Blogger Gwen Lane studied business and got a job in entertainment, but discovered that she wasn’t serving people in the way she wanted or making the most of her gifts. As she built her own blog and cultivated a dedicated following, she realized she was answering the same questions from other aspiring influencers and entrepreneurs over and over again – and that she had something powerful to share with the world.
Now, at The Spark School for Influencers, Gwen teaches influencers and entrepreneurs how to build an online presence, grow an engaged following, and monetize. She shows them how to work with brands like Disney, Google, Nike, Facebook, Nordstrom, and Target, and cultivate authentic relationships with real people.
Today, Gwen joins the podcast to talk about how her side hustle as a blogger led her into the world of influencer coaching, the power of unraveling limiting beliefs, and why your personal brand is about more than just how many emails you’ve captured or followers you have.
- Why Gwen sees “influencer” as another word for a leader or an authority and not just YouTube or TikTok personalities.
- The difference between a corporate and a personal brand.
- Why Gwen believes her teachings are best communicated through a membership and not a single course.
- The reasons brands want to work with people with smaller followings.
- How influencers and entrepreneurs can forge authentic connections in ever-crowded landscapes.
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- “A lot of brands want to work with people with small audiences because usually those are the most engaged.” – Gwen Lane
TranscriptRead The Transcript
Shelli Varela: Having the ability to influence and persuade in a way that moves the needle on your business starts with being seen, being heard, and mattering to those who need your help the most.
Stu McLaren: There is a big trend brewing that’s revolutionizing the way business is being done. Big companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple are jumping on this too but so are thousands of others in all kinds of markets like photography and calligraphy, fitness, finance, meal planning, lesson planning, dog training, and so many more, and they’re doing it by shifting to a recurring revenue model. Hi. My name is Stu McLaren and for more than a decade, I’ve been helping tens of thousands of entrepreneurs generate recurring revenue through membership sites. Join our host, Shelli Varela, as she takes you behind-the-scenes to see how these companies are building a thriving tribe that spends with them every single month. Now, let’s get to today’s episode.
Shelli Varela: Gwen Lane, welcome to the It’s a TRIBE Thing Podcast. Buddy, how are you doing?
Gwen Lane: So good, Shelli. I’m so excited to talk to you today.
Shelli Varela: I’m excited to talk to you for several reasons, not the least of which is my heart lives in Los Angeles so your LA Girl blog was top of mind for me. So, I’m super stoked. Thank you for being here and for spending the time.
Gwen Lane: Thank you.
Shelli Varela: So, you have a membership site called Spark Society and we’re going to talk about that in a minute. But I was wondering if you could start with what you do, who you serve, and how you became a person who has this membership site.
Gwen Lane: Yeah. So, what I do right now top in first most as I do a lot of things because that’s an LA thing. We do a lot of random things. The first thing I do is I’m a business coach for influencers. And so, when I see influencers, I mean content creators, anyone who wants to or has an audience online, and how I serve them is through providing courses through my membership program and then I also provide different services in that program.
Shelli Varela: Incredible. How did you end up in this position? What is your backstory or your origin story that led you to being able to help people with this particular problem?
Gwen Lane: Yeah. So, five years ago, I actually started my blog, The LA Girl. And before then, it was really, I was pretty much kind of trying to figure out what I wanted to do in my life. And I’m sure like everyone listening, maybe you had aspirations to be a doctor. When I was five, I wanted to be a cardiologist because my grandpa, who’s my favorite person in the world had heart problems and I wanted to help him but I felt like that was kind of like guided and you should do this, you should be a doctor, you should be a lawyer. And I always felt like is that me? And is that what I want to do? Fast forward into my 20s when I was in college and I was like, “Okay, what should I major in?” And I ended up luckily hindsight now it was perfect majoring in business because it was mostly the classes I had. That’s the credits I had the most thing for.
And so, I ended up going to college and then getting a job in the entertainment industry. I know so LA, but I would be sitting there in my cubicle and wondering like, “Is this it for me? Like, do I just get to go to movie premieres?” And I know it sounds super ungrateful and like that’s so fun but I also had this deep longing to help people.
Shelli Varela: What do you think is the difference between big brand and influencer? So, if you were to describe influencers to anybody listening, first of all, what is that? And what is the benefit of being that?
Gwen Lane: Right. So, influencer I think is a trendy word right now and people use it for YouTubers or TikTokers or people who take a lot of photos of themselves but to me, influencer just is another word for leader or authority and it’s basically anyone who wants to grow an audience and grow one intentionally. So, for me, I think everyone that’s listening is an influencer, whether they consider that themselves that or not, but anyone who wants to make an impact on a specific audience and the audience that they talk to online.
Shelli Varela: You have absolutely earned the right to speak about this. And I just wanted to make mention of some of the companies that you have worked with in some capacity. They consist of Google, Disney, Facebook, Nike, Target, Starbucks. When you look at the landscape of marketing and influencing and the ability to lead and persuade, when it comes to big companies like that versus a brand influence or a personal brand, what do you think the similarities are and what do you think the differences are?
Gwen Lane: Well, I think like all businesses want to get in front of the right audience, similar to people who are advertising products. They want to spread awareness to the people who would be interested in their product. So, I think it’s the same thing between brands and personal brands and even course creators I think are missing out on tapping on influencer marketing but the thing is I think with some of these big brands they were looking for a place to start moving because now nobody is really watching live TV and live commercials anymore, right? Everyone wants on demand. When you go to do Hulu or Netflix, there’s no more commercials or maybe there’s one small one like on the front. So, coming from the entertainment industry this made total sense for me. So, for influencers, for anyone who has an audience think of it as an ad, it’s like a commercial in your organic TV show, right? So, if what I post about on The LA Girl is my travel lifestyle, my hiking, I do yoga, and then I talk about a brand that has this related to that then it completely flows with my content.
And so, you can just think of influencer marketing as an endorsement or like hiring someone to endorse your product to an audience that you know would be interested in your product. And so, instead of trying to grow your own brand, why not work with someone who already has a following online? And so, that’s kind of how the influencer marketing thing works.
Shelli Varela: It’s so smart. It’s kind of it goes back to the idea of instead of building the train track, attach your train to a train that’s already going in the direction you want to head.
Gwen Lane: Yeah, exactly. It’s the same thing as like a JV like joint venture kind of thing where people are affiliates of each other’s courses and people are promoting other people’s courses. It’s the same kind of thing because each person has an audience and they’re able to cross-promote and so that’s the same idea. And I really wish more like membership owners and course creators would tap into this.
Shelli Varela: I love that you’ve basically combined a lot of different things. So, you’ve combined your business savviness and your education and also what could I guess be considered your intangible skills in the entertainment industry and figuring out how that all fits together. Do you remember the moment where you thought how can I package this and deliver it to potentially a client or a membership site or have that transition from? I have this amazing idea. Now, how do I give it roots and legs?
Gwen Lane: Yeah. So, when I had my blog and I was basically doing influencer marketing for these big brands, people started asking me the questions. They’re like how did you do this? How did you build your following? How did you grow your Instagram? How did you get brands to reach out to you and how do you start reaching out to brands? And so, that was kind of when I discovered the world of online marketing and I was like, there’s this thing called online courses and there’s like digital products. And so, of course, Facebook read my mind and started targeting me with ads from Amy Porterfield and James Wedmore. And I actually invested in both of them and that’s actually where I found Stu when I attended James’s BBD Live event. Then I was like, “Huh, okay.” I was sitting there in Orange County and actually, that was when it all came together like I need to package this into something so that I’m not like spending hours and hours a day in my DMs answering these questions over and over again.
Shelli Varela: Yeah. What’s so interesting, when you learn to listen to the people who are following you, they’ll tell you what they need. When you were deciding what your business was going to look like on the back end, which ended up being a membership site, what was the decision-making process for you in terms of a course versus membership site?
Gwen Lane: Yeah. Shelli, so many people are like, “Course or membership? Course or membership?” And I always tell my students that there is no right answer and I’m sure Stu says the same. Because like we don’t know and we won’t know until you launch it but maybe like my story can help you decide. So, for me, I was like, “Okay. Who is my person? Who is my influencer?” Most of them were micro-influencers in the industry that someone with less than 10,000 followers and they probably are just getting started. They don’t know if this is what they want to do and I wanted to make it an easy, affordable investment for anyone who wanted to try it. And so, for me, instead of creating a course that was several hundred dollars, $1,000 or more, I was like, “Why don’t I create it as a membership?” And knowing how long it takes because I didn’t grow to 100,000 followers in a month or a year like it takes time, it takes years, I knew that they would like the support that I would provide for them as well as the services and all of that, accountability, in a membership so it could be more of a long-term situation where I would be invested in their growth and they would be invested in themselves to grow their audience. And so, ultimately, I think part of it was intuition, part of it was listening to Stu, and part of it was definitely listening to my audience and then I just picked one.
Stu McLaren: So many people in all kinds of niche markets are leveraging their existing knowledge and influence and they’re transforming it into passive monthly income. This isn’t luck. This is a repeatable formula for producing a growing subscription income and if thousands of others can do it, you can too. To find out what type of membership site would be right for your business, visit GetTRIBEGuide.com. Go to GetTRIBEGuide.com and download it today. You’re awesome!
Shelli Varela: I love that you said you were referring to an ongoing relationship and especially with something like you teach about, building an audience and building influence online and being able to persuade. Since it’s not something that happens overnight, I always think of a course versus a membership site like a course is like I need the information, I need like a firehose full of information and I need it now versus a course, which is like I need ongoing support. This isn’t like either a quick fix or something that I can learn and implement right away but rather an unfolding and a learning and a growth of how to apply, understand, and implement what you’re learning.
Gwen Lane: Exactly that and I think like some people can do courses and do really well. And I also buy courses. I love investing. I bought courses where it’s like I just want to go through it step by step. I don’t really want to talk to anyone. I can send in my questions but I don’t really want to do like the community part in this. I just want to learn it right away and implement it right away. But I also am part of a membership site where I go to a coaching call, I am active in the group. So, I think it depends on what people are looking for, and just based on the last couple of years that I’ve been running this membership, I knew that it’s definitely the right choice for me.
Shelli Varela: I am fascinated with people in the online space. I mean, anybody who has a business needs to be seen and needs to be heard. They need to have the ability to persuade, to be believable, to connect with their audience. So, I so appreciate what you’re doing because, on the outside, we can say you’re teaching people to be influencers. But what I’ve seen from the back end of that is when people are starting out with their online business, many times they have that voice in the back of their head that says, “Who am I to?” Or, “Why would anybody listen to me?” What do you find the biggest advantage of being able to unravel those limiting beliefs in the minds of your people? Like what is the biggest advantage to being able to do that for those people?
Gwen Lane: Right. So, my students get that all the time. They are challenged with that thought because a lot of them are like, “I have 100 followers. Who’s going to hire me? What brand is going to pay me?” And this is what I often coach about in my program and I basically tell them, “You know, it’s not about the numbers.” The numbers are great just like everyone teaches like your email list, the more the merrier, great. The more followers the better, great. But if you keep focusing on that, then you’re not giving out the energy that you actually want to help people. And I always bring them back to I thought that you wanted to do this to help people, not to get as many followers. And so, I always bring them back to why do you want to do what you do? And so, if you do have a membership site or you want to grow your following, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons because I feel like as with you, Shelli, I’m sure you’ve seen the difference between people who put content out there just to get followers and then the people who don’t like we can feel that right away.
Shelli Varela: Well, I love that you said that because you’re right. You can definitely feel if the content is being sort of treadmill produced or if it’s being passionately produced. And it does create a completely different vibe and the people who are consuming it, but also for the person who’s creating it. If you’re creating something that you love that you would do that and think about that and talk about that for free regardless of whether you’re getting paid or not, it also becomes less of a burden to create it. Because this is something that if you had the choice to sit down and talk about something, this is probably what you would pick. And the energy of that translates absolutely to the audience, to the audience interest, and also to them being able to act on the thing that you’re teaching.
Gwen Lane: Exactly. And I always go back to my students and be like, “I thought you wanted to do this to help even one person and here you are like saying, ‘I want 1,000 followers, I want 10,000 followers.’” And it’s really a shift. It’s like a minor little tweak, a little shift that is like I want to help one person at a time, even if that’s one person today. And hopefully, your message gets out to them and I think that translates into growth even faster than just thinking about I need to get another 1,000 followers this month.
Shelli Varela: Yeah. Also too, the journey to becoming an influencer is exactly that, like there are steps and stages along the way. And one thing that I always hear Stu talk about is that you can sell to a very small audience because oftentimes smaller audiences are engaged in a more intimate way. So, for those people listening who are looking to be seen and to be heard, and potentially build themselves up as an influencer, it’s kind of twofold. There’s the ability to, yes, get brand endorsement like you referred to but also, the more people you have following you, even if they’re small numbers, in the beginning, that is the viable audience that you then get to sell to. So, it’s the brand endorsement but it’s also these are people that know you, like you, trust you, that are listening to you, and ultimately are also going to be your clients and those tend to start smaller numbers before they start to grow into bigger ones.
Gwen Lane: Exactly. So, the brand sponsorships is just one form of monetization. And so that’s kind of like what I call the B2B, the business-to-business side of the business. And then since you’re already growing these followers, this audience, and it’s like if you can help them with a product, the digital product, the physical product, even recommending other people’s products through affiliate marketing, then you basically can do so many things just because you have an audience that likes you and trusts.
Shelli Varela: It’s so important for those people who are listening who are looking to build a business to understand how important it is for them to be seen, to be heard, and to connect with their audience. Because not only does that translate to a successful business on the back end, but it also allows them to get over that imposter syndrome about who am I and who’s listening to me and really be able to connect with their audience in a way that they can see the transformation, moving the needle on what they’re offering for their people. With respect to you and your audience, what is the best success story or the most impactful success story that you’ve received so far?
Gwen Lane: Oh my gosh, I’m just reading a bunch of testimonials yesterday. And I feel like I could do that every day because I am so pumped when I read them. I’m sure Stu has the time, but when I read mine, I’m like crying, Shelli. That is the result, right? It’s like people are growing. They’re following. They’re getting brand deals with less than 1,000 followers, which is insane. I wasn’t able to do that. During my time, I think my first deal was like around 10,000 followers, but now a lot of brands want to work with people with small audience because usually, those are the most engaged. So, like you said, having a tiny audience does not disqualify you. It’s just how to communicate, how to price, and pitch yourself, but that’s what I help people to do. And so, those are kind of like the tangible metric stuff, but I love it most when someone tells me, “I got DMs because someone said my content inspired them today.”
And, “I got DMs because I talked about something vulnerable, like my illness or something,” that was very more serious in terms of it’s not like fluff content. It more was like talking about trauma. And then someone started DMing them saying that they affected them in some way. And I feel like those are the real results that I want to see my audience making. And then to top that off, they’re starting to feel more confident. They’re starting to feel like, “Oh, you know, I can impact people with 1,000 followers, 100 followers,” and so I get to see all three of those results and that’s why I’m so excited about this business and why like I wake up excited to get to work every single day.
Shelli Varela: I always appreciate people that are helping other people succeed and I believe that when you get something or when you’ve been bestowed either gifts or success, it’s your responsibility to put the ladder down and help somebody else climb up. So, I wanted to, first of all, acknowledge you for that. But if people are looking to connect with you online, where is the best place they can find you?
Gwen Lane: Yes. So, the easiest way would be to GwenLane.com and that would basically take you to all my channels, my podcasts. And if you’re interested in becoming an influencer, I have a lot of free resources there as well.
Shelli Varela: Sounds brilliant. So, again, influencers, the ability to be seen, to be heard, and to matter to those who you have the ability to impact most. Gwen, thank you so much for doing what you do for helping those who need you. And it’s been an absolute gift to speak with you. Thanks so much.
Gwen Lane: Thank you, Shelli.
Stu McLaren: I hope you love that story. It’s amazing, right? That’s what It’s a TRIBE Thing is all about. So, many people in all kinds of niche markets are leveraging their existing knowledge and influence and they’re transforming it into passive monthly income. Listen, this isn’t luck. There’s a repeatable formula for producing a growing subscription income and each week we’re going behind the scenes to show you exactly how they did it. Get the latest stories and actionable ideas from each episode at www.ItsaTRIBEThing.com and if you know one other person who could benefit from this, tell them to subscribe. Tell them to go to ItsaTRIBEThing.com.
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