How Niche Content can get You More Sponsors with Alexis Grant
How good is creating niche content? How about understanding the purpose of your content and focusing on providing value? Alexis Grant, founder, and CEO of They Got Acquired, understand the importance of both of these things. She has launched not one, not two, but 3 content businesses — successfully selling her previous ones. Today she’s here to share her insight on why she started They Got Acquired, doing research to produce good content, and how sponsorship is playing a bigger role than she expected.
- They Got Acquired has a very specific niche in mind: businesses that have sold for between $100,000 and $50M. All of their content is focused on telling those stories and helping similarly positioned businesses.
- They are using their podcast of the same name to build trust and grow their audience. Allowing people to hear them forges a better connection and gives the business more identity
- Sponsorship has played a bigger than expected role! They are increasing the output of their newsletter and will monetize their podcast for season 2. Lexi’s advice: ask for too much at first. You can always come down if they say no.
Joe Casabona: How good is creating niche content? How about understanding the purpose of your content and focusing on providing value? Lexi Grant, founder, and CEO of They Got Acquired, understand the importance of both these things. She has launched not one, not two, but three content businesses successfully selling her previous ones.
Today, she’s here to share her insight on why she started They Got Acquired, doing research to produce good content, and how sponsorship is playing a bigger role in their monetization process than expected. In Build Something More, we’ll talk all about being a parent and going through an acquisition while pregnant, as well as the fact that she and her partner are self-employed with two kids. So we will get to all of this and more.
You can find everything that we talk about over at howibuilt.it/264. Today’s sponsors are Tailor Brands, TextExpander, and Nexcess. So without further ado, let’s get into the intro, and then the interview.
Joe Casabona: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast that helps small business owners create engaging content that drives sales. Each week I talk about how you can build good content faster to increase revenue, and establish yourself as an authority. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.
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[00:02:38] <podcast begins>
Joe Casabona: Hey everybody, I am here with Alexis Grant or Lexi Grant, we were talking about that in the pre-show. She is the CEO and founder of They Got Acquired. I’m really excited to talk to Lexi today because we’re gonna be talking about content, which she is very familiar with.
This is kind of a weird, funny, I don’t want to sequel. It’s not a spin-off. It’s just an update because a while back I had her husband, Ben Collins, on the show. So it’ll be fun to catch up. But that’s enough of me talking. Let’s bring in Lexi. Lexi, how are you today?
Alexis Grant: I’m good. Thanks. I’m excited to chat.
Joe Casabona: Likewise. I’m really glad. So Lexi reached out with a really good pitch. This is like a drum I’ve been beating lately is that most pitches are bad. And so good pitches are like gold to me. So thanks for being a listener.
Alexis Grant: I can’t remember if I pitched you. I thought someone tagged me on Twitter or something. It must be. But maybe then I pitched you. I don’t have an active pitch campaign. So somehow we connected.
Joe Casabona: Ben Meredith might have-
Alexis Grant: Oh, yeah. He used to work for me like 10 years ago.
Joe Casabona: Oh, really?
Alexis Grant: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: That’s so funny. I know him from the WordPress space now. You know what? Ben, also a previous guest on the show, I think he tagged both of us on Twitter. I’m always like suspect of that because now I’m like, it’s like a public commitment to at least respond. And then you responded in pitch and I was like, “Well, this is perfect.” So really excited to have you on the show today.
Just to kind of set the stage, I don’t like to tell people to stop listening to this episode to go listen to something else and come back. But Lexi’s podcast They Got Acquired is really good. And the latest episode of that, as we record this is kind of her backstory. I listened to that and that’s going to inform some of the things that we talk about here. So I will link that in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/264.
But let’s start here. You have owned or we’re at the helm for four kind of media or content companies. Is that right?
Alexis Grant: Mm-hmm. Yes, that’s true. This is my fourth.
Joe Casabona: So this is your fourth. And then The Penny Hoarder kind of like Aqua hired you. Is that right?
Alexis Grant: Mm-hmm. You got it, yeah.
Joe Casabona: And then you had The Write Life and… I think I’m missing one.
Alexis Grant: My first content company was a small content agency. We ran blogs for businesses.
Joe Casabona: Nice.
Alexis Grant: So yeah, I went from the content agency. And while I had the content agency, we launched The Write Life. And then I went in-house at The Penny Hoarder, and now subsequently working on They Got Acquired.
Joe Casabona: Nice. Nice. You’ve kind of always been in the content field, right? You did journalism?
Alexis Grant: Mm-hmm.
Joe Casabona: Cool.
Alexis Grant: Yeah, I started my career as a reporter.
Joe Casabona: What made you interested in starting your own business and then similarly acquisition specifically?
Alexis Grant: I started my own business, you know, originally I fell into it, like many of us do, when I was looking for a job. I had left my job at the Houston Chronicle to go traveling for a while. And when I got back to the US, I was looking for a job and started doing some content marketing work for different companies as a way to hold myself over till I found that full-time job.
So it was really just like a way to keep myself busy and make some money while I was looking for a full-time job. But then I ended up realizing that I really enjoyed it and I liked being my own boss. That’s how I got stuck into it.
Joe Casabona: It’s really funny when you kind of… I don’t know how people figure that out, right? I fell into it in my teens when I was making my own websites for people and I was like, “It’s nice kind of being my own boss.” And I feel like that… I’m not gonna say tarnished any full-time employment I had because I was always a good, I feel, a dedicated full-time employee. But I always felt like I had at least like half a foot out the door. I’m like, “This is great. But I definitely still want to do my own thing.”
And then acquisition specifically, you’ve had a couple of successful acquisitions. So is that the thing that kind of made you interested in launching They Got Acquired?
Alexis Grant: Yeah, it really came out of my own pain points. I knew I wanted to do another media company. And when I was thinking about what topic we might cover, I was thinking about my own experience selling content companies and all the things that I didn’t know and had to learn it and didn’t know where to find the right people to help me, didn’t know where to find the right resources. And those are the pain points really that led to me starting They Got Acquired.
Joe Casabona: Nice. It’s a little bit of a black box, acquisitions, right? Because, first of all, there’s probably some privacy around the details of an acquisition, right?
Alexis Grant: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Joe Casabona: Unless you’re a publicly-traded company, you’re probably not going to disclose. And even if you are, I guess you’re probably not going to disclose exactly how much you paid and what the owner got and the exact deals of that.
And then from a negotiation standpoint, I would have no idea how to negotiate. If somebody came to me and they’re like, “Joe, we want to buy How I Built It,” I’d be like, “Cool. I don’t know, how much is it worth to you? That sounds good.”
Alexis Grant: That’s the position a lot of first-time sellers are in because if you’ve been focusing on building your business and then an opportunity comes up, you’re not really ready for that. So there’s a huge learning curve. And you want to learn a lot because you want to sell it for as much as you can. So I think that’s the point when a lot of people will go looking for resources when they realize they need it.
And for second or third-time entrepreneurs, that’s more top of mind from the beginning. But I think there’s still a lot of advice that we can provide in those situations as well.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny, you mentioned that because I’ve had a few guests on the show in the past kind of talking about acquisitions. A previous guest, gosh, I think it was one of the Sprout founders, mentioned like keeping separate books for each of your projects sort of thing if you want to spin them off.
All of my books kind of go under my LLC. So if I did want to sell this podcast and somebody wants to buy it, the due diligence would be extremely painful because then I’d have to go through and separate out all the money I specifically made from sponsorships and other affiliate income and memberships which are now kind of tied to my online courses. It would be a very painful process, the due diligence part, at least.
Alexis Grant: You nailed it. That’s one just really good piece of advice. The cool thing about preparing your business for a sale is a lot of the things that you might want to do would be good to do anyways even if you weren’t going to sell your business. I know a lot of us have lots of projects. I have a lot of side projects, or I have traditionally as well. And I think it makes sense to keep the books separate, not only to prepare for a sale, but because then you can have a really good visibility into what’s bringing in you money and what you’re spending your money on.
Because I made this mistake before myself when I had a lot of projects where I made assumptions about what I thought was costing me money. And when I really got into the weeds, I’m like, “Oh, that’s actually not right. Maybe I’ll make different business decisions because I have increased visibility.”
Joe Casabona: That’s a great point. I mean, with the bigger projects, it’s probably obvious the thing that are… Like the thing makes you the most money you probably know. But if you do have a lot of smaller properties, I have two other podcasts, are they a money pit? Are they a time suck? Are they worth doing? My membership, is that worth doing? Members, yes, it is worth doing for me. So don’t worry. But you do. You want to make sure that you’re running your business efficiently and understanding the kind of profit and loss of each income stream that is helpful for that.
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Joe Casabona: Before we kind of get into the content creation bit, tell us a little bit about They Got Acquired. Because I like the mission of it, especially because… I mean, I don’t know how closely you follow the WordPress space, but there’s been a lot of acquisitions there lately. And I feel like that’s very new to people in the WordPress space. So what’s the mission of They Got Acquired?
Alexis Grant: Yeah, we’re actually working on covering some of those. So keep an eye out for when those go live.
Joe Casabona: Nice.
Alexis Grant: Our mission is to showcase founders who are selling online businesses between… well, we say for less than $50 million. Our threshold start at $100,000. So they’re deals between $100,000 and 50 million. While 50 million sounds like a lot too many of us, in the business world it’s actually considered quite small.
If you follow traditional mainstream publications or tech publications, they will cover the huge acquisitions, the ones we all hear about, but no one was covering the much smaller ones. For me, as someone who has sold a business in that range myself, I want to see other examples of people who are doing that. And I think that the advice I can hear from those types of entrepreneurs is more relevant to my building of a business. And so covering founders who are selling their companies for six, seven, and low eight figures, you can look into this world a little bit differently than… It’s a different look I think than some of the bigger companies.
One of the driving factors there too is most but not all of the companies we cover are bootstrapped. So some of them do have minimal funding. But since our threshold is $50 million, you know, most investors are not gonna invest in a company that would sell for less than $50 million. So a lot of the companies that we cover are bootstrapped or they’ve only raised from angels.
Joe Casabona: Which is, I think, a kind of an important distinction, right? Because if you are taking investor money like VC money, then it’s kind of assumed that you’re either going to sell or go public. That’s your investors.
Alexis Grant: Yeah. It’s a very different way to grow a company. Personally, I love the route of bootstrapping. That’s all of the companies I’ve worked on have been bootstrapped. I worked at The Penny Hoarder. That was a fast-growth media company. But even so that company was bootstrapped. So that’s really in my ethos. I never say never. I never say I would never take funding. But personally I like the lifestyle of having a lot of autonomy and growing on my own terms. And I think a lot of people appreciate that. And they’re not showcased enough that type of business building.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, especially in the tech space, the idea that you have to put together your pitch deck and get VC funding and hire and acquire users as fast as possible, but that’s… We were talking about this in the pre-show. I’ve got three kids. The reason I started a business was I want to spend time with them when I can. I don’t want to be beholden to investors who gave me a ton of money on the expectation that they’re going to make a ton of money.
Alexis Grant: A lot of people when they want to explain this concept, they say, “Oh, so you’re building a lifestyle business.” And that to me is almost taking on a totally different meaning now, because I don’t want to work a four-hour workweek. I’m not like sitting on the beach most of the time. I work really hard. But I work 30 hours a week, not 100 hours a week. And I want to make choices that I think will lead us to profitability and sustainability. Not just for the company, but also for me in my own life. Those are important values to me. I feel like that’s the kind of story. I want to seek other examples of people who are living those values.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Again, that’s super relatable to me. I don’t think that anybody listening to this is going to think they’re going to be the next Activision or whatever. Maybe Activision is not a great example because of all the bad press or the bad things. But I’m not expecting anybody to buy me for $70 billion, right? Or even Marvel at whatever. It was some insanely small amount of money now based off what they’ve done for Disney.
Again, just to pull some examples from the WordPress space, LearnDash was a bootstrapped plugin, LMS plugin that launched for WordPress that sold. And now the founder, Justin, I consider him a friend, he’s off doing a bunch of other things outside the WordPress space that interest him now. That is the kind of cool stuff that I think, again, like you said, the stories don’t get told enough.
Alexis Grant: Yeah. A lot of the stories we cover, the founder ends up selling in part because they want to move on to a different project or they have another project that’s already taken off that they want to put more of their focus into.
Joe Casabona: You mentioned in your episode of They Got Acquired that covered your story that you-
Alexis Grant: Podcast.
Joe Casabona: Podcast. I’m sorry. Yeah, podcast. …that you like that part of it, right? The starting the business and not necessarily taking it to the next level. Am I mischaracterizing there?
Alexis Grant: Well, I do like the scaling business. I enjoy that part. What I don’t love is the people management. So I don’t dream of having a company with even 100 employees. That’s not interesting to me. What I think is the Holy Grail is a small company, maybe that’s a few employees, that brings in a lot of money and allows the people that run that company to have the life that they want. To me that a lot of that revolves around like, “I don’t want to be super stressed.” I mean, even optimizing for low stress I still get stressed sometimes. You can’t avoid it if you’re growing a startup.
Joe Casabona: And if you care, right?
Alexis Grant: Right.
Joe Casabona: If you care about something you’re gonna stress about it.
Alexis Grant: But being intentional about it I think helps me get closer to the mark.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. I love that. Tara Claeys was on the podcast several episodes ago as this comes out, and she kind of said the same thing. Like she doesn’t want to grow to be this big agency. She wants to stay as just her. And so growth means something different for her. I feel the same way.
I mean, I have a full… not a full-time accountant but she’s on retainer with me. So she can definitely manage some of the stuff that having an employee like that just sounded like anathema to me like two years ago. But even still, I don’t want a giant company. I want to be able to put out the content I want to put out and I want to make it fun. And I want to be able to take the afternoon off with my kids and play or something like that.
Alexis Grant: That’s the other part of this too is I found since becoming a parent I really need the flexibility because there are going to be days when I do wish I could work and I can’t. I found that to be really stressful. I mean, the pandemic for me was shining a huge spotlight on that. I know it did for all parents. But in how I felt about my work is I want to be in a place where I have complete control over what to do and when it’s due so that I don’t feel the weight of that.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And let’s touch on that a little bit. Again, you didn’t mention this in your podcast episode. But something that you said there that I loved was that you don’t think enough people talk about their personal lives and how it informs their business decisions. And during the pandemic, again, my wife was a nurse, still is, she couldn’t work from home and she was getting no time off. I mean, they were pretty strapped for people.
So three times a week, three weekdays a week I was a full-time stay-at-home dad to both of my children who could not go to school. And that was stressful. You have multiple children, I believe who are close in age, right?
Alexis Grant: I have a four and a six-year-old.
Joe Casabona: Okay. So like simultaneous nap is the holy grail to me. My two olders are like just far apart that they weren’t really doing that during the pandemic. So I really had to change the way I worked. I ended up hiring a VA and a video editor to take stuff off of my plate so that on the days I could work, I could focus on the creation part and then allow somebody else to do the things I didn’t need to do.
Alexis Grant: Smart. That’s smart. Coming back to your question, just thinking about the integration of work in your business, I was having a conversation with someone recently who was kind of debating me on this and saying, “Well, hey, but wouldn’t the business advice you give someone be the same on how to grow their business regardless of whether they have a family or whether they have a chronic illness or whatever they’re managing in their personal lives?”
I feel like the answer there is no. I could see where he was coming from. It’s like more of an old school way of thinking I think. So a lot of industries are still old school. But my personal belief is that we all make choices in our businesses that depend in part on what’s going on in our personal lives. So ignoring what’s going on in your personal life only to focus on the business, it does us a disservice.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, on that point, anybody who follows me on Twitter will know I’ve been beating this drum a lot, too, is it feels like these threads are… The threads that are very focused on “this is the thing I did and here’s how I felt about it.” I think actually you had a thread on this today about reaching 2,000 email subscribers.
But there are threads that are like, “Here’s like seven tips to do X.” And they’re all very “this worked for me and therefore it will work for you.” I think those are platitudes that drive me insane because it’s not… You mentioned the four-hour workweek. Tim Ferriss, I think, in a piece a couple of years ago said, like, “How do you stay focused?” And he was like, “Well, for two hours every morning I meditate. And that’s me time.” And I was like, “If I am up before my children, I have maybe 20 minutes to shower. That just doesn’t work for me.”
Alexis Grant: I wrote a blog post that’s titled something like “I used to love productivity advice until I had kids.” And that really made the rounds because… I was that kind of person. I used to write this kind of stuff, like productivity advice. And it’s a good eye-opener because it makes me think, what am I writing about now that when I don’t know what I don’t know I’m like, “What are you gonna learn in the future and look back at this woman say, “Oh, you didn’t know that then”? But yeah, I feel like a lot of Twitter honestly is… I think that’s the one downside of Twitter is a lot of it is… it can make you feel like you’re not doing enough when a lot of us probably are.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, we are all trying. I wrote a thread about this today actually as we record this. Because I just got the MAC studio. This is the first episode I’m recording on the Mac Studio, very excited. And I shared a picture on my desk and lots of people were like, “Oh, I’m so jealous and this and that.” I’m like, “Look at… I have a page, Cassiopeia.org/desk. I’m like, “Look at the first picture in the gallery there from like three or four years ago. It doesn’t look anything like this. I invested in this over time. But even back then I was still recording this podcast. I was still making LinkedIn Learning courses.” It’s not about the gear you have. That’s not the thing that makes you successful. It’s the dedication and the drive and the reasons you’re doing it.
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Joe Casabona: Let’s talk about content. That’s really the main thing even though I could talk about this for hours. Maybe we’ll talk a little bit more about parenting in Build Something More. I’m sure my members love hearing me talk about parenting a ton at this point.
But let’s talk about content because these are content businesses. And I think maybe a stereotype is that the only way to really make money with content is by being an SEO expert, or being a really popular podcasts are being the first five tech YouTubers like MKBHD. But I think I’m proof, I think you’re proof that you can build a good business that serves you well making content. So what kind of content do you make? And what’s your approach to making it?
Alexis Grant: Well, it’s changed over the years. But I would say even since my first business, I’ve really been better at arranging all of the content makers and running the business than actually doing it myself. I still do some writing. Occasional write for my own blog. Usually, when I have a milestone post, so I can look back at it later.
Like right now I’m writing some of the newsletters for They Got Acquired as we figure out what the format looks like. But in terms of creation itself, my skills are more in editing. And I’m much better at helping other people figure out what they should do, and then helping them optimize it. So the way I’ve done that is by creating a content team and creating a team of people to help build a business, and having just the vision of what that should look like.
Joe Casabona: Nice. Let’s look at They Got Acquired. When it comes to what you’re publishing, are the topics kind of based on what you want to see, or is it like everyone’s in a room together kind of brainstorming ideas and stuff like that?
Alexis Grant: Good question. I think whenever someone says, “good question,” it’s because it’s like, “Oh, it’s kind of hard question to answer.”
Joe Casabona: It’s like, good question, let me think about it for a minute.
Alexis Grant: Because it’s hard to answer. I guess I am driving most of the content strategy in terms of topics at the moment. We have two types of content on the site. Well, three I guess because we have the podcast. And the podcast is telling stories of founders who have sold their company and just going deep on their story.
But as for written content on the website, we have two types of stories. One are shortish stories that explain how a company got acquired. So you can find like all the metrics there. Like, ideally, what they sold for, or at least was it a six seven, or eight figure deal? Sometimes you don’t have that information. But whenever we can get it we include it. Who bought the company? What kind of company was it? When did it sell? When was it founded? What worked for the founders in selling that company? How did they do it? How did they find a buyer? So we have a lot of profile stories like that.
We have a list of about 1,000 that we want to cover and we’re adding to that every day. So right now we’re just like ticking them off little by little. And then we also have posts that are more resource-heavy. So we just ran a post that’s a guide to selling your startup. So where do you start if you want to sell? What does the process look like?
We did a story on mistakes that you want to avoid your LOI, which is a letter of intent. And that’s typically one of the first steps in selling a business is the buyer will give the seller a letter of intent. It’s a letter of intent to purchase your business, so it lays out the basic terms of what you’re hoping to do. So we have a post about mistakes you want to avoid when you’re setting that. It’s most helpful for first time buyers who have never been through the process before.
So we’re kind of dripping out both of those pieces of content. We’re doing about four pieces of content a week right now. And we’ve been doing a newsletter a week, but we’re about to go up to two newsletters a week.
Joe Casabona: Oh, wow. That’s awesome. I want to touch on that in a minute. So the articles on the kind of profile stories, what does the research look like there? Are you subscribed to other acquisition news? Are people reaching out going like, “Hey, tell my story?” Is it some combination of the two?
Alexis Grant: Combination, yeah. We have a researcher who’s dedicated to finding the deals. And then even when they come to us, she puts them into our database with relevant information. And then all of our writers are reporters. So they all have a journalistic background. It pretty heavily relies on my own personal journalistic background.
We tell the story from the seller’s perspective. And usually the seller is the founder, but not always because sometimes someone’s selling a company that they didn’t found. But usually it’s the founder. So we’ll send the founder a form that asks a lot of questions about the acquisition. That’s our starting point.
And then we hand it to a reporter and they usually look that over. They usually end up getting in touch with that person and asking a few follow-up questions and writing the story from there. We also have lots of stories where the founder or the seller didn’t respond to us or declined to fill out our form. We’re usually able to write those stories as well. They’re much more colorful if we can get direct comment from the seller. It’s more fun for us and more fun for the reader. But we can still gather plenty of information usually for these kinds of deals, even if they decline our request. So basically like the stories that have been written or press releases and stuff like that.
Joe Casabona: And is there like a lot of fact-checking involved there?
Alexis Grant: Yes.
Joe Casabona: I mean, you don’t have to answer this question specifically, but maybe a founder tries to embellish how good they were or how great the deal was for them, or whatever.
Alexis Grant: Yeah. The tricky part of this is, almost all these deals are private deals. Sometimes for the bigger, like the eight-figure ones, they might have been purchased by a public company and there might be actual details on the deal published in a press release or an earnings report or something. But for the vast majority of the companies we cover, these are private deals. So the only way you can get the information is by getting it from the seller or the buyer.
So it is possible that they embellish or they lie. And that’s just something we have to be clear about. We just attribute really heavily We’ll say, “Here’s exactly where we got the information from.” And that’s important too because we get a lot of our facts from other sources, and they could be wrong. So every time we share a source pretty much we attribute it. Actually, at the bottom of every story we have a feature that I think is pretty cool. It says sources. It’s an expander so you can expand it out. And it will list the sources that we relied on for that story.
Joe Casabona: Oh, that’s awesome.
Alexis Grant: So we’re really clear where we get the information from for the exact reason that you’re asking about.
Joe Casabona: Gosh, that made me think of one other question. This is just general curiosity on my part. If it is a public company, do shareholders have to okay the acquisition I guess if it’s of a certain type? I guess shareholders don’t have to okay all spending from public companies. That was just like an interesting thing that have never caught me before.
Alexis Grant: I don’t know the rules around that.
Joe Casabona: Probably depends on the company too.
Alexis Grant: I know that if it is published somewhere we will find it. So in the cases where they are required to share details, that becomes part of our record for that particular deal.
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Joe Casabona: Okay, and then for your resource-heavy posts, what does the research look like there? Are you doing keyword research? Are these things that… Because you personally have a lot of experience, are you answering questions that Lexi from five years ago had or anything like that?
Alexis Grant: We usually start the stories or get the ideas for the stories in two ways. One, it might just be something that we think will be helpful to people or we hear people asking me about. And when that’s the case, yes, we’ll do keyword research around that topic and thinking about, like, how can we rank? A lot of the keywords that we’re going after they’re really low volume. So there are not tons of searches, but I still think it’s worth putting the effort in.
Joe Casabona: I mean, as I said, there aren’t a lot of resources like yours out there right now.
Alexis Grant: There aren’t. There’s not a lot of them. Even the competitors that do exist, a lot of them have a dog in the fight. So they’re like brokers or M&A firms that want you to hire them to sell their business. So we like to think of ourselves as an impartial third party information.
Joe Casabona: How to sell your business. It’s really hard and you should hire somebody by the way.
Alexis Grant: But then we also have an SEO strategy that we created at the beginning, you know, at launch. And I worked with a consultant on that, who I’ve worked with on a number of different projects. He’s excellent. And we came up with a list of keywords that we want to go after and what stories you might write to go after those keywords. So we’re also kind of just slowly ticking our way through that.
And for those, we would put together a brief that’s like, you know, here’s the keyword we’re going after. Here is the story should take. Here’s what we’d like to see in the story, how long it should be. Any other questions you might answer, we try to provide as much guidance as possible for the writer.
Joe Casabona: Nice. And when it comes to kind of keyword research and implementing your strategy, are you using any specific tools here. And I should say full disclosure at this point that Ahrefs was a previous sponsor of this show. They usually come up a lot during this conversation. So I’ll just say it right now. So are there any tools like you use?
Alexis Grant: Yeah, that’s the tool that we use. Here’s my approach to SEO. I love SEO. I think it’s great. I think if you’re gonna rely on any channel, I would want to rely on SEO because I think generally if you do it in the right way you’re not likely to be penalized heavily. I know that’s not the case for everybody. But it’s my preferred channel. And I like going after SEO traffic.
I tend to follow an 80/20 approach to SEO. I want us to be optimizing and making an intentional attempt at ranking. But I don’t believe in putting tons and tons of time into that because there’s so many other things that we need to do at this point. So at the moment, that’s the only tool we use. We keep it pretty simple.
Joe Casabona: Cool, cool. Very cool. That’s probably the one… I don’t do nearly enough keyword research and it’s pretty obvious, I think. I’m just kind of publishing the content that comes to mind. But I’m trying to be more intentional about quality over quantity at this point, especially because of some of the things that we talked about in the pre-show, right, where I’m kind of dropping down. You know, while my youngest is not in daycare or anything like that, I just can’t feasibly personally put out five pieces of content a week anymore. So I want to make sure the content I’m putting out is good.
Now, something I regret not priming you on, because it is a question I want to ask is monetization strategies. Obviously, we don’t have to talk numbers, but you have a business with many employees or at least a team of people. How are you monetizing your content? Or how do you plan to monetize your content? I mean, you’re bootstrapped so…
Alexis Grant: I’m happy to talk about this. We’re monetizing primarily in two ways. One is through sponsorships and advertising. I actually went into this thinking that that would be minimal but I realized pretty quickly, there’s a lot of opportunity for that in the space that I’m in. So we’re going to lean into that a little bit more heavily.
Joe Casabona: Nice.
Alexis Grant: Then the second way we’re monetizing is or we will be monetizing is through our database. So I mentioned that we’re a media company and our front end where you can see all these stories of companies that have sold and the founders who built them. And then on the back end, we’re collecting all of those examples into a database. And what we want to do is pull out insights from that database and sell them to help people either sell their company. We’re thinking that long term some of that data could be helpful to support professionals in the M&A space as well.
I mean, I should also say like, yes, it’s bootstrapped and I put my own money into this. Actually, I shared a tweet about this at launch. At launch, I think I put out a pie chart that showed how much I had spent to get to that point. I think it was 30k. I had to go back and look. It was something around that range. But I am putting my own money into this. And even though we’re bringing in money now, we’re not covering expenses yet.
Joe Casabona: Got you. That’s really interesting. I guess the idea for kind of multiple acquisitions is that you could use some acquisition money to fund your new project. I won’t put words in your mouth there but-
Alexis Grant: That’s exactly it.
Joe Casabona: That’s how I would do it.
Alexis Grant: The last company that I sold about a year ago, I use some of that money to fund this project.
Joe Casabona: Nice, nice. You didn’t put it in like Bitcoin or whatever? I don’t know how you feel about bitcoin.
Alexis Grant: I’m not a bitcoin person.
Joe Casabona: Me neither. That’s good. I just like took a big risk there making fun of Bitcoin. Awesome. That database is really smart, right? Because again, if I’m looking to sell whatever, I know I’m of this size and I bring in this much and then I could potentially use that data to come up with a good sale price, for me is part of-
Alexis Grant: Yeah. I often explain it as like, if you’re going to sell your house, you look around your neighborhood and you get lots of real estate comps. What did the other houses in your neighborhood sell for? And lots of big companies have access to this type of data but it doesn’t… Well, until now, no one was really collecting it for smaller companies.
So I’d love for someone who wants to sell their eCommerce company to be able to come to the site and say, “Hey, I’d love to see 20 examples of other ecommerce companies that have sold in the last two years for less than $2 million.” Just so you can look at the metrics. Like how many employees did they have? If it’s a content business, what was their website traffic when they sold? Stuff like that.
Joe Casabona: Nice. And hopefully, it’ll be more accurate than the Zestimate, right? My dad sent me the Zillow page for my house, which I bought three years ago, and it’s like up like 150% or something like that. I’m like, Dad, I don’t think I’d sell my house for that much though. I feel like we’d be homeless.” But I always appreciate my dad keeping me in mind, of course.
So we talked about your articles in monetization strategy a little bit. You mentioned that you also have a podcast and now you’re moving from one newsletter to two newsletter. The podcast, is that another income stream for you? Or is it more like publicizing, marketing kind of thing to get people to your site?
Alexis Grant: It’s actually both. I was thinking of it more as a marketing play. And really what I want to do with it is I want people to be able to trust us and hear from us. You know, literally hear. Because I think when you read a website or read a newsletter, you don’t get as much of a sense for a person. Are you still there?
Joe Casabona: Yeah. I’m writing this down verbatim and I want to use it because this is what I tell people because I coach people on their podcast, and whether they should start one or not. And that’s the exact thing I tell people is trust.
Alexis Grant: Yeah, it’s about trust. And all content companies are about trust and they’re about… Like, no one’s going to come back and be loyal to your brand if they don’t trust you. Especially in the early days because we don’t have a community right now, we don’t have a great way for readers to interact with us except replying to the newsletter. And eventually, I hope we’ll have some sort of community. But until then, I want them to have another way that they can learn that we’re legit, we have expertise and they can trust us.
So the podcast was an interesting choice because I host it. First of all, I have no background in hosting a podcast. I am a writer, I am not a speaker. So the way we got around that… In fact, I originally was thinking someone else would host it. But when I was talking to my producer about it, she convinced me that I should be the one to do it. Because she said, especially in the early days, it just helps put a name to the brand. It’s really important in the early days.
So we’re doing it a little bit differently than, for example, this Q&A podcast. It’s a narrative-style podcast. So it’s heavily produced. You know, there’s music and we tell a story, and it’s not chronological to the interview that I do with a person.
One of the reasons we chose to do that was to hide my shortcomings as a speaker because I have a huge learning curve. I’m like, my background is in reporting, so I really love interviewing people and I think I’m pretty good at asking good questions. But there’s a lot to learn in terms of being a podcast host. So it was great that we’re able to take that route because it gives me time to learn and we can still have a good product.
But at the moment I’m thinking of it as more of a trust builder. But what I’m realizing is I think the second season is going to be a moneymaker for us. At the very least we can get enough sponsors to cover the cost of doing the podcast because it’s really expensive to do a narrative-style podcast. It costs way more money than a Q&A. So it was a big risk on my part.
But what I found is that it ended up being really fun, and it almost felt like a personal development course for me during this first season. So I think in that way it ended up being worth it on all fronts. But I’m hoping that it will start to take off and we’ll justify doing a second season and sponsors can help cover the cost of that.
Joe Casabona: That’s awesome. I will say it’s very well produced. Usually you don’t see something like that from a first time podcast. You generally will see that from like Wondery or NPR because they do have the resources because it is expensive, right? Now you’re not just taking this and cleaning it up and putting it out there. You’re probably transcribing it, finding the clips, figuring out where to place them, adding your own narration in there. It’s a lot of work. But it’s really well done. When you announced I subscribed and so I’ve been listening to it. And it’s-
Alexis Grant: Thanks. I’ll pass it along to Laura Boach. She’s our producer, She’s a superstar. Everything good on there it’s from her.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, you know, you gotta give credit to the host as well. Because I’ve done drama clubs since like second grade, so I’m pretty good at the live ad lib stick thing. That’s the content and that’s the format that works best for me. But wrapping my mind around the heavily produced stuff is totally… It’s like a different medium, essentially.
Alexis Grant: It really is. But that’s another reason why I wanted to do it that way is because I wanted to do something different. I felt like if I was gonna enter this super crowded space where there’s tons of people doing podcasts, and even more people who are just coming in, I’m like, we’ve got to do something that’s way different that’s going to actually help people choose to listen to us over somebody else. And I like to think that guests help with that a little bit because we’re featuring guests who have sold their companies for quote-unquote, “smaller amounts.” So they’re not telling those types of stories on every podcast. But yeah, that’s what my hope was, having a different format would help us stand out.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure. And I think that’s really important. You do need to think of how you’re differentiating. When I first started this show, it wasn’t really founder stories. It was like, how did you build this specific thing? And that really helped. And now I’m moving into how can people build a specific thing? I still get a lot of pitches for just like the founder story, though. And I’m like, “A lot of podcasts do that. That’s not something I want to do. I want the actionable advice sort of thing.”
So the last thing I think we’ll cover here, before I ask you my favorite question is, you mentioned that you have a newsletter and you’re adding a second newsletter. So you’ve got nearly the full gamut of content creation. I’ll have to ask you if a video is in the future for you. I guess what is the first newsletter cover? And what was the idea for the second one because-
Alexis Grant: Sorry, I kind of wasn’t clear on that. But it’s the same newsletter. Our frequency so far has been once a week. I’m just increasing the frequency. We’re gonna send that newsletter twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays, instead of just Tuesdays.
Joe Casabona: Nice. Is that out of an abundance of content?
Alexis Grant: Yes. It’s out of abundance of content and also out of an abundance of sponsors.
Joe Casabona: Awesome.
Alexis Grant: Because I figured we have both of those things, why am I cramming everything into one newsletter? I know there’s like this huge movement to have these ridiculously long newsletters that have tons of content in them. My personal preference, and I can’t say this is backed by data, but I don’t really want to read a really long newsletter. Like I’d rather read something that’s shorter. So I think having it cut into two makes sense for us. But we’ll see. It’s all an experiment.
Joe Casabona: I think you hit the nail on the head. I said a couple of weeks ago, content creation is experimentation. You got to try a bunch of things and see what works. It’s a little bit risky, right? Because if you’re doing something that really works, and then you change it, you’ll hear from your readers or your listeners if people get upset. But I like that. When I first started the show, I was like, Okay, only two sponsors, and only at the pre-roll. And then a bunch of people wanted to sponsor and I’m like, “Why am I limiting my income this much for no good reason?”
And I think maybe the last question I’ll ask you here then is sponsors, a lot of people have trouble finding sponsors. As a matter of fact, that’s like the number one thing I’m coaching people on right now. Despite the fact that I spent like the last six months telling people that sponsors aren’t the only way to make money podcasting, everyone still wants to know. So now I’m like, All right, message received, most of my content will be around this now. Is it mostly your network or… I guess now I’m trying to like give you the answer. But how did you get your first sponsors?
Alexis Grant: Some of it’s my network. But a lot of it has been from people that I’ve done calls with since we launched who are just interested in what we’re doing and they work in this space. So what I did was I put together just a simple Google Doc that’s like, “Here’s who we are. Here’s how many subscribers we have. Here’s what we can offer. Here’s what you get. And here’s how much it costs.” And I just shared it with a few different people. It was surprisingly easy to sell it. And I think we’re selling it…
We started our launch sponsorships at 5k for I want to say… It was a few newsletters and a podcast episode or something. It was like a package. Anyway we only had 1,000 subscribers so we didn’t have that many subscribers. But I think because this the stuff that we’re writing about, like there’s not a lot of content shops that focus on this. So the people who want to reach this audience, like they don’t have a ton of avenues for doing that.
And I think it helps too that I’ve sort of built in public a little bit because some of them they just trusted… Like they knew what I was up to, they knew what my approach was when I asked them and they trusted that we would do a good job. And I think that helped.
Joe Casabona: Gosh, I love everything you just said. If we were to sum up again some of the things that I tell people in a couple of sentences, it would absolutely be that. You are combining your resources. That’s kind of your total reach, like calculating your overall reach. And niche content, I think, is really important. I think that’s becoming more important to businesses.
Again, if I can anecdotally speak, I’ve had a lot of WordPress businesses reach out to me to sponsor this show very recently. I’m never gonna get Casper Mattress because they do want to see millions of downloads, but for people who are talking directly to my audience, they don’t need to see millions of downloads.
And then the trust, people are trusting you to deliver because you’ve built in public and people are seeing what you’re doing. And I think those two things are really important. And having that document ready as well, I think that’s the smart move. Because usually people are like, I don’t know, what do I do? How do I price? I usually tell people, Lowball yourself a little bit at first just to see. If someone says yes, immediately then you know that you raise your prices next time.
Alexis Grant: But I did the opposite. I would advise the opposite.
Joe Casabona: Really?
Alexis Grant: I would advise-
Joe Casabona: I mean, that way is better.
Alexis Grant: Highball yourself, and if they say no, you can bring it down.
Joe Casabona: I will see. Take Lexi’s advice. That’s better. Awesome. Well, Lexi, this has been such a great conversation. We covered a lot of ground. And really good advice about sponsorship, which I didn’t have on my bingo card. But now it’s probably going to be like one of the things I put in the description. I do need to ask my favorite question, as always, which is do you have any trade secrets for us?
Alexis Grant: Yeah. My trade secret is, especially if you’re building a content operation or you’re a creator, think about monetization from the beginning. Because I think so many of us and I’ve made this mistake many times myself, we care about the content, and we enjoy creating the content and we say, “Hey, I’ll make it and then eventually I’ll see if it makes money.”
You can do that maybe like your first two times. But eventually when you start something you got to push yourself to think about at the very beginning, how is this going to make money? Knowing that you may change your mind. Like another opportunity may come up that you didn’t expect or maybe the original way you envision doesn’t work, so you have to pivot. But having that plan initially I think is really important for anyone working in content.
Joe Casabona: I could not agree more. Great advice. Can’t really add anything to it. Lexi Grant, thanks so much for joining us today. If people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?
Alexis Grant: Visit They Got Acquired or check out our podcasts, They Got Acquired, in your favorite podcast app. I’m also on Twitter at @alexisgrant.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. I will link to those things and everything we talked about in the show notes, which are also in your podcast player right now or over at howibuilt.it/264. In Build Something More, we’re gonna talk a little bit about running businesses while parenting. Always a good topic. I like touching on because everyone has a different approach.
So if you’re interested in hearing that as well as ad-free extended episodes of every podcast, you can become a member of the Creator Crew at howibuilt.it/264. Signups right there. Just that one place will be everything. Lexi, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
Alexis Grant: Yeah, this was fun.
Joe Casabona: And thank you to this week’s sponsors. They are Tailor Brands, TextExpander, and Nexcess. Go say hi to them at howibuilt.it/264. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.