Which there’s some sorting out I need to do, but I built that, that doesn’t happen by accident, right? Yeah, it means taking the time and not rushing and being relaxed about, “Yeah, this person is close, but they’re actually not quite a fit,” or, “I don’t know if they are, let’s invite them to a conversation.” It means it takes more time to run a podcast this way. Like just last week somebody with a very significant brand, she has a podcast, she’s NPR-sponsored, she’s in the NPR network and big grants and a huge social media following, one of her team approached me and said, “I think so-and-so would be great.” And we talked and we both agreed actually it wasn’t a fit. And it was fine, there was no drama there, but that was a process of e-mails back and forth, that probably took 15 or 20 minutes to go through that vetting process.
And ultimately that was a not successful guest on one hand, but it was also fabulously successful because it was close, but not quite that crisp, “Oh, yeah, that’s perfect,” right? It wasn’t that. And in the past I would have had her on, “Wow, look, she’s got a big social media platform,” “Wow, she’s got a lot of episodes,” “Wow, she’s got a lot of reviews,” “Wow, she’s got big-named grantors,” right? But in terms of who our audience is, she’s serving a different audience. And there’s no shame or blame around that, but our audience wouldn’t have gotten as much value. Right? It takes more time to do it this way. But as I’ve slowed down and taken a deep breath, I’m like, “I’ve got 25 other podcasts to choose from just this week, and next week there will be another 30, or 10,” right? “It’s all going to be fine. Really trust and raise the bar, Paul.”
And as you keep raising that bar, everybody gets more out of the podcast, including the guests that you say “yes” to and certainly the community members. As we’ve had more established business people with more impactful ventures, our audience is learning more. One of our recent guests has a $35 million-dollar-a-year business that’s just walking edges in the social entrepreneur world that blew my mind away, impacted 75,000 people. Both the level of skillfulness as an entrepreneur and the level of social impact he’s having blew my mind and I was not the only one, we heard a lot of good reviews about this guy’s episode and a number of other podcasters in our community have asked him to be on their show because he’s just like, “Whoa, this guy is for real.” And he joined our community literally three minutes after I turned off the recording button because he got what it’s about and he’s a community player, not an egotistical guy.
We keep raising the bar both in terms of who’s coming in to share as a guest, and also who’s coming into the community. And what we’re co-learning together in the community, that bar has been raising as I’ve been very intentionally raising the bar about, I call it, what’s in front of the paywall. Right? For free, which is the podcast. And how that’s connected to what’s behind the paywall, the membership community part of things. Both of those have raised in close relationship to each other and I didn’t understand that three years ago.
Chris Ippolito 38:55
Yeah, lots to think about on that. I feel like where I’m at is I’m in that process of I want to start raising the bar a little bit, but the challenge, I would say, that I’m having is not being able to have a strong dialog with the audience. Right? I have what I envision as my audience versus what is in reality the audience. And as of right now the way I’m measuring what they are enjoying, what they’re liking is based on just the analytics of the podcast episodes themselves, which ones are getting a little bit more listens versus other ones, which ones are getting low listens, and really digging into that and going, “Why is that?,” right? And, “What kind of information should I extract from that?”
I did a similar exercise when I was really active on LinkedIn and posting on a daily basis and I got to a point where I was almost running out of ideas, I’m like, “I don’t know what to post anymore.” But then I did an exercise of going back and saying, “Well, what were some of my more popular posts, people engaged with, liked the most? And then maybe let’s revisit those topics.”
Especially because I’m still quite early on as far as the journey of building a podcast, do you think that would make sense, or is there a different methodology that you would suggest as far as trying to find out what the audience is looking for?
Paul Zelizer 40:33
That’s a great question, Chris. I think that does make sense. And I’d also add to it there’s quantitative data when we’re doing market research and there’s qualitative data. They’re both important, but I tend to want real humans and nuance. What I started doing is, “Yeah, okay, how many episodes?” Our podcast, we don’t get like 20,000 downloads, we’re still fairly small by a downloads perspective. If somebody like Squarespace came to us, they wouldn’t pay me a whole lot of money. Right? Because I’m not a Joe Rogan type podcast that gets however many hundreds of thousands of downloads.
Chris Ippolito 41:23
Like millions, I think, a month.
Paul Zelizer 41:25
Whatever it is. It’s insane, right? That’s not my business model. What I started doing is saying, “Who are those just moonshot individuals that I want to be getting value out of both parts, what’s in front of the paywall, the podcast itself, and in the community? Who are those folks that are at the upper ceiling of what I could imagine saying, ‘Oh my god, that freaking podcast was awesome’? Who do I want to hear that from?” And I already knew some of them on social media, I knew who they were. Some of them I knew well, some of them I didn’t know well.
But I started leaning into that, “Who is that person, this individual I’m mentioning, who joined Awarepreneurs?” I was so thrilled, right? He pays me $10 a month. It’s not some massive number of dollars, but the fact that he’s in the conversation and wants to be associated and is contributing and brings his experience because that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s doing just fine as an entrepreneur, he doesn’t necessarily need me to make recommendations on who should build him a website. He’s got a beautiful website, it’s really complicated and sophisticated and a lot going on and it’s gorgeous. But he’s in the conversation because he sees a community of like-minded people, and I’m thrilled that he’s there. I mean he’s just a moonshot, over the top.
What I started to do was, again, both in front of the paywall, “What could happen on the podcast conversations?,” and I started to get into dialogs with people that are in that upper threshold, both in the podcast and in the community as somebody who was closer to that. If they mentioned the podcast, I’d ask them if they’d be open to a networking session, or I started engaging on social media with an awareness of who fits that demographic and just noticing what they’re posting. Or actually I’ve had people do this with me in a way that doesn’t feel good at all, but occasionally I would drop an episode into their lap, “Hey, Chris, I think you might be interested in this particular topic.” If I did that once a year, that’s fine. If I did that every week, that would be totally slimy and personally is a huge turnoff.
But I started just trying to see if I could create opportunities to be in conversation and notice both what these thought leaders were already talking about on their social channels, sign up for their newsletter. And when it felt very aligned, see if there was an opening to have a conversation by sharing an episode or mentioning that we have the Awarepreneurs community. And that’s when I started to get the really rich stuff, the qualitative information about what those thought leaders are looking for, and when I started getting them both to say “yes” to being on the podcast and to tell me what they thought about the different episodes and joining the community. Everything started to take off.
Chris Ippolito 44:41
I have ideas now. After we are done here, I’m going to have to jot down some notes.
Paul Zelizer 44:49
I was going to say, you’re going to be N1 of your own podcast, right?
Chris Ippolito 44:54
I record this, I can just re-listen to it.
Paul Zelizer 44:56
There you go, right?
Chris Ippolito 44:58
You know what? Let me ask you this question. I like this one because it puts you on the spot a little bit.
Paul Zelizer 45:03
Chris Ippolito 45:03
What’s something I haven’t asked you that you feel like I maybe should be asking you?
Paul Zelizer 45:10
Oh, gosh. Haven’t ask me that you should be asking me? Well, an exercise that I do with a lot of my clients is, I call them, reference points. What are your reference point brands, right? You can tell a lot about a human, what their values are and what their consciousness is, by what they’re paying attention to. Right? What are you tracking? And that could be in the form of books, but oftentimes it’s one of my favorite uses of social media. Like when you’re on social media, who are those people you’re like, “Wow, yeah, they’ve got it going on,” right? We all have that. Or if you don’t, I encourage you to think about having some people, right? Who’s that list of 5 or 10 people that you pay attention to? You feel like they’re having impact in your sector in a way that you admire, and you’re tracking them sometimes very directly and sometimes just with a side awareness.
Some of the people in my list, there’s a fabulous entrepreneur in the Los Angeles area named Sonali Fiske. And Sonali works with women, particularly women of color, to help them learn how to take the stage and grow their business and get their impact brand out in the world. Think about TEDx or being a conference speaker, a women’s keynote speaker at a conference. And Sonali just rocks social media, has a podcast, and just who she is and how she moves in the world and the way she has of identifying some next generation of thought leaders. Just admire the hell out of Sonali, right?
Or one of our members in Awarepreneurs, a guy named Mark Silver, his business is Heart of Business. And Mark has been a mentor for small business owners in this conscious business space for 20 years, or something like that. When I was getting started 13 years ago, he’d already been around for 6 or 7 years and he was one of the first people I ever heard put the word “conscious” and “business” in the same sentence. And I’d been tracking Mark and now he’s a personal friend, we’ve met and broke bread together and we pass clients back and forth and make referrals and I’ve interviewed him for my podcast. But like 20 years later or 15 years later Mark is still somebody who I notice on social media, who I sign up for his newsletter, who I think is doing good work and is an example of both integrity and he has a membership community called the Heart of Business Community that has like 260 or 270 members. It’s a $79-dollar-a-month membership, you can do the math. It works as a business and he’s paying attention to both social context issues, having positive social impact, and, it’s cool, he’s a Sufi minister. He’s an empowered Sufi minister, he brings teachings from that tradition into the work, right?
Those are just a couple of examples. I could give you dozens, but I am a big believer of paying attention to real-world examples and I think social media is a fabulous tool for that.
Chris Ippolito 48:34
I like that, it’s good advice. I started doing that, but I feel like I should be more intentional with picking a smaller number. I was getting a little overwhelmed because one of the people that I like to listen to on the topic of marketing is Russell Brunson and he talks about what he calls the Dream 100. In my mind I was going like, “Oh, man, I have to build a list of 100? That’s a lot.”
Paul Zelizer 49:01
Way too many humans for me to track.
Chris Ippolito 49:03
Yeah, I’ll start with five and I’ll work my way up to 100 maybe.
Paul Zelizer 49:09
Yeah, I’m a minimalist, right? I literally live in a tiny house. Yeah, personally, most people, I would say 100 would be a lot.
Chris Ippolito 49:22
Well, I have to say, Paul, this has been a great conversation, I’ve taken a lot of value and I’m sure the audience has, as well. I like to wrap things up though with one final question. Coming out of our conversation, what would be that one thing you would suggest the audience does as a next step to take them to that next level in regards to what we just finished talking about?
Paul Zelizer 49:47
Just to go back to the featured marketing channel. Pretty much if somebody is not willing to do it, I won’t take them on as a client. If you don’t have one in today’s economy, you’re making noise and it’s not going to work. I’m a big fan of podcasting, congratulations, Chris, for having one.
Chris Ippolito 50:04
Paul Zelizer 50:04
But if you’d rather do a YouTube channel, you’d rather write a blog, that’s fine. But get really, really, really clear that this is the place where you’re going to go deep, and then let that influence. It’s like in a movie, in a movie everybody knows who the featured actor is, right? And if you’re in a supportive actor/actress role and you overstep your bounds, somebody is going to put you back in your place. Hopefully kindly, right? But I just see people trying to market by doing a gazillion things and never really getting traction because they don’t know in their own nervous system and they haven’t let their followers and their community know where that place of depth is.
And people are looking for depth, there’s way too much noise out there. But when you take a stand, and you can do that in the design of your site, there is a “podcast” tab on awarepreneurs.com. There’s not a whole lot out there, there’s a home page, there’s an “about” page, there’s a little page that pitches our community, and there’s a podcast. It’s pretty clear that our podcast is the main place to go to get more depth, right? You can do that in the design of your site and all your social channels. When we post an episode, it goes out on our social channels. Any place you follow Paul Zelizer, you’re going to realize that he’s podcast-obsessed. And if you want to know more, that’s where you go in front of the paywall.
It’s so simple, and yet the large majority of people aren’t doing it and won’t do it. And what I’d say to your listeners is pick one. Like I said, I started with blogging, and it changed to video, Facebook Lives, and now it’s podcasting. It can change over time, but pick one and just make it your featured marketing channel and go deep there so you can get results as opposed to being out there making more noise on a gazillion channels, god knows we don’t need any more of that.
Chris Ippolito 52:04
I 100% agree. And you’d mentioned that the podcast probably is the best place for people to connect and learn more?
Paul Zelizer 52:10
Yeah, if you want to know what I am, there’s 112 hours there and it’s all free, go check it out. And if you think I’m full of shit, don’t listen. If you like what you hear, let’s talk about how we might be able to help you get some movement in that direction.
Chris Ippolito 52:26
Right. And the website is awarepreneurs.com?
Paul Zelizer 52:29
Yeah, plural, awarepreneurs.com, exactly.
Chris Ippolito 52:32
Okay. I’ll make sure that’s in the show notes.
Paul Zelizer 52:35
Chris Ippolito 52:36
Awesome. Well, that was a fantastic conversation, thank you very much, Paul. And I know we’re going to definitely be talking some more because we’ve already started conversations on some other stuff.
Paul Zelizer 52:46
I look forward to it, Chris. Congratulations on your podcast and thanks for having me on, man.
Chris Ippolito 52:51
Thanks a lot, take care.
Paul Zelizer 52:52