Conversation starters, overcoming awkwardness, passive income, and pivoting around challenges
Vanessa Van Edwards is Lead Investigator at Science of People. She is also the bestselling author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People. Her book has been translated into 15 different languages and more than 30 million people watch her on YouTube.In this episode we talk about how she recovered from awkwardness, earns a living online, her challenges in doing so, and why her ability to Pivot has served her well.
Transcript and show notes can be found here
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Vanessa Van Edwards 0:00
I said my biggest headache is I don't want to pretend to be something I'm not. I don't want to pretend to be a therapist. I don't want to pretend to be a counselor. I don't want to pretend to be a doctor. I'm not a doctor. I don't want to be a doctor. I don't want to be a therapist. I want to be a human being writing helpful tips for other human beings like a friend. That's what I want.
Jay Clouse 0:22
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.
Hello, welcome back to another episode of Creative Elements. Most people don't know this about me, but I'm really really fascinated by human behavior. I realized a long time ago that our A world is ruled by relationships. And if you're going to succeed in building relationships, you need to start understanding how people work. And so I've been following today's guests for a very long time. Her name is Vanessa Van Edwards, and she's the lead investigator for her company Science of People. Vanessa shares tangible skills to improve interpersonal communication and leadership, including her insights on how people work. She's developed a science based framework for understanding different personalities to improve our EQ and help us communicate with colleagues, clients and customers. The science of people takes the most interesting research about people, relationships, human behavior and personal development, and puts it into easy to understand accessible articles and workshops. Millions of people visit the site every month, in more than 30 million people watch Vanessa on YouTube. In 2018, Vanessa released her book Captivate the science of succeeding with people which has been translated into 15 different languages and I have to say Captivate is one of the best books that I've read in years. I highly recommend picking up a copy in a link is in the show notes. I was actually listening to the audio book of Captivate on a plane to record a course with LinkedIn learning. When I noticed that she was filming a course the same week, I got really excited. Unfortunately, we didn't cross paths that week. But as luck would have it, we had another overlapping film date in 2019. And we met then. Vanessa is an incredible speaker, and you may have seen her 2017 TED Talk that's been viewed more than 2 million times. But about that Ted Talk.
Vanessa Van Edwards 2:33
My TED Talk, which did so well, back in the day 2017. I thought it would be really clever to call it you are contagious today in a giant pandemic of Coronavirus. My TED Talk is called you are contagious. We have a funnel email funnel where we send out my TED talk and a couple of email funnels and the subject is you are contagious.
Jay Clouse 2:56
Vanessa Van Edwards 2:59
And it took me like three weeks to figure it out.
Jay Clouse 3:02
Oh my god.
Vanessa Van Edwards 3:02
But even more emailing and they're like, um, this was a really horrifying email subject to get right now you really should change it. And the problem is the way that our email files are stacked is it went out to like, I don't know, like 12,000 people in one day, so it wasn't leaving like it trickled out.
Jay Clouse 3:20
Awkward. But as a self-proclaimed recovering awkward person herself, Vanessa is used to dealing with the awkward. I love this interview, because Vanessa is honest and transparent, just like you just heard in some of the best stuff is at the very end of this interview, so make sure that you stick around. In this episode, we talked about how she went from being unable to work with others, to studying people like she would study for a class, we talked about how she found a way to earn a living online and how she'd recommend you do the same. We talked about all of our challenges and why being willing to pivot has allowed her to build the life that she aspired to. As you're listening to this, I'd love for you to shoot me a message on Twitter or on Instagram @JayClouse say hello, send me a screenshot. Let me know that you're tuning in. And now let's jump in and talk with Vanessa. I couldn't help but start our conversation by asking her the people scientist. What is her favorite conversation starter?
Vanessa Van Edwards 4:24
You know, that's like asking someone to pick their favorite child. That's a really hard one. I'm obsessed with conversation starters. My favorite though this is my go to and it works really well with like old friends and new and people don't know which is working on anything exciting recently?
Jay Clouse 4:41
Vanessa Van Edwards 4:42
What are you doing? Do you have the answer now? That's the whole point.
Jay Clouse 4:45
This podcast is the most exciting thing that I've been working on recently. And by recently, I mean for the last nine months.
Vanessa Van Edwards 4:52
It's like a baby.
Jay Clouse 4:53
It's like a baby. It's like a baby that is finally entered the world.
Vanessa Van Edwards 4:56
Is this episode the baby? Are we here? Are you due?
Jay Clouse 4:59
I'm due. I'm overdue.
Vanessa Van Edwards 5:02
Nine months. Okay, this is the baby. Congratulations Jay, you've had a baby. Her name is Vanessa Van Edwards. And this is your baby episode. No. So I, I find that that question is great because it gets you off of social scripts. I hate social scripts. I'm one of those people who gets bored very easily. And so I have to ask questions that are going to shake people out of what do you do? Where are you from? How are you? That question is also safe. So I've made mistakes in the past by asking too deep too fast. As a vulnerability junkie, you know, I love going deep going fast. So we did a study where we did six different conversation starters, everything from what do you do to where are you from? And then are you working on anything exciting recently? There was one question that we asked that people either rated it off the charts, it was their favorite question, or they absolutely hated it wanted to walk out of the experiment. Can you guess what it was?
Jay Clouse 5:59
Oh boy, loved it or absolutely hated it.
Vanessa Van Edwards 6:02
Introverts hated it. Extroverts love that was in the end. That's what we figured out.
Jay Clouse 6:07
Do you have any exciting plans coming up?
Vanessa Van Edwards 6:09
Okay. Oh, that's a really good guess because it has to do with socializing. This one surprised me so much because I've asked this question now I don't ask it anymore. What's your story?
Jay Clouse 6:18
I do that all the time. Is ask that all the time.
Vanessa Van Edwards 6:19
No more Jay, we can't. We can't ask it anymore. Because what we found was extroverts are thrilled by this question. Their dopamine circuits are off the charts. Introverts are like too much too deep. I don't know you, dude. And introverts have been found to use less words in the average day that invites along answer. And so my favorite question is, like, just a nudge away from How are you? It's like one side step away from what do you do, but still safe?
Jay Clouse 6:48
So interesting. Way back in the day, I filled out a job application for an internship when I was in college, and they had one question on the application. And the question is, what are you like, I you use that as a question for a while. And I love the response because I'm sure it's the same responses what you saw with what's your story because it's so existential people say, Well, I'm you know, I'm a manager at this company. It's like, No, no, no. What are you like? Like, what do you mean? What am I like? But I think it's a little too intense.
Vanessa Van Edwards 7:15
Oh my gosh, I'm writing it down because I kind of love it. To tell you that kind of personality, I kind of love it.
Jay Clouse 7:21
So when you say social scripting,
Vanessa Van Edwards 7:23
Jay Clouse 7:23
Why did social scripting come to exist? Why do people follow social scripting?
Vanessa Van Edwards 7:29
I believe we're going to go really deep. It's a deep social fear of not being liked. I think what happens after observing thousands of social interactions between awkward people, introverts, extroverts, ambiverts people with social anxiety. We all are afraid that we're going to say something that people are going to be like, That was weird. And then she's weird. And then I don't like her and then I want to leave this place or I want to stop talking to her. And so that backs its way into what do we feel is acceptable to ask? And so it is acceptable to ask at any networking event, party, barbecue, even a Starbucks. How are you? How's it going? that's acceptable. If you've been introduced to someone, and you know their name, it's then acceptable to say, what do you do? That's about where the acceptable ends for a lot of people. And so they go to networking events, and they have literally the same conversation over and over again. And they're in a trap. They're in a trap, because they feel like I'm afraid to ask something crazy because I'm afraid I'm not going to be liked. But I know that I'm being boring, which makes me not likable.
Jay Clouse 8:40
Acceptable is such an interesting way to put it because who defines what is acceptable? Is it like our parents when we were kids? Is it society? Is it you know, like, where does that come from? How do we how do we learn that?
Vanessa Van Edwards 8:52
When we think about our social interactions, we a lot of our social engagements were shaped as children. And I was thinking that an interesting story the other day where I realized that so much of our experience shapes who we are. So for example, if you were in sixth grade, and you went to your first school dance, remember this in your body? Do you remember Jay, do you remember your first school dance? Do you remember?
Jay Clouse 9:14
I hated it. I was the guy against the wall.
Vanessa Van Edwards 9:16
Okay? Remember, even the days leading up to the school dance, remember how it felt like the school was like electric? You know, like, that day at school, like everyone was like thinking about it and talking about it. People looked a little bit nicer. People went to the bathroom more often. I remember specifically, the teacher had to tell people to stop going to the bathroom that day. I don't know if it was nervous peeing, I don't know what was happening. And then I remember the visceral experience. I remember the smell of walking into my school gym, of giving them a little raffle ticket walking in hearing that the thump thump thump thump I think it was like in sync or something back in the day. Aging myself but like that, I remember it. I get the same experience and it struck me a couple weeks ago when I walked into a friend's birthday party at a nightclub. And it smelled the same and it felt the same. And it sounded the same. And I was right back to sixth grade Vanessa.
Jay Clouse 10:07
Wait a minute, this nightclub smelled like Axe body spray.
Vanessa Van Edwards 10:09
It did. It did.
Jay Clouse 10:12
This is an awesome testament to why different conversation starters are so powerful because these weren't even any of the questions I had at the beginning of my list. And we started going deep on it because it It got me on a different path. But, you know, conversation starters is one, one small element of all of the awesome work that you put out. And before we dive deep on your story, I'd love to hit some more of the improvements that someone can make to better connect with people around them besides conversation starters.
Vanessa Van Edwards 10:40
Yeah. Conversation starters is a big one. But the so there's when I think about my business, I think about it in terms of buckets. So there's conversation, which is a big bucket. That's the day to day interactions. The other piece of it is someone's personality. And that's because your personality shapes our conversation. So we've been actually talking about this all the way already, which was introversion, extroversion, ambiversion. So if you think about it in terms of layers, our conversation starters that we choose how we answer how we talk is shaped by our personality. And I'm obsessed with personality, because so much of it is solvable. Now, I'm a recovering awkward person. So I need formulas for interacting with people. People still do not come naturally to me. I have to really think in terms of black and white, what questions do I ask how do I answer what's the facial expression. And so when I discovered the sense personality gave me a lot of relief, because it made people not this imaginary black box, but actually a solvable formula, in a certain sense. So every single person has five different personality traits. And by the way, if you've heard of enneagram, or disk or Myers Briggs, those are all fun, but they're actually not backed up in science. They haven't been replicable, which means they're not reliable. This science is actually replicable. It's used by academic universities. It's able to be used across genders and races and socioeconomic statuses. So everyone has these five traits and you either fall high, medium or low on these traits. So they are the fancy five are known as ocean, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. If you really want to get better at interacting with people, I highly recommend learning about these five traits, figuring out where you fall on the scale, and then solving the people in your life. So I actually have a little matrix little circle cipher for every single person in my life where I have where they rate on the personality traits. This affects how I email them, how I call them, what I invite them to how I interact with them, how I tell them I love them, how I asked for things from them. And so it's, it's sort of like the best thing that you can do for figuring out how you can approach and have great conversations with people.
Jay Clouse 12:51
I love that. Let me see if I got that. openness, conscientiousness extraversion agreeableness, neuroticism, yeah, go after the break. Vanessa and I dive deeper into how she recovered from being an awkward person. Welcome back. Vanessa had just shared with us her preferred science backed framework for categorizing people's personality traits as an acronym. They are ocean, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. And we may rank high, medium or low for all of those traits. And she had also told us that she was a recovering awkward person. So I wanted to hear more about what she meant by that, and how other people can recover from awkwardness too.
Vanessa Van Edwards 13:36
Yeah, well, I think there's awkward people. There's recovering awkward people, there's recovered awkward people and there's people who were never awkward in the first place. So people who are never awkward in the first place. Those are the people that are the life of the party, the super charismatic and naturally comfortable, confident people. I think every awkward person is going through stages or recovering, and that's because people who identify as awkward and if you're listening to this and you're like, Ah, that's me. It's because we have self doubt. We have. We struggle with competence. Some days, we feel super confident other days we doubt ourselves. And that is what fuels our awkwardness. And so it can flare up around a VIP, it could flare up around our boss, it could flare up in a client pitch. And so the reason why I say I'm a recovering awkward person is because most days these days, I'm okay, doing good. But occasionally, I have a moment where I'm like, woo, and that's my awkward day. And that's why I'm still in recovery.
Jay Clouse 14:37
I want to double click on this self doubt idea, because I love frameworks. I love being able to think through something like ocean to figure out okay, how do I best communicate with somebody, then the self doubt will kick in and say, Yeah, but isn't that a little too contrived? Or I might even throw like the word manipulative on there, because that's my self doubt saying, should I do this this way? Or should I just be the way that I am? How do you think about that?
Vanessa Van Edwards 15:01
So I would say it's not manipulative. It's not contrived. It's purposeful. And this is really important. So what happens when you don't have these kinds of frameworks for an awkward person is you strive for perfect, you strive for impressive. And so you think, okay, I want to be myself, but I have to be the best version of me. I should be the perfect version me. I have to tell witty stories that have great questions, and have great answers. And always be smiling and have super competent body language all the time. Perfect, perfect, perfect, perfect is impossible. And what we've seen over and over again, is when you are being impressive, people don't typically relate to it. So even if that's you, it's not the way that people normally relate frameworks, especially understanding how you are naturally optimizing your strengths. So saying, okay, I am not a natural extrovert. I'm an ambivert. So I'm in the middle of the extraversion scale. I don't want to fake it till I make it. That's one of my Least favorite social phrases because that is an authentic, I think that is manipulative on yourself. But I can say, Okay, here's the framework for ambiverts. Here are my triggers that trigger me into awkwardness here, my confidence builders, I'm going to take two competence builders and avoid two triggers. And I've got an okay day. That makes my interactions purposeful. I have a purpose. I'm trying to solve someone's matrix, going to a conversation, saying, my goal is to solve all five of their personality traits is authentic, because you're trying to really get to know them. It adds a purpose to your questions, which helps take down awkwardness and anxiety because you know where you're going. And then lastly, they feel an intense kind of attention. That's not trying to be impressive. So I'm just trying to get away from I'm going to try to impress them and change it to I'm going to deeply and purposefully get to know them.
Jay Clouse 16:54
When did you start thinking about this, whether it's when you got into human behavior itself, or when did you start saying I don't know like that I have this awkward tendencies around people and I want to find a way out.
Vanessa Van Edwards 17:04
There was a couple years where I felt like I would walk into rooms and I felt like everyone had gotten a rule book that I had just missed. Like, I remember in college, my last two years of high school and my first years of college, feeling like everyone just knew something that I didn't. And that was when I realized there was a gap. And then my junior year of college, I had sort of come to an acceptance with it. I was like, that's just me, I'm never going to be liked. I'm never going to be popular. I'm not going to have very deep friends. That's just me, like, people don't like me, like, literally, I just accepted that about myself. And I was like, I'm gonna have to work around it. I'm gonna have to find jobs where I work alone. I literally was on that career track in college. And I had a tipping point where I had a professor, Professor Mullis from Emory University shout out, and I had to write a paper and it was a group paper where you had to work together and then you each kind of wrote pages, then you pass it back and forth to each other. And this is like my worst nightmare, right? Like, I was like, no one's gonna want to work with me. Everyone hates me, right? So I went to him and I was like, Okay, I will write double the amount of pages if I can do this project myself. So I will write 20 pages by myself instead of two pages with five other people. Oh, and he looked at me and he was like, Vanessa, this is not about the writing skills. This is about the people skills. He's like, the point of this project is that I want you to work with other people. I remember just like terror, and he saw it on my face. And he's like, what's the problem here? And I kind of gave him a little bit of my history. And he said, listen, you have a very analytical brain. Why don't you study for people? Like you study for chemistry? I was like what ? He's like, why don't you just make a flashcard for each person in your group? Write down their likes and dislikes. Write down questions you would ask of them. Facebook wasn't around back in the day. It was like I want you to think of all the things you know about them, and then use that flashcard just like you're setting for a quiz. That was the first time anyone had ever taught me that I could maybe operate in a more black and white way. And that was okay.
Jay Clouse 19:14
I love that. And I love those moments of clarity or even just like, huge change that somebody, you know, he probably hasn't thought about that moment for years, maybe ever, and it's such a huge impact on you that now has this downstream effects on all the people who read your books. It's just amazing. So you said you were kind of on a track to be working alone. What was the career track that you thought you were on in college? And when did that change?
Vanessa Van Edwards 19:39
Yeah, so I in college thought I was going to go into international studies. I'm very good at learning languages, hence flashcards memorization, and so at the time I spoke English, Spanish, French and Mandarin. I have now I'm barely functioning in English and Spanish. We have a little bit of Mandarin still. So I thought I was going to either be a translator like a written translator or go into international studies of some kind. And I was on that track until interestingly, my senior year, I hadn't applied for jobs yet. And my mom sent me to a financial seminar. My mom is a lawyer. And she said to me, I'm so grateful to my mom for I tell my mom this all the time. My mom is a lawyer, and she used to love being a lawyer. And then she became a mom. And she realized that lawyers are paid for their time. And she is constantly chained to her office. And she said to me, if you want to be a mom, if you want to have financial freedom, you have to not work for your hours, do not have a job where you're working for your hours. And she said, I'm going to send you to a financial seminar that will teach you about this. And so she sent me to a weekend financial seminar in Los Angeles and it was three days it was Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I remember extremely well and all they taught you about was passive income. That was the entire weekend with passive income businesses. I had never heard those two words before. But they explained why you do passive income, how you do passive income. And so I thought, You know what? I want that. I want that. At the time. I was like, also I can call myself I can, it's an online. And so I started to dabble in the passive income business. And this was in 2006. So, in 2007, I started a YouTube channel, which, by the way, no one even knew what YouTube was, but I figured video right video is an online business. So I started the YouTube channel 2007. I joined Twitter in 2007. These were like brand new, no one knew what they were back in the day. And at that time, I was deep into the communication research from that professors conversation. I had started taking psychology classes at Emory. I didn't have time to major in it, although I would have if I could go back. I was making communication flashcards I was reading conversation starters at that point I discovered facial expressions and non verbal and body language and so as started to write about it for parents and teenagers.
Jay Clouse 22:05
How'd you choose that?
Vanessa Van Edwards 22:06
So in the seminar, they said, Take a niche, pick a niche, right? Like, that's what every business book says, pick a niche, pick a niche. At the time I was shown age myself 20. And I figured, okay, I just left my teen years, maybe there's something I learned. I finally, like my parents again, I'm going to write for teens and parents. And so I started to write for teachers and parents started to do presentations at PTA's, sort of do public speaking how to blog for parents, on communicating with your kids. And that was the start of writing and researching communication.
Jay Clouse 22:42
That's amazing. So, oh man, everybody wants to dabble in passive income for sure. Getting harder and harder to dabble in. But you go to the seminar, you start doing these things. Did you abandon the idea of International Studies?
Vanessa Van Edwards 22:56
Jay Clouse 22:58
You just said I'm going to be an entrepreneur.
Vanessa Van Edwards 23:00
Yep, 100% I was like, I was like, I will maybe take this abroad one day, I will maybe write this in other languages at the time, it was much harder to get translation. So I assumed that I would write this blog and then maybe translated into Mandarin or Spanish or French. I was I was doing international speaking at different PTA's. So I just figured I would use my language at some point, but I totally abandoned going to international business.
Jay Clouse 23:23
Super interesting. So talk to me about the beginning of that. Because when you're dabbling in passive income, I imagine it's pretty hard to get the stream going in the beginning, and you're spending a lot of time probably on YouTube and on Twitter.
Vanessa Van Edwards 23:34
You know, actually, it wasn't as hard as you would think. And the reason for this is because, one, it was very new in the space. So no, there was no KDP there was no Kindle Direct Publishing. So an ebook was like a wow, like, what was an ebook like they was like that. So me coming out with an ebook was very unique, very different. I had no competition. I had to go through the whole manual process of creating a book and then printing it out with a printing press. And so actually the market was pretty open. And no one was doing it in the parenting space. Because the only people that were in the parenting space, were family psychologists, a family of counselors, and they were handcuffed by their degree.
Jay Clouse 24:16
Real quick. You say these guys were handcuffed? What do you mean by that handcuffed how?
Vanessa Van Edwards 24:21
So because a lot of the counselors couldn't write about their patients, they had to anonymize everything. They couldn't give advice online. They actually couldn't write articles on things that people desperately wanted to read about. I was just a regular old folk person writing communication tips for parents and teenagers get, you know, give interviewing, given one tip to the other. And so actually, in the beginning, I think my very first product was an E book. I think it was called Radical-E with an E communicating with your team. And it was.
Jay Clouse 24:54
Vanessa Van Edwards 24:55
Yeah, yes. And it was it was community and it was digital communication with teens, it was like, it was literally an ebook on like, what is the Facebook? It was literally the Facebook. What is the Facebook? What is Twitter? What is YouTube and it was a guide for parents and it killed because parents were desperate for that information and there was no psychologist who knew kids lingo to be able to do it. I remember my most popular series every Friday was what different acronyms stood for in text, lol. brb. That was our most popular post every Friday.
Jay Clouse 25:29
When we come back, Vanessa talks about what went wrong and what went right with building her fledgling business ran for this. Welcome back to this very fun conversation with Vanessa van Edwards of science of people. When we left off, Vanessa was just beginning to write ebooks online for parents of teens. And even though things started well, it's never easy. And soon Vanessa would have to begin her series of pivots.
Vanessa Van Edwards 25:57
So at that point, we were in the wild west. Have search. And luckily, my husband now I was dating him. And he's a total tech nerd, kind of self taught programmer. And he was like, there's this thing called SEO. And I was like SEO. And so he taught me about search. And I've always been a data person, thank goodness, right? I've always liked formulas. So from the beginning, I was looking at what was already working. So I was writing posts for keywords for a very, very early stage. And that's when I was seeing what parents were actually searching social skills for kids how to talk to my kid, what to say to my kid, don't understand my teenager. And so it was actually relatively easy to get in front people. We didn't do paid advertising and till 13 years into the business.
Jay Clouse 26:47
Wow. Was this was this called science of people at the time?
Vanessa Van Edwards 26:51
It was called, oh my goodness, back then. Pivot pivot pivot. Okay, first website was on Teenstoday.com guess what, Jay? a year into it? Someone created a porn website called eteenstoday.com.
Jay Clouse 27:09
Oh my gosh.
Vanessa Van Edwards 27:10
Yeah. So yeah. So and people get mistyping it so it's a good neighbor. My very first business was going so well, someone created a porn website with one letter different and people kept mistyping it. So I had to change my entire brand and my entire website. So yeah, it was on teens today. And then it was radical parenting. And it was radical parenting for a long time. And then fast forward to another big pivot. You might be wondering why are you Vanessa, are you not still doing parenting advice if it was going so well. So this is leading to my biggest business failure, which was business was going great. I was selling ebooks. We were thinking about online courses, although it wasn't even called that at the time. I was doing speaking events. I was doing coaching and consulting and I got to approached by Penguin to do a book great dream come true. Got the book deal, literally beyond my wildest dreams came out with the book, and no one bought it. Like literally no one bought it.
Jay Clouse 28:13
That wasn't Captivate, I'm not even aware of this book
Vanessa Van Edwards 28:15
Right. I'm good, different book.
Jay Clouse 28:19
That was circa 2011 2012.
Vanessa Van Edwards 28:22
Jay Clouse 28:23
And so up to that point when you were running the newsletter for parents and teens. How big was your team? Was it just you?
Vanessa Van Edwards 28:31
We had one part time employee, and then three interns, because I took teenagers on to write. So we always had three teen interns on the team who were writing with me to make sure that I had my finger on the pulse of teenagers. They told me, you know, words that were coming up. So I would say technically four but only one other paid person.
Jay Clouse 28:53
And what was the model at this point, you know, you'd mentioned you're dabbling in passive income and you're on YouTube. Were you getting out revenue from YouTube.
Vanessa Van Edwards 29:01
No, we actually didn't turn ad revenue on until 2018. So we had no ads on the website and no ads on YouTube. All of our income was ebook sales speaking and my one on one coaching with teens and parents.
Jay Clouse 29:16
What was if there was there any tension around you know, you're, you're angling towards this life of passive income. Your mom says don't be tied to your hours. And two of the biggest drivers speaking one on one coaching tied to your time. How did you reconcile that because a lot of people in the midst of this are in that exact position.
Vanessa Van Edwards 29:34
It drove me crazy. It drove me crazy. And I was constantly trying to figure out more ebooks, more products. You know, I was always trying to get affiliate revenue by being an Amazon affiliate seller, right, like recommending books, I would haul books, my book and other people's books to the back of speaking events, to sell books at events to try to get passive in even more passive income from events. And so it played me I realized that that was another reason why that business was not sustainable is that people really just wanted coaching. And that business, it was just parents and teens wanting coaching, it was going to be incredibly hard to make money selling books or ebooks. And in 2011, it was really early days for online courses. Now, I probably would have done an online course at the time. It didn't really feel like an option.
Jay Clouse 30:23
And what did your time and you know, emotional energy feel like cuz I imagine if you're torn between making content, coaching, speaking, that's just a lot of demand on your time, or you just working all the time.
Vanessa Van Edwards 30:38
I was hustling, but I like the hustle. So I love building a business. Like that's something that I really like. So yes, I was very busy, but it felt like you know, I was rolling my sleeves up every day and hustling. Also, we were seeing growth. So that was encouraging. The the point that was the hardest was when we had growth, growth, growth, growth, growth, and then this book came out and then nothing and that was an ending Tire passive income stream that I was working towards that was just gone. Like my entire goal was the book was gonna replace all of it.
Jay Clouse 31:07
When you say growth, are you talking revenue growth or like subscriber growth or both?
Vanessa Van Edwards 31:11
Revenue growth? Yeah, all of it, I was able to charge I was able to keep raising my rates. We had traffic growth, my email list was growing. My YouTube views were growing. One of my videos hit a million back then, which was just monstrous at the time. And so I was expecting, and I was also hopeful, the book was coming. The book was going to fix everything. The book was going to replace all my coaching and speaking and get me book sales, and of course, sales and more ebook sales. So there was a lot of hope. I didn't think that I was not going to figure it out. I thought the book was the final piece of the puzzle. 2011 this book came out and I had an email list at that time, which by the way, in 2011, that was like great to have an email list. I think I had an email list of like, 5700 people, I remember that really specifically because we figured there is 5700 book sales, right? Plus my mom, there's another thousand plus, you know what I mean? Like we've done all the math. And it turns out that people don't buy books unless you really force them to buy the book. And that really shocked me I've been writing at that point for, I can't even do math for years, four or five years, I've been writing a free newsletter for people for five years. And this was the first time I was asked them to buy a book. And they didn't buy it. And that wasn't their fault. That was my fault. It was poorly titled. It was not marketed. Right. And here's the most important thing. I wrote the book. Like I thought I should write the book. I mentioned that they're the only other people in my space while they're psychologists and family counselors. I am not that. Not even close to that. But I wrote the book, like Bay write books, and it didn't sound like me. It didn't sound like my blog. It had different voices. In my blog, and so people didn't not only read the first chapter on Kindle, we gave away the first chapter, you know, it's like by the book. Here's the first chapter. People read it. And they were like, Who is this person? Because it didn't sound like me.
Jay Clouse 33:14
I want to double click on something real quick, because you mentioned you know, this was a publishing deal. dream come true. I think a lot of people equate publishing deal with any publisher to be like, Alright, that's the failsafe. That means it's gonna sell.
Vanessa Van Edwards 33:27
If yes, the answer is that is exactly what I thought. I thought my life would literally change the moment the date published, and not only did my life not change, it actually made me doubt everything that I was doing. I was also at that point really far away from my teen years, right. I was 25 at the time, and so it felt kind of inauthentic to be writing about teenagers. When I wasn't that close to it. I wasn't living at home anymore. And so it made me look really hard at my business, and I realized I was on happy because I was writing about something that I didn't care about anymore. I wasn't a teenager, I was not yet a parent, I am now a parent. And I went, this is not really what I want to do. And so my husband said, you know, what? What have you liked writing about? Like, what do you just want to write about if it was just writing for you? I said, my biggest headache is I don't want to pretend to be something I'm not. I don't want to pretend to be a therapist. I don't want to pretend to be a counselor. I don't want to pretend to be a doctor. I'm not I don't want to be a doctor. I don't want to be a therapist. I want to be a human being writing helpful tips for other human beings, like a friend. That's what I want. That's way less pressure. It's more authentic. It's more me. He said, Great. Because at that point, I was also considering. Do I go back and get my masters. So I go back and get a PhD. And realize I did not want to do that. I didn't want to write that way. And so I had already owned the domain scienceofpeople.com, which was like my secret kind of like, Ooh, that would be so fun to write about the science of people, not parenting. Sometimes just people. He was like, do it. And so that's that's hard to do.
Jay Clouse 35:06
And so in 2011 science of people was born, Vanessa took everything she learned so far through on teens today, radical parenting, and a failed book launch to propel her new business further than ever before. And here's the thing. I doubt anyone listening to this was very familiar with her previous businesses or that first book. But that's exactly why I wanted to spend so much time talking about it. Vanessa spent somewhere around five or six years of her life building that business that laid the groundwork and taught her everything that she brought into science of people and her latest book captivate. So when you're feeling discouraged in the early days of your creative work, think about those five or six years that Vanessa spent on the foundational work that you probably weren't even aware of. Okay, now let's hear how Vanessa took those lessons and applied them.
Vanessa Van Edwards 35:55
And so that's when I started to write on science and people I asked my email list my my radical parenting email. So I said, Hey, I'm going to start to broad into just general communication tips over here on science and people, if you want to come with me click this link if you don't.
Jay Clouse 36:10
Vanessa Van Edwards 36:11
Farewell. And I think about 3000 people came over which i think that you know, out of like 6000 that was pretty good. And I think some of those people are actually still on my list, which is incredible. They're like almost grandparents now. No, not really. But they have older kids. And I just started to write now I was going into Science of People with a really great knowledge base. I had played an experiment in this other business. And so I knew exactly what I had to do to get passive income. One, no coaching, no coaching. So I did not offer coaching and that was great because it got me out of that prison because it can be a prison. And it was like product, product, product search and product and that's what I did every day. That's what I do every day, all day. Writing for search, writing email funnels directed towards really good products and writing products. And that thank goodness for that knowledge because that is exactly how our revenue is broken up now,
Jay Clouse 37:13
When I've been since that time since you've been doing Science of People, what stand out to you as some pivotal or milestone moments in building that business now?
Vanessa Van Edwards 37:24
Leveraging other platforms has been a really important piece of our business growth. So search is a foundation. So I barely want to touch on that, because it's so important that it's the foundation. Yes, you need to make sure that everything you do is optimized for what people actually want, which is what are they searching for? That's the foundation. The second thing is leveraging other people's platforms and pivoting for them. So very early on, my husband was so grateful for him. He said, hey, there's this course platform called Udemy. You know, they do like a lot of software courses and accounting courses and spreadsheet courses, but I bet you they would love a body language course. I was like, okay, and so I'm looking at you to me and I'm looking at their audience and their audiences at that time was very technical, a lot of engineers and so I thought I'm gonna do a business body language course for these folks. A little pivot for me, that was not what I was writing about originally. So like I pivoted into okay, what would the perfect course for you to be? And I took my iPhone and I filmed a course on my iPhone in my kitchen. With all my lamps in my apartment. I dragged them over to the kitchen, I didn't have professional lights. I didn't even have a professional microphone. I was using my phone.
Jay Clouse 38:39
And it's probably like an iPhone five.
Vanessa Van Edwards 38:42
At the most. at the most. Film Of course. I'm like, if I can get 30 sales, I will be so excited. And I think at the time it was priced at $49 I can get ah 30 sales I will just be thrilled. So I put the course up and it took, I think, 12, 24 hours for the course to get approved by Udemy. I put the course up, I go to sleep, I wake up the next morning and I will never forget. My inbox was filled with sales. Like for as far as the eye could see, with sales. We have 278,000 students, on Udemy me right now.
Jay Clouse 39:21
Vanessa Van Edwards 39:22
It's incredible. I can't even believe it. I'm like, what is crazy?
Jay Clouse 39:26
Does Udemy allow you to contact those students directly?
Vanessa Van Edwards 39:29
No, no, not really. They have like 15 firewalls between you and your students, which I get there protecting students from being pitched and pitched and pitched. I can message them educational announcements. So I oftentimes once a month, twice a month, we send them educational announcements of posts I've written.
Jay Clouse 39:45
So if somebody is listening to this, and like I want to dabble in passive income, I want to build something like this. The landscape has obviously changed. YouTube is less open. Where would you based on what you now say? Here's where I'd focus my energy right now.
Vanessa Van Edwards 39:59
You're absolutely right, it has changed, but it's still very doable. I have weird advice on this, which is you need to create content for a platform that can pitch your content for you. And the reason for that is because starting from scratch, getting an email list, getting search rankings, creating videos, getting ranking in YouTube, then trying to create an email funnel then to sell them is a lot of steps you can do that. You can absolutely do that there is room for that. a better choice is to know your content so incredibly well, that you have a very unique and helpful perspective on it, that you can go to platforms like Udemy or Creative Live, or Skillshare or LinkedIn learning or a platform like that or masterclass and you can say to them, I am the number one expert on this thing. I would like to create the perfect piece of content for you. Will you help me get it out there. Then on the back end, you have your email list articles waiting for them a funnel waiting for them. Maybe a book waiting for For them, but in this day and age if you want faster, a faster way to do that is to actually leverage other people's platforms.
Jay Clouse 41:14
Man, I wish I could have talked with Vanessa for another hour. This is one of the easiest interviews that I've had to edit because she's such a great conversationalist. And don't forget, she's a recovering awkward person. So if you find yourself wishing that you could connect with people as well as Vanessa does, the good news is that you can. I am so inspired by stories like this. I relate so much to the early years of radical parenting, and hearing how Vanessa was able to pivot until she really found her niche and her audience makes me more confident that I can do the same. If you wanna learn more about Vanessa, check out scienceofpeople.com or Vanessa YouTube channel, I have links to both in the show notes, as well as a link to her book Captivate, which again, I could not recommend more highly. Thanks to Vanessa for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Klaus for making the artwork for this episode. Thanks to Brian Skeel for mixing the show and creating our theme music. If you liked this episode, find me on Twitter or Instagram @JayClouse and let me know. And if you really want to say thank you, please leave a review on Apple podcast. Thank you for listening and I'll talk to you next week.