Matt Tommey has been an artist for his entire life. After several years in the ministry and a career in marketing that was cut short by the Great Recession of 2008, Matt had a dream in which he raised a generation of artists. He acted on it by writing his first book, Unlocking the Heart of the Artist. Soon, he was on the road all the time doing events, and he worried that he had become a creative who never had any time to create.
Now, at Matt Tommey Mentoring, he helps his fellow Christians make art, thrive in a positive community, and achieve success. His tools and strategies apply to people working in any creative expression and have had a powerful ripple effect.
Today, Matt joins the podcast to share the story of how his initial dream, which didn’t quite make sense to his fraternity brothers back in college, led him to publish six books, create a successful e-course, host a podcast with over 10,000 weekly listeners, and lead several conferences for Christian artists a year – all on his terms.
- How Matt’s passion for art led to his next career move after losing his biggest marketing clients during the Great Recession.
- Why a busy schedule of traveling and speaking didn’t serve Matt – and how he adapted to the membership model to create sustainable income.
- How Matt’s teachings apply to any form of creative expression.
- The powerful reciprocal relationship between Matt and his clients – and how he wins not by selling what he has, but delivering what his members need.
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- “A huge part of having membership is learning not to sell people what I have, but rather to listen to what my members need, and serve them by providing those resources.” – Matt Tommey
- Matt Tommey Mentoring
- Unlocking the Heart of the Artist: A Practical Guide to Fulfilling Your Creative Call as an Artist in the Kingdom
- The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level
TranscriptRead The Transcript
Shelli Varela: Matt Tommey, welcome to the It’s a TRIBE Thing Podcast. Buddy, how are you?
Matt Tommey: Thanks, Shelli. I’m glad to be with you.
Shelli Varela: So glad to have you. I consider myself an artist too so I’m jazzed to talk about your journey and how you have created a membership site, helping Christian people do art and create art and become more spiritually and artistically thriving in a positive community. But before we get into your membership site, I’m wondering if you would share with our amazing listeners where your journey started before you were this person with the membership site and started on this particular path?
Matt Tommey: Yeah. So, I’ve been kind of an artist my whole life. My mom was a choir director at our church so I kind of grew up under a Steinway piano. It was always creative. By the time I got into college, I realized that I love making things with my hands. And so, I actually started experimenting with a vine called Kudzu that we have in the south, which literally grows like a foot a day in the summertime. It’s crazy. And I found this book on it and I started making baskets and all my fraternity brothers thought I was crazy. Some guys play golf, some go fishing, I made baskets.
Shelli Varela: It’s so funny though, just when people are telling you you’re crazy that’s usually when you’re onto something.
Matt Tommey: Exactly. Yeah. So, I did that literally in the garage like for 15 years. That was the thing that I would do that nobody else knew about but I love. I had this really deep spiritual connection and also just personal joy connection when I was in the woods, harvesting materials, and that sort of thing, but I never could figure out how to make that work as far as a financial thing. So, I felt a call to ministry early on to helping people and being in the creative realms. I was in ministry in a church for several churches for a lot of years and the early 2000s got out of that and started actually a marketing company in Atlanta that was successful for a number of years helping small to medium-sized businesses market themselves, do printing, collateral development, website design, all that sort of thing. And 2008 happened, right? We were all there and I was in Atlanta at the time, and the whole housing market just fell apart. Three of my biggest clients went bankrupt and it was just a crazy, crazy time.
And so, for me, prayer’s always been a big part of my life so I just started praying about what was next for me and trying to figure out what was next on the horizon. By this point, my wife and I had been married a number of years. We had a little boy. He’s four or five years old at this time and we were just like, “What is next?” And I actually had a dream and I know that for some people that’s off the radar, but for me, I had a dream and I knew that I was supposed to be raising up an army of artists. That was the word that I got. I got that at like three o’clock in the morning one night. I just got woken up of a dead sleep and I was like, what does this even look like? Like was this the pizza that I had last night? I don’t even know what this is about. But I started going in that direction and it was an amazing thing, Shelli. I started having just absolute incredible open doors started happening as I started pursuing this calling. I had a lady literally, early on in that journey, give me like hand me the keys to an art gallery in Northwest of Atlanta. It was just crazy. Just things started happening.
So, in the middle of that, I wrote my first book, Unlocking the Heart of the Artist, and we moved to Asheville, North Carolina from Atlanta after being there 13 years or so. And I was in Asheville, and as we got here, again, I was just kind of praying about the next steps and I knew that it was going to be my baskets that were going to be the vehicle for me to have an influence in the lives of artists. And again, I’m trying to put this together in my mind and I’m like there’s no way that this is, you know, how does this work?
Shelli Varela: It couldn’t make any sense but you’re like, “This is the path I need to follow.”
Matt Tommey: Absolutely. And my wife was in agreement and so I’m like, “Well, we’re going to keep rolling.” Well, this is the honest truth. I got here to Asheville, which is a real seat of influence in the arts community in America. For over 100 years, fine craft artists have been here in really great numbers, collectors from all over the world. Anyway, just a really great community. Within two years of being here, my work instead of just being a hobby, as my baskets, actually started becoming really well-known, and to the point where I got an international reputation and they started selling for thousands and thousands of dollars. I started creating commissioned work. I mean, it was just this crazy thing and my baskets in developing this business started paralleling what I was doing with writing books and inspiring artists to be who I believe God had called him to be as artists, spiritually, artistically, and in business. And so, now I started bringing all this together sort of in a message.
So, we started hosting conferences and I’ve got other books coming out and started getting my toes wet in e-courses and things like that. But, gosh, I found so quickly that I was on the road all the time. I was literally like several times went to Europe on the weekends to speak at arts conferences or at churches. And I was like, “You know, I do not want to be the guy that is always talking about creativity, but never being creative.” Again, my wife and I were just like, there’s got to be a solution because I know that my calling and real purpose in life is not only to create as an artist but also to inspire others to live their best life as an artist as well. What’s the solution? And that for me was kind of the, “Aaah.” Literally, a friend of mine, that we had no prior experience in talking about anything about this sort of thing came in and said, “You need to know about a guy named Jeff Walker,” and through going to LaunchCon one year I met Stu McLaren with TRIBE and all this and my whole world just kind of was like, boom, totally changed, and that’s when it all kind of got crazy and crazy awesome for me.
Shelli Varela: It’s the McLaren effect.
Matt Tommey: It is. It is.
Shelli Varela: This is incredible. So, let’s unpack this because you said something earlier that really kind of tweaked my interest when you talked about at the very beginning you started making these baskets and you’d go out in the woods and you would harvest these vines. I know as I was reading about you before we hopped onto this interview, one of the things that we were talking about with respect to who you were and how you became this guise of community and connection. When you were describing that, I just had this beautiful visual of you in the woods, and it’s almost like this, you know, I know now that you have a community and the community has a great connection but it also is a connection with that inner bit for you, that inner meditation, that inner knowing. And I was wondering if you could speak to those people because I really loved what you said and that’s why I paused you for a quick moment when you were talking and you said, “Oh, everybody thought I was crazy when I was making these baskets.”
And so often I’ll hear people talking about something that they’re interested in or something that they’re passionate about, but it doesn’t seem to make any sense, but oftentimes, that is the route that we need to follow and to your point, you talked about the dream you had and the knowing, the knowing about the path. What advice would you give to people who are looking at the very beginning of their journey thinking, “Is this something that I could maybe make a go of?” How would you suggest for those people that they tap into their knowing?
Matt Tommey: Well, I think for, you know, I love the phrase that I believe as Dr. Gay Hendricks says in The Big Leap, the book, he talks about our zone of genius. I think for me, I kind of either providentially or tricked into that zone of genius for me, where I just started to recognize that when I do this thing, it really brings me life. And I think for anybody, whether you’re an artist or not, we know those times in our life when we’re doing that thing or pursuing that thing or walking in this kind of activity that it really brings us life and you know then other people, as other people start to say, “Wow, you’re great at this,” or, “Have you thought about doing this more?” or, “Could you do this for me?” It’s, I think, really paying attention to the clues, not only internally but also externally that what you have even though you may think it’s not very great or it may be in an unrefined form, what you have is really something unique that can help a lot of people and be a real game-changer for folks, not only for others but also for you.
I think that’s been the beauty of this evolution for me is to watch a small dream of being able to be an artist and help other people live a beautiful life, a thriving life, I would call it to be able to watch the impact that media and membership and the way that we do life now really can change everything not only for us but for others.
Shelli Varela: I love that what you said because I remember when you were talking a minute ago you said once you started tuning into that knowing and paying attention to that dream and even though everybody was saying, “Oh, that’s crazy. You’re making baskets out of vines. What?” What you said was, once you started following the path, doors started opening.
Matt Tommey: Yeah.
Shelli Varela: And for those people listening because I just want to rewind this and circle back to the fact that this that you started with was seemingly unconventional at the time and it would have been easy to apply logic like many of us do and say your starting point was making baskets from vines, however, it morphed into this incredible membership site that you now have, and you are now able to apply that underlying message of inspiration to other people to help other people but it all started with you tapping in and listening to that which you know to be true when you tune everything else out.
Shelli Varela: And you know, the crazy thing for me is because people when I say that I have a membership site and community and all that, people automatically think, “Oh, you’re helping basket makers.” And I’m like, “I don’t know that I have any basket makers in what I do.” In fact, most of them are painters actually and musicians and mix media artists, 3d artists. And it’s just really amazing that, again, this kind of obscure thing that I do creatively because I didn’t have any boundaries on what this thing could look like, that’s been my vehicle of creativity. But the things that I’ve learned along the way are applicable to anybody in any creative genre. I love that because it really is kind of awakened me to the wideness and the scope of what I have to offer, not just within my creative medium, but really to all creatives. I love this one. I have men or women who are in my program and they come to a conference and their spouse is with them and they’re like, “Well, my husband’s been listening to your videos as well and he loves it too.” It’s like I just love that. The impact is like the ripple effect that continues to happen.
Shelli Varela: 1,000%. It’s always about the ripple effect. I’m curious to know, the very first time you ever heard about the concept of a membership site, did you have a doubt about it? And if you did, what was the way that you overcame that so that you could see it as a possibility for yourself?
Matt Tommey: I don’t know that I had a doubt about it. I just didn’t have a concept for it, other than like Netflix or something like that. And so, I think my only concept was a very inexpensive price point, very labor-intensive, very technology-intensive. And so, from that perspective, I was like, “Hmm, is this going to be something that’s going to pull me away from what I really want to be doing?” And then once I understood especially with TRIBE, I mean, that was such a game-changer for me because I’d actually tried to do membership before I knew about Stu and made a hot mess. When I got into TRIBE, I was like, “Oh, this is how you do it. Now, this makes sense.” He kind of put the map together for me, and it’s been a beautiful thing. But that was initially I just couldn’t figure out how to make it all work together. And, again, that’s the beauty of what Stu and you guys do.
Shelli Varela: I love it. Well, what has been the unforeseen benefit of having a membership site that you didn’t anticipate at the beginning of your journey?
Matt Tommey: You know, I think the beauty of membership is connection with my ideal clients. The people that are in my community, and the level of depth that I’ve been able to get with them and gain with them, develop with them over time has given me such a deep, deep, deep understanding of their felt needs and desires and aspirations and that sort of thing. So, as we develop other content out of this like I started the membership, but now I’ve got not one book, but six books. I’ve got our signature e-course. I’ve got a podcast that’s getting 10,000 downloads a week. I’ve got two conferences that we sell out every year. These are things that we’re not just creating in a vacuum anymore. We’re creating these in concert with our audience and responding to them so that we’re creating resources and opportunities for them that are really going to serve them better. And I think that’s been a huge part of having membership is learning not to try to sell people what I have, sell my stuff, but rather to listen to what my members need, and serve them by providing those resources and that reciprocal relationship has just been incredible.
Shelli Varela: Well, I know Stu is a big proponent of making things simple. And I had a TED coach that said to me the same thing. She said, “What if it were just simple?” And so, to your point, when you tune into that which your audience is already telling you they need, it really does cut a lot of the overwhelming the confusion about what it is you need to create for them to best serve them and best benefit and also create that sense of community within your membership.
Matt Tommey: Yeah, absolutely. I think for me, it has made it a lot more simple and I think that was I guess the other thing that I was really surprised about in developing a membership is that I thought people wanted things that were much more complicated and involved than they really do. People want to know the basic steps. They want somebody to walk with them in that journey and know that they’re not alone. And then you’ve got other opportunities to grow and in-depth, as people need that, but it really is at its face developing a safe place for people to step out and explore their own dreams. And I love that.
Shelli Varela: I love that too. What’s the best piece of feedback that you’ve received from one of your members?
Matt Tommey: Well, I love it when people say, “Man, it’s like you’re reading my mind like were you at my house last night?” And I’m like, “I’m just giving you what you asked for,” but we’ve so been able to listen intently that we know where the pain points are for people and know-how to help them. And so, I love when I hear that because it just is an affirming comment to me that says you’re on the right track. You’re doing the right thing.
Shelli Varela: Well, there’s one thing I want everybody who’s listening to make sure they learn from you and that is to pay attention and to listen to the inner voice and also to what your membership is telling you they want and they need and also to give yourself permission to actually say yes when you tune into that inner knowing. Matt, it has been an honor and a privilege to speak with you. If people are looking for you online, where is the best place they can find you?
Matt Tommey: Yeah. They can just go to MattTommeyMentoring.com and that’s got all our books, courses, resources, membership, podcasts, everything.
Shelli Varela: Amazing. And can you spell that just so we make sure we get it correct?
Matt Tommey: Yeah. M-A-T-T and then T-O-M-M-E-Y and then Mentoring, M-E-N-T-O-R-I-N-G dot com.
Shelli Varela: Sounds perfect. Thank you so much, my friend. I appreciate you
Matt Tommey: Absolutely.
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