Bite-sized lessons in building an online business that feels good.
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In the online business space where everyone is quick to talk about how they're scaling up their businesses, there aren't nearly enough people talking about what happens when you need to scale back your business. Today, I'm welcoming back Tarzan Kay, one of my favourite ever guests, to have a very raw conversation about her decision to scale back her successful business.
In today's episode we chat about:
– Tarzan's experience running an online business whilst juggling some massive life changes and curveballs.
– How she came to the realisation that she didn't have the capacity to lead her students or her team right now, and the process behind coming to terms with that.
– How she navigated the process of scaling back her business and letting go of her team.
And so much more. I can hand on heart say this was my favourite interview I've done on this podcast to date.
Today, I'm bringing back one of my favourite ever podcast guests, and one of my favourite people in the online space in general – Tarzan Kay. She has been through a lot since the last podcast interview that we did back in May of this year.
And today we're not sharing growth tips. We're not sharing how to get more subscribers or how to write emails that convert as we did in our last episode. But instead of having a very raw and real conversation about juggling business and life and how Tarzan made that decision to scale back her business, why she had to let her team go, how that whole process felt.
I'm going to assume that at that time I probably told the story of everything that led up to where I was at that point. So picking up that story, we had our biggest, and by biggest, I don't mean most money making. We had the biggest launch that we had ever done. It was an affiliate launch and we had so much support. Like I had my team with me and my whole team was five people. Plus I had another team of five people that I had outsourced the whole side of the affiliate promotion. It was such a big undertaking.
We had something like 90 affiliates and so we recruited hard and we trained them, we gave them so much support. We just put everything we had into that promotion, and not only did we do all the things we had planned, but we were really like iterating the whole time, using skills, taking feedback, and addressing objections.
It was by all measures the most grown-up promotion I've ever done. And so I was really proud. It was really grown up and we took outstanding care of our customers. We took really good care of all the people in the promotion. We took care of our affiliates.
I was totally exhausted. So we kind of had to just take the summer and also we had to deliver on the program. I want to give my students a great experience after they've purchased as they had before. So we just really spent the summer delivering on that program.
And I think we did really well. But also I was thinking, Okay, and now what are we going to do next? Because we had the days of doing one promotion that could pay our expenses for the whole year or were over. And it actually used to be that way.
And I also want to say that I'm going through a divorce and also working through a lot of recovery from cults and coercive control and that takes up an enormous amount of energy. There's a lot of all of that personal stuff. I want to acknowledge that I didn't make great spending decisions in my business.
We had many months of calls about what we were going to do for the future of the business. And just for the life of me, I could not settle on one thing. I had so many different ideas. I wanted to do a low-cost membership. We thought about having an agency model as we kicked around so many ideas.
And then finally we said, Okay, we're going to launch a small group mastermind. We'll take a really small number of people, like maybe 12 people, like 10 or $12,000, something like that. And have a really simple promo.
Just for context, there were several things blowing up in my life. A year-long relationship ended. My car broke down. I just found out I had to move all of these things going on in my life. So I was scared and like in a place of not feeling safe and not really knowing how I was going to just manage myself.
I don't think people want to be around this version of me and even if I could somehow summon myself to do this promotion, that would be really unethical of me because I also knew that I wouldn't be able to show up in that way for those people who join a $12,000 program in the early stages of their business, it's often a really big decision.
They really need to be supported. They really need to feel good about their decision. They really need someone to be there for them. And I wasn't actually sure that I could. But I also knew that if we didn't do this promotion, we were just going to burn through all of our capital.
And so I called a friend of mine and I just want to pause the story to acknowledge something. I got an email from someone who had attended one of my workshops and she said, I really don't like the way you're talking about the way you let go of your team. It feels like you're using it for content.
I actually received that feedback, so I do want to acknowledge that in business, there's always the next turning of the wheel. And that's something that I've actually just realised and I'm not really sure how to manage that because I also really do want to talk about scaling back.
I think it's a conversation that not a lot of people are having. So speak about realising that I needed to let my employees go. I want to be careful not to be callous because that was a hard decision. But I also realised at that moment that the expense of my own well-being was huge.
Even though I never actually entertained the possibility that I might make a change in my business as I did have some fantasies of like, Oh, what if I did something else? What if I just like gave this whole thing up?
Those thoughts kind of swam through my head and I just chased them away. I can't even say, maybe like rock bottom. I think there is something to that. It wasn't just like business is frustrating and hard because it's always frustrating and hard, but I think it was really like those things in my life that it has just become so hard.
That I just reached my limit. One day I reached my limit and realised that I had to make a change. But I don't know how. I wish I had a better answer because I know a lot of people struggle with that and I'm grateful that I had Sandra because Sandra was my OBM and she's been with me for seven years and she all along was fighting the fight with me.
Whatever we got to do, what's the next thing? Okay, this thing works. So, I do think having a sober second thought is really important. I've been really lucky to have her with me in my seven years of doing business but those decisions like that are such big decisions.
And in the end, the decision did come from me. But that's really not a decision that should be made without really talking to someone and examining all angles.
Maybe in time, I will figure that out. I do think a lot of my journey of the last two years, maybe it's even three years in my business, has been like really deconstructing what this industry, how this industry works and, how persuasion is harmful, I'm still not sure.
I'm still figuring out how to use persuasion in a way that is not harmful. And oftentimes, it's a lot clearer when I'm working with clients. This is like you have three exclamation points and this is in red. Like you could tone that down a bit like make it blue and take away the exclamation points, a problem solved.
So it's really easy to see in other people's businesses, I think. When I look back on this a few years from now, what I will probably see is Tarzan going through a lot, like carrying a really heavy boulder of trauma on her back that she's trying to deal with, and she's also trying to show up as a leader and a business owner.
And that's just too much to carry. I think that will probably be the conclusion when I look back because I do launching but it’s hard right now but people are still doing it. It's not like people are folding their businesses right, left and center, because the industry's collapsing. There are still people buying, there are still people successfully selling. I don't think I will look back on this as necessarily a big business failure. I think it will really just be that I may look back and wish that I had let it go a little bit sooner because I maybe didn't need to push myself so hard.
Maybe I didn't need to spread myself so thin but on the other hand, I did need to see it through to the bitter end.
And then I had to leave, but I was able to leave knowing I tried all the things that I know how to do. And I think in that case, I did need to do that. We did need to do that affiliate launch, we needed to like try some things that actually didn't really work and weren't really good.
I just needed to try them all so that I could confidently be like, Hey, I literally did everything I know how to do. And some of it worked, and some of it didn't. But I'm not just going to keep going on in this way because at some point I just need to take a breath.
That's what I need right now. I'm not leaving the industry as I have two clients that I'm working with and I'm really excited about these projects. I have this one client who teaches parents how to talk to their kids about consent and boundaries, and we're working on a sales funnel for her.
I have Sandra, we had been meeting weekly to figure out our plan for the future. And once we made this big change, we started meeting weekly to figure out what we were doing to scale down. So like one of the first things we did was review all of the software that we were using and like cancel like a million different software subscriptions, review all our expenses.
Do we need this? Do we not need this? We had to renegotiate certain things, you know, my bookkeepers on contract. I no longer need payroll and all of these things. So there were several things that needed to be renegotiated with contractors. And I also renegotiated my contract with Sandra because we also had to kind of sit down and decide what do I want to do going forward and what do I not want to do.
And so things like customer service, uploading emails, making website edits, like all those things. I definitely do not want to go back there. So, we had to negotiate a new package so that she and her team could take care of that. So she's kind of in more of a virtual assistant role.
She still does some online business management tasks for sure. And she's still there for me to say about these things, what do you think? She still does a lot for me but she also handled a lot of the scaling back activities and in terms of going forward, I felt really good taking on those two clients that I took on in the summer.
I am really enjoying working with them. And I also notice sometimes, I'm actually at capacity serving these clients. I don't just do sessions with them. I watch their webinars. I like to sift through their survey data and find copies for their sales pages.
I'm doing a lot between sessions. I'm not just saying, go do this thing in your business, which I love. I love being hands-on. I'm like really surfing a big wave right now of hard things in my recovery, I often have days where I just cannot work.
I cannot do anything. I just need to put all my energy into regulating. I have to be on the couch with a weighted blanket listening to an audiobook or in the bathtub so I can be a bit unpredictable in that way. So until I have more stability within myself, I will not take any more clients at that level.
I have one wrapped up. So I think I could handle two. I would never at this stage as I would on a sales call, I will say like, Hey, this is what I can offer you right now, and it sometimes happens that I need to reschedule a session because I can't provide good service for you and I need you to be okay with that.
I didn't want to sell that $10,000 mastermind thing because I knew I couldn't be in leadership in that. I really am very careful about what kind of work I take on, and what I'm actually promising to potential clients. So I'm actually not sure right now what I'll do with future clients, but I do have a plan for email stars.
I have a program about copywriting and we just put the sales page up, so it's just available. People can buy it whenever. To be honest, I don't like it, I know courses don't really sell that way, but it's there and it's available and I'll be able to write a sales email now and then, and that course is completely passive.
So, I'm still figuring it out. I haven't written it down yet. I'm just working with my coach, talking about it. But, because I don't have all of these expenses to carry anymore. I actually can afford to take a small group and offer a really more personal, small group experience and potentially could be just as profitable for me.
So that to me is like really exciting. And it also sounds way more fun. I've loved working with clients, I like getting my hands on things. I don't know if people will buy that. I don't think it will be too difficult to sell 20 spots, but I actually don't know. And promotions-wise, I haven't done this yet, but this is what I'm thinking.
So at the time of recording, it's November 9th. What I'm thinking is that I'm going to open and enrol basically till the end of the year and then actually start the delivery in January. And I really like the idea of having a spacious enrollment period. If someone wants to talk to me, I could have a short call with them.
I want to give myself time. I don't know if it will work. But I can afford to experiment and figure out what will work. To make a decision without pressuring them, like to make a snap decision versus not exhausting yourself to the point where then you can't deliver. But I think having that nice break before you start delivering it, I there is so much value in that.
I think it's underpriced as it is. I love the idea of that small group.
No, I didn't. I actually have already been on that journey. I made all of this money in my early years I was like, Oh my God, I have a million-dollar business. And I definitely made that my identity. And then I had to figure out who am I.
Because I didn't really find that very satisfying and don't get me wrong, it's an enormous privilege to be financially stable and it shouldn't be a privilege to be financially stable, but it is. And I'm really grateful for that.
And I initially was way over-identified with the money that I was making. But you know, I'm wearing like glitter pants and I'm like, there are these early photo shoots where I'm like throwing money all over the place.
Like I was way over-identified in my business. And it actually wasn't until I started doing anti-racism work that someone in my community actually called me in and said, Hey lady, you got some problems here. And I started looking at that and that led me to an exploration of persuasion and how it's used and changing so many things in my business.
But I definitely had that identity crisis when I was like, Oh, okay, this is a thing that I've been doing is harmful and also doesn't work for people who don't look and talk to me. So I guess what I'm saying is I had that crisis like three years ago.
This is really common with people who are successful. I heard this story. It was someone telling a story about another story, so I can't even trace the origin of it, but it was like this soccer player who had this dream since he was a child of winning the World Cup for England.
This guy, he's a child. I'm going to win the World Cup for England his whole life. This is the whole dream. He scores the winning goal and England wins the World Cup.
And he said in an interview that the depression set in, it was like his foot had not even connected with the ball and he realised that he had like built his whole life around this one goal and that was actually not going to be where he would find meaning. It's easy to say, and I think for people that just want to make their seven figures, they're like, Okay, fuck off.
Like, let me figure this out for myself. And that's fine. I also had to like make my seven figures and realise, Oh, this actually doesn't give me meaning. So yeah, maybe we have to get the thing out of the way. But you know, to summarise, I had my identity crisis. So, you know, by the time it got to a place where I let my employees go, I already was really detached from identifying anymore with my success.
And even now, when people say to me, I meet someone new and they're like, Oh yeah, what do you do for work? I'm like, you know those people on the internet that are like, make seven figures tomorrow. I was one of those. That was me. And now I'm like trying to figure out what to do next because actually, it worked, but it worked. But I also realised it was predatory and I had to do it differently.
Well, so a really important part of my recovery has been learning how to camp. And I had this boyfriend who was really into camping and canoeing and I just desperately wanted him to teach me how to camp, but the relationship was really tumultuous and I figured out at a certain point that he was never going to teach me how to camp.
And if I wanted to learn how to camp, I had to teach myself. I actually took an online course for $20. I bought this program. I started with a podcast actually. I started with the podcast and the podcast guest said, I have this $20 course. And I was like, Okay. And I watched all these classes about backcountry camping and like scrounged up equipment from friends and I rented a canoe and I watched TikTok videos about how to tie knots.
I literally did not know anything. I don't know, even how to pitch a tent, I had to like pitch it in my yard and make sure I could do it. And I have discovered something that's been a really important part of my healing, which is that I love camping.
I had no idea and I'm having like a love affair with camping. I can't even believe it. I love it so much and I didn't even discover this about myself until 38 years old. And, you know, I do all kinds of dumb things and in some ways, I'm lucky that I haven't gotten myself in trouble.
But, I just learned the basics of survival. I was like, Okay, how do I not get eaten by bears? How do I not freeze? How do I not starve? And then I'm okay. As long as I can stay alive, I know that I'm okay. And that felt really good. It's been really wonderful, empowering thing for me at this difficult stage of life, I think.
But it is such an empowering thing and I think also it's a really great way to detach from everything else. It's like, wow. If everything else were to go belly up, if my business were to run out of money, if I had to sell my house and have literally nothing, just me and my tent and my dehydrated meals.
I'd be okay. And it's kind of a cool feeling and it's so empowering. It's helped me a lot in my life, given me a lot of confidence to know that I'm not my business and I actually don't feel embarrassed. I don't feel shame. I don't feel less of a person. In fact, I feel even prouder and stronger because I'm not my revenue.
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