I am really excited about Part III of the Urban Worm Interview Series with fellow Bentley Christie. We dig fairly deep into the world of online entrepreneurship and how to gain traction on the web.
For vermcomposters specifically, I’m not sure that the audience for this post is going to be as large as my previous interviews with Bentley and other expert vermicomposters, but I think a few of you who have either started or are sitting on the fence about starting your own business AND promoting it online are going to absolutely love it.
In Part II, Bentley sang the praises of Worm Farming Alliance members and their aptitude for hustling their way to some really robust physical businesses.
But he wishes they would embrace the web a little more to enhance theirphysical businesses while adding revenue, mentioning that digital and information products are a great way to generate extra income.
Having had this light bulb turn on for me a couple years ago, I couldn’t agree more.
So today, Bentley and I are going to drill down on that topic and also chat about local search engine optimization (SEO). We’ll also have a broader conversation about online marketing and website building in general and at the end, we’ll give you a few steps you can take today to get started on the fun, frustrating, exhilarating, chaotic, humiliating, and extremely worthwhile journey towards online success.
Enjoy Part III!
Bentley on Information Products, SEO, and How to Pick The Low-Hanging Fruit of Website Building
UWC: Bentley, you’ve been pounding the table about information products for awhile now and you made no secret in Part II of this interview that that you’d like to see “vermi-preneurs” (as you like to call them) be more active with them.
Why do you consider them to be important if so many people AREN’T creating them?
BC: So many people aren’t creating them simply because A) they don’t realize the potential they offer (both in terms of income-generation and business promotion), and B) even if they DO realize this, or at least have an inkling, they assume they require far too much technical know-how, writing ability, ____________ (insert any number of other skills people assume they don’t have).
I have a hunch that some people just generally have a negative association with info products – assuming the term is synonymous with sleazy get-rich-quick ebooks or something like that.
The truth of the matter is that there is a wide range of different kinds of information products. The kind I am passionate about are those that offer serious value to those who consume them, whether they have to pay for them or not.
Could be something as simple as a free report, video, or audio – which can easily be created using free online tools – or something more complex like a full-blown course or membership site (definitely more advanced, but still likely easier than most people think).
UWC: Would you recommend people try to sell them right off the bat? Or use them as an incentive to join an e-mail list? Or some combo of both?
BC: That’s an interesting question. Looking back at how I started up Red Worm Composting, I am honestly wishing I had had one core info product right off the bat. I think that could have made a really big difference, and would have helped me avoid some of the bottlenecks I encountered (since I didn’t really try to monetize for a year or two).
Don’t get me wrong, focusing mostly on building up your audience and offering tons of no-cost value is NOT a bad idea at all – but I truly believe that you can still do this, while at least having one core product available (or even a quality product you can promote via an affiliate arrangement – wink, wink) for those who are interested.
Passionate followers can literally get frustrated when you don’t have something they can buy from you! lol
PLUS it kind of sets the tone. I remember how panic-stricken I was when I finally decided to start selling composting worms from the RWC website. I was terrified my audience would think I was some sort of sell-out.
Yeah, those worries were mostly unfounded – but still, there are always going to be some (sensitive folks) who you catch off guard, and who wonder about your motivations when you start selling later on.
Just my 2 cents….
Oh, and getting back to your original question – yep adding free info products early on is a great idea as well. In fact, if you create one that is good enough quality that it could be sold, and then you give it away, that could be the ultimate way to help you get tons of exposure, and to build an audience of raving fans that much faster – both of which are very helpful when you’re trying to get some early traction online.
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UWC: How do you create your products? Do you use any special software or special programming on your site?
BC: As touched on earlier, creating info products sounds far more complicated than it actually is.
Mind-mapping is the ultimate way to get stuff out of your head and into some sort of semi-organized state (and then really organized state, as you continue to work with it).
You can use it to create product outlines, to plan out an email series, to map out product launches. Heck, I even use it to record expenses and create ‘To Do’ lists (likely better programs for these, but when you get really comfortable with a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail. lol)
For free reports, I recommend getting Open Office – essentially a free alternative to Microsoft Office. What’s great is that with the “Writer” program you can even create secure PDFs (perfect for reports and guides).
For audios/podcasts you can use something like Audacity (again totally free).
For videos, these days you can create fantastic live action videos with smart phones. For screen-capture or slide videos there are a variety of free or at least inexpensive options (eg Screencast-O-Matic), even something like Windows Movie Maker would probably work ok.
I personally use, and LOVE, Camtasia (for audio and video) – what’s cool is they have a 30-day trial period (last time I checked) so you could potentially even create a video course, and then pay for the software using the money you earn from selling it!
UWC: I admit to having a serious crush on Camtasia as well. I’m also a huge fan of both Canva and Stencil for graphics creation!
Let’s move on to SEO, specifically local SEO. May I hijack the interview for a little rant?
BC: NO!! But I have a sneaking suspicion you are going to anyway!
UWC: How’d you guess?
I think the low-hanging fruit when it comes to online marketing is local SEO. It can implemented by most people immediately with near immediate results.
The development and growth of the Urban Worm Network made it abundantly clear to me that many worm-related websites are not being found in local search results. For example, XYZ Worm Farm in Topeka, Kansas has a website at xyzwormfarm.com, presumably to help them sell worms, worm castings, etc.
XYZ Worm Farm has a listing on the Urban Worm Network, which means their business literally has a page on my website too. As you can imagine, I put very little effort into most people’s pages, although I do optimize them for local SEO (by request) for WFA members.
So a random stranger in Topeka, Kansas searches for “buy red wigglers in Topeka, Kansas” and what do you know? Their listing on the Urban Worm Network ranks higher for that search than their own website does.
So random stranger assumes the first listing is the actual business and he sends ME an e-mail saying they live in Topeka and would like to stop by XYZ Worm Farm and buy some worms today. My business, of course, is nowhere near Topeka.
I then reply back to random stranger and XYZ Worm Farm’s email address explaining that I’m near Philadelphia and and hope they can meet up. This happens at least weekly.
This should not be!
While I’m thrilled that the Network has visibility, what it means is that XYZ Worm Farm’s local SEO is non-existent if my website’s page is outranking their own in terms of search visibility in their area. If those potential buyers never end up making contact with XYZ Worm Farm, then that was a missed opportunity for easy money.
Phew! So now that that’s out of my system, what can site owners do to improve local SEO?
BC: Firstly, let me say that I agree (and commiserate) wholeheartedly, Steve! I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received via the RWC site from people asking about “local pick-ups” simply because the site happened to come up for some sort of location-specific worm search they performed (usually the result of me mentioning that location in a blog post or something like that).
It is totally crazy!
Here are some things I always recommend for those wanting to get local traction. For starters, if you are using WordPress as your site platform (highly recommended – more on this later), start by installing an SEO plugin like “All In One SEO Pack” which won’t cost you anything more than a few minutes of your time. WordPress is pretty good “out of the box” – but this plugin can help you tweak some simple SEO factors (title tags, descriptions etc) very easily.
Speaking of which…
If you want another example of something that absolutely horrifies me it’s when someone launches a website that has a front page title tag of “Home”, or worse still, “Untitled”, rather than the name of the business or website (if different) etc. What this basically means is that if the site even shows up in the search engine results, the title for the listing will be “Home” or “Untitled” – greatly reducing the chances of anyone bothering to visit the site
Again, probably not going to happen with WordPress (since the default title will be the name of site you selected during installation) but still important to watch for these sorts of things! (UWC Note: You actually CAN have “Home” be your page’s title in WordPress if you name your homepage “Home.”)
Any small business site should, in my humble opinion, have some form of descriptive, keyword-rich welcome blurb on the front page (and of course, some similar info elsewhere, such as on About Us and Contact page). This should quickly summarize who you are, what you’re selling and what geographic areas you are serving.
Here is an example from my Canadian site:
“Worm Composting Canada is a small vermicomposting business based in Waterloo Region (Ontario, Canada). We currently sell Red Wiggler Worms (Eisenia fetida) for worm composting, fishing and live food. We have a major focus in our local region – Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph, Ontario – but are also happy to ship our worms elsewhere in Canada.”
Not Pulitzer Prize winning prose, by any means – but it packs a punch in terms of providing “food” for search engine spiders.
I also really like your suggestion (shared with me privately) reregarding putting location info in the footer of every single page on your site! Great idea.
Next – make sure you have at least a few back-links from authority websites. Can be something as simple as submitting your site to worm-selling directories such as the City Farmer Worm Supplier page, or Pauly’s “Worm Farming Revealed” supplier directory. Sites like this that have been around for quite some time (especially in the case of City Farmer) carry a lot of authority – so in a sense a bit of that authority gets transferred to you when they have a link pointing to your site.
[UPDATE: A certain someone reminded me of another great directory to get listed in – The Urban Worm Network. Ooops – SORRY Steve! lol]
Getting backlinks in general is really helpful – but in all honesty it’s not something you should obsess over. Focus on creating some good content (eg on your blog), networking with other like-minded folks, and releasing epic free info products (wink wink) should help you start earning them naturally.
During a private discussion, you actually reminded me about another great authority site to get listed on – Google Places. If you plan to have a public “store-front” where customers can drop in (ie you don’t mind having your business address, phone number, etc fully visible) then this is highly recommended, and can give you a very prominent listing.
Speaking of Google, remember that they own YouTube and Google+ – and that they are all too happy to send more traffic to their own web properties, so if you make YouTube videos, create “hangouts” etc with a local focus (and relating to your business) these can also rank very high in the search engines.
Adding to what I said a minute ago, I also highly recommend “local blogging” as a promotion method for those with small business websites. Simply write about your own activities (with mention of locations), local businesses, events etc. Not only does it help the search engines connect you with a location, but it’s a fantastic way to network with others in your area. You might be surprised by how much “love” you get in return (people writing about your business, linking to your site, just generally spreading the word).
If you implement just these recommended steps I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised (if not amazed) by the results! In a lot of ways us worm farmers are lucky, since in most regions we won’t be competing with a lot of other worm ventures for local search engine rankings.
It’s almost pitiful how little I have done to promote my own “real world” business – yet thanks almost entirely to my tiny little (mostly neglected) website, business just keeps coming in, basically on autopilot.
And people wonder why I get so kooky about the “power of the web”! lol
Bentley On Being Shy, Loving WordPress, and the One-Word Book Chapter That Inspires His Business
UWC: Bentley, you’re not shy about being shy, saying you’re not comfortable around groups of people. Not to play armchair psychologist, but are your online efforts a way for you to still interact with people, but on your terms?
BC: Yeah, I’m not one to make a big fuss about these sorts of things, but I don’t mind being open about it either. It might help to encourage someone else facing similar challenges. Who knows?
When I sought counseling from a REAL psychologist (haha – sorry, couldn’t resist), some years ago now, I was diagnosed with what’s known as “social anxiety disorder”. To add insult to introversion (lol), for some odd reason I’ve gradually become more and more hearing impaired over the years as well.
At times it has felt like a bad practical joke from “upstairs”. But in a lot of ways I’ve actually come to see it as a gift, since it has played a very important role in leading me down my current path.
And, earlier teasing aside, your armchair psychological assessment is actually right on target. I’m probably more of an extrovert online than a LOT of real world extroverts – haha – and I know that is in large part due to the fact that the online world provides me with an outlet. In essence it gives me the opportunity to just be ME (as hokey as that may sound).
I also like your use of “on your terms” – since that is exactly how I operate my business. I communicate with prospects and customers almost exclusively via email (and hey if you need a good “excuse” for doing this yourself, it is also an awesome way to end up with a full record of every interaction you’ve had with someone). I’ve even cut way back on my interactions with pick-up customers.
Now before everyone starts assuming I’m some sort of selfish hermit – lol – I want to make it clear that A) I make up for this in other ways (such as stellar email support, educational materials etc, and B) It is VERY important to carefully guard your time. Truth be told – I actually really enjoyed a lot of the chats I used to have with customers in my backyard, but man oh man did they ever suck up a lot of my time!
I also want to make it clear that I am in NO way suggesting that “shy people” should run away from their problems and just start online businesses so they don’t have to talk to anyone. Lol
Truth be told, apart from the counseling, I faced my fears head-on by taking a leadership course – even eventually becoming an instructor for the course. These days it’s definitely the hearing that creates more of a hassle than social phobias.
Anyway, I’m starting to veer off topic here so I will leave it at that! 🙂
UWC: Why are you such a big proponent of WordPress?
BC: WordPress had humble beginnings as a basic blogging platform, but has just never stopped growing and improving over the years – and it’s now an incredibly powerful (yet flexible) website creation platform – or “content management system” (CMS) if you prefer “geek speak”.
It is “open source”, so it costs nothing (although there are various costs associated with hosting, domain registration etc), and has a huge community of developers and users. This means that there is an incredible array of add-ons available (loads of excellent free ones, I might add), lots of educational resources, and plenty of support available.
I have never been a technically-gifted person, and I tried various different website creation tools/platforms early on without any success. It was only when I discovered WordPress (and put a bit of time into learning how to use it) that I was finally able to start building my own sites.
Proprietary software and platforms seem to come and go, and there are almost always limitations and challenges associated with using them. Unfortunately, they can often lure people in with the promise of “super easy and free to get started” – and it’s only once they are committed that they realize it can’t quite meet all their needs (or that expensive add-ons are required).
Plenty more I could say on the topic, but I think that hits on some of the key points!
UWC: If I read you correctly, you would be doing worm stuff without the internet, but would also be doing internet stuff without the worm stuff.
Is this correct?
BC: Yes, that’s right. And in all honesty (as blasphemous as this might seem to our audience), if I had to choose one over the other I would choose the internet.
As I think I’ve already emphasized, much of my satisfaction simply comes from my opportunity to connect with and educate/inspire/encourage thousands of people from around the world. Even if I couldn’t actually “play” with worms for some reason, I could still connect with countless worm-heads and continue with my educational-, and virtual-business-efforts.
And of course there might also be some non-worm-related internet business efforts as well.
Oh and whadya know – look at the next question! ;-p
UWC: Funny how this interview by e-mail thing works! Can you talk about your non-worm-related internet business efforts?
BC: Something that has been on my mind for years now has been the idea of putting together a training resource focused on website creation/promotion (and all the various related things we’ve been discussing here in this part of the interview). But for whatever reason the timing has never felt quite right.
Long story short, I am now finally in the process of creating that resource (with the aim of launching sometime in September 2016) – and it’s something I’m really excited about.
It’s important to note, though, that this is not me veering off my previous path and doing something completely different. In fact, a BIG part of my motivation stems from the fact that I wanted there to be a complete resource I could recommend for Worm Farming Alliance members who were ready to start developing a web presence.
So, there will likely be many WFAers involved as core members, and perhaps the rest of the group (non-worm-heads, that is) will end up getting tired of all our wormy website examples – I dunno, lol – but it should be fun to see where it goes.
“If anyone reading would like to learn more, please feel free to drop me an email (I am actually having some private “Early Bird” launches, before it goes “public” – and this is a good opportunity to save quite a bit on the price).
I will also be sending updates to the worm business list (associated with my “What You Need to Know to Make Money With Worms” guide) – so signing up for that one is another options as well.”
UWC: For as scalable as internet businesses are, I think people underestimate the importance of just being a good dude/dudette, which gets lost in all the guidance about best practices when it comes to websites and marketing. Do you have any stories where you spent time helping someone in a way that didn’t benefit you directly but that you felt you were re-paid for in the Karmic sense?
BC: Honestly, I think that’s one of the major, if not THE major factors that has helped me succeed online. I genuinely care about and appreciate “my people” and I think it is pretty obvious to most of them.
I’ve made (and continue to make) WAY more blunders than I care to mention. I feel like a walking disaster-zone half the time – lol. But if there something I tend to “get right” more often than not, it would be demonstrating that I care about my audience/customers and that I have a genuine desire to do as much as I can to help them out.
Gary Vaynerchuk (web promotion all-star) has the coolest chapter in his book “Crush It!” (highly recommended).
Ready for it?
Ok, here goes…
the best marketing strategy ever….
That’s literally it! An entire chapter of the book summarized in one big word.
And it is SO true!
What’s funny is that before reading the book I had come up with the term “care marketing” during a brainstorming session and I was looking forward to using it in my own business-related training. Seeing a heavyweight like Gary V agreeing with me, really hammered home the importance of this type of approach.
And of course, this not just some sort of tactic or hack. You can’t really “fake it till you make it”. You genuinely need to care.
As for Karma, I do feel like I’ve had a lot of great things come my way and I like to think it’s a result of the “good stuff” I try to put out there, but nothing really comes to mind as a specific example. It’s probably at least partially due to the fact that I tend to shrug these things off when they happen (I am very thankful – don’t get me wrong – but I don’t tend to dwell on it).
Maybe you have an example you can share, Steve?
(NOW look who’s in control of this interview! lol)
UWC: Turn the tables on me, eh? Well I’d have to say that I can’t say I can point to any Karmic repayment of anything I’ve done except that I know people appreciate the time I spend with them, even if there’s no payoff. My readers are very much beginners so I think they’re just happy to have someone to ask questions of.
I will say this, though…and it’s a little weird. I think a beginning entrepreneur MUST be willing to do things that literally make no sense financially. There’s no set roadmap to success you know of, so every opportunity to meet, help, or educate complete strangers is an opportunity for your potential business, even if it seems like there’s no financial incentive. I can’t tell you HOW it happens, but I know that pushing ahead into chaos, helping people, earning trust, and throwing the entrepreneurial spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks is the way to go.
Because if you don’t KNOW your path and are going to wait until an idea hits you, I guarantee you 10 years will pass you by and you’ll be 10 years closer to the grave and nowhere closer to where you want to be.
OK, that was heavy. Now back to you. And I guess my answer leads well into the next question.
One of the things I really like about you is that you are so generous with information. It’s almost like you are trying to train someone to take market-share from you. Why do you do this?
BC: What’s funny is I don’t think I give enough. I’m constantly feeling frustrated by the limited amount of time I dedicate to producing publicly-available content. But I guess if you add up all the blog posts (way beyond 1000 by now), free reports etc published over the years, it’s not too shabby.
And there will be more to come – no doubt about it! 🙂
As for giving away market-share etc, I definitely don’t see it that way – and I strongly urge others to steer clear of that sort of limited mindset (I know you don’t actually feel that way, Steve, so I’m not worried I’ll offend you! lol).
For starters, the unique person behind the content plays a very important role in the overall package – the overall ‘brand’, if you will. Someone could take all my information and turn it into some sort of information product (for example) but – getting back to the last question – if they don’t genuinely care about their audience, or don’t bother to create a unique spin/approach of their own, I don’t think they will be very successful in the long run.
And hey! Worst case scenario, they’ve spread some super high quality information and have helped the overall vermicomposting movement.
I’m OK with that!
On a related note…
These days when you hoard and guard your high quality information too much, saving it ONLY for the people who pay you, you can really miss out on an amazing opportunity to build a huge audience of raving fans (which can of course lead to far more business anyway).
Apart from that, just because you give away information for free, it doesn’t mean you can’t use some (even a lot) of the same “free” information to create a focused info product. It’s very important to remember the value of time and organization.
Sure, someone could read all of my 1000+ blog posts for free and get a solid vermicomposting education, but how long would it take them to do this? And how organized would the information be?
What makes me laugh is that there are indeed people who will justify this sort of practice based on the fact that they didn’t have to pay anything.
“Look at me. I read the RWC site front to back in a week, didn’t pay a penny for it, yet got the same education as those dopes who had to shell out $19 for the Easy Vermicomposting Course. SCORE!”
Sorry, but my time is worth WAY more than that (as much as I appreciate someone with that level of dedication to RWC – lol). I would much rather pay someone a small amount of money for some organized, focused information on a particular topic than spend days searching all over the internet (or even a single website) just to piece together the same education.
On a related note…if you are a product creator, don’t let the tire-kickers (freebie-seekers – whatever you want to call ’em) fool you into thinking this is how your entire audience feels. It’s the naysayer feedback that tends to seem the loudest, but in actuality it is usually representative of only a very small percentage of your followers.
Anyway…I better step down off my soap box! I’m veering off topic yet again! 🙂
UWC: Who are the online authorities you enjoy reading or find that you resonate with?
BC: I’ve mentioned Gary Vee – I love his energy, and passion for online promotion.
Pat Flynn is someone I’ve enjoyed following over the years (I’m blown away by what he has accomplished in such a short time period). Chris Guillebeau’s “Art of Non Conformity” is one of my favorite books, and I really enjoyed “The $100 Start-Up” as well. His web content is also excellent.
Seth Godin – I receive his daily marketing emails – and absolutely love his philosophies about doing “work” that matters.
Perry Marshall – a bit more of a mainstream web-marketer, and it actually took me some time to warm up to him, but his e-mails are mesmerizing and his “80/20 Sales & Marketing” book is outstanding.
Michael Hyatt is someone I’ve more recently started following – he has a bit more of a “corporate”, “professional” vibe about him so his message doesn’t resonate quite as much with me as some of the others, but his expertise on online platform-building is top-notch.
Really just scratching the surface here, but those are some of the ones that immediately come to mind.
UWC: What are your favorite blogs? How about podcasts?
BC: Smart Passive Income with Pat Flynn, Copyblogger (over the years – not nearly so much these days), Live Your Legend (sadly, Scott Dinsmore passed away in a mountain climbing accident in fall of 2015 – but his wife Chelsea has taken over and continued on), and MichaelHyatt.com.
As for podcasts, I should be listening to a lot more of them, simply because there are lots of times when I can’t really be at the computer, but right now I’m not really following any.
For several years I did subscribe to Audible, so I now have a pretty decent “library” of audiobooks, most of them in the realm of personal development and entrepreneurship. I love the audio format since, unlike a physical book, it is easy to consume the content while I do other things (like play with my worms – haha).
UWC: Let’s say you were going to start from scratch and develop an entirely new website around worms. What would your priorities be? Collecting e-mail addresses? Creating high quality content? Selling information products right away? I would imagine some new entrants into the online space would love to know this!
BC: This ties in closely with something you asked me earlier on. As I alluded to earlier, if I started all over again, there’s a good chance I would tweak my approach somewhat.
For starters, I likely put together some sort of core product that ties in closely with the focus of the website – or, if someone else already had such a product (and happened to have an affiliate program for it) I might make that my main product to promote. In both cases I would likely then create some form of “mini-course” and/or blog “follow-along” to educate my audience about the topic and gently recommend the paid product (for those wanting to learn more).
Apart from educating my audience, this free mini-course (report etc) would also be an excellent way to start building up an email list as well (since that’s how it would be delivered – or at least would be how I’d keep my audience posted on new developments).
Blogging would still be a big part of building my online presence, and I would likely try to be quite active in Facebook and social media groups as well. Depending on the topic, I might even think about creating my own Facebook group.
As I touched on earlier, the idea behind having something to sell right off the bat is that there will be always be at least some (potentially quite a few) people who really want to help support you early on. So it only makes sense to give them that opportunity! I know some people have a really pessimistic view of offering anything for sale, thinking it will just make them look sleazy or “salesy” or whatever negative label they happen to come up with. But the hugely important lesson I’ve learned is that revenue generation can help you do a LOT more good.
It’s tough to put blood, sweat and tears into a project and help to make the world a better place when you are living in the proverbial “van down by the river”. lol
Getting off the soapbox (again, lol) and back on topic…
There are lots of possibilities from that point on.
The key focus should always be on providing your audience with as much VALUE as you possibly can. Really get to know them. Find out what frustrates them. What they are interested in. What their needs are. And then aim to:
- Help them solve those problems
- Cater to their interests, and, just generally
- Serve their needs as much as you can
This brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from Zig Ziglar:
“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want”
A website put up simply to promote your business is a lot better than no website at all – but one with a broader overall “mission”, that actually offers lots of value to its visitors and/or followers, is far more powerful.
Anyway – lots more could be said on the topic, but hopefully that offers some perspective on ways to get started.
[By the way – it’s important to note that physical products could be offered early on as well – but I would still highly recommend at least some of the “content/info marketing” approaches I touched on as an effective means of promoting the physical goods].
UWC: This isn’t a fair question, but I’m going to ask it anyways! If you were building an online worm entrepreneur in a lab and you could inject him or her with ONLY:
Technical chops like WordPress know-how, coding skills, photography chops, and an eye for design
Soft skills like a positive attitude, resilience, and rapport with others,
Which one would you pick? Remember, you can only pick one!
BC: You’re right – that isn’t a fair question! Lol
But it’s actually pretty easy (for me). I would always pick B. I’m not going to claim that there aren’t any creative geniuses with zero people skills out there changing the world – there absolutely are. But without some “soft” communicator types helping them out, I don’t know how they would actually get anywhere in terms of influencing the masses.
And since we’re talking here about worm entrepreneurs (my people – lol), it’s a no-brainer that I would rather work with cool, high-quality people who care about others, than with jerks who know how to code and take nice pics! LoL
UWC: You’ve seen lots of people succeed and fail? What’s the common denominator for both?
BC: Here are some of the most common factors:
- Starting small
- Good optimism/realism balance
- Work ethic (including discipline)
- Ability to learn from mistakes.
- Lack of focus
- “Go big or go home” attitude
- Not accepting of advice
- Lack of passion
- Unrealistic optimism (aka “out to lunch” – lol)
- Waiting for the big red “Easy” button to fall out of the sky
- Making the same mistakes over and over again.
UWC: I don’t want to send the impression that everything will succeed if you just stick with it, but how much of your online success with Red Worm Composting, Worm Farming Alliance, or WormComposting.Ca is because you just stuck with it?
BC: Massively important! For whatever reason, I’ve just continued to stick with this “worm stuff”, and while various other “business” projects (etc) have fallen by the wayside. I’ve experienced lots of “failure”, and have been through some very rough periods…but I just kept going, and I am so glad I did!
Persistence is so critical – especially early on, when it can seem like nothing is really happening, “nobody” is interested in what you have to offer, there is “so much to do” etc etc. I think this is a big part of why the WFA has been so helpful for people trying to start up their own worm farming venture.
Entrepreneurship can be a very lonely road (especially for those who are not naturally hermits, like me – haha). So it can be a huge help when you have a community of people on a similar path, or who have gone before you, who you can commiserate with and get advice and encouragement from.
Don’t run yourself into the ground emotionally and financially just so you can say you “stuck with it” – that’s not what I am suggesting. Get your priorities straight – and focus on the most important things (like keeping your family clothed and fed, etc) first and foremost.
“Never giving up” also doesn’t necessarily mean you need to keep going full tilt until you succeed. Sometimes taking a bit of a break, or at least gearing things down for a little while can be hugely beneficial – I’ve done both.
But I just keep coming back. 😉
UWC: If there was one problem or difficulty you could snap your fingers and solve today, what would it be?
BC: World hunger?
Oh – do you mean with the WFA? (Online biz in general?) – lol
It would almost certainly be tech-related. I would love to snap my fingers and have a team of Keebler Tech Elves appear, who could take care of all tech challenges and answer all my tech questions!
UWC: Amen to that!
Web Marketing Lightning Round. Pick one!
UWC: OK, I’m gonna put you on the spot here. I just want quick answers to the following questions. Here goes…..
Killer search engine optimization or awesome content?
BC: Easy – awesome content! Killer SEO is useless on its own – all those visitors you worked to hard to bring in will quickly leave the site if they don’t see anything worth sticking around for. Plus, awesome content is kinda like the ultimate form of SEO anway (similar to how “caring” is the ultimate form of marketing). People want to link to it and share it!
UWC: Lots of smaller posts or fewer, but longer “epic” posts?
BC: A bit more difficult, but if it had to be one or the other, I’d definitely go with lots of the smaller posts, since it’s far more likely they will get done! 10 small posts are WAY more valuable than ZERO published “epic posts!”
UWC: 10 new readers or one new e-mail subscriber on your list?
BC: I would take the readers for sure! Especially with the issues with e-mail delivery these days.
Apart from that, if you put together some compelling content you could likely convince 3-5 of those 10 readers to sign up for your e-mail list anyway!
UWC: A “brand”-ish domain (like Google.com) or a more boring but explanatory domain name, like isellshoes.com?
BC: Depends on the project – but I’m leaning towards easy-to-remember and “brand”ish. Google seems less interested in the keyword-focused domains these days.
UWC: Tim Ferriss or Tony Robbins?
BC: Depends on what I need. For an energy boost and mindset upgrade – Tony Robbins! For entrepreneurship and success-hacking inspiration, definitely Tim Ferriss!
UWC: Ramit Sehti or Pat Flynn?
BC: Pat Flynn simply because I’m not nearly as familiar with Ramit Sehti.
[UPDATE: Since the time of first responding to this question I’ve started following Ramit Sethi, and have been LOVING his stuff! I love his no-holds-barred, “keeping it real” approach and his sense of humor. But Pat is still a cool dude, so I say it’s a TIE!]
UWC: Mac or Windows? Be prepared to lose half your fans with this one! You can’t win! 🙂
BC: I plead the Fifth. 😉
Unexpected Successes and Failures
UWC: What were some unexpected successes you’ve had with your online efforts, (worm-related or not). In other words, what are some things you’ve done that caught fire in ways you weren’t expecting?
BC: I don’t know that it’s ever really about earth-shattering results for me. I’ve had some great launches and various other “big wins” as an entrepreneur over the years, but it’s often the “small (meaningful) stuff” that’s really leaves a lasting impression.
Like the very first drop-shipping worm sale from the RWC website, that came in while we were visiting my in-laws up north that very first spring (2008).
Or similarly, the strange flurry of orders that came in early on, during yet another family trip (I.E. when I was essentially “on vacation”)
It’s these times when I am reminded of the “power of the web” and reminded of WHY I love this type of business so much due to the freedom and flexibility it can provide. And that is really what’s most important to me.
Two other significant and very meaningful “successes” came about as a result of two separate fund-raising events I put together. In both cases, I was pretty well at the end of my rope – quite sure that I would need to move on from Red Worm Composting (and related projects).
I’ve never been the sort of person to ask for donations, and as touched on earlier, just starting to sell worms on the site required that I overcome a lot of resistance. Even in the case of these particular events I made sure to have actual products available for purchase (although I did finally stop being stubborn, and accepted donations as well – which ended up being a very important part of it)
The manner in which the RWC community responded (both times), with an outpouring of moral and financial support just completely blew my mind. I felt so humbled, so lucky, and so amazed by the fact that all these people appreciated my work enough to want to help me this way.
UWC: How about the reverse? Have you had any “can’t miss“ ideas you’ve executed on that missed? Upon reflection, were there any lessons you were able to glean from that?
BC: Yeah I’ve had my share of clunker ideas and launches. Early on with my “real world” business I let my excitement (about earning money doing something I loved) get the better of me, and I felt like I wanted to sell everything under the sun remotely related to vermicomposting.
I invested close to $500 in “BioBag” products (biodegradable bags and a special plastic holder bucket) which, even based on the margins alone, was a questionable decision. Let alone the fact that I had not yet assessed the demand for such products. Long story short, years later I still had a bunch of boxes of the bags (ended up just using them in vermicomposting beds) and a big stack of the holders taking up space in my basement (ended up giving them away for free – lol).
Some years ago now, without bothering to survey my audience or just generally assess demand, I launched what I felt was a cool info product all about creating your own compost tumbler. To say it was a dud would be a vast understatement. I think I ended up with something like 13 customers! Lol
- Don’t just assume you know what your audience wants, or create/buy products based on what YOU think is cool etc. Actually take the time to assess the demand – even get your audience involved in the product development process!
- If you ever do end up with a dud – especially in the case of an info product – don’t just assume you have completely wasted your time/money. Products that don’t work as paid products can be used as awesome bonuses (the tumbler plans product is a bonus for my VermiBin Series Plans Package) as free give-aways to help build your list, or even just as free content for your website.
UWC: There may be people reading this who may not have a future in earthworms, but are trying to find their place in the world of online entrepreneurship. What can Bentley Christie tell them they won’t find elsewhere?
BC: Hmmm…I don’t know that I have a good “elevator pitch” advice blurb that is uniquely mine. But here is a quick and dirty formula I highly recommend all would-be web-entrepreneurs keep in mind:
- Find something you LOVE and are “good at” or knowledgeable about (or that you really want to get “good at” or knowledgeable about).
- Make sure it is something where there is an established demand/market (products for sale). But…
- Also make sure to drill down enough that your topic is pretty focused, while still having enough of a potential audience to make it worth your while (eg “Gardening” vs “Urban Food Gardening” vs “Growing Tomatoes in Buckets in Sante Fe New Mexico” – as you can likely guess, the ones on either end are either too broad or too narrow).
- Share your passion/journey with others via a website/blog (and overall web “platform”).
- Find ways to solve problems and just generally offer serious VALUE to your audience, which involves spending a lot of time getting to know them and what they are looking for.
- Create your own products and/or find products created by others (with affiliate programs) that are high-quality and closely tied in with the theme of the site. Physical products, and website advertising are some other monetization options.
- Don’t stop 🙂
Wrapping It Up
Internet marketing can seem like a mysterious art only to be practiced by the experts. And I would imagine the experts want you to keep thinking it’s that difficult.
It’s not difficult in the “You’ve got to have a computer science degree to do it” sense. But it IS difficult in the “will you keep it up after the initial enthusiasm has worn off?” sense. This is true of any business but particularly true on the Internet where the deafening sound of crickets in response to your shiny new website can be very demoralizing.
I had some misperceptions about marketing via the internet when I began Urban Worm Company a little over two years ago.
- The relatively small niche would mean an immediate and energetic audience.
- That success would come from a “break” like a mention in a newspaper or maybe from Bentley!
- That there would be a code to “crack” leading to gushers of income.
Well here’s what I learned instead.
Nobody cares at first.
The traffic doesn’t show up the second you go live. It takes time and persistence to power through the days of literally zero visitors.
There’s no big “break” coming.
Well I did get a mention from Bentley, and it led to my first 100 visitor day, which was about 10 times more visitors that I was normally getting at the time. But that mention, though probably a little helpful in an SEO sense, did not lead to recurring traffic. It was a helpful jolt and spurred me to create more posts to feed my audience, but the event itself was certainly not a key to meaningful success.
Success comes from persistence, not a life-changing epiphany.
Building traffic and generating what little authority I have came from sticking to it and creating content for my site, even when it seemed like nobody was reading. There was no code to crack, no shortcut, no secret knowledge that would separate winners from losers.
Part III of my interview with Bentley validated my own experience because as successful as the vermicomposting and vermiculture world considers him to be, his path to that success was jagged, messy, chaotic, frustrating, and ultimately……..worth it.
Here’s what I love about web marketing. And keep in mind, I haven’t really reached what I consider to be success yet.
You start out with no visitors, but you keep creating content. You just keep paddling away. Then a few visitors start trickling in for a day or two and you go back to seeing the “goose egg” on your site statistics. Maybe you share a post or two on Facebook and see a quick surge in traffic.
And by “surge,” I’m talking 15 visitors.
But you keep creating new content here and there. You keep collecting e-mail addresses and letting your list know when you’ve published a new post.
And you have your first 20 visitor day out of nowhere, maybe because someone linked to you, or shared your post on social media. Now maybe instead of seeing zeroes, you see a consistent 5 visitors per day. And every now and then, they make an order for your worms, your bins, or one of those digital products Bentley referred to. You’ve made your first dollar while you slept (which is a huge rush)….and this keeps the fire burning a little longer than it might have otherwise.
And because you’ve been creating content all along, those 5 visitors now have more of your articles to read, which means that each visitor is more likely to visit more pages on your site. You might find that you have some binge readers (like I know I was on RWC!) who become commenters on your articles.
Maybe you find that one of your articles performs well in search results for a specific keyword and now you’ve got consistent daily traffic from Google or Bing.
The on/off trickle is now a consistent trickle.
And one morning you wake up and find you’ve gotten three orders overnight because an online authority in the gardening space linked to your post and sent 300 visitors your way in a day. Sure, 290 of them may never return, but you may have just earned yourself 3 of the 1000 True Fans that Kevin Kelly says will be the backbone of your business.
Your effort from months or years ago starts to result in money that you did nothing to earn today. (And I have to tell you, earning the first few bucks as an entrepreneur – online or offline – is sweeter than thousands earned at a “real” job.)
I’m convinced this is how it starts.
By plowing – not sprinting – ahead into uncertainty.
Stumbling from one “failure” to the next until you find something that works for you – and then doing more of that. By making tiny tweaks to your site that maybe gain you a visitor each week. By not getting carried away with surges of traffic that seem to appear out of nowhere, and not getting depressed when the traffic drops back down to normal levels.
I think Bentley’s answers today paint a similar picture. He stuck with it, but not just once. Many times in the past few years, he’s had to keep plowing forward. Bentley’s a smart dude for sure, but I guaran-damned-tee you his consistency is far more importance than his brilliance.
Don’t Have a Website Yet? What Does This Mean For You?
If you don’t have a website yet…..why not? While I can’t tell you it’s always easy, I can tell you this:
It’s an incredibly low-cost – and therefore low-risk – method of building your business, whether you’re selling worm poop or baseball cards. If you have a simple website – no clutter, no animations, no crazy customizations – with simple navigation and a way for your customers to reach you, then you pretty much can’t lose.
At $3.95/month from Bluehost, my recommended web hosting service, I can’t imagine a more cost-effective way to grow your business.
You might be starting from nothing. No traffic. No tech skills. And no confidence.
In the fall of 2016, Bentley is going to have a pretty sweet course for you. He teaches what he’s learned in over 15 years of site building and how he grew redwormcomposting.com into one of the highest-visited blogs in his niche.
(Seriously…..part-time job income from a site about worms? Yep.)
The timing of this interview was pretty awesome because Bentley has just released a tidy little PDF entitled “Making Money with Worms.”
And by “little,” what I mean is “FRICKIN’ ENORMOUS.” This thing is massive!
If you were interested in any of the 3 parts of this interview, I highly recommend you check it out.
And if you want access to all the updates and learn more about how to make money in all things worm-related (if you’ve thought of it, I think Bentley probably has a section on it in here), Bentley has formed an e-mail group highly specialized to vermi-entrepreneurs and he’d love you to join.
Let me say this about Bentley and his e-mail lists. He sees his subscribers as a community, not an ATM machine. He sends useful, relevant information, so don’t worry about being drowned in sales pitches. He doesn’t do that.
Well let me finally thank Bentley for not only giving us yet another value-packed interview, but also being a great advocate for vermicomposting and helping to maintain strong ethical practices in the industry. My Jewish friends would call him a “mensch,” a man of integrity. My gentile friends would just call him “a good dude.”
If you’re not ready to take vermicomposting to the commercial level and just want to know more about vermicomposting, go see what Bentley’s got going on at Red Worm Composting or join the RWC Facebook Group and get nearly instantaneous answers from the experts there. And I invite you to check out my other interviews with industry experts like Mary Ann Smith, Larry Shier, Patrick Cartwright, and Heather Rinaldi.
Thanks for reading! And stay tuned for the next Urban Worm Interview with Paul (Dr. Worm” Piccirillo of Worm Farming Revealed.
This a looong 3-part interview. Download the PDF of this article and read it any time.
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The 2020 Vermicomposter's Starter Guide
Your roadmap to a successful beginning in vermicomposting.