Developing a Runaway Bestselling Product with Self Journal Co-Creator Cathryn Lavery

Developing a Runaway Bestselling Product with Self Journal Co-Creator Cathryn Lavery

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The Nitty Gritty:

  • How Cathryn and Allen came up with the idea for the 13-week SELF Journal (and how they use subscriptions within their business model)
  • How they found manufacturers through Alibaba and why the BestSelf Co team focuses on community in conjunction with offering a high-quality product
  • Why they used Kickstarter to validate the SELF Journal before starting the manufacturing process (and what their content marketing and promotion strategy looked like)

In this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., I chat with Cathryn Lavery, CEO and cofounder of BestSelf Co, a company known for the SELF Journal, a best-selling 13-week productivity planner.

In this episode, Cathryn shares how they designed the journal and funded the manufacturing process. She also dives into the importance of pairing the SELF Journal with community — and how prioritizing customer feedback inspires smart updates to the journal that people actually want.

Want to hear even more smart conversations with small business owners? We release new episodes of Profit. Power. Pursuit. every week. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.

How to find quality manufacturers

Figure out for yourself what you’re looking for. Describe it to them and show them pictures of what you’re trying to do. Then have them send samples of similar products that they make. If they’ve never made anything like that, there’s going to be another manufacturer that has.

— Cathryn Lavery

Once Cathryn and Allen designed their journal prototype inside a Moleskin, it was time to find manufacturers. They had a clear picture of what they wanted the journal to look and feel like, down to the outer material and the paper quality — now all they had to do was find a manufacturer that would meet their quality needs.

Cathryn recommends first figuring out what you want your product to look and feel like — then find a manufacturer who does what you need before requesting samples. Otherwise, she says, you’ll end up with a library of samples that don’t meet the minimum requirements for your product.

Why you should use Kickstarter to validate a new idea (and get feedback!)

We’re big believers in validating first. Kickstarter is a great way to build a product with your community. You show them the product you want to create. We gave backers a free PDF of what we were creating. People started using it during the campaign and we got feedback that made the product better by the time we went to produce it.

— Cathryn Lavery

The SELF Journal was fully funded within 28 hours of launching the Kickstarter campaign (and they’ve sold a quarter of a million journals since then!) Cathryn recommends running a Kickstarter campaign — especially if you’re creating a physical product that you aren’t sure people will want — before you place orders with your manufacturer.

And how smart was Cathryn and Allen for giving away PDFs? Not only so their community could start using the journal right away but also so they could provide insights to the BestSelf Co team for immediate improvements before the journal went to manufacturing.

How physical products and community go hand in hand

We put out a challenge at the start of every month: fill out your journal every day and post a picture of yourself or put it on social media. That way we can see that you’re doing it every day. If you do it every day, we give you a $10 Amazon gift card. We want them to get in the habit of using the journal. Then there’s more engagement in the community.

— Cathryn Lavery

If there’s anything that sets the SELF Journal apart from other productivity tools, it’s the community that actually uses the product consistently. But just like using any new tool (digital or physical), it takes discipline to form a new habit. To encourage customers to use the SELF Journal right away, Cathryn and Allen built a community around the practice of using the journal every day. By using the community in this way, they’re able to foster relationships and support between customers working towards the same goal.

They also ask customers to share photos of their journal because it encourages new and potential customers to make the journal their own. People don’t want to mess up their new, pretty journal — but they’re that much more likely to use their journal consistently if they see others using it too. As Cathryn says, “it doesn’t have to be pretty — it just has to work.” Yup.

Listen to the full episode with Cathryn Lavery to hear more about BestSelf Co, the SELF Journal, and how she and her team have created a community experience around a physical product.

Creating Leveraged Income As An Attorney With The Contract Shop Founder Christina Scalera

Creating Leveraged Income As An Attorney With The Contract Shop Founder Christina Scalera

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The Nitty Gritty:

  • Why Christina prices her contract templates on results (and how her pricing structure changed over the last two years.)
  • How she found her niche of creatives, including calligraphers, photographers, wedding planners, and coaches (and what her surprising top-selling templates are.)
  • How The Contract Shop’s Shopify metrics encouraged Christina to raise product pricing — and how that pricing change inspired her to add additional education to her products.
  • Christina’s smart method for creating content that reaches customers at different stages of business.

On this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., Christina Scalera, IP lawyer and founder of The Contract Shop, shares how The Contract Shop started and how business evolved over the last few years by increasing prices, offering semi-annual sales, and creating solid informational content.

Want to hear even more smart conversations with small business owners? We release new episodes of Profit. Power. Pursuit every week. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.

Price experimentation

I was really, really, really scared every single time I raised the price — and nobody noticed. Nobody wrote me an email that was like ‘you raised the prices!’” But I was horrified because I was like ‘nobody’s going to buy now.

— Christina Scalera

Raising prices is scary — or is it? Pricing is all about experimentation and seeing what sticks. As Christina mentions in this episode, she raised prices multiple times — and every time, sales never slowed down. Now Christina’s at a point where she’s comfortable with her product prices — but it was a two-year journey to get where she is today.

Sales and incentives

I’m a big proponent of a twice-yearly sales system. There’s two reasons for that. One because it’s a massive revenue generator. It’s dependable. At 6 month intervals, it’s something that people can tolerate. Secondly, and more importantly, not everybody can afford our templates at the price they’re at.

— Christina Scalera

The Contract Shop’s products range between $17 for the perfect email checklist to $1,499 for a bundle of multiple vendor contract templates for wedding planners, with her most popular templates ringing in at $455. Christina realizes that not every potential customer can afford regular pricing for higher end products so every year, she runs two sales: one during the late spring/early summer and one during Black Friday. She also runs these sales as a recurring source of revenue.

Content creation

I write blog posts in groups of 3. I write one to the core consumer and that’s usually the longer one. Then, I think about someone who’s a little more beginner — where are they at and what’s the issue they’re facing around this topic? Then I think about somebody who’s more advanced or has more years under their belt: what are they concerned about around the same topic?

— Christina Scalera

Christina cares about creating great content — and it pays off. “There’s zero trick: it’s just me being really passionate about writing and creating long blog posts,” she says.

So how does she create awesome content? She thinks about her topic and what each of her 3 customer types need to know. For example, they might want to know more about the client experience. The core customer wants to know how to create a great experience. The beginner customer wants to know how to find clients. The more advanced customer wants to know how to address client refunds. Ultimately, the end result is always to offer a contract to meet their needs.

Listen to the full episode with Christina Scalera to hear more about The Contract Shop, pricing changes and incentives, and behind the scenes of her content creation method.

Growing a Business For Good with SheNative founder Devon Fiddler

Growing a Business For Good with SheNative founder Devon Fidler

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The Nitty Gritty:

  • Why Devon’s personal experience as an Indigenous woman, plus her political science background, moved her to start a fashion-focused brand with a social good mission.
  • How Devon bakes SheNative’s social good mission into everything from social media content to employee management to big business decisions.
  • Why and how Devon reached the media to cover SheNative’s story, including global news stations, NBC radio, Shaw TV, and local radio stations before she had a single product.
  • How Devon raised almost $23,000 on IndieGoGo and Kickstarter to fund product development and SheNative’s first production run.

Today on Profit. Power. Pursuit, I chat with Devon Fiddler, the Chief Changemaker of SheNative Goods, a brand of handbags and accessories that helps to empower and change perceptions of Indigenous women and girls.

We cover how she first got the idea for SheNative, how her company’s social impact mission affects both her strategic thinking and her daily activities, and why she chose fashion as a conduit for change making.

We release new episodes of Profit. Power. Pursuit every week. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.

On baking a social mission into your brand

We feel that our designs and what we’re doing as a company are really a catalyst to transform public perceptions of indigenous women by sharing positive stories and conveying our cultural teachings embedded within our designs. It’s in everything we put out. It’s about empathy and accentuating hope for positive change to the public.

— Devon Fiddler

At SheNative, Devon’s approach is based on a social good mission: to empower Indigenous women and girls. That mission is baked into everything she does from posting content on social media, managing employees, and making important business decisions.

As Devon shares, one of those big decisions was closing her retail store. She struggled with the choice, knowing it would cut jobs, “but I knew that in the longer term that there will be more jobs later on,” she says. “I’ve had to just think about it in a big picture level — because the day to day stuff like that can really bog you down.”

What’s your business mission? Even if it’s not a social good one, your mission gives you direction no matter if you’re mapping out your content strategy for the month, reviewing potential partners, or hiring new employees.

Define your business mission — and see it through everything you do.

On launching a fashion brand without a fashion or business background

There’s a million ways I could have started a company that helped empower women, but I knew that I wanted to be in fashion. I had no design experience whatsoever when I first started. I just jumped into it. I hired out designers and creative people to work with and that’s where I’ve seen the connection as to how we can help Indigenous women: by working with them and by sourcing out all of the creatives that I can, as well as putting my vision and touch into it.

— Devon Fiddler

What I love about Devon’s story is that she believed in what she was doing, she jumped in, and she didn’t ask for permission. She didn’t wait for the perfect timing. She didn’t go to fashion school to prove she could do it. Instead, she worked with creative people who could do what she couldn’t.

Through that process, she also found that she didn’t need to be the maker: she could serve as the visionary and still add her personal touch while providing jobs to Indigenous women in her community.

If you’re a business owner without formal training in business, you probably resonate with the quote above. As an entrepreneur, you don’t need to know everything because you can find people who compliment your strengths and weaknesses as Devon did.

On reaching out to the media

The first time I reached out the media, I had no idea what I was doing. I created a media list first, then I wrote a personal email about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I really focused on the why. I basically told them: you know what, I don’t even have product yet but please cover me because we really need your help in order to raise money so that I can start this project. That’s what really interested a lot of the media outlets that covered me.

— Devon Fiddler

Sometimes you don’t need to wait to perfect your pitch or learn how to write a press release. Sometimes you just do it. Armed with a social good focused business and a positive story, Devon reached out to the media in an honest and authentic way — and it worked for her.

If media outreach and coverage is a struggle for you — or if you haven’t even considered it yet — remember that your pitch doesn’t need to be perfect. Start with where you are, with your unique perspective, and just dive in. Like Devon showed, you don’t even need to have product yet. Instead, use your business’ mission and story strategically to get media coverage and build momentum around your cause.

Listen to the full episode with Devon Fiddler to hear more about how she bakes her social mission into everything she does, how she created SheNative around her personal experience and beliefs, and much more.

Scaling a High-Touch Service-Based Business with Author Accelerator Founder Jennie Nash

Scaling a High-Touch Service-Based Business with Author Accelerator Founder Jennie Nash

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The Nitty Gritty:

  • How Jennie scaled her high-touch, human-centered service business (and what mistakes she learned along the way.)
  • How she made a seemingly unreplicable service like book coaching… replicable.
  • What encouraged her to adjust the Author Accelerator’s initial pricing model from affordable and accessible to high-price and high-touch.
  • What Author Accelerator’s hiring process for book coaches looks like.
  • How Jennie moved from being a writer to a book coach and, now, an entrepreneur.
  • Why it’s 100% OK to say no to a creative idea (even if it’s a really good one.)

Today on Power. Profit. Pursuit., I jam with Jennie Nash, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Author Accelerator, a book coaching program that provides feedback, accountability, and support to writers so they can finish their books—and finish strong.

Jennie believes that people have a story to tell, whether or not they’re a writer. This belief is what transformed her career as a writer to book coach: to help people finally write that book. That excitement and passion eventually turned into a business. Despite being high-touch, human-centered work at its core, Jennie figured out how to scale the book coaching process and grow her team at Author Accelerator to over 25 employees.

Listen to this episode to hear exactly how Jennie scaled Author Accelerator, what mistakes she ran into, and her four requirements for all new employees.

We release new episodes of Profit. Power. Pursuit every week. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.

On scaling a high-touch, human-centered service business

I really resisted it because I thought you can’t scale a high-touch, super human-centered system. Book coaching is so inefficient. It’s about the human touch. It’s about people’s hearts. It’s about their souls. I had this really deep aversion that the two things couldn’t connect. And he (Matt Sand, her business partner) kept insisting they could — and that I’d already done it.

Jennie Nash

It took years for Jennie to accept her now-business partner’s offer to scale her book coaching process into a full-scale business. Why so long? Because she didn’t see a way for someone else, like an employee, to learn her high-touch, human-centered process — and do it right.

But what Jennie found, once she said ‘yes’, was that it was possible: she could teach others her book coaching process. Scaling this business model wasn’t an instant success, as she uncovers, but more of a test-and-tweak-along-the-way to find the right model and pricing.

On how to hire, and retain, top-notch employees

This was the roadblock: I kept saying there is no way that we can get the level of talent that we need to scale this. We can’t get them at the price that will work. That’s what I thought.

Jennie Nash

Finding and hiring the right people was Jennie’s biggest roadblock to scale her book coaching business. But once she found a formula that worked, Jennie was able to grow her team to over 25 employees around the world. In the last 4 years, only 3 employees left Author Accelerator to start families, leave for their dream job, or start their own business.

So how do you craft a team that’s in it for the long run? Process. Process. Process.

Jennie determined what skills and personality type would thrive in the position — and she didn’t make exceptions. Everyone needed mechanical editing and narrative design skills as well as the ability to think strategically. They also needed to be nice and compassionate. This was a requirement. Even if someone had all the skills, if they weren’t kind, they didn’t make the cut.

This hiring process is so successful that Author Accelerator is launching a book coach certification program in 2018.

We’re really proud of the retention of our coaches and how we train them, the ongoing masterclasses, and oversight. In fact, we have become so sure of our process that in 2018 we’re going to launch a book coach certification program which is a whole other arm of our business. We had so many people who we didn’t hire ask how they could learn what they needed to know that we decided to do this.

Jennie Nash

On pricing a high-touch service

We made a lot of missteps, as every business does. We just completed year four and at the beginning of this year, we finally hit on the right combination of how to do it, how to price it, how to make it work, and we very quickly started to see a lot of growth. It was clear that this was the right way, the right system, strategy, and process. It was so exciting. Now we’re really starting to see that scaling happen.

Jennie Nash

Most business owners struggle with properly pricing their products and services. It’s not easy! After 4 years, Jennie found the right pricing for Author Accelerator — but it took many changes along the way. At first, Jennie wanted to offer an affordable program despite being a high-touch book coaching program. That pricing method didn’t work so they tried something else: high touch and high price and — it worked. Since then, they’ve seen a lot of growth.

If pricing comes as a struggle to you, consider this: sometimes it takes a few years to get it right. Focus on what you do well and how you do it — and don’t always look to competitors for your pricing inspiration.

Then, as Jennie says, ask yourself: “What is that I do that’s so different and special and good? And how can I take that and sell that?”

Listen to the full episode to hear even more from Jennie Nash, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Author Accelerator, on scaling a high-touch, high-price service.

Taking On Technology Education for Women with Skillcrush Founder Adda Birnir

Taking On Technology Education for Women with Skillcrush Founder Adda Birnir

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The Nitty Gritty:

  • Why, after working 4 years in media, Adda taught herself to code — and founded Skillcrush shortly thereafter.
  • How customer interviews inspired Adda to repackage Skillcrush’s tutorial-style learning to classroom-based online learning with dedicated instructors.
  • How Adda approached customer research to take the guesswork out and really get inside her ideal customers’ head to create just what they needed.
  • Why the Skillcrush team is fully distributed and how a remote team forces you to deal with structural issues — quickly.  

Today on Profit. Power. Pursuit., I talk with Adda Birnir, founder of Skillcrush, an interactive learning community that teaches (mostly) women to code. Only a few years ago, Adda left her media job, learned how to code, and launched Skillcrush. Impressive!

She used her newfound coding skills to change her career path — and knew that other women could use those same skills to transform their lives, too. In this episode, we talk about how Adda uses customer research and feedback to design a service that her ideal customers love — and what the realities are of growing a business with a fully distributed team.

We release new episodes of Profit. Power. Pursuit every week. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.

On customer research

When all else fails, just going out and taking the time to talk to your customers, it will always send you in the right direction. And I will also say, we’re almost always wrong about what we think going into it. Every time we want to skip that step, we’re always so glad that we did it.

Adda Birnir

Customer research is at the heart of everything Adda and the Skillcrush team does. When Skillcrush first launched with two tutorials, they followed up with customers. Were they interested in buying more? It turns out that most said no.

Adda wanted to understand the why behind their disinterest. So using advice from the book Running Lean by Ash Maurya, she scheduled in-person customer interviews to find out more. Not only did she call up everyone who fit her ideal customer — Adda also asked friends to introduce her to their friends who fit the bill.

By sitting down with her ideal customers, face-to-face, Adda gleaned information that transformed the way Skillcrush operates today.

On taking risks in business

There’s no way to guarantee success ahead of time. You just have to, at the end of the day, risk to the extent that you can. Then balance the risking it with the fact that when you launch something you’re going to learn a lot. Even if something flops, that’s good learning which is still excruciatingly painful for me every time.

— Adda Birnir

Having a new program campaign underperform, new platform messaging not resonate at all, or having zero people sign up for your new course. No one likes to see their idea fail — but, at the very least, you’ve learned something new about what works and what doesn’t.

Adda brings this very approach to everything she launches in Skillcrush — and, even years later, having an idea flop is not a good time, no matter how much she learns. Running — and growing — your business requires you to adapt, change, reiterate, and try, try again…

And when it comes to product development? “What you try not to do is do it based on what you like,” says Adda. “Just assume that you have no idea what you’re doing and operate from that place, because, in my experience, it’s the healthiest place to work from.”

On growing a distributed team

I think that problems that growing companies face (at least structurally) — you hit them earlier with a remote team. Or, let’s put it this way, there’s no way of getting around them.

– Adda Birnir

Wouldn’t it be nice to figure out organizational issues while your team is still small? That’s exactly what Adda thinks, too. From her experience, she’s found that having a small, yet distributed team helped her identify organizational issues that needed smoothing out before growing more.

Sometimes even hiring a single contractor highlights where tasks or project assignments fall through the cracks — but it’s a good way to test the structure of your business.

Listen to the full episode with Adda Birnir, founder of Skillcrush, to hear more about how to use customer research to repackage your offerings and how to take risks, even if they flop.