An Introduction to Blair Enns
David asks Blair to describe his work and his passion for the creative entrepreneurial community, and they discuss how where he lives has such a huge impact on what he does.
DAVID C. BAKER: All right, Blair. Your turn to be, um, on stage. So, I'm gonna ask you some questions so the audience gets to know you a little bit better. Tell me first about, uh, your business? So, Win Without Pitching, how long it's been around, uh, what you're doing now, the early days what you were doing, some of that transition.
BLAIR ENNS: Okay. Um, Win Without Pitching is a sales training company for creative professionals. It's really in, uh, in the creative firm or marketing firm space. We, um, typically refer to sales or the broader bucket in which we would put sales as new business development. Um, we've talked about this on another podcast. I, uh, I use the term sales ... um, I kind of lean in to that word, uh, uh, but it's sales training and other business development resources for independent creative firms and their, um, their principals and their teams.
I've been doing this ... Win Without Pitching had its genesis in, um, two thou- ... early 2002 as a consulting practice, and somewhere around ... I'm not very good with dates ... somewhere around 2013 or so, I switched from an independent consulting model ... consultant model to a scaled up, um, s-, uh, training company. So for the last three or four years, we've been a training business, which is, um ... It's been really interesting, because as an- as an independent consultant, you're giving advice to your clients but you're not really, um, you're not really running a business like theirs. Like for ... Well, I can only speak for myself, but for me, it was a- it was a lifestyle business. I live in a little village in a remote ... in the remote mountains of British Columbia, a short nine-hour drive from Vancouver.
DAVID: (laughs) Yeah.
BLAIR: We moved here to raise our family here in this beautiful place. It's- it's a village of less than a thousand people on the shore of a 92-mile long lake. You can drink the water out of this lake. Um, so we moved here for lifestyle reasons to raise four kids, and I launched the consulting practice as a way to earn a living. And, you know, during the summer I'd spend a large part of every day at the beach with my wife and kids, so it was really ... The genesis was, um, I thought this would be ... It was either that or I buy- I buy the fly fishing shop here. And I'm not very good with people, so running a retail operation ...
BLAIR: And it also would have clashed with kind of the- the, uh, time that I wanted to reserve for my family.
BLAIR: So in the beginning it was a consulting practice, and then as the kids got to a certain age and I kinda felt like I maxed out the independent consultant m- business model, or maybe I just got bored ... um, I do remember the model as beating me up. I was finding it hard physically ... um, I decided to scale to a training company. So for the last few years, it's been a training company. And, um, so, uh, firms from all over the English speaking world sign up for this program. It's a year long program called the Win Without Pitching program. It's actually multiple years, but the minimum, um, the minimum time requirement is, uh, is one year. So that's- that's Win Without Pitching, uh, past and present.
DAVID: So, you have multiple people working on the team now, that's part of what you mean by scaling up. What- what- what do these other people do, um, in the organization?
BLAIR: Yeah. So, uh, h- head office here in, uh, Kaslo, British Columbia, Canada. There's my wife and b-
DAVID: World headquarters. [crosstalk 00:03:41] World headquarters, right?
BLAIR: Um, my wife is my business partner and she takes an active, very active, role in the business. She is essentially COO, um, and we refer to her in EOS terms as the integrator. And if you're not familiar with EOS, you can go to eosworldwide.com. It's a ... It stands for en- entrepen- eper- entrepreneurial operating system. So she's ... In, in their parlance, I am the visionary in charge of kind of future value, where we're going, culture, morale, and she's in charge of operations. And we are, uh ...
As soon as that model became kind of presented to us, it was clear to us that we both fit those two, um, roles perfectly. So that's been really helpful for our business. Um, so she's the- she's kind of my right-hand person in the business. And then we've got, um, people in charge of kind of program coordination and, uh, we call it marketing, but it's really all kinds of stuff. I mean, we're a- we're a small enough organization here that there's four of us in Kaslo and then there's four coaches that are all remote.
DAVID: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
BLAIR: Um, and, uh, one of them's on staff full-time kind of leading our coaching team, and the other three are ... do other things with, uh, the majority of their time, including running their own marketing firms and, um, and then coach for us on the side. So that's- that's the model today.
DAVID: So, there are lots of sales training organizations, but the sense I get is that yours is very different from the others. Like what are the- what are the few top of mind differences that you bring, you know, the different perspectives to sales? And also, like, wh- why a sales training organization for this creative entrepreneurial community? Like what is it that you love about that community, specifically?
BLAIR: I'm not really sure how we're different from s- some other sales training organizations. We- we don't ... And you and I are ... We're going to do a podcast on this, where you get your inspiration from. I- I don't pay attention to ... I d- I purposely don't look at other sales training organizations.
DAVID: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
BLAIR: So I don't ... I own a lot of books on selling and I've leafed through, uh, a lot of them, and I've read cover to cover very few of ... In fact, I've read cover to cover none of them.
DAVID: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
BLAIR: So I try ... I kind of dip my toe into that world to get some sense of what's going on, but I- I prefer to not know too much about it. Um, so, uh, if I could answer the question, "What's different and why this community?" um, I can articulate it as, uh, you know, this l- wh- why I'm doing this. As the older I get, the more I feel like, um, the more ... maybe I'm getting more spiritual ... but the more I feel like we-, you know, we're- we're put on this planet and paths for us are almost pre- preordained. Um, and that's gonna rub some people the wrong way.
And I've ... I'm an ab- I'm an absolute believer in free will, but I really- I really believe that my job is, if you wanna think in terms of archetypes, I love creators. I've ... I feel like I was put here to- to teach creators. In fact, I've- I've written a post about this. I ... It's called There's a Woman, I See Her Clearly. I have this vision of this woman, and sometimes it's a man. I just think of this one person who is, um, who's gone through to design school, falls in love with this craft of design, and decides that she wants to design for a living, so she opens a design firm. And, um, now she unex- kind of unexpectedly finds herself in these situations that she never really planned for. She kind of thought it would be, you know, "It'll be great. I'll get these clients. They'll pay me to do this work. Um, I'll be creatively fulfilled." But then she runs into all these business challenges.
And the- and the biggest kind of personal challenge that I see, and the one that I believe that I am here to hep with, is this idea of th-, "I- I now have to sell. So now, I'm standing in front of a prospective client and I've ... I'm n- ... I do not see myself as a natural sales person and now I have to sell. I not only have to sell, I have to sell something that is highly personal to me, and therefore I'm feeling very vulnerable. I don't know what to do. I don't wanna turn to traditional kind of sales guidance, because that doesn't feel like me."
Some people might say it feels a bit sleazy. Some would just say, "I just can't seen myself doing those things or saying those things." I ... Our business is built to help that person in that moment. That person who's like, "I- I'm a designer or a creator first, I'm a sales person second. I don't really have the skills to do this, and I don't wanna be trained into some sort of sales robot." So, I wanna help that vulnerable person in that vulnerable moment, and the business is just ... it's all built around that.
DAVID: I mean, you're obviously very passionate about that, too. Like if I had a- a VU meter to measure the passion in your voice, it'd be pretty high as you're talking about that. Like it does really matter to you.
DAVID: Switching just a little bit. So, here, like, I- I wanna know like how your personal perspective bleeds into the business. So, here you are, and you've talked- talked about some of these things already. You're living in a- in a remote village, a beautiful community. I've been to visit you, been in your lovely home. You've got four kids. Um, you've got a lot of dear friends. You love the outdoors. You're ... You don't participate in social media much. You love ... You're a world citizen. Like how- how does that bleed into your- your- your business practice? Like if you were- if you were a single guy, for instance ... I hope I don't get in trouble asking any of these questions (laughs) ... Say that you're a single guy-
DAVID: -living in New York City in a 600 square foot apartment, how would your training practice be different? Like, I- I'm just so fascinated by the connection between those things.
BLAIR: Oh, yeah, and I- I mean I ... Clearly, I've spent some time thinking about this, too. It's, uh ... It would be so di- ... First of all, I couldn't ... I- I love that 600 square foot apartment in New York for like a weekend, right?
BLAIR: And I love to- I love to visit these places, and I love the intensity of those places, but then I like to come back home. And to me, it's very ... For years, I've ... There's ... I- I ... It's two worlds. Th- ... To me, this is real life, and everything outside of this little village is the Matrix. So, I- I'll say, "Okay, I'm going out into the Matrix," and then I come back into real life. And there's a woman who used to run the ... one of the little health food stores slash coffee shops, and when I first started to travel for work ... we'd been here for a few years ... and I first started to travel for work, I noticed I would come in for coffee after being out in the Matrix, and she would look at me and she would say, "Blair, what's wrong? Come here and give me a hug." (laughs)
DAVID: (laughs) Like you'd been beat up by the Matrix or something.
BLAIR: Yeah, it's like she- she would just sense this kind of tension about me or something, and I would think, "Oh, come on, what's- what's up with this? I don't need a hug. I've got things to do." (laughs)
BLAIR: And then like three days later, she would come in, she would look at me, and she'd smile and she'd go, "Ah, Blair, welcome back. Welcome back."
DAVID: Took you three days to get in again.
DAVID: I was in Florida recently, and I- I actually drove through where The Truman Show was- was filmed.
BLAIR: Oh. That is-
DAVID: And I just about barfed. I mean, like, it just ... That's ... The notion of life where everything is the same and so ordered. That's not the world you live in. I mean, that's not the world of New York City, either, but yeah ... so ...
BLAIR: That- that film is one of the top two or three ... that and The Matrix. Those two films like came out about the same time, and I s- ... They had profound effects on me, profound. And this idea of what's real, and even today, these- these- these ... I have these ideas. I- I'm not sure that the past, uh ... We ... I don't wanna go down there. I'm not sure that ... I'm not convinced that the past actually happened. So I've spent a lot of time thinking about what is real.
Um, but, so, living in the ... back to your question ... living in a village in the middle of nowhere where I, uh, I work very hard to keep information out. As you pointed out, I- I don't follow anybody on social media, or I'll follow a small number of people for a short period of time, and that's an experiment I'm doing right now, and I find it's overwhelming. I cut out most media. I've gone years without reading the news or being exposed to the news. It's very imp- ... I'm over stimulated easily.
BLAIR: I wanna be in control of the information that comes to me. Um, it's very important for me to have space. I think of, um, Gordon MacKenzie's book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, about ... I kind of imagine myself as this hair that's orbiting the hairball, and the center of the hairball is Madison Avenue in New York City. And I try not to get sucked in. And I- I would say to my wife, "You know, whenever I go to New York, um, I gotta get out of there after a few days, because I actually start to believe what they're saying." So, my- my physical-
BLAIR: -location gives me perspective. And I have an alternative point of view on how new business should be done. Um, I don't believe that the- the rules of pitching as they're written need to be followed. I think that's a function of other things, and that comes out in the conversations we have in the podcast. But you're right, where I live is really ... I don't think I could do what I do and think what I think and work the way I work, if I didn't live where I live.
DAVID: Well, pretend that you ... that everything was the same about your life in the sense, you know, your family and your friends and the remote, beautiful country that you live in, but it was in Wyoming versus British Columbia. Is there something about the Canadian connection that influences how you go about business?
BLAIR: Yeah, there probably is. I love that I'm in Canada and I do business primarily in the US. Not just the US, but in the UK, Australia and other parts of the world, but the primary market is the United States. And I think my impact would be affected. You know, 50% of my friends are 67-year-old American expats. And that's because this was a place for, um ... this was people who were dodging the Vietnam draft, before that, the conscientious objectors to either the Korean War or even World War Two. People used to come up to this like, this beautiful rural place and this back to the land movement.
So you have this really hippy culture, and I'm not a hippy, but I love these people. And to a person, every single one of these people has been just an immense contributor to the community. So I think without ... That- that kind of feeds a bit of the culture here, and then on the other end of the spectrum, you have those blue collar natural resource extraction loggers and miners. And so we have this really interesting balance of kind of hippy earth mother, back to the land, um, uh, pacifists, et cetera, grow your own food, and then the other end of the spectrum is like people who make their living cutting down trees and digging up rocks.
BLAIR: And, um, I love the tension. It's not ... It's actually quite a healthy, I think, respectful tension. Not always, but I love the tension between those two different groups of people, and I have very dear friends in both of those groups. Um, uh, I tend to resist extremes in all things when it comes to politics or, uh, often points of view. I like to be able to try on different scenarios and travel in all camps. So I think there's- there's ... you know, I was attracted to th-, attracted to this place. I really feel like I was called to this place. I used to joke about it, and now I think it's true. Um, n- For A, the physical beauty, and B, the mix of the people. So-
DAVID: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
BLAIR: You know, you can compare it to Wyoming or you could compare it to other places, um, the ... just the mix isn't there. You know, as ... Like you, I travel a lot in my work, and everywhere I go I play the game, "Could I live here?" Um, and I've come up with one city where I could probably live in this ... Well, so maybe one and a half. I could li- I could probably live in Victoria, British Columbia, which isn't too far from here.
DAVID: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
BLAIR: It's only like 10 hours from here. It's on Vancouver Island. And I could probably live in Hobart, Tasmania. Those are the two places where I think I could probably live if I couldn't live here.
DAVID: So, what do you do ... I know you enjoy getting away from the business, 'cause you're working hard when you're there. When you go away, you're usually going away with family. What- what kinds of things do you do when you're not working, and where do you go? What kinds of places do you go?
BLAIR: Uh, man, I'm working a lot these days. So when we're not working, we're usually hiking, paddling, doing something outdoors, because we live in, you know, a vacation country. So we ... you know, when I take vacation in the summer, we don't go anywhere. We'll take a winter vacation and go somewhere. Um, so it's- it's almost always outdoors. Like I was telling you, my 25th wedding anniversary's coming up. We're going to go on a- a ... I think it's and eight or a nine day canoe trip. That's our 25th wedding anniversary trip.
DAVID: You're such a cheap bastard, you know it? You know?
DAVID: (laughs) so, I know you like to go to warm places in the winter, because the winter can be fairly brutal there as where ... as well, right?
DAVID: Yeah. All right, so when you h- ... When somebody's been through your training course and, um, time has passed, so they have ... the- the- these- these students, so to speak, have- have some perspective, some distance from it, two or three years, what are they- what are they taking away as the most valuable things they learned by rubbing shoulders with you and your curriculum and your coaches and your- your support staff and so on? What are the things they're leaving with, after a few years, they think back on it and says, "Oh, my goodness. That really changed how I think?"
DAVID: Confidence, yeah.
BLAIR: Yeah. We- we are in the- we are in the business of empowerment, you know? So just back to that- that- that designer in that vulnerable moment. We wanna take that person and just empower them to own that moment and no longer be vulnerable. That's ... it's a- ... that's it, right there. That's it.
DAVID: Oh, well, great, Blair. I think I'm gonna sign out.
BLAIR: (laughs) I think I already have your credit card on file.
BLAIR: I'll just take care of that right now.
DAVID: All right. Thanks for the introduction, Blair.
BLAIR: Thanks, David.