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Why ICON15 was the Right Message at the Right Time for this Entrepreneur

WARNING: This is NOT going to be your typical conference recap. I sat down to share my thoughts on the Infusionsoft conference (ICON) that I attended last week, and something totally different poured out instead.

ICON15

After 2 years of attending the Social Media Marketing World (SMMW) conference, I decided it was time to try out a new conference and opted for ICON15. ICON is a conference for small business owners and entrepreneurs, and with over 4,000 people in attendance, it is one of the largest gatherings of small business owners in the world!

My biggest source of inspiration and takeaways came from the keynotes. There was an amazing lineup of speakers, including Sally Hogshead (a long-time favorite of mine), Infusionsoft CEO Clate Mask, author Jon Acuff, Johnny Earle (founder of Johnny Cupcakes), author Greg McKeown, and “trend curator” Rohit Bhargava.

I’m not one to attempt to transcribe every word at a conference. I’m more of the type to sit back and listen carefully, trying to absorb every word and give my full attention, so that I can let those “ah-ha” moments happen. I dash down key thoughts and takeaways to refer back to later. So that being said, I had decided that this would not be an in-depth, blow-by-blow recap of #ICON15, but rather a highlights reel. An outline of the biggest takeaways I had while at the conference.

As I reflected on the takeaways though, I realized there was a bigger topic I wanted to talk to you about, and this post morphed into something entirely different than I originally intended.

I hope that it leads to your own “ah-ha” moment and some new ideas for your business.

Want to know what the single greatest self-improvement journey you could ever take is? (Because I think I’ve found the answer.)

Becoming an entrepreneur.

Becoming an entrepreneur has made me take a look at myself and my life in ways I never even considered before. It’s made me evaluate my priorities and really take a look at what matters to me.

You know why I think so many people are coasting through life like zombies, just doing what they “have to” day in and day out? Living for the weekends, never really feeling fully alive, and not even being totally clear on what it is they want in life?

Because for the average person, you don’t have to ask the hard questions. You don’t have to take that hard look, and you don’t have to really be clear on what you want in life. It is 100% possible to just go to work every day, do what you’re told, rinse and repeat for the rest of your life. As long as you have that steady pay check and security, you’re good.

Now, maybe that sounds harsh, but if it is, it is because I am talking to (and about) myself here. That’s what I did for 35 years. I did what I thought I “had” to do. What was expected. What everyone else seemed to be doing.

You go to college, and you get a job. You try to find a career that you love (and I did) and you go to work for someone every day. And even though I was a self-starter and a hard worker, I had the luxury of being told what to do every day. I had a clear path ahead of me. Projects assigned, set hours to work, protocols.

It was fine for a long time. I even really enjoyed the work! If you’d asked me in my 20s if I'd be doing the same thing for the rest of my life (I was a graphic designer at the time), and working for someone else, I would have said yes, happily. I had no aspirations to do anything else. Not because I was lazy, but because I was safe and comfortable. I was good at my job and well respected. What was not to love?

But then came the layoffs at work. It stressed me out to the extreme and really started taking a toll. So I moved on to an ad agency to become an art director. Too much down time on the job led to lots of self study about this new fangled thing called social media marketing. I was quickly hooked and started learning all I could. I was getting burned out as a designer, and this seemed like a logical next step.

I knew that my Advertising degree and all of the work I’d done with clients over the previous 10 years would serve me well in this new field. I quickly landed a job as a digital marketing manager and over the next 4.5 years soaked up every bit of knowledge possible about social media marketing, and digital marketing in general. I loved the work, got fantastic results for the company working in the trenches and implementing what I learned (to the tune of millions in revenue), and was paid pretty well for it.

I was comfortable again.

But then something crazy happened in April 2013. I went to a conference and my life totally changed. I went to Social Media Marketing World and realized – wait a minute, I can do this work I love, but I don’t have to work for someone else? I can help more people than just one business?Interesting…. But still, me, become an entrepreneur? Hahahaha! It was a laughable thought.

Interesting…. But still, me, become an entrepreneur? Hahahaha! It was a laughable thought.

Something about the word “entrepreneur” was terrifying to me. Intimidating. I think on some level, I knew. I knew that being an entrepreneur would push me out of my comfort zone. I knew it would take bravery I didn’t think I had. So I played small for a long time. All of 2013, in fact.

But while I was dabbling with entrepreneurship on the side, I was also starting to discover a whole new world of information on personal development. Concepts that I’d never heard of before. Ideas that made me start asking questions like, is there more out there in life? Do I even know what I want, truly? Am I living to my full potential? Am I happy, or just going through the motions? Just because everyone else goes to an office every day and works for someone else, do I really have to? (I literally knew NO entrepreneurs.)

Could I make a bigger impact? Could I make a difference in the lives of others? How can I help? That was the one thing I knew – that I wanted to be of service to others. I didn’t know what the “business model” would look like, I just knew I wanted to help entrepreneurs – this new amazing breed of people that I’d discovered and admired, and deep down wanted (apparently) to be some day, if only I had the courage.

Leap and the net will appear?

2014 was all about taking leaps of faith and stretching myself. It was about realizing I didn’t want to play small anymore. That I couldn’t – it was killing me. So, with shaking knees, I started getting myself out there. I surrounded myself with a tribe of fellow entrepreneurs on Facebook. I helped people as much as possible. Not as some sort of strategy – but because FINALLY! YES! I found people I could help, I was doing it! I was honest and transparent, and asked for help getting started, and I received it. Generously.

I was forced to start asking myself questions about what I really wanted out of life. Me. Not someone else, and not what I thought I SHOULD want. But what do I, Julie Lowe, really want?

The answer was – I didn't know. No one had ever asked me before. I literally had never thought about it after I had decided, in high school, that I wanted to be a graphic designer and work in advertising. Done and done. What else was there, other than getting married and having kids, which I’d also done by this point?

Mission accomplished, you may set the cruise control now….

Now, I’d be a big liar if I said I have it all figured out. I don’t. It’s a work in progress. I am very hard on myself. That straight A student grew up to be an entrepreneur that is ever-striving to be better. To prove herself. To make a difference. To be respected. To live a life of meaning. To be a better wife and mother. To make more money so that my family never needs for anything. To continuously learn and be at the top of my game so that when someone comes to me for help, I have the answers.

I don’t want to be average, and I don’t want to live an average life. I want to be exceptional and live a life I LOVE.

Confession: That’s a hell of a lot of pressure on a small town girl with two small kids that just quit her cushy corporate job in October.

So, what’s an entrepreneur to do? And what the heck does this have to do with an Infusionsoft conference??

Well, apparently, conferences have a big impact on me. 🙂

As I said, SMMW changed my life. It was that first domino tipping over that started everything into motion. That opened my eyes to the possibilities. In 2015, ICON was perfect for the stage I'm at now in my journey.

While the marketing / business content was more at a beginner level in many ways, it still sparked some great ideas for me and my business. I walked out of every session with a note scribbled down about something I could improve in my business.

The moments that impacted me the most though, were the keynote speeches. It was like the speakers were handpicked for this stage of my business and life. Combine the keynotes with the fact that I read The 12 Week Year on my flights to and from Arizona, and it was exactly what I needed to hear right now.

Here’s what I learned…. (Finally, right?)

#TeamEntrepreneur

The founders of Infusionsoft, Clate Mask, Scott Martineau and Eric Martineau, kicked off the conference with a candid talk about the early days of Infusionsoft, and the struggles that they had staying afloat before hitting it big. It was an inspiring talk, and really brought home the fact that when Infusionsoft says they love small business, they really mean it. They care deeply about entrepreneurs and small businesses, because they think we’re the people that are changing the world. Changing economies, and the way people work.

Think about it. Being an entrepreneur matters. Your work matters. You matter. Hold tight to that.

Set Goals, not Directions

A theme that came up with multiple speakers, was that it’s very easy to get overwhelmed with your never-ending to do list. And the awesome, yet terrifying, thing about being your own boss, is that no one is telling you what to do or when to do it.

Yes, you will have appointments and deadlines, but in the day-to-day, you set the schedule. You determine the direction of your business, your goals, and your actions.

And the thing that we rarely admit, is the fact that when you’re busy just going about your business and working IN it every day, it can be easy to get lost in the to-do lists and in the details, and before you know it, you’ve been working your butt off – but what have you really accomplished? Have you been doing random work and staying really busy, but if you’re honest, you’re not being productive?

You need to ask yourself, “what do I want to have HAPPEN here?” Don’t just set a direction – set goals, and then ask yourself, what can I do RIGHT NOW to move forward? Just one thing.

There are countless things you could do, but what is ONE thing you can actually do, right now, to move forward? Go do that!

Something that Brad Martineau said, that I loved, is that “the map appears when the car is in motion.” You will NEVER have all of the info you need when you get started to see the whole path and know all of the steps. And that is okay! Get started, and the path will appear as you go.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” -Dale Carnegie

There was a lot of talk at the conference about staying “busy” and losing focus of the important things. Being busy and being productive are NOT the same thing.

“I’m too busy” means “I can’t say NO to the unimportant.”

Holy crap. Read that line again!

“I’m too busy” means “I can’t say NO to the unimportant.” That one hit me square in the chest when I heard it. How often do you say that?

I just can’t get all of my work done. There’s too much to do and not enough hours in the day. I’m working my butt off, but I can’t keep up. I’m too busy.

Are you busy, or are you being productive? If I’m totally honest, I’ve been very, very busy this year, but not nearly as productive as I’d like to be. Ouch. It stings a little, doesn’t it?

It’s one of those things that I’ve been aware of the past few months, but I couldn’t seem to do anything about it. I would get to the end of the day and feel like I’d worked myself to death, and then I’d think, “but what the hell did I DO all day??” What did I really accomplish? Did I do anything that will really grow my business, or did I network on Facebook and answer emails, and put out fires all day?

“Hustle takes focus, not frenzy.” – Jon Acuff

stack of books from ICON15

The conference wrapped up with Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism. Greg gave the most impassioned keynote speech I’ve ever heard. It was completely amazing and inspiring to hear him from the stage. The man is nothing if not passionate about his topic, which you could summarize as “the disciplined pursuit of less, but better.”

Greg believes that you must become absurdly selective with how you spend your time and energy if you want to break through to the next level with anything in your life. Something that he pointed out that I had never even thought about is the use of the word priorities.

You hear that word a lot, and probably use it a lot, right? My top 5 priorities this year are….

Priority is actually meant to be a singular word. It should never be made plural, and wasn’t until the 20th century, according to McKeown.

Priority: noun pri·or·i·ty \prī-ˈȯr-ə-tē, -ˈär-\ Something that is more important than other things and that needs to be done or dealt with first.

If a priority is what you’re meant to deal with first, because it is the most important thing for you to focus on, how can you possibly have more than one priority?

Makes sense, right? At the very most, you want to have one personal priority and one business priority to focus on.

McKeown recommends having a quarterly, offsite planning session where you sit down with a notebook (no tech to distract you) and get super clear on these two questions:

1. What’s my priority for the next 90 days? (1 personal and 1 business priority)
    What is it that you can focus on, and if you gave it your full attention and made it a REAL priority, it would change everything?

2. What do I have to ignore in exchange?
     
Prepare yourself for the trade-offs, because you will have to make them.

McKeown believes that if you did this for one year, it would change everything. I have to believe he’s right. Can you imagine how your business and life would be different if you asked yourself, how am I using my time, and what is my highest point of contribution?

What should be your priority (singular!) for the next 90 days?

Good stuff, right? These sessions at ICON15, combined with reading The 12 Week Year on the plane, had a huge impact on me. I won’t get into the details of the book here (maybe in a follow-up post), but I’ve really started to ask myself some hard questions, once again. (I told you being an entrepreneur was all about the hard questions!)

Here are the things on my mind right now, that you might want to ask yourself too…

  1. Am I just staying busy, or am I being productive?
  2. What’s my priority, and what actions can I take right now to make progress?
  3. And not just what actions can I take, but what are those keystone actions that I can take that will produce the biggest results? (If I did this one thing, it will domino over into the rest of my life or biz…)
  4. Do I have a strong desire and a compelling reason to commit fully to my goals?
    What is it? Write it down. Post it somewhere. Think about it every day. It’s your why.
  5. Count the costs. What will I have to give up (time, money, comfort, competing priorities) to reach my goals and stay focused? Decide that it’s worth it.

Something that Moran talks about in The 12 Week Year is that you have to act on your commitments, not your feelings. You have to do what you need to, even when it is hard.

Something about that really stuck with me. This morning, when I really did not want to get on the elliptical, I just wanted to crawl back in bed, or at least get started with my work, that phrase came to mind. And one of the goals that I’ve committed to for the next 12 weeks, is better self-care. And one of my actions is to get my butt in gear at least 4 times per week. I made the commitment to myself, and it is one of my keystone actions, so I pulled on my running shoes and I got on the elliptical. And I felt much better for having kept my commitment to myself.

Because you know what else no talks about? That it is REALLY FREAKIN' HARD TO STICK WITH YOUR PLANS!

Yep, I said it. It’s true. Let’s be honest. I attended ICON with a mastermind partner, and both of us were very inspired by the keynotes. We had long talks at night about how moved we were by what we heard. That it really struck a chord. That we were going to get better control over our schedules and our days. That we were going to stop putting everyone else first at the expense of our own lives and businesses.

I continued reading The 12 Week Year on the flight home, and last Tuesday I opened up my Google calendar and I started blocking out my days. I mapped out strategic and buffer blocks for each day, just like Moran talks about in the book.

The thing is freakin’ beautiful. It’s color coded and everything. I told my time where to go! Success! A plan! Finally!

google calendar

High fives all around, right? Yeah, well, she and I admitted to each other last Thursday (less than a week after returning home) that we were already falling back into bad habits. She was squeezing people in for appointments at the cost of her own life and business. They needed her, and she couldn’t say no. But you know what suffered? Her and her goals.

And me, with my color-coded calendar? Well, I had my time blocks, but I didn’t get around to writing out my action steps and planning what I’d focus on each day. Specifically.

So I backslid too. I ignored my time blocks, put out fires, answered questions on Facebook and via email. I stayed busy, but not productive all week, and by the end of the week I wanted to cry because I wasn’t any better off than I was before.

Why does this happen? Why is it so hard to stick with the plan?

At the beginning of the year I bought not one, but THREE, systems/calendars/planners because I was going to get my act together and get organized! I set goals for the year, goals for the coming months, I filled in the days each week….And I quickly lost focus.

I went to ICON and was like “by God, I am getting my calendar in order! I am telling my time where to go! I will be the most productive person E-V-E-R!” But by the end of the week, I was wondering what the hell happened.

So why did I just spend half a day writing this blog post, and, quite frankly, ignoring my color-coded calendar, again?

Because someone needs to say it. Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. It’s sort of like being a parent. It’s the best thing you will ever do and it is also the hardest thing you will ever do.

It will make you a better person. It will push you to your limits – and sometimes beyond. It will make you take stock of your priorities. (There it is again! Just remember, one for life, one for biz, at a time.)

So, what’s the answer? Where do we go from here?

Well, for me, the answer is to actually put that lovely color-coded calendar to use, because it is useless otherwise. And the answer is that this afternoon, I am going to actually write out my 12 week goals and, more importantly, my actions. Then I am going to start planning out EXACTLY what I am going to work on each day in those strategic blocks on my calendar.

And maybe most importantly, I’m going to honor my commitments to myself, and focus on my daily actions. It is my daily actions that determine my results.

“If you are not in control of your time, you are not in control of your results.” -Brian P. Moran, The 12 Week Year

So, let me know in the comments, did this resonate with you? Do you have these struggles as well? What are you going to do about it moving forward?

Also, let me know if you’d like a synopsis of The 12 Week Year in my next post, along with an update of how it goes when I start actually putting it into practice in the coming weeks.

 

16 Responses so far.

  1. schulmanart says:

    this was a beautifully written blog post. new super fan here. and yes, would love to here a synopsis of the 12 week year.

  2. sallynovelist says:

    Great reminder, Julie. It’s so easy to be busy but not accomplish anything! Thanks for your inspiring and articulate post!

  3. Emma says:

    So much resonates with me, especially the being busy and not productive!

  4. Reyna says:

    Love this, Julie! I was also at ICON this year, and can relate to you whole-heartedly.

  5. Great post, Julie! Just what I needed to hear today!

  6. Great stuff Julie! SUPER inspiring. I’m ready to get to work! =) xo!

  7. Alysa says:

    Insightful as always Julie! I especially love how you point out that one can’t have multiple priorities.

    • Julie Lowe says:

      Thank you, Alysa! I really loved that about priority being singular too! When McKeown talked about that, it really struck me. I had never heard that before – that it was never intended to be plural, and I think it really says something about how times have changed, that we felt the need to change it at some point.

  8. Chrissy says:

    Im too busy means I can’t say NO to the UNIMPORTANT stuff – WOW!!! That just totally blew my mind Julie! Great great blog post and it sounds like ICON15 should be on my list of conferences for next year!

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