We’ve talked a LOT about business systems on this podcast, but for many thought leaders, the challenge remains: how to get past the fear and overwhelm of restructuring the tech and processes that make your business run.
This is especially true if you’re starting from ground zero or if you have a lot of old systems to clean up first.
One thought leader that knows this journey firsthand is speaker, sales coach, and emotional intelligence expert Merit Kahn.
When we first connected with Merit several years ago, her systems were all over the place and, even though her message was top-notch, she was still struggling to consistently generate revenue. Fast forward to 2022, and Merit had her best financial year yet, largely thanks to the systems she had in place.
In this episode, Merit shares this journey including what first “triggered” her motivation to rebuild her systems, which ones she rebuilt first, and how her business has evolved.
She also walks through the mental aspect of her systems journey. That way, when you’re ready to rebuild systems in your own business, you know everything to expect.
Let’s get started!
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✅ Learn more about Merit and her work: https://meritkahn.com/
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Intro: You know those moments when you’re doing what you love in your business, maybe it’s standing onstage or creating content, whatever it is, you’re totally immersed, and time just seems to slip by? This is called the Flow State. At Speaker Flow, we’re obsessed with how to get you there more often. Each week we’re joined by a new expert where we share stories, strategies, and systems to help craft a business you love. Welcome to Technically Speaking.
Austin: Boom. Okay, boom. We are live. Merit, thank you so much for joining us today. We’re so lucky to have you.
Merit: Aw, thanks, you guys.
Austin: Yeah. There are not that many people that we’ve had on this show that not only we’ve seen in the flesh, in the real world, which we have a few times. Don’t give me that look.
Merit: Careful about that. Fully-clothed flesh.
Austin: Thank you. I forget who I’m talking to for a moment, but I will remember.
Taylorr: It’s all downhill from here, folks.
Austin: I’ve seen your show. I’ve seen your show. Yeah. Which actually, by the way, one of the things that we wanted to reference right off the top is the fact that not only do you stand on stages and blow people’s mind in the EQ and sales realms, consult with big clients, you really are, sort of, the model thought leadership businesses or business in so many ways. And you also have this other factor, which is your one-woman show, and you do standup as well. So, man, you’re a very well-rounded person, I’m realizing as I’m verbalizing all of these things.
Merit: Well-rounded or unfocused, however you want to look at that. One of those two.
Austin: Well, you’ve actually been able to, sort of, tie it together in a lot of ways, at least more than some other people that we know. In fact, I can think of three people off the top of my head that do this really well. You do this really well. Kelly Swanson does this really well with her theater show. And Kostya Kimlay from Florida who does magic, he does this really well as well. So, anyway, kudos to you for that. I’d also just like for you to share with our listeners, how did this one-woman show come to be and how does it fit in with the rest of your thought leadership business activities?
Merit: Well, back in 2014, I guess it was, 2016 maybe, I was looking for ways to be more deliberately funny in my keynotes. I was always really good, I can come up with something on the spot in my breakout sessions, but keynotes were not as interactive at that time, and so I wanted to learn how to write a good tight joke. What better way to do that than to study standup comedy. And so, that’s what I did. And then an unexpected thing happened. I fell in love with standup comedy and I kept doing it.
I think Tom Singer has talked about that in some of his podcasts as well, if you really want to get good at being on stages, study standup. And I couldn’t agree more with that. In fact, I wrote about that in my book that’s coming out shortly, called Are You Open To? But I have a whole section in there about the relationship between comedy and humor and being light and playful and business development and people want to be around people who they like. And so, learning the strategy and structure of being funny has been a game changer in my keynotes and certainly helped me write a good one-woman comedy show.
Taylorr: Heck yeah.
Austin: Beautiful. So cool. We support that. Yeah. We’ve seen it live too, so for those of you that are in a city that Merit is going to come to in recent days, definitely go because it’s awesome and it will make you laugh hysterically.
Merit: Thank you.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah. It’s good to find balance in all of these things. It’s cool that you’ve not only just studied it, but now you put it into like, it’s a whole thing that you do on top of the thought leadership stuff. It’s one thing to study comedy, try and be funny; it’s a whole different thing to actually get onstage and do standup, but then put together your entire show where you sell out multiple days of an event doing the thing. So, kudos.
Merit: Woo. Thanks.
Taylorr: Yes, for sure.
Merit: And I had no idea at the time how helpful Zoho would be to helping me do that, selling tickets, everything. So, yeah.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah. That’s awesome. Okay. So, speaking of systems, I think this is the perfect kind of segue into our conversation today. So, we’re really excited to talk to you about the emotional component of implementing systems, especially coming from an EQ expert, but to set the stage a little bit, what did your business look like before you started investing in systems?
Merit: Well, Taylorr, I was a total mess. No, I’m just kidding. I was successful, honestly, in spite of myself. When I started my business in 1998, and that was more of the training company, I was, literally, putting clients’ names and phone numbers on a post-it note in a folder with a number on it, and then that told me who I needed to call that day. Some days, truly; I do long for the days of simplicity and running my business like that, but when I think of the missed opportunities; now, we didn’t have the solutions we have today like Speaker Flow and these amazing CRM tools and automation things.
But I have not been known for my early adopter status. That is not how you would describe me. I wait until everybody else has done the thing and then I’m like, oh, for example, when U2 was popular, I went many, many years later and was like, Hey, has everybody heard this band? Yeah. It’s just not my thing. So, after I watched lots of other people having success, running their businesses, automations, keeping in touch with past clients, I thought maybe I should learn this thing. And so, my business prior to becoming a client of yours, frankly, was I would describe it as success in spite of myself, success in spite of sloppy systems. And last year, after having much more structured systems and processes in my business, I had the best year I’ve had since 2007.
Merit: So, yeah. Yeah.
Austin: Booyah. Amazing work. That’s so exciting. Okay. So, I think there are probably a lot of people that can relate to the phrase successful in spite of myself, we hear that pretty regularly. And I think it goes to show that like somebody has something really valuable when even if we’re not, maybe, as organized as we could be, or as efficient as we could be, or whatever other buzzword we want to insert there, we still make it work. And it’s because we have something amazing to share. And it’s one of the things that we like about this whole industry, really.
So, take us back, there must have been something that prompted you to say like, okay, this is going to be something that I’m going to spend my time on and money on. Where was your head at that time? Did this happen because you were feeling frustrated or tired of running circles or yeah, where were you up here at that point in your business?
Merit: So, at that time, and this would go back to right before the pandemic, if I think correctly, I think we started working together, maybe fall of 2019. Does that sound about right?
Merit: And so, at that time, there was a lot of change in my life in general, my personal life, my business was kind of taking a new direction, I was just about to do the first performance of the one -woman comedy show, and I could just feel that things were moving, for me, in new directions. And I have always been one of those people that likes to study things that I already have studied in the past. So, you would find me in the book section on goal setting. And I remember a friend saying to me once, Merit, you’ve taught goal setting, why don’t you move on and learn something that you’re not good at yet?
And I was like, what? Why would I, what? And technology, that was not my sweet spot, not my go-to thing. And I thought, okay, if I’m going to be better tomorrow than I am today, I have to learn new things. And it’s funny now that I think about it; I am out there on stages all of the time opening people to new possibilities, right? One of my mottos is the first step to a closed deal is an open mind. And so, if I really think about it, the next level of growth for me was to open my mind to using systems and tools and new ways that I had not yet allowed myself the time to really dig in and master. And I remember thinking to myself in 2019, if only I had more time to really put into learning and mastering the technology, if only the world would just stop for a little while and I could just catch my breath and really learn things.
Taylorr: So, you’re the reason for all of this.
Austin: I was going to say.
Merit: I’m sorry.
Taylorr: Dang, Merit. We found the source.
Merit: I’m sorry.
Taylorr: It’s not the lab
Merit: I’m very powerful. I said an intention and things just happened. I don’t know, I’m sorry. But it worked out, I guess. And in some crazy way, I really did find myself with a lot of time to learn the thing. And I got in there and I just followed your system to the letter and I came to coaching calls. And what’s, I think, most interesting I about learning something new is you don’t often have a mirror of how much you’ve progressed. And what I liked about the community within the Speaker Flow universe is that I had a bunch of my speaker friends who know my business better than anyone else, know exactly what we need the system to do.
And we would show up to these calls every once in a while with you guys, and the questions I was asking demonstrated that I had really learned a lot more than the knowledge that I started with. And maybe it was one of you guys that pointed it out, like, whoa, how did you; you knew to ask that question about a module in a field. And I’m like; I didn’t even know what those were before. And I think it’s nice when you’re learning something new to have that mirror to really appreciate how far you’ve come.
Taylorr: Yeah. Man.
Austin: So true.
Taylorr: Okay. So, it was 2019-ish, you say, all right, no more goal setting stuff, it’s time for some technology stuff, because you felt like that would get your business to the next level. But there are a lot of things that people think that would get their business to the next level, right? It could be a sales strategy, it could be a marketing strategy, it could be as simple as project management. What in your mind connected the dots that having systems are the thing that’s going to make my life easier? Was it that essence of getting time back or what were you feeling in that moment that said, no, this is the way I want to take the next step?
Merit: I think just being somebody who’s constantly coming up with new ideas, there were so many things that I wanted to do, and I felt so bogged down with the things that I had to do that took my time and effort to execute. And because I felt so unorganized, I could feel myself not prospecting, not doing any marketing things, because it was like, Ugh, what am I going to do with that prospect? I don’t have a place to put; I don’t even know how I would keep in touch with them later. I was that basic. And this is all three years, yeah, two or three years after I got my CSP. Don’t even ask me how I kept track of all of that stuff.
But I’m saying you can have a good business without knowing how to do all of this stuff, but the acceleration that I experienced once I had tools to be my backup structures to, it definitely shifted my mindset and got me more in action in the things that I know that I should be doing and that I used to do to grow my business. And then because I didn’t have those structures in place, I stopped myself from adding more clients or doing outreach and all of the things. And it’s kind of embarrassing to say that out-loud because I know my peers are listening to this, but, hopefully, my vulnerability around that opens a new possibility for someone else.
Technology is not that hard to learn; honestly, if you can get up onstage and talk to human beings and inspire them to see new possibilities when they walk into the room with their arms crossed like, go ahead and entertain us. If you can do that, you can, honestly, learn the fields in a CRM and how that can help you grow your business. It’s really not rocket science. And I can attest to that because I’m a comedian, not a rocket scientist.
Austin: Yeah. Hey, there’s something to be said about that. Yeah. I think like, and you kind of pointed this out actually, but it’s one of those things that I think most people, ultimately, go after systems because they want to be able to take more control of what they’re spending their time on and what they’re paying attention to. Right? But the problem is, in order to do that, you have to get through the hurdle of getting the systems functional so that you can stop spending your time on the things that the systems are now handling for you.
And the way to do that is that you have to put your attention toward the systems for a while, you deliberately have to stop entertaining the other stuff for a minute to just get the systems operational for you. But then systems pay a dividend, once you’ve done that and you’ve learned it and they’re working for you; now, in perpetuity, minus some maintenance here and there, you can allow your brain to then focus on the things that you’re really good at. And this is something that Taylorr and I have actually struggled with, being vulnerable with ourselves here, about how we message the work that we do. Because I think most people, maybe everyone to some degree, is after revenue growth as the main goal for their business, right?
And systems absolutely play a role in that. However, what we found is that the people that do systems best end up growing their business money-wise, which is great, but the thing that they find or feel is the more impactful part is that they get their focus back, they get their attention back, they don’t have to worry so much about the pesky little things that nag at them all of the time. And instead, they can focus on the things that create impact.
Austin: It sounds to me like you’ve kind of experienced that to a degree, right?
Merit: Oh, hundred percent. The nice thing about, well, one of the many nice things about working with you guys is, and I’ve not been paid to say that, but you set up my dashboard for me, I didn’t have to think about like, what should I be looking at? It was in my CRM, I start every morning, I created a new habit for myself. I go in there, I look at my dashboard, how many new leads did I add? How many leads did I convert to contacts? How much money is in the different stages of my pipeline? And then I go right to my task list. What are the things that I need to do today? Or we’re overdue if there’s anything, and I just take care of those things and I move on.
I think one of the things, coming from the emotional intelligence perspective, is it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. When you think about sales and marketing, there’s always one more email you can send, one more dollar you can ask for, one more client you can pitch. And it’s very hard to feel like, okay, I’ve done enough. And one of the unintended benefits of having the system, the CRM that I can really rely on is all of my information goes in there and then it’s up to me, I look at it and I go, there is enough in the pipeline right now, my numbers are going to turn out. Or I can look at it and go, whoops, what was I doing for the last three months’ time to refill?
And I’m not in an argument with reality and I know exactly what I need to do because my dashboard’s telling me, because I don’t have a sales manager, I don’t have a business owner breathing down my neck saying, Hey, Merit, we need you to close this deal. It’s me. And some days I would rather write new content or rehearse my program because my happy place is on the stage. It is not sitting at my desk in my technology; it’s not my happy place. So, I want to be as efficient with that as it possibly can, so I can move-on to do the things that I really do want to do. And I think that really is, at the end of the day, I know what is enough and I can relax a little bit, and that’s been incredibly helpful.
Taylorr: Yeah, confidence. You’re able to move forward and do the things you want knowing you’ve done the things you need to do, which there’s, yeah, lots of benefit in that. Okay, so we’ve been talking about lots of outcomes, but there was an emotional journey that you’ve been on over the last, I don’t know, let’s call it three and a half years, getting systems in place. It’s awesome, by the way, what you’ve built so far, you have all of those things, but, as you know, it’s been a process. What do you think somebody can expect when they first make that decision, as you did in late 2019?
Systems are the way for me to get more time in my business and kind of moving through the process of actually working on their systems, what was that emotional journey for you like? You mentioned overwhelming, was it intimidating at any point in time? How did you stick through it when it wasn’t easy yet? Share more about that for me.
Merit: Well, certainly it was intimidating at the beginning, but only because I looked at learning this in the same way that I tried to learn other things that weren’t well organized in the delivery model of the program. And it didn’t take me very long to realize that what you guys have created, the Speaker Flow version of Zoho, if I were to buy Zoho off of the shelf, without you guys, I may not be having the same wow experience that I’m sharing with you. But you guys really held my hand through that. You built the training videos, the workshops, the checklist, all of the resources on your website. I’ve probably read every single word that has come out of your office and.
Taylorr: Oh, boy.
Merit: I get an email from you, I read it. I hold you in that regard because I know that every communication is going to teach me something valuable. And I hope that what I’ve gotten from that, not just from what I’ve executed from being part of the Speaker Flow family are things that I’ve learned to model for my clients as well. So, it’s just working on many different levels. So, once I realized how easy it was to follow your system, to learn, first things first, to go through your course, we would want any of our clients to go through our online courses, there’s a method to how it’s designed.
And once I understood that, it was immediately unintimidating, it was just a matter of blocking out the time in my schedule, which I happen to have had quite a bit of time in 2020. But blocking out that time to do the thing and to trust myself that I can learn. I’ve learned other things, I can learn this too. But it all stemmed from the commitment to really embracing the technology once and for all. I think the other thing that was a big part of it in the beginning was feeling so comfortable that the decision I made to use the Zoho platform through Speaker Flow.
I knew I wasn’t going to have to undo that three years from now. It had everything I need; I use surveys, I use campaigns, I use the signing feature, I use the backstage passage to sell tickets. There are so many good pieces of that puzzle that I knew that I would never have to leave it, so I felt very comfortable investing the time to learn it because, in my mind, it was the last time I would have to learn a CRM. And that was monumentally mind shifting for me because I’ve been on Act!, Salesforce, some other random little systems, and I think in the back of my mind, I always thought, well, I’ll learn this for now and then I’m going to move to something else. And I don’t feel that way anymore, I’m never leaving you.
Taylorr: Good to hear.
Austin: Oh, yeah.
Merit: You’re stuck with me.
Austin: Hey, there’s something to be said about impermanence, it’s hard to feel committed when you feel like it can just go away at any point. Imagine getting into a relationship, right? Where you know that you’re going to.
Merit: Wait I don’t know if that’s a good example.
Taylorr: Yeah, topical, Austin, geez.
Merit: What are you doing? What are you doing? Let’s real that in.
Austin: If you know it’s not going to work out, it takes all the magic out, you know?
Merit: That’s so true. That’s so true.
Austin: Just saying.
Taylorr: Oh, Austin. You’re getting us in trouble in here.
Austin: Come on, I have to pull the analogies from where I can pull them. So, talk to us about some of the hurdles that you had to overcome. What were some of the painful moments that you went through from early on and later stage systems development?
Merit: Wow, so many painful moments, which ones do I pick? Mostly, I would say the biggest painful moment was realizing that these tools were available to me that I hadn’t been utilizing and that it was of my own doing that I just got in my own way and stunted my growth. I really do feel like, in emotional intelligence, we talk about that all of the time. It’s shining a light on the things that are going to sabotage you without you even knowing it. And, for me, as it relates to CRM, what was sabotaging me more than anything was that I never even knew the right questions to ask about what was possible out of a system, and I only had my limited knowledge to go by.
And so, when I put myself in an environment where other people were asking good questions that I may not have considered about how they’re using the system, that just opened up all kinds of ideas for me about how I would use it in my business. And I think one of the great things about being part of the speaker, and the speaking community, we’re very generous with our information and our best ideas because we’re not really competing with each other. There could be seven speakers on sales, but we’re all going to come at it from a different angle, sometimes it’s going to appeal to the client and sometimes not, but I don’t feel like I’m directly competing with Shawn Rhodes or Meredith Elliot Powell, we’re all in some aspect of sales, but we’re very different.
So, we can each share our best practices with each other and still not feel a sense of scarcity. Right? And so, I feel like I may have sabotaged my own growth in the beginning because I didn’t know what questions to ask that the CRM would be the answer to.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah.
Austin: Love it.
Taylorr: Okay. Wow, so many gems. There’s something that’s been in the back of my, oh, wow, look at that. Geez. I’m going to put you on payroll.
Austin: Wow, for listeners only, we have an I love my Speaker Flow CRM button. There are probably a few, there are not that many of those in excistence.
Merit: A collector’s item.
Taylorr: No, there’s not.
Merit: It’s a collector’s item.
Taylorr: It’s going to be worth a lot of money on eBay one of these days. So, we’ll sign that for you.
Austin: It’s not. Half a penny if you take it down to the scrap store, but we’ll see. Just kidding.
Taylorr: Oh, Austin. I’m going to throw you out a window when we’re done with this.
Merit: Okay, sorry, your pointed question.
Taylorr: Okay, so I’ve been thinking about this. It sounds like the system’s, obviously, saved more time, allowed you to have more impact, get rid of the stuff that’s in your head and put it somewhere safe, all of the things we want you to say, quite honestly. So, we’ll write that check later.
Austin: Yeah, right? We promise this isn’t scripted.
Merit: That’s good then.
Taylorr: Curiously, out of all of the systems you have now, what system or category saves you the most time?
Merit: Absolutely. I am in love with the auto create tasks. I’ve built my series of tasks following your prescription with email cadence to do outreach, for getting on new stages, for warming up new clients and prospects. So, that’s been really great because I have some templates and following your advice, I don’t just click the template and send it off. I look at the prospect, what industry are they in, what’s my level of relationship? Have they opened my emails? Have we had a conversation on the phone? What do I know about their event? I’m customizing all of that, but it’s far easier to edit than start from scratch.
So, that has been a game changer. I absolutely love surveys, I use that every single time; as part of my event, I’m giving away a goodie, I want them to scan a code, the QR code on the screen that takes them to my survey; they answer questions immediately about their experience of the program. I ask them very specific questions about what they want to learn more of or who they think they might be able to introduce me to. So, I’m getting leads that way. That’s all seamlessly integrated back into my CRM. It assigns me the tasks based on how they answered certain questions on the survey, I know whether I have to follow-up with them the next day, all of that I love.
I couldn’t possibly duplicate that without the technology that’s available in the CRM. And I’m still learning other things. I’m getting better at Zoho sign and using that for my contracts and having my contract templates and my invoice templates in there and sending those out right from the system. I’ve definitely gotten better at tracking the deals through the pipeline and the different stages. There’s so, so much, it’s hard to pick out one thing, but it definitely all has saved me time. And today is a really good example, before we got on this podcast, I had a sales call this morning with a guy who was on a webinar that I did two years ago. Two years ago.
And because I’ve been blogging recently and sending email campaigns through the system, he opened that email, read something that clicked with him and booked an appointment with me. That was it. That never would’ve happened without it. And that could be a really good coaching and consulting contract. So, the system more than pays for itself many, many, many times over, once I learned how simple it really is to execute.
Austin: Something that I really like about what you just were saying there is I’m sensing this mentality about systems that I feel only is learned by doing and it’s the process for creating a process. It’s how you make something systematic, not even just about the specific tool or whatever that you’re using, but the mindset about making something systematic. And we’ve boiled this down into four steps, I want to hear whether you align with this or not, Merit, from an experiential perspective. First, you have to identify something that gets done more than once; that, by definition, then can be turned into a system or a process. Once you do that, you have to standardize the things that get done for that process to be completed properly.
So, identify the thing, standardize what needs to happen, document that somewhere, write it down, put it in a checklist, put it somewhere where we know that the steps are being completed properly, whatever it is. Whether it’s following up with a prospect, closing a deal, putting somebody through a contracting process, whatever it may be. And then finally, the last step then could be either bring in an automation to help complete that process or delegate it to somebody else if you wanted to. But really, once you document it, even if you’re doing it all manually, at least then you’re saving the time of thinking about what needs to happen every time.
So, identify what needs to happen, make it repeatable, document it somewhere so we can hold the proper doing of it accountable, and then automate or delegate it if possible. Do you find that what you described there fits into that?
Merit: Yeah, absolutely, I love that so much. I feel like I’ve learned to template things so that there are certain things I’m always going to say and there are certain things I’m always going to do at certain stages of the deal process, and so I don’t have to think about it. Once I have a new prospect in my system, I click the button and all of the tasks that I would do to nurture a new prospect are automatically populated. Once somebody has signed a contract, there are a whole list of things that have automatically happened and all I have to do is press a button and that just takes all the guesswork.
Things aren’t falling through the cracks anymore like they used to. That’s absolutely, incredibly valuable. And I think it goes full circle and it shifts how you think. The three things that I’m always working on with my clients are what you think, what you say, what you do. Right? If you want me to help you grow sales, it’s going to come down to those three things. We either have to fix one or more of those. And oftentimes, for me, as it relates to technology, it was yes that I had a sabotaging mindset that, oh, I can’t really learn this. But I didn’t know the right skills, I wasn’t asking the questions to get me to the real answers and the right solutions, and then I wasn’t in action.
So, when I met you guys and I signed on with Speaker Flow, you taught me skills, you helped me with the nuts and bolts of the thing and then I was in action and that shifted my mindset.
Taylorr: Yeah. Heck, yeah. Okay, hot take. You ready for this?
Taylorr: So, somebody listening, probably more than just a single person, is in the position where you were at in 2019 or might be getting there, right? Starting to think about systemizing. What advice do you have for them?
Merit: Just pick up the phone, call Speaker Flow, I don’t know, phone, email, get on your calendar. Okay. Straight talk. I would do an honest assessment of whatever systems you are using right now and figure out what do you love about it and what’s missing. I think the biggest thing would be if you don’t have somebody you can, literally, pick up the phone and call or who will answer your email or who recognizes you or sees you at an event. If you don’t have that person to help you with the systems and tools that are, basically the backbone and structure of all the communications you’re going to do in your entire business, that’s probably a good clue that you are on the wrong system.
And I would say for any speaker, I’m sure there are other good tools out there, but unless you can pick up the phone and get help from somebody who knows that tool and built it just for your business, you’re probably on the wrong system.