Our guest is Marie Poulin, business strategist and productivity expert, and we chat with her about her journey through many pivots and how to continually pivot your niche in order to best serve your audience.
This episode, we talk with Marie Poulin — Marie is a business strategist and productivity expert. She specializes in training individuals and teams how to organize and streamline their businesses with Notion. Strategy and design are in her blood, and today we’re going to chat about how she got where she is, and the fact that you SHOULD always be looking to pivot your niche in order to serve your audience
- Margaret Reffell
- Meg Cumby
- Erik Dietrich
Each episode, the panel (and guest) share their picks: a book, app, service, resource, or something else that they’re enjoying and recommend you check out:
- Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein (Marie Poulin)
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (Erik Dietrich)
- Notion Mastery (Margaret Reffell)
- Notion Gardening Dashboard template (Meg Cumby)
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WHAT IS THE BUSINESS OF FREELANCING?
If you’re a freelancer, then you’re not just an expert in your field. You’re also a business owner, responsible for everything from bookkeeping to marketing to customer satisfaction to business development.
On the Business of Freelancing, our panel of experienced freelancers discuss the issues that they have encountered while building up their business — and give you practical, actionable advice to take your career to the next level. We also invite expert guests to provide their opinions and perspectives on how you can better succeed in your freelance career.
Meg: Welcome to another episode of Business of Freelancing. We’re so excited to talk all about pivoting today. We’re so excited that we’ve got Marie Poulin on. So Marie is a Business Strategist and Productivity expert. She specializes in training individuals and teams on how to organize and streamline their business using Notion.
Today we’re going to chat about how she got where she is, and the fact that you should always be looking to pivot your niche in order to serve your audience. So today for our panel, we’ve got Mag.
Erik: Hi, everybody.
Meg: Myself, Meg, and we have a special guest Marie Poulin. Welcome, Marie.
Marie: Thanks for having me.
Meg: I’ll also add on that. I’m so excited to have you on. We are so excited to have you on. I’ve known Marie for almost a decade. Not to brag but only that I’m super excited to chat in a public context.
Marie: Thank you. Thank you.
Meg: So we’re talking all about pivoting your niche today. So, Marie, do you want to give us a little bit of context just on… I know, I spoke a bit about what you did, or what you’re doing right now. But your background, where you came from and what actually, niches serve you’re in before, and how you got to what you’re doing?
Marie: Yeah, it’s been a long and winding journey. I was telling Margaret earlier that I feel like every time I come on a podcast, I’m like, “Oh, you’re catching me at like a weird time in my business. I’m like, going through a pivot. Then I’m like, “No, wait a second.” That’s always the case. It always feels like it’s in flux.
So, at the moment, probably since, maybe the last eight months or so I’ve been doing mostly Notion focus consulting, but that wasn’t even a thing that existed a year ago. So it’s been kind of a weird, weird journey, but part of it is just listening to what people are asking for being willing to serve a niche. Especially if there’s overlap and what you’re excited about where there’s profitability and where the market is asking for something and really finding that product-market fit, and just following the momentum.
So I’ve had a hard time doubling down on anything, I’ve always been exploring and experimenting and listening to what the market needs and launch little courses here. Like, “Oh, I should adjust the services because I’m hearing this.” So I’ve never fully felt concrete in what I offer, and I’ve always struggled to explain what I do, probably until the last eight months where I’m like, “Oh, this is very specific, and it’s very easy to talk about.”
So my start was sort of in the web design, graphic design universe. I was a Digital Strategist, Interactive Designer for many, many years. Then over time, I started noticing more and more of my clients were teaching online courses, they had products, they had productized offers, they had membership programs. They had a lot of things that weren’t just service-based businesses, so I’m like, “Okay, this.”
The clients have more money to invest in web design, or people who have these really interesting diversified offers, it’s like, “Okay, maybe I should start serving that audience.” So, it’s like, every time I’ve just gotten comfortable with something, and then noticed where there was maybe more opportunity, I’ve tried to double down on that.
So over time, we noticed that online courses niche and my husband and I decided to build our own software around it and double down on that. But that was such a struggle, honestly, working with just folks who are… It felt like we were almost attracting people who were looking for a very quick fix for their businesses, and that was really hard.
You spend so much time building software, that’s a really low price point for folks who are struggling like they don’t want to pay $29 a month for something that actually is a business tool, and the customer support and everything that was happening. For what was the lowest price way of working with us when before as a services-based company.
It was way easier to sell a $5,000 coaching or $25,000 WordPress website than it was to get someone to pay $29 a month for a software. So that was another, pivot where it’s like, “Is this the audience you want to be serving? Is this the thing that we want to plant our flag in? Are we excited and passionate enough to make that our thing?”
So we did that for about three years, I pivoted a lot of my own products and services around trying to teach people how to launch courses and working closely with folks on their digital strategy with again, courses being a side stream of that. It wasn’t as exciting and then to have put all this time and effort into a thing that you’re like, “It works and it’s cool and we have some clients but we are not that excited to go all in and grow it like what does that mean?”
Like, “Did we waste our time? Oh, gosh.” So there was lots of stuff like that came up as part of that process and we realized that we are more high tech people. That’s where our bread and butter has always been when we work with people in a much deeper way. I realized a good chunk of the work I was doing too when you’re working with people who have online courses that have memberships.
You guys know there are so many parts, moving parts behind the scenes, the systems pit, like choosing your technology, and the average people that we work with are not super tech-savvy people. So inevitably, what seemed like it would be a three-month engagement turns into two or three years as you’re getting funnels together, there’s just so many moving parts.
So I didn’t realize how much work I was doing around, actually helping people set up their own internal productivity systems and I’d be like, “Oh, do you use Evernote? Do you use? Oh, let’s get your set up on Asana.” Inevitably, that just became part of the work that I was doing.
So in some ways when I shifted toward Notion, I thought, “Oh gosh, am I like pivoting again? Am I being flaky? What does this mean?” But really what was happening was I was moving away from the front-facing systems and moving more toward the behind the scenes systems that help people be more efficient.
So it took a while to let that sit in my brain, and figure out like, “What do I do? What am I really good at? What’s the core thing that is the through-line with all the work that I’m doing?” So that’s a very long way to answer, it has been a long and winding journey to what I’m doing today.
Meg: Nice. That brings up a super interesting point because a lot of the times the advice people get when they’re first starting their business or first going into entrepreneurship or development, design. The first thing everyone’s told is niche down, you got to nice down. I totally agree with that. But what I’ve understood for myself and also what I’m hearing for you is like, you can’t niche down until you know what’s needed on that granular level. Right?
You don’t know, that you would know and that you would be able to niche down to something that specialized, and that specific unless you were working with people who you could see the flaws in their systems.
I know that’s good advice, but I almost want to give a caveat to it or say like, “But yeah, you shouldn’t be shut but it feels like after you’ve done the work to find out what the clients you already have really need for sure.
Marie: I think there’s an element of expertise needed, for sure. I don’t know if you’ve read the book, Range. I think it’s why generalists triumph in a specialized world. Such a good book, if you ever are kind of unsure or feel self-conscious about feeling like you’re a bit of a generalist, that book was so validating, let me tell you.
But he talked about not specializing too early because you don’t even know what your own skill sets are. It takes a while for you to notice the patterns of how you show up across different work. So it’s not just even listening to what the market wants, but it’s like, “Where are my skills best served.”
Sometimes you don’t know that till you’ve done a variety of work. You’ve worked with enough clients to notice a pattern. But if you only work with a handful of clients a year, you may not recognize those patterns exactly.
For some people, that makes sense, they find their niche and they’re like, this is so clearly the place that I need to double down on and that’s awesome. But if you’re not sure, there’s a really uncomfortable gray area when you’re figuring it out. It’s really hard and really frustrating because you’re like, “I just want to be there already.” It can be very uncomfortable.
But I gave myself permission for a bit to be like, “Okay, I know that, online courses is not where you’re going to end up inevitably. This is an interesting piece on a path that’s going to give me more data and more information on building my tool kit or my tool belt. I know I’m moving towards something and all of that really interesting life experience, client experience is going to shape how I’m able to serve people over here when whatever that looks like.”
So you’re kind of inching yourself towards something, even if you don’t know what it is exactly, you’re kind of heading toward a direction and just like picking up all those skills and all those resources on the way.
Marg: That’s such a good point. The exploration is part of it. I feel like people want a guaranteed, like, “Well, if I do this will this get me the guarantee thing.” It’s like part of this whole freelancing business thing, and our own thing is to try something. There’s going to be lots of things that don’t work out, and that’s okay.
Marie: The only constant is change. It’s all data. You have to look at it as it’s all data. It’s a hypothesis. It’s like it is the market interested in this? Okay, cool. Let’s, let’s try that. Let’s see. For me, I’m always looking for what feels easy. I want a stress reduce life. What does that look like?
So, if this over here feels like a grind and talking about it feels like a grind. I’m like, there’s no way that has longevity, that’s not going to work. Again, we were talking about online courses. I’m writing articles, like, online courses won’t save your business. You can tell I’m mad at them.
Marie: Always the trends that I’m seeing, I’m like, “Well, that’s not going to help us grow software because I have no problem talking people out of it when I don’t think it’s a good idea. So, I’m like, this feels hard for me to sell when I actually don’t think it’s the greatest idea for everyone.
People need more skills before they’re at that point. Like cool, maybe I like software, not the… Maybe that’s not the medium, the conversation might be similar but the medium was not the best medium in terms of low price point and high expectation or so much energy and effort and really low price points.
So, what can I do that has a higher price point that is easier, more fun, has that spaciousness to it? So that’s for me what I’m looking for. It’s like what feels easy? What could you get paid for when you’re like holy crap, I can’t believe people are actually willing to pay me for this because I’m enjoying myself too much.
Marg: That can be such a psychological, I was going to use another term that I don’t want to use.
It can just be like psychologically messing, it can just feel like psychologically a lot because I feel like we’ve been so trained to be like, “This should be hard because hard work pays off.”
But it’s hard to break that, it’s hard to break that paradigm of like, you can be efficient and let things be easy let your natural talents and competence come in without being on the grind like you said, for sure.
Erik: Probably a lot of people listening out there and talking about going from being a generalist to niching down. Maybe that’s the first pivot that people go through. That’s a tough one for people. Then the conversation progressed in such a way where I thought it might be interesting to explore.
What are some tangible signs of what you’re doing that indicate that it might be time to pivot? It sounds like definitely one of those is, this is like, really hard. It feels like there’s a lot of friction to what I’m doing. But in your experience, with pivots, are there other signs or things that people can be doing and recognize like, “Hey, maybe this isn’t working?”
Marie: Yeah. Is it hard to find revenue? Is it like really a grind to get new clients? Do people maybe not understand what you do when you talk about what you do? Do you get raised eyebrows? An interesting exercise is always having a friend of yours describe what you do. That’s always interesting.
Can someone else effectively like “Oh, you should talk to my friend Margaret, she does X right?” Can people actually define what you do? Those are some… Money is obviously one of the more obvious ones if there just isn’t any cash flow, and it’s becoming very difficult for you to serve a specific audience.
I don’t know if you guys have something to add on that of like, really obvious signs that what you’re doing is maybe, there might be room for a pivot.
Erik: What you had mentioned before about people being surprised by people who were engaging at a lower price point than you were used to and expecting more service out of it. I don’t know what you would call that exactly. But historically, to me, that’s been a sign where there seems to be this mismatch between price and expectations, or maybe you just can’t deliver on this price at this scale, things like that. So I don’t know what you would call that?
Marie: Maybe like commodification of skills. Like the way people don’t expect to maybe invest in branding the way, they used to. Like now when you’ve got logo sites and even people outsourcing overseas and things like that.
It’s interesting to watch how certain services get commoditized and which ones become valued more. That’s always kind of an interesting thing. A trend that I noticed, a lot of web designers were really really resistant to pre-made themes.
It’s like they almost have this badge of honor like, “I got to build it custom and it’s got to be super difficult.” You’re kind of fighting like you’re fighting against the currents. It’s like, tools are going to become easier and easier and easier to use as they should be.
We want more people to be able to get their stuff up and running and not have it be something that only people with lots of money can do. So you have to recognize there are areas that are going to become more commodified. So how are you going to differentiate yourself in a highly commodified market?
So logo design, theme design, things like that, that the part of the project becomes valued less and strategy becomes valuable more. The decision making, the creativity, those are skills that I think take a while to hone and there’s more expertise there on the strategic decision-making side.
So, you can’t keep still for too long, especially if you work in technology, you’re going to have to adapt and find out other ways, whether it’s adapting to eCommerce or copywriting. Copywriting is still always a skill that’s going to be incredibly highly valued. Copywriting is a skill that anyone probably should learn at least some really basic.
Probably even more than than just basic skills to be able to talk about what you do in a way that connects with people, that’s a pretty big skill.
So, just paying attention to what is becoming commodified, and where are your skills, needing a little bit of maybe a pivot or layering in new skills that can support the other skills, so that you can kind of differentiate
Meg: Yeah. That brings up a really good point to have like, there’s times when there’s indications where we have this sort of internal feeling of being able to pivot or honing in farther on a client project or problem and solving that. But there’s also this sort of forced pivot.
So there’s this forced pivot because just like you’re saying, the speed of technology, with like, pre-made themes and website builders. Of course, you could justify like a custom site from 10 years ago, because website builders were so terrible. They’re getting great now.
So about maybe four or five years ago, like you’re saying, I met this resistance, being a developer working with designers, and I would give clients options at that point. I’d say like, “Oh, we could do a theme and these are sort of the limitations but this too.” But the problem with doing that is it would cut out some design work and there would be this sort of conflict there because it wasn’t a context that they were willing to work within.
So that was interesting too. I see it in so many other industries too. It’s easy when you’re outside of things to see them a bit more. Like for example, it’s like a little bit of a tangent. For example, I was getting my eyes checked. When I was getting my eyes checked, I get them checked every two years and I have glasses and contacts.
I was at this, the brick and mortar store. After she tested them, she asked me, she’s like, “Okay, are you going put in your order for contacts? I said, “No, is that I ordered them online because they’re cheaper and they get delivered right to me, and it’s like a subscription. I set it and forget it. They deliver my contacts as soon as I need them.”
Then she looks at me, she’s like, “Oh, you do that.” Rolled her eyes at me. I was like, “Damn, you’re going get solo client. You hired me, two months later, doors are closed, like the places locked up. I’m like, if you don’t, you can’t afford to not pivot when things are moving too quickly.
Marg: I totally agree.
Meg: So, paying attention to the rate of technology and, and you don’t have to fight with it. It’s changing whether you like it or not, basically. So we all learn to work with it, for sure.
Marie: Yeah. There’s room for almost more product type things for the everyday freelancers to be able to, whether it’s info products, whether it’s developing their own themes and selling them. There’s so many interesting ways you can diversify your income that aren’t just services now.
So in some ways, it benefits everyone that there’s all these interesting different marketplaces available to you, like creativemarket.com. If you’ve got assets that you’ve created, you’re an illustrator, selling your icons and assets on Creative Market as well as whatever, wallpapers themes, you name it. There’s a lot of interesting, creative ways. If you’re pretty creative, that you can diversify the different ways you’re bringing in money.
Marg: Something jumping back like one step later where you were talking about, okay you need to pivot. I experienced this when I’ve pivoted my business but that like sort of like what if me? There is a decision point, there’s the trying things out and you’re sure doubling down on what works but there is that decision point when you start to have to say no to what you used to do.
Marg: Because people are still coming to you. There’s that fear of if I say no.
Marie: What’s going to happen?
Marg: What’s going to happen? How did you deal with that?
Marie: I feel like my circumstances are very lucky in a way like a right place right time. Rocketship just happens to be taking off kind of thing that I was getting, I didn’t realize this. I had accidentally left my email address on my contact page, and I was like, “Why am I getting so many emails?”
I didn’t realize that, that I’d left that on there. So I was getting three to five emails a day for Notion consulting for teams and whatever. So, I didn’t even have time to answer the email. I was like, “Oh, I have to make, I can’t respond to this, and can’t respond to.” So I was like, “Holy crap.” There was just so much.
Then Twitter, people are mentioning me and asking me tech support questions. Then people also just messaging me for tech support questions, not knowing I’m not a Notion employee. Then I was, “What are the rules around that? Who do I send those to?”
So there was just so much happening that in some ways, I almost had no choice, it’s here in front of me very, very clearly. I felt in a way that it was such a unique opportunity. There was so much momentum and ease there like this would be foolish not to, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll try this even for six months, a year, let’s see what happens. There’s no shortage of revenue here. So if at some point I find that this is maybe not working out.
We forget we pay way more attention to our websites and our brands than anyone else does. We think everyone’s like refreshing and looking. We’re the only ones that are paying that much attention. Someone could not even have known that you went through that pivot, and they check your website again.
So, maybe it depends how extreme that pivot is. One thing I did was I tried to almost have a bit of an in-between language too, which can be kind of helpful, as you’re like, “Oh, maybe I won’t use this word, but I’ll use.” You kind of have to ease into it a little bit or you could just say, “Screw it. I’m just switching that language over, and I’m going all in.”
But I did have a little bit of a transitional copy where I was trying to pull in aspects of my experience and permaculture studies and ecosystems, and thinking in systems and how this has helped me as I think about workflow. So in a way, you have to tell a story, that is really helpful for folks to just understand, well, what is the journey that your experiences taking you on? So when I’m landing on your site, it doesn’t feel like, “Oh, suddenly you’re selling like cat food now when you used to do this other thing?”
Weaving, if you can weave in your past experience and make sure that it is contributing directly to your perspectives in this new angle that can be really, really valuable.
Erik: One thing I’m wondering about because I’m prone to this, I own agency now, and we’re pretty clear about what we’re doing. It’s a specific form of digital content marketing. Most of its blog posts, but maybe we’ll do something like videos or helping with a podcast or something like that. That’s all sort of contained. But a lot of things will come into me. Clients will have ideas for satellite things that we can offer may be different kinds of services or different kinds of consulting.
I’m prone to shiny object syndrome like, “Oh, hey, there’s an opportunity here. Somebody would be willing to pay for this. Maybe we should do it.” I find that I have to be pretty disciplined about making conscious decisions of here’s what we do. Here’s what we don’t.
If I’m thinking about people listening, who might be wanting to pivot I could see people being laggards when it comes to pivoting to their own detriment and not staying with the times. But I can also see a lot of shiny object syndrome people doing it too quickly.
Have you ever had the sense that you were maybe abandoning something too early? How do you resolve that? Is this the right time or am I jumping the gun in your experience doing these pivots?
Marie: That’s such a good question. Because ultimately, you can’t ever really know. I could say, well, we just never really went all-in on the online course stuff. We never blogged about, we never… We could have done ads, we could have, there’s so many things we could have done. But at the end of the day, I knew my heart wasn’t in it. So I knew that that’s one piece of it.
So obviously I’m a little biased like this is this is my own opinion on this like just running a very like values-based businesses. How aligned is this with my skills with what I believe in, what I want to be doing? If it’s a clear yes, and it’s aligned? I’m like, “Yeah, sure, shiny object. I’ll go, I will go chase that shiny object if it feels like it fits in with everything else that I’m doing.”
The other thing is you don’t have to advertise everything that you do. So there’s oftentimes I’ll do something for a client that I’m like, “I’m never going to say that I do this as a service, I’m never going to put it on my site.” But because the connection with that client was great. I knew their business really well, and it made a lot of sense to do that. There’s lots of times I’ve done copywriting for people’s launch funnels and things like that. I’m like, “I’m not a copywriter, and I don’t talk about doing that.”
But that was a service that I happen to do because I just knew their business well enough and was able to pull it off. Is that the best use of my time? Probably not. So, you become a little more discerning maybe overtime to know like, is that a shiny object? Or is that really aligned and that’s kind of where I want to be heading?
So, until you’ve done the work of identifying, like, really doing that deep personal work and really knowing your strengths inside and out, and what feels easy, what feels fun for you, where you get lit up, where flow happens and you’re so in the zone that you forget time and space exists. That to me is like I want to optimize for those activities and reduce anything where there’s resentment.
So that’s how I operate, reduce, optimize for fun and passion and reduce anywhere that I’m like, “This just freaking sucks. Why did I agree to do this?”
Marg: It’s so funny. Something I’ve observed in my own visit, it’s funny when it starts to switch between just the thing, like, “Well, I know I don’t want to do this. I know I don’t like.” Your business almost becomes like, well, I’m going to move towards the way from the things I don’t want to do. But then there’s some point where I don’t know if everybody goes through this switch or not where it’s like, where you’re actively saying no, oh, this is actually what I want to do as opposed to just cutting out things you don’t want to do.
I don’t know if that’s common for anybody else? That’s where I started pruning. When I was generalists communications, just was like, “Okay, cutting out proofreading and cutting out these other things I don’t like report writing.” Like, “We’re not doing this anymore. We’re not.” Just chopping that.
There was a drop in business. Some people might need to be prepared for that like it doesn’t appear doesn’t always come with people knocking down your door.
Marg: That’s so true. It is a risk.
Marie: Sure. It’s absolutely a risk for sure when you’re when you’re taking a big pivot. You bring up a good point that sometimes it’s easier to recognize what you don’t want to do, and then that’s an easy way to say like, “Well, no, we’re no longer doing this.”
Sometimes we get so swept up in our business and we just kind of fall into it. Sometimes you’re falling into a client, you’re just kind of doing what’s in front of you that we forget to take stock of what is my long term vision or where do I want to be heading?
Until you’ve done that longer-term visioning work, sometimes that immediate decisions in front of you can be harder to make because you haven’t been really clear about that. So I try every year to revisit that. I don’t want say there’s like the five-year plan because there’s no plans, it’s more like it’s a vision.
One of the exercises that I had to do is a 25 year. What does my life look like in 25 years? What am I doing? Who am I hanging out with? Where’s my time spent? What did you call it Margaret? A mind?
Marie: Psychological trick. You’re imagining 25 years. That’s a long, long time. It weirdly puts things in perspective when you think about, “Well, I know I don’t want to be stressed out running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I want calmness. I want peace. I want to spend time in the garden. I don’t want to be resentful, like what are the friends and family around me look like?”
When you start to go really, really big long term and then start bringing it back. Well, is what I’m doing today. Are all those things that I’m saying yes to? Are they inching me closer toward that? Or are they distractions? Is it just doing it for the money?
So, to some extent, you have to do some of that long term, even like a year from now, where do I want to be? Then, are these decisions aligned with that? It’s not like I haven’t taken on projects where I’m like, “Well, that’s going to pay the bills in a really nice way. That gives me more freedom over here.” I’ve definitely done that before.
We all sometimes have to do that where it doesn’t tick all the boxes, but it generates enough revenue, that it provides freedom over here. But I think being honest with yourself about the fact that you’re doing that is is really important.
Marg: One hundred percent, I’ve done that I’ve taken on a project like this, it ticks some of the boxes. It’s not where I’m going ultimately but it will enable me to get there. For reasons A, B, and C.
Marie: I’t’s like am I learning something that I can add. Is it like…
Marie: …Giving me something that’s going to contribute to I’m heading long term.
Marg: And runway funding is a runway. I don’t know that sounds very, very fancy for like money’s in the bank so that you can pay the bills.
Meg: Yeah, even leave yourself time to generate products. Right?
Marg: Exactly. Exactly.
Erik: I really like the point about call it pivoting away from misery. The distinction between, are you taking on something to pay the bills because it’s going to enable you to do something more sustainable later? Or are you doing something that makes you miserable, then down because if you’re doing that, what are you doing?
Let’s say you’re you succeed for some definition of success there and you have more of that business that makes you miserable. What are you building towards? So, I think for people listening out there don’t ignore your own misery index. If you hate what you’re doing, find something else.
If what you’re doing is okay, I think you’d probably all agree then the decision as to whether or not to pivot based on revenue and product-market fit and all that becomes more nuanced. But, yeah, the table stakes is you have to be doing something that won’t make you miserable over the course of the duration of doing it.
Marie: Yeah, if you’ve got a portfolio of stuff that you don’t want more of, it’s you’re just going to be attracting more and more of the same stuff. You got to be clear about what you do and don’t want.
Marg: It’s easy to feel trapped too. But it’s having more conversations with people that you do want to be working with, is the path out of that.
Marie: To your point about it’s easy to say, almost to know what you don’t want to do sometimes it’s hard to know what you do want to do. Sometimes you don’t even know what’s possible until you stumble upon it. Like, workflow consulting is a thing people are willing to pay money for like, “Oh, right.”
Sometimes you don’t even know until you’ve stumbled into a niche or you’ve gone, “Oh, this is actually, there’s a term for this. There’s a name like that’s?” I felt like that with digital strategy too, it was like, “Oh, I’m helping my clients make so many decisions around not just their site.”
There’s so much else happening around it that I didn’t even know there was like a term or a phrase or that was a thing people were willing to pay for. Sometimes it can be hard to know. From an actual work standpoint, well, what do I want, when you don’t even know sometimes what is possible either in your industry or peripheral industries.
That’s where I think getting back to your strengths of like, what am I really great at? Where do I really shine? Because then it’s going to be easier to recognize, like, “Oh, if I’m really great at writing reports. So I’m really great at connecting with people, maybe interviewing folks.” You can start to identify those little pockets of possibility in an easier way.
Marg: That’s exactly what I was like, “Oh, I want to be, I want to spend less time on the computer or do writing just by myself and I want to spend more time having conversations.” Who knew testimonials and click client case studies as an offer could be a thing, or full time?
But you start with those little like, “Hey, how can I use my interviewing skills?” And I’ll get like, “Yeah, exactly.” Exactly that, just starting with little nuggets of things, and in those conversations,
Marie: Yeah, if I ever get discouraged, or I’m not sure, I always Google crazy things that people do for a living just to remind myself that you can literally make money doing anything. One time I went down a rabbit hole of there was one guy who’s famous for making those fireplace movies.
Marie: Yeah, and there’s like a different dozen of aquarium stuff, literary. You can specialize. If you’re passionate about it and willing to dig deep and basically do tutorials on it and do the work. I do feel like you can. The chances are pretty good at you being able to make money on almost anything for sure.
Marg: Amazing. Another question I had was around, we mentioned designing your life, designing the life that you want. Sometimes, as everyone knows, that comes with opposition, a lot of the times from like friends and family, and if people see you from what they perceive to be like pivoting too often, or not knowing what you want to do.
You said nobody’s refreshing your site every day. So, your clients and your client base and the people that you’re serving are likely not going to see this. But do you have any advice for people who are close to them, their friends and family have judgment about that? And have judgment about them, continuously shifting to be able to find what it is that they really love?
Marie: So that’s so tough. I feel like my sister’s in that boat too like she’s exploring a lot. I’ve definitely gotten a lot of flack and like, “Oh, you’re flaky or you never finish anything or this or that.” So while I haven’t personally experienced that, I do feel like I’m often her cheerleader being like, “No.”
You’re weird. You’re listening to the data and saying, like, “Okay, that was an idea that I had, that wasn’t a business right there.” That’s something different too, we can have interests we can have hobbies, we can have seasons of things. That’s totally normal, and it’s necessary that you’re going to have to go through a bit of an exploratory experimentation process in the beginning before you really double down on something. I have a hard time listening to anybody’s advice because I’d be like, “I don’t know, how’s your business doing? I’m doing perfect.”
Marie: I do what I want, don’t tell me what to do. But yeah, you only know yourself, where your time and energy needs to be best spent, and do you want to spend the rest of your life in business building something that someone else thinks you should want or need? That’s going to be exhausting?
Well, I just don’t think it’s going to work. If you’re doing something that isn’t actually serving people. You’re not super excited about just because maybe some of your friends or family think it’s a good idea for you. So ultimately, only you know, where your skills and strengths are best aligned.
So it’s going to take a bit of courage, a bit of courage and confidence to just let people know, “Hey, I tried that it wasn’t really working out for me, but I noticed that there were people over here asking for this thing. So, I wanted to see where it went.”
Similarly, you need to surround yourself with people, who whether it’s communities, masterminds, friends, people who are in the same space, and are in the arena. Those are the people whose opinions matter when it comes to business, not like friends and family that have no idea, are not running their own business. Those are not the opinions that you should be taking anything as a business owner.
So, get some support from other people in mastermind groups and communities, run it by folks, ask folks, “Hey, does this sounds like a niche that work, is this appealing? Do you know anyone who would be interested in this service?”
Meg: I agree. Because speaking for myself. Like you said, to kind of scaling back and looking at the big picture, I would 100% rather be trying and failing at a bunch of other things while certain things succeed, as opposed to sitting in a gray cubicle under fluorescent lights for 40 years.
But also I understand that choice too, other people, the security, the benefits, all of that stuff is important to them. So it depends what’s important to you, and the fulfillment and the risk and adventure part of it is actually more important to me personally than the actual stability of it itself for sure.
Marie: That brings it back to values again. Not everybody should start a business, not everybody is interested or cut out or is comfortable enough with the risk of running your own business, and not all of us like the sort of day to day drudgery of things being the same every day.
Security is not as important to me as freedom and exploration. So we have to remember that different people have different values that are going to suit different situations better and so are you accepting information or advice or something from someone who’s projecting their values onto you a little bit.
So the more clear you are, think about what you value, what you need out of your business, it’s going to be a lot easier to ignore, and sort of filter advice that is not really best suited to you.
Meg: Obviously these current circumstances are like… It both provides an opportunity to change business and also like it could also feel like a scarier time to pivot. In some of the other pivots, were there ways that you were just like, did you always do it so quickly? Or was it more nudging towards a certain area? Was there other ways that maybe you tried to baby step your way into a pivot or?
Marie: Yeah, I’ve probably baby steps my way every three months or so. Think there’s been like, “Oh.” Now, I’ve reworded this service on my site, or like, it’s definitely always been a little bit of a shift. I feel like every three months, there’s just like a new cycle. I’m like, “Oh, I’m not doing that one thing. Now it’s this price point.” Increasing price points, even every quarter. Like, “Okay, if enough people are booking me up and I’m booked up solid. It’s probably a good time that my prices need to increase.”
So, every new proposal, it be like, “Oh, now I’m going to do like a productize offer, I’m not going to do proposals anymore. So they have to pick one of these three offers.” It’s just always in a state of experimenting and just listening to what’s been working.
So yeah, I’ve taken a combo of inching, inching forward, changing copy, making little tweaks, changing my bio in a couple of different ways. So, it’s maybe felt like an evolution and sometimes it’s hard to know how people perceive it on the outside.
But another interesting thing too is sometimes you have people reach out. Like somewhat recently, I’ve had several friends that said, “Wow, it’s been nice to see you showing up more fully, you’re putting yourself out there in a way that you never did before.” I found it easier to talk about it. I found it easier to show up, and people were noticing the confidence that came along with that.
So when you feel like things are easy and you’re excited about what you’re working on, it’s a lot easier to show up. One thing that I have struggled with somewhat recently as you said, these are pretty wild times right now Coronavirus, Black Lives Matter. There’s a lot happening and then we’re forced to investigate, “Well, how am I showing up? What courses am I investing in? How much do I talk about those things? How much am I showing what my values are?”
In some ways, I’ve been fairly censored online. There’s, “Well, you want people to like you, and you don’t want to like offend people and whatever.” So there’s been a process for me too of figuring out what is my voice and what am I comfortable talking about? What does that mean for my brand? All of that stuff, I think is… A lot of people are looking at right now like, “How diverse is the group of people that I follow? How diverse are my clients? Whose voices am I following and what messages am I amplifying and what really matters?
So that’s something I’ve been wrestling with recently, it is like, “What is the voice I’m comfortable using online, on social media, in my email newsletters.” Dipping my toe in the water of being a little more overt with my opinions.
That’s a scary thing to do too. If people have maybe seen me as like, “Oh, you’re so nice and sweet online.” As an example, I said the S word in my last newsletter. Someone was like, “Can I offer you some unsolicited advice? You shouldn’t use that word you could have said gettin the stuff done.
Marg: Oh God.
Marie: I was like, “Okay, this is an interesting topic. What is my stance on swearing?” I’ve never actually set that in stone before to say like, “Yes, I swear, no, I don’t whatever.” So it just got me thinking about what is my brand and what I promise versus what am I delivering?”
It just got me thinking about that, that have I been a little too sanitized online that you’re going to be surprised that I would use the S word? So even in terms of pivoting, in terms of what we’re comfortable talking about.
That has been something I’ve been personally thinking a lot about and wrestling with. Like, “What does it mean when your audience increases too, audience kind of blew up since talking more about Notion and Notions of international audience. There’s so many people from all over the world and that’s one of the things I really love about it. But now it means as more people are listening, like “What am I comfortable talking about?”
Marg: There’s more responsibility of it.
Marie: Yeah, yeah.
Marg: Yeah. Which interest which brings up an interesting point too, because there’s almost these like, macro pivots of industry and niche and job and then there becomes these like micro pivots that you do within it, which are like, “Oh, am I okay with swearing?” Yeah, I’m okay with swearing and then the these become… And sometimes these change too.
So there’s almost these sort of micro pivots within yourself, which I think are always happening. That’s why it’s so natural to think that the macro ones will be happening too because we’re like you said, “We’re always changing. We always should be changing.”
Marie: Yeah, it’s only when you get that feedback too. You’re like, “Oh, interesting.” Someone commented on that, and I hadn’t thought about it. Now someone’s calling it out. How do I feel about that? So sometimes you don’t even maybe know how clear you are about something until there’s that feedback loop or a client is upset about something or you share something on social and get called out on something.
So yeah, those micro pivots, I think, also do help shape and solidify, how you feel about something and what your values are.
I went on a little bit of a Twitter tirade because similarly, the more that I’m emailing now, and the bigger my audience is getting, email marketing has been something that is like, I sent a couple email newsletters a year like it’s the hardest, I don’t know why it’s the hardest thing for me. I can make a YouTube video but to email my list is like, “There’s so many people listening and I don’t want to clutter their inbox unless it’s a really valuable thing.”
Marg: It’s so direct.
Marie: I’m always thinking, it’s so hard. I can’t see their face when they’re reading the email to know if it’s landing. Oh, it’s like so much stress.
I had posted a very short email that was talking about, I was sharing my gardening dashboard, Notion template. It’s basically Applying Productivity to the Garden and someone replied… I got 20 replies from that email that we’re like, “Oh, my gosh, this is amazing. Thank you.” Then you get one guy, it just said, “Productivity for me? Sorry.”
You know what that meant, it’s like, “Please only send me things that are related to productivity or something.” I was like, “How do I feel about this?” I was pissed. I was like, “You opted into my newsletter.”
Also, I don’t even say like, get productivity tips. I talk about building life and business ecosystems. There’s just so much in that conversation that even if you’re not a gardener, you could apply, you could look at the template and learn something about what I had done or workflow or whatever, it was applying productivity to the garden.
Obviously, I went on this little tirade, I was like, “What does all that mean? What do I talk about? What should I be talking about?” It got me questioning everything because I’ve already felt self-conscious about what should I be sharing with my audience? What are the conversations that make sense? Does this go deep enough, all of that stuff?
So that was, in a way, not a micro pivot. But it just got me thinking about what do I mean when I say I talk about productivity? Because productivity is a means to an end. You have to apply being productive because it’s what’s the point? It’s, being productive in your life. So you have a life that you don’t hate.
I’m not only going to talk about getting things done and task management. That’s not exciting to me. So how can I be more clear and upfront, on my site, about, “Here’s what you can expect from me, here’s what I talked about. If you want fluffy, getting things done, bit like task management advice like I am not that productivity guru. Here’s like three people you can follow for that.”
So sometimes even a small comment or feedback loop can really hone and refine you like, “Huh, I don’t want to talk about that. Yes, I want to talk about that.” Apparently, I have strong opinions than that.
Marie: Again, you don’t know, until you’re putting yourself out there. That’s the courageous act of just making your opinions known, putting your services and work out there and then refining as you go.
Marie: That’s my rant about that.
Meg: Well, that rent is a perfect place to wrap it up. So at the end of every episode, Marie, we do what’s called picks. So we have one pick of the day. I know if you don’t have one off the top of your head, there’s a bunch that you’ve mentioned throughout the episode, you should use one of those, or you can use one of the picks that you like.
But basically, we go through everyone, ask them what their pick is. We will include that in the show notes afterward. Marie, you want to kick this off?
Marie: Yes, my pick would be the book, Range, especially for this topic. Anyone who’s like struggling with, “Am I a generalist? Am I a specialist? What does it all mean?” Definitely read the book, Range.
Meg: Awesome. Erik.
Erik: Alright, so this week I’m going to pick The Lean Startup in the context of the conversation we’ve been having. It is normally a book that’s in the Silicon Valley world, for funded startups. It has a lot of applicability to the bootstrapping world lifestyle design in the freelancer world. That might be surprising.
It’s good for pivots because a lot of the book is focused on applying the scientific method to different areas of business. If you’re contemplating a pivot, one of the things you want to do is you’re forming a hypothesis, this would be a better way of doing business.
The Lean Startup gives you a framework for evaluating whether it’s succeeding or not, and how to fail fast if it’s not, and getting that data as soon as possible. So, it’s a good one to check out in context of the conversation we’ve had.
Meg: Well, Mag.
Marg: My fix is going to be Marie’s Gardening Dashboard, which I got just about a week or two ago and
yeah, I love it so much. I haven’t been able to, I’m already overwhelmed with, I need to populate this thing with my own plan. I’ve just recently been getting… I’ve got a deck. But I’ve got lots of potted plants out on the deck. I’ve got a couple of houseplants. Oh my gosh, I did not expect.
So, for people that haven’t seen or heard about the [inaudible] that Marie made a lovely Gardening Dashboard in Notion that has so much knowledge in it on. I didn’t expect there to be like all the like, “Here’s what you do in this month of the year for gardening activities.” All that, and when you can start seeds inside and it’s got so much more than I’ll ever use in the next couple of years.
But I’m going save the stuff I don’t use now for later, but I just love that it’s going give me some ways to organize and remind myself how to take care of my plants.
Marie: You should see my versions too, Mag.
Marg: I knew you’d have a garden too.
Marg: I’ve got to get that one too.
Marie: You can get that without a note.
Marg: The annual perennials. Yeah, yeah.
Meg: Oh, amazing. Amazing. Yeah, I like it. Again even just for someone that just started it’s super useful and I’m enjoying it.
Marg: Nice. Because it hasn’t been plugged yet. I’ll use it as my picks, so Marie’s Notion Mastery Course which we will hook up in the show notes. Marie, would you say it’s more intermediate level or how would you explain the leveling if someone’s just starting out with Notion?
Marie: Yeah, probably intermediate. I do cover all the beginner stuff too, but I know it’s a lot for folks. If they’re just starting, it’s probably going to feel like drinking from a firehose. So, generally speaking, a little more on the advanced people that are like comfortable using it day to day but want to take it to the next level.
Meg: Okay, cool. If you’re looking for beginner stuff, you’ve got tons of that on your YouTube too.
Marie: Oh, yeah.
Meg: Okay, Awesome. Thanks so much, Marie. I’m sure I’ll talk to you soon.
Marie: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Meg: But we were all so excited to have you.
Marie: It was pleasant.
Meg: Yeah, hopefully, we will…
Marie: See you on the Internet.
Meg: Yeah, see you on the Internet. We’ll hook up your handles and everything in the show notes. But do you want to just shout out where you can be found?
Marie: Yeah, you can pretty much find me at Marie Poulin on all the different channels, Twitter, at mariepoulin.com, Instagram, Marie Poulin.
Meg: All the things, amazing.
Meg: All right. Well, thanks, Marie.
Marie: Thanks for having me, guys.
Meg: Thank you so much for tuning in for this week’s episode of the Business of Freelancing. We’re so excited, see you next week.