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234: The 5 Things We’ve Learned In The Last 12 Months

Posted by Austin Brawner on January 14, 2020

 

Every year I grow more personally and professionally, and these weekly episodes are a big part of that.

We’ve had discussions about Facebook and email marketing, business processes, how to avoid burnout, and more.

Today Andrew and I are sharing the top things we’ve learned in 2019.

What were your big learnings over the last year?

Episode Highlights

  • 5:15 No one cares where you are as long as the work gets done.
  • 8:33 Be clear about what you want (because you’re going to get it).
  • 11:50 Listen, Help, Learn.
  • 14:21 Focus on generating profits so you can hire good people.
  • 17:52 Dive deeper into discomfort.
  • 21:50 Everything takes longer than you expect.
  • 24:02 Having a business partner with different perspectives than your own is a huge asset.
  • 28: 19 It’s still a great time to build an ecommerce brand.
  • 30:46 Play is important.
  • 31:48 You don’t need to learn everything yourself.
  • 32:40 Track your time.

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Transcript

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Austin Brawner: What's up everyone? Welcome back to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell, your helpful podcast co-host sitting here.

Austin Brawner: Very helpful podcast co-host who I appreciate checking in with on a at least weekly basis to hear what's going on, what you're learning.

So yeah, I'm excited to chat today and dive into some really interesting things that we've been thinking about.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I think one of the things that we've heard in the last a year is people that listen to this podcast regularly, it's a good mixture of tactical, it's a good mixture of things that you can implement, it's strategic, but we've heard, I don't know about you, Austin, but I've personally heard more about the Facebook stuff, which people are asking me about, which makes sense.

And I would say equally, I've had more discussions about the time-tracking stuff, the business process stuff, the kind of life learnings, traveling while working, things like that, stuff that we've talked about on the podcast.

So that's why today we wanted to go through what we've learned basically in this flash episode, in the last year.

Austin Brawner: And I don't know how many of our listeners know this, but that is initially why I started the podcast, was basically 100% as an opportunity to learn. I'm very much a curious person and love asking questions and love learning what other people are doing and what's working for them. So yeah, today I am fired up to talk about the things that we've learned over the last 12 months and just kind of summarize a little bit some of the takeaways, both on the tactical and bigger strategic business side.

So why don't we kick it off? Why don't you kick off with number one, Andrew, and we'll see how many we can get through here and we'll kind of knock them out.

So why do you kick off with your biggest learning from the last 12 months?

Andrew Foxwell: Sure, absolutely. I think one out of the gates, is that I always had a fear that if I wasn't physically sitting at my desk in Madison, Wisconsin, I wasn't going to be able to do the work as effectively as I would be able to do it in other places.

And if I traveled, that was inherently going to affect the work. Now, we have traveled a lot but it would be traveling like, you travel somewhere and then you'd be somewhere for a while. And this year we did a lot more of traveling that was more consistent. And it was more sporadic.

And so what I learned this year is no one really cares where I am as long as the work is getting done. People think it's cool. And in my case, we've actually seen that I'm more effective the more that we travel, we talked about that in the how to travel and work episode.

But really no one cares as long as things are getting accomplished and getting done and they're hearing from us in a timely manner. And thanks to our right-hand man, Shane, who we work, that happens. And as long as we're crushing the goals as we usually do, it's never a problem. And so that is a big learning for me and has caused a, it opens up a lot more doors mentally for me, which is huge.

Austin Brawner: Sure. And I'd love to hear a little bit more, so I'd love to hear, where did you travel earlier this year and what does that look like when you say, more consistent, I think you said more consistent, sporadic travel. What does that mean?

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So, we spent the first three months of the year in California and that was moving locations, where you're moving locations every week in a lot of cases. Then we came home to Madison and then we went to Europe for almost three weeks, I had a speech in Germany and had a couple of different meetings throughout Europe. And those were every three or four days, we were moving.

And so that's what I mean by more consistent sporadic travel versus going somewhere and being in a rental house for a month or something like that. And when we got back from that, then consistently traveling more around the Midwest this summer. And so that's really where we've gone and what I mean by the travel.

And I think I originally would have thought that it would have disrupted things more and it would have caused us to be less effective and caused us to not be able to hit goals. And it's the opposite.

No one cares. Everyone's fine with it. No one's like, "oh wow, it must be nice to be there." You know? They know it's inherent in who we are as a business. And it also, I think, makes the work more effective because the worst work that I do is sitting here at 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon looking at the computer and trying to be like, "I should jump back into that thing."

Austin Brawner: Yeah.

Andrew Foxwell: It's just like, it's terrible. It never works because it's just not the best time for my brain to function.

Austin Brawner: Sure. Well, number one for me, I'll delve into my big learning from this year and it's something that I've known for a long time but just reiterated. Is that the number one thing, the most important thing, is to get clear about what you want.

Because if you are a driven person, if you have constant iteration on the things that you're doing, you will probably get what you want or what you're aiming for. And it's really, really important to be very clear about that. Because if you don't have a clear picture or you are shooting for something that you don't actually want, you're probably going to end up there. And you'll have this big realization that, "wow, this might not actually be what I want."

Andrew Foxwell: Right. Man, how many times have I seen this this year? I mean, people we've been working with, agency partners we work with, I think they have an idea that growing or getting bigger is going to help them achieve what they want. The idea of what they want is to be bigger and make more money basically. But they never talk about the, I mean, how many business owners have you worked with, same thing this year. Where they never think about, "well what is the day that I want to have?" And next thing you know, these guys and gals we're working with have five employees, they have a big office, they're pulling levers on accounts, emails are flowing in.

And I always wonder when I see them in that, is this what you actually wanted or was the idea of this what you thought you wanted? And then now that you're here it's not actually what you want to do.

Because we've seen that and we've also seen the opposite this year where people are saying, "I'm going to cut back on work, I'm going to be more essential. And I'm only going to do a few things. I'm going to do them really well." Because I agree. Usually they end up getting there because they're driven people that listen to this. What do you think about that?

Austin Brawner: 100% believe that. I have multiple friends who, not just have built five-person companies, we're talking 50, 60 employee companies that aren't happy with it, right? They're like, "damn, I got wish we had built this in a different way. The growth got ahold of us," and we are now trying to figure out what their role looks like.

And part of that is just growing, right? As a person, as a business owner. And the other part of it is just not being intentional about what you want or not taking the time to really lay that out.

So that's something that, kind of the first thing I do with any of my Coalition or Brand Guild clients, when I'm working with them, the first step is, what do you want one year from now to look like? That's the first question. "What is an ideal vision look like," so we can actually get on the same page.

Andrew Foxwell: Mm-hmm, yeah. The one year question's always a fantastic one to really help people understand. Yeah.

I think the next one for me is the more that Gracie and I have leaned into being helpful, listening, truly listening, and consistently learning, the more dividends that it pays. I think it's very easy to be in the world that we live in and be people that professionally give advice and do our own thing and to want to develop it into a system of, let's sell as many of these as possible, let's get as much out there as possible.

And that's to me, maybe it's easier for you, it's a hard instinct sometimes to pull back on that that I, of quality over quantity. And I have to remind myself, I have a Post-It note written on my desk, "listen, help, learn." I wrote it, I don't know, maybe in March of this year or April when we got back from California. Because when I follow those guideposts, everything's better.

We didn't get to where we are to be people that people want to go for advice by being "the advice guy" out of the gates. We got here by trying to dive in and learn and listen and be like, "hm, that's interesting, here's what I think about that." Or "here's the way that we could think about that together." So I think it's easy to get off track.

Austin Brawner: Well you actually actively fought against that for a long time. Actively fought against being known as "the Facebook advertising for ecommerce guy."

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, right. It's cool because you look at the courses that we've sold this year. We've never had a refund on it at all, on any of them, which is huge. We've had people that say, "oh, you know, this one, I have some questions" or "it was a little bit confusing," which I think is normal. Very rarely, like less than five. But it's easy to get into that.

And so I think the more that we just always sit down and be like, "Is this actually helpful?" And think less about volume too, volume in terms of obviously volume of being loud, but also the amount of stuff we're putting out. We don't need to put a ton of stuff out there to be in people's face. It's more about, is this actually something that's going to do helpful things for people?

Austin Brawner: Sure.

Andrew Foxwell: And the more that we lean into that, the more dividends it's seems to pay for us.

Austin Brawner: Sure. My number two for the year is to focus on generating profits so you can hire good people to help you.

I think this has been, for me, a really exciting year around, I've had a year full of tremendous growth, both personal and business growth. And one of the reasons it has been so exciting is because I've been able to hire really quality people to join my team.

And the only reason I've been able to hire really quality people and pay them the amount that they want to be paid and the amount that they deserve and that they're excited about is because the business generates profits that I can reinvest into these people that make life better. They make the business better and they have a ripple effect on the people that they interact with, right?

When I'm looking for hiring people, hiring employees or contractors, I'm looking for somebody who creates a ripple effect of positivity on the people that they work with. And I'm willing to invest in those people because they're unique, they're special, and they make doing business more fun, better, and exciting for everyone.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I mean this year or I suppose in the last couple of years really, but this year I've really noticed you leaning into that hiring piece more often and helping business owners look at their entire business.

And I think that's something that you always did in the Intensives, but it's a perfect connection to the intensives. It's a perfect connection to the Brand Guild, of getting people together and helping them truly build the teams in a long lasting way.

I think what's interesting is if you look at the advice that you've given to those people and you surveyed coaching clients and people that are in your community, do you feel that what we've helped you with this year is long-lasting, everybody would say yes. And I would also think that a lot of it has to do with the people part of it, just getting good people in the right place. And I feel like you've really refined that this year. So that's huge. That's really cool.

And the generating profits thing, the numbers thing, is a big part that I learn from you all the time. Of really understanding like, "what's the true profit you're making right now? Like what's the actual money you're making?" 

Austin Brawner: It can be looked at as an almost a negative, a company that's generating a lot of profits, in a negative way.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah.

Austin Brawner: But that's not true.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. Yeah.

Austin Brawner: If you are using those profits to invest in people or invest in your business. You can do whatever you want with your profits, but I've found that often the best use of those is to hire the best people possible. That's almost across the board. If you do nothing else, invest in the best people possible.

Andrew Foxwell: Right, right, right. Absolutely. Yeah. I think my next one is what I'll say is diving deeper into discomfort. And for me what that means is because we're in the advice business and because a lot of what we do, we run our own ads, but we're also hearing from others on what's working with them and we have to coach people in the right way.

It's very easy when you wake up in the morning to look at Twitter or read an email digests and feel behind constantly. Like, "ugh, I should learn that" or "I should get deeper on that."

I think previously to this year, I didn't avoid it, but I'd be like, "you know, I don't know, I'm just not going to learn that," or whatever. And I was hesitant to say what I didn't know.

And so now when I see something, an example of this is Snap advertising this year, right? Initially I was like, "nah, I don't know. I don't know if I need to get in to learn that." I was uncomfortable that I didn't know it.

And so now we partnered on a course on Snapchat. We're using it, I'm in it, and I might not know everything about it, but if I am at least kind of going and looking at topics that I am uncomfortable with, attribution is always uncomfortable,  trying to learn that.

I'm talking to five or six people right now about how they are handling attribution from an anonymous basis. I'm not going to quote them or anything. But I'm trying to learn it and I'm trying to understand how other people handle it. Because to me it's uncomfortable. I don't know, that's a knowledge gap for me.

So the more that we dive deep into that, the better it is. And this goes into my personal life too. I mean it's stuff that's uncomfortable, just sort of this year I feel like hit it a little bit more head-on and been wanting to address it.

Austin Brawner: I think that that's a really, really important topic to bring up. And it's something that's not discussed a lot. I think one of the realizations I had this year related to that is I looked at the type of person that I wanted to be. And the type of person that I aspirationally want to be is somebody who prioritizes growth regardless of how it makes me feel, right? Because it's very, very easy to grow when it doesn't feel comfortable, or no, when it feels comfortable. It's very easy to grow when it's not uncomfortable.

But to be truly somebody who's committed to growth, you need to dive into the things that are not comfortable and feel as committed to growing when it does not feel good.

And I feel like one challenge I faced this year was blowing out my Achilles tendon in March. That was a challenge that was very uncomfortable. I look back at that as a massive growing period for me where I was like, "okay, how do we adjust to a new reality here that involves me being laid up on a couch for four months and what can I learn from that versus feeling bad for myself?" So I definitely, I'm with you there.

 

Andrew Foxwell: It's easy to feel victim mentality I think. But your next one, I love, I love, I am totally in agreement with you and one that I have to think about all the time, so I'm excited.

Austin Brawner: I am an optimistic person. I am on the edge, on the side of wanting to dive into things. And so the biggest thing that I've learned and I give Rose a lot of credit. And Rose is our project manager who's been helping. She really is a tremendous asset to the business. And that's to estimate that everything will take longer than you expect.

And we've really, really worked on this this year and what we do is every two weeks we estimate how much time we're going to have to spend working on the business and growing the business. And then we break down the tasks and the things that we're going to work on. And then we estimate how long each one of those is going to take and whether or not it aligns with the amount of time that we believe we're going to have to work on the business.

And we've been refining this for the last year and a half and we just continue to realize that everything takes longer than we expect. And especially it takes longer than I expect because as a very optimistic person, I'm like, "oh, we can just knock that out."

And I've had to pull back and be like, "well, what is knocking that out look like?" What does it look like to me and what does it look like to my team? Because often it's very different. And so diving into that and saying, "well, what's realistic here and how can we make sure that we end the two weeks with some victories versus letting things fall short."

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, everything does. I was thinking, one of the biggest things I have is I'll put something on my list to get done and then I will plan it out and it takes longer and I'm always frustrated, not always, consistently frustrated. Like, "ugh, I should have got that done by then," or whatever.

And Gracie always says to me, hard things are hard. Quality things take time. You're not going to be able to build a full-day workshop in two weeks. It's going to take a long time, right?

And I think it's just always resetting my expectations there, which actually leads me into the final one that I want to mention this year, which is, many of you may know this, maybe if you haven't listened to this podcast before, you don't. But I actually run the business Foxwell Digital with my wife Gracie, who's my business partner.

And one thing I have really learned this year, I knew this from the outset, but I think she's really this year come into her own and she's a really, really incredible, brilliant business person. Very different thinker than I am. And usually her instincts on things, my instinct is one way, her instinct is another.

And her instincts from a business standpoint, in terms of the direction we take things, offer a really different perspective. And they are, many times, better than my first instincts that I have.

So that's a big one that I've leaned into this year, which is, I think she doesn't come from a traditional business background. And I think because of that, we get a lot of people that say, "oh, you know, that was really unique, the way you thought about that" or "that was really different the way that you talked about that." Or "you don't hear that from other places."

And I think it's because we are now so consistently talking about the mechanics of the business that she's involved in it and in doing a bunch of different things than what I'm doing. And that perspective has made the business a lot better.

I think it could be said for any business partnership, many times you're maybe not communicating with your business partner in a consistent manner. And this year we've leaned into that, to some degree looking past the fact that she is my wife and looking, from a business standpoint, what do you think X, Y, Z here. And we've always had those discussions, but this year, we've really had a lot more of them and I feel like it's gone better.

Austin Brawner: Where do you guys differ? What I mean by that is, you talk about her instincts and your instincts being different. What's an example of how you think about things differently?

Andrew Foxwell: Well, I mean one is quality. She is a very, very quality communicative person, right? So an example would be if I'm going to text a friend, I'm going to text them and just write out my thoughts and I'm going to send it. I'm not going to reread it. She'll write something out and read it multiple times.

And so from a business standpoint, what that means is, I'll type something up or I'll build out the framework of a course or talk about an issue a client has. And my first instinct is the one that I will tell the client about or I'll take action on.

And for her, she wants to take 12 to 24 to 36 hours to think about it. And inevitably the solution she comes up with at the end is more complete and offers way less questions than mine.

I'll go back and forth 10 times with the client, maybe that's fine for them. But inevitably if she comes back and says, "here's the way we should approach this strategically," the better off we've done.

So it's stuff like that. It's a quality and it's a speed thing for the most part. And it's a strategic direction thing too.

Every time I have one of those instincts I talked about earlier of being an advice giver, she's always like, "Why? What are you trying to achieve?" Right? Or, "what's the true goal of what that is meant to be?"

And just being asked that question, I'm like, "good, I don't know." I mean I have an idea, but. That's really the big difference. And I think she also realizes the work patterns. So saying, "Hey look, you've got to take time to do this to make it better." And, "Let's go take a walk. Let's go out in the woods with the dog right now. Let's see how that can clear things up in our minds."

Austin Brawner: No question. Getting out in the woods 100% clears things up no matter what time of day.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. Absolutely.

Austin Brawner: It's the best thing to do. I think we've got one last one here then maybe we'll do a couple of bonus easy ones. For me this year, it's not necessarily a realization, kind of is a realization, that it's still a great time to build an ecommerce brand. In fact, I think it might be the best time.

Andrew Foxwell: Mm-hmm.

Austin Brawner: Because as of right now we, and I've seen this time and time again, if you have a fantastic product and you have an attention to detail and it's a fit that people need, you can grow an ecommerce business faster today than you ever have been able to do that in the past.

All the griping and groaning about Facebook and Instagram advertising this last year, which there's been a lot, on the flip side of that, I've worked with more clients this year that have grown from nothing to an eight-figure business in like a year, year and a half, than I ever have in my life. And I've seen it consistently.

When you find the right product and it's a good match, you're able to grow businesses faster than I think in the history of the world. I mean it's literally wild to see how quickly these companies are growing.

And so that's where I am really, really positive about the future and I'm positive about where we're going. It is exciting as heck. And just because things aren't working the same way that they might have worked five years ago doesn't mean it's not working.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. I completely agree with you. I think because it's different, doesn't mean that it's bad. I think you actually have to be a more tactical and strategic marketer then you had to be before. And I think that that forces us all to be better.

And I think that actually forces us to think through customer journeys and think through channels and think through product offerings and brand and things that we didn't have to consider as much before. And so if you do those things right and you spend that time, it's an incredible time to build an ecommerce brand.

But yeah, let's do a couple of quick hits. I'll give you my last quick one. Play is important for us. Exercise, staying active, getting away from the desk, hobbies.

I took up mountain biking this year in a big way and surfing when I was in California. And it made me a better business owner because I had the time to get away. Staying active is massive. And I know you've been talking about this for a long time, but turns out working out works. I feel better, I'm a better person. I am able to answer questions more completely. So that's my final quick hit.

Austin Brawner: Awesome. Yeah, I definitely agree with that. I find that if I'm working out consistently, I am also in a better headspace mentally.

I feel like the biggest thing that I, a couple of quick ones that I've continued to reiterate and learn this year, it's that you don't need to learn everything yourself. In fact, you shouldn't learn everything yourself. You can hijack the system by talking with other business owners and other people who are ahead of you. Right?

I am in the business as well, like you are, of sharing advice and giving coaching and that sort of thing. And the reason why I do it is because I believe in it and I practice it myself. And if I have a question, I can move the business forward massively by connecting with the right person versus trying to reinvent the wheel and learn it myself. So that's something that definitely have been doubling down on.

The other couple quick things, I've been made a bigger focus on time tracking this year inspired by you last year and that's been a really, really incredible helpful thing for me.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, time tracking is absurd. It's absurd. I just did an exercise and we have worked a total of, drum roll for those of you that are still listening, 42 days less this year.

Austin Brawner: Full days.

Andrew Foxwell: We worked an entire month less. Yes. Because I'm not sitting around at three or four in the afternoon and I'm brain dead trying to do things, you know?

I mean, we made a little bit less money. We aren't doing as much as we did, but who cares? We've worked that many less days.

Austin Brawner: Huge.

Andrew Foxwell: Which is insane. Yeah.

Austin Brawner: That's absolutely huge. Because what it comes down to it, your life is just a collection of your days. And so unless you're excited about individual days and how your days look, it's just going to stack up over time, right?

If you look at currently where you're at and you were like, each day is crazy and it's not where you want to be. Well, that's where you've got to start. And the best way to start figuring out and unwinding your day is by tracking what you're actually doing and making adjustments.

Andrew Foxwell: Right.

Austin Brawner: But yeah. So I don't know, we'd love to hear from you guys what you've learned from this year. The best way would be to go on Twitter and we'll be posting about this stuff and you can let us know.

I'd love to hear what you've learned over the last 12 months, the things that you're taking away from 2019, moving into a new decade, which is so exciting, so cool. So we'd love to hear. It's @a_brawn and @andrewfoxwell on Twitter. Hit us up and let us know what you guys are thinking.

Hey guys, it's Austin and if you've been loving the podcast, you've got to go check out brandgrowthexperts.com. That's where I work one-on-one with my clients to help them build faster-growing, more profitable online stores. I've got coaching programs and workshops that we host all over the world.

Would love to have you come check it out. If you're a fast-growing ecommerce business or you want to be a fast-growing ecommerce business, you've got to check it out. That's the spot for you. We go more in-depth than we do in the podcast with comprehensive trainings and coaching to help you scale up.

Check it out, brandgrowthexperts.com. See you there.

Austin Brawner: What's up everyone? Welcome back to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell, your helpful podcast co-host sitting here.

Austin Brawner: Very helpful podcast co-host who I appreciate chec...

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