REUVEN: We know I’m the dinosaur around here. It’s okay.
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CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 133 of the Freelancers’ Show. This week on our panel we have Curtis McHale.
CHUCK: Reuven Lerner.
REUVEN: Hi everyone.
CHUCK: Eric Davis.
CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv, and this week we have a special guest Peter Cooper.
PETER: Hello, beautiful people.
CHUCK: How would you know? You can’t even see us.
PETER: That’s why! [Laughter] I’ve got a picture in my head; you all look lovely!
CHUCK: Very nice. You want to introduce yourself really quickly, Peter?
PETER: Yeah, I guess a lot of people listen to this podcast probably come from the Ruby world too. My name may have come up a few places over the years as the editor of Ruby Inside, but now the editor of Ruby Weekly, which I guess is the main reason I’m here today, to talk about my various email adventures.
I’m kind of curious, as we get started talking about this, we did bring you on to talk about building and running mailing lists, how did you get started with that? What prompted you to start a mailing list about, I think, Ruby was your first one.
PETER: Yeah, Ruby was the first one and then it went as a domino effect from there to various other technologies there where I knew the audience would have some overlap. But yeah, the beginning was basically Ruby Weekly and I picked out on these articles that a guy called Jason L. Baptiste had written.
He runs, I think he just sold the company actually, but he was running a company called Onswipe, which converts like WordPress blogs into a tablet kind of form, and he was posting about all the stuff that he was interested in; he’s heavily involved in the startup scene. And he had a couple of posts do really well on Hacker News about the rebirth of the email newsletter business. He was talking about things like Groupon even, the things like daily deals and that – companies that were really oriented around using email as that notification technology, but then also news email and there were things like Thrillist were launching around that time.
It was like a paradigm that was coming back in again after it was kind of email’s deemed uncool during the web 2.0 era. I thought, “Hang on –.” I got into blogging really early, and I thought it seems like I might be missing out on something here. I just had this idea of doing a weekly email, registered the domain, and I just got this feeling that someone else would do it if I didn’t, so that scared me into doing the first one. Which is actually how I do most of my work; I’m worried that someone else is going to do it and I’m going to sit here and go “Oh, I had the idea first.” Instead of being that person, I just tend to do the thing. And then everyone else does it to me, they’re like “Oh, I had that idea.” [Laughter]
So yeah, let’s see what you get. It’s funny how often that happens. [Inaudible 04:58] idea where you read the same article as other people, and you all simultaneously come up with the same idea, because you just all read the same stuff. This used to be very true on Hacker News. The fact that I was reading all these things about the resurgence of email, daily emails, and news, and all this kind of stuff coming together, I just figured if I don’t do it, someone else will. So it began there.
REUVEN: When you first started, was it with the intention of being a commercial enterprise, or did you just think of this as something fun and interesting to do or maybe to improve the community?
PETER: Well, at the time I was Ruby Inside, which is now somewhat dormant and abandoned unfortunately, but that was my main gig at the time. It was doing reasonably well, so it was more of an add-on for that. It was just a way to point my own content sometimes, point other people’s content here and there. But I had this overarching goal of “Wouldn’t it be great to build up an audience that I can pitch things to?” So I did work on some training, and this is actually the reason I stopped doing The Ruby Show, which Chuck mentioned, not The Ruby Show sorry.
CHUCK: Ruby Rogues.
PETER: That’s the one. Yeah I was getting mixed up with my other podcast. Yeah, so the Ruby Rogues, I stopped doing that because I just ran out of time for doing my own training. I ended up selling my training on the list, initially. So I wasn’t taking ads or anything, it was just my own stuff. But then it eventually got to the point where I just had more capacity in terms of advertising, than I had stuff that I wanted to sell, so that’s when I turned it more into a business in the traditional publishing way and started taking other people’s stuff on, all that type of thing.
CURTIS: Were you doing client work as you started this up as well or how did you fund the initial bit?
PETER: Yeah, I didn’t really fund it at all. I guess it was just the fact that if Ruby Inside was making a reasonable amount of money, so it’s just an add-on to that. I haven’t actually done – I do bits of client work for very, very old clients I’ve had for ten years. I just haven’t had the heart to either get rid of them as it were and it’s nice to stay in touch with some of the really old clients; very, very minimal amount of hours per month.
But I didn’t actually need to do any of this – do any client work since, when was it, 2007 when I sold –. Well actually I sold two sites – I sold a code snippet site that I created in Rails, built something that was quite popular for that because it dezoned for not an amazing amount of money but a mid-five figure sum.
Then I sold a technology I built called Feed Digest which took RSS feeds and then you splice them together and republish them and do all sorts of clever stuff with RSS, and then I sold that for a six figure sum to a Russian company, which was rather odd. They since it rebranded it, called it Feed Informer, I think. I haven’t checked it up for a while, but it still exists I believe.
But from that point, I didn’t have life – I guess it was a life changing amount of money, but it wasn’t like a retirement amount of money. It was a “I can do what I want and if it screws up, I’ve got a couple of years and then I’ll just get back to doing what I was doing.” In my screwing around, that’s when the Ruby book and the Ruby Inside and all that type of stuff kept me going on a day to day basis, so it actually worked out in the end. It was a nice runway to have, so I didn’t have to actually do the client work.
REUVEN: So your full-time work now is doing this publishing, meaning that this combination of newsletters is enough for a full-time salary?
PETER: Yes. But I began the Ruby one in I think it was August 2010, so I guess it’s been going four years now. For the first couple of years, actually no, just the first full year actually, it wasn’t really a huge deal. Once 2012 hit, and I actually started taking – I started having serious numbers of subscribers, I was probably up to, I don’t know, 70-80,000 at least across the network, and actually took advertising full-time and was really pushing it, then it was pretty much immediately better than what I was earning before, and then it’s only gone up from there.
It’s quite a nice business. It’s not a huge business; I don’t have tons of employees or anything, in fact I’m still even considering hiring my first person, just because I’ve scaled it in such a way I can do it all myself, but I say that, I do have some editors that do bits and pieces but in terms of full-time staff, it’s just me. So yeah, it’s been very good to me. I’m very happy with it, and it is my full-time thing.
CHUCK: I want to talk a bit about building mailing lists. I know that your focus is probably a little different from what freelancers do, but I think you face some of the same challenges. So for example, how do you let people know that you’re giving out this content on the web? Is it word of mouth at this point, and how did you initially get the word out about it?
PETER: I read an article a few years ago about how Facebook grew, and I seem to recall the author used the term “The Domino Effect.” They basically said that Mark Zuckerberg – and he forgot his name then – Mark Zuckerberg began in Harvard and then he branched out to where a lot of people from Harvard knew other people. He worked out that they knew a lot of people at MIT, let’s say, just around the corner. So then he branched out to one and then the other and so on and so forth. I’ve always applied that, since I’ve kind of heard that, I’ve always thought that’s a really logical way of doing it.
Now this obviously isn’t going to apply to everyone because not everyone has a successful blog or even lots of Twitter followers. But I guess another way of looking at it is a bit like “Snowball Effect.” You have to start from something, build up a small amount of audience, but then just find ways of keep adding to it, or use that to roll into something new. I’ve always just leaned on all of the different things I’ve had online, whether it’s my blogs, or now, whether it’s my emails. I use my newsletters now to launch other newsletters all the time; that is my main technique. I don’t do a lot of paid advertising. I don’t lots of constantly spamming everyone on Twitter. Even Hacker News, I don’t even think any of my newsletters that have actually made it onto Hacker News, or Product Hunt or anything like that, just because I don’t ever push it in that way.
So I’ve just been very lucky in that regard. I’ve just always tried to build an audience around me, perhaps in almost like a Gary Vaynerchuk kind of style. He always goes on about the fact that he’s on every platform, and that he’s always putting up videos, and he’s always doing this and that – not with a specific goal of “I want to sell you my stuff” but he just wants to build up this kind of brand and people to know him, and that when he does want to launch stuff, he can just go right hook basically and just like BAM! “Join this new thing I’ve done” and BAM! It’s popular. I’ve seen a lot of popular people online do that, so I just do it at a much smaller scale than those people, which seems to work.
CHUCK: Very nice. One other thing I’ve noticed about your emails that I’ve struggled with off and on is that they look really professional. How do you get such a nice looking email layout?
PETER: It’s funny actually, because I often look at them and go “Oh god this looks like crap compared to something else I’ve seen. I think I want to redesign it again.” I have to stop myself. So yeah, it’s kind of nice to hear that, I guess.
I guess my main goal is really to try and boil things down to the simplest thing that will work. So it’s very tempting, and I always do this when I start a new design for a website or something, I think “Right, I want to have these custom fonts. They look awesome. I’ll put these light rounded corners on or I’ll do this and I’ll do that and I’ll use all these colors and so on” and then what happens? I go “Oh, this looks really horrible.” Then I’ll think “Well I’ll remove the custom fonts, because they’re kind of slow” and I think “Oh, it looks better with the default fonts” and I remove some of the colors, and I remove some of the features and I’ll be like “Actually this is a really clean design now.” So I’m always designing stuff in that way and that’s true of the emails as well. I don’t set out with a goal of it necessarily being simple. I make it everything I want it to be, and then I’m like “I don’t like this” and then I pare it down to what is the basic stuff that works. That seems to work for me.
What I would recommend though for other people is, if you can get away with it, I would actually make your email just text. Now this is going to be probably slightly controversial, because most people that run frequent newsletters and so on are always using HTML, but that’s actually kind of a good reason to use text. Depending on what you’re doing, you do want to look like you’re natural at some level, and text really is a way of doing that. I have a lot of people that subscribe to my newsletters in the plain text form; we do produce them separately as well that people can get. Some people really like text, and it just looks like a normal email, so if you can’t design and if you don’t want to go and buy a template on one of these ThemeForest type sites, which I think they do some good templates actually for email, but if you don’t want to go and find stuff like that, just go into text. If you can make it work in text then your results are going to be just as good, if not better.
REUVEN: I’m wondering what your schedule looks like. How do you divide your week up? What are the different tasks you have to deal with? Clearly you have to – I’m sure do some reading defined [inaudible 13:48]; I’m sure people submit them as well. But then, you’ve got a business to run, you’ve got advertising defined, you’ve got emails to send out. What do you do all week Peter, besides sit around watching TV? [Laughter]
PETER: Well, that’s the trick number one; I don’t watch a lot of TV. Yeah, I guess this is going to sound like fastidious answer, but actually the majority of my week is spent, wake up, kids wake me up, deal with the kids running around screaming, tidy the house, do the washing up, get involved with breakfast, kids have to go to school and [Inaudible 14:17] and then when I get home, the kids are there, I play with the kids, put the kids to bed.
It’s just so much family stuff going on for me right now, it’s absolutely ridiculous. I’m sure a lot of people in the startup world or whatever practically don’t get to see their kids so much. It’s just become a natural part of life for me. It’s kind of infuriating some of the times, but then when you look back on it, I actually value spending that time. I guess fortunately but also unfortunately, for my bank balance I guess, I’m not one of those people that does 80 hour weeks, and I suspect given that there’s so much opportunity I’ve got, that if I did spend that time, I’d probably do something really good with it. But a lot of time does go to the family.
With that out of the way, I have to be very, very efficient with my time because literally there’s something going on every night. I just took my daughter, literally before this, to her swimming lesson. I have to leave work at 3 in the afternoon and all that type of thing, and I’ve only got in at like 8 or 9 in the morning. I mean, I’ve [inaudible 15:13] a day very small, but the way I counteract that is with technology. In what I’m doing – in publishing generally actually – it’s amazing how much you can make up with technology.
When I began, it used to take serious amount of time to make a single issue or a single email. And people I speak to, who create their own similar things, they’re like “Oh I was in the Mailchimp UI for like two hours generally, in this issue of whatever I was doing” and it takes a long time to get it right. But once you realize what is right, and if you are a developer as well – and this is where the magic part happens – you could say “Well hang on, how can I make this more efficient” and in my case, it was “Well hang on, Mailchimp’s got a really cool API,” so I can perhaps build my own template with ERB – one the Ruby templating language if anyone doesn’t know it – and then I can perhaps feed in some XML, and I know, “boo hiss XML,” but I could feed in some XML that represents how I want an issue to be, with all the different items in it, and then have it generate everything, use the API, create the campaign, run the test, and all that you actually have to do is go preview, yeah looks good, send.
I did that very, very quickly so that really cut the time of production down. It then basically came down to “I need to clip the links together.” Over time, I also then built a system to do that, so like a mini-version of Delicious – very oriented on this type of stuff. No, it’s not public, a lot of people have asked, it’s not public at this point.
But I know people that have actually used things like Pinboard, I think it’s called, the Delicious style system. I know people have used that and then used the RSS export and you put that into Mailchimp. So there’s lots of different ways you can do it, but I’ve always found just tooling is what saves me time. I work a very minimal amount of time for what it looks like I do, but then yeah, the majority of the rest of my time is then spent dealing with the advertising and the business side of it. So I’d say at least 50% of it is that kind of human contact side.
REUVEN: What is it that you do with the advertising? Do you find that people come to you or do you need to still reach out to advertisers?
PETER: No, I’ve never – well I’m trying to think have I ever, [inaudible 17:09] of a lie in there – but I don’t think I’ve done any outreach with this. It’s always been people have seen the emails and they want to advertise, and then they reach out to me. So I’ve been very lucky in that regard.
I mean some of the things, if anyone wants to repeat that type of thing for themselves, one of the important things to do is actually run advertising in the first place, even if it’s your own stuff, because the fact that there’s advertising there seems to bring other advertisers out of the woodwork. This happened with Ruby Inside, especially the blog. It wasn’t until Jeffrey Grossenbart reached out with PeakCode and he was like “Oh I want to sponsor a bunch of blogs for a hundred dollars a month. Are you interested to help promote PeakCode?” and I was like “Yeah! Go for it! I make zero dollars from blogging.”
So he did it, and then the next week, I have three different advertisers reach out. I think it was Linode and possibly New Relic and someone else. They were like “Oh, we want to put our banner on your site” and I was like, “This is absolutely ridiculous. That has just happened by putting one on, everyone else turns up.”
So no, I don’t do outbound, it’s just the case of people have seen companies like Microsoft and New Relic and Senture, and just tons of people have appeared in the newsletters, and then I guess coders and people just followed them around. Say, it’s the marketing department and we need to be in here, and that’s how it goes. Yeah, I’ve been very lucky with that. But if you want me to talk about how to do good outbound sales, unfortunately I wouldn’t be your man.
REUVEN: How many newsletters do you run now and how many subscribers do you have?
So yeah, I guess it adds up to roughly about ten. I also run a couple of others for other companies as well; that’s an area of the business that might expand. But over the main core of them, the ones that I actually own and control completely, we are at, I think today, at about 196, actually no I think we might have just tipped to 197,000 subscribers across the lot. Two hundred is just around the corner, I’m looking forward to that.
CHUCK: How do you decide when to kill a newsletter? For example, you mentioned the Dart one. This is another area that I struggle with, is when do I kill my children?
PETER: Well, in my case, I’m always trying to apply commercial reality to anything. So if something’s not making enough money or it’s not – well it’s not that it’s not making enough money, but the value isn’t there for some reason or another, it goes on hold. So that’s what’s happened with the Status Code one. Now, Status Code has like 16-17,000 subscribers and I’m always getting emails from people saying “Oh, how much I love it, blah blah blah” but the fact is I’m running it as a business. I didn’t quite find a way of making it work, but I’m coming up with ideas, so that’s staying on hold, rather than dying.
But the Dart one, as an example, got up to 2000 subscribers, it wasn’t completely useless, but there didn’t seem to be a real sponsorship ecosystem around it and the growth didn’t seem to be there. I guess I had applied some of my own opinions about Dart into it as well. I don’t mind Dart as a language, but I just don’t see it as having done what Google wanted it to do. Whereas Go on the other hand, another language out of the Google stable, I would say has surpassed expectations. So yeah, that’s the only one I have killed though – it’s only been Dart. I don’t even think I can bring that back, I think I actually completely deleted that list. If Dart now becomes super, super popular, I’m going to be kicking myself. [Chuckles] But I’ll take that risk.
CHUCK: Makes sense. I’ve been tempted I think to take the same approach with some of the podcasts that I’ve done. The problem is that I don’t have a podcast other than the Angular Podcast that I have not done for a year or two. Two other shows I’ve had a little bit of trouble finding sponsors for, and so I’m tempted to let them go but I really enjoy the interaction that I get from them with audience. But from a monetization standpoint, yeah, I’ve thought about either quitting doing them or actually going out and doing a concerted, two-week effort, find sponsors and then if nothing turns up then let them die.
PETER: Yeah, it can be a bit of a chicken and an egg situation sometimes. If you do let something lie fallow for a while then you can end up with a situation in which it’s very hard to actually sell the space because advertisers are very canny a lot of the time, and will go and investigate and they’ll be like “Well hang on, you haven’t published this for a certain amount of time. Why are you coming to me now?”
So you do have to be careful in those situations, which I guess goes back to what I said about, if you have advertisers then you seem to get more, which is why I actually support the idea of actually giving space out for free sometimes. I’ve done this with – I just realized another one, Mobile Web Weekly, we also have. I’ve actually given space out on that for free, just to see how well it performs and all that type of thing, to existing sponsors, but it actually begins – actually the first paid one begins this week, and then it’s booked quite well throughout the quarter. Sometimes you have to give, before you can get.
CHUCK: That makes sense. One other question I have is, do you send the emails out at the same time of the week, every week?
PETER: They always go out on the correct day for that publication. It’s very rare, I mean sometimes they all go through to the next day, but it’s very, very rare; it’s very much the exception. Either because an editor – so about three of them have got different editors, so if an editor is sick or travelling or whatever, sometimes we’ll delay it.
Other than that though, the time of the day isn’t that important to us. We haven’t seen a huge amount of difference in performance throughout the day. A lot of people in email will actually go “Oh, hang on. That’s weird. That’s a massive difference” but it just doesn’t seem to have worked out that way for us, and we can send it early in the day, late in the day, it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference. People do seem to expect it though, to be in their email box in the morning, US time. But then Europeans don’t seem to be worried about receiving it at 2, 3 or 4 in the afternoon. I think people just get used to whatever you tend to do regularly, so I don’t keep it too strict.
CHUCK: If somebody wanted to start their own mailing list, what recommendations would you have for them? I’m talking both tools and practices.
PETER: I don’t want to sound like some sort of paid shill for Mailchimp, but I’ve had a lot of success with them, and they’ve done very well by me, so I’m very happy with them. But of course, there are many, many other providers who are also very good, and have totally different systems. So if anyone does want to do stuff like APIs and stuff, just go and check the API of whoever you’re going to use and make sure it’s up to the scratch that you want it to be.
So yeah, you need someone that’s actually going to send your mail, unless you want to build your whole system from scratch, go and rely on someone like a Mailchimp. Even if you do want to build some of the system yourself, use something like Mandrill or SendGrid or something behind the scenes; use the ones that actually will let you send group mails. Avoid getting into trouble.
Yeah, it depends on how much of the system you want to build yourself. But I’d use one of those types of providers, and then you can go and look for a template or make one of your own. As I mentioned, using text is good, but if you want to use HTML, there are a lot of open source projects out there offering responses email templates. You can just go and literally Google “GitHub responses email templates” – you will find something that you will like. That’s if you don’t mind fiddling with HTML and doing that side of it yourself.
If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can either rely on the templates that companies like Mailchimp offer to you, out of the box. I’m not a huge fan of some of the built-in templates and especially the built-in editors on some of these services. I just find them a bit slow and cumbersome to use, but they are a way of beginning, and getting going. You could go to a site like ThemeForest and go and actually buy a theme or I guess you could even get a freelancer to make their own design or something, but that starts getting quite expensive at that point.
So get your templates, get your email sending service, and then really – there’s not a huge amount to it. There’s different ways you can promote and advertise and services that you could lean on in that regard, but in terms of the core service, those are the types of things I would lean on. I guess I’m quite bare-boned with things like that though. We rely on very few things, other than the link system that I mentioned earlier for collating all the stuff together, but you could very easily use Trello or Pinboard or I think probably even Delicious is still around, and tie stuff together like that. Yeah, I don’t really have a huge amount of suggestions on tools. It will just kind of work.
Oh, actually I guess another one to mention would be Litmus. So Litmus is a service that does two different things. One of them is email testing, so you send your finished emails to certain addresses that Litmus gives you, and then they show you what your email looks like on about like twenty or thirty different clients and devices and things like that, to make sure it looks good everywhere. It will run it through about twenty different spam filters and tell you information about that, which is very important to get right, otherwise you’ll kill your open rate if you’re landing in spam.
But they also have this analytic system built in and I’ve only used it once, but it gives you more information than systems like Mailchimp will give you, so you might like it. It’s quite expensive to use, and I’ve not really done a lot with it, but they do offer analytics as well; I actually use it for the testing stuff.
Actually, I must admit, things that have now got to a level of complexity where I’m actually buying all the different devices and things that they use, so eventually I won’t need to use them, but that’s because I’m sending that much email and doing that much development, that I need to do it in-house. But for most people, Litmus is a great service. I think that’s about it.
CHUCK: Very cool. Do you read all of the articles that you put in the list? I’m assuming you do, and then how do you find the ones that you want to share?
PETER: I’ve discovered through doing this. Obviously I began with Ruby, so Ruby was something that I knew really, really, really well. So I was already doing that job with Ruby Inside, linking to other people’s stuff, so I really had a nose for Ruby stuff. I really had a nose for who was talking nonsense, who wasn’t, how you could quickly read an article and get up to speed with stuff, so that was easy.
There have been a few instances over the years where, perhaps I’ve linked to a library that doesn’t work correctly, and someone’s like “Why didn’t you try everything?” Well, the fact is if I tried every single thing I link to, it would take me six hours to create each issue, so it just wouldn’t be feasible to do, unless I was charging money for people to get it every week, and then I would probably just do one newsletter because it would take that long to do. So I guess you just get a nose for it, is what my short answer would be.
REUVEN: You actually get complaints from people about a free newsletter with tons of links?
So I’ve had complaints like that and I’ve spoken to some people about it and I always try and take it into account because if people do complain that there’s too much Angular then it does at least put in my mind that perhaps I should just look and see. I should remove some of the weaker things if there is too much of a stress on a single technology. But it all swings around about, so to a certain extent, you have to ignore a lot of the complaints.
But yes, they definitely do occur and there have been complaints that “Oh, you included something about an article that got something completely wrong within a part of the article” and I’m like “Oh I don’t know why you’re complaining to me because I didn’t produce the content, I’m just linking to it.” It was top of Hacker News, it was the top of Reddit for days before I even linked to it, but now I’m getting the complaint.
That’s just one of the interesting sociological points that I’ve discovered about doing this over the years, is that the relationship is so different. That is also why the advertising rates in email I think are so much higher than on the web, and I think this is also true of podcasting. I saw an article about podcasting the other day about how lucrative it can be in certain conditions and it was all about the relationship that the listeners have with the host, even though you don’t necessarily meet each other, it feels like it’s ever, and when the host says “I like such and such a web host” or they advertise something, that is so much more valuable than just some lame animated gif on the top of the blog.
So yeah, I guess that’s a long answer to that question but I really love seeing some of these psychological and sociological things that relate to publishing, and that’s sort of stuff you only really pick up and get a feel for once you’ve been doing it a certain amount of time. But I love it. It’s really fun to learn about.
REUVEN: It reminds me to some degree of, on Amazon when you complain –. People who, when they review a book, they’ll say “Well, the delivery was really terrible for this book” or they’ll go “The postmen put it in a really terrible place when they were delivering it.” That might be true, but this is not really the place to complain about it. You’re at the wrong place.
PETER: Exactly. Well, yeah some people just want to complain wherever they are. I think it seems to be a very human instinct to complain about things. But I guess I’ve found the more business I’ve done, and the more dealing with people I’ve done, is that it doesn’t really get you anywhere because the people that complain the most are the ones if you complain back at them, they just don’t respond to it and they just don’t acknowledge it.
You have to let so much stuff go under and get go by the by, the more people that you deal with. If you think that one in ten thousand people out there is a crackpot, and you suddenly have an audience of a hundred thousand people, well you’re going to run into ten crackpots every year basically, and obviously I’ve probably fed about half my list, half of my subscribers now with that. It does seem to fare out. Most people are nice, but yeah, there’s just so many odd people out there, but I guess that’s the fun of life. It’s the variety of life.
REUVEN: I think you only offended twenty of them that last count. [Chuckling]
REUVEN: So, if someone wanted to get into the publishing business, sort of the way you’re doing it – not obviously breaching on your turf – but if someone wanted to do for-profit email newsletters, first of all, would you recommend it? And second of all, what steps would you suggest they take?
PETER: Yeah, I mean it’s an interesting business. It’s not for the faint of heart, but then what business is? If you think you would be savvy enough to start a podcast or a blog or anything of that nature, and do well with it, then you could perhaps do just as well with email as long as what you produce is within the constraints of the format.
Actually, no. I’ll say that. I was going to say you can’t produce a blog and turn into an email thing, but I guess you can. Patrick McKenzie, the Bingo Card Creator guy, he has a very infrequent email newsletter but it’s always such a great article, and it’s always really long and it’s not the sort of thing that people advise you do in email but he makes it work, and I know he has a lot of success with it. So really, if you do it well, you can do anything.
But yeah, so if you want to get into it as a business, again there’s just so many ways you could do it. You could actually charge people upfront for something. There are numerous businesses out there that actually charge people to subscribe to an email summary of things. One of them, I’m trying to remember the name, Jason Calacanis runs it, I think it’s called – it’s like a tech news aggregation thing, so a bit like what I do, but he has a bank of writers that summarize tech news. I think it’s called the LAUNCH Ticker or something like that, and basically you pay a hundred dollars per year to get onto that. I know he has, I think it’s something about 800 people subscribed to it so far, so he’s making almost a hundred thousand dollars a year or something like that. I believe, he said he runs at a loss, but that’s because he actually finds what it does so useful that he’s willing to pay for the difference for now until it has enough people.
But it shows you there are people that will pay to get email, and it’s something I’ve considered doing. It just doesn’t really fit in with my business model at the moment, but I would like to try it at some point. So if you are well-respected, you’re in a certain niche, and you have a skill or a certain level of savvy about a topic you can share, you may be actually get away with charging and it will increase the perceived value of what you offer.
But otherwise you can do it for free, like I do. But then of course, if you want to monetize it, you need to have advertisers, or you need to promote your own stuff. Now if you can promote your own stuff, you’re doing really, really well. I know there’s a whole ton of names that go around in this scene, like Nathan Barry’s, Sasha Greif’s, Josh Hill, Ryan Johns [inaudible 35:02] – there’s just like a whole ton of people that have email lists that are based around a topic that they’re expert in.
Josh Hill, for example, is one. He has a Sublime Text Tips newsletter type thing, I’m not sure if he’s doing it anymore actually, but so many people do that type of thing. They create something that’s about a topic they know, they put out content knowledge in their email linked to things that are related to their topic, but they also on the backend sell whatever it is that they are offering – so an eBook or a video course, or even pair programming and stuff like that.
It’s totally doable but it depends on how you want to do it. I think if you are going to go in and start charging people for an email, you then need to say “Well, I’m becoming a publisher at this point” because that is what you’re doing. But with the other things, you can still be a coder or a freelancer, and just try it and see if it works and then scrap it if it doesn’t work. So yeah, actually in retrospect, I probably wouldn’t actually advise charging for it straight away because it does make you a publisher and if you don’t want to be a publisher, then it’s probably not going to be the career for you. It is quite tricky.
CHUCK: Cool. Alright Peter, well if people want to get a hold of you, or follow up and see where you’re at, what’s the best way for people to contact you?
CHUCK: Awesome. Well let’s go ahead and do some picks. Curtis, do you have some picks for us?
CURTIS: Of course I do, Chuck. My first pick is going to be a book about parenting actually, called Parenting with Love and Logic. It’s about parenting, raising your kids well, making their problems their own, like when my daughter forgot her backpack this week and I said “That’s not my backpack. That is not my problem” and she doesn’t forget her backpack anymore. [Chuckles] I’ve actually used some of the same – and she’s four almost, but I’ve used some of the same techniques with them.
REUVEN: Woah, I thought I was tough.
CURTIS: Oh no, I’m tough. [Laughs] I use some of these same techniques with clients as well, making it their problem. So “I didn’t get my content, it sounds like you have a problem.” “Not really my problem, that’s your problem” and so making it theirs, and how you position yourself. I don’t think you’d go to the extent that this book says, because it’s like treating children; you wouldn’t deal with your clients [inaudible 37:30]
I’ll be launching a course that’s going to run in November and December to help you get going properly in 2015. We’re going to talk about working on your value and pricing, vetting your clients – I have been setting up a proper process for doing that – and then a chunk on marketing your business as well. That will run over six weeks from November, I guess it’s the 2nd it’ll start, and it’ll go throughout the middle of December. You can find out about that on my site at curtismchale.ca/subscribe to be notified when it goes on sale, on October 14th for the email people, and 15th for everyone else.
CHUCK: Alright, Reuven what are your picks?
REUVEN: Okay, well I have two related picks today. There’s a book that I read a few years ago called Mindless Eating by this guy named Brian Wansink, who’s a professor of Marketing at Cornell, and he has been researching for many years now what leads people to eat. If you like all sorts of cool, clever psychology experiments, this book is just so much fun. He did a lot of his research at restaurant schools, meaning places where they train people to run restaurants. So they have these test restaurants where people are training to run them, and so he would go in there and run his experiments in a restaurant.
For instance, half the restaurant would get fast music, and half the restaurant would get slow music, and he found out about what led people to eat more or to buy more or eat more healthily. So super fun book, really, really interesting stuff, both sort of his general psychology experiments and sort of on your own, for your own, your own eating in your own life.
Not only was that a great book, but he just came out with a new book called Slim by Design, where he basically says “Folks trying to lose weight using willpower is a lost cause. Don’t even try it anymore. What you need to do is take all the results of these psychology experiments we’ve done and apply them to your own life.” That of course, remains to be seen, whether it’s yet another miracle cure for everyone’s eating problems, but I thought it seemed super clever to me and the writing is just so much fun. It’s definitely worth taking a look at these books. So anyway, those are my picks for this week.
CHUCK: Nice. Eric, what are your picks?
ERIC: Okay, so my pick, it is safe for work but might not sound like it. It’s called Trail Porn. I’ve been getting into and getting off running on trails and something like that. I think its run by a guy who runs I Run Far, which is like an off-road trail ultramarathon website, but it’s basically a Tumblr blog of these gorgeous pictures of trails and wildernesses, that sort of thing. I’ve been on there, I don’t know, four or five times this week just going through it. I got to page 9, when I was supposed to be working. So it’s a really fun break if you just want to look at some sceneries like that, probably get some good backgrounds on there.
CHUCK: Alright, I got a couple of books I’m going to pick. The first one is by Brandon Sanderson. It’s called The Emperor’s Soul. It’s kind of an interesting read. It’s a fiction book; it’s a pretty short one.
The other one is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, and I’m actually tempted to see if people are interested in doing a study group on it, and I would want to do it mastermind style so people can share whatever it is they need to share, so it probably wouldn’t be an open discussion thing where people can come in. It would probably more or less, just be on a Google hangout, or Skype chat or something, and then you would just record it and distribute it just to the group. But I am really enjoying it and I have to go back and read it again. That’s how good it is.
So those are my picks. Peter, do you have some picks for us?
PETER: Yeah, I’m going to be really evil now because I have quite a few, but then you’d expect that from someone who does what I do. So I’m going to make it really, really quick.
The first one is a book called #GIRLBOSS, which is by a lady called Sophia Amoruso, who owns, runs, created the company Nasty Gal which is an absolutely huge ecommerce business now. She started from nowhere, she was basically walking around the streets, I think it was San Francisco, kind of going to sales of vintage clothes, buying them and selling them on eBay, and now they’re doing hundreds and millions of revenue. It’s just great to see her story and then also the things that she shares. Very much like in a style of Rework, it’s that type of book – lots of practical stuff and also her story mixed in with it. So a really, really good book, I was very surprised. And I don’t see a lot of people especially the male-centered startup world really mentioning the book or saying they’ve read it. I really want to put a shout out to that.
I also wanted to shout out the Entreprogrammers podcast, which I’ve been enjoying a lot recently. I know that you’ve had some of the guys and talked to them on here. I think John Sonmez was on not too long ago. So, just enjoyed that a ton.
If anybody’s interested in publishing, then the Neiman Lab is a very, very cool site. It just goes into what’s the cutting edge, what’s happening in publishing, some of the business models, things like that. I get so much inspiration from it and its really worthwhile seeing what different players in the field are doing. It covers people big and small. It’s just really cool to see what business models are working, what’s not, and just getting ideas off of different people really.
Same also goes for my next one which is GrowthHackers, which is kind of like Hacker News, but it’s really for, it’s all about selling yourself, promotion, getting leads, and just that whole build out your business and getting customers. I’m really enjoying that lately. Tell you what I’m enjoying it more through Twitter actually than the website. Their Twitter stream seems to be really, really good.
Next one is a blog called R29 Intelligence. It’s run by people in a company called Refinery 29, which is a fashion startup, but they share all this stuff about split tests they run, and how they use Facebook to do promotions. They just share all this background knowledge about how they’re promoting and building their business, and not many people know about it. But their posts are absolutely top-notch, full of practical advice, stuff you can steal. Excellent blog; good, good stuff.
Last but not least, it’s like a little bit more fun, it’s a game called Antichamber. I don’t know if it’s ever come on the picks here before, but it’s definitely the best game other than the main triple A types that I’ve played over the last year. I don’t have much time for games now, but this is an amazing puzzle game. Just a very, very basic first person view, but you do things like walk around the corner and then everything changes around you, like so you’ll turn around and it won’t be where you came from. You have all these very bizarre logic puzzles to solve. It’s not a run around and shoot type game. You get these clues appear on the wall and so you feel like you’re running around in circles, when you’ve gone round and round this same loop about ten times, and then you’ll turn around, and then the level will continue in front of you at that point. So it totally screws with your head and messes up with what your idea of what a first person game should be. It’s very, very fun. Go and check it out, even if you just watch a review of it. It’s very, very fun. I think that’s it.
CHUCK: Awesome. Well, thanks again for coming. We really appreciate it. Hopefully, some of our listeners will be interested in some of your newsletters. There’s a lot of value here, and hopefully people can extract that from this episode.
I forgot to mention at the beginning of the show, that we’re doing a freelancing Q&A, actually by the time this comes out, it will be over. But we are going to be doing it. If you go to freelancersanswers.com and enter your information, we’ll make sure you know the next time we do one.
I also forgot to mention, two weeks ago we interviewed Kurt Elster and he talked about small sites – I actually built one, so I’m just going to mention it here. It’s todayisasuccess.com and it’s just a dumb little thing that I threw together in an afternoon, and it just helps you focus on getting that one thing done – so your top priority for the day. Then you can mark it as done, and go on to the next thing, and that resets at midnight.
Anyway, we’ll wrap up the show. Thank you all for coming. We’ll catch you all next week!
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