John Hall is a keynote speaker and author of Top of Mind, which was recently published by McGraw Hill. He is the co-founder and CEO of Influence & Co., a company that helps brands and individuals leverage their expertise to create and distribute content to gain influence with their key audiences.
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Mixmax – John’s small business resource
Essentialism – Johns Top Business Book
Top of Mind – John’s book
Influence & Co – John’s website
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3 Value Bombs
1) Invest in yourself—it’s worth it when it comes to your future endeavors.
2) Don’t undercut yourself – trust your abilities and be confident in them.
3) Look at your business from different perspectives; it may open up new opportunities for you.
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
[01:01] – Above all, John is a father and a husband
[01:20] – He has been an entrepreneur since the 3rd grade where he sold lunches at school
[02:52] – He became obsessed with the idea of investing in yourself
[03:08] – Investing in yourself is one of the key factors in entrepreneurship and it’s his area of expertise
[04:30] – One BIG and Unique Value Bomb: Investing in yourself is NOT rocket science. Entrepreneurs put up so many barriers
[05:20] – If you put a plan together, it can be very effective
[05:40] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: At 25, John was doing well in real estate. When he started Influence & Co, he hit a rut. He went to an event and was the last person to get any attention. He talked to his wife and started going back to real estate – the safe thing for him. He realized the mistake of going back to his comfort zone when he woke up the next morning
[08:44] – Be confident in your abilities
[08:53] – Have patience – nothing happens overnight
[09:14] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: From the beginning of Influence & Co they worked hard to build trust with their clients. There are trust barriers everywhere in business—people have a hard time trusting large brands and entrepreneurs. When they realized this, they began offering their services to larger companies
[11:23] – Take a step away of the business and look at it from a different view
[12:27] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “The first 5 years of our company were spent hustling to just get by… but right now we have amazing resources at our disposal, we have relationships with media that we never did before, we have talent that we didn’t have before, and we have systems”
[13:27] – Now there are open opportunities in other parts of the company, not just marketing
[16:58] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “Fear of failure”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “You don’t know everything”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “I make sure it’s a habit to surround myself with great people”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Mixmax
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Essentialism – “it gets you to focus”
[21:22] – Never stop learning and value relationships with people
John: Yes, sir. I got my coffee here and I’m pumped to go. Let’s do it.
Interviewer: John’s a keynote speaker and the author of the book Top of Mind. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Influence & Co., a company that helps brands and individuals leverage their expertise to create and distribute contents to gain influence with their key audiences. John, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
John: My personal life. Well, first and foremost, I am a father and husband so I have two lovely daughters and an awesome wife who are super supportive of all the crazy things I wanna do as an entrepreneur and business owner. And so that’s kind of my first I guess important thing in my life. But beyond that, I mean I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was – the example I give is since I was in third grade. I grew up selling lunches at school for money and figuring out actually how much HoHos could get me compared to Twinkies and what I could do to talk my friends into getting their moms to pack certain items because I knew they were more valuable to a certain other lunch.
So it’s in my blood and I love it and I love doing things like this to talk and share about failures, successes, and anything else that would be valuable.
Interviewer: Well my friend, you are in the right place because we’re going to be getting into all of that jazz. But first and foremost, today, what’s your area of expertise?
John: So for me, as crazy as it is, I kinda fell into this because it was a huge, huge need for me. Before we started Influence & Co. and I wrote the book, Top of Mind, I was actually in the real estate area where one of my biggest barriers was I got in young and I was a young kind of an investor that I’d walk into a room where there was this credibility kind of barrier between me and another person because I was young and they were twice my age and had a good deal more experience. And so what ended up happening from that is I felt this need to invest in myself so that I would walk in a room and people would want to talk and engage with me rather than me always trying to I guess you could say have an outbound efforts of, “Hey, talk to me. Be cool.” Or, “Let’s do a deal” when there obviously wasn’t that trust.
And so what I became obsessed with back then was this idea behind how you invest in yourself and leaders within your company so that companies want to deal with you and people want to deal with you. And so kind of the unique – as crazy as it is, it’s basic at first because I really feel like investing in yourself is one of the key factors in – and that’s where my expertise kind of lies is how can companies invest in their key employees, how can leaderships, entrepreneurs invest in themselves to open up opportunities?
And so as basic as that sounds, there’s actually deeper meaning behind it. It’s about your own education, what you’re doing to make yourself intelligent, provide yourself with the right resources in addition to getting the right relationships in your life so that it can create opportunity. And then it goes outward. What is your brand? What does your company look like so that you’re whole – I would say anytime anybody interacts whether it’s a stakeholder that’s a customer or a partner, you are staying top of mind in their mind because they consistently see your brand in a positive way that gets them to gain trust?
And so the quick summary is that it started off on this idea and this expertise on how people and companies can invest in themselves from a brand point of view. But then what it’s evolved into is that how can I help other entrepreneurs, leaders, business owners, companies become industry leaders by projecting a brand that builds trust within a specific audience.
Interviewer: John, in just a couple of sentences, what’s something that we don’t know about your area of expertise that as entrepreneurs, frankly, we should?
John: It’s not rocket science. That is, there’s a barrier where everybody thinks – like just look at me for example. Nobody knew who I was five years ago at all. Like legitimately I was barely known in Columbia, Missouri, a small town in Missouri. And for me, a lot of entrepreneurs put up these barriers. There’s so many different barriers that exist in my space. There’s one, just the initial how do I build credibility so I’m the person that people look to in our space, or we’re the company that people look at? There’s also the ego barrier. There’s the challenge of saying, “Hey, we want to put ourselves out there and I as a leader need to be a leader in the space.”
A lot of times people don’t want to do that. And so the quick summary is that it’s not rocket science. It’s not rocket science but if you put a plan together and execute just like any other business plan, you can be very effective. So I guess that’s like three or four sentences.
Interviewer: And they’re all run-ons too.
John: Sorry, man.
Interviewer: John, let’s talk about your worst entrepreneurial moment to date. Take us to that moment in time. Tell us that story.
John: For me, and this is one I’ve said a couple of podcasts but I’ll actually dive in a little deeper.
Interviewer: Yeah, because we only accept unique content here by the way.
John: Yeah. So it was the moment where I honestly had not had any failure in business and I know it sounds kind of cocky and confident, but this was when I was like 25, 26. Real estate had done very well for me. Anytime I had invested money or been involved in a business, it had done really well. And when we started Influence & Co., I remember a moment where we had kind of an initial, wow, we signed on five or six clients and did well. But then we hit this rut and this was probably three or four months into it. And I went to an event and it was Friday night. I hadn’t been to a conference yet at that point. And I was basically the last kid picked in dodgeball as I describe.
I was the person that was trying to talk and build relationships but it was a very cliquey conference and I really just couldn’t get any attention. So I went back to the hotel. It was in DC, went back to the hotel and legitimately got on the phone with my wife and had tears in my eyes, crying and what people don’t know is I legitimately spent two hours after that, three hours after that looking into real estate and going back to my safe haven of what I’ve seen success in. And honestly, nobody knows that. They knew that I got upset and I cried but I immediately went to the safe thing. And when I talked to my wife and I talked to my co-founder, I felt a little better about it.
But ultimately when I was doing the same thing, I started realizing. I’m like, “Why the hell am I doing this?” The whole point of entrepreneurship is to take risks and have confidence in yourself and I remember I was doing the kind of not the strong and I guess you could say brave thing to do. But ended up waking up in the morning and I thought about what I did the night before. I was kind of ashamed. And I ended up really just the next 48 hours I promised myself, I said, “I will do everything in my power. I don’t care who won’t talk to me. I’m not going to sleep. I’m going to stay up as late as I can. I’m going to try to meet as many people.” Ended up working out for me where we ended up signing I think five or six clients I think it was actually the Sunday, it wasn’t the Saturday.
And it ended up since then we haven’t had any form of non-growth in the company. We’ve just kind of gone up from there, but I remember that. From someone who hadn’t seen much failure and we had two months of loss at that point that were pretty significant and going through that motion. It was not a good feeling. And it was kind of like an embarrassing thing for myself even though it was just me. But I remember that gut feeling and that night when I said I slept, I only slept like two hours. But it was not a cool moment for me.
Interviewer: Without it being a run-on sentence, let’s just keep this to one. And I want the biggest takeaway that you want our listeners to really get from that worst moment.
John: You’ve got to be confident in your abilities and don’t go back to just always the safe zone.
Interviewer: And Fire Nation, I’ll add on to that. Patience. Things don’t happen when you snap your fingers. Things don’t happen overnight. It takes time so have confidence, patience, persistence. Keep that moving. Now John, you just rocked a great story about your worst moment. You got real with us. Do the same thing for your aha moment. One of the greatest ideas that you’ve had to date, but then kind of walk us through how you turned that idea into success.
John: I think it was the moment that we realized that what we were doing as a company – at the beginning, what we were doing is we were helping entrepreneurs and small businesses build up their thought leadership presence and their authority position within their industries. And the idea kind of was is that what we’re doing is we’re building trust for these people. Trust barriers are not an issue with just entrepreneurs, it’s an issue with large brands, and the kind of ideal was when Kelsey and my co-founder and I got together we said, “This is not just a challenge for this audience that we love to work with and we’re a part of.
It’s actually a challenge amongst larger companies as well.”
And so what we started doing is and I think a lot of entrepreneurs and people make the same mistake, you get kind of situated in this is the audience where I’m familiar and I can work with. But what we did was we said, “No, there’s actually a transfer of services where yes, we can do some of these things for entrepreneurs but also we can apply this to larger companies.” And so the growth of our company changed dramatically when we looked and we said, “Let’s actually have some conversations with larger brands.”
We had conversations with Office Depot, American Airlines, Dell, some of the largest companies out there. And realized that, “Hey, there’s a huge opportunity here and we have to think outside the box on the services and our capabilities and how we can change that.” And we immediately said, “Okay, well let’s not lose this audience that we’re working with. But let’s also be very open to experimenting with this audience that we never thought we would take on.” But I think the idea is basically just saying, “Hey, let’s look at what we can do really well, and we have access to different publication, media outlets, and places that nobody else does that a lot of brands would like. And they would like to engage in a way that a lot of the clients that we currently have are doing.”
And that’s what happened where we went from – obviously, there’s a great team behind us that did it. But at that moment, that’s where we had some dramatic growth.
Interviewer: And what’s the lesson learned? What is the takeaway that you want to make sure that our listener gets from that aha moment?
John: I mean the takeaway is you have to take a step away from the business and you have to look and challenge yourself. And it’s not just you thinking, it’s getting someone – at that time we had several advisors that would help us think outside the box. So quick summary, take a step away from the business when you can and look at who you’re servicing, the value you’re providing, and where there is opportunity that you might not be seeing and be allowed to challenge yourself from others.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, getting outside the box is real. I mean you just can’t stay in this little comfort zone of your same little niche, your same little industry, doing the exact same thing that everybody else is doing. That’s not where you’re going to win. That’s a red ocean strategy. You gotta get out, see what other people in different niches are doing, apply their principles on what’s working for them to yours. And hey, it might not work. But at least you’re thinking outside the box, you’re trying new things. Maybe you could be first to market an A, B, or C strategies. Critical, critical stuff.
Now let’s talk, John about what you’re most excited about today. I mean we’ve heard your worst moments, a great idea that you’ve had what you’re applying that idea to. What are you most fired up about right now?
John: I mean really honestly, I’m excited for the first time is that the first five years of our company; we were hustling to just kind of get by and get the right resources in place to deliver on what we were trying to do for clients. But right now I mean we have amazing resources at our disposal, we have relationships with media that we never did before, we have talent that we didn’t do before. We have these systems that we’ve set up. And so everybody kind of discounts how hard it is to set up and scale and go beyond 100 employees or 200 and 300. And we’re at that stage where we’ve done that and now we’re looking at not just what we’re doing has evolved, but the demand for it has evolved.
For example, people used to only think as thought leadership as a marketing tool. And because it was, “Hey, we want our leadership to communicate to these consumers so they can trust us and we can ultimately sell them.” Now, what’s changing is that there’s open opportunities in other parts of the company, not just marketing. Recruiting is starting to learn from content marketing and thought leadership and saying, “Wow, if we get the leaders in the company and people who are experts within the company to communicate to this audience, they’ll want to work with us because they’ll know we have smart people.” They’re looking at investors and investor communication and saying, “Hey, we can use this tactic in content marketing, not just in marketing, but how we’re communicating to the investors.”
And so people who have had success in content marketing are scaling it beyond the marketing department. And so that’s what’s so exciting to me is that I thought we’d be kind of bound with this one department within companies. But now what we’re doing is we’re kind of – it’s a spread effect like wildfire and that’s where a lot of times people don’t see that growth, where they’re gonna go and where their future is. And it’s very, very clear to us where there’s opportunity, then it comes to just us executing. And so that’s what I’m pretty pumped about is vision is fairly clear where, to be honest, it hasn’t always been that clear.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, you think you’ve been getting value bombs thus far. Just wait for the lightning round which we’re going to be crushing as soon as we get back from thanking our sponsors. John, are you ready to rock the lightning rounds?
John: Let’s do it, buddy. I’m absolutely ready for it.
Interviewer: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
John: Fear of failure. I’m absolutely scared of failure and so entrepreneurs fail a lot and it freaks me out. It’s by far my No. 1 fear outside of losing family.
Interviewer: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
John: You don’t know everything. Always work on challenging yourself to be better. I used to be really egotistical and thought I knew everything and a couple of people knocked some sense into me and I think I’ve matured a lot from that.
Interviewer: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
John: I make sure it’s a habit to surround myself with great people. I think that as a smart person once said that you’re the average of the five people that are around you. I really believe that so it’s a habit for me to make sure that I’m spending time with people that are great, smart, people that are driven like me.
Interviewer: Can you share an internet resource that you’re enjoying right now?
John: One of my biggest resources right now is MixMax. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that, but it is an email tool that is phenomenal that has made my life so much easier. It embeds calendars within emails. It’s almost like it’s teaching you to write code with an email to make your day more efficient. So I would say I’m probably a hundred to two time – I would say four times more efficient than I was a year ago just because of that one tool.
Interviewer: So it’s called MixMatch?
John: MixMax. So it’s M-I-X-M-A-X. MixMax.
Interviewer: And does that work with Gmail?
John: Yeah, it’s an email tool.
Interviewer: Right. Does it work with Gmail though specifically?
John: Oh yeah, yeah. No, it’s amazing with Gmail. That’s one of the main integrations that it works well with.
Interviewer: You know this is interesting enough that I want to do a little deeper dive. So MixMax, so you have it within your Gmail account, your email account. We’re going to use Gmail for an example. What specifically does it do to make you 2, 3, 4 X more productive?
John: Sure. So well one, it has shortcuts on how you include something in an email. For example, if I want to include a calendar link, I will just hit forward space and then A and that means it immediately puts my availability up there and I just hit two or three buttons and it embeds in the email. Here are the available times that he has. And it will also even take in consideration my team, who needs to be on that. So that’s an amazing tool. If I want to embed a map. Let’s say I’m visiting somewhere and I’m saying, “Hey, meet me here.” I’ll just basically type in the code, forward slash and then the map code and then it will have the map of where I’m going included in the email.
And so really when I’m actually corresponding via email, there’s not many things it doesn’t do. It tracks email and it tracks – obviously, there’s tools that have it. If you look at Calendly and some of the email tracking tools, they do all these different things but MixMax is the first time that when I’m emailing somebody, whatever I want to do whether it's embedded a map, embed a calendar link, track the email, include certain people and see their availability or – I mean really, it’s a very robust tool. So I would just check it out. But yeah, it saved me time because I only just use one tool and I used to have to use three or four to do what it does.
Interviewer: Share a book that you recommend and then tell us why.
John: Essentialism. It’s written by Greg McKeown and Erin McKeown and I think that it gets you to focus. I think one of the problems we have as entrepreneurs and leaders and just people in general is we have to remember what matters most to us and what’s really important for us to spend our time on. And Essentialism is a great way and I read it about once every six months or eight months because it reminds me. Yeah, it’s not a crazy classic. It’s more of something where every time I read it, I step away from it and I’m more focused. Sometimes I’m a worrier on things and I worry about what if this doesn’t happen, what if this doesn’t happen. And then ultimately, what that book helps me do is focus on what matters and worry less about what doesn’t.
Interviewer: John, let’s end today on fire, brother with you giving us a parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye.
John: Never stop learning and always value relationships of people that trust that can help you become better. It’s the No. 1 thing that has made me a better entrepreneur, a better person. And when you know something – I think as entrepreneurs a lot of times we try to fake it or we try to do things just to make a quick buck. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, really just build relationships that matter that people who actually care and they want to make you better. And then also, never stop educating yourself so that you become somebody that I would say you’re surprised about what you’re capable of doing and you can ultimately become the best version of yourself.
Interviewer: And the best way to connect with you?
John: I know a lot of people say they have too many emails to respond. Honestly, my email’s [email protected]&co.com Like I said, I try to be pretty effective at email. I just wrote a book called Top of Mind and in there I actually have an email that’s topofmindhelp.com. And so if it’s something related to the book, feel free to email that and typically I can get back within 48 hours. And then follow on Twitter at the same time you can follow my content. I write for Forbes, Inc., Mashable, Fast Company, a lot of those places. And so check out that content. If you think I can ever be helpful, then reach out. And a friend of John’s is a friend of mine so maybe they’ll –
Interviewer: Aw. Fire Nation, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with said Jim Rohn. And you’ve been hanging out with JH and JLD today so keep up the heat. And head over to eofire.com, just type “John” in the search bar. His show notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. These are the best show notes in the biz, time stamps, links galore. Of course, check out his book Top of Mind. And John, one more time, what’s that email address that people can reach you at?
John: I would say the [email protected]il.com is the one I’m using a lot more personally just because the main focus right now is getting Top of Mind out there more and so I’m very attentive to that. So I would say check that one out and I’ll be responsive.
Interviewer: John, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
John: Thanks a lot and I appreciate everything you do for entrepreneurs, buddy.
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