How To Take Your Creative Business To The Next Level With Tara McMullin

If you’ve been running your author business for a while, you can start to feel like you’re in a rut, or that you’ve hit a plateau in terms of sales. So how do you move into a new phase? I discuss this and more with Tara McMullin today.

successIn the intro, I mention PublishDrive’s announcement of a new advertising dashboard for authors that includes Amazon Ads, the new Stephen King Alexa Skill, and the new Masterclass with Neil Gaiman.

Plus, Valley of Dry Bones, an ARKANE thriller, is out now in audiobook. [ Audible US | Audible UK | Google Play | More links]

Productivity for AuthorsAre you struggling to find the time to write? Do you want to make the most of your writing time so you can write more words, faster? Are you ready to reset your productivity? If yes, check out my new mini-course, Productivity for Authors, just US$149. You can find all my courses at:

Tara McMullinTara McMullin is an author, professional speaker, and founder of the What Works Network, a social and support network for digital small businesses. She’s also the host of the What Works Podcast and her latest book is Subtle: The Small Shifts That Lead To Big Results.

You can listen above or on iTunes or your favorite podcast app or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Tara’s motivation to write her latest book
  • subtleViewing our non-fiction body of work as part of a journey rather than something set in stone as we all change over time
  • How to move out of stagnancy without destroying the past
  • What causes plateaus in business, and how to deal with them
  • Why systems matter and how they are actually already in place
  • Getting away from the launch cycle mentality
  • The synergy between physical fitness and business
  • Tips for rebranding

You can find Tara McMullin at

Transcript of Interview with Tara McMullin

Joanna: Hi, everyone. I’m Joanna Penn, from, and today, I’m here with Tara McMullin. Hi, Tara.

Tara: Hello, Joanna. I’m so glad to be here.

Joanna: It’s great to have you back on the show. Just a little introduction.

Tara is an author, professional speaker, and founder of the ‘What Works’ network, a social and support network for digital small businesses. She’s also the host of the fantastic ‘What Works Podcast,’ and her latest book is ‘Subtle: The Small Shifts That Lead To Big Results.’

It’s such a super book, Tara, but I wanted to know, why this book now? You’ve written books before.

What’s happened in your life and your community that you’re doing this book in particular?

Tara: ‘Subtle,’ is all about mindset and how our mindsets evolve or don’t evolve as our businesses mature and become more sophisticated, and as we try, try, try to grow them.

I think the real reason this book now is because not only has mindset been a huge part of my journey over the last few years and really figuring out why are certain things working and why aren’t certain things working.

But what I really started to notice is in interviewing successful, mature, sophisticated small business owners, mindset was incredibly important to the way they approach their business. And it was very clear that there are specific patterns in how their mindsets changed as their businesses grew and matured.

What I really wanted to do was call out those patterns, because in each individual episode of the podcast, there’d be a question or it might be part of the conversation, but we didn’t have any place where I could really highlight those patterns in the podcast itself, and it seemed like a book was the perfect place to do that.

Joanna: But why would you come back to writing a book? Because you blog, you write, you write amazing stuff on Medium, you have the podcast, you have a newsletter, you have a community. You have a lot of ways of putting out what you think.

I thought you were done with books. I thought you said you were.

So for those listeners who want to write non-fiction books, why a book at this point?

Tara: No, definitely not done. I mean, I did take a hiatus from writing longer form content. But this seemed like something that needed to be tackled not piece by piece, but really as a whole.

And I think that if we’re thinking about how you make an argument in that kind of more meta, more complete way, there is still nothing better than a book, right? For making that kind of argument. And that’s what I really wanted to do with this.

I would say that looking back over the things that I’ve published so far, I think this is the one that has the most complete argument to it. It has the best through line of the idea and the information that’s included in it. And I just couldn’t think of a better way to communicate what I was trying to communicate than through long-form written content.

So I think that’s why I really chose a book format for this work. It wasn’t going to be enough to do a podcast episode or a podcast series. It wasn’t going to be enough to mete it out blog post by blog post, it needed to be something that was able to be more complete. And I think that a book is still the best way we have to do that.

Joanna: And obviously, my audience agrees!

But I am also interested because I’ve known you ‘online’ for like 10 years, and then we met a couple of years ago when we spoke in Denver, and your early books obviously represent an earlier form of you.

I think this is a fear that many non-fiction authors, well, many authors in general have, which is, if I put out a book now, I’m going to change. My thoughts change.

Tara now is different to the Tara who wrote that first book.

What would you say to authors who are scared of putting out what they think now, in case it changes?

Tara: I would say I still wrestle with this question. If I look at my older work, there is some of it that I’m just like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe that that’s still out there and that people are still reading it.’

I’ll get tagged on an Instagram post, ‘Oh, go read Tara’s ‘Quiet Power Strategy.’ It’s really awesome.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay.’

Joanna: And it’s still helping people.

Tara: Absolutely. And so I think that that maybe is the key, is that what you have to say now can help people, and if it’s valuable now then it’s worth being said, it’s worth being written.

And then yes, you are going to grow, you are going to change, you’re going to learn new things, your opinions might change, your perspective might change, and actually documenting that growth is also useful for people.

I made a post on Instagram yesterday, just talking about the 10 years that I’ve been in business, and all of the changes that I’ve made. Because really, if there’s any theme that connects all of my work over the last 10 years, it’s change and evolution.

A bunch of people commented that they’ve learned so much by just my willingness to change and evolve. And so I think that that applies to our written work as well.

I think it can be tempting to think that when we write a book, it becomes this artifact that has to stand on its own for all time, or it needs to go out of print. I think that there is room for looking at writing books as a journey and as your whole catalog as a body of work that has its own value in how it’s evolved.

And that’s a really important part of showing the breadth of whatever it is that you’re talking about and your perspective as a writer and thinker.

Joanna: I agree with you. And of course, I’ve been sharing my journey for about 10 years of the podcast, and 10 years with a blog and everything, and it’s kind of crazy. And the stuff we talked about then we were learning then. And now, we’re learning new things.

Let’s get into the book. Because what I really like about ‘Subtle’ is it’s not for newbies, it is not actually for people starting out. It’s about what happens next, which is great.

So, many of my authors are new, but many of them might have a lot of books, they might have been doing this for years, they might feel stagnant or at a plateau in their business. And I’ve felt like that too.

How do we move out of that stagnant phase without blowing away everything we love?

Tara: It’s a great question. And I think that often, stagnation just comes from asking ourselves the same questions that we’ve always asked ourselves. And the best way to break out of that stagnation is to start asking new questions.

And yes, mindset has everything to do with that as well. I talk about this a little bit in the book. But mindset isn’t something that you change and then everything is hunky dory. You can’t just flip a switch on your mindset.

It is something that you need to integrate into your daily actions, integrate into the way you approach things, the way you plan for things, the goals that you set. And so one way we can actually do that, one way we can step into a new mindset and open ourselves for growth beyond that plateau is by asking different questions.

And so if you’re trying to figure out maybe a problem, or a challenge, or an obstacle that you’ve had in your business for a while, something that you feel like has you stuck in that plateau, try asking that question in a different way.

What would it look like if? What would it look like if I charged 10 times more for this? What would it look like if I took down my website? What would it look like if I put all my books out of print and reworked them and relaunched them all at the same time?

None of those things are advice, by the way, but it’s a question that you can ask yourself to see things in a different way. And in doing so you can actually activate that creative thinking side of things, so that you’re not trying to business your way through the next phase of your business, but instead, you’re actually using those creative problem-solving skills that are the reason you’re both a writer and a business owner.

And in asking those new questions, then find possibilities, find potential, find opportunities that you might not have had otherwise, or might not have seen otherwise. Because we really get in a rut, right?

Plateaus are caused by mindset, yes, they’re caused by broken business models, and just looking at challenges wrong. But they’re also caused by being in a rut, doing the same thing the same way, year after year after year, without questioning whether it’s the right thing or not.

I think the best thing that you can do to start breaking out of that plateau is questioning the way you do things, questioning what it could look like if you did things completely differently. Questioning whether the conventions or the assumptions that you’ve been operating under, whether they’re actually true or not.

It might feel like a lot of almost busy work at first, because you are going to ask yourself just ridiculous questions that are not necessarily productive.

But one question leads to another, leads to another, and now suddenly, you have a completely different way to see things, and that completely different way of seeing things allows you to create something that does help you finally pass that plateau.

Joanna: It’s interesting because I feel that so often, the business owner label is quite difficult for writers, because you feel like, well, I’m a writer, how can I write books differently? Or, how do I ask these questions?

If people want to go from, say, mid, you know, 250K, which is what you kind of talked about, up to a higher six-figure or seven-figure business, and then it’s like, well, it’s just me, but I don’t want to outsource the writing.

So, I guess so my challenge here is, how do we figure out what questions to ask? How do you step outside your head, as Tara? Do you have a coach? Do you take a weekend walking? Because I know that’s kind of what people will be thinking.

How do you actually figure out those questions?

Tara: First off, I love everything you just suggested. Yes, hire a coach or take yourself out for a weekend where you’re just out of your element, and you’re just seeing things differently because you’re in a different place.

Those things absolutely work. Pick one that feels right for you.

But something else that you can do, something that I love to do when I feel like I’m in a rut, when I feel like I’ve plateaued and like, I feel like there’s nowhere else for me to turn, is I start looking at other industries.

And Joanna, I think this is something that you do really well is that you haven’t gotten yourself stuck in, ‘this is what the writer’s business model looks like,’ right? You have looked at all sorts of different kinds of businesses, all sorts of different kinds of companies, and you’ve asked yourself, ‘What can I learn from this?’

And so one way to start asking different questions is by exposing yourself to different stories, different information. So that might mean listening to different podcasts or incorporating…don’t stop listening to Joanna’s podcast…but incorporate different podcasts from different industries into your listening time.

Read books from different industries. Talk to business owners who aren’t just other writers, but instead are building different kinds of companies, who are operating under different kind of models, who have different kinds of teams, different kinds of operations, different kinds of products, and find out what questions they’re asking themselves, and then start asking those questions of yourself.

Sometimes it’s almost like the idea of like, copy like an artist, right? Where you have to understand how other people are doing what they’re doing, so that then you can apply that to your own business.

And at first it’s going to feel like I’m just doing what they’ve done, or I’m just copying them. But eventually, you start to integrate that into the way you think, and you start to see your issues differently.

That is probably my favorite thing to do when I need to see things differently is instead of asking myself what would another business coach do? Or what would another community manager do? I ask myself what’s Mark Zuckerberg doing? Well, not right now. I’m not asking myself that right now at all.

But I would absolutely ask myself what’s Howard Schultz doing? He’s not the founder technically of Starbucks, but he’s sort of like the spiritual founder of Starbucks. And I ask myself, ‘What is Starbucks doing right now to innovate on their business, to grow their customer base, to respond to the market?’ Starbucks is actually making a ton of changes right now, because they’re paying attention to their market.

So what can I learn from that? What questions do I think they’re asking in their marketing meetings? And how can I apply that to my business?

The same thing, every time I go grocery shopping at our new Whole Foods here in Central Pennsylvania, which was just so exciting when that opened. Every time I’m in that building I’m asking myself, why is this thing here? Why is that sign there? Why are these employees so happy?

I’m thinking, all right, what was the strategy there? What were the questions that were asked, and how can I apply that to my business?

But the more you dig in and say, ‘Well, I’m a writer, and this is the way my business has to be,’ or ‘this is what all the writers before me have done,’ the less possibility you see, the less potential, the less opportunity you have, and the less creative you’re going to be thinking about your business.

I have a feeling when you write books, you don’t just read books that are just like the books you’re writing, right? We read all sorts of different things. We read them, we read different fields, we read different genres.

It’s the same thing with business. The more you expose yourself to the different kinds of questions different business owners ask, the better you’ll be able to approach your own business.

Joanna: I totally agree. That’s what I enjoy about your podcast. You interview a lot of different people from different industries, and like you’ve got one, I’ve got one I haven’t listened to yet on a print product person who’s investing in all physical product.

I have a digital-only print-on-demand type business. And I’m like, ‘That’s going to challenge me.’ I’m saving it for a moment where I need to be challenged. But it is really interesting to do that.

Also, one of the things that I got from the book, so I’m a goal setter. I mean, January, as we’re talking doing the interview, and I’m like, ‘I have loads of goals, and I blog my goals, and I’m very goalie,’ but you talk about process in the book, and the importance of process.

I’m actually really terrible at doing process documents and stuff, even though I was a business consultant and that’s what I used to do. That may be where the resistance is, to be honest.

How can going through our processes and honing our processes actually lead us to success?

Tara: I see goals and process as being two sides of the same coin. You can’t have goals without process, and process without goals is just busy work, right? And that’s one of the reasons we resist process so much is that it’s not connected to goals that we care about.

Process is incredibly important to me, even though I’m not an operations person. My actual operations person would very much like to slap my wrist on a daily basis for me not using Asana, and not documenting my work. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t think in terms of process.

I think maybe that’s the first place that we need to start is documentation, super duper important; figuring out what works and repeating that, making it a replicable process, super important. But the first thing we need to do is recognize that we have a process, and that recognizing that process is how we start making forward progress toward our goal.

All that really means is starting to pay attention to the work that you do in a new way. What are the questions that you ask yourself every time you start a new book? What are the questions that you ask yourself every time you go to market a new book? How do you put together an outline for a book? How do you write the first chapter?

There are certain things, most, 99% of the time, that you do exactly the same way each time. But if we’re not paying attention to that, it’s very easy to miss it. I used to miss it all the time, and until I started paying attention to it more, I couldn’t recognize that, ‘Oh, I already have a system.’

I think we have this issue with thinking about process and systems in terms of something that we need to create. One thing I’ve learned from the brilliant Natasha Vorompiova, who is a systems wizard, is that systems are not created, they are recognized and documented.

So, we already have a system. Accept that, love it, breathe it in, you already have that system there, the process is already there.

The goal then is to recognize it and start documenting it when you do. So like I said, that first step is really recognizing it. But, on the flip side of that then, if we want to look a little bit more closely at goals, it’s incredibly important that when you set a goal, you also start to recognize what processes go into creating that goal.

So just a completely random and outside of business example of this. Last year, I set a goal for myself to be able to do 10 unassisted pull-ups in a row. So bang them out, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. And at the beginning of the year, I couldn’t do a single pull up. I did my first pull up last January, and then I was like, ‘I’m going to do 10 of these.’

Early on in the year, what I did was I went through my usual, I’m a rock climber, a boulderer. So I would go through my bouldering workout basically. I’d climb, climb, climb, and then I’d try and do a pull-up. And I would do one, and then maybe the next month I’d be able to do two. And maybe the next month, I’d be able to do three.

And I was like, ‘This is great. I’m going to get to 10 in no time.’ Well, of course, we know that’s not how that works.

What happened? I plateaued. And what I realized is that I didn’t actually have a process for getting to those 10 pull ups. And when we’re talking about strength training, strength training is always a process. There’s a process to how you approach those strength goals, and it’s called a training program.

So what did I do? I started a training program that was specific to pull-ups, and it took me through almost a little bit of a counter-intuitive workout for working up to those 10 pull-ups. And I worked on that program in the second half of the year, and before I knew it, come December, I don’t know when I actually hit it, it was like December 15, I was like, ‘I’m going to see if I can do it, today.’

And I hopped on the bar. Boom. Knocked out those 10 pull ups. Did it the next week and did it again.

But I had to have a process behind actually getting there, or else I was just wishing that it was going to happen. Like I said, you’ve got to recognize the process that exists or a process that you can adopt, that helps you get to that goal. And you have to tie that process to your goals, and your goals have to be tied to a process.

So it has to be two sides of the same coin, they have to go work hand in hand, or else one is always going to suffer at the expense of the other.

Joanna: I like that, and of course, authors are great at wishing things would happen.

Tara: Right. So are entrepreneurs.

Joanna: Good point. Everyone’s like, ‘I just start a business, put a website up, but I’ve got a million dollars.’

Tara: Yeah. No.

Joanna: I really like that. Now, you’ve put out some blog posts in the last year or so, which I loved, about you and your audience getting sick of the perpetual launch cycle. And you’re very authentic, your voice, you are authentic and I love this post that you talk about this.

I know many authors listening feel the same way. Because launching a book, similar to launching a digital product, or a coaching thing or whatever, is similar.

And at the moment in the author community, it’s very much Amazon advertising is the big thing, and so there’s this kind of perpetual launch cycle.

What do you think we need to do if we want to build a long term sustainable pipeline without having to do this nightmare launch thing all the time?

Tara: I could talk about this all day long. But I will try and keep it, not brief, but I will try to not go off on 100 different tangents here.

First of all, you’ve got to recognize that business is a long game. It’s a long game, period. And if you’re doing things that make it difficult to stay in it for the long game, and I think that that perpetual launch cycle is one of those things that makes it hard to stay in it for the long game, you’ve got to recognize that you need to make a change.

Even if you feel like it’s working right now, you got to ask yourself, is this still going to be working five years from now? Am I still going to be working five years from now? And actually, I was thinking about this on the treadmill this morning, so forgive the fitness example again, but I’m going to give it.

I was thinking about heart rate training specifically. When I started running, I thought the goal was to run as fast as I could and for as long as I could, and then like, eventually I would get faster and I could do that for longer.

That’s not actually how running works. That’s a really good way to get injured though, and get sidelined for months, which is what happened. Then I discovered heart rate training, and the goal of heart rate training is to keep your heart rate in a particular zone, that actually feels pretty easy.

For me, that’s about 155 beats per minute. Yes, it’s cardio exercise, but it’s not high intensity, it’s not HIIT training, it’s not intervals, it’s just, I’m in the state that my body can stay in for 45 minutes, an hour, two hours, longer, which is pretty cool.

And so with heart rate training, you learn how to do that for longer, and longer, and longer. And as you do it for longer, your heart rate actually even starts to come down from there. So like an ultra marathoner that I know, his heart rate goals are like to stay below 140 as he’s running 100 miles at a time.

I started thinking about how we approach business, and I think very often, we approach business like it’s HIIT training, high-intensity interval training, where our goal is to go all out, and then we rest. And then we go all out and then we rest.

And we don’t think that it’s working, we don’t think that it’s doing what we need it to do, unless we’re in an intense period of, ‘Yes, I’m going to launch this book to as many people as possible.’ But that, to me, is not good for the long game.

You’re going to get burnt out, you’re going to get injured, and things are going to start to fall apart. And instead, I would like to think about my business as how can I keep this momentum, and still honoring seasonality, still honoring different enrollment periods, and maybe there are different sales promotions. But what does that long haul burn look like in my business?

And so that’s what I’ve started to think about in terms of how we set up a marketing strategy to make this really work. Okay, so then what does that actually look like? Yes, Tara, that sounds good. I want to keep my heart rate down. Awesome. But what does that actually look like?

Last week, I released an interview with a Facebook ad strategist named Amanda Bond, and the big question that we really wanted to answer is, is it still possible to make money with Facebook ads? And what I’m hearing from you is that also Amazon ads, Google ad, whatever it is, is it still possible to make money with digital advertising?

What she has identified with all of the data that she has from running campaigns is that yes, these things can still work. But the way we’ve been approaching them is all wrong.

We’ve been trying to squeeze our audiences into these launches, into these big promotions, into this launch cycle in our business, instead of having that steady burn of relationship building, just regular good content that’s going out, of nurturing people along, of allowing them to find their way in the work that we do and get really comfortable with our brands, and then to be there when they’re ready for whatever we have to offer.

I know for me personally, this is absolutely something that I have experienced and something that I needed to move away from a few years ago. I was absolutely squeezing my audience through launches, through enrollment periods, through campaigns. And I was getting diminishing returns on it.

So luckily I said, ‘What am I going to do about this?’ I started re-engaging with my audience in a much more human way. Asking them to write back, asking them to DM me, actually having conversations with people instead of hoping that they would jump from lead magnet, to webinar, to purchase.

Not surprisingly, I have a much better relationship with my audience now. And so now, when I release something, like a new book, or when we open enrollment on the network, people are way more likely to jump on that, because they’ve experienced things that feel really good to them. They know where it fits.

They know why it applies to them, that it has context. And so context building, and relationship building, and not putting up false boundaries and walls between us and our audience. I think that’s really how you start to break out of that launch cycle and find that long game of marketing and business ownership that we really need to be in if we’re going to be making this work for more than a couple of years.

Joanna: I love that. And also, it’s not just about the audience, it’s also about us. And it can get, as you said, the whole burnout and almost the stagnation we talked about, the boredom even, with some of the same processes over and again.

I might be wrong, but I think your fitness journey kind of really went up a notch probably around the time you were making these decisions. And as you said, you’re a climber now, you’re running, all kinds of things. You are hiking around the world and being amazing with your husband and your daughter.

I wondered, because since we’ve talked, I co-wrote a book called ‘The Healthy Writer’ with a medical doctor. So I love hearing about this, and people are like, ‘Oh, well, I don’t have enough time.’


Tara: In every possible way. So first off, I have lots of fitness metaphors that I can use to explain business things, which I’m sure doesn’t appeal to everyone. That’s totally fine, but the people it appeals to is awesome.

But that aside, first off, I know with my fitness practice that when I start the day with a workout, my whole workday is better. I’m starting with an hour, an hour and a half of something that I control.

Even if it’s 15 minutes, I am there, I am showing up, I am 100% present because I have to be. If I’m not present, I could get hurt. It’s not fun if I’m not 100% there. So starting the day in that way has been a huge change for me. It’s helped me understand my approach to process, it’s helped me understand my approach to goals. There is so much synergy and overlap between fitness and business.

And really the reason that I got into fitness in the first place, two years ago now, was when I really started at least thinking about it, was I looked around at the entrepreneurs around me, I looked at my immediate network, I looked at people who had businesses that kind of represented the ideal of what I wanted to have, the kinds of companies that I wanted to build.

I looked at all these people and they were crossfitters, they were climbers, they were runners, they were weightlifters. Didn’t all mean that they looked super buff or that they were super thin, or all the things that we associate with fitness. Instead, I think their brain was the thing.

That was getting that effect of their daily or weekly fitness practice. And so I said, ‘Okay, well, if all these people have this thing in common, maybe I should get this a try too because I want to be like them.’

I want to have that kind of discipline, I want to have that kind of mental fortitude. And so just little bit by little bit, I fit it in at the beginning of every day, and over time, the workouts got longer, they got harder, I tried to do new things, and I just loved it. I love every minute of it still.

There is no workout I don’t look forward to anymore, and I truly believe that that has helped me change the way I look at my business, it’s helped me change the way I look at my working style, like the work that I do on a daily basis, it’s given me mental clarity.

It has taught me so many things about the concept of discipline and mental fortitude. And my perspective on those things has changed as a result of my fitness practice. So I’m not sure if I’m answering your original question or not, but fitness has become this non-negotiable that allows me to show up for my business, and my audience, and my team in a way that I was not able to show up before.

Joanna: And after all that it also feels good.

Tara: Yes, it does feel good.

Joanna: Happy times. And I love that you go hiking with your family and you put pictures of that on Instagram and stuff. We’ll say where people can find you in a minute.

But just one more question about your business. You were last on the show as Tara Gentile, you have had a business which had a different name. You’ve rebranded a lot in a personal way and a business way in the last few years.

So many authors go through this, because they might start writing under a new pen name, so almost like starting from scratch.

What have you learned from rebranding about the best way to do it and the bad ways to do it?

Tara: I have definitely learned a lot.

First off, there’s no such thing as over communication. You cannot tell people too much that you’re making a change. It is impossible. That means you tell the story over and over again, it means you go on brilliant podcasts and you let other people ask you about it and you tell the story over and over again.

It means you send out more emails than you think that you could possibly send out, letting people know that things are changing. It means that you talk to as many people as you can as many times as you can to get that changed, even started.

And guess what? I’m still talking about things that have been over for years. So it is another long game, and that you cannot over communicate.

I think that another thing that’s really important is having a very clear reason why you’re making a change, and a very clear story behind it.

When I announced that I was going from Tara Gentile to Tara McMullin, I wrote a big long post about why that change was important to me. Gentile was my ex-husband’s last name. I had all sorts of baggage…no, I shouldn’t say I had baggage around that, but there were all sorts of negative associations with that time in my life.

The only reason I still had that name and hadn’t gone back to my maiden name was because of my business. And I decided that it was more important to me at that time to make this change than it was to hold on to this past business reputation or maybe cause some moment some short term confusion.

I wrote that out and I told that story in a Medium post. And unsurprisingly, as any wedding announcement is going to get, it got a lot of attention. There was lots of applause on the Medium post, and that allowed me to start creating that foundation for the change before it even actually happened.

And so now, we’re going through this rebranding process again, and I’m doing the same thing, I’m thinking about, like, what is the real reason why we’ve made this change? How can I start telling that story even before we made the change?

I’ve spent all of January really seeding this idea so that when it actually happens, when I make that announcement, people are like, ‘Oh, of course, that’s what you’re doing.’

For the people that we let in on the secret first, that’s exactly the reaction that they had, and the more and more we build up to it, I think, it will not surprise me if in the next day or two, because we’re recording this before the change has actually happened or before the announcement’s actually been made, if someone says, ‘Hey, are you going to make a change?’ And I’ll be like, ‘Yes. Yes, I am.’

That’s my goal. I think that it’s very tempting anytime you do a rebrand, a relaunch, a renaming, to think that you have to pull back the curtain all at once, very dramatically, and be like, ‘All right, we’re here now.’

I don’t actually think that’s the right way to do it. I don’t think that’s the best way to do it. I think you want to lay that groundwork first, start telling the story first, and then make the announcement so that it feels really inevitable.

And then like I said, over communicate, over communicate, over communicate about that change, and be prepared to do it for years, because that’s been my experience every time I make a change. It is years down the line for it to really feel like it was final and permanent and people get it.

Joanna: I also think that another important lesson is that you’ve done this a number of times. I started out as Joanna Penn, and then I split into JF Penn for my fiction, and I’m starting another podcast, and another website, and everything.

So, we do these things, and you and I have been doing it long enough that we’re not scared of it. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we’re like, ‘Okay, we know we’ll get there.’ So that’s actually quite a big thing, too, I think.

Tara: I completely agree. It can be scary, and intimidating, and a little overwhelming any time you make a big change. But I think realizing that business is change, business is evolution.

Businesses that try and stay the course without changing tend to be the businesses that don’t last very long, or maybe they’ll last for 20 years and then all of a sudden, their market dries up and they go out of business.

I think we’ve seen that actually a lot in the last 10, 15 years here in the 21st century. Those 20th century businesses that resisted change for so long, they don’t exist anymore, even though they used to be behemoths.

I love change. I love evolution, probably to a flaw. But yes, I think that embracing that evolution and allowing it to show you what that right next step is, even if it’s a scary thing like rebranding, or renaming, or stepping out with a new name, I think that’s really important.

Joanna: And talking of change, so tell us about the ‘What Works’ network and how ‘Creative Listening’ might find that useful.

Tara: The ‘What Works’ network is a community of small business owners who are coming together to talk about what works, and what’s not working, and what might work.

Basically, our philosophy is that what works in a small business is going to be different for every small business. Sure, there are some basic things that most of us anyway, have in common, or that might be best practices. But beyond that, we are largely finding our own way.

I think that here in 2019, a lot of small business owners have been sold a bill of goods, saying this is the right way to do ads, this is the right way to write a book, this is the right way to market, this, that, or the other thing, and I don’t believe those things are true.

I believe, sure, that might be a good way to do those things, but it’s going to be a little bit different for every single business.

And so what we really like to do is recognize and elevate the resourcefulness, and the problem solving, and the decision making that each entrepreneur brings to the table, and give them the space to gather the information that they need to really make use of that resourcefulness, and decision making, and creative problem solving.

That’s what our community is all about. It’s essentially like a mini social network, where you can connect with people, have these kinds of conversations, have a lot of back and forth. We host virtual events on a monthly basis, things like virtual conferences, business owner roundtables, expert Q&As, and all sorts of opportunities to just get people connecting, and again, talking about what works.

It’s this really easy to access, accessible place for people to hang out and get, if not answers to the questions that they have, the information that they need to find their own answers.

Joanna: And I’d say it’s definitely for people who do want to run a better business.

Tara: Yes.

Joanna: So if you’re listening and that’s you, then check that out, and also the ‘What Works Podcast,’ which is fantastic.

Where else can people find you and everything you do online?

Tara: You can find the ‘What Works’ network and the podcast at, and you can find me on an almost daily basis on Instagram.

Instagram is my main social hub at this point here in this world of social media here today in January 2019. Who knows what it might be two years from now? But you can find me there.

I’m @Tara_McMullin. I post to my stories, I post to the feed, I answer DMs. So if you want to connect with me a little bit more personally, Instagram is the place to go.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Tara. That was great.

Tara: Thank you.

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  • February 3, 2019