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EPISODE 7
Marketing as Culture Making with Kelly Diels

Kelly Diels, a white woman with white blonde short hair, wearing black tulle around her neck and her face peeking over the edge to reveal her nose and eyes.

Kelly Diels (she/her) is a feminist educator, writer, and coach. She specializes in feminist marketing for culture-makers.She’s here to raise awareness about how the business-as-usual formulas we learn everywhere actually reproduce oppression. She develops and teaches alternate, feminist marketing tools to help us do it differently (and better).

Website | Instagram

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Kelly Diels (she/her) is a feminist educator, writer, and coach. She specializes in feminist marketing for culture-makers.She’s here to raise awareness about how the business-as-usual formulas we learn everywhere actually reproduce oppression. She develops and teaches alternate, feminist marketing tools to help us do it differently (and better).

Website | Instagram

Discussed this episode:

  • Kelly’s lifelong and profound relationship with feminism
  • The problem with traditional marketing approaches that agitate pain points
  • There are better ways to sell than by profiting off of pain and shame
  • What it means to be a culture maker, and how it applies to marketing
  • How to stay in the fight for change when it feels lonely
  • Kelly’s vision for a feminist future
  • Why emotional support needs to be a non-negotiable for entrepreneurs
  • Pricing and payment plans are feminist issues
  • Making sure your programs are accessible
  • Kelly’s journey from toxic online business practices to completely rewriting the game
  • Staying true to your principles isn’t a death knell; it can actually grow your business
  • The math equation of making money using marketing without manipulation
  • Going against conditioning and learning to trust your intuition
  • The importance of consent in marketing
  • Business as a process for liberation

Resources mentioned:

FULL GUEST READING LIST FOR SEASON 1

Learn more about accountability coaching with host Becky Mollenkamp at https://beckymollenkamp.com

Becky:

Hi, thank you for being here Kelly, I appreciate it. I’m just going to come clean and say that we were having some tech issues, which were all mine, so if I sound frazzled that’s why.

But I’m going to try and regroup and be present and say thanks for joining us.

Kelly:

I’m so happy to be here with you, and with everyone who is listening to us today.

Becky:

And as I said in the intro. that I just had said but then didn’t work, I really have been learning from you for years and so I’m really excited to have you here and get to have a conversation with you about feminism and business and where those intersect. And I want to start by asking about feminism and what your relationship is with the word or the idea of feminism.

Kelly:

I had a really visceral experience with feminism when I was 11 years old, so I’ve had a long relationship with feminism. So, I was at the public library one summer, which is how I spent my time because I was that chic kid who spent her days at the library. Anyways, I was reading all of the Ms. Magazines I could get my hands on that summer. I was also an abused kid. And to be honest, I was a sexually abused kid. And I remember reading Ms. Magazine and reading an article about sexual abuse of girls. And I had this lightbulb go off in my head like, ‘oh my goodness, this is a thing that happens a lot, all over the world. It doesn’t have anything to do with me in particular. There’s nothing weird or unusual or shameful about me. This is something that happens because we in the world allow men to prey on women and girls. This is a thing called patriarchy.’ Learning that at 11 years old blew my mind open and this burden of shame lifted off my shoulders. And that has been my relationship with feminism, in that feminism provides insight into why I’m shouldering the burdens and challenges and pains that I am that are no fault of my own. So it lifts shame off my shoulders. It gives me a bigger insight into the world, and then I can navigate it hopefully with less suffering and more flourishing and less suffering. So that’s my personal relationship with feminism. It breaks shame, it provides power, and it provides opportunities to change circumstances. That’s my sort of bigger relationship with feminism as well. It is fundamentally about equity, how do we right wrongs, and how do we engineer the conditions in which everyone can flourish. It’s fundamentally about equity. Not just equality, but about changing circumstances so that the people who have been suffering no longer suffer. So it’s a really intimate and powerful relationship. One of my friends actually joked, I used to say I’m not a spiritual person and she’s like, no your spirituality is feminism. It’s my moral center. 

Becky:

I love that so much. The idea of that being my spirituality because that really resonates with me. At 11 to have that discovery is pretty huge. I read all the Ms.magazines as well, but I came to it a solid half decade later than you did so that’s really impressive at 11. And I love that you talked about shame because I’m going to skip ahead, I have some questions I wanted to ask about but I’m going to go right to the shame question because you just mentioned it. Because your Copywriting for Culturemakers program says it’s about helping people write effective cpy that makes money and justice without shaming or blaming clients. And that resonated with me so powerfully because as a coach, I see shame and blame being used so often in the coaching sphere and it’s really upsetting to me. And I really feel like shame and blame are some of the sharpest tools in the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy tool box. And they are really pervasive in coaching, but I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how they show up in marketing and in messaging and in the areas of your expertise.

Kelly:

Well, I mean it’s literally the fundamental principle of most copywriting systems, is find a problem, agitate the problem, stroke it, really induce a lot of shame and blame in your clients, and they will buy to get out of that emotional state. There’s copywriting systems that are named for that. There’s one called PAS, it’s like Pain or Problem, Agitate, and Solve. So this is actually how people are taught to market is agitate pain, evoke shame, people will buy to get out of that state. For me, through a trauma lens, through a lens of feminism and equity, who is that going to land hardest on? That’s going to land hardest on people who have profound injuries in the world, who’ve been traumatized and abused, it’s going to land hard on anyone who is marginalized and has experienced bias against their identity and had resources systemically withheld from them for generations or presently or both. That’s who it’s going to land hardest on. So I’m not okay with leveraging people’s trauma and their oppression in order to sell more shit. I probably shouldn’t be swearing. 

Becky:

Go ahead and swear.

Kelly:

I don’t think my services are shit. I don’t think your services are shit. But I don’t think it’s okay that we leverage oppression, pain and suffering in order to profit. I’m not okay with profiting off of pain and shame. I also think that shame is probably one of the most effective tools of social coercion. If you want to force someone into doing something without having to lay a finger onto them, you shame them. You eat them from the inside out. And I’m not okay with that. That is not a function of flourishing, that’s not a world I want to live in. I’ve experienced far too much of that in my life, I’m not going to inflict that on other people where we have other ways of doing it. There’s research showing that we can actually lead with vision and values. That people resonate with shared values and make empowered, powerful decisions and take action based on shared values. We don’t have to shame and blame people. It’s just that that’s the standard right now in our marketing and business world and we don’t know that there are other options. I don’t think we’re waking up everyday in the morning and being like, ‘wow, I’d really like to screw people over, how about I leverage their pain to get them to buy my stuff?’ I don’t think people are making those calculated decisions. I think we’re all in the water, we’re all wet, this is what we learn and we’re not aware there’s other ways to do it.

Becky:

All of that, yes. I don’t think that most people, there are some people who, I think, are very maliciously doing that.

Kelly:

Right, but they’re a minority I think.

Becky:

Right, then they’re teaching that without the malicious, to well-meaning people who are then perpetuating the problem. But it’s so pervasive. And I wonder, because I was going to ask about, but I think this is already leading into a pretty clear answer, about marketing as a tool for making a cultural difference. Because you’re all about being culture makers, right, you talk about we are the culture makers. And I think people often associate with marketing — I know you do a lot more than straight up marketing, but you do a lot with marketing — and I think most people think of marketing as just like a means to an end, the way I sell things. That’s the way we’ve been taught. I don’t think most people think of marketing as a tool for liberation, or a tool for changing culture, but I think you believe it is and I would love to hear how.

Kelly:

Sure, I have two pieces to this. One, I think every human on this Earth is a culture maker. If we all died tomorrow, all of our cultures would die. So yes we’re born into a culture but without us they don’t exist. So that means that we reproduce them, we are the vectors, we’re the vehicles by which culture flows. So every single day, everything we do, we’re culture making. If we see something that we object to and we say nothing, we are culture making. If we act in a particular way, if there are certain behaviors that we use at the dentist, with our sister, whatever, we’re always culture making. We’re culture making in our families, we’re culture making in the world. Everything we do, all day every day, we’re building a culture. So, if we’re doing it automatically, we can also do it deliberately. So, if I just let the culture that I object to, flow through my body and my mouth unimpeded, just as it is, I’m culture making, but I’m not deliberately culture making. I can make a decision instead to interrupt patterns that I object to and amplify patterns that I want to support and grow. So I can use my life, everything I have, to be a culture maker. I’m doing it anyway, I just want to do it deliberately. So with that in mind, we all have the power to shape culture, every single day, everything we’re doing, that means that everything we have is actually a culture-making asset. Our relationships with each other, the language we use, the practices we choose in our business, all of those things are culture-making assets. The media we produce. A lot of us are using social media to grow our businesses. The media we produce produces messages that land in people’s souls and hearts. So if we start producing a lot of media that’s only of thin women, we are contributing to a culture in which only thin women are valued, for example. We all know that already. So, what we can then do with our media when we’re promoting our businesses is produce media with a whole bunch of body sizes, body shapes, body diversity and we can interrupt that culture and start facilitating a culture in which everyone is welcome, everyone can flourish. So we can do double duty. The things we do to grow our business we can also look at critically and say how can this also grow a culture that I feel comfortable in, that the people that I love feel comfortable in, and that every body and every identity is welcome and can flourish. So it’s just looking at it through that lens, that it is already shaping culture, so what’s the culture I want to create?

Becky:

You couldn’t have ended that more perfectly for me to turn it around on you and ask you what is the culture you want to create? You talk about everyone being a culture maker and I’m so curious to hear your answer about what’s the culture you’re making?

Kelly:

I think the simplest explanation is I want the future in which we all flourish. That’s a big picture. I want a future in which we all flourish. When everybody is cherished, every identity is cherished, we all have the resources we need to personally flourish and collectively flourish. And so when I look at that, there’s many ways to do that, so then I look at what is my spot on the wall? I say our culture is a wall, and we can show up and pick our spot and do our work on that wall. My spot, what are my skills? I’m a really great writer, I’m a reasonably good speaker, I’m a great teacher, and I have an ability to connect dots between big social pictures and what does that look like on the ground in our businesses and in our daily practices. If that’s my skill set, it’s best to use me there. It’s not best to have me organize a conference, unless nobody wants to eat and everybody’s invitations will be late. That’s not going to be my skill set. So what I want us to do is to figure out what we want to create and then what’s our particular door into that arena. There’s many different doors into a future in which we all flourish. I don’t have to go through all of them. I can just pick the one that I’m going to be really great at.

Becky:

The idea of creating that world feels huge and daunting. I know you said find your spot on the world, but I think for some of us it can feel lonely on that spot of the wall, and it can feel like is this making any difference. How do you deal with those feelings of loneliness in that and is my little spot on the wall actually making a difference?

Kelly:

Okay, so this is it. You’re not alone. And this is how we have to do this. We have to understand that we’re part of a collective. So if we think about this spot on the wall, and you’re showing up with your little chisel and hammering at your little spot on the wall, you’re merely making a dent in that wall if you stay, but if you hammer all over the wall you’re making nothing. But if you stay at your one little spot with your excellent tool, you’ll be making a little dent. Well it doesn’t do anything to the wall because it’s one little chisel, but if everybody is showing up, picking a spot with their special tool — this one’s got a drill, this one’s got a what, they’ve got their special tool — and we’re all working on that wall, well no9w magic things are going to happen on that wall. Now what if we think about it as a party? What if some people don’t have a tool, but they’re really good at making biscuits? And other people are super good at logistics and their arranging Port a Potties? And other people are making balloon animals and entertaining the kids? And someone’s over there at the picnic table drawing plans for what’s on the other side of the wall? Now what if we make it a festival? And we’re all there, we can see that it’s happening, it’s really working, there’s something on the other side of the wall and we’re going to get there because we’re all there and we’re having fun and we’re doing our work, and we’re tired and someone is bringing us food because that’s their spot, they are good at the food. If we think about it like that, then we’re not alone and it frees us up again to just do our little thing because if everyone does their little thing, we get where we’re going. But we can’t each do everything. So even in the times when you’re lonely, go back to that festival and think about that someone twisting the balloon animals and someone playing the music and someone making cakes and passing out lemonade. That’s what we’re doing. And then what you need to do in your personal life to make that real is actually schedule emotional support. I have standing dates on my calendar, I have one every Monday and I have one every Friday, and I’ve had these for years. Monday morning I speak with my friend, Dr. CV Harquail who is a feminist business professor and wrote a book called “Feminism: A Key Idea for Business and Society” and we are friends so we love each other. We talk to each other every Monday and we talk about business and we talk about life and we analyze current events and we figure out what haircut we’re going to get. So we do that every Monday in and out for years. And then every Friday I meet with my friend Dr., not Dr., Meghna Majmudar who is a brilliant DEI and leadership coach and has a site called Power Fluency. And we have been speaking for probably 3 years every Friday morning. Same thing. Talk about our lives, gossip about our families, talk about business, talk about power, all those things. But what happens there is my friendships are not happening after everything is finished. My peer, mentoring and collegial relationships are not happening after everything gets done because if that is the case, nothing would ever happen. I have 4 kids, I have a business, nothing happens after I’m not busy because I’m never not busy. So you have to actually build in emotional and professional support and schedule it, it’s a nonnegotiable standing appointment. We actually need emotional support. Entrepreneurship is an exceptionally lonely game. So if you want to be able to sustain it and not be in your head and not be all alone, actually build standing appointments every single week, week in and week out, for that emotional support that’s generative to you and the other person.

Becky:

I love that you schedule it. It reminds me of an Instagram post as I was doing my research slash stalking for this interview that you said something around the idea that a feminist business isn’t feminist if it isn’t prioritizing the owner’s needs, something along those lines.

Kelly:

Yes.

Becky: 

And that makes me think of that because yeah, it doesn’t happen. I can hear some folks, busy listeners, saying ‘I have so many things on my plate, I can’t carve out an hour each of those days to do that kind of a thing.’ What would you say to those folks that say I can’t make time for that?

Kelly:

Well then I guess we make time to suffer. In all seriousness. That’s where we’re spinning out, we’re alone, we’re talking all kinds of shit to ourselves. And that takes time too. I think it cognitively and spiritually impairs us. So, I don’t think having love in your life is an extra. I don’t think being supported in your life is something that comes last. If it’s a priority, we have to put it first.

Becky:

And it sounds like you’re doing that in a really meaningful way, and walking your talk, which is part of what I want this to be about, is showing how to walk our talk as feminist owners. What does it actually look like in practice? And so, I’m wondering what are some of the other things that you do — and we’ll talk more about what you’re teaching, so the outward facing ways that you’re walking your talk in the work that you do and the way that you deliver it — but what about in your business, behind the scenes, how are you walking your talk to make sure your business is really feminist in the way it’s run?

Kelly:

So, one of the things I do is I pay people really well. And that I means that I charge so I can pay people really well. So there’s this idea out in the world that somehow pricing low is more equitable and more feminist. But if you’re pricing too low to sustain your business and pay people who work with you thriving wages, not just living wages, then that is not a feminist business in my opinion. Any business that exploits labor is not a feminist business, even if the idea is that you are giving lower prices to consumers on the other side. So I pay people really well. The other thing is that I value people’s input. So I have two team members who are really significant to me, and when I have ideas, I’m a bit of a idea generator, I jump on things really quick, I move really fast, and my team will be like, ‘okay, slow down.’ I’ll be like, ‘let’s do this, we can have this out in 3 weeks,’ and they’ll be like, ‘yeah, let’s do that in June. That’s a whole 3 month project,’ not 3 weeks. So I take people’s feedback, and I also take their expertise. So if someone is a better community builder than I am, which is literally everyone on the planet is a better community builder than I am, I take their opinion. Like, ‘Kelly we need to do this.’ I’m like, ‘excellent, let’s do that.’ I value people’s input and people can show up and be empowered and make decisions and offer me leadership. Yes it’s my company, yes I have the vision for it, but I hire people because I respect them and I’m willing to defer to them on positions where they are the experts. The other thing is we have a whole number of things in our business on the backend. We give away 10% minimum every year in scholarships. Whatever we are earning we have 10% that we give back, however, we don’t give it back until we’ve made it. I make sure that our business is sustainable. That’s also a feminist business principle. The business has to be able to survive in order to be a contributing engine in our economy. So that’s really important to me. Payment plans. I think payment plans, I think it’s unjust when we charge 20% or 25% extra for payment plans. So we’re basically building profit off of people who are least able to pay, it’s textbook financial injustice. So I don’t charge extra for payment plans. I do think that there’s a legitimate reason that you could charge whatever it costs you to administer and collect on payment plans. I think that’s legitimate, but you could also say that’s the cost of doing business and bake it into all of your prices. So I really object when I go to a corner store and they charge me $1.25 to use my debit card. I’m like, build that into the price of the potato chips. That should be built into everything. That’s the cost of doing everything. All that to say I don’t think we should be building profit centers off of the people least able to pay in full. That’s textbook financial injustice. Whenever I’m doing things, I’m looking at what are the ways, I zoom out, like how does this impact the most vulnerable populations in my business? How does this land on the people who are navigating the most bias? There’s just like little things. You can make sure that every single thing you do, when you’re teaching, is consumable in multiple different ways so that people who are neurodivergent or who have different learning styles and strategies can actually learn what they need to learn from your project? So I’m always looking at how do we redesign our curriculum to be more accessible to people with different kinds of brains. So if we’re just always looking at our practices and thinking how does this land on other people, what are the creative ways I could make this better, more accessible, and more feminist and equitable, then we are always on our learning curve. And I like solving problems and I like being creative so that’s actually kind of thrilling to me. 

Becky:

And I know that you haven’t necessarily always shown up this way because as I was reading through your blog and learning more about your background and how you got to where you are through some of the stuff you’ve written about the quote unquote female lifestyle empowerment brand, the FLEB, as I think you acronym it, which I think we all know is kind of that hashtag girlboss, white feminism stuff that’s out there of the Instagram-perfect life, and I was reading and surprised to know because I’ve been following you for a while but obviously not that long, that you used to show up in a bit of that way. You were learning from those same voices taking in some of that same way of doing business, which I think so many of us — and I know I’ve been guilty of it, too — and that so many of us, it’s sort of, so pervasive that it feels like that’s THE way. It starts to feel like these are “best practices” and this is kind of how you have to do it if you want to be successful, especially with online business. How did you begin to make that shift for somebody who may recognize them in some of the things that they may read about because I’m going to post, I’m going to share that Female Empowerment Lifestyle Brand post in the show notes, and if they recognize themselves in that or if they’re hearing some of the things you’re doing now and think, ‘wow, I’m not doing those things,’ how did you get from there to here?

Kelly:

Well when I first learned how to do online business in 2008 and 2009, there was no online business training school for women called “Fat, Awkward and Feminist.” There was no business school teaching you that. It was all these business schools of these very thin, professionally pretty former dancers, former models showing us how to be incredible entrepreneurs and be rich, happy, skinny, wealthy, all those things. So, that is the model that I learned from, which is basically ‘show up pretty, and also add on these business skills of persuasion and all of these socially corrosive tactics, and that’s how you build an online business.’ So, what I had to do because I do have this rich connection to feminism, it’s my moral center, I literally had to squash my moral center. So I’d be learning these tactics of how to copy write by stroking pain or how to build authority and meanwhile I’m like, well you know I actually have a real objection to this because I know how authority can abuse power, and my inner heart and my former abused child are recoiling from these grooming tactics that I’m learning about how to market. So, I had to squash that. And I had this double talk going on in my head saying like, ‘I have to learn these business tactics or I’m never going to be successful.’ And then I’d execute these business tactics for about 3 months and then I would collapse because it was so much internal friction between my moral center, my relationship with feminism, and what I was learning was required of me to be successful in my career as an entrepreneur. And I just had this incredible friction at all times. So I could perform it for about 3 months, and then I would collapse. Then I’d gather my resources, build my self back up, do it again, collapse. I just could not sustain it because the internal friction between my principles and what I was required to do was too high. So, I had to come to a place, so something had to give. And what I actually did was I left the online world. I went and got a job. And I was like I just can’t do this anymore. So I went and got a job as a marketing manager at a large company with like $50 million in annual revenue selling business to business, and it was such a relief. I didn’t have to perform pretty, I didn’t have to show up and be perpetually positive, I didn’t have to market my life, I didn’t have to be vulnerable and show enough vulnerability but not too much, be sexy but not too sexy. I didn’t have to do any of that. I just had to reduce risk for the person who was about to spend $3 million on a business product. And it was so refreshing. And it was like a palate cleanser. And then I had another child, the 5th child in our family, and things came to a head and I realized I was never going to get ahead in this job with 3 children in daycare, 5 children, needing to leave at 5 o’clock on the dot. Like, I’m never going to move ahead in this company. And so, I went back to online business having been out for 2 or 3 years, and I came back and it was like if you’ve ever lived in another country and then you come home, and everything is the same but everything is completely different and you can’t find your bearings, that’s how I felt. I had come back to a world that I totally recognized, and at the same time was so shocking to me. And at the time everyone was talking about they are world changers and they are game changers and I’m watching all of these professionally pretty women say that they are game changers while not talking about the fact that Black men and women are being killed by police and we’re seeing videos, and there’s protests in cities and they’re just not talking about it, and then calling themselves game changers and world changers. I’m like, you have to be joking. This can’t be real. And I just started writing about it. And I knew when I started writing about it, about the Female Lifestyle Empower Brand and how it was leveraging white privilege and thin privilege and beauty privilege and class privilege and youth privilege and all of these things to build businesses, those of us who don’t have those things, what then is our path to power? What then is our path to success? How do we then build our businesses if those tactics are not available to us or if they are morally reprehensible to us? What then do we do? So I started writing about it knowing that it was going to be a problem. I knew I was going to be in trouble. And sure enough, I lost half my list. I published 2 essays; lost half my list in the space of a month. Facebook groups started publishing about me, talking all kinds of shit about me. It was shocking. And I was like, I’m going to carry on because this is what needs to be said. And I just, I don’t know how I had that inner conviction but I was like I can’t go on the way I was going on. I have to invent a different way for myself. Like literally I was just trying to save myself at this point. I’m like, I have to run a business, I can’t run it this way, this way is in fact really objectionable and problematic. It’s not that I have a self-sabotage, refuse to be successful problem, there is a moral issue here, there is a political issue. And so I’m like I’m just going to say what I say, I’m going to tell the truth, and I’m going to figure out how to build some different marketing and business systems for myself. And I did, and once I started figuring them out for myself, I started teaching them to other people and I guess the rest is history.

Becky:

I mean, that just resonates so deeply because I know that I have had that experience — not the exact same experience, but that experience of this doesn’t feel good. Like in the seat of my soul, this doesn’t feel good. But then also that like but everyone says this is what you have to do. And you start to believe that. It feels like, I mean this gaslighting of it doesn’t have to be this way, well it does have to be this way, well then I guess I just have to check myself at the door and do it. And you can only do that for so long. It feels so horrible. And I know that same, like for me it was more of a chipping away of that and just slowly letting that go and revealing more of my truth, but I know that same feeling of sharing something either deeply personal or deeply meaningful or aligned with the way you really want to show up in the world and being met with unsubscribes, emails back saying you shouldn’t talk about this sort of thing, we don’t need to mix business with politics or I don’t need to know these personal things. All of that, you know. And that can be really hard and confronting when you’re already being told there’s only one way to do it and that’s not the way, and then you start getting met with that, it’s really hard to say… to stick with it, to say I’m going to do this anyway. But I’m sure we’re all glad you did, and I think though that it’s important for people to hear that it wasn’t like you just one day said I’m going to show up this way and it was all easy peasy because it can be really difficult, really difficult.

Kelly:

Oh, no. I was getting slapped everyday. It was worth it. And it was worth it because I just couldn’t sell out my soul to my principles in that way anymore. And it was worth it because I’m committed to a future in which we all flourish. And so I’m committed to that thing that’s bigger than myself. So really like what is the other option? And in all seriousness, I say this all the time, and I feel like very few people believe me, but this doesn’t mean you’re going to make less money. Being committed to justice and your principles and a world in which we all flourish does not then mean you’re not going to be successful in your business. For me, that’s actually the thing that grew my business because I attracted the people who had the same feelings and principles that I did that needed a different way, that weren’t finding their footing in that other space, and they came to me. And even some of the people who were talking all kinds of crap about me in those Facebook groups, 9 months and a year later were my clients. So it actually generated, like it’s my differentiator. And it’s not like a fake differentiator, like let me think of the cute thing that will differentiate me from the crowd, it’s like this is sincere. It’s also totally sustainable because it’s part of me. It’s in my skin. I don’t have to manufacture it. I don’t have to come up with an angle. I can show up everyday and be this because I am this. And so this is the thing that sustains my business. This is an ever-renewable source of fuel. Your principles are an ever-renewable, sustainable source of fuel. Faking it, cognitive dissonance, they will sap you and they will drain your ability to actually put energy into your business. So I think your principles and being real and being true to what you believe in and building a business around those things is actually what makes your business work.

Becky:

As you were going through that process of developing marketing methods that would work for you, that felt good in the seat of your soul, I’m interested to know a little more about what that looks like, and obviously you don’t have to give us all your secret sauce, but I read where you were talking about the traditional mental and social triggers that are used in some of that more predatory form of marketing around scarcity, authority, community, which are things I see all the time still very much being taught and implemented. And I think for so many people they still feel, and I hear it all the time in mastermind groups, in other spaces I’m in, of business owners talking about well how do I, what do I do about scarcity, how do I manufacture urgency or scarcity if there isn’t that thing. And it’s that icky feeling of I don’t want to do it but also if I don’t do these things how do I get people to buy because ultimately we need to make money, right? People want to sell the thing. So, what are the things that work if you don’t want to buy into those notions? 

Kelly:

One of the oldest things that works for every business in every field is trust. So if you can create trust by being trustable, by earning trust, your stuff will sell. If your work is high quality and does what it need to do, your work will sell. So I’m always like double down on the work and yes you absolutely need to learn what your client wants and how to speak to that client. You need to learn how to talk to the client, that’s really important. The other things that work is figuring out what, I mean there’s two things. So one is you have to figure out other ways to do things and sometimes the easiest way is just to figure out what you hate and do the opposite. So I hated the sales pages that were all blame-y and shame-y. And I couldn’t write them anymore when I was coming to my breaking point. So I was like what if I wrote a sales letter that was a love letter to my client because I love my clients. I don’t want to shame them. I want to facilitate their flourishing. So what if I wrote a sales page that was a love letter? And so that’s what I started doing. And then I was realizing that this is actually working, people are really signing up for this. So then I went through and figured out what’s my formula here. What am I dining in all of these sales pages repeatedly that’s actually working much better than that other salesy, shame-y, blame-y stuff I was doing. So then I created a formula, a framework for myself. If I do these 5 things in every sales page, the program always sells out. So what I want to say is if you can just start by figuring out what you and and do something different as an experiment and then see what works and then build a system on top of it, that is usually a good way to start generating your own practices and really trusting your own instincts as an entrepreneur. Some of the stuff is going to fail, but that’s okay. The whole point is to learn what’s working. So whenever I see in my clients that they’re willing to experiment and rapidly iterate and pivot and just keep going and learning, I know that client, no matter what they sell, no matter what they do, they’re going to be successful. So being willing to experiment and rapidly iterate and learn from both failures and successes and build systems, if you can do that as an entrepreneur you will always win. So if you have that ability or you can support that ability in yourself and grow it, your business will always work. And then there’s a piece that I have that I think is unique and helpful is that I was trained as a political theorist. So you know that’s totally standard for most marketers and business coaches right? But I’m trained as a political theorist, which means I am trained to see how ideas shape reality. So whenever I’m trying to figure something out, I’m always trying to go to like what are the root ideas here that are causing this reality? So that’s when I was learning how to launch, for example, I went to the history, like how did launching start? Who invented launching? What are the root ideas that make launching work? And that’s when I realized, I learned about the field of persuasion and all the root ideas of social proof, reciprocity, authority, scarcity, all those things. If you add those things into sales, then certain things happen to humans. They just react in certain ways, their survival instincts get triggered. So when I looked at all of those things, I was like oh if these are the levers that I object to that are socially coercive, then I can do things differently by not using those things. But if I look at this as a formula, so if like x plus scarcity equals y sales, and I take out scarcity, I have to put a different variable in there to get the same amount of sales. So when I’m looking at scarcity and this formula of like okay I’m going to scarcity out, fake scarcity, I’m going to take fake scarcity out because that’s manipulative and it’s a lie and I object to that, then I’m going to create more volume. If I have more eyeballs but less scarcity, I’ll end up with the same sales. So if I take one of those socially coercive persuasive tactics out, I replace it with a different variable so that then my sales don’t suffer. So I kind of approach my business like a science experiment. I run experiments. Does this work? Cool, let’s keep doing it. Did it work? No, let’s stop doing it. Did it work? Great, let’s do more of it. You know? What’s my hypothesis? If I’m removing one variable it means I need to turn up another variable. So, like, press the levers.

Becky:

Something else I heard you say inside of that that sounded pretty feminist to me was trust your instincts. Because I think we are so conditioned not to trust our instincts and not to believe our own inner knowing and to listen to everyone else, listen to the authority, I guess there’s that authority piece of it right? How did you get to that? Have you always had that inner sort of trust in your instincts?

Kelly:

I don’t know. All the personality typing I’ve ever done just say that I’m a rebel. So like basically I make a list for myself and now I can’t do it because I’m not even going to let the list be the boss of me and I generated the list. Right? Like as soon as I’m told what to do, I’m heading 8 steps in the other direction. So maybe that’s been useful in me being able to trust my instincts is that I have that fierce inner rebel. Even if I am outwardly quiet, you know, and smiling. There’s a fire and that helps. But the trusting your instinct is, it’s sometimes even fear. We really get down on fear but fear is a great, great source of information. So that little voice in your head that tells you something is off, we so often have to override it, including that’s what I did for like the first 3 years of my business. I overrode that voice that said this is not right, this is off. Right? I overrode it and when I have to let it be the boss, that’s when I started to win. So like we really do have to honor that voice but we have to also understand it’s not the quickest thing in the world. Because most of us, if you’re a woman and you’re listening to this podcast, you have been trained for your entire life to override that voice. You have been trained to put your needs second, and to turn that voice off. So it’s social conditioning. For me that’s like 40, 50 years of social conditioning. So it’s not a quick thing. But whenever you hear that voice, let’s just stop and listen to it for a second. And if that voice is right, what would you do? And then maybe run a quick experiment. So like one of the smallest things you could do, let’s say you had an idea that, you know, if there was a new program that you wanted to offer and and it goes counter to everything all of your coaches and teachers and mentors are telling you, but this inner voice is like no this is the thing that my people need, so even before you develop the program, put a sales page up. Do people start signing up? Okay, go develop the program. Like run the experiment, see if it’s going to work. You can do low-stakes things like put a sales page up to see if it’s going to work. And if you’re not sure which sales page is going to work, do the traditional thing of run an A/B test. Put both up, see which one works. So just keep running experiments. Just make them quick that don’t weigh on your soul. Make them quick, get the data, and it will tell you if your voice is right.

Becky:

You also talked about trust, and to me a part of trust, maybe a big part of trust, and something that I also think is very feminist, is consent. And the importance of getting consent for things and how rarely that happens. And I will say one of the things I think I’ve learned the most from you in being able to watch you walk your talk is consent. When you… what it looks like to consent in marketing, which I rarely see. Because if you are going to be talking about something you’re selling, you send an email that says hey, I’m going to be talking about this thing I’m going to be selling, do you want to hear about it? And if you don’t, click here and I won’t, I won’t do it, I won’t bother you. And it’s not like a PS, it’s not a little add on. It is its own email to say this is coming, you get to make a choice here, I want your consent before I’m going to try and sell to you. Why is it so important to get permission, at least for you to get permission, before you sell.

Kelly:

Well, I mean, sexual abuse. I have a pretty formative experience of what it feels like for your consent not to be valued. And I’m not here for that. That’s not the world that I want to live in, that’s not a world in which we all flourish. So it’s central to my existence that we check consent and that consent is not one and done. Just because someone signs up to my email list doesn’t mean that they have consented ever after to hear every single thing that I want to send out for the rest of time. Of course I respect their agency. They can unsubscribe at any time. But here’s the thing, when I launch, I go hard. When I launch, I’m sending an email every day. The last day I’m probably sending 2 or 3 emails. So I know that I’m sending a lot of email. And somebody thought they were signing up for my Sunday Love Letter once a week and suddenly there’s 20 emails across 20 days, that is a real deviation perhaps from what they were expecting. So the first email, I call it email zero, of every launch sequence that I send is, hey, I’m to launch, that means I’m sending 20 emails across 20 days, if you are not up for that feel free to unsubscribe by clicking this link. You will still get my Sunday Love Letter, you’re just not going to get these 20 emails. There’s no link to the sales page, there’s no description of the program, there’s no pitch. It’s literally like if you don’t want this thing, feel free to opt out here. The first time I sent that, it was because I was in that state of agitation. I knew I was about to send 20 emails, it was not sitting right in my soul, you know that I didn’t … I needed a way to refresh consent. So I sent that email and I thought you know what, nobody is going to get the launch, everybody is going to opt out of the launch, the launch is going to fail, I’m going to make zero money, I’m going to live in a box in my backyard. That’s where my mind went. And, I was like I have to. I just couldn’t, the dissonance was too much. So I sent that email and the most extraordinary thing happened, Becky. I got an email from someone who said this email confirmed that you are the teacher for me. I’ve been on your email list for about six months, thinking about it, circling around, this email was the one. And this person then went and found something even more expensive than what I was about to launch, and bought that thing, and has now been my loyal client for like four years. You know, signed up over and over again for different things. A whole bunch of other people sent me emails saying thank you for this, this was the most amazing thing. Some people went and found the program that I didn’t even link to yet, so like the sales page was live but I hadn’t linked to it, nobody knew where it was, went and found it, I don’t know how, and bought. So people were buying before I even said anything because there was something about that email that said I value the same things that they do, I take their consent seriously, I take who they are seriously, and that made them say yes. The work was already there, but that was a piece that they’re like the trust was there. And I did not see that coming. It was so shocking to me. But that’s what I mean by like you run experiments, you do things … I wasn’t even experimenting, it was just like a mental breakdown, or not a mental breakdown, you know what I mean, it was just like I couldn’t do it the normal way. So you have to be willing to deviate and do that thing and see what happens and you might be shocked. And now every single time I run a launch I run that email. It’s built into every single one of my launches, and I get those emails every single time. So I expected to fail and was pleasantly surprised by winning. And all I’m trying to say is when people have the same values as you, if you’ve attracted the right people, then the more you do that, the more it’s going to work. And then together, what are we doing? We’re reaffirming that consent is a value, we’re practicing it, we’re doing it with each other, and we’re creating a culture in our little bubble where that is the norm. And eventually other people will be doing that and our little bubbles will link up and we will have this consent-based culture.

Becky:

For all the talk earlier about how difficult it is walk your values sometimes, there’s also that side of the affirmation, the validation that you can receive when you do, which is so beautiful when that happens. That process, that sort of roller coaster of feelings around those things though and those breaking points takes me to the last thing I wanted to ask you about, which is a post you shared on Instagram, which I may quote a little too much from but it was really good, about how growing a business can inadvertently be a liberation practice. And you said that ‘you have to unlearn all the capitalist myths and norms that are in your bones, heal them, and build alternative justice-centered business practices into your platform, practice, and business models. You have to set prices and ask for money, and if you belong to a group that’s not supposed to have access to financial resources, that can be viscerally uncomfortable. In the course of doing business it is guaranteed that you’ll have to explicitly confront and dissolve your internalized oppression around money.’ And I think that fear of like if I send this I won’t have any money, if I do things differently I’m not going to have money, and the fear that… I mean that can really bring up very real fears that are in our bones. And I think people can hear that and feel that and also say easier said than done. And how do I even begin because I know these, and I’m going to use big air quotes, but “money mindset” issues, and I have some thoughts about that term and the problems with calling it money mindset, but these feelings that we have, these internalized capitalism, internalized oppression, that cause all of these issues around money are huge for so many people. But they also don’t know where to start. Where do you suggest people start when it comes to unlearning?

Kelly:

I mean, you kind of just have to. You’re going to come up against the edges of your conditioning. And so you either swallow it down and continue to sit on needles and to experience that level of burn, or you allow yourself to do something differently. So I’m a woman. I’m in a culture that is hostile to women and women’s bodies and women’s experience. And so I have been conditioned to play small, smile, be likable, not step out of line, not ask for too much, get things by being in proximity of a man who has resources … like, that’s my conditioning. So then being out there on my own in the world, demanding attention, asking for financial compensation, and being available for punishment, and being available to be disliked is really, really hard. Because, again, it’s counter to decades of conditioning. I’m doing literally everything wrong. So, either I’m going to be in acute psychic pain about that or I’m going to get a therapist and unravel that, or I’m going to read some feminist theory and unravel it. So I think there comes a point in people’s lives where they just choose not to silence themselves, not to beat themselves up, not to suffer. And so that’s what I’m saying my business and parenting have been vehicles for liberation because I could either carry on upholding all these social expectations that were killing me, from the inside out, or I could put them down and do something different. And I’ve chosen not to be spiritually assassinated. And I would recommend that to anyone. 

Becky:

I recommend it too, even though that unlearning and relearning process can be excruciatingly painful.

Kely:

Excruciating.

Becky:

Incredibly difficult, nonstop confronting and challenging, once you start I think you almost can’t put the…

Kelly:

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. As grueling as it can be, as much as you have to confront your own complicity in systems that sometimes you didn’t even know existed, as grief stricken as you can be, and as shame-filled as you can be about the state of the world and your role in it no matter what your identities are because we are all both oppressors and the oppressed, no one as a static identity, it is worth it. Freedom is worth it. Being yourself is worth it. Being able to contribute to a world that you can actually be proud of is worth it. It’s kind of like labor pains. Excruciating. Baby is worth it. You are worth it.

Becky:

Yes, yes, yes. That’s such a great place to end because I hope that leaves people feeling ready to continue the work. Because I think if they’re listening to this, they’re already on the journey and just maybe getting that affirmation and validation to keep going. Because again it can be so lonely and that’s my whole point and hope for this is that people who are trying to do business differently, who are trying to show up and say I’m really committed to change but it feels really scary and lonely doing this, I want you to hear that it’s possible and and that there’s others doing it. So thank you for sharing that. I want to end by asking you for a resource because I’m a huge fan of resources. I love to find out who other people are learning form or what they’re reading or what’s entertaining or interesting to them right now. So this can be something that’s really powerful in any part of the journey that we talked about, or just something that you’re into right now. It can be a podcast or a book, an educator.

Kelly:

Okay, I read everything. I read all the people that we morally oppose. I read the masters of the universe. I read the feminist icons. I read everything. I think that I can learn something from everyone, and lots of times I’m trying to figure out the rules that I didn’t know existed. So I come from a lower middle class family, no one in my family was an entrepreneur, I’m the first person to go to university in my family, first person to graduate, so I just feel like there’s a lot of rules to Western life that I don’t understand because I didn’t learn them. And so I’m always trying to figure out what those rules are so I can take evasive action. So I don’t know who I want to say exactly because I literally read everything. But okay, I love Sarah Schulman. She wrote a book called “Conflict is Not Abuse.” I think it’s really an important book. Of course I love adrienne maree brown. Her book “Emergent Strategy” is one of my favorite business books; it’s not even a business book but it has a whole bunch of protocols and principles that I think are useful for running a culture-making business and having a culture-making life. I think two of my favorite business books are “Traction” by Gino Wickman and “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. And what else do I love? There’s a book called “Think like a SheEO” by one of my mentors, Vicki Saunders. Love that book. But honestly I’m learning from everyone all the time. Oh, I love, love, love “The Body is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor. I think it’s such a powerful book because it is self-help through a structural lens. So deeply personal but that doesn’t gaslight you out of your social reality at the same time. So work by people who are abolitionists and are fat activists are always incredibly powerful because anything that’s writing at the edges of society they have more information that people in standard bodies and identities don’t have. And anytime you have access to fresh information, you have access to creativity and power. So I always want to read outside the margins, and then of course, like I said I read the masters of the universe because I’m like what do they know about the world as it is that I don’t know because that helps me, like I said, take evasive action and move creatively. 

Becky:

I’m going to make sure I’m mindful of time and just finish by asking you for an organization that I can support as a thank you for you being here and that for anyone who is listening and got something out of this can also support as a thank you for your time.

Kelly:

I mean one of my go-tos is always supporting centers that support victims of sexual violence. I used to volunteer at an organization called Women Against Violence Against Women so that would be my personal encouragement. If we’re building a future in which we all flourish, we need to end violence against women so please support shelters that support victims of domestic violence and survivors of sexual assault, that is an important thing that I think we all do. 

Becky:

Awesome. I will link to Women Against Violence Against Women in the show notes for anyone who wants to say thank you to you for your time. So thank you so much Kelly. I really appreciate it.a

Kelly:

Thank you so much. Thanks Becky. Thanks everyone for listening. 

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