Hold on to your hats, folks, ‘cause this week’s post is a long one. Grab some coffee (or a cocktail - I’m not judging) and settle in.

Last week I went to Pioneer Nation, which is described as three days of strategic action for independent entrepreneurs, small business owners and freelancers. That sentence could never fully describe what I took part in, and it was by far the single best conference I’ve ever been to.

So many people expressed interest in hearing about Pioneer Nation and begged for a full description when I came back. Originally, I’d intended to give a full review of what Pioneer Nation was like, but I quickly realized I couldn’t do it justice. Instead, I’ve decided to share some of what I learned.

As an exercise in brevity, I went through my notes and forced myself to pick one single takeaway for each speaker/workshop leader that impacted me. In so many cases it was like choosing a favorite child, but I did it anyway.

I’m sure everyone who attended got something different out of each talk and workshop, so of course these are highly personal for where I am with my business. In that spirit, I present you with my takeaways and what they mean to me:

“Own your path.” - Chris Brogan

You hear a lot about taking ownership, especially if you are in the coaching community. For me, “own your path” means accepting the good and the bad along the journey. If you are a perfectionist, it means accepting your own work, even if it’s not the shiniest, most amazing thing that ever was.

"Say ‘yes' to big challenges." - Jen Adrion and Oman Noory (These Are Things)

This one needs little explanation, but it goes along with starting before you’re ready. If you are prone to Impostor Syndrome you will be tempted to say no when faced with a big challenge. Don’t do it.

"People don’t teach because they’re experts. They’re experts because they teach." - Nathan Barry

This was where I had one of my first epiphanies of the week: I don’t need to be an expert, I just need to bring you all along for the journey. It’s hard to admit that you’re not an expert (see Imposter Syndrome above), and if you’re a bit of a recovering certification/education junkie like me, it can be so easy to get stuck in a cycle of consuming rather than producing. But who is ever really an expert? What does expert even mean?

In college I was a math tutor. I probably wasn’t the best student in the class, but I knew more than the people I was tutoring. By teaching them what I knew, it solidified that knowledge. It also pushed me to work harder on new material because I had the responsibility to share it with others.

“Function before format” - Tara Gentile

This came from her amazing "Info Products That Sell" workshop. It means you should figure out what you want your customers to learn before you decide what you’re going to create (i.e., how to package it). To me this was a much needed reminder to stop fiddling with crap before you produce something real. Stop messing with your Twitter profile. Stop tweaking your website. Stop thinking you need to learn ALL OF THE THINGS about video before you draft a single word. Just stop.

“Email is 20-30 times more effective in generating a purchase than any other tool.” - Josh Kaufman

This is from his "Fundamentals of Email Marketing" workshop. I’ll admit that I was looking for a bit more strategy than I got from this workshop, so it was really a case of being in the wrong place. If you were brand new to email marketing, it would have been incredibly helpful.

The important thing here is that it can be easy to forget about the power of direct communication. There’s so much emphasis on the Shiny New Toys of the social media world. (I still can’t say I fully understand Snapchat, but whatever.)

For me, most “social” media feels a bit like a Shakespearean monologue, or as I’ve taken to calling it “shouting into the void”. Folks who have signed up for your newsletters and updates have generously invited you into their already crowded inbox. Use that wisely, and provide useful information.

If you do that, you’ll create fans…and customers.

"Create the things you want.” - Shenee Howard

I could write a whole post on the things I’ve learned from following Shenee over the past few years, but I’ll focus. When you’re thinking about creating information products it’s tempting to figure out what people want. Don’t forget about what YOU want. You’re supposed to be enjoying yourself in this journey you’ve set out on. If you’re not, what’s the point? You will have created a job for yourself (hopefully one that pays well), but it will be just that: a job. One you’ll likely resent in the not-too-distant future.

"Take the leap and add someone for an hour, a day or a week.” - Laura Roeder

This is all about outsourcing and goes along nicely with “function before format”. How many times have you spent countless hours doing something that someone else could do in about a quarter of the time? I’m guessing you did it to save money. Stop that. You actually wasted money. Worse yet, you wasted your mental energy.

Don’t waste your energy on things someone else could be doing. Use it to create and work on the things you enjoy. So many people would be more than happy to take on a little additional work. Give it to them. It’s a huge relief, and it will pay for itself many times over in the long run.

“Think big, talk small.” - Rena Tom

To me this is a reminder to maintain human connections while you dream about changing the world. No one likes to listen to someone who loves to hear themselves talk. It’s not about your ego but the people you’re lucky enough to serve.

"Be Useful.” - Chase Reeves

This is something I already strongly believed, but it’s good to have some validation. If I’m not useful to people, why am I even doing this? Remember to check in on this periodically.

"Hurry up and fail." - Lori Allen

So who knew the way to success was through failure? I would like to be successful. I’m guessing you would too. Take chances. Be okay with failing. It’s going to happen at some point. Now you can feel good about that and consider it a sign that you’re on your way!

Set a reminder every 6 months to review the various possible income streams.” - Vanessa Van Edwards

This is from her workshop "Creating Recurring Income Streams”. (And yes, I already put it in my calendar.) What she says really gets to the heart of what I do (and what I should be doing for myself).

What is your current business model? Are you still only charging for your time, getting paid a certain amount for every hour you work? Have you thought about other ways of making money?

Just as you wouldn’t invest every dime you have into a single stock, you shouldn’t rely on one way of making money.

Periodically evaluate your business model and look at others. Does something fit your business now that didn’t before? Don’t lose money because you’re not evolving.

"The key to building a robust audience is understanding how your customer sees the world and WHY you fit into that picture.”- Andy Hayes

This is from his “Build Your Audience” workshop. While this is a message I’ve heard before, something about the way Andy said it finally made it hit home.

The way I’ve been approaching this lately is thinking of one specific person and writing for them. It’s really hard to think about how a vague group of people sees the world. One person? Now that’s much easier to deal with. Some people call this your “ideal customer avatar”. Honestly that makes me gag. I don’t want to make up a fictitious person that I write to. I want to write to an actual human being.

Now I bet you’re wondering who I’m writing to. That will have to be a trade secret for now. Bwah ha ha ha!

“We’re all beginners.” - Kari Chapin

We were born without knowing anything at all. Everything you now take for granted, you learned how to do, one awkward little baby step at a time. Your business is the same way. No one has ever done this like you (unless you own a franchise, but if you do you are very likely not reading this blog).

Learning is fun. It’s also painful and frustrating at times. As you always heard in school, “practice makes perfect”. Still true.

"Ask yourself what kind of support you need.” - Willo O’Brien

Sometimes entrepreneurship feels like you’re trying to surf without the luxury of a surfboard…or the knowledge of how to surf. It can feel like that big wave is going to crash over your head and push you down to the bottom, where you’ll swirl around forevermore, stuck and alone.

People will help you if you ask for it. About 99.99999% of the population is wonderful, and they love to be helpful. Don’t forget that. Everyone likes to feel useful.

There have been several occasions over the past few weeks where I decided to be brave and ask for help. Guess what? I got it. Way more than I could have hoped for.

"Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” - Brian Clark

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Amiright?

You don’t need to shout to be heard.

This isn’t a quote. It’s something I learned from watching Chris Guillebeau, the creator of World Domination Summit and Pioneer Nation. He is the person I look to when I think of where I would like to be in five years.

Chris has a message, and he makes it clear by his actions. He has managed to build the most amazing community of people. I love it so much that if it were a country I would give up my US citizenship.

Thank you to all of the Pioneers who taught and inspired me last week I thank you from the bottom of my very, very full heart.

To our success, Audra

P.S. The songs for this week are "Where The Love Is" by Edie Brickell because it feels right and "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton because they played it every morning at Pioneer Nation to kick things off.