Interview with John Berardi
Co-founder of Precision Nutrition, John Berardi has impacted the fitness and health and wellness industries on a much grander scale than just with fitness professionals, personal trainers, or gyms.
John is kind of an industry icon. A prominent speaker and tremendous writer, he’s built a great business that’s got a couple different components, but most interestingly and definitely one of the most admirable thing is that he’s been able to build this powerhouse organization on his own terms.
How Precision Nutrition was Created
In the early days of Precision Nutrition, it wasn’t much of a business. It actually wasn’t even called Precision Nutrition back then. I sort of got my “industry” start when I was a Master’s student back in 1999 when I published my first article online with what was called Testosterone Magazine back then. I was studying exercise science. I went on to do a PhD in exercise and nutritional biochemistry. I was just so excited about the things I was learning in the exercise and nutrition realm. The internet seemed like a really tremendous way to share those things.
People say that to really understand a subject not only do you have to learn it but then you have to go out and teach it. It was like the ultimate platform for me to do that since I was learning this great stuff. I used to have one day a week where I would just spend it in the stacks at the library, for those of you who are younger you might not know what such a thing is, but you basically had these sections of academic institutions in the libraries where there would be all the research journals in printed form. There was nothing really online at the time. So I would just sit in there and I go through Journal of Applied Physiology and all these other journals to look for interesting things and I would write about them.
I had this vehicle to write with Testosterone Magazine. Then I built up a pretty interesting following doing just that. There was no business at the time, I was just getting paid to write articles. I started to get invited to speak at events and I did my first, and it was my largest ever, conference at Swiss in like 2004 or something like that. Up until that point I had been doing speaking engagements but they were to small audiences, 20, 30, 50 people. So I got invited to Swiss and I was really honored, and I think Lee Haney, the legendary body builder, was speaking there, and Kazmaier, legendary strong man, like all these people and I was just blown away.
So, I get there and the audience is like 500 people. It totally freaked me out but after the event a young guy came up to me, named Phil Caravaggio, he was just interested in the field because he was interested in working out, but his whole experience in training was in something called Systems Design Engineering so he was basically building web interfaces and applications for companies like IBM and stuff like that, he was also a student at the time.
So we met and really hit it off. He, for the next year and a half, tried to convince me to build a website. At the time there were no expert websites. I mean there were very few websites at all. Most of it was the equivalent of like a chat room. I wasn’t that into it, because at the time I was still on dial-up, so I thought who’s going to spend all their time on the internet? Just loading a basic html page took five or ten minutes. He kept working me and I kept telling him it’s never going to work. This is the true visionary that I am.
He finally twisted my arm enough and we built our first website, it was called Science Link. Remember, we were students at the time and I was getting paid to write for Testosterone. Phil lived in Toronto and I lived in London, Ontario and he came down every Friday afternoon and we’d go into the basement of this house I was renting, set up like a little makeshift office, and we would code the site. He taught me how to code and we learned how to build checkout processes and email list management tools and stuff like that. Which was really primitive compared to what there is now. But, that was the early beginnings.
We spent a few months just building the site, and putting up free articles there. There was no business model. We just put this little thing in the right corner, which was kind of common at the time, saying “Interested in the latest updates from Dr. Berardi and Science Link? Give us your name and email address and we’ll send you our newsletter.” That actually used to work and people would sign up for that.
After a couple of years of doing this and making virtually no money, except for a little one on one coaching thing that was keeping the site with the lights on. We were just writing, engaging our passion I guess you want to call it, and collecting names. Then when we were graduating we were getting these lucrative job offers from big companies, which was awesome. We were debating what should we do with the site.
“Really we were just sharing the things that we were learning with people out there to help them eat, move, and live better. Then we kind of grew with that.”
We had a friend who knew a little bit about business and he was like “guys how many people do you have on that newsletter list of yours?” We’re like “ah, it’s like 30,000 or something like that.” He said “Okay, don’t take jobs. You guys, that’s actually a business. If you start doing information products and coaching services and stuff like that a 30,000 list is huge. You guys will do really well.” So we decided to put our energy into that.
In the beginning, it was more of what kind of prompted me to start in the first place, which was what am I interested in? What does it seem like other people are interested in? And where does that overlap? Let’s do that. So we started with a cookbook, it was called Gourmet Nutrition, and it was an e-book. It was healthy nutrition recipes for people who like to work out and athletes. Then we did another information product, it was a DVD, called No Nonsense Nutrition and we filmed it in a variety of locations. We filmed it in a commercial cooking kitchen and we taught people how to prepare quick and easy meals. Then we took them on a grocery tour. Then we took them to the high performance physiology lab that I worked at as a graduate student and we just created this really cool DVD set. Again, it looks kind of goofy now because video technology has changed so much, but back then it was a pretty good product.
Really we were just sharing the things that we were learning with people out there to help them eat, move, and live better. Then we kind of grew with that. As we saw the information product business changing, we felt that generally in fitness the products were mediocre, so we wondered if there was a way to help more people on a larger scale. Then that sort of led us to the modern day version of Precision Nutrition coaching, which is a service that we provide now where we’ve coached around 45,000 people over the last 10 years.
Then that led to our fitness professional stuff where, after coaching so many people and having such great results in this kind of scalable and automated systematic way, fitness, health and nutrition pros started asking us how can I use this kind of a model? That’s where the certification came from. Really it was this kind of slow evolution of our interests and how they dovetailed with the audience or our prospects or whatever you want to call people’s interests, and then just trying to do good work every single day to bring them stuff that they can use either themselves to change their lives or to use with their clients. So that’s kind of the genesis story in a nutshell.
Precision Nutrition Today
Today, Precision Nutrition does three things. One, we coach clients to help them eat, move, live better, change their bodies and change their lives. That’s the one arm of our business. The reason I’ll bring up all three is because they play really nicely together.
The second is we work with fitness professionals, a lot of them in fact. We’ve enrolled over 35,000 health and fitness professionals in our certification program, our level one, to teach them how we do PN coaching. I think PN’s in a pretty unique position because we’re one of the only certification groups that actually coaches. A lot of certification organizations as good or as bad as they might be, don’t actually coach people. I think it’s unique that we do because there’s obviously the theory of coaching and the theory of nutrition and the theory of personal training, and then there’s the reality of having to get clients and having the skill for what you teach. Do your methods actually work when they’re tested with real people, thousands of them, in real life?
“We’ve enrolled over 35,000 health and fitness professionals in our certification program, our level one, to teach them how we do that coaching.”
That’s what we teach in our certification. Level one is basically a textbook driven course, with online lectures and modules and online quizzes, where you can learn the fundamentals not only of nutritional physiology but of coaching psychology. I’m so proud of level one because it’s so universally regarded. When we ask our students to rate it our average rating is like 9.9 out of 10. Which is kind of unheard of. That’s one part of our certification arm.
Then the other part is our level two certification which is a year-long mentorship where we take much smaller groups of coaches who really want to get to the next level in their coaching and we actually provide them with a coach from Precision Nutrition, one of our super coaches, who mentors them for a year. There’s lessons and there’s assignments and there’s quizzes and there’s case studies and people emerge from level two just fundamentally changed.
That actually speaks to what I think is our philosophy at PN, which is that traditionally personal trainers, nutritionists, health coaches, are taught through an academic curriculum. Even a lot of online coaching for clients, aside from when someone hands them a diet or a workout to follow, is very academic. It’s frontal cortex. It’s thinking brain oriented. Learn about muscle hypertrophy. Learn about glycemic index. We know very well from psychological literature that people generally don’t change from frontal cortex oriented learnings. It comes from deeper brain centers that regulate emotion and fear and habit.
What we try and do at PN is we try and actually work on those centers. The way we do that is through strategic practice. It’s the idea of, if you wanted to get in “better shape” you actually don’t want to learn how to get in better shape, you just want to be in better shape. I think there are two fundamentally different processes very much like if a fitness professional comes to Precision Nutrition and says “I want to be a better nutrition coach”. They don’t want to LEARN to be a better nutrition coach, because that’s all thinking brain stuff, that’s college. They want to be, embody, being a better coach. I think there’s totally different practices and coaching tools for that and that’s what we’ve become really good at.
I’ll give you an example of how I think about this. When you take a goal, the goal might be to lose weight or it might be to be a better nutrition coach, I don’t think just setting goals helps people achieve goals. What I think has to happen is you have to look at that goal and you have to ask, what skills do I need to develop to achieve that goal? Because if I don’t have the goal now, it means I probably don’t have certain skills that would be required to get it. What are those skills?
“Skills are developed by daily practice of particular things, habits or practices.”
Then we break it down into those skills. Now skills aren’t developed by just wanting to have skills. Skills are developed by daily practice of particular things, habits or practices. When we break the skills down into practices and we even have a worksheet on our website where we have people fill this in, what is your goal? What are the skills required to achieve that goal? And you lay those out over a timeline. Then you say what practices do you have to follow for one or two weeks under each skill to build that skill? Now what you’re doing is you’re designing a system of thinking to the accomplishment of goals.
For me, this is the only reliable way I’ve seen people achieve their goals which helps them become the kind of person they want to become. So, really when you think about how we coach clients, which is one arm of our business, it’s a practice-based program. Every day we ask you to practice a thing and we ask you do that for two weeks. Then after those two weeks you practice a new thing. During that time, we give you lessons and assignments that sort of deepen your experience related to that practice.
For example, if this week’s practice is to eat more fruits and vegetables every lesson or assignment that we give you, or piece of reading, relates to how you can do that. We don’t go off topic and talk about workout nutrition. We don’t start breaking down how much vitamin A is in a vegetable. We talk about practical things. How do you prepare vegetables? How do you eat vegetables in a different way if you never liked them in your life? That kind of a thing.
If you’re a fitness professional it’s the same thing. The skills are just different, like you might need to develop the skill of active listening. Rather than try to be an expert all the time and tell people what you know, to actually listen so you can create a client-centered approach. How do you actively listen? Then we have two weeks of lessons and assignments that help you practice active listening. So when you stack active listening on top of the other skills, you over time, slowly, surely, strategically become the kind of a coach that you want to be. Level two really embodies that and you have a mentor the whole way.
The third thing we do is Pro Coach, our most recent offering. For years we coached clients and then we taught professionals how to do it. Then through our coaching programs, we’ve coached so many people and we have software along with this really cool online platform to do it. So clients started saying, “well this is great, we learned your methodology, but man I would really love to use your stuff.” We didn’t have a way to do that.
So in June of 2016, we actually for the first time ever made available the coaching platform that we use with our coaches and our own clients to fitness pros who’ve been through our certification process. That has been awesome, totally awesome. What happens is if you’ve been through our training and you know our methodology, you can now add your clients to the platform with you as the coach. So you become the superstar coach using our tool. It’s kind of like software as a service model.
“So you become the superstar coach using our tool.”
Why I’m so excited about it is because, to date at Precision Nutrition, we’ve coached in 10 years about 45,000 clients. Since June when we offered Pro Coach, we’ve doubled that. So our coaches have gone out into the world and invited another 45,000 people to coach with this model with them as the coach and I think that’s just incredible. It’s taken us 10 years to coach 45,000 people and like two and half months to coach another 45,000. That’s just incredible to me that now we can actually, at PN, work with the professionals that represent us and themselves out in the world to reach way more people than we ever could have.
We expect to reach a million people through this new arm of Pro Coach, and the cool part is that our professionals just pay us a small monthly fee to use the software. They’re really at the center of this process. So it’s really kind of a win-win, which people use that phrase a lot but, it really is. I mean we get to help more people at PN. For the professionals, they actually get to use this tool that helps them automate and scale and really deliver the kind of results they always wanted to deliver but never really had the tools to do it.
I’m super pumped about how these three things come together. We kind of think of them as almost like the reduce, reuse, recycle wheel, you know. Ours is like we coach, so that we can learn how to coach better. Then we teach that to our professionals and then we learn from what they’re doing through the platform and then we build that back in to our coaching. So it’s like coach, learn, teach, learn, coach, and it just goes around this spiral of just getting better all the time.
One of the things I love about it is that things sometimes feel a little bit divergent in our business. Sometimes business people come in and say “yeah but you coach and you…what kind of company are you? You’ve got coaching, you’ve got fitness professional stuff, we don’t get it.” The answer is, okay I understand how it feels like two separate businesses but for us it just works together towards the goal we’re trying to achieve, which is to really improve the way that people in the industry deliver nutrition and fitness coaching so it makes total sense to us.
It’s really easy to see someone like me, for example, because I’m out in front of the company, I’m the spokesperson if you will, and be like “look at all the things that Berardi does.” Then people younger in their business than we are will try and compare where they are to where we are. I think it’s not fair and I want to let people off the hook a little bit.
“I’ve always felt like if you build stuff that people will want then you’ll make a profit and then you’ll be able to invest that back in the business to grow it to the next stage.”
In the early days when we were just scraping together some information products there were like two or three of us. Now we have about 100 people. That’s 100 well-vetted, talented, people who are all contributing to building things that there’s no way two or three people could build. So how did this evolution happen?
It happened with money. We started selling products. We built our first products and while they pale in comparison to what they are today, they were good enough at the time and they helped people. So we started making profit. Then we invested all that profit back into the business. Both Phil and I live well below our means, and that money goes into the business so we can hire talented people and build better things.
That’s such a key part of what we’ve learned along the way, which is this idea of living lean outside of the company so that we can continue to do incredible work inside the company. Doing that incredible work is contingent generally on having some money. It’s been our goal to always self-generate that money. There’s a lot of discussion in the startup world about getting investors and having rounds of financing and stuff like that. Admittedly I’m really dumb about that world because I’ve never entered it. I see lots of conversation about it, and there’s a lot of that kind of discussion in business magazines and stuff like that, but I’ve never really gotten it.
I’ve always felt if you build stuff people will want then you’ll make a profit and you’ll be able to invest that back into the business to grow it to the next stage. They call it boot-strapping, or whatever, so maybe it’s just not in my constitution to go out and find investors to give me a million bucks to build something that I’m not going to sell until I’ve spent all the million bucks and that’s when I’ll find out if people actually like it or not. Or I’ll do beta testing along the way to see if people like it. To me, beta testing has always been wimpy. It’s like there’s a not “all in-ness” to it because people are like I’ll try it now and it doesn’t matter that much cause we’re only going to show it to 15 people and get their feedback. That always feels wimpy to me. It feels a lot like split testing in marketing.
For years at PN we never did subject line split testing, or email split testing, or anything like that and people were like “You guys are so dumb. Why aren’t you actually doing this?” My answer was, one…we’re focusing on the most important things that I think are going to make a much bigger difference to our business than that. The second thing is, I’ve noticed this trend where when people start doing split testing they put far less energy into the quality of the material that they’re testing.
If you have only one chance to write an email that converts, you’ll probably spend more time on that than if you were to be like “who knows let’s just test these three.” What I find is you end up testing C level ideas against each other, and maybe one is a B+ and you find out which one’s a B+. For me, I want to test A ideas against each other and see which one is the A+. I feel like it’s such a difficult thing when you’re not all in on a message or a business or whatever. So it’s a bit of a tangent but it’s generally how I look at a lot of things.
“Once we built something that we thought was great, then we told everyone about it…and then we made money. Then we could invest in more people and more quality, until slowly but surely…we’re where we are today.”
I want us to do the most incredible possible work that we can do. Let’s go all in on it. We may find that it still needs to be made better through user and customer feedback, but the opposite is the kiss of death to me, which is putting out C or D level stuff as your first try and being like “nah the market will sort that out.” Yeah they’ll sort it out by not buying it and then you can go bankrupt. That’s how they sort it out. I think you have to sort it out internally first.
These are some of the things that I’ve found kind of interesting over the years as we’ve gone from basically two people to 100 people. Just putting out stuff that can make you profitable, good stuff that can make you profitable, that customers will actually want so you can fund the next generation of better stuff. Then two, being surrounded by really great people. Having a lot of talent around you.
If you’re just at the beginning, both of these things seem hard to do but they’re not because we did them too. We did the best that we could at the time. Once we built something that we thought was great, then we told everyone about it, and then, most of the time they liked it, and we made money. Then we could invest in more people and more quality, until slowly but surely we chipped away at it and we’re where we are today.
Avoiding the “Shiny Object Syndrome”
I have this kind of a philosophy that not everyone shares and I even have to keep myself true to it because sometimes I find myself straying, but I guess the best way to describe it is I have 100 units of energy that’s my maximum that I can spend in a given week. Now I might spend some of those on work, some of those on time with my family, some of those on my own health and fitness, but I only get 100.
At the beginning of each week, each Monday, I sit down and I look at how I’m going to spend those 100 units over the course of the week. I generally commit only 60 units in a week. What does that mean? Well I’m not looking to fill every hole in my calendar. I’m not going to add an extra project this week if it feels like I’m not going to be busy enough. I’m actually looking to pare it down. In a given week I want to commit to doing fewer things than even I think are possible. So I want to operate at 60% of my capacity on any given week.
Why do I do that? Well I do it because I know it’s not true. Stuff is going to come up every week. I’ve got three little kids, another one on the way, and right now we’re renovating a house. Real life impinges on your plans. So I know if I commit to 60% then I’m going to get to 100 through various things that come up in a week. But doing the exercise of committing to 60% forces me to pick the biggest impact things at any point in time. This is not just for my business, it’s for my relationships with my family and stuff like that. I could spend three hours of not quality time with my kids or I could spend one high impact high quality hour with them. I could do the same with fitness. I can do the same with business.
And I think I’m human and I feel the same things everyone else feels, so what you’ll feel when you do this is “but wait, I have a bit more capacity. I just…watched Gary V’s video recently and he told me how much I have to hustle. So maybe I need to just add this on and hustle.” The other thing you’ll feel is “if I don’t say yes to this he’s going to go to someone else, one of my competitors is going to get the business. This is going to sink my career.”
You’re going to feel all these crazy fearful things like fear of missing out, fear of competition getting a leg up on you, but all of it is crap. It’s all a distraction from your most important things. Pat Rigsby talks about your ideal business which actually means how do you build a business that dovetails with your whole life and the other things that are important to you too. Once PN started to grow I realized if I didn’t sit down and decide what’s important to me this thing would take over my entire life. I defined very clearly, once we had our first child, there are three things that I’m going to say yes to in this world, in no particular order, it’s going to be to look after myself, my own health and fitness, I’m going to say yes to that. I’m going to say yes to my family, being a good dad, being a good partner. I’m going to say yes to things that grow Precision Nutrition.
So those are the three things and they may change in the future. Anything else isn’t necessarily a no, but it makes decision making very simple. You either are doing the things that are on this list or you’re not, but it’s not totally easy because within any of those three things you have to make choices on a regular basis too. It’s kind of like going meta to micro. The meta thing is I only say yes to stuff that’s related to having quality time with my family, taking care of myself, and doing important things at PN. Then in any given week I have to decide what the specifics of those are. So every Monday I have to sit down and do the hard work of saying here’s all the things that have been presented to me, which will I do? Which will make the biggest impact this week and into the future of PN, or the future of my family, or whatever.
“It’s about sort of defining who you are, what you want out of life, what you want out of business, and then repeatedly doing the hard work of deciding or asking does this thing fit into those.”
It’s not easy work. Some Monday’s I just don’t want to do it. Because it’s hard. You know you have to say no to things that you want to do, that you like doing. That you feel fearful of saying no to, but to me, fortunately I’m in this position where lots of opportunities come my way, if I didn’t do this I’d be sunk. My whole life would be governed by other people’s priorities and I’m sure I’d be depressed. I’m sure I’d be doing things that are not aligned with the larger goal of my life. I’m sure that I would fail and not achieve big things that I can be proud of. I’d just be doing a lot of little things that added up wouldn’t actually move the needle towards my life’s purpose. It really speaks to generally how I like to live.
There’s a lot of popular business advice right now about saying no. How to say no, why to say no, but I don’t know that it really captures the essence, like just saying no willy-nilly isn’t useful, just like saying yes to everything isn’t useful either. It’s about sort of defining who you are, what you want out of life, what you want out of business, and then repeatedly doing the hard work of deciding or asking does this thing fit into those. Is this the biggest, most important, most impactful thing that I can do now towards one of those things? It’s not easy. It’s easier to say “just say no” or “just say yes” to everything, but this is, I think, the only way to live intentionally and create your ideal business or your ideal life.
There’s a lot of skin in the game here, if I’m making certain decisions, my wife wants to know why. And I don’t want to be “ah, you couldn’t possibly understand” because I’m such an involved lifestyle manager thinker, I have to be able to communicate it to her. We have about 100 people at PN now, and I want to be able to communicate to them why I’m doing this and not that and why their idea isn’t getting priority over this idea over here. So I have some skin in the game here, I have to be able to describe it or else people just think I’m an obstinate ass.
That’s part of the thing but describing it, to me, is kind of the easy part. Actually living it is a practice. If you don’t decide then who will decide this for you? If you want to decide, when will you sit down and think about these things and write them down and commit to them with your whole self. Because if you don’t do that then you won’t have any guiding principles.
On my computer monitor, I’ve got post-its as a reminder because I sometimes forget. I’ve been living this way since the year before my daughter was born, so seven years now, and I still forget. So I post them right in front of my face to be reminded. We often say at PN what you want to do is record your commitments and your strategy generated in a moment of clarity so when you aren’t clear you’ll remember what clear thinking you came up with. I think that’s so critical, because you won’t always be clear thinking so write down what’s important when you are. Then look back at it and go “oh yeah…yeah…yeah,” that’s what clear thinking JB wants to do. I’m not him right now so I’m going to take his advice.
Guardrails and Decision Making
This is another practice that I have to be reminded of all the time, but the idea is that I get to choose what are the parameters of my life. For example, when we started having children I had this vision of myself as like as teacher or guide for the kids, and that would involve moments of one on one time together, teaching, learning, experiencing, exploring. When we had our third child, I realized I had like zero moments of one on one time with the kids. Then I started to be sad about it, and then a little bit angry, until I realized, wait a second, I’m the only one to blame. No one creates life for you, you create it. So I just said all right here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make time for one on one interactions and relationships with our kids.
“Once you set up the guardrails and they’re non-negotiable you have to figure that out. That became a new challenge for me.”
I came up with a little experiment. I’m going to take Friday’s off and I’ll take one child out of school for that day. So the first Friday of the month might be my daughter, the second might be our middle son, the third would be our youngest son, we’ve got another one on the way, so the fourth one will be for that one. And we’re going to do stuff all day together, just one on one. It might be big stuff like a little trip together, or it might be little stuff like playing at the park or reading or doing things, just quality time.
That was one of my guardrails. I’m going to stop working every Friday and I’m going to get one on one time with my children while they’re young, while they want it, while I want it. That’s what I’m going to do. Now that sets up a new problem, which is how are you going to accomplish all the things you accomplish at work when you have eight or seven hours less a week to work. Once you set up the guardrails and they’re non-negotiable you have to figure that out. That became a new challenge for me.
I also have a guardrail where I try not to work more than seven hours a day. It usually corresponds with the time from when the kids leave to when they get back from school. It’s like okay cool here’s my family work guardrails, seven hours a day, Monday through Thursday. I might put in a little bit of time on the weekend if I really need to, if something came up or whatever, but generally not. This is how I’m going to operate.
This new challenge comes up of how are you going to do that? Aren’t people putting in tremendous hours to have successful businesses? They may be, but I have to ask the question, could you do it without all those hours? The only way I’ve come up with is you can if you are ruthless in prioritizing what you spend your time on. So because I have fewer hours I don’t have wiggle room. Once I get down to work Monday through Thursday from 8:30 ‘til 2:30 or 3:30, I’ve got to make things happen. Important things that move the needle either financially or that move the needle in terms of quality.
The interesting thing about the guardrails is at first it feels like a liability. Where you have less time than everyone else. But I’ve learned quickly that it’s actually an asset. When you have more time you feel less pressure to get it right. You feel less pressure to work on the correct things.
Peter Drucker classically wrote about this in the book Effective Executive where he talks about efficiency as trying to get a lot done in a given amount of time. Effectiveness is totally different. It lives on a different plane. Effectiveness is doing the right things in the first place. You can get that intellectually and understand the difference, but you will never experience the difference until you have restrictions on your time. Until you realize whoa I only have seven hours, four days a week to get it done. It has to be effective because if it’s not this is going to be a disaster. I realized very quickly what I thought was a disadvantage became a real asset because now I only work on the things that make a difference, and lo and behold they end up making a difference. That’s one of the guardrails.
Another one was the whole formation of Precision Nutrition. You know when we stared back at the time people who were successful in let’s say strength and conditioning or education or certification were doing it by globetrotting. They were on the road 50 out of 52 weeks. That was the model. No one had seen any other type of success aside from that. They were doing seminars Friday, Saturday, Sundays, three in a city then to the next. I looked at that and I thought there were some cool things about it, like you get to be a world traveler and you get to meet a ton of people, but I realized it also wasn’t for me.
This was when I was still single and didn’t have a young family. I just don’t have the constitution to do it, to travel so much, to speak that much. I’m naturally more introverted. I think one year I did 12 speaking engagements and it killed me. I wasn’t able to recover from it. I’m sure I could get better with practice but I just kind of sat down and said what if what I perceive as a liability, not able to speak, travel the world and get in front of audiences all the time, could become a strength for us? What if we could do this online? We were fortunate because PN was developing around the same time when online was really taking off. But other people weren’t rushing into this. It’s not a foregone conclusion, like well of course JB you just got lucky because online was happening. Not everyone took advantage of this.
The notion of what if we actually worked within our own unique abilities to create an awesome business on our own terms. For me that looked like doing education online, since we’re already pretty good at creating and writing content. Then we started playing around with video. I built a little video studio in my house and we started recording educational videos right there. We had a teleprompter, and I learned how to use that, and I would run it myself. I’d go down there by myself, turn on the camera, get in front of the camera, run the prompter with my hand that was off camera and figure it out.
“Your biggest challenge or problem could also become your biggest opportunity.”
We quickly realized that what we thought was a liability became an asset because now I could do a 12 or 30-minute video or whatever from my home or studio and broadcast it to 50,000 people. If I was actually out in Sydney or London or Hamburg or wherever I might have an audience of one, two, three hundred people. I just did a video and it went to 50,000. Wait a second, maybe not traveling is better. People wouldn’t have thought that at the time.
For me it becomes this particular exercise and the two things have to fit together. One is what are your unique abilities, what are your guardrails and make them work together. Once you put up guardrails it actually limits your ability to do other stuff so it keeps you in this one box of how you’ll operate. The second thing is to always ask this question, but what if the box I’m operating in allowed me to do things bigger and better? It might not, but what if it did? What would that look like?
That’s been something that has been really helpful for us at PN, obviously, with the online education model, extremely helpful and extremely profitable. With my personal model of taking time off and working a more limited amount of hours in a week. It’s been really helpful in terms of prioritizing the biggest possible things we can work on. It’s been great from that capacity and it’s just taught me so much.
At an event I was telling someone that it feels like I have to be forced into these insights. Just knowing them isn’t enough. I knew the difference between effectiveness and efficiency but it took having a family to say hey you don’t have a choice any more dude so you either figure out a good way to do this or end up being what you don’t want to be, a shitty dad.
It’s those moments in my life where I’ve been forced into putting up guardrails and constraints and then not thinking of them as liabilities but thinking of them as assets, how can I make this an asset. That has really been game changing not only in how I operate and live in the world but also in how we operate as a business. I always like to remind people that this is a practice and I don’t always remember to do it. So the next time a big liability comes up for me I sometimes forget for a few minutes that I’m supposed to treat this as a guardrail that could create more opportunity for us. Instead I’ll whine like a toddler about it for a bit. Then eventually I’ll remember, “well wait a second! I’ve solved this before so many times” by doing the guardrail, unique ability thing and then looking for your liability or whatever, to become your asset.
I often say that super powers can also be your biggest kryptonite and vice versa. Your biggest challenge or problem could also become your biggest opportunity. I think it all fits together.
I talk to a lot of business owners and the way they speak sometimes makes me wonder if they should be owning a business in the first place. Instead, I think this person would make a killer manager or head trainer, but as a business owner I wish they’d just stop.
Why do I say that? Skills can be built. Someone who doesn’t have the skills to be a business owner is one thing, you can build that skill. The other thing is aptitude. I think sometimes we get seduced by looking at what other people have accomplished and start following their model of the world. It might be glorified by other people or there might just be something about it, maybe it’s that we don’t have those skills or capabilities and we’re just envious.
For example, this is unrelated to business, but comedy is something I’m fascinated by. I’m not a naturally funny guy. I don’t have good comedic timing. When I watch people who are good at comedy I’m fascinated. It’s like this super power that they have that is otherworldly to me. There’s a whole bunch of stuff like that in the world where I look at people who do this thing that I wasn’t gifted with, and I’m sure they’ve practiced a lot too, but I go “wow that’s amazing.”
If I tried to go in and do comedy probably the best I would ever be is just mediocre at it. What I think I’d rather do is look at who I am and what I’m uniquely good at, and then rush headlong into that. Get world class at that thing. If you’re not feeling great about your business, the first thing I would ask, and I know this is the most uncomfortable question, is should I be in business in the first place? Why am I even doing this?
Your answer might be very powerful and profound, and it might drive you to continue. If so, do it. Then build the skills you need. But if the answer isn’t, if you can’t find a good reason why you’re in business except you thought by having your own business you’d be powerful and important and get to call your own shots or whatever, and it’s not turning out that way and you’re not making any money at the same time and you’re miserable, then maybe it’s time to think about something else.
All this speaks back to one thing we do at PN that I think is so important, which is discovering your unique abilities. There’s actually a process we go through with all of our team. It started with Phil and I, of looking at what is the thing that you are or have the potential to be world class at, one. Two is what is the thing that falls into that category that you actually like doing. There’s some people who are world class at certain things, but don’t like doing them. So you have to have the potential or be very good, you have to like doing it, and then the third thing is it has to make a difference. It has to make an impact defined by whatever your key variables are. It could be making money, it could be changing the world in a positive way, it could be freeing up more time to spend with your family, whatever your metric is.
“At the end of the day if I feel satisfied, that’s all I was really looking for. I didn’t have to feel bliss or joy, those are bonuses.”
So, it’s uniquely good at, could be world class, you really enjoy it, and has the potential to make a difference. When you start spending more of your time in your unique ability set, a lot of things change. I won’t say it’s like this kind of utopian bliss because work is still hard, but you’ll feel satisfied. At the end of the day if I feel satisfied, that’s all I was really looking for. I don’t have to feel bliss or joy, those are bonuses, delightful little surprises. If I just feel satisfied, like I was at my desk seven hours today and I feel satisfied with what was done. I realize that I don’t feel satisfied if I’m working outside of my unique abilities, and I do when I’m working within them.
That’s kind of my parting thoughts for people who have businesses or want to start them. It all starts with the old cliché advice to find your why. Why are you doing this in the first place? I like to layer some tactics on it that revolve around discovering your unique abilities. Then when you can make these things match, have a powerful why for doing what you do and make sure you’re working within your unique abilities, I think things generally go pretty well barring natural disaster. It’s hard work, I’m not going to pretend this is a quick fix for anyone, you know, just do this and your business will turn around, but that’s my experience.
I mean people in fitness often laugh at clients for wanting a quick fix or magic bullet and then literally turn around and ask for that from a business coach. There’s some irony to that and when we become self-aware and mature, grow up a little bit, we realize that’s what we’re doing. And just like clients there has to be a process for our own development professionally. Hopefully, I made some people think by talking about these things because they’re not easy to think about. But more importantly I hope I helped some people take action.
I remember I was doing a couple coaching sessions and I could see the person I was talking to literally just squirming in their chair and then one of them looked up while it was happening and he said “I’m just feeling really really uncomfortable right now by what you’re telling me because I know it’s right and I know it’s going to be hard and it goes against some of my own programming and I also know that this is where growth happens for me.” I was like “yes” that’s it, this guy gets it. That’s where growth happens, when you’re squirming in your chair saying “I don’t want to believe this guy” “it’s uncomfortable. I’m going to have to do some things differently. I’m going to have to question assumptions that I’ve made. I may have to change everything about how I do things” but if you’re not happy and not being successful by your metrics that’s the only way into this.