The majority of businesses start the same way: an entrepreneur creates a product or service that is unique and differentiated and then finds ways to market and distribute it. Unfortunately, this model doesn’t really work.
Joe Pulizzi is a speaker, author, podcaster, and founder of multiple startups, including The Content Marketing Institute. Joe chose a different path to build CMI, starting first by building an audience through content and then adding products and services later to monetize. We promise that whether you have built a business already or you’re considering it for the first time, after today you’ll view the process with fresh eyes.
Tune in as Joe explains how to follow your passion, find your people, and launch a content empire that pays.
In This Episode
- How to launch a business without taking money from investors
- The sweet spot you need to find before launching your business
- Four steps for launching a successful business around content
- How to harness the power of your audience
- When (and how) to diversify your product offerings to monetize
Quotes in This Episode
“Focus on being the world’s leading expert in some niche. And if you do that really, really well, then just listen to your audience. They will tell you exactly how to monetize it.” —Joe Pulizzi
“If you build the audience, it opens up the opportunities for doing anything you want to do.” —Joe Pulizzi
“What’s your passion? What’s a knowledge or skill area you have that you’ll actually get up every day and create content around?” —Joe Pulizzi
“Content is a promise.” —Joe Pulizzi
“The more your audience is subscribed to different things of value, the more likely they are to become buyers of yours.” —Joe Pulizzi
“Everyone can build an audience. Start there.” —Jacquie Chakirelis
Full Audio Transcription for Episode 6
Welcome to Platform FM the show for people launching or growing an online platform. A must have for influencers or entrepreneurs. Brought to you by the Online Platform Institute. In addition to this podcast, platform builders can get actionable insights and inspiration with the free weekly online newsletter. Join us by signing up at OnlinePlatformInstitute.com. While there you can also download a personal platform blueprint to help you create an authentic and successful platform plan. Now, on with today’s show. Here’s Jacquie.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Platform FM. Now, if this is your first time listening, thank you for joining us. I’m Jacquie Chakirelis the host of Platform FM and I’m here to connect you with content, an amazing community of experts and encouragement to help you build and grow your online platform. So happy to have you here on episode number six. Remember, all of today’s show notes can be found at OnlinePlatformInstitute.com and I hope you’ll join us each week. Please add this podcast to your iTunes or Stitcher app. You can follow us on Twitter at Platform FM and of course on Facebook. Now, let’s get started with the show.
If you’re listening to Platform FM it’s probably a safe bet that you are considering launching your own business or maybe you already have a side hustle that you hope to grow and transition into a full time empire. I’m with you. Let’s face it. Entrepreneurship and owning your own business is a hot topic today and for good reason. According to Capital One’s latest Spark Business Barometer, 49% of small business owners reported good or excellent business conditions in their area. And, heading into 2017 that’s an increase of eight points compared to the first half of 2016. Speaking of 2016, it was a banner year for female entrepreneurs as the number of women starting businesses reached a 20 year high. In fact, women are starting 40% of all new businesses.
And it’s not just the business world. The entertainment industry is focused on startup stars as well. You know the hit TV show Shark Tank is in its seventh season and is going strong with nearly eight million viewers watching entrepreneurs and inventors pitch their products to real life investors. Of course there’s dozens of new cable shows like our own, Cleveland Hustles.
After today’s show and listening to our guest today, whether you have built a business or you’re just thinking about it, you’re going to see the world, specifically the startup, own your own business world, completely different with fresh eyes and a new perspective. It’s a tall order, I know, but I think he’s up for the task. Joe Pulizzi is our guest today, and Joe is definitely an entrepreneurial [walk-on]. If you know anything about Joe, he’s accomplished a ton and I’m going to keep it short, but he’s recently received even a hall of fame award from his high school in Sandusky, Ohio. I had to tease you about that, Joe. I’m sorry.
If we have any left to be, wouldn’t have any time left for questions if we went into the whole bio, so again, I’m going to shorten it. Joe is a speaker, author and podcaster. He’s the founder of multiple startups including The Content Marketing Institute, the leading content marketing educational resource for enterprise brands. And, recognizes the fastest growing business media company by Inc. Magazine in 2014 and 2015. He is the leading force behind Content Marketing World, the largest content marketing event in the world. And, Joe’s the author of four books including his Content Inc. Joe, I’m tired. I’m out of breath. You can take it from here.
Joe Pulizzi : That’s a lot.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Welcome to the show.
Joe Pulizzi : Thank you for having me, Jacquie. Congratulations on the institute and the podcast and all that good stuff. There’s so many things that entrepreneurs need to know about when it comes to building a platform, so I’m glad you’ve created this resource.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Thank you. Again, you were the inspiration, certainly Content Inc was a moment for me when I went, “That’s it. That’s it.” I had been in media for a long time, and had built audiences for programs and shows and news things and you put it all together. I know you’re a busy man in high demand, but like any great entrepreneurial story, your journey has a beginning. Tell us and take us back to that once upon time start.
Joe Pulizzi : I’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur from the start. I mean, I grew up, my parents owned a restaurant so I was, up to I was five years old I was watching my dad cook and my mom were seating guests and part of that atmosphere. Then, later in life, I was able to work at our family funeral home, on my mom’s side. That’s my grandfather and my uncle. I was, in college, I was working at the funeral home so I was always around entrepreneurial businesses and I knew some day that I was going to start a business, but just didn’t know what. It came where I saw the opportunity. I started working at a company called Penton Media, which is a large business to business publisher. One of the largest ones in the world. They publish a lot of trade magazines in obscure industries that you wouldn’t know unless you’re in those industries.
In about 2005 I said … I’d worked there for five years in 2000 to 2005 and I saw this opportunity in the industry we now call content marketing, which is the idea that more and more businesses were attracting and retaining customers by creating valuable content. Just like a media company would through articles and blogs and podcasts and videos. I said, “Wow, this is going to be something.” I mean, it’s not a new thing, but I thought this was going to be something. And, in 2007 officially went out and the initial idea was to create the, basically the eHarmony for content marketing. We were going to create a matching service for the content marketing industry. The goal was to attract people, interested brands interested in, “Hey, I need somebody to help me with my content marketing with my blogs, with my writing, with my packaging.” We were going to match those people up directly with agencies that offered those services.
From 2007 to 2009 it actually worked really, really well except for the financial model was terrible. What we learned was agencies don’t want to pay for anything. They don’t want to pay for marketing. I’m like, “This is a horrible business model because the people that I have paying don’t have the budget and don’t want to pay for it.” We’re like, “Okay, what are we going to do?” Then of course entrepreneurs know the big pivot. Our big pivot happened at the end of 2009. I was feeling sorry for myself. We just lost a big customer that wasn’t going to pay any more. I’m like, “I’m going to have to start actually going out and finding a job. This is horrible. I’ve got two small kids. What are we going to do?” After about two weeks of feeling sorry for myself I went back and looked and actually I got it, it was a cocktail napkin. I think it was because I was drinking so much. It was depression.
Jacquie Chakirelis: That’s understandable.
Joe Pulizzi : Exactly. I took the cocktail napkin and I wrote out. I basically, I think what happened Jacquie was I fell in love with the product we were offering so much. We talk about this in the book Content Inc. I fell in love with it and I really pushed the product. What I realized in that two week period of feeling sorry for myself is the audience that we were attracting through educating them on content marketing and how to, they did, only a very small portion of that audience actually wanted to outsource, or could outsource their content marketing at any one time. Actually, less than 1%. 99% of those people wanted education and training and understand how to do it themselves. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m totally missing the boat because I’m attracting an audience and I can’t sell them anything.”
What we did in 2009 and then officially in May of 2010 which was the launch of Content Marketing Institute, we said we are going to be the leading resource for content marketing. We’re going to launch the leading online platform which became ContentMarketingInstitute.com, the leading magazine, Chief Content Officer Magazine which was launched in January of 2011. Then we’re going to launch the leading in-person event which became Content Marketing World in September 2011. That just comes from, as you know Jacquie, that’s my media background. I believe in the three legs of the stool. You need the leading online channel, the leading print channel and the leading in-person channel but we started it with the online channel.
Thankfully, it took off right away. We were hoping for, to get at the event, which is our big money maker now, we were hoping for 100 people to come to Cleveland, Ohio for the event. I’m like, “Can we actually attract 100 people around content marketing to come to Cleveland?” And we were so blessed because 660 showed up from 25 countries. That was the first time, Jacquie, that I actually thought that I wouldn’t have to go and get a job somewhere else. I remember going out on stage and I’m really misty, very emotional. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is it.” Like, “Maybe we’ve done it.” That was, up to that point, see that was a four-year journey. Really took from start to knowing that we have some kind of path out of this thing and we have some success going, it took four years.
How it all happened was not the … Once I got rid of that eHarmony for content marketing idea that I loved so much, that I thought was so awesome. Once I just said, “Look, just offer amazing information and solutions to the audience and they will tell you what they want to buy.” As we were doing that research when I was feeling sorry for myself and doing that research I realized that they were asking for, “Hey, we want to be educated at an event.” “Hey, would you send us regular information so that we can learn about these things.” “We need ongoing training.”
All of our products today, Jacquie, are just based on information that our customers were asking for as we were communicating with that audience. It’s just, hindsight is 20/20. I don’t regret anything in the path because it all turned out okay, and who knows what would have happened. But, what I tell entrepreneurs today is just focus on being the world’s leading expert in some niche. If you do that really, really, well then just listen to your audience and they will tell you exactly how to monetize it because they’re going to ask you for products and services. Then, you offer those.
Jacquie Chakirelis: You know, I wish we could hang up that to every, single entrepreneur on their wall because it … I’m so glad you shared that story because having my own journey and knowing what that is like, there are bumps in the road. It isn’t just a start here and move up type of path. It is you have to go through certain things and sometimes they’re big things that you have to pivot your original idea into something else. The key was listening to the audience, who you want to sell to.
Joe Pulizzi : Yeah, and it doesn’t … It’s not rocket science, right? It’s just like, I wish we would have done that in the first place. But, it’s funny, as we were doing all the research for the book that you were just talking about, Content Inc, which was released in 2015, that’s what we found. We found a bunch of entrepreneurs that had crazy ideas that didn’t really work out because they were focused on a product. “Hey, here’s a real big opportunity. We can create this product.” What they ended up doing accidentally was starting blogs and starting podcasts and doing videos and building an audience and then they build an audience and then they ended up doing something completely different because once they built that audience, they had the opportunity to get that audience that now knows, likes and trusts them and would actually buy anything from them.
That’s what, I mean, obviously that’s the whole book. What we did was, I tried to say that the hope of Content Inc is that entrepreneurs as they go out there, they don’t have to go through what I went through. The three years of just trying to find ourselves and find the model, when there is a model right in front of every entrepreneur. And we can reach an audience directly today by delivering them really valuable information. And, basically there’s six steps to that model that we found out every one of these entrepreneurs actually went through. You can actually say, “Okay, let’s find our sweet sport. A content tilt. Let’s build the base.” You go through and monetize that.
It’s just a different way to look at building a business and not like … I mean, obviously there’s, you get the idea for Facebook. Good for you. Start with that product, monetize it, become a billion dollar company. But, those are few and far between. The majority of us now have the opportunity to build a business in a completely different way by building the audience first and then monetizing it after that. I’m a pure believer in that model.
Almost every entrepreneur I talk to that’s struggling, I’m like, “You’re doing it the harder way. It’s much harder to do what you’re trying to do because you have to have a marketing budget. You have to get out there.” If you build that audience first, you’re creating your own marketing opportunities because you don’t have to advertise if you don’t want to. You don’t have to do PR if you don’t want to if you already have the audience that’s just waiting for this great information from you.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Again, really key moment. I think that so many people, again, think that they have to go the investor route, the venture capital route, so they have to build this amazing machine and product and then they have to wait for the gate keeper to tell them, “Yeah, it’s good.” Whereas, if they just took their information and built that audience, they’ve already built that opportunity. And guess what? Guess who starts looking at you? Investors, venture capitalists, and all those types of people because you’ve built the interest already. You’ve built the market, basically.
Joe Pulizzi : Exactly right. And, I mean, you know how I stand because we’ve talked about the whole idea of investors and VC. I mean, the whole and by the way a necessary part of the entrepreneurial environment. But, any VC company or angel investor will tell you if you can, don’t take the money. I mean, because you lose control.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Yeah.
Joe Pulizzi : That was one of the lucky things for myself and my wife and our journey into becoming entrepreneurs is that we had saved up. We saved up for many years so that because if we didn’t we’d had been in trouble. We maxed out credit cards, and you hear all the stories. We had enough buffer cash for the first three years to support ourselves. We went down to one car, and we lived on a lot of Ramen noodles and all that stuff to get to a point where now we have enough that we could actually take a salary. That happened in 2011.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Wow.
Joe Pulizzi : Yeah, you mean, you make those decisions and I mean, I’ll be the first to … I actually went out looking for investors because I thought that was the way to go. Then I had a lot of smart people come to me and say, “Joe, if you don’t need to take money right now, don’t take money. Then, if you get some success and then you really need that success to go big, that’s a different scenario because you’ve already proven you have some amount of success.” I mean, that’s my … I have a lot of VC and angel friends, so I mean there’s nothing against that at all, but they will tell you the same thing. You don’t really want to take it if you don’t have to.
Jacquie Chakirelis: I can imagine that as you were sitting down and thinking about this book and thinking about sharing this story about how Content Marketing Institute became the fastest growing business media company in North America on this audience first, and selling second model. That when you found these six steps being repeated and reversed engineered, it must have been a huge eureka moment for you.
Joe Pulizzi : I still pinch myself, actually. It’s one of those things where, I said I come from publishing. I’ve been in publishing for 20 years now. I’m like it’s such a no brainer now that I look at that I’m like, “Of course, just build an audience.” Actually, it’s just like a media company. You go out, you build an audience and most media companies just naturally say, “Okay, we’re going to sell advertising against it and sell subscriptions.” Which, by the way, you can do that as well, but it’s just, it’s not your only option. I just said, “Hey, instead of doing that, we just sell products. That’s it.” Instead of selling advertising and we, for us, it was our event. That was the big thing. That was our product was the event. We got all these people that wanted more information and said, “Hey, let’s go get that event.”
If you look at somebody like Matthew Patrick on YouTube, he’s selling consultings. I mean he, by the way, big, five million plus subscribers on YouTube. My kids love him. He does, his platform is called Game Theory. He sells merchandising, he sells consulting. He has become one of the leading consultants on YouTube in the world. That’s how he monetizes his platform. If you look at somebody like Entrepreneur on Fire and John Lee Dumas, he sells webinars and training online. That’s how he ends up doing it. If you look at Brian Clark and Copyblogger.com. Brian Clark sells software. Software’s a service. That’s how he makes most of his money. It’s just, you can do it all different ways, but the core thing is that if you build the audience it opens up the opportunities for doing anything you want to do and following your passions and all that good stuff and walking down the yellow brick road and fairy tales and just not having to eat Ramen noodles every night.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Right. And you don’t have to build … When people think of audiences and media company they immediately think of advertising. I just want to cut short that thought because it takes millions and billions of eyeballs and for advertising to really work just as an online platform. That’s just one very small revenue source. There’s so many different opportunities.
Joe Pulizzi : The other point to make, I’m glad you brought that up, because when you say audience a lot of people will think, “I need a million.” Or, “I need 50 thousand.” Or whatever. Really, for us to get started we needed about five to 10 thousand email subscribers. Because what you look for is you look for a niche that you can own. Whether that’s in some niche in the craft area, or it’s some business to business area. I mean, I remember working on a project years ago, it was almost 20 years ago, Jacquie, for Hewlett-Packard, and Hewlett-Packard was targeting 200 people. They were targeting 200 people because what they were selling was a million dollar product, so they only needed an audience of a couple.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Right.
Joe Pulizzi : Just think about who your audience is. More is not necessarily better. Which, if you look at Kevin Kelly has a really great story around his thousand true fans. I mean, really, that’s true. I mean, if we build the thousand that really know, like and trust us and want to share the story and all that good stuff, that’s about what we need to get started. Focus on them, and the rest of it works itself out.
Jacquie Chakirelis: I want to dig into the steps real quick, Joe, because it is really, really important to understand the entire model. But, I want to share with our listeners that you’re kind enough to offer the first chapter and we’re going to provide the link to that in the show notes so people can go back and reference that and really dig in more. But, you say you start with the sweet spot. What’s the sweet spot?
Joe Pulizzi : The sweet spot is, first of all, what we found is important for entrepreneurs is you do actually want to follow your passion because if you’re going to target a market, target an audience and you’re going to deliver let’s say a blog post every other day, or podcast like you’re doing Jacquie, or a video series, it takes a while to build an audience. As we get to the end of this whole process it takes about a year to really, really make this thing go.
You have to say what’s your passion? What is a knowledge or skill area that you have that you’re passionate about that you’ll actually get up every day and create content around? Then, on the other side to make that sweet spot is, where is an area that you actually have an authority to communicate? Where is a knowledge or skill area that you’re actually good at. That brings that sweet spot together and then that goes right into step two because I always like to talk about step on and step two together. Once you find out that sweet spot, then we figure out, okay, what’s the content tilt? The content tilt is where are we actually telling a differentiated story from all the other content out there around your sweet spot?
Let’s just take content marketing for example. Content marketing in 2007 when we started that was an area where we could be leading experts in the world because nobody was talking about it in terms of content marketing. Nobody was doing it. That was our content tilt because we were talking about it in a brand new way. Today, I couldn’t launch around the content tilt to our audience of marketers as content marketing because it’s too broad. I mean, it’s like if I put out the seven tips of content marketing, nobody’s going to pay attention to that because it’s been done a thousand times. You have to go in depth. Is it financial content marketing? Is it content marketing for nonprofits? Is it content marketing for entrepreneurs? You might even need to go a little bit more specific than that.
The first two is, yeah, what are you going to talk about that’s important to your customers? What are you going to talk about that you’re passionate about? That you actually have an edge and have some knowledge or skill around? But, also at the same portion, how are you going to break through all that clutter online that you actually have the opportunity to get noticed and build an audience. That’s the sweet spot and the content tilt and that’s where you absolutely have to start before you even think about doing a blog, a podcast or a video.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Again, really, really important. I think people get stuck at the content tilt, but it’s important to take that extra time and really figure out where is your unique value proposition that you can get that content in front of the right audience. And once you have that, then you can start building. Let’s start talking about building the base is the next step.
Joe Pulizzi : Yeah, so then create the … By the way, it could take a month or so to find that. There’s exercises in the book we talk about because you list all your passions and you list all the things that you have a knowledge or skill area that’s above normal. Then you focus on, here’s the audience. Then you say, “How can we be different to that audience?” It takes some time to go through that and actually get that right. Then, once you get that, then you can actually start creating some content called building the base. What we talk about and what we found, Jacquie, was just, it blew my mind because there’s actually a formula. What we found out is that every successful case study we looked at … By the way, every successful media company since the dawn of time followed the same model. The model is four specific steps.
The first step is they focus on for the most part one content type. They don’t go out and say, “We’re going to do podcasts and videos and articles and we’re going to do it all at once.” They just focus on one. They focus on audio, video or textual plus image. You can choose and whatever you’re, whatever makes the most sense for your audience or whatever … I, for example, we did written text, text and image because I enjoy writing. That’s why I leaned to that. I mean, now we have a podcast, but I’ll get to that in a second. But, I started with just textual content. Then, so that’s step one. You choose one of those.
Then you figure out what’s your platform? Is it a blog or website? Is it iTunes or Stitcher like you have with your podcast? Is it YouTube for video. You pick one of those. Great. Okay. We have picked the content type, we’ve picked the platform and then three, maybe the most important of all, is consistent delivery. Whatever you decide to do you do it consistently. If you say, “Hey, I’m going to do a blog. This is great.” You’re going to blog not whenever you get to it, or not once every other, “We’re going to do it Thursday and then maybe Friday and then whatever.” No, you’re going to say, “I’m going to blog two times a week. We’re going to blog at Tuesday at 6 a.m. Eastern Time, and Thursday at 6 a.m. Eastern Time and we’re going to do that for 12 months and we’re never going to miss it. Never going to stop even on holidays. It doesn’t matter.”
That’s the key if you look at every successful media company they’ve done those first three steps. The fourth step is just to make sure we set everybody’s expectations. In all the case studies we looked at in Content Inc, the book, it was about an average of 12 to 18 months to monetization. Which means that everyone that started this didn’t really start making money, selling products, making a living off of this until they got past that 12 month area. It takes time to build a loyal audience. It doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to make sure you set the correct expectations.
Jacquie Chakirelis: So important. In the media we call it benchmarks, right? You’re setting benchmarks so your audience knows what to expect from you because they have other things to do with their time. If you’re competing for their eyeballs or their eardrums, whatever that is, you need to make sure that your benchmarks are set so that they know what to expect from you. I’m going to tune into This Old Marketing every Tuesday morning when I take my dog for a walk because I know a new episode’s going to be there. Whatever the, again, that is those are benchmarks that you set.
Joe Pulizzi : Exactly.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Promises that you set with your audience.
Joe Pulizzi : That’s what we talk about content is a promise. That’s why most businesses are really bad at content marketing because they don’t realize that. They just say, “Oh, we’re going to throw all this stuff on YouTube and we’re going to do the blog when we can and whatever.” But, once you get that connection, like for example and you’re talking about our podcast This Old Marketing, and we do, we deliver it every Monday night, so most people listen to it first thing on Tuesday morning Eastern Time. Well, if we miss that, you’re like, “What?” It’s just like if you’re subscribed to the newspaper every Sunday like we do, and sometimes I go outside to go get the print newspaper and it’s not there and I’m upset and I’m almost on the verge of, “I might as well cancel this thing because they’re not keeping their promise.” Just like you would keep your customer service promise on a product, you have to do the same thing with your content.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Absolutely. Let’s talk about harvesting the audience, which is the next step once you’ve built that base and that promise, how do you harvest that audience.
Joe Pulizzi : Again, this is old school. This is not a new innovative model, this is a model that’s always worked for the past hundred years. We look at, we need to build an audience. When I say build an audience you might say, “Hey, does that mean Twitter followers? Does that mean Facebook friends or fans? Does that mean iTunes subscribers?” Yes, and we talk about this in the book. There’s different levels of building an audience, but what you want to do with any of those other channels that you don’t own …
You’re basically renting, right? You and I for our podcast we rent iTunes so that we can get distribution. But what we really want are email subscribers. Email is not dead. Email is more critical than ever. If you’re going to build your audience the number one way you can do that is getting somebody to opt in to a regular email from you. All the other things you do. Let’s say you build a huge YouTube platform like Matthew Patrick did. What he wants to do is he wants to try to convert and have offers on his YouTube channel to get those to convert into emails so that he’s not beholden to YouTube or iTunes or Facebook because they can change the rules at any time. We have the most control over our communications with email.
That means you want to focus on email audience and start to build those with offers like ebooks and White Papers and other things that they can subscribe to and that also means you need an e-newsletter. You need some way to say, “Hey, sign up for this awesome ebook that’s going to help you with X, Y, Z. At the same time we’re going to send you a weekly newsletter on how you can better do this so that you have a better life, a better job.” Whatever the case is.
Really key, Jacquie, that you have those components to it. You don’t have to do it right away, but I would say the biggest regret that I have in my journey was I didn’t focus on trying to acquire email soon enough. From 2007, 2008 did it haphazardly and we missed out on tens of thousands of subscribers that way because we weren’t focused on it. Now, if you go to ContentMarketingInstitute.com you see many calls to action for ebooks and White Papers and downloads and gated content. 99% of our content is free, but there’s a couple opportunities there on every page where we want to get that email address, say, “Would you allow us to communicate with you on a regular basis through our e-newsletter?” They sign up for the e-newsletter, and then the relationship starts so that we have the opportunity to sell them something later.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Every single time. Again, having that regular communication on a consistent basis that they can expect is key to any media company as it is a key to growing your own online platform and launching your Content Inc model.
Joe Pulizzi : Exactly right. You’ve got to, I mean, do that consistently. A lot of people get overwhelmed at this stage, Jacquie, because they’re like, “I’ve got to do a email newsletter too?” But just, that’s why we say keep it simple with everything else. When you build that base start with doing one thing really well, the podcast, the blog, the video series. Have the e-newsletter component so you can get the opt-in subscriptions, and then you’re well on your way.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Let’s go into the next step, diversification, which, again, I think people look at you and think of all the channels that you have going from the podcast to the Content Marketing Institute to the event, but you didn’t start out that way.
Joe Pulizzi : No. I mean, if you look at … Now I’ve got to go back to 2007 because even though I said that CMI started in 2010, originally the content marketing blog which is now the center of ContentMarketingInstitute.com was started in 2007. Started that in April of 2007. That was the initial blog that we created. From April of 2007 to let’s see, what was it? What was the fir- … It probably wasn’t until the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 when we started the magazine that we actually diversified away from that. We focused on just creating this world class blog. We blogged on a regular … Started it basically three times a week, then went to five times a week. Now we’re at seven times a week. We ramped up to this and we started, said, “The blog is going to be the place where we’re going to build that audience.”
Then, once you build that audience and you start to get, you start to figure this stuff out, then you can diversify. Then we started Chief Content Magazine, then we started This Old Marketing the podcast. Then we started doing regular webinars. Then we started doing the daily Tuesday Twitter chats that we do every week. Now we’ve got 10 to 15 different things that you can choose from just like any other media company, but we started with one.
Look at ESPN, right? ESPN was just Sports Center. It was just Sports Center. Now they’ve got ESPN.com, they got the ESPY awards, they’ve got 30 for 30 video series, got lots of things, right? They’ve got ESPN the magazine, but they only started off doing one thing really, really well. Do that, and then we diversify as we go, as it makes sense. The only thing I would say, Jacquie, is do one at a time. Don’t do, “Hey, this year we’re going to do five new launches.” When you add a launch it’s got to be a really, really good and needed thing. And the reason why we do that and we diversify is because what we find out is the more our audience is subscribed to different things of value, the more likely they become buyers of yours.
What we found for us at Content Marketing Institute is our magic number is three. If somebody’s signed up for three things, like they’re signed up for the magazine, they’re signed up for the blog and they’re signed up to the podcast, they are primed to actually spend money with us. That’s why media companies do what they do and they get them to subscribe more because you’re more likely to be a paying customer.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Now that your expertise has been established, and again, let’s talk about your journey three, four years into your journey and now, what, nine years is it from the beginning? Yeah, about nine years, right?
Joe Pulizzi : Yeah, we’re almost at, April will be our 10 year anniversary as a business.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Wow. Amazing. Again, it’s not a quick, get rich quick scheme type of thing. This is investing in your time and into your audience. Now you can start talking about monetization.
Joe Pulizzi : Now, yeah, once we really … And I told you the failures of the other product because I started to monetize it right away and it just didn’t work. Once we really figured out that, oh, okay, let’s build this audience and then let’s start to monetize with things that actually make sense, things they actually want to buy. We started to monetize with our training program. We started to monetize, obviously with Content Marketing World which is a mixture of sponsorship and subscriptions. We started to sell sponsorship packages as part of the things we do. Started then do sponsored webinars and all those things. From, let’s see, 200- … That’s why we became the fastest growing media company because we had 2010 I think we did … I don’t know what it was. A couple, maybe a $160,000 in revenue and in 2015 … Let’s say, I’ll give you 2016 numbers, we did well over 10 million in revenues.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Wow.
Joe Pulizzi : That was, I mean, 2011 hit, we did like, “Oh great, we did a million.” Then we started with the event and the event started to roll and then we did a million and three million and five million and seven million. Now we’re 10 million.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Wow.
Joe Pulizzi : I mean, so that’s the type of thing that happens. It’s amazing because the initial goal sheet that I put together in 2007 as I launched the business was always to hit a certain number of revenue. We actually hit that in year five, but did it with totally different products and services. It didn’t follow the plan at all. We hit the number, but how we got there was totally different and it’s because of really following this Content Inc model.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Yeah, well as I mentioned to our listeners in the beginning, they’re going to start to see the world with completely fresh eyes and because most people experience Content Inc brands and models every single day. I wondered, you shared a couple examples, but do you have another couple examples that people can really relate to?
Joe Pulizzi : Sure, yeah. I mean, actually this one I was thinking of, Ann Reardon launched a site called How to Cook That. She’s a stay at home mom, she was a food scientist, dietician and she wanted to stay at home and create this … She wanted to create a business but didn’t know what to do. She said, “I’m going to do all these recipes and whatever.” But, instead of doing regular recipes like everyone else did, she did recipes that people would say are unbelievable. She started the la- … She created the HowToCookThat.net. She put it on YouTube. YouTube was her channel that she focused on. She did things like how do I create a five pound, or a five pound cake with Snickers Bars, or that looks like a Snickers Bar? Then she said, how do I create a cake that is the perfect replica of the Instagram logo, and people will look, as you cut into it. By the way, you’ve got to see it. It’s beautiful.
Jacquie Chakirelis: It’s amazing.
Joe Pulizzi : When you go there you look and say, “Wow, that’s unbelievable. That’s impossible.” That was her content tilt, by the way. It was all about the impossible recipes that people just wanted her to share and go through. Now she’s super successful. She’s a speaker, she’s writing books, she’s monetizing that platform all different ways because she has, I think, over two million subscribers now. She was super happy when she got her 100th subscriber, Jacquie. She was super excited, she was like, “Oh my god.” Well, she just started to deliver over time. It’s not a thing that went from 100 to two million over night. It’s just every day she would get more subscribers and more, all the way up to two million. She built that audience and got that done.
Anybody can do that. I mean, Ann Reardon is a special individual. Joe Pulizzi is a special individual. We’re all special in our own way, but this is not rocket science. You don’t have to be a NASA scientist to do this. You actually can just follow the process and just find that one area, latch onto it, that you actually have something original to talk about and then you just drive that consistently. Now, today, because there are no barriers to entry in this business because of smartphone proliferation and social media, we can actually build that audience. The thing we have to do is break through. We break through all the clutter, and we can do that by focusing on something we can actually be the expert in, we have an opportunity like Ann Reardon did.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Really important, and you don’t need fancy equipment. You don’t even need a fancy website. I think of one of my favorite ones is Simple Green smoothies. Are you familiar with them, Joe?
Joe Pulizzi : Oh, yes. Absolutely. That’s a great one.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Yeah, Jadah and Jen, they’re the co-founders. They tried blogging at first, but were struggling with it. Then just really decided to focus on a specific idea and sharing that idea on Instagram. But again, the key was bringing people back to a simple website to get them to subscribe, whether it was for a three-day smoothie recipe or launching for weight loss. Whatever that was. It wasn’t complicated. It was very visual and that micro blogging that led to subscribers led to a six figure business from courses, books, and partnerships that they first started by building that audience on Instagram, ana again turning them into email subscribers. The important part is everyone could build an audience. Start there.
Joe Pulizzi : You hit it. That’s it. Then you just have to be patient. Just have to build in the patience and the expectations up front because people think … You’ll look at your stats … Basically don’t look at any of your stats for the first six months. Just don’t. Just start building a platform. Get good at this. You don’t get like … I’m still working on my writing. I’ve been writing for 10 years now. I mean, nobody’s a perfect writer, but the first six months were a little bit rough. I mean, I don’t even want to go back to some of those things because it was just, I don’t think they were that good. You start to work out the bugs the first few months so that you actually become more professional at your craft.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Yeah, I feel you. I wrote a blog post about it called, The Ugly One. You just got to get the ugly ones out of the way.
Joe Pulizzi : That’s exactly right. Yeah.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Before we get into the lightning round with you, Joe, this program is dedicated to helping listeners break through barriers that are really holding them back from taking action. You mentioned a couple, but can you recall a specific moment in your career, your business, or life, that you really needed to take a leap of faith, and how did you do it?
Joe Pulizzi : I mean, shoot, how much time do you have? A leap of faith! I mean, yeah. It was actually the first step because I had a six figure paying job, good benefits at Penton. I was VP of custom media at the time. Everyone that I was talking to about launching this business said, “You’re crazy. Don’t do it.” Whatever. But, I made a deal with my wife at the time that … I was talking about it for years. She was like, “Either stop talking about it or do something.” This was at the end of 2006. We actually made an agreement. I said, “By the end of March 2007 I will have left my job and started the new business.” That was my last day at Penton Media was the last day of March. I kept the promise, went through and did that. That was the leap of faith.
What I had to get through, Jacquie, is that every one of my, almost every one of my friends and family members thought I was crazy. They said, “Don’t do it. You’re nuts.” The thing is, don’t listen to anyone. Do what you need to do and make change happen. I think that’s the key. Just don’t … You can’t … Most people will think you’re crazy because that’s how amazing businesses are born. It’s always the crazy. Everything’s always crazy. Don’t be afraid to be crazy because most likely if you’re starting a business you are crazy, and that’s okay. We’re all cra- … All entrepreneurs are crazy.
Jacquie Chakirelis: They are. Yeah. Let’s be honest here, we are all crazy. Why would you go through that extra work, even when you have a side hustle and you’re up late at night and up early in the morning working on it. Why would you do it unless you were a little bit crazy?
Joe Pulizzi : That’s exactly right. You want freedom.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Yeah.
Joe Pulizzi : I mean, it’s there. I mean, I have, right now I’m in my home office. I can do whatever I want to do. It’s a lot of hard work to get there, but you get to a point where now I can pretty much do whatever I want to do and I don’t have to go into a day job which I didn’t like and I can be around all my kid’s stuff now and there’s no more excuses and I can really make this thing happen.
Jacquie Chakirelis: All right, Joe. We’re going to go into the lightning round. It’s going to be fast, but I know that you have great answers. Number one, you ready, first?
Joe Pulizzi : Let’s do it. I’m ready.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Okay. What is your favorite productivity hack that helps you get more done and stay focused on what matters?
Joe Pulizzi : I write down my goals and review them religiously. I have my goals broken down into spiritual, career, financial, physical goals and I put meaningful goals in the present tense, like I’ve already accomplished them, that actually have a way I can measure them and I review those on a consistent basis. That’s probably the one thing that I’ve done that has been my guiding light in making sure that I actually achieve those goals.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Even though you’ve achieved a lot of success, you still do that?
Joe Pulizzi : Still do it. My goals change. Yeah, I mean, I just sold Content Marketing Institute was sold in June 2016 and I have a whole new slew of goals now because I accomplished a lot of them. I’m consistently altering those goals. I can’t think of a better way to do that. Keep your eye on the ball so that you don’t get inundated with the wrong things every day.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Speaking of that and I know the answer to this, but what book have you read in the last year that you recommend to our listeners?
Joe Pulizzi : Yeah, you probably know this because we were talking about it on the podcast. I’ve totally fallen in love with this book called Tools of Titans by Tim Farriss and I’m halfway through. It’s a 671 page book and he interviews the billionaires and just really special people on their productivity hacks and what their keys to success are. It is a super valuable book and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Yeah, you’re driving your wife crazy about it, too.
Joe Pulizzi : Oh, she hates it. She’s like, “Please stop talking to me about it.” I can’t even talk to my wife anymore because I’m just like, “Did you know this? Did you know that you spend 93% of your time with your kids up until they go and graduate from high school and then the other 7% is after that?” She’s like, “Stop talking.”
Jacquie Chakirelis: If you can invite any person dead or alive to a dinner party who would that be and why?
Joe Pulizzi : To a dinner party? Oh, Jesus. I want to invite Jesus. I want to talk to Jesus and just say … I want to really understand how human Jesus was. I bet you Jesus had a great sense of humor.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Yeah, I think so, too.
Joe Pulizzi : I want to hear a joke from Jesus, is what I want.
Jacquie Chakirelis: All right. Final thought, do you have a favorite success quote and how do you apply that to your life and your mindset?
Joe Pulizzi : It’s always been the same, Jacquie. When my parents owned the restaurant, as I talked about, they had these sugar packets with quotes on the back of them from anonymous people. I always remember the one because I took it, it became the quote forever. It was, “If you’ve tried something and failed, you are vastly better off than if you have tried nothing and succeeded.” That’s kind of the way I live my life and what’s the worst thing that can happen? You’re going to fail. The difference between failure and not is just getting back up, and that’s it. I always, that’s how I look at everything. It’s like, “It sounds like a great idea. What’s the worst that could happen.” It’s always never that bad, so that’s the quote I like.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Excellent. What’s the best way our listeners can find you, or connect with you today, Joe? I’m sure they can just Google you.
Joe Pulizzi : Yeah, just Google. J-O-E P-U-L-I-Z-Z-I. JoePulizzi.com is the website, Content-Inc.com is the latest book site and then I’m @JoePulizzi on Twitter is probably the easiest way to flag me down if you need something.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Remember, we’ll put all the links from today’s show in today’s show notes on OnlinePlatformInstitute.com. I want to thank you so much, Joe, for joining us today, for spending this time with my listeners. I appreciate so much of you and so grateful for your friendship and support. I wouldn’t be where I am today if you didn’t write the Content Inc model. I owe you tons.
Joe Pulizzi : Hey, it goes both ways and I’m excited to see how your journey goes, as well.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Okay. We’ll keep in touch, okay, Joe?
Joe Pulizzi : Fantastic.
Jacquie Chakirelis: Okay, thank you.
Joe Pulizzi : Thank you.
Jacquie Chakirelis: And, thank you for listening to Platform FM. You can find show notes and transcripts from the show today at OnlinePlatformInstitute.com. While you’re there, join platform builders from around the globe by signing up for free, weekly online newsletter featuring curated info about content, community, and courage guiding you to launch and grow a profitable platform. Now, you can also download a free, personal platform blueprint to help you create an authentic and successful platform plan. If you liked what you hear today, please consider writing a review and giving us a rating on iTunes. It truly would mean the world to me. Until next time remember, every journey begins with a single step, so start yours today. We’ll see you soon.