Here’s How to Answer the Most Important Question in Life (and Make a Living from It)

A few weeks ago, Demian got the opportunity to talk to Bernadette Jiwa about her books, her blog, and her unique approach to branding. And ultimately, about how a business can satisfy customers by answering that terribly important question about life.

Why bother?

Each and every morning you and I both wake up and ask ourselves that question. Some mornings we don’t even think about the question, but answer it deliberately by jumping out of bed and bolting for the office.

In these cases, we bother because we care deeply about what we do. We feel like we matter. Then there are the other mornings …

Mornings where you roll over and eye the clock. The alarm will sound within minutes, but you have no desire to get out of bed. It has been a long week — and it’s only Tuesday.

On these days — which may turn into months or even years — you hate what you do and feel like you don’t matter. That’s a terrible feeling, and you need someone to come along and tell you it doesn’t have to be that way.

Fortunately, there is someone.

And that person is Bernadette Jiwa, a branding consultant based in Perth, Australia. She’s an Amazon bestselling author and just a plain, old-fashioned storyteller — who is, by the way, speaking at Authority Rainmaker this May in Denver, Colorado.

In this 42-minute interview you’ll discover:

  • Bernadette’s insightful response when I confessed why Copyblogger’s editorial department has a crush on her name.
  • What it looked like growing up in the storytelling capital of the world.
  • Why copying the Mad Men style of marketing may be ruining your business.
  • How “tea kettle moments” could be the secret to having more customers than you can handle.
  • The interesting twist her book deal took with a traditional publisher (an important lesson for anyone who wants to publish).
  • Advice to people who think they are unoriginal — and think they can’t do anything about it.
  • What type of stories to tell if you want to be the center of attention.
  • Guidance to people who feel like their careers are going no where.
  • How to stop falling for the popular myth about scaling your business.

This is a down-to-earth discussion for people who want to grow a meaningful business by creating value, telling stories, and making people happy — whether that’s a business of one or 1,000.

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The Show Notes

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Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: Here’s How to Answer the Most Important Question in Life (and Make a Living from It)

Demian Farnworth: So Brian and Jerod, I promise to behave myself.

Welcome back, everybody, to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media that is hosted by me, Demian Farnworth, and Jerod Morris, our VP of Marketing, who is actually off this evening.

The Lede is brought to you by Authority Rainmaker, which is our second live event that we are holding, in May of this year: May 13, 14, and 15, in beautiful Denver, Colorado at the stunning Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

And if last year’s event is any indication, it’s going to be a good conference. Last year was an electric, mind-expanding experience that I loved, and I should point out that it’s more of a single-track course than an actual conference, where every speaker has one purpose: To help you build an audience and a business online.

So you’ll accumulate all of this information in two speaker-packed days — information that you can actually put to use that very day. So it’s very, very practical

And the lineup of keynote speakers this year includes punk legend Henry Rollins, Sally Hogshead, Chris Brogan, Dan Pink, Sean D’Souza, Pamela Wilson, our very own Jerod, and of course, the lovely Bernadette Jiwa, who I have on the line right now.

So, Bernadette …

Bernadette Jiwa: Demian.

Demian: This is not scientific at all, but I was doing some research and you’re from Perth, Australia, right? So another one of our speakers, Sean D’Souza, is from Northcote, a suburb of Auckland in New Zealand, which is just a little bit east of you.

His flight to Denver is actually 17 hours and 40 minutes, and if I’m correct, and Google Maps is correct, your flight will be approximately one day and one hour, or 25 hours, giving you the distinction of having to travel the farthest.

So my question for you is: How do you actually prepare yourself for being in a plane for one day?

Bernadette: That’s not a great distinction to have, is it? Perth is one of the most isolated cities in the world, and we’re just used to it.

It’s three-and-a-half hours from, probably, one of the other major cities here in Australia. Perthites just accept travel. It’s part of our world.

Demian: Okay. So just get the books, and get the movies, and it’s just another day, right?

Bernadette: Exactly.

Demian: All right. So something about you, right? Amazon loves you because you have four bestsellers on marketing and brand storytelling.

You have books called Make Your Idea Matter, The Fortune Cookie Principle, Difference, and Marketing: A Love Story, which is your latest. But your blog is also pretty darn popular too, right?

In 2012, it was the best Australian business blog, and then it was chosen by SmartCompany as one of Australia’s top 20 business blogs in both 2013 and 2014. And you’ve also had the distinction of being one of the top 100 branding experts to follow on Twitter.

However, I have to say though, out of all those accolades, the one that stood out to me most was the recommendations from Seth Godin. How does that make you feel?

Bernadette: That’s just the best thing in the world to me. Seth is an amazing, generous person. I’ve followed his blog. I read his work every single day. I never miss it. I’ve been reading his blog for eight years.

Aspiring to make the kind of difference that he makes in the world is part of what I do. So I can’t tell you how much it means to me. It’s just priceless.

Bernadette’s insightful response when I confessed why Copyblogger’s editorial department has a crush on her name

Demian: I have to say, yeah it is. Seeing that, it’s like everything else sort of pales in comparison. Not that you have slacker credentials, but having Seth Godin back you … So he has a comment. He’s done a review — a five-star review — for each one of your books, which is just amazing.

So a little confession. We have an in-house admiration for your name, okay, because we love it. It’s a beautiful name. Bernadette. And am I pronouncing your last name right? Jiwa?

Bernadette: You are. You are.

Demian: Okay. Great. So we love it because of the poetic economy there. Your first name has ten letters and three syllables, and the last name is the two syllables, four words.

So there’s the beautiful economy about it. So we like saying it and just talking about it. But this kinds of leads into a sort of theme throughout your books. You read your books, and people make these comments all the time about your books.

It’s this beautiful prose that exists throughout your books. Is that something that was intentional?

Because I think that stands out when it comes to typical marketing business books where metaphors for sports and war get thrown about routinely.

Yet you sort of stand out in the sense that you want to introduce almost this artistic sort of essence to your books. Is that intentional?

Bernadette: It’s just how I speak. It’s how I am in the world. It’s who I am, and it’s also how I believe that marketing and business should be.

So with a lot more heart and a lot less babble, and a lot more attracting people to us by doing great work, as opposed to “Let’s fight the competitors, how can we beat the competitor?”

A far better thing to do is to say, “How can we make a difference for people,” and then the business, the money, and the success will follow.

What it looked like growing up in the storytelling capital of the world

Demian: That’s good. So you grew up in Dublin, Ireland.

Bernadette: I did. Yes.

Demian: Legend has it it’s the capital of storytelling.

Bernadette: It is. Anyone will tell you that.

Demian: What did that look like growing up in that environment? I’m sure some of what you’re talking about comes from your origin story of being in Dublin like that. What did that look like growing up in the capital of storytelling?

Bernadette: You just referenced back to Seth’s comment again about the TV industrial complex. I was a child of the TV industrial complex, and we watched tons of TV and we loved the adverts, and we waited for those things. But we also had really great relationships in the neighborhoods with local communities and local businesses.

I remember going shopping with my mother to the butcher shop, and the guy knowing what she wanted before she walked in, and making her feel special even if she wasn’t his best, biggest-spending customer. He just knew how to make people feel good.

People who didn’t have a lot of money would go there and spend a little bit extra because it mattered to them that he made them feel good. And I guess all of that, you’re right — where you grow up, your experiences, and how you actually live — they can’t help but influence your work. So it has had a profound impact on my work for sure.

Demian: Were there any particular relatives who told a lot of stories, and are they true stories or the sort of fish stories that grow as they get told?

Bernadette: The island is an interesting place because there are stories everywhere, every minute of every day. I joke that we’re the biggest consumers of tea, maybe the second biggest now, in the world because every time you walk into somebody’s house they put the kettle on, and the kettle is just an excuse to sit down and chat and tell stories.

And we’ve got lots of stories to tell. People go away, and they come back from Ireland, they travel, they often don’t stay there. They’ve had to go for work, and they cling onto their heritage. So we pass that down by word of mouth, I think, traditionally. So yeah, I guess that’s it.

Demian: And we don’t typically have a culture that appreciates the putting-the-kettle-on-the-stove moment, where we need to slow down. Hey, let’s get to know each other, let’s talk, let’s tell stories. It’s more of the curse of immediate gratification.

Bernadette: Yeah. I guess the storytelling piece is also a way of being the center of attention in some ways. If we’re talking about origin stories, both my parents were from families of eleven children.

How do you get attention in that kind of an environment? It’s not easy. So I guess whoever tells the best story wins in that environment.

Demian: Absolutely. So you started off in a grocery warehouse inventory counter. Did I get that right?

Bernadette: Yeah. They would call it back in the day, a stock-control assistant. So I worked for the first Tesco supermarket in Ireland, actually, in the back of house on Saturday, counting tins of baked beans and tomato soup.

Demian: So you were a bean counter, right?

Bernadette: I was literally a bean counter. It was not a good job for me.

Demian: So would it be fair to say that you started at the bottom?

Bernadette: I did start at the very, very bottom.

Demian: Right. And I say that just to encourage people, because now we are speaking to someone who is, and you are a rock star, and like I mentioned, all those accolades of someone who Seth Godin recommends, we follow, and listen to.

So you’re now this branding consultant living in secluded Perth, Australia. And we’re flying you to Denver because we love your work and we love what you have to teach us.

But how did that evolution occur from the grocery warehouse inventory counter to where you are now?

Bernadette: It’s interesting because I guess what I wanted to do is be more front-of-house and making a difference with people. So from there I went to lots of different jobs. I think what I have had is what Mitch Joel would call a squiggly career.

I went from there to the front, to service, to restaurant management, working in hospitality. I’ve done a bunch of jobs. I was a nurse. So I’ve got a lot of people-facing experience, and I guess that’s where my difference is, is that I have learned to empathize with people because of all of those experiences.

This is not your typical MBA-kind of branding expertise you’re getting here. It’s just the people-to-people skills that I think have helped me.

Why copying the Mad Men style of marketing may be ruining your business

Demian: Which I think is important, and when I think of an occupation which deals and trades in empathy, I always think of nursing. So that’s interesting, that it’s what you’ve once done.

Okay. So let’s transition and talk about your actual books. Your latest book is called Marketing: A Love Story, and in the description it says:

Marketing has become a necessary evil for every business, but what if we adopted a different view of it?

And we’ve kind of alluded to that, what we’ve said before here, but what exactly is that different view that you’re talking about?

Bernadette: I’ll give you an example, Demian, one that I wrote about on the blog last week. Which was marketing seems to have evolved as this way of dressing up what we want to sell. I’m not dissing any brands, but I’m going to talk about a cake brand in the UK which I grew up with.

I mean, this Mr. Kipling, his French Fancies were a real treat in a home where home baking was an ordinary, everyday occurrence. But if you could afford these things, that was an extra-special treat.

We think about some of the big brands, and we’re now finding that what’s in the pack isn’t all that great for us, and they recognize that consumers are getting more savvy about what they eat and their choices.

So what they’ve done is they’ve repackaged the cakes, and they’re turning a different story with packaging, basically, and copy, and color.

And that’s what I think we’ve started believing marketing is. This Mad Men thing where we put some kind of shine on whatever it is we do, and my view is that we don’t need better marketing, we need better products.

We need more trustworthy leaders. We need people who want to make a difference to the people they serve. And those businesses are the ones that are thriving now.

Demian: So it’s not a love story about marketing, or falling in love with marketing. It’s a love story about falling in love with the customer?

Bernadette: For sure. That’s exactly it. You nailed it.

Demian: Awesome. Good. Good. So in another one of your books, Difference, you write:

You can’t begin to tell a story without understanding why that story should matter to the people you want to serve.

And I quote that because traditional storytelling is usually entertaining or moral in nature, and/or both. They want to entertain, or Aesop’s Fables is an example of that.

But can businesses actually use stories? Can they entertain and be moral? And what actually makes a meaningful business story?

Bernadette: I think what makes a meaningful business story is understanding. Going back to understanding the customer. In my books I talk about the distinction between storytelling as a narrative, and storytelling being something also that we do every day, in everything we do.

So our logo’s part of the story. Our staff are part of the story. Our uniforms. It’s all theater. So if you’re going to Starbucks, it’s not just the coffee that’s the story. It’s not just the music, or the seating, or the lighting. And their coffee, and their Instagram, and all of those great things.

It’s everything that goes together to make up that story and changes how the customer feels, creates meaning for the customer, and what they believe.

So if you think of traditional storytelling, it was all about creating, passing valuable lessons on, but it was also about making meaning and helping us to belong in a culture. So that’s the opportunity for brands in businesses: How do we make meaning for the people we want to serve for our tribe of people? (To reference some of Seth’s work.)

So you think about brands like Warby Parker who have managed to do that around a product that’s eyewear, a fashion accessory. But making meaning there — Airbnb is another example. Just incredible how they’ve made meaning with all of the things that they’ve done. So yeah, that’s the distinction.

Demian: So would is it fair to say that some people, though, come with a story and clearly they’re not on the same wave length with the customer? And if that’s true, what’s the mistake that people in businesses are making when they do that?

Bernadette: The mistake they’re making is they’re trying to change the customer instead of understanding the customer. So a classic example of that might be one that’s really recent: the Budweiser Superbowl commercial from this year.

People could go and Google that and check it out. But what they’re recognizing at Budweiser is they’re losing mind share and market share amongst milennials to the craft beer industry. So what they’ve done in the Superbowl advert is trying to tell the story of why we’re still relevant and trying to change the customer’s worldview, and that’s not how you create value.

You create value by recognizing the customer’s worldview, and then saying “Well, how does what we do intersect with that worldview, and how do we create value there?” Instead of saying, “How can we change?” You know, like Don Draper might have done, “How can we change what people believe about us?” That’s much harder.

Demian: It costs a lot more money to get that done too, right?

Bernadette: It’s a lot easier to find the people who believe what you believe and then to talk to those people, like you guys do at Copyblogger.

Demian: Right. Exactly. It’s a lot easier to find the parade and get in front of it than to go against it.

Bernadette: I like that.

How “tea kettle moments” could be the secret to having more customers than you can handle

Demian: So another quote out of your book Difference, and I think this is a great quote. This is probably one of the most fascinating quotes that I’ve read through your work, and I keep coming back to it. Let me read it here. You say:

As soon as we open our eyes in the morning, what we want most is to matter. To live a life and to do a work that has meaning. We have evolved to feel this way. Man’s first thought was, ‘I am.’

I love that quote, not only just for the Biblical reference to it, but it’s sort of like this summary of the human condition. We want to matter. We want to live a life and to do work that matters.

However, though, something is clearly not right. Is that correct? There is, because you wouldn’t make that statement unless there was an actual need that needs to be faced. In other words, people are not feeling like they matter or that they do work that has meaning.

Bernadette: I think I saw a fleeting statistic on LinkedIn the other day, I might be misquoting — but 61 percent of people want to leave their current position. They’re looking for something else.

Maybe not actively, but in the back of their minds. And of course that’s why we do everything. It drives us to do every single thing that we do. Otherwise, why would we bother? Why would we get up in the morning? Even though we’re not actively thinking that, why would we do anything?

Demian: I love that, because one of the reasons I got into marketing was because I recognized it was a discipline in which to sort of get at the human condition.

I’m actually an English literature major, and I have this sort of squiggly career path that you have, too. This is why psychology fascinates me, this is why history fascinates me — human condition, how we as humans try to live in this world, and of course now, business has sort of become the new philosophy for the modern world.

So we are now dealing with these sort of core issues with people. So not to get all philosophical, but how can a person or an organization, and particularly a for-profit where shareholder value is important — how do they answer some of these core problems that we’re talking about?

Bernadette: Let’s use an example of something like Airbnb versus the big hotel chains.

Demian: Okay.

Bernadette: So what Airbnb maybe stumbled upon by accident:

It’s something extraordinary, which is the opportunity to create value before people actually experience the product.

It’s the same with Uber. They’re creating value. They recognize something in people that they could short-circuit, if you like, and create value before.

So if I’m going to stay in a hotel in New York, or when I come to Denver, what typically happens is my experience maybe starts with a confirmation email. But that’s it. When I get to the hotel, that’s probably when my experience starts, and I see a different person every day.

When I’m booking accommodations on Airbnb, I’ve got a relationship with the host long before I’ve ever arrived at the destination. This is my personal experience with Airbnb. Already I’m thinking about that property in such a favorable light, not just because of the property, but because of the person who I’m interacting with.

It’s all about the relationship with that person. So lots of people, there’s lots of commentary around about Airbnb not being a sharing economy — it’s a for-profit, people are benefiting.

We don’t care about that. That’s not something we give a damn about. We care about the relationship and how it makes us feel. We’re quite happy. I’m thrilled that Jeff or Melvin is opening his home to me, and that he’s going to get something out of it. I like that reciprocal arrangement.

So I think there is an opportunity for businesses to recognize where they can create value in the experience before we encounter them, or the service, or the product, and that is something I think that people haven’t really, in terms of big business, haven’t really recognized up until very recently.

Demian: So how does the Airbnb experience add meaning to your life?

Bernadette: Well you know, this idea of wanting to matter. The fact that somebody sees you. An example again with Airbnb: I email a host and I say — Airbnb have it all set up to encourage you to share with the host — this is who I am, this is why I’m coming, this is who I’m traveling with.

You know, I’ve had conversations with Airbnb people about personal circumstances that I probably haven’t had with friends. We’re coming here, and this is why we’re coming, and we love your place.

With one guy we were talking about the fact that my son was waiting for his exam results and he was saying, “I’m sure your son’s really smart,” and I said, “Well, what about you? You’re a graduate of Cambridge University!” So we’ve seen each other, and that’s the magic of it. We actually see each other as human beings, not just people in a transaction.

Demian: So it’s actually those tea kettle kind of moments that are cropping up there.

Bernadette: Yeah. Yeah. If you want to go back to the psychology of it, which is fantastic. I’ve got a huge interest in behavioral economics as well and how we create this intangible value that isn’t just about the exchange of the thing.

Demian: I have a relationship with this mechanic in our neighborhood who I pay a lot of money, and I know I could go somewhere to get it really cheaper, but it’s like, if I go somewhere cheaper I know the experience is going to be awful and they’re going to try to upsell me for everything else.

I know if I talk to my buddy who’s the mechanic who works on my car, and he takes very good care of my car, and he takes the time to chat with me, and I love it for that reason. It’s intangible. I tell my wife, “Yeah, I could get it cheaper, but I don’t want to.”

Bernadette: Yeah, because it’s worth it to you.

Demian: It really is.

Bernadette: That is priceless. It’s like the Uber thing. Taxi companies didn’t realize — obviously digital enables this to happen — but taxi companies were slow to realize that what’s important to people is not just the ride to the airport.

What’s important is actually the certainty, the knowing that I’m going to get to the airport because the Uber ride will be there. So when I dial the cab I’m pacing up and down outside the hotel, going “Is he going to get here? Is he stuck in a traffic jam?”

And Uber for me, all of the value in Uber is knowing that I’m not going to be at the back of a taxi queue at the airport when I arrive — that my car is waiting, and I’ll get there.

Demian: And it’s like you said, we don’t mind paying for that additional sort of security and knowledge.

Bernadette: At all.

Demian: Your book, The Fortune Cookie Principle — great metaphor for a great concept — tell our listeners: What is The Fortune Cookie Principle?

Bernadette: Well, I use it as a metaphor to describe what happens when you have a fortune cookie. I mean, fortune cookies are the most disgusting things.

They taste awful, but we just love them. And so my view is that people don’t buy the cookie, they buy the fortune. So people don’t buy what you do, and to reference the amazing Simon Sinek’s work, people also buy why you do it. I feel that’s a step further.

Yes, they understand your purpose. They can sense your purpose in what you do. But people actually buy how it makes them feel.

Just like you described with your mechanic: You’re not actually buying the service, because you can get that physical work done by somebody else. You’re buying the feeling that you get from going to him and how he makes you feel when you walk out the door.

Demian: So that metaphor — it’s a brilliant metaphor — and I like it because I think it encapsulates the idea we talk about. Let your customer see a better version of herself, and so what is a fortune but just exactly that? Seeing a better version of herself in that statement.

Bernadette: Yeah.

The interesting twist Bernadette’s book deal took with a traditional publisher (an important lesson for anyone who wants to publish)

Demian: What you’ve done exceptionally well is build an audience with content and become a book author. So your blog, like I mentioned, has got a lot of popularity.

But you were sort of able to leverage that and become a book author, and like I mentioned earlier, a book author who has multiple comments by Seth Godin. But, when it comes to publishing, you didn’t go the traditional route, did you?

Bernadette: No. I’ll tell you a secret in a second.

Demian: Yeah. Go ahead. Tell me the secret.

Bernadette: I was offered a book deal for The Fortune Cookie Principle, and I started working with a publisher, and every day I opened my emails and I just got more and more depressed, because what they wanted to do, their vision for the book, wasn’t my vision for the book, and we mutually parted ways.

We parted ways, and I self-published it because what happened in that instance was they wanted me to fill it with more facts, and I wanted to fill it with more feeling, and there is a debate about the hard sticker price of books and padding and all of those things, and what I want most of all is for the work that I do to be useful to people and accessible.

I know so many people who, with the best of intentions, buy amazing business books by amazing authors, and they never get to the end of them. So my model is to write short books that deliver the most value in the shortest amount of space and help the people get to the end of them, and then take them and do meaningful work with them.

Demian: I think you’ve done an exceptional job of accomplishing that. So you are a prolific writer, and I believe you publish every day on your blog, right?

Bernadette: Three times a week. It feels like every day to most people. I find something every day.

Demian: Okay. So what keeps the ideas coming?

Bernadette: The real world around you. You get out there, and just whatever. Today I’ve got a post about being on hold with the insurance company switchboard, and what I learned from that. It’s real life. That’s it. That’s all.

Demian: And the stories that you can get out of there, right?

Bernadette: The stories and the lessons, and if there’s one thing Seth Godin has taught me, it’s just to notice things and then to think about what you notice. He makes no secret about that. He talks about that all the time.

I think that’s what you guys do brilliantly, too, at Copyblogger. Giving people practical lessons from real-life business scenarios, because you so understand where your readers, your audience, you customers are.

Advice to people who think they are unoriginal — and think they can’t do anything about it

Demian: It was Flannery O’Connor, a southern, American short-story writer, said “If you can survive to age 21, you have a lifetime of material.”

I always liked that quote. By being very observant, you have all the material that you need to come up with ideas. You just have to learn how to mine that and cultivate those ideas.

But a question, though, for you, because I think all writers sort of struggle with this, and particularly in that vein of just procrastination and not publishing at all, is a sense of, “I feel like I’ve said this before.” You come upon a topic and think, “I know I’ve said this before.” How do you deal with that?

Bernadette: I feel like I’m saying the same thing over and over again, every day. Because it is centrally the same message. It’s just repackaging it in a different way.

Seeing your customer and the shortcuts to getting there. A lot of your posts on Copyblogger are the same message repackaged in different ways. So I’m not sure why we need to get over that, because if you think about movies, for example, they use the same formulas all the time.

Demian: They do.

Bernadette: It’s like sci-fi on one side, the action-adventure movies that I never go to, big explosions. The great British films, like the two at the moment: The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, based on true stories. They use the same techniques over and over again. Why do we get hung up about being original every single day?

Demian: So your encouragement to the writers out there, the publishers, the would-be producers, is: Don’t worry about it. At Copyblogger, this is something we preach. There’s always going to be a new audience for that content.

And plus we always need to be reminded of those. So don’t be afraid to hit the same themes over and over again. Do it in a different way, but don’t be afraid to hit the same themes.

So talking about themes: One of the things that you keep coming back to it seems, through your books and on your blog, is this idea that differentiation is a myth.

So first, tell us what you mean by “differentiation.” And then tell us about the misconception that marketers and businesses seem to hold about that term.

What type of stories to tell if you want to be the center of attention

Bernadette: Well, we seem to be looking for some kind of tangible advantage, don’t we? I think you probably picked up on the post that I wrote about Starbucks.

If we were to do a blind taste-test on Starbucks Coffee would it be the best coffee in the world? Probably not. But that’s not what makes Starbucks succeed. Going back to: people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

We’re looking to differentiate on some kind of tangible advantage, so how can we be one percent or 10 percent more efficient than our competitor? How can we get things to people faster?

I mean, obviously if you’re on Amazon and you’ve got systems and processes, that is a massive advantage. Getting things to people faster and quicker and cheaper. But for most people, and most businesses, often our advantages are not that great. They’re not that tangible.

And people are making choices based on feelings and intuition as opposed to Starbucks being the best coffee in the blind taste test. No, I like going there because I feel good going there. So this idea that people buy the facts. They don’t. They buy the feelings.

So we don’t need to be differentiating in the ways we think we do with better innovation, perhaps, or cheaper products. We need to go beyond thinking about the facts and thinking about the customer, and how we’re going to differentiate there.

Demian: That’s good. So we have a lot of listeners who are sort of the one-man, one-woman shops, writers, freelance writers, web designers, developers, small business owners.

You’ve mentioned a lot of really good large brands who are modeling this customer-centered way of doing business and thinking about the feelings, not the facts.

What kind of advice can you give to these people who are not the big brands, but just people like me, people like you, who are trying to carve out a dent in the universe that we can own? Speaking about everything that we’ve talked about, what is your advice to them?

Guidance to people who feel like their careers are going no where

Bernadette: Well, you’re right. Let’s go back to small, one-man shops. I’m a small, one-man shop. I’m just me. Seth Godin is a small, one-man shop. You’re a small, one-man shop. So I know you work within Copyblogger, but it’s possible to do this. That’s the first thing.

It’s possible to do this and to make a difference, and to make an impact without owning a massive brand that’s going to impact billions of people or to be an Uber, or whatever. And let me tell you a story about a guy who was at our home last night. This is a really good story.

My husband had a driving test on his scooter today, and he was going to take it out and give it a run last night at about 7 p.m. And he found a nail in his tire. And the guy had just serviced his scooter about ten days ago. It was the first time he’d come to our place to do that. He actually comes on the job, brings his van and tools.

And my husband called him at 7 o’clock last night, and he came. He didn’t have to do it. He had no responsibility, no obligation to do it, but he came because he cared. And that makes him one in a million.

My husband said to him, “You know, how much is that?”

“Sixty bucks?” he said.

“I’m not paying you sixty bucks, I’m paying you three times that.”

And the guy said, “I’m not taking that.”

It’s just — and you know — that person is gold in the world. And he will never, ever have to advertise his services, and he will never go hungry. He’s a one-man shop. So it’s basic give-a-damn, is the answer, I think.

How to stop falling for the popular myth about scaling your business

Demian: So is that personal experience scaleable? I mean, is that something that you can expand? Not just horizontally, but vertically?

Bernadette: Give me an instance of what you’re thinking, Demian.

Demian: Like say in my field, for example, as a writer. One of the things that I ran into is that if I wanted to make more money, I either had the option of doing more work, like increasing volume. Or just charging more, but giving a way better experience?

And I chose the latter one, because it just seems like a way better way to do business. But I found myself thinking, “You can’t scale volume unless you start bringing people in. You actually want to build a business.” But when you provide some sort of service, I always wonder: Is it possible?

So here’s a story, like your story about the mechanic reminds me of my grandfather, my mom’s dad. He came from a family of 12 and he worked long shifts, but he also had a side business where he did these air conditioning units and heating.

And he did a lot of work for people who didn’t have a lot of money, so often he didn’t get paid for it, and he never was out of work. He was booked three, four months out.

So I guess in that sense that’s what I’m talking about. It was also he was doing all the work himself, so at some point does the business owner step out of that and say, “Here, I’m bringing somebody else to do this?” And that’s what I mean by scale. I guess it’s a decision; they can decide not to do it.

Bernadette: I think there’s an obsession online with scaling and growth, and scaling I guess for the sake of scaling’s sake, and not understanding what that will mean to your work and how you touch people, and how you impact people. It may be not for the better.

So the four-hour work week comes to mind, and this idea of outsourcing, and I think a lot of the time a lot of us go into these one-man bands because we want to touch people. We want to have an impact. We like doing the work. And if you don’t like doing that, then there are other options, I guess.

There are ways of creating a business around you, and we know plenty of people who have done that online with great content. The Marie Forleos of this world who have built amazing empires and have had massive impacts. But maybe it’s okay not to scale. Maybe it’s okay to reach 100 people, 1,000 people, and enjoy making an impact alongside making a living.

Demian: Yeah, I think that’s great advice. I know that’s the decision that I came to in my own personal experience. It was sort of a humbling thing, because I couldn’t call myself an entrepreneur because I was not interested in building anything. I just liked the work, and really what I wanted to do.

Back to my favorite quote of yours: I just wanted to put my weight behind a meaningful cause.

Like you said, it’s okay to embrace that and to live that way. And because we’re not filling up stadiums doesn’t mean that what we’re providing is any less important.

Bernadette: And how can you say that you haven’t scaled? When people talk about scaling they seem to be thinking about, “How can I earn more money for doing this work?”

Well actually, you’re scaling by making more impact in the world, and reaching more people, and helping more people, and creating meaning for more people. What’s better than that?

Demian: I agree. It couldn’t be any better. So that was great. So why don’t we end there, and why don’t you tell people how they can find you and your work?

Bernadette: My blog is, and they can find me on Twitter: @BernadetteJiwa.

Demian: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

Bernadette: Thanks for having me. It’s just been great to talk to you, and I’m so looking forward to seeing you in Denver.

Demian: Me too. Looking forward to it, too. Take care. And everybody, thank you for listening. We’ll talk to you soon.

Jerod Morris: And we are looking forward to seeing you in Denver at Authority Rainmaker, as well.

Again, the dates are May 13–15. The event is being held at the stunning Ellie Caulkins Opera House. You will get to see and meet Bernadette Jiwa, along with Henry Rollins, and Sally Hogshead, and Dan Pink, and so many others.

So we do hope that you will join us, and as always, if you enjoy what you hear on these episodes of The Lede, we would definitely appreciate a rating or a review on iTunes.

They make a big difference and really help us out, so we’d appreciate that. And with that said, we will be back soon with another episode of The Lede. Thanks for tuning in, everybody.