2008 was a dark time for Kim Duncan and her husband, Kirk. They struggled to buy their family groceries, and their neighbors donated Christmas. Things started to turn in early 2009, when they intentionally changed their mindset and threw their weight into their business, 3 Key Elements. Now, thousands of people flock to Salt Lake City every year to attend their workshops on personal development and self-mastery, and they even receive thank you drawings from the children of adults they’ve helped. They’ve even made the INC 5000 list four times. Kim talks with Clate and Scott about business inspiration, the importance of morning routines, and maintaining a positive mindset.
Mentioned in this episode: “Conquer the Chaos” by Clate Mask and Scott Martineau
Kim Duncan: I would say to them right now, “Do not give up.” Something that we teach in our company is to hold onto the vision. There is a reason you had this idea, this dream of this company.
Scott Martineau: That’s Kim Duncan sharing how she held onto her vision through the darkest of times in her business. Keep listening to hear her whole story. Welcome to this episode of the Small Business Success podcast. I’m Scott Martineau and this is Clay-T W. Mask. And today we have with us Kim Duncan. We’re very excited to hear about her business story. Kim, welcome.
Kim Duncan: Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Clate Mask: Kim, it’s great to have you. And Scott, that’s quite an intro. I’m surprised you left off the third. Clayton W. Mask, III. [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: Just trying to keep it short.
Clate Mask: Kim, it’s great to have you with us. How’re you doing?
Kim Duncan: I’m doing awesome and it’s great to be here. I’m excited to be able to talk to you guys.
Clate Mask: We’re excited to have you. We know you’ve got a great story. We’ve just become a little bit acquainted with it as we’ve prepared here to talk with you.
And I know our listeners will be super excited to hear some of the things that you’ve done. The highs and the lows are pretty impressive so – in both ways, right? So why don’t you take just a second, Kim, and tell everybody what your business is. What’s your business? How long ago did you start it? How many years? And how many employees do you have?
Kim Duncan: Okay. Our business is called 3 Key Elements. We’ve been in business since 2009, and we currently have about 28 employees. We are a – what we do is we focus on personal development, character development. We support people on improving relationships. We help them increase their personal power, and we inspire self-mastery. And that can be for people in families, businesses, people that are building teams. It really doesn’t matter. We support people in any area of their life in those areas.
Clate Mask: That’s great. That’s great. Congratulations. It’s really cool and it’s great that you’ve –
so you’ve been building the business for six – seven years now and you’ve got 28 employees and I imagine in that journey, you worked through some tough times. I have a little sense for that. Why don’t you share with listeners some of the dark times of trying to get the business going?
Kim Duncan: Well, the dark times start at the very, very beginning. My husband – he was working for another company and – a corporate company – and he just had this dream and this desire to do his own thing. And he – we agreed together that we were going to have him quit his job, and he had kinda had an idea what he was going to be doing.
He wanted to teach and train and inspire people, be a motivational speaker. And so we – I supported him in that not really knowing what I was going to be getting into, thinking that things were just going to work out. Well, they didn’t work out and it was four years of complete struggle and it was difficult. We basically just survived.
I had my own business, but my own business wasn’t doing quite enough to be able to take care of – cover all of our bills. And when we quit – when he quit his job, he wasn’t just losing an income. He had a company car. We had insurance. He had cell phones. So we had to increase our outgo. So those next four years were terrible.
And we got to a point where it was, like, we just needed to feed our family groceries – we just needed to buy groceries. In 2008, we were actually the family in our neighborhood that the neighbors took care of for Christmas in 2008. That was a very humbling experience. It actually was one of the best experiences of our life. Now at our time it was really difficult. But looking back on it, it’s really what made us who we are today.
Clate Mask: Let’s pause there for just a second because that’s a – you’ve pointed out something. When you get to that depth of struggle, and you’re feeling that humility that other people are coming and caring and taking care of you and helping you –
You know on the one hand, that’s really heartwarming that people are helping you. On the other hand, that’s a real blow to anybody’s ego. And by the way, I know a little something about that. I’ve been there so I understand what you're talking about. So tell us a little bit about how that was. How was that for you and your family as you were at that place? The humility of it.
Kim Duncan: Yeah. I can go back to hose moments and they’re very, very close to my heart. I cried everyday, and did not know exactly how to deal with it. And at the time, it was, like you said, it was extremely humbling. And it was a very unique experience to be in that position of allowing people to support me, and allowing people to support our family. That was a really unique experience. We learned so much form that. And I also – what that’s done now for us now is when as – because this is what we teach in our company.
This is what we do as a business. Our company is around because of what we went through. We teach what we went through and how to get out of that. We would not be a company had we not had that experience in our life. We wouldn’t be able to have the understanding of people and when I look at people now and they’re in those places, I can see hope for them.
That was important for us. I think one of the key things at that point in time when we were there is there were just a few little things that caused us to have a glimmer of hope and we hung onto that. We hung on so tight to hope.
Clate Mask: Yeah. That’s really great. I mean, that is the proverbial taking the lemons that life serves you and delivering lemonade. That’s really awesome that you’ve turned – that that was critical for the business that you have today.
Scott Martineau: You know what’s so interesting too is I remember being back in that phase when we were starting our company and it’s almost like this unseen force that keeps us going on.
And it’s critical. You’re always – it seems like you’re faced with that decision everyday. It’s like, why would I keep doing this? I love that you're pointing out, Kim, the need to just have a general hop that we’re going to get through this. Clate and I talked about this in our book in Conquer the Chaos about you’ve gotta – on the one hand, accept the brutal facts of your current reality. But on the other hand, you’ve got to have an undying belief that we’re going to get through this and it’s going to work.
Clate Mask: Yeah. And we totally understand. I mean, our situation probably wasn’t exactly the same as yours, but two-and-a-half years into the business, we were in such financial disarray, making no money, struggling like crazy. And I truly was in denial. We weren’t bringing. We didn’t have groceries. My parents would come over and go grocery shopping for us because we were just – we were in a bad place. And then it started to turn. It took a little bit of time, but it finally started to turn. Scott’s right.
I mean, I don’t – the fine line between denial and holding onto that hope, you know, it’s a tricky thing. But we definitely know what that dark part of entrepreneurship is and I know a lot of our listeners do too. Some of them are in that right now. And I think – what would you say to them in terms of grabbing onto that hope and knowing that they can get through it?
Kim Duncan: You said that Clate and my whole body and I felt myself in those moments and I would say to them right now, “Do not give up.” Something that we teach in our company is to hold onto the vision. There was a reason you had this idea, this dream of this company. Hold onto that vision and no matter how difficult it gets – another thing that Kirk and I teach is to stop the trash talk. Stop the trash talk. There’s internal trash talk inside of your head that goes on and then there’s also trash talk that could happen between you and other family members.
If you’re around those people, you have to stop listening to that trash talk.
Clate Mask: Mm-hmm.
Scott Martineau: Love it.
Clate Mask: That’s a great point.
Scott Martineau: So tell us what happened.
Kim Duncan: Well –
Scott Martineau: You seem like you're on cloud nine right now so obviously something happened.
Kim Duncan: Oh my goodness. We are in such a great place, but it took us just digging our heels in, not listening to other people because people would say, “Why don’t you just go get another job? This isn’t going to work. This is crazy. You guys are crazy.”
Clate Mask: Sure. Everybody wants to be a motivational speaker, right?
Kim Duncan: Yes, exactly.
Clate Mask: Who are you to be a motivational speaker?
Scott Martineau: _____ _____ Chris Farley in the –
Clate Mask: That’s right.
Scott Martineau: And by the way, can you pinpoint it to something specific that turned?
Kim Duncan: Yes. I know exactly the moment. There was a moment when we were – it was the middle of the day and we didn’t have any appointments because when you're entrepreneurs, somehow there’s – there’s time in the day to do things other than work you know?
We’re both laying literally flat in our bed. We’re looking at our ceiling and we both are crying. And I remember – I can still hear the song that was playing at that moment. Tears are just running into both of our ears. We’re laying flat so tears are just running into our ears. And all of a sudden, I had this moment and I was like, “You know what? I’m alive. And I have a body. And it’s healthy.”
And I turned and I looked at my husband and tears just rolled out of my ears and I started to laugh. And it was the first time I laughed in a really long time. And I looked at him and I went, “And you're my husband. And we are married. And we have a life.” And all of a sudden, I decided from that moment – we both decided. We had a conversation at that moment. We both decided, you know what? We’re going to choose happiness. We’re not going to choose misery anymore. We are moving into happiness and this is – we have life. We have a body. Our bodies work and we have health. We have all these things going for us.
We started counting our blessings instead of counting all of the things that were wrong. And at that moment, that was in November of 2008 – sorry. That was in – we had just been through November, December, February – January of the worst. In February, this is when this happened. In March, we had literally our best month we had ever had. I still owned my other business. I had my best month in 18 years. Kirk had his best month in four years in his business. And our mental switch happened in February.
So we switched our mind in February. We began to start thinking positive. We started doing things different. We started writing – every morning we would wake up with a pad of paper and we would literally consider in our minds, what is it I need to do today? And every thought that would kick into our mind, we would write that down on the paper and then we would do it. And as soon as our paper was done, we would stop again and we would write down everything we could think of of what the inspiration was that was coming to us and that’s what we did for a month.
In March, complete record-breaking growth. And then we have never gone back since.
Scott Martineau: That is so great.
Clate Mask: That is awesome. I wish, you know, the things that you're talking about, the mental battle. I mean, that is – Scott and I talked about the mindset strategies in Conquer the Chaos because we’ve seen this over and over and over. And I wish so bad for our listeners to be able to plant this understanding in their mind that you really – if you change your mind, you change your world. If you change your mind, you change your business.
It’s all a choice. It’s so hard to do that when the barrage of negativity is coming at you constantly from people you care about, from customers, from loved ones, friends, families, you name it. But it really is a matter of just changing your mind and having that mental discipline. I hear your story and it’s emotional for me because I know what you're talking about. I know exactly what that is. Personally, I know it. I’ve seen it in so many entrepreneurs –
and it’s so cliché, but few people realize it’s actually – that is actually such a critical part of success is to get that right in your mind and believe you can do it. And then what I love that you illustrated well is just focusing n the blessings, focusing on the positives, focusing on the good things that are happening, and turn off the negativity ‘cause there will be a never-ending supply of negativity if you allow it.
Kim Duncan: One of the things I wanted to mention when you're talking about focusing on the positive, there’s been points in our time when the only thing positive I could think of is “I can breathe.” And I have to count that. ‘Cause this doesn’t stop. And I know you guys know this. The negative continues. It never stops. And we as individuals have to be disciplined enough in our minds and in our bodies to stop that – we call it the trash talk.
Scott Martineau: So great. So take us on the journey. What would you say has bene the high point for you as you built your business?
Kim Duncan: There are – the gratitude – there is so – huge. There’s too many high points. We have had just unbelievable things happen in our life and in our business. We were just featured last year, two times, in Forbes magazine, which – I would never have imagined that. We’ve been in the Inc. 500 5000 list. We’ve been on that list three times and I believe we just got the e-mail. I think it said that we’re on for our fourth year now in a row, which is really exciting.
We’ve been able to just have incredible record-breaking growth. And that’s awesome, but really, I do have to come down to the fact that you know what, every single day, we have testimonials. People calling us. People e-mailing us. You go to our Facebook page. What people write. The friends and family and the – people’s lives that have been changed because of what we do, that is what is our highest point. That is what we live for.
That’s what keeps us going every day ‘cause you know, there’s hard things that happen in business even when you get to the point where we’re at in business. Hard things still happen. And what keeps us going is the lives that we’re changing, the lives that we’re touching, the people that are being influenced by what we’ve done.
Clate Mask: That’s awesome. I think that’s one thing Scott and I just love about entrepreneurs. The more successful they are, the more they want to impact the world. We see that as companies get bigger. They just have the ability to impact more. I think the reality is for many entrepreneurs when w start, we can’t see very much outside of ourselves. It’s not a negative, bad, selfish thing, it’s just that we’re focused on improving our financial situation or being able to do this thing we really want to do, but then as we get more successful, it becomes all about serving others and getting more – having more impact in the world. And I hear that in your comments.
I’m excited for you and for your customers and the people that have an opportunity to learn from you and just the impact that you get to make. That’s a really cool thing.
Scott Martineau: Give us some color on family life. What is family life like now /w the business?
Kim Duncan: Well, my first two boys, their life was completely different than my third child.
Scott Martineau: “What’s wrong with my parents? They’re always so sad.”
Kim Duncan: [Laughs]
Clate Mask: [Laughs] “Mom and dad are crying again. What are we going to do?”
Kim Duncan: [Laughs] Seriously, seriously.
Clate Mask: We know how that goes.
Kim Duncan: You know, when we first were having all these challenges and struggle, I mean, it was just barely – we can’t even afford to purchase shoes for our kids and they were going to school with holes in their shoes and walking in snow. That was really hard. Family life now is completely different. My kids – all three of them are employees of our company. And that is a good choice and bad choice all at the same time. [Laughs] You know how that goes. Family –
I know you guys know that. It’s an amazing experience being able to work with our kids. As a mom, I can’t even be able to tell you how proud I am to be able to watch my kids learn how to be an entrepreneur by watching their parents. And being able to teach them and then not only that, but they are so involved with all of our students and our classes. They get to see all the life-changing things happen and that has been so rewarding for me to be able to have a business where my family gets to be able to experience that and learn. They’re going to take their life to a whole new level that I could ever take my life. And that is so rewarding to me.
Scott Martineau: So how do you turn it off? Is it all business all the time or?
Kim Duncan: You know, we have amazing things – we work really hard. I’m not going to lie there. We work really hard. We work about six days a week. Sunday is never a workday for us. That’s our family time.
We have certain little few times during the week where it’s just – we don’t even break into those moments of time for our family during the week. But then we also have amazing vacations we could take our kids on we would never could have gone on before and that – we really shut the business off at those times. And we’re able to now.
We didn’t use to be able to go on trips and shut the business off. We now have a really amazing system at home and running the company that we are able to do that. Now in the beginning, that didn’t happen. I love being able to work really hard and then have that time where I can really shut it off.
Clate Mask: Yeah. That’s great. Yeah and being able to take those dream vacations and shut it off entirely and be with your family, I’m sure is even more rewarding because you're working together. And you work hard and play hard. That’s great. And I think that’s one of the things that we consistently hear that successful entrepreneurs are able to do is just take great vacations.
It’s a really cool – one of the spoils of success that we love to shine a light on because it’s – those experiences are super valuable.
Kim Duncan: Before we move on though, I want to say one really important thing I think we learned in the beginning is even when you don’t have the funds to do it, there’s a way to do this inexpensively because that mental break for your family is so important.
Clate Mask: That’s a great point.
Kim Duncan: And even if it’s going camping and pitching a tent, which doesn’t cost a lot of money, it’s getting your mind away. Kirk and I have found, as we’ve run our business, when we’re able to get our mind away from the company, we can come back and have different perspective on our company and our team and our students that we would have never gotten had we not pulled ourselves out of the company.
Clate Mask: That is such great advice because we get stuck in a rut and we can only see certain things. And our creativity gets shut down. And as entrepreneurs, we are creators. We’re creating. And if that gets shut down, we can’t solve the problems.
We can’t create solutions that’ll hold us back. But when you get away from the office, from the business, and you come back to it, you have a new perspective. It’s great advice. I remember really early on, Scott and I and Eric, we were talking and we were being intentional about what we wanted to create in our lives as a result of the business, and I remember saying we wanted to – every quarter we wanted to be able to take a trip.
I wanted to be able to do with that Charice, and it was – it felt like the most crazy and insane thing at that time to say that we would take a trip every three months. It just seemed like no way. Financially, there’s no way. Time wise, there’s no way. But we really worked at it and we began doing it, and those quarterly trips started as something very small and now they’re pretty awesome. Scotts’ getting ready to go for three weeks to Europe, which is – tomorrow morning, actually.
Kim Duncan: That is awesome.
Scott Martineau: Very excited.
Kim Duncan: Three weeks. I can’t wait till I can get to three weeks.
I’m not quite there yet.
Clate Mask: I got to say something about Scott. And this is something about Scott and Andy and the amazing intentional parents they are. Scott sent me an e-mail last night, talking about that he was going to be gone. And he had a picture in the e-mail of this huge stack of books. And these are all the books that their kids have read in preparation for this trip, which is pretty cool.
Kim Duncan: That is awesome. I love that idea.
Scott Martineau: That’s all Andy. That has nothing to do with me. [Laughs] Let’s just be clear.
Clate Mask: [Laughs] Yeah, so congratulations. That is great. You’ve given some great advice here for our listeners in whatever stage they’re in whether it’s the dark stages or they’re having some good success. You’ve given some great tips and advice. Are there any questions that you have for us? Anything we can address for you?
Kim Duncan: Oh, my goodness. I didn’t know I was going to get to ask you a question. Wow. I’m going to ask you something because there is something I do typically ask successful people. And something that Kirk and I – we’ve asked many, many successful people about this.
What do you do as your morning and evening routine? We have a system that we do and I always like to get really great ideas. ‘Cause all successful people do – they do. They typically have certain things they do in the morning, and certain things that they do in the evening. And I’d love to hear what you guys do.
Scott Martineau: Go ahead.
Clate Mask: All right. You got it. I’ll tell you my morning routine. And I’m just going to be – you asked, so I’m going to be totally open and tell you exactly what it is. I wake up at 4:45. I go to the gym. I usually get there about 5:00 or 5:05, and I’m at the gym till about 6:15. I get home at 6:20, wake up my kids, half of whom are asleep, and half of whom are awake, and all of are supposed to be awake. [Laughs] And I wake up Charice and we get together and we read scripture as a family. We do that for about 10 or 15 minutes. We pray together after that. And then I spend about 15 minutes on my own, in prayer and preparation for the day. Then I spend 15 minutes and I blog.
Then I spend about 15 minutes getting my kids’ lunches ready. And then I get ready. And then I take my kids to school about 7:40, and I get to work about 8:05 – 8:15.
Kim Duncan: Love it. Awesome. That’s pretty cool.
Clate Mask: You notice I didn’t have breakfast? I’m not a breakfast guy. [Laughs]
Kim Duncan: You don’t eat breakfast.
Clate Mask: I actually don’t. I don’t. I haven’t done that for years.
Scott Martineau: Clate is a man of rhythm. I roll out of bed at 11:30 every – no.
Kim Duncan: You're funny.
Scott Martineau: No. In all honesty, I have key elements in my routine, but I don’t – I am not a man of habit like Clate in terms of – I prefer variety. But what I typically will do is I have three days a week where I’ll play basketball in the morning. I love the competitive nature of it and the psychological nature of it.
Clate Mask: At 5:00 AM, right?
Scott Martineau: Yeah. About 5:00. And then I will usually mix in personal meditation and study. I’ll read scriptures as well.
And my wife organizes a family scripture that we do for – it’s usually for about a half-an-hour. And one of the kids will make breakfast. I’ll eat a nice carb-rich breakfast with them ‘cause they’re not very carb sensitive. I think probably the most impactful thing for me would be the exercise and the time to sit and breathe and just meditate. I think those are the things that – to just become calm. It’s a daily version of what you're talking about with taking vacations and taking time off.
Kim Duncan: Yeah. Well that is awesome. That is exactly – as I’ve studied a lot of different successful people, it’s really often that I hear people waking up at 4:30 – 5:00 in the morning. That’s what Kirk and I have done ourselves. And like you said, there’s that quiet time in the morning that is so powerful. As creators of a company, it’s such an inspirational time where you can clear your mind and hear new thoughts. So, love it. Thank you for sharing that with me.
Clate Mask: Yeah. You bet. Thanks for asking.
Scott Martineau: So Kim, tell – I’m sure some of our listeners as they listen to the stories of our darker days that we both shared here, they’re probably interested in learning more about your business. How can they learn more?
Kim Duncan: Yeah. We love what we do. We’re very, very, very excited to share it with other people. Our company name is called 3 Key Elements and that is the three key elements – when you look at our logo, you’ll see a triangle, a circle, and a square, and that is about improving relationships, increasing personal power, and inspiring self-mastery. Those are the three key elements that we focus our business around.
And in doing that, we teach people how to improve their life in so many different ways. We actually have a really fun video that Kirk did that is awesome about how to improve visualization, which is what we did in the very beginning. That’s one of the key things that we did is we had a vision and we knew where we were going. And we poured so much attention and intention into that vision.
He teaches on this video exactly how to do that, to really visualize what you want. And I would love to offer that as a gift to everybody listening.
Clate Mask: That’d be great for our listeners.
Kim Duncan: Okay. The way that they can get that is – so y’all can go 3 Key Elements – and that’s the number three. And then K-E-Y. Elements. E-L-E-M-E-N–T-S.com/infusionsoft. And I know everybody should know how to spell Infusionsoft, right? I can spell it, if you want me to.
Clate Mask: I think you got it. Great.
Kim Duncan: Think you got it? Okay.
Clate Mask: So http://www.threekeyelements.com/infusionsoft –
Kim Duncan: Yes.
Clate Mask: to get that video. Well, thanks for doing that. Thanks for sharing the advice and the suggestions to our people. This has been a ton of fun to hear the highs and the lows of your journey and the way that you’ve taken your experience and now have created a great value and you're offering to your market. Really cool.
Scott Martineau: All right. That’s –
Kim Duncan: It was quite an honor for me. I really appreciate you guys asking and it was a pleasure to be here today.
Scott Martineau: Kim, you were great. It was awesome to hear your story. Thank you so much.
Kim Duncan: Thank you.
Scott Martineau: And that is all for this episode of the Small Business Success podcast. Tune in again to hear more great stories like this and for now, go out and do great things in your business.
Clate Mask: Don’t forget to rate on iTunes and share and subscribe. We look forward to the next podcast. Make sure you tune in.
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