Melissa is a PR Strategist who helps entrepreneurs create obsessed fan bases around their work. When she’s not teaching business owners how to get more publicity & sales, she’s penning sexy, dramatic screenplays and rocking Hollywood pitch meetings.
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- Vocaroo – Melissa’s small business resource
- Expectation Hangover – Melissa’s top business book
- Melissa’s website
3 Key Points:
- Focus on producing fantastic work. Great work gets found.
- Trust your gut. If you feel that something’s not right, it probably isn’t.
- Be authentic. Let your personality show as well as your qualifications.
- Toptal: Find the perfect developer or designer to help bring your next project to live with Toptal’s 2-week, no risk trial. Visit Toptal.com/fire or shoot me an email and I’ll personally introduce you to an executive at Toptal who can help you get set up!
Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [01:02] – Melissa traveled the United States in an airstream trailer
- 02:30- Melissa generates revenue through her class Obsessed
- [03:12] – She also works as a screenwriter
- [03:41] – Close to 200 people sign up for Obsessed every year
- [04:04] – Enrollment only opens once – there’s usually a keen waiting list
- [04:55] – Obsessed offers tangible weekly guidance, writing templates, and daily online meet ups
- [06:09] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: Hired by a client – she felt something was off, but did it anyway. The company split and one partner sued the other – all the contractors were implicated in the lawsuit.
- [10:40] – Listen to your intuition. Watch out for red flags.
- [11:16] – Make sure you have access to legal counsel before you start your business
- [12:49] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: Realizing in a pitch meeting that no one was listening to her – until she talked about doing a flooring commercial.
- [16:07] – Be real – talk about interesting things you do. Be authentic.
- [17:35] – Biggest weakness? – “I’m terrible at delegating”
- [18:10] – Build a fantastic team around you
- [18:27] – Biggest strength? – “Writing”
- [19:17] – What has Melissa most fired up today? – “Getting into producing”
- [20:20] – Melissa writes from ‘The Heat’ – the things that make her angry
- [22:31] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “I never wanted to be an entrepreneur”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Good work always gets found”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “Batching”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Vocaroo
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Expectation Hangover
- [24:14] – Parting piece of guidance: “Just focus on your work”
- 24:21 – Connect with Melissa at her website
Melissa: I am ready.
John: Yes! Melissa is a PR strategist who helps entrepreneurs create obsessed fan bases around their work. When she’s not teaching business owners how to get more publicity and sales, she’s penning sexy, dramatic screen plays in rocking Hollywood pitch meetings. Melissa, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Melissa: Sure. Well probably the most interesting thing for your listeners would be in between moving from my home town of New Jersey to moving out to California, my husband and I lived in an Air Stream trailer, so it was a 27 foot – that big metal looking thing – with our three dogs, and we traveled the entire United States in that, several times, actually. It was really interesting, really cool, but also times that were not so cool. And everybody always says to me, the one question I always get is, “How are you still married after that?” And I’m like, “It was great”
John: Maybe your answer should be, “We’ll still married because of that.”
Melissa: Yes, that is a great answer. We can handle anything.
Melissa: Yeah, so that was a pretty cool section of our life, and I just moved to LA, actually, myself from a personal standpoint. So we lived in Napa for a few years, and the only reason we moved down here was because of my screenwriting. Otherwise we’d still be amongst the vines, which are beautiful. That’s the other question I get, “Why the hell did you move from there?”
John: Oh, I would have asked that same question.
Melissa: Oh, it’s beautiful. But my hope is to retire back there someday. But as far as career goes, it’s definitely better to be here in the city.
John: Alright, alright, well you gotta go career first, I guess. And let’s talk, speaking of career, about revenue, because LA’s not cheap, living isn’t cheap. So how do you, Melissa, today generate revenue in your business?
Melissa: Yeah, so I have a signature class called Obsessed, of course. That opens for enrollment once a year, and it’s a year-long class and group mentorship program. So that’s my main source of revenue within my business. I do have another tiny bit of revenue that comes from a self-study guide called The Swirl Effect, which is all about swirling together divergent passions and interests into one super cool personal brand, and that’s on my site as well. And then of course the other division of my business is getting paid as a screenwriter, which is why I’m here. Right now I am currently working on a writing assignment for a TV movie. That’s unfortunately all I can say because the contracts here are very secretive and iron-clad, and so I’m not allowed to reveal any other details. But certainly I get paid for writing assignments, and for optioning of scripts and things like that. And so that is where my revenue comes from.
John: Now how many people do you accept into Obsessed every year?
Melissa: So this year we have close to 200 people in the program.
John: So it’s 200 people in the program. How much is it for one year?
Melissa: It’s $1,000.
John: So $1,000 gets you one year in Obsessed. What’s your main lead generation to get actually people into the doors of Obsessed in the first place?
Melissa: Yeah, so I teach a free five day class that leads into the program, so it’s sort of just an appetizer sampling of what you would get in the year. And so through that, that pretty much brings everybody in the door, because it’s a really good sampling. And then other than that, I do have a pretty hefty waiting list each year, so because we only open the enrollment once, that gives me an entire year for people to be like, “When are you opening the doors again? Can you let me in now?” Which is super cool, right, because that’s what Obsession is about. So certainly by the time we do open doors, we definitely have some yesses already, which is, of course, awesome for any type of business.
John: And just real quick, kind of break down what do people get throughout the year? Are there monthly meet-ups? What is, how is the structure and functionality of Obsessed? How does that work?
Melissa: Um-hum. So each week you get a new bite-sized lesson that helps you to create obsession within your business. So it’s something that’s really, really tangible and action based. Lots of times it has to do with writing some piece of content, or putting together something for your audience, and I give templates and things like that. So it’s really easy for people to integrate.
So we have this kind of once a week bite-sized action item within your business to move your forward into that place of creating an obsessed fan base. We all meet online. It’s in a private group online, and I’m there every single day, giving feedback on the lessons, answering questions, things like that, so it’s very, very interactive. I’m highly engaged with my group. And then we do have monthly calls, so we do a group Q&A call every month just to fill in any gaps that might have been missed. And there’s prizes, and there’s little bonuses that go out all year, so lots of fun surprises, and it’s great.
John: So, Melissa, you mentioned that you had a few moments over your years of traversing the United States and back again, and of course that’s gonna happen. I mean, that’s the roller coaster of life. But I wanna talk about the roller coaster of entrepreneurship. So take us to what you consider your worst entrepreneurial moment to date, Melissa, and really bring us to that moment in time, and tell us that story.
Melissa: Yes. So this was probably I think around nine years ago at this point. So I have had my own business for 11 years, just as an FYI for everybody listening. So that means that I was very, very new to business, and I remember taking on this client. And at the time I was doing more traditional PR services, meaning people would hire me or my company, rather, to get them in magazines or newspapers or in television, right. So a very traditional types of things where I was doing it for them. So this one client hired me and I had this gut feeling from the beginning that something was off, as I know a lot of us go through. And it was kind of screaming at me, but at the time, being very new to my business, this was actually a really well paying contract, and so I was like, “I’m gonna do it. I don’t wanna give up the money. It’s an amazing – and how bad could it be? How bad could it go?”
John: Right. And by the way, Fire Nation, that’s a red flag, when you say those words, “How bad could it really be?”
Melissa: It’s bad, guys, let me tell you. So what happened was, I’ll try to tell the very abridged story of this.
John: Let’s hear it.
Melissa: So what happened was the company was owned by two partners, and the partners split. And the one partner decided to sue the other partner for basically everything this guy was worth. But in that lawsuit, it was a very vindictive and vicious lawsuit, stuff that should be on television only, not in real life, and it was very vindictive and vicious. And what he did in this suit was he lumped in anyone who had ever worked with the company, meaning myself, so any outside contractors, anyone that they had engaged in any way, any partners, any contractors, people that were not employees, because that’s really key to say.
He lumped us all into the lawsuit saying that we were lying and that we actually were employees, which would make us liable for all of this federal offenses of stealing employee files and really bizarre things that I was like, “I don’t know what this means.” And so it was really interesting because – at the time it was terrifying, absolutely terrifying. I had a panic attack. I had to go to the hospital. It was really, really bad because I never thought that something like that could happen to you if you were truly innocent, right? So there was complete innocence here. I had nothing to do with it. I wasn’t lying. I wasn’t an employee. I was a contractor. I had contracts. I literally had everything you could possibly imagine to prove it.
But the point was that the partner was incredibly vindictive throughout this process and decided that he knew that myself and any other contractors involved were innocent, but it was the point that he thought if he lumped us in it would hurt the other partner. So he was just doing it from a vindictive place. And so what that meant is if someone sues you, even if you’re completely, completely innocent, you still have to get a lawyer, you have to pay, and that’s an incredible amount of money. So think about that. On the front end you might be making a nice chunk, but then if that happens to you, you’re looking at a minimum $100,000 in legal fees. So it’s crazy. Yeah, it was really insane. Fortunately, everything got wiped away. I do have a lawyer in the family who was able to help out so that was awesome.
John: So he was doing a little pro bono just like –
Melissa: He was doing pro bono.
Melissa: And I got really lucky, and also because there was no case, so I think that was a big thing. And we found out that even the opposing legal team told their client, “Why are you doing this? You’re wasting your money. You have no case.” And he was just like, “Nope, I wanna do this because I want to scare them, and I want what’s mine,” and it was crazy.
John: I mean, Fire Nation, sometimes there are just vindictive people in this world, and it’s sad but it’s true, and it’s a reality. And we really do need to prepare and protect ourselves against these hopefully low percentage, but there still is a percentage chance that this will happen. So, Melissa, now that we’ve sufficiently freaked out some listeners of Fire Nation, what are some lessons learned? What can we be proactively doing to protect ourselves against stuff like this?
Melissa: Yes. Well, I mean, I think number one, and this isn’t even from a legal standpoint, but listen to your intuition, and like you said, those red flags – those always come back to bite you. So really, really tuning in, any time you have that little flicker inside that says, “This seems off,” it’s probably off. It’s probably wrong. So kind of tune that skepticism dial a bit in your business. I would say tune it higher than you normally would, and really, really pay attention, because I definitely could have caught this had I listened to my gut. And then the other pieces, of course, are the importance of having legal counsel. And I know my lawyer was just on your show recently, Jenna Jaffe.
John: Yeah, she rocks.
Melissa: And so I use her and she’s fabulous, and you really do have to have – before you start anything, even before you think about having a business, you should have a lawyer on board. And at the time I had someone that just drafted contracts for me but no one that was kind of my ongoing sound system and support. And so I would definitely do that differently going back. Have a lawyer that you can go to at any time that’s looking and proofing all of your contracts and communications to make sure that everything’s on point. I was on point at the time, but I think had I had a lawyer with me, it’s something they could have looked at just right away and really said, “Okay, here’s what it is,” and they knew everything about my business. For me it was a lot of reacting to the situation and begging my cousin to help.
John: Right, and I think a really big takeaway here, Fire Nation, that I wanna make sure that you get is don’t be penny wise if it ends up being pound foolish. I mean you have to put in the dollars up front to make sure that, hey, I don’t have to pay those huge dollars down the road. That’s why we insure our homes against fire. We don’t think our house is gonna burn down, but if it does, that $7 a month that we’ve been paying all the sudden becomes pretty valuable, and the same thing with car insurance. I mean, this is an insurance for your business. It has to be part of the investment that you’re making in yourself and your business. Now, Melissa, what is one of your greatest aha moments? Take us to that moment. Tell us that story.
Melissa: Again, all back in the beginning of my business. I was a mid-20s gal, just starting, and I was competing with some really big ad agencies and PR agencies at the time. So I was this little tiny girl just fresh out of my corporate job, trying to go up, in this pitch meetings, all of these people with insanely amazing track records. And what I did during this time, and this will come into the story later, is I actually was able to make money in my business, or sort of fund my marketing business by doing some commercial acting and modeling, back east in New York and Philadelphia. So that was something I did, and I never told anyone in business. It was just something that I did on the side, and it actually was quite a wonderful funding source for me to build my business.
So kind of fast forward to this particular pitch meeting I was in. I was pitching about, I would say there was about a dozen guys in the room, all wearing very well-pressed suits, all grey hair, just kind of sitting around the table. And here’s me in the front with my Power Point presentation and clicking through, and not one of them was paying attention to me. They were all staring down. One guy was on his phone. I mean it was really just mortifying, right? And I knew this whole thing was just sinking. But I got through it, and that was how a lot of meetings went back then, unfortunately. And so as I was nearing the end, one of the guys looks up and me and says, “Hey, aren’t you the girl from the flooring commercial?” And I just remember being so mortified because I was in a flooring commercial. It was one of those really cheesy commercials that would run during Monday Night Football all the time.
Melissa: And so I just remember I literally sank my body into the chair and I was just so embarrassed that this meeting was going so horrible, and I was trying to tell them all of my accolades that I had at 26 years old, all these things. And then this guy’s like, “Hey, you’re the chick from the flooring commercial.” And then I just figured, uh, this is done. So I sink down and I basically said, “Does anyone have any questions,” meaning questions on the presentation I just gave. And then the same guy says, “Well, how did you get that commercial? That’s so cool.” And I said, “Well I have an agent here.”
And so anyway, so then the whole room starts to perk up, and everybody goes, “That’s so interesting that you do that, but you also do marketing,” and everyone starts asking questions and they’re asking questions about how it is to be on camera, and all of these things. And so I just went along with the ride, because I figured, “Well, I’m here. I’ll do whatever,” and at this point, I’m like, “I lost this campaign, obviously, but I’m fine talking to these gentlemen from a personal standpoint,” so I really relaxed. I was just myself, and just talked about my experiences that they were asking.
Lo and behold, I leave, I get a call the next day that I got the contract, and not only that, but I worked with this company, I would say, maybe five to six years. They were one of my best clients ever. And so what I really learned from that was – and we hear it a lot about embracing your personality, pulling your personality into your business, being more authentic and open. But that, to me, was just a clear example in my life as to yes, you should be yourself. Don’t pretend to be somebody else. Don’t button yourself up if you’re not a buttoned up person.
Talk about interesting things and hobbies that you do, right? So when people ask about you or wanna hear about you, don’t just say stack all of your impressive credentials, right? Those are important, but you also wanna add in fun facts, or things about yourself that people don’t know or a hobby that you have, or the fact that you lived in an Air Stream, right? So things like that you wanna talk about because that’s interesting, right? Not the fact that you won these seven awards and worked with these 50 Fortune 500 companies, right?
John: And Fire Nation, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this. I mean, authenticity, transparency, these things are huge when you’re building your online brand, especially if you’re looking to become an authority figure, even in a small niche, or maybe a more broad market. It’s need to be you. That is how you’re going to build a real audience for the marathon for real, over time, the right way. So I love all of this, Melissa. That’s just a great takeaway in so many reasons. And people might be saying, “Wow, does this girl have any weaknesses at this point in her life.” And, Melissa, it’s time to share your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur.
Melissa: Oh, I’m terrible at delegating. I’m terrible at it. Oh, goodness. I’m terrible at delegating in my like. If my husband wants to wash the dishes, I’m like, “No, no, no. Let me do it!” I’m like –
John: Um, you’re hired.
Melissa: “I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” Yes, I really, that’s definitely my weakness is kind of growing and delegating. And luckily I’m getting better at it. I certainly have people on my team now that do certain things, but it’s still a bit of a stretch for me.
John: Well, you did say the keyword, there, and that is team Fire Nation. You only have so much time, energy, and bandwidth. Spend that time, that energy your personal bandwidth on things that you’re already good at, so you can become great. People want your greatness. They don’t want you becoming okay at something you’re crappy at. What, Melissa, is your biggest strength?
Melissa: Oh, writing. Content creation and writing, which is probably not a surprise to anyone considering you all know that I am a screenwriter, but definitely writing is my big strength. And speaking of my weakness, I mean that really came in big time since I’ve been amping my screenwriting career over the past year or two, and how I literally have no time for other things now because I spend the majority of my day writing.
John: Well, that’s not a bad thing, because Fire Nation, I mean should Melissa be spending her time doing other things that she’s okay at that she’s not even good at, that she should be delegating in the first place, or should she be spending her time where she’s greatest. And it’s an easy answer there. But, Melissa, you have said that you have a lot of exciting things going on. What is the one thing you are most fired up about right now?
Melissa: So I’m excited because I really wanna get into producing. Obviously writing is super awesome in Hollywood, but you’re often writing other people’s projects. And so in order to really get something on your own off the ground, you need to step into a producer role, which can be difficult when you have no money, if you don’t have millions and millions and millions. So we’re not talking about tiny bits of money, we’re talking about 100 million or more sometimes –
John: Oh wow.
Melissa: to produce things, yes. So it’s really big money here to get productions off the ground. But one of the cool things that you can do is you can fund your own, let’s say a web series or a short film, so I’m kind of playing in that space. And what I’m really fired up about, because I love writing about things that make me fired up, and not necessarily fired up from excitement or happiness. Sometimes it’s fired up from – I call it the heat. So it’s what are you hot about? What’s firing you, where you’re like uhhh –
John: Like keep it going, girl. You are on brand with us right now. Keep it up.
Melissa: Yeah, so I think about that, so I call it writing from the heat. And for me, I’m most heated right now around things like get rich quick schemes. I hate that stuff, and I’m sure everyone listening hates that stuff, too.
Melissa: Super slimy, things that are just actually quite terrifying going on out there.
John: Well, that’s why I love The Big Short came out, because it’s really starting to expose that get rich quick schemes aren’t just people who are sketchy and on the internet with Prince Darkour from Nigeria. They’re actually people on Wall Street in business suits that are just doing stuff that’s not benefitting the general population. It’s benefitting themselves or their company. So it’s across the board, and Fire Nation, you need to be aware that yes, there are good and great people in the financial industry, but your red flag has to go up when anybody’s gonna tell you that this is gonna happen quick, this is gonna happen overnight. So I’m glad that you’re taking up that crusade, Melissa. And speaking of crusades, we have a killer crusade coming up in the lightning round, so don’t you go anywhere Fire Nation. We’ll be right back.
Melissa, are you prepared for the lightening round?
Melissa: I’m prepared.
Melissa: I’m ready.
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Melissa: I actually never wanted to be an entrepreneur. My husband talked me into it.
John: So yourself – you were holding yourself back.
Melissa: I was holding myself back.
John: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Melissa: Good work always gets found.
John: What is a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Melissa: Batching – writing a bunch of content at once and staying really far ahead of your content schedule.
John: You are interview three of 15 today, Melissa. I am all about batching.
John: Can you share an internet resource, like an Evernote, with Fire Nation?
Melissa: Yeah, so it’s called – the one that I like is vocaroo, so it’s V O C A R O O. It’s a really fun, quick recording system for audio notes. So let’s say you just wanna send somebody an audio love note or something, you could do that. Or you can read aloud your blog posts and then post a little audio note to it, so that way there’s two ways people can consume your content.
John: Yeah, I love it. It’s actually on my bookmark dashboard right now. It’s a tool that I love and use. And if you could recommend just one book, Melissa, for Fire Nation, what would it be and why?
Melissa: Oh, I love Expectation Hangover, by Christine Hassler. It’s amazing for releasing if you have very rigid expectations in your business or your life, and just letting things flow.
John: I was just hanging out with Christine a couple months ago at a conference.
Melissa: Oh! Perfect.
John: Great girl, past EO Fire guest, and great book, Fire Nation. Now, Melissa, I wanna end today on fire, brother, with a parting piece of guidance from you, the best way that we can connect with you, then we’ll say goodbye.
Melissa: Just focus down on your work, and like I said earlier, good work always gets found. And then to find me, you can just go to my website, which is super easy – it’s melissacassera.com.
John: Boom! And Fire Nation, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and you’ve been hanging out with MC and JLD today. So keep up the heat, and head over to EOFire.com. Just type Melissa in the search bar. Her show notes will pop right up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. And of course, go directly to melissacassera.com if you wanna check out her site, and again, links to all of this stuff will be on the show notes page, eofire.com, search bar Melissa. Melissa, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
Melissa: Thanks, everybody.
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