This is the story of a stay-at-home mom who built a profitable business by teaching.
Laura Berg is the founder of My Smart Hands, which teaches sign language for babies.
Laura built up her reputation and got a huge following when she started posting how-to videos on YouTube.
She continued to teach through books, flashcards, videos and other educational material, which she sells on her site, MySmartHands.com
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Laura Berg, My Smart Hands
Laura Berg is the founder of My Smart Hands, which teaches parents and caregivers sign language for babies.
Andrew: Hey there freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart. Today I’ve got a story for you about a stay at home mom who built a profitable business by teaching.
Laura Berg is the founder of MySmartHands which teaches sign language for babies. Laura built her reputation and developed a huge following when she started posting how to videos on YouTube. She continued teaching through books, flashcards, videos, and other educational materials which she sells on her site mysmarthands.com.
I invited her here to hear her story, and the whole thing is sponsored by Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. He is the startups’ lawyer, and I’ll tell you more about him later. But first, Laura, welcome.
Laura: Thank you for having me.
Andrew: I said huge. I don’t know that that even communicates how big your audience is. How many views would you say you’ve gotten on YouTube?
Laura: About 25,500,000 now.
Andrew: Wow. One of your videos got 4,000,000 views?
Laura: Yes. I have a couple with 4,000,000 now.
Andrew: Can you make money from that, just posting videos on YouTube?
Laura: I do at this point. I mean with 25,000,000 views that’s when you start making the revenue. In the beginning, not a lot, but yeah now definitely.
Andrew: Because YouTube pays you?
Laura: Well, the ads that pop up or run before, that’s how I make my money.
Laura: And then of course I do other things like brand sponsorship and whatnot. I might work with a brand to review a product or what have you now just because of that whole social influencer world that I’m in.
Andrew: I see. So, they pay you to try out their products and do a video about them.
Laura: Yeah, potentially.
Andrew: I’m on your website on this computer over here, mysmarthands.com. I see just one tab that seems to sell anything. The rest are about learn, teach, play, et cetera. But, the shop tab has the baby signing Bible, music, videos, flashcards, baby signing apps. What percentage of your revenue comes from these types of products as opposed to the YouTube videos?
Laura: I think it’s probably… I might make about 10 percent, 15 percent on YouTube…
Andrew: Okay, I see.
Laura: …and the rest are just divided. I really structured my company in a smart way as far as having a number of different products that generate revenue and really make money while I sleep, like the apps, which is every entrepreneur’s dream.
Andrew: You told me before we started that at this point the business is just up and running and working on its own essentially. How many hours a week would you say you spend on it now?
Laura: I don’t spend a lot on MySmartHands anymore because I’m fortunate enough to have an amazing team who has taken over doing the stuff that I really don’t enjoy doing any more day to day. I still work on the creative. I do videos to continue to upload them to YouTube. I might work, you know, maybe ten hours a week on My Smart Hands.
Laura: Maybe some weeks more, some weeks less.
Andrew: And now Laura Berg Inc. is where you do consulting. What kind of consulting do you do?
Laura: I mainly do YouTube consulting for brands and entrepreneurs who want to really use YouTube effectively to get their brands up and running.
Andrew: This is amazing, because you talked to our producer April Dykeman and you told her that you never felt that you were… Actually, you felt you were shy and you never felt that you were a business person. You worked at a lemonade stand as a little girl. What was that experience like?
Laura: No. I was actually saying that I never had any entrepreneurial sort of spirit…
Laura: …in me. I didn’t run a lemonade stand, but my daughter has that in her now. I think it’s…
Andrew: I see.
Laura: …growing up around me now being an entrepreneur that’s giving her that spirit. But, no, I was as a kid just absolutely painfully shy. There’s no way I would’ve run a lemonade stand.
Andrew: So then what were you doing just before you launched?
Laura: I was a teacher.
Andrew: You were a teacher.
Andrew: What were you teaching?
Laura: I taught grade eight, home room.
Laura: I love teaching. To be honest with you, I was just going to teach a few baby signing classes in order to make enough money to stay at home with my daughter until she went to school. Then, the plan was to go back to teaching. I never sort of imagined my business would grow into this internationally recognizable brand that it has become. I always refer to myself almost as an accidental entrepreneur, but now I’m really a killer entrepreneur.
Andrew: I know. You’re good at it. You’re really good at it…
Andrew: …I want to know how you got good at it.
Laura: I really love it.
Andrew: Did you just start posting videos… What got you to start posting videos I think is a better way to ask that question.
Laura: Right. Well, what happened was when I started my business, I would talk to people about baby sign language, and I would have people say, “Oh, I’ve heard of that idea.” They’d not actually seen a baby signing. And so I thought, my daughter was a great signer, I could use that video to show people what babies can do, post it on my website. Hopefully it’ll generate some traffic and interest. And little did I know that it would become what it is today.
So what happened is when I posted that video on YouTube, just as a way to get people to understand what babies are capable of, I had people start emailing me and asking me if they could become an instructor in my program, or if they could take a class in another city.
Andrew: Just from that video. They saw you teaching your daughter, and they said, “How do I teach this? How do I learn it?”
Laura: Exactly. Exactly. And so when people started coming to me and saying, “I want to teach for you,” or, “I want to take your classes,” I thought, this could be so much bigger than what I initially thought.
Andrew: What did you initially think it was going to be?
Laura: I literally was going to teach classes out of my living room until my daughter was of school age, and then I was going to go back to teaching.
Andrew: I see. The way that some moms might teach piano to kids after school. It was that kind of side business, is why you posted the video.
Laura: Yeah. Exactly.
Andrew: Okay. And did you have a system for teaching it? A lot of people are really good at doing something, but they don’t know how to structure it in a way that others can learn it. Did you have a system?
Laura: Right. I did, luckily, because, you know, with my educational background, I’ve created a lot of curriculums in my time.
Laura: So this was really easy for me. But when I was doing it just on my own in my living room, I had a little bit of a structure that I could follow, but nothing formal. So that’s when I had to really step back and create something formal that other people could easily follow and teach my program.
Andrew: How do you create a system that allows other people to easily follow it?
Laura: I did it with videos. So I took videos of me teaching classes, and then I cut in just me commenting about why I was doing each stuff in my classes. So it was a really easy step-by-step guide for my instructors to be able to follow.
Andrew: But you were, at that point, already teaching at home sign language to other moms. I see. So by teaching it to them, you could see what was working, what they didn’t understand, what was a little too fast, what was too slow. And then you had a class that you could videotape. You created a video of that with you in between, explaining what was going on. And that’s the first product that you made.
Laura: Yes. Exactly.
Andrew: Wow. And how did you sell it?
Laura: Well, I just started with one instructor who showed interest in teaching the classes, and then I made a formal manual, a class manual. I also made a CD of kids songs that are unique to My Smart Hands that teach the signs that we teach each week, put them in a song so parents can sing and sign them at home with their little ones.
Luckily I’m married to a music producer, so that was really easy to produce for me. And then I would put that package together. So then whenever an instructor teaches a class, they buy that manual for each parent in the class as a take-home and keep for when it’s over.
And so that’s really how I make my money in my programs, is the instructors, when they run a class with 10 parents, they buy 10 manuals and CDs from me.
Andrew: I see. And then they also had to take training in order to get certified, right? To teach.
Laura: Exactly. So all my instructors have formal ASL training outside of me. They have to have a formal ASL class. And then they take the My Smart Hands training, and then they take an online test that I’ve created, just to make sure that they understand the curriculum and they can demonstrate that. And then they pass a test and they become certified with me.
Andrew: Are you certified in American Sign Language, ASL?
Laura: Yes. I have my degree.
Andrew: And you were before you started teaching your daughter.
Laura: Yes. I took it as my second language in teacher’s college, and just fell in love with it.
Laura: Taking courses.
Andrew: So what about this? I understand the trainers have a certification in ASL. But now you’re creating your own certification. You’re just a mom at home. Didn’t you feel like an imposter, or, like, maybe, who are you to certify other people in this? I would have hesitation.
Laura: Well, you know, there has to be a groundbreaker in every field, right?
Laura: So why not me? I have my Master’s of education, so I felt somewhat qualified as an educator to be able to train other educators. And if not me, who else?
Andrew: What about the shyness that you had as a girl? Did you break yourself of it before you got into business? Or was each step helping you chip away at that shyness?
Laura: I got out of my shyness, really, when I became a teacher. I remember the first day of class. I went through teacher’s college, and the first day that I had to go into my teaching practicum, and standing up in front of class with my heart palpitating, and thinking, I’m so shy. What am I doing in this teaching profession [laugh]. It was awful, but I got over it quickly.
Andrew: How did you know it would go, by the way, just doing these videos I’m very shy too. Just having to do these videos every day got me so much more comfortable talking to people, being on camera, letting go of a statement I said that’s a little ridiculous, or that I’m not especially proud of, and just continuing. It’s so helpful to just do it over, and over, and over again.
Laura: That’s right.
Andrew: How did you know what to put into the certification?
Laura: It was just for me. Do the instructors know what they’re teaching? I put in the videos that assigns that were in the program, specifically.
Andrew: I saw the video that you put up with your daughter, the one got over 4 million views. It seemed like, I don’t know sign language at all. I thought that you were making up a few signs just for her, right? Like, cheerios wan an O? Well, maybe that’s . . .
Laura: That was one of the only ones we really did because we call them Os.
Andrew: I see. The rest were all straight up ASL signs?
Laura: That’s right.
Andrew: Gotcha. I see. That’s why kiwi, why’d you use, why did you have her sign the letters for kiwi?
Laura: Well, there’s no sign for kiwi.
Andrew: There isn’t a sign for kiwi?
A: No, not that I know of. There may be one one day. I [??]. When I first started learning ASL there was no sign for avocado, but it seemed like there was this big surge of moms feeding their babies avocado, so, now there is a sign for avocado. There’s no sign for kiwi and I just did K-I-W- I. Then she’d just do this with hers hands. It was rather cute, but she understood there was different letters that she was trying to make with her hands.
Andrew: The first version had clip art.
Andrew: What did you use clip art for?
Laura: For the manuals that I was handing out in my classes. I just bought an ASL clip art program, and put them together, and gave them to the parents. Literally, I just printed them off on my printer, and handing them sheet by worksheet. Then I realized that I can’t use clip art to sell.
Andrew: Why not?
Laura: It was a licensing thing. They didn’t allow it for profit.
Andrew: Oh, I see. It wasn’t even about the design. You just realized that your license for this clip art did not allow you to create products that you were selling.
Andrew: Got it. OK. Most people would’ve just ignored it and said, all right, I’m just starting out, but you decided to do what instead?
Laura: I took, it feels like millions of pictures, of kids signing and put a manual together that was mine.
Andrew: Okay. Did you have to get permission slips from parents, or anything? You did?
Laura: Yeah. Luckily, I was working in a school and a lot of my colleagues had kids that were also in the school. After school we just sat around the school yard. Everyday we’d maybe do 10 signs per kid. It was really quite easy to do. [??] It was really not that easy to do, but it wasn’t as hard as going to find tons of kids, getting tons of permissions signed.
Andrew: I see. They were there. You had them take pictures. How did you bind this thing? Did you go get a publisher? What did you do?
Laura: No. In the beginning I just had them Xeroxed. Then I would bind them at home. Then as my business grew I then had to get them more professionally printed, but still Xeroxed. So, the cost of each manual was very expensive because it was all color pictures. As my business got even bigger then I went to press and I did printing.
Andrew: How did the business get bigger? Now I understand the product. I understand how you built it. You still need to find people who are going to be interested enough in this to want to pay to be certified and to learn to be certified. Then students for them to teach. How did you get that?
Laura: I really think it’s YouTube that helped build my brand and get recognized. People would see my program and they’d want to take the class because I created it because they had that sense of connection with me as a mom. They saw me and my daughter online on the videos. I was a real person. That really helped grow my brand where I’m connecting with other moms.
Andrew: So, just putting it out there on YouTube?
Andrew: Now that you have more experience, and you’ve seen people put stuff out on YouTube that doesn’t go anywhere. Others put stuff out that just takes off. Do you have a sense of why yours took off?
Laura: I think at the time, I started posting videos in 2007 so, really there weren’t the number of videos on YouTube at that point. YouTube was only a few years old. I got in early. At one point when you typed in baby sign language the whole first page was me. It was just all my videos. And now I’m scattered among all the other baby signing videos that are out there. So it’s really, I think, getting on the bandwagon first.
Andrew: I see. Do I have this right, that the teachers would find you, and- the teachers and the students would find you, and you would then match them up?
Laura: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: And how do you register them?
Laura: Well, I have an online system where they can go and find the instructor that’s in their area, and then each instructor has their registration that they handle personally.
Andrew: Let me go to that. So it’s on your site right now, I think it’s in the Learn section.
Andrew: That’s where if I want to learn it, there it is- “find a class”, I click the “find a class” link, and I’m taken to Canada, a list of all the States, and I can pick the ones that I want. And that’s how I find one of your instructors.
Andrew: Well. Alright. Who built the site for you?
Laura: I did.
Andrew: You did. Using? What platform?
Andrew: WordPress. Were you good at WordPress or was it just so easy that you can put it together quickly?
Laura: No, you know, as an entrepreneur, you just sometimes have to learn how to do things on your own and I love technology, I love figuring things out and learning new things. And so, in Toronto where I am, there’s an amazing course called “Ladies Learning Code” and it was specifically designed for women, to feel comfortable going into a room and taking a class and it was sort of like a crash course one day.
And so that’s really what I did, I learned how to do it because I wanted control. I didn’t want someone else to have control.
Andrew: Because there are sometimes little changes that you want to make, and you don’t want to wait for a developer to do it.
Andrew: Or a friend, or… to do you a favor.
Andrew: So I clicked on San Francisco where I happen to be right now, and that took me to mysmarthandswithlauren.wordpress.com. She’s one of your instructors, she created a site and now, if I want to learn sign language here, she’s the woman who I go to. That’s the way it works.
Andrew: And she’s certified by you. Is there one person per city?
Laura: Depending on the size of the city.
Andrew: So how did you know how to do that? I know from my notes on your conversation with April that, that was a question for you: do you franchise, do you do some other format? How did you pick this format?
Laura: Well, the people that were coming to me were typically moms, sometimes university students, sometimes women who already have a baby- centered business who want to add other programs. So these aren’t people who want to invest a lot of money into a really expensive franchise.
And so, it was easier for me to set it up where they run their own classes, and they market in their own areas- I give them support and marketing materials and whatnot but really they take control over that. And then all they have to do is order the manuals from me. It was an easy system for everybody involved.
Andrew: And do you have a way to keep them all talking to each other so they can help each other out?
Laura: Exactly. We have a form for just instructors, and we have a regional director who will touch base with everyone throughout the year and they know that if they need help, we’re here to help them. We have mentors. You know, we have a really good, solid team in place.
Andrew: So, I used to do interviews every single day and people got on me to hold back a little bit, and so now I’ve decided to do three week plus what we call a ‘course’- that’s four- I keep inching back up. I find that I learn more by doing a daily. I find that my audience grows more because every time I put a video out there, there’s another opportunity for someone to discover me.
Andrew: What did you find with video? Is it better to put more? Do you find that doing less is better?
Laura: Well, I think always doing more is better [laughs]. I was once doing three a week, and then I just got really busy doing other things, so now I do one a week consistently. I think consistency is the key when you’re uploading videos, because you get a fan base that knows to expect them- ‘Oh every Monday Laura’s going to upload a new video’.
Andrew: How do you know what to add?
Laura: Uh, sort of depends on how I’m feeling or the content that I’ve already created, or questions that people have. So it really depends.
Andrew: So the questions would come in from just your website- I’m looking to see how people would pass them in to you. There it is, under the ‘Connect’.
Laura: So email’s- people you know, would email me and oftentimes I found people were asking the same questions over and over. And so having a video that answers those questions is really great because then if people email me I can just cut and paste the link into the email.
Andrew: What’s one that you get a lot?
Laura: Um, how do you start signing? So, I mean, what signs do I begin with? My baby’s not talking, is it too late to start signing.
Andrew: I see. How do I get data on YouTube? Usually, if I had a guest like you sitting in front of me, most of your traffic would go to your website and I have a few sites that I go to, to check to see where you’re getting your traffic. How do I do that for YouTube people?
Laura: Social Blade is one that you can . . .
Andrew: [??], Social Blade.
Laura: Social Blade will track some stats, I think. Obviously, I have my analytics and my YouTube channel that I can track behind the scenes, but I think for somebody like yourself who’s trying to find people on YouTube is Social Blade is a good one.
Andrew: And really just get a sense to do my research, get a sense of where you’re getting your traffic, how you’re doing on it to see if I’m being lied to. I know I’m not with you, but I’d like to just really vet and I guess a whole lot.
Laura: I hear you.
Andrew: I’m so cautious. When you started out, were you cautious, were you watching the . . . were you making sure that everything you did was legal, formal, documented, contracted, etc., or were you just getting going and figuring it out later?
Laura: I was getting going and figuring out later.
Laura: I was really flying by the seat of my pants and taking opportunities and you know, I was very careful with legal aspects and just being respectful of copyrights like that whole [inaudible 00:01:30] thing.
Laura: But as far as I think, sometimes people can over think things to the point where they don’t do anything because they’re too busy thinking about doing it instead of actually doing it and . . .
Andrew: I can see that. I can see that someone would say, you know what? I don’t know if I’m allowed to legally certify someone, how do I go and . . . how do I go about figuring out how to get certified in certifying other people.
Andrew: Or I don’t know if I really learned how to do these videos well. I should go and learn how to do . . . how to teach sign language via YouTube and you know, just spend forever on it or I don’t know how to do web design. I’m looking at the early version of your site and it was just I guess, it was WordPress back then too, website by Smash Design. I needed to download QuickTime I think in order to watch some of the videos. It’s just really basic. You just got up and running.
Andrew: With no hesitation.
Laura: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Andrew: You did though get into and I hope we can talk about this, a lawsuit. What happened?
Laura: I got into business with one of my best friends and I think because we were such good friends we didn’t really talk contracts and . . .
Laura: . . . all of that stuff. We just kind of dove in and you know, it’s an interesting thing because now I always share this with people and I say, “it doesn’t matter if they’re your family, your friends, a stranger, no matter what, you need a contract in place and you need to have really set defined tasks and goals and duties that each person is going to perform.”
Andrew: What was the partnership back then like?
Laura: We just did . . . He made my app for me and we just split everything 50/50 and you know, I thought that was a great friend thing to do and you know and then moving forward, I wanted to change the terms not of the first one. The first one I always wanted to continue to pay him 50%.
Laura: He just, he wasn’t having any of that even though throughout the course of the partnership he had put a lot of road blocks in my way as far as marketing goes, using revenue earned to market our other apps and develop more and it was just constant no, no, no and not wanting to grow and expand that part of the business because he wasn’t as invested in MySmartHands as a whole and me really feeling like I was doing way more of the work and . . . and yet . . .
Andrew: I see and so you thought any future apps that [inaudible 00:03:59], I want to be able to do in another way maybe with other people and definitely with another split. He said, no, any other app that you create forever, I need a split of.
Andrew: I see and so what do you do when you have that kind of disagreement? Do you have to go to court?
Laura: Well, you know, it started off with really some terrible emails back and forth between us and then you know, he kept saying, oh, well I’ll legal action this and legal action that and so I got myself a lawyer just to protect myself and thinking that you know, he could maybe get a lawyer and we could just talk through our lawyers and as soon as I got a lawyer, he strapped me with a lawsuit.
Andrew: Wow! Oh, that’s awful. It’s not just because of the damage that it does to your business, you know it’s a distraction, but also the feeling that now I would worry can I trust anyone.
Laura: It was awful because you know, I was friends with his wife. He was friends with my husband. Our children are friends. That was the part that was the hardest and me thinking you know, when we started this partnership, it was great and it was beneficial to him and you know, our apps sell. They sell a lot. Every month I’m writing him a check. We had a great relationship. When I wanted to…
Also, keep in mind when I had suggested doing an app, too, the app work was already done. He’d already made the design of the app, the coding and everything. So, when I suggested doing an app, too, the amount of work that he would have to do was this big compared to the amount of work that I was having to do, which meant going into the studio, hiring a studio, shooting all the videos, editing all the videos, continuing to grow the brand, promoting the brand.
I’m the figurehead of the brand. When I looked at that I thought the amount of time that it’s going to take you to build this app, too, it’s an easy thing. So, maybe 50/50 at that point isn’t fair. Fifty-fifty for the first one, always fair. That was the agreement. I’m happy to honor that agreement.
It’s funny, because I had a conversation with his wife about it. She’s like yeah, that makes total sense, of course. Looking at the proportion of work that everyone has to do…
Laura: Really, once the app was made and the videos were put in and it was in the market he’s just sitting back making residual income.
It’s funny, because he shot himself in the foot. We go through this nearly two year long lawsuit that was misery for both of us. It cost both of us lots and lots of money. Then, in the end he’s out of my life and he gets nothing further from me. His residual income was cut off once I wrote the settlement check to him.
Andrew: You ended up settling.
Laura: I did, because…
Andrew: You went through two years of paying lawyers, two years of all kinds of distractions, and then you still had to pay.
Laura: Yeah. In the end I thought you know what, I’m not able to advance my business whatsoever because if I were to produce a new app he’d suck it into the lawsuit.
Laura: It caused me a lot of sleepless nights and it just wasn’t worth the pain and suffering I was going through. When I looked at okay, even if we get to the end of this lawsuit five years from now and I win, he still only has to pay maybe half my legal bills. So, I’m still paying out way more and then my business is stagnated. I’m going…
Andrew: So it’s cheaper to settle than to be right.
Laura: It was. It was cheaper to settle. Exactly. You know what? In the end it was a great lesson learned for me. My business is thriving. I made another app and it’s in the market. I’m moving on. That settlement money, I’m going to make because residual income is still coming in for me. So, it wasn’t well thought out I don’t think on his part – which is unfortunate, which is [Inaudible 0:02:55] unfortunate.
Andrew: Actually, why don’t I just do a quick spot here for walkercorporatelaw.com. Scott Edward Walker is the startups’ lawyer.
You know what, Laura? Instead of me plugging Scott, maybe you can give us some advice for other entrepreneurs. How do we know where the line is for how much legal work we should get done and how much becomes too much? Because I would think a contract between friends when you’re just getting going, probably not worth it. Let’s just get that up and running and we’ll only do the legal stuff we have to. I’m learning that I shouldn’t.
Laura: Exactly. I mean we didn’t even do really a written contract between us, which we should’ve at least done. Now I personally recommend that people get themselves a lawyer for some things. Obviously, contracts are a good thing. But, even just like there’s online contracts, fill in the blank ones. At the very least having those in place…
Andrew: Okay. Alright. If you need a lawyer and you’re a startup entrepreneur, go to walkercorporatelaw.com. He’s not just paying me to drink out of a mug with his logo on it. I want to make sure that everyone knows about his firm and who it’s made for. Scott is the entrepreneur’s lawyer. If you need to contact him go to… Actually, here, email him at email@example.com.
Alright. One of the things that I’m curious about is I see how the business is structured. But, I also see that you’re the face of the business. You’re the spirit of the business. When that happens, how do you build a business that survives even if you don’t show up 80 hours a week? What kind of processes do you put in place to allow you to take some distance from it to work on other projects?
Laura: Right. This has been an interesting thing, because I’m in an entrepreneur group. A friend in the group just sold her business. We were just sort of talking about selling businesses. I jokingly said oh, you know, it would be great if somebody just took this off my hands and I could just retire, even though I love doing what I’m doing. And they said, you know, it’s going to be a lot harder for you because you’re the brand, you’re the face. So, yeah, that part is difficult in certain regards but beneficial in others because [??] helped me build the brand. I’m a person that people can connect with.
As I said, the running of the business, I’m having somebody do for me now. So the day to day, the intervening with the instructors, the shipping and all of that stuff whereas I’m doing the creative still. And I really love it. I love doing the videos and connecting with people that way.
Andrew: So the person who runs it, did you create some process for her or him to use to run the business, or did you say, “I’m not good at running things day to day. You figure it out for me.”
Laura: Yes. Pretty much the second one.
Andrew: The second one, really? So how did you find someone who could take over without systems, without you guiding them at first and just figure it out?
Laura: Well, it happened gradually actually. The person who took over was an instructor for me, and so she knew the system. She knew [??]. She knew how much money it takes to run, and then she had really great ideas. We had a conference and she ran a lot of the sessions at the conference. I was blown away. I just thought, wow, you can do this way better than I can do it because that’s not my strength.
So I think it’s about finding people who have strengths where your weaknesses might be.
Andrew: And running those small experiments almost of a working relationship.
Laura: Exactly. I mean, I still have really good communication with her, and I have the last say of things. But I really trust her, somebody that I really trust and admire.
Andrew: I remember it must be like three years almost, I did an interview with Ann Holland who ran a subscription site, Insider, and a bunch of other membership sites. Mostly it was her face that people were drawn to and her reputation that got them to pay. And for her to start to separate herself she said that she was cultivating other talent.
Other people who would go to conferences and speak, other people who would be on the site and write on the site, and that allowed her to get some distance. And since that interview I’m looking now in October, 2011, she sold the site. I didn’t even recognize the site by the time she sold it because she so moved herself out.
Andrew: I see that you’re still in all the videos. Is that a plan? Is that something that you’ve tried?
Laura: I haven’t thought of it too much now. I think what it is, you know what, if the time ever came that I did decide to sell my business which I don’t know if that time will come, I would have to work with the company to phase myself out, I think.
Laura: And then once I get older and maybe not as camera friendly, I’m hoping my daughter might even want to take over the business.
Andrew: Oh cool. I see. How old is she now?
Laura: She’s eight.
Andrew: She’s eight. Okay. So we’ve got some time.
Laura: I have her future all lined out for her, all mapped out.
Andrew: It also gives me a sense of how long you’ve been doing this. In the first video she was about a year old, right? So seven years you’ve been doing this.
Andrew: Wow. When you were doing it without help, did you have any processes that allowed you to run the business while without going crazy? I feel like sometimes Mixergy – well, maybe not any more – but it did for a long time drive me nuts.
Laura: Oh yeah, I know. It was hard.
Andrew: It was. Okay.
Laura: It was hard. Running a business, being an entrepreneur, it’s hard. But it was my passion and I was happy to do it because it gave me the life that I wanted to have.
Andrew: So inevitably when I do interviews with tech entrepreneurs, I will get emails from people who say, and it’s largely men because of the make-up of my audience, they say, “I have responsibilities. I have a full-time job. I have to bring money home. I have to spend time and want to spend time with my family afterwards. I’m worried about where I’m going to find the time to run a business.”
You did it. What advice would you have to parents out there who want to be entrepreneurs or who are and are worried about the time?
Laura: It’s hard. It is certainly hard. It means working after 8:00 when they’re in bed. It means possibly getting up early before they’re up which my children that wasn’t the case. They were always up before me.
I got a babysitter that would come in 12 hours a week to help so that I could dedicate, at least, 12 hours during the day to the business.
Laura: So it’s just fitting in time when you have it and not feel guilty.
Andrew: And not feeling guilty.
Laura: Yeah. I think too many of us feel guilty because we can’t find that balance, that workplace balance especially as an entrepreneur. But to let that go there’s no workplace balance. There just isn’t when you’re an entrepreneur.
Andrew: What do you mean? Give me an example of a time that it should’ve been balanced but work crept in.
Laura: Well, you know, sometimes my children will be at home, and I try to not be on the phone or not be on the computer or what have you. I’ll get home and I’ll check my email and something important and pressing came in. Then I’ll start just responding, and my daughter’s telling me a story about how her day was. Then, I’m feeling guilty because she’s trying to tell me about her day yet I’m concerned with answering this email. I’m thinking can this email wait 15 minutes so she can finish telling me that story.
But, instead of feeling guilty about it I say it’s going to happen from time to time, but for the most part I’m home. I’m around. I picked her up from school. So, not to feel guilty even though sometimes she really makes me feel guilty.
Andrew: She does.
Laura: Oh yeah. Sometimes she’s like I’m telling you a story and you’re on your computer. I just say well you know what, but I’m home. You friends, you know where they are? They’re at daycare, so stop complaining. It’s like she understands the life of an entrepreneur and she’s grown up with it.
Andrew: The 12 hours that you have someone come in to help, do you block yourself off at that point and set up some boundaries for the family to know that even though you’re home this is work time? Is there anything like that?
Laura: Yeah. I try. When my office door’s closed then I’m working. They’ve been really respectful of that. When my son was younger it was harder because he just wanted mommy, mommy, mommy. So, if he saw me then of course he wanted to come into the office and be with me. But, yeah, I try to have that set time. I’m paying somebody to come and take care of my kids so that I can work. So, I need to buckle down and do that work.
Andrew: Because you have someone there for a limited amount of time you know you have to push as much work through that time as possible.
Andrew: You’re not messing around on Facebook when that happens.
Laura: No, no. Well, not always.
Andrew: Yeah, we all get sucked into that.
Laura: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: We asked you in the pre-interview how does someone market themselves properly on YouTube. One of the things you said is to stop being concerned with the perfect video. Is that still true today when there’s so many high production videos out there?
Laura: I think so. Because number one, it just gets you comfortable. It gets you comfortable with your message, with making videos.
I look back at some of my older videos and they’re terrible. They’re just terrible. The lighting is off. They just don’t look good. But, what it did is it got me started.
Everyone says I want to. I want to do this. I want to do this. There are always excuses. Oh, my camera equipment’s not good enough. The sound doesn’t sound great. I don’t have editing skills. You know, stop saying well I’m not, I’m not good enough, I can’t because… Just do it. Just do it.
Andrew: Even if it’s out there forever and ever for people to see that you said something that was wrong, you made a mistake, you just have to get comfortable with it.
Laura: I think so, and you can always take videos down. I could take some of those older videos down if I wanted to. But, I don’t want to.
Andrew: Well… I know my audience. My audience is going to save them forever. I sometimes will watch them. Like, I’m watching ‘House of Cards.’ Don’t give anything away if you’re ahead of me.
Andrew: I can see how they use people’s past against them. I think it must’ve been something goofy that I said in an interview that after it was done I said I don’t feel that way. It just came out wrong. If I were ever to run for politics someone could use it against me. Even though I never want to run for politics, sometimes that’s in the back of my mind keeping me from opening up and talking and being natural.
Laura: I think you have to own what you say. If you say something that you didn’t mean or that came out wrong just own that, too. We’re all human. The whole thing about politicians doing something wrong, we’re human. It happens. To have that sort of confidence to say I own it because I did it and it was either wrong or came out the wrong way, whatever it may be… It’s so much better to take a chance, and take a risk, and to do things, and to live instead of being so concerned about breaking those egg shells.
Andrew: Yeah. What about comments? Speaking of egg shells, sometimes people will break them for you. You engage people in comments.
Laura: I do, yeah.
Laura: I like that communication. I like to have that connection. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t post every comment that comes in. There are some comments that can be mean and trolls that are out there just to get somebody’s feathers ruffled. I think connecting with people who are commenting is a good thing when you’re online when you’re in a public venue. Because they’re commenting to engage.
Andrew: But there are so many of them. You go in there. You don’t respond to all of them, but you respond to as many as you can.
Laura: Yeah. Three times a day I go on and respond to comments.
Andrew: Wow. Let’s see, what else? What about how you bring people from YouTube back to your site so that they can take a class in person or get a book as a follow-up. How do you do that?
Laura: Well, I have all my links from the descriptions to my website and I will annotate to them as well.
Andrew: Annotate within the video so that people can click, and you did that, I think, well maybe not early on but you added that later on…
Andrew: …to those old videos. What else? What else do we need to know if we’re going to try to build an audience for ourselves on YouTube today, not back when it was easier.
Laura: Right. It’s a lot harder now, just really key wording and tagging is important.
Laura: Even the titling of your videos is really important.
Andrew: Can you give me an example of a title that you used that we might not realize is done intentionally to get traffic or to get attention and not get buried?
Laura: It’s hard because in the beginning like I did baby sign language, cute signing baby was the big one whereas now baby sign language it’s such a search term that if I were to post a video that said baby sign language it might not get found.
So I might do funny signing baby laughs or something more unique in what people would search for. So baby sign language, there’s a million out there.
Andrew: I see it, cute baby signing. That’s the big one that I mentioned earlier. And from there in the comments There are music on iTunes, Cathy Pacific, my airline of choice for long haul travel linked to that. That’s an ad. It’s not directly related to it, but they’re seeing you have so much traffic that they trust you and they advertise there.
I didn’t even know that was possible. We love our space saver high chair. People have been asking so here it is. I see. I’ve never seen anyone do that. Within there when I see you responding to the top comment four weeks ago, that’s you sitting there. You don’t hire someone to do it. You, three times a day, will go in and respond. I see you also link back to your site which again I didn’t realize you could do.
Laura: That’s a new feature.
Andrew: Where are these people who would give this a thumbs down? Three hundred and fifty-three people.
Laura: Oh, I know.
Andrew: What are they expecting? Well, some people are actually saying the baby is not singing.
Andrew: Oh really?
Andrew: Oh I see. Because they’ve transposed the two letters. That’s where you can link them over to the other one where it’s ABC singing, right?
Laura: That’s right.
Andrew: Let’s see what else I want to know. What about creating products? How do you know which products to create next?
Laura: It’s really either a demand in the market with the customer saying, “Oh, it would be great if you have flash cards” so I created flash cards. That made sense to me because I have an instructor program there, you know, how to buy manuals. The parents are learning from us so we now have flash cards.
The apps were an easy thing because parents just want that accessibility on the go of signs they could use with their babies.
Laura: So it was just a need in the market.
Andrew: I saw earlier the – where was that – the videos. I go to the shop button and I click the videos and you sell it on minebites.com. [??] Why aren’t you just selling it on your own site? How did you pick them?
Laura: They actually contacted me and it’s really actually that’s what I first started out. I haven’t done any major new videos like that in a long time, but it was when I was first starting out.
Laura: And I just didn’t have the desire or the interest to set up a whole shopping system like that.
Andrew: It seems like for everything you use whatever tools are out there. If I want to buy the music I would buy it essentially from CD Baby. They power even a music store. If I go to – let me see flash cards. Let me see where that’s sold. Oh, that’s just PayPal.
Andrew: And PayPal will take their email address and send it – excuse me, their mailing address and send it to you.
Andrew: Keep everything simple. You don’t have developers, do you?
Laura: For the apps?
Andrew: Except for the apps, do you have developers?
Laura: For the apps, yeah.
Andrew: Just for the apps.
Andrew: Wow. Alright. Let’s see what else I want to ask. I think that’s everything here in my notes. Did I miss anything?
Laura: I don’t think so.
Andrew: What about this consulting you do for brands? What’s the biggest thing that you teach them that they need to know?
Laura: Well, the biggest thing is to just use YouTube effectively. There’s so many brands out there who are missing the boat, that it’s a free platform. I’ve seen major brands. If somebody wants to see an interesting brand, McDonald’s Canada is using YouTube effectively. They’re having conversations with their customers. They’re addressing rumors around their products.
Andrew: They’re fantastic. Yeah. They show what goes into the nuggets. They show how the burger looks the way it does in photos. They’re not holding back and saying, “Well, if we address this, then more people will be aware of this rumor.” They’re saying, “Well, we’re going to address it, we’re going to talk about it, and we’ll diffuse some of the problems around it.” What else? When you say that “Brands aren’t using YouTube well,” what mistakes are they making?
Laura: Well, I think it’s just non-engaging with the customers. Right now we’re in a very social age with all…you know, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and everything. Customers want to be social, and they want to know about you, and what better way to tell them about your brand, show them about your brand, show them about your service than video.
It provides such great content not only for you, not only for your website, not only for the viewers, but for bloggers who might want to talk about your product, and for media outlets that you might want to pitch. Media too. There’s so much that video does that text can’t do.
Andrew: Yeah, I know it. I mean I’m living in video and I get the power of it. Let me suggest this to anyone who’s watching who wants to go to the next level with me, or frankly, if you’re just curious about how to create something and sell it online, spy on me. Spy on me by going to MixergyPremium.com. Sign up for a premium membership, and when you do, you’ll see access to our full catalog of all the older interviews and courses taught by entrepreneurs.
We’ll show you how they create their videos, show you how they promote their videos, show you how they promote their videos, show you how they use content to bring in traffic orders and grow their business. All that and so much more. I hope you sign up to see those interviews and courses, but maybe you just want to sign up just to spy on me and see how is Andrew doing it. What is it that Andrew is doing to run a shopping cart? How does Andrew power his membership?
I think there’s a lot to learn from the way we’re doing it. If you want to go and learn from us, go to MixergyPremium.com and sign up. You’re now…how are you getting business from brands? You’re not…I see that your huge in the parenting community and the sign community. How are you getting brands to know about you?
Laura: It’s interesting because I started talking at conferences on using social media to brand yourself, specifically YouTube. I mean there are tons of people who speak on social media, there’s not a lot of businesses who speak about using YouTube to brand yourself, so it was sort of a niche market for me.
I started talking to entrepreneur blogger conferences, small business conferences, marketing conferences, and from there, people would come up to me and they’d say, “I really want to use YouTube, I don’t really know how. Do you mind if I ask you a question,” or “How do you do this?” One person said to me, “I want to pay you for your time. I want to pay you so you can tell me how to do this,” and I’m like “Oh, no, no. You know it’s fine. Just send me an email and I’m happy to help you.” They said, “No, I’d be more comfortable paying you.”
I thought, “You know what, I’m missing out on this huge potential audience because these people are standing there listening to me talk and sing the praises about YouTube and how to use it, and there’s not follow up service. People want to pay for that. They don’t want to ask you for a favor because they don’t know you well enough to ask for a favor, and so that’s really how I really started doing YouTube consulting, it came from my speaking engagements.
Andrew: I see it now, LauraBergInc.com, if anyone wants to try it out, or to get more details on it. Final question, what kind of revenue can you make, or what kind of revenue are you doing now because of all of this?
Laura: Well, it depends on what you’re doing and the number of views. If you think about it, I have my instructor network. I have apps. I have the flash cards. I have a book. I got a book deal that is published with Penguin New York, so as a Canadian, not having a U. S. deal was a big deal. Then…yeah. I’m making a good six figure income for sure.
Andrew: High six figures, over 500?
Laura: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Andrew: Oh, wow. Congratulations on doing so well. The shy girl who didn’t even sell lemonade now is engaging people three times a day on YouTube, posting videos of yourself, and really, I can see the impact that you’re having on people. Actually, this should be the final question. We shouldn’t end on money. We should end on a success story. You spoke with…where is this in my notes here. There was one person who…
Laura: I know exactly what you’re going to ask.
Andrew: You know, the boy who heard your video.
Andrew: There it is.
Laura: This is the story that I share often when I do my talks because I feel that people need to understand the impact that you can have with video. I never imagined that anything like this would happen, but when my video hit around 100,000 views, I got an email from a woman who had, at the time, he was two and a half. He’s autistic non-verbal, so life was very frustrating for them. He had never communicated with them other than having major temper tantrums and meltdowns.
Somebody suggested signing to her, so she Googled us, our video came up. He heard my daughter’s voice and he came in the room, and he sat and watched our video over and over for 45 minutes. At the end of the 45 minutes, he turned his mom and he started signing to her. She said, “It was the first form of communication I’ve ever had with my child, and I just want to thank you. You’re an angel to me.” I sat at my computer and bawled. I just bawled because I thought, “I never imagined that I could touch a life and make change like that.”
You know, and over the years, I’ve got so many emails from people that have had similar stories that I’m thinking, “If I didn’t take the time to put myself out there and make these videos, and make these connections that I wouldn’t have this sense of making a difference in the world.”
Andrew: That’s the same video that we see on MySmartHands.com right now. Laura, thank you so much for doing this interview.
Laura: Thank you so much for having me.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye everyone.
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