July 24, 2015
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of or run across our buddy Dan Norris over at WP Curve.
Dan and his partner Alex have built a million dollar business inside of 2 years – all based on the foundation of content marketing. They’ve gone from a couple of guys cranking out some content to building a content machine and I wanted to sit down with Dan to find out exactly how they did it.
In this hour-long conversation, we get into how they got started, how they scaled their team, and the importance of content marketing in their business today.
I’ve got a confession to make – I didn’t think Dan’s business would work out when he first presented it. We’ll get into that (and how wrong I was) in the interview – hope you enjoy!
Quick note: There’s some cursing in this episode. If that’s not your thing, might want to give this one a pass.
Direct Download – Right Click, Save As
“Business gets a lot easier once your basic needs are met.” – Justin – Tweet This!
“You need to learn how to notice what’s getting traction in your content marketing.” – Dan – Tweet This!
Thanks so much to Dan @ WPCurve for walking us through his content marketing process. I’m a fan of his work and will definitely be applying some of what I learned in this interview to our business. What were some of your takeaways?
Justin: Welcome to the Empire Podcast, episode 142. Having built our business and brand on the back of content marketing we’ve seen firsthand what an effective strategy can do for your business. This week we sit down with a prolific content marketer, Dan Norris from WP Curve, to look at how he’s used content marketing to build WP Curve up to a seven-figure business in less than two years. You can find the show notes and all links discussed in this episode at empireflippers.com/wpcurve.
Alright, let’s do this.
Speaker 2: Sick of listening to entrepreneurial advice from guys with day jobs? Want to hear about the real successes and failures that come with building an online empire? You are not alone. From San Diego to Tokyo, New York to Bangkok, join thousands of entrepreneurs and investors who are prioritizing wealth and personal freedom over the oppression of an office cubicle. Check out the Empire Podcast.
And now you’re hosts, Justin and Joe.
Justin: If you pay any attention to online businesses and entrepreneurs you probably heard a little something about a guy named Dan Norris and his company WP Curve. Dan and his partner have built an incredibly successful business in less than two years, and they did it on the back of content marketing, not so different than what we’ve done with Empire Flippers, Joe.
Joe: Yeah, he has had also some struggles like we have had, and I think that that is probably the more interesting part of his story is that he tried and tried and tried and then succeeded.
Justin: Yeah, I got into this with him on the call pretty heavily man. He had just a ton of failures. He was that guy, we all have this guy, there’s a guy who … just they’re trying really hard, they’re spinning their wheels, but they’re just sucking. They’re one miss after another miss, and he had a bunch of those. And he had a bunch of friends that were very supportive of him, and he was doing content marketing before he even had a business and he was great at that, but just it seems like his business ideas just never stuck. And then he fell into one and then another and another that were just hits. So we’re gonna get into all that on the interview.
I think it’s really interesting though that he built an audience before he had a real successful business. He was good at connecting with people and building an audience before he even had something that stuck and had something people were willing to pay for.
Joe: Yeah, and that’s an interesting way to do it. I’m not sure I would be able to do it that way, but more power to him.
Justin: Yeah, I’m not sure it’s the best way. I think we actually discussed that and I think he wasn’t terribly sure either. But one of the interesting things, and I think a unique advantage that he had, was that his audience let him test through some of these plans and ideas that he had. Right? So he had an idea for something and he could test it with his audience, see if it was a hit, see if people will pay for it or not. And he’s had a bunch of successes since then. He had a really successful book called, The 7 Day Startup, which a bunch of people have read. It’s really popular. And he’s got another one coming out that I’ll definitely be reading, it’s called, Content Machine. I’m really interested in what Dan’s done with his content marketing. He’s got people, he’s got process in place around his content marketing, and that’s something we’re looking at and working on now. So I’m really excited about it.
We get into things like his failed projects that you mentioned, Joe. I remember being on a phone call with him several years ago where he was thinking about this, and he was gonna do something with niche sites, and he was gonna build a dashboard … all these things that we were kind of like, yeah, that sounds cool, but just never really worked. We’re also gonna be talking about launching and scaling WP Curve, which has been a huge success, and then we’re gonna talk about how to apply successful content marketing strategy to grow your own business.
Joe: Well content marketing has been the savior for us at Empire Flippers. We definitely wouldn’t have been able to get through the hard times when we were AdSense flippers if it wasn’t for content marketing. And I think it just goes to show you that if you’re transparent, if you do it the right way, it’s an unbelievable marketing channel.
Justin: There’s a bunch of entrepreneurs that go, I should be doing content marketing, but I don’t know, and they kind of put it off. Right? And the problem … the real pain is, is that at first, in general, and this isn’t true for everyone, but in general you’re making pennies for the hours you’re putting in when it comes to content marketing. So it’s a longterm payoff. So if you have a longterm vision for your business you absolutely should start content marketing now. If you don’t, if you’re like, ah, I might do this and I might do something else in 12 months, maybe it’s not the best thing, especially if it’s too tied into the business that you’re doing right then.
Alright man, enough about that, let’s get into the featured listing of the week. Joe, what you got for us buddy?
Joe: We’re talking about listing 40261. I love this business, this business is all about birdcages. It’s a drop ship business where you really don’t need to know a lot about birdcages, but it’s a well-designed business that’s been around since 2012, and it really runs almost on its own, meaning that there’s nothing for the owner to do. It’s making a net of about $1,700 a month, and we have it listed for a little bit higher multiple because I ran it through our Empire Flippers evaluation tool and it spat back about 25X, so we have it listed at $43,000. I think it makes a great site for the kind of do-it-yourself David, the kind of lifestyle Larry person that wants to have something that’s their baby and produces enough money that they’ll be able to live on some of the profit.
Justin: Yeah, I think this mixed with one or two other sites could really fill out a lifestyle Larry portfolio. You said $1,700 a month, I love that it actually makes considerably more, but obviously there are cost of goods in there and everything. It is drop shipping so if anyone’s interested in e-commerce business this might be a great way to get your feet wet. It was also built in 2012, so it’s been through the ups and downs, it’s been in there for a while so it’s got some history.
Joe: Yeah, and it has a really cool blog attached to it too. Use the big commerce platform for the buying of the birdcages, but then it also uses WordPress for the blog, which is a really nice added feature. And if you do want to add some content, attract some more traffic that way, build your content marketing channel, the blog is a great way to do that.
Justin: Cool, man. Yeah, I think this one’s really interesting. It’s a new listing and it’s a smaller e-commerce site, so I bet this one’s gonna go pretty quickly.
Alright, man. Let’s dig into the heart of this week’s episode.
Speaker 2: Now for the heart of this week’s episode.
Justin: I’m really excited to have Dan Norris from WP Curve on the show today. He is an entrepreneur, he’s a prolific content marketing. He’s a speaker, author of The 7 Day Startup. He believes in transparency in business, launching quickly, and making sure your people, product, and process are aligned and strong. Dan, thank you so much for coming on the show, man. Appreciate it.
Dan Norris: [inaudible 00:06:22] awesome. Thank you. I think the last time we talked on a podcast was when I interviewed you on my podcast, maybe like, I don’t know, 18 months ago? A while ago.
Justin: Yeah, man, that was the Web Mark … no, it was the Web Domination Podcast, I think. Right?
Dan Norris: Yeah. I don’t do it anymore, but I did … I think I did like 70 episodes. It was fun.
Justin: Yeah, I remember your … what was it, Friday Funnies, or something? That was great.
Dan Norris: Yeah. We don’t have to talk about that.
Justin: Ah. Now you’re shy about it.
Well it’s funny, man. So we’ve known each other and known of each other a long time, and I remember there was a time probably three years ago where you were just kind of all over the place. You had plans to do … you were gonna do a dashboard, right, we were working on Informerly. And there were a whole bunch of ideas you had, and none of them were really panning out. Right? And that was after you had sold your web agency, is that correct? Web marketing or web design agency?
Dan Norris: Yeah. Yeah, just like, yeah, web design. Yeah, it’s funny though, I think everyone perceives it that way, that I was just kind of all over the place, but I’m really exactly the same now, the only difference is I’ve got a business that got a bit of traction so people just look at it a lot differently. But I’m just doing the same thing, creating lots of content, testing out lots of business ideas, some of them are working, some of them aren’t. And back then really nothing was working, so it kind of looked like I was all over the place, but it was just … I don’t know. I think that’s just being an entrepreneurs, some stuff works, some stuff doesn’t.
Justin: Yeah, we’re gonna talk a little bit about why we think or why you think WP Curve took off, why it got traction as opposed to some of the others, but let’s talk about that. You were working on a few different projects, the dashboard, Informerly, but you were running out of runway, right, this is about two years ago, I think. Where were you at? Were you like, all of these projects are just sucking, they’re just not hitting, they’re not working? Were you thinking about closing up shop? Getting a job? Where were you at?
Dan Norris: Yeah, so I’d worked for a year on Informerly, the dashboard. I’d tried three different versions of it to try and just figure out which one people wanted to pay for, and I was about two weeks away from having to get a job. I was looking for a job. I was probably gonna have to move cities as well, which would have been the suckiest part of it, move back to … I would have basically gone back seven years in time, back to when I was living in the city, which I didn’t want to live in, and working in a job that I didn’t want to be in. So that’s what I was looking at two weeks out from running out of money-
Justin: Yeah, that’s rough. So you-
Dan Norris: … and … Yeah, that was when-
Justin: … you had sold your company, but you had some runway. You were working on all these different ideas, there was a dashboard it was like … also something to track the benefit of your content. And we were customers of that, I liked the idea. It wasn’t terribly useful to me, right, it wasn’t terribly helpful, but I wanted to support you because I liked you and I think there were a lot of other people that were in that position. They really liked you, you were putting out a lot of content, it was interesting, you’re an interesting guy, but just no one really connected with buying your products.
So you were almost out of money and then you had an idea.
Dan Norris: Yeah, well it was sort of just desperation at that point because it was two weeks away from literally running out of money. I could have changed the software more, but the thing is that there was absolutely no chance … I was losing money, I was losing about $1,500 a month because I had a full-time developer in the Philippines and I had Infusionsoft and a bunch of other expenses hosting and whatnot. There was just no way in the world I was gonna … even if I created the most amazing piece of software in one week there was no way I was gonna sign up that many customers to it. So software really was not an option anymore. Any kind of physical product or anything like that would have been out. I didn’t want to do any consulting because I just don’t enjoy it and it would have felt like a huge step backwards, and so services was really the only option.
And prior to that I’d been thinking there was no way in the world I would ever do services again, but my thinking just had to change because I needed to do it. And instead of thinking, oh, I’ll never do services again, I just thought, well, how can I take all the worst bits out of running an agency out and incorporate all the best bits of having a startup and still do a service and launch it quickly? And that’s what I did.
Justin: So you originally said, look, I’m gonna do tweaks and fixes to WordPress. Actually at first it wasn’t unlimited and then you changed it to unlimited, but unlimited tweaks and fixes to WordPress for, at the time it was like, $50 a month. And I remember a bunch … you had this idea and you mentioned it to other people inside the Dynamite Circle and other places, and I know some people were beating you up. They were like, look, so you want to take what should be expensive processes, make it really cheap, and do work that you don’t like to do? You don’t like dealing with customers, you don’t like doing client work, and you’re only gonna charge $50 a month? It’d take 10 potentially miserable customers to only make $500 a month, what the hell are you doing, Dan? That was kind of the feedback.
I remember I gave you feedback-
Dan Norris: [crosstalk 00:10:57]
Justin: … I was like, Dan, you’re gonna do this and it sounds amazing, it sounds like you’re gonna deliver rainbows and unicorns, but there’s no way you’re gonna be able to deliver for these customers. They’re gonna have demands of you that are just outrageous. And we were clearly wrong about that.
When you got this feedback what were you thinking? Were you like, Oh my God, I’m totally screwed now, or were you like, I don’t care what they say I’m doing it anyway?
Dan Norris: Well, I had to do it anyway, so I did definitely care about what they say. These days I wouldn’t care anywhere near as much because I know now that feedback from entrepreneurs before you launch something is nowhere near as good as whatever information you get after you launch something, and if you do it quickly then you can just jump straight to that. So at the time I didn’t really understand that and I was definitely really cognizant of other people’s opinions, but also I got lots of amazing opinions and feedback on Informerly as well.
I had a lot of people in the [inaudible 00:11:51] tell me it was an amazing piece of software and it was everything they needed. I write about that in my book, I had specific quotes from people saying, and this is not necessarily in the [inaudible 00:12:00], just people who had signed up, saying things like, this is the app that I’ve always dreamed about. And I could tell by looking at the stats that they weren’t even really using it. So I kind of learnt that preference versus performance lesson before that. So I did care what they were saying, but at the same time I wanted to test it for myself.
Justin: That’s funny. So they’re saying, it’s awesome, this is amazing, and they’re not even actually using it. I wonder how much of that was just support for you or they liked what it might eventually be, or … apparently they didn’t like it that much right then because they weren’t using it all that often.
Dan Norris: That’s right. I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. I think even as an entrepreneur you are really bad at working out what your actual performance would be versus what [inaudible 00:12:40] is. So even me starting that business in the first place I was thinking, well, it would be awesome to have a dashboard with all my stats on it. I really need that, that would be cool. But if I really needed it why didn’t I have it already? Because there was other companies offering it and I’d never paid them for the service before, so clearly my opinion of what I would do versus what I actually would do were two totally different things. So there’s nothing intentional about it, it’s just human nature I think.
Justin: Yeah, it might be one of those things that like that sounds really cool, but you don’t actually need it or you’d be using it. Right?
So let’s … W-
Dan Norris: I get those ideas all the time, like literally every day I get another idea about something else I could do with that product and just think, oh man, this would be so cool. Like yesterday I was thinking it would be awesome to have all the growth charts from your different social media channels just like a line chart measuring grow, and then just a weekly email that tells you which social media channels are growing higher than the others so you can work out where to focus your attention. Like if my Instagram’s stagnating but my Twitter is blowing up, and I can see that in a really quick, visual email, then I’d know to focus more on Instagram or I’d know that Twitter is my platform or whatever. But I get those kind of ideas all the time, and I think, well, if it was really that important to me I would be out there researching it and actually trying to find a solution to it before I convince myself that I really do need it.
Justin: Yeah, Joe beats me up a little bit about … like sometimes we take a long time to make a decision or to actually start heading in a new direction, but I consider that the mulling time. Right? So I’m like, oh, I have this idea, and then I kind of just put it on the back burner, and if it dies off or goes away then I just wasn’t supposed to do it. But if it keeps harassing me, the idea keeps harassing me and I keep seeing opportunities for it, then we actually take action on it. I’m not sure that’s the best way to do it, but that’s the way we operate right now.
Dan Norris: I think that can be bad as well because you can fall for that, I can’t remember the word of it, but where you just start seeing everything that you’re thinking about. Can you remember the word for that?
Justin: Yeah, where you’re-
Dan Norris: It’s like a-
Justin: Yeah. I don’t remember the word, but yeah, it’s you have a particular … So I have a buddy that says all women are bad drivers, right, and so every time-
Dan Norris: Right.
Justin: … he sees a female driver and she makes a mistake or something, does something bad, it’s like, see? There you go. All the time [crosstalk 00:14:56]-
Dan Norris: That’s right.
Justin: … females are bad drivers. [crosstalk 00:14:57]
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: If you’re coming in with that bias you just see it all the time.
Dan Norris: Right. It’s … Yeah, I can’t remember what it’s called, but [inaudible 00:15:03] it’s called something like that. Selection bias or preference bias or something like that. And I think that can happen as well, like you’ll … And I was doing that as well, I was thinking of something and then I’m like, ooh, there’s this other product doing this other dashboard reporting thing and they’re doing pretty well, and I’d start paying attention to that and I’d just let those bits of information into my brain more so than I otherwise would. And before you know it you’ve built up this idea that this is an amazing concept and it needs to be launched.
But I think the other thing you need to get good at is actually … I’m not very good at this, I don’t know if you’re good at this, but actually identifying opportunities. That’s-
Justin: Actually, Dan-
Dan Norris: … kind of what entrepreneurs have to do, but I’m not very good at it.
Justin: I was gonna say you are pretty good at it, and … So I have these ideas and I’m like, look, this is an amazing idea, I would love to do this, but it’s just not in the right fit for our company and where we see ourselves going. Maybe this would have been good for us two years ago or whatever. And sometimes it bugs me that I’m not able to act on that idea. And what I see you do is you just share it. And I try to do that as well, I don’t all the time, but you’re like, look, please will someone go build this? I can’t do it, but I will … please, someone go build this product because I’d love to see it out there. I see you do that, and it’s like your way of kind of cleaning the plate or cleaning the slate.
Dan Norris: Yeah, that’s true actually. I wrote a post once which was one of the most popular posts we ever had, which was just four different startup ideas, and people were commenting on there and taking the ideas and building the products and it was really cool. But that is a good idea to get that sort of out of your system. But I think … like one of the things I did wrong with Informerly was I literally sold my agency because I hated it, and then … I had no idea what I was going to do, so I forced myself to chose one idea out of four probably all bad ideas. And starting a business from that point of view was just probably not a good idea. These days I’d like to think I would start a business where I saw an opportunity or where I was passionate, or when something interesting came up, whereas I wouldn’t just start one just because I needed to make money. And once you’re in that position where you need to make money off something your options are really limited and the pressure is just bad pressure and it’s just not a very good idea.
Justin: Yeah, you tend to go after money over trying to provide value and actually giving people something they need, something they want because you’re like, what can just make me money in the next month, three months, something like that, right? And you gotta pay the bills, that’s a requirement.
Dan Norris: Yeah, but you end up building a shitty business, it’s [crosstalk 00:17:26]-
Justin: It’s like a Maslow’s hierarchy, right, so once you’ve got the basic needs met then you can start to look up the value chain, and things just get a lot easier, business gets a lot easier once you’ve got your basic needs met. You’re paying the bills, you’re employees are paid on time, right, it’s a little easier.
Dan Norris: Well, yeah, but everything’s got a flip side and there’s an opposite argument of that which was the position I was in, where I had this business, but it was requiring me to work a lot, and I just wasn’t able to really fully commit to anything else other than that business, and I wasn’t able to make what really were good decisions. For example, I was never able to say, no, to clients, and I was never really able to really define what I was doing in a really specific way so I could make it scalable and systematic like WP Curve is. I was never able to do that because I needed to keep saying, yes, to these clients to keep the revenue coming in.
After I completely cut that off my whole mindset changed because I was starting from zero. So I’m not saying, no, to anyone, I’m just saying, this is what I do, and if what you want is not this then you’re not gonna sign up in the first place. So-
Dan Norris: … for me that was a lot easier. If I was to go to the agency and try and turn that into WP Curve that would have been almost impossible for me to do, but starting from scratch and just really clearly defining what I was doing worked much better for me.
Justin: So we have that problem, Dan, when we had our outsourcing company. Right? So clients would come in and they’d say, look, we want to do it this, we want to do it this way, or whatever, and we needed the customer so we would say, yes. And then we’d get involved in all of these custom projects and all the training involved, and then either we wouldn’t be able to deliver for them or they’d want to change the deal or they wouldn’t have it all mapped out. And it was just a mess when we were doing custom stuff. And I agree with your approach, like, we sell blue suede shoes, that’s what we sell. If you want red suede shoes they’re across the street. The customers that like blue suede shoes, they’re coming to me. And you can be the best at that, right, because you’re really focused in and honing in.
Let’s talk about WP Curve’s trajectory. So you guys, well you started off, you’re making a little bit of money. Today, in your latest monthly report I think you made more than $66,000 in terms of monthly run rate and some extra cash on some other projects, but you’re getting to the point where you guys are crushing it.
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: But it wasn’t that way when you started out, although you did get a little bit of traction. Talk to me about the first couple of weeks, first couple of months, and what kind of feedback you were getting from customers.
Dan Norris: Yeah, I told myself … So, Informerly at the time was doing $476 in monthly recurring revenue, that was after 12 months, and I was spending $1,500 or $2,000 so I was losing $1,500 or something. And I told myself if I could match that, which would have been 10 customers, in the first month then I’m onto something. Because I just needed to pick something because in the past … the main problem with Informerly was I actually never figured out that it wasn’t working, I just … all the feedback and everything was positive, all the stats were kind of positive, so it was hard for me to work out that this is actually not going to work. It takes a long time to build a good piece of software, so I was sort of just thinking, well, I’ll just keep going, whereas with this I [inaudible 00:20:23] something.
So I picked 10 customers to sign up in the first month, and I actually signed up 10 customers in the first week, and through a weird twist of fate the monthly recurring revenue was exactly $476. So that was just a thing where I just stopped and thought like, I’ve just signed up $476 in monthly recurring revenue in one week after I’ve spent a year doing the exact same thing. I’m clearly onto something.
Justin: And you did so much for Informerly. You were blogging like a champ, you were all over the place, you had a whole bunch of content marketing that was going on. And to only get $476 a month in revenue and to then turn around and get it in a month where you just kind of throw this thing together is awesome. It’s a sign that you’re … at least got some amount of traction. But you didn’t know even then though where it was going. When did you realize you were onto something larger, not just $500 a month, but that this would be a business?
Dan Norris: I realized it then, after a week, I think. I designed it so … the way I was thinking at the time was it wasn’t going to be a small lifestyle business, this was gonna be my thing and it was going to be high growth, monthly recurring revenue business. And if I could grow by 10% every month within a couple of years, I just did the math on what that would be and I knew it was gonna be significant. So really after that first week I had a very good feeling that I’d be in this position now.
Justin: Why did you … Now it was going well. You were adding customers, you saw that it was getting traction, and it’s blowing Informerly away, why did you decide to add a partner? Where did that come from?
Dan Norris: Well, I was always going to have to employ someone in the US because I wanted to operate 24/7 and it was unlimited … I think you said before it wasn’t from the start, but it was, it was always unlimited, and then 24/7 that was the key differentiator. And the ability to service customers in the US was something I was doing at nighttime. I didn’t have that ability to really do longterm so I was thinking I would employ someone, but then Alex came along and commented on my site and just said, I’m in the US for a few months and I don’t have a VISA so I’m happy to work with you for free and see what happens. He started working for me.
I’d also … I’d thought about getting a partner. I’d actually tried just about everything you can imagine to get a partner for my last business, including coming really close to just virtually giving the business away just so I could work with someone else. I was really sick of working for myself, and I always felt that I didn’t have all the skills. Or, not just the skills, just the emotional capacity to work on something for myself for that many years, like I’d done that for seven years before then. So I really wanted to find someone and he just came to me with that offer. After two months the thing was taking off and we were just working on it together, so to me it just made sense. At that point it still wasn’t worth anything really. It had some traction, it had some content and a bit of an audience, a few customers, but it wasn’t really worth anything of significant value, so it was a good time to just say, fuck it, let’s just do this together.
Justin: Yeah, it’s funny. You were talking about it’s not just the skillsets it’s also the emotional baggage that comes with just doing it by yourself. It’s nice to have a partner to go through all the trials and successes with. You guys can work it out together and brainstorm together and experience the journey together. That sounds kind of cheesy, but it is nice.
Dan Norris: Yeah, there’s pros and cons. Everyone seems to sit on one side of it and sort of doesn’t have any room for the other person’s opinion on it and I don’t know. I’ve got three different businesses now, they’re with three different groups of people. I’ve also got my personal stuff that I do just on my own, and I enjoy both of them, but for something like this that you’re literally dealing with 45 staff and thousands of customers it’s like … it’s a lot. It’s a lot. And 24/7, it’s a lot for someone to do on their own, and I just think it’s not a good idea to start that kind of company by yourself.
Justin: So you’ve got a partnership, it’s starting to take off, you’re getting even a bit more traction. You’re starting to make a little bit of money, you have a team, I think, in the Philippines and probably looking elsewhere. How do you define the roles between you and Alex and the different roles in your organization? As you grow, how do you define those roles?
Dan Norris: Yeah, it was a little bit shaky actually, I think, when I think back. We have different skillsets, but then there is also quite a bit of overlap. I’ve probably changed a bit as well, I was pretty introverted back then and not really keen to do any of this in-person stuff and events and stuff like that, and I was just keen for him to do all of that and all the networking and meeting people and partnerships. And these days it’s not as clearly defined as that. At the time I was like, well, I’ll [inaudible 00:24:47] operations and content and you can do strategic stuff, white label, any kind of meetings or enterprise-y type of stuff, or dealing with investors, or anything that comes up around that.
It ended up being different to that, Alex now focuses mainly on building the team and doing performance management and weekly calls and putting the processes together for operational stuff as well. And I’m sort of, I don’t know, I’m kind of a little bit of everything. But it’s not … I wouldn’t say it’s all that well-defined, but we’ve just battled through and ended up at a place where I think we’re both pretty happy.
Justin: Have you had any problems where you’re both working on the same projects or you don’t specifically have areas of responsibility, or do you guys discuss that on a regular basis? How do you communicate who’s working on what?
Dan Norris: Yeah, no, we have. I think it’s tough when we’re both on the other side of the world. We’ve only met once after about 18 months of running the business. Well actually maybe 15 months. And we do have a weekly call, but sometimes because of our schedule it’s hard to make that call. So we chat a lot on Slack, but if you do that too much you end up being a bit short and that can affect the relationship. So there’s all of those kind of considerations. We’ve definitely had challenges with that, but I think the best solution probably to those is making sure we do the weekly call. And also making sure we meet in person more, which I’m sort of trying to do, but at the same time it’s kind of tricky with the schedules and the costs and where we’re based and all the other projects and that kind of stuff.
But I think meeting in person more is definitely a good idea and having regular calls is a good idea and trying … I also just have to stop myself and try not to be too judgmental and try not to be too … like pick my fights. Like if he’s like, no, we can’t do that, we’ve gotta do something else, like I could probably say, well, fuck you, we’re doing it. But if it’s something that’s not really that important to me I will just say, fine, that’s cool, let’s move on. And I’m sure he does the same thing because otherwise we’d probably just be arguing the whole time.
Justin: Yeah, Joe and I have a veto rule. So every once in a while, you can’t use it all the time, right, you’re not allowed to use it all the time, but every once in a while you can throw in this veto and that’s it, end of conversation, we’re just not doing that. So you have to be very careful using it, but it’s pretty helpful when it comes to disputes or something that maybe one person cares more about than the other.
By the way you mentioned meeting up in person-
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: … so we’re struggling with that too because we’re in the position now where our team’s in different places and we’re traveling and we’re not all in the same location all the time. And what we’re doing right now, all of us are down in Davao City, Philippines, and we’re staying at a house, we’re all working out of this house for a month. We’re gonna all break up, go our separate ways for a month or two, and then we’re all gonna meet up again. We have a weekly call as well, but the idea is every couple of months, hopefully at least once a quarter, bring everyone together for at least a week, up to a month, and have everyone work together in person so you can keep those relationships going and everyone on the same page. I’ll let you know how it goes, but that’s our current plan. Yeah.
Dan Norris: Yeah, that’s interesting. So you all live in this house?
Justin: Yeah, so it wasn’t big enough, and just the logistics or whatever, but it’s myself, my girlfriend, Andrew, which is the new account manager, and Mike, which is our marketplace manager, helps with sales. And then we just flew a guy down from Thailand, his name’s Kenny, and he’s staying at a hotel, and then Joe has a hotel room elsewhere simply because the place wasn’t big enough. But if it was we would have all been staying [inaudible 00:28:07]. It’s weird-
Dan Norris: Wow, that’s interesting. Yeah, I haven’t thought about doing something like that.
Justin: It’s like a living, commune, work-type situation, which longterm I’m not sure I’d want that. I think we all appreciate our privacy, but in a shorter term couple of weeks, even up to a month, I think it can work.
Dan Norris: Yeah, that’s interesting. We’re gonna do something in the Philippines later this year, probably just a weekend, get the team together. I don’t know, doing it for a week or a month, that sounds interesting.
Justin: Yeah, it’s-
Dan Norris: I haven’t thought about that.
Justin: It’s cool. I think it’s been really helpful. Another thing we do is that every quarter if we hit certain revenue goals then we have a thing called, and it depends on where we’re at, we have either economy, business class, or first class, and that’s just kind of the how nice the trip’s gonna be. So the last three months in a row we had first class, so we’re gonna take a baller trip to Bali, do a week in a villa and have a bunch of events and do a bunch of stuff as a team. So I think that will be fun, and it’s kind of motivating for the team and-
Dan Norris: That’s cool.
Justin: More cost, but totally worth it to bring everyone together I think.
Dan Norris: How much is that gonna cost you? How big is your unit, like 10 people?
Justin: So, no, it’s-
Dan Norris: Eight people?
Justin: It’s me, Joe, Mike, Andrew, Kenny. Right? So it’s us as the management team. We just hired a new person, an eighth person, here in the Philippines as virtual assistance. So [inaudible 00:29:25] Davao is working with them and taking them out for island hopping trips and doing some time with them, and then I think we’re gonna do the Bali thing.
Dan Norris: And the whole team’s coming on this trip, or just the management team?
Justin: Just the management team, although we’re talking about … so we’ve actually been discussing this. Let’s say we set up a place where every quarter we’re meeting in Bangkok or something, could we fly a few of our team in the Philippines there and have them work with us for a week or two weeks or however long we’re meeting there? Well we could bring one or two, but wouldn’t it be better to bring the whole team? And then how do we go about doing that? That’s not cheap, and it’s a pain. Right?
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: But there’s gotta be a way to do it. So we’re thinking through that right now because I’d like to get everyone involved instead of just having split management versus VAs. Right?
Dan Norris: Yeah, well that’s part of our struggle is we were gonna do something earlier this year because I was just in the Philippines for the Chris [inaudible 00:30:13] event, and I wanted to do something with our team for that visit. And then I was like, well how the hell do we get 45 people to the one spot in the Philippines from seven different countries? And then if we don’t do it that way well maybe [inaudible 00:30:27] some of the people who are around Cebu, which I could have done, but then there would only have been three or four people and the rest of the team would have missed out. So I don’t know. We’ve been stuck on that for a while, but we’ve just been saving up so we can just send absolutely everyone and just do an event in the Philippines where we send everyone. But-
Justin: And just have a crazy trip [crosstalk 00:30:46]-
Dan Norris: [crosstalk 00:30:46] month-
Justin: … the entire team, and-
Dan Norris: … [crosstalk 00:30:48] probably just be for a couple of days.
Justin: Yeah, yeah. Just do everybody. Alright, we’re all going to Boracay, we’re renting out this resort, that’s it.
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: Yeah. Got it.
Dan Norris: The thing with us though is we’ve got people … we’ve got a guy in South America, we’ve got three guys in the US, a girl in Kenya, a guy in Hungary, Australia, Thailand, Philippines. They’re all over, so mostly in the Philippines, but even just to get all of those outside people to the Philippines is probably like seven or eight thousand dollars just for the flights, just to get them there.
Justin: Yeah. So our “first class trip” [inaudible 00:31:22] solid three months, I think we’re gonna bring a team to Bali probably a budget of five grand or six grand. So we’ll get everyone there, but it’ll be a week and it’s not terribly expensive. We can rent an amazing villa there for not that much. But you’re right, man, as your team grows and they’re further away it gets ridiculously expensive to bring everyone together. So you could do the annual thing, but is that really often enough to build and maintain relationships? Probably not.
Dan Norris: Well that’s what we’re thinking, but I think it’s probably not enough. I think we … and [inaudible 00:31:52] I feel well maybe we need to set up a physical office where we can do something, but then … I don’t know. There’s a lot of downsides to doing that as well.
Dan Norris: So, anyway.
Justin: Alright, man. That’s a fun distraction. I love talking to you, man, it’s been a long time. Let’s talk about … I’m gonna beat you up a little bit. So I don’t understand what the hell you’re doing. You’ve got WP Curve, it looks like a monster. Undoubtedly right now it’s a seven-figure business, I think it’s on a path or trajectory to become an eight-figure business, and you’ve got a monster there. A dragon by the tale, so to speak. Why the hell are you starting these other businesses? I know you wrote The 7 Day Startup, man, but you don’t have to lay out that example all the time, you can let other people take the reins there.
Dan Norris: Yeah. Well, [inaudible 00:32:35] answer is I just can’t control myself, I have no self control, and I just can’t help it. So that’s one answer.
Justin: You’ve got the brewing company, right? So you’ve got that going, Black Hops Brewing, and you’ve also got Helloify. So these are side projects that may ultimately turn into large businesses, or they may go the way of the dodo and you let them expire, it just kind of depends on-
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: … where it goes. But how do you … on a serious note, how do you not see that as a distraction from the value that you could be offering by just focusing on WP Curve?
Dan Norris: Well because that’s not the way I look at it. I’m in business so I can do what I love doing every day, I’m not in business so I can build one business and then die. I’m not doing it just to make money, and some people don’t really understand that, but I think there are a lot of entrepreneurs who are in this entrepreneurship game not only to make money, they’re in it for just the ability to have freedom [inaudible 00:33:37] the time you spend and do what you love doing. And WP Curve doesn’t give me everything I love doing. Definitely the ability to work with mates and the ability to do this in-person stuff and actually make something physical with the brewery, the ability to build something particular and significant in my local area, that kind of stuff I’m never gonna get from WP Curve.
It’s something that I want, and it’s a really good opportunity, it’s really good timing, and it’s fucking exciting. We started this thing with a little bit of home brew and a mocked up logo in Photoshop and all of a sudden we’re at the 20th biggest beer conference in the world a couple of weeks ago where we were asked to submit a beer to it, and we’re getting calls from bars, and we’re in the newspaper, and it’s fucking wild. If you’re not in entrepreneurship for that kind of stuff then what are you doing it for? So that’s-
Justin: Yeah, I get it-
Dan Norris: … that’s probably my answer. The software-
Justin: It lets you do things that are fun for you, that are interesting, that you just don’t get with WP Curve. It’s possible maybe that that actually helps with WP Curve because it helps keep you kind of … you’re well-rounded, you feel fulfilled in those areas. I’m not sure I buy it, I’m not sure that doubling down on WP Curve wouldn’t be the better option, but I think I see where you’re coming from.
Dan Norris: Well, no, I’m sure doubling down on WP Curve would be the smartest option technically, but whether or not that would make me the happiest is a big consideration for me because that’s really what I’m in it for. I’m not in it if I’m not happy doing what I’m doing, that’s the only reason I’m doing this is so I can spend every second of every day doing what I love doing. Like for probably seven out of the first nine years as an entrepreneur I would have made way more doing a job, and I would have only had to work 40 hours a week. I probably would have had pretty rewarding work, but why wasn’t I doing that? Because I just didn’t want to spend time doing stuff I didn’t want to do. So-
Dan Norris: … it’s not really an option where I’m like, well I’m just gonna ignore all the stuff I want to do just so I can build this business, to me it’s like, I’m gonna all of them because this stuff is interesting to me. It’s also interesting to other people. I’m really passionate about putting content out and helping other people and writing about what I’m doing and encouraging other entrepreneurs, and this is a much more exciting story to tell than I started one business and now I’m gonna work in that business for the rest of my life.
Justin: Yeah. Yeah, and it gives you new content ideas that keeps you in the game, right, because you’re consistently working on these other businesses that are, I think, at an earlier stage, that are in a totally different industry, and it gives you things to say, things that you’re passionate about, things you can talk about and share with your audience.
Dan Norris: It challenges you too, that’s the thing is it challenges you to make better decisions. Like with WP Curve I didn’t really want to do the content anymore because I’ve got other stuff going on, I’m not that excited about writing that sort of content anymore. I’ve done it and I wanted to get someone else to do it [inaudible 00:36:19] more excited about it. Other parts of building WP Curve, or even other businesses like writing books or presenting at events or even writing content about what we’re doing with the brewery, which the content’s going amazingly well … so that challenged me to figure out a way to keep this content going without me having to do it myself, and ultimately that’s a better decision for WP Curve because it doesn’t just fall back on me. And I can go away for three weeks, like I just did, and the content … we’ve just had our best month yet in our history with our content because Kyle’s just crushing it, and that’s all happened because I’ve just decided that I’m not gonna let any of these things fall back to me because I’m gonna do other things.
Justin: I’m gonna get into the content a bit more because that’s one of the reasons I definitely wanted to talk to you, and both for selfish reasons but I also think our audience could get some value out of it, but let me ask you about the transparent business movement. Right? I know that you and I both have been proponents of this, and we’ve I think defended ourselves against friends and peers that are like, what the hell are you guys doing with your monthly reports, you’re creating copycats for yourselves, you’re causing problems. Why is this important to you?
Dan Norris: Well, again, I just think that … I want to help people, I really do. I really do want to make sure that other people don’t make the same mistakes I did, and they don’t believe the bullshit that they read in e-books about how to start a business. And I’m just passionate about putting real information out there for them. And so I was doing my income reports when there was zero dollars and I’m still doing them now, and so I do it for that reason. I also think that they make really good content, but you can’t really define … I can accept that there are some downsides to doing it, but how do you measure … I found Kyle through my content, I found Alex through my content. I found, for Black Hops I found investors, customers, partners, any person you can name came through that content. Investors read our blog and then decided to invest in the business. That’s powerful shit that you can’t really ever measure. People may not have ever heard of-
Justin: [crosstalk 00:38:08]
Dan Norris: … me if I didn’t do income reports. [crosstalk 00:38:11]
Justin: Yeah. Yeah, we had some sites stolen from us by some Russian scammers a while back, and simply because we do a monthly report and talked about it we had the guy that ultimately ended up buying it from those Russian scammers at a steal, right, because they just wanted the cash … He bought it from them and reached out to us and said, hey, I think I bought these sites. We started talking to him, he basically gave them back to us, said, look, if you can just recoup me the money I lost. We’re like, yeah, no problem. And there’s no way that would have happened if we wouldn’t have been talking about exactly what happened. And, yeah, how do you put an R01 on that? I have no idea, man, but you just know that it’s valuable because of the amazing things that happen around it. Right? That’s how I feel. It’s really hard to … I don’t know. I believe, that’s weird, but I believe that it’s working. I believe [crosstalk 00:38:53]-
Dan Norris: But people tell you too though-
Dan Norris: That’s the only content we ever write where people will ask us routinely, if we’re late with the monthly report people will ask us where it’s at.
Justin: Yeah, what’s going on-
Dan Norris: And that’s a pretty dang good sign that it’s good content.
Justin: Yeah. I get asked and I get people that go, okay, that’s interesting for what you’re doing because you’re talking about people can buy websites and they can live the dream and move the ball and [inaudible 00:39:16], but that would never work for X industry or Y industry. And I ask them, so I ask that question like, okay, well why wouldn’t it work? Because no one talks about it, because it’s really secretive. I was like, oh my God, that’s the perfect industry to do it in, the ones where people aren’t talking about it. That’s even better, that’s ideal. But are there any industries, Dan, where it just doesn’t work at all? Government secrets, right? If I’m sharing top secret information, unless you’re Snowden it just doesn’t work for you. Are there any other industries that just would not work?
Dan Norris: Well, I don’t know. I can’t answer that, I can only just tell you my experience, but I know with … I’ve always thought that if you can apply some of these ideas that us online marketing guys take for granted to more traditional industries then you would just blow it up because the competition is so weak compared to … in our space you release a monthly report now you wouldn’t even get noticed because it’s just been done a million times, but we do this with the brewing stuff. We put our recipes up and we document everything we’re doing, where we’re thinking about locations for opening, what equipment and supplies we’re looking at doing, all this kind of stuff, and the result has been amazing. The traffic is nothing compared to what we get on WP Curve, but literally every time we go to an event people come up to us and thank us for our content and tell us that they read our blog, and like important people in the industry. It’s fucking crazy.
Justin: Ah, that is awesome, Dan. That’s really interesting. I haven’t seen those posts, I’m gonna have to go check that out. But yeah, you’re doing it in an industry where that’s just not even … you wouldn’t think to do that. There’s not really any value, your beer-drinking customers probably don’t care where you’re making your money or how you’re building your business, but industry insiders do, and that gives you connections with investors, potential partners.
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: Absolutely, man.
Dan Norris: And bloggers too. We’re not doing an income report, we don’t really have any income. I don’t think we would do an income report, but we do basically a rundown of everything we’re doing in a really transparent way. And this … I don’t know. It’s hard to tell if what we’re doing would even exist without that because the first thing we did was we mocked up some labels and we put them on the beer and we handed it out to bloggers, and then we wrote blog posts about what we’re doing, and those bloggers shared those posts and we got press on their sites, and this whole thing just steamrolled from there. So content may have caused this business to exist in the first place. It’s pretty pivotal in what we’re doing.
So yeah, I think if people are thinking that way then they’re probably thinking the way everyone else thinks which is just an opportunity, it’s an opportunity to think differently and to do something that other people aren’t doing. And when you do something other people aren’t doing that’s when you get noticed.
Justin: Yeah, absolutely. Dan, I’ve got one more question about WP Curve and then we’re gonna get into more the content marketing stuff that you guys have got going on. My question is this, you’re at a mid five-figure monthly run rate, which is tremendous thinking back less than two years ago you were starting and you had four hundred and something dollars a month, and that wasn’t even covering your expenses. So that’s phenomenal. The question is though, what are your challenges today? Does anything need to change with your business to go from a mid five-figure to a six-figure monthly run rate? What do you see as the challenges? What do you see as what got you here, won’t get you there type of thing?
Dan Norris: Yeah, the thing we’re battling with at the moment is pricing. There’s probably a few things we’re battling, one is we’re testing pricing. We put our prices up a lot a couple of months ago and that’s had a pretty big impact on our growth. Our growth has pretty much stagnated. It’s sort of hard to pinpoint exactly why that is because I think retention has always been a challenge, so there was always gonna be a time when we had a lot of competitors and got a few less sign ups and therefore growth was gonna peter out a little bit. But pricing is definitely a struggle because it’s something that me and Alex have never really agreed on, and it’s always a battle trying to work out where to put that. And also just keeping the service profitable, keeping a good profit margin is all a part of that, boosting retention, that’s all part of that. So it’s a very, very complicated mess of things that need to happen to get that right. So that’s probably our number one thing at the moment.
And then just building the team, especially building the team in the US time zone. So either hiring at nighttime in the Philippines or hiring over in South America or somewhere closer to the US. They’re probably the two biggest things. And then I guess just, probably just motivation for the founders to make sure that this is exactly what we want to be doing. We’re both ambitious so that’s always a consideration. But yeah, they’re probably the main things. I think once we sort this pricing thing out I think we’ll continue to grow, and I don’t think it’ll be too long before we hit that kind of six-figure a month trajectory, but I dunno. Who knows? Nothing’s all that predictable and we’ve got a lot of competitors, and we’ve also got a kind of service where people can kind of come and go as they please so that’s not the best recipe for building a multimillion-dollar business.
Justin: Yeah. But pricing is a rough one when you’ve got recurring revenue too because if you mess with it too much it affects lifetime value, and you don’t see it for months so you’re not gonna see the effects for months, and so there’s just a time component to that where it may take six months, a year, 18 months to see what those changes made. And if you and your partner are bouncing around on where you think pricing should be, and if you bounce around with the pricing it could be all over the place. And so I hear you on that being a challenge. And obviously you want to keep your growth steady, but you need to maintain or you need to grow profit margins if at all possible.
I think, you were talking about the team and getting the team together and keeping the founders on point and motivated I think is interesting, and that leads into what kind of team you’re building. What’s the vision? Are people on board with that? How do you remove yourself further from the actual work, Dan, and keep everyone else with eye on the prize, right? That’s, I think, something that might need to get figured to get to that level. I’m asking these questions because I’m wondering it for us too, right, so I’m trying to figure it out myself. So I like talking to guys like you, which we have similar struggles I think.
Dan Norris: I think we’re sort of also a little bit stuck in what kind of business do we want to be. Do we want to be like a no-brainer subscription that everyone who has WordPress subscribes to because it’s so cheap and so valuable that they may as well? Or, do we want to be the company that solves every single WordPress problem better than everyone else, faster than everyone else, cheaper than everyone else, for more people? Or, do we want to just optimize for revenue and just do a whole bunch more services at a higher margin and just make more money? And we kind of go back and forward on that a little bit.
It’s good to make money, but it’s never really enough. Alex is pretty ambitious, he wants to make more money. I obviously wouldn’t mind making more money, but I also want to build something a lot bigger and more significant. So it’s kind of just a constant thing where it’s like we’ll hash it out for a while then one of us will go away, the other person will go away, we’ll think about it some more and we’ll make some other decisions. We had a goal to get to $2 million annual run rate this year, so we’re gonna have to bust our ass if we’re gonna get anywhere near that.
Justin: Yeah. Yeah, that’s some work. I think though at some point you do have to have that conversation and say, okay, we’ve been spending a bunch on growth. Right? We’re basically reinvesting everything with growth. We want to get it to the point where it is massive, it is significant. And there has to be at some point there, you have to say, okay, let’s take some cash out of this business, let’s start making some money. Joe and I have been in that position where we’re getting paid and we’re giving ourselves salaries and we’re happy with it, but all of our investments are tied up in the business. How do we get that out? And when do we take it out?
Dan Norris: Right. Right. Well ours is probably a bit different. We pretty much don’t put money into growth. We pretty much just split the profits, and we both earn a very good wage out of it, and we don’t really [inaudible 00:46:46] in the business for other stuff. But having said that-
Justin: I’m jealous, Dan.
Dan Norris: … we also [crosstalk 00:46:51]-
Justin: I’m jealous. Don’t tell me that.
Dan Norris: We also both live in two of the most expensive cities in the world, so the money disappears pretty quick.
Justin: Yeah, that’s true. Living in Southeast Asia makes it a hell of a lot easier, so … There’s some definite downsides to that too.
Let’s get into content marketing. First off I should mention that you’re a prolific content marketer. You knock it the fuck out. You’ve written so much content, [inaudible 00:47:17] so many podcasts, either interviews or podcasts yourself, that it’s stunning quite honestly. And you were doing a lot of this before you had a solid business, solid business meaning that you’ve got traction, you’ve got plenty of customers that are paying you. Do you advocate that strategy? Is there a let’s build an audience and we’ll figure out the business later approach?
Dan Norris: I know if I say that then it’s gonna piss off a lot of people in your audience because they probably don’t want to hear that, but I don’t think there’s one best way to really do anything, and … Like when I started, when I sold my agency all I wanted to do was take the good bits out of that, the things I enjoyed, and I wanted to build a business off that. And the only thing I actually enjoyed from that business was that I had a blog. And I was writing content on that blog and I’d just gotten into content marketing. It was working pretty well, and I sold all of it with [inaudible 00:48:07]. So I sold the blog, I sold my Twitter account, my Facebook, like everything with that business, and I started 100% from scratch. And all I was thinking at that point was I want to start a business where I can just create content and I don’t have to go meet people and sell them shit.
And whether I did it the right, I don’t know. I probably didn’t. It took me a while to figure it out, but all the stuff I did in 2012 where I was all over the place and doing a lot of content, not making any money, that stuff ended up paying off in spades later on. Even just the fact we’re having this conversation now, it’s so mad. If I was to go back to 2012 and look at the people I interviewed on my podcast or the blog posts I linked to, the people who tweeted my content, those people have turned out to be really influential people in my business and in my life as an entrepreneur. I formed amazing partnerships as a result of those. All that content was repurposed and redirected onto the WP Curve site, and we have this big steamroller of a site that’s just taken off from the get go.
So I don’t know. Who’s to say that was the wrong way to do it, or the right way? It was just the way I did it.
Justin: It’s a way, yeah. And I’m, especially after WP Curve honestly, I’m a little careful in … well, I try to be a bit more careful in saying, oh, that’s not gonna work, or, I don’t think that’s gonna work, because honestly everything could work and everything could fail. So I at least, I try to point out challenges that I see that maybe they don’t see going into it. I’ll try and point out opportunities that maybe they see or don’t see, but, yeah. Who knows, man? I have no idea, no one else has any idea. Until you start it you’re just not gonna know, which I know a theme-
Dan Norris: I think sometimes also people who give a lot of advice … like I’m picturing someone giving this advice saying, don’t do blog [inaudible 00:49:48] before you have your business, that’s stupid, just go out and sell shit. They’re almost giving that advice as if they were talking to themselves because that’s what they want to do and that’s what they’re good at and that’s what gets results for them, but there’s a lot of people out there who don’t want to do that, who aren’t good at it, and who are not gonna get motivation and drive from doing it. And so it’s not necessarily good advice for them.
But I think it’s more important to do what you love and what you’re good at, generally, in business, and if it’s not working maybe you have to be patient, maybe you have to change something, but you’re better off doing what you’re good at and getting better at it as opposed to doing what you’re crappy at and trying to compete with people who are good at it.
Justin: Yeah, absolutely. Talking about having to wait a while, you definitely have to wait a while when it comes to content marketing. We have people asking, well, should I start a blog? They say, I’ve just bought a website, it’s an e-commerce site, so should I start a blog for this business? And we’re like, maybe, maybe you could start a blog, but you have to understand that starting a blog, it may take six months, it may take nine months, it may take 12 months before you start to get traction, if at all. So if some [inaudible 00:50:54] someone is just getting started out in content marketing their business today, how do they get around that slow ROI problem? It’s really hard to get a return on that content. They’re getting paid pennies for the hours that they’re working. is there a way around that? How do you work that out?
Dan Norris: Yeah. So this is the sort of stuff I talk about in my new book, which is called, Content Machine, and I’ve written that to basically try to help people who want to start a blog but also want to grow a blog to something that’s bigger than themselves and build a business off the back of it. I think there’s a few answers to the question, one is, it’s not necessarily true that it takes a long time to get value from content because, again, the content we put on our brewing site has had amazing traction straight away without any Google juice or without anything, but purely because of the competition factor and the differentiation factor.
So in my book I have a whole section, which is about a third of the entire book, that talks only about differentiation. And to me if you can put something out there that really does stand out and it’s different to what other people are doing, and you don’t have a lot of competition for what you’re doing, then you can get traction straight away. And I’ve noticed that with out beer stuff. If you’re buying a blog in the online marketing space and you’re trying to start an online marketing blog and you’re just doing what other people are doing, then that’s gonna be an entirely different situation.
So the first thing you need to think about is competition and differentiation, how are you gonna stand out, and how many people are doing this already? And then you need to learn … there’s a difference between sticking with something that’s not working and building an asset that ends up snowballing into this big ball of momentum that just explodes. And so you need to learn to get good at noticing what’s getting traction. And I eventually figured it out. It took me about 700 blog posts before I figured it out, but nowadays I can put out a bit of content and I can probably tell reasonably well whether or not it’s hit the mark, whereas early on I was just like, well, I’ll just create content. And I was more focused on hitting weekly content goals and hitting word counts and just the amount of content as opposed to the quality.
But nowadays I’m way more focused on the qualitative stuff like, do people relate to this? Are they asking me to write it? Are they actually sharing it as opposed to liking it? One thing that I think about is if someone likes something then that just means it’s not good enough for them to share it. So I want to create the kind of content that people share, not the kind of content that they like because a like is pretty passive. It’s better than just looking at it, but to me the views on your content are almost meaningless, the likes on your content, almost meaningless, but the shares on your content is where it starts getting meaningful. And then the comments and the email replies and what people actually say is where the most value is. It’s like if people are telling you they’re using this, if you can see them using it, if they’re begging you for more content then that’s the point when realize that you’re getting traction. And if you do that for long enough it’s gonna work. If you’re just putting out content, it won’t.
Justin: I love that, Dan, I love comparing likes to shares. Right? You’re totally right. If someone goes along and they like it, it’s like, ah, that was nice. Right? That was a nice post you got there. And if they’re sharing it, it’s like, holy shit, you gotta go read this, family, friends, whoever, you gotta go check this out. I have to share this with you. That’s an interesting comparison.
Dan Norris: And people might share it for different reasons, and that’s part of the differentiation. If I think about … do you remember that Mark Manson post, just went completely nuts a couple months ago? The-
Justin: Yeah, which one, man. He’s got-
Dan Norris: The fucks given one.
Justin: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Dan Norris: The guide to giving fucks, don’t [crosstalk 00:54:07]-
Justin: Yeah, yeah.
Dan Norris: Whatever.
Justin: He had that … he’s [crosstalk 00:54:11]-
Dan Norris: I was just like, I was [inaudible 00:54:11] my friends.
Justin: Yeah, I met with him in Bangkok and I went to his breakout session where he talked about going viral and how to measure it, and talking about headlines and what to use on Facebook. Really interesting. But yeah, man, you look at that guy’s shares, Mark Manson, and he just absolutely crushes it, dude. Absolutely crushes it on social media.
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: Yeah. And he writes amazing articles.
Dan Norris: I was bummed about that because I was doing a session at the same time so I couldn’t go to his, so I was stewing about that. But that’s an example, like … you read his content and you’re like, this guys is just so on point. There’s no one who creates content like that. It’s so different. And my mates here who don’t know anything about online marketing, who don’t know anything from our universe, are sharing his blog posts, and I’m like, hey, I know that guy. So that’s when you know you’re really having an impact.
But that’s one example, but it could be just really practical stuff. Like the first time I noticed it happened was I wrote a post about starting a podcast, and I had a podcast but it was only really new, and I’d really just analyzed other podcasts. And I’d made the most actionable thing I could possibly imagine and I had videos and step-by-step, I had quotes from eight different podcasters. You were probably in it actually, it was a couple years ago. And that was the first time I noticed people … it got about 200 tweets, and I’d normally only got about 10 on my best posts before that, and it had loads of comments and people were sharing it and telling people to check it out if they wanted to start a podcast. And that’s when I knew like this is what good content feels like versus all the other shit I did before, which was just writing a post and hoping for the best.
Justin: Yeah. Yeah, was that the one that starting a podcast? It came out shortly after Pat Flynn’s or right around the same time, and-
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: Yeah, I shared that with everyone. I was like, if you want to start a podcast here are two things you need to read, you need to read Pat Flynn’s and you need to read Dan Norris’. You’re good. That’s how you start a podcast. Done. Read those, you’ve got it. You’re good to go. So yeah, that was insanely helpful.
Dan Norris: People don’t think about that, but it’s the same with business. Our business is only growing because people are telling people about it and referring it. They’re like, you got a WordPress problem? Use WP Curve. That’s how it happens, and the same thing happens with content. If I’ve got a guy who’s gonna like Mark Manson’s content I’m gonna tell him about it. Whether it’s online or offline it doesn’t matter, it’s gotta be good enough for me to tell him about it, especially in that kind of niche where it’s so competitive. And in our kind of industry, where there’s so much competition. You really need to think about quality of your content and differentiation so whatever you’re doing is gonna get people’s attention.
Justin: I’ve been struggling where the articles that go viral for us get on Hacker News or do really well on Reddit or whatever are the ones where I talk about how bad we suck, or how we made mistakes. So we got sued in the Philippines and I talk about how we screwed up, and we got scammed by some Russian scammers and I talk about how badly that was, those are our most popular posts ever. I’m like, they don’t relate to buying and selling sites and they’re us just completely donking it up. And look, it’s good, I … it is one of those situations I think where some attention, any attention is good attention, but I wish I could have that same magic with things that are more relevant and positive for our business.
Dan Norris: Well, there’s a reason you can’t because buying and selling websites is bloody boring, so is … WordPress is boring as well, and that’s why that kind of content is really good. I don’t have any problem at all … people who say you should create content around exactly what you do and it should really tightly relate to what you do and you should convert the reader into a customer, I think it’s just bullshit. You should create content that’s interesting to, ideally people who could be customers, but maybe even just people who are friends or colleagues of people who could be customers, or influencers of people who could be customers. And it’s primarily gotta be interesting and useful. It doesn’t have to be primarily related to your business because it’s brand building [inaudible 00:57:57] every single person who sees that sees the brand.
Justin: Above and beyond all people have to give a shit. Right? If it’s-
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: … closer or closely related to your business that’s even better, but they have to give a shit first, beyond everything else.
Dan Norris: Yeah, and that’s why … we do some WordPress stuff where we think we can do a really good piece of content, like we’ll do a really detailed post on how to speed up your site or an infographic on something like that, like stuff where we really can create something great, but generally … I don’t want to start a WordPress how-to blog because there’s a million of them already and they’re all pretty damn good. I don’t think our audience of entrepreneurs give that much of a shit about how to fix a WordPress problem, if they did they wouldn’t be paying us. They pay us to do that. They care about building businesses and remote teams and software to use and online marketing and stories and that kind of stuff, like entrepreneurship stories, that’s the stuff they care about, so why not give people stuff they care about?
Justin: I love that, Dan, honestly that’s really inspiring for me. So it opens up I think what we can do in terms of content at Empire Flippers, and I think for our audience it opens up their eyes in terms of it doesn’t have to be around carpet cleaning. If you run a carpet cleaning business maybe you can make it a bit more interesting.
Hey, are you familiar with that company, it’s a real estate company, I think it’s some kind of SaaS company, and they were getting eight million page views a month or something ridiculous. And so they kind of laid into how they did it, and they were writing content … they kind of tagged themselves to the comic niche, and so they were doing content about where Marvel heroes would live., what cities they would live in and what types of homes they would have. And they did infographics about that and it blew the hell up. It got crazy amounts of shares from Marvel fans and it was just blowing up.
And so they regularly do content like that, they do kind of random, not particularly niche-related content that blows the hell up and gives them a ton of attention, gives them all kinds of HuffPo links and all kinds of stuff. And I’ll share that with you, I’ll put it on the show notes for this, I’ll put a link to it. But it’s really fascinating.
Dan Norris: That’s cool. I think there also has to be something else in place which is like this sort of monetization logic, which is like, okay, if you’ve got content that is being shared on Huffington Post, but you’ve got business that mows lawns in Mermaid Beach on the Gold Coast in Australia, there’s no logic there between a visitor and the customer.
Dan Norris: You’re not gonna monetize any fraction of that audience. So there needs to be something, I know with WP Curve I like the fact that, and I know this is something that we’ve talked about before, which is I don’t like the idea of niche-ing down, I like the fact that our service is very broad and potentially any one of our colleagues, friends, or customers could be at WP Curve. Anywhere in the world, no matter what time [inaudible 01:00:39], as long they use WordPress, which is almost everyone anyway, then they could be a customer. And that means that any attention we get for our content is … as long as it’s somewhat related to entrepreneurship and online marketing then it’s gonna be potential customers that see it.
Justin: Yeah, I love the idea of niche-ing down. I don’t like it in your particular situation. If you were limited to a particular niche I think it’d be bad at this point, right, because you’re expanding beyond, but I think getting to the point you’re at today is easier if you focus on a tighter niche. And I know there are different ways you can do it, you can launch a bunch of different companies and see which ones are getting traction, even wider ranging companies and see which ones are getting traction and take that approach. You can obviously raise money, that’s another way to do it. Speaking of which, would you guys raise money, or no? Are you strictly blue strap, self-funded, will not take on cash?
Dan Norris: I don’t think it’s really a question that you can answer as a one-off, it’s more like if we were in a situation where raising money made sense then of course we would raise money, but it hasn’t really made sense.
Justin: That’s a little evasive, Dan. No, you just don’t know … you guys have had that conversation?
Dan Norris: Yeah, but it’s always been like, well we don’t really need money, and what would we do with it?
Justin: Yeah. Yeah.
Dan Norris: Whereas with the brewery we’re raising money for that because we need it. We don’t have enough money to build this thing, we actually need it, whereas with WP Curve it does pretty well, we don’t really need it. I’m not really sure what we would spend it on if we did raise the money. And I think it would probably change the business as well into … it would sort of cement the decision that this thing has to be huge and it can’t really just be a high revenue lifestyle business, which is sort of what it is at the moment. But yeah … and again, that may change. I don’t know.
Justin: Dan, this is a long interview, but I don’t care. I’m gonna keep it going as long as you’re down. I have another question. I don’t know if you’ve seen this or not, there was an interview where Clay Collins was interviewed by the Foundation Guy and was talking to him about why he chose content marketing over some other scenarios, where he could have a sales team and do enterprise sales. And Clay said that he, this is Clay from Leadpages, he said that he looked at the sales force model where they hired a bunch of sales people and just looked at their cost per acquisition for every customer, and it was in the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars per customer, and he was looking at his content marketing and it was like $15 or $20 per customer.
And he was like, that seems kind of interesting. If I can scale the shit out of my content marketing that seems like a really unique and differentiator for my business. And so he went about doing that. Really focused on content marketing, hiring bloggers, hiring podcasters, and I think he’s done an amazing job with that. Actually I don’t particularly like some of his content, it’s not like, oh my God, let me go to the Leadpages blog and see what’s on the blog today, but I am a customer, so, I don’t know, it did kind of work.
I think WP Curve, I think you guys are following along a similar model, and so I looked at both of you I think as inspiration for what I think we could do at Empire Flippers. I think this could work really well for us. So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about kind of scaling your content marketing, and I want to do it under the banner of the people, product, process model that you and I both like because we both watch The Profit and Marcus Lemonis and we’re fans. So you’re familiar with that Clay Collins approach with Leadpages, is that something you’re looking to model as well, or are you guys coming up with a similar path on your own?
Dan Norris: Well, I didn’t see the interview. I know you sent it to me, I didn’t look at it yet because I’ve got really crappy internet at the moment so I haven’t been able to download it until that gets fixed. And I’m not really familiar with what that they’ve done with content. I know their thing just blew up and took off, and I know his background was podcasting and internet marketing and stuff so it kind of makes sense that he would continue with that. It’s a totally different business though [inaudible 01:04:15], like what do you they get like $5 million in funding or something?
Justin: Yeah, yeah.
Dan Norris: And they employ a hundred people or something insane. And that’s not a hundred Filipino developers, that’s like a hundred people in a building somewhere, like a flashy office somewhere. That’s like a totally different business to what we’re doing, so I would say … I think that’s an awesome idea what he’s doing. I think content marketing is still really, really misunderstood, and especially in that funded startups crowd, there’s very few of them that are doing it very well. I’ve got a few examples that I talk about in the book, but there’s not that many startups that are doing content very well. They’re all sort of doing the old school way of just putting content out and just hoping for the best, but there’s not actually really great differentiated content, whereas Clay’s got a huge opportunity to really stand out.
Unbounce content is good, so he does have some competition. They do the same thing, they also do good content, but I think that makes a lot of sense. For us it was never really an option because I don’t think we ever would have been able to afford sales people, so content was really the only option.
Justin: So it’s like a forced option, but also it’s kind of nice too because you’ve got people raising their hand, right, and saying, hey, look, I want to sign up as a customer. It’s not this hardcore sales force team that you need out there, and for me I don’t want to build a sales force, that’s not really a skillset I have. I don’t think it’s a skillset or even an interest of yours, so it makes a lot of sense. So you’re both forced to do it and it makes sense for your business.
Can you see a situation where WP Curve has a couple of podcasters that are, I don’t know, on payroll, several bloggers, obviously you have your content manager, you’ve got Kyle kind of running things over there, can you see a larger content team growing out of this?
Dan Norris: Yeah, I would love to do that. We were actually gonna do that with the podcast. Kyle did a pilot interview and we were gonna relaunch the podcast just with him hosting it, but I wasn’t really happy with the way that turned out and to me it was easier to scale written content. It was much easier to work on the quality control and the message and the branding of it and the differentiation, make sure it was all the way I designed our content to be. It was easy to train someone in how to do that, but it’s very, very difficult to train someone in how to do that with a podcast because it’s kind of recorded and then that’s done.
Justin: Yeah, and different mediums make it, they provide for different challenges too, and I can see the same thing going in video though. I could see that being particularly interesting. So you find some people that are doing videos on entrepreneurship, bring them under the banner, get them in your team, in the fold, and then have them start running the side of things. And I could see, I don’t know if this is the way it’s gonna go, but I could see a whole team over at WP Curve that is the content team, [inaudible 01:06:45] this whole department or division under WP Curve. And it’s kind of … you’ve got a few people going that way. I know that Leadpages is already there and I’m seeing you with a couple of people and heading in that direction, and I see Leadpages like a full organization already there, and I’m thinking that would be a great direction for Empire Flippers.
Tell me in terms of the writing, because you’re not doing much of the podcast and video stuff right now, but what guidelines do you have for your content marketing? How do you structure what’s good, what’s good enough, what’s not good enough, and how did you arrive at those guidelines?
Dan Norris: Right, yeah. Well this is the stuff I … Well actually I want to go back to that point about having a team, I would love to do that. It really is just the cost. So that’s probably an example of if we did get a bunch of funding that’s what I would spend it on because I just want to double down on what’s working. And I would absolutely love to have a whole of people creating stuff, and I’d expand it well beyond written content as well. I’d probably build little software tools and little site analyzers and-
Dan Norris: … technical stuff that would really help people as well. But yeah, we can’t really afford it. We’ve got Kyle, we’ve got a budget for guest content, that’s where we’re at. But yeah, if we were 10 times the size I would definitely love to have a bunch of people doing that stuff.
Justin: Yeah, you’ve got a small development team that are building out tools for the pieces of content that you’re putting out. So you’re putting out these pieces of content, there’s a tool there, there’s probably some … you’ve got a couple of guys in a graphics team that are helping to create the graphics, and … Yeah, maybe … you can have a photographer [inaudible 01:08:10] you want to go crazy, they’re taking all these amazing images and photos for the site. Yeah man, I could see that. Maybe it’s a few steps away, but it would be awesome. Right? It would be great to have a content team like that.
Dan Norris: Even social media. It’s so important, and it’s just like every time I learn something I’m like, ah man, we should do this at WP Curve, but then it’s just another person to … like we’re not on Instagram, we don’t do anything on Instagram. The Facebook page is not really that successful. There’s so much more we could do with that, but, again, it’s just paying someone to do it, getting someone to own it, making sure we do it well and differentiate it so it’s not just some other crap that people see. That’s just … I don’t know, there’s so many things you can do. And every time I think of anything it’s like, ah man, we need to do that, we need to do that. Conversions or longer content, anything, but at some point you just have to say like, these are the resources we have and this is how we’re gonna spend it.
Dan Norris: And content is really like the only thing we’ve ever done that’s worked, so that’s why we … like hiring Kyle is a pretty big deal. He’s one of only a few team members who aren’t developers, and he’s pretty much the only team member who doesn’t work in our core business. He is the only team member that doesn’t work in our core business.
Justin: We’ve been spending a whole bunch of money on Pay Per Click, on paid Facebook ads, a little bit of social media, and I’m just thinking that money … you can kind of track it, and yes it’s scalable, but … And that’s what the paid traffic people say, right, they say, oh, I only do paid traffic because I can scale it. Right? I think you can scale content marketing. I think it’s doable, and I’m looking for models of people that have done it successfully.
So getting back to the guidelines, how do you determine what kind of content is good enough? Was it just you’re doing it yourself? Did you put those guidelines together? Do you have an SOP for the guidelines that should be followed?
Dan Norris: Yeah, in the book I’ve got a whole section on scale, the third section. So the first section is just basics, looking at how to create high quality content, how do you know when you’re getting traction. The second is differentiation, and the third is scale. And the scale section is partly, how do you have a business that’s fundamentally good so that … there’s a lot of people that have good content and a good blog, and they don’t know why they are not making any money, but it’s because there’s something wrong with their business. So I couldn’t write a book about content marketing without talking about business.
But a big chunk of that is also [inaudible 01:10:23] frameworks. So I think I’ve got nine different frameworks that we use for various things, everything from finding ideas to breaking those ideas up into blog post ideas, [inaudible 01:10:35] style guidelines, anything to do with creating content. It’s like … formatting images, like the minute detail of everything that has to happen to go into a blog post. How we manage guest authors, all of that stuff is as part of these frameworks that we use at WP Curve that I’m releasing with the book when the book comes out.
Dan Norris: Yeah, so an example … the one you’re referring to is like a content style guideline, and I just have … well, I have two things. One, I have a checklist, which is like, this is what we think good content is, and we measure our content against that. So it’ll be things like, is it actually useful? Is it long and detailed information? Is it original? Like this kind of stuff. Is it the sort of thing that someone would share? That kind of stuff is important, but then the style guidelines are very, very, very particular. If you’d ask Kyle I’m really picky with the content that goes on the site, like if there’s a double space or if there’s like one or two pixels out on an image, that’s covered in the guidelines and I’ll pull him up on it if he misses it. But I’m really specific about that stuff because I think it’s important.
So every last detail to do with a post, like exactly how big the images should be, what size they should be, what format they should be, and how many images, how many words the post should be, how many links should [inaudible 01:11:46] format, where we should put click-to-tweets, how we format related links, all of that kind of stuff is documented in our style guide. So whether Kyle writes a post or whether a guest author writes a post that’s the stuff that I need to tick it off against. And that’s just been put together by me over the years doing it myself, and then ultimately me wanting to show Kyle how to do it without having to chat with him [inaudible 01:12:08] saying, read this document and then do that. So I make sure absolutely everything is in the document.
Justin: I’m really looking forward to your book, Content Machine. If it covers all of that and has some of the style guides I’m really looking forward to it, I think it’ll really help me out.
A big hire for you is Kyle. You mentioned he’s the only guy who’s not core to your team. Where did you find him? How did you find Kyle, and then what was your hiring process to bring him on? Did you have any requirements? Did he have to have done blogs, or did you do a few interviews? How did that work out?
Dan Norris: Yeah, we positioned that as sort of like an internship, like the TMBA-style one, which is … so I’m sure you’re already familiar with that, but it’s basically guys who travel around Asia, they’re living cheaply, they want to learn about business so they work for less than they otherwise would, but in return they get some help with their business. So that’s how we positioned it. So I met him in Bangkok at [inaudible 01:12:54] last year, and we sort of agreed to help him with his business if he helped us by working pretty much full-time but for a reduced rate. And as it’s turned out he’s been really keen to just focus on WP Curve and get our content right before he does his own stuff, because I think he kind of realizes that he’s learning a skillset that’s gonna be useful to him in his business and just in life generally. And he’s got a lot of attention out of it as well, especially the fact that’s it’s going well and that he’s sort of taken over from me and he’s ran with it and improved what we’re doing, which is cool.
Justin: You’ve loosened the reins and give him, I think, from what I can see, a lot of control over the content and a lot of the management, so that probably gives him some ownership. Right? And he probably also sees that he can leverage WP Curve more than he could a business trying to start it from scratch. Yes, he’s got skills and he’s gonna make it there eventually, but you guys are already much further ahead. Why not take advantage of that to learn even deeper skills or, I think, more important skills continuing on with you guys? At least for now, right?
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: Yeah. So-
Dan Norris: Yeah, so that’s what I did. It was a really cool period of time because I put a post up on our site and emailed our list and said, this is … actually I don’t even know if we did email our list. I put the post up on the site and said, this is what we’re looking to get out of it, and over a hundred applications for it and Kyle was one of them. And he’d had me on his podcast before. Actually, I think … did I introduce him to him, or did you introduce him to me? I think you might have introduced him to me.
Dan Norris: Yeah. From the … he did the Utah University faculty podcast thing. Remember that?
Justin: Get out of here. Yeah, that’s him?
Dan Norris: Yeah, yeah.
Justin: Kyle Gray?
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: No way.
Dan Norris: That’s him.
Justin: Dude. Now I’m really jealous. So I told you this before the show, I’m looking for my Kyles, this is the way I put it, right? I need my Kyle. And it’s so funny, it looks like I gave my Kyle to you. No, that’s so cool.
Dan Norris: I took your Kyle.
Justin: You took my Kyle, man.
Dan Norris: Ah, yeah.
Justin: That’s awesome. I’m gonna actually put a post out in the near future looking for a content manager because I think we could have a ton of value there. I know Kyle’s been extremely valuable to you.
So maybe there was some introduction through that and then you interviewed him a few times? Exactly how did that kind of progress until you guys decided to meet in Bangkok?
Dan Norris: Yeah, well the first thing I’ll say is with your ad make sure you post it … so I’ve got a Facebook group for the Content Machine book, it’s just called, Content Machine-
Dan Norris: … and so post it in there and you might get … because they’re people interested in content marketing, there’s about a thousand people in there now.
Dan Norris: Yeah, so Kyle … so I had a bunch of interviews. I had basically two guys that stood out. One was Kyle, and another guy was a guy called Tom Morkes. You know Tom?
Justin: Tom who?
Dan Norris: Morkes. M-O-R-K-E-S.
Justin: I don’t know, I’m not sure.
Dan Norris: Okay, so he … those two guys applied, I gave the job to Kyle. I was basically of the mindset that … he’d done a bit of content, he’d done a podcast. He was a good fit because he was part of that DC community and he was moving to Asia, so from that point of view he was good. And I sort of took the gamble that I could train him up on actually creating content. He’d written a couple of blog posts, but nothing really like what he’s doing for us. And that was a little bit of a rocky road, getting him up to speed with what we’re doing. It was something I’d learnt over seven years, so it was kind of hard for him to learn it over a few weeks. And just getting that attention to detail is really hard, you just have to have it drummed into you, which I had when I first started working, then I kind of did to him.
But yeah, the other guy, Tom, who applied, I ended up bringing him back and saying, I’ve already filled this job, but do you want to help me marketing my book? And he was like, oh yeah, I’ve got a publishing company and I actually do book marketing. And I don’t think I ever knew that, and I’m just like, alright, cool. I’ll pay [inaudible 01:16:28] for a month to do that. And he convinced me to not put The 7 Day Startup as a free download on the WP Curve site and said, put it on Amazon, and that thing just blew up, and he’s pretty much responsible for it.
Justin: That’s funny. So if you have it as a free download on your own site then you can’t have it on Amazon, you can’t use their where you gift it program, I forget what that’s called, I’m not a big-
Dan Norris: Yeah, KDP.
Justin: Yeah, you can’t do that if you have it for free on your own site. So yeah, that was probably a smart move. But we realized that after the fact with our old guide that that wasn’t possible for us.
Dan Norris: I don’t think it would have even gotten out to that many people. I was thinking it would probably get a couple of thousand downloads or whatnot, it’s had like 30,000 orders on Amazon, and it’s still selling like 30, 40 copies a day. It’s fucking insane.
Justin: Yeah, I get feedback … or I always see your book … like people were talking about, yeah, you need to go read The 4-Hour Workweek, you need to read The Lean Startup, you need to read The 7 Day Startup, and I was like, wow, Dan, what’s going on here, man? That’s pretty good company you got. Yeah, that’s awesome.
Dan Norris: Yeah, I just saw it the other day, I put a thing on Facebook, it’s currently number four in small business on amazon.com behind The E-myth, Zero to One, and The Lean Startup. Yeah.
Justin: Do you ever have that feeling like, why the fuck are these people listening to me? What’s going on here? Why are they checking my stuff out? Who am I?
Dan Norris: Yeah-
Dan Norris: I honestly do think that it’s pretty like … there’s a fair bit of luck and timing involved. Like I think it was just … it was good timing, it was a good story, Tom did good marketing for it. It seemed to be a catchy name and just everything sort of fell into place. But I don’t think it’s one of those things where ever book I bring out is gonna do amazingly well, I think it was just sort of everything fell into place at the time. But it was a really nice thing to happen, and it was cool because a lot of the value that I added by putting all this content out in 2012 from [inaudible 01:18:17] ended up getting paid back to me, like Alyssa ended up doing the editing for me for free for the whole book, Eric from the DC [inaudible 01:18:24] and designed the whole book for me for free.
Justin: Oh, wow.
Dan Norris: Tom worked on it for a month for very little, and the whole of the DC got behind it, and I had built this Facebook community where all these people who liked my content [inaudible 01:18:36] and it’s had like thousands of people in there. It was just this whole thing where I was like, wow, what I’ve built from this content is actually worth something and it’s actually meaningful. And until then it was like a couple of tweets on my blog posts, but when I launched that book it was like, holy shit, this is like a really powerful community.
Justin: Yeah, it really, it [inaudible 01:18:51] people. And it is your writing style and kind of what you talked about, it’s very practical, it’s like nuts and bolts. Right? Here’s just the facts man kind of approach. Right? I appreciate that. I remember even your podcast way back in the day it was just very straightforward, you didn’t have a lot of fluff, and this is what works. This is what works for me and hopefully you can get it to work for you. I can appreciate that, and I see why people would like that.
I’m actually really interested in your soon to come out book, The Content Machine, that sounds particularly helpful for me right now, and I think our audience will get some value there too. Tell me about the tools that you use to hold your content marketing together. I know that you guys are big fans of Slack. I was reading recently your Trello versus [inaudible 01:19:31] schedule approach, you prefer Trello I think, right?
Dan Norris: Yeah, Kyle was playing around with [inaudible 01:19:36] scheduling and I could kind of see that there were some benefits there, but for me as a general rule I don’t want something to be in WordPress if it doesn’t have to be in WordPress because it can affect … any additional plugin can affect security and speed and all that kind of stuff. So for me I would rather have software as a service application than something inside WordPress, which might sound a bit weird as a WordPress guy, but … So unless there’s like a good benefit for something, like backups for example or [inaudible 01:20:03], I would rather that be on the server than that be a plugin in WordPress.
Dan Norris: Or analytics or whatever. So there wasn’t really anything in there that I thought we really needed. It did scheduling of tweets and stuff, but we could do that with Hootsuite. It did a calendar for content, but we can do that with Trello. So yeah, we use Trello, and Trello’s got some good automation. Like we use Zapier a lot [inaudible 01:20:23] something we need to do every month it’s like the monthly report, we just have a really simple thing set up where the Zapier’s zap thing runs [inaudible 01:20:31] drop in Trello for Kyle to kick off the process for the monthly report. He will then contact us for contributions, and that all just sort of happens like a little machine. And we use Trello heaps for that, so Trello definitely really important.
Google Docs we use for all the drafts, and all the processes and everything in Google Spreadsheets. Google Drive we use because all the documents can be in one spot as opposed to Dropbox where you would have Google Drive and normal docs in another location. WordPress obviously. We use Infusionsoft for email marketing and for sequences and stuff like that.
What else. We’re pretty picky with our images, we use Canva for social media images and … I’m not actually sure … I use Fireworks for my images but I’m a bit old school, I’m not sure what Kyle uses to edit images, probably Photoshop.
Dan Norris: Other than that we don’t really use … like we use … I mention a few resources in the book, like BuzzSumo for generating ideas. BuzzSumo’s cool for analyzing other people’s blogs and looking at what gets traction. If you want to understand how to create a headline for something that gets a lot of traction just put your biggest competitor into BuzzSumo and sort it by the number of shares, and you’ll see all those posts on there and the way they’ve written the headlines. You can see it has a really big impact on the shares because all of those ones are always really well-written and they’re always intriguing or interesting. So for headline ideas or just looking at what your competitors are doing BuzzSumo’s really good.
And that’s really about it. I don’t think we use a huge amount of tools, that’s probably about it. I just get inspiration for content and ideas from other content, so podcasts and social media, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and whatnot.
Justin: Are you noticing that you’re using a lot less or you’re bouncing around from tools a lot less now that you have more of a team? Like we always get that question, hey, why don’t you switch over to this app? Or, you should get away from Zendesk and go with Groove. Or, you should go to Help Scout or whatever. I’m thinking to myself, that sounds … that’s cute. Right? Yeah, I’m sure if it was just me running my business, sure I’ll switch from Help Scout. But if I have to train 15 people, we’ve got all these SOPs in place and all these images and screen … like, no way. That’s a nightmare to switch. That’s why the SaaS companies love us, right, because we do all this whatever. But-
Dan Norris: That’s right.
Justin: … it’s easy for a one-man person to switch, but are you becoming less of a SaaS-hold now that you’ve got more people and it’s a miserable process to switch? How do you deal with that? If you find something-
Dan Norris: Yeah, definitely.
Justin: What do you do if you find software that’s better or you’re like, I like this, but the switch is a pain? How do you deal with that?
Dan Norris: Yeah, again, I think it’s just at a scale where you can’t do everything perfectly, you can only do whatever you can with the resources you have. And if there’s a better Infusionsoft, man, it would have to be a lot better for me to want to use it.
Justin: Right on.
Dan Norris: Infusionsoft is pretty damn good. And it would have to be so … like I get pitched on different email marketing tools all the time, and it’s like there’s no way in the world … I don’t care how much better it is, it would have to like totally change my life to move away from Infusionsoft. Even hosting, like there’s no way in the world I’m moving away from WP Engine. Something really disastrous would have to happen for us to move away.
Dan Norris: But yeah, I think [inaudible 01:23:20] used to be super passionate about the best apps for staff when it was just me, and [inaudible 01:23:25] those people that are really vocal about that sort of stuff are just like by themselves and they can easily switch between apps, which is cool because I like to know what the best thing is at the time-
Dan Norris: … but I’m the same as you. We don’t change that kind of stuff, it’s way too hard.
Justin: That’s why I spend more time … like when we chose Zendesk I looked at lots of different systems and tried to pick the one that I really thought was best for us longterm because I knew … I was like, whoever we go with here is getting a lot of money from us over the next few years, so we better pick the right one.
Dan Norris: Well yeah.
Justin: Tell me about your role, Dan-
Dan Norris: I think we pay about $600 a month to Help Scout.
Justin: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I think we’re around that too. Maybe, no, maybe we’re a little less. Four or five hundred bucks a month to Zendesk or something. But, yeah. And there’s no way you’re switching, that’s the other thing too, they’ve got you locked up.
Dan Norris: No.
Justin: So your LTV for them is fantastic. They’re loving you, Dan.
Dan Norris: Yeah, it’s a good business.
Justin: It is, good business.
Tell me about your role. So you used to be the content guy at WP Curve and everything else, but you’ve kind of … What do you do today, and how is that different from when you were starting off with your own content marketing? How have kind of you evolved and kind of moved out of the process?
Dan Norris: I think I just want to work on stuff that’s interesting to me, and I think the content that’s interesting me now is … like at the moment I love doing the craft beer stuff, but that’s really only because it’s new and because no one else is doing it and we’re getting a lot of traction for it. But longer term I want to make more of an impact, so I’ve been speaking at conferences and writing another book. I’m gonna work on my personal side, on my personal social media, my personal brand, and try to have a good crack at a personal brand-
Dan Norris: … which I’ve sort of tried before but never really done successfully. And I don’t actually see that many people doing it successfully, especially people who do have good businesses. So I want to have a good crack at that and just try to make a bigger impact than I’m currently making, and use all of the different businesses I’m working on as good inputs for content for that. It’s a much more interesting story if I’m working on a brewery and I’m presenting on a conference on content marketing and I’ve got some content to do with beer and some to do with WordPress and some to do with building software and … But that’s kind of what I’m passionate about doing, so I just want to keep doing that and just increasing the amount of impact I have.
Justin: I think some of our audience would like to hear from you on how you go from being an introvert to being on stage, being in some regards a front man for your company, on stage, doing all these interviews. How do you do that as introvert, and what are the challenges? And what are the ways that you’re able to do that? That’s a whole nother topic so I’m not gonna get into that right now, but it is actually interesting. I think either you writing a blog post or talking about [crosstalk 01:25:51]-
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Justin: … would be interesting for people.
Dan Norris: It’s very, very persona, and there’s a lot of aspects to it that people don’t know. It’s more than just being an introvert, I’ve really struggled with shyness and stuff in my life and I think when I write that post I just want it to be a really high impact one that really affects a lot of people. I just don’t want to throw it together-
Dan Norris: So I’ve sort of held off writing too much about that, but I want to write a post about … the weirdest thing is I always thought I was really scared of going to events, like conferences. I think for the first seven years of being an entrepreneur I think I only went to one conference, and since WordCamp last year … Maybe two conferences. Since WordCamp last year I just decided I’m just gonna [inaudible 01:26:30] saying, yes, to presenting at these conferences, and I was just scared shitless. But I found that it’s like the ultimate confidence hack because now every time I go to a conference everyone knows me and they treat me like a rockstar because I’m presenting. It’s fucking crazy.
Dan Norris: Like before I was just hanging around for a couple of days and no one would know who I was and no one would talk to me and I’d be too scared to talk to other people, and now everyone comes up to me and talks to me and it’s easy. So I think that’s … I want to write about that because that seems to be something that’s working really well for me. Like it’s much easier for me to go to a conference and present than it is to go to a conference and be an attendee.
Justin: Absolutely, man. Absolutely. That’s so true because if you’re there as a presenter a bunch of people come up to you, hey, loved your talk, or, hey, can’t wait to hear you speak, I loved this. And there’s a bunch of people there that know you, that like you, and so it makes it really, really easy. Totally agree with you.
I think that’s interesting [crosstalk 01:27:19]-
Dan Norris: It’s the coolest thing to do.
Justin: It is, it is. It’s fun, and you get to meet people like … it’s crazy too because you meet people that have listened to your podcasts and they’re like, hey, what’s going on, I loved this one piece. And you’re like, what was that? Then you’re like, oh yeah, dude, yeah, that’s so crazy. How did you know that? Oh, that’s right, you listen to my show. Yeah.
Dan Norris: Yeah, it’s insane when that happens. That’s happened with the brewery. We went to one night where we were asked to talk to a bunch of people about how to start a beer company, and this is only like two months after we put out this [inaudible 01:27:47]. It’s crazy. But this guy came up to us, he was probably … actually, I would say he’s the most respected brewer in Australia. He’d just won the Australasian Beer Festival, which is a brewery competition between 300 different beers, he just won this last week. And he came up to us at this event and started talking to us about these decisions we’d made with the brewery we were working at previously, and I’m like, how the hell does this guy even know us, let alone know these intimate decisions that we made? And he’s like, I’ve read ever single word you’ve written on your blog. And I’m like, fuck me-
Justin: Oh my God. Yeah.
Dan Norris: … are you crazy? That’s insane.
Justin: And then you’re like, it’s kind of creepy, and you’re like, oh yeah, no, I put that out there. Forget about that.
Dan Norris: But sometimes you don’t realize it because most people don’t comment and most people don’t share. So I had a conversation during the week with a guy at an event in Melbourne, this Troy Danes recurring revenue workshop event, and I was presenting there, and the guy came up to me afterwards and he was like, oh, that’s cool, I’ve been following your stuff since you used to run Web Circle back in like 2011. I’m like, holy shit, that’s almost five years ago now.
Justin: Yeah, and you never reached out, we’ve never-
Dan Norris: And I didn’t even recognize him because I don’t think he’s coming to … well maybe he has, I don’t know, I just didn’t notice. But yeah, it’s cool.
Justin: Yeah, it’s wild, man.
Well, Dan, I don’t think I’m gonna take up anymore of your time, man, I’ve had you on forever, but I really appreciate your coming on the show. I think that you provided me and our audience a ton of value. If someone wants to check you out obviously they can go to wpcurve.com. What’s the URL for the brewery site, man? I’m gonna go check that out.
Dan Norris: Yeah, it’s blackhops.com.au.
Justin: blackhops.com.au. And then if someone wants to check out your upcoming book, Content Machine, where can they go for that?
Dan Norris: Yeah, that’s just contentmachine.com.
Justin: Awesome, buddy. Any last words, Dan?
Dan Norris: No, that’s it. I’m just … Yeah, I hope this is useful, I hope I didn’t babble on too long, but if anyone’s got questions about stuff I’m always accessible on social media. I’m @thedannorris, t-h-e dan norris, on Instagram and Twitter, and I’m on Facebook way, way, way too much. And email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justin: Awesome, buddy. We’ll put it on the show notes as well. Thanks so much.
Dan Norris: Alrighty. Thanks, man.
Speaker 2: You’ve been listening to the Empire Podcast. Now some news and updates.
Justin: Alright man, let’s do some news and updates. First thing, we are back to work, buddy.
Joe: Back at it.
Justin: We just finished a week-long, blowout trip to Bali. We took our management team to Bali, we did a hotel for a couple of nights and did a baller-ass villa in Bali, which is by the way a fantastic thing to do if you’re looking for a retreat. We had a blast with our crew here, had a good week, but not a lot of work getting done man, not a lot of work. That’s a tough thing to do and we did it middle of the month too, that was … I don’t know. It was an expensive trip. Aside from the money we spent it was actually expensive because we weren’t doing as much business.
Joe: Yeah, it was tough for me as well because definitely we had a lot of submissions that week, and it just was hard to work and be on vacation at the same time.
Justin: The good news is though we had our best month ever in June. I’m still working out the numbers for our monthly report, but it looks like it was our best month ever. On the flip side, not looking so fantastic for July, we’re struggling a little bit there, but hopefully we can pull out another good week or so to kind of end it up strong.
Joe: Yeah, I think we’re pulling it out here at the end of the month. We should have a decent month this month, but nothing like June, that’s for sure. Hopefully we can turn it on for the rest of Q3.
Justin: Last bit of info. We’ve got new listing pages coming out soon, something we’ve been working on for a bit. Trying to get some new listings, make them look good. We’ve kind of gone back and forth and right now we just need to get them listed. We had some trouble with our listings where some of the images weren’t working for certain people and sometimes the listings would 404s, and so I think we’ve got all that fixed, both on the front end and the back end. I’m excited about that.
Joe: Yeah, I hope to have the new listing pages up by the end of the month, if not, first week of August.
Justin: Alright man, let’s do some listener shouts, also known as the indulgent, ego-boosting, social-proof segment. We’ve got a five-star iTunes review, buddy.
Joe: Yeah, hit me up, man.
Justin: So it says, loved this podcast since episode one, this is by Sean Markey, I’ve listened since the first episode came out and I still look forward to each show 141 episodes later. Hearing them talk about how they run their business, the decisions they make, and the discussions they have about running their company makes for a great story, it’s also fairly motivational to hear how they are crushing it, and, you know, sometimes not. Shit happens. I recommend it even if you’re not strictly into buying and selling websites, there’s a lot you can learn. Sean over at Visible HQ.
Thanks a lot, Sean, appreciate it.
Joe: Thank you, Sean.
Justin: Next up, buddy, let’s talk about Zendesk. We’ve got 14 good responses and one bad response in the last seven days. Our customer satisfaction for the week stands at 93%. We’re actually doing a much better job on vetting. So we were having some issue where sellers would submit their sites and it would take three, even four, weeks to complete the vetting, get their sites listed. Now a majority of our sites are under two weeks on the vetting process, so we’re happy to get that back down. A lot of them are getting up within seven to 14 days. So that’s really good.
Joe: Cool. Yeah, I think we’re just gonna get better and better there. Andrew’s on top of that stuff and I am definitely making it a priority as well.
Justin: Yeah, we’re beating up Andrew a lot. Andrew’s our listing manager and we’re beating him up a lot in the weekly reports. We have a weekly call, we kind of go over everything, and we started beating him up in the listings and he really worked on it and crushed it. So good job, Andrew.
We got a blog mention over at buildmyecommerce.com as one of the 20 places to buy e-commerce. Well I’m happy with the mention. I was kind of shocked to see that there were 20 places you could buy e-commerce sites. It’s like, what? What’s going on over there? So I went to check them out. Some of the usual suspects, you’ve got Quiet Life, you’ve got EFY, you’ve got Dave over at Store Coach, and you’ve got a few others. So if you want to check that out I’ll put a link in the show notes.
We also got a mention over at Bitesize PR. They mentioned us as one of the top 30 podcasts, so we’re sitting up there with StartUp, who … I’m a big fan of Alex’s show there. The Art of Charm, who we’ve been on his show, he’s been on ours. We’ve got the Tim Ferriss Podcast and our buddies over at Tropical MBA. So we’ve got some really good company.
Joe: Cool, cool.
Justin: Alright, man, that’s it for episode 142 of the Empire Podcast. Thanks for sticking with us. We’ll be back next week with another show. You can find the show notes for this episode and more at empireflippers.com/wpcurve, and make sure to follow us on Twitter @EmpireFlippers.
See you next week.
Joe: Bye bye everybody.
Speaker 2: Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Empire Podcast with Justin and Joe. Hit up empireflippers.com for more. That’s, empireflippers.com.
Thanks for listening.