120. Building a Sustainable Online Business

October 12, 2023

The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn't cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don't personally use or believe in.

The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn’t cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don’t personally use or believe in.

Tori’s Journey to Success

In describing the path she took that led to the success of Her First $100K, Tori places a strong emphasis on the pivotal role that learning from others had on her entrepreneurial journey. As she puts it, “Learning from the best is not just about doing what other people have done. It’s about understanding their systems and their strategies, and then figuring out how that applies to your unique business.”

She states the importance of interacting with fellow entrepreneurs and mentors and highlights the significance of building trust and providing value as foundational principles. “None of this works if they don’t trust you.”

Tori’s story is a testament to the value of gleaning insights from others, adapting those lessons to your own journey, and ultimately carving out a path to entrepreneurial success.

Tori’s Tips for Business Success

  • Build trust and provide real value to your audience.

  • Foster relationships by offering free services and collecting email addresses.

  • Debunk money myths, challenge taboos, and openly discuss finances.

  • Embrace financial success as a form of protest for yourself and others.

  • Be authentic and have a unique perspective to connect with your target audience effectively.

Natalie’s Links:

Independent Business Podcast by Honeybook


Additional Resources Mentioned:

Building Meaningful Communities with Natalie Franke 


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Tori Dunlap:

Hi, Financial Feminists. Welcome back to the show. We have an exciting episode today. We have a fun little crossover episode where I am actually the guest. You might remember Natalie Franke, who was one of our guests on one of y’all’s favorite episodes about this feeling of loneliness as well as her building community. If you haven’t listened to that episode, head on over to that one. We’ll link it to the show notes.

But today, we are releasing an episode from when I was on Natalie’s show that she hosts called the Independent Business podcast. I talk about everything that you’ve ever wondered about how I built and how our team built a multimillion-dollar business from basically scratch, from $20. No funding, no paid ads, no outside investment. How we took this blog, started in 2016, and grew it to 4 million followers, a multimillion-dollar business, a New York Times bestselling book, a number one business podcast, all of that. How we’ve built an audience from scratch using all of these marketing strategies and techniques. We’re getting into the weeds today. If you’ve ever wanted to build a business, this is a really important episode for you.

So if you’ve ever wondered, “Tori, how do you build an email list? Tori, how do you go viral on Instagram or TikTok? How do you build followers? How do you actually grow and scale a business?” We’re talking about all of that today.

The Independent Business podcast is on a mission to uncover the science of self-made success. Join Natalie Franke as she interviews some of the most brilliant minds in business, digging deep into the details, and uncovering strategies that turned entrepreneurial hopes into tales of Triumph. And the Independent Business podcast is powered by HoneyBook. So without further ado, enjoy this episode.

And now, a word from our sponsors.

Natalie Franke:

Today on the podcast, we are talking to Tori Dunlap. She is a financial expert, the New York Times bestselling author of Financial Feminist, and an incredible creator on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. In this interview, we talk about how she turned a single TikTok video into over 100,000 email subscribers, what the systems look like behind the curtain, behind her business, and some money myths that you might be telling yourself, that we need to debunk immediately.

This episode is packed with information, that frankly, you need to know. Because so much of the time we see, that top of the iceberg, as I say in our conversation, and not what lies beneath, Tori shares it all. And I can’t wait for you to dig in and learn a little bit more about everything that she has built on her first 100K.

Hey everyone, this is your host, Natalie Franke, and you are listening to the Independent Business podcast. More people than ever are working for themselves and building profitable businesses in the process. So on this show, I sit down with some of the most influential authors, entrepreneurs, and creators, to break down the science of self-made success so that you can achieve it too.

Tori, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today.

Tori Dunlap:

Thank you so much, Natalie, for having me. I’m so excited to see you.

Natalie Franke:

Well, I feel like I see you every day, because you’re on my FYP every time I open TikTok, and every time I am hitting that button as fast as I can. I absolutely love it. And when we were chatting a little bit before jumping on the recording, I said one of the things I love about you is that yes, you’ve built a massive online community. You have over 2 million followers on TikTok. You have such an incredible presence on Instagram, among other places. And yet, I know having watched even from a distance, and getting to know you, especially over the past couple of weeks and months, it’s like an iceberg. What people see is just the 20% at the top of the water, that you have cultivated that community by providing so much value behind the scenes.

And so my hope is in this podcast, I’d love to peel back the curtain a little bit. I would love to kind of peel back the curtain into what does that really look like to build a business that, again, business owners fall into this trap of thinking, “If I just build a following, I’m going to have a successful business.” And I say trap because I do. I think it’s a myth. But to actually build a strong business, to build funnels that provide value, to build systems that enable you to really serve that community well.

Can we peel back the curtain a little bit? What does that really look like for you, and what has it been like truly exploding and growing your business on TikTok?

Tori Dunlap:

Yeah, you just summed up entrepreneurship in the perfect metaphor, which is an iceberg. I think there’s so much that happens behind the scenes that no one knows, and especially not if you’re just a general follower of somebody that you have any idea what’s happening, and how much goes into just the naming of a podcast episode or the hook on one video that you make, and then spoiler alert, you’re making three videos a day. So yeah, there’s so much work that happens.

I think one of the myths that especially new business owners fall into is they think, “Okay, I can grow on social media by selling my products. I can create a community.” And that word gets thrown around a lot, but I can create community. I can grow my following by selling my product. And I would say 99 times out of 100, that’s not true.

My biggest business ethos is that you need to serve before you sell. And that service means providing value to people, in orde
r to build a community, but also in order to build trust and credibility, and a relationship with somebody.

And then when they feel like, “This person’s credible, this person’s offering me value, I feel like I can trust them, then they will buy from you.” But people do it in the reverse order. They’re like, “Okay, I’ll just create a product and then I’ll sell the product, and then people will follow me because they like the product.” And maybe Nike can do that, but Nike already has the brand, and the trust behind the brand, and Nike’s been at this for a really long time.

And I think that’s the other myth in addition, is that everybody looks like an overnight success because you discovered them last night. And the amount of people who are so kind, and they’ll follow me and they’ll be like, “I’ve never heard of you. Where have you been? And you’ve been blowing up.” And I’m like, “Yes, but I’ve been at this for seven years.” We started on TikTok in mid 2020, and a lot of people, especially since TikTok is our biggest platform, people are like, “So you just started on TikTok?” And I was like, “No, I had a business for four years before we blew up on TikTok.” And that meant I knew how to structure a video. That meant I knew how to serve people. That meant I knew what my business ethos was, what our secret sauce was, and how to present that.

So I think that is the other misconception is it’s like somebody discovers somebody and they’re like, “They must’ve just blown up.” And I’m like, “No.” Typically, we’ve been at this for years, cultivating our brand, cultivating our voice, cultivating why we are different, our value proposition versus somebody else.

So I think that those are a couple of the things that I wish people talked about more. I know we’ll get into this, but the last thing that I think is so tantalizingly sexy is virality. And people think, “I want my post to go viral. I want to go viral on TikTok. I want to go viral on this platform.”

And virality is great. It’s happened to me countless times. However, virality with no systems in place to take advantage of that virality is a huge wasted opportunity. Virality is not the thing you should be chasing. Virality is the thing that with systems, builds your business. And you have to cultivate those systems and plan for something way before you’ve ever created and posted the viral video. And I know we’re going to talk about that.

So don’t chase virality just for virality’s sake. It’s fun to go viral, and to see all the notifications come in, and to get press, and all of those things. But that will fade probably in days, maybe even hours. So you need to take advantage of that virality, and that’s in the systems that you’re quietly building in the iceberg right down below the water that nobody sees.

Natalie Franke:

Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I think there’s so much to be said for the sexy parts of business, what we see and we think, “If I just have a viral TikTok, I’ll be successful.”

Tori Dunlap:

“I’ll sell books or I’ll sell”… Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Natalie Franke:

Anything, 100%. But I think there’s so much that goes into it, even around, yes, the systems. And why are you going viral in the first place? I’ve had videos pop off that didn’t actually move the needle at all, because they weren’t about something that my core audience really cares about. They popped off because I was talking about Paw Patrol. So yay, all the toddler moms like myself loved that video. Millions of views. But how many of them realistically run independent businesses?

Tori Dunlap:


Natalie Franke:

Maybe sot so many. So I think that that’s also something to take into account. I think it can be alluring and really exciting. Yay. But you’re 100% hitting the nail on the head here. If you don’t have the systems, you’re basically just letting that virality go to waste entirely, and losing the true business opportunity that exists.

So let’s double click in and talk about those systems. I touched on, early in the onset of this interview, that people want to build a following. They want that following. But so many business owners that I’ve seen stop there. They’re basically renting land from TikTok, and Instagram, and all the platforms, and not building anything that they actually own.

And so they’re leasing it. And then anytime an algorithm changes, we’re beholden to that limitation on our reach or that shift, rather than growing something that we own. And so I would love to know from you, what does that look like? Once someone does follow along, what’s the next step for you once they discover you on social? What are those systems behind the curtain?

Tori Dunlap:

Yeah. And before I even dive into that, I want to highlight the importance of what you just said, which if you have been following along on business or entrepreneurship podcast, you’ve probably heard before. But maybe if you haven’t, that’s news to you. If you are trying to build a following on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, all of these platforms are borrowed land. And Elon Musk can buy them and tank the stock price tomorrow. The algorithm can change. You can get banned for no reason. I’ve had multiple friends get banned on TikTok for stuff that makes no sense, that didn’t really violate user terms. And the thing about doing that is, yeah, you are building an audience that could hypothetically disappear tomorrow. Now that doesn’t mean don’t do it. It just means you need to diversify where your audience is and how they interact with you.

So again, this might be news to some people. This might be redundant, but a funnel is the thing that I’m always thinking about. And we call it the customer journey funnel, right? It’s pretty obvious, but where are people moving? How are people discovering you first? And then how are people moving from point A, to B, to C, to D?

And various points in that are conversions. Conversions can be defined as simply, they’ve clicked follow on an Instagram, or they’ve signed up for my email list. But they can also be they’ve bought a product, or they have renewed a subscription. That might be number G or letter G on the funnel.

So when I am thinking about creating content on TikTok, when I’m thinking about creating content on Instagram, the primary use of that content is to get into as many eyeballs as possible. But really, the point now because we do have a substantial following, is actually to get that following to give us their email.

So if I can get them off of TikTok and I can get them subscribed to our email list, I can control an email list. That is building on my own land. Because everybody’s going to get an email. Whether they click, that’s a different metric, different conversation about how to create emails where people click. But I’m getting them off of TikTok and onto land that we own, and that we can control, in a way that we can’t with TikTok or Instagram.

It’s actually really funny. We were ta
lking as a team about this. We’ve had just in the past week four people comment, “Oh my God, I had no idea you had a book.” The book’s been out for six months. I feel like all I have done is yell the word book really, really loudly. It’s a New York Times Best Seller. I feel like all I have talked about is the fact that I wrote a book. And yet because of the algorithm, there are still people who have no idea that I have written a book. They have no idea, and are just discovering almost six months later that I wrote a book.

So that’s the idea. That algorithm is showing maybe 3% of people your posts, and we want to get them off the TikTok hamster wheel where there’s just endless scrolling, and into a place that you control.

Now, how do we do that? I was talking to you before you kindly messaged me and you were like, “Hey, what do we want to talk about in this interview?” And one of the things that I’m really proud of that frankly is still shocking to me when I think about it, back in 2021, I created a video on TikTok that probably took me all in from filming to editing. 10 minutes, 15 minutes maybe. I was in no makeup, a sweatshirt on the couch. The lighting was terrible. And I talked about how I was as a 26-year-old, going to retire with over $6 million. That was the hook. That was the, “I will retire with over $6 million and I’m only 26. Let’s talk.” That was the hook. And then I talked about the common misconceptions of investing.

You think you need a bunch of money? No, actually you need time. You need as much time as possible to get started. You need to be rich. Nope. That’s how you get rich is investing.

And then I did a really, really incredible thing, if I do say so myself, in the caption, which is I wrote, “Take the free quiz linked in our bio for personalized resources.” Now, we were talking about before, virality is great, but you have to plan for virality.

About four months before that, my team and I had spent time building what we call a money personality quiz. It is a free lead gen on our website. It is six questions. It’s like, “Do you feel like your values align with your purchases? Do you wish you had a new job? Are you in your dream job? What is your number one stress about money right now? Is it, I just don’t know where to start? Is it, I have debt? Is it, I want to start investing?”

And then in exchange for your money personality, we ask for your email. So we get you to subscribe to our email list, and then we send you resources based on your needs. It helps us serve you better. But also just from a business side, I’ve just gotten your email, and I can send you a funnel of things that I know you care about, because you filled out a quiz for me. So I had spent with my team, weeks building this. We have it in place. This video went viral, by the way, in 2021. This quiz still is working for us two years later.

So I had built this quiz with my team a couple of months prior. I had in the caption of this video said, “Take the quiz. It’s free, linked in our bio.” Video pops off. We got probably three or 4 million views in a week, which is incredible. That’s the virality part. That was sexy and exciting. We got a bunch of followers. We got a bunch of people commenting on the video and asking questions. We got people sharing the video. I had Buzzfeed reach out. I had CNBC reach out. I had CNN reach out. I had all of this press that happened from it.

So the virality was amazing, but the really cool part is that that one video in one week got us 100,000 email subscribers. That’s not a thing. I have a background in marketing. I could not believe that number. It skyrocketed our website traffic. We were able to then-

Natalie Franke:

And that was organic?

Tori Dunlap:

That’s all organic. I did not pay a dime for that. Crazy. Now, I have not seen similar… I will say, this is the big asterisk. We have not had a video do similar numbers since then. That is still our most viral video.

But again, two years later, we are still seeing the impact of that one video, that one time. One, I’ve re-shared that video. It’s done not as crazy numbers, but it’s still done good numbers. We still have those email subscribers. We still have probably 80% of them. A good 20% may have unsubscribed at some point, but we have a good chunk of them who are still around two years later. We can continue to promote our podcast, my book, the product offerings we have, our affiliate links. We can continue to drive people to the things that we’re trying to promote because of one video that did well. But really, the systems that supported that video.

So when you’re thinking about, again, how do I grow a following? How do I make content that goes viral? That’s a great question. But I need you to ask that question after you’ve built systems to support that virality. Because yes, a viral video that just got a ton of views, and a ton of followers, and got us a ton of press would’ve been a win. But it was like a quadruple win, because we sent so many people to our website, sent so many people to convert, to give us our email and for us to be able to serve them best.

Natalie Franke:

This message is so needed. This message is so needed. I cannot tell you enough, how often I get asked questions in regards to growing a following, showing up on video, creating a social media platform, which they’re great questions. I very rarely ever get asked about the most important part, which is what happens once someone comes across the brand. What happens-

Tori Dunlap:

Natalie, it’s not sexy. It’s not exciting. Literally, Her First $100K is a team. We have a team of 12 people. And that’s the thing a lot of people don’t realize. They think it’s just me, which is crazy. But we have… Literally this time this year, we’re recording this in June 2023. This is actually a time where we’re doing so much internal building, that no one will ever see until we launch it. And unless you’re watching really closely, you won’t figure out what we’re doing, right? You won’t understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.

So we’re building these funnels for every single paid product that start with a free webinar. The free webinar is I run it live twice. People come in, and they get value, even if they never decide they want to purchase anything. So they have a good experience. We get their email regardless in order to have them sign up for the webinar.

Then if they come into the webinar at the end, we do a promotion and a discount for one of our paid products that we’re trying to drive people to. They either sign up or they don’t. And if they don’t, they go into a 30-day email funnel that tries to get them to subscribe. And then if they still don’t after those 30 days, well, I have a book. And that book has pretty much anything you need to know about money on the 101 level.

So if you’re not willing to pay the $300 for the paid product, cool, we will downsell you the book that still puts money in our pocket and still makes an impact for people. And we are planning on doing that for the rest of the year, doing one webinar or one free workshop every single month.

Now we’r
e using social media to drive people to that. We’re using our Instagram and our TikTok, and our existing email list to drive people to that. But we are spending time, so much time, my email marketers are spending so much time building emails. We’re spending so much time putting a landing page together.

This isn’t the non-sexy stuff that ultimately is the reason you’re able to build a foundational sustainable business, that isn’t dependent on an algorithm, or isn’t dependent on one brand, or one client, or one partner. So it’s the non-sexy stuff and it’s paired with the sexy stuff. You get the exciting things like creating content that hopefully does well, and does numbers, and makes an impact for people. But you have to pair it with the stuff that nobody wants to talk about, because it’s not sexy and fun.

Natalie Franke:

I love this so much. And I’ll say too, for any of the service-based business owners that are listening to this, I want you to know that this applies to you as well. You don’t need to have a digital product or a book to have an email list. I think that’s a huge myth that I also come across. I’ve seen some really profound and innovative strategies being done.

I’ll use the wedding industry, for example. If you think about client acquisition in the wedding industry, I’ve seen really cool things like photo booths, where if you’re at a wedding attending a wedding, and you go into a digital photo booth, you enter your email. And then you basically are opting in, and there’s a little thing, you opt in to get access to the gallery when it’s done. And you get access to whatever other value. Again, like Tori said, value first. Leading with value. What am I going to give you in exchange for this email?

But you have to remember, if someone’s attending a wedding, they’re attending a lot of other weddings. And when someone that they know is getting married and they’re like, “Hey, do you know anybody that does photography?” They might even say, “Oh my gosh, you’re getting married.”

My friend had this photo booth at their event that did slow-mo video of people, and now they just have to pop into their inbox and find you. Or even better, you’re top of mind, because you’re sending out different types of materials to them. So there’s so much value in understanding the power of email marketing for service-based business owners too.

I’m curious for you Tori though, how did you come up with the idea of a quiz as a lead capture option, and are there others that you’ve seen work well for your business or that you’ve explored?

Tori Dunlap:

I stole it. I stole it.

Natalie Franke:

Tell me more. Tell me more.

Tori Dunlap:

I’ll contextualize that. What is it? I think there’s a book, right? Or something that’s like the best artist steal or something like that.

Natalie Franke:

It’s Steal Like an Artist.

Tori Dunlap:

Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. There it is. This is the thing. Oh gosh, I did a LinkedIn post about this a couple months ago. People who run successful businesses are giving you an MBA about how to run a business just by running their own business. If you watch people you admire… Maybe I’m one of those people that you can learn from, you can watch what I do. It’s very clear what my strategies are if you start looking.

So when I started building a business four years ago, I started watching the people that were really smart and that I saw who were converting. People like, who’s now a friend, Jenna Kutcher, Ramit Sethi. These were people who were really, really smart email marketers.

And then I thought, “Okay, well, I’m getting their emails. I get a lot of value from their emails. What happens? How did they get my email?” And then what happened? And I went to jennakutcher.com, and she had this quiz. And I was like, “I took that quiz.” Because I was interested to see what my personality was.

And I basically did that, is I contextualized it for personal finance and for the offering that we had. I had some friends who I work with who are business partners of mine build it. We worked as a team to create the content, create the landing pages, and then we launched it. Watch other people do the things that you want to do.

Now, that doesn’t mean directly copy them, right? I’m not taking Ramit Sethi’s copy and directly implementing it here. But I am taking the systems and the things that are effective for them, and I’m like, “How can I duplicate their success for me?” And that’s what I did.

And I’ve told both of them. I’m like, “Hi, we have a quiz, and we did that because of you.” And they’re like, “Great. Yeah, it works.” So it’s not anything new or novel. I’m just watching other people do really cool things and going, “Okay, cool. How can I do that?”

Same thing with webinars. I’ve been in webinars, I’ve been in workshops. I watch the system that happens. I look at myself as the user. I’m like, “Okay, cool. If I want to attend this thing, I have to give them my email. Interesting. Why do they ask for my email? Probably so that they can market to me later or provide me more value. Okay, that’s really interesting. When I’m in the webinar and the thing pops up on the side that offers a discount for a paid product, I can purchase that then. And I see that they’re putting a timestamp on it or they’re putting a ticker on it, and that this discount only lasts for a certain period of time. They’re incentivizing me to get this discount. They’re motivating me with this countdown clock. Interesting. After the webinar’s over, I got an email that said, ‘Hey, you were there. Great. Here’s a reminder, and here’s the link, and here’s exactly where to go.'”

I can watch people do this by just being a consumer. And especially when I was growing a business and didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I was watching other people smarter than me, and then figuring out how I could apply that for my own stuff.

Natalie Franke:

I say all the time, I would much rather work with someone… And I’ll flip this and even say the people who are successful are more likely to have a master’s in Google than they are to have a master’s from Harvard. And what you’re describing is why.

Because it’s the idea that if you are curious enough, you’ll figure it out. If you’re willing to watch how other people are doing something, if you’re willing to do this work… Because what I’m hearing Tori is that no one handed you, here’s the roadmap to the success. You did the work of asking yourself questions and analyzing. That does take a lot of work. But in the pursuit of that, it’s the self-taught level of marketing expertise that led you to then say, “Okay, I’m seeing this. This resonated with me. I’m going to iterate on that. I’m going to iterate on that for my business model and see if it works. And then from there, take those learnings and improve it.” And then now, your team is doing your ow
n rebuilding of certain systems. And it’s that ability to ask hard questions, stay with that lens of learning, and leaning in.

Tori Dunlap:

Listen to the podcast. You being here is part of that. And I think for service-based businesses, for anybody listening, think about the content that connects with you. Or think about… Again, for me, it was like I took Jenna’s quiz. Why did I take it? Because it was motivating, and it was pretty, and it was exciting. And I was like, “What personality am I?” And I trusted her enough to then actually give her my email when my quiz results were ready.

Because the other part. It’s like if I don’t trust that person, if I don’t connect with that person, if I don’t understand how that person is actually going to serve me, then I’m going to complete the quiz, but I won’t give my email. Because I don’t care enough. Because I’m like, “I don’t really care. I don’t want this person to have my email.” But if you can figure out, why as a user did I like that photo, did I interact with that content, did I give that person my email? You can start to bridge how you can then do that for yourself and for your own business.

And back to our original point, none of this works if they don’t trust you. None of this works if you’re not providing value. None of this works if you’re just trying to sell them. Both because it’s going to feel icky for you, it’s going to feel icky to sell all the time. It’s not going to feel good. At least, it shouldn’t feel good. And that’s not how good business is done. That’s not effective.

So build the systems, and also understand if you are not serving, if you are not bridging this relationship of trust, it’s not going to actually matter. You can build the sexiest email funnel ever. But if people never actually give you their email because they don’t trust you, or they don’t know what your business does, or you don’t have a clear value proposition, then it’s not going to work.

Natalie Franke:

I love this so much. I was at a festival a couple of years ago, and I remember there was a photographer there who was walking around taking photographs of people at the event. And if you wanted a photo, call him over and you come take a photo.

And I was chatting with him like, “How did you get this opportunity? How’d you get hired to do this?” And he said, “I’m just a volunteer.” And I was like, “So you’re working for free.” And he corrected me and he says, “Oh no, I’m not working for free.” And he pulls out his phone, and there was a QR code, and he goes, “I’m working for your email. I’ll take a photo of you. You can have the photo.” And here’s the LP where I would just pop in my email address, “Here’s who I am.” And as soon as the gallery is ready, you get access to it. And I wish I had had time to just ask this man so many questions.

But sure enough, gallery comes into my inbox. 48 hours later, there’s the photo of me at the event. And immediately I’m like, “Oh my gosh, who is this person?” So then I go to his Instagram, and now I’m engaged. Now this person just gave me something for free. He just gave me something. He gave me a gift. And I bet that day, he probably interacted with 100 plus, 200, 300 people, and took an opportunity that was just sitting there, and turned it into potential business.

Now, I never personally booked him for anything. But I wouldn’t be surprised if other people were like, “I met this photographer. The photo he got was incredible. You have to check out his work,” so on and so forth.

All of it to say, sometimes there are these opportunities where when we lead with that value and we’re willing to think like our customer, like our client… And in the case of Jenna’s quiz for you, you are her target. You’re her target market. I’m her target market. She has always been someone that has been teaching others how to build businesses, and she shared so much of her own journey.

And so in your business, it’s the same thing. Think of your client and ask yourself, what is the value that they want? What would get them to hand over their email? And you’re going to provide value in the process. And I absolutely love that.

I want to take a step. Oh my gosh, I could talk to you all day. I really could. I could talk to you all day. It’s dangerous. It’s dangerous.

I wanted to take a step into talking about some money myths, if you’re down with me to talk about money myths. Because let me tell you something. They are out there. They are out there. And I don’t know if you have some money myths top of mind that you just want to debunk for us, but maybe we start there. Because I know I have some, but I want to hear if there are some from you. Business owners, listen up. Are you believing some of these money myths, and can Tori debunk them for you on the Independent Business podcast?

Tori Dunlap:

So I spend the whole first chapter of my book talking about the emotions of money and the psychology of money. And we actually spend the first part of that chapter talking about the myths you’re believing. Almost every single chapter has the myths you’re believing about debt or the myths you’re believing about investing.

So just general money myths. Okay, first off. We’ve all heard the, talking about money is taboo, right? I can’t talk about money. It’s impolite. It’s not professional. This is a myth meant to keep you underpaid and overworked. It is a patriarchal myth meant to keep you broke. It’s meant to keep you broke.

Because if you don’t know that Chad who got hired two years after you is making 20% more than you because you’re not talking about money, you don’t know that. You don’t know that your other friends are also in debt, but you feel so isolated, and lonely, and ashamed.

You don’t know as a business owner, that things are really hard, and that it’s really hard to figure out your profit and loss every month and to navigate that, if you’re not talking with other business owners. Talking about money is one of the easiest things we can start to do. So that radically changes every part of our society. It not only of course, decreases wage gaps and wealth gaps, but also just makes a more equitable world. Makes a more equitable entrepreneurial landscape, it makes a more equitable workplace. It makes our relationships better. It makes everything better. Money is the number one cause of stress in romantic relationships. Money is the number one cause of stress just in Americans in general. And we are more likely to talk about any other uncomfortable topic, death, sex, politics, religion, before we’ll talk about money. So one of the easiest things you can do is start talking about money.

Now, it doesn’t have to be me going to Natalie and being like, “Exactly what did you make last year? Tell me.” It can just be like, “Hey, I saw you’re working with this one client and they reached out to me. And if you would be willing, I would love for you to share your numbers and we can compare.”

I literally got asked to speak at a conference. I was internet friends with the other person that was on the panel. I messaged him. I was like, “Hey, what are you getting paid if you don’t mind me asking?” He was like, “I’m getting paid this.” A
nd I was like, “Cool. I’m getting paid this.” Great. We knew. And especially for me as a woman, I was like, “I want to know what that guy’s getting paid.” But I had a bigger following than he did, so I was able to get more money.

But that’s the kind of relationships you want to build, right? Me reaching out to a friend and being like, “Hey, I’m really stressed about my student loans. Can I just talk to you about it?” That’s a conversation about money.

So start talking about money. We’ll talk about anything else before we’ll talk about money. Start talking about money. It’s a stupid narrative meant to keep you underpaid and overworked.

Second money narrative or money myth is the frivolous spender, is that the reason you can’t build wealth is because you frivolously spend. Okay, frivolous decoded. That word is extremely gendered. Frivolous spending is the lattes, or the manicures, or the purses, or the designer dresses. It is not the NFL season tickets and the golf clubs, right? It is the latte, which is innately feminine, and it’s the Gucci purse, and it’s the Shellac pedicure. It is not box seats at a Seahawk game.

That’s the interesting part is that we are shamed for our purchases. But uniquely as women, the things that are called frivolous are the things that are innately feminine.

The reason you can’t afford a house is not coffee. Not only does the math not work, it’s systemic oppression. It’s like rising housing prices, and stagnating minimum wage, and a trillion dollar student debt crisis. That’s the reason you can’t afford a house. It is not, “I bought a coffee.” It’s not that at all.

Natalie Franke:

You’ve done the math. I saw the TikTok Tori.

Tori Dunlap:

The math is there.

Natalie Franke:

We’re going to link that TikTok in the show notes. The math is-

Tori Dunlap:

It’s still of our best performing TikTok. Yeah.

Natalie Franke:

No wonder it was on my FYP, but truly that’s why I saw it and I was like, “Oh, wow. That’s not even a quarter of a mortgage payment.” You know what I mean? I saw it and I was like, “Wow.” But how quick we are to believe something like that when we hear it circulating? “Well, you can’t buy a house because buying a coffee at your local independent coffee shop every week,” or whatever. But that’s not the case. Keep going. Keep going.

Tori Dunlap:

I would say if coffee is something that you’re just buying out of habit, or you don’t like it, or you’re just completely like, it’s a mindless purchase, yeah, we’re going to stop doing that. I walk you through in the book how to evaluate your purchases, and if they actually bring you joy. But that’s not necessarily coffee. That’s a bunch of things that it could be, right? If you love your coffee, great. That’s not the reason you’re not rich.

Okay. Other narrative is that I will be rich if I just work hard, also known of course as the bootstraps narrative. This is a very American thing. It’s just like if you work hard, you will be a millionaire. You will be rich. And of course, that’s not true. There are plenty of people out there working way harder than I am, and single mothers who have three jobs, and cannot make ends meet. And that is not a lack of hard work. That is a lack of social safety nets, and again, minimum wage increases. And there are many, many, many things that have a much bigger impact on your day-to-day finances than how hard you are working or not working.

And it gaslights you too. Because then when you’re like, “I’m working hard and I’ve been doing this for years, yet I can’t save anything.” Literally, I just can’t save anything. And that’s not like a willpower thing, or that’s not like a, “I still have a Netflix subscription,” but actually I’m living paycheck to paycheck. You then are like, “Okay, I need to just work harder.” That’s not you. The problem’s not you. It’s all of the problems around you.

And I would say finally, just in general, again, my entire book, all of our work is about how money affects women differently and how that relationship is different than a straight white man. But in that vein of frivolous spending, one of the other things that happens is the money advice for women compared to men is very different.

The money advice, even in 2023 for men, is make more money. It is expand. It is play bigger. It is negotiate your salary. It is start investing. It’s diversify your revenue streams.

What is the money advice for women? Shrink, spend less money. Right. “That Dior purse ain’t it, you cow.” That is the narrative. That is what we’re told is coupon clip, and find five meals to make under $5, and shrink yourself. The advice to men is expand, make more money, which is great advice. But the advice to women is spend less.

And the thing about earning potential is in theory, your earning potential is infinite, right? You can make more money. At some point, you can’t not spend money. If you get down to bare bones, you still have to pay your rent. You still have to buy groceries. You still have to feed yourself. You still have to go to daycare and take your kids to daycare. You still have those expenses.

So I think that’s the other difference that I really want people to be aware of is especially for women business owners, there’s the shame in making money. There is the shame in doing well. There is the shame in having something that is successful.

And I need you to call complete and total bullshit on that. There is something actually that is so liberating and is a form of protest for people who are members of marginalized groups, to be financially whole and stable. That is a form of protest in a society that does not want that for you, in a society that demands you play small, in a society that expects you to limit, and shrink, and be controllable. Because that’s the thing about money is it makes you uncontrollable, in the most beautiful way.

When you have money, you don’t answer to anybody. You don’t answer to a boss, you don’t answer to a partner, you don’t answer to a client, you don’t answer to anybody. You answer to you.

And when society gets a whiff that, “She’s no longer controllable. They’re no longer controllable,” they will try to shrink you. It will tell you, making money and you being rich is actually really unflattering. That’s a real thing people have told me. That’s a real thing is it’s like, “You would be a lot more palatable if you didn’t talk about how much money you made.” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m sure I would be. I’m sure you would be able to stomach me better.”

That’s not the point. The point is not for you who feel threatened by my independence, to be able to stomach me better, stranger on the internet. That is not the point. The point is to live an expansive life that serves people, and so I can be (beep) rich and have great things. That is the point of life.

So all of these narratives around money, especially if you’re a member of a marginalized group, are there to shrink you, keep you playing small, and for you to shame yourself. And if we start breaking out of that shame, not just as business owners, but as individuals, the entire world starts to change. Rant over.

Natalie Franke:

I’m fired up now. I am fired up to expand. No more clipping coupons for this one. No, I love it. And it reminds me-

Tori Dunlap:

And you can clip coupons if you love that, but make money too-

Natalie Franke:

If you love it, go for it. I’m thinking of my friend Jess. My friend Jess is such a good coupon clipper. But yes, the whole premise of just the difference in advice. And I remember, Tori, when I started my business, I just remember one of the things I struggled with was the concept of sometimes you have to spend money to actually make money. And even something as simple as that, where I have friends with that, they’re like, “Of course, how did you not know that?”

So there’s even this sort of rule book or knowledge base of information that’s just withheld. And I was one of the ones that just didn’t grow up hearing about it, hearing it talked about. And so I’m grateful for spaces where we have these conversations about money, where we’re able to actually talk about it.

And so segueing into our final question, because I could keep you all day, but I do want to get you back to impacting others and helping them to grow their own wealth. I ask everybody this question on the podcast, and I’m really curious to hear your answer. But Tori, what do you think differentiates the businesses that succeed from the ones that fail? There’s no right or wrong answer.

Tori Dunlap:

I had six answers. It’s immediately going to have an asterisk on it, but this is the easiest way I can say it. Be controversial. Have something to say. I don’t mean controversial in, say racist stuff. That’s not what I mean. I mean have an opinion. Especially in 2023, people expect you to have an opinion, and people also expect to either connect with you and understand what your business is or not.

I will use a TikTok trend to explain this. The girls that get it, get it, and the girls that don’t, don’t. They will either get what you’re doing or they won’t. Trying to be everything to everybody makes you nothing to nobody. I’m going to say that again. Trying to be everything to everybody makes you nothing to nobody. That is the probably biggest thing that I see a generally anybody, entrepreneur tried to do is they’re like, “Okay, I need to get clients and I need to get money. So I am just going to offer everything and I’m going to offer it to everybody.”

When I went viral for the first time in 2019, I had a piece go out in MarketWatch, which is a financial publication, but it blew up. It got a million views in I think a week for a news article, which was pretty substantial, especially for MarketWatch.

And the interesting thing was is that 95% of the comments on that piece were vitriolic. They hated me. They did not like me. They were men in their sixties named Steve who were like, “I don’t get her. Why does she have to make this a gendered issue? Why can’t she just talk about money?”

And I had this really interesting choice then, which is, “Am I doing something wrong? Am I doing something wrong? Should I shift? Clearly, I don’t appeal to these people, and I’m losing potential followers or clients.” But then I realized, actually I’m doing something right. Because if they don’t get it, again, the girls who get it, get it. The girls who don’t, don’t.

The people who understand what we do at Her First $100K become brand evangelists for us. If you are turned off by the word feminism, you’re not going to follow me, and you never were going to follow me. You were never going to be somebody who wanted to be part of this community, right?

So yes, if you follow Dave Ramsey, if again, you don’t like the word feminist, you’re not going to like me. Great, there’s plenty of other people out there. There’s also literally tens, probably hundreds of millions of women, people who love what we do, who are very aligned in terms of our customer persona, who will 100% get it, because we have opinions, because we are speaking our mind. Because to some people, we might be deemed slightly controversial, and I put that in quotes.

So trying to be everything to everybody makes you nothing to nobody. I need you to pick the person, the thing you’re trying to say, and understand that not everybody’s going to get it. And that actually means you’re doing something right. Because the people that will, will tattoo your brand on their forehead. They will love it, and come back, and be so excited to engage with you. And that’s the people that you want. Just from a business angle, those are the people that purchase from you and keep purchasing from you. Those are the people who like everything you post. The people who are fair-weather followers or people who are like, “Yeah, I don’t really get it.” You don’t want those people anyway.

So especially when you’re first getting started, and I think anybody at any stage of the business, really important to remind yourself have the people in mind. Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Understand that you have to connect with the people you’re trying to connect with, and they should immediately understand if this is for them or not. If it’s not, cool, they move on. If it’s for them, that’s the time to start nurturing.

Natalie Franke:

What an episode. Tori, I’m just on fire. I’m like, “I am fired up.” Before we go though, I have no doubt that listeners are going to want to know more about your podcast, more about where they can get your book. We’ll obviously link everything in the show notes, but go ahead and let us know where we can connect with you further.

Tori Dunlap:

Thank you. I’m at Her First $100K on all the socials, H-E-R-F-I-R-S-T-1-0-0-K.com. If you want to see the kind of systems we’re building, and engage with them yourself, and maybe also give us your email, herfirst100k.com/quiz is the place to go, so you can copy it right off of that.

I have a book called Financial Feminist. I have a podcast that Nat was kind enough to guest on, also called Financial Feminist. So yeah, if you Google me, if you Google Her First $100K, you’ll find me.

Natalie Franke:

Amazing. Tori, thank you so much.

That ends our episode of the Independent Business podcast. Everything that we’ve discussed today can be found at podcast.honeybook.com. Head to our website for access to show notes, relevant links, and all of the resources that you need to level up. And if you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, be sure to subscribe to the podcast, so that you never miss our future content. Drop us a review and leave our guests some love on social. Thanks again for listening.

Tori Dunlap:

Thank you so much to Natalie for having me on her show. If you enjoyed this episode, there are tons more episodes around business building, growing on social media over on the Independent Business podcast.

If you love these kinds of episodes, I love talking about the behind the scenes in the weeds, more metaphors here, kind of parts of my business, of building HFK, of our team. So please feel free to request those. Building a business is part of becoming financially free, part of fighting the patriarchy, building these mission-focused businesses, being able to give people jobs, being able to impact people is a huge part, obviously, of the work that we do. It’s all of the work that we do.

So if you’re interested in learning more about how we do this, feel free to leave us a review, leave us a voicemail. If you’re on Spotify, comment down below. We would love to hear from you.

As always, you know how to support the show. You can subscribe, you can share, you can like it. You can leave a five star review. We just appreciate you being here. We appreciate you supporting the show. It allows us to keep doing it. So thank you for being here. I hope you have a great rest of your week, and I hope you have sunshine and rainbows all day, and we’ll talk to you later. Bye.

Thank you for listening to Financial Feminist, a Her First $100K podcast. Financial Feminist is hosted by me, Tori Dunlap, produced by Kristen Fields, marketing and Administration by Karina Patel, Sophia Cohen, Kahlil Dumas, Elizabeth McCumber, Beth Bowen, Amanda Leffew, Masha Bachmetyeva, Kailyn Sprinkle, Sumaya Mulla-Carillo, and Harvey Carlson. Research by Ariel Johnson, audio Engineering by Austin Fields, promotional graphics by Mary Stratton, photography by Sarah Wolfe, and theme music by Jonah Cohen Sound.

A huge thanks to the entire Her First $100K team and community for supporting the show. For more information about Financial Feminist, Her First $100K, our guests, and episode show notes, visit financialfeministpodcast.com.


Tori Dunlap

Tori Dunlap is an internationally-recognized money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. She has helped over one million women negotiate salary, pay off debt, build savings, and invest.

Tori’s work has been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Times, BBC, TIME, PEOPLE, CNN, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, BuzzFeed, and more.

With a dedicated following of almost 250,000 on Instagram and more than 1.6 million on TikTok —and multiple instances of her story going viral—Tori’s unique take on financial advice has made her the go-to voice for ambitious millennial women. CNBC called Tori “the voice of financial confidence for women.”

An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.

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