What happens when you reach your goals around making a living with your writing? How do you take the next steps into freedom and long-term business thinking?
In today's show, I interview Yaro Starak, who taught me about blogging, podcasting and internet business nearly 10 years ago. We talk about how his own online business has changed, and how to move into freedom of mindset as well as freedom of time and money.
In the intro, I mention the FutureBook conference [The Bookseller], as well as How to position yourself for success in writing and publishing for 2019, a podcast episode with me and Orna Ross [ALLi podcast], plus the Weird Thriller storybundle which features my supernatural thriller, End of Days.
Yaro Starak is a blogger, podcaster, entrepreneur, angel investor and digital nomad. His most recent company is Inbox Done, which manages email for busy professionals, which I know everyone will love. His Blog Profits Blueprint and course taught me how to make money online 10 years ago.
- The value of a personal brand in a crowded marketplace
- When and why simple is better. [If you need a WordPress website, check out my tutorial here.]
- The 3 different phases of freedom. [I highly recommend listening to Yaro's freedom podcast episode.]
- Making conscious choices about business growth depending on what you want
- The importance of scalability and multiple streams of income
- Thoughts on how we’ll consume content in the future
Transcript of Interview with Yaro Starak
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today, I'm back with Yaro Starak. Hi, Yaro.
Yaro: Hi, Joanna.
Joanna: Hi, it's great to have you back on the show. Just in case people missed the last two that we've done over the years:
Yaro is a blogger, podcaster, entrepreneur, angel investor and digital nomad. His most recent company is Inbox Done, which manages email for busy professionals, which I know everyone will love, and his ‘Blog Profits Blueprint' and course taught me how to make money online 10 years ago. And we're talking about my 10-year anniversary and what Yaro has learned over more than 10 years, so very excited about today.
Yaro, let's just wind the clock back to 10 years ago. You were in Brisbane, Australia. So was I, I learned from you.
What has changed the most in 10 years? What are the big shifts that you think have happened in the online space since 2008?
Yaro: A long time ago. I wonder if Brisbane was the glue that got us together.
Joanna: Oh, probably. Or just you were online so early. Australia was really was a good hub, I think.
Yaro: I wonder if you were in the U.K. when I was in Brisbane, whether you would have found me. I always find it interesting how the offline connection can impact the online connection. So anyway, I'm just reminiscing after 10 years.
Joanna: We should say, then, before we get into it, we're both introverts. And I didn't actually meet you for, I think, three years. And I actually saw you at a bar…I think I told you this before. I saw you at a bar and I didn't come and talk to you, because I was so fan-girly, I couldn't speak to you.
Yaro: That's hilarious.
Yaro: At least we had a good meetup in the U.K., recently.
Joanna: Yes, we did. Okay, so what's changed in 10 years?
Yaro: The obvious thing is, it's way more crowded. I think that's always the case with any emerging industry. When I started, the Internet was already seven, eight years old as a place to do business. Amazon was, like, mid-90s, starting to take off.
For me, though, like yourself, probably for 10 years ago, when we started, you could start writing content, you could publish not knowing what you're doing and where you're going, but people would start showing up and reading your work.
And then, you'd almost guide yourself as you go, decide what you're doing to do as you start getting feedback from your audience.
Nowadays, I think that slow determining what you do may not get you anywhere, because you're just not going to organically grow an audience without being a lot more specific and clear about who you're helping and what you're helping them with.
So it's just a standard answer, really, because the more crowded an industry gets, the more specialized and more specific you have to be with whatever it is you're doing.
I think back in the day, you probably could have gone on and said, ‘Well, I just help people publish books.' And now, how many other people are going to say, ‘I help people publish books,' right?
Same with me. I teach how to make money blogging. But now, you have to say, ‘I do that, but here is my speciality. I really like email marketing and I'll teach you how to sell information products.'
And you might say, ‘Well, I'll specifically teach you how to do…' It could be crime novels or something like that and you become more specialized.
I think that's the biggest change and that's been reflected in the tools we have. And in a sense, when I started, social media was blogging. That was it. YouTube, I think, was just getting started, it was basically blogging, podcasting and Google as the search engine. And that was it.
We didn't have Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat or all these other tools, where people go and get distracted now by all this instantaneous, addictive, social streams of content. Which I think is a little bit sad, because it takes away from what I used to really enjoy, which was long-form content that people really dug into and you had this sort of community at your blog.
And that's very hard nowadays. Now, it's more like short bursts of quick, flashing video entertainment.
Joanna: When I first found you, you had long blog posts. You still have the long posts, but you also had the audio. It was podcasting, but it wasn't big, then.
I used to download your MP3s, put them on my mini-iPod and then, plug a tape into the tape machine in my car, which had an adapter to my iPhone.
Yaro: Oh, wow. That's awesome.
Joanna: I remember listening to you when I would drive to Brisbane. I was living in Ipswich, so I was driving, and then, also when I was on the train. And so, to me, I still think of you as someone I've learned from through audio.
But what has changed, I think, is the rise of audio.
You still have a podcast and of course, this is my podcast, which I did because I learned from you with audio.
You read your long text, right, on some of your shows?
Yaro: No. I did that for ‘Blog Mastermind' version 1.0. That's the only time I've ever read out lessons. I still riff, I guess is the best way to put it, when I do my solo episodes. It's not like reading a transcript or anything like that.
Joanna: Wait, but your freedom post, which we'll come back to.
That had a long blog post, but then, there was an audio that went with it.
Yaro: The blog post would have been Noah on my team. And I think there was a long one on that one, yeah. Especially more recently with my solo episodes, I don't know about you, but it would be like, here's my notes, I get on the audio, I hit ‘Record' and then, I see what the universe brings me.
Joanna: I'm a lot more the other way, then. I still write. I'll write 5,000, 10,000 words and then, I'll turn that into an audio.
Yaro: Ah, interesting.
Joanna: It is interesting, though, isn't it, because I had thought you were doing the same thing. But you're going audio to text, whereas I'm still kind of going text to audio.
Yaro: I don't think I'd want to write what I say, sometimes.
Joanna: Too much filler, like we're doing.
Yaro: Exactly. I think writing is more succinct. And that's why I like to sit down and write a blog post and then…like we're doing now. We're totally riffing.
Joanna: But this is cool, because I love having some of your time. It feels very precious.
But then, the other thing I guess I just wrote down when you were talking about…it is crowded. But I feel like the personal brand aspect. You could have written anything, but your personality has been the thing that has kept people being drawn to you. I know people listening are now worried that they can't stand out in any niche.
What do you think about personal brand and the importance of that?
Yaro: We should probably talk about what to do in a crowded space. That's an important question. So yes, you're spot on.
I think the one element that hasn't changed is this idea of the call to personality or a personal brand. And we've seen that just become more magnified with a YouTube personality and podcasting personalities.
It's that sense of connecting with one individual. Especially in a sort of a coach/client relationship, or coach/student, or a member, that becomes really important, because I think what does happen in crowded spaces is that if you're smart, you start to ignore everyone except for the one or two people you really connect with.
There's the Joanna fans, there's the Yaro fans, and they've carried with us since we first got discovered by them. And that's something that it's a relationship you can't really replace that quickly and they'll always pay attention to you.
I'm a big fan of the old Kevin Kelly ‘1,000 true fans' concept. That simple idea, you just need to find 1,000 people who love your stuff and buy your stuff, from this huge Internet made up of over a billion people. And then, that becomes your core income base, your audience, your traffic.
It doesn't have to be millions of views on YouTube or millions of downloads of a podcast or hits to your blog, it's just that core audience. And that's become more and more important to me, as well, over time.
The funny thing is, I've had people, after saying something like what we're saying now, say, ‘Well, I don't want to be a famous brand or put my face on the Internet as well.' And then, it's like, ‘Okay, so it's crowded. The only way to break free from the crowd is to become a personal brand so you can have your own audience, but I don't want to do that either.'
And then, I think the next option for those kind of people is, what is the angle you can take? For some people, it's the product itself. I remember quite recently, I was at a little meetup in Vancouver where we were listening to the founder of a ‘Cat Subscription of the Month Box' product. So they essentially sell a box that has stuff for your cat in it.
Little balls to play with, little treats. And you get this sent in the mail once a month with different things and it's a subscription. And that's their business. It's called Meow Box, I think.
We heard from the founder, but it was the product itself and that idea that was really getting the traction, helping them stand out. They were getting other Instagram influencers to promote that box, for example.
Now, that might not be as defensible, long-term, as a personal brand, because you can replicate the cat box idea, but you can't replicate Joanna Penn, so to speak.
But there are ways to come up with innovations that allow a company…whether it's a certain product category or just your philosophy and customer service, there's things you can do that allow you to, again, just get that 1000 true fans, because they just want to buy your shoes because of the way you hand-make them.
It's amazing and it feels special, having this hand-crafted product. So I think that the key here, it's kind of like an interesting inverse of the idea of a really crowded Internet where people just have trouble with paying one second of attention to things.
The antidote to that is doing something that's unique and special enough, whether it's your personality or your product or your customer service, that allows you to create this relationship with a small group of people that then cuts through the noise.
I think that's the answer, the antidote to a more crowded space. But really, the foundation of that, though, is specialization. Joanna is the specialization, that's your personal brand. So that's always been the key as markets mature. It's just the way human beings work.
Joanna: I agree with you on this. I don't think that has changed. As you said, that's something that's kind of stayed the same.
I also wanted to say to you, I was reflecting on my 10 years. And one of the things that you taught me early and also because I came from software, is, you said, ‘Build your site on WordPress.'
[If you need an author website, check out my tutorial here.]
You advocated quite a simple setup, I believe. And then, because I came from software, I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. You buy out the box and then, you don't mess with it and it will be fine.'
I have spent very little money on my website over 10 years. And that's thanks to you as well, because so many people seem to build crazy websites and then, have to pay massive maintenance costs as things change.
What are your thoughts on websites now?
If you were starting, do you still recommend WordPress? What are your thoughts on mobile optimization, that type of thing?
Yaro: I think that idea you're talking about there was borne from my own overwhelm. When I got started, it was kind of silly, because a new piece of software would show up.
I remember Marketers Choice came up, which was the first all-in-one marketing tool I came across. It had email marketing, it had a checkout so you could sell your products, it was all integrated.
I signed up for their free trial and I went in there and I'm like, ‘Wow. I could create these products. And it's an affiliate-marketing module, so I get our affiliates promoted and then, I could link with upsells.' And I was like, ‘Whoa, so many things to do here,' and it really got me pumped up for the future.
But then, I never actually started to use any of those tools and I never actually paid money for that software. And not just that, but also just the idea of the 80/20 rule, for example, trying to get what are the most important variables.
I kept looking back at my current business structure and I was like, ‘You know what? As long as I've got people subscribing to my email list…' And that's all coming from my blog, so I just need content on the blog driving people to sign up to an email newsletter.
That's driving whatever sales I make, whether it's affiliate marketing, which I started with, then switching to my own products.
When I came to switching to my own products it was the same story. How can I not deal with overwhelm and ship faster? It's all about getting something out the door and making those first sales.
And for me, and I think it sounds like for you, as well, it was, ‘Let's use WordPress, let's put just a basic, generic password in the members' area, give them a download link,' and away you go.
You don't need to have things like a unique password for every member. I remember this. I had my members email me, saying, ‘Oh, here's my password and username,' when they wanted to do something. And they didn't all realize that they all had the exact same password and username, including yourself, Joanna.
Joanna: I did that, too for years, until I was on Teachable.
Yaro: Yes. That's such a simple thing. And okay, there's a few risks inherent in giving a generic password to the entire population. You could share it and they can get in. But I wasn't worried about a few people stealing my course versus just getting something out the door as fast as I could.
Now, fair enough, today, we do have, yes, Thinkifics and Teachables and Kajabis and OptimizePress. But I would still argue that you want to find the tool that allows you to get something out the door.
And that's often ‘less is more,' in terms of things, 80/20 rule, big, big part of how I've gone about doing things.
Today, I use one tool. Even when I made the switch from a password for everyone, the same password for everyone, I was looking at what tool to use. I ended up choosing…well, I obviously played around with a few different things, but Ontraport ended up being my choice and it still is today.
I think it's almost now been about six, seven years. And again, although Ontraport does a crazy amount of things and I was kind of comparing it to Infusionsoft around the same time, tons of our fellow marketers were talking about Infusionsoft. I think James Schramko was big on Ontraport at the time, as well, so I was kind of hearing his referral.
Long story short, I jump into Ontraport, I found it the easiest for me to start using. And that was a huge part of my decision-making, plus it was all-in-one. So it did allow me to have the affiliate program there, have the checkout system there, have the email system there.
I like to avoid what I call ‘Frankenstein Syndrome,' where you're going and you're taking your WordPress and you're plugging into some sort of WYSIWYG design plug-in, which then goes to some kind of SamCart or a ThriveCart check-in system, which then plugs into an affiliate module with another piece of software.
And suddenly, you've got these five different tools all trying to run this business, but they're not natively designed to work together. Which is a bad idea. You try and figure it out yourself, or your tech bill is just getting more and more and more and more.
And I was like, ‘I need to be able to at least do the basics myself first and then, have my one tech person handle the one system.' And that's why we're still predominantly the same, we haven't changed.
It's really WordPress plus Ontraport, that's all I do. And of course, PayPal and Stripe to take the actual money. That's about it. So it's still pretty elegant.
Joanna: I think that's really important. And many people listening won't have started to develop business as you, obviously. And I don't, either.
But even just some of the basic stuff, I still say WordPress and don't mess with it.
Don't customize even the theme, because you get the next upgrade and then, it breaks and it costs money. So I really like that, that's awesome.
I want to ask you about freedom, because I think again, this is probably why I was so into your stuff from so early on, because I heard you talking about the freedom that you had and I was like, ‘That's what I want.' And it's still my number one value.
You did this brilliant episode, which I'll link to in the show notes, an audio with a blog post about freedom. But this is something that I think is almost like a dirty secret of running your own business. It's really hard work.
I definitely work more hours than I ever did in my day job. I'm more fulfilled, but I work more hours.
Can you talk about freedom and work and how you've managed that balance, over time?
Yaro: I'm sure you really love the work you do, though, Joanna.
Joanna: I do. I love it, but I definitely do more hours.
Yaro: Yeah, of course. I found myself, especially more recently as I've been transitioning businesses, where I've had some long stretches where I didn't actually have a lot to do in the past.
If I was writing a book or preparing a course or preparing some sort of training materials or even just writing blog posts. And it's funny, because when you take maybe what was your core activity away, you're kind of like, ‘Whoa. How do I fill the hours in my day?' It's not a bad problem to have, but it's a weird kind of situation to be in.
I think the best way to answer this question, though, really is to go back in time, because I think probably like most people listening to us, the early phase is a lot different to the phase I've been in, in more recent years.
Early phase is, you've got to make your money.
I think in the audio you're referring to, the podcast I did, I talk about these three types of freedom that you strive for, the first one being money, financial freedom. It's obviously the most pressing one for everyone. It certainly was for me, in the first two years online. So that's when you're trying to figure things out, trying to make money.
You might be having some ideas that work, some that don't, probably very likely, some that don't, definitely, some that are very slow to get anywhere. That's obviously one of the most frustrating things, is that slow pace.
My story is I had this card game business and I had this essay-editing company, which then eventually led me to blogging. And we're talking seven, eight years of my life there, trying to get these different businesses and income streams going. I'd had a couple of part-time jobs mixed in there during the early days.
That eventually led to what I have done for most of the last decade plus, which is blogging and selling the course and selling the membership site and e-books and so on. But that was nine years to even reach that point where I was.
I had the experience, the knowledge to start sharing information on the blog. So it's very much compounding.
Now, what I was striving for…and this was something that kind of got a little bit, I guess, developed and nuanced as I went along to realize what this actually meant to me. But I knew in my mind at the start, ‘I don't want a full-time job.
I never want a job. I don't want to be in someone's calendar and have to work to their schedule. I don't want a capped, by-the-hour or even yearly salary income stream.
I wanted control over my time, control over my money.
Those were my first two goals. That's actually the second of the freedom steps, which was time freedom. So money freedom and then time freedom. I was very focused on those two with everything I was doing online, ‘must avoid full-time work.'
Then, as I started to get some traction and started to get some momentum, most people, if you're lucky, will get to the point where you're busier than you want to be.
But it's because you're actually being successful and you've got customers, you're making sales, you've got people asking for interviews. You'll be thinking about, ‘I should write a book,' ‘I should release a course,' ‘I should get more affiliates,' ‘I should do this partnership,' You've got a lot of things. ‘I should speak on stage.'
Suddenly, you're succeeding, but your time freedom has disappeared.
Your money has probably gone up, but you've started to hire a team, you're starting to train them, so you've got far less time freedom.
I went through that phase, as well. It's exciting. I definitely prefer that phase to the ‘I don't have any money' or no-traction phase. It's a lot more fun to have customers and make money and then deal with the aftermath of success.
But for me, I was very cognizant of the fact that I'd seen other business-owners burn out. They were working, as you said…or maybe in what you're doing, more hours than at a job. And I wasn't looking to sign up for a 12-hour-a-day, pay myself a salary situation and I wanted to also be in control of time.
So I, from an early-on stage, looked into, simply put, leverage. I read a lot of books. ‘The E-Myth‘ was a very important book, in terms of working not in your business, but working on your business.
I wanted to be like an entrepreneur that owned businesses, not a freelancer or a consultant or a sole trader who runs a business, but it's really just you, or just you and a small team, but you have to do most of the work.
For example, my essay-editing company, we had contract editors doing the work. And then, eventually, I hired an email manager to do all the email and the customer service. So that business became what nowadays is very much known as a ‘four-hour work week' kind of business, thanks to Tim Ferriss, but this was before Tim had written his book.
After that, as I moved on to blogging, even with that, I remember watching Darren Rowse, our friend from Melbourne. He would just be working so hard. And I was like, he's getting huge results. He still has a much bigger business than I ever had.
But I remember watching how much time he put in and I was like, ‘I don't want to follow that path. I need to find a way to leverage smarter systems or…' I don't want to say smarter, but more leveraged business models so I can step away from having to feel like I've got to publish five blog posts a day or something like that.
So that's why I started looking at email marketing and selling digital products, because you could set up systems there where those products sell themselves.
Don't get me wrong, you've got to work really hard to create the course, to create the audience, to grow your email list.
There's a period of time where you are hustling and really putting in the effort. But I stopped doing that, I think, after about my fourth year or fifth year of blogging.
I'd built up the momentum, I had this flywheel turning, I had an email list, I had a blog ranking well in Google, my list was growing and my courses were finished, so I could start throttling back a little bit and just letting these things kind of sell themselves.
I made half a million a year in one year and then, the most obvious thing is that I've got to get to a million. And I was like, ‘Let's just stop and ask myself why and what am I going to have to do to get there?'
That was a big turning point for me, about my fourth or fifth year of blogging, where I'm like, ‘There is another layer here which will get me busier and make more money.
But it's not going to substantially change my life, because it's not actually that much different to make half a million to make a million dollars a year. You're already doing really, really well.'
I was like, ‘I don't think I want to take away all this time.' So that's when I realized I'm now in the fortunate position that I can focus on time freedom.
Financial freedom is ticked off, let's look at how to structure a business that allows me to just do the one or two things I really like.
I still wanted to write, I still wanted to do podcasts, but that was about it. So I pulled back on anything heavy-growth.
And then, fast-forward to, I guess, the last three or four or five years. I've taken that to the next level, where I have started to invest in new businesses with partners, another form of leverage, because I bring something, but they do the day-to-day operations of a business.
I have a solar energy company that my partner is getting up and running. And the one you mentioned at the beginning, Inbox Done, is my main growth project at the moment.
And I'm out there, talking about it, promoting it. I certainly do a lot of the sales and the marketing, but Claire, my co-founder, she's running our team. She's just supporting all the clients, she's managing everything.
She runs the business while I try and keep it growing. And again, that's a lot different to me doing both roles. If I didn't have a Claire, I would be full-time. She's putting in a lot of hours to do that. So that's another way to get the leverage.
But I really feel like you kind of have to take these steps and I have always said this.
I really wish for everyone listening to this to get to the point where they don't have to decide what to do purely based on how much money they're going to make from something.
When you get to go, ‘I want to do this because I'm excited about the project… Money would be great too, but it's not the be-end-all. I don't have to decide this because I need to pay my bills from the money I would make from this project,' that's a really interesting situation, because you're like, ‘What…?'
I faced this when I had the opportunity to speak on stage a lot. And you'll know this as an introvert. You don't do a lot of speaking on stage, I know. And there was an opportunity to become a paid speaker. And I could have travelled around Australia, make $1 million a year selling these high-end courses as a paid speaker.
But then, I was learning about the process and it was like living in a suitcase, spending almost every weekend, or at least one or two weekends a month at an event, doing the same talk, trying to sell people into this high-end course and then, delivering the high-course over another weekend workshop.
It was great money, but I was like, ‘I'm not this person.
I'm not the person who wants to be on stage all the time.' Two or three times a year, fun. Every second weekend, not so fun. So that was just me. And that was a choice I could make then, because I didn't need to do that task, because I didn't need the money.
So just to summarize. I know we're drifting here on a lot of things. It was a process of moving from financial scarcity to paying my bills to then hopefully moving above that, which then allowed me to choose.
Even while I was doing that, choosing a business model that gave me time freedom.
So I don't know how many hours you're doing, but I work maybe one or two hours a day. I just do a bit of writing and coordinate my team at the moment. So it's certainly not a 10-hour-a-week kind of job.
And then, after that was the final thing I talked about in the audio, which is mental freedom. And I think that's something we take for granted, because as we get success in anything, our minds starts to think about it all, like, ‘Oh, I have to write that thing,' ‘I have to tell my team to do that,' ‘I have to hire this person,' ‘I have to be here or there,' ‘I have to plan this next phase, learn this new software.'
That's another form of a lack of freedom.
For me, going through those phases, from money to time to mental freedom…and that's a 10-year process, to be really fair on how long it took…was revolutionary.
At the end of the day, it's allowed me to live the last four or five or six years of my life being very flexible, not being stressed at all about how things work, because I was very selective with what I was doing.
And then, moving on to really big, fun things, like investing in a few companies, starting a few, but within partnerships. So that's a real evolution.
I think I've talked about 20 years of my own entrepreneur's journey here. But that's the process it's taken to reach the kind of freedom I think that I thought back, back when I was 18…which is 20 years ago…thinking that, ‘This is what I want for my future.'
I didn't expect it to happen the way it happened or how it looks now. But fundamentally, what I wanted back then is certainly what I've lived for the last maybe 10 years, which is amazing.
Joanna: Again, we're very similar characters, I think, because people listening will know that I've just recently said no to all speaking engagements for 2019. I've just said, ‘No.' And the last 10 years, I haven't done a lot.
Like you said, I haven't been a full-on professional speaker, but it was a big part of my income at the beginning, as you were teaching about scalable income, and I phased it out, over time.
But what you're talking about is should you wait for seven figures and why? Why should you? And if you do, then yeah, you have to hire more people.
I could hire a CEO for my publishing site. But of course, the other things with writers listening, many people are writing books because we love writing books. So we're never ever going to outsource that, because that's what we do.
Yaro: That's what you do, yeah.
Joanna: That's what you do, so that's part of the enjoyment of that. It's just all the other stuff, so it's really interesting to hear you talk about that.
I did just want to briefly touch on the multiple streams of income and scalable income, because again, I think that's something that you taught me early on. And you've touched on it a bit, but that concept of scalable is a mindset shift and also multiple streams.
Just explain that briefly and then, what are your multiple streams in broad categories?
Yaro: When I was just learning about this idea of multiple streams of income…which is the most exciting concept ever, if you really think about it. Any time you hear that, ‘Whoo, that's…' Multiple streams of recurring income, to me…I remember thinking about, ‘That sounds genius.'
When I was doing that, I was also very cognizant of the previous ways I'd made money, which was part-time job, I had an e-commerce business where I make a tiny profit margin selling this little, match-it-together and collectible card game. And I'd have to run down to the post office box just to send all these packages.
It wasn't scalable. I mean, it was possible to scale it, but I had no interest in doing that. The margins were tiny, so it's like, ‘Okay, not good.' Got out of that business, then I certainly made a quantum leap in scalability when I jumped into this essay-editing company, where I'm like, ‘Well, I can scale this, because I can hire contractors.'
That's the difference. I'm not selling this finite product, it's a service. I can find new people to deliver this service, so I can essentially take as many customers as I want. And because this system is so elegant, we get a customer, we forward an email to the contractor, they forward it back to the customer, I take a 50% cut out of the transaction, away you go, very much modelled on eBay.
I was like, ‘EBay sounds genius.' You bring the buyers and the sellers together, they'd take a cut of the transaction, they just have the platform. That's what you want. You want to own the platform and you want to own the middle man of a transaction, so I was kind of doing that with that company.
The funny thing is, after discovering my joy of writing through blogging which…my next project, I did not see that coming. I didn't see myself as a writer, as maybe a lot of your audience did or did not. Whatever, we are.
So I was like, ‘Huh. How do I create stable, leveraged income as a writer?' And that was an important thing to think about, bearing in mind, I was still very green and fresh at this. And sure, I thought, ‘Oh, published author. Yeah, I can be the next…' whatever, right?
I can make a ton of money if you're the top of the tree, the 0.001% of authors. And I was like, ‘Okay, that's probably not going to happen.' It could happen, I'd never written a book and I wasn't about to sit down and write one.
But I was writing blog posts and getting traction. And at that time, bloggers were just paid per…essentially, advertising. And that's what I started with too, advertising and affiliate marketing. And that was all about pumping out lots of content, lots of page views, make more money.
[Note from Joanna: Sounds like the rapid release model to me, which the same kind of burnout rate!]
But I looked at that and I'm like, ‘That's not going to work either,' because I'm stuck here writing five blog posts a day. And the money's just getting less and less and less as the Internet gets more crowded.
So that's when I discovered the joy of email marketing.
And I think that was a huge turning point for me, to see that you can use content and you can sell content and you can reach this niche audience.
Going back to the ‘1000 true fans' idea, because I have really made most of my money from 1000 paying customers in this. Despite reaching a million people a year with blogging and podcasting and so on, it's been 1000 people who actually pay my bills and allow me to run a business. So that's really held true, that rule.
And I started looking, then, at the business models of bloggers and email marketers and I realized there was a way to merge those two and get the best of both worlds.
Blogging is great for growing an audience and using content, but we're talking 2000-word, 3000-word blog posts. So I wasn't having to write a book every six months to try and make my living. Nothing wrong with that, of course. I know Joanna's audience is doing that all the time.
But I could sit there and write these blog posts that will continue to deliver Google traffic, grow my email list. And then, the power is the automated emails. That's was where the leverage, the system, came from.
So by this point, I had already secured a formal multiple income streams in the sense that I'd grown a blog and I'd made money from advertising. It was not huge, $1,000 a month, $2,000 a month, but it was fairly consistent for a number of years before I gave that one up.
Affiliate marketing was great, too. At one point, I would make almost $100,000 a year, just recommending other people's products using my blog and my email list. Before that, I'm selling services with this essay-editing company. And it wasn't a crossover why I had that company at the same time as I was blogging.
So there already was this point where I'm like, ‘Oh, I've got a services company, I've got digital products that I'm selling on my own, I've got affiliate products that I'm selling from other people. And I've got advertising on my blog and making money from that.'
I was already realizing that multiple streams of income are really a by-product of creating some kind of value in the world, growing an audience.
And then, you can decide, ‘How do I want to create income from this?'
Eventually, I got rid of some of those streams: advertising and I stopped doing very much affiliate marketing, just because I didn't find those as high-return as creating a digital product, supporting a clientele, launching a course, really diving into that.
And then, fast-forward, using autoresponders. Automated email sequences to deliver a series of content that you wrote. I've got some series that I wrote six, seven years ago that continue to deliver value that sell a product.
I won't dive into it, but I really got into what's called the sales funnel. I called it the blog sales funnel. So having a series of products designed to lead up to each other with different email sequences.
I just spent a couple of years creating a machine, essentially, that was content that's evergreen, that is valuable and free, that promotes my products, my products sell on autopilot, they're digital and then, people go in and take a course.
And for a long time, especially the last four or five years, the only job I had was a little bit of coordinating my team. But even that, I had a project manager.
The job I enjoy, much like yourself, is writing up the blog posts and doing the podcasts.
And then, once a month, I had to do a coaching webinar with my entire audience of paying customers. And that was kind of it. Unless I wanted to do more. But that was the main sort of business.
Obviously, now, multiple streams of income is getting a lot more varied.
I just exited out of an investment from a company, we've just started Inbox Done and we have reached the point where we're doing six figures a year now with our first 10 customers, which is great. So we want to get our next 10 and keep helping people with their email marketing.
My solar energy business, it's more of you take a big chunk of money, you put it into the business and then, you start getting it back. And it's a long-term thing, but I will start earning income from that.
That's not a good example of an online business in any sense, but it is something that I've used online income to parlay into a form of investment that I was very excited about, getting into the green energy space.
It's real stepping stones. You might remember this, Joanna, but I bought a blog from someone else. And I was one of the first people to actually buy someone else's blog. And this was, like, early days. People weren't even thinking about buying and selling blogs or websites as a practice.
But a friend of mine at the time, way back in 2006, says, ‘I want to get out of this small business niche.' He was writing a blog called ‘Small Business Branding.' And I didn't have much money. I had maybe $10,000 in the bank from savings of my essay-editing company and my blogging business at the time.
I learned about the blog and he says, ‘I want to get out of it. I want to sell it.' And I said, ‘Don't tell anyone yet. I think I want to make the offer.'
I went to bed that night, I thought, ‘I don't have a lot of money.' I looked at his numbers and woke up and said, ‘I'll offer you $2,000 US, cash,' and he said, ‘Yes, let's do the deal. I know who you are, it'll be quick and smooth and easy.'
So I took over the second blog and I was like, ‘Wow, I'm like a mergers and acquisitions entrepreneur here. I'm doing big deals, we're expanding our company by acquiring other companies.' It was $2,000, but it still felt like a huge deal at the time.
And again, I won't dive into details, but I did start buying a few more websites around those two years there–2006, 2007, 2008–as a side project. I was using money that I was making from my core business and that was a way to expand my empire and build more income streams.
So I think the answer or what is exciting about multiple streams of income is, first of all, building one solid, dependable business that pays your bills, that spins off cash.
Try and use a leveraged, systemized business model so that you can step away from it.
I think that's more important than anything, being cognizant of the fact that if you want to break free, if you want to do more income streams, if you want to do investments, your business can't be something that takes all your energy, because you're going to need a little bit of time to vet these other investments, to look at partnerships and being able to participate in them.
Systematizing the first business is a huge step towards those kind of opportunities. And thankfully, at that time, I got that little taste of buying another business, which has led to expanding my mind on the possibilities of what you can do when you have one solid income stream or one solid business already running.
Joanna: I've been looking at your progression. And I feel like in the last couple of years we've started investing, we haven't done what you've done, but bigger chunks. But we've been investing more, because that money can make money through different things.
So I think it does feel like that's the next step. It's also a kind of protection for the future. A lot of people, when they're starting out, they're not paying into superannuation, although in Australia, it's mandatory.
In Britain, it's not mandatory, so a lot of people won't even pay themselves into a pension or that type of thing. But that mindset shift of the future is so important.
I've really appreciated seeing how you've expanded past where you started, as well. But we're almost out of time. I do have one more question, which is really about the next 10 years. So I hope to continue modelling your journey on the non-fiction side. Not the fiction side, clearly.
Yaro: Right. At the moment, you're on the fiction side.
Joanna: Yeah. But looking forward to 2028, which is crazy.
Is there anything you're excited about or you can see coming for people, like how to work online? Any thoughts on the next 10 years?
Yaro: It's funny, because I'm about to turn 40. So I guess I'm an adult when you turn 40. I've always felt that 40 was the adult year. It's so different from your 20s, where you're trying to prove yourself, got to make your basic income, you're always looking up opportunities.
You have no assets, you have no leverage…most people, anyway…so you have to hustle and make it work. So you look at things with very different eyes to now, where I've got assets, I've got some businesses, I'm not hungering to dive into something straight away, especially if it requires a lot of my time.
It's more about, how can I partner with people, or how can I find newer, exciting, bigger ideas?
So to answer that question, I think if I was looking at the world through new eyes, got to make my first business work, it's almost, I won't say impossible, for me to do it, but it's kind of a gut distance from what the emotions feel like.
But I do know, going back to that year, that one of the most important things that I benefitted from…well, two things. You're going to like the first one; books.
For me with books, reading about other entrepreneurs and how they got started, I think that will always be a hugely beneficial thing to do for anyone who's just getting started, looking for possible opportunities in the future.
I read about eBay and I read about Amazon and I read about Napster and I read about some of these early companies, which made me look for opportunities. I wouldn't have done this essay-editing company 15 years ago if I hadn't read about a guy who did something similar in the United States.
And then, I wouldn't have started blogging and podcasting if I wasn't really paying so much attention to all these other bloggers and information marketers. I was subscribing to email lists and I was learning about, ‘Oh, there's these other types of email lists.' And then, suddenly, YouTube pops up and then, suddenly, Facebook pops up and here I was, on the cutting edge.
And it was interesting, because podcasting shows up and then, there's this huge wave. And if you were at the right time and at the right place and chose that platform, you could have just ridden that wave, which I did with blogging.
And then, people did it with podcasting and now, people are doing it, or have done it, with Instagram. And there will be the next tool, the next platform.
Now, I can't really guess what that will be. A lot of it's driven by technology. Certainly, if you look at the last 10 years, the biggest new platforms are very much driven by our mobile phones: the Instagrams and the Snapchats and so on.
And that was a shift in how we consume content from desktop and laptop. Not that those have gone away, but now, we're doing desktop, laptop and a lot of mobile, more mobile than anything else. So a good question to ask yourself is, how are we going to consume content next?
What is the next tool for consumption of video, audio? What comes after the smart phone?
I've tried to think about that myself. We do talk about implants, but I think that's a little too invasive for most average people.
Now, I see the devices getting more implanted in our everyday life, a bit like the ‘Minority Report,' where you've got your little screen popping up, or your kitchen table has a screen on it and your fridge has a screen on it. The Internet of Things.
So that's kind of an interesting idea if I was really interested in using, I guess, it's called the Internet of Things, IoT, basically. So looking at our house and where would the Internet be useful? Cooking books displayed on your microwave or your stove, those kinds of areas. But they're very technology-heavy.
I think if we're going to look at what we specialize in, which is content, looking at how people are consuming content, where they're consuming it, what they're consuming about, a lot of it hasn't changed. I think this is one of the wonderful things.
We're still reading books. And maybe we're doing that on the Kindle more often than on paperback, but it's still books, so that hasn't really changed. And I don't know if we'd have to change the fundamental tools for communication.
Do we still use languages to communicate with each other? I don't think that's going to change in the near future. We haven't developed telepathy or any kind of thing like that.
So I think what we're talking about in terms of content-creating, isn't going to change.
And that's fantastic. It's just like we talked about right at the start of this episode. You have to specialize, you have to find your personal brand and do something unique.
Outside of that, everything's technology-driven. If you're brand-new and you're excited, look at whatever platforms are starting to gain traction behind the scenes. One of the best opportunities I've seen come and go so many times is just being one of the first people to devote themselves to a new platform.
I did it with blogging. Lewis Howes and the John Lee Dumas did it with podcasting. Sometimes, you miss or you're too late or you picked the wrong tool.
I remember Chris Ducker, our mutual friend, he was spending a lot of time on Periscope for a while there. But Periscope just didn't win the kind of instant broadcasting. I think maybe Instagram has won that overall.
But again, these are all broadcasting information tools. We haven't even looked at just completely different technologies. So there's just so many opportunities. I'm really interested in fake meat products.
Joanna: Oh, me too.
Yaro: If I had unlimited funds right now, I'd probably be investing in fake meat ideas, because I like meat, but I also like animals. And I have a major conflict with those two things. So I want a lot of fake meat options, so I don't have to hurt animals to eat meat.
So that's an area, personally, where I would dive into, but not as a beginner. I would go in there…but it's a very heavy technology area.
I think for our people, just looking at what topics and what platforms are starting up, what apps are gaining traction. You don't have to be the developer of an app. You can just be one of the first users or an early user of an app or writing tool.
Think about Medium. I don't know why that did well versus all the other shared-content platforms. But if you were one of the earlier users to Medium, or even maybe today, if you just spend enough time there, that's kind of like a place where you could potentially grow a large audience.
So it's going where the attention is going and that goes to usually, the innovative ideas, innovative technology. And then, it's kind of like staking a claim to that land for yourself. And I know this sounds very archaic, but I would also add to all of that, make sure you're growing something like an email list as part of whatever it is you do.
It's funny. It's not mandatory for every business model, but I think if anyone's focused on content as an author, a blogger, a podcaster, a YouTuber, we all need the email list as kind of the glue that keeps it together, so I would remember that.
Even though it's the oldest technology of the Internet, it's actually still the one driving most of the sales, which you probably experience every Black Friday that comes around, and then, you get all these stupid emails of all these products that you can buy. So it's still driving a lot of the commerce online.
Joanna: It's good to circle back, because that hasn't changed and that probably won't change. So there are all still these fundamentals. That's fantastic.
So just tell people, where can they find you and where can they find Inbox Done, in case anyone's interested, and your wonderful site, as well.
Yaro: Yes. So for my content, I've switched to a very simple domain name, yaro.blog. So Y-A-R-O-dot-blog. It used to be known as ‘Entrepreneur's Journey,' but I've phased out that domain name. It's just too long and too hard to spell. So yaro.blog.
And Inbox Done, we haven't really talked much about, I guess, email as a way to break free, but that's what I am primarily focused on now, which is this idea of having someone do your email for you.
I know, Joanna, I've tried to see if you need this service, but it sounds like you've got your email handled already internally. But basically, I brought on someone to do my email a long time ago.
Twelve years ago was the first time I had someone handle my email. And then, every business that I had since then, I've had someone basically doing email, customer support, whatever comes into my inbox.
It's like a front line of defense, like a receptionist, like a customer service person. And in the last couple of years or so, I realized this is actually a service that other entrepreneurs need.
It's amazing how many entrepreneurs still do their own email. Despite how successful they're getting, they just can't let go of that area. And that's often what's stopping them from getting this freedom that we talked a lot about in this episode.
So me and Claire, my cofounder, we decided to co-launch this new company. And as I've said earlier, we've gone past our 10th client now. It's exciting a lot of people who we're helping who are not doing their own email anymore. So if that's exciting to you, inboxdone.com is the place to go.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Yaro. It's been so great to catch up. And again, thank you for setting me on the journey 10 years ago and I'm going to keep looking at what you're doing along the next 10 years.
Yaro: Thank you, Joanna. And congratulations…I know I said this to you off air, but I'll say it to you on air as well…on 10 years.
It's actually quite difficult to stick to one thing for 10 years on the Internet. It requires a true passion for what you're doing, but also a successful business, because you don't want to do something for 10 years without actually succeeding at business.
So you've got those two unique things happening, longevity and success, which makes me feel that you probably will be around doing something quite similar in 10 years' time. And we can do the 20-year celebration…
Joanna: Oh, goodness.
Yaro: …using holographic phones for consuming our books. That could be the next technology. But definitely…well, definitely, it would be in automated cars and things like that. But yeah, congratulations and then, keep up the good work.
Joanna: Thanks so much.
[Beach stairs photo courtesy Khachik Simonian and Unsplash.]