The Importance of Niching Down, Part 2 with Sara Dunn

How I Built It
How I Built It
The Importance of Niching Down, Part 2 with Sara Dunn
/

Sponsored by:

TextExpander logo

Sara Dunn is one of my favorite people to talk to, and for good reason. She’s fun, honest, and has a lot of great insight! Today we’re following up on episode 69, where we talked about her starting to niche down. Now, 2 years and nearly 100 episodes later, she’s fully into her niche business. We talk about making some tough decisions, and how to stay motivated. I truly think this is something every freelancer and small business owner should hear! 

Show Notes

Transcript

Sara Dunn: That was when I was talking to a prospect in the wedding industry, so I had geared up enough that I was getting some consultations coming in, and I always like to ask people, “How did you hear about me?” Because I want to know how did we end up on a phone call? What’s the source of this lead? She said, “My friend Suzanne told me all about you. That you’re the expert on SEO for wedding professionals.” I didn’t know who Suzanne was.

 

Intro: Hey, everybody. Welcome to How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” It is Episode 163, and I am talking to one of my favorite people, Sara Dunn. She is one of my favorite people to talk to for good reason. She’s fun, honest, and has a lot of great insight. I’m excited because today we are doing a follow up, “Where are they now?” episode. I talked to Sara back in episode 69. That was nearly one hundred episodes and two years ago, and where we talked about her starting to niche down. She was just beginning her niching down journey. So now, again two years later, she’s fully into her niche business. We talk about how she fully made that transition, how she came out on the other side, and how she had to make some tough decisions and stay motivated. I truly think that this is something that every freelancer and small business owner should hear, and that’s why I’m having her on the show again. So let’s get to it, talking to Sara Dunn.

 

Break: This episode is brought to you by Ahrefs. Ahrefs is an all-in-one SEO toolset that solves that problem. It gives you the tools you need to rank your website in Google and get tons of search traffic. As someone who struggles with what kind of content to create or what’s ranking best in Google, or anything SEO-related, Ahrefs has been instrumental in increasing traffic to my website over the holidays. I had my best quarter for affiliate income because Ahrefs showed me my most popular pages and topics, and I was able to optimize my content and my gift guides and update them accordingly. I would have never updated one of my gift guides because I didn’t think it was that popular, and Ahrefs showed me it is my most popular page. Ahrefs makes competitive analysis easy as well. Their tools show you how your competitors are getting traffic from Google and why. You can see the pages and content that send them the most search traffic, find out exactly the key words they’re ranking for, and which backlinks are helping them rank. From there, you can replicate or improve on their strategies. Now, as I said, I don’t think I’m getting significant search traffic, so I use Ahrefs tools to help find topics worth creating pages or content for. I can easily see estimated search volumes and gauge traffic potential with their keyword explorer tool. It’s been a fantastic addition to my toolkit. Just this morning, I learned that My Everyday Carry post has been popular, and lots of people are coming, so I think it’s time to update that because it’s five years old. If you want to gain a following or just improve traffic to your website, Ahrefs is the tool for you. You can get a 7 day trial for $7 dollars over at Ahrefs.com. That’s Ahrefs.com for a seven day trial for $7 dollars. If you’re anything me, you’ll be hooked. Again, that’s Ahrefs.com for a seven day trial for $7.

 

Break: Before we get started, I want to tell you about a new– Or, newly redesigned resource I have called the Podcast Workbook. 2020 is sure to change a lot of things, including the podcast landscape. If you want to start your own podcast but you’re not sure where to start, check out my free podcast workbook at PodcastWorkbook.com. It will give you everything you need step-by-step to launch your show. With checklists and equipment and service recommendations, it’s everything you need to get started. It’s newly redesigned, so it looks a lot better, and it flows a lot better, and it answers some of the feedback and questions I got from people who have already started using it. So, go get it now. It’s the free podcast workbook I’ve put together to help you launch your podcast in 2020, and it is at PodcastWorkbook.com.

 

Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today I am so excited to have a repeat offender back, and her name is Sara Dunn. She is the founder and project lead over at 11Web/SaraDoesSEO.com. Sara, how are you?

 

Sara: I am doing great. I am so happy that the last interview was good enough to get some sort of sequel. This is fun, and I’m glad to be back.

 

Joe: Absolutely, I love talking to you. I love talking to you for a few reasons. One, you’re great. Two, you have taken what feels like a vested interest in my pen obsession.

 

Sara: Oh my gosh, I love the pens.

 

Joe: That always brings someone up four hundred notches.

 

Sara: We have to tell the listeners that every time I see you, you now bring a pen for me to use, and I get to hear all about the ink and the tip and what kind it is. I still definitely am not on the geek level with the pens, but it’s super fun to write notes about how cool Joe is in Joe’s pen.

 

Joe: Thank you. That’s part of the reason I bring it because you always write, “Joe is so cool.” I just look at those notes, and I’m like, “I feel cool now.” So, that’s great. If I remember, I made a note in my documents, but I’ll take a picture of my pen collection, and I’ll link them in the show notes for this episode over at HowIBuilt.it. But enough about me, let’s talk about you, Sara. Can you tell us–? First of all, we’re talking about niching down today, which is what we talked about last time, but today it’s going to be a bit more focused. You’re further along in your journey, so why don’t we start with who you are and what you do?

 

Sara: This is fun to be talking about this topic again, because I went back to that first episode that we did, and I listened to it last night, just because I didn’t remember what we had talked about and what we had said. So, that episode number 69 of your podcast was back from March 2018, and this was very early. I had just decided on what I was going to niche into. Let me just do the very quick version, because the very long version is in that prior episode. But I started a web agency in 2012, I did web design for five years, and then I got an itch to become a specialist in something crazy specific. I wanted to narrow it down and become known for something, but I didn’t know what that was. I started a YouTube channel, I talked a lot about that journey in the last episode, and I have landed in the last couple years now on doing search engine optimization specifically for the wedding industry. I now work every single day looking at websites for wedding planners, photographers, venues, florists, those types of businesses that serve couples getting married. I work on their websites to help them get found on Google, and at this point in my life, that is pretty much all of the work that I do. So, that’s me.

 

Joe: That’s great. I’m glad to hear that it worked out because I know that when we spoke, you weren’t sure and you were exploring, you had started a YouTube channel. I think I first heard you talk about it on the Matt Report with Matt Medeiros, a friend of the show. Definitely check that out, it’s over at HowIBuilt.it/69. If I was good at editing, I might do a little flashback music right here and cut to you, explaining a little bit more about it.

 

Sara: That’d be cool.

 

Joe: I made a note to do that too, so we’ll see how closely I pay attention to my notes. But nearly a little more than two years to the date is when this episode will come out. Your episode came out on March 6, 2018. That was my daughter’s first birthday.

 

Sara: Amazing.

 

Joe: As the listeners are first hearing this, it’s April of 2020. I’m glad to hear it’s working out. The reason I wanted to have you back on the show was because this season I’ve focused in on freelancers and small business owners and how they can grow their business, and lots of my guests– Jason Resnick, Erin Flynn, Nathan Ingram and just a whole host of people have said, “Find the thing you’re good at, niche down and focus on that. Because it makes your work more predictable, and it lets you solve a problem.” So, maybe we can talk a little bit about– From when did when do you feel like your niching down started to pay off? Because you were like, “I’m doing this. I’m not sure, and I’m taking a risk.” Two years later, we could say, “Hooray. It’s working out for you.”

 

Sara: I love this question because I want everyone that’s thinking about niching down to know that it took a long time. I’m speaking to you right now from a place where I have an email list full of people who are in my target market. I’m booked out three months in advance. But when you hear people talk like that, it’s like “I have no idea how to get from where I am to that place where you’ve niched down enough that you’re well-known in your industry and building some sort of a following.” It took a long time. As I mentioned, it took like eight months just for me to find my specialty. I wasn’t someone that fell into a certain specialization naturally. You’ll occasionally hear people that say, “I did this one project, and then I started doing a lot that were similar, and it just happened.” I think that’s wonderful. But that did not happen to me, and I very intentionally was like, “I want to be a specialist, and I don’t know what.” I tried a couple of things that didn’t work, so I tried to do Facebook ads for chiropractors, which I didn’t like. I thought about doing–

 

Joe: Was it a pain in the neck?

 

Sara: It was a pain in the neck for sure. I just didn’t like the work, and I found that out the hard way after I invested several months in creating content, learning about the market, learning about Facebook ads. This is not a quick process for someone who’s interested in it. To answer your question, “When did it feel like it started working?” I have one particular incident that I remember, and that was when I was talking to a prospect in the wedding industry, so I had geared up enough that I was getting some consultations coming in, and I always like to ask people “How did you hear about me?” Because I want to know how did we end up on a phone call? What’s the source of this lead? She said, “My friend Suzanne told me all about you. That you’re the expert on SEO for wedding professionals.” I didn’t know who Suzanne was. At that moment, I realized that people were talking about me and following my content, and I was getting referrals from people I didn’t even know, and that was a first in my business. Six years into doing business, getting referrals from actually just having a following as opposed to getting referral from a friend or someone I knew from a networking event or someone who was in my close circle, that moment I was like “This specializing thing does work. Because people are listening even if I don’t know about them.”

 

Joe: That is awesome. Very exciting to hear.

 

Sara: That was fun.

 

Joe: Because that’s a big deal. I don’t know, and sometimes I feel like people say, “It seems like you do a lot. I don’t know what you do.” And it sounds like a compliment, but it’s not. People should know exactly what I do, or at least the main thing I want to focus on. Because I do a lot of things, but I want to be known as the podcasting guy in certain circles.

 

Sara: Exactly. That makes it so much easier when people want to help you out or refer you, if they can be like, “I know this person who is a wedding planner. She needs more inquiries for her business. You should talk to Sara about search engine optimization.” It’s so much easier than when I was just generalist web design person, and it was like, “My friend Sara knows something about websites. She could probably fix your email.”

 

Joe: Or, “You’re good with computers. My printer doesn’t work.”

 

Sara: Yes.

 

Joe: I don’t charge for that. I don’t do that. That’s great, and so you’ve established yourself as an expert in this field. How did you do that? Did you–? I know you had your YouTube channel, did you go to conventions or expos, that’s what they’re called maybe? Did you go to events and stuff like that? How did you build up that network to make sure you established yourself as an expert?

 

Sara: I tried all sorts of things. And again, not fast, not easy. The first thing that I did, and this is what I would recommend anyone to do if they’re thinking of exploring a niche, is not put up a website and come up with a separate brand name, start all the social handles. No, it’s talking to people in that industry and seeing if you can do work for them. That’s how I got started. I did some free work for a wedding planner who needed help with her SEO, and I know people are down on free work in a lot of cases, but you can’t say that you are a repeatable expert at anything if you’ve only done it one time or if you don’t have a case study you can share. So in some way, you have to get yourself out there. For me, I just had a good feeling about the person that I offered to help out. She was well-connected, she really needed help and appreciated it very much, and when we got good results for her– She had a website disaster where she fell off Google, and we got her back to the first page. She wanted to talk about it, so that’s where some of those first leads came from. Once I did a good job for her, she was very excited to refer me on to other people in the industry that she knew. That was a really good way for me to do more work and get started and make sure that I liked the work. As I said, I did some projects that I didn’t like in different niches. It was important for me to be like, “Could I see myself doing the same thing with the same type of person over and over again?” And the wedding industry, I said, “Yes. Absolutely.”

 

Joe: That’s great. That free work was an investment. An investment in– Imagine having a marketing budget, but you learned the skill, and then you found somebody who was willing to be your first big fan of that work.

 

Sara: Yes, and I was able to say, “If I do this for you for free, can you give me really honest feedback throughout the process about how you feel it’s going?” When you’re charging someone a premium price, it’s hard for you to be like, “I’m doing you a favor, you do me a favor.” Even if you’re giving someone a discount on a service, they still feel like they’re paying for it, so they have pretty high expectations of what you’re going to deliver. But if you’re like, “I want to test out this market. I think you’re an expert at your market, and I’d like to work for you and learn a little bit more.” They will probably be flattered that you see them in that way, like “You’re an expert at what you do, and I’d love to work for you.” Also, that opens the door for them to tell you exactly what they think. So, “This is too slow. I don’t understand what’s going on right now. The results are taking a while, is this normal?” That’s really good feedback to have when you’re getting started in a niche, even if you feel like you’re an expert at the service you’re performing, just to have at least one experience where you can get a really deep conversation with someone about how you’re doing the work and how it would apply to others.

 

Joe: I think that’s great advice. I took a slightly different route with my podcasting service, which by the way, back to your point about it taking a long time and letting people know. I’ve had conversations this week with people where I’m like, “I have this done for you podcasting service–” And they’re like, “I didn’t know you had that. But now that I know you have that, I can refer people to you.”

 

Sara: Yes.

 

Joe: Again, it’s not like I built a page and assumed people would come. But you got to put yourself out there, but going through the process, I think, is important. And more than once, like you said. Because you do have these fake experts online who are like, “I did this thing once, and now I’m going to make an online course about it.”

 

Sara: Yes.

 

Joe: So, you did it that one time. Who knows how it’s going to go the next time? I think it’s important to try out a few things, make sure what you’re doing is repeatable. Brian Castle is going to talk about that on the show. Productized services and making sure things are repeatable, but you started out, and you did some work for somebody in the industry. You asked for real and honest feedback, so before we get deeper into that and how you fully made– It sounds like you’ve made the full switch into being in this niche.

 

Sara: I have.

 

Joe: That’s amazing.

 

Sara: That’s scary.

 

Joe: Yeah, and that’s wild. I do want to ask you a couple of questions about that, but how did you know the other niches you chose were not for you? You mentioned Facebook ads for chiropractors, and you just didn’t like that. Was it basically that? You were just like, “I’m not enjoying this, and I can’t see myself doing it?” Or were there some–? Was there something you  

liked, but you knew it wasn’t the right niche for you?

 

Sara: I think there’s two things. When you’re testing out a niche, you have to like the work, and you have to like the people. You don’t necessarily have to niche as narrowly as I have, which is sometimes considered a vertical and horizontal specialization, as in I’m specializing in one service for one industry. But you have to like what it is enough to want to do it every single day, so for me, I ran into fit issues in both directions. I didn’t like Facebook ads, and I found out I didn’t love working with chiropractors, so that was a problem on two different levels. Also, I found out I liked working with the wedding market, and I didn’t like doing web design for them. So I started out, I was going to do SEO and SEO optimized websites for the wedding industry, but working with a creative person who pretty much knows what they want their website to look like and just wants you to execute it. Was not the kind of work I wanted to do. So after doing one of those, I had to throw out that idea too and just continue to follow those things that I enjoyed and that were working and resonating with the audience. It’s always a little bit of tweaking to figure out what that right service is. At some level, you can think in your head, “Would I like this?” Even before you do it. But sometimes, you might have to go out and try it and get a couple projects and see for yourself if you like it or not. I think that it’s a problem when someone tries too hard to figure out everything about a niche without getting into the work and doing it. Again, that’s why I recommend free work. I recommend talking to people in the industry because I’ve had a lot of conversations now with people that are interested in niching down, and they’re like, “What’s my first step? Do I need to put up a page on my website about it?” And I’m like, “No. Just go do the work and see if you even like it. Stop agonizing over all of the different factors that go into it and just go do the work for someone who’s a real person and see how it turns out. Then you can think about marketing yourself for that service later.”

 

Joe: From a practical standpoint, how are you going to make a landing page for that service if you don’t know what the problem you’re solving is?

 

Sara: Yes.

 

Joe: Again, with podcasting, I thought the problem was launching the website, but it was everything else.

 

Sara: It’s doing everything.

 

Joe: Yeah, it’s doing everything. I didn’t know I had to do all that stuff. I think just to mirror your story a little bit where you looked and saw what you like, and I was starting to have conversations with people– This happened especially at CaboPress. I was going through the things I did, and I was like, “If I could pick one thing to do all day, it would be podcast.” A lot of people at CaboPress were like, “Do it for other people. I would buy that. I’ve tried to start a podcast, and it was a problem.” I had those conversations, and a month later, I landed my first client. So having conversations about, again, what you like to do and then actually doing the work. I knew I liked doing the work because I’ve been podcasting for seven years or so now. It’s really important, but understanding the problem that you’re solving is also incredibly important.

 

Sara: Yes. Some people even recommend if you know you want to serve a certain audience, you can even approach that without knowing how you want to serve them or what service you want to offer. If your spouse works in a certain industry and you want to be involved in marketing for that industry in some way, get in deep and figure out what their problems are and then identify how you could help with those. That’s definitely an option, too. A better option than just being like “I think chiropractors need Facebook ads.”

 

Joe: But that exploration, I think was obviously– It totally worked out for you. I think it’s an important lesson for people who are listening too, and you don’t have to commit forever to a niche. A niche is not like marriage. If it’s not working out, you can ditch the niche.

 

Sara: Totally. Or broaden it, or pivot it again. Keep offering what you’re doing and add something on. It’s definitely an iterative process, not like that marriage commitment where you’re like, “I’m into this for a lifetime.”

 

Break: Today’s episode is brought to you by Smile and their product TextExpander. Save time typing and boost your productivity with TextExpander. You know I’m all about automation, and TextExpander is a great way to get started with automation. It allows you to create your own snippets for repetitive text that you tend to use everywhere. Add the text, create a snippet, and boom. Save precious time and keystrokes. One of my favorite snippets is for my address. Instead of typing out my full address and risking typos, I simply type “$ADDR” and TextExpander does the rest filling in my full address for me. I also have snippets for my street, my city, and my zip code. But that’s not all TextExpander does, with its advance snippets you can create fill-ins, pop up fields, and more. You can even use JavaScript or Apple script. Another one of my favorite and most used snippets is when I type “PPT.” That will take whatever text I have on my clipboard and convert it to plain text, so I’m no longer fighting formatting when I copy from a word document, a Google doc, or a plain HTML page like a website. I also use it for common links, email messages, which I can completely customize with fill-ins and drop-down menus, and even date calculations. I’m currently writing a book, and TextExpander has been instrumental with that. TextExpander is available on Mac OS, Windows, Chrome, iPhone, and iPad. So, pretty much anywhere you do computing. If you’ve been curious about trying TextExpander or automation in general, now’s the time. As a listener, you can get 20% off your first year, just visit TextExpander.com/podcast and let them know How I Built It sent you. That’s TextExpander.com/podcast for 20% off your first year. And now, back to the show.

 

Joe: So, you found your niche. Out of curiosity, do a lot of people in the wedding industry use a specific platform for their websites?

 

Sara: Most of the websites I work on are in Show It, Squarespace or WordPress.

 

Joe: Nice. I’ve never heard of Show It, so I’m definitely going to check that out. Does it look good?

 

Sara: It’s OK. It builds the blog on WordPress, and then the pages are built on a flexible platform, so it was made for photographers who wanted a open canvas to work with

 

Joe: Makes sense. “Show It,” pictures, got it. Cool. I was very curious about that because I’ve also heard Squarespace and Shopify, though that’s unrelated, are not good at SEO. But I feel like most sites are if you’re starting at neutral, not great.

 

Sara: Squarespace and I had some issues when I first got started working with it. I wrote a whole blog post about Squarespace SEO issues they needed to fix, and I’m not going to take credit, but they have fixed a lot of those issues at this point. I think that they are doing a good job at listening to feedback. There are still some issues with it because it’s a closed platform, but it’s definitely better

 

Joe: Gotcha. #Influencer. Very cool, awesome. So you have your niche now, you are horizontally an SEO person, and vertically, you’re in the wedding space. Is that how it works out? For people who are wondering?

 

Sara: Yes, exactly.

 

Joe: Transitioning from just generalist web designer to SEO extraordinaire, wedding SEO extraordinaire. Was it hard to say no to those general web design inquiries?

 

Sara: Incredibly hard. Absolutely. It was something that I did slowly, so it’s only maybe in the last six months or 18 months in to declaring my specialty that I’m like, “I’d no longer take on new website clients.” For a while, I was still open to new website work that came in through my agency website. If it sounded interesting, I kept doing it. Then I realized that doing that work, even though it was higher dollar, it was what I was used to was taking away from the progress that I could be making in my specialized business. So taking away from my marketing time, taking away from me serving clients in my niche that would be more repeatable type of work that I could learn from, and so I said “I need to stop doing this as tempting as it is.” So my agency still does support our prior website clients who are on maintenance and support packages, and I think that’s great. But all of our new work is specifically in SEO for the wedding industry. At this point, it feels empowering because it’s a really easy way for me to turn down inquiries I don’t want. “I’m no longer taking on new website work. This is all that I’m doing now. I’m happy to refer you to someone else.” It started to feel good instead of giving me a scared pit in the feeling of my stomach.

 

Joe: Yeah, we Italians call that agita. But that is great, saying no can be super empowering. Even over the last few months, I’ve said no to work, and my mastermind group was impressed that I said that. But I’m trying to make things work, and I have had the privilege, at least at that point, to be able to say no. I still do, I’m making it sound like in three months I’m bankrupt. But in a previous episode, I spoke to Erin Flynn, and she said, “If you’re starting out, you might not be able to say no. Saying no is a privilege.” But you did it over time, and then you realized it’s costing me more to say yes than it is to say no.

 

Sara: It is. Thankfully, I had built up some recurring revenue type of work with prior clients, so I use that as more of the base that I was able to pivot from. I think it would have been a really hard shift to shift so far from general web design for insurance agents and dentists into SEO for the wedding industry, but I had a base of some recurring things. I didn’t have to go out and sell website work in order to pay the bills, and I had some clients that helped to support the baseline expenses I had so that the new work could be focused on SEO. That is something that I would recommend for someone that wants to make a big business shift, is find some way so that you’re not in a famine cycle when you’re trying to invest in something new. Because at some points in this pivot, I have felt like I started a new business even though I’ve done marketing, and I’d done marketing for five years prior. I was starting at zero. Social media accounts at zero, audience recognition at zero, and I had to build all of that back up. I also had to build up pricing, so as you often do when you’re starting something new, I priced it too low, and people were willing to pay more, but I didn’t feel confident enough to charge more. I felt lie that pricing discussion internally with myself was back to where I was when I first started my web agency, so it does sometimes feel like starting a new business. But if you can give yourself a basis of revenue in some way that makes you feel more comfortable, that can help a lot in a pivot.

 

Joe: I think that’s great advice, and definitely something that resonated with me. Because I pivoted from web design, web developer. People mostly knew me from my coding tutorials and my coding books to site builder and now general freelancers. Those are the courses that I’ve been making, and those are the ones that I’m selling. I felt like I also relearned a lot of lessons that I spent 10 years plus learning from freelancing. Maybe there is some takeaway here too, remember to bring those lessons along with you. Just because it’s different work doesn’t mean that people are different. People are basically the same, and lessons can be transferred.

 

Sara: Bring some confidence into your pivot. It’s hard to do, though, when you feel like you’re starting something new and risky to trust yourself about it.

 

Joe: Absolutely. Because again, you’re not sure if it’s going to work. That little demon on your shoulder is saying, “Is it going to work? I don’t think you can charge that much yet.”

 

Sara: “It’s not going to work. You went too narrow. That was stupid. You should’ve kept doing what was paying your bills for five years.” There are so many brain games that get played when you look at the market of services you can offer and go, “I’m only going to offer services to this tiny sliver of the universe.” And mentally, it doesn’t make sense a lot of the times. But I promise, if it’s the right niche, it does make sense.

 

Joe: Absolutely. It’s like going to a steak joint for a good steak versus going to, I don’t know, Wal-Mart and then finding a good steak. I feel like that analogy is falling down, but you go to a steak joint for a good steak, and those are the people who know how to make them good.

 

Sara: Yes. There are other restaurants that have menus that are 30 pages long, and you can’t figure out what to order, and you’re going to guess that nothing on that menu is very good.

 

Joe: So you’re going to go with something that they probably can’t mess up, like a burger. Exactly. All right, good. That analogy worked out.

 

Sara: It does.

 

Joe: You mentioned your web design agency was not just you, you had some employees, right?

 

Sara: I had three regular contractors. No actual employees, but people that I worked with on a regular basis.

 

Joe: Did you bring them along with you for the niching down?

 

Sara: I’m so glad you asked that because one of the biggest and hardest decisions I had to make was cutting some people. I had a designer that was on a regular monthly retainer, and as we started doing less web design work and less design work for existing clients, I had to eventually let her go. It was hard for me emotionally, because I had tied a lot of my business success to the number of people who worked on my team. When people would ask me, “How’s your business doing? How many people work with you now?” I could be like, “There’s four of us now.” So for me, for whatever reason, I was like, “I feel successful when I’m adding people to my team.” To have to let someone go and say, “I need to focus on bottom line profit, and this person isn’t needed anymore to execute the work that we’re doing.” I’m down to mostly just working with a virtual assistant and a coworker who does client support, and we’re just as profitable as we were before with fewer people. The other thing I had to let go of is top line revenue. We used to do bigger projects, bring in more money, but also had a lot more expenses to get that work done between designers, developers, and other specialists. Now revenue is a bit lower, but so are expenses. Profitability is very similar. That has been another mind shift for me to just work through fewer people, less top line revenue, still just as much success.

 

Joe: That is great to hear. I always find it questionable, and people are like, “We made $100 million dollars in revenue last year.” All right, what were your expenses? Because if it was $100 million and one, then you are not running a good company, and you’re not running a successful business.

 

Sara: Or all the influencers online who talk about having a six figure business or a seven figure business, they’re just talking about top line revenue, and you don’t know how profitable that is. What if they’re not paying themself at all?

 

Joe: Exactly.

 

Sara: It’s not very impressive.

 

Joe: Exactly. The way I run my businesses, I pay me first. There’s a great book, Profit First, and I’ll link to it in the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it. But I pay me first and taxes, and then my business gets paid. If, after I pay myself and taxes, if I don’t have enough to go on that $10,000 dollar conference trip in the Bahamas or whatever, I can’t do it. Because I’m taking care of my family first.

 

Sara: It’s really important. I read that book last year, and I also read Company of One by Paul Jarvis, which was my transformational book for 2019. Just the concepts of it and a lot of the ways he challenges growth. That was one of the reasons that I felt comfortable and empowered to let a person go. I didn’t personally like the work of managing someone on a regular basis, so Paul Jarvis says, “Can you figure out automation or some other way to get those tasks done where you don’t have to manage another person?” And I was like, “I probably can. I’d love to do that.” So that was a very empowering for me, reading Company of One, and just thinking about the way that I thought about growth in the past.

 

Joe: That’s fantastic. I’m going to echo those sentiments, because I had always been at a “I don’t know if I want to grow, I don’t know if I want employees, it seems like a pain in the neck.” But I thought I was crazy for thinking that, and then reading Company of One, I’m like, “Paul Jarvis is from the outside, at least, he seems very successful.”

 

Sara: Yes.

 

Joe: His book is killing it, and I think he publishes his numbers or some semblance– Maybe he doesn’t publish his numbers, but he gives you a pretty good idea of how he’s doing. I feel like in one of his e-mails at the beginning of the year, and I’m like “Great. He’s a company of one, and I’m a company of one.” I do have a couple of contractors to do things that I can’t, or I would rather not do, like transcripts and editing. I have an editor. He does great work but supplemented by automation. Once you send me your audio, it’s going to go in a Dropbox folder. He’s going to get it, and then I never have to touch it again.

 

Sara: Amazing.

 

Joe: I think I’ve published that flow already over on my blog or on YouTube, but automation is super key. I know that’s not exactly what we’re talking about, but it helps.

 

Sara: It does help. Maybe it is related because you can do a lot more automation when you’re doing repeatable work over and over again. I’ve definitely been able to automate more of my business, or at least have a procedure for a lot more things that someone else is able to follow because I only offer two packages anymore. I never do a custom proposal, so I’m doing the same type of work over and over again and doing very minimal work on the sales side.

 

Joe: That’s amazing because a proposal is so time consuming.

 

Sara: They suck.

 

Joe: You do 10 proposals, and maybe one hits.

 

Sara: Yes.

 

Joe: The rest of that time, maybe 20 hours, is wasted.

 

Sara: Yes.

 

Joe: The fact that you already have a– I assume you have just a templated proposal or whatever, or just a list of services that you send out?

 

Sara: It’s a welcome and pricing guide, and people don’t even have to talk to me to get it. They go to my website, opt in, anyone listening to this podcast can opt in to see how it works. But it immediately sends them the welcome and pricing guide, which answers common questions and gives them pricing, and it enrolls them on my email list. If maybe they’re not a good fit for a one on one services right now, I’ll still email them every week on my email newsletter, and we’ll stay in touch. It’s been a huge, great thing for email list building, just having an automation that sends my prices out. It’s kept me off a lot of those consults that I had when I first started where people were just getting on the phone with me to ask what the pricing was, and they weren’t well-qualified. The conversations I have now, people have looked at the welcome and pricing guide. They’ve weeded themselves out based on frequently asked questions, and it’s generally “Do you think this is a good fit for me? Which package should I choose, and when can we start?”

 

Joe: Awesome. Again, I know I’ve mentioned Erin a couple of times, but she said the same thing in her episode. I feel like I know I am doing the right thing with this season because a lot of really great advice keeps coming up. I’ll be sure to link to her episode in the show notes as well.

 

Sara: Awesome.

 

Joe: We are coming up on time. This has been such a fantastic conversation, as I knew it would be, but maybe as we wrap up, can you give the listeners two or three tips for niching down? If they’re like, “This all sounds great. How do I do that?”

 

Sara: Definitely, my number one trade secret for niching down is to lower your own perceived risk as much as you can. It’s scary to think about going after a certain niche, so how can you make yourself feel better about it? Number one, don’t go and say, “I’m going to change my entire website to this new positioning and get rid of all the past clients I’ve had.” Take really small baby steps. Instead of doing the risky thing, which is taking over your whole brand and website, shutting it down and changing your business name, just go do a little work for somebody and see if you like it and work in those small baby steps rather than in grand gestures. I know we all like making some big announcement on social media and getting a lot of attention, but the secret to niching down is to do it slowly and make sure that what you’re doing will work and that you enjoy it.

 

Joe: That’s great advice. It reminds me of a lot of advice that came up in the first season of this show about Olympic athletes. You’re not just going to go be in the Olympics on the first day you decide you want to run a marathon. You’re going to train for a long time. It’s a long process. Eventually, maybe you’ll get to the Olympics. That’s great, really great advice. I love it. You said that is maybe your trade secret, so if I ask you, “Do you have any trade secrets for us?” Have you already given it to us?

 

Sara: Yes, I would say, definitely. Just moving in small baby steps for niching down.

 

Joe: Awesome.

 

Sara: There isn’t necessarily a certain process I can recommend for it, I wish I had found one that was like “Look at this place for ideas and use this matrix for decision making,” but it’s very much a personal and a gut decision. I hope everyone is able to find some work that they enjoy and just find a way to do more of it.

 

Joe: That’s great. This is an art, not a science. Love it. Sara Dunn, always a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for coming on the show. Where can people find you?

 

Sara: If you’d like to learn more about specializing, I do have a website at Sara-Dunn.com, where I’ve got lots of blog posts and YouTube videos about what I did to specialize. If you just want to connect, my Twitter is @Sara11D. If you want to take a peek at my SEO services for the wedding industry, that’s over at SaraDoesSEO.com.

 

Joe: Fantastic. I will link to all of those things and everything we talked about over at HowIBuilt.it. Sara, thanks so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

 

Sara: Thanks, Joe. This has always been great.

 

Outro: Thanks so much to Sara for joining us today. Like I said, I hope you heard why she is one of my favorite people to talk to. For one, she indulges in my pen addiction, which is fantastic. I will link to that in the show notes. You can find all of the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it/163. But I like a lot of what she said, especially the incident about how she didn’t know this person who described her as an expert. That’s how she knew that she made it. She talks about how there’s no quick process, and the time it took to find her specialty. I liked everything that she said in this episode, and I hope that you got a lot of good advice out of it, so thanks again to Sara for joining us. Thanks to our sponsors as well, Ahrefs and TextExpander. They help expand my business by making me more efficient and by finding the right content to write or put out on my various content channels. Again for all the show notes, you can go over to HowIBuilt.it/163. If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the show. It helps people discover the show, and I think that all of the guests I’ve had so far this year have been great in helping people grow their business. If you think so too, be sure to subscribe and rate and review. If you are interested in starting your own podcast, like I talked about at the top of the show, head over to PodcastWorkbook.com to get your free podcast workbook. That is all the requests I have for you on this fine day. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, get out there and build something.

 

Free Email Course!

5 Fast Fixes to Grow Your Podcast.
Wondering why your podcast growth is stagnating (or non-existent)? You likely just need to make a few small tweaks to see growth. In this free email course, we’ll go over what they are, why they work, and how you can implement them. Sign up below to have it delivered instantly.

    Similar Posts

    One Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *