In today’s episode, we’re talking with Deborah Johnson, a speaker veteran who shares with us, her journey to success.
She has not only written multiple books and albums, but hundreds of songs, three full-length musicals and is the producer of the popular podcast, Women at Halftime. Deborah was also past president of the National Speakers Association, Los Angeles and has written & produced multiple online courses.
She share’s with us the idea that your last gig is your last gig unless you have a plan, system, and process in place to continue generating business.
We also talk about goal setting, vision planning, and how those two things are essential to hitting your goals in life.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
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✅ Learn more about everything Deborah is working on at https://goalsforyourlife.com.
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Read the Transcription 🤓
Taylorr: Welcome to another episode of Technically Speaking. We’re your hosts, Taylor and Austin and today we’re talking with Deborah Johnson, a speaker veteran who shares with us her journey to success. Now she has not only written multiple books, albums, but three full length musicals, hundreds of songs, the producer of a popular podcast called Women at Halftime. She’s also the past president of the National Speakers’ Association of the Los Angeles chapter and has written and produced multiple online courses. Now, someone who is a creative, who has spent so much time in the music and the entertainment industry, and also then segueing that into a successful speaking career, she shares with us the balance between the creative process and the business process and how to come to terms with having to do the things in business that often don’t get our creative energy running as visionaries. She also shares with us the idea that your last gig is technically your last gig, unless you have a plan, a system, and a process to continue generating business. She shares with us the journey to success and the road that she went on, the trials, the tribulations, and she talks about how also goal setting and vision planning are the two essential things that help make all of this possible. As always stick around until the end for some awesome resources. And let’s dive in, shall we? All right, and we are live. Deborah, it is so good to have you on technically speaking, welcome to the show.
Deborah: I am so excited to be here. I just really love you guys. You just are doing such a great job of knowing you now for a little bit, and it’s just really a privilege to be here. Yes, thank you.
Austin: Oh yeah. We go way back.
Taylorr: We do [cross-talk 01:53].
Austin: I think we first met when we really like launched our company at Influence in what 19, right? Man, it’s been a long time, but so cool that we’ve been able to be on this journey together so far.
Deborah: It’s been great. It’s been great. Thank you.
Taylorr: Yeah, definitely.
Austin: For sure.
Taylorr: So [inaudible 02:02] what a decorated past you’ve had in of the business of speaking. You were president of the LA chapter of NSA was that last year, if I recall? What year was that?
Deborah: Oh, it was three years ago.
Taylorr: Three years. Oh, my goodness. Time has gone by so fast.
Deborah: It’s amazing how time passes. Yeah, it was about three years ago.
Taylorr: Wow. How did you get into this crazy world of speaking in the first place? I know you’re Grammy nominated musicals, how did speaking come into the mix? Just tell us the backstory.
Deborah: Yeah. Well, I’m a lifetime entrepreneur, so that’s pretty much my story of creating a lot, a lot of products and performing for a number of years on many different stages. Just love it, absolutely love it, but I’ve created a lot so as I started expanding my business into speaking, because the music industry, they were starting to book just the acts that have been around a lot longer than I had, or they were what I call the has been is without one hit, wonder whatever, they were getting booked and the tribute acts. I thought, I see what’s coming here. There has to be some way to keep working. And I noticed in a lot of those conferences and conventions that they were starting to cancel some of the music acts, but not the speakers. Was like, oh, there must be something to that. I started in and figured out, I had a music agent that was also a speaking agent so I started asking a lot of questions and it’s a companion field, because it’s not just stage work anymore. It’s online work. Of course. I just really love it.
Austin: Yeah. That’s so cool. Well, something that I really like about you too, is that you have these beginnings as a creative, and we talked a little bit about this before the show, and I know one of the things that we’re going to talk about today is how this handoff needs to take place between the creative side of things and then the business side of things and you you’ve done this for yourself. And I know that this resonates with a lot of our listeners. We get told about this all the time. Like, oh, I’m the creative type. I’m a visionary. And the running of the business sucks, but like you found a way to move past this. What’s that been like for you? Taking this creative oriented background and skill set that you have and making it into such a successful business? Where’s the gap being bridged? I guess is my question.
Deborah: I don’t know that there’s a huge gap. You just have to be willing to rotate your business often enough to be doing the business and not just creating. And I think that’s kind of hard for a creative because all you want to do is create and to finish your projects. And I have done a lot of them, believe me. And I was on that track, I worked a lot as a musician and you go from one gig to the next and one of my little your last gigs, your last gig and to where I would keep getting booked because either I was referred or I was in a good network or I was showcasing to do these shows across the country so those were happening for me. But when it started shutting down, it was like, okay, I have all of this music, I have all of this stuff and even now I am still playing catch up with putting out product of the work I’ve already done. I’ve done it so we don’t go back and put those into a part of our business to be able to sell, to be able to have a big inclusive business that also includes that creative side as well as anything else we’re doing, whether it’s a public or it’s training or whatever we’re doing.
Taylorr: How did you learn that lesson of not constantly creating? Because like Austin said earlier, we hear this a lot, like, oh, I just want to create this new course, we’ve got this idea for this new coaching program, this new keynote, this new, this new and this new and what we generally find that happens is they don’t ever put effort into selling it, marketing it, focusing in on it, going deeper in with it and we kind of just get into the next phase of creating. So was this like knowledge of needing to… it sounds like it wasn’t always that way where you weren’t constantly creating and then also running the business. It sounds like there was a lesson to learn there. At what point in the business life cycle did you realize that, oh, wait a second, we’ve also got to work on this business process end of things on top of the creative end of things. When did that shift happen for you?
Deborah: I think it’s a constant process with me. To be honest, I have to schedule and it’s something I have coming at the end of the year, is my plan your year. And I put that together with just a webinar because it’s what I do if. I plan like at the end of this month is where I planned to do more Christmas charts to put out music that I did. I did this album, how many years ago? At least 10, probably a little more. Wonderful album with full brass and strings and there’s some great songs on that and arrangements, but I’ve not put out the sheet music or let the tracks go for people to perform it, which is a great. That’s another great residual income to be able to do. I had done four of those songs last year and I have on the slate to do two this year, at least two, and just finished the first.
But I scheduled it, see if I schedule it in my schedule. It’s like, oh, okay, I’m switching. I’m going to do this. It’s part of my goals, part of my quarterly goals that I set, but I have to schedule them because automatically I want to create. And I’ve scheduled also marketing pieces and contacts for engagements. Online engagements, some live engagements, yow they’re starting to open up more. I think people are still a little afraid of that, but they’re starting to happen. You just kind of have to switch where you are in your business and it’s a mindset and to not constantly… because I’m also creating another online course and I’m trying to get better at the technical part so I don’t have to do as much video editing although that skill will help me in all areas of my business. When you think about doing that, you kind of compartmentalize it and I’d like to finish things, but again, perfection is the enemy of done. You have to get things done as well as you can and then kind of move on.
Austin: Done, not perfect. It’s a tough lesson. I have to remind myself that all the time because I fairly detail oriented person, Taylorr is too actually, so we kind of butt heads with this stuff sometimes I think, but being able to like draw the line, I’ve done the thing now it’s time to just get it out there and then ideally move on to the next thing to maintain that. But that’s not an easy thing to do. And I think something that’s difficult about it is it’s a discipline. There’s very rarely a line drawn in the sand for you most of the time, you have to tell yourself that you’re at that point. What does that process look like for yourself? How does the planning work? How do you like set these deadlines for yourself? How do you decide when it’s time to stop and move on to the next phase of releasing something? I’d love to just get into your head a little bit.
Deborah: A little bit of it’s by feel. Some of it’s around holidays since I’ve been in music and creating music, some of that is around those holidays. I have a course that I open up twice a year so you divide it up and backtrack on your marketing plan. It opens up in January and it’ll open up again in June so I backtrack on those things. You start with the end in mind, that’s a great phrase as well and you hear that a lot, but I backtrack on that. People ask constantly, how do you get so much done? Well, I don’t feel like I get, I just plan ahead and put it on the schedule and I have now some automated tools where I can put them out and I use them almost as little assistance and I use buffer and some of those sorts of social media tools, but there’s only so much you can do on those as well.
A lot of it, you just have to do the [inaudible 10:45] work and, I start with the end in mind that way and my system has kind of developed as I’ve grown too, because I hope I never quit growing, but that sort of system does. And I’ve tried different planning systems and everything, and it takes so much work to put in the planning it’s better for me to have a pencil and paper calendar and I pencil in what I’m going to do and I just start scheduling. That way I know exactly which meme, I’ve got what I call a meme elf on Google docs, all of my notes are, and then I have meme banks and everything that I can rotate, but that’s taken some years to do, and I teach people a little bit how to do that and how to set up their own systems that will work for them so you’re not just tied totally to your business. I like to work remotely. I’ll be gone three days again next week so I like to work remotely and I can just schedule things and it’ll go on and I can click in once a day and then schedule.
Taylorr: Nice. It sounds like honestly, really the process is you just have a little bit of vision, you figure out how to a deadline for that vision, pencil it on the calendar and then kind of backtrack how we’re going to get that done until it’s actually accomplished. Do you ever find yourself though?… one thing that we see all the time too, is like, it can be hard to almost let go of some of the goals that you had set for your business if things changed, do you find yourself having to change course? And then when that happens, do you have a process for determining what’s priority or how do you make sure you’re not inserting anything new because it has a perceived higher priority than something else. You have a process for that?
Deborah: Well, my process, I think you have to be willing to change and to regroup and if you don’t get something completely done, say I will come back to this. Sometimes I plan, I over plan, I have these aspirations of, okay, I’m going to get all of this done during this time, it takes me back to the time when I was in undergrad work and I was in music and all of that. We had these instrument classes and during one of our two-week spring breaks, I thought, oh, I’m going to learn the violin. Listening to this, are you laughing? Because my sister, I was her accompanist for years of professional violin, that’s wonderful. It does not take two weeks to pick up a violin. I was thinking, oh, I could just pick this up. It was absolutely no way.
Sometimes we put these unrealistic goals, and I’m very guilty of that, and say I need to put this off another couple weeks and I know then I can focus on it more. And what happens is I will end up making it better, so it’s better in the long run so I have to realize there are good principles behind that and not being afraid of putting something off. And I think that’s, again, a mental mindset, I’ll end up getting it done, but usually what I do is, I do things in chunks, little stages. And it’s almost like the Tiny Habits Principle to where you put little tiny habits, you start building them and I just interviewed Linda Fogg Phillips for my podcast for this, it’s a great book. And it just those little tiny habits to be able to stack them together, to be able to make real change. Well, the same thing happens in any project, is you chunk it just little tiny steps to feel, okay. I got that done today. I [inaudible 14:15]. If you’re planning ahead enough, that does happen but people have a hard time sometimes starting because they think, oh, it’s just too overwhelming. Well, chunk it down, way down. Way down. I’m just saying, I’m going to put a couple of lines on the page. You got to just to start because that’ll create your momentum.
Taylorr: Yeah. It’s kind of like that crawl, walk, run kind phrase. I think it was Brad Barton, if you’re listening to this, we love you by the way.
Austin: I knew this was coming. [Cross-talk 14:49].
Taylorr: Brad Barton, he’s a speaker. Again, what’s up? Represent Utah. Brad shared a story with us and I think it was his friend. But he kind of had this philosophy, because he was training for a marathon. And when somebody is doing anything, we have a goal in mind, whether it’s growing our business, training a marathon, losing some weight, whatever the thing is there can be a resistance to get going. You have some motivation; you might not have some motivation on certain days and you still kind of maintain that habit. One thing he shared about this kind of idea is like you just got to get started.
And so, what this guy training for the marathon would do is he’d said, look, I’m just going to put my running clothes on, I’m going to tie my shoes in the morning, I’m going to put everything on and I’m just going to go stand out in the middle of the road and if at that point I decide not to run. I won’t run, but at least I’ve gotten that far to build some momentum, to get those little tasks done, to then continue training. That philosophy of just starting small and then layering into it, I think is the message there.
Deborah: It’s a great one put their running shoes on. Maybe that’s all you do that.
Taylorr: That’s right.
Deborah: It’s why I lay out my workout clothes the night before. They’re there.
Taylorr: Oh nice. They’re there, they remind you.
Deborah: I do every night otherwise if I have to [inaudible 16:01] them, I’ll probably not get [inaudible 16:02].
Austin: Well, my favorite part of that whole story is that every time he would do it, he would go run. It was never that he decided he got on the run. I was like, man, I’m good. He would just go out and run because that first initial step gave you the inertia to want to keep going. It’s like, there’s various versions of this thing, but if you want to start painting, don’t even worry about the painting part. Just get your canvas out, put your paints on the table, get everything ready and then by the time you’ve done that amount of work, you’re probably going to keep going with it. So [cross-talk 16:33].
Deborah: That’s a great principle. I’m right in there with that principle too. That’s a great one.
Austin: Well discipline is hard. I’m talking from this from personal struggles. Being able to make tough decisions when you don’t want to, is an extremely difficult thing. But if you can make the decision smaller where it’s a lot easier to actually go and accomplish it, then you probably will at least be able to do that much and then again, you let the momentum carry you forward.
Deborah: Definitely, definitely. Little steps, little tiny steps.
Austin: How does discipline fit into things for you, Deborah? What happens when you’ve made these big goals and now, you’re up against the clock or you’ve got all of the other client work that you have to do and you’re trying to be a human being at the same time. Like how do you, how do you stay on track? Like when things are getting tough?
Deborah: Well, I have to realize a lot of my goals, and my timetables are self-induced. That’s just true of me. And putting those off again, getting back to that mindset and if I have a lot and going, some of the most stressful times has been when I wrote the musicals and I was producing them and all of these obstacles talk about obstacles come your way and working with huge teams. And I had to realize there were some nights I needed to stay up all night and do rewrites. I had to realize there were some fights, I had to fight with some permissions that came up with one of them, which was kind of interesting with anyway, we don’t need to get into all that sort of legal part that I had to do, but some of these things that come up that seem to be… they’re big emergencies.
And as I approached each one, it was interesting how there were some solutions right there that I wasn’t afraid. I was meeting the right person at the right time. I found the right attorney, I found all of these sorts of things at that time that I was able to follow through on and fix the problems. Because a lot of that, and you’re just fixing a lot of problems as well as producing. I think some of that sort of stress, but there’s a lot of stress in that production because it wasn’t just like me showing up to a gig, I had a certain number of weeks to rehearse a cast and have everything ready and the costumes and the staging and all of those details at once that laid on my shoulders as the producer of this and the writer.
Those were self still self-induced, but there was a definite timetable with union rules and all of that. With engagements, it’s more that I know because I’ve done so much solo work and I haven’t hire in a band or if I was in music or speaking it’s me, so that I will have it ready. If that deadline, I will have the presentation ready. I know on my end and then there’s just going to be some obstacles that you get through to make it all happen. Right now, whether flights are canceled, whether all of a sudden, they want to go completely virtual, you have to change and regroup again, that’s a mindset, but I want to prepare myself as much as possible for all of those changes. Not only with mindsets, but my abilities. Today when we had to change formats slightly, I don’t know if we want to get into this or not, but I had to change laptops for some reason, we had a problem there.
Taylorr: [Inaudible 20:16]. We’re here for them.
Deborah: The whole set up, I had to get [cross-talk 20:20] farther away on this camera. The whole setup changed, but we were able to do it. See? You have to get by because your time is so extremely valuable on both sides and you want to be able to have these things happen, not throw everybody else so you figure out a way and you do what you need to do to make that happen. And I think that sort of mindset you do what you need to do. I’ve raised three kids. You do what you need to do.
Taylorr: That’s a measure right there. The number of kids you raised. [Cross-talk 20:52].
Deborah: It is. It is.
Taylorr: Yeah, for sure. What I love about the way you’ve just kind of broken this idea of discipline down is I think discipline comes in at the hardest moments in time, which kind of how this segued. You just have to do what you got to do. That’s when you need to rely on discipline, when motivation, isn’t a factor it’s discipline that kind of kicks in. And the way you’re talking about hard things that have come up, it’s like you have this mindset of acceptance almost. Like it is what it is. We just got to adapt and find a way forward, be a problem solver, get it done. I have a deadline. And it’s almost like this mindset of just acceptance of what is, and just doing your best to actually solve that problem.
Deborah: Right. That’s exactly what it is.
Deborah: You just move ahead and you have to accept to, again, that goes back to that perfect. Because we have in our mind always going to look just perfect. I am just perfectly framed here. If I stand, I’ll probably be better but then I can’t see you guys, perfectly framed on, where I’m at and so I’ve got this vision in my mind and all of a sudden that changes, you just have to adjust. Completely adjust and say, you know what? People are going to get what they get out of this anyway, because they’re going to listen and they’re going to watch enough and they’re not going to judge you on saying, oh, this wasn’t quite right. It’s almost like when people go to a presentation or they go to a concert, there’s very few people that will hear that you didn’t do that high note correctly completely. like you felt like you could do very, very few.
And a coach told me at this one point, I’m thinking really, are you kidding? No, I could hit that better. And he said, no, it’s amazing. People will not hear it unless it’s a very, very trained ear because you are on it, but it might just not be the best, best, best that you can do. You try to do that, that’s your goal, but you have to adjust your mindset. Otherwise, you can’t go on with the whole show. [Cross-talk 22:56].
Taylorr: Can’t be your own worst critic forever.
Deborah: And that happens in life. A big deal in life as well. I think people get blocked. It’s like, oh… I got to fix. I got to fix, fix, fix, fix.
Austin: That’s a very human way of looking at things too.
Taylorr: It is.
Austin: Nothing is perfect. And people don’t expect us to be perfect.
Austin: It’s really easy to think that that’s the case but to your point about missing the high note, nobody… okay, again, if somebody had a very trained eye and they were listening for it, that’s one thing but the people that were there just to participate in and enjoy, they’re paying attention to the average across the whole thing, which is amazing. Nobody cares about the one little moment. And here’s another thing, it’s kind of endearing when things don’t go right because again, it’s human. We all have these challenges and I think people are a lot more forgiving even when they notice that something goes wrong, then we want to think that they will be when we’re…
Taylorr: It’s relatable in a way, isn’t it? When you see like that happening, like, oh, I’m not alone in all of this.
Austin: Yeah. That’s really true.
Deborah: They’re kind of rooting for you. Oh, she going make it? She going make it?
Austin: That’s right. Well, I know we’re, we’re getting close to the end of this episode, one of our favorite questions that we like to ask, and especially with you, you’ve got such a rich background doing this and you’ve seen a lot. What’s something that you’ve learned as, as your career has progressed. And you’ve been doing this that you wish you would’ve known when you first started.
Deborah: Well, I wish I had learned a lot more of the business part when I started into my music career because I did a lot of products and I paid off the product, which was pretty amazing. I’ve never gone into debt for product at doing all of my CD albums and all of that because I ended up booking the concerts that would pay for it.
Deborah: The product, it’s almost like doing books these days. Unless you’re really on the top, top, you’re not going to make tons of money on books. It’s a promotional tool and as you do that… but I didn’t understand as much of building the business and I was into the residual income, but not understanding all of the different areas and how the business should be. You have to schedule the business of doing the work in marketing and everything else. And I would do it, but it wasn’t as planned. And as I looked back, I thought, oh, I was sort of doing that in a way, but I didn’t understand that I was really running a business. I wish I understood some of that, and I’ve actually worked with interns, college interns that were music majors. They would send me interns. So many of them, I just said, you need to get a business degree and then do your music. There was a 1% of 1% that actually work in this field, unfortunate, I’m a woman, I play and sing and I write and I’m very versatile and I get hired, but you don’t always get… but I also teach. There’s a number of different things I’ve taught since I was 13.
That’s kept going all the way through. I’ve never actually quit, that’s part of even a skillset, even in speaking now. I wish I understood a little bit more of that business to not have to backtrack so much, even now of some of the things that I’m putting out, the sheet music and all of those things. I wish I’d been a little more consistent through the years and understanding the business part of just really having that propelled a lot more, but it’s never too late, [cross-talk 26:33].
Taylorr: It’s never too late.
Deborah: But I’ve learned a lot through the speaking business, which is really, I think a very good plug for like NSA, some of those organizations that are real educational, helping people build a business.
Taylorr: Yeah, exactly. I like the word that you said there, keyword consistency. Just to be consistent enough with it. I think so many people out there, this is every business owner. It’s not just this expert category, it’s every, I think small business, but we have these moments of creation and then we, oh God, we got to work on the business now and then we can create some more stuff than, oh crap. I got to work on the business now. It’s like this kind of roller coaster, rather than just being this kind of gradual increase with time, it’s always just these big moments of activity. I love that you just… this human conversation, it’s the human side of running a business. All of this stuff is inevitable, we’re all going to have to experience these things and we all kind of go through it at our own. So, thank you for sharing your story with us here today, Deborah, and kind of just being transparent about what it’s like to set goals and plan and not always hit them, but to get back on the path and have discipline, super valuable stuff. As you know, because you’re here we’re all about creating value for our audience, so what are you working on right now that our listeners could benefit from?
Deborah: My husband would probably answer that what isn’t she working on? I just came out with my new book, The Summit. That’s, it’s available everywhere, Summit: Journey to Hero Mountain, but it’s all along the branding. My Hero Mountain Summit, and that’s the program I put out twice a year, which starts again in January. And I’m expanding on that because I’ve gotten some real hahas from people I’ve talked to that it’s not only available for individuals, but for small companies for their teams so they can get there. I’ve got everything programmed for CE credits. it’s a little bit different format so I can partner with them. So that’s what I’m already putting that together but also, I’ve got a plan, your year program coming up, which is a webinar. You can get to a lot of my places on goalsforyourlife.com/planyouryear or heromountainsummit.com. That’s there.
But on the plan your year, we’re on video so I could show this to you, but I’ve done this for this webinar for three years and I actually give you a printout calendar. Now this is different than your other calendar. I’m pencil paper, I’m old school, but this is my marketing calendar and this looks like there’s nothing there, but there’s a lot of stuff at the top and I will fill this all in for November, but it’s all the memes that I’m going to be doing for Christmas memes. And it’s the end of October, see, I have a lot of you, can’t probably see this that close, but you can see a lot of the pencil, it’s the numbers of memes and it’s all of the live streaming I’ve started doing on my book. I did a chapter a day and I did a little streaming on that. And also, with the music I’m putting out more. I just finished the arrangement that I did years ago. It’s a great one, Silent Night, Oh, Holy Night. There’s a great arrangement.
It’s mine and it’s all public domain so of course I can own my full arrangement so you can get the sheet music and get the MP3. But at that’s all on the schedule, but you have to do the webpages, you have to do all of that stuff, but that’s all on these schedules. That’s kind of between now and the end of the year, those couple things that I’m doing, that’s where I’m focusing, still a lot of marketing with the book and getting those reviews in and all of that, because it’s really important. It’s not just about writing a book anymore, it’s about getting reviews, getting people that read it, that, you know, getting the word out, [cross-talk 30:15]. putting out a couple of postcards, I’m a snail mail person, I love writing personal notes, of course, but also, I feel like now, especially people love getting something they can touch and getting something in the mail is kind of fun. I used to do this some years ago of doing the bigger mailers, I’m starting to do that a little bit again, and you can do this. I use GotPrint and you can do their scheduling through there. I could do the six by nine postcards and have them mail and it’s less than even me mailing a regular postcard.
Deborah: They’re doing all the work. That’s an assistant. You have to figure out some of those things, it’s some planning and of course I have some virtual assistants that I will hire periodically. That’s what’s ahead. I want to enjoy my holidays, want to enjoy my family. We do a sing along every year, probably think about 17 years. We’ve done that. Those sorts of things looking forward in the holidays, I like to be versatile enough, but yet I’ll keep the work going. I’ll finish this online course. It should be very little editing too; I can just put that up to help promote one of my musicals. That’s another area. My focus next year is a lot on promotion because I have so much product and I have the programs already so it’s just getting the word out.
Taylorr: Definitely. You got to have the strategic planning for it. Thank you for providing that resource as a guide. We’ll make sure that’s linked down below in the show notes and hey, if you liked this episode, don’t forget to rate it like it, subscribe to it. And if you want more awesome resources like this, go to speakerflow.com/resources. Thank you so much for chiming in. I just wanted to take a second to thank our sponsor Auxbus. Auxbus is the all-in-one suite of tools you need to run your podcast and it’s actually what we run here at Speaker Flow for Technically Speaking. It makes planning podcast simple; it makes recording podcasts simple; it even makes publishing podcasts to the masses simple and quite honestly, Technically Speaking, wouldn’t be up as soon as it is without Auxbus. Thank you so much Auxbus. And if you are interested in checking Auxbus out, whether you’re starting a podcast or you have one currently get our special offer auxbus.com/speakerflow, or click the link below in our show notes.