On this week’s installment of The Netsetter at WorkAwesome, Thursday Bram talks with Danielle LaPorte, who is a well-known writer, speaker and business/strategic advisor. Danielle’s a very busy woman with a lot of things on the go – we’re glad she was able to take the time to speak with us recently.
Thursday Bram: Danielle, could you tell us a little bit about what your current projects are? I know you do a lot of things, but sort of break it down for us.
Danielle LaPorte: Sure. I have a Web site called WhiteHotTruth.com and I write about self realization and livelihood. So on any given day we could be talking about cash flow or the power for forgiveness, it depends. I do one-on-one strategic work, business development work, mostly with solopreneurs; those are called Fire Starter sessions. And I also have a digital program, an e-book, called the Fire Starter Sessions, which I launched earlier this spring and it’s going like gang busters.
TB: That’s a lot to have on your plate; how do you manage all those different things?
DL: Well, I have a fairly good rule about proportion. So the old saying of work hard, play hard really works for me. So for me it’s all about focus. To get the Fire Starter Sessions digital book out it was about three months of intense focus. I let my friends know that I probably wouldn’t be hanging out of returning their phone calls. It wasn’t about doing the dishes, I ordered a lot of pizza, and I just completely put myself in what Twyla Tharp, who’s written a great book called The Creative Habit, she calls it the creative bubble.
So I really, I love creative bubbles. I like things that have beginnings and ends, and you can only work that way if you’re sort of wired for that stamina and that kind of focus. So that’s part of how it goes for me. Also, I don’t see a lot of clients. I work with three people a week because it keeps me fresh, it keeps me tapped in. I feel like it’s a great way to be of service, and that’s enough. I’m clear that I want to give most of my energy to writing and speaking, so I really make that the priority.
TB: Do you use any particular tools, or do you work with any support staff to manage all of this as well?
DL: Yeah. I have a communications manager who has recently come on board for me, and she really knows the inside of everything that I’ve written and where things have been published. She’s going to be working with me on launching some new books. But I say to a lot of my clients that getting a VA is something they might want to consider doing sooner than later so that they can focus on doing what they do best. Because typically what you do best is going to not only light a fire, but be the leverage point for your revenue. You do what you do best and you make the money.
TB: Great. So, I know that you used to be in DC and you’ve done a couple different things. How did you find a path to what you’re doing now?
DL: Well, I started in publicity and I really didn’t know that I was doing publicity. I met somebody at a party once and they said, “What do you do?” And I said, “Well, I write press releases and I get people on radio shows.” They said, “Oh, you’re a publicist.” And I thought, “Well, I guess I am, I better go get a business card.”
But I really immersed myself in a particular kind of culture, in a kind of client that I wanted to work with, and that’s where I learned my first lesson about the power of hanging out with your tribe. Because when you hang out with your tribe it’s a lot easier to build momentum. So I got a reputation for promoting futurists, and one thing led to another and that brought me to Washington, DC to become executive director of a future studies think tank there, and that was a wild and crazy ride.
I was always open to reinventing myself at every new juncture. So after it was time to leave DC, then I moved back to Vancouver and I always knew I could make some money with my traditional skills of basically hustling people’s ideas and getting them on TV and radio. So I did some of that, but I was always clear that I wanted to work for myself. It’s always been a sort of one thing leads to another.
TB: Okay. I know a lot of publicity people feel that you kind of have to go through the traditional educational system to really do a good job, but I know that you didn’t. How did you get the experiences that you needed and the education to do all of the different things that you’ve done?
DL: Yeah, I didn’t go to university. I graduated from high school and in a proud way I’ve been able to say that I ran a think tank. I really leveraged that for a while. When you work in Washington, DC, every day you’re going to be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement and you’re going to be asked where you went to university, and it was really great to say, “I didn’t.”
So I used that to my advantage for a while. But how I did that was I became obsessed with whatever I was interested in. It meant taking the right people to lunch, it meant going to the conferences, it meant reading everything I could get my hands on. There was the energy of obsession, which is pretty easy to cultivate; you just immerse yourself in that culture. But also you have to really let yourself be guided by what you’re genuinely interested in.
Sometimes this is what school and the system can beat out of us is our genuine interest. We get sidetracked with what should go into an MBA, etcetera, etcetera. So I really followed my impulses of curiosity, and when you’re curious you’re really able to practice what’s called engaged listening. You listen at a deeper level, you retain knowledge longer, and of course the passion’s there. Those are all really, it’s a killer combination. Passion and deep listening, it’ll take you a long way. Sometimes it may take you further than any degree might.
TB: That’s very true. If somebody is just getting out of the mindset that they have to be in a class to learn, do you have any particular tips that you’d offer in terms of finding the right people to take out to lunch or finding the experts to follow up with?
DL: Well, I think if you’re curious and you’re obsessed, finding the right people isn’t going to be difficult. What you need to be aware of is how to get to them and how to actually get them to have tea with you. So I’m all about qualified requests. So I got some very high level people to meet with me and jam with me and mentor me in any way, and it was surprising the access I was able to get to some people. But that was all a result of knowing who they were.
So when you approach someone, you’ve got to know what they’re up to, you’ve got to be clear about why you’re interested in them and why you like them, and you’ve got to mention that on the upstart. You need to give them a very succinct and clear description about what you’re up to and why you’re doing what you’re doing, and then give them a very clear request. It’s the difference between – I get some people who will e-mail me and say, “Hey, can you look at my website and tell me what you think?” No, I’m not going to look at your website and give you this general “what I think” — this is what I get paid to do. While I want to be of service, this is my livelihood.
However, if someone gives me a qualified request, this is what I’m about, this is why I love your perspective. I know who you are and what you’re up to, and could you look at my website and just tell me the first three words that come to mind in terms of my brand.
Woo! You’ve made it – the answer for me then is…yes. You’ve made it easy for me to help you, you know who you are, and you’re being clear. So yeah, I think those are the key components to getting anybody of import to meet you at Starbucks.
TB: What about if you want to pursue something like a partnership with somebody? I know that you wrote a book with Carrie McCarthy that’s done pretty well; how did you put together a partnership like that?
DL: Well, that was a partnership based on a mutual love for creativity and we both had a very strong entrepreneurial drive, and we just wanted to work together at the time. So those are essential ingredients, but I’ve had numerous partnerships that were fulfilling for the time that they needed to be. I’ve had a number of them that have gone south, and I’ve had one in particular that ended with really grisly business divorce. Personally, I will never partner with anyone again.
Collaboration has its merits and sometimes partnership is the best thing you can do for both your spiritual and your financial growth. But I think going into it, what I now know about partnerships is you need to be really clear on what I call domains of responsibility and that the buck needs to stop with someone. I’m not a huge fan of consensus, even in one-on-one smaller partnerships, especially in teams, I think there has to be leadership. So if you’re in a partnership, a one-on-one partnership, someone’s got to have the final say in finances, someone’s got to have the final say in terms of branding and communication, someone has to final say in terms of HR.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t strive to agree on everything, because that’s wonderful. But what happens is that – and I’ve seen this happen so many times, when people are in partnership they endeavor to agree and when they endeavor to agree and create consensus it often creates mediocrity. They bend to each other and it dilutes the capacity to take risks, it dilutes innovation because you basically want to get along. Greatness does not come from diluted creativity and innovation.
So someone’s got to have the final say. You need to trust each other to empower each other. Sometimes you’re going to screw up and that’s part of leadership and that’s part of partnership, but you’ve got to be individual leaders in your very small collective.
TB: One thing that I’ve noticed as we’ve been talking is that your career seems to have been a process of evolution. Like one of the specifics, you started with doing more consulting with the Fire Starter sessions and now you have this product that has evolved from it. How have you been able to keep that evolution going? How have you seen the opportunities along the way?
DL: Well, for me it’s more about feeling the opportunities and, again, paying attention to what interests me, what I’m curious about. I’m very clear on I know how I want to feel in terms of my vocation. I want to feel connected, I want to feel affluent. I want to know that I’m being of service. I want to feel innovative.
So I simply do things that make me feel that way. And it’s as simple as saying, “What’s going to feel innovative today?” Well, I’m going to write the post that I think nobody’s written yet, or I’m going to put a new spin on an old philosophy based on what I learned this week.
So it’s very inwardly driven for me, and I also pay attention to what people want from me. I have. Whether it’s your audience or your market or your clients, whatever they’re thanking you for is somehow related to your gift to give and your genius, your skill, your talent. And if they’re asking for it it’s going to be way easier to sell. So it’s part heart and really market demand.
TB: I know that with the Fire Starter sessions you donate $5.00 from every copy you sell to the buyer’s choice of charities. What inspired that?
DL: Well, I give the buyer a choice of two charities, that was just to simplify things administratively. They can either give to Women for Women International or the Acumen Fund. The reason I do that is because I can and because why not, and because I want to be of service. I think entrepreneurship, well I think commerce in general should go hand in hand with philanthropy. And if I can contribute in a way, if I can ease suffering through my own livelihood, then I’ll find a way to do that, and this is a very simple way.
It’s also engaging to people. It sets an example. I’m really clear, I tell all of my clients if you’re going to do something charitable, don’t do it anonymously, unless you feel really compelled to do that. I think the more public we are with our generosity, the more generosity it’s going to inspire. So if someone feels good because they donated five bucks from buying my $150.00 program, then it’s a triple win.
TB: Is there particular reasons that you chose the two charities that you did?
DL: Yeah. I think the Acumen Fund is very effective. I know some of the people who are deep into that organization and I have a lot of respect for them organizationally. I think it’s a fantastic, fantastic model for commerce and philanthropy, and an investment. And Women for Women International, I also think they’re very effectual and well run, but I love that it’s women centered and I’m really, I completely resonate with the guiding philosophy that women are really the weavers of the fabric of society. And when you empower and support women you really influence how a culture grows.
It doesn’t get more beautiful than that for me, socially speaking. And it also addresses a crisis. So I wanted something that was long term thinking, and I get that with the Acumen Fund, and I wanted something that was crisis oriented, which in a big way is Women for Women.
TB: Wonderful. So I only have one question left and it’s one that we ask in every interview. If you had just one thing to say to somebody who’s interested in starting their own business, what would you tell them?
DL: I would tell them a lot of things. I would tell them that they have to be clear on how they want to feel. When you get clear how you want to feel in terms of your livelihood, then you do what you need to do to generate those feelings. I think we have it backwards culturally. We set our goals and achieving those goals unconsciously or consciously creates a desires state for us. I think if you get clear on a desired state it’s a lot easier to hit your goals.
I also think, step number two, you need to put a support system in place. You need to create what a friend of mine calls a culture of yes. So that may be a mentor, it may be a coach. I’m a big fan of coaches. It may be meeting with a girlfriend every Thursday night to not talk about families or bitch about your jobs, but to really have a conversation about supporting each other in your creative and all of your livelihood pursuits, be really focused.
So you need a support system and you need to honor your instincts. I think you know. We’re trained to second guess ourselves in terms of what feels like the right direction, and sometimes you need to pretend that you know until you really work that muscle of instinct. You ignore your instincts at your own peril, and when you honor them some form of success is guaranteed.
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