In this episode, I have Jeff Goins on the show. Jeff is someone who I met a Fincon years ago where he gave an awesome keynote speech. He’s the author of 4 books including a national bestseller called The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do. He also runs a course called Tribe Writers where he teaches others how to get your writing noticed.
Anyway the reason why I decided to bring him on the show is because I wanted to interview a creative professional who makes a killing with his craft. And as part of running my blog, I often get readers who complain about how they can’t make money with what they enjoy.
Well Jeff is an incredible writer who built an audience of 100,000 people in 18 months. He’s pursuing his passion and making an awesome living while he’s at it. Enjoy the interview
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What You’ll Learn
- How Jeff turned writing into a full time living.
- Jeff’s primary revenue sources.
- How he sells his books
- How many books he’s sold
- How to make money writing
- How to find out what people want to read before starting.
Other Resources And Books
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Today I’m thrilled to have Jeff Goins on the show, and Jeff is actually one of the most successful writers I know, and today we’re going to discuss how to make a living in the creative arts.
But before we begin I want to give a quick shout out to Seller Labs who is a sponsor of the show, and specifically I want to talk about their brand new tool Ignite which helps sellers manage their Amazon sponsored ads. Right now I’m actually using this tool to manage my Amazon sponsored ad campaigns, and it makes things a heck of a lot more convenient.
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If there are keywords that are doing well, Ignite tells me to add them to my exact match campaigns. If my keywords are losing money, well Ignite tells me to either remove the keyword or to reduce the bid. So head on over to sellerlabs.com/steve where you’ll find awesome tutorials on how to run Amazon PPC ads and the opportunity to try Ignite for 30 days for free. Once again that’s sellerlabs.com/steve.
Now I also want to give a shout out to Klaviyo who is a sponsor of the show. Now I’m super excited to talk about Klaviyo because they are the email marketing platform that I personally use for my ecommerce store, and I depend on Klaviyo for over 20% of my revenues. Now you’re probably wondering why Klaviyo and not another provider. Well Klaviyo is the only email platform out there that is specifically built for ecommerce stores, and here’s why it’s so powerful.
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Intro: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host, Steve Chou.
Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit her Job podcast; in this episode I’m going to be talking to Jeff Goins. Now Jeff is someone who I met at FinCon years ago where he gave an awesome keynote speech. He’s the author of four books including a national bestseller called The Art of Work; he also runs a course called Tribe Writers where he teaches others how to get their writing noticed.
Now the reason why I decided to bring him on the show is because I wanted to interview a creative professional who makes a killing with his craft, and as part of writing my blog I often get readers who kind of complain to me about how they can’t make money with what they enjoy. Now Jeff is an incredible writer who built an audience of 100K people in just 18 months, he’s pursuing his passion and he’s making an awesome living while he’s at it. And with that welcome to the show Jeff, how are you doing today man?
Jeff: I’m doing great Steve, thanks for having me.
Steve: Yeah give us a quick background story for those people in the audience who don’t know who you are, tell us about your business and whether being a writer was actually your plan from the start.
Jeff: Well if you haven’t heard of me you’re like most people, so no big deal, I hate when people are like, oh you probably heard of me. It’s a big world and it’s okay if you never heard of me.
Steve: Jeff is really modest by the way, he’s big time but he always self-duplicating is the right word.
Jeff: It’s a big internet, there’s a lot of people out there. Yeah so I’ve always been a creative, I love that word, I used to draw Garfield comics in grade school, I started playing guitar in high school, we started a band called Decaf because we had three guitars and no drums. So if you got decaffeinated music it’ll probably sound like that it’ll be percussionless.
Steve: That’s how you got your wife if I recall, right?
Jeff: Well no, we met in college and I met my wife because she didn’t know how to cook meat and she was throwing a party and she asked me to be the grill master, and it just kind of hit it off from there.
Steve: Okay, for some reason I remember you playing the guitar or something like that but anyway sorry; go on, I didn’t mean to interrupt.
Jeff: Yeah well so I took her on a date two weeks before I was leaving to go on to Luther band for a year, this is after college and I wrote a song and I said, hey do you want to date? And she’s like you’re leaving and you want a girlfriend, and she’s like fine whatever. And we wrote letters to each other for a year while I was travelling all over the country and this is in 2005, 2006. The band had one cell phone that we all shared, so really we communicated with each other for an entire year through hand written letters, very like 1945 style, old school courtship.
Steve: So were you a professional writer at this point?
Jeff: No, so I was sort of first forwarding ahead. So I always thought I would be a rock start though, I always thought I’d play – I thought, man my dream is to play music for a living, and then I did that after college, I was a Spanish patron and so as you can see I’ve got a lot of relevant skills that are building on each other. I was reading your credentials by the way Steve and I was like, oh like this is what is like a real successful person looks like.
Steve: Whatever man.
Jeff: I went to a small liberal arts college in Illinois, I went there because the tuition was cheap and we didn’t make much money and so I could go there for scholarships and grants for free, and I went to college and the first time I’d seen my college was freshman orientation. I never visited the college because it was the only one I could afford to go to and it ended up being a great education.
So I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, I was pretty good at Spanish at the time, and so I wanted to go to Spain, I wanted to travel and so I guess I made my mind and Spanish was something in my Spanish register. If you go to Spain all your classes will count as Spanish credits and you can basically major pretty easily. So that’s what I did and I had actually two majors, religion, and Spanish just because I was interested…
Steve: All very practical majors, how about that.
Jeff: Like things building up on each other, and in my spare time I had a job as writing tutor just to make some money. I always liked writing, I didn’t want to study English though because as you know, being in college you write a lot regardless of whether or not you’re an English major, and so I was always taking a writing class or two every semester because it was just something that was interesting to me.
I was always good at English, I won all those school spelling bees and stuff like that, but it was just this that thing I did, I never considered it as a vocational path and I think I certainly didn’t think of myself as a writer, and the answer is no, it was always just something that I did. I remember watching a Ted Talk once with Elizabeth Gilbert and she said, “Writing is my home, not in the sense that it’s like a place that I am from, but she says home is the thing that you always return to.”
I love that definition and for me writing was this thing that was always an escape for me. So when I was in middle school like a lot of middle schools I loved comic books, so I would create my own comic books and I would write these stories and I would draw these super heroes that looked a lot like the X man. I would do it on three ring call it route, no book paper, three in a spiral ring, no book paper and then I would bind these books together with twisty ties from the bread bag in our kitchen and that was — my first book was a comic book.
And then when I played music, my favorite part of playing music was writing songs, writing original songs, and then in college I was studying Spanish and I didn’t have a computer in college, and so I’d go to the computer lab late at night and when I was really, really stressed during finals like two, three o’clock in the morning I’d go to the computer lab and I’d open up a web browser and write an email to myself and send it to myself because that we didn’t have DropBox and that’s how we’d save things in the cloud so to speak.
I would write little stories, I’d write little essays, I’d write little articles, and it was just this thing that I did to relieve stress. Then after college I toured with this band, I had this girl on the hook that I dated for two weeks before I left for a year, we wrote letters, and my favorite part of touring with the band going all over the country playing all kinds of venues, really living this life that I thought this is my dream, it actually ended up being – it was fun but it ended up being kind of underwhelming.
Anybody who has ever toured with a band will tell you that like playing music on stage is a tiny fraction of how you spend your time and most of it is driving, sitting in a van. And I realized it wasn’t as glamorous as I thought it was, and my favorite part of that even on tour was I was responsible for keeping the team blog, and once a week I would write an update to our friends and family and what little fans we had and say, here is what we did this week, and that was my favorite part.
Steve: So how did that lead to money, sorry Jeff I want to get to like the money?
Jeff: Slowly and painfully, so I mean I forgot about all that stuff and so seven years after that I was working for a non-profit and much like your story Steve, my wife got pregnant by me fortunately and I was like I got to pay for this. And I made about $30,000 a year at the time and my wife made about a similar amount and we were living fine on that, but she like your wife wanted to stay home and be a mum for a while and we could not afford for her to do that, and so I became very motivated to find a way to make money, period.
Around that time I was sort of frustrated with my job, again I can really relate to your story, you go through these motions, you get up, you say hi to your spouse, eat breakfast, go to work, come back. I didn’t hate my job, some people really hate their jobs, and I think that that’s a blessing, like I think it’s a good thing when you hate your job because you know something has to change.
I didn’t hate my job, I was comfortable in it and I think that’s the most dangerous place for a person to be is comfortable because then you can just kind of drift through life and never really make the kind of changes that are going to lead to the kind of life that you ought to be living. So I was comfortable and getting ready to become parents made me a little uncomfortable and I realized I’ve got to figure this out.
I also realized what I was doing was not what I wanted to be doing for the next ten years. I was approaching 30 and I was going, gosh if I keep doing this every year I get a little raise, my boss gives me a little bit more money, a little bit more responsibilities, I’m not going to get fired and I could do this for the next ten years, no problem. What I foresaw was a mid life crisis, I saw myself turning 40 and going, what have I done with my life? Nothing bad necessarily, but not what I felt like I was meant to do.
So I started reading books and going to seminars and conferences and I tried to – I felt like I had an itch that I couldn’t scratch and I remember reading in a book that somebody said, the way that you find your dream is not by looking forward but by looking backward, and that the act of dreaming is not an act of discovery but of recovery. I just started to do this thing [inaudible 00:13:29] an author calls listening to your life.
He says, “Before we can tell our lives what we want to do with it, we need to listen to our lives telling us who we are.” I kind of went back through the chronology that I just shared with you and I realized that the thread, I’ve done so many different kind of weird things, travel, music, art, I was an actor at one point, in college I was involved in theater. All these different creative things and the thing kind of tying it all together was writing, that was the thing that I kept returning to, and I thought maybe I’m supposed o be a writer. So I started this blog, I started to take off, I spent about a year…
Steve: Is this Goins Writer, sorry.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Steve: Okay, got it okay.
Jeff: And then around that time we got pregnant and tried to figure out a way to take this blog that was really an outlet for me and turn it into a source of income. It took a year to kind of build the audience and then the second year as we were getting ready to have our son I turned it into a six figure business, went from making zero dollars to $150,000 in about six months after [inaudible 00:14:42].
Steve: That’s amazing, okay so can you give the audience an idea of how you’re doing today in terms of like books sold and how many books you have out, that sort of thing.
Jeff: Sure, so my business model is I write books, I’ve written five books, so far the last book today it’s sold about 50,000 copies, a little bit more than that now. That came out in 2015 and that was the best-selling book out of all of them, but the book that started it sold about 10,000 copies, the next book sold about 20,000, so all together we’re probably – I don’t know pushing 75, 80 maybe.
Steve: Nice, one question I had for you was how does one make money writing in the first place? So I was actually offered a book deal by Wiley once and the offer and payment was like nothing, and then I would have to sell a ton of books to make any loyalties at all. So at least to me it didn’t seem like writing with a publisher was the right route to take.
Jeff: Right, yeah that’s a bad deal. So my business model is twofold, one I write books and I make enough money off of book advances and loyalties for me and for my family just doing that. The second business model has been for several years I teach people how to succeed as a writer, teach them how do what I do primarily through online courses, and all together that’s about a million dollar business every year.
So how does one make money writing? I think the safe answer is you make money writing the way that really you run most businesses which is through multiple streams of income, and so I think the dichotomy here is you can get any money writing or you can make millions of dollars if you’re an outlier. The truth is I know a lot of working writers who are making $50 to $200,000 a year and you don’t know their names and that’s okay.
But I think if you want to be an author there’s sort of two options and I have done both. One is to self publish my first book, sold 10,000 copies in the first year and this is how I got started was I wrote a book, I self published it just as an eBook on Kindle and I made $16,000 in six weeks and I was like, oh my God, I can do this. Remember at the time I was making $30,000 a year and so this was huge and this happened like days before our son was born.
So during those sleepless nights I just kept hassling and finding other ways to sell this book and kind of built on this and ended up getting into online courses and that sort of thing, and then a book publisher offered me a deal and the first book deal was low, it’s $5,000. The next one was $15,000, one after that was $50,000, the one after that was $150,000.
But it was a revenue stream and while that money was coming in I would go and tackle another one, and like I said through that, through some affiliate stuff, by the end of the first year we were at 150 grand.
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Let’s talk about just going back to the beginning when you launched that first eBook, did you already have an audience through the blog?
Jeff: Yeah, so the first six months I went from zero to 72 email subscribers.
Steve: 72,000 or?
Steve: Seven two okay.
Jeff: Seven two. I share this because I had a friend who started a blog and by day six he had 6,000 people a day visiting his blog, I mean it just kind of went viral and he’s like that’s how I knew I was supposed to be doing this. I started my blog and six people really…
Steve: I know that feeling by the way.
Jeff: You know what I’m saying, like you see somebody hit a home run and you go, why should I even do this, and it’s not like you’re not succeeding, it’s just comparatively speaking it feels like you’re failing. So it took me six months to get 72 email subscribers not like the sexy internet entrepreneurial story you’ve had. And then I was like I guess I need an eBook or something and I put that together and reached out to some people, asked them to share it, and then I went from 72 to 1,000 subscribers.
I feel like once you get to that point that’s when things start to become real. 1,000 people is a lot of people, I don’t have 1000 friends, I may have 100 or 200 friends, but to have 1,000 people want to listen to you, that’s a big deal. That was at month six, by the end of month 12 and I was blogging every day, this was 2011, and I was doing it just to practice and get better, and get this out there.
There wasn’t necessarily a goal to make money at that time; this was this itch that I was trying to scratch but then we got pregnant and then I heard these stories, I remember reading Darren Rowse’s blog and other blogs and going, oh like this is the thing that people do. So I started trying to figure that out, by the end of the year I had 10,000 email subscribers and I was making no money. I went to a conference, a public speaking conference; I was like maybe I can speak for a living.
I was just trying to find ways to make money and I was coming up empty. And then at that conference, I met a woman named Kerry Walkers who especially at the time was coaching a lot of online entrepreneurs and business owners. And I said, hey I am – she was a big deal and we had lunch at this conference and I said, how do I monetize my blog? She said, how many email subscribers do you have? I said 10,000, she goes, oh you’ve got a six figure business there.
I said, no I’ve two figure business, I think I made like 12 off of this last year from Amazon credit or something, I don’t know. And she goes, here’s what you’re going to do, and she told me what to do, and it was very simple, do a survey with your email list, ask them what they want, ask them how they want it, and ask them what they’re willing to pay. I did that and they said, we want an eBook, we want to learn about how you built your blog and we’ll pay you $5 for it.
And so afraid to charge anything, I said, okay here’s two eBooks for two for $2.99 and I launched that in January of 2012 and I made $1,500 in a weekend and that was incredible to me, that was a paycheck and I made it in two days. And I was like I will do this every month but that product wasn’t that great, it was a PDF, it was what we now call a minimum viable product. I threw it together, it took me a few weeks, I based it on the keynote presentation of a talk I did at one of my sisters who was in college at the time at a journalism class about why you need a blog.
And so I turned it into an eBook and I sold it, made a few thousand dollars off of it. I wasn’t proud of it, took it down and turned it to a full length book that I released in May and that’s the one I made that $16,000 in six weeks and one I made about $50,000 off of that product that year, that was a self published book. Then I got a traditional book deal, then later that year launched an online course, made about $70,000 off of that.
These things kind of kept building on each other, like I’m not good with numbers, I’m not good with money, I don’t manage our bank accounts and I have always been the slacker in our marriage and the dreamer, and the person who says, hey I’m going to do this and my wife kind of rolls her eyes. And I told her, I said, I’m going to make it – I think this was in January, I said, I’m going to make it so you don’t have to work when we have our child.
Our son Aden was born in May and my wife had – because she had a cesarean, he was four and a half weeks premature, she got I think three months off and she was kind of down to that last few days before her leave was done and she had to tell her boss whether or not she was coming back to work or not. All the while $50,000 was just sitting in a pay bill account and one day I checked it.
Steve: That was awesome.
Jeff: I sat down with her and I go, oh hey – and she knew stuff was happening, but I was just like, oh I made 500 bucks today, she’s like, wow that’s cool. We didn’t know how much it was adding up and I opened up the laptop and I showed it to her and I said, hey you don’t have to work anymore, there’s your salary and then it just…
Steve: So Jeff let’s start from the beginning because this is where a lot of people have problems, so how did you get your first 1000 subscribers?
Jeff: So I…
Steve: What is it you write about, how did you choose what to write about?
Jeff: I was a marketing director at non-profit and I like what Derrick Silva [ph] says about this, what’s obvious to you is amazing to others. I started my blog and it was driven by I think ego. I saw people like Michael Hyatt and Seth Godin tantalizing the world with their ideas and I thought, I’ve got ideas, people should listen to me, I want to be a writer, how do I do this?
And I realized that deep down inside I was a writer, I needed to be writing, and I didn’t know what to write about. So you go back and this is still on goinswriter.com, you go back and you listen to those early blog posts and I’m totally copying Seth Godin and Michael Hyatt and Steven Pressfield and all my heroes trying to find my voice and failing.
Then one day I saw the marketing director for this non-profit and I’m reading a session which I had done every Monday morning for about six months at this point on writing, on copy writing and how to write more effectively, on why nobody cares if you’re good, they care about how you can persuade an audience and how you can be very clear in your message.
I realized what if I just took that, put that on my blog, I mean I spend hours comparing this presentation than I did in front of a team of a dozen writers and marketers in our organization, I’m just teaching them how to do their jobs better, I’ll just put that on my blog, take those notes and turn it into a blog post. I did that and keep in mind I’ve got like just a handful people that are visiting my blog everyday at this point.
That’s when I started seeing my first few comments, and any time I wrote about writing versus leadership, or marketing or something that I didn’t really have any business talking about at that point, people responded. To me it was really interesting because I thought, this is obvious, everybody knows this, everybody knows you can go read Copyblogger and learn about copy writing, or go to ProBlogger and learn about blogging.
I realized for whatever reason that this audience that I was starting to reach didn’t know that and I was – the way in which I was sharing it as a writer, as somebody who has a bit of appearance in that sense it was connecting with people, and so that’s how I decided to start writing about writing.
Steve: How did you get those first like handful people to find you, like how did you market your blog in the very beginning?
Jeff: I did it through relationships, so I’m fortunate to live in a city like Nashville which is not like New York or San Francisco or even Atlanta, but it is a growing community of creatives. I remember sitting on my couch one day following these people on social media and going, what do these people have that I don’t have? These bloggers and influencers, and the online entrepreneurship community in Nashville was just beginning, but I saw this happening, I was following people on Twitter, so what do they have that I don’t have?
I realized they all know each other, like in real life like they’re really friends, and so this person tweeting this thing and linking to so and so’s blog post and sharing this thing on Facebook, they have real relationships. And it was sort of [inaudible 00:27:33], I was like; oh like this doesn’t just happen on the internet, offline relationship leads to online connection. So I started asking these people on to coffee.
One of them ended up being Michael Hyatt, he very generously said yes and we had coffee and I just made a follow up with him, I stayed in touch with him. I did this with about a dozen people, people that were peers and also people that were major influencers. Some of them said yes, some of them said no, and I just kept working on my blog, and then one day I “launched my blog,” I redesigned it. I got a friend design an actual header for me versus it just saying Goins, Writer.
I launched it once I figured out what this was about and I emailed all those people and I said, hey I’m launching my blog, I’d love for you to share it, and a lot of those people tweeted about it and shared it. This was months into the blog actually existing, and that was how I got probably the first surge of traffic, that was the day when everybody tweeted about it and shared about it when I got like 600 people to come to the blog, and I was, hey this is awesome.
Looking back I didn’t have an email list or anything and I was like 600 people came to my blog and the next day it was back to six.
Jeff: I realized I’ve got to find a way to keep these people here, and that’s when I started thinking about things like building an email list.
Steve: So in your class do you actually advice that people go to a bunch of conferences and meet people, like is that part of the curriculum?
Jeff: I teach a few courses, the main one is called Tribe Writers which is a course about how to become a professional writer. I think networking is part of the job and I think it’s always been part of the job. I read this Hemingway biography years ago about the 1920s expert community living in Paris of which Hemingway and James, Joyce and [inaudible 00:29:32] and all these soon to be famous authors were a part.
Part of what made these people the famous authors they are today is the community that they were part of, that they all connected with each other, affirming and sharing their work with the world when nobody else cared about who they were. So I do think relationship is important. Do I think you have to spend thousands of dollars going to conferences a year? Not necessarily, but you have to spend a little bit of time connecting with somebody on Skype, on Twitter, in person ideally at some point.
So I do think getting in front of people and building some kind of relationship with them is really, really important but the most important part of that Steve that most people neglect is the follow up. So you and I are talking here not because we met at FinCon four years ago, but because we’ve maintained a relationship and we’re not like best friends, but we’ve stayed in touch, I’ve paid attention to the stuff that you are doing.
I think once you meet somebody in person you have a face of voice, they become a real person, and when they email you or you see them in your social media stream, you pause, and you think, oh like this is a real person, I’m going to pay more attention to what they are doing. So I think yeah real life interaction with real life human beings is part of the job.
Steve: This is kind of awkward Jeff because I thought we were best friends, but that’s beside the point…
Jeff: This is our DTR.
Steve: So I know you teach a class about this and let’s assume that the writing part is done and you’ve kind of found your voice, once you’ve found your writing and this is my personal opinion that blogging, starting a blog today is a lot harder because there’s a lot more other mediums that are just trying to grab everyone’s attention. So what are some of the principles that you preach outside of just the writing part?
Jeff: So one of the things I advocate for is a lot of people talk about niching down and find your niche, and I actually disagree with that, this a little bit counterintuitive to sort of traditional internet marketing business advice. It may sound semantic but I think it’s more significant than that. If you look at the world’s most powerful communicators, if you look at some of the biggest bloggers today, they are not niched down.
Seth Godin writes on a variety of topics for lots of different demographics, Michael Hyatt does the same, and what I think powerful effective communication does is it connects with a worldview. So what I teach our students to do is — the first step in the process is whether or not you think like you are a good writer or you’ve found your voice, you still have to clarify your message, and the way that you do that is by identifying a major worldview that your content connects with, and great communicators…
Steve: Give me an example with your own content for example.
Jeff: I’ll give you an example with your content Steve, like you might say you are sort of in the small niche helping would be internet entrepreneurs launch their own little niche businesses or start an online store as you guys did. But I know your story and underneath that story is this worldview, which is we shouldn’t have to come home everyday exhausted doing things we don’t love without the energy to actually enjoy all this work that we’re doing, and so we should be able to enjoy our work and spend majority of our time doing things that we love like spending time with our kids. That’s a worldview.
Steve: That sounds just like your worldview, amazing okay.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s a worldview and everybody might go, oh yeah that’s true I agree with that, but what you believe is not what you say, it’s what you do, and lots of people don’t live that way. Tim Ferriss has a worldview; his worldview is you should minimize the amount of time that you’re working so you can maximize the time you do the things that you enjoy. That worldview really says work is bad. Some people love work, I actually love work; I don’t think work is bad.
So the point is not whether you have a good or bad worldview, you need to have a clear worldview, and I think that a worldview statement is best summarized in this sort of framework. Every ______ can or should _____.
Steve: I was just going to say I agree with that because I was following some blogs that do a lot of teaching and they do it very well, but the blog itself does not have a personality, and so that’s why I kind of stopped going back, whereas some of the other blogs that have a personality to it and like someone who is the face of the blog, I tend to visit more because I’m curious about them in addition to the content.
Jeff: Yeah, here is the thing you can win over an audience with a topic niching down. I’m not saying it’s a bad way to build an online presence, but typically for a lot of the content creators, a lot of the writers building these audiences it gets boring, because say you knit cat sweaters and you love cat sweaters and you’ve got this cat sweater knitting community, and you start a cat sweater knitting blog and you love, love, love it and then your cat dies and the last thing you want to hear about is cat sweaters and now you’re stuck with a million knitters who want to listen to you, and you’re done with it, you’re stuck, or you’ve got to start from scratch.
But look at somebody like Seth Godin; I think he’s a great example of this. Seth’s worldview is the system is broken but we can fix it. He started out kind of in a niche, he started out in the marketing niche talking about things like promotion, marketing, building companies, sold the company to Yahoo, and then he started writing about business.
But you go to Seth’s blog today and he writes about politics, he writes about his frustrations with the TSA, he writes about [inaudible 00:35:55], he writes about anything and everything and his diehard fans of which I am a part of that tribe read it all, because it doesn’t ever feel off topic, because what Seth is doing so well is there is a theme, there is a worldview woven throughout everything that he’s writing. So he just looks at something and goes, this is broken and this is broken and that is broken, and he just wants you to think differently.
But if Seth had had an early win which he did almost two decades ago with the marketing thing and just kept talking about marketing over and over and over again, he would have never been able to do that. And so I think effective communication, building a tribe today that you’re going to take somewhere, like as the market changes, as the world changes, it needs to have a worldview.
It doesn’t mean you can’t talk about a specific topic, I talk about writing, but my worldview is every creative person can succeed. You mentioned this at the beginning of the show; can you be a successful creative? I absolutely believe that this is the core frustration professionally speaking that I have which is that I know so many talented people musicians, artists, writers who go, well I can never do that because they just have this limiting believe that nobody cares about art because of that creative work.
It’s just not true, I know so many people, you probably know a lot of people who are very, very creative, who are also smart at business and making a good living for themselves and their families. So that worldview, something that I can take to other areas of interest and I do, I haven’t written five books about writing. I have one book about writing and then I wrote four other books about different areas of life that interest me.
That’s because I’m writing with a worldview so that as my interests change, as the world changes my writing can change with me and my audience will follow that process.
Steve: I think I agree with you on the worldview part in the long run, but I almost feel like when you’re just starting out it helps to be the best at a very narrow topic, would you agree with that?
Jeff: I think so; I think it’s a good way to begin a conversation. If I walk up to you – again I think the best way to think about blogging and all this online stuff is like think about real life and how do people really work. If I walk up to you, not a party and I don’t know you and I say, hey it’s nice to meet you and you tell me 27 minutes of your life story and why you believe the things you believe in, what your values are, that’s bit much.
What you’re probably going to do if you’re smart and everybody is good at this meeting in person, if you wanted to develop some kind of friendship or a relationship with me so that we actually can be best friends Steve, you’re going to say, hey where are you from, what do you like, and you’re going to try and find some common area of interest, and over time you’re going to build on that and as we build trust with each other we’ll share more private parts of what we think, what we believe with one another.
But I do think – so with blogging yeah it’s good to pick an idea, some sort of topic to sort of focus on, but do that with the understanding that over time this topic could lead to this topic and that topic. I think another great example of this is like Chris Guillebeau. He did kind of niche down early on, he was the travel guy, but he was the whole time, he’s writing with a worldview and what is that worldview? It’s that just because other people do it doesn’t mean you have to live that way, the whole idea of living an unconventional life.
So it’s unconventional to try to go to every country in the world and he did it, it’s unconventional to start an online business especially when he did it. So he started creating this portfolio, this body of work that’s all connected with this worldview. So I don’t think you can start a topic, stay super focused on it, that’s all you talk about without thinking about where is this leading and am I weaving the worldview through this right now.
I mentioned Tim Ferriss, he did the same thing. Tim Ferriss’s worldview is I mentioned work, that’s kind of the message of the 4-Hour Work Week. His deeper message is truly about like life hacking, that you can put in the minimum amount of effort and get the maximum results if you do it right. You can do that with work four hours a week, you can do that with health, the 4-Hour hour Body, you can do that with learning any skill, the 4-Hour Chef and on and on.
So I think powerful communicators whether they’re doing this on purpose or not, what makes their messages so interesting and makes their tribes so committed to them is a worldview.
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So let me ask you this, so up until this point we’ve just been talking about content, content, content, do you feel like that is the majority of the battle?
Jeff: What is, finding a worldview, creating content?
Steve: Finding a worldview and creating great content.
Jeff: If for a writer just period.
Steve: For a writer who is trying to do this for a living.
Jeff: I think most writers want to write and they don’t know why or what they want to write about or who they want to write for and I think that’s okay. I didn’t know, but you cannot stay stuck there and be successful, so is it the majority of the battle? Yeah, I mean probably, I mean as much as I would say it’s great to know the right people and have some sort of business strategy or smart model, really, really great content, really great messages have a way of selling themselves.
A lot of times we’re trying to take mediocre messages and find some gimmick to help them spread really far when in fact we should just be focusing on making better stuff.
Steve: I can agree with that to a certain point. There was this guy, I don’t know if you read Mark Manson?
Jeff: I don’t know.
Steve: He’s a personal development blogger and I read one post of his and I was instantly hooked just by his content alone, but in my opinion he’s just exceptional, whereas the majority of people’s writings that I read, it does not hook me that way. So I guess if you’re exceptional then that’s good enough, but if you’re just above average so to speak, it seems like the other factors that you mention like the context, the networking and the business sense carries a much larger role.
Jeff: Yeah, I mean I think that it’s always problematic to say if I just do this one thing it’ll work, if I’m just a great writer it’ll work, if I’m just a great entrepreneur it’ll work. I’ve been running a business now for the past four almost five years and like this year I actually learned how to do finance right. Now I actually know every single day how much money we actually made, not what the shopping cart told me, not what the PNL told me a month, or a quarter, a year later.
And that was the thing I was like; I’ll just let somebody else figure it out. Most of the stuff, it’s going to take a branding of a few skills. I think to be a writer today you’ve got to be one part a great writer, one part a fairly savvy marketer and one part sensible business person. I love this idea of the portfolio life which was an idea coined by a business philosopher named Charles Handy.
In 1989 he basically projected that in the future we would all have multiple jobs; he predicted what we now call the gig economy. He said in the future you’re not going to have one job; you’re going to have like five different kinds of jobs at any given point. You are going to have at least five if not closer to ten careers. He advocated having like portfolio marriages every ten years, you just divorce.
Steve: I didn’t know about that part, okay.
Jeff: I was like oh okay interesting. Yeah, the idea is you are not one thing, and this idea of mastery, it’s really cool but most of us have more than one interest, and I think the future of mastery is really being able to take a few skills and combine them in your own unique portfolio. In fact Robert Greene author of a book called Mastery said the future belongs to people who can take multiple skills and combine them in interesting ways.
Steve: That’s interesting, I actually just quit my job of 17 years last year as an engineer and that was a really hard decision, but I can kind of relate now. I had a whole bunch of stuff going on and it was just time.
Jeff: Yeah, no I totally get that.
Steve: Let me ask you this question, how deliberate are you in some of the metrics, like do you look at keyword research for your posts or anything along those lines or is it just pure writing?
Jeff: Neither of those extremes. When I first started, keep in mind I was a marketing director so I had a working knowledge of search engine optimization, I understood that if I wrote pretty good stuff, had smart headlines, that if I was writing about kiddy sweaters, having the word kiddy sweater in the title of the blog post was not a bad idea, and then getting people to link to it was a good idea as well.
When I started I really was just practicing in public, it was my form of accountability. I’m going to put this on the blog every day because if I don’t I’m hiding and I just wanted to get better as a writer. As the audience grew, as my business matured I started measuring more things, I became an entrepreneur because I became a dad and I was like, okay I’ve got to build a business, I’ve got to figure this out.
I did start looking at metrics and getting into some of that stuff because if I didn’t I wasn’t going to be able to support my family, and so went from hobby to profession. I really liked it, but I’ve never been super metrics oriented, so now as our team has grown, I’ve delegated a lot of that stuff and not deferred it. Like I used to hire people and go, hey do all the stuff I don’t want to do and I realized that’s irresponsible leadership.
These days I delegate most of the stuff I don’t want to do and I do focus on the writing and then the team, I’ve got a team of about four people now and they report to me, here is how this blog posted, I’m like okay great, I’ll write more about that. I still create all the content but in terms of revenue, page views, growth on the Facebook page, those kinds of things I just don’t gig out on that.
It’s something that I did for a season because when you’re starting something you kind of have to do everything initially unless you just got a bunch of cash lying around that you can use as startup capital. But I think that’s a good thing, and so these days I get reports that I sometimes look at and mostly stay focused on the few skills that I feel like I do best.
Steve: Let me ask you this Jeff just to kind of conclude this interview since we’ve been talking for quite a while, someone comes to you and they are a writer let’s just say, what path or what advice would you give them just to kind of get their first 1,000 subscribers so to speak, would you recommend they start out with a blog, an eBook or what would you recommend?
Jeff: So you mentioned blogging earlier and one of the things that I have been hearing over the past year, year and a half is this question, is it too late to start? Yes it’s true that there are hundreds of millions of blogs out in the world now and that there’s lots of voices and people have picked up on the fact that you can build an audience online and replace your income and have an online business and do all this amazing stuff.
So it is noisier, it is more cluttered, I think that’s true. At the same time every year, I mean I teach thousands of writers, people who are just beginning and I see many of them, I don’t even want to call it a reap, they make the transition from this is an idea, the average writer makes less than a dollar a month to making thousands of dollars a month and turning this into a nice little side gig and for some people even a full time career.
So I really do believe now is still the best time to be a writer, and I do not think blogging is dying, maybe blogging as it existed say when you started Steve in 2007, obviously lots of things have changed. 2006, 2007 if you had a blog period you were remarkable, like people were like what’s a blog? But the internet is not going away, websites are not going away, a blog is just a website where you put content on there, and it’s good to own your presence on the internet and it’s good to have a place where you can send people, where you can communicate with them via email.
Email marketing trends, all the ones that I read are still going up to the right, so all these declines that we think are happening by and large are not, a lot of these are myths. So what is the thing that you should do? I think first of all start blogging, most writers are not doing this and all that means is get a website and get an email list. I don’t care if you actually “blog” but write something new once a week and send it to your subscribers, and then give them something for free for paying attention to you.
I think the first step is just an eBook just because even today many people will go, oh free book, I will download that and read that. You could get into webinars and all these other things which are great but there are barriers to entry for those things, there is a learning curve for those things.
Get a website, get an email list and write 1,000 word article that is good enough, that has enough interesting information, enough inspiration or entertainment value, whatever it is that you offer the world and then turn it into a PDF that people can get when they sign up for your email list, and you will be on your way to getting a tribe. Then from there I’d start writing for other outlets, other websites, I know somebody who recently built his blog to 100,000 email subscribers in about a year using Medium, just writing posts on Medium.
Jeff: Yeah but I mean that’s kind of getting ahead of…
Steve: This is the outliers.
Jeff: Yeah, well I think it’s a great strategy but he’s guest posting and I saw that guest posting is a great strategy. A lot of times you hear people say, oh this thing is over, go do this and maybe that’s true for like the bleeding edge, but blogging is still working really well. My numbers all of them are still going up every year, my students, thousands of them, their numbers are still going up, I’m not seeing this decline of blogging or email marketing.
Things are always changing and fluctuating and you should pay attention to that, but if you want to be a writer, get a website, get an email list and then take your best idea and in 1,000 words turn it into a downloadable PDF that people can start reading when they sign up for your email list and then just get attention to that, and I think guest posting is a free way to bring traffic to your website.
Steve: Cool Jeff, one last thing just as kind of set expectations, how long do you this takes to actually gather 1,000 or 5,000 email subscribers when you’re first starting out, like how long should you be doing this before you might tell yourself, hey this isn’t working?
Jeff: You know a lot of people want to promise quick results here, and like I said it took me six months because I didn’t know what I was doing. I know this was years ago.
Steve: Six months is fast in my opinion.
Jeff: Yeah sure, I’m coaching a group of people right now, it’s basically a mastermind group taking a dozen people through this process to go from essentially zero to an online business or publish a book or whatever their goal is, but going from like making nothing off of their writing to making something. We have one person in the group who went from 50 email subscribers in the past nine months to 260 and she’s proud of that, and she’s on her way.
I have somebody else who went from a few hundred to like 12,000. Yeah, so I think results do vary as you know, I mean there’s no like perfect formula if you do it this way it will always work this way. I will say that my friend Bryan Harris who is a ninja at this stuff has consistently demonstrated that you can do it in about 90 days; you can get to 1,000 email subscribers. I think that’s great, that feels fairly aggressive to me but I’ve seen it happen, I know that it’s possible.
So how long should it take to get 1,000 email subscribers, I don’t know, I’d say three to six months, at 12 months if you’re still struggling it may be worth evaluating what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. When should you quit? Well, I heard this thing from Shawn [ph] West, I don’t know if you know him, he goes by Shawn West; his name is Shawn became shawnwest.com [ph].
He said any time you try to do something, give it two years before you expect to see any results, before you quit and move on to something else, and I kind of love that counterintuitive advice in our world of quick and dirty fast hacks to easy riches, what if you just took a long time.
When I heard that I really resonated with that, because when I started my blog I actually had an old blog that I had been writing on for four years and it had got to – I got 250 email subscribers over the course of our years and I was stuck, it just wouldn’t go beyond that and it is because I wasn’t doing this stuff that I mentioned, I wasn’t writing with a worldview, I wasn’t guest posting, I wasn’t networking with other people in the space.
So when is started goinswriter.com I told myself I’m going to write in that every day and I’m going to give it two years to try to get at least 250 subscribers before I quit, because if I get 250 subscribers in two years what took me four years to do it previously I’m getting double the results, that felt good to me. Then when I heard Shawn say that give something two years before you quit, I liked that, but you’ve got to believe in this and this has to be important to you.
So how long should it take? I don’t know, I’ve seen it take three to six months, sometimes longer. How long should it be before you quit? I think it should take a while, and if it’s easy to quit then maybe it wasn’t worth doing in the first place.
Steve: Yeah it’s funny, the advice that I give everyone is — for me personally I always are willing to commit three to five years on any project that I start actually.
Jeff: Yeah I love that, that is so counter control by the way, I mean how many people do you know that are like, I’m trying this thing out, we’ll see how it goes and you’re like, well how long have you been doing this? Well I’ve spent about four and a half years, so we’ll see. Nobody does that, they don’t even do that, people don’t do that with jobs. How is your new job? I think it’s okay, but I might give it another five years. People don’t do that, I love that Steve, I mean I think…
Steve: Oh you’re talking to a guy who was in the same company for 17 years or so.
Jeff: Oh yeah, I think we live in a commitment phobic world today especially when you’re talking about people who are our age or younger. I think that just some things take time and I think success in just about anything definitely takes time, and if it doesn’t take time enough then it doesn’t last.
Steve: Cool Jeff, hey thanks a lot for your time, we’ve been chatting for longer than I was expecting, but the conversation was good and now we’re best friends, right?
Steve: So where can people find you if they want to learn more about you?
Jeff: Well thanks Steve, it’s my pleasure certainly to be such a [inaudible 00:58:03]. You can go to my blog goinswriter.com. If you want to learn more about building an online audience you can sign up for my email newsletter, and so get a free eBook about how I did that thing you mentioned at the beginning, how do you 100,000 email subscribers in the first 18 months, and you can get that for free at my website at goinswriter.com, G-O-I-N-Swriter.com.
Steve: Cool, well Jeff thanks a lot for coming on the show, really appreciated.
Jeff: It’s my pleasure.
Steve: All right take care.
Steve: Hope you enjoyed that episode, and I hope that Jeff’s story has shown you that you can make it as an artist if you perfect your craft, and incidentally he just released a book called Real Artists Don’t Starve that you should all check out on Amazon right now. For more information about this episode, go to mywifequitherjob.com/episode166.
And once again I want to thank Klaviyo for sponsoring this episode. Klaviyo is my email marketing platform of choice for ecommerce merchants, and you can easily put together automated flows like an abandoned cart sequence, a post purchase flow, a win back campaign, basically all these sequences that will make you money on auto pilot. So head on over to mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O, once again that’s mywifequitherjob.com/ K-L-A-V-I-Y-O.
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And if you’re interested in starting your own ecommerce store, head on over to mywifequitherjob.com and sign up for my free six day mini course. Just type in your email and I’ll send you the course right away, thanks for listening.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast, where we are giving the courage people need to start their own online business. For more information visit Steve’s blog at www.mywifequitherjob.com.