John Jantsch: Who doesn’t love Copyblogger? Really been around since the dawn of the online era. Brian Clark and I have been friends for a really long time and they have certainly set the standard on how to build a business, how to build a brand, how to take care of a community. In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast, I catch up with Brian and we just talk about a whole host of things. Why don’t you sit in and listen with us? You don’t want to miss it.
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Brian Clark. He is the CEO of Rainmaker Digital, founder of Copyblogger, host of unemployable and curator of further. Brian thanks for joining me. This is about your third time on at least.
Brian Clark: John, it’s always good to be here. Always good to talk to you.
John Jantsch: Yeah so you’ve got a lot going on in your world always. We always enjoy, I think, we forget there’s an audience listening even sometimes and enjoy just chatting about this online world that we’ve both been in for a long time. Tell me what’s new at Copyblogger and Rainmaker.
Brian Clark: There’s two big developments that have happened in the last six months or so. One was the launch of Studio Press Sites. For those that are familiar with Studio Press, it was pretty much the industry standard for word press things for many, many years powered by the [Janis 00:01:44] framework, which is our design framework that makes word press more powerful and easier to use. That was a company founded by Brian Gardener who is a principle here in Rainmaker Digital. We came together in 2010. That was part of our overall initiative to build what became known as the Rainmaker platform. As a bootstrap company without investors we always have to use cash flow as our development and maintenance funds.
Studio Press was a work horse for many years as we did development of Rainmaker, which was released in 2014 and then a couple years of rapidly trying to iterate that more ambitious marketing automation website email total solution type thing. When we finally came up for air, which was last fall, we started thinking about an idea that we had had for several years which was the idea of a hybrid between an all in one solution like a Square Space or a Wix, but without limiting all the functionality that you can do with word press. It’s a hard thing to do because what makes word press so powerful is just being able to use any plug-in, any theme, mix and match, put it together your own way.
Of course, as an open source project when you start mixing all these elements together from different sources, you have possible compatibility issues, you have security issues, you’ve got ease of use, who can you trust, who do you go for support, all that kind of stuff. That’s what we tried to solve with Studio Press Sites which is a little up market of say a Blue Host or an entry level thousand on a box type very inexpensive solution. Still, nowhere near the higher pricing that you would see. That rolled out at the very beginning of February. We’ve been thrilled with the reception level while we’re taking in all the feedback and improving and trying to do the same thing there with rapidly making that more in line with what we’re hearing from our customers, which has been pretty good.
There’s that side of things. That was our chance to revitalize Studio Press. The brand was always so important to us, but just again, by the nature of being a small bootstrap company even though we made it to eight figures in the last couple years, you know how it is when you’re running a small business you choose your priorities and you focus. At least that’s what we do and that’s the only way we’ve been able to make things work. That was a revisiting of Studio Press, which we’re really excited about.
On the Rainmaker side we evolved the platform. It’s kind of like Hub Spot if you will. That’s the easiest way for people to understand what it is. It was designed to be more accessible and more affordable because we started with word press and then we tricked it out heavily just as we do for our own sites. We got to thousands of customers and millions in recurring revenue. We started seeing the writing on the wall, I’d say at least a year ago where, again, you’ve got to listen to your customers. If there’s frustration, if there is something standing in the way of your customer’s success, even if it’s their own staffing, it’s their own skill levels, anything, ultimately it becomes your fault. Right? If you don’t solve the customer’s problem and provide a mechanism for success. We saw people, they were just running into roadblocks whether it be content development, design, any myriad of subset of that SEO, which of course you’re having a nice focus on custom development. All of that kind of stuff we realized we needed to do that, even though from the beginning that wasn’t really what we aspired to do. We weren’t trying to have a client type business. It was always at the customer level.
The thing we found with that model, to make it affordable and easy to use, you spend an incredible amount of time on onboarding, documentation, just trying to figure out every possible way to keep a paying customer on track and successful. I think we did a pretty good job at that, but when you spend all your time on that type of stuff, not all of it but a substantial part, that’s just taking away from development of new features. Again, even beyond that it was still take my credit card. Why can’t you just make me the content? Why can’t you do design for me? Why can’t you just set this up for me? It was amazing how much of that we got.
John Jantsch: You and I talked about this a couple times I think probably about a year ago. I think that’s always gonna be a challenge in there are 700 million variables and how you plan for every one that every person wants. Right? Everybody wants their thing. In the end, like you said, everybody really just wants somebody to do it for them. Rainmaker, I think, at the outset was incredibly ambitious. What’s the right term? You’ve enhanced it? Is that the right term?
Brian Clark: I think what we’ve done is listened to the market. It’s going to be a little bit upstream, not enterprise level, but certainly more than 150 bucks a month just for the platform. We’re gonna create just more bundled solutions as well as a la carte services. We had started that, and again you’re right, you and I had a conversation because of course you have this network of talented consultants and our friend Michael Port same thing. There’s some congruency here. Of course, that’s what Hub Spots model was and other similar platforms, they rely almost 100% on agency reseller arrangements. Right? They’re the point of contact for the sale, but they’re also doing the substance of work for them as well. We had to consider are we gonna be a me too, again, we didn’t take 100 million bucks like Hub Spot and we’re not trying to go public, so for us it made sense to why don’t we make power house hybrid agency where you have technology solutions, website, email, marketing automation, but also the creative services that back that up. Everything from strategy design, SEO, and whatnot.
Really when you think about it, I have two Rainmaker sites. I wouldn’t go back to word press if you paid me. Just the interface alone of word press scares me sometimes because I’m spoiled now with what we did with Rainmaker. I’ve never had an issue. Here’s the difference, my Rainmaker sites were set up for me by someone on the team, my designs were done by [Raphal 00:09:15]. You know? It was seamless. I don’t ever have a problem. I just go in there and I post my content and I do what I need to do. I send my emails. It’s wonderful. I can imagine if I had to start from scratch, even with all the onboarding work we did, even with all the extensive documentation and videos and everything, for me, I’d be like just do this for me. My time is more important than my money. Right? Now imagine you’ve got someone in a similar position to me, but they haven’t been doing content marketing for 20 years. They need a whole lot more help than even I need. That’s just the reality of where we’re at.
John Jantsch: Well and I think the other thing that a lot of people really neglect to is I find increasingly we used to live in a world where you could go get somebody to design your website and then you could get a content producer to help you produce content and then you could get an SEO person to SEO it all. I think we increasingly live in a world, a business and marketing world, where all that stuff has to be done together. Developing your website is strategy now and developing your content is strategy and developing your SEO is strategy.
Brian Clark: Right. We’ve been preaching that for awhile. You have. I know [Lee Odin 00:10:33] wrote a whole book about it. It is true. It is one thing. I think people are coming around to understanding that. That’s one aspect of it. Then also look at where we’re going with consumers and prospects are expecting personalized experiences as long as you don’t creep them out with your automation and whatnot. That’s just adds another layer of complexity. Within the strategy, it’s not just content and SEO and design, it’s entire choose your own adventure sequences of if then, then that so that you’re creating, not only from a conversion standpoint, but from their perspective, their experience of this is perfect, this is for me, without them ever knowing what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s when you pull back the curtain on the wizard that people get creeped out by automation technology. Right? That takes skill and that takes strategy. That’s a whole new brave world. I don’t think there’s that many people on the planet who can say they’re really good at that. But that’s where we’re going.
John Jantsch: What’s gonna be the role, I’m gonna go down a whole path I didn’t know I was gonna go down here, but what’s gonna be the role of AI in all of that?
Brian Clark: That’s the interesting question. That was another thing that kept me up at night. Again, we’re a successful, profitable company, but we don’t have a war chest. We don’t have investors. I started thinking we may be on the cusp of seeing the website radically, what’s the word here, just when you think about it, websites have changed a lot in the last 20 years, mainly by content not by structure. We’ve had the same metaphors for navigation, organization, some better than others, user experience interface, but if you look at how people use chat bots and if that experience can get to true AI, and plus machine learning on the fly, that is the first chance I think we’ll have where we see the website that’s been with us since the nineties essentially radically reinvent. You’re still gonna need content, you’re still gonna need design, everything, but you could get caught flat footed as a CEO of a company like mine if that change happens before we could adapt to it. Then all of a sudden we find ourself losing customers, not making new sales because we just couldn’t move fast enough.
Now, I am encouraged because everything from chat bots to AI to even some machine learning stuff, is being developed so that it can be plug and play. That’s encouraging. You start with your core platform and then you have something like [inaudible 00:13:27] for integrations and then we should be able to do anything. It still return to me that desire for it to be done for them, then again, my own experience, would I take the time to do all this myself. That doesn’t make sense to a person in my position right now. If you’re just starting out and you don’t need all the bells and whistles, hey we got Studio Press for that. But eventually people who are successful, I think, are gonna have to look long and hard about what is the next level of experiential marketing and personalization that people are gonna start expecting because the leading edge companies are gonna start doing it and then it’s gonna start becoming expected. To answer your question on that, as far as timing, I don’t know. What do you think about that John? How fast do you think the potential for change is happening given the rapid acceleration in AI technology?
John Jantsch: I think it’s gonna be like a lot of things. Remember how long we talked about mobile is coming?
Brian Clark: I made that comment just today. Every year since ’98 was the year of mobile and it didn’t really happen until the iPhone 2007.
John Jantsch: I feel like AI is gonna be the same way. Everybody’s talking about it, they’re seeing like demonstrations of it, people are experience good and bad of it, but when it becomes behavior that dictates … It’s like unseen. It just dictates, you expect it, to me that’s a few years off. There’s so many forces, I think, that are driving at that. Everybody’s developing this stuff, Facebook’s embracing it. Then you’ve got Google. Google still today, whether it’s gonna go away or not, who knows, but I think still today drives a great deal of how websites are positioned, how websites are designed. I think they want to keep everything. Now to find a local business, quite often we don’t need their website. Their website has to inform Google. It has to tell Google what the phone number is and what the address is and what the hours are, but there’s a lot of consumers today that click three times inside of Google and find themselves out of business and never went to that person’s website. I think Google holds a lot of the reigns on what role a website actually plays for a business.
Brian Clark: That’s a good point. To think that there are still millions of websites out there that are effectively brochures. They missed the entire last 10 years of the content revolution. Things to move slower than those of us who [inaudible 00:16:11] worrying about what the next level of change is, and yet I was afraid that that type of thinking might put me in a complacency a little bit. No matter what happens, I think our new model in which we’re effectively taking the Rainmaker portion of the business, you know we’re a multi-product line company, and forming a new entity that is merging with an existing agency. One thing that we did not feel like we were gonna try to do on our own was try to start an agency from scratch. That didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me at all.
We’ve done a lot of work on the technology side and that was a valuable asset that allowed us to remain the majority partner in this new effort, but really all we’re doing is responding to what we’re hearing, what people want, and then also being able to be in a position to where if things do radically change with AI concepts, that’s so much easier to deal with on a custom development level than it is from trying to make something one size fits all. Can you imagine the onboarding process when you have to start programming in? Effectively you’re trying to create a person. They’ve got chat bots off the shelf, but you’re gonna have to personalize that even further. It’s interesting times John. I’ll tell you.
John Jantsch: Hey thanks for listening to the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. Are you an independent marketing consultant or an agency owner? You might want to check out the Duct Tape Marketing consultant network. It is a growing group of independent marketing consultants and agencies that are partnering and collaborating and using the Duct Tape Marketing tools and really scaling their business. Check it out at ducttapemarketingconsultant.com.
Is the new venture live and online or is it still in beta? This is June of 2017 when we’re having this conversation. Is it ready to roll?
Brian Clark: Yeah. We’ve been moving pretty fast, but not that fast. Basically we announced what we were doing in May. As we’re recording this the platform, as it’s currently sold as online [SAS 00:18:30] where you do a free trial and then you put in your credit card and then you buy, that’s coming off the market in a couple days. That was the next necessary step. From there, I would say around August 1 would be a target date for when we start rolling things out. We do have a substantial customer base that we’re gonna to first. You know, what can we do for you? Some of you have definitely been asking. That will be a way to roll it out behind the scenes. Then of course, basically it becomes agency record for Copyblogger. Beyond that, you know how it is, you just have to see what the reaction is, see what the further demand is, and tweak and go from there.
John Jantsch: Let’s change gears a little bit here. I like asking people this question because you and I have been doing this for a long time, blogging seems easy to us, but if somebody’s starting out today what would you tell them, and they wanted to build an online business or they wanted to build a brand, what advice would you give somebody starting out right now? Where should they focus?
Brian Clark: I came back to writing on Copyblogger this year after really being neck deep in development and other I guess you would call traditional CEO stuff and I got away from writing as much, so when I came back at the beginning of the year I had already decided that the thing people need to start with that most people don’t, even at the [b to b 00:20:14] content marketing level, these are high powered companies with big ticket prices and they have no documented strategy whatsoever. Right? Only 34% according to Content Marketing Institute take the time to document their strategy, what they’re trying to accomplish, which is insane. Now think about the average blogger and why thousands of blogs are started probably every week and a fraction of those ever stick around or succeed. I think it’s for the same reason, which is you got an idea for a topic, maybe it’s something you’re passionate about, that gets you going, but that’s not gonna sustain you number one, and number two, you’re not really gonna be mindful of attracting the right kind of audience. The right kind of audience has to match what your actual goal is. Are you selling products, services, advertising sponsorships? You have to have a general idea of what you’re trying to accomplish.
I started trying to document the process I use and really all of us use inside the company when we were launching something new. The only caveat to that I’ll say for a lot of stuff with our existing audiences, I’ve been with them for a decade so the most important part of strategy is knowing who you’re talking to. Right? You know that. I have a good feel. I’ve got a good relationship with this audience. It gets easier. If you’re just starting out, you’ve got to sit down and figure out why am I doing this, who am I trying to reach, my important point on that is choose your audience according to your own core values instead of trying to put out content that offends no one. You’ll just get ignored. Right? It’s almost like these days if someone doesn’t dislike you then no one likes you. You’re trying to engage heavily with some people. You’re never gonna please everyone. Number one mistake people make. They don’t want to offend anyone. They don’t want to get trolled. It’s gonna happen. You’ve got to just deal with it.
You’ve got to know what type of information this people need. What kind of journey do they need to go on in order to feel like they’ve been helped by me? They’re the hero of their own journey, but you become a hero to them by helping them out. Right? Then what’s the order of that information? Then finally, it’s how do you say it, which I think a lot of new bloggers come … They want to be writers. Maybe they are accomplished writers with a great style and voice, and yet they’re writing for themselves and not necessarily in a language and the terminology of the audience. That’s fine. If you just want to start a blog and express yourself, great. But if you are trying to make a commercial venture out of something or promote an existing business, you really need to sit down and come up with a documented strategic plan.
John Jantsch: Alright so last question. What are you most excited about right now? What’s going on out there in the world or in your world that you’re most excited about right now?
Brian Clark: Well for the last four months since we launched, I guess it’s a little over four months now, launching Studio Press Sites. I’ve been really into that because we tried to create something that was unique, that filled a market need that we kept hearing needed to be filled. I’ve been jazzed about that, which is interesting because, again, I think some people thought we were just taking Studio Press for granted. That wasn’t the truth at all. I was excited to get back to that. We’ve been experimenting with what’s gonna work. Right? You watch the conversion rates go up. That to me is just the old school reason I started Copyblogger in the first place, which is the thrill of using words and content that provide value in order to get people to buy stuff. Still to this day never bores me. I’m not jaded yet.
On the other hand, I haven’t done client based marketing since 2005 when I swore I’d never do it again. What I swore is I’d never personally serve the clients again. In my role on the new side of Rainmaker I am evangelist and trainer as opposed to the guy who does the work. I’m excited about that because this is really a new animal for us. We’ve been a multiple … We’ve launched I don’t know how many things over the last 11 years. They’ve all succeeded. That’s been all great, but this is a different animal and I think there’s a need for it. It’s also a personal challenge. That’s what keeps me going each year, John. It’s like what can we do new and different that’s gonna excite me instead of that feeling where I got to go to work? I never want to have that feeling. That’s, I guess, what drives me.
John Jantsch: Yeah. There’s no question the need for what you’re talking about immense and growing every day. I think that where you have a really interesting spot is there are a lot of people out there that have the expertise and the partnerships and the services, but your technology platform, I think, is gonna be in a way an interesting test of if that gives you a leg up or not.
Brian Clark: It has been interesting and it did influence my thinking. We get pitched by vendors all the time for various things. We had a company that had developed technology that made Q and A testing, a SAS platforms more efficient. It’s software with a service. That’s where you’re seeing the market evolved to. Stand alone SAS, unless it’s for a very simple repetitive task, say something like buffer or [inaudible 00:26:15] those are great SAS’s because anyone can just sign up for it. It’s not that hard. Figure it out. It makes your life easier on a repetitive task. Once you get a little bit more complicated than that … Okay. Let me put it this way. The hard part, despite all the technology advancements that we’re seeing and continue to see, the hard part is the content itself. There you have it.
John Jantsch: Biggest source of stress for business owners today I think. Absolutely. Well Brian it’s always great to catch up with you. Congratulations on the new ventures and hopefully we’ll see you soon somewhere in Colorado.
Brian Clark: Absolutely. I would love to see you in October. See if we can work that out.
John Jantsch: Hey thanks for listening to this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. I wonder if you could do me a favor. Could you leave an honest review? Your ratings and reviews really help and I promise I read each and every one. Thanks.