Margo Aaron is a splendid writer and even more splendid human being, and I managed to persuade her to come and yell on the podcast. Yay! Tune in to find out what working in mental health has to do with marketing, and what's got Margo (and me) enraged, and what they're doing about it. You'll also get a sneak peek into Margo's upcoming book, which is going to be a must-read for business owners and entrepreneurs. Enjoy!
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Business For Superheroes Podcast Transcription: Episode One Hundred And Ninety Four: Margo Aaron Yells On My Podcast
*This is a podcast about one woman's mission to help entrepreneurs and business owners write better business books. Each week, we tackle your writing excuses because they're our excuses too, and help you beat the blank page of doom so that you can write the book that will grow your life and your business. Now here's your host, Vicky Fraser...*
Vicky: Hello, and welcome to the 1000 Authors show. I am Vicky Fraser and this week I have asked Margo Aaron to yell on my Podcast, hi Margo.
Margo: Hi Vicky.
Vicky: Thank you so much for joining us. I've been a fan of yours for a couple of years now and I've got totally sidetracked by all of your articles the other day when we had our internet fail. So yeah, I just love reading your emails. I also love your TV show which you're hopefully gonna tell us all about in a few minutes. But first of all, I always start with what we're reading, so what are you reading at the moment?
Margo: Oh my god, I am reading "The Choice". I just, if anyone follows me on Instagram I was just screaming about it. It came up I think on Amazon as like, "You might like this." I don't even remember, something like that, which I never click on. But it is a story of this woman who is a holocaust survivor, it's her memoir. And I've read a lot and they're always really disturbing. This one, because the author is a clinical psychologist and beautiful writer, it has this narrative that runs through that really pauses, makes a case for mental health and the gaps in how much we knew about resolving and dealing with trauma across generations. And so I'd never read a story quite this articulate that also was relatable because me and the protagonist have nothing in common. I have not experienced genocide. But the entire step of the way you're relating to her because it's a human story. It's really beautiful, I highly recommend it.
Vicky: Oh fantastic, thank you for that. Yeah, that sounds like a, yeah, it sounds like a great story. The only holocaust story I've ever read really is part of Viktor Frankl's book so--
Margo: It's a good book.
Vicky: Yeah. So it'd be really interesting to read one from a female point of view 'cause --
Margo: Yes, it makes a difference.
Vicky: Okay, that's good to know. Right, and you mentioned mental health. You have an interesting back story on mental health, don't you? Tell us a bit about that.
Margo: I do, I actually started my career in mental health. I sort of accidentally ended up in marketing and found my way back to writing which is where I was originally. I was a comparative literature major which in my mind was the best place to study human behavior. If anyone here reads fiction, you know that you can't go deeper into the human psyche than you can with fiction. And I found myself after graduation in a mood and anxiety disorder clinic and I was fascinated by this gap between what we know and how we behave. And that fascination sort of led me into marketing by accident because at the time I was really obsessed with research. I wanted to be a professor, I wanted to be a researcher and I went into graduate school and I realized that we had so much information. We had a lot of the answers we were already looking for but they were locked in books, journal articles and documentaries that were so boring no one was ever going to pay attention to them. So I sort of became obsessed with how do you translate information that can be really useful to someone into something that they would actually care about? So that's sort of where the transition from the mental health world into the marketing and writing world. But it's always been a thread in my work. Plus, I don't think you can be good at writing without really understanding the depth of human emotion and pain and empathy and compassion. It comes out in your work.
Vicky: Yeah, you're totally right. I'm always astonished by people, marketers, copywriters who say, "Oh, I'm writing about this "really boring subject" and I'm like, "It's not boring. "You gotta dig into people's--
Margo: Yes. "motivation, everything is interesting."
Vicky: How is, you know, so I'm guessing that that's why, how did you transition into marketing then? What was it that gave you the push?
Margo: Yeah, it started as market research which was like a more, that was like dipping my toe in because research was something that was legitimate from the academic standpoint so it was like, "Oh, you're "just doing qualitative research for private companies "instead of the academic sector, that makes sense." And then as I was doing market research for a while so that's mostly like building questionnaires, asking people what they thought of a product, using neutrality but really using leading questions to get the answer you want. And then that slowly led into what's called strategic planning so that is the person who takes data in insights and works with a creative execution team to bring that into a campaign. And that's sort of where I landed in copywriting. I had never heard of it before. It turns out I had been copywriting earlier in my career in mental health and had I known what I was doing I could have helped a lot more people because a big part of what I did was recruitment. Like trying to get people into studies, specifically people with major depressive disorder. And I don't know if you guys have ever seen ads for getting you to participate in studies for depression but they are so patronizing. They say things like, "Have you ever felt sad, "down, or blue?" And even if I was feeling that way, which I have, I would never tell a person who used that language that I have felt that way. I would be like, "Get the hell outta here." It would be the complete opposite reaction. So when I learned that there were ways to use words to infiltrate how people behave, it was hugely emancipating for me. I thought, "This is so much power. "We could help so many people "if this was back in the hands of the academics." And so that's sort of where the fascination grew into copywriting and what led me back to my passion for writing.
Vicky: Okay, and who do you work with now then? How have you moved from the mental health field into copywriting presumably for companies?
Margo: Sure, sure, I was working at an agency for several years and I started my company sort of in nights and weekends as a marketing consultancy. I ran that business for several years before I built a company that I hated and started blogging again. So I set up my website, That Seems Important, where I think you found me.
Margo: And at the time I started by writing things about marketing from the inside that were wrong. Things that made me angry, things that were unethical, things that could be better and that led to a slow, two things about that that were really great. I rediscovered my voice, which was something that had been missing because I had written for so long either as an academic or as a ghost writer and then I built a following of founders and creative professionals who were interested in the topics that I was talking about and they would come to me and they would say, "Hey, Margo, I need your help "on marketing stuff" and we'd get on the phone and I'd think that they would be clients and I'm talking to them as if they have a marketing problem and I dig in and I go, "Okay, "this isn't a marketing problem. "You actually know what you need to do. "You have a self-doubt problem." And the more I dug into that, the more I realized the people that I wanted to help the most were struggling with self-doubt and founder isolation and what Steven Pressfield calls resistance. All of those voices that come in our head and tell us why we suck and it was a problem unique to people who are really smart and people who were acutely aware of ethical boundaries and gray areas. And it became a population I was obsessed with. So I stopped selling marketing and started selling more writing accountability and coaching because it turned out to be what was most beneficial because if you fix the confidence problem people do the marketing, people do the writing. People actually show up in the ways that they want to show up in the world. So it's been hugely rewarding in that regard but that's the evolution of the business. I would have never, ever thought that this was the direction I would have ended up in. And then of course writing is my day job for myself, yeah.
Vicky: Sure, sure.
Margo: Not for a living.
Vicky: So that makes perfect sense. I see the same with my clients, it's the confidence that stops them from writing books and it's just--
Vicky: Fix that before you start fixing anything else.
Vicky: But I just I'm totally nosy and I need to know what you hated about your first business 'cause I've been there too and it's, what was your first business? Why did you hate it?
Margo: Yeah, so the consulting model that I had built I wanted it to be scalable. I wanted it to be something bigger but I got myself so stuck in execution and was building a business effectively around me. I was a glorified freelancer really and every time I tried to fix that problem by hiring people to work under me or I had a really hard time separating the business from me and I couldn't separate and then I got very, the business is actually a client management business and I missed marketing. I missed writing, I missed doing the work and what I ended up spending most of my time doing was managing people's emotions, if you will. And I remember a really pivotal moment with my sister, I was working one day where she was visiting, I can't remember why and she was overhearing me on a client phone call and she goes, "So is your job "just babysitting people who behave badly?" And I was mortified. And I was like, "Yes, that is 100% my job." Anyway, it started to wear on me and I felt like I had replaced one bad boss with another and it wasn't, the whole point was to have more flexibility and freedom and do the things that I was passionate about and I also felt a lot of ethical dilemmas like I would sit down with a prospect in a meeting and they would come to me and they would say, "I have "let's call it $500,000, and we wanna own the L.A. market." And I would say, "Okay, that's great. "My professional recommendation is that you need "$2 million to own the L.A. market "and you should go and try and own Milwaukee." And they'd be like, "We like you. "You're honest, you tell the truth "so now we're gonna hire you to do the thing "you told us was not possible." And so it would be like this Catch-22 where I was really, I couldn't say, "No" because it was business, I mean I did end up saying, "No" but then I shot myself in the foot or I would say, "Yes" and it was like, okay well now you want me to be a yes person and now my portfolio looks really bad because I'm just doing what you want to get done and how is that helpful to you or me? And so it just wasn't a good business model for my specific personality. My personality needed to do something different. So that is my short answer to your question.
Vicky: No, it was a great answer. I think a lot of people will listen to that and think, "Yeah, I've had similar problems" 'cause I think they're quite common. So how have you resisted then, in your transition and in what you did before, how have you resisted all of the gurus, I hate air quotes, but I'm gonna use them anyway, who are always telling us to be bigger and think bigger and you've gotta build this thing to sell and you've gotta do all of the online hustly marketing that just makes you--
Vicky: feel icky 'cause it is difficult to resist that because we wanna grow, we wanna make a decent amount of money, we want to do this, that and the other. So how have you resisted that? How have you just gone--
Margo: Totally. Well let's start with the honest truth. In the beginning I didn't. I think you drink the Kool-Aid for a while until it gets bad enough inside that you go, "Something's off" and once you have the something's off feeling then for me I always feel like I owe it to myself to dive into that and go, "Okay, what's really going on?" And so I would say I stumbled around for a few years trying to figure out the answer to this question and even identify that I needed to resist something. 'Cause for a while it feels like it's just the truth, like obviously you need scale, obviously you need to hustle harder, obviously, obviously, obviously. And you lose independent thought and so what happened for me was I came up with something I call product/founder fit. We're really obsessed with product/market fit but we don't take a moment to pause and think about, "Okay, I could be running this kind of business "but should I?" Like, "Is this a good business model "for my personality?" And the more I looked at the different models that there were and was honest with myself, this is the answer to the question, is to resist you have to be honest with yourself, the more it became very, very obvious what I should be doing because I was in denial of what kind of business owner I was. For example, I'm the type of person who prefers writing to anything else and so I didn't want to actually manage a business with multiple employees and many offices and so I was clearly self-sabotaging every single step of the way because my zone of genius is being on stages, is working one on one with people and expending exorbitant amounts of time alone with my laptop. These are personality traits of mine that I really had to embrace. Those are not necessarily great personality traits for someone who needs to run a company with 25 to 100 employees. That's much better for someone like my husband or friends of mine who really like to be managers and they're good at it and they have a skill for it and they don't want to be in the execution. I love being in it but I don't like doing it for other people. I like doing it, like I wanna do marketing for me. So that was a big part of it. And then the other part was admitting to myself what kind of life I wanted. I actually like my work so I didn't have a problem with the work-all-the-time ethic. What I had a problem with was people who how do I say it right? The feeling that I was, like it was my fault that my business wasn't where I wanted it to be without consideration of the context. There's a lot of problems in the hustle culture where it's like, "You gotta not sleep bro "and you gotta not eat and you need to never see your family "because that's what sacrifice is," and this is where the mental health training is really helpful because I could look at that and be like, "That's not dedication, that's mental illness." That is actually pain and suffering and avoidance and you're confusing commitment with isolation and having no help and not relying on friends and no emotional support and not taking care of yourself and that is a one-way ticket to mental breakdown and I think you have to draw the lines for yourself. So for me it became very clear, well, that's not true. Slowly became clear after I had my daughter that the path that I was on was really unsustainable. It was kind of apparent before but post having a kid you realize how much you need sleep so it doesn't matter if you've had five hours of sleep. It's like someone telling you to hustle harder can just go walk off a short bridge. It doesn't make any sense because you're just gonna slam your car into a tree if you continue to try and work and then try and drive to your job. So there's a point where you have to figure out your own lifestyle and for me, not seeing my daughter day after day after day was just not an option. And this shaming of like, "Well then you're not "dedicated enough" to me was just bullshit. I was like, "No, I'm extra dedicated actually. "This is what it means to be a good business owner. "This is what it means to be a good participator in society "because guess what? "My daughter's the next generation of business owners." So if you really wanna practice what you preach you can't abandon your family because you wanna mess with ConvertKit HTML, all day long. That's not dedication, that's poor time management so I reframed it for myself and I hope for the rest of you.
Vicky: You know, I don't think it was that article or that type article that I read that I first came across you. I think you'd written something about money shaming. Does that sound familiar? It was like if you, I can't even remember what the title was, I can just remember the feeling of it which was if you can't, you should be investing money into programs and stuff, even if you can't afford it and getting into debt over, I think it was something like that. I think it was something to do with shaming and kind of that hustle culture and that was what I first read that kind of got me into and I thought, "You're really cool, you're just a; telling the truth, "b; you're a deeper thinker than most of the--
Margo: Thank you.
Vicky: "Online marketers and ; "it was just like, yes, this makes total sense. "I'm sick of being told that I've gotta invest "even if I haven't got the money to invest "or the time to invest or anything else." It's just like you've gotta look after yourself first and that was something that I really loved about what you wrote.
Margo: Thank you, yes I think we do need some of that. I think to be clear what I was advocating for is that those things are bad. If anyone is making you feel like there's a choice and it's a black and white choice then run, just run. That is unethical, you don't wanna be a part of that. Yeah, there's a lot of sleazy stuff going on that I think needs to be called out because it's wrong and it's mean and it's petty and there's tons of really great information out there that doesn't make you feel like shit about yourself, period.
Vicky: Yeah, yeah, and there should be more of that stuff so --
Margo: Yes, agree. Completely agree.
Vicky: I'm gonna be like, "Yeah, how can I make people "feel good enough so that I can go and do something great?"
Margo: Rather than--
Margo: Sending people into-- Yes, yes.
Vicky: Right, we have more questions for you. I know I sent you questions and then I said I'm probably gonna ramble off-track which I've totally done, so I'm living up to expectation.
Margo: No, I love it.
Vicky: I have a couple of other questions specifically involving books because obviously that is what I do and so when I found out that you were writing a book I got uber excited. So what's your book about?
Margo: Oh my god, Vicky, you know I can't answer that question in less that 25 paragraphs. So really what I wanted to write a book about is how we need to pay attention to our own mental wellbeing as part of our working world. And the frame I wanted to use was we live in one of the most amaze, not one of the, the most amazing time in human history. Consider this for a moment, 300 years ago, 250 years ago, the wealthiest person on the planet had to shit in a bucket in the middle of the night with no electricity and had rotting teeth. That was the degree of, that's as far as privilege could get you. And there was no electricity, there was no hot water, there was no air conditioning. There are so many things that we didn't have and so we've made all of these advancements in terms of medical, technological, innovation, our life span has been extended. We've done a lot of really amazing things to the point where even my grandmother would look at the world today and they had an outhouse when she was a little girl. That's not, today the worst home in America still has plumbing, you know? We have these amazing material privileges but we haven't actually moved forward when it comes to the realm of life satisfaction. A lot of us are sitting here going, "Okay, well what's the point?" And, "What am I doing with my life?" And so we have this looming sense of inadequacy also because we're constantly comparing each other to one another and what we're doing and then we are discounting and dismissing all of this as a privileged unimportant problem and I believe it's the root of all of our problems. And I noticed it being in the marketing world of all places, and being in the business world and also being in the writing world now. Working with writers sometimes you also see that what comes up for us, our biggest enemy today is ourselves and if that's the case well this is a fixable one. I can't necessarily fix that we had Nazis. I can't fix genocide, but I can fix the demons in your head that are telling you you're not good enough, so let's start there by acknowledging that they're a real thing that those exist and let's stop acting like no one has them. We all have them and they all say the same things. They all tell you you're not good enough. They all tell you that you're not worthy. They all tell you, "Who the hell do you think you are?" They're all saying the same things as far as imposter syndrome and the resistance and getting in the way of us doing our work and then leading us into a quiet life of desperation which I think for the people who follow me is the biggest travesty. Is that we are feeling so much like our biggest fear is dying with the best still inside of us. I think that's how people feel when they have a book inside of them and they know it wants to come out. There are certain things that defy logic that you can't necessarily explain it to someone who is looking for a rational explanation. There is something inside of you that wants to come out. It's a weird thing to say, trust me, I get it. But it is the truth and that is what you're feeling and if you're walking through every single day feeling like that then we need to start talking about this and we need to start normalizing it and we need to start making introspection and your inner world be an okay thing. So that is in short what the book is about.
Vicky: Well that sounds awesome. How are you getting on with it?
Margo: The kitchen is very clean.
Margo: No, so where I've started, my marketing hat came on first. I'd be curious as people are listening to this what your process has been like 'cause I wanna hear from y'all, but I started with my marketing hat being like, "Okay, what is this about?" And, "I'm gonna organize it into table of contents "and how am I gonna promote it "and what's the angle we're gonna use "and what's the positioning?" And then I absolutely couldn't do it because my writing process is actually very messy and so when I try and organize it at first it limits me. I don't know if you have had this experience Vicky but I will dive into something that should have been a chapter and I will resolve it in one paragraph. And then there's other things that should be a paragraph and I'm like, "Oh, this is a whole 'nother book. "This is a whole 'nother book." Like I gotta put this aside and so I went back to the drawing board and I said, "You know what? "Let's pause, let's, let's get 10,000 words. "Then let's get 30,000 words "and then let's see what happens from there." And so right now I'm about 26,000 words of various stories that I am sort of looping together trying to understand the threads between them so there's a clear, cohesive hypothesis running through. But that's about where we are right now.
Vicky: Okay, well that sounds like really good progress.
Margo: Making moves.
Vicky: Not what you told me the other day, I was expecting you to be like, "Yeah, "I've kind of got a title and then I cleaned the kitchen." But no. That's pretty good progress. I'll be interested to hear what other people's thoughts on that are as well because everybody has got different working processes and I get very frustrated when I hear book writing coaches kind of say, "Oh, this is the way we're going to do it" and it's like, well you need to be quite flexible when you're coaching people and figure out how they write--
Vicky: Yeah, allow them to write a load of stuff that isn't relevant and then--
Vicky: Because you never know what's gonna come out of that, a whole other book like you said, a whole other book could come out of that, so--
Margo: Yes, ugh, can we sit on this for a second? Because I definitely, when I get insecure I'm really impressionable. You were talking about before, how do you resist the gurus? Something I've had to learn about myself is I don't resist when I'm insecure. When I'm insecure I'm like, "Give me the answers. "Tell me what to do," and that's always a bad place to be so in the beginning of this I ran across some people who were in my mind, more successful than me and they gave me advice and I took it as Bible. I was like, "Oh no, this must be "how the writing process is." And it took me months really to, and sometimes I think it takes people years to sit and own my authority as a writer and understand I know what I'm doing. And part of knowing what you're doing is recognizing there's a phase where you have no idea what you're doing. And that's part of writing. And so trusting your own process and remembering that it's a process. Remembering that, I always tell my customers that there is, I do this writing and accountability coaching program for people and there's a point where sometimes you need to write 10,000 words to get to the one line that's useful--
Margo: Yeah, Vicky's shaking her head if you guys can't see. So yeah, go ahead.
Vicky: Cool and I've got so many more questions for you on your book and I'm gonna have to get you back because we are running out of time for today but I just do have a couple, a quick question for you. How are you publishing this? Are you doing it independently or traditional?
Margo: Good question, I'm undecided right now because I want to get the idea there first. And then I'll decide. I think I'm gonna go traditional and this is surprising to me because I was super anti, like really anti-traditional and I think any time you're anti or pro something you have to kind of question it because it means you're being extremist about your view. But part of the reason is I had an agent approach me and he made a nice compelling argument for traditional publishing. I've had a few friends who are traditionally published and I originally hated it 'cause I thought it was stupid. I thought there were too many middle men. I thought it didn't make any sense but for the size of my audience which is small I'm not sure that I want to incur the fees with self-publishing at this stage. I don't know, I figure I'll try both. If it doesn't work then I'll just publish it myself. It feels kinds of win-win if I already have someone interested, you know?
Vicky: Exactly, that by the way is my cat, Noodle, he--
Vicky: He's just woken up. He's my office manager and he's just woken up.
Margo: Hi Noodle.
Vicky: And he's decided he needs to go out, so-- Yeah, I know. Okay, so yeah, I mean indie versus traditional, there are pros and cons to both of them so it's good that you're leaving your options open as well because there's really good reasons to do both. Oh my gosh, we're gonna have to leave this in a minute. I've just got one more question for you this time.
Vicky: Literally just after I've let the cat out. Hang on one second.
Margo: She can join us.
Vicky: Actually, do you wanna say hi to him?
Vicky: This is Noodle.
Margo: Hi Noodle.
Vicky: Look Noodle, there's Margo.
Margo: Hi Noodle.
Vicky: He's so --
Margo: I really respect Noodle for being like, "I don't "wanna be a part of this."
Vicky: He's often a part of this. I'm gonna let you go. Yeah, this is how professional my podcast usually is. It's like cats shouting and sheep interrupting us.
Margo: Hilary and I have Hilary's cat as our mascot, so we totally get it.
Vicky: And that's why I feel comfortable with Noodle. I just have one more question for you today before--
Vicky: you will come back again. Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
Margo: Oh, I didn't rehearse this one. Um--
Vicky: I might have just pulled it on you, sorry.
Margo: No, no, no, it's good. I remember you wrote it on there. I should have thought about it more. What is something about me people don't know? It could be totally random?
Vicky: Or related to--
Margo: Totally. Okay, totally random is that most of my important life events have happened on a boat.
Margo: It's super random and it is something that I didn't notice until I met my husband who proposed on a boat because he was like, "Well, "you've had every important life event on a boat" which is funny because my parents were married on a boat, I grew up, my dad had a boat so I have so many happy memories going to the lake and then I had my Bat Mitzvah on a boat. There are just a lot of happy memories on a boat so that's just a really random, random. I really enjoy boats.
Vicky: I love that fact, thank you. Okay, so first of all, will you come back, please?
Margo: I would love it.
Vicky: Cool, cool. 'Cause I've loved talking to you and I've got so many more questions for you about everything, and secondly where can people find out more about you?
Vicky: I'm gonna put this in the show notes but please tell us.
Margo: Perfect, come check me out at thatseemsimportant.com, get on my email list. That's where all the cool updates happen and where I workshop new ideas and get to know all my readers. But also Twitter, @margoaaron, where we can continue this conversation and I'd love to hear what people are thinking. That's where the writers are all on Twitter. I've tried Instagram DMs, you can do Instagram DMs but it's a lot harder.
Vicky: Yeah, I know writers are on Twitter and I'm terrible at Twitter. I'm the world's--
Margo: I'm so bad at Twitter, but we'll, okay, Vicky and I are gonna be there getting better. So you come and you tag both of us and we're gonna talk ideas through together.
Vicky: Well it can be Margo and Vicky are shit a Twitter.
Margo: I love it.
Vicky: And you've also got your internet talk show haven't you with--
Margo: Oh yes, yes.
Vicky: Hilarious, so where can we find you there?
Margo: You can find us, so we call it HAMYAW which is an acronym for Hilary and Margo Yell At Websites. It's our YouTube show and our YouTube channel. I believe it's YouTube.com/hamyaw but if not it should be linked in all of my social media. So you can find it there and we also have the cat coming on, so it's a unique experience.
Vicky: Well I will also link that below and then next time you come on I'm gonna ask you a bit more about Yelling At Websites because it's just hilarious as well as more about your book because you'll probably have made more progress then so that'll be great.
Margo: Oh god, let's hope so.
Vicky: And it just remains for me to say thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been absolutely fascinating and I think it's really important to talk about the stuff that you've been talking about because it's just the world is so full of bullshit hustle and I would like to kill that too, so--
Vicky: So yeah.
Margo: Join forces. Together we can defeat it.
Vicky: Yes, absolutely, right thank you so much Margo. Guys, thank you so much for listening. Go and find out more about Margo at That Seems Important. Get on her email list because her emails are wonderful and come and join us on Twitter where we'll both be shit. Next week Joe will be back and we'll be talking about writing or not writing or possibly something related to writing and in the meantime subscribe to this podcast, go rate us, five stars please. Yeah, we like five starts, give us a review and we'll be back same time next week.
* Thanks for listening! You can find links and show notes on the website at www.moxiebooks.co.uk/podcast, where you can also sign up for the best daily emails in the multiverse and find loads of free resources to help you write your book. We'll be back the same time next week with more tales from the book writing trenches, and the latest on what our tiny sheeps have been up to. *
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Vicky Fraser is the founder of Moxie Books and author of How The Hell Do You Write A Book and Business For Superheroes. She helps business owners write life-changing books, connect with readers and new customers, and grow their businesses. When she's not doing that, she's hanging from a trapeze by her feet.
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