The world of “online business” (also known as digital commerce), has become a major facet of all business, especially among entrepreneurs. So why does it seem that everyone you come across is “teaching” online business?
There’s actually a really good reason for that. And on the flipside, there’s an even better reason why other digital commerce businesses have less than zero incentive to shout about what they’re doing.
Joining me today to hash out this topic is multi-faceted entrepreneur Nathalie Lussier. We’ll hear about Nathalie’s “spiral staircase” journey to where she’s at now, and she’ll share some of her favorite examples of niche online businesses that you’ve likely never heard of.
The Show Notes
- Is It Possible To Have A Successful Online Business If You Don’t Teach Online Business?
- Free Profit Pillars course
Is Online Business Only for Those Who Teach Online Business?
Nathalie Lussier: Hey, I’m Nathalie Lussier. I’m leading the way for women in business and technology with my software startup Ambitionally and I’m unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one — and that’s putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelancers and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the weekly Unemployable email newsletter. Join us by registering for our Free Profit Pillars Course, or choose to sign up for the newsletter only at no charge. Simply head over to Unemployable.com, and take your business and lifestyle to the next level. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: Nathalie, thank you so much for joining us today. How are things in Dallas?
Nathalie Lussier: Awesome. Thank you for having me. It’s been really fun to think about what we’re going to talk about today, because unemployableness is really catching on I think.
Brian Clark: Yeah, for some of us, it seems like we don’t have a choice one way or another. But I certainly wouldn’t trade it for the world, and I think you feel the same way.
Nathalie Lussier: Totally.
Why Is There the Tendency to Think That the Only Online Businesses Are “Teaching” Businesses?
Brian Clark: This today is an interesting topic to me and I know it’s something you’ve thought about before, but being in the content marketing industry, we get to this point where we almost feel like we’re dealing in an echo chamber. Now it’s a group of really talented people that know this stuff, but everyone’s trying to outdo the next person.
I hear people saying the same things when it comes to online business — that it seems like the only people with the “online business” are people “teaching” people how to have an online business. I get that, and I think you do as well. It’s not true, but I understand why it’s happening.
Why do you think people get that perception?
Nathalie Lussier: Yeah, I think you’ve nailed it, that we’re kind of in this bubble. We’re constantly hearing from those same leaders or voices and we keep hearing people share their stats. I think that the businesses that tend to share their stats, like their revenue or how many subscribers they have or their reach or whatever, big kind of vanity metrics — sometimes they’re actually a real business metric, like their revenue.
We keep hearing from these people, because they have a reason to be sharing these stats. They’re sharing these numbers, because it’s probably going to help them get you off the fence to sign up for their products or their courses or whatever it is that they’re teaching, so you can kind of follow in their footsteps.
I feel like a lot of times the reason we hear all these success stories from people, who are teaching online marketing and content marketing and all the things you mentioned, is because they have a business reason to be sharing that. And if you think about it, if I’m a dog trainer or any kind of other business owner, there’s no reason for me to brag about how much money I’m making.
So we don’t hear those success stories from people in different markets who are doing really well online.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s almost counterproductive. Because when you do something that doesn’t depend on transparency and say, “Oh, look how good I am at this,” all you’re doing is inviting someone to compete with you. And that may not be the best thing.
Nathalie Lussier: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ve seen it happen time and again too, where you see this great success story and then suddenly there are clones of this person essentially. Somebody took their course, they took their content, and now they’re just turning around and teaching it.
It’s kind of a tricky thing. And if you’re not in the online marketing space, but you do online marketing in your business to grow it and reach the right people, obviously you don’t want to bring too much attention to yourself. You want to be in front of your ideal clients, not your competition.
Brian Clark: Yeah, of course.
What Is Your Background?
Brian Clark: You are a person who builds software tools like we do for online marketers, for online business people. So you kind of fall now into the category of the people that we’re talking about. Yet we all went on our own journey to get here in the first place.
I’m always fascinated, I’d love to hear how you got from point A to point B, because sometimes people look at point B and they’re like, “I can’t do that.” Well, yeah, you can, because you don’t know where point A was.
You have a very interesting story, a background that’s, in my mind, not as common. Can you walk us through that a little bit for people who may not be familiar?
Nathalie Lussier: Yeah, I like to call it my “spiral staircase” journey, because I did not get here in a straight line. I actually have been building websites since I was 12, so the tech thing I knew I liked early on as a young teenager. And then I ended up studying software engineering in school and I got some great internships. I worked in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street.
Then, when I graduated, I was at this crossroads where I had this job offer from Wall Street, but I had worked there already and I kind of felt like, “Oh, this is not really for me.” There was just a part of me saying, “Start a business. Don’t do this. You’re just going to wake up in 40 years and regret this decision.”
I definitely got a lot of resistance from my parents and from my friends at the time. “What are you going to do? You’re just going to figure some new business out by yourself?”
Originally what would have made sense would have been to start a software company, but I didn’t do that. I actually was reading a lot of blogs and a lot of online stuff about following your passion. And at the time, I was really passionate about healthy eating and real foods.
So I started a blog called Real Foods Witch. It was all about eating more fruits and vegetables and green smoothies and all kinds of things. And I was totally self-taught in that field. I didn’t have any nutrition degrees or anything, but I figured, “Hey, I got myself healthier. I got my Dad to eat more fruits and vegetables. He’s lost some weight, he’s feeling better, so I’m sure I could turn this into a business.”
That’s kind of what I did. I had to learn all the marketing stuff, because I did not have a background in that, but I built my own website and I did all the tech stuff myself.
People started coming to me and saying, “Who did your website? How are you doing all this online marketing stuff?” For a long time, I actually resisted joining the online marketing space, because I didn’t want to be one of those other marketers. But finally, I was like, “Okay, fine. Yes, there are enough people asking, maybe I can do this.”
Eventually, that turned into a web design company. I started designing websites for other people and I hired other freelance designers and developers to help me. And then I kind of reached a tipping point where I was like, “Wow, this is great, but I didn’t think I would end up here, becoming a project manager.”
I kind of pivoted again and I realized, “Okay, I could do some consulting. I could help people who are learning how to do some of the marketing stuff that I’ve learned and the tech side as well.” So I started teaching more about the tech side of things.
Then that eventually took off and started doing so well that I was able to retire my husband from his full time job, and he’s now since joined my company. And then that’s when we really started to design software, where I realized, “Okay, I’m doing set up for people for their websites, but if I could just have a plugin for them to use, they wouldn’t need to hire me anymore.”
All of that evolution, I call it my “spiral staircase,” because I never could have seen around the corner what was coming next. But if I hadn’t taken those steps, I wouldn’t have gotten to the software company that we have today. I really feel like all of those steps were necessary to get to point B, like you said.
Brian Clark: Oh, yeah, and it’s so common. Anyone who is on a straight path I am very suspicious of, because in my experience, it doesn’t work that way.
Interesting — started building websites at the age of 12, and yeah, I get the part about the parents push back.
Now I started building websites at age 30, so thanks for making me feel old. But I left the practice of law, as I say, to write on the Internet. And I always tell people, “Imagine telling your Mom that.”
Nathalie Lussier: Or answering the question, “What do you do?”
Brian Clark: Everyone thought I was crazy. Nowadays, I still don’t think they understand what I do, but they’re like, “Well, he’s not crazy. It worked out okay.”
One thing I know from your background that I think is unique is that you are a coder, right?
Nathalie Lussier: Yes.
Brian Clark: Does your husband code as well?
Nathalie Lussier: He does, yeah. We’ve actually hired a couple of other developers on our team. We’ve got him, kind of our lead developer. We have another female developer and myself. So we all kind of dabble in the code a little bit.
Brian Clark: That really helps. 10 years ago, I lamented that I could never do software, and of course, that’s what I ended up doing. But through compensating for the fact that besides html, I’m pretty useless.
It reminds me of Laura Roeder, I don’t know if you know her, but she’s a brilliant marketer, and then she got married to her husband Chris, who is a coder and that’s how they got into SaaS. It was one of those serendipitous type things.
So it’s a family business that is expanding beyond that. Is that fair to say?
Nathalie Lussier: Yeah, absolutely.
Not Just the Loudest Voices Are Successful
Brian Clark: Let’s talk a little bit more about this meta thing about online business that the loudest voices are all anyone seems to hear, because they have the incentive to do it while others don’t.
I read this, and this is funny because I agree with this, and yet I’ve never heard it put quite this way, and maybe I just missed it. But you said the main categories that most businesses fall under are “Getting laid, getting paid and not dying.” Did you make that up?
Nathalie Lussier: No, I heard that at a conference and I can’t remember who said it. I wish I had the actual person to quote. But yeah, that just stuck in my mind. I was like, “Yeah, actually it’s kind of true.”
Brian Clark: It’s true. I always tell people, look at the categories from old school direct marketing that you’ll always see: health and wellness, investing, business opportunity, blah, blah, blah. Those are the things that there are always ways to build money in, but it’s really much more of an expansive category than that.
For example, you wouldn’t think so, but one of the big mail order and direct mail type businesses that worked really well was golf — golf lessons, golf training on video, which seems to me to be a hard way to learn golf. But it was an incredibly lucrative.
Extrapolating from that, one of my favorite non-intuitive, I guess, businesses out there is called Little Yellow Balls, which brings out my inner 10-year-old to laugh, but it’s about tennis lessons delivered online. That’s fascinating to me.
I think that’s just one of the many examples of, “Yeah, there are plenty of people out there doing things you might not think of and doing extremely well.”
I know one thing you’ve talked about before is the whole pet industry. There’s even a conference devoted to just people who are — what’s the correct word for this? Pet sitters? Pet walkers? Am I getting that right?
Nathalie Lussier: Yeah, the whole gamut. Definitely, dog trainers and yeah, the whole thing.
What Are Some Other Examples of Successful Online Businesses?
Brian Clark: So give me some ideas from your circle of nonstandard success stories of people that are outside of the online business, a very loud echo chamber. I love to collect these examples for when people do bring up this misconception, because we teach people marketing. But many of those people are in purely online businesses, so we get to see some really creative and offbeat stuff. What have you seen?
Nathalie Lussier: Yeah, I think you’re totally right. What I like to look at too are book categories. If there’s a book about the topic, there are probably plenty of people who are looking for the topic online too that you could have a great business around.
I think some of my favorite examples, one of them is stylechallenges.com. Everybody looks at their closet every morning trying to figure out what they’re going to wear today. For some people, it’s more challenging than others. If you work from home, it’s maybe not too bad. But people get kind of frustrated with their closets and their clothes.
This stylist at Style Challenges basically puts on these seasonal challenges where different people from different walks of life — they could be empty nesters, they could be professional women or anybody — will basically go through and declutter their closet and figure out what they’re going to wear for the next season. And it really helps people have a much more confident approach to their wardrobe.
It seems like, “Okay, well, it’s fashion, can’t you just go online and buy stuff?” But having that community aspect, having the kind of teaching and the resources there, to me, is really cool. People basically repeat it season after season, year after year. Obviously, there are different ideas and different kind of prompts, if you will, and ways to do things to keep it fresh. But that was one that I thought was so cool. There are thousands of people participating every single season, so to me, that one was a really fun example.
Another one that is more of a professional kind of training is Motion School. This is if you want to learn how to do animation graphics or video graphics and video motion kind of cool stuff, especially as we move more and more towards video. Motion School teaches people how to do all of that, all the different tech tools you can use for it. I happen to know and I think it’s okay to share that they’ve made like half a million dollars over the last year selling courses about how to do graphics and motion stuff.
This is not a small business and it’s really cool to be able to say, “Yes, it is a professional development thing,” so maybe people’s bosses are paying for this (I’m not too sure, exactly) or it’s a side project for people who are joining. But it’s fun to see. They’re not teaching anything about business. So that one’s a really good one too.
I have so many other examples of Simple Green Smoothies. They’ve built such a huge community of people who love to drink green smoothies. It also started with a challenge. It started really on Instagram, that is where everything took off. Now they have a published book and they have a ton of online recipe books and cleanses and things that you can do with them on an ongoing basis. So that’s become another multi 6-figure business.
We’ve also got a dog trainer, a dance trainer, and a crystal healer. These are all kind of out in different areas.
But those are the ones that came to mind when I thought about, “What are some of those outliers or things that we don’t really hear about in the everyday online marketing space?”
Why Audio Instead of Video?
Brian Clark: I love it, that’s nice. Let me pick your marketing brain a little bit, so we can share a bit of what’s worked for you and where you see things going.
Now you mentioned moving more and more towards video, and yet you, personally, used to do a ton of video and you kind of backed off and are doing more audio. I know one thing you said is, “Hair and makeup are not my favorite things to do.” I always tell people, “I didn’t get in this game to wear pants.” (That was a bad joke.)
Nathalie Lussier: I can relate.
Brian Clark: I love audio, because you step up to the mic and it’s work, there is no doubt about it, but getting gussied up is not one part of that. Other than that, was there a decision on your part other than the preparation?
Nathalie Lussier: Yeah, there are a couple of things that went into that decision. When we first moved to Dallas… we moved from Brooklyn, so we were in a small apartment and trying to record in Brooklyn with sirens and all kinds of city noises was really hard. So, I was like, “Okay, yes, Dallas is going to be perfect. We’re going to have a studio in our home.” So, we did. We did a couple of shoots here and it was pretty good.
But I realized, “We have a baby on the way.” I’m actually eight months pregnant right now, so pretty exciting. I realized that to be able to set aside a whole day to shoot 10 videos and do the whole prep and, like you said, the makeup and all that stuff, and to really be able to dedicate that time and kind of pre-create and pre-script all of that content before the day was a lot of production going into it.
Then the other thing too is with video the editing is actually a lot more intense than editing just audio. You have to upload a crap ton of content, like gigs and gigs of video files, and it can just be a lot more intense. With audio, I just know it’s a lot more lightweight to edit. If I need to reshoot something, for whatever reason — it didn’t save or anything like that, we have that. I could just hit record again. You can’t tell it’s a different shirt or a different outfit or different day that we’re recording. So, for that reason, that made a lot of sense.
Then the other interesting thing is that we always hear that YouTube is the second biggest search engine and it is. But for the kind of content that I was creating, I was actually seeing more downloads for my podcast than views for my videos. I was trying to scratch my head and I was like, “Okay, well, what’s going on here?”
I think that people consume content in different ways. A video is great, because you can kind of connect and see the person, which is a lot better than just listening. But at the same time, if you’re on the go, if you’re in a car or if you’re commuting, listening to a podcast is way easier. You can either multitask, or if you’re doing something else, you can get the content without necessarily having to be in front of a screen, which I think is really huge and why I think the podcast is really taking off a lot better.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I agree with that. I always tell people that the production in audio is important, but that goes up exponentially to do video well. The people who do it well, I think it works out for them well. But you have to be really committed to that medium.
Also, let me congratulate you on the impending arrival. That’s very exciting. This is your first child?
Nathalie Lussier: Yes.
Brian Clark: I’ve got two who were little babies just yesterday and now I have a 13-year-old girl walking around my house telling me what to do. It’s amazing. So get ready. It goes by fast.
Nathalie Lussier: That’s what I’ve heard.
What Courses or Training Do You Offer?
Brian Clark: Let me ask you this. I know you’re heavily focused on software, especially in the WordPress plugin space. Are you doing any courses or training at this point?
Nathalie Lussier: Yes. We still have one of our core courses, kind of course delivery platforms, we call Heartquarters. Basically it’s taken all of my years of training and put them into a member’s area that people can access on a monthly basis. It’s really super specific training.
What I’ve noticed is that we’re building out tools that can help people — polite pop-up plugins and webinar plugins and all kinds of things to help people with the tech setup, which a lot of our people were struggling with. So now we’ve kind of handled that.
But then once you have those tools, it’s like, “Okay, what do I do with it? How do I host a webinar? Or how do I get traffic to my website?” And all the other stuff that I’ve learned over the years.
So they’re basically super concise training courses that go along with the tech tools that we have or that combine with them and bring people back to your website or help you market better using the tools that we’ve built.
Where Should People Get Started with Products?
Brian Clark: Yeah, excellent. Our audience, a lot of freelancers, a lot of solopreneurs, a lot of client-based service businesses at this point, and yet you know from your own days in web design and whatnot, the aspiration to move into products is pretty strong.
Where do you think people should start? Is it courses? Is it ebooks? Something that’s within reach for those of us who don’t code and commonly think that’s beyond reach. I am living proof that it’s not, but it’s not where I started either.
Nathalie Lussier: Right. Yeah, that is such a good question and that’s definitely where I was when I was doing web design too. I was like, “Okay, I’ve kind of reached my limit and I’m doing so much client stuff. How do I make time to do something that’s going to be a little bit more leveraged, whether that’s a course or something else?”
The way I ended up doing it, which I still think is a great way to go today, was to do a free webinar. I picked a topic that a lot of my clients were really asking a lot of questions about or seemed to really have a lot of misconceptions or they were interested in. And I just did a free webinar. Then at the end of that webinar, I actually sold a paid webinar.
It was really no frills. I knew I was just going to schedule another date for the live webinar for the actual paid program. And then I turned that recording into a course that people could purchase. Then over time, that first paid webinar that I did — today it still exists — but now it’s like a much higher production, e-course with a lot more video content and resource sheets and things you can download.
If it’s your first time creating anything, I think that’s a great way to go for a number of reasons. One, because if you’re doing a webinar on a topic that people are really curious about, then you’ll see people’s reaction live on the webinar, and hopefully, you’ll make some sales right away.
And then people are going to sign up for your live paid webinar off your free webinar. You don’t have to necessarily have all that content created. You want to give yourself some time in between the two so that you can create all that content and make sure that you’re delivering all your best stuff.
That, to me, is the fastest way to get going. Even if you’re not a super amazing webinar presenter, I feel like you’ll get better over time. Then, of course, you’ll probably come back and you’ll have feedback to that paid webinar you did and you’ll be able to re-record it, whether you want to record it at home, not live, the second time to make it better and edit it better.
What I’ve found is sometimes, especially if you’re a freelancer and you have a lot of client work, it’s so hard to prioritize doing stuff to grow your business, because you’re always working on your clients’ businesses. So to have a date and a time in your calendar where you have to show up to deliver either your free webinar or your paid webinar, it actually makes sense. You’ll actually show up, you’ll actually do the work, and you’ll actually make sales and get people on board if you do it that way.
As opposed to if you say, “Okay, well, when I finish my ebook, then I’ll put it up.” That’s probably not going to happen, especially if you don’t love writing or if there are certain things that bring up resistance for you when you’re trying to put your best stuff out there. It tends not to happen if you’ve got so much other stuff going on and you’ve got to pay the bills with client work.
So that worked really well for me and I would definitely recommend going that way.
Then, of course, you can get more sophisticated with your course production and you could even turn the recording and have that transcribed into an ebook and have other formats for it too. But I think that the first way to create it to be live is better.
Brian Clark: That’s excellent advice. Nathalie, thank you so much for joining us today. I really enjoyed this chat.
Nathalie Lussier: Me too. Thank you for having me, Brian. I love what you’re doing with the show, with your business, and it’s just so cool to be part of it.
Brian Clark: Cool. Excellent. All right, Everyone, in the show notes, we’ve got several links so you can check out what Nathalie’s got going on in more detail. I encourage you to visit and see what’s going on.
All right. That’s it for this episode. We will be back with more next week. In the meantime, keep going.