Relationships Matter: A Conversation with Jay Clouse

‘At the end of the day, decisions are made by real human people, so relationships matter a lot.’

Jay Clouse is the founder of Unreal Collective, creator of Freelancing School, and Community Experience Director for Smart Passive Income. He works to help creatives thrive as business owners.

‘The power of compounded effort from consistent menial tasks is pretty incredible.’

Our conversation touches on several points that can help both starting and experienced entrepreneurs:

– Taking risks on your way to success

– Getting into a grateful mindset

– Setting boundaries

– The usefulness of technology in business

If you want to hear more business owners like you talk about their challenges as an entrepreneur and how they overcome mistakes in business, listen to our previous episodes.

You can connect with Jay on these platforms:



Freelancing School:

Unreal Collective:

John: Thank you for tuning in to Local SEO Today. Don’t forget to subscribe and share this episode. Joining me today is Jay Clouse. He is the founder of Unreal Collective, creator of freelancing school and community experience director for a community I’m a part of, Smart Passive Income. He works to help creatives thrive as business owners. Thanks for being on the show today, Jay.

Jay: Thrilled to get some time to talk with you, John. Thanks for having me. Let’s have some fun. 

John: Awesome. Well, I’m excited to learn a little bit about your journey, your business experience and a little bit about maybe sharing with the audience members, how did you get started? What’s your backstory behind that? And what motivates you today? So, maybe tell us a little bit about, you know, your upbringing, maybe.

Jay: Sure. I grew up in a small farm town in Ohio and my parents were both high school teachers. And, in fact, a lot of my extended family were high school teachers. So, growing up, my view of the world was teaching and other jobs that I thought, you know, you go to college, you get a degree and you work that job for 35 years and retire. That didn’t seem so bad other than I didn’t know what that job would be for me and I didn’t think it was teaching. So, I went to college and I went to the Ohio State University because I figured, whatever I figure out, what I want to do. Ohio State will let me do it. It’s a huge university, I can figure it out there. And in my first year, I happened to be sharing a wall in my freshman dorm with a couple of kids who had started businesses in high school and they started talking to me about what they’re doing, building websites, one had a landscaping company. I would go in there and pitch them on app ideas because everybody had an app idea back then. And at  one point, one of the ideas spurred them to say, “Hey, that’s actually pretty good, you should go pitch that at this, this pitch competition.” And I was like, “What is a pitch competition?” And they explained it and it was with this entrepreneurship organization at Ohio State. So, I applied, I got accepted somehow. I did the pitch and absolutely bombed. Did a horrible job. Like I thought it’d be a good idea to do most of my pitch in video but didn’t realize how to make the video actually play on somebody else’s computer. So, my whole pitch was down the drain the moment I started but the upside of that was, I got to watch all the other finalists pitch after me and it just blew my mind because there were a bunch of kids my age, who were building their own businesses, building their own products, making money online. I just didn’t even realize that was like an option or a path for me and I remember after that competition, even though I stumbled through this pitch, there are a couple people in the audience who saw potential in it and they’re like, “Hey, if you do this for the next few years, like here’s what could be possible.” And it just like, immediately expanded my horizons. All that to say, I was all in on startups from that point on because I thought, you know, startups are sexy and you raise a bunch of money and then you sell and you make a lot of money. And it just seemed really, really cool. So, I had this new view of entrepreneurship but it was very narrow. It was like the high-growth tech startup, that’s the way to do it. So, out of college, I helped start a ticketing company. We did the accelerator route, we raised some money, we sold it a couple years later. It was a rough ride, it was really hard. And I realized that startup life isn’t exactly what I thought that it was and I didn’t have some new obsession that I wanted to start another company right out the back of that so I took a job in another company, hated having a boss, left and I started freelancing for a couple years and that expanded my viewpoint of what entrepreneurship could be. And along the way, I discovered all these different types of creator businesses and people who were making courses and doing podcasts and doing YouTube channels. And that’s all like, reinvigorated my fascination around entrepreneurship because there’s just so many different versions and variants. And the people who are doing it as like, a compulsion and as a lifestyle, those are my people and so that brought me to SPI that brought me to everything I’m doing today. 

John: That’s amazing. So, take me back to…I know during high school days, you basically were…Your parents molded you, right? To have a good education, start getting a public, secure job and that’s the mindset that they kind of…That was the upbringing. What was the pivotal point? Was it surrounding yourself in college with those peers that pushed you above board to say, “Look there is something different out there that maybe I want to venture  and try to be curious about.” Like, was it the people? Was it? Was there people that push you like, how did you have that kind of switch in your mindset because your parents would probably want to continue pushing you to become a teacher. 

Jay: Yeah, 100% it was the people and actually, to my parents credit, you know, they wanted me to be happy and find a job that I loved but they never actually pressured me into any one direction. They just wanted me to apply myself somewhere. So actually, when I first went to college and I went into the exploration program, the undecided program. I told my counselor that I like to write and so she recommended that I take an independent study with a student paper. So, for the first year and a half I actually dove headfirst into like, print journalism and really thought that I was gonna do that because I was good at it and I liked it. I loved writing. I loved interviewing people and turning that into a story but I just didn’t see a huge future for journalism in that way, and I wasn’t aware enough to think about the way that it could look digitally. But it was the people…It was meeting the people in the entrepreneurship organization who were my age or a couple years older. Actually looking back on it now, I stumbled into this really incredible like, three year window where the people around me in that student organization, all those people are doing incredible things now, across the country, across the world, like they were early employees at instacart. They co-founded companies that have sold. They’re involved with Uber, they’re involved at a couple of unicorns here in town like, they got…It was an incredible group of people to come into college with. And I was just inspired by how they thought differently, about things and the fact that they’re building their own path and that path didn’t include doing one thing for like 30 years, which I just couldn’t wrap my head around like, I knew it was a good path for people who wanted it but I just couldn’t imagine myself doing something for 30 years and still enjoying that one thing. So, it was 100% the people and seeing the variation across what they were able to do and what they’re interested in doing and applying that to my own curiosities. And I guess one other like, tangible thing. I had was my first business idea in college that I was like, “I’m going to pursue this.” And I applied for a grant to basically pay a developer to help me build this website and the grant organization basically wrote back and said, “This isn’t what this grant is for but we liked your idea. So here’s $100. Go to a startup weekend competition and try to build that company at a startup weekend.” And enters me to the Startup Weekend Community, which became my life for like five years and that was probably the real tipping point. 

John: That’s amazing. To be curious enough to try something out of the box where it’s not normal, right? And then surround yourself with people that kind of resonate with you and then now, you have a great group of not just friends, peers and colleagues but then future as well, right? Like, it opens you up to endless possibilities, right? Just by not following the same path that people want you to in school, in college and university. Every big company, you know, you’re wired or your parents are wired to like, have a good pension and have a stable job, work at the same company for 20, 30, 40 years. But in today’s day and age, with the advent of internet and how fast technology, speed, you know, just the speed of everything has kind of expedited, grow in so many different industries. 

Jay: And you’re a product of your environment in some ways too, right? Like, if I hadn’t found the Entrepreneurship Organization but I still went to Ohio State and still somehow got interested in business, going through the business college experience, I would have been pushed down a middle management path probably because that’s just the environment. That’s the system that’s built. The college is funded by organizations who want to hire entry level employees to train them to be managers and so that’s what you’re exposed to, that’s what you’re told. Success is from your environment and so, you know, I just think I got lucky that I built my environment or stumbled into environments of these people that became really, really important to the way that I think about work and professional fulfillment. And yeah, I honestly, it’s just so lucky because I could have very easily…

John: But it’s more like you actually did something different, you actually stepped outside the box of norm where all your friends and peers growing up would probably be still doing, you know, the average nine to five, going to…Become a teacher, become whatever profession, right? You did something different and that’s where I look at entrepreneurs, right? I look at business owners, I’m like, “Look, we’re a different breed because we took that risk, we took that initiative to really try something different.” And that’s what I love talking to business owners and entrepreneurs because we’re different beasts altogether. 

Jay: Yeah, I love that saying or that idea of increasing the surface area of your luck, where basically you’re doing things to open yourself up to good outcomes. Which could be as simple as, you know, just like, this weekend, I was really frustrated watching the Green Bay Packers, this American football team. I loved the Packers and they were losing. I was very frustrated. So, to distract myself, I just sent like five emails to people that were basically like high level, “Hey, we should collaborate on something or here are a couple of ideas of a project we could do together.” And most of them will probably say no, or ignore it but like, maybe one of them says yes. And that could become its own turning point of some sort, you know? 

John: And that’s exactly what it is. Try something different. What’s the worst that can happen and will happen? They say no and they ignore you. So what? Move on, right? Life is too short to take it too personal. Like, I’ve been in sales all my life. So, for me like, rejection doesn’t mean anything to me. Like, when it says no solicitation, that’s when I go head on and I know no one else has already solicited. So, for me, it’s not a big deal, right? 

Jay: How did you get into sales? I love sales. Sales is one of my favorite thing. 

John: I was….Newspaper when I was young and I did advertising sales right out of university in college. So, I’ve been doing sale and I learned a lot from Zig Ziglar and Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins, all those hardcore audio tape books, you know, people that inspired, right? So, just been doing it. And for me, it’s like a part of me now, right? 

Jay: I love that. Sales is like the most transferable skill towards anything you ever wanted.  

John: But it’s hard, right? Like for me 10 years of advertising sales before starting the company, right? And that’s why for me sales was not the issue. Growing my agency, it’s more about like, how do I fulfill it with tech? And I had no idea anything about SEO, I just figured it out, right? So, regarding your upbringing, I want to go back to your parents, right? Did they ever like, you know, were they mentors to you? Like, were they people that really supported you for whatever career path that you wanted to go? And, or was there a business owner or entrepreneur that really pushed you to become your own entrepreneur?

Jay: As far as getting into business, I had a mentor that I met in college through Startup Weekend, who I then worked for in three separate internships throughout my college years, who’s always been good to me. He was I would say, my first business mentor. My parents have always been wildly supportive of what I was doing. They just didn’t quite understand it but they were okay with that, you know, like I said earlier, they never really pushed me in one direction but like, when I started the company out of college and I was explaining to them, like, “Hey, I am going to be the first employee, basically, co-founder of this company, starting from ground zero in this accelerator. I’m not gonna make much money, I’m gonna make like, $28,000 this year, but I have ownership in the company and that means that if things go really well, that’ll pay back and be well worth it.” And they’re kind of like, “Ah, I don’t know about that.” But they were supportive and I did it and I kept them updated like, “Hey, by the way, we were just acquired. That’s a good thing for me. I have to figure out what that means for taxes.” But like, it worked. The thing that I said might happen happened, like, “Okay, great.” Then I went and got that job and I quit that job and I called them I said, “Hey, I just quit my job. I’ll probably never have a job again.” And they were like, “Well, what if you get a really good job? With benefits and things?  

But my first mentor was really someone I met at a startup weekend, who came by as a mentor for the event, saw our product and was really interested in it. He was a local guy who had some Silicon Valley roots, had started and sold several companies in the .com era and he just took an interest in me. And I remember this is also a really good lesson about…You can call it sales in a way. There was a program at Ohio State that was like a funded internship program with startups. There was a guy who just donated a bunch of money to basically say, every summer I want to support this many students in getting an internship at a startup that can’t pay them and I will pay their wages and one of those companies was in town and I applied for it and I was really interested in doing it. It happened to be the business of the guy at that Startup Weekend and his business partner. So, after Startup Weekend, he and his business partner invited us out to dinner just to get to know us and our project idea a little bit and at one point his business partner said, “Oh, yeah, I actually have a whole stack of resumes on my desk for that internship program at Ohio State. I need to go through them and pick an intern.” And I said, “I’m in that pile, I’m in that pile of resumes on your desk.” And he said, “You’re hired.” Which is like, this realization that if you’re going through like the front door, or if you’re submitting a resume, it’s just so much harder than meeting the person and having a connection and saying, “I want that.” So powerful. But yeah, those guys are really good to me for a long time. 

John: That’s amazing and I love that story because people apply all day long, right? It’s how do you differentiate yourself? How do you get in front of the line, get to know the person that’s, you know, hiring and learn as much as you can, reach out to them, be different, right? And that’s how you’re gonna differentiate yourself from the 100, 200, 300 other applicants, right? And build relationships, get to know people on an intimate level and really have that will power that you’re gonna win, you’re gonna get that job position, whatever it is. That’s awesome. So, let’s pivot a little bit, some of these business career moves that you’ve had over the years. So, what took you from working under somewhat like, what chain? Mentally, was it because you kind of worked in the startup field for a couple years to then pivot to say, “Look, I understand what it takes. Now I want to try to create my own.” Like, what were some of the challenges? What were you going through mindset wise? 

Jay: I think the biggest thing, well, when I took that job, I made a list of the things I wanted to learn like, it was a very intentional choice that I know I have a lot to learn. I don’t have a business I’m so obsessed with, I don’t want to just start something for the sake of starting something because I feel like I have to like, fulfill my identity or whatever but I had some very specific things I wanted to learn. And it got to a point where I had learned most of the things on that list and did not see a path forward for learning the things that I didn’t with my role. And I was enjoying the experience less and less all the time, which was a function of like, my boss to a degree but it was also a function of, I didn’t care about the healthcare industry so much. It’s really broken in the United States and it’s like demoralizing to try to fix it. And I was doing things like, I came into that company…I’m pretty positive that the guy who hired me wrote a job position that he just thought would appeal to me and then he said, “Hey, do you know anybody? I was like, that sounds like me and I applied, I got the position. A month later, they completely changed my role to what they actually wanted me to do. I wanted to learn sales. That was like what I came in to do and I did that for about a month, learn from a guy who had been doing sales in pharmaceuticals for a long time, learned a ton. I learned so much from him but then they moved me back into a product role, which is something that I had history with at the startup anyway but anyway, I got to a point where, yeah, I just…I no longer wanted to sell all my best energy to somebody else and have that funnel towards a vision that I didn’t care about. Frankly, I just wanted to do stuff on my own and spend my time how I wanted and when I wanted, with who I wanted, doing what I wanted, you know? And I knew that I could figure it out and I still…I hadn’t really articulated the idea of freelancing, it was just like, I bet I can make money on my own and figure it out. I’m gonna do that and it turned into freelancing in the beginning, it turned into making WordPress sites and helping people produce podcasts and doing marketing funnels for people and then it became this community and mastermind program that I built called Unreal Collective and I did that for four years. That was a really great economic engine. And then SPI came around, contracted me to help them build their community because of the work I’d done with Unreal Collective and at some point, it just became a conversation topic that “Hey! What would like, if we just acquired you in and the community Unreal Collective and brought you in so you could focus on SPI pro and SPI as community full time. And I hadn’t been looking for a role.

Last year was like the most successful year in business I’ve ever had, which is a crazy thing to say during a pandemic but the team was so talented and it was so aligned with what I want to do long term. It just seemed like a really great opportunity. So, that call I made to my parents four years ago to say I’ll never take a job again, didn’t age super well. But yeah, I’m really excited about this chapter now too.

John: That’s amazing. So, I have so many questions for you regarding that whole starting your company, right? From grassroots, doing this because everyone in today’s day and age, they have side hustles like Gary Vee is all jab, jab, hook and you know, all these things about freelancing, side hustling. Was that your mentality because I actually went to a Gary Vee event like, three, four years ago and the people in the crowd, right? Younger, maybe 20s, early 20s. They’re all about like, “Look, I love what you’re doing, you’re motivating me to continue just doing something on the side until you make enough to leave and do your own thing.” Like, it was great motivating but I was at a different level, stage in my life. I was like, “Is this where kids are?” Like, not kid, but 20 year olds? Mentality is in terms of the employment world, right? Like, if I’m gonna get a job, should I get a real job? Or should I just do freelancing. Like, is that how you kind of started?

Jay: I think, well, important context is I knew I wanted to quit that job but I thought I would do it at about the 12 month mark of being there. At the 11 month mark, the company, it was a hyper venture-backed company. We had a bunch of different products we were doing. The company made a hard pivot to say we’re focusing all our resources in this one direction, which was not the product that I was working on and my role is going to change significantly and knowing that I was only gonna probably stick there for another month, I said, “It’s actually probably time for me to go and not do a roll for a month and a half to onboard somebody else into it.”So, I was suddenly unemployed a month sooner than I thought and a month sooner than I had made a plan but for me, in the beginning, it was really…I figured I would start another company and I figured out, I would decide what I wanted to do. It was more about like, let me just make sure that I’m doing enough. I’ll call it freelance work now. Make sure I’m doing enough freelance work to cover my bills and save enough time and space for me to explore my interests and what I want to do next. It was always like, I’m gonna just like, do this until I figure out what I want to do next. And that just became what I was doing. And that time and space that I was using to explore became, well, actually, I think I wanna create more content. I started a podcast and then I started writing, then I made another podcast and it became this idea that actually, I want to make a living as a creator like, I want to make a living from the things that I make and so by necessity, really started building different income streams because I just needed $3500 a month, you know, I just needed $3500 a month to get by and to be comfortable and to save a couple $100. And I would do that with freelancing, I would do that with the masterminds, I would do that with…I started doing courses for LinkedIn learning and that’s a publishing agreement. So, I had like in advance, I had royalties. So, all that was kind of happening and that’s been incredible because now I have all these different streams of income that I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to that all pay small amounts here and there every day, every week and it’s become significant. It’s added up really nicely but I never…I just always thought I’m gonna figure out what I want to do, you know, and it just never quite happened.

John: That’s awesome. In terms of, you know, pivoting away from work, to creating your own kind of business, what kind of mindset did you have, at that point? Like, because I look at working for a company, working for an employer, boss to then deciding to start your own. There’s a huge shift in like, expectations, skill-set, none security, like, you know, you’re so used to a salary or base or whatever and you were probably younger, too, right? Like you’re in your mid 20s? Like, why, you know, for someone in their mid 20s, to take that big risk? Did you have something in the back burner? Like, support wise, were you living at home? Were you burdened at a point where married with kids, financial burden with mortgage and huge debt? Or did you have to rely on your parents to eventually like, settle there? 

Jay: Yeah, I think this is something that I learned in 2020 that I hadn’t really articulated. I have the gift of a lot of privilege, frankly. And that I got a scholarship to college, so I didn’t need student loans. So, that took care of like, what a gift so many of my peers have so much loan debt and they don’t have the optionality that I had to go to a startup and make $24-20,000 in the first year. At that company I was the first employee, became nominally a co-founder but, you know, I didn’t have all of the financial risk that the original founder had. So, I didn’t have quite like, that level of experience quite, quite yet, but I knew how to live lean because the first thing he and I did was we calculated what my expenses were and we said, that’s all we’re gonna pay ourselves. It’s our expenses and hopefully it pays off. Then I went through a little bit of a identity crisis when we sold that company and I took the first job because I went from co-founder, COO of this tech startup to now a product manager, you know, like, that feels weird, because even the CEO of the company that I joined, I had felt like he and I were close in like peers when I was running the other company but now I’m on his payroll and that like, is a weird mind bend, you know? So, I had to do some self work to even be okay, in that position. At the end of that role, I worked with a business coach and he helped me to disentangle my feelings about who I am, versus my feelings of what I do for work and I was able to, like, become much more secure in my identity as a person and an individual and admit the things that I want out of life, the things that I want to do, which gave me the confidence to say, “I will quit and I will go out on my own and I will figure it out.” And if I don’t figure it out, it’s okay. I have recourse, I can get another job. Like, to me, job security is the confidence that if you lose your job, you can find another one. It’s not like being in a job. I don’t actually feel like any one company takes care of you 100%. I don’t know if that model like, is true anymore. At least not to the same degree that it was. But yeah, I mean, I saved a little bit all the time. I got good enough cash flow that I never went into debt. I never had college debt. I just lived super lean because I learned how to do it. So, I had a 600 square foot apartment in Columbus, Ohio, which is pretty cheap to live and that was my main expense. That was pretty much it. 

John: That’s amazing. And at least now, you kind of reflect and be ultra grateful for what you had and there’s a lot of people like, I don’t know. I look at my example, I come from an immigrant family. My parents didn’t speak your language, even English, right? And for us, it’s like our upbringing was a little bit more challenging but I don’t regret any of it. It was more, my parents didn’t know how to navigate the system. They didn’t know what the resources, the tools, the people. Business coach? What’s that? We have debt. We need to survive with shelter and food. We went to the food bank, we went…Like, these things, unless you live it, you kind of realize what you had to endure but then someone like yourself, you come from more educated background, your parents had a, you know, understanding about resources, knowledge pool and access to information, at least they grounded you to a level where they wanted to raise you really well. Like, I look at my son now…I’m at a different stage of my life as well, where I wanna make sure that he understands, right? So, that he doesn’t get what he wants all the time but he has to earn it, he has to, you know, be grateful for what he has, appreciate things. But that’s the hardest thing when you are somewhat middle class in Western society, you forget that 95%, 90% of the world’s population is surviving on $300 or less a month, right? So, I look back and I’m like, “Look, we have to, like really slow down on purchasing, really focus on necessity and give as much as possible.” 

Jay: Yeah, I mean and to go even further. Like, I don’t know that I consciously articulated this but like, if I ran into a ton of problem, my parents would be there, my mentors would be there. Like, I knew that I had a support system around me that if things went really, really badly and I wanted to get a job, I couldn’t get a job for a couple months like, I knew I would be okay. And a lot of people don’t have that. That’s an incredible gift to have, too. But I was…I just knew that, you know, in my 20s, if I’m trying to get to a point in my life where I have control over my destiny and I’m not doing a job because I feel like I need the paycheck but if I could build a system for myself, a financial system for myself that is pretty reliable so that I can be the husband, the father and the professional that I wanna be. That was what I was going for like, I just wanted to get to a point because I knew that like in my 20s is the time to really get started and dive in and do it. It’ll just be so much easier. So yeah, that was like my obsession for a few years and then, you know, candidly like the last couple…Last year or so, I’ve gotten to a point where I look around it’s like, “Oh, things are pretty good. So, now what?” And that’s why like taking the job was not scary because it’s like, “Well, these things will continue to generate income for me. This will continue to generate a payoff. This is all just like gravy now. Like I did the thing that I set out to do. I have optionality. I can use that optionality to take this role that seems really exciting with a team that’s highly capable, super talented.” It seems awesome. 

John: I think being optimistic, being, you know… And then there’s people that actually are always chasing and they don’t know what the hell they’re chasing right? You know, when I was younger, I always wanted to just have a car, right? Like, it’s a crazy thing or travel. I travel one hour away every year and that was our extent of travel. We never go to an airplane or anything. So, for me, my goals are so small but then I came to realize now when I’m able to go on a cruise or ggo flying to different countries, it’s like, “What a luxury it is to have a choice.” And I’m able to bring my son to different places, parts of the world that I’ve never, you know, experience ever, you know? And so for me, it’s like, now, how do I harvest all that I learn to him to then make him be a better person, right? So, all these things, like, as you evolve and learn and grow and experience, it’s all something that you want to evolve, right? And you know, it seems like you’re such in a good frame of mind and a good place, right? So, what were some of the challenges that you kind of face as an entrepreneur and maybe share with some of the mistakes as well, that you made. 

Jay: I think some of the challenges that I face are still present. Like, to me, the biggest challenge is boundaries. Having off time. I think I am genuinely addicted to work in some ways because I think that it’s a rewarding experience. I know that like, if I put effort into it, good things are gonna happen and the business grows and good things continue to happen that like, reward feedback loop is really powerful and it’s in…Its like, deeply ingrained in me to the point where like, I just…I work too many hours. I’m engaged now and we’re closing on a house and we’re talking about, you know, getting married, starting a family, all these things and it’s like, genuinely a priority for me to be more present in that part of my life and I’m having a hard time still breaking some of those habit loops. That’s honestly the biggest struggle. And yeah, there was like, there were other struggles, too. Like in the first year of business, I didn’t understand cash flow super well, I didn’t know how much to save for taxes and because I was operating, essentially a quarterly mastermind program. I got to October of my first year in business, I realized, “Oh, I’m not gonna be able to start another group through Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s.” It’s just not practical but I’m also out of money. And so that started some of the other types of freelance work I was doing with like, copywriting and making some funnels with email software. But yeah, I’m glad that I realized that early and the downside wasn’t super significant. Honestly, I went to a friend of mine who’s a business owner and we got coffee and I was like, “What are you working on?” And he says, “Well, I’m doing this and that, what are you working on?” And I said, “Well, honestly, I have a little bit of a cash flow problem. So, I’m looking for some work. It sounds like I could help you with this thing you just talked about.” Like, I just went to my friends who are business owners and said, like, “Can I help you? Can you pay me for the next couple of months?” And that worked out but again, that’s just…That’s the network. That’s the community that I’ve built that I’m lucky to have. 

John: Yeah, that’s awesome. As you evolve in different stages of life, you’re gonna realize that, you know, what you thought was important, was not as important, right? So, you’re gonna…In my early 20s, it was all about working, right? I was working 80 hours a week, just trying to save, right? For that car, you know, pay down my debt. 

Jay: And the car becomes a down payment on a house and then the…

John: Exactly. So, and then you gotta pay for a wedding, you gotta pay for kids or mortgage, all that stuff. So, you’re, you know, it changes as you evolve as a human. Like, it’s great to experience all these life experiences and life events. Me, working at Yellow Pages, I was very fortunate to be working with business owners all day long and I was able to access their knowledge and having spoken to thousands of business owners. It was a great training ground for me to even start my own, right? Learning about the 67 year olds, what really ticked on their realm of life, what matters, right? To really help me, kind of guide me to what really truly matters. Like, everything else and the people and everything that you think is important, really isn’t in the grand scheme of things, right? I was able to access that too but in a different sense though. I love that. In terms of like tips, I know there were some mistakes that you had, but challenges more…Can you provide some of the biggest tips that you’ve had in terms of maybe your podcasting or your freelance, the Unreal Collective Business that you built? 

Jay: Yeah, let’s see, I’ll break it down to a couple things. I think mindset’s really important and people say that but like, the way that I’m thinking about it, I think you like, that optimistic mindset you talked about, that served me really, really well and so has the mindset that, you know, I can figure out problems. If this fails, I’ll be okay. Like this, the self work that I did with a coach to separate who I am versus what I do has been really, really powerful and then looking for signs to believe something will work as opposed to think, looking for signs that things won’t work, that’s been helpful. At the end of the day, all decisions are made by real human people. So like, relationships matter a lot and if you’re trying to accomplish something, like there’s a person on the other side of that screen, or the other side of that process, if you can reach them and talk with them, you’re gonna have a pretty good shot. And I think it’s about…I’ve learned a lot about patience lately because in the world of content creation, you gotta find your voice, you gotta get better at the craft, you’ve got to spend time building your audience, building your community, those things don’t happen overnight. So, you need to be comfortable working on it for a period of time and be patient knowing that this work will pay off. I just have to play a long game. 

John: And I think with technology, with the advent of app, speed, and pace, right?  The younger generation, I would say millennials and even before that, they are so used to fast, instant, real time messaging, speed of change. So, they don’t realize what it takes to be a business owner. How long relationships take to harvest a genuine care communication level and that’s where I find there’s a gap, right? In what you kind of have learned and even myself and then that new breed of someone that is going through college, university and onwards. Like, I looked at…When I was…I actually worked at Yellow Pages and I was there for five years and those business owners, it took them decades, if not generations to build. Today, people see a social feed saying I can be a course creator in a month and make six figures like, that mentality. How realistic is it? And you know, what is their motivation? Is that the hook, bait and switch? Is it like them selling a course? If it sounds too good to be true but people are so much chasing this American dream, the lifestyle that they always envision, right? But in reality, as you mature, you  learn from experience. Nothing ever gets handed to you on a golden platter, right? You have to earn it. 

Jay: Prolonged effort, like effort over a long enough time horizon is just so good. You know, our expectations are skewed because we see the standouts, the people who did have a six figure launch the first time to launch something. We’re probably not asking the right questions to realize like, “Oh, well, they also had been doing that discipline for two years and you build an audience of people.” But anything that you’re doing like, it’s going to be underwhelming in the beginning, probably. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a failure like, you just keep at it, you keep at it, you know? I know, you obviously understand SEO way better than I do. I put some effort towards it beginning in 2020 in March and I’m just beginning to see the fruits of that labor. And it’s compounding, like now that it’s working. It’s working better and better every month. And it’s like, “Wow, this is really powerful and, you know, a lot of those turn into affiliate commissions and that stacks on itself. That’s incredible. Like, the power of compounding effort from like, just consistent, menial tasks is pretty incredible. 

Jay: Well, it’s knowledge too, right? A lot of people aren’t willing to learn. They want things given to them, right? And, you know, just like reading or listening to podcasts, watching videos, you can absorb a lot of content but what’s the action that you’re gonna take? Because no one’s gonna actually do it for you. You gotta be self motivated to actually do something with the information. But it’s interesting because we as entrepreneurs are a different breed altogether, right? So, we actually see it, we build a team and then we have an action plan or deployment. Or if you’re, you know, a solopreneur, it’s more about you setting tasks and agenda, calendar and scheduling to make it happen because you’re an A type personality, right? But it takes years to harvest that personality trait, right? And there’s going to be a lot of failure, more failure than actual successes in everyone’s life. You gotta get used to rejection, you gotta get used to like, no one responding to your emails or calls or whatever it is. It’s a part of business and just don’t take it personally, right? 

Jay: Yeah, you know, and that’s a good point that’s another challenge that I kind of face that is a priority for me to get better at…I’ve been a solopreneur for the past like, four years and I realized that will get me to a point and I’m getting stuck, you know, it becomes about team building and that’s okay or operating within a team like lead a small team at SPI now. That’s a new skill set and letting go of control and finding good people, hiring good people, all those are new challenges that, you know, I’m facing in real time.

John: Leadership, giving them more accountability and harvesting real, you know, just people skills, right? And as a business owner, I’m not sure being a solo owner to then building a team. It’s a different skill set altogether  and there’s a lot of, you know, training coaches, people that you can harvest but it’s practice. Honestly, you’re gonna learn from just doing it and doing more of it experience just like anything in life, the more you do it, the more you either like it or not and you’re gonna pivot to see if that’s something for you and as humans that’s how you evolve to figure out, if that’s the direction you want to move towards or not, right? At least you’re taking something different and challenging yourself, right? And that’s the fun part about life I would say. 

Jay: Totally and I think that, you know, that supports the goals of where I want to go. I don’t want to be the person on the keyboard for forever like, you know, as I move to the next stage of life. I need to be able to divorce myself from that sometimes and know that things are going to be okay. 

John: And that’s the key about scaling, right? It’s about building a team to harvest the life that you want to live so that you can focus on working smarter, more effectively and have a real life outside of work, right? Which is to support your lifestyle. If it means having a family, travel, doing things that you enjoy doing, right? So, it comes with time and maturity but it sounds like you’re on the right track for sure.

Jay: I hope so, you know, we’ll find out. 

John: So, I know technology advanced, right? And I’m sure you being a course creator or a content creator, you’ve used a lot of different email funnels, platforms, apps and you were creators of apps. How has that transformed business ownerships today like, freelancers to just business owners because I see it kind of overwhelming sometimes because there’s too many stacks daily and you just don’t know what to use, when to use and how it’s gonna be effective for your team. 

Jay: Yeah, I think if you’re fluent in these different technologies and solutions it can be incredibly powerful like, I joke sometimes that calendly was my first virtual assistant. My calendly has saved me so much time over the last four years in scheduling things intelligently in ways that don’t require a bunch of back and forth and I never get overbooked because of that. Incredible, amazing tool but now you have all these different tools that just save you so much time if you’re fluent with them. It can save you so much time and do such powerful things  and can let you do these things. As a solo creator we’re seeing because there are more creators than ever that means there’s more market demand which means more tools will be built to support those creators and you can have best in class software for any one aspect of your business and they all play well together. It’s incredible you can build just incredibly powerful back-end systems for like, hundreds of dollars per month. Incredibly affordable. It’s really unbelievable. 

John: And this is I guess, technology can actually be an asset to you but also don’t get too bogged down and wait on like trying everything to see what works and what doesn’t, just go in and learn and figure out if it’s molded for you. 

Jay: Yeah, do things the manual way first like, you can’t automate a process that you haven’t first created, you know, you need to know how it works in a manual way to say, “Okay, now how do I replicate that with technology and automation.” 

John: And it’s all about being more efficient and productive with the time that you have so that you can scale and save more time doing things that you love doing. So, I’ve learned that as well.  Events right now…I mean we’re on zoom. Are these things that you enjoy doing like getting out there, speaking more, getting out meeting people in person like, when there’s no lockdown. 

Jay: Yeah, I mean I used to spend hours and hours a week just meeting people and I would go to coffee shops and I would go to co-working spaces and I would go to meetups and that has served me incredibly well. I’ve built an awesome community in network because of it. I’m doing less and less of that now because I’m more honed in on the things I want to make and the people I want to reach and I can reach more people through the channels that I’ve created for my work so it’s a higher leverage task to make content and distribute it to my community than to meet a bunch of people one-on-one. It’s harder than ever to just kind of do these one-on-one things and have it be as effective as they used to be like, events aren’t really a thing. So, I’m really focused on the events we do at SPI. I’m focused on if people come to me and have, you know, a specific reason they want to chat. I’ll do that but I’ve been trying to stay in a hole and do less and less one-off meetings than ever because there’s a big cost to it, you know, and with all the things that I have in-flight. You really have to consider that cost. 

John: Well, you pick and choose, right? Your time is scarce and you gotta focus on what really you wanna do, who you wanna spend time with, focus on the efforts and business ventures that you wanna actually invest in, right? And have fun. That’s the most important thing about like, not just business ownership but life, right? People forget about the ultimate reason why they’re doing things. Are they chasing for wealth and money or is it really to buy that car that I always wanted to have or, you know, have these little goals but when you achieve it get something bigger, right? Like always, have these small tangible things. 

Jay: It’s like that story with the fishermen and the businessman. Do you know that story? 

John: Which one is that? 

Jay: There’s a fisherman and he fishes two hours in the morning, brings food home to his family, they eat it and they go the  next day. A businessman meets this fisherman and he says, “Hey, did you know that you can fish for four hours a day and then eventually eight hours a day then you can hire people.” And along the way the fisherman’s just saying, “Well, why do I want to do that? And the businessman says, “So that 10 years from now you can spend all day with your family and relaxing.” And the fisherman says, “Well, isn’t that what I was doing in the first place?” You know, I think a lot of people get on that treadmill of like, “Okay. Well, I’m gonna do this so I can do this so I can do this so that I can have a life outside of this.” And they forget that maybe they can have that now. I’m in that boat. I do that all the time. 

John: Yeah. It’s true, right? Like, people forget that everything is about stages, right? And you have to figure it out but have end goal in mind, right? Have that bigger picture. What is your vision like? And that’s when I started this company. It was like what is my ultimate dream, you know, client, business, people wanna work with and just work on that so that you can harvest, attract the type of clients or staff and everyone else to resonate with your core values, right? So, it’s been a blessing in disguise just learning about everything and meeting great people, right? So, what drives you today? Like, what  is your thing that motivates you to push you to do what you do? 

Jay: That’s a good question. I mean I just I love the balance of things that I have on the work side of things like, I love that. I can write an email and it goes out to thousands of people who are excited to receive it. I love that I can produce a podcast and that goes out to thousands and thousands of people who are excited to listen to it and then I get feedback from them talking about how much they enjoyed it like, that’s incredible to me and now I’m starting to see like more and more people say, “Hey, because of this thing that you made I’m taking this action. I’m doing this outcome because of it.” That’s really powerful too. I love that. But, you know, to be honest with you, John, I feel like I’ve been for so long driven by the idea of, “If I just get these things done I’ll have the financial engine to support me and then I’ll be happy.” And I’ve kind of reached that point at a very like minimal level, you know, and I think now I’m kind of in the phase of like determining what is the new motivation because I’ve been publishing a bunch of stuff weekly for years and more and more I think to myself, I want to do something larger. I want to do larger projects that I don’t send once a week but maybe, you know, it takes me a year to create this thing. I think I’m moving more towards that motivation where it’s like I want the quality of the work to be the thing that I’m proud of but I’m discovering now. 

John: That’s amazing. It’s a good point to be in because when you find your ultimate beliefs, right? Whatever that is like, your Ultimate Why. Whatever Simon Sinek says. It’s like, when you’re close to it and you’re kind of building a community or making a huge impact in whatever way you want it to be. It’s the most rewarding thing when someone gives you a testimony or when they say, “Look now. I was impacted by whatever I read or touched by what you said and now I’m doing this and thank you for it.” Or whatever. It’s a letter appreciation or they see you in person it’s the most rewarding thing. I don’t know how to say it but when I get a review or testimony or case study from a client that says, “Look whatever you said and you took on at the beginning of the journey of the SEO campaign. It was more like you exceeded, you surpassed it, you know, I’m ultra grateful here.” And it’s not even the referrals. It’s more like, just that email that I get. It’s so rewarding. I was like, I got one on Christmas day. It was like, “Wow, it made my day.”

Jay: What a gift!

John: Exactly. It was great so right now I know you’re going through, you know, you just got engaged, you’re probably settling in. What’s next for you? I know you kind of took on your new role at SPI. Where do you see yourself for the next five, ten years? Is it family first, is it settling in Ohio.

Jay: Yeah, I think, you know, first and foremost I’m really focused on the opportunity of making the community focus of  SPI, awesome. Like, I think the company has an ethos about the importance of community for entrepreneurs that is rare and very aligned to what I believe like, I think community is incredibly important for entrepreneurs because you’re doing things that are harder than most people around you realize or can empathize with and it can be really lonely  so I really focus on making our community experience great but yeah, for me I want to continue to drive an income as an independent creator as well. I love the podcasting medium, my show Creative Elements has been like the most successful thing I’ve ever made so I want to keep leaning into that and see where that goes. I love storytelling and creating some, you know, a thing to put it lightly like, I love the idea of taking raw audio from that show and saying what is the narrative that I wanna drive here. How do I support that with voiceover and scripting. It helps me to watch tv and movies differently or listen to shows differently because I can hear it. I hear the choices or see the choices that producers made in making that thing and that’s like fascinating to me so I want to keep leaning into that side of my interests and  we’ll see what comes out of it. I don’t know. 

John: That’s awesome but career-wise business-wise it seems like, you have, you know, mindset you have clear goals and vision so I’m glad and I’m very fortunate to have this discussion with you. Thank you for this amazing conversation that we had. How can some of the listeners reach you or get a hold of you or check you out, Jay.

Jay: You can go to or find me on any other platform @jclouse.

John: Amazing. Thank you for this time and I’ll talk to you again. 

Jay: Thank you. 

John: Very soon on SPI. 

John: Thank you.

Jay: Yeah, bye.