AMY PORTERFIELD: “I just fell out of a perfectly good plane on purpose, but then I looked down and thought, this is the best thing I could have done.” This is a quote from today's guest about the time she went skydiving, and it's the example she uses when she challenges others to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. She goes on to say that sitting on the edge of the plane can be comfortable, but jumping out is where the comfort leaves and you find something uncomfortable but better. And so in this episode, my guest, Luvvie Ajayi Jones, is talking about the beauty of becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable, especially as an entrepreneur, and we're also talking about getting noticed online. We're talking about content creation, about writing, and so much more.
I want to let you know that Luvvie is not just a one–time New York Times’ bestseller; she's a two–time New York Times’ bestseller. Her first book is I'm Judging You, and her most recent book, Professional Troublemaker: The Fear–Fighter Manual. And I know many of you have been fighting that fear. I know it's been showing up a lot for you. And we're going to talk about that. And we're also going to talk about it in the context of creating digital courses. So get ready for an exciting, thrilling, real, and strategy–packed episode with my friend Luvvie. Here we go.
INTRO: I’m Amy Porterfield, and this is Online Marketing Made Easy.
AMY: You know those people you admire online that are doing big, bold things, and they have so much to offer their audience and basically anyone who stumbles upon them? Well, my guest today is definitely one of those people. Her name is Luvvie Ajayi Jones, and chances are you've heard her speak, listened to her podcast, or read her book. You might have even watched her TED Talk. Not only is she a New York Times’ bestselling author two times, she also has a top–rated podcast called Rants & Randomness and is known for her inspirational TED Talk, which, again, you've got to check out if you haven't already done so. I'll link to it in the show notes. Oh, and she's been selected as one of Oprah's inaugural SuperSoul 100 list. Can you say dream come true? Basically, this woman has done it all, which is just one of the reasons I'm girl crushin’ on this episode.
Something that made me say, “I've got to get Luvvie on the show,” is that she's not only a total inspiration in all she does, she also has an extensive background in marketing, which means we're going to cover everything from content creation—after all, she's a pro—to writing, to getting noticed online, to real talk about fear—especially as female entrepreneurs—and everything in between, including why it took her so long to actually give herself the credit and call herself a writer. Yep, it's a jam–packed thriller of an interview, and I can't wait until we jump in.
And also, for my Digital Course Academy members of 2021, if you joined Digital Course Academy in 2021, you will get to see Luvvie do a private talk at my Entrepreneur Experience event. She is our keynote speaker. So you're going to get just a taste of her here, but if you attend my Entrepreneur Experience 2021, you will get to see her in a totally different perspective, a totally different light, because it's more intimate, and we are going to dive in even deeper. So here's your first dose. If you haven't gotten to be a part of Luvvie’s world just yet, you are in for a treat. Let's do this.
Welcome to the show, Luvvie. I cannot lie; I have been dreaming of this. You are a dream interview, so thanks so much for being here.
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Thanks so much for having me, Amy.
AMY: Oh, my gosh, we have so much to cover. And we're going to talk about a lot of different things. So we're going to talk about content creation and getting noticed online, and of course, we're going to talk about fear. But before we get to all of that, please fill us in on your story. So many of my listeners know of you. I mean, the fact that you have your second New York Times’ bestseller book out, that's a very big deal. I talked about it in the intro. But I want them to hear from you. Like, share your story to how you got to where you are today. I know it's a big question, but we want to hear it.
LUVVIE: Yeah. It‘s been a saga. So, you know, growing up, I was born and raised in Nigeria, and we moved to the U.S. when I was nine. One of the things that I brought with me was a dream to become a doctor. You know, I wanted to help people, and I was like, “Yeah, I'm going to be a doctor.” And I was really smart and bookish, so it fit, and everybody was like, “Yeah, you’re going to be a doctor.” I started college—psychology/ pre–med is my major because I loved psych, fell in love with it in high school. My freshman year, I took Chemistry 101, and I got the first D of my academic career.
LUVVIE: First and last. It was just, like, shock to my system. But it was such an amazing thing to happen because it instantly told me, “Actually, you don't want to be a doctor. You've just been carrying other people's dreams with you. That's not what you wanted to do and be. So drop that.” And I dropped the dream instantly. I went to my advisor and dropped that pre–med piece, and I kept the psychology. And it was interesting because usually I'm not a quitter, but everything in me was like, “Yeah, no, this isn't for you.”
But it was interesting because that semester, my friends peer pressured me into starting a blog, and so I did. And the blog was all about undergrad life; the D I was getting; whatever roommate beef I was having; you know, whatever seventeen- and eighteen-year–olds think is really important that's really not. So, I ultimately had my whole college career documented in that blog—
LUVVIE: —which—yeah—which I deleted when I graduated in 2006. I was like, “You know what? I'm going to start something new, that is less about my life and more about the world as I see it.” So I started awesomelyluvvie.com, which is the blog that I have, still now. And I started talking about, yeah, my thoughts on randomness, TV, whatever random shenanigans I felt like talking about, race, politics, feminism, the fact that pink Starburst is the best and yellow’s the worst. And I'd go to work as a marketing coordinator for a nonprofit from 9:00 to 5:00, and I’d come home and I’d write in this blog, not because I was getting paid for it, because I definitely wasn’t, just because I was just, like, I like doing it, and it was a hobby that I just kept on going.
In 2009, I won my first award for it. It was for the Best Humor Blog award in the Black Weblog Awards. So I ended up being like, “Wow, I didn't know this blog was popular. I just thought it was this thing I was doing,” not realizing that it was really pointing to the fact that I had this gift as a writer, and because I was writing as if nobody was watching, I basically wrote authentically. Like, I wrote with truth and without pretense. And it gave me the practice of speaking the truth out loud in public, which is really powerful, because when nobody's watching, you don't really think about like, “Oh my god, if I do this, this other thing will happen.” There was no strategy. There was no intent behind it besides I just like to put words on paper.
So, 2010, I actually got laid off my job as a marketing coordinator. It was April. But you would think that would kind of signal to me that, hey, pay attention to this writing thing.
LUVVIE: But I was now like, nope, nope, nope. I polished my resume, and every week I'd be posting my resume on Indeed and monster.com dating myself—but what I was doing at my full–time job, which was the marketing and the digital strategy in social media I was doing for small businesses, is I was waiting to find whatever this new job was going to be, so I was doing it for myself. I was doing it for other bloggers. But ultimately, I never had a chance to get another job, because this working–for–myself thing ended up working. So I would be looking for new jobs, and I had a decent resume that was polished, but for some reason, nothing ever stuck.
And then 2012 is when I finally realized, okay, this isn't just a hobby. This is what you're supposed to be doing, this working–for–yourself thing, using your words to connect with people, using your marketing mind to get stories out there, this is what you're supposed to be doing. And that's because I ended up doing press coverage at the Academy Awards—so I ended up being credentialed—
AMY: Oh, okay.
LUVVIE: —in February 2012—on the red carpet and backstage.
AMY: Big deal.
LUVVIE: Big deal, right?
AMY: How would you land something like that?
LUVVIE: How it happened was a producer, a Hollywood producer, who read my blog reached out to me—
LUVVIE: —and was like, “Hey, I've been reading your blog for a few years. I love your voice. Would you like to come to the Academy Awards and just cover it?” And I'm like, “Uh, yeah.”
LUVVIE: Right. And I ended up going. And I'm backstage, next to journalists from the BBC and CNN and Entertainment Weekly. And here I am as Awesomely Luvvie in the same space as them. I think that was the come-to-Jesus moment for me, when I was, like, okay, your words got you in this room with all these people who are backed up by billion–dollar empires, and here you are with your little blog, breathing the same air. George Clooney walked past me. Viola Davis was, like, a foot away from me.
LUVVIE: I interviewed Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig because it was right after Bridesmaids came out.
And that moment was like, this is what you're supposed to be doing, not necessarily the covering fancy events, but you are supposed to be purposeful about the fact that your words bring people joy, make them think critically, and compels them to take action that leaves the world better than they found it. So take it seriously. This is not just a hobby. This is not just a little blog you have. You are a writer. You're a marketer. You are somebody who was placed here to tell stories that can help other people. So that year was huge.
So, yeah, I started taking this writing thing seriously, this thing that I was afraid of before because I thought the title was too big, and then all the things I was afraid of. I was like, “How do I make money as a writer who's not a journalist or a novelist?” I got columns in magazines, brands started reaching out to me to say, “Hey, we see your audience is huge and they pay attention to you. We’d love to partner with you.”
And I started writing about television in a more intentional way, too. Like, I started writing recaps for TV shows. Scandal was a really big one that I was writing recaps for. Shonda Rhimes found me through it because it turns out—
AMY: Oh, my favorite.
LUVVIE: —yeah, right? She's amazing.
AMY: She found you through your writing about reviews about them?
LUVVIE: Yeah. Like, I found out that they ended up—sometimes they’d be reading my recap while they were on set filming Scandal.
AMY: I can't. That is such a big deal.
LUVVIE: Mm-hmm. It was epic.
So, my blog—people would come to my blog. They might find it because of the Scandal recap, but they end up staying because they’d end up in a rabbit hole of other pieces that they love. You know, they might end up reading a piece on stages of what happens when there's injustice against black people. The piece after that might be why Spirit Airlines is the Four Loko of aviation. And the piece after that might be a Game of Thrones recap.
So, my site was where people kind of went to laugh, to be like, “Yep, I thought that, too.” And I became known as a person who was saying what you wanted to say, but you dared not to. And all of that led to my first book, I'm Judging You: The Do–Better Manual.
My audience is really, really invested in my work because they've seen the journey. They've been along on the journey. They remember when my blog was still on Blogspot. And they're really protective of me, which I love. So 2014, one day I woke up to all these messages from people who were like, “I just read something that sounded like it was from you, but it didn't have your name on it.” And they sent me the link, and it was from an outlet, smaller outlet. Somebody had written—they basically took three paragraphs of work that I'd already done and dropped it in theirs and didn't give any credit.
LUVVIE: And I remember saying, “Is there not a limited edition”—I tweeted. I said, “Is there not a limited–edition handbook on how not to be terrible at being a human?” And I was like, “Oh, snap.” I instantly had a light–bulb moment. I was like, that's what I need to write about. So that’s how I’m Judging You came to be. It came out in 2016, instantly hit the Times’ list at number five—
LUVVIE: —changed my life considerably because it gave me all of this currency and credence that I might not have had before and credential.
And in 2017 I did this TED Talk called “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable.” It now has six million views. That also helped change my career in a big way. I was already a speaker. I was already speaking for the last ten years. But the TED Talk kind of supernova’d my speaking.
LUVVIE: And honestly, the TED Talk is what led to my book Professional Troublemaker, because what I talked about in there was how we often let fear stop us from doing what we're purposed to do. And that message in the TED Talk was really about me because I almost didn't do the Talk. I declined it twice because I was afraid that I wasn't ready. But the way the Talk has reached so many people, the messages, thousands of messages I've gotten over the years, every single day, I still get at least one message from somebody saying, “I watched your TED Talk, and here's how it reached me.” And I realized there’s something to really dig deeper into. And that's what I wrote. That's why I wrote Professional Troublemaker, is that we are all fear–based beings, which is okay, but we have to choose courage.
So that is a long–story–short version of my career. I am the person who is a testament of doing the thing that she loves, being very true to herself in the process, and constantly doing things that are scary. And I've had a lot of wins because of it.
AMY: Many, many wins. If someone walked up to you and they didn't know you, which is rare now because of your notoriety, but let's say they did, and they said to you, “So, what do you do?” what do you say?
LUVVIE: I say, I'm a writer. I'm a speaker. I am a lover of words. I'm a professional troublemaker. I'm going to multi hyphen it.
AMY: I like it. I like it. It’s so very true.
One thing that you said, my audience, the listeners today, they're really going to latch onto this one thing. I know they probably already have, but I want to repeat it, that when you started writing your blog, you wrote it as though no one was really watching or listening. You wrote it from a place of, I'm not going to worry about what they think, what they say, or I'm not even worrying about if this is making them happy or not. Would you agree that you were just writing it from the purest place?
LUVVIE: I absolutely was, because, again, I didn't expect anything from it. You know, it wasn't a means to an end. For me it was just something I thought was cute.
AMY: There’s something powerful about that, because when we're starting our—many people listening, they want to start an online business or they are growing their online business. And it's so easy for them to look at the Likes and think about what people are going to think. And should I put this email out there? Should I put the social–media post out there? And I really do believe that that is probably holding them back. So I guess my first question for you would be, you know, my students want to know how do they get noticed and seen in a noisy world? And I always joke with them and I say, do you think Oprah, when she was building her empire, was asking herself, how do I get seen in a noisy world? I don't think that's the most valuable question you could ask, but I still think it comes up for them. So what do you say to that question?
LUVVIE: Yeah. Be less concerned about being seen, and be more concerned about who you're serving. And I think when you serve people, you will be seen by the people you need to serve. So I never approached any of this with the idea of notoriety as a goal. I never wanted to be a known name. My focus was just doing what I felt was real. So we often are wondering, well, if I do this, well, will somebody see me, or will I get this award? If you approach it in that way, you're already losing that game, because if your work is not going to be valid unless a specific person sees you or unless you win a particular award, then what you're saying is you're only creating it to get this one result, which you may or may not get.
And I think we have to be careful about that because of the fact that that is a quick way to end up attaching failure to what's really not a fail. You know, it's really important for us to not attach our work to awards. And this is the person who's saying who wanted to be a New York Times’ bestseller. But it wasn't because I knew the work was going to be more valid because it was a bestseller. It was because I knew becoming a bestseller would open doors for somebody who's beyond me.
So I think in the beginning especially, focus on the work, on the craft. Focus on doing the thing that feels right. Focus on doing the thing that feels real, as opposed to focusing on, who will see me? Will Oprah see this? Oprah might never see it, but that doesn't mean it's less valid. Doesn't mean it's less good.
AMY: So true. So true.
I want to talk to you about content creation because you're a writer, and even though it took you a while to declare that, you are obviously a wonderful one at that. So what are your biggest tips and tricks to content creation? And anything you've got, because a lot of my listeners, they get stuck with content creation. They don't know what to write. They're not writing regularly. So what are some of your tips to create content?
LUVVIE: So I think about creating content, one, as a practice and an exercise. Every piece of content doesn't have to be perfect, but every piece of content should be real. And what that means is, are you writing this as a human and not just a strategist? You know what I mean? Like, at the core of it all is we have to be clear that the work that we're doing, there's another human who's going to consume it. There's a lot of templates to creating content, yes. But the templates, usually the best ones are where at the core you're storytelling.
What I think about whenever I'm creating content is, if I am not the person who was creating this, if I am just the consumer, will this connect to me? I put myself into the middle of it. Would I care if I was not the one writing this? Would this connect with me if I was not the one creating it? That usually means that I'm also thinking through, like, who I am serving, that one person. Takes us back to, it's less about wanting a million people to see you. Can you have one person read this thing, and they say, “That speaks to me”?
So I think the best content is created for one person, because when it connects with that one person, it will connect with a lot of other people. I think the personal can be very universal. So I write my books with the idea that I'm speaking to me from ten years ago. Like, this last book that I wrote was definitely for me when I was afraid to be a writer. So I thought about her. What were her pain points? What was she afraid of? What does she need to hear? And I knew that if I needed to hear it, so many other people need to hear it. So in content creation, serve one person so you can serve a lot of people.
AMY: Yes. Totally agree with that.
Let's talk about that fear you just brought up. Why do you think that you were—why you held back from declaring that you're a writer? What was that about?
LUVVIE: Yeah. I honestly was afraid of that title. Just felt so big, you know. A writer feels like somebody who was, like, in a cabin, who goes for retreats, and they have, like, a writing hat. They use these massive words, and it feels so serious. And in writing, in the way I thought about it, I was like, I'm not the person who's, like, yeah, going on the writing retreat. I'm the person who's randomly on her laptop, who just put—words pour out. And I didn't see the version of a writer like me because I'm, like, writers are typically novelists, you know. They're very serious. They have these, like, deep rituals about writing. And I wasn't that.
So I was afraid of what it meant. I was afraid of if I actually call myself that, that means I can fail. I was afraid of, how do I make money in this? There’s no manual for this. There's no way I can guarantee that this will go well. So all of those fears were sitting in my lap, and I was like, yeah, no, I'm not a writer. I'm just a person with a blog. I'm a blogger.
But what I didn't realize was we see titles, and we prescribe multiple things to them. We'll add all this criteria that you don't have to, like—a writer doesn’t have to be serious. A writer doesn't have to be somebody who is deeply in writer's block and has to figure out their way through it and struggle through it. A writer is somebody who uses words, who creates work that connects to people, words that people can read and listen to. That's a writer, period. And I was doing that.
So, you know, there are people who want to call themselves different things, and they think they haven't earned the title. Are you doing the work? If you're doing the work, you've earned the title.
AMY: Okay. That’s powerful. If you're doing the work, you've earned the title.
Luvvie, I teach my students how to create digital courses. So they're, like, coaches, consultants, service–based providers, educators, and they take their skill set, and I teach them how to put it into a roadmap and sell a digital course. I get messages every day. Like, I literally just got one on a DM this morning, and it's this woman who wants to teach cooking in a digital course, but she has this tiny kitchen, and she wants to teach cooking in tiny kitchens for other people who have her same situation. She's got all these tricks and tools and ways to do it, even though you don't have any room but you can make these gourmet meals. I think it's a great idea for a digital course. And so she said, “I'm just terrified. I am so scared. I am so terrified.” And I said, “What are you scared about?” And she just keeps saying, “I'm just scared,” and she doesn't really have any other words beyond that.
But I think a lot of the times it comes with—the people in my world, they're scared to put themselves out there. They’re scared to be seen in a really big way. And they do. You just said something that totally resonates with them. They sometimes feel like they need to have twenty years’ experience before they teach it. They need to have a degree or some type of higher degree to do that. And you’re just saying, “Look, if you're in it, if you're doing the work, you have arrived. Like, you are there.” I think that's powerful.
LUVVIE: Mm-hmm. And I think a lot of times what we're afraid of is rejection.
AMY: Okay. That’s what I was going to ask you. Where do you think this—if she can’t put it into words, what do you think it is? Rejection. Tell me more about that.
LUVVIE: I think it's a fear of rejection and a fear of disappointment and sometimes even a fear of success. Like, what if it does go really right? You know, it's all types of fears in a whole bucket, and usually we can't articulate it because it is multifaceted. We are afraid of, okay, she's probably afraid of, what if I post it and nobody buys it?
LUVVIE: That feels like a rejection. It's like I put my all, and does that mean I'm not good enough? I think it's just really important for us to not tie the full success of the things that we're doing to the awards it’s getting or some of the attention that it gets, because, for example, my book, Professional Troublemaker, I really wanted it to be a New York Times’ bestseller, and I was crossing my fingers, and that was the goal. I worked towards it. I put all the power behind it. But I had to understand that whether or not it made it to the list, it does not invalidate the work itself. The list is the cherry on top that I wanted to do for. It was a means to an end. But it doesn't invalidate the fact that the words were amazing if I didn't make it.
So, for your client, for example, who's afraid of putting themselves out there for this course, that fear of rejection, that fear of disappointment, I think some of it is tied to the fact that she's probably afraid of, what if people don't buy it? But what she will have to understand is whether or not two people bought it or twenty or two hundred, the work was still necessary because you were compelled to do it. The work was still needed for somebody who found value in it. So we do have to be very careful about attaching our worth and our value purely to how something is received by the rest of the world.
AMY: Yes. So true.
Okay. I've got one more question for you, and that is that as women, how can we be more powerful, like a powerful force, in using our businesses and our entrepreneurial journey to inspire others to do better?
LUVVIE: You know, I think our lives and our work can be models to what's possible, the things that we put forward. The moments when we are afraid and we do the course anyway or write the book anyway or go for that degree anyway, somebody else can watch and say, “Okay. Because she did it, I can do that, too.” I think for women, we are often told that we're not enough or we're told that we are too much or somehow made to feel as if our audacity is an affront to somebody else. And it's something that men don't have to deal with. So for us, our work, that's why we have to stay true to ourselves in spite of how the world will receive it, in spite of whatever accolades may come or might not come, because our work exists to help show other people what's possible for them while we honor ourselves. So, yeah, the work that we do, do the thing that feels good. Do that thing that you can't stop thinking about. Write that course that you know will help, even if it's only six people. I think it's necessary for our work to be out here. And it doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to be A plus, plus, plus every time. And we are our harshest critics. We are the worst judges of our own work. So understand that what you don't even think is amazing, somebody else thinks is incredible.
AMY: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Luvvie, I adore you. I feel so honored that you came on our show. I am so excited that we get to talk about everything we talked about today, but also excited that I want my audience to get your book in their hands. Professional Troublemaker. If you don't have it yet, go out and grab it now. But where can people learn more about you? Like, tell them, where do they go?
LUVVIE: I am so easy to find online. I'm @luvvie on all platforms. And I have my own social network called LuvvNation. I created it because I wanted it to be a safe space in the dumpster–fire world. I wanted it to be a space where women can go and have somebody cheer you on for your achievements, not make you feel bad about it; a place where we have elevated conversations, and we talk about how to live the audacious lives we want to live. But just overall, I’m easy to find. I’m @luvvie everywhere. And yeah, I want people to join LuvvNation.
AMY: Yes, yes. We'll link to everything in the show notes, including your book, including LuvvNation. Thank you so much for being on the show.
LUVVIE: Thanks so much for having me, Amy.
AMY: Wasn't she just outstanding? I know! I agree.
So, are you ready for your action steps from this phenomenal episode? Here's what we're going to do. I want you to declare at least one thing from this episode that you're going to implement within the week. Maybe it's one of the strategies about getting noticed or her content–creation tips or just declaring that you are the expert. Remember what she said about that. I thought that was so valuable. If you're in it, if you're doing it, you are it. You are that person. And you’ve got to own that.
Okay. So you've got your marching orders. Take action from this episode. And if it's just a change in your mindset, that is a big deal as well. So that counts.
Okay. So remember, go check out Luvvie’s TED Talk. Go get her book right now, Professional Troublemaker. And if you're in Digital Course Academy class of 2021, you will get an extra–special keynote presentation from her in my December 2021 Entrepreneur Experience event. Get ready for some magic.
All right, my friends. I'll see you next week, same time, same place. Bye for now.