How Content Syndication Helped BestSelf Co. Launch a $2 Million Business
by Felix Thea Podcasts Nov 29, 2016 38 minute read Leave a comment Email Pinterest Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
Content can be excellent bait for attracting the kinds of people you want as customers.
But it’s not enough to create epic content if your audience doesn’t see it. One way to ensure it lives in the same places your audience does is by syndicating it on other platforms.
Cathryn Lavery and Allen Brouwer are the founders of BestSelf Co.: one of the winners of Shopify’s Build a Business VI competition and maker of the Self Journal, the productivity super weapon that puts you in control of your day every day.
On today’s podcast you’ll learn how these two entrepreneurs launched a $2 million business by writing epic productivity articles and syndicating them in all the right places.
What to look for when you’re coming up with profitable business ideas.Why you should focus on making money first and then on your passion projects.How to personalize your posts for different communities online.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
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Store: Best Self Co.Social Profiles: Facebook | Twitter | InstagramRecommended: The Foundation, KingSumo Giveaways, LittleMight, Allen Brouwer, Kickstarter campaign
Felix: Today I’m joined by Cathryn and Allen from bestself.co, Best Self is the maker of the Self Journal and that’s a productivity super weapon that puts you in control of your day everyday, was started in 2015 and based out of New York City, New York. Welcome Cathryn and Allen.
Allen: Hey Felix, thanks for having us.
Felix: Yeah excited to have you on. Let’s talk a little bit more about this product, so Best Self is the company, Self Journal is the product, tell us a bit more about this, what is the Self Journal?
Cathryn: Self Journal is a physical day planner that is based on a goal, so it’s a three month goal or goals that you set. We show you how to break it down so you know exactly what you have to do everyday to get there.
Felix: Very cool, so is this a, I guess a technique that you used previously? How did you come up with this planner I guess? Like how did you guys come up with the idea, was this a product that you were already using or used on your own prior to creating the full fledged product?
Allen: Yeah so Cathryn and I were running our own businesses separately, then we had a business that we were running together. We were sort of-
Cathryn: Which was not Best Self, this was before Best Self.
Allen: Yeah which was not Best Self. This was actually another eCommerce Amazon business. We needed something to hold us accountable throughout the day. I sort of had a planner structure so I knew what my long term goals were, what I wanted to do with my life, and a breakdown of my top priorities throughout the day. I was in the city working with Cathryn, I’d pull it out to see all right what are we going to tackle today while I’m here? She goes oh hey what is that? I go oh well this is my planner, she’s like no way. She pulls out here’s, she’s like listen I couldn’t find anything that works, I’ve got hundreds and stacks of planners all over the place, we have to write our own.
Felix: Very cool, so you were both running businesses separately, ran a business together. We are talking about three businesses already going on at the time of the Best Self, I guess the Self Journal?
Allen: Between the two of us.
Felix: Wow, that’s a ton, so how did you balance all of it? How did you know that this was not going to be something that would spread you too thin? Especially since you’re already, I think for a lot of listeners they already have their plates full with just running one business or trying to get one business off the ground. You guys already had three businesses going, between the two of you, and now you want to add a new kind of product onto your plate. How did you know that this would be, I guess not be an issue in terms of time and resources?
Allen: We wanted to make this product to actually decrease our time. I was filling out a blank moleskin everyday, Cathryn was filling out her framework throughout the day each and every morning and it just got tiresome. To free up some time let’s create this thing for ourselves so we don’t have to keep writing this in everyday. It wasn’t really a business in the beginning.
Cathryn: Yeah it was a product that we wanted for ourselves and then, like I designed it because I have design background and I was like okay let’s just make this for ourselves. Turns out it’s very expensive to print a couple of boos for just us so we showed it to some friends to see if maybe they would like it. It sort of snowballed from there in a way because people were like oh I love this, and that’s when we’re like why don’t we kick-start this and see if we can validate it? For us it didn’t start as a business, it just started as a product that we wanted to exist and then do to the success of the actual product and how much people loved it, that’s what sort of turned our focus to turn it into a real business.
Felix: You guys had no other forms of validation prior to the Kickstarter campaign?
Allen: Just our friends telling us that they wanted it also.
Felix: How very cool, we’ll talk about the Kickstarter in a bit. Before we get there I want to talk about this space that you’re competing in. This space that you’re in, this productivity space, I feel like it’s grown in popularity over the last few years. A lot of new entrepreneurs coming in to this space, a lot of people want to become entrepreneurs and then they realize, they bump into this issue where there’s not enough time, they’re kind of running around with their heads cut off, and there’s just no kind of focus and that’s always the key tip or key to success for a lot of entrepreneurs is to have that kind of focus. This growing space, this growing productivity space, were you ever worried about the competition or how to stand out in this very fast growing I want to call industry but it’s a very fast growing category?
Cathryn: I think for us we didn’t really think about all of that at the start because again, we just wanted the product. We came up with other businesses, it’s funny because we’re both, we’ve both tried to do a lot of things, we’ve both had other businesses, and stores, and products that we tried to do and we sort of went towards what we thought was a good business but this was probably, it’s been the most successful but it’s also the most organic way that it came about. Where we didn’t, we’d already tried a bunch of things that hadn’t worked for us so then we created this thing for ourselves and we knew that it worked for us, we actually used it to launch our Kickstarter, like the whole goal framework. It was about really okay this works for us, let’s create it, create this product and then it’s not until now that we’re seeing, we see that there’s a lot of stuff in this space. I think because we weren’t focused on competing with other people at the start we haven’t really thought about it.
Felix: I think you were saying that you thought it would be a good business and obviously you two have had success identifying markets, identifying what kind of businesses to start because you’ve started previous businesses. What kind of features or what kind of characteristics of this particular product, or this particular business, or even this particular market made it attractive to you or at least made you realize that there might be some profitability in this product or profitability in a company like this?
Allen: Profitability wise, we discovered that during and after our Kickstarter campaign. I think it was towards the tail end of our Kickstarter campaign or shortly thereafter that the emotional side followed, it sort of turned into a passion project and now a very successful passion project. When you’re working on the things that you really love and enjoy that adds a whole new element to it.
Felix: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you probably wouldn’t have started down this path if you didn’t think that, not necessarily you become crazy profitable, crazy rich off of it, but that it would at least make sense as a business, that it would at least be sustainable? Did you, what did you notice about this particular space, notice about this business that made your realize that this could become a sustainable business?
Cathryn: I think for us after our Kickstarter ended and we were like wow, people really supported this project. Then it was kind of a moment with, so we had another business together and to be honest the Self Journal is where we had focused all of our time over the last couple of months on, because we were just enjoying it so much. The other business, it was more driven just, it wasn’t really something we were passionate about. It was just almost like another job that we had for ourselves.
After the Kickstarter we got on a call and we just decided look, this has gone so well in the last month that we validated it, why don’t we just go full into this and see how it goes? We ended up selling the other business and just going fully into the Self Journal because we were so passionate about the product and we also saw how it helped people, so for us over the years as we’ve learned a ton about personal development and productivity through books and meeting people, we wanted to, and I wanted to learn that when I was younger if I had known the stuff that I know now when I was at university and everything, I would have been able to save so much time and be a lot more focused. That’s really our driving factor, is it’s not really about the market and the profitability it’s like how can we teach people to become their Best Self so that we can change the world one person at a time if they’re hitting their goals.
Allen: Yeah I remember the call that Cathryn, that you and I had. It was like a Sunday afternoon, our Kickstarter campaign had ended maybe like a week prior or something, two weeks prior. We still had the business that we were working on before and she called me up and she was like Allen you’re going to think I’m nuts. I think we should go all in on the Self Journal and this new form of business called, I don’t even think it was called Best Self then yet, it might have been.
Cathryn: It was called Best Self then.
Allen: Yeah, she’s like I just want to go all in on Best Self and stop doing the other business. I was like you know what I feel the exact same way, so.
Felix: Very cool, I guess that’s why it makes sense that you two are partners, if you’re already thinking alike even without coming together and talking about it for the first time. You said that you both discovered that you had this passion almost after the success of the Kickstarter campaign, maybe through the obviously and we’ll talk a little bit more about this, but obviously through the great success of the funding that you’ve had probably from people emailing and running comments and just talking about their excitement for this product. Were you also passionate or would you say prior to discovering Best Self would you say you were passionate about your previous business? If someone were to ask you back let’s say two years ago are you passionate about what you do?
Cathryn: Honestly I don’t think so. I think for us, at least for me, the other business was a way to for cash flow and to make money but it wasn’t anything that either Allen or I cared that much about personally. This product sort of came from us trying to improve ourselves and to get to where we needed to go. We never thought it would turn into a product, but once we started working on it and trying to improve it and doing a lot of, that’s really what we were passionate about and I think after having worked on a business that we didn’t really care that much about besides the numbers, this was so much better because you can work all day and you still are excited to get up in the morning and work. I didn’t have that with the other business.
Felix: Did the cash flows match your, the past cash flows or the revenues or the projections of Best Self match the previous businesses that you ended up ultimately selling off?
Cathryn: I’m trying to remember what they were, the Kickstarter we definitely raised more in that month then we were making.
Felix: Yeah, I guess the question I’m trying to get at is I think others reached this point too, whether it be with an existing business that now they’ve started another business that’s more of a passion project, or maybe they’re working a day job and now have a business on the side that’s a passion project. Where the passion project is definitely something like you were saying, they wake up excited to get to work on but doesn’t make as much, even if it does sustain their lifestyle is more than enough, it doesn’t match what they were making at the more “sustainable” business, not sustainable but stable business or stable job. You guys were willing to say you know let’s just go ahead with this passion project even though it didn’t necessarily match the revenues or the cash flows from your previous business. That was never a hard decision for you guys?
Allen: No it wasn’t, but I know that feeling because I remember when I was working my full time job and had my side project. My side consultancy reached the amount that I was making per month in my full time job, but it wasn’t until it surpassed it that I finally felt comfortable even though I matched it and sustained it for a little bit, it wasn’t until I surpassed it where I was like okay now I feel comfortable to step out. I know that feeling, for this it was a little bit different because we saw the success and the rabid fans of our Kickstarter campaign. It was sort of like a no brainer for us.
Felix: Yeah, it makes sense.
Cathryn: Yeah it was a no brainer because the other business was, we weren’t really effecting anyone’s lives, it was just we were selling products online still but they weren’t, it was like white label products so it was like yeah they did, they sold but we weren’t, we were getting emails saying how this journal help someone, they lost fifteen pounds or they got the job that they wanted. That stuff really mattered to us and that’s it made the decision easier.
Felix: If you could go back to the beginning, again this I think is a path that a lot of entrepreneurs are on, which is they think should I focus on getting cash, getting capital, getting some I guess initial funding not from investors but from just working a day job or starting a business that they know is going to make them money. Then putting the back burner what they’re truly passionate about. Do you think that you would still choose the path that you went on where you guys first worked on businesses that made the money and they maybe, I don’t think you were holding back on this passion project but it didn’t seem like you had discovered what you were passionate about yet, but once you did make that jump. Would you go back and do it the same way or would you say focus on looking for your passion to begin with and just spending all the time on that? Even to pass up that initial revenue or cash flow that you were generating from the businesses that you ultimately created.
Cathryn: Honestly, I would tell people to follow, do the money thing and get out of your day job, which is exactly what I did as well. It wasn’t a passion project, it was a way to escape because then you can give yourself more time and find your passion later. The thing that you don’t have much time, the thing that you’re trying to get more of is time so that you can work doing what you want. If you have a day job I would say the first thing I would do is to find a way to make money so that you can get out of that day job and then you can keep making money with the day job but you’ll have a lot more time because you won’t have the nine to five to go to.
Allen: I would say I wouldn’t change a thing. Everything worked out the way it did for a reason. Cathryn and I both learned a lot in our businesses prior to Best Self Co, which helped Best Self Co get to where it is today. It’s all about the journey and to dovetail what Cathryn just said, absolutely. If we didn’t have these businesses that were generating cash flow for us, there’s no way that we could have dedicated the time and energy into our Kickstarter campaign and into the Self Journal, which made it what it is today.
Felix: Basically what I’m hearing from you guys, it seems like you are both, have taken relatively risk adverse approaches to launching businesses which I’m personally a fan of. Like you were saying, start with the project, the business that will get you the money first and then use that time and energy and the capital to then focus on your passion project once you figured, or passion business once you’ve figured that out.
When you are, when you did make this decision, do you have any tips on how much am entrepreneur that is working a day job should be making or should have saved up prior to starting? Like should they be matching their income at their day job? Just barely making expenses? Like if you go back and do it all over again, would you jump sooner or later?
Allen: I think it’s different for everyone depending on what situation you’re in. Obviously if you have a wife and children and a family that number is going to be a little bit higher than if you were single and you didn’t have a lot of responsibilities on your hands. You can live pretty minimally there where you’re not looking after a family. It’s just whatever comfortable and whatever agreement that you can have with yourself and say all right I can live this lifestyle, some people want to cut back a lifestyle in order to have that freedom, some people don’t want to cut back their lifestyle and want the freedom. Obviously that numbers going to fluctuate depending on what people want.
Cathryn: All though you do want to save a little and give yourself some runway. A good thing about that is if you can set a time, like okay you try to hit a certain amount and then you save until, this is what at least I would do, is I would save like six months of expenses and living and then that would give me six months to be able to actually make some money before I quit.
Felix: Yeah I think that definitely at least lessens the stress of making that jump in. I think that when you are stressed out from trying to make money as soon as possible you don’t make the right decisions, you make much more short term decisions, so I think it makes sense to have some kind of safety net as well.
At this point I think listeners are probably wondering what were the businesses that you guys had created. Do you mind going into this a little bit? I know you mentioned the one you had together was an eCommerce, I think Amazon business selling white labeled products, is that correct?
Felix: Cool, and the ones you had separately, what were they?
Cathryn: Mine was a, I sold graphic prints so I have a design background so I sold design goods online which is what I got out of my day job with.
Allen: I was a consultant, for other companies doing their digital marketing for them.
Felix: Cool, and how did you guys I guess meet each other and ultimately end up partnering?
Cathryn: We met in a online entrepreneurship program. Basically when I was quitting my, I think I had just quit my job and I joined this program online, because I wanted to meet other entrepreneurs. I met on a, we would do these like weekly calls and Allen was on one of the weekly calls with about six other people so that’s how we first connected. I realized after a few weeks of talking with everyone that he was, would take action, so we would say we were going to do something and we would actually be the ones that would go ahead and do what we were saying. Then we became accountability partners, so we would just hold each other accountable, if I say I’m going to do this Allen would make sure that I do it.
Felix: Very cool, so why, I guess do you mind mentioning what is this website or program that you’re apart of, if other entrepreneurs want to join something like this?
Allen: The program was called the Foundation and depending on when you’re listening to this it may be around, it may not be around. I believe they’re going to do one last class. At the time of this recording it’s almost November. We met through the Foundation and I highly recommend some sort of online community, online program to meet like minded individuals. Whether that’s a forum, a membership community, a course like Cathryn and I went that had a community with it. It only elevates yourself when you’re surrounding yourself with like minded people who all are trying to do something more with their life. When you’re around people who maybe starting on Thursday at five o’clock just hit the bar and then are hungover Friday, Saturday, and Sunday you’re not going to really propel yourself further if you’re surrounding yourself with those people. If you’re surrounding yourself with people who are staying up late working on their side project, waking up early, telling you about their wins their failures, and you’re constantly helping each other level up you’re going to get there where you want to get to so much quicker.
Felix: Makes sense, so basically some kind of mastermind program, it sounds like that’s what the Foundation is. I’ve never been through it but I’ve heard things about it so it sounds like some kind of community that has a mastermind aspect to it. You’re saying you surround yourself with like minded people that are actually pushing you forward rather than get you into bad habits like the ones that you mentioned.
Cool, so one last thing about these past businesses, you mentioned that you guys eventually had to wind these down and ultimately sell, was it just the Amazon business?
Felix: What was that process like? I think people are probably interested in buying and selling eCommerce businesses. What’s involved in a sale of an eCommerce business?
Allen: A lot of documentation.
Felix: From your side?
Allen: Yeah, yeah. It’s putting pretty much all the financial sheets together, all the assets together, meaning what you have in inventory, what your assets are such as branding, manufactures, employees, websites, content, systems, processes, SOP’s, the whole nine. It’s like putting that together in a nice package and then finding, you can either list it yourself or you can find a broker who has a bunch of buyers that they can tap into.
Felix: Which one did you guys end up going with? A broker or selling it yourself?
Allen: For the sake of time we went with a broker.
Felix: Cool, so when you were going through this process of preparing the business for sale, or at least preparing it to be sold or to be marketed, promoted to be sold, did you ever thing dang I wish I spent more time on this from the very beginning to make my job easier now? If so what was that?
Allen: I think I would of probably just put one or two more virtual assistants in place to just monitor everything. Over time if it’s not, if it … When Cathryn and I stepped away it sort of took a decline where if it would have just stayed level, we would of had a much higher exit you know?
Felix: It sounds like maybe one of the key takeaways, I don’t think a lot of people will be in the same situation as you but one of the key takeaways is to sell a business at the height rather than when it’s one the decline, when you look at the numbers in the past six months or so and it looks very strong rather than declining which I think is what you’re getting at. You didn’t have as much time to focus on it, that makes sense.
Felix: Working with a broker, I think again on the sale side and on the buy side I think people are interested in this. Do you, what do you need to, I guess how do you work with them? What do they need from you? How do they work with finding you buyers? What’s that whole process like?
Allen: Pretty straight forward, you say hey I have this business, they say all right fill out this onboarding form. It’s a checklist of everything that they need which I just laid out before you, and then when you provide that over to them they can give it a once over and then they reach out to their buyers who say hey I’m interested in eCommerce, I’m interested in Amazon, I’m interested in physical stores, brick and motor, info products, whatever. They have a pool of buyers that they go to and then the sale is whatever you agree upon minus the brokers commission and that’s it.
Cathryn: One of the things if we could go back I think, just like keeping on top of the stuff, all the numbers and finances so that it’s not such a huge chore later if that is your plan, to sell. Luckily for me Allen took care of most of that but I did feel sorry for him because it looked horrendous.
Felix: Yeah that documentation I think is, what everyone says is that if they had documented everything from the beginning it makes it a lot easier later but a lot of people I don’t think go into business with the intention of ultimately selling it. I think it’s going to be a painful process for most people that go through the sale process because they don’t go into it with that intention.
Cool, so let’s talk about the actual, the journal, the Kickstarter campaign, the business that you guys ultimately ended up starting after these other three businesses. The Kickstarter campaign you said was the very beginning of it all, what made you guys decide let’s go and validate and launch this on Kickstarter?
Cathryn: The main thing was that, so I’d run a couple of Kickstarters for a previous business before so I knew the general flow of how it worked. I thought that okay we need to raise money to actually print this, we didn’t have the, we wanted to validate it, we wanted to produce it, so that’s really the reason we went to Kickstarter. We didn’t want to just go and get it produced and then find out nobody actually wanted it. Then actually Kickstarter’s great because you can build a community around the product before it exists and you can also improve the product. We took feedback from people and made the product better during the course of the kickstarter so that when we, the one that we sent out was better than the original one that was in the video and everything.
Felix: Yeah I think a lot of successful campaigns go through this process too where they evolve the product based on the feedback and based on the comments from the backers. Did the product change a ton? What changed with it as the campaign was going?
Cathryn: It was really just small tweaks of usability things more than anything that you would probably, I mean I would notice it but it was more of like okay maybe, I’m trying to even think at this point what it was. It was-
Allen: I don’t recall which specific things came up, but the reason why so many did come up or so many important ones came up was because we were actually giving away the PDF of the journal for free. We said listen, we want you to start now and we believe in this so much and we believe in helping you so much because it’s helped Cathryn and I that please take this PDF, print it out, start using it today because we don’t want you to wait for the manufacturing and the shipping and all that, we want you to get starter now.
People actually starting using it before the Kickstarter even ended and said hey, I’ve been using this for two weeks now or like a week and a half, you know it would be cool if you did this. Or you know it would be nice if you guys added this or took this out or moved this here. It was like a accumulation of things.
Felix: Very cool, so the kind of statistics or the data of this Kickstarter campaign had a goal of $15,000, blew that out the water raising $323,000 from 6,531 backers, so lots of success. What would you say was the key to this success? Was it this early free PDF that you gave out? Or what would you credit just that kind of explosive I guess campaign fundraising that you had?
Allen: Right, about three months before the campaign started we put in all, we pretty much did the Self Journal process. Where you take a 13 week goal, a three month goal, and break it into smaller milestones and daily action steps. We said all right, if our goal and our internal goal was 200,000, we said all right if we want to hit 200,000 what does that look like? What do we have to do? It’s like okay we need to build a list, get people excited before we even launch so when we launch on day one we come out with a bang and we did. We were funded within 28 hours, fully funded, and then it was a snowball effect from there. You get featured by Kickstarter on their homepage, and then it’s a serious of small daily steps from there on out.
Felix: The Kickstarter campaign maybe wasn’t even the I guess launchpad for your success, it sounds like this list that you built was really the launchpad for all of it. In 13 weeks you’re able to build a list large enough to kick start a Kickstarter campaign enough that it ultimately raised over $300,000. How many subscribers did you have at the time of this launch?
Cathryn: Yeah I think we had 3,250, something like that.
Felix: Okay so very achievable in I think if you do everything right and your only focus is to grow this list. What was the, how did you grow this list?
Allen: Writing content and then syndicating it out.
Felix: Okay, cool epic I think that’s a very straight forward, break this down a little bit. Writing the epic, I’m sure it’s much harder than you make it seem. The epic content and then syndicating it out, so what was the epic content that you were writing and how did you come up with these constant ideas?
Cathryn: We would do a, I would write post or Allen would write a post around productivity or something that was based around the journal. One we talked about habit forming, morning routine, so it was stuff that was very specific to what we talk about in the Self Journal. From there we created these content upgrades which were essentially like PDF guides or some sort of additional content that you could get for free for your email address. We interviewed some successful entrepreneurs and found out what their morning routine looked like and then we put it into an inggropahic PDF so it was about 26 pages or so, and then we had that as sort of an upgrade. We each read this post and then you could download it, so that was pretty successful.
We also did a giveaway, so we bundled a bunch of our favorite products around productivity so it was books, software, some products that we like, it was a bunch of stuff that we bundled together and then we were going to do a giveaway. The only people that were going to give their email addresses would be people that were interested in productivity and want the stuff so you’re not going to get someone that, if we had to put like an Xbox up to get emails we probably would’ve of gotten a lot more emails but then when we launched the Self Journal the people would be like this is nothing to do with what I signed up for.
Cathryn: It was a very targeted email-
Cathryn: List for what we planned to use it for. That was the two things that worked the best.
Felix: The content upgrade and the giveaway. Let’s dive into this a little bit more. Well let’s start with going back to the epic content for a second, were you guys, would you consider yourself at the time experts on productivity or how did you know how to create such, I don’t know what the epic content was but how did you know enough or how did you do enough research or, to fill out enough content to make it epic and enough that you could actually create content upgrades off of it?
Allen: Between the two of us Cathryn and I have, we did so much research and just personal development through our own businesses or while we were running our own businesses. We were like how do we be more productive? We’ve read articles, we’ve read books, attended seminars, went to conferences, listened to podcasts, and we were just accumulating.
Cathryn: We applied it.
Cathryn: We knew what worked.
Felix: I see, so these are already things that you knew at the time, I guess the question I’m getting at is when someone sits down and wants to create epic content or long form content, 5,000 word articles, do they need to be experts on the space? It sounds like what you guys were, or is it possible to kind of research and build out the content as you learn about it?
Allen: I would say yes.
Cathryn: I think you can either be an expert or you can be someone that’s experimenting in the open. Kind of like Tim Ferris is, he does the same thing with his books and with his blog posts. He’s like okay, I wanted to do this and these are all the steps that I did and these are the results that I got. I think people are very responsive to that type of content because they can see there where you are, they don’t really know what they’re doing but they can follow the same steps. I would consider that if you’re not an expert in something, but you might want to write content. People like to see people learning and what their results are rather than just being lectured to in a blog post, so that’s kind of how we approached our epic content also. It’s like okay this is what I was like before and then I applied these things, and this is the results that I saw and here’s how you can do it too, that sort of framework.
Felix: Yeah I like that framework too because I think a lot of people that want to create content, they’ll usually say I don’t know what to write about and you don’t need to always kind of tap what’s inside yourself. Like you’re saying, you could kind of what I’ve heard call it as lead from the middle, so rather than saying hey I’m the expert everyone follow me, you say hey I’m just like you guys but I’m going to learn and then teach you what I’m learning. I think both work equally as well as long as you’re positioning I guess the right way, that makes sense.
You created this epic content and then you also said that you created content upgrades around it. For the audience that might not know about what content upgrades are, can you guys explain what is a content upgrade and how did you know what should be your content upgrades?
Allen: What is a content upgrade? A content upgrade is a piece of content that’s above and beyond or a supplement to whatever blog or article or video or whatever medium you’ve just consumed, it should go hand in hand with that. What it is, it’s a value add, so hey you just read this article on these productivity things that I do every morning, if you want to see what 29 successful people do every morning and what their morning routine is, download this PDF but first give me your name and email address. When they give their name and email address they’ll the PDF, now they can see what Jack [inaudible 00:37:38] does every morning, what Louis [inaudible 00:37:40] does every morning, what Marie [inaudible 00:37:41] does every morning, Tim Ferris, so on and so forth. It’s just like a little piece that supplements whatever content that they just consumed.
Felix: These were like downloadable PDFs like you were saying that are first require an email address and opt in before they receive it, and do you usually include this like at the bottom of the epic content or how is it introduced to the reader?
Allen: Yep, normally at the end.
Felix: Okay cool. Can you give an idea of how much time is put into this? You’re talking about interviewing 29 entrepreneurs, maybe not a ton of interviewing time but still you have to piece together all of these, obviously it has to be valuable enough for people to say yes I will give my email address up for this content upgrade. Obviously it will required at least some time for you to put effort into it. Just as an idea, how much time should people expect to devote towards not necessarily the epic content itself but just the content upgrades that you were doing?
Allen: Well Cathryn’s a designer, so Cathryn how long did you spend creating these?
Cathryn: Honestly probably a little too long. I think it, a couple hours, well let’s say a day all in. We didn’t interview everyone, sometimes we would email people and get their morning routine. Other times we would-
Allen: Come across it online.
Cathryn: Come across it online and just cite the source. It wasn’t as much work as you would think it was. I created an infographic, I can give you copy of this so you can see what I’m talking about but I created sort of an infographic timeline of how they wake up so it’s a little more interesting for each person. I think probably a day or so it took me.
Allen: Maybe that ones a little unique and a little specific for the type of content. If you’re reading an article on morning routines you’re obviously going to want something related to morning routines. What you can do, which is what we did, is create a content upgrade that was almost generic that we can use for more than one piece of content. I think that one was very successful, I think it’s actually, we still offer it on our website now which is 37 productivity hacks, that will 10X your results. You could put that at the bottom of pretty much any piece of content that we were writing at that time, so it’s finding a nice balance between something of value that can be re-purposed to a larger audience than whatever the specific article is based on.
Felix: Yeah I think that’s important comment that you just made because I’ve heard that, and it makes sense, that the more customized the content upgrade is for the blog post the high conversions, it makes sense because it matches, it’s a much more natural I guess progression towards that content upgrade. It makes more sense for people to give up their email address for. Going by 80/20, don’t try to create a content upgrade for every single blog article, especially if you don’t have the time or resources for it, create something slightly more generic but still applicable for every post. Your entire blog, all the content you’re creating was about productivity so as long as the content upgrade was also about productivity it fits naturally into all the blog post. I think that’s an important point, that you don’t have to make a specific content upgrade for every blog post. Maybe for the post popular ones yeah you should probably go ahead and create something more specific, but for anyone getting started I think a more generic one makes a whole lot of sense, cool.
Felix: Yeah so I want to talk about the giveaway now. That was the other kind of key to growing this email list, putting together giveaways, I think putting together the prize and all of that, that part is easy, that part is fun. The real kind of pedal to the metal part of it where it, where you actually grow this list is the promotion aspect. How did you guys promote the giveaways that you created?
Allen: Through social media really. We did a little, a very, very small amount of paid traffic, I actually shouldn’t even be bringing it up because it was so tiny. Most of it was through organic social media, and through organic syndication.
Felix: You were just posting it on your own Twitter, Facebook, Instagram? Is that all that you did initially?
Allen: No, so we would find other avenues that we could post on, so medium.com, Reddit, forums, different groups inside Facebook so Facebook groups for entrepreneurs or people looking to start businesses.
Cathryn: The actual software that we used which is called King Sumo, it’s one of those ones where if you enter then you, if you ask to invite your friends or share on Facebook or Twitter you would get more entries, so there’s almost a viral thing built into it. Once we launched the giveaway we actually upgraded some of the posts, like the blog post and added that at the bottom. We just write a post on productivity and now here is a link where we’re giving away a bunch of free stuff and all you have to do is enter your email. Stuff that was already getting recommended and shared anyway, now had this extra element where we were doing a giveaway. It was again, highly targeted.
Felix: Yeah I like that, that you directed a lot of the traffic towards this giveaway. Was this a long running giveaway? Did you only do it once? How long did it go for?
Allen: I think it went for about 30 days and we only ran it once.
Felix: Oh wow, okay so 30 days, lots of kind of focus on just driving all of the traffic possible to this giveaway. I like that you clarified how you drove this traffic because if you said that you just posted your own social media then I would ask you next, like how did you grow this social media presence. Yeah it makes sense that you were able to go in other places where your audience already gather, on Facebook groups, on medium. You were just, some of these communities I think can be sensitive to people just coming along and say hey sign up for this giveaway, especially nowadays where people recognize that a lot of giveaways are being used to collect email addresses. How did you I guess handle this? How did you make sure that the giveaways that you were promoting weren’t seen in a negative light?
Cathryn: I think because we were giving something away, so the bundle itself that we were giving away was worth like a thousand dollars. It was like okay, do you want a bunch of free stuff? No? Then you’re fine, if you do you just put your email in. We didn’t really bombard the people that emailed, we just sort of once we had a blog post that was about productivity we would share it and then we would share like okay two weeks left of the giveaway. It was a targeted list and again we weren’t, it wasn’t like okay we’re giving away a Xbox or something very generic, it was a targeted list so that we could share other articles with them and we could share the Self Journal later on. I think from our giveaway we got around 1800 emails from that.
Felix: Wow that’s, 1800 emails in 30 days is definitely an amazing number to hit. You I think, Allen you mentioned that there was syndication involved too with the content and I guess you mentioned this with a giveaway as well. What do you mean by syndicating content?
Allen: It’s putting your content on other platforms and then somehow redirecting or capturing those leads there. Either redirecting your leads back to your blog or capturing the leads right on that medium. What we would do is we would take the blog post and we would publish it on our blog, obviously put in the content upgrades or the giveaway, and then we’d go to, first place would be Facebook groups. We’d go into Facebook groups and we would write a specific, this is very important, we’d write a specific post targeted to that Facebook group that isn’t spamming, it’s there to provide value, it’s first and foremost. If you go into Facebook groups and start copying and pasting into a hundred different groups, it’s not going to work out well for you. It’s a very manual process but it works, it has worked for us.
The problem is not many people do it because it does take effort. You need to go in, you need to create a post that’s specific to that group that talks, the language inside that group. Another example is Reddit, if you’re not speaking Reddit’s language you are going to get destroyed. I recommend going into Reddit and actually participating in there before you start syndicating. Just so you can understand the lingo, understand how it works, understand how you format a written post in there, and a lot of sub-Reddit’s don’t even let you post until you’ve been vetted almost. It’s getting in there and understanding that target market and understanding how they talk, how they communicate, and communicating to them via value. Then they’ll reciprocate, come to your site, hopefully if you’ve done everything correctly they’ll opt in and you’ll grow that list.
Felix: Okay so when you were creating these posts, I 100% agree about making sure that it’s customized and personalized for each group because I think we’ve all been a part of groups where we’re in multiple groups and all of the sudden you see people copying and pasting things because Facebook’s now smart enough to kind of group the same copy and paste content together and it looks really bad for anyone that’s doing this, so definitely avoid that.
Now when you’re writing this customized piece of post for Facebook groups, are you posting the actual content or are you just introducing the content and linking over to it? How do you drive the traffic back to your site?
Allen: I’d write a brief synopsis of whatever that piece of epic content was, or is and then link back to the homepage, or excuse me, that blog article.
Felix: Makes sense. You mentioned that there might be some other mediums or platforms where you could collect the email address or the opt in on the site itself, is that, can you share some of those?
Allen: It’s not so much collect email addresses, so if you go to a forum now you can talk to that community directly and start a dialogue with them. It’s not necessarily collecting an email address but more starting a dialogue on that platform.
Felix: You are, let’s say you created a post in a forum and it’s a lot of communication around it or is a lot of activity, interaction, engagement on that post itself, a lot of people are posting replies. Are you then coming back to it when you are ready to launch a product or promote something and going back into that post? Or are you creating a brand new post? How do you actually promote the product or the business itself?
Allen: For this, I went back into it and started, took that same thread that that dialogue was already started on and at the end of that post, or edited the original, continued the dialogue, said hey guys we’re now ready, if you like this article you’ll also like what we have in the works. Let us know what you think and I’d love to hear your feedback.
Felix: Yeah I like that approach a lot because you have kind of a trail or a history of people already getting value from your post, your original post, because there’s a lot of dialogue around it. You don’t want to just come onto and create a brand new post and then be 100% promotional because that just won’t look as good. I think that that’s a great approach, that you are resurfacing a previous post, previous dialogue. It makes a lot of sense.
Cool, so one other thing I want to talk about is your success with the Shopify Build a Business Competition. You guys had won one of the awards, so congratulations on that. How did you do it? Like how were you, I think one of the keys to success on this Build a Business Competition is driving a lot of sales in a short period of time and that’s what I’ve heard as the, it sounds, it is much harder than it sounds. What were you guys doing to position yourselves so well to win this competition?
Allen: We started the way we would start anything else, and that’s setting a goal. The Kickstarter ended and literally the next day the Shopify Build a Business Competition doors opened up. Cathryn and I were like all right, we just crushed this Kickstarter campaign what’s our next goal? Well, it’s got, we have to win the Shopify Build a Business Competition. We set that as our next goal.
Cathryn: Which is a pretty lofty goal and to be honest I was like okay the best case scenario is we win, the worst case is we still do everything we can and have a successful business. For that we took a couple of months to get the store setup, the product in hand, so we didn’t actually launch our store until January 1, 2016. Yeah, so this year, it was about three months after our Kickstarter had ended is when we launched our store. Then at that time we were just planning and we kept putting out content and growing our list more so that when the product was in hand we could launch our store pretty much.
Felix: Okay, so 13 weeks, your three months which is the way your planner’s set up, to win this competition. Do you remember how you broke it down? What were some of the key milestones or goals that you guys had? You said to yourself that you had to hit in order to have a good shot at winning the competition?
Allen: We needed to get our ducks in a row, so one was creating the website and we knew we didn’t want a templated site. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if we wanted to win we needed to come out with a bang. We were also waiting on our inventory to come in from our manufacturer, so there was a lead time there. We couldn’t really sell anything anyway. I mean we could have pre-sold but we chose to use that time to actually build a list so when we did go live it was more of a bang right out the gate.
We also as far as breaking down the goal, what do we need to do? Well we need to sell products because that’s what this business is, this competition is based off of. I actually reached out to a, to a good friend of mine who is very, very, very good with scaling eCommerce companies. I asked him for a little advice, I told him hey here’s what I’ve done to get us here but I need your expertise to get us to the next level. He didn’t do anything except have two one hour conversations with me and we started scaling and ramping up from there. It was, what else did we do Cathryn?
Cathryn: I think we just didn’t, we just didn’t look up for six months.
Felix: Yeah, it sounds like you guys were just in grind mode ever since the Kickstarter campaign kicked off. This very successful guy that you consulted with, is he hire-able? Can you let us know more about him or is he just a friend that did you a favor?
Allen: No, he’s just a good friend of mine and he’s not for hire.
Felix: Okay, I’m sure a lot of listeners are like oh man this guy sounds like he has the magic touch, what’s his name? Okay, good to know. Cathryn, were you the one that was designing the, I know that you said you were a designer, were you designing this, the store?
Cathryn: I actually didn’t design the store, we worked with a good friend of mine from Micro Working Space so I did the graphics and stuff and he did the UIUX. It was a lot of other stuff that I needed to focus on and this guy was really great, so I worked with him to do it over. We hired a developer to do the store and he worked with the developer and made, to get it completed, so yeah that was awesome. Then I worked on the products and the packaging and everything else design wise.
Felix: It sounds like you guys basically kept the list building mode turned on during this entire process. Was it still using the whole, the keys of epic content, the giveaways, and syndication to continue growing this list?
Allen: I mean for anyone listening there is no turning it on and turning it off. It’s once it’s on keep it on and keep it going. That’s it, once you get out of the pattern of turning it off, it’s so hard to pick up that momentum again, especially once you’ve created a habit out of it.
Felix: I like that, yeah once you have built those kind of assets and have this habit definitely don’t lose it, I like that thinking. You guys have obviously had a very successful Kickstarter campaign, can you give an idea of, give us an idea of how successful the business is today? About I guess a year since the Kickstarter campaign?
Allen: About a year since the Kickstarter campaign, I think we were right around the two, we just broke the two million mark and we’re aiming, well we have some other larger products, back end products that are in the works right now. We have some pretty lofty goals for the next two months of this year, which we’ll hopefully do very well.
Felix: Very cool, yeah in two months, that’s very soon. What about your year long plans? What are you guys wanting to see the business or Best Self the brand itself be in a year from now?
Allen: We may, if I tell you we may have to kill you.
Felix: I’ll take that sacrifice. I’m just kidding.
Cathryn: Our goal is to, with Best Self, is to create or find products that help people become their Best Self. Whether it’s, we actually have the journal but we want to make working easier, so as in like something physical in your office that could make you work better, something that makes your day go better, we’re creating a couple of tools to keep you focused. We’re doing a lot of stuff but it’s all around the same idea of becoming your Best Self, so that’s kind of what our focus is and what that sort of mission is guiding where we go next.
Felix: Very cool, so by the time this episode comes out we’ll be very deep into the holiday shopping season, how are you guys planning for, or preparing for, or how have you prepared for the holiday shopping season?
Cathryn: We’ve got our shipment of product will be in shortly so we’re trying to make sure we’re stocked up. Especially with this type of product at this time of year the last thing we want to do is to run out.
Allen: One thing that you can do which is actually what we did back in September, is we said okay this is going to be a crazy Q4, what can we do to make it less crazy? We just broke it down into all right we’re going to have a promotion on this day, we’re going to have a promotion on this day, we’re going to, we need to launch this product in or around this day here, we need to make sure all the inventory’s in so when’s the last deadline we could put it in place or when’s the last minute that we can place that order without it being late so we arrive on time. It’s just putting together a strategy and understanding what direction you’re going, and when you have everything lined up it makes all the pins fall so much easier.
Felix: Yeah I like what you said about how you thought about how can we make this time less crazy, I think that’s a good way to think about a lot of planning which is how can I make my job in the future easier by what can I do today to do that? I think that’s a great kind of mantra to live with when you’re trying to plan out and try to figure out how you should prioritize your day and your time.
Thanks so much Cathryn and Allen, so bestself.co is the website. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners check out if they want to follow along with what you guys are up to?
Cathryn: I write on my personal blog called littlemight.com. Mainly about either eCommerce, or Kickstarter and how to launch Kickstarter that sort of thing, so if people are interested in that they can read up on how we did the Self Journal there.
Allen: My personal blog, I write about Best Self, the behind the scenes, pull the curtain behind the scenes and get a glimpse of what’s working what’s not working and all the marketing stuff of that over at allenbrower.com.
Felix: Very cool, I’ll link both of those in the show notes if you listeners want to go and check that out. Again, thanks so much for your time.
Allen: Thank you Felix, this was awesome.
Cathryn: Thanks Felix.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial.
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About the author
Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. Got something to share with Shopify Masters listeners? You can submit your story for consideration.