Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. It is, of course, home of the ambitious upstart.
It’s the place where I bring you interviews with entrepreneurs who come in to talk about how they built their businesses with the idea that by hearing other people’s stories, you won’t just be inspired, but you’ll pick up a couple of tips that you’ll be able to use yourself. The great thing about stories is that you don’t have to take notes. I know a lot of people love to take notes. I am one of those people too. You will learn more if you take notes. You don’t have to.
The stories themselves are meant to just be embedded in your head so that they become a part of you. The learnings that you get form these interviews become a part of your thought process and just make you a better entrepreneur. That’s our whole goal here at Mixergy. That’s why we have a team of people who pre-screen, pre-interview, who prepare to make sure that every guest here is available to do the best job possible.
The guest that I have with me right now is someone that I met on the podcasting cruise. We were–excuse me, I’m still recovering from a cold. We were just kind of hanging out on the cruise. He told me, “You know, Andrew, I did this thing where I built up a business getting a lot of press.” I was curious. How does a guy that I’ve never heard of get so much press?
He started telling me a little bit about it. I said, “Dude, you’ve got to come on Mixergy and talk about how you built your business getting all this press.” So, that’s what we’re doing here today. I want to find out how he got all this press, how it helped him build a business and about the business in general.
His name is Josh Elledge. He is the founder of SavingsAngel. SavingsAngel is a membership-based site that helps consumers cut their grocery bills in half. He has a new business out too. It’s called UpendPR. They help entrepreneurs like you, the person who’s listening to me, do your own PR by giving you agency-level tools and telling you how to use those tools and what to say to reporters. Basically what he’s trying to do with UpendPR is create a cheap PR agency. He’s using everything learned as a reporter before, having owned a newspaper before that, as the owner of SavingsAngel, where he gets a lot of press for his site.
This interview is sponsored by two great companies. The first is HostGator. Later on I’ll tell you how they’ll help you by hosting your website. And a service that will help you schedule calls with more of your customers or potential customers or partners, I’ll tell you more about them. They’re called Acuity Scheduling.
First, I’ve got to welcome Josh. Josh, good to have you on here.
Josh: Thank you so much.
Andrew: Josh, give me some of the names of the places–while I hit the cough button–give me some of the names of the places where you’ve been, where you’ve appeared.
Josh: So, we started all the way from my hometown newspaper where we originally launched the company in Holland, Michigan, went to the Grand Rapids Press, then started writing a regular column for them, started appearing on all the local TV stations in Grand Rapid, Michigan, swung over to Chicago and really started to climb that stair step of going from market to market until you find yourself having a national presence.
Andrew: What is the stair step thing that you’re talking about?
Josh: This is a really important principle. I think a lot of business owners want that big deal when it comes to PR. They’re like, “Oh, if you can just get me on Oprah, if you can just get me on the Today Show.” I can get you on Oprah or the Today show, but the problem is because you haven’t earned your way there, you’re going to pay a lot of money in order to get there.
The big deal in publicity is the accumulation of all the little deals. When you do all of these little deals and you work, you might be working with a small-time podcaster or a blogger or a YouTube person and you keep serving and you keep finding audiences to serve. The more you do that, the more you increase your worth, the more you increase your credibility.
One thing I know about producers, producers in TV, particularly as you get higher up into major market and national media, is that they’re very protective of their audience. They’re not going to let anybody through. So, they want to see that you’ve done your deal in the smaller markets.
Andrew: They want to see that you’ve been somewhere else.
Josh: Yes, you’re ready for that big time appearance.
Andrew: I see. So, that’s that stepping process that you go through. Okay.
Andrew: What’s the biggest media outlet you’ve been on?
Josh: So, I would say in Chicago, WGN Radio I’ve been on a few time, WLS Radio in particular where I had the opportunity of doing a 20-minute radio program. In that time, we really had to make sure that when you’re getting ready to do a major media outlet like that, your website is going to get slammed. So, we had to do a lot of preparation for that because we were doing more volume in sales in that 15-20 minutes than normally we would do in an entire month. So, it’s really, really huge. That one was big, really big for us in terms of sales.
But we’ve done national with a faith-based network. I think that was 48 radio stations at one time. But today, I write a syndicated newspaper column that’s every Tuesday. I’m in front of 1.1 million readers. Twice a month I’m in 55 cities with Gray TV with a consumer savings TV segment.
Andrew: Okay. All right. And this is where you’re getting all your customers. You’re not buying ads. I see actually that you do have some links coming in. I did a Similar Web search for you. You’re getting some links from outside sites, right?
Josh: Would that be other blogs?
Andrew: Yeah, it looks like it.
Josh: Oh, yeah. They either have said something nice about us–we had an affiliate program for some time. But today, really it’s all organic. Andrew, I actually really like this system a lot better because I can focus on just giving and serving audiences without having to play sales tug of war with audiences. I just focus on the more value you give audiences, the more they’re going to appreciate that and as a result, your know, like and trust factor goes up and people just want to do business with you because they want to reciprocate because of the value you’ve already given them.
Andrew: All right. I want to learn how you did it. Let’s understand just one thing about what the business is and then come back to how you built it up.
Andrew: You’re not a coupon site. In fact, I told you before it started, I asked you about it and you said, “There are lots of coupon sites online. We do something a little bit geekier.” What is it you do that’s so different?
Josh: Yeah. I have a background as a nerd. Any time I can overcomplicate something–I’m ambitiously lazy. So, if I can do a little bit of work in the beginning and then long-term save myself some time, that’s kind of the approach we took to SavingsAngel. It’s very labor intensive, what we do, but it makes sense.
So, what we do is we index, when the ad comes out for any grocery store, we index that ad. We have a database of everything that store sells. We know the historical data for sale prices. Then we also have a huge data base of coupons, probably the most complete database on the internet.
So, our team then goes through ad and will search for each item for every matching coupon, add those matching coupons to that deal. And then what we’re able to do is we’re able to rank in order the absolutely scientifically best prices on anything at that store and put them all the way from best deal to not worth your time. What’s cool is it helps us reveal free groceries on a regular basis.
Andrew: You mean literally free groceries?
Josh: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Andrew: Because I stack a couple of coupons and I end up with… I see. Okay. This is all done manually. It’s all just on a simple WordPress site with some membership software, right? More than that?
Josh: Yes and no. Part of it. There is a front end that is WordPress that we added after the fact. But you and I were talking earlier. Unfortunately, I have nine-year old software that powers some of the website. Unfortunately, we’ve kind of had to piece things together, but sometimes that’s how it goes when you’re just kind of, it would be very costly for us to migrate some of the older pieces, but it works.
Andrew: How much revenue does this business make?
Josh: what’s that?
Andrew: How much revenue does the business make?
Josh: So, our best year was 2011. That was a seven-figure year. That was more than $1 million in that year. We were having six-figure months. The reason we did so great that year was because of “Extreme Couponing.” So, we don’t make quite that much money right now. In fact, we make quite less, but it’s a great lifestyle business. We employ about 15-20 people. We’re profitable. Whereas a lot of our competitors have come and gone, I think we have focused on delivering more value for free.
Andrew: Extreme Couponing is a TV show?
Andrew: I see. So, this aired in around 2010, December 2010 was the first episode and that’s what got people really excited about couponing in general and as a result, that lifted up your business and so you did over $1 million in sales. Now do you do over $500,000 in sales a year?
Josh: Between year to year, I’d say $300,000 to $400,000.
Andrew: Okay. And the whole idea came to you when you were looking at your income and you said, “We’re not making enough money,” and you started reading a book called “Richest Man in Babylon.”
Andrew: What was it about “The Richest Man in Babylon,” that book, that changed your direction?
Josh: Really what it was is I felt like in order to have success, I think that you need to know success principles and success philosophies. I feel like that’s the first leg of the stool. Then the second leg of the stool is you need to be able to work and do the things that most people are not willing to do in order to create the income.
But then I think the third thing, the third leg of the stool, as it were, is that you need to be mindful of these resources that you’ve now attracted. So, if I’ve got this money coming in, I feel like I need to take care of that. I need to be a good steward for that money. Up to that point, I don’t feel like I was a very good steward. I was making dumb financial decisions. As a result, we lost a home declared bankruptcy.
Andrew: What’s a dumb mistake you made that got you to hit bankruptcy and lose your home?
Josh: I’ll give you a perfect example. So, when I owned a newspaper for two years, there was one job that I was afraid to do and that was sales. I was so afraid to do sales that I would hire that out to somebody, anybody with a high turnover rate, ended up having employees steal from me. As a result, month after month after month, we were accumulating more and more credit card debt to pay our bills because I was I unable to get out there and “sell” because I had a messed up idea of that sales was. I thought ales was just trying to convince somebody of something when in fact it has nothing to do with that.
Andrew: It’s not. If it’s not trying to convince somebody to do something they wouldn’t do otherwise, what is it then?
Andrew: What is it?
Josh: It’s about how can I give you far more value that the money or whatever you’re exchanging to me equals? So, I want to always make sure how can I make their life better? I think it should be a transactional relationship so that it’s fair, but today, I love this way of doing business–be a giver first to the point where somebody else is saying, “I feel like I should give you something in return. Can I give you money?” When people tell you that kind of stuff, you know you’re doing it right–that meme is like take my money. That’s a great place to be in business.
Andrew: All right. So then you started saying, “I can’t live like this.” I’m reading here from my notes from your conversation with our producer here at Mixergy. One of the things that you realized was that as you were looking through your expenses, you were spending a lot of money on groceries, right?
Josh: Yeah. We went through a spending plan audit, really just looking at where all the money was going. I remember this conversation so plain as day. I was working on the worksheet and I’m like, “Hey, honey, how much money do we spend at the grocery store, like $500 a month?” She laughed. She’s like, “No, way, it’s more like $800 or $900.” I remember being so flabbergasted, like, “That’s a lot of money. There’s got to be a way that I can hack that system.”
I think we’ve all heard of people who have figured out a way to cut their grocery bill in half. I don’t know what they’re doing. But that summer, I read every single book I could on the subject of how to cut your grocery bill in half. The experts agreed on this one thing. There are only two ways you can really do it. Number one, you can grow all your own food. That I knew wasn’t an option for me. I’ve had very poor luck at that.
Number two is that you have to coupon, but you have to do it in a way that when a coupon comes out, you don’t just run it over to the store and redeem it, but what you want to do is you have to do is time that coupon. So, when a coupon comes out, you may not time it for more than three, four, five weeks. That’s when you should use it, when there’s a sale for 50% off or better.
Andrew: You use the coupon only when they already have a sale on it.
Josh: Yeah. So, that’s when you can get your groceries for 70%, 80%, 90% off or more, which is exactly what the extreme couponers were doing. Our system was basically we’ll give you the extreme couponing results without having to go through all that work.
Andrew: I see. I don’t know anything about these coupons because I don’t even think I could use them. I use Amazon Fresh for grocery delivery. I wonder if they accept these–I don’t know that I have the patience for coupons.
Josh: Right, which is why you have to make a decision based on the stores that we cover, does it make sense for me to run up to Whole Foods? It’s about 20 minutes away. It’s got to be a really good deal in order for me to make that run, otherwise I’m just not going to do it. However, CVS and Walgreens, if they’re going to give me free stuff every time I stop by, well, how much time does it take me? How much time do I get paid per hour for doing it? So, if I can make $40 to $50 an hour, what the heck? I’ll do it. I have to do it anyway for TV and for my business, so I may as well.
Andrew: I see. So, this is what you read. That’s what you discovered. Then at some point you said, “I can make this into a business.” Tell me about the leap. I wouldn’t think of turning that into a business.
Josh: So, I had done internet development before, designed some web pages. None of them were particularly very successful, but when I first went–I figured I was throwing everything in an Excel spreadsheet. I ran to the store and I came back and I’m like, “Honey, you’re not going to believe this. I’m sitting here showing her all the stuff that I did with this Excel spreadsheet. I’m like, “This would be really valuable. How can I share this?”
So, I started doing workshops at churches and nonprofits. People were pretty interested in this. I thought, “Maybe we should share this on the radio or maybe I can turn this into a membership-based website.” I didn’t know anything about membership-based websites at the time but I figured there’s got to be software out there. There was, it was pretty bad. We made it work.
Low and behold, if you saw the first version of the website, you’d be like, “How on earth did you pull that off?” I guess all I can say is that if you have a vision and you have a mission and the mission is noble and the software and the solution is good enough and you constantly focus on improvement, people will work with you a little bit if they believe in who you are and they believe in what you want to do.
Andrew: This is your site, by the way.
Josh: What’s that?
Andrew: I think I’m on your site. That sound was the audio playing on your site, the old version of it from 2007.
Josh: Oh my goodness.
Andrew: It’s not so bad. I don’t think it’s that bad. I was really expecting a disaster when I logged in here, but it’s pretty good. You were telling me you were going to save me money on my grocery bills.
Josh: I think I had a little bit of background in design and development, not real great. Then again, the internet wasn’t real great in 2007.
Andrew: And who are these people, “Our angels,” Jean Coopman, Lisa Pederson–these are employees?
Josh: Oh my gosh, you’re like naming names. Oh man, I can’t even remember. So, those were just ladies I went to church with. They helped out a little bit from time to time. But to be honest with you, those names on there, I think in most cases I borrowed their names.
Andrew: I get it.
Josh: It was my wife and I when we started this thing. I think they helped out just a little bit, but I put their names on there with their permission. It’s just my wife and I or just me. She and I would spend 12-15 hours a day punching in data for our members.
Andrew: What software did you use?
Josh: No one would want to buy anything if it was just me and my wife.
Andrew: I don’t know. I think there’s something charming about you and your wife punching in data and caring that much to customize it. It feels very uncorproate and much more personal. But I get both ways. What software did you punch all this data into?
Josh: We started with an Excel spreadsheet and then I would actually import that into another very terrible program.
Andrew: What was that?
Josh: But it did do the job. It was kind of like an online version of a spreadsheet where you could sort my different columns.
Andrew: Got it.
Josh: I think it was very basic that you could add that into a separate list and print it out.
Josh: Again, just such archaic stuff compared to today. But you use the resources that you have. I think that if you have the drive, the ambition and most importantly the grit, where I was in a position, Andrew, I had to make this business work. All my other income disappeared. I had no choice. If this failed, I supposed I would find a job. I don’t know what I would do. My education is in family science. My insurance career-wise was making $10 an hour in some family science field. I was not in a real great place. So, I pretty much had to make it as an entrepreneur.
Andrew: And you did and we’re going to find out how you did it. First I’ve got to tell everyone about a company that will help schedule your meetings so much faster. Listen, we have a producer here at Mixergy, Jeremy Weisz, who decided that what he wanted to do was get together with entrepreneurs in person with beautiful locations. I know I definitely told you guys in the audience about his past events, but he recently did one in Sonoma.
He wanted to be sure, Josh, that every single person who came in was the right fit. He didn’t want just anyone to show up to his event. Also, because he was charging upwards of $5,000 to the event, he knew that people weren’t just going to click on a webpage and pay. They didn’t know him. They didn’t know where the money was going to go. They wanted a sense of what the event was going to be like. So, he knew that it was going to be a sales call before somebody bought and before he accepted someone.
So, how do you do that when you have a product that you have to sell that involves some kind of conversation? In his case, it was an event. For someone else, it can be high ticket software that you sell to enterprise. For someone else, it can just be talking to a new customer to understand what they want out of the product they just bought. In some cases, it’s just partnerships that you want to schedule with people.
How do you do it? For him, he wanted to schedule phone calls and he didn’t want to do the dopey system of saying, “Hey, let’s get on a call. Are you free on Monday at 2:00 or Friday at 6:00 p.m.?” The problem with that is if you send that option two people and one of them takes one of the dates and the other takes the same date, you look like a puts. He didn’t want that.
What he did was he signed up to Acuity Scheduling. What happens with Acuity Scheduling is you connect your calendar to Acuity Scheduling. Then you say, “Here’s my availability. I’m available every Monday between 9:00 and 5:00. I’m available next Thursday at 7:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. You go in and you mark all your available times. Then you get a link to a calendar that you can pass to someone else so you can say, “Do you want to get on a call and talk about this event?” which is what Jeremy did. “If you do, pick the time that works for you from my calendar.”
As soon as they pick that time, it’s blocked off, no one else can pick it. As soon as they pick that time, they’re also asked a couple of questions, like, “What’s your phone number so we can connect? Maybe tell me a little bit about your business so I’m prepared for our call,” that kind of thing.
All that is super simple with Acuity Scheduling. The other thing that Acuity Scheduling does is it sends a reminder to your guest so that you’re never ever, ever having to sit down and not have a phone call because someone doesn’t remember that they scheduled a call with you. It automatically sends an email, automatically sends an email, automatically adds it to their calendar. It can even text message them. There are so many other integrations, so many other cool features, like you can charge people for your time if you want to.
But here’s the thing. Those are the basics. That’s what allowed Jeremy to sell to 10 people to have them come out to Sonoma, fly out to his event. They were the right ten people. If you have anything you’re doing where you want to talk to people on the phone, don’t send them a list of times. Send them a link to your calendar so they can book the time that works for them and so they can tell you a little bit about themselves before the conversation, make it super-simple and people are much more likely to get on calls or get in touch with you in person.
All you have to do is go to AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy. When you go to AcuityScheduling/Mixergy, they give you a lot of free time on the software so you can really use it. Frankly, Jeremy could have probably put together his whole event for free using this AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy link and cancelled before he was ever charged. That’s how generous that is.
It’s because Acuity knows that if they can help you close a deal, if they can help you get a partnership using the software, you’re going to want to be a customer for life. Go to AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy.
So, Josh, you put the whole thing in, you got a few people from church to be on your site, it’s time to get some customers. Where did you get your first customer, your first person to pay you a monthly fee in order to get access to these coupons and these deals?
Josh: I want to say that it was someone in my warm market. But honestly, I think I was even too afraid–no, I think by then I was over my hang ups with sales. I think I let people know about it. I think it wasn’t until we had actually while the website was being developed and I was doing all this work, we were going and sitting down with–when I say we, myself, we would sit down with every single media person I possibly could because I didn’t have any money to invest in advertising. But I did have some familiarity with how journalism worked.
Andrew: I see. So, you weren’t buying any ads but you said, “How do I get somebody to write something about this new business of mine?”
Andrew: I see.
Josh: And I would approach ad magazines and I would say, “I don’t have any money, but maybe we can do a revenue share if you have any remnant space in your ad magazine.” Because I used that language, they never want to offer that to anybody, but if you know what to ask for and you sound like you know what you’re talking about, then they’ll offer it to you.
Andrew: Remnant space–they give you a free ad in exchange for you giving them a share of al the revenue you make from that ad?
Josh: Yeah. I would give them 25% of whatever the take was. I’d provide them a special URL and we’d track it as best we could. Then I would share that money with them. It wasn’t always extremely profitable for them, but it was space that was going to go empty for them anyway. That was our very first advertisement, as it were. We got a few people signing up.
Andrew: Would that actually work today?
Josh: Yes, it was phenomenal. I’m like, “I can’t believe someone just signed up and I don’t know who they are.” When you get that first sale and it goes to your bank and it’s $24 or $20 and it’s like, “Oh my gosh,” this money came from the ether. From that, I actually had a local radio station contact me and it was their sales person, who said, “We noticed that you’re advertising in this ad magazine, would you like to advertise on a radio station?”
Now, Andrew, one thing I learned is never–if you want to work out a deal, you never say on the phone, “Well, I don’t have any money.” Then they’ll be like, “I don’t want to talk to you.” I say, “That sounds great. Let’s talk.” Then we get the meeting together and that’s where I share the vision and I share the mission.
What I really didn’t share when we were talking earlier was that our goal at SavingsAngel is to collectively help end hunger, lack and need in our community. I believe that if you help good people get more than they need and you help them get abundance, then they’re more empowered to share with other people. It’s hard to be a giver when you’re afraid of scarcity.
So, if you may not have a lot of extra money, but I can share with you how you can get free deodorant, would you be willing to pick it up at the store, here’s the coupon to print out, bring it into CVS, get your free deodorant and then drop it off at the women’s shelter. Would you be willing to do that? A lot of people would be willing to do that. As best as we can track, we’ve facilitated probably tens of millions of dollars in free groceries and free donations being given.
Andrew: You know what? I see. You’re not promoting this as a couponing site. You’re promoting this with a higher mission of helping to end hunger. That’s the thing that’s important for me to recognize. That helps you get more media, am I right?
Andrew: Something just happened to your mic there.
Josh: Go ahead?
Andrew: It’s back. Okay. Your mic just went a little nuts.
Josh: Yeah. That’s one thing I teach now is that your origin story is going to be what the media’s most interested in or why are you doing what you’re doing. That’s more important than facts and figures and certainly more important than me making money.
Andrew: Origin story, very important and the other one that you said is the bigger mission–those are two things. I hate when I interview someone and they don’t know their origin story. Take some time to freaking connect with where this idea came from because you know that I and everyone else for the rest of your life is going to ask you where you came up with that idea. It’s not a trick question. It helps us put in perspective what we’re looking at here. It’s a missed opportunity when someone doesn’t use it properly.
Josh: If I could tell you where I got the name for SavingsAngel too–so, my wife and I had an opportunity to be in the audience for a taping of the Oprah Show. It was the episode where they were launching Project RED. I was pretty unfamiliar with it. I knew Bono had something to do with it.
So, Bono was going to be performing. Alicia Keys was going to be performing. So, in between the segments on the Oprah Show, we’re sitting in the back row, but there was one part where Bono addresses the audience. And you ever see those extreme close ups in a movie where all of a sudden everything gets distorted like in “Vertigo” or something like that. In that moment, I felt like everybody else disappeared and Bono was just like literally like 12 inches away from my face as he said this.
I remember the words because it was like he said that because I was sitting there and I was sitting there because he was going to say this. The words that he said is he said, “At some point in our life, we’re going to look around and we’re going to look at problems like poverty and lack and need even on a small scale and we’ll look around at each other and we’ll say how did we let that go on so long when it’s so easy to solve?”
That’s when it clicked for me. Up until then, I had this idea but when he shared those words with me, I knew that’s why I had been introduced to this concept.
Andrew: I see. All right. My takeaway though is–maybe this is a selfish point of view–it’s just sit down and say what is your bigger mission and also get clear on what your origin story is if you’re going to get press. Did I just ruin the whole origin story of it by making it so commercial?
Josh: No. Not at all. Absolutely, that’s fair. So, the word angel in the title was a nod to Oprah. So, today when I consult with other business owners, it’s like they’re just an empty drum. They don’t have that heart behind it or they don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. It has to be something beyond just making money.
Andrew: Okay. So now you’re talking to these media departments. They want to sell an add to you. You want to get a free mention on the radio. How do you convert them now that you know your mission. How do you get them to give you this freebie, from their point of view anyway?
Josh: Right. So, the hope on their part is that ultimately it will create some revenue for them, revenue that they wouldn’t have normally sold. In the case of the radio, I have to come to them with a proposal for a segment that is going to be extremely valuable for their audience, it’s going to make the host job very, very easy that I can just show up and boom, we got a segment ready to go every week and then yes, on the back end, we’re going to drive people to the station’s website, another win, and then ultimately they’ll click through an affiliate link and they’ll be able to redeem the offer.
We’re also delivering a lot of value. The kind of media that I do is takeaway media. It’s very valuable. So, if you watch this, you are going to get something very specific that you can do and boom, you’ve got free Garnier Fructis, which happens to be the deal I shared this morning that was a freebie.
Andrew: Okay. Do you think that getting that free ad would still work today, asking for remnant space from local newspapers and magazines?
Josh: Absolutely. I think that particularly over this past five to ten years, there have been a lot of evolutions among traditional media. Now, the huge opportunity, I’d say today, is for digital content producers to partner with traditional media because digital content producers have a certain cool to them and generally, if they’re good at what they do, they’re going to build a large audience.
So, if they can now in turn partner with Clear Channel or iHeart Radio or a newspaper or whatever, they like that because you bring your digital audience to their old school media world. There’s never been a better time to create win/win relationships between new media and old school media who is really feeling a lot of pressure to continue to evolve.
Andrew: All right. Let’s go on with the story and then get deeper into specifics about how to get media today. You continue. You get on the radio, right? What’s the next thing that you get to do?
Josh: So, I get to watch now in real time–it’s kind of funny because I would leave the radio station and it took me about 12 minutes to get home. In the 12 minutes I got home, I would go and I’d immediately jump on the website and then I’d be like, “Oh my gosh, I just made $140.” And our membership was only a $20 product. Seven people would sign up. It was a recurring product, so hopefully they would renew over some time.
There was one point–I think that’s when we got picked up by the Grand Rapids Press. It was. That was our first day where it was like we had earned $600 or $800 in one day. That’s not a lot of money, but for where we came from, it was a lot of money. It was also an important day for us, Andrew, because from that day forward, we’ve never had to worry about money or customers ever again.
Andrew: Why? What was it about that day that changed things so much for you?
Josh: Just numbers. The numbers supported it.
Andrew: That’s a few hundred dollars one time. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get it again.
Josh: No. A strong percentage of them would renew month after month after month. We’d get some more sales the next day. All of our bills were met. So, we weren’t relying on friends and family, which we were. We were relying on our church for help. We were relying on friends and family.
Andrew: What does that mean you were relying on your church for help? How did they help you?
Andrew: They literally gave you food at church?
Andrew: What else?
Josh: We had other members of our faith. They helped chip in because they knew we were struggling at the time. Thankfully, that period only lasted about five months. We even had a member who helped pay for our electricity bill.
Andrew: Wow. Just come in and pay for your electricity bill for the family.
Andrew: When that happens, how do you feel?
Josh: Very, very humbled. I would wish that experience upon anybody right before they make it big because I feel like it’s the thing that’s going to help keep you grounded as you grow and as that money starts coming in. I feel like we’ve done a very, very good job as that money has come in. We’ve had an enjoyable lifestyle just at no time have we ever taken any of that for granted. So, as a result, we’ve been able to give.
There have been a couple of times when we’ve had $3,000 or $4,000 worth of food and product in our own pantry. We’ve hit the reset button, give it all away and start over because I can rebuild it with our savings from SavingsAngel.
Andrew: I see that pantry, by the way. The Grand Rapids Press article is the one that had a photo of you, your wife and daughter in your pantry with all the food that you bought at discounts. Is that right?
Andrew: That’s the one that changed your life.
Josh: Absolutely. What’s really great is we were teaching prudence and we were teaching mindfulness and what comes in, okay, so now this pair of headphones that I’m holding right now, this is not mine. But I have kind of pledged to take care of these headphones. So, I’m going to take really good care of them. So, I really like that concept of everything we decide, “Okay, I’m going to buy this now.” I’m not buying it to own it. I’m buying it to take care of.
I feel like if there’s this esoteric law of the universe, I feel like when we’re good stewards over money, money tells all its other money friends, “Hey, its’ cool to hang out with Andrew. He’s going to take good care of you and he’s going to spend you wisely,” as opposed to maybe somebody who receives a windfall and has no respect for what they’ve earned. I feel like I’ve worked very hard to earn what I have. So, as a result, my kids will tell you, I’m pretty mindful of how we spend our money.
Andrew: You’re the guy who turns off the lights when you walk out of a room?
Josh: Very much so.
Andrew: Also in order to get to this place where you’re not afraid of sales, where you’re not afraid of self-promotion, you had to push yourself into situations where you felt a little awkward, where you knew people were going to say no, like what?
Josh: So, after the newspaper or as the newspaper was ending–that was, I’d say, looking back I can say I was most frustrated with how I let fear control my business. I actually spent five years working in network marketing. Network marketing is really, in my opinion, it’s kind of a difficult way to earn money.
Andrew: We’re talking about multi-level marketing where you sell you something like soap, but in addition, you sell people on a sales opportunity to sell soap also and make money from their down line.
Andrew: You did that for five years.
Josh: Five years. We ended up making okay money, about $60,000 a year, which is enough to live on. The most valuable thing I got out of that and the only–if someone were to ask me should they get involved in network marketing, I’d say do it for this reason and this reason alone. Don’t do it for the money. Chances are you aren’t going to make any. But do it because it’s going to force you into very uncomfortable situations that are really going to cause you to stretch as a business owner.
So, I would schedule these appointments with people. I was so uncomfortable with it. But that’s at the end of the day, for me, emotionally to say, “Okay. I did this. I always kept my integrity intact, always. But it was so uncomfortable for me.”
Andrew: Give me an example of a time when you did that, when you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation?
Josh: Yeah, how about inviting my former boss to sit down, a guy who I really had to swallow my pride. I knew the guy wasn’t going to buy, but it’s like I didn’t have anybody else to sell this stuff too. It’s just inviting someone like him. Thankfully he wasn’t a jerk about it. This was a job that I left because I was going to make it on my own. I’d been working on internet development. I had left that because I was going to start the newspaper and do some web development on the side. It didn’t end up working out. So, he’s asking me, “How did that go, “I’m like, “Not so good, Jim.” I said, “Well, let me tell you what I’m doing now.”
Andrew: What was the MLM you were selling? What was the multi-level marketing?
Josh: So, today it’s LegalShield.
Andrew: LegalShield. Okay.
Josh: I think back then it was Pre-Paid Legal.
Andrew: All right. Let me do a sponsorship message and then come back to your story. I want to spend a little bit of time going over what kind of PR worked for you and more importantly what would work today for anyone who’s listening to us.
The sponsor is actually a really good connection for this interview. It’s called HostGator. They host websites. What I love about your story, Josh, is that you picked up an idea for a website, for a membership site that I never would have thought of, just take coupons, digitize them, organize them and then sell a membership to give people access to them. That’s a fan-freaking-tastic idea. Now, if somebody out there wants to come up with idea like that, is there a process where they can come up with an idea like that for what to turn into a membership site?
Josh: In my case, I just looked at what I personally needed and it really didn’t exist. So, step one, I had the idea. Step two, I needed to find a host.
Andrew: Ah, okay. What do I need to do? You didn’t happen to use HostGator, did you? That would be so perfect for this ad.
Josh: No. I don’t know if it existed back then. I went with–I wish I would have went with HostGator.
Andrew: A lot of people have real problems with their first web host. The reason is we go with these companies that we’ve never heard of that just happens to be there when we’re ready, which is kind of like getting married to the first person who’s there when you say, “I’m at marrying age. I’m ready to get married.” It’s a really bad idea.
It takes a lot to keep a website up. It takes a lot to do customer service. It takes a lot to run the infrastructure to make sure that a site is safe. I don’t think there are a lot of hosting companies that are prepared to do it. They just see in their minds I’m going to get to charge someone a monthly fee to run their website. How hard can it be?
So, there are a lot of these hosting companies that don’t do a good job. They just do that. They just collect money from people on a regular basis by showing up randomly whenever they want to buy a web host or worse, they SEO stuff. They will buy links. They will create these fake pages. They will do affiliate programs where someone’s pretending to put a list of the top ten hosting companies and then the one that actually pays them gets shown right at the top. That’s what happened to you?
Josh: That’s what I did.
Andrew: So bad. Then you’re stuck with a really bad hosting company. Here’s a good one– HostGator.com. You’ve heard me talk to Clay Collins, the founder of Leadpages here on Mixergy. He said that he used HostGator. So many other people who I’ve interviewed have said that they’ve used HostGator to run their sites. It’s because HostGator is easy. It’s because HostGator actually doesn’t cost a lot of money and because it just freaking works and then you can move on with the rest of your life.
If you want to upgrade, if you want them to do your upgrade of WordPress for you, if you want them to make sure that your plugins are upgraded and they’re right, if you want to make sure your site is protected from viruses, they have a plan. You can upgrade to that too. But you can start simple too.
All you have to do is go to HostGator.com/Mixergy. When you do, they’ll take 30% off the price of hosting. Then again, if you want managed WordPress hosting–so many people now are charging hundreds of dollars if not thousands of dollars a month. HostGator has got a good package for you on that too if you want them to manage your WordPress site.
Really good hosting company. It just freaking works. That should be their motto–it just freaking works. Go to HostGator.com/Mixergy. You’ll get 30% off and you’ll get a really good hosting package. If you don’t like your host right now, just switch. In fact, if you have a WordPress site, they’ll migrate for you–HostGator.com/Mixergy, really good sponsor.
I noticed that you don’t look, Josh, for a media hit. You look for like a syndicated column. You look for a repeat performance. That’s part of your strategy. Why?
Josh: Absolutely. And this is so critical about what I teach that I think unfortunately a lot of PR experts don’t teach is that I want entrepreneurs to play the long game. So, what that means is that you should aim for a media segment where you can deliver a ton of value to that audience with the hope that if you perform well and you deliver a lot of value, you’ll be asked back again.
So, that said, you can go and look at a lot of my media segments on our YouTube channel for SavingsAngel and I don’t really plug SavingsAngel that heavily. I count on the reporter to mention the name of my URL and in my regular segments, I’ll say it at the end. I really try to go light on it because I respect the relationship. The number one job for me is to serve the audience in that instance. If I deliver enough value, then I’ll be asked to come back over and over and over again.
I’ve been going to Fox 35 in Orlando, I’ve been going in every Tuesday morning for five years now. I could compare that to going in one time and saying, “SavingsAngel, SavingsAngel, SavingsAngel.” What’s the point in that? As a result now, it’s like I have this machine that’s a great relationship where I focus on delivering value and as a result, the audience loves it and a percentage of them will come and check me out each week.
Andrew: So, how do I pitch myself? How do I now go to local television and say, “I can be your guy, not for savings but for something else?
Josh: Right. So, the most important thing is that you try to organically create a relationship. It has to be authentic. The first thing you need to do is just identify who those best journalists and producers are going to be. Sometimes that takes a little bit of effort but I would much rather you focus on five to eight really good–and I would say the right people as opposed to 20 to 30 who you’re just going to spam. Don’t do that. That’s not going to work. Spend a little bit more time on research.
The best way to do this, Andrew, is on Twitter, make a Twitter list. I’m going to say about 80%, 90% of every journalist I know actively uses Twitter and they’re usually pretty engaged with their audience on Twitter. So, if you start putting these journalists into Twitter lists and you monitor those lists. You’ll get to see who covers your beat, right?
If I’m really into coupons, for example, I want to know who else might twee about it. Sure enough, I found somebody at Fox 35. It was a great match. She had tweet something. I’m like, “Hey, that’s my wheelhouse. Let me know if you ever want to do a segment about that. I actually just blogged about that last week.” That’s all you need. That’s what you want to go for.
Now, it’s really helpful if you get on their radar first. The best way to get on their radar is just t engage with them. The number one rule of Twitter is don’t be creepy. So, it’s okay to favorite, like some posts from time to time, reply, maybe a retweet every once in a while would be really great at getting on their radar. Then when you make the offer to be helpful, it just feels very, very natural.
If our heart really is we help that journalist do their job better–most journalists have a really hard job. As a matter of fact, they did a study, the 400 best jobs in the United States. Number 400 was broadcast journalist. It’s a really hard job. If we have a heart for serving audiences and helping that host do their job really, really well, it’s going to work out. It’s just going to feel–everything you say will be the right thing because of what you want to do.
Andrew: I was looking to see–
Josh: Don’t worry. The sales are going to come. Don’t worry about that. I promise you.
Andrew: I think most people don’t worry so much about it. They do worry about like, “Is it going to really pay off to spend this much time putting together a list of people on Twitter? Is it really going to pay off if I ask them to do something? Do I even I know what to ask them to do?” That’s the challenge, right? How do you even know what you’re pitching?
Josh: So, I think one of the most important things that we can do is focus on becoming a subject matter expert in our industry ultimately becoming a thought leader in our industry. When you become a thought leader in your industry, guess what? You really don’t need to worry about how audiences are going to find you because producers and journalists and content producers, the will seek you out at that point.
Andrew: So, that means writing blog posts on a regular basis about whatever it is that your topic is?
Josh: Absolutely. We focus constantly on being so knowledgeable and really moving dialogues forward in our industry. I think that’s really critical. Having opinions and sharing those opinions.
Andrew: What kind of opinions could you possibly have about coupons?
Josh: That you should do it. I’m not competing against other advocates for couponing or other couponing websites. I love anybody else who wants to advocate for frugal living or just being more smart with our money. But I am advocating against being a lazy, passive, shopper because it’s extremely expensive.
Now, if you’re living a lavish lifestyle, whatever. You do whatever you want with your money. But if you’re someone who’s complaining about not having enough money, yet you just stroll into Walmart and throw anything that looks good in your cart, you’re doing this wrong. Walmart is actually one of the most expensive to do your grocery shopping if you’re just passively grabbing what you need.
Need-based shopping, Andrew, is the enemy of frugal shopping. It’s so much better to make sure you’re only buying the absolutely best deals, stock up on those items so that you don’t have to buy anything that you need. It’s like going onto a used car lot and saying, “Okay, used car salesman, I need this and this and this. I need a T-roof. I need yellow bucket seats and fuzzy dice hanging from a rearview mirror.”
That’s like going into a grocery store with a list of needs. You are going to get hosted at the dealer and you’re going to get hosted at the grocery store. Instead, if you go into the grocery store and say, “I don’t need anything, but I happen to know what your best deals are and those are the items you throw into the cart, now you’re getting everything from 50 to 70% off and let the suckers pay full price for something off the shelf.
Andrew: I see your passion and I see the message. The message is don’t be stupid when it comes to spending money on groceries. Here’s how to do it. It’s a much easier process than you think and we’re going to be responsible and the people we’re trying to not be or fight against are the people who just carelessly spend a lot of money at the grocery store.
Andrew: I see how you found your message. Give me a few tips here. Anyone who’s listening to us how says, “All right, this is the guy who wants to upend PR. He wants to create a new process.” We’re listening. What are a few techniques that you have for us for how to get publicity for our businesses?
Josh: The most important thing, Andrew–I know that there’s someone listening to us right now who has sent off an email to an influencer or a journalist or a producer and crickets. They didn’t get anything back. They don’t know why they didn’t get responded to.
Andrew: I get that.
Josh: I’m going to tell you that it generally is going to boil down to a few things, really just a couple of things. Number one, either in your email you said something about what you want or what you want that influencer to do for you. First off, that’s not how it works. If you’re reaching out to someone who is above you in media credibility or whatever, you need to be in the position of asking how you can make their job easier and how you can potentially serve their audience with absolutely no expectation of return.
The more humble you are when you make that ask of how you can be of service–in fact, if you insist that you don’t want any credit, promotion, link juice, anything back, here’s what’s going to happen. I get it all the time. Every single day, I get people, “We want to guest post on you. All we want in return is blah, blah, blah.” I’m like, “Forget it. You just ruined it right there.”
Andrew: I get a lot of those.
Josh: If you had taken the approach, “We love the work you do. We believe in your mission. We’d love the opportunity to participate. We don’t need anything back.”
Andrew: Let’s take an example here. I’m about to interview a guy who created something called Dollar Beard Club. You won’t believe the revenue this guy is making. We were going to say no because we already covered the beard business. I know there’s business in it. But the guy’s revenue is so incredible we had to get him on here. So, basically he’s got grooming supplies for people who have beards. What does he do? Who does he call up? What does he give them?
Josh: Well, that’s a great story in and of itself. So, you could go a couple of directions. You could either go with the success that he’s had in business. You could certainly watch for anything–this is another thing you want to pay attention to. It’s like “What is your in?” Your in is generally going to revolve around a concept called news jacking. News jacking is simply watching for things that are trending in your industry.
So, in his case, he’s going to be watching for anything in the male grooming industry or if a celebrity all of a sudden shows up with a big beard, that’s in the news. That’s his in. So, he’s going to want to identify a journalist who’s interested in celebrity news and he’s going to comment about this new trend in men’s facial hair.
Andrew: Let’s suppose somebody just wrote an article or did a news story about how celebrities all how beards now. They show Jimmy Kimmel. They might show George Clooney and two or three other guys. What does he do with that? Does he follow up with that same reporter and say, “This is a whole thing that’s going on. I actually run a business that does this. Write another piece on it?”
Josh: Yeah. So, he would want to come up with a unique angle, right? So, if the journalist has already written about that, then he’s going to want to take a look at that story and come up with a different way of like let’s say you want the Ben Affleck beard. How do you grow the Ben Affleck beard? Well, it’s not just a matter of not shaving, I’ve got four or five steps of things that you want to do to make sure that beard doesn’t come in all scraggly.
Andrew: I see. Then you go back to that same reporter and you say, “Look, I know you’ve covered that this thing is going on and it’s a big trend, but it actually is a lot deeper than it seems. It’s not just about growing a beard. Check out Ben Affleck’s beard. Let me show you how he does it. I don’t want anything in return. I don’t need any links. I just want you to know this is how it’s done. It might be a good piece for you to talk to your audience about.”
Josh: I hope somebody hits the backward 15-second right now and writes down every word you just said because that was textbook.
Andrew: That’s the way to do it.
Josh: Exactly, especially that line that you said at the end that we’ve been talking about, that right there is just like music to every influencer’s ears.
Andrew: The, “I don’t want anything, I just think you should know about it?”
Josh: Absolutely. Journalists will sometimes say things like, “We should you get you a lot of traffic on your website.” Even when they say something like that, the proper response to that is, “I appreciate that, but really, I’m just very passionate about this subject and it’s an honor to be able to share this message with your audience.” If it’s authentically you, then you’re in a great place. So, always, always, always demure, “I appreciate it, but I’m really just here…”
Again, what is our long-range goal? It’s to become a subject matter expert and a thought leader. That is more valuable than a few extra visits to a website in one particular day. That segment is going to help you elevate your position as that thought leader.
Andrew: Do you have another idea, one more technique?
Josh: Absolutely. I’ve got a lot of ideas, Andrew. So, the most important thing–remember I was talking about the email, why didn’t they respond back to the email? Your messaging was all screwed up, but another thing is sometimes they might not respond because they’re just too busy. But here’s the thing. Have you ever gotten an email from someone where you’re like, “Whoa, that’s a pretty important person.” Like if Mark Cuban just emailed me, am I going to drop what I’m doing and I’m going to respond to that? You better believe I am.
So, busy is relative. How can we elevate our stature so that we get those responses back. It’s going to come down to I’ve figured out three things that most producers, kind of the front desk people or maybe even the journalists themselves are going to do. They’re going to take a look at the content of your email and then they’re going to look at the content of your website.
Your website, if you scroll down to the bottom and it says copyright 2013, you’re not even trying. You’ve to update your website. Your website needs to look good. You need to be on a good host like HostGator. You need to be ready to take that business. So you need to have a good looking website because a lot of times we make our judgment in like ten seconds or less of whether or not the company is legitimate based on their website design.
Number two is going to be their digital reputation. So, if I do a Google search, if you Google search my name right now, I can tell you exactly what comes up, it’s pretty good. I’ve done a lot of podcast interviews and I’ve done a lot of work where I give to other blogs and I say, “I don’t need anything in return. I’m just looking to elevate my stature in this space,” right? So, that’s the fastest way to improve your digital reputation, your Google search results.
And number three is going to be your social media presence, particularly on Twitter because again, that’s where the journalists are. LinkedIn is, I’d say, number two, anything else is just kind of a bonus. But I really like to teach using Twitter as the best platform for connecting with journalists as quickly as possible. It’s like that build relationship button is what we all crave. Using Twitter the right way and having a good profile, having a number of followers and having some engagement, actually giving some good content on Twitter is really about the fastest way you can do that.
Andrew: Do you get to keep more than $1 million from all the money you made?
Josh: You want to know what my profit margin is?
Andrew: Your personal bank account, is it over $1 million?
Josh: Of the over $5 million? Absolutely.
Andrew: Wow. So, you really have come a long way since the church used to feed you.
Josh: Yeah. And the cool thing is that was such a gift for us to have that experience of needing and relying on somebody else.
Andrew: That was a gift? Why? Why is that a gift?
Josh: Here’s the thing. It was a gift for us because it put us in a place of humility where we would hopefully never ever, ever take for granted what we have, but it’s also a gift when you ask for charity from somebody else, it’s also a gift for that person, where they get the blessing of being able to gift of their abundance. So, today, us being able to do that, I’d say some of the most rewarding SavingsAngel experiences for my kids have been stopping off at the women’s shelter and dropping off a bunch of stuff that is our abundance. Those are hopefully memories that will live for them and help define their character as they get older.
Andrew: I get that. Wow. The website for anyone who wants to check that out, the savings website is SavingsAngel–is it .com, it is, right?
Andrew: You also own the .org, don’t you?
Josh: It’s just for email. It will all go to the same place.
Andrew: And for PR, it’s UpendPR.com. Actually, I can only boxes lately when I’m doing interviews. This is from a mutual friend of ours, John Lee Dumas.
Josh: Then you better shake it first.
Josh: You should shake it first and see if you can guess what it is.
Andrew: I know what it is. We met on his cruise. I was the first person to buy his Freedom Journal. As soon as the guy came out with something, he said, “Hey, Andrew, I’m really excited. I’m coming out with this new thing.” I think he wanted to give me one because he’s been giving them out to a few other people so that I would check it out and maybe create a video for his Kickstarter program.
I said, “No, John, I want to be the first person to buy it. I would like to buy it.” So, I bought it. And then he wanted it to me on the cruise, the very first one sold. I thought he needed it because he was shooting video with other people. He’s so proud of this Freedom Journal he created. So, I didn’t take it. I didn’t take it back later. I finally emailed Kate, his business partner, and I said, “I feel guilty I didn’t take it. I still don’t have it. I still don’t have my own. I flipped through it. I’ve read it.”
So, they sent me this, there it is, their Freedom Journal. I can actually see that from the weight of the box that everyone who comes to scotch night is going to get a journal. They sent me a box of these things. What else? And a thank you note. Well, I’m really appreciative to them for sending it. And also for us connecting.
Did you know that we were going to do an interview when you and I first met? Was that in the back of your mind at all?
Josh: No. It’s another thing, Andrew, to be given opportunities that are beyond. Maybe part of it is where I’m at emotionally or spiritually in humility. But when those gifts happen–I shared with my wife, “I had a really good chat with Andrew. I’ve listened to his show a lot.” What a cool opportunity that I was not even expecting at all. It’s one of those things, like, “Would Andrew be interested in my story? I don’t know. Let me just meet you and talk to you and wow, there was interest.” It’s like wow.
There’s so much power that comes from being together in person with people. That podcast cruise really was amazing. That was probably one of the best weeks of my entire life. Business was fantastic, but reconnecting with my wife–that was the first vacation that we had and it was our 20th wedding anniversary. I’d say it was our first vacation where it was only she and I together in I guess about 16 years. Ever since our babies started coming, all the vacations included them.
Andrew: On a podcast cruise with me, that’s where you had your first vacation with your wife in 16 years?
Josh: 20th wedding anniversary.
Josh: I guess that’s part of our historical experience, a lot of sacrifice. We just didn’t get around to it. We ended up taking all kinds of vacations with the kids. Man, I’m telling you, you want to recharge your marriage, leave the kids at home with Grandma. Go take that vacation.
Andrew: It really was fun. What I liked about it was the sense that we could do anything on our own, but also we were on a boat. We couldn’t go too far. We’re going to keep running into each other. If you keep running into somebody, you eventually get to know them and like them or hate them. Frankly, it was a lot of good people that I didn’t hate anyone. I was just pushed so close to them that I ended up really connecting with them and there are few people that I’ve stayed in touch with a lot since then. I’m glad that you and I have gotten to know each other since then.
I hope when you come here to San Francisco everyone can see the address on this box. I’ll say this to you and I’ll say it to everyone else, can you see this? 201 Mission Street, San Francisco. That’s where I currently am. I keep moving. Let me know before anyone comes out here. Anyone who wants to, especially you, Josh, please come here for a drink and we’ll talk in person. My sense is because of your church background that you’re not going to drink whiskey, but you should know that we have other non-alcoholic drinks here too.
Josh: I’m down with that.
Andrew: All right. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you all for being a part of Mixergy. Remember my two sponsors. If you heard this idea, if you heard this business and you want to start your own site already, frankly, most people have sites but maybe you want to start something on the side, go to HostGator.com/Mixergy. You’ll get a really good hosting company.
And when you want people to actually get on a call with you or meet you person, don’t make it tough for them. They won’t do it, they won’t follow up, you’ll think that it’s something to do with you. In reality, it’s because you just made it too tough for them. What you want to do is make it really easy. The way to do it is by going to AcuityScheduling.com/Mixregy. AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy, where you get a calendar that you can pass to other people and let them book based on what’s convenient for you and for them without all those back and forth emails, created by a Mixergy fan. We’ve got to get this guy on. He’s killing it with this business.
Finally, if you like this interview, you should know that we have hundreds of other interviews and courses taught by real entrepreneurs all a part of Mixergy Premium. When you join, you get to learn how to get more traffic for your site, you get to learn how to grow your sales, you get to learn so many things taught by real entrepreneurs and of course you get 1,000 interviews that I’ve done over the last seven years. All you have to do is go to MixergyPremium.com.
Thank you all for being a part of Mixergy. Thank you, Josh. Bye, everyone.