Want to become a better, more authentic copywriter? On today’s episode, I’m talking to Dave Schneider, Founder of Ninja Outreach, a software tool to get in touch with influencers and bloggers [Note: Dave no longer runs these websites, but can be found at lesschurn.io and daveschneider.me]
He’s studied applied mathematics at Harvard, traveled the world and now manages a team remotely to run his company.
Listen in for Dave’s top recommended resources to learn how to become a better copywriter and improve your marketing.
Topics Discussed in this Episode:
- Running a blog and earning money while traveling
- Network marketing and pyramid schemes in digital marketing
- Transparency in business, externally to an audience and internally in the company
- The importance of good copywriting in authentic marketing (and how to become a great copywriter)
- Dave’s top recommended marketing and copywriting blogs & tools
- The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris
- Nomadic Matt Blog
- Smart Passive Income Blog
- Niche Pursuits Blog
- Matthew Woodward Blog
- ConversionXL Blog
- OkDork Blog by Noah Kagan
- Backlinko Blog by Brian Dean
- CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer
- Hemingway Editor App
- Product Hunt
Louis: Bonjour! Bonjour! Welcome to everyonehatesmarketers.com. I’m your host, Louis Grenier. everyonehatesmarketers.com is a podcast for digital marketers who are sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I interview no nonsense marketers who are not afraid to cut through the bullshit and say things as they are. During this show, we’ll learn how to get more visitors, more leads, more customers, more long-term profits by using good marketing, by treating people the way we like to be treated. Head over to everyonehatesmarketers.com to subscribe to the email list. We’ll notify you, before anybody else, of our future guests. You’ll also help us to come up with great questions for the future guests. You’ll also get access to the numbers in terms of number of listens and downloads of the podcasts and also, quite simply to have great one to one conversation if you need any help.
In episode seven of everyonehatesmarketers.com, I’m talking to Dave Schneider. He’s the CEO of NinjaOutreach. NinjaOutreach is a tool to help you to get in touch with bloggers or people you want to get in touch with in your industry who have more followers than you or via network, I would say. I’ve actually used their tool quite a lot in the past and it’s a very powerful one so you should check it out. Dave is a very transparent guy and during this episode, he’s actually sharing a lot of his life story, how he left his job. Actually, his girlfriend did the same to travel to Japan, to Southeast Asia, to Europe and now how he manages a team of 20 people that are working remotely. He actually runs a blog, a travel blog and earned money this way in the last few years.
During this episode, we’re going to talk about network marketing and pyramid scheme is introduced to marketing and then why should avoid it. He’s also talking about transparency in business externally to an audience and also internally in the company. He’s also talking about the importance of good copywriting in authentic marketing and how to become a great copywriter, which is a really interesting part of the episode. Finally, as usual, Dave is going to share his top recommended marketing and copywriting blogs and tools you should use. Have a listen and let me know what you think.
Hi Dave, how are you?
Dave: Good! How are you doing, Louis?
Louis: Pretty good. Thanks for coming to the show, coming to this podcast. The first question I wanted to ask you is what’s the most exciting thing, is it to study Applied Mathematics in Harvard or is to build a business from 0 to 500 customers?
Dave: It’s definitely not studying Applied Math at Harvard because let’s face it, Applied Math isn’t that fun or interesting.
Dave: Maybe being at Harvard is kind of interesting I suppose but after a few years it seems just like everywhere else that you could have gone to college. Doing business from scratch is definitely pretty interesting but the other thing is it takes several years to really get to a point where actually, one might say it is interesting especially if you’re bootstrapping. Because in the beginning, it’s just you, maybe your partner, you’re just getting it off the ground. A lot of those days are just a grind. The most interesting thing I’ve done is definitely the travelling. I’ve travelled to over 50 countries in the last few years. That beats both of them.
Louis: Just coming back to Harvard, because I’m curious about this, how did you get into Harvard? What was the process?
Dave: Well, technically, the process is just like anywhere else if you’re going to apply to a college in the United States. You have to fill out a general application, you have to write essays, you have to go and do an interview with an alumni and do all of those things.
Essentially, 20,000 people apply and they accept I think 2,000 or so. I mean roughly about 10%. What you have to do before all of that is about doing things like getting good grades in school, having a lot of leadership activities as class president or as captain of the baseball team, have good scores, just a lot of things have to come add up.
Louis: Okay, that’s quite interesting. 10% of people who apply to Harvard get through.
Louis: What’s Applied Mathematics anyway to stupid people like me?
Dave: Applied Mathematics is, what it technically is, is about taking something like Math and finding ways to apply it in the real world, so you can actually use it. But in the way that it actually manifests itself in a college major, is you take a mix of a lot of different things like Physics, Statistics, Economics, Math, all of those trying to be practical in nature.
You kind of get to try a lot of different little things as opposed to really dedicating yourself to being a pure Math major or pure Physics major or something like that.
Louis: Right. You talked about this briefly and I’m curious to hear the answer. Basically, correct me if I’m wrong, but in 2012, you left your job at a bank as an analyst, right?
Louis: Then, there’s a gap between this period and then June of 2014 where you launched NinjaOutreach, right?
Dave: That’s right.
Louis: What happened in those two years?
Dave: In those two years or so, September 2012, we quit our jobs and we left, when I say we, I’m talking about my girlfriend and I. We left to go travel backpacking around the world. We got a one-way ticket to Japan and we had plans to go to Korea, China, Asia, Europe, a bunch of different places over the course of two years.
That was what we did for two years. We travelled, we visited a bunch of countries, we did a lot of interesting things but it was also where we started working online, where we started writing a blog, where we started earning some money. The first time people paid us money through the internet, developed some of the skill sets that are required to maybe start and grow business online like content marketing, SEO, design, learning what it was to hire an off-shore remote worker, a virtual assistant.
That was a concept I didn’t know really existed until we were out travelling and we were reading things like Tim Ferriss’ The 4-hour Workweek and things like that.
A lot of stuff happened in those two years to kind of set the foundation of what I’m doing now. There isn’t necessarily anything particularly notable in terms of achievements aside from that we did run a travel blog and we made some good money on that.
Louis: Okay. I like to dig deeper into that. I think people listening will also be interested in those two years because from reading your story and who you are, my guess is that those two years are really almost the most important of your life so far because they really changed from where you were before to where you are today, right?
Dave: Exactly. It really set the course of action.
Louis: Where did you go first?
Dave: In terms of geographic location, we went to Japan. The idea was to basically go probably as far away as we could and then make our way back home. We’re from Boston.
Louis: Was Boston that bad?
Dave: Well, we had been living in D.C. We’re originally from Boston, went to school in the area. We have been living in Washington D.C. We moved up to Boston briefly just basically to drop some stuff off at our parents’ house and then we left really quickly. I think it just made sense I guess to go far and then make our way back as opposed to go close and have to take a long flight back.
Louis: Okay. How long did you stay in Japan?
Dave: In Japan, we were only there for probably 10 or so days, just really quick, two weeks maybe.
Louis: After that?
Dave: After that, we went to Korea where we were there for 10 days and then after that we went to China, we were there for almost 6 weeks.
Louis: Okay, you stayed in Asia for two months, two months and a half.
Dave: Well, then we went down to Southeast Asia and we did Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma. We were in Asia actually for something more like nine months. Then at this point, we’re talking about April or so, it started to get really, really hot so we went to Europe. We went to France and then we were in Europe for another I don’t know, six or so months, then we went back and forth.
Louis: Obviously, France was the best country you ever visited, wasn’t it?
Dave: France was pretty awesome. It really is one of our favorites.
Louis: I haven’t paid you to say that, just to make sure listeners are assured of that. Where did you go in France?
Dave: We landed in Paris but we took a road trip. We went down South. We went to Marcé. We went to Nice. We went to Toulouse, Lyon. We went to Rochelle. There’s a lot of places that I can’t even remember exactly what the name was. I’m sure you would know. We also went up North to the places that are up North.
Louis: Yeah, the famous places up North.
Dave: Exactly. We went to Normandy. I can’t remember all the places.
Louis: Yeah, I don’t blame you. You did this amazing trip that I think a lot of people would like to do in their lifetime. A lot of people would talk about this without ever doing it so I think it’s interesting to hear somebody who actually did it.
Let’s talk about the business side of this trip because you mentioned it in the past, in the last few minutes, that it actually was the foundation of where you are today and the foundation of your business, NinjaOutreach. What was the first business or the first business activity that you did when you were travelling?
Dave: The first business was definitely the travel blog. We started the travel blog as a way to stay active, stay busy while we were travelling, maybe get some free trips and activities that we could work with some companies, and also to keep friends and family informed.
But we were definitely hoping that maybe we could make a little bit of money on it because actually, the amount of savings that we had relative to the trip that we wanted to do wasn’t enough. We felt like we were maybe short $5,000 or something to kind of complete the two-year trip.
We started the travel blog thinking that that wouldn’t be able to make the difference because we saw other people travel blogging, yeah they had some nice blogs but it didn’t seem like they were doing anything that was incredibly necessarily interesting or unique but it also seem like they’re making some money.
We started a blog six or so months before we actually left to go travel. That was when I was doing the whole nights and weekends thing, designing it, learning about SEO. It’s the time when you just did everything yourself. You didn’t think about hiring a developer to do something for you or to have an assistant.
It’s actually when I was doing a lot of the grunt work. That was where I learned everything. We did that for about six months to kind of get it started and then we started making money in our first month little by little. Eventually, it started paying for the entire trip.
Louis: Wow, okay. To come back to what you just said, you actually prepared this. You planned that before travelling. You knew that a travel blog is something that you would do, that you would be interested in and therefore, you planned it and you learned digital marketing this way.
Louis: Okay. You learned it this way, you learned about SEO, like how to be found on Google and all these kind of stuff. Did you start writing the blog before you left or did you start writing after you left?
Dave: Yep. We started writing as soon as we got started. Before the trip is what I mean. We would do writing on the blog. We were writing about D.C., where we were. We’re writing about trips that we took in the past. We started doing guest postings. We wrote on other people’s blogs, trying to make connections with other travel bloggers.
There’s an attraction to people that are writing about a travel that’s about to happen because people sort of get attached to the story and they go, “Oh, these guys are going to leave on this big trip in six months.” It’s common. That is something that kind of happens.
People write, they write about all the preparation they’re doing, the shots, the visas, all those types of things, and they build the following of people that are expecting their launch date. That is how we got our first audience.
Louis: Very interesting. I think you’re touching on a lot of important aspect of marketing that we’ll discuss in the second part. Let me back up a little bit. You started this blog six months before, then you left, you travelled and you already had sort of an audience, correct, at this stage, when you left?
Louis: How did you make your first dollars or euros or whatever currency you’re on at this stage?
Dave: We were on dollars. Basically, one day, an advertiser reached out to us and they said, “Hey, you’ve got this post and I’ve got this client. I think that this client would be great if you would put them in your post. All you need to do is link to them and there’s a couple keywords that we’d like you to link to. What do you say? I’ll give you $50.” “Yeah, okay. $50.” It only took me two minutes. “You have a link, right?” I add some keywords and we edit the text. The client’s been fine, nothing that I would feel uncomfortable “representing.” I said, “Okay. Sure.” $50 and that was it. The was the first money that we sort of made.
That was kind of it. That was the whole money we made for that month. We used to do income reports where we talked about every month what money we made and that month’s income report was like $50, that was what we made.
Then the next month, we got another request from another advertiser. They had two clients. They wanted us to add links to both of them in two other posts that we had already written. They were going to pay us $150 each. A total of $300. How can I pass the $300? We’re basically sleeping on some stranger’s couch right now. It’s $300, it goes a long way.
We said, “Okay, yeah sure.” I put in the links. It took me five minutes and then they paid me right away. I had $300. Wow, this is a lot of money because we were playing to try to make $5,000 from the whole blog in two years and here we had made $300 in just a couple of minutes.
At that point, the question was about how do we find more people like this? We’ve established that there’s some sort of a demand here for what we’re offering. We don’t really know what was going on. We didn’t really understand why they wanted these links and why they were willing to pay so much and nobody else talked to us about this but we knew something was going on.
We started asking the other travel bloggers that we knew, because like I said, we were building some relationships prior to this, we’re like, “Hey, this just happened. Did this happen to you?” From there, it kind of snowballed.
Louis: Okay. That’s an interesting story. What I like about it is that you didn’t try to chase the money or customers. They basically came to you first and then you realized that there was a feat.
Dave: It’s the easy of way of saying that we didn’t know what we were doing and we got lucky, which is pretty much what happened.
Louis: I appreciate your honesty. Not a lot of people would be that honest. But it’s true, not a lot of people would be that honest. I’ve talked to a few entrepreneurs recently, especially bootstrapped entrepreneurs, and one key thing that I really like about those people is that they’re being 100% honest when you ask them about the beginnings.
They are not trying to sugarcoat things and making them prettier than they actually are. They tell you the truth. They didn’t know what they we’re doing, most of the time they still don’t know entirely what they’re doing and that’s how it goes. It’s okay to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re making mistakes along the way and then you’re learning from them.
Louis: I’m interested about something in particular. Decision to travel, decision to build your business. What made you who you are today? Why are you doing this?
Dave: The decision to travel was a combination of a couple of different factors but what it mainly came down to was we didn’t really enjoy our jobs. We didn’t envy the kind of what we saw as the path that we were on, which was that yes, we had good jobs, we’re making some decent money. It wasn’t a terrible place to be, frankly.
But still, I looked to people that were 5, 10 years older than me and I just didn’t feel like they maybe had gone out and had some experiences that we wanted to have in our lives. They had work, they got promoted, they were making good money, and they had families and kids, and houses, and cars and stuff like that. It wasn’t that we said that there was anything wrong with that. It was more just that we said we have time for that later. Why don’t we do something interesting now?
The idea was to basically go and travel. We’re both avid travellers. We studied abroad in a university, we like travelling. This would be a time to obviously see the world and we were hoping that maybe we would start a business together or come up with some ideas that would free us from the shackles of office work. But as a fallback plan, we were both planning on maybe going to business school. We would have a transition plan. We had a plan B, re-enter the workforce.
Louis: Alright. Am I right to say that it’s because of books like The 4-Hour Workweek and that kind of resources that inspired you to go?
Dave: Not exactly, because we didn’t actually read those books until we were already travelling. I didn’t read The 4-Hour Workweek until I was already travelling for a few months. I honestly think that we came up with the idea ourselves.
But then, as we started to dive deeper into pursuing this idea of what would this mean, how could we do it. We started reading travel blogs online and we saw that there were people out there doing what we wanted to do. These guys like Nomadic Matt, they had been to all these countries and they were writing about all the places. It was just that, this was what we wanted to do. There are people that were doing it so it seems pretty possible.
We hadn’t necessarily had come across the formal reading that I came upon later to really understand that this was part of a larger movement that was happening to people but more so, little by little we saw some proof of this existence.
Louis: Got you. You mentioned the people that were older than you that have kids, a family, a house, a car, that had a boring job. Who were those people?
Dave: Those people were like my managers. They were the people that occupied the positions that I would get promoted into. They were pretty much people that started where I was but they had more years of experience. It’s very much like I thought, that was the path that I was on. These people were a couple of years ahead of me.
You should always look ahead and look at people that are in the position maybe that you’re in now who are in that position years earlier and think, “Is this where I want to be in five years?” If the answer is no, you might want to re-evaluate your current path and trajectory. That was kind of what we did.
Louis: Was it an aha moment or did it take time for you to think about this?
Dave: I don’t know if it was an aha moment. I think it was really just a series of days and weeks, and months, and maybe very little aha moments that came into being like I said, the discovery of a travel blog that really inspired us, that’s really an aha day but it isn’t necessarily that we saw that website and we just dropped everything and I gave my notice and that was it. It was definitely very much step by step.
Even the travel itself, it ended up being 21 months, close to two years, was originally just a one year plan. Even there, with these incremental extensions and adjustments that got made later on.
Louis: I didn’t ask you this question before but how much did you have in the bank to travel? You mentioned that you were short of $5,000. What was the original budget?
Dave: I think the original budget was that we would need something like $25,000 per person for two years. We we’re looking at $1,000 a month per person on average. That would be $50,000 in total for two years for two people and we had like $45,000.
Louis: Okay. I mentioned in the intro that you’re the co-founder of NinjaOutreach. Before we dig into the outreach and marketing in general, I’d love to ask you a question about something in particular. I’d love to know something about this business that you’ve never told anyone.
Dave: What is something about this business that we’ve never told anybody? It’s difficult only because I’ve done a fair bit of interviews and podcasts and I have sort of said quite a lot about that. I guess one thing maybe that we may have never told anybody was that originally, we were looking to build something else. We were looking to build a content promotion software. NinjaOutreach is in some ways kind of a content promotion software but there was a different vision there.
There was a vision where you would put in a post and it would maybe promote it to forums and it would do different things on social media and that you would start from a post and that you would have an easier way to promote it in all these different ways.
But what happened was that as we talked to more bloggers and people on the target market, they didn’t say that that was what they wanted. What they said that they wanted was a blogger outreach CRM. So that was what we did. We ended up basically revamping the original technology that we had to fit what they were saying. If I have told anybody that, it’s not that many people.
Louis: That’s good enough for us. As you know, this podcast is really for digital marketers who are sick and tired of the marketing BS out there, right? There’s a lot of lingo, there’s a lot of BS in internet marketing in particular and those people want to be better at their job. They want to be better at their job, they want to be better marketers, they want to help their company to grow but they want to do that without interrupting, or lying, or manipulating customers. They just want to do that ethically.
I’d like to start this conversation about marketing and introduce marketing more in particular. What I like to do is really to try to give actionable insights, actionable things that the listeners can take away and actually do tomorrow or even today in their business or in somebody else’s business.
I’d like to start with one question. When you browse websites online, when you go to internet online, we’re pretty much both using the Internet everyday, all day for our day jobs, what online stuff you see that boils your blood the most? What annoys you the most?
Dave: The stuff that I don’t really care for, I don’t want to make a blatant statement as of anything under this, this is just awful or whatever but it generally is sort of the network marketing type of stuff, the sort of, “I’m going to sell you something and the way for you to make money is to sell more of it.” Those types of pyramid scheme scenarios. There’s a lot of those things out there. I think in general, they’re traps.
People put in together these case studies of all the money they made and stuff like that and they’re not actually necessarily lying. Actually, they probably are making that money. But the question is how are they making that money and how the people that are paying them, how they are doing. Are they actually adding value to other people’s lives or is it really what’s going on is just a distribution of wealth and a net zero gain?
I’ve seen a fair bit of those things and I think they really prey on newbie marketers, people that don’t necessarily know any better but are attracted by the shiny object and the quick cash and stuff like that. I’ve signed up for stuff like that as well when I was just starting. That was supposed to be kind of like get rich quick type of stuff or whatever because who hasn’t tried to get rich quick scheme on the internet? But anyways, those are the things that I really don’t care for.
Louis: That’s a good answer. Just a personal anecdote, I nearly got trapped in a scam from email that you would receive from this Nigerian drug world that will give you 1,000,000 euro just because your last name is the same, whatever. I nearly actually fell into that when I was 18 or 19.
Dave: Oh, wow.
Louis: Yeah, I know. Right? Anyway, I was young. I think you touched on something very important here. I think that’s one of the basis of the marketing BS out there is that people, especially marketers that are starting out, think that they could achieve their goal quickly without going through the journey. They would try to get shortcuts and try to just focus on making money, on the shiny object as you said, instead of providing value.
What you said is actually very interesting. Now that we talked about one of the things that you dislike most about this, about marketing, or internet in general, how do you think marketers in particular could make the internet a better place?
Dave: I think it’s really about quality control. It’s the biggest thing out there. Anybody can put whatever they want on the internet. That’s part of the beauty of the internet, it kind of levels the playing field to give everybody a voice no matter what country or what income you have, anybody can put something on the web.
Unfortunately, if you’re actually trying to use the internet, there’s so much junk out there that you have to sort through, websites that are poorly designed, poorly optimized, poor content. You’re trying to buy some product or whatever and there’s 10 marketers who have built niche sites to try to basically sell you on so that they can be the one to make the commission off of you.
The internet is just so polluted, which is just kind of a shame. I think it’s the marketer’s job to educate people who actually want to improve their site and things like that, to give them the information and the tools, and the skills to do so.
Louis: Okay. I think it’s linked, but how do you think we should, as marketers in general, how do we think we could be trusted by people again because just as an insight, I think it’s a Hubspot research that they made recently, only 3% of people would trust marketers.
Dave: It’s definitely difficult because marketers are always trying to sell things and of course, people are generally distrustful of sales and funnels like that. But I think at the same time, you have to sell something otherwise, how are you going to make your money and stuff like that. There are plenty of sales stuff that is very admirable and everything.
Again, I think it comes back to having a high moral compass, making sure that anything you put your name to or that you represent, as best as you know that you support, whether you’re an affiliate for something is you’re an affiliate because you actually think it’s going to provide value to people or if it’s your own product, you make sure that it’s good. Try to tone down the hype a little bit.
With those network marketing things for example, whenever I see a page that’s all in red, in caps, the call to action is here and there and there’s a picture of a person on the beach with some hot chicks or whatever it is, that’s the sort of stuff that I just think really needs to go because it’s giving a bad fame to all the marketers out there.
Louis: It is. One of the very rare companies that actually share a lot of things online that are being very transparent online which I think is very good and I believe and we believe in slices that this is one of the answer to the marketing BS out there is that if companies are being more transparent, therefore, there would be less pollution because people will just see things as they are instead of trying to fake things or make them bigger or better than they actually are. Why did you decide to be that transparent? Why are you sharing that many things?
Dave: We do try to be transparent in terms of what we put out there. For example, if you want to see how much money the company is making, that’s the one that people always want to know. You just go to our blog and it’s basically right there.
We used to do monthly income reports. We stopped them not because we didn’t want to be in the transparency movement but just because I kind of got tired of writing them every month. I got really busy. It’s something that potentially, we would do. In December last year, we did a yearly update where I discussed a lot of things that were going on. Anyway, thanks for mentioning us as transparency people.
It comes from looking at other companies that are much more mature than us and basically admiring them. Companies like Groove and Buffer who frankly have a lot more reason than us to not be transparent. You do have to be careful.
I’ve always supported the transparency movement but I was listening to a podcast, Rob Walling’s Startups For the Rest of Us, and he was making a few points about why sometimes you can’t be transparent because frankly, there are a lot of people out there who are going to try to take advantage of that and maybe try to copy you.
I even got an email from someone the other day who used to be on Baremetrics’ open dashboard. They have a dashboard where they write all the companies that are putting out their revenue and I said, “Hey, you guys used to be on Baremetrics’ open dashboard. How come you’re not there anymore?” They said, “Because people saw what kind of money we were making and a bunch of satellite copy businesses started to pop up because we’re just service business and they’re not that hard to replicate.”
Anyway, not to get off on a tangent or whatever, in general, I like the transparency. It comes from looking at companies like Groove and Buffer and saying those are types of companies that we want to be. As much as we can be, we’re going to try to be transparent in the future.
Also, the last thing I want to say about it too, it’s not just an external thing for us, it’s also an internal thing for us. I think that a lot companies like Groove and Buffer treat it very much the same where it’s not just about posting how much money that they’re making, but we do a lot of things internally in the company to make things transparent. We do company-wide meetings to give people an idea of what’s going on in the company. We try to foster transparency internally as well as externally.
Louis: That’s a really interesting discussion and I don’t think that we need to cut it off or try to shorten it. There’s something that you mentioned that I’m interested in. I agree with you, transparency just for the sake of transparency doesn’t work. It has to be with a proper purpose and it has to be thought of as well.
Obviously, let’s say you are a company who have just invented a software that is unique, there’s something new, obviously you’re not going to share the patent online to everybody on the web. There are things that you shouldn’t share like company secrets or trademarks or whatever.
I think another thing as well that is very important and perhaps that’s what the podcast has mentioned is that when you’re transparent, you need to share the good and the bad, right?
Dave: Exactly. We’ve written several times about the types of failures that we’ve had in getting started and on podcasts, we frequently talk about the poor decisions that we’ve made at the company, the regrets that we have. I think that’s an important point as well.
Louis: What benefits did it bring you to be transparent?
Dave: The benefits of the transparency, I think, aside from maybe building trust with listeners, visitors, things like that, it’s potentially opportunities that come from supplying information. As an example, people might come on our blog and see the revenue and somebody who is involved in investment or venture capital will take a look and go, “Oh, this is a company”—they may have looked at NinjaOutreach and be like, “Well, this is some nothing startup or something.” And then they say, “Oh actually, okay. They’re making a little bit of money. This is interesting. Maybe I want to reach out to them.”
We’ve definitely had people who reach out to us and I suspect that they are kind of in the loop of maybe where the company is at in terms of the number of employees and the revenue based on our transparency.
However, it’s important to understand though that that may close as many doors as it opens, potentially, because maybe people see a number and they go, “Well, if that’s what it is, I’m not that interested.” Or there are other reasons that investors don’t want those types of numbers to be out there because if they’re, for example, going to invest or acquire a business, they want some level of secrecy or whatever. I have seen examples of people pull back their transparency for those types of things.
I think it has definitely provided some opportunities in terms of people seeing information that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise and then they reach out to you. But it’s hard to quantify the number of missed opportunities as well because you just never hear about them.
Louis: That’s a good point. I guess in business, you can’t please everybody. What we found on our side of things is that it’s actually a very good way to select customers and followers in the sense of just the people who like us and people who hate us. It’s a good way to have people who said I completely stand behind the fact that they share everything and other people would be very uncomfortable with this idea.
Dave: Exactly, yeah.
Louis: Internally, just about the transparency again, how many co-founders do you have?
Dave: There’s three of us.
Louis: Okay. You have a team of 12 at the minute. Is that correct?
Louis: When you’re transparent to your team as well, do you feel any benefit to that? Do you feel that it actually helps to manage and to lead?
Dave: I definitely think it does. Now, transparency obviously has its limits. Buffer for example posts the salaries of every one of their employees, I believe, or at least like the position levels. Maybe they don’t put a name drop but they put it to the position level. That’s not a level of transparency that we have adopted at this point. I think that people’s salaries at the moment should be private. But Buffer takes transparency all the way to the extreme. They’re probably the most transparent company that I can think of.
Anyway, internally for us, transparency is a lot about building trust because one of the things people are always concerned about is job security, whether or not they’re going to have a job next month. When you work for a startup, there’s probably additional concerns with job security because you’re wondering whether or not the company is going to make it.
When we’re transparent about the company and how it’s doing, we can help basically lessen any fears of maybe sort of the macro-external factors of saying, “This company is not going to collapse in a month. You guys are fine.” The other thing is also just when we’re transparent about what’s going on, people just trust us more in general because people just trust people that are open. It could be trusting me about something else sort of unrelated to transparency but you just build up trust, in general.
This is really important especially with our employees because everyone that’s working for us is essentially like a subcontractor. There are people that maybe were a virtual assistant in a marketplace like Odesk or Upwork and we hire and we bring them on essentially full-time. But their background and what they’re used to is contract jobs, where they would work for a day, a week, a month, a couple of months or whatever and then the job would be over and that would be it. We’re hiring them kind of like full-time employees but they’re technically contractors.
Why this is important is because a lot of the people that are on our team have a mentality of this is not going to last, this is short-term or something like that or that I could be fired any minute because I don’t have any sort of contract that says these people have agreed to bring me on for one year and if they let me go, there’s going to be some sort of severance package or something like that. Anyways, when we’re transparent and when we build up trust, it helps our employees feel more comfortable and secure in their own work and therefore, it makes it easier for us to lead them.
Louis: I’d like to talk about now digital marketing in particular, I’d like to get into the actionable insights that listeners could take away literally today and apply. What’s the number one thing, you have to choose one, number one tactic or strategy that marketers should be doing today to be better at their job, to grow in their company without, and that’s important, without interrupting misleading, basically, by being ethical to the customers or the audience they are trying to reach.
Dave: Sure. I think that copywriting is definitely one area where marketers can get a lot of benefit from. It’s obviously not interruptive as a practice. If you’re able to write good copy and good copy can be anywhere, for us it’s not just on the website, when I’m talking about copywriting, I’m just talking about what’s on the home page but I’m also talking about what’s in the application. How we guide the user and the user experience through words. What we write obviously in our advertisements, in our newsletters, in our emails, how we write our blog posts.
All those types of copywriting I think are really important as a way to find that balance that overlap between sales because you’ve got to market and sell yourself in a way that it doesn’t sound spammy or overhyped or is interruptive or things like that.
I’ve done a lot of writing. I’m not the best copywriter but I think I’m decent. Nowadays, because I’ve done so much copywriting, I don’t think that much of it when I do it myself but I have seen other people do it. There’s a difference. People just need to learn how to do it a little bit better. That’s one thing.
Louis: How does one learn about copywriting?
Dave: I can only say how I learned about copywriting. I never formally took a course or anything like that. Most of it is just reading, first of all. Reading blog posts and things like that. I used to read a lot of blog posts about marketing, digital marketing. That was really where I learned. The little things that once you read them a few times, they really start to stick, like putting a call to action and these types of things.
The first blogpost that I wrote with my personal blog that I had a few years ago was really terrible and the paragraphs are really long and the sentences are really long. I had one guy who was a blogger friend who knew a lot more than I did and he said, “ This is awful.” And that’s why he kind of helped me out.
Basically, reading a lot. Reading marketers that you trust, guys like Pat Flynn or something like that that you might feel that these people are trustworthy and I’m going to learn how they do copywriting. You can assume by nature that that they’re trustworthy and that they have a good brand. Those are types of copywriting they’re going to do is the one you’re going to want to emulate.
Louis: You mentioned blog posts and articles that you read. Can you remember from which sites they were from?
Dave: I used to read Smart Passive Income a bit. I used to read Niche Pursuits. I used to read matthewwoodword.co.uk. There’s another one, Conversion Excel, Noah Kagan’s OkDork, Brian Dean’s website. Those are the ones, basically the ones, that you just feel like are kind of credible, are the ones that I probably learned the most from.
Louis: Did you learn from them talking about copywriting or did you learn from them writing? Do you know what I’m trying to say?
Dave: Yeah. It’s really like looking at their writing and kind of almost self-analyzing it because these guys don’t talk about copywriting that often. It probably comes up or whatever but I can’t remember. The ultimate guide to copywriting by Pat Flynn, I don’t really remember that. What I do remember is basically reading his blog posts or how he promotes or announces a new product and the things that he does.
You have to think critically about it. You can’t just allow yourself to get totally lost inside of the promotion or whatever it is. But instead, try to look objectively from a bird’s eye view and think about what they structure certain things the way they are and then maybe you read an article about 10 copywriting tips and now you’re thinking about those ten tips and how do they apply to this real life thing that I’m looking at right now from Pat. Eventually, it starts to come together.
Louis: What was so terrible about the first blog post you wrote?
Dave: Well, the first blogpost that I wrote was just very difficult to read. I see this all the time, this is really a common mistake or whatever but there’s a difference between how you write an essay in college and how you would write a blogpost.
Essays in college are meant to be read by the teachers maybe sitting down in his desk, he’s printed out a piece of paper, he’s going to go line by line, he’s going to make notes and things like that and he’s going to really immerse himself in this. Blog posts are meant to be read on the go, on the metro or on my phone, I’ve got a bunch of different tabs open and I’m skipping around or maybe I’m trying to do something at work or whatever it is.
There’s a level of distraction with blog posts so for that reason, you have to accommodate what the user is looking for which is something short, actionable, short sentences, less fluff, obviously some degree of entertainment and everything in the way you write. That was really the difference. It was forgetting about how I thought you’re supposed to write and thinking more about how the user wants to receive the information that you’re going to be providing.
Louis: Are you using any tools to write?
Dave: Nowadays, I don’t do so much blog writing but I obviously write outreach templates, I edit stuff on the team that people do. The ones that I typically recommend people to use are things like number one is Grammarly, which I think is good for non-native English speakers to get some help with obvious edits.
Another one is CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer which gives you a rating on how good the headline is in terms of keywords and the length and things like that. There’s another app I think called Hemingway that you can basically post a text into and it will tell you how readable it is and are the sentences too long or things like that.
Another one is there are several apps out there that you can run your text against to make sure it’s not plagiarized, that sounds probably like a no-brainer. But sometimes when you’re reading other posts for inspiration about something that you’re going to write, you want to make sure that you don’t accidentally put too much of what you’ve read in your own writing. That’s just a good one as well. A couple of those are the ones we’ll typically run our own blog posts and things through.
Louis: I really like this advice and I think sometimes it’s forgotten in today’s world where it’s all about visual and video. We heard a lot from Facebook saying that video has the highest engagements but words still matter. That’s very interesting advice. I think Basecamp mentioned in their blogpost a few times that when they want to hire two people and they don’t really know which one to choose from, they always say to choose the best copywriter.
Dave: Yeah. That’s an interesting idea. I definitely think it’s a hard to find skill. It really is. We have 12 guys on the team. They’re good in a lot of different things. There aren’t that many that we trust with copywriting. It just isn’t something that you find everywhere.
To your point about video and images and things like that, yeah, it may be the case that blog posts are not how people are going to digest information maybe five years from now, maybe it won’t be the preferred piece of content but we make videos in NinjaOutreach but we start with a script. It starts with a script and I edit that script always and then we make the video. We’re not mind readers. We’re still using words to communicate with somebody else, it’s just in a different format.
Louis: That’s a very, very good point. It’s not about the script, right? It’s all about coming up with thinking for your customers, understanding how they’re thinking so that we can translate that into proper outline.
Louis: Going beyond this tip, what are the top three resources for digital marketers out there you think they should use everyday or read?
Dave: In terms of resources, it is hard to just pick three. There aren’t any resources that I feel like answer all my questions. Conversion Excel for example is a blog that always pump out really good articles that are backed by facts and case studies. I’ve learned a lot by looking at that blog. It is primarily about conversion rate optimization and sales. There’s less that might be in there about how to grow your newsletter list, if that’s what I wanted to learn. With each thing, I’m always looking at what I need to find as opposed to just following three things and expecting that to tell me everything.
I mentioned some of my favorite blogs like Conversion Rate Excel, Backlinko and Smart Passive Income.
Outside of blogs, the books that I tend to read tend to be more about business stories and things like that which I don’t necessarily think are a resource in terms of maybe tactics but are maybe more of a source of inspiration. And then, there’s some communities like Product Hunt or GrowthHackers or Inbound. I think that those are pretty valuable resources.
Actually, that’s probably what I’ll say, Inbound, GrowthHackers, Product Hunt because the community aspect of voting on which stuff is the best serves as an internal filter to weed out anything that isn’t really good. It’s kind of like everybody else is doing the grunt work to say this is good stuff, you should read this.
I have a newsletter. I subscribed to the newsletter of Growth Hackers and things like that and they always let me know what the best stuff is. The most valuable resource for any marketer is time because you just don’t have time to read all the information that’s out there. Anything that can kind of curate to a list of hundreds of people that are respected probably marketers is a good one. Those are the ones I like.
Louis: Is there any book that you read that changed your life?
Dave: The 4-Hour Workweek was a big one. I think a lot of people have said that. It sounds cliché or whatever but the thing about that book was—some people read that book and said, “Wow, I’m going to quit my job and go travel the world.” That would be pretty life changing, I could admit. But we had actually already been travelling by the time I read it. That doesn’t really apply to me.
His section about virtual assistants was has changed my whole business because that concept which for someone who has been marketing for a few years seems totally normal and everybody’s got virtual assistants and things like that. For me, it was totally new at that time. I don’t know how long it would have been until I came across that information again and really pursued it in the way that I did once I read that book.
Once you are going on your own business, you see that you just can’t do it all yourself. There’s no greater resource than a digital manpower. I don’t care how much more efficient I make my typing and stuff like that, I’m not going to find another 40 hours a week at a price that you just can’t beat.
That book, aside from just being generally kind of inspiring and entertaining to read, specifically that part about virtual assistants, we went out and got a virtual assistant within a week or so. She was the first one we ever had and she helped us book travel things and do all these different things. Once we experimented with that concept and got trust and confidence in it, we started getting more and more of them to build our business.
Louis: Any sites or resources for that, to find virtual assistants for listeners?
Dave: The one I’ve always used and always been really satisfied with is Upwork. Recently, we were in a hiring spree again in NinjaOutreach to bring us some more people. Instead of just being, oh, I’m just going to go to Upwork because I always go to Upwork. I wanted to see what’s out there. I started Googling around top 10 freelancer sites and things like that. I posted on a bunch of different ones but I still came back to Upwork. That was the one where I got the best quality, the best experience.
The other one that I like was actually Hubstaff’s marketplace. They have a freelancer marketplace as well. It’s not really built out. It’s almost like a directory search as opposed to a whole platform like Odesk is but the types of people that we found there, I felt like there was a bit of selection bias because in order for you to know about Hubstaff’s marketplace, you’d have to be a bit savvy because it’s not that well-known and stuff like that. We hired some people from that that I thought were really good.
Louis: Who else do you think should I interview next?
Dave: My go to recommendation is always my friend Chris from Snapper.io because we’re in the same Mastermind group and we try to give each other sort of a head’s up about opportunities to promote ourselves. I can give you his email address and things like that.
He also runs a startup that’s about the same size as NinjaOutreach and I think he’d have a lot of interesting stuff to say. In terms of transparency, because I know that’s part of the angle. They don’t put their income out there but I think relatively, he’s a transparent guy.
Louis: Transparency is one of the things we are interested in but I think in general it’s about no BS marketing and the stuff that we talked about. I’ll definitely check him out and we’ll have a talk for sure. Dave, where can listeners connect with you, find more about you?
Dave: My email address is email@example.com. That’s the one I’ve always got open. We have a Twitter, @ninjaoutreach. I don’t sort of man it that often though. It’s really email. Of course, our website is ninjaoutreach.com.
Louis: Do you have any special offers at the minute, anything that people can benefit from?
Dave: It depends when this podcast is going out because we have Black Friday coming up and we always do offers every year for Black Friday but if we’re not launching this until January, it’ll be difficult for me to say exactly what will be going on at that time.
Louis: That makes sense. I guess what we’ll do is we’ll add any promotion that you have when we promote the podcast to the notes making sure that people can benefit from it. Dave, that was really, really interesting. I really liked the part about copywriting in particular. Thanks so much for your time today. If you have anything else to say or anything I forgot, feel free or else we can wrap up.
Dave: I think we’re good. Thanks a lot, Louis!
Louis: Thank you. Take care!
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I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.