Episode 101 – Hiding in the Bathroom with Morra Aarons-Mele

Morra Aarons-MeleI always wanted to write a book… but it was never my time. My husband wrote a book, my father passed away, I have three little kids, I mean, I have a business, you know, life gets in the way… And then finally, one day… I thought: I want to grow my business this year but I don’t want to fly anymore.’

And almost by accident, internet marketer Morra Aarons-Mele discovered a new way of working that suited her as a ‘hermit entrepreneur’: instead of getting on a plane to meet potential clients and drum up business, she set up a podcast and wrote a book.

‘Hiding in the Bathroom’ has become a rallying call for anyone who’s ever felt overwhelmed by the non-stop, always-on, fast-paced world of business and wants to do things differently. And Morra discovered (as I have) that ‘the coolest thing about having a podcast, or writing a book, or having a blog is that you can really contact interesting people and say, will you talk to me?’

In today’s episode we talk about how podcasting and books allow entrepreneurs to develop their business and their network on their own terms. But – spoiler alert – we conclude that no matter how wonderful it is that you can do this stuff in your yoga pants, writing a book also means getting out of the bathroom and hitting the streets to tell people about it.


Women Online: http://www.wearewomenonline.com/

Hiding in the Bathroom site: http://www.womenandwork.org/hiding-in-the-bathroom/

Morra on Twitter: https://twitter.com/morraam

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

Join the This Book Means Business street team! https://alisonjones.lpages.co/tbmb-street-team/

Alison:                    Hello and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club. It’s lovely to be here today with Morra Aarons-Mele, who is an internet marketer working with women online. She’s the founder of award-winning social impact agency, Women Online and its database of women influencers The Mission List, and she’s worked with presidents, with presidential candidates, she helped Hilary Clinton log on for her first internet chat. She is host of the popular podcast Hiding in the Bathroom and she’s written for amazing sites such as Harvard Business Review and The New York Times.

Her new book, what we’re really going to be talking about today, is called Hiding in The Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay at Home), which is a frankly brilliant title. So, welcome to the show Morra.

Morra:                    Hi, thanks Alison.

Alison:                    Really good to have you here and there was a lovely phrase that I was reading about you where you described yourself as a hermit entrepreneur, which I loved. I was going to say what is it? But, it’s very obvious what it is, that’s why it’s such a great phrase, but how do hermit entrepreneurs go about making their way in the world?

Morra:                    Well, that is a large piece of my book. I call myself a hermit entrepreneur, it’s a little tongue in cheek but I think it’s perfect because I run a small business, I have for many years, it is small but beautiful and successful and I always say were a very small business but we have huge clients and I think we punch above our weight. How do I do that? I work at home and my company is entirely virtual many of us work at home, a few people work in co-working spaces, we come together a few times a year in person and other than that we’re talking on the phone, or using Skype, or using old fashioned email. We’re totally virtual, which means that I, most of the time, am working in my home office in my yoga pants or my jammies, sometimes I like to work in bed actually.

And it really suits me, it took many years for me to figure out that I just was not cut out for office life and for the everyday, go, go, go of being on, and climbing the corporate ladder. I actually work for several years in London and commuted on the tube and all that stuff and, I’m an introvert, I’m actually a hermit, I like to be alone, I like to have a lot of downtime and quiet time. So for me being an entrepreneur is this magical combination of mostly being able to work from home, on my own time and then emerging into the world in bursts when I need to see clients or talk to people and sell my business.

Alison:                    I mean, lots of that resonates with me and I’m at the other end of the scale, I’m an off the scale extrovert. But actually, I work from home and I love it and yeah I love the yoga pants thing and flip-flops every day. It’s great. What are the hermit entrepreneurs’ superpowers, do you think?

Morra:                    I think the superpowers of any ambitious hermit, is that we know our boundaries and we set really, really good limits in order to, basically, like Mondays. I mean, it’s so funny but when I was thinking, several years ago, about what I wanted from my work I wanted to like Mondays. I never wanted to feel like I was sat down in my office chair, in the morning and have a bit of a feeling of despair, which was often my experience at work. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the work that I did as an internet marketer, and then eventually, a sort of political internet marketer. It was that being in the office all day, sitting under fluorescent lights, dealing with all those people, having my space invaded and all that noise and energy just drained me.

And so, I think that the superpowers and anyone who knows what they need to have a good day, is that they actually create the scaffolding and infrastructure to make that happen. Right? Whether it is working from home, or booking in plenty of down time, or having a meeting-free Friday, or saying no to the office happy hour. Whatever you need to take care of yourself and do your best work.

Alison:                    And what’s incredibly cool, is that suddenly the technical infrastructure is there to allow us to do that. You and I are speaking by Skype now, you know, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but it’s possible to craft your life like that in a way that it just wasn’t… I was going to say 10 years ago, certainly 20 years ago.

Morra:                    100%. And again, there are jobs, if you’re an airline pilot, or a nurse, or a doctor, or you work in a shop, then you do need to be present and so that’s a choice. But for many of us who have work that really all we need at this point is internet connectivity and some sort of laptop and a maybe a phone, although even less and less a phone, we have the power to claim our space and our place at work. A third of the U.S. population actually works remotely now and that’s not even necessarily a choice thing that’s just because we live in a globalised multi cultural, multinational, various time zone world, right?

And so, yes, many of us actually do have the technical ability to work differently, whether our bosses and company culture is let us is another story.

Alison:                    Yeah absolutely. And one of the things that interested me about your book, and again, you said this in the copy that I was reading, was that it builds on the conversation that some people say was begun, maybe it was just the most famous example, but Susan Cain wrote, Quiet: The Power of being Introvert in a Noisy World. That’s not exactly the subtitle is it? What is it? The Power of …

Morra:                    In a World that Won’t Stop Talking, I think.

Alison:                    Yeah, that’s it. I mean, you can tell I’m an extrovert, I’ve not read the book! But what interested me was that, I’ve had people say to me, oh you know, I’ve had this great idea for a book but so and so got there first. They wrote a book on that topic and now I can’t do it. And it really struck me that… well I always thought that wasn’t true, but that you made such a virtue of that in a sense, it’s just actually, do you know what, no one has the last word. This is part of an ongoing conversation. So that was interesting. Were you doing that consciously?

Morra:                    Well Susan Cain has been a huge champion and she blurbed my book. And she wrote a really powerful book on introverts but it wasn’t the first book, there are many books before her and there will be many books after. And I mean I think that is really true, there’s probably what, 10,000 business books a year, at least, that come out in my category, which makes it really, really hard to break through, but no one has a claim on ideas unless you trademark it right? I’ve actually trademarked the term ‘hermit entrepreneur’.

But I think we all are dealing with various aspects of work and life in our own way. It’s like diet books: if the first ever diet book had been the last then many people would have been less rich and successful. There’s an endless appetite, I think, for people talking about work in an authentic way and my book is actually not just for introverts. My publisher, I think, liked the term introvert because it’s popular, but I actually go really deep into anxiety and the idea of choosing to do less and work differently because of your temperament. And that actually has nothing to do with whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.

There are many introverts who go and build bazillion dollar businesses, most of Silicon Valley. So, you can be an introvert and reach for the moon. The introverts I’m talking to also may have a layer of anxiety and at their heart they have a deep desire to actually work differently, do a little bit less, protect their time, protect their space, take care of themselves and their emotions, and so that is something that I felt people do not talk about. People do not like to talk about their anxiety, they don’t like to talk about doing less, they don’t like to talk about the fact that they might not work at a 100% all the time, and that’s what I find really interesting.

Alison:                    Yes that that is really interesting and I like the way that you differentiate… that’s not a simple extrovert/introvert split, you’re quite right.

Morra:                    There’s nothing simple anyway about an introvert/extrovert split. Not all introverts are quiet, and not all introverts are shy, and not all extroverts, or the way we think of that either. There’s nothing binary about this stuff.

Alison:                    Yeah, very true. That phrase about hiding in the bathroom, it made me laugh when I read it, I just thought it was such a great title. I’m guessing, as well, that there was a whole cohort of people for whom, people go, oh my God, I thought I was the only person that did that. Was that conscious?

Morra:                    100% because it’s actually been a question that I’ve been asking people for a long time, when was the last time you hid in the bathroom, because it is funny but it’s resonant. It’s sort of sad but true, and just yesterday a very successful woman, in politics, emailed me and she said, I thought of you because I’m hiding in the bathroom because I just have to be alone for a minute I can’t stand… you know, she was at some convention. I think that we all hide in the bathroom for different reasons, honestly, depending on the day but, let’s face it, work is so full-on. Everything about our modern work culture I find extremely overstimulating.

And I think we’re only human and we need a break every once in a while. There is no way that you can, for twelve hours a day, every day, network, schmooze, be on social media, be collaborating with colleagues, be out there in the big city. The world is noisy, it’s bright. You need a moment of quiet, and stillness, and focus, and privacy, and that’s really what hiding in the bathroom is.

Alison:                    I love that. So, it’s very, very literal, people do, literally, hide in the bathroom. But it’s also metaphysical, there’s a metaphorical bathroom there that you’re talking about.

Morra:                    I don’t know, I’m pretty literal. For me, hiding in the bathroom is because I am a hermit and so obviously if I’m working at home I’m not hiding in the bathroom because I’m in my comfortable zone but when I’m out there, which I have to be because I run a business and I sell, and now I have this book I have to go promote, I might be speaking at a conference, I might be at a client’s all day, I’m definitely hiding in the bathroom.

Alison:                    And when we talk about hiding in the bathroom, obviously it’s the book. Before the book though, it was the podcast so let’s talk podcast. Why did you start yours and what is it meant to you because I’m fascinated by this, I love podcasts now.

Morra:                    I love podcasting, and this, I think, has very much to do with being an introvert I’d love to actually hear your extrovert take on podcasting because I think that a lot of us introverts who are driven to add our voice to the conversation, we like podcasting the way that… I mean, I’m an old-school blogger, I’ve been blogging since 2004 I think, or five, and so I loved blogging because it was this way to have a deep intimate conversation with people about things that I really cared about and to get my voice out there but in a very private way because you’re just behind the screen, you can blog from bed, you can blog anywhere.

And podcasting is the same, it’s the opposite of tweeting, it’s the opposite of the quick hit video culture and intense fire hose that social media is today. It’s deep, it’s intimate, it’s thoughtful. When I put my ear buds in and listen to a favourite podcast I feel like I’m in this wonderful living room with someone I admire and know and that’s how blogs used to feel. And so, to me, it’s such a wonderfully intimate medium but also very introvert friendly and I’m curious that you, as an extrovert, if you feel like what you get from it.

Alison:                    That’s exactly what I get from it. That’s very, very interesting. I guess from the creator point of view rather than the consumer point of a podcast, I love talking and I love listening, I’m very curious, very nosy about how people tick and what they think about things. So I get to ask interesting questions of interesting people – what could be better than that? But it’s also… You know, I started it, honestly, to write the book so you know the stuff that comes out of this podcast has been the fuel for This Book Means Business, which is coming out soon. Plug.

But it has taken on a life of its own and it’s become something that I couldn’t even have imagined. It’s really developed me as a person in terms of my thinking, and my network. It’s also developed the business because you get people who go, oh I feel like I know you and when they come to work with you, you’re not selling to them they’re just, when can we start, which is terrific. So yeah, it’s been fascinating but absolutely I would do this all day every day if I could because I just love the connection. And I thought that was because I was an extrovert, it’s just so interesting to hear that nuance that actually it’s not that simple, again, it’s not that binary split. It’s to do with connection and intelligent conversation and intimacy. That was a great word, I think because when you’re listening to someone you get a sense of them so much more than even when you’re reading them.

Morra:                    I think that’s true and you have a relationship with… I mean this is my day job so I’m very… I drink the Kool-Aid. But you know content creators that we love, we do have an intimate relationship with. You know, in a way that we feel like we know our favourite entertainers, and our favourite celebrities and our favourite authors. That is what we seek and so there are many of the same characteristics in our favourite content creators. I work with a lot of young You Tubers, young people who have built up big audiences by creating videos on You Tube. And their fans feel the same way as I might about my favourite business or lifestyle podcasters for people in their 40s. We want to hear from them, we want to know what they’re thinking, and what they’re eating, even, and what they’re reading.

And it is that wonderful relationship and to your point about business, I mean, this is something I talk about in the book and I’m absolutely passionate about, and from my point of view as a hermit, it’s really relevant but it obviously is to you too, which is that if you can cultivate that sort of online expertise, whether you’re a podcaster, you’re a blogger, you’re a video maker, you post on media, whatever content you choose to create on whatever platform. Not only can you do it from the comfort of your home office, which is amazing, but it does a lot of your biz dev for you and so it saves all that time that you might previously have had to spend pounding the pavement, going to networking events, you know physically being out there. So that’s why I think it’s all brilliant.

Alison:                    And that, of course, could also be said about the book. What was the relationship for you between the podcast and the book? Were they always one of a piece or did the book kind of come out of it. How did that work?

Morra:                    Well, I will say the book is very different actually because the book, to me, is a lot more physically getting out there. I mean I’ve been on the road, the book’s been out almost two months, and I’ve been on the road constantly and so it’s actually been anathema to everything that I’ve done…

Alison:                    That’s quite funny.

Morra:                    Marketing the book. So the book… it’s funny, I always have wanted to write a book because I’ve been a blogger for many, many years and I love to write but it was never my time. My husband wrote a book, my father passed away, I have three little kids, I mean, life… I have a business, you know, life gets in the way. And most of us are not going to get the kind of advance that will pay for us to take a year out of work and whatever and write a book. We’re sort of sneaking it into our free time, which was definitely my case. And then finally, one day, I thought this was, Christmas time, right around late 2015, I thought: I want to grow my business this year but I don’t want to fly anymore.

I’m a consultant and I run a small business so I often have to fly to see my clients because they’re all over the world. And I thought, I don’t want to do that anymore, I don’t want to go speak at conferences, how can I grow my business and not fly 100,000 miles this year? And I am part of an amazing online community, again my total hack for life, my friends call it the power bitch network, but it’s really an amazing community of women. And we were saying our New Year’s resolutions, our sort of New Year’s goals for our work and our life, and I said here’s what I want to do. I want to grow my business development, I want to grow my business, I want to fly less, I want to travel less, I want to go and do less networking.

And I titled the email, do you hide in the bathroom at professional conferences? Because my whole reason for wanting to fly, and travel, and do less, is because I have social anxiety, I’m an extreme introvert, I’m a hermit and I have terrible flying anxiety. I’m just very anxious, when I leave my house I’m a wreck. And the response I got to that email was overwhelming from people who thought, yes I hide in the bathroom all the time, I hate all this stuff, why do we have to do it. And then a producer for Forbes had seen the email, she was in this community, and she said, hey, this is, like, a good podcast.

And that’s it. I started the podcast pitch. I had already been actually working on a book proposal because the idea just felt right to me and there was no stopping me from there. I developed the podcast, and I got that I sold the book and I sort of pursued both. And many hard lessons learned, I don’t recommend writing a book and starting a podcast. I don’t know how you do it Alison, I did not give equal justice, but it was the most amazing experience in terms of broadening my network. And also have an excuse, I mean that the coolest thing about having a podcast, or writing a book, or having a blog is that you can really contact interesting people and say will you talk to me?

Alison:                    I know, right? I love that. Yeah absolutely, I’m nodding furiously with everything you’re saying and actually I’m NOT doing very well, which is why the book keeps slipping. Is the short answer to that question.

Morra:                    Well, the discipline of getting it all done, I mean for me, my podcast didn’t get the love. But, again, lessons learned and I’ve just started… I stopped my podcast in May when it just got all a bit crazy and now I’m starting it up again and I’ve missed it so much.

Alison:                    Yeah, well don’t speak too soon but I can’t imagine stopping this, I think it’s the book that’s suffering for me though, I have to say. Let’s just come back to that point you made about marketing because that’s really interesting and also quite funny, that you’re now forced out the house.. But what are you doing that works that suits you better? I noticed you had some lovely downloadable images that you’re encouraging people to share, which I thought was smart. Are there any anxiety-friendly ways of marketing a book that you can share?

Morra:                    I wish I could say yes. Everything about marketing the book fills me with anxiety. Including giving talks that I have now given a million times. I have very much invested in my online network for the book and that has been fabulous. I created, yes, my amazing designer, Elaine Morgan created some really fun PDFs. I started a newsletter for the book, which I should have started before, and that’s actually a piece of advice that I have to you and all your listeners. Email is still queen, we love social media but it’s so random. If you can get someone to sign up for your email, they’re your number one fan.

Alison:                    Yes.

Morra:                    So if you’re thinking about doing any of the stuff that we’ve talked about on the podcast, think about creating a great email newsletter and a way to get people to sign up. So I’m giving away two downloadables, one, which is my 16-point Surviving a Professional Conference, which is really fun. It’s like a friend you could bring to your conference, or your networking event so you don’t hide in the bathroom. And then I also have a guide to banning FOMO, fear of missing out, social media FOMO. And so I’ve been creating these guides and the newsletter has really taken off, so you go to hidinginthebathroom.com and sign up. And I wish I had done that earlier and invested in that. I think that, that is important because, again, your email… people who love you enough to sign up for your email, I think they’re your real fans. I know if I take the effort to sign up for someone’s newsletter I’m in their corner. So that’s number one, versus just liking you on Facebook or you know following you on Twitter or whatever. Subscribing to your podcast is another act of love.

Alison:                    Reviewing your podcast is even better isn’t it?

Morra:                    Reviewing your podcast is an act of betrothal, that’s like mega, that means you’re in a serious relationship. So I think that thinking about: who are your superfans? I talk in my book about who are your super connectors from a business development perspective, who are those people who are going to really stand up for you and promote your business because they believe in you. But when you’re marketing a property it’s who’s that super fan? Those are people who will go out and talk about you because they believe in you and that’s, again, less you have to talk about. But I have also found that there is no excuse for not pounding the pavement when it comes to your book.

I said to my husband, I don’t want to look back and think, I should have done more. I’ve had many broken hearts along the way of PR opportunities, big media chances, an article placed in one of our largest national newspapers and then at the last minute they backed out. I had a major radio placement on public radio here that through scheduling I wasn’t able to do. I mean many small heartbreaks along the way, but I do think that you have to just go for it and get out of your comfort zone. Because you only get one chance and that is hard to break through.

Alison:                    Yeah agree. So the phrase here is to put your big girl pants on, I don’t know if that translates across the States.

Morra:                    Put on your big girl panties, yeah, totally.

Alison:                    Absolutely, yes. And those are fabulous tips for marketing and I’m going to be really greedy and ask if you’ve got a tip about writing as well. Because many of the people listening will still be kind of in the trenches writing their book. Have you got any tips or inspiration or encouragement for them?

Morra:                    I am a big believer in discipline and in really chunking out your day. I mean this is a hack from cognitive behavioural therapy, which, as someone who has dealt with the anxiety all her life, I am well versed in, while not a professional. And so, for me, it was really investing upfront in a powerful outline of my book. I worked really hard on my proposal. I knew, for me, that I had to sell the book in order to write it. I have many friends who’ve self published, I’ve had friends who’ve written almost a whole book before getting a book deal. That wasn’t going to work for me, if no one was going to pay me to write the book, I wasn’t going to write it. I just know myself and what motivates me.

So that I knew I had to do. So I spent a lot of time up front on the proposal, I spent six months on the proposal. Now what that meant was by the time I sold the book I had a pretty darn good idea of what it was going to look like and then I spent another two months on a very detailed outline. And that, I think, was the secret to me being able to get the book done then in six months because I had a detailed outline and it was accepted by the publisher and then I just I set up a schedule. And I went methodically through the outline and wrote a piece of the outline every day, pretty much and stuck to it.

And I think, by removing a lot of anxiety, the sort of blank page anxiety, up front, I was able to stick to the schedule and that worked for me and a lot of people who go on retreat and write in two weeks, that wasn’t going to work for me, so I had to be much more methodical and again chunk it out.

Alison:                    I love that, it’s absolutely the approach that I take in my bootcamp and my proposal challenge and so on. It’s really interesting to hear you say it, unprompted, I might add. When you spent six months on your proposal, tell me, was it the table of contents that was taking most of that time or was it across the board you just thinking about how it’s going to fit together?

Morra:                    I think to get it into shape, honestly. My agent really pushed me, he just wouldn’t accept it. Every time I thought it was ready he sent it back to me.

Alison:                    Agents are so ruthless.

Morra:                    Demoralising.

Alison:                    I know, but aren’t you glad? That’s funny.

Morra:                    I mean it was so frustrating.

Alison:                    But it’s interesting, isn’t it, because had he accepted the first, of course, it wouldn’t have been so easy to write and it wouldn’t have been such a good book and, of course, you wouldn’t have sold it. So the work is never wasted is it?

Morra:                    The work is never wasted and honestly, you have to get out of your own head because I mean that’s another powerful example too, and I find this with pitching the media now and I’ve written a million pitches and excerpts, it’s never ready when I think it’s ready. I always have to have one more set of eyes.

Alison:                    Yeah, wise words. Now I always ask my guest to recommend another guest on the show, which, of course, is how you’re here. So who do you recommend that I talk to, someone with something interesting to say about the business of business books.

Morra:                    So Alison, I recommend Molly Beck, she has a fabulous book called Reach Out: The Simple Strategy you Need (I’m looking at it right now) The Simple Strategy you Need to Expand your Network and Increase your Influence. And Molly is a lot younger than me but a total mentor to me because not only is she a true expert on podcasting, she was my first producer at Forbes, but she has such a fantastically achievable and approachable way to build your network. And networks are everything. I mean networks are everything, especially if you’re going to be a hermit entrepreneur.

And so I just love her approach on how to create a digital presence that works, how to cultivate really good relationships, the gift and the favour she talks about. She’s just amazing and she’s very honest that she didn’t start out with a fancy network, she built it and so I love Reach Out, I think you should have Molly on.

Alison:                    That sounds an awesome recommendation, thank you, I love that and you’re right. The network is one of the key planks of my programme because I just think it’s so that the network is one of the key planks of my programme because I think it’s so important. And looking back to what we said earlier, writing a book gives you such a unique and sort of unparalleled opportunity to really build your network strategically so that would be a great theme for a podcast, I think, thank you.

Morra:                    No, thank you.

Alison:                    Now, if people want to find out more about you Morra, where should they go?

Morra:                    They can go to hidinginthebathroom.com. They can find me on Twitter @MorraAM, M-O-R-R-A, A M, and they can check out Women Online too at wearewomenonline.com.

Alison:                    I will put all of those links up on the show notes, to save people scribbling while they’re driving or anything like that.

Morra:                    Please don’t scribble and drive.

Alison:                    Please don’t do that, no. Go to www.extraordinarybusinessbooks.com, and all the links from all the shows will be there. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you Morra. Every time I go hide in the bathroom at an event now, I will be thinking of you and maybe we could have…

Morra:                    No, you have to email me. Email me.

Alison:                    Maybe Harper Collins could put little dispensers in bathrooms… I could talk to you all day, we’re going to have to end it there, thank you so much Morra, goodbye.

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