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I love talking to Brian Krogsgard. If you need proof, we had a super long pre-show conversation that I’m going to release as bonus content when I roll out the Build Something membership. What? I can’t believe it. More coming on that soon. But speaking of, that’s the main topic of today’s conversation with Brian: building membership through community. We talk all about how Post Status has changed since we last spoke all the way back in Episode 3, which aired in 2016. We’ll get into building the membership, innovating, and what keeps your members from churning. We talk a little bit about gear too. We’ll get into all that and more. But first, let’s hear a word from our first sponsor.
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And now back to the show.
Intro: Hey, everybody, and welcome to another episode of How I Built It the podcast that asks, how did you build that. Today I am excited to have a good friend of mine back on the show. He was one of the first guests on How I Built It. His name is Brian Krogsgard. He is the owner of Post Status. Brian, how are you today?
Brian: I’m doing great, Joe, and I appreciate you having me back again. I was trying to think when that was and it’s a long time ago
Joe: Nearly four years ago at this point.
Brian: Yeah, you’ve been doing this show for a long time now. And doing very well by the way. I’m privileged to have a return visit.
Joe: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. I appreciate that you are willing to take time for an unproven show back in the day. I’m glad that we can reconnect. For those of you who are listening, Brian and I have been talking for a very long time at this point about here. Maybe if I release a membership or something like that, you’ll be able to get the B side or the pre-show because that was a very fun conversation but not one we’re going to be talking about in the actual episode.
So we’re going to be talking about, instead memberships and communities. This is selfish on my part because I want to increase the value and I want to do a membership or community better than I’m doing it now. I think that Brian is doing it fantastically. But before we get into that, Brian, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do and maybe what’s changed since 2016, the last time you were on the show.
Brian: Lots has changed since 2016 for sure. I’ve started new projects since then. Post Status is the bread and butter of what I’ve done for a long time. It’s been around since 2013. But I went full time on Post Status at the very end of 2014, launched the club membership in 2015. So it was an income producer 2015 and beyond. So more than five years now, Post Status has created the majority of my income in that period.
The biggest news probably is that while I worked on some other projects and did some other things, at the effective January 1 of this year, I brought on a partner, Cory Miller. He was the CEO of iThemes for a long time before that, deeply embedded into the WordPress community and someone that I trusted to come in and be a part of this project with me. You know, getting used to working with a partner and learning how we can feed off one another and create a flywheel effect to create better end products. I say products, but whether your product is a membership or content or a physical good, it’s all the output of our work.
So learning how to work with a partner after working solo for so long was definitely a big change and something that I’ve really been enjoying this year and learning. We’re doing a lot of stuff together right now. So that’s the biggest thing that’s different.
Joe: Yeah, that’s fantastic. I’m a big fan of Cory obviously. He was another early guest in How I Built it lore. Oh, also full disclosure, I should say that iThemes is a sponsor of this episode.
Brian: I almost mentioned it because I heard it on the last episode that I listened to, but I wasn’t sure what the rotation was like. So I didn’t say.
Joe: They’re a full season. So they’ll be bringing all of Season 9 to you. So full disclosure on that. But Cory is great. What I’m most excited about for you, because I’ve been a Post Status member for several years now, I got the value of like 10 years worth of memberships in that first couple of months of just based…This is no joke. Based on the connections I’ve made, and the projects I’ve been able to work on, the money I’ve made from people I know only through Post Status has paid for my post it is membership for like…until you kill it probably.
Brian: We won’t be killing it, but I will be snipping this out of the episode and hopefully using that as a testimonial. So I appreciate that.
Joe: Yeah, feel free. Absolutely. I’m really excited to see some new life breathed into Post Status. Because by your own admission, you said that you were going full for a while and adding new things, then there were some external distractions maybe but you’ve really recommitted. Again, I should say these are your own words because I didn’t feel like I noticed anything. I was gladly paying. The newsletter came when it came and I was in the community. But do you want to talk a little bit about that and kind of what that journey was like?
Brian: Yeah. I think if I would say anything is that when you do something for enough years, you recognize times where you’re growing personally, or you’re growing in your revenue streams, and then there are times where you realize you’re not. Whether you’re your own interest wanes a little bit or it feels like more of a grind, versus the passion that you may have held at one point, or if your revenue stream is flatlining or going down. Those end up affecting a lot of things and the way you feel. Sometimes, especially if your product is content, then it can also be seen by others as at least a change in the way things look.
Post Status has had up years, has had down years. The community around WordPress, the WordPress space has changed a lot. It’s much more of a professional community and less of an enthusiast and hobbyist community. So more of our memberships are from teams where the CEO of a company wants their people to stay informed or to stay plugged into the community. So they’re the ones paying for a membership. But people aren’t like hacking WordPress at night as much anymore. It’s part of their job. So do you necessarily want to dig in as deep to the community and information side of things when it’s your job? You may want to not be participating in the same exact way. So the way that you appeal to your potential members changes over time. I have had to evolve with that stuff.
Also, speaking of memberships, one of the challenges is what’s free and what’s not. When more stuff is not free, well, the best marketing is your free content. So when more stuff is behind a paywall or exclusive, you got to figure out other ways to attract new members. For a couple of years, word of mouth was easy. But when somebody had something for two, three, four, or five years, they’re not going to be necessarily this evangelist on your behalf all the time versus when it’s a brand new discovery.
So there are lots of people that may have entered the WordPress ecosystem, but they don’t know me from Adam or nobody told him Post Status is the place to go. And it ends up some kind of insider secret, which is great for people in the circle, and really bad for the person that’s selling it. Because they don’t want it to be a secret. They want everyone to know it’s the place to go for the best community and kind of insider information and analysis. I don’t want that to be a secret. I want everybody to know it. But sometimes it is a secret and it makes business and growth and marketing more of a challenge. That’s one of the biggest things that you run into if you’re ever considering a subscription or premium content is what do I make for free and what do I enable that people have to pay for?
Joe: That’s a fantastic point. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially now…one of my favorite podcast networks is Relay FM. I’ve had, at this point, both co-founders on the show. Stephen Hackett was on recently and he talked about this shift. Because their content, much like a lot of my content is free ad-supported. How do you add value to members without taking stuff away? That’s a delicate balance. And I feel like maybe you had the opposite balance where you were mostly paid stuff. Some of it was free. But what do you make for free without devaluing the membership? Is that a fair assessment of your thought process?
Brian: Yeah. And finding out what are the parts that people pay for. And then not just what they pay for, but what are the parts that make people stick around. So what’s the part that makes someone renew? When you have a product that is renewed, that is another important element to consider. It is all a balance, and a lot of times it requires I would say testing. But not really testing. It’s more like experimentation and risk. Because you could say, “Okay, well, I’m going to change one of the things some of my membership audience gets for free or that they have to pay for” and all of a sudden, it can have this huge effect, positive or negative. You don’t really know until you test it out.
Bringing on a partner with Cory, we are trying to do more experiments and get outside of our comfort zone that we’ve lived in for years. Because what I’ve noticed in the comfort zone is it led to a plateau of membership and it led to a ceiling where our space is a relatively small community. WordPress is huge, you know, 36%, or whatever. The internet runs WordPress, but that doesn’t mean 36% of the people who have websites won’t be a member of Post Status.
The people that tend to look at something like mine are like the insiders of the insiders. It’s not even just web professionals. It’s people that are so interested in what’s going on in the WordPress ecosystem that they want to connect with the people that are the CEOs of plugin companies or web agencies, and they want to dig in with the core developers and stay in tune with all these different things. That’s a smaller audience. That’s a much smaller audience. You have to determine what the balance is there and how to monetize that so that we can keep affording to create the content and create the community that we’ve developed. It is a tricky balance. It’s something that I’ve worked on the whole time I’ve been there.
Joe: Yeah, yeah, it’s tough. I remember when you launched your membership, I think, like you said, word of mouth was great. A lot of people wanted to be part of a community. But now for five years in, how do you prevent that churn? It’s really cool to see you experimenting more. I really like what you’re doing right now. You have a free newsletter and a members’ newsletter. Is that accurate?
Brian: Yeah. There’s a free newsletter that has a lot of stuff in it. If you’re just coming to Post Status for our what’s weekly happening in the land of WordPress, we’re not trying to make that exclusive to members. More of the content that’s exclusive to members is stuff where it’s like a conference or a webinar that may be free to stream but then you have to pay for the extra access or we might give a little extra insight to something or a little bit of extra detail on content where only members could see that.
What we’re shifting to if I had to say would be where the big thing you get as a member is the connectivity through Slack and other things where you’re paying for access, not only to us but to other people. And then you get access to some other stuff too.
Actually, we have a job board. The job board has started to do much better than it did initially, where we kind of steadily have maybe 10 or 12 jobs on there, which doesn’t sound like a ton if you’re running a generic job board. But people that post on our job board have to be members. When you post a job to our job board, we want it to fit certain criteria. It’s not just any job. It’s a cater job board. Posting to our job board requires being a member and you kind of understand the community that you’re in.
There’s just a variety of things that we’re trying to look at when we consider that balance. But by making the newsletter, which for a long time, you couldn’t get the newsletter at all. There was no newsletter that was free. Like I sent maybe one in six months or something, and it was kind of a “Hello, this list is really cold,” which was obviously the wrong thing to do. But what we did is we started making it free to get kind of that weekly touchpoint with a lot of the meat and potatoes included for free.
Well, guess what? That’s advertiser supported. Like that’s part of the deal there. That allows us to give value to our sponsors to give them a little bit larger of a reach an audience. And it allows us to have a place that we can do some marketing to say, “Okay, well now look at this community element that you’re missing, because you’re only getting the newsletter. You can go over here, and you can chat with these people that make these products and the people that are the management of these consulting companies. You can engage with them.
That’s more of what we want people to pay for. In addition to that, one of our growth plans got totally obliterated by Coronavirus but was more in-person access as well. Once we’re able to safely travel and put this content together, we’ll start putting out some in-person workshops where Cory and I and an expert will have an in-person workshop for a very specific niche where people can dig in over the course of a weekend. That is a value that you get by being a member. Plus, you pay for the specific workshop but you don’t have access to that unless you’re a member.
That helps us figure something out too, where it’s like one person tells us, “Well, I couldn’t just $500 a year for this despite by the way, like our deals.” So we have corporate deals. Those are worth $1,000 all by themselves. Like if you have a Gravity Forms license, you’re basically paying for your membership just for that, or you’re paying just with our coupon for Gravity Forms or iThemes or probably a couple other of your sponsors. I don’t mean to narrow down into specific corporations. But you know what I mean? We have coupons worth membership.
So if someone says they don’t have value in it, they weren’t looking hard enough. Because then on top of that, we try to hit all these different things. Because what we find is that people say, like, “I find the value here, or here or here or here.” We want it to be worth the membership in any one of those places. But then what we also want to do is there’s some people that say, “Hey, this is worth $500 a year to me or $1,000 a year to me, you need to take more of my money.”
Well, forever. I said, “Well, now we’ll just do it for the hundred.” But now we want to say, “We do want to offer you something where we can also take more of your money.” And that’s some of the growth plan is how do you dig into the people that truly value what you’re doing and the type of community and the type of togetherness that you can create.
For me, Cory helped me realize that I can create these certain things. I can get the right people together to provide value for this thing. And maybe that’s people that have created a plugin, they want to make it go to the next level. Well, we can put together the workshop for that that has tremendous value for those people. Not everyone can do that. Because we can also pull the expert in. We can also pull the itinerary together for what we’ll cover in that workshop. So that is growth plan that we want to go after. We just can’t do it quite yet because we can’t actually travel yet. But Cory has really helped me discover what are some of these ideas and ways to provide additional value to our paying members.
Joe: That’s really fantastic. I’ll just say, if I’m buying something in the WordPress space, I always make sure to check your deals first because why not? It’s another value point. Though the face that I made while you were saying that was I don’t know if I checked it for Gravity Forms. I left Gravity Forms for a while and then I came back because ultimately they were the best value for what I needed. Hashtag, not a sponsor. But there will be an affiliate link in the show notes.
Brian: Friend of the show.
Joe: Friend of the show exactly. The in-person access is really interesting. If you’re willing to talk logistics on some of this stuff, I had two kind of behind the scenes questions. One was about in-person access and then the other was your newsletter. I’ll ask the newsletter question first because it’s probably easier to answer. Are you doing one newsletter with smart tags for members? Are you curating two separate newsletters?
Brian: No, we’re sending a free newsletter. Then if we send a member-only newsletter, either we’ll highlight, “Hey, this post, part of it as member-only or access after the fact is member-only. But you can watch it live,” if it’s a streamed piece of content. We just did a webinar with the authors of Professional WordPress Plugin Development. Anybody could have seen that webinar, but only members are going to be able to see the recorded version later. So if you missed it live, then you have to be a member. Well, we’ll link it in the free newsletter because it’s been a lead magnet for people to sign up to become a member because they missed the webinar in the first place.
Smart tags is something that I really want to embrace further for a variety of reasons. I want somebody to say, “Hey, I’m looking for a job.” So then I can better target jobs too then, and I can make your jobs more forefront in the newsletter. Or I want somebody to say, like, “I’m really interested in memberships,” and we could put membership specific stuff catered towards them. So like, more of a personalized experience, both to our members and our free subscribers via tags and some of the stuff that’s available there, it’s just an area where it’s a little bit of a challenge.
Technically, I’ve always kind of battled with this idea of website content, newsletter content, how to best send it all, and merge it all together and target people with it properly. I know there’s a lot that we can do there but that’s one of the areas of growth that we can surely do better.
Joe: That’s a tough balance. I kind of deal with the same thing. For a while, in ConvertKit, anytime somebody clicked on a link, I tagged them as interested in that area. Then I was like, “That’s too much. That’s too much and I’m not doing anything with it.” Maybe it’s better if I just pick certain areas. Or like I have a book coming out and if people click my book link, I tagged them as book interest. But then what am I going to do? Like just email them? I don’t know. I don’t have the metrics if they already bought the book. So there are a lot of questions when dealing with that level of granularity and information and personalization, that if you’re juggling a bunch of other things, it’s tough. That almost feels like a job dedicated to a single person.
Brian: Yeah. There’s always balance too. It doesn’t matter if you’re addressing a non paying audience, or if you’re addressing a member audience. But it’s how do I balance just jamming, awesome free content down their throat, versus upsells or sponsorship reads or whatever else like. Whatever, that something that you want them to pay for with their attention or with their dollars, they’re about the same thing. Something that you want them to do.
This is that kind of jab, jab, jab hook concept, where the jab is the value add right in front of their face, and the hook is I want them to come by something or I want them to come pay attention to something. Give me some kind of ROI, whether to my sponsors or through direct payment, whatever else. You really want to hit those jabs regularly. Give them the value…Jab sounds like it’s harming them, but in my case, it’s the help. What’s that guy’s name?
Joe: The jab?
Brian: The Jab. Jab hook guy.
Joe: Oh, I don’t know. I just read Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller. So I have the analogy in my head, but that’s not the terms he uses.
Brian: It’s Gary Vaynerchuk. I don’t even like Gary Vaynerchuk. But this concept of little taps, little taps, little taps, and then bam, this is what I want you to really do. That’s the hook. And you have to balance how often you’re going to hit them with that hook. Because you don’t want to obliterate someone with upsells. Whether they’re a free newsletter or already a paid member, it doesn’t matter. You want to provide more value right in front of them, and then make them really desire that extra stuff. Then, when you hit them with the hook, they’ll be ready to spend money or give you their attention or whatever it is addressing them.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. You want to create less friction, right? I think we both know of companies or organizations that they offer you a base, and then they offer you an upsell. And they offer you an upsell on that upsell. And it’s just like, at what point do I get the whole product. How much more? Either just give me the whole product for a higher price or included all in what I’m paying for because I don’t want to feel like I’m getting nickeled and dimed every time I try to do something.
Brian: And depending on your touchpoints, whether it’s a podcast episode or an email, or the front page of your website, too little of it is not a direct and immediate value add. Too much of it is like that right hook, then they’re going to start ignoring it. The thing that I want to make sure I’m maintaining with my newsletter for your page, is I want people opening it and I want people clicking the links on it to show that they’re interacting with the newsletter.
If I see significant trending down, that people aren’t opening it, then that’s indicative to me that they’re not seeing value. Because when they open it, they’re not getting enough, right in front of me, value add. Like this is something I have to read, this is something I want to engage with, this is something that I’m getting value from. I want to make sure that they’re steadily getting that whether they pay me or not. And then hit them with the right hook where it matters.
Because if you’re getting—it depends on your industry and whatever else—if you’re getting 50 or 60, or 70% of the people opening your newsletter, that’s better than if you’re constantly hitting them with upsells to the point where you wear their attention spans down so much that you only get 10 or 20% of people opening it. Your lead potential is way down because you’ve hit them too hard. Versus consistently providing value, making sure they always want to open it, and then you have many more eyeballs, and more engaged customers ready to spend that extra dollar with you when you’re ready for the right hook.
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Now back to the show.
Joe: Are you worried that you’re going to see less engagement as more people use Hey?
Brian: No. I mean, we kind of ran into that with Google. They did Google promotions tab and… There’s always different things that people have to do to filter through their email. Email proves year in year out, decade in decade out that it’s the best way to deliver content. Post Status launched around the same time as Stratechery and everybody points Stratechery as the innovator for the model of newsletters and now Substack is everywhere everybody is monetizing newsletters.
Post Status has been doing it for a long time. Never got anywhere close to Stratechery size. But Stratechery was very general. Can read a whole lot of people, but within our industry and within our space, we’ve done okay for ourselves. And it’s kind of stood the test of time. It doesn’t always grow but it’s been a good job. It’s got a good community. And it’s lasted. Anything that you can make lasts for a while, there’s something to be proud of there even when wrenches get thrown your way.
My domain, when I first bought poststatus.com because it started as poststat.us, poststatus.com was banned by Google. So I’ve never had good SEO at all. Our content was unfindable. So Post Status was a website that was my full-time job, and for at least two years, the domain was essentially banned by Google because the previous owner had run it into the ground with some kind of spam or something.
Brian: We work with what we got.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. That’s really funny. Actually your trade secret the first time you were on the show was don’t undervalue email newsletters. I swear to God, I took that to heart and I really doubled down on my newsletter since then. Because you said it, Justin Fairman said it the same season, and I’ve been repeating it on this show for four years.
Brian: And the world’s caught on to that, the sub stacks are the world because now they’re saying build your audience on Instagram, like what your recent guests said, or build your audience on Twitter or whatever else. But then the place where you really want them to go is to your newsletter because then you’re in their inbox. You’re not just in their feed that scrolls past. The way you truly get their attention is by being in their email.
Joe: And you own that list, right?
Brian: That’s right.
Joe: Facebook can’t just change an algorithm and destroy your newsletter yet.
Brian: That was something really interesting actually in that episode. You are asking what’s the drawdown of declaring yourself as a business on Instagram. What I wondered is, when will Instagram make you pay up for people to see your posts at all because you’re a business, versus if you’re an individual that will assume like you’re their friend or something, and they won’t pay to be visible. Because Facebook did that. Remember they made business pages, you had to do the promoted thing or sponsored posting thing to get in front of as many eyeballs. Because they can. Those are essentially social media monopolies. And it’s their platform.
This is what got us interested in WordPress and self-hosted publishing forever ago is that this is a domain that I own. If there’s a trend that I hope comes, it’s a return to understanding the importance of owning your own content and owning your own domain. I would love to see whether it’s the blog experience, or podcasts, or whatever else. These forms of owning your own platform really make a return to prominence as people see the value there and the lasting value there. Because it doesn’t fade away with the trend of a social media platform coming in or out. Like will Tick Tock matter five years from now? I don’t know. But I don’t want to make my bet on putting all my content just on Tik Tok.
Joe: It’s like how brands put a lot of stock in Snapchat. And maybe I’m just old and I don’t hear as much about Snapchat anymore, but…
Brian: No, I think just Snapchat is just not really the same way because they failed to monopolize it. That’s the only way you win. Facebook acquires and then clones and dominates that space. But then you’re totally reliant on that—being in their good graces. What do these YouTube stars do if YouTube suddenly takes away like 50% or 80% of their revenue stream, because they just changed their rules? Well, the only way they have access to anyone is through YouTube. They’re all in trouble if they don’t own that.
The problem that we face though, is that the world of owning your own content and self-hosted content really needs to evolve, the way you can deliver the content because you can’t deliver something as convenient as an Instagram story or as accessible of a network effect as the YouTube search algorithm. I want to learn about this Sony a6400. It’s a lot easier for me to find Joe Casabona review because I searched for the a6400 on YouTube, not because I knew to go to Joe Casabona website.
Joe: Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly. I feel like there’s some cloak and dagger stuff that Google is doing with AMP. I know Google doesn’t own AMP anymore. It’s like a whole open source thing. But I think it was Cathi Bosco at WordCamp US who was showing me some of the cool things that you can do with the WordPress AMP plugin to make your website more Instagram and add stories and things like that. But there’s still a discoverability issue there. People need to know to go to my website.
Brian: Yeah, the network effects and the discoverability, all those things are really challenging. Google and Facebook are the real gatekeepers to that stuff right now. I’d really love to see some pushback on that. But at the end of the day, especially people that are providing members-only stuff, that’s the stuff they really own. Those are the stuff that they really control the keys to. I think this is the stuff that will have lasting value rather than a Facebook post or a tweet or an Instagram story. I would love to see the world more broadly start to value those things more and start to push back against that idea that it’s okay for Facebook to own everything or YouTube to own everything.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve talked mostly about Post Status here, but you manage three different membership communities, or you at least managed two, and I’ve launched the third one as we record this. So let’s get into the title question of how did you build it. I want to talk about building and capturing that audience and then maybe a little bit of if someone wants to start a membership site today, like what tech stack would you recommend for them? So let’s answer the first. I know, that could be a whole other episode. But let’s start with building and capturing that audience. Because it is three different audiences, right? So is there an approach you take for each time? Or is it really dependent on the audience?
Brian: All right. This is a really tough question. In some ways, you have to have good timing. If you start producing content for something and trying to capture an audience as something is fading away in terms of relevance, you’re only going to be so successful. So trying to time trends in the world and in the marketplace, is part of it that’s going to be important. I think both in the WordPress community and my second project in the crypto community, cryptocurrency like Bitcoin and stuff, both of those, I really benefited from things being on the uptrend, and on the up and up of people’s awareness.
So people were coming to understand that the best and easiest way to build a website was with WordPress. People were getting more and more interested in Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies for a variety of reasons back when I started Ledger Status, which is my secondary project. I benefited from having good timing on both of those. Those are two very different things too.
Like my audience in crypto, I don’t monetize it nearly as much, partly because I want to make sure I pay attention to my bread and butter, which is Post Status. But the audience size is much bigger. I have a much bigger audience in crypto than I do in WordPress, but I make more money in WordPress. So the size of the audience is not necessarily the only thing that matters. It’s also how can you monetize that audience and the influence that you have in an ecosystem. But both of those, the most important thing was definitely timing.
The next thing was to, number one, have the knowledge. But not just the knowledge. Also the willingness to share the knowledge that you pick up. There’s always somebody just near behind you. Like somebody that hasn’t taken the step that you just took. So I don’t have to be an expert on every little thing. I just have to have good enough awareness of what I’ve learned so that then I can share it appropriately with the person that’s looking for it right behind me. That’s a really important component that a lot of people just don’t understand.
Because once you become too much of an expert on something, now you don’t even find something interesting that other people it’s mind-blowing. There’s tons of value there. So trying to figure out, how do I share something just right with that audience. As long as you continuously chase that, that learning mindset, and then the sharing mindset behind it, people are going to be drawn to the fact that you are willing to share, and the fact that you are curious and passionate, or whatever. You don’t even have to be passionate about something necessarily if you can still have the discipline to do it.
But constantly being willing to share something that is going to be valuable to someone is a really important part. That’s what I did in both of those ecosystems. I just started getting to know people, started to engage with people, and started to share the things that I had been learning and whether they were the foremost expertise in the ecosystem was not important. They were helpful to someone. And that’s how it built both of those audiences, both to significant degrees, and both from zero. I didn’t know a single person in the WordPress space or the crypto space, and both of them have tens of thousands of followers now. That was purely based on engaging and trying to be honest and curious and just involved. Consistent is the other thing that I would add to it. Not like in your face all the time necessarily, but consistent and steady.
Joe: Especially the willingness to share. I think that’s so important like you said. I mean, you said it a few times. Just keeping in mind that, like you said, you don’t need to be an expert. There’s somebody who will always learn from you. So share what you’re learning. Remember that. There was a podcast I listened to for a while that shared really interesting stuff about marketing and building your business. Then the host slowly started to lose me because they were talking about how they launched a Facebook campaign and they only spent $10,000 and they ended up making millions. I’m like, “I can’t spend $10,000 on my Facebook campaign.” Are you kidding me? I’m like, “You’ve lost me. Maybe you’re talking to somebody else now.” I was listening to the show for a long time and I was like, “Maybe they need to get back to basics. Maybe it’s working for them. They have a multimillion-dollar business at this point. So who am I to say?”
Brian: I think that’s just people to remember who your audience is and who you’re talking to. I do think authenticity is a really important component of this as well is part of…someone can view you as an expert, but you have to be real about what level of expert you are. Maybe you are. Maybe you know more about trading Ethereum than anyone else, or you know more about building decentralized applications on the blockchain are whatever your thing is. That’s that world for me. But I’m not that person.
I only know some of the things that I know and I want to be real about where I am, and who I am, and what I’m trying to do, and what I’m trying to share. Most of the people that I’ve established community within that space, they appreciate the authenticity that I bring to it. That I’m not saying like, “Oh, I’m Mr. expert on this thing over here.” They know that. I’m putting that out front. If you try to sell yourself as something that you’re not, people will pick up on that. That authenticity is a really important component.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. I always let others know this person called me an expert, I don’t think I am an expert. Oh, Joe’s a cigar expert. I am not a cigar expert.
Brian: Yeah. But you can just, “I really love cigars and I’ve loved the learning about cigars. Here are some of the things I’ve learned. For instance, here’s what you want to do if you’ve never smoked a cigar before. Here are some things to consider.”
Joe: Exactly, exactly. And the same thing with podcasting. Joe’s, the podcast expert. I have a successful podcast and I have not made this a repeatable business for me though. I haven’t started four insanely successful podcasts. I can just tell you what I’ve learned and what has worked for me, and it will probably work for you because I’m not a marketing savant or anything like that. I just show up. Like you said, be consistent.
Brian: You’re Joe Casabona; you’re not Bill Simmons. Right?
Joe: Yeah. Yeah.
Brian: You don’t want to try to be Bill Simmons. You don’t want to be somebody that’s created something that they sold for 100 million dollars, or they’ve created a dozen podcasts that have million people and audiences. You want to be who you are. You can provide value to plenty of people. I don’t know. Let’s say somebody gets 10, or 20, or 50,000 listens a month? Well, they can provide a lot of value to the people that are getting 100 listens per month, and they’re trying to figure out how can they get 1,000.
Joe: Absolutely. Absolutely. Again, really, imposter syndrome is a terrible thing that we all have at some point. We just need to remember that people are tuning into your content because they find value. Keep delivering that value. Be consistent. I think it’s really important. Have your own success metrics. I’m not going to say I’m not a successful podcaster because I didn’t sell my podcast for hundreds of millions of dollars to Spotify. Only Joe Rogan can do that. Maybe it was 100 million, not hundreds of millions.
Brian: It’ll end up being worth hundreds of millions, I’m sure.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. But I’m successful because I have a full slate of sponsors and I’m able to make ends meet and make money off of the podcast and help people and have great conversations.
Brian: And you make a living in front of a microphone. It’s a crazy one. Tell some radio hosts that. They’re like, “Holy cow, I’ve got a significant audience on my radio station over here and I’m like barely surviving off ramen. But part of that is technically or whatever else, they may have a lot of experience because they are on the radio. But you took advantage of the medium as well, the podcasting medium, and knowing that podcasting was a thing that is important and is something that you should focus on. That’s part of your advantage.
Joe: And like you said, I think timing was super important. Because I launched three or four months before a very similarly named podcast on a huge network. So I knew I got the naming right, I got the content type, and topic. I think that really helped me in the beginning.
Brian: I don’t know if this was a mistake or if it was something that saved me. But I talked about Post Status, and there’s a membership there. Eventually, I did a membership on the Ledger Status side and crypto side. People were asking me to do it way earlier, though. It was certainly the biggest opportunity cost because I had put up a teaser page that was like, “Okay, so many people have asked me to put out some kind, of course, or something like that, or membership content.” And I was like, “If you’re interested in this, it will cost money. Sign up here if you’re interested.” I did that. It was basically the top of the market and people were begging me. All of these new people in the ecosystem, literally begging me for this content.
I had 3,000 people fill out this interest form of wanting to pay me money for this course. I would have made hundreds of thousands of dollars if I was just like, “All right, it’s for sale.” I did not do it. It terrified me. I was like, “This is supposed to be the side thing. Post Status is my main thing. I can’t do this right now.” And I let it go cold, cold, cold. I sat on it for like two years or something until the market was at the depths. Bitcoin had this hype cycle and people got super interested. It was on CNBC, and it was on the New York Times. Everybody’s getting rich, except for you. Those type of things.
Then it went as cold as can be, lost 70% of its value. The fundamental reasons for why it’s interesting didn’t go away. And then I was like, “All right, now I’m going to test this thing.” Only like 70 people sign up for the course. Which was fine, because it was much more manageable for me. However, I gave up hundreds of thousands of dollars of potential revenue. So in my head, I’m always like, “Well, should I have done that? Or should I not.” But I wasn’t ready when I put that out. I just was being asked to do it.
There’s a difference between feeling imposter syndrome of saying, like, “I could do this, but I’m telling myself I can’t versus knowing truly that you aren’t ready from a scope perspective from an expertise perspective, especially when something does have consequences. I say like you can teach someone, well, what if you’re in woodworking and you don’t know the first thing about a table saw? You need to be able to establish the reasons how people manage their safety using a table saw before you do videos about how to use a table saw.
No, I wasn’t that way with crypto, but I didn’t feel like I had the expertise necessary for what people were asking me to provide for them. I had not put in the time to develop the course content that they wanted to pay for. So it would have been rushing it out for the timing of the market, and that wasn’t worth it to me. So I waited. There’s an opportunity cost in that, but I slept better at night.
Joe: That speaks so much to your credibility. Because on the other side of the coin now, I mean, this was just like something I was able to do really easily. When I hit 50,000 lifetime downloads, which took about nine months, for comparison sake, I’m getting over 40,000 a month now, but when I rolled out 50,000, lifetime downloads, I was like Patreon time. People are going to give me money for something.
Brian: And then only your mom was your only Patreon.
Joe: Yeah, exactly. I had I think two signups. And now I’m like, “I have to edit all of these episodes to remove ads, and I need to put out extra content for $3 a month basically after Patreon takes their cut.” That was ill-conceived. I did it too fast. I closed it down. I probably lost the four people who did it…their trust. It’s really important to be ready, especially when someone’s like, “how do I take, $1,000 and turn it into $10,000 Bitcoin or whatever?” That would be too much pressure for me.
Brian: Being ready to being realistic. They’re important. You have to be able to identify the difference between that and imposter syndrome. Being realistic is to say, “Well, I have 100 YouTube subscribers, how can I go full time on YouTube?” That’s not realistic.
Joe: Right. Right.
Brian: You say, “Okay, I am really good at this thing. And somehow I’ve built up say, 100,000 YouTube subscribers. How can I grow from 100,000 to 500,000, or whatever, I need to go full time or hire someone full time to help me. Those are the types of decisions that are more about imposter syndrome and less about realistic. Because you’re on a path at that point. Most overnight successes were grinders for years before they are an overnight success.
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And now back to the show.
Joe: We’re just harkening back to 2016 in this episode. Because that was another common theme that kept coming up is that you see the Olympic gold medalist standing on the podium. What you don’t see is the years of sacrifice and training that they did to get to that podium.
Brian: How can I be that person? How do I become Peter McKinnon? And it’s like, well, Peter McKinnon did a lot before he ever started a YouTube channel. Much less got 5 million subscribers or however many there are now. You can’t just buy a camera and put a YouTube video up and become Peter McKinnon or whoever else.
Joe: Yeah, yeah. The thing about YouTube, because I’m trying to get to 1,000 subscribers on YouTube and their minimum hours watched per calendar year. So I can throw an ad at the beginning or end, maybe start to monetize in a different way.
Brian: I didn’t know you could do that. On my crypto channel, I’ve got a few thousand subscribers and I didn’t try very hard for those but I didn’t even realize I could monetize that.
Joe: They changed it. Like you used to be able to…anybody could just turn on ads. But then they changed it to a certain audience. 1,000 subscribers. I forget the exact number, but it’s a minimum average monthly watch hours.
Brian: Well, speaking of how the platform’s that you don’t own can change the rules underneath you, there you go.
Joe: Amazon lowering their affiliate link payout. I know we’re going on my YouTube tangent doesn’t matter. But this really reinforces your point. Because there were people who relied on Amazon affiliate income that just saw it cut in half in some cases. Where like you were getting 8% for the most generous down to 4% or 3%. Most of it went from like 4% to 3%, if we’re being realistic.
Brian: 25% for some people, which is probably an employee or whatever they were doing. They were really that reliant on advertising. Again, I’ve seen an uptick in my own affiliate stuff because I have a couple of YouTube videos that are doing really well. But I’m like, “Man, they could be doing even better. I’m glad that I didn’t build my business on affiliate income.” There was one more. Oh, right.
We even saw like Wirecutter. I think this was a really interesting. Maybe we can end with this before we get tips from you about platform stuff. We’re going to go along. That’s okay, everybody, because I really enjoy talking to Brian. But the Wirecutter. We know people who work there. They just moved under the New York Times domain. If I had to put money on it, I would bet that in early 2021, they’re going to start paywalling some of that stuff to subscribers only. If I had to bet. I want to know your thoughts on that.
Brian: I think a lot of media is a tough landscape, but a lot of them are trying to figure out how to make it. The New York Times is one of the most prominent, best, most successful paywalls. Even they are trying to figure out how can we sustain this and sustain our quality of content and everything else and figure this out. If the Wirecutter is going to help them do that, that’s what they’ll do.
The Wirecutter sold to the New York Times. You can say all you want. Nothing’s going to change. It’s going to continue to be the same. But eventually, when you’re owned by someone else, it’s going to be folded into the overall goal, which is to do better and be more successful for the company as a whole. And if folding that into the New York Times, and putting, if you want to view more than three Wirecutter articles in a month, you had a subscriber, The New York Times, New York Times is going to do that, because that’s their business. And that’s what it should be. We should be maximizing our business opportunities. So absolutely.
I just wanted to make a real quick cut because I talked about two communities that I built and imposter syndrome. Well, I’m totally reliving that right now. You saying two was correct, because the third one’s brand new. We’re now doing this all over again. It’s like, “Okay, well, let’s see if we can strike again.” The difference for me, and this is the reason I’m bringing this up, is I’m also doing this with Cory Miller, my partner for Post Status. Because what I do know is that the challenges of doing something alone are introducing things that make it difficult. Because you will not believe in yourself in certain things, or you will not go for it with a little extra risk.
When you have a partner, you get to feed off of one another’s strength and you also get to support one another and remind one another that, hey, we can do this. We can move forward, and we can share the burdens, and we can share the worries. To me that’s worth it to share the income as well. You even celebrate the wins. So now we’re going through that and to launch a third project. But I would not have been comfortable launching another project by myself from a bandwidth perspective, but also all those other reasons that I just described.
So now we’re going into this Commerce Journey, which is what it’s called together. And that’s what makes me excited is that I get to work with a partner on it. So I would recommend anybody. If there’s somebody else, also interested in what you’re working on and in your industry, and in your thing, going in with a partner, if you can set it up as a proper partnership. I do think that you can be more successful in the long run doing so.
Joe: I work alone. But I would echo a lot of that sentiment. Because I lean on my mastermind group a lot for certain things. I know that my products are better because of it. It’s great that I have such a willing mastermind group, because they have no dog in that race except they’re rooting for me.
Brian: They want you to succeed.
Joe: Yeah. But having a partner who is equal stakes, somebody who can have stake, has skin in the game, who can put more brain power towards the product, I think is something that is undervalued by freelancers, because a lot of freelancers will say, “I want to do things my own way.” But going in alone is tough sometimes. I’m noticing that a lot more lately as I’m actually trying to do the right thing and not just the thing I think is right.
Brian: And it took me five years to really fully come to terms with that. I probably would have benefited from a partner from the outset with Post Status, but better late than never.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. I have begun my third year of self-employment. Oh, no fourth, because 2017 is when I started. So I’m in my fourth year of self-employment. And it’s really something to think about if I want to grow.
Let’s see. We are almost at the hour mark here. Before I ask you my favorite question, we teased potential tech stack. Maybe we could just talk about one or two tools that you use that you would recommend. Or just the tools that you use if somebody wants to start a membership site.
Brian: For a membership site, specifically, you need your own domain, you need your own website. I love WordPress. I think WordPress does a fantastic job at doing just about everything. You can accomplish just about anything with WordPress. It’s not always the perfect solution but it can always kind of be your home base. I am still fully supportive of the WordPress side of things.
With a membership, a couple of things to consider, though, are how am I going to deliver this content? So if it’s a podcast app, or if it’s your podcast, or if it’s your email, there’s this omni channel component, right? Or the YouTube channel. But you need that core location where everything is truly yours. I didn’t answer your question at all there in terms of what I would most recommend for a membership site, though, because it really is that blend of things.
Joe: Yeah. It’s tough. Because if you’re just doing content, maybe, I’ll just throw out some plugins. I have a suspicion I know what you use. I think it’s probably the same as what I use, but like, there are other ones. If you’re just doing content, maybe restrict content pro is good, or WishList Member is good. I have an eCommerce component and I use WooCommerce Memberships.
Brian: I use WooCommerce Memberships as well. The folks at SkyVerge are fantastic…that made that.
Joe: Amen to that.
Brian: Oh, man, for membership sites, specifically. Joe, I should know this better.
Joe: If you just recommend your own tool…because I mean, like it’s hard. Also we can edit this out if you want. But it’s hard. Because I have no idea what this software as a service membership side looks like. Teachable does it poorly. I think a lot of people use like Kajabi. But that’s mostly courses like. I have Memberful is the one that I know the most. And I hear that’s like trying its best to put it nicely. I have no idea what a non-WordPress solution looks like.
Brian: There’s a lot of LMS type stuff that exists. Anything with a login is all you need, in my opinion.
Joe: Love it. Love it.
Brian: I don’t think from a software perspective you need something that has every bell and whistle. Whether it’s a course completion metrics or certificates or sending the emails by themselves. I think you need to just have a way for customers to see what you have available to log in. And whatever will help you reduce the friction to do so is a good tool. I don’t think there’s a perfect tool that packages it all together.
I think, if I did make one recommendation, though for membership sites, I love Stripe. I love being able to use it to take credit cards and make subscriptions. One tip I’ll give is don’t discount the value of PayPal and people’s ability to use PayPal because they have some funds on it or because it’s available or it’s really easy for them. I think people that don’t accept PayPal are really forgoing some sales that they otherwise would have had.
Because for a lot of people, it’s kind of their fun money budget, what’s in their PayPal account. Kind of like when you have a balance in your Venmo, which conveniently is also owned by PayPal. If I can just send someone money on Venmo, I don’t feel like a lawsuit because it didn’t come out of my bank account. It just came out of Venmo. It’s fun money. I think PayPal serves that similar purpose for professional development products, if that’s what you’re selling, like, of course membership or something.
Joe: I can’t echo that enough. But that day, I launched my first course, I did it with only Stripe because I was like, “Forget PayPal. Stripe is easier.” Nearly immediately somebody emailed me and said, “Do you support PayPal?” And I was like, “Now I do.” I rolled it out right there. Because I’m like, “I wanted to make that first sale.”
Brian: Even with a tech savvy audience like mine, I still have a huge percentage of people that use PayPal for a variety of reasons. There’s a ton of horror stories about PayPal support, or some of those types of things.
Joe: Like holding your money or whatever?
Brian: Holding your money, shutting you down. Some of the best support I’ve ever gotten is from PayPal.
Brian: Human beings that I call a phone number, and I talk to someone and then they solve my problem. That’s amazing.
Joe: When I rolled out subscriptions, to do it through PayPal, you need to basically call somebody. I was annoyed about that at first. But then like the dude I talked to was so nice and helpful to me. Thanks, PayPal, I understand. I understand and appreciate.
Brian: Now, if you ever want to transfer your subscriptions or transfer your account, PayPal has a lot of legacy stuff that makes that tough. But whatever struggles exist with PayPal, in my opinion, are worth it because you will make more money having PayPal enabled. It doesn’t even have to be your primary option. But you should always give somebody options to give you money if that’s what they want. If they’re willing to give you money, then give them the options of ways to give you money. I don’t care what those ways are. If they want to give me money for my product, I want to take it.
Joe: I say all the time…I just sounded like Foghorn Leghorn there. Do not make it hard for people to give you money. If you are in business, or just a person that’s like, “Hey, I want to give you money for this thing,” however you want to give me the money is fine. Use the cash up. I’ll set up a cash account right now. If you’re going to send me money that way. Yeah, absolutely.
Brian, we talked for a very long time. I do need to ask you my favorite question, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Brian: Do I have any trade secrets? Well, I’m going to stick to membership sites. But if I said, one trade secret, something that I found valuable, if you are going to be a presence, if you’re going to be a personality for your product, so you’re not selling a physical good—but you are selling a physical good—you want to present yourself and your own story in a professional manner. So I would say invest at least a little bit in your audio and video quality.
I know that’s like super popular right now with work from home and all these things going on. However, I do think it’s really important, and it’ll help set you apart from your competition no matter what industry you’re in. Because when you look good on video, and when you sound good on audio, people are going to take you more seriously they’re going to treat you as a professional and they’re going to be more willing to pay you.
Joe: I love that. I cannot express that sentiment enough. Audio video, get some lighting. Get just like two lights, white lights on either side of your desk so you’re not broadcasting from a dungeon. I love that. I think that’s fantastic. Brian, thanks so much for joining me today. Where can people find you?
Joe: Awesome. I will link to that and everything we talked about in the show notes over at howibuilt.it. Brian thanks So much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.
Brian: Thanks, Joe.
Outro: Thanks so much to Brian for joining us today. I always, always, always appreciate his time. I know he’s got his hands full with three different types of memberships. But I love his tips for the listeners. You need to own your website domain. Check out WooCommerce memberships. I’m a big fan of that. Don’t discount the value of PayPal. I think I said this during the episode, but when I first launched my online courses, it was minutes after I launched that somebody asked for PayPal even though I only had Stripe. So don’t discount PayPal.
Thanks again to our sponsors for this episode: Yes Plz Coffee, TextExpander and iThemes. Their support means a lot to me. You can find everything about them and everything that we talked about on the show over at howibuilt.it/189. And remember, if you want to get tips and tricks and advice and content delivered directly to your mailbox, sign up for the Build Something Weekly newsletter. You can find that over at howibuilt.it/189 as well. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, get out there and build something.