Hi there. My name is Darren Rowse. Welcome to Episode 215 of the ProBlogger Podcast. ProBlogger is a blog, a podcast, event, job board, and a series of ebooks all designed to help you as a blogger to grow a profitable blog. You can learn more about ProBlogger over at problogger.com.
Now in today’s lesson, I want to share two big things that I learned at our Australian ProBlogger events this year. They were lessons that really apply to business as a whole, but I think they’re particularly applied to many aspects of blogging and online business. I guess really the theme of today’s show is to think about simplifying what you do whilst also increasing your profit because both of the lessons that I’m going to talk about today do exactly that; simplifying what you do, taking some of the complexity out of what you do, but also increasing profit.
Now before I get into the lessons today, I just want to share I’m heading off to Dallas later this week for two events, the Success Incubator event, the ProBlogger event that we’re running in Dallas, and also to speak at FinCon. I’m doing the keynote there. I’ll be taking off to Dallas in a couple of weeks time. I’m looking forward to meeting many of you at those events. There still are a few tickets left for the Success Incubator event, it’s a one and a half day event with people like Pat Flynn and Kim Garst and Rachel Miller who many of you will be familiar with from previous episodes of this podcast.
You can go to problogger.com/success to get any last tickets that may still be available. There’s also a virtual pass there which is pretty affordable. You get plenty of teaching with that.
I’m heading off to that event in a few days time and while I’m away, I am going to be pressing pause on this podcast. Just wanted to let you know that for the next couple of weeks, there won’t be episodes, highly unlikely that there will be episodes. I may chime in and suggest some previous ones to listen to, but there’s plenty in the archives to dig back into. I will suggest a few episodes at the end of today’s show that you might find useful, particularly practical episodes that we’ve done in the past. Dig around in the archives and I look forward to getting back with you late in October, probably early November.
You can get all of the details of our events and I will link to all the podcasts that I recommend you dig back into over on our show notes today at problogger.com/podcast/215.
Okay, so let’s get into today’s show. The lessons I learned this year were from our event. As I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that these are lessons that I’ve been learning over the year in other areas as well, and I’ll touch on some of those towards the end. But just to give you a little bit of the backstory, the ProBlogger event, for those of you who haven’t been, we’ve been running it since about 2010. This makes it our seventh year of running the event. Since we ran the first event back in 2010, the event has evolved a lot. And I’ve told the story of that evolution in previous episodes. Back in that first event, it was a very simple event. It was one day, one stream, so we were all in the room all day. I think it was 120 or so people there. We had five or six speakers and really it was very simple. We didn’t add in extra parties, it was just hastily organized and as a result very simple.
Over the years, it evolved from something very simple into something that got quite complicated. We were getting, in our biggest year, I think up towards 700 attendees and speakers at the event, so it was getting quite large. But it also had lots of moving parts. We added in sponsors, we did two days instead of one day, then we added in an extra half a day before it, and some extra stuff at the end. We had five tracks, five different rooms of sessions running multiple at that same time. We had 40 or so speakers one year. It was very complicated.
It was great on many levels. Every year, our attendees told us that they loved it and it was the best event that we’d ever run. As a result of that, we felt driven, or I felt driven, to keep adding more and more to it. I’m a people pleaser. I just wanted to keep making it the best event ever, I wanted to make it more impressive, more valuable to people. So we added more sessions, we added parties, we added workshops, we added more speakers. we added teepees one year, which we had our party in. I drove in on a Segway one year. It got more and more complicated. We had more and more bells and whistles, more and more sparkle.
But all of this extra stuff came at an expense. It was beginning to take over my life, it was beginning to take over my business. The amount of time and energy that we were putting into this event was enormous, it was taking 12 months to plan. In fact, some years we were thinking about the next year’s event before we had even done this year’s event, so it was taking longer than a year.
The other factor was that whilst it was making some profit, the amount of time that we were putting in versus the profit that was coming out, it really didn’t compare. It was profitable on paper but in terms of the amount of effort we were putting in, it wasn’t particularly profitable. And this was partly because we weren’t… well I felt we weren’t able to charge as much as some other conferences. Many of our attendees were new to blogging, or they were mums and dads doing their blogs on the side while they’re looking after kids. And with travel to get to the event, it was a big ask. And so I felt really like I wanted to keep it as affordable as possible.
And so the model for the event, in terms of the business model, was that we actually charged less for the tickets than it cost us to put the event on. And we subsidized the tickets and took our profit out of getting sponsors into the event. Now this worked really well some years where we were able to land some big sponsors and we got some great sponsors who added a lot of value and paid us to access our audience. But other years, it was harder to get those sponsors. And so it was a bit of an up and down rollercoaster ride. And it was a lot of work working with sponsors at that kind of level. That was an area where we’re putting in enormous amounts of work and it was quite stressful as well.
The event was dominating our time, it wasn’t really the most profitable thing that we do, and we realized also that it was only really serving a small segment of our audience being an event for Australians whilst our audience is very global. And we realized that there was so many of you listening to this podcast, it just wasn’t feasible for you to get to our event, even though a few did fly in from overseas. And so after 2016’s event, I did a lot of soul searching, my team did a lot of soul searching, and we really considered carefully how we moved forward with the event. I realized that we just couldn’t keep going in the direction that we were going by adding more and more value in.
To be honest, I very nearly pulled the plug on the events. I almost stopped doing events altogether. But at the same time I had this little nagging feeling that events were also one of the best things that I did. I enjoyed it incredibly and I could see that it was having a big impact upon the people who were coming. So rather than giving up on doing the ProBlogger event, I decided we needed to evolve what we do as an event. And to do that, we really needed to simplify what we were doing and get back to the basics. I guess return to what we did at that very first event.
We began to dream of a simpler event. The simpler event that we came up with, we sat as a team and really wrestled with this, but we came up with let’s go back to a single day event, let’s go back to a single stream event, everyone in the one room. Let’s strip back those 40 or 50 sessions that we had available to attendees, let’s just strip it back to five or six core sessions on the core things that ProBlogger stands for. In those 40 or so sessions that we were running, we were doing really interesting stuff but it wasn’t our core teaching.
Let’s strip back having sponsors, and add in some extra profitability through other means – through decreasing our expenses but also building in a little bit more in terms of what we were charging as well to people. So that’s what we did. We designed this event. It was significantly less expensive to run because we only had six speakers instead of 40. We weren’t flying in 40 or so speakers and putting them up in hotel rooms. We had a smaller venue because we only needed one room rather than a hotel with lots of different rooms. Really, it cut down our cost in terms of things like audio and video and all of that type of thing. No more teepees, no more Segway.
We really pulled back in many regards. We simplified things and we did it for our own benefit, really, in terms of organizing the event. But it had some unexpected benefits which I’ll talk about in a moment.
This new format of event felt right. But it also felt risky. I lost a lot of sleep in the lead-up to putting the tickets on sale and running the event. My worry was that our past attendees might feel like they were missing out on some of what we previously offered because we were pulling things out. I was pretty stressed about doing that. But at the same time I felt it was going to allow us to spend more time on other projects, it was going to be a more sustainable model, and it was something I needed to do.
There were two other things that we tried as part of what we were doing as well, which I’ll briefly touch on. Firstly, we wondered when we saw this simple event whether we’d designed something that could be run and reproduced in different places. We often talk on ProBlogger about repurposing your content, and I began to wonder what can we do with this event. Could we repurpose this event? It was a simple event where we had almost built a product, a formula for an event. ‘Could we do the event more than once?’ was an idea that I came up with.
We began to think about could we do it one on one weekend, one on another weekend in different cities to make it more accessible to our attendees, to reduce some of their expense, which might get more people there. We decided to run it over two consecutive weekends, we did it in Brisbane and in Melbourne here in Australia, and really had the idea that maybe we could even reproduce the event in more places as well, maybe even in other countries in future years.
The last big change that we did this year was to offer masterminds – an extra day for those who wanted to have a more intimate, higher-level, more personal, more interactive experience. A smaller group, we knew that it wouldn’t appeal to the large percentage of our audience, but could we offer this higher-value event on top of a premium experience for our attendees. This is something we’d actually been asked for for years, ever since the first year I ran the event. It was always something that I was used to because I knew I’d have to significantly raise the price and charge a lot more to be able to run that type of event. It would take quite a bit more expense of having speakers who are there to really do that one on-one-stuff.
I decided, ‘Okay, I’ve been asked for this, the demand’s there, maybe we need to give it a go’. And we decided to add the mastermind day into both of the cities. So day one was everyone all in together, that cheaper event, single stream, larger event, less personal but still valuable. Then, the mastermind event for day two, more intimate. This all felt really risky to me. I worried a lot. I lost some sleep in the lead-up to it all. But the results were fantastic, and I really am grateful that I took that leap and that my team went with me with this as well.
The events were a few months ago now. But it was one of the best things that we’ve done over the last year. The planning of the events were so much simpler – we designed the content very quickly, we locked in our speakers very quickly, we booked venues very quickly, we released the tickets and got it all out there very quickly. Not having the sponsors cut down a massive amount of work. Preparing for the event was a lot less work, and it enabled us to then move onto other things within the business.
Running the event was so much simpler. We came away from the first event nowhere near as tired. Also, having felt like we were able to really pay a lot more attention to our attendees. It took a much smaller team to run the event and we were more present with that audience.
The only tough part of the event really was on a more personal note. Unfortunately my father-in-law passed away the day before that first event which was a tough time for the family. And it was I guess a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me personally. I’m not sure how I would’ve gotten through the event if it had been a bigger, previous event. Having that event, a simpler event, certainly took a less toll upon me. Despite that setback and that tough part of the event, on a personal level, the event was much more of a pleasure to run if I can say that in the midst of a tough time. Attendees’ feedback was really positive.
We did get some of our previous attendees who mentioned in their feedback that they definitely missed some of the sparkle of previous years, but over half of our attendees were actually first timers. They had nothing to compare it to, I guess. I was worried that by stripping back the amount of choice of our sessions, going from 40 or so sessions to six, I was worried that maybe there would be complaints about that.
Interestingly, even amongst our previous attendees, the overwhelming feedback was that people actually liked having to make fewer choices. This was a massive lesson for me. We actually simplified the event for our benefit as a business but it actually benefitted our attendees. What we realized is that in previous events, we’d actually created an event that for some of our audience was quite stressful to attend, it was quite overwhelming and they really enjoyed the stripped back, simplified event. I think this is a big lesson and this is something I’ll talk about in a moment or two as well. I lost count of the amount of people who told me they enjoyed the simple event. Whilst it certainly didn’t suit everyone, it worked very well.
I guess the big lesson for me was for years I felt like I needed to add more and more and more into the event, but in this case I actually learned that less is more. Whilst we made the event simpler for our own benefit, it really benefitted that audience. They were less stressed out.
On reflection, I think maybe we stripped things back a little bit too much and we would probably add a little bit more in, a little bit of that sparkle back in over in the coming years if we continue to go forward with this event. But I think we are on the right track.
The other two changes that I mentioned went really well as well. Creating an event format that could be reproduced or repurposed in different cities worked well. I’m not sure whether we’ll continue to do that or not in future years, but it certainly taught me that an event can be repurposed. Creating a simple structure that can be repurposed is something that we could do again.
Lastly, the masterminds. They went off. Wow, they were my highlight personally. They sold out and so there was demand there even at that significantly higher price. Secondly, they ran really well. The overwhelming feedback from mastermind attendees was really positive. We saw people taking action at the event that paid for what they paid to attend the event. There were people at the event who were creating courses and products. That week later, they had already made more than what they paid to attend the event. People took action, and that was probably the best thing for me. But they loved their intimacy, access to speakers, the networking, and we’ll definitely be doing more masterminds in future. And I personally loved having that more intimate experience with attendees as well. Again, we’ll evolve masterminds, but it was a big lesson for me.
The two big lessons, and these are two lessons that if you’re running events will apply, but I think these also really apply to blogging. I’ll really tie them back to blogging in each case. The first lesson, simple is good, less is more. Sometimes, as product creators, as bloggers, we feel compelled to add and add and add when it comes to value. And ‘value’ I put in italics, I guess. We feel like we want to add in more value, we want to add in more features, we want to add in more bonuses in the products we create and what we do as bloggers. And we do it because we genuinely want to provide as much value as possible. We think it will benefit our readers to add in more. We think it will also make our products more attractive people if there’s more features, if there’s more bells and whistles. Maybe people will be more attracted to what we do.
But in doing that, sometimes by adding in extra, we create complexity. Our products can end up feeling overwhelming. They can also end up feeling unfocused, and this is one of the things I realized about our event. Our first event was about how to make money blogging. But we’d actually built an event that was more about how to take photos, how to do social media, and some of these extraneous things which are important as bloggers, but really we’d lost some of that focus by adding in and adding in and adding in. By adding in the extra, we’d actually created something that was stressing out some of our attendees as well.
Sometimes, we end up putting out more and more and more and we overwhelm, we create complicated products, and we create complicated blogs. But also, we are putting in more time and expense as well, that really isn’t needed. The big question I came out of this event with was, ‘What else can I strip out of what I do? What other areas in my business have become complicated?’ It’s very easy for a business to evolve and become complicated in many different areas. I’ll talk about some of those in a moment.
What can you strip out, I guess is the big challenge, from what you do? We’ve actually been experimenting in a number of ways. I think simplification can relate to blogging in many different ways. Let me just touch on a couple.
Firstly, content. The content this year on ProBlogger, we’ve really simplified it. I know some of you have noticed this. A year ago, we were producing upwards of seven, sometimes up to ten pieces of content every week. I was getting emails from readers saying ‘That’s too much, I can’t read it all, I can’t consume it all. I’m feeling stressed by the amount of content that you’re producing.’ So we really stripped it back. Instead of ten pieces of content every week, we now do a podcast, two blog posts, a live video, and an email. that’s five pieces of content every week. The email is really a summary of the other four. It’s really four main pieces of content every week.
Simpler, it’s simpler to consume I hope for you, but it’s also simpler to produce. In doing that, we’ve reduced our expenses and the amount of time we’ve put into that and we’ve been able to increase the quality of what we do as well, which is always a good thing. It really has led to no dip in traffic, but it’s increased the engagement that we’ve had around each piece of content. Content scenario you can simplify.
Community. This year, again on ProBlogger, we simplified our approach to community. We really focused in our efforts on one area, our Facebook group. Rather than trying to provide community in lots of places, we’re encouraging anyone who’s a part of the ProBlogger audience to join our ProBlogger community Facebook group and to interact in the one place. In that group, we’ve tried to simplify things as well. Those of you who joined that group in the early days knew that it was a pretty noisy place and we’ve simplified it. We’ve pulled it back and we’ve asked you only to share tips and ask questions, not do anything else. We’ve built a rhythm for the week as well, we do different things on different days. Simplifying what is happening within that community has helped as well.
Simplify content, simplify community, simplify monetization, simplifying if you’ve got products, you probably can already see some things in what I’ve said before. Obviously, we did this this year with our event, we pulled things out of this product of the event. But you can do the same thing as well with other types of products that you offer as well.
I think back to a product we used to offer at ProBlogger, which was our membership site a few years ago. In that membership site, we had weekly calls, I had weekly teaching, we had a forum, we had deals of the week, we offered plugins, we offered a lot of bits and pieces within that community. Again, I wanted to add in as much as possible. I wanted to make it as valuable as possible, I wanted to add in extra features. But in doing so, it created so much work for my team but it also became quite overwhelming. As a result, you as the audience who are part of that weren’t engaging in that community as you could’ve been. I really realized that I created this beast that was hard to continue, it was hard to sustain from my end but it also wasn’t being utilized from others.
My friends who have really successful, the most successful membership sites that I’ve come across, really in most cases offer something that is very stripped back. They don’t offer loads of new content every week, they don’t offer forums with hundreds of threads, they offer very simplified things. They offer a little bit of content, high-quality content. They have very focused areas of community, they offer a little bit of coaching and personal access, they keep things minimal, they keep things focused. Again, you can simplify either the products that you create, the monetization that you do as well, and then the systems that you have as well.
It’s very easy as bloggers to evolve your systems and what you do to become quite complicated. For example, I know bloggers that have very complicated social media sharing systems. They share 20 times an hour on Twitter. In fact I’ve got one friend who’s a podcast friend who recently I was looking at what he did on Twitter. He tweets every two minutes. It’s not him, of course, it’s automation. It’s evolved to the point where he’s just being very noisy and maybe it’s a little out of control. I think it could be more in that particular case because I, for one, have muted his tweets. I’m not actually engaging at all with him anymore because there’s just too much going on. Less can be more, and it could be ‘less can be more’ in many different areas of your business. ‘What can you simplify?’ I guess is the question that I have for you there from that first lesson, less can be more.
The second lesson that I want to talk about that I learned at this event that I think really does apply in many ways to business in general, but also to blogging particularly, online business, is that a certain percentage of your audience is going to be willing to pay a higher premium for more. I’ve always, as I mentioned before, kept our prices for our events very low, the low cost, below what it actually cost us to put it on and we make our profit from sponsors. This was to make our event more accessible. On that front, I’m really proud of what we’ve done. I know that there are people who attend our events because they are so much cheaper. Every year, we get to hear from people saying, “This event is four times cheaper than other events I go to in industry events.”
I’m proud of that on some levels, but it also has been an increasingly risky move to do for my business, and it’s not really sustainable. I know that it’s risky. If my business goes under because of it, then that’s a disservice to our attendees to charge them less. Keeping our prices lower is a risky move, it’s something that wasn’t sustainable, but it also actually doesn’t allow us to fully serve our audience as well. Our audience have been asking for more, they want more personal, they want more interactional experiences. We’ve not been able to afford to offer that because we’re not charging as much.
This year, we didn’t actually put our prices up. But because we reduced our expenses and reduced the length of the event, that first day as well, we’re able to increase our profit margin and our tickets as well. In essence, we gave our attendees less but charged them the same, In effect, I guess putting our prices up a little. Also by adding in that premium level product, we offered a product that was significantly higher, I don’t exactly remember how much higher, I think it was four or five times what they might’ve paid in previous years to attend that mastermind. Our margin grew in that regards. As I said before, I was really nervous in doing that, by having that premium level product at that higher price point. But I guess what I learned is that it was well worth doing.
One of our speakers this year was James Schramko. He’s got a business called SuperFastBusiness. He did a video recently on his Facebook page that said that, “Ten percent of your audience will pay ten times more for what you offer.” Ten percent of your audience are going to pay ten times more, they’d be willing to pay ten times more for what you offer. I’m not suggesting that we all just increase our prices tenfold, but it’s kind of food for thought, isn’t it? If there’s ten percent of your audience who are willing to pay ten times more, that means you’re leaving some money on the table, I’m leaving some money on the table. I was really worried about offering that premium type product, but what I realized is that there was a significant proportion of our audience who wanted more and they were willing to pay for it.
Over ten percent of our attendees this year ended up coming to the mastermind, in fact it was closer to 20% of our attendees ended up coming to our mastermind. By significantly increasing the price for the masterminds, I learned that a significant proportion of our attendees could afford a higher price and were willing to afford that higher price if I could offer something extra value.
Really, this for me is the key. What can you add to what you offer? What can you add to your products to make it a premium level product? Not everyone is going to take that offer, that’s totally fine. They will continue to buy your low-priced products. But there are a proportion of your audience who would be willing to take the extra step if it’s valuable. Really, that’s the key. It’s got to be valuable. I think our masterminds proved this year that that was the case. As I said before, we saw people taking action at the masterminds who were making money at a higher rate and it paid for them to really attend those masterminds.
I know masterminds are going to be a part of what we offer going forward. In fact, if anything, I think we’ll expand them from one-day events to longer ones as something that our attendees actually want more of, they want a longer, more intense, more immersive experience as well.
How does this particular lesson apply to blogging? I think it can apply in a few different ways. If you are monetizing with a product, an ebook or a course or something else, what could you add to make it a premium level product? I’m not suggesting just put your prices up, although that may be the case, maybe you could do that. But what could you add to make it into a premium level offering?
If you’re selling an ebook, what could you add? Could you add some bonus videos? Could you add some printables? Could you add some access to you personally in a coaching package? Could you add access to a private Facebook group? You might already have the thing that you could add, or you might need to create it. In most cases, something could be added to make it an upsell I guess, to make it a premium level offering.
If you don’t have products, you could also take this same principle and apply it in other areas as well. For example, if you’re doing affiliate promotions, maybe you should be considering throwing into the mix of the things that you promote the occasional higher price point product. We’ve done this on Digital Photography School. We typically promote ebooks or courses that may be $20 to $50 as a price point. That’s a sweet spot for our audience. They like to buy products around the $20 mark up to $50.
But occasionally, what we’ve done over the last couple of years is promoted very comprehensive courses that have sold for over $200, up to ten times the price of the $20 product. Whilst a small percentage of our audience buy those products, you don’t have to sell too many at that kind of price point to make a pretty decent product. Maybe mixing it up, the types of product that you promote and promoting different price points as well.
Alternatively, if you’re promoting physical products on Amazon or some other store, maybe when you promote a product that’s a budget product, maybe putting alongside a premium product as well. On Digital Photography School we quite often review lenses. We might review a budget lens for a camera, might be a $200 lens, very affordable. But we know there are other lenses out there that are more professional grade lenses, maybe during the review, in the middle of the review, we might mention if you’ve got a higher budget, here’s a professional grade lens and here are some of the benefits you’ll get from upgrading. Maybe putting products alongside each other in that way may be worthwhile as well.
These are the two big lessons that I learned this year about events, but I think they really do apply across to blogging. Less is more, simplify what you do. You may be adding too much complexity into your content, into your community, into your monetization, into some of the systems that you have. What fat can you cut out of what you’re doing to simplify and reduce the expenses, and also to remove some of the stress and overwhelm amongst your audience as well.
Secondly, there are a percentage of your audience who are willing to pay more for what you do than you’re already charging. So what can you add? What extra can you add in to give a premium level product and service to what you do as well? I think it does apply to not just products but also services as well. If you’re a freelancer and you offer your services as a writer, what premium-level package could you add in as well? What could you add in on top of the writing for the clients that you have? You can add in premium level stuff on that regard as well.
I would love to hear your feedback on today’s show around these things. How are you going to simplify what you do? What premium-level products could you create? You can let us know over on the show notes at problogger.com/podcast/215 or you can find us on Facebook if you just search for the ProBlogger Community on Facebook, you’ll find our little community, or you can just go to problogger.com/group and you’ll be forwarded into that group as well. Let us know what you think of today’s episode.
As I said before, I’m heading away to Dallas in a few days’ time so I will not be doing new podcasts over the next couple of weeks. But there’s plenty of episodes to dig into. One that I really do recommend that you go back and listen to, in fact it’s just the first of a series that we did a year or so ago now, was Episode 137. I really think that if you want to give your blog an injection of goodness and greatness, if you wanna get your blogging groove back, I would really recommend that you go back and listen to Episode 137. It was the start of a series that I did over a week. It was called Seven Days To Getting Your Blogging Groove Back. Actually goes from Episode 137 through to Episode 143, I guess.
It gives you, every day for seven days, a different type of blog post to create. Every day I teach you how to do a different type of blog post. Then, I challenge you to create that blog post. We went through this little challenge as a community over seven days a couple of years ago now. It was amazing to see the feedback as a result of that.
You may choose to do this over seven days, you might want to do it over the next week, or you can spread it out a little. I’m away for two and a half weeks from this podcast, so over the next couple of weeks, you might want to choose one every couple of days and create those posts as a result of that. You can let us know how you go with those over in the Facebook group as well. If you go to problogger.com/podcast/137, you’ll find links to all of those shows. It’s Episode 137. Alternatively, you can find them over in iTunes, or in Stitcher, or in any of the other podcast apps that you use as well. Episode 137, Seven Days To Getting Your Blogging Groove Back.
Hope you enjoy that little series. I look forward to chatting with you in the next episode of the ProBlogger podcast in a few weeks time. Thanks for listening.