I believe you get what you want from people who have it.
That’s why, if you want an 8-figure ecommerce brand, then you need to learn from people who have already built that for themselves.
(Which is probably why you’re reading this post!)
And that’s also why, when I started Smart Marketer, I tracked down the guy who I thought had the kind of community I wanted to build.
That “guy” is the very person I’m interviewing today — James Schramko!
James is my longtime friend and mentor, and recently, we sat down to talk about:
- How he built a large, loyal community of marketers and business owners
- What to do to ensure you don’t “miss the boat”
- Strategies for better team building and delegation
- And what every business owner wants to know: how to work less and make more
Watch the video to get the full interview, or check out the edited transcript below:
Focusing on the Customer
Ezra: You wanna give just a little background on how you got here into this seat?
James: We met some time ago when I was interested in search engine optimization. And you were very good at that, among other things.
Ezra: You know when you talk about the SEO days, you’ve been around a while.
James: And a while back you came along and asked me to help you out with Smart Marketer. You said, “Would you help me build the same as what you’ve done with SuperFastBusiness?
Ezra: I believe you get what you want from people who have it. If someone is doing something that you wanna do, you go and you find out how to do that from them. The old like apprenticeship model, you know…
I looked at a number of people in the industry and how their businesses felt. Like there’s a lot of people who were doing content who then led to informational offers or coaching or events. Like a lot of people had a similar thing. But the way that yours felt was the closest to like, “Boy, that’s what I’m looking for.” And it felt different…
James: I think because mine started with the philosophy of having a lifetime customer. So everything was around the customer, and by extension of that, the community.
And it’s funny. Like we come here in 2018, 10 years down the track, and that’s the latest tactic I heard just today, community and focus around the customer, not the product. And that’s been the core of it.
“Have I Missed the Boat?”
Ezra: One of the big fears that people have that I see come up a lot is this fear of missing out. And it’s like, man, we were in it from domain name to SEO to AdWords. What would you say to someone who is afraid that they have missed the boat?
James: I’d say just be a good swimmer because then if the boat sinks, you can swim across to a new one.
Ezra: But you’ve had to pivot, right? There’s a buzzword for you — “pivot”.
James: Pivot. You know, I’m gonna just make it a simpler word, is being okay with change… And Peter Drucker talked about this, Marketing and Innovation, which is something I think you are brilliant at. You are the most innovative guy. That’s why you’re at the top of the heap now for ecommerce because you see what’s coming, you adapt to it, you’re comfortable to let go of old ways.
Ezra: One of the interesting things that I’ve found with this, it mostly feels like that fear is around visibility source for the business. Like, “Where am I gonna find new customers?” And there’s always another one coming. It’s SEO. It’s Facebook Ads, Instagram, whatever. What I learned from you that changed all of my businesses was regardless of what visibility source I’m using to generate new people in, once they are in, I have a model for keeping them engaged consistently, relating with them in a way that’s authentic, providing value and also making offers.
And that was what was different about your business was… Around that time when I came to you and asked you for help, I was studying a lot of people. And the difference was you were constantly providing value…
And for me anyways, in my career, I see you as the guy who pioneered that… And this model is still what I do today. Yes, I have my advertising strategies, but the core model is that content engine. So, let’s like talk about that. Like what is that?
James: And it doesn’t matter which platform you use to feed it. So, in my case, podcasts have been strong… They get to find out about you in a nice way that’s giving them tremendous amount of value… It also really caters well for people who are existing customers because you’re keeping them up to date with news, and we’re all addicted to news.
And then the other segment is people who have already bought from you and you’re reactivating them… Of course, you can have people in multiple subscriptions so it’s not just email, it’s not just your YouTube channel and not just iTunes. It could be a desktop push notification, it could be a mini chat.
Ezra: What we are talking about is consistent, thematic content, right?
James: It’s about being relevant and having context for the customer. And the great thing about it is you only ever have to look for your customer to get ideas on what to talk about.
Ezra: This was the part I was gonna ask you about. It’s like, okay, I’m playing the devil’s advocate. What if I’m not a good content creator? What if I don’t know what to talk about?
James: Well, your customers pretty much give it to you. Even a prospect who’s not a customer who’s sending you an email asking you about your product or service is giving you guidance as to what sort of content to create. So, that’s a good starting point.
Once you’ve got a body of content, it’s easy to go and mine that and see which content is my 80/20? Like which ones cause the opt-ins? Which pieces of content do people resonate with? And you can actually do more of what’s working.
Ezra: Totally. You test a bunch of stuff.
James: That’s what we look at it when I meet with my team. It’s like, “What did we do that’s worked well that we should do more of? What are we doing that we should stop doing?”
Now, in our business, we have a business unit that does not revolve around me and it’s outside of the business space. And for that, we actually bring in a feed of all the top blogs and outlets in our industry, and my team curate from that the top content, and then they report on it.
We’ve built up a big email list for that. And we’ve monetized that by putting ads around that property…
Because someone in that market is already trying to get all that and you’re making it more convenient for them.
Strategies for Growing Your Team
Ezra: I’m gonna “pivot” to talk about an area where I think people really struggle, which is something that I got my foundation in through you…
I had this very small team, but this idea of a team at scale was really foreign to me and really scary and felt like unmanageable and like something that I was not capable of or didn’t have the skill set for. Now I have a team of 72 and the baseline principles I learned from you…
So, what are your sort of basic strategies for that?
James: Well, first thing is recognizing that this is an inevitable step if you wanna grow because as a solo operator, you really have a job-like business. And you can only get to a certain point. You might get a few hundred thousand dollars a year, maybe a million dollars a year with a part-time assistant. But that’s about it.
So, it’s about recognizing you have a finite number of hours in a month. And once they are exhausted, then you’re missing out on doing your strategy or making that content or serving your existing customers because you’re too stretched trying to do everything from bookkeeping through to putting up a WordPress website…
Ezra: One of the things that I find most people who are in our spot, where they were like single person operator or couple of people, the place they spend all their time is in the tech. It’s like, get someone else in LeadPages, in ClickFunnels, in Shopify, Google Analytics, in email. You need to be doing the vision and the strategy, not the like sending out of the email.
James: The big problem in the beginning is that most people when they are starting out, they don’t have an offer that converts, so they are not getting funds to reinvest back into having someone else do it. So you start out doing it yourself to save money…
So I suggest people focus on finding out that thing they can sell that people will give them money for and then they use that money to reinvest back into the next stage of growth.
And the easy wins are to start getting help with support because that’s something that is necessary in pretty much every business. It’s also really easy to get people for that role and at a low cost. And then from there, you might move into the more advanced stuff like the web development and things like Facebook Ads.
I Do It, You Do It, We Do It
Ezra: Let’s talk about your “I Do It, We Do It, You Do It” system…
James: So this is a common complaint: “Oh, you know, I told them to do it and they did it wrong…”
Ezra: Or like, “They suck.”
James: “I should just do it myself. I can’t get good people to do this.” Well, for most of my career, whether it was in sales, sales management or in my online business, most of the people I hired were what you would call greenhorns, like fresh. They didn’t have the skills to do the job that I wanted them to do in the beginning, and I had to transfer the knowledge from me to them.
So, in the beginning, I would do it. I would actually do it and I would say, “Hey, Ezra, you watch me pour this glass of water. Okay?” Then I’d go, “This is how we do it. I’m lifting the jug, tipping it, holding my hand steady, and then I put it down. Okay?”
And then the next stage is I say, “Now I’m gonna involve you, Ezra. What I’m gonna do is I’m gonna hold this glass. If you can do that, start tipping it, that’s it, keep going, and stop. Great. Good job.”
Ezra: We did it together.
James: And now I’m gonna praise you and say, “You actually did that really well. In fact, I think you could probably handle this yourself now. So, if you could do it with this cup, that’s great. Easy there. That’s very good. So, next time, try and get a more consistent pour. Let’s try that one more time.” A bit of encouragement. “Perfect. You’ve nailed it. So, just do it like that every time from now on and I think you’ll be able to serve yourself.”
Ezra: So I do it, we do it, you do it.
James: Exactly. And if you can do that for each skill, then, eventually, now I don’t have to get my water anymore.
The Noah Principle
Ezra: I don’t know if you told me this or not, but I would do it and then we would do it and then they would do it. And then I have them create a documentation.
James: That’s where people say, “I don’t have time to document it.” Well, you don’t document it. Have them document it. Now I’d say, “Ezra, could you record yourself doing that? And then I want you to teach Freddie how to do it.” So, you don’t really know something until you can teach someone else. So, in my business, we have this other thing called The Noah Principle, which is two people can do everything…
Ezra: Noah like the ark?
James: Yeah. Like two animals, right? So, if Ezra leaves, then I can say, “Freddie, you’re now the number one water pourer.” I’d love you to teach Charlie. So, you should always have two people, otherwise it’s back to you.
Ezra: Freddie and Charlie.
James: So in our company, we have this simple register. It’s just listing every task, and then the other column is every person. And I wanna see two ticks in every task, minimum. In our business actually, almost everyone can do most of the jobs now. So, we’re extremely bulletproof.
Work Less, Make More
Ezra: So, James, this is the part that really I think people consider to be in conflict, to work less and make more. And I think that one of the things that you’ve done really well — structured your business such that it is in support of a lifestyle that you desire.
How do you explain how to do that? Is it a decision like, “Hey, most of the stuff I’m doing isn’t gonna produce results, so I’m gonna set real tight boundaries around my work-life and that’s it?” Is it just you just decided to set those boundaries that most people are just unwilling to set?
James: It didn’t start out like that for me. Of course, when I started out working, it was when my parents had had a financial setback, so I needed to make money. Then I got married and had four kids, so I needed to make a lot more money…
Ezra: I think, ultimately, that’s where it starts. First, you’ve gotta take care of yourself. Once you’re taken care of, then you can think about other people, you know.
James: But then I started to have compromises on my health and relationships. And I read “4-Hour Workweek” and…
Ezra: Which, by the way, I’ve not read. Is the message actually work four hours a week?
James: He doesn’t work four hours a week.
Ezra: Okay, I wouldn’t imagine.
James: “4-Hour Workweek” was inspirational. It was sort of what led me down the path of outsourcing. And there’s some good concepts in there. But there was a bit of a disconnect for me because I was like I had four kids and a wife. It’s a book written by a young guy who’s traveling around the world… This book (“Work Less, Make More”) is more like a “4-Hour Workweek” for someone with kids or an actual job, and it’s sort of a practical guide for that.
But in my case, I felt like when I was in that pressure cooker. I had 72 staff in three locations… it was a lot of pressure. And I thought, I don’t wanna have to go to 65 until I can live my life. I didn’t feel like I was living.
And it was actually 10 years ago that I flew to America for my first U.S. conference on online marketing… And over time, as I built up wealth and fixed up my health, fixed up relationships, then I thought, you know, whose goals am I living here? Whose life is this? You know, I’ve basically taken the reigns back…
And even the flight over here, which was very bumpy for about 40 minutes and people were vomiting and panicking, and I’m thinking, “Well, if this thing goes down, at least I’ve had a good life. I’ve lived. I’ve traveled. I’ve experienced things. I didn’t just drive a desk or have the biggest pile of money.” And as someone with kids and someone who’s been able to experience more of the world, I think more people could have that if they were to make some small changes. So that’s really my message.
Ezra: I think it’s a really good one. I was at this recent event where it was all about what I call “baubles” — the fancy car, the big piles of cash, the cigars.
And I have to reiterate this to my team a lot. I’ve hired a lot of people from other companies in this industry. And they are so conditioned to think that the goal is profit. And I’m like, “Hey, look. That is one of the goals. But the goal is quality of life, creating great products, not overworking ourselves, supporting our community and customers, and making profit.” In that order. Like it’s not profit at all cost. And people just believe they’ve gotta just make that money. But it’s like, man, what seems to happen if you take care of yourself and you focus on that, you focus on your relationships and your hobbies and your business, you do better in business.
So is it just a decision? It’s like you make the decision to prioritize your life?
James: Well, yeah. It really is deciding. And I think most people are living someone else’s life, like either the society’s view of what life should be. A lot of kids are going to university because that’s what their parents want them to do. So, you know, I do say question everything. So, for me, I just stepped up and I took responsibility for the life that I’m going to live and I made changes. I actually called the original version of that “wealthification,” which was to build a business that funds the lifestyle I wanna live.
And if I were to explain it in a sentence, I would say that I’m living now a life as if I’m semi-retired, that I could sustain for decades.
Ezra: Yeah. And you’re ultimately wealthier — when you consider that money is a slice of wealth — than if you just focus on making a whole bunch of money all the time.
James Schramko, ladies and gentlemen!
1:11 You get what you want from people who have it
3:42 You have to innovate
7:38 Consistent, thematic content is fundamental
11:33 People struggle with “buying help” for their businesses
16:10 You don’t really know something until you can teach someone else
22:25 The goal is quality of life, creating a great product, not over working, supporting our community and customers and making profit
23:54 Money is a slice of wealth