How To Use Your Fears To Grow Your Business

Today’s guest has spent 20 years in digital marketing, consulting for more than 700 companies during that period, including 30 of the FORTUNE 500.

This episode was previously released as Hack the Entrepreneur Episode 044.

His current company — Convince & Convert — is the fifth multi-million dollar company he has started from scratch.

Before his move into digital marketing in 1994, he was a brand marketer and a political consultant with major roles in state, federal, and presidential electoral campaigns.

His second book, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype, was #3 on The New York Times best seller list.

Now, let’s hack …

In this 31-minute episode Jay Baer and I discuss:

  • Learn the difference between helping and selling
  • How goals are limiting you and your business
  • Why your content has to pass the “Mom” test
  • How and why you need to market your marketing
  • Why YOU are a media company (even if you don’t want to be)


The Show Notes



How to Use Your Fears to Grow Your Business

Voiceover: Welcome to Hack the Entrepreneur, the show which reveals the fears, habits, and inner battles behind big-name entrepreneurs and those on their way to joining them. Now, here is your host, Jon Nastor.

Jonny Nastor: Welcome back to Hack the Entrepreneur. Thank you so much for joining me again. I greatly appreciate it. My name is Jon Nastor, but you can call me Jonny.

During today’s conversation, I ask a question of my guest. This question elicits a response that leaves me slightly speechless and almost on the verge of tears. I decided to leave it in and am thankful to my guest for being so truly open with me.

Today’s guest has spent 20 years in digital marketing, consulting for more than 700 companies during that period, including 30 of the Fortune 500. His current company, Convince & Convert, is the fifth multimillion-dollar company he has started from scratch.

Before his move into digital marketing in 1994, he was a brand marketer and a political consultant with major roles in state, federal, and presidential electoral campaigns. His second book, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype, was number three on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Now, let’s hack Jay Baer.

I want to thank today’s sponsor, FreshBooks. More than just a sponsor, FreshBooks plays a huge role in keeping me and my business organized and profitable. This is really obvious to me now, having just gone through another year end. Usually, the end of the year would be an incredible headache for me and my accountant, but not this year. Now, rather than handing my accountant a giant box of papers and receipts, I simply e-mail her my reports and journal entries. It’s not only easier, but it’s way more cost-effective than paying her to sort through it herself.

The best part was that it was so easy to learn how to use. Whenever I’ve had an issue, their support team is awesome. They’re voted the number-one customer support team in the world. With FreshBooks support, help is forever free, and I get to speak to a real, live human every single time. Try FreshBooks for free today for 30 days with no obligation. Setup only takes a minute. No credit card is required, and you can cancel at any time. Go to and enter ‘Hack the Entrepreneur’ in the ‘How did you hear about us?’ section when signing up.

Welcome back to Hack the Entrepreneur. We have an absolutely amazing guest today. Jay, welcome to the show.

Jay Baer: Thanks very much for having me, Jon. We’ll see just how amazing I am in just a moment.

Jonny Nastor: We definitely will. All right, Jay, let’s jump right into it. As an entrepreneur, can you tell me what is the one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your successes so far?

Jay Baer: I think I’m very consistent with how I execute things. Right? I’ll give you an example. One of my businesses is a media company. We have a very popular blog called Convince & Convert. I have written or been responsible for the writing of between three and eight blog posts a week, every week without fail, for six and a half years. I find that many people start off with an idea that they’re really passionate about, but then that passion tends to get waylaid or put on the backburner or somehow superseded either by life or a steady diminishment of the passion that got them there in the first place.

One of the things I tell people, especially those who want to be a blogger or some sort of a podcaster or a content creator of any type, is that media companies work on perspiration, not inspiration. If it’s, “Hey, I’m only going to create something when I feel like I have something to say,” it’s going to be real easy to set that aside. If you say, “Look, I have a schedule, and this is the schedule that I’m going to stick to forever,” your wins and your entrepreneurial successes tend to grow geometrically over time.

Jonny Nastor: Excellent. Okay, I have two questions from that. This is interesting because three to eight blog posts a week — that’s impressive. I’m getting new into creating a ton of content around Hack the Entrepreneur, and I’ve had a lot of people say that you need to spend, say, 50 percent of your time creating content, 50 percent of your time promoting it, or 20 percent of your time creating it, 80 percent promoting it.

Does that make sense? Which of those rules would you follow? Do you think the content should be created in a way that it promotes itself?

Why Your Content Has to Pass the “Mom” Test

Jay Baer: That doesn’t really work, and that concept isn’t really true in actuality. The content has to be good. Right? It has to pass what I call the ‘mom test.’ That’s true for my content. It’s true for your content, Jon. It’s true for corporate clients that we do consulting for. The mom test is that if your mom, who loves you unconditionally, isn’t interested in this content — wouldn’t share this content — then certainly your customers or prospective customers or fans are not going to be that excited about it.

It just has to be good enough to pass the mom test on a consistent basis.

How and Why You Need to Market Your Marketing

Jay Baer: You’ve got to focus first on figuring out what you’re good at from a content perspective and really keep at it. Once you have your formula, if you will — and I don’t want to make it sound formulaic — then you most definitely have to figure out a distribution vehicle.

The problem with most content creators is that they don’t market their marketing. They just assume, “Well, the content is good, and therefore, it will find an audience.” Sometimes that happens, but usually it doesn’t. There’s tons of great content out there that nobody is aware of because they don’t distribute it. They don’t put any effort into creating an audience for it.

Jonny Nastor: True. Very true. When you say ‘media company,’ how do you define a media company? Do you define all companies now as media companies? Are you talking blogs? Could the screw company, say, down the street that manufactures screws, could they become a media company, do you think, to then promote their product?

Why YOU Are a Media Company (Even if You Don’t Want to Be)

Jay Baer: I believe that any entity, individual, or organization that is creating content indirectly or directly for a commercial purpose is a media company. If you have a podcast because you hope that somebody will hire you as a consultant, you’re a media company. If you have a blog because you want to put an affiliate program link into that blog and you’re going to make a few dollars a month from Amazon, you are a media company. If you’re like me and you’ve got three podcasts and two blogs and books and a video series and all these things — and we actually have ads and sponsors — we are most definitely a media company, in part.

I think all of those things are versions of media companies, and you need to align your thinking and your business model accordingly.

Jonny Nastor: I was hoping you were going to say that, because I absolutely agree. I love that.

All right, Jay. You said that your one thing that you do is consistent with your execution. Can you tell us something in business that you are not good at and you have to delegate out?

Jay Baer: Somewhat ironically, I’m not great at follow-through. I’m particularly good at ideas and seeing over the horizon. I’m not particularly good at execution. There are a few things that I force myself to execute consistently, like blogging, like podcasting, like other forms of content creation. But what I’ve discovered now, having been an entrepreneur for 20 years or so through many different guises, is that I’m not great at follow-through. I’m not necessarily great at details.

What I try and do is surround myself with people who are, and we have this rule in my company where every year, we try to replace 15 percent of my time. That’s our standard metric. Every year, we say, “Okay, what am I spending my time on? Let’s find 15 percent of that that somebody else could do.” If you do that every year, if you replace 15 percent of your own time every year, eventually, after four or five years, you’re pretty much spending your time on the things that you are uniquely qualified to do, and that’s how you move from an entrepreneur to an actual successful company.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah. Brilliant. I love how you’re good at consistent with execution but not good at follow-through.

Jay Baer: Yeah, I know.

Jonny Nastor: It’s a good twist.

Jay Baer: That’s hard to believe, right?

Jonny Nastor: It’s a good twist. I like that.

How Jay Sees Himself

Jonny Nastor: All right, Jay — 20 years as an entrepreneur. Let’s go back 20 years, because I find there’s a time in every entrepreneur’s life where they realize one of two things. Either they have a calling to go make something big and make a difference in the world, or they realize simply that they just can’t work for somebody else. Can you tell me which one of these you are and how this happened for you?

Jay Baer: Oh, definitely the latter. I do not have the ego or the hubris to believe that I am changing the world. I’m just a guy from a small town in Arizona who has convinced people to listen to him. That is the core of my entrepreneurship. I come from a long line of self-employed people, however, and my family has owned their own businesses, for the most part, for six or seven generations. It’s not like we sat down around the dinner table and my parents said, “Hey, when are you going to start your own thing?” It was just the culture that I grew up in. It’s just what you did.

I always knew that I wanted to go down that road. I wanted to be self-determinant in my own path and my own decision-making, but like many younger people, I was just scared. I was just scared to do it.

Also, I had a classic entrepreneurship problem that some people have faced in that I had a pretty good gig as a non-entrepreneur. I was already in the technology business, and I was senior director of this or that, working for companies, getting paid pretty good coin for my age. It was like, “Well, I could walk off this short pier and start my own thing, or I could continue to get pretty well-compensated for doing this on behalf of somebody else.” That was the crossroads that I found myself at.

Jonny Nastor: Was there something that came like a distinct point where you made that? Did something happen in that position?

Jay Baer: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t talk about the story very much. At this point, I had kind of started some companies before where I had been a very early co-founder or general manager of some very early-stage Internet companies. So I had a taste of entrepreneurship in that capacity, really, the thrill and those kind of things of building something from scratch, but it was not my money. It was never my money. I had all the psychological benefits of entrepreneurship, but none of the financial benefits because I was being the entrepreneur on behalf of somebody else.

I had done that a couple of times. When I finally decided to make a go of it, I was about, let’s see, 32. It was 14 years ago. I was senior director of marketing for a startup company in Arizona — and it’s funny that we’re talking to each other on Skype — and the company was essentially Skype, but 10 years before Skype was invented. It was almost the exact same everything — same platform, same model, but we’re talking a ways ago, right? It was the late ’90s. Nobody was saying, “Hey, this telephone is not working for me. I need a different solution.” Everybody was like, “Well, why would you want to use the Internet for telephones? We already have a telephone.”

It was just way too early. I was doing okay at that company. Sorry the story is so long.

Jonny Nastor: That’s all right. It’s good.

Jay Baer: My best friend growing up married my wife’s sister, so my best friend became my brother-in-law, which is a fantastic situation that I totally recommend to all listeners. If you can engineer that somehow, it’s excellent. It makes family gatherings far more interesting and entertaining. He and I and our wives, who are sisters, and a couple of other friends, we spent all of our time together. This was before anybody had kids. Our daughter was really young. We just spent tons and tons of time together — early thirties, had a little bit of cash. It was good days.

Right about then, out of the blue — I was 32, he was 32 — he was diagnosed with brain cancer and called me up and said, “Hey, I went to the doctor, and here’s the diagnosis.” It really shook me up, and I walked in the next day and quit. I said, “You know, I’ve been afraid to go start my own thing for a long time.” What I realized in that lightning bolt was, “What am I really afraid of? The worst possible outcome for me is I’m going to start my own thing and it’s not going to work out and I go get a job in five minutes as somebody else’s senior Internet guy, making pretty good money.”

I realized that my downside was not nearly anywhere even in the same universe as his downside. That was the push I needed, and I’ve never really worked for anybody since.

Jonny Nastor: Wow. Thank you for sharing that. Geez. That’s something that I guess is a hard thing to realize in that way, right?

Jay Baer: Yeah.

Jonny Nastor: It’s true, right? What’s the worst that can happen?

Jay Baer: Yeah.

Jonny Nastor: I’m sure a lot of bad things have happened in your business since then, but none in comparison.

How Goals Are Limiting You and Your Business

Jay Baer: Exactly. I tell entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs this all the time when I talk about these subjects. If I can give you any piece of advice, it’s to write down your fears. People always tell you to write down your goals, and, yeah, I get that. I don’t do that, actually. I think it’s limiting, but I do write down my fears.

When you write down your fears and you give them a voice and you give them shape and you put them on a piece of paper and you look at them, they don’t seem so scary. When you dimensionalize your own fears, when you dimensionalize your own risk, it’s amazing how much courage you can find you didn’t know you had.

Jonny Nastor: Hmm.

Jay Baer: We get scared of things because we look at them in the abstract. When we look at them in the specific, it takes the power out of them, and it’s something that I really try and live by, and it’s served me well.

Jonny Nastor: I love that. Write down your fears. Don’t write down your goals. That’s great.

Okay, Jay, thank you so much for that. Let’s, if we can, transition into work. You consistently create a ton of content still, you run a business, you have written two best-selling books, you speak a lot internationally, and you’re a father, you’ve mentioned. You must be fairly busy. I want to know how you set yourself up to have a productive day and get the things done that you need to get done. Could you walk us through today being a workday? Say, describe your first 30-minute morning routine to get you going.

Jay Baer: Yeah. It’s a struggle, because I do have a lot of things I’ve got going on. My friend Rory Vaden, who is a terrific entrepreneur and speaker and author — he should be on this show, actually. He’s awesome.

Jonny Nastor: I’d love to have him.

Jay Baer: He has a saying in his new book, which is called Procrastinate on Purpose, and ever since I read the book — I got an early copy of it — it’s continuously come into my head all the time. It’s that, “You know what? Busy people aren’t actually busier than anybody else; they’re just worse at saying no.” It’s so true.

His whole book and his whole thesis is, “Look, give yourself permission to say no, to only work on the things that multiply your time.” I’m trying to be a lot better at that, because I get involved in some things that maybe I shouldn’t, so I’m trying to get better at delegating things to different parts of the team and continuing to replace myself 15 percent a year, all those kind of things.

To go back to your actual question: I wake up, and first thing I do is check my phone, go through my e-mail. Then I get myself together, take a quick look at the newspaper. Yes, I’m old enough to still read the print newspaper every day, which I know is hopelessly anachronistic, but that’s how I roll. It’s a tradition for me.

Jonny Nastor: Wow.

Jay Baer: As a former journalism major, I feel like it’s my duty to the craft.

Jonny Nastor: Fair enough.

Jay Baer: Then, first thing in the morning, I usually think about content: “What are we creating? What am I creating? What needs to be created? Where are we at on that schedule?”

Then when I’m not on the road — like I’m not so much right now because it’s the holidays, there’s not as many conferences and stuff — it’s usually between eight and 10 hours of calls and podcasts like this one and client calls. Today, I had three or four calls with potential partners, sponsors, of my podcast next year, a couple of client exploratory calls, a webinar, two podcasts. Usually, when I’m not on the road, my calendar from, say, 9:00 to 6:00 is straight-through booked. It’s just one call after another for eight or 10 hours.

Jonny Nastor: Wow, 9:00 to 6:00.

Jay Baer: When I’m not on the road, I probably do between 40 to 50 telephone calls a week, and that includes podcasts and things like that.

Why You Should Learn to Say No

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, totally. That’s serious. You have to get your friend Rory who is teaching you to get you better at saying “no” to things.

Jay Baer: Yeah.

Jonny Nastor: Your company still says “yes” to things. You just started

Jay Baer: Right.

Jonny Nastor: You did the push behind it. You did things. Let’s make Marketing Podcast a project and part of Convince & Convert, say. How, when these ideas for projects or new things you guys should tackle come across your desk, do you decide whether you should, as Rory says, learn to say no to them or to say yes and to run with them?

Jay Baer: See, that’s my problem. That’s actually my biggest problem right now, is that I’m very good at seeing opportunity and saying, “Hey, we could build the very first search engine ever for podcasts. We could call it We could build it. We could get sponsors for it,” all these things.

And we can and we did. It’s awesome, and it’s totally working, but now I’ve got to feed that baby, too. Now, I’ve got to take care of that child. I sometimes find that my ability to see opportunities and also our ability as an organization to successfully execute those ideas is on one hand a help, but on the other hand, it can take us out of the repeatable tasks that add efficiency to the operation.

Every sort of ‘special project’ that I think up out of thin air may be a success in its own right and on its own merits, but the opportunity cost of spending time on that versus spending time on something that we were already doing is something that I’m starting to spend more time thinking about. I’ve discovered that usually, as an organization, we’re better off doing the same kind of things over and over than doing a bunch of things once. I have known that for a long time, but I’m constantly coming up with ideas for projects and businesses and opportunities, and putting a governor on that is really hard for me.

Jonny Nastor: It must get even harder as you have built a team around you that can actually execute on these ideas now.

Jay Baer: Yeah, because I know we can do it.

Jonny Nastor: I know.

Jay Baer: I know we can make money.

Jonny Nastor: Successfully.

Jay Baer: I know we can make money at it. It’s not about, “Is this going to be a disaster?” because they’re never a disaster. It’s, “Which of these ideas is a really good idea?” That’s one of our primary strategic objectives for next year, is to say, “Look, let’s focus only on really good ideas, not just good ideas.”

Jonny Nastor: Excellent. You must have some ideas that don’t go the way you want and they kind of backfire, or do you fail?

Jay Baer: Yeah. There’s definitely things that we do where I get involved and it doesn’t quite have the traction that we wanted it to. Sometimes I think we bail on it too early. Sometimes I overestimate our audience. Sometimes I underestimate our audience or overestimate people’s general interest.

We did a project this year that actually did well, just not stupendously well, where we took guests of our Social Pros Podcast, which is a weekly show where we interview somebody who is a manager of social media for a big brand, and we created a whole series of e-books called the Social Pros All-Stars. We designed them to look like baseball cards and put their career backgrounds on them and everything, and they really look like a baseball card. It’s pretty cool.

The idea was to figure out, “Hey, what are the commonalities of educational background, career path, et cetera that lead somebody to be social media manager for Ford or JCPenney or Pepsi or what have you?” We actually did find a lot of commonalities. It was pretty interesting in terms of what other jobs they’d had prior and what they studied at university, et cetera. It’s pretty interesting.

It did fine. I think we got 20,000 downloads on SlideShare, but it didn’t do great. It didn’t do amazing. We ended up shelving that product and worked on some other things.

That kind of thing happens sometimes. If you’re going to be in the content business, they’re not all going to be home runs. I do a lot of angel investing now. I think I’m invested in 14 companies.

Jonny Nastor: Wow.

Jay Baer: Some of them aren’t going to make it. Some of them are just not going to make it, but some of them are. You have to be okay with that going into it.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, you do. Excellent. Okay, Jay. Let’s finish with success and the future. You’ve done a lot. You’ve done a lot of really big things. You’ve made a great brand for yourself. You’ve created, I think, five successful multimillion-dollar businesses from scratch at this point, your bio says.

Jay Baer: True.

Learn the Difference Between Helping and Selling

Jonny Nastor: If your career was to end today through some tragedy, would you be happy with the legacy that you’ve left at this point?

Jay Baer: Oh, 100 percent. I’m totally playing with house money. Like I said, I’m a kid from a small town in Arizona who convinced people to listen to him. That is true. That’s not just a lie. That’s exactly how I look at it. I am extraordinarily grateful for every dollar we generate as consultants and every dollar we generate from sponsors and everything else. Everybody who reads a blog post or listens to a podcast or buys a book that I’m behind — I don’t take that lightly.

There’s a lot of people out there trying to tell people how to run their business or do their marketing, and the fact that anybody would spend five minutes listening to me … admittance to that sea of potential advisors is something that I really, really treasure. Yeah, I would be perfectly happy to shut it down. As I’ve said in the past, I would do this job for free. I’m really glad I don’t have to, but I totally would do it for free. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to do what I do every day.

Jonny Nastor: Wow. It’s been an honor and a privilege to talk to you today, Jay. We’ve talked a lot about you. We’ve talked about your books and your business. Can you just clearly tell people where they should go find out more about you there?

Jay Baer: You bet. Lots of places to go. Probably the easiest is to go to our main website, which is You will find all the books, you will find our podcasts, our blog, our e-mail, all that kind of stuff. That’s the best place,

Jonny Nastor: Excellent. I will link to that in the show notes for everyone so they can find it and go reach out to Jay and watch what he’s doing, because it’s great.

Jay Baer: Thank you.

Jonny Nastor: Jay, thank you. I truly appreciate you taking the time with us.

Jay Baer: My pleasure, Jon. Thanks a lot.

Jonny Nastor: Jay, thank you so much for joining me. That was so much fun. I really appreciate you taking the time and also for just being so open and for sharing with us how you did. Maybe some of my questions went into different places, but it was fun. I’m so glad that you didn’t hold back for us. It was fun, Jay.

Make sure you check out the website, I’ll have show notes for Jay on there and will link to his website, his podcast, everything, so you can learn more. If you’re into building a business and marketing, you need to learn about Convince & Convert, because that blog and what Jay is doing – it’s going to teach you everything you need to know. Also, his book Youtility. I read it this summer, actually, this past summer during the first month of creation of Hack the Entrepreneur. Before I even released a show, I had read Youtility and I feel that I learned a lot from it about giving and helping rather than hyping.

Thank you so much, Jay. You said a lot of cool things, but Jay, you said one thing. Didn’t he? He said one thing, and did you get it? Did you hear it? Let’s do it. Let’s find the hack.

Jay Baer: … it’s to write down your fears. People always tell you to write down your goals, and, yeah, I get that. I don’t do that, actually. I think it’s limiting, but I do write down my fears. When you write down your fears and you give them a voice and you give them shape and you put them on a piece of paper and you look at them, they don’t seem so scary. When you dimensionalize your own fears, when you dimensionalize your own risk, it’s amazing how much courage you can find you didn’t know you had.

Jonny Nastor: That’s the hack. Beautifully said, Jay. This is interesting because back in Episode 36 with Rob Cubbon, we had a great conversation about creating your first product or a training course. He was doing it with Udemy, and he’s kicking butt at it. We had the discussion, but we didn’t say it nearly as eloquently as Jay just did, which was, “What is the worst that can happen?” It’s typically your fear that you’re scared of. I had this conversation with Jay right before the end of 2014, so I got to think of it as people around me were all creating goals.

Then it was like, “Now it makes way more sense.” Goals don’t push me in that way, or they can be limiting, because you could reach that goal and then what do you do? The fear is the thing that really, if you write it down on paper, what is it I’m scared of? If I start this business, why am I not taking action on these ideas? Why am I not taking action and starting this business or going anywhere towards my goals? When I really look at it, it’s because I’m scared. I’m scared because I don’t know huge amounts of aspects of this business or I have no idea. I still don’t know how to make software, if that’s okay to say, but I run a software company. I’m not technically savvy in any way.

If I would have let those fears hold me back, I would still be working a job doing energy audits, is what I did before this, in houses, which is going and checking houses for energy efficiency, and it was just dreadful. I had to leave the house all the time. I was always working. Now, I get to just stay at home with my family and work from here. It’s fear-based, why we don’t do things, more so than the fact that we didn’t set the right goals.

Jay, thank you so much because I think you’re going to completely transform the way I look at this new year and setting myself up with my fears. I have a page right now written, and every time something holds me up from doing something now, I write it. I add it to this fears page and dimensionalize it in that way that Jay said. And it’s opened me up in a lot of ways and it’s let me see properly the mistakes that I’ve made in that thinking and seeing how limiting it truly is by not doing this.

Write down your fears, guys. Don’t write down your goals. I love it. Jay, thank you so much.

This has been a lot of fun, guys. I do want to thank you again so much. Check out the website Get on the mailing list. The mailing list is a lot of fun. Every week, I’m sending out an e-mail to you guys and getting some great feedback. My best stuff that I’m coming up with in the week, I’m not sharing it on the blog anymore. I’m sharing it to the e-mail list only. Yeah, I think it’s just a great place to be.

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Thank you very much. As always, this has been fun. This has been great. I look so forward to doing the next episode with you guys. Until then, please keep hacking the entrepreneur.