Self-Help for Business Owners: Useful or Useless?

Self-help books, seminars, and retreats: People tend to either love them or loathe them. I have some thoughts on what’s useful for business owners — and what isn’t.

I’ve noticed that a lot of online business owners tend to gravitate to self-help — maybe because we find “Dumbo’s feather” belief-boosters are useful when we’re out there seeming to create revenue out of thin air.

In this 21-minute episode, I talk about:

  • The potential dark side to self help
  • Where (in my so very humble opinion) success comes from
  • My bossy thoughts on multi-level marketing
  • Two “woo” practices that have a lot of pragmatic benefits
  • Why I’ve found mindfulness meditation is so useful for business owners

The Show Notes

    Sonia: Greetings, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I’m a co-founder and the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital.

    I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.

    Self-help: bogus or real?

    I just got back from my mastermind group, which is a fairly amazing group of business owners operating at a very high level. All of them have a significant online element to their business — their marketing is online, even if what they deliver isn’t.

    And almost all of them have spent some significant time and energy on self-help resources, things like Tony Robbins workshops, creative visualization, seminars and retreats, that kind of thing.

    So this is a group of very ambitious, successful people, most of whom are pretty tech-savvy, and a lot of them are also, for lack of a better term, very “woo woo.”

    I have, as you might imagine, strong opinions on this, as I do on a lot of things, and I thought it might be interesting to start a conversation about that today.

    The dark side of self-help

    So let’s get this one out of the way — there are definitely some dark sides, or problematic elements, of self-help.

    For me, the most important is that sometimes people will try to use a book or a workshop or a retreat instead of getting professional help for a problem.

    Just like you can do home remedies for a cold, but don’t do that for a broken arm; you can go the self-help route for some things, but there are more serious concerns that I really want you to go to a licensed professional therapist for.

    These include eating disorders, which are the most dangerous mental health issues in terms of mortality. Also serious depression or anxiety, where those things are keeping you from having a full and rich life, and recovery from trauma. We’re not very good about accepting mental health professionals in our culture, but they truly can work miracles.

    The other danger of self-help is that people read book after book, and go to seminar after seminar, and they never actually do anything. They’re “working on themselves.”

    Here’s what I think:

    The best way to work on yourself is to do something.

    The best way to be more successful financially is to launch a small online business, just a little side hustle. I say online business, because the risk and capital investment are so much more manageable than something brick-and-mortar. But if that’s what you’re called to do, that can be great as well.

    My bossy opinions on multi-level marketing

    Another big bossy opinion coming here: I strongly believe that MLM (multi-level marketing) is not a great route for most people. MLM gets you into the mental habit of thinking that someone else is responsible for “figuring out the business model,” and you just fill in the blanks. You’re not learning what you’d learn with a small side hustle of your own.

    Also, it tends to encourage people to market in a way that’s both predatory — you know how your friends who get into the latest MLM are always bugging you about it? — and mostly ineffective.

    Good marketing isn’t about shaming your friends into buying stuff, far from it.

    I’m not going to say that no one has ever been successful with MLM, that’s silly. But truly, most people I see who get into MLM don’t make long-term progress financially or with their business until they create something of their own.

    There really are alternatives if you don’t have the confidence or skills yet to start a business, starting with this podcast and the Copyblogger blog. Go grab the free marketing information on Copyblogger and that will give you a big kick start.

    I have some free resources for you in the show notes, as well as some low-cost paid ones that are a little more focused. You can find those at

    Now, my bossy opinions on what does work

    OK, enough about things I don’t like.

    I have a hypothesis about why online business owners are so attracted to self-help, and I’ve mentioned it before on the podcast: We create something out of nothing. We take pixels, which are just a logical construct, and turn them into revenue.

    This looks a lot like magic, and because of that, we have a certain need for Dumbo’s Feather. Dumbo was the cartoon Disney elephant who could fly when he was holding a magic feather, because he believed he could.

    Online business owners need to manage their belief, and they need to develop the skill of expanding what they believe is possible.

    Elephants can’t really fly with feathers, and we don’t really create revenue out of nothing. But it feels that way, and self-help techniques that help us to “let go of limiting beliefs” are genuinely useful for online business owners, in my experience.

    This often includes visualization, developing a clear vision of where you want to be — and also, who, what, and how you want to be. I’ll talk more about some specific exercises I’ve found useful in another episode.

    Mindfulness and business ownership

    The other big so-called “woo” practice that I think is tremendously useful and pragmatic is some kind of mindfulness or meditation practice.

    The science on mindfulness is promising, but it’s also really early in the game, so I’m not going to go on and on about things like brain scans. I’m just going to talk about what I’ve observed for myself and with other business owners.

    Mindfulness practice, or meditation, does two very useful things.

    One, it is very pragmatic practice in letting go of storylines. What that means is, all of the mental chatter we have that resembles Jr. High School girls talking about their social lives. He said, she said. She said this but I think she meant that and I don’t know what he thinks and I can’t tell if he likes me and … blah blah blah.

    It’s exhausting, and we all spend too much time on it, men and women alike. He’s disrespecting me, she’s trying to throw me under the bus, whatever.

    Mindfulness practice has you continue coming back to the actual reality of your situation — the facts in front of you. In meditation, we usually keep our reality fairly boring, maybe you’re sitting in a chair and looking at a blank wall.

    But it’s practice, and it comes in handy when your emotions are running high in your business, and more to the point, the emotionally-triggering stories you’re telling are running fast and furious.

    Meditation is not at all about giving up your emotions. It’s about learning to set aside those stories you run in your brain that tend to trigger unhelpful cascades of emotions — perhaps not forever, but long enough to keep you from taking impulsive action on those stories. Which leads me to the second helpful thing.

    The other thing meditation does is create a habit of a little pause between emotional response and taking some kind of action. Just a little space.

    This helps you gain the habit of very useful things like thinking before you speak, or thinking before you blast someone on Facebook. It helps you cultivate the practice of listening thoughtfully, and speaking only when you have something of value to contribute.

    I like the Insight Timer app for meditation, super useful and not clogged up with features you don’t want. The basic version is free, and I’ll include a link in the show notes on

    I could go on about this for a long time, because I find that mindset tends to be a cornerstone for business owners.

    If you can get your head in a productive and useful place, you’ll be able to make use of the tons and tons of resources available to give you the knowledge you need.

    But to wrap this one up, I do think self-help has its uses for business owners, and therefore for success, if you use it thoughtfully. Don’t think that this tool is going to resolve every problem, and don’t substitute “visualizing” or “manifesting” success for actually working on it. But it can be a useful thing to have in your tool box.

    Holiday schedule for Rainmaker.FM

    You may know that this podcast is part of the Rainmaker.FM marketing podcast network, and we have some holiday schedule information for you.

    This podcast will be taking a break for the week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., which is Monday November 23, and for Christmas week, which is Monday, December 21.

    I’m going to re-publish episodes for those weeks, so let me know which ones you think should make a comeback! Drop me a comment on the site to let me know which episodes you feel have had the most impact, and we’ll get them republished.

    And finally, the whole network team will be taking a break the week between Christmas and New Year’s day, so there will be no new shows that week. That would be a great time for you to work on your goals for the new year!

    If you’ll let me give some more of my bossy advice, get that into your calendar right now — take a full day, or a few half-days, to sit down and think about what you want to make happen for 2016. I’ll be back to you the first week of the new year with some thoughts on goals, vision, and measuring your progress.

    And a big thank-you, as always, to all of the nice people who have left a star rating or a review on iTunes, those help me out hugely. Thank you, thank you!