If you are in the first few years of your business, plugging along and oh-so-close to a tipping point, read this article and bookmark it for the day you know is coming soon. The day when a massive order finally comes through, you land a press spot for your product on the Today show, a celebrity decides to endorse your services on Instagram, etc. Use your next “big break” of sorts to take your entire operation to the next level.
Anjelah Johnson is a great case study. Though she was primarily focused on her acting career, a video clip of one of her first few stand-up comedy sets unexpectedly went viral. The video quickly amassed millions of views, pushing her to launch a comedy career that is still thriving today. The “Nail Salon” bit launched many stand-up, television and film opportunities and a spot as MADtv as a series regular. On MADtv,she created another internet sensation, “Bon Qui Qui,” an original comedic character viewed and replicated by over 65 million people worldwide. As that beloved character she’s produced sold out tours and released multiple records with Warner Bros. Records. She’s appeared in multiple national commercials, guest-starred on shows such as Ugly Betty and Curb Your Enthusiasm and recorded four, one-hour comedy television specials. It was recently announced that she will star in a new half-hour sitcom from NBC and executive producer Kevin Hart entitled All Fancy, which is based on her life.
All of the above success basically came from one tipping point, during a time when she was a very green comedian without funds or connections. Here are the top few lessons I believe entrepreneurs and creators can learn from her sustained success.
Keep striking while the iron is hot
When Johnson’s video exploded, she immediately went into writing mode since. At the time, she “only had 12 minutes of jokes.” Think of other products or services you could offer that will appeal to your new, larger pool of potential customers. If an influencer gives you an unexpected shoutout, what else do you have that they might love? Send that to them with a thank-you note. If a post or video of yours goes viral, brainstorm similar concepts that will appeal to the same audience and get creating, and fast.
One of the most important things you will want to do right away is create a way to get all of your new admirers into your email database. Make sure all of your opt-ins are functional and GDPR compliant. Create a targeted, valuable opt-in offer or freemium piece of content to get new fans to sign up.
Staff up to sustain growth
Another immediate action item for Johnson was to set up meetings to find an agent and manager to help her navigate the entertainment industry. You may need to hire an assistant, a business manager, an accountant or hourly employees to help you fulfill orders.
When hiring don’t just take care of the immediate need. Instead also consider your long term goal of taking this big break and turning it into lasting income. I loved Johnson’s advice for finding the right people, since now she has a few people working for her brand beyond her agents. “Who is around you? Who has shown an investment in your career, your brand, your dreams, the things that you love? Actively called you [with ideas]? Start assigning them something.”
Remember your bigger purpose
When you reach a big break for your brand or business, things will get hectic. As exciting as it will be, you will also find yourself overwhelmed, exhausted, and probably a little unsure. Plus, after the initial excitement wears off, you have to actually do the work of fulfilling that giant order or creating what your proposal outlined or fielding hundreds of new customer questions. Johnson had a bigger purpose, a feeling that her work was a calling, which brought her peace and clarity.
If you are unsure of your purpose, check out Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and narrow down your purpose. Then, Keep that purpose front of mind. Many of my massively successful guests swear by meditation, journaling and/or prayer.
“However it is that you seek out those visions — maybe it’s meditation, maybe it’s prayer, maybe it’s therapy and counseling. However it is, find yourself a space where you can turn off the outside, external circumstances and go deep within yourself and your heart, and give into your own desires,” Johnson explained.
Continue to live a full life outside of work
When the calls are coming in and you can’t keep up with orders, you’ll obviously be excited and energized. You will also probably have no choice to ramp up production to keep up. However, don’t let yourself become consumed, Johnson advised.
“Just keep living. Just keep living your life, because that’s where the ideas come from. You getting up and going with your friends out to a night of cocktails, and then maybe going to a music festival – living and experiencing things is where you get inspired. If you’re just home being like, ‘Okay, what’s my next idea? Let me try to journal, let me sit here and pray, what’s my idea? Let me just scroll through Instagram, what is everybody else doing? I’m tired, so let me just stay home.’ That’s not where inspiration and ideas are going to come from.”
Prioritize relationships …
Johnson shared that she made some relational mistakes during her explosive growth. All industries are small industries and word travels fast. Make sure to slow down and prioritize relationship and communicate politely and professionally with everyone, no matter how swamped you are.
… especially the fan/customer/cudience relationship
To modify one of my favorite Oprah Winfrey quotes — even when you make it to the limo, you need to remember the fans, customers or clients who were with you on the bus. Continue to make your audience a top priority. I asked Johnson if she got tired of telling the famous “Nail Salon” bit over and over again. Of course she does. “It’s my joke that people want to hear every time. I went through a season where I didn’t want to do it, but I’m kind of in this place now where I respect my fans so much that I understand I am where I am because of them, and this is what they want to hear, so let me give them what they want to here. I enjoy telling the joke again, because I tell it as a gift and not as a burden.”
Focus on what’s working
Johnson’s dream was to be an actor, not a comedian. She followed opportunities and gave her audience what they wanted, which meant leaving acting behind to focus on the crop that was in season, so to speak.
“Right now, stand-up is what’s blooming,” she said. “So, I’m not going to cut this flower or uproot this plant and try to put it over here in this acting world, because when that’s ready, it will start blooming and it will organically grow. I’m not saying don’t study, don’t be prepared, always be prepared. But, where you focus your time and your energy is on what’s growing. There are different seasons. You’re not going to try to grow strawberries when it’s not strawberry season. You’re going to have a harder time. Why don’t you grow cucumbers, because that’s what’s in season right now? That’s what’s going to flourish.”