There is a fine line for companies to identify between going for growth and saying enough. For prolific writer and designer, Paul Jarvis, growth, while it is necessary, should not be the only thing companies strive for. Instead, it is in aiming to be better and not bigger. With this comes learning when to put enough investment and time on a specific goal while thinking about how to support customers better, whether that be through products or services. Paul tells us more about these things in this episode, sharing how he is fundamentally changing mindsets on business and scaling. He also talks about maximizing freedom and profit at the same time, teaching, retaining your existing customers, and more. At the heart of it, Paul shares the importance of how growth serves you and your customers, thinking of growth more as a byproduct of doing well.
Listen to the podcast here:
Better Not Bigger: Business Growth As A Byproduct Of Doing Well With Paul Jarvis
Our guest is a prolific writer and designer who fundamentally changed my mindset on business and scaling of the business. His book, Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business, has been translated into sixteen languages and first introduced the concept of better, not bigger for businesses. In the past, he worked with professional athletes, Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal, as well as Microsoft and Mercedes-Benz. His work has been featured in USA Today, Fast Company, Vice, Wired and more. He is a status quo fighter, amazing thought leader and the definition of business done differently. The legend himself, Paul Jarvis. Paul, I am excited. I want to get you fired up on that intro because when I first read your book, I was so fired up. I ran into our stadium and I went to our President’s office. I said, “You need to read this. We can’t keep worrying about scale. We need to focus on continuing and getting better.” It’s a wild book and I’m going to encourage every reader to get it. It will change your mindset. Paul, I know a little bit of your origin story, but I want to know where did the concept come up, “Better, not bigger.”
It started the way I think all business books start. I was out surfing with a buddy of mine. Actually, that part is true. For myself and for the business that I run, I liked the work that I do so much that I wouldn’t want to promote myself out of the job I like or a job I don’t. I don’t want to be a manager or people writing and designing because I like writing and designing. From the very beginning, if I grow, I’m doing something that I don’t want to do. The surfing thing, I was at with my buddy surfing many years ago now and it was September or so and we’re sitting in the lineup waiting for waves. He was like, “I’ve made about enough for the year.” This is September. He catches the wave and I’m sitting there on my surfboard bobbing up and down and I’m like, “What did you say to me? What happened?”
He paddled back around and we started to talk about it and he was like, “I know how much enough is for myself and my business. I know how much my business needs to make to cover his expenses to pay me, to put money in the bank for savings. If I made more than that, I would have to work more. I don’t want to work more. I’d rather be here surfing with you.” I was like, “This is how I’ve been running my business, but it hasn’t been explained to me in this way,” until my buddies explained it to me, I was like, “That’s awesome.” I wrote an article about it many years later and it became the most popular article that I’ve ever written. I was, “I guess there’s a book there.” I guess there’s a book there that I now have to write.
How did you have the discipline to say, “Enough is enough?”Take small, tiny continuous steps to make things better. Click To Tweet
Edward Abbey said it best when he said, “Growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of cancer cell.” When you think about it in terms of capitalism, you’re like, “Growth makes sense if you’re not growing, and you’re dying,” and all of that crap that business people spout. If you think about it in terms of that in terms of cancer or even in terms of the planet has finite resources, infinite growth doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t make sense. We have finite things. For me, it’s always been about trying to figure out how I can maximize my freedom in business while still obviously generating revenue. The point of business, at least why I love people getting into business is because they want more freedom in their lives. Not necessarily because they want growth or all of the growth or all of the money. That comes later when you think, “This is what a legitimate business is supposed to do.”
It’s probably because of perception and ego. They measure Inc. 5000 companies and we were on that list. I was like, “What are we measuring?” It’s arbitrary, it’s this number and it actually takes away our freedom. It still goes against the norm. How do you get people to actually embrace it and say, “This is my number. I’m comfortable with this.” A loaded question here, Paul, but if you have a team, you have a full team of people, they all want to grow and you’re not necessarily growing. Explain to me how that works.
A lot of it does come down to ego and perception. We need the ego to start a business because our ego tells us that, “There’s this existing market or there’s this existing customer base I can do better, my business can do better.” Ego in that case is fundamentally good because you have a desire to do right by the people you’re trying to serve with your business. It makes sense there. Where ego leads us astray is other people might think of me in a better light if I have a bigger team or sixteen offices or 36 employees in my sixteen offices in twelve countries. If we think about it, we all want to be valued by other people. There’s nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t write books if people didn’t read them and like them. It’s the way that it goes. At some point we have to stop and think, “Am I running my business in order to look good to other people or am I running my business because this is what I want to do?” I’m trying to maximize freedom and profit at the same time, which doesn’t always mean endless growth. The problem is that we don’t often ask why.
The second part of your question was about a team. If some people on a team want growth and some people don’t, then maybe it’s a question of, “Why is growth needed? How will this growth serve our business? How will this growth serve our customers? How will this growth serve our sustainability as a business in the long-term?” Maybe the answer is we do need to grow in these specific ways. Nowhere in the book do I say, “Do not grow ever.” Let’s take a step back. Let’s think about this and if we have a good answer, let’s move forward. If we don’t have a good answer, then maybe we figured out what enough is. We don’t stagnate but we figured out different ways of operating and have different goals for the business.
You said you need to change the focus from growth to better products, better experiences, better support and more success for your customers. I’ve always had a challenge with the word better. I always say, “You want to be the only, you don’t want you to be a little bit better.” If you’re competing against yourself and making a better experience for your team, better experience for your customers, better experience for everyone you touch, usually the money, the success all becomes a byproduct of that. With the companies that you’ve worked with and I’m sure since this book came out, you’re a sole proprietor, you hire freelancers, correct?
I’m sure that companies that have 10, 20, 50, 100 employees are like, “How do we do this?” The answer still the same focus on creating a better product, a better experience and growth usually comes after that.
For bigger companies, it’s harder to pivot. It’s one of the reasons why I like having a small company. I launched a new version of a software product I sell. A customer on Twitter was like, “I can’t believe your software doesn’t do this.” I talked to my cofounder and we were like, “It was actually a good idea.” I told the customer, “Give us fifteen minutes,” and then fifteen minutes later I was like, “Our product can actually do this right now.” With a small business, you can pivot really fast. With big business, if you do want to focus more on better and not have growth as a goal, as you said, have growth as a byproduct of doing well, then it can be smaller steps. It doesn’t have to be, “Let’s take fifteen minutes.” Change everything and move forward. With bigger businesses, maybe it can be, “Let’s start thinking about this critically and see what makes sense and what doesn’t. Let’s change one little thing. See how that affects the business. If it’s good, let’s change one more thing and let’s keep amping up. If something doesn’t work, then okay, let’s take a step back. Let’s reevaluate and do something else.” With all of this, iterative is the key here to take small, tiny continuous steps to make things better.
You talk about speed. That’s one of the things, speed is everything in business. If you can actually move quickly, you can make a better experience. What you’re doing here Paul is you’re changing the conversation. When I get interviewed for a magazine or media, one of the questions I get asked is, “How much revenue do you bring in?” My mindset is like, “If it’s $5 million, $10 million, $20 million, $30 million, what does it matter?” The question should be, “How do you make people feel? What is the experience you provide? Are you happy? Are your customers happy? Are your employees happy?” That conversation needs to change. They have the best places to work. That’s a better kind of gauge than how much money do you bring in. I love this conversation. It needs to be had every day with businesses. I want to go a few of these other points because I want to move around a little bit. A born business versus a busy business, Paul. This for me, boring is the worst word for me ever to hear. I am against boring in every way but you make a point about boring. Tell me a little about where this idea came from.
There’s a whole chapter on using your unique personality in business. I definitely appreciate the outfit, but I think that the point on boring business is that it’s hard to sustain something at a sprint. That’s why sprinters don’t run marathons, except for the guy who ran a marathon sub. He was like sub two hours, blows my mind. For most people, it’s very hard to sustain something at a rapid pace. If I was going at top speed, busy, hustle, all the time, I would burn out. I don’t know how I could mentally handle hustling all the time. If busy is our default state, it’s hard to manage because it’s hard to be able to focus when we’re stressed and anxious and busy all the time. I’m okay in my business to be busy a little bit of the time. I released a new version of a product those few days before and after we’re busy, there’s no getting around that because that’s the way that it is. Next time, not going to be busy. Next time is probably going to be more gym time than work time because that’s how I recharge. Finding that ebb and flow of letting things be boring sometimes or letting things be.
Business is hard, but if there are any ways that we can introduce ease into our business, then it’s better. Boring for me is taking breaks. Sometimes boring for me is creating systems and processes, which as creative people, that’s sometimes hard because we’re like, “This is going to stifle my creativity,” but it opens us up. If we have systems and processes in place to handle most things, then we have the ability to be creative and unique in other ways. It doesn’t have to all be on and firing on all cylinders at all times. It can be a bit boring sometimes. That’s good for sustaining.
The mindset too, you’re playing the long game. Comparing a marathon versus a sprint, there may be parts of the race that are sprints. For instance, for your company, how often are you doing sprints as you did?It takes longer to get new people than make the people who are already paying attention happy. Click To Tweet
I have two courses that I launched twice a year for a week. I usually have two or three major versions of software products come out. Maybe six times a year I’m busy. For about week and then the rest of the year I’m still working hard, but I’m going at a pace that is sustainable. I’m not trying to run a two-hour marathon like me, Paul, because I know that that’s not going to happen. I might be able to keep up for the first 500 meters, maybe 300 meters if I’m being honest but then I couldn’t keep that pace.
Is the mindset like a starting point sending, “Here’s where our business is, it doesn’t need to go to this level. Let’s look at where it is right now. Do we have the freedom for our employees, for ourselves? Are we happy?” Looking at that overall, is that like a starting point to saying before year like, “Everyone, we’ve got to get double-digit growth. We’ve got to get this, we’ve got to get that.” Getting that starting point of, “We’re good here.” I have a fear, Paul. My challenge is I have a huge fear of settling and I bet you a lot of people you talk to, even yourself a creative, you don’t want to settle. What’s the balance between settling and building a great business?
That’s a great question because a lot of people think that if you set a finite target, then if you reach that, you settle or coast and that would be a bad boring for me. For me, if you think about enough as a finite target, then once you hit that, you’re still working and challenging ideas and doing different things, but your focus is more on retention than acquisition. Retaining the income, retaining the customer and making them happy, coming up with new and exciting ways to communicate with them. In that case, it makes a lot of sense because it’s not coasting. Your priorities have shifted and you’re still having to work a lot, but it’s a different work.
For myself, I know my audience is at a size where I know who a lot of them are. If somebody buys something from me, typically I recognize their email address. I’m like, “That’s a person that I talk to you on Twitter or somebody that emailed me from a mailing list.” I like that. I like knowing who my customers are. It wouldn’t make sense for me to go after my mailing list like 30,000-something people. It wouldn’t make sense for me to double that or 10X that because then I wouldn’t be able to reply to everybody every Sunday when I email them. I wouldn’t be able to get to know who some of these people are. I wouldn’t recognize them. I wouldn’t be able to help them as well because I would be chasing more customers. I would lose that connection that I have. That connection is what makes you money. That connection isn’t some hippy dippy thing that I like connecting with people. That connection is directly responsible for the income that I generate.
That connection is what gives you purpose in what you’re doing. We need more connection. We need those relationships. If you’re chasing new customers constantly, it’s all shallow and you have those deep connections like you do. You weren’t writing the same email for how many years?
You’ve been consistently taking care of your customers and your people, which become fans. I talk about this all the time. Customers are transactional. They come and go, but fans never leave. Every business should try to create fans for life. To do that, don’t go chasing new customers. Focus on how you care for your current customers even more. I would argue probably, Paul. Many businesses are going out of business because there’s chasing those shiny objects instead of focusing on the ten people that have already bought from you.
It’s harder and more time-consuming to go after new people. That’s what businesses don’t realize, the nuts and bolts in the economics of it are it costs more and it takes longer to get new people than make the people who are already paying attention happy. You’ve already got their attention, so why not focus on those people?
We’re going to do a game here, Paul. It’s called name that number. I’m going to give you a business fact. You’ve got to give that number. What is small business failure rates? We’re talking about this in the first year. How many small businesses fail in the first year? The stat just came out.
I don’t know. I wrote an article once about how most business stats are false and there’s a stat that everybody quotes from Fortune. There was no study done. I would say 60%.
Only 20%, so one out of five. What about after five years in business?
We’re at 50% and then after ten years, this is where the number gets a little higher.
70%. You were over three but you were very close, Paul. It’s interesting. I would argue that what you’re saying, if these companies didn’t focus so much on growth, they focused on being better companies, better for their people, they wouldn’t be falling so much. It’s amazing. Those stats, give or take a little bit, they’re probably pretty close when you think about it. Over ten years of business, a lot of businesses do fail. Maybe it’s because of a concept. We’ve got to get bigger fast.
I have some stats as well. It was Kaufman that looked at the Inc. 5000 list but 5 to 8 years later, found that two-thirds of them went out of business because they chased growth. The startup Genome Project did a similar thing and found that 70% or 75% of them went out of business, not because of competition or bad products but because of scaling too quickly. It makes sense.
You’ve been in your business now twenty years, correct, Paul?
I’m guessing this. We’re not talking about growth, but I’m guessing that your income has been good or grown a little bit over the twenty years?
It’s grown and it’s made you probably have given potential more freedom, correct?
It wasn’t an arbitrary number we got to get to here. It was, “This is where I am.” Probably each year you adjust a little bit. Is that correct?
Yes. Because I know how much enough is, I know that I don’t have to push harder and harder. I find as well, if you don’t have this upper boundary seems like this is going to be where I can maximize freedom. We don’t have that and we’re like, “More is always better,” then it’s to keep it the running analogy. It’s running towards the horizon. We’re going to get sweaty and we’re going to get tired but we’re actually going to get there.
I love one of these other points going into, you say out-share over out-scale. That’s right to stand out and build the audience. You have to out teach and out share the competition, not out scale them. I love this. Can you elaborate on that?You don't have to work by yourself if you work for yourself. Click To Tweet
A lot of times, businesses are scared to share because they feel like, “Every idea that I share is going to be stolen by the competition. Every single thing that I talk about is going to be taken the wrong way or everything that I do is going to be basically taken by the competition or use in some way that’s going to hurt the business.” Whereas I find that whatever I share is helpful. Even if it’s bad stuff, I write it as much of the dumb things that I’ve done in business as the good things that I’ve done in business and it doesn’t make people hate me. It makes people think like, “He’s a human being doing his best in business and trying to make things work.” I find as well the teaching aspect of. It is really what helps establish you as an expert. The good thing is that anybody can teach anyone anything. You have to have a degree to teach in a school for sure. All of my family are teachers except for me, which is funny because I’ve ended up becoming a teacher on the internet. To teach online courses or to write books or even have a podcast, you can be somebody sharing who’s a few steps ahead of everybody who’s listening. You don’t have to have all the answers. You have to know a little bit more than somebody else and be open to sharing it. That’s a beautiful thing.
Every brand, every company should be teaching, should be sharing. Not only does it show the journey, it shows where they’re doing. It actually gets people to know the people behind the business. If you really want to grow a brand, you know the people behind the business. When I read your book, “I like this guy. I’m getting to know this guy.” You want to be a part of it. You want to engage with it. You said, “Teach everything you know, sell to people who want to hear from you and out share what you know.”
Years ago, I started sharing our journey. I wrote 159 blogs before I was willing to put one out there. I was scared out of my mind. I was writing a book that was coming out three months later. Once I started doing and sharing every day, as you on your weekly, but I come in and put in one thing every day, people come to me and book me and speak and do all this without ever once saying book me to speak. It helps spread out the brand. Show the brand like, “He’s with the Savannah Bananas. This is what they’re doing.” I don’t know why every leader doesn’t commit daily and weekly to putting out content of what they’re learning along the journey. I don’t know if you’ve seen any more examples of people doing this. Do you want to be better? Teach because every time you teach you learn and that helps your company grow as well. I want to know what your thoughts are on that.
I 100% agree. Smart leaders do that. Smart leaders do share as often as possible. Especially in my scene as the tech world, the 37Signals guys, David and Jason share and teach everything. It’s not they’re losing business because of it. They’re gaining business because of it. They have had three or four book deals now because they share everything. They know they’ve written their blog for the longest time. They teach workshops on how to run a business exactly like Basecamp. Nobody’s going to copy Basecamp because you can’t because they’re already Basecamp. They’re happy to do basically that and it only helps and they charged thousands of dollars for these workshops. They sell every single time because people are keen to learn.
We did the exact same thing. We started with Fans First Experience Workshops. We teach people how to deliver the fans’ first experience. We love it because we’re teaching what we know and what we love and we’re learning every time. What’s funny, now the people that want to be in the room, the people that believe in what we believe in being with us and it gives us energy. I’m going to get another game, Paul. It’s going to be a weird one. Truth and dare. Which one do you want first?
What’s the biggest hardship that you’ve had to overcome in the last several years with your own business?
There have been a lot. Probably, it’s every time something fails and it’s especially hard when you’ve seen some success when something you’ve done has ended up working out. You do something next that doesn’t. It’s like, “I don’t have that magic formula dialed in.”
Do you have an example something that stands out was like, “This was a tough day?”
In selling, one of the software businesses that I built at a price that it wasn’t like, “Set for life.” It was like another business could do a better job at this than I’m doing. I have to offload this at a bit of a deal. I felt bad because the costumer has had bought into that business and had become customers because they knew that I was running it, that I was building it and everything like that. I had to basically tell them all, “This sucks but somebody else will be better suited for doing this than I am.” I’ve got to let it go. It’s tough.
Did you learn from that? We’ve had failures. I ask that question all the time. What are your biggest failures? I don’t even think about them because I move on. That’s part of the company being a company that tries to get better. You’re going to have failures, but people don’t forget the failures. They remember the successes. They remember a company of one and how great that book was and the impact it made. No one knows you sold the business at a discount. You had to let go of something that you believed in. No one remembers that. Is it like the hardships for you there may be tough at the moment, but you did move on?
Yes, exactly. It’s a batting average. As long as I hit the ball more than I strike out, then I’m happy.
No one remembers who struck out the most times in major league baseball. I had to look this up and it was Reggie Jackson. Do you know what they remembered from Reggie Jackson? When he hit three home runs in game six of the World Series, he became Mr. October. That’s what they remember. Don’t think you’re getting away from the dare. Usually we have people sing, but I’m not going to do that to you. We have a promotion at our game called Bananas Barnyard where we actually have people, they have to act like animals on the field in front of 4,000 people. I know you’re an introvert, but if you were to be an animal, what animal would you be? You have to act it out or make a noise.
I would be a rat because I had pet rats for the longest time. They don’t make noises that are perceptible to human ears. There have been studies done that show that they make different squeaks when they’re happy. If you’re tickling them, because rats love to be tickled or if they’re scared. There’s actually a study that was published that showed rats driving these little cars and they studied the hormones in their poop and found out that they were less stressed out when they were driving these little cars that they could steer right left or forward then if they weren’t driving them. Rats love driving. There’s a fact that you probably didn’t have.Marketing is building trust through communication with other people. Click To Tweet
I am so blown away that you went there. Not only did you act like a rat and you did make noise, but that will also pick up the fact that you said you have pet rats. The fact that you tickle them, the fact that you’ve learned studies about checking their poop and the fact that you know them to do these drivers cars. Paul, I know this can never be beaten. This is where we drop the mic right here. I’m so glad you didn’t sing because you brought those facts into my life. Thank you for that.
The logo on my website is that little pink rat that I had for years and years.
Now, it all makes sense. Has anybody asked you to do a rat imitation on a show before?
No, never. This is the first time.
It’s probably the last time, which we do most promotions at our games. I want to go to one other big point and finish with some rapid fire here, but exist strategy over the exit strategy. I love that. Obviously Simon Sinek came out with a book, The Infinite Game, which is the goal to keep playing the game. I love that. Share with me how you came to this mindset or what it looks like for businesses?
A lady named Natasha Lampard wrote about this in a magazine on Offscreen years and years ago. I always remembered that term, exist strategy. This is the way that a lot of small businesses operate and this is the way that businesses all used to operate. Business before we hit this hyper capitalism growth mindset. We’re small monkey, multigenerational and interconnected. They were small businesses in places where they all work together in the community. This makes so much sense. The average life expectancy of business on the S&P or on Index 500 is fifteen years. I’m like, “I’ve got five years on most of those businesses.” In their heyday, they were making many more zeroes than I’m ever going to make doesn’t really matter. I sold a couple businesses but in my main business, as a brand, as a product, as a business, I can’t sell that because nobody else can be Paul Jarvis thankfully. Two, I like doing what I do. I like the business that I have. I want to keep finding ways to generate revenue and to make my people, my rat people how much I wrote an article about it.
That was my second most popular article, my rat people. I want to keep making my audience happy and keep giving them things that they can use in their lives like books, courses, software and all of that. I don’t want to have the typical tech journey of starting a business, get funding, IPO and cash out. I want to start small, keep it small, figure out what enough is and then keep going. I like the work that I do. I like the people that I serve. I don’t want to leave. I want to keep existing and finding ways for myself and my audience to be happy.
You wrote, “Be focused on sticking around, profiting and serving your customers the best you can. Your success can be measured by being profitable quickly as you stay small and build real relationships with your customers.” It’s relentless, it’s this theme. Take care of your people, be happy. For many people, business owners, this should relieve stress. Instead of chasing arbitrary quarterly numbers, annual numbers, no. How are we getting better? We look every year at our ballpark. We’ve been fortunate now to sell out every single game. We want our fans to come in and say, “It keeps getting better.” That’s the attention to detail. I can’t believe what they’re doing. That’s part of the focus. I love this other concept. I’m going to keep rolling here. “Feed the people who show up for your dinner.” Share with me that because that’s so simple and makes so much sense.
A friend and a previous client and an absolute sage in business and life, Danielle LaPorte. I was talking to her for the book, I was talking about this idea of not trying to find people to come to dinner and ever expanding the table, but paying attention to the people who are there, paying attention to the people who are showing up, paying attention to the people who want to be there. That’s what we were talking about earlier. That’s the retention over acquisition and it makes so much sense. It’s not a decrease in the drive, it’s a shift in focus on your drive. You guys sell out, you are continuing to find new and interesting ways to continue to do so, but you’re not building more and more stands more and more bleachers every single year. It’s not going to be some massive stadium next year. It is what it is.
We don’t even use the term sales anywhere. Our salespeople are service people. We don’t have marketing people and we have experienced people. Ticket experience coordinator, group experience quarters. It’s about serving the people that we have. That hit home with me. I know we’re hitting it over and over again, but I hope everyone reading, don’t go to your sales team and say, “How are we doing on new customers right now? How are we doing new acquisitions? How are we doing on serving the people that are already with us?” They will buy more. I’m sure you have people that they buy every online course you do. Is that correct?
Yes. More than half the people buy more than one thing from me.
I want to get into your schedule a little bit. I’ve heard you talk about single tasking and eliminating distractions. Single tasking. Everyone in the world, “I’m a great multitasker.” No, you’re not. It’s proven you’re not. Single tasking, how do you eliminate distractions and if you have to do a sprint or you have to get work done, what are you doing?
It’s about figuring out how to do the thing that you’re doing and be present in that as opposed to trying to do all things at all times. A lot of people are like, “Paul, I don’t understand how you single task when you have two courses, two software products, a bunch of podcasts and a newsletter.” I’m like, “Fair enough.” I do those things in sequence. I focus on writing my newsletter. I usually will sit down and write four or five articles in one day, get them on a copy editor, like queue them up. I’m not stressed out.
I never want to be in a position where it’s like, “No, it’s Saturday night. My email has to go out at 6:00 AM the next day.” I don’t want to be in that. That doesn’t give me the space to be creative. I do one thing at a time. When I was writing the book, I wasn’t even writing newsletters. I was focused on the book. I got the book done from idea to first draft in three months. I wanted to focus on that. What I’ve found that we think that we can get things done faster if we multitask. We can get things done faster if we batch processes. It sounds super nerdy, but I don’t care because I’m a nerd. If I sit down to write articles or whatever the task is, if I sit down and write articles for myself because that’s what I do, the first one might take an hour because I’m rusty.Don’t be afraid to take off the mask of professionalism or how you're supposed to do business. Be you. Click To Tweet
I might not have written articles for a couple of weeks. I’m like, “That blinking cursor. Damn you blinking cursor,” then I get it done. In the next article, I get into it and I’m like, “This will take me 30 minutes. Next one fifteen.” By the end of it, I’ve written four articles. Because I don’t have Twitter open, I don’t know where my phone is, I keep it on do not disturb. I don’t know why everybody doesn’t use do not disturb at all times. I have zero notifications on any device other than if I’m expecting a call, my phone is on or if my wife needs to text me, my phone is on. Other than that, my default is never disturb me ever. It doesn’t matter what the software is, what the program is. If I’m on my computer, on my phone and my watch, like nothing buzzes, rings or vibrates because this is annoying. I don’t have things open on my computer either. If I’m writing an email, I don’t also have Twitter open. If I’m on Twitter, I don’t have email open or my writing program open. If I’m on Twitter, I’m on Twitter and that’s it. I finish it and move on.
It’s so smart. I’ve been guilty of it. I have twelve tabs open and open up another tab. Now, people have two computers at once, I’ve seen one person with three computers. I’m like, “What are you doing?” I took an email off my phone and took all social media off my phone and I am so much happier. I don’t clutch my phone. It’s made such a difference. I still reply to emails. Nothing happened. That’s great. That’s some that people can take on, “How do you do this? How do you focus on getting better?” You get present, you single task on what you’re doing. You’re not trying to do so many things. It’s obvious but people need to hear it over and over again. Deets about the tweet. It’s a new game here. You’re big tweeter. You’ve got to get into quite a following there, but you wrote, “Working for yourself doesn’t mean you have to work by yourself.” In other words, other people help make us better. Can you elaborate any more on that?
A lot of times when people say like, “That guy wrote the book, Company of One. You must work by yourself or yourself.” The point of the book isn’t that you’re a one-person company. It’s that you figure out what can be the best at the smallest size and then grow when you need to. Five businesses aren’t a one-person company. I am an accountant, a bookkeeper, a copy editor, a podcast editor, four partners, and probably a couple of other people I can’t think of at the moment. I think as well, a lot of times when we’re the type of person that knows that we could do well working for ourselves, we’re the type of person, I’m guilty of this as well, that thinks that we can solve all our own problems. Talking to other people professionally or otherwise can be helpful. I’ve been in a little group with a couple of people who do similar work than I do for probably five or six years. We talk once a month, we call each other on each other’s BS and we work through problems together. That’s immensely helpful. You don’t have to work for yourself if you work for yourself. It’s something that I struggle with, but I know is important.
You’re not alone. Isolation is huge right now. There are struggles with that, but you’re doing it with others. It’s a different way that you break it down, which I love. I know you made this as a joke, but the pinned tweet you have right now, “80% of success is showing off.” I know it’s supposed to be showing up, but there’s actually some truth to that because I’ve read a lot about and this sounds crazy. I was the guy in the old tuxedo. There are very few successful people that haven’t, in one form the other, self-promoted and not to be ashamed of it because if the way of promoting yourself is helping others, not to be afraid of it. You did that as a joke, I’m guessing, but is there any truth or fact to why you put that up there?
The interesting thing is that those people who shouldn’t be promoting, who are selling a dream or slimy or snake oil salespeople, they never have a problem with promoting. The only people that have a problem with promoting are the people who are doing things that are useful and valuable. It’s like, “Why should we not promote?” For me, marketing is building trust through communication with other people. That sounds fun. I don’t need to have like, “Buy, buy, buy,” and big flashing blinking buttons on my sales pages. My most successful in terms of revenue sales email because that’s basically all I do is email marketing. The most successful email that I ever sent that generated the most revenue had a buy now graphic. The graphic wasn’t a button. Everybody has seen those with all the arrows pointing to them from every direction because you wouldn’t recognize the blinking button unless there were arrows. I don’t understand it but mine was a picture of my rats. If you want to buy one of my products, creative class, click on this picture of my pet rats. That’s the best converting for revenue email I’ve ever sent.
My biggest mentor, P.T, Barnum, he said something like, “Terrible happens without promotion. Nothing.” That’s it. That’s the whole quote. Let’s go a little fast here. Marketing Minute. You said your best sales email, but what’s the best thing you’ve done to grow your brand?
Constant communication. We do a weekly newsletter.
Let’s flip the script, Paul. You are now the host of Business Done Differently and you can ask me one question.
We chose that name, the Savannah Bananas, because at that point, my wife and I were sleeping on an air bed. We had to sell our house. We are struggling. We sold one ticket. We had to go dramatically different. There was no team named after a fruit. You talk about a brand. We came up with a senior citizen dance team called the Banana Nanas. Our mascot was Split, a male cheerleading team called the Man Nana’s. We throw bananas from the top deck. People catch them in their pants. It’s called Banana in the Pants. Banana beer, frozen bananas. We can have a lot of fun. Go Bananas is our whole theme. Whatever’s normal, do the exact opposite. You fought against normal. The normal is grow, grow, grow and when you go the other way, you’re getting probably to polarization. You’d probably get even a stronger following. We have diehard fans that wear bananas gear all over the world. It’s the same mindset.
You guys are like the Marmite of baseball.
We’ve heard a lot about this. Honestly, what we do is a circus. We are not baseball. You’re a business who’s like anti-business. We’re a baseball team that’s anti-baseball. I love that. I love being polarizing to extend because you become nothing to no one if you would be like everyone else. Thank you for that question. Let me ask another question. Use this question time. Do you want better answers in business? You need to ask better questions. What are some of the best questions you are asking these days? Whether it’s with clients, once people you’re working with, whoever.
How much is enough? How will I know when I get there and what will change if I do?
What are some of the answers you get from that?
Basically, if we don’t ask, we won’t know. The problem is that at the beginning of a business, you need growth. 100% you have to go from zero to something. If you never asked yourself questions like that, you keep chasing more. You keep running out the horizon. In asking those things that can be like, “My revenue actually right now is good for the rest of the year.” Let’s focus on some deep work projects that could take a year or two to come to fruition. I’m good. I’ve got enough to do what I need to do in my life or my family right now. Let’s work at other things now and see if they pay off in the future or it could be, I actually do need a bit more money, I do need to like put out a couple of more things at this moment.
What’s the most important tool you have in your business toolbox?
Being able to write words onscreen.
You write every day, correct?
Probably almost every day. That’s the thing that I do the most with my business.
I love creators. It’s a huge part of my life. I’d love to go into some of your favorites. What’s your favorite part of your morning routine? Do you have a creative morning? How do you start the day?Many people get into business because they want more freedom in their lives, not necessarily because they want growth. Click To Tweet
Coffee and then everything else. Typically, I have a coffee and then I answer emails because I know there’s a lot of people who check email after you’ve met a couple of hours. It’s like I’m stressed because they don’t know what’s in there. I want to bang through that and get it done typically 30 minutes and then move on to, “What’s the one or two things I need to accomplish now?” If I accomplish those, I’d feel good. Probably answer a couple more emails, then I’m done.
That’s how you turn everything off. The big key here is if you’re a creator, if you’re trying to put out good work, you turn everything else off. You lightly say no to anything coming in. Is that part of you will batch time? It’s like, “I’m going to create it right now.”
Be reasonable as well. I can’t put, “Write a book,” on my to-do list and feel good about that. I can put, “Write a summary for one chapter,” and I’m always looking for what I can do to feel accomplished in a day because most of my projects are years. It’s not like I can finish something now and I’m done and I can move on to another new different thing. It’s like every day is a tiny incremental step towards something much bigger that’s probably happening far in the future. What can I do that makes it feel like I’ve accomplished something? Accomplishment builds momentum.
Keep playing the game. Keep hitting those bats. What’s a book that stands out for you? Maybe a similar subject or similar idea on, how to produce great work?
Deep Work of Cal Newport. I read it every single year.
You read it again and again?
Yes. I’ve read it a bunch of times since whenever I can read it. When it came out, I’ve read it every year since.
Here are the final four. What is one thing you’ve done to stand out in business and in life?
This rat obsession, how has that helped you stand out in business in life, in the emails and branding it?
Before the Growth article, I wrote an article about Finding Your Rat People where I basically said that 99% of the world dislikes rats. 1% of the world loves them, finds them good pets and they’re united. There are message boards about pet rats and what they should eat and how to tickle them and all of that. The rest of the world doesn’t matter because they don’t care. They’re never going to. It’s the same with our business. We need to find our rat people, our 1% of the people that matter, the people that want to pay attention, the people that we are going to get value from that are going to get value from us. Everybody else doesn’t matter.
When I go through the airport, I’m going to give a speech in a yellow tuxedo. I know a huge center people are going to write me off and say, “This guy is a Looney Tune. He’s crazy. What is he doing?” There’ll be a few people like, “I’m intrigued. What’s this about?” That’s the same concept, “Don’t be afraid to stand for something.”
I’m tattooed from head to toe and most people think I’m like some gangbanger. If you look at my tattoos, they’re all funny animals wearing silly costumes. I don’t have hard tattoos.
How many rat tattoos do you have?
Six, seven rat tattoos. Quite a few.
I have seven yellow tuxedos. We got that in common. I love it. Other than rats, what advice would you give to someone to stand out in business and in life?
Don’t be afraid to take off the mask of professionalism or how you’re supposed to do business. Just be you. It’s easier too. I’m not smart enough to be somebody else. It’s straight up easier.
I’m so happy you said that. I’ve done so many videos, so many posts about professionalism being overrated and being weird wins. It’s the truth. No one goes home and says, “I met the most professional guy. I worked at the most professional company.” No, they talk about the unique, they talk about the fun. They talk about the weird. Thank you for giving that advice. What are some of the best advice you’ve received?
Probably the advice from my buddy when I was surfing. I figured out what enough is. I’m good. That still blows my mind.
How do you want to be remembered?
As somebody who’s helpful. That drives me. I don’t care about more. I care about mattering and not even mattering to everybody, to a couple of people. I’d rather my legacy be my work than me anyway is I don’t want to be remembered, but ideas that I had or things I shared. I’d rather those things they remembered.
You’ve helped a lot of people. You made a huge impact on me. One of the quotes I want to leave you with is, “Build your business around your life, not the other way around.” I think more people need to look at that, especially as we get into the craziness and everyone’s working harder and hustle and take that mindset. I’m so excited to share this on this season because everyone needs to think about this and engage in what you’re saying. Paul, you’ve helped a lot of people. You’re helping more every single day. Thank you so much.
- Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business
- Paul Jarvis
- The Infinite Game
- Deep Work
About Paul Jarvis
I’m Paul Jarvis, a designer and writer who makes simple and humane products.
In the past, I’ve worked with professional athletes like Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal, corporate giants like Microsoft and Mercedes-Benz, and entrepreneurs with online empires like Danielle LaPorte and Marie Forleo. My words and ideas have been featured in WIRED, Fast Company, VICE, USA Today, Quartz, and more.
My latest book, Company of One, explores what happens when we question growth (and it’s been translated into 18 languages so far). Currently, I teach online courses (taken by over 14k students), create and sell software products (downloaded over 1m times), and sometimes write books. My main project, what I’m most proud of, and what connects all of the above is my weekly newsletter, the Sunday Dispatches.