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How to Build a Community that Grows Your Business
The Agents of Change

Many of us have these grandiose dreams of having it all, the family and the career where we’re our own boss. Well it doesn’t have to be a dream, you can make that a reality if you take the right approach.

The key could lie first in finding your perfect community.  This is where you get support, tools, resources, connections, and even collaborations. Some people try to go too hard, too fast, but slow and steady often wins the race. Find your passion, stand for something, give value to others, and defend what you’ve built. In no time, you’ll have a community of like-minded individuals coming along for the ride with you.




Rich: CEO and founder of Boss Mom, she is a mother, author, speaker, business strategist, podcaster, blindspot reducer, and movement maker. She launched the Boss Mom brand with her first book, Boss Mom: The Ultimate Guide to Raising a Business and Nurturing Your Family Like a Pro, and quickly grew to a 6-figure business within a year.

Now she’s got over 10,000 students in various courses and helps woman all over the world raise their businesses and babies at the same time. She believes that pursuing our passions and building our dreams while including our children in the process is the best way to build thriving businesses and families, and ultimately we need to show our children that what we love can be financially viable. I’m very excited to introduce Dana Malstaff.

Dana: Hello!  I am super pumped to be here.

Rich: I know, we had such a good time. I met you at Jeff-Fest/JeffCon, and we just hit it off. I really enjoyed what you were doing, I thought you put out great energy there, and I was excited to put you on the show.

Dana: I agree, ditto. Right back at ya.

Rich: So what’s the origin story? Sorry, I just saw Avengers: Infinity War, so I’m in superhero mode.

Dana: Oh, I’m seeing it tonight.

Rich: I know spoilers. So what’s the origin story of Boss Mom?

Dana: It’s a little bit funny, actually, because I quit my job back in 2012 – when you get older like me, the years just sort of meld together – but I quit my job and everybody got me drunk and I got pregnant.

Rich: But not everybody was involved with the second part.

Dana: No, just my husband. But we had been trying to have a kid, we weren’t insanely trying, we were trying and it wasn’t working. I had a job where I worked 18 hour days, we both worked long days, we were both very driven. I made good money, I was going to start my own consulting business the day everybody took me out, and I got pregnant. So there was this joke that I became a parent and an entrepreneur on the same day. So I really embody the Boss Mom terminology.

But the main thing was I wanted to be a great entrepreneur, I knew I wanted to have my business, I knew I wanted to be a great mom but I was never a kid person. I never babysat growing up, I was the youngest so I didn’t have anybody younger than me most of the time. So I didn’t want to be a stay at home mom, and I was pretty darn sure I didn’t want to be. I thought maybe that would change with the baby, but when my son Jake came, that confirmed it.

I love my babies and I love being a mom, but I am not built to have my kids with me all the time. Some women are built that way, and I love that, but I’m just not built that way. It turns out, there’s a lot of women that aren’t built for that. I felt really bad about it. So I felt bad when I wanted him to nap I’d take him to daycare so that I could work at home. Work at home moms feel really bad half the time, and I was surrounded by people that didn’t understand why I didn’t go back to work, and didn’t understand why I didn’t stay at home, didn’t understand what I was building or what I was doing. It was isolating and an uphill battle, there was a lot of crying involved. Which when you have a baby, for most of the women that have a baby I don’t care how much you love them or how much you love your business, both make you cry. It’s just hard. It’s a hard, emotional, uphill battle to figure out what you’re doing and is it worth it, and all those things.

My son was 2 months old and I saw this woman, a girl with her mom and a fresh baby.

Rich: A “fresh” baby? Like right off the presses?

Dana: Right off the presses, a fresh baby. A couple weeks, kind of thing. And it’s horrible, it just slumps over and the grandma is picking it up and they’re looking joyous and I start weeping thinking, “Oh god, I want to be close to my family”, who lives out in San Diego. And at the time I was in Columbus, Ohio at the time in -11 degree weather.

So I went and I told my husband I want to move to San Diego, and he said he’d quit his job tomorrow. So within 2 months we sold our house and moved out to San Diego, and this beautiful thing happened, tons of people had their own businesses in San Diego and tons of people have babies while they’re doing it. And all of a sudden I wasn’t a crazy person and I had friends who made me feel not so bad about wanting a business and wanting a baby, and I started to build my business.

After a year of that, when I was helping people doing content creation – which was my focus – that’s when I was given an opportunity through someone in my Mastermind I met a guy who said if anyone wants to write a book, I’ll give you a great deal. And I’ve always wanted to write a book, so we sat down and what came out of it was Boss Mom. So I do what I did back in the day when I first started but I didn’t have a brand.

When Boss Mom was born it helped me gain clarity on what I actually wanted to talk about and who my people were. That’s when the brand was born, and when the brand came to life, that’s when the beautiful things started happening. And now like any good entrepreneur I fan the flame and we “Boss Mom” the crap out of everything.

Rich: Interesting. So you didn’t have the Boss Mom brand until you started writing the book, or you didn’t get clarification on what Boss Mom meant until you started writing the book?

Dana: No, there was no brand. I thought I wanted to write a book on content strategy, and when we sat down to mind map what mattered to me and what I cared about, this idea of guilt kept coming up. This idea of I love to make correlations to things, I have a very creative mind. So things kept coming up about how babies and business are literally the same thing, you raise a business like you raise your babies.

So that kept coming up and so when it came to it he turned to me and said, “I think you’re writing a different book”. And I said I think you might be right. We went through and actually hired a copywriter to help me brainstorm names, and we brainstormed 24 book names, we narrowed it down to 3. “Mom Boss” was one of them and I didn’t like that and we flipped it to “Boss Mom”. There were a couple and Boss Mom was my least favorite, though. We put it out there and everybody loved and voted for Boss Mom unanimously almost. So ok, everybody likes it so let’s do it.

So I went out and had somebody design the logo and out it out and the community again voted, and everybody voted for again my least favorite, which is now our logo. But I listened to the community, and that’s what eventually became the cover of my book, and the brand was born from the book.

Rich: So that’s really interesting. The reason I find it interesting is because my signature presentation is the “B.A.R.E. Essentials” of digital marketing, and that came from writing my book. I did not have that acronym in place. I kind of talked about those ideas but I remember just working with the woman who was helping me write my book and she said here’s what I want to talk about, but I think we need to talk about building a website, too, and that comes first. And all of a sudden it was “build”, and then “attract”, and the rest of the pieces just kind of fell into place. So it’s interesting that the process of writing a book really does help clarify brands, and it certainly did in your case.

I also am curious though. So you’ve got this community which we haven’t talked about yet. So that community predates Boss Mom. 

Dana: No, I didn’t have my own community at this time. So one of the big groups that I was in was called Savvy Business Owners, there was Business and Babies, there was 4-5 Facebook groups that I was living in and finding my friends, and now I’m actually bigger than all of them, interestingly enough. And they’re all great communities, so I really found my niche and have grown with it. I didn’t start the Boss Mom community until 3-4 months after the book came out.

Rich: Alright, ok, so this is interesting. So it wasn’t that you had already built up a community, you were just part of a community and asked for feedback – like people do – and you got some good clarification around what you wanted to do and ultimately you attracted this audience and community to you because you had this strong message, a strong brand in Boss Mom, that a lot of people felt they were a part of because they helped vote.

Dana: Well that’s the thing, I actually train people now on how to create a buzz around their brand. Because your buzz plan what a lot of people do is they build content and then they put the content out and it’s starting their promotion before it comes out. Why would you do that when everybody could get it beforehand?

So the buzz plan is everything you do to get people excited in the prelaunch, in the part that happens before the thing is actually out into the world. So voting on what it looks like, what the words are. Before you make an opt-in for your business ask them 3 different opt-in choices and they vote and tell you why they like or don’t like something.

We literally have 3 focus groups at our disposal, all over the internet, on all different kinds of platforms that people are not leveraging because they want to create things in a silo because they’re scared to find out what they’re making isn’t the right thing. And then they put it out and they put all this love and attachment into this relationship with this content, and then that content does not do what they want it to or is not the way they want it to be received.

So I could have named Boss Mom something different, I could have given it a different logo, I could have given it a different cover, and my situation right now night be very different. Listen to the focus groups that are the internet by asking questions and creating a buzz and excitement about it, it will help you make decisions about whatever it is you’re doing. So I teach people how to do that now in all areas of their business. It started with the book and it was really useful so I said I should do this for everything.

Rich:  I really hate talking to people like you because here’s the reason. Of course you and I were chatting today before we got on and I mentioned that we just started selling tickets officially for the Agents of Change 2018, and did I have a buzz plan? No. So I’m sitting here listening to you and saying this is my 7th conference, how did I not do this before?

So even though I can’t go back in time, tell me about a good buzz plan. We have a very small, nascent community Facebook group for The Agents of Change, we also have an audience in the podcast, we have an email newsletter that goes out. If you were putting on an event – and you have a successful event – What do you call your Boss Mom event?

Dana: Boss Mom Retreat.

Rich: How do you get people excited about it? How do they get to choose? Do they get to choose speakers, do they choose topics?

Dana: So some of the buzz we do, and some of the buzz for ticket sales happens even after we open ticket sales, depending on how fast they sell. But we would say questions like if anybody could come speak at this event, who would it be? What’s the biggest topic you want us to talk about from these three, or tell us the ones that you want?

Interestingly what I actually teach people from a Facebook perspective is what I call, how to prime the algorithm, like prime the pump. Which is you want the maximum amount of people to see what you’re talking about whether they’re in a group you have or not. Not everybody is going to see stuff based on how much they engage, because Facebook chooses what you see based on how those people engage or how engaging your content is.

So what we do is, the two weeks before we’re going to really want people to start seeing launching stuff, we ask questions that we know people can’t help but answer. And those are based around music, those are based around themes. If I’m going to say, “Hey everybody, we’re thinking about the entrance song for when I come in, what do you think, Jay-Z or JT?”, and people just cannot help themselves. Or, “We want to find the one gif that embodies what the Boss Mom Retreat is. Put in your favorite dance gif.” So we come up with 6 or 7 things and we do a ton of engagement on, the things people can’t help but post to, and then Facebook thinks that I’m really engaging and they love it. Then when I say tickets are going on sale, or this is happening, or I need help with these big decisions, Facebook actually shows it to more people.

So we have a “prime the algorithm” launch that happens 6 weeks before, and then we have a buzz plan the month before. We ask more questions where people feel like they are helping you decide the format of what’s happening, and then they’re more likely to buy tickets once it comes out. There’s a bunch of tactics but that’s the easiest one that I’d probably have you do.

Rich: So I’ve been doing the music thing for a while, I love putting together playlists anyways, so I’ll come up with a theme. It hasn’t specifically for Agents of Change, but I see how I could have leveraged hat specifically. But I used to do that in the day, I’d be evil and say, “I’m putting together a new playlist called, ”Crime & Punishment’, give me your best song about doing something wrong”. And people love to be the first to respond. And then the next day I would be like, “So, I’ve got a webinar coming up”, and of course more people would see it because they just engaged with me the day before.

Dana: Yeah, not enough people use that, actually.

Rich: Or you know what? Just the right number of people use it, actually. Because if everybody started doing it, you know. So, those are great ideas anyway in terms of getting the word out.

So I went to your website before we jumped on and I noticed that Boss Mom is a movement. So talk to me a little bit about that. What’s the difference between starting a movement and starting a business?

Dana: I think a movement is easier to start than a business. A business is what you sell, we sell things, and you have to have a business and you have to make money in order for it to be a business. I think there’s a big distinction. There are a lot of women that are trying to start movements, and they don’t know if it will ever become a business. But there aren’t enough businesses starting movements.

They talk about millennials and how millennials are purpose-driven and they care about who they’re hiring and they care about who they’re buying from. And I think that is the case of everything being more visible nowadays so you have to decide. You can no longer be a business that doesn’t have a stance on something. It’s becoming harder and harder to be the person that starts a business and nobody is going to know who I am or what I care about, and they don’t need to because it’s none of their business. So people have a way of deciding what is their business.

So when you thing about a movement, we teach people how to do what we call a “movement manifesto” and a “movement story”. And based off of the fact that if I can get people to shout in the rain the same things that I care about. If they go, “Oh my gosh, I love so much that this person feels the same way I do and they get me and they make me feel better about being me or accepted for being who I am, because of our similarities and we accept each other’s differences. I’m going to shout in the rain.”

And when that happens, when you have enough people shouting out in the rain for you, you don’t have to do as much work to grow your business. I don’t have to spend as much on advertising. We have 21,000 people in the Facebook group and I don’t do ads. It’s all organic from people deciding they want to be in the space, and from Facebook deciding that we’re cool enough that they’re going to recommend us.

So part of that is the words we use. You know branding, everything comes down to the words we use and what the problem is, is people run a business without deciding what their vocabulary is. But if you thought of it from a movement standpoint, what if you want to get people excited about it, what are the funny phrases and the type of words you’re going to use to get people to feel like they found their place.

Then all of a sudden you’re infusing that into your brand. Just a logo is not a brand. A brand is a feeling it’s an essence that people have that either they belong or they don’t. So if you’re thinking about it that way, then really every brand is a movement. Nike is a movement, Apple is a movement. All the things that have really significant brands, their brand is a brand because it moves people.

Rich: So that’s fascinating, and I think one of the things that’s true about movements is that there’s also a feeling of exclusivity, or maybe inclusion, depending on how you look at it, but it’s your tribe. So a lot of those things don’t expressly say who’s not part of it. But Apple did, with the Mac versus PC thing. And with Nike you want to “just do it”, and anybody who’s not is not part of the community. Do you think of it at all like that when you’re building up your community? Like what you stand for, but also what you stand against?

Dana: Absolutely. And the interesting thing is, Apple is about being functional and simple, it’s about upsetting the status quo. Nike is about being one with who we are and with the earth. They own most of Oregon and help people mulch and do different things like that. They’re very grounded, it’s a very grounded brand, and they exude that in what they do outside of what they sell, which is part of the movement component. Like who we decide to support and what we decide to do.

But I think the way that we’re phrasing things for our brand is massively important so that when people go to Boss Mom they know that we’re playful, we’re a little bit silly, we have a live dance party every time we hit a milestone. We just had one when we hit 25,000 a couple weeks ago. We have karaoke at my retreats. I like to use the analogy of Boss Mom Retreat is if a Mastermind, a dance party, and a spa day had a baby. That’s our phrasing for it. So people know, I talk about I didn’t shower today but I’m wearing heels and I put on makeup, so that counts. That’s the Boss Mom way, I’m doing the best with what I got.

So I think the movement though isn’t just those phrases. The movement is what you decide you stand for. And I’d like to say that you can’t stand for something but then stand for everything.  You can’t do that. So when you decide what you stand for, you’re innately deciding the things you don’t stand for. But I think it’s also important to recognize that things you stand for can be about inclusivity and they can be about…one of our biggest phrases is, “No judgement, just dance party”. And we will not let political or religious conversations happen in our space. And we say it’s not because we don’t think those conversations should be had, but we think they get in the way of our ability to talk about what we want to talk about in this group, and so we don’t allow it. So if you find somebody you want to have that conversation with, we love that you’ve created that friendship here, but talk about it elsewhere. So we do decide things we won’t allow and things we won’t stand for. And a lot for us of what we won’t stand for is judgment for the decisions we make as parents and entrepreneurs.

Rich: So I’m hearing that part of what made a successful community for you is standing for something, standing against some other things, having a set of rules beforehand so people know what to expect when they get into the community. What else goes into building a successful community.

Dana: Basically protecting it fiercely. We actually kick just as many people out of my Facebook group as we do let people in. I have a person – we call her the “gatekeeper” – her entire job is to let people in and kick people out. I have a community manager that manages the online community. We just actually launched Boss Mom Meetups, so by the time this goes live that will probably be in full swing.

But we will go in and talk to people about what they can do and what they can’t do, and we also give permission. It’s about, “Hey, do this”, and “If you’re doing this, this is why we’re going to kick you out.” But we protect it fiercely and we do not give any leeway to what our system is and what our belief system is for the Boss Mom community just to grow our business. The community and the movement comes first, and the how it serves our business comes second.

But, here’s the thing. Because my business is very important to me and it’s important that it’s very successful, the being fierce about protecting my community has helped my business grow exponentially because people trust it. There was a girl on a group call today that we had that actually told me that she was going to do a collaboration with somebody and then she found out that they had gotten kicked out of the Boss Mom group for something they did, and she will no longer do a collaboration with them. That’s how much she trusts our system about how we decide who gets to stay and who gets to go. 

Rich: Well Dana I am definitely going to stay on your good side, I’ll just put that out there right now. 

Dana: But it’s not about judgement, it’s just about it being a different space. The things that we want in our community are different than other people. I had a girl tell me recently,“Dana, I went to this quiz, it was an opt-in, and then the thank you page had this horribly salesy thing that said they coached 1,000 people and that I needed to get on the bandwagon right now. I hated it, it felt icky.” And I was like, “Ew. I don’t want to be like this person at all. Great, look at that and see what you liked and didn’t like about it and understand it for what you’re going to create in your business. But also understand that probably didn’t feel salesy to a group of people, they probably looked at it and said they wanted somebody that’s coached 1,000 people. they love this and they love that they’re to the point and they’re not pulling all this other stuff and they’re just being really succinct and I’m going to go with this person.” So there is a group for everybody. But not everybody can be part of my group and not everybody is going to be a part of their group. When you just decide what your group is so that all the right people are there. And then the people that don’t fit go to the groups where they fit. There is some place for you, it’s just not here.

Rich: That makes a lot of sense. So how big is your group right now, how big is the community?

Dana: The Facebook group is right at 27,000. If you include all our numbers, we’re probably about 60,000 or so.

Rich: Wow.

Dana: Yeah, we grow. But we’re good with steady growth, we don’t want fast growth, we want steady growth that we can actually manage. I don’t want people to feel unincluded or like they’ve been sort of just a deluge of people that come in all the time and so we manage the pace as much as we can.

Rich: Well obviously you started at zero and you’ve got up to 60,000 now. So what are some of the challenges you faced as you kind of scaled up this community? Because obviously a community of even 27,000 feels a lot different than a community of 2,700 or 27.

Dana: Yes. In some ways it’s less work for me because we have systems in place. As we’ve scaled we try and do new systems as much as we can to say on a monthly basis to say what’s bottlenecking us and how can we fix it. And I think that’s helping a lot to make it growable. But the main thing is when we talk about community I talk about it like a tribe. And not because that’s a jargony, fun word to use, but because if you think about how a tribe works, everybody has a role. It’s not just the person that’s the head of the tribe and everybody else just does what that person says. Everybody has their role within the tribe  and the tribe only functions effectively if everybody does their job. And we think of the community that way. 

A lot of people end up shutting their communities down because they say it’s too much work, but they don’t build it the right way. So if you’re building it the right way you have ambassadors, and we like to think of the Boss Mom community as an ecosystem that’s almost in itself the way a corporation would work where you can climb the corporate ladder. You can climb the Boss Mom ladder.

So if you engage and you can get connected within the community, and the next round of ambassadors coming up, you can become and ambassador. And all of those women, their businesses grow. They get one week every eight weeks to run the group and so I don’t do it, I don’t do the ambassador thing, I go in separately just as the host so their businesses grow. And once they’ve done that they can potentially maybe be a facilitator at one of our retreats. And eventually our facilitators become speakers.

So there’s a ladder you climb while you’re engaged and connected to the community so women stick around because that’s what they want. It’s easier for me to run it because I’m not running the group everyday. In fact, I go in a couple times a day and say things or say “hi” and  sometimes for a whole week I’m not ever in that group. And so I’ve made it a system where I’m not the requirement for it to run. It’s truly looked at as an ecosystem as a tribe where we have natural policemen that tell us when things aren’t right. And we have natural promoters when they get excited about things, and we have natural connectors, and we see those people and we build them up so that there are multiple roles that people are encompassing as it’s growing which makes growing and scaling way less stressful.

Rich: Interesting. So it’s fascinating how Boss Mom has basically gotten bigger than you, Dana. And I don’t mean that in a dismissive way, I mean that in a very impressive way. In the fact that you don’t need to be there every single day and it continues to succeed. And I know a lot of small business owners probably are frustrated with that. It’s like if they walk away from their company or they take an extended vacation, or they’re afraid to take a sabbatical because they don’t know what’s going to happen if they’re gone. So that’s very impressive.

This has been great and I’ve got like 100 other questions, but I’m going to pull a Michael O’Neil and I’m just going to  call you back some other time and have you on the show.

Dana: I would love that.

Rich: So tell us, where can we find out more about you and Boss Mom online?

Dana: So boss-mom.com is our normal place. But for your community the things that I think would be most useful is we actually have a resource that’s called our “free to paid journey”, and one of the things I think that people miss most often with their growing businesses and really when they’re getting their brand solidified, is understanding how to nurture people from free to paid content. And really brainstorming that content component so that if you’re building a community, you’re building a business, you’re sending people in the right way with the right kind of content that actually helps you bring in revenue. And we show you how to do that and that’s just boss-mom.com/journey, and I think that’s going to be most helpful for everybody.

Rich: Fantastic. And of course we’ll have those in the show notes. Dana this has been fantastic, thank you for coming on and sharing the story of Boss Mom.

Dana: Thanks for having me and letting me rant.

Rich: Come back anytime.


Show Notes:

Dana Malstaff wrote a book that snowballed into a business. She has mastered the art of growing a family and a business simultaneously, and teaches others how to do it, too.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and to prove that, he puts on a yearly conference to inspire small businesses to achieve big success. You can also head on over to Twitter to check him out, and he just added “author” to his resume with his brand new book!