Too Smart For Your Business?

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This week’s guest contributor is my friend, Alexis Neely. On the outside, Alexis is a driven mom entrepreneur who has built two million dollar plus businesses, trains lawyers, and appears frequently on television. On the inside she’s got dreadlocks, at least half her body tatted, and lives a Burning Man life.  You can grab her life and business growth kit on her blog and follow her on Twitter @alexisneely.

This week she shares some great insights on getting unstuck in business…


If you are reading this blog, it means you are a pretty smart cookie.  You love to read, think, critique, improve.  Me too.

Reading at three.  High school and college, a breeze.  Graduated first in my law school class (more to do with over-studying as a result of massive fear that I was the dumbest person in the room than to innate smartness).

A smarty-pants.

With all this smarts, I was baffled by how hard it seemed to get ahead in business.  I saw people who were clearly not as smart making way more money, serving more people and making a bigger difference.

What was I missing?

It took me a few years to learn a reality that may be hurting your business success … in business, smart often translates to stuck.

As a business strategist to lawyers and other very smart people, I see it all the time – the smarter we are, the harder it can be to experience business success.

When we make every decision from our intellect, we tend to overcomplicate.  We see all the options, have a million big ideas, and either want to improve upon everything or convince ourselves of what won’t work.

Quite often, we get stopped in our tracks.  Sound familiar?

If you find your business not experiencing the kind of success or forward movement you think it should based on your previous track record of being the smartest one around, let’s take a look at what you can do to get a little more stupid and finally experience business growth worthy of someone with your innate intelligence.

1. Make a list of all your ideas and partially completed projects.

If you are like most smarties, you’ve got a million and one ideas and not a single one of them actually making any money yet.

It’s time to get realistic about what you really can accomplish and stop dreaming about all the possibilities.

Create a someday/maybe file and put all of your ideas and partially completed projects into it now, trusting that when the time is right, you’ll come back to them.  I know it can be difficult to put aside all the greatness, but if you don’t do it now, none of the ideas will never be completed.

2. Pick one idea that has the most promise to result in a financial reward within the next 6 months and commit to focusing on it no matter what, with no excuses.

Self-discipline is one of the most important success secrets of business.  Without a boss, it’s easy to get distracted by the next bright, shiny object and to give up on that idea or project that would have been successful, if you had stuck with it.

Block 2-hours of intense focus time each day (or a few times a week) and focus your energy, attention and action entirely on moving the one project you chose to focus on forward.  If you blow your focus time one day, don’t give up.  Get back on the calendar the next day and congratulate yourself for not giving up.

3. Get a clear vision of what success looks like for this project.

Create a series of celebration points for this project, the mini-successes that will lead up to the big one. Often, we are so busy looking ahead at the BIG success, that we miss celebrating the many successes that have to occur along the way before we can make it all the way there.

Celebrating your mini-successes will keep you motivated and moving forward.

4. Find a mentor who has done what you want to do and do what they did without deviation.

This can be one of the most difficult steps for the true smarty-pants because it means first asking for help, then doing exactly what you are told to do without making any improvements.

Now, be clear here – I’m not suggesting you never improve on what you learn.  Far from it. That’s not possible for a true smarty.  What I’m saying is that before you improve, discover what works and what doesn’t.  Don’t make assumptions based on what you think without having actually tried it out for yourself.

If possible, see if you can find a “salesy” as a mentor, instead of another smarty.  (Best would be to find a smarty who has embraced her/his inner salesy fully and without shame.)

This will very likely require you to seriously step out of your comfort zone because you’ll probably judge the salesy as not as smart as you and as missing important things that you can see because you are so smart.

But remember, it’s these smarts that have held you back.

So long as you have chosen the right mentor who has truly done what you want to do, do not let your judgment sway you from following your mentor’s advice to the letter.

Do not deviate or try to improve upon the guidance – do it exactly as you are told to do it the first time.  If you make mistakes, it’s okay.  If things could have been better, that’s fine. You’ll learn from these mistakes, make improvements and have a wealth of knowledge for the next time you do it.

Each time I’ve put aside some of my smarts and done what I’ve told you to do here, it’s been hard.  Very hard.  But, I’ve been rewarded every time.

Some of what resulted:

Stopped trying to be smart and serve every person in Los Angeles who needed a Will & Trust and instead hired a marketing consultant who helped me narrowed my focus to serving just families with young children in the South Bay area of Los Angeles.  Result: broke a million bucks of revenue in both 2006 and 2007 and sold the law firm in 2008.

Stopped trying to write a book that would show how smart I was by changing the world on a global level and becoming an instant New York Times bestseller and instead wrote a book about legal planning for parents.  Result: got the book published and in May of 2008 with the help of a book marketing mentor made it to #8 overall on and #1 in all its categories on

Stopped trying to launch 3 different information products and coaching programs to serve 3 different markets and hired an information-marketing coach who helped me create and launch one specific program to teach lawyers how to engage more clients.  Result: sold over $117,000 in a 60-minute teleseminar and launched a business that broke a million dollars within 18 months.

And don’t think it ever stops.

Up until a couple of months ago, my inner smarty-pants had me hard at work on three different businesses, a television show, two different books and a few other projects.  But, I’m taking my own advice and narrowing my focus for the next 6 months on finishing one book and I’ve hired the right people to focus on each of the businesses so I can focus on making the television show a reality.

So now I ask you to consider:

How is your inner smarty-pants over-complicating, holding you back, keeping you from focusing and asking for help to do that one thing that will most move your business ahead?  
What is the project you are going to focus on, find a mentor to guide you with, and finish within the next 6 months?

I can’t wait to hear!


Learn more about Alexis Neely on her blog and follow her on Twitter @alexisneely.

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57 responses

57 responses to “Too Smart For Your Business?”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, remarkablogger and Grant Griffiths, Santi Chacon. Santi Chacon said: Too Smart For Your Business?: This week’s guest contributor is my friend, Alexis Neely. On the outside, Alexis is … […]

  2. Sometimes, as a reader, thinker and all-around ‘smarty pants’ I need to see things in print, from someone else’s perspective, for the truth to finally sink in.
    Thank you for such a well-written, positive message and a swift kick in the pants!

  3. Cath Lawson says:

    Hi Alexis, Thank you. I needed to read this. I’ve spent my whole life literally drowning in my ideas and I’ve never been satisfied with working on one thing at a time.

    The past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to discipline myself to work towards completing one major project at a time. Then I stumbled on a great online mindmapping tool. I guess they’re great for people who struggle to come up with ideas but not for folk who can’t stop.

    I’m going to print out your article and let you know how I get on.

    • Thanks Cath. Have you done it and what is the thing you decided to focus on and complete, if so? Share it with us here and we can all hold that vision of focus for you.

      It helps w/ the mind-mapping to see what is the one thing that is at the gateway of all those other ideas?


  4. Nancy says:

    The part about putting away partially completed projects and focusing on just one really resonates with me. I’ve been trying to finish an ebook for ages…but I keep creating other (smaller, less important) projects to work on.

    For me, it’s a discipline thing — being boss-less isn’t easy — and it’s also the fear of judgment/failure. If I don’t finish the project, no one will see it, so no one can form an opinion about it. Overcoming that sort of thinking also isn’t easy.

    I think paying attention to mini-successes and finding a mentor are both great ideas. I’m going to try to do both. Thanks for a great post!

  5. Evan says:

    The problem I have with 4 is that no one has done exactly what I want to do.

    For me the problem hasn’t been being too smart. So perhaps this post isn’t really for me.

    • What is it that you want to do Evan? Sometimes we think no one has done what we’ve done, but it’s just that our perspective is limited to our own experience OR perhaps it’s just a matter of a broader application of someone’s experience.

      • Evan says:

        Hi Alexis, I’m sure there are things that are broadly applicable to what I want to do: Making money from blogging – there are hundreds of people writing about this (conservative estimate I guess).

        My problem with pt.4 was ‘without deviation’. I have found that I have needed to mix and match. I like Josh Spaulding on article marketing, don’t like pop-ups that dominate the screen (could there be anything that said more clearly that I care more about me than my audience?), I like Yaro Starak for his emphasis on delivering content but prefer Mark Silver’s approach to spirituality (he has a way to genuinely integrate the spiritual into business, which is a remarkable achievement I think). But I can’t follow any of them without deviation (and most of them are evolving and changing too – much to their credit), I’ve found it necessary to mix and match and deviate from every one of them.

        This is probably because I’m a pretty independent person. If I was content to just copy any one of them I could probably be successful (given a little luck), but it would feel pointless to me.

        • Hi again Evan,

          To make money from blogging, you will need to choose one business model to start with – and yes, you are right, there are many to choose from. Though many of the things you listed are not about the business model, but about ways to market your blog, which is different.

          So I encourage you to choose a business model that will allow you to make money from your blog in a way that feels right to you, then find 1 person who has successfully utilized that business model and replicate what they have done. Then, take your learning from that replication and evolve on it and make it your own.

          Love to hear how it goes for you!


          • Evan says:

            What I was saying was that I haven’t found a model that feels right to me. If you want to give the options you have seen there may be one that I haven’t seen.

  6. Wow!

    Thanks so much for this post! You’ve just described my conundrum and helped quantify my inability to just nail down one successful business venture. I often joke that I have enough business ideas to employ an entire city but struggle to make one stick! I can help my friends launch their businesses, but out-analyze my own attempts!

    Might have to hire an agent or marketing expert after reading this!! Especially to help follow someone else’s advice who has not analyzed my idea to death!

    Thanks for the article and have a fabulous day!!

    • Crystal, it sounds like you need a mentor/coach/consultant to walk you through mapping out your business model so you have a clear picture of where you are going and can move into focused action. Yes!

      • You’re exactly right! I have great photojournalism mentors- but they’re not entrepreneurial by nature. I’ll start the search for one! Thanks so much and I look forward to reading more of your articles!!

        Take care!

  7. # No 2. is such a goodie Alexis. Just what I had `planned’ for today and guess what, while I did get other semi important things done like connecting with great people and building my community, I didn’t take my 2 hour block for myself.

    Thanks for the all important reminder.

  8. I SO needed to hear this. Thank you!

  9. Matthew Elm says:

    This is great advice…take what you know and “SHIP”. Get it out there. Stop the internal debate and analysis paralysis. Sometimes we have so much to offer that we don’t deliver any of it. It doesn’t have to be perfect…just has to be done with your own flare for excellence.

  10. CC says:

    Thank you times a million for this post. I am going through this now, I see so many people moving forward also with my help through my contacts and I am sitting here asking why can’t I do this for myself, it is a work in progress but after some hard yet good lessons learned this month this post just hit the nail on the head. Great post thank you so much!


  11. I’m lucky; I’m only half smart! I totally agree with your post and I think it’s a great read for smart people who are struggling.

    I find that most often they simply talk themselves out of good ideas because their smart-brain finds every possible way it’s going to fail. Perhaps just refocusing that thought process on finding all the ways it’s going to succeed is the best way to get unstuck.

  12. Wow Alexis. Thanks for giving me a big “if the shoe fits wear it” moment. Gloriously blunt but thanks, I needed this.

    Gotta go work on my “not to do” list.

  13. Robin says:

    OMG Alexis, thanks for the post! I have been saying this for over 30 years and always dreamt about the business I would own, let me live the way I want to live, and make lots of money. Heck, my friend from school did it and he was not considered a ‘smarty”. By the age of 26 he was a millionaire and you wouldn’t even know it because today he is still a down to earth type of guy still living in our small Midwest town. My excuse to me why I couldn’t make money like him was and still is he had more GUTS than BRAINS! Yep, that’s my motto for him. He was working at the mall, giving up college football, and getting rich on the side.

    So I went to work and excelled at everything I did. I won awards and other things at work like a trip to Cancun for being in the top 10 management employees. Totally we had about 1,700 total employees while about 300 were considered management. But one thing I can’t seem to do is have enough confidence in myself to start and sustain a business because I know more people fail than succeed. That’s always in the back of my mind, in addition to hearing my mom and dad always saying you have big dreams, they’re just pipe dreams, live in reality and this is your reality! I started hearing that when I was about 6 when I was going from door-to-door selling the potholders and homemade jewelry. I swore I was done with poverty.

    I understand about marketing, sales, accounting, taxes, and insurance. Heck I graduated with honors in business (Beta Gamma Sigma) in Accounting and am only a few classes away from a double MBA. (Had to quit to take care of sick parents and I never went back). All I think about is business, making money, and starting a foundation and then it hits, “What if it is just a pipe dream?” “ What do I really have to offer?” I THINK, no, I KNOW, I have gifts but do I really? My own sister says I should just stick to “real” work like real people do and why would I even want to have my own business when I have security of working? My brother says the same to me. Everyone I know thinks I’m nuts. I have a friend that calls me every day and asks me to give my dream up. She doesn’t even work! I have all the focus and drive, but then I think too much – way too much! I wish I didn’t have this curse, but I do. I wish that I wouldn’t know what could happen, but I know what happens.

    I self-study all of the time thinking if ‘they’ can do it, so can I and then I get excited and get to work and think about what I’m going to do. Then there’s that keyword again…think, think again, and then over-think. Sometimes I really think that I should just sit in a think tank all day. However, I’ll be meeting you in October so I’ll be working on getting over this being-smart-that -I’m-stupid thing I have going on!

    • Ugh, Robin, sounds like you need a new “tribe.” Don’t let people with a limited perspective talk you out of following your dreams. It scares them when you start thinking out of the box and their fear tries to trigger yours.

      Secret baby steps will add up, treat yourself to acting every day on a dream of your choice.

      • Robin says:

        chicsinger simone: Thanks for you insight – I do need a new tribe! Lately, I haven’t been talking about my biz ideas, etc. – just been keeping them to myself and working on small projects in private. I’m starting to get the negative people out of my way and now I can start getting out of my own way, too!

  14. Great post!

    Powerful reminder of the power of focus and implementing for those of us with ideas galore.

    There was a time in my life where I admired people with abundant ideas. Today, I admire most those whom, in the famous words of Nike, “Just Do It!”

    Kudos for also sharing the importance of surrounding oneself with the right support team.

  15. Maxim says:

    Mmmm, sounds so familiar!…

  16. I think for me there’s another way that being a smarty pants can take me sideways, which is to keep me engaged in learning and research (because there’s always more to know or understand) which then keeps me stalled out (because it’s so hard do decide that I know enough). So I especially appreciate your statement of “don’t make assumptions based on what you think without having actually tried it out for yourself”. Which I hear as “stop the thinking already and get off your butt and get some actual data!”
    Thanks for the little head thump.

  17. Jon Strocel says:

    Great article, not only does it flatter us, the readers, but it explains very nicely why those of us who overthink things will sometimes sabotage our own success. The point about picking a target and sticking with it is so true.

    Now it’s time for me to stop reading blogs and start moving those big rocks 🙂

  18. Half-way through reading this, I went and checked the living room for bugs.

    Did you actually hear me this morning, asking Best Beloved to make me do this?

  19. Diane says:

    WOW Alexis, did you write this one just for me or what!! Just this morning I said to my husband that I needed to get a Business Mentor for my gift box business, as I’m tired of using up all our savings and not having it structured the right way.
    Plus I do need to just focus on one project alone and get that happening, as I’ve spent the last 6 months working with a coach setting up a coashing website, which is almost finished but as the smarty pants I kept thinking that I knew best…funny that, as it’s still not up and running yet. Always excuses, excuses.
    As soon as I hit your #1 I knew that this was going to be great reading for me. The number of business making ideas for me do and grow are too numerous to list, but what frustrates me is that when I get distracted from my core business it suffers big time, and then I blame the economy and everything else for causing it.
    I worked with a Business consultant for a time, and she was excellent, but guess what, I knew my business better than her!! or so I thought.
    Your ideas and suggestions make a great deal of sense Alexis, and thanks so much for sharing them.

  20. Great post, Alexis. It appears that everything changed once you decided on a niche, a focus for your expertise. I think that’s really the key. Oftentimes, people fail to specialize (speaking about myself here, too) because they think they’ll be far more successful and get more business if they generalize. Your story proves that’s not so!

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Yes, this is a HUGE key that holds most business owners back. Choosing a narrow group of people to serve makes everything so much easier and if you think about it the only reason not to do it is lack and limitation thinking or ego. Hm, I think I have to write about that.


  21. Alexis, what a terrific post! I’ve wondered many times why other people manage to do what seems so easy (and yet completely eludes me). Thanks for the tips to help me—and folks like me—get unstuck!

  22. Taber Shadburne says:

    Alexis, I have no idea what you’re talking about —
    the basic philosophical error in your reasoning is…
    NOT! 😉

    As a recovering intellectual (okay, BARELY recovering…)
    and fellow smarty pants, I know ALL TOO WELL what you’re
    talkin’ about… I feel your pain… oh… no, that’s MY pain! I *resemble* your remarks!

    Your suggestions are goldedn.. I also think a crucial peice of my own recovery includes surrounding myself and working with folks possessing *other* kindsa smarts: salesy smarts, money smarts, practical smarts, an’ GETTIN’ SH*T DONE smarts!

    It’s begun happening now, but it feels like a big priority in rescuing myself from my oh-so-smart self is gathering complementary folks around me with whom I can create a synergy (like that nice smarty-pants word? uh? uh?), a whole greater than the sum of its parts… I must create a team to work with will compensate for my own debilitating genius.

    Thanks for gettin’ me thinkin’… (oops! that should be ACTING, huh?) ~ Taber

  23. Dom says:

    hi Alexis – thanks for this fantastic blog post – beautifully worded and a clear blueprint for action. I think that “multiple projects, none ever completed” syndrome can have several underlying causes. Fear of failure (“if I really try to complete it and fail, what then?” line of thinking). Poor discipline and/or low mental-pain-threshold (“if I have tons of projects on the go, it’s more fun and I can flit from one to the other, and if one gets a bit tough i’ve got dozens more to ‘work’ on). I’m guilty of these two, to varying extents. Thanks again Alexis, and thanks too for everyone’s comments which enrich these posts.

  24. Catus Lee says:

    Hi Alexis,

    Thank you for the terrific post!

    Yes, the smarter you are, the more you think of the loose ends, the complications, the ‘consequences’, the trade-offs…. and finally, you stay in the room of indecision and procrastinations.

    Focus, commitment, devotion is the key to success.

    The post is really a good reminder to all or us who think too much.

    Of course, realization is just the start. We will actions to move out of the room.

  25. Shelly says:

    That is great advice and I agree… very hard to do/stick with!

    I can’t answer the question of what is the project I’m going to focus on… that is my current goal… to decide… and then to focus (and find someone to mentor me in that path) – printing this post out to use as a reminder… Thanks 🙂

  26. Thanks for sharing this..This will be very helpful to me..Keep up the good job..

  27. I think people get tied up so much on the details and having to explain their ideas like they would write a novel. Page after page after page. Thinking back to what my mother has always told me when it comes to projects, ideas even stocks…dummy-it down. You have to be general before you can be specific. And a lot of the time, keeping it general can keep you focused. Also, why not write out a few milestones? This will certainly be a sign you are making progress.

  28. Julia Timakhovich says:


    Thank you so much for the post. That’s why I love reading this blog (but never commented before).

    What you say is right on for those of us with a million brilliant ideas and zero execution. My problem is overwhelm. I create so many projects and thoughts and ideas that I end up acting on none. But planning and philosophizing on this business or that is not the same as acting on something.

    I especially like your point #2: “Pick one idea that has the most promise to result in a financial reward within the next 6 months and commit to focusing on it no matter what, with no excuses.” This way if the idea doesn’t work or I get tired of it, at least I’ll know I gave it its undivided attention to come to fruition.

    Giving up on competing ideas is damn hard though. Much easier said than done. But you gave me the motivation to finally get off my thinking ass and do something.

  29. What a great post Alexis. You always speak to me!
    How is your inner smarty-pants over-complicating, holding you back, keeping you from focusing and asking for help to do that one thing that will most move your business ahead?
    I am not an expert, but here is my two cents from my experience as a Solo Entrepreneur.
    Having been raised by salaried parents it is a challenge to move to Entrepreneurial venture. I feel that, setting monetary goal in a business (especially for Solo entrepreneur)leads to taking bigger risks. When we are committed to doing Masters or becoming a Dr or Lawyer, we never were told to focus on monetary goal, but to excel and be the best.
    I personally don’t believe in setting monetary goal. However I do believe in working towards achieving what I want to do with the money. There are two reasons:
    It is not easy to achieve the goal as a Solo Entrepreneur and I end up being self sabotaged. However if I have learned the business tactics/skills in the business and fulfilled the needs of my family in terms of spending quality time and giving them good education, it is fulfilling for me. I realize that when an Entrepreneur does more Personal Development the business evolves automatically. I focus on profit and not on gross revenue. I focus on power gained thru’ saving time/energy/effort instead of making lots of money.
    What is the project you are going to focus on, find a mentor to guide you with, and finish within the next 6 months?
    Use my Ezine, Social media to release Information products that I will authentically be able to sell. I know myself to be a slow risk taker, I will listen to my inner self and move forward.

  30. I’ve talked myself out of too many good ideas because of my analytical nature. It’s better for me to take quick action, if not I’ll find too many reason why something won’t work.

  31. What a fantastic post. I learned a long time ago to get out of the way of my business success. I no longer over think what needs to be done – I start and work my way through any challenges as I go.

  32. […] Too Smart For Your Business? – When we make every decision from our intellect, we tend to over-complicate. We see all the options, have a million big ideas, and either want to improve upon everything or convince ourselves of what won’t work. […]

  33. […] does that she now charges $500 per hour for consulting!), I was also really glad to stumble on this guest post by Alexis Neely on Jonathan Field’s blog. (I “met” Jonathan initially through the […]

  34. Matt Hooper says:

    I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed this post and I included in my weekly roundup of articles that I found throughout the week that intrigued me. If your interested you can see this week’s “Five for Friday” here:

  35. Great article! Love the content and I have fallen into the trap before. Thanks for the reminders and pointers! Silvia

  36. I think that you’re spot on here Alexis. Too often we complicate things when we would get beter results by simplifying.

    I think it’s a good idea too just to focus on the one thing that will give big results in 6 months. Too often in the past I have tried to attempt multiple things and I get disappointed with the results.

  37. […] where she shares some great insights on how to avoid getting stuck in business, in her post Too Smart for Your Business? . Is being smart what  holds you back in getting the results you want to […]

  38. tarryn says:

    Sometimes being too smart does not make life easeir only more complicated. The secret is in being truly happy each day and the rest comes easily!

  39. Lindsay says:

    Nice post. Actually, i enjoyed reading this article. As a reader, i can easily relate because i often experience the same way too. The more you are trying to push yourself to the limit, the more you get stuck on it. I learned my lesson though. Just take it easy, do one step at a time and everything will be fine.

  40. Those are really great tips. Some I already knew. But two things have given me new courage to start a new project. “Find a mentor …” I like the most!

    Greetings from Germany

  41. mike says:

    i can tell by the amount of comments you have hit a mark here. I have had some great mentors in the past and i have benefited from them

  42. […] Too Smart For Your Business? […]