Writing a book is rocket-fuel for your profile, of course. But what happens five years later, when your thinking and your business have moved on and your book just won’t stop selling? That’s where Marianne Cantwell, author of Be A Free Range Human: Escape the 9-5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills, found herself.
Find out how she came to write a new edition and what she discovered on the way – the authors on this podcast make the mistakes so you don’t have to. And along the way enjoy Marianne’s thoughts on being free range, finding your own way, working with editors, and the vital importance of the Best Friend Test. Top-quality listening.
Free Range Humans: https://free-range-humans.com/
Marianne on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/freerangemarianne/
Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
This Book Means Business – the mentorship programme: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/this-book-means-business-mentorship/
Alison: I’m here today with Marianne Cantwell, who is a business mentor, a best selling author and a TEDx speaker and her best selling book, Be A Free Range Human, Escape The 9-5, Create A Life You Love And Still Pay The Bills is now in its second edition. She’s a corporate escapee herself and she’s the founder of Free Range Humans, an online course and events business. Welcome to the show, Marianne.
Marianne: Hi, Alison. I’m super excited to be here.
Alison: Oh, it’s great to have you here. And I’ve got to start by just asking you about that title, which is ace. How did that come about, the whole Free Range Human thing?
Marianne: I’ve got to say, it came about completely accidentally, which I think is how the most creative things do come about. I had quit my job, I had started a few different businesses. I had a portfolio career, so I had started a very sensible career coaching business, helping people work out their direction and get jobs they like. I’d started a consultancy in my old field, around marketing and that sort of thing, and a few other things.
Marianne: On the side of that, I had heard back in the day about, over 10 years ago now, that it was a good idea to have a blog. And so I opened up a free blog on, I think it was Google’s blogger.com or something, and I called it Free Range Humans because it was my silly side project. I could use a silly name and but I really felt drawn to that name personally because when I was in a job I felt I felt like the opposite of a free range human, I felt cooped up. I remember looking out the office window, just really, really wanting to be outside, literally roaming free in daylight and just feeling like I was getting smaller and smaller every day. And so it’s a really resonant name for me. Never thought it would be a thing.
Marianne: Turns out that’s the only thing people were interested in in the end and it became my entire business a year later. So, you never know how side projects will catch on.
Alison: I think we call this emergent strategy, don’t we? Isn’t that brilliant? Well, it’s what lands, it’s what works, isn’t it? And actually the more … This is also the luck surface area principle, isn’t it? The more stuff you’re putting out there, the more feedback you get, the more you know what’s going to work. Brilliant. And I have to say, having been on the Tube in London recently, I know exactly what you mean. They wouldn’t put animals in those conditions, would they?
Marianne: Exactly. That’s exactly … It’s one of the opening lines of my book, as you know, is that this realisation when I was on the Tube in London that we work so hard for … As we’re growing up, as we’re getting into our careers, and for me, I was on the Tube one day realising that I was so hemmed in. That this was the price that we got, was to be basically herded in these inhumane conditions in the incredible heat and in other places it might be stuck in, a car wondering what’s going on with your life. And I was like, is this really the best it gets?
Marianne: That was kind of where this whole, I want to be a free range human came out. And it’s funny because I think sometimes when we try to get an idea that’s going to resonate with people, we over-engineer it, we restrict ourselves and in my work, I’ve seen the same thing happen so often, that it’s that side project. It’s that little thing, you’re like, it’s just me who feels that way. When you say it … And when I started using the term free range human people would go, “I don’t know what that is but I want to be one.” That would be the first response. And I was like, that sounds great to me then.
Alison: Brilliant. And I have to say, I was thinking of you on the Tube, you had that wonderful line about every single part of your body was touching somebody else and I just thought, oh, that’s how it feels. Yes. Really claustrophobic. Brilliant. So, it’s a while back since you did the first edition, onto the second edition now. Firstly, I want to just explore, when you started off, as you say, sort of let’s do a blog. This is a new thing. That dates it, doesn’t it? But how have things changed? I mean, there are more Free Range Humans now out there. It’s more of a thing.
Marianne: Oh my God.
Alison: Yes. You probably created it.
Marianne: Yes, I do feel guilty. I mean, I walk into a cafe and there’s nowhere to sit. And I was like, guys, I meant some of us go free range, not the entire neighbourhood.
Alison: Everybody’s in there with their laptop.
Marianne: And I was like, oh no, not all of them. That’s probably because I hang out, to be fair, in areas … No matter where I am in any city in the world, I tend to hang out where the free rangers are, and so I see it. Currently I am living between LA and New York these days and right here in my neighbourhood in Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, there’s free range humans everywhere. I hear people talking about people who I personally know and their courses. And I’m just like, when I started, people didn’t know this sort of way of making a living was anything other than the glorified hobby and that blows my mind every day when I walk out and see it and go, oh my gosh, when I first created this, my dream was that people would know that you had options where you could get paid to be you. And in some way I think that has grown. I think there’s a lot more to go, but I think it has grown in a huge way.
Alison: It’s sort of a perfect storm, isn’t it? You’ve got all these things converging, you’ve got more, I guess, the millennial sort of zeitgeist of I want to do stuff that that fulfils me. I think your TED Talk probably had a lot to do with this, didn’t it? That whole sense of that I’m sure, I’m not going to go on their island, I’m going to make my own island. And you just don’t need to fit in. But there’s also the infrastructure. I mean, 20 years ago I couldn’t run a business that I run with a virtual team and cloud-based collaboration tools. Suddenly it’s possible in a way that it just wasn’t possible 20 years ago.
Marianne: And I would even go further and I would say around 2014, I paid a developer quite a bit of money to build a membership site to my specifications. We’ve now scrapped that because you can buy a better one for like $20 or something off the shelf. So right now you can access this technology that five years ago you couldn’t access. It’s incredible and I just think we are at such an incredible point in history right now that I really think the more people know about it, the better off we’re all going to be.
Alison: Ironically, I certainly … I left corporate five years ago. I’m using better tools than I had in my … And I think that almost becomes a problem, the legacy IT structure that a lot of big corporates have. Whereas we are free to just jump on the cloud based thing and work it. And as you say, it’s so powerful.
Marianne: That’s a really good point. Yes, completely.
Alison: And I don’t think IT people are terribly happy with cloud infrastructure. So I think that we’ve got some way to go before that gets resolved for corporate. It’s fascinating.
Alison: So, tell me a little bit about the whole new addition things. Obviously the world has changed, technology has changed, people’s attitudes have changed. You say it’s a thing now. How did you go about that task of looking at the first edition and thinking what needs to change and how do I go about that?
Marianne: Wow. I never thought I would do another edition. And you’ve got plenty of authors listening in and people who are writing their books and I’m sure they are like, why on earth would you go back and redo all the work? And I definitely agree with that, so the reason for me that I did it, before I explain how I did it, was actually a very personal one. My book had a little problem, which is a nice to have problem, which is that it wouldn’t stop selling. So I had this book that when it came out I really, really believed in it. As the years went on, as I grew and as the online business world changed, there were things in it I actually disagreed with. But they were now in print and people wouldn’t stop buying it. Even though I had removed the links from my website, I was like, don’t call me the author of Be A Free Range Human.
Marianne: It was like 10% of it, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist. So I was like, that 10% is really bothering me. People keep using it. I don’t agree with it. I have to keep telling them to ignore it. And so I had been really rejigging my work. I’d taken actually I think a full year off what I was doing, I’d really changed how I was living and working, and we were about to do a rebrand of Free Range Humans along with two colleagues … Actually three colleagues. Who were going to basically take over a lot of the interaction on it. So the other year it was quite passive and we were going to bring in people do a lot more live stuff, but who weren’t me. So I was stepping back.
Marianne: And I kept thinking the one problem in this is that I have a book out there, that A, says a few things I no longer agree with, but number two, we put all these links through the book, as you know, for bonuses and resources, which led to different funnels in my business. I’d actually pulled some of those funnels, so they were going to dead things. People were saying, can I have this … I know, right? And I was like, I cannot give you this series because it’s not where we are anymore. I don’t agree with it anymore and I don’t want to talk about it.
Marianne: And so I was sitting there, I think it was early August last year, and I was in London waiting for my US Visa to come through. And we were about to get a web designer and redo Free Range Humans and just go for it and say, ignore the book, let’s just do it. I get an email from my publisher, who I haven’t heard from any years saying, “Hi, I’m your new editor, your new contact point. I’ve been looking through. You have one of our most consistent top selling books. Is there a reason we don’t have a second edition and would you like to do one?”
Marianne: And I just thought any other moment in time, I’d have been like, “Go away. Absolutely not.” And I was like, “We need to talk right now.” And within a week I was in a conference room with the head of the publishing house, head of marketing. I was saying, look, “This what I need in order to do it and this is what I want to say.” And I shared I wanted to make it a lot more vulnerable, a lot more personal. I wanted to talk about my history of anxiety and depression and how that impacted my business. So many things I wanted to say about the online business world and they said we love all of it, so carte blanche, go for it. And that’s how it came about.
Alison: It’s Kogan Page isn’t it, so that was Helen…
Marianne: So yes, that’s … Oh, yes, Helen.
Alison: She’s great. She’s been on the podcast, actually.
Marianne: Yes, they are. They’ve been a … Oh, and Emily. I love them.
Alison: Oh, they’re a really good thing.
Marianne: But that’s how … They’re wonderful. I have so many good things to say about them this time round. But yes, that’s how it came about, very serendipitously and it felt like just the right thing to do.
Alison: That’s fantastic because when you say it’s personal, I mean, it is wonderfully personal. I mean, Kogan Page is a professional book publisher and I love that they can absolutely put this out and it’s got such personal … Like stuff about your mum, I was nearly in tears reading it. It’s beautiful, but it’s so personal. And it’s really interesting, I think that that humanness, I think publishers would have been more wary of that even five years ago. It’s just more accepted, isn’t it?
Marianne: I think that is true. I was talking to someone the other day about this, how just as we have a rise in the very surface world of social media, we also have a rise in more vulnerability and humanness in books. I think it’s really interesting, I think people are going back to books and audio books as a place where you have more depth. But having said that, being a bit practical about it, I also think you prove your stripes. I had a book that they knew sold and they knew I was an author who could sell a book. So when I said, here is what I know will sell, they said, whatever you need. And they even said to me, your book is an outlier for us. And my book isn’t normal for Kogan Page and I have a lot to say about why I think small publishers are actually better in lot of to give you that freedom. But yes, all of that is a perfect storm. So yes.
Marianne: Do you want me to tell you about the how I-
Alison: I’d love to know actually … I just want everybody to appreciate it for a second that thing about how great small publishers are. Just let that hang in the air a minute.
Marianne: I mean, I’ll say I did have offers from bigger publishers before I signed with Kogan Page, so I’m very keen on that.
Alison: But yes, tell us about the mechanics, as well. And I guess you probably don’t want to go too much into detail about what you didn’t believe in anymore, but if you could just give us a sense of it… Oh, right. Well, tell us then what was it like.
Marianne: Oh no, I would love to, I would love to. I assume a lot of your listeners are familiar with the online business world.
Alison: If they’ve navigated their way to a podcast, they’ve got some idea….
Marianne: Oh, good. Wow. Well I’m going to start with that. I’m going to start with the two things that I was unhappy about in the book, that just stood out to me. Number one was personal, so this was when I wrote the book. I was younger, I didn’t realise the value of sharing a lot of behind the scenes and so I simply hadn’t considered a certain angle of my real story. Which is when people read the first edition, they thought I was this super confident, always happy person. The reality is, and as I share in the second edition, a lot of my decisions came when I was very much on the ground, in a bad place because I have, as I said, a history of anxiety and depression. Which have shaped every decision I’ve made in my business.
Marianne: And so there was this disconnect between the me that all my colleagues and people around me know, which is this very light and dark person, like both sides are very present and the overly shiny version in the book, which I didn’t think served people because while it’s inspiring in the moment when you are on the floor, when you are in that down moment and you think that the person who wrote the book that inspired was never there, you can’t move. And so I was like, I really, really have to tell the real story behind the other real stories in there, so that was number one.
Marianne: And number two was the tactical one. Oh my gosh, the online business world has changed so much since I wrote this first edition of the book. When I first wrote it, anyone who was there back in the day will remember, it was a creative space. It was a beautiful space where people were making it up as they went along and innovating. And as happens in any industry over time it started to become a lot more follow the leader. A lot more, as I say in the new preface, it went from being I want to quit my job and create freedom on my terms, to being on my terms has to look this certain way. It means having this particular business structure and it means having this particular life. There was literally a way that on my terms would look and it usually looked like someone like me who was sitting by a pool in Bali and had an online business based on say, email marketing or social media marketing.
Marianne: And that was a huge problem to me because I had written that to show people one way and it had become the only way and was actually having a hugely negative impact on people for whom that wasn’t right. I really wanted to pull the idea of having just one path to success. And so one reason we shut down a lot of our online courses weren’t because they weren’t good, but because I had stopped believing, based on evidence of people I’d worked with over time, that the only way to have success was to, for example, have a following like I do. The only way to have freedom and financial freedom was to say have an email list or a good social following. In the past I explicitly said that in the first edition and I think I was very naive to say it because I think I’d fallen in to the trap that a lot of business authors fall into, which is why I’m glad I’m talking about this on this podcast.
Marianne: Because a lot of this make this mistake that we struggle for awhile, then we find success, and then because we’re good people who love to help others, we want to tell everyone else about that and that’s great. But the mistake I think we make is that we think our way is right for everyone else. And over time, because my background and obsession is personality and personality profiles, I had a lot of data from working with groups over the years and running these big online courses where I knew people’s personality profiles and I could map that with the sort of success people had. And I was finding evidence again and again that it wasn’t about is someone motivated enough. Well, I mean, in part is. But when you’ve got the people who were motivated and smart and were struggling, usually their personalities were pretty different to mine and pretty different to everyone else who was thriving out there and their success route was completely different.
Marianne: And so long story short, I worked with a colleague to develop a three part, basically simple, self identifying profile that showed actually there are different ways to have success. And instead of playing follow the leader and looking at Marianne or someone else and saying, I have to copy them… There’s a lot we can learn. There’s a lot about attitude. There’s a lot about presentation, but when it comes to mechanics, well guess what? If you’re a massive introvert who really doesn’t do well presenting things, you have options other than to create a global following. And guess what? You might be more financially successful by doing it.
Marianne: So that very long story that was boiled down into about two chapters and we pulled the online business stuff, we it into a bonus and we put it into a bonus for the correct sort of person. We kind of siloed it and we said, if you’re this sort of person, basically like me and probably like you Alison, we’re like, you’re going to want to use this old chapter. Go and check it out. If you’re not, here’s the other stuff. And honestly that was months and months of work to do that, but it ended up being a book that, I think, in one sense as the reviews are coming in, I think we’re going to get people who go, oh, well, it’s not as simple as it could be. But it’s actually also more true. Does that make sense?
Alison: Absolutely, and you’ve articulated it beautifully. Thank you. I want to pick up on a couple of things there because it’s so interesting and I know that my clients ask about this a lot, it’s an issue that we all face. Firstly that point about yourself, you were saying back in the day … I think you used the word naive, but it seems also you perhaps you weren’t quite confident enough to tell it how it was. And I think that is a really difficult line to walk, particularly as a first time author. I think doing the second edition you’ve got a bit more leeway perhaps to be honest, because you’re established, it’s clear that you’re successful. But when you’re writing for the first time there is … You have to tell your story because you’re a human.
Alison: And guess what? We want to connect to the human. We don’t connect to ideas necessarily. You know, we want your story. But it’s so easy to let your story get out of hand and get self-indulgent in too much detail. And actually if I don’t know you, I don’t care that much about your story, maybe. So trying to put enough of you in there that you’re true to yourself and honest and engaging people, but not so much that you actually get in the way of serving the reader, I think is quite hard thing for people to do.
Marianne: Yes. And I’d say the answer to that is work with a really good editor. So I worked with two editors, one of whom just ripped my stuff to bits and I had to put things back in, and the other one was wonderful and kind of like worked with it. I would say get out of your own way. Work with an editor rather than trying to work it out yourself, for sure. Because we don’t know. Either we don’t put enough in because we think, who wants to know that? And I think by the way that’s the bigger problem in the business world, I can definitely see that people aren’t putting themselves in. Or we go into the confessional world and we give so much that-
Alison: And we’ve all read books that read more like therapy…
Marianne: Where’s the helpful part? So, I’d definitely get an editor.
Alison: Yes, I think that you’re dead right. I mean, it is very hard to see yourself, so you need a professional to help you. That’s absolutely right. The second thing is that, again, that line that you walk between truth and the plan. So one thing that people want you to give them … I mean, they know this is hard, so there’s no point saying ooh well, it’s hard, isn’t it? There’s lots of different ways to do it. That’s not actually going to help them. So you want to give them the plan, you want to give them a formula in sort of five steps, and all the rest of it. But of course inevitably you simplify things. So again, if somebody’s listening and they’re finding it hard to get that balance right, what advice would you give them on that?
Marianne: I would say exactly how I did it. I have a test called the Best Friend Test and I say, if this is my best friend, what would I tell them in this moment? And it clears your mind. So if my best friend is this sort of person and they are trying to do the thing that my reader is doing, what am I going to tell them in a five minute conversation? Now, if that’s not what’s in your book, you’ve got it wrong.
Alison: That’s genius.
Marianne: I think that’s probably the simplest way of saying it. So run the Best Friend Test and then go, now as a writer, do the work to distil that down into a few pages. But it’s that simple. If you wouldn’t tell your best friend that in that situation and believe it and have to live with them for years, if it wasn’t good advice, don’t write it in your book.
Marianne: And I’ve got to say, yes, in my first edition, I really would have told my best friend everything I said. I just, me today, sees the flaws. And so I do think I was a little naive and I also think that I’d made a little mistake that a lot of us make in the business world, which was at that time I was hanging out with a lot of people who did what I did. I wasn’t hanging out outside of that space. Today I flipped that around and so you don’t have the echo chamber of everyone doing the same thing in the same way. And I think that, if anyone’s struggling going, how do I stand out? How do I write differently? I’d say start having better conversations with people outside of your space, as well. I think it adds a totally different grounding and tone to what you’re writing.
Alison: That’s such a great point because it is entirely possible to live in a bubble online these days, isn’t it? And many people working from home, that is essentially how they’re connecting with people.
Marianne: Oh my gosh, yes.
Alison: You know, filtered. What you said about integrating the book with your business, as well, this is something I did want to pick up because you do it beautifully. And you do it in a very light touch where it, oh, if you want this then go to my website and get the resource, and all you need to start with. It’s brilliant. It’s hilarious that it became the thing that tripped you up with the first edition. It’s a bit of a double edged sword, isn’t it? Because you absolutely want to use the book to drive people to where you can have a conversation with them, to be part of your online space, to your community. But it can be problematic.
Marianne: Yes. I discovered this over the years. I had to just redo all the old bonuses for the first edition because our website went down. So yes, do this carefully. What we did in it, for people who haven’t read it, all throughout the book, where appropriate, we’ve got bonuses or resources. So bonuses, and I’ve got a distinction between the two for myself. A bonus is something that is for book readers only and there’s no barrier to access it, so you don’t have to sign up to get it. A resource is something that might be say, an external website or … Though I never link to external websites anymore because they go down, so now I link to my website and I deal with redirects.
Marianne: So I learned that the hard way. Yes, we do, and I think I’ve got one thing in this particular edition that is a resource that is something that’s behind an email, a list on my website, so you have to sign up. And that’s because it’s something that’s publicly available for free signup elsewhere. And I thought, I don’t want to make it not behind that wall for my readers. So that’s the resource. So a bonus is always free. It was such a, for the first time edition that I wrote, I was like, I can’t believe my publisher has let me do this. And I think with this time around they were like, “We let you do that?” And I’m like, “You did and you’re going to let me do it again.” As it turned out, the first round they weren’t really watching because they thought no one would read it. The things you can get away with as a first time author are incredible.
Marianne: It’s one of the things we get great reviews on, by the way, is because … And the way it came about for me, the resources and bonuses, was I write a lot. I’m not someone who has a problem of not having enough words. I have a problem having too many words. And so the bonuses are where we couldn’t put the words in the book. And so I would then do an audio or I would work with a colleague who had influenced that section, because I’m really big on giving people credit. And so one of my colleagues, her name’s Selena Barker, one of my main colleagues. She really developed a concept that I didn’t think she had enough credit for and so even though we couldn’t fit as much of that in the book, I give a bonus about that with her, so people can hear it essentially from her and from me. It really brings the book to life. It gets people closer to me and my colleagues in Free Range Humans, and then they can choose to sign up.
Marianne: I think it’s a really positive thing but what I would say is make it evergreen. This was my mistake. The first time round I was too strategic, which is always what trips me up, but I was too short term strategic. So I knew that me back then had a couple of courses and I had engineered some of the bonuses to neatly lead into those courses. Not with a direct upsell at the end because that didn’t feel appropriate for a book bonus but with an invite to hear more about it. That isn’t, I don’t, think a great idea if you want your book to be around in 15 years because you have no idea what you’re going to do then. So this time I thought what I want is this book, if I decided to not run Free Range Humans anymore, I still want people to be able to use this book and you use the resources as they stand. And for that to be a complete experience.
Marianne: If we are still running Free Range Humans then they will be curious and there’ll be on the website, they’ll get an invite to sign up to events and they can check it out. I think that’s the difference. I think if we do it with that better intention of I really want this to be a complete resource. It’s never a complete resource, no matter how much I try, someone still wants help with something. Does that make sense?
Alison: Totally, and useful if you’re doing this for the first time, as well. So, longterm thinking. Do you ever build the links? It’s incredibly valuable isn’t it, that to be able to bring people from the page to you, and also as you say, gives you a place to put stuff that you can’t bear to lose, but you haven’t got space in the book. But yes, for goodness sake, keep a list of links and maintain the links because it’s so easy to lose track of them, isn’t it? Brilliant. Now I feel I’m being a bit a bit greedy here because we’ve basically covered a huge amount of tips already, but if I was to ask you what would your best tip for a first time business book author be, what would you say?
Marianne: I would say know the one thing that your book is really about, the one thing it really brings. So is it inspiring a sense of possibility? Is it about people taking action? Is it … Oh, I’ll give you an example, for me, for my book, the one thing is about doing your thing as who you are. So doing something as you. What are your differences? What do you bring to the table?
Marianne: Now the reason why it’s so important to know this is that there will be a point, probably many days of this, where you’ll wonder whether to put a chapter in or to go down another path. And when you know what your thing is, you can run that decision through that filter. For me, when I was looking at chapters on a lot of tactical things, I would say, “Is this part of a book that I want to be the go to book out there for doing something as you? Is it something that enhances it or is it something that really is useful but belongs in another book?” And that’s how we cut out a lot of things and that’s how we create a lot of content. So in short, know the one thing this book is really bringing to the table.
Alison: Brilliant. I always ask people to recommend a book, as well, so it could be a business book, it could be different kind of book, but what book do you think that anybody listening to this podcast should go away and read? Apart from, obviously, Free Range Humans.
Marianne: Okay. So, the one book I would say if you’re in the middle of writing or you’re going into writing is Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. This is a little bit of an unusual suggestion, but it’s a book that is incredibly thin, which is very useful when you’re trying to focus, but it really gets to the heart of the process of creation. Of showing up, of doing the work, and what does it really mean to create something that you’re proud of. I really highly recommend, for people who are writing or going to be writing, Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield.
Alison: Great recommendation, thank you. I knew it was going to be interesting. Now Marianne, if people want to find out more about you, more about the whole Free Range Human thing, where should they go?
Marianne: Well, if you are on Instagram, you can find me at Free Range Marianne and I’m often posting on stories. You can check out Free Range Humans at www.free-range-humans.com or just Google Free Range Humans. And you can of course check out the book, you can look at it at beafreerangehuman.com and get more information about it or you can just get it on Amazon or wherever you like to pick up your books.
Alison: Fantastic. And I will put those links up on the show notes, at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com along with the full transcript for this incredible conversation. There’s going to be so much here, especially if you’re thinking about doing a new edition. There’s going to be so much here that you’re going to want to reread again.
Alison: It’s been absolutely wonderful spending time with you today, Marianne. Thank you so much.
Marianne: Great being here. I love chatting with you and good luck with your books, everyone.