The Next Big Thing in Social Media Is Small

The next big thing is social media is small.

The next big thing in social media is small.

As my friend and mastermind buddy Sarah Bray puts it, it’s the difference between big box stores and small shops:

When I was growing up, Wal-Mart was inevitable. It was just this place you had to go to get basic stuff. You needed it, and you didn’t think twice about how horrible it was. It was cheap and it was there.

But now, we have all these other options. We can shop locally. We can shop online. We can shop at Target. We don’t have to go to Wal-Mart anymore.

I hope this is what is happening with the web right now. That more of us are deciding that the Wal-Marts of the Internet aren’t really what we need, and that we can do better.

Wal-Mart, of course, is Facebook. Or maybe it’s Twitter. Really, it’s wherever you don’t want to be but feel like you have to for the sake of “getting the word out” about your business.

Social media–as a behemoth ready to send you tons of free traffic if only you can crack the code–is all but dead. 

And yet…

Long live social media!

Social media is getting smaller, more organized and less algorithmic, more people-focused and less startup-focused.

What this means for you is that you have a lot of control. Now, you no longer only have control over your content, you have control over the platform because the platform is yours.

You create the space, invite the people, and play in it together as you see fit.

You don’t “go on” social, you  are social.

Sarah is doing this with her own community and virtual co-working space, Gathered. I do this with The Lab.

But you don’t have to go rogue to make this new wave of social work for you and your community.

Live video is also working to create these spaces–within big boxes like Facebook or in small, private spaces like on Crowdcast (my new favorite thing).

With live video, each post becomes a gathering spot. 

It’s fleeting, yes. But it’s also incredibly powerful. When you make an eyeball-to-eyeball connection with 5, 100, or 10,000 people for 5 minutes, you’re doing more good for your business in that time than a lifetime on Twitter.

Live video isn’t the next big thing because it’s new technology or a new tactic for connecting with your audience. Live video is big because of how small it makes our world for a few powerful moments. 

I suspect that more technology will come along and mimic this small world environment soon. 

I spoke with one of the pioneers of online business and social media marketing, Joel Comm, for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit.

Joel told me that he sees live video as the thing we’ll be talking about with social for quite some time to come.

If you want to hear more about how live video creates small gathering spots for your community–and how Joel approaches new technology, platforms, and trends in social media, check out this week’s episode.

Click here to read the transcript or listen in to our conversation.

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Strategic Social Media Without the Hustle with Joel Comm

Social Media Without the Hustle with Joel Comm on Profit. Power. Pursuit. with Tara Gentile

It’s always about relationship, first.  You know, any time we approach social as selling, we’re likely going to fail, because even if you are selling, a solid 90-95% of your time should be content and relationship-building, and the selling is, you know, always, “Oh, also, we have this, if this interests you.”

— Joel Comm

Tara:  Welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit.  I’m your host, Tara Gentile, and together with my friends at CreativeLive, we talk to powerhouse small business owners about the nitty gritty details of running their businesses, making money, and pursuing what’s most important to them.  Each week, I deep dive with a thriving entrepreneur on topics like time management, team building, marketing, business models, and mindset.  Our goal each week is to expose you to something new that you can immediately apply to growing your own business.

This week, I’m joined by Joel Comm, whose been building businesses online for more than twenty years.  He’s the New York Times bestselling author of twelve books, including The AdSense Code, How to Run an Online Business That Pays, and Twitter Power.  He consults with businesses large and small, and speaks on social media and marketing.  I asked Joel about how he puts social media to use in his own business.  We talk about how he chooses new platforms, why he’s betting big on live video, and how his businesses have been impacted by social media.

Joel Comm, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit.  Thank you so much for joining me.

Joel:  It is my pleasure.  Thanks for having me.

Tara:  Absolutely.  So you have been using the internet to grow business for over twenty years now.  At what point did you start incorporating social media into your marketing strategy?

Joel:  Oh, gosh, it’s pretty early in the whole social media era.  You know, what we call social media now.  Because before social media, we had message boards with members.  We had chat rooms where people had to log in and be social, so you know, that was social media, and we’re talking as far back as 1995, but you know, what we’re talking about now when we say social media is kind of everything from Myspace forward, and it was really 2007 when I signed up for Twitter and Facebook, and that was the year that I started using the power of social media to attract people to my business.

Tara:  Awesome.  Actually, that’s a later date than I would have expected from you, so that’s really interesting, but I’m really glad that you brought up, like, message boards and the things that were social on the internet before this current era of social media, if you will.  Were you using message boards and that kind of technology or that kind of media on the internet to grow your business then as well?

Joel:  Yeah, you know, I’ve had different kinds of businesses online, and back before I became an author and speaker with, you know, a public face, my company built websites, content-oriented sites, such as a bargain side called that I launched back in 1999, and one of the reasons Deal of Day was popular was because of the message forums, where people would share the various deals and coupons that they found from online and offline merchants, and we would have, you know, 100,000 or so people each month come through the member site there, and so I was using that form of social media back in 1999.

Tara:  Love that.  That’s awesome.  So speaking of which, social media has really changed a lot over, you know, the past 10-15 years or so.  At least in the time that you and I have been using social media for our businesses or this present wave.  Can you talk about how your social strategy in particular has changed over the last 9 or 10 years?

Joel:  Well, there’s a lot more sites and tools to choose from now.  Especially in the last couple years as I’ve moved strongly into live video and Snapchat and these types of applications.  They’re more of a rich medium that allow us to do more than just share words and pictures.  You know, there’s something about video that adds a whole new dimension and really, the live video sites are the new media.  Facebook Live and Periscope are the new television, and that’s the direction things are going, so that change has meant a lot to me, personally, because as an old-school broadcaster – I’m a former radio DJ, before I ever was online, I was doing radio, and before there was ever, you know, podcasts, I was doing shows, you know, audio shows on the internet – and so for me, just an opportunity to be able to leverage all the technologies we have now is giving me an opportunity to share my message to more people in real time.

Tara:  Got you.  Okay, so I want to come back to Facebook Live in a minute, because I’d love to find out how you’re using that, but before we get to that, I’d love to know how you decide whether you’ll jump on a new platform or not, because this is something that my clients are asking me about constantly.  “Well, should I try this or should I try that?”  How do you personally make that decision?

Joel:  Well, there’s too many choices to try them all, and so with me, the way it always begins is with curiosity.  If I’m curious about something, I want to go try it out and see, hey, what is this all about?  It looks interesting, it looks fun, would I enjoy using it?  If I would enjoy using it, and I discover that I do, then the next question is, “Will people engage with me on this platform?”  And that’s kind of how I end up wherever it is I end up.  It’s not because all the cool kids are doing it or because anybody else tells me I need to be, because I am not active on all the social platforms.

Tara:  Okay, so let’s talk about Facebook Live, because this is something that I am falling in love with, slowly but surely, and I’d love to hear how you’re using it specifically.

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Joel:  Yeah, so all the live platforms, I use in different ways, and really, I’m involved in three of them on a regular basis, and then I dabble with some of the others.  Facebook Live is really about sharing very specific content.  It’s less about the conversation and more about broadcasting for me, and I usually use desktop software such as OBS Studio, which is a free tool that you can use, and then we also have Wirecast, which is a paid, more professional version, that allows me to do more than just use the native app.  It allows me to use desktop tools to put in lower thirds or picture-in-picture or show screenshares of what I’m talking about.  So typically, what you’ll see me doing on Facebook Live is demonstrating a new technology.  For example, I know people will hear this later, but today, Google came out with their new Duo Video Calling App, which competes with Facetime.  Of course, Facetime doesn’t work on Android devices, it’s an Apple product, and Google Duo works on both iOS and Android, and so I did a Facebook Live where I demonstrated how this worked.  It allowed me to do … show the screen of the application as I was demonstrating, and you really can’t do that with the native Facebook app.  You’ve just got the front and rear-facing cameras to play with.

Tara:  Got ya.  Okay, perfect.  So what’s … what kind of systems do you use to track social media?  How do you know whether what you’re doing is quote/unquote working or not?

Joel:  You know, I’m really basic.  You might be surprised to find that I’m not highly analytical.  I do use Buffer and Hootsuite for some of what I do online, but really, the best measurement for me is whether or not people are engaging.  On Facebook, it’s, you know, views of my videos.  It’s likes.  It’s comments.  It’s shares.  On Twitter, it’s, you know, hearts and retweets and replies.  On Periscopes, it’s the number, it’s looking at the graph when the broadcast is over and seeing did people stick around?  Did they engage with me?  You know, did they drop off?  Or did my audience grow over time?  Same thing with Snapchat.  If I’m watching and I see my stories, people are watching the first Snap and then dropping off, then I can see okay, what I’m doing here isn’t necessarily working.

Tara:  Okay, I’m really glad that you shared that, because that makes me feel better about how I run things as well.  You know, I know there’s lots of people out there that have, you know, big complicated spreadsheets for keeping track of that stuff, but I think what you talked about is …

Joel:  And maybe they like that.

Tara:  Yeah.

Joel:  Maybe that’s their thing.  You know, I’m not going to do what I don’t want to do, because then my, what I’m loving to do, starts to feel like work, and I think the moment we start separating our work and our play, right?  That which we love to do and enjoy from that which we have to do, that … that’s a chasm that then becomes real difficult to breach, and I just don’t want to live like that.  I would rather have a lifestyle of doing what I want to do, when I want to do, who I want to do it with, for whatever my reasons are, then amass more money.  I just … there’s not an end-game to that, whereas I feel like life is to be lived.

Tara:  Awesome.  So I’m wondering, then if that kind of bleeds over into how much you plan or don’t plan the content that you share as well, because it sounds like you’re probably pretty spontaneous with your social media usage.

Joel:  Well, I can be.  I’m very specific with the methods that I’ve fallen into of how I use them.  For example, Twitter is, you know, I don’t want to belittle Twitter, because I’m a fan.  I have a lot of followers, I think Twitter’s very powerful, obviously, I’ve written several books on the topic, but Tweets are kind of throwaways, right?  You put it out there, and then it goes out to the great Twitter ether, and some people engage and react, and then it goes away, and it’s gone.  There’s something about the Facebook timeline that feels more permanent.  It’s more … I take more care in what I post on Facebook, and this is just me personally.  Some people treat Facebook like Twitter, and if that works for them, then that’s fine, but you know, when it comes to Facebook Live, for example, I saw the Google app came out late last night, and I thought this morning, “Oh, I’m going to go Live with it,” so it was spontaneous.  My Periscopes, I do almost one a day, and depending upon where I am and what I’m doing, who I’m with, or what I’m thinking about, that time of day can change dramatically.  I go, oh, I’ll want to talk about this.  Whereas the shows that I produce, I do a show called the Joel Comm Show, that is an interview with business, social leaders, and the like, I do on Crowdcast, and it allows me to have that interview format where I can have up to four people, including myself, on screen at a time, and for those, I plan ahead.  I create a graphic banner to go with it, I schedule the show, I promote the show so that people can sign up, and know this is when to be there to enjoy this broadcast live.

Tara:  Mm.  So it sounds like it’s a real balance, then, between, you know, maybe the content itself being spontaneous, but the … the intention that you have behind each platform being really set depending on how you … how you feel about the platform, how people engage with you there.  Is that … would you say that’s accurate?

Joel:  Yeah, I think so.  The platforms are definitely different.  I don’t see Facebook Live, Periscope, Crowdcast, or you know, any of the others in the same way.  They all have their place, and I think for anybody learning to use them, the more they dabble with them and play with them and understand the features and functionality and find themselves using each of those platforms in a way that feels natural and authentic and organic to them, then you’ll find that it kind of ends up at a certain pocket there in your, you know, your multi-pocketed outfit.

Tara:  Love it.  And I’m so glad you brought up Crowdcast, too, because it is my new favorite thing.  Everyone in my community is loving it, and loving that I’m on it, and so I’m really glad that you gave them a shout out, too.

Joel:  Yeah, I’ve looked at all of the other platforms.  Of course, I was really, heavily into  They started just a little over a year ago, and they shut their doors just the other day without much fanfare.  They didn’t really give us a chance to say … tell our followers where to find us, and I was the most followed person on Blab with something like 85,000 people, so I’ve been looking at some of the other platforms, Firetalk, Huzzah, and Crowdcast, and I really feel like, for myself, Crowdcast provides the best solution at the moment.

Tara:  Yeah.

Joel:  Not to say that I’m getting married and sticking with it forever, but for right now, it’s a good place to my weekly shows.

Tara:  Yeah, exactly.  Things change so fast.  Do you have a team that’s involved at all in your social media strategy or the implementation of your social media?

Joel:  You know, very little of it is actually outside of myself.  I do have one person that checks in on my Twitter and lets me know if I have any DMs that need … I get so many of them.

Tara:  Yeah.

Joel:  And I just, I can’t look at them myself.  You know, the basic tweets that people tweet me, hi, nice to meet you, that type of thing, I have an approved list of things that she can, you know, say to those people, but nobody ever, other than that, I handle it all myself.  I feel like it needs to be really personal.  I post what I want, when I want, how I want, and I probably could benefit from having some more structure, but you know, I’ve made it to 52 years old, and 20, you know, almost 22 years in business doing this without having too much of that, and so I’m probably not going to change, now.

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Tara:  Your audience is pretty diverse.  I mean, I know there are small business owners that follow you.  There are entrepreneurs, people kind of in the startup scene that follow you, and there’s marketers at big corporations that follow you.  How has social media allowed you, or how has it helped you kind of build an audience that is that diverse?  How do you see those things kind of going together?

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Joel:  Well, part of it is that I’ve danced in a lot of different arenas to begin with.  I’ve not been stuck in one vertical in building my businesses.  I’ve done everything from building sites and selling sites to affiliate marketing, internet marketing, information products, software, applications, speaking, authoring books, you know, and then the various social media tools, YouTube and then live video, so entrepreneurship, because I, you know, play in so many of these different sandboxes, it opens me up to be able to reach out to a lot of different audiences.  Which is one reason that when I write physical books, and I’ve just released my thirteenth book, I tend to pick different topics, unless it’s an updated edition of a previous book, like Twitter Power and Twitter Power 2 and Twitter Power 3, because they reach whole new audiences with whatever it is that I’m talking about at that time, and when you do that, it just gives you more opportunities to reach different, diverse groups of people.

Tara:  Mm.  Love that.  Okay, so that makes me then think about sales and selling, and I know one question that I get asked often is how social media affects your sales strategy, plays into your sales strategy.  So how do you approach that?  Do you … are you ever selling through social?  Or are you using social more to nurture relationships?

Joel:  It’s always about relationship, first.  You know, any time we approach social as selling, we’re likely going to fail, because even if you are selling, a solid 90-95% of your time should be content and relationship-building, and the selling is, you know, always, “Oh, also, we have this, if this interests you.”  But I do find myself offering my products and service very incidentally.  For example, I told you my thirteenth book just came out, and it’s based on my brand, Do Good Stuff, which I have the hashtag for, the website, I’ve got a t-shirt brand, and we just came out with some journals, blank books, with the Do Good Stuff logo on the front that are on Amazon, and so when I did a broadcast this morning on Busker, which is another live video application, I shared that with people, and you know, it’s fun to watch and see your numbers, because you can tell after you’ve done a broadcast and you’ve shared it with somebody, when the sales start going through, you watch your ranking on Amazon.  So I don’t really push anything hard, but I do offer opportunities for people to purchase products.  I have sometimes as an affiliate for other people’s products, and often, just to invite people to sign up for my list or my text notification system.

Tara:  Okay, perfect.  So then are you advertising on social at all?  Or have you kind of stuck with the more native use of social?

Joel:  Yeah, pretty native.  I don’t do much advertising on social.  I just share what I have, and I kind of trust the process that if I’m putting good content out there, that people will be drawn to me, and so far, it seems to be working.

Tara:  Yeah, I’d say so.  Okay, so for you personally, which platform has had the greatest impact on your success over the years?  And you know, feel free to kind of spread that out and really look at, you know, maybe it was in the past that you had a big platform perform well for you.

Joel:  Well, I think my blog has probably been the most important platform that I’ve been on, because you know, it’s my home, and it’s the only place that I control completely that can’t be taken from me, and it’s where I build my email list.  You know, as far as the social platforms go, I think I’m going to give credit to both Facebook and Twitter for playing an important role.  Facebook has a very engaged audience of people for me, more through my personal page than my fan page.  I’ve got about 40,000 people who like my fan page, but I’m not paying Facebook to, you know, to engage with people.  I want people to engage because they want to.  Because it’s organic.  So I get more on my personal page.  But career-wise, because I got involved in Twitter so early, I got asked to write a book, which John Wiley and Sons put out in 2009, Twitter Power, and we’ve done two editions since then, and the Twitter Power series has given me all kinds of open doors into corporate training, speaking, joint ventures, and partnerships, and so indirectly, I think that Twitter’s been just as powerful for me as Facebook.

Tara:  Okay.  You mentioned your blog, and I think, can you … You mentioned your blog, can you talk about the relationship between your blog and your social media usage?  How … are you promoting your blog?  Are you sharing complimentary content?  What does that relationship look like?

Joel:  Yeah, I publish a lot of content on my blog.  I write for Inc. and Entrepreneur, as well, and after a certain period of time, I can take that same content and repurpose it to my blog.  Other times, I’ll put original content on my blog, and when I put videos on my YouTube channel, I will write a blog entry and embed them on my site as well.  I always post those on to my Buffer account so that they get tweeted out on a regular basis, and that drives traffic to that site.  Depending upon the nature of the article I’ve posted, I may post it to Facebook, to LinkedIn, occasionally to Google+, because it probably does get a few clicks, and so, you know, I try to leverage the exposure I have in these other platforms to drive traffic back to my home.

Tara:  Got you.  You’re really known for kind of always being on the wave of the next big thing, or you know, always being someone who is an authority on what’s new.  Like you mentioned the Google app that you did the Facebook Live on this morning.  Have you ever felt yourself on, like, behind that wave?  Has there ever been something that you wish you would have gotten on sooner?

Joel:  Oh, gosh, yeah.  You know, Snapchat was one.  I … so I was kind of on the early wave of the entrepreneurs and business people.  I was on last November, which was before everybody was talking about Snapchat.  But I had heard some of my friends talk about it a year before then, and you know, I kind of poo-pooed it.  Snapchat, it’s for, you know, kids and perverts, and maybe at that time, it was more true, but I do wish that I’d gotten an earlier start on it.

Tara:  Yeah, does your strategy change when you’re coming at something a little later than when you’re at the bleeding edge of it?

Joel:  No.  I just use it, you know, in a way that feels right to me.  I think one of the reasons that people follow me is because what they see is what they get.  There’s … there’s no pretense, or at least there still might be some there, you know, we’re all so flawed and imperfect, but I just try to use it in a way that is interesting to me.  If it doesn’t intrigue me, if I don’t think it’s going to be fun or productive to do something with the platform, then I’m bored and I don’t want to do it.  I will go do something else that doesn’t make money, if need be, because I would rather enjoy my day, you know.  I’m not going to … whenever my deathbed happens, you know, hopefully many, many decades from now, I doubt that I’m going to look back and go, “Gee, I wish I spent more time working at (fill in the blank).”

Tara:  Yeah.

Joel:  I just … I don’t see that happening, and so I want to make sure that lifestyle is the most important.  That’s why I’m a … I am not a fan of the current messaging that is out there about hustling and grinding.  I just … I feel … and sorry for commandeering the conversation, but it kind of opened up that door if we can talk about that for a moment.

Tara:  I would love for you to talk about it, because we are totally on the same page, I think, on this.

Joel:  I just … I think that it can be dangerous.  Now, there’s certain audiences, and you know, let’s talk about some of the millennials, okay?  Not all of them, but there is a segment of millennials, there is … there’s some truth to the stereotype of entitlement and having everything handed to you, and I think for that group, sharing that message that says, hey, get off your butt and go work, and if you want it, go work hard, there’s nothing wrong with that.  But you know, when I see people saying, “Hey, you want a big house?  You want a fast car?  You know, you want a boat and never work again, then you’ve got to get up at 5:00 in the morning and you’ve got to work until 11:00 at night, and you’ve got to do it 7 days a week,” and I am just exhausted hearing them even say that, let alone thinking about what that looks like.  You know, you got to … you have to have a life.  You have to be doing what you like.  If your pursuit is just to build up and stockpile money and material goods, then when you get to the other side of that, you’re going to be like, “Oh, now what do I do?”  And meanwhile, you know, your kids are grown, your relationships are left untended to, and what have you got to show for it?  A cache of … you know, a stack of cash?  I’ve … listen, I’ve made millions, I’ve lost millions, I know how to make money, I know how to lose it, and it’s no longer my focus.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I like having money.  It’s, you know, but once I’m at a place where I have enough to enjoy my lifestyle and be able to do the things I want to do and hang out with the people I want to hang out with and travel when I want to travel, I don’t need to sock away this … you know, I don’t the big house and the fast car.  And if that’s, you know, if somebody’s passionate about fast cars, that’s fine, I’m not knocking that.  I’m just saying that chasing those things, at the altar of, losing out on what life is really about, and it’s about the people in our lives, then I think, you know, you’re going to wake up with a … it’s going to be a rude awakening when it hits you.  I want to have fun.

Tara:  Absolutely.

Joel:  You know, maybe it’s not very businessy to say that, but it is my attitude.  I see myself as a kid with a pail and a shovel looking for a sandbox to play in and to build something, and when you think about what that’s like when you were a child and you hit the beach and you were building castles in the sand, you were having fun, but here we are, doing it in the adult, grown-up world.  Well, I don’t know what this whole grown up thing is.  I’m adulting well, but I’m not doing the grown-up thing.  Whatever that is.  There’s somehow we’re supposed to lost that curiosity and wonder and playfulness.  Whoever sold us that, sold us a load of hooey, and I’m not going to subscribe to it now or ever.

Tara:  Yeah, well, you know, I think the … one of the other issues with this whole grind and hustle kind of messaging is that it actually forces people into really bad business decisions, because they’re not being smart about how they can make money and still have space, how they can make money and still have fun, and so it … what it sounds like is you’ve really identified these constraints of having time, enjoying your life, having a lot of fun, that actually lead you to making smarter business decisions, and that’s how, ultimately, you’ve gotten to the place that you are.  Would you agree?

Joel:  I would agree with that, and I think it pays to recognize there’s a huge difference between working hard and working smart.

Tara:  Mmhmm.

Joel:  And I’ve reverse engineered my successes throughout the past couple decades or so, and it’s really interesting, I can point to the one phone call, that simple connection, going to that one event, meeting this one person.  You know, taking the small risk that really led to all of the big successes, that much of what I did, and I learned about this the hard way, because I did, you know, I didn’t spend as much time with my kids when they were growing up as I wanted to.  I’m not saying I wasn’t a good dad, I did spend a lot of time, and you know, never missed birthdays or recitals or any of that stuff, but you could always spend more time, and I look at how much time I spent spinning my wheels, doing busywork that didn’t serve anything other than just to keep me busy, and so I choose to … to … rather than push a little mound of snow up the mountain to turn it into a big snowball, I look for the snowballs that are already at the top of the mountain, which ones do I just need to give a gentle push to, you know, to take off.  That’s kind of my philosophy.

Tara:  Yeah.  So I can hear our listeners in my head thinking, well, Joel, that’s great for you, because you’re Joel Comm, and you have these huge followings already, and you have made millions, and you know, you’ve got all of this reputation behind you, but it also sounds like you’re pretty much spending all day on social media.  How do you balance that?  Or how … what does that actually look like in your life?  How much time are you really spending?  How does that relate to results?  And how does that kind of allow you to live this life that you’re talking about?

Joel:  I’m not spending nearly as much time as it looks like I am, I’ll tell you that.  In fact, before we got on this interview today, I was playing a new game on Steam called No Man’s Sky.  I’m an old school computer gamer, and it is not unusual to walk into my office here and see me blowing things up and shooting, you know, other people online in a very non-threatening kind of way.  You know, and going out for my daily walks and making that as productive for me.  Staying up late or sleeping in, which is pretty much it’s a lifestyle for me.  Going with friends to a concert.  I’m going to Red Rocks tomorrow night for a show with, you know, one of my friends.  There is a lot of play in my life, and there’s a lot of projects, and there’s things that are sitting here undone that need to be done.  For example, I have a contract with my agent, he’s ready to pitch my next book to the big publishing houses, and for two months, I’ve been sitting on putting this together, and I don’t pressure myself to say, “Well, he’s waiting on this.  You have to do it.”  I trust that when it’s time, and when I’m all in on it, I will sit down and I will bang out a quality piece that he will then be able to take and sell and that will open up the next chapter for me.  But I don’t need to get it all done today.  That’s way too much pressure, way too much stress.  I want to have all the other good things that life has to offer.

Tara:  You don’t have to get it all done today.  I think that is a huge takeaway for people.

Joel:  No, because first of all, assuming you wake up tomorrow, there’s a tomorrow.  And if you don’t, you don’t have to worry about whether you got it done today or not, right?  Unless we’re talking about your will, you know.

Tara:  Yeah.

Joel:  Have that in place.  But other than that, it doesn’t really matter.  And you know what, the people listening that say, “Well, you’re Joel Comm, and you’ve got your following.”  I didn’t always.  In 1995, I was a guy working for a nationally syndicated radio ministry that was really, I brought home a little money from that.  You know, it was a … wasn’t getting paid a lot, and I was supplementing it with my first business, entrepreneurial venture, which I was a mobile DJ.  I started out in radio as a disc jockey, and started my own business, and I went out there, and I got gigs to do weddings and pool parties and class reunions and bar mitzvahs, and in 1995, when the web was a new thing, that’s what I was doing.  And I remember a year into it, just about being out of money.  You know, I asked my former wife the other day, I said, “In 1996, exactly how much do you recall that we had?”  She says it was less than $1 in the checking account, and I honestly can’t take credit for what happened next, and you know, not to over-spiritualize stuff, but I remember in that moment feeling very helpless, and I … I’m not a religious person, but I am a … I do have a faith, and at that moment, I prayed, and I said, “All right, God, if you want this thing to happen, and I thought that’s what you were leading me to do, you’re going to need to drop money out of the sky.” 

And I got to tell ya, within a week, I got an email from a guy I didn’t know in another state representing a Japanese multimedia conglomerate that I had never heard of, let alone couldn’t pronounce, and they wanted to license some of the content that I had created on one of my websites.  And from that moment on, everything changed.  And that’s why I talk about the small things that can move mountains, and it was simply following through on that call that came to me that opened the door for me to support my family and go onto the next venture.  And so, you know, I wasn’t always this guy, and I’m not the guy I was then, and I’m not the guy that I’ll be, you know, a few years from now.  It’s just a journey.

Tara:  Yeah.  So it sounds like the work that you are regularly doing is always building that foundation for those little things to happen that propel you forward.

Joel:  It’s showing up.  It really is.  That’s a great way to summarize it.  It’s going to an event when you don’t even necessarily know why you’re going, but you just feel drawn.  You’re curious.  You want to see who’s there.  What are they saying?  What’s the networking like?  Showing up and talking and listening and asking questions opens up all kinds of doors.  You know, and I get asked frequently, if you were starting over, what would you do?  Let’s say you weren’t you with your reputation, and you wanted to be in and you felt drawn to a certain business.  I would get my butt onto a plane or even locally, if they had it, and find events that are in that industry and go talk to people and ask them questions.  Don’t try to sell yourself.  Ask them what they … what they do and what they need, and how you can best serve them, and people will tell you the areas that they need help in, and you’ll know when somebody says they need something that you can provide the solution to, and that’s how you start.

Tara:  Awesome.  And that is such a fantastic metaphor, I think, for social media in general.  It’s a brilliant, you know, strategy for life and for networking and for building a business, but I think it’s also really specific to social media.  So to kind of bring it back full circle, then, as we start to wrap up here, I’d love to just ask you what do you see as kind of the next big thing, or the next big wave in this social media jungle that we’re all playing in?

Joel:  Well, I’m already in it, and people are starting to catch it right now, but it’s definitely live video.  Live video is the new TV.  This is something that I’ve been really preaching for the last couple years, and we’re starting … we’re coming to the end of the early adopter phase.  2017’s going to bring us into mass adoption, and so those who want to carve out a piece of the pie, this is the time to do it.  Find the platform that best suits you, your style, your message, where people engage with you, and start building up your audience and deliver your content through that method, because this thing is getting ready to blow up, and as viewership of traditional broadcast television and cable television falls, people are turning to the web, and soon, the two will be melded into one, where what’s popular on Facebook Live and maybe some other platforms will start appearing on your television screen.  And this is going to happen.  This is the wave that I’m riding and it’s a great deal of fun, so I’m trying to encourage as many other individuals, small businesses, corporations to do this, and trying to train as many on the hows as I can.

Tara:  I love it.  So what’s next for you personally?

Joel:  Oh, gosh, well, there’s the book that I’m ready to, just about ready, in fact, my laptop in my other room is open to the proposal document, so I’m posturing myself to get ready at some point to sit down to do it.  I’m working on putting together a new podcast.  Of course, I’ll be teaching at CreativeLive, which I’m really excited about on both live video and on how to use Snapchat, and I’m going to keep doing a lot more broadcasting.  I just … I really enjoy doing my own broadcasts and interviewing people and introducing my audience to some really amazing people.

Tara:  Awesome.  Wonderful.  Joel Comm, thank you so much for joining me.  This has been a great conversation.

Joel:  Love it.  Thanks for having me.

Tara:  Find out more about Joel Comm at  You can find his class, How to Leverage the Power of Live Online Broadcasts, at

Next week, I talk to Dr. Michelle Mazur, founder of Communication Rebel and a coach for entrepreneurs, speakers, authors, and thought leaders who want to speak with impact.  Michelle and I talk about negotiating a new engagement, preparing for a talk, getting paid, and all the ways you can speak without ever stepping on stage.

CreativeLive is highly-curated classes from the world’s top experts.  Watch free, live video classes every day from acclaimed instructors in photography, design, audio, craft, business, and personal development, stream it now at

This has been Tara Gentile.  Discover how to accelerate your earning as a small business owner with my free class, Revenue Catalyst, at

That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., a CreativeLive podcast.  Download more episodes of this podcast and subscribe on iTunes.  If you appreciate this kind of in-depth content, please leave us a review or share this podcast with a friend.  It means the world to us.

Our theme song was written by Daniel Peterson, who also edited this episode.  Our audio engineer was Kellen Shimizu.  This episode was produced by Michael Karsh.  We add a new episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. every week.  Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you love to listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.

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The Incredibly Valuable Opportunity Gap Between Relationship Marketing & Conversion Marketing

The sweet spot is in the gap between conversion marketing and relationship marketing

In digital commerce businesses, there are essentially two schools of thought. For the purpose of this piece, I will call them Conversion Marketing and Relationship Marketing.

Whether a business is in one or the other school is largely determined by the promise the business owner was sold at the beginning of their digital commerce journey.

In Relationship Marketing, the promise is this: you can create content that people love, causing them to love you in turn, and causing them to buy what you sell as a result. You create relationships with people through your digital persona and that relationship builds enough trust to prompt an eventual sale.

This promise is predominantly being sold to life coaches, health coaches, bloggers, brand strategists, career gurus, lifestyle mentors, and anyone tempted to create a clever entrepreneurial portmanteau for their title. It’s being peddled (at surface level) predominantly by beautiful women and the men who adore them.

In Conversion Marketing, the promise is this: you can create content that people are in need of, causing them to click on an ad or message with that content in it, allowing those people to become aware of a product you are selling, and then converting them to a customer over time. You fill information gaps with knowledge (via experience or research), put it in front of the right people, and so precisely fill the need those people have that a certain percentage of prospects will always buy.

This promise is predominantly being sold to niche information marketers, agencies, business service providers, and SaaS entrepreneurs. It’s being peddled by guys who made their first millions selling ebooks to Scrabble-tile jewelry makers and gun-hoarding survivalists.

The building blocks between the two methods are virtually identical. However, the philosophies behind them and the procedure for exploiting them couldn’t be more different.

I predominantly work with business owners in the Relationship Marketing school. I primarily network with and learn from business owners in the Conversion Marketing school. My own business has been built squarely in the incredibly valuable opportunity gap between the two schools.

When I talk to people steeped in either school of thought and introduce them to the “prevailing wisdom” of either, they’re floored. They often don’t even realize the other school of thought exists. This might seem crazy–but it’s true. 

If you want to generate more revenue, grow your business in line with your personal values, and still put a lot of heart and soul into everything you do, building your business in that opportunity gap is the only way to do it.


The core problem with Relationship Marketing is not that it lacks strategic rigor (it does), it’s that liking you isn’t a good reason to buy from you. It relies on manipulating the potential customer into thinking that hanging out with you is in their best interest.

If you wouldn’t charge someone to hang out after school with you to try the newest neighborhood ice cream stand, don’t charge someone to hang out with you online to talk about the latest personal development trend. Liking or hanging out with someone is not a value proposition.

Good, well-meaning people fall into this trap. Every time I see a sales page that’s focused on helping you speak your truth or live your best life, I know that trap has been sprung. If I can’t tell how your product aligns with a customers’ true need or goal, the effect (whether intentional or not) is asking people to hang out with you for a price.

Another big problem with trying to be likable so others buy from you is that you end up changing yourself and your choices to appear more aligned with what your perceived audience likes. This does not necessarily mean just making your hair blonder, your waist thinner, or your yoga mat cleaner. It also includes becoming more vulgar (if that’s your schtick—and there are more than a few of those folks out there), becoming geekier, or telling everyone how much you don’t GAF precisely because you really GA a lot of Fs.

You were attracted to this form of marketing so that you could just be yourself and, instead, you find yourself becoming someone else. Of course, “being yourself” isn’t marketing. Being yourself is being yourself—something we should all be able to do regardless of the ROI on who you are.

Finally, likability doesn’t scale. You will get people who will buy from you just because they like you. Often, you’ll get people to buy from you just because you bought from them. But in the end, if you’re not delivering something people actually need, your offers will peter out and you’ll be forced to find new ways to get the same people to pay to hang out with you.

With incredibly few, unreplicable exceptions, if you see someone who has predominantly marketed themselves or their business on their likability factor that has scaled to mass volume, you can bet they’ve put some serious money, strategy, and analysis into that success.

Have you fallen into any of the traps of Relationship Marketing? Here are some things you might have thought over the years that indicate you have:

  • I can’t email my list any more than this because they might not like me and unsubscribe.
  • I don’t want to write good headlines for my blog posts because people will think I’m just like those other guys.
  • Everything I’ve done so far has been really organic, if I try to get strategic now people will probably leave.
  • I shouldn’t need to advertise—people should just be naturally attracted to what I’m creating.
  • I’m not going to use a popup because if people like my content, they’ll find a way to subscribe.

The truth is that there have been times when I have said or thought these things too. However, because I study Conversion Marketing, I know that each of these things is proven—over and over again—to increase ROI, customer satisfaction, long-term growth, brand awareness, and more.

But let’s look at Conversion Marketing more closely.


For our purposes, I’m going to define Conversion Marketing—also known as Direct Response Marketing—as the practice of using analysis and metrics to understand a market, create to their specifications, and scale. 

There are a number of problems with pure Conversion Marketing as well. The first is that most people selling to aspiring success stories in this space are selling a formula or proven procedure for results. It can seem like making $10k every night while you’re asleep is just a 5-step process away.

The thing that’s so seductive about these processes is that there is a lot of good information and strategy behind them. You can learn a lot by immersing yourself in one of these formulas. However, the wholesale execution of that same formula will likely not bring about the promised results.

This is because the creators of these formulas discount their own knowledge and understanding of the markets they’re selling to and, also, other people’s formulas. As an example, Ryan Levesque—creator of the Ask system—has made millions of dollars in unusual niches following the survey funnel system he teaches. However, when it came to a mass launch of a digital program based on the marketing system itself, he chose to incorporate Jeff Walker’s video-based Launch system into his campaign.

Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this. That was a brilliant approach to the campaign. However, I would bet that more people were paying attention to the quiz and funnel parts of the system than to the way he adapted his own process to better fit his needs.

Another problem with Conversion Marketing is that it tends to teach that data can tell the whole story. Your page views, CPC, CPL, conversion rate, survey responses, etc… show you exactly what to do next, if only you know how to correctly interpret and manipulate the information at hand.

Data does tell you a great deal about your next moves, especially (and this is a huge caveat) when it is the right data interpreted the right way.

However, there is a reason that big businesses with giant marketing budgets and access to incredible amounts of data are hiring anthropologists at an increasing rate:

People are data, too.

For every click, for every lead, for every conversion, there’s a person there. They have fears, desires, goals, and a distinct worldview. The best marketers care about those things beyond the numbers. They know that each customer’s unique experience must influence the way data is interpreted. 

Have you fallen into the traps of Conversion Marketing? Here are some indicators:

  • You (or your team) spend more time parsing spreadsheets than talking to customers.
  • Your offers are full of low-hanging fruit.
  • You make decisions about campaigns or products based solely on data.
  • A/B testing is the only way you decide what works.

Measured against customer interviews and research, any of these tactics is a win. But used on their own, the growth of the business is severely limited.


As I mentioned earlier, I’ve built my business straddling the divide between these two schools of thought. The dirty little secret of digital commerce is that so has anyone else who’s made good money online doing something they love.

The beautiful women (and the men who adore them) who espouse the benefits of Relationship Marketing are paying close attention to their conversation rates, cost per clicks, paid traffic campaigns, and survey result spreadsheets. The guys selling to the Scrabble-tile jewelry makers and the gun-hoarding survivalists send personal emails to customers and get on the phone for in-depth research.

Don’t believe me?

Note: None of these references are an endorsement or a disavowal. They’re just references.

Derek Halpern talks about how he conducts phone interviews in this episode of Smart Passive Income.

Danielle LaPorte talks about how GTFL (Grow the F*%&ing List) is the top priority of her business (just after self-expression) in this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit.

Kimra Luna spends massive amounts on ads and talks about it on Rick Mulready’s podcast.

Brian Clark and team give a weekly masterclass on the intersection between the two schools of thought every week on the Digital Entrepreneur podcast.

When you combine the best of Relationship Marketing with the best of Conversion Marketing, you discover an incredible opportunity. You can be human and run your business with smart practices. You can be data-driven and relationship-focused. You can optimize for profit and maximize for loyalty.

Now, there’s not some vast conspiracy here (that I know of—and I think I would have uncovered that by now). What happens is that you get yourself into an information silo as a business owner or aspiring entrepreneur. You only listen to the Marie Forleos and you don’t realize there’s a whole other school of thought; or, you only listen to the Frank Kerns and you don’t realize there’s a group of people doing things entirely differently.

The popular kids in each of these schools of thought, however, are not siloed. They’re networking with each other. They’re finding out what’s really working for who and why. They’re trading best practices and opening up about their standard operating procedures.

This is the real lesson here.

You have to talk to people who do things differently to get better at what you yourself do. Any information silo in your business will hurt your long-term growth and eventually damage what you’ve worked so hard to build.

After reading this post, your first step is to step out of your information silo. You’ll need to introduce yourself to some new ideas and some different ways of thinking. There are resources for this linked below.

Some of these ideas will absolutely challenge you. Your assumptions about what’s important about the way you create content, offers, and relationships may be upended (no matter what school of thought you find yourself in now).

Remember to keep your personal business values front and center. That doesn’t mean that you ignore information that doesn’t make you feel comfortable or validated. It means that you objectively weigh whether what you perceive as a guiding principle of your business is based on what you truly believe or based on what you’re hoping to avoid to stay comfortable and safe.



Copyhackers blog with Joanna Wiebe and family
Being Boss podcast with Kathleen Shannon & Emily Thompson
Perpetual Traffic podcast with leaders from Digital Marketer
Startup Chat podcast with Steli and Hiten
Creative Giants podcast with Charlie Gilkey
Social Media Marketing podcast with Michael Stelzner
Of course, I’d like to suggest my podcast, Profit. Power. Pursuit., too.

Beyond breaking out of your information silo, I want to give you a set of challenges to complete so that you can start to position your business in the opportunity gap, too.

1) Choose 3 metrics to start tracking on a daily or weekly basis. Make them metrics that actually indicate the potential for sales (i.e. Facebook Likes are not a good metric but things like email subscribers, sales page views, or ad click through rate might be).

2) Get on the phone with 3 business owners this month who do things differently than you do. Don’t just compare notes with your friends–make friends with someone new. 

3) For at least 1 month, regularly use content from 3 new sources (I find podcasts to be the most helpful for this–but blogs work, too) outside your comfort zone.

4) Talk with at least 3 of your best customers this month to find out how they’re doing right now. Get curious about them–not how your business relates to them–and ask open-ended questions about their situation.

Just like with any opportunity gap, positioning yourself in it takes intentional behavior and new habits. These 4 challenges will help you do just that.

In the end, remember there’s always more to the story. Whether your mentors or favorite bloggers are in the Relationship Marketing school or the Conversion Marketing school, dig a little deeper on everything they say or write. Ask yourself why and how what they’re talking about works. That’s the ultimate marketing hack.

A Natural Evolution: How Social Media Marketing Expert Laura Roeder Became a Startup Founder

Laura Roeder, founder of Edgar, on Profit. Power. Pursuit. with Tara Gentile

I first met Laura Roeder—the latest guest on the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast—at the inaugural World Domination Summit. Of course, she’d been someone I knew “from the internet” since the start of my business. Meeting people in the flesh is different.

She stopped me on the street and asked to chat. We joined some friends of mine at an outdoor cafe table and enjoyed sangria and cheese. We also enjoyed great conversation about running and growing businesses in the online world.

Laura was truly one of the first people I ever spoke to whose interest in regards to business was much more about profit, power, and pursuit than it was about passion.

Over the next 5 years, I watched her business evolve from social media management to social media training to social media software. Her latest venture, Edgar, is a software application that allows marketers to more effectively and efficiently schedule their social media updates.

I use this tool myself and have seen amazing results simply by using its most basic features.

Of course, you can go anywhere to learn more about social media marketing. I hope you come here to learn the behind-the-scenes story of what makes a business like Laura’s really work.

Laura Roeder, founder of Edgar, on Profit. Power. Pursuit. with Tara Gentile

Laura and I talked about how to know when it’s time to change your business model, the role money plays in decision-making and planning, why she chose to turn down millions in venture capital for her startup, and how she manages to grow her team.

Pay close attention to what Laura has to say about personal investment and risk when it comes to growing your business.

Click here to listen to my interview with Laura Roeder, founder & CEO of Edgar, on iTunes.

If you enjoy the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast, please subscribe to future episodes and leave us a review!


Tara:  Hey, everyone.  Welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit.  I’m Tara Gentile, your host, and together with CreativeLive, we explore the unique strategies that creative entrepreneurs use to take control of their lives, profit from their passions, and pursue what’s truly important to them.

Today’s guest is Edgar founder, Lara Roeder.  At 22 years old, she quit her first and last job as a designer at an ad agency to start her own business.  She quickly grew a tiny, but thriving, one-woman design firm.  On a quest for scale, Laura ventured into training and information marketing and then into software as a service.  Laura and I talked about the evolution of her business, the value of a great team, and how she intentionally avoided millions in venture capital to build her software business.

Laura Roeder, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit.  Thanks so much for joining me.

Laura:  Thank you.  I’m really excited to be here.

Tara:  Awesome.  So your business has changed a lot over the years, and it’s been a lot of fun watching the changes that you make.  You’ve gone from web design to high touch social media management, to social media training, and now you’re into social media software as a service.  How do you know when it’s time to make a change in your business?

Laura:  So this is … This is a really good question, you know.  I was telling Tara, I looked over at the questions you sent, and I really had to think about them, and this is one of those that I really thought about, because it seems very natural at the time.  You know, so I could of thought, okay, let me … Let me reverse engineer how I have made these changes, because they feel like they just sort of evolve, and I think really for me it’s been a matter of having a vision for what’s next.  It’s not so much a larger strategic plan or a this isn’t working anymore, I need to switch.  Although this isn’t working anymore can definitely be an element of it, but it’s usually more that I get inspired for something that I want to create next, and then I see how I can make my business into that, and that’s what I’ve done.

Tara:  Nice.  Where do you find that inspiration?  Because I think it is helpful to say that it’s more about kind of creating that vision, but I think a lot of people actually get stuck on creating that vision, because they don’t know where to find that inspiration.

Laura:  So for me, it’s really been a combination of my own needs in business and customers.  So I’m an entrepreneur.  I love entrepreneurs.  All the businesses that I’ve had, that’s who I’ve served, and for example, Edgar just came out of really my own need.  I had some frustrations with social media software out there that I wanted to solve and something that I loved about social media is just how tightly connected you stay with your audience.  You know, it’s just so easy to go on Facebook and instantly be having a one on one conversation with someone who is your customer or who is your fan or whatever, so it’s really been a combination of solving problems that I want to solve for my own business, and also just kind of looking around and seeing what are other people’s frustrations, what are they talking about, what are they trying to do that they’re not able to do, that sort of thing.

Tara:  Yeah, I think a lot of people try and keep their eyes on their own homework, and I think keeping your eyes on your own homework can actually kind of stifle that … stifle innovation or stifle your ability to figure out what’s next.

Laura:  Yeah, you want to look at yourself, but not just yourself.

Tara:  Right.  So you and I have talked a lot about team over the last few years, and I’m curious, what does your team look like right now?

Laura:  So now my business is totally focused on Edgar.  We’ve been phasing out the training business.  So we have a team of 13 now, and that’s made up of engineers who are building the product, customer service people, a little bit of operations, and a marketing team.  We actually have two full-time writers, which is pretty unusual for a team our size, and I think just shows you how focused on unmarketing and content marketing we are.

Tara:  Yeah, how do you go about finding new team members?

Laura:  It’s difficult.  We’re really, really, really picky, and it’s really important that someone is as strong in skill as they are in culture, so actually, our biggest mistake that we made, when we were sort of evaluating like what went well in the first half of 2015, the hugest mistake that we made is not giving ourselves enough time to hire, because we found that it often takes, depending on the roll, from two to like six months.

Tara:  Wow.

Laura:  Which is kind of crazy, to find the right person.  So now we try to put out job listings a lot early.  I’ve read a lot of things that say, you know, you have to be recruiting, the best people already have jobs, and they’re not going to find job listings.  I haven’t done that.  I don’t know where people find the time to do all this recruiting.  It sounds really good, but we just don’t have time for it.  So we have used traditional job boards.  We’re a remote company, so boards like We Work Remotely have been great for us or Authentic Jobs has a lot of remote jobs on it, so we just put our listings into typical job boards like that, but we try to use a lot of personality in our listing to show you what it might be like to work here just from reading the job listing, and I think that helps a lot in attracting the right people.

Tara:  Yeah, and another thing that I’ve really admired about the way you’ve built your team or the way you manage your team is how objective you are about looking at people’s performance, about looking at what your goals are, about looking at how people work within the team.  What is it do you think that has allowed you to kind of maintain that objectivity and use that as a management technique?

Laura: So something that we say a lot at Edgar is, “Value for value.”  The phrase is something that our head of customer service, Christina, kind of coined. She’s always like, “Value for value.  Value for value.”  And that means that everything has to be an even exchange of value.  So when we are looking to add a tool to our arsenal, we’re saying, “Okay, they’re going to charge us $100 a month.  Here’s what we’re going to get.  Do we feel good about that value?”  And we use that phrase a lot when we talk about anything in our business.  I was just talking to someone about a freelancer that we’ve hired, and we’re like, “Do we feel there’s value for value?  Do we feel like we’re getting the value for what we’re paying them?”  And I view team members as the same way, you know?  They’re people that are working here to contribute value to Edgar.  That’s why they’re here working or us, and that doesn’t mean, you know, I think a lot of people get sort of confused in a team world because they start thinking about their value as a human.

Tara:  Mmhmm.

Laura:  You know, their value is a human is totally different than the value they add to the Edgar team.  You know, those two really have nothing to do with each other.  I mean, one, all humans are valuable, but you can be a really amazing person, but you know, one, just maybe not have the skills that we need for our team.  So I think that’s where a lot of people get really tripped up is thinking, oh, I don’t want to, you know, I don’t want to let them go because I really like them, or maybe there’s a way to make them work, or whatever, because you like them as people.  I’ve remained on good terms with everyone that I’ve ever let go, and there’s a few on that list, because I am objective, and we do let people go when they’re not working out.  But there’s no one that I’ve ever burned a bridge with.  I’ve helped people find other jobs, and when you’re just looking at it from that value for value perspective, you see where they could add more value to another company, where you’re not serving them by sticking them in a job that’s not really working out for them.  So I think that helps me look at the whole situation.

Tara:  Yeah, and I think it actually probably helps you maintain that friendship and treat people as humans when you are able to be objective about their role on your team.

Laura:  Right.  You’re not saying you have failed in life, you know.  You’re saying we have this need and it doesn’t seem like you’re the right person to meet it, so go find another job that you can really thrive in.

Tara:  Yeah.  I love that.  What systems do you use for managing your team?  Is it software? Is it a particular management technique?  What do you use?

Laura:  Yeah, so this is … This is something we’ve been exploring a lot because we’re getting to that point where we’re getting bigger, but we’re still small enough that we can all stay in touch, and we’ve really struggled with like do we need to put in more systems to have that good framework for when we grow, or are we sometimes overcomplicating things and making things more bureaucratic then they need to be now, so this is definitely something that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

As far as just logistical tools, we use, you know, the same things that a lot of virtual companies use.  We use Slack.  We use Gmail for our email.  For task management, some of use Trello and some of us use Flow, but I think the tools are less important than the style of communication.  So the way that we manage people, we’re really huge on everyone having ownership over what they do, so our team leads we call advocates.  So we call them that because they’re not necessarily the boss of that team, but they’re the person who advocates for that team within the company.  So our customer service advocate is fighting both for her team to make sure they’re happy and just for the role of customer service in the company.  She’s advocating to make sure our customers are served.  You know, marketing is advocating to make that we’re spending enough time and resources on marketing.  So we see those team leads as the advocate for their area, and then each person within the team has total ownership over whatever their tasks are.  So Tom, who writes our blog, the blog is his.  He decides the topics, he writes it, you know, he does the schedule, he makes decisions on how the blog’s going to look and what features it’s going to have, whatever.  The blog is his.  So that’s how we run things.

Tara:  I love the idea of your team leads being called advocates, and I am totally going to be stealing that, so if my team is listening, that is going to be coming down the pike.  I really, really love that.  So let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about money, because that’s one of the things that I’m really trying to demystify with this podcast.  Can you tell me, what’s the role that money plays in the way you plan for your business, especially when it comes to changes in your product or changes in your business model as a whole?

Laura:  So we are a bootstrapped/self-funded, I think self-funded at Edgar is a little more accurate, because we’ve used the profits of the training business to help start up Edgar, but either way, we don’t have capital, and so money is really, really important in planning because everything we do needs to be, not only does it need to be profitable, it needs to be profitable in the short term.  You know, we don’t have this like year or five years of runway to play with, so we are very, very money focused in that is everything that we’re doing adding value that will turn into real dollars of revenue for the company, right?  The company can’t survive without revenue.  So I think that helps us be really focused in so many areas, you know, when we’re thinking about how we want to take the product.  It’s very important to us not to add any features that aren’t going to get us more customers.  You know, unless it’s something that’s really, really important to our customers, it’s a waste of developer time.  So I … I actually … And it makes financial planning really simple, because the bottom line is are we in the black every month.  If we’re in the black every month, we can … there’s no way we can wake up one day and be out of money.  We can maybe not have so much, so much profit, but we’ll never have to worry about this longer term, more complex financial planning.  And that might not be the most sophisticated way to do it, but it’s the simplest way to do it, and we’re very happy with that right now.

Tara:  Yeah, absolutely.  Simple is awesome.  So you mentioned that you are self-funded at this point, that Edgar is self-funded, and you recently wrote about not accepting venture capital to build Edgar.  Can you tell me more about your thought process behind, and basically intentionally avoiding potentially millions of dollars in venture capital?

Laura:  Yeah, it’s a really multi-faceted issue.  One of the biggest things that I was really trying to avoid in not raising money is this kind of raise or die cycle, where instead of being focused on building your product or being focused on your customers, you’re focused on raising money, because that’s kind of the business model that you’ve built for yourself is you raise and you run out and you raise and you run out, and you have to spend so much of your time chasing that fundraising, and that just didn’t sound fun to me.  It sounds fun to me to talk to customers and find out what they want and find out what they love and hate about Edgar.  That’s how I’d rather spend my time.  So that’s part of it.  Having the freedom and flexibility is a huge part of it.  So I had a baby earlier this year.  I took three months off maternity leave, totally off work, I’m working part time now, and my husband is the CTO of Edgar, so he runs, he’s our, you know, Dev Advocate, and he works part time also, and I just don’t know how many funded companies are cool with like the CTO and the CEO both working part time.  It’s not always their first choice.  So I really wanted to have that freedom, that flexibility, and then as I explore more, I’m also … As we grow and we get, I guess, more on the same page as a lot of funded companies, because now we’re almost at $2 million annual revenue, so we’re kind of, you know, a lot of the companies we’re sort of comparing ourselves to do have funding, there’s all these little interesting little things that emerge.  Like when you need to keep raising money, your growth rates have to always look really, really good.  So people do things like have free plans and just grow the free plan as big as possible, because it’s much easier to get users for free, and that keeps their growth numbers up.  Where we’ve done a lot of experimentation with our marketing funnel.

We recently did an experiment that did not work out well, so we had a down month, and if we had just been focusing on keeping that growth number looking good, we would actually be much more risk averse, because we wouldn’t be able to take a big gamble like this totally changing our marketing funnel.  We took the gamble, we had a bad month, but now we can fix it, it doesn’t really matter to us what our numbers look like month to month, as long as, you know, we’re doing well overall.  So that’s been really interesting.  I think there are lots of little implications to having your board or having that next round be one of the big stakeholders in your business.

Tara:  Yeah, I really appreciate that you pointed out the difference in priority between your company and one that is venture funded, because I don’t think a lot of people realize that the priority of a venture funded company is growth above all else and growth for the purpose of then raising more money later on, and that it’s not about making money at all.  It’s about making potential money much later on.  And I … And you know, then with your priorities being serving your customers, making the product better for those customers, and generating revenue, and so I think when most people, then, kind of weigh what they want out of their businesses, most people end up on that self-funded track, or they should be on that self-funded track, even if it’s not as glamorous as potentially building a unicorn.

Laura:  Right.  Because, I think for most people, it’s much more motivating to please a customer than it is to please a VC guy.  You know?  I love that our product helps entrepreneurs.  It helps them make their life easier.  It helps them save time.  That motivates me to grow this company.  For me, it would be a little difficult to get the motivation from I can’t wait to pitch this next guy who’s going to really love the idea and is already a billionaire.  Like who cares?

Tara:  Totally.  All right.  So you mentioned that a couple of months ago, you experimented with a change in your marketing funnel that failed.  Are you willing to tell us what that experiment was about?

Laura:  Yeah, it’s really interesting, actually.  So most SAAS companies start their marketing funnel with a free trial.  So you go to the software website, that’s the call-to-action on the home page, start your free trial.  So we had done our funnel differently, but we wanted to try the free trial thing, because we thought, well, if that’s what everyone does, and there’s so much that’s been written about it, there’s probably some merit to this idea.  So we changed our homepage to start off with a free trial, and we’re still experimenting with this as something to play with in our funnel, but there was one extremely clear result, which is the top of the funnel, meaning just the number of people who started with us, gave us their email address, absolutely tanked compared to our old call to action, which was request an invitation.

Tara:  Mmm.

Laura:  We used to have request an invitation, and then you’d get like put in our queue basically, and you’d get access to the software, and so many people would complain about that.  People would be like, “Why do I have to get an invitation?  I just want to buy.  Just let me do a trial.  You know, why are you making it difficult for me?”  But just coming to the site, so many more people were percentage wise were willing to request an invitation over start a trial.  And that makes sense when you think about it, because you have to commit time to start a trial.  You know, you’re not… You’re not always at the point when you’re exploring your options, and I’m ready to sit down and start a trial with a software, but requesting an invitation?  Sure.  You know?  I can do that.  No skin off my back.  I don’t have to do anything.  You’re going to remind me at some point to try you out.  So it kind of makes sense to me that it was lower, but I did not expect it to be so much lower, and it’s just all the more fascinating to me that so many companies I think never experiment with this.  They just assume start with a trial, that’s what everyone else does.  But it’s not the best option for every piece of software. 

Tara:  I just had a huge aha moment.  So that was very exciting.  So thank you for sharing that.  All right, let’s shift gears on money a little bit and talk about a different, sort of a different side of money.  You’ve written in the past about the big, scary check that you wrote to sign up for a program of Marie Forleo’s very early on in your business, and I think that many people, women and creatives especially, have a lot of fear when it comes to investing in their businesses.  How do you know, how do you, Laura Roeder, know when it’s time to dip into a nest egg, a credit card, a personal loan to accomplish something new in your business?

Laura:  It’s a really, really hard question, because I have to be honest, but a lot of it is definitely intuitive of feeling like this is the time. So that is part of it.  I know that’s not super, super helpful, though.  So I would say the more helpful part is just you need to have some sort of idea how this is going to work and how this is going to pay off, and I think early on, you’re often not sure exactly what that’s going to look like, but where people go awry is if you want to invest in something and you don’t really understand how it’s going to apply to you, but you’re just like I just want it and it’s just going to make things better, that’s kind of a red flag that maybe you’re getting hyped up, maybe you’re getting too excited about this being some sort of magical fix, because you need to see how it’s going to directly apply to you.  So basically what I’m saying is you need to have a problem you’re honing in on.  So if you are struggling with your business, you’re not getting enough leads, and you’re like, you know what, I hear all this stuff about email marketing, I don’t really get what it is, I don’t really get what it can do for me, it might make sense for you to invest in service or training to learn about email marketing.  Because you can see, okay, you know what, I know that’s a marketing channel, I know it can help my business, I’m not sure exactly even what that outcome’s going to look like, but I can guess that if I knew more about email marketing, I can see enough examples of how that’s going to do something to grow my business.  Whereas if you’re like this person is offering some business coaching, you’re like, I don’t really know what the problem is that I want to solve with them, I just know that my business like isn’t great and I want it to be better in some way.  That’s often not a great investment, because you’re not clear on what you’re going to get out of it.

Tara:  Yeah.  So this is an interesting issue, because I think often, people are focused on the wrong problems.  They attribute, you know, failure in their business or stagnation in their business to the wrong things.  So how do you figure out which is the right problem to be focusing on at any given time?

Laura:  That’s such a great point.  I actually think that is one of the great skills of entrepreneurship and everyone needs to continually hone is solving the correct problem.  It’s like one of those absolute top level skills, and I think about it all the time in the work that I do every day.  Like is this really the problem that we need to solve.  You know, we actually just we got an intern at the company, so we have this list for her, and when I’m looking through the list of what she should do first, I’m definitely thinking about this.  Like, okay, she could do that, but is that really, you know, the active, most important problem in the business now, and the way that you look at it, I mean, this is where looking at numbers is really important.  So looking at just your overall flow of you know leads to sales and then ongoing customers, so that doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, so if you have an online business, it’s just like, okay, how much traffic am I getting, how many leads am I getting out of that traffic, which usually means email addresses, how many customers, and then maybe, you know, if it applies to your business, maybe how many follow-up, repeat customers are ongoing customers.  So once you break down those numbers, you can kind of start to guess, looking at those different conversion rates, okay, out of my traffic, I have .03% becoming leads.  Okay, I’ve read some articles online, I’ve seen a few numbers thrown around, that sounds sort of low compared to what I’ve seen thrown around.  So maybe that’s a good place to improve my business, and a lot of it’s guesswork, right?  Because unfortunately, there’s not this, I wish there was just this index of like this is what you can expect in your business, you know?  Try to hit this number.  Which, of course, we’re all different, so it doesn’t exist, but looking at some of those numbers is really helpful in honing in on where the problem is, and also getting really specific and writing out what’s actually working and what’s not working, because we often have these sort of vague ideas.

Tara:  Mmhmm.

Laura:  Often based on how we spend our time, by the way, and not actually what the outcomes are.  So maybe like you do webinars every week, and you’re like, “I am killing it with these weekly webinars.  These are great.”  But you’ve never actually sat down and been like how many customers do I get out of these webinars?  You know, you just, you just had the idea that they’re, that they’re great, because people tell you they like them and you like doing them and whatever.  So just getting a little more specific with your numbers.  Where exactly are my customers coming from?  Which channels are working?  Which are not working?  I think that’s how you start to hone in on that problem.

Tara: Yeah, I’m so glad that you brought that up, because that is … That’s something I actually hear people get defensive about often is, well, I’m not going to try that because what I’m doing works for me.  Like, well, really?  Do you know?  Have you compared it?  Have you tested it against something?  So that’s really great.  So kind of the theme that I see us honing in on ourselves right now is risk, and entrepreneurship is all about risk.  We’ve talked about risk I think in every single interview I’ve done so far.  So can you tell me a time that you’ve taken a big risk and how that played out for you?

Laura:  Yeah, I mean, I’ve taken so many risks.  So starting Edgar was, which was a huge risk.  So I launched Edgar in 2014.  I had never done software before.  I’m not a software developer.  I’ve never, you know, worked for a software company in any capacity.  So in some ways, like, once you run a business, you certainly have more knowledge about how to do it than people who haven’t, and there’s a lot of base knowledge there, but there also is even more than I expected software specific stuff that you have to learn about how to make a great product, you know, user interface, user onboarding, and when I had the idea for Edgar, I knew that I would use it.  I always thought, okay, worst case scenario, I will use this in my own company.  Even if no one else wants it, I’ll have a huge leg up in social media.  But you know, I thought other people would want it as well, and to invest the time and money in creating Edgar, which was along the same lines as what I’d done before, right?  It’s social media marketing software, but as a whole new business model was definitely very risky, but I was just … I was just really excited about the idea, and I think that was such a huge motivator for me is really wanting to both use myself and show people what I had built.  Just that idea of like people are going to love this.  This is going to be really, really cool, and this is something that I want to see in the world, and really helped me get past all the uncertainty, because there was … I didn’t do like any kind of focus groups or user testing, or you know, make like the fake beta and show people and see what they think.  Like any of the sort of like lean startup stuff that you’re suppose to do.  I didn’t do any of it.

Tara:  Wow.  That’s incredible.

Laura:  You’re like, “That’s the most horrible idea.  Good thing that worked out for you.”

Tara:  Oh, no, it’s just not what I would have expected from you at all, so that’s really, really interesting.  Yeah.  So one thing that I was thinking about in regards to what’s really interesting about interviewing you about Edgar, and actually, maybe before I go on to ask that question, could you tell us specifically what Edgar is, because it is not like really anything else that’s out there on the market, and I say that as a user.

Laura:  Yeah.  So Edgar is a social media scheduling and automation tool.  What’s really different about Edgar that is different from every other tool out there is that Edgar stores a library of all your updates, and then he, we like to call Edgar “he” because it sounds nicer than it, he sends out all those updates, cycling through them over and over again. So with other tools, you create your schedule or you create your queue of content, but it always runs out.  You always have to add more and more.  So the idea behind Edgar is you create this core library of great content and refine it and improve it and repeat it.  So when you use Edgar, he handles scheduling of your social accounts automatically every day.  You don’t have to go in and schedule everything yourself, and it’s a real game changer for our customers, because, I mean, actually, the thing that we get that’s so funny is people are like, “I don’t know if I should tell you this, but I fired someone who used to run social media for me.  I feel sort of bad about it, but you know, I just pay you, and it’s a lot cheaper.”

So it saves a lot of time, and we see massive gains in the traffic that people see from social media, not because we do anything magical, but just because if you’re sending out links to your previous blog posts on autopilot every day, you’re going to have a lot more links on social than you used to just sort of trying to remember to do it yourself, so you’re going to see a lot more traffic.

Tara:  Yeah, I have definitely seen a lot more traffic, and we don’t need to turn this into a plug, but I’ve seen a lot more traffic.  I think it really, absolutely solved a problem for content creators like me and like so many other people out there.

So the question that I was going to ask before I had you talk about that was that I think with a lot of people that we have on, they are more traditional creatives or there’s a very kind of purpose driven, mission driven element to their businesses, and you’ve kind of hinted at the purpose or the mission behind your business, but it’s not as overt as it is in many other business, and so I’m kind of wondering if you could enlighten us as to what you are really trying to pursue through your business?

Laura:  Yeah, that’s an interesting question, because I definitely am different in that way.  I’m someone who loves business.  I don’t actually consider myself a creative.  I just am in that sense of like, oh, your creativity is entrepreneurship, which I know people say genuinely, but that’s just never really resonated with me.  So, and it’s interesting, because this is something that I’ve thought about and actually have sort of felt bad about myself about, because I think, oh, I should be doing some, you know, business that like serves the world more.  But the fact is, I think I would actually be happy, like if you gave me a dry cleaner to run, I would be like I’m going to kill it with the systems of this dry cleaner, and I would really enjoy it, because I love running a business, and so I extra love running a business that helps business.

Tara:  Mmhmm.

Laura:  You know, that’s the part that’s exciting to me about Edgar in particular is that, you know, we save people time, we save people money.  We help them do more of whatever it is they’re creating.  So I kind of see myself as the business … Like I love the idea of me being sort of the more businessy side helping people handle that side so they can go out and do whatever they love to do, and like not have to be on social media all day.

Tara:  Yeah, I mean, the tool itself is all about getting more of other people’s ideas out into the world, right?  And how could that be a bad thing, I think?

Laura:  Yeah, yeah.  And I actually, recently, I’m an executive producer of a TV show now called Eastsiders, which you can watch on Vimeo, go check it out.  And I actually went to their premier party two nights ago, and that was really cool for me, because I’ve always had this dream of maybe like being able to be the business side of a creative venture.  You know, letting people like my friend Kit, who creates TV shows and films and media that I think is really important and needs to be out in the world, I can support him by being like view as that boring business side, is the side that’s fun for me.  So I would definitely like to explore that more.

Tara:  Okay, so you have to tell me, how did that come about?

Laura:  So I live in LA, so I just like know all these people that do all this cool creative stuff.  I mean, that’s one of my favorite things about LA, is people are just always like, “Oh, yeah, and I’m making a movie this weekend if you want to come by.”  Or this afternoon, I’m going to a friend’s photoshoot that she’s just like doing for fun, because it’s a fun creative thing.  I’m like I’ll come bring my baby and hang out.  Okay.

So yeah, I kind of became friends with this group of people that were all actors in Silver Lake and East LA, and Kit Williamson is the writer, creator, star of the show, and it’s called Eastsiders, and it’s just a show about gay men and their friends and families that live in Silver Lake, live on the Eastside, and it’s just like one of those just very human relationship shows, and he made the first season.  He funded it on Kickstarter, he got it on Logo, which is a major TV channel that bought it, so it was very successful.  So I told him, you know, if you ever do another season, I want to be a part of it, because I just really love what you’ve created.  So now it’s real.

Tara:  That is fantastic, and I am so excited to hear you doing that.  I think that’s, yeah, I don’t know what more to say about that.  I think it’s super cool.

So at the very beginning of the interview, you kind of, you said that, you know, you’ve made the changes in your business over the years based on, you know, your vision for what’s next.  So what would you say is your vision for what’s next now?  Even if it doesn’t involve necessarily a change in your business.

Laura:  It’s actually a really difficult question.  You know, I don’t have any sort of overarching plan for my career.  It’s very step-by-step, so right now, the vision is just growing Edgar and reaching more people.  You know, right now, we have about 3000 customers.  Getting to 10,000 customers is really exciting.

Tara:  Mmhmm.

Laura:  And it’s exciting because like we said, those are real people.  You know, all of our Edgar customers are real people.  We just did a survey.  70% of our customers own the business.

Tara:  Wow.

Laura:  So these are really small business.  These are businesses that are so small, the owner is setting up the social media themselves, and what’s so cool about that is that I know that we have a massive impact, you know?  If you’re a one-person business, like, we’re really saving you a lot of time, and they’re people who self-identify as entrepreneurs, which you know, I just love.  So that’s why growing is exciting to me.  One, I get to solve these new challenges within the business of like what does it look like when your team has twenty people, and how do you need to change the structures, and how do you manage that, and how do you hire.  So those challenges are fun for me, and just the idea of being able to help so many people grow their business is really motivating, too.

Tara:  Awesome.  Well, Laura, where can we find you online?

Laura:  Yeah, so you can find Edgar at, MeetEdgar on Twitter and on Facebook, and you can find me @LKR on Twitter.

Tara:  All right, Laura Roeder, thank you so much for joining me.

Laura:  Thank you.

Tara:  On our next episode, we speak to Danielle LaPorte, creator of the Desire Map, and author of the Firestarter sessions about developing physical products from her ideas and paying attention to what you’re fantasizing about as the key to success.

That’s it for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit.  You can download other episodes of this podcast and subscribe in the iTunes store.  If you enjoy what you heard, we appreciate your reviews and recommendations, because they help us reach as many emerging entrepreneurs as possible.  Our theme song was written by Daniel Peterson, who also edited this episode.  Our audio engineer was Jaime Blake.  This episode was produced by Elizabeth Madariaga.  You can catch up on older episodes in the iTunes store, where new episodes are added every week, and you can learn more by going to

How to Keep an Eye On What’s Next Without Dropping the Ball: Interview with Sue B. Zimmerman

How to stay on top of what's next without dropping the ball -- an interview with Sue B Zimmerman

I thought I was talking with the “Queen of #Instagram” when I sat down to talk with Sue B. Zimmerman. Turns out, Sue is way more than the Queen of Instagram. 

Her reign over Instagram marketing strategy is only the latest venture in a long line of entrepreneurial pursuits. Sue is actually a prognosticator. She always has her eye on what’s next–without dropping the ball in her current venture.

In a word, Sue is savvy. 

And, her particular brand of “pursuit” is savviness incarnate. At the risk of sounding heavy-handed

If you love staying on top of what’s coming, predicting trends, and riding the waves, Sue will feel like your soul-sister. If you’re not, Sue is an amazing resource for guiding you through those turbulent waters with ease. 

Sue talked with me about her entrepreneurial history–including how she grew a $1 million boxer shorts brand. She shared the challenges of going from handmade to manufactured, selling her products at tradeshows, and dealing with big retailers. 

She also shared where she looks for what’s coming next and how she equips the young people who work for her to be brand ambassadors. We talked about the struggles that come with giving up control and rapid growth. Plus, we talked about what’s next with Instagram and social media marketing in general.

Listen to the latest episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. and pay special attention for the ways that Sue has created and empowered a community to spread her message.

Click here to listen in iTunes.