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Today’s guest on The Membership Site Success podcast is Dan Norris!'You've got to try a lot of shit' - @thedannorris Click To Tweet
Dan is one of the founders of WPCurve, a WordPress support service that’s inspired countless copycats (myself included!) Dan’s book, The 7 Day Startup, along with his talk at last year’s DCBKK conference, inspired my most successful service-based business, MemberFix. And a lot of folks have similar stories!
A few years back, Dan had a web agency that was making diddly-squat. With his back up against the wall, he launched WPCurve, and it has grown month-over-month into a hugely profitable, and largely automated business.
In this episode, which sounds like a fun chat between two mates, Dan shares his most compelling business insights. Some of which are highly counterintuitive. So make sure to listen up, and don’t forget to rate the podcast on iTunes (it helps me attract more kick-ass guests).
Mentioned In This Episode:
1. WPCurve – Dan’s unlimited WordPress Support Service
2. MemberFix – My unlimited WordPress & Membership Site Support Service (modeled on WPCurve)
3. Dynamite Circle – A private business community that both Dan and I are members of
4. DCBKK – A yearly event for members of the Dynamite Circle, held in beautiful Bangkok, Thailand
5. The 7 Day Startup: You Don’t Learn Until You Launch – Dan’s fantastic book (HIGHLY recommended!), which has inspired a worldwide movement of 7 Day Startuppers!
6. The 7 Day Startup Facebook Group – Probably the kick-ass-est FB group I’ve ever been a part of.
7. Content Machine Facebook Group – Dan’s “other” Facebook group, focused on smart content marketing
8. Get Altitude – A fantastic marketing course by Eben Pagan
9. WordCamp – International WordPress conference that Dan has presented at.
10. Helloify – Dan’s live chat software startup
11. Black Hops Brewing – Dan and company’s beer brewery on the Gold Coast, Australia
12. Tropical Think Tank – Chris Ducker’s entrepreneurial mastermind conference held yearly in Cebu, Philippines (at which Dan has, of course, spoken).
13. Super Fast Business – Jame’s Schramko’s website, and conference of the same name at which Dan has presented.
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Dan Norris: Yep, all right. Nice to see you and your half naked body.
Vic: Thank you, nice to see you and your surf.
Dan Norris: All right, I’ll kill this as well. My internet isn’t great, actually let me pause a bunch of stuff actually.
Vic: Okay. Mine’s a little bit shaky too out here in Thailand.
Dan Norris: Mine should be all right but it’s just can’t be sure. It should be all right, I paused like CrashPlan.
Vic: Are you going to be in DC BKK by the way?
Dan Norris: I haven’t decided yet, I hope so.
Dan Norris: Yeah, I hope so.
Vic: No talk this year?
Dan Norris: No, I’m definitely keen to go. We’re working on building a brewery on the Gold Coast and it’s going to happen around that time of year.
Vic: Black Hops, right?
Dan Norris: Yeah. I’m not sure how much availability I’m going to have but yeah, we’ll see.
Vic: Okay, that’s cool, maybe we could talk about the brewery and some of your other projects too.
Dan Norris: Yeah, if we get time, you got a lot on there. We’ll see how the list goes, how quickly we get thorough them but yeah, I’m happy to talk about anything.
Vic: Okay. We can just jump right in and yeah, I met you at DC BKK which is the Dynamite Circle meetup/event held … I guess it’s every year. It’s not every six months, is it? It’s every year?
Dan Norris: Yeah, the Bangkok one’s every year. I think they do one in Europe and they do meetups and stuff around the year, but the Bangkok one’s every year in October, I think.
Vic: Okay, yeah. I met you there, it’s funny too because I read your book, everybody was kind of … I saw one of your posts on the Dynamite Circle and everybody was kind of whispering your name like, “Oh, Dan Norris. He’s the WP Curve guy.” You were kind of associated with providing a lot of valuable content to people and so everybody said, “You got to read this book,” so I finally got around to reading it. I got it during the free promo, I think. It really impacted me a lot and I don’t say that lightly because at the time I was doing hourly consulting for building membership sites and I just hated chasing the invoices all the time, sometimes clients don’t pay and you have no recourse. Right? I thought, “Well, okay. Why don’t I just take a page out of Dan’s book and basically productize a service?” Then I went and I heard you speak at the conference and then that kind of galvanized me into action and I finally did it and I’m super glad I did it. It completely changed my business and it completely changed my level of stress, it brought it way down.
Dan Norris: That’s very cool.
Vic: Absolutely, and I was hoping you could sort of talk about your transition from … or your start in online business and how you got all the way up to WP Curve and we’ll talk about your other projects a little bit later on.
Dan Norris: Right. I started with a web agency in 2006. I probably shouldn’t really call it an agency, it was really just me building websites. Eventually, it sort of turned into a very small sort of more of an agency than just me. I had a couple of employees, but it was never very successful. Just like the reasons you mentioned before, there was just things about it that I just hated and just could not fix. One of them was the whole invoicing thing that people not paying you, but I just couldn’t make enough money with it. It wasn’t differentiated enough, it wasn’t scalable, it just wasn’t a very good fit for me; there was just a lot of things about it that I didn’t like. I stubbornly soldiered away for seven years, but eventually figured out I just wasn’t going to be able to fix it. So I sold it with enough time to give me a year to work on something else.
I spent that entire year building something that no one wanted, which was an analytics dashboard and then I got to the end of the year and realized that I had to do something else, otherwise I was completely screwed and I was going to have to get a job, and that’s when I launched WP Curve. You mentioned the Dynamite Circle, I launched it inside that forum and had my first customer from that forum. It just kind of exploded from there, and didn’t have to get the job and eventually wrote a book about it and started a bunch of other projects as well.
Vic: Okay, that’s interesting. I think I heard you say before too that you had grown a big team with your web agency, or a team I should say, but you didn’t really make any money despite “scaling,” is that true?
Dan Norris: I wouldn’t say I scaled it, I employed a couple of people to do a few of the hundreds of jobs that need to be done in a web agency. I had to get developers because I wasn’t a developer myself and I tried to be one for a number of years and that didn’t work particularly well. It just took me a while to figure out that what I really needed to do to be successful was to be the person that came up with the ideas, but not the person that implemented the ideas because for lots of reasons. One reason was I just get bored easily and I get disinterested, which I think a lot of entrepreneurs have that. I don’t know if it’s ADD or if it’s just a native entrepreneurial trait where you kind of get excited about new things and once you’ve done them once, you’re bored of them.
There’s that, but on top of that it’s really, it’s just not a good idea to start a business where you have to do all the work. If that’s the case, it ends up being something that you can’t really scale. You end up really undervaluing your own time and not building enough profit margin into business and that’s the position I found myself in, like I was doing websites for a thousand to $2,000. In order to scale that, I really needed to get ridiculously cheap employees to do all of the jobs you need to do on a website, which is almost impossible or I needed to sort of 5X the cost, which meant a whole new range of skills in selling websites that I didn’t have and I didn’t want to have and I didn’t want to do.
With WP Curve, I really wanted to start something that it was going to be like that, it was going to be like, I could come up with the ideas and then I could have employees do the work or contractors do the work and life would go on if I decided that I wanted to work on something else. That ended up being exactly what I needed to sort of make things work. Before that I just couldn’t get it right as an entrepreneur, everything I did failed and once I learned how to write good processes and hire good people and build a sort of business where there was enough profit to pay people to do the work then it really turned things around. That wasn’t the only thing that changed, the idea was different and there’s a lot of other things that changed but that’s definitely a big part of it.
Vic: Okay, can you talk about that then? What factors you would attribute your success of WP Curve to, versus the analytics dashboard that you had built right before that?
Dan Norris: Sorry and I have to apologize because I’m a bit sick. I’ve got a bit of a cough which is never that fun to listen to on a podcast.
Vic: No worries, we’ll edit it out.
Dan Norris: It’s always a bit hard to analyze your own success or failure. Actually, it’s not too hard to analyze your own failure, that’s pretty easy. You can normally quite easily work out why things fail, but analyzing why things didn’t fail or why things went well is quite hard to do. I think I’m reasonably okay at observing what people do and what I do and what works and why it worked, but I’m hesitant to give an exact answer for it because I think a lot of the time there is a lot of chance involved and there is a factor of timing and those two were definitely present with WP Curve. But there are also a lot of things about the business that were totally different to the last one. In the 7 Day Startup book, I have a section where it’s, on one of the days, it’s coming up with your idea and I have a framework for looking at your business idea, to work out if it’s going to be a good idea. Which, again, you don’t really know, but it is good to think about some of this stuff.
One example is there does need to be enough profit there once you add up all the costs for doing a particular job for a customer, there does need to be enough profit there to pay someone to do it. Part of that is making sure whatever you’re delivering is really simple and really quantifiable. With an agency, the type of work you do is just complex and there’s all sorts of types of jobs you do and all sorts of types of people and skills you need to get those jobs done. That kind of complexity ends up adding to dollars, undervalue your own time, you really don’t know how much it costs and therefore how much to charge and therefore how much profit you’ve got. Having a really simple idea with, all we do is small WordPress fixes, we don’t do anything else. We’ve turned down at least tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of direct work. Indirectly, I would say probably hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of work. Just to pursue this idea of getting good at doing small WordPress fixes and that’s probably the major difference between that and anything I’ve done before, it was just saying, “This is exactly what we’re going to do, this is only what we’re going to do. If it pisses you off, so be it. If we miss out on tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of work, then so be it.” But I’m not going to compromise on that, that’s just what we’re going to do because that’s what I know we can make money doing. We can scale, we can do a good job of it, and we can create something that the industry needs.
That was probably the biggest thing, but there are nine factors I look at in the book. Probably not enough time to go through all nine of them here but that’s one of them. The product/founder fit is another one. I really wanted to start a business, felt like it was a good fit for me and I’d never felt that with my last business. There are so many factors, even with my current book, I’m writing Content Machines about content marketing, there’s a concept I have in there called monetization logic which is: having great content is good, having a great business is good, they also need to be tightly connected. You might have great content and you might also have a great business, but the whole thing might fall apart if it doesn’t make sense that someone would read your blog and become a customer of your business.
Dan Norris: Like if there’s no logic there. That was a little bit out of whack with the analytics dashboard as well. I had a bunch of content marketing but then I was targeting it primarily to agencies. Those guys probably aren’t the guys who are reading this content and so that linkage there wasn’t very strong. As soon as I moved from targeting those people, I kept the content more or less the same, but I created a service that almost every one in my audience could use because they’re all using WordPress and they’re all entrepreneurs. I sort of designed the service for them and once I had that link between the content and the business, the thing just took off. That’s not in the 7 Day Startup, it’s in my new book called Content Machine, but that’s an important thing as well; your marketing has to make sense for your business and linking that up is … like people just sort of take other people’s advice and say, “I should do video. I should do this, should do that.” But it needs to make sense. Your marketing needs to make sense for the business and before it didn’t really.
Even with the agency before, I would do lots and lots of blog posts. I’d even get some international recognition for that, like I’d get guest posts on big sites. But it was a local agency serving local customers, so even if I’d got 200 Tweets on a blog post on a dot com over in the U.S., it really is never going to translate into work for me because I can only service this small, local area.
Those were the major things that I think people don’t really think about enough. The first couple, I want to talk about in the first book and the content stuff is the stuff I talk about in Content Machine because that’s sort of how we’ve marketed the business and that’s like my sort of real passion is creating this content and putting it out there.
Vic: You kind of just got me thinking about this, and I’m going to paraphrase here, but Eben Pagan has this course Get Altitude, maybe you’ve seen it, he talks about what is marketing, what is the purpose of marketing? Essentially the purpose of marketing is to get you more customers. If whatever you’re doing isn’t getting you more customers, then it’s not marketing.
Dan Norris: I don’t agree with that, without knowing too much about it, that’s definitely not the approach I take. The way I think about it is content marketing is not direct response marketing. It just does not work like that and I’ve made that mistake before, I think a lot of other people make the same mistake, where they think about it like that and they think, “If I’m doing this content and it’s not directly leading to sales, then I’m not doing it right.” I think that’s a huge mistake. I think the way content normally works is you will do it and it will take time. Even if everything is in place, even if the content’s really good, even if there’s a really logical between your content and a really great business that’s designed really well, designed to grow, is unique and stands out and is easily referable and all of those things, even if all of that is in place, it’s still going to take time because the way content works is it’s a trust building exercise.
The way I think about content marketing is the whole point of it is to get attention and to build trust with people who can help your business. So they don’t have to be customers, they might be just people who can refer customers. They might be people who can spread the word of your brand and eventually sort of raise the awareness in the eyes of customers, but it’s very, very rarely direct. I think that’s a big point I want to make in the new book, Content Machine, because I think people really lose confidence with content marketing when they think it’s not directly leading for sales. But it’s never worked like that for me and I don’t think it works like that with a lot of other people either.
Vic: Okay, that’s interesting and I’ll add to that, that the way that a lot of people kind of find me is that somebody, kind of a big name marketing guy, will refer them to me, but that person who referred them has never worked with me personally, they just kind of Googled around; okay, membership site expert, membership site setup. My name kept coming up vis-à-vis all of the content that I’ve put out and all of the guest appearances I’ve done all over the web. They sort of automatically trusted me enough to refer their clients to me, even though they’d never worked with me personally.
Dan Norris: This is exactly what’s happened with WP Curve. We’ve got a craft beer business called Black Hops Brewing and people are spreading the word about that thing, even supporting me overseas and telling people to try it. Most of the people haven’t tried the beer because we’ve made hardly any beer. But people, with content, it just gets people excited and it gets people trusting you. You get yourself in the position where people are rooting for you, they appreciate the value you’ve added and they want to give back. I just think it’s literally about referrals, I think business is just about referrals. Any type of business, the way it grows is by people referring other people and if you think about it that way, there just isn’t a direct relationship with content, so it’s going to take time. If you can build your brand in the eyes of people who can refer you business and they can trust you and they have a reason to refer you because there’s something unique about your business, then that’s how it works well.
Vic: Okay, you just touched on your brewery, let’s segue into that for a second. You managed to, and correct me if I’m wrong but seemingly successfully, you managed to juggle quite a few different projects, like you had WP Curve, then you had the live chat software and you have the brewery now. Can you talk about how many projects you sort of have going and how you managed to work on them in a way that’s productive without spreading yourself thin?
Dan Norris: Well, I wouldn’t say they’re all successful and I wouldn’t say that I’m productive.
Vic: Fair enough.
Dan Norris: There’s a few things, so I’ve got four different things I work on at the moment. One is WP Curve, the other is Helloify which is a live chat software which we’re still sort of trying to figure out how to best position that, we’re doing some work like deep Infusionsoft integration at the moment to try and see if that angle is useful for people. This is just one of those businesses, like software businesses that is really hard to figure out and it’s almost like a passion thing for me because I love building software and I really want to get a software business going, but for new entrepreneurs, it would never be something I would suggest they do.
Same as the beer, Black Hops Brewing is the craft brewery and it’s a real passion project. It might do well, it might make us a lot of money; it’s certainly costing me a lot of money. That’s a real passion project. It’s doing something really significant for the local community and doing something real and physical and tangible and with my mates. Like that’s just a really cool thing to be working on.
Vic: That sounds fun.
Dan Norris: Yeah. The other thing I do is I present at conferences, which I don’t do for money, but it ends up taking up a fair bit of time because I’ve done quite a bit of that in the last couple of months, after starting at the end of last year and I’ve also written the two books. So I do a bit of stuff around the books. I got a Facebook community — two Facebook communities.
Vic: Great communities by the way.
Dan Norris: Thanks.
Vic: Amazing communities, yeah.
Dan Norris: Right, so they are the four things. How do I do it productively? The only reason I can do anything is because I’ve got a team and I’m pretty good at writing processes. I’m pretty good at automation and delegation. We just wrote a post on our site about this actually, which I’ll give you a link to, it’s the latest post on the WP Curve blog but maybe by the time you release this, it won’t be. Have a look at that, but that’s exactly how we go about creating processes. Pretty much everything that I can think of in WP Curve is either done by someone else or it’s done by a computer and if it is done by somebody else, we’ve got some kind of automation in there that’s happening, so I don’t have to remember for it to happen.
That’s the only reason I can do anything else is because I’ve got processes in place for WP Curve. It’s the kind of business that lends itself well to that because it’s been designed that way; it’s not that complex, it’s not stupidly complex like an agency, it doesn’t require me to go out and sell websites and wine and dine clients and that kind of thing. I just designed a business where I could do the content and do press and do conferences and write books and someone else can do the back end. That’s the reason I can do it.
Vic: I’m glad you touched on that, Dan, because one thing that I found with my productized service, with my 7 Day Startup which is MemberFix — which is basically WP Curve but for membership sites — is that because the scope of tasks is so wide and there’s so many different types of membership software, etc., all of my attempts to sort of scale and delegate and systematize this business have failed abysmally. I think that some services just don’t lend themselves to scale and to productization and to delegation, systematization as well as others and …
Dan Norris: That’s true but almost always the reason is the profitability. Let me explain what I mean by that.
Dan Norris: With WP Curve, it is very simple, it’s deliberately simple and I wanted to build a business where I could get offshore contractors to do the work. We don’t do any kind of knowledge work. I mean like creative design work or analytical type work, like conversions or writing headlines, like that kind of stuff that kind of needs a native English speaker and needs someone to really sit down and analyze and be creative about it. It’s like coding, what we do is coding and that’s something that I knew could be done very well by contractors that were pretty affordable. I knew I could come up with a price and turn that into a good deal for business owners. If I couldn’t get that done by offshore contractors, if I had to hire people in Australia or the U.S. to do it, like that would literally be five to ten times the cost.
Vic: Yes. That’s exactly what happened with me.
Dan Norris: Yeah. All that means is that you have to charge five to ten times as much. That may still work, but there’s a couple of things that are going to change. One is the way you market that is going to have to change because you’re not going to sell a $500 per month subscription, probably not by doing what I do. Although maybe you would, you’d have to test that. The other thing that would have to change is it still has to be a good deal for people to refer it and people refer WP Curve because it sounds … like I got told so many times in the beginning that it sounds too good to be true. It was a talking point because it was so cheap. If it was $700 a month, then it’s much less of a talking point and it brings an agency back into the competition; it makes an Odesk, Freelancer much, much cheaper and arguably worth the hassle and it totally changes the kind of competitive landscape. A more complex service can definitely work, but the profit needs to be there and sometimes it’s not just a matter of putting a price up because if you put a price up, it totally changes referability of the business and whether or not it can compete.
Vic: Okay. You’ve sort of inspired, WP Curve and your book have sort of inspired a lot of these 7 day startups, if you want to call them that, or productized services. This is a podcast about membership sites, but really it’s a podcast about recurring revenue models and I think when most people think about membership sites, they think of some kind of instructional course that you deliver via a paywall and you log in and you consume the content, etc., but really, any kind of recurring revenue where you can delegate it and automate it to reasonable degree is a membership site, maybe not strictly speaking. But why do you think these productized services have become so popular? It seems like you’ve sort of started a movement almost.
Dan Norris: People talked about productized services a long time before I did. I think the innovation that we made was more or less around the unlimited small jobs, but also just getting the message out to a lot of people, like I think the book’s been ordered 25,000 times or something like that. A lot of people have read about this idea of service as a service or productized service through the book, but it definitely wasn’t my idea. The idea of productizing a service has been around for a long time. I think it’s got traction because there are so many entrepreneurs that are frustrated that they’re not getting the results they wanted and the same frustrations that you’re talking about with the agency and with the inability to hire people to do the work and you’re not making as much money as you want to. You’ve seen other business that operate on either recurring revenue or some sort of consistent revenue, and you want that.
Probably the number one best thing about a recurring service type business, and membership to some extent as well, is you can launch it really quickly and you can test ideas really quickly. That’s obviously the whole point of the book with a name like 7 Day Startup.
Dan Norris: You can launch it quickly, you can launch it cheaply. So you don’t need to go through a traditional software startup-type program that you might have to do software as a service or you don’t need to take ridiculous risks like I did with the software business and so it’s appealing. I think all I really did was sort of lay out exactly how I did it. A good story helps; a good story of something that’s worked. It’s kind of funny, a lot of people talk about recurring services, but there isn’t that many people that are making a lot of money doing it.
Vic: What’s a lot of money? What do you consider a lot of money like six figures?
Dan Norris: Well, I’d say like a seven-figure annual run rate would be a good benchmark for a successful business. Like a million dollars a year, 80 grand a month, that type of size would be a benchmark for a significant business.
Vic: In revenue?
Dan Norris: Yeah, in revenue. There’s not too many people like in the community of people educating freelancers and agency owners about building recurring services that have built something at that size. I mean having a good story and something that sort of happened quickly and everyone is talking about really helps to spread the message.
Vic: Yeah, that’s a good point. There is a lot of the blind leading the blind out there in Internetland with people who haven’t —
Dan Norris: Yeah, even software. Software’s even worse, like I look at some of the experts at teaching people how to do software and a lot of them, they’re not making a lot of money from software. Most of them make money from teaching people how to build software products. I don’t know, I think software is so hard and that’s why it made sense for me to explain how I built this services business because I think for a lot of people software is just not a good choice. It takes too long to build, it’s too hard to get traction. There are a very few people that really are able to make it work on a decent scale. It’s got everything you need for a perfect business, but it’s so hard that few people actually achieve it. So I think service is a really good option, particularly for first time entrepreneurs or for entrepreneurs who haven’t built something yet which they deem to be successful, like they’re still sort of looking for that first win.
Vic: Yeah and it’s also a good training ground, isn’t it? Because you sort of learn how to figure out what your market wants, which is that much harder to do when you have software and a lot of money involved.
Dan Norris: That’s right and you get to that privilege position. One thing I said in my first book was building that kind of a business that requires outside funding or that requires you to put years of your life in or lots and lots of money, is like a privilege that you get when you’ve built other businesses that afford you the ability to do that, but if you try to do that for your first business, it’s going to be a disaster. That’s what I did with the software and it was a disaster. Which helped, it was a good story to tell, but it’s a good cautionary tale for other people. In terms of how it’s worked for me is I’ve been able to build WP Curve up, which is a nice business. It might not end up being the best business I ever create. I don’t know, but it’s enabled me, at the very least, to have a lot of flexibility and work on some other businesses like the craft beer one, the sort of things that first time entrepreneurs rarely get the opportunity to work on.
Vic: Okay and you mentioned, you touched on the fact that you do quite a few talks. I was wondering yesterday when I was putting these questions together is do you accept payment for these talks and you said you don’t and so what is your motivation for doing them? Is it related to your personal brand, to the marketing of your company? What is in it for you, essentially?
Dan Norris: I started doing it purely for networking reasons. I think Dan Andrews was actually the first person from the Dynamite Circle to ask me to talk at a conference. It was at DC Bangkok in 2013 and that was the year where everything went to shit for me and that was the first one I went to. Up until then I’d always turned down conference presentations, to be honest because I was too scared to do it. I also felt like I didn’t have a good story to tell and I didn’t really believe … I always like doing things when I really believe in what I’m doing and really feel confident in the content and I’d never really found myself in that position until WP Curve took off. When that happened, I started saying yes to some of these things just to kind of cement those relationships. So I said yes to Dan Andrews and spoke at DC BKK. I said yes to James Schramko spoke at SuperFast Business, and Chris Ducker and spoke at Tropical Think Tank and I did a WordCamp to give back to the WordPress community. I’ve said no to a lot of people as well but I’ve started saying yes to events that make sense and things where I think it could help the relationship. But I’m also getting a lot more out of it that I never would have expected and that’s kind of keeping me doing it, and that list is much longer.
I don’t think I’ll ever do it for money. Although, I probably should never say never. I don’t think it’s a very good business to be presenting for money and it doesn’t sound fun or motivating to do that to me, but there are a lot of things you get out of presenting at conferences. I’d say the biggest thing I get out of presenting at conferences is actually enjoying the conference. Which sounds crazy, but if you go to a conference as a participant, it’s fucking hard work. I never used to go to them because I was just too stressed out about meeting people and just freaking out about overwhelming and just kind of feeling like you’re just one of thousands of people. Maybe that’s a bad thing to say, but that’s how I used to feel and that just completely turned around the first event I’ve presented at. Presenting at an event is just a complete game changer for a conference experience.
Vic: It kind of puts you in a higher position in the hierarchy too, if you think about it from a sociological standpoint. If you’re a presenter, you have a little bit of celebrity at the conference and then it makes it so much easier to talk to people. People, they start their conversations to you with deference and there’s already a lot of ego at the conferences. People are just shooting those business cards like they’re ninja darts.
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Vic: If you’re a presenter, it’s like you already have the value built up and it’s just so much easier to segue into conversations and networking and that kind of thing.
Dan Norris: Yeah and people come to you, which is the thing that, I don’t know, it’s just a weird thing with me. I’m not very good socially, like I just get freaked out approaching people. Having people come up to me, to me, is a total game changer. I love talking to people. I’m just a little bit freaked out around hundreds of people, and I don’t like randomly go up to people and start talking to them. So that was a big thing. Also, it is just insane to me that I can go out with my friends and I’m a complete nobody, but then I can go to some conferences and people will be coming up wanting to take selfies with me. They’re like, “Oh, Dan Norris. Grab a selfie.” I’m like, “Fuck, really?”
I went to a conference the other day in Melbourne. This guy came up and he’s like, “Hey, let’s get a selfie.” I’m like, “Cool, yeah. No, that sounds good.” I didn’t think twice about it. It was just a small little talk. Then I was talking to someone after, who told me this guy had flown there from another State just to see me talk at it.
Dan Norris: I’m like, oh my God, I would’ve been so much more engaged in conversation if I would have known that, but it’s insane to me to think that the same person is just viewed completely differently in one setting than another. If you want to get the attention to get your message out there and really impact people, then you’ve got to present at a conference. It’s a complete game changer and that’s led to a whole bunch of stuff for me that I never would have predicted. I’m keen to do more of it even though I still find it quite challenging because it just leads to so much good stuff.
Vic: Yeah and I want to say too that I could tell during your presentation at the last DC BKK, that you were just nervous in general a little bit.
Dan Norris: Yeah.
Vic: I mean you’re in front of a shit ton of people, that’s pretty natural but also you did a really great job. I think you made everybody laugh. You were probably the most entertaining presenter, but also had a very valuable talk despite any nervousness, so that’s almost a non-issue. It’s not really a good excuse, although I can see how you didn’t want to do any talks until you were sort of ready with the business, otherwise you’d have this sort of imposter syndrome happening.
Dan Norris: Yeah, exactly. I mean the nervousness, I think is getting better, but there was a few things that happened to that DC Bangkok one that really threw me. First of all, there was actually a lot that happened. I’ll try to do it quickly because maybe this is interesting for people listening if they’re into presenting, but the first thing was that it was a very, very big group of people.
Dan Norris: I’d only presented once before and it was at WordCamp, really casual about 50 people in the room. I thought the best approach for me was like … if I worried too much about these presentations, I would literally just like for months before hand just stress out. So my way to deal with that was just to completely ignore it, was to pretend that it was going to be all cruisy and not practice or anything, so I hadn’t practiced that talk. I’d been to one DC BKK before and it was two years early and there’s about 70 people there. It was a totally, totally different vibe and I was almost expecting the same thing. The other thing that happened was just before my talk, someone came up and told me that I looked nervous, so that didn’t help. The next time that happens, I’ll laugh it off but the state I was in, I really didn’t need that. The final thing that happened was I wasn’t very prepared in terms of my slides and I didn’t actually realize, but as a presenter, you couldn’t see your slides and that is really important for me because I don’t have a very good memory and the way I’d structured those slides was like 20 dot points on a slide. It was a short talk. I wanted to get through a lot and so I had to keep turning around and I was really worried about the amount of time, so there was just a lot of that shit going on that I really could have … like now, I have three or four conferences on. I think it would be totally different but you live and learn, like I just threw myself into it. I actually just did a presenter course on the weekend, which is the first course I’ve done since I started doing these things. I just started turning up and doing them and I’ve learned a huge amount. I still get nervous, but I don’t think I’ll be as nervous as that again. That was probably as nervous as I’ve been.
Vic: Yeah and I want to add to that too that before I got into this online business thing, what I did professionally was singing. In particular, I studied classical singing and so every week at the university, we would have to get up in front of the entire music faculty and the entire music school and sing in this tiny little stage, or whatever the instrument that you were studying was, and it was so nerve-racking. I mean literally, you’d be like puking before. Your legs would be shaking, your voice would be trembling and I asked my professor at that point, because I was just so fed up with just this feeling, I said, “Does it ever get better? Does it ever go away?” He said, “No, but the way that you deal with it improves.”
Dan Norris: Right, yeah. I don’t know. I think it does go away, I hope it does. I think the more you do something, the more you get comfortable with it. I’ll give you an example of podcast interviews like this. I used to get nervous for things like this but I’ve literally, like I do at least five of these a week.
Dan Norris: Sometimes, I’ll do five in one day.
Dan Norris: I’m not nervous for these things anymore. I’m not the slightest bit nervous. I don’t even think about them before the call comes through. I’ll try and do a bit of background to make sure it’s a valuable episode, but I could be doing something two minutes beforehand, wouldn’t cross my mind, come on here and I’d be completely fine. That definitely wasn’t the case the first few I did and I know when I interview other entrepreneurs, I’ve probably only done 60 or 70 of those, and I still get a little bit nervous for those because I just haven’t done quite as many. Periscope’s another one. I’ve started using Periscope, where I do live calls and the first one, again, like really nervous. Now, I’ve done about 15 of them and now it’s more of an excitement, like a nervous excitement.
Dan Norris: I mean there is a difference between, same physical symptoms, but there’s a difference between excitement and like legitimately wanting to kill yourself before you fucking present in front of people and that’s how people feel before they talk in public, and I think that part of it probably goes away.
Vic: Okay. You’re doing all these talks and then you’re going on all these podcasts, so in a sense you’re taking on the role, unofficially, of a mentor to a lot of people who are just starting out or who want to replicate your success. So I’m curious if you have any mentors that you appeal to or if you have any coaches that you pay actively to mentor you, guide you in your business and maybe even your personal decisions?
Dan Norris: I don’t have any coaches. I don’t work like that. The way I work best is by doing, but sometimes when I need to do something — I mean always when I need to do something — I’ll look at best practice examples of how that’s done and I’ll figure out the best way to learn it. If that means paying someone, I’ll do that. If it means doing a paid course, I’ll do that. More often than not, for me, it will involve either getting someone else or Googling, which is a skill I’ve developed over a lot of years of using the Interwebs and it’s a really good way to get shit done. You know like some people need someone to be telling them what to do. I don’t really need that. I just need to make sure that when I have an idea, I’ve got a team that executes that idea and that I know that when I do something, it will be done to a high standard. That can sort of be figured out, between looking at Google, doing the occasional course. Like, I did a presenter course on the weekend, which is an example of something you’re probably not going to figure out by looking at Google, probably need to actually practice it. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I actively reach out to influences and in my own community, I use my own community actually probably more than all of those things. In the Facebook group, asking for feedback from people or just going on Facebook and asking a question, lazy web style, so I use all of those sorts of things.
I think the idea of paying someone to be your mentor, your coach, to me it makes no sense. I know some people need that, but I just think if it’s literally to kick your ass, then maybe that makes sense because some people just need someone like a personal trainer type thing. That person probably doesn’t need to know everything, they just need to kick your ass, but if you’re doing the thing where you’re like I want this person as a coach because they know everything and you’re like doing the hero worshipping, permission seeking type thing, then I think it’s a really bad way to go about it. I think people just get stuck years and years of coaching with the same person, getting advice that’s no longer relevant and just disregarding other advice. A lot of the time, advice is just not applicable across the board. It’s just like your own circumstance dictates so much of it that having someone to tell you what to do just doesn’t make sense, so that’s the way I’ve always approached it.
Vic: So you’re kind of saying just gird your loins and figure out what you need to do, how do you need to do it and just fucking do it?
Dan Norris: Yeah and take responsibility for that and just realize that there are no rules, really. The more you realize that you just have to try a lot of shit and learn what happens after you launch something and that there isn’t like a blueprint that you have to follow for everything. The more you kind of realize that and take responsibility for that, then the closer you get to being an entrepreneur and the less you do of that, the further away you get to being an entrepreneur. So definitely take your own responsibility to get shit done. If you need someone to kick your ass, then that’s fine, but don’t hero worship someone who had a successful business 20 years ago and he’s going to answer all of your questions and solve all of your problems.
Vic: I’m going to turn that into a Click to Tweet, “You’ve got to try a lot of shit, Dan Norris.”
Dan Norris: Yeah, that sounds like something I would say.
Vic: Okay, well I actually have only one — we sort of meandered around these questions, they went out of order but that’s cool. I have one question that I didn’t touch on that I think a lot of people might relate to or might want to hear your take on, which is: how do you productize a skill you have? Like for example, I’ll use myself as an example. I was setting up membership sites on a contract/hourly basis. Let’s say I hadn’t productized that, how would you recommend that I do that? Or would you even recommend that I do that? Or is it better to just take whatever skill you have and use it as a sort of in-house venture capital firm and then start your own 7 day startup, which may or may not even be related to that skill?
Dan Norris: Well, you definitely need to use whatever skills you have. I would prefer to … the absolute best case for me, in terms of skills, is to do what I did which is to never have the skills to actually deliver the service in the first place and that means that you skip one of the hardest things that ever entrepreneur has to deal with, which is how do I exit myself from the process of actually doing the work.
Dan Norris: I never had that problem because I could never do the work anyway and I think that is a good thing to do, but at the same time, you do have to use your own skills. I think you might be thinking about it the wrong way though because I don’t think you productize skills, I think you productize solutions to problems and if your skills enable you to solve a problem that is ongoing in nature, which is important if you want it to be recurring, then you use that skill to build a business and to build a brand that’s referable, or you employ people to do it and you use your skills to get attention for that brand, which is what I did. I think that’s a better way to do it. In any case, you’re not productizing your skill, you’re figuring out a problem that people have and you’re creating a referable service around that problem and using your skills to either get attention to it or, worst case, deliver it.
Vic: That’s a really good distinction. Okay, I hadn’t really thought about that. Okay well, we’ve boogied through most of these questions here, is there anything that you want to add or any kind of general notes you want to add around the topics that we’ve discussed?
Dan Norris: No, I think it’s been good. I hope it’s been useful for your audience. Yeah, if you want to learn more about anything I’m doing, I’ve got the Content Machine, book is the thing I’m focusing on at the moment. It comes out on the 10th of August, 2015.
Vic: On Kindle?
Dan Norris: Yeah, it will be on Amazon Kindle or a soft copy on Amazon. I’m sort of in that mode at the moment, so I’ve got a Facebook group Content Machine which people can join if they’re interested in the content marketing thing, which is really what I’ve done to build WP Curve. That’s kind of my focus at the moment. You can jump on there and ask me any questions you have, but if you’ve got questions about WP Curve stuff or the 7 Day Startup then that’s a separate Facebook group called 7 Day Startup which is also, I think we’re up to about two and a half thousand members there. It’s turned into a really active community, so you can check that out as well.
Vic: Cool, I’ll go ahead and link to all of your projects in the show notes as well.
Dan Norris: Awesome, sounds good. Thanks for having me.