Episode 208 — Brian Dixon — Author of START WITH YOUR PEOPLE


Episode 208 — Brian Dixon — Author of START WITH YOUR PEOPLE

Welcome to Episode 208!

I’m speaking with Brian Dixon, the author of Start with Your People. We talk about combining art and business — and a lot more! The thing that caught my eye in Brian’s book is building our mission statement. On top of that, we talk about branding, social media, finding your audience.

Let’s dive in!



Brian Dixon is a Business Coach, a Marketing Strategist, a Teacher, Speaker and an Author who helps artists and businesses clarify their message, build their audience, and create and launch life-changing products. His book Start with Your People comes out September 10th, 2019.

In this Podcast, Brian talks about the importance of being the artist and the business — how to increase your impact online and build your audience — and gives specific tools for visualizing and achieving success!

Brian Dixon’s Website: https://briandixon.com/
Brian Dixon’s Start with Your People (out September 10, 2019): https://amzn.to/2WWby9a
Brian Dixon’s TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNqmJjTr2PA


[01:59] Allan: Thanks, Brian, for taking the time to chat! Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?

Brian: Absolutely, Allan! Thanks so much for having me! I’m passionate about helping your listeners with:

  • Scaling your business;
  • Increasing your impact and your income online.

I started out as a classroom teacher, teaching digital production. So I love what you, guys, do! I’m not at your level but I was teaching middle and high school kids for about 5 years. I know your world a little bit. What I’m most passionate about now is helping people figure out:

  • Their audience: Who do you serve?
  • Their message: How do you help them?
  • And their product: What are you selling them?

There is a lot of ways to build your income and your income portfolio in 2019!

[03:08] Allan: That’s so cool! I’m just curious: For you teaching a lot of kids, do you see a lot of them having a natural talent and ready to kick some butt!

Brian: Totally! It’s been over 10 years now since I’ve been teaching. I see the result and some of these kids have really taken off. One of the factors that I see in their success — is supportive parents. A parent who allowed them to chase their dreams is important! The kid who stayed after school or came in early, or bought every tutorial out there — I see them thriving!

[03:56] Allan: That’s really cool! I want to talk about that, actually. In your TED Talk, you mentioned going to be triathlete. I like that idea! When you’re learning anything new, you have to have the discipline for it. For creatives who tell their families they want to be creatives, it can cause a lot of friction from the parents. I did a Podcast on this (www.allanmckay.com/99). I interviewed my wife who is an artist, but her dad would always tell her to “go get a real job”. She just finished designing 50 Cent’s new Lamborghini. I’ve seen her go from half in / half out to being where she is in now. It’s pretty amazing! How important do you think it is to have that support system for people?

Brian: I think it’s both. There have been some studies done and it’s been found that the most successful artists and entrepreneurs had at least one parent who thought the world of you! To a fault! We all have at least one parent like that. Also, it’s a bit of a crutch. And I think you need the other factor too: that resistance. I got it from my bosses who didn’t think I had what it took. I was too young, too inexperienced, etc. I had the balance of having the support system and the place of resistance. And I delivered results.

I think a lot of creatives didn’t do it the way you were told to do it. You did it your own way, but you got fussed at along the way. Getting in trouble makes good art! I’ve got a major chip on my shoulder. They call it “Third Culture Kid”: when you grow up in a place where you aren’t from. You have this identity crisis of “where am I from?”! And I just didn’t have a home. I was growing up in New Jersey and then in 5th grade, we moved to Canada. It happens with kids who grew up overseas. If you don’t have a place, you’re going to make your place. So I love being online and helping people. Internet is my home. And we all need that chip on our shoulder: to figure out to whom are we trying to prove something? And that drives me every day.

[08:04] Allan: I love that! Which is worse: New Jersey or Manitoba?

Brian: You know it’s incredible that now — in 2019 – 2020! — that you can live anywhere. Some of my famous friends live in Kentucky now. You used to have to live in LA or New York. That’s not true anymore, especially once you’ve built your portfolio. One of my friends and mentors had to leave California because he was so successful, he was paying too much in taxes. He moved to Costa Rica and it actually made his business grow. You can live anywhere or work with anyone. The challenge is how you’re going to do it. I am a teacher and [I love] helping students figure out why they’re here and what they’re doing. Most of my clients are actually in their 30s and 40s now.

[09:27] Allan: That’s really cool and you’re totally right! In the beginning of your career, you have to be where the work is. But as you build that reputation, you can start to step back. So instead of your seeking them out, they seek you out. You put in your time and from there, you get to enjoy your life. LA is pretty much my home these days! But I moved to Portland, OR 2 years ago, because it rains there. As my audience consists of mostly creatives, I do find that there is some resistance toward embracing business. For me, there are two parts: You have to be the worker but also the business. You have to see the big picture. It’s important to understand that!

Brian: Yes, there are two roles in any arts career: There is the artist and there is the producer. If you are the artist, you need a producer (be it a manager, someone who keeps the eyes on the horizon while you’re moving your feet). You need to know where you’re going long term. A lot of artists are often in their heads with their art. But they also have to do the work by moving their feet. A lot of my clients are writers, so they have to write so many words every day. So they need a manager [because] it’s hard to see what you’re really good at, on your own. What’s normal to you — is magic to other people. You need someone alongside you to point that out. It’s about the balance. You don’t start out a 100% artist and you get to do the work every day. What I’ve found is something I call “focus filter”. When you see someone training someone poorly, you realize what you don’t want to be. The same goes for when you deal with horrible clients, you learn what kind of clients you do want to work with. That way you define what you want. But you have to pull the hours — and keep pushing through.

[12:52] Allan: I know in the past, you’ve found an agency to help others build their social media platforms. How important do you think it is to realize that social media is the modern-era billboard for their business?

Brian: To grow your business, to land that dream opportunity, you need to be two things:

  • You need to be referable;
  • You need to be Google-able.

Most artists that I work with, they just work on being referable. They work on their portfolios and work ethics. If you do an awesome job, you think that the client will refer you. It is true, but you’re also competing with a thousand people who can do the exact same thing. Most of them live overseas and their [rates are much lower]. That means that you also need to be Google-able. That means that they can find you if they Google you: www.allanmckay.com! You have to own your name, you put your stuff on social media, you share the behind the scenes of the journey so that 1. You can show that you are awesome and 2. You can mentor other people that are coming up. Which I think is also our responsibility. You start growing a following, a community of people that are cheering you on. There are so many projects that have been saved from the cutting room floor because they were crowdfunded. We know that’s true because those projects had patrons, to support or fund them! The audience makes a difference. If you can prove that you have an audience, you will get the backing. In today’s day and age, patrons of your art matter.

[16:09] Allan: I think you’re absolutely right. In the past, you would have these gate keepers. We are finally at a point when we have a short film, we have the tools in front of us. You can have supporters and you can go do what you’re passionate about. I think it’s amazing and I have so many friends now who are making their own projects just by posting a clip on Vimeo. They’re smart enough to realize that they need to get it in front of the right people and to get momentum. I think the tools are out there.

Brian: James Altucher has a book called Choose Yourself. It’s a great resource! He told a story about Michelangelo and how the Pope had to choose him and to continue working with him. We don’t live in that age anymore. I run a membership for writers. We have almost 3,000 members. I have 3,000 clients. Think about the job security of that! That’s the ultimate security of serving people. With such audience and membership, I [could’ve chosen any] editor out there, when I was publishing my book. The game has changed! A creative doesn’t stand on its own anymore. You also need that backing of that audience. You need your community of support. When you walk into the room, it’s not just you and your portfolio anymore. It’s you and that army of supporters. You can decide what you want to do. Having a choice means that it’s an incredible time to be alive.

[19:29] Allan: Absolutely! Going back to what you were saying before about being referable vs Google-able. I talk a lot about branding on this Podcast. You could build your name to be the go-to person for a specific qualification in the industry. For a lot of people, that’s intimidating. But you could be the go-to person for your clients only. Whilst if you’re on the internet, you could have the reach of many more clients. Now your accessibility is for the entire world.

Brian: I tell this story about a guy named Scott in my book. He’s a neighbor of mine. He wanted to be a composer on feature films, but he was based in San Diego (which is not the best location for the industry). He could not break through, no matter what he did. Every morning, I would see him put on his suit and go sit in traffic to work at some insurance company. I don’t even know what he did! And then one day, when he was walking in, I looked at his apartment and it was a composer’s dream. I couldn’t help but want to encourage him.

Here is how he got his big break: He was looking at a website of one of his favorite composers. He was looking at his personal website and he noticed a few spelling errors. So Scott emailed this person with corrections (because he wanted him to look professional). Ten minutes later, he got the email directly from that composer (not from his team) thanking him for pointing out the spelling errors. [He also added], “By the way, I was looking at your portfolio and noticed you know how to use this software. I was wondering if you could come by today and show me a few tips.” In an hour, Scott was there, in the studio of his dream mentor. They’ve now been working together for 10 year. All because Scott was willing to show up and serve someone, instead of saying, “Hire me, hire me, hire me!” He was fixing something that was broken. If you don’t have enough clients right now, go fix something that’s broken. Go fix someone’s website. Go make a little trailer for someone’s reel. People like that feeling and they’ll want to hire you for more.

[23:08] Allan: That’s so amazing! I talk a lot about when artists are looking for jobs. It’s such a competitive market and everyone is saying is, “Hire me, hire me, hire me!” What I’ve always taught is to try and build relationships instead. Give them value and in return they will get to know you and give you a job when the time is right. That’s so crucial! It’s just takes a little act of reaching out. It is so valuable in terms of relationships!

Brian: It’s absolutely everything! It’s the way I’ve gotten hired repeatedly. Whenever I see something broken, instead of complaining about it — I fixed it. Let’s take Allan, for example! Allan knows people that most of you, guys who are listening, don’t know. Go to Allan’s website, listen and share his Podcast, go to his social media and comment. Show up to his talks. Become Allan’s best student. In 2019, the person you want to work with has most likely been interviewed. He or she is checking his stats (because we all have a little bit of that ego). We want to know when we post something, we’re all checking who’s posted a comment. When appropriate, something will come up. For example, I follow this person’s Podcast and I want to interview him. I noticed the audio on one of his Episodes wasn’t as great as usual. I sent his team a link with a tool that fixes sound. I noticed on the next few Episodes, they clearly started using it. I never got a thank you or got hired. But I believe, when I meet him one day, he will remember that. If you keep doing that every day — you spread service for several people — they will hire you.

[26:44] Allan: I love that! It’s more about putting out the service out there. Most people are applying for the response right now. But if you’re playing it for the long term, you’re setting yourself up for success. All it takes — is putting in the effort. I watched your TED Talk How to Do Your Impossible, which was so cool. Do you mind elaborating on it?

Brian: Absolutely! If you had unlimited time, unlimited resources and unlimited relationships, what would your life look like? Imagine if everybody said yes. Imagine that! Everything you create — is gold and everyone wants to hire you. Where would you be a year from now? That’s the ultimate dream. Most people actually don’t have clarity about that. Have something written down and tell yourself, “This is my ultimate dream!” So when you start with that dream, what immediately comes into your mind is a list of excuses:

  • I don’t know the right people;
  • I don’t have the talent;
  • I don’t live in LA;
  • Idon’t have the right computer.

The theme of my TED Talk is that it’s possible to do your own impossible! [29:04] What you need is:

  • You need a mission to pursue;
  • A mentor to guide you;
  • And a mindset to see you through.

The mission is a vision: “You want to be the Lead on the next Star Wars movie.” The mentor to guide you is someone who’s just a little further along the road. Someone who worked on the last Star Wars. Go to IMDb and find those people, start following them on social media. Because what happens is people support what they helped create. A mentor will be invested in their mentee. If a mentor guide you to a class, go take that class! And the last part is the mindset. That’s where we get stuck. So much easier to binge watch Netflix than to sit down and work on your stuff.

My impossible was doing a triathlon. I had a car accident back in college. I had 3 doctors telling me I would never walk again. I’m on my fifth triathlon by now. Your impossible may be leaving your home town for LA. Can you do it? Mission, mentor and mindset! Putting those practices in place really starts opening doors to opportunities.

[31:47] Allan: So what do you say to people who have that invisible script in their head? They give themselves an excuse right away!

Brian: There is this classes movie with Gina Davis called The Long Kiss Goodnight.

[32:14] Allan: I was watching an interview with Samuel L. Jackson and he was asked if he watched his own movies. He was like, “Hell, yeah!” Most actors don’t! He mentioned that film was his favorite.

Brian: In the movie, Gina Davis’ character is a stay-at-home mom. There is a series of events and she realizes that she was in an accident that made her forget that she was a trained assassin. You, guys, are all trained assassins and now you have amnesia. You’re telling yourself the script of excuses. But in reality, there is a memory of your being a trained assassin! You just have it in the future. You will have access to it, you just have to step up into it. [33:52] We have unlimited capacity — but then we tell ourselves that story. Everyday, you can choose if you are going to embrace the story or rewrite it. In reality, if you woke up without the memories of the excuses: What would you want to do? I went running the other day and I remembered that I once had a broke hip — and then I started running differently. We all might have a broken hip, but we can still run! You can be the best editor in Kansas City. Show up and do it for yourself. You’re the only one standing in your own way.

[35:16] Allan: I think the amnesia is growing up. As kids, we thought anything was possible. When you start growing up, you start giving up on your own dreams. Why? Because the adults are telling you to go get “a real job” (www.allanmckay.com/99).

Brian: And why are they telling you that? Because they themselves couldn’t do it. So feed yourself success stories. Success leaves clues. Go look at Steven Spielberg’s story. What was he doing at your age? Find someone who has the life that you want and look at their daily life. Most people at a higher level have been interviewed and they go over their daily routine in that interview.

[36:13] Allan: Yeah, I love those! Vanity Fair does those a lot.

Brian: Make it your day tomorrow. No one is stopping you from doing that tomorrow. Just get hit by a baseball and wake up being a trained assassin that you are.

[36:34] Allan: One of my buddies is always talking about a game he plays called “So I Can”. In other words, he finds a purpose by saying, “I want to get up earlier in the morning, so I can…” You’d be surprised by the real reason behind what you want to do. Most people get affected by other people’s insecurities instead! One of the questions I had is: Do you have any advice for people who want to find a mentor? How do you convince important and busy people to become your mentor?

Brian: Absolutely! The absolute best thing you could do — is become their best student. Become their success story. In the book, I talk about my buddy Mike Kim who is a copywriter now. He met his mentor at a conference. His future mentor gave Mike one piece of advice and Mike did it that day! The next morning, he approached his mentor again and asked, “What’s next?” The mentor gave him another advice, “Buy my course!” So he did and he wrote a 5-page summary of what he was going to do. He emailed it to his mentor and asked, “What’s next?” The mentor said, “Come to my mentorship program!” Mike paid for the mentorship and did it for year. I got to witness it. There came a point when the mentor had a client approach him asking for a referral. The mentor referred Mike for the first time. But over that year, Mike has built his reputation. So there is someone you look up to did an interview on a blog / an article somewhere. Go read what they said and do what they tell the reader to do. You email them with a subject line “What are my next steps?”

I’m doing that with this author named Ryan Holiday. I love his stuff! I’ve met him a couple of times and I’m following the steps he tells me to do. I’d love for Ryan to endorse my book. I’m going to do the steps he tells me to do — and he may endorse my next book, or the one after this one. I’m going to keep showing up and following his advice. I’m putting myself under his guidance and mentorship. I want to grow.

[40:55] Allan: I think that’s a really valid point to bring up as well: Just because you don’t know someone, doesn’t mean you can’t see them as mentors. There are people I’ve never met whom I’ve considered my mentors.

Brian: Totally.

[41:24] Allan: That’s great! Do you want to talk about your book?

Brian: I found myself a few years into being an entrepreneur, working with clients. I was doing a lot, of course. I was working with this business coach and he told me to do a 360-assessment. Have you ever done that?

[42:04] Allan: Everyday of my life! I think it’s so powerful to look at yourself externally.

Brian: It’s so powerful! I did a Plus Level of 360 assessment. I sent out an email to other people, like clients with whom the project didn’t go that well. I even included those people a survey! And the survey included 3 questions:

  • What is Brian awesome at?
  • What does Brian suck at?
  • And if you had to tell Brian anything, what would that be?

The anonymous advice was, “Brian often puts projects over people”. People saw through me. Sometimes, I scan the room for the most famous people that can hire me. It’s strategy over authenticity. It was gut wrenching to hear that. I went on a journey of an apology tour. I emailed everyone. One time, I was at a conference speaking and there was a lady in the audience with whom I didn’t show my best. After the conference, I emailed her. She wrote back, “If you were really serious about this apology, you’d refund my deposit!” She paid me two years ago. I thought, “Oh, crap!” I went downstairs and told my wife about the refund. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do — is the right thing. I emailed the lady back and asked for the number. She said $750. I sent it to her and I sent a note along with it. I had a clear conscience.

For us, as creatives, to move forward, we have to have that. We have to feel like we treated people well. We own it. That opens up doors down the road. The lady wrote me back right away, “You blew me away. You didn’t need to give me a refund. I get comforted to know that there are people like you in the world!” She became an advocate instead of being my adversary. So go make those relationships right!

So that’s what the book is about: Go make it right with your people. We want profit and purpose, we want practice. All of that comes now, on a job that you’re doing right now! You have to show up and do the work. If you do it well, it will lead to other things. It’s about people first. I’m the one who didn’t have it figured it out. So the book is about: How do I put people first in my business — so that my business can grow?

[47:37] Allan: That’s great! To talk about the 360 assessment again: You reached out to a few people but you had them respond anonymously. Correct?

Brian: Yes, there are some tools that will do that for you. You’re sending them a survey.

[48:04] Allan: You’re right! People will be a lot more candid when it’s anonymous. I think we all have that burning relationship. I’ve done some projects I thought that could have gone better. Putting that baggage away allows you to move on! Talking about that subject: How important is your legacy?

Brian: I think that legacy is everything! If you have kids and you hate your job, but you come home and your kids are all over you — they are your legacy. They see your work in practice. Legacy and reputation matters! It’s a hard learned lesson. My wife and I just celebrated our anniversary, so shouldn’t I want to show up for her? When you’re working for your clients, you want them to think of you with admiration. When your kids grow up, they are looking up to you. There are people in your life right now who are your legacy. Maybe they’re just an assistant for your right now. That assistant will move up in the world. Do you want them to think, “Allan invested in me!” or “Allan took away from me!” I think about my funeral. Do I want there to be one awkward conversation at my funeral: “Brian didn’t do the work I paid him for!” You could always do better. It makes the world of difference!

[51:44] Allan: I love that! Talking about those adversarial relationships, I think it’s important to put those things to bed. You need to amend those relationships. It’s worth putting in the time.

Brian: It’s absolutely worth it! I’ve seen it over time. Eventually, that person you stepped on will have a chance to step on you. Call it karma! I’ve messed up enough for myself. I don’t want other people messing things up for me.

[53:08] Allan: I think it’s also about polarity. If you know you’ve done everything you could, you can walk away knowing that the reason it didn’t work is because someone wasn’t willing to give. For artists’ legacy, we don’t always put as much love into the work that we do. For me, there’ve been times I’d start to coast. Only recently, I started finding my passion again. We need to take the care and pride in the work that we do. Every time we turn on the tv and see our project and see our mistakes, they represent us forever.

Brian: Someone asked me the other day if I had a superhero talent, what that would be. I think it’d have to be a time traveling one. But in reality, I can time travel right now. I’m 40 years old right now. I can find a 50-year old author and I can ask him, “What would you’ve done differently?” It’s an opportunity to see into the future. Build your own IMDb profile and say, “I want it to look like this in 10 years!” What would it look like? Flush it out! Now it’s a matter of looking for opportunities. People will judge your work.

[55:50] Allan: That’s so great! One key thing I wanted to dive into is about mission statements. Can you talk about why those are important?

Brian: We actually built out a beta test site for Mirror Manifestos. Imagine you’re getting ready for the day. You look at yourself in the mirror and you have a little index card. You can stick it on the mirror while you’re shaving and it states your purpose! Imagine what that would do! That’s the short version. If you read that in the morning, I would clock in and do the work. That’s the power of clarity of having a personal mission statement.

I can break it down step by step:

I. It’s always starts with people. Your Mirror Manifesto starts with other people. So when you’re at some networking mixer an someone asks you what you do, you say, “You know how _ _ _ _ _ struggles with _ _ _ _ _?” For example, “You know how movie directors are always looking to take visual effects to the next level?” You could pause there and let the person think. They can connect the dots. “Well, I help directors create a dynamic look so that they can (and that’s the key phrase, “so that they can”) win awards and immerse the audience in the film?”

II. Then you follow up, “I do this through teaching on a weekly Podcast, sharing my work on Instagram, and through my work for hire”. So you mention the thing you do for free and the thing you get paid for.

III. The last step is rounding up what it does for you: “This gives you a peace of mind to know that you’re contributing in the world.”

You put that into three sentences and read that every day. You’re going to have confidence walking into meetings.

[1:00:40] Allan: That is so powerful! I talked about this in the past: Most people make the mistake of defining themselves as an artist. That won’t resonate on its own. You have to anchor yourself in other people’s minds. You need to help them figure out how they’re going to store you. That’s really a great approach! Do you have any advice for people who may be struggle with their mission statement?

Brian: Yeah, I would start with the obvious magic: What’s the thing that you know how to do that other people are blown away by? Let your frustration fuel you too! For example, a lot of writers I work with struggle when they see bad writing. If you find yourself saying, “If only they…” For me, it was customer service. Then you realize that’s your ninja skill. We can all do that! If you see something that frustrates you, you message them and you say, “Hey! This is what your video looked like before. Here is what it looks like after I color corrected it. Let me know if you want to hop on a Zoom call.” Of course, they’re going to jump on that call and ask, “How long did it take you?”

[1:03:43] Allan: What’s that saying, “It only took me a couple of minutes to do this. But the reason it costs several thousand — is because it took me 30 years to get to that point!”

Brian: That’s so good! I think Picasso was walking by a cafe and this lady walked by and recognized him. She asked him to draw something on a napkin. He scribbled something and said, “That will be a million dollars.” She said, “A million dollars?! It only took you a couple of minutes!” And he responded, “No, ma’am! I took me a lifetime!” You’ve taken your lifetime to get to where you are. There is someone who is out there right now that makes you think, “If only they…” Then you help them, or do it for them. That’s how you discover your purpose.

[1:05:17] Allan: Another way you could segue into a service: Do you want me to color correct your other videos? If they see the result, they’ll be interested. Because that’s the last thing they have to worry about.

Brian: If you think about it, 80 percent of all jobs aren’t advertised. I think it’s true for creative industries as well. They may have it in the back of their minds that they’ll need a potential VFX artist. You go through IMDb and find your favorite movies or shows, and you start building relationships with these people. Once they have a project, they will ask you to help them. I believe that every day, everything I do could scale up: my Podcast, my social media, my talks. If someone said, “Brian, I can help you land more Podcasts and you pay me $50 per Podcast.” I’d say, “DONE! Done all day!” I haven’t advertised that I was looking for an outreach person. They saw something in me, and they gave me an opportunity to say, “Yes.” If I were to say to say, “No,” I may think of 3 of my friends who may need that service.

[1:07:56] Allan: I love that! And your book Start with Your People comes out September 10th, correct?

Brian: Yes, September 10th. It’s available for pre-order: https://www.amazon.com/Start-Your-People-Decision-Everything/dp/0310356369. You can get the best price closer to the launch. If you’re looking for a change because it’s based on the hard learned lessons.

[1:08:38] Allan: That’s so awesome! Thanks for taking the time to chat!

Brian: Awesome, Allan! Thank you so much!

I hope you enjoyed this Episode and you got a lot from it. I want to thank Brian for this interview.

Next Episode, I’m going to do something different: I will talk about losing my job and becoming homeless, all on the same day. I’ve never opened up to anyone about that experience before. It took me years to get over it, so it wasn’t an easy Episode to do.

There will be other great Episodes coming up as well.

Thank you for sharing this Episode! I appreciate you.

Until next week —

Rock on!


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