Positivity is great. You need to remain optimistic and upbeat to achieve your goals.
But, how far does this extend?
Are you supposed to ignore the fact your entrepreneurial, artistic or coaching journey can, sometimes, feel impossible and pretend everything is ok?
It would be naive to think you’ll ride a wave of inspiration to the life of your dreams.
Instead, what awaits, are years (possibly even a decade), of hard work, failures, setbacks and lessons learned.
To say it can be a struggle is an understatement. Pursuing your entrepreneurial, artistic or coaching dream could be the hardest thing you ever do.
And yet, it will also be the most rewarding and inspiring thing you ever do.
So, you must continue. You must follow your bliss and see your vision through till the end. However, while doing so, you should understand some of the harsh truths awaiting you (see below) so you can plan for their impact, strengthen your character and increase the speed you, and your business, grow.
I planned to release my latest book, The Personal Freedom Manifesto, in October of 2020. This was a postponed release date. Earlier in the year, I’d promised a summertime release.
Therefore, October was an immovable deadline. Nothing could delay this release.
So, what ended up happening?
The Personal Freedom Manifesto was released on the 1st March 2021!!!
How was this possible?
It’s easier if I show you.
My original concept for the book cover and title bombed. I went for attention grabbing but my audience didn’t ‘get’ what I was trying to achieve (Do you? Leave comment below). As a result, I had to do a rethink, and rebrand, in an attempt to discover something that would appeal.
Almost 6 months later, after countless revisions from the cover designers and a delay in the book formatting, The Genius of Joe Barnes became The Personal Freedom Manifesto, and got its release.
Major projects ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS take you longer than you think.
That website you’re getting designed, which you imagine will take you 2 months, will take you 4. That new product you’re planning to create, which you imagine will be ready to launch in the new year, most likely won’t hit the market until the end of Summer. As Bill Gates once said,
“Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.”
So, what can be done?
Solution: Whatever project you’re about to start, begin with this knowledge in mind. Add at least 50% to your proposed deadlines. So, if you think something will take you 6 months to complete, tell your clients and customers it will be 9 (and this really is a minimum). This should help manage their expectations and prevent you from getting down on yourself about your perceived lack of progress.
Here’s the catch 22 situation you might be experiencing.
There’s a good chance you’re an introvert (or have introvert tendencies). After all, introverts are the ones more likely to think deeply, question the world around them and want to go in a different direction. However, to be successful in moving in this new direction, you’ll need to be the face of a new business or creative idea.
It’s very unlikely your work will get noticed by itself. On an almost daily basis, you’ll have to push yourself, or your work, out and into the public’s consciousness.
For a lot of people, this can be very uncomfortable. You’ll feel exposed, any criticism or trolling you receive will hurt and, at times, you’ll want to give up.
Solution: There is no real solution for this harsh truth. However, there is good news.
With time, being the driving force behind your work gets a lot easier. In fact, you may even start to enjoy it. After all, no one believes in your product, or project, as much as you, so who better to sell it? The more you push yourself out of your comfort zone, the more comfortable you’ll become.
This is perhaps the harshest truth of all. The investment you make might be time, money or your heart and soul, but the outcome will be the same. Whatever you had your hopes and dreams set on, will NOT come to pass and you’ll be left picking up the pieces.
Rudyard Kipling writes about this in his classic poem, IF,
“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken,
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
And watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build them up with worn out tools;”
Experiencing this kind of failure is heart-breaking. Back in 2012, I released my first book, Screw The System. I’d spent four and half years writing it (albeit part-time), put everything I had into its completion and expected it to do well.
My dream was that it would become a best seller and I’d be able to live off the royalties. The reality was that it took over a year to sell its first 100 copies. I was crushed.
Solution: Fortunately, since 2003, I’d been recording every significant positive result I’d experienced in a journal. Just because my book flopped, didn’t mean I stopped.
Ok, so I didn’t sell 100,000 copies, but I sold 100. That was something. I didn’t have 1000 five-star reviews but I had 10. Again, this was a positive.
By focusing on the positives in this way, rather than dwelling on the negatives, it lessened the impact of the failure and helped me learn the lessons needed to ensure my next book would be more successful.
This one is sad. You’ll be excited about the new business you plan to launch, or the new book you want to write, and, in your enthusiasm, you’ll share your idea with your boyfriend or girlfriend, a parent or a close friend, and they’ll look at you as if you’re crazy.
Unfortunately, they can’t see what you see. Instead of excitement, a chance for success and doing something meaningful, all they see is risk and financial ruin.
Solution: Try not to take it personally. Over the years, I’ve learned that loved ones eventually come around and do support you (even if they never understand why you do what you do). Therefore, don’t waste time trying to convince them.
Instead, forge ahead. Go for what you want and you’ll be amazed at how your success can communicate in a way your words never could.
In many ways, the path of an entrepreneur, coach or artist is harder than getting a regular job. The tendency to doubt yourself is greater because you haven’t got a crowd to support you.
Unfortunately, this can make you think society is right and you are wrong. As a result, when times get tough (and they will), you may start to think you’re crazy for ever attempting to follow your dreams.
Solution: Avoid thinking in terms of society being right and you being wrong (and vice versa). Instead, still your mind and listen to your heart. What’s it telling you? If love or inspiration is guiding what you’re doing then you must continue.
Begin your entrepreneurial, coaching or artistic journey and it’s likely you’re leaving behind a regular income. Of course, you can always work part-time or support yourself with a side hustle but, at least in the short-term, you may struggle to maintain the lifestyle you once had.
This causes a lot of people to panic. Next to our loved ones, we’ve been conditioned to value money above any other commodity. As a result, the temptation to give up on your dreams, or allow fear to cloud your decision making, is strong.
Solution: Understand that the ramifications of living on less, at least in the developed world, are mainly psychological. You are not going to lose your home and be unable to eat. Instead, you just won’t be able to afford some of the things you used to do and buy.
This isn’t so bad when you train your mind to focus on what you’ve gained. Remembering that you get to work on an inspiring project every day and create a future where you could, potentially, be financially free, should make up for any short-term sacrifices.
You’re on your own. That’s the way it is. You may hope that a marketing expert is going to come into your life and teach you how to promote your work, or that you can partner with someone to avoid giving presentations, but it’s probably not going to happen.
It’s more than likely you’ll have to rely on yourself for everything. This can be tough, time consuming (as you have to learn new skills), and lonely.
Solution: Commit to the process. Build resilience and embrace your challenges, believing you can overcome all of them.
If you do, an amazing thing happens. People do lend a hand.
Partnerships are, possibly, the most important factor to the success of your business or endeavour, but they only occur after you’ve demonstrated your value.
(image used courtesy of Bernard Goldbach flickr stream)
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On Thursday 29th of November 2018, it happened! While attending a training day for a writing project I’ve been recruited to work on (will share the details with you soon), the one thousandth copy of my book was sold.
I was delighted. There was a sense of inevitability as I’d reached 999 sales the night before after selling some copies at a meet up group I run, but it was still fantastic to achieve this milestone. Doing so, brought a close to a six- and three-quarter year journey!
It took me six weeks to sell the first copy of my book, Screw The System (launched February 2012).
It then took me a year and four months to cross the 100 copies sold milestone.
It was a further five and a half years to then reach the 1000 copies milestone.
During this journey, there have been title and cover changes, updates and a new book released and then retracted. It’s been emotional. Many times, I’ve been at the point of despair (wondering whether my life’s work might have been for nothing), only to rise to the pinnacle of elation (when receiving a meaningful email, review, endorsement or in-person comment about my work). With time, I’ve grown wiser. I’ve learned there’s a process to this book selling game.
I’m going to share it with you now. I’m doing this because there’s something important you need to know. If you believe you have a message to share with the world, are prepared to spend endless hours crafting it into a book that’s readable, interesting and flows and won’t give up in spreading this message to as many people as possible, then I GUARANTEE you’ll also reach 1000 sales (and, very likely, far beyond).
For, if I can achieve this goal, with no budget for advertising, no initial audience and NO CLUE about marketing and promotion (at least, initially), then anyone can.
Let me take you back to the 8th February 2012. For a moment, my finger hovered nervously over the ‘enter’ button on my keyboard. Then, I pressed it.
After four years of working on my book, Screw The System, I finally self-published it on Amazon. I’d rewritten it a painful 3 times. However, despite all the ups and downs, I was certain it was going to be a success.
As the weeks passed, and all I could see on my Kindle Direct Publishing results page was a big fat zero, I started to wonder what was wrong. Naturally, I questioned the book. Perhaps there was something wrong with the title? Maybe the idea of ‘screwing the system’ was too unclear or too aggressive?
What I know now, but didn’t then, was that this perceived failure had little to do with the contents of my book, or its title. Instead, I was making a fundamental error. I was attempting to sell a book before building an audience.
How the hell was anyone to know my book was on Amazon?
Even in 2012, the market was saturated. There were hundreds of thousands of self-published titles to choose from, plus all the conventionally published ones. Furthermore, I hadn’t notified any of my tennis coaching and hypnotherapy network about the launch. I didn’t have an email list. Hell, I didn’t even have a landing page or website. Finally, my social media activity was severely limited, having only joined Twitter and Facebook the previous month. And yet, for some reason, I naively assumed the book would sell itself.
Eventually, a few did, and a trickle of sales began. However, the pace was slow, averaging about 1 a week.
A couple of strategies gave me a boost on my journey to selling my first 100 copies. A guest blog post for MindValley and, later in the year, PickTheBrain, gave me an additional 20 sales (in total). I wrote articles for them and, in exchange for this content, they allowed me to leave a link to my book at the end of the post.
My writing mentor and friend, Tom Butler-Bowdon, sharing my book (for the first time) with the subscribers to his email list, as part of a Christmas offer, also generated around 15 sales. Apart from that, I scraped along for a year and half, desperately hungry for book sales, but not knowing how to generate them.
Selling my first 100 copies felt like an achievement. However, taking a year and a half to do it was never going to get me anywhere close to where I wanted to be.
I needed to come up with a new strategy. Unfortunately, at the time, I was still focusing on the contents and packaging of the book.
After studying a ‘Kindle Krusher book selling course’, I’d convinced myself that the title of my book was all wrong.
Screw The System is putting people off, I rationalised. It’s alienating personal developments large female audience. It’s not presenting a positive direction for the reader to follow. I wasted hour upon hour trying to come up with new ideas and worrying about the implication of having to rewrite parts of the book if the title change was too great.
On the subject of wasting time, it was during this period I put a lot of effort into growing my social media presence. Despite google analytics revealing Facebook and Twitter weren’t driving much traffic to my website, I persisted with allocating approximately half my time to creating thought provoking posts that had very little impact.
The one thing I did get right was increasing the number of guest blog posts I wrote. A seminal article on how to generate website traffic alerted me to this strategy. From November 2014, I began writing close to one a month. These mainly drove subscribers to my website, but they also had the knock-on effect of increasing my book sales on Amazon. However, as December 2015 rolled around, I still hadn’t registered 400 sales.
I did have something up my sleeve, though, and unbeknownst to me, my fortunes were about to take a slow upward turn.
Throughout most of 2015, I’d been rewriting Screw The System. Although happy with the original version, after 3 years of reading other personal development sites and doing my own blogging, I could see ways to improve. I also finally chose to change the title and cover, opting for the not too dissimilar Escape The System.
Along with the updated content, I had a new strategy. After devouring the content of business building website (Fizzle), I decided to launch Escape The System to my email list (as a PDF sold through my website) rather than on Amazon Kindle.
It did ok. Although I only made 15 sales, it was the highest concentration of purchases I’d experienced over a seven-day period. Furthermore, with a subscriber base of just below 700 (at the time), and a typical email open rate of 20%, the conversion rates were respectable.
A light went on. Perhaps email marketing works!!
Something else changed at the start of 2016. I began contacting personal development groups in London, looking for speaking opportunities. My first was at Inspire’d Stage, and the positive reception switched me on to the idea of selling my book off the back of a successful talk. More followed, as I spoke at Interesting Talks twice, Live your Legend a few times and a few other meet up groups.
Although the audiences weren’t large (at their peak 60, dropping down to 10 at the smaller groups), typically 10% to 20% (and once 25%) of them would go on to buy a book.
All the while, my Amazon Kindle sales continued to trickle in. The title and cover change did little to boost sales, but, with time, I began to average two, instead of one, sale a week.
Unfortunately, during 2017, guest blogging became a redundant strategy. My go-to website (Pick The Brain), like many other personal development sites at the time, stopped showing the amount of social shares an article received. The option to share the article (on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc) was still there, but now that the number of shares was no longer visible (e.g. an article has received 1000 shares on FB), it appeared to disincentivise people to share (don’t ask me why). However, as one door closes, another opens.
At the start of April 2018, I sold my 800th copy. Feeling inspired, I set myself a goal.
It had taken me ten months to sell the previous 100 copies, so I wanted to sell the next 100 in nine. This would have been impossible to achieve if I hadn’t had a new book in the pipeline.
Throughout the tail end of 2016 and all of 2017, I’d been writing ‘How to Create an Income Without Working a Boring Job’. By April 2018, I was in the final stages of editing the book and preparing for the launch. By June, it was ready.
Encouraged by the launch of Escape The System, I decided to use email marketing to maximise my sales. I offered the book at a discounted price (for one week only) and then emailed my subscribers with a link to buy.
This time, rather than selling the book through my website, I sold it through a third-party site called Gumroad. The downside was that they kept a small (but fair) percentage of the sale. The upside was that their platform offered the possibility of selling the book in more than one way.
When emailing my subscribers, I gave them the option of purchasing ‘How to Create an Income Without Working a Boring Job’ on its own, or as part of a bundle deal with Escape The System. I made the bundle only $1.50 more expensive and, to my delight, this greatly increased sales.
In total, this launch brought me around 50 sales (counting a purchase of the bundle as two). Two more campaigns followed, the first through my author friend Thibaut Meurisse, and the second through Tom. On both occasions, the book sold well, with the bundle constituting the majority of the sales.
These campaigns ensured I smashed my goal of selling 100 copies in nine months. I did it in five. So, I then set myself the goal of selling the next 100 in four.
Tom and Thibaut’s email campaigns ran into this time period, bringing me an additional 60 plus sales. I also featured at the Laptop Lifestyle Bootcamp weekend event as a speaker and the organiser bought 10 copies of Escape The System to give away as prizes. These, combined with the low, but continuous, sales of my first book on Amazon, ensured I reached my next 100 in only three months. Finally, I crossed the 1000 sales milestone.
Above is a breakdown of my 1000 sales. Although Amazon Kindle constitutes the largest portion (with 40% of the sales), don’t be fooled into thinking this was the most effective sales strategy.
Escape The System has been available to buy on Amazon (in one form or another), since February 2012. That’s over six and half years. In that time period, it’s only sold 400 copies on Kindle and 180 in paperback. Compare that with only five email marketing campaigns bringing me 150 sales, and you can see where you should be directing your attention.
For more tips, read the list below.
My book selling story doesn’t end now that I’ve reached 1000 sales. I’ve got big dreams and my next goal is 10,000. Ironically, this might be easier to achieve than the 1000 mark. This is due to the recent book deal I’ve been offered by a UK publishing company.
During November of this year, Watkins Media contacted me in response to a proposal I submitted to them for ‘How to Create an Income Without Working a Boring Job.’ They liked it and after meeting me and running some figures, presented a contract.
This was a fantastic boost. I’ve grinded out almost 7 years following the self-published route and now I get to see how being a published author impacts my sales. My hope is that the arduous task of building an audience will be, somewhat, mitigated as my book appears in bookstores up and down the country and overseas. I can’t now launch ‘How to Create an Income Without Working a Boring Job’ on Amazon, as the publishing company want to be the ones to officially release it at the start of 2020. However, I’m sure it will be worth the wait.
As I think back on my journey, and all the highs and lows I’ve experienced, my mind returns to June 2015. At this point, for some reason, I couldn’t get off the 337 sales mark. I didn’t make a single sale for at least a month, perhaps longer. Despite all the effort I’d put into making my book as good as possible, and all the time I’d spent learning how to market and promote, nobody was buying.
I felt like I was at a crossroads. After 8 years (including the writing period between 2007 and 2012) invested in the project, what did I have to show? A handful of sales and a revenue stream that didn’t even stretch into four figures. Surely, under any reasonable measure of attainment, I was a failure.
Fortunately, I didn’t see it that way. Ever since I’d begun my journey, I’d been recording my book sales. I noted every single one down in my diary as a positive result. Therefore, when it came to difficult moments like June of 2015, I had 337 reasons to continue.
I could have seen it differently. Perhaps most people would. They might have looked at the length of time it took to achieve those sales, and the effort that went into getting them, and ask whether it was worth it.
Furthermore, they might have looked to examples of authors who’ve released their first book, and gone on to sell a million copies in the same period of time it took me to sell 337, and made comparisons. They might have said ‘that’s what happens if it’s meant to be. You’re clearly not supposed to make a living from being a writer if this is how long it takes.’
I would have been justified in thinking like this. However, if I did, I’d have never gone on to get a book deal and sell over 1000 copies.
Although proud of my achievements, I’m far from an expert. Six- and three-quarter years is far too long to sell 1000 copies. Please learn from my mistakes.
Before ending this blog post, I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of my book. Some of you have even bought multiple copies and then gifted them to friends. Some of you have written fantastic reviews on Amazon. All of you are hugely appreciated. I couldn’t have done it without you.
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Take a look at the picture on your left. It’s the latest, in a 15-year journey, of attempts I’ve made to advertise one of my businesses.
Fortunately, this one was for free. As a member of a Fitness4less gym, if you agree to offer other members a discount on your services, you can advertise your business on the notice board without any charge.
In case the advert isn’t clear, this is my hypnotherapy business. I also have a tennis coaching business and a book selling/speaking/coaching business.
In this blog post, I’m going to detail all the attempts I’ve made to win new customers and clients. I’m going to tell you what worked, what didn’t and the reasons why I believe I received certain outcomes. Finally, I’ll let you know what I think is the most effective approach to gaining new clients and business.
I became a tennis coach in 2003. Although self-employed (as I have been with all of my businesses), I allied myself with a local tennis coaching company. The owner had two tennis clubs, multiple schools and a sports centre as part of his empire. My job was to teach the hours he couldn’t and he paid me a cut of the takings (I started on a measly £12 per hour). As a result, I didn’t have to do a lot of advertising. I received my work through him but had to accept I’d be paid a lot less because I was piggybacking off his name.
On the surface, this reveals little about what constitutes effective advertising or marketing. However, after I adopted a similar strategy with my hypnotherapy business, and experienced similar success, I realised it represents an effective method of generating business.
Why do all the hard work yourself? Why not cut out all the trial and error, potentially wasted advertising revenue and go straight to where the customers are?
One reason is money. You’ll probably end up earning less than 50% of what you could potentially make.
However, this is potential. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to generate the business. Furthermore, it’s important to note I was able to support myself entirely through this approach.
In 2011, I struck out on my own. I secured my own tennis courts (the sports centre mentioned earlier) and almost all the clients I’d built up over the years wanted to continue coaching with me.
So again, initially, I didn’t have to do much advertising. It was a case of ‘porting over’ rather than starting anew. However, now I had to rely on myself to acquire new clients.
I did this when advertising holiday camps. This involved designing and printing between 2000 and 5000 (depending on the length of the holidays) A5 flyers and delivering them to local schools. Often, I’d have to pay a £10 to £40 ‘distribution fee’ and then the school would place the flyer in the children’s ‘book bags’.
Most of the time, this worked well. Every Summer I would see new children and, upon asking where they found out about the camps, they’d reply via the flyer.
Typically, I’d spend about £250 on creating, printing and distributing the flyers. The return over the summer would be approximately 10 to 15 new children, each paying on average £26. However, there would be a recurring income, as about half the children would return for camps throughout the year without the need for further paid advertising – I’d add them to my email list and alert them of upcoming courses.
I began working as a hypnotherapist in 2005. Not knowing the industry as well as the tennis world, I couldn’t find anyone to piggyback off. Instead, I discovered a local clinic, created a website and received a slow trickle of clients.
To draw these clients, I put my name on a list of online hypnotherapy registers. Typically, they allow practitioners to advertise their services for a local area, often for free, and occasionally for a small sum. Then, I paid to have my services advertised on Yell.com. I also used Google AdWords and paid for an advert in a local magazine.
None of these strategies generated much business. Ironically, the best return came from the least amount of money spent (the online registers).
As a result of these failures, I spent 6 months scrambling for clients until I repeated the strategy that brought me success as a tennis coach.
The first clinic I worked at was very small. It had two rooms, no receptionist and was run by an Osteopath. Although it was a great space, it didn’t generate any business. I would always bring the client to the clinic, rather than the clinic bringing clients to me.
Therefore, I decided to venture out to two other clinics in neighbouring towns. Both were larger, with multiple rooms and a greater footfall. They also possessed something I discovered would be key to growing my hypnotherapy business – talkative receptionists.
As a general rule, people frequenting complementary health clinics are open to the idea of alternative therapies. They don’t have limiting beliefs about treatments being too whacky or unscientific. Therefore, when client X comes in for her weekly massage and chats to the friendly receptionist about needing to give up smoking, she’s open to the suggestion of booking a session with the clinics new hypnotherapist.
This is what I gained when I began working at these clinics. Although their rates (for renting one of their rooms) were far higher than my first clinic, they generated enough new business to warrant the increase. In fact, this approach quadrupled my clients in the next six months.
After 3 years as a hypnotherapist, I began scaling back. I needed time to write my first book, and with tennis coaching providing the majority of my income, I reduced my efforts to secure new clients. However, in 2015, after a new website launch and my book being published for over 3 years, I attempted to gain new clients.
Following the success of my tennis camps flyers, I decided to use a similar approach with hypnotherapy. At a cost of approximately £400; I had flyers designed, printed and then delivered to the catchment area for my local clinic.
Despite flyer drops being successful for my tennis coaching business, I didn’t have any expectations for this run. For one, the drop wasn’t targeted. When paying for tennis flyers to be distributed in schools, I knew I had a warm audience – the flyers were going directly to parents who needed to plan activities for their child’s holidays. However, with the hypnotherapy flyers, the catchment area was close to the clinic but it was anyone’s guess who might be living in the houses and whether they needed hypnotherapy.
Despite my reservations, the hypnotherapy flyer drop ended up paying for itself. It brought me in a total of three new clients, some taking more than one sessions and, therefore, covering my costs and earning a small profit on top.
I became a paid author in 2012. However, because of my hypnotherapy advertising experiences, I was hesitant to spend money promoting my book.
I experimented with Facebook Ads, but this was designed to increase subscribers to my website rather than readers of my book. At any rate, it failed horribly and ranks as one of my greatest advertising mistakes.
As a result, during the course of the 6 years promoting my book and coaching business, I’ve relied almost exclusively on unpaid marketing. This has involved three main approaches.
1. Selling my book on Amazon. This is a copy of the principle that worked well for my tennis coaching and hypnotherapy – go to where your audience are and piggyback off the platform that brings them there. As discussed, the downside is not keeping 100% of your money and, also, with Amazon, where the market place is so huge, it’s hard for unknown authors to be discovered.
2. Email marketing. For a detailed explanation of how I built my email list, read this article. I’ve nurtured this list throughout the years, providing free content in the form of articles and videos. On three or four separate occasions, I’ve run promotions on my two books (Escape The System and How to Create an Income Without Working a Boring Job). So far, they’ve been successful. Approximately 2% to 3% of my list have bought a book.
3. Giving Talks. Over the years, I’ve presented a variety of personal development talks across London. At the end of a talk, I’ll promote my book, offering a discount to anyone purchasing on the day. Typically, purchase rates are between 5% – 25%.
There’s one more book selling strategy I wish to discuss. I didn’t discover it by paying a marketing guru thousands of dollars for their online course or 1 to 1 mentoring. In fact, I happened upon it by chance. Using connections made on social media, I would simply tell people about my book and suggest they bought it.
Before going any further, I must make it clear that I never spammed anyone. I vetted the people I approached. Before I even mentioned my book, I had to see that they’d shown an interest in themes similar to the ones my book discussed. (For example, they’d specifically mentioned how they hated the influence of The System and were looking for ways to break free.) Then, I’d simply comment on their post, or send them a private message and mention that they might be interested in reading my book. Roughly 75% of people would then make a purchase.
I also used this strategy to acquire 1 to 1 tennis coaching clients.
When I first began tennis coaching, I exclusively taught groups. However, to increase my income to the point where I could support myself, I needed 1 to 1 coaching clients.
I was left to my own devices to secure these clients and it occasionally happened due to being in the right place at the right time. However, this wasn’t enough to provide a liveable income.
Therefore, I started asking parents if they wanted to invest in 1 to 1 coaching for their child.
Again, it must be noted, that I wasn’t a spamming. I only asked the parents of children who were showing potential in their group lessons. Then, it became a no brainer. Little Jonny was doing well in his lessons, he enjoyed the sport and the parents were keen to push him further. Why not sign up to 1 to 1 coaching?
So far, I’ve mentioned nothing of probably the most effective strategy to generate new business – WORD OF MOUTH. It’s played a huge role in my success.
I now spend less than £500 per year advertising my tennis coaching and hypnotherapy businesses. I simply don’t need to spend anymore.
Over the years, I’ve experienced countless parents mentioning that a friend’s child has enjoyed their lessons with me and can theirs join in.
Word of mouth has been less prevalent with my hypnotherapy clients (most likely because 90% of my work is tennis coaching), but I’ve still experienced many clients mention they’ve discovered me through a friend who used my services.
Word of mouth is win-win all round. Extra clients at no extra cost. However, how applicable is it to you as a new business owner, and how do you go about developing it?
I found it very hard to generate word of mouth at the start. This was for two reasons – lack of clients to talk about my services and these services not being as exceptional as they could be.
As many of you will be when you’re new to a field, I was a still a rookie. Despite my training, I still had a lot to learn and needed to build my confidence.
Over the years, though, word of mouth around my services has increased. If I was to give you one piece of advice to help develop yours, then I’d tell you to produce results – whether this means a problem solved, a new skill developed or a fun time had. This is what people talk about to their friends.
To do this, you must have a desire to succeed, have studied how other people produce results (but don’t rely too heavily on this), figure out what works best for you and, above all else, believe in the value or what you’re offering.
Now I’ve mentioned the most effective way to generate business, I want to finish with a brief summary of the different methods I’ve already discussed. My hope is you can use it to target your own efforts and not repeat the mistakes I made.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ve found this article useful. Please feel free to share it with a friend who might find it helpful. Also, let me know about your experiences with marketing and advertising in the comments section below. What has, and hasn’t, worked for you?
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The 29th December 2016 will forever be a significant day.
It was a Thursday, and every Thursday, I open Campaign Monitor (the email marketing company I use) and check how many new subscribers I get each week.
I knew I was getting close. Two weeks prior, I had an article featured on Pick The Brain. This brought in the usual flow of 30 to 50 new subscribers and got me within 15 of hitting the magic number. However, after all these years, 1000 subscribers still seemed quite far away.
Imagine my delight, then, when I opened Campaign Monitor and saw that the magic number had been surpassed. There, on my screen (as you see in the image below), was the total figure of 1019 subscribers (you need to add together the Pre-Book Release and the Screw The System Monthly Newsletter to get this figure).
I want to tell you about my journey to gaining 1000 subscribers. Commencing April 2012 when this website went live, and finishing on the hallowed date listed above, the 4 years and 8 months saw a lot of struggle, hard work, mistakes, experimentation and lessons learned.
My hope is that you’ll learn something from my experience. Of course, I’m no expert when it comes to internet marketing (the length of time it took me to gain 1000 subscribers clearly indicates this). However, my story is real and this is where its value lies.
You may have a similar goal. Whether your message is intended for a personal development audience, or a completely different niche, I believe you will find something of value here. I’m going to share with you what worked, what didn’t work and some of the most useful resources I discovered when it came to building an audience.
I entered this game green. I knew absolutely nothing about internet marketing or how to build an audience. Someone told me that if you have a message to share, then you go on social media, start posting or tweeting about your blog or book, and people will show an interest.
Simple, I thought. I believed in my message. I believed in my book. I would just let the quality of my work speak for itself.
That was my first major mistake.
Promotion is possibly more important, and, likely, more time consuming, than creation. You need a strategy and to be equipped with the knowledge of how to bring an audience to what you’ve created.
Remember, you’re operating on an internet with over 250 million active websites. How else is anyone going to see your work?
It took me a while to learn this. At first, I feared the reason I was failing to gain the desired number of subscribers was the quality of my work. Despite having spent four and a half years developing my writing skills under the tutor ledge of a best-selling author, perhaps I just didn’t have a message worth hearing.
You might have similar thoughts. Dumbfounded by the lack of interest in your work, it’s easy to question yourself and reach the conclusion that you haven’t got what it takes. However, this might not be the case.
There’s every chance you have a message worth hearing but have underestimated what’s required to get it heard. If so, you’ll take heart from what you are about to read. If I can struggle and scramble, with no prior knowledge about internet marketing, and still build a following of 1000 plus subscribers (and counting), then I’m certain you can too.
Here’s how I did it.
As mentioned, social media was the only strategy I had for building an audience when I began my journey. For me, this equated posting and tweeting on Facebook and Twitter.
I’d go on these platforms, with maybe 50 friends and 100 followers at the time, tweet a link to my website or post a status update with a section of my book, and rub my hands waiting for those subscribers to roll in. I’d be lucky if I got a single like, a retweet was totally out of the question.
Despite my lack of success with social media, though, I did get one thing right. My website was set up correctly. Sure, it could have been optimized to gain more sign ups, and I could have spent more time figuring out what keywords I wanted to rank for, but I had the basics covered.
My blog was there, and updated monthly, so readers could get a taste for my work. I had an About Page, so they could resonate with my WHY. And, most importantly, I had my free book as an incentive for signing up.
My first mini breakthrough came 4 months after Screw The System went live. Although I wasn’t pursuing it as a strategy for gaining subscribers, I decided to write an article for a personal development blog I’d been reading. I liked their message, and their submissions process seemed straightforward, so I applied.
To my delight, Finerminds featured my guest post on ‘Letting Go’. This brought me in the highest concentration of subscribers I’d seen to date – about 15 in a week (compared to the 2 a month I’d been averaging before).
You’d have thought a lightbulb would have flashed in my head. Clearly, guest blogging on prominent personal development sites was the way forward.
Perhaps because of the overwhelm I was experiencing at learning the new skill of marketing, and acquainting myself with the workings of social media (which seemed harder than understanding a foreign language), I wasn’t thinking with a great deal of clarity. I didn’t follow up my semi successful first guest post for another 5 months. Instead, I plodded along making daily social media posts, writing blog posts for my own site (that sadly no one would read) and making ineffective YouTube videos.
By the time my site had been active for a year (April 2013), I’d amassed a grand total of 83 subscribers.
Moving into Screw The System’s second year, I was marginally more informed than when I started. Although I’d overlooked the power of guest blogging, my mind did occasionally wander back to this avenue. However, the research required to find sites to write for, the infrequency with which they accepted articles, and their poor response rate to my emails, put me off.
So, instead of guest blogging, I decided to start writing bimonthly blog posts on my own site. Sure, some of these were popular, and for (at the time) a tiny site like mine, received a high number of social shares, but it did very little to increase my subscriber numbers because so few people knew Screw The System existed.
Moving into 2014, I was spinning my wheels. I crossed my two-year anniversary with only 197 subscribers.
Little did I know, this was all about to change . . .
The watershed moment in the history of Screw The System’s (the site’s name before I changed it to Escape The System in Nov’19) growth came at the end of October 2014. It was then that I read an article on Jon Morrow’s website, Smart Blogger, with the title ’11 Traffic Techniques That Are a Waste Of Time For Beginners’.
In the section entitled ’11 Traffic Techniques You Shouldn’t Be Using’ I recognised all my mistakes. In his ‘The Only Four Traffic Techniques That Work for Beginners,’ I saw the blueprint for success.
It’s hard to describe the bitter sweet emotions I felt as I digested this article. On the one hand, I felt like a total idiot. On the other, I was jubilant with the knowledge that, after two and half years of fumbling around in the dark, I finally had a clear strategy to follow.
Saving my advertising budget for later, not having the time to create a podcast and having had bad experiences with outreach, I decided to focus on the first point on the list – Guest Blogging.
Of course, I’d already had some success with this avenue but it took reading Jon Morrow’s article to snap me out of my inertia and start me submitting content to other sites.
Using the 80/20 principle as my guide (I found that, when my articles were featured on sites like Elite Daily, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life and Motivational Memo, although prestigious, they didn’t bring in a great subscriber rate) I decided to focus my guest blogging efforts on Pick The Brain. Between November 2014 and December 2016, I had fourteen articles featured on their site. This brought me in an estimated 550 new subscribers.
GUEST BLOGGING WORKS!!!
There are two other occasions that deserve a mention in the story of this sites rise to 1000 subscribers.
Twice, I’ve had key influencers share my work and the results can only be described as guest blogging on steroids.
First, my writing mentor, Tom Butler-Bowdon, was kind enough to feature me in his newsletter on two occasions. Once, back in December 2012, and again in May of 2016. Both times, he primarily focused on the book he helped me create, but links were also left to my website and this yielded close to 100 new subscribers.
The second time a key influencer featured my work was blind luck. Or was it?
In early December 2016, Susan Cain, best-selling author of, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, posted a link to one of my Pick The Brain articles on her Facebook Page. The article was entitled, ‘The 3 Reasons Why You Don’t Need to ‘Fit In’ and it proved popular with her audience.
I didn’t know what was happening at first. Over the space of two weeks, I’d received an additional 150 subscribers and I had no idea where they came from. I didn’t have a guest post out on Pick The Brain so I was a little dumbfounded (although delighted) with the sudden growth. Fortunately, one of her fans got in touch and explained he’d reached my website through her Facebook page.
This boost to my subscriber base could easily be written off as luck. I hadn’t contacted Susan and asked her to feature my work. She just did and a chance experience like this can’t be relied upon to consistently build an audience. However, there’s a reason why she featured my work.
Susan Cain, or one of her associated (I flatter myself in thinking it was her – although most likely it wasn’t), clearly felt my article resonated with their audience. They liked it. They thought it was of a sufficient quality, and strong enough message, to share.
This isn’t luck.
It comes down to those endless hours I spent developing my writing craft, and my obsessive (occasionally verging on unhealthy) insistence that every piece of work I put out had to be of the highest possible standard. This is what caught the attention of a key influencer and led them to share my work.
Why am I stressing the importance of breaking the 1000 subscriber barrier?
It’s partly personal, partly practical.
When I started my journey back in April 2012, 1000 subscribers seemed like an impossibly large number. Although I believed in my work, I couldn’t see how I would attract that many people to my site. Therefore, to have crossed this boundary is to achieve the impossible. The boost this gives my self-belief now has me aiming for 10,000 subscribers and knowing I’ll get there.
The practical aspect of achieving 1000 subscribers relates to the monetization of your blog. An influential learning resource for me was Chris Guillebeau’s PDF, 279 Days To Overnight Success. This eBook charts the story of growing his blog (The Art of Non-Conformity), and becoming a full-time writer, in just 279 days. In it, he counsels his readers thus,
‘When can you start thinking about getting paid for your great work without compromising the integrity that helped you create the following?
Your numbers may vary, but I think the approximate number to start thinking seriously about this is 1000 followers or subscribers.’
Of course, you (and I) want to make money from your website or blog. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, it’s difficult to do that with just 100 or 200 subscribers.
Therefore, achieving the 1000 subscriber mark represents the beginning of making a living from your website or blog. With a well engaged email open rate of 20% – 25%, you have an audience of 200 to 250 people who are interested in your work and have a greater inclination to purchase products you offer.
Before I end this article, I want to mention a couple points I left out of the main body of the story, yet still feel could be of benefit to you when building your audience.
1. Although the growth of my subscriber base between Nov’14, and Dec’16, had a lot to do with focusing on a strategy, the increase in the number of hours I spent working on my website also played an important role. As you will read in this article, between April 2012 and October 2014, I was far too easily distracted by earning an income through my other work as a tennis coach and hypnotherapist.
That all changed after reading another Jon Morrow article, ‘Why Your Site Gets Such Pitiful Traffic (and what to do about it)’. His advice, ‘For the next 4-6 years, dedicate 20 -40 hours a week to learning and practising traffic generation,’ caused me to reassess how many hours I was putting into growing my audience. I found myself lacking. As a result, I set myself a demanding (alongside my day job) new goal of working 20 hours a week on my website. Achieving it, played a crucial role in the consistency with which I could produce content to share on other sites.
2. Generally, social media was a ineffective and time inefficient means of growing my subscriber base (although good for engaging with my followers). However, there was one exception.
Sharing posts from my Escape The System Facebook page to a popular, and active (this is the key), Facebook group (in my case Supporters of David Icke and his Work) proved to be a very non labour intensive way of gaining extra subscribers. I would still say guest blogging brought greater returns, but you can’t argue with spending 5 minutes creating, and sharing, a Facebook post to receive 10 extra subscribers.
* * * * *
And so, my epic journey ends.
It’s been demanding, exhausting even, but, ultimately, very rewarding.
I just want to take this opportunity to say a MASSIVE THANK YOU to you – my (now) 1160 subscribers for believing in me and your continued support. I truly appreciate it and I promise to continue putting everything I have into my work.
(image taken from iSchumi photostream flickr.com)
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I now have over 1000 ‘Likes’ for my Facebook Fan Page – Yay!
Cue fist pump, celebrations and fireworks!
While I’m being slightly sarcastic in my jubilation, I should pause for a moment to reflect on this minor achievement.
I remember when I started; getting 100 Likes seemed an impossibly huge number. Now (after a considerable amount of time), the page seems to be growing without putting too much effort in. (I intended to write this article as soon as I reached 1000 but in the elapsed time, I’ve gained an additional 253 ‘Likes’ for my page).
But what does it all mean?
A boost for my ego?
A legitimate method of driving traffic to my website?
A chance to positively impact people’s lives?
A means to impress potential publishers with my reach/following?
What’s the value of a Facebook Fan Page?
In this brutally honest article I will share my experiences of going from 30 to 1000 ‘Likes’ and how this has (or hasn’t) impacted my business.
My hope is that I might inform those of you who are considering setting up a Fan Page and putting a considerable amount of time into growing it. It will also provide a useful resource for those struggling with 100 or 200 ‘Likes’ and wondering whether it’s worth continuing. Finally, if you have an interest in internet marketing, you may also find it useful.
DISCLAIMER: Before I begin my story and subsequent analysis, I want to make something clear. I am NOT an expert or authority on internet marketing. My fields are personal development, writing and coaching. However, much to my chagrin, I have had to learn something about marketing in order to promote my work. It’s these hard earned lessons that I will now impart.
I set up my Facebook Fan Page back in December 2012. I’d been active on Facebook (of sorts, I really had no clue how to promote myself or business when I first started) with a Profile Page since December 2011. With the 150 or so friends I acquired during that time, I launched my Fan Page by asking all of them to ‘Like’.
To my surprise, 30 of them did and since then it’s been up and running and I’ve been updating it consistently (although not manically) with an average of 2 to 4 posts per week.
I post on personal development (with a rebellious twist) and occasionally promote my book, blog and videos. The page is called Escape the System (hint hint, please add to my ‘likes’ ; ), although I initially launched it under the name of my website which is Screw the System. (I changed the name before it got to 200 ‘Likes’ which was Facebook’s cut off point at the time – after that number it was locked).
It’s taken me an astounding 3 years and 5 months to grow it to 1000 ‘Likes’.
I’ll now share with you the key moments and how I’ve reached this exalted number.
Let’s start with content.
Although I say so myself, my content has always been dynamite! Straight from the get-go I was posting useful, inspiring and thought provoking snippets of information. Hours were spent scouring Facebook or the internet for the perfect image and quote. I’d then add my own 2 cents with carefully thought out prose elaborating on the image.
I wanted to be original, you see. It wasn’t enough to just post an image or write some self-help cliche like a lot of the other popular pages did. I had to go the extra mile and write a paragraph or two.
W.A.S.T.E. O.F. T.I.M.E.
What I didn’t realise was that I was a ‘nobody’. Not in the sense that I didn’t have any value, but in the sense that nobody knew or trusted my name or brand. It could have been the Dalai Lama posting for me and it wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference. All people saw (if they saw anything at all because my reach was so small) was a page with 100 or so ‘Likes’ and thought I was insignificant.
I could have put my precious time into far more productive methods of building an audience. Instead, I spent hours and hours updating my status and getting frustrated over how poorly some genuinely valuable content was being received.
Having said all that, my Fan Page did slowly grow. As the months passed, a trickle of ‘Likes’ and a modicum of engagement began to build.
Then, in about October 2013, Facebook slashed its organic reach.
When I first started my page, roughly 16% of the people who ‘Liked’ it would see my updates. By October 2013, it was estimated to be 12%, and by February 2014, it was down to a pathetic 6%.
As a result, I noticed a significant decline in both the rate at which people ‘liked’ my page and the engagement that my posts were getting (likes, shares and comments). My page was stalling at around 200 ‘Likes’ and I didn’t know what to do.
Then, out of the blue, a big hearted dude called Joe Cusimano stepped in and gave the page a massive boost.
Joe is a rapper, singer and activist from the UK who runs a variety of cool Facebook pages – The Lovelution, Global Freedom Movement, Unofficial David Icke. We got in contact through the comments section of another page and struck up a friendship.
I was amazed and truly grateful for what he did. With no ulterior motive, he invited many of the friends and followers from his multitude of pages to ‘Like’ Escape the System.
In the space of about a month, I was close to 500 ‘Likes’ and the engagement rates were higher than ever. This boost gave me back my pre Oct’13 momentum and I continued in the same vein until the 15th October 2015.
At this point, I had my first truly viral post.
Previously, I’d managed to get some of my posts to reach between 2000 and 4000 people despite only having 700 ‘Likes’. My ‘George Carlin’ post, however, reached a whopping 181,224 people.
I can’t really claim to know how I did this. George Carlin videos typically do well on my page (as do most short videos, with relevant content, that have had an impact on similar pages). I didn’t write too long a comment (as opposed to my early mistake of crafting paragraphs). I only shared it on my Profile Page and the rest of its reach came through other people sharing from Escape the System.
The impact of this post was over 150 ‘Likes’ for my page (in the space of a couple of weeks), bringing me within reach of the Holy Grail of 1000 ‘Likes’.
The Supporters of David Icke and his Work got me over the finish line. Joe informed me about this closed group, telling me he’d had some great results by simply sharing his posts on the platform. I found this hard to believe because, typically, closed groups had proved as fruitful as a desert in dry season.
However, for reasons unbeknownst to me, this one was different. I shared posts as myself (Joe Barnes) from my Escape The System page and sat back and watched as 30 to 40 ‘Likes’ were added to my page per post. I didn’t want to push my luck so I limited it to about 1 share a week and this saw me cross the finish line of 1000 ‘Likes’ by the end of April 2016.
Now that you’ve read about my epic journey from 30 to 1000 ‘Likes’, you’re probably keen to know the impact this has had on my work.
If you’re new to this blog then you might not be aware that I run a website and sell a book aimed at helping people to break free from a life of conformity and find (and pursue) their dreams.
How has my Facebook Fan Page helped my promotion?
The quick answer is, not much.
I want you to look at the picture below
Check the stats in the column on the right. They reveal the activity on my page for the last week and display a post reach of 16,639. This, for me, is very high (in the past it wasn’t uncommon to barely see 3 digits), yet if you look 2 rows down you’ll see something shocking.
Yep, you read it right, of those 16,639 people that my posts have reached, ABSOLUTELY NONE OF THEM have signed up or even clicked on my website to discover more.
Nothing. Nada. Nobody is interested.
And this isn’t uncommon. Remember that ‘George Carlin’ viral post I told you about in the previous section? The one with the 181,224 reach.
How many subscribers do you think that got me for my website?
Even if we’re talking 0.1% of the total then that’s a fair few sign ups, right?
Well, you guessed it, a big fat zero.
You see I’ve noticed something about various social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) over the years – they are, largely, worlds existing unto themselves. Or, in other words, I don’t see much referral traffic coming from any of these sites, to my website, no matter how well a post, tweet or video of mine does.
Now you may think I’m an isolated case – An independent, one man team operating without any great marketing skill (especially at the start). And, to some extent, you’d be right. However, in September 2014 I read an article on Jon Morrow’s SmartBlogger website (11 Traffic Techniques that are a Waste of Time for Beginners) that had a huge impact on my thinking and marketing strategy.
It confirms my statement about social media sites being pretty crap at generating traffic for your website. In fact, it goes even further, stating that unless you already have 1000 subscribers to your website then there’s little point having a social media presence at all (as a traffic generating method).
Now, I don’t know why great engagement on my Facebook Fan Page equates to little engagement on my website, or sales of my book, but the evidence is undeniable. All those hours I spent trying to come up with something inspiring and thought provoking to engage people with were, largely, a waste of time (if we’re analysing it purely from the perspective of promoting my business).
That being said, I wouldn’t be giving you an accurate account if I claimed that my Facebook Fan Page didn’t generate any interest in my wider work. Here’s a quick summary of the positives.
1. It is, by far, the best social media site (compared to Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn) for driving traffic to my website, with an impressive 82% of social media visits coming from Facebook. However, I must add that I can’t distinguish whether these visits are from my Profile or Fan Page.
2. People visiting my website from social media (which, in my case, equates to Facebook!) are more engaged with my work, tending to spend treble the amount of time scouring through the pages than they do if they came from an organic or direct search.
3. I’ll sometimes notice a new users name, who’s liked my Escape the System page, then appear on my subscriber list when I make my weekly check.
4. Social media sources typically account for 15% of the total traffic to my site so it would be inaccurate to claim they drive no traffic at all.
If you’re just starting out with a website or business and wondering whether it’s worth setting up a Facebook Fan Page to promote your work, you’ll probably want to know whether, if I could go back and do it all again, I would bother creating one.
My answer to this is no!
When it comes to promoting your work, Facebook Fan Pages take up too much time for too little reward.
Just stick with your Facebook Profile Page. The visibility of your work among your friends and followers is far greater, and if you do reach the point where you’re getting popular, and reaching the Facebook limit of permitted friends (around 5000 people), then you can always create a Fan Page.
Don’t, whatever you do, spend hours creating great, engaging content and then wonder why nobody seems interested. It’s not that your page is rubbish; it’s just that the odds are massively stacked against it ever reaching a substantial amount of people since Facebook slashed their organic reach.
Of course, you could pay for Facebook Ads (the whole reason why Facebook slashed organic reach) but why would you want to spend your money on promoting a page that doesn’t drive a lot of traffic to your website? Surely it would be far better spending the money promoting your website or a product you’re launching? (I can’t give you a detailed breakdown of the effectiveness of Facebook Ads and I have yet to use them).
After reading that, you’re probably wondering why the hell I persist with my Fan Page. Shouldn’t I just follow my own advice and stop wasting my time with it?
My answer to that is that I have an entirely different approach to my Fan Page now. Instead of hours being spent on it each week, it gets a total of about half an hour. I find a video with a great message, or an image with an inspiring/controversial quote, add my own quick opinion and post.
I consider half an hour, for the small interest that it does generate in my wider work, worthwhile.
Plus, having a Facebook Fan Page with 1253 ‘Likes’ looks a lot more impressive than having one with 500 or 200 ‘Likes’. While I’m under no illusion that gaining 1000 ‘Likes’ for your Facebook Fan Page makes you a player in your industry, I can’t deny that, in general, people are fooled by the illusion of numbers.
See something with mass support and it must be good, right? See something with only 100 people interested and it must be of little value.
I hate that I’ve written these lines but I would be lying if I said I’d never fallen victim to this type of thinking and that, from my observations, most of the world seems to think this way.
So, my advice, dear reader, if you already have a Fan Page and it’s growing and providing you with a modicum of traffic for your website, and people are enjoying the content (the importance of this shouldn’t be overlooked), is that you should keep going but don’t invest too much time. There are far more effective ways to generate interest in your work. Unfortunately, this article is not the forum to discuss them. However, if you click on the subscribe button below, then it won’t be long until you receive my next marketing piece on ‘How to get your first 1000 Subscribers to your Website’ where I will go into great detail about the secret to growing your readership.
Thanks for reading and please share this with anyone you think will benefit.
(image taken from Esther Vargas photostream on flickr.com)
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