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Matt Essam

Matt Essam is a creative business coach. Think of him like the British version of Chris Do.In this episode, he and Chris talk about finding their sense of purpose in life, and how everyone’s story has inherent value—even if you don’t see it just yet.

Why Your Story is Valuable
Why Your Story is Valuable

Why Your Story is Valuable

Ep
91
Jul
13
With
Matt Essam
Or Listen On:

Why Your Story is Valuable

Matt Essam is a creative business coach. Think of him as the British version of Chris Do.

In this episode, he and Chris talk about finding their sense of purpose in life, and how everyone’s story has inherent value—even if you don’t see it just yet. They discuss strategies about how to become a better listener and why doing so is critical to the success of your business and client relationships.

This isn’t just for the creative community. The ideas and mindset these two kindred spirits share are applicable to everyone.

Matt helps freelancers and creative business owners find their dream clients so they can do fulfilling, financially rewarding work. He made this shift to become a creative coach about four years ago when he realized, through his digital marketing job, there were bigger problems to solve for the creative community.

He noticed creatives needed help not just with their marketing, but with their business, mindset, and many other things.

After losing a close member of his family in 2015, Matt’s perspective on what he was working towards completely changed. At the time, he was working independently with clients, and while he had more flexibility and freedom, there was something missing.

On his plane ride back to the UK, Matt really started to reevaluate what he was doing. The loss of someone so close to him not only prompted him to think of his own mortality, but also what he could do that would be meaningful for others.

He first analyzed where the gaps were. The first (and you can probably guess this one) was the lack of business acumen in creatives. As a creative himself, Matt understood the hesitation surrounding business.

Taking what he’d learned building his own business, Matt decided it was time to fill the gaps, and help creatives land their dream clients.

Matt’s story is an inspiring one, and if you’re unsure of how to land dream clients yourself, Matt’s got plenty of words of wisdom to help you get started.

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Episode Transcript

Matt:
I think I knew deep down that if I just was left to my own devices, I wouldn't be able to have as much impact as I wanted. The thing that really drove me to that was Nigel's death made me realize how short time can be and I didn't want to spend the next 10 years figuring this stuff out for myself.

Greg:
Hi, I'm Greg Gunn and welcome to The Futur podcast. Today's guest is a creative business coach and someone who I think you are really going to enjoy listening to. Think of him like the British version of Chris Do. You'll see what I mean.

Greg:
In this episode, he and Chris talk about finding their sense of purpose in life. And now everyone's story has inherent value even if you don't see it just yet. They discuss strategies about how to become a better listener and why doing so is critical to the success of your business and client relationships. And this isn't just for the creative community. The ideas and mindset these two kindred spirits share are applicable to everyone. So put on your best listening ears and please enjoy our conversation with Matt Essam.

Matt:
My name's Matt Essam. I am a creative business coach and I help establish freelancers and small agency owners to find their dream clients so that they can do work that is both creatively fulfilling and financially rewarding.

Chris:
When did you make the shift into being a creative coach?

Matt:
Great question. Yeah, it was about four years ago now. It was kind of before that, I was a digital marketing consultant. The more I got down that rabbit hole, the more I started working with creatives, the more I realized there was bigger problems to be solved. It wasn't just that they needed help with their marketing, they needed help with their business. They needed help with their mindset. They needed help with lots of things. And I wanted to create as much of a transformation for them as I could, really. I wanted to solve the biggest problem that I was capable of solving.

Chris:
Did this have something to do with something that happened in 2015? Something that changed your life?

Matt:
Yeah, it had a lot to do with that. Would you like me to share a little bit about that story?

Chris:
Yes, please.

Matt:
So I'd got my business to the point... at this point, I was kind of running what I would class as a micro agency. So it was me and a bunch of freelancers. And I had got to the point where I decided that the work was tending to fall into one of two categories. It was either really creatively fulfilling and really exciting and stuff that I was really passionate but didn't have much of a budget.

Matt:
So it was always just like a lot of work for not a lot of money. Or it was super well paid, but pretty boring. Not a lot of creative control and not a lot of purpose behind it. And so I think I just finished reading The 4-Hour Workweek, actually. And so I had this image in my mind of this business that I wanted to build where I could travel around. And I had this kind of team of people doing the work and I was really just managing the clients. And I've been doing it for a while. I've been doing it for about six or seven months.

Matt:
And from the outside, everyone kept telling me how amazing my life was. People sending me messages on Instagram. My family that I visited over in New Zealand say, "Oh my god, you're living the dream." And although I could appreciate that it was great, I couldn't ignore this kind of gnawing feeling inside me that there was more to life than just churning out websites for people to fuel my own kind of pleasure and my own travel and my own lifestyle. I wasn't a millionaire by any means, but I was doing some pretty cool stuff compared to some of my friends who were stuck back in the UK in rainy England in January.

Matt:
And I remember there was this distinct point that you just alluded to. I was in Canada at the time and I just spent a lot of money on snowboard gear, on ski passes. And I was planning to be there for a while until a return trip a few months later back to the UK. And I remember it was like one Tuesday afternoon, I'm sat on the side of this mountain overlooking this incredible view, this incredible vista.

Matt:
And I don't know if you've ever had this but it was this feeling of like, I should be appreciating this way more but I can't ignore the fact that in a few hours, I've got to go and talk to a client that I really don't want to talk to. I've got to go and answer a bunch of emails with projects that I don't really care about. And I started to kind of really break at the seams because I couldn't ignore that feeling anymore. And I was feeling guilty for not enjoying myself.

Matt:
And so I come back to my hotel room. And I see a message from my mom and it just says, it's like the first thing that comes off my phone. It just says, "Please call me as soon as you get this." And that's not a good message for anybody to get when you're on the other side of the world. And me and my mom would usually just kind of text backwards and forwards and it's all fine. And my heart just sank and I was like, "Oh God, what has happened?"

Matt:
And so I grabbed my phone, I've got no signal in the hotel room. So I run outside, and I'm calling my mom and trying to get through and eventually, it starts ringing and it's like the longest ringtone in the history of man. Just like this moment of, "Oh God," and I remember it being freezing outside. I just stood in this hoodie, looking around at the snow. And my mom picks up the phone and I said, "What's happened? What's going on?" And she just says, "Nigel's dead. That's all we know. Dad thought it was best that you found out sooner rather than later." And I remember this feeling of where I just didn't know what to say. I just didn't have a single word to say back to that.

Matt:
And so just to give people some context, Nigel was my godfather's son. He was in his 40s. And he just died like very suddenly and unexpectedly. He wasn't ill or anything. And so I said, obviously, "I'm going to come back, I want to be with the family and whatever. I'll cut my trip short." And so I kind of rushed back to the hotel, and then all of a sudden, I went back into the room and check my bank balance and I realized that I didn't even have enough money to pay for a flight home because I'd already paid for my flights and my trip and everything. And I'd spent all this money on my snowboard gear and I was waiting on clients for payments and things.

Matt:
And so I have to call my mum back and say, "I really want to come home but can you help me out with the flight?" And it's just like that point where I'm sitting on the plane on the way home and just thinking, "What am I really doing with my life? What is all of this about?" And I think like a lot of people now who have maybe had to pause their life and reflect a little bit because of the situation we find ourselves in. It was that real moment where everything else, like all the unimportant stuff just kind of drops away. And I love it. I was actually listening to a video of yours the other day and you talk about, I think, her name's Bronnie Ware and her book The Regrets of the Dying.

Matt:
And it was that moment of, when I look back at this, am I going to be proud of this business? Or am I going to wish that I had actually done something that had some more meaning and that had some more purpose? And that was the real kind of transitional point for me where I drew that line in the sand and I said, "Enough is enough and something has to change here."

Chris:
So it sounds to me like the passing of... He's almost like family, right, Nigel?

Matt:
Yeah, exactly. So like extended family but I knew him really well. And I'm very close to my godfather. So yeah.

Chris:
Right. So, it's the passing of Nigel that makes you all of a sudden aware of your mortality. It's also the awareness and sudden realization that the freedom that you thought you had was more limited than you thought. Because even the flexibility to fly home at that point, you didn't have the funds to do that.

Matt:
Yeah.

Chris:
So you were kind of living this moment, this lifestyle and then all of a sudden that came to a screeching halt. This is your emergency brake moment where you have been cruising on autopilot, right?

Matt:
Yeah.

Chris:
And now it's like you have to take inventory of your life and what you're doing.

Matt:
Yeah, exactly that.

Chris:
Okay. So, take me from that moment to then jumping forward then how you become a creative coach and what that means to you.

Matt:
Yeah, totally. So I think like a lot of people when you're going through what he could only class really as an existential crisis. There's this kind of tendency to do a lot of searching. And so I was reading books. I was watching TED Talks. I was following inspirational memes on Instagram. And it was clear that the thing that was missing in my life was a sense of purpose. The only problem was, I didn't know how to find it.

Matt:
And any literature that I came across was quite esoteric, it was quite vague. And the ikigai diagram that I came across really resonated with me because I realized that I had been stuck down in that kind of profession box between what you can be paid for and what you're good at. Despite the fact that I'd been to school and university and ticked all the boxes that I thought I should tick, I still wasn't really doing the thing that that lit me up. I just kind of had a job.

Matt:
And so I was like, "Right, I need to find what this purpose is for me. What is it that I'm good at? What mark do I want to leave on the world?" And I actually picked up... This book popped up in my Amazon recommendations because I'd read some other books by this author. And the book was called Key Person of Influence by Daniel Priestley. And to be honest with you, Chris, when I first picked it up or first saw it, I was a little bit like, "Oh, I don't know if I want to read this" because it kind of gave me the feeling of how to be an Instagram influencer and I kind of thought this is just going to take me back to work.

Chris:
[crosstalk 00:10:06]

Matt:
Yeah, right? Take me back to where I was before. But It had so many good reviews. And I thought, well, this guy's either really good at paying for reviews or actually there's something to this. And I realized, I'd read some of his other books. I thought, actually, this guy is a genuine author. And honestly, I didn't put that book down for like two weeks. I think I read it two or three times.

Matt:
And there were loads of things that resonated with me in the book. But the one thing that really resonated with me was this concept that Daniel talks about that we're all standing on a mountain of value but we're so close to that mountain, like we're scaling the rockface that we can't see it. We can't see how big it is. And actually, all of the things that have happened to you in your life, they're all kind of pointing you in a direction already.

Matt:
So instead of looking for this purpose out there somewhere, look back at your life, look at the things that have happened to you in your life that make you who you are. And more importantly, who does that put you in a position to help? Who are you in a unique position to help? What problem are you in a unique position to solve?

Matt:
You talked a little bit about this in your recent episode with Meg Lewis, I think, where she talks about this concept of bringing everything in her life together. And it was very much that moment of, "Wow, this is way more than just about building websites for people." This is like, I've got so much other stuff in my life that maybe at the time didn't seem relevant to this but actually, these lessons, these things could really help somebody. And so I decided that, basically, I needed to kind of step my game up a little bit and figure out how all this stuff is tied together.

Matt:
And so that journey continued. But again, from kind of the next point in the moment to where I am today was when I realized that I had kind of mastered the art of creativity. I'd got to a certain level in my creative career where I could build good-looking websites. I could take great photos. I'd reached a certain standard but I'd really neglected the business side of creativity. And I know that's kind of essentially what The Futur is all about as well. And that's probably where we have a lot of parallels. But I think for me, at that time, it was really about looking at some of the people I admired. Whether it's from kind of Steve Jobs to Walt Disney, Andy Warhols, and digging into their biographies and their backgrounds and realizing that they weren't just great creative minds. These people were great business people, right? They were business savvy. They thought about the business side of creativity.

Matt:
And I thought, well, Daniel Priestley is the guy that kind of made me realized this. Who better person to try and kind of seek out and work with? And so I went on this journey of trying to find mentors and find people that had mastered the business side of things. So entrepreneurs that have built multiple seven-figure businesses. What were they doing differently that I wasn't? And I distinctly remember that moment where I decided to invest more time and money and energy than I ever have in my life working towards this goal. And I went to an event that Daniel was hosting. And I was quite surprised actually to see him at the front of the room because often these authors, they give TED Talks and they can be quite elusive, right?

Matt:
I saw him there at the front of the room and I thought, "Oh, my god. "I had this almost like mini panic inside where I thought, "Am I going to end up being this fan boy running up to him and be like, 'Oh, my God, I need you to help me. I need you to be my mentor.'" And he was doing this book signing at the end and I managed to kind of hold my composure and tell him a little bit about my story. And he was really good about it. He's also used to people kind of coming up and tell him about how his books have resonated. But I took that opportunity.

Matt:
I was lucky that Daniel and his team were running something a little bit similar to what The Future do but specifically for kind of six- to seven-figure entrepreneurs. And they had this new program that they were launching. And I was like, "Right. This is it. I'm going to do this. I'm going to invest in this. I'm going to work with Daniel and his team." And that was a kind of two, three-year journey. And really, I just extracted everything I took and I just tested it in my business first. I just went out and I was like, "Right, how am I going to apply what I've learned here to my business?" And that's how it just evolved and transitioned. And I started to get really clear on who do I really want to serve? What's the problems that they have? What's the solution that I'm going to provide? And really just kind of doing all that fundamental groundwork around business that I'd never really done before.

Matt:
And I think probably maybe one of the reasons why a lot of creatives avoid this is because when I was at university and when I studied a business computing degree when I first went to university. And in my mind, business was like economics, numbers, accounts, people in suits. It was boring. I didn't want to know anything about it. And I think meeting people like Daniel Priestley and real-world entrepreneurs made me realize that, actually, business can be fun, right? And actually, the better you get at business, the more opportunities that you have and the more of an impact you can have with your creativity.

Matt:
And it really just evolved, to be honest from there, Chris. It was like, this journey where the more people I spoke to, the more freelancers I spoke to, the more creative agencies I spoke to, the more themes I saw, the more patterns I saw. And I started taking what I had done with my business and helping other people and applying it to other people's businesses. And I remember once someone said to me, "Watching what you've done over the past year, what are you doing differently?" Because I'd got rid of most of my clients and I obviously changed my kind of online presence and really kind of shifted. And so people noticed that and then they were like, "Well, "what are you doing?" And people wanted to know.

Matt:
And I realized how much fulfillment that I got from really helping people to make a transformation. And sometimes that maybe sounds like a bit of an exaggeration but I really believe that what I've got today is something that is kind of transformational. And one of my core products is called the Creative Life Accelerator. And the reason I called it that was because I realized that ultimately, this was about living a more creatively fulfilling and financially rewarding life.

Matt:
It was about doing the work that aligned with your values. It was about doing work that has purpose, that has meaning. And that actually, you can look back at and be proud of and feel like you've got a legacy and stuff that you want to tell your kids about and things that you want to tell your friends about rather than just churning out logos and churning out websites for the sake of paying the bills.

Chris:
Okay, I have a bunch of questions I have. So okay, let's see here. I didn't want to interrupt but I may have to interrupt more often so here.

Matt:
Yeah, don't worry.

Chris:
Okay, so here's the thing. You come to this realization that there's got to be more to it than just a rat race that doing client work can sometimes be soul-sucking and unfulfilling. And I have to ask you here because you're talking about the ikigai and just finding your reason for being. How old were you when this became clear to you?

Matt:
I think I was probably about 26 or 27.

Chris:
Okay. Because I would say that that's pretty young, relatively speaking. And I find that when you talk to people in their 20s, we go through these phases and I know it's a big stereotype, the 20s, the 30s, the 40s. You move through these phases of your life and you get a certain amount of awareness that in our 20s, it seems like we're out of school. We're still full of maybe ego, desire, passion, whatever it is you want to call it where we need to achieve something. We want to make our mark on the world. Make a dent in the universe. And then after doing that for some time you start to realize how hollow that pursuit is. And then you start to reflect on yourself and say, "What am I really doing that's going to be a benefit to anybody after I'm gone?"

Chris:
I think perhaps, Nigel passing away maybe accelerated that timeline. Because when I talk to people who are especially in their 20s, "What's my purpose? My reason for being?" they don't even know how to even answer that question because they're just trying to still make their mark in the world. And I imagine you must talk to 20-year-olds who want to live this creative life. How did they respond to this story about finding purpose and aligning those things from what you've learned from the ikigai?

Matt:
Yeah, well, it's really interesting because actually, I'd say 80% of my clients are older than me.

Chris:
Oh, okay. See, there we go.

Matt:
Yeah. It doesn't really resonate with the younger people as much. You're right, they kind of think, "Well, who's this guy trying to give me advice? I want to go out there and take on the world. I know what to do," yada, yada. Not all of them. There are some clients. But yeah, I'd say like the youngest client I have I think is maybe 31 or something like that. So, yeah, the majority of my clients are like mid-40s, some in their early 50s.

Chris:
And how old are you now? Just for context, I don't want to do the math.

Matt:
That's all right. I'm 31 at the moment.

Chris:
Okay. So your youngest client is the same age as you?

Matt:
Yeah.

Chris:
So I have another question. It's just going off in a tangent, but oftentimes, people who are older have a harder time listening to younger people. It's like, "What kind of life experience do you have? Who are you to tell me that finding purpose and meaning and doing fulfilling work that matters, what do you know?" Do you get that a lot?

Matt:
It's interesting, it's actually more of an internal fear than an external one. So I haven't, I mean, maybe people say that behind my back. I don't know. But I've never had it as an objection which I've always found strange.

Matt:
I remember the first time I took on a client, probably in his late 40s, early 50s, very well-respected photographer. And I had to pinch myself a bit, thinking, "Wow, I'm sitting here coaching this guy who's like 10, 15 years, 20 years my senior." But that's the power of coaching. So I'm not mentoring people, I'm not telling them how to run their business per se. I'm giving them frameworks to operate within. I'm challenging their thinking. I'm asking them better questions. I'm getting them to think about things that they've never thought about until this point.

Matt:
And I think, you can do that at any age. And I think, by being vulnerable and open in telling those kinds of stories and kind of putting my hands up and saying, "Hey, look, I'm not the expert but what I can say with my hand on my heart is that I love every single one of my clients and I genuinely would hang out with them whether they are my clients or not." And I get well paid for what I do. And I feel like this sense of purpose. Like, I want to come on podcasts and I want to write a book and I want to get my message out there. And it's not always been like that. I know what it's like not to have that feeling and it can just feel a bit monotonous.

Matt:
So, I'm not professing to have all of the answers but what I can say is that I do have those things and this is how I found it. So, if you're willing to come on this journey with me then this is what it would look like.

Chris:
While you were talking about this idea of standing on the mountain of value and you can't see it, I wrote a note down here from the book. It's like, you say in the book, "It's not so much about what we want but we should be asking what can we give and trying to figure out like who you are that you say that you're like the proverbial iceberg and your skills, your qualifications, your portfolio, those things, that's the tip of the iceberg. And so many creative people define themselves that way." So what's the [inaudible 00:22:03] of the iceberg that we're not seeing? Who are we if we're not those three things?

Matt:
Yeah, I mean, it's a great question, right? Well, let's try not to get too philosophical in here because if we go down the route of who are we, we might end up speaking for the next five hours. But I know what you mean by the question. And I think we are a combination of our experiences and the narratives that we create around those experiences. And so, for me, as an example, I realized I had all these experiences in my life. So as a really quick example and I don't tell this story very often. But when I was 18, I got diagnosed with a heart condition, it was like an arrhythmia and I didn't really know what it was. And it was a really quick thing where they were like, "Look, we can fix this. This is how we fix it." And it was over kind of before I knew it.

Matt:
But then in hindsight, when I look back, I started to get anxious about it. Because actually, it could have potentially been quite dangerous and what ended up happening was I ended up almost getting like a bit of PTSD. And I'd developed this real kind of background health anxiety and I started to have panic attacks and things like that. And it was probably a year and a half of my life that I looked at as a really dark time because I'm quite an extroverted person. I got to the point where I couldn't even really leave the house because I was just constantly on edge and felt like I was going to drop dead of a heart attack any second.

Matt:
And I had to go through a lot in that period of learning how to deal with that stuff. And I learned things about cognitive behavioral therapy, neurolinguistic programming, how the mind worked, and I brought myself out of that. And now I never even considered that to be a part of what I would do professionally. It was just something that happened in my life that wasn't a great time. I'd rather put it behind me. It gave me some great skills. But then when I was working with Daniel and other mentors, I realized I had a vast amount of knowledge about psychology and how the mind worked and how those things could be really, really beneficial to people that were struggling with even basic things like self-confidence.

Matt:
So that's like an example from my life of something that was underneath the iceberg that I hadn't found a way to relate to my business. But to give you an example of one of my clients, like a really basic example. I've got a client called Scott and he's always been into the outdoors and adventure. And from my perspective, it was really clear that he should niche down and work in the kind of outdoor and adventure world but for him, he didn't see it because he couldn't see how those worlds were kind of related.

Matt:
And so I got Scott to go back through his life and think about some of the experiences that he had had. Some of the climbs that he'd been on. Some of the adventures he had been on and draw the lessons from that. Like if he was going to teach someone something about that, what lesson would he draw out of that? And when we collected those things together, I asked him, "Who are the sort of people that those would be valuable for?" And he came up with a list of people and strangely enough, they were all some way related to the outdoor and adventure industry.

Matt:
So, all of a sudden, Scott started to realize that he was more than just a graphic designer. He was a creative problem solver and the people that he was best to help and best to solve those problems for were people like him who had similar experiences but didn't have other skills that he had and other experiences. Because that story, your story is the only thing that really is unique to you. People can copy your skills. People can copy your portfolio and work with similar brands. But no one can copy your story and the life that you've lived and the people you know in your network. That's all the stuff that's kind of under the iceberg.

Chris:
Okay. So I feel like I'm just... You're British?

Matt:
I am, yeah.

Chris:
Okay. I feel like I'm just talking to the British version of myself.

Matt:
Okay.

Chris:
I tell people, it's like, "The work is a byproduct of who you are and if you sell yourself just strictly on your work, you're going to be one of a million."

Matt:
Yeah, exactly.

Chris:
And you're just going to be mixed in there versus just one of a kind. And a lot of people are like, "I don't know. My story is really not that interesting." So what's this phenomenon coming from? Why are we so blind to our own story?

Matt:
It's a great question. Well imagine like, what's one of your favorite films?

Chris:
The Matrix.

Matt:
The Matrix. Okay. How many times have you seen The Matrix?

Chris:
Probably a dozen times.

Matt:
Okay, a dozen times. If I made you watch that film 1,000 times, you'd probably get pretty sick of it, right?

Chris:
Probably.

Matt:
Yeah. Literally think about it, like 1,000 times, over and over and I got you to analyze the scenes and watch it really carefully. It would lose all kind of emotion. You wouldn't get lost in the narrative. You just know exactly what was coming next, right?

Chris:
Right.

Matt:
And our life is a little bit like that. Because we're living it, we know the stories inside out. So to us, we don't see that story the same way somebody else does. So when people say to me like, "Oh my god, that's a fascinating story." Well, it doesn't seem that fascinating to me and I have to actively go there again to remind myself of that story and how I felt in the time because I'm watching it all the time.

Matt:
It reminds me when I did A level media studies, one of the things that we had to do is we had to take a scene in a film and we had to analyze it. We had to look at the characters and the mise en scene and all of that stuff. By the end of it, I was so sick of those scenes. They just meant nothing to me. They had no emotion, no narrative, no nothing, because I'd like analyzed them to death and so, our life is like that.

Matt:
We're viewing it through the lens of somebody that's seen it 1,000 times so that when we tell it, we just think, "Ah, well, that's that thing that happened." It's no big a deal. But from somebody else's perspective, that's the first time they've heard that story. Does that make sense?

Chris:
It makes total sense. And I really like the analogy that you're making that you've lived in your story all your life so you've seen it way more than 10,000 times.

Matt:
Yeah.

Chris:
And so you become numb to it. It just becomes unspecial. And-

Matt:
Yeah. Also, I think... Sorry to interrupt but I think there's like this whole thing of like unless you have a rags to riches story, then it's not worth telling. I can't remember the guy's name. But there's something recently that came out with a guy that had been incarcerated for 37 years. And he went on America's Got Talent and is a real [inaudible 00:28:19]. Well, unless you're that guy, unless you've been in prison for 37 years of your life and wrongly convicted for a murder that you didn't do, there is no point in you telling your story because it's going to be boring.

Chris:
Right.

Matt:
And there's this whole narrative. It's like, how can we get more intense and more crazy? But it doesn't need to be like that. It doesn't need to be a rags to riches story for it to be valuable to someone, right? Someone is going to connect with that story. Someone who's experienced what you've experienced. Someone who's going through what you went through but doesn't have the answers but doesn't have the strategy right now. They're the people that you need to tell the story to.

Chris:
Right. So this reminds me of a couple ideas and just to cement it, I think. And then I want to ask you a different question. But it's this expression, "You can't read the label when you're inside the jar." And your life seems pretty unremarkable, unspecial because it's just how you think everything is. If you come from an abusive family, you just think that all families must be that way. If you come from a family that are chain smokers, you think everybody must smoke, that's just normal.

Chris:
And Chris Voss talks about this in his book Never Split the Difference. He says, "The number one mistake that you can make in negotiations is to assume the other person has the same set of values and beliefs that you have and they're totally different." Okay. So now we say like, let's accept the fact that we all have relatively interesting stories that make us a part of this rich tapestry of who we are beyond our work. How do we find this? Do we have to tell somebody else our story and see how they react to it or? Guide me through that process a little bit, will you? Just high level.

Matt:
Yeah, totally. Well, one of the things that I do in my clients is actually something called the River of Life. And I actually get them to start their earliest memory or the place where they feel their story starts. And I get them to imagine it's like a winding river. And I just get into plot all of the points on that river that they can remember. The highs, the lows, the good things, the bad things, the things in their life that were significant. And it's almost just like, at this point, we're getting all of the Lego pieces out on the table. We're just throwing it out there. And then once they've done that, I ask them to go through and I ask them to pick five to seven defining moments, moments in your life where you felt something fundamentally changed, or you had a realization, or you met someone and just pick those moments out.

Matt:
And then we kind of experiment with those. And we think, well, what could be the lessons that we could take from those moments? What was the thing that you learned? What was the takeaway? If you had to teach that to your kids or if you had to write a book that you were going to leave to the world, what would be that thing? And then yeah, the best experiment is to go out and tell it to people and see kind of what reaction you get from it.

Chris:
Time for a quick break. We'll be right back with Matt Essam.

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Chris:
Welcome back to our conversation with Matt Essam.

Chris:
So in some ways, I think people, other human beings, who are not familiar with your story, when you tell it to them, based on their reaction, you can gauge like, "Oh, they're really interested. There's something here" and so they validate or they confirm some parts of your story. But regardless, everybody has a story somewhere, a lot more exciting and full of adventure, but everybody has a story. And when I lecture about personal branding, I tell people just look at these two points, where were you born and where do you live now? Those are just two anchor points of the story already.

Chris:
Because where you were born says a lot about your culture and your past, but where you live now says a lot about the decisions you've made as an adult. And if they're the same city, no problem. Maybe you're a really consistent person, you've set your roots in the community, but if you are living very far away from where you were born, that says something about you as well. So those are some clues.

Matt:
I love that.

Chris:
Here's the thing. You sent me the book, I scan most of the book. The book is called Create and Prosper: How To Find Your Dream Clients And Build A Freelance Business You Love. All right, so in the book, right in the very beginning here, it says it's never been a better time to be a freelancer. Now this is now 2020. We're here, almost end of May, entering into June. Why is this the best time to be a freelancer? And then the followup question is, I want to understand your definition of freelancer.

Matt:
Okay, interesting. Well, I wrote that book before the whole COVID outbreak so I'll just throw that in [inaudible 00:34:20]. No, I still think, I believe that recessions and crises and everything are a huge opportunity. They're an opportunity for a power shift in terms of the way the wealth and power is distributed, but they're an opportunity to help and to serve. And so the reason I wrote that is because if you were born, well, if you're born 100 and so years ago, you'd be fighting a war. But if you were born before that, you were born into a class system, right? And there were certain ways that you could work your way up that class system but it was hard. Once you're in there, if you're at labor and if you worked in a factory, that's where you worked for the rest of your life.

Matt:
And really, although there was opportunity, compared to today, there was no opportunity. Right now, you can be a freelancer with a laptop anywhere in the world. That's all you need. You can save up, I didn't even know. You probably don't even have to buy a laptop. You could probably do it with one of the new swanky iPads or something. You probably spend maybe 500 bucks, 1000 bucks, and you've got a mobile business, you've got a global business that you can run from anywhere in the world

Matt:
Never ever before has that been possible. So really, it's the technology and the opportunities is why I say now is the best time to be a freelancer. And it's a great question about the definition. And what's interesting and what's crazy is I've never really thought about that in too much detail. But I think there's definitely a distinction to be made. When I talk about freelancing, I'm not talking about contractors. So I get a lot of people sending me messages through my websites and inquiring to be on my courses. And they just go from one agency to another agency and they call themselves freelancers. But really, they're just job hopping. They sit in an office and they have a job and they do the work.

Matt:
For me, freelancing is about running a business, having your own clients and having the freedom to work when and where you want in the most basic definition, I think.

Chris:
Yeah, so this is the reason why. I mean, if you've... Fans of the show will know why I asked this question and just for context case, you're new. First of all, welcome to the podcast, everybody.

Matt:
Yeah. No, I've listened to a few episodes.

Chris:
So, the thing about freelance is that it's a term that is often used interchangeably with independent business owner. And this is where a lot of the confusion comes in. I get into heated debates with people who work for me about this term. And freelance from my conversation with Jonathan Stark, he's like freelance. Lancer's the hired mercenary. And I think when I talked to Brian Collins, he says, the original usage of freelance was in Beowulf. Beowulf hired a bunch of swordsmen to go fight with him and that was it.

Chris:
So it's kind of like mercenaries and those of you guys that are listening too, think about this. If you sell your time to other people, you're basically in that sense, a mercenary, that you go in for a job, you're expendable. They replace you whenever they want. And you're not really focusing on the business components of sales, marketing, negotiations, bidding, pricing jobs. So it's a very different world. So just so we're clear, okay. So you're really talking about these other people, these business owners, so now-

Matt:
Yeah. I'm disappointed that I agree with you. I thought we'd found something we'd disagree on there. I was getting excited.

Chris:
Okay, okay. So the other part to this is like finding your dream clients. We all want dream clients. So in the book, you talk about a couple of points like, what makes a client a dream client?

Matt:
Well, I actually look at four things. I look at...

Chris:
Okay, four things.

Matt:
... four aspects. The first one is, I've got to be passionate about spending time with them and working with them. I've got to want to hang out with them as much as I would want to hang out with a friend or a family member. And for some reason, when it comes to business, a lot of us just drop that criteria. And we work with people that treat us like crap or like don't pay on time. And all of our standards go out the window. So for me, the first and I was guilty of that, for sure. So me, the first thing is like, would I actually love working with this person even if they weren't paying me?

Matt:
The second thing is, can I solve a significant problem for them? So is there something that I'm going to do which is really going to create a significant... I use the word transformation lightly because your services don't have to be life-changing, but is it going to solve a tangible problem rather than just giving them something that they said they wanted like a logo or a website? Is it actually going to help them?

Matt:
The third thing is, can they afford me? So do they have the money to actually pay me what I believe that I want to be paid? And then the fourth and final thing is, can I start conversations with them? Because if you can have the first three but then like, let's say you're like, "Oh, and I really want to work with Adidas. I would love working with them. They've got a huge budget and I can definitely help them." It's like, "Cool, go start a conversation with Adidas. How are you going to do that?"

Matt:
So you've got to have that route to market, you've got to be able to actually start conversations. And if they tick those four boxes, then to me, they're a dream client because you can find more of them. You can build upon that.

Chris:
Okay, so that's going to be the barrier to most people. The number four is very important because I think we could all sit down and make a list of our "dream clients." And we have no access. We can't have a conversation with them and so what do we do then?

Matt:
Well, that's why I think the first part about uncovering your story and bringing those things all together is so important. Because what you realize is that when you focus on your values, so let's say someone said, "I want to work with Adidas," and I was like, "Okay, why? What is it about editors?" "I just love their branding. I love what they do." "Okay, why? What is it about that? What is it about that?" And I just kept digging. Eventually, I would come up with an emotion like significance or respect or legacy or something. And then my question becomes, "Okay, who else could you work with that you could have a conversation with that would also give you that emotion?"

Matt:
And so we pin the vehicles of significance and whatever on the brand, we say, "Oh, that's the only way I'm going to feel that way when I work with this brand." But actually, there are loads of ways to get that emotion met, if that makes sense. So I think the point is finding the people that meet those criteria. It's about looking at your story. So for Scott, he might have an ambition to work with North Face as an example, which is like a big climbing brand. But right now he doesn't... It's not like he's only going to be happy when he works with North Face. He's already working with people who have similar attributes to North Face, just that North Face is just like another wrung up the ladder but it doesn't mean that he can only be happy and fulfilled and have creative work that pays him well until he works with North Face.

Matt:
So I get people to start conversations within their existing network. And the reason it's so important to look at all of the stuff under the iceberg and all of the things that are happening already in your life, that maybe you're dismissing, is because those people probably already exist there. So for Scott, he realized that he already knew a bunch of those people with the climbing wall that he went to. So he just started conversations with the climbing wall. And that spread and then that spread to other companies and it built from there.

Matt:
Does that make sense? Rather than kind of saying, "Oh, I want to work with North Face so I'm going to spend all my time trying to figure out how to pitch North Face and then if I don't get them then this business doesn't work."

Chris:
Yeah. Okay, I want to jump over to something else here in terms of sales because I like the analogies that you've developed in the book and you talk about these two islands. Can you explain that concept?

Matt:
Yeah, so the two islands are, I just call them Island A and Island B, very original. And Island A is where the client is now. And Island B is where the client wants to get to. And essentially, whatever is in the way of those two islands is are there challenges, the things that are stopping them getting there? And most people don't spend enough time mapping that kind of scenario out so they don't spend enough time really getting a good idea of what Island A looks like.

Matt:
Where are they now? What are they doing with their marketing? How much do they currently spend on this problem? They don't get an idea of exactly what that looks like. And then the biggest mistake is they don't spend enough time digging down past the things that the client presents as Island B. So like, "Oh, here's my island and this is where I want to get to." And usually that takes the form of like a website or a logo or whatever. But the kind of analogy I use in the book is that you've got to dig down past that, like you're digging for the gold and the gold is actually getting them to really think about why they want that stuff. So Island B is like the goal behind the goal. What is it that they really, really want?

Chris:
The goal behind the goal so perhaps, they say to you, "I want to get to that island and it's actually the wrong island?

Matt:
Yeah, or it's maybe like they just describe it like, "Oh, yeah. It's an island. It's got some beaches and some coconuts and that's where I want to go." "Okay, cool. Why? What else has it got on it? Is there a waterfall? Why is the beach and coconuts important?" "Oh, I like relaxing." "Oh, okay, so you want a beach that you can relax on. So is it important that there will be a section of the beach where there would be no wind and there would just be sun?" Oh, yeah, actually, that would be important." Do you see what I mean? So you're actually getting them to go there and think about why, why do you want that?

Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). So once you realize why they want it, what are you supposed to do?

Matt:
Yeah, great question. Well, the first thing you've got to ask is, how confident do you feel about getting them there? In an ideal world, if you only got paid after you got them there, what would need to happen? What would need to be-

Chris:
Ooh, this accountability now?

Matt:
Yeah. There's an element of accountability. But there's also, let's say, there's an element of like between Island A and Island B is this big river like and you've got to help them navigate that. And so they might want to take a boat over but what they don't know is that there are these really strong currents that are going to take them downstream. And so you've got to ask yourself, if I'm safely going to take that person from A to B, rather than just kind of building a boat for them and letting them go on their way, because that's what they've asked for.

Matt:
You've got to take responsibility and be the guide and be the person that says, "Well, hold on. I'm in this world, I know that there are really dangerous currents in here. So actually, we can't build a boat, we have to build a bridge to get here. And in order to build the bridge, I've got to bring in Jeffrey who's the bridge expert and I've got to collaborate with this person. And if we're really going to get you there, then this is what it's going to take."

Matt:
And so my whole philosophy is either I get them all the way to Island B or I don't work with them. And that kind of principle when I first decided on it was really scary. Because you're like turning away business basically of people that just want the boat. But the people that want the boat are going to end up somewhere downstream capsized and eventually, that's going to come back to bite you in the ass.

Chris:
Right, right. I'm glad you're saying this because I think a lot of creative people who have very finite skill sets who have yet to learn to collaborate and hire other people to help them, they tend to search for islands only they know how to get to. So no matter what the client says, it's, "I know you really don't want to go to that island, you really want to go to this island. And I'll tell you why." So when you introduce this idea that actually you want to solve a big problem that's valuable that can improve their business in measurable ways, that they instinctively fear that because they know that it's not part of their wheelhouse. So how do you help people overcome this fear?

Matt:
Yeah, totally. And it's really valid. It's a really valid point, Chris. There are two ways, two responses that I take to that. I think the first one is that it's an option. And what I mean by that is the size of the problem is always going to be related to how much money you can charge. So I'm not saying you always have to solve the biggest problem and take on the world's problems. I'm just saying that if you want to earn more money, you've got to solve a bigger problem, right? So it's optional.

Matt:
And in terms of the kind of fear side of things, I think it's about helping people to realize that they're already the experts. They're already, if you do the first bit right, if you uncover your story and you find the right niche, or niche as you guys call it in the States, then you're already the expert. So I'll give you a really tangible example.

Matt:
I've got a client called Rachel. And I love sharing the story because she was quite introverted and she used to hate sales. And she used to just hate those conversations. And when we spent time really uncovering her story and showing her all of the experiences she's had in her life and how they were relevant to the people that she wanted to help, she realized that she had so much value to offer those clients and so she niched into charities and she'd worked a lot with charities in the past and not-for-profits.

Matt:
And so recently, when this whole COVID thing happened, I said to her, "The first thing you want to do is you want to be active and get out there and speak to your clients. Do not let them call you and say, 'Oh, what are we doing about this?' Get active and get out there." And she was a little bit reluctant because she didn't know what to say. And I said, "Look, just be genuine, just ask how you can help." And she ended up having two or three conversations with charities where she uncovered these kind of unmet needs. And she just shared her experience about working in the not-for-profit and charity sector. And she pulled people in her network together so she knew people that were manufacturing PPE gear. And she just used all of the resources that she already had to solve that problem.

Matt:
And so she switched herself in the clients' mind from just this creative designer to this creative problem solver. And off the back of that, she won several big projects that she ended up getting paid up front before she'd even done any work, because they were like, "Right, we'll just give you this budget. It kind of needs to be spent. We'll give it to you and we'll work the rest out later" kind of thing. And so she had all of the resources that she needed, rather than kind of this thinking.

Matt:
And I think the collaboration and the collectives and bringing people on is definitely an option. And it's things that people should explore. But if they're not ready for that, then look at what value you already have beyond your skills. So go into the iceberg. Who do you know in your network? Just dig and ask the right questions and figure out how would you solve this problem? And I think it's just a question of people under estimating their own ability, their own problem solving ability and their own creativity.

Chris:
What's the one thing that you think is going to be super valuable to our audience in terms of like your beliefs, your ideas? What's the one thing that you think that can help them on their journey?

Matt:
The one thing is to get clear on your values and what you really want early on. If I had spent more time figuring out why I really wanted all those things and figure out the emotions behind the goals, I think I probably would have had a lot more fulfillment and purpose in my life.

Chris:
And from the book, if I read this correctly, you reprioritized your list as your values. Yeah, and I think this is yours, but maybe I didn't read it correctly. Making a difference, variety and exploration, freedom, learning and growth. Are those your values?

Matt:
Yeah, totally.

Chris:
Beautiful. Okay. So then here's the next question. What's the one thing that you did that changed your life?

Matt:
The honest answer to that has got to be investing a stupid amount of money to work with a very successful entrepreneur. That was really the moment. I think if I hadn't done that, there's no way we'd be having this conversation. Undoubtedly, there's no way that I would have written that book. I needed someone to hold my feet to the fire and I needed some skin in the game because I'd read hundreds of books. I knew the theory. I just wasn't producing the results in the real world.

Chris:
Very interesting. So it seemed to me like your life was on a track. And that point in which you're identifying is I think when you're talking to Daniel Priestley, and you're pursuing his workshops or webinars or whatever, and your life splits. If you stayed on the arc of the life before, it goes one way. Like you said, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation now, you'd probably be doing something very different. And then it breaks right there. And what compelled you to... I mean, a lot of people read books and like, "Wow, that was wonderful." I include myself in that group.

Chris:
What made you, what drove you to take it to the next level to spend the money, to possibly travel to wherever he was speaking, to do that, and put yourself out there? What was the thing that drove you?

Matt:
I think I knew deep down that if I just was left to my own devices, I wouldn't be able to have as much impact as I wanted. The thing that really drove me to that was Nigel's death made me realized how short time can be and I didn't want to spend the next 10 years figuring this stuff out for myself. Like I wanted answers now. I wanted to take what Daniel Priestley had learned in 20 years and condense it down into six months. I wanted to take what Tony Robbins had learned in 40 years and condense it down into two years. I wanted to make that change now. I wanted that significant change, because I was worried that I didn't know how long I had. I felt the pressure of time and the kind of fragile nature of life.

Chris:
That's great. So the thing that really compelled you is the sudden awakening of the finite amount of time that we have left and you wanted to make the most of it. So you are willing to pay and put energy and effort into learning these things in a compressed time, so that you can get there and not take for granted how much time you have left on earth. Right?

Matt:
Totally. And I asked myself the question, "Am I really doing everything that I can right now to make this work?" And the answer was no. So I had to find something to be like, when I look back on this, whether it works or it doesn't, at least I can say I was committed to that, I found the money. Once I traveled back from this festival halfway across the other side of the country just to be at one of the events. I land into it full tilt. I didn't hold anything back and I thought whether this works or not, at least I can say I gave it 100%.

Chris:
Right. Okay, so this is a three-part combination directly connected to that, which is how many programs, events, workshops, seminars, did you go to? How much time did you spend? And how much money did you spend in this pursuit of acquiring this knowledge?

Matt:
You don't want to know, Chris.

Chris:
I do want to know. I want to know the gory details, really. Because I think, you know what, to be honest, this is part of your story too, because somebody's going to be listening to this and saying, "I'm not convinced. He's a 31-year-old kid. He doesn't know anything." But what we don't realize is that you could spend your entire life not learning or you can spend a year of your life learning more than somebody would spend 50 years not knowing.

Matt:
Yeah, exactly right.

Chris:
I just want to give people context here because it's not an overnight thing, I don't think.

Matt:
Yeah, I mean, I've always been into self-development. Paul McKenna is a famous hypnotist and mindset coach in the UK and I got one of his books in my early 20s. But it wasn't until probably my mid 20s after university. I mean, that's an investment. But it really wasn't until my mid 20s where I started to treat my business and my life a bit different. I'm investing in my business. But the short answer to your question is timeframe-wise in terms of actually going on courses and really committing at least five years' worth of courses and money-wise, well over 10,000 pounds. Probably close to 15,000 pounds. I don't know what it is in dollars, but.

Chris:
Okay, that's very helpful. And I asked this and I'm going to share also because people also assume these things you just acquire naturally. I've worked with a business coach that was my mentor for 10 years. I met with him once a week every single week for 10 years and I spent over a quarter million dollars so you don't have to be embarrassed about anything.

Matt:
All right, Chris. It's not a competition.

Chris:
Well, I'm just doing this because this is a public service announcement. For these 22-year-old wonderkins who run around who's like, "Let me tell you how to build a passive income business" like please, please. It takes time. It takes energy. It takes experience. It takes failures. It takes heartache, it's painful, and you go through it and then when you emerge on the other side, you think to yourself, "I think I want to spare somebody. If I can ease 10% of the pain that I felt or the struggle, then I'm doing something good in the world." That's all.

Matt:
Yeah, totally. And just a quick side note for speaking directly to those 22-year-olds or whatever, because that was me once, right? And when I look back on it, what I realized is that it was my craving for significance that drove that behavior. So I wanted to tell people what to do. I wanted people to listen to me and value my opinion, but I hadn't done the graph before I got that respect, right. So I hadn't put in the hard yards. And so I wanted that respect now. I didn't want to wait 10 years to get that respect.

Matt:
And when I look back on that, the thing I would change is, and I'd change this now, is instead of trying to tell people what to do to get respect, actually flip that around and get really good at listening. Get really, really good at listening. And I don't just mean saying you're listening, I mean actively listening and asking the right questions. Because when you respect somebody else and you respect their time and you actively listen, that is when you will gain respect back from them.

Chris:
Okay, here's my last one thing, question. You're ready?

Matt:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:
All right. Somebody's listening to this right now. Man, woman, young, old, and they're on the edge. They're not ready to take the full step and buy into what it is you're saying because they just met you for the first time. So let's talk to them. This is like the last message you're going to send to them before we're gone here. So it's like, what's the one thing those people need to know or to remember from this conversation?

Matt:
When you said that, I had my good friend Chris in my mind, because whenever I write something and I think about the cynic, I think about him. I recently kind of broken the back on that and he's actually just spent quite a bit of money to work with a coach. And it's a beautiful journey to witness but he was that side of that fence. And I think the thing that I kept saying to him was like, "Where is this belief? Or where is this behavior coming from where you feel you have to do everything yourself? What's driving that? What's the belief that's really fueling that thought that you can't get help and in some way, that's a negative thing or in some way buying into these ideas is going to lead to something really bad?" And just examine that and just figure out like, is that really you? Or is that like your parents or society? Or like when in your life did you get taught that asking for help or not being able to achieve something on your own was like such a negative thing?

Chris:
I think and I know that's like a rhetorical question, but I'm going to try to answer.

Matt:
Yeah, go for it.

Chris:
I think culturally, societally, it's a sign of weakness to ask for help, especially for men of certain cultures. It's very difficult to ask for help. It's like you kind of have to almost be at the end of the rope before you reach out and ask for help. And so I think there's that thing that I'm weak, I'm not as good, I'm not capable of. And it's anything but that. I think people who are strong, who have a good sense of self, know what they don't know and know when they need help. And don't sit there and try and figure it out.

Chris:
The classic scenario is a scene where a man and his wife are lost and driving, and he will not pull over for directions.

Matt:
Yeah, totally, right?

Chris:
He just will not because he's going to figure it out because he has to admit I do not know and not knowing is sometimes more horrible than just being lost.

Matt:
100% or have you ever heard that story that Tony Robbins always tells about when he was younger and someone came to give his dad some groceries because their family could barely afford to eat and his dad wouldn't take the groceries out of pride and he felt like it was charity and yada, yada. In England, we've got a saying which is cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Chris:
Yes.

Matt:
And it's like that's exactly what that is and it's pride, it's this sense that if I accept this in some way, I'm less of a person.

Chris:
Okay, so I've been talking to Matthew Essam and he wrote the book Create and Prosper: How To Find Your Dream Clients And Build A Freelance Business You Love. I hope you guys enjoy this conversation. Matthew, how do people find out more about you or get in touch with you?

Matt:
Sure. So you can just head over to Matt with two Ts, Essam E, double S, A-M dot co.uk. And I'd also love to offer your listeners a free copy of my book. So I think Greg will sort that out with a link that you can post with this. But yeah, if you head over to my website, then you can download some free resources and some other cool stuff.

Chris:
Fantastic. We'll include that in the show notes and I just want to say, it was a pleasure talking to you. I read the book and I felt so many ideas connected to my own beliefs. And so if you guys are fans of the channel, I'm going to highly recommend that you read this book. Again, it's called Create and Prosper. I'm talking to Matthew Essam. Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

Matt:
No worries. Absolute pleasure, Chris. Thanks for having me on.

Matt:
My name is Matthew Essam, and you are listening to The Futur.

Greg:
Thanks so much for joining us in this episode. If you're new to The Futur and you want to know more about our educational mission, visit thefutur.com. You'll find more podcast episodes, hundreds of YouTube videos, and a growing collection of online courses and products covering design and business. Oh and you spell The Futur with no E.

Greg:
The Futur podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. This episode was mixed and edited by Anthony Barro with intro music by Adam Sanborne. If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor and rate and review us on iTunes. It's a tremendous help in getting our message out there and lets us know what you like. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you next time.

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