In eight years, I’ve worked with a lot of entrepreneurs. Some more successful than others. The ideas are always good, the passion is always high. But the clients who have made their businesses soar? They all share one common trait:
A bias toward action.
Look up “go getter” in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Renee Metty, one of my most cherished clients. I consider her a serial entrepreneur. Renee started a successful preschool in Seattle called The Cove School that was already off and running when we first worked together on an event planning business she wanted to launch. While that business was successful, her heart was not really in it. But what she was passionate about? Mindfulness, presence and creating more balance in the world, like she was doing at her school. So more recently, I helped her launch WithPAUSE, which offers mindfulness coaching, workshops and training designed to help people live richer, deeper and more fulfilling lives, both at home and at work.
In this interview, Renee shares her (not so) secrets when it comes to building a successful business: Failing fast, scoring speaking engagements, setting goals vs. intentions (and which one is better for your business), facing fear and how to focus. Enjoy our chat!
Maria Ross: Welcome to Red Slice, Renee! You are a very successful entrepreneur with at least three businesses (that I know of) under your belt. What I love about you is that you proactively commit to moving your ideas forward. What do you think drives you from idea to action?
Renee Metty: I’m a huge believer of failing fast and I know that nothing happens without action. Once I have an idea that I feel is viable, then I try it. I want to see if it’s going to work. I will say that there’s a huge difference between what I’m doing now and when we met when I was doing wedding planning. Very different intentions with very different outcomes, and I think they’re directly correlated.
MR: What do you mean by different intentions?
RM: When I started the wedding planning business, my intention was basically, “How can I make the most amount of money and work the least amount of time?” (laughs) It was fun and it was semi-glamorous and I liked the project management side of it, but it was very external. What I’m doing now is completely driven from the inside. There is pretty much zero focus on money and strategy. But it’s more about focusing on I can do and how I can contribute and that mindset is what keeps me in flow. (TWEET THIS!) I’m doing something I love and opportunities keep popping up. I slowed down and listened. I’m paying attention and I’m following my heart to the point where I feel like I’m driving the opportunities in a lot of ways.
RM: It’s like “Oh, this is where I’m supposed to be right now. I’m going to go with it and see what happens.”
MR: But obviously you’re taking proactive steps, too. Speaking engagements don’t just fall into your lap, for example. What has been your approach?
RM: It’s very general. My approach is to ask myself how I can add value to a community or society. Then when opportunities pop up, I ask two questions: Is it something I want to do, and, is it something that adds value? Sometimes it’s both, and sometimes it’s one of them. There are a few conferences I know that are good for networking or just getting my information out there, so I can spread my message. But honestly, the rest do fall in my lap. When I had my first few speaking engagements, I was reading a lot about how to get more. And over and over again, I found the advice, “If you want to speak, speak!” You’ve got to keep speaking. From one speaking opportunity comes other opportunities. Maybe the underlying thing is that you focus on connecting with people. I’m talking about less of the networking kind of connection and more about just being open to others, listening to people and staying really curious about where they are and what they want.
MR: But you proactively pursued those initial speaking engagements, right?
RM: The first one, I did not! Someone from Seattle Interactive asked me if I thought about speaking. I had already set the intention three months prior that I wanted to speak and share my mindfulness message with others.
MR: It’s kind of like the whole philosophy of “the things on which you put your attention and focus get done….”
RM: Without a whole lot of effort.
RM: Honestly, I’m not trying. I’d say 10 to 20 percent is me trying, but it would be something like “I want to be international” and then someone tells me “Oh, there’s a Montessori conference that’s in Prague this year; you should apply to it.” And then I look into it. There’s no such thing as luck; as Oprah says, luck is just opportunity meeting preparedness.
RM: And so there’s the opportunity, I’m fully prepared to take action on it and when it presents itself, and I do something about it. But also, I’m listening. I’m paying attention and I’m doing what I love so the right things are coming my way.
MR: You are such a delight to work with because you hash out your brand and message first, but then take immediate action. When starting these businesses, what has been the benefit of creating your brand strategy first before you build your website or start your marketing?
RM: I think it’s getting in front of the right people. Something I learned in my recent coaching certification class, which I love, is, “When you’re saying ‘no’ to something, what are you saying ‘yes’ to?” And the other way around: “When you’re saying ‘yes’ to this, what are you saying ‘no’ to?” It helps you prioritize. Something I learned from you is that if you’re writing a proposal or going to a networking event, if you don’t have a brand strategy or an ideal client in mind first, you’re just kind of spinning your wheels. I’d rather put myself in front of 100 people that may actually want my services than 1,000 people where I’m shooting blindly at a target.
RM: Then there’s the 80/20 rule. My dad was in business so I’ve heard it for a long time: 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers or efforts. When you understand that, it’s huge! When I went into mindfulness training and speaking, it really was to have a broader reach and know that if I can impact people more deeply, that, even if my reach was broad but I had just a few people listening and coming back for more, then that’s where I really wanted to focus. Which is where the brand strategy comes into play: helping you focus.
MR: For entrepreneurs who are still in the same place with their business or idea that they were two years ago, what advice can you offer? People that don’t see the results they crave or are sort of flailing, doing a lot of work but not getting any traction?
RM: I think the biggest thing is seeing if they can get to the core of what they love to do, in general. I’m a huge “list” person so having them make a list of things they want to be doing: where do they want to be focusing their time and energy – and a list of what they are actually doing. Start from there to see if there’s any overlap. Then you can go back to the idea of “if you’re saying ‘yes’ to this, what are you saying ‘no’ to?” If you’re doing all these things but you really don’t like doing them, then you’re saying no to all these things you want to do. I talk a lot about shifting perspective. I think that is the biggest lesson: you have to shift your perspective and focus on contribution. What value are you giving whomever, whether it’s your client or society or your industry, and start from there. That can be really hard because that’s not tied to dollars.
MR: That’s why many people don’t understand why mission and purpose are part of the brand strategy, but it’s got to start from there. If you don’t believe it, if you don’t buy what you’re selling, why should anyone else care? They’re not going to be your customers for the sole purpose of making you money; that’s not what’s going to light them up inside.
RM: And it’s your presence around it. If you’re super excited about what you’re doing, that excitement comes out. And it’s infectious.
MR: One last thing for you, Renee: Because you’re so action-oriented, it seems like you have no fear. You follow the principle of failing fast: you’re willing to try it and just go out there. If someone said ‘Apply to this conference’ and you didn’t have your – pardon my language – s**t together, you’d still apply. That’s what I love about you. You’re like ‘I’ll figure out the rest later!” What do you think gives you that confidence or ability to overcome your fear and how would you advise someone stuck in “paralysis analysis?”
RM: Yeah. First of all, I do have fear!
MR: Right! We all do. It’s not about the absence of fear, it’s about overcoming it.
RM: You know, part of my fear was fear of success, which I figured out recently, but I think what I always know that whatever happens is exactly where I’m supposed to be. They’re not isolated incidents. I have fear that one day I’m going to bomb some presentation or just go blank or something but I also know it’s pointless to even think about that. People get into that cycle so it’s best to dig deeper and figure out the rationale underlying that fear. What’s the worst thing that can happen? How I overcome it is by taking action, because the only way to overcome fear is by taking action and then knowing that any type of ‘failure’ is a learning opportunity.
MR: Right. There’s simply an outcome; it’s not positive or negative.
MR: It’s an equal reaction, a cause and an effect. Whatever that effect is, you’re going to learn something from it.
RM: And more recently, I’ve realized that I’m not attached to any particular result or outcome. That’s huge. With all this stuff happening for me, more opportunities coming up and saying yes to a lot of things, some people have said ‘You have so much on your plate but you seem so relaxed’. It’s because I don’t attach to any particular outcome and I think that’s where a lot of stress comes in. It’s like ‘Oh my gosh, I applied to this conference, I really want to speak at it!’ and they’re just focused on “Am I going to get it or not?” and then they get the opportunity to speak and then they’re focused on “Are they going to like it, is it going to go well?” and I just don’t think about that at all.
MR: How do you marry that, or reconcile that, with having goals, though?
RM: There’s a podcast that I love that I listened to before I had this perspective with Tim Ferris and Leo Babauta and it was their little fun, playful argument about goals versus intentions. And at the time, I was thinking, “You’re crazy, Leo. I get it but you do need goals.” I was siding with Tim Ferris but I got what Leo was saying. Now it’s like ‘Oh my Gosh, I’m on Leo’s side. I have no goals!’
MR: Totally. Personal story: I started setting yearly “themes” rather than goals the last few years; I used to be the list person with the bullet points every year in my resolutions: my fitness resolutions, my work resolutions. It’s probably not the soundest business strategy but I don’t have revenue goals anymore.
RM: I do think that’s sound.
MR: Yeah, I think it’s sound when you’re working with yourself; I don’t know if it’s sound if you’re running a 1,000-person corporation! It’s kind of the complete opposite of what I’ve taught about marketing metrics, but it’s this idea of loosely setting intentions: ‘These are the things I want to accomplish.” I now pick themes for the year instead of resolutions and then I back all my actions into supporting those themes!
RM: Yeah. The bottom line is, is your bottom line moving? You know that when you run a business you have to have revenue and profit to stay afloat. Having said that, if you get super-specific about goals, you may be missing out on other opportunities that could work out as well. You have to be open to the fact that your goal might not be the right goal. With intention, it’s much more open and spacious for almost anything to happen and it’ll put you in the right place at the right time. I don’t have goals. I feel like anytime I think ‘I probably should have some goals’ and move towards them, it falls apart. This has been working for me so far and I’m going with it.
MR: I love it. And that’s why, honestly, when I do brand strategy work with clients, it’s strategy, yes, but it’s really all about focus. It’s not necessarily, ‘We’re going to penetrate these three markets by the end of the year’ and blah, blah, blah…
RM: Right. And the difference between intention and a goal, I think, is there is no attachment to outcome when you have an intention, whereas goals are very measurable and there is an attachment to outcomes. What happens for a lot of people is, how are you responding to those outcomes? You don’t hit your goals. And if that derails you….
MR: You’re devastated.
RM: And it doesn’t help anybody.
MR: And often I find it’s one thing if you can tell yourself ‘I’m going to set this numeric l goal. I’m going to sell 1,000 books this month.’ However, it’s another thing for you to be able to tell your psyche ‘That’s my goal and that’s what I’m shooting for and anything that I do short of that is still okay because, bottom line, I’m still selling books!” But I think a lot of people can’t do that for themselves. They think, if they only sell 950, they’ve failed.
RM: Right. And really when I hear that and I look at ‘I’m going to sell 1,000 books’ and if I’m only at 500, that for me is an opportunity to say ‘Why did I only sell 500 and what do I need to do differently if I want to get that number to move?’
MR: It guides ‘This is where I am’ but I think there’s an emotional aspect to this type of goal-setting where some people can do it and be okay – they know in their head that they’re not actually going to get that number but they’re driving the actions towards it – so whatever they get is gravy.
RM: It comes to, what is your perspective going in?
MR: Right. And I think it’s so hard to teach people that. To tell them to set a goal but hold it loosely so you have something to aim for but if you don’t reach it, it’s okay.
RM: And there’s an emotional intelligence piece to it because when you have some strong emotional intelligence you’re able separate the goal from your identity. So you’re able to look at it neutrally without equating “less books equals less me.”
MR: Right. The goal is actually just there to spur the movement. Like when I talk about the upward trajectory of your brand. As long as things are moving in the right direction, that’s a good thing.
RM: Which is why if you can focus on your intention, which is “What are you contributing? You’re contributing value to 500 people!” Not “I only sold 500 books.” That shift for people to focus on contribution is huge if they can make it, which I know is a tough thing to do.
MR: Great stuff, RM. Thanks for being here!