It's easy to lose your way in the 21st-century economy. The world of work and business is changing so rapidly that you might start focusing more on how to keep up than how to live a meaningful life. What Works is a podcast for entrepreneurs, independent workers, and employees who don't want to lose themselves to the whims of late-stage capitalism. Host Tara McMullin covers money, management, culture, media, philosophy, and more to figure out what's working (and what's not) today. Tara offers a distinctly interdisciplinary approach to the discourse around business, work, and personal growth.
Top 10 What Works Episodes
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EP 344: Time To Take A Break?
07/01/21 • 17 min
Do you ever get the feeling you’re white-knuckling it through business ownership?
Like if you just squeeze the wheel hard enough and focus on what’s in front of you, you can keep your business from ending up in a serious fender bender (or worse)?
I’ve certainly felt that way. All throughout 2020, I felt like my extreme vigilance was the only thing between my business and an 8-car pileup. And we didn’t get hit nearly as hard as many businesses.
It’s a burden, being able to control situations with my hyper-vigilance, but it’s my lot in life. — Tina Fey, Bossypants
That hyper-vigilance can look like needing to have my fingers in every project or having to touch base with every customer. It can look like working 10 hours a day or checking in on the weekends. It can look like not going on vacation for fear of things crumbling without me or always leaving my inbox open throughout the day.
This last year involved every one of those habits at one point or another. Sometimes all at once.
Truthfully, I’m still burnt out from The Year Of White-Knuckling.
And I need a break. That’s why, if you’re reading this at the time it’s published, I’m unplugged and on vacation. Note from writing self to vacation self: seriously, let go—don’t work this week.
Of course, “taking a break” isn’t just about taking a vacation. It might mean making space for a creative project. Or making time to work on your business. Or taking Fridays off. Or putting your podcast on hiatus. There are so many ways to take a break from things that drain us (even if we love them) but hyper-vigilance is not the way you do it.
Last year notwithstanding, I’ve led my business to a pretty peaceful equilibrium.
We have strong systems, predictable cycles of work, and a dreamy community of customers who cheer when we take some time off.
But I also catch a glimpse of my former hyper-vigilant self every time I see Sean worry about our clients on the weekends or try to make vacation plans around reliable access to the internet every morning.
While it would be wonderful to work in a world where taking a break meant just shutting down the computer on a Friday with no preparation and not giving work a second thought for 10 days, taking a break takes some work.
There is work to be done on the business—I’ll get to the specifics in just a moment—and there is also mental work.
Now, if you’re not the anxious, hyper-vigilant business owner that I am, maybe mentally preparing for a break isn’t so hard. I have no idea what that’s like. Feel free to skip ahead, though.
For all the worriers out there, probably the most helpful mental shift I’ve made over the years is learning that:
There is no amount of worry or hyper-vigilance that will stop something bad from happening.
I can’t not take a break because I believe checking email every day averts all potential problems.
Even the best systems, happiest customers, and most independent team members won’t stop the random problem from breaking through.
But just because I can’t stop a problem from happening doesn’t mean that a problem will happen. I can take a few days or a few weeks off without there being a problem that... ★ Support this podcast ★
05/12/20 • 90 min
In This Episode:
* Why Startup Pregnant founder Sarah K. Peck started organizing mastermind groups & experiences before she was even a business owner* How Sarah facilitates conversation among group members for maximum results* Why mastermind groups are less about getting answers and more about getting in touch with your own inner knowing* The role that mastermind experiences play in her business today and how her business model is structured (including pricing)* Why structure is such an important part of creating highly effective mastermind groups
What would we do without the internet?
I mean, really.
I have access to a global library of information and ideas in my pocket at all times.
If I have a question, I can typically find an answer in less than 60 seconds.
And how about online learning?
If I want to learn a new skill, there’s probably a YouTube video or a CreativeLive class or an ebook that will teach me what I need to know.
It’s probably impossible to quantify the amount of new skills I’ve picked up thanks to the internet.
And how about the people that the internet brings together?
You know I love online communities, social networks, and just finding random connections between humans you would have otherwise never met.
The internet gives me access to people all over the world.
Information, ideas, learning new skills, meeting new people and connecting with old friends... the internet, with all its faults and foibles, can be an incredible place for support.
But at some point, learning new information, acquiring new skills, and even meeting new people starts to come up short.
At some point, as my guest today says, you realize that their aren’t external answers to internal questions.
You realize that beyond access to the world’s information and citizens... you need access to yourself: your own inner knowing.
One way I’ve gotten access to myself—my own inner knowing and decision-making—is through mastermind groups.
Last year, at an in-person gathering of one of the masterminds that we run at What Works, one participant told me that they didn’t really need anyone to tell them what to do with their business. They knew exactly what they should be doing. Instead, they said they needed people to ask why they weren’t doing it.
That’s why they were in the mastermind group.
To me, that’s the perfect illustration of how a mastermind group can support business owners who are committed to—not just learning a new marketing skill or figuring out how to launch a new product—but to becoming a more whole entrepreneur and building a business that works exceptionally well.
I’ve been running mastermind groups of one sort or another for about 5 years and I have a lot to say on the subject. But I didn’t want you to just get my thoughts...
So I invited someone equally as passionate about masterminding as I am, Sarah K. Peck, the founder of Startup Pregnant.
Sarah was on the show before talking about how the Startup Pregnant podcast got started—but the whole business and community of Startup Pregnant has evolved and grown a ton since then.
EP 353: Dancing With Systems In Clickup With Lou Blaser & Sean McMullin from YellowHouse.Media
09/07/21 • 59 min
In This Episode:
* Why Sean McMullin & Lou Blaser, from YellowHouse.Media, switched their project management software from Notion to Clickup (and why it’s not the right move for everyone!)* How they’ve reduced their podcast management procedure from 75 sub-tasks to 11 umbrella tasks* Why streamlining the procedure has allowed them to bring a more customized approach to each podcast they produce* How focusing on the system behind podcast production has helped them create a lot more capacity for new clients
A couple of months back, I read a downright beautiful article about systems.
Yes, you heard that right: a beautiful, thoughtful, and useful article about... systems.
It was written by Donella Meadows, an influential environmental scientist and leading thinker on systems change in the 20th century.
The article outlines 14 principles for *dancing* with systems. But today I want to focus on the first: get the beat.
When we talk about business systems, it’s easy to default to software, automation, or project management.
But a system is much more organic than that.
And if we don’t allow for a system’s inherently organic nature, we miss out on really understanding that system in order to work with it, dance with it.
Meadows explains that a mistake we so often make when we approach systems is that we see understanding the system as a way of predicting and controlling its output.
She writes, “The goal of foreseeing the future exactly and preparing for it perfectly is unrealizable.”
I get that that might be frustrating—especially as we see data and the ability to instantly connect with customers as modes for the ultimate in business predictability.
It can also be a relief.
If the goal of understanding systems isn’t to control them or predict their output but to dance with them and learn from them, we don’t have to be so hard on ourselves!
And that brings me to Meadows first dance step—get the beat. The mistake I see business owners make with systems is that they try to impose systems on their businesses. They create or build systems for different areas of their businesses.
But that negates the systems already at work in a business. And inevitably, trying to create a system instead of investigating a system, leads to frustration.
Meadows writes, “Before you disturb the system in any way, watch how it behaves.”
So let’s say you want to work on your marketing system. If you start with a blank page and start building something from scratch, you’re missing out on all of the data & feedback that already exists in your marketing system as it is now (whether you know it’s a system or not).
If instead, you map out your existing marketing system, no matter how haphazard or messy, you can start to ask some really interesting questions about that system:
* How did we get here?* How else could this work?* What might happen if we don’t make a change?* What are the long-term ripple effects of allowing this system to continue to play out... ★ Support this podcast ★
11/02/21 • 52 min
In This Episode:
* How Angie Browne‘s career has evolved into embracing her whole identity as a coach & consultant* Why she’s exploring big questions about our identities and how we work* What she did to establish how she wanted to work with clients and companies in this chapter* The story she’s rewriting a personal story she’s been telling for years
We all have an abundance of identities.
I’m a woman. A wife. A mother. I’m a business owner, a writer, a podcaster. I’m a runner, a yoga practitioner, a paddle boarder. I’m an introvert, a book lover, and a new cat parent.
I am many other things, too.
The professional world—as built by white men—has been a place where we leave our other identities at the door. We transform into whatever the job requires of us and try to ignore the rest.
There’s a passage that really encapsulates this in a book I read earlier this year—Having and Being Had by Eula Biss. She writes about a conversation she had with her mom:
“The hardest part of working isn’t the work, my mother tells me, it’s the passing. She means passing as an office worker—dressing the part, performing the rituals of office life, and acting appropriately grateful for a ten-hour shift at a computer.”
When we opt to forge our own path as business owners, it’s easy to imagine that we’ll escape these rituals, avoid assimilating to the expectations of the office. And sure, some of them we do escape from. But there are plenty we end up sticking with—like trying to be grateful for spending 10 hours in front of a computer. And there are others we adopt as part of our new work: the rituals of social media, networking, email responsiveness.
It’s not so much that dressing the part, performing the rituals, or adapting to your work environment is a bad thing.
It’s there also needs to be space for the identities, responsibilities, and personal needs we have outside our job descriptions or client agreements.
Making that space is one way we practice abundance. It might mean rearranging your schedule. Or, it could be a clause you add to your contracts that acknowledges that missing an appointment or rescheduling because of a family need is not the end of the world. It could be a having a colleague you do a mutual mental health check with each week. Or, it could be as simple as acknowledging the transitional space at the beginning of meetings before you get down to business.
This week, my guest is Angela Browne, a coach for luminaries and a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant for organizations. Part of our conversation is about the way she’s learned to bring her whole self into her work—whether in her former work as a head teacher or in her roles.
But another key part of our conversation revolves around abundant curiosity—the kind that is willing to ask bold questions without needing to have definitive answers.
My hope is that this conversation will inspire you to consider how you can both make space for your many identities in the way you work and make space for abundant curiosity.
Now, let’s find out what works for Angie Browne!
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In This Episode:
* How I decide what roles to hire for (and why understanding our team structure is key)* When it’s time increase capacity by hiring versus fixing messy operations* Why you don’t want to clone yourself to get more done* How product and operations can overlap to creating some really exciting opportunities
When I say I’m an introvert, I mean I’m a hardcore introvert.
People don’t believe me when I say that because I’m loud and enthusiastic—but being loud and enthusiastic is not the same thing as being extroverted.
If you spend more than an hour with me in a social situation, you’ll see the life drain from my eyes as my internal batteries release their last burst of energy.
I wish I was kidding—but I am not.
I also happen to be an introvert surrounded by extroverts.
I’m an internal processor surrounded by external processors. I’m an avoider of small talk surrounded by people who love small talk.
It’s a tricky situation.
Who are these people? They’re my team members—and among them, my husband.
Sean and I often joke about how unfortunate it is that I’ve ended up with so many extroverts in my life. Not because there’s anything wrong with extroverts but because it can be exhausting!
My friend Annie Schuessler asked if I’d be willing to talk about managing a team as an introvert and I jumped at the chance. I’ve learned so much about team-building in general over the last 5 years but I’ve also learned a bunch about how to put guardrails in place around my own energy and bandwidth as I work with my teams.
Since recording this interview, I’ve also started to talk publicly about how the way I work and relate to others is filtered through the lens of autism. So many of the things I’ve always thought of as a result of introversion and social anxiety are present because of my autism.
I am introverted, I do have social anxiety, and I’m autistic.
That’s a pretty thick soup to be wading through as a manager.
The main reason I wanted to share that before you hear this interview is because my experiences as an introverted boss may be quite different from your experiences if you’re also an introverted boss.
The other reason reason I wanted to share that is because, before I had the framework of autism to make sense of my life, I was constantly working against myself in an effort to fix things I perceived as problems & deficiencies.
While I’m still working to become a better manager and leader, I’m also looking much more objectively at how I can build structures that don’t require me to work against my nature quite so often. In so many ways, my autism is a strength for business-building, writing & podcasting, and team-building. But it takes work to embrace those strengths when they’re so different from what other people expect!
Alright, here’s what you’re going to hear in this interview—Annie and I talk about how I find team members, why you need to know what you’re really hiring for before you start looking, how I’m onboarding new hires now, and why you don’t want to clone yourself.
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06/15/21 • 61 min
In This Episode:
* Wanderwell founder Kate Strathmann and I unpack how our personal values often don’t line up with economic forces—and how that impacts our business* Why rethinking the purpose of your business might help you rethink your goals to be more aligned with your personal values* How expanding your vision to include taking care of others as well as yourself can create a paradigm shift in your business
Marketers love to tell you: do this and you’ll make more money.
Or, do this and you’ll have more freedom.
Or, do this and you’ll get to be more you.
If you do what I tell you to do, your life will significantly improve.
The reason for this is simple: capitalism turns life improvement into a task of consumption.
We’re convinced we can buy our way to an easier, more satisfying life. And that means many of us are convinced we can work our way to the money we need to do that.
Further, the more we improve ourselves and enhance our lives, the more we can use our selves as a form of capital to reinvest in the market. As Jia Tolentino writes, selfhood is capitalism’s last natural resource.
Now, I’m not meaning to pick on marketers here.
Because the way we (and yes, I’ll include myself here) market our products and services is only one very small part of a systemic problem.
The larger, systemic issue is how most of us are conditioned to focus our effort on the individual pursuit of success. We focus on our individual challenges, our individual needs, and our individual opportunities.
And that’s great because businesses can sell us answers to the questions of individual success and the solutions to individual challenges.
When their solutions don’t bring about the results we’re looking for? Well, it’s likely because we’re just not as capable as we need to be, right? Ugh.
Individualism is insidious.
Of course, just because individualism is insidious doesn’t mean we don’t have individual needs, goals, and desires that are absolutely worth pursuing.
It’s just that individualism as a system, along with the personal responsibility doctrine and the false promise of meritocracy create a series of assumptions that ultimately pit my success against your success, my needs against your needs, my desires against your desires.
We can talk about wanting business to be a win-win all we want but, as long as we’re working in these systems, it’s incredibly difficult to make it happen.
So what that does is put our personal values in conflict with economic forces. It puts the way we want to see the world in conflict with the way the world works.
Over the last 5 years, I’ve been trying to imagine and build ways of doing business that meet & exceed my individual needs while also broadening my focus beyond only my individual success. I still have many more questions that I have answers—and I’ve peeled back many layers of privilege and conditioning to see things in new ways.
Last spring, a new layer to peel back started to emerge. My friend and our resident business radical, Kate Strathmann, made it clear that many of the ways we were responding to the pandemic and resulting economic shock were an attempt at “individual solutions to ... ★ Support this podcast ★
06/22/21 • 59 min
In This Episode:
* How mindset & resilience consultant Shulamit Ber Levtov became interested in the mental health challenges women face in entrepreneurship* Why she took a month off from work to prevent experiencing a full burnout last year* The methods she uses to identify what she needs and how she’s feeling* Why she always starts with getting her emotional support needs met first* How she crafts clear boundaries and direct communication about what she really needs
When was the last time you asked for help?
The last time you tried to solve a problem by asking for guidance instead of throwing yourself into Google? The last time you told someone about something that was really weighing on you, not looking for answers but just reaching out for empathy and understanding?
I can’t remember the last time I did. So if you’re having a hard time picturing it, I’m right there with you.
I’ve been my identity around being the one with the answers, the one who has it all together.
Of course, much of that has been a mask for how utterly out of place and clueless I feel most of the time.
The more I can present myself as a smart, successful, and altogether resourceful leader the less likely I am to consciously worry about being rejected.
Today, we’re talking about cultivating emotional resilience and accessing support as a small business owner.
In their book, Burnout, Drs Emily and Amelia Nagoski term the collection of symptoms we face as the ones who have to have it all together as Human Giver Syndrome.
The “human giver” idea comes from philosopher Kate Manne who uses it to make a distinction between the expectations put on women, along with people of color, queer people, immigrants, and other marginalized groups, and the expectations put on white men. Human givers are the people who human beings rely on for moral support, emotional labor, admiration, attention, and care.
The Nagoskis suggest that human givers who give and give without the ability to take time to receive support for their own labor and stress are on a fast track to burning out.
I think this same dynamic can play out with business owners—no matter their gender.
Under-resourced business owners are often relied on for moral support, strategic direction, project management, post mortem analysis, and planning with little ability to receive support on those tasks—or many others.
What’s more, our culture valorizes entrepreneurs who do this work day in and day out, for long hours, with no breaks. Of course, none of that valor translates into a better safety net and more abundant collective resources for business-building.
Now, I’m in way trying to make entrepreneurs the subject of sympathy. The upside to building a business, even as an under-resourced business owner, can be immense.
But that doesn’t lessen the strain of making that upside reality.
It’s hard. And it’s lonely. And it often goes unrecognized.
Even though I am one of the many business owners who has a hard time setting aside my I’ve-got-it-all-together identity to ask for & receive support, I have created a container where people to do this on a daily basis.
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10/20/20 • 45 min
In This Episode:
* Why Jessica Williams created #jesspicks, the curated weekly newsletter for sidehustlers who love their day job* How each edition of the newsletter is structured* Why going “all in” has been the key to growing her subscriber list* What her weekly workflow looks like to put the newsletter together* How curating the newsletter has helped her to find her confidence as a writer
When you think about someone sharing their message, you think about the writers, the speakers, the artists.
You think about people who are creating original work.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to constantly be creating original work and finding something new to say. After all, that’s how we prove how valuable we are, right?
But creating original work isn’t the only way to use your voice.
Curators use their unique perspective and keen eye for connecting the dots to create value. They build and share their message by surfacing the work of others. They tell stories through the relationships between the pieces they choose to display side by side.
I see my role as the host of this podcast as one of a curator. The way we choose the topics we’re going to cover, the conversations we’re going to showcase, and the small business owners we’re going to talk to is all an act of curation.
I take a lot of pride in curating this show and thinking through how each theme relates to the next, how each conversation builds on the last, and how each guest is the opportunity to highlight a different story.
I also send out a weekly newsletter where, yes, I do write an original little piece as a letter, but I also share a set of links that have caught my eye over the last week or so. It’s an opportunity for me to show my point of view by highlighting ideas and voices that don’t necessarily “make the rounds” in the small business space.
By the way, if you don’t get What Works Weekly, can can subscribe by going to explorewhatworks.com/weekly
I was inspired to add curation to my communication and marketing strategy by Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger and currently creating & curating at Unemployable.
Brian started talking about curation versus creation as a way to share your message and make an impact in the summer of 2019. He said that he had started to elevate the role of editor over writer because while there is a surplus of good writing, there was a poverty of attention.
In that way, curation does double duty.
It’s not only a way to share your perspective with your audience, it’s a way to do them the service of wading through the sea of original works to deliver what’s important to them.
I’m all in on curating. And I think it’s something that most small business owners should consider as a potential way to use their voice and highlight their perspective.
So to take things really meta, as I was curating this month’s Speak Up theme, I knew I wanted to include a curator.
Jessica Williams came to mind.
Jessica is the curator behind #jesspicks, a weekly newsletter for side hustlers. Jessica is herself a side hustler, working during the day at &yet, ★ Support this podcast ★
10/27/20 • 43 min
In This Episode:
* How Rebel Therapist podcast host Annie Schuessler found her voice as a podcaster—and how her show has evolved over time* How she plans her content for her podcast and selects the guests she’ll have on the show* Why she decided to start pitching other podcasts to have her on—and the process she uses to do it* The techniques Annie uses to break through the fear of asking to be on other podcasts
The number one way I’ve built my audience might surprise you.
It’s NOT through especially useful or creative content. It’s not through some top secret ad targeting strategy. It’s definitely not through social media.
It’s not even through this podcast.
The number one way I’ve built my audience is by borrowing other people’s audiences.
When I had a craft and design blog, I borrowed other people’s audiences by doing extensive write ups on makers I loved—who then enthusiastically shared that write up with their audience.
When I started doing more business coaching & education, I guest posted on big name online marketing sites and their readers followed the links back to my site.
As time went on, I borrowed audiences by appearing on podcasts and speaking for free. And of course, I borrowed the audience at CreativeLive for years—which is a move I still benefit from to this day.
There are other ways to grow an audience—things like search engine optimization, PR, and—of course—advertising. But even at the heart of these tactics is the strategy of borrowing audiences from other sources.
Now, even though borrowing audiences is something that I know works for me, I all too often forget to build that work into my plans.
During our last What Works Network virtual conference, sales strategist Allison Davis shared that it’s the only way she’s working to grow her audience. Sure, she has some social media presence but her core strategy is borrowing other people’s audiences.
Once Allison shared that, it became a hot topic of conversation: how do you borrow someone’s audience? How do you get in touch with the people who have the right audience for you and your work? How do you make the most of these opportunities?
Today, we’re answering a bunch of those questions with Annie Schuessler from Rebel Therapist.
Annie helps therapists and other healers move their businesses beyond private practice. She has her own podcast—also called Rebel Therapist—and we talk about how hosting her show has helped to use her voice.
But we also dive into how Annie has been borrowing other people’s audiences all year long through a podcast tour, a concerted effort to pitch other hosts and appear on other shows.
Not only has her tour been successful—but it’s helped create incredible results in her business, like overselling her last Create Your Program group coaching offer.
We talk about how Annie finds shows to pitch, the research she does to pitch them, how she tracks her pitching, and how she’s overcome the fear she first felt when getting started on this project.
Now, let’s find out what works for Annie Schuessler!
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08/13/20 • 13 min
In This Episode:
* Why Sean and Tara McMullin chose to “productize” their full-service podcast production offer at YellowHouse.Media... and what productized services actually are* What’s included in the package they offer–and why they don’t often custom or a la carte services* How the productized service model allowed them to quickly create a small group coaching program to increase their capacity and serve more clients
Hey! It’s Tara McMullin and this is a special BONUS episode of What Works—the show that takes you behind the scenes of how small business owners take decisive action on building a stronger business.
This is the second episode of a bonus series on how I’ve approached creating and delivering value through the products and services I’ve offered over the years.
In the first bonus episode, I shared how my most recent offer, a live program called The Commitment Blueprint, started as a personal life change, grew into a free webinar, and then transformed—TWICE—into a paid product.
In this episode, I’m going to give you a closer look at my other company, YellowHouse.Media, and share how and why we’ve taken on the productized service model—including what that means for how we serve our clients, run our operations, and build for the future.
Plus, I’ll share how the same principles that apply to YellowHouse also apply to What Works and how we continue to develop The What Works Network to support small business owners as they build stronger businesses.
Now, in the last regular episode I spoke with India Jackson, the founder of brand visibility agency Flaunt Your Fire. India described what clients come to Flaunt Your Fire looking to achieve and how the agency helps them achieve those results.
She also shared that she tailors each client engagement to the goals of that client using both master services list and a really strong idea of what the agency’s yes, no, and maybe projects are.
This bespoke service model is typically how people approach building a service-based business.
The client tells you want they need, you figure out how to make that happen and put a price on it. Each engagement looks different and might include a different mix of services.
And this model works.
But it’s not the only way to build a service-based business.
A few years ago, I started to notice that the most successful people I was working with in our community and mastermind groups were running a different kind of service-based business.
They were running productized service businesses.
(And in case you’re wondering, yes, most of the time these productized service businesses were out-earning the digital product businesses. So don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make money in client services.)
I was intrigued by the model and operations behind these successful productized service businesses... but, more than that, I was intrigued by how happy these business owners were!
They were focused. ★ Support this podcast ★
How many episodes does What Works have?
What Works currently has 417 episodes available.
What topics does What Works cover?
The podcast is about Economics, Business, Careers, Entrepreneurship and Philosophy.
What is the most popular episode on What Works?
The episode title 'EP 344: Time To Take A Break?' is the most popular with 1 listens, 1 ratings and 1 comments/reviews.
What is the average episode length on What Works?
The average episode length on What Works is 39 minutes.
How often are episodes of What Works released?
Episodes of What Works are typically released every 6 days, 23 hours.
When was the first episode of What Works?
The first episode of What Works was released on Oct 28, 2015.
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