Today’s guest needs no introduction. Emily Thompson is the co-founder and host of Being Boss, the wildly popular podcast and resource community for creative entrepreneurs.
Emily has grown not one, but three incredibly successful and incredibly different businesses – from a tanning salon to web design, podcasting, and now a retail brand.
We had such a great conversation about Emily’s winding entrepreneurial journey, from Being Boss to starting a retail business and where she sees the industry going next. Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
For those familiar with the Being Boss brand, it may surprise you that Emily’s first business wasn’t online – it was a brick-and-mortar tanning salon that she bought at just 18 years old. She jokes, “I bought and sold a business before I could legally drink alcohol.”
Emily ran the tanning salon for two years before moving away to finish her degree. Around the time she was finishing college, she discovered Etsy and decided to start making and selling jewelry.
That led her to create a website, a skill set that soon bloomed into her second business: a web design agency for creatives.
It may seem like a winding path to go from a tanning salon to jewelry making to web design, but Emily says every part of her journey fed into the skillset she has now.
“A lot of people have a hard time coming to terms with whatever windy paths they’re on, and I was the same way for a long time. But I’ve learned that the best journeys are not straight and purposeful.”
Although the connection wasn’t clear at the time, all those threads wove together to help Emily create her current businesses.
“It does all make sense in retrospect. I wouldn’t take any of it back.”
Emily calls the idea of Being Boss her “Big Magic moment”, a sudden strike of inspiration that came out of nowhere. “I wanted to start a podcast with my friend Kathleen about being creative business owners.”
What started as a creative side project soon grew into a fully-fledged business. Within the first few months, Emily and Kathleen had a growing audience and brands reaching out to sponsor them.
“We were filling a hole in the podcast market. There were no podcasts led by two women talking business. And no one was talking business in the way that we were, in a way that was completely approachable to someone who had never taken a business course.”
Add that to the fact that Emily and Kathleen were long-time friends with great chemistry, and it was a perfect storm for success.
Emily and Kathleen were quick to grow a community around their show. Aside from the enthusiasm of their listeners, a lot of their early growth came from email marketing and SEO.
“I’ve been here for 12 years and I’ve seen the ebbs and flows. I remember what it was like doing online business before social media.” That perspective is why Emily chose to focus on long-term strategies, rather than fighting to keep up with the Instagram algorithm.
As for the explosive growth of their platform, “It was mindblowing to us.” They were only ten episodes in when their community started asking for a place to connect beyond the podcast.
Emily and Kathleen recorded their first few episodes with nothing more than their wired Apple headphones. Neither one of them had any experience recording or editing a podcast, but they learned through trial and error.
“I’ve always been okay with self-educating as needed. And I think with enough desire and curiosity, you can figure out whatever you need to.”
As the podcast started to take off, Emily and Kathleen realized they’d inadvertently created a new business. They opened a separate bank account and formed an LLC.
As their audience grew, Emily found herself torn between her web design clients and the passion project that was Being Boss. She decided to start winding down her web design business, and 18 months later went full-time at Being Boss.
Although Emily loved the podcast community, it was still difficult to close her design business. “It was a long process. The hardest part was definitely internal, choosing to shut down something that I had worked so hard to build.”
In the eight years since starting Being Boss, Emily says their business model has changed almost every year. “I’m still figuring it out every day. It’s a constant evolution.”
Because the online business space changes so rapidly, Emily starts each year with an in-depth audience survey to see what the community is most interested in and where they need support.
“It’s been a mixture of what people want and need and also what we’re interested in doing.” Before 2020, live events were a major part of that business model, but they’ve also expanded through digital products and sponsorships.
If Being Boss is all about ebb and flow, Emily’s newest business is the opposite.
Around 2018, Emily found her contribution to podcast conversations was growing stale. “I was podcasting about the business of podcasting as opposed to having some other amazing creative business.”
She decided to go back to her maker roots by starting a retail business. Almanac Supply Co. is an online storefront selling in-house candles, internationally sourced crystals, and other natural products.
In 2021, Almanac opened a brick-and-mortar storefront in Chattanooga and business has been booming ever since.
As a former web designer, Emily spent years convincing brick-and-mortar stores to expand online. Then the pandemic hit and many businesses were forced into a virtual environment. With Almanac, Emily has been able to dance back and forth between the two.
“Almanac is at the forefront of something that is just getting started. The power of doing both in-person and online in a way that has them beautifully connected is something that has not been explored at all yet.”
Emily predicts that more and more online businesses will look for ways to incorporate a physical presence. Even in the last few years, we’ve seen a shift from online courses to in-person workshops.
“Business has been around for thousands of years, but online business has only been around for ten. We’re just getting started.”
Although Emily has an analytical mind and loves spreadsheets almost as much as I do, she’s still had to work on a scarcity mindset around money.
“I definitely came into business with a lack mindset. I grew up poor. My parents were right at the poverty line and money was not something that I had access to.”
Once Emily started making money as an adult, she fluctuated between over saving and overspending. It took years for her to become comfortable with the idea of having money and the fact that it would be there when she needed it.
“I’m proud of where I’ve made it to over the past two decades, but it’s been a lot of work around managing money and feeling good about money.”
The biggest belief that helped Emily overcome her scarcity mindset has been thinking of money as neutral. “We go into it with so many feelings and most of them are conflicting, which makes it even heavier to deal with.”
Most people have conflicting beliefs about money: we love it and need it, but we also feel that it’s evil or that we shouldn’t want it.
Emily has learned that we’re the ones who decide what money means to us. “If you can readjust your mindset that money is neutral and you decide what it is, then it makes it easier to come from a more grounded place.”
After building multiple successful businesses, there’s one piece of advice that Emily always comes back to: when she was out looking for four-leaf clovers at school and her teacher told her to “look for what’s different.”
Emily carries that advice with her when she’s navigating spreadsheets, interviewing potential employees, or deciding on new products. “It shifts my perspective and helps me see things in a different way, as opposed to our innate desire to always enjoy what feels the same.”
Whether you’re starting a retail business, an online company, or some combination of the two, it’s great advice to keep in mind: focus on what’s different and you’ll build something truly unique.
To hear the rest of the story and what Emily is up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Emily Thompson is the co-founder and host of Being Boss, a resource, community, and podcast for creative entrepreneurs with over 11 million downloads, and the founder and CEO of Almanac Supply Co., a retail brand that makes and curates products that help people connect with nature. For over a decade Emily has worked closely with creatives to help them make money doing work they love, with a focus on building online business models and growing creative businesses. She’s also the co-author of Being Boss: Take Control of Your Work and Live Life on Your Own Terms.
March 2, 2023