Launching a new product isn’t likely to get you out of a slump.
Neither is having a blow-out sale.
There comes a time in every business when you need to generate revenue — fast. And it could be for any number of reasons — something didn’t play out as you had expected, unforeseen expenses, maybe you had to take some time away…
Your bank account starts looking a little lonely and you need to generate revenue quickly, and without resorting to coupons or deep discounts.
I always encourage my clients to look at their business as a money machine: it has different parts that may need to be added, greased up, or fueled, but once you get it working properly, you should be able to turn on the money machine and generate revenue any time you need to.
How do you reconfigure your business to be a money machine? A few dos and don’ts.
1) DON’T try to launch a new product.
Launching all the time, creating products all the time (even if you’re an idea person like me!), and selling all the time is exhausting. Beyond that, it’s not building a legacy for your business. It doesn’t give your prospects something to remember your business for.
But most importantly, constantly creating new offers doesn’t set you up for making more money in the long run.
Every time you launch a new product or program, you’re only tapping into a very small segment of your potential customer base (the Early Adopters). If you stop there, other customers might trickle in over time but most people won’t even know you have that offer available.
This is a great case study on this very topic by Jeff Goins.
That just puts your business back in the position of needing to generate revenue with another new product. It’s a vicious cycle.
2) DO send a sales email about your best-selling product or service.
Instead of a vicious cycle, your business needs a system for marketing, launching, and selling your best offers over & over again. And when that system also includes products that work together to create more value for your customers and your business than they could alone, it’s a Business Model.
When your business has that kind of system in place, revenue becomes predictable and more consistent. At the very least, you know when it’s coming. Best of all, you’ll find that your offers start to generate more and more revenue each time you enter a sales cycle because your customers are expecting them, planning for them, and eager to buy them.
What’s your No. 1 seller? There are people on your list who haven’t bought this product or service and likely would, if they knew about it. Even when we think “everyone” has bought our main product, there are people you’re connected to who still don’t know it exists.
Sometimes the best way to generate new revenue is to focus on old assets. What could you craft a fresh sales cycle for?
3) DON’T wait until you have the perfect “next big thing.”
I know you: you’re sitting on a great idea. You haven’t figured out how to make the time, find the money, or craft the sales process for that new product or program you have in mind.
Pro tip: don’t.
I’m not saying don’t make the thing, I’m saying don’t make the time. Because more time isn’t going to magically appear in your schedule.
Instead, write down everything you know about the first iteration of this product. Then write down all the reasons your best customers or most engaged audience members need it. Put those things together with a strong pitch and…
4) DO beta test a new product or service with a small group of hand-picked customers.
…present it to a select few you know will dig it.
In Quiet Power Strategy, we call this the Living Room Strategy, and it’s a simple way to test out a new idea on a few of those Early Adopters who will be thrilled to work with you. You’ll generate revenue while doing the work to create the product, instead of waiting for the product to be ready & waiting to get paid.
5) DON’T discount your prices.
It seems to me that whenever entrepreneurs need to generate revenue fast, their first thought is to discount — but really, that’s backward thinking. If you lower your prices, you actually have to sell more to make up the difference.
In addition, discounting, sales, and coupons train your customers not to buy. It tells them that if they just wait long enough, there will be a sale and they can pay less.
6) DO consider raising your prices or adding a bonus.
Instead of discounting, consider if there’s a way you can raise a price or add more value.
There are two ways you can approach raising your prices. If you’re regularly selling something that’s been on the shelf for a while, you can just raise the price to give you a revenue boost.
The other way to tackle this is by giving your customers a heads up on an impending price increase. There’s probably something sitting on your “shelf” that could use a 10–50% bump in price. Craft an email that lets people know the price is going up and they have until a certain date to get the item/program/service at a lower rate.
If you’re not ready to raise prices, you can run a promotion instead of a sale, and add a bonus to entice people to take action. Promotions are very different than sales, but they almost always motivate people nearly as much.
In almost every case, I encourage you to add value instead of subtracting from your price.
7) DO repackage and reposition.
Many times, businesses have several smaller products that can be repackaged as a bundle with more value. In fact, the repackaged product might be a more compelling offer than the individual products.
If you’re a jewelry designer, you might try to package up a necklace, bracelet, and pair of earrings. Simple, right? But the result is a greater value than the sum of its parts; it’s now a night-on-the-town kit.
If you’re a health coach, you might try to package a recipe book, coaching program, and one-off session with you. Again, simple. And again, the result is a higher value than the sum of its parts; it’s now the method, the accountability, and the day-to-day information you need to succeed all-in-one.
8) DO reach out and find a collaborator.
You can also bundle your products or services with someone else’s to increase value for both of your audiences.
For example, a yoga studio and a massage therapist could come together and create a package deal to help people de-stress. A handbag designer could pair up with a clothing designer to do trunk shows. A copywriter could pair up with a graphic designer to offer a single price for a finished ebook.
The possibilities are practically endless if you look at what else your customer might need.
The best collaborations often start from very small joint ventures. If there’s someone in your network you’ve been dying to connect and create with, this could be the time to jump on it.
By your powers combined, you could whip up a workshop or small event that will have both of your audiences asking for more. You get the chance to test drive the partnership, your audiences get value that they couldn’t have gotten from either one of you individually, and you generate some revenue to boot.
The trick here is to keep the scope small and the expectations for each party well-defined. That benefits both of you… and your customers.
The truth is, once you get the pieces in place, your business should be able to generate revenue any time you need it. Of course, that doesn’t matter much if the prices you charge don’t support your growth. Enter your email address below to get my FREE “Price for Growth” course:
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Tara: How do you balance the pursuit of art and ideas with the pursuit of profit? That’s the fundamental question we tackle on Profit. Power. Pursuit. I’m Tara Gentile, your host, and together with CreativeLive, we explore the unique strategies that creative entrepreneurs use to take control of their lives, profit from their passion, and pursue greatness.
Today, I sit down with Chris Guillebeau, the New York Times bestselling author of the $100 startup. An accomplished travel hacker, he has visited every country in the world 193 in total, before his 35th birthday. Every summer in Portland, Oregon, he hosts the World Domination Summit, a gathering of remarkable, creative people. Chris and I talk about how he still manages to do a lot of the work in his business, what systems he has in place to make sure everything gets done, and the key way he sees online publishing changing.
Chris Guillebeau, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. Thank you so much for joining me.
Chris: Awesome. Thank you so much for having me, Tara.
Tara: Absolutely. So let’s just get started by kind of talking about what all the different moving pieces to your business are. You’ve got … You’ve always got a lot going on, so I’d love for you to just kind of explain to everyone what are all the different ways that your business or businesses are generating revenue right now.
Chris: I do always have a lot going on for better or for worse. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I can’t always keep track of it myself, but I would say maybe first and foremost, I’m an author, I write books, and I actually like the process of writing books. I like everything associated with the publishing process and going on tour, seeing the books translated around the world, so that’s probably my main business. It’s not something that I do to accomplish, you know, something else, but then maybe for the past 10 years or so, I’ve also produced a number of products. I’ve done digital products, I’ve done eBooks and courses. I have a business called unconventional guides that I operated for a while. It’s still around, although I’m kind of phasing out of it. I have a membership site called Travel Hacking Cartel, and I also do a lot of different events. And there’s probably some other stuff in there, too.
Tara: Yeah. How about speaking?
Chris: I do speak. It’s not really a revenue model for me. It’s more something that I do to kind of connect with readers, and you know, just to be out and about around the world. But once in a while.
Tara: Got ya. Nice. So you’re in Jakarta right now, and I think a lot of people know that you do a lot of traveling, and one of our listeners asked me specifically, you know, she just really wanted to know how people like you manage their time, and so I was trying to think about, like, how do I ask Chris Guillebeau how he manages his time when there is probably not a typical day in your life. So instead, I’d love to know what are some of the systems that you have in place to make sure that everything gets done?
Chris: You know, the greatest system that I have is that I love my work. Like, I absolutely love what I do, and I feel very fortunate that I have the ability to write books and to publish the blog and connect with people, and so I’m very motivated by that. Like it’s what I want to do. If I won the Powerball, I’m pretty sure that tomorrow, I’d be doing exactly the same thing, and so that helps a lot. I mean, when I say that’s the greatest system, it really helps a lot, because I get up in the morning, and I’m like let’s get to work. Let’s do fun stuff, and yeah, I’m on the road all the time. I’m traveling. So I like to take time to see the cities and, you know, go on walking tours and have different experiences and discoveries, but then I’m also eager to kind of get back and do my stuff. So you know, I always have my laptop with me. I’m always kind of working on the next thing. I’m a big list person. You know, I love kind of writing things down and checking them off, and I always carry a notebook with me where I’m outlining stuff and planning ideas. And so I get behind on things, it’s because I have too much going on, but I’m really motivated to keep going. So that’s really the greatest system.
Tara: Nice. Is there any software systems that you use to kind of manage your day or manage your to-do list?
Chris: Sure, sure. Yeah. I mean, I use Omnifocus. That’s my number one, like, task, you know, program. I don’t think it really matters which one you use as long as you have something that works for you, but that’s what I do, and then I have a lot of stuff in Evernote as well, which is great, because as most of the listeners probably know, you can access data from all kinds of different locations and devices, and it becomes more helpful the more you use it, so there’s that, and there’s some other stuff, but it’s all kind of cobbled together. There’s no, like, one master system.
Tara: Perfect. So I’m sure, I know, actually, that another system you have is a team around you in your various ventures, and I’m privileged to be friends with a couple of people that are on your team. So can you tell us a little bit more about what that team looks like and how they’re organized?
Chris: Yes. I should say, I am kind of a classic solopreneur. You know, I was always doing my own stuff for a while, and I like working independently, so I don’t have like a huge team. I have one employee, one full-time assistant, and she’s wonderful. She’s been with me for a year now, but you know, for all the time before that, I was kind of doing a lot of stuff myself. For the events that we do, we definitely have a team. That’s not something I can do on my own, so I’m really grateful for them, but a lot of them are volunteers, some of them get a stipend, but maybe there’s 10 of those people. We all work virtually, and then when I’m home in Portland, Oregon, most of them are based in Portland as well, and so we do have regular meetings either every other week, or once an event is approaching, every week, but everybody kind of does their own stuff, and everybody manages themselves for the most part, which is great, because I’m not a good manager.
Tara: Yeah, that’s excellent. I love the sense of independence that they each have, and I think it brings kind of a sense of creativity to your team as well. I can see that, you know, in the different events that you do and just the way they talk about the ownership that they have over the work that they do with you.
Chris: That’s good. No, I’m glad to hear you say that. I think it can be frustrating for some people. That kind of work style doesn’t work for everyone, so it’s really important to get the right people, you know, in place for that, but for me, I think it’s a tremendously valuable skill whether you want to be an entrepreneur, whether you want to think entrepreneurially in another career working for someone else or working for a company. It’s an extremely valuable skill to be able to kind of figure stuff out, basically, and to have a project or to have a responsibility, but not necessarily be given, like, here are the steps, you know, one through eight that you have to follow. And so if you can find people like that, there’s just so much value there.
Tara: Yeah. I think that’s a great point for everyone, because team-building is also a huge thing that our listeners are really interested in figuring out and finding out what’s working for people, and so I hear you saying essentially that you need to put together the team that’s going to work for you, and that that doesn’t mean that it has to look like a conventional job, or that it has to look like a conventional employee relationship, or that it even has to look like a conventional, like, management relationship. That it can be something that works for you and works for a very specific type of person, and it doesn’t have to be a great fit for everyone.
Chris: Right, exactly. I mean … so it has to work for you as the business owner or the entrepreneur or whatever, but then it also has to work for that person, you know, as well. So it’s not necessarily the easiest thing to find, but I think it’s something that’s kind of worth … worth investing in, you know, because anybody can follow a list of tasks, but it takes creativity, as you said. It does take some entrepreneurial thinking to kind of figure stuff out and decipher it, and that I think is a skill that everyone can improve on regardless of your field, your industry, it doesn’t matter what you went to college for. This is something that kind of sets people apart in life in general.
Tara: Got you. So you mentioned that you’re still doing a lot in your business or at least with the writing side of the business now. What are some of the tasks that we might be surprised to learn you still actually do?
Chris: Huh. I mean, pretty much any sort of administrative task I still do it from time to time. I mean, just putting together newsletters, I do all of my own social media. I don’t know. I guess … I guess there’s not much that I don’t do, but I also don’t want to take anything away from the people who, you know, work on stuff with me. Like I’m very grateful for them. I just don’t have much of a separation between like here are like these top level task and here are like these low-level administrative tasks, and maybe that’s something I need to work on, but at the same time, it’s also kind of helped me not get too distant from things. It’s helped me kind of, you know, have direct contact with people and understand, like, where they’re going, what’s going on with them, and how I can hopefully be helpful or be of service in some way to them.
Tara: Mm. Do you have any kind of automation in place in your business, or are you pretty hands on with the day-to-day, you know, this needs to get done, that needs to get tweeted out, etc.?
Chris: Very little. I mean, I don’t have a problem with scheduled tweets or something. Like that’s fine. Like, we might like put up some posts or something that go out at different times, but I … I think, like, it’s important to not be disingenuous with it, you know? If you’re sharing some content that you’ve written at some point, you know, nobody cares whether you’re like live-tweeting that or something, but otherwise, I try to be pretty, pretty hands on.
Tara: Got you. And you said you’re not a great manager, but I’m curious how you manage your team, if at all.
Tara: You know, what … how do you set expectations? How do you communicate with them on a regular basis?
Chris: Well, we talk pretty much every day. I mean, we talk by email, usually, or by chat or something. The WDS team, we use Slack, which is a great network for keeping in touch with people in different time zones and things. But I don’t like I said, I really don’t think I’m a great manager, so I try to focus on … I try to focus on the goal. Like, okay, what are we actually trying to achieve here? What are we hoping to do? And then there’s lots of moving parts, and you know, as we said, the right people kind of pick up those parts and run with it, because you know, to go back to where we started, if you’re motivated by what you do, if you enjoy what you do, then you’re probably going to do it a lot better than if you’re just doing something because you have to do it. So wherever you can find that magic fix, you know, between your own skills and the people that you’re working on, that’s where you’re going to see far greater success. So that’s what I try to do.
Tara: So the next question is one that I’ve asked just about every one of our guests, and the answers have been very different, and I’m really interested to see how you’re going to answer it. So how do you balance the roles of writer and executive in your business?
Chris: I think there’s a big tension there, and I think it’s a natural tension, it’s a healthy tension because I do enjoy, like, doing more than one thing. I’m not good, you know, just working on one project at a time, but then, of course, there’s a cost to that. So I think, you know, every year, I kind of evaluate, like, am I happy with the balance? Am I, you know, am I creating art? Am I actually writing? That’s how I got started in this. Or am I focused too much on business stuff? And I think maybe a year or so ago, I went away and felt like I had, I wasn’t writing enough, and so I tried to focus more on that, but then I miss the other thing. So I don’t know, I just go back and forth. I guess every day I try to make progress on the things that I believe in. I have these, it’s like kind of values-driven. It’s like I’m not happy if I’m not writing on a regular basis, and so I know if I get away from that, I have to go back. So I don’t know if it’s 50/50, I don’t know if it’s a precise balance, it’s more of like on a general basis, am I making progress on these things that I’ve identified are important to me? If yes, I’ll be happy. If no, I won’t be.
Tara: Yeah. I’m really intrigued that you mentioned kind of it being values-driven. What are some of the values that you put, that you prioritize in your business and the way you work?
Chris: I would say the, you know, the number two, the number one and number two values, and they’re interconnected, is these questions that I asked myself, like you know, what am I making, what am I creating, and whom am I helping? Right? And so it’s like every day, because most of us, like there’s all kinds of stuff that we could do, and the beautiful thing about this kind of creative work is there’s so many opportunities, but the tragedy of this, you know, creative work is that there’s so many opportunities, and how do we choose to focus, and so whenever I become overwhelmed, I try to go to these questions. Like okay, am I making something, or am I just kind of spinning my wheels? And if I’m spinning my wheels, I need to get out of that and focus on creating something, you know, that I can identify and point to and have some value for people, and then hopefully, I’m not just doing something that’s self-referential or, you know, self-glorifying, but it’s actually making a difference in people’s lives. So am I making something? Am I helping people? If I’m doing that, that’s great. If not, I need to adjust.
Tara: Mm. So continuing along that thought, every year, you post an annual review to your blog, and I know it’s a really popular post, and you know, it’s less about the kind of income reports that a lot of people put out at the end of the year every month and a lot more about the exact questions that you’re asking and the kinds of goals that you’re setting for yourself, and kind of a check-in on the goals that you did set for yourself and all of that good stuff, and as I was reading over this past year’s annual review to prep for the interview, I saw that you mentioned that you see a big change in online publishing coming, and I would really love to pick your brain on this, because I know what I think I see coming, but I know that you’re in a lot of different areas than I am. So what is this change that you see coming, and how do you think you’re going to adapt your own approach to ride that wave or to take advantage of it?
Chris: Well, don’t give me too much credit here. I don’t think I’m a futurist. I don’t think I’m like, “Hey, here’s what’s coming.” I think I’m more of an observer that’s like, “Hey, here’s what’s already arrived.”
Chris: Like, you know what I mean? Like this has actually happened, and I actually feel like I was kind of late to observe this, and I feel like everything that we have said for years, all of the great advice, you know, at least that I’ve dispensed, I don’t know if it’s as relevant as it once was. I wrote a manifesto a few years ago called 279 days to overnight success. It was one of the things I did when I was kind of first building my career, and it was like this case study model of how I, you know, built a sustainable business doing online writing, and so for years and years, like, that’s been out there, and you know, for years and years, I’ve said I think those lessons are still kind of relevant, and now I’m starting to think, like, well, the strategy of connecting with people and creating is still very much, you know, relevant. That’s never going to change. But I do think there have been so many changes in online publishing. I think the thought leader space is incredibly crowded. Everybody has a message; everybody has something to offer. I think formats have changed. I think platforms have changed a lot. And it’s not just a matter of like, you know, this network is going down and this network is on the rise. I think, you know, some of the traditional advice, which was, you know, well-meaning and accurate for a long time was all about this like hub and spoke model of like okay, so you got to, you know, built your hub, and like everything else is kind of a, you know, an anchor or something that drives people, you know, to your blog, but you really want to make sure everybody is on your site, and I think that’s still … that’s still great if you can make it work, right? But you know, I think more and more people are choosing to be deliberate and engaging with platforms directly, and they actually want more of their stuff to be just on Facebook or on Instagram or Snapchat or whatever it is. I don’t think the specific platform is as important as this overall trend.
I think, you know, maybe to kind of sum up what I see as either coming or has arrived, I would say the next big thing is small, and you know, the next big thing is far, far more focused on connecting with maybe not hyper-specific, but you know, much more intentional, smaller groups and going deeper than going broader. And the thing is, people have said this for years, but I don’t know that they really believed it. You know what I mean? Like they were always like, “Oh, it’s far more important to have this small group of people and really focus on them than to like try to build a huge email list or a huge social media following or whatever it is, but in reality, I think most of us were like, oh, yeah, but it’d be really awesome, you know, to have the really big list or the really big social following. And so you know, even though we said, okay, we’re going to focus small, but you know, our strategy is still kind of big. I feel more and more and more that the people who are actually going to be successful on a scalable level, like, are intentionally and deliberately focused on that small group to the exclusion of anything else. And that’s something I think you’ve done really well. That’s something I see a few other people doing well, but I think a lot of people are still kind of behind. A lot of people are using tactics that, you know, may have worked five years ago, but not necessarily going to work now, you know?
It’s like … I’ll tell you a quick story, and if this is going on too much, just tell me.
Tara: No, it’s great.
Chris: But when I first started, you know, online business, like so long ago, it’s like 17 years or something, you know, there was this new website called Ebay.com. I went on Ebay.com, and I could like buy and sell, and it was a seller’s market at the time. At the time, when EBay first got started, you could go to the store and buy things, and then put them on EBay, and people would pay more for it because it was like this new thing. It was like, “Wow, I’m buying stuff on the internet. Isn’t that cool?” You know? So that was fun, obviously, but it didn’t last because it’s a gold rush, you know. It’s like this arbitrage thing that happens when something is new.
So the same thing has been true in online publishing, internet marketing, whatever you want to call it. A number of years ago, you could, like, I’ll write an eBook, and I’ll write an eBook on, you know, I don’t know, how to clean my house better or something, and everybody will, you know, spend $100 on it. That doesn’t work anymore. You know. I think things have changed so much because everybody has an eBook, everybody has a course, blah, blah, blah. So I have a lot more thoughts, but I just talked for like three minutes, so I’ll stop now.
Tara: No, I loved it. Well, okay, so that got me … Actually, let me back up. I love what you said about how people are being intentional about spreading their content out in a lot of different, or maybe not a lot of different places, but several different places now where they’re not putting quite as much value on the hub, although I do think people are still putting a lot of value on email lists, it’s less about the particular place people are going as long as there’s some way for them to get back on their email list eventually, but they’re putting content on Medium or they’re putting content on Facebook, and that doesn’t seem to be letting up at any time soon.
Chris: Sure. Sure.
Tara: But I also really liked and appreciated the way you talked about going small and how that’s going to help people create stronger connections with the people that they’re looking to serve, but I also think, as you kind of alluded to, that this idea of passive income, or at the very least, leveraged income is so attractive that people keep getting off-track with this idea of going small. So could you talk a little bit about what you might see the relationship being between a small, focused, highly-engaged audience and this desire for passive or leveraged income?
Chris: I think, I mean, this just relates to a classic, you know, business idea of what problem are you trying to solve, and I think a lot of people who are starting out now really don’t have a clear answer for that, and it’s probably our fault, the people who have been around for a while, you know. I would say it’s our fault because, like, we didn’t necessarily have to have great answers for that many years ago. I mean, we could, obviously, like, we could still focus on solutions, and focus on being helpful and genuine. I don’t think it was, you know, fraudulent or something, but you know, I do think it was much broader and much more scattered, and I think, you know, the people who are successful now, whether it’s smaller pockets or bigger pockets, they really do have a clear and specific answer for that, and they’re not trying to be like this big thought leader, you know this online celebrity or whatever. I mean, some people with really small email lists or social media followings or whatever can do very, very well. You know, as you know. I mean, you know lots of folks with stories and examples like that, whereas, you know, there’s many people who have very large followings who are actually struggling a bit, or not nearly as successful as you might expect them to be, and I mean, just a quick point on the email list, it’s like I totally agree that an email list is super, super valuable. It’s one of those things where, yeah, if you could do only one thing, sure that’s great, but I also think we have to be mindful of giving people what they want, and I think what people want is changing quite a bit, and not everybody wants to give you their email, you know, sadly. It’s kind of like the way I think about Facebook, because for years, I didn’t really like Facebook very much, and I was just kind of like Facebook is not my platform, I’m just not going to go there. What I kind of realized over time was it’s not really about me, you know? Because if my community, if a lot of people in my audience or whatever, if they like Facebook, then that’s where I should be. You know, I have to find, I have to like adjust because it’s not like, you know, going to my readers and saying, hey, readers, like stop, stop, you know, this behavior or this pattern that you like. You know, come and join my email list, right? And so what’s interesting is you can look at lots of people who’ve been very, very successful, you know, just building businesses on social, which I understand is completely the opposite of the advice, you know, that we’ve given to people over the years, and I have, too.
Think about something just briefly before we go on, like Humans of New York. I would say probably everybody listening to this is familiar with Humans of New York. If not, obviously, go and look it up. This guy has, you know, millions and millions of followers. Does he even have a website? I don’t know. I mean, I guess he probably does, but I would say 99, you know, percent plus people, you know, have become familiar with this project and become passionate fans of this project simply through the stories that he shared through social. So it’s a totally tricky thing because I guess it relates to where we started, it’s a whole new world, and it’s not like everybody should like shut down their website and their email list, but I think people should pay attention, because, you know, change is coming, change has already arrived, and the people who went are the ones who are aware of that and can adjust going forward.
Tara: Yeah. I love your point about giving people what they want, being very mindful of what people want as well, and I’m sure you can make decisions that work for you in that paradigm as well, but really being intentional about understanding and delivering on what people want, and I’m really glad that you mentioned Facebook, too, because I had totally forgotten about that, but I’ve noticed recently, maybe within the last four or five months how much your Facebook strategy has completely changed.
Tara: Can you give us a little bit more detail on that?
Chris: Yeah, you’re so kind when you say it completely changed. You mean, like, all of a sudden I started posting.
Tara: Yes, that’s what I mean.
Chris: That was the change of strategy, right? Before, I had a Facebook page and people could like it, but I didn’t do anything there, and then I had this great idea of like actually posting, you know, to my page. That was the big insight I had last year. And you know, historically, I loved Twitter. Twitter was like, that’s my network. I’m so … I’m comfortable there. I like that, you know, but what I noticed was, you know, people were engaging less and responding less, and so that’s when I was like, well, I have to figure out where the people are, and so just as an experiment, I started posting more on Facebook, started seeing much more, much greater responsiveness and engagement, so I just followed them there. I don’t think the lesson for listeners, necessarily, is Facebook is better than Twitter. That’s not the point because that’s going to change again in two or three months or six months or whatever. Again, the lesson is where we started, like give people what they want. Figure out where they are and go to them, as opposed to saying like here’s where I am, you should come to me.
Tara: Yeah. I have done the exact same thing over the last six months. You know, my whole Twitter life has changed, and I can be sad about that personally, but businesswise, I know the best decision is to go to where my people are, and you know, since realizing that and being very intentional about that, I’ve seen my Facebook following really explode, and I’ve really enjoyed creating content for, specifically for Facebook, but I also really appreciate you saying that you need to give people what they want and go where they want to go, but you know, be intentional about it. It’s not about following whatever the latest, greatest thing is, it’s about making real decisions for your business.
Tara: Awesome. So let’s talk a little bit about the live events that you have been hosting for the past five years. I’ve told you before that I was at the very first World Domination Summit, and it literally changed my life. I am so thankful for that experience and the people that I met there. I am still just a such … I mean, they’re my best friends in the whole world.
Chris: That’s awesome.
Tara: Yeah. So hosting live events has really become a big part of your brand. It’s something that a lot of people know you for. Perhaps as much or more so than travel hacking. So what do live events help you accomplish in your business because I bet it’s not profit?
Chris: Well, you just said it. Your kind introduction there of talking about how you came to WDS and it, you know, connected you with greater people, and you know, it’s something that you remembered, and of course, you’ve been part of our stuff for years, which is great. I think that’s why I do it. That’s the motivation. You know, and the motivation for everything I do is to have some sort of impact, and you know, hopefully to, you know, maybe not necessarily be a catalyst in people’s lives, because I think people come to my work when they’re already in a place of like being pro-change or wanting to do something different or wanting to follow a dream or just looking for greater support, but hopefully being like an amplifier to that, and being able to say like, oh, that’s awesome that you’re doing that. You know, here’s some other people that are also doing awesome things, and you’re not alone and let’s support one another. So I think that’s very powerful, and it’s not completely like a selfless thing. It’s not sacrificial. I benefit from it, too. I really, really enjoy it. You know this process of hearing stories like that, so that’s why I do it.
Tara: Got you. So I’m going to ask you a selfish question now.
Tara: Which is I’m putting on my first event in April, and I would love to know if you had one piece of advice to give me about putting on a live event, what would that be?
Chris: Hmm, well, one piece of advice, okay. Yeah, it’s just the problem … the problem is being succinct.
Tara: Well, I’ve already hired Isaac, so that part is covered.
Chris: Okay. That’s good.
Tara: So something else.
Chris: Okay, okay. No, I mean, you’re in good hands with Isaac, of course. I would say that one thing, maybe, like you kind of touched on is like to really be clear on what your intention and goal for it is, and I’m sure you’ve done that. You know, you’ve been to many events. I mean, you’ve spoken at many events, you’ve been on teams for events, so I think you understand, like, what you hope to get out of it, and you understand that it’s probably not profit, or at least that’s not the primary goal. If you have some kind of, you know, mission-driven focus for it, then I think that’s great. If you can challenge your attendees in some way, I think that’s also great, you know, leave them wanting more, but of course, you know, try to excel in everything you do. I’m sure it’ll be great.
Tara: Wonderful. Thank you so much. So let’s talk a little bit more about World Domination Summit for a minute because you’ve made the decision after five years to change up the format in a really big way. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and why you made that decision?
Chris: Yeah, so I announced this at last year’s event, and I don’t think I did a very good job, because ever since then, people have been asking about it, and what people are saying is like, oh, you’re making the event smaller, and that’s not necessarily what I was trying to accomplish. What we’re doing is we are kind of scaling the mainstage component of the event back, which is the weekend focus of like a, you know, Friday to Sunday. That is going to only 1000 people now instead of 3000 where it’s been the past three years, but then we’re also expanding everything else that happens throughout the week, and so we’re moving to more of like a week-long total experience where I actually hope that we can serve, I don’t know, 3000-5000 people this year probably, but then for the, you know, the immersive portion, we are focusing on a smaller audience. So it’s kind of a two-prong strategy to better serve the people who are like yes, I want to be fully immersed, you know, I want this kind of special, you know, special high-touch experience, but then also serving people who aren’t able to come to that or who just want to kind of connect with other people but actually formalizing that process so that they have a way to do that.
Tara: Again, you’re giving people what they want, right?
Chris: We’ll see. We’ll find out.
Tara: All right. So you’ve got a new book coming out that should be out I think right about when we’re going to be releasing this episode.
Tara: And the book is called Born for This, right?
Chris: That is correct. Yeah. New book is to help people find the work they were meant to do, and this is the culmination of many years of research with all kinds of people who have forged or created unconventional careers, and I found a lot of people who use phrases like I feel like I won the career lottery, you know? I love what I do, I can’t believe I get paid for this, you know, I would do it for free, but you know, I actually do get paid for it, so that’s even better. So how did those people, you know, find that work, how did they create it, whether they’re entrepreneurs or whether they think entrepreneurially, but you know, find their best path within a corporate structure or some kind of organization. Like my mom, for example, was a rocket scientist for NASA.
Tara: I didn’t know that.
Chris: Yeah. Fun fact. And if you want to be a rocket scientist, you’re not really freelance most of the time. You know, most of them work for somebody, and I talked to the first female firefighter in Mississauga, Ontario. She’s one of my case studies for the book, and so the same kind of story there is like okay, if you want to be a firefighter, like, you have to, you know, do that with other people. So how do these people like find that work, what lessons do they have that they can offer, and how can readers, you know, find the work they were meant to do. So I’m excited about that.
Tara: Brilliant. I’m excited about that, too. So beyond the book, what’s next for you?
Chris: Well, the book is a big thing right now, because just as it’s out, I’m going on the road. I’m doing thirty cities. Would love to have, would love to meet up with people. If you go to BornForThisBook.com, you can get free tickets to any number of events. That’s about a two to three-month process, then we go into the new WDS, then I hope to just keep doing what I’m doing. I hope to keep traveling, I hope to keep writing, I hope to keep connecting with people and learning, changing it up as we go, because as we’ve discussed, change is the only constant, but again, I feel very fortunate, so I hope I can keep doing it.
Tara: When, specifically, is the book coming out?
Chris: April 5.
Tara: Love it. Chris Guillebeau, thank you so much for joining me.
Chris: Thank you so much.
Tara: Chris’s CreativeLive Bootcamp, Make Your Dream Trip a Reality can be found by going to CreativeLive.com/business.
On the next episode, we’ll sit down with Natalie McNeal, author of She Takes on the World and the Conquer Kit. We went behind the scenes on how she plans her year, grows her email list, and works with her team. Don’t miss it.
That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. CreativeLive podcast. Download more episodes of this podcast and subscribe on iTunes. If you appreciate this kind of in-depth content, please leave us a review or share this podcast with a friend. It means the world to us.
Our theme song was written by Daniel Peterson, who also edited this episode. Our audio engineer was Kellen Shemezu. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Madariaga. You can catch up on older episodes in the iTunes store, where new episodes are added every week, and learn more by going to CreativeLive.com.
This is a post about telesummits. But really, it’s a post about bad marketing and what you need to consider to avoid bad marketing either damaging your reputation as a business owner or wasting your time.
In case you’re not familiar with the telesummit concept, the outward appearance is similar to an in-person summit or conference: 15-30 expert speakers share their story and expertise on a particular topic with the audience.
You’ve likely signed up for one of these virtual events in the past.
What you might not realize is what often happens with these events in the organizational phase. Nearly every day, my assistant or I receive a pitch to speak at one of these events. The email often looks something like this (an actual email I recently received but with all identifying details changed):
I am pleased to invite you to serve as a guest speaker in our next online summit: “Live Your Best Life and Build a Super Successful Business.”
This online summit will feature over 25 Bold Life Experts, who will be sharing their inspirational guidance in pre-recorded video interviews. We invite you to share your story in one of these eye-opening 30 minute pieces.
Our incredible host Joy Coachperson is a sought-after Leadership Coach who teaches clients how to thrive in their personal and professional lives, regardless of their current circumstances. As a mother of four young children, a wife, an entrepreneur, and a coach, Joy knows firsthand how to support women and couples as they maneuver through life’s many challenges. Through her knowledge and experience, Joy has provided hundreds of individuals with the tools to become stronger, happier and more successful than ever! Joy’s mission is to get people out of the destructive habit of “just getting by”, and to teach them actionable ways to manifest prosperous home and business lives with ease.
The intention and focus of this summit is to guide individuals in discovering the foundation of their Bold Life, in the face of life’s many internal and external challenges. We are looking for practical and actionable advice that guides viewers in establishing their daily success rhythm by following proven formulas, and retaining the tools needed to stay on track when problems arise.
Topics to be Discussed:
● Personal Leadership
● Thriving as a Choice
● Support Systems
● Habits and Scheduling
● Success Strategies
● Staying Committed
● Creating A Legacy
Is this Online Summit a good fit for you? We’re looking for:
● Passionate speakers who currently serve or would like to expand their audience of small business owners, authors, entrepreneurs, and individuals looking to pursue their passion and desired legacy
● Presenters who have a mailing list audience above 5k.
● Individuals committed to publicizing this life-changing event with at least one solo email and one newsletter blurb
Ready to help us change lives? If this Online Summit sounds like something you’d enjoy being part of, please respond to me at your earliest convenience, as spaces fill up quickly!
Director of Marketing & Events
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THIS
Notice a few things: the summit has no clear or measurable objective, no clear angle or point of view to differentiate this from any other event, and the host has no fact-checkable credentials. I’ll explain why this is all highly problematic no matter what type of marketing you’re doing.
But first, notice a few more things:
1) There is a check to make sure I’m a good fit for the conference—meaning they haven’t properly vetted me as a speaker in the first place. They’re using a spray and pray method of recruiting partners.
2) Speakers are only qualified if their lists are already over 5,000 subscribers meaning that the organizers care more about reach than quality content. Melissa Dinwiddie recently wrote about this.
3) Speakers are required to promote the event to their list in both an exclusive email and a mention (2 emails total) meaning that the event organizer isn’t sure that the event merits promotion without obligating the participants. More on this in a bit.
All of these things are red flags for a marketer. Yet, these invitations persist. So I’m going to break down exactly what is problematic about each of them so that you can either green light your own telesummit or create your own marketing system and avoid the problems.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR OWN MARKETING FIRST
Always have a clear & measurable objective.
The bar you set for product development should be the same bar you set for marketing—especially content marketing. People should know what they can expect from engaging your content and how it will help them transform something about their life or business.
This cannot be vague. It cannot be hyperbolic. If you want it to be effective (you do), it needs to be incredibly specific and measurable. People need to be able to know when the objective is reached.
A promise to help you live your dream life or “crush it” in business is not a promise that can be kept. It’s not a good value proposition. It cannot be measured. And, it’s not believable because no set of 25 speakers can help you go from “getting by” to thriving.
For any content marketing you create, make a list of specific things that people will be able to do or change because of what you’re creating. Make them as tangible as possible. Be careful with anything that has to do with beliefs or personal identity because people don’t believe those things can be changed overnight and it damages your value proposition.
Always have a clear and differentiated angle.
As I said, I receive nearly identical pitches almost every day. There is no way for me to know why I should do this event instead of countless others promising the same thing.
Before you create any marketing, ask yourself how you will use that piece of marketing to differentiate yourself and connect with the specific people you want to serve. It could be a matter of style or attitude (for instance, I could have an entirely Tina Fey-themed event). Or, it could be a matter of your objective, specific niche, or customer base.
But give us something to sink our teeth into!
Tell us something real about you as the creator.
You can absolutely market your business effectively even if you’re just starting out or don’t have much visibility in the marketplace. All you need to do is tell us something real.
Sure, it’s fairly easy to establish credibility if your business has been featured in Fast Company and Inc. But you can also establish credibility through a well-told personal story, meaty client testimonial, or previous background/experience. You don’t need to exaggerate or mislead, just tell show us a piece of who you really are.
Taking these 3 things into account will improve any kind of marketing you do for your business, whether it’s a telesummit, podcast, blog, or webinar.
HOW IS THIS GOOD FOR ME AGAIN?
Yet, there’s more I want to unpack on this issue.
I decided to write this post after I received the above pitch and posted on Facebook that I was ready to start replying to these pitches with my speaking fee instead of a flat “no.” (Many of these pitches come via my speaking contact form which requests that you share your budget for the event.)
The post caught fire and I heard from people on all sides on the “telesummit debate,” though most of my circle shared my frustration and encouraged me to follow-through with requesting a speaking fee.
You see, I have never—to the best of my knowledge—received a paying customer from one of these events. Never once has someone said to me, “I found you through so-and-so’s virtual summit!”
However, 2 of my top client sources have quite a bit in common with telesummits.
My top client source is speaking at conferences. It’s one of the reasons I’m on the road so much (I’m writing this from an airplane–I’ll be on another tomorrow). While I used to speak free of charge, with few exceptions, I no longer do. I charge a significant fee that aligns with the value I provide to the event experience, the promotion that’s expected of me (although that’s usually not much), and the time it will take in my schedule.
I get paid and I get clients. That’s good for business.
Another top client source for me is podcast interviews. I’m generally happy to give anyone an interview as long as time permits. I don’t care much about audience size, angle, or experience. I like the conversations and it’s easy.
I’m also happy to share these interviews with my audience because they don’t have to do anything more than click a button to listen. Though promotion is rarely encouraged.
I have had clients come directly from podcast interviews because they allow me to speak directly to a particular audience and share a different side of my message.
THE ENERGY DIFFERENTIAL
As Elizabeth Potts Weinstein put it on my original Facebook post, the energy differential between these 3 things is incredibly different despite them essentially offering the same thing: access to experts, their stories, and their information.
Conferences require a few days of travel and time off work. But I’m front and center on stage and I’m compensated fairly well. Plus, my company gets clients.
Podcasts require nothing more than about an hour of my time. I get a nice asset to share directly with my audience and all they have to do is click to hear it.
But with a telesummit, the event organizers often want 30 minutes of my time to pitch the event to me on the phone, an hour of my time to record the interview, guaranteed social media promotion, and emails to my community. They often want me to write my own interview questions or prepare a talk.
THE OPPORTUNITY DIFFERENTIAL
The energetic differential is not the only thing that separates these different methods for delivering a similar product. There is also an opportunity differential.
For me, a speaking gig at an in-person conference almost always results in a top-level client (without selling from the stage—which I never do). That means my speaking fee can easily be matched or 10x-ed in terms of return on investment. All I have to do is literally show up, deliver my talk, and meet with people for whom it resonated. Plus, I often get a credibility boost from the conference itself (I’m speaking at Digital Commerce Summit—from the folks behind Copyblogger—this Fall and I know I’m going to see a bump from that).
That’s a lot of opportunity. It’s great marketing.
With podcasts, it’s completely hit or miss. Sometimes a podcaster has a super engaged audience that is just perfect for my work. Other times, they don’t. The opportunity doesn’t always pan out, but I haven’t squandered any opportunity either. I’d say I come out on top most of the time and I’ve never regretted doing a podcast interview. Plus, podcast interviews are where I hone new messaging and work on my talking points. They’ve been a huge boost to my personal skill set.
It’s often good marketing. It’s never bad marketing.
With a telesummit, as I said, I’ve never connected with anyone in such a way that I’ve earned a new client. If it happens with podcasts and not with telesummits, that tells me something about the very nature of those events (as opposed to something going on with me).
WHY REQUIRED EMAIL PROMOTION IS BAD FOR YOUR BUSINESS—EVEN IF IT FEELS GOOD
The reason for this, as I see it, is that the required email promotion creates a cycle of low-quality audience churn. In other words, the very nature of the required email promotion means that once you’re on one telesummit list as a subscriber, you get notified of more and more telesummits. That means those subscribers are being bombarded with 20-30 hours of free or low-cost content, probably on a monthly or bimonthly basis.
People who realize that’s not valuable to them unsubscribe. Those who do don’t have the time or capacity to purchase a program or product. They feel ashamed of themselves for not living up to the hyperbolic promises of event organizers and they wait to actually invest in quality help until they’ve “implemented” what they think they’ve learned.
This is not a good prospect.
Those prospects are getting recycled around the telesummit circuit and sold a bill of goods.
The email lists of organizers (and I’m sure some guests) get inflated with leads that will probably never convert. A smaller, high-quality set of leads will earn more revenue than an inflated email list full of low-quality prospects any day (ask my bookkeepers).
Every time a business owner emails her list about a telesummit, that’s an opportunity where she could have shared a valuable offer to people who already know, like, and trust her. More than that, it’s potentially squandering a hard-won reputation and replacing it with fluff.
THE REAL MAGIC OF INFLUENCE MARKETING
Required email promotion also fails to take into account the real magic of influence marketing. In fact, it highlights the very difference between true marketing and just promotion. Influence marketing is earned. To have an influencer champion you, you need to earn it.
Sometimes that happens without you knowing it because they’re reading and loving your blog or listening intently to your podcast. Other times it happens because you’ve offered them something of great value, probably multiple times. When someone champions you, your message, or your company it comes with deep respect and trust. It doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly doesn’t happen because of a clause in a speaking agreement.
Requiring someone to promote your event is hollow. I receive requests for telesummits with required promotion from people I do not know or have never heard of. They might be amazing—but how would I know? One quick information phone call isn’t going to give me the peace of mind that I need to trust them with my list. Even a good interview isn’t enough for me to know that the rest of what they have to offer is high-quality.
As business owners, we all need people to champion us. We need a network of folks who are willing to share our work with people who trust them. But you have to work hard to earn it.
OKAY, SAVE YOUR NASTY EMAILS. I DON’T MEAN EVERYBODY.
Now, I don’t mean to throw every telesummit or virtual event under the bus. I’ve participated in some truly excellent ones where this is absolutely not the case. One such event was Natalie MacNeil’s Conquer Summit. Social Media Examiner puts on an excellent event. One of my clients, Shawn Tuttle, put on a quality event at the end of last year, as did Monique Head.
The businesses generating massive amounts of revenue from virtual events are not following the blueprint that’s being sold to thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs. And the ones that are are the ones selling that blueprint (quite literally).
Businesses that host high-quality events and profit from them create good marketing and follow the points I listed above. They choose speakers specifically for the message they’ll bring and the way they’ll improve the experience of the event. They treat those speakers like valued members of the team—not a commodity to be traded. They consider their participants and how they can make the event as useful and easy to engage as possible.
Creating massive events that generate low-quality leads for the purpose of growing your list by thousands is bad marketing. It’s not good for the event organizer (you could get a higher ROI on something else). It’s not good for the guests (they lose out on energy and opportunity). It’s not good for the participants (they’re sold a vague promise and unpredictable quality).
THE PERSISTENT SEDUCTION OF THE TELESUMMIT MODEL
Now, I would like to finish this screed with a bit of reflection on why I see telesummits (and much bad marketing) as so seductive.
Telesummits are seductive because they promise an easy path to the veneer of success. Look at me with these fancy guests. Look how I can afford to give this all to you for free. Look at my giant email list. No one actually says this (thank goodness) but it’s implied by the very nature of the event whether the organizer realizes it or not.
There is a massive disconnect between what makes many business owners feel good about themselves (famous speakers, loads of subscribers) and what actually makes a business work (paying customers or clients who get results). Telesummits prioritize vanity metrics over true metrics and that never ever pays off.
Yes, knowing internet famous people, being generous with content, and having a big list is all great.
Only if it leads to real results. And by real results, I do mean money in the bank. I also mean lives transformed.
I believe that most people embark on these events because they think that a network, generosity, and tons of emails lead directly to that true business success. They don’t. There are loads of systems that need to be in place (from sales to product development, to customer support, to business model, to project management) to make that happen.
If you really want to avoid bad marketing (and you should, you need to know what metrics actually lead to results for you. If it’s list size, make sure you’re tracking earnings per lead too so that you know if the quality of your leads goes down. If it’s your network, make sure you know the people you count as being part of it would actually answer the phone if you called. If it’s generosity, make sure that people are actually using what you give them and getting results from it.
You can’t be seduced by vanity metrics for too long if you keep your eye on your real metrics. You’ll know your actions (whether it’s speaking at a telesummit, spending tons of time on Facebook to get more likes, or refreshing your page views) are paying off or not.
Finally, telesummits are seductive because they have the specter of community and collaboration. Much of what is attractive to business for so many is building what they do not have: a group of people who care about the same thing as them and working together to bring more of that into the world.
Telesummits are successful with that on some level. However, in most cases, it’s fleeting, shallow, and unproductive. Except when great care is given (and when people throw away the blueprint), the audience isn’t a community, it’s a bunch of email addresses in a CSV file. The speakers aren’t a collaborative network, they’re a disjointed smattering of pseudo-experts who were chosen for promotional purposes.
By all means, find ways to create community and collaboration in your business but make sure it’s deep, real, and truly valuable. Be generous and specific with what you have to offer. Court influencers and earn their respect. Treat your audience as you would want to be treated. Tie all of that to real metrics.
If what you decide to create is a telesummit, that’ll be good marketing.