Thomas Frank is a massively successful YouTuber and the creator of CollegeInfoGeek.com. We’ve been friends for a while, and this episode has been a long time coming. We’re sitting down to chat about how he built his brand, how he got into t…
We are closing in hot on the end of the year here on SPI. Next week I’ll be recapping the year in full (the good and the bad) but today I want to give a little sneak preview of what’s coming up in 2018 for SPI. It’s going to be a very…
This month here on Smart Passive Income, we’re going to talk all about branding. I have some great blog posts and podcast episodes lined up that are going to help you no matter what stage you’re at with your business—but for today, we’re going to start with the basics.
If you already have a brand up and running, this may be a great refresher for you. Speaking from experience, it’s always great to zoom out every once in awhile and ensure you have all of your foundational items in place.
If you’re thinking of building a business very soon, then you’re in the right spot, especially because I have a fun challenge set up for you starting mid-month that I’ll talk more about at the end of this post.
First, What You Don’t Need
A weird trend started to develop while I was in my early years of high school: All of the cool kids started to print their own business cards.
Did they own their own businesses?
But printed on these cards were their names in fancy writing, a logo (usually clip art), and any clubs they were in and special talents that they had. The coolest of the cool kids even had their pager number on there too.
I started to see these cards being passed out, collected, and talked about. So, of course, because I wasn’t one of the cool kids—but I really wanted to be one of the cool kids—I designed and printed one of my own.
When I think back to this part of my life, it makes me laugh hysterically, especially because I remember my own card saying I was a musician (true), and a karate expert (maybe not so true, although I did have a black belt). But at the same time, I know exactly why this kind of thing was happening.
It was fun and exciting to print these cards, to feel them in our hands, and to hand them out and share them with friends—the people who already knew our names and pager numbers anyway.
A little piece of cardstock made us feel like we were official, and that we had something more substantial than what we actually had, which was no business at all.
When I help new students through their entrepreneurial journey, it’s funny because many people who are at the start behave in a very similar way. For some, it’s literally the same thing—printing business cards—but for others it’s a customized blog theme, or having all of their social media profiles match perfectly. It’s swag like teeshirts, and the perfectly-branded email signature.
All of this stuff can be important and plays a role one way or another within a brand, but when you’re just starting out, you need to learn to differentiate between what you really want and what you really need.
Because your time and energy is limited, you must remove the focus you have on these attractive nonessentials and start to hone in on what is truly important in the beginning.
What are those must-haves? They are:
- A Purposeful Mission
- A Working Website
- An Email List
Let’s talk about all three:
1. A Purposeful Mission
I’ve written about the importance of approaching your business with a mission in mind, and really it’s at the root of all that you should be doing and the decisions that you make.
As I mentioned in a previous post about creating a Mission Statement, your Mission Statement defines what you or your business are about. It is action-oriented, determining what your business does, who it serves, and how it does what it does. It is the action you take now to fulfill your vision.
Create high-quality, well-designed goods that I would want to buy myself.
It’s this mission that led to several popular products in his line to fully fly off the shelf.
Sean Wes’s (SeanWes.com) mission is also very clear and powerful:
I’ve made it my goal to demystify the path to building a sustainable, profitable, audience-driven business.
Sean is definitely someone to pay attention to. He’s someone who has been inspiring me as of late, especially when it comes to how clear his head is in terms of where he dedicates his time. All that supports the mission statement above.
He’s got a gorgeous book coming out called Overlap, which teaches you how to start a business while working a full-time job. You can learn more about Overlap here.
Do you know what your mission is? It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in your business, it’s always important to remember why you do what you do, and the best part—it doesn’t cost any money to determine what that is.
2. A Working Website
In my online course, Power-Up Podcasting, I teach people how to start, launch, and market a podcast that matters, and also how to make sure it gets found post-launch.
What’s interesting is a common question I receive from students making their way through the course:
Do I really need a website to have my podcast?
The technical answer is, well, no. You don’t. You could easily set up your podcast using simply what you set up via your media host, with no website of your own at all.
But that’s crazy-talk.
Of course you’d want your own website!
You don’t need it to launch a podcast, or host your own video channel on YouTube, or crush it on social media, but in order to build a sustainable, long-term business, you should absolutely have your own website.
These marketing channels are where you go to meet new people and share a little bit about yourself. This is where you are utilizing other platforms that are not fully under your control to provide opportunities for relationships to start, and for you to share a bit about yourself with others.
Your website, however, is like your home. It’s where you invite those people you meet in outside establishments to visit so that you can make them feel more comfortable, allow them to get to know you even more, and eventually help them out on a deeper level. It’s where you can direct people, under your control, to what else you might have to offer. It’s where you can begin to serve them better.
One business idea I had a while back was to provide a service to help popular YouTubers get their websites up and running and help them start to build an email list. It really scares me that many of them have millions of viewers and millions of subscribers, but no real web presence other than their YouTube channel and social media.
All it takes is one mishap or one company decision to completely disrupt everything they’ve worked so hard for, and a website becomes almost an insurance policy for the popularity they’ve earned on those outside platforms.
Plus, let’s not forget Google and search engine optimization too!
When building a website, there are tens of thousands of different ways to go about it. There are options for hosting companies, website and blogging platforms, themes and designs, plugins, etc. It’s really confusing (which is partly why many people don’t even get started, and also why this challenge I’m putting together is so important), but it’s vital for the long-term success of your brand.
That’s why I say a working website—it just needs to work at first. Like with the business card example, it’s very easy to get lost in the “what’s the best way to design my website?” rabbit hole, which is a hole that many people never escape from. Yes, the look and feel of the website is important, but what’s more important is getting something up, rather than nothing.
It’s a ready, fire, aim approach, which means you can be a little off the mark at first, but then hone in on what works for you later on. You can always change things later and make improvements, and small purposeful and incremental improvements are always better when it comes to website-related items—so take that approach at the start. Take that big, bold action of getting started, and then slowly progress toward perfecting it along the way.
Plus, as you begin to publish content and begin to help people navigate through your brand and your offerings as they come, you’ll likely change and adapt to the audience that you eventually build, and can make adjustments as necessary to the website from there.
Start simple. Start simple. Start simple.
You just need it to work.
Work comes in many forms, however. Work in terms of just being ON, that’s first and foremost. Second, you want it to make sense. You want it to be easy to navigate and have some sort of structure to it. But the most important metric I want you to consider is how it’s working to help you build your email list—the third must-have for building a successful online brand.
3. An Email List
Is an email list necessary in order to build a successful online brand? Again, technically, no. It’s not. But you’re climbing a much steeper mountain without it.
The biggest mistake I made (and I made it twice) was not starting an email list right away.
On GreenExamAcademy.com, I didn’t build an email list mostly because I had no idea that I could. I thought it was a fancy thing big brands had access to, and because I was so new to online business back in 2008, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Eventually, I found out what an email list was after a mastermind group I was involved with suggested I sell my second product—an audio version of my LEED exam study guide—to those who had purchased the ebook version.
“It’s always easiest to sell to those who have already bought from you,” I was told.
Well, the problem was I had no idea how to reach out to those initial customers, other than one by one via email. I got the email addresses from the PayPal notification emails that were sent to me, and after sending over 500 emails, I was eventually banned from sending emails for about a half a day because I was sending too many within a specific time period.
I made the same mistake again when starting SmartPassiveIncome.com. The site was launched in October 2008, and I didn’t begin collecting email addresses until January 2010—almost a year and a half later.
That time, my excuse wasn’t about not knowing—it was that I didn’t think it was the right time. My site had just started, I wasn’t planning on selling anything, and I didn’t see the value in it.
So I get a few email addresses—maybe. So what then? Why is that important?
When I finally started to collect email addresses back in 2010, the importance of email became very apparent, very quickly. And as time went on, the reasons for having the email list revealed themselves even more.
At first, I saw a direct correlation between emails that were sent, and spikes in traffic to the website. This came because of broadcast emails about new posts that were published, and also the influx of visitors to older posts from my archive that were linked to some of the first few emails in the autoresponder sequence.
I also saw that emails that were sent to my list became great conversation starters. I was able to have a direct interaction with my audience because of it. I could ask questions and get answers back. I could get feedback for my work to help improve it. And, it also just showed people that I was a real person who took the time to reply.
Then, in 2013, something crazy happened—my website was hacked. SPI was down for an entire week after a DDOS attack left the site unusable, and during that insane week as I was trying to get things back online, I was still able to keep in contact with my audience to let them know what was going on. It showed me that even if my site was gone, I’d still have my email list so that I could set up shop elsewhere if I needed to. That’s huge for peace of mind.
More recently, when I made the decision to start creating my own products, the email list I’ve built has been instrumental in the success of the launch campaigns for those products. Both public launches for Smart From Scratch and Power-Up Podcasting surpassed six figures in earnings, and email, by far, was the number one referral source for sales.
For more information about setting up an email list, from what provider to start with to how to begin to segment your audience, click here for a free How to Start an Email List tutorial.
The Five-Day BYOB Challenge
If you already have an online brand, hopefully this has been a great reminder for you about the foundational items you should have in place.
If you’re close to starting and you’re ready to build a website of your own (or you’ve been meaning to but haven’t had the right excuse to get started), well I’m happy to let you in on a little secret.
For the past few months, my team and I have been working on a little five-day challenge we put together to get people moving on this online branding stuff.
It’s called the BYOB Challenge (BYOB = Build Your Own Brand). In five days, I’ll walk you through all of the steps you need to get a working website up and running, complete with a mini-campaign to help you build your email list.
It’ll be all you need to get that jump-start as you begin to build your audience and your brand online.
The unique thing about this challenge is that it’s not an email-based challenge, like some of my other challenges have been. This is a full-on comprehensive course with five modules (one per day), with several short lessons that will guide you through this entire process.
From honing in on your brand mission, to getting your domain name and building your website from scratch, to what design to use and what plugins to install, to what pages to include and even how to begin to think about collecting email addresses—it’s all here in this course that’s framed for a five-day window of action. The cost for something like this could easily be in the $200-$300 range, but because I know how vital this is to everyone building a business online, I’m going to be offering this course for free.
If this is something you’re interested in getting access to once this goes live, then make sure you click the link below to register for the challenge now. It starts on Monday, October 16, and runs through that entire week.
More info is available on the registration page, including some cool giveaways for people who complete the five-day action plan. If you’ve been waiting for the right time to get started, here it is.
Thanks, and I look forward to working with you through this process starting on October 16!