What 17 yrs of blogging taught her

I thought content sites weren’t making any money anymore. I thought if you’re not on YouTube or Instagram, where the money is, that you were completely ignored by the world.

Well, when today’s guest told me her revenue, I was shocked. Anita Campbell is the founder of Small Business Trends, a blog that covers the small business market and trends in technology.

I invited her here to find out how she built such a profitable content site with such a small, remote team.

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Anita Campbell

Anita Campbell

Small Business Trends

Anita Campbell is the founder of Small Business Trends, a blog that covers the small business market and trends in technology.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I sent out an email to the list, talking about a new sponsor. I asked people for feedback about how they were using it. One of the people who sent me feedback is Anita Campbell and she and I went back and forth via email.

And as we’re going back and forth, I looked at her side cause I do that. I always Google people. I think an interesting site. And then, um, at some point, Anita, I asked you what your revenue was and you told me, I go, what the, I thought content sites, we’re not making any money anymore. I thought this was like, if you’re not on YouTube or Instagram where the money is, you’re, you’re completely ignored by the world.

And, um, I was surprised I was impressed. And I said, Anita, would you please come on and talk about how you built up. A content site. The targets is, well, let me introduce her. I want to know how she built up this business. I need to Campbell is the founder of small business trends. It’s a news and information site for small business owners.

Anyone who has from zero to 100 employees is going to feel at home on her site. That’s her goal. I invited her to find out how she did it and we’re going to do it. Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you’re into content marketing of any kind you need to find out about. SCM rush. I’m going to tell you about how you can use them for free.

Then the second, if you want to get people to come to your site, if you beyond content, we’re talking about this special tool, you know what? I better just tell you about it later so that you really get an understanding of it. Or if you want to peek ahead, it’s an outgrow.co/mixergy. First, I need a good time of year. Before we got started, you were telling me about the very first, um, six figure sale that you got. Who was it too?

Anita: Well, it was for to a very large financial services company. It’s a household name. I will say that. And, they found me online and I started doing things with them back in 2005.  but they were interested in live blogging.

And that’s how I got started doing live blogging with them.

Andrew: They were paying you over a hundred thousand dollars to do live blogging for them or on your site.

Anita: Well, it wasn’t for the live blogging. It grew, it started with live blogging, going around to these events that they put on and writing about them. But then it grew, it grew into providing, uh, additional advice and writing columns. Uh, I wrote some, um, pamphlets and things with them, some, uh, white papers and guidebooks and different things.

So I ended up yes, on my site and their site.

Andrew: Okay. And then do you remember one which was for advertising on your site?

Anita: our first, uh, advertising deal for six figures, it was one that we sold directly that was like amazing. And when you look at your QuickBooks and you see that money there and you, and it’s in black and white, and you say, wow, we did this. This is amazing. I mean, there’s no feeling like it. We have a little private success group. It’s a little chat group. And so we text each other and so someone will drop something in there. Sometimes we’ll do a screenshot of something. Great. Is there, if we got some kudos or whatever or something wonderful happened, but whatever, we’ll just drop that in there.

And then everybody comes along and we do, you know, virtual high fives

Andrew: Because it’s all remote team.

Anita: all remote team. Yeah. I, in fact, I run the business out of my home office. I always have,

Andrew: what can you say about your revenue? I know that you didn’t want to reveal it publicly, but can you give us a ballpark? Are we talking hundreds of thousands? Millions of dollars. Tens of millions. What are we looking at?

Anita: We have gone over the seven figure number. we’ve been at this though now for 17 years, so that did not happen overnight. I mean, the first few years it was, you know, pretty, pretty slim Pickens and we had, you know, it was just, it was very much a shoestring operation. It still is.

over time you just grow bigger and bigger and you count on more things. And of course you build a team, so you have to have the revenue then.

That’s an amazing moment because when you look at the stuff just sticks, most small businesses never get over. A $1 million in revenue. So  if  you’ve managed to do that, that is a real, accomplishment.

Andrew: Yeah, I see a lot of people. My audience we’re aiming for that 83, three, three three number, which is the monthly breakdown of it. So. Let’s go back to the beginning. You were an attorney and then you got into a car accident. How bad was it?

Anita: Oh, that was, it was bad. It was like a front end collision. I was just driving along and unfortunately someone lost control of their car and, uh, the other lady died and she just came across four lanes of traffic. And anyways, so, so I. You know, I had some injuries like with a broken heel bone and everything else, and I was lying there in bed and trying to figure out, well, what the hell heck am I going to do?

You know, with my life? And I didn’t want to go get a job. I knew that. Yeah, after that, I had some success in the corporate world and, uh, you know, I was happy with Abbott. It was very high pressure and, you know, I just decided I wanted to be on my own. And so I started helping, uh, some friends of mine who were entrepreneurs and I would, I would help him with business plans and so on.

And eventually I figured, I’m really acting like a consultant, so maybe I’d put up a consulting website and well, let’s see what, where are they asleep? And so I did that. And that actually is how I got into publishing because I never intended to be a publisher. I never intended in my life to be a content publisher.

Like I am today. I never intended to be any kind of a writer. I still write but I, ended up doing that and the way I did was I wanted to do set up a newsletter. I needed a way to get things online. Rather than my, um, my messing around with Dreamweaver and taking a day and a half to get one article

Andrew: What was true. I never used Dreamweaver. What was Dreamweaver? I’ve heard it talked about in glowing terms a years ago. And then in retrospect, people are talking about how painful it was. W what was Dreamweaver.

Anita: , as an HTML editor was how you would use it to set up web pages. this is back in 2002, 2003,

Andrew: And every page needed to be created on its own. And you’re basically messing with it. The HTML pixels versus today with WordPress and other content management, uh, there’s just a box that you can go and type in you type in your words, would you add your images and it goes, got it. And that’s a difference.

So when you were struggling with Dreamweaver, somebody said, Hey, look at what software do they suggest.

Anita: Well, someone asked me if I knew what a blog was. And I said, well, I swear, I’ve heard what heard of a blog, but, uh, you know, they said, well, go over to blogger.com. And blogger.com at the time in 2003 was the state of the art in blogging. And so I went over there. I started this blog. I was amazed because I typed some things in, I hit the button and wallah.

It was online. So. That’s how I started publishing online and I was putting these articles. And in a matter of a couple months, I had way more readers for the articles online than I had through my little newsletter, which had like 250 people on the list or something. And I thought, this has some real potential. And so I just kept writing and it was just me at first. And I just wrote things, whatever came to mind about small business things. I always loved business. I’ve always been a business junkie. I mean, give me a wall street journal, you know, back when I was in the corporate world, I loved it.

Andrew: Me too. My favorite was Forbes.

Anita: forums was good.

Andrew: the best thing about Forbes was Malcolm Forbes turned it into this magazine that would do biographies, glowing biographies of rich people getting richer. He would then do crazy stunts. And this was before I was old enough to read it, but I read about him and he created that foundation where he would take a hot air balloon.

And I think he would go across country, have the media follow him. And have his people follow him. And when he was called out and said, Hey, of course you can do this amazing stumped because you have all this money to pay for people. He said, exactly. That’s what having all this money is about. You should read my magazine to get this rich.

So he created this whole thing. And of course, finally, the thing he most known for is creating the rich list of the 400 richest Americans. Anyway, I used to read that as a kid, I used to, to read about those types of stories growing up. And that’s what I feel like made me who I am. Did you do that too?

Anita: Yeah, I loved reading those kinds of stories. I would love to read the center column in the wall street journal. They always had like a human interest type of a business story there. I just loved those things. So, uh, you know, so we club business. And so I just would write about business, little tidbits about business on this site and, and boom.

It just grew from there.

Andrew: So you started with blogger. It was just as a way of getting people to know that you’re around, if they need any business advice. And what type of advice were you offering and what type of business consulting were you giving?

Anita: I was, um, writing business plans and, uh, you know, marketing consulting, that kind of thing. No, honestly, I didn’t really even like the consulting that much, I sorta got into it by accident, but, you know, I wasn’t really the kind of person that really was wanted to go out and schmooze with clients and get, you know, new new clients or anything like that.

So, uh, I found that I actually liked the publishing once I got into it, I just never expected to.

Andrew: And then at some point you said I’m going over to WordPress. And another point you said I’m going to start charging what came first.

Anita: So, uh, went to WordPress. Uh, it would, it had just been coming out around that time. We were one of the early users,  there were all kinds of security issues and it wasn’t nearly as easy to use actually, as it is today, it was very difficult to use. and then somewhere along the way, you know, this financial services company had contacted me.

And then I started looking at ads and actually, uh, we were one of the early users of, of AdSense Google AdSense Well, we got a little bit of money from it.

and that gradually grew, you know, I really didn’t need the money from that for my living expenses at the time, because I had been in the corporate yeah. World.

Andrew: Was you writing the articles yourself?

Anita: I was writing most of the articles and then other people joined along the way. And I, you know, would gradually hire somebody to do this or that

Andrew: How did you find your audience? I know for me, Going into the hacker news community. Being able to submit my post they’re having people voted up, having people argue about it. That allowed me to take off with this community of developers. Where did your people come from in the beginning?

Anita: there were some business bloggers way back when these were people who were into blogs, but writing just about business topics. And there was a whole community and we found each other and we also had these series of events that we would do. We would do something called the carnival of the capitalists, where we’d like each share our best posts at the time.

And we’d have like kind of a round up and everybody you’d go and you’d visit all the posts on the different sites.

Andrew: Because you would have a post on each of your blogs linking to all the top posts from this community. And so if someone was on your site, they’d see a set of links to all the other side of the other articles. Got it. And this would all go back carnival of posts. Got it. Okay. What else worked for you in the beginning?

Anita: Yeah. And just, you know, getting out there and getting people to know you. I think being early on helped a lot. So.

Andrew: you mean that live events, getting people to know you,

Anita: And just, just being out there with a site, uh, you know, at a time when there weren’t that many sites. You know, being one of the early ones really helped. I mean, cause people came to know you and you know, and I would talk with everybody. People did a lot of commenting on blogs back then. So I got to know people, I would go around and comment on their sites.

Um, that was really good. And then I kind of found SEO after a while. Uh, I, you know, I just sorta stumbled in that, but realized that we were getting traffic from the search engines as well. I never set out to do that. I’m not any kind of a trained SEO, uh, or anything like that, but, you know, we just learned the value of the search engines and.

You know, it was just a bit by bit by bit also coming to the attention of some of these, uh, sponsors that we had. Sometimes one of these deals that I had with sponsors, they would actually promote what I was doing as well. So, you know, we not only got paid, but they help promote. Uh, me or other writers that I had as thought leaders and gradually I attracted people who wanted it a platform as well.

It wasn’t as easy to get a platform back then. Well today, you know, if you want to publish things, you, you know, in your, you’re an expert in your field, you can go to LinkedIn, you can go to medium. I mean, there are all these places you can set up your own site. It wasn’t that way back in 2004, 2005, 2006.

And so we gave a platform for people to publish, you know, who, no, I just made it available.

Andrew: got it. And so the fact that they’d be on the platform would mean that they were also helping to promote it. And then it’s more stuff for search engines to find you from Arianna. Huffington was good that way she would apparently go and give everyone access to her site to enable them to publish.

I remember reading a story about her going to the doctor and saying to the doctor, you should be blogging too. I’ll create a username and password for you, do it on my platform. And that’s why, because. Back then there wasn’t LinkedIn, there weren’t all these places. If you had a platform and you were, and you had enough foresight to understand that giving people access to it meant not that they were taking attention away from your audience, but they were bringing other audiences then you want, okay.

I get that selling ads beyond ad sense, or you selling any direct ads at the time too? Were you doing any of those ideals?

Anita: No. I was represented by a company called federated media at one point.

Andrew: Tell people what that was. This was huge. John Battelle was incredibly the founder incredibly, popular with bloggers because of federated media, because of his, , other experience in the search world. What was federated media?

Anita: Yeah. So federated media was a, uh, you know, it was like an advertising, , uh, entity and they, they had clients who wanted to reach out and wanted to use the so-called new media of. Blogs too, to reach out to their audience. And so he recruited a network of. bloggers at the time, and would ads on those sites or do sponsored content.

I mean, it was a big deal. And for us it was a great deal, , because he brought, fortune 500 type names who became sponsors and advertisers on my site. And, and so it was wonderful and we did really well with it. , then they change businesses, things change, you know, programmatic ads

Andrew: The part of the problem that they had was before even programmatic ads. I remember reading Jason Calacanis about them at the time. He said the problem, the people I came, who have blog networks have is. You want to work with federated media in the beginning, but once you get big, you can just federated out and go directly to the advertisers and then keep a hundred percent of your revenue.

And as a result, federated, it was always kept at the numb at the size of their clients, or excuse me, the size of their publishers. And that became a big issue for them. They could nurse you along and then at some point you would leave them. And you’re saying, do you, do you remember that? Is this something that you, that you notice at the time too?

Anita: Yeah, I think that, um, if I recall who Jason Calacanis is, uh, he, he had a, uh, a network of blogs. I think that was maybe more of an issue for, for him and some other really big ones. But I mean, there were plenty of, you know, there were plenty of, I think, relatively well known names that. That worked with federated media, but yeah, I mean, whatever the issues were, federated, um, you know, change course.

And so our revenue then suddenly dried up in six months, it went to zero. So that was, you know, that was the big. Big challenge for us. And I had to suddenly find other ways to make money. So we had ad sense, but it’s still never, still didn’t make that much money for us. Uh, and then I decided to start selling ads and sponsorships directly.

And so we did, and we actually, for a number of years, we worked quite successful doing that as well.

Andrew: You would just reach out, you know, let me get into how you got sponsors in a moment. First, I want to talk about, , one of my sponsors, , it’s a company called outgrow and you know, I was going through your site and I noticed that you have this savings calculator. Right. Where if I want to know how much money I could save a year by cutting back on expenses, this is personal expenses like cigarettes, like alcohol, et cetera.

I would just type, just go in, select my expenses, enter how much money I spend on it. And boom, I get to see my yearly savings. My sense is that, that content, that article is pillar content on your site. Outperforms articles that you’ve had and is more shareable because people will get the result and want to share the result with others, or maybe get the result and then tell other people go and try it themselves.

Am I right?

Anita: Yeah. I mean, that’s, it’s very shareable. I mean, but we have other, we have a lot of different types of shareable content. Yeah.

Andrew: Well, the thing that that outgrow does is. They create, they have a tool that can creates these types of calculators. I wish I’d known about it. Can you imagine if around the time that, uh, the PPP loans were coming out and I was trying to figure out how much are we entitled to others? We’re trying to figure it out.

Imagine if instead of an article, I would have created a calculator that says how much money did you spend on your people last year? What’s your, like the whole thing. Here’s how much you can get. And here’s how, what the percentage that you can spend on people and rent using this government money without having to pay back that little, instead of writing an article about it, creating the calculator on outgrow means that now I’ve got a tool that people can share with others.

This is a type of thing you didn’t need to hire developers for, or you would, or you’d create it. And it would look ugly. Outgrow says, we can build it for you. In fact, we can give you an editor that makes it easy for you to build it for yourself, put it on your site and it’ll become shareable. We’ll even give you, they say tools to collect email addresses as part of this process.

So maybe it’s, I’ll give you the rough number now, but if you enter your email address too, will allow you to get some more information about how to. Um, how to do more of what you just did here. So if it’s how to get money from the government for PPP loan, maybe it’s more information as it becomes available.

If it’s a, how to cut your expenses, because you’ve created a, a calculator email address, so you can follow up and give them more, more, uh, savings tips. Anyway, that’s what outgrow does. It’s all about growing customers all about growing leads, all about growing traffic, all about getting people to come to your site.

With a simple tool that anyone can use. Now, when I say this, people are gonna think, Oh, interesting idea. Maybe I should try it. Maybe not. I’m going to tell you that, that if you try it now, by going to outgrow.co/mixergy, they’ll let you try it for free. They’ll give it to you for free. For 30 days, you can see how easy it is.

Just. Putz around with it. Just play around with it, see how you like it. And if you love it, keep it on your site and you can continue and you can pay them. If you don’t, you can keep, you can just cancel and move on, but right now it’s available to you for free for 30 days, go create a calculator, go create a quiz, go create something that will allow you to see the power of the tool for bringing people into your site.

Right? outgrow.co/mixergy. That was a good tool.

Anita: I actually, I wrote it down here because I’m going to go look at it.

Andrew: Who created this tool on your site, the savings, the savings calculator that you linked to from the resources on the top

Anita: Uh, so my team, you know, we just, uh, we, we either used a plugin or some kind of a script that we got. So I, you know, I wish I’d known of outgrow dot Cosol. I’ll send this along to the team to take a look at I’m serious.

Andrew: Yeah. Good. I think the love it. , So you finally figured you got revenue. I’m wondering when it was taken away and you had to go and hustle and get sales yourself. How did you know who to call? What was your process for closing sales?

Anita: So we’ll, we’ve been fortunate in that a lot of our sales just, I mean, honestly, They come to us. So, you know, I always say that our inboxes, our best , sales person, if you will. , but people contact me everywhere. I mean, through Twitter, direct messages, through LinkedIn, through whatever,

Andrew: This was even back then, they would just contact you, asking to buy ads.

Anita: Yeah, and this is, you know, here’s the thing. And some mistake that I see a lot of site owners make, they don’t, they make it very hard for people to reach them, but you know, you’re making potential, revenue partners reach you as well, you know, and sometimes you just have to put up with, with all this stuff, you know, people just.

Bugging you and all the spam communications and so on. We deal with that through, you know, a variety of different rules and inboxes and different things that we use technology to filter out as much as we can and try to let the good stuff through. But I found that if you. But just by being accessible and talking with people, we actually attracted a lot of business that way.

Yeah. Then when I would go to events and so on, I, you know, I would go to events where my potential sponsors were, I’ve done a lot of these things over the years where I went to corporate type events because my sponsors are corporate type sponsors and that’s where I would meet them.

Andrew: And then what’s your process for closing a sale with someone that you meet at an event?

Anita: Well, you know, I try to get them to talk with someone else because I’m actually not very good at sales, I don’t think. But, um, you know, I try to get them to someone who can put together a proposal. Here’s what we have. Uh, we use a Zoho CRM, and we’ve actually created like a little product catalog. And our products are literally like add products and we have a variety of different things.

You know, we offer native ads, we offer this, we offer, you know, sponsored content that has your brand name at the top. We offer a, you know, a brand voice type of, um, landing page, uh, you know, just different things like that. And then we have a price associated with each of those and we can generate an estimate very quickly.

We just go in and. You know, press a few buttons. You’d tell, you know, you can set it up and we can create a quote and we can shoot that out automatically. We have it attached to Zoho sign, which is an electronic signature app. I mean, and I, you know, I have to tell you that. I mean, we’ve gotten quotes signed and back within 30 minutes, I mean, that’s been actually great.

Andrew: Wait. So the process was you reached you going out to an event saying I’ve got an audience of small business owners. If you want to reach them, this is the place to do it. And I could see that their insurance products as small business owners need there’s credit products that they need. There’s tons of others.

Um, so you might meet someone and say, if you’re interested, I have some few options for you. You would then ask them questions at that point and understand what, what was your process when you were doing this yourself?

Anita: Well, yeah, I would, I would ask. I mean, I, you know, what, what are you looking for? You know, what are, what are the kinds of things? And typically we’d say, Oh, let’s have a conversation after the event. It’s like, okay, great. We’ll set up a call or something like that. Uh, and then we’d have a call and they tell me what they were interested in.

And then we put together a proposal well, and send it back to them. So that’s what we do, you know, and we had a pretty good success rate. Pretty, pretty good close rate with that. Not everything closes. Sometimes you spend time with people and. Yeah. I mean, it can take years before anything happens, you know, before a deal comes up.

Sometimes the deal never comes, but you just have a good relationship. You know what I mean? And sometimes people refer others to you, you know, but you really just have to be out there. And I will say this, the site itself has to be, um, popular and well known enough in your niche. It doesn’t matter whether anybody else in the world knows you.

All it matters is in the world of small business that we’re known. We don’t have to be known anywhere else. And we’re not really that well known anywhere else, but in the world of small business, we just need to be the big fish in a small pond. And, um, you know, and I would be writing and I would be out on places and talking about.

You know, different issues and, and write different things. Uh, yeah. And that would become known. I mean, people would counter that somehow. And, you know, even in business things, I would have opinions about different business things that maybe weren’t

Andrew: what what’s, what’s one of the big opinions that help drive traffic and get attention.

Anita: Um, just, uh, you know, sometimes just pointing out things like, well, let’s take a SBA loans. Like I actually am a big supporter of the SBA. Um, but I, I know people will talk about, Oh, you know, SBA loans, SBA loans, and like, I’d sort of debunk it and I’d go in and I dig around and I find some data and I’d say, yeah, it really talks about SBA loans, but you realize house.

Well, the number of SBA loans is compared to all the non SBA loans that are made to small bit. It’s,

Andrew: there are people who are taking pot shots at the government backing loans to entrepreneurs, to small businesses, and you get to go out and fight for small businesses. And for these SBA loans, by pointing out that they’re helpful that they’re smaller.

Anita: Yeah, but, you know, I w I would point out, I mean, a lot of them, a lot of what you see in the press, and, and that goes for the financial press. If you go to a, like a typical newspaper site or, you know, a big media site, they have a very shallow view and they’re, they’re literally just. Regurgitating what they got in a PR pitch.

I mean, honestly they are. And, and so sometimes they’ll write about how many SBA loans are made. You know, I’m making it sound like it’s a lot. Well, it’s billions, but it’s, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to other types of lending. And then I would point out that, well, there are other types of lending out there that you, you realize, this is how people do things, you know, that, that maybe PayPal loans.

Are actually, you know, more of more important to most small business people than an SBA law. Okay. I mean, and that doesn’t sound very controversial to you, but when you read the same stuff over and over, like I do, and it’s like, everybody’s just repeating the same thing. Nobody’s putting any thought in it, into it.

And you just want to tell them, Hey, you know, you don’t, you don’t really understand what you’re talking about. You’re making it sound like these SBA loans are the biggest thing in the world. And they’re, they’re not really there important, but they’re not compared to all the private lending out there.

Andrew: At some point you ended up hiring somebody to do sales for you. How’d you find the person to do sales?

Anita: Uh, she had been working for another site doing sales for them. And, uh, she was doing a little social media consulting for me, uh, on the side. And I went to her and I said, Hey, federated media has changed. Things, uh, they’ve, they’ve moved on in different directions and we need to replace our revenue. Would you like to take over the sales role?

Would it be a conflict with what you’re doing? And she checked and she got back to me in a day or two and she said, no, it wouldn’t be a conflict. Um, they’re really going after a different market. I won’t tell you the site that they were, they were a different market than, than what we were, um, Going after.

So, so she started, uh, doing sales for us and I said, okay, when I get something in the inbox, we’ll send it to you and you chase it down. And that’s how we handled things. So between pardon?

Andrew: on a commission basis.

Anita: On a commission basis. And, uh, you know, that’s how we worked for several years. And then I gradually built other people up internally and we had more of a team that was working on that.

Andrew: You know, earlier you said that a lot of companies make it hard to work with them. I noticed that on your site, on your site, right at the top, right? There’s a link for sponsorship. Our link on our site for advertising for sponsoring has been something that I never would have thought would be helpful.

But it’s phenomenal. People come to your site, they’re interested in the ads. They will hit that form. Outgrow the sponsor that we’re talking about right now, interview from that form, they just filled out the form. I think SEM rush filled out the form, HostGator filled out the form. Just they just go on and they’re interested.

I see influencers on Instagram. Sometimes say, if you want to, I forget how they phrase it, but basically want to sponsor me. Here’s the person. And they give you some kind of agent to contact. Sometimes. I wonder if it’s just their own email address and they say contact my agent, but it’s really going to them when they’re smaller, regardless.

Listen, they make it easy. Now, obviously you and I were talking to a business audience, so there’s a good percentage of them that. Understand business enough are in business enough and want to buy ads enough that they would contact us. And so we have a bigger advantage than say if somebody has a site geared towards kids, but in all cases, I find having some link for people to contact you and buy ads, easy win gets you, people who care about the site.

And when they reach it, when they reach out to you, it makes it easier to close a sale, obviously than when you’re trying to reach them, uh, reach out to them or to, that was a win. You then brought somebody on to help. That was a, when things were starting to go really well. And then there was this other issue, and I also want to get into how you figured out content writing, but you know what?

Well, actually, maybe now is a good time to go into content writing. Cause I was about to do my second sponsor, which is SCM rush. How did you, you started out by writing. How, how did you know what content to create when it was just you? When it was, when it was the early days, and then let’s go through the evolution of the content.

Anita: So in the early days, uh, it was literally like, I would see something in a magazine or something. And I would write about that magazine article. Like literally like the old style blog thing. Well, you know, I see this article by so-and-so and they say this, and I might either agree or disagree or I might hide it quite a point that I thought was interesting or I’d highlight a point that I thought was that they missed in the article.

And, uh, the first I say the very first article I wrote in the very first article I wrote was about a list of the best places to start a business. And it was from entrepreneur magazine back in 2003, and I just wrote about it and I, I included the list and I made a couple of remarks about it. That’s what I did now.

Everything was very short back then. You know what I wrote? It was, I mean, 300 words, maybe. If that, and, uh, you would be rare to do something 500 words. Now, what we’re doing is much more authoritative content. And in fact, when we go back to our older content, we’ll rewrite an older piece and make it much longer, more authoritative and less reference to another source.

We’ll actually do a lot more research. And we’ll go out and we’ll dig up, , government statistics on, around, um, we’ll create tables, a w government statistics, various different things because we’re, we’re doing that. We’ve done our own research in certain topics. So it’s very much trying to be more of an authoritative kind of on almost like an encyclopedic type of source on small business topics.

And then we also do news. So we cover news like. Yeah, new product releases and different things like that, that are of note or new legislative things happening. We’ve written about PPP and what’s happening there. We, we do that, but it’s just much different now because it’s very much targeted toward the fact that there’s a lot more competition, a lot more sites out there, a lot more that are writing better content than there was back in 2003.

So we have to be better. You know, we’ve had to raise our, our boats to

Andrew: see that first article, very short article, , best cities for entrepreneurs as of 2003. Number one was. Minneapolis st. Paul number two, Washington DC. I lived in Washington, D C uh, soon after that, I agree. It was under underappreciated as a, as a city for business under appreciated as a city for just now city living with all the amenities of civic city living, but with enough space and parks to feel like you’ve got, , you’ve got some distance from people.

All right. So my, my second sponsor is SEM rush. You told me how you were using SEM rush. You said look before we’ll talk to me about what before SCM rush was and then how you use SEM rush right now.

Anita: Yeah. So SCM rush is an amazing tool. Actually. I’m a huge fan of it. We’ve been using it for several years now. I don’t know, maybe three, three years. Uh, and it’s an essential tool for us. In fact, it’s so broad that you really have to figure out what you want to achieve from it, because it does so many different

Andrew: con they do social media, content management. If I could sum it up it’s tools for getting earned media or tools yeah. Tools for getting earned media for, or for getting traffic without buying it. Right. Okay. All right. So then for you, how did, what was the problem that you had and then how did they help you?

Anita: So here we are. Um, a few years ago we started really looking at this like about three years ago, you know, we’re, we’re 17 years old. I mean, in another month we’ll be, um, Uh, 17 years in public, that’s a long time to be publishing. Right. And we have all this content and a lot of it is older contents over the years.

I mean, it just keeps accumulating and, um, You have to go back and you have to pay attention into your older content. If you’re going to be a publisher, you can’t just slap it up, walk away and never look at it again. It just doesn’t, it doesn’t work. I mean, you can, but you’re, you know, it’s going to degrade very quickly.

And so we realized that if we really wanted to maximize our revenue here, We had to have as much content as possible, still relevant. And that was a refreshed and UpToDate. And that’s where SCM rush came in. We needed a tool to really help us do

Andrew: How do you use it to tell you what needs to be refreshed on your site?

Anita: So, you know, um, we will track, for example, our rankings and we will see the movement over time. So, uh, you can track historical rankings and we’ll see, okay. This article was ranking, you know, number one for some term. Okay. A keyword, a. And we were getting great traffic from it. And then let’s start going down, you know, maybe a drops to number four and then it drops again to number seven.

And you know, this is going to happen. Things move around, nothing stays the

Andrew: So then what do you do about that?

Anita: So you are watching it and you’re seeing the change. And so if it’s an important piece of content that was driving a lot of traffic, you’re going to be watching it, monitoring it, and you’re going to say, Oh, we need to do something.

And so you’re going to then identify, well, here’s what we need to do. You’ll start identifying through SEM rush. Well, would it actually is

Andrew: tell you what to do?

Anita: you know, it can tell you what else is ranking for that, that

Andrew: Oh, okay. Who’s beating you essentially. Who’s suddenly going from number three to number one. Okay. And then what else does it tell you that helps you know, what to do to improve.

Anita: So a lot of pieces, especially if they’re longer pieces, you may rank for hundreds of keywords.

Okay. Now you may never get traffic for a lot of them, but you might get a lot of traffic for like, A hundred keywords, I mean, or 20 keywords or whatever. And so sometimes you can move the needle a lot just by taking some of those, those keywords that are within what I call shouting distance and improving on those and improving your rank on those.

So let me give you an

Andrew: Yeah, please.

Anita: A keyword. See you’re ranking number 31. Okay. So you’re now on page four, whatever. Well, what if you can improve on that topic? You look at your article and you say, well, you know, it only mentions this once and you know, there’s really more on that topic that we could write.

We could add a couple more paragraphs about that and we could put a header that. Points that out and, you know, well, we’ll get some statistics that, that might really flesh that out and make that worthwhile. And so you do that. And then as a result of doing that, you’re able to increase, and maybe you, you bumped that keyword up to like number five now, suddenly you’re on the first page of Google and you’re starting to get some traffic from that.

Okay. And so that’s, that’s just one way, there are many other ways you can use SEM.

Andrew: You also, you pay for content, you know what your price is. I’ll keep it private because I don’t know if you want me to share it. You then need to know if you’re going to make that money back. How, how to use SCM rush to tell you when you, whether or not you can make your money back from that article that you’re about to pay for.

Anita: So when we look at topics to write about, we know we have a fixed cost for our content. Okay. So let me give you a hypothetical. Let’s say there is a fixed cost of $300 per article of a certain type of article. We know it costs us that much. Just to write it, to edit it too. You know, we have to pay for a stock image.

I mean, there’s all kinds of things, you know, you take all your overhead $300. So we fixed that cost and we might say, okay, My goal is that I want to earn back and at least break even, or make a profit within X period of time. Let’s say it’s a year. Okay. In a year I got to make $300 to at least break even.

And really my goal is to try to make 600 so that I not only break even, but I make a profit on that article. So I look at it this way. I might say, well, You know, we know let’s say that we’re going to make ad revenue of $10 per thousand impressions. Okay. For that article. So that means that we need to get a thousand visitors thousand views of that article just to make $10 back.

So from there we can back into when we can say how many views we have to get in order to make enough to not only break even to make $300, but to make that additional 300 in a year’s time. Okay. So we might say, all right, we’ve got to make 60,000 views or something in order to, you know, in a year sign. So.

Here’s where SCM rush comes in. You’re going to be looking at keywords and you’re going to look at SCM rush will tell you like different keywords for a topic. You say, we’re going to write it. We’re going to write on this topic. And I’ll say, you know, focus on this keyword because this is what people are searching for.

They’re searching for that keyword. And not only are they searching for that, but the volume of that is, um, you know, uh, 4,000 searches a month. So we know it’s that kind of volume. If we can rank reasonably well. We can make enough money to make a profit and that’s our goal. And so we look at that kind of data.

Yeah. That’s what SCM rush provides to you. So you look up at the topic, it will give you some keywords around it. It will tell you the search volume, you can pick good search volume, and you say, we’re going to write intelligently. We’re going to write scientifically. We’re not just going to sit down and scribble, you know, around this topic.

We’re going to outline it. We’re going to treat it like we’re going to answer what you think the reader wants to know everything they want to know, and we’re going to target that keyword. And that’s how I know that we’re probably going to make money from that. We’re going to make a profit from that article.

Does that make sense?

Andrew: It does. It does. And if you, you start out with a topic that you think is interesting and then you see what are people, what do people want to know about? It’s almost like you’re surveying your audience and saying what’s up. The question that you have, except you don’t have to, because they’ve already asked those questions to Google, right?

I should say SEM rush. If anyone wants to try it for free, we have a limited time a URL where you can get it for free. Don’t even need to put a credit card in. They’re experimenting with, uh, with this, with our audience. All you have to do is go to mixergy.com/s E M. Rush. I didn’t even give them a chance to create a landing page of their own.

I’m just redirecting it. It’s M I N E R G y.com/s E M rush. And I should say, it’s not just even for, um, For earned media it’s even for paid media, I should be really clear if you’re doing any kind of marketing or want to, or curious about it. This is the all-in-one marketing toolkit. All you have to do is go to mixergy.com/s E M rush, as long as you’ve never, as long as you don’t have an account, they’ll give you an account right now for free.

As part of this experiment with me, how many articles a day you’ve publishing right now?

Anita: publishing around seven per day. During the week, we publish less on the weekend because our audience doesn’t doesn’t read as much. Uh, and you know, it can vary. Um, we actually pulled back during the pandemic, the height of the pandemic, because. People were small business. People were concerned about the pandemic.

They weren’t really that concerned about business topics, but we’ve seen, you know, our regular business topics have picked up quite a bit in the past. Let’s say two months or so.

Andrew: Okay. And so you need a team of writers essentially for that, right? How do you work with your writers?

Anita: Oh, yeah, no, we have, um, you know, I have two editors and, uh, we have a, you know, other people internally, um, I do writing, uh, actually I’m spending more of my time writing now, which I like. Um, but we also have about, um, we bought a dozen freelancers who write on different topics. You know, some of them write on very specific things.

Andrew: How do you find freelancers and how do you test them to make sure they’re going to be a good fit for you?

Anita: Well, for a long time, we had a link at the bottom of the site that said, uh, hiring writers or something like that. And we got all kinds of people and we tied it to a Google form and people filled out the form.

Andrew: It was for hiring writers that way

Anita: Yeah, we, we said we are we’re hiring writers, fill out this form. We had a couple of questions. We asked them, we asked them for some links to their writing samples and so on. And then, you know, we would get the information in, in a Google sheet and we, the whole team could then look at it. So we kept that up there.

I mean, literally for a couple of years we had it. Uh, that Linco so, and then you try people, you try them out. And I mean, we always pay people for, for writing, you know, if we try them out and we said, You know, even, even if what we got back, we just weren’t necessarily all that happy with we’d pay them, but then we wouldn’t necessarily give them any more work or whatever, but we’d try them out and we’d see how, you know, how fast they were.

Were they, did they pay attention to detail? Do they, you know, self edit their own work? You know, are they submitting stuff that has, you know, 50,000 typos in it? You know, that kind of stuff.

Andrew: And do you give them guidelines and then have them do the first article with the idea that you’d like to publish it, but if not, you just pay and you move on.

Anita: Yeah. I mean, we, you know, I think we always ended up publishing everything, but you know, it was more a question of how much time we had our editors had to put in to editing it, you know? Cause every, every. Thing you touch and the time you put into it costs us money. Yeah. It goes into our overhead. So there’s only so much time you can put into yeah.

An article. And if the editor has to spend a lot of time just fixing stuff and going back to the writer. Well, you know, you said this is this a quote from the. Source or w you know, it’s, you didn’t put any quote marks around that. I mean, simple things like that, you know, we’re, and we’re, we try to be really careful and follow editorial standards and so on.

So, you know, if we’re forced to go back and clarify all those things and go back and forth, and it takes four days, five days just to get an article into some semblance of being able to publish it, that’s not going to work out longterm.

Andrew: Seems like some of the articles are affiliate articles, right? Where you get paid when you send somebody over or am I misunderstanding it?

Anita: Us a few of them are we do, um, we have like a, um, a piece of code that if there is an affiliate link in it, it’ll show up like an affiliate disclosure at the top. Uh, I would say the vast majority are not affiliate sites, but, um, you know, uh, there, there is more of that. Um, there are more recently and, uh, some of the things that we’re publishing, but yeah.

Andrew: I noticed that I was looking at similar web. First of all, I was trying to check to see, does she really get as much traffic as you would need in order to, in order to get the revenue that she and I talked about is this right in July of 2020, did you do about 1.8 million visits to your site? Does that sound right?

Anita: Yeah, it’s actually more than that, but that’s close enough.

Andrew: That’s big numbers. And then if I look at where the traffic comes from, similar websites, 71% comes from search. It doesn’t look like you do. You don’t do a big email list. Right? I don’t think I was solicited to join an email list on your site.

Anita: Yeah, no, we, we, I mean, we have some email newsletters and things, but yeah, we, we have that and we do, we have social media channels and you just get known after awhile. So.

Andrew: Hey, YouTube of all the social media sites seems to send you the most traffic right

Anita: Hmm. I wouldn’t think so. No, not, not YouTube. Uh, you know, I mean, we, we do a lot on different things. Uh, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flipboard, um, you know, just a variety of different

Andrew: What’s been working well for you there for using social.

Anita: none of them is a home run. I would say collectively, they all work, you know, even Pinterest, Facebook, you know, you get a lot of traffic from that, but I think, you know, when you add 10 sources together, you know, it adds up to something, but.

] were like, not dependent on any of them.

Andrew: Alright, one more thing, hunting through where your traffic comes from. I saw WordStream sending you traffic and Hemingway app. Why are they sending you traffic?

Anita: well. That’s interesting Hemingway app.

Andrew: You don’t have any partnerships with these guys?

Anita: No.

Andrew: No, huh?

Anita: No,

Andrew: wow. All right. I thought maybe I uncovered something here.

Anita: no, I’m going to actually, I’m going to have to check that out. Hemingway app.

Interesting.

Andrew: Alright. You know what? It might just be that the majority of your traffic is coming from search and social. And then any little bit of traffic that you get from any other site might be so tiny that it’s, it’s not significant to you, but it shows up on this list.

Anita: Yeah. I mean, we were, we’re more likely to get traffic from, I mean, there are a variety of industry newsletters, big industry newsletters out there by big groups that if you’re not in the small business space, you wouldn’t necessarily know, but they, when they send out their newsletters and they link to one of our articles that can.

You know, it can do really well, I’m talking about groups like the better business Bureau and the national association of small enterprises and so on.

Andrew: out of my world. How do you get them to link to you?

Anita: just by having content, I mean, if you have original content and you’re talking about something, no one else is really talking about.

Yeah. They’re willing to.

Andrew: Alright. You know what? I should actually close it out with, you almost had another issue with advertising where you were going down to zero because of what? And then what did you do to, to get yourself back up? What’s the con well, what happened? And then let’s talk about the company that helped you climb back out

and do

Anita: So, so we were selling, uh, you know, our own, um, ads and, uh, you know, in sponsorships and, and that worked really well. Um, And we were also relying a little bit on. Google AdSense. The thing though with Google ad sense was even though we’d been with them for years and years, we can, we never could really devote the time that you need to really, um, figure out how to, you know, increase our revenue over a certain level.

Yeah, we kind of plateaued, uh, and that was the issue. And without going into too much detail, you know, you, you get to a point where, um, like, like we had three ad units that were through our entire site and we couldn’t really target individual sections or pages because it was the same ad unit across. You know, 25,000 pay and, and to go back and to try to create new ad units and target them to specific sections, it was just too big of a job for us to do that manually and to test out different ad positions.

You know, where on the page was the best position. We just couldn’t do that. So. You know, we, I started looking at that and I started saying, okay, now I got to find another room revenue source here, again, I’m back to this right. Feast or famine. Now we’re heading toward family again. A and M yeah. Throughout all this I’ve always been profitable.

We’ve always managed. I’ve never had any outside money. It’s all. I funded everything myself. Um, but you know, at this point we needed something. And I found this company called egoic and they had technology and they said, where you use artificial intelligence and we will place ads. Um, you know, that are specific to a particular user.

If they come from Facebook and this is their first visit, they might accept certain number of ads or a certain size of ad. Whereas if they’re a return visit, they may not. Tolerate having a lot of ads. So we’re going to show fewer ads if, if this visitor has, if this is their fifth time back in the month, um, and that sort of thing, and it sounded too good to be true, but we tried it out and it was like, the results were like overnight.

It was instantaneous, practically. Uh, we just shot up unbelievably and there’s a case study on the EO excite, where we did a case study for them.

Andrew: I’m looking them up. I had no idea. I never even heard of them, but I’m looking them up now. Apparently there’s a wall street journal article on them that I want to go and grab.

Anita: Yeah. They’re, they’re amazing. They are absolutely amazing. And, um, I’ve gotten to know them and, you know, uh, you know, cause we’ve, we’ve tried ad networks over the years and we’ve been. Cheated by a lot of them. And it’s, it’s not been a happy story with most ad networks, but Zoe is more technology based and it really does make a difference and they know exactly where to insert an ad in the page for that particular visitor and how to maximize your revenue and our revenue shot up like seven times what it had been.

And, um, So, you know, that was another time where, you know, we went from like this, you know, we’re down in the trough here, gone down and then things are looking really bad. And then we found, boom jumped up. One thing I do is I never try to focus on one revenue stream or one partner even. I always try to have different irons in the fire.

And that’s why we’re pursuing some affiliate marketing right now to, uh, you

Andrew: I, it seems you don’t have is a direct sales relationship with your audience. You don’t have a membership site, you don’t have a product that you’re selling them directly. Right.

Anita: Right. Cause you have to make choices. You know, who, who are you going to ask to pay you things? Um, you know, and I just could never figure that I wanted to have my audience pay me for anything. I always wanted it to be free to the audience and have sponsors and advertisers and, um, you know, it can work and it’s got its own risks, but it’s also got its own rewards to do that model.

Okay.

Andrew: All right. You know what I have gone for both in a times, one stunk compared to the other. And I thought about getting rid of the one that stinks. And then I realize, I keep thinking about this interview that I did years ago with a woman who said I would have died if I didn’t have this revenue source.

And she said from now on, I think it was Ann Handley who said, I’ll always have both advertising and membership. Otherwise I’m dead. I’m dead if I lose one. So there’ve been times when I’ve thought about just getting rid of one or the other, and I’m glad I didn’t because they do, when, when ad sales does poorly, I find selling directly does well, but, um, it’s,

Anita: Yeah. Yeah. Whatever your, your revenue, I would agree. Just, uh, you know, always diversify a little bit

Andrew: Yeah. All right. For anyone who wants to go directly to your site, it is avail. I’ve got so many tabs with your stuff on it.

Anita: it’s small biz trends.com.

Andrew: I’m on it right now. Small biz trends.com. And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you need to outgrow, is that really the. If you, if you need to, I don’t think I should be using that.

The name of the outgrow. If you need to create any kind of quiz, any kind of calculator, anything for marketing really they’ll build it for you. They’ll give you a tool actually, that will let you build it yourself and they’ll make it look really good. It’s an outgrow.co/mixergy. You use it. For free, enjoy it and see what you can create with it.

Um, and the second, if you want to get traffic to your site, the marketing tool you want to take a look at is available to you for free right now. Again, they’re only doing this for Mixergy listeners, so you have to go to mixergy.com/sem rush. Alright, thank you so much, Anita, for being here.

Anita: It’s been great. A lot of fun. I appreciate it.

Andrew: but by one. .

Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.

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