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263: From Burnout to Freedom: Austin’s Entrepreneurial Journey

Posted by Austin Brawner on August 4, 2020

The “crush-it” culture of entrepreneurship almost led to me giving up the business I have today.

After two years at a fast-growing startup, I was pushed to the edge mentally and physically. I knew I had to walk away and form a vision for what I wanted my future to look like. It took eight years for me to go from burnout to freedom by building my business into what it is today, and creating that vision involved a lot of trial and error and reinvention.

In this episode I talk about some of the lowest points I’ve experienced as an entrepreneur, what it was like to close down a successful marketing agency, the trials of breaking up with a business partner, and the importance of defining success so you know what you’re actually working towards. 

Episode Highlights

  • 5:22 The early foundation of Austin’s journey as an entrepreneur
  • 8:17 Invaluable experience gained from startup life and lessons learned from burnout
  • 10:58 Making sales while you sleep: Austin’s introduction to ecommerce and email marketing
  • 12:49 How the Ecommerce Influence podcast was born
  • 14:04 The unexpected rise and intentional fall of Austin’s marketing agency
  • 18:30 The most important thing to consider when forming a business partnership
  • 20:32 Austin’s lowest point in his entrepreneurship journey
  • 22:38 The lightbulb moment at a mastermind that led to the creation of a new business model
  • 24:47 Crush-it culture resurfaces: how a second round of burn out changed the direction of Austin’s business
  • 28:50 Hiring a business coach and building a membership site
  • 31:23 The three current revenue drivers for Austin’s business
  • 32:42 Austin’s huge mindset shift that led to steady and consistent growth
  • 36:07 How to create more freedom in your life as an entrepreneur
  • 40:20 Austin’s definition of success in business and life today
  • 44:22 An unpopular opinion Austin has about business that many other entrepreneurs won’t agree with

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Transcript

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Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence podcast. My name is Austin Brawner, and I’m here with my lovely wife, Carly Johnson Brawner.

Carly Johnson: Hey everyone!

Austin Brawner: And we're excited to bring you an episode today that's going to be a little bit different. Going to be an episode that we've been thinking about doing for a while but have never kind of sat down and made it happen. We turned our office into a studio and we want to sit down and do a little interview. Carly is going to be interviewing me.

She recently launched her own podcast called the Doing It Different podcast, and it's been super fun to work on together. And so we thought, you know what, let's just sit down and do an interview together. She's going to interview me a little bit about my journey and how I got here to be hosting the Ecommerce Influence podcast.

Carly Johnson: Yeah, and how you got to where you are now in terms of your business, not just podcast, I think that's the most important thing we'll be talking about. And I have to tell people that we actually have recorded this episode before. We recorded a full episode. It was epic. And then it somehow got deleted.

Austin Brawner: Somehow got deleted. Yes, 100%. I can't remember exactly what happened. But I was trying to clear an SD card and I accidentally cleared it. And it was devastating. But we're coming back with this episode. And yeah, and that's it.

The whole reason we decided this episode is because I think that if you're on your journey, your entrepreneurial journey and you're either towards the beginning or you know, just just in it, it's really easy to look at the from the outside and see kind of where people are at and not have any perspective on how they got there. And, and how many, many years or how long they've been working in a certain direction to be where they're at.

Our goal in this episode is to kind of pull back the curtain a little bit and talk about what the journey has looked like for me. And hopefully, it resonates with some of you guys who are on your own journey.

Carly Johnson: Yeah, and I will say one of the points, or one of the points in time recently, that inspired us to record this episode, is someone close to us recently said, Oh, my gosh, Austin, I just wish I could have your business. Yet, he started his business six, eight months ago. And just Like Austin said, we want to share where Austin was in his first six, eight months, and where he's been over the last, what, seven years now, eight years?

Austin Brawner: Yeah, about that.

Carly Johnson: Where he's been over that timeframe to get where he is now. So Aust, will you let us know a little bit about where and when your journey with entrepreneurship started?

Austin Brawner: Sure. So my journey into the entrepreneurial world started, really after college, I think there was no, you hear a lot of people that are like, I started a business in my dorm room. And it was something that I knew or was like fast track in college and starting a business on the side.

That was definitely not me. I was very much on the track, a different track. I kind of thought that finance was something that was interesting to me.

After college, I moved, I got a Fulbright scholarship and I moved to Macau, China. And in Macau when I was there my whole idea was that I was going to go into finance in Hong Kong. That was my idea of what my life was going to be like.

When I was over there, I went to this really interesting conference called Make a Difference Asia. And when I was over there, this conference, there was a debate going on between Tony Shea of Zappos and a professor at the London School of Economics. And the debate was whether or not you should start a business or go to business school.

I remember watching this debate, and I really didn't even really know what entrepreneurship was like, what being an entrepreneur is a time it was kind of my first intro into that mindset. And I remember listening to Tony Shea, and my mind being blown and being like, there is absolutely no way that I'm going to go to business school anymore.

After listening to Tony Shea talk about how you can take that money, invest it, build a business, and even if you fail you're still gonna learn more than if you go to business school.

That was a lightbulb moment for me. And I was 22. I think at that point, I came back, moved to Los Angeles, got a job at a startup. When I say startup, it really was super small. I think it was the second or third employee. And we all work remotely. And we were selling Healthy Vending Machine franchises around the country.

The company's called Human Healthy Vending, and now it's called SnackNation. But it was really my first deep dive into what it means to be an entrepreneur. And it was an incredibly powerful experience for me because we were just trying to figure it out, hiring people, growing, and I learned so much personally, and I also met you when I was working there.

Carly Johnson: Yes, that is when we met. You were, I think, 24 and I was 22 at that time, and you guys were hustling. I mean you were up at 6am on East Coast sales time, and you are leaving the office at 9-10. But it was a really good crew. And even though that job or your time there wasn't perfect, you learned so much. And I really do think it set the foundation for you moving forward as an entrepreneur.

Austin Brawner: 100%. I learned so much during that time, I was pushed to my like, edge of ability. We grew so quickly that, you know, I was hiring. At one point, I think I hired 20 some people that were on my sales team. And during that process, I just learned so much about hiring, about managing, about sales, about marketing, and it was every single day, pushing past my comfort zone.

I think during that two and a half years, I learned so much about what I like about business and also what I didn't like about business, and it kind of helped formulate my ideas going forward about what I wanted my life to look like, what I want my business to look like?

Carly Johnson: Yeah. And I think it's a really good point or your experience shares a point. That is if you know you want to be an entrepreneur, you can work with other entrepreneurs in the beginning or in the middle of your journey to learn more, soak up their knowledge. I think that for you was crucial.

Austin Brawner: It really was, even though I had this lightbulb moment of like, I want to start a business at some point in my life. I wasn't ready to dive in because I had zero skills around business, right? You graduate from college and you don't really have a skill set, what you learn in college generally doesn't transfer very well. And I had to get a little bit of an idea of what it's like to actually operate any startup. And that's what those first couple years were like.

Carly Johnson: So you ended up leaving Human. What happened then?

Austin Brawner: Yeah, so about two and a half years later, I felt like I had a vision for what I wanted. And it wasn't what I was doing. And I didn't really know exactly what that was going to be. But I knew it wasn't what I was doing currently. And so I left. And it happened to coincide with the fact that you were in the Peace Corps. And you were living in Namibia. And I wanted to go visit you. And we were trying to make our relationship work. And so I left.

I went to Thailand for about a month, and I went to a MuayThai boxing camp, which was a really incredible and incredible experience. And it was kind of a transition out of this period in my life where I was working so hard, like you mentioned, I was like, I was kind of burned out.

I was just working so many hours and I left then I went and I flew to Namibia and I lived with you for a couple of months. I had an incredible time in Africa. And I came back and I said all right now I need to figure out what to do.

I mentioned earlier that one of the things that I was so fascinated by and was just lit up by when I was working at Human was marketing automation, the idea that you can create things that work for you while you're not working. It has always fascinated me.

At the time we were creating marketing emails that could go out to people anywhere in the world automatically and deliver a sales message to them. We built some crazy ones at Human. We had a point when I left, we were doing about 15 to $20 million in sales. And we had one salesperson. That was all because of automated email. We could drive people to there.

So I went out and I left. And I thought to myself, I had a couple of friends who were doing ecommerce businesses. And I noticed that they weren't at the time doing any email marketing, not triggered email marketing like I was talking about. So I thought I could do it for our franchise, which was selling $100,000 franchises and I could definitely do it for a company that is selling $25 or $30 sunglasses.

So that was my first client was Blenders Eyewear. My friend, Blake, was the co-founder. And I literally moved to San Diego and I was living on his floor, and we would go work all day, create marketing automation in their business, try to help them grow and it worked really well. Did that for about a month with them just living in San Diego on their floors.

They were super early in the startup and that transitioned to getting a second client, right, because they were working right next door to Pura Vida bracelets. And I was able to talk to them, they saw what I was doing. They hired me and that was my second client.

So Blenders and Pura Vida are my first two clients. I was doing marketing automation, basically installing emails, getting super excited about it and diving into marketing. That kind of kicked off my business, my consulting business, and around that time I think I kicked off the Ecommerce Influence podcast.

Within about a year, I went to the Traffic and Conversion Summit with a former business partner. We watched a presentation about podcasting and said, you know what, we can do this, let's make this happen. We launched the podcast. And that was, oh my gosh, almost four or five years ago, and kicked that off. And that really solidified my dive into the e-commerce world.

Carly Johnson: Yeah, I remember when you guys first started that podcast, it was super small, just a few downloads here and there, a couple of hundred downloads. And now you guys are huge, this podcast is really, really big.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, and it's just grown over time, you know, gotten better and better and better. And we've brought in new guests and --

Carly Johnson: New hosts.

Austin Brawner: New hosts. It's, you know, it's been an evolving journey. And it's one of those journeys that if you just keep stacking kind of rocks over and over again, eventually you have a really solid foundation.

Carly Johnson: Yeah. So back to your story. You and a business partner basically started an agency and it later ended. Can you tell us briefly about why you guys decided to start an agency? And also, how did you learn an agency was not what you wanted to be doing?

Austin Brawner: Yeah. So I think it's a really, really valuable thing for anybody who is an entrepreneur, especially early on, you don't know what you don't know. And that kind of happened to me. We had some really good success early on working with clients. And what happened was that led to more success and more people wanting to hire me.

I got to the point where I was like, Oh, I'm gonna have to start turning down business here, or I'm going to start hiring people. So I partnered with a business partner, and we said, all right, we're going to continue to go with this.

We're going to start hiring people, build an agency, and do this work at a larger scale, but I kind of backed into it. I didn't really -- it wasn't deliberate about this stock process. It was kind of an idea that we're just seizing an opportunity versus choosing what we wanted.

Very quickly as this thing started to grow. We realized it wasn't the business model that we wanted. And we were fighting it. We were having success and it was growing. But we didn't want it to be the way that it was because it was so employee intensive, it was so frankly, stressful, right?

The idea of doing growth for ecommerce businesses, it's hard enough to do it for one business, let alone do it for 15-20 clients. And they're all fast-growing businesses, you're like, really in the weeds every single day, and you're a huge part of their success. So it can be very, very stressful.

We realized it wasn't really the right thing for us. And we didn't know what to do because it was continuing to grow. And it was what people wanted. That led to a really, really, really challenging time in my life where I knew I was doing something that I didn't really want to do and my business partner was in the same boat as well. You know, we had different visions for where it was going but didn't know how to get there.

Ultimately, that was a big part of the kind of breakup of the agency was not having that strong, clear vision. You know, if I was in the beginning, I said, I wanted to build an agency, I think we could have done it. But since we didn't want that, and we're doing it anyway, that led to a lot of friction. And it was a huge learning experience for me.

But you really have to know, you really have to desire what you are doing because it can grow really fast, and can continue an interaction that you might not actually, like, if you're starting and you don't want what you're building, it's not gonna change.

Carly Johnson: So what I'm hearing is that the money was there, the clients were there, and that was great, and you guys were chasing after that. However, the lifestyle, the responsibility, the number of employees you are responsible for, and the stress that came with having an agency is not what you actually wanted?

Austin Brawner: Yes, there was that that was a combination. I think also the money the way that it was structured, the business model was extra challenging. Right? I didn't have early on, when you don't have an accounting background or don't have an understanding of how cash flow works in business, it can be really challenging to run a business that has low margins, right, the more margin your business has, the more safety it has.

When it's a relatively low margin business, it's very human resources intensive, that can be additionally challenging and you kind of running on these razors and margins always trying to sell, sell, sell and grow. That makes it much, much harder.

Carly Johnson: And that's what was happening.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, exactly. And I didn't have a great understanding of finances at that point. That was a huge pain point for me.

Carly Johnson: And we're talking about a huge pain point. I remember being in New York City visiting friends in Austin literally broke out in a full body head to toe rash.

Austin Brawner: Oh, yeah.

Carly Johnson: So stressed out. So out of his element. I mean, this was like he said, it was a really low time in his life in our life just because of the chaos.

Austin Brawner: My health completely deteriorated because I was letting the stress get to me, I didn't have any, like, I was being pulled in two different directions. And that was incredibly stressful.

Carly Johnson: So let's take a quick break from the story here. You and that business partner ended up breaking up, which was a really positive thing long term. And we won't get into the details there, but I would like you to give a few pieces of advice for people who are looking to partner with other business owners who are looking for partnership or have been proposed a partnership.

What are a few things you’d tell people in that situation?

Austin Brawner: Sure. I look back at almost every challenge that I faced in businesses as a really, really good learning opportunity, because when you learn it early, then you don't make the same mistake over again.

I think that the most important thing with a business partnership is to make sure that you're truly aligned with a long term vision. I think this is the exact same in all relationships, especially with your relationship with your partner, and a business relationship, business partnership, and a relationship with your partner. They're very, very similar. They’re so intense, and you have to be so aligned.

I look at our relationship and one of the things that keeps us together is that we, while we come from very different angles, and we have different viewpoints and different things, our long term vision is identical and it keeps us moving forward. That, I think, is the most important thing with a business partnership. Do you know the person enough that your long term vision is identical and it's so close? It’s great to have separate skill sets, and that's so powerful in a business partnership, but you gotta be long term aligned.

Carly Johnson: Yeah. I would say things that you've done moving forward, have been to experiment with different partners and to do short term projects, before committing to the big, lifelong, or year-long partnership.

Austin Brawner: Oh, I mean, you say year long, you've got to expect whatever you're doing, it's going to take longer than you expect. Whatever business you're building is going to take longer than you expected to take.

Carly Johnson: So you had just dissolved the agency and split up with your business partner. That's where we are in the story. Now, what comes next?

Austin Brawner: So that was an incredibly challenging period. Like I mentioned, my health was deteriorating, I had to go and layoff employees and I remember flying to San Francisco to meet up with one of my employees.

Carly Johnson: Ian! Who’s awesome!

Austin Brawner: Ian, who is absolutely incredible. It was one of the worst conversations sharing the bad news. One of the things that I am proud of looking back on was trying to help everybody get a job, and went out of my way to connect people with other people to help them get a job. And so I was able to leave that feeling good about myself.

Carly Johnson: And your whole team did get a job.

Austin Brawner: The whole team did. And, you know, that was my biggest priority, making sure they left in an equal, or better, place. And that point, you know, that was a, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. At that point, I knew there were things that I really liked and I knew there were things I didn't like, but I couldn't square together what that was gonna look like going forward. So in the meantime, I was doing consulting work, I ended up working with a friend as the CMO of a company called Boom Boom for I don't know, it was maybe six months, something like that.

Carly Johnson: They're crushing it.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, they're, they're doing really, really well. Now, it's a really cool business. And it was a good time for me to kind of figure out what I wanted to continue moving forward with. We did some travel. We lived in Asia for a while and --

Carly Johnson: Got married. We did some travel.

Austin Brawner: Got married. Yes, it was awesome. And yeah, that was kind of a, we moved from New York to Austin, Texas. Yeah, during that time. And it was definitely a transition point. This is about five years ago, right?

Carly Johnson: Yup, five years ago this fall.

Austin Brawner: And so I was trying to figure things out. During that process, I went to a mastermind in Alabama with some of my good friends who I'm still friends with now. And, you know, one of the people had this idea of doing the work that I was doing for an agency in a workshop format.

I would basically take two to three days, and help people implement automated marketing and build a more profitable business by using automated marketing in a very, like, small, intense environment, we map things out, build them, and people can leave with a better business.

That was super appealing to me and that was when my light bulb went off. And I was like, this seems like the thing I want to do. And I always have loved teaching and coaching. And it just seemed like a perfect fit for me. So I went all in.

I was so excited. I partnered with my friend Drew Sanocki, and we hosted our first email intensive in San Diego, about four years ago. And it was a huge success. It was really, really fun. We had a bunch of people that came in. We rebuilt email marketing sequences, we dove into lifecycle marketing, and it was freaking awesome and I loved it.

Carly Johnson: Okay, so obviously, at this point right now, you aren't doing events all full time.

Austin Brawner: No.

Carly Johnson: So you have a transition from when you first threw that event, that small intensive, to now where you're more a membership based site. What happened between that point and now?

Austin Brawner: Well, it's funny because, you know, I went all in and I thought this is like the perfect business model for me. And I really, really enjoyed doing the events. One thing that I realized though, was that doing these events over and over and over again, you need to be constantly launching things, constantly selling tickets, constantly hosting events. You need to put down a bunch of money to reserve all these hotels, and then you put all your money down, and it's highly cyclical.

After doing these events for about a year, when that's really all I was doing was just hosting these workshops, I started to get burned out. I needed some sort of a model that was going to help me keep myself out of the launch mode all the time. I remember laying down at Barton Springs, about a year after I'd started doing these events, and we had an event upcoming, and I was just so tired.

You know, I definitely at that point in my life was still very much in the crush it culture of work super, super, super hard. Taking pride in how many hours that I worked, in waking up super early.

Carly Johnson: Crushing coffee.

Austin Brawner: Yes, exactly. And I look back at that, and I'm like, Oh, my gosh, I'm so happy that I progressed out of that because it was burning me out. And I think that type of a lifestyle can help you through short periods of time when you need to get things done and move forward, but it's not sustainable. It wasn't sustainable for me. I recognized I had to make a change. I like doing the events but it couldn't be my only business.

I remember I went down to Argentina with a friend who is living down there, and we're talking about just like what to do, because I was burned out of events, I needed something that was more consistent. And I was frustrated because we had all this progress being made in these events and then you wouldn't be in touch with the same clients, so I started working with a business coach.

One of the reasons I did that is I wanted to build something that was like a membership site for my clients that I could host some of these trainings, and create a community where people could help each other out and I could work with them on an ongoing basis versus just in the events.

I went down there, had a great time, had some good conversations and came back and said, you know what, I'm going to build something.

Carly Johnson: And if I can interject here, when I talk to you about the conversations you were having with one of your best friends McGee in Argentina, you told me at one point, you were like, I'm just about ready to walk away. I'm about ready to leave this whole entrepreneurship thing behind.

Austin Brawner: Not entrepreneurship.

Carly Johnson: Okay, so tell us about that rock bottom there.

Austin Brawner: It wasn't that I was ready to leave being an entrepreneur. I was considering leaving where I was in ecommerce, in the event space, considering trying something new, I think that the events were so fulfilling while I was doing the event, but so draining when I was outside of the event, and most of the time it was outside of the event.

Carly Johnson: The sales process was draining,

Austin Brawner: Sales process was super draining. And so I was thinking to myself, I need to take some time off and figure out a new business for myself, maybe go into something a bit deeper. I think at the time I was thinking about cryptocurrency. It was blowing up. It was something I truly considered. I definitely wasn't tired of entrepreneurship. It was really just what I had built.

Carly Johnson: My bad didn't mean to say that.

Austin Brawner: No, no. I think that I think it's interesting because I think that's one of the reasons why I've been able to stick things out through challenges is that you really, really, really, really have to want to be an entrepreneur to want to continue through the challenges that you face every single month.

Carly Johnson: Yes, I know, whenever my mom thinks about your business, she always is like, or your journey, she’s always like, I couldn't do it. Austin never quits. He's constantly reinventing himself. He's constantly reinventing his business, because a couple of years go by again and you are doing something different and doing something new, and a lot of people would have just walked away. So that's really cool, and I honor you for that.

I want to get back to your story, which is that you started working with a business coach who was helping you build a membership site so you could bring a lot of your clients together in one place and build a community with them where you could teach them things, and not constantly have to be in the sales process. So tell us more about that.

Austin Brawner: Yes, so I started working with James Schramko, who is a great business coach for people in my space looking to build a membership site. We made a decision to build and launch a membership site in a month, which looking back on is absolutely crazy, but we did it.

We started and we launched it one month later. It was at the time called Brand Growth Experts membership. It's now what you guys know as The Coalition. We launched and we said you know what, we're going to put in our best content and we're going to work hard every single month to create an environment where people can share, create, help people one on one.

I created a private coaching area where one on one I could help people out and help them with their email, help them with growing their business, help them with connections, anything that I can help share with people, and also host live training.

And so we launched, it was still very small. I think we added 70 people right away, which I was so excited about. It was like, let's go, like this is the new model. I was still doing a lot of workshops, private workshops, and also doing my intensive workshops.

In the meantime, while I was building this - people often talk about something that you may feel like it was an immediate success. I was excited about it, because we added about 70 members, but it definitely was still such a small part of our revenue, that it was very hard to get really excited about it, because I could see the future but I knew it was gonna take years to get things rolling.

Carly Johnson: Yeah, and I feel like you're at a place now where your membership site has grown. And is probably one of your biggest priorities in terms of your business. You occasionally are doing different private coaching groups with individual clients and with businesses.

Austin Brawner: Yes.

Carly Johnson: And then what are your other -- basically what I'm trying to get at here, is you have your membership site, what other sources of revenue do you have in your business right now?

Austin Brawner: So there's two main things. I'll go through these and then go back to a mindset shift that was really huge for me. There's two main things. There's the Coalition, which is our private coaching membership, and that really is for ecommerce entrepreneurs who want to get to seven figures, and above, and that's it's a forum.

It's a private coaching section, and it's a live training area. And it's super powerful and we've been building that for the last two years. There's almost 200 members in it. Also, marketers and freelancers. That is a big part of our business.

The other part of the business is called the Brand Guild, where I work one on one with some of the largest ecommerce businesses in the Coalition, they become Brand Guild members. We have one on one calls. It's a mastermind as well. And I work with about 10-12 super fast growing businesses and specifically coaching business owners in that we have Zoom calls twice a month.

Those are the two main sources of the business, and then we've got our events. The events have been shut down during COVID. We continue to reschedule these things which has been really frustrating, but at the same time, a great opportunity for us to focus on the rest of the business.

Back to what I want to mention, which was a huge business breakthrough for me, and something that I'll take with me forever moving forward was the difference between hunting and farming and the difference between subscription revenue and one off purchases.

And the idea that you can build a business, take this all the way back to my days at Human, when we were selling one-off franchises for $100,000. Right, so every transaction was about $100,000 or more, very big, big transaction. So you can see how quickly you can get to a multimillion-dollar business.

The challenge with that was that every time you had those big transactions, you then have to fulfill them, and very quickly, you get in a cash flow crisis because there were big swings of revenue. I had the same thing in my business with running events. And I think a lot of ecommerce businesses have this same struggle, which is you're only as good as your last month.

If you don't have subscription revenue in your business month in and month out. You need to continue to sell. It's why a lot of e-commerce founders go into software and they do really well. Because software is often consistent subscription revenue, but ecommerce founders are used to selling, selling, selling, selling, selling month, month, month over month, month over month.

And that's a very stressful way of living your life, a stressful way of running a business because you never know. You could be out of business in a month, if you can't sell.

The big mindset shift for me was moving from a hunting every month, sell as much as possible, mindset to more of a farming mindset, which was let's acquire customers and then do everything we can to serve them well, so that the next month, they are excited about working with you. And it's a slower growth way of building a business, but it's way more consistent.

That's why a lot of my clients that I work with in the Brand Guild, one of the things we always focus on is trying to figure out how to get more subscription revenue in their business, how to build products that are consistent month over month over month, so that you can take away some of that Facebook ad spend, and redirect that to your existing customers.

Carly Johnson: Awesome. I think that's a really good analogy. I want to ask you a few other questions because you have given us a really good summary of your journey over the last I think we said eight years. But I would love to just understand a little bit more. So you work with clients right now, and you help them grow their businesses, you help them become more profitable, and you do a really good job with that.

But what I've been able to see and what I know you're working towards with some of your clients, is to allow them to run a great business and also have more freedom in their life. Can you tell us why this is so important? Maybe some examples of clients you've helped do this with and how other people can do the same?

Austin Brawner: 100% This is my motivating force in my life right now and I feel like my mission. Back to when I was burned out, the multiple times that I've been burned out in business, it's always been because I've pushed myself too hard. And I haven't created enough freedom for myself in the business for the business to run in a way that exists and grows without me.

Because I've been on that, like I started my business, because of the idea of freedom, and to create more freedom in my life. But time and time again, I built a business that didn't allow for freedom in my life. What I realized was that I had kind of a breakthrough, when I moved from the launching events model over and over again, to creating a different business for myself.

That allowed me to spend time doing things that I really cared about, and also supported my life in a way that allowed me to do things outside of work that allowed me to have a rich social life, a rich relationship with you, and to be physically fit. And when I aligned all those things together, my business started growing much, much quicker.

I think the biggest challenge that entrepreneurs face is transitioning from the initial grind mode that you have to be in to get things moving, get the business moving, because it's really hard to not, you know, grind for a while to get it moving, but you get addicted to that. And then you think that's the only way to grow your business.

When really as you transition and you grow and you get to the next level. You need to take care of yourself. You need to build a great business and at the same time, build a life for yourself that gives you the mental space to be able to make the decisions and have clarity of mind that can take you to the next level. Because what gets you to that first inflection point isn't what's going to get you to the next second inflection point.

That has been what's been most fulfilling to me working with clients in the last couple of years. Many clients come to me that are growing like crazy, but have zero time. And they're stressed out. They're working 60, 70, 80 hour weeks.

I have a client who came a year ago. They're working 80 hour weeks. Like no joke, like they were literally waking up at six and closing their computer at ten. Things were going well, financially, but towards a cliff in their health and personal life. We made some serious changes, got some clarity around it.

One year later, they're traveling the world, living on a beach, working 40 hours a week and their business doubled. That's because they're able to step back. Look at the business for what it is, which is a business not directly tied to you, and create space by hiring, building a team, and focusing on key marketing levers that actually move the business forward towards profitable growth, versus just pouring more gas on the fire, which often leads to more stress, sometimes more revenue, but often less profit.

Carly Johnson: Yeah, and I think one of the reasons that you are such a good coach is because you've been in all these people's shoes. You have been the burned out person. You've worked for other people. You have owned an agency. You've had rough relationships with business partners, you know, all of the spots and the blind spots of many of your clients.

Austin Brawner: Very much so I've been there. I've fallen asleep in a Korean restaurant when I was waiting for some friends for dinner because I was so tired. I was just so exhausted from the work I've been putting in. I think that comes with the lumps of being an entrepreneur early on, depending on how you approach it. And a great learning experience, but it's not what's gonna get you to the next inflection point.

Carly Johnson: Okay, a few more here. And then we gotta wrap this up. I would love to know what success looks like for you.

Austin Brawner: It's a really good question. And a question that I always look at that I say that success is fluid in a sense. I go back to the idea of freedom, for me, is a driving force, but the idea of what freedom is has changed in my life over time.

If you'd asked me a couple years ago, it would be you know, being able to travel the world and make money wherever I am, and have a lot of freedom with you to be able to do anything that we wanted to do while having a successful business. And I think that that's a version of freedom that I still like and I still enjoy in small doses.

What's more exciting to me now, and what success looks like to me now, is still a business that I run that allows me to pursue the things that I enjoy in my career. I enjoy coaching people, working with people, I enjoy creating podcasts like these. I enjoy writing and at the same time allows me to pursue things in my life outside of my business.

Meaning, whether that's travel, spending time with friends, supporting family, being financially free, and allows me to have the time in my life because I think one thing that we all forget is that no matter how much money you have we all have the same amount of time.

I heard somebody talking about this, if you right now could trade places with Warren Buffett, the most wealthy person in the entire world, but you had to be Warren Buffett's age, and he could swap to be your age and where you're at currently? Would you take that swap?

Carly Johnson: I wouldn't.

Austin Brawner: Absolutely not. Right. He's a few years away from passing along. When you think of it like that, you can kind of recognize that what we have in our life is the ability to enjoy the time that we have on this earth and to do that in a way that we choose to do.

So freedom to me means creating a life that inspires me, that allows me to be surrounded by people that inspire me, have healthy relationships, a loving relationship with you, a tremendous relationship with my clients.

My physical health is a huge, huge priority. I don't want to go backwards towards what I've been in the past, which has been, you know, I have unhealthy periods in my life because of stress. That's not success to me. And I'm not willing to sacrifice my health for my business.

Carly Johnson: Been there, done that.

Austin Brawner: I've been there. Yeah, I've been there. And it's not worth it to me, I would rather have a little bit slower growth and have consistent health, then faster growth and inconsistent health. So that that's, that's what it looks like to me.

But again, it's fluid and something that I'm consistently working on and trying to define. Every single quarter. We look at defining that. It’s something I work with my clients on to like, why are we doing this? Why are you doing this? What is it that motivates you because tapping into that's incredibly powerful, and it can change and that's okay.

Carly Johnson: I love defining our own success, while it can be fluid, it is so helpful to define it and to know what we're working towards to know what our values are and how that plays into our success. I feel like we could do an entire podcast episode on just this. A few more things.

What do you believe about business that other business owners, or people in business, don't believe?

Austin Brawner: So one thing I truly believe is, it’s a create-your-own adventure experience. There's no wrong or right way to build a business. If you own a business, you can build it the way that you want to build it to create a universe for the people that work with you that is beneficial for everybody.

You don't have to do it the way that somebody else is doing it or you don't have to be pressured into growing faster because you see your competitors growing faster.

You don't have to work 80 hour weeks because that's what you see in the collective media bubble around entrepreneurship. You can do it whatever way you'd like to do it.

Again, the goal of your business, in my mind is freedom, and profits equal freedom in my mind. I'm not a huge fan of taking on a lot of debt because it limits your ability to choose your own adventure. But that's something that I truly believe in. And I don't think that people take enough time to figure out what that adventure should look like for themselves

Carly Johnson: Part of the magic of life. Is there anything else that you would like to say to people who are on their entrepreneurial journey?

Austin Brawner: I think that the thing that I like to share and think about, and the reason I wanted this episode from the beginning was that it is such a rich experience to be able to learn how you would like to grow a business and how you'd like to live your life.

I think a lot of times people talk about like work/life balance and I really struggle with that idea because It's not like you have your life and you have work. Work is a part of your life.

It's something that you need to define for yourself, how much of a part of your life, and what type of relationship you want to have with work within your life. That's something that I don't think enough people spend time defining. We're on this journey where you're creating a business, and you're learning month in and month out about what works, what doesn't work, what you enjoy, what you don't enjoy. And that is so fun.

All the times that are tough, they often lead to the biggest breakthroughs. And though, if you can frame it in the right way, you will look back on those times incredibly fondly, and they will be the catalyst for a new life that you can create, and a better life that you can create.

So no matter where you're at, if you're feeling low, recognize that that is a feeling that means you might need to make some changes in your life. Don't run from that without feeling, and learn from it because feelings of discomfort in business will lead to your best growth opportunities.

Carly Johnson: I think that is a perfect place to close this episode. Thank you for letting me be here today. This is really fun.

Austin Brawner: Super fun for me as well. Thank you for doing the interview. I would love to hear from you. You guys are on your own entrepreneurial journey, the best way to get in touch with me is to go on Twitter. And hit me up @A_Brawn, and let me know what you think. Let me know your thoughts about this episode. I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful day. Thank you, Carly for being here with me.

Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence podcast. My name is Austin Brawner, and I’m here with my lovely wife, Carly Johnson Brawner.

Carly Johnson: Hey everyone!

Austin Brawner: And we're excited to bring you an episode today tha...

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