Most of the amazing entrepreneurs -- with million-dollar businesses and giant personal brands -- I feature here on The Pursuit and Entrepreneur.com have been building for at least a decade. Nicole Walters, however, has been in business for less than three years. By age 28, she was a highly paid executive at a Fortune 500 company, managing multibillion-dollar accounts, but felt her career was "feeding my family, but not my soul." In 2015, Walters began livestreaming, and as her audience numbers went up so did her income. When she made $11,000 in the first three weeks of working with small-business clients full time, she knew she was onto something.
That same year she quit her corporate job -- via a phone conversation she livestreamed on Periscope in front of thousands of viewers. She founded The Monetized Life, her speaking, consulting and online education business. Since then, she's taught thousands of entrepreneurs through her regular livestreams and her wildly popular online course on monetization called 1K1Day. In recent months, two of her livestreams went viral, garnering over 20 million views and features with sites like Babble and Yahoo.
I was able to record an episode of The Pursuit with her before her keynote at FinCon, the conference for bloggers, publishers and influencers in the personal financial industry. I asked what I'm sure you're wondering -- how did she grow her brand so big, so fast? Here are her answers from our conversation, in 10 key lessons.
1. Put in the work.
Remember, you just read that Walters built an impressive career in the corporate world before starting to build her brand. She helped brands and companies increase their revenue, which built the foundation of expertise used to launch The Monetized Life.
"No one can ever outwork you," she explained. "I looked for new opportunities, I made sure I was valuable, I spoke up, I was constantly trying to triage problems and find solutions, and making myself visible."
Be willing to put in the hours, effort and commitment to build your knowledge before you try to build your platform.
2. Test your idea.
Walters had a side hustle blog she'd grown over the years about natural hair called Naptural Nicole. Her blog was bringing in money, and she had her corporate finance experience, which gave her plenty of wisdom to share with other bloggers. She saw the opportunity livestreaming offered even though she wasn't sure it could actually pay the bills. Before quitting, she started livestreaming multiple times a day.
"I just went on there and I started answering questions, mostly from bloggers just like me who were saying, How have you been monetized? How do you get these gigs? I was known as the [blogging] Rookie of the Year just because it was like, who's this blogger girl who came out of nowhere and is working with all these brands?" she recalled. "It was because I knew how sales and product development worked in corporate, so I just translated that over to my personal brand. I started giving tips and helping people out."
Soon, she was getting thousands of viewers on her broadcasts. Followers said they wanted to sign up for her emails, so she quickly created an opt-in. From there, she was able to offer paid services and made her first $11,000 in three weeks.
Related: 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing
Make sure you test the waters on any new platform or technology. What works for one influencer or brand might not work for you, and as was the case with Periscope, not all platforms stay relevant. If you test early and see success, jump in so you can dominate the new space early on as Walters did.
3. Stay ready for the "big break."
Walters' quick success on Periscope caught the eye of Chalene Johnson, who offered to show Walters the inner workings of her online business. Johnson showed Walters what was possible, and Walters made sure she rose to the occasion, but again, she'd already put in years of hard work. Later, when her livestreams went viral overnight, she explained she didn't have to do much to capitalize on that opportunity.
"One of the biggest [mistakes I see when people have content go viral] is that they'll immediately try to crank out a bunch of additional content that seems to be aligned with [whatever went viral]. Just because I had one thing that went hot doesn't mean I need to change my whole business strategy up and do something else. Obviously, I was doing the right thing, which is why [I went viral in the first place] so I don't need to revamp my entire strategy."
Once the initial frenzy of media calls slowed down, she decided to upload her speakers reel to her Facebook page along with a link to sign up for her email list.
"People got a good, quick primer that was less than a minute long of who I really was and what business offerings I had ... and that allowed me to convert, very quickly, a lot of people over to my list because I was ready. I think that that's something everyone could do today, right now, for their next viral moment, is stay ready so you don't have to get ready."
4. Serve well when given the opportunity.
Walters explained that once she started landing bigger speaking engagements and high profile relationships, she made sure to prepare and go above and beyond in those roles.
"I think sometimes [we influencers] forget that we're all very regular people, and we are so blessed and fortunate to have a platform. If you have a platform, you've got to show up. That means when you get there, give even more .... I think that oftentimes we worry about how do I get it, how do I get it, when a huge part of getting your next gig is how well you do with the one in hand."
Make sure that you're serving your readers, viewers, customers and clients as best you can right now, and then when you get additional exposure and bigger partnerships, make sure your level of excellence and services rises to the occasion.
5. Give yourself grace.
I asked Walters what it was like the first couple weeks after quitting her job. "Crying into mugs. It was just so many tears .... I was freaking out." She advises that new entrepreneurs and business owners experiencing explosive growth leave room for grace. Walters says you won't have the same schedule, routine or stability as you had before.
"Don't feel like you have to instantly have it all together. It's an evolution, it's a process .... I started [my business piece by piece] building the way that I built in corporate."
6. Think big picture and long term.
Walters thinks one of the reasons she has been able to quickly stand out and then maintain momentum is her mentality around her followers and customers. She believes that many online entrepreneurs are in a hurry for numbers and forget about the lifetime value of their readers, listeners, customers, etc.
"Lifetime value in your client means you're not just here for the quick hit money, you're here for the long-run relationship. You want to automate your systems, you want to automate your emails list, you want to automate your leads, but what you don't want to automate is that relationship." She recommends that small-business owners think like corporate sales teams, actually picking up the phone to call clients and learning about their lives, especially if they are paying for high-ticket courses or products.
"Everyone's like, I just need more leads. I need a bigger list. If you have a thousand people giving you $100 a year, that's $100,000, so focus on finding your core 1,000. Feed them, love them, give them everything they need. Provide value and services, and you know what? They'll stick with you for the long run, and you'll make a whole lot more than that initial $100,000."
7. Start livestreaming. Yesterday.
Growing a brand means getting the word out, and Walters's best advice for this is still to livestream. She explained that it is a worthwhile strategy if only for the algorithms. "Facebook wants people on Live, so they're pushing your broadcast into people's news feeds. More people are seeing you than ever before." she said. "I've had two viral videos that doubled my email list in just three weeks. Going live has transformed my business, and it's because I get to connect directly in a real, authentic way, with people who are looking for what I have to offer."
You can use livestreaming in many different ways, so find a way that works for you. I use livestreaming as a way to interact with viewers of The Pursuit who have follow-up questions and want more real-life examples of success tactics. Some use it to show behind the scenes activity without straight-to-camera Q&A. Even going live quickly to make an announcement can boost the views of all of your other content. Practice in the mirror, make an outline, find a quiet, well-lit room and press that red button.
8. Be consistent.
Walters explained that in these feed-obsessed times, entrepreneurs get caught up in the content, thinking, I need a beautiful Instagram page. I want to have a podcast and I need to be really good at Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr.
Instead, she says, "Pick something and be consistent. I don't care what you're doing, make sure you love it so that you'll be consistent, and then do it frequently .... I don't go less than once or twice a week without going live, because that helps feed my business, so whatever it is you want to do to get [eyeballs on your content] understand that, in the beginning, you're not going to have them. You need to do it because you love it, so make sure it's a platform you love, and then do it often and regularly."
9. Be proactive.
Now Walters is getting approached for keynotes, book deals and development deals -- but she is also actively pitching and submitting for opportunities as well. "I didn't sit around and wait for opportunities; [for example, the speaking opportunity with Dave Ramsey and Christy Wright's Business Boutique] took a pitch ... them saying no ... then eight months of negotiations before they brought me onboard. When I came on board, I slayed and I delivered. I did not show up half stepping."
Want those big opportunities? The key, she says, is not in the email or the pitch itself, it's in the research beforehand.
"The best pitch starts from your desktop, on your computer doing research. Know their business, know their mission statement, know what their upcoming products are and what their trajectory of their business is."
You also need to make sure you show up with confidence, explaining quickly how you'll work with them and what you'll do together, Walters shared.
"When you start pitching that way, what happens is in people's mind, they're instantly thinking, 'Is there room on my calendar? Can I do this? Is it in the budget?' They're not thinking of the no, they're thinking how are we going to do this .... It worked all through corporate, and it's still working now."
10. Be prepared to grow.
All successful business owners will tell you nothing pushes you to grow like entrepreneurship. Walters experienced that growth quickly. "At the beginning of 2017, I realized that if I wanted to get to the next level, if 2018 was going to work, I needed to grow. But, the part that I was struggling with was I realized the growth was my own." She shared she had to get therapy for anxiety, figure out how to build in more family time and overhaul her health so she could keep up her hectic travel schedule.
"If I'm not my best, then I'm not giving people my best, and they deserve that. The buck stops here; own it. That is tough. Those are the hard moments."
But, she says, it's worth it, for the "moments where you get this validation that it was worth it, and people see you. Not only do they see you, but they support you and they want you to win, and then you realize that, if you're having that moment, you have the ability to give it to someone else. It's overwhelming."
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