Art Of Manliness: Making A Hobby Profitable – with Brett McKay

Posted on Mar 18, 2013 - 9:00 AM PST

How does a hobby turn into a profitable business that teaches men how to be men?

Brett McKay is the founder of the Art of Manliness, a blog that teaches men how to tie a tie, shave like their grandpas and how to change the oil in their car. I invited him here talk about how he built up his business.

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About Brett McKay

Brett McKay is the founder of The Art of Manliness, a men’s interest and lifestyle site dedicated to reviving the lost art of manliness.

Raw transcript


Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

Andrew: Coming up: have you ever wanted to write on a topic that you felt you just didn’t know enough? And maybe you were starting to feel like a fraud because of it? Well, check out what today’s guest does to write on topics that he doesn’t know everything about. Check out the section where we talk about oil changes. Also, what do you think this is? I got it as a gift, I open it up in the interview; we’ll talk about it. Right here. Finally, inner doubt. Privately, I’ve been talking to several of you in the audience about that doubt that you have when you’re about to publish something, when you’re about to release code, when you’re about to show the world something that you’ve been working on in private. Well, that doubt that I’m no good, or this is not good enough, or maybe people are going to laugh at me is something that we’ve talked about in private. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten as deep into it in an interview as I got into it with this interview. So you’re going to hear about that and I think that if you have doubt, it’s going to be incredibly helpful. So those three things and so much more coming up in this interview.

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Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of www.mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How does a hobby turn into a business, a profitable business at that? It teaches men how to be men. Brett McKay is the founder of Art Of Manliness, a blog that teaches men how to tie a tie, shave like their grandpas, and how to change the oil in their cars. I invited him here talk about how he built up his business. Brett, welcome.

Brett: Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Andrew: How big of a business is this?

Brett: Are you talking about readership?

Andrew: Let’s start with readership. How many readers do you have?

Brett: Sure. Monthly pageviews, we’re getting over 9 million page views on our desktop version of the site. We have a mobile component as well, and we’ve gotten a lot of traffic there. We’re getting about 9 million pageviews on the mobile version of the site. Regular subscribers, we have over 160,000 RSS and email subscribers. We have a big following on Facebook, over 160,000 Facebook fans, and then we have a following on other social networks as well. When you add it all up, it’s probably 300,000, 400,000 people who regularly visit the site, who are tuned into us, looking for updates from us.

Andrew: Can you make money off all these pageviews and RSS subscribers, or is it just . . .

Brett: Yeah, yeah.

Andrew: What kind of money can you make from that?

Brett: We’re ad supported. We’re about 60% of our income comes from ad revenue. The other 40% comes from affiliate partnerships that we have with a few brands, and we also have some products that we sell that we’ve created. There are branded posters, and stickers, and t-shirts, and we’ve also written two books based off the website. So yeah, we are profitable. It’s well into the six figures . . .

Andrew: It’s well into the six figures. You mean over 400,000?

Brett: Yeah. Over $400,000.

Andrew: Well over $400,000 a year.

Brett: Yeah, gross. But then, we’ll talk about this later, I imagine, it gets really expensive to run a large site like this. There are expenses I never thought I’d have to spend money on.

Andrew: [laughs] Alright. Let’s talk about it throughout the interview, and find out where the expenses are, because I looked at the site, and I said, ‘Hmm, just a blog, probably. DreamHost is all it takes, pay them a couple of bucks a month, you’re in business. Start collecting the money.’

Brett: Yeah. I wish.

Andrew: We’ll get into what the actual business is here. But the idea came to you because you were standing in Borders bookstore, and you saw what?

Brett: Well, I was just looking at the men’s magazines. That’s what I do, when I’m killing time. This was when I was in law school. I was just looking at the headlines in all these Men’s magazines and I realized that every month it’s the same thing. It’s always about, like “How to get ‘Six Pack’ Abs” or they are selling you a lifestyle that the average guy couldn’t afford. The relationship advice didn’t apply to me, I was married at the time, so a lot of it was geared to young, single guys. Like “How to Hook up with ‘X’ Amount of Babes this Weekend,” and it didn’t really apply to me, so i decided, you know what, i’m tired of this, how about I just start the magazine, the men’s magazine that I wanted to read? So I decided to buy a domain name, and get WordPress, which was free, and just start doing it.

Andrew: And it was just going to be a hobby?

Brett: Yeah, i just imagined it as a hobby. My plan was originally to be an attorney, that was my goal since I was in high school. I was in my second year of law school at this time, and i thought it would just be a hobby. I thought some of my friends would enjoy it, and i thought maybe I’d make a bit of money, like on AdSense and have like $20 a month to take my wife out on a date. That was initially just the goal but it turned into something a lot bigger than I had planned.

Andrew: Yeah, I’ll say. Do you have any entrepreneurial background?

Brett: I don’t. I have no entrepreneurial background. All my family are pretty much government employees. My Dad was a Federal Game Warden, my Grandfather was a Forester, a Forest Ranger, so yeah, no entrepreneurial background.

Andrew: And you weren’t the kind of kid who was trying to start businesses throughout school?

Brett: No, I wasn’t that kind of guy. I loved marketing, I loved coming up with ideas to generate a buzz. I was on Student Council, so i loved coming up with creative ideas to generate buzz and to make people come out, but beyond that, that’s about all i did.

Andrew: What you did have though was a little of writing experience, right? You worked on the “The Frugal Law Student,” what’s that?

Brett: OK, so “The Frugal Law Student” was my first foray into blogging. I started it my first year of law school. It was basically me, sharing with my friends and family how i was mitigating my tripling law school debt, that was my tagline for the blog, and it got a pretty decent sized following, it had, at one point, over 2000 subscribers, which I thought was pretty good for a first time blogger, and it was also named like the ADA Journal law school’s blog of the year one year, and that’s how I cut my teeth into blogging, and what i learned from the blogging on “The Frugal Law Student,” i took on all the skills to start “The Art of Manliness.”

Andrew: For example?

Brett: For example, I didn’t know how to code before i started “The Frugal Law Student,” and I knew nothing about HTML, I knew nothing about CSS, I knew nothing about PHP, but I had to learn those things because I didn’t have the money to pay a nice Graphic Designer, or a Theme Builder, or some guy to install WordPress or customize WordPress for me, so I had to learn those things if i wanted to create the blog that I wanted. I learned how to do rudimentary CSS, rudimentary html, and PHP, and I was able to use that when I started “The Art of Manliness.” I designed the first version of “The Art of Manliness” completely by myself because i didn’t have the money to hire a Professional Developer, I bootstrapped it all, so that’s some of the skills i learned. Just like writing for a web audience, I had to learn how to use headings and how to create captivating headlines that people would actually click on.

Andrew: Give me an example of what a captivating headline was for “The Frugal Law Student?”

Brett: Let’s see, “The Frugal Law Student,” a captivating headline, like you do the numbers list, “180 Ways to Turn your Financial Life Around 180 Degrees,” so it was just like a list of 180 financial tips basically to make your financial life better. so that was one thing. My experiment with brushing with baking soda, that was one idea in “The Frugal Law Student,” and that actually got a lot of play.

Andrew: That’s pretty good. I remember growing up, there was a time when my Dad believed in baking soda to brush your teeth, it was really scrubbing your teeth down, and i tried it and it’s actually not bad.

Brett: It’s not bad. Your teeth do feel clean when you’re done brushing.

Andrew: And it is frugal.

Brett: It’s definitely frugal.

Andrew: Why do you need to know CSS? I’m imagining the person who is especially drawn to this interview is a person who says, “I’d like to write about something everyday that I am passionate about, but do I really need to know about CSS? Why do I need to know it?”

Brett: Well, the reason I needed to know . . . it was a necessity. I didn’t have the money to pay a top-notch web designer, because I was in law school. I was up to my eyeballs in debt, I wasn’t working, I didn’t have any money, so I had to bootstrap this whole operation. Anything that I wanted to do, I had to do it myself. If you have money, you have capital, and you can afford to hire a designer, go right ahead. But if you don’t, and you want to create a nice looking blog, branded the way you want, you’ll need to learn how to do some basic web design. I also think even if you have the money, and you can afford a web designer, I think it’s useful to learn that sort of stuff. Learn basic HTML, how PHP works, how databases work, because now whenever I want to see something on the site, or I have a problems with the site, I have a developer or programmer that I go to and I can say, ‘Look, we’re having this problem with the site, I think it’s here, like this little snippet of code, I’m not sure exactly what’s going on but I think it’s there . . .

Andrew: Give me an example.

Brett: . . . and it saves the person a lot of time, I feel. When they come to me and they explain things, I actually understand what they’re talking about.

Andrew: Give an example of something in the early days that you needed to do by yourself, maybe. When you launched the site, let’s get into that. You come up with this idea, you’re standing in Borders. You say, ‘Somebody needs to do this.’ Now you need to build the site.

Brett: Yeah.

Andrew: How did you build it?

Brett: I bought a WordPress thing, but I had to brand it the way I wanted it. It comes out of the box, and it didn’t have the format that I wanted, so I had to mess around with that, and I broke the site over and over again, but I had to figure it out, and in the process I learned. Also, I had to learn Photoshop. I didn’t know Photoshop, like to create my first banner, I had to learn how to crop and manipulate it.

Andrew: How did you learn this stuff? How did you learn how to change the code in WordPress so that it does what you want it to do?

Brett: Google is your friend.

Andrew: Did you try, and then when you bump into a problem you Google the solution?

Brett: You Google it, because yeah, what’s amazing about WordPress is there’s such a passionate and helpful userbase, and honestly, any question that I had, I could Google. Like, I’m running into this error in WordPress. And you’d find something in the WordPress support forums from someone who had answered that question. Or you’d find some sort of neat customization that you wanted. I would Google it, and someone had blogged on how to do the exact customization that I wanted. It was basically copy and paste, and then it’s done. It’s amazing. I think a lot of people underestimate the knowledge that they can acquire just by Googling stuff. They think they need to hire a professional, and in some cases you do. It saves time, it saves money in some cases. But you’d be surprised how much information you can find on there. So I’d copy and paste it, and if it didn’t work, I’d twiddle around with it some more until it worked, and that’s how I did it.

Andrew: I know that when I launch a new site with WordPress and I install a theme, I want to customize it a little bit. I remember on www.andrewwarner.com, I didn’t want anyone messing with it, I just wanted a quick website. I wanted to mess with it myself and learn. So I got Leo Babauta’s minimalist theme, I installed it on there. I said, ‘I want to take these links off the site. How do I do it?’ So I went in and I messed around with it. I found some section that looked like it was a series of links; I said, ‘I’m deleting it.’ And I broke the siteSo what I was able to do was just delete the whole installation of WordPress, or at least of his theme, reinstall it, and start fresh. It was just so cool to be able to, through trial and error, make your changes and figure it out and learn, ‘Oh, that’s not what I’m supposed to touch.’

Brett: Exactly.

Andrew: OK. So you buy a theme, do you happen to remember which one? I know it’s a minor thing, but I’m always curious.

Brett: OK, it was called . . . they’re now Genesis. The Genesis theme.

Andrew: Yep.

Brett: But it was before that, it was years before Genesis was created. I forgot the name of it, what they were before they got in with CopyBlogger.

Andrew: I forget too, but the founder, Brian was on here. Brian Gardner.

Brett: Yeah, it was Brian, and actually Brian was a great guy, because I emailed him a few times, like ‘Hey, I’m trying to do this, can you help me out?’ and I think he even featured our site on his . . .

Andrew: You picked his theme. What was it about . . .

Brett: Well, he had this really cool magazine layout that I liked, that I was trying to do for the site, so I was like, ‘Hey, I like that, it’s kind of what I want to go for,’ so I just tweaked it to the way that I wanted it to look.

Andrew: OK. So you buy a theme. It costs a few bucks, I think it was under $100 at the time.

Brett: Yeah.

Andrew: Then you paid for hosting. What was that, about $20 a month?

Brett: Yeah, I was using DreamHost at the time.

Andrew: That’s who I went with, in fact www.andrewwarner.com is still on there. And you started to write articles. How many articles do you need to write before you can launch the site?

Brett: I wrote just five, before I, I actually announced it to people and told people about it. So, the first article I wrote was ‘How to shave like your grandpa’. And it was basically my foray into classic wet shaving with the safety razor. I also had a dating advice article, I just, I had, I tried to get an article for each of the content channels that I had, or categories I had imagined that the site should have, and, that was that. And then I, what I did was I actually told my Frugal Law Student audience that, hey, I started this new site, go check it out, and I actually was able to get, right from the get go, I get a substantial number of subscribers and viewers just by leveraging that audience I had with the frugal law student.

Andrew: See, you’re a glasses half full type of guy, I would have looked at that, I see from the notes that April put together on her pre- interview with you that you got 500 subscribers in the first month from Frugal Law Student. I am always so comparing myself to how big I want to be, and how big the people I admire are that, I would have looked at that and said, only 500? If these people that I admire knew this, I would be so embarrassed, I can’t, I -maybe I went in the wrong direction with this? Maybe nobody needs to know how to shave like their grandpop, I don’t know? I would still do it, because I can get past it, but was there any of that hesitation in you? Was there any?

Brett: No, not really, because in the beginning I didn’t have any big ambitions, like, super huge ambitions. Of course, I thought, you know, there’s always the backward – the thought in the back of your mind. Oh, this would be cool if I could do this for a living, but I didn’t have super big ambitions with it. And I actually, I planned on maintaining the Frugal Law Student and doing this at the same time. But the, The Art of Manliness got so big that I had to actually just stop the Frugal Law Student to devote all my time to it. So, yes, I mean I was happy because I was able to get as many subscribers in my first month in The Art of Manliness as it took me, you know, it took me a year to get that same amount with the Frugal Law Student. So, I was really happy, I thought that was, that was progress.

Andrew: And these are like, feed burner subscribers?

Brett: Yes, feed burner and email subscribers, so I was excited about that.

Andrew: OK. So, you’ve got some readers, you’ve got five articles on the site, it’s time to write content. How many articles a week or a month were you going to start writing with?

Brett: It was just, it was really slow, it was actually just three times a week. Because, again, I was doing law school, I was doing the, I was an editor of The Law Review at the time. I had a job, a part time job, had family, I had a wife, and I had the Frugal Law Student. So, yes my goal was just to publish on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and that’s what we did originally, for a pretty long time on the Frugal Law -on, on The Art of Manliness.

Andrew: That’s actually a really good publishing schedule, it gives you enough time to practice, and to learn and to feel good about showing up. But, also not so much that you, that it takes up your day.

Brett: Yes, yes, I mean.

Andrew: It doesn’t take up your life.

Brett: Yes, it was, it was a nice schedule, I was able to maintain it and, you know, I would work on the site in the morning before school. And then, yes, I’ll be honest, I checked on things when I was in class and I should have been listening to the professors, but, yes, it was great.

Andrew: So, let me ask you the question that I’ve asked other writers, and they all blow me off. So, let me tell you about my experience here, before, so that you know why this is such an important question.

Brett: OK.

Andrew: I start writing, or have started writing, well, when I started hosting on Mixergy, I started by writing. And it was so painful to come up with things to say, with ideas that I believed in, that I could express and teach, or show, so, that it would take me forever. And then even when I got back to writing, years later, after giving it up, it just was no fun, it would take a long time, and that’s why I switched to interviews. Here. interviews, it took me a little time to research you, very little, because I’ve been reading your site for so long, and I’ve got notes here on you. And all I have to do is sit and have a conversation, say, what am I wondering about right now? What do I wish I knew about Brett’s business? Oh, let me ask him how much traffic he had? Let me ask him if he can make 400 thousand a year with this? But, writing is tough, so how do you show up three times a week, stare at a blank blog post, and fill it up with content that you believe in? That will draw an audience? And that will make them feel good about returning?

Brett: So, I should begin my saying that writing has never been my strength, like, in high school and even in college, I wasn’t that great of a writer. In fact when I was, I was married when I was in college, when I was an undergrad, and my wife’s a fantastic writer, a fantastic editor, and I would have her look at my papers and mark them up. And she got papers where she put a skunk on it. She was like, “This just stinks.” But I got better with her help. What really helped improve my writing was law school. I really learned how to write well. People don’t understand. All people think that law is just like your in the court and you’re arguing. Most of law is just sitting and writing briefs, writing memos, and being concise. So I had to learn how to write well. And writing is still hard for me. And there’s times when you look at the blank screen, and you’re just like, I don’t know how to start. But the thing I learned in law school, you just have to start and just throw up what you have in your brain, and then you go back and you do the hard part, which is editing and shaping this vomit heap that you have.

Andrew: Give an example of something that started out as a vomit heap but then became an article that you’re proud of.

Brett: Let’s see, a vomit heap and then through . . . this one article I wrote, “The World Belongs to Those Who Hustle.” It was one of our most popular articles on the site, and I’m really proud of it. I just kind of threw stuff up there, and then I went back and reshaped it to something that’s good.

Andrew: Do you start there with a headline and a message, “The World Belongs to Those Who Hustle,” and say, OK, that’s it. That’s the message. Now how do I back that up with an article that’s intelligent, that’s deep, that people will actually want to get past the first paragraph for.

Brett: Exactly. You start off with an idea, and then you go from there. I have lots of ideas. We have an idea bank just full of posts that are just waiting to be written. It’s just finding the time. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a particular type. Sometimes I can write some sort of article, because that’s what I’m feeling. And there’ll be times when I’m writing some article and I’m not getting anywhere with it, and I’ll put it aside and then work on something else, and then come back to it later. But I think with writing, you just have to do it. There’s no magic to it; it’s just work. You just have to work, work, work, and work your way until you get something.

Andrew: For me doing interviews every day, when I spent a year in Argentina where I said I’m going to publish every day, and knowing that I have to show up every day forced me to confront my insecurities about being on camera, like, oh man, my hair is weird, and my question yesterday was dopey, I showed that I didn’t understand his company. All those thoughts that go through my head, they had to disappear, because I had another interview scheduled the next day and I needed to prepare for that. So showing up every day and being forced to push my insecurities out of my head so I can do the next interview taught me to show up every day and produce and to not spend time on my insecurities and spend more time on what I want to do and what I’m here to do. Did that help you, showing up three times a week?

Brett: Yeah. Doing something regular, it keeps you accountable, because you’re readers expect it. I know my readers are expecting a new article, so I have to have something. So that put some pressure on me, having that regular schedule. In the beginning, I’ll be honest, our articles weren’t that great. There are some articles that we wrote that I’m not proud of. I’m just like, I can’t believe we published that.

Andrew: For example?

Brett: I did this one article, it was an example. I wrote this article, “The Return of the Tough Guy.” I read this article in the New York Times about how action heroes are coming back in style. This was back in 2008. And I wrote this blurb about it, like, here’s my thoughts. And now I look about it, and I look at what kind of content we create now; it was a piece of crap. That’s the evolution that we’ve gone through as we’ve developed the site. I really didn’t know what I was doing in the beginning. As you grow an audience, and as you see what people respond to, then you start fine tuning things. Now we write articles, we research the heck out of them. We’re checking out books from the library, talking to people, I’ll find studies that support what I’m trying to argue. We spend a lot, a lot of time researching as thorough as possible. In the beginning, I was just kind of spouting advice off the cuff, really. When most people think of blogging, oh, here’s my thoughts about this topic. And I actually want to be useful for people. So I want to be useful for people. I stopped doing that and started doing more research. We don’t just Google search and say, ‘OK, what do other people say on the internet about this?’ We try to find content or resources that aren’t on the internet. Maybe there’s some book that was published 50 years ago that has some cool insight.

Andrew: Can you give an example of an article that you researched to this depth?

Brett: For example, a really heavy research series I did recently was a series on increasing your testosterone naturally. There’s a lot of [??] content on the web about that. A lot of it is like bro science. Like, what guys tell each other in the gym. ‘Well, yeah. If you do this, you’ll increase your testosterone.’ I actually got on the national health science database that the government has. I went through articles on testosterone to find out what the science says on this.

We’ve done articles for example about, we do this series called, ‘Lessons in manliness’. We’ll take some cool guy from history that everyone looks up to, like Teddy Roosevelt. We try to extrapolate lessons you can take from his life that you can apply in your life today. We’ll read biographies on Teddy Roosevelt.

Andrew: How do you read a biography on Teddy Roosevelt just for an article? That’s a lot of work.

Brett: What we do is we plan our calendar out a month in advance every month. We know what we’re going to write a few weeks in advance. You start researching for that well in advance. Also, one thing that my wife and I do is if there’s content, if there’s an article that we know is going to take a lot of research, it might be a few months off. We’ll start just slowly looking into it. There’s always something going on. There’s always something to [??]. Either there’s a long-term post you’re researching for and you just do a little bit of time. Sometimes there’s content we have to publish right away and you devote more energy to that. You’re always just slowly gathering information all the time.

That means that for us, the blog is sort of all consuming. We don’t really read for enjoyment anymore. We might have that intention. ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to read this book. Because I think it would be good.’ But then as you’re reading it, you’re like, ‘ You know, this could be a great blog post. I’m going to take some [??].’ When I read, I’m usually reading for the blog. It’s like researching for the blog.

I enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong. Actually this is fantastic. This is what I love. This is a blessing. This is what a do for a living. I get to learn things that I want to learn about. I get to research it and then write about it and share what I’ve learned with people. Yeah, I don’t do too much, like just pleasure reading. It’s usually reading for the blog and researching for the blog.

Andrew: Stu McClaren who creates Rhino support, said that when he deals with customers who write. They want to use his support system to find their audience’s big questions, so they can turn them into articles and books and other things. That’s where a lot of writers he works with find their best article ideas. Where do you find your best article ideas?

Brett: That’s one thing we do. We read the comments. We actually have an online forum where readers can interact with each other and pose questions. We’ll get ideas from there, from questions that [??] have in the forums and then actually create an article from that.

Ideas come all the time. I’ll be reading something and I think, ‘Now that would be a cool post. I want to look into that more.’ Or I’ll be watching TV or watching the news and see something. Like, that could be a post too. You’re just always looking, there’s always inspiration there.

It’s just a matter of capturing it in a place so you don’t use it. I’m a big believer in writing things down. Either in a pocket notebook or a note on your smartphone. Once your brain knows it can trust you to capture those ideas it’s spitting out for you, I find that your brain gives you more ideas. I know that’s kind of pseudo scientific mumbo jumbo. That’s how I feel. I feel like if my brain says, ‘OK Brett, I know you’re going to get this and you’re going to do something with this. I’ll do my job in generating more ideas for you.’

Andrew: You had the idea of borders, you use Word Press which makes a lot of sense. You played around it based on the experience you had learning how to code an HTML. What about the design? One of the reasons why a lot of your articles feel like they’ve been well researched and feel credible because the site just looks so good.

Brett: [??]

Andrew: How did you design the first version of your site?

Brett: This version that we have right now is not the first version. This is the second version. That is done by a professional designer. His name’s Eric Ronada. He’s a fantastic, fantastic guy. The first one, I had an idea of what I wanted the site to look like- the vibe of it. I wanted it to be sort of vintage…like to remind you of your grandpa. My grandpa’s a big inspiration behind the site, so I wanted it to feel like you’re going to grandpa’s house and rummaging through his cool office that has all this cool stuff. Your grandpa’s so cool. So I wanted that sort of vibe. I just came up with this vintage brown sepia-toned thing that I’ve got going on. For the header, this one we have now is the second version, but I was trying to think of one image that would capture the ethos of the brand. I was like, “You know what, I want a handle barred, 19th Century, bare-fisted pugilist so that’s what I googled. I came up with this public domain picture of John L. Sullivan, the famous bare knuckled boxer from the 19th Century and I was like, “Okay, that guy there is the unofficial mascot of the art of manliness.” He’s become that. When people see that they automatically think, “art of manliness,” which is awesome. With the pictures on the site, we use a lot of pictures in our articles. We scour, we spend a lot of time on that, trying to find a cool vintage-looking picture that captures the theme of the post that we’re writing. That’s an important element, you’re right. I think a lot of people underestimate the design aspect in a blog or online publication because it draws people in and they feel something when they’re reading it.

Andrew: Yeah.

Brett: So yeah, the design was an important part of that.

Andrew: We are much more forgiving of bad articles or articles that we don’t jive with if the site feels like home.

Brett: Yeah

Andrew: …like something we aspire to.

Brett: Exactly.

Andrew: I’m looking in the way back machine here at the…

Brett: Yeah, if you go back to like 2008, before 2008…

Andrew: Yeah, January 8, 2008 is what I’m looking at here and I see him on both sides of the logo.

Brett: Yeah.

Andrew: Now that you mentioned it, the words, “The art of,” over, “manliness,” do look like they’re a little hand-made.

Brett: Yeah.

Andrew: It still feels like what you’re trying to communicate. What I’m wondering is, how do you find out what that message that you’re trying to communicate is?

Brett: You know, I don’t know. That’s a good question. When I think of manliness, again, I thought of my grandpa. I think of watching old movies with Humphrey Bogart and old hunting magazines. I was really drawn to that sort of stuff ever since I was a kid. I just thought, “Man, this is manly.” So now I’ve just sort of captured that feeling again when I was creating the site. How can I convey that in design? My overarching thing is if it’s something that I would want to do, then let’s do it. There’s got to be other people that feel the same way too. I’m not a big proponent of the idea that we’re all individual snowflakes. There’s six billion, or however many billion people are on this planet. I’m sure there are lots of other people just like me who think the same way as me in a lot of ways. I figured if I like it there’s got to be some other people who like it as well.

Andrew: There it is. I see it on the bottom. The theme was Revolution Magazine by Brian [SP] Gardener. Brian [SP] was so amazing in that he said, “I see WordPress as the same thing over and over. I can re-purpose it and give it a magazine feel.” He changed the way that many of us thought about WordPress.

Brett: Yeah.

Andrew: Great interview, by the way, for anyone who is a long time member of the site. Check out Brian’s interview about how he took a theme business that, at the time wasn’t really a business; no one thought of themes as a business, and he turned it into a very profitable company. You’ll hear about that in his interview. Alright, now you’ve got a design, you’ve got articles, you’ve got a feeling you’re trying to convey, you’ve got some readers. It’s time to grow the audience. What did you do to bring more people in to the site?

Brett: There’s a few things I did on my own. One of the things I like to tell your audience here is that one of the benefits I had from Frugal Law Student was the connections I made while blogging there. I started blogging in 2006 with the Frugal Law Student. This was the same time that a lot of the big bloggers that are around today were getting their start, too. JD Roth at Get Rich Slowly was getting his start, Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar, Leo from Zen Habits was also getting started. And I made connections with these guys, and we became online friends and we’d share each others’ content, help each other out, and so I was able to go to these guys and say, ‘Hey, look, I got this new blog, can I write a guest post for you?’

And I wrote a guest post for Leo, and I got some traffic that way. So that was another benefit with The Frugal Law Student, those connections I made with those great people at the time. I was able to use that when I was launching The Art Of Manliness. So that helped a little. But honestly, gathering the audience, getting the big audience that we have today, I attribute a lot of it to luck. Because here’s what happened. I was in Wills, Estates, and Trusts in law school, learning about estate law. And I was checking the site stats, and I noticed that the site was down, and I was like, ‘OK, what’s going on here?’ So I checked the stats, and I saw that we were getting all this traffic from www.digg.com. This was back when Digg was huge. It was every blogger’s dream to get on the front page of Digg. It was the Digg Effect. You get all this traffic, and then you get linked on other sites, and that’s what happened.

My article I wrote, ‘How To Shave Like Your Grandpa’ got on Digg, it was on the front page of Reddit, it was on the front page of Delicious, and my $20 DreamHost hosting program just couldn’t keep up with the traffic, and it crashed. I remember feeling, oh my gosh, both elated and then just utterly depressed, because I was missing all these people that could be viewing my site because my site is down, but I’m getting all this traffic, this is great. I don’t know who submitted it, how that got started, but I thank them every night. Thank you for submitting that stuff, because that’s what really got us on the radar for a lot of people. A lot of people found us through Digg, through Reddit, and through Delicious. And after that point, people started . . . so I got the site back online, I upgraded my hosting program, and people kept submitting our stuff to Digg, and it kept getting on the front page. And I thought, this is awesome. So that’s how it happened. And other than that, I haven’t really done much. I never had a marketing budget. I still don’t have a marketing budget. It’s all been word of mouth. That’s how I built the audience. And I feel bad, because people always ask that question, ‘How did you build your audience?’ I’m like, ‘Well, I got on the front page of Digg one day.’

Andrew: It was more than one day, wasn’t it?

Brett: Well, more than one day, but I attribute that one day that it happened, the first time. After we were on the radar, things were popping.

Andrew: I see. Once you get on their radar, people start resubmtting it because now it’s a proven . . .

Brett: Yeah, yeah, they see, oh, this is a cool site, they create cool content. I can submit this because I know it might get on the front page.

Andrew: Talk about this. The Digg audience was notorious for having a short attention span. They bounce in and out of your site in less than 30 seconds, and they wouldn’t remember to type in ‘Art of Manliness’, they would remember to type in digg.com and go to whatever else was up there. How did you keep your customers, how did you keep your audience? I still don’t . . . even looking at the Wayback Machine, I see a small RSS link. To this day I don’t see a heavy promotion. I don’t see a lot that you do to hold people who come into the site.

Brett: Yeah, I really don’t. I try to keep it pretty . . . the experience as unobtrusive as possible. That’s just my personal preference when I visit websites, so I try to establish the same thing. You’re right. We get a lot of churn with the Digg audience and Reddit, but you have a lot of people who do stick around, so those are my new readers. We have an email subscription form. They can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, whatever. I know I’m not going to get everybody, but when you get thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people visiting, you just need like 1% of that. That’s awesome.

Andrew: You do what a lot of bloggers recommend, which is underneath the article you’ve got the big subscribe button.

Brett: Yeah.

Andrew: At the top right, you’ve got a subscribe button, but most people who I’ve interviewed about this process will say, ‘Don’t say subscribe.’ People don’t want to subscribe, offer ‘The Art of Manliness: 10 Ways To Be Manly Guide’, and then people will give you their email address and join the mailing.’

Brett: Yeah, I used to do that when I first started the site back in 2008. I had this free ‘Modern Gentleman’s Guide to Etiquette’ or ‘Manners’. When you sign up you’ll get that for free. I phased it out because it was like five years old. It was old, and I didn’t want to update it, and I was just lazy. At this point I was doing fine. I found that I’m doing fine without the free ebook offer, so I just don’t have it. It became sort of a hassle, too, because people would be like ‘Hey, I’m having trouble downloading it,’ and ‘Oh, what’s going on with this?’ and it just became– at one point I was just trying to simplify my life, and say OK, I can get rid of this, I don’t need it anymore, and it’s been fantastic. I think, yeah, when you’re first starting out, it’s great to have an incentive to get people to sign up for your email newsletter list, but for me personally- – we’re at this point now where we’re getting about 1,000 subscribers a week, and I don’t have any sort of incentive for people to subscribe, so I’m OK with that.

Andrew: The Internet Archive Wayback Machine says it was called ‘Get Your Free Guide To Being A Gentleman in 2008′.

Brett: Yeah, classy, huh?

Andrew: It looks good, though–

Brett: It was good. It was a nice little– that was another thing I had to learn how to do, how to create an ebook. And I had to learn how to do that.

Andrew: All right. Traffic is starting to come in. You’ve built up the website. It’s time to monetize. What’s the first thing you did to generate revenue?

Brett: AdSense. I just put banner ads up there.

Andrew: And how did that go for you?

Brett: Well, it went well. It didn’t do incredibly well; you earn a couple hundred bucks a month. It was on affiliate, was another thing that I did at the very beginning, and that did incredibly well for me. That shaving article: I had Amazon affiliate links to products you can get at Amazon, a shaving brush, or a safety razor, and I remember the day after that stuff got on Digg, I made like $1800 in a day from affiliate links, and I was like, ‘This is amazing.’ I just thought this was so cool. So that was one thing I did from the get-go. So basically, AdSense and Amazon affiliate links in the beginning, and then over time, we’ve added different affiliate partners. We’ve joined ad networks that provide much better payout than AdSense. That’s what we’ve done to monetize it. We’re primarily advertising based.

Andrew: Ads are still the main source of revenue on the site.

Brett: Yeah, I’d say about 60%.

Andrew: Wow. One of the big ones you told April in the pre-interview was getting signed to a book deal. How did that happen?

Brett: Yes, that was really awesome. We started this site in January 2008, and about May of that same year, book publishers started approaching us and ‘Hey, you should turn this blog into a book.’ I didn’t get an agent, I was like, I can just do this on my own, I’m a law student, right? I can negotiate a contract. I just went with a small publisher that offered a really great deal for us, and we started writing a book that summer and putting together the manuscript, and then by 2009 we published a book based off the website.

Andrew: So I understand the feeling of having– I don’t, because I haven’t published a book– but I get that publishing a book is very satisfying, and it’s something to be proud of. But what about the impact of it on your business? Were you finding more traffic? More credibility, more something because of it?

Brett: Yeah, it gives you more credibility, it gives you more media opportunities. We got a lot of interviews when we were launching the book. Our publisher did some publicity for us. It also opens up some doors. If you want to contact somebody and interview them, you say, ‘Well, I’m Brad McKay, I have this blog, I’m a published author, we have this audience, and people are like, ‘Oh, yeah, of course I want it.’ Yeah, it does give you a bit of authority–

Andrew: Because you’re a published author, people don’t want to interview a blogger, but they want to interview an author.

Brett: Yeah, exactly.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Brett: Exactly. That’s how it was a few years ago. It might be changing now, I think. If you have a really substantial blog audience, and you’re sort of an authority in your area, then even if you’re not published, people will be like, ‘OK, this guy has some authority, he has some . . . we’ll want to reach out to him.’ But at the time I remember getting a lot more . . . doing a lot of radio interviews, newspaper interviews, I even did an interview with CNN, their morning show. But honestly, what I’ve found with mainstream media . . . people are always like ‘I want mainstream media press.’ You don’t actually get that much traffic from mainstream media press. My experience was, like, you get a link on the New York Times. But I remember I was on CNN, I was like, ‘Oh man, people are going to start visiting my site, after they see me on CNN.’ And then nothing. Didn’t happen. I remember we had an article done on the site in the local paper here in Tulsa. ‘Oh, yeah, we’re going to get a lot of traffic.’ And no, nothing really. But if you get linked on a Lifehacker, or some other big blog, you get a ton of traffic. I find a lot of people, when I tell them that, they have a hard time believing it, because ‘Oh, the mainstream media must give you more exposure.’ And it’s really not true.

Andrew: You switched hosting, as things were growing you switched hosting providers a couple of times. Why?

Brett: Mm-hmm. Yeah, just to manage the growth of the site. DreamHost didn’t really have good customer service at the time. If you could kind of do it on your own, you were fine, but if you needed someone to hold your hand and figure out things, it’s not the best. So I moved over to Media Temple, and they were a little better, they had a 24/7 customer service line, so I could call and say ‘Oh, my site’s down, please help me.’ They’d figure it out. And then it got to the point . . . so we were with them for about a year, but traffic kept growing and growing and growing and growing. We needed a dedicated server just for us, and I needed someone who could optimize the site so it would run well on that server, and run fast. I’ve switched . . . I’ve been with this server now since 2009, It’s kind of local. It’s a small operation, but it’s fantastic. They have the best service.

Andrew: Who are they?

Brett: It’s Lime Daley.

Andrew: I don’t know . . . Lime Daley.

Brett: Lime Daley.

Andrew: And they have better hosting than Media Temple for you.

Brett: Yeah.

Andrew: Actually, because you know what, Media Temple will give you a dedicated server, they will have a phone number for you. Even though they’re not there to do any tech support about WordPress, they just give you the computer and you’re responsible for it, they will help you, but you’re saying there was a point when you needed somebody to be there for WordPress.

Brett: Exactly. He’s also, the guy who runs it is also a programmer. He’s been able to do customizations on WordPress for me so it runs better, or if there’s some kind of thing I need to do he’ll take care of it. So that’s been fantastic. Every time you upgrade, costs go up. The thing now that’s costing us a lot of money is bandwidth. The server itself is fine. It’s fast, we’ve got plenty of space to host all our images, but it’s the bandwidth. People pulling those images we have on the server, that costs money. I think a lot of people who use the internet don’t realize that the person hosting that information spends money every time you bring it to your computer, and when you have a lot of traffic, that can get pretty costly.

Andrew: So how expensive is it for you?

Brett: Right now . . . we’re actually having to upgrade here pretty soon. But we’ve been spending about, I think it’s $2,000 every three months, and most of that’s just bandwidth, because we have a very image- heavy site. We’ll do how-to posts, and we want to have a big giant image to show you how you do those things, and when you’re getting almost 10 million pageviews a month, that’s a lot of bandwidth when you’re trying to pull down those images.

Andrew: That’s about what Mixergy spends, I think. Well, only to Amazon, only to serve up the MP3 of this interview, the video files that we have for premier members. That’s $600 a month now, just for that, hosting it separate for us. And when Amazon cut their rates by something like 50%, it was huge for us.

Brett: Oh, sure.

Andrew: Yeah, and we use WP Engine to host our WordPress site because they have somebody there that’s going to manage the site. And I hired WP Valet to manage WordPress for us in addition to WP Engine. It takes a lot of work. Because for me, I keep envying people like you who just have text and images, but now you’re showing me that even text and images, at your level of traffic, could a monster.

Brett: Yeah, we’re actually having to upgrade pretty soon to like take into account future growth. So right now we’re reaching that limit on the bandwidth and the guys like you know, “Look, reaching the limit on our bandwidth. We’re going to have to upgrade soon.” So, we’ve been trying to figure out, like (inaudible [00:00:19]) how can we figure something out to get the best deal possible and so, yeah, we’re going to be doing that pretty soon in the next month.

Andrew: [inaudible] competition too?

Brett: Yeah, you know that’s what you got to do. But he’s been helpful on it, that process. He’s trying to find a solution that will work for me. He’s a great guy who runs it. Yeah, that’s like one of those hosting and bandwidth costs wasn’t something I thought about when I first started the site. I always thought, oh yeah, just stick with Dream Host, and pay 20 bucks a month, its pure profit, right? But, no, that’s not how it works when you get to this sort of level you’ve got to spend a lot of bandwidth. f you read about like the Huffington Posts, or like, all these other big online publications, I forgot, I was reading about the Huffington Post, like the amount of money they spend on bandwidth is just crazy. You know? It’s like in the six figures a year, what they’re spending. Thankful I’m not to that, I don’t have to spend that much money it.

Andrew: But it does get expensive. I think you’re right. At first you don’t want to pay attention to that. Just get the $20.00 plan from Dream Host or someone else; you’re good to go for a long time. Unless you get Doug.

Brett: Yeah and I just don’t think people think about it, like I didn’t know honestly about bandwidth. I kind of had a general concept what bandwidth was, but I didn’t understand like, that costs money, right?

Andrew: No because partially Dream Host has unlimited everything. They just don’t expect…Have you ever heard of this by the way? This isn’t a commercial, Blackwater? I just ran out of my coffee and I’ve had this here, so.

Brett: I’ve not heard of that. Is it coffee water?

Andrew: No, it’s just water.

Brett: Just water.

Andrew: I’ve never had this. I was telling Alex Champagne who booked you, that, kept pushing, we’ve got to get this guy on quickly, that I never had and he said, “You’ve got to try it. It’s going to be mind blowing when you drink it and it tastes like water even though it looks black.” So, I ran out of coffee so I’ll try it. It tastes just like water.

Brett: Tastes just like water, okay.

Andrew: I was actually tasting something grainy at first and then I realized, no that’s in your head.

Brett: So how much extra do you pay for the black?

Andrew: I don’t know. I was telling him that I needed to go to Amazon and buy it. And he’s the kind of person who’s, who will just surprise me. He just sent me a box with this and this shirt. And this shirt by the way happened because we had this guest on who only wanted to do half hour so I said, talk to one of the companies he had invested in and said, “How do we get him to say yes?” And the guy, the entrepreneur said, “He loves polo shirts. Tell him you’ll give him a polo shirt, “as a joke he said it. But I thought, all right. So, I emailed the guy and I said, “If you give me an hour, I’m going to give you a meaningful interview. The most meaningful interview you ever did instead of half an hour and I’ll give you the one and only Mixergy polo shirt.” So, he said, “Fine.” He reluctantly agreed to do it. We did the interview. It ended up being only half an hour anyway, which [makes noise]. But we sent him a polo shirt. Alex said, “You know what? If this is what’s going to come of it and I’m going to work to get this polo shirt together for the guest. I’ll send you one too Andrew.” So that’s how I got my first Mixergy shirt.

Brett: It’s pretty sharp looking.

Andrew: And it’s…thank you very much by the way, coming from you especially. And it’s on J. Crew which people who are long time fans of the site will remember J. Crew is the company that I…J.Crew basically funded Mixergy. If you guys don’t know it, go Google it and you’ll see that story on the site. Anyway, so Blackwater from Alex Champagne who booked you. If anyway wants to connect with him, I urge you to go check out his site. It’s launchtower.com. He’s a designer who I work with and I just dig the guy and I said, “Can I hire you to book guests for me?” And that’s how we hooked up. Alex from Launch Tower, thank you Alex for the Blackwater and the black shirt.

So here’s my question, that kind of sounded like a commercial. Maybe I could do commercials like this where someone will send me water and I pitch their water, I don’t know.

Brett: It’s native advertising right there.

Andrew: Alex you owe me a couple bucks. Actually, no I probably owe him something for these shirts. All right, here’s something that I was wondering. You and April talked about this. The idea that you don’t know how to change oil for example, in a car. But you’re supposed to teach other people this. Now, many people who are listening to this interview are going to say, “I’m going to go and create my own site. I’m going to focus it on whatever topic,” and they’ll say instantly, “I don’t know the topic well enough to be an expert to be the guy who writes about it everyday or three times a week. I can’t do this.” I understand Brett. He’s got a mustache, he’s a pretty manly guy, he’s admired his grandfather’s stuff for years, followed the way images of what he likes and what he would create on a website. His whole life he did this. I don’t have all that. How do I do it? That’s why I thought maybe you could talk about how you can write about things like how to change the oil in your car when you don’t know it.

Brett: Sure. Basically, I had to learn how to do it before I explained it. Here’s the thing I found. What I’ve found I have a talent for is explaining things to people so it’s understandable and then it’s entertaining, also. I try to be entertaining when I write my articles. There’s people who know how to change oil in the car, but they don’t know how to write. They don’t know how to explain it very well because they don’t have that beginner’s mind; they have the curse of knowledge. So with something I don’t know how to do, I’ll go and do it first, and talk to someone who knows how to do it, and then write about my experience, showing them, okay, here’s what you’ll need to know. Explaining it step by step for someone who has no idea what they’re doing, because that’s how I was. That’s how I do it. So when I wrote how to change oil in your car, I would talk to my wife’s uncle. He does that regularly. So I said, ‘Hey, I’ve never changed the oil in my car. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Can you show me how? I’m going to turn this into a blog post.’ So I took my car over there, and we got it jacked up, and I changed the oil in the car.

Andrew: So you have someone teach you, you do it yourself, and then you write about it.

Brett: And then I write about it.

Andrew: And you’re good at explaining things.

Brett: Yeah.

Andrew: But when you do it just once, do you know it well enough to be able to teach other people how to do it?

Brett: Yeah, I mean, some things are going to require a little more skill, but I also get their advice in the process. What would you tell someone on how to do this? What would they need to know? I get their input and I do more research, and that’s how we do the content. It seems to work out. It’s been working out pretty well so far. But also, The Art Of Manliness is sort of my . . . I’m in the process of learning how to be a man too. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know how to do, so I want to learn how to do it and I’m sharing with others: look, here’s how I did it. I don’t know how to do this thing; maybe you want to learn how to do this too. Don’t be intimidated to try it and seek out help on how to do it. Hopefully my experiences are inspiration for guys, like, ‘Yeah, if Brad can do it, this Joe Schmoe in Tulsa, then I can do it too.’ I hope people get inspired by that.

Andrew: I can see how that would be an asset.

Brett: I’m not an expert. I don’t claim to be an expert at all. I’m just a guy that’s learning along with everyone else, and I’m sharing what I learn along the journey.

Andrew: That helps me too, here, at Mixergy. Just be curious. You don’t have to know it all.

Brett: Yeah, yeah.

Andrew: But I also don’t have a site where I say . . . well, maybe I do kind of say that. Say, this is the place where you’re going to learn how to do it.

Brett: Yeah.

Andrew: You’re saying I’m going to show you guys how to be a man. Does that ever feel like a lot of pressure?

Brett: It’s a lot of pressure. My wife and I talk about this all the time. I’m always a little bit intimidated, vulnerable when I meet readers in person because I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint them. I hope people don’t have the perception that I’m this uber-manly guy that dresses like Don Draper all the time.

Who can kill a jaguar with his hands. I’m afraid when they meet me in person they’ll be like, ‘Oh, man, this guy’s just like me.’ So there’s a lot of pressure in that sense. Again, I try not to tell people ‘This is what you have to do.’ This is my perception of what masculinity is. Here’s how I’m going about learning how to grow as a man. If this jives with you, awesome. I’d love to have you on the ride and maybe we can learn some things together. If not, then there’s all sorts of other places you can go on the internet to find the message that resonates with you. There is this pressure on the back of my mind that I’m going to disappoint people with my lack of manliness, that somehow people think that I have that I really don’t.

Andrew: This morning I was thinking, ‘Who are you to reject this interview?’ Not from you, but someone else that I’ve rejected for a long time and I finally said yes to, but I was like, ‘Who are you to say that this guy is not worthy of being on Mixergy, but that guy is? What makes you the fricking boss? What the hell do you fricking . . .’ I was going through all this in my head. I have to shut that noise out, so that I can make a decision about who to have on and who not, and to accept that I’m going to a mistake sometimes. But I know that I have these doubts. Do you have doubts like that, and when you have them, what do you do?

Brett: Yeah, I have doubts all the time. Sometimes, like you were saying . . . you just have to keep pressing on.

Andrew: Do it anyway. Feel the doubt and do it anyway.

Brett: Yeah, feel the fear and do it anyway. You just have to do it and let the chips fall where they may. And yeah, you’re going to make mistakes and that’s OK. But I feel if you let that doubt and the fear paralyze you, you’re never going to get anything done. And sometimes you have to trust your gut, too. For you, you’re a great curator, you find awesome people. You have a talent for finding people who have great ideas that can help your audience. That’s why people come to Mixergy. That’s why they pay $25 a month, because they know you’re going to give them great stuff. So I think you have to trust your gut on that. It’s hard to do that too, with The Art Of Manliness. Why are people listening to me, you know? I’m just this Joe Schmoe from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I have 160,000 subscribers, so people must resonate with what I’m doing. Whenever you have those doubts, I think it helps to look at, ‘Let’s look at reality here. I have this awesome subscriber base, I have customers who are paying me money to give them advice, curate advice from other people, that’s awesome, I should take confidence in that. I struggle with that too, I think a lot of entrepreneurs and creative types do. I think one thing you’ve got to do is shift your focus to reality sometimes instead of focusing on the negatives.

Andrew: I do both of those things, and I don’t want to leave this interview with people thinking that I’m just overwhelmed by self-doubt all the time. What I do is exactly what you just talked about, those two things. One is, I’m aware of what those doubts are, and then I question them. Who am I? Well, I have to make some decisions or else everyone’s going to be on the site, and then the site will lose its focus. Who am I? Well, I’m a guy that’s going to make some mistakes sometimes, but hell, I used to read Forbes Magazine and they had some people on there that I didn’t know what the hell they were doing. Would they make a mistake? You start to question it. And the other thing I do is . . . that’s my main way, and then the other approach is to learn to let the thought in and then breeze right past me, kind of like . . . a moving car. I don’t stop it and have a conversation with the person in the car, I just let it go right through. Meditation has helped with that second one. Actually with both.

Brett: Yeah, meditation, mindfulness is really great. Another challenge, sort of on the same line, that we have as online publishers, is people who comment on our articles. You have to deal with the trolls, or people who have a criticism, like ‘I’m disappointed in this article.’

Andrew: Right.

Brett: And then you have lots of people going, ‘No, this is awesome, I love this, it really helped me.’ And then you’ve got the one guy who’s like ‘You know, this really disappointed me.’ And you end up, if you’re not careful, you end up obsessing about why this one guy didn’t like it. What’s going on there? And you spend the rest of your day just ruminating over it and it makes you miserable. And you forget that, oh, wait, lots of other people enjoyed it. I don’t know. I know our brains are sort of designed to focus on the negative. We’re evolutionarily designed to do that, so it takes a lot of effort and work to counter that natural tendency we have to focus on the negative.

Andrew: It does, actually. It’s strange, you’d think that it wouldn’t be worth it, that it would just be natural, unless you are someone who really is crummy and then the voices in your head are clearly telling you something that is true, but everyone else shouldn’t have to do any . . . no, we all have to do work.

Brett: Yeah.

Andrew: You said it was expensive. So we’ve got $2,000 every three months for web hosting. What else? What other expenses do you have?

Brett: Over the years, we’ve actually brought in some writers, regular contributors, freelance writers. So that’s some money. We have an illustrator. I found this fantastic illustrator, his name is Ted Slampyak. He does these really cool vintage looking illustrations, like you’d find in an old comic book or an old Popular Mechanics. I was like, we’ve got to have that on our site. So we create content with him, and that’s an expense. We recently hired an assistant to help us manage the workload, so there’s an expense there. Mail, like the store, there’s expenses with the online store. What are some of the other expenses? Web design, now. I don’t do the web design anymore, I actually hire someone who knows what they’re doing to do that. So there’s an expense there. You pay for services that help the site. You pay for SEO services every now and then to help you optimize your site so you perform better in search engines. There’s Google Business, that’s how we do our email, through Google Business, there’s an expense there. You don’t think about that sort of thing. What are some of the other expenses that we’re facing lately? Taxes. Business taxes. I never thought I had to pay business taxes when I was starting it out as a hobby. I was like, oh, this will just be a hobby, and I’ll make barely enough money that I’d have to report it to the IRS. But now, you’re a business, and you’re bringing in lots of revenue, and you have to pay [??] and that’s an expense that a lot of people don’t think about. You have to take that into account when you’re budgeting and looking at what you have available. So that’s another one as well.

Andrew: You mentioned search engine optimization. How big a piece of your traffic is that?

Brett: Most of our traffic comes from Google searches, and we’re fortunate enough to rank really high in highly searched terms. Google ‘how to tie a bow tie’, and I think we’re number one right now. Or ‘how to unclog a toilet’. I think we’re number one for that as well. ‘How to jump start your car.’ It’s a big thing. I’ve talked to some SEO professionals, consultants who know what they’re talking about. I pay for those type of services, but mainly I do most of it myself now. I had to learn about search engine optimization. There’s another thing I had to learn how to do when I started the site. I had no idea what it was when I started.

Andrew: What do you need to do as a blogger using WordPress? Doesn’t WordPress pretty much take care of everything for you, you just need to use the right headings and URLs?

Brett: Yeah, I use Thesis for The Art Of Manliness right now. Thesis gives you the option where you can have your . . . the headline that everyone sees on the article, right? So if we do an article, take ‘How To Unclog a Toilet’. Originally it was called ‘How To Unclog the Toilet Like a Plumber’. I wanted to make sure that the focus when people search, they see ‘how to unclog a toilet’. That was one I was SEOing for. So the SEO title was ‘How To Unclog a Toilet’. The description is ‘How To Unclog a Toilet Like a Plumber’, blah blah blah tips, and then the keywords we focus on is ‘how to unclog a toilet’. I write for the audience. I don’t do this weird stuff like writing in robot prose that’s obviously rigged for search engines. I write for the audience first, and then we’ll go back later and tweak it a little bit so it’s a little more search engine friendly.

Andrew: I see. That makes sense. Where do you learn this stuff?

Brett: Search engine optimization, the Mozscape?

Andrew: SEOMoz?

Brett: Yeah, SEOMoz, SEOWall, I had to go to those places and read their free stuff, and I’d buy an ebook every now and then to see if it would help me. I take what I can, and once I feel like I’ve learned enough that I need, then I’ll unsubscribe to the service, and keep going onward and upward.

Andrew: It does taste a little grainy, and I think that’s because it’s infuses with, let’s see, alkaline fulvic trace mineral infused water. It’s decent. It’s a little spooky, though, because it’s black.

Brett: Yeah, it is kind of creepy.

Andrew: Talk about Seth Godin’s purple cow though, black water.

Brett: Yeah, people are like, ‘I want that black water.’

Andrew: Let me see what’s happening here. One last thing. Two last things, actually. There’s one fact about you that April somehow found. I guess you told her, I’ve got to ask you about that at the end. But first, how’s life different now? You’re a guy who went to law school, you’re no longer in law school, do you feel freer as an entrepreneur? What do you feel? How did you come out different because of this?

Brett: OK. Well, I’m not an attorney, that’s one thing. I graduated from law school. I was earning enough by the time I graduated law school that I could do this site full time and eke out a decent living. We were barely getting by. But I didn’t take the bar exam, because by the time I finished law school, I was like, law is not for me. I’m never planning on being an attorney. And that was a tough thing to tell my parents. ‘Yeah, I’m not going to take the bar exam, I’m going to be a blogger.’ That was hard for them to stomach, I think. I come from a government employee family. They’re used to the idea that you get a job, you stick with that job for 30 years, and then you retire. So being an entrepreneur was sort of surprising for them because they’d never had to experience that. So what’s it like now, as an entrepreneur? Do I feel free? In some ways yes, but in a lot of ways no. When you’re an online publisher like we are, the blog is a hungry beast. People are always looking for content. So you feel like you have to write something all the time. And so, yeah. It’s hard. We’re trying to get down the work-life balance. How do you make time for enjoying life.

Andrew: When you work with your wife, your wife’s your co-founder, right?

Brett: Yeah. Yeah.

Andrew: That means that when you guys are away, do you have to force yourself to have conversations that don’t involve the site and the business?

Brett: Yeah. We do that. Our thing is, we have different things that we like to read online. So it’s like, at dinnertime, we’re like, OK, what did you read today that’s not related to the blog. Did you read anything cool in the New York Times? Or did you read anything cool on Forbes, or whatever. So that’s kind of how we have those conversations. That’s for little games. What did you read today? And we’ll have conversations from that. Yeah, you’re right. Most of our conversations end up being about the blog in some way or another.

It’s OK, I don’t know what else people would talk about. Talk about the TV show they watched or talk about the [??] or whatever.

Andrew: Right. [laughs]

Brett: So it’s like I get to talk about, OK, what’s the article we’re going to publish for tomorrow. Taking time off, that’s been tough. People think that oh, you can blog from anywhere. It’s true, you can. But it’s hard to be away from it completely. This summer we went to Vermont for 10 days and rented a house. We had basically stopped publishing for a week, because it would just be too much to keep producing content.

In order for us to actually have a vacation and enjoy ourselves and get away from everything, we just shut down the blog once a week. We actually turned that into a regular thing. We try to take a one-week break every few months. Do the Daily Show, Colbert Report thing where they’ll go on vacation for a week and then come back. We try to do that as well, that’s helped out a lot.

Andrew: I can understand why. I do that here at Mixergy. All my interviews are Tuesdays and Wednesdays so that I can take a little bit of space from having these kinds of work conversations. Your a fan of Mixergy. What do you get out of watching these interviews?

Brett: Well, what I found useful with Mixergy, I’m a paid subscriber. If it (?) with the blog, is the business aspect of it. Right? There’s all these blogs and websites out there on how to build a blog. Here’s what you do to build an awesome blog and get traffic. But what they don’t tell you is, OK, now you have this traffic. You have this revenue coming in. How do you handle the business side of it. Right? That was something I had no experience in. That’s what I found useful with Mixergy. Establishing systems.

Learning about virtual assistants. I didn’t know anything about that. That sort of thing, I found Mixergy useful for. Because there really aren’t a lot of websites out there that explain to creative entrepreneurial types, OK, you have this great idea, you’re doing awesome things, but here’s how you do the business part. People don’t think about that when they start these cool, creative projects. They don’t think about the business side, and that’s a really, really important part.

Andrew: No, they don’t. Even I didn’t here at Mixergy. And I like to think about the business part of everything. But it’s strange, when you’re passionate about something, you just think of it as different from business. And you [crosstalk] all those issues.

Brett: Exactly. Exactly.

Andrew: Well, speaking of Mixergy Premium, I should quickly say that if you’re a Mixergy Premium subscriber, and you’ve enjoyed this interview as much as I have, I’m going to suggest you do your own interviews. I’ve got a course there where I walk people step-by-step through the process that I use to do these interviews. You can see how to do the video side-by-side if that’s what you want to do. You can get advice for what to do to record your interviews. It’s all available at mixergypremium.com.

It’s one of many courses that will teach you how to get started, and if you’re already a premium member, it’s there for you. A premium member like Brett, and if you’re not, I hope you join by going to mixergypremium.com.

Brett, thank you for being a member. It’s the reason I can continue to do this. We’re never going to have a huge audience, I’m never going to be a big fan of advertising, but the members are what keep things going. It would allow me to have a pre-interviewer, it would allow me to have someone who researches, so that the audience knows, yeah, this is not just someone who Andrew likes. We’ve researched him and there’s a real business here. There’s truth in the story. So, thank you.

Brett: You’re welcome.

Andrew: So, final question is this. Some people think you’re not supposed to talk about this, but you’re a Freemason.

Brett: I am a Freemason.

Andrew: What does it mean to be a Freemason?

Brett: So Freemasonry is one of the oldest fraternal organizations in America and in the world. I actually joined Free Mason because of the blog. We do, I do a lot of, you’ve written a lot of articles about a lot of these famous, historical figures and one thing I found, a common thread, is a lot of them were Freemasons. So, I was like, you know I’m checking this out. You knew a little, I knew little bit about Freemasonry from American history and watching the History Channel and watching, what’s that movie called, ‘National Treasure’, right? And I wanted to found out, like what it is about Freemasonry so I joined it and it’s fantastic. It’s been a great experience. It’s basically; it’s a group of guys who have the same goal of becoming better men, right? It’s all about being men of virtue. That’s the whole purpose of Freemasonry and we’re all there to help each other in that aspect. And it’s just cool to be part of an organization that like, George Washington was a part of, Teddy Roosevelt was a part of, you know all these famous, cool guys that I admire. It’s just cool to be part of that tradition. And just once month I go hand out with these guys. We talk philosophy and then afterwards we have dinner and drinks and its great. I love it.

Andrew: How does one become a Freemason?

Interviewee: To become one you ask one. So if you know, just find a Freemason. If there’s a lodge, look up a lodge, for a lodge in your area and that’s, go in and say, “Hey I’d like to become a Freemason,” and then that’s what you go. So yeah, I mean, Freemasonry, we don’t proselytize, like we don’t tell people, “Hey, you should come and join.” We want people who actually are guys because it’s a male only organization. We only want men who want to be there, right? Who are fully drawn to it. So yeah, if you want to become one check out your local lodge. Every city usually has a lodge.

Andrew: Yeah, I can’t imagine any major city without one. And even many of the smaller ones do.

Brett: Yeah, those small towns, you walk in and says, “Welcome to Small Townville.” You’ll see the Freemason sign there.

Andrew: Well, it’s so cool for me to get to meet you. I’ve been checking out Art of Manliness for a long time. As I told you before we started out the interview, I discovered you on Hacker News. And it was so cool to see something that just spoke to me, apart from technology and business, on a website where I go to just be immersed in technology and business. Well, to hear this interview and hear me talk about this site, I don’t think is enough. Just go and check out, if you guys are listening, just go to Artofmanliness.com and you’ll either feel it or you won’t. And if you don’t, check out the articles. I think that you’ll see the value of it but instantly you’ll either feel it or you don’t. And it’s great to see the person whose put that feeling together and to hear how he did it.

And for everyone who’s watching another thing I suggest, if you got any value out of this interview, and I know I did, find a way to say “thank you”. I was just talking to Adam Gilbert who was on Mixergy awhile back, the founder of My Body Tutor, wants to help people be fit and he shows them how to lose weight and put on muscle. And he says, he started telling me about the people who thanked him; including sending me an email that someone forwarded him. A long email with passion, with details, about how moved and helped they were by Adam. And, none of us get those kind of emails on a regular, maybe you do, but we all love getting those emails. We all feel good about it. Adam to the extent that he actually showed it to me. So what I’m suggesting is if you got anything of value out of this, find a way to say thank you to Brett. If you got anything of value out of any of my interviews find a way to say it to the guest. But, God knows [inaudible] or with Brett, so you must’ve gotten something. I hope you find a way to do what I’m about to do which is say, thank you for doing this interview.

Brett: Well thank you for having me, it’s been a pleasure.

Andrew: Thanks. It’s good to meet you and thank you all for being a part of it. Bye guys.

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  • http://SonicTruths.net Christopher Sutton

    I love the Art of Manliness site – and for that reason alone I was excited to hear this interview… but it turned out to be such a valuable one, both in the practical tips and insights on running a successful site, and the more psychological/emotional side of being the human representative of such a popular blog.

    Loved it, and got great value from listening to it.

    Thanks!

  • RMRStyle

    Great to see Brett on your show Andrew – two of my favorite website’s coming together in one interview. Solid interview – I like how you all focused on the details of what it takes to run the site and the pressure of living up to people’s expectations.

    Keep up the great work! – Antonio

  • Arie, Community Manager

    Antonio–great to hear.

  • Arie, Community Manager

    Thanks Christopher. Was there anything that was especially helpful?

  • http://SonicTruths.net Christopher Sutton

    On the practical side, I particularly enjoyed hearing about the inspiration for and genesis of the site, and the learning process of figuring out how to build up and monetise and engage a devoted audience.

    The psychological side I referred to was how Brett reconciles his own ongoing learning with acting as an authority on the site – not necessarily an easy line to tread.

    And overall it was a great interview because Brett clearly loves what he does and cares about doing it well – it’s great to hear how he’s been rewarded with such success for that.

  • http://twitter.com/yaelwrites Yael Grauer

    Great interview. I really love the Art of Manliness. My fiance told me about it once he started buying old school shaving implements, and I’ve been sneaking a peek every now and again. I’ve even made my very own manly bar of soap. (Shhh! Don’t tell!)

    As a writer, it was cool hearing Brett’s ongoing blog research process.

  • aboer

    Interesting interview. Nice job.

  • Doug

    Really enjoyed the interview. You mentioned moving from Adsense to other networks that gave you more revenue. Were you able to do this prior to having 1 million monthly uniques (which is a requirement for some networks – isocket, etc.)? My educational site has ~400k monthly uniques and I’d love to get off of adsense. Just wondering if there was a network you had a good experience with that works with sites of that size (while we’re on our way to 1MM monthly uniques :-)

    Thanks again for doing the interview.

    Doug

  • Arie, Community Manager

    Yes!

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Doug, interesting question. I sent it to Brett.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Thanks.

  • Brett McKay

    Hi Doug-

    There are a few ad networks you can sign up with before you have 1 million monthly uniques. Look into Lijit and Tribal Fusion. Both have CPMs that are bit higher than adsense.

  • http://twitter.com/nichestartups Roy Davis

    Great example of someone with a clever idea and no experience turning a simple blog into a successful business, one solved problem at a time. Thx for sharing Brett.

  • http://websimon.eu/ webSimon

    I wonder if Brett has considered moving all the images to a service like flickr. As they are investing heavily in illustrations, maybe they could cut hosting expenses and build additional image focused audiences, which could lead to links.

  • chris hohenstein

    I think this was my favorite interview on Mixergy. I can totally relate to Brett in many ways. Starting my own sites, I had to learn everything much like he did. I think you get more out of it when you learn how to do it yourself, at least from a personal satisfaction point of view.

    Anyway, thanks Andrew for the continuous flow of amazing interviews!

  • Arie, Community Manager

    That’s very true.

  • Rob Rawson

    I think this is interesting because it’s a strategy that other founders can copy in other areas. There are hundreds of magazines, you can come out with a blog in the same topic area with a fraction of the costs and earn a decent living. Hard work though, it’s basically like being an editor in chief for a magazine.

    I’m also wondering how to transition from Blog formats to people who read on their ipad? I digest most of my content on my ipad on flipboard for example, wondering how this type of business is affected by that (as in the Blog is disrupting the magazine, but is there something else that will disrupt the blog?)

  • Arie, Community Manager

    Good question Rob–I’ll try to get an answer for you.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Jason L Baptiste’s OnSwipe seems to be doing that. Check it out: http://onswipe.com

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Flickr’s guidelines on photo hosting mean that every time you use their site to host a photo, you’re basically advertising their service.

    Here’s one section of their guidelines:
    Do link back to Flickr when you post your Flickr content elsewhere.
    Flickr makes it possible to post content hosted on Flickr to other web sites. However, pages on other web sites that display content hosted on flickr.com must provide a link from each photo or video back to its page on Flickr. This provides a way to get more information about the content and the photographer.

  • http://websimon.eu/ webSimon

    We trash our pages with all kinds of widgets from social networks with questionable return-on-layout-destruction, but bother when linking images? :D

    But it’s true, the cons of using flickr would be that you lose your image search traffic and you have to link the images to the flickr page. The pros are that you cut your hosting expenses and build an additional audience.

    It’s a tradeoff, but Breet could look at his Analytics stats and do the equatation. Especially with Googles new image search in place, which reduced click throughs, I am not sure if self-hosting is still the way to go with large amounts of images.

    Just thought you shouldn’t see your costs as god-given but always look for ways to cut them.

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