When I read that Gwyneth Paltrow and her musician hubby Chris Martin were ‘consciously uncoupling’ (AKA breaking up), I gasped and smiled.
But not for the reasons you might think.
You see, I’ve just gone through an uncoupling process of my own. My primary collaborative partner over the past two years and I are going our separate ways. We’ve consciously uncoupled — and we’re co-writing this post to tell you all about it.
If you’ve been following The Voice Bureau for a while, you know that a big part of my work over the past 2 years has been accomplished in collaboration with Tami Smith. Together we created a holistic consulting service called Empathy Marketing, as well as four successful DIY programs for values-based solo business owners. For the past couple years, Tami and I have been meeting at least weekly to collaborate, plan, design, create, and facilitate our joint ventures.
And then, beginning a couple of months ago, Tami and I began a series of really honest conversations. It turns out that even as we enjoyed collaborating, we were both feeling called to pursue individual projects. And we both came to the realization — organically and yet with a tinge of surprise — that pursuing these projects would mean laying down our collaboration for the foreseeable future.
“I can’t believe it. We’re breaking up,” I said to her one day, over the phone.
“We’re not breaking up. We’re UNCOUPLING,” she said.
“Uncoupling,’”as described by Katherine Woodward Thomas, was a process Tami had recently gone through in her romantic relationship.
Tami, I’ll let you take over from here.
The truth is, my whole uncoupling process with Jeffrey was painful. Eeek. Wouldn’t want to go through that again, and of course, I never will. That is the way of it. Once the principles of uncoupling are understood, they apply to everything. Uncoupling doesn’t always mean ending a relationship, which is surprising to most people. Uncoupling, as I’m interested in it, is about unhooking from the needs of a relationship and seeing what remains.
I think having gone through an experience where I uncoupled and yet stayed in the relationship changed the way I view relationships in every form. Because of the level of consciousness you and I were both at, and the way we communicated, our uncoupling was much smoother! It is a joy to begin and end when we are aware of what we are doing.
Agree. The decision to begin working separately, on separate ventures, as opposed to collaboratively under The Voice Bureau, seemed to arise really naturally for the two of us. But it wasn’t without some, shall we say, emoting on my part. Working through the kinks is always a part of any transition. Most of my kinks weren’t even with YOU, but within myself — what it meant that we were uncoupling, what it meant for the brand, for my work. Existential narcissism.
Because our collaborative work has been such a huge piece of The Voice Bureau’s approach and offerings up until now, I wanted to share some of our internal process with you readers and friends around deciding to go our separate ways.
In the past, we’ve had questions from our clients and course participants about how we manage our collaboration. Now’s as good a time as any to talk about one important part of collaborating, which is knowing when, why, and how to separate.
Yes. I know some people are wondering about what happened, and what we are going to do about Empathy Marketing and the work we co-created.
It probably seems like something that happened abruptly, to outsiders.
The real story might not be as juicy as a falling-out over an incident! LOL :) I’ve seen a few people in social media talking about collaboration and if there are any good teachings on how to make it work, so I know there’s interest in what we did and why we are going separate ways.
I also really want you to talk about what you’re doing next.
I would love to talk about what I’m doing next. It really did come from insight through our collaboration.
One thing I realized is that the more we moved away from deep interaction with clients, the less happy I was. Our collaboration highlighted our individual strengths and the types of relationships we want to have with clients. The beauty is neither way is right or wrong. As long as we are in our strength, and operating from our values, we can’t go wrong.
You know, I didn’t realize that you felt you were working outside your strengths in our collaboration.
I definitely felt, especially toward the end, that we were biting off way more in our offerings (especially in the DIYs, at those price points) than was advisable or sustainable (or good for clients, who only have a certain amount of bandwidth within any time period). But I didn’t actually know that you would have wanted more 1:1 time with clients.
What is so interesting to me is that you, Tami, were feeling like you weren’t getting enough one-to-one client time, and I was feeling like I was having my upper limit of it.
Any more would have been too much for me. Owning what I want here, so publicly, makes me feel like a jerk, in a way. I’m afraid someone’s going to pop out from the wings and say, “You’re an asshole! What do you mean you want LESS client interaction? Why do you even have a business?” It’s that whole there’s a best way to own and operate a values-based microbusiness and getting cozy with clients is IT! But rationally, and from my heart, I know that’s not the case.
So, you’re right, Tami: our preferred ways of working are fairly different, and neither is “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong” — they just are. I am definitely the “creator in the garret” type. I love the experience of working in near isolation, and do best with less connection overall. Of course, I NEED connection — we all do — but perhaps I’m just in a season where too much connection throws me off my center. For my own work and my own spiritual path right now, I’m learning to trust what is inside, at my core.
I think I could talk about this stuff ALL day. This is the first truly inspired insight I’ve had and it only came through the experience of working outside of my strength, in our collaboration. I’m so grateful for all we did and created together; for what it showed me about myself. It fits so perfectly into the Voice Values methodology.
Well, I think sometimes we don’t even realize we’re NOT in our sweet spot until we’ve been out of it for a while, consistently. We then realize what we’re missing or what we’d like more of. It’s like trying out veganism or vegetarianism — some people realize that hey, this is totally what my body needed this whole time. I feel so much better. And other people feel like, wow, if I could just have two eggs a day, I’d feel more satiated. Or, I’m really missing animal protein. I need to eat some grass-fed beef a couple times a month.
Funny comparison, but I think it works. We know what we need, if we listen closely.
So let’s talk about what we learned from collaborating, and how it’s shaping what we’re doing next.
The biggest lesson, for me, came from the mirroring I saw in clients who had these BIG, hard to understand services and fuzzy value propositions. I could see that was being mirrored to us. We had a way-too-big service.
My desire to hone-in led to a problem I really wanted to solve. In The Dawning Point I’m working with a slice, not the whole pie. I understand the other pieces of the pie, which makes me better at what I do, but they are not mine to work with directly.
My slice is working with the brainworkers.
Those pioneers, strategists, and consultants who don’t work in the realm of tactics and tangible deliverables. There are a whole lot of us out here trying to work in the same mold as handworkers — the beautiful crafters, freelancers, designers, artists, and writers — because that is all we know. Things work differently for people who “have a hard time describing their work” and value prop. I’m ready to take it on and create a solution for this pressing problem.
I love that you’re bringing up the differences between traditional service model businesses and the more amorphous, coaching or consulting businesses we see out there. You’re right: it can be REALLY hard for some businesses to say what they do in a simple way because the results aren’t tangible or even quantifiable.
One thing I learned through our collaboration is that I was working with the right clients — finally! — but for me, the bespoke consulting, 2-to-1, wasn’t my ‘flow format.’ It wasn’t a WRONG format, but it wasn’t my total sweet spot, either. I used to be a classroom teacher (I taught high school), and for me, the 1-to-many model is where it’s at. I just feel creatively electric and compassionately synergistic delivering my work in that way.
Not to throw Enneagram into it, but . . . okay, I’m bringing Enneagram into it. I’m a Type 4, the Individualist, so for me, one way I identify is through autonomy, being unique, being different. Too much ‘people time’ or ’identifying with others’ or even ‘service’ time can easily make me feel overwhelmed, clouded, lost. (Confessing this makes me feel like a real diva. I don’t want to be too attached to labels or identities. I know I’m more than a ‘type,’ but I also appreciate the universal shorthand.) Also, the stress point for a Type 4 is to start acting like a stressed-out Type 2, which is The Helper/The Servant/The Caretaker. When I’m caretaking and busy-bodying and trying to be all things to all people or even just involved in lots of people’s affairs — that’s NOT me shining, that’s me being extremely stressed out. Noticing and honoring all these discoveries about myself help keep me centered and balanced and in-flow.
You know how we teach what we need to learn?
Well, the Voice Values paradigm for branding is my deepest teaching. I’m still unpacking it, methodologizing it, getting ready to share it with more transparency and fluency to my readers and clients. And I’m learning to honor and TRUST my Voice Values, and my values in general.
I have a high Power value, which for me, is all about personal power and self-efficacy and being able to teach and translate those to clients through my work. One way I express my personal power is by keeping a very sacred space around my daily hours, my creative time, even my mind and what I allow into it. I don’t think I’m overly precious or superstitious about it (good Lord, I try not to be), but I notice that the more I safeguard and honor it, the better I feel and the richer my work and easier my output feels. And it makes me a better friend and partner and dog mom and everything.
Another Voice Value I struggle with is my high Intimacy value.
(For those who’ve worked with me or followed my work closely, you know that I’ve tested previously as having a high Legacy value, but more recently, I’ve been testing with higher Intimacy than Legacy.)
I notice my high Intimacy value in the language I choose when writing or speaking about my work. It’s all about coming closer. And at the same time, I have a very LOW Transparency value. I’m extremely private, probably to a fault. So in my languaging through my brand, I have to make sure my Intimacy value doesn’t come off as a ‘bait and switch.’ Come this close, but WAIT — stop right there. Don’t come any closer. Intimacy, for me, is not the same as sharing everything. And it’s not the same as full access.
Tami, what does your high Intimacy value look like?
Intimacy as a Voice Value always puzzled me. Out of all the Voice Values I scored highest in, I was most interested in this one and what it meant, especially paired with high Innovation. I started looking at my experience over the last five years as a solopreneur to see what the patterns might be telling me about this combination of Intimacy and Innovation. I didn’t look like a person with high Intimacy. I couldn’t see closeness between my clients and myself and that really bothered me. I wondered if it was the high Innovation coloring my experience and overshadowing the voice that longs for rich, meaningful, and individualized conversations. Innovation was obvious to me. I couldn’t see how Intimacy played a role until I realized that what activated innovation was the desire to understand. I wanted an intimate understanding of my ideal client’s problem.
I thrive when I’m solving problems and when there is an exchange of ideas. I’ve been slowly uncovering hidden aspects of myself, unraveling my scripts to understand my own desire and what the hell I’m supposed to do with what I have. I know that my work in becoming intimate with who I am has been foundational and critical to the work I’m most interested in doing.
So Intimacy is starting to take center stage, and will be much more apparent in the new brand I’m launching.
To get back to slices — I want a really tiny slice, too. For me, that slice is brand voice. That’s my sweet spot, my obsession, and where I can feel most prolific and be most of service. And with my high Depth value, I yearn to go really deeply into it. I suspect you feel the same way about your new project, Tami.
I think I’ve struggled with finding my sweet spot more than most!
I’m an INFP (borderline introvert/extrovert) and Enneagram Type 7 (The Enthusiast) which makes for a dangerous combination of always wanting to know more, experience everything, and share experiences with other people. I was the child who was adored for my sweetness and loathed for my talkativeness and questioning.
It actually makes a lot of sense as I think about the natural sanguine aspects of my personality. I value intuition, insight thinking, intimacy in relationships, curiosity, and being present in the moment. I’m finally trusting myself and giving myself permission to work in a way that leverages my strengths. It is amazing to see the difference in expression that is coming through my new brand. I can feel the shift as this alignment with my strengths come into focus, and for the first time I can tell people who I am, and what I want. This shift is a result of staying with the process of uncoupling, first in my romantic relationship and then through ending our collaboration. Reminds me of the expression, “Comfort and growth are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive.”
Whoa. That’s a good one. I’m going to remember that one.
Should we talk about what Empathy Marketing meant to us, why we wanted to collaborate on this project? What is going to happen to Empathy Marketing now? What aspects are incorporated into our individual work and how is our individual work different from Empathy Marketing?
Empathy Marketing, to me, was the most validating collaborative experience I’ve ever had in business. Putting my unique perspective on brand voice and content creation together with yours on persona development and understanding ourselves in our businesses — for me, it was nothing short of feeling the earth move. It was so cool to see the power and the impact of two complementary methodologies working together. Now that is a takeaway for our readers — when you think you see someone out there whose approach complements yours in a magical away, it can be unbelievably important to explore that. If you want to. ;) (Speaking to my fellow Type 4s.)
I believe wholeheartedly in what you and I created together, Tami.
I ADORE the clients we were fortunate to serve in our DIY workshops and two-on-one in Empathy Marketing consultations. And I enjoyed working with you so much. You helped me to slow down and look a little more deeeply than I was used to looking (we share that high Depth value, you know), to question things not just once but twice or three times before making a decision. You helped me to reframe beliefs I’d had about the way things were supposed to work. And the best part of it, for me, was that we became true friends through our collaboration. We worked together virtually and person, you visited my home. We had dinner together in Seattle with our partners. It’s been awesome. And I am really glad we are maintaining that part, our friendship!
So, the business gist is, we’re putting Empathy Marketing into the vault for the foreseeable future.
We have no plans to relaunch the DIY Workshops we did together. We feel — if I might speak for myself and Tami here (and if not, Tami, let me know) — that we did the work we were meant to do together in the time we were meant to do it.
And now we’re in a new time.
Tami, what can you share about the work you’re doing in your new brand? How does it relate to Empathy Marketing, if at all?
Well, going deeper into the intersections of brand Voice combined with Buyer Persona development, the work we did in Empathy Marketing was fascinating. Empathy Marketing was good at exposing the big picture and we learned invaluable insights from the work we did together.
As you said, it was more than a business collaboration because we shared our perspectives and ideas to allow something new to develop. Learning to collaborate at this level helped us to see ourselves and our strengths, which is an amazing gift. It was the best experience and perfect in the way it rolled out. I agree it feels like we did what we were meant to do.
As it became clear that we were moving in different directions with our individual preferences and where we wanted to focus, I gave myself permission to look at what I wanted to do in a way I had never allowed myself to explore before. I realized that while I can work in the details of organic SEO and translating buyer language to content strategy, what I wanted to do was to work at understanding and uncovering the things that block us from knowing what to do, and where to focus, as entrepreneurs. For people who are in the role of a strategist or consultant — you know, where what you are selling is intangible or pioneering in some way — knowing what to do and where to focus is doubly challenging.
Oh, yes. And we saw a lot of those types of businesses in our collaboration. Working with them can be richly rewarding, and also uniquely challenging.
So, your new brand is The Dawning Point.
Yes. The Dawning Point was born from the desire to honor the way insight informs business decisions. I think it is easy to understand the importance of dawning points and we instinctually know we should pay attention to our a-ha moments. It just isn’t easy to see a way to create a structure where we can use our insights in a practical way.
So to answer your question about how it relates to Empathy Marketing, I would have to say that I’m building on the foundation we laid but turning the attention and focus into a more specific area. Where Empathy Marketing connected many dots of a brand proposition, The Dawning Point connects the points of a buyer/seller relationship to create a conscious sales process. I’m excited about this intersection, or what I call convergence of harmony, that unblocks something in us and allows us to make offers that we want to deliver. I believe we all want to create a good experience for our clients and the key is understanding our own desire nature as entrepreneurs. That is where I’m going and what I want to give expression to in this new brand.
Tami, this sounds . . . sexy, lush, particularly beautiful, organic, and really satisfying. I know the quality of the work you offer and I’ve got to say, I am excited to send clients your way when they are ready to talk about sales process.
It has been an honor to be part of The Voice Bureau, especially as a co-creator of the methodology that exposed huge gaps in areas that need to be understood, developed, and implemented before bringing a brand online. I hope that our work together has been as transformative for our clients as it has been for us.
Thank you, Abby. I’m getting teary now and a lump is forming in my throat. Good thing this is in writing or I would have to stop before saying: thank you for being my friend and believing in me, for believing in our collaboration, and for listening when I needed it the most!
Now I have a lump in my throat. Huge, happy sigh.
I’ll be sharing about what’s next for The Voice Bureau in my very next post.
In the comments, we’d love to know:
What’s been your experience with uncoupling in business or ending a creative collaboration? Also, if you’ve worked with Tami via The Voice Bureau, please feel free to wish her well as she embarks on this new adventure!