After a short hiatus, we're excited to be in your speakers and headphones again with a new episode of the Unemployable podcast … except that it's no longer called Unemployable. You may have noticed that the podcast now has a new name: 7-Figure Small.
If you were listening last season, you'll be familiar with the concept of 7-Figure Small. The big idea is building a business with significant revenue potential that fits the lifestyle you desire — and doing it all without the stress and added complexity of investors and employees.
In this episode, we review that big idea and then go over the three fundamentals to actually building a 7-Figure Small business: the Who, the What, and the How.
- The reality that content isn't king, but this is
- Why creating huge amounts of content can actually be worse than a waste of time
- The level of patience needed to build a minimum viable audience (and how to speed the process up)
- The folly of mimicking someone else's “how”
Oh, and we have a little fun briefly reminiscing about one of the most inexplicably funny SNL skits of all time.
All of that and more on this week's edition of Unemp– err, 7-Figure Small. 😉
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- Last season's 7-Figure Small episode of Unemployable podcast
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Why the Right Audience is the Key to Building Your Perfect Business
Jerod Morris: Welcome to 7-Figure Small, the podcast that brings you the stories and strategies that are driving the growing number of solo businesses achieving seven figures in revenue without investors or employees. Here are your hosts for this edition of 7-Figure Small — serial digital entrepreneur, Brian Clark, and me, Jerod Morris.
Brian, welcome to 2020.
Brian Clark: It's good to be here. Better than the alternative, I guess.
Jerod Morris: Yes, it is. Good to be here, good to be back recording an episode of this podcast as well.
Brian Clark: That's right. We've been on a break a bit. Not that we were sitting around. We had a busy fall.
Jerod Morris: We did.
Brian Clark: With our community and coaching program and all of that kind of good stuff. But now, it's time to fire back up the podcast, although something's a little different.
Jerod Morris: Yeah, I know. I was about to say it's good to be back recording a new episode of the Unemployable podcast, and then I remembered there's a new name. So, in the immortal words of Keenan Thompson's character on SNL, “What's up with that?”
Brian Clark: I love that.
Jerod Morris: Can you now get through the rest of this episode without singing it, at least once or twice?
Brian Clark: I'm going to break into “What's up with that?”
Jerod Morris: I'll do the Jason Sudeikis dance.
Brian Clark: You'll just do the running man over there and I'll try not to laugh.
Yeah, so we are now officially 7-Figure Small, and this is a term that played a big part in last season, really resonated strongly with people. Again, we ended up even doing a course of the same name that dives into the fundamentals and the process that I use when building these new businesses that we've got going, one of which is Unemployable.
So we still have unemployable.com — that's still home base. But we did decide that what we're really talking about here is this idea of 7-Figure Small. Of course, the monetary aspect of that catches attention.
But, as we have developed over time, it's more about the freedom to build the kind of business that you want. You don't have to crazy grow like you would if you were on that venture capitalist train. And you don't have to settle for a business that can't scale up into seven figures, even if you don't have investors and employees. And that, to me, is fascinating. Those were the types of businesses I built before we went to eight figures with Rainmaker. And that's what I'm back doing now and that's what I'm interested in.
Frankly, I think the 8-figure business was an aberration. It sounds weird to say that, but that was not something I ever really aspired to, just year after year we kept growing. And I think I might've even lost sight a little bit of what I was actually into in that process. Don't regret a minute of it, but it was not something that I had aspired to have — that many employees and that much revenue and all the responsibilities and whatnot that come with that once you get to that level.
Jerod Morris: Yeah, and this concept of 7-Figure Small was based on some of the feedback that we'd gotten to some early podcast episodes and a hypothesis in a sense that you've put out there and got good feedback.
And then the feedback through the actions of the community members and the people who took that intensive course really I think further solidified that it was the direction to go. It precipitated this change.
Brian Clark: Well, you remember when we brought the podcast back after I came back from sabbatical, we had that Seth Godin episode, and then the very next episode I said, “Let's throw this 7-Figure Small thing out there” based on what I had seen in the previous season. The shows that had really resonated with people were all about this idea of a no-employee 7-figure business.
And I think that also coincided nicely with Paul Jarvis’s book — Company of One. This is a real thing that I think a lot of people are interested in. And I won't necessarily say it's a backlash against the VC world, because those people are always going to chase that money and that route for what it's worth.
But when you've seen what's happened, specifically with WeWork and all the SoftBank funded companies that are just — they’re a sham. I mean, we've always been kind of critical of the VC thing, but it's more of a sham probably than I think most people realize.
I mean, it definitely is a game that you play. It's not the same recipe that we use to make a real business that's profitable, that serves the owner and the customers of the company — not investors, IPO markets, all of that kind of stuff. That's just not something I'm interested in.
Why is Content No Longer King?
Jerod Morris: So let's kick off the New Year then by talking about some foundational principles of the 7-Figure Small and the mindset and the strategy that you need to make it work. And I think the first place to start, we've always heard this idea of content is king. You know, “If you write it, they will come. If you create it, they will come.” And that's really changed. That's one of the things that we talked about in the Intensive.
Can you get into that a little bit? Why is content no longer king? And what is?
Brian Clark: Well, I'm not sure it ever truly was. Content was the vehicle by which you built audience, and audience is king. If you can get an audience without content, then good for you, but you're probably already famous.
So I think we saw since 2010, with social media basically becoming part of mainstream life, that people who are already known for their work, whether they're actors, musicians, what have you, they all figured out that they can go direct and build that audience themselves. And usually there's no content involved whatsoever other than their basic quips and tweets and what have you.
But for the rest of us, dating back to 20 years when I got started, giving people valuable content is the way to build audience. So there is that correlation, but it's audience at the end of the day that matters.
I think probably other than the 7-Figure Small concept that we talked about last year, the biggest wave I guess I made, coming back and saying, “You know what, creating all this content is not that smart.” You know, basically going against the mantra of content marketing that I've been a big part of, but it's true. You don't have to create massive amounts of content to build an audience.
In fact, I've been making the case that the value proposition provided by curation of being an editor, of finding what's good and what's true for your audience, that has more value than, “Here's what I wrote this week.” You know what I'm saying? I mean, yes, I could write a good article, we put out a quality podcast episode, etc. But the service I provide when I'm out there, understanding what is valuable to my audience and finding it for them, and curating that for them, that's really resonating.
The interesting thing is when it comes down to the important function of audience, which is often lost on people, is when you have an audience-first business, you're trying to figure out what they want to buy, and you need to focus on that. So the less time you can spend creating massive amounts of content, the more time you can figure out: what is it that this group of people that follows me, what problems do they need solved? What can I create that will add additional value to them and also sustain my business?
So I think that's been the biggest problem with content marketing. People spend so much time creating content, and then they either never get around to creating a product or they do create something, but they weren't really tuned in to what the audience really wanted. And then the product fails.
Of course, you've got the traditional product-first approach. That I think is going away between audience-first and the lean startup movement.
People know that it's important to figure out what people want to buy. And I'm saying if you can build an audience with curation and only create the content and the copy that you really have to — and you'll know from serving that audience where the gaps are. What do you have to do in order to close the dots, if you will, between what you're curating and what they really need as far as the value standpoint?
Then you spend the rest of your time looking through what the audience is actually responding to. And you can do that even easier with curation than you can with original content. Because when you curate, you could put in five different pieces of content and see what the audience responds to, as opposed to creating those five pieces of content yourself just to get the exact same data points.
Jerod Morris: One point that is important to make when it comes to curation, because sometimes I think this can get misunderstood. When you're curating, you are pulling together resources that other people have created, but it's not as simple as just listing out five links and a bullet point. You are creating some sort of content. How you introduce that, the context that you provide, and that part of it is still important. But you're not maybe creating a 2,500-word post every other day, something like that.
Brian Clark: Right, you're off the content creation hamster wheel, if you will. And I think going through the process of doing 7-Figure Small Intensive, I think people were a little surprised how sophisticated curation actually is from a persuasion standpoint, from a value standpoint, and from actually figuring out significant behavioral data points on what your audience is into.
So, yeah, you're right. It is not the idea that you just throw some links in an email and you're going to be rich and famous. It's a little more involved than that, to put it mildly.
The 3 Fundamentals to Success
Jerod Morris: So, let's talk about the fundamentals then of doing this correctly. You actually mentioned a couple of them there when you talked about audience and you talked about offer. But let's list out those three fundamentals and maybe talk a little bit about how they interact with each other to create this roadmap for success with a 7-Figure Small.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it basically boils down to who you serve, what you have to sell, and how you communicate with these people. And that's audience, offer and copy, the three fundamentals that date back 100 years now. Whenever you have a business that is indirect contact with the end user, the customer, that’s called direct marketing. Now we just call it digital marketing.
It’s interesting, the whole concept of direct marketing and then content marketing and all these different subsets. But really, this is just how digital marketing works, because the Internet is a direct medium and that's the crucial difference. You have to have that direct relationship and that's what drives these little businesses. Because you can have a good size audience and it only takes you and some freelancers to create the value that you're delivering to those people. It's quite amazing.
When Content Creation is a Waste of Time
Jerod Morris: Yeah, it is. Getting back to what we talked about there with content, why is creating huge amounts of content — how can sometimes that be even, I guess, like worse than a waste of time? Because you think, “I'm creating content. This is going to lead to something.” Why could that actually almost move you away from your goals than toward them?
Brian Clark: Yeah, this reminds me — actually, I told this story to our community members last fall about this very talented person that I know (I won't name any names). But this is a very bright person who has built a successful freelance career, a successful agency, and then wanted to move into products. There was basically just this recitation of all this content that was created in the pursuit of eventually creating an ebook. It was just like all the 20 videos and all these articles. I mean, it was a huge amount of content and it all resulted in the sale of one ebook, one.
So it's worse than a waste of time when you don't get product audience fit right. That's the goal. The goal is not to create content, the goal is to create a product that your audience wants to buy.
And that's kind of heartbreaking, because you know quality work was done and you've got a bright person and all of this. The recipe is there for success, and yet what seemed to get in the way (without knowing more behind the scenes) was that all that time was spent on creating content and not enough time was spent on figuring out what the audience wanted.
What’s a Reasonable Expectation for How Long This Takes?
Jerod Morris: The other question I think that often comes up when we start talking about this — we don't live in a very patient society sometimes. Brian, I don't know if you've noticed this or not.
But people wonder, “How long do I need to wait? Because, okay, I've got to build an audience, create this minimum viable audience, learn from this audience about what I want to offer. That sounds like it can take a little while to get to the point where you have something to sell.”
What is the mindset? What is the expectation that people should have about this process and the level of patience that they will need to see it through?
Brian Clark: It's interesting, because I think the traditional content marketing approach of creating a bunch of content to build an audience in order to figure out what they want to buy requires the most patience of all. Because you're relying on social media for distribution, you're waiting for your search results to kick in.
Now, all of this was very popular, obviously. That was Copyblogger's game plan, but that was 2006. By the time we got to 2010 or 2012, social media had gone mainstream. But that's also when Zuckerberg pulled the bait and switch, and no longer was your audience able to be reached by organic means. And Twitter's pretty much the same thing now.
I mean, things still go viral, but not content. I don't even know if you remember the good old days. You do.
Jerod Morris: I remember.
Brian Clark: Yeah, because you used to do it. That's right. I mean, we all…
Jerod Morris: It feels like a long time ago, I remember.
Brian Clark: It was a long time ago. And I think that's what kind of pains me to see, because you're getting the same advice like it's 2008 or 2012, or even 2016. The same things don't work anymore. They just don't, and yet, blogging is taught with this kind of “Create content and if it's good, you'll succeed.” No, that's not going to work anymore. Content marketing, same thing.
Even podcasting, everyone is starting a podcast. But the days of that really early, easy success in podcasting, that was 10 years ago now. Can you believe that?
Jerod Morris: My goodness, yeah.
I think back about some of the stuff that we used to teach people with podcasting. You know, about how to launch a show. And I would change so much of that now, because it just doesn't apply anymore.
Brian Clark: It's true, and yet this pains me, because I don't see a lot of people changing their tune at all. I mean, people who succeeded during what we call “the golden age of social media,” which was like pre-2010, they're still teaching the same tactics and methodologies, but the environment, the context is completely different now.
I think, honestly, you can get to what we call a minimum viable audience. That is an audience that has grown to enough size, doesn't have to be huge. It has to be enough to where it's starting to grow by word of mouth, and the audience is growing itself. That's a key metric to pay attention to.
But you're also getting enough signal through the noise, if you will, of what kind of problems these people have, what they're interested in. And that should start giving you indications of what kind of product to create, especially if it's a digital product or an information product.
The best way to do that, frankly, with the power, speaking poorly of Facebook on one hand, but their ad targeting is laser precise. If you know who you're trying to reach, and that's crucial step #1 — understanding who you're serving exactly. Then you can buy really affordable ads and make an investment that gets you to that small viable audience.
And then from there, once you have something to sell, then it's return on investment advertising. So you're no longer spending money on advertising, you're actually making a profit between your spend and the amount of revenue that you're bringing in.
I've never been a big proponent of advertising. Copyblogger was built without it. That wasn't my thing, but it is now. Because the context has changed so dramatically, that it's very difficult, unless you have a 14-year-old platform like Copyblogger that has an amazing link profile and ranks for all sorts of things, then you're going to have to take a different approach. And that's why Further and Unemployable rely heavily on acquiring email subscribers, but not so much concerned about SEO or social media. Like, I don't turn it away, but I don't rely on it either. Does that make sense?
Jerod Morris: Totally. That's one of the biggest things that's changed and that was going to be my next question to you, was about the role that paid advertising can play there. But you bring up an important point. This gets back to the fundamentals with the who, and why the who, and knowing the characteristics of the audience that you're targeting is so important.
How to Get the Who Right
Jerod Morris: The answer to this next question I'm going to ask you could be its own full, paid course, so I don't expect to get the full answer here. But what are some of the most important elements of getting that who right. Because it's clear from this strategy, that you've got to fundamentally understand that to be able to do the rest of it right. And it doesn't mean that you don't learn more as you go and kind of constantly tweak it. But how do you start to get that right from the beginning?
Brian Clark: Yeah, this is an interesting topic for me, because I always kind of subscribed to the idea that in order to lead an audience, you have to be a member of that audience. Or if you want to use tribe instead — you have to be one of the people you want to serve, and then just step forward and say, “Okay, I'm here. I'm maybe one step ahead of my audience as far as my expertise and knowledge.”
Going back to when I started Further, I can certainly relate to that. I was no expert in really any of those topics. But it was what I was reading, studying and sharing. And because of that, an audience started to follow me in that regard.
But yeah, to me, it's got to be something that you actually care about. I don't know that it has to rise to the level of passion, because that's kind of a loaded term, but you definitely have to have some purpose. There has to be a reason why you want to build this audience and you want to share things with these people and you want to serve these people.
As I've said many times, an entrepreneur hopefully is a highly compensated but still servant to a market, an audience, what have you. And I think a lot of the ego side of aspirational entrepreneurs, it's more about who they are and they don't understand that that's not how you succeed. It has to be about them. And then you become whatever form of influencer or whatever the ego side of it is.
I just advise people to be humble, because it can be humbling. You really do have to put the needs of this large group of people ahead of yourself in order to succeed yourself.
I'm not sure everyone gets that. What are your thoughts on that, Jerod?
Jerod Morris: It's interesting that you talk about this right now, because I've been thinking a lot about this lately. First of all, it's kind of how I feel with Unemployable, feeling kind of one step ahead, but really feeling an enthusiasm to serve the audience, to continue learning, to have things to bring back.
But I think about one of my other projects, The Assembly Call, which is now going on its ninth year. And I've really been thinking seriously this year actually about how much more I can do it, how long can I keep this going. Because it's not something that makes a lot of money, anything like that. It's a real passion project. There's that word “passion,” but it's a tribe that I have been a part of since I was like eight-years-old.
And essentially, that's how the show started with stepping forward to say, “We have something that we want to add to the conversation.” And I've gone through all the different stages of, “Okay, maybe we can turn this into a business. All right, I like the ego feeling of knowing that people turn to me for expertise on this.”
And all of those things have kind of faded away. What keeps me coming back and what keeps me from being able to walk away is there's this community that has built up around the show that counts on us and I can't bring myself to say, “I'm not going to be part of this content anymore.” I genuinely love serving the audience and just being there for no reason other than the satisfaction that I get from that. And what I've learned from that is that's why that project has gone on and succeeded.
In some ways, I look at it and say, “Well, it sure would've been nice to pick something that was a little bit more lucrative,” but it's something that I'm just genuinely enthusiastic about. When you strip all the other stuff away, it's a group of people that I'm a part of that I genuinely care about, love to talk to, see in person, all of those things. And I think that's fundamentally why it has succeeded over the long-term.
When you can find that, it's — “magical” is not the right word, but it's a special thing. And that's what I think creates that connection between content creator and audience that really gives you the ability to do some special things.
So, as you were talking about that, that's exactly what I was thinking about. Obviously that's the same experience that I want to have here with the Unemployable audience. It's just newer, because I started with you more recently, but I absolutely think that that is fundamental.
Brian Clark: Yeah, and that kind of leads to another observation. I think I tweeted this late last year and it seemed to resonate with some people. Everyone thinks that in order to get attention or to develop an audience, they've got to amplify their personality to somehow be larger than life.
Again, I kind of feel like that's an ego thing. It's like, “Look at me, I'm so funny and brash and outrageous.” And yet, a lot of the people that I see adopting this persona are copying other people. Have you noticed this? There's a certain type of personality that — remember Erika Napoletano?
Jerod Morris: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Brian Clark: So Erika — that really is Erika. That's her personality. And that was 15 years ago where she was just kind of outrageous and she developed this following of people who truly just loved to see what was going to come out of her mouth next. For years, I've just seen people copy what Erika was doing. And I don't know if it's genuine or not, but it's just not having the intended effect.
I don't think that a lot of people want to believe that the audience determines how you should be speaking to them too. Seth Godin famously said that, “Authenticity is determined by the audience, not your persona.”
I think that's a tough one for people to understand, but if you resonate with them and you're completely faking it, perfect. Or if you resonate with them and you're being completely natural, perfect. The audience determines whether they like you or not. And it's an interesting concept, but it goes much deeper once you get into copywriting, like voice of customer.
I'm glad to see so many people talking about the language that your audience uses is the language that you should mirror back to them. I'm not talking about just keywords and SEO and all that, because more and more we're moving into natural language. We've got Alexa and Siri — they've had some amazing stats on penetration of voice search. I don't know what numbers are correct, because they’ve had some that had over 50% of searches being voice-based this year. I don't think that's right. I don't know, have you seen these stats?
Jerod Morris: No, I have not. But that sounds…
Brian Clark: It's interesting. I'm kind of getting off the point here. But again, you have to listen to the audience not only to figure out what to sell them, but also how to speak to them. And that doesn't mean you have to compromise who you are, it just means you're being a good person.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who doesn't listen to what you're saying? They just can't wait to speak again? Like every statement they say has no bearing on what you just said to them and you hate that conversation? That's not fun.
Why do you think it would work any differently when you're talking to your audience if you're not really listening, if they're not hearing themselves repeated back to them as a way of just connecting with people?
But guess what? That's what works from a conversion standpoint, that kind of voice of customer, so that needs to be baked into everything you do — the voice of your curation, the voice of your content, your literal voice, if you're doing podcasting or other audio.
It's an important lesson and it seems really simple, and I think it is, but I think I learned these lessons a long time ago and they're just baked into me now. And I think we've got some people who still think it's about the cult of personality of the entrepreneur. It's a pretty rare case, I think, and usually that's after they've done the hard work to become known in their own capacity anyway.
Jerod Morris: It's interesting how often advice for how to be successful in this day and age boils down to be a good person.
Brian Clark: It's true more than ever, I think.
Jerod Morris: It is, so often it does.
Well, Brian, I think that's a good spot to end on for this episode, but we've got a lot coming. We're excited about where the show is going in 2020. We've got a couple interviews that you did coming up the next couple of weeks. And then you and I will come back for another episode of answering questions. We'll put questions out on Twitter and via the Unemployable email. But I’m excited about where this is going and excited to be back with everybody.
Brian Clark: Yep, and we've got some free resources coming that will expand on some of these concepts that we threw out here. When we get on and start spit balling through concepts, it may be interesting, but it may not feel like an organized, coherent argument, if you will, for some of the things that we're trying to get you to accept. So we are going to produce some premium free content for all of you, so we're all on the same page.
I think the podcast episodes, especially the guests that we'll be interviewing, will each have basically a story that fits within the 7-Figure Small concept. If you're strong on the fundamentals of what that means, and you're strong on the process of what that means, I think you'll get even more out of these interviews, because in effect, they'll be like case studies.
I think the more people we can talk to that have different takes, different perspectives on how this type of business can be built, can be run, and the impact it can have on your life — I think that's going to be really fascinating stuff. So we're looking forward to it.
Jerod Morris: And if you find yourself singing “What's Up with That?” for the rest of today, I apologize.
Brian Clark: I'm going to YouTube right now. I’ve got to see Jason Sudeikis doing the running man. All right, Everyone, have a great week. We will try not to waste too much time on YouTube, but it’s got to happen.
Jerod Morris: Talk to you next week.