The bicycle makes sense time and time again. You do see people not only in the city — but around the world — using the bicycle for transportation. Then, when you look at a youth that is struggling with mental health or substance abuse...the bicycle can be very therapeutic.
Daniel Byrd is the executive director of Kids on Bikes, a non-profit organization bringing joy and freedom to kids and families in the Colorado Springs community “one bike, one ride, and one mile at a time.” With a mission to inspire and empower all kids to lead healthy, active, and happy lives, Kids on Bikes sets out to combat childhood obesity, encourage friendships and wellness, and foster a love for the outdoors by providing access to bikes, education, and cycling opportunities.
In this episode, Daniel talks all things kids, including growing up in Colorado Springs, working with homeless youth, and applying his background as a coach, counselor, and social worker to his current role.
Listen to our conversation for a fresh perspective on the power of pedaling. For more inspiring stories, visit our full library.
Joe: Hi there. I’m Joe Dudeck, president and founder of Keyhole Marketing.
Shannon: And I’m Shannon Jirik. I work for Keyhole as the assistant brand manager.
Joe: And this is Metaphorically Speaking, a podcast that explores the mysterious side of marketing.
Shannon: Hello, and welcome to Metaphorically Speaking. It’s a little bit of a different intro here today. I’m actually alone in the studio. So sadly there won’t be as much room for me to make fun of Joe. Like I still love to do in these intros. I just don’t quite feel right. Doing it without him being here. You’ll get to hear his voice later on in the interview though. So whether you are tuning in for the very first time or you’ve been following along for a while, we’re just so happy to have you here.
At Keyhole Marketing, we say that we tell big stories for small businesses, and this podcast is just one of our favorite ways to kind of tap those stories and share them with our community of listeners. We just feel so fortunate to cross paths with so many inspiring business owners and entrepreneurs in our community. And this medium just gives us the chance to do a little bit less of the telling of the story and more listening. So in this episode, we sit down with Daniel Bird, who is the executive director of kids on bikes, a nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs, whose mission is to empower and inspire all kids to lead healthy, active, and happy lives.
So we talk all things kids with Daniel in this episode, including his own childhood in the Springs and how he came to be passionate about local youth, specifically as it relates to kind of what he’s done with bikes and cycling, he brings just a wide variety of experience and background to his position that just makes him so well suited to what he’s doing today. But I will let him tell you that story. So keep listening to Daniel.
Joe: So let’s start off with a super softball question to get started. Is it Dan or Daniel? Which one do you prefer?
Daniel: Daniel. Okay. D-A-N-I-E-L.
Joe: Perfect. And you’re a Coloradan, correct?
Daniel: Yep. That’s right. Yep. Born and raised in Colorado Springs.
Joe: Oh, okay. Okay. And I know we’re going to obviously talk about kids on bikes today, but what was your childhood like?
Daniel: That’s a great question. So we lived in the neighborhood. I currently live in now with my wife, Sarah and our two boys is the same neighborhood. I first lived in it’s the divine Redeemer neighborhood. And I was lived there until I was about four years old. And of course just remember getting my toy lightsaber taken away from me cause I kept whacking the tree with it. We moved over by UCC S in the crag more neighborhood.
So just south of UCCS which is now three, four or five times larger than it was back then running around the neighborhood, the Craig warn neighborhood on it. And on my rollerblades or on my bike, went to elementary school in that neighborhood with it at an elementary school, that’s no longer there, but days were just filled with whatever outdoor thing was going on. And a lot of times it was street hockey, jumping my bike off of jumps that we built on the sidewalk or nearby fields and things like that.
And running around and exploring those Bluffs that are behind UCCS. So a lot of outdoor freedom growing up. And I was, I recall being so happy and in my element there in that way. And then of course playing hockey a lot as a kid. So played, you know, growing up here, played some ice hockey and a lot of mountain biking, fishing and camping those things as well, growing up.
And then in middle school, my family moved to black forest and I spent my middle school lead to late middle school and then high school years of black forest, continuing to play hockey and enjoying mountain biking. For sure. And then, yeah, that was it though. Those are the growing up years.
Joe: Yeah. That’s awesome. Do you have any like pivotal memories when you were riding a bike as a kid again, and we’re going to talk about kids on bikes, but something that sort of just sticks with you, even as an adult?
Daniel: It was more sticks with me now because I have the perspective of, you know, getting kids out on rides now through, as an organization that kids on bikes, but a few ways in which the bike sticks out for me is I rode my bike to and from school most days. So that was, I mean, I just remember doing that. That was normal riding my bike to, and from school. I remember mountain biking as a kid in a weed mountain bike around Rampart reservoir.
I’d go mountain biking and Palmer park, which is nearby, is with friends and then not as much in high school, but I remember always loving and wishing I could mountain bike more than I did create a little trail out in black forest on my parents’ five acres and enjoyed riding a bike and everything. But it wasn’t something that was a part of what I did in those years, more or less.
But in the younger years, the bike was just, it was an accessible fun. And we, I mean, we really built a lot of jumps in a lot of different places.
Joe: That’s awesome. So then kind of fast forward, a little bit in your story, where did you go to college?
Daniel: I went for two years at the university of Northern Colorado and right out of high school, I thought I would, I thought I would end up going the teacher route becoming a high school teacher maybe or something like that. But it, the teaching dynamic never really settled. Well, it, it was great, but it just something about it just in click and it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go, but I knew I wasn’t sure where I’d go from there, but I knew that that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do.
And then it, those two years I played some ice hockey for the college at UNC in Greeley. So I played, continued to play a little club hockey, which was great. And then I was visiting friends in Fort Collins who are going to Colorado State University, visiting some friends and was flipping through their course catalog and social work jumped off the page. The light bulb went off in my head and above my head.
And it was the combination of everything I enjoyed thus far in college. So it was, it was psychology. It was sociology. It was all kinds of all the classes that I read or what were requirements for social work. And even just the title alone, social work sold me on that’s the kind of person I am, that’s what I want to do. And that all made sense. So I transferred immediately and, and got my bachelor’s of social work from Colorado state.
Joe: What was it about, how did you envision using that degree after college?
Daniel: Oh, working with youth. So, yeah, and that was where, you know, with that, that piece of me that thought I would go, the teacher route was because I enjoyed kids and working with kids and youth. So with social work, for me, it was about working with youth from right from the get-go. And that’s where I put a lot of time and energy and focus on specific papers. I had to write research. I did.
And second to that, I enjoyed a lot of the ethnicity studies and whatnot just took a lot of those types of electives and I enjoyed that part as well, but it was all at the focus for childhood, from a childhood development standpoint, from a, you know, youth at risk standpoint and so forth.
Joe: Was there something in your childhood that kind of inspired that yeah. Where there’s some kids you interacted with where you have some influences in your life that just kind of brought you along the path?
Daniel: Yes. So there were specific teachers, of course, that had a big influence coaches as well in hockey and just, yeah, the, the struggles of childhood and elementary school, middle school and high school, all of it just being hyper sensitive and aware to things going on. So yeah, my own experiences.
And then of course, the influence of the adults in my life that were positive, good, challenging, and helped me become who I was, who I am .
Joe: So where did life take you after college, after you got that degree?
Daniel: So I continued to live in Fort Collins for about a year. I was coaching some youth hockey driving the Zamboni, which was great, but soon after graduating and working there, my soon to be Y Sarah had moved back down to Colorado Springs where she was also from not born and raised like me, but more or less from there. Yeah. And so I moved back to Colorado Springs, my hometown, and was looking around for social work related jobs and found a job and was accepted to take a job at a place called urban peak, which is now locally called the place.
But I started there as the housing case manager. And so it was a very, you know, you get seasoned really quick with these types of roles, but it’s, it’s a social worker type of role where you’re a caseworker and in some capacity. And I was working with youth that were in supportive housing and transitioning out of the homelessness situation to live more independently and based on mental health, substance abuse, and just overall different life barriers that make living on their own tougher.
And so I was their case manager for seven and a half years at urban peak during the housing program, different types of housing programs, as well as that. And then that’s kind of where all the different dynamics started developing for my current role now as the executive director of kids on bikes.
Joe: Yeah. So transitioning, that’s a good transition right into kids on bikes. We like to always, if we can ask this question of how would you describe your business to a five-year-old think it makes pretty good sense with being kids on bikes. So, I mean, how would you describe what you, what you do and what you offer to?
Daniel: So, yeah, I like it. Describe it to five-year-old is say, we’re trying to make sure all your friends have the opportunity to own a bike and to ride a bike and to enjoy riding a bike with you. That’s what we do.
Joe: Yeah. That’s great. How did the road lead you to kids on bikes? How’d you how’d you guys how’d you get connected to them?
Daniel: So in that seven and a half years, one of the main, there were a handful of dynamics, always at play for a youth that was trying to build, build a life back up. Transportation was one of them. So everything from our local bus system, having it shortcomings to the employment opportunities that are available to a youth that may, may or may not have a GED to just the way our city sprawled and everything else, transportation, the bicycle makes sense, time and time again.
And it’s very obvious. You do see people not only in the city, but around the world, utilizing a bicycle for transportation. Then from a, when you look at a youth that is struggling with mental health, with substance abuse, usually it’s both, it’s called co-occurring right where you have both issues. At some level, the bicycle can be very therapeutic and through that is really it’s exercise.
Exercise is therapeutic, but a bicycle is very accessible and you can utilize it most places for any length of time. And so the bicycle made sense from that standpoint as well. And from a kind of more of that childhood development perspective, the further you go back in, in a person’s story when they were really young is when they remember things getting taken from them, take they’re taken from their home.
They are, their innocence is lost in some way. And so that is also where they there’s aspects of their development that get delayed, that get altered that aren’t completed yet, but they remember vividly those traumatic things. And so when you are in my position and you’re going in as a social worker to help an 18 year old in specific neighborhoods, and you kind of see where, you know, if you interact with the family or friends and kind of see more of their story in the context of that individual’s life, you can see where earlier interventions might help lives from getting derailed more as they get older.
So by that, I mean, introducing more positive things, helping families when they’re younger and struggling earlier on versus later on, that’s where all of these other pieces of the puzzle started to make sense for me as to where do I want to work to work with these same kids, just 10 years further in their development. So instead of working with them when they’re 18, what about when they’re eight and how can, how can certain things be taught and earned and how can they go through the process of development in a stronger, more healthy way that ultimately will help them for later on in life.
And so that’s where kind of the coaching perspective for me comes into play of, you know, you’ve got to coach kids to be more resilient, things that are outside their control versus what they can control and different dynamics like that. And so for, for me, the bicycle makes so much perfect sense, works for me individually to maintain my own mental health and fitness and, you know, for all the good reasons that so many people enjoy the bicycle.
It’s a very simple tool that can have a really significant impact on a person’s life, but the better, the sooner you can start the better. So the teaching kids, when they’re young, how to ride in the first place, teaching them that they are responsible for their own health, that all matters. And it all matters the earlier on the better, you know, for families as well to get engaged, but really getting down to that individual responsibility that plays out as well when their kids are young.
Joe: Yeah. I mean, that’s just, yeah, it’s amazing to take all that in I, as a kid, I never really thought about those things. Of course, you just had a hand-me-down bike that probably an old Schwinn that got me around town and I was in the Midwest. So I didn’t need a whole lot of off-road to kind of biking, but right. Yeah. I mean, just thinking about what you just said and how much that, that transportation of afforded me and provided me in my upbringing. That’s that’s yeah.
Daniel: Yeah. We’re not often aware the development, the positive development that you have until you look back at it and realize, yeah. Well, without those, without the ability to have had that exercise, I wonder how much, I wonder how much more of a struggle school might’ve been don’t know because I didn’t experience it, but you do see trends in other ways and the way that stuff plays out, where all kinds of data proves that exercise for kids is a good thing.
Yeah. From attention being, paying attention in school and doing well in school to preventing diabetes and all kinds of other research that just connects physical, the positive of physical activity to better, stronger, happier, healthier kids.
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Joe: What are some specific ways kids on bikes is, is helping kids. You even said something quickly there about helping them, I think earn their bikes. So kind of talk about just how you’re coming alongside and specifically helping kids to get bikes and to experience all the benefits of bikes and all that. Yeah.
Daniel: So when we’re talking about the structure of our programs, there is a real big emphasis on earning a bike. And by that it’s not, it’s not financially earning it or paying for it. It’s working hard at something and learning stuff that you don’t already know so that when the bike is yours and you have that opportunity to take it home, you know what it looks like to take care of that bike.
So an example is that a lot of kids do have access to a bike, but they would call it broken. They would say the bright, the bikes. I have a bike, but it’s broken more than half the time. It’s a flat tire. So a flat tire is a very easy fix for anybody who works at a bike shop, but it’s also something that you can learn to just do yourself. And so it’s not, it’s no longer an excuse not to ride your bike because what we’ll do is we’ll teach you how to take the wheel off, take the tube out, patch it, put it all back together, tighten it all up.
So it’s safe to ride and you’re good to go. So they don’t only earn a bike, but they earn the patch kit, the wrench, the pump, and everything. They do need to fix their own flat tires. And that’s an example. Another example would be that we’re teaching them how to ride in the first place. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, of course, but it’s easier to teach kids when they’re younger to ride a bike. The older child gets every year, they get older and they don’t know how to ride a bike, but the chances of them learning to ride go down significantly, especially by the time they hit middle school.
So they earn a bike by learning how to ride in many cases. So we were at a point with within all our programs that one out of 10, fifth graders did not know how to ride a bike. And that’s a very easy thing to fix, but again, that could easily be missed and they would actually be participating in the, earn a bike program and would keep it totally a secret until that first day where the bikes are brought out and they were just hoping and crossing their fingers that they could just hop on and just figure it out and just go without feeling embarrassed in front of their peers.
But we would constantly tell them it’s okay, you’re not alone in this happens all the time. And then we teach them how to ride off on the side. And that becomes a big part of that kid’s program success as well. So earning a bike has everything to do with, you know, the, the amount of personal responsibility that needs to go into it, but also that if they, if they make some decisions outside of the program, so an afterschool program, let’s say, and they get in school suspension or after-school detention or something like that.
Or if they, for any reason, make behavioral choices somewhere else throughout the week, and they’re not allowed to participate, they may not earn the bike. So it teaches them that personal responsibility that just because you’re signed up does not guarantee you get anything. So we, we hold kids accountable. And what we do to make that happen is we work with the schools and community centers that are our partners, and we help them figure out ways to hold their students accountable.
They know the families dynamics the kids situation far better than we do. So we encourage them to structure the program so that kids are earning it in a way that really incentivizes good character building good participation responsibility, and so forth so that the kids are on a bike with that teacher, with that school counselor, whomever it is.
Joe: Yeah. I saw on your website, what you offer bike libraries. That was a pretty intriguing idea. Can you talk a little bit more about this?
Daniel: Sure. So we, we have 17 of those throughout the Pikes peak region and a bike library is a way that we can make bicycling more accessible all year round for the partners that I was just describing that help us run, earn a bike. So what we’re doing is setting up the neighborhood to have a fleet of bikes that are referred, fished that are there and ready to be used as much as we can get them out to be used by the kids.
And so the bike library just becomes a place for that bicycle activity to happen. And given that we’re a lean and mean organization, you know, we certainly can’t be everywhere that we’d like to be all the time. But when we establish a program partner, we focus immediately on training leaders within that neighborhood to run the bicycle programming for themselves again, on my point earlier about how they know the family dynamics and the situations of those kids better than we do.
So they’re also able to, to accommodate things better than we can and ensure that kids are riding as often as possible after we’ve trained the leaders of here’s how to do it. It’s actually quite simple. There’s a lot of things you need to take into consideration if you’re taking fifth graders out, or if you’re taking third graders out, or if you’re taking out the high schoolers of where do you ride, what do you need to teach them before you get out and cross streets and things like that. So that’s all part of that earn a bike curriculum for that program.
And then they come back and lock up the bikes in the bike library, the bike library, bikes become the bikes that they earn after they’ve completed the program. And it becomes a place of just simple. It’s a place to establish where you meet even right for the ride itself, it’s right there on school grounds or whatever it is. And it just helps make bicycling more accessible.
Joe: Yeah, that’s great. It’s such a brilliant idea. How do people help support kids on bikes? What are some ways we can support you guys?
Daniel: So we, three main parts is the first and foremost financial contributions. Of course, nonprofits can’t do what we do or non-profits of any kind without individual support. Financially speaking volunteers are the, I mean, I could go on and on and a whole nother podcast about the value of volunteers, even specifically to kids on bikes about how we are such a volunteer led organization and rely on volunteers to help us with all the programs, including fixing up bikes that the kids will ride.
Our summer programs are earned a bike programs. Volunteers have been what have made kids on bikes, what it is today. So volunteer opportunities are an ongoing thing all year long. And then third is bicycle donation. So people bringing in bike donations so that we can fund and supply and do what we do equipping those bike libraries and everything else that we do through bicycle donations.
Joe: Yeah. I saw that you just recently partnered with, I think, Axe and the Oak?
Daniel: That’s, right. Yeah. It was a great idea. We had a successful bike drive and the, the key part of that I’ll go ahead and segue to is that the I’ve I’ve mentioned the refurbish bikes that come and go into those bike libraries, go to those neighbors neighborhoods and such the peddle station is our social enterprise where the volunteers also help fix up the bikes where we have programming for older youth and where those bike donations are brought in. And then you commonly known as Goodwill or the restore, which is run by habitat for humanity, where the proceeds from that place help fund the mission and the programs, and is a program in and of itself for the mission that you have.
And so the peddle station is our operation center where everything comes together and is under one roof from where all those bikes come in and where those bikes go back out.
Joe: Yeah. Yeah. It was fun to check out that, that, that place a couple of weeks ago, dropping off our son’s bike to be donated after the upgrade. Excellent.
Daniel: Yeah. That’s fantastic. Thank you.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. What’s what’s on the horizon for kids on bikes. What are some things you are looking forward to down the road?
Daniel: That’s that’s an exciting question. So a couple, couple of things, actually, some, some longer-term and some in the very near future. So I’ve highlighted some of our priorities, but there are really three key priorities to everything that we do. And I’ve mentioned that the education piece, the earning of a bike. Yeah. So that education is ongoing, right? So you have, you learn to ride.
Now you learn to break, you learn to start and stop. You learn to ride in a group, you learn to ride farther, faster, all those things, education always ongoing. And then there’s the opportunities to ride why the bike libraries make sense and creating more opportunities to ride. Because from a physical health standpoint, 60 minutes a day minimum is how much exercise all kids should be getting. So getting that regular physical activity is key to everything we do is we’re trying to make that happen.
And then it’s the access to bikes in the first place. So those bike libraries, but as we continue to get bike libraries well-established and our programming is running well, the question is where do these kids ride? Do they have a fun, accessible place to ride? And not all neighborhoods are created equal. Sidewalks are missing. Sidewalk links are missing or parks are in disrepair. Whatever the case is, we are trying to continue to bring, make fun bike facility.
So I’ll highlight one in town called the El Pomar youth bike park, which is next to the hillside community center. That’s where kids can go and ride safely. Parents can watch them and they can develop skills and quite literally ride for hours and enjoy themselves. So we’re going to keep the next project similar to that is the Cresta pump track, which will be in the Southwestern part of downtown, kind of going into the Southwestern part, other neighborhoods.
And so we’re going to, we’ve partnered with medicine wheel trail advocates, the shine mountain cycling club, and they’ve gotten a lot of funders to help put together the funding we need for the Cresta punk track. And that’s a pump track is a simple but fun, challenging skills course for kids to ride. But again, the key being it’s accessible, it’s open to the public and it’s, it’s not on the street where a lot of people consider it, of course, to be too dangerous for kids to ride their bikes.
So after we complete that, we’ll continue to look at enhancing parks all over the region on how do we make bicycling better and easier for kids and families to enjoy. And another big thing though, kind of on the horizon, that’s really exciting is the mobile bicycle mechanic capacity that we are building. So from the peddle station where we have really great mechanics and great volunteers is to go into the neighborhoods that we’re already serving and help repair bikes.
So sometimes people need help just identifying whether or not their bike is safe to ride. And so we’ve been doing free bicycle safety inspections. I get the Southeast YMCA or different partners that we can set up, you know, on a Saturday. And then taking that a step further would be to create more, more of a consistent presence of bicycle mechanics and bicycle repair for people in the Southeast part of town where there’s very little access to a bike shop, like more traditional bike shop.
So we’re going to start, continue bringing that service to people because it’s where we’re already invested in and have been invested in since mid two thousands when kids on bikes first started. And it’s how, that’s how we make our mission go further is to keep all the bikes in good repair and then make sure moms and dads and aunts and uncles can ride with those kids as well. Yeah,
Joe: No, that’s awesome. I mean, yeah. I’ve had a bike. My wife’s bike needs some, some touch up and it’s been, yeah, just a little bit of that hassle where you’re thinking now, how am I going to take it somewhere else? And, and if it’s across town and all that sort of thing, but it’s nice that it’s, you know, find some spaces in the neighborhood where they can easily transport their bike and get it fixed up and ready to go. That’s awesome.
You’ve been a part of the Colorado Springs community, both as a, you know, as a kid now as an adult and now part of the business community, what’s your favorite part of being part of the, just the Colorado Springs community as a whole?
Daniel: My favorite part now is being a dad without question. Yeah. I mentioned earlier on that I live now in the neighborhood. I first lived in as a kid and well, I’ve shared I with two high energy twin boys that are 10 years old and exploring doing, going mountain biking in Palmer park with them, they’re playing hockey, just like I did to now that I, I mean, there’s just, that’s being a dad then I, you know, being part of the more broadly speaking and more specifically to me is that, you know, I can go mountain biking on my lunch break.
That is we’re, we’ve, we’re very fortunate to live where we live to have the outdoor access that we have. And that’s certainly a part that I saver just about every day. I, you know, being born and raised here and living here, I love the mountains more and more every day and always looking for ways to be outside versus inside.
So yeah, I think I, I, I like seeing things develop and, you know, seeing friends of mine as they raised kids of their own and all that kinds of good stuff. So I know I’m very fortunate with, with a very tight, good sense of community around me and, you know, other friends that were also born and raised here that are still here to stay in touch with. So I think final thought would be that, you know, it’s exciting to see the things develop in a healthy way for the most part, that it seems like the city’s making good progress on some good priorities.
And my perspective on that of course, is seeing more bike lanes go in. I’m very grateful that more and more bike lanes are going in to connect for people for, for the sake of transportation recreation of course, but, you know, seeing more bike lanes go ahead and has been very exciting. Yeah. I hope to see of course, many, many more of them, for sure. Well, thanks again for what you’re doing in the city and for kids specifically, and goodness, be to all the families to be more active.
Joe: I know it’s fun with the, for us, with our son. He can still, he’s still on a place where he can ride his bike to school. Like you did is when you were, you were a kid and I did as a kid. So it’s nice that, that, that, that dream still lives on and it’s not something from the past. So thanks for you being, playing a role for that. Yeah,
Daniel: Well, absolutely. I mean, kind of to that point, you know, the goal, a lot of times when you’re dreaming big is how do we make, how do we make it so that every kid can ride a bike to, and from school safe? What does that look like? Yeah, it is certainly different in some ways from when I grew up here, but the need for it is actually, I think, increased the need for kids to get away from screens, the risk of diabetes, all of that stuff that we just didn’t have, the, the knowledge of as much, I think perhaps in some ways kind of did, but kind of didn’t, you know, we’ve got to work really hard to kind of recreate the, the simplest of things.
And I said it before, but I say it and I say it often is that the bicycle is a very simple tool that can have a very profound impact on a person’s wellbeing. And you have to start when they’re kids, you have to start instilling those habits, thoughts and behaviors and the younger the better.
Joe: Agreed. Agreed. Thanks again for the time today, man. And again, thanks again for all. You’re doing
Daniel: My pleasure. Thank you so much for the opportunity. Really appreciate it.
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