How CMA Live Changed My Life

Pre-S: In this post, I talk a lot about the CMA and CMA Live. It’s worth mentioning that I am not affiliated with CMA, nor do I receive any kickbacks or perks for referring people to the community or to buy tickets for the live conference. If you are interested in attending CMA Live 2018, there is currently (at the time of writing) an early bird discount limited to the first 100 tickets. I actively encourage you to get yours as soon as you can – head on over to the CMA Live website to find out more. I booked my ticket for next year as soon as they went on sale. It’s one of the best investments I’ve made in my business – period.

In June 2016, around a year ago, I attended the best conference I’d ever been to – TCMA 2016.

For two days I spent time in Edinburgh with my Content Marketing Academy buddies, enjoying hands down the most inspirational talks from world-class speakers from across the globe, learning from some of the best content marketers on the planet how to build and nurture an audience and serve them with valuable content that will help grow my business.

I was so incredibly excited. I came home with my head full of so much amazing stuff – I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is going to change my life. I can’t wait to implement all the things I’ve learned!’

And then, I did nothing.

When I say nothing, I’ll be honest and say I wrote two blog posts and made one video in the last year. So first of all, there wasn’t enough. And secondly, they were all shit. Let’s not dwell on that though. On with the story!

I’d spent hundreds of pounds on the ticket, along with a few hundred more on travel, accommodation, food and drinks over the couple of days, and I’d put into action approximately zero things off the back of the event. It’s at this point you’ll want to slap me across the face and ask me what the hell I was thinking. And you know what, I felt exactly the same way.

Quick rewind

It’s probably worth giving a little background into my business at this point. I’d left employment in the March of that year, and had found my specialism in content production services – I was doing a little bit of writing for my old employers on a retainer, designing ebooks and websites, and editing video for a few other clients. All in all, this was going okay for the most part.

It was shortly after the conference that the CMA community kicked off a 90-day challenge. You set your own goals to produce a number of pieces of content each week for 90 days. I had set myself the goal of writing two blog posts each week.

I wrote for two weeks, and gave up. They’re still on this website – feel free to read them (but please don’t bother!)

The main problem was that I had no idea what I should be saying and who I should be saying it to, and I found the challenge seriously stressful. I bowed out, and I felt pretty shitty about it too. But I recognised quickly that if it was causing me so much worry it simply wasn’t worth it.

And that’s pretty much what my content marketing amounted to for the rest of the year. I didn’t know what to do, and it was causing me too much strain to do anything about, so I didn’t do anything. Okay, I was contributing to the world of content marketing via my clients, which was pretty awesome, but I couldn’t make sense of what the hell to say about my business.

Time to get Honest

Towards the end of 2016, I had been having some great conversations with my buddy Kev Anderson, and we decided to co-host a podcast about working for yourself (check out The Honestpreneur Podcast if you want to know more) and for me this really was a form of therapy. We spoke about the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, with the hope that our discussions might help others who are going through similar experiences themselves.

During one of the episodes, I spoke about how I was on a journey. I could feel that I was starting to make sense of things, but I knew I wasn’t there yet.

Embrace the journey – this was something I said, completely off the cuff in one of our conversations. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was going to become a bit of a game-changer for me.

We released the podcast in April, dropping the whole first season of 8 episodes in one Netflix-style launch. It wasn’t us ‘doing content marketing’ really, despite pouring a lot of time into it, but as far as my business and my mindset around content creation, I could sense something was beginning to change.

Finding my niche

I mentioned earlier that in my business, I was specialising in content production, but over the last year I’ve also been working on branding projects, graphic design, web design, podcast editing, and all sorts of technical and design-related bits and pieces. I didn’t see this as a bad thing for a long time. I love varied work, and I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve done so far. One of the main reasons I wanted to work for myself was so that I could do work I gave a shit about – stuff I love doing and none of the associated crap that goes along with it (hello, massive spreadsheets!) – and things were going pretty well on that front. I had a steady stream of income, and on good days I was feeling like a total boss. But in reality, I felt more often than not that I was winging it. The good days started to be outweighed by the bad days, and on the bad days I was being paralysed with fear and guilt that I was going to cock up this whole working for myself game. All the while trying to make sense of my business and make it work.

I was determined to make it work – I just couldn’t figure it out.

I was clinging on to what I’d originally set out to do, and along with it trying to retain my original brand as well as my portfolio. After all, I’d been doing some pretty good work that I am proud of. Why wouldn’t I want to do that?

Long story short (he says, the irony not being lost here), trying to make a success of my business in this way was the thing standing in the way of making a success of my business.

I had the niggling feeling in my head for months that I should go all in on video production – it was quickly becoming my most in-demand set of services – but up until May 2017 I had asserted that I was going to continue on the road I’m going down, and be a multimedia designer for a range of creative needs.

Okay, job done, let’s move on… right?

When Lightning (Speakers) Strike

Towards the end of 2016 Chris Marr (founder of the CMA) approached me and my good friend (amazing brand designer at Pixels Ink, Col Gray) to collaborate on the rebrand for his organisation. We’d both known Chris for a few years, we are friends, and we’d both been part of the CMA since its infancy, joining the membership in 2015.

We worked on the project over a few months and launched the rebrand in March, and Chris asked Col and I to speak at CMA Live 2017 to talk about the rebrand and where it came from. We were to take one of the seven ‘Lightning Speaker’ slots – a 15-minute talk designed to break up the day between main and keynote speakers – all hand-chosen by Chris from within the CMA community (all bar one surprise speaker!).

As we are all already friends within the community, Chris was keen to bring all the lightning speakers together so we can share ideas/concerns regarding our talks ahead of the conference itself. A half-day workshop was held a few weeks before the event to give us all the opportunity to run through our talks – no matter how unfinished or rough they were – within a safe and open environment where feedback was encouraged in order to help us be the best we can be.

The scene was set, Chris made sure we were prepped and ready to give constructive feedback and be open to learning, and the day couldn’t have gone better in my eyes. Everyone in the room not only levelled up their game and took on board everyone’s advice, but we all worked together and were invested in each others’ success. For me it was a really special moment and one that I won’t forget any time soon. You could really feel that we were all in this together!

Team spirit aside – there were two pretty magical moments that will shape the future of my business over the next year, thanks to two of my Lightning Speaker pals.

I’ve already spoken about niching, and up until this day I was still committed to continuing with the multimedia approach in the meantime – that is until I heard Karen Reyburn’s talk.

The Profitable Firm, which Karen heads up, is a creative agency that works exclusively with accountants, and her talk was about the power of working with a niche. She explained this with the analogy of less is more; focusing in on one area in order to serve it better. It was these four key questions that she called upon people to ask themselves that acted as a complete clarity slap:

  1. What is the one thing that you keep coming back to?
  2. Who or what do you understand the best?
  3. Where do you get great results for people?
  4. Where are you, or could you be, really profitable?

‘I know I’m supposed to give you critical feedback, but the cogs in my brain are spinning so fast – I was hooked from start to finish!’ – this was all I could say to Karen when she’d finished her talk in our workshop. I quizzed her later on my previous ‘niche’ of content production and she told me that it’s not a niche because it’s not immediately obvious how I can help someone. This was HUGE for me. It was just the push I needed.

I sat on this idea for a couple of weeks, but by the week before CMA Live I’d made my decision. I had to bring focus into my business.

A big reservation for me was that I was about to stand up at the best content marketing conference in the UK, in front of 170 people and talk about branding. But by this point I had the confidence and clarity to say to myself, it’s okay, you’re only there to tell a story. At the end of the day, this was 100% what it was all about for me. It didn’t matter that I was about to TELL THE WORLD on stage that I’m a branding guy because I’ve made the decision that I’m going to focus and I’m sticking to it. I can’t let me past dictate my future.

The second talk that influenced me from our team of Lightning Speakers was by kickass Aberdeenshire-based entrepreneur Yva Yorston.

Yva’s business (Boost Business Support) helps businesses blog more consistently, and in her talk she explained her entrepreneurial story so far, and a pitfall that nearly stopped her in her tracks. It was the people around her that helped her out of her slump, and gave her the support and encouragement to keep going. I’d been in this place before – both in the lack of confidence and being picked up again by the awesome people in the CMA – so her story completely resonated with me.

We caught up for a coffee after the workshop and she was explaining to me that she wasn’t sure how to finish her talk, because her ‘story’s not finished yet’. She’s still working on growing her business, and her talk couldn’t finish with ‘I was there, but look at me now! I’ve made it!’

So it’s apparently easier to give advice to someone else than tell yourself what you need to hear (who knew!?) but I told her that the fact her story isn’t finished yet is exactly the point. The talk was about how the community helped her tackle a problem and now she’s on her way to great things.

Now, it’s at this point that I need to make clear this isn’t some attempt to brag about how I saved Yva’s talk, but that conversation left me feeling so supported. After all, I’d been there before – and while Karen’s words of wisdom around niching gave me a dose of clarity, it was Yva’s story and our discussion afterwards that gave me a real lift in terms of confidence. It really helped me articulate to myself that everything will be okay. I’m not alone. I will make it if I work hard, and, as Yva so eloquently put as the closing words of her talk on-stage at CMA Live…

‘I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.’

The main event

It would be remiss of me to not talk about CMA Live itself. I’m not going to do a full write-up, mostly because if you’ve read this far I’ve had enough of your time, but I’ve been trying to condense everything I feel about my experience with CMA Live this year over the last few days since getting back to ‘reality’.

Being given the opportunity to stand up in front of the audience at CMA Live and speak with my friend Col was a fantastic experience for me – we had a lot of fun with it and I felt privileged to help tell the story of the CMA brand over the years. It’s taken a while to get to where we’re at now, but it’s just the beginning, and I felt truly honoured to be able to share this story with everyone in the room.

Continuing on the clarity and confidence themes, the main speakers delivered truly inspirational talks which helped cement a lot of key themes and ideas going round in my head. Everyone was amazing, but I’m going to pick out three people who really moved me this year.

Mark Schaefer talked about the 30-month mindset – in that it takes around two and a half years to make yourself a success, by creating content consistently and building a targeted audience that you serve with all your heart.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not a long time, and there has never been a better time to start than now.

Erika Napoletano spoke about finding your voice and creating a powerful brand. This talk was a powerhouse performance that had people in tears one moment and then laughing their asses off the next, but the real value for me came from a surprise mini workshop where we broke down some key messaging for my business to find my BUQ – Big Universal Question – live, with everyone in the room. It was scary as shit but hell yeah it was worth it!

Marcus Sheridan’s talk at the end of the conference cemented everything for me. We heard the River Pools and Spas story, where he went from ‘Pool Guy’ to content marketing machine (if you haven’t heard this story, check it out – or go buy his book). But it wasn’t the message about ‘They Ask, You Answer’ that struck me, it was the idea of being ‘built to last’. You are the only one who can do you, and your story is your story. Embrace the messy, seek opportunities for kindness and the opportunities that can come your way can change your life. I’m not doing his talk justice at all, but it was truly something else!

I mentioned right at the beginning of this post that I didn’t enact anything on the back of the 2016 CMA conference. I know that it’s not strictly true, but I haven’t actioned anything that is going to serve my audience in a way that aligns with my business, and it certainly isn’t going to help me make any money! However, the thing I’ve come to realise is that it’s a combination of everything I’ve learned so far, along with the community around me that has brought me to the place I’m at now.

So what’s next for RAD Creatives?

I’ve been weighing up the idea of niching down to video production for a really long time (at the time of writing this it’ll have been probably around 9 months) but up until recently I had the following fears:

  • I would be closing myself off to potential opportunities (cough… money!)
  • I would have wasted the first year in business building a reputation as a multimedia designer
  • I wasn’t cut out to be a video producer – after all, I hadn’t produced anything (apart from one shit video) for myself!

For the record, I’m completely aware that those of you reading this may be shaking your head at these statements. Thankfully things are much different now, and while it’s still a bit scary, I feel like I can lean into that fear. I can focus in on my message and how I help my clients, and developing that message has been fast-tracked thanks to my brand new BUQ (thanks again, Erika!)

So there you have it. I’m niching to video production (videography and editing).

Following this I’ve decided it’s time to rebrand. I’m keeping this mostly to myself for now, but I’m giving my brand an injection of personality and doing away with the old to make way for the new. Which is also pretty rad.

Finally… a few acknowledgements need to be made.

If it wasn’t for the CMA community I wouldn’t have a business.

If it wasn’t for the events running up to CMA Live 2017 and the event itself I wouldn’t have the best chance I could have to make a successful business.

That might sound dramatic, but it’s 100% how I feel. I went from looking at job boards last summer to feeling more excited about my business than I ever have – and it’s all down to the support, encouragement, knowledge, learning and ALL THE THINGS that come with the CMA.

There are far too many names to name of those within the community who have helped me throughout the last year – trust me, you know who you are – but special mentions have to go my Actionlab friends (including Denise Cowle, Martin Huntbach and John Espirian) who are always there and put up with my ramblings and fortnightly existential crises; my pal and fellow Honestpreneur Kevin Anderson for his continued support; Col Gray for being an awesome friend and sounding board for all things design business related (even if he did try to upstage me by wearing a kilt at CMA Live 2017, the bastard); and to Cara Mackay, who has not only put her trust in me to make her videos awesome, but her appreciation and uncensored words of encouragement and belief in me and my abilities have had more impact on me than she will probably ever know.

I never thought I could find a blend of real friendship and business in the way I have with the CMA. We’re all on our own journeys, and while we’re all at different stages, the fact we’re all invested in each other’s success makes it a community that I’m super proud to be a part of.

It’s with this in mind that I take this final opportunity to thank Chris Marr – he’s unwittingly been my teacher and mentor over the last few years, and I cannot thank him enough for creating this amazing organisation. It is truly special.

I love you all.


P.S. The pre-sale for CMA Live 2018 is already up and running. If you’ve been convinced at all by this blog to check out this amazing conference – get your tickets at the CMA Live website.

P.P.S. The LEGEND that is Gavin Bell released his official CMA Live vlog! Check it here: