How a digital marketing conference made me a better entrepreneur and a better mom

Part 1 – more tomorrow!

What is true for business is true for life. If you’re a professional mom, you have no choice but to be the best at home and at work. Being a happy professional lends itself to happy, engaged parenting — and vice versa.

Last weekend I attended BehaviorCon, a new conference featuring academics and entrepreneurs engaged in the fascinating field of consumer psychology. Why do we buy, and how can we get people to buy from us? I went to figure out how to make more money in my business — but as usually happens, I got ideas on how to be a better mom, too.

Here is what I learned:

Transparency adds value to your work. Michael Norton, Harvard Business School professor of marketing and author or Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending explained that customers believe your product is better if they think you worked hard for it. For example, travel sites Orbitz and Kayak generate the same search results, but the latter’s interface takes longer and includes a status bar that suggests the site does more deep deal searching than its competitor. Norton replicated the two user experiences and found that people overwhelmingly believe that the slow-moving, “harder working.” Kayak-like site generated better results — even though the flight choices were the same for both groups.

A less techy example: Norton met a locksmith who explained that when he was young and inexperienced, he would spend hours dismantling door frames and busting through walls to remedy a broken lock or lost keys. After years of experience the locksmith learned to skillfully employ tiny tools to pop open the door in a few minutes. Customers readily paid hundreds of dollars for the amateur, sweat-producing demolition, yet balked when he quoted the same price for for his tidy, expert work. The locksmith soon learned to feign effort and draw out the process of cracking locks, grunting and laboring over the task in an effort to make customers believe it was more work than it actually was — even though the net result was far superior to the alternative.

How I will apply this to business: As a writer and journalist, I have often charged a premium for meeting tight deadlines. I am fast and I am good, and — I believed — customers always appreciate that. But sometimes they also make snarky remarks at how high my hourly wage is. It is these times I remember that most people think they’re a writer. Upon hearing Norton’s case studies, I considered demanding longer deadlines to add perceived value to my work. But that isn’t my style. Instead, I will ask clients for testimonials to attest to the quality of my work and service, and display these prominently on my website, showcasing how my many years of work have turned me into a superior service provider — one who will not shred the proverbial door to get the job done.

How I will apply this to my family: I’ve written about my believe in outsourcing: I send out all my laundry and have a house cleaner because I believe that my time and energy is better spent enjoying life and earning far more money per hour than I pay for these services. But by outsourcing everything, I risk not teaching my children to appreciate how much work it takes to run a house. From their perspective, everything is magically taken care of — usually when they are not home. So this weekend I will whip out the power drill and install the new blinds that I bought six months ago (and planned to hire the super to install) and mount them myself. My kids will learn how to do the same, sure. But more importantly they will hopefully appreciate how much work I do — and that their mom is handy in more than just writing and hugging.

Tiny changes lead to giant changes. B.J. Fogg, a Stanford University professor and marketing consultant, has devised a strategy for helping people make big changes in their lives by committing to tiny first steps. For example, instead of vowing to jog every day, make a tiny commitment to putting on your running shoes each morning. Instead of asking your clients to fork over a credit card number — trigger them to make a tiny step of reading your blog or listening to your podcast weekly. Bitty first steps eventually motivate people to reach bigger goals. “You can get anyone to do anything if you give them the right sequence of baby steps,” Fogg says.

How I will apply this to business: My goal is to build this blog into a revenue generating machine. I’ve felt overwhelmed with all the steps I know I need to take to make my vision materialize. First step: you will be asked for your email in a popup on one of your next visits here. The reward (and baby step #2): An awesome monthly newsletter. Stay tuned for the rest.

How I will apply this to my family:  Thanks to a kid in Kindergarten, getting out the door has been hell this week. Instead of admonishing the minions to “Put on your shoes, put on your shoes, put on your shoes,” I sat my 3 year-old down and put the shoes in his hand. Next thing I knew they were on his fat little feet.


Help. Marie Foreo, is a business coach and entrepreneur who has a remarkable multimillion dollar business. She’s also totally hot and and a delightful speaker. The cornerstone of her digital business is helping people. Help people get what they want. Help people be the best versions of themselves. Help people help others to help you. If people rely on your help, you’ve created a niche. Helping nurtures good feelings, word of mouth and delighted customers. Plus, it feels good to help. Helping brings out the best version of you.

There have been times in my life when I was consistently generous with myself. Those were times when I swelled with an abundance that I was compelled to share. Lately? Not so much.

I’ve been chewing on the importance of helping lately and finding ways to execute it. In just the three days since I’ve returned from BehaviorCon, two professional acquaintances asked for advice, one of my best friends has been calling for support as her mom approaches the end of her cancer battle, and I got to chatting with an old friend from middle school who confessed she is unemployed and stuck in her job search — to which I offered resume and career coaching.

Getting back into my helping groove organically shifts my mindset. I suddenly have more empathy for my ex, for example, and more patience and energy for the kids. New business ideas are crystallizing and everything is starting to gel.

How I will apply this to business: As I think through the next stages of my business, I will keep helping at the cornerstone of my message and practice. Even when I feel overwhelmed by life, I will make helping others a priority. I will have faith in the science of helping, but also the magic.

How I will apply this to my family: I help my kids all the time. Duh. But do they see me helping others? Am I setting a good example? I’ve often thought of a routine family volunteer project, but have not engaged in one. But I am making efforts to change that. Yesterday when my friend called from her mother’s hospital, I took the call while parked in the car with the kids. They saw me listening and lending support, and we talked about that later. This morning Helena asked about the Martin Luther King speech discussed on the radio, and I gave her a 90-second lesson on the civil rights movement (I couldn’t get through without crying) and we watched King’s deliverance of the sermon on YouTube. “Do you think our family should be part of something that helps other people?” I asked her. “I think we should.”

More lessons from BehaviorCon tomorrow. BehaviorCon was co-founded by Ramit Sethi,  a serial entrepreneur who, at age 31, is killing it in the digital marketing space, and Michael Fishman, a veteran marketing consultant.


Check out PART 2 of my reporting on work and family lessons.

QUESTION: What lessons has business taught you about being a mom? What has parenting taught you about business?


Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

5 thoughts on “How a digital marketing conference made me a better entrepreneur and a better mom

  1. Business is all about the relationships you have with others. Parenting is all about the relationships you have with your kids. I’ve learned from being a business woman and a mom that if I want any aspect of something to be great, I’ve got to make sure the relationship is great.

    I love your observations, Emma, and can’t wait for tomorrow!

    1. Thanks Honoree — I am really digging into the idea that work=life=family=one whole person. We need to blend everything together to be really successful. Thanks for your comments!

  2. Thanks Honoree! That is great insight. I keep finding evidence in my own life that if I am happy and content as a mom, that fuels my work and vice versa — better energy, new ideas, happier, whole woman. We must stop pretending that our creativity, intellect, professional ambition suddenly die when we have babies!!

  3. I thought the BehaviorCon lineup looked really interesting, and though I couldn’t make it, I’m glad you were able to go and are willing to share your experience with us.

    I also look forward to seeing the changes in your business and hearing more about the changes with your family.

    Time for another Hangout soon?

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