When I thought about talking on how to grow your online sales, I couldn’t think of anyone better to chat with than Pat Flynn.
If you are thinking of diving into this space, or already are doing online courses, this is a must-listen-to-show. Pat blogs at The Smart Passive Income Blog and hosts a podcast by the same name. Besides running one of the fastest growing blogs in the online marketing and blogging industry, he also has several other businesses, including niche sites.
In today’s show we are exploring the big picture of how choose to grow your sales, whether through email, social or advertising, or a mix of them all. Learn how to get the most of of your strategies with some very helpful tips and insights from Pat.
We chatted about:
- If someone has the resources to use only a single channel for outreach, Pat gives his suggestions
- How to get started with your list building
- Finding that right incentive to get your readers and customers to opt-in
- Pat’s top tips for building your list through email, social and advertising
- If a channel is working for you well, should you stick with it or level out and work on some other channels
Bob Dunn: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the WP eCommerce Show. Bob Dunn here, also known as BobWP on the web. Today, we are kicking off our series on Growing Your Online Sales. And what better way to kick it off than to bring Pat Flynn on to talk about growing your list, which in turn grows your sales. Welcome to the show, Pat.
Pat Flynn: Hey, thanks for having me, Bob. I'm really excited to be here.
Bob: Yeah, this is so cool, Pat. I know odds are that many of my listeners already know you— or of you— but can you give us a rundown of everything you do? Because I know you have several different websites. Just a little bit for the person who says, "Who is Pat Flynn?".
Meet Pat Fynn, Founder of SmartPassiveIncome.com
Pat: It's funny because sometimes my wife and even my parents don't know how to answer that question because there are so many things that I'm involved with. But my quick story is I got laid off in 2008 from the world of architecture and I took some knowledge I had about an exam that I had taken called The Lead Exam and I packaged that into a web site with practice exams and study guides and that sort of thing. That was my first foray into sort of doing my own business. And it really took off. I mean I had made over $200,000 a year after I started selling those things and a lot of people were asking me, "How did you do that? Tell me more. I want to learn— tell me everything."
So I built a Web site called SmartPassiveIncome.com. It was October of 2008, just to give you timeframe. My goal was just to share everything I had done, everything that I wish I'd done differently and things that I'm learning along the way. And even down to the penny how much I'm earning and where it's all coming from, what my sales are like and that sort of thing. So this was 2008. Now I have many other web properties, I have a software company. I have written books, I do public speaking and I go around the world and do keynotes and get paid for that, which is crazy because I never thought I would do that.
I'm working on my second book now and I have a podcast called The Smart Passive Income Podcast, which has just passed 36 million downloads in total, which just blows my mind. And I have a second podcast called Ask Pat, where five days a week I answer voicemail questions from the audience and that's past 7 million downloads, I think.
I have another podcast with a buddy of mine in the food truck space. My site, FoodTruckr.com, helps people who want to get started and up and running with a food truck. And no, I don't have a food truck of my own, which was kind of the challenge here because I built this site publicly on Smart Passive Income. But I showed people why I chose to go down that route, how I was able to build the website, how I was able to interview food truck owners so that I could get the right information in front of the right people. Again, not being dishonest and pretending like I owned a food truck, but pulling in information from where I needed to pull and putting it into a place where then I could sell books and courses and things like that. And that site has been doing really well. I also have a site related to security guard training to help people get started in that arena. And that's been doing really well since 2010. And you know I'm continually experimenting and trying new things. Now currently I'm an adviser for four different companies and one nonprofit organization and I just couldn't be more thankful with how things have turned out.
After getting laid off, which actually at the time was, you know, the worst thing ever, and now looking back, it actually worked out really well.
Bob: Yeah. It's one of those things where people always say well, you know there's a reason something happens and often at that point you think, right. But obviously there was this time.
Pat: Yes there's a reason for everything but only when you take those bold actions to take hold of those opportunities because obviously I could have gotten laid off and just have been upset the whole time and just kind of gone back to where I was before. But I decided to get involved with, OK, well, what else can I do or should I do differently? And that's when I got really involved with the online business entrepreneurship space. That was when I put myself out there into the world to meet people, ask questions, be vulnerable and try things and fail. Failing was one of the hardest things for me to do and now I fail all the time and I'm thankful for that. Is this something I'm trying to teach my kids now, that failure is an option? It's great because it tells you exactly what NOT to do the next time and you'll have a better chance of succeeding the next time around if not that one, then maybe the one after that, so I can figure things out much quicker.
I have found that over the years—and I've been around on this earth for quite a few years and I continue to fail. I mean there's things that just don't work. And I've found if I fail, I moan and groan about it but then I try to figure out what happened. Nowadays, it's OK, this isn't working and it's not working for this reason. Time to move on to the next steps. So I totally get that.
What’s your advice for people with time and resources to invest in just one channel for email list building?
Bob: Well, today's topic is quite broad, but I'd like to just tap into your experience as far as your top tips for growing an email list. First of all, obviously, the days of picking one channel to grow your list and sales is over with. It used to be, oh I'm just going to do this one thing, but we've got to be out there so much and doing so many things and all of them play some part in our strategy. So when someone comes to you and says, "Hey Pat, you know, I only have the resources to invest time and money into one channel," what advice do you give them?
Pat: Well, the first thing I would say is don't start spending money because somebody else told you a certain channel was good. A lot of people are spending money on Facebook ads or Instagram ads. A lot of people are spending time and resources building a blog or doing live video. All of those things work but not all of those things work for everybody. The last thing you want to do is start spending money and then lose it because you're not taking the smart approach. So a little research has to be done beforehand. What I recommend is to experiment and test and validate. What's cool about the online space is you are allowed to create these small litmus tests where you can try something and if it doesn't work or you're not getting the response you want, you can try something else or go back and take a different approach. Get that feedback along the way so you know exactly what you did wrong or what you should do differently.
And so if somebody was like, OK, help me figure out what channel I need to be on, the first thing I would say is, which channel makes sense for you and your business and let's go deeper into that. Where are your people at? A lot of times, I ask people: who are the top influencers in your space? Where does your target audience normally hang out? Where are they online? Tell me what other products exist that serve the same audience.
A lot of people have trouble answering those three simple questions and that's why I created my Market Map Exercise It helps people create a spreadsheet of each of those three pieces: the places where people hang out, the people who have already earned the trust of that audience, and the products that are being sold. When you do that, you get a nice overview and snapshot of what's happening in the marketplace you're in. That exercise alone can open up your eyes in terms of, OK, what's my position and what can help me stand out and what can help me be different than everybody else who's out there? That exercise has helped thousands of people since I've taught it.
In my book, "Will It Fly?", I recommend that you do that right now. And if you don't know the answers to those questions, if you can't come up with a list of 10 to 20 people who you know already have influence with your audience, well, you've got a little bit of work to do before you start spending money. Maybe you can start building a relationship with one of those people.
You should spend your time— money and resources— on that relationship alone. Or maybe you find that while a lot of people happen to be on LinkedIn for your particular audience and then you go into the research and discover that while these influencers are all over Facebook, nobody is targeting Linked-In. And so you can go in there and be the unique offering on that particular platform. So it's going to involve a lot of research at first and I would say, you know, before you start spending money, let's spend some time just making sure that you are putting your money and effort in the right place. And that starts with that research.
Tips for getting started with list building?
Bob: Now I'm going to break it into three broad areas for the next three questions: email, social, and advertising. Let's start with email. Someone may decide, this is how I'm going to build my audience, with my list. If somebody comes to you and says I want to really start building my list and can I do it through email, do you have a couple of tips to share with us on how they could get started that way?
Pat: Yeah. If somebody comes to me and says, Pat, I want to start building an email list, this is what I do. Because that's one of the biggest mistakes I made when I started. I didn't start an e-mail list as soon as I should have, even when I came out with my own products. I wasn't collecting e-mails because I didn't think it was important. I thought connecting with people on my blog was more important, or social media. But here's the thing. E-mail is still an amazing way to personally connect with people and give them a direct call-to-action, whether it's, hey, share this amazing piece of content with people you know and help them out, which in turn will help you grow your list even more.
Or buy this product or follow me here, follow me there or do this thing. And so e-mail great. Now how do you start building your list? Well, to go from zero to 100, you don't even need an email service provider. You don't need to spend any money. Just start asking people who are interested and this is a really tough thing for people to do. But I created this thing called the 72-hour E-mail Challenge. You can find it at 0 to 100 or it's at 100 e-mails dot com. You can sign up for it. It's free. You go through the process. It's three days worth of e-mails, just one e-mail per day. And it gives you the instructions for how you can build your list from 0 to 100.
To give it to you quickly, you probably have an idea already of what you want to offer or the kind of blog that you create or the products that you're creating. If you want to start building your list, simply ask your existing network.You would be very surprised to see when you total it all up, the amount of people that you already know who might be interested in what you have to offer or the things that you're working on. So it just takes a simple email or a simple direct message or even a text message.
For instance, "Hey Bob, I'm working on this product right now. I'm selling caffeinated gum. Is this something you'd be interested in learning more about? If not, no worries. If yes, let me know and I'll follow up with you later." If you get people interested, put them on a spreadsheet. Again you don't need an e-mail service provider yet and you'll find that some people will say no and that's fine.
You can also ask for referrals. Do you know anybody who chews gum who might be interested in this or anybody who drinks coffee? I'd love to just help them get a sampling of what I have and just want to get their feedback along the way. You're going to get a lot of people who are just going to be interested in that alone. I've had people go from zero to 300, 400, 500 e-mails and they get addicted to getting the yeses back from people. You can then import those people into your email service provider, whichever one you end up using. I use ConvertKit and I'm an advisor for the company. There's also AWeber, MailChimp GetResponse, Constant Contact.
Then you have this base of people who you know are interested in what you have to offer, the thing that you're working on. And then you can start using that list for feedback and offering more value to them.
But also, in turn, getting value back in terms of, "OK, this is the idea that I have. what do you guys think?" You're going to get these responses. "Oh, this is a great idea." Or, "No, I don't think that's going to work. It should maybe work like this instead." If you don't even have a product yet, you can start this way and your product can actually create itself as a result of this list that you're building. Now of course, once you are around the 100 level, you're going to want to offer different ways to scale the list- building process and this is probably where a lot of your audience is at now. So that was for the people who are just starting out.
But if you already have an online presence and a bit of a following, you can utilize that following and what you have online to build your list even more. To do that, there's a number of different things that work. But the number one thing is to offer some incentive to subscribe to your list. That's by far the number one thing that works. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people have websites that simply say, "Sign up here for the newsletter." Who wants more e-mails? Nobody wants more e-mails. Now once they get your e-mails, they're going to be obsessed with them and love them and realize how important they are that they'll open them up, right? But you still need to get people to leave you their e-mail address and the way you do that is with some sort of incentive.
You can offer what's called the lead magnet and that is basically some sort of PDF file or maybe it's access to a video or some sort of thing you give away for free in order to collect that e-mail address in exchange. That works really well. I use a tool called Leadpages to easily set that up in the mechanisms to deliver those things to people when they subscribe. Or you can just do it on your own. There are ways to automate that process in most e-mail service provider providers nowadays, too.
What should your giveaway for subscribing to your email list look like?
But the question is: what do you give away? First of all, what was done traditionally was that people would create these really long e-books, 30-40-page e-books and say, hey I have this free thing to download now. Not only are you giving people more and more e-mails when they subscribe but you're giving people 40 pages to read? Again, who wants to do that? Nobody nowadays has that much time, right? So offer a one to three-page PDF of the top whatever: the top five tools that people in the space are using to accomplish whatever goal they want to accomplish. If you're a photographer, for example, here are the top five lenses I use in my toolkit. How would you not want to download that if you're a beginning photographer, right? So things like that incentivize people with high value but a quick, small win. It's this idea of offering something quickly to people where they get an immediate result. They are so grateful that they've gotten access to that content so quickly that they can't help but want to get more from you later. And then later, you can ask for the bigger things, for the bigger transactions.
It's those small, quick wins that create that habit of continually coming back to you. That's why in your e-mails one of the best things I recommend is that the first follow up e-mail they get blows their minds with some amazing content because that will get them to realize, yeah, I subscribed to the right list. Holy crap. I love this guy. I'm going to open every other e-mail that they send me. Or it's, hey, this is so good that I want to share it. And that's how you can utilize your list to grow your list. And that way you can give people who are already on your e-mail list: hey, here's a link that you can share with others.
When they find great things, they want to share and your job is to create those great things that people feel empowered to share. The reason people share is really important to think about. I mean, there's a lot of different reasons why people share things, right? But a lot of times people share because they want to be the one to tell their followers or their fans or their friends or their family, to take credit for that thing they've found. So give your audience and your subscribers something worth sharing.
One of my favorites strategies comes from a man named Brian Harris. This is just more of a tactical strategy but it works really well in some spaces. Brian calls it the poster-boy technique. The poster boy is like the person in the classroom who always gets the top grades, who the teacher is always, like, why can't you guys be more like Brian? And you know all the other kids hate him because he's setting the curve, right? But you want to be the teacher's pet.
So the strategy here is if you're learning from anybody online, if you have influencers that you follow— maybe you're following Bob and what he's teaching— something that this influencer teaches and you do it really well and you focus a lot of energy and effort on it and then you report back to that influencer and share your results and talk about how it was really helpful. In more cases than not, that person is going to want to feature you in some way, shape or form. As little as a tweet or as high as, hey, I'm going to write a whole blog post or invite you to come on my podcast. Why? Because that person is a testimonial for what that influencer is teaching.
At the same time, you were being introduced with so much trust coming from this influencer, to a whole brand new set of people. So that particular strategy can work well to get more traffic but also coming off the end of an interview or a guest post or something like that, you should always be offering that lead. Again, just to kind of introduce people and to get people onto your email list, to show them the value you have to offer.I could talk for days about this.
Anything else to add on the social aspect of growing your list?
Bob: You've touched a lot on my next question, which was going to be around social, a lot of overlap as far as, you know, sharing getting it out there on Twitter, etc. Anything else you want to add about the the social aspect of growing that list that maybe you haven't covered? I don't need you to get into it real in-depth, but is there something else you want to add?
Pat: I mean, social is is also interesting. You know, a lot of people treat social as just a place to put links in all the time. They forget that social media is, you know, for being social. So as great as it is to just share links all the time and some people create these tools or have these tools that automate the whole process, where when you publish a blog post or a podcast it automatically sends a tweet out. That's fine, but you also want to be involved in conversations. Social media plays a big role in a couple of arenas: one, just getting people to know you as a human being, without any call-to-action. It's just giving people a little bit of a snapshot of what's happening in your life. Sometimes we don't really care for the 'I had a bologna sandwich for lunch,' but you know obviously if you're sharing stuff about your life, share interesting things, not your bologna sandwich, unless maybe if you're food blogger or something. Share behind the scenes. Share what you do and share things that you know will help you become more human. The reason that's important is because we live in a world now where it's not about B2B business to business, or even B2C, business to customers. It's about the P2P relationship.
As my buddy Chris Stocker says, the person-to-person relationship, the more you can become a person, the more likely it is a person is to take action with you. It's like back in the day if you lived in a rural or small town and even today, you'd rather go to a certain person, like Bob the baker, right? He has a bakery shop and you go to Bob's bake shop because Bob knows you, he knows your family, he calls you by name. And even if another bread store or supermarket opened up and the bread was cheaper, you would still go to Bob, right? Because you have this relationship with Bob. He knows you and you know him and you just have developed this rapport together. And that's what I feel like social media, more than anything, can help you do. A lot of people are missing that ingredient.
But also I feel like live video is becoming very big and that's obviously a part of social media and that's a great place to accelerate the relationship-building process. But also the trust- building process, where at the end of every live video, you should have a call-to-action to at least subscribe to a list of some kind. You can even offer that incentive and talk about it a little bit. And that's where I feel a lot of people's efforts are going right now: into live video because the cool thing about live videos is they don't need to be highly produced. It's very raw, very real.
It makes you become even more human because you can't do anything about it. It's live, right? Maybe the dog will be barking in the back. I mean that's real life and people want to connect with other people just like that, versus the perfect Instagram, you know, that well-lit filtered post. So live video with a call-to-action at the end is how you would grow your list for sure.
Do you have any tips on how people should approach advertising as a strategy to grow their list?
Bob: So, real quick on advertising. I know we could talk a lot about it. Maybe there are some people out there who are thinking more traditional, like, I need to start advertising, I need to buy Facebook Ads, I need to do this or that. Can you give me your one tip on advertising or how somebody should approach it, especially in the beginning, when they are just starting to grow that list?
Pat: Yeah. I mean, don't advertise your product. Advertise amazing content that will lead people to that product at some point. And what I mean is this is going to be a fun one. This is becoming really popular now, too. I've seen and it works really well when you really think about it and it becomes obvious why.
For example, let's say that you write a post and it's about whatever topic. And in that post you further that conversation that you've already had and that relationship that you've already built. Well instead of paying for ads, which people could probably go to your order page right now and order your product, instead of promoting that particular page, promote the content and have that be the device that builds that relationship, that brings people into that email list. And then, through those emails that get sent out, maybe it's a third or fourth e-mail that finally introduces that product to them. You've warmed them up completely by then and they've already said yes to you several times. They said yes to you for coming to that post, which they're more likely to do because it's a post not a sale. They've said yes to you when they've subscribed to your list. They said yes to you again when opening up your emails and seeing just how much value you've provided. And when you ask, you don't even have to ask that hard anymore because it's already a natural, just a conclusion to everything that you've already done. And so that's what's becoming really popular now. Another way to add on top of that is, and this gets a little bit more technical, Bob, but a lot of people are doing what's called retargeting.
So when you advertise on Facebook, or actually on any page on your Website, you can include what's called a Facebook pixel, meaning Facebook is able to track that they've landed on specific pages on your Website. So if you had a post about a particular topic and you have a product related to that, you can track the people who have read that post and then target them later. When you promote that product, they would see that product promoted in their feed and it wouldn't be a random post, for them, it would be, "Oh, I've read the posts about that. And I this guy and now here he is with an advertisement for a product. It makes sense to me now."
And the conversion rates are off the chart, versus just sending people directly to a sales pitch. So if you're going to advertise, know where people are going. Don't just advertise to advertise. You want to make sure that there is a funnel in place and you can keep track of things so that you know that you're not losing dollars. And that's what's working today.
Bob: Yeah. Excellent stuff, and often fascinating all the things they're doing.
Pat: It's a little scary.
Bob: Yeah. It is. People get freaked out about it a little bit. It's like you go to Amazon to look at something and then all of a sudden it's everywhere.
Pat: Right. And, you know, it's that, but it's done in a smarter way, with relationship building in mind.
If I am getting good results with one particular social platform, how much should I focus on it to the exclusion of others?
Bob: Excellent. So one last question. Let's say I'm trying all the different channels. I'm doing everything. I'm on social, I'm emailing and stuff. And one of them is doing particularly well. Maybe I'll say Twitter is doing really well for me. I'm seeing the best interactions. I'm seeing people come to my site from there. At that point, should I consider putting more energies into that channel because of its success and say, well, I'm going to kind of step back from the others? Or do I keep that going but start pursuing those other channels that aren't doing so well?
Pat: Definitely the former. If something is working, do that. This is where a lot of entrepreneurs struggle. They want to try every method and even if one method is working better than the others, they feel like they have to keep the other ones going. It doesn't mean you have to abandon the others. It just means that more of your time and effort is going to be put into your example, Twitter. That's the approach I took.
You know, I'm on every social media channel. But Twitter and Facebook are the top two for me. I don't even spend any time on LinkedIn anymore. And then some of the other ones, you know, Instagram is more of a personal thing now. So absolutely. I would recommend that everybody ask themselves: OK what's the channel that's working for me best right now? What's the marketing approach that is working? Are you actually spending enough time on that to know that it works? Or are you not giving it the best chance because you're so focused on these other channels? So definitely, it's like the 80-20 thing. 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of the things you do. If you know what that 20 percent is, I mean you should make that 80 percent of what you do.
That's going to exponentially increase your earnings and your success and then it still leaves 20 percent to play around with and try new things and just to be aware and understand what's going on elsewhere. But definitely focus your resources on what's working.
Where can we connect with Pat Flynn on the web?
Bob: Excellent. Don't spread yourself too thin. That's it. Well, this has been the perfect kickoff for the series. I think I could fill a whole season with Pat. It would be the WP eCommerce Show with Pat. But I know that's impossible.You've given us some great insights. What's a good way to connect with you online, especially on social?
Pat: @PatFlynn on Twitter would be the best place. I always respond to the comments there. And of course you can find me on SmartPassiveIncome.com. You know I'll be there and all the other stuff I have going on is connected there as well.
Bob: Excellent. Well, that's a wrap for this show and I want to thank you, Pat, for taking time out of what I know is an incredibly busy schedule just from everything you've told us that you're doing.
Pat: It's busy but it's busy when I want it to be busy.
Bob: Very cool. Thanks a lot, Pat.
Pat: Thank you.