You could be blogging, podcasting, working YouTube, or creating any other type of content. Or … you might just be looking to craft the perfect message to land more customers and clients.
You may have heard of creating personas or avatars as a smart way to better understand how to communicate with your prospects, but blown it off as some artificial marketing exercise. Today’s episode will make it abundantly clear that this is actually a core procedure in becoming a more efficient, and more human, business person.
I’m joined by podcasting superhero John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur On Fire. His methodology for creating a spot-on avatar is one of the best I’ve heard, and the proof is in the multimillion dollar business John has been able to create from understanding exactly the pains, passions, anxieties, and aspirations of his ideal prospect.
The Show Notes
John Lee Dumas on Discovering Exactly Who You’re Speaking To
John Lee Dumas: This is John Lee Dumas, the founder and host of EOFire, a daily podcast where I interview entrepreneurs seven days a week. I love getting my listeners prepared to ignite. And because of that reason and many more, I am unemployed.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one — and that’s putting it gently. If you’re a freelancer or solopreneur, Unemployable is the place to get actionable advice for growing your business, improving your processes, and enjoying greater freedom day to day. To get the full experience, register at no charge at Unemployable.com. You’ll get access to upcoming webinars and more. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: Hey there, Everyone, welcome to the show. I’m your host, Brian Clark, founder and CEO of Rainmaker Digital. As you’ve heard, today’s very special guest is John Lee Dumas, and I’m very excited about this. I’ve wanted to be on John’s show for many years, but for some reason, I had to beg and plead. And then once I had the opportunity, I screwed it up almost three times in a row, which is not normal for me. Thanks for forgiving me, John. And thanks for being on the show.
John Lee Dumas: Brian, I couldn’t be more excited, my friend. You were episode 1,164. It was about gosh darn time. And I’ll tell you what it took was you and I hanging out in the rock and roll capital of the world, C-Town, Cleveland, Ohio.
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been to Cleveland way more times than you would have ever expected me to. Thanks to our friend Joe Pulizzi and Content Marketing Institute.
John Lee Dumas: That was my first time. I loved the conference. I loved hanging with you. And Cleveland was great.
Brian Clark: I’m just glad that Cleveland didn’t beat the Broncos recently, because that was close and that would’ve been depressing.
John Lee Dumas: They didn’t cover the spread though, those Broncos – I’m not happy.
Brian Clark: The Broncos are the worst 6-0 team I’ve ever seen, but I love them. What are you going to do?
John Lee Dumas: Right, so true.
Brian Clark: So, you mentioned the Content Inc. Summit that we both spoke at and that was not the reason I wanted you on the show. But it did give me actually a range of possible topics to talk about with you.
There was one aspect of your presentation that just really hit home with me. Number one, because it’s so important. And number two, because the way you defined the process and the way you explained how it worked for you was really one of the better explanations that I’ve heard and it was fantastic.
What Was Your Journey to Discover What You’re Supposed to Do?
Brian Clark: Before we dive into that topic, you also shared in your presentation some really amazing stuff. I knew your story, but the way you presented it was really quite striking, especially being in the Iraq War and having a command of men, and swearing you’d bring them all home, and the heartbreak of that not happening. And then trying law school, and then trying commercial real estate.
It was very humbling when you realized what a success you’ve actually become. Can you just share with us a little bit that journey you took of trying to discover what it was that you’re supposed to do?
John Lee Dumas: Well, I’m just touched, because I kept looking at you, Brian. I thought you were tweeting the entire time. So, the fact that you were listening, I really want to say thank you for that.
Brian Clark: I was taking notes.
John Lee Dumas: But no, it was a really fun time at Content Inc., and I really did enjoy sharing my story, which did start with me graduating from college and immediately joining the US military, which included a 13-month tour of duty in Iraq, which resulted in some of the things that you’ve mentioned for sure.
But there I was at 26 years old, I’m on top of the world, Brian. I am 26, no college debt, about $100,000 in the bank from my four years of service. So, I’m very well-off for that age and just ready to rock and roll. And I’m like, “What’s that next step?
The next six years were incredibly difficult for me, because that first step was to law school. And we actually talked a little bit about your law school experience on my show, but mine was much briefer. One semester, I was like, “Man, I am out of here. This is the worst experience that I’ve ever had. And I know this is not for me.
I will say one thing that was unique to your story and my story was I did go into college with no debt. I was actually paying out of my savings, so I did have a little more flexibility, didn’t feel quite so burdened. So, that’s why Dave Ramsey’s right, man. We just can’t get stuck in that mountain of debt, because that has given me so many options in life that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
It allowed me to then jump into corporate finance with John Hancock, which was a job that had its ups and downs. But overall, I left after 18 months and then I tried commercial real estate in San Diego, back in Maine, which is my home state, both residential and commercial — different times. And it just wasn’t me. I just was really struggling with what I was doing. But that took four years of trying different locations, different parts of the business.
Looking back, in hindsight, it’s so obvious why I wasn’t successful for those six years in those different industries. It wasn’t obvious to me at the time, but looking back, I had no passion, no excitement and there was no joy in anything that I was doing workwise. And so, of course, it was reflecting in my work and of course, a lack of excitement or fun reflecting in work is going to result in pretty piss poor work. And that’s exactly what mine were reflected in.
It wasn’t until I turned 32 years old that savings had dwindled a lot from all of those massive mistakes and failures in different real estate and corporate finance, and law and ventures that I said, “Man, I’m actually going to do something that I love and that I think is going to provide value instead of just trying to chase financial success.
And that’s where the idea for the podcast came. That was September of 2012. That was 1,164 episodes ago with another one going live every day. And it’s been quite the journey.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s so striking to me and I don’t want to let this go without commenting. You’ll get flak from your parents, you may get it from your friends, you may get it from your spouse when you’re searching. It appears to everyone else that you’re lost and you’re hopping from thing to thing, but you’re really discovering yourself.
And I just have to believe that this is way more common among the entrepreneurial type than any other person. In fact, I think some of the unhappiest persons in the world are the slow and steady types who just kind of stick with the thing. They’re never quite happy, but they’re steady and stable. And our society rewards that.
Until that meandering entrepreneur finds the thing, finds the passion and the intersection between what they want to do and what value they can provide to others. Then all of a sudden, you’re a celebrated hero. And you’re like, “Wait a minute, weren’t you kind of just ragging on me for the six years I was lost?
John Lee Dumas: You know what? A massively underrated movie that actually just came to my mind right now, but I feel like every entrepreneur should watch whenever they lose their way or their focus a little bit is Joe Versus the Volcano.
Brian Clark: Oh, that’s an awesome movie.
John Lee Dumas: It’s so good.
Brian Clark: Do you know that’s a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment?
John Lee Dumas: No, I actually didn’t, but it makes a ton of sense now.
No, because it’s crazy. When you said, “Meandering along, I mean, Tom Hanks would have kept going to work at that same office for the next 40 years had that one thing with brain cancer not happened to him. And that would have been his life and he would’ve been so miserable. It’s sad how many people experience that day in, day out, and they’ll never get out of that funk.
Brian Clark: Well, this is something that we talked about when I was on your show and I didn’t get to say it, but what I love to impart to people is this isn’t a dress rehearsal. There isn’t another chance at this. This is life, let’s do it.
So, anyway, thanks for sharing a little bit of the background there. I love the story. I relate to it quite a bit. It’s another point that we have to make over and over again, because people will look at you with the success you’ve had and they’re like, “Well, I’m not up to that. But I can imagine that there were times in between the semester of law school and trying this and trying that where you felt pretty down on yourself, and yet, people don’t know that John now. This is successful John.
So, I think it’s important to share the story. I mean, people have to realize we all start somewhere and it’s usually pretty humble.
John Lee Dumas: It is very humble.
Why the Avatar Is So Important
Brian Clark: Okay. So, let’s get into what I’d like to talk about with you. In your presentation, which was about podcasting, but I think this is more universal. For anyone who has a business that relies on people paying them money, which is pretty much everywhere outside of Wall Street, what we’re talking about here is the avatar or the persona.
People are probably familiar with the concept of buyer personas. I don’t like to put the word “buyer in there because of the way modern marketing works. I mean, really you’re aggregating an audience more than you’re targeting prospects, at least if you’re trying to be effective.
So, the idea of thinking in terms of audience is important. And the idea of the avatar is: who are you talking to? This is all business. I don’t care what you’re doing.
You cannot communicate effectively, whether it be media or marketing or the new hybrid of each that we all engage in now if you don’t understand who you’re talking to, if you can’t develop a sense of profound and accurate empathy for the problems and the day-to-day life of those who you’re trying to help.
John gave this presentation and talked about the importance, obviously, of discovering your ideal avatar. So, John, tell us how you define avatar and why it’s so important.
John Lee Dumas: One of my favorite topics, Brian. I’d like to start off by saying I have so many people that come to me about starting a podcast or a blog or a video channel. I mean, any medium at all, anything. And they say, “John, I’m thinking about talking or podcasting or writing about this topic. And I’m like, “Okay, well, who is your avatar? Who are you writing to? And they’re like, “Well, it’s a girl between the ages of 16 and 45 that grew up in the Midwest and dah, dah, dah.
I just stop and I say, “When’s the last time you’ve talked to a 16 year old girl and then a 45 year old woman in the same day? Those conversations are totally different. How are you going to define your audience in that manner and how are you going to speak? How are you going to have a voice? How are you going to connect? They’re totally different people. Who’s your avatar?
I love really dialing in and saying, “It’s that one perfect listener for your podcast. That one perfect reader for your blog, that one perfect viewer for your Blab or Periscope or video channel, whatever it might be. But it’s one person. And then they say, “But, John, what about all the other people that aren’t that one person? I said, “Believe me, you will resonate with an audience.
EOFire, my podcast, I have an avatar whose name is Jimmy. He was the one perfect listener for my podcast. And I can tell you a ton about him and I know I will in a little bit here, but guess what? That was my one perfect listener. Today, as we speak, three years later, EOFire gets over 1.2 million listens per month.
So, just starting with an avatar, a one perfect listener, one perfect artist member that you know and that you’re speaking to directly, you are doing an amazing thing to yourself. Now, number one, picture Atlas with the big world on his shoulders. You’re trying to make every decision at every single fork in the road right now as a podcast host, as a writer of your blog. And the sad thing is you shouldn’t be making that decision at all, because you are not that ideal listener, that ideal reader of the podcast, of the blog. So, why are you making these decisions? You are the producer, you are the host.
So, rip that Atlas off your back and just hand it over to your avatar, who you’ve created. They make the decisions for you. Now, all of a sudden, you have a voice, you have a directive. You know exactly who you’re speaking to, how you’re going to speak to them, and they are going to take you to the audience that you can create. And that is the avatar.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s interesting now that you’ve shared that again. And what you said earlier, I think, during your presentation, I was literally jotting down a few bullet points, because the Unemployable audience, freelancers and creative entrepreneurs, that could be this 16 to 45 year old conundrum that you get yourself into.
Now, I’ve been doing this long enough not to fall into the demographic trap. It’s more of a story. It’s more of an archetype or persona, but it helped me really zero in.
I know there are lot of people out there that are listening to the show and they come from all sorts of walks of life, and they have all varying levels of ambition, skillsets, experience, all this. But I think I jotted down the story, the one person that I kind of see as the person I’m talking to with Unemployable, even though everyone is welcome. I mean, I think that’s what you were saying in another way.
John Lee Dumas: Totally. I have listeners that resemble nothing like Jimmy. They have no resemblance to Jimmy. I mean, they are 85-year-old grandmothers who are really looking for that last thing to take them down the home stretch with some kind of interest, and they listen to the show and they email me and they love it. But they love it, because I stand for something and I speak to someone. And that someone may not be directly them, but they can hear it and they resonate with certain parts of it, and it works.
Who Is Your Avatar?
Brian Clark: I love it. I love it. Okay, so let’s talk about Jimmy because you know this guy so vividly. I think it’s remarkable.
John Lee Dumas: And it gets even more every single day, which is why I love living and knowing your avatar, and it’s fun. And you want to get to know this person more, and the best part is you are writing this story.
I sat down back in 2012 and wrote 2,000 words of who Jimmy is. He hasn’t changed from those 2,000 words. I’ve, again, added onto it, continued his story, but he is the same person.
Jimmy is 35-years-old. He has a wife and two kids, ages three and five. He drives to work by himself every single day. It’s a 27-minute commute to work where he sits in a cubicle for nine hours at a job he does not like. And then he jumps in his car, drives home. It’s 35 minutes because he gets stuck in a little bit of traffic coming home.
So, he gets home, plays with his kids for an hour, has dinner with his family, puts his kids to bed, hangs out with his wife, and then he sits on the couch by himself and he wonders, “Why do I spend 80% of my waking hours doing what I don’t love doing? Driving to work, sitting in a cubicle, driving home. 10% of my waking hours doing what I love — spending time with my kids and my family. And then the other 10%, I’m sitting on this couch feeling sorry for myself. Why?
That is my avatar, because I know that Jimmy, more than anybody else, needs to be listening to EOFire every morning on that 27-minute commute, to listen to my guests share their worst moments, so he knows that it’s okay to fail. And then on his drive home, hear that “aha moment. So he can say, “Okay, I start to understand what it looks like to have an idea and to act upon it.
Then, on that couch, instead of just feeling sorry for himself, maybe watching The Colbert Report, he’s actually listening to The Lightening Round, which my guests share the best advice they’ve ever received, a resource, a book that they recommend. That will change Jimmy’s life. Jimmy is my avatar, I speak to him.
Brian Clark: And let’s not let this go by people, listen to that. Jimmy is not a real person, and yet how many Jimmys do you know? You used to be Jimmy, perhaps.
John Lee Dumas: I was.
Brian Clark: That is so vivid and that is what you’re aiming for. Because with that painting in my mind’s eye right now, I could speak to Jimmy, I know how to talk to him. And that’s what John has been doing for 1,164…
John Lee Dumas: You were number 1,164.
Brian Clark: There we go. But it’s powerful. Trust me, your content gets better, your marketing messages get better, your products and services get better, because now you’re making something for this person, this flesh and blood person. Even though you fictionalized it, it is so close to multiple people out there that it resonates. It engages and it works. I mean, that’s the idea here.
The Process to Create an Avatar
Brian Clark: Okay, I love the example and I think people are going to benefit greatly from understanding where they’re trying to get to. What’s the process that you recommend for coming up with a fictional person that is so real that it actually works in the real world?
John Lee Dumas: For me, it does start with the topic. So, I really wanted to sit down and say, “Okay, number one, what are things that I’m passionate about? I even went down and I broke it down on a piece of paper. I just drew a line right down the middle. On the upper left, I put “Passion. And I sat there for five days. Again, this was just a five-day exercise, but it was five minutes a day for five days.
On the left hand side under “Passion, I just wrote things that I was excited about, things that I enjoyed, things that I could see myself waking up and enjoying doing throughout the course of an entire day. And not just today, but three years from now, five years from now, like down the road. What did I love doing as a kid? Just writing down all of these words and these phrases.
Then on the right hand side, it’s “Expertise. And I would just write all of the skills that I’ve acquired over the years, all the expertise, all the value that I can add to this world. And I’m telling you, the first couple of days, that’s a hard exercise to do. You give yourself five minutes, you do it and you’re just like, “Ah, that was good. But the reason for that is you don’t work your creative muscle as much as you should. And so you do that day two, day three, day four, you’re going to start to having these things on the piece of paper that are going to start to make sense.
Then by day five you’re going to start to see where there’s an overlap between the passions and the expertise, the skill sets. You start to see where those gel together, which I love to call “The zone of genius – great book by Gay Hendricks called The Big Leap where he talks about the zone of genius. And that is where your passions and expertise overlie.
I sat and I said, “Man, this is something that I’ve known that I have wanted to do for a while — talk to entrepreneurs, hear their story, pull out the tidbits, share it with an audience. And that’s where the actual idea started forming for EOFire. And then I’m saying, “Well, who exactly am I talking to? Because I know what I want to do now, but who do I want to speak to?
Then I sat down and wrote out those 2,000 words of who will be the perfect person that would be a listener of my show and that would be impacted in a positive way. And that was Jimmy. And that was a process I went through.
Brian Clark: That’s interesting. I especially like that first you figured out effectively, “Is this something I want to do? Again, we’re going back and forth in a meta fashion between the show I did with you and this one, but we talked about the fact that as entrepreneurs, sometimes we start businesses because we’ve got something to prove or we think it’s about the money. And then we end up unhappy even if we’re successful.
So, you started with, “What do I want to do and what am I good at? And then you said, “Okay, so who is this for?
How to Flesh Out the Avatar
Brian Clark: When you wrote the story, was it really just a blank piece of paper and you started flowing out and ended up with Jimmy? Or were there other research or other aspects that you utilized in order to say, “Okay, who is this person?
John Lee Dumas: I started to look at other podcasts and blogs that were out there right then that I felt were speaking to a similar audience, to a similar Jimmy. And I would read them and I’d read research about them, and I would read the About Me pages and try to get behind the mind of the author and the host and say, “Who is this person speaking to?
So I would do my research, that key word and that key listen research or actually would go out to similar things to what I knew EOFire was growing to be. And I would take notes and I would add that.
Those first 2,000 words, they haven’t changed from the final copy of pre-launch of EOFire, but they changed many times leading up to the launch of EOFire. So, I definitely adjusted Jimmy along the way from what I was seeing was really out there in the world and what wasn’t, and what my unique selling proposition that USP could potentially be for my show to distinguish it. Because even back in 2012, there were a lot of podcasts out there. Nothing like today, but there were a lot and I knew I had to do something different.
It was really by that research, the studying of competition and getting into the meat that really allowed me to flesh Jimmy and the show, in general, EOFire out. Because, Brian, as you know, you just answered the same questions that my number two guest, Pat Flynn answered on episode number two, which was the first episode that I interviewed somebody. Episode one was just me. You answered the same questions, because I did that much studied research that I knew that those were the questions that my listener was going to want to have when he pressed the play button.
That hasn’t changed. That was a recipe that I created that has not been altered going forward. And that’s critical. Not that you don’t alter it, because you can alter and I would have altered if something hadn’t worked. But what was critical was the pre-work that I did so that when I did launch, it had the opportunity for to catch fire. It did, and the feedback came in, “Hey, this is working, keep going on this. And I just continued to add fuel to that flame.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s pretty brilliant. This is something I’ve been trying to get across over and over again, I guess, for the last decade. Which is you’re not looking for no competition. In fact, you should be aiming directly at a heavily competitive niche, or whatever the case may be, because there’s demand. And, as you pointed out, whether you call it a USP or positioning or a purple cow, however you want to talk about the winning differences, I like to talk about it — that’s the game right there.
And just because there are other blogs, podcasts, marketers, product, services, it doesn’t mean they’re doing it absolutely correctly. But in the aggregate, if you pay enough attention, if you deep dive, you will find not only the essence of what Jimmy, or whoever your avatar is, wants, but you can deliver it better. Again, you’re not running away from competition, you’re doing a better job of it.
I mean, Copyblogger was both a different approach to blogging, in that I applied copywriting principles to content and I told people they should sell stuff instead of advertising, but it was really a compliment to everyone else out there rather than a competitive element.
Did you feel that way with your show in that? Because I know just like everyone else, you started off with the crickets chirping. It’s just you speaking into an empty microphone, it feels like, right?
John Lee Dumas: No, it’s true.
Brian Clark: But then over time it took off, because you started making the connections, you started offering complimentary promotion, access information, you built relationships, and then the show took off.
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, I definitely found that. I mean, for me, it was really about doing that thing. There’s a quote that I refer back to a lot — “If you want to be, do. And I wanted to be a podcaster. So, the only way for me to do that was to actually podcast, was to press that red button to record and then press that publish button into iTunes and get it out there into the world, so that my listeners could give me feedback.
Now, there was no feedback for a significant amount of time, because I was just running those crickets. As the audience grew and I just asked for the feedback and I started to get it, I could make those little tweaks and those little amplifications to really take EOFire to the next level.
And it started building out the products and the services that have turned into Podcaster’s Paradise, Webinar on Fire, Fire Nation Elite and more, that have really grown EOFire into what is now a multi-million dollar a year business with myself and my girlfriend in my apartment here in San Diego and five full-time virtual assistants in the Philippines. That’s our team, and that’s what we built from that model.
Brian Clark: Yeah, but really, know who you’re talking to and it all follows. Because if you get it right at the beginning and you grow from there, when it comes time to sell something, not only have you got that know, like, and trust thing, which is the holy grail now, but you know what they want, you know what they need. You know what’s missing from the free value that you’re providing, right?
John Lee Dumas: So true.
Brian Clark: Yeah. All right. If you get stuck on that blank page trying to come up with your Jimmy, I’m going to put a couple of links in the show notes about empathy mapping. It’s a pretty cool exercise, especially for visual people about pulling out those thoughts and feelings and concepts that John illustrated about the way Jimmy feels when he’s driving to and from work. That is the granular level you have to get to. If it doesn’t just come to you naturally, check those out.
What’s Your One Piece of Advice for Someone Just Starting on Their Journey?
Brian Clark: John, I’m going to put you on the spot, like you did me, and ask you what’s your one piece of advice to someone who hasn’t made the leap yet or is just beginning their unemployable journey?
John Lee Dumas: So, I talked about my six years of failure and again, hindsight, it’s 20/20. But looking back I was chasing success, specifically financial success and all that jazz. My one piece of advice is a great quote by Albert Einstein – “Try not to become a person of success, rather a person of value.
When I flipped my chasing success on its head in 2012 at 32 years old and I just started providing free valuable and consistent content, everything changed. The success started coming to me instead of me chasing it around in a circle like a dog with its tail. And it made all the difference in the world. So, become a person of value.
Brian Clark: Of the many Einstein quotes that I adore, that is also a favorite of mine. Apparently that guy was smart or something.
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, something about him, and he had really great hair.
Brian Clark: Yeah, the hair, I mean, I think that was it. The ladies loved it. John, thanks so much for taking the time, I appreciate it so much.
John Lee Dumas: My pleasure, BC. Thanks for everything.
Brian Clark: All right, Everyone, thanks for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another show. In the meantime, keep going.