I’ve mentioned before that more and more authors with big audiences are choosing to self publish. I’m really honored to feature an interview with one of those people in this episode of the Blogger to Author podcast. I had the amazing opportunity to interview Dana Malstaff of Boss Mom. Dana self published her book Boss Mom: The Ultimate Guide to Raising a Business & Nurturing Your Family Like a Pro (affiliate) in 2015, and that book helped her launch her business into the stratosphere.
In our interview, Dana and I chat about why she chose to self publish her book and the process she went through to write it. We also talk in depth about how she chose the topic for her book, why that topic wasn’t what she had originally intended, and why that decision wound up changing the course of her business. And, Dana gives us a few suggestions for using mind mapping to plan out our books.
Dana Malstaff is the CEO and Founder of Boss Mom. She is a mother, author, speaker, business strategist, podcaster, blind spot reducer, and movement maker. She launched the Boss Mom brand with her first book Boss Mom: The Ultimate Guide to Raising a Business & Nurturing Your Family Like a Pro and quickly grew to a six-figure business within a year.
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Where you can find Dana:
Boss Mom website
The Boss Mom Facebook group
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TRANSCRIPT: HOW TO UPLEVEL YOUR BUSINESS WITH A SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK WITH DANA MALSTAFF
Thank you very, very much for joining us on the podcast, Dana. I really appreciate you being here and taking the time.
Oh, Beth, I’m so excited to be here.
I imagine that a lot of you who are listening know Dana, you know from Boss Mom, but just in case, Dana, could you give us a rundown of, I guess, how you got started doing what you do and your background, that sort of thing?
Yeah! Well, so since we’re kind of in the context of book writing and this idea of eventually coming out with something that is this written manifestation of something you care about or something you want the world to know about you, we would go back. I was a journalism major. Actually, this is funny. I didn’t really know that I wanted to be a writer.
I’m much more of a gregarious outgoing, talking, was-in-choir kind of person. But, my dad is smart and my dad brought home Up Close and Personal as a movie one night, back when Blockbuster was still a thing and no Netflix existed, right? And he brought it home to our big television set and we put it in, and we watched it. It was Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford, and she was this news anchor, and it was amazing.
And he and I looked at it, and I like, “Oh my God, I want to be a news anchor.” And he was like, “Ha ha, ha ha,” because he had gone to Indiana University, which is one of the top schools for broadcasting. And he’s like, “Maybe you should apply to Indiana.” So I did. And I got in, and I went to school for broadcast journalism.
It did some amazing things that actually helped me learn how to write, how to be on camera. I didn’t end up being a news journalist. However, I think it’s the best major ever if you want to be an online entrepreneur. So, I got all of these amazing skills.
Later down the line, when I was in corporate, I was the director of this whole team. We were building, you know, cultures for people and solidifying culture within the organization, and building coursework and health content and all this kind of stuff.
And, I was going to leave the company and start my own consulting business. So, it was time and we could afford it and it made sense. We had talked about starting a family, but it wasn’t really happening for us. And the day I quit, like on New Year’s Eve, everybody took me out, got me drunk and I got pregnant (by my husband, of course). And immediately, I tell people, I became a Boss Mom literally on the same day, like a boss and I’m on the same day. So truly Boss Mom was meant to be.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. I never thought I would be very. That wasn’t really, wasn’t my thing. I never babysat. I never had younger siblings. I love kids, but being around kids and helping them with activities just didn’t bring joy to me. I love that it does for other people, because I need those other people to help me with my babies.
So, I was pregnant and I had my business and I was trying to figure out both. There was a lot of guilt, there was a lot of isolation. I felt really bad and it was just a bad, dark place for me of trying to be good at two things I had no idea how to do. I didn’t know how to balance them, didn’t know what I cared more about, was scared that I really cared about my business, and I wanted my baby to nap because having infants is hard when you’ve never had one before.
We were in Columbus, Ohio at the time. We ended up moving to San Diego, which is where my family is from. I’m originally from southern California and my parents came out here, and all of a sudden it was this amazing space, right? So it truly is where you are and who you surround yourself with that makes a difference. Because all of a sudden, there were other entrepreneurs and other women with babies that had businesses, and I all of a sudden didn’t feel so alone and isolated in this beautiful journey.
I started where I was doing content strategy, you know, helping people create content. I made my first dollar from coursework on Udemy, and have made, you know, now I have 19,000…we’re so close to 20,000 students that have gone through my courses. So, you know, but I started with just the one. So I was helping people create content and coursework and all this kind of stuff.
I went to Hal Elrod’s Best Year Ever Blueprint event. Somebody had invited me, they had an extra ticket. And when I went there, I met some amazing people. And one of them was Azul Terrones. He later on helped Pat Flynn write his Will it Fly? book. We entered into this little mastermind with like four or five of us and he just said, “Does anybody want to write a book?”
And I had always wanted to write a book and I’ll be honest, everybody in my family and my told me it was a bad idea, you’re going to lose focus, it’s going to take away. Like, I don’t think it’s a good idea. And I didn’t listen to all of them, which is what we generally do tend to do when we want to do something and don’t want to hear what everybody else has to tell us.
So I dove in, and he and I started doing this mind map, and I thought I was going to write about content strategy. And it ended up that I wanted to write about mom guilt and this feeling that like, hey, it’s okay if you’re not built to be a stay-at-home mom and you love your business and you want it to grow just like you want your babies to grow. Like, that’s an okay space.
And so that leads us up to when I decided to write Boss Mom. That’s kind of the progression of me and how Boss Mom as a business was born after the book. The book was the impetus that created the…it’s not even the business because I still do what I did before, but it created the brand that is Boss Mom. And that’s really when my business started to work, my book was the launching point for when my business actually started to become a sustainable, viable business.
I, of course, love that message. So, can you dive a little bit more into why you wanted to write a book? Like, what was your goal for your book? How did you see it building or fitting into your business?
I didn’t, to be honest. I’ll tell you that the reason I wrote a book was because I lacked clarity. I knew what I was good at. I knew what my gifts were from a business standpoint, but I didn’t know what I cared about.
So in the mind mapping part of writing a book, like I said, I thought I was going to write a book about content strategies. So I thought, “Oh, I’ll write this book. It will build me clout. It’ll make me be seen as an expert in this space.” That was what most people think. Right?
And when we sat down to write it, all of a sudden I started to realize, gosh, there’s fricking mom guilt all over the place here, and there’s me being this kind of person and being scared that I’m not this kind of person and oh, there’s this isolation and there’s this and all these different things. And, and it really started to come out of me that what I care about in the community I want to build, in the space I want to build, isn’t just about content strategy because I’m a dime a dozen.
Oh, I’d like to think I’m massively unique and awesome, but I mean I’m a dime a dozen of people that can help you map out content right now. I’ve been in the business long enough and I’ve worked with enough clients where I can command a much higher rate because of my knowledge. But, you know, back then I was like any other content strategist that was helping you map things out.
And so what it did for me is it helped me find clarity. It was like journaling, right? I had to write down what I believed and what I care about and start to solidify my stories. Right? So now all of a sudden what I thought was like, “Oh, it’ll show that I’m an expert.” It actually made me an expert because in the process of writing that book, I realized the stories that I have or that are relevant, and that there are many correlations for building our businesses and having babies. You know, what permission I want to give women so that they can get past it so they can actually execute the amazing, brilliant things in their brain that are gonna make them money and grow our economy and help create beautiful new things in the world like that.
I started to see that as this vision and it happened as I was mapping this book, and as I was writing, I got to really solidify what I believe. It made this confidence in me that allowed me to sell it more, talk about it more, become an evangelist for it. And so the process of writing, if you don’t know truly what you believe in, what you want the world to believe in, what legacy you want to leave, then writing a book can be the process of building that confidence, building that expertise, and creating it in this space.
And really to me that’s the biggest, biggest benefit, because Boss Mom may have taken way longer to happen, and I may not have been able to build it the way I built it, if I hadn’t have spent so much time in it and paring it down and writing and editing and everything to make sure that the message that was in there was truly a message that I stood behind.
I absolutely love that, and I think it’s a great inspiration too for people who maybe are multi passionate or maybe they’re just…not scatter-brained, but they’ve got a lot of different ideas and they don’t know how to narrow it down. But, I love the idea of using a book to help you figure that out, essentially.
Here’s the other thing is, you know what I tell a lot of people is I’ll meet somebody and I’ll say, start a podcast. Don’t write a book yet. Like, like, you’re not ready to write a book. And then there’s a lot of times where I’ll, I’ll talk to somebody and they’ll go, oh, you need to write a book, like your business is never going to be successful until you write a book and it’s not. And it doesn’t matter if you sell a single copy of that book, you need to write it to give you the clarity so that your business can work. Right?
So, there’s two different instances where if you have this concept, this idea, and it needs to be fleshed out and really honed in on. And, like I said, you need to own it and be confident in it and excited about it and willing to put it out into the world. Then you need to write a book.
If you already have that figured out and you now just want to be able to talk through your ideas, create clouds and connect, then do a podcast because there’s less commitment with the podcast because I get to put something new out every week, right? So, I don’t really have to commit to that idea of massively. I can come up with new ideas. And test things out so there’s less commitment to my ideas and what I care about in a podcast.
So, I want to have that clarity first. If you don’t have the clarity in your business of exactly what it is you’re trying to do in the world, and the one idea that you want the world to walk away with from you, then you need to write a book. And that would be the first step. So that’s, I get that question a lot. Should I read a book or start a podcast? And that’s usually the answer that I give them.
Yes. And that’s some great advice. Thank you. So what was the process of putting together your book like? And you self published–what was that like? Why did you make that decision, too?
Well, I mean traditional publishing takes a long time and I get antsy. So someone saying, “Oh yeah, it’ll be two years.” I was going, “Oh my gosh. Holy moly.” You know? And I had started my business…technically, let’s say I had quit my job two years ago (I’m not sure my business actually had started). But you know, that seemed massively long.
And I didn’t have a community. I had no reason why anybody would want to traditionally publish me at the time. So self publishing was a way for me to gain that visibility and clout so that eventually somebody does want to traditionally publish you. Right?
Or if I want that, like every time–we had mentioned this before we started recording. Every time I think about it, then I have conversations like with my editor and she’s like, okay, well just be prepared. This is a two year process. And I’m like, oh it sounds so long. Yes. I’m going to have already been on the 18th idea from this idea. Like, we better just write this book and put it up there before I’ve moved on. I’m not ready for that kind of commitment.
So, I always end up doing the self publishing because I don’t want to wait. Is that the best possible idea? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. It hasn’t turned out bad for me yet.
But, I will say I hired a coach, you know, so I had Azul, who was helping me. We mind mapped, and then from there we did an outline. We took the mind map and we turned it into an outline, and then from the outline, we basically revised and revised that outline. And then, so from that outline, I started to write.
I actually hired a copywriter to help me, and I didn’t have a ton of cash at the time, but I spent a couple hundred dollars and hired somebody to brainstorm out 25 titles, potential titles based on what my outline was. And one of those things was “mom boss.” Okay. And mom boss, I didn’t like.
So we inverted it. And it was Boss Mom. It was my least favorite title, least favorite. I thought there were like five other ones that were more clever, way better. We picked our three and my editor was like, “Put in one that you don’t like.” And I was like, okay, I’ll put in boss mom. We went out to a community that wasn’t even mine, but that I had been engaging in. And I asked people, and unanimously, everybody loved Boss Mom. I was like, okay, fine.
And then I went to 99 Designs and I got a cover, because Hal Elrod, who I had become friends with, who wrote The Miracle Morning, and we had done the Best Year Ever Blueprint, which I had been to. (I’ve actually spoken at his event now, so like nice progression.) But he had told me, “Get the cover of your book design first because it’s massive motivation. Put that cover up on your wall and let it be the thing that makes it feel real.”
So, we went out, I went up to 99 Designs, got three covers that I liked, went out and had everybody tell me what they like. And again, they picked the one I liked the least. But, I listened to them because that’s the thing–I’m in it. I’m in the thick of it, like my brain is writing every day. I mean, all these ideas at all makes sense to me, but that’s not what makes sense to everybody else.
So, listen to your audience, like don’t ignore your audience on covers, on titles, on taglines…on all those things. Just listen to your audience. They are the ones that are buying it. So get out of your own way and stop thinking you know best, because you don’t. And that’s totally okay.
I give amazing advice that I don’t take in my own business, and I have to hire somebody to help me take advice that I already know is the right advice that I give to other people. And that’s just the way it works for everybody. Right?
So, I outlined it. We picked the title, we did the cover, and then I spent…I was seven months pregnant when we started. So I started writing about a month before I had my second child, my daughter, and then I finished the book two or three months after that. So, it was about a four month writing process.
Then we went through the whole process of getting it, you know, internally edited and putting the cover on, and then getting a proof and reading through it and finding out that we had way more things wrong with it than we thought. I will tell you, it doesn’t matter how perfect it is, once you physically get it in your hands, you’re going to find an error. It’s just…you’re talking about like 150 to 250 pages. It’s just inevitable.
And so, in fact I recommend having your editor, but then also having like your mom who’s going to give you like grammar and advice you didn’t even think about. Right? And then have a group of people look it over. That’s how Danielle, who’s on my team for three years, how I found her was because she volunteered to read my book early.
So, I had a book of readers that came back and said, “Oh, what about this?” Or, “What about this?” or “I love this or that,” kind of thing. And then we put it out and we had a whole launch that we went that went with it. Um, and it’s been going well ever since.
Yeah, absolutely. And I’d love to…I guess ask you a question to pick up from there. Can you tell us how your book has helped you build your business? Because obviously now Boss Mom is flippin’ huge. So how has your book played a part in that?
Yeah. Well I will tell you one of the best ways to grow your business is to get featured on podcasts, and one of the easiest ways to get on podcasts is to write a book. Just hands down.
If you become a reason to get interviewed, instead of business cards, it becomes a calling card. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to conferences and made invaluable relationships because I keep a stack of books in my purse with me when I go places. It becomes something that you can leverage, right? There’s podcasts, there’s relationships, and courses you have, and you know, your business cards and things like that, but a book, it builds clout.
But I’ll tell you, it’s not just about building clout. It’s about finishing things. A book is proof that you take action, that you have a unique point of view, and that you’re willing to risk it, to share it. And those are three things that people want to have in their life. They want people who do those kinds of things to be in their life.
That means the people that are action takers and influencers that you want to hang out with. You write a book and they know that you’re the kind of person that writes a book. We may all be in this space where you’re like, “Oh, everybody’s writing a book,” but no, no. Everybody’s not writing a book.
Well, they’re writing it, but not everybody’s finishing it.
Yeah. And putting it out there and then promoting it and telling people about it. Yeah. So it’s massively leverageable because it shows you’re a kind of person, a kind of person that writes and puts out a book, and has a point of view, and does all those things, and influencers want to hang out with those people.
So it’s not just about building clout, because someone could never open your book but agree to have you on your podcast, or connect to you and let you speak at their events. They could never crack a page of your book. It doesn’t matter because the book is a symbol of the kind of person you are.
Absolutely. I completely completely agree. Obviously. So I hope that, listeners, you heard that and that, that motivates you to be one of those people who actually finishes a book, because it really does set you apart from everybody else.
So Dana, do you have one final tip or piece of advice that you would want to share with our listeners? Whether it’s about books or just about business in general?
Yeah, I would say that the mind mapping process. When you’re in the process of thinking of your book, there’s a linear component to just outlining a book that leaves so much space. You may have subconscious ideas that really just need to be out in the world, so the mind mapping process of bringing an idea to life and really mapping out all the possibilities… Make sure that’s a part of your writing process.
You can get to the outline, but you want the space for your brain to tell you what you really think. You might be like me, where I thought I was going to write about one thing and I ended up writing about something else. If I would have written a book about content strategy, my business may have never grown, and I may have gone back to corporate.
But it didn’t die. I wrote about the thing that really needed to be written, that I was passionate about writing, and therefore I was able to be a massive advocate for and leverage it, and that is a million dollar plus difference.
Absolutely. And listeners, Dana does teach people how to mind map, definitely.
So if our listeners want to learn about mind mapping, if they want to learn about you and follow you and all the amazing things you do, where can they find you?
Yeah. So you can go to boss-mom.com and just get to all of our resources, the podcast, a Facebook group which is 30,000 plus strong, and all that fun stuff.
We have a resource at boss-mom.com/movement. And if you go there, I will be able to give you what we call your Movement Manifesto. And what it does is it helps you to just think through what you believe in and what you care about. And that’s a really good first step in thinking about not just, you know, a book and an idea and what you might put out into the world, but also what you’re trying to represent to the world, what you’re trying to leave the world with, what, how you would make the world a better place by your viewpoint.
That’s something that can really help you start to understand how a book might help bring those ideas to life. So that’s a great, really simple, easy step because the mind mapping can come after that. But, if you don’t know, if you have no idea about how you want to make the world a better place, whether that’s through your knowledge or through your experiences or through this particular belief you have, then it makes it an uphill battle. So that’s a great first place to start.
Absolutely. I will link to that and everything else in the show notes, so you can just go there and get all of those links in one place. Make it easy peasy for you.
Well, thank you so much, Dana, for taking the time to be interviewed and for talking to us about your book and your process, and just the power of books with business, too. I really appreciate it.
Oh, I had a blast. Thanks for having me.
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