Traci Brown, Body Language Expert – Small Biz Stories, Episode 10

Traci Brown is a body language and persuasion expert whose winning mindset propels her business to success.

Today, on episode 10 of the Small Biz Stories podcast, Traci shares her best stories — like the time she got a product deal with Kevin Harrington, a Shark from ABC’s hit show Shark Tank — as well as her biggest setbacks.

You’ll hear her unexpected journey from champion athlete to body language expert and her best advice for other business owners.

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Small Biz Stories tells the story of some of the bravest people you’ll ever meet — small business owners. You’ll hear how they got started, their biggest challenges, and their dreams for the future.

You can also read the transcript below:

Small Biz Stories is brought to you by Constant Contact. Constant Contact is committed to helping small businesses and nonprofits connect to new and existing customers with email marketing. You can be a marketer, all it takes is Constant Contact. Find out more at ConstantContact.com.

Traci: Here’s the thing: If you’re waiting for someone to give you some kind of approval, you’re way behind the curve. And I can’t always say that I’ve been the most successful person that there is, but I can say that I’ve learned a few things about how to not quit.

Dave: That’s Traci Brown, body language expert, keynote speaker, and former champion athlete who knows: if you don’t play, you can’t win.

Welcome back to Small Biz Stories! This season, we’re back with businesses — from a pay-what-you-can restaurant to a capital raising consulting firm — to find out how they turned their dreams into reality.

Today, Traci shares how her unlikely path led her to a product deal with Shark Tank’s Kevin Harrington. And how a winning mindset can propel you to victory, even in the face of setbacks.

More than fifty percent of small businesses fail within the first five years. These are the stories of those who beat the odds. My name is Dave Charest and I’ll be your host as we share the stories of some of the bravest people you’ll ever meet, small business owners. You’ll hear how they got started, their biggest challenges, and their dreams for the future.

Dave: Have you ever met someone unstoppable? Someone with so much drive and energy, the room can hardly contain it. Sitting in Traci’s home in Boulder, Colorado, her energy and confidence is tangible — which explains how she can command a keynote stage and work a packed room. Listen as she shares her unexpected journey from winning athlete to body language and persuasion expert.

Traci: it’s funny how one really…life kind of unfolds if you just follow it. And I raced bikes for, gosh, 12, 14 years and I got pretty good at it. I won three national championships in college and I rode for team USA.

And through that time I knew one thing about myself is that I was the wrong size to be a cyclist. I was too tall, strength to weight ratio wasn’t there for me. But I knew that I could outsmart my competition if I watched them really closely and started to anticipate what they were going to do.

That gave me the information that I needed to raise my game and beat them on certain days. And a few days when it counted, it was nice.

But through that, I started telling her, “Wait a minute. Okay, so the same things that I’m looking for in bike racing to get ahead, what if I applied that to business?” And the tells are different but I was able to start to…I wanted that same level of knowledge as to who was across from me and what were they likely thinking and what were they about to do next.

Dave: Traci, obsessed with understanding how to persuade and influence people, became certified in neurolinguistic programming, which is the practice of understanding how people organize their thinking, feeling, language, and behavior to produce the results they do. The practice teaches body language, persuasion, and how to create deep unconscious rapport. Traci started to find that she had a strong grasp on using these tools outside of the clinical setting.

Traci: And so there was a time right about 2008 that I decided okay, it’s time to speak, right? I really want to be a keynote speaker, a professional speaker. And the problem is right about then the recession hit and everybody canceled their conferences. Which is not…that’s what you need to be a speaker is a conference to go in and speak at or a meeting. And I was…I thought I’d be the retired athlete who spoke to corporate America and pumped them up.

Well, it was hard to sell. It wasn’t an easy sell. It’s not always done very well and I think it’s a little bit overdone. And so I was having a hard time booking and the few bookings that I did have canceled. In the first week of January 2009, everything canceled. And I said “Okay. I need to get in front of as many people as I can get in front of. I don’t care if they pay me.”

It was just a little deal I made with myself. And right about then my phone rang and it was a client of mine and he said, “Hey, I know you know this body language stuff.” And I said…and this is a quote. I said, “Who cares?”

And he said, “No, people care now.” I’m like, “Keep talking.” And he said “Look, I’m the new executive director of the Colorado Defense Lawyers Association. Money for focus groups to try out arguments on juries has just dried up. Lawyers need to pick and persuade a jury on the fly. I know you know how to do that. Put together a program and come in. I’ll see you in three weeks.”

And I went,” Well, nothing else is on my schedule. I might as well go.” And it went so well that I said, “Huh, maybe I have something here.”

And so whenever I’d be talking to someone about maybe speaking to their group, I’d say “Well, I have this great insight, the championship mind program. It is phenomenal. You’ll be able to do anything when you’re done or…I have this body language program.”

And everyone went: ‘Body language?’ And I said, “Yeah, I’ll teach you how to persuade and influence using your own body language.” And it got to the point I couldn’t talk anyone out of it.

And I just ran with it because it was really a lesson in listening to what the market wants from you. And I still continue to do that and to make little shifts in what I do to better reach the audience, to niche a little tighter and make the bigger feat.

Dave: Shifting her focus to body language meant that Traci had a whole new industry to understand. Her first step was to learn how she could get in front of the right people and build her audience.  

Traci: You know, it was a slow progression over time because I still didn’t know what the market would bear. I still didn’t know much about the speaking industry because there’s a whole…I mean, there’s a whole industry and it’s called the meetings industry. And you…and it’s not something that’s in your face.

But if you start to look you go, “Wait a minute. There are conferences every day all over the place.” And so I had to figure out who was going to want me. And over time, I just started to figure out, “Okay, sales people are going to like this and maybe customer service.”

Now, the sales people have bitten harder than the customer service people, right? And that’s something that I learned. And I’ve worked a lot with the wedding industry because weddings are very high touch. It’s probably the highest level of emotion a sale is going to happen with. And even when you start to niche within that people say “Oh, the rich is where the niche is.” And it’s true, right? But I think you have to naturally find that niche. You can’t just decide it for yourself. At least for me that’s not how it’s been.

And so what has happened is I started out working with…well, pretty much anyone in the wedding industry. So who’s in the wedding industry? You’ve got a lot of venues, cake makers, flower people. But then you’ve got the bridal salons, right? And the high-end bridal salons have started to hire me, to bring me in so that not only am I teaching them how to deeply connect with the bride. But here’s the thing. Nobody ever buys a wedding dress alone. Never. And so I teach them how to read the whole group, bring the group together into one to make one decision.

Dave: That’s really interesting, yeah, yeah.

Traci: Yeah, and you can do that all through body language. And obviously, you’ve got to open your mouth at some point. So I have a whole unit on words and persuasive language. And again, it goes with profiling people.

So wedding industry. I’ve worked with car sales people, I’ve worked with auto body paint refinish people. The apartment industry, I work a lot in the apartment industry. And a new niche that I’m going into which I think is going to be really big is for my lie detection segment because I do teach how to read body language and there’s a certain body language that goes with lying is banking and finance type folks and detecting fraud. And that can be a pretty expensive problem.

Dave: Sure, yeah.

Traci: And so that’s a new thing, but it seems to be going pretty well. So those are some of the niches I work in. I never know what’s going to happen tomorrow and I just roll with it and see where it leads me.

Dave: As Traci’s business picked up steam, she increased her reach to land larger clients and opportunities. But, there’s one opportunity that stands above the rest. Listen as Traci describes the play-by-play that lead to a product deal with Kevin Harrington, an original Shark from ABC’s hit show: Shark Tank.   

Traci: So I got selected to pitch to the sharks. They brought the sharks to the National Speakers Association Conference. So I did not get on TV. There were four of us that got selected and we were on the main stage. So I pitched…

Dave: How did you get selected?

Traci: Oh, I sent in a little video and literally…it’s just chance, right? Because for one, I’m an addict of the show. Total addict. I’ve been…I’ve tried out for the real show.

They took my stuff back to Hollywood. I didn’t make it. And I saw a little note that came out, “Hey, you have till midnight to send in a video to apply to pitch to the sharks.” And I was like…and it was one of those days where I’m like, “Should I quit?” It literally was one of those days and I was like I’m not doing anything. I’ll make a video.”

And so I did and I got selected and it’s funny. It’s one of those things. The guy who called me who was in charge of it…I know him. He’s a big deal guy. I thought he was calling me to get someone else’s phone number or something. I was like, “Why are you calling me?” And he’s like, “No, you’re on the shortlist and…”

So anyway, I had three weeks to go from really nothing to a full pitch in front of 2000 people of my peers who are all professional speakers. And so…

Dave: No pressure, right?

Traci: Yeah, no pressure. No pressure. It would’ve been easier to be on TV because then I couldn’t have seen everybody. And so I…and it’s funny because when you’re operating at that level, just so far outside of your comfort zone, people start calling you to help you.

People start calling and they’re attracted to that energy because they’re not willing to put it out themselves. And one of the people that called…well, I had several people call me but five, in particular, gave me some good advice.

And that is that…here’s what you’ve got to. Write and practice and practice and practice. Practice more than you think you could ever need to practice, till you’re sick of it before you get up there. But she goes, “You’ve got to practice the right thing. So get…send out a note to the top people in our chapter, ask for an hour of their time. They’ll meet you at your house and…to tear you up. Just tear everything up.” And literally, the script that I had, they took it and they went…and ripped it right into…they’re like, “This will not work at all.” And we rewrote it.

One of the people who volunteered to help was Carolyn Strauss. She used to have a show on Home Shopping Network herself for 18 years. Really great wordsmith and anyway, we came up with a killer pitch. Killer, killer, killer. And I went out on…I practiced, went out on stage, nailed it.

And I’m the only one that got a deal and I got a deal with Kevin Harrington. He’s the…he was on season one of Shark Tank and he’s a guest shark sometimes I think. He’s the inventor of the infomercial. So he is the Ginsu knife guy, the food saver, the Tony Little’s Ab Isolator and also the Wax Vac, the earwax vac. You’ve seen those? Yeah.

And I was like, “He’s the guy that I wanted.” And I used every tool that I have, every persuasion tool…like I profiled him and I got him on the hook before he swam away.

Dave: So you also mentioned some tools that you used in terms of getting the shark that you wanted to get.

Traci: Oh, yeah.

Dave: What were some other things that you did?

Traci: Oh, so I had to…I profiled him and…because that’s one of the things I teach is how to profile people, start to understand what they’re likely thinking and then what’s going to happen next. And so I knew he was a really visual guy which means…and I knew that by his picture because he was the one I knew the least about because there’s just not a lot of information on him out there.

And so I said, “Okay, let’s look at his picture.” Well, for one, he’s got a flat top, he’s…always wears a big watch, he always looks really put together. And from what I could see on TV, he speaks quick, he thinks quick, he’s three steps ahead of whatever’s coming out of your mouth. So I knew I’d have one sentence to get him on the hook.

And so this is what I said. I walked in on the stage and I said “Hi, sharks. I’ve got one question for you. What do Lance Armstrong, Chris Christie, and Vladimir Putin have in common? They have me in common. I’ve been asked to interpret their body language on NBC, CBS, and FOX to tell the world what they’re not saying. And I could do that for you too. And I think I will right now.”

And then the audience went crazy. I had them where I wanted them. The sharks got nervous. I did a tiny little body language profile on all of them. But what had happened is the night before I had sat behind him in a…at a show that he didn’t know me but I knew it was him. And I watched his reactions. It was a comedy, singing, impersonation thing and this guy that was doing the show, he did all of them. Journey, the Beatles, even the Chipmunks, right? All of them.

And I watched him and when he got to the Stevie Wonder part I could see…Kevin, he went really still. He’s a fidgety guy and he went really still. I’m like “Oh, this is what he does when he likes things. He gets really still.”

And so in his interpretation that I did on stage I had him right there on the palm of my hand nervous, I said, “Kevin, I sat behind you last night at the show.” And I said, “I noticed you’re a really fidgety guy but when you see something you like, you get really still. So I know you liked the Stevie Wonder segment the best.” He did a big smile. The audience again had him and that was it. I could’ve said anything and I would’ve had him, right?

Traci: Now I did not know what was in store after that. Now, I did not get the financial investment, but I don’t want to sell my company. It’s not really something that’s investible because really it’s more of a practice when you take it apart.

But he said, “Here’s what I’ll do. I like your products,” because I had two books and a DVD kit. And he said, “I’m going to pitch these to Home Shopping, to Home Shopping channels. There’s three of them. When they do, I’ll fund your inventory. We’ll split the profits 50-50.” So I said, “Okay, that’s cool.”

Well, Monday morning the phone rang. It was Kevin and he was like “Okay, I need you to redevelop your products.” And I mean, this is code. Redevelop is a code word. That means throw out what you have and start over. And so he said, “Develop three DVDs, two CDs, I’ll put your two books into one book and whatever else you want in the kit, take your time, do it right. Call me when you’re done.”

No guidance except one thing. He said make it for the Home Shopping market, 70 percent women. Solve tiny problems. That’s it. And I was like, “Okay, that’s it? That’s it?” “Yeah.” Now, this was going to be a lot of time, a lot of money.

Dave: Sure.

Traci: And no guarantee of success. And so when you’re faced with something like that, the question is: Are you willing to do it or not? Are you going to jump and take the leap and gamble on yourself or is everything okay how it is, right? Because there’s a really small chance of success.

But I was like, “You know what? I can’t let this go.” I believed in myself and what I can do for people. And so it took me six months and I developed this really cool kit. I mean, it looks fantastic and we took it to Home Shopping, and really, all the Home Shopping channels. And that’s a longer story…but they said no. They said no, all of them.

And so I went back to Kevin and I said, “What else have you got? I know you know more people.” And he said, “Make me an infomercial.” And so I did and I didn’t know how to make an infomercial. He said, “Well, I’ll make you one for $20,000.” I’m like, “Please. That is an option.” And so I said, “Send me one that’s really worked for you.”

And he sent me the Wax Vac infomercial. And I storyboarded it all out so I knew exactly the formula. Is it…well, you’ve got to have…and here’s the formula for…and this works for anybody in sales. You’ve got to have an authoritative male voiceover. You’ve got to show amazing transformation. And you’ve got to ask for the sale three times.

Dave: Wow.

Traci: That’s it, right? And so I scripted and produced an infomercial for…I think it cost me $2,000 instead of $20,000. And we tested it and it failed. So…

Dave: But you had the three things!

Traci: Yeah, I had the three things. Now, but here’s the thing, 98 percent of infomercials fail.

Dave: Yeah.

Traci: So I knew that there was a high chance of it. But I also knew if you don’t play, you can’t win.

Dave: Right.

Traci: And so I was like, “Let’s…this is going to land me somewhere.” And so it turns out you’ve got to look for where people want to buy from you, right? You’ve got to look for your marketing channel. And mine is at the back of the room when I speak.

A two-minute infomercial isn’t really going to do it, right? I have a whole keynote about this experience with the shark and everything I’ve learned because there’s…I mean, literally, I could talk for two or three hours on everything I learned from it.

And I may make most of my money from the project, from this keynote because it’s everything to do, everything not do and, “Hey, this is how I found success.”

And it turns out…it’s funny because it turns out success was right where I was. And I may not ever sell millions of them, but I’ll tell you what. I’ve sold piles and piles of them. And I started to figure out, “Okay, so I have this one product. It’s got 40 little videos and some books and eBooks and…” I even teach people how to talk their way out of traffic tickets and things like that.

And it’s…what I’ve started to do is presell that one. I go into conferences and I put it on a membership website so I don’t have to lug around all the DVDs and books and things like that. And so it’s cool. It’s coming together.

It’s not as big as I want it but I really…the whole experience over the last two years made me raise my game. It forced me into it and that’s what’s put me in that zone where I can charge for the big dollar keynotes, whether it’s about the shark experience or not, because it forced me there. And so if nothing else, it’s been a huge success just because of that.

And so I think with anything you go into, you never know how success is going to come. But you’ve got to be committed to making it a success and then more success will roll in from that.

Dave:  Listening to Traci’s Shark Tank story, I’m reminded that success is a daily mindset, not an end point. Where many see setback, Traci reframes into opportunity. Her commitment to her craft means Traci is constantly improving to get better results.

Traci: This business is about networking. And it’s about hustle. So it’s about who do you know, who are you willing to get to know. And so…but here’s the thing. We’re going to get to that in a minute. The best marketing is when I’m on stage and someone goes, “That was great.”

And if I don’t have two or three people coming up to me saying, “Oh, hey. Do you speak…could you speak to this group? Could you speak to…” Yeah, I can probably speak to that group, right? Then I know…if that’s not happening, I need to get…something went wrong. I need to tune up my speech somehow, right? So that’s number one.

Number two is just outreach. I do a lot of outreach and I will research associations in an industry. Right now, like I said, I’m really targeting banking and finance and things like that. Great. Do you want to decrease fraud in your financial institution? Well, yeah. Probably they do, right? So I’m the answer.

So working on that and again…but I’ve got to send out marketing materials, right? So I’ve got to make sure not only does my website look great, not only does my video or my videos look great but then what about my one-page write-up? If I send them a PDF, does it look awesome? Does it look amazing? Well, yeah. And I just upgraded. I spend the money and upgraded those again this year and things like that.

Dave: So what do you do to stay connected with these people that you meet?

Traci: Well, I use Constant Contact. Have you heard of it? 

Dave: I have heard of it, actually.

Traci: No, I do. Every 1st of the month I write a little story and…about something persuasion, body language related, something that I learned and then I relate it back to the client. And it’s just a story with learning and I put some quotes in there on the side.

I mean, people can go to my website. If you want, you can go to bodylanguagetrainer.com and sign up and see what I’m doing with my newsletters. But a note on that. You’ve got to bait people into wanting your newsletter. So I’ll send you a free report on how to detect lies using body language because everybody wants to know that.

And so I will…let’s see. I’ll…yeah. Quotes, story, a little…making it relevant. And then sometimes at the bottom, I’ll either put a free video that I have or I’ll sell a book…if I have a new product or if I have a friend with a new book coming out, I’ll put that down in there. So I make a little money from time to time.

And it’s proved super valuable to have that list because with the shark project, the thing I didn’t tell you, is that he…when we got the first no from one of the shopping channels he said, “Okay, look. Make your book a bestseller on Amazon and before we go to any more shopping channels because we don’t want to get the same answer from them.”

Well, guess what? I had this list and I had people that loved me on the list and so I just told them, “Help me out. I need this to be a bestseller on Amazon.” And I got I think 40 friends that I knew who wanted to help me wrote a killer little reason why people needed to buy this book.

I sold so many books that I almost couldn’t handle it all. And it was just me in my office trying to scribble out addresses on the…and send out all these books. Several hundred sales but that’s through cultivating that list. I mean, you never know when you’re going to need it, right? And you never know who’s forwarding it to who.

Email marketing is the cheapest thing you can do if you do it right and you make it compelling. If you don’t, it’s totally a waste, right? And if you don’t do it, it’s totally a waste. So the key is to do it and be consistent and deliver stuff that people are looking forward to, right? And that’s what I do.

Dave: So consistency is one of the things that we talk about a lot. Tell us a little bit about, in your mind, why that is so important.

Traci: Well, because people need to know you haven’t gone away. There’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of noise and you want to stay in touch with those people and continue to add value to maybe a talk that they heard two years ago, right, two or three years ago.

But also, I want to hear back from them because I’ve heard that from people and they’ll say, “You know what? You told that story three years ago at this talk.” I’m like, “I don’t even tell that story anymore. Maybe I should get it back out because I’m just hearing about it now that it popped in your mind and it affected you.”

So the thing is, it’s easy to go in and speak and leave. It’s another thing to actually have a commitment to creating lasting change with people and that’s my commitment to myself. And the email marketing is the easiest way to do that.

Dave: I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I find Traci’s commitment and drive to be an enviable trait. I asked Traci about the biggest motivators and learnings that inspire her to keep going.

Traci: The thing that keeps me going is…well, you’ve got to have fun, you’ve got to make money and you’ve got to love what you do. Those are my values. And so when one of those fades away, then it’s harder to keep going.

So I’ve got to tune in with myself and go, “Okay, which one of these do I need to start to shift? Right? Am I working in the industry that’s maybe not my favorite but is paying the bills? Do I need to do this right now?” And so I’m always looking at that and going what balance am I in? And those days that you want to quit, I guarantee you two out of three of them are hard firing, right?

Dave: What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Traci: In business, it’s the same as sports. It’s about how bad you want it. It’s about how bad do you want it. And that’s really…what are you willing to do?

There is not a lack of resources, there is always a way, right? If you don’t have what you need, there’s a lack of resources, possibly. But more than that, it’s a lack of creativity.

And so when you can understand that, things get a lot easier. Things get a lot easier because you have to get more creative and you have to learn how to outdo people and do more with less. And so that’s…I think that’s the key.

Dave:  After speaking with Traci, I’m struck by how much owning a small business can feel like a cutthroat competition. Somedays you may feel like an underdog, like none of the odds are in your favor…and those are the days when it’s worth coming back to Traci’s words and asking yourself: How bad do you want it?  

I’ll leave you with Traci’s best advice for someone thinking about starting a business of their own.

Traci: The one piece of advice? Don’t quit and don’t be afraid to flex. Don’t be afraid to pivot and know that success is right there and you have to find the formula. Crack your own code. That’s the key.

We appreciate you listening and would love to hear what you think of the show. Your feedback is important to us, so please go to iTunes or Stitcher right now and leave us a review.

Small Biz Stories is produced by myself and Miranda Paquet with editing by TwentyFourSound. You can contact us at podcast@constantcontact.com

Small Biz Stories is brought to you by Constant Contact. Constant Contact is committed to helping small businesses and nonprofits connect to new and existing customers with email marketing. You can be a marketer, all it takes is Constant Contact. Find out more at ConstantContact.com.

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