Chris Brogan is CEO & President of Human Business Works, a business design company that uses publishing and media to provide tools and smarts to help professionals work better, do the work they want, and be brave. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of The Impact Equation and a sought-after professional keynote speaker.
Click to tweet: Fire Nation, Chris shares his incredible journey on EntrepreneurOnFire today!
- “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson click to tweet!
- Chris had a doozy of a failure in 2011, to the tune of $330,000 in one year to be specific! How did he pull this off? By forgetting one KEY principal.
Entrepreneurial AHA Moment
- Chris realized how people were viewing/consuming his products and services, and made an incredible switch that is sure to provide ample return.
- Chris has written a book he could not be more proud of… and he doesn’t say this about just any book. The Impact Equation. Check it out.
Small Business Resources
- EverNote: Remember everything.
- Google Drive: Store all your files, including documents, photos, videos and Google Docs online, and access them from anywhere.
Best Business Book
- Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron
- You Are Your Own Gym by Mark Lauren
- The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle
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John Lee Dumas: Okay. Let’s get started. I am simply thrilled to introduce my guest today, Chris Brogan. Chris, are you prepared to ignite?
Chris Brogan: Let’s ignite!
John Lee Dumas: Oh, wonderful! Chris is the CEO and President of Human Business Works, a business design company using publishing and media to provide tools and smarts to help professionals work better, do the work they want and be brave. He is The New York Times bestselling coauthor of “The Impact Equation” and a sought after professional keynote speaker that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing twice live.
I’ve given Fire Nation a little overview, Chris, but take a minute. Tell us a little bit about you personally – where you are, how old you are, where you’re from – and then another minute about your business.
Chris Brogan: I’m an old man.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Chris Brogan: I’m 42 years old. You know what I mean? I’m like two of John. So I am born and raised in Maine. I live down in Massachusetts now. I was born in Waterville, but it was just because I was visiting my aunt. I was raised mostly in Augusta. So there. That’s where I was on the planet. I live in the northern part of Massachusetts and I do a lot of my living on airplanes, it seems, flying around and doing speaking and consulting with usually pretty big companies or whatever. My journey, I guess, has been pretty – like I’ll give you the tiny arch, and I guess then we’ll explode it throughout the conversation.
John Lee Dumas: Exactly.
Chris Brogan: I love it! I’m ignited already.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Chris Brogan: I started – like my first, first ever job was really like what kids do. Like I worked at a library, I worked at a grocery store. That kind of stuff. And then I got into the phone company because my mom worked there, and one day she was like, “Hey, there are jobs at the phone company. You should go down and get one.” “Okay.” That’s how life was for me for many years. That was like my level of commitment to everything. “Oh, okay.” And then one day, I was sitting on a couch and I saw those pledge drives at PBS. Those where they put on their best stuff to try to get some loot so you can get a tote bag.
John Lee Dumas: Oh yes.
Chris Brogan: It was Les Brown, Live Your Dreams, and it was like a motivational speaker thing. And then I went, “Wow!” That started me on this crazy journey, and I went from just being some guy at the phone company to being a manager at the phone company. I left that company. I went to a wireless telecom, which my mom thought, oh God, you’re going to die! I really enjoyed that. I was in telecom for about 16 or so years. I left that around 2006 right after starting my very first ever event called “PodCamp” with Christopher Penn. I went to work with Jeff Pulver who was running a show called “VON,” which was Voice On the Net, but he also had this other show called “Video On the Net.” So I ran his show with him and I also was the Community Manager for a startup that we tried together called Network2. Then after that, I left and went to this other company, CrossTech, where I started up a new company inside of the company called “New Marketing Labs.” I ran that for a little while. I sold it to them and turned it into something else. I took off, and somewhere along the way, I started yet another company called “Human Business Works” that I run with Rob Hatch, who is a guy I knew from seventh grade that I reconnected with somewhere around 2002, I guess it was. It’s just been funny stuff ever since. We started off doing some kind of high level consulting work with really big companies, and have recently turned the model around entirely to do publishing and media for professionals of a [midsized] company. Just the individual humans as opposed to the organizations. So there. That’s my arch. Oh, and I wrote a bunch of books. I wrote a bunch of books.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] We’ll definitely delve into that more later. Thank you for that recap. Really, besides the fact that we’re both from Maine, I already feel that connection because it’s such a small populated state, even though it’s quite large size-wise. I feel like I know you so much better now even though I’ve read your books and seen you live. So I just know that Fire Nation has already made a great connection with you, and let’s use that to move into our next topic, which is the success quote because we start every show off at EntrepreneurOnFire with our guest’s favorite success quote. So Chris, what do you have for us today?
Chris Brogan: Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Do not go where the road may lead, but go where there’s no road and leave a trail,” which is to say do it your own way. Just because someone had success doing it down this road doesn’t mean anyone else is going to. Buddha, “If you see Buddha on the road, kill him,” it’s the same quote.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] Chris, give us an example of how you apply this quote to your life.
Chris Brogan: Oh my God, that’s like my whole life. I mean, I got involved in social media long before it was called social media. I was in bulletin board services and stuff like that in the ‘80s. I just really felt for a really long time that community was part of business and I just think that it took all the way until around 2006 before I found a way to start weaponizing that and starting to make business out of that. As far as going my own road and leaving a trail, when we started PodCamp, Chris Penn and I, neither of us had any events starting experience at all. We were like, “What do we do? I don’t know. Well, we need some sponsors. Okay. Well, let’s like reach out to people we know who run companies and ask them for money.” And like we really literally like put together an email together and sent it out, and one of the first guys who wrote back was like, “That’s awesome! What do I get?” We’re like, “Oh. I guess those sponsors need something back. Oh! I don’t know. What do you want?” It was so embarrassing, but he was such a great friend and he became friends with us for years. By the way, like his thousand bucks that he spent with us at that first ever PodCamp, we’ve given him hundreds of thousands of dollars since. So it turned out to be a good investment for him.
John Lee Dumas: That’s just good karma too. He was investing in people that he believed in and a product or a service that he believed in, and it’s come back to him tenfold, or literally a hundredfold. So that’s wonderful. So Chris, thank you for sharing that success quote and thank you for giving that example of how you apply it to your life. Let’s transition now to the next topic, which is failure, because EntrepreneurOnFire, it’s about the journey of an entrepreneur. You’re spotlighted entrepreneur, so it’s about your journey, and we all as entrepreneurs experience failure or challenges or obstacles that we have to overcome. Can you share one of those with Fire Nation, and then tell us how you overcame this failure or challenge?
Chris Brogan: Not me. I never fail. What are you talking about?
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Chris Brogan: I just was dying to say that. No. I fail all the time. I fail so frequently that it’s amazing that I seem successful. In 2011, for example, I lost over 400,000 of my own dollars just sort of chasing all these different ideas. It’s really weird. I was talking to a guy yesterday, a fellow entrepreneur type guy. He goes, “You spread too thin. You did too many things.” I was like, “Yeah!” It was like he didn’t even have to ask me any questions. He just knew. I did what anyone does. You get a little successful, you get a big head. You start doing exactly the opposite of all the advice you ever read. The advice says keep your head on one thing, work that one thing, dance with the one that brought you and all that stuff, and you’re like, “Ah! But I’m different. I can multitask like crazy! You should see how many tabs are open on my Google Chrome!”
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Chris Brogan: This has nothing to do with reality! So I blew it and lost a lot of money. The way I recovered was the absolute way that everyone should recover, which is I just put my head down and worked hard and put the money back in the bank all through 2012, and I’m on track to a really great 2013 because I pared down every branch of the tree. This is just a straight up vertical tree with one leaf on it, and it’ll produce fruit, I’m sure.
John Lee Dumas: That’s very interesting. I’m kind of curious how you think about this theory. I always hear that if the wealth was redistributed throughout the entire world so everybody had say the exact same $112,000 if we just redistributed the wealth across the entire world, in 20 years people say it would look exactly similar to what we have today. Because of the experience and knowledge that people have, they’re the ones that will build it up to where they have. Is that kind of how you look at it where you may have had a setback financially in some areas, but you have the knowledge and experience to get back on your feet and move forward? How do you use that?
Chris Brogan: I have two ways to talk about that. One was that my friend Joe says to me one day, “I feel if I was dropped down into any city in the world with no resources or nothing to my name, I could get up and running and start a business and be successful in a month’s time.” I said, “I could probably do that too.” I’ll tell you the second story. I had somebody in to clean my house. I’ve never had a housecleaner in my life. I felt like a total bourgeois pig to do it, but I’m a male and I’m not very good at this, so I asked somebody in to clean my house. He was so resourceful and such a business guy, and he barely speaks English and I don’t speak great Spanish. But we had this great conversation about that work is all around you. You just have to ask for it.
So I think that it’s totally true. Richard Branson started from nothing. He did not have a leg up on anybody. He owns a damn island. I totally believe that theory. I think that if wealth was distributed all over, the same people would squander it, the same people would not value education, the same people would not take risks, and it would absolutely redistribute the same way.
John Lee Dumas: Well said. Thank you. Let’s use that to transition to our next topic, which is the other end of the spectrum. That’s the aha moment because just like all entrepreneurs face failure, we also have these wonderful little things called “aha moments” where we just really get inspired every single day when we have these new ideas because we’re failing and we’re learning from those failures and we’re making amends, etcetera. Can you share with us a big light bulb that came on at some point in your journey as an entrepreneur and how you reacted to that?
Chris Brogan: I never read people’s questions ahead of time, and now I’m thinking, darn! I should’ve read your questions ahead of time. I mean that’s just a great question. This is probably a family show. I was going to liken it to another act and I was going to say you get a lot of these in your life and you’re lucky. So aha moments come a lot of times when you realize something that you’ve heard a lot of times, but it just finally stuck into you. There’s this thing at advertising. It takes like, I don’t know. I’ll make up a number. It takes like 53 impressions before you decide to buy the burger that you’ve seen on TV. I think this is true with how we learn, period. I think we need repeated exposure to an idea before we really own it and make it ours.
So an aha moment in my life was redesigning my company for 2013 was just really looking at the media that I produced. I mean I have a belief that all companies, no matter what they do, must also be a media company in 2012 and 2013 and beyond. That’s just the nature of getting attention and doing business these days. In doing this, I thought, well, yes, but not making a lot of media doesn’t equal making business happen. So my aha moment was just sort of like, okay, so this will lead to this, which will lead to this offer, which will lead to this thing. And so that even if something is free and available and you could make good value out of it, there’s a gentle invite towards the thing that will make me money at every turn in the road now. So that’s one change, and that has actually yielded some difference in my business, so I’ll call that one good for now.
John Lee Dumas: That’s a great aha moment. Now, what specific action did you take – just one – to really make that aha moment real for 2013?
Chris Brogan: Well, so I redesigned how I deliver all the courses and the material I’m putting out. So for example, there’s a course that will be starting in the very beginning of the year called “Brave New Year” that helps people with their visioning and their planning and how to do their business a little bit better or their personal lives, but towards business as well. What I’m doing to put it together is a month or so before Brave New Year, I’m giving away a free webinar that will give the basic steps of goal and vision planning. That’s because I figure that’s something that people will need and they’ll be thinking about near the end of the year. That’ll be a gentle lead into Brave New Year. Should they sign up for Brave New Year – it’s a course and it runs, I don’t know, either 8 or 12 weeks – then that will be something to keep you focused on your plan and your growth.
Thereafter, I’m going to have a follow-on, what I call the practice part of things, which is to keep this thing going. I think a lot of times we buy a course online or we buy a book or something like that. We read it, we put it away, and we instantly forget it. So what I’m doing instead is I’m doing something like vitamins to make sure that you keep the course alive inside you by giving you weekly information and reminders based on the thing that you put together for an additional charge. So there’s a free element, there’s a thing you pay some amount of money for, and then there’s another charge if you want to sort of stretch that experience out for part of or the rest of the year. That’s one of the ways that my aha moment put me together.
John Lee Dumas: That is a fresh new way of looking at things. Thank you so much for allowing Fire Nation to kind of crawl inside your mind and really understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. That’s just such valuable information and exactly what we’re looking for here. On that note, Chris, have you had an I’ve made it moment?
Chris Brogan: Oh my goodness. What a great question. It’s a difficult question though because I think it’s really tough. I think you have to sort of not believe your hype. I’m very, very, very committed to the idea that the minute I think I’m all that and a bag of chips, I’ll start [Unintelligible], I’ll fail, and it will be terrible. Interviewing Sir Richard Branson was one of my moments where I was like, “This is good.” Then any time when I’m speaking and I speak with more than 1,000 people, that always feels like that because I’m just looking out on the sea of human heads and thinking, “Wow! Look at all these people!” Being on the Dr. Phil show kind of felt like that. So I mean there’s just been lots of little times like that, but no, there’s no private jet waiting for me. I don’t own an island and I’m not in the Forbes 400 yet. So I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve made it in those ways, but I define success, John, as this: success equals being able to say no to whatever I want to say no to so that I can say yes to the things I want to say yes to.
John Lee Dumas: Chris, thank you for sharing that. It just really shows us that you have had I’ve made it moments that you appreciate because as entrepreneurs, so often we have these goals that we drive towards, and then we get there and we just put our heads back down to that next goal that we set even higher and it’s so important to enjoy the journey. EntrepreneurOnFire, it’s about your journey and an entrepreneur’s journey, and it’s about enjoying that journey. So you’ve had these milestones that you have enjoyed because you’ve accomplished so much in life and it’s so important to be proud of your achievements. So I’m glad that you have. I know you have many more ahead of you, and I look forward to tracking those achievements, Chris.
Chris Brogan: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. I just think that you’re right. We don’t give enough time to the appreciation of these moments. I hit The New York Times Bestseller List with the first book, “Trust Agents,” and Julian and I talked on the phone and I said, “Wow! Well, that didn’t – I don’t know. Do you feel better?” and he’s like, “I don’t know.” Then we just kind of went back to being who we were. I guess I wish we had celebrated a little more because not every book hits that. So I would say that it is important to celebrate, but you just have to get back to work thereafter.
John Lee Dumas: Well, that’s a great point, and let’s use that to our next topic, which is your current business. I was lucky enough to be present at the Agents of Change this year, 2012, in Portland, Maine where you gave a phenomenal keynote speech about your new book “Impact.” Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
Chris Brogan: Well, I wouldn’t say it was phenomenal. I’d say it was horrible. I was like reading pages out of the book, trying to come up with ideas to help you think about it, but John, you can fake it for the audience. “Hey, EntrepreneurOnFire! It was amazing!”
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] We were the first audience to hear that speech, so I found that to be very invigorating.
Chris Brogan: See, there you go. I mean I’ve snowed you by just saying you could be first, which doesn’t mean best. Microsoft made billions. Four of the top 20 Forbes 400 people are Microsoft people because they weren’t first. They were best, in their estimation. So Julian Smith and I wrote another book called “The Impact Equation” and it’s coming out in October 25. I have no idea when this comes live. So around then. It’s about how do you really make your goals work, how do you get your ideas to be very distinct and understandable by others? How do you build a platform of value that other people can understand, and how do you connect to those platforms to people and get those people to actually care about things? What we found is people are doing parts of that, but not all of that. Someone might have a great idea, but no idea how to get it out to enough people. Someone might have an incredible platform, but no really good ideas. Some people have it all. They just haven’t figured out how to make people care because they’re just no good at all at sort of the community relations or the experience of building community. So we just kind of put a whole set of things together to help people. It’s a book full of action. There’s a lot of like to dos and go do this and fill out this. The reason is just because we think that books on learning should be a practice and not something you read on the way to the next book.
John Lee Dumas: Well, I’m excited for that book. I’m also excited for what else you’ve been talking about with your business, but let’s share one more exciting piece of information about your business that you’re just excited about right now. What’s one thing that’s exciting you when get up every morning?
Chris Brogan: Wow! What a great question. I think that the answer, I have said it about so many things, but one of the things I just did was I’ve been launching these little challenges for people. For example, I have a little group called “The Secret Team” over on Facebook and there’s about a thousand people in there. We did a challenge called “20,000 Words in 20 Days.” So it’s “20K in 20 Days.” So we’re writing 1,000 a day, 20 days in a row, and that will get you 20,000 words, which is the size of an e-book or the size of, in this case, Paula, somebody or others, the last part she had to write in her young adult book. For me, it’s just everything because I write a lot anyway.
So that was one challenge. The other challenge I put together is called “The Three Book Diet,” which was starting November 1, 2012 all the way through to November 1, 2013, could you commit yourself to only three books? Could you just read only three books for the year? But the point is not just read the books, but really become a disciple of the content therein. So it really starts a whole bunch of questions in your head and it also really makes you challenge yourself on what the essence of learning is for yourself and what you can do with that.
John Lee Dumas: That’s such a great theory to go forward with because I find on this show, I always ask during the Lightning Round, what is your favorite book? And I get so many great responses and people are so passionate about specific books. So of course, I personally go right out and get that book and consume it, and then the next day I have another book that’s recommended and I consume that. Sometimes I look back and say, “Wow! I’ve read five books this month!” I really can’t say that I’m a disciple of any of those because I’m just consuming so much at once. So I just love that idea. I love how you’re applying it. It’s going to be tough for me, but maybe I’ll bring that down to once a month for me.
Chris Brogan: You could certainly modify in any which way you want, but I promise that no matter how you modify, if you choose that second part of that – really to do something with the material – it’ll change your life. I mean, there’s so many books that we say are our favorite business book or this book really helped me or something, and what they’re really saying is, “You know, it kind of gave me this one idea and my eyebrow went up and I wondered, ‘Ah?’” And if you get one idea per book, you feel pretty good about yourself. I mean think of any of the classics. Think of “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. That book is stuffed with ideas that are so vital and so useful 80 something years later or whatever it is, and we just do the same thing with it. We just kind of read it and go on. But if you actually really emulate it and worked at it, mastery could happen.
John Lee Dumas: Can you share with us your three books for the next year?
Chris Brogan: Absolutely. I have two of them right here, so let me just bring it up really quick on my screen because I’m going to forget the third guy. So the three books I picked for the year are “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change” by Pema Chodron. She’s a Buddhist nun. Probably the most famous Tibetan Buddhist nun. It’s a book about how to understand what to do with uncertainty, what to do with change, how to grow, how to deal with fear and bravery. When I say it’s a Buddhist book, it’s very much like a bunch of practical stuff that you don’t exactly have your religion to get into, and it’s definitely a very centering kind of book.
The second book is “You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Body Weight Exercises” because all entrepreneurs tend to do this thing where they forget about their body. That is not just a bag of meat that keeps your brain happy. So I’m working on getting back into some fitness. The reason this one’s cool is because it’s body weight exercises, because I travel so much, I don’t have to worry about which gym is open or what isn’t. I’ve got a set of exercises I can do everywhere. So I kind of like the idea of committing really deeply to that for a year.
The third one is Daniel Coyle, who wrote the book “The Talent Code.” They ripped up a little tiny version of the book called “The Little Book of Talent,” which is 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills. So it’s just got all little tiny bites from The Talent Code. So I figured, 52. Well, that’s perfect. There’s one a week, and I can really kind of get into them. So tip number one, “stare at who you want to become,” just talking about how do you really observe somebody’s success and understand what parts of it you can try to model.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome! We link everything up in the show notes, Fire Nation, and we also have EntrepreneurOnFire.com/books, which this will be listed on as well. So thank you for sharing that with us, Chris, and thank you so much for coming on the show. I want to be so respectful of your time because you’re such a busy guy. You squeezed us in your schedule, so let’s just end this right now with our Lightning Round, which is just five questions, real quick, just to give us some awesome actionable answers, and then we’ll knock off. How does that sound?
Chris Brogan: I’m ignited!
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] What was the one thing that was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Chris Brogan: The fear of not having enough money.
John Lee Dumas: What is the best business advice that you ever received?
Chris Brogan: You live and die by your database. Given to me by Jeff Pulver, the cofounder of Vonage.
John Lee Dumas: Love it! What is something that’s working for you or your business right now?
Chris Brogan: Daily practice and ritual. The more I try to allow myself to get deeper into practice and making that itself the reward, the better I get.
John Lee Dumas: On a side note, have you read “The Compound Effect” by Daniel Hardy?
Chris Brogan: No, but I just wrote a note.
John Lee Dumas: Great! That is a phenomenal book just on those principles, which I am currently consuming and getting so much out of. Do you have an Internet resource like an Evernote that you’re just in love with that you can share with Fire Nation?
Chris Brogan: Well, besides Evernote, I use Evernote all the time. Google Drive. I use Google Docs and Google Drive for everything. I wrote two or three of the books that I’ve written on that. Why buy Office when you can have it all just sitting on any computer where there’s a browser?
John Lee Dumas: Love it! Okay, Chris, this is the last question. It’s kind of tricky so just a second and digest it, then come back at Fire Nation with an amazing answer as a signoff. If you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world identical to earth, but you knew no one. You still have all the experience and knowledge that you currently have, but only $500 in your pocket, a computer with Internet access, and your food and shelter was taken care of. What would you do in the next seven days?
Chris Brogan: I’d probably set to work getting to know people and getting to understand how I can help them interrelate. I think that being at the elbow of every deal is probably the core of what I’ve done to be successful in my entire life. The more I can put people together and they look at me as just a great conduit, the better that my life has been.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome, Chris. That was actionable advice, and you’ve given us incredibly actionable advice this entire interview, and we are better for it. Give Fire Nation one parting piece of guidance, then give yourself a plug, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Chris Brogan: The best advice I always give everybody is be helpful. It sounds so stupid, it sounds so trite and simple, but be helpful is at the core of everything you can do because if you ask the question, “Am I helpful or is this helpful?” to my buyer, then that’s how you can actually get your answers. I’m going to send all my calls away to Bangladesh. Is that helpful? No, not really. So maybe I should find another way to manage that. This is the big piece of advice.
A plug for me. You know what? More than anything, I hope you check out the new book because I’m rarely proud of a book and I actually like this one. So go to humanbusinessworks.com/ie for “Impact Equation.” Check it out, and if you like it, get it.
John Lee Dumas: Chris, absolutely, Fire Nation supports their guests incredibly well. It’s a very strong community. Thank you so much for your time. We salute you and we’ll catch you on the flipside.