The Right-Brain Business Plan with Jennifer Lee
Jennifer Lee, author of the bestselling The Right-Brain Business Plan, talks about avoiding burnout, showing up and how to pursue your creative passion without becoming a starving artist.
You can create the business and life that you want and do it in a way that means building a viable and sustainable business while being creative or artistic. Jennifer Lee, author of Building Your Business the Right-Brain Way and the bestselling The Right-Brain Business Plan, says pursuing a creative passion doesn’t mean you have to be the stereotypical starving artist. You get to have it the way you want it and be confident in your skills as a creative. Jennifer spent a decade climbing the corporate ladder before pursuing her creative dreams. Through her popular programmes, products, and writing, she empowers others to follow their passions. Learn how you can show up a little bit more, share a little bit more, and understand that being in business is very much like a creative process.
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I’m delighted to have Jennifer Lee with me. Jennifer is the author of Building Your Business the Right-Brain Way and bestselling, The Right-Brain Business Plan. Jennifer spent a decade climbing the corporate ladder before pursuing her creative dreams. Through her popular programmes, products and writing, she empowers others to follow their passions. Jennifer lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and a sweet Husky-Lab mix. Jennifer, welcome to the show.
Clare, it’s great to be here.
Jennifer, I’m delighted to have you here and I would love to know how the place you live in today influences the work that you do in the world.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area in the East Bay. What I love about being here is it’s a wonderful mix of some urban elements but also pockets of nature that are walking distance away. I feel like I’m still connected, but I have these awesome places of respite that I could go to, even in my backyard, to find some spaciousness and nature and greenery. That’s something that helps me thrive as a creative and a heart-centred entrepreneur to make sure that I have that space. Being here has definitely helped me slow down a little bit more, but not feel isolated. Sometimes I can be quite the hermit and being still in a populated area, but having that spaciousness is the perfect mix for me.
That resonates with me. I’ve gone through a period of being a little bit of a hermit, so it’s nice to emerge and come back into the world. It’s an important thing for people who are living in this modern world, whether we’re living in an urban environment or not. The world is fast and it’s important to carve out space and time for slowness and for connection. That’s interesting to me that you should speak about that spaciousness. What does a typical day look like for you in your local area?
I spend a lot of time at home. I work from home. In terms of my daily routine, I start off with typically journaling when I’m still in bed and that brain dump of whatever cobwebs need to get swept out of my brain. Then I’ll do my morning meditation, which is typically about 20 to 30 minutes. I then eat breakfast, take my dog out for a little bit and then do some work. What I like to do is follow a certain rhythm for the week. Mondays and Wednesdays are the days where I do client work and I do coaching calls or I lead groups if I’m leading groups. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the time for me to hunker down and either work on some projects or do some writing. On Fridays, I practice what I call self-care Friday and that’s where I don’t have any meetings at all and it’s time for me to go for a walk with a friend or take my dog to the water and hanging around there or doing creative projects. I follow that rhythm, so it depends on what day it is.
How easy do you find it to switch modes from working with clients to diving into the juicy creative stuff, but then switching back out of that mode for the next round of courses?
I find that challenging because I’m a huge introvert. Especially if I’m writing or working on a project, I need big chunks of time that are quiet that I don’t have any other commitments or responsibilities so that I can focus because my warmup time can be a little long. I need to have that carved-out space, which is why I chose to do this rhythm of the Monday, Wednesday and then the Tuesday, Thursday because when I didn’t have that and it was willy-nilly of when I would do calls with clients or lead things. I had a hard time transitioning from being present and fully there for the client or these groups, then to try and shift into a quieter introspective place and then tap into whatever train of thought I was on before.
It’s very jarring for me, which is why having specific days for what I call more outward focused energy and then the days for inward focused energy works for me. I’m pretty much a stickler for that. Sometimes I’ll make exceptions like if I’m going on vacation and my schedule is all wonky, then I’ll make some concessions for if I need to call on a day that I normally don’t. For the most part, I hold to that because that’s the only way I can get stuff done, to be honest.
That’s a smart move. It’s something that for many of us working on creative projects and whether we’re working for ourselves or we’re freelancing, it’s definitely an important thing to figure out what that mode is or that rhythm is that helps us flourish and helps us to be able to sustain the work that we’re doing in the world. For me, an important thing is to protect my morning time. I tend to have that inner quiet time and I protect it each morning. Then I’m more likely to do events or do meetings or outward-focused stuff in the afternoon when my energy is different. Those mornings are sacrosanct for me. Figuring that out has been both empowering and sanity-saving for my mental health, my physical health, my happiness and my creative output.
I love when people find that rhythm. For a lot of people, it is like what you’re saying, it’s like the day is broken in half. For me, I couldn’t even deal with that. I’d have to have like a full day of either.
Whatever works, it’s just figuring it out. For some of us, it can take a while of struggle before we reach that point. This is inspiring. Let’s go back to when you first wake up in the morning and you do that journaling, getting all of the crap in your head out onto the page. Do you review what you write or do you just get an info dump out of your head to make space for the day?
It’s a dump. It’s not like things that are gems that become some article or something like that. A lot of times, I’m saying the same things to myself and I feel like Stuart Smalley, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough,” all that kind of stuff. Sometimes there will be mornings where I wake up and I have a flash of an email that I need to write and I’ll jot those things down. For something like that, I’ll put it on my iPad so I can go and work on it on the computer later, but that is very rare. Usually, if there’s been something that’s been noodling in the back of my mind like an issue that I’ve been trying to work through, then sometimes I’ll wake up and be like, “That’s what I need to write.” Most of the time, the journaling is just, “I’m tired, I have a lot to do today,” and all that kind of stuff. Like you’re saying, just get it out so I can move on with the day.
Your meditation practice, is that something that you had to get outside help with or is it something that has just been instinctive?
I’ve been doing meditation practice on and off for quite some time but on my own. I went through yoga teacher training in 2007. That was probably when I first got some structure around it, but I didn’t stick with a regular practice from that. I would listen to some MBSR recordings, body scans and things like that. I would listen to it on my own or sit for a while, but I never kept up with a regular practice until probably about a few years ago where I started doing a daily practice. I participated in a teacher training program with Susan Piver through her Open Heart Meditation Project. That helped me cultivate the daily practice with structure and with the tools and resources of knowing how to sit my butt down even when I didn’t want to because that’s part of it. It’s just showing up.
Rarely do I have this amazing, super grounded experience. It’s about being with whatever shows up, even if it feels like “crappy sits.”That’s how I’ve been cultivating that. Then I started to use the Insight Meditation Timerapp to help me track my sits. Sometimes I’ll listen to recordings but most of the time, I like to have my own space and quiet. Sometimes when I listen to recordings and they’re saying, “Check in with how you feel. Are you feeling happy, angry?” I’m like, “You’re in my head. I can’t tell what I’m thinking because you’re giving me all these examples.” I oftentimes like to have it be quiet and to follow my own process.
Moving on then to talking about the books. I said how your books have been so instrumental in my life in helping me navigate the transition from the corporate world or in my case, it was the third sector, higher education sector here in the UK, to deciding I wanted to work in a more creative way that was more meaningful to me. I was trying to figure out how to create something that was worthwhile and that was going to be sustainable whilst also acknowledging that I hate figures and Excel spreadsheets and all of that kind of stuff that I used to have to work with in my old life and project management tools and all of these very sensible resources that we can use to run our businesses.
One of the key insights for me from my past work life was witnessing how we had art students from the University of the Arts in London working with MBA students at London Business School and collaborating because so often, the arts guys would fail once they left college and went out into the world because they didn’t have the business acumen. The business hot shots, the MBA guys, were not so hot at tuning into the creative stuff. These are sweeping generalisations, but I was very aware of that when I set out to create Urban Curiosity. Tell us a little bit about the genesis of the book.
The first book, The Right-Brain Business Plan, it came to be very organically. I was participating in this annual challenge called Art Every Day Month that my friend, Leah Piken Kolidas, leads every November. As part of that, I was doing all different kinds of creative mediums each day like painting or drawing. I even did beading. It was trying all sorts of different mediums. At the end of the year, for goal setting, I decided to do a vision board, a collage for what I envisioned my business to be in the next year, year and a half. I love bookbinding. I love book arts, so I had this blank accordion book and I decided to do this collage on this accordion book. I posted it on my blog. I didn’t know what else to call it. I’m like, “This is my Right-Brain Business Plan.” People took to it. They’re like, “That’s your business plan. That’s cool.” The next day, I did on the backside of what I call the left-brain detail, so I put in a little pocket for a spreadsheet that I printed out and I listed out different marketing goals and products and services, so putting a little bit more teeth to the plan with some written out details. That became my guidepost for the next year and a half, two years. Most of those goals came true within that time frame or were in progress.
What I realised from doing that was that was something that inspired me to stay engaged with my business. It became the place that I would go back to if I’m making decisions about what I wanted to do next in the business, also seeing how it resonated with other people. They’re like, “I want my plan to be something like that too.”I would take it with me to all these networking events and people would remember me because they saw it. It was so different and they could get a sense of what I was about from this visual. A picture’s worth a thousand words. That helped me realise that there was something here. I knew I wanted to write a book because that was on my first The Right-Brain Business Plan, a little mini book that I had on there.
I thought I was going to write a totally different book about using the creative process for life goals. I had written a book proposal for that. I went to the book expo in New York. Right before I went, I had this whisper of intuition that said, “Make a cell sheet for The Right-Brain Business Plan.” I’m like, “I’ll do that.” I have the proposal ready for the other thing. I put together this one-page sheet talking about The Right-Brain Business Plan. I already had created and was selling an illustrated nine-page eBook that had the process in it. I brought that with me too. Walking around the expo, I would talk to different publishers and I told them about the life goal book using the creative process. They’re like, “That sounds interesting, but we have stuff like that already.” I’m like, “I have this thing called The Right-Brain Business Plan.”They’re like, “What is that?” Consistently that was the one that sparked interest. I came back home and wrote the proposal and sent it out and waited and waited and got rejections. Finally, I got the yes from New World Library and that was how that book got born.
It’s such a beautiful book, but with such practical and punchy advice that was needed. There are no other books that take that same approach. What I love about the book is that it gives you the sense that you can create the business and life that you want, but you can also do it in a way that means building a viable and sustainable business. Being creative or being artistic and pursuing a creative passion doesn’t mean you have to be the stereotypical starving artist.
You get to have it the way you want it and to be confident in your skills as a creative. When I first left my corporate job and I thought, “I’m supposed to write a business plan. I’m supposed to have all these traditional things for our business,” all of this stuff there was for startups or for traditional businesses and none of it related to where I was at in my business or what was truly needed to create the business plan. Much of it was overkill for a solopreneur. I did that first business plan on my kitchen table, just me. It’s not like I needed all these other bells and whistles to go get a loan or any of that. I just needed to be clear on what it was I wanted to create, who I wanted to serve, how much I wanted to make, and what the plan would be. It’s that simple but a lot of times, creatives and heart-centred folks get intimidated by what they think they should do. What I wanted to do with these books is to give people permission to do it in a way that is authentic and inspiring to them because that’s where the action is going to come from. You’re not going to take action if you’re feeling all the shoulds and the worry and I’m feeling boxed in.
Jennifer, one of the things that I would love to hear you talk a little bit more about is intuition. How do you nurture your intuition?
Spaciousness is one of the key things for intuition because if I’m moving too fast or if there are too many distractions or I’m overwhelmed, I don’t have access to it, I can’t hear it. For me, a lot of times, the intuition comes like I’ll hear things, which is strange because I’m not an auditory person but for that one thing, that example I shared with you where I heard my muse said, “Create a sheet for The Right-Brain Business Plan.” I need things to be quiet in order to hear that. Sometimes I’ll have visual flashes of things. Sometimes it’s just a feeling, but I can’t touch into that if I’m not quiet and in tune with myself. That’s where things like being in the right space, where I live, that’s important. Even when I moved to where I am now, that was the end of 2013, that helped me to start making shifts too of creating more spaciousness.
Have you ever been burned out?
Tell us what happened.
I don’t have a specific moment, but I can say in terms of a phase of where I was at in my business. My first book came out in 2011 and things started to pick up from that, which is super exciting. That’s what I wanted and all that great stuff. Come 2012, I was getting ready to go on a trip to Australia to speak at a conference. I noticed I was having bad joint pain and fatigue. That continued through the beginning of 2013. I realisedand I went to go see a rheumatologist and she said I had developed some autoimmune issue. It’s not diagnosed. I don’t have the markers for Lupus or for rheumatoid arthritis, but I have some of the symptoms.
That was challenging and I still deal with that today, but I started to find the medication that works. That was definitely a period of time where I was pushing myself to get that first book out. I had launched a long-term mentorship programme, things were going great in terms of my goals, all the things that I had had on my various right-brain business plans. The medication helped, but my ego kept wanting more. All these external measures of success kept driving me forward. I pushed forward into the second book in 2014 and then had a bunch of travel related to that. That also coincided with me moving to where I am now and realising I need to dial it down. I had been scaling back and letting go of different programmes to simplify for the last few years. That’s been great but also a challenging process at first because I so highly identify with my professional identity. I don’t think it has necessarily caused my health issues, but I don’t think it helps if I’m pushing myself too hard. I’ve had to learn how to find the right rhythm for myself and respect that. Meditation has been helping with that and slowing down.
That’s absolutely critical to living in a way that is meaningful. It’s hard not to get caught up in the ego and the identity that’s tied in when your business is your face. You are the face of your business and you also, in one sense, embody it. What I found in this online world is that there are many people, whether it’s that they’re in the creative industries or in the wellness industry, that are giving a particular message but they’re not necessarily following their own advice and you end up with this disconnect. For me, it’s important to come back to why I chose to leave my old working life and I chose to make various sacrifices to live and work in the way that I do today and to do it with integrity and to always come back to what’s important for my body, for my mental health, my happiness and my relationships. I slipped, the same as anyone else, but that striving is such a feature of today’s world.
It is incredible how driven and ambitious that energy that propels people forward sometimes in a way that may not be healthy or they may not realise like, “Is this what I want? It’s what I see everybody else doing.” I have a whole chapter in the second book called Embracing Ease. In writing that, I already knew it was something important for me to find the spaciousness, the simplicity, support, all those things that go into this idea of embracing ease. Since the book came out, it’s probably where I feel like I’ve been living to that a lot more versus like practising little bits and pieces. Those things that I wrote about are definitely things that I would practise and do, but it wasn’t the come-from place and that’s what shifted for me.
With your clients, what are the common threads that you’re seeing without asking you to divulge anything private? What are the main challenges that are facing creative entrepreneurs today in your opinion?
Some of the things we’re talking about right here about how much to push, to have these big dreams and big goals, and to do that while taking care of yourself. That’s definitely one of the themes, to be smart about how they’re using their energy to do the work that they want to do. In terms of folks who may have been in business a little bit longer, a lot of times I’m working with them on how to grow to that next level, but to do it in a way that is sustainable and that feels good and to let go of all the shoulds of what they think they are supposed to be doing. That’s where a lot of the breakthroughs comewhen they’re able to stand, “This is my unique gift, this is how I show up in the world and to own that, and then something clicks.” They’re already doing cool stuff, but then it’s like this next of confidence and knowing. There isn’t so much of that pushing because it’s more coming from that authentic place.
It’s natural and I hesitate to say easy because it’s never easy for this flow. That’s what I’m hearing you say.
For other folks, it’s finding their voice. If somebody is maybe a little bit new, it’s helping them get the confidence in their voice and in their message, and a lot of that is inviting them to show up a little bit more, share a little bit more and see what the feedback is and understand that being in business is very much like a creative process. It’s not linear. There are twists and turns and each of those places that you go along the path are places to learn from. A lot of it is teaching those principles of how it’s a creative process and how to work with it.
Speaking about sharing, what’s your view on social media in the world today?
I have a love-hate relationship with it. As part of my spaciousness and simplicity, I’ve definitely stepped back from a lot of the social media stuff. There is a little bit of that FOMO, fear of missing out. When I check in, sometimes I don’t feel good when I’m there. Because I’ve chosen to scale back some things, I see other people doing all this cool stuff and comparison happens and all of that. Sometimes it’s inspiring to see what other people are doing but a lot of times, I find it to be a major time suck.
The other thing that’s happened, I can’t remember what year it was, maybe in 2013but BuzzFeed did this post about one of my pictures being the first photo with #Selfie. It’s annoying. It was when selfie was the word of the year. I started to get all these people who followed me and comment on that selfie, not my people, not my creative community because it was like this whole international thing. That created this strange experience for me on Instagram specifically. That’s been strange.
What I’m hearing is that it’s more important to have engagement with the right people than to have numbers and bums on seats, right?
With what you do with your clients, how much emphasis, if any, do you place on the metrics involved with website hits, with social media stats, all that kind of stuff? How important is that to creative business today?
It is important, especially for some people who like to use that as a means to make decisions. I personally don’t track that very closely. We do track it, but I don’t obsess over it or look at it that often. Most of my clients, we don’t talk about those specifics. Not to say that it’s not important, that’s not where I place my energy.
Where are you looking towards right now? What kind of projects are you working on, if you can share anything about that?
The main one that’s on my plate right now and we’re beta testing it right now is moving my Right-Brain Business Plan licensing programme to have online rights. I used to lead that course through my business and now I’m wanting to focus on folks who are more established in their business. There’s so much good material in that course that I want to make sure I have licensed facilitators around the world. They have rights to lead it in person and so we’ve been rolling out, giving them rights to lead the course online or lead groups online. That’s something that I’m hoping to roll out to the public so that we can have more people benefiting from this process that speaks to a lot of creatives, but I’m not the bottleneck. It’s not just me who does it online, so that’s exciting.
It supports where I want to focus on my business in terms of still letting that work be out there, but me not having to do that all myself. I’m also getting even more and more interested in meditation and mindfulness and how that is such a great tool to use in work and life. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I will be doing teacher training starting next year, so I’m excited aboutthat and being a participant myself.
Coming back to the place that you live right now, if somebody were to visit the East Bay, what is the one thing you would recommend that they do? That’s a tough question. I don’t know that I could answer it myself if you asked me about what’s the one thing you should do in London.
It depends on what floats your boat. One of the hidden gems and where I live, if you are a dog lover, is to go to Point Isabel, which is one of the largest outdoor dog parks in the country. It’s one of my favourite places to go with my dog. If you love dogs, that’s the place to go. It’s like doggy heaven. They’re running around and it’s right by the water. It’s gorgeous.
Jennifer, what are you curious about right now?
I’m curious about presence and awareness and how do I cultivate more of that in my life and in my work and how do I help create more space for that within the world at large because we need some of that now.
Jennifer Lee, thank you so much for being a guest on this episode of the Urban Curiosity podcast.
Thank you so much, Clare.