Tanner Gers lost his eyesight and almost his life in a car accident. Against all odds he fought his way back to health, competed in the Paralympic Games and now has a successful online business. Learn how he overcame massive adversity and succeeded anyway!
- Tanner’s health and fitness blog: absolutelylean.com
- Tanner’s podcast: CreativeSuccessShow.com
- To learn more about Meet Edgar: https://meetedgar.com/
Transcription Episode 80: Succeeding Against The Odds – A Blind Digital Entrepreneur Shares His Secrets
Welcome to the Project Ignite podcast, a podcast designed to skip the hype, skip all the BS and bring you real actionable tips and strategies from real entrepreneurs that are going to help you grow your business and income on the Internet.
This is your host, Derek Gehl, and today’s guest is a really incredible serial entrepreneur. He is an author, he is a professional speaker, he is a US Paralympian and he is founder and host of the Athlete Summit.
Although we are going to be diving into the blogging, the SEO, the social media strategy he has been using with massive success, I really want you to pay attention to his journey as an entrepreneur because, look guys, the fact is this, every year I have the privilege of helping countless entrepreneurs from around the world start their first digital business through my programs and systems and stuff like that.
One of my biggest frustration is this, people they come to events, they go online, they invest in training programs like mine to learn how to start a digital business, and then months go by and then six months, then a year and then I get an email, the email that says, “I couldn’t do it.” They always have some circumstance in their life that took place that prevented them from succeeding.
There is always some kind of, I’m going to just call it an excuse because that’s what it is. Then you’re going to meet someone like our guest today and I got to put things into perspective. He is living proof that if you want to achieve something, you can do it if you put your mind to it.
Without further ado, I’d like to welcome Tanner Gers to the show.
Tanner, thanks so much for being here.
Derek, thank you so much for having me.
Absolutely. Now before we get started, before we get into all that Internet stuff that I’m looking forward to, I’d really be grateful if you could share your story, your path to becoming the serial entrepreneur that you are today and some of the adversities that you’ve had to overcome along the way, and then you give us a picture of what your business and life looks like today.
Absolutely. I was this All-American kid growing up, doing well in school, well in sports, and then I had a bad accident.I was getting ready to actually write my name down on that line enlisting into the United States military, and I was in a bad auto accident.
Ultimately a tree came through my windshield, impaled me in the face. It gave me a traumatic brain injury, broke my back, fractured multiple vertebrae in my spine, shattered my face.
At the end of the day when I woke up in the hospital, I was totally blind. Not blind like your grandma or blind like, “It’s tough to see, I need my glasses,” totally blind. Close your eyes, turn off the lights, and that’s what I’m looking at.
It was really tough, it was really hard, I really thought my life was over, and I had a paradigm shift. I had a perception change where I realized it could always be worse.
I still have my hands, I still have my feet, I’m still able to communicate, I can talk, I can have a conversation, thankfully my brain injury wasn’t so significant that I was in a wheelchair or that I was significantly cognitively impaired, and I started to move forward. I went back to school, I started working and I started the entrepreneurial journey that we all love to be on.
Completely, absolutely, Derek. At the time there was so many medical things going on, the biggest thing was is that I had an infection on my brain. I had other infections going on that were really painful. One that ended up taking one of my eyeballs, but this infection on my brain was killing me, but I couldn’t feel it.
You don’t have sensory or feeling nerve endings on your brain. Even though I had this infection that’s literally eating my brain, I can’t feel it. It’s killing me and the doctors are telling me this, and on top of that I’m now blind.
I’m massively depressed, massively anxious about me losing my life, and I’m 21-years-old, and I am incredibly thin. I lost a ton of weight, I’m just a bag of bones and I’m hunched over, I can’t hold myself up.
My dad comes around the corner and he would see me hunched over and he’d say, “Chin up.” I’d hop up and then hold it first as long as I could before I’d hunch back over. He came around the corner and he said “Chin up” and I didn’t move.
He knew that there was something wrong, so he came and sat down next to me and he said, “Tanner, what can I do? What can I do to help?”
I said, “Dad, you can’t do anything. I’m blind, my life is meaningless, my life is worthless, my life is over.” He said, “Tanner, that’s not the attitude that you need to have because you could be blind and you could be in a wheelchair. As a matter of fact you should be. Tanner, you could be blind in a wheelchair and mentally you should be a vegetable. Tanner, you should be dead.”
He let me think about that for a moment, and that’s when he said, “Tanner, I know it’s tough right now. It’s going to be tough and it will be, but it could always be worse.”
Just having that idea that message come into my conscious mind makes me realize this is true for not just me, but for everyone, no matter what your situation is. If you’re not dead, then it could always be worse, and some might argue that being dead might be better than living but I would disagree.
I think that any time that we have above ground is a good time, that’s a great day. That’s where I started my life. I guess I realized that I had another chance at life, I’m going to take advantage.
Completely, relearned everything: travel, independent living skills, how to cook, how to use the bathroom, how to brush your teeth.
The reason why you have to do these simple things is because you can’t see the toilet, so I peed on the floor dozens of times before I figured it out. Even as simple things like brushing your teeth, figuring out that, you’ve just got to figure out a way to do it differently, a way that’s going to work for you.
I was so sick and tired of me trying to brush my teeth and getting toothpaste on my shirt and getting toothpaste on the counter, getting toothpaste on my face.
As everybody else does, you put the toothpaste on the toothbrush and then you put the toothbrush in your mouth, one day it hit me on my own, I just like, if the toothpaste has got to go in my mouth, why not just put the damn toothpaste in my mouth first.
That’s what I did, and so I’ve done it ever since, and it works.
Definitely. I was pretty motivated at the … I was working full-time, I was going to school full-time, and I knew the entrepreneurial spirit has been burning inside of me since I was a kid. I did everything growing up from lemonade stands to mowing lawns to washing cars to sales, everything. I even monetized lunch detention.
It was burning inside of me. I quickly realized when I went back to work blind, I was like, “Man, there has got to be a better way.”
What I suggest entrepreneurs do is, is to find whatever it is that you love and do that and find a way to make money doing it. I love food, and through my recovery that was the only thing, that was really what helped me go day-to-day was being around the dinner table.
I’m from southern Louisiana, you can’t tell from my accent but, so family and dinner, supper is really, really important. We’d get around the table, we’d share stories and we’d eat great food.
That was the happiest times throughout my recovery, so I started a mobile food kitchen, which is hilarious, a blind guy starting a mobile food kitchen. That’s how strong the entrepreneurial spirit is inside of me.
I started the mobile food kitchen, of course, for multiple reasons. That ended up not working out. I started a direct sales business, that didn’t work out. That didn’t work out because I just wasn’t ready for it to work. I hadn’t developed myself enough as a person and an entrepreneur to really make that business work.
Then in late 2012, 2013 was when I went online, and that’s where I found my comfort zone.
Let’s stop there for a second. You left the university, you started a few different businesses, and those businesses didn’t, they didn’t work out for one reason or another, they didn’t work out.
I think I don’t know any entrepreneur that doesn’t have a few war stories behind them similar to that. Now when they didn’t work out, did you ever think “Ah, I’m not going to be an entrepreneur” or “I need to go get a job”? How did you deal with that, those failures along the way?
Certainly, sometimes we do need to go back to work or figure out a way to generate capital so that we can fuel or start up the next entrepreneurial journey, the next mission that we have. There is nothing wrong with that.
I always make it analogous to a baseball player and a professional baseball player. When they step up to bat, when they are in the batter’s box, if over the lifetime of their career they hit a ball and get on base three out of ten times, they go down in the Hall of Fame. Seven out of ten times you fail, you are going down in the Hall of Fame.
I think that’s important message for our listeners because a lot of people start off as an entrepreneur and, look, the first one doesn’t always work out, but a lot of people give up after that one failure. There is a common thread I see through successful entrepreneurs, particularly serial entrepreneurs is that failure never ever stops them, which is so key.
Tell me about the Internet, you discovered the Internet and I got to ask the question that’s burning. How does somebody who is 100% blind build an internet business?
Totally, with passion, with hopes and dreams. It is difficult.
Thankfully it’s not the time of 1950, 1960. Ray Charles did some amazing things, and if I was stuck in those times I would definitely not be as successful as that great man was. I have a screen reading software that reads text on the screen, so as I type into the computer it reads it back to me. As I navigate across websites, it reads text back to me.
Of course, drag-and-drop is not an option, doing Photoshop is not an option. There are many things that are very, very limiting, like social media scheduling platforms are all click-based, they are all mouse-based.
I’ve consulted with great organizations like MailChimp who has now an accessibility team after working with me one-on-one and figuring out how to make their platform more accessible, but I’ve also consulted with Hootsuite and other social media platform, and they’re just not accessible, they are just not there yet.
Thankfully Meet Edgar is available and is working with my screen reading software, but many things are just not accessible, so what do you do? Do you just turn your back and walk away? Or you just figure out a solution?
I think networking and building relationships is not only important for me to figure out, to fill the holes that are in my business, but it’s important for everyone to realize that you won’t be able to do it on your own.
That’s how I was able to really launch my online business is understanding, “Hey, I’m stepping to this table. Here is a platform, here is an arena that I know I can be a successful one, but I’m going to need some support, I’m going to have to figure out some tools, some resources to make that happen.”
You are building this … God, I was just trying to wrap my head … I’m looking at my computer screen as we are talking going, there is all these visual things that you do. For anybody who is listening, when I get those, “I can’t figure this out, I can’t do that.” I mean, incredible what you’ve created.
Now let’s talk a little bit about your business, but one other thing as well, through this whole process you are also a Paralympian as well, correct?
When I was going to school full-time, working full-time I actually came home and the one thing I liked to do is watch this one television program before I passed out. It came on right after the news here in the United States.
When I got home and the program came on, the news was still on, so I was like, “Oh great.” I heard this beeping sound, it was beep, beep, beep, beep. I was like, “What the hell?” That’s when I’ve … and now I’m blind four years. I’ve already been blind four years at this moment. As you might recall I loved playing sports growing up, so this was a local blind baseball team, which blew my mind.
I was so excited because now I’m going to have an opportunity to express myself in one way where I’m actually on a level playing field as everybody else. I’m not working at any disadvantage and I had a lot of success there.
Some people in the disability sports arena had said, “Hey, have you ever thought about being a Paralympian? Introduce me to that.” I started running track and field. If anybody is familiar … At the time I was living in Tucson, Arizona, a 100 miles away in Phoenix, Arizona was the nearest disability support program.
I’d take the Greyhound bus up to Phoenix for every single practice so that I can make that happen. One year later I’m on the US Paralympic team for track and field.
Unbelievable. God, just the determination that’s crazy, unbelievable. We filled in that blank because I saw you are a Paralympian as well, so you’ve done that.Now let’s talk about your businesses today. You’ve got a few digital, you’ve got a podcast, what is it that you’re doing today?
When I was talking about before is creating the tools, the resources, the solutions that you can do to fill the holes in your business, the big hole in my business is going to be web design and development.
Thankfully I saw for 21 years, so I am very aware of how things look. I can articulate what it is that I want. I have partnered with a designer and a developer who does a really good job at setting up these platforms for me. ‘
Then what I’m really great at is producing content, producing content, and thereby producing content around what it is that I teach and I coach. It works very much hand-in-hand.
Right now I have just some of the things that I’m doing is I have my health and fitness blog at absolutelylean.com. I’ve got, as you mentioned earlier, my sports performance and athletic development, membership platform.
My most recent venture is starting my podcast, which I did earlier this year, the Creative Success Show, and I produced two episodes each week there, and then my consulting and professional speaking, so I’m a little bit busy.
Oh, one of the most recent things that I’m super excited about is that I partnered to do, I’m the director of business development for a startup who is making the job application process for individuals with disabilities, making the job application process online accessible.
That has been hugely fulfilling because another reason why I wanted to be an entrepreneur is to be able to really make money on my own terms, but there are so many people who are disabled who can’t make money.
Think about yourself in your own situation. If you just weren’t able to work and/or how fulfilling bringing home a paycheck is for you and providing for your family, providing for your loved ones, it’s a very fulfilling thing. It makes you feel good.
There is a huge network of individuals out there who can’t have that. Whether they are entrepreneurs or not doesn’t really make a difference, but they feel limited because they are detached. They can’t even apply for a job, they can’t even step up to the table.
Working with this startup, Linkages Experience, and making the job application process accessible for individuals with disabilities has been hugely, hugely fulfilling for me. That’s another thing.
Wow. Wow. One thing I want to point out there that really stood out to me when you were talking is, you said you were able to communicate the design and stuff like that, but it’s not something you can actually do it yourself.
You had to find a designer and a developer and rely on them to build your vision and take care of all that side of things, which left you to focus on content.
For all the listeners out there, there is a big lesson there because at the end of the day I watched so many people starting digital businesses, and they get all worked up and get all tied up in the graphics, in the trying to figure out the technology and doing all that stuff.
At the end of the day as the entrepreneur, particularly a digital entrepreneur, it’s really what people want from you where your gift is, where your value is, is in the content you’re producing for that market.
I almost look at it as it was probably a benefit that you had to hand that stuff off, and now you’ve been able to create some amazing content, and that’s what people are engaging with.
That’s incredible. There are lots of great designers out there that you can outsource to and focus on that content because that’s where the magic is, and that’s what you’ve done, so big lesson for all the listeners there.
All right, so now let’s shift gears. You said you’ve been doing some really good … you’ve been having some great success with your blog posts, some specific SEO techniques in social media. Let’s dig into that. What’s working well for you right now?
Certainly. I think that people understand, learn, are drawn to, can relate to stories. How do we tell stories with our content? I applied this storytelling thing to my blog post, I apply it to my social media.
How do you tell a story in 140 characters? It’s really about initiating curiosity and providing value in turn that’s respective to someone’s pain point.
If you can illustrate a pain point and provide a potential solution for it or how someone might solve that, fix that pain point, that’s been working really well for me in terms of the social media draw and driving traffic.
I instead of just saying, “Oh, here is my new blog post,” “Oh, here is my new podcast,” “Oh, I’ve got this product,” and it even goes deeper than, “Do you have this problem?” It goes deeper than that.
How can you tell a story or how can you illustrate a situation that elicits and ignites curiosity so that people want to click on stuff. That’s how I’ve been doing things with social media.
Now mind you too is that this is, I’m at a huge disadvantage because most of my social media doesn’t use pictures, it’s completely text oriented. For the goldfish attention span where people don’t even like reading anymore or many people don’t, I’ve got to get creative on how I can grab attention text-only.
I’m working on getting someone to help with work with pictures that I’ve got and take pictures. Just grabbing my phone and taking a selfie or taking a picture of anything as I’m walking around, I don’t have that opportunity. I’ve got to be creative on how I can use text-based solutions, text-based social media in order to drive traffic. I feel like I’m doing really, really well.
Were you going to say something?
Sure, let me think. Gosh, so many social media posts. I’m trying to think of my most, I just published a blog post on a solo episode on my podcast website: the CreativeSuccessShow.com, and its Build Your Network on Social Media Part Two.
That’s the second part in a two-part series on how to build your network on social media. Building a network just like many things in life is all, it comes back down to building relationships.
I will say something like building your network is really building relationships. Here is how you can build that relationship. While relationships are analogous to networks, somebody who is trying to build their network, who isn’t successful probably hasn’t thought about the relationship factor of building a network.
They are probably … what I mean by that is the quality, the quality of the relationships. They are probably more thinking, they’re more focused on the volume of their network. How many people can I reach? How many followers can I get?
I don’t care if you’ve got 100,000 people on your email list, if only 1/10th of 1% is opening your emails, that’s not an engaged network. That’s not a reliable network.
If you reached out to them and you only had a couple of people opening those emails, how engaged is that.
That gets back down to the whole idea of that, you don’t really have a relationship with those people for whatever you did to get them on your list wasn’t really that valuable to them, or whatever content that you’ve been producing hasn’t been that valuable, and so they’ve detached themselves from you.
The pain point there is people who want to build their network. The solution is, or the idea that I’m presenting is developing relationships rather than developing your network. By developing the relationship you are developing your network, and then teaching people how to develop those relationships. That’s what I would do.
I also, just so everybody knows is that I’ve really put a lot of time into developing my social media post because we only have a little bit of attention span.
When I’m writing my social media post out, I am sitting at the computer and I’ve got my Word document open and I start typing things out, and I start typing things out and I start typing things out, and then I refine those messages to where it’s causing the action that I feel people, it’s eliciting the curiosity that I want people to have, and then it’s driving the action that I want people to take.
While I struggled right now with coming up with a great social media post, it’s because it takes time, and that is probably reflective of why I’m having such great engagement on my social media is because I don’t want to just post stuff randomly, I don’t just post stuff right off the top of my head.
If you’re great enough to do that, that’s awesome, but that’s not, I can’t just come up with something right off the top of my head that’s going to, one, drive curiosity; two, have someone relate to a pain point that they’re currently experiencing; three, make it relevant to my content; four, to drive traffic, to drive an action, to drive a click.
Those are four big things that are difficult to do right off the top your head in 140 characters or less.
That’s really difficult to do. I think we are in a day and age now where people are suffering from, let’s call it social media fatigue. There is so much stuff coming through that if you are one of those guys that’s just posting whatever comes to their mind, eventually you’re just white noise, and people start to tune you out.
Once you’ve been tuned out, it’s very difficult to get people to tune back in. That effort that you’re putting into crafting every single message I think is a very important lesson for our listeners here because people think of social as, “Oh yeah, I’ll just whip something up and post it.” No, you really need to think it through.
I’m probably tweeting more than once an hour within a given time, probably between 6 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and about 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Now one of my things that I’ve learned on Facebook is that if you’re on your personal channel that you quickly become white noise, that you’ve got a product or something or a service, a website, a podcast, and you are just like, “Hey, look at me. Hey, look at me. Hey, look at me. Hey, look at me.”
Pretty soon everybody is tuning you out. You become a white noise very, very fast.
Then if you’re on your professional business page, you’ve got to really pay to play, and you’ve got to be smart about how you are targeting your traffic. Especially if you are just posting crap, and you’re paying to promote it to more than the 3% of people who you asked to like your page, you are going to struggle.
I normally update my Meet Edgar account twice a week. That’s relevant to the podcast episodes that I published. As soon as the episode is published, I go on to Meet Edgar and I upload that. Everybody knows Meet Edgar is a paid social media scheduling platform, and they offer some pretty awesome things in terms of recurring content.
That’s why I chose Meet Edgar. Also too they’ve recently updated it, it used to be limited to 5,000 or 10,000 posts depending on the level of account that you have. They’ve recently opened that up to unlimited.
Meet Edgar also gives you great analytics. It also monitors your engagement and then adjusts posts based on that, so it will take popular posts and probably put them a little bit more frequently, but it puts things on a cycle.
I have motivational quotes in there, I have my podcast stuff in there, I have my health and fitness blog stuff in there, and I have my sports performance stuff in there. It will cycle through all these post and just post every 45 minutes.
Sometimes it’s my podcast, sometimes it’s a motivational quote, etc., and then I’m updating, and those never expire. That’s the great thing about Edgar is that the more and more content that I get, that I put into it, the more and more robust and diverse my tweets become.
I think there is a great lesson in there for our listeners. This is a mistake a lot of people make is they write a post or a tweet for a blog post or for a podcast or whatever that may be, they post it once and then they never post it again.The reality is if you send out a tweet and you have, let’s say 10,000 followers, are all 10,000 going to see it when you tweet it?
Absolutely not. That’s when you start rotating those, but the reality is once you get to that level where you’re trying to tweet as you’re doing every hour or twice an hour, it’s impossible to do this manually, and that’s where you need to find a tool, and there is a lot of great ones out there, like as you said, Meet Edgar.
Just out of curiosity, because you mentioned Hootsuite earlier, did you go with Meet Edgar simply because it’s got these better scheduling features than Hootsuite?
I went with Meet, I would have been on Hootsuite if it wasn’t inaccessible by my screen reading software. Hootsuite doesn’t have the recurring post feature at least at the last time that I checked, the things that they provide, they don’t do that.
It really it gets down to time savings. I think with the way Hootsuite and other social media platforms as it stands is that you have to keep, we would have to save all these posts.
If I wanted to repurpose content later on down the line, I’d have to have these catalogued, probably in an Excel file, and upload that every time I want to post, and/or every time that it expires so that post gets scheduled.
With Meet Edgar basically it’s 50 bucks a month, but I don’t look at it as 50 bucks a month, I look at it as $1.66 a day. If I save $1.66 a day in my time by being everywhere that I want to be, when I want to be there with a strategic message, it’s a no-brainer.
Thanks, Derek, I really appreciate me being here and you having me and sharing my message and my story, and really the motivation behind helping people keep moving forward, jumping into their businesses and taking it by the horns and staring failure in the face because it’s going to happen.
If anybody wants to reach me, I’m everywhere on social media at Tanner Gers, that’s G-E-R-S. You can also check me out at CreativeSuccessShow.com.
Awesome. All right everyone, that was Tanner Gers, and as always any links mentioned in the interview will be included in the show notes along with the entire transcript of this podcast and episode.
Of course, you’ll find it all at ProjectIgnite.com/podcast.Guys don’t forget, if you haven’t done so already make sure you’re subscribed. On Apple use iTunes; on Android use SoundCloud or Stitcher, we are there. While you’re there, if you like what you heard, please leave us a rating, leave us a review because guys that’s my fuel, that gives me the momentum, the motivation to continue making this the best info packed podcast for digital entrepreneurs.
Now it’s time to take all the tips, tools and strategies you’ve learned here today from Tanner and apply that final essential ingredient. That ingredient is action, so go forth, take action, no obstacle is insurmountable, you’ve learned that here today.
Now I will sign off and see you in the next episode. Bye for now.