Her bestselling book has helped thousands of entrepreneurs worldwide grow their businesses authentically and creatively. She has more than 50 licensed facilitators who lead Right-Brain Business Plan® workshops nationally and internationally. She received her coaching certification and leadership training through the prestigious Coaches Training Institute and holds an M.A. in Communication Management from USC. Jennifer was a featured presenter at the 2013 Emerging Women Live Conference in Boulder, CO.
In this episode, Jennifer and I speak about:
- The Right-Brain Business Plan: What it is and how it can help entrepreneurs create and realize their goals
- The power of thinking creatively in the planning stages
- The importance of community for the entrepreneur
- Limiting Beliefs and how to work around them
- The importance of self-compassion when going after big dreams
Tune in and listen to Right-Brain Business Planning with the Creative Business Leader: Jennifer Lee.
Chantal Pierrat: Welcome, Jennifer. It’s great to have you today.
Jennifer Lee: Oh, I’m so excited to be here with you, Chantal. Thank you!
CP: Let’s dig in to the Right-Brain Business Plan. I’m actually feeling a little selfish having you all to myself since I’ve read your book and done the practices. So I’m just eager to jump into it. So why don’t you just start by telling us a little bit of the background of the concept of the Right-Brain Business Plan and then just let us know what you mean by that, too. How did you come to this? And what is the actual idea behind it?
JL: Sure. Well, the idea came to me very organically, given that it’s right-brained. [Laughs] So I was participating, back in November 2007, in this annual challenge called Art Everyday Month. It happens every November [and] it was my first time participating. And every day I would try some new art medium, like painting or drawing or collage. And toward the end of the month, we’re coming toward the end of the year and I thought, “Well, I probably should be thinking about my goals for the coming year. I need to do art anyway, so I why don’t I do a vision board, because I love doing that.”
So I love book arts and I have this blank accordion book that kind of folds out like this accordion. And I did a vision board of where I wanted my business to go in terms of products and services, marketing, stuff like that. And I posted it as part of a challenge and people were like, “That’s really cool!” And I just ended up calling it a Right-Brain Business Plan. I didn’t know what else to call it. It was my business plan but in a right-brained way. It became this touchstone for me for my business.
The following day I actually did a little bit more detail on the back of the Right-Brain Business Plan where I wrote out my specific financial goals. I wrote out descriptions of my products and services, marketing goals. I had a little calendar where I put some milestones, things that I wanted to reach throughout the next year. And that was really my roadmap for 2008 and part of 2009, and within a couple of years I had actually met all those goals that were on that plan.
I had no idea. I was just at my kitchen table, playing with my favorite art supplies. [Laughs] I had no idea it would turn into this thing. I feel like it’s something that lives outside of me. It’s kind of its own entity now, and it really is this visual, creative way to approach planning your business and crafting your goals for your business.
CP: What was your business? You said you were thinking about your business plan. Before it was this, what was it?
JL: I was coaching, so I was doing life coaching. I had quit my corporate job, I guess it was the year before, so 2006. But I had been coaching on the side since 2003. So once I quit my corporate job, I’m like, “OK, I need to take this a little bit more seriously and put out the plan.” So that was one of the ways that I did that.
And so I guess in terms of where my business was and how it shifted post–Right-Brain Business Plan was getting [a] more clear [idea] for myself what my own gifts were and bringing this visual, creative approach to business was something that I enjoyed doing. And it kind of helped set me apart from other coaches that were out there.
So I was listening to what people were responding to, and a lot of people are like, “Oh my gosh, this makes sense to me, doing business planning this way.” And they wanted more, so I just really listened to what my people were wanting and trying to fill those needs.
CP: It’s so interesting, because a lot of people—especially with Emerging Women, and I’m sure you get this question all the time—how did you come to this specific purpose? It’s so amazing how it comes through accidently.
JL: Totally accidently. [Laughs]
CP: Right? Here you were at this art class, you weren’t even thinking about it, and this is what was created. I’m just curious to see if you have any advice for people—what were you doing to get yourself in that state? Because it sounded like you were kind of asking or you were curious to where you were receptive enough to receive that message.
JL: I think it helped that I had spent the whole first part of the month just being in my own creative process and trying new things out. And also being in a community of other people doing that same kind of challenge, whatever artwork they were playing with that day. I think being in that practice primed the pump for me. And then really it’s just following, “What brings you joy? What would be exciting for you?” And trying it out, seeing how you like it, and if other people respond to it and there’s alignment there, there might be something there.
I guess the other thing, in hindsight, it’s like, of course, that’s just how I think and that’s just how I operate. But because it’s so part of what I do, it’s not always obvious to me, like, “Oh, I could actually do something with this.” So I think part of it was, because I shared it with other people and saw how they responded, [and they said,] “Oh, OK.” Not everybody automatically thinks to do it this way, even though it makes sense when they see it.
CP: It’s kind of like your book. The whole right brain is not a linear thinker, right? And I’m not an artist, so when I think about doing art, I’m one of those people that gets sweaty and I don’t want to be next to anybody else. I don’t want anybody seeing my art. Maybe we could talk about that while you’re here.
JL: Yes, we should, I think so. Yes.
CP: [Laughs] OK, this is taking a turn! But you know, it’s so interesting that when I do creative work, it does seem to open me a little bit more.
JL: Yes, I mean, I believe everyone’s creative and that everyone is an artist of their life. So indeed, Chantal, you are an artist, and from what I know about you, movement is really important to you, right?
JL: And for you, creativity might be more of an interpretive dance or something like that, where you can express yourself through your body. Or maybe painting—I find painting is a very physical thing, and when you concentrate more on the process versus the end product and what it looks like, you’re able to really mine for those gems, those insights that you’re getting by paying attention to your own access points to your creativity, which, for you, I think your body is one of the key ways.
CP: Right. With my body, if I’m dancing, I don’t care who sees me or what I look like. I guess when I think of art I always think of more of the visual arts. So that’s a really good distinction. So this process is not just a visual process—the creative process can be accessed through any type of art then.
JL: Through whatever medium that speaks to you. I’ve had people who are vocalists [where] doing it in song makes sense to them. That wonderful woman you had at the conference, Jenna Wilcox was it? She had her whole one-woman play, she put on a one-woman play. Whatever it is that helps you express what your intuition is telling you to just get the ideas out there, as a way to start.
CP: Right, right. So when we think about business plans—and I know you have a corporate background, so you’re going to relate to this—we think about numbers and cash flow and the nuts and bolts of how the business is going to run. And I do not associate that with groovy creativity.
JL: Right. [Laughs]
CP: I just don’t. And so tell us, make the leap for us and connect those two, because it’s an area that needs a little right-brain love.
JL: Definitely. When we think of traditional business plans, we certainly think of the numbers, the spreadsheets, all that kind of research-based stuff. And of course, that’s an important part of the business plan. For right brainers, for creatives, for the heart-centered, solo-preneurs, starting from the right brain first is going to help open up the vision for you and help you connect with what it is you’re wanting to create.
From my own experience and from working with many other people who are like that, if you go straight to trying to fill out the spreadsheet, just go blank, you get stuck. And then it doesn’t go anywhere. So by first engaging with your own creativity, your intuition, that passion you have for what you’re wanting to bring into the world, that’s going to give you the energy, the focus to help you then go to those next-level details, with what the numbers are, who you’re trying to reach, the target market, all that stuff. Being able to start first with that big picture and having the emotional connection with it really helps those of us who are creative.
CP: Right. So in the communication of the numbers, are you also applying this creative approach?
JL: Sure. So when we look at the numbers through the right brain—this is one approach. One of the first things we do [is] we look at limiting belief first. A lot of times there’s just emotional baggage that comes with, “I can’t even look at the numbers, I’m so hung up on—” whatever has been conditioned into you about starving artists or not understanding math or whatever. So kind of getting that out of the way so that you can be more empowered looking at the numbers.
Then we do an exercise called the mula map. And that’s basically just taking Post-It notes—so red stickies to indicate the money going out, or expenses, and the green stickies representing money coming in, or income—and just initially doing a brain dump of what are all the things you’re spending money on in your business, or are going to in terms of expenses, and on the green stickies, what are all the different ways that you are bringing in income or can bring in income from different products or services.
And that helps people just see it all on paper before going into a spreadsheet. You can take those stickies, once you have them all down, [and] the more clear you can get about what the actual numbers are by looking at past statements or doing research online [for] what other people are charging, then you can plug that into the spreadsheet. But for some reason, what I find is that when people use this physical, tangible, visual way first, it just disarms the process. It’s like, “Oh, I can do this! I can write these things down.” It starts to make more sense.
One woman, actually in the workshop I led through Emerging Women, was like, “Oh my gosh, now that I have these stickies here for the money coming in,” she said the ones that she is not that sure about, “I don’t know what the number is, I bet those are the things that if I spent more time looking at it and kind of digging in, I’ll be able to have them be more profitable because I’m paying more attention.” So a lot of times, it’s just showing you where you need to be paying more attention.
CP: Right. So when you were talking about community, and I was saying I don’t want anybody to see my art, you do a lot with groups. How does the creative process and the right brain—I’m kind of heading this way because I also feel connectivity is such a big part of the feminine power, connecting with others and the right brain, of course, is the more feminine side of the brain. How does connecting with others and doing this process in witness of others, how does that help us?
JL: I love what you’re saying, the witnessing part, or being witness. When you are able to share, “Here’s my vision, here’s what my gifts are, here’s what my passion is about,” and then people kind of reflect back to you, “This is what I’m seeing in you, I see this and I see even more”—because oftentimes we just have this limited view of what we think we’re capable of and people outside of us can see beyond that. They can hold a much bigger vision for you, they can give you feedback of qualities they see in you that you may not realize. Some strengths come so naturally to you that it’s just water to a fish, they have no idea.
So getting that feedback is oftentimes really helpful, and there’s an exercise in the book called “business self-portrait.” And one of the quick ways to start getting that feedback is even just posting on Facebook. “Hey everybody, I’m just looking for if you can just share three words to describe me.” And when people do that, they’re so amazed at what they get back. It’s such a gift to hear, “Wow, this is how people see me.” And a lot of times it’s confirmation of stuff you already know, and the additional sprinkles, the bonus, is the stuff like, “Wow, you really see that in me? Oh, I can express even more of that.” You have permission to let more of that shine.
So that community aspect—you’re not going to know that just sitting in front of your computer by yourself. Oftentimes the inner critic just takes over the show and you shut down. So the community aspect can help with the witnessing part and helping you see more in yourself than you may realize.
And then also the encouragement. Obviously being an entrepreneur can be tough and there are hard days, so having people to turn to, [to say,] “I’m really stuck here,” or, “I just had a really crappy experience,” or, “I didn’t sell what I wanted to sell,” or whatever it is that you’re struggling with and just feeling hurt. And then also when you’re ready to get feedback, it’s like, “OK, what next steps can you take? What can you do differently?” so that you can move forward.
CP: I love that exercise of going onto Facebook and asking [for] the three [words]. That’s just so fabulous. Have you done that?
JL: I’ve done that, but one of my favorite exercises—and there’s a tool online, I think it’s called wordle.net, and you can type in all the words and it creates a visual word cloud. So you have a graphic of all the words. If one of the words that shows up a lot is sensual, then sensual will be really big if there [are] multiple times it showed up. So that’s a fun way to create a visual. Oftentimes people will post that up. Some people have even posted it on their site, like on the “About Me” page, so people coming can go, “Oh, I get a sense of who this person is.”
CP: Wow, that’s just so great. I mean, I feel that, once again, the power of community, as we evolve as a society, we’ve been so isolated, especially when you’re an entrepreneur. And you feel like, “I’m here, in front of my desk, creating my business plan,” and it just feels like you’re in a bubble, you and your numbers. It’s so nice to remember that people—especially in this new wave of entrepreneurship, which does include more connectivity and relationship and partnership—that people are excited to support you.
JL: Totally. I think one of the things—like what you created with Emerging Women, with the conference. That, of course, came to you in terms of your vision for what you wanted to happen, but you couldn’t have executed it on your own. You have a whole team of people. So there’s partnering with other people to help bring your vision into the world, help collaborate. Sometimes you may think of other people as competitors, right? It’s kind of interesting because your old boss was part of the conference, Tami.
CP: Right, right.
JL: So instead of having it be a weird competition thing, you were able to create this collaboration and have this shared vision of how you could then both impact people in a bigger way. I think that feminine part, that part of relationship building is so important for helping to bring these big visions out in the world in this way.
CP: I actually feel that your book and this whole concept of the right brain approach to not just entrepreneurship but leadership will actually save the world. Is that too big of a statement? How do you feel about that, having written the book?
JL: Wow. [Laughs]
CP: I mean it!
JL: The Leo part of me says, “Right on!” [Laughs]
CP: Well, I’m just curious if you’ve applied these principles and this concept beyond just entrepreneurship into actual leadership styles.
JL: You know, it’s really funny that you bring that up because I think this book is a byproduct of person work I’ve done before, and it was actually through a leadership program that I went through, I think in 2003, something like that. And I went into the program thinking, “I don’t even know what I signed up for this leadership program because I’m not a leader. I’m not the person who stands up in front of the room and tells people exactly what to do and is charismatic and the very masculine definition of what a leader is.”
But something was calling me to it, and through that whole year-long process, what I discovered was my own leadership style and the strength of being creative, being softer, being vulnerable, the intuition, all of the feminine stuff that I had devalued in myself, especially being in the corporate world. There were times within that group, in that tribe, where I [said,] “Oh my God, I get that my energy is needed here.” Sometimes we don’t actually need to say anything, we just need to breathe together and that creates the connection and that takes us to the next place.
Really stepping into that helped me realize I can’t make myself be this other kind of leader. That’s not who I am and that doesn’t feel right to me, so [I] really leaned into how I naturally am and value it. If I hadn’t gone through that transformation myself and owned it, this book would not be, because I would have felt ridiculous [laughs] talking about creativity and doing collages when I’m talking about business.
Because I really trusted, [and said,] “OK, there is actually value in this”—people who think this way who are thinking that maybe they need to do it the traditional masculine way are stopping themselves. The world is missing out on their gifts, so if this helps open up something for them, helps them feel a little bit more confident in what they’re doing or connect with the right person, whatever, then that just makes me feel happy.
CP: Yay! That has been my experience, even with Emerging Women, just going in—I know I’ve told you this a million times, but going in and discovering your book changed it for me and gave me the courage to really step out as an entrepreneur because I didn’t have to do all this masculine approach to my business that I had been doing in my previous job as VP of Sales and Marketing. That can very numbers-oriented and [a] linear kind of approach. It was very refreshing to know that I could do it a different way, even when dealing with the hard nuts and bolts.
JL: Exactly, exactly. Because it’s not to say that we ignore those things. Those are [things in] business that we need to know. You can approach it, “Hey, why not use colors in your spreadsheet? Make it pretty! Add some visuals. Play music and dance. Stand up while you’re doing the numbers.” Whatever it is that makes it fun for you.
CP: Right. Let’s talk about limiting beliefs. It sounds like you encounter and have encountered that in your practice as a coach and also as you’ve been doing the Right-Brain Business Plan work. Can you tell us what some of the trends [are] that you see and how you work around those?
JL: I would say one of the fundamentals ones is this whole idea of, “I’m not good enough,” or, “Who am I to” fill in the blank. “Someone else is doing it better.” So there’s a lot of owning your own value and having the belief in yourself, the confidence in yourself. That comes up a lot, all the stuff around charging enough or being willing to put a product out there. A lot of it’s rooted in that, like, “Gosh, do I dare do this? Am I enough?” Damn straight you’re enough! We need you. We need your gifts. So own that.
CP: How do you get them to own that?
JL: A lot of it really comes from being in that community and being seen by others. Sometimes it’s just in the coaching conversation, because it gets them out of their own head and see a different perspective. There’s so much power that happens when you’re in a group setting and you’re hearing the feedback and the themes from lots of different people. There are people who are supportive who can also provide constructive feedback, too, so it’s not just all rainbows and unicorns, showing you where you could maybe improve things or be more specific or what have you, but in a very loving way.
I think a lot times that “I’m not enough” or those kinds of worries come—obviously they’re happening internally, because that’s just part of how the inner critic operates. But we often hear [them] externally, too, from people in our life or our past corporate lives who are not maybe in the world of entrepreneurship or are not taking those risks to pursue their dreams and they externalize their own fears. “How are you going to do that? Aren’t all these other people doing it already?” You may actually hear those kinds of questions from other people.
So if you can find a supportive group—obviously those are valid questions, but if you are starting from that place and [you] just get that really constricted feeling, you’re not going to get anywhere. So being in that more supportive environment, with people who get the challenges that you’re going through, can really help you move through those limiting beliefs to something more empowering.
CP: Right. Well, sometimes also just recognizing it, too, right? That that is a limiting belief?
CP: There are so many limiting beliefs I think I’ve realized over the last few months, during my Emerging Women process, and it’s amazing how they come up, and just knowing that they’re there is huge.
JL: Yes. Sometimes you realize, “Oh my gosh, that’s what’s happening?” And then you can even just laugh at it because it’s so ridiculous.
CP: Right, right. So what are some of the others that you come into?
JL: Let’s see. I think another one is the whole idea, “I don’t have enough information. It’s not all perfect yet. I need to have everything lined up before I can take that first step or that next move.” And the truth is you can never know everything. You don’t have a crystal ball. I talk about plans, but it’s kind of more loosely to say, “Have a vision and know the general steps to take to get there,” but you can’t predict everything.
Allowing yourself, trusting yourself to take some of those steps without knowing everything and to trust that you’ll actually get more clarity with [each] action that you take. Because you’ll see, “Oh, that worked really well, I need to do more of that,” or, “Oh gosh, that didn’t feel right to me, it didn’t quite work out, I need to try something else.” You’re not going to know that. You can run through all the scenarios in your head, but that’s not going to give you real-life information.
So this whole limiting belief of, “I need to know everything, research everything, have everything figured out before I make a move,” can keep you stuck, can keep you in one place. Trust that you can learn as you go.
CP: Right. You mentioned that the process of painting—and we’ve been talking about creative process. How can the creative process help us to move the actual process, whether I’m dancing—what does it do to actually move us beyond these limited beliefs? What is it?
JL: That’s a great question. There’s something that happens in terms of a shift in energy or stuckness. This is kind of like [what] you were talking about, we were using the term “woo-woo” at the conference. But I find when I’m painting or even movement and dancing, applied rhythms or something like that, the actual process of moving or following the intuition, some energetic thing transpires, at least in me, that I feel.
It’s allowing myself to actually feel when I’m up against resistance. I can feel it in my body. “Oh, do I dare paint that? That’s going to look stupid.” It’s like, “No, that’s what the muse is wanting me to paint. Put the damn paintbrush on the paper and make it happen.” Or if dancing, “Oh gosh, do I dare do that big? Do I dare move like that?” And by allowing myself to do that, it’s like, “Oh, I can actually feel the joy in that.”
It’s like you’re allowing yourself to experience your experience. And that creates new insights and can help open up and help you expand into new ways of seeing or moving. It’s almost like you give yourself permission to do something new and then you experience, “Oh, wow, I did it.” And in that you feel the shift and you feel an opening.
CP: Yes. That’s certainly been my experience. Sort of like when you’re vulnerable and you take a chance, which is why I know I probably should be painting more, doing the things that actually are more my edge. I mean, I love dance, but when I feel like there’s a little bit of an edge in the visual arts, maybe that’s a good thing.
JL: Intuitive painting might be right up your ally, because a lot of times you’re standing there in front of a big piece of paper and sometimes I feel like I am dancing. The paintbrush just moves across the whole page in a way that could very much be like a dance. So it really is—anything, and any creative process—giving yourself permission to just let it flow, even if it looks totally ridiculous or ugly. It’s actually allowing yourself to go to those places [which] will get those places unstuck.
CP: Tell us a little bit more about vision. A lot of what you do is internally and externally visual. How does vision help—or visioning in both ways, meaning an external and internal vision—to manifest what it is that we desire?
JL: For me, I find having the visual of the vision up to remind me what it is I’m wanting to create, and it just creates this touchstone, this foundation, for me. The funny thing about vision, though, is like I said, we don’t have a crystal ball. We can’t know exactly how things are going to go, so even if you have this big, grand vision, “Oh, I think it’s going to happen this way,” it probably won’t. But the essence of it will still happen if you’re taking the steps forward to make it happen.
So for me, the vision part is important because it grounds me in what’s important to me and gives me something that I’m moving toward. I find when I’m working with people [if] they’re not clear about that, they go in circles or they feel unfulfilled or not quite sure where to go. So it gives you direction.
And then, for those folks who like the visual representation of it, it just is such a powerful tool to connect back to, to say, “Oh yes, that’s what I wanted in my vision.” When I look at my Right-Brain Business Plan, I feel the feelings of what it would be like to have those things come true, or what it feels like to have those in process. It’s exciting to me. There’s some kind of sensory thing that happens for me.
And then once the things have actually happened, it’s really cool to look back at the big vision collage, the vision board, and say, “Yes, I made that happen.” Check them off. Even though the end result may have looked a different way, it’s still the essence of what the vision was.
CP: I love that. So you’re encouraging people to tune in to more of the feeling or the state of consciousness in the images and less the actual, “OK, if I put a BMW on my vision board, I want that BMW.”
JL: Exactly. I was going to say “Ferrari,” yes. [Laughs] It may be more about it being an adventure you feel by being out in the open road, I don’t know. It may surprise you because sometimes intuition, these images may speak to you, and you have no idea why. This one woman put a pumpkin on her vision board, [and] she said, “I have no idea why.” And then I think later one during the workshop it had something to do with fun or something like that.
One woman put a gazebo on her vision board, and she [said,] “I have no idea where this gazebo came from. It makes no sense to me.” And then later on, she ended up calling one of her metaphors or icons for her business, which was called Circus Dream, was a tent. She said, “Oh, it’s like of like a circus tent!” But she didn’t make that connection when it first showed up on her vision.
CP: I love that because I feel like the whole manifesting movement—with The Secret and other things—has been misinterpreted and has become a little distorted. It’s just so nice to leave a little mystery into our future and let the divine figure out how we’re going to unfold. Instead of being so hard and fast, “This is my goal,” which is a very masculine approach—which can work for some things, but not for what we’re talking about here.
JL: Yes. For me, it’s all about the essence and the feeling of what it is I’m wanting to create and connecting with that.
CP: Right. We’re at the end of our time, and I would like to ask you one more question. What advice do you have for women that are on the precipice of their own emerging? They’re at the point where they’re about to explode with their own unique gift for the world, and there’s a lot that comes with that. It can be scary, there’s risk that needs to be taken. Every time you have to make a decision to stay true to who you are, it becomes more and more difficult when there’s more at stake, especially when you’re about to launch a business or you’re starting a new career. What advice would you give those women?
JL: It’s so funny, as you’re describing that, my hands are getting sweaty. I can feel the stakes are really high, you know? [Laughs] One of the key things—and I think I forget this quite often, so I’m kind of talking to myself—is self-compassion. The fact that you’re having these big dreams and you’re wanting so much for yourself—a lot of times, very driven women are like, “I want it to happen now!” and they get very impatient. Taking big risks or going after big dreams takes time.
So showing yourself compassion, being really loving to yourself, acknowledging how much courage it takes to actually follow your passion, follow your dreams, bring your vision out to the world. And also being surrounded by other people who can support you as well, so you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting yourself with the emotional stuff.
I think it is important to start with that self-love and self-compassion first because the inner critic gets so loud when you’re up to really big stuff. It’s like, “Oh no, things are going to change here!” So that’s why being compassionate, acknowledging what you’ve done already, what you gifts are, even writing them down can be really helpful to come back to when you’re feeling especially challenged or frustrated.
CP: Right. OK, Jennifer, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you, and our journey continues.
JL: Great, thank you so much. It’s been great.