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Do you really need a website? Do you really need your own domain and a place to call home?
There are a lot of tools and platforms out there happy to represent you and act as your home. A lot of the hard work of development is taken care of for you. You can just show up, do your thing and be done.
But it does mean pointing people to those platforms. If you’re telling anyone to go to your profile on these other platforms, you are telling them that’s where your home is.
This means you are putting your trust and livelihood in platforms that are looking out for their own best interest. They can change the rules, they can change the game, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The online world looked very different 10 years ago and you can be sure it will look very different 10 years from now. The only thing that is certain is change. When you build your home on someone else’s platform, you are putting your full trust in them. But they have to look out for their own best interest.
The only platform you control is your own. When you build and sell on other platforms, you often don’t get the customer data either. You might get more exposure, but without the customer data you can’t build a relationship.
If you don’t have the customer data to build a relationship, you won’t get repeat buyers. The lifetime value of your customers is going to be very small.
Yes, the cost of building your own platform is great. But you should also be considering the long-term cost of not building your own platform. What is the price you place on being irrelevant in 10 years?
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- Sell from your own platform, because you control the experience.
- A customer buying through your platform will be willing to compensate you more because you control the positioning and brand loyalty can play a factor.
- Build your brand on your own platform to have a long term, sustainable business.
- When you own the customer data, you can follow up and establish a relationship with customers that buy from you.
- Don’t confuse a service and a platform: a service is replaceable. You can still own and control everything while using a service.
- A platform or middleman controls the experience, distribution, pricing, and customer information, and often takes a cut of your sales.
- If you’re not building your platform, you’re building someone else’s platform.
- People will remember whether you pointed them to your site or some other platform.
- As soon as you have have your own domain and website, that is a platform.
- Be educated on what you’re giving up when you use someone else’s platform.
- If you are already on someone else’s platform, don’t cut off a working source of revenue. But do have an escape plan.
- Start simple and build as you grow.
- If you don’t have the skills needed to build a platform, learn the skills!
- If you don’t want to learn the skills, do what you’re good at, earn some money, save it, and invest it in hiring someone who can build a platform for you.
- Have something to sell or your content marketing is just content.
- 07:10 Sean: I’ve been building my own platform since 2010. That’s a lot of years invested, and someone asked me what I’ve learned in that time. Later in the show, I want to share about that and what I wish I had done differently. Some people are wondering whether they should go for another platform for a course or for selling products on an eCommerce store, because there are a lot of options. We’re going to get into that and talk about that. Some people are wondering if they need a website at all. Websites now seem like a novelty. Everyone’s on social media anyway. What else could you want? You want to do video, post something natively, share photos, or sell products? It’s there.
- 08:05 Ben: I would almost go to the other side of the argument. Today, you can set up your website and have almost the same ease of posting videos, pictures, or whatever, as you can on social media sites. I see the opposite argument working against that idea.
- 08:28 Sean: It’s easy to set up a website now, with the tools that are available. But how do you get people there? How do people find it?
- 08:38 Ben: I guess that’s the point.
The Appeal of Social Media
- 08:40 Sean: It’s about discoverability. I talked about Facebook on a recent seanwes tv episode about do you really need a website and why you really need to build your own platform. I was talking about what I think is going to happen to Facebook. I think Facebook is going to have native eCommerce, where you can sell things right on Facebook. Someone can click and buy with a single button. Click it once, and it’s on the way to their house. It would be like Amazon, because Facebook already has their information.
- 09:16 Even if they don’t, after that first purchase, they do. You will be able to sell your products there, and people will be able to buy it natively right on the platform. This is really enticing, because Facebook will bring you the attention, but they’ll take a cut of your sales. We’ll talk about the middleman later in the show. More importantly, you’re putting your stock in another platform. You’re hoping that everything works out, but at the end of the day, you don’t control that.
- 09:53 Ben: I think another thing that’s enticing is knowing that Facebook puts lots of money into researching people’s buying habits and stuff like that. They have all of their algorithms. Amazon has done a ton of research, so they know where the buy button should be and how the product should be presented. They have the science to back up the way they lay out that page to make the purchase the most likely end result. For someone who didn’t know how to design a website in the first place, what would it take for them to get from there to being able to produce that same experience? It can feel really daunting, and if they’ve already got all that figured out, why not do it there?
- 10:57 Sean: They have the infrastructure. They can bring the customers and manage the payments. They’ll take a cut, but they will say, “Don’t worry about that. We’ll make it easy for you, so you don’t have to deal with all of those things.” I want to talk about building your own platform, the cost of building your own platform, the difference between a service and a platform, the lifetime value of a customer, the importance of customer data, repeat buyers, emails, social media, and a lot of other things.
The Lifetime Value of a Customer
- 11:35 If you’re short sighted, you’re only thinking about the fact that on your platform you might sell less than you would on someone else’s platform. You think, “If I go on someone else’s platform, I’m going to be able to sell more, because they can bring more people to my store and my products. They can discover me.” This is true, but it’s not the only factor here. Yes, you’ll sell less on your own platform in the beginning, but more importantly, you have the customer data.
When you sell from your own platform, you control the experience.
- 12:16 Everything from the messages they see, the promotions on the side or lack thereof, the checkout process, whether or not there are discounts, or whatever it is, you control the entire experience. You also get the customer data. You get their name, email, and information so you can follow up with them. You can build a relationship with them. You can’t do that on other platforms. If you’re doing a course on someone else’s platform, you don’t get that data. If you’re selling products on Amazon, you don’t get that data. If you have products on Facebook or whatever other platforms start selling you stuff, they collect the data and you can’t continue that relationship, which means that you can’t get repeat buyers.
- 13:13 Ben: I set up a page for Rachel’s books, so she’s got what resembles a store. People can go to the website, browse through the projects, and read the descriptions. They can click on the Purchase link, and it takes them to the Amazon page where they can buy it through Amazon. We were debating in the beginning how we were going to do this, because Amazon already has the formats and stuff like that ready to download. Sean brings up a point I can’t ignore, which is that we don’t know who purchases her books through Amazon.
- 13:50 Unless they leave a review saying, “I purchased this book and I love it,” I have no idea who that person is. There’s no way to establish a relationship with those customers who are purchasing and consuming her books. There are so many things you could do with that information to create a long term relationship with that customer. Rachel’s going to keep writing books, so it seems a shame that we don’t have a mechanism for capturing that.
- 14:29 Sean: If you sell 100 books to one person and you never know who this person is and they never come back, you’re thinking, “If I sell on my own platform, I might sell ten books.” But what if those ten people buy your next ten books? That’s the same number of book sales, not to mention that what will more likely happen as you understand the lifetime value of a customer is they will continue to buy from you, and they will buy higher and higher tier items. They understand that they can trust you, so you can deliver greater value to them.
A customer buying through your own platform will be willing to compensate you to a greater level because they trust you and there’s a relationship built.
- 15:16 Ben: This lends itself to a deeper conversation, because then you have to get into some of the other things that Amazon provides, like the ratings, infrastructure, and some of the visibility that comes with a book that performs really well. Those kinds of things can’t be replicated on your website, but I don’t want to get into that kind of conversation here. For the lack of ability to develop a relationship with the customer alone, that piece really makes me want to rethink the whole thing.
- 15:54 Sean: I went to a conference in December, and it was 50% Amazon sellers—hundreds of people. These guys were making 50K a month off of a seat cushion, some random thing. You can sell anything on Amazon. A lot of listeners might be thinking, “That sounds amazing. I would love to be making that. That’s the power of Amazon, the power of using someone else’s platform.” But do you know what? These guys were at the conference because they were scared. They woke up every day super scared. I don’t know exactly what their profits are, but you might be thinking, “With $50,000 a month, I could spend that on a lot of things.”
- 16:39 That’s their gross revenue. Who knows what their costs are, how much they have to buy in bulk? One guy said, “I have thousands of pieces of inventory.” Or, “I want to get into another product, but to do it sustainably on Amazon, I had to buy this many hundreds or thousands of units, and I have to hope that I sell them.” One little algorithm switch on Amazon, and you’re off the front page. You go to page two, and you’re dead. You can’t control that. When it goes well, for the few people it goes well for, it’s praised and it sounds amazing. It seems like this great thing, but it carries a lot of risk, and a lot of these guys are having trouble sleeping at night.
- 17:28 Ben: Amazon affords you access to a wider audience, but the wider you go, the shallower that audience is. It makes me think of the approach, especially when you’re starting out, of getting in deep with the people who are there in the beginning. If your focus is on the wide audience, you’re spending that focus at the expense of the focus you could be giving to the people who are buying from you now, who would be your loyal customers now. Investing in those people, that small pool of people who are into your brand when you’re small, is what’s going to take you to the next level.
No Platform, No Brand
- 18:16 Sean: That word “brand” is what I was about to bring up. We’re saying “relationship,” but what we’re really talking about here is a brand. The brand is the relationship your customers have with your business. It’s much like the personal relationship you have with a friend. It’s what they think of you, what they associate with you. That brand carries with it so much power. You can do something, and it has meaning from the very beginning because of it’s association with a brand. Apple can launch something in a new category, and it carries weight because it’s Apple.
- 18:55 My goal is that if we do something on seanwes, it has weight. It has a reputation along with it and expectation bundled along with it. When you sell products on another platform, when you sell on Amazon, when you put your course on a Share Your Skills website, you don’t have a brand. You are not the brand. The brand is that website. If I want to learn something, I’ll go to Share My Skills. If I want to buy something, I go to Amazon. Someone who buys the seat cushion thinks they’re buying from Amazon. They’re not thinking about you, your products, your brand, or that expectation. There isn’t a level of depth there. There isn’t a relationship.
When you don’t build your brand, you don’t have a long-term, sustainable business.
- 19:47 You can only hope in the algorithms of the platforms you’re using. You are at their mercies. You only control the rules when you own the platform. The customer data thing is probably one of the biggest ones. When you don’t have customer data, you can’t follow up, email them, or build a relationship. You can’t get repeat buyers. To get repeat buyers, when someone buys from you, you should follow up and establish a relationship with them. Provide more value or recommend other products that would help them. Why did they buy your product? Hopefully, to solve some kind of problem and enrich their lives. When that happens, where are they now? Who is this person? What do they want to do next? How could you help them with that thing? When you have that relationship and an established brand, you can do that.
- 20:49 Ben: That sounds really appealing. What a lot of people miss is that, in the beginning, you don’t have as much of that interaction. It takes some time to get there. Some of these other platforms seem to make that connection available sooner. “If I go to this platform, the people are already there. It’s this ready-made social media solution that I want to have on my website eventually.” It’s worth waiting for.
The Cost of Building Your Own Platform
- 21:31 Sean: It’s worth investing in, because it is very expensive in every sense of the word to build your own platform. The cost of building your own platform seems really large, really significant. If you think long term, the cost of not building your platform is even greater. If you’re not building your platform, you’re building someone else’s. If you’re not paying for something, you typically are the product, because there’s no such thing as free. Someone is harvesting your data or selling your attention to advertisers. There is no such thing as a free service. Unless you’re paying to be there, they’re benefiting from you somehow.
- 22:26 Building your own platform is really tough. It takes years and years of investment. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of time. But what is the price of being irrelevant? What is that worth to you? What if this platform goes away, and all of your eggs were in that basket? What do you have left? We’ve talked in the past about what would happen if social media went away (Related: e221 If Social Media Went Away Tomorrow, What Do You Have?). Ten years ago, social media didn’t even exist, so where do you think we’ll be in another ten years? We couldn’t even envision the world we’re living in right now.
We don’t know what the next ten years look like and you’d be naive to think that the world is going to be the same in ten years.
- 23:24 Ben: Ten years ago, somebody was saying, “You have to get your band on MySpace. Otherwise, nobody’s going to hear about you.”
- 23:40 Sean: Hopefully, you realize that’s naive. If you do, you’ll agree with me that what we can count on is change. Change will happen. When you play on someone else’s platform, you are putting your trust and livelihood in the platforms you are on. These platforms are looking out for their own best interest. It’s just PR for them to say, “We want to help you out.” Yes they do and they can, I don’t mean that they’re being dishonest, but at the core, they are a business and they have to survive. They have to look out for their own best interest.
- 24:31 Ben: Anything that you post on Facebook that keeps people on that platform is going to perform better and be more visible than someone that would potentially take somebody off of that platform. They sell ads. They have sponsored posts. Their goal is to keep people on that platform as long as possible. They don’t want to kill the platform, so they’re going to allow people to link off, and they’ll make that visible sometimes. Think about their motivation. Their core motivation is to keep people there.
Build Your Own Home
- 25:17 There’s nothing wrong with having a presence on social media. We aren’t saying that you should leave Facebook Instagram, or these other places necessarily, but you can’t bank on those things. In the beginning, you don’t have much to put on your own platform and most of your interaction is happening in other places. I was talking to Rachel about this this morning, because she feels frustrated about not having a lot of traffic to her website. I said, “I know if feels frustrating right now, but what you’re building today is, one, for the people who are visiting your site now. Invest in them as much as possible. It’s also for your future audience—they just haven’t discovered you yet.” In the meantime, be on Facebook and interact with people there, but keep your homebase, even if you feel like no one will see it right now. One day, you will have more visitors there.
- 26:32 Sean: It’s kind of like going to your friend’s house. It’s okay to go to their house and hang out, talk to people there. What’s not cool is to go to a party just to say, “Hey, everyone, come to my party.” Be a friend. Go hang out and engage with people. Maybe, in that conversation, you bring up that you also have this event that they could go to. In this friendship analogy, if everyone else leaves your friend’s house and you say, “Hey, is it cool if I crash?” He says, “Yeah, no problem.” The next night, you say, “I just had a really late night out. Is it cool if I stay here again?” “It’s cool man.”
- 27:16 It goes on for two months, and the friend realizes that you don’t have a home. He starts charging you rent, and you say, “Woah, man! I can’t be paying rent. I wanted something for free.” He says, “Nothing’s free. I have to pay for my own bills, so I can charge you and I can provide food. I can take my office somewhere else, and you can have a room in my office. You’ll pay me rent, and I’ll take care of the groceries.” You think that this is pretty sweet. You never had to look for a house or build one, and now you’ve got your own little room. You pay your rent every month, and there’s groceries. It’s pretty cool.
- 28:10 Suddenly, he says, “Hey, I have a girlfriend. You’re going to have to sleep in the garage. I know it’s not insulated, but we can move your bed out there. We need the extra room.” You think, “This sucks,” but you can’t do anything about it. They make the rules. That’s what it’s like when you go on someone else’s platform. You don’t own the place. You don’t make the rules. You’re just hanging out, and you have to play by the rules. When you build your own house, you get to do whatever you want. We’re not saying that you can’t go to friends’ houses or go to parties, but have you own house.
Where are you building your home?
Are you building your home on someone else’s platform or on social media?
- 28:53 When people say, “Where can I find you?” Do you say, “YouTube.com/”? Where can people find you? What do you have if the biggest social media account you have is gone? What’s left? Where are you building your home? It’s not that you can’t be on other platforms. Sure, go on other platforms. Engage, but have your own home. Have a purpose there and be pointing people there.
Service vs. Platform
- 29:37 Ben: When I first showed up, I saw some of the conversation in the chat room. This is kind of a funny thing that happens. We set these titles out there, and people really like to get into the definition of these things. What is a platform? I’m glad we’re covering that.
- 29:58 Sean: A middleman is someone or something between you and your audience that takes away control over pricing, distribution, customer information, discounts, or anything like that. They’re taking away that control from you—they own the platform. Oftentimes, a middleman will also take a cut of your sales or your revenue. Maybe they’re doing some kind of distribution for you, or in exchange for using their platform, their get a cut of your course or your product. There is a difference between a service and a platform.
- 30:39 Libsyn is my podcast host. That’s where I host my MP3 files, the ones you’re listening to. They are hosted on a service, and this is a service I use to put my MP3s on the internet. If I want to move those MP3s somewhere else, I can. All I have to do is point the links to some other place, and I’m totally fine. Libsyn is also a platform if you want it to be. You can use it as one. They have their own pages there. You can have your name on libsyn.com, and you can point people there. A lot of people do. They have a show there, and it’s a libsyn.com show. They’re using Libsyn as a platform. If they write shownotes, it’s all there.
- 31:27 They’re handling that for you, if you want. I use them as a hosting service. A service is replaceable—you own and control everything, and you can interchange it with absolutely no ramifications. If you’re on someone else’s platform and you don’t get the customer data, when you switch, you lose all of those customers or followers. With a service like MailChimp, ConvertKit, or InfusionSoft, you own the list. You own the contacts, and you can export those. It’s not like if you change email service providers, you have to leave all of your contacts and start over. If that were the case, they would be a middleman, not a service. Services are like Stripe or Paypal.
- 32:20 Those are payment processing services. They’re just services, because they are performing a service for you. It costs money to process payments. It costs money to interface with the credit card companies, and someone needs to do that. Even if you built your own, you would have to pay fees to Mastercard, Visa, Discover, American Express, or whatever. It costs money to process. Stripe is a replaceable service. You could have a merchant account with a bank, and they will pay the fees and you pay them. That’s the difference.
A middleman controls the experience, distribution, pricing, and customer information, and often takes a cut of your sales.
- 33:11 Ben: WordPress, for example, is a framework for building a website. You now own that, and regardless of what modifications you make to it, they won’t come in and try to change that on you. When they update their service, you may need to go in and update some code to make it work correctly, which is why seanwes is still five or six updates old. People don’t like to update WordPress if they don’t have to. That’s not someone else’s platform, because you have control over it. If WordPress stopped coming out with updates and it became obsolete, somebody could make the argument that they have their own rules about code so it’s kind of a platform. Those are services. You have to have something to build your website on and to display it through.
- 34:35 Sean: A browser would be a platform to you if you were an extension developer.
- 34:43 Ben: This is the one that trips me up a little bit, because it’s a little bit of a hybrid. I wanted to ask Sean about this and get his thoughts. YouTube is a video hosting service.
- 34:58 Sean: Bryce actually asked the same question, “What if your business is video production? I envision posting all my videos to YouTube and embedding these videos on my own site with additional information and written case studies. Because I’m using YouTube, I’m essentially using someone else’s platform even though I might point people to my own site to watch the embed. Is YouTube a service in this case? What are your feelings as you build seanwes tv?” Great question.
- 35:27 YouTube is absolutely a platform, but it can be a service. You could use YouTube as a service to upload videos and embed them on your site. It is a free service, which means that you are kind of the product. YouTube videos can have ads, potentially. Fortunately, they give creators control over whether you display ads on your own content. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t use it. I use YouTube for seanwes tv because seanwes tv is on my own domain, and you can get to it at seanwes.tv. Whenever I mention it, I mention seanwes.tv and I say, “Go here.”
- 36:14 seanwes tv is written, it’s in video form, and it’s in podcast form. All of the notes are there, and people can consume it on my site. The video happens to be hosted on YouTube and embedded on my site. If I didn’t want to use YouTube or if YouTube went away, I simply upload it to, say, Wistia. I use Wistia primarily for courses, because it’s more advanced and it’s a little bit more expensive. You could use Vimeo or whatever. You could even host your own videos on something like Amazon hosting, and you could make your own player. In that case, Amazon isn’t a platform to you. They’re a hosting service.
- 37:00 You could put the videos on your own server, but your own server doesn’t have quite the distribution and bandwidth capabilities as Amazon servers, so it’s probably worth paying for that. That’s complicated, but what I’m saying is that I can replace the videos on my site with zero ramifications. Everyone is pointed to my domain, so the only reason I use YouTube is because it’s the second largest search engine, and I’m primarily doing seanwes tv as an acquisition channel. I want as many people to find this as possible, and by uploading to YouTube, it will show up on YouTube and Google a lot better.
- 37:42 You do have the downsides of people discovering you through YouTube and primarily consuming on YouTube, where they could also divert you to other content and keep you on their platform. Obviously, they have their own interests in mind. To me, that downside of using YouTube as a service is worth it. I’m never actually pointing people to YouTube.com/seanwestv.
- 38:08 Ben: With their unlisted feature, there are some ways you can keep the content relatively proprietary. Someone couldn’t go to your channel on YouTube and find certain videos you embed and show on your website. There’s a way to do that. I don’t know how that affects search rankings. There’s also this thing going on where YouTube is a social platform as well, so people are leaving comments and you can interact with them. That’s a good thing, and you can take advantage of that.
YouTube could change their model, so have your own copies of your videos saved and ready to upload to another service.
- 39:25 Sean: Definitely have those videos ready. You don’t want to have everything on one platform. Like we talked about at the beginning with multiple backups, definitely don’t have just a single instance of your files. Use YouTube as an acquisition channel. Use Facebook as an acquisition channel. Use Twitter as an acquisition channel. Use Instagram as an acquisition channel. Don’t build your home there. When you build your home there, you are completely at their whim. You see all these YouTube videos popping up in the past few months of people complaining about YouTube, how YouTube took their video down because it violated some community guidelines. “It doesn’t, and when I followed up they won’t respond!”
- 40:17 You’re on someone else’s platform. They get to do that. That’s what happens when your livelihood is wrapped up in ad revenues and your home is on YouTube. Think about this. I know you’re proud of your 80,000, 20,000, or 5,000 subscribers on YouTube, but don’t be tempted to point people there as your home. The more you do that, the more they associate that platform with you, and the more they see that platform as the way to go.
- 40:52 Ben: What about having a redirect? You tell them, “Go to seanwes.tv.”
- 41:03 Sean: And it redirects to YouTube, Ben’s saying, if you did that. This would kind of work, because anywhere you’ve ever pointed people, whether it’s in a recording, video, blog post, or social media, you’re always pointing them to your domain. It kind of works, but it kind of doesn’t. Let me explain why. After they click that link, where are they going to be? They’re going to be on YouTube. Their experience is, “When I want to find this person, I go to YouTube.” If they happen to be on YouTube and see your video there, that’s one thing, but if you’re always pointing them to that place every single time, they’re going to say, “YouTube is your home.”
- 41:52 They’re going to remember the experience that they had. People will remember whether you pointed them to your site or some other platform. Try to have your own platform. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with this whole platform talk. “Oh my gosh. I have to build my own thing. Do I use WordPress? Do I use something else? What plugins do I need? Should I use WooCommerce for eCommerce?” That’s what I use, and it is good. There’s an overwhelming amount of options, and people say, “I guess I have to have a blog and a podcast and sell courses and I have to process my own payments…” They get so overwhelmed that they don’t think they can do it. It’s so much easier to be on someone else’s platform.
- 42:44 Understand this. All you need is a domain and a text file. That’s it. That’s a platform, and that’s your platform. You own it, you’re paying for the hosting and the domain. You registered it yourself. You own that. You don’t even have to know HTML. You can type black letters in the default font on a white background, and that is your platform. You can continue to add all this infrastructure and make it fancier and do more and more and more things, and you should invest in that and build that.
As soon as you have your own domain and website, that is a platform.
- 43:29 Ben: You want to think about it kind of like building a home. Unless you actually have a bunch of cash, you can’t go out and build a mansion right away. Build what you can afford—timewise, based on your current knowledge, and based on your current finances. Most people, at the very least, can set up something minimal at first. It’s okay to start there. You don’t have to start with the fanciest version. Don’t look at someone like Sean and assume you should be able to build something like he has right off the bat. Sean’s platform wasn’t built overnight; it took years.
- 44:24 Sean: And it’s not halfway to where I want to be.
- 44:33 Ben: Say, “This year, we can afford to put in tile flooring. This year, maybe we can afford to add an extra room. This year, we can afford to replace the roof with tile shingles.”
Their Platform, Their Rules
- 44:50 Sean: It’s very iterative, very incremental, very much a work in progress. We’ll talk in a moment about how to get started. We had the question, “What do you do if you’re low on cash but you don’t have the skill to build your own platform?” We are going to answer that question.
- 45:14 Right now, I want to give you a tip on how to get rich. A middleman takes a cut of your sales. To be rich, you simply have to position yourself where other people’s money flows through your hands and you keep some of it. That is what a middleman does. If that sounds suspicious, that’s what you’re signing up for when you go on someone else’s platform. They’re saying, “Come do your course over here because we can handle all the things for you.” They keep some of the money, and that’s why they have a huge empire. That is what a middleman does.
- 46:03 Maybe we should jump into Scotty’s question, because I feel like it’s relevant. “I know I should be housing all my content on my own domain, but if I’m lacking the resources to create my own course, is it okay to start off on someone’s platform such as a site that shares skills like you did? In order to learn the process and get myself prepared to launch my own? I’m planning to do workshops before a course.” First of all, it’s not wrong to be on someone else’s platform. There’s nothing morally wrong about it. We are talking about the long game, setting yourself up for success, and not getting yourself backed into a corner where people change the rules on you.
- 46:47 I’ve told the story, but since we’re talking about the platform thing, I did my first course on another platform, not my own. Everyone thinks Learn Lettering was the first thing. It wasn’t. I did a course on someone else’s platform, and they changed the rules on me. They controlled the whole process. They locked down my price. I wanted to change the price, and they locked it down and wouldn’t let me change it. I don’t like discounting things. My course was more valuable than what I sold it for, and I was proud of that. People were happy to pay it, and they would run discount after discount after discount. They would not let me take it down when I disagreed with them.
- 47:31 They also changed their revenue model. They changed from me getting money from selling my course on their site at my own price to everyone getting access to everything for a very low monthly payment. I don’t even know if it was single digits. When that happened without them telling me it was going to happen in advance, let alone ask, they would not let me take my course down. That is what happens when you build on someone else’s platform. I’m trying to help prepare you for that and help you understand what you’re buying into. Maybe, even though you might sell fewer things on your own site, it’s not actually worse.
There is nothing morally wrong about building on someone else’s platform, but be educated on what you’re giving up when you do it.
- 48:39 Ben: I don’t know if this is even a thing, but there may be language in the agreement that says that if you put your content on their platform, they now own it. If you were to try and present that same content somewhere else on your own, look out for that kind of thing. I don’t know that many businesses do that, because it seems like that would shut their services down pretty quickly. It’s worth being creative and thinking, “What are some alternatives?” If you don’t have the means to do your own platform right now, there’s value in gaining the experience of putting something like that together and having people take your course and give you feedback.
- 49:43 When you do that on your own platform what if you make mistakes? People had that experience on your platform, not somewhere else. It can be worthwhile to do that. Be creative, and think of ways that you might be able to still own that experience.
Use Workshops to Build Your Platform
- 50:04 Sean: We were talking about this particular question before the show, and when Scotty said, “I was planning on doing workshops,” we said, “That’s it! That’s perfect.” I was so happy realizing that today, as this podcast episode publishes, is the same day I just released a brand new video called How to Host a Workshop. This was the big one, highly anticipated. We worked a lot on it, tons of preparation. It’s very thorough. You’re going to get a ton of ideas. Go check it out. I recommend that people host a workshop before they create an online course.
- 50:51 It’s a great way to validate your idea. I talk about how to get people on board, how to pre-sell it if you want to, how to make sure people are actually interested in it, and validate it. What if only a few people actually show up? It’s an epic video. Check it out. A lot of people think, “I haven’t made an online course. People don’t know me, so I guess I have to do a free workshop.” You don’t have to do a free workshop. You can charge for it. You’re providing value to people, you’re teaching them, and it’s one on one. It’s personal, and that’s super useful to people. You can and should charge for that.
- 51:24 That’s a great plan, even before you have the infrastructure, the money, or the platform. If you do a workshop and you charge money for it, now you do have money. Now you can start building your own platform, and you can create an online course, if this is what you’re wanting to do.
Create an online course using the resources you have from workshops that you did in person.
- 51:49 Ben: If you’re asking yourself, “Who would pay to come out to my workshop?” That’s a great question. Think about that. Get creative and think, “How can I convince people of the value they’re going to receive from me? How can I convince people that this workshop could solve a problem for them that would make it more than worth it for them to pay the price to come out and take part in this workshop?” Thinking about things that way puts you on the other side the equation. You’re not assuming that it isn’t possible. You’re not saying, “I guess I have to build it on someone else’s platform.”
- 52:32 No. Go on the other side, and say, “How could I do this and still control the experience? How could I charge people for it, and they would happily, willingly, pay me money because they think it’s going to be worth it? How could that be possible?” Start trying to solve that problem, and I think you’re going to be much better off. You’ll come out having established relationships with real people and getting questions from real people. You’re going to be able to refer to those in your content, so it’s not just your thoughts, but it’s actual conversations you’ve had with people and actual problems that you’ve solved for them. There are so many benefits to going that route.
Position Your Products Correctly
- 53:15 Sean: Eric Lynn brings up a really interesting point that I didn’t even think about. He said, “If you use others’ platforms, then you’re setting yourself up to be basically compared to thousands of other competitors.” What’s the best way to sell an $800 watch? Put it next to an $8,000 watch. Now, try selling a $100 book next to $9 books. It’s going to be really hard. Yet, I can sell courses that are hundreds of dollars on my own platform, because I know the value. I know the value is ten or 20 times that. I’ve seen it. If I try and do that same thing on someone else’s platform where they’re charging $29 or $9.99 a month, it’s not going to happen.
- 54:24 You can sell your own book on your own site, where the book itself, even an eBook, is $39 and then add two more packages on top of that. Not only do I have a $39 book, but for $99, you get the book, these other resources, guides, and worksheets, and ten interviews with industry leaders providing tons of insights and time-saving tips. If you want me to personally consult with you, I have this $299 tier. Maybe less than 10% of your people will buy that top tier, and that’s fine. You will get most of your revenue from your top tier, even if it’s a very small percentage of your customers.
- 55:14 Meanwhile, the vast majority of your customers will buy the lower end, if you’re positioning this right. You want to take your complete product and then add tiers on top of that. Add value. It’s this, “How can I?” mentality. Don’t think, “I could never sell something for that much!” Think of that tier being there, and creatively come up with the value. Most people buy the lowest one, but it’s price-anchored against these higher ones. Meanwhile, we’re in a whole different world here. If you go on Amazon, it has to be $9, $4.99, or whatever. You’re going to get 70% of that. Yes, they’ll give you more distribution, but if you try and sell it for $19.99, or goodness sake, $29, you’re not going to do well.
- 56:12 You’re next to all of these other bargain bin items. Also, they will decrease the percentage you get, because they know you won’t sell more. If you would get 70%, maybe you get 30% or 20%. Then you only get 30% of your $30 book. They know when you bring this into their ecosystem, everyone’s going to see all these similarly priced items and yours, and they’re not going to buy yours. It’s positioned incorrectly. Thanks for bringing up that comment, Eric. That was really good.
The Power of Email
- 56:58 Social media is getting noisier and noisier. A lot of people think that email is dead, but email is not dead at all. Your domain is important, but how do you keep people coming back to your domain? They remember it, and that is one of the factors of having a brand, but you also want to remind them to come back. What are your tools to do that? You have social media, and social media is getting pretty noisy. Attention is waning there. There’s a lot of noise, and there are now ads in a lot of feeds. It’s hard to get people’s attention, and people miss things. Email is powerful for getting people’s attention. It’s a very valid form of communication. As soon as it stops being that, I’ll move on to the next thing, but it’s still working. It’s good, so you want people’s email. You want to be able to follow up with them on email. All the more reason to control a platform and be able to get people’s email addresses.
- 58:14 Ben: When you control your own platform, if email does go away and some other form of communication takes its place, you can shift more easily with your existing audience when you have it on your own platform. You can save all the contacts from your email service provider. Also, it’s a good reason to have other ways of collecting your customers’ information, which only comes through building a relationship with them over time. If it goes from email to text, text messaging is now the big way to get in touch with people. Usually, the only way someone will give you their phone number is if it’s part of a form they’re filling out because they want to buy something from you.
- 59:13 Sean: Social media goes away, email goes away, email stops being effective, Gmail stops being free, or your messages stop making it to the inbox, whatever it is, where do you go to watch seanwes tv? Where do you go to get a course from me? Where do you go to listen to the seanwes podcast? iTunes is dead and gone. iPhones are no longer being made and you’re using something else. Where do you find the seanwes podcast? You know where to find it, because I’ve told you, seanwes.com/podcast. Whether that goes out in the feeds, get’s syndicated, synced, sent over email, posted on Twitter, or shared in a video promo on YouTube, you know that the home is seanwes.com, and you can always find things there.
Using Other Platforms Temporarily
- 1:00:11 Charli says, “My store is currently on someone else’s platform, and it’s going to take me a while to build it on my own (lots of priorities and can’t make that the number one right now). Should I take the store down completely for now until it’s built on my own platform? Or is it okay to have it up in the meantime?” Ben and I talked about this before the show. Again, there’s nothing wrong with being on someone else’s platform, just understand the risks and understand that you’re not getting traction on your own platform when you do it.
- 1:00:44 That said, it does take a little bit of investment to get set up on another platform. It takes a lot to do your own, but it’s still a little bit of investment. If you’re selling products and things are going fine, as long as your focus is long term and you’re at least thinking of building your own platform, there’s no reason to cut off a working source of revenue for you, but have an escape plan and make sure you’re thinking about the long game.
- 1:01:12 Ben: Part of your plan for developing your own platform could be the revenue you’re getting from this other online store platform.
It Takes Hard Work
- 1:01:22 Sean: Here’s the question I teased that people were waiting for. “What do you do if you’re low in cash but you don’t have the skill to build your own platform?” Two options. Number one, learn the skill. It’s never been easier to learn things for free. Search the web, go on YouTube. There’s so much out there for free. All it takes is your time, the time you’re spending on things that aren’t getting you anywhere in your business. Spend that time learning the skill—you absolutely can do it.
- 1:01:57 The other option is to work hard at whatever you’re good at, make money, save the money, and invest in someone who does have the skill. It’s as simple as that. It’s not easy, so don’t confuse the two, but it is that simple. It’s going to take time, hard work, and investment. You can learn the skill, but maybe you don’t want to do that. Let’s say you need development and you have to understand code. If you don’t want to do that, what is the thing you are good at where you can produce the greatest results?
Do what you’re good at, earn some money, save it, and invest in hiring someone who can build a platform for you.
- 1:02:37 Ben: It goes along with the overlap principle. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your passion is not to pursue it right now, because you need to focus on building enough money and runway for yourself so that, when you do flip that switch, you’re able to focus on your passion. That way, you don’t have divided focus. Similarly, with your own platform, if you don’t have any time or any money, what can you sacrifice to create more time to create more value, so you can save up the money and build your platform? You don’t have to go do it today, right now.
- 1:03:24 It would be better for you to wait and save up the money to implement something when you have the means to do so than to go into debt to try and get something set up, or to get something set up that’s broken, does’t work, and creates a bad experience for people. I agree with Sean, too. I don’t think anybody is incapable of learning the things that are necessary for putting together their own platform. Yeah, it’s hard. You learned how to walk once upon a time. Walking is hard for babies.
- 1:04:05 Sean: I agree with all of that, but I would counter balance it. I don’t want people to think, “Well, I better save up $100,000 before I start building my platform.” Realize that as soon as you have any kind of website with your own domain, that is your platform. Don’t give people a bad experience, but don’t focus on having a perfect experience. Simplify it down. Maybe, right now, all you can have is a message, a video you don’t share anywhere else, and an email sign up. Cory did that at one point.
- 1:04:42 That was a platform for him. Aaron said, “How do you balance learning how to build your own platform with wanting to do the actual work required to be successful? Sometimes it seems like building a platform is a full time job on it’s own.” It is a full time job. The hard answer is that you build the platform first. Invest five years of your time to build the platform. That’s the reason why people don’t have it—it’s such a huge investment. It’s a full time job.
- 1:05:22 We’re not talking about a five year plan or a three year plan. We’re talking about a 10 or 20 year plan that requires five years of upfront investment. Your job, in the beginning, is to stay scrappy. Do whatever you can, and invest all of it and all of your hard work and time into building a platform for five years. Building the platform is like the second version of Show Up Every Day. It’s, “Show up every day for five years.” That’s how you build a platform.
- 1:06:06 Ben: I think Aaron is either reading or just finished reading a book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. I just started reading it. In his question, I heard him saying that you could be building the platform at the expense of the thing that the platform is meant to showcase or attract an audience to. Your first platform is your skill, whatever value you offer to the world. What’s the point of having a platform if you have nothing of value to offer to people? In those terms, it seems premature to invest in the platform when I haven’t taken enough time to invest in my skill or ability, something I know I can use to provide value.
- 1:07:15 At that point, I know that building a platform can be very consuming. Maybe Sean’s answer means that you create enough value that you give yourself the runway that you need to focus just on your platform, even if it means that you can’t do as much of that thing that was creating value, bringing in revenue, and that kind of thing.
- 1:07:44 Sean: I want to clarify what I mean by, “Build the platform first.” I would recommend starting now to build your platform rather than saying, “I’m going to wait five years until I can build it perfectly and have all the resources for the perfect, master version.” The answer, really, is to do both. Get really good at your skill, share your skill, share the value on your own platform as you build it, and start with the simplified version of it. Start with one thing, and do one thing really well.
- 1:08:28 Whatever you’re good at, what is the best medium that you can share? Is it a blogpost, podcast, video, or course? What is the best one? What’s going to give you the most traction in the beginning? Just build that part. Build for three or six months on getting a really good blog, and then spend three more months setting up a podcast in addition to that. Then, spend six more months adding a course to that.
Start out in the beginning with something really simple and build the platform while you’re pursuing your passion.
- 1:09:12 Ben: I’m a huge fan of the build one channel at a time technique. You’re not trying to come out the gate with a blog, podcast, video show, and all of these things.
- 1:09:23 Sean: A lot of people are doing that, Ben. I’m really worried.
- 1:09:28 Ben: When Sean says to take five years, that doesn’t mean that your sole focus is building the platform. Being able to maintain the level of focus that you need on the thing you’re doing that provides value is important, because you do want to stand out in that market, that industry. Starting now with something simple means that it could take you five plus years to get to the version of the platform that you envision for yourself. That’s better than waiting those five years and saying, “Now I have the money,” and putting a platform in place.
- 1:10:12 That’s like saying, “I’m going to save up and buy this mansion. I’m going to throw a party, and two people are going to come to it.” If you have a shack now and you say, “Okay guys, the party’s happening here,” people get used to coming to your home. Every once in a while they’ll show up and say, “Hey, you added this thing. That’s nice.” Eventually, you do have a mansion, but it’s filled with people, and they all get to enjoy it.
- 1:10:48 Sean: Ben and I had a podcast in 2013. It’s this podcast, but it was just a podcast. It was twice a week, so we had that going for us. We were dedicated and we didn’t quit, but it wasn’t live. We recorded it, and back in the day, I edited it and tried to clean up any mistakes. Eventually, we started streaming it live. There was a very poor chat system in place in the Community. Long story short, we invested to build the system we have now, and it took about six months to get the first iteration out.
- 1:11:39 We’ve been building it going on two years ever since. We’re continuing to iterate. Now, we do live shows to people in the Community and the live streaming is built into seanwes talk, the Community chat system. Now, we stream live video, and we have multiple DSLR cameras, and Cory is producing the live video show for the Community members. It’s been very iterative. Ben’s got a new chair. It’s so gradual, it’s like a frog boiling.
The seanwes Platform
- 1:12:29 Aaron says, “Sean, you’ve had experience with building a platform for several years now. Are there any things you’d go back and do differently? Are there any things you wish you’d starting doing sooner?” Is there anything I’ve talked about that stands out to you, Ben? Regrets or things I would have done in a different order?
- 1:13:00 Ben: I think about the team that you have now, Sean. You’ve mentioned not hiring quickly enough, delegating things, or letting go of things quickly enough.
- 1:13:13 Sean: And then hiring too quickly, this pendulum swing of correction. I was too focused on giving away free value. There’s nothing wrong with that. Relationship marketing is a great approach, but over the past year, we’ve come too close to being done because we haven’t been selling. We’re giving away value and we ask people to join the Community. Some people do, most people don’t. They say they enjoy the podcast, but do they really? We weren’t selling things. At the time, I had the Community and Learn Lettering.
- 1:14:14 Not everyone wants to learn lettering, and that’s not the point of this podcast. That’s my path, my backstory. Then, there’s the Community. A lot of people don’t know the value of the Community. They’ve been to a conference before and they get conferences. They’ve taken a course before, so they get courses. No one’s joined a Community like this except the people who have joined, but a lot of people haven’t joined any community, so they have no idea. They don’t understand the value that they’re missing out on. There are a lot of people for whom those two offerings aren’t a good fit.
- 1:14:50 We had a few physical products that, with the redesign, people don’t really discover. We still sell products every day, but it’s not that much. Even then, the margins are super small. If anything, that’s an expense for us, because we have to do shipping and fulfillment, so we don’t profit from that at all. We weren’t making any money. We weren’t selling anything. That was a big realization for me—not only were we giving away too much, but we were investing all of our resources into doing that. “Let’s add things here and there, develop this and that,” and none of it was towards any kind of profitability.
- 1:15:36 Ben: It’s surprising to me, too. When it comes to building your own platform and selling products, some of the advice is, “Start selling right away, as soon as you can.” Their idea is that as long as it’s valuable and it’s solving people’s problems, they’re willing to pay. If it’s something you were going to give away for free anyway, now somebody has paid you for it. I really like this middle ground of being a little bit on the dangerous side of giving away value. It’s a much longer term approach.
- 1:16:23 You’re a little bit on the dangerous side, but then your selling power is so much stronger. We’re beginning to see that already. We’re going to see how effective people’s interaction on the seanwes platform is going to be long term.
- 1:16:59 Sean: To answer Aaron’s question in a way that gives people actionable advice, it would be not to focus all of your efforts in the beginning on building your platform just to give away free content. That is a part of the picture, but it can’t be the entire piece.
You have to have something to sell, or your content marketing is just content.
- 1:17:28 You can’t stay in business that way. You can’t keep helping people that way. Everybody loses. If you’re building your platform, continue providing free value, but sell sooner than later because you need to stay in business.
- 1:17:42 Ben: When it comes to selling on your own platform, it’s not just the information that you can get, but it’s also the way that person has now experienced your brand. It’s one thing to go and consume free content and to have a good feeling about that. “Oh, I got this valuable information from this person.” When you give somebody your money and you get something in return, you experience the value of that and you have the feeling of, “I’m glad I spent that money.” It can be to the point where you’re so glad you spent that money that you want to buy something else from that person, and you’re looking forward to when that next thing comes out.
- 1:18:25 Sean: That’s exactly what David just said in the chat. He said, “Sean’s writing course is the first time I felt I didn’t waste my money and it was all worth it, so I knew I needed to get into the Community. I just wanted to wait until the end of the year.” Buying something brought him to the Community. A lot of people think that it has to start with something free, but that’s not always the case. Free content is great, but you don’t want to give away so much that you can’t be in business anymore, because then you can’t help people. If people are wondering, “What are you selling, Sean? How are you going to stay in business? How could I get more value from you? What could I buy? What supports seanwes?” A couple of things are coming out in the very near future.
- 1:19:11 On March 29th, we are launching the full Supercharge Your Writing course. For people who want to learn to grow their business with writing, to sell with words, the difference between content marketing, copywriting, and using those together, how to actually sell things with writing, that course is going to be amazing for that. We did the workshop, which is the mini-version of this course, and hundreds of people got it in the past couple of months. They’re saying the same things as David, “This changed everything for me. This was my ‘aha’ moment.” Editorial calendars and so many good things.
- 1:19:51 In May, we’re finally releasing Value Based Pricing, and that course is going to be launching the end of May. Right now, we’re going through the pilot program with about half a dozen people, and it’s going super well. Justin and I are extremely excited. For us, May is only the beginning. We have a secret project that I’m not going to talk about, but it’s going to be really good. You definitely want to subscribe. That’s something we have been working on for eight months, but I’ve been teaching on it for two years now. It’s been in the making for a very long time.
- 1:20:31 We also have seanwes conference, and Early Bird tickets are available, but it’s going to go up to full price on May 1st. People need to lock that in. These are ways we’re providing value to people, changing their business, changing their life, and it’s also supporting us and helping us continue to do what we do.
- 1:20:55 Ben: That didn’t feel like selling.
- 1:21:00 Sean: It was selling, but honestly, I’m telling people how we’re staying in business. The podcast is a great way to provide value to people and grow an audience, but it costs us money to put on the podcast. We’re only able to stay in business and continue doing that when people go support us.