After surviving cancer three times, Sarah has exploded with creativity, writing two books to help other people going through the same thing while also building a community through her podcast and blog at Storyteller Station and a Facebook group to boot. With a middle-grade book series on the way, Sarah would like to focus on earning more money and really solidifying her community. However, she’s staring down an ever-growing to-do list and isn’t sure of the best first steps to take.
I love this episode because it shows you that this kind of problem, feeling overwhelmed with everything that you could do, happens to just about everyone. Sarah has laid a ton of groundwork making content, growing her community, and even writing those books. At the same time, she feels like there’s so much more to learn and do. We get so focused on doing it right that we end up not getting it done at all. Instead of fixating on all the learning you haven’t done, it’s often better to take a Just-In-Time learning approach where you pick up only the skills you need to get the next thing done.
The main takeaway here is to ask that Tim Ferris question, “if this were easy what would it look like?” For Sarah, I think that comes down to building an email list. We talk about the ins and outs of ConvertKit, and how you should start by simply laying all your resources on the table so your audience can segment themselves. That’s enough for now, and once your audience has self-segmented you can worry about all the other bells and whistles then. We also talk about how sharing what you’re working on with others is the best way to help you get it done and build interest as you go. I can’t wait to see what happens when Sarah hits the ground running, and I think you’ll be rooting for her too. [Full Disclosure: I’m a compensated advisor and an affiliate for ConvertKit.]
Pat Flynn: What’s up, everybody? Welcome to Ask Pat 2.0, episode number 1072. This is a coaching session between myself and an entrepreneur just like you, and I work through the problems so we can find solutions. Today we’re speaking with Sarah Falk, who is an author and a person who’s gone through so much and has so much to offer, but is a little overwhelmed, like most of us, right? So how do we progress when there’s just so much to do and so much overwhelm? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about and help Sarah through today. So make sure you sit back, relax, and listen because we got a lot to talk about.
But before I get to that, I just want to say, hey, if you haven’t yet listened to my other show, Smart Passive Income, that might be a good time to pause this episode, go to that show, and make sure you subscribe to that one too because we got a lot of great content coming out weekly for you as well, interviews and solo shows across all spectrums of online business and helping you scale without getting overwhelmed, so I just wanted to mention that and plug that there. You can also find my website at smartpassiveincome.com. So make sure you subscribe to that show and this one too, obviously, if you haven’t done so yet. Now, let’s get to the conversation today with Sarah Falk. Here she goes. Hey Sarah, welcome to AskPat. Thank you so much for being here today.
Sarah Falk: Thanks for having me.
Pat: Absolutely. So why don’t you take a quick minute to tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Sarah: Okay. So I am a mental health counselor, an independent author, a mom of four boys.
Sarah: A wife. I have a lot going on and that’s part of the reason why I wanted to talk to you today.
Pat: Four kids alone, that’s insane. Four boys especially.
Sarah: Right. And four boys.
Sarah: Four boys.
Pat: I have one boy and one girl and the boy is . . . We were almost done with just one. But no, we were thankful to have another.
Sarah: That’s right.
Pat: So tell me about your book and what you do to help serve the mental health space.
Sarah: Okay. So I specialize in panic and anxiety disorders, as far as the counseling business is concerned. I’m in the office two and a half days a week there. So I have survived cancer twice in my life. Well, technically three times. I had bone cancer in high school, a breast cancer diagnosis in 2015, and then I just finished up surgery, or reconstruction, for skin cancer on my nose, and then that was in the Fall. So cancer has been a part of my life and when I received the diagnosis of breast cancer, I just decided it was time. I’ve written all my life and it was just time to put that story out there in hopes of encouraging other people and just being very transparent so that people who were going through the same thing did not feel like they were alone. Like, “Oh, other people experience these things as well. Okay, so I’m not losing it here.” So.
Pat: Is the book called Finding Myself? Is that the one?
Sarah: That was my mission with that. Finding Myself, Facing Cancer. Yes.
Pat: Yeah, I see that here on Amazon. That’s awesome, and thank you for sharing that story. Wow. You are a survivor. Just wow.
Pat: I’ll link to this in the show notes for everybody, but it’s called Finding Myself, Facing Cancer, by Sarah Falk, F-A-L-K. So that’s wonderful. So what can I help you with? What’s on your mind?
Sarah: Okay, so I had written the book and I put it out there and I honestly didn’t think much beyond that. Like, “Oh, I just want to help people.” And honestly, I haven’t really made any money on it because I’ve just given it away. I’ve given it to doctors’ offices and to even clients in my counseling practice who are going through cancer or have loved ones going through cancer. And I even developed a workbook called Keeping it Together, a Patient’s Companion Through Decision Making that just allows people to journal through the very difficult decision-making process. And so I put those things out there as just a contribution, really, but now I’m kind of shifting focus a little bit and I’m finishing up my second book in a nine-book middle-grade fantasy series.
Pat: That’s cool.
Sarah: And I have these all . . . Yeah. I have them all plotted and I have the whole series planned, but I feel a little scattered. I’ve been watching you on YouTube since 2015 and Joanna Penn, the Creative Penn, and Roberto Blake. And I’ve just been taking in this content and I’m finally just realizing I feel a bit scattered because there’s a lot of information and I know that part of it is, for me, just realizing, “Okay, now what do I want?”
Pat: Yeah. That was going to be my next question.
Sarah: Yeah. So what I want is I actually do want to make money, now.
Sarah: I do because I will continue to write and I will continue to share stories and I actually started a podcast, Storyteller Station. I do that because, number one, I love to talk and I love video, though I’m very technologically impaired.
Pat: A lot of us are, don’t worry.
Sarah: So yeah. I found the podcast was just more attainable for me, but it’s just a place to share stories and to talk about the craft of telling stories, whether through word or photography or art. So going forward, I would like this to be a business, but again, I feel very overwhelmed by the content, the recommendations, the ideas, and so I was really hoping that you might be able to, I don’t know, coach me in a way that would just be like, “Okay Sarah, this is what you should think about now.” Or, you know, “start here” kind of thing. So.
Pat: Right. Well, I am here to help you, for sure, and I know a lot of people can resonate with what you just said because a lot of us learn quite a bit and we get squirrel syndrome and, “Oh, this looks like a good strategy. This is what we should do. This is what we should look at.” And as a result of doing that, we kind of go nowhere except under all the overwhelm and stress, right?
Sarah: That’s exactly right.
Pat: I hear you. I hear you. When you say scattered, I’d love to unpack that a little bit more. What are you trying to . . . What is scattering you? Yes, I know there’s a lot of content and information out there, but perhaps, what are some of the things that you’re thinking about doing that are clashing against each other?
Sarah: Okay, so I’ve had a blog since 2015 when I . . . Just before I was diagnosed, actually, when I knew I had to have a biopsy. I was like, “I’m starting it now.” So I’ve had the blog since then and have maintained it, but now that I’m shifting focus and realizing “Oh, I need to build an email list” because I don’t have one. So then I’m like, “Okay, I need to do that, but I need to learn.”
Sarah: Learn how to do that. And since I’ve already explained I’m technologically challenged, this . . . There needs to be a learning curve for me and it takes a lot of time. So I want to maintain the blog, I want to maintain the podcast, and I feel like the podcast and the blog, it’s the same material. I just offer it in two different ways. So to me, that doesn’t seem too scattered, but in the meantime, it’s like writing the books, editing the books, working with the designers, and then now I need to learn . . . I’ve only been using Create Space, which is not Create Space, now it’s KDP.
Pat: Right. Right.
Sarah: So I need to learn that, but I don’t want to be just there. I’d like to offer more . . . be in more spaces, so I’m looking at IngramSpark or Lulu or something. So I just feel like the to-do list is very . . . it’s vast and I’m not really sure what to focus on first. While I was going through cancer treatment, I did have a lot of engagement, as far as on Facebook. And even on my blog, I had some comments, but I really do desire a community and I want interaction and I want to know, “Okay, is what I’m giving you valuable?” Because I’m having a lot of fun doing it, but if it’s just going out there and the crickets are listening, then I don’t know how that’s helpful.
Pat: Right. While, and on that note, it’s tough for the online space, especially with something like a podcast or a blog because a lot of conversation now is happening on social media, right?
Pat: And it’s hard to keep track of all the conversations. And I will also say that, when you have listeners of your podcast, you can change their life and never know it. That’s happened to me before. I almost quit my podcast in 2012 until somebody emailed me and said that it was my podcast that saved their life. It just struck me as, “Wow, this person was going through this thing for two years and I had no idea.” And so I always try to think about, and this is just a little frame of mind for you about the person on the other end who, whether they need you now or later, you’re doing it for them. But I completely understand the fact that conversation’s important, which is why I think that it, to me, having a little bit of engagement on a . . . something like a Facebook group related to your brand, which is the blog and the podcast together, that’s where you can spark discussions, have conversations, and just essentially, technology-wise, it’s simple to set up a group if you don’t have one already. And then you can just mention on your podcast and your blog, “Hey, go to this link and I’ll see you over there. We have conversations about these things every single week” and this is on your Facebook group. When you come out with a new episode, you can post it there and start the conversation.
The biggest piece of advice I’m going to give you is, okay, there’s a lot of things to do. If this were simple, what would it look like? And this is something I learned from Tim Ferris. We can make this as complicated or as simple as we want, and let’s always try to err on the side of keeping things simple. So in terms of that, in this giant to-do list you have, I like to do what’s called just-in-time learning. And this may help you, because I was also an avid “procrasti-learner” as well, which is a term I learned yesterday actually, and I love that term because we’re procrasti-learners. We learn so much, we never get anything done.
Sarah: Yes. Oh my gosh.
Pat: So I implement something called just-in-time learning, something that my mentor taught me back in the day, which was, okay, you kind of write out all the things that need to happen. You did mention an email list and KDP and the design, and then, of course, there’s the marketing and then there’s book number three, book number four, and all those other . . . There’s a huge thing here and I love that you’re looking ahead into the future, but what just-in-time learning means is, okay, what is my next check mark on my to-do list? Whatever that is, I’m only going to allow myself to focus and learn about that right now. Yes, I know I need to figure out how to get on Amazon, but that’s not my next task. I’ll leave it for future Sarah to learn about that then and only then. It’s just a huge relief to essentially give yourself permission to not know how the next steps will work, but they will.
And the cool thing about this strategy, as well, is once you check off that next to-do list, it’s really interesting what happens. You start to gain momentum because you’ve seen that you’re actually making progress. You’re getting a little bit closer to the light at the end of the tunnel there, and you actually start to pick up things a little bit faster and you also get things done faster because now you’re only allowing yourself to learn about those other things—or only the thing that’s right in front of you. That sort of strategy alone will be helpful. So I know I didn’t give you like, “Okay, do this next,” but I think that . . . I don’t know how that resonates with you with like, “Okay, we’ll save the learning for those other things later.” How does that sit with you?
Sarah: Yeah, that is actually one step I stook on my last podcast episode. I said, “Okay, I’m limiting myself to one thing.” And actually, it’s building the email list and I’m using ConvertKit to—
Pat: Great. That’s the easiest one.
Sarah: To really convert it . . . Yeah, that’s the thing. I’ve just been on their website and just watching all the videos I can and rewatching them.
Pat: And then also with ConvertKit, obviously any tools that we use, we could go super advanced with those tools, right? We could use all hundred features and start to create these completely automated sequences with hundreds of emails and it gets . . . Even though you’re focusing on that next task, that one task alone can have its own to-do list of a hundred things, right?
Sarah: That’s true.
Pat: And so you’re probably watching these videos and going, “Oh, I have to do that. I have to do that. I have to do that. I have to do that.” I would say, okay, going back to Tim Ferris, how can we make this simple to do what I want it to do? I want to build an email list. So let me make a from, put it on my website, and now I can move on. And yes, there’s other things you can do. You can write ten emails in an auto-responder series, but that can come later. The truth is, until you get a form on your website, you will not collect emails. When you have a form on your website, you can begin to . . . You’ve unlocked the next stage at that point.
Sarah: Okay. I know that I want . . . I have the landing page for my . . . Well, I have a landing page created and I want to . . . What I want to do is called Storyteller Nation. That’s going to be my community.
Pat: I love it. I love that.
Sarah: And . . . Thanks. So I do have a Facebook group called Storyteller Nation.
Sarah: But what I want to do is to provide different paths within Storyteller Nations, so if someone is a reader or writing of nonfiction, fiction, or if they’re an indie author, then I want each path because I have three different things to offer these people. So I’ve got something for . . . I’ve got a decision-making checklist for the nonfiction. I have a prequel to the fantasy series that I’m writing for middle grade. I actually geared it toward parents who might be buying for their kids. So the prequel short story is the fiction. And then I have a . . . just a really short indie author ABCs, like how to, and this is going to crack you up, how to focus yourself and where to start if you’re an indie author.
Pat: Hey, we all go through it. And even when we share . . . like I share advice too and I’m like, “Oh, I should probably do that also,” sometimes. Well, it sounds like—
Sarah: So I have these—
Pat: You have these paths, right? You have different buckets. You have different sequences that you can set up. Start with one for everybody and what you could do to still serve all those people, which is the most important thing, is you can have all those resources all in one place. And what you could . . . So let me simplify this for you, and this is not as simple as putting on a light switch, but it’s going to help you. So what I would do is just have one form that people can subscribe to, to start. Over time, on different pages on your website, over time, on different episodes of your podcast, you can have different entry points. So indie authors can download this thing that then puts them into that bucket. Don’t even worry about that right now. Just have forms on your website that people can come to, no matter where they’re at. And in that first email, I would be open with who you are and why you’re doing all this, and then you can even link to, in those emails, each of . . . Like in that first email. The first email they get, just go, “Hey, I’ve created a lot of things to help a lot of people. Here are all of them. Here’s a link to download this thing. Here’s a link to download thing number two and then thing number three.” So again, to get there, very simple. One path. They see that email and this is where you could start to kind of start to fork them out because that, in ConvertKit, when you create a link in an email, you can attach it to tag. You’ve probably seen these videos already.
Pat: So actually it’s as simple as when you create a link, you can create tags as you go. So you can have a tag for “indie author.” You can have a tag for “reader.” You can have a tag for each one because each of these products serves different audiences, right?
Pat: So just in that one first email, you’re going to start to see themselves start to tag themselves.
Pat: And don’t even worry about, “Okay, what happens after they tag themselves?” Later, you can have emails that are just for that tag. But for now, you just set up that process so that as soon as you can on your podcast, you can go, “By the way, I have some free resources for you. Doesn’t matter where you’re at. Here’s the kinds of things you’ll get in there. You’ll see that in the first email you get,” and you can already start building your email list much sooner.
Sarah: Okay. Okay, and this is going to just show you how technologically . . . Like, I don’t understand this. Is a form different than a landing page?
Pat: They can . . . A form is on a landing page. So if you have a landing page, actually you’re more advanced than you think.
Sarah: Oh, okay.
Pat: Instead of a form on your blog, you essentially have a separate page that can do this collection for you. So that’s great. If you have that landing page, perfect. Have that be the thing you mention in every podcast episode and then link to that landing page on your blog. Once that’s set up, then that’s where you direct people to and they’ll start to get that email and self-segment from there. And you can add more emails over time.
Pat: Yeah, great job. Does that simplify things for you? Instead of, “Okay, let’s make this massive tree of things?”
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, I think it helps me to realize I’m doing okay. I just need to not think about all of the other things that I think I should do, I guess.
Pat: Eventually do.
Sarah: Eventually do, right. And if I don’t do the first step, how am I supposed to get to the second step?
Pat: Exactly, which is why I was like, “Just make that form,” but it can be a landing page, too, so that’s good. So okay, once you get that set up, like literally just the landing page with the first email written that has those resources you mentioned, which is fantastic. You have a lot to offer already. What would be the next— Okay, you’ve learned how to do that. You’ve completed it. What’s step . . . What else would be next after that? What would be the next learning/implementation thing?
Sarah: Maybe for engagement purposes, learning more about how to manage my Facebook group.
Pat: I love it. And you had mentioned that that’s something that you really want, and so I love that feature. And here’s another bonus. You have this Facebook group. You can link to that landing page there too and it’s already set up for everybody, which is great.
Pat: So you see how things start to stack on each other after?
Pat: Which is great, and the other thing you can do is email number two that they get can be, “By the way, if you’re not a part of the Facebook group yet, we’re having some great conversations over there. Click here.” And then the people who are already in the group will be like, “Hey, I already did that. I love the group.” So you can just slowly go back to those other things over time, but yeah, Facebook group engagement, I think just some quick tips there. Try to make it a safe place for people to have conversations and I think that being in there every once in a while and allowing for people to have conversations. Asking people questions is a great way to get engagement too.
Pat: “Hey, what are your thoughts on blank?” And that, essentially you give permission, as the moderator, to have people talk.
Pat: The beauty of a group and why I’m so stoked that you’ve already created it is people want to find other people like them. People want community. It’s human nature to want to belong to something, and so that’s just the best advice I could give you. How could you, over time, and ongoing, through conversations, make them feel like they belong? And sometimes that means allowing them to answer questions. Sometimes it’s allowing them to ask questions and be heard. That group is going to be important for you, I think, because that’s going to be seen as your first handshake opportunity with people, where people might ask a question and, if they’re not left hanging and they get a reply from either you or somebody else, it’s basically a, “Hey, welcome to the group. This is where you can hang out and we can be a part of the community together,” and that community will grow over time. So that’s really exciting and it’s probably not . . . You already have the group, which is awesome. So I don’t know what else you need to learn other than just go in there and start having conversations. So that’s . . . You’re already done with step two now. So what might . . . I’m just going to go one more and then, as you can see, I’m just trying to make things so easy for you. So after a little bit of learning on the group and getting people to start talking there, what might be the third thing that you might check off your list from there?
Pat: You have this book that you’re working on, obviously, and that’s kind of ongoing, right?
Sarah: Yeah. Right. And both . . . That’s one of the other . . . Book launching, I’m . . . That’s just, and marketing is a totally separate . . .
Pat: It’s a scary thing. And—
Sarah: I was just going to say. Yeah, it’s scary entity there. So yeah.
Pat: Here’s the best way to take the scared out of it. It’s to let people know ahead of time that you’re working on it now. The cool thing about this is you’re not starting from scratch. You have this group. “And by the way, guys, I’m working on this thing on the side. I’m practicing what I preach. I’m working on this book. It’s a part of a series I’m doing. Here are five things I’ve learned that have really helped me, and maybe if you’re a writer, these things will be helpful for you.” So you can see how you can, through your experience, add value. You’re teaching but you’re also planting seeds that you’re working on something and you have a blog that you could do the same thing. You can have a podcast. And you’ve been listening to me, I think you said since 2015. How many times do I go, “Hey guys, I’m working on this project,” or “I have this invention I’m working on,” and I talk about it like a year ahead of time. Because by the end, when it comes out, guess what? People are rooting for you.
Pat: It’s not a, “Oh, by the way, secret. This thing just came out and now I’m going to ask you to pay money.” It’s like, “Hey, I’ve been working on this for so long. I’ve been adding value along the way.” And oftentimes people go, “Finally you’ve given me a chance to pay you back for all this information you’ve been giving me.” And that’s how . . . I would just tell the story about how you’re telling the story.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah.
Pat: How you feeling?
Sarah: That’s good. Yeah, I feel really good. I feel very encouraged.
Sarah: I appreciate that.
Pat: And marketing can be as big . . . a big scary thing too, just like with the ConvertKit thing, just like with the Facebook, and just try to keep it simple and I think obviously you could get into ads and all this other stuff that I don’t even get into because I just . . . I want to say—
Sarah: And SEO.
Pat: Yeah, oh gosh. Those things are important, but, honestly the most important thing is, for me, that’s helped me—and this seems like what you’re building too—is the community. It’s the people who love you because you actually care about them. Those become your super fans who are your marketing. They will just fly your banner for you and shout about you on their own rooftops. That, to me, when I have a person share my book or my program with one of their friends, that to me is the ultimate compliment. That’s what I would recommend that you shoot for because you can sell all day, but if a friend makes that recommendation for you, that’s so much stronger.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah.
Pat: Cool. So hopefully I’ve helped relieve a little bit of pressure from you.
Sarah: You really have. Yeah, thank you.
Pat: Good. Any final thoughts on how to put this all together for you? Or perhaps somebody’s listening and wants to know what’s going on in your head right now.
Sarah: Oh my goodness. One thing that I think I’ve heard from you and Joanna Penn and Roberto Blake and probably a number of other people, that just to step out and do it. And so that’s, for me, I feel like you’ve encouraged me in what I’m already doing and that I can take the next step and it won’t—that I can do it. And so I think that’s what’s on my mind right now is just, I can do it.
Pat: You can. You’re already doing it.
Sarah: I just need to stop saying I’m . . . Yeah.
Pat: You’re already doing it. We’re just—
Sarah: And so for any listener who feels the same, you can do it. Just step out and do it.
Pat: Perfect. Thank you so much for that. And the other thing that goes on top of it is like, and I’m saying this to myself and everybody listening and not just you, Sarah. It’s just like, let’s stop making everything so complicated. Right? Let’s simplify and that’s how you, like you said, just start. And then you can adjust and add to and figure things out along the way, but I think you’re on the right path, Sarah, and I’m excited to see how things go. Let me know when this book series comes out because my son is all over those kinds of books right now.
Pat: Just keep up the good work. Where can people go, or where should people go to join the group, find you, all the good things?
Sarah: I am blogging weekly on sarahfenlandfalk.com website and I’m podcasting weekly on the Storyteller Station. You can find me at the Facebook group, Storyteller Nation.
Pat: Storyteller Nation, here’s to you. Thank you so much, Sarah. Appreciate you and good luck with everything.
Sarah: Thank you. Thanks so much, Pat.
Pat: All right, I hope you enjoyed that coaching session with Sarah. And if you want to check her out, SarahFenlonFalk.com, and also Storyteller Station on all places you can find podcasts, and Storyteller Nation on Facebook. Lot of great stuff going on, Sarah. Keep doing what you’re doing. You have so many people to help who need you. I’m so excited to see clarity and just a bright light in your future. This is going to be amazing. And thank you so much for what you do. For those of you listening, if you want to get coached just like Sarah did today, all you have to do is go to askpat.com and you can find the application button right there in the middle of that page. Fill out that application, and I don’t pick everybody. I can’t possibly pick everybody because we get dozens of submissions every single week, but I may select you and I’m definitely not going to select you if you don’t apply. So if you want to get coaching from me, go to askpat.com. You can also see all the other episodes in the archive there as well. And if you have a minute, just hit me up on Apple podcast and leave a review there too. And you can subscribe if you haven’t already. Thank you so much in advance for that. I appreciate you, Team Flynn. You’re amazing. And let’s keep it going. Until next week, Team Flynn for the win. Cheers.
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