Cover image of How I Built It
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Business
Technology

How I Built It

Updated 2 months ago

Business
Technology
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A Podcast Helping Small Business Owners Grow

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A Podcast Helping Small Business Owners Grow

iTunes Ratings

85 Ratings
Average Ratings
52
8
14
6
5

Digging this podcast!

By rock phenom - Nov 10 2019
Read more
Really well done show, with good solid advice, and Joe is a very helpful guy!

Great podcast for product builders

By RameshDon - Sep 18 2019
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Wish I had listened to this show earlier. Very actionable advice. Thanx

iTunes Ratings

85 Ratings
Average Ratings
52
8
14
6
5

Digging this podcast!

By rock phenom - Nov 10 2019
Read more
Really well done show, with good solid advice, and Joe is a very helpful guy!

Great podcast for product builders

By RameshDon - Sep 18 2019
Read more
Wish I had listened to this show earlier. Very actionable advice. Thanx
Cover image of How I Built It

How I Built It

Latest release on Aug 11, 2020

The Best Episodes Ranked Using User Listens

Updated by OwlTail 2 months ago

Rank #1: Anton Kraly and a Drop Ship Business

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Anton Kraly is the founder of Drop Ship Lifestyle and has an incredibly story of how he got to where he is today. I’m grateful for Anton’s time and for sharing both his story, and his tips on how we can get into drop shipping.

Show Notes

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Transcript

Intro: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Episode 107 of How I Built It. Today my guest is Anton Kraly of Drop Ship Lifestyle. I’m excited to talk to Anton today because way back in episode 101 Chris Lema talked about how an important thing to think about in 2019 is going to be drop-shipping, and in my opinion, there’s nobody better to talk to than Anton Kraly. He gives us lots of good advice on exactly what drop shipping is, and if you want to get into drop shipping, how to do that. In other words, how to build a dropship business. If this is something you’re especially interested in then this is a great episode, otherwise, there’s a lot of food for thought in this episode. Sit back, relax, and enjoy this interview with Anton. Of course first, I need to bring you a word from our sponsors.

Break: This season is brought to you by Plesk. Do you spend too much time doing server admin work, and not enough time building websites? Plesk helps you manage servers, websites, and customers in one dashboard. Helping you do those tasks up to 10 times faster than manually coding everything. As someone who just spent a bunch of time finding the right tools and automations to save myself time, I can tell you that Plesk is invaluable. You can try Plesk for free today at Plesk.com/build. This episode is brought to you by MailPoet. If you build WordPress websites, you’d probably recommend a newsletter solution to your customers. Why not offer them a solution that is built into the WordPress admin? The MailPoet plugin offers just that. On top of that, they have a new newsletter designer that’s easier to use than MailChimp’s, and it takes only a few minutes to configure. Your customers will love it. MailPoet offers a free sending plan to ensure top-notch deliverability, and if your customers run into issues, the MailPoet support team offers free email and chat support. Classy. Save yourself time and make your customers happy. Try the new MailPoet today. You can download the plugin over at the WordPress plugin repository, WordPress.org/plugins/MailPoet. Again, that’s WordPress.org/plugins/MailPoet.

Joe Casabona: Anton Kraly of Drop Ship Lifestyle.com. How are you today?

Anton Kraly: Doing well. How are you?

Joe: I am doing great. Thanks for joining me today. It is a little warmer for the fall here in the northeast of the United States, but that’s OK. I’m cool with it. I want to thank you for joining me today. I’m excited to talk about drop shipping and this general topic. Why don’t we start off with who you are and what you do?

Anton: Sure. My name is Anton Kraly. I see you have a New York Yankees shirt on there. I’m from New York, grew up there, went to school up in Albany. Started business there when I was 21, right out of school, selling cookies. That was my first business. I bought a delivery route for a bakery in Brooklyn, did that for a few weeks, thought “I don’t want to do this.” I learned about e-commerce in early 2007, and from then on there I’ve been building stores on different platforms, getting better hopefully, that’s always the goal with Google ads, and growing over the past ten or eleven years or so.

Joe: That’s fantastic. Did you go to SUNY Albany?

Anton: I did, yes.

Joe: Nice. That’s awesome. As we record this, it is the beginning of the baseball post-season, so hopefully, by the time this comes out, I’ll have a nice little pre-show intro talking about how the Yankees won the World Series. We’ll see. That’s cool. Why don’t we talk a little bit about that? How did you get into selling cookies for your first business? Was it– Were you really into cookies or did you see that as a good market to get into?

Anton: One of my friends’ dads, one of my friends– I realized they had a nice house and it seemed like they were doing well. It was funny because every time we would go to his house, they lived on a dead end street, and there were like five or six massive trucks out there. I asked him, “What is this?” And he said “My dad owns a delivery route business for a bread company. Like sliced bread, they had the rights to pick it up from wherever it’s made and then sell it to the grocery stores all around Nassau County on Long Island where I’m from. That was just one thing that popped into my head. I wasn’t like, “I need to be in this business,” but when I got out of school, and I knew I wanted to get into business, I was looking for opportunities that didn’t cost a million dollars because I was a kid. So I saw online that there were different businesses for sale, one of them caught my eye. It was a delivery route business for that bakery in Brooklyn, and it was about $25 grand. That was an opportunity I could get into. I saw someone and my friend’s dad that had bought something that was small, built it into something big, and I thought “OK this is an opportunity to, not do with the rest of my life at all, but to build this up maybe double the size, flip it and get into the next business.”

Joe: That’s fantastic. In college, you were ready to make a $25 thousand investment, which as somebody– We’re both around the same age. I basically worked online my entire life, and the startup costs for that are dramatically lower, like virtually zero, but that’s tainted me a little bit to wanting to make the initial investment. “You got to spend money to make money,” is the old adage. That’s cool that you were willing at that point to be willing to make that investment.

Anton: I didn’t know anything else. Back then when I bought that business, I did not know that I could build the website myself. I didn’t know there were tools out there. In fact, one of the things I was thinking of doing back then, again this is 2006. I was like, “I see an opportunity to have a for sale by owner home website. Have Nassau County, Suffolk County, all of Long Island.” And I was like, “I want to have that website built. Then we’ll find the people to list their homes.” And I went online, looked for Long Island web developers or something, and I was going to their offices and having meetings and getting quoted $100k, $200k. And I thought, “That’s any online business. That’s what you would need to spend to build it.” I had no idea that you can start something for $50 bucks. It wasn’t even an option to me.

Joe: $100k. I know a lot of the web developers listening to this cringed. Or, they’re like “I could charge that much.”

Anton: Yeah.

Joe: That’s interesting. I want to touch on two things, being a New Yorker myself. You’re from Nassau County. Does that make you a Mets fan? I don’t want to belabor the point of–

Anton: Unfortunately, yes. It makes me not like baseball.

Joe: I understand. Though the David Wright sendoff was a very nice one. A bakery in Brooklyn, for those of you outside of New York or maybe New York City, Brooklyn bakeries are the best bakeries. They make– I’m starting to sound a little bit like our president here, but there’s no better bakeries in the world, in my opinion. So that’s cool. From there I want to make sure that we have a good timeline for you talking about drop shipping. You started to do more research on e-commerce stuff, what was the leap you made from having this delivery business to getting into e-commerce?

Anton: Yeah, sure. I had the delivery business and a book, The Four Hour Workweek, that book came out in 2007. I read it, and there’s a chapter in it about building a Yahoo store on that platform. It said it was $29 for a month to get started, and then there was a chapter on Google AdWords. My thought process was   like, “What products do I have access to?” And it was cookies. I built a website called NewYorkCookieShop.com, listed all those cookies, and set up Google AdWords. Figured it out pretty simply, targeting people outside of New York that searched for cookies or anything, saying “Do you miss New York bakeries? Order authentic cookies shipped to your home in three days,” something like that. That was a weekend experiment, and within a week or so, that was making more money than that business that I spent $25k for. So I was like, “OK. E-commerce. That’s what I’m doing.” Since then  I started to get into more and more expensive products and whatnot because I realized I didn’t want to sell $20 items, but that was the start.

Joe: That’s incredible. You took a weekend. I will say, I rag on the Four Hour Work Week a lot, but there is a lot of good stuff in that book. I read it probably around the same time. So you set up a website in a weekend, you did Google AdWords which is a topic we could have a whole show on. And it started making a ton of money. You said you started to get into more expensive products? I imagine that this is the part where we start to talk about drop shipping because first of all just like shipping cookies you need to think of a couple of things to make sure they’re fresh when they’re delivered, and stuff like that. Maybe we can get into the research at this point. What research did you do getting into shipping these various types of products?

Anton: The transition there was, again, same thought process. “If I’m selling $20 items why can’t I sell $1,000 items?”  Back then– It’s not the same now, so I don’t recommend anybody do this, but my research process was to go on eBay and go through all of the categories, search for products with the filters that were above $500 and then sort by completed listings. Then I was looking in all the categories for completed listings that sold at Buy It Now prices over $500 that looked to be consistent. Lots of green. When I saw that I was like, “OK. People are buying these things.” Once I figured that out I picked a subset of products I wanted to start with, still didn’t know what drop shipping was, so I went on Google and figured out everything comes from China. Then I found Alibaba and back then I  was importing, we don’t have to talk about it, but for three years I was importing products from China. Bringing the containers to a fulfillment center in Long Beach, California and then I was selling them online. The fulfillment center was shipping them all out all over the country, and then from there once I had all those websites up, a few years into the process I started to get phone calls at my e-commerce businesses. I’ll give you an example. One of them was selling bed frames, so I had a bed frame company call me, and they were like, “We see you sell these products. We have our brands,” whatever bed frames ABC, and “Do you want to sell our stuff?” And at first, I said “No,” because I thought they wanted me to buy them and put them in the fulfillment center and I thought, “I don’t want to do that for the margins,” but then they explained to me “Listen. You put them on your website. We have them in our warehouses. When you get a sale, you let us know, we ship it direct to your customers. For me, that meant no overhead, no extra overhead, and the ability to increase the amount of products that I offered. Once I found out about that I started working with as many different brands as I could, that would work on that model.

Joe: That’s incredible. And that’s sort of like Amazon-ish like you’re the conduit for people being able to buy these products without having to yourself buy these products at wholesale.

Anton: Exactly.

Joe: That’s fantastic. You mentioned that your research process of 10 or so years ago is not the best research process today. What would you recommend for somebody today if they want to get into selling physical products, or their own products, online?

Anton: Some things that I look for, and again I want to see that somebody else, meaning another business, is making money doing it. Some things that I look for are– I use Google, so I go on Google, and I’ll type in different industry names. “Modern leather Italian sofa,” “Mahogany wood dining table,” things like that. Then I’ll pull up the first three pages of websites that have those products for sale, and from there specifically what I’m looking for are websites that don’t have retail locations and that don’t have warehouses. I want to find other internet retailers. The way that I check that, once I have a million tabs open on my computer, is I go through all those websites, and I check their contact page, and  I check their about us page. I see if it says “Stores” or “Store locator,” and when they have that I’m just closing those out. Because I’m not going to be competing with them. What I end up with is a handful of sites that sell the stuff that I want to sell that don’t have that physical presence, and from there I take those domains. I usually check on Alexa to see how much traffic they’re getting. Obviously, it’s an estimate, but I’m looking for stores that are in the top hundred thousand or higher in the United States. Once I have those two things confirmed I take it to the next step, which is how many different brands are these websites selling for? Is it a modern Italian leather sofa website that’s custom making them in their garage in New York? Or is it a company that has 30 different types you could buy? And if I could find that, a website without the address, with that traffic, with multiple brands, then I’m  like “OK this is an opportunity.” That’s the starting point.

Joe: Gotcha. That makes sense. You want to make sure that these are people who aren’t necessarily catering to a local crowd, they want to cater to everybody. Then you said that you want to make sure they don’t have a warehouse either, and that’s because a warehouse implies that they are stocking their own stuff. Right?

Anton: Right, and when that happens, the way that we get– Just so everybody, if anyone is thinking “I should try drop shipping,” never go online and Google drop ship suppliers or anything like that because you’re going to find these middlemen that will say “Pay us X amount of dollars per month, and you get access to a million products,” and you’re never going to make money with companies like that in the long run. The companies that we sell for, we sell for directly. We have direct relationships with every single brand and the way that we find our brands is by finding companies that we’re going to be competing with. We find them from those websites. If my research was just anybody, even that has a retail store, and I’m going to try to sell the stuff that they’re selling. A lot of those brands will say “We don’t work with online retailers.” It’s a waste. We want to segment down further before we start extracting suppliers.

Joe: Gotcha. That makes a ton of sense. We haven’t defined drop shipping, I made the assumption that people know what it is, but maybe– Can you define it for us–?

Anton: Sure.

Joe: Before we move forward?

Anton: Yes. It’s a very vague term, and there’s a lot of different things that would fall under drop shipping, but all it means is you’re selling something, and you’re not fulfilling the orders directly. Even if at your house you were making wooden tables, and I put one on Craigslist, and I’m in Austin, Texas now. I put one on Craigslist, and I sold it. Then I was like, “I got the sale. Can you ship it to my customer?” And you did that, that would be drop shipped. That’s one way to do it. With the cookie business, I don’t even realize back then, but as that website grew I was selling them on my website, and then I was having the bakery in Brooklyn ship them directly to my customers. That technically was drop shipping. If you go online and Google it now, you’re probably going to think it means using a website like Ali Express and selling stuff from China through Facebook ads. And technically that is drop shipping, but again it’s a generic term. It’s a method of order fulfillment.

Joe: Gotcha. As you said if I want to get into selling Star Wars prints, like Star Wars digital prints. Or not digital prints, the canvas type prints.

Anton: Yes.

Joe: And I’m not making them, and I’m not shipping them to the person. I contract with a few people, artists sell them through my website, and then they ship them out. Another good real example is my website for selling T-shirts. That’s all through Printful.com. I uploaded the artwork, somebody orders a T-shirt, Printful prints the T-shirt and then sends it. I don’t touch that process at all.

Anton: Right. That’s drop shipping. We use them too. Good company.

Joe: I’m testing out a few more different products right now. So, cool. I like the advice that you gave about never Googling dropshipping suppliers. Much like what you said, selling from Ali express or whatever, through Facebook ads, it’s a little bit disingenuous. Because you’re taking advantage of the fact that people aren’t sure what to look for.

Anton: Speaking on that too. Never Google drop ship suppliers, and never, when you’re talking to the real brands that you want to sell for, you also shouldn’t use the term drop shipping. My website is called DropShipLifestyle.com so people can find us. But when I’m talking to suppliers, I don’t call them and say,  “Do you drop ship?” That’s not– It has a negative connotation associated with it because a lot of beginners think it means something that it’s not, and they think they’re going to make all this money by selling some big company’s stuff. The truth is the companies that you want to sell for, and they are only going to let you sell their stuff if they trust you and if they think you’re building a real business or already have a real business. That’s not a term you want to throw around besides discussions with other people that are in the business.

Joe: Gotcha. That makes sense. Because they’re putting their products on the line.

Anton: Exactly.

Joe: And if you’re disingenuous, to use the term I used before, then you’re diminishing their brand as well.

Anton: Exactly.

Joe: That’s cool. That’s almost like SEO ten years ago. If somebody said I’m a Search Engine Optimization expert, you’d almost look at them side-eyed. Like, “What are you trying to tell me?” Cool. So to talk about DropShipLifestyle.com, this is the thing that will be the title question. How did you build it? Can you tell us a little bit about that website specifically?

Anton: Sure. It’s a WordPress site, and it has so many, probably way too many plugins and themes. We’ve been through having everything done custom, and the problem with that for me is I’m not that technical, so when it came to making quick edits for changing out promotions or new content, it broke too much. Right now the front end of it, the main content site is running on WordPress using [thrive themes with thrive, architect]. That’s our builder. I love it, and it’s easy enough for me but still seems to load fast enough for Google to show, and we use that. Then for our community– A lot of what we do is teaching based. Our members area is also built on WordPress, that’s using a whole combination of tools, but using a tool called [Memberium], and that does content mocking and [Memberium] is a plugin that works with Infusionsoft. Infusionsoft is our CRM, so whether someone is getting emails from us or whether they buy from us and then get access tags, that’s all handled there. Then Infusionsoft works with [Memberium] to say, “OK give this person access to this thing.” That’s our main content for this company.

Break: This episode is brought to you by Pantheon. Starting a new project? Looking for a better hosting platform? Pantheon is an integrated set of tools to build, launch and run websites. Get high performance hosting for your WordPress sites, plus a comprehensive toolkit to supercharge your team and help you launch faster. On Pantheon, you get expert support from real developers, best in class security and the most innovative technology to host and manage your websites. You can sign up a new site in minutes with a free account, and you only pay when it goes live. That is my second favorite feature to Pantheon, only to the easy ability to create dev staging and live servers, and push to GitHub. It’s very easy to set those things up on Pantheon. You can head over to Pantheon.io today to set up a free account and pay only when it goes live. Thanks so much to Pantheon for their support of this episode and this season of How I Built It.

Joe: DropShipLifestyle.com is an area where people can come to learn about drop shipping, and there’s the community aspect where people can talk to each other. It looks like you have a couple of courses on here too, what are you– Are you using WordPress for the courses as well?

Anton: Exactly. WordPress. They’re on a subdomain, so it’s Courses.DropShipLifestyle, but that’s on WordPress as well with–  It’s using [divvy] as the theme on there, but we use a plugin called Sensei, and Sensei is a good course plugin. It’s pretty basic but more than enough, and it tracks people’s progress throughout so they can click, they completed a lesson. It allows us to attach different downloads to different modules, like worksheets and whatnot. Easy to embed videos, we use Vimeo pro for all of our video hosting there. For our community side of it,  that’s where the content lives for the education of it. But then we wanted to have a forum also, so people can interact with each other. We do have a Facebook group, but I started Drop Ship Lifestyle back in 2013 when Facebook groups weren’t even a thing yet, so we needed a forum integration. For the forum we found the best solution to be through Invision Power Board. It’s InvisionPowerBoard.com, and we use their software to run our forum.

Joe: That’s cool. I haven’t heard of Invision Power Board, and I’m definitely going to check that out. I use bbPress for my community, and it integrates well with my LMS LearnDash. But Sensei is the one that integrates with WooCommerce, right? That’s the WooCommerce LMS?

Anton: They do have a plugin, yeah.

Joe: Cool.

Anton: An extension.

Joe: Nice. It sounds like you have a lot going on, but it sounds like the perfect site builder map. If I wanted to go off and build a website that is a course and community, or an online courses and community, you’ve given us a good blueprint for what we should be using. Which is always insanely valuable.

Anton: Especially since there’s so much out there. We’ve been through so many different tools, and nothing’s going to be perfect, but if you do want to create something like an online course, pick something. This works for us, it does work, so if you want to use it then use it, but don’t get caught up. That’d be my advice for anybody, don’t get caught up in “Which one out of these thousand things should I use?” Because they all do the same thing.

Joe: That’s great advice, and it’s something that– I started a second podcast called Creator Toolkit where I go through things exactly like this. “What do I need to do to set up an online course?” I talk about the themes and different plugins that you could use and stuff like that, but you’re absolutely right, the tools are one thing, and the content is a whole other thing. So even if you want to use Vimeo pro to make the videos and sell the videos, you can do that on Vimeo pro now too. But this is fantastic, and I’ll be sure to link all of that in the show notes. It looks like– As we come up on, we’re coming up on time already I can’t believe it. You have three different courses. I don’t want to make this sound like an advertisement, but this is. There’s so much to know about drop shipping, and you’ve given us, again, like I said a really good blueprint. But what’s the difference between these three courses? I’m looking at the pricing table, but if I wanted to get started with drop shipping today, which course would you recommend for me?

Anton: Either what we call our premium course, which is all our training videos. That’s every training video we have plus our– We do have an app for Shopify that’s not in the Shopify app store, and it’s something that’s on our website. It lives on our website, but we allow our students to use it. That’s included with that. Then also we have– We call it the Drop Ship Lifestyle Shopify theme,  really original name, but you get that too. So I’d recommend either that or for the people that want just us to build the website for you, we don’t go as far obviously as getting traffic and sales and supplier approvals because then we would sell the website ourselves for a lot more money. But that’s the top tier package where we will set up your Shopify store, and we’ll upload your products for you, do all your content pages and your logo. We will set up your social media pages. We will set up your first Google ads on Google Shopping campaign, but that’s for the people that are like, “Let me just hand that off,” and “I’d rather just pay to outsource it.” Depends how hands on you want to be in the beginning, I would say.

Joe: That’s great. This is the reason I ask this question because this is for anybody who wants to sell online courses. This is a great model.

Anton: Definitely.

Joe: You’ve got basic, which is some educational information. You’ve got premium, which is basic– This is the middle tier. This is what probably you’re–

Anton: That’s all the content. So if you want to learn again, boom here you go. You got it.

Joe: Then there’s the ultimate package, which like you said, will do everything for you. You get to learn, but then you understand what’s happening and the setup is being done for you. So you can understand, but you don’t have to sink a bunch of hours into the nitty-gritty of setting the site up and making sure, “Is this right? I think I understood this correctly, but I’m not sure.”.

Anton: Exactly.

Joe: And again, to hearken back to what we talked about earlier, this ultimate package is $4,997, one-fifth of what you paid to start your first business.

Anton: I know. It’s funny. People think about it different like you said too, and I get it. Even when I’m building a new website I’m like, “Can I start this thing for $200 bucks?” And it’s funny. I bought– The truck that I got with that delivery route was like a 1985 dodge something piece of crap that I paid to sit in traffic for two hours on the BQE every day, like that was my investment. And now people are like, “It’s going to cost me $29 a month for Shopify? That’s a ripoff.” Like, it’s powering your entire business. Relax.

Joe: Exactly. That’s something that I try to talk about a lot on this show because I was guilty of it starting out. I’m getting better about it now if I can pay $300 hundred bucks for something that’s going to save me even ten hours that is totally worth it for me. But you’re absolutely right, and it’s so funny. I quoted out a project for somebody, and they wanted an e-commerce site that would have 2,500 or 25,000– Some preposterous amount of products on it. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s say 40,000 products. And I quoted them at $20 thousand because it would just be WooCommerce where we’re sourcing the product somewhere else, and he’s like, “That’s expensive.” And I was like, “That is 50 cents a product.”  It’s interesting because people understand how expensive it is to build a building because they can see it get built. But with a website it’s like, this guy goes into his magic box and sets up a website, and it’s done. That’s cool. We’re coming up on time, and I’m enjoying this conversation. What are your plans for the future of DropShipLifestyle.com? Or maybe if you want to wax poetic a little bit, what do you think the future of drop shipping is?

Anton: That’s one thing– The future for Drop Ship Lifestyle, what’s cool about it is, again, it’s been around for five years. The reason it’s still around and the reason I still do so much for it, like I’m doing a coaching call today for it at 2:00 PM, but it’s because things always do change. It’s enjoyable for me because I do love the business side of it, both on the info business which would be Drop Ship Lifestyle, and on the physical product business. It’s fun for me. So the future is seeing where things go, seeing what works for us and then sharing it once I can confirm some data with our other businesses. It’ll keep evolving as the e-commerce site evolves, and the future of drop shipping is more about the future of e-commerce than drop shipping. Because again, drop shipping is one method of order fulfillment. I don’t think that even if– I don’t see any big difference there between e-commerce as a whole, but what I hope doesn’t happen, because we’ll see what the government does. If they have to break up Amazon or not. Because right now the type of stuff we sell,  knock on wood, it hasn’t been an issue with Amazon with prime because we don’t sell prime products. If you want to sell inexpensive stuff and have your own brand, that’s a great place to have your stuff too. With our stuff, it would never happen. In the future though, if it does, and there becomes a day that you’re moving into a new office, and everything’s going to be furnished from Amazon, and you’re going to place a $20k order on there and so is everybody else and they eat up the entire market, we’ll see if they get broken up or not. That might be five years from now, that might be ten years from now. It might never happen. But that’s the type of thing that would cause a big impact on sales. Same reason when Home Depot went everywhere, smaller retailers went out of business. Not happening yet, but again it could be a negative future for it.

Joe: That’s a really interesting take. Because we do see Amazon getting into– There’s the Amazon grocery service, Pantry I think it’s called, where you can get groceries on Amazon and if you live in the right place, you can get it in the same day. I live near Philadelphia now, and I’m indignant when something takes more than two days to get to me because I have same day shipping now. But that’s a good point. And they have prime wardrobe now which is the same sort of thing as Stitch Fix. They could conceivably monopolize the e-commerce market.

Anton: They’re trying to. That’s their goal.

Joe: Right. That’s so interesting. You’ve given us a ton of great advice, but I do want to ask my favorite question though. Which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Anton: Maybe. It might not be a secret based on the kinds of things we’ve been talking about, but one thing that made all the difference for me with growing our businesses was focusing on expensive products. It’s one reason also, even with Drop Ship Lifestyle, it’s why the course doesn’t cost $7. It’s why we make premium products there. The stuff we sell online also, the products we drop ship and the brands we sell for, it’s more of a premium price point. It’s more of something that honestly is going to give our customer a better experience, but it’s also going to allow us enough profit per sale to be able to pay for ads and to be able to have support people, to be able to invest time into growing these things. So, maybe it’s a secret maybe it’s not. But I would say for anybody, whatever you’re selling online, try to sell something– For us, our minimum is $200 hundred bucks that we look for. Ideally closer to $1,000 or more, and since we made that shift, it’s made a massive difference in how we can spend and how we can grow.

Joe: That’s great advice. Because like you said, if you’re going to be selling smaller stuff then maybe sell it through Amazon. Or people will likely buy it from Amazon anyway because their shipping overhead is a lot lower than what your shipping overhead would be. That is great advice, and that’s not just great advice for people who drop ship either. If you’re selling digital products, I for a long time underpriced my courses. I had to grind out each sale, and it wasn’t worth it for me. I’m raising the price of my courses, which allows me to spend more time creating good content, and it also communicates the value of those courses to the buyer. That’s another really important thing. If you’re selling a chair for $20 bucks or something like that, that’s probably a cheaply made chair. But if you’re selling it for a $1,000 bucks, people know I’m getting a good quality chair.

Anton: And it brings in the legitimate buyers. For Drop Ship Lifestyle, if I said “I’m going to teach you how I’ve been doing this stuff for the past decade and how I’ve built multiple eight-figure stores, and how I spend a million dollars on ads a year,” and it’s $599. People are going to be like, “OK this is a scam.” Right? Or instead, people are going to buy it thinking they’re going to get rich overnight. Instead, the people that invest in our program, at least 99% of them, they’re serious, and they’re trying to build something. That allows me to put like you said, more time into the content. It allows me to do things like– I do a monthly call with everybody, but a monthly webinar Q&A type thing. And if I sold something that was cheap you wouldn’t be able to do that. So everybody, go premium and give people what they want which is results, and more. They want more from you, so give it to them.

Joe: That’s great. And I will– Before I ask you where people can find you, there is one more anecdote I want to share with somebody who’s in my mastermind group. She was selling a very cheap or free membership, and they expected this from her because of where they were in their career. They weren’t ready to spend $2 thousand or $5 thousand on the proper learning material, but they still spent money and viewed it as “I need to get everything I can out of this.” And it wasn’t viable for her. That’s a good point about bringing in the legitimate buyers. Cool. Anton, thanks so much for your time. Where can people find you?

Anton: The best spot would be DropShipLifestyle.com. Everything is linked up off there. All the social pages, you want to contact me, we have the contact on there. But that’s where we’ve got all our links.

Joe: Awesome. I will include that and everything we talked about in today’s episode, which is a lot. It’s going to be lengthy show notes. Be sure to head over to HowIBuilt.it for those. Anton, thanks so much again for your time. I appreciate it.

Anton: Awesome, thank you.

Outro: Thanks so much to Anton for joining us today. I liked his thoughts about expanding his ability to sell, and how he built his website which is WordPress and a lot of stuff I use, which is cool. Then his future predictions for drop shipping, especially that of Amazon and how that’s the elephant in the room, and how that’s going to affect the future of drop shipping. He offers a lot of great advice, and I’m appreciative for that. I’m also appreciative of our sponsors, Plesk, Pantheon, and MailPoet. Be sure to check them out. For all the show notes you can head over to HowIBuilt.it/107. My question of the week for you is, have you been thinking about drop shipping or is this the first time you’ve ever heard of it? Let me know your thoughts at Joe@HowIBuilt.it, or on Twitter @jcasabona. If you liked this episode be sure to give us a rating and a review over an Apple podcasts. It helps people discover the show. Until next time, get out there and build something.

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The post Anton Kraly and a Drop Ship Business appeared first on How I Built It.

Jan 22 2019

36mins

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Rank #2: Jen Jamar and Marketing

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Jen Jamar is a marketing strategist who currently works for Modern Tribe. Jen really knows her stuff, which I loved because I learned a ton. And the best part? We talk about a strategy for marketing that won’t cost you thousands of dollars in Facebook Ads! In this episode we cover all sorts of stuff like Field of Dreams marketing, how to properly connect with people, and establishing your authority online.

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Transcript

Intro: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of How I Built It! Continuing our series on How You Build a Business, today I get to talk to Jen Jamar about Marketing Strategy. Jen really knows her stuff when it comes to this topic, which I loved because I learned a ton. And the best part? We talk about a strategy for marketing that won’t cost you thousands of dollars in Facebook Ads! We’ll get into that in a minute, but first, a word from our sponsors…

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And now…on with the show!

Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks how did you build that?

Today I have a very special guest with me. We’re not talking about building a specific product, we’re talking about building a marketing plan, which is something, frankly, I don’t know anything about, so I’m really excited for my guest. I forgot to ask her how to pronounce her name. Is it Jen Jamar?

Jen: It is Jen Jamar.

Joe: Alright. Jen Jamar, how are you today?

Jen: I am fabulous, thank you for asking.

Joe: Excellent. Excellent. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and your background for what you’ll be talking about today?

Jen: Sure. I’m a marketing strategist over at Modern Tribe. We make the Events Calendar, event tickets, and a whole bunch of other event management plans. Got over eight million downloads, so there’s a good chance a lot of people listening have used one of our plugins before. I primarily work on our products team doing marketing. So that means when we’re launching a new product, when we’re trying to grow the downloads of our existing products, and newly, we’re launching some new Sass products and incubating some additional ones. We’re doing some marketing planning for that, as well.

I’m pretty active in the WordCamp community, speaking at WordCamp Minneapolis and a few others. I’ve gotten a good sense of some of the marketing challenges that plugin authors, theme authors, and even just general freelancers face with their business.

Joe: We kinda set this up because Modern Tribe did sponsor the show back in season three. We got to talking about marketing strategy, and I thought that this would be a good topic to talk about. I generally try to keep the show to a half hour, so we’re going to pack everything we possibly can in. If we go over, perhaps you can get more over on our Patreon page.

For now, let’s talk about this. This is my biggest problem. I take a very Field-of-Dreams approach to marketing. I always think I’ve built something good and, therefore, they will come. Let’s start with the first question, I’ve built it. How do I get them to come?

Jen: Oh, that’s a good one, and that comes a lot. I think a lot of times people build what they love or what they want themselves, and they don’t spend as much time thinking about why do other people need or want to use this? More specifically than that, what problem can my thing solve for them?

If you can figure out what problem your thing solves, and it probably won’t be the first one you think of, then you can start finding out who those people are, and you can start with your own network; just say, “Hey! Do you guys know anybody who has X problem that I can talk to and see, hey, what do they think about my product? Is it worth the money I’m charging? Or would they use it for free?,”

Joe: Nice. That’s great. A lot of people on the show have said that they scratch their own itch. So they’re solving a problem that specifically they have, but not everybody might have that problem. Let’s say I built an add-on for PowerPress, which is the podcasting plugin that I use. It does things like ad sponsor, like a sponsor, like a sponsor post type and a transcript post type, and stuff like that. I was scratching my own itch there.

I think I view this as a problem that other podcasters have, but you said talk to other people in the space. What do you think I should do? What’s my step one? I have the code on the repo. What’ll I do? Do I just give it to people and say, just tell me what you think? Do I ask them canned questions, or anything like that?

Jen: No. The first thing you do is go find a couple of those people and literally talk to them. You don’t have to spend days and days and days doing this kind of research, but one or two conversations are going to give you the right direction to go in. Talk to a couple of your podcaster friends and say, “Hey! I built this thing. Is it something that would be helpful to you?” That simple question. They’ll probably come back and say like, “Heck, yeah, but wait. Does it do this? Does it do that?”

That’s the different between whether you’re offering something for free, or whether you’re offering something as a premium product.

Joe: I thinThat’s great advice, because certain things might be valuable to everybody but not necessarily worth paying for. Some of these events features that will save people time and money, correct me if I’m wrong, those are the things where I say, “Hey! I’m solving this problem for you. This is a problem that I know you have, that I’m going to solve, and it’s going to save you X amount of time, or X amount of dollars.”

Jen: Yes. You can also scale this much bigger. Once you’ve talked to a couple people and they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, this is something that’s valuable to me. I run into it.” I generally think if more than two people have run into the problem, there’s probably a whole bunch more of them that I just don’t know where they’re at, and I need to find them.

That’s the next challenge of marketing. It’s not like, “Hey! Where do I jump in and start selling?” Or “Do I put it up for free and start giving the code away?” It’s how do I get in touch with these people and get in front of them? Because you can make the best product in the world. It can be the cheapest product in the world. If nobody that wants it finds it, you’re not going to have any sales or any downloads or anything like that.

This is where that whole, “Let me Google that for you” comes in handy. It sounds silly, but do some search terms for questions you think people would be asking that would have them land on your product. This isn’t really keyword research or podcast stuff, this is about finding like, hey, where’s the forums where people are talking about podcasting, in this instance?

Not just talking about like sponsoring a podcast, or necessarily the technical side of podcast, but the DIY’ers who are really going to need this type of technology to make their podcast go more smoothly; they might be just starting out. That’s the person you want to capture, because you don’t need to compete with all those people who offer a more comprehensive all-in-one solution.

Joe: And that makes a lot of sense. Those DIY’ers, I just recently heard this, I’m not going to make a page for this plugin that says “sponsors custom post type, transcripts custom post type.” People aren’t Googling that. They’re Googling the problem they have, and I’m trying to help them solve that problem.

So just like talking about all the fun technical stuff that I think is cool, isn’t probably the best marketing copy.

Jen: Not unless you’re marketing to people who are interested in the technical part. Like if you’ve got some way cool customizations you can do because of some technical piece you’ve written in there, great. Then write it as techy as you want. But if you’re writing it for people who are trying to avoid the techy stuff, because something like transcribing it automatically is a huge time-saver, or people who are trying to, like we said, the DIY’ers who don’t have a team behind them … I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to transcribe audio. I have. It’s a pain in the butt. It takes forever.

If you hire somebody, it gets really expensive, especially if you’re doing regular podcasts like you do. I wouldn’t want to incur that monthly fee. If you write a plugin or a code snippet or something that will do it for me, boom! Here. Take my money, because you just saved me several hours or X amount of money that I would’ve been spending elsewhere.

Write your page against that. Like, do you want to save two hours per episode in transcription time? Do you want your podcasts automatically transcribed? Are you repurposing your content elsewhere? We’ve got something that will transcribe it so you can turn it into a blog post on XYZ site. All of those things are things you’ll want to focus on.

Joe: So focus on solving problems, answering questions related to that problem, and then … So, you’re set. Let’s say we have our marketing page now. How do I get people to come to this marketing page? Are there good advertising channels? Or should I try things organically at first? What’s my first step for actually getting people to come to this page?

Jen: That depends on where you’re at and how much research you’ve done. If you know, like genuinely know, there’s a high demand for your product, go ahead and pay ads to get in front of those people, assuming you also know where those people are hanging out.

If you’re not sure, and you’re assuming there’s a high demand because you’ve talked to a couple people and they all said they want it, but it’s not a statistically significant sample yet, that’s where I prefer to not start, by spending money, because I don’t want to throw money away, especially if I’m kinda bootstrapping it and this is maybe more of a passion project that I’m trying to see will it take off into something? Like you said, you built it to solve your own itch.

Then I recommend doing some organic stuff, especially in the WordPress community. Like we’re all part of different WordPress groups and Slack channels and local meetups. So there’s ample opportunity to go in and talk to people and say, “Hey! I built this. Do you know somebody that I should be sharing this with?” Or “Do you know someone who might find it useful that you can share it with?”

It’s not so much about leveraging those connections just to promote your stuff, but it’s about figuring out where … Like getting advice on where they think you should spread the word. I know I get that all the time. I don’t remember what it was, but somebody was asking me recently about using a builder plugin. I’m like, “Hey! There’s this whole community on Facebook. This is a specific group you should go join.”

So when it’s your product that’s solving something, somebody’s going to say, like our podcast example, like, “Hey! There’s this whole user group of these podcasters, and I bet they would be interested. Why don’t you go ask their admin if you can share your link over there?” Now, boom! You’re getting some of that traffic. As you start to get more traffic, you can look at like where’s it coming from? Am I doing stuff on social that’s bringing people in? Am I starting to see Google traffic trickle in?

Based on the people who are interested in your product, you can even start building out specific landing pages, so then it does target different keyword traffic. Google AdWords used to be great for finding out keyword traffic volume, and it’s not anymore. If you want to get into that, buy your buddy who does SCO lunch, or plan to spend some money investing in some different software that’ll get you more accurate search results on that.

Joe: Cool. That’s great. I will link to Rebecca Gill’s episode of the podcast. She talks about all sorts of different tools like that. That’s really interesting. I find, at least for me, starting out, it’s very hard to understand who exactly my audience is, even with the podcast, I’ve been going for three seasons. This is season four. I have over 2,000 downloads per episode in this and that, and I don’t really understand the audience.

Recently, at the time of this recording, I got some advice to kind of install the Facebook Pixel to … And not do any advertising. Just kinda let it run to see what kind of people are visiting my site. Have you found that has been effective for you at Modern Tribe, or is there kind of another way that you prefer to understand your audience and who’s visiting your site?

Jen: That’s a great question. At Tribe, it’s a little different because we don’t necessarily have people visiting our site who are using our plugins. Since they’re available in the repo, they can download it from there and we don’t have any visibility to any of their information other than in addition to our download count and to our active install number.

In that sense, we don’t know who’s using our free plugin, but we do have an option where if people would like to, they can turn it on and off. They can display that this is powered by the Events Calendar, in which case, we can do some searches and gather some data about, okay, what types of sites now are running it? We still don’t have the information about the site admin themselves, or the person that downloaded it, but we’ve got a sense of what the site is about.

With our premium plugins, of course, we have all kinds of data, because their license key is active on a specific site, and they’ve given us data during purchase. With those, we do take a big chunk of that and say, “Hey, wow! We’ve got a whole bunch of churches running our plugins, or we’ve got a ton of higher ed running our plugins”.

Let’s say, maybe we need to design a landing page so that those people know which of our plugins are most useful for them, especially if they’re using one and it turns out that a couple others could make it an even better experience. It’s not just about selling them more stuff, it’s about giving the complete package so that they don’t have to look elsewhere.

Joe: That’s really interesting, especially what you said about the repo, because I’ve talked to a few plugin developers, and they’ve said that using the repo is great for exposure, but it sounds like it might not be the best thing if you want to build a kind of direct marketing plan. What’s your opinion on having a free plugin on the repo? Without getting you in trouble.

Jen: No, no, no. I think it’s great. I mean, that’s where we got our start with the Events Calendar. Because of that, it’s created a steady stream of users. The Events Calendar, to be clear, is on its own, a fully functioning piece of software. It is not something that is missing features or a light version.

Our Pro version, however, adds even more functionality. It adds in premium support and all those things. What we find is people are like, “Cool. I’ve got the Events Calendar. It does everything I need it to do, but wait. Now I want to do recurring events,” or “Now I’ve got support and I want like an answer right away. I don’t want to wait for like when there’s a pass on the dot-org repo support forms.”

So people kinda upgrade naturally. There’s that pattern, it’s called the premium model. Get them into free, they want to upgrade into one of your paid or add-on additional ones like front end of exhibition is our paid community events plugin. That’s not built-in.

To step back to somebody who’s starting out, it’s great, because you get your name up there. Look at how many other names are up there. If there are 80 different plugins with 80,000 downloads apiece, yours probably isn’t going to show that high. You’re probably better off still putting it there, because it doesn’t hurt, and then leveraging some of the other tools to get it shared in front of the audience.

Like say if WP Mayor will do a review. Check if there’s something newsworthy, head up WP Tavern and see if they’ll write something about it. There’s the WordPress weekly email newsletter. You can send it to them and say, “Hey! I just launched this new plugin. Will you give it a mention?” If they think it’s interesting, they’ll do that. You don’t have to pay for those things, you don’t have to do extra stuff.

To go back to the dot-org repo, the other piece of that is there are new things like the Freemius plugin that Vova Feldman created, that allow you to prompt your users when they install your plugin, if they’d like to share their contact information, or if they’d like to share data with you.

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I’d say the percentage that opt in varies, but it’s usually more than most people expect. You have to know your audience. When you’re starting out, you don’t know your audience, so it’s not going to hurt you necessarily, but if you have an established audience where you haven’t asked that before, they’re probably going to be like, “Wait. Why is this prompting me for this? Why are you suddenly changing gears? Are you selling us out?” Just be aware.

So if this is your first time launching something, great idea. If it’s your third, fourth, fifth product and you haven’t done it before, you need to be more thought … Still a great idea, but be more thoughtful about how you approach it.

Joe: So users will have like an expectation, right? If the people have downloaded a hundred thousand versions of other plugins I’ve had, and then this brand new one, I’m like, “Hey! Give me all your data,” they’re going to be like, “Why?” It’s a communication thing at that point, like, “Hey, I really want to get to know you better,” sort of thing.

Jen: Yeah. And it’s also I think just about transparency. One of the concerns with any of the data collection that I have, and I’m a marketer, so, it’s kind of a big deal when somebody on this side says it, is companies are selling our data. There’s big business in big data. I don’t want to do business with somebody who’s doing that. I won’t work for a company that does that, because even though it’s not against the law, it’s not unethical, it’s just not my particular brand of this is how we get ahead.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. If somebody wants my data to make the thing I’m using better, especially if I’m using it for free. You gotta understand that there’s going to be some trade-off, but if they’re just selling it to third parties, like the product is not worth it for me, like you said.

Cool. We talked a bit about the organic stuff, about getting up and running. Some really good ideas to reach out to like WP Mayor and Tavern. I’ve been told like do guest blog posts, establish yourself as an authority to gain that kind of trust in the field where you want to be, but let’s say I am ready, I know the people I want to target for advertising. What channels do you think are most effective? Am I going to have to spend my life’s savings advertising?

Jen: You can. I don’t recommend it. If you’re already getting traffic to your site, you mentioned retargeting earlier, or installing a Facebook Pixel or Google Pixel. Retargeting can be extremely effective. So go ahead. What it’s going to do is it’s going to track where people are on your site, it’s going to allow you to serve up ads to them when they’re away from your site, and you can drill down and get really, really specific.

You can say, “I only want to show this ad if somebody added it to their cart and then abandoned the cart. I only want to show this ad if they viewed at least these three pages on my site, or if they got three-quarters of the way down this page. Now I’m going to show them an ad somewhere else.” Now that assumes you’re targeting an audience who doesn’t use a lot of ad blockers.

Joe: Sure.

Jen: Otherwise, you’re spending money to not show them things, and that’s not very effective.

Joe: Again, like if you’re targeting developers, it’s pretty fair to assume that developers are using ad blockers, and retargeting might not be as effective on them.

Jen: Right. Now, that said, developers still use social networks. They still use forums and things that, if you can adjust your display network settings that you could try to appear on those sites versus the general ones, it might still be worth it. It might still be something that … The ad blockers and the way Google does their ad programs are always evolving. We’re expecting to see some big shifts coming in the next year, but nobody really knows quite what that’s going to be. For now, though, it can be effective.

I also think doing some paid placement things, like Modern Tribe sponsored a podcast. We wanted to see what kind of results did we get. We had never done one before. We thought, “Hey. Joe’s a great guy, and How I Built It sounds like a good fit. Developers use our plugins, he’s talking to developers. Let’s give it a shot.”

There’s also, you can pay for sponsored posts on sites. You could actually pay for people to do reviews of your plugin. All of those pieces can come together in our different avenues. I wouldn’t go out and buy like a TV spot or a radio ad, necessarily.

One that I don’t hear come up as much, that I think is a smart way to do it, I see people like, “Should I sponsor WordCamp?” You should sponsor WordCamp if you want to get back to the community. If you’re trying to promote a plugin, maybe. It depends. Does your plugin appeal to the majority of the people there? Okay, cool. Are the majority of the people there not using your plugin already? Cool. Now it makes sense.

If your plugin only applies to like 20 people there, you just spent a thousand dollars plus to talk to 10 people. That’s not necessarily the best ROI.

On the other hand, there are meetups all over the place. Do you know how much it costs to buy pizza for 20 people?

Joe: Not a whole lot. 20 bucks. 30 bucks. Depends on where you are, right?

Jen: Yeah. Maybe a hundred bucks, depending on how … Maybe they’re really hungry. I don’t know.

Joe: Yeah, right.

Jen: Offer to go buy pizza. Ask for their feedback. Ask if you can give a demo. Like this is legitimate stuff. This is building relationships, and those people, like that’s how you’re starting to get that word of mouth advertising and, yeah, you paid for it, but you’re also just the cool guy who hooked them up with pizza this month.

Joe: Right. Right. That’s a lesson that I learned in college. If you want people to come to your events, offer free pizza. That’s how you get college kids to go anywhere.

Jen: Oh, yeah. That’s how you get people to move stuff, too, pizza and beer.

Joe: Right. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. That’s fantastic. You mentioned several dozen things that I want to follow up on. I’m just gonna say right here, we’re like 20 minutes or so in. We are most likely going to go over. So we will have the regular episode, and then we will have the bonus super cool part over on patreon.com/howibuiltit. I suspect, I’m not there yet, because this isn’t real time that I’m adding this spot, I suspect the conversation is going to be even more excellent over there.

I do want to get to how did you build your marketing strategy for the Events Calendar? That’s like the title question, but there are a few other things I want to parse out, and we’ll do that in the bonus.

That said, I guess a quick teaser. I want to ask you about the Google Pixel, ’cause I know there’s a Facebook one, and then talk a little bit more about like TV ad spots, the ROI of WordCamps, and things like that.

First, let’s get to the title question, how did you build it? And, in this case, how did you build it is, let’s say the marketing strategy for Modern Tribe that you most want to talk about, whether that’s the Events Calendar or something else.

Jen: Oh. I should’ve anticipated this question a little bit better. The Events Calendar was built because we were scratching our own itch. To be fair, I’ve been with Modern Tribe a little over two years. The Events Calendar has been around for like 10. We built it for a lot of our clients. We realized we were building similar things, and we were like, “Hey! Maybe we should put this together and package it as a plugin.”

Back then, there wasn’t really a marketing plan. Over the years, there hasn’t really been like a focused marketing plan in the sense of like I can go to an agency and ask, “What’s the marketing plan for XYZ brand,” and they’ll say, “Oh. It’s right here.” No, there wasn’t any of that.

We enjoyed a lot of kind of organic growth and organic marketing, and the dot-org repo played a large role in that. Then we have continued to release features that has kept us relevant and have kept people adding it. It’s been great.

We mentioned earlier the reliance on traffic and downloads from the wordpress.org repository, and the inability to get customer contact information from that. Well, we love WordPress and will always probably be in the dot-org repository. What we’re doing right now is more building a marketing plan that allows us to get users from different channels, and that’s not because we want to get away from the repository, it’s because people might not be searching there. When they’re searching there, they may not be searching for the keywords that are actually for things that we solve.

Jen: Since we do sell premium products, it’s also because we can mention those just a little bit like, “Hey, there are these extra extensions available in our dot-org plugin listing,” but we can’t really go into a lot of detail there.

Joe: Right. So, actually, just to be clear here, you’re listed on the repo. You don’t get user information, but you’re also not allowed to actively sell in the description or in forum posts, right? Like if I have a support question, you can’t say, “Hey, check out premium support over at the Modern Tribe,” right?

Jen: If you say, “Hey, you guys haven’t responded in three days. How come I’m not getting faster support?”, we can point you to say that we do a pass once or twice a week and offer light support for bug reports in the repo, but if you’re looking for faster support, we do offer premium support here.

Jen: We can’t just blatantly say, “Oh. Don’t use this support forum. Go use the premium support there.”

Joe: I see. Okay. That totally makes sense. Sorry to interrupt. You were looking at other channels for these reasons that you’re listing.

Jen: Yeah. So we’ve got a pretty extensive resource bace built within the eventscalendar.com. We’ve got a knowledge base, we’ve got themer’s guides, extensions library of snippets you can have, because our support team was like, “Eh, this doesn’t need to be released as another plugin. We can just give you a snippet to install and fix. Go.”

There’s no place for them on the dot-org repository, so people don’t know necessarily when they download the Events Calendar that they have all these resources available to them.

Since we don’t have their contact information, other than that initial installation page when they first install the plugin, we can’t communicate that to them very well. I don’t know about you, but I always skip over that initial page tutorial if there’s a little user guide, pointing to the settings. I just skip, skip, skip. I’m sure I know how to figure this out.

Joe: Right. I just want to create events right now. Like that’s why I’m installing this.

Jen: Right. Exactly. So we want to create other channels to access those users, and also to get people to our site who might need, like I said, some of the premium functionality, and they wouldn’t otherwise find it, because the premium plugins aren’t listed in the repo. So we’re looking at things like I said, targeted landing pages; we are going to be doing a bigger content marketing push in 2018.

Another piece I think people don’t talk about when it comes to marketing is the amount of resources. People say, “Oh, there’s a bunch of stuff you can do for free, and there’s a bunch of stuff you can pay for.” Even when you’re doing paid stuff, if you’re going to spend a thousand bucks on Facebook ads, that’s not a net cost of a thousand dollars. That’s just the ad running cost.

There is, how much time are you spending to create those images? Are you hiring a designer to do that? Are you doing it yourself? Oh, do you know how to configure Facebook? Do you know how to install the Facebook Pixel? Do you know how to create custom audiences? How to create look-alike audiences? How to set up different … ? Like you can see. The list goes on and on and on. That’s just Facebook.

You can do this on LinkedIn, you can do this on Twitter. We’ve talked about the Google Display network. It gets pretty extensive, and the same thing on the free side. Okay, you can write a guest post. How much time do you spend writing content? Again, are you including images? How much time are you spending producing those? If you know what keywords you’re targeting, if you want a keyword target.

Then there’s just interacting with that site admin, or editorial manager who’s going to publish the content. Like they probably want to review it. There’s back and forth. There’s definitely a big time cost that comes with marketing, so you have to factor that in when you’re doing different things.

Right now, for 2017, content marketing wasn’t a big focus for the eventscalendar.com, because we’re putting a lot of energy towards a new product that we’re launching end of this year, early next. So all of that is happening behind the scenes.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely.

Jen: It’s separate from the Events Calendar and so you’re not seeing that reflected on the eventscalendar.com. We’re also working on building up our marketing team. I’m sure by the time this airs, we’ll have a little bit more in place, but it’s the same thing with resource constraints.

We also, for us, marketing includes keeping our existing customers updated on new things that we’re working on, new things that we’re planning. In the past year, we’ve done things like … We did a big refresh of our community events plugin, so we want people to know, “Hey! We’ve been putting in this work for you. We didn’t forget about you. You don’t just buy it and it’s one-and-done. Like we continuously try to add value to it.”

Same thing. We did our rest API endpoints in the Events Calendar this past year, which was a big deal for people who want to extend it beyond WordPress.

Joe: Right. Right.

Jen: We need to give you that information, communicate it, and do the best job that we can. So juggling that is always a challenge, and it’s always a matter of finite resources at the end of the day.

Joe: I mean, as a one-man band here, that makes total sense to me. With the remaining minutes of the main interview before we get into the bonus round, I want to ask you two questions. One is the question that I end every show with, so we’ll get to that next, but if you are a one-man band with limited resources, could you give me like a top three, top five things that I should try to focus on if I want to sell my plugin?

Jen: Yeah. Talk to a couple of people to figure out if your plugin is purchase worthy, for lack of a better term, and try to figure out what price point they would buy it at yet. I think we all tend to jump to like, “Oh, I think I can sell it for 50,” and it turns out that people are only willing to pay 15, or “I’m just going to list it at 15 and see who buys it,” and people are really willing to pay 75. Don’t make those mistakes. It’s really hard to correct them down the road.

Joe: Right. Yeah. Especially a price increase is, there are tomes written about how hard it is to do that without annoying at least some people.

Jen: Mm-Hmm (affirmative). Make sure you can be found if people are looking for you. Then there’s two more pieces I’ll say are like part of the top things you should do. One is go out and find where people are asking questions, and answer them. Reddit, Facebook groups, like just search in quotes for your question, or variations of your question, and you will find like, literally, here’s where somebody asked it.

Be the person that answers. You don’t necessarily have to link back to your stuff, but if you keep appearing in these conversations, you’re going to gain some awareness as like, “Hey, that’s the guy to ask about this,” or the gal, in that case.

The other one is to let your friends and family and whomever know what you’re doing. To this day, my mom will say, “I don’t know what Jen does. She sits in front of a computer, and she doesn’t come visit me enough.” She can’t recommend me. Who knows who she might run into in her life that needs marketing strategy. She can’t recommend me, because she can’t say it.

If people around you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t know what this cool project is, they can’t recommend you to others, they can’t give you recommendations on how to connect with people. I think that’s like really, really baseline must do.

Joe: That’s fantastic. I’ve wondered if I’ve been like oversharing my work stuff too much on Facebook, but that definitely lets my friends and family know exactly what I’m doing and what I’m trying to hawk that week. That’s really great advice.

Before we get to the extended stuff, I’m going to ask you, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Jen: I don’t like to give them away.

Joe: Understandable.

Jen: Yes. I do. This is probably the biggest trade secret, that people are willing to give away free advice. Like if you tell me, “Hey, Jen. I’m stuck on this. Can I take you out to lunch and maybe get your advice on it?” I’ll say, “Sure. This week is busy. Why don’t we look two weeks out? Let’s put something on the calendar.”

If somebody asks me for a call, I do the same thing. I do virtual coffees with people all the time, and I’m not the only one. I even ask people, “Hey! I’m stuck on this. Can we meet, and would you mind giving me a couple tips?” The key there is to be really specific about what you’re looking for, and not just come out and ask somebody to do it for you.

Joe: Right.

Jen: I’ve had those people contact me, as well, and then I’m like, “Well, I’m really busy. I don’t think I can fit that in.”

Jen: If you’re just looking for a few things and you’re genuinely connecting, awesome. We’ve all been at that starting point. Find people who can give you the stepping stones to get you where you want to be.

Outro: Thanks again to Jen for joining me. Much like with Nicole last week, I was able to change up some of what I was doing thanks to Jen’s advice. While unfortunately we couldn’t connect for the second part of the interview, I think this episode is packed full of great, actionable stuff.

And Thanks again to our sponsors – make sure to check out Liquid Web for managed WordPress hosting. I use them on all of my important sites – they are that good! They are at buildpodcast.net/liquid. They’ll give you 50% off your first 2 months just for being a listener! If you want to save your clients (or yourself) money through recovering abandoned carts, check out jilt. They are over at buildpodcast.net/jilt. And finally, if you want to put a cherry on top of the e-commerce trifecta, there’s Checkout for WooCommerce. If Jilt brings back the people who leave, Checkout for WooCommerce is the tool that prevents people from leaving in the first place. I use it, and I love it. And you can get 10% off using the code BUILD at buildpodcast.net/cwc/

For all of the show notes, head over to howibuilt.it/72/. If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! Finally, last week I published my brand-new Patreon page. It offers a lot better rewards, and great goals, and I’m really doubling down on it. So if you like the show and what to support it directly, head over to patreon.com/howibuiltit/. You can support the show for as little as $1/month.

Next Week, we’ll close out this series talking to my good friend Brad Williams about client relationships. Brad works with some big companies over at WebDevStudios, so he knows a thing or two. Make sure to tune in! And until next week, get out there and build something.

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The post Jen Jamar and Marketing appeared first on How I Built It.

Mar 27 2018

38mins

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Rank #3: Episode 31: Ty Fujimura & Building Client Relationships

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In this episode, Ty and I discuss a few great topics! His company, Cantilever, focuses on strong client relationships that elicit enough trust to try cool, experimental projects, like what they did with Rustic Pathways. We talk about integrating the REST API in an interesting way, the importance of communicating with clients, and why trying a project as “just a project” might not be the best way to grow your business.

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The post Episode 31: Ty Fujimura & Building Client Relationships appeared first on How I Built It.

Apr 11 2017

32mins

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Rank #4: A Better Way to Spend Your Calendar Time with Woven and Tim Campos

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I had the pleasure of speaking to Tim Campos, former CIO of Facebook and founder of Woven – a calendar that actually accounts for your life and your free time. We talk about his experience at Facebook and how it lead him to the idea of creating Woven, stats on how people spending their time and schedule meetings, and more. If you want some incredible insight into how people manage their time, this episode is for you. But first, a word from our sponsors.

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Tim Campos: The only solution is to understand the details of how calendars are built, and that’s when I first got the idea that maybe there’s a better way here. Because as I got into the details of this, I was horrified to learn that the calendaring views that you see, particularly in Microsoft Outlook, are basically just a collection of e-mails.

Joe Casabona: This week I had the pleasure of speaking to Tim Campos, former CIO of Facebook and founder of Woven, a calendar that accounts for your life and your free time. We talk about his experience at Facebook and how it led him to the idea of creating Woven, stats on how people spend their time and schedule meetings, and more. If you want some incredible insights into how people manage their time, this episode is for you. But first, let’s go to a word from our sponsors.

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Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Tim Campos, and he is the founder and CEO of Woven. He is also a software engineer and former CIO of Facebook. Tim, thanks for joining me today.

Tim: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Joe: Not a problem. I’m excited to talk to you. It sounds like you’ve got a wide range of experience and I’m excited to dive into that. But first, let’s start off with who you are and what you currently do.

Tim: Awesome. As you mentioned, I’m the founder and CEO of a company named Woven. Woven is an intelligent calendar that we built in an effort to reimagine what calendars can do, to basically help all of us spend time on what matters most. We do that by changing how the calendar is built. Most calendars, all calendars are built on top of e-mail, and Woven is built in a very different way, which allows us to take calendar events and interconnect them with the things that we spend time on, whether that’s documents, or issues, or absolutely other people. Our long term vision is to help people spend time on what matters most to them.

Joe: That’s fantastic. I feel like calendars and e-mails are apps and nuts that people have been trying to crack since the nexus of time. I’m always interested to hear about how things are reimagined, because even today, managing calendars is difficult, even with all these other tools to help us convert time zones and get people on the same page. So it’s interesting to see products like that out in the wild.

Tim: Yeah, Let’s start with e-mail real quick, and what’s wrong with e-mail. In many respects, what’s wrong with e-mail is the premise from the beginning. It is the electronic memoranda, and it came of age at a time when computers were used to automate paper-based processes. With time, is you have a whole generation of people who grew up with technology, the memoranda is not the right way to communicate with each other. That’s why we have text messaging. It’s why we have Facebook. It’s why we have WhatsApp. It’s why we have Slack and other technologies that you couldn’t do on paper. E-mail has largely been reimagined by moving off of it and using other technologies. Calendars are a little bit different because they pertain to this issue of time. We all have time, we all have the same amount of time. There’s only 24 hours in a day, and it doesn’t matter who you are and what you do, you and I have the exact same amount of time today. But what the calendar suffers from is based on how it’s built. First off, it’s a feature of a suite, so it doesn’t get a lot of love from companies like Microsoft and Google. Just by existing, Woven helps with that, because this is all we think about, we’re just 100% focused on making the calendar better. Second, there is a lot of things about calendars that are just wrong. Most of us have a little bit of our time on Google. Most people put their personal calendars in Google Calendar, and some people have their professional lives in Google as well. Google has lots of different calendars. For every single calendar, there is another 24 hours in your day, except there isn’t. If I have three calendars, that doesn’t mean there are 72 hours for me today. It means I have 72 hours of time I have to administer. That creates a lot of work for people. Woven understands that, even though I might have a work calendar and a personal calendar, there’s only one of me. So I can only be in one place at one time. So it brings all of that stuff together, to help me make sure that if I’m busy because I have a doctor’s appointment, then I’m not available to take an appointment at work or vice versa. If I have a dinner appointment professionally, then I’m not going to be home that night to spend time with my family. Those are just some of the things that we do. The other things that I think make calendars very difficult is they’re very isolated. If you and I want to meet together, I want to meet with you, you want to meet with me, how do we solve that problem? We end up sending e-mails to each other, like “How about next Thursday? That doesn’t work, how about Friday? How about the following week?” It goes back and forth and back and forth because the calendars don’t talk to each other. If they could talk to each other, you could press a button and say, “When’s the next time that we’re both free, for a dinner meeting?” Which is not going to be tomorrow at 3:00 in the morning, it’s going to be sometime between 6:00 and 9:00 PM on a weeknight, or maybe on a weekend night, depending on our relationship. Again, we’ve taught Woven how to be intelligent around those things to help people out. Those are just some of the things that we do to make the calendar more intelligent. There’s a lot more that make this product a very rich product.

Joe: Yeah, I love that. I mean, the fact that calendars are isolated. I hate doing that “What’s good for you” dance and that’s why I use Calendly for this “I don’t know what time zone you’re in and we didn’t have to talk about that. I just sent you a link, and you picked an appropriate time, based on what I’ve made available. If everybody I know did that, it would be amazing. I have people who are like, “I’m not going to use it.”

Tim: Now imagine Calendly, tightly integrated with your calendar, so that you can see all of the different scheduling links that you’ve sent out to people and if those people were using that exact same product, that instead of them having to go through an awkward user interface to select the time that works, that their calendars just told them “Here are the slots that are going to work for Joe and I.” That’s Woven, that’s basically how the product works.

Joe: Nice. That’s fantastic. Because I mean, when somebody sends me a Calendly link, I still have to look at my calendar.

Tim: Yeah.

Joe: That’s great. Very cool. I’ve looked at the website, but I haven’t downloaded Woven. I’m definitely going to download it after we talk here if it’s available.

Tim: Awesome. Yeah, there is an open beta for Google Calendar users.

Joe: Awesome. I like all of those words. So that’s what you currently do now, but you’ve also been a software engineer, and you were CIO of Facebook. Let’s start with software engineering. Did you do software engineering at Facebook, or was that somewhere else?

Tim: I started my career as a software engineer at a company called Sybase and did software engineering at Sybase, Silicon Graphics, an internet startup. At that Internet startup, this was back in the early days of software as a service. In that kind of world, the concept of IT, or what it takes to deliver this software and software engineering are much more fused. That’s what got me into IT. I spent the next– After [Portaris], some six and a half years as the CIO of a company called [Kelly 10 Core]. At Facebook, I got to bring it all back together, because my job at Facebook started off being a very traditional IT job, but I brought engineering into the organization because we were building a lot of the software that helped make Facebook employees more productive. Everything from the visitor management system that employees would interface with as they walked in the door, to the recruiting systems, CRM systems that we built for sales, internal productivity systems for employees to be able to schedule meetings with each other and to collaborate with each other. We did a lot of custom-built software, and some of this software made its way into Facebook’s products, things like audience insights, for example. Some of this software became the inspiration for technologies like Envoy. We were quite flattered to see companies make real businesses off of some of the things that we pioneered and created. Some of this stuff continues to be very unique and proprietary to Facebook, but it was all a key part of how we made the workforce more productive. We literally engineered our way there, and while I was at Facebook, we doubled the productivity of the workforce.

Joe: Wow. That’s incredible. To get an idea of the scale of the stuff you were doing, you were at Facebook in the earlier part of this decade. So about how many employees?

Tim: Facebook was relatively small, about 1400 people, just about to cross a billion dollars in revenue. Then when I left, we had not only 20,000 employees, but another 15,000 or so contractors on top of that. A workforce of close to 35,000 people, running on a 40 billion dollar run rate. The company had grown up and become quite the behemoth. My job was to basically help the company achieve that growth without having to scale linearly. If we could make it so that a salesperson could sell more, or a recruiter could help recruit more, or HR person could support more employees, or facilities could support what they do with less people. We could grow the impact of the company without having to grow the workforce at the same rate. That’s how we were able to double the productivity of the workforce.

Joe: Wow. That’s incredible. I’m sure doing all of this, probably gave you a lot of ideas for Woven. Let’s talk about that now. How did your experience as CIO of Facebook give you this insight into how you felt Woven should work? Is it just you or did you have a co-founder, too? What’s the origin story of Woven?

Tim: Sure. I have a co-founder, who was also at Facebook, while I was there. The story starts almost two weeks into my tenure at Facebook, where one of the first problems that I was faced was, the company was having a lot of trouble keeping the calendaring system functioning properly. Literally two weeks in, I was called to Zuck’s desk, by his EA. I was excited to have this conversation with Zuck. Only to find, when I got there, that it was just me and not only his EA but several of the others who were yelling at me about all the problems that they were having with the calendaring system. Events that would disappear, conference rooms that would get double booked, things that were both embarrassing for them and real productivity drains, for not only them but the people that they supported. To solve this, you have to put yourself back in the time, and this is 2010. Facebook was running Exchange at the time. It had a workforce that had a lot of Apple devices. That was not a very healthy combination. It was also not a combination that we were going to change. The only solution is to understand the details of how calendars are built, and that’s when I first got the idea that maybe there’s a better way here. Because as I got into the details of this, I was horrified to learn that the calendaring views that you see, particularly in Microsoft Outlook, are basically just a collection of e-mails. Special e-mails, but a calendar invite is just a specially formatted e-mail. Microsoft Outlook would collect all these things and then present them to you in what we see as a calendar. One of the worst parts about that is if somebody makes a change to a counter-event and doesn’t tell you about it. Then you don’t know about it. If they don’t send you the e-mail, then you don’t know. Whether you are a person or a conference room, this is the source of just a tremendous amount of pain. So we were able to work through this stuff, but it also gave birth to some ideas of maybe there’s a better way to manage this kind of information. Already for Facebook, there was a lot of demand for tools that would be better if they knew when employees were busy, or when resources were busy. When we moved to Menlo Park, we have these really beautiful giant touchscreen displays that show you where people sit and also where the different conference rooms are, and they’re wayfinders, they help you find your way within the campus. Part of what they were designed to do is to help you find a free conference room if you’re trying to do a one on one with somebody and we needed to get that information out of the calendar. Is a conference room free, or busy? It turns out that wasn’t easy, at the time, to get that data. So we built what was a wrapper around Exchange, very similar to what Woven is to Gmail and Office 365, to support that. That same wrapper gave us the ability to do a bunch of other sophisticated things. For example, Facebook does a lot of interviews, a lot of software engineering interviews. A software engineering interview is at least four people, the candidate, obviously and of course you’re going to have to have conference rooms for all this. At the time, in fact, still to this day, Facebook does well over 100,000 software engineering interviews a year. That’s a lot of things to coordinate, more than can be done by people. So we built systems that would take the availability of candidates, availability of panelists, availability of conference rooms and mash all that stuff and come up with what the ideal scheduling plan would be for a candidate, to help a scheduler get things done quickly and more efficiently. We found more and more different opportunities to solve problems using calendar data. That’s what ultimately gave birth to the idea that “Maybe we should go do this for other people and not just for Facebook.” That’s when my co-founder and I left the company to create what Woven is.

Joe: You left around 2016, is that right?

Tim: Yes. We left at the end of 2016, right after the election, no relation. Choice of departure, although it turned out to be a good one.

Joe: Yeah. I was going to say, good timing.

Tim: Immediately started focusing on fundraising for the company. Created Woven right away and closed our seed financing a few months later and hired our first employee. That was May of 2017.

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Joe: So you had all this insight, you built something that you knew would scale, because I mean, 35,000 people and a workforce and rooms and stuff like that. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty, the title question. How did you build this first version of Woven? You mentioned that Facebook was using Exchange at the time. This is built more for Google Calendar and soon, Office 365. So we could we get as technical as you want. We can tell about the programming language, or we could talk about the high– We built a wrapper on Google Calendar, and this is how we’re doing this.

Tim: So there’s a lot of Woven that was inspired by Facebook. Facebook had a phenomenal environment for building products, whether you’re talking about the products that everybody knows and loves, like Instagram and Facebook Messenger or internal products that most people aren’t aware of, but employees use every single day. That’s all built on top of set of technologies, a set of services that are largely common across all of these different products that run on scalable infrastructure, that abstracts a lot of things from the software engineer. Facebook– A lot of those ideas made their way into Woven. Facebook is built on a graph and has a very rich graph engine. That graph engine manages entities and relationships between those entities. In the case of Facebook, you’re talking about people and their friendships or photographs and likes and Facebook pages and addresses that you might check-in at. Those are all different examples of entities and the relationships that you have. With Woven, it’s similar but different. You still have people who go to meetings, and you have locations, but you have the whole notion of time and other information that might be related to a meeting or an event, like private notes or tags or alternative suggestions for when an event can occur, or even things like documents and customer records and other information. All that’s managed in a graph engine, so very much inspired by Facebook. We replicated a lot of the ideas on how Facebook does continuous integration. The Facebook site is pushed multiple times a day. You don’t have, even though there’s– I can’t say exactly how many servers and probably wouldn’t even know it at today’s day and age, but it’s a lot, let’s put it that way. So it’s just not possible for that to be human administered. You have a lot of technology and automation that handles the replication of software through the environment, and we’ve started with that same idea. Woven is built on an infrastructure that allows us to push changes into staging environments, as soon as they’re coded. Then we can test that. Today we do it twice a week. We could do it as frequently as we want or as infrequently as we want. To push from our staging environment to production is a very simple process. If there are any problems, it’s very easy for us to roll back. We have multiple environments to test and verify that everything is working and a lot of automation in here. Automated tests to make sure that code changes are ready to be merged into the master branch. A lot of tests to ensure that environments are ready to promote from testing to staging, to production. What that does is it offloads the work from the engineers. Now they can focus on their particular changes and what they’re working on at the time. It’s created a very efficient environment. So we’re relatively small, in terms of the number of engineers that we have, but we have done a massive amount of functionality, in a relatively short period of time. Thanks to the architecture of this environment.

Joe: That sounds fantastic. As a developer, making the development environment as easy as possible, for one, is a dream. So that sounds cool. It’s cool that you were able to take a lot of the stuff that you learned at Facebook. Let’s talk a little bit more about the product and the feature set. I know we touched on this a bit, but how did you decide to build out these features? Because, the common calendar exchange, as we talked about, is “When are you free? It’s 4:00 PM in Eastern Time, that’s 1:00 PM Pacific, or whatever. Daylight Savings Time changes things. How did you determine exactly how you would figure out “This is the calendar, this is what free times worked for both of us, and things like that.” What’s that handshake like?

Tim: Some of this came from a lot of user research. Some of that user research we were able to do while we were still at Facebook. Some of it was done afterwards, but it came from the understanding that there’s similarities across people on how they manage time. For example, when you think about, “How does an event show up on your calendar?” It starts with an idea like “I want to meet with Joe.” That idea then becomes a collaboration where I’m like, “Hey Joe, and you want to get together? When would work for you?” We start collaborating on this concept of an event, and that collaboration continues even after we schedule it. Maybe we have our– Maybe we’re doing a dinner party. We’ve got our dinner party coordinated, but who’s going to bring the appetizers? Who’s going to bring the main course? Who’s bringing the dessert? Who’s bringing the wine? There’s continued collaboration there. Or maybe we’re talking about a different kind of an event, like an interview. I’ve got a candidate who’s coming in to meet with me and two other people. What am I going to ask this candidate vs. the other two people? What are some of the concerns that the candidate has that we want to make sure we address in that interview? Again, that’s the collaboration that occurs on an event. We studied this and learned what the general workflow is across events. Then we wanted to architect a system that would support that. There were some very simple ideas that are profound. For example, there is no events on your calendar that don’t have a time associated with them. The counter needs a time in order for an event to go on the calendar. That’s not the case with Woven. We can have calendaring events that don’t yet have time so that they can be collaborated on. We call them scheduling links, similar to what Calendly has, but Calendly’s links are persistent. You have a web URL that you can go to all the time. So after I’ve scheduled this podcast, I can schedule another podcast. But most people don’t operate that way when they’re scheduling their events, and it’s a one-time thing. Let’s get together for drinks one time. So our scheduling links exist both in Calendly form, as well as in one-off form. But that’s, like I said, just the beginning. The information that we can now associate with those events also follows the lifecycle of the event, both the pre-meeting activities. The “Let’s get you into the meeting activity.” and then the follow-up activity. What’s the follow up from this interview or what’s the follow up from this? Maybe it’s a board meeting that you went to. As we studied that by talking to more and more people, then we had the general ideas of the architecture. The next thing that was important is to get some data because we wanted to know, “How many times do people meet with one person? How many times do they meet with multiple people? How many times do they just put stuff on their calendar when there’s nobody blocking out time to take the kids to school, or something like that?” We partnered with a few different companies, and we asked them if we could survey their calendar data, and they gave us permission to do that. That gave us some really valuable insights on what’s common between companies and what’s different between companies. That, again, fed into some of the design decisions that we made in the back end. Then finally, we started the user journeys. Figuring out, “What problems are we going to solve, and how are we going to solve them?” We started by designing them first, getting some mocks of what they might look like, talking to a lot of people about those capabilities. Once we got those mocks to a state that we were comfortable with– In parallel, we were building our engineering team, so we then had the people to start building this. That’s the general strategy that we followed. I’d say it’s evolved a bit as we’ve matured as a company and as the product has gotten more mature, but we still follow a lot of the same concepts and principles.

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Joe: I think I maybe realized– I think it’s always been the case, but I’m just realizing this now as you’re talking, that I am also insanely interested in how people manage their calendars. Because I’ve seen, when I was employed by an agency, I saw my boss’s calendar, and it was just overlapping meetings. I’m like, “How do you live your life?” I am always– We talked about this in the preshow, where I block specific recording times off for this show. I’ll put blocks on my calendar for “This is going to be deep work. Nobody can have this time.” I’m sure digging into that information was incredibly interesting. I don’t know how much data you could share, but were you looking at like US trends, or worldwide specific areas of the world? Did you find that Europeans and Americans manage their calendars differently?

Tim: We focused largely on the US and Canada, as markets. A couple of other markets that were in Australia and the UK tend to have very similar meeting behaviors. I will share some things that we did find that were interesting. We now have over 45 million events that are managed inside of Woven, so it’s quite a bit, and we’re able to use that information to help us really fine-tune how we build the product. One of the things that we had a question on early is “First off, when do people meet? What’s the most common time of day for people to meet?” The other question was, “How far in advance do they typically schedule?” We were originally debating, “Is a 7:00 AM meeting very common?” When does the day stop? Is a 6:00 PM meeting, quite common. If I could show you the histogram of events, you’d find it’s interesting, that most people do not start their day before 9:00 AM. There’s a few that start their day at 8:00 and a very small percentage that start their day at 7:00, but it’s a quite tall spike between 6:00 AM, and 10:00 AM, on when meetings start to occur. 10:00 AM is actually the most common spot in the day. That’s when people seem to like to meet the most. Then when you get to the end of the day, it falls off in a much slower fashion. There’s not the equivalent “It’s 5:00, and there’s no more meetings scheduled for people.” Instead, that extends out into the evening, on a very long, slow degradation. That was one thing that was interesting for us, is how there’s not a lot of people who like to use their early morning time, at least from a calendar perspective, and it very much mirrors a personal anecdote that I have that I like to do my workouts and my maker time, early in the morning because I’m the least likely to get interrupted and least likely to have conflicts. With this data, I could see why that universally people generally don’t use that time to meet with each other. The second thing that was interesting is “How far in advance do people schedule? Is it two weeks in advance, is it one week advance is it a couple of days in advance?” It was really interesting to see that the most common interval is actually a day or less, which makes using your calendar for planning purposes tricky, because it means that if I’m looking at what’s going on two weeks in the future, I actually don’t have all the events that I’m going to put on my calendar there yet. This also mirrors a common bit of anecdotal feedback that we’ve gotten, where people will make commitments in their time, in the future thinking “I can meet with so-and-so in a couple of weeks because I don’t look like I’m that busy.” But really, the decision that they’re making is “It’s not so important to meet with so-and-so today, because my calendar says I’m free two weeks from now, I’ll make the time for them then.” Except they’re not free two weeks from now. They don’t know what they’re busy with yet. So if you could build a calendar, a pro forma calendar– How you normally consume your time, you have a better understanding of whether or not you actually could take a meeting and it would help you prioritize better. I’ve seen for myself, and I have a pretty consistent pattern of 26 hours a week of meetings. No matter what’s going on, I have 26 hours of meetings. Sometimes it goes up and down by a few hours, but the average is pretty consistently 26 hours. If I start with an idea that “I only have 14 hours left.” for something that I wouldn’t normally do, I can answer that question “Does this fit in the 14 hours of time? Do I want to give it to this person?” Maybe that’s just an excuse for me to say, “I’m not interested in spending my time in this way.” Just a couple quick anecdotes. There’s tons of interesting things that we have learned helping people optimize their time with our product.

Joe: Yeah. That’s insanely interesting. I mean, first of all, 10:00 AM is also the sweet spot for me, because from 8:00 to 10:00, I like to do my own thing, in the office. Then by 10:00, the coffee is kicked in, 10:00 or 11:00, because 11:00 is right before lunch. So I’m probably not getting any deep work done. Then, how far in advance do they schedule? I have time-boxed, specifically for this reason. I’m doing a project right now with a bigger company, where they have a culture of this “I’ll grab a time on your calendar.” So people would do that, and I’ve been aggressively guarding my time. If someone just puts a meeting on my calendar, I’m like “I can’t meet at this time. Use this link to figure out when we can meet.” Because 5:00, I’m out of the– I got to go pick my daughter up from daycare. Then the rest of the evening is family time. If you’re going to meet in the middle of my morning, that’s deep work time for me, usually.

Joe: A lot of consultants do this, for example, where if they are working for multiple clients, they’ll block off time in their calendars for each client. One, to make sure that they don’t overbook themselves and two, to make sure that they preserve time to do the things that they’re trying to do for that particular client. It’s actually, I think, a good practice is to block time for things when you make commitments. Whether that commitment is to put together a presentation, or complete a coding task, or to meet with somebody. That’s one of the values of calendars, and if you can make them easier to use and more valuable for people, you can use them in ways to help people spend time better.

Joe: Absolutely. Then, I would just add, commit to that. I say I don’t meet on Fridays. I don’t break that rule. So, if someone’s like “Can, I grab a meeting on Friday?” I’m like, I don’t meet on Fridays, talk to me Monday morning.” Because Friday– Probably contrary to a lot of people feel, Friday is my most productive day, because I don’t have to meet with anybody.

Tim: For Facebook, we had no-meeting Wednesdays. The biggest problem in no-meeting Wednesday is that it was often disregarded by non-technical functions because they would have to meet with people outside of the company, who didn’t have no-meeting Wednesdays. In the counter tool that we built internally, we were able to codify this, so you could at least warn somebody that “You’re scheduling time during no-meeting Wednesday. Do you want to do that?” Inside of Woven, we’ve taken it one step further, where we use templates which are like predefined meetings, and you can set up your templates to say, “When should this meeting occur?” If you didn’t want to have your Fridays booked, you can change the template so that it never proposes times on a Friday and it will never do it for you, and it will never do it for anybody else who tries to schedule time with you.

Joe: Yeah. That’s fantastic, and I love that. When I was at the University of Scranton, we had something similar. We had no-meeting Thursday or something like that, but it was never honored, by anybody. When I was like “I thought we weren’t meeting on Thursdays, this is supposed to be a workday.” They’re like “They’re from outside the department.” I’m like, “They’re not available the rest of the week?” We work from 8:00 to 5:00 every day.

Tim: What you’re highlighting here is a truism. This is something that was important to learn at Facebook, which is that culture is often a function of the tools that you use. The tools can help make sure things happen. Facebook was very much about open communication, and it used Facebook Workplace as a way of helping people communicate because it’s more open than, say, e-mail is. For meetings, we used Exchange. Even though Sheryl Sandberg sent out an e-mail to the entire company, that we are no longer going to have, 60-minute meetings, they are going to be 50-minute meetings. Because Exchange didn’t support that, we ended up having 60-minute meetings. That was– The tool is overpowering one of the most powerful individuals in the company and arguably one of the best leaders in technology. That’s the value or the power of tooling for culture.

Joe: Yeah, that’s incredible. I love that quote. I’m going to make that a pull quote, for this episode. But we are coming up on time. I do need to ask you my favorite question, which is I mean, you’ve given us a lot of really great advice, but do you have any trade secrets for us?

Tim: They’re going to sound not so secret, but they are very powerful. It starts with if you’re going to build a great product, that starts with having great people. One of the things my co-founder and I both learned this from Facebook, and he was at Google beforehand, that part of what made Facebook such an incredible place to work was that people were so amazing. They were the best at what they did. That wasn’t by accident, and the company was very deliberate about hiring. So we’ve been very deliberate about hiring. If I were to go back through my entire career and highlight my greatest successes and my biggest failures, they’ve all related to whether or not I stuck it out for the right person in a role. When I compromised and made shortcuts, it usually cost me. When I stuck to my guns and went for the right person, even if that took a little bit longer than I wanted, it always paid off. So people make a big difference. The second thing I would say, and this is really for startups, speed matters. It’s great to take the time to build something well, but you have to recognize that, as a startup, you don’t know everything. It’s impossible not to know everything. So really, what you’re doing is every bit of code you’re writing is to learn more about what’s going to resonate for your product. When you write that code in a way that allows you to get it in front of users quicker, to get that learning faster, you’re better off than if you take a lot of time to write something that’s perfect, because it’s not going to be perfect. The designs are never going to be perfect. The architecture is never going to be perfect. Even the product focus is never going to be perfect. It’s got to be designed for speed. It’s very relevant learning, for us, on a principle that Facebook had of “move fast and break things.” That moving fast part, especially in the early days of a company, is really valuable.

Joe: The man I love that. That’s been echoed a bit on this podcast, as well, because you could spend six months or a year building something that you think is amazing. Then if people don’t use it the way you expected it to be used, then no one’s going to use it. So then you just sunk a bunch of months into something that’s not usable. So get something out quick, iterate quickly, we have the luxury to do that in today’s development environment.

Tim: Yeah, I mean, one of the other things that we learned is, if there’s ways to test stuff without ever writing a line of code, then you just shaved a bunch of time. You have no tech debt that way, you have no bugs that way, but you get the learnings. Mocks, surveys, we would use ads, sometimes, to advertise for features that we were thinking about developing and we’d see what the click-through rates were. All those were different ways to get to the answer to questions without having to write a line and code. So that when we did write that code, we knew that we had a higher chance of writing the right stuff.

Joe: That’s great. I’m going to steal that one. I’ve done similar things with pre-launching a course. Then if nobody buys the course, I know “Great, I don’t have to write that course. Nobody wants that course or nobody on my current e-mail list, at least, wants that course.”

Tim: That’s a modern-day variant of [Lean Startup]. The whole customer development cycle is built off similar principles.

Joe: Awesome. Tim, thank you so much for your time today. Where can people find you?

Tim: They can find us at Woven.com. The product is in open beta, so the only requirement is that you use your G Suite or Google Calendar. If anybody wants to find me, I’m easy to find on Twitter. @TCampos or Tim@Woven.com. I do also have LinkedIn, and Facebook profiles are easy to find, as well.

Joe: Awesome. I will link to those and everything we talked about in the show notes, over at HowIBuilt.it. Tim, thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.

Tim: Awesome. Thanks for having me.

Joe: Thanks so much to Tim for joining us today. While there’s a lot to take away from this episode, I think what stuck out the most, for me, is how people’s availability and when they meet spikes in the morning, so people are not available before a certain time in the morning, but then it peters off in the afternoon, meaning people continually make themselves available later into the evening. That’s really interesting stuff for me, especially because I pretty aggressively guard my time and my calendar. Thanks so much again to our sponsors Gusto, Ahoy! and Pantheon, they make this show happen. If you want to learn more about Tim and see all of the show notes, you can head over to HowIBuilt.it/140. If you want to create a podcast, just like this, for yourself. Be sure to check out my free podcasting workbook over at HowIBuilt.it/Liftoff, you’ll get checklists and show note templates, and all sorts of other stuff. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, get out there and build something.

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The post A Better Way to Spend Your Calendar Time with Woven and Tim Campos appeared first on How I Built It.

Oct 01 2019

46mins

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Rank #5: Understanding Customer Journey with Ronald Gijsel

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As more businesses are starting to do commerce nearly exclusively online, it’s important to know how your customers are finding you and how they make decisions. Enter Ronald Gijsel, the Community and Partnerships Manager at Yith.

He’s going to tech us all about the customer’s journey and FREE tools to help us figure it out. His tips will help us understand our customers to, sure, sell more, but more importantly, create a better experience for them. I learned a lot here and started to implement his advice shortly after we recorded. I’m excited to start seeing results.

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Transcript

Intro: Hey, real quick before we get started. I want to tell you about a free resource I have available based on some of the stuff that we talk about in this episode. It is 5 Tools to Help You Build Websites Faster, and you could find it over on the show notes for this page, HowIBuilt.it/166. You’re probably going to head over there anyway because there’s going to be lots of great resources, but definitely, if you want that free PDF, 5 Tools to Help You Build Faster Websites, it is over at HowIBuilt.it/166. OK, let’s get on with the show.
Joe Casabona: As more businesses start to do commerce nearly exclusively online, it’s important to know how your customers are finding you and how they’re making decisions. Enter Ronald Gijsel. He’s the community manager and partnerships manager at Yith, a former sponsor of this show. He’s going to teach us today about the customer’s journey and free tools to help us figure out exactly what our customer’s journey is. His tips will help us understand our customers to shore, sell more, but, more importantly, create a better experience for them. I learned a lot here, and I started to implement his advice shortly after we recorded this interview, and I’m excited to start seeing results. I know that you will, too, if you follow his advice, so we’ll get to that in a minute. But first, a word from our sponsor.
Break: This episode is brought to you by Ahrefs. Ahrefs is an all-in-one SEO toolset that solves that problem. It gives you the tools you need to rank your website in Google and get tons of search traffic. As someone who struggles with what kind of content to create or what’s ranking best in Google, or anything SEO-related, Ahrefs has been instrumental in increasing traffic to my website over the holidays. I had my best quarter for affiliate income because Ahrefs showed me my most popular pages and topics, and I was able to optimize my content and my gift guides and update them accordingly. I would have never updated one of my gift guides because I didn’t think it was that popular, and Ahrefs showed me it is my most popular page. Ahrefs makes competitive analysis easy as well. Their tools show you how your competitors are getting traffic from Google and why. You can see the pages and content that send them the most search traffic, find out exactly the key words they’re ranking for, and which backlinks are helping them rank. From there, you can replicate or improve on their strategies. Now, as I said, I don’t think I’m getting significant search traffic, so I use Ahrefs tools to help find topics worth creating pages or content for. I can easily see estimated search volumes and gauge traffic potential with their keyword explorer tool. It’s been a fantastic addition to my toolkit. Just this morning, I learned that My Everyday Carry post has been popular, and lots of people are coming, so I think it’s time to update that because it’s five years old. If you want to gain a following or just improve traffic to your website, Ahrefs is the tool for you. You can get a 7 day trial for $7 dollars over at Ahrefs.com. That’s Ahrefs.com for a seven day trial for $7 dollars. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be hooked. Again, that’s Ahrefs.com for a seven day trial for $7. Now back to the show.
Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Ronald Gijsel, and he is the community and partnership manager over at Yith. I’m very excited to talk to Ronald today because we’re going to be talking about something I feel I need to be a little bit better at, which is the customer’s journey as they go through your shop and re-engaging– Or, the right times to re-engage with that customer, and things like that. So Ronald, how are you today?
Ronald Gijsel: Hi. I’m very good, thank you very much for having me.
Joe: Thanks for coming on the show. Full disclosure for those listening, Yith was a sponsor of the show, but that’s not the reason I’m having Ronald on today. I’m excited to learn more about this conversation– About this topic, I should say.
Ronald: Yeah, no. That’s my idea. To help business owners, but also freelancers to make more sense of an e-commerce journey and pick out a couple of really good little tips that they can apply to their own business, or help customers.
Joe: Fantastic. Why don’t we get into it with a little bit of background information about you, so we can talk about who you are and what you do?
Ronald: Sure. I’m fairly new to the Yith family, and it’s very much a family. The founder is Italian, and the company was started in Catania in Sicily. Half the company is now based in Tenerife, and the remaining 50% is still in Catania. I am based in the UK, and I joined them about four months ago. Before I joined them, I ran my– Let’s call it micro-web agency because it’s micro in the sense that it was me and my wife and a few freelancers that we had to call upon. We looked after many WooCommerce stores in particular, but part of that was also getting traffic to these stores, so I qualified– I self-qualified with advanced Google Analytics applied that for many years, webmaster search console as it later changed to. I also was a Google partner for Google AdWords or Google Ads now. All those different skills together combined, I think I can paint quite a good picture for many of the listeners.
Joe: That’s fantastic. Did you say four months?
Ronald: Yes. Officially since January, however, I did some work for them in the past, especially attending Word Camps, where we met.
Joe: OK, cool. I was going to say, “I could’ve sworn you were working in the booth before that at a Word Camp we met.” I was like, “Oh no.” So that’s fantastic. First of all, shout out to Sicily, I am part Sicilian. I am 100% of Italian descent and– I know, that’s a rarity these days. I’m very proud to be able to say that. But you’re based in the UK, and you ran a small agency, you were also a Google partner. Yith focuses on WooCommerce extensions, so they are the number one independent WooCommerce extension shop?
Ronald: Very much so, yeah. Let me go back a little bit back to the history of how it started. So, Nando Pappalardo, he is the CEO, and he worked for an IT company. In 2008 he came up with the idea to use some of the trends in web development that were being seen in the US and in the UK where they were a little bit further ahead and writing blogs about– A lot of blogs, a technical and very dedicated plan he executed. Soon after that, he released his first themes, which were designed by his wife, who is an amazing UX designer. The themes went down well, and they were being sold on Theme Forest, and in years, they literally sold millions of them for a long time. They were the number one theme seller on there with those themes, and you probably remember that. They came loaded with lots of plugins and functionality, so if you have an all in one solution that was ready to go, if you have a restaurant “Here you are, here’s a restaurant with everything loaded.” But over time, these functionalities separated from the theme, so these plugins, first one was the [inaudible] search, search, and filter. But they became standalone products as well, so that’s where the journey of WooCommerce plugins started for Yith. “Yith” stands for “Your inspiration themes,” but it’s a lot less themes and a lot more plugins. We have over 100 now in our catalog. A lot of our users make use of the club membership, so you have access to all of the plugins, and you can load them on six or 30 websites. But the red line in all of this is it’s all about creating this customer journey from start to finish, so plugins includes the search, displaying products in a nice way on your website, to different checkout methods, payment methods, also a lot of admin tools. PDF invoice generation and so on, anything in between those plugins.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned the customer journey again, so I’d love to get into this. I am an online educator, and I always talk about “The learner’s journey” when you’re putting together a course, you want to make sure that they have a problem, and you’re solving it through whatever actions they need to take to solve it. That they have a very clear path, it sounds like the customer’s journey is a little bit similar to that, but maybe we can talk about what exactly you mean by that first.
Ronald: I think a customer journey, you can have different views on that. I think a developer looks at it in a very different way to a UX designer to a web designer. I’m taking more of the stand as a data analyst, and I look at key points. Now, I appreciate that what I’m about to share and tell you need to know a little bit about Google Analytics. If not, I think this is the key point to come back to the podcast and say, “Hang on. But what was he talking about?” Otherwise, I can also share some screenshots or links, because it’s well worthwhile to go back into your Google Analytics dashboard and find these key bits of data. Let me just get started and build this picture. Data, I think if you ask any shop owner, they will probably tell you how much turnover they’ve made in the last couple of days. A week, a month, a year. How many customers they have based on the customer list, and I think much more than that you probably don’t remember, or apart from maybe your cost and so on. The key data that I think are absolutely crucial are, first of all, the average order value. Now once you’ve connected your Google Analytics to your web shop, you have to have this e-commerce enabled. It’s an extra bit of data that you can get from your analytics dashboard, including the average order value, but also total revenue and e-commerce conversion rate and so on. If you haven’t done that, if you go into– Under “Conversions” and you look under e-commerce, and it’s completely blank, I’d say “Google and find out how you can enable that.” Anyway, once you’ve got it enabled, you’ll see the average order value. That’s a key metric because, with that, you can multiply it, and you can do your own maths sums. The next bit of information that you need to find out is the order frequency. So in order to do that, you look on the audience and behavior, and the behavior– You don’t have to separate or segment off those that have made a purchase. The longer time span, you can go back on that the better because that means you have more data. All of this is possible with just a free to use Google analytics, no premium, nothing. It doesn’t cost you anything. Now what you find is that most purchases are made on day zero. People come in, they make a purchase, and that’s it. But if you then see the view of frequency and recency, you will see that a lot of people will come back very soon after making that first purchase. I’ve seen it on several shops that you have a bit of a peak on the next day. Then again, either in one week, two weeks, three weeks, or four weeks, there’s another increase in repeat purchase. Those parts of the frequency whereby a customer comes back for a second purchase, I think, is worth absolute gold because that’s in a way based on your historical data looking into the future and seeing when you can target and get them ready for a next purchase.
Joe: Gotcha. I’m going to stop you right there for a minute because there’s a couple of really good pieces of information there. First, that you’re finding out all this information with the free version of Google Analytics. I’m going to find a video to link to for you to enable e-commerce data, and you’re right. If I go into my WooCommerce shop I can look at sales and revenue and churn for memberships and stuff like that, but the things that you’re talking about are things that I haven’t paid attention to, which is order frequency and when do they come back after they make that initial purchase. Like you said, those are important because you can start to prime them to make the next purchase.
Ronald: Exactly. It’s the glass crystal ball looking into the future. You know exactly when a certain percentage of your customers comes back.
Joe: Which is great. I’m sure there’s probably a lot of marketing around that. There are some brands that email me every day with the same sale, but there are some that will email me two weeks after I make my first purchase. “How did you like that purchase? You might also like this.” Maybe in two weeks time, I’m ready to make another purchase because I loved the first one so much.
Ronald: Exactly. Those emails, especially by the big companies, they’re not coincidence. They have big data sets and machine learning that will help them predict these things, but most people can’t afford several thousand dollars per month in these suites of marketing machines. These couple little tips I think are worth gold for the small and medium sized businesses. Now the next one is attribution views, it’s quite a new little theme within Google Analytics, and you’ll find it in your top– Sorry, bottom left corner and assessed with a label “Attribution.” When you click on it the first time, it will ask you to activate it, and then it takes you 72 hours to activate it. Once it’s activated, and then you start experimenting with it, you’ll see a whole new level of data. Again, it’s there. It’s free to use. You just have to activate it. One of the things you can then see are conversion paths, and it will tell you, “What was the first point of contact with your shop? What was the second? Was it through email marketing? Was it through direct affiliate?” And so on. Another one is the conversion path lengths, so how many touch points a customer needs on average before they convert in buying a product? Most people will think it’s the one time, it’s that one Google ad they hit and purchased something. Because that’s what Google says has happened, “You’ve had so many clicks, you’ve had so many purchases.” But actually, at least 30-40% need more than one touchpoint before they make their purchase. Because think about it yourself, if you buy a pair of shoes while you go to one shop, you Google it again, and you go to another shop, you compare prices, and you might leave it. Then somebody is hitting you back with an abandoned cart email. It’s all happening in your own behavior when you go to different– When you go online shopping. Understanding your own customers and how they behave with your shop is another way of looking into the future and targeting that. I’ve looked at a shop where somebody actually– I think it was 1%, but I needed about 50 touch points before they made that purchase. They will come back eventually, you just have to be there and keep reminding them, because once they’ve made that first purchase, they are our customer potentially for life
Joe: That’s a really good point. Again, looking at my own experience, I assume– Not so much anymore, but I used to assume I would just tweet, “My new course is available, check it out.” I expected people to click on that tweet and then buy the course. But that’s not the case, and they need to understand the problem I’m solving. They need to be ready to purchase. Maybe they’re not ready to purchase, and again looking at one of my favorite brands Untuck It, they make fantastic button down shirts for men of a certain build. I saw their ad during a baseball game, and then I saw their store, and then I checked out their site, and I think it was by the fourth time I was ready to buy a couple of shirts from them. I think that those little pieces of information you’re giving us about customer behavior is so important because it’s not just “If you build it, they will come,” it’s “You have to prime them and convince them and then make them a customer, and then remind them about how much they like your stuff.”
Ronald: Exactly. You’re building this, what do you call it, mousetrap, or a net around your customer with lots of different touch points. But when you create that, you think you’re just throwing money down the pit, especially Google ads. It’s one of those things where you can just spend money, money, money on, and never see any result. But when you then compare it with a first click interaction and a large click interaction, you’ll see a huge difference because they maybe have come through your shop the first time and didn’t make a purchase. Then after a few more interactions, they came back to you directly, and now it’s a direct customer. With that, I mean those who remember your website, that type it in and then make that purchase. You don’t think that the money or the purchase or the conversion is just down to that last click, the direct traffic. But actually, it was the Google ad that made that first sale. Google attribution view is amazing, and you should check it out because you can see all the different paths and how many conversions have come through it. I’m literally looking at one of a customer, and I’ll just quickly run through it. This is the journey from start to finish, and I’ll run through it quickly. We have referral, organic search, referral, two direct visits, another organic, direct referral, direct organic, direct email, and three more direct. Then they made the purchase. So we have organic, we have referral, could be an affiliate, you have email marketing, and then they made a purchase. Each of those touchpoints do take a little bit of a share of your investment in acquiring the customer. Now, we talked a little bit about the different scenarios of acquiring a customer, and every shop will have a value put against an acquisition. Whether it’s a marketing budget or Google Ads budget, or even going to speak at a conference. There is money allocated in promoting your business and bringing people in, so here’s a scenario. You have a one time customer. The value is $100, and the investment to acquire this customer is 20%, so $20. If you build on a repeat business and your average frequency, which you find out in one of the first bits of data that I shared with you, how you can find that out, the frequency of purchase is an average 2 1/2. That’s average order value of $100, now has actually on a lifetime become $250, but the investment to acquire that customer is still at $20. But per order that now has gone down to 8%. Here’s the third scenario. You now realize that the acquisition in real terms only cost you 8%. Now, if you are prepared to increase your investment a little bit more, to let’s say back to 20% and become a little bit more aggressive in acquiring the customer, you can position yourself much higher above your competition. Because you are focusing on getting that customer the first time and then focusing on repeat business. The classic example is Amazon. Amazon gives things pretty much away for nothing. You can’t compete with it, but they know they will have you for life. The repeat business is probably in the thousands. I try to think of how many purchases I’ve made in the past. That’s a really obvious example of it.
Joe: Every so often, I like to download my– You can download everything that you’ve ever purchased off Amazon in a CSV. I like to check in and see how much I’ve spent with them over the years, and it’s staggering. But everything you’re talking about right now goes back to an important– It’s not a theory, it’s an important axiom of e-commerce. Which is “The easiest person to sell to is your current customer.”
Ronald: Exactly.
Joe: I’ve heard time and time again on this show too many businesses focus too much on acquiring new customers when they should focus on taking care of and marketing to their current customers because those people have already bought into what you’re selling.
Ronald: Absolutely. But I’m saying also, and I completely agree, that because you have this much higher value customer that you’ve managed to retain, you can, therefore, spend a little bit more on acquiring the customer in the first place. Because you know you’ll get a much higher value out of it in the long term.
Joe: Yeah. That makes sense.
Ronald: It gives you confidence.
Joe: Yeah. You’re saying it might cost $20 to acquire that customer off the first purchase, but over time as they buy more stuff from you, that cost per acquisition goes down. So that initial number doesn’t look so bad over time. It’s a balancing act.
Ronald: Right. All you need to know is the average order value or your frequency and your customer’s shopping behavior. If you’re confident with that, and that’s based on your historical data that you can find out through Google Analytics or for free, you can be a lot more confident in acquiring your customer and looking after them. Next point I want to talk to you about is the actual customer churn and how it starts. I know it’s very theoretical, but by keeping it open, you can imagine that in your own scenario. Whether you run a shop or whether you sell services online or you create and make downloads available through e-commerce or e-course, for example. The acquisition people come eventually onto your site, and whether that’s the first time, third time or fourth time, they eventually add a product or service to a basket in order to checkout. That’s your first really good moment to increase the average order value already because we said, on average is $100 dollars. But if you can increase that by 20%, that acquisition still cost you only $20 the first time on average. But if you increase that by 20%, the actual acquisition already reduces. So ways of doing that, the most obvious one is, of course, upselling. “If you liked this product, you’ll like that product.” But what I’ve found through all the years of working with e-commerce is that’s never utilized enough, because WooCommerce especially will have your product and then you said recommended products– Very few clients I work with feel that incorrectly, and that’s it. From now on, you will not be reminded of any other product. Whether it’s in the shop, whether you can find it or not, find it. Looking at that whole journey of all the different moments before they’ve made that purchase to upgrade the order when you’re on a basket, whether it’s a pop up because you’ve put this item in your basket, “Maybe you want to upgrade? Why not buy another one, and I’ll give you 20% off?” Or “Most people who like this also bought that.” “Really? I didn’t even see that in the shopping catalog. Great. I’ll have that.” Whether that works or not, even then, there are more opportunities. Because once you’ve checked out and you’ve paid for it, you come onto a thank you page. Again, it’s a great moment where you think, and you can suggest something else. Whether you buy dog foods and you then sell dog bowls or placemats, for example. The likelihood– This happens over time where you can apply the science or your analytics on that, and you can figure out what the additional product can be when people purchase product A, and they might like product B.
Joe: Gotcha. So right here we’ve got a few touchpoints, once you get the customer in the door and they are ready to buy something, they put something in the cart, upsells and cross sales are something. As you said, they are “Built into WooCommerce,” but not necessarily used appropriately. But what I liked is after payment on the thank you page, there is another opportunity. Again, if we look at Amazon as a classic example, as soon as you pay, it’s “Thank you for your order.” Then below that, it’s “Here’s other stuff that people bought after they bought the thing you just got.”
Ronald: Yeah. These things you don’t need plugins for that either, you can do it yourself because you have product short codes. Once you’ve figured out where your thank you page is, you utilize that by adding a code in the PHP file, for example. It could be a feedback form, and it could be an additional product. I looked after shoe shop, and they’ve added an additional shoe polish after people paid out. The uptake was about 25%, and before they did that, they hardly sold any. The order hasn’t left the warehouse yet, so adding another payment and adding the shoe polish with an additional discount is an easy one to make.
Joe: Yeah, that’s a great point. Even if we’re talking about, say, digital products. I sell courses, so you could imagine that somebody buys a high dollar course from me, maybe the upsell or the post thank you page sell is an hour of my time to get you set up in the course. Or, after you take the course, “Congratulations. You’ve finished. How would you like some one on one time with me to answer questions the course didn’t answer?” Anything like that.
Ronald: Yeah, exactly. Another one is if the course is available for, let’s say, six months to one year, add another year onto it or maybe a family member, depending on what type of course it is. Because you’ve already sold it, you might as well upgrade it with an additional service. The credit card is out. The next one that I’m going to suggest is surprisingly easy. “Thank you” emails. “Thank you for your purchase. Your order has been dispatched.” The opening rate for emails is quite often higher than 100%, which means people open it more than once. What did they order? When is it going to arrive? Let me check it again. All these questions, people are anxious. “When is it going to arrive? I’ve paid for this beautiful item or for this service,” that’s a moment. It’s a key moment in that email, in the footer. Or someone’s like, “Maybe you forgot something. You bought product A, how about product B?” When you look at the frequency, and I’ve seen this in several shops, you’ll see that the frequency after the first purchase on day one and day two is significantly higher than day four, five, and six. Because the shopping experience is fresh in a month, maybe they saw something, and they weren’t quite ready to purchase it. To hit the client with an email, a reminder to say, “How about this item? We know you’ve looked at it,” and give an additional discount to just help them make the purchase.
Joe: That goes along with another psychological phenomenon, that somebody makes a purchase and a second purchase doesn’t seem so bad. Especially if the second purchase is less than that first purchase. A really good example, when we bought our house in May, I spent $1,000 dollars on new office equipment and stuff like that. I thought, “I just shelled out so much money on the house. I might as well invest a little extra to make my office exactly what I want it to be.”
Ronald: Absolutely. It’s classic, and I think it’s a lot easier to get for people to spend 2 times $5 than one time $8.
Joe: That’s a good point, too, because you’re reducing sticker shock a little bit. You’re taking advantage– I’m going to say taking advantage here even though that has a negative connotation, but you are able to add more value to your customers journey as you’re saying because you are offering them more value based on the stuff that they’ve purchased. You are offering them a discount that they may not have otherwise had, and you’re reducing the sticker shock, which maybe helps them see the value a little bit more.
Ronald: Absolutely, yes. This is not about quick selling or to make as much money as possible, and this is about a relationship. If you imagine entering a shop, you browse the aisles, and you don’t come to the checkout. Lots of different things that remind you, whether it’s a chocolate bar or a gift card for somebody else. Even as you leave the shop with your trolley fully loaded with shopping and groceries, there is– In the UK it’s the national lottery by the counter, right by the end by the exit. How many peoples queue up with their fully loaded trolleys and just buy that one more thing? Whether it’s a magazine, a newspaper, or a lottery ticket. Shops do it, and seeing that and trying to do that in your own online environments, and I think it makes a lot more sense.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, this is not about quick selling. This isn’t a get rich quick thing. Because as you said earlier, it’s going to take time and money for the acquisition. So you’re spending time and money to make them a customer, and once they’re in, you want to make sure that they are getting the most out of that relationship. It’s not just saying, “Here’s everything I have to offer.” It’s saying, “You bought X. I think Y would be a nice companion. I think it’ll add more value and it’ll give you more of what you’re looking for. It will help you solve the problems that you need to solve.”
Ronald: These are all experiments because you don’t know if whether your second purchase would be, whether that’s the right fit. You might need to do some A and B testing, you could look at historical data, one of the WordPress plugins all in one export. Is it all in one export? It can export data and detailed data, and you pick out the customer orders and products. When you have a lot of that data, you can separate that and say, well, what’s the first product they bought? How soon did they come back, and what was the second product? If you have lots of customers, you can see patterns, and based on that, and you can then apply that into your upsell and cross-sell. For shop owners, it’s probably an obvious one, but if it’s not.
Joe: No, I think that’s a really good point. That you should experiment a little bit and see what works, what doesn’t work. But as we approach the end of this episode, I think you’ve taken us on a really– This is a very structured way to do things. Setup Google Analytics the right way, I’ll have detailed notes for this episode because there’s a lot of step by steps. But look at the average order value, look at the behavior, the attribution views and the cost per acquisition, and then experiment in various places for upsells, cross sells, and communicating better with the customer.
Ronald: Yeah, exactly. As you gain experience, you become a lot more confident in building up this relationship with the customer, because with the order frequency, you can also see that a lot of repeat business is made after two weeks, or maybe it’s one month. Then using some sort of email marketing tool, whether it’s free to use Mailchimp or a more advanced Klaviyo or ActiveCampaign and then applying that science into the customer journey. Then do exactly the same, hit them again with the day after which some sort of thank you email, two weeks later after that and so on. Your repeat frequency buying cycle, if your customer increases, making the cost to acquire them a lot less.
Joe: Just a touch on that again, there are– I haven’t used Mailchimp in a long time, but the email marketing tools I do use like ConvertKit or Jilt do allow for things like that. In ConvertKit, when somebody makes a purchase in WooCommerce, they get tagged with that purchase. Then I could set up a sequence to email them that day, “Thank you for your purchase. The next day, “Have you logged into the course yet? I think you should check it out.” And then if I know that they’re likely to buy an hour of consulting or a follow up course in two or three weeks time, I can tell ConvertKit to email them in three weeks and say, “I hope you’re enjoying the course. If you have any questions, let me know. By the way, if you want some one on one time with me, you can buy it.”
Ronald: I think absolutely. I know you don’t mind to spend a little bit more on a premium tool, but Jilt is a great example of that. Absolutely.
Joe: Awesome. As we wrap up here, you’ve given us a lot of tips. But let’s say that somebody is– They’ve recently set up their WooCommerce shop. What are two or three things that they can do today to start jumping into improving the customer journey?
Ronald: Absolutely, the first thing is to connect it with Google Analytics. Again, search console is crucial because it will help to understand where you’re positioned organically. What are the key words? What are the sort of things that people are looking for? Same is to analyze your search functionality inside your WooCommerce shop and make sure that each search query gets recorded in analytics. Again, there are lots of tutorials on that. Then it’s applying the tools to improve your WooCommerce shop. One by one, bit by bit, look at first finding the right product. Upselling it, abandoned cart, throughout the checkout, “Thank you” page and email reminder, or whether it’s a confirmation of an order and dispatch, and automate and improve on the whole full journey. But Amazon is the best example, and we can all create it if we have the time and money. But that’s one thing I’ve found out is that people overlooked that. Look at the most obvious examples around you.
Joe: Until you mentioned that earlier in this episode, it didn’t occur to me because I think “I’m selling a digital course.” It’s not the same as selling physical products, but it is– You have somebody who likes what you’re doing, who is giving you money to support that thing, and you’re not going to be able to live forever on the $100 bucks that they spent five years ago or whatever.
Ronald: I think digital and e-learning, you’re partnering with other people and cross-selling your service with somebody else who does a complementary service, and vice-versa. A great ways of adding value to each other’s product.
Joe: Absolutely. That’s fantastic, and we’ll have to–
Ronald: I think we could talk about it for many more hours.
Joe: I think we’ll have to have another episode talking about maybe e-learning specifically, but this has been great, Ronald. I do need to ask you my favorite question, of course, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us? You’ve given us so much, but is there some observation that you’ve made that will be very helpful to the listeners?
Ronald: You’ll have to clip out this pause because I wasn’t quite ready for that.
Joe: The pause is the best part. I want to make a compilation of everybody, every single one of my guests pretty much says “Trade secret?” and then they pause. I think I’m just going to have a whole episode of that.
Ronald: Yeah, right. I’m going to go back to [attribution]. So, clap your hands.
Joe: I do need to ask my favorite question, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Ronald: I think I’ve mentioned it already three times, and it’s enabling Google attribution view. To me, when I started experimenting with that and looking at first click and last click and data driven click, a whole new world opened to me on customer behavior. And it’s there, for free.
Joe: Fantastic. I know that as soon as we are done recording here, I am going to do that, I’m going to spend a little bit of extra time looking through my Google Analytics and improving my shop. So, I appreciate that. “Enable Google attribution view,” I said this earlier, but I’ll have a link in the show notes which you can find over at HowIBuilt.it for how to do that. Ronald, thank you so much for joining us today. Where can people find you?
Ronald: You can find me on Twitter, @Just2Ronald. I’m also on LinkedIn, and you will have a link. Check it out, send me a message on there as well. I’m always happy to have a conversation and support.
Joe: Awesome. I willing to all of that in the show notes. Ronald, thank you so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.
Ronald: Thank you. Bye, everyone.
Outro: Thanks so much to Ronald for joining us this week. The way that he uses Google Analytics was really impressive to me. I hope that you were able to follow him as he talked through some of these instructions. There will be a link to some of these videos over in the show notes at HowIBuilt.it/166. Thanks to Ahrefs for sponsoring this episode. I’m so excited to have them onboard because they have helped me really up my content’s game. If you’re following me on other channels, then you know that I’ve been just pumping out a ton of content lately, and Ahrefs has been helpful in determining what kind of content I should put out there. Definitely be sure to check them out and thank them for supporting the show. Now I do have a special offer for you if some of the stuff that Ronald was talking about was great, but you’re wondering maybe where to start at the level before this, getting your website up and running quickly, I have a free PDF for you. 5 Tools for Building Faster Websites. You can find it right on the show notes page over at HowIBuilt.it/166. It is completely free, so be sure to check it out. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, get out there and build something.
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Apr 28 2020

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Rank #6: Kirsten Bunch and Changing Careers

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Over the last 2 weeks, we discussed mental and physical health as it relates to freelancing and self-employment. To round out this trilogy of overall happiness in your career, I’m talking to Kirsten Bunch, who is a reinvention coach. She helps those folks who are mid-career but need a change. She offers some fantastic advice on how to determine if you’re ready for a chance, and the steps you should talk in order to figure out what to do for your next career move.

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Kirsten Bunch: I think the point is you don’t have to stay on the same path just because of some feeling of obligation, and also because you switch careers or because you start your own business maybe there’s– Definitely when you start your own business, there’s a period of time where you are not making a lot of money, but there’s still lots of ways to make money in this world. Switching careers doesn’t mean all of a sudden you’re not making any money.

Joe Casabona: That was Kirsten Bunch. Over the last two weeks, we discussed mental and physical health as it relates to freelancing and self-employment. To round out this trilogy of overall happiness in your career, I’m talking to Kirsten, who is a reinvention coach. She helps those folks who are mid-career but need a change. She offers some fantastic advice on how to determine if you’re ready for change and then the steps you should take in order to figure out what to do for your next career move. This is advice that can come to anybody at any walk of life, and you don’t need to be 10, 15, or 20 years into a career to determine you need a career change. We’ll get into this interview in a minute, but of course, first a word from our sponsors.

Break: This episode is brought to you by our friends at Ahoy! The easiest way to increase customer engagement on your WordPress site. Install Ahoy! Create a message box, configure a way to display it, and start seeing conversions come in. You can create messages for cart abandonment, up-sales and cross-sells, custom support, and so much more. Ahoy! Has flexible conditions that let you choose exactly where and when you want your message to be displayed. I’ve recently installed it on my own WooCommerce site, and I’ve already seen increased engagement. I know this because of Ahoy! and it’s powerful analytics and reporting. You will see ROI within days of installing Ahoy! If not sooner. That’s even more true for listeners of How I Built It. You can get an exclusive 20% discount on any plan. Visit UseAhoy.com/HowIBuiltIt and use the code HOWIBUILTIT at checkout. Use those today and increase your engagement in sales on your WordPress site. Thanks to Ahoy! for their support of this show.

Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today I’m excited to talk to my guest, Kirsten bunch. She is a reinvention coach and entrepreneur, and the topic we’re going to be discussing today is reinventing yourself and launching a new business if you feel stuck. Without further ado, Kirsten, how are you?

Kirsten: Hey. I’m really good, and I’m really good. I’m really happy to be here and have this conversation with you today.

Kirsten: Absolutely, thank you for joining me.

Joe: I’m excited because this is a pretty unique topic for the show, usually we’re talking about more concrete businesses ideas or services. But I think that especially in the space that my audience is in, the web development space, the WordPress space, a lot of people find their way to WordPress web development by feeling stuck. I’m excited to talk more high-level about this stuff. Why don’t we start off with who you are and what you do?

Kirsten: Yes. Like you said, I am a reinvention coach, and a strategist and entrepreneur. By the nature of that, I help people reinvent and refresh their careers. That can mean starting a business, a lot of my clients start businesses. It could also mean switching from one career to another. It also means passion projects sometimes, people who have clients who are writing books as a way to relaunch themselves or starting film festivals in their communities. Things like that. I find that most of my clients, typically my clients are around the mid-career point where they’re looking at what they’ve done and they’re looking at the next 20-25 years because that’s let’s face it, nobody is retiring at the age of 60 anymore. Thinking, “OK. What’s next for me? What am I going to do?”

Joe: Absolutely. First of all, I don’t know if I would have the ability to retire. I mean maybe I’m about halfway there, a little more than halfway there. Maybe I will want to retire. But I feel like I’d be pretty bored if I retired at 60 or 65. But you mentioned this in the pre-show discussion too, about passion projects, and I like that. Mostly because my career manifested itself out of a passion project. I was doing web development on the side, and it was a hobby, and I liked it. Then I made that my career basically from high school, I was doing that full time– Or, I was doing it while going to school, I should say. I like that too, and one other reason I like that is because I’ve heard from a lot of people in my outer circles that they don’t have a hobby. They basically work, and then they go back to work, and helping people find and pursue passion projects is important to me because I think that you should have other interests outside of your day job.

Kirsten: I think that’s true because I think– One of the things that I coach my clients on is not everybody’s ready to jump out of their career or jump out of their job, either for financial reasons or for identity purposes. I don’t recommend just quitting your job from one day to the next unless you’re prepared for what that means, and we could dig into what that means if you want. But one way to get your toes wet is to do a passion project. It’ll help you feel better about being in a job that maybe you’re not thrilled about, because you’ll have something else to think about, but it’s also a way– Like I said in the beginning, it’s a way to relaunch yourself. I’m working with a woman right now who in order to– She’s a celebrity stylist, and in order to relaunch herself and figure out where she’s headed next she felt the urge and felt the need to write her story. She’s writing a book about the vulnerability of beauty, and all this stuff. Cool stuff. It’s a way for her to take stock of where she’s been and who she is now and where she’s going.

Joe: I love that. That sounds cool. I think it flows very well into the next question that I had for you, which is “How do you know when you’re ready to make a career switch?”

Kirsten: I think if you’re uncomfortable with what you’re doing now, and that feeling of uncomfortable-ness isn’t going away, I think you need to examine that. That doesn’t mean you need a career switch necessarily, but it means that there’s something going on. I do a lot of speaking, and I always tell my audiences I have this whole story about my own reinvention, where I ignored the fact that I wasn’t happy in the career that I was in and I was moving from one job to the next and just doing the same thing. It’s like, what’s the saying– Doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. So what I say is that you can distract yourself from the truth, but the truth isn’t going to go away. If you feel like that’s what you’re doing, is you’re distracting yourself from the truth, that you’re not in the right place. Then I would suggest getting some help to figure that out, and not panicking. Please don’t panic. It’s OK. It’s all going to be OK, and you’ll figure it out.

Joe: I think that’s great. Not necessarily career switches for me, but both times I decided to leave my current job they came after a longer period of “What am I doing? I feel like I’m not growing,” in one instance. I felt like I was falling behind. I felt like I was the person who knew the most, and I didn’t want to be that. I was 26. I didn’t want to be the most knowledgeable person at my company, because there’s so much more to learn there. Then in my previous job, my wife and I had just had our first child, and I was re-evaluating based on that, and the time I was spending at work versus with my family. But I like that if you’re uncomfortable with what you’re doing, you need to examine it and don’t ignore it. Moving forward in this interview, we talked about this in the -pre-show, creating the persona of somebody who is ready for that career switch. As I ask the next set of questions, maybe we can keep that person in mind. Someone comes to you, and they say “I’m ready for a career switch, I’m not quite sure where I want to go next. What do I do?” The follow-up question I always ask in this interview is, “What kind of research do you do?” So how would we figure out where to go from here?

Kirsten: Yeah, no, definitely. It’s a great question. A metaphor I like to use, and I stole this from my branding team, but a metaphor I like to use is “What car–?” If you think about cars and you think about “If you can be any car you want, what car are you now and what car do you want to become?” And it’s not “What car you want to buy,” but “What car do you want to be?” So when you think about the cars, and you think about the car you want to become, you want to think about things like the size of the car. Because that in your career represents community. Have you been working in a big company and you want to be on your own? You want some space, you want to be a solo solopreneur, and you want to explore what that is? Or have you been working on your own in a small business and you miss that bigger crowd around you? The car analogy is, “Do you want a mini or do you want to do you want an SUV? A big SUV or a van?” Then also your values come in. Do you want the gas guzzler in your career, do you want to work for something that’s not mission-focused per se, and you want to work for a big company that does something that maybe isn’t– Like do you want to work for a tobacco company, or something like that? Or do you– Is there something within your values that is pulling you, like you feel like “I want to do something about climate change.” Or “I want to do something about animals,” I don’t know, food systems. So with the car analogy, it’s “Do you want a gas guzzler or do you want a hybrid? Do you want an E-car? What are you looking for?” I think figuring out those two things, what are the values that you’re looking for in your career, your new career and what, how– Sorry, I’ve lost my train of thought. But how do you show up with– If you think about it in the sense of car, what does your car look like and what are the elements of that car? The features is the word I’m trying to find.

Joe: Absolutely. That makes perfect sense. Again thinking back to my own journey, I worked at a big university which is essentially like a Fortune 500 company without the bankroll. Then I went to a small team, and now I’m solo. I made those choices at various stages. Then I like the idea of “Do you want a gas guzzler versus an electric car?” Or “Do you want to work for a company maybe where you do a specific job, and you like doing that job, or do you want to work for someone that has a very clear mission that aligns with your views?” If you dig on what Ben and Jerry’s is doing, they have a very clear mission. Maybe that’s something that you would consider as well. I like that a lot.

Kirsten: Yeah. I think that the idea of being an entrepreneur or working for somebody else, do you want an automatic car do you want a stick shift or a standard car? Because if you’re an entrepreneur, it’s all on you. You’ve got to drive that, and you’ve got to pay attention to how you’re shifting and all of that. That’s not to say in automatic if you’re working for somebody else you don’t have to do it, but it’s a little bit more that somebody else is driving the ship and you’re steering your part of the job.

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Joe: The next question that I would have is, what am I going to do? I’ve been a web developer for 15 years, I’ve worked at– My old man worked at Verizon and before that Bell Atlantic or Ninex and Ma Bell, or whatever. He worked at the same company for his entire career. How do you figure out what to do next, as far as the actual doing the job?

Kirsten: The question I get a lot is, “How do I figure out my passion?” I’m not– Actually, I don’t know. I’m not a passion person. I’ve never really figured out my passion, and my passion has been trying new things if anything, that’s what my passion is. What I say to people is, instead of– “Forget about your passion. If you know what that is, awesome. Follow that. But don’t freak out if you’re just like, ‘I have no idea what that is.’ Follow your curiosity instead and follow the things that are catching your attention, and talk to people about them and read up and talk to people who are working in that space.” For me, my reinvention story was about becoming an entrepreneur and starting my own business. I had never done that, I didn’t– I don’t come from a family of entrepreneurs, my parents were school teachers, and I don’t know a lot of people who had their own business. I do now, and I know tons of people. But my curiosity was about “What would it be like to run my own business? What is that even about?” I think back of how naive I was a couple of years ago compared to where I am now, I’m still incredibly naive, but it can be a curiosity around a specific function, or it can be a curiosity around an issue, or something else.

Joe: I like that point a lot, follow your curiosity. It’s almost like your freshman year of college, taking a bunch of gen-ed classes to see which one you like the best before you determine your major, is what I thought there. I like that answer too, and it resonates with me in an interesting way because I knew from the age of 12 that I wanted to work with computers in some capacity. I was very lucky in knowing exactly what I wanted to do from a pretty early age. Before that, this is a little known fact, and I wanted to be a Catholic priest because I was an altar boy and that seemed like the next logical career move to an 11-year-old or a 12-year-old. But then I discovered computers and I felt like that was a lot more lucrative.

Kirsten: Yes, probably.

Joe: Follow your curiosity and figure out what’s catching your attention. I think that’s a nice takeaway.

Kirsten: You bring up a really good point about this idea of– This happens to a lot of people who are mid-career, that you’ve been on a path and I hear all the time “I’m just going to continue this because this is the way I’ve been going, and this is what I’ve worked so hard to get to.” We take time, we pay attention to our education, we build our skills, and we build our networks, and it’s a little disconcerting, or it’s a lot disconcerting if you get to a point where you’re just– It’s back to owning your truth, and you’re like “I don’t know if this is right for me anymore.” Something in your gut is telling you that it’s not right, but you’ve invested so much, so why not just continue on that path? The difference is now in this day and age, and we’re really the first generation– It’s true for men and women but particularly women, this is the first generation of those of us who are in our 40s and 50s where we have the luxury of time, and we have the luxury of technology and the way cultural norms around work– How they’ve shifted. We have the luxury to ask that question, “What else can I do?” And have a long enough runway to figure that out. Because we’re not, God-willing, we’re not dying at the age of– In our late 50s or early 60s anymore. A lot of us are living much longer. Like I said in the beginning, a lot of us want to be productive and engaged. The idea of retirement is just completely changing.

Joe: Right. The retirement age was determined based on the average lifespan. You retire, and then a few years later you’re probably not going to be alive anymore, and that’s not the case anymore. You retire at 65, and you could live another 25 years or 30 years. All of my wife’s grandparents are in their late 80s, which is not what it was like when they entered the workforce. I like that a lot. Then people who are mid-career and on a path generally want to stay on that path, and I think that’s absolutely true. Especially with the increasing cost of college, I spent over $100,000 dollars or whatever on a college degree, and now I’m not going to use that degree. That weighs on your mind a little bit.

Kirsten: Hopefully by the time you’re mid-career you’ve–

Joe: Yeah, that’s true.

Kirsten: But I know for people who are in school now, that might not be the case. They may be carrying that debt through for years and years and years. I think the point is you don’t have to stay on the same path just because of some feeling of obligation, and also because you switch careers or because you start your own business maybe there’s– Definitely when you start your own business, there’s a period of time where you are not making a lot of money, but there’s still lots of ways to make money in this world. Switching careers doesn’t mean all of a sudden you’re not making any money.

Joe: I think that’s– To drive that point home, before we get on to the title question, I read an article that I like that basically said “If you’re not willing to do something for three years, you shouldn’t think about it.” That falls in line with the idea that if you start your own business, you’re probably not going to make good money or replace your previous salary for about three years as you get up and running. You’re not immediately going to make what you are making at your old established job, so I like that. That’s stuck with me. I’m about to enter year three of my business, and things are going pretty well, not as well as I want them to be, but I’m also– I’m a millennial, so I don’t have any patience. I really like that, that change can be hard, but you shouldn’t stay on the same path because you have a feeling of obligation towards it. Or towards what you’re currently doing, I should say. Let’s get into the title question, and I have followed my curiosity. Let’s pick an example that you’ve mentioned before, let’s say I want to write a book. I’ll say a fiction book because I’ve written technical books. I want to write a work of fiction. How do I build my reinvented career or my reinvented passion project?

Kirsten: If it’s about writing a book, writing a fiction book, I don’t work with people who write fiction, so it’s a little bit of a difficult scenario. But let me talk it through. With writing a book, there are a lot of book coaches out there that can help you write your book. If you have no experience writing at all, I would say start with taking some courses where you’re writing within a group, and people are giving you feedback. I know Gotham– I forget what it’s called, but it’s like Gotham Writers or something like that in New York that has a lot of online courses, and they’re always really great. But I think the thing is that if you want to write you’ve got to write, and that’s like with anything. If you want to start a business, you’ve got to start a business. You’ve got to take action. That’s true– You could give me any scenario, and I would say, “Take action.” If you want to write, start writing. Stop talking about it, and I think there is a big– Don’t stop talking about it, but put action behind the talk. I think there’s a lot of people that are always like, talk talk talk. “I’m going to do this,” and 10 years later, you see the person and you’re like “Are you still talking about this, and you haven’t yet done it?” I think whatever it is that you want to do, follow your curiosity, and take action.

Joe: Nice. Don’t just talk about it, actually do something. If you want to write, you’ve got to write. I love that. I had a track coach– I was on the field part, I didn’t do much track, but I did the field part. Our track and field coach [Mr. Diebold], on the first day of practice, said to the runners, “If you want to run fast, you got to run fast.” Then to the shot putters, “If you want to throw far, you got to throw far.” I remember that, and I’m like, “I want to throw far.” I think that’s a great piece of advice, something that I’ve heard a lot, and going back to your initial point, start talking to people. Take some courses to set you on that path. Let’s speak a little bit more generally now, as far as reinventing goes. Take some courses, and is the first step figuring out your first step? Is the first step in reinventing your career, figuring out exactly what you need to do?

Kirsten: Yeah, no. Not necessarily, because some people don’t know. A lot of– Some people say “I know this doesn’t feel right, what I’m doing now, and I want to figure out what else I’m doing.” If I say to them, “Just start taking action or figure out your first step.” They’ll be like, “I don’t know what that is.” Then they’ll run around in a circle, and that’s–  You get dizzy. I think that one of those– As I said in the beginning, it’s like owning your truth. What is it that you’re experiencing now that doesn’t feel right to you? Looking at that, and it does help a lot to get some help by maybe there’s an HR person in your company that also has coaching skills that could help you talk that through. I think there’s a sense of vulnerability there, you have to be willing to own your truth and– I keep saying that, but in talking to people about it I wouldn’t go and announce it in the company newsletter that you’re seeking your next career necessarily, but if you have trusted people where you are, have a conversation about what it is you’re trying to figure out. Get some help thinking that through, what is it that doesn’t feel right? What is it that–? In some ways, it’s simple. A lot of us know what we want to do, we’re just afraid to admit it to ourselves because we think we’ll fail or we think it won’t work, or we think we don’t have what it takes. Or my favorite is we think we need to spend two years gathering every single piece of information and listening to every podcast and reading every book until we make any steps towards that direction at all. You’re not going to know if it’s right or not unless you at least start taking a little bit of action.

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Joe: In the context of doing things online as a software developer, “Iterate quickly” is “Do something, see if it works out, you can always adjust it later.” Right? This is not like building a skyscraper where we need to make sure all the plans are exactly right before we start building. This is more malleable than that. I’ll link to a previous guest, Scott Bollinger, that basically talked about that. “Launch as soon as you can, because you don’t want to spend two years throwing yourself into this thing and realizing that it’s not the right thing to do once you start doing it.”

Kirsten: Absolutely. I talk to people about having– People have college funds for their kids, they have retirement funds. I talk to people about having reinvention funds. The reality is because of the way, as we talked about because people are retiring later and because of the way we’re working now, the reality is that you’re probably going to reach a point in your career where you’re going to look to reinvent yourself. Whether that means starting a business or switching careers, isn’t it wonderful to have a fund that you can pull on so that you don’t have to be so stressed out about your reinvention? Because a lot of the times– You probably know this as an entrepreneur, it’s hard to know what to spend money on. That fear of, “I only have– I have no money because I didn’t plan for this. I don’t want to hire this web developer to help me,” or “I don’t want to hire this coach,” or “I don’t want to hire this bargaining person because I’m going to go into debt.” But if you have that reinvention fund, it makes it a little bit easier, and it makes it a little bit more– It takes the fear away a little bit.

Joe: Absolutely. Even as somebody who does run their own business, you should– I got some great advice from a friend Jen Bourne who said that you should have a rainy day fund. Take some part of the money you make every month and put it into a separate fund because you’ll probably have that feast and famine. There’ll be good times where money is coming in, and there’ll be slow times, so you need to manage that a little bit. So, “Have a reinvention fund.” I think it’s The Richest Man in Babylon, have you read that book?

Kirsten: No.

Joe: It’s about investing, but the lesson is really good. You take 10% of your income no matter what, and you put it somewhere. You take that, and you invest it in whatever you think you should. This was written a long time ago, so it talks about investing in a farm or whatever, but reinvention fund means you’re investing in yourself. You’re taking that 10% for your future self to help reinvent yourself.

Kirsten: Absolutely. Investing in yourself as one of– It’s a big thing. We’ll invest in our kids, and we’ll invest in our homes. But when it comes to investing in ourselves, a lot of people give a pause around that. They feel like, especially people in mid-career who are just like “I spent my money on my education,” right?

Joe: Right.

Kirsten: But the reality is that it doesn’t stop, the idea of– Sorry. Investing in yourself is lifelong. You’ve got to keep doing that.

Joe: Absolutely. As we wrap up, I will point to one more book that I think drives this home, especially for entrepreneurs. That’s Profit First, which talks about taking 5% of the money that you make there and just put it in a– That’s your bonus, otherwise you’re not getting anything out of the business. You’re working harder than you would in a full-time job, and you’re not getting anything from it, so as we record this I just used my Profit First money to buy this beautiful fountain pen that I wanted for a long time. It’s the Sailor Pro Gear, I don’t know if you’re into fountain pens, but it’s a very nice pen. I had the support of my wife to buy it, of course, but I feel like I’ve gotten something out of the business this quarter because it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time.

Kirsten: I love that. I think especially as new entrepreneurs we are– Gosh, the money thing is so hard. I love the fact of just buying yourself something nice even if it’s– go and have a spa day or buy yourself a nice pen, or whatever.

Joe: Yeah, exactly. Get something out of your business that you maybe wouldn’t get out of the full-time job, and along with that proper money management is important. I think your point about the reinvention fund and reading Profit First, manage your money, and that gives you freedom. I think that those are very good points to take away. Let’s– I usually like to ask you what your plans for the future are here, but we haven’t talked specifically about you that much. Why don’t we get an idea of what you would do for somebody, for our persona that we’ve created as far as guiding them, and what your plans for the future are?

Kirsten: Sure. I think I understand your question.

Joe: I threw like two or three in there.

Kirsten: OK.

Joe: It’s– What do you do currently and what do you hope to do in the near future?

Kirsten: Got it, yeah. Like I said, I’m a reinvention coach and strategist, and I help people figure out their next act. My book is called– I have a book that came out last year, it’s called Next Act: Give Back and it’s not about volunteering, it’s not about giving money. It’s really about how you give back to yourself, how you give back to the dreams that you had in college to do something that you wanted to do, and you got carried away on a career track that has been good or bad depending on your situation. But now it’s time to reassess what you’re doing, and for me, I continue to work with people who are at that point of their careers where they’re asking “What am I doing here and what else could I be doing, and what’s next?” That work isn’t going to change, because I absolutely love that work. This is what lights me up, and I get up excited, and I’m excited every day to work with my clients and see what they can do. For me, what I’m doing now is focusing on how to be a better business person, and how to learn how to be a better entrepreneur. “What do I need to learn?” Which is tons of stuff. I’m working with a branding agency right now to make my brand a little more polished, and I guess more official-looking. One of the things that I found when I started was that I was talking to too small of an audience. So I’ve expanded, and I’m working with a branding agent to expand who I’m talking to with my messaging. The future really is “How do I help more people, and how do I make more money helping more people?” Basically. That has to do with group programs, retreats, things like that. For me, everything has to be fun, otherwise, I don’t want to do it. I can’t force myself to do things that aren’t fun. So, that’s where I’m headed.

Joe: I like that a lot. “For me, everything has to be fun.” In both of our situations, we’re probably not just happy with the paycheck, I need to be fulfilled by my work, I want to be able to do things that I enjoy doing, and everything has to be fun. So, cool. As we wrap up here, I do like to ask my favorite question, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us? You’ve given us a lot of really great information so far, is there–? What’s maybe the one big takeaway that you want listeners to have?

Kirsten: I think the one thing, and I don’t know if it’s a trade secret, but the one thing that I have learned is that you can’t do everything by yourself and you’ve got to invest in your business. That may mean taking on debt, and if you’re a solopreneur that could mean borrowing money from people or having credit card debt, or there’s other ways to take on debt. But you are not going to grow unless you’re investing in yourself, and in what you’re trying to do. For a long time, I sat and didn’t want to spend any money, didn’t want to invest in myself. I tried to do it myself and what you were saying– There’s a lot of things that I’m good at, and there’s a lot of things I’m not good at. Like marketing, forget it. I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. But you have to figure that out and own that. What are you good at, what are you not good at? Get help and stop trying to do it yourself, stop trying to bootstrap it as a badge of honor and invest in yourself. You can either– Money and time have an interesting relationship. You can either spend a lot of time, or you can spend some money and spend less time.

Joe: “Money and time have an interesting relationship.” I love that. When I was younger, I had so much time, and I would do everything. I had all the time and no money. Now that I am older and I have a family, time is the most valuable thing to me. I will happily spend $200 dollars if it saves me several hours, or whatever.

Kirsten: Yes, absolutely.

Joe: Yeah. I love that, “Invest in yourself. You can’t do everything by yourself, and you may need to take on a little bit of debt. That’s perfectly fine.” People who start brick and mortar businesses before the age of the internet had to go to the bank to get a loan to buy property. The idea is that they were investing in their future self to be able to pay off that debt and be in a better place, so I think that there’s an interesting look at debt today with the whole Total Money Makeover movement and no debt ever. Sometimes you need to invest in yourself, and that future investment will hopefully pay off if you do your due diligence. So Kirsten Bunch, thank you so much for joining me today. Where can people find you?

Kirsten: Thank you. This has been great. They can find me at my website, and it’s KirstenBunch.com. I’m also pretty active on LinkedIn, more than any of the other socials, although I am on all the others. You can find me with my name, pretty– Somewhat unusual name, although there are other Kirsten Bunch’s in the world. I have a blog that comes out weekly that’s called Changed the World In a Hot Flash that people seem to like. That’s something you could sign up for if you’re interested in connecting with me.

Joe: Awesome. I will link to all of those things and everything, especially the books, we talked about a lot of books today– That we talked about in the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it. Kirsten, thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.

Kirsten: Thank you. This has been great. Thanks a lot, Joe.

Joe: Thanks so much to Kirsten for joining us today. Lots of takeaways. There are a lot of takeaways from her interview. She also gives a ton of advice in her trade secrets, and you can’t do everything by yourself. “There is a lot of things that I’m good at,” she said, “And a lot of things I’m not good at, and “That money and time have an interesting relationship.” I liked that one. She said you may need to take on debt, which we may differ on the philosophy of that. I try not to take on any debt if I possibly can, but the overall message here is invest in yourself. This is incredibly important. You need to invest in yourself and the tools that will help you become what you want to be. I think that part is incredibly important, and if you do need to take on a little bit of debt to get that education you need or the certification that you want, then so be it. The idea is that you should believe that that debt is an investment and you’ll be able to pay it back in a short amount of time. So definitely check out Kirsten and all of her fantastic resources, which will be linked in the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it/130. Thanks so much to our sponsors, Ahoy! Creator Courses and Pantheon. We would not be able to do the show without them. My question of the week for you is, “Have you ever felt like you needed to make a career change, and what did you do to mitigate that change?” Let me know on Twitter @jcasabona or via email at Joe@HowIBuilt.it. Thanks so much for listening. If you liked this episode, then please share it with somebody who you think will benefit from it, I would appreciate that. Until next time, get out there and build something.

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The post Kirsten Bunch and Changing Careers appeared first on How I Built It.

Jul 23 2019

43mins

Play

Rank #7: Sam Brodie & Selling Your Business

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Before Sam Brodie founded OffSprout, he successfully sold a niched business that focused on websites for lawyers. Sam generously shares his advice and experience with us, from niching down to how to properly keep your books. There’s tons of great advice in this episode, so make sure to listen to the whole thing!

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Apr 02 2019

46mins

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Rank #8: Season 6 Wrap Up (Bonus Episode!)

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We got lots of great advice over the course of Season 6. Over the course of about 10 minutes, we’re going to distill all of that advice into 3 overarching themes. Take a listen to find out what they are. Here are the best trade secrets of 2019.

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The post Season 6 Wrap Up (Bonus Episode!) appeared first on How I Built It.

Jun 24 2019

Play

Rank #9: Episode 58: Jeff Large & Podcasting for Your Brand

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Jeff and I talk about one of my favorite topics: podcasting. Jeff is a professional podcaster; he does it for other brands, so he doesn’t just have his own. He is hired to help people set up their own podcasts. Whether it be to promote their brand or other things that you could do with your podcast that don’t necessarily make direct sponsor money. We also geek out about hardware and stuff like that too, so it’s really really fun episode.

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The post Episode 58: Jeff Large & Podcasting for Your Brand appeared first on How I Built It.

Nov 07 2017

33mins

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Rank #10: Using Escape Rooms for Team Building with Greg Koberger

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Greg Koberger is easily one of the most interesting guys I talked to this year. Not only do we talk about team building with escape rooms – a super cool concept, by the way – but we touch on mental health, the startup culture, venture capital, and lots more. Greg is a pretty open book here and it makes for an amazing interview. It’s chocked full of great advice, so enjoy!

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Greg Koberger (Singing): That’s great, it starts with a hyperlink. HTML, scripts, and stylesheets. Tim Berners-Lee is not afraid. Dial-up, so slow. Had to teach yourself to code. Style your Myspace to impress The 8 friends that were your best. Guest books, web rings, 800 pixel screens. Blink tags and marquees. Learned how to code on Geocities. O’Reilly books, web safe colors. Works best in IE6, under construction. Browser wars, Firefox. If you’re stuck, you can just Ask Jeeves. FTP the PHP, validate with W3C–

Joe Casabona: That was a cover song from today’s guest, Greg Koberger, and no we’re not talking about making music, cover songs, REM, early 90s music– We’re not talking about any of that, but this is a testament to just how interesting Greg is. It comes through on this week’s episode. Not only do we talk about team-building with escape rooms, a super cool concept by the way, but we also touch on mental health, the startup culture, venture capital, and lots more. He digs deep into how he started his escape room and why, but also how somebody like you and me could start an escape room with an escape room startup resource. There’s a niche for everything. But again, we also talk about the mental health aspect that we opened the season with earlier this year. Greg continues that, and what working for a big venture capitalist-backed startup can do to your mental health. So, Greg is a pretty open book here, and it makes for an amazing interview. We’ll get to all of that and more right after a word from our sponsors.

Break: This episode is brought to you by our friends at Ahoy! The easiest way to increase customer engagement on your WordPress site. Install Ahoy! Create a message box, configure a way to display it, and start seeing conversions come in. You can create messages for cart abandonment, up-sales and cross-sells, custom support, and so much more. Ahoy! Has flexible conditions that let you choose exactly where and when you want your message to be displayed. I’ve recently installed it on my own WooCommerce site, and I’ve already seen increased engagement. I know this because of Ahoy! and it’s powerful analytics and reporting. You will see ROI within days of installing Ahoy! If not sooner. That’s even more true for listeners of How I Built It. You can get an exclusive 20% discount on any plan. Visit UseAhoy.com/HowIBuiltIt and use the code HOWIBUILTIT at checkout. Use those today and increase your engagement in sales on your WordPress site. Thanks to Ahoy! for their support of this show.

Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Greg Koberger. He is the founder of Read Me, and we are going to be talking about not only his founding of Read Me but also how he uses escape rooms as team-building– And a little bonus fact that I will let him tell you later on. But for now, let’s welcome Greg onto the show. Greg, how are you doing today?

Greg: Hey, Joe. I’m doing great. I’m here to talk about my main company and then my side company, as it turns out. We get to do both of those things.

Joe: Awesome, sounds great. Thanks so much for joining me. I’m very excited to talk to you about this because team-building was always something that was on my mind since college. I was in charge of these student organizations, and we had to get college kids to become friends very quickly without the use of alcohol, and so I’ve been thinking about team-building and icebreakers since then. But let’s start off with who you are and what you do?

Greg: Sounds good. I, too, I was an RA back in college. But more recently, my name is– Or, my company, is Read Me. We do API documentation, so we work with thousands of companies to make it easy to build developer.whatever.com. I know you’re a big WordPress person, so the best analogy I possibly have is WordPress for companies that need a technical documentation site for their API, or something else. We usually tend to sit at developer.whatever.com, we’ve got a great content editing system, and they make it easy to play around with APIs, learn how to get and use APIs, get support, and things like that. So, that’s what Read Me does.

Joe: Nice. That’s cool. I know this isn’t our main topic of conversation, but it is very interesting to me. Do you–? The documentation, is it based on doc blocks or anything like that? Or is it developers going in and adding their own documentation through your interface?

Greg: Yeah, it’s a bit of both. We have tried to split things up as well as we can. Half the product is automatically sinking code from some code base or something like that, not to get too in the weeds but there is something called Swagger or open API spec, which is how people can document their APIs, and then you automatically pull that from GitHub or something else and build really nice reference guides. Reference guides, for people who are curious, are– Basically, it explains step-by-step how to use your API, and we walk you through how to run it and how to write it in Node or Python, PHP, JavaScript, or whatever else. Then we also have a content editing guide for guides, topical guides, tutorials, and things like that. Things that are little more free-form where you as the person would write out, “So you want to do this with our API? Here’s why you should do it, and here’s how you should do it,” things like that. Then support forms, a lot of times, people from a company will build up the docs, but then also vice versa, we make it so the community can help out and build as well. So let’s say that you, Joe, are writing some API documentation for your company. Maybe you missed something, or it’s not as clear as you possibly want. Someone from the outside can be like, “What if we added this paragraph?” And then you could merge it in, much like a Wiki as well. So, we do a bunch different things in that space.

Joe: That’s cool. As somebody who talks to APIs, I would encourage anybody who has an API to go check that out because I have written code based on some terrible APIs. Like, APIs that don’t have a standardized way of sending data back, that’s just the worst.

Greg: Yeah, and hopefully, none of those are hosted on us.

Joe: This was years ago.

Greg: OK.

Joe: It was an academic journal, so it probably was just an API that was added because they were like, “We should have this,” or whatever. Hopefully, it’s improved now, since like– I think it was 10 years ago that I wrote that. Anyway, as part of your company, you have employees. This is going to be a very contrived way of getting to our main topic. You have employees, right?

Greg: Go for it. Yes. Why I’m glad you asked. Yes, we do.

Joe: And you wanted to do some team-building exercises, so– Actually, let’s back up here. Are you a–? You are not a remote company. I can’t think of the appropriate word there, you guys all work in the same office?

Greg: Co-habitating, I guess? I don’t know. Yeah, give or take. We’ve got many people, and about 75% are in the office. But one thing that we do is, and I don’t know why I did this, but it was probably many years ago that I wanted to travel a bunch and to use company funds as an excuse. But every quarter we travel someplace as well, so we’ve done some– We’re in San Francisco as our main location, where our office is. We’ve been to a few places like Napa and Tahoe, which are pretty close. We’ve been to some places like Hawaii and Thailand that are not very close, and we’ve been to some places in between like Austin and Denver, and a bunch of other random locales.

Joe: Nice.

Greg: We’ve chewed through the US and etc. over the past few years by doing it every quarter for the past five years. Like you said, most of us are in the same place. Not all of us in the same place, sometimes– Or, often it’s very much a reunion as well when we get together.

Joe: Nice. That’s cool. About 75% of people are in the office, and you travel, that’s a very good bonding experience. But you also used escape rooms as team-building, is that right?

Greg: Yes. Because like any company, we do things like go to a bar and hang out or other stuff, and then we also do a lot of work. I don’t know how we got hooked on them, but we started doing escape rooms, and now it’s become a thing where every time we go anywhere, we do at least one or two escape rooms. As a group, it’s become this team bonding thing where it’s– Everyone pretty much probably has a visual idea of what an escape room can or should be, but just to give a 30-second– Or, 10-second pitch to your audience, it’s more often not the way it works is that you sign up and it’s give or take about $30 bucks per person. You show up, there’s a theme like prison Alcatraz, stuff like that, or a mad scientist or Sherlock Holmes or Egypt, or there’s White House ones. Something more contrived. So you show up, and for an hour, you get locked in this room, you’re not locked in for the most part, but you have to solve a bunch of puzzles. You don’t know what the puzzles are. You walk into this room, and it looks like a very normal room, except that it’s themed like Egypt or like Sherlock Holmes’ apartment or office, or some sort of lair or something like that. But other than that, it’s not like there’s a Sudoku on the wall for the most part. It’s very– It’s more like you’re not sure exactly what the clues are, and for an hour you have to do two things. One is you figure out what the clue is, and then two is that you take that clue, and you solve it. Then you keep doing that for between 5-10-20-30 clues, whatever the room happens to have. Within an hour, you have to solve all these clues and figure out some end game. Sometimes it’ll be like, “You have to find the crystal and get out of this haunted house,” or whatever. You have about an hour, and it’s great. For a team-building exercise, you have 5-10-15 people, and you need something awesome to do as a team. That is not to overly team-bonding, and you’re not doing trust falls or anything like that. It’s still fun, but you’re also not sitting around at a bar. It’s a happy medium– Then you go to the bar after, obviously.

Joe: Of course.

Greg: But it’s a good team bonding thing for a bunch of people.

Joe: Yeah, right. It’s something a little bit more involved than two truths and a lie, but it’s also fun, and it allows you and your co-workers to work together towards some end goal.

Greg: Yeah, exactly.

Joe: Usually, at this point in the show, I like to ask what kind of research you did, but how did you first come up with the idea to do an escape room as team-building? Were you like, “Morale seems low for the team?” Or was it like, “I just hired a bunch of people, and none of them know each other,” or whatever? What was your thought process like?

Greg: I wish I had a great answer that would make you feel like I had some good point. But honestly, I wore out all of my friends on going to escape rooms, and I pay a bunch of people, and those people have to do what I want to do.

Joe: That’s fantastic.

Greg: That’s completely true, but also a little facetious. It just felt like a really good thing to do during the days. Like, I don’t know. What else would you do during the day, bowling, or something like that? Not that I have anything against bowling, but it genuinely did start as my girlfriend at the time, and I would do escape rooms a lot, and then I dragged all my friends into it. Then all my people in my life that I wasn’t paying were like, “This is expensive. Let’s go to a bar.” And I pivoted to “The people that work with me are absolutely awesome and smart and work well together, and it seems like I’ve already assembled quite the escape room. Or, the team of escape artists.” So that is how we slowly got into it the first time, and then people liked it, I liked it, everyone liked it. It went from there, so it was a happy accident to a certain extent.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Also, I should say I’m from New York originally–

Greg: Where in New York?

Joe: About an hour north of the city. People in the city would say “Upstate,” but Orange County, Middletown area.

Greg: I am from also what people would say is not– I’m in California now, but people would say “It’s not New York,” but upstate New York as well from outside of Albany. So I’m from a little outside of Troy, it’s called [inaudible], and it’s in the middle of nowhere. No one has heard of it.

Joe: Yeah, my brother lives near Glens Falls now.

Greg: I know Glens Falls well.

Joe: Very cool. So yeah, absolutely. I’d say north of Albany is when you start to get to real upstate. But anyway, that’s neither here nor there. I know how expensive it could be going out to drink, probably in San Francisco too. I’m guessing the cost of living in San Francisco is higher than New York.

Greg: We could do a whole podcast on that, yes.

Break: This episode is brought to you by Pantheon. Starting a new project? Looking for a better hosting platform? Pantheon is an integrated set of tools to build, launch, and run websites. Get high-performance hosting for your WordPress sites, plus a comprehensive toolkit to supercharge your team and help you launch faster. On Pantheon, you get expert support from real developers, best in class security, and the most innovative technology to host and manage your websites. You can sign up a new site in minutes with a free account, and you only pay when it goes live. That is my second favorite feature to Pantheon, only to the easy ability to create dev staging and live servers and push to GitHub. It’s very easy to set those things up on Pantheon, so you can head over to Pantheon.io today. Again, set up a free account and pay only when it goes live. Thanks so much to Pantheon for their support of this episode and this season of How I Built It.

Joe: I’ve done a couple of escape rooms myself. You need to be able to work together, generally speaking, to figure things out. Escape rooms as team-building, did you find that your employees started to become closer and work better together during the workday? I’m hitting you with these very deep view-like questions, and I hope they are fruitful, but I figure that’s the topic we’re talking about, so I’m sure you did find that.

Greg: I’ve never done this, but a lot of companies do escape rooms to interview people. Let’s say that you’re interviewing this head of blank or just a random IC, as in “Individual contributor.” Like, you’re interviewing someone, and you like them, and at this point, you’ve pretty much decided to give them the job. You’ve never really seen how they work together or anything like that, but a lot of times I know– I don’t do this, but people will take these people to an escape room because it’s– Entering a lot of escape rooms is one hour, and at the end of the day it literally doesn’t matter if you get out or not. No one cares. There’s no– Maybe you’ll get on the leaderboard if you’re the fastest, but no one cares about the actual results. But they do a very good job of perpetuating this stress and high-intensity environment, and [Gaye] can be like “That person under pressure is not good. We don’t want to work with them.” If someone’s a jerk under pressure, you’re like “Nope.” But we don’t do that, bringing new employees to this, although maybe that’s a good idea. It would be the most fun anyone would have at a job interview, I think.

Joe: It would be a lot better than a whiteboard interview.

Greg: Yeah.

Joe: Probably more– There’s pressure, there’s problem-solving. You get to see how people work because even though you’re not really, you know you’re not locked in the room, there’s still that competitive edge. Like, “I got to get out in the hour.”

Greg: Yeah, exactly. Be impressive without being over the top, and there’s a lot of different various ways to– Again, I haven’t done it yet for a job interview but– I don’t know if our, I’ll have to talk to my lawyers. Like, “Can we take people applying and just lock them up and throw some handcuffs on them and see how they do in an hour?” I don’t know how that conversation is going to go, but I’ll report back in the sequel to this episode. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Joe: Sounds good. I’m no lawyer, but it sounds good to me.

Greg: No, the podcast episode would be like “Surviving a company that’s been sued into oblivion.” That would be part two.

Joe: Yes. Awesome. So that’s interesting, companies will do escape rooms to interview people. As far as post-escape room, it sounds like you and your employees will do escape rooms pretty frequently. Do you find that its brought your employees closer together?

Greg: Definitely. First of all, any shared experience does.

Joe: Right.

Greg: But we– One example was when we were in Denver, and we did this escape room. Now I don’t want to brag, but I like to think that I’m a little bit better than most at escape rooms because I’ve done a few more. So we’re doing it, and it’s this escape room where there’s two different rooms, and it’s the exact same room, and they split the team into red team and blue team. You’re competing against each other, like actually in real-time competing with each other. I was like, “This seems great.” The escape room was good enough, it wasn’t the best escape room I’ve ever done, but the gimmick was interesting, and we liked it. So we’re going and at one point halfway through a window opens, and you can see through and see the other team. It’s a double-sided mirror. Or, not a double-sided mirror, it’s just a window.

Joe: Gotcha. You can each see each other.

Greg: Exactly, yeah. So you can see each other through this mirror, and I’m so confused. Like, “This is crazy. They’re doing– Every time we solved something, they solved it instantly.” I was so impressed. We were going, and we’d solve something hard, and like 30 seconds later, they’d get it. Fast forward to afterwards, and I didn’t realize that the entire time they figured this out, and we didn’t, that there is a little hole where you could hear the other team. So we were all excited, and we’d be like, “The code is 4721,” and they’d be like, “The code is 4721.” They were listening to us, and everything was the same. That was part of the whole gimmick, and you could use this as a metaphor for anything. I like to be a little heavy-handed with my company where I’m like, “Now that’s a metaphor because if you follow the competition, you’ll never win. You’ll always be right behind them, but you’ll never win.” Because ultimately, my team won because we were the ones they were following.

Joe: Right.

Greg: I try to turn it into some life lesson or something at some point, but that’s probably contrived and all that.

Joe: That’s funny. But I like the contrived metaphor, too.

Greg: Good.

Joe: I’m a teacher, and I try to do it a lot. But it is true, and you hear that a lot. “The first,” “If you’re the first to market,” or “If you’re not the first to market, you have to do it better somehow.”

Greg: Yes.

Joe: I think there is a life lesson there. So you obviously love escape rooms, you do them with your employees a lot, but there’s another way that you’re related to escape rooms. Is that right?

Greg: Why, yes. OK, and actually, this is a larger-ish topic that I will delve into. Let me run, or not run, as long as you want. About two years ago, I was working at Read Me, and I love Read Me. I love the product more than anything, the people are the most amazing people I’ve ever worked with, but I was insanely burnt out. I’ve got a lot of energy normally, but I was tired, and I was depressed in a way that– I say the word “Depressed,” and I don’t want to throw around that word lightly. But I just had a hard time showing up at work, and I was burnt out. I’d been doing it for a few years, and again, it wasn’t a loss of belief in the team or the product, it was just a burnout. One of our investors and advisors, I was talking, and I was being very negative and sad. Not sad, but very negative, and they were like “OK. You probably won’t acknowledge this, but you’re very burnt out right now, and there is literally one way to get around burnout, and that is to leave for a bit.” My previous company had this protocol if someone was burnt out. I’m going to make some stuff up here now, but they were like, “You’re a level two. Level two burnout means that you need to take 14 days off,” and all that. I was like, “OK.” They were like, “You can’t just go to a beach and sit there and relax, because people who are starting a company, to a certain extent, don’t have that ability to turn things off. Because it’s too far the opposite way of a swing, so you need to go and do something. “You need to learn a skill, and you need to make something, go do woodworking, go learn a new language, or go learn how to scuba dive, go learn how to fly a plane. Stuff like that.” I was like, “All right. I will take some time off.” So I took two weeks off from my actual real job, which I’m still doing very happily right now, and I was like, “I’m going to build an escape room.” So what I did was I found, coincidentally, around the same time, I found an art gallery that was going out of business, and they were looking to rent out their space. It’s a physical space in San Francisco, it’s 1,200 square feet, which I don’t even know how to describe how big that is. It’s not huge, but it’s a decent size for an office of 5-10 people, perhaps. So I rented the space out, and I was like, “I’m going to build an escape room.” I took a lot of my own money, and I built an actual physical escape room, and it was– There’s never been anything that’s been so within my skill set, like so similar to my actual current job but so different, because I’m running a startup and I love startups. Not in a–, I don’t know, I’ve been in San Francisco for about 12 years. I moved there in 2008 when the economy crashed, and no one was doing a startup because they wanted to make money. Now everyone’s like, I have a startup idea, I’m going to be a billionaire.” Back then, no one was thinking that they were just like “I don’t care. I want to build something, and I love it.” I met all these random people who are now famous in a weird tech way, and because everyone is just there doing cool stuff. I’ve always loved startups and escape rooms like we talked about, and I merged the two. I was like, “I’m going to build–” I didn’t want to build an escape room for people who want to build an escape room, which I assume is most of your audience. There’s a lot of online resources where you can buy rooms, and they do this thing where they’re like “We’re only going to sell this prison escape room within a thousand miles or 500 miles,” So you can buy it, and it’s not going to be like two people in the same area have the same one. But a lot of escape rooms are bought, and they’re very off-the-shelf generic themes.

Joe: Gotcha. I see. So what you’re saying here is I can essentially buy a cookie-cutter escape room.

Greg: Yeah. For about $500 bucks for the plans and maybe ten thousand for all the actual physical props as well. You’re in Pennsylvania now, right?

Joe: Yes.

Greg: In Pennsylvania, you could rent a spot, they’ll mail you everything, and basically, you could get this set up within 48 hours or something. There’s a really good ROI. If you want to sit there and run an escape room day to day, then you can go charge $35 bucks per person. You can do the math on what the rent is outside of cities. Not surprisingly escape rooms are very popular outside of cities, because in cities rent is expensive, and outside of cities you can go to a strip mall or a mall. It’s failing a little bit so you can get a really good spot.

Joe: Exactly.

Greg: Escape rooms are great because you’re not trying to get foot traffic. You can find this crappy little space that no one can see, so you’ll find a lot of escape rooms in weird places. But anyway, back to mine. I wanted to do something that was very on-brand for me. My escape room is called Startup Escape, and it is startup-themed, and the whole premise is you have one hour to launch your startup.

Joe: That’s cool.

Greg: By “Launch your startup,” I mean that there’s five tracks. Programming, design, IT, product, and marketing. You have one hour to solve clues in those five different tracks, and you have to solve all five tracks. The whole premise is that once you do all those, you can launch your startup.

Joe: That is super cool. Next time I’m out in San Francisco, I’m definitely going to look this up.

Greg: You better do it, it’s awesome.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely.

Break: This episode is brought to you by Gusto. Now, small business owners wear a lot of hats. I know, I am one of them. While some hats are great, like doing this podcast and getting to talk to people, others like the “Filing taxes” and “Running payroll” hats are not so great. That’s where Gusto comes in. Gusto makes payroll taxes and managing a team easy for small businesses. Gusto automatically pays and files your federal, state, and local taxes, so you don’t have to worry about it. As a New Yorker supplanted to Pennsylvania, not paying my local taxes, thing bit me a couple of times. It would’ve been great to have Gusto then. Plus, they make it easy to add on health benefits or even 401Ks for your team. You can also get direct access to certified HR experts, too. This sounds like a pretty good way to kick off 2020 for your business, right? But here’s the thing. Deadlines for the new year creep up earlier than you think, and you’re going to want to get started now. I don’t know about you, but I know that I’ve started thinking about this stuff around this time, and all of a sudden, February or March is here, and I’m like, “I need to do something about my taxes.” So don’t wait, let Gusto make it easier on you. As a bonus, listeners get three months free when they run their first payroll. This is one hat you’re going to be glad you gave up, I certainly am. You can try a bonus and see it for yourself over at Gusto.com/Build. Get three months free when you run your first payroll, try a demo, and see it for yourself over at Gusto.com/Build. Thanks so much to Gusto for their support of this show.

Joe: This is cool because this is almost like your side hustle. Like, you have a startup, and then you have your side hustle.

Greg: Oh, I have a real job. Definitely. Yes, 100%.

Joe: But it was all built out of your love for both startups and for escape rooms. You started this about two years ago, you said?

Greg: Yeah, I started about two years ago, and it took two weeks to build-out. Then maybe a month to get the business part of things in shape, and then I hired a general manager, and I haven’t– I don’t have anything to do with this company other than I own it.

Joe: Gotcha.

Greg: At the end of the day, I make money, but the goal, by the way, is not taking money on this. It’s just because I just wanted to make this exist in the world, and it makes enough money to run. This is how little I have to do with it, a few weeks ago my key didn’t work, and I was nearby, so I was like, “I’ll just grab new keys when the guy who runs is there.” I showed up, and I walk in, and I’m like, “I don’t know who this person is.” And I’m like, “Hi.” And he’s like, “Hey, welcome. Welcome to Startup Escape.” I was like, “Who are you?” And he’s like, “I’m so and so. Who are you?” I was like, “I own this place.” I have nothing to do with it day to day anymore. But the number of– The way this all comes full circle is that I did startup themed because I wanted it to be a team bonding experience for people. Most escape rooms are good for three people, four people, five people, six people. That’s the average. I built mine intentionally to be good for teams of up to like twelve, maybe up to 15 even. Because I wanted it to be a team-bonding thing, and that was my only motive for this. I was like, “This would be great for other companies to come through and do this,” and I made my company do it. They all knew that I left for two weeks, but they didn’t know where I went. I never told them that I was building an escape room, and they already had done them, so I was like, “I know this new escape room that just opened up. Let’s go do that when I come back.” They were my first scene that went through my own escape room, and it started to break about ten minutes in, and they’re like “Greg. Did you build this?” And I was like, “Yeah.” I like sheepishly admitted that it was mine, because we– Like I said, I run a startup, and this escape room was– First of all, if nothing else it was a mirror image of my actual office for my real company, and no one going to both my company’s office and this would be like “These don’t look alike.” They were a mirror image, I modeled it after my own startup, the way the office looked and all that stuff. So yeah, they figured out pretty quickly that it was mine, to their credit.

Joe: That’s cool. You essentially beta-tested this with your team.

Greg: Yeah. Things broke on both ends the first time, but now things run very smoothly. But yeah, I got to beta test with my team.

Joe: That’s fantastic. Let’s go back a little bit, too. You left because you were getting burnt out, and earlier in the season I interviewed someone named Allie Nimmons and we–

Greg: Yeah, that was a great podcast.

Joe: Thank you very much. I will link to that in the show notes for those who haven’t heard it, but we talked a bit about mental health. It’s really interesting to see not only that it was recognized by one of your investors, but he or she– I don’t remember.

Greg: “He,” yeah.

Joe: They said that his former company had a protocol. So I think a lot of people think of Silicon Valley or the investment venture capitalist world as this cold and heartless persona, but I think it’s really important that they were able to recognize that you needed a break and then you were able to take that break.

Greg: Yeah, there’s this– How do I put it? This concept. OK, in Silicon Valley in San Francisco, there is a lot of people with a lot of money looking to invest, obviously. There has been a bad thing that has come from that, which is this culture of, you know, everyone is starting companies and everyone’s got to compete, and there’s some negative things about it. But the best thing in my mind about this concept that there’s a lot of different VC funds is that a lot of VC funds have become very– This is such a cliché word, but “Founder-friendly.” But the nice thing about that is that no one’s competing on money anymore because there’s so much money out here. I’m not saying it’s easy to show up in Silicon Valley and raise a ton of money, it’s shockingly hard. But if you’re making money, it’s easy, and you can find someone to give you money. What’s hard, though, is to find investors who are good and who care about you and all that. I’ve been so stupidly lucky with Read Me that the people who invested in me are in my company and they really care about the company. Obviously, the product. I’m eventually making money back, obviously. We’re not charity. I care about my mental health, my team, and making sure that everyone is definitely happy but also just enabled to keep going and build stuff and do awesome things. You can’t do that if you’re rundown and miserable and overworked. I’ve been stupidly lucky that we have VCs that both push us and want the best from us, but also want the best for us. I don’t think Silicon Valley is– Or, San Francisco is this cold-hearted money-making machine that– Of course there’s definitely pockets and areas that it is, but that has not been my experience. The people that I work with all care and the people that work for me, I truly care about their well-being, what’s going on with them, and all that stuff. The takeaway is that you can run a company, however, you want. If you want to be cold-hearted and work with cold-hearted people, you can. There’s definitely people who have money that will be cold-hearted. But there’s also people who are just awesome people who care about each other here as well.

Joe: That’s fantastic. To that point, after you had some time off, you came back. Were you feeling refreshed? Did it take you some time to get back into the swing of things? It seems like you’re very happy now.

Greg: Yeah. It comes and goes. What Allie talked about, and she was very open. That was awesome. I’m happy to be pretty open, as well. There’s days where I think that the company is going– Read Me, not the escape room. The escape room will always totter on and make enough money to survive. But I’ll think that Read Me is going amazingly well, and not that I care about the money, but we’re going to be a trillion-dollar company, and it’s going to be huge. And there’s other days where I’m like, “I should leave. This is an utter failure. I don’t even want to get out of bed this morning.” It just goes back and forth nonstop, just oscillating. Overall, I’m excited on a macro level. I love my job, and I’m not burned out at all, but on a micro-level from days– There’s hard days and hard weeks. But leaving for a bit was the best thing I ever did. For like two weeks, not for a long time. It was just like re-invigorating. Then you come back, and you’re on top of things and excited again.

Joe: That’s fantastic. I think there are two really important takeaways in what you just said in that couple of minutes, and one is I think everybody feels it goes back and forth. I feel the same way. One day my life will be like, “How’s it going?” And I’m like, “We are killing it. We can take that Disney vacation earlier than we wanted.” And the next day I’ll be like, “I’m not making any money. I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

Greg: This seems like a good time for me to do an ad for Plesk or something, get you a little bit of extra money on this.

Joe: I know, right? That’s how I’ve been very lucky, and I’ve always been able to find– If I felt things are slow, I’ve been able to speed things up a little bit where I could. But everybody feels that way in your company, and you’re going to feel that way because it’s not always good. There are some bad times. As long as you have a healthy understanding of how your business is doing, you can bounce back from that.

Greg: I didn’t prepare this story whatsoever, so I’m going to mess everything up, and hopefully, our listeners who have heard this story don’t think I’m a complete idiot for this, but it’s some proverb or something. Again, I’ve not prepared this, and I probably should. It just came to mind. But it’s called “My king,” or something. People were wondering, when things were great, he wouldn’t get too excited, and when things were really bad– His son died or something, he wouldn’t get too upset. He probably would get upset about that one, but he was very stable. You’ve probably heard the phrase “This too shall pass,” and the whole mythos behind this was he asked one of his aides, or I don’t know what kings have. Aides, I suppose. His chief of staff to go out and find a solution to the ups and downs of life. This person came back with a ring that was engraved with, that said, the words “This too shall pass.” It’s a metaphor, obviously, for a lot of different things. But the concept of when things are going well, don’t get too excited or cocky because they’re going to get worse at some point. When things go really bad, that’s also not going to last forever. So I have a ring that I don’t wear anymore that has engraved inside it “This too shall pass.” It’s always a really good reminder that the ups and the downs are great, but when you zoom out a little bit, life is pretty linear. In a good way. The bad never weighs you down, and the good never pulls you up.

Joe: Right. And you probably don’t want either one of those. Like, if it’s just always up, up, up, up, up. You’re going to– There’s going to be a point where you can’t–

Greg: I don’t know about that. But yeah, I get your point. Exactly. I’m not going to say “No” to that.

Joe: Yeah, right. If somebody wants to hand me a bunch of money every day, I’m not going to turn that down.

Greg: If every day is better than the last, I’m not going to be like “No. That’s not what I want from this life.”

Joe: Yeah, exactly. If the highs are always too high–

Greg: Yeah, exactly.

Joe: But the other the other thing I wanted to drive home before we wrap up here is I think a lot of– I would consider myself in the freelancer level, I’m a solo-entrepreneur guy. A lot of people in my position probably feel like they can never take a vacation. I take a week off, and I’m literally not making any money, but if you get burnt out, that’s going to be worse for your business than the one week you were going to take off. So be mindful of that and take time off when you need to. I took 17 days off for my honeymoon. I didn’t even bring my laptop. It was the first time since laptops were a thing that I traveled about it. And you know what? I came home and–

Greg: You still have a podcast. You’re still there, and you’re still good.

Joe: Exactly. Nothing was on fire. So remember that, if you need to take time off, then that’s going to be like Greg said, the best thing that could be for your business.

Greg: Yes. I would agree with that completely.

Joe: So, awesome. As we wrap up here, I do need to ask you my favorite question, and that is, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Greg: Yes. We got to it a little bit sooner, but my trade secret that I prepared– My preface is that in Silicon Valley– Or, in San Francisco, there’s not a lot of trade secrets, which I love about it. People are so open about talking about how they make money, why they make money. They go on podcasts, and there’s entire industry of people that go on podcasts and spill out all their trade secrets. I love that. There’s no huge ones, but I think the one that people do shy away from is the concept of mental health. My trade secret is that early on, everyone believes that they’re different, and for the most part, they aren’t. I know a ton of founders, and everyone is just struggling. Here’s why I think you’re the same way. You have your own– You have two companies, basically. You have the podcast, and you do consulting as well, and you also do Word Camp. You do a ton of stuff as well. I think anyone who does stuff like this, the only way to be successful is to care so stupidly much that you care so much. The problem with caring so much, it’s a really good thing, but you have to invest all your money, time, effort, your identity, all of this into it. That wears at you. I think the reward is worth it, but I also think that for too long, when you’re running something with a lot of employees or a lot of people that depend on you, you don’t get to be vulnerable. You have to always be the one with the answers and the smart one and the one who is going to solve all the problems. I think investing early on, if you’re going to do something or if you’re build anything that’s going to last and have legs and you’re going to put all this time and effort and energy into it, the best thing you can do early on is make sure that you have the right support system. I think a big support system as a co-founder– I don’t have one, and that’s one of bigger regrets. I founded a company that I love, and it’s a perfect company for me, but I wish I also had that perfect partner in this. If that doesn’t happen, that’s OK as well. Not everyone can have a co-founder or two co-founders. Life doesn’t always work out perfectly but have some really strong way– An outlet of some sort for getting out of it. Understand that at the end of the day, it’s just a company. You want to make money because money is a good thing because you can pay people and provide them a good life. I’m not anti-money even remotely, but you also want to find interesting, fun ways to make the job the best job it possibly can be. When you run a company, like escape rooms. I spend a lot of– Not a lot of money, for any investors listening, an appropriate amount of our budget on team bonding and stuff like that. I find– You’re right that we should take time off, but we also can’t take 17 days off every two weeks when you’re a little depressed. Finding ways to craft the job in a way that you love it day-to-day. One thing that I’ve gotten really into over the past few weeks is writing songs about APIs in tech, and then paying people or hiring musicians to perform them. You get to take this job and make it however you want, and I get to do some cool stuff. I’ll send you one of the songs if you want to play it on the podcast. But you know, I find really interesting ways day-to-day to make my job the coolest job ever. Because there’s a lot of really shitty things about it too, and finding that balance day-to-day is tough. I don’t know if that’s a trade secret, but the actual advice on how to make money and all that stuff’s pretty out there. But everyone’s going through this misery as well, and there’s a lot of cool ways to make the best of it.

Joe: Yeah. I love that. First of all, you’re not alone. I think that’s a great takeaway for founders, freelancers, parents. I have a two-year-old now, and any time a friend of mine becomes a parent, and I’m like, “Text me. If you’re having trouble, text me and say, ‘Is this normal?’ And I’m going to say ‘Yes,’ because if you don’t feel like you need to go to the hospital, it’s probably normal.” I’m not a doctor, by the way, disclaimer. But, just in general.

Greg: So anyhow, let’s call Joe, and he will take of it and help your kid.

Joe: Yeah, exactly. And then have a great support system, too. Again my wife has been a great support system for me when I was ready to leave my job, and after my daughter was born, I was super burnt out. I was unhappy. I was like, “I don’t know if I should start this company. We have a 3-month-old.” And she was like, “You need to start this company. You need to go off and do this.” And she’s been fantastic, so that’s fantastic advice. Greg, I appreciate you coming on the show. I feel like you did more research about me than I did about you.

Greg: No, it’s not research. I’ve been listening to your podcast for a while, so it’s easy research.

Joe: Awesome. Thank you so much, I appreciate it. You’ll be able to find all the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it. How can people find you?

Greg: OK, based on what we just talked about, definitely if anyone is listening and is stupidly depressed, or not even that depressed but wants to talk, don’t just follow me on Twitter. Genuinely feel free to reach out. I am @gkoberger at everything, on Twitter, at Gmail, it’s my email, Dribbble, Facebook, and Instagram, Linked-In. It’s the best way to find me. I would love someone to reach out, “I like escape rooms too,” or whatever. But I also would love if people who are going through this and maybe aren’t as lucky, that they have great investors or great employees or great whatever, definitely feel free to shoot me an email. Like you, I’m not a doctor, and I can’t fix things, but I’m always excited to meet new people who are going through this as well. Because we’re doing it because we love it for some bizarre, strange reason. I’m always happy to talk to anyone. My escape room– My company is Read Me, and we just bought the .com. That was quite expensive, but ReadMe.com and my escape room is StartupEscape.com. Hopefully, one of those two things will interest all of your readers, or listeners– Or, readers?

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Transcripts are available, too, so they could be readers. I will, of course, link everything at the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it. Greg, thanks so much for joining me. I appreciate you taking the time.

Greg: Joe, this was a lot of fun. Thank you for having me.

Joe: Thanks so much to Greg for joining us today. I love everything he talked about. He’s a very interesting guy. The API documentation stuff was his main business, but again, we talked about the team-building and escape room stuff. I thought that was cool. I love how he opened up about his mental health and how he parlayed that into his trade secret about venture capital and being vulnerable, and a whole bunch of other stuff that entrepreneurs are affected by. Thank you, Greg, so much for your time and for your fantastic advice. I also want to thank our sponsors for this episode, Pantheon, Ahoy! and Gusto. Without them, this show would not be possible, so definitely check them out. You can check them out on the show notes page where we list all of the resources, links, and all that, which you can get over at HowIBuilt.it/143. If you do like this podcast, be sure to subscribe in your podcast player of choice. If you want to start your own podcast, I am currently working on a new course called Podcast Liftoff. You can learn more about that at HowIBuilt.it/Liftoff where you’ll get a free workbook with checklists and show notes, templates, and all that stuff in the podcast Liftoff course. You will learn how to apply all of those things, choosing your topic and your format, finding the right equipment and recording the show, editing, and all that fun stuff. So, check that out over at HowIBuilt.it/Liftoff if you are interested in starting your own podcast. Until next time, get out there and build something.

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The post Using Escape Rooms for Team Building with Greg Koberger appeared first on How I Built It.

Oct 22 2019

49mins

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Rank #11: Jennifer Bourn and Profitable Project Plan

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Jennifer Bourn is the founder of Bourn Creative and creator of the Profitable Project Plan. She’s also a freelancer who’s doing it right. She has worked out the perfect system to get and manage client projects; in this episode we’re going to talk all about how she built it.

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Intro: Hello everyone and welcome to episode 86 of How I Built It. In today’s episode I talk to Jennifer Bourn, founder of Bourn Creative and creator of the Profitable Project Plan. Jennifer is a freelancer who’s doing it right – she has worked out the perfect system to get and manage client projects, and we’re going to talk all about that came to be. I’m excite to get into it, but first, a word from our sponsors.

Sponsor: Today’s is brought to you by Pantheon and Creator Courses. You’ll hear all about Pantheon later in the show.

Creator Courses is a website dedicated to teaching you how to build on the web. Their catalog of courses is continually growing and it’s becoming the best place to learn how to build specific projects with task-based objectives. You will always learn by doing. Currently, you can learn how the new WordPress editor with their Introduction to Gutenberg course. Head over to buildpodcast.net/gutenberg, and use BUILDIT at checkout for 40%.

And now…on with the show.

Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Jennifer Bourn. Jennifer, how are you?

Jennifer Bourn: I’m great, thanks.

Joe: Thanks for coming on the show. If you don’t know who Jennifer Bourn is, well, I’ll let her introduce herself, but she is a fantastic person. We’ve met up at multiple WordCamps and I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with her.

So, we’ll be talking about the Profitable Project Plan today. Jennifer, why don’t you tell us who you are and what you do?

Jennifer: My name is Jennifer Bourn and I am founding partner of Bourn Creative, A full-service design and development agency based out of Sacramento, California. We are celebrating our 13th year in business this year, so we’re really excited about that.

I also do a lot of freelance writing and I have my own site, JenniferBourn.com where I am helping designers and developers run profitable businesses without sacrificing their health, their family, or their sanity.

Joe: That is always a good thing to hear, because a lot of freelancers sacrifice some or all of those things in order to make ends meet. I believe the whole idea behind the Profitable Project Plan is that we don’t have to, is that right?

Jennifer: That’s correct.

Joe: I should also include, I forgot to say this in the intro, but aside from all of this stuff that Jennifer Bourn does she also gave me two fantastic recommendations last October. One was how to manage my business, and we’ll probably talk about that a little bit, but the other was for these heated slippers that I subsequently got my wife for Christmas.

Jennifer: They’re the best things ever.

Joe: I just remembered that as you were talking, I’m like, “Well, I have to tell everybody.” I’ll link those in the show notes, because they’re great.

Jennifer: They’re the only shoes I wear all winter long. And Brian has to be like, “We’re going on a date night. Those shoes are not coming.” And then I’m sad, and I think, “Do I really want to go somewhere?”

Joe: Yeah, right? You’re ready to go with your heated slippers. So, I just wanted to include that, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. We’re here to talk about how to make freelancers more profitable.

So, first of all, you’ve been doing this for 13 years. You are doing very well, it seems. And I’m glad to see the advice being passed on to other people. How did you come up with this idea?

Jennifer: Profitable Project Plan actually wasn’t an idea that I had that I then created, it was born from a need I had in my own business. I’ve been working as a designer for 20 years, but as an agency owner for 13.

I started freelancing, and for the first several years I was on my own and I was doing everything myself. If you’re listening and you’re a freelancer, or you’re in the early years of agency, you know what that’s like.

You’re wearing every single hat in the business, and you’re juggling admin, and the doing of the work you’re being hired to do, and if you focus on doing the work then you’re forgetting to follow up, and maybe you’re not closing some sales that you could have closed if you did better on the admin side, and if you focus on all the sales you run out of time to actually do the work, and then you don’t sleep and you’re cranky, and it’s a mess!

I got to that point in my business, and I’m like, “I can’t do this anymore. I need some help.” And everybody I talk to is like, “Hire a virtual assistant. You need to get an employee.” They’re telling me all these things, and I’m looking at this, and usually at that time you’re also undercharging.

So, I’m at this point in my business and I’m looking at this, and I’m like, “I can’t afford to hire a virtual assistant, or an admin person, or a project manager who’s non billable to absorb all the admin costs.” And I’m looking at virtual assistants or project managers or things that want $75, $85 dollars an hour, and I’m like, “I’m one person. I almost charge that.” Like, how would I even make that work?

It was just one of those things that I was really struggling with, and at the time I saw an ad for some software. It was like, “Double your sales!” And I’m like, “Yeah. Like I have any more hours to work in the day. That’s never going to happen.” And then I saw another ad for the same software that said “Replace an employee!” And I went, “What? What?! Wait.” This is revolutionary to me.

I started thinking about it, and the software was actually for e-mail marketing and things like that, but I focused on “Replace an Employee.” So I created a system in my business to automate every administrative thing I could automate. The communications and the hand-holding, and the education of my clients that was sucking all my time. I built it all into this software to automate it all so I didn’t have to hire somebody, and that software did the job of a full-time admin person for me.

It was amazing because it freed up my time so that I could spend more time on the stuff that really mattered with my clients. Making a really deep connection with my clients, and working on strategy, and the design, and the development, and creating a really amazing product, which is really what they’re paying you for. Not chasing down all the little to-do’s, and the education, and answering 2,500 questions. The system was taking care of that for me.

I started talking about this at WordCamps and at different events, and people would ask, “Can I buy that system from you?” And I would say, “No.” At this point, this is my secret sauce. Like, “No freakin’ way. I’ve spent hundreds of hours refining this. No way!”

But we finally got to a point with Bourn Creative where we’d moved upmarket enough that our clients have changed a little bit, and business is doing so good, and I think as you get older you get to a point in your life where it’s just not all about you anymore.

You start thinking about, like, “I’m pushing 40,” and I’m starting to think, “What kind of legacy do I want to leave, and what kind of impact do I want to have?” I want to be able to help other people, as we’ve been able to enjoy life to the fullest in these years because of the systems we’ve created.

I see people I know that are so talented not taking vacation, and not out there enjoying life. We started talking about it and I thought, “Ok. We’re going to put this out there. I’m going to package it up and sell it as a Profitable Project Plan, because I want to help other people enjoy their business more but enjoy life at the same time.”

Joe: Man that is– Well, there’s a lot of great stuff to unpack there. I mean, I’ve been freelancing for 15 years, more or less, full-time and not full-time. You get to a point where you have a finite amount of hours, but you don’t want to make a finite amount of money.

And so you need to fundamentally change something if you want to go to the next level, otherwise you might as well just work for somebody else. I mean, that’s the truth of the matter. And like you said, I think I’m making that move as well.

I want to move into products and teach people the stuff that I know, because it’s becoming more enjoyable for me. I’ve been teaching since college and I want to, not pass the torch, per-say. But I want to help people enjoy the things that I got to enjoy since high school, essentially.

So, the Profitable Project Plan– I will get that by the end of this show– is something that you built out of a need for yourself. That’s a common story on this podcast, and I’m sure with a lot of business owners. They find a need and they fill that need for themselves and they realize, “Hey, other people have this need.”

You also mentioned that you saw an ad for a system to replace an employee. Did you do other research when coming up with this plan? Is that software still integrated into your plan?

Jennifer: That’s a good question. The software at the time, it was late 2008 and it was Infusionsoft when they were brand stinkin’ new. I went to an all day event in February of 2009, I bought it and I implemented it right away. We used Infusionsoft to run Profitable Project Plan for years, but their engineering wasn’t keeping up with other third party products.

With the ability to integrate different products with each other, we started at one point evaluating, “Do we go with a mediocre all-in-one that isn’t really progressing with their engineering? Or do we ditch it, and we go with other options that are the best at what they do and then integrate it all together?” So we chose to do that in the late 2013, 2014-ish. Partly because my husband had cancer and we didn’t know.

Joe: I didn’t know that.

Jennifer: Brian had gallbladder cancer. And at the time, the mortality rate on that is like, once they find out you have gallbladder cancer you’re basically dead. But he was the silver bullet that they found early enough that it was OK, but at the time we didn’t know what our life would look like, or how much he’d be able to work.

So we were looking at trimming expenses like crazy and that was one of the decisions that helped us push that, because we were paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month for Infusionsoft. Then we moved over to other things that maybe total $100 bucks a month, and they do the exact same thing for us.

Sometimes making more money isn’t about pushing and making more sales, sometimes it’s about changing up what your expenses look like.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I just celebrated about a year of going out on my own, at the time of this recording, full-time. That was the first thing I did, I was like, “What am I paying for that I definitely don’t need?” And it’s like a double sided coin, or two sides of the same coin, maybe. “What can I pay for that will definitely make my job easier?”

I think so far this conversation has been, “How do we balance that?” Because you are willing to pay for software that will replace an employee, but you’re also not willing to just frivolously spend money to do that.

Jennifer: Exactly. I think that’s something to look at, is we made that decision to trim those expenses when our life was up in the air and we didn’t know what it would look like. But once he got the medical All-Clear and he was fine and we were ready to go, it’s not like we went back to all of a sudden, “Let’s buy all this software!”

It was like, “Wow, look! We can get by on so much less, we have two options now. We can either work less because we know the amount of money we need to make is less, and we can spend more time playing and having fun and enjoying life. Or, if we work more then we just make more, but we don’t have more time.” So, we chose the first.

Profitable Project Plan supports us in that, in that it’s a complete client management system, from sales call to post website launch follow-up.

Joe: Wow, that’s fantastic. Now we’re moving to the title question, which is, “How did you build it?” It’s interesting because I naturally don’t want you to give away the secret sauce, I want people to check out and buy by the Profitable Project Plan.

Maybe we can talk in generalities, how you made it to this point where you knew how to manage your business. Does that makes sense?

Jennifer: Sure.

Joe: Cool.

Jennifer: We’ll start with implementing Profitable Project Plan. All of the content for the course already existed because it’s the content I use in my own business every day. What I had a frustration with over many years of taking online courses, and enrolling in business coaching programs, and all of these things.

People would tell you all the success they had, but then give you a different version of it. You’d get some like, public, glossy version, but not the version they’re using behind the scenes. And it always drove me crazy. So I said, “If I ever am going to do this myself you’re going to get– everything that I use, you’re going to get what I use, no holds barred. The same thing.”

Profitable Project Plan includes the e-mails, the client education guides, the scripts. Everything that I use to work with my clients is included in that. So, we didn’t have to do a ton to develop content, but in terms of actually delivering the course obviously we use WordPress. We deliver it through MemberPress with Delightful Downloads, and we run Stripe as our payment, and AffiliateWP for our affiliate program. It’s really just that simple.

Joe: Nice. So, MemberPress, we did have Blair Williams on the show, I’ll make sure to link that in the show notes if you want to learn how that was built. Delightful Downloads is not something I’ve heard of before. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Jennifer: Delightful Downloads assigns any downloadable media to a membership level. So, let’s say somebody in your program is like, “I’m going to send this link to this PDF to a friend of mine.” If they’re not logged in under that membership level, the link doesn’t work. You can only download it if you’re logged in at the approved membership level that you set.

It’s just a way to manage your downloads in the back-end, for your membership courses, or online courses, or anything like that.

Joe: Very cool. I’m definitely going to check that one out, because that sounds excellent. AffiliateWP, big fan of that one, Pippin has also been on the show. Then Stripe for payment, naturally. Because Stripe is the best.

Jennifer: Yeah, and to record all my videos I used Zoom Webinars, and then ScreenFlow to edit them all and get them all pushed up to my membership site.

Joe: Nice. I’m going to link to one of your blog posts about your whole set up. I read that, I loved it, I bought a bunch of stuff. Like that [gorilla case] thing?

Jennifer: Oh, yeah.

Joe: My recording area looks so much better because of that.

Jennifer: It’s so pretty back here.

Joe: Instead of a mess of wires, now everything looks great, everything is on its own power strip like you said. So, yeah. Definitely will link to that blog post as well.

You said that you use Zoom Webinars, are these live with the members?

Jennifer: Yes, I do. Profitable Project Plan is my flagship course, we run it twice a year and we run it live. It’s 12 weeks long, nine training sessions and three implementation weeks in case you missed something. You forgot to watch it one week, you got busy, you need to catch up or you’re trying to implement and you don’t want to fall behind.

The lessons are delivered live and there’s live Q and A every week. If you’ve got questions about contracts, or the sales call, or whatever we’re working on that week, there’s live Q and A so you can get your question answered while you’re taking action and getting things done.

The mini-courses that I’m working on, which I’ve launched one, and that’s Positioning E-Commerce Projects for Success, those are evergreen. Those are pre-recorded, you take it, you go, you’re done. Profitable Project Plan is live.

We kicked around the idea of doing an evergreen course, but all the feedback from students so far have been that they really like the interaction of live and being able to ask questions on the spot and exactly what we’re talking about. It doesn’t mean I won’t ever go evergreen, and mix in live Q and A’s, but right now we’re delivering the course live and I really like it that way.

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Joe: That’s great. First of all, it’s hugely valuable for the students. There are certain things that work well as evergreen, as you’ve pointed out, you’re doing evergreen stuff. My course on How to use Gutenberg is evergreen and most people like it that way. My forums for that course are dead because I answer all of the questions in the course. basically.

I also ran a coaching program about a year ago where live in-person was hugely valuable, because I would tell them something and then I’d get questions. I’m sure it’s also hugely valuable for you too, because now you’re hearing questions in real-time, what people are thinking about, you could probably see your students, maybe. Do they have their webcams on?

Jennifer: Not in webinars.

Joe: Gotcha, ok. I know that was always something that I appreciated in the classroom, is I could see student’s faces and tell when they’re confused. But the fact that they can ask questions as you’re talking is good feedback, so that’s very cool.

Jennifer: It’s nice because we can take those questions and roll it into the content for the next time, so we can answer those questions in advance. It actually goes on sale again very shortly, the next version of Profitable Project Plan starts August 7th. And we’ve rolled in questions that clients and our students have asked in the past sessions.

We’ve rolled in suggestions that they’ve made like, “You know that would be super awesome? If you could do this.” And sometimes it’s like, ‘No. There’s no way we’re doing that. That’s not even part of this course.” And sometimes it’s like, “That’s a really good idea. I can definitely do that.” So each time we run it we’re just continuing to improve.

Joe: Nice. That’s fantastic. I have one more question about that, because this is something that I usually struggle with, is I’m sure you have a at least somewhat global audience. If not, you at least have people in different time zones. How do you choose? Do you just say, “We’re recording at this time, this works best for me. If you can attend live, great. Otherwise you can hit the videos.” Or do you pick a time by committee?

Jennifer: It is the time before they pay. On the sales page you can get the schedule, and you know the time. So, if it works for you great, if it doesn’t work for you and you’re okay watching the recordings, you know that in advance before you enroll, before you sign up, before you pay.

I always hold my live classes on Tuesdays at noon. Noon Pacific time, 3:00 p.m. Eastern. For those in Australia it’s the afternoon. It seems to be that seems to be the most versatile time for most people. There’s just a few time zones where they’re like, “This is the middle of the night. I’ll watch the recording.” I also have a Facebook group connected with it too, so they can watch the recording and then pop questions in the Facebook group, and I can answer them there for them as well.

I’m a big fan, if you’re going to have a set time for your course, stick it on the sales page and let people know before they even get started. So if they aren’t available to do it live, then they can make that choice on whether or not the recordings is going to be right for them.

Joe: Great. That is excellent advice, I am going to write that down. I’m going to take that advice if and when I do another live thing. That’s fantastic.

We are getting close to time here, and there are a couple more questions I usually like to ask. The transformations– this is relatively new, launched with the last year?

Jennifer: I ran the first beta in summer of 2017.

Joe: Ok, cool.

Jennifer: This will be the third full course, the fourth if you count the beta.

Joe: Gotcha. Have you seen major transformations since you launched?

Jennifer: Transformations of the course itself.

Joe: Yeah, any big changes, or something you’re like, “I’m definitely going to do this for the first one,” and it didn’t really work in the beta, so you changed it.

Jennifer: In the first one, I just was like, “This date to this date works for me,” and I didn’t really put a lot of thinking into the how it would overlap with our vacations. I definitely learned over time, now we definitely assess our vacations. The last version of Profitable Project Plan I timed it so the Q and A weeks, the implementation weeks, were weeks that we were gone and traveling.

Because I can answer Q and A from the road. I did one from the hotel parking lot in Holbrook, Arizona when we were going to Petrified Forest National Park. Because when you’re not leading a training, and you’re just answering questions, there’s less pressure there.

I’ve definitely learned a little bit about scheduling, and the course itself has transformed a little bit, in that the first time I ran it, it was all talking head. It was me talking and teaching. Each time I run it I have been adding more slides, more examples, more things like that. I think to just switch it up visually a little bit, and provide some more interest so it’s just not my talking head all the time.

The course itself in terms of content is pretty rock solid. Each time we run it I take the advice, I always do a survey at the end and I look at, “Where can I improve and make this even better?” I never think that you should rest on your laurels and think, “This is good enough. I ran it once, I’m just going to run it over, and over, and over, and over.”

I think every time you run it you’ve got to look at, “How can I add some value to this?” Your students are the best place to figure that out, because they’re going to tell you, “You know what would be great? If you could add this.” Some of their suggestions are going to be really good and aren’t going to take you much time.

Joe: That’s great advice. That’s a recurring theme among the proper online teachers, I’ll say. Is that courses should not be passive income, because people are constantly learning from you. So I really, really like that. Are there any plans that you could share for the future of the Profitable Project Plan? The course, any evergreen courses or whatever?

Jennifer: We’re kicking around the idea of making the core content of Profitable Project Plan evergreen, and then doing a weekly live call so that people can join when it’s right for them. Right now, because we only run it two times a year, when sales close it’s a waiting list. We’ve got hundreds of people on a waiting list that are like, “When is this going to go for sale again?” And when I put it for sale, may not be when they’re ready, or financially when it works best for them, right?

I’m always of the opinion, “Make it as easy as possible for people to do business with you.” Make it as easy as possible for clients to say, “Yes.” And that goes for memberships and courses as well. So, we’re kicking around the idea of maybe turning that part of it, still doing live, but part of it evergreen. So that students can invest when it works best for them and not necessarily just when it works best for me.

Joe: Great. That sounds fantastic, we’ll definitely keep an eye on that. You mentioned that August 7th is the next time it goes on sale. So, I’ll make sure to–

Jennifer: It starts.

Joe: It starts.

Jennifer: Yes.

Joe: It starts August 7th, ok.

Jennifer: Yes.

Joe: Gotcha. I’ll make sure to have this out before enrollment closes, then. Because we want people to take it after hearing about how great it is.

Jennifer: Me also!

Joe: So, as we come up on our half hour, we’re doing great on time. I like to ask this question of all of my guests. Do you have any trade secrets for us?

Jennifer: That is a really, really good question. I think the biggest secret that’s really not a secret, is that it doesn’t have to be perfect to launch. I think there are a lot of people that have ideas on courses, and ideas of things that they want to create, and they want to do, and they never do it because it’s never everything they’ve ever dreamed of ever wanting it to be and totally perfect.

When I had the idea of doing Profitable Project Plan, I gathered up all the content that I created for my business and I ran a beta super cheap. I didn’t do it for free, because I don’t believe in giving away your sauce for free. But I ran a super cheap discounted beta, I got 40 people in that beta, and I ran it, and I just tested it the first time. They did a survey, and I got great feedback and improved it. And the second time, I did a survey and got great feedback and improved it.

That process has worked so well, that when I created the mini course of Positioning E-Commerce Products for Success, when I had that content originally I offered it as a bonus to my Profitable Project Plan students as a “Thank-you.” A surprise bonus at the end of the course. They got that free training if they filled out the survey and provided me a great testimonial.

I didn’t say great testimonial, I said, “Provided me honest feedback,” but luckily all their honest feedback was super awesome and I got great testimonials out of it. But I said, “If you fill out this survey and give me your honest feedback, I’d love to gift you with this free training.” I delivered the Positioning E-Commerce Training, and I recorded it, I sent it to Rev.com, had a transcribed, and then that transcription became the base of the course that I created. Once I had the actual course created, then I sent an e-mail out to my list and I said, “I’m looking for beta testers.”

“If you want to take this course for free, e-mail me back.” I do that for my list as a thank you for being on my list. You’re gifting me with the opportunity to show up in your inbox, when I beta test stuff, you’re going to be the only people I ask. So, several people responded. I ran the course one more time to test it out with them in a beta, and they got to take the course for free. They filled out a survey, so I got to launch that course and that sales page from day one with some great testimonials, and I got to work out any of the kinks in that content before it actually went public.

So, you don’t have to wait until it’s perfect to get started. Do a beta, do a free training or a webinar, something to work out some of those content details, and then just keep making it better every single time that you do it.

Joe: Great advice. Absolutely great advice. I can’t add to it, so I’m just going to ask, where can people find you?

Jennifer: You can find me at JenniferBourn.com. That’s probably the best place that links to all my things.

Joe: Perfect. Jennifer Bourn, thanks so much for joining me today, I really appreciate it.

Jennifer: Thank you, this was fun!

Outro: I would encourage anyone who freelances to take a look at the Profitable Project Plan – not only to you get a great online course and resources – you get face time with the instructor, who’s fantastic.

And Thanks again to our sponsors Pantheon and Creator Courses. Definitely check them out. Both are teaching you all about Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0.

For all of the show notes, head over to howibuilt.it/86/. If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! You can also join the Facebook community over at howibuilt.it/facebook/. I want to build a strong community for this podcast, and Facebook is the place to do it.

Thanks for joining me, and until next time, get out there and build something!

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The post Jennifer Bourn and Profitable Project Plan appeared first on How I Built It.

Jul 24 2018

28mins

Play

Rank #12: Episode 16: Jackie D’Elia & What We Learned Podcasting, Part 1

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It’s the end of Season 1! In this 2-part episode, Jackie and I cover everything we’ve learned while starting a new podcast. In this part (part 1), we go over the ideas for each podcast, some early trial and error, pre- and post-production, tricks of the trade, and more.

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The post Episode 16: Jackie D’Elia & What We Learned Podcasting, Part 1 appeared first on How I Built It.

Dec 06 2016

27mins

Play

Rank #13: Susan Goebel and Bringing Drugs to Market

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It takes the right combination of bioscience knowledge, marketing intelligence, lead generation strategies, operational insight, product R&D expertise, and personal drive to fuel the business development of any life science firm. For almost 2 decades, Susan Goebel has been leveraging these core trails to deliver multi-million-dollar revenue generating initiatives with global reach. Now Susan has turned her focus to supporting others in their ventures into bioscience businesses. From helping doctors bring new medical solutions to market, to connecting investors and inventors, Susan helps shape the future of health, wellness and bioscience.

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Transcript

Intro: Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 127 of How I Built It, the last episode of season six. I am so excited to talk to Susan Goebel today. Now, she is very different from the people I’ve talked to so far. She is a BioScience coach and expert. She has information on marketing intelligence, and she works with prescription drug companies to bring their new drugs to market. She has experience in the full stack from doing the lab work all the way up to lobbying governments and everything in between. I thought this was such an interesting conversation. While it doesn’t directly relate to small businesses, there is a lot of stuff to take away from this conversation. I could have kept talking to Susan for hours, I find this super interesting, and I hope you will too. So as we wrap up Season 6 and go into a short break, I hope you like this episode with Susan Goebel, which we’ll get to in a minute after a word from our sponsors.

Break: This episode is brought to you by Plesk. Do you spend too much time doing server admin work, and not enough time building websites? Plesk helps you manage servers, websites, and customers in one dashboard. Helping you do those tasks up to 10 times faster than manually coding everything. Let me tell you, I recently checked out their new and improved WordPress Toolkit, and I was super impressed by how easy it was to Spin Up new WordPress sites, clone sites, and even manage multiple updates to themes and plugins. With the click of one button, I was able to update all of my WordPress sites. I was incredibly impressed by how great their WordPress Toolkit is. You can learn more and try Plesk for free today at Plesk.com/build. This episode is also brought to you by Soshace. Soshace is a hiring platform for web developers. If you need a pre-vetted and reliable developer or a team of developers for your project, Soshace will find the best candidates to get the job done. Save time and money on your development work and get a 40-hour risk-free trial period by signing up now at Soshace.com. In case you’re looking for a remote job, Soshace is currently hiring React, Node.JS, and Angular developers to work from anywhere in the world. Apply for a job now at Soshace.com.

Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Susan Goebel, a 20-year veteran bringing products to markets around the world and an expert in BioScience business development. Now she’s a consultant and coach in the BioScience field, and I’m excited to talk to her today about what it’s like to bring products at that scale to millions of people. Susan, how are you today?

Susan Goebel: I am good, Joe. I’m excited to be here as well. A lot of people don’t understand the process of what it takes to bring that product to market, and I got to say, when you’re sitting there at the dinner table, and you’re watching the news and people are going “Look at this great thing that this scientist made,” in my head I’m thinking “That’s a good 10 years away.” So, let’s learn about this.

Joe: That’s fantastic. I’m excited to talk about that because I’ve gotten a little bit of insight. My father in law is in the R&D field for a large pharmaceutical company, so he’s told me what the process is like. But why don’t we start with a little bit about who you are, and what you do?

Susan: Great. OK, so 20 years and I have had the pleasure and the privilege, I would say, of spanning a whole bunch of different areas within my career. I started out as a scientist bench top level, and then I moved from there to project management, and from there running divisions, co-founded a company– It’s been everything from lobbying to full commercialization successes, as well as failures. You’ve got to remember and celebrate those just about as much as the wins, and doing it across multiple regions around the world.

Joe: Wow. You have basically run the gamut. You started off on the front lines on the ground level as a scientist, and then you went up to lobbying. I am excited to hear about a lot of that stuff. Today you are leveraging your background and your experience to help other people bring new medical solutions to market, is that right?

Susan: That is right. There are a lot of people, whether they be doctors or veterinarians, who have the experience in clinic to go “I’m seeing a lot of whatever the problem is, and I think I have the best solution possible to help the health of my patient and give them the best quality of life. But I’m an MD or I’m a DVM, I don’t know what it takes to take my product and make it a success.” That’s where I come in.

Joe: Nice. That’s fantastic. I think that’s an important aspect. You’ve got the implementer or the person who is creating this product, but as a developer myself, I always find that there’s a disconnect between me creating the product and then me being able to bring it to the right audience, which can be difficult, especially when you’re so close to the product.

Susan: Joe, you are absolutely right. We get so emotionally invested. I’ve had a couple of my clients, and they call it their babies. It’s not the four-legged furry kind, they’re not the two-legged kind, but these ideas because they really– They come from the heart. A great example of this is that I had a colleague who is developing a unique product. Smart guy out at the University of British Columbia, and he and his wife– The wife is a pediatrician, and she was encountering a number of kids whose kidneys were shutting down because of a bacterial infection. She was lamenting one day about the life these poor kids have, and how in some cases it’s a very painful death, and “What can we do about this?” The husband went out the next day, and he goes for a run, and on the run, he has this “A-ha” moment. The bacteria that that’s causing all this doesn’t even come in humans. It comes from cattle. So, “Why don’t we create a product to treat it in the cow? Then we don’t ever have to get to the human side of things, and those kids can be safe.”

Joe: Wow, that’s incredible. As close as I can be to the web applications that I create, I imagine that the people who are coming up with life-saving technology or breakthroughs are a lot closer. Why don’t we talk a little bit about your process? You’ve had the experience of working in the lab and of talking to the people and the government organizations that you need to talk to get this to market, and now you’re consulting with people through this process. What does that process look like? If I came to you with an idea today, to say, “I’ve got this great idea that’s going to be huge in the medical field.”

Susan: Great question, Joe. That’s awesome, because if you came in and you said “I’ve got a problem that I think I have a solution to,” the first question I’m going to have to ask is “Have you protected your idea? Have you patented it? Is it any copyright, patent, industrial design? There’s a whole bunch of things that we need to do.” Or in the case of say Coca-Cola, which everybody’s usually familiar with, “Do we just keep it a trade secret because patenting can be expensive?” So there’s some thought process that needs to go into that and plan around that, and once you’ve gone past that stage, you’ve usually got an idea of the competitive market and where your product fits. Once you know that then we can go on to go, “OK. If I have a solution to a specific problem and this problem I know I can solve, I know that there might be one or two competitors out there, but I believe that I have a better mousetrap. Then let’s see if I can develop it.” Now, that can be a whole lengthy process in and of itself. Then “Let’s see if I can develop it, can I manufacture it at a larger scale? What are the regulatory compliance issues I’m going to have, and what country am I going to go into?” Because that’s different depending on the country that you want. As an example, Australia is an island, and so it’s very protective about what it brings into its country. You not only have to go through the regular regulatory approval processes, like in the US it would be FDA for example, or in Australia, you’d have to do the equivalent of the FDA plus an import security process as well.

Joe: Gotcha. Wow.

Susan: All of that to say that sometimes, in the case of the doctor that I told you about and the pediatrician, ten years had passed by the time it got approved, and the marketplace had shifted, and all of a sudden you no longer have a place to put your product.

Joe: Wow. My father gave me a little bit of insight to this, but we talk about how expensive medical stuff can be. Stuff is, of course, the scientific term here. But ten years getting patents which are expensive, developing it, which is expensive, manufacturing and going through the government approval processes is expensive, and then by the time, it gets to market there’s not even– There’s nothing to do with it. So, what happens in that case? Once it’s to market you can’t do anything with it, what do you do? Do you still have your patent, or is it just back to the drawing board?

Susan: That’s a great question. Unfortunately then the patent, by that point in time which has, depending on how you calculate it a 17 year or 21-year lifespan, is already half gone. In some cases, you can try when you have patents and experience to license it to somebody else, but you don’t have a lot of patent life left. If the market doesn’t want it, unfortunately, it’s not going to be a product that is going to be viable commercially. So, you have to go back to the drawing board. You have to work with whatever the evolution has become. I would say that for anybody listening to this, if they’re spending the time to put that thought process in up front, that you also have to make sure you’re keeping in touch with the market and how the shifts and the changes are going so you know whether or not you need to make a shift or change yourself in the strategy. Don’t get too married to the strategy.

Joe: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. This audience traditionally is people who work on the web, or smaller scale physical products. We always talk about, “Make sure to put out as fast as possible that the minimum viable product.” It’s just simply not feasible in this case. So, is there things that you can do in your research process to maybe soften that blow or make sure what you are bringing to market will be accepted by the general population, or we’ll have a fit somewhere?

Susan: There are things that you can do, and I would say the fun part is that in real estate, they talk about “Location, location, location.” So in planning and in pharma, I would say it’s “Planning, planning, planning.” You need to put that thought process in upfront first, because if you’re going to go down a pathway where in 100 drugs, for instance, that may come to market, one will make it all the way through, and it’s not a minimum viable product. You have to have full formulas and expectations, whatever you’re doing in the trials with people, you’re doing exactly that when the product is fully approved. There is no minimum viable product when it comes to pharma. It’s an entirely different beast for that. If you don’t know what the various steps are and the processes are from a regulatory perspective, and you haven’t dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s or even know what those are. That’s a problem. So step one, plan. Because you may find that there’s something in that pathway that is a hurdle you can’t overcome.

Joe: Yeah, wow. Let’s back up a little bit, because again, what you’re saying– I’ve heard a little bit about from my father in law. But if we’re talking specifically about pharmaceuticals, there’s a whole long process. There’s the patent and the idea, and then there’s the trials, and the double-blind study, and the– What’s the path for a drug to make it to market?

Susan: Let’s take the example of the evening news. You see the evening news, the evening news goes into a University usually in a setting and says, “Here’s this researcher that’s come up with this great idea.” OK. In order to get to that great idea, there’s probably been years of research alone, maybe five years of research. OK, so now we say that the scientist has the actual plan in place and they’ve got, say, a small molecule that they want to bring to market that’s going to target a very specific disease. OK, so now they’re going to need deep pockets because the total process from a dollar perspective to bring a new drug to market, it can be upwards of– I mean a “B” when I say this, a billion dollars.

Joe: Wow.

Susan: Now, there are ways to make that not a billion dollars, but it’s still going to be several hundred million dollars in order to bring that new product to market. That’s a lot of money. So next phase, go get some investing. You’re going to need people to come in and help you because it’s a long process. Let’s assume that you’ve gone in next and you’ve done a trial, proof of concept. Small animal molecule in beakers, labs, whatever that needs to be depending on the planning stages that you’ve done. OK, so that’s probably taken you another year. Now you’ve got proof of concept, and if you’ve made it past that stage, I want you to give yourself a really big pat on the back because at this point half the products have failed out of those 100.

Joe: Yeah.

Susan: Now, you’ve done that, assuming you still have funds available you can go into the second phase. But now you need– Any product that goes in really has to be your final formulation. Now you also have to be able to test all of the raw materials, and you have to be able to test the final product, even something as simple– This was a big eye-opener for me when I went into the manufacturing side, the water that gets used. You can’t go out and use the tap water, and you have to have water that meets very special requirements. Rooms that air is extremely clean. It’s all about protecting the product so you can protect the person or the animal, wherever that’s going. OK, so let’s say you make it through phase two. You’ve got all your I’s dotted, and all your T’s have been crossed, now you have to go into phase three. Phase three usually is your final licensing, and depending on what your indication is, now you’re looking at another two to three years to finish the trial because you’ve got to recruit the patients and you’ve got to recruit the physicians, the clinicians, the veterinarians, whatever it winds up being. Probably at this point, you’re down to about 20% that have actually made it through, so those 100 that you saw on the evening news, 20 have now made it this far. Now you’re getting another three years, now you have to go another year before the data comes in, and let’s say that’s all you needed before you submit to the regulatory agencies. Depending on the agency itself, once you submit the document, the clock starts ticking. Different agencies, different timeframes. In some cases it could be six months, once upon a time in some countries, it was three years before you’ll get an approval. If they ask a question, then the clock starts over once you submit your answer. All of this time, so you’ve got a window there where you’re not even doing anything. That’s where you want to start your marketing. You want to start your commercialization processes, your lobbying. You get your payments plans, your insurance companies, all these stakeholders onside and make sure it works. Then the day comes where you get your final “Yes” or “No” from the regulatory agency, and that’s where it’s usually one or two out of the 100 that make it that far.

Joe: Wow.

Susan: I’m exhausted already, and now I’ve got to go out, and I’ve got to sell it.

Joe: So we’re talking about ten years, maybe 10-12 years from research to market depending on how long it takes for the regulatory agency to come back, assuming they have no additional questions.

Susan: I’ve never seen that happen, by the way.

Joe: I’d imagine they probably come back with several questions. I had questions on my first trademark, and that’s like generally benign. So I imagine that they are probably a lot more stringent. You said maybe one to two of those initial 100 drugs or products come to market, so the evening news here, they hear a story and they want to report it. This is a little bit tangential, but what we’re seeing on the news, they’re making it seem like it’s so close, but it’s a decade away.

Susan: In a lot of cases, that’s true. Now you will see things on the news that talk about pharma products where they’ve finished the phase three trial, and that’s when they’re talking about it. It depends when the news report comes out, are they talking about the basic research at the University? Or are they talking about the final product and the clinical trial results and all the great news pieces that have already taken place? When you hear it on the news, you need to put some thought into “Where is it in the process? Is it right at the beginning, or is it close to the end?” I would add, having spanned both the human health world and the animal health world, that they are different again. Because recruitment in human trials takes a lot more time, whereas if you wanted to develop a product for a herd of cattle or dairy cows or something to treat some disease there, recruitment of the herd is usually more up to one or two stakeholders as opposed to each individual cow having an opinion.

Joe: Right. That makes sense. What does that look like, when you’re about ready to enter a trial? Is it you talk to doctors, and then they look for patients that fit and ask their patients?

Susan: Yes. Now, that’s a very general process. There’s ethics boards, and approvals, and regulators that all have stakeholders and involvement to make sure that anything that goes into people is as safe as it possibly can be, and has had as much smart minds around the table to ensure that the thought process has gone into it. There’s no more accidental thalidomide or anything like that coming out.

Joe: Gotcha. That makes sense. Are things–? Maybe this is too specific of a question, but I’m just generally interested. Is the general mental health of the patient, like if they are too emotional, like “I’ll do anything to help cure this disease,” is that taken into consideration? Or does the doctor usually vet that before he presents an option to the patient?

Susan: That’s a great question, Joe. Not a lot of people ask that, so kudos to you.

Joe: Thanks.

Susan: It’s up to the physician who they enroll, but they are given a list of criteria. “Here’s the specifications, if the patient is this or has this, go ahead and talk to them about it. If they have this or that, then you need to exclude them.”

Joe: Gotcha. Again, that makes a lot of sense. We got a pretty high-level overview, and maybe we got into some pretty good specifics here of the process of bringing a product to market. I haven’t asked the title question yet, which is, “How did you build it?” But I feel like we’re talking in this nebulous space where we’re talking in the abstract, and I do want to ask you about the lobbying side of things because this is– I’m in America, and we hear all sorts of things, mostly negative, about lobbyists. It’s a very interesting process to me. So, could you unpack that a little bit? Like, what does that look like?

Susan: Sure. I’ll take a step back, Joe, if I could. Just to the manufacturing side, just for a moment.

Joe: Yeah.

Susan: Whether you’re doing a drug or a biologic or a device, and those are very much three key terms in the industry, because they have three different processes that are involved in them. It takes specialized experts in order to do each of those. If you’re doing a drug or you’re doing a sterile device, or you’re doing something that needs fermentation capacity, each one of these is done very differently, and that’s only a handful of a myriad of different ways to bring products to market. So it’s a little tougher to say it’s one or the other, I had worked on a project once where it was plastics manufacturing, and then you’re embedding the drug directly into the plastic. That’s an entirely different process again, because now you’ve got molds and dyes and casts, and you’re doing an embedding and extruding and all of these sorts of processes. It has nothing to do with the fermentation or growing anything that makes it secrete, or whatever. Or collections and harvesting, which is very much a biologics process.

Joe: Right.

Susan: I know we didn’t get very much into that little nitty-gritty detail, but there’s certainly lots that can be done and talked about from that perspective. I had to go to your lobbying question, a very similar thought process, and I’m sure that you and I are not alone. “Lobbyists. I don’t know, are they good, or are they bad? Politicians, are they good, or are they bad? I don’t know.” But it was an eye-opening experience going in and being a registered lobbyist for a while. To the amount of effort that these individuals who are the politicians do take, and the care, and how hard they work. I could not imagine doing their job at all. I would not want it. We were up, and we would go to the Hill for days at a time, so you’re literally going to 15-minute power meetings, and you’ve got at least 10 of them booked in a day because we didn’t live in the same town as the Hill was. So you’ve literally got these 15 minute– Assuming that nothing chaotic had gone on. Overnight one night when we went up to lobby there was the opposition party, and the opposition party had decided that it wanted to throw something as a matter of parliamentary procedure in place. All of a sudden, your meetings are all gone because now the politicians are very much involved in the bureaucracy, and the in-fight, and the “What’s this little piece mean? How does our party feel about it?” And you’re like, “But I really would like to save some kids.” They’re like, “We know. So we’re going to do our best to try and walk with us.” There’s this building over here, and that building over there, so you get these little 15 minute snippets as you’re going from this place to that place, and you’ve got to get your elevator pitch down properly and be able to address the questions and develop the key messages. Even though you’re talking directly into the politician, it’s not likely the politician that you’re going to be continuing to develop the relationship with, and it’s usually their chief of staff or someone else. So at the end of the day we had a product that after five long years of lobbying, we were lobbying on one side and we had another party that was lobbying on the other side, and that association had a much stronger lobby than ours did, so they won and we didn’t get the funding.

Break: This episode is brought to you by Pantheon. Starting a new project? Looking for a better hosting platform? Pantheon is an integrated set of tools to build, launch, and run websites. Get high performance hosting for your WordPress sites, plus a comprehensive toolkit to supercharge your team and help you launch faster. On Pantheon, you get expert support from real developers, best in class security, and the most innovative technology to host and manage your websites. You can sign up a new site in minutes with a free account, and you only pay when it goes live. That is my second favorite feature to Pantheon, only to the easy ability to create dev staging and live servers, and push to GitHub. It’s very easy to set those things up on Pantheon. You can head over to Pantheon.io today to set up a free account and pay only when it goes live. Thanks so much to Pantheon for their support of this episode and this season of How I Built It.

Joe: This is a very tumultuous process that could basically fail at any moment. You said it, 98% if we’re looking at 100 of these products, 98% are not going to make it to the market because of something. So, let’s then talk about something that has made it to the market. It’s gone through the research, the trials, the investments, the lobbying. It’s now on the market. What are the steps once a medical product is approved, and you can bring it to market?

Susan: If you’re in the veterinary field, that’s pretty much it. Now you need to go out, and you need to sell it. You need to sell it to the associations, and you need to understand the distribution channel. You need to get your message out there, and usually you’re using your– I’ve heard the different terms “Alpha marketers,” or “Key opinion leaders,” “Early adopters,” these sorts of people in order to make that a success. On the human side of things, it can be a little more complicated because now you have insurance companies involved. Are they going to go through another approval process? Is the government going to pay, is the insurance going to pay? How do you determine if you’re selling the drug–? This is always a fun one if you’re selling the drug in more than one jurisdiction you need to make sure that you’re following all the rules and you’re not giving favoritism to one jurisdiction over the other, because there are certain rules against doing that. Which is part of where the third world countries, they have so much trouble in paying for the cost of the drugs, because there are these strange barriers and rules that companies don’t want to work around. They want to comply, but they also want to be able to save lives.

Joe: So for example, you can’t sell a drug in the United States for a $1,000 but in third world countries it’s $100 dollars or something like that. Because it’s more cost affordable, or–?

Susan: Not unless there’s some special arrangement, that would be government lobbying, that would get that done. Special funding, so if you had assistance with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as an example, they do a lot of stuff in third world countries with access to drugs and whatnot. Lobbyists are not all bad. Depending on the skill set, you’ve got to try your hardest in order to make a positive impact in the world. I was talking to a group of people one day, and they were heading over to the United Nations to talk about anti-microbial resistance because there were certain things that some countries were doing that other countries were not, and they wanted it all to be as harmonized as possible. Which is a very long process, trying to get countries to agree, let alone getting politicians within one country to agree. It’s a fascinating process in and of itself, and it’s certainly not straightforward. It’s not like– I’m launching a digital product called the BioScience Boardroom, and in this product, it’s a mastermind group. I don’t have to go through a lot of regulatory processes, it’s about bringing this knowledge and expertise to people who want to understand the process have an idea of something they’ve discovered that fits their clinical application and solves a problem, but “What do they do with it?”

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s talk about that a little bit because we are mostly digital builders here in the How I Built It community. Do you know the platform that you’re using for your digital product? Do you know any of the– Are you using WordPress or Wix, or are you using teachable or anything like that? This was not prepared, by the way. This is off the cuff. So if you do not know the answer to this, I wouldn’t expect you to.

Susan: In preparing some of this I honestly think I’d rather go back to splicing DNA, it’d be a heck of a lot simpler than what you guys do, honestly. ClickFunnels is what I’m using. I do have a website that’s powered by Wix because I started out with the free version and thought “That’s easy enough to do,” and I had tried WordPress in the past and I was not very good at it. It took me a day where it probably would have taken somebody who understood the terminology like five minutes to do something simple. So it’s been a longer process than what I wanted, but I’ve got these clients that have this problem and when I talk to the business development experts and the people who are the angel investors for them they go, “We get these people, and they come in, and they want to pitch us their product, but they’re not ready. They haven’t put the thought into it.” OK, so now we have a blue ocean. I have a skill set that I can fit to allow that understanding of this process if I can provide a digital product, a place for them to go and get this information, then I can do my part as a business expert in this field and in this area to move it along. Now you’re doing the interviews, and the building of the site, and drafting the text, and doing the beta testing, and oh my goodness I really would rather bring a drug to market.

Joe: I am a little bit glad to hear that as a web developer myself because clearly, you are much smarter than I am, but I’m glad that I have a skill set that that is valuable. That sounds super interesting, so I’ll be sure to link that in the show notes, and we’ll get to where people can find you in a bit. But I do want to ask you, wrapping up as we’ve covered a lot of ground in about 25 minutes. But then we talked a little bit about what you do and how you did it, what are your plans for the future? Are you going all in on the BioScience Boardroom or are you going to continue to be boots on the ground for people bringing medical products to market?

Susan: That’s a great question, Joe. I would love– My goal frankly with the BioScience Boardroom, if I could, I would love to help 10,000 BioScience wannabes or entrepreneurs and inventors to be able to have that understanding of “This is what it takes to get from concept to commercialization.” That would be my ideal golden scenario, and I’m going to work hard to do that this year. Out of that though, just like the 100 only became one, probably only 1,000 of those would ever go on to do anything, and I’d respect that. Even out of that 1,000, if I could help 100 of them to work a little more closely with me like I do with my current products, my current clients, to help their products get to market. Or be and out-license or joint venture or whatever it is that needs, to be able to positively contribute to animal and human health, I would love to do that. So, I’m going to do both. I’m going to do the BioScience Boardroom which is a lot of bringing experts and the inventors together, as well as continuing with my current clients and bringing their products to market to make sure that we can positively get people back to health as much as we can, as well as animals.

Joe: Yeah. That’s fantastic. I like the sound of that. So, I’m going to ask you my favorite question now, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Susan: Hmm, trade secrets. Oh, my goodness. Don’t tell anyone, are you ready?

Joe: I’m ready.

Susan: OK. There is a lot of really good free stuff out there on the web. Use that first to do the planning.

Joe: Awesome. That is a great piece of advice. There’s a lot of really good free stuff on the web.

Susan: Hey, Joe.

Joe: Yeah?

Susan: Shall we tell your listeners that that’s true for any product they want to bring to market?

Joe: I think we should. That’s true for anything. Look for the free stuff, and then you know what you need to pay for.

Susan: Exactly, and do the planning. Do the planning and know your competitive marketplace. Know where you fit and know where your niche is, know who your customers and your avatars are going to be.

Joe: “Know who your customers and your avatars are going to be.” I think that’s also a great piece of advice because a lot of– I don’t want to generalize the folks in my field, so I’ll speak specifically about myself. I know other people feel the same way, is I always took a very Field of Dreams approach to marketing, “I’m going to build something good, and then people will come.” But that’s just simply not the case anymore, you need to understand who you’re talking to and you need to talk to those people because those people want to know that you understand them.

Susan: Exactly. Great advice. Did you hear that everyone? Great advice.

Joe: Thank you. You said, “Hmm, trade secrets.” I think I’m going to start adding a ding when people say that in post-production because that’s like my favorite part of the show. Where people go “Trade secret.” I want to make a compilation of that. So thank you, I didn’t tell you to do that, but I’m sure glad you did. Susan Goebel, thanks so much for joining me today. Where can people find you?

Susan: Joe, thank you. It has been a pleasure. You are just a lot of fun to be around. You guys can come over to the website, and we’ll put the link for it into the show notes if that’s OK.

Joe: Absolutely. For our listeners, I think I want to make sure it’s SusanGoebel.ca/HowIBuiltIt is the URL I have? Of course, it will be in our show notes over at HowIBuilt.it as well. Susan, thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate you taking the time.

Susan: Thank you so much, Joe. I appreciate that.

Outro: I want to thank Susan again for joining me on this last episode of Season 6. Again I super-duper, I don’t know if you could tell during the interview, but I enjoyed it. I love hearing about the process. We talked a bit about how she built her marketing website, and some of the tools she’s using there. Then her trade secret is something really important for everybody, that I think that everybody can take away from that, which is knowing your customers and your avatars. Create a customer avatar. In development, we call them “User stories.” “Who is the perfect person, the one person you’re talking to?” I think that’s important. So my question of the week for you is, “What is one customer avatar that you want to create?” Let me know by e-mailing me Joe@HowIBuilt.it or on Twitter @jcasabona. I want to thank my sponsors for this week, and those sponsors are Soshace, Plesk, and Pantheon. In particular, I want to thank Plesk and Pantheon because they sponsored the entire season, and so all of my sponsors make this show possible. But the backing that Plesk and Pantheon gave me helped me take this show to the next level by hiring a new editor and a new transcriber and do things well. So, I hope to continue to grow this show for next season, season 7. We’re going to take a few weeks off, a little bit of a break. I might release one or two bonus episodes in that time, but you can look for season seven to launch at the beginning of July. If you liked this episode, feel free to share it with a friend or family member, and until next season get out there and build something.

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The post Susan Goebel and Bringing Drugs to Market appeared first on How I Built It.

Jun 11 2019

40mins

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Rank #14: Brad Williams & Client Relationships

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Brad Williams of WebDevStudios knows a thing or two about client relationships. In this episode, We start at the beginning with finding a client, the proposal process, and touch on things like having a Discovery phase. It puts a nice cap of what we’ve been talking about for the last 3 weeks – the importance of building relationships.

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Transcript

Intro: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of How I Built It! Finishing our series on How to Build a Business, I get to talk to my friend Brad Williams about client relationships. We start at the beginning with finding a client, the proposal process, and touch on things like having a Discovery phase. We’ll get into that in a minute, but first, a word from our sponsors…

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And now…on with the show!

Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today, I have a good friend of mine on the show, Brad Williams of Web Dev Studios.

Joe: Brad, how are you doing today?

Brad: Hey, buddy. I’m doing well. How are you?

Joe: Well, as we record this, we’re in the throws of football season so I’m just okay. I’m sure you’re a lot better than me though.

Brad: I’m kind of average. The Raiders are doing … They’re doing okay. I don’t think the Giants are doing okay.

Joe: The Giants are not doing okay.

Brad: Yeah. We’ll survive.

Joe: They’re being very charitable because they gave the 49ers their first win, which is nice of them.

Brad: That was helpful.

Absolutely. I actually forgot you’re a Raiders fan and not an Eagles fan.

Brad: Yeah. So the Eagles are doing pretty good, but I’m a Raiders fan in Philly. So you can imagine. So Christmas is going to be fun because the Raiders are coming to Philly.

Joe: Oh, nice. Are you going to the game?

Brad: I don’t know. It’s still up in the air. The family’s not super excited about it.

Joe: Oh yeah. Because it’s on Christmas Day.

Brad: It’s Christmas Day. So hopefully. We’ll see.

Joe: Oh, cool. Maybe that will be a nice Christmas gift. This is coming out after that game. So we’re not dropping any hints for anybody in the meantime. But why don’t we get started with why don’t you tell everybody who you are and what you do.

Brad: Sure. So as you said, my name’s Brad Williams. I co-founded a company called Web Dev Studios about 10 years ago, and we are a WordPress development and design agency. We specialize in WordPress scale, WordPress in the enterprise, really building large WordPress powered websites. WordPress is the only platform we work on so we’re truly experts at it, which is awesome. We work with some really great clients. So it’s been a lot of fun from starting on a coffee table to growing our business over the years, growing with WordPress and working with some amazing clients and some amazing brands.

Joe: Awesome.

Brad: That is what we do.

Joe: Awesome. That’s kind of what we’re going to be talking about today, right? Usually on the show we talk about a specific product, but this is kind of in the middle of a business strategy series. We’re actually going to talk more about pitching a client and forming a new client relationship, right? Which is something that you have quite a bit of experience with.

Brad: The pitch, man. You ever watch Madmen? The old ad agencies and they pitched in the ’60s. Yeah, it’s nothing like that. Although that makes it look really cool, right? I guess other than smoking 50 packs of cigarettes a day. Maybe the day drinking isn’t as cool now. But yeah, pretty much the opposite of that. So you can imagine … So one kind of caveat is we are 100% remote company distributed. So we’re all over the United States. There’s 33 of us at the company. I think it’s important to kind of note that just in term of how clients find us and how we kind of get in front of clients in a pitch or proposal situation. So we’re not just an agency that’s located in Philadelphia with offices here. I’m in Philly, but we’re literally all over the United States.

Joe: Yeah. That absolutely does make a big difference, right? Because you don’t have the situation where you can just get in a room with your team and really hash things out.

Brad: Right. So yeah, I mean, it definitely has … I like to say it has a unique set of challenges. All business has different challenges. Some same, some different, and across all industries, right? So being remote is just another challenge. I think there’s definitely some pros and cons to it. I don’t think it’s better. I shouldn’t say that. I do think it’s better than kind of the traditional approach. I think there’s more pros than cons. The big reason for us early on was to just find talent. We started out in the Jersey Shore area. If you’re not totally familiar, outside of summer, there’s not a ton of people around there. So finding developers or designers that were local that could come into an office was next to impossible. So we had to. We were kind of forced into it, right? So we had to look outside of our area a little bit. Towards New York, towards Philadelphia, towards Baltimore, and we quickly realized why worry about the location, let’s worry about the talent. Let’s go after the talent, and from that day forward, we just hired based off the talent regardless of where you lived. It’s worked very well for us.

Joe: Nice. You’ve definitely compiled a huge team, both current and alums of very talented people. I’ve had the good fortune of working with some of them either before or after they left Web Dev Studios. So you certainly have been able to find good talent.

Brad: Yeah. I mean, I mentioned it earlier, I feel like Web Dev really grew with WordPress, right? When we first started using WordPress, it was very much a blog platform. It was kind of one option that we looked at against a number of other options in terms of how we should build a website. As WordPress matured, so did our company and so did our clients and the size and type of websites that we were building. So once it really became more of a true CMS, we were using it full-time for everything. The larger companies were starting to look at WordPress as a viable option, and now it’s a bit of a no brainer for most companies that WordPress is a great option. Certainly one they should be looking at. It’s funny to think back that that wasn’t always the case. The first few years of the company, we had to sell people on WordPress. We had to really sell the on it. Now, it’s like they find us because they know they want it and they want to work with a company that specializes in it.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. Let’s start to really parch that out because a lot of … At least when I was freelancing, I always thought, “Man, how do you get the next big client or how do you even approach an enterprise,” right? So why don’t we start with how do people find you now? Is it basically like through your form or do you … What do you do to kind of put yourself out there?

Brad: So it’s a good question. One that people ask me a lot. How do people find you, right? So the majority of people find us via search or they’ve heard of us either via a WordCamp speaking or our various contributions to WordPress. We’re pretty active with our content, strategy, social media. We get good search traffic because of all those things, right? So we also have some books we’ve written. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Professional WordPress is a series that I was a co-author on. Lisa Sabin-Williams, my partner, has been writing all of the WordPress For Dummies books for like, I don’t know, forever. She’s done all of them. So if it’s got WordPress and dummies in the title, she wrote it or was a major part of it. So that helps, right? That helps just kind of validate that we know what we’re doing, especially earlier on when not as many people knew who we were.

Brad: So we also get a lot of … Another big stream of kind of referrals from either existing clients or friends in the industry or just friends in general. People refer people to us. We’re a “larger” company in the space. People look at us say, “You’re large.” It’s like, “Well, we’re really not.” In the grand scheme of things, we’re a very small company. But in the WordPress world, we are considered a bit on the larger size being 30 plus people. So we’re friends, I’m friends … Our company teams across the board are friends with a number of freelancers and smaller agencies and boutique shops as Medeiros would say. You know what I’m talking about.

Joe: Yeah.

Brad: So a larger client comes in the door and they know, “Yeah, this is bigger than what we can do. This is bigger than what we can support. Let me send you to a company that is better suited for this size of a project or a size of an engagement.” So we get a number of those referrals. So all of that kind of combined is where the majority of our leads come in. Now, we have been a little more proactive in the past year. So about more outbound. Being more kind of proactive rather than waiting for leads to just walk in the door. Be a little more proactive in our marketing strategy and kind of getting out in front of the type of clients we want to be in. It’s kind of a new area for us. We haven’t had to do that as much in the past, but we’re trying to be a little more proactive in that front. So that’s kind of a new area that we’re starting dabble in. But yeah, that kind of sums up how clients come in the door.

Joe: Gotcha. Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I feel like the general sentiment right now in the WordPress space especially is there’s been a lot of success with … I say this all the time. The field of dreams approach, right? If I build it, they will come. I think there’s been a lot of success in the WordPress space up until recently. Now I think we’re seeing a lot more of people kind of having to put together a marketing strategy and be more outbound as you say. Would you agree with that?

Brad: Yeah. Absolutely. There’s definitely been a shift where it’s not as … Yeah, I like that analogy. The field of dreams approach. Yeah, I mean, a couple years ago we just sit back and the number of leads that would come in the door was ridiculous. We just couldn’t even spend as much time as we would even want to on them or we just had to refer them out because we were too busy responding to others. It was crazy. I think we’re a bit naïve in assuming, “Oh, it’ll always be like this,” and that’s not the case. I think a lot of that comes with the maturity of WordPress, and I think there’s a number of factors. I don’t think it’s all WordPress. I know it’s not all WordPress because I talk to other friends in the tech industry that aren’t WordPress at all, and they’ve seen a down tick in the past year or so of leads and kind of new engagements and work coming in the door. So I think it’s wider than WordPress, but obviously we’re in the WordPress space, the WordPress bubble, so that’s what we talk about and that’s what we’re looking at.

Brad: So yeah, I think it’s opened our eyes. We need to be a little more proactive. We need to try a few different things. It’s not always going to be just everybody walking in the door and doing these massive projects and craziness like that. It’s also, again, I keep going back to the maturity of the community and WordPress itself I think it’s just inevitable. WordPress has been around for over, what? 12, 13 years now. Something like that

Joe: Yeah.

Brad: It’s growing up. So are all the companies around it. We’re growing up with it. So it’s just kind of the nature of the beast I think.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s exactly right. We’ve talked about on the show development practices have been maturing over the last few years. We talk about like automated testing and other things like that that have been in other software project spaces before this, but we’re finally getting to a place in the WordPress community where that is becoming the normal thing.

Joe: So when you do have a potential client, right? Or a potential project, what’s the first thing you do? I know a bigger companies have RFPs, request for proposals. Do you go through that process or what’s it look like? Let’s say a potential client fills out a form on your website, what’s your next step?

Brad: Yeah. So, RFPs are interesting. Right? I think there’s like very, very distinct two sides of thought around RFPs. One is don’t ever touch them. They’re a waste of time. The other one is respond to every single one of them and eventually something will happen. We’ve kind of gone back and forth on that. My general rule with RFPs is unless it’s an opportunity we just don’t want to miss out on, unless it’s some brand that just really stands out. Like, “Oh, we want to work with them,” you know what I mean? We generally will not respond unless we have a bit of a inside track. Meaning we know someone within the company or someone that can kind of … We have a better sense of we might be in the short running. Not to say we’re trying to cheat the system or get around the RFP process, but to say it’s more than just an anonymous company responding to this document that you blasted out to who knows how many different agencies.

Absolutely. I mean, filling out an RFP, if you do it right, takes a lot of time, right?

Brad: Takes a lot of time. Yeah. I mean, RFPs are generally very specific. This is our goals, this is our current situation, these are the areas we expect to be accomplished by these dates, this is how you will respond, this is what we expect, and you have three days. It’s always … Or the dates already past. It’s like, “What?” It’s crazy because you have to … If you’re going to respond to an RFP, you have to follow it to a t. It’s the first test. Can they listen to instruction? If they ask you for four references, don’t give them three. Don’t give them five. Give them four.

Joe: Give them exactly four. Yeah.

Brad: It is the first test. So you have to follow it to a t, and it is a lengthy process. So you have to know going into RFP, you’re going to spend some time up front. You’re going to spend an investment to respond.

Brad: If you do it correctly. So generally speaking, we do not respond to RFPs unless it’s, again, an awesome brand that we really want to just have our name in a shot or we have a little bit more insider information and have maybe a connection or someone within the company that we can work a little bit closer with.

Brad: Now, the majority of the leads we get in the door aren’t RFPs. They generally have a here’s kind of a spec doc or here’s a general overview of what we’re looking for. Can you give us a quote? What’s it going to cost, right? That’s the number one question. What’s it going to cost?

Brad: Those are my favorite articles. I think you might have written some of these too. Like, how much does it cost to build a website?

Yeah. Yeah. Actually that was popular I think because you guy shared that out like one day and that got a lot of traffic. So I appreciate that.

Brad: Oh yeah. For sure. It’s funny because most of those blog posts I’m always like, “Oh, okay. I’ll skim it,” and I always go to the bottom because it always summarizes with, “Well, it depends.”

Yeah.

Brad: It depends.

Joe: Which is, spoiler alert, that’s how mine ends too.

Brad: Spoiler alert.

Brad: Yeah, it depends. It’s just like if you go to any agency, any web development, design shop and you go to how much is it going to cost. Well, it depends. They almost will never give you a price.

That’s because I always equate it to like we’re building a house. That’s like coming to me as a house builder saying, “How much to build a house?” Well, it depends. What kind of house do you want? How big of house? How many rooms? Is there a garage? There’s just a million questions to understand how much that house is going to cost or how much that website is going to cost.

Brad: So yeah, a lead comes to the door. The first thing we do is we want to hop on a call and really get to … I like to hear … The first question I always ask is, “Tell me about your project. Tell me about your goals. I want to hear it from you in your own words.” I know the documents and emails probably say that, but I like to hear it from them.

You can get a lot from that, right? You can understand not just the specific goals that they’ve written out on paper but you can hear a little bit of the emotion behind it. You can understand a little bit more about if they’re having some struggles, if our website is just a terrible experience and we can’t work on it. Everyone’s frustrated and they’re all coming to me. You can get that. Or maybe it’s a new initiative and it’s a new hire at the company and they’re just super excited and engaged. You can just sit back and listen and listen to them explain to you what their goals for the project are, what they’re looking to accomplish, and then start digging into some of the specifics. I’ve always felt like that’s really good way to kind of kick off those conversations.

Brad: Plus, again, going back to being remote. We’re generally not sitting across from a table. We’re generally on a phone call. Sometimes we do video, sometimes we don’t. But we’re … Just like we are right now. We’re talking, right? So I also want to get to know the person a little bit. I want them to get to know me. I want it to be a friendly and fun conversation. Joke around a little bit, start to build a rapport because at the end of the day you’re both kind of interviewing each other, right? Are they a good fit for you and are you a good fit for them? Yes, it’s great to make money, but do you want to make money at the expense of working with a terrible person.

Brad: That is going to treat you and your team like you’re inferior and I’m paying you. You work for me and you do as I say and that’s that. Do you want to … Some people might be like, “Sure.” But most of us are probably like, “No. We want to work with good people.” We want a partner. We’re not just a client relationship here. We’re going to be a partner, an extension of the company. I’d like to try to look for those things when I’m on that call and try to figure that out early if there’s some concerns here or not.

Joe: Nice. That’s fantastic. I love that for a few reasons, right? Because you’re not just relying on the words that they sent to you, which are probably more calculated, right? That’s the pitch that they practiced, but when you ask them on a phone call or a video call, you’re getting what’s on the top of their mind, right? They’re no reading the script that they wrote.

Brad: Exactly.

Joe: Like you said, it is a relationship. You’re interviewing each other. I think that a lot of people tend to take it a little bit too personally if they don’t get a job, if they’re not hired by a client. I used to take it personally all the time.

Brad: I still do sometimes.

Joe: It sucks. Yeah, right.

Brad: I don’t think you ever get over that completely, right?

Joe: Especially if it’s someone you really want to work with.

Brad: Oh, man.

Joe: But I mean, somewhere along the line it was decided that you guys wouldn’t be a good fit, and I try to think it’s for the best even though sometimes it might suck.

Brad: Yeah. I mean, that’s how you have to look at it. It is business at the end of the day. There’s going to be some that just burn you a little more than others. There’s going to be some you might breathe a sigh of relief. Like, “You know what, I’m actually kind of glad we didn’t get that because the more we understood, the more we realized it might not be the best project in the world.” So yeah, I mean, you kind of got to brush it off, try to learn what you can from it, if anything, so you can use that for the next discussion or pitch and move forward. Yeah. At the end of the day it’s sales, right? I wouldn’t consider myself … I can never be like a door to door salesman. That would be an impossible job for me, right? I couldn’t sell cars. I’m not that type of person.

Brad: But I’m very passionate and excited about the web and websites. So I’m less trying to hard sell people and more trying to understand their goals and speak to how we can help to accomplish those goals and the direct result is essentially I’m selling the person on Web Dev Studios and our solutions and what we can give to them. That’s kind of how I look at it because I’m just not a salesman. I could never be a salesman, right? Ever. So I just speak to my passions, which indirectly help us bring in sales. So I found a way to make it work over the years and it seems to work well.

Brad: I think clients and the people we speak with and our partners really respect that because I think most of them anyways get that. They understand that passion. They hear it and they see it. Really anytime you can work with someone that is passionate about what they’re doing, and I preach this to the team and the people we’re interviewing and hiring. Anytime you can work with someone that’s passionate, it’s going to be reflected in their work across the board because they actually care. It’s not just making a quick buck and sending you on your way as quickly and cheaply as possible. They care that the end product is something that they want to be proud of, they want you to be proud of, they want to be successful, and that’s how I try to approach it and that’s how Web Dev Studios approach it and how we kind of preach internally about we’re partners with our clients. It’s not just a client relationship. We’re an extension of their team and we want them to know that from the start.

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Joe: Nice. That’s absolutely fantastic because it’s a good relationship is definitely the foundation, right? That a good project is built on. Along with understand the project, right? So you have that initial call, it’s time for you to build out the proposal. Are you doing other research after the call to see exactly what they need and what they’re about and how you would do it? How deep do you get into implementation during the proposal process?

Brad: This is a tricky one, right? Because there is a number of different ways to go about this you could spend a lot of time up front. Like really understanding every minute detail of the house you’re building, right? “House”, the website. Every little specification up front in the proposal. The challenge with that is, again, is the upfront time and investment, right? We used to do that. We used to spend 20, 30, 40, 50 hours upfront, and realized over time that it wasn’t … The upfront investment for us was not paying off in the long run. We weren’t getting enough clients to justify doing that over and over. So what we did is we found a happy medium of really understanding the project from more of a high level. So understanding if it’s a fresh rebuild. Is there design phase? Yes. Okay. How many mock ups do we need to do here? We’re going to do five and these are the five pages. Really high level. We’re not getting to specifics of what are in those mock ups.

Brad: Now, we are talking about features and functionality. If there’s any integrations with third party services, any APIs, any special widgets or modules that we want to discuss so we understand. So from a high level, do you need a calendar? Are you accepting payment? Are there subscriptions? Are you selling product? That type of stuff.

Brad: Then we architect a proposal around that. Again, that high level plan and we’re pretty good and kind of taking those high level over view and putting real dollars against it based on level of effort that we know from past experience, from past projects, and what that looks like. The goal is we don’t want to give the client, “It’s going to cost you $10,000 to build your website,” and then we get in there and realize, “Oh, this is actually going to cost you like 20.” That’s a terrible situation and one you never want to find yourself in.

Brad: Because it’s bad for you, it’s bad for the client, it sours the relationship. It’s just bad. You make those mistakes early on when you under bid. I think everybody does when they first start. I think my first website was like couple hundred dollars, right? I’m sure we’ve all done those and we look back like, “Wow. They got a good deal.” Or maybe not if you look at that code 10, 15 years ago.

Joe: I’m sure. Yeah. I got a good deal. I got paid to learn.

Brad: Yeah. So we’ve gotten pretty good about taking our past experience, what we know about projects, what we know about designs and architecture and development and features and integrations, and putting together numbers around that. At that point, we’re looking to kind of solidify that high level plan and get signatures. We’re trying to get an agreement in place and say, “Great. We’re going to move forward.”

Brad: The very next thing we do is what’s called a detailed discovery phase, and that is drilling down the minute detail of the project line by line, and we put together a proposal plan, which I like to call the blueprint. You see where I’m going with these? So the blueprint of what we’re going to build, which is the exact specifications of the website. It’s all right, if we’re enhancing the search, how are we doing that? Are we using elastic search? Are we using search WP? Are we doing it some other way. Like actually putting together the development plan. That is something that takes weeks to go through for a relatively decent sized project. It’s a number of weeks if not longer. The reason we’re able to spend that amount of time is because we have a signed agreement. We have money to cover that. We have a line item in our proposal that covers that discovery time. So we can sit there with a client over the course of a bunch of phone calls or screen shares or in person meetings and hash this out.

Brad: That approach has worked very well for us. So when we’re done with that discovery phase, we have a detailed plan. We go back and forth with the client on our visions and we get that thing as flawless as we can, and then we have them sign off on it. That is the build plan. We now have our blueprint, and we’re ready to move forward into development.

Joe: Nice. That is the investment for the client is obviously we’re going to give you something that at the end of the discovery phase, we deeply understand. So you’re not going to get hit with one and a half or two times what we originally quoted you, right?

Brad: Exactly. We make sure if we quote you a $20,000 project build, we make sure that the discussions and decisions within the discovery phase are in line with the budget. So we don’t want to say, “Hey, we can do this, this, this and this,” and then we include I and realize, “Oh yeah, by the way, that’s going to cost you an extra $5,000,” right? We want to say, “Hey, there are other options. However, they would probably be beyond the budget we set. Do you want to discuss those knowing that it will an increase in cost?” We let them make that decision. If they say, “Great. Let’s go ahead and talk about it so we know what that cost would look like, and then we’ll decide if we want to include that.” Okay, so we’ll figure it out, put the details around that, and add it as a line item.

Brad: Hey, if you want this, it’s going to cost x. It’s over and above what we originally quoted, but we make sure it’s part of that conversation because we just want to be as transparent as possible. We don’t want to surprise our clients with an unexpected cost because that will always end badly. So just keep it part of the conversation. Keep that total in your mind. Oh, we have x amount of mock ups. This is all we have. If you paid for five and you need an extra mock up, okay, we can do one, and here’s the cost if you want one more mock up. But it’s outside of that initial estimate.

Brad: So again, that’s worked well. So by the time we get down with that discovery phase, nine times out of 10, we’re lined up with the initial cost we gave them and away we go.

Joe: Nice. So now, as you move forward, right? So we’ve talked about the contact, the initial phone call, the proposal and then the discovery phase essentially.

Brad: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Joe: During the build phase, what happens if, because there’s a million things that can blow a projects budget, right? Either you misquoted, which it sounds like you do have a safe guard in place for a lot of the time, the discovery phase, or maybe the client … It turns out the client doesn’t actually know, despite the discovery phase, what they needed. How do you kind of mitigate that? It’s like, “Okay. We’re approaching our budget. We’re definitely going to go over. How do we properly communicate that to the client without torching the relationship?”

Brad: Yeah. That never happens, right? Ever.

Joe: No, never. Everything’s always under budget. I mean, that’s how …

Brad: I know. Yeah. A couple scenarios here. I think one is if something new is introduced and that never happens, right?

Joe: No.

Brad: So something comes to light that we didn’t know about or there’s some feature that needs to be rebuilt on their own site that was not a part of discovery. So we have a change order process basically where when something like that comes up, we identify it. We have a call and a discussion. Basically a little mini discover. Okay. Let’s understand what we’re looking at here. Let us put together a plan of what it’s going to take to execute whatever it is you’re requesting. We’ll put together our cost, and say, “Okay.” It’s essentially a change order. It’s usually a one page add on to the original contract, and it just says we’re going to do all this for you. It’s outside the original agreement, but we’re going to do all this stuff. It’s going to potentially maybe adjust the timeline, maybe. If it does affect the timeline, so we have that in there. Timelines being pushed an extra week. It’s going to cost you x dollars. If you want to do this, sign here and we’ll get it in the schedule. So that’s usually pretty cut and dry as long as it’s clearly out of scope.

Brad: The other scenario, which is a bit trickier, is when you kind of committed to something and as you dig in you realize it’s more complicated or bigger than you expected, right? Maybe there’s some API integration on the surface that looked pretty straight forward and you get in there and realize, “Well, this isn’t straight forward at all.”

Right.

Brad: It’s going to take way more time. That ones tricky because you kind of have to look at each case case by case basis, right? So there’s no set answer. Generally we’ll look at and say, “Okay.” I always approach it as, “All right. What’s the impact here? Why are we off? Was it our doing or something unknown?” If it’s our doing, what is the impact? How off are we? How much extra time do we need? Then you have to make the decision, is this something we approach the client with or is this something we just eat the time on basically.

Brad: It’s not black and white. It’s every projects different, every clients different. So you have to kind of take in on the different variables and make your decision on how you want to handle it. But I always gauge it against how well the projects doing, how well we’re working with the client, how good the relationship is. Obviously the nicer the client is, the more our team likes to work with them, the more we want to hook them up.

Joe: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

Brad: There’s nothing better than saying, “Oh, we came across something. It’s going to take a little extra time, but you know what? You’re just such a great client. We want to really help you out here. There’s no cost to you. We’re going to take care of it. We got it.”

Brad: On the flip side, if the client isn’t as nice, then we’re less likely to kind of go that extra mile, right? Because it’s like, oh, you know, they’re kind of mean to us on phone calls and they’re always yelling. I don’t feel like we want to eat this, you know what I mean. It’s just you got to kind of judge it based on what’s going on. But it does happen. It always happens. So you just got to kind of access the situation and make a decision from there.

Joe: I would imagine that decision is probably at least partially influenced by are we going to continue the relationship with our client, right? I might be more likely to eat the cost of something if I know we’re going to continue the relationship over the next few years or something like that.

Brad: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I mean, if it’s going to be ongoing, which the majority of our clients are ongoing clients, right? We do our initial project, we roll into kind of a support, maintenance agreement, and we continue to support their website. Whether it’s updates or backups or minor development things, maybe it’s full blown rolling out new sections, phase two, phase three type projects. But the majority of stuff if you really kind of set that great relationship with your client, why would they want to go anywhere else? They want to continue … If they already built that rapport with you and your company, why go find some other company to work with? They’re going to stick with you, and that’s the most important part is to keep that relationship as healthy as possible, to keep that client as healthy as possible because a one off project could turn into quadruple the amount of overall money from that client over the course of two or three years of them doing support and some random work here and there. So it’s super important to keep that client retention as much as you can.

Joe: Nice. Absolutely. We’re coming up on time here. I’m thinking maybe I can steal a few more extra minutes from my Patreon subscribers if you don’t mind.

Brad: Sure.

Joe: But for kind of to put a nice bow on this conversation, we’ve talked about basically everything except the development phase. So what kind of … You’ve won’t the job, you’ve won them over with the discovery, and you’re ready to launch. When in that process do you try to hit them with a retainer or when do you try to secure a continued relationship, right? Because I feel like timing is very important there, right?

Brad: Yeah. For sure. So our initial proposal has information about ongoing support, post launch support and maintenance and some options there. We bring it up initially with zero intention of getting a commitment at the beginning. Sometimes they want it because they need to get everything in the budget all at once. Great. There’s the information. Here’s the cost. We bring it up initially just so the seed’s kind of planted, right? You’re right. Timing is the thing. Over the years, we weren’t good at this early on. We were terrible about it, in fact. We would launch a site and run to the next one and we would have no follow up conversation. Then they’re gone, right?

Brad: Years ago, we were like, “We got to get better at this.” So generally speaking, we start to bring up that conversation around QA. so we’ll do our overall development, however many weeks, four, six, eight, 16 weeks, whatever.that’s full blown development. Then we go into an internal QA phase. It could last a week or two, maybe longer, depending on the size. That’s where we’re doing internal QA, cross browser testing, functionality testing, load audits, all that, performance, all that good stuff internally. Then we hand it off to the client to do their QA. Every client is a little different in how they do QA. Some have QA departments, some have one person that’s going to poke around, some don’t even look at it.

Brad: So generally right around the time where we’re doing our QA, we approach the subject and say, “Hey, we’re coming up on your QA period,” and after QA’s done, we’re talking about launching. So we’d like to start the conversation pre-launch at least initially, and then we like to try to dedicate a call post-launch with the stakeholders and to really go through the options. Our support is really kind of configurable based on the client needs. So we want to sit down and understand what kind of support they’re looking for, how involved or not involved they want us to be ongoing. Some want more support, some are completely hands off. They want us to do everything including minor content changes and little adjustments that they could make but they just don’t want to. They want to have a company that does it and they don’t have to think about it. To other companies where they have an internal development team that we basically hand it off to them, and then we’re done. They support it.

Brad: So we kind of have those conversations or craft that support plan based on their needs. Generally it’s either going to be right a week or two pre-launch to start those conversations, but post launch is where you really get into the meat of it because the problem is pre-launch, they’re focused on pre-launch, right? They’re focused on what’s coming in the next few weeks. So it’s good to kind of, again, plant that seed but not get too deep into it, and then try to set a call about a week or so post-launch, at least for us that’s how we do it. Then we go through the options.

Joe: Gotcha. I mean, that makes sense too, right? Because I week post-launch you’re probably coming up on the end of your post-launch support contract or whatever, and now the client really is starting to think about stuff like that.

Brad: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. It’s a good time to do it about a week after the dust has settled from the launch usually. If your launch went smoothly, I would hope so. So it’s a good time. The dust settled a little bit. Like you said, they’re starting to wind down the post-launch stuff and start talking about what that ongoing engagement looks like.

Joe: Gotcha. That’s fantastic. So well, Brad, thank you so much for your time. I’ve got one more question that I’m going to combine. It’s like two questions I’m going to combine into one.

Brad: Okay.

Joe: That is what’s one thing that you want to improve on your process moving forward, and maybe based on that, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Brad: All right. Two combined. Trade secrets. I’ll hit that one first. One thing I’ve learned being remote communication is like critical, right? With a team and with our clients. It’s just that much more important because we’re not face to face, we’re not in the same room, we’re not in the same building, we’re not even in the same state mostly. So one thing I’ve learned is while communication is definitely key, some things that are often overlooked are having more one on one conversations with your team. So about a year ago I started having one on ones with my management team. So my project managers, directors, as well as our lead developers. That is anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes where it’s just me and them. We have video and we chat. It doesn’t have to be like a run down of current projects or active statuses. It can be if that’s what’s on their mind and they have concerns or whatever. But it doesn’t have to be that. It’s just time to get some face time. It’s a one on one.

Brad: When we were smaller and younger, it was a given because I was working with everybody every day, but as we got larger, that wasn’t the case. Many times while I’m still talking to our PMs and our leads very, very often, I’m doing it in group settings. I’m not doing it where it’s like a one on one where you’re going to get much more open and honest conversations, and that’s really, in my mind, really I think helped the relationship between the executives, myself and Lisa, and our leads and our PMs. I think it’s helped the health of the company because we just have better communication.

Brad: So it may not be the biggest trade secret, but it’s one that I learned I think a little bit late is that kind of one on one time, even with a smaller team, just having set aside time to interact face to face just you and that other person at least once a month is super valuable. You will learn so much. That’s been great. So that’s a bit of a trade secret and one that I’m sure people do. But if you’re not, you should try it because you will learn stuff and it will be great.

Joe: Awesome.

Brad: What was the other question? That was a long answer.

Joe: What is one thing that you want to try to improve upon with this process in the future?

Brad: Okay. So our process, it probably sounds like it’s this flawless … I think it sounds not flawless, but this really perfected, stream lined, everything is just rainbows and unicorns and it’s not true. There’s always room for improvement. There’s always room to make things better. One of the things that we always struggle with is keeping our process documented and current, right? So it’s one thing to have a process. It’s another thing to have it documented in a way that you and your entire team can understand it. That’s one thing we’ve struggled with because we get it documented and then a year goes by and we’ve made all these adjustments but we haven’t updated any of the documentation because it’s like the most thankless job in the world working on documentation. Even documentation to cover your internal process, but it’s so important. Not just for our team to make sure we’re following every single step, every single time and staying inconsistent. It’s important for like on-boarding when we bring in new developers, new project managers and say, “This is our process. Read it. Learn it. Understand it. Live it. Because this is what we do on every project and once it’s documented, then you can really truly make sure that you follow it to a t every single time.”

Brad: I’ll tell you, every single project that goes off the rails, I can always point to one spot where we did not follow our process. We skipped a step or we didn’t do something like we’re supposed to, and it hurt it. So it’s getting that process that works for you and your team and getting it written down and keeping it current. That’s one of my goals because we have not been good at doing that. So while I feel like I know it very well, we probably all have it in our heads slightly differently. So we got to make sure it’s written down and it’s agreed upon and everyone’s on the same page. So it’s definitely a goal we’re working towards.

Joe: Nice. I dig that. Me, as a developer, I, as a developer, and I know a lot of developers listen to the show. They could probably level with that. They really relate to the disdain of doing documentation.

Brad: It’s the worst.

Joe: So awesome. Well, Brad, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Brad: Yeah. Thank you, man. This was a lot of fun. Glad to be on the show.

Joe: Thank you. Yeah, absolutely. For anybody who wants to hear just a little bit more, maybe like 10 or 15 more minutes of me talking to Brad, we’re going to get a little bit technical in the second part, which is over on Patreon.com/howibuiltit. Otherwise, until next time, get out there and build something.

Outro: Thanks again to Brad for joining me. I love talking about this stuff because a good relationship with a client can be worth more than the biggest marketing budget. I think that’s something we’ve learned over the last 3 weeks: connect with people, forge relationships. For those non-football fans, The Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl. Brad went to the parade. I waited patiently for baseball to start.

And Thanks again to our sponsors – make sure to check out Liquid Web for managed WordPress hosting. I use them on all of my important sites – they are that good! They are at buildpodcast.net/liquid. They’ll give you 50% off your first 2 months just for being a listener! If you want to save your clients (or yourself) money through recovering abandoned carts, check out jilt. They are over at buildpodcast.net/jilt. And finally, if you want to put a cherry on top of the e-commerce trifecta, there’s Checkout for WooCommerce. If Jilt brings back the people who leave, Checkout for WooCommerce is the tool that prevents people from leaving in the first place. I use it, and I love it. And you can get 10% off using the code BUILD at buildpodcast.net/cwc/

For all of the show notes, head over to howibuilt.it/72/. If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! Finally, last week I published my brand-new Patreon page. It offers a lot better rewards, and great goals, and I’m really doubling down on it. So if you like the show and what to support it directly, head over to patreon.com/howibuiltit/. You can support the show for as little as $1/month.

Next Week, we’ll close out this series talking to my good friend Brad Williams about client relationships. Brad works with some big companies over at WebDevStudios, so he knows a thing or two. Make sure to tune in! And until next week, get out there and build something.

Sponsored by:
  • Checkout for WooCommerce: Stop leaving money on the table and create a better, beautiful WooCommerce checkout experience for your customers
  • Jilt: The easiest way to recover abandoned shopping carts on WooCommerce, easy digital downloads, and Shopify.
  • Liquid Web: Fast, Managed WordPress hosting whether your users are logged in or logged out. Get 50% off the first 2 months.

The post Brad Williams & Client Relationships appeared first on How I Built It.

Apr 03 2018

44mins

Play

Rank #15: Episode 48: Andy Wilkerson & Theme Developer, Part 1

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Andy Wilkerson is a theme developer and theme shop owner that made a name for himself on Theme Forest. Now he’s working on all sorts of projects, not just for themes, but for podcasts and more! In this 2-parter, he and I talk about his story and general theme development. This episode, Part 1, focuses primarily on how he built his business.

Show Notes

Sponsored by:
  • Liquid Web: Fast, Managed WordPress hosting whether your users are logged in or logged out. Get 50% off the first 2 months.
  • Project Panorama: Use code howibuiltit for 20%!

The post Episode 48: Andy Wilkerson & Theme Developer, Part 1 appeared first on How I Built It.

Aug 29 2017

32mins

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Rank #16: Episode 50: Mike Rohde and Sketchnotes

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Mike Rohde is a designer and founder of the Sketchnotes Army! He’s also a twice-published author and Green Bay Packers fan. In this episode, we talk about how he came up with sketchnotes, why it helps with retention, getting published, and tons more!

Show Notes

Sponsored by:
  • Seriously Simple Podcasting: Use code BUILTIT for 1 month free!
  • Liquid Web: Fast, Managed WordPress hosting whether your users are logged in or logged out. Get 50% off the first 2 months.

The post Episode 50: Mike Rohde and Sketchnotes appeared first on How I Built It.

Sep 12 2017

41mins

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Rank #17: Episode 35: Diane Kinney & Writing an eBook

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Diane Kinney is a WordPress Developer, Designer, and Marketer. And soon, she’ll be adding author to that biographical line. She and Carrie Dils are working on a book called Real World Freelancing that talks all about what it really takes to be a freelancer. In this episode, she and I talk all about the writing process, decisions for self-publishing, and more.

Show Notes

Sponsored by:

The post Episode 35: Diane Kinney & Writing an eBook appeared first on How I Built It.

May 09 2017

28mins

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Rank #18: Patrick Rauland and Building a WooCommerce Shop

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Patrick Rauland is a WooCommerce expert who joins us today to talk through everything you need to think about when setting up an e-commerce site. So this is less asking, “how did you build that,” and more, “how would you build that?” It’s a great conversation and Patrick offers some great advice and insights when making an online store, especially with WooCommerce. We discuss building trust, content marketing, conversion rates, and more.

Show Notes

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Transcript

Intro: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of How I Buit It! In today’s episode, my friend Patrick Rauland talks through everything you need to think about when setting up an e-commerce site. So this is less asking, “how did you build that,” and more, “how _would_ you build that?” It’s a great conversation and Patrick offers some great advice and insights when making an online store, especially with WooCommerce. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, a word from our sponsors.

Sponsors: This season of How I Built It is brought to you by two fantastic sponsors. The first is Liquid Web. If you’re running a membership site, an online course, or even a real estate site on word press, you’ve likely already discovered many hosts that have optimized their platforms for a logged out experience, where they cash everything. Sites on their hardware are great for your sales and landing pages, but struggle when your users start logging in. At that point, your site is as slow as if you were on three dollar hosting. Liquid Web built their managed word press platform optimized for sites that want speed and performance, regardless of whether a customer is logged in or logged out. Trust me on this, I’ve tried it out and it’s fast, seriously fast. Now, with their single site plan, Liquid Web is a no-brainer for anyone whose site is actually part of their business, and not just a site promoting their business. Check out the rest of the features on their platform by visiting them at buildpodcast.net/liquid web. That’s buildpodcast.net/liquid web.

It’s also brought to you by Jilt. Jilt is the easiest way to recover abandoned shopping carts on woo commerce, easy digital downloads and Shopify. Your e-commerce clients could be leaving literally thousands of dollars on the table and here’s why. 70% of all shopping carts are abandoned prior to checkout. Yes, you heard that right, 70% of shoppers never make it to checkout. That’s why you need to introduce your clients to Jilt. Jilt uses proven recovery tactics to rescue that lost revenue. It’s an easy win that let’s you boost your clients revenue by as much as 15% and it only takes 15 minutes of your time to set up. Jilt fully integrates with woo commerce, EDD and Shopify. You can completely customize the recovery emails that Jilt sends, to match your clients branding using it’s powerful dragon drop editor. Or by digging into the HTML and CSS. Even better, Jilt’s fair pricing means your clients pay only for the customers they actually engage. You get to earn a cut of that through Jilt’s partner program. Whether you have clients that process one sale per month or 10,000 sales per month, be the hero and help them supercharge their revenue with Jilt. Check them out at builtpodcast.net/jilt. That’s builtpodcast.net/J-I-L-T.

And now…on with the show!

 

Joe:
Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks how did you build that, or in today’s case, how would you build that. Today my guest is Patrick Rauland. He is an ecommerce educator guy. We were talking about this right before we started recording. I asked him what his title wanted to be and then I forgot the end after educator already. Ecommerce educator guy. Patrick, how are you today?

 
Patrick:
I’m doing really good. I’m on my second cup of coffee, so it’s just a good, just a good day.

 
Joe:
Very nice, very nice. It is later in the day for me, but I’m still like, I nurse my coffee. This is still my first cup. It’s really cold now and stuff too, but I’m generally a peppy guy anyway.

I’m really excited for today’s episode because we’re breaking from the normal format of, “Hey, tell me about a thing you built.” Instead, Patrick, you’re very well versed in WooCommerce. Would you say that?

 
Patrick:
Yeah, yeah, I’m all that, so yeah. Yes, I can say just the simple word yes, but I can also explain it, in that I was just thinking about this the other day, I used it as … First, I used it for an agency and I built sites for clients, and then I was a support person at Woo and then developer and then product manager and then I built extensions for them or/and for myself and then I wrote books about it and created courses, and I created a conference. I think I’m like almost at eight or nine different roles relating Woo stuff, so I’ve got a good impression of it.

 
Joe:
Yes. I’m really glad you went through that rundown because I didn’t want to try to remember it from the last time we spoke or anything like that. I’m really excited about today’s topic. You went through your credentials for being a WooCommerce guy and today we’re going to talk about how would you build your online shop with WooCommerce? And we came up with a pretty interesting concept for this.

 
Patrick:
Yeah. It was actually literally something I was googling yesterday. My partner, she’s very big into comic books and nerdy TV shows and all this stuff, and we’re like, god, and she loves plants and so she wants to merge nerdiness and plants, and we were trying to find nerdy pots and we could not find much. We could find a couple, but there weren’t many. I was just thinking, “If someone had a store that was just nerdypots.com, you could make a killing with all the people that have that intersection in their life.” She would love like a Bulbasaur that has like a little back where little plants could grow out of it, that’d be awesome, right?

 
Joe:
Yeah, very cool. Not like a chia pet, but like a real plant, like a real pot.

 
Patrick:
Like a planter, yep.

 
Joe:
Cool. If some enterprising young person or older person listening to this episode wants to make that site, we’re going to blueprint that site for you.

 
Patrick:
Yes.

 
Joe:
Let’s start with this. We have our idea. What kind, like how would you start researching this? How do I know that this is a good idea for me to sink my time into?

 
Patrick:
Okay, so there’s a whole giant thing we could talk about with choosing a product, but basically if you know that there’s a need and you can know that there’s a need by either talking to people around you or by doing Google SEO SEM type of research to see how many traffic queries there are a month, that type of thing, or you can see what … There are some nerdy potted plant things on Etsy that we found earlier, but there’s only a couple. As long as you know that there is something people want, you can, that’s the first step. Do people want it? If so, proceed.

 
Then you need to make sure that you can make money on it. That means you need to … Let me, I’m trying to give a good example here, where like if the cure for cancer was $500 billion, everyone wants it but no one can afford $500 billion. That’s not a viable option. There’s lots of things like that. You want to sell artisanal coffee. People want it but they’re not willing to pay $60 a bag. You just need to make sure that you can make it at a price that people want it at.

My rule of thumb is you need to be able to sell it for twice what you bought it for. If you’re selling planters, let’s stay with the same example, if you can buy them for $5 a unit and people will purchase them from you at $10 a unit, that’s probably something you can make money on.

 
Joe:
Nice. I love that. Because it’s not enough to just ask if people want it. If I asked you if you wanted some crazy thing, you’d probably be like, “Yeah, sure, I want that.”

 
Patrick:
Totally. Totally. One of the classic example, and so many people have said this in other circles but just because someone says they’ll buy is different than them buying it. Some people when they’re doing validation, they will only count validation when someone actually pulls out the credit card to make a pre-order. Because there are a lot of things that people, like, “Hey, Joe, would you buy my Batman mug?” You’re probably going to say yes, just to be nice to me.

 
Joe:
Yeah, I like Batman and mugs, like great.

 
Patrick:
Yeah.

 
Joe:
But when the rubber hits the road and you’re like, “Okay, that’ll be $20,” I’m like, “I don’t know, I’d rather spend $20 on like a Mickey Mouse mug.”

 
Patrick:
Totally.

 
Joe:
Cool. I really love that. I’ve fallen to that trap a lot. Or like, “Do you think this is a good idea? I’ve started developing this thing. Do you think it’s a good idea?” Yes. Oh, people think it’s a good idea. At least me and someone else, so I’m going to sink all my time into this.

 
On that same token, how much time do you spend researching this? Do you create a focus group or just throwing up a landing page or what?

 
Patrick:
You know what? Everyone is totally different, and this totally depends on you, and also if your startup costs are like you need to spend $500 on product to get started, that’s relatively small, but if you need to spend $50,000, then you need to do a lot more research, right?

 
Joe:
Right. Right.

 
Patrick:
Obviously the answer is it depends. But let me try to give you a little bit more clarity there. I’ve always used my intuition with the stuff that I do. So I’ve never done any SEO work on my own sites. I just say, I had this problem with WooCommerce. Here’s how I solved it. I assume other people will want it. Some of those blog posts are flat and no one ever clicks on them, but some of them are great, so I just use my intuition and see whatever is the right thing.

 
But when you’re investing money and not just writing a blog post, then you do want to do some research. People spend months, people do spend years. You could probably get away with a solid day of research if it’s a small thing that’s a small investment. Try to find other products that are similar. Try to find influencers in your space who have podcasts or blogs or something and they talk about, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if,” and then try to find marketplaces where people might be selling this stuff. And if you can find some traction or if you can find online groups where people are talking about this, that’s probably, that’s some amount of traction. It’s not exact numbers, but that’s something to get started.

 
Joe:
Yeah, it’s at least a group that you can now market to, to get kind of an initial reaction.

 
Patrick:
Keep in mind before the internet you could not make money selling cat trees for living. Now that the internet exists, there are probably businesses that only sell super hero themed cat trees. You know what I mean? You can be so niched down and still make a killing as long as there’s that super tiny passionate group of people that believe in your product.

 
Joe:
Yeah. Again, that’s another really great point. I mean if you play your cards right and you market to the right group of people, you have virtually infinite reach. Everybody who is interested in super hero cat trees, or nerdy planters, Pokemon nerdy planters, or superhero nerdy planters, things like that. That’s really cool.

 
You talked a little bit about initial investments, and I imagine that that’s also going to be part of your research. We’re setting up a WooCommerce shop. WordPress and WooCommerce are open source and both free. What are we looking at for cost for setting up this online shop?

 
Patrick:
Some costs that you cannot escape no matter what, you’re going to have to pay something for hosting, let’s say $15, $20 a month. You’re going to have to get a domain name, $15 a year. WooCommerce itself is free. So that’s awesome. You’re going to need an SSL certificate. Those used to cost money but now that Let’s Encrypt has come out, those are free. You can usually just press a button in your hosting and they’ll install for you into all that jazz. I think that’s you need bare minimum.

 
Oh, you’re going to need a payment gateway. That’s Stripe and PayPal are both free. I should caveat that. If this is your first time to ecommerce, every payment gateway takes a super tiny cut of all sales. But the service itself is free other than a super tiny cut. I mean that’s seriously about it in terms of hard cost, but there’s, ecommerce can be so … You can spend $50,000 on 20 million extensions that all do really cool stuff and then the custom built blank, affiliate system or this or this or this, so you could spend anywhere from let’s say $200 a year at the minimum for hosting a domain and something up to, I mean I think some of the bigger web, some of the bigger ecommerce sites I’ve built when I worked at an agency were 20 plus, so that’s realistically what I think you could spend.

 
But honestly, what’s so cool about WooCommerce, and as I said I work with my intuition a lot, so I just do stuff and see if it works, so start with a super tiny store. You start marketing. See if people actually come from Pinterest or Google or wherever to your site. See if they buy it. Oh my god, they start buying stuff, now you start investing in the store. You get a better email software. You start with Mailchimp, which is free and then you upgrade to something that’s better. There’s so many things that you can upgrade and invest in and get your customers that used to buy just once to buy them a couple of times a yea.

 
Joe:
Yeah, absolutely. I want to parse out something that you just said, which is about hosting. So $15, $20 a month for hosting. I’ve seen hosting for let’s say, I don’t know, $10, or $5. Why shouldn’t I just go with the $5 a month hosting?

 
Patrick:
Good question. You know what’s interesting, is I think my answer depends based on whether you’re selling online or whether it’s just a regular blog, in that … Well, my answer is kind of the same, but here’s the thing, when you’re selling online, you need to keep, like you have literal transactions, you have to calculate sales tax just in case someone in your own state buys your thing. God forbid you lose it – like your server crashes and you lose all that data and now you owe the government money and you don’t even know how much because it was all recorded in WooCommerce but your host crashed and you’re stuck. You cannot not go the host or you need to have a host that backs up your data or you need to set up your own service that backs up your data.

 
I have always used WP Engine just because they were one of the first good hosts that appeared in the, managed the WordPress space and they do daily backups. With daily backups I’m pretty much covered. You can always take it a step further and get in, he and I have a couple of other things that I could use, but a good host will backup your site for you daily. That for me is actually the most important thing. There’s lots of other amazing features like a testing site, but for me the most important feature is daily backups.

 
Joe:
Daily backups are so important, and just like that a better host is likely not going to crash on you. If one day 1,000 people come and buy your nerdy pot planters you don’t want your site going down because now you’re losing revenue, you literally are losing revenue there. If there’s one thing that you’re going to splurge on, Patrick I think you’d probably agree with me here, hosting should be that one thing.

 
Patrick:
Yeah, I think so. See, you know what’s funny, is I don’t think I’ve had my site crash any time recently in the last couple of years, but I have had some weird niggling issues just like some little thing that bugs you like, “Why is this thing not quite working,” and to be able to reach out to someone in support and have them actually answer you is, oh, so good.
Joe:
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Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I really just wanted to touch on that because good hosting is so important.

 
Patrick:
Yeah, and I think WP Engine, is it $15, $20 a month for their lowest? Maybe it’s a little higher than that, but since everything else is basically free, we’re talking $200, $300 a year for a minimum for a whole online business.

 
Joe:
Which 20 years ago you needed a brick and mortar store.

 
Patrick:
Totally. Oh yeah, the startup costs used to be insane.

 
Joe:
Right, yeah. Awesome. Let’s actually get into building it now. We have our hosting. We have our domain. Let’s say that we’ve installed WordPress. Where do we go from here? How do I make a store?

 
Patrick:
Cool. We already mentioned WooCommerce. WooCommerce is one of the best options. I just want to be fair there are other players in the WordPress space, but I mostly have experience with WooCommerce because it’s the biggest one. But you just go into your plugin menu. You click or type in WooCommerce. You install it. That is the basic thing that you need.

 
When you go through the welcome wizard, they will prompt you to install Jetpack. I recommend that you do that. They have a weird phrasing. They’re changing their terminology. It might also be called WooCommerce Services and a couple other stuff like that. But install Jetpack which will let you connect to wordpress.com and get a whole bunch of free stuff. Photon loads your images faster. There’s some spam protection in there. There’s a whole bunch of stuff.

 
There’s also relating to WooCommerce specifically they just installed, oh boy, I forget the name of it but it’s a free-ish … Not free. It is free live rate shipping. That means you can get a quote on exactly how much it’ll cost you to ship your bulbasaur planter from point A to point B, like $3.24 and they’ll, they figure out how big the box is, how big the package is, and they send all that data to USPS. It returns to your site. Then the user sees it and does all the magic. That used to cost like $50, $75 a year. Now it’s built into that plugin for free.

 
That’s cool. Once you have that, you have all your shipping set up. When you’re going through the installation process, they’ll prompt you to import tax rates, so that’s basically set up. You should look into what nexus means. It’s basically where you have business presence. This will vary state by state so please don’t quote me or …

 
Joe:
We are not lawyers or accountants.

 
Patrick:
Yes. Thank you. But basically nexus is where you have a business presence, so that means if you have an office space, that’s where you have a business presence. My home office is in Colorado. Even if I moved out of Colorado, as long as it’s that home office, I have nexus there and I have to pay taxes there. You’re going to want to collect taxes there. You just click a couple buttons and WooCommerce does the rest.

 
It’ll prompt you to do payment which is I recommend Stripe and PayPal to start. Stripe is for credit cards. People can just enter their credit card number. Oh, here’s the thing that people always stumble on. Your site never touches the credit card. Because of JavaScript wizardry and iframe wizardry they’re basically entering the credit card number on an iframe which is a piece of Stripe’s website basically and that goes directly to Stripe’s servers. They verify that all the money is there, that it’s the right credit card number, it’s not expired, etc. It returns a yes, no to your site. You never see the credit card number. You don’t need to worry about PCI compliance Issues. There is technically a form you should look. It’s a one page form that says I don’t handle it that you’re supposed to fill out, but yeah, Stripe does that. PayPal is good just because so many people use PayPal as fun money. I totally do that where my PayPal money could be like, sometimes I look at my PayPal account, I’m like, “How? What am I doing with this huge amount of money in there? This is absurd. I should buy a giant toy with.” So definitely have PayPal on there for that reason.

 
Joe:
I’m going to stop you right there real quick. I want to ask you, well, so with Stripe, with PayPal, the analogy that I thought about is essentially you have an armored car guy. You have a guard. He goes into the bank. The bank hands him money. He’s handling the money and bringing it to his armored car. A bank employee is not carrying all this money to the outside world.

 
Patrick:
I like that analogy.

 
Joe:
You definitely want your armored car guy because like Patrick said, PCI compliance is a whole other thing where you’re totally on the hook if credit card fraud happens on your website.

 
Patrick:
That actually happened in a company I worked for a few years ago where they, basically someone hacked their website and then because they weren’t doing it in a smart cool way they could read what people were typing in and then they stole these credit card numbers, and that company that I worked for was responsible. They had to pay a fine, which is relatively small for how big the company was, but still several thousand dollars. So don’t do that.

 
Joe:
Yeah, exactly. And then with having Stripe and PayPal, I mean when I launched my shop I did it with just Stripe. I figured I will give people one clear option, but the very first question, like within 10 minutes of launching, was “do you have PayPal?” So I just turned it on real quick. Thank you WooCommerce for enabling me to do that. But it’s just funny. I was like, “People, they’ll be able to pay with their credit card. Who cares.” But like you said, PayPal is fun money for a lot of people.

 
Patrick:
People care. Yeah. What I will say is PayPal gives a little bit more control to the consumer. The consumer can very easily sort of say cancel a payment. I mean you basically need to provide no proof, so consumers really like it for that reason. Of course as a business, now let’s say you’re selling $5,000 pieces of furniture. You do not want to give the consumer just a quick easy button that you basically have no recourse against. Doing that for your credit cards it’s possible, but it’s just more steps and more complicated and you can contest it.

 
Joe:
You have to call somebody usually. Yeah, that’s cool. I stopped you right at payment gateways.

 
Patrick:
But I mean we’re basically done. At that point, so we did shipping, taxes, payments. Those are the big ones. Then you just need to start entering your products. In your WordPress admin you go to Products, you click Add New. If you’ve never used WooCommerce before, it looks just like the or very similar to the Edit Post page. There’s the title up top. There’s the description beneath that. Then beneath that there’s a couple extra fields for price and how much does it weigh, which helps you determine shipping cost and a couple extra things. Of course, you want to upload your image, but then that’s it.

 
I should say, this is something that people forget, is that you need to spend a little bit of time doing copywriting and having nice product photography. I am not a photography expert, but even non-experts like myself can recognize when there’s bad photography. If you spend two, three hours looking at how to light a product, just … You can Google this. You can find some free courses. You can find paid courses, whatever. Just look at how to light a product and then you can use your iPhone and take … It’s going to be 10 times better when you spend a little bit of time and maybe a little bit of money on lighting your products and taking nice photos of them.

 
Joe:
Absolutely. There’s this lighting box that you can buy on Amazon for $50.

 
Patrick:
Oh cool. Love it.

 
Joe:
So copywriting and photography, always an afterthought for me, but super important.

 
Patrick:
Totally. While I’m on copywriting, one thing that people do not get about humans is that their emotional bit … I think this comes from Brine Brown, but I could be wrong with the quotes, so please don’t hate me if I get the quote wrong when she says, “People always think that human beings are thinking machines that occasionally feel, but we’re actually feeling machines that occasionally think.”

 
I really like that because we totally think we’re always totally logical except for maybe two minutes a day where we’re upset or angry or whatever. We are almost always driven by emotion of, “I wish I looked like that,” and then you buy clothes, or, “I wish people thought I was that cool,” and then you’d buy this toy or this whatever. You would be surprised at how emotional we are. So you need to write, “this is how you feel after you buy the product.”

 
Joe:
I love that, this is how you feel. I mean, yeah, I think I am like a logical guy, but man, I’m also an Italian guy and Italians are very emotional people.

 
That’s a really good point to touch on. We have our shop set up. What theme should I use for my WooCommerce shop?

 
Patrick:
Good question. First of all, you can use anything, but I think a great place to start, they have a free theme called Storefront. It is a great place to start. It’s one of those things where a lot of WordPress themes are sort of gray by default, but then you just go into the Customizer under Appearance Customize and you just pick whatever brand colors you have and it’ll look pretty good, it’ll be a pretty darn good start because you can customize the header and the side bar and all the footer and all the stuff. I think that’s the best place to start.

 
You can if you want spend $50 to $100 on a premium theme. The nice thing is, one thing I like about premium themes is they’re usually a one-time purchase and you can use them for a couple of years and then if you want to switch to something new or keep it or build your own if you ever, if your store takes off and build your own if you want.

 
Joe:
And just going back to that point, using Storefront at first, copywriting is going to be more important, as long as your site doesn’t look like crap the copywriting is going to be the thing that makes the person buy, not the design of the site.

 
Patrick:
Absolutely. Yes. When someone lands on a site, one, it should load fast, another reason to get a good host. Make sure it loads relatively fast. Have good product photography. Have good headlines. And then as well the main copywriting. That will actually draw people in. They’ll actually click onto your product pages and then those are serious chance they’ll buy it.

 
Actually while I’m on that, just to set standards, a typical conversion rate is going to be 1-2%. If you have a brand new store, once your mom’s already purchased, those purchases do not count against your average, once your mom or your best friend has purchased, if you get 100 people to your site and one person buys, that’s actually a great start. That is serious expectation. Sometimes people need to come back multiple times or it just wasn’t for them or whatever. 1% is a solid start, and if you’re an awesome ecommerce company you might eventually get to two or three or maybe four if you’re crazy.

 
Joe:
Man. So that’s a very telling number, because in your head you think, “I’m launching my shop. I’m opening the doors. People are going to come buy my stuff now. How do I get a lot of people?” I mean we’re coming up on time but I think this is a really important thing.

 
Patrick:
I love this topic, which is why in the last couple … This is what I’ve been focusing on for the last year or so. I made this thing called … Can I pimp my thing?

 
Joe:
I was going to ask you at the end, so yeah, let it go.

 
Patrick:
Yeah. Okay. So I made this thing called Lift Off Summit last year, which was basically online marketing for new store owners, and it’s basically here’s what Facebook does, here’s what Instagram does, here’s what Pinterest does, and I’ll try to summarize this and make it relevant for your audience. You don’t need to do all of these things. I think a lot of people get stuck going, “Okay, I need to be on Facebook, I need to be on Twitter, I need to be on Pinterest, I need to do this,” and you do not. Just pick two to three places where your people can find you somehow, it doesn’t have to be a social network, but that’s one option, and then just start marketing to those people, start testing what headlines work, getting the most resonance people respond to it, start seeing which ones have the most click-through rates, but you do need to do something.

I think everyone thinks that if you have an online store people will just show up. That is totally not the case. You need to spend a lot of time marketing it. I spent for Lift Off Summit I spent for marketing, the marketing event I spent probably maybe 100 hours marketing it, probably not quite that much, but 100 hours marketing it and that got 400 users. That was for a free event. Imagine if I had to make people pay from the get go, maybe dozens of hours for maybe 40 users, you know what I mean?

 
Patrick:
It’s a long time, it’s a long process and I think a lot of people give up.

 
Joe:
Right. I hear a lot of, “Well, I tried this and it didn’t work for me.” How many people actually give it the old college try. It takes time.

 
Patrick:
What’s cool is that because we’re focusing on WooCommece I want to give people the one thing that I think works really well for WooCommerce and that’s content marketing. Because your WooCommerce is built on the best, the most flexible content marketing platform out there, you should definitely look at the content marketing, which is basically writing a lot of blogs that will help your users. If it’s okay Joe, I can recommend, I can give away some of those content marketing lessons from Lift Off Summit away?

 
Joe:
Oh yeah. That will be amazing. Yeah.

 
Patrick:
Cool. I’ll put together a landing page. Let’s just do liftoffsummit.com/howibuiltit all one word. Is that cool?

 
Joe:
Perfect, yep, and I’ll link that in the show notes.

 
Patrick:
Cool. So I’ll put together, I have a couple talks on content marketing. I’ll put those in there. If you just sign up, I’ll send them to you. You can watch them. It’s so powerful. Over the last couple of years my personal blog generates tens of thousands of hits a month, and I do, I have no paid marketing. I just wrote about stuff that interested me and it interested other people and it drives a lot of traffic.

 
Joe:
Nice. That’s amazing. We might have to have you on for a follow up because this is a thing that creates trust. You’re teaching people stuff, they trust you, and then they’ll inherently trust your brand.

 
Patrick:
I also had a session on trust building at Lift Off. Did you watch that? Oh, it was so good.

 
Joe:
I don’t think I did actually.

 
Patrick:
Oh, it was with Chris Lema. It was really good.

 
Joe:
Of course it is.

 
Patrick:
Building trust is such an important thing and basically it’s the core that I got out of it is consistency, you just need to be there consistently. You can’t just try it for a week and then give up.

 
Joe:
Awesome.

 
Patrick:
Building trust is hard.

 
Joe:
Awesome. I love that.

 
Patrick:
Cool.

 
Joe:
Well, we’re going to … I mean, we’re out of time so let’s wrap up. You’ve given us so much, but I always like to ask at the end, do you have any trade secrets for us?

 
Patrick:
Any trade secrets, oh my goodness, I was not ready for this question. I should have been. I think my trade secret is patience. I’m just going back to all the stuff we’re just saying. A lot of stuff … oh, I don’t want to say that. I think a lot of people give up without being persistent and you need to keep trying and trying and trying sometimes. Sometimes you need to know when to give up, but a lot of the time it just takes a little bit longer to get going than you hear any, “I wrote one blog post and generated $50,000,” not telling you about all the stuff they did before that.

 
Joe:
Yeah, I mean I love that, because I mean, again, you hear about the overnight success, but you didn’t hear about all the other nights that they were not successful.

 
Patrick:
Absolutely.

 
Joe:
Awesome. Well, Patrick, thank you so much for joining me today. I really loved this conversation.

 
Patrick:
You’re welcome. It’s been a blast.

 
Joe:
Yeah. I have lots of show notes. So if you’re listening, head on over to howibuilt.it to go to the episode page and look at all of the resources that Patrick and I have both, mostly Patrick, that we talked about, and until next time get out there and build something.

Thanks again so much to Patrick for joining me to talk all about building a great online store. This is stuff that’s worth thinking about for both you and your clients, and I definitely have a lot of great takeaways.

And speaking of online shops, Thanks again to our sponsors – make sure to check out Liquid Web for managed WordPress hosting. I use them on all of my important sites – they are that good! And they recently rolled out Managed WooCommerce Hosting too. They are at buildpodcast.net/liquid. If you want to save your clients (or yourself) money through recovering abandoned carts, check out jilt. They are over at buildpodcast.net/jilt. And finally, if you need amazing event management for WordPress, checkout Event Espresso over at buildpodcast.net/events.

For all of the show notes, head over to howibuilt.it/64/. Finally, If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! And until next time, get out there and build something!

Sponsored by:
  • Event Espresso: An Event Management System for WordPress that powers over 40,000 event websites.
  • Jilt: The easiest way to recover abandoned shopping carts on WooCommerce, easy digital downloads, and Shopify.
  • Liquid Web: Fast, Managed WordPress hosting whether your users are logged in or logged out. Get 50% off the first 2 months.

The post Patrick Rauland and Building a WooCommerce Shop appeared first on How I Built It.

Jan 30 2018

32mins

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Rank #19: Lindsay Halsey and Pathfinder SEO

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Closing out this miniseries on SEO is Lindsay Halsey. She’s the co-founder of Pathfinder SEO and in this episode we talk about how her product basically combines a lot of what we talks about over the past month – automated tools and stats, with a coaching component that can really help you up your SEO game for you or your clients. She has a really great analogy for it that I don’t want to spoil!

Show Notes

Be sure to check out the new shop: https://howibuilt.it/shop/ and the Facebook Group

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Transcript

Intro: Hey everyone and welcome to Episode 93 of How I Built It. Closing out this miniseries on SEO is Lindsay Halsey. She’s the co-founder of Pathfinder SEO and in this episode we talk about how her product basically combines a lot of what we talks about over the past month – automated tools and stats, with a coaching component that can really help you up your SEO game for you or your clients. She has a really great analogy for it that I don’t want to spoil!

Before we get to the show, I also want to tell you about a new shop I launched, that has t-shirts and mugs with the show’s tagline, “Get Out There and Build Something.” I’m excited to finally bring these to market. You can see them at howibuilt.it/shop/.

And of-course, this show (and the whole season) is brought to you by Pantheon. You’ll hear about them later on. SO for now, on with the show.

Joe Casabona: Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Lindsay Halsey, co-founder of Pathfinder. Lindsay, how are you?

Lindsay Halsey: I’m good. Thanks much for having me on the show.

Joe: Thanks for being on the show. I appreciate you taking the time. I’m very excited to talk to you about Pathfinder. The full official name is Pathfinder, or Pathfinder SEO?

Lindsay: Official name is Pathfinder SEO.

Joe: Cool. I’m very excited to talk to you about that because it looks like a very interesting service. Why don’t we just jump right into it and why don’t you tell us who you are, and what you do?

Lindsay: Awesome. My name’s Lindsay Halsey, and I focus on search engine optimization and specialize in helping businesses get found in Google, Yahoo and Bing. I have been a partner in a search engine marketing agency for 10 years here in Basalt, Colorado. In the past year we developed a new product, Pathfinder SEO, and are excited to share it.

Joe: Very nice. In a nutshell, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the product and maybe how you used your experience to come to the conclusion that this is a product that we need.

Lindsay: Perfect. Pathfinder delivers a process for people to go from lost to found in Google, Yahoo and Bing. It is for small business owners and web freelancers. We came up with the idea for this product based on our agency experience. At our agency [Web Shine] we do custom search engine marketing projects for businesses small to large, and along the way we found people coming to us echoing different challenges they had faced with SEO. Either it was too expensive, too time consuming, they had an SEO software that had too much data.

But overall, we were hearing people feeling very frustrated and lost in the space, and we could solve that quite easily for folks when they signed up for our services at our agency. We could collaborate and demystify SEO and deliver really great results, but we were leaving some folks behind. Those were primarily small business owners who may not be able to hire an agency, or web freelancers who were actually thinking they wanted to offer this as a service themselves but weren’t quite sure where to get started.

Joe: Gotcha. That’s really interesting. Because I’ve been a web developer for 16 years or so, and I kind of know the technical aspects of SEO like how to properly structure a page. But keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of SEO is one trouble I have, and then the other is just that’s not what I specialize or focus in. And I certainly don’t have the budget to hire a full-blown agency to do something like that. So it sounds like you’re serving a really good market here.

Lindsay: That’s our hope. We’re trying to share our 10 years of industry experience in the form of a process. We give people the map, which is one of the things we think is most missing from SEO softwares that give you a ton of great data. They don’t always lay it out in a process-oriented format and provide that step-by-step coaching that folks need to really take a do-it-yourself approach. So we share that process, which is your map.

We come alongside as your guide and we assign a dedicated SEO coach to each subscribers account, and you meet with that coach monthly. You can think of this as like going to your personal trainer. If a subscription to Pathfinder SEO is like a gym membership, then your monthly meeting with your SEO coach is like your monthly meeting with a trainer. We do integrate in the SEO tools you need, just like other SEO softwares would. Things like keyword research, monthly reporting and rank tracking.

Joe: Gotcha. That’s cool. For the monthly subscription I get access to your tools, I got some guides, and then I actually have a person I get to talk to. And unlike a gym membership, I probably will see real return on my investment.

Lindsay: That’s the goal, of course.

Joe: Not that getting healthy is not a return on your investment, but going to the gym probably won’t help me make any more money. Cool. So you’ve been doing this for the better part of, or maybe over, a decade you said. When you decided to make this product, what kind of research did you do in developing it?

Lindsay: We did a few internal exercises within our team, to talk about what would happen if we tried to turn the SEO industry upside down. We made lists of the attributes of hiring an agency, of what happens in search engine optimization. And we circled all of the attributes that we really loved and all of the things that we think make the industry great. And then we thought about, “What would be the opposite of this? How could we change the way something that already exists and does well and works, but actually improve upon it?”

That was part of how we came up with some of the foundational components of what Pathfinder SEO entails, and then we took a quick and dirty business plan approach. We talked to some experts in the field and then from there it was just heads down work for about four months. We launched our new product and ran off to a WordCamp in Dallas, Fort Worth last year. It was great to have a strong deadline to make sure that we brought our product to market as quickly as we could. It was a great experience that was four or five hard months of solid work and we enjoyed it along the way.

Joe: Cool. So, first of all, I love that. Because when I come up with an idea I sit on it and I’m like, “I don’t know if I should do it,” and I code a little bit. But when I’m doing a coding project and I’m thinking about going public it takes me a very long time to do it. It sounds like you just came up with your requirements, you built a prototype, maybe an MVP. And then you took it to Dallas, Fort Worth. Were you a sponsor there? Did you demo it, or–?

Lindsay: We did a little bit of everything. I did a workshop, and my business partner Lori Calcott did a talk, and we had a booth. We really just tried to dive in head first and get as much feedback and talk to the community as much as possible. We went on to a handful more WordCamps really quickly back-to-back, because for us after having her head down in the office working really hard on it for a couple months we knew we were missing some components. A lot of the feedback that we got from others was hugely helpful in our evolution to where we are today.

Joe: That’s phenomenal. First of all, there’s a very good takeaway here in the sense that getting a return on your investment from a WordCamp when you sponsor a WordCamp can be pretty difficult. But it sounds like you took a really good approach. You didn’t just give out stickers or cards or a discount, you actually sat down with attendees and said, “We’re building this thing that we think can help you. Would you mind taking it for a spin?” Is that about right?

Lindsay: We did a little bit of both. Sometimes we demoed it for folks and got direct feedback, that would happen if someone stopped by our booth. But even more valuable were the lunchtime conversations that we had, where we could just say, “What’s your experience with SEO? What’s been frustrating, what’s going well for you?” And just get more general feedback from people about what their experience with SEO was.

Because even though we had talked to hundreds if not thousands of people in our SEO agency, trying to really understand the problem that people were facing so that we built our solution accordingly, when we come to WordCamps we get to have 10, 20, 100 conversations that can help inform. Instead of just going in with, “How many sales do we need to make to get a return on investment?” We were really looking at our attendance at WordCamps as, “How many people can we talk to, to get to know what their experience and what their pain points are with SEO?” And make sure that what we’ve built solves for those.

Joe: That’s great. You probably end up saving money if it’s just the price of the WordCamp, rather than paying for user feedback through a service or something like that. That’s really great because I think about that a lot, but this is not a podcast on getting your return on an investment at WordCamp. That’s a whole other show. We’re talking about research and this really cool tool called Pathfinder SEO. So, you talked to a bunch of people. You took your experience and then you decided to build it. The first question I have is, is this a service that’s built on top of WordPress? Or is this a standalone SaaS, or is it a little bit of both?

Lindsay: It’s built on top of WordPress. One of the challenges we faced right out of the gate actually came from branding. Our original brand name that we went to market with was WP SEO Hub, which is a lot of letters. And we found that it was tricky for folks. Within the WordPress community people instantly thought that we were a plugin, and maybe a competitor of Yoast. Whereas we were thinking of ourselves as a Yoast ecosystem product, something that works alongside Yoast.

So we had some issues with our name when we first went to market, and we also had some bugs within the software because we moved so quickly through the development process. What we’ve spent the last six months doing is rebranding and rebuilding as Pathfinder SEO. It sort of felt like we built a house, and we went quickly and we learned a lot along the way, and then it was even more fun to rebuild the house from square one. And it is built upon WordPress.

Joe: Very nice. I will ask you the title question then. How did you build it?

Lindsay: That’s a good question. And I pause because there are a lot of elements that went into play. One of the things that we did right at the beginning is identify our team’s strengths and weaknesses, and partner with others. We haven’t built this alone, we worked with Zeek Interactive out of Huntington Beach. That was really helpful in bringing in the piece of the puzzle that our team couldn’t go at it alone. So internally we were able to do all of the design work and user experience, and we did a lot on content.

For us, the process piece was pretty straightforward, because the map is exactly what we’ve created out of Web Shine. So we already had that, we just had to put pen to paper and expand upon in a “What, why and how?” fashion, so that people could really understand that process. And building it was really just that heads-down work, coming into the office on a Saturday morning for a couple hours and working a bit around the clock so that we could maintain our service space business while still building a product.

Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by Pantheon. WordPress 5.0 and the new editor, Gutenberg, are coming. Are you prepared? Do you want to learn about the changes in advance? Pantheon has gathered resources to help you prepare including webinars and tutorials. Pantheon has also made it easy and free to try Gutenberg with your site before the official launch. Visit pantheon.io/gutenberg. Let them how How I Built It sent you!

Joe: Gotcha. First of all, I love Zeek Interactive. Steve Zengut is just one of the coolest people.

Lindsay: We do too.

Joe: But that was another question I had, because another thing a lot of freelancers or self-employed folks deal with or struggle with, I should say, is “I have client work that I’m doing. Client work very clearly and very immediately pays the bills. But I also have this product that I want to build, where that’s more of a long term investment.” Did you have a hard time balancing that?

Lindsay: We did, and we still do, to be quite honest. We are trying to do a better job of time-blocking, saying “This is when I’m working for a Web Shine and this is when I’m working for Pathfinder SEO. Really laying out what the goals are for the week, and making sure we don’t stop until we accomplish those tasks or projects. That’s helping a lot.

Joe: Very nice. So, you’re the co-founder. I don’t think I asked this earlier on, but do you have a team? How many people are on your team?

Lindsay: Our team is a group of four. I’ve got a business partner, Lori Calcott, who you also see at WordCamps and things along the way. And then we have two team members, and we all work out of one office space in Basalt, Colorado. We do have a handful of contractors who also help us on a project basis, mostly on our service side of our business. But mostly we’re a small little team of four here.

Joe: Gotcha. I know that one thing that we tried to do at Crowd Favorite a little bit was kind of what you did. Blocks, where this will be for internal projects. Or I’ve got 10 of my 40 hours a week dedicated to internal projects. I know some agencies will do it a different way, where they have maybe two dedicated team members for a product, and then the rest for the client services. But it sounds like everybody on your team is working on both, a little bit.

Lindsay: That’s true. We all wear two hats.

Joe: That’s really cool. And then you hired Zeek to do the heavy-lifting, kind of developer-y stuff, right?

Lindsay: Exactly. Our team internally has the ability to build a WordPress site, but we really look at ourselves as site builders. We for the most part don’t write any of our own code, and certainly don’t have the capacity or ability to write the code that would have been required to build the software side of things for us. So we knew right out of the gate that we needed a strong development partner there.

It was a bit daunting to go into the SaaS space as a co-founder without being able to write code, because it felt like such a critical component, obviously, of what we were going to need to accomplish. But we went back to that soul-searching that we did when we first got into this industry space, where we said, “We really are going to specialize in one thing, and that is search engine marketing and SEO.” And so in keeping that core competency, we’ve been very purposeful along those lines. Thus we haven’t hired any in-house development support to date.

Joe: Gotcha. That’s a really important distinction to make. Maybe it’s just because I see it more in the WordPress space, or because I have a degree in computer science, but a lot of us are like, “We can build this thing, so we’re just going to build it and not pay for someone else to build it, or a tool that maybe is already built.”

It’s a mature business decision to say, “No. We know what we’re very good at, and we’re going to hire out to do the rest.” Justin Ferriman from LearnDash did the same thing. He’s not a coder, but he had this idea for an LMS built on top of WordPress. So he hired developers and he drove the project because he understands the LMS world and he found good developers to help build out the product that he envisioned. So that’s a really good point.

Lindsay: Thanks, it’s really worked well for us here at Pathfinder.

Joe: Absolutely. And again, that’s just a great decision. You guys get to focus on the things that you know best. Very cool. So the next question I generally like to ask is, has the product gone through any transformations? But it sounds like it went through quite a few in its short lifespan. Is that accurate?

Lindsay: That’s very accurate. The biggest transformation that we’ve gone through is a rebranding. The main reason was because we spent a lot of time when we were developing the product just on that product development, and at the very last minute we slapped a brand on top of the software. We didn’t do a lot of the deep dive soul searching about what our mission was, or why we existed. We really didn’t know what to call our solution when we referred to it.

Was it a software, was it a platform? Was it DIY? So we didn’t dig deep enough when we did that marketing and that branding around WP SEO Hub. And so we very quickly, when we started going to market and bringing our product to market, going and talking to people, we very quickly knew we made a significant misstep there. But we were still getting really great feedback that people liked the concept behind the product once they could understand what the product actually did.

So the biggest transformation was to stop and slow down and ask ourselves those much more challenging identity questions, and out of that came a new brand and that brand resonates a bit more with us. Because we do feel like we provide the map. We also live in the mountains, and so for us it’s very fun and comfortable to be in this little bit more of an outdoorsy space in terms of brand identity. So it’s been much easier to tell our story behind this new brand, and that’s been our biggest transformation to date.

Joe: That’s great. And I want to ask, because I’ve had similar troubles in the past. I guess it’s a twofold question. How important do you think good branding, like a good name for your product is?

Lindsay: It’s pretty essential. From having made the misstep in the beginning, we were just finding that we were turning people off for confusing people from our brand identity, before the conversation even got started. And what we’re finding now, Pathfinder SEO as the new brand has been live for about a month. We’re finding that in demos and in conversations or pretty much everywhere we go, the leap from the concept of our brand to what we’re describing the solution as, which is guided SEO as opposed to DIY or hiring an agency. We provide a guided approach and we’re finding that’s something that people can wrap their heads around. Even though it’s a third solution that’s out there, that’s somewhat new, and changes things up from the more traditional models of how to approach SEO.

Joe: Gotcha. The follow up question there is, do you find that the brand drives the content? Or do you think it’s the other way around? I know that people will say, “Write an outline and then write your thesis, the one sentence and then write everything,” or, “Write your whole paper or your whole presentation, and then do the introduction last.” Which do you think is more akin to the branding?

Lindsay: I can’t say I’m an expert in that space, but we have been doing a lot more writing the content and then bringing in the brand, and just finding that to be a little more natural. Most of the content that we produce is on our blog and blog content tends to be pretty industry-specific, very how-to oriented. Trying to share some of our opinions about SEO as well, because it is an art and a science. So it’s an opinionated space. I can’t say that’s the right way to do it, but we tend to write first and bring in the brand second.

Joe: Nice. I’m not a content expert, per say, either. But I would agree. I would spend too much time trying to force the brand into the content if I started with, “I have this, so I need to put this in the content.” As opposed to just writing what I think is best and then adding it later.

Lindsay: Yeah. One of the things is that we knew that building a new product was going to take a lot of time, and one figure of time I would not really want to know the statistic on would be how long it actually takes to build a really good home page for a brand. Whether it’s a product, a service, a local business. Building a good home page was actually probably the most challenging thing that we’ve done today, and that we’re still iterating on and trying to improve. I don’t know if you’ve had a similar experience.

Joe: Yeah. I have said things like, “I’ll just build this landing page real quick.” And it is never real quick.

Lindsay: Nope. I can write about 10 blog posts for every 1 landing page I’ve built.

Joe: Absolutely. And on that same token, home pages and landing pages, they’re probably slightly different to what you’re trying to do. But when you’re talking about a product you want to present the product. There’s a great podcast called Landing Page School, that has been super helpful for me building landing pages because I’m very developer-y. I’m just like, “I’ll just tell them what it does, and then people will want to buy it.” But that’s not really true. You’ve got to tell the story, and tell people the problem that you’re solving for them, and stuff like that. That’s been a very helpful podcast for me, at least.

Lindsay: I’ll have to check it out.

Joe: I will list it in the show notes for this episode as well.

Lindsay: Perfect.

Joe: Cool. So early on you went through a big transformation with the rebrand, and I know Pathfinder as the name is relatively new, but do you have any plans for the future? Or maybe a roadmap for the next few months that you can share with us?

Lindsay: Of course. We are an open book. Our roadmap right now is we’re mostly focused on expanding our subscription to better serve the web freelancer audience. Right now our subscription is for one website, designed for the local business owner who wants to get involved. We’re actively developing and getting really close to launching new tiers of service where a freelancer can come in and sign up and manage 10, 20, 50 of their customers SEO accounts.

We’re excited about this because we think it’s a great opportunity for freelancers to create recurring revenue. And beyond the economics of it, it’s also a great opportunity for them to stay in touch with their clients and be long-term trusted partners by working with them on not just designing and developing websites but also the ongoing maintenance and the ongoing SEO. We really see a strong relationship-building opportunity there.

Joe: Wow, that’s really cool. Right now a subscription gets you the educational material, the coach, and the tools on the dashboard. If I were a freelancer and I’m like, “I have five clients I want to sign up for this.” Would I get five hours with the coach, or would my clients be able to sit down with the coach? Or, what would that look like?

Lindsay: Good question. We have two solutions. One is you can introduce Pathfinder to your client and have one subscription, it’s $99 dollars a month. So the client might want to be involved in those coaching sessions, and you may even break down within our SEO checklist, which really is our map, which of the steps the client would be responsible for. Then maybe, which of the steps as the freelancer or developer, you’re going to take care of for them.

We’re always trying to encourage people to put the best resources to the best tasks. If maybe some of the slightly more technical SEO type projects better land on the freelancer’s plate, and maybe the more content-oriented ones end up on the client’s plate. So there we’re really working as a team of three, where Pathfinder SEO is coming alongside your efforts and your client’s efforts to get found on Google.

The other way were seeing freelancers use the product right now is behind the scenes. We’re kind of like the back office, they can have the white label reporting and do SEO for their clients, and we’re the SEO software provider that goes one step further. Instead of just giving you good keyword research tools, and good rankings data, and sending you a monthly report. We’re also sharing with you the process that we use at our agency so that you can use it at your own agency.

And along those lines, you can go in and do SEO on behalf of your client and then communicate with them results on an ongoing basis. That’s really the piece of the puzzle that we’re working on now, is making that a little easier. Instead of having to have one subscription for every one of your clients, which is a little bit cumbersome and unnecessarily more expensive. Having one home where you have multiple campaigns under that one log in so that you can take on 5, 10, how many ever client projects you’d like to within Pathfinder.

Joe: Wow. That sounds insanely valuable to a freelancer who’s offering these services.

Lindsay: We’re hoping so. We’re talking to a lot of freelancers to make sure we don’t miss anything in our MVP roll-out here of that version of a Pathfinder. And we’re getting pretty close to launch.

Joe: That’s great. It sounds like you’re taking the right steps. I’ve been hearing more lately about how important in-person conversations are, and I’m a very extroverted person so I like having those in-person conversations. But I’ve never had a conversation with your students about what they thought. I’ve never thought about that, because everybody keeps talking about, “Scale, scale, scale.” One on one conversations don’t scale very well, but they’re immensely valuable to your business so they can help you scale in a different way.

Lindsay: We’ve found we’re similar, pretty extroverted. Enjoy taking a break from doing that hardcore computer work, taking a break and talking to people. But also my personal experience when I sign up for subscription as a service products, is that I tend to say, “OK. Great. This tool works great. You have a really good onboarding process that both provides me with some education, and walks me through the steps I need to take to get this set up and working for my business.

But I still would love it if I had 30 minutes of someone’s time to run through the use cases and the different scenarios that I’m thinking about. That can give me some high expert-level advice that is specific to my business, and that would really help me use that product much more effectively and probably be a longer term client.” We really wanted to build that in so that people don’t say, “OK. This is great. It gets me almost there, but if I could just talk to somebody and ask questions that are pertinent just to my business, I would get a lot of value out of that.”

Joe: Wow, that’s great advice for anybody building products and anybody using products. Again, I go through the onboarding process and I’m like, “I guess their documentation is what they have. I’ll just figure it out on my own.” But maybe a 30 minute call on how to use Zapier, which is something I’m trying to get really good at right now, would be fantastic for me. Because then that 30 minutes helps me automate countless hours.

Lindsay: Exactly. And I think it’d be great for them, too. Because they’d get to see their product in action. So it’s really a reciprocal relationship that we’re finding out of those coaching sessions. Rather than looking at it as being a scalability challenge, where we’re going to have to staff coaches as our product grows, we’re looking at it much more along the lines of, “We get this great opportunity to talk to our customers once a month and share with them our unique perspectives and hear from them what’s going well and what isn’t in their world of SEO and trying to get found in Google.”

Joe: Built-in monthly customer feedback. That really sounds like you nailed a good business model here.

Lindsay: We’ll see.

Joe: I sound like I’m gushing, but there’s just a lot of really great information here. So even though you’ve given us so much great information, I still have to ask. Do you have any trade secrets for us?

Lindsay: Yeah. Instead of talking product I’ll share a trade secret in the world of SEO. Everybody thinks with trade secrets and in terms of SEO that there’s this little snippet of knowledge in my back pocket that I’m not willing to give because it’s my one way of getting somebody found in the search engines, and I keep it really close to heart. But that’s not the trade secret of the day. Instead, the trade secret of the day is a piece of advice to change how you distribute the hours you apply to SEO.

Let’s say you’re a small business owner and you have two hours a month to apply to SEO and trying to get found in Google. So you have a two hour window of time, within that two hours I’d encourage people to spend over 50%, maybe 50-60% actually doing the things that are going to have an impact on their website. Those things are like writing content, and getting links, or getting reviews in Google My Business.

Think of it as, going back to that gym analogy, you want to be 50-60% of your time in the gym actually working out. Because that’s what’s going to move the needle in the search results. Then take that other 40% of your time and break that out to the original research and strategy that goes into getting found. Things like keyword research and looking at your competitors’ websites, and then following up on reporting.

Following your results and transitioning your strategy. What we tend to see is people spend 90% of their time in SEO softwares looking at data, lost in Google Analytics, freaking out about the meta description that’s deep in their website that has the red flag in the SEO software. And not doing the things that really matter, like writing a blog post once a week, or going out to a favorite customer and asking them to put pen to paper with a Google Review.

Joe: That’s great. It goes back to the time blocking that we talked about earlier. Take the time that you have and block it into most of the time actually writing content and getting reviews, and stuff like that. That’s great. So I am going ask a follow up here, because this is now for my own edification. This is probably because content reviews, they probably could act on a more personal level. The other 40%, you’re appeasing the robots. But for the 60% you’re doing things to help the actual person. Is that an accurate summary?

Lindsay: That’s a great summary. One of the things I like best about the evolution of SEO over the past few years, is that it’s real marketing. So instead of saying I’m writing this blog post for the search engines, really what you’re doing is much bigger than that. And you’re writing good content, you’re sharing your expertise online whether it’s via your blog or elsewhere, for your customers, for your prospective customers, for your existing customers.

It’s just a benefit that you get more traffic from Google, but everything is about being user-friendly, customer-friendly and really part of an online community of sharing. To us that makes SEO much more natural and less cryptic, whereas ten years ago so much was done behind the scenes. Now it’s all very forward-facing, very collaborative, and I personally like that quite a bit more.

Joe: Yeah, that suits me better too. I definitely like that a lot better. Awesome. Lindsay, thanks so much for joining me. Where can people find you?

Lindsay: You can find me online at PathfinderSEO.com, and then also on Twitter.

Joe: PathfinderSEO.com, I will link that and your Twitter handle in the show notes. Do you want to maybe say that out loud, so people listening can just tweet you right now?

Lindsay: Sure. It’s @Linds_Halsey.

Joe: @Linds_Halsey. Perfect. Again, both of those things and everything we’ve talked about will be linked in the show notes. Lindsay, thanks so much for joining me today.

Lindsay: Thanks so much, Joe.

Outro: Thanks so much to Lindsay for joining me today. I love the concept of a trainer at the gym who teaches you how to exercise and then lets you go off and do it. You get to improve your SEO, and learn why and how it’s improving.

And Thanks again to our sponsor Pantheon. Their support this season is making the show possible.

The question of the week for you is how do you apply SEO to your website or business (if at all)? Let me know on Twitter at @jcasabona or email me, joe@howibuilt.it.

Don’t forget to check out the new t-shirts and mugs at howibuilt.it/shop/

For all of the show notes, head over to howibuilt.it/93/. If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! You can also join the Facebook community over at howibuilt.it/facebook/. I want to build a strong community for this podcast, and Facebook is the place to do it. And until next time, get out there and build something!

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The post Lindsay Halsey and Pathfinder SEO appeared first on How I Built It.

Sep 11 2018

34mins

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Rank #20: Turning the Tables: Joe Casabona & How I Built It

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In the last episode of the year (and a bonus one, to boot), my friend Jeff Large interviews me as a follow up to the 100th episode. Jeff is a great interviewer and I really enjoyed the conversation we had – he even gets me to say, “trade secret…” I think you’ll like it too!

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Transcript

Intro: Hey, everybody. Welcome to a special episode of How I Built It. My 100th episode came out earlier this year, and my original plan for it was to have somebody interview me, turning the tables where they are the host and I’m the guest. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get something like that done in time, due to schedules and a bunch of things. But my friend Jeff Large recently reached out to me and asked if it was something I’d be interested in doing. Naturally, I said yes. He listened to the 100th episode and then asked me a bunch of follow up questions, digging into my history as a web worker, a podcaster and an educator. And of course, he asked me if I have any trade secrets, and it’s a good one that I  haven’t shared on this show before. If nothing else, be sure to listen to at least the trade secret part. That’s it. There’s no sponsors or anything like that in this episode. This is a bonus episode. And with that, I will turn it over to Jeff.

Jeff Large: Hello, Welcome to How I Built It. The show where we interview product owners and developers about how they built specific products from idea to execution. I am your honorary guest host and podcaster, Jeff Large. My guest today is someone you know and love if you’ve been listening to this show for any amount of time. He is a college professor, online course teacher, web developer of over 17 years, and the otherwise normal host of How I Built It, Joe Casabona. Joe, welcome to your show.

Joe Casabona: Thanks, Jeff. I’m happy to be here.

Jeff: This is funny. We jumped on– Just for context for the audience, we’re friends in real life, and we were talking on slack. I pitched the idea to him that to end the year we did an interview, and then you were just telling me that you wish you would have done this. Or, you wish you had reached out to me already for episode 100.

Joe: I had this grand vision of somebody interviewing me for episode 100, but then a lot of things happened and I was delayed, and I was like, “I don’t want to have to try to schedule somebody, and rush,” and stuff. So I did a scripted version of that. But I’m happy that we get to do this, because I would love to answer questions that people have about the show.

Jeff: 100%. Especially if you have listened to episode 100 already, I just listened to it and used it a little bit as a launching point. But we’re definitely going to get into, you and I were talking beforehand. I want to get into more of your actual business. The podcast is one side of it, and I  have a feeling that it’s a little more of the marketing piece as opposed to the actual moneymaking business parts of it itself. For you to be running this show for so long and to be interviewing so many amazing people, I assume that your listener base would like to know a little more detail than you  share on a regular basis about what’s really going on about your journey, about the stuff behind the scenes. That’s some of what I want to get into with you.

Joe: Awesome. That sounds great.

Jeff: All right. To begin with, this is something that I like to ask people on my own show. You’re responsible for multiple things, like I alluded to in the intro. How do you normally introduce yourself?

Joe: This has changed recently. I used to tell people, “I’m a front end developer that also teaches and podcasts,” but over the last few months people have asked me, “How come you’re not telling people that you’re a college professor? How come you’re not telling people that you created these accredited college courses?” Now I say, “I’m a college accredited professor who creates online courses, a front end developer and a podcaster.” That captures a little bit better my core competencies and the stuff I’m focusing on a lot more now.

Jeff: Do you feel–? One thing I was wondering about even that sort of branding. The word “College accredited,” has that made a difference? Does your audience, and the people in your target audience, do they get it? Because even for me, being in the education space, I had to double– You saying “I’m a college professor” registered, but “College accredited course creator and professor” threw me off a little bit. It almost felt too wordy.

Joe: It’s funny you mention that, because I was just talking to a coaching client that I got recently who  hired me because of my college background. She asked, “What do you mean by college accredited?” Perhaps in a future bio will remove that, and then just mention that I’ve developed middle-states accredited college courses. Because that’s what I mean, is that I have developed courses at the college level that have gone through the rigor of getting certified and accredited.

Jeff: Because that is a valid point. I don’t want to discredit it, I just felt the wording of it didn’t mean anything to me. I was like, “What does this mean?” That’s why I was curious. Because you do get set apart in the sense of– I don’t know. You and I have talked about this as well, this is a tangent for a second, but it seems like in some circles and in some aspects of the people online to be an expert all you have to do is say, “I’m an expert.” That’s frustrating for the people that actually know what they’re talking about, and for you to have these credentials where you have a master’s degree and you’ve been teaching at the collegiate level. It seems like to be able to convey that in some way is important.

Joe: Definitely. A lot of people, I have fallen into this myself too, “I do something and now I can teach it.” I built a single website with some WordPress plugin, therefore I am qualified to teach a course on it. I’ve tried to step back from that a little bit, but I do want to convey to people that I am a web developer. I’ve got all of these 10 years’ experience teaching college students and developing college courses, where people are learning a real tangible skill for their professional life.

Jeff: That’s a big deal. To run down your background then, because I want to focus a little bit more on how you built the business that you have today, and this year. But to give context for the listener, if this is someone new or maybe they don’t know, I’m going to run down and feel free to correct or clarify anything that I’m saying. You have your degree in information technology, and a master’s in software engineering. You originally got into web development when you were 15, for your church you built your first $200 website. You have been teaching college level courses since 2007, so a little over 10 years now, and you spent a significant amount of time working for Crowd Favorite building enterprise level websites. This means big sites for important people, is what that comes down to. It wasn’t until, it looks like last year, June of 2017 that you left Crowd Favorite in order to pursue your own projects. Is that a good snapshot?

Joe: Absolutely. As you mentioned, I’ve been freelancing since I was 15. But the whole full time business with real stakes, let’s say. Because after college I freelanced a little bit before getting a job at my alma mater. But I have a family, and rent, and bills and stuff now. That I’ve been doing full time since June 2017.

Jeff: OK. That is a big difference. Is there anything–? I don’t want to spend a ton of time here, but what do you feel were a few, three at the most, top takeaways from that period of time? From the time that you got your feet wet, you got into web development, started teaching, and you were working for this big company. What were a couple of things that you were able to– The wisdom that you were able to take with you from that experience as you started your own thing?

Joe: That’s a great question. The first bit of advice is something I got from Mr. Joe Rizzi. He owned the deli that I worked for. I am a stereotypical New York Italian, so of course I worked for a deli.

Jeff: Is your accent going to come out in the story?

Joe: It might, a little bit. We’ll see. I’ll try to keep it to a low burn. When I first started making websites, I was charging $10 an hour. And I told him this, and he said, “Joey. Do you do good work?” And I said, “Yeah.” He goes, “Why are you only charging $10?” And I’m like, “Because I don’t think people are willing to pay that much more.” And he said, “If people see your prices are too low, then they won’t go with you. They won’t think that you have good quality.” That was the first time I raised my rate to $25 an hour. That advice, and basically all of our conversations, I would always stay and clean up on Saturdays and he would give me business advice. But that was my first big takeaway is that price communicates value, and that people don’t just want to– Real people don’t just want to go for the lowest price. They want to go for the price that will deliver the most value for them. That was  one of my first big lessons. The second big lesson I got is something I was told when I was about 21 or 22, and didn’t realize until I was about 30. Because you don’t know anything in your early 20s. That was from a family friend who said, “Look, Joe. I know that you want to start your own business, and that’s great and everything, but when you get out of college you should go work for a company in the same line of work that you do. You can network, you can learn those processes. You can get real world experience. Then when you go out on your own you’ve built up this network of people who then you can tap into.” And I thought, “I don’t need to follow that advice. I know what I’m talking about. I’m in my early 20s, I know everything.” Then when I was about 30, working for Crowd Favorite, and seeing all of the things that I didn’t know. I thought, “Man that was advice that I wish that I took.” Those were two lessons I learned in my teens and early 20s that helped shape my business, and the third bit of advice came towards the end of my time at Crowd Favorite. Maybe right after I left Crowd Favorite. That was that your messaging needs to be right. To expand on that, all of my client work has been word of mouth since I was 15. My first paying gig was my first gig because my church said, “We’ll pay you.” I didn’t even make websites, they were just like, “Will you make us a website?” And I said, “No.” And they said, “We’ll pay you.” And I was like, “OK.” So I never learned the lesson of the hard fought client, or at least not really. That is something that I’ve learned over the last two years is that people who don’t know me, I need to gain their trust first before they’re willing to give me any money, because my cheapest courses are $20-24 bucks and if they don’t trust me, they’re not going to hand over that $20 bucks. Those are maybe the three best lessons that I’ve learned over the last 17 years.

Jeff: That’s fantastic. For context, if you don’t mind sharing, how old are you?

Joe: I’m 33.

Jeff: OK. Cool. That gives us a little bit more of a timeline. So, that moment. Tell me about the moment that you knew you needed to leave Crowd Favorite.

Joe: This is something that I remember in a haze of not remembering much, because it was a couple of months after my daughter was born. She was our first. She still is our first, and I was doing a lot of things. First of all, Crowd Favorite generously gave me one month paid family leave. That’s not something that you see everywhere, especially for the guy. My friend who just had a kid said he had one day. That is insane. But that’s grandstanding. So, I had a month off where I got to spend time with my family and I got to work on my own projects, and I liked that. Then about two days before I came back, about a week before I came back, somebody put a meeting on my calendar for before I was supposed to come back and I was like, “I’m still on family leave,” and she’s like, “Can you just–?” And I said, “No.” Then when I got back, everyone was like, “We’re real glad you’re back.” And I’m  like, “That’s not a great sign.” I got handed these four projects, I had just got a promotion and I got handed four projects that needed some love, to put it nicely. So I had a newborn, I had my side business which was these courses and the podcast, and then I was doing the agency life. I was working until 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 in the morning just to get up at 7:00 or 8:00 and do it again, if I didn’t get up with the baby at all. I know that GaryVee endorses that lifestyle but I don’t. I thought, “All right. I either need to give up my side hustle, spend less time with my family, or quit my full time job and pursue this full time.” I had some conversations with some friends, and I thought, “I can do this.” I gave my notice in May and I left in June.

Jeff: How far after then, if you left in June and you gave your notice. From the time that you gave your notice, how far after since when you went back? You went back, there was a period of time, then you gave me your notice. How long was that timeframe?

Joe: Good question. My daughter was born on March 6th of 2017. I had a month off, so I came back on April 6th or April 7th. Something like that.

Jeff: It was within a month, then, of coming back.

Joe: I realized pretty quickly. Because that whole month I was like, “This is so nice. I’m working on my own stuff. It’s making some money. I’m doing really well.” To be totally frank, this was at a time where a lot of WordPress agencies were having trouble getting work, so some paychecks were delayed. I thought, “I’m not suffering at all because I’m bringing in enough money from my side work.” Then when we got to a point where it was like, “Finish this project or payment will be delayed again.” I was like, “I would just work for myself if I had to do that. Like, I’m working for a company so I don’t have to worry about that.” And again, this was not a strictly Crowd Favorite thing. This was something that was common among a lot of WordPress agencies at that time. I knew pretty quickly that I either had to work myself to the bone at this job, this agency job, and lose time with my family. Or, see if I could make my own lifestyle business and spend time with my family and make enough money to support the family as well.

Jeff: What was it like to submit that notice? How about that?

Joe: It was a little– It was tough in some regard. But I was also, I was also already unhappy. So I knew I had to give the notice soon if I didn’t want to end up completely resenting Crowd Favorite, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without Crowd Favorite. The skills that I developed and the network that I developed while at Crowd Favorite has done wonders for me since then, and I didn’t want to end up resenting the company. So I spoke to the then CTO, he still is the CTO, and I aired my grievances a little bit. I said, “Look. Agency life was great when I was a single man. I didn’t mind staying up super late to do work. I didn’t have much of anything else going on. But if I missed my daughter’s first steps because I had to work late, that’s not something I’m OK with.” And he was so cool about it. He was like, “There’s no convincing you. We’re going to miss you and I wish you all the luck in the world.” I’m still friends with everybody at the company. There was no bad blood there. But they were cool and super understanding, and I think that I happily got out before I was mad about it.

Jeff: OK. Overall it sounds like it was a pretty– I don’t want to say it was easy. It sounds like it was  understandable, and an OK decision to make.

Joe: Of course I had conversations with my wife, going out and starting your own business with a three month old is not desirable. Especially because my wife was still on maternity leave and FMLA only covers so much. We’re going to be only my income for a while in this brand new business, and she was  fully supportive. Because she saw how much doing all three was wearing on me.

Jeff: That’s absolutely tough. I look back at even my own experience and having to turn in that letter, and having a family that depends on you. At the time we were a single income family and we had– I don’t know what your situation was like, but we had about six months’ worth of savings. My wife and I were  running the stoic philosophy of, “OK. What’s worst case scenario? I have to go back to work in six months if I get no jobs whatsoever. All right, let’s do it.” Did you have some money in the bank, or did you have any much of a runway at that time?

Joe: We had about the same. Granted, that was also money we were saving for a house. So I was reluctant to have to pull from that. But I said, “Look. The money we have in our savings will get us through December. If I completely fail at this, worst case scenario, I’ll get a job.”

Jeff: Definitely scary. I wanted to dig into it because I know other people, I’m sure there’s listeners that you have, like you’re listening right now and you might be debating this. It’s definitely a big jump and it’s a scary jump, and sometimes you hear about the more romanticized version. When it’s like, “I was making more money in my side hustle than I was at my job. So I knew. Forget you people, I’m doing the side hustle.” But when in reality most of us are like, “Well. Here we go.”

Joe: I was definitely helping make ends meet with my side hustle, but it was definitely better as a side hustle than as a full time job at that point. Because any money on top of my salary and my wife’s salary was great. That was extra money. But then it was like, “This is the only money we’re making for a little bit.” I had a better first year than most, but I’ve also been doing this for a decade and a half, in some capacity. I have a big network. I’m an outgoing guy and everybody I meet, I talk to and I know their story. You asked me at Podcast Movement, “Do you consider yourself a connector?” And I didn’t, but now I do. I like connecting people. I like knowing people, and I do good work. That’s  helped me do more than just start from scratch or ground zero. I’ve had a better first full year than many, and I’ve been able to support my family, and my wife is not saying “You need to find a job, a real job.” But it is a grind. There are some slow months where you’re like, “Am I doing the right thing?” Just keep that in mind if you’re going to start your own business.

Jeff: For sure. In that vein then, you leave. How did you know what the first thing to work on was?

Joe: Luckily, I had that lined up before I even gave my notice. I spoke to my friend [Sean Hesscath] from WP101 and I laid it all out on the line. I’m like, “Sean. I don’t know what to do. This job is killing me, I’m doing too much. I’m sleep deprived because of the baby. I want to go out on my own but I don’t know where to start.” And he said, “How much money would you need to get started?” And I gave him a number, and he said, “I think I can give you that much in work.” Right after I left we got started on  collaborative courses that I did for WP101. That meant a lot to me because I was able to make the income I needed while also working on my branding, working on the podcast, LiquidWeb has also generously sponsored this show for a few seasons, and their full season sponsorship hit the July after I left. So, Sean and LiquidWeb floated me through the end of the year and that gave me enough runway to understand what I needed to do with my business.

Jeff: Interesting. OK. Do you feel like you would have been able to–? That’s hypothetical.

Joe: I don’t think so. But that goes back to the network that I built. I’ve known Sean and Chris Lema from LiquidWeb since PressNomics 2 in 2014, and I’ve maintained that relationship. They know the quality of the work I do and they trust that, and I deliver for them. It seemed like luck at the time, like we hit at the right time. But those were relationships, and also they’re both insanely generous, don’t get me wrong. But they’re running businesses too, and they have families to support. Those were relationships that I cultivated over three years or so, that I’ve been able to work with them and partner with them, luckily still today.

Jeff: That’s going to be a common thread that’ll come back up, because it’s even something I just had– I jumped on a call with a friend of mine who’s acted as advisor here and there, and I haven’t talked to him in a year and a half but I had a question come up that I knew he was the key person for. I emailed him and I was like, “Can we chat?” Even some of the advice that he gave me was just building those more long term relationships. It’s not even– It’s weird because on one hand you know you’re going to benefit from it, but at the same time that’s not why you’re doing it. You’re doing it because they’re cool people and you want to be part of that group, you want to be part of that network because you know there’s things that you can contribute and you know there’s things that you’re going to gain. Hopefully it’s the rising tide philosophy, where everybody is going to benefit from being able to rub shoulders with one another.

Joe: Definitely. Again, I was on a coaching call before this and it’s a little bit weird sometimes,   taking someone’s money for them to ask me questions. It is a service and I’m saving them time, but she said, “The best relationships are win-win. I’m getting a lot from you, you’re getting a lot from me. We shouldn’t feel bad about benefiting.” I agree. If you are doing it for the wrong reason it’s super obvious, like I used to run a meetup group in Scranton and this guy came to the meetup group. He just looked smarmy. He went over and shook everybody’s hand, gave everybody his card, and then left. Like, you’re not there for the community. You’re there to try to piggy back off of and make money off of these people you just met? People see right through that. Even if they don’t realize it, they’re like “Something’s off about this dude. He’s not somebody I want to work with.” But if you’re genuine and you want to help, then people see that too.

Jeff: Be a good human.

Joe: Yeah, be a good human.

Jeff: So much of life comes back to, “Be a good human.” That’s awesome. So, I want to fast forward now. We had this, you were able to float that first year and start to get your legs underneath you with it. When do you feel like you had your first major breakthrough of something– I don’t want to discredit what you gave us, having Sean come in and having LiquidWeb come in and help in certain ways. Not that you didn’t earn it, but there’s a reciprocity there. What was the first project or the first thing that you came across where you were like, “This is my doing and it’s working.” ?

Joe: That’s a great question, because you’re absolutely right. Even as recent as over the summer, I was like, “I don’t know if I actually know what I’m doing.” But the first big hit for that was I did some work with WordPress VIP in January-February. They reached out because of the courses for Gutenberg that Zack and I did, and they liked it, and we were first to market. Sure. But they knew that we were good educators and they wanted to bring us on to create educational content for their clients. And I thought, “This is great. Automattic and WordPress VIP are reaching out to us for the work that we did,” but also at the price that we gave them, they said, “That’s above our budget but we definitely know what you’re worth. We understand what you’re worth, so can we just cut some stuff to get it within the right budget?” That was so much better than just saying, “I can’t afford you,” which is what a lot of freelancers hear. “Can you do it for less?” No. The way that they handled it was they were like, “We understand the quality of the work that you’re giving us, and this could be a win-win for both of us.” And right there I was like, “This is going to be a good year.” It happened in January and it made me feel good about the rest of the year, and I’m pretty optimistic as we end 2018 moving into 2019 that I’ve learned enough to continue that trend and finding the right people to work with.

Jeff: That’s fantastic. That’s great news, and even as a freelancer. If you’re a freelancer listening to this, don’t discount. Remove aspects of the project if that’s what you have to do. Sometimes you won’t get a prospect or a client that’s as gracious to understand, and they’ll just say, “Can we take 10% off the top?” Then unfortunately, especially when you’re in a tight spot or if you can be in a tight spot, you’re like “Sure.” Where it’s like, “No. I’m not going to do that. But what we can do is these two parts aren’t necessary, so let’s go ahead and remove those. That’ll get it into the price that you want. Will that work?”

Joe: I’m a big proponent of setting up Phase Two. “We’ll do this now. This is what we need to launch. This is our MVP. Then when you’re ready and you have the budget, we can do these in phase two.” You’re guaranteeing yourself more work, you’re working within the client’s budget, and hopefully you’re forming a good relationship around the first project that they want to come back to you for more. In college I used to fix computers, and for a long time I did it for free. I would go visit my friend   and then her whole floor would come over and say, “My computer’s not working. Can you help me?” I was like, “I’m going to start charging.” And I started charging some insanely low price, like $5-10 flat. Like, “Give me $5 and I’ll fix your computer.” Most of them took less than a half hour. I could do it pretty quickly, but nobody really wanted to pay that because we’re all poor college students and they would rather frankly go and spend the money on booze. Somebody very snarkily said to me, “So how’s that charging $5 for fixing computers? Are you getting a lot of money?” And I’m like, “No. But I have a lot more time on my hands to work on things that people actually see the value in.” So, definitely don’t discount that. Work with people who value your work because those are better relationships.

Jeff: 100%. To fast forward now, to roundabout back to the beginning. You’re doing some freelance work, you’re creating your own courses, you have the podcast and you generate some income from that with your sponsorships. How do you see this? How’s your time breaking down? Think of it in terms of  percentages. How much time percentage-wise in your day, like your work day, do you dedicate to those different things?

Joe: I dedicate 60-70% of my time to my courses. And that’s an umbrella term, that’s an umbrella percentage for planning and recording, learning the thing that I’m teaching. If I’m creating a custom course for somebody, and then the marketing stuff. Getting the marketing message right. Building the landing page and communicating the problem I’m trying to solve and not just what you get. 60-70% of my time goes to that. Thanks to a bunch of automations and hiring the right people, podcasting probably takes up about 15-20% of my time. It’s mostly just the interview now. Again, that’s thanks to automations. I touched on this in episode 100, but I’m going to work on a blog series about this too. The rest of the time, which if I do my math correctly, leaves me with 15-20% or maybe 20-30%, that’s hired work. Custom courses that I develop and custom video trainings that I develop for people who own product. Coaching, I’ve been doing more of that lately. Maybe 33 is the magical age where people feel you know enough to help them now, or what. But I’ve gotten a lot more organic traffic to my coaching services lately, and that’s going to be a big part of my 2019. This one-on-one teaching style that I really like.

Jeff: All right. That’s cool. I don’t need to know the actual numbers, but do your finances reflect the same percentages in terms of your income?

Joe: No. My courses make the least amount of money right now. And that’s because of some lessons that I’ve learned this year. My courses would be– Let’s take the my podcasting one. Build a Podcast Website with WordPress. Nobody cares about that. That would be like somebody saying, “Learn how to build a car with steel,” or something like that.

Jeff: “Learn how to draw with a pencil.”

Joe: Exactly. Nobody cares about the tool that you’re using. People care about the problem that you’re trying to solve. People are buying a solution. I’ve pivoted a lot of my copy in the last few months to reflect that. So now, it’s “You have a podcast. How do you get it into the ears of people? You need a good website.” “But I don’t want to hire a developer.” “Don’t you worry, my course will show you how to launch your podcast in three days.” “Three days? That’s not that much time. Great.” That’s the problem that’s being solved. I’m optimistic. First of all, from 2017 to 2018 my course income quadrupled. Don’t assume I’m making a million dollars off my courses, assume I made shockingly little off my courses in 2017 and I’ve gotten much more in 2018. I’m hoping to double or triple that again in 2019, maybe even more. Because I’m working on a couple of in-person-ish coaching courses to supplement my pre-recorded stuff. But the short answer is, no. My courses make the least amount of money but they take the most amount of time.

Jeff: But you’re looking at it, what I’m hearing though is that your business plan is for that to change. For the courses to be able to take more of the– Provide the bulk of your income.

Joe: Exactly. I want to teach people the things that I’ve learned over the last 17 years. I want to help them. If you can imagine a freelancer takes one of my courses, maybe the Beaver Builder course. They take it they like it, now they want to go to the next level. Now I can do one-on-one coaching with them. I want to fast track the site builder or the freelancers career to accomplish in two years, maybe, what I accomplished in 10 years.

Jeff: That’s cool. Is that built into your–? This is a side question. Is that built into your funnel, then? Do you have hopes or intent of people to go through your courses, and then they all of a sudden have this opportunity to get personally coached by you?

Joe: Again, that’s a change that I’m making. My 2018 was the year of understanding the people on my list and in my funnels, because in 2017 I used MailChimp and up until recently MailChimp didn’t allow for any of that. So I got ConvertKit. I’ve had ConvertKit for a little bit over a year. I’ve tagged everybody appropriately, I know what my audience looks like now, so the two weeks between Christmas and  before Christmas and right after New Year’s, I’m going to spend some of that time working on my funnels and getting my messaging right. Making the next steps explicitly clear. “You haven’t bought a course from me, here’s some free resources. Do you like these resources? Maybe look at this course, because this will really help you.” “You’ve finished the course. Congratulations! What questions do you have? Maybe let’s schedule a call, 15 minutes, and we can talk about it more.” “How can I get you to the next level?” That sort of stuff.

Jeff: That’s so big. Understanding the audience and understanding who you’re talking to, it’s some of the lessons even that I’ve been going over lately. They come more from a marketing space and more from a  really good copywriting space, of stuff that I’ve learned from say Joanna Wiebe from Copy Hackers or other people that are in her group. Where instead of just waking up and being like, “I got an idea,” and then writing about it. Or, “I need to sell this thing. Let me talk about it in the way that I’m going to talk about it.” Spend time understanding who you’re talking to, what their pain points are, the actual language– The verbatim phrases and words that they’re using to describe these issues, and then incorporate that into what you are doing. Care deeply about them. Care deeply about the people you’re already working with even more, and then secondary, start caring about that target audience or  the people that you’re going after. Really understand their world because there is a certain amount of, some people refer to it as the curse of knowledge, or things like that. Where you’ve been in a space for a while and you just forget. You forget what it’s like to learn, you forget what the problems are, because you’re just beyond that. It’s not really even a hierarchical thing, it’s just you’re better because you’ve done it longer. You have to almost look at it like a kid or look at it how like a child would.

Joe: Absolutely. I realized that teaching in the classroom. My time teaching in the classroom has been insanely valuable to me, because one day I was like, “I’m going to set all my students up on WordPress.com. They should all know this.” I talked about your personal brand, and what that means in the 2010s. I said, “OK. Here’s WordPress. Here’s a post and here’s a page.” I went through the stock description that I gave, because I assume everybody knows what a post and a page is, and one of my students raised her hand and said “I have no idea what you just said. What you said makes no sense to me.” And I said, “Yes. Let’s step back.” Then I brought up BuzzFeed and I said, “Here’s a post. It’s an article. Here is a page, you’ve probably never gone to the BuzzFeed about page because it’s irrelevant content to you, but this is a page that never changes. Your articles, see how they’re all listed in a certain way, and categorized and stuff like that?” Then it made a lot more sense to them. “Talk to your customers, have phone calls,” that has come up in conversations I’ve had a lot this year. Don’t just email them and say, “What’s your biggest problem?” Actually have phone calls with them and have conversations, and write down the terms they use, because that should be your marketing copy. Because now you’re speaking the language of your target audience and they’re going to know that you understand their problem.

Jeff: Do you consider yourself a specialist?

Joe: I don’t call myself a specialist, but I specialize in certain things. I’ve been working with WordPress for 14 years. I’ve been working with WordPress almost as long as WordPress has been around. So, am I a WordPress specialist? I guess so. I’ve been teaching for 10 years. Can I show people how to teach, or can I at least show them my teaching method? Yeah, I guess so. I don’t call myself that, but I wouldn’t– If somebody categorized me that way I wouldn’t say they were wrong.

Jeff: One question that I had come up with another person who I was telling that I was going to interview you, is they were curious on how you do your pricing. Actually, let me pause. Will you answer that with what you learned from Cabo?

Joe: Yes.

Jeff: All right. Let me ask a different question. Let’s hit the brakes on that one. I know you’ve done some different things this year, and that’s what leads me into the Cabo thing. You’ve done some different things this year that you’ve shared, just in some of our personal conversations, that have really made a big difference in your business. CaboPress seems to be one of those events that’s helped you on a personal and a professional journey. First of all, for somebody that doesn’t know, what’s the two sentence pitch on what CaboPress is?

Joe: CaboPress is a conference for business people, and it used to be specifically around the WordPress space. But it’s– Let me rewind, actually. Because I don’t think I’m doing CaboPress justice when I say that. CaboPress is like a hyper-targeted networking event. The attendees are curated, the hosts are curated. And yes there are sessions in the morning, but the big value comes from the conversations that you have outside or during those sessions, because even the sessions are supposed to be conversations. You can think of it as a four day hallway track in paradise.

Jeff: I love it. OK. All right. So, that’s what CaboPress is. You can learn more– I’ll just plug it right now, we’re not getting paid for this or anything, I just know it’s cool. CaboPress.com if you want to learn more. So, how many years have you attended so far?

Joe: This past year was my second.

Jeff: OK, the second time. Is it worth focusing any time on year one, or is it better just for us to talk about year two?

Joe: Year one was insanely valuable to me, and we already talked about it. Year one is where I decided I was going to use ConvertKit to understand my audience.

Jeff: OK.

Joe: CaboPress is what convinced me that I need to do that.

Jeff: Who convinced you? Was it a group of people, or a specific conversation that you remember?

Joe: It was the knock on effect. The first the first talk of the day, of the week, was Chris talking about understanding your user’s lanes. Or, user lanes, and understanding who your audience is so you can better talk to them. He mentioned ConvertKit and Drip and a couple of other ones. Then I was talking to other attendees later, [Erin Flynn] specifically, and she was telling me how she loves ConvertKit. So she gave me her affiliate link, I was like, “Do you have a link?” And she said, “Yeah.” And I signed up right there in the pool.

Jeff: The things we can do with technology. Year two, how did year two make a difference?

Joe: Chris looked at Joe Casabona and where his business is, and what he learned in year one, and then said “How can we improve it in year two?” Because in year two we talked about personalization. This is airing at the end of 2018, and I’ve heard more than once, 2019 will be the year of personalization. We’ve been talking about getting the message down. Getting your messaging right for your target audience. I now know who my audience is and I need to talk to them in the way that they want to be talked to. Part of that was, “Who cares if you’re using WordPress for this course? That’s not the problem they’re trying to solve. Maybe they even have a predisposition against WordPress. So, don’t tell them you’re using WordPress. Just tell them you’re going to help them launch their podcast in three days. That’s the thing that they want to know.” There was that, then there was the messaging around my identity. I was talking to a guy, Justin Wise, he’s like “What are your problems? What are your big problems? Tell me about yourself.” And I was like, “I make online courses. I was a developer, I taught at the University of Scranton and I was moving, and I wanted to keep teaching.” He goes, “You’re a college professor.” And I’m like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Does it say that anywhere? In your bio, on your website, anywhere?” And I’m like, “Nope.” He goes, “Why aren’t you telling people that?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” So there was that, and then there’s the question about pricing. I was pricing my courses at between $20-50. Multiple times I was told, “Why are you charging so little? If you charge $300, $400 for a course you’re still charging 10% of what a developer would pay to set up a website for them. You are saving them time, you are saving them money. You’re delivering this amount of value, right?” “Yes.” You’re again going back to the very first lesson I learned in business, that my prices needed to communicate the value that I was providing to the student.

Jeff: I was going to say, I worked at this deli in New York, and I remember distinctly this guy was like “Jeff. You prices.”

Joe: It’s so interesting, because all of the lessons– Have you ever heard of the phenomenon that you say in one room you need to remember something, but then as soon as you walk through the doorway you forget it. This is  apparently a phenomenon that happens where, because you are changing contexts, you forget the things that you were just thinking about. I feel like that happened in business for me. I moved from a client services business to a product business, and then promptly forgot all of the important lessons I learned in the client services business. Like, “Charge the right price. Build the relationship first.” Stuff like that. So it was interesting re-learning those lessons in a much shorter timeframe.

Jeff: I know of the phenomenon of your wife telling you something for years, and then some other business friend of yours mentions the exact same thing  and you listen. Then your wife tells you about how she’s been telling you for years. I know that phenomenon.

Joe: Yes.

Jeff: I’ve had a lot of that happen. My wife is just awesome. She will see something way before me, and for whatever reason, I just don’t hear or act, whatever it is. Then it’s like, four months later and the same people telling me this stuff all the time, and then I’m like “I had this great idea!” And she’s  like, “I told you that idea four months ago.” It’s the best. It’s become a trolling joke at this point. What about otherwise this year, have you had any other what you felt– I don’t want to blow up the Cabo realizations too much, but have you had any other life changing moments or conversations or conferences that you went to that you walked away from and knew, “My business will be better because of this.”

Joe: CaboPress is the one that drives home this fact, because again, Chris curates everything. The audience, the hosts. He knows what people are looking for and what is being taught. But that said, Podcast Movement this year was also insanely valuable for me, because I got to see– I’ve told you this before privately, maybe I’ve said it publicly. People at Podcast Movement were way more interested in the fact that I was a developer than the fact that I was a podcaster. Because everybody at Podcast Movement is a podcaster or an aspiring podcaster, but very few people are web developers and fewer people were WordPress developers. Just getting that perspective of, “I had such a hard time with my website. What would you recommend to fix it?” Somebody said, he is a current coaching client of mine, at the conference he said “I will gladly pay you hourly to show me how to do specific things with my website.” And he is doing that. He followed up on that, and that was monumentally helpful in figuring out exactly who Joe Casabona is in a post-developer life. If that makes sense. That’s weirder than I normally word things, but it makes sense.

Jeff: I heard CaboPress did some good things for you, it sounds like Podcast Movement– You and I attended together and were able to hang out there. That was able to give you some insight. Going back to the target audience, if you want to service the podcast community that would be one really natural way for you to do it and give you some insight there. Do you feel like–? Have you had– What are some other ways that you try to improve or to learn? Conferences are one of them. Is there anything else that is stand-out to you this week? Conversations, books, online courses–?

Joe: I try to consume all of those and don’t consume enough of any of them, except for conversations. I love having conversations. Part of the reason I started this podcast is because I was having conversations and I thought, “This would be good public conversation.” Longtime listeners will know that I’ll say specifically during the interview, “This is for me and hopefully it’s helpful for other people too.” I am learning from my guests while creating this content, and I love that because it’s natural and the audience, the listeners, get to hear my surprise and delight in learning something new in the moment. But this show has been valuable for me in that aspect too, but I try to read a lot. I try to take online courses, I’ve been trying to be better about that because I offer them. So now I  treat it as I’m learning a new skill, but also I’m getting ideas for how to improve my own.

Jeff: 100%. It’s so funny. I’m going to go back to another story of my wife and I, we just went down to South Carolina to visit some family for Thanksgiving. That was right around the time of this recording. What you just said in terms of how you see things and how you watch on one hand, you’re   just watching it however anyone else would. Just for the sheer entertainment value or for the knowledge you’re gaining. But then there’s also this element for me, also being a podcaster and for creating content, and especially I’m really interested in the public speaking side of things. I’ll watch people for not only what they’re saying but how they’re saying it, and how they go about their execution and if they did a good job in that sense. We were both at the hotel laying on the bed, and my wife turned on a video from Vice and they were talking about the living situation in China. There was something about it, within the first few moments of the music they were using I knew, “This is some awesome documentary piece.” I rolled over and quickly started watching with her, and then she knew that I was–  She’s like, “Did you even like it. Did you even like the content, or did you just think it was a cool story?” And I’m like, “Yes. It was both.” Having a handle on both of those things, that’s a cool point.

Joe: Absolutely. Since Podcast Movement, there was good advice there. But then I started listening to some well-known podcasters, and again, longtime listeners will notice that I started introing the episodes instead of just going right into the music and the sponsors. That was something I picked up from Pat Flynn, and advice that was given during one of the talks that both you and I attended. The one where radio people critique podcasters. They said, “You have 30 or 60 seconds to hook a listener–”

Jeff: And you spend like 30 of it with intro music.

Joe: Exactly. There were some real changes that went through the show after Podcast Movement and those conversations, and then listening to podcasts from people that I met at Podcast Movement.

Jeff: That’s great. That’s good. As we start to wind out our time, I’m going to spin back to you the question that you ask everybody else. What is a one trade secret that you have for our listener? And I do not want you to share the same one that you did with the podcasting stuff. Like, specifically for these things you’re doing now, for the goals that you’re shooting for, what is one trade secret you’re comfortable sharing?

Joe: Trade secret…

Jeff: Should have saw this coming, man.

Joe: I know. I definitely should have. That’s also my favorite part of the interview, when people do the whole, “Trade secret…” and really think about it. You’ll have to refresh my memory, I don’t remember what I gave as the trade secret in episode 100.

Jeff: I disagreed with you, to be honest. You said, “Everybody should podcast. You should start a podcast  now. It’s time consuming but it’s not hard.” I was like, “I don’t know about that one,” but–

Joe: I probably should have picked my wording. Because it’s not a learned– Well, it is a learned skill. It’s not a–

Jeff: Starting a podcast isn’t hard. Running a good podcast is incredibly hard.

Joe: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly what it is. So, based on the stuff that we’ve talked about today. The trade secret, the thing that has helped me the most in the last 17 years of business, then starting my own and getting that running start. Build your network. I know that it’s hard to start a conversation sometimes, I think it’s hard to start a conversation sometimes too. I always open with a joke. I make some crack and then we start talking, I start talking to somebody. But that has been hugely helpful. I met Sean and Chris and a group of people at PressNomics because they were smoking cigars and I just walked over and I said, “Mind if I join you?” And then we started talking. Or, the same thing, if you go to an after party at a bar. “Mind if I join you?” You don’t have to drink, you don’t have to smoke. It’s just a way to meet new people and build that network, and provide value for that network. Don’t be a leech. Make it a symbiotic relationship. That’s the most important thing that’s helped me, and that is my trade secret.

Jeff: Cool. I’ll take it. All right, you have been listening to How I Built It. If you want to listen to more episodes about how entrepreneurs built the products and services that they’ve come across, you can listen in at HowIBuilt.it. Also, I’ll plug myself a little bit. I’ve been your host. My name is Jeff Large, and if you enjoyed this interview I invite you to come on over to my podcast. JeffLarge.com/podcasting. I interview a lot of people in the same fashion that I did Joe on this episode, and it’s like you said earlier, the amount of knowledge and things that you’re able to glean from these people is tremendous. The podcast just becomes an avenue to share really amazing conversations.

Outro: Thanks so much to Jeff for doing that. That was a lot of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed having the tables turned a little bit, and getting to tell a bit more of my story. Jeff is an excellent interviewer of course, and it’s always a pleasure to talk to him. In the show notes for this episode I will link to his stuff, his podcast bytes and the interview that I did with him earlier this year so you can go ahead and listen to his story as well. That’s it for this episode, and this year. Thanks so much for making 2018 the best year for the podcast yet, and I will see you in 2019. Until then, get out there and build something.

The post Turning the Tables: Joe Casabona & How I Built It appeared first on How I Built It.

Dec 24 2018

56mins

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