5 Lessons Learned Building a Business by Blogging

In college my favorite courses were the ones that had a final term paper.

It meant that I could spend the majority of my semester not worrying about exams and then the week prior to the paper being due I could just hammer it out.

Fast-forward to today and I follow a similar format when I blog. Some people write and plan their posts weeks in advance. For me, I open up a new blog post, think for a moment, start writing, proof read, then press publish.

Rinse and repeat this process over a thousand times and you have the LearnDash blog.

Blogging is one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done. We built the entire LearnDash company from the blog alone. I wouldn’t be so bold to say that blogging is “the best” method for content creation, but it’s the best method for us (though that may change in the future given what we’ve seen so far with our new YouTube channel).

I have learned a few things over the years from writing. Here are five:

1. Blogging is a litmus test.

Here’s a challenge for you…

If you can write a minimum of 300 words for 30 days in a row on your subject area then you have a passion and not just an interest.

Many people think they want to start a blog but they fizzle out after only a few blog posts. It’s because they really just have an interest in that subject, not a passion. You will need this passion on the days where you are staring at the screen desperately trying to find the motivation to write.

I recommend anyone who is interested in blogging to do this 30-day challenge. The first few posts will come easy, but then you really have to get creative. You also start to (slowly) develop your voice.

2. Creating your “voice” is an ongoing process.

This can take years to develop and refine. You will quickly realize that you can’t force this process. It’s a natural occurrence the more you write.

My only advice in this area is to stick with what feels “right”. If you are naturally goofy and informal then don’t try to write formally because it will feel off to you. Same is true with the opposite. Don’t try to be witty or playful in your writing style if that’s not really who you are. Readers will find it just as awkward as you will feel when writing.

Even today I stumble across my old blog posts and I end up editing them because it doesn’t “sound right” to me anymore.

3. Blogging keeps you at the forefront of your industry.

When you write often about a particular subject then you naturally will come to be an expert in that area.

There are many reasons why this is the case but most apparent is that by blogging regularly you are forced to keep up with the latest trends and happenings in order to remain relevant. You will find yourself seeking out networking opportunities such as conferences and summits to not only learn new things but to connect with other key influencers.

This has a snowball effect. As you learn more and meet more people, they start referencing your content in their own content and you get exposed to an entire new audience.

4. Blogging WILL establish you as an authority.

You may think that you aren’t qualified enough to write on a subject but let me assure you that you are. Writing consistently is not easy. If it were then everyone would do it. By simply putting yourself into the digital conversation you inherently gain more professional visibility.

It has been said that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Blogging is a form of teaching. You are sharing what you know in hopes that it helps someone else. As you blog (teach), you learn. The more you learn, the more you cement yourself as an authority in your field. It’s a proven cycle.

5. It never ends.

Some call content creation the “long game”, but I call it the “never ending game”. There is never a time where you will say, “okay, that’s good enough”. Well, you could say that but you’d be wrong.

There is always something to write about. Trends change, technology changes, and people change. What you wrote five years ago may not be relevant anymore. When you commit to content creation you are in it for life (or at least you should think about it in that way).

The “secret” to content creation success (heck, any success)…

I clearly have a high opinion about blogging, but to be fair I fully recognize that it may not be for everyone. If you type 50 words a minute then committing to blogging is probably not for you (though you will become faster at typing by doing it).

We are seeing all kinds of content mediums do well today.

You want to know the secret to success?

Consistency.

Don’t scoff. Hardly anyone is consistent with content creation, but those that are reap the rewards in a very big way.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen someone start a blog/podcast/YouTube channel and then after a three months they give up because they don’t have enough views or didn’t make any sales. Three months is nothing, sorry.

I blogged for 10 months straight before we made a single sale. Maybe it will take you longer. Maybe less, who knows…

What I do know is that had I not been consistent then that first sale we made would have never happened. I likely wouldn’t be writing this blog post today either.

The consistency lesson learned from blogging manifests itself in our business in many ways.

  • We are consistent in the quality of our support.
  • Our brand is consistently represented.
  • Product development is consistent.
  • The company has been consistent in growth.

If you take only one thing away from this blog post then let it be this: consistency is the “secret sauce”. Whether it is blogging, coding, supporting, or surfing. When you are consistent towards an objective then it pays you back ten-fold.

So go out there and be consistent in what you do. If you commit to blogging then know that there have been thousands of people before you who have been tremendously successful just by making a commitment to themselves and keeping that promise.

How To Ask Someone You Don’t Know for a Phone Call

Not too long ago I put out a tweet about how to ask for someone’s time to discuss business opportunities. This is a topic that isn’t written about enough so I figured I’d expand a bit on my original message, which was as follows:

I will confess that the original motivation for this tweet was to vent a little frustration.

In two days just as many people asked me to get on the phone to discuss their e-learning related project.

Now, it’s not that I don’t want to help people where I can. If time allows then I certainly will do some consulting, which is why I replied in kind to each message asking for more details. I also included my consultation rate.

I never heard back.

Time and expertise are valuable to both parties.

I’m sure you have heard it before: If you don’t value your time then no one will.

Time is a very personal thing as we only have so much of it. When it’s gone it is gone forever.

When I am asked to “jump on the phone for 15 minutes” (sidebar: there’s no such thing as a 15 minute phone call), then it’s more than my time that is being requested. The individual(s) requesting the call want to benefit from my expertise. They want to tap into the many years it took for me to acquire the knowledge I have in the e-learning, online courses, and WordPress space.

There is nothing wrong with that. That’s the entire point of consulting. That’s also why consultants have rates.

For me, if someone that I don’t know comes out of the blue and asks for my time (and I happen to have availability) then I expect them to pay my hourly rate because I know that I will save them a significant amount of time and money over the life of their project.

How to ask for someone’s time.

Asking for a meeting is a bit of an art. Even if you offer to pay someone their rate they may still say “no” because their schedule is full.

If you are calling because you need their consulting expertise for a project but they don’t have availability, then try to schedule a short meeting initially (~20 minutes). The point of the call is to just give an overview of your situation, but not to actually get all your questions answered. This shows the individual that you are serious about them and their time.

Naturally you are compensating them for this short discovery meeting. It’s also important to make it clear that you want to continue working with them, even if they can spare only 30 minutes a week. If they still can’t do it, then ask if they can recommend someone in their network that may be able to help.

If you are requesting a call in order to discuss a business opportunity with someone then you have a much more difficult task at hand. You can try using the strategy above to get your foot-in-the-door, but getting that person to say “yes” will be a lot more difficult.

To increase the chances of a meeting, make the discussion all about how you can help them, and not the other way around. 

A few key points:

  • Avoid phrases like “mutual opportunity”. It’s a red flag and you’ll get shut-down pretty quickly.
  • Don’t be cryptic. Say exactly what the opportunity is.
  • Be specific and concrete in the benefits you would offer in the deal.

For the last point a good example would be to say something like, “I’d like to promote your product to 20,000 people, and we normally have a conversion rate of 2%”.

That is more likely to get their attention than a mystery inquiry where a call has to be scheduled in order to “learn more”.

Last but not least. Avoid the NDA crap for the first few meetings. If you need one then get it signed after both parties agree to take talks a bit further.

One last thing to remember…

Remember that in business, as in life, you will face rejection. What you don’t want to do is take the rejection personally. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about the person’s time – their most personal (and valuable) possession.

If the person you want to have a discussion with denies your request then keep your head-up and move on. Otherwise you’re just wasting your own time. 😉

Another Productive WordCamp U.S.

After having three WordCamp U.S. experiences (two in Philadelphia and now this one in Nashville), I feel like I have a good grasp on what the event has to offer and how to get the most out of it.

If I am honest WordCamp U.S. is one of my favorite WordPress specific events (my favorite is probably Pressnomics, but that’s a post for another time). I definitely prefer WCUS over most other WordCamps.

It’s not like I don’t enjoy the other WordCamps – I like the smaller ones as well. I always get a chance to meet interesting people from a variety of backgrounds.

As a business owner the amount of productive networking opportunities available at the smaller events just doesn’t compare to WCUS. This event has resulted in more advanced conversations and some pretty lucrative business deals for us in the past.

What I really enjoyed…

Seeing the LearnDash team. Unfortunately not everyone could make it, but it was great seeing those that could. Sure we “see” each other every day in Slack, but you don’t make memories on Slack, you make them by attending events like this together.

Talking with “work” friends. Probably more accurate to just say “friends”, but these are friends I met through my work, so “work” friends it is 🙂 . Just like seeing the LearnDash team, it’s nice to talk with fellow entrepreneurs about their projects. It’s always nice catching up with Jason & Kim Coleman from PaidMembershipsPro, Matt Danner, Mike Hale, Adam Silver Joe Casabona, James Tryon, Shawn HeskethKyle Maurer, Chris LemaBrian Hogg, Alex VasquezSyed Balkhi, Cory Hammond, Andy Melichar, the entire Valet crew, and so many more!

Meeting new people. There are a lot of intelligent people in WordPress working on fascinating projects, such as Marcel from iThemes who is responsible for Sales Accelerator (seriously, go check it out), Taco Verdo from Yoast SEO, Joost de ValkPhilip Downer who has implemented a robust LearnDash powered learning program, Blair Williams, Jennifer Bourn, and a laundry list of ambitious entrepreneurs. It’s really great seeing others in WordPress doing well.

Hallway conversations. Don’t get me wrong, the sessions at WCUS are some of the best. I just love meeting new people and talking business – it’s why you will usually find me in the sponsorship area. The sponsorship hallway in Philly was great, but I think I prefer the format this year (one large room). It made it easy to meet people and seemed more spacious than the hallway space during the previous two years.

Matt’s “State of the Word” address. The annual recap / “what’s next” presentation by Matt is always an event highlight. It came as no surprise that Gutenberg dominated both the presentation and community questions. I particularly found the live demonstration of the Gutenberg features quite enjoyable. WordPress in the “Gutenberg” era will be fine. No one likes change and we have some things to sort out but I am confident that next year at this time the conversation will be a lot different. Less worry and more opportunity.

Nashville. My first time in the city and it was a good change of pace after having the last two in Philadelphia (which I really enjoyed as well, but change of scenery was welcomed).

Event food. Normally catered food is “so-so”, but it’s free (and you’re not required to eat it) so there isn’t any reason to complain. That said, no complaints at all with the lunches on both days. Very good variety and excellent preparation.

Using WordCamp U.S. as a springboard for next year.

First, the event was really well-run. Kudos to the organizers.

Secondly, after this weekend I am energized for 2018. I had really productive conversations over the past three days – some of which will result in pretty exciting developments for our business.

As the calendar year comes to a close I look forward to relaxing a bit and getting a break from the every day hustle-and-bustle of business ownership. I have a clear direction of our next progression as a company, the team is excited about our direction, and we are all motivated to continue making big changes in our industry for the coming year.

See you in Nashville next December!

Re-Focusing on Health is Good for Business

Personal health (negative or positive) often directly correlates to business health.

Recently I have become more aware of how important it is to develop healthy habits as an entrepreneur. Probably because it’s so easy to develop not-so-health ones.

Owning a business is stressful, and the easy fix is to mask that stress by eating unhealthy snacks, or cracking a beer after the work day. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of these things, but as with anything in life: moderation is the key.

It’s easy to slip though, and recently I was slipping.

For roughly two-years I have been actively boxing to stay in shape and to relieve stress. Weather permitting I’d also go for some runs in the nearby forest. However, mid-summer this year I sustained an injury to my hand. Long story short, boxing had to stop.

My workout routine took a serious hit because I couldn’t find anything that motivated me like boxing – which I thoroughly enjoy. And let’s face it, running is boring.

I wasn’t doing very much physical activity aside from taking the dog for walks.

As a result I gained a few extra pounds, but that wasn’t the main issue. The bigger problem was that my unhealthy habits were impacting my energy levels. It became a struggle to get motivated and this in turn was having a negative effect on my approach to business.

Entrepreneurship is about finding (and maintaining) motivation.

The sad truth about being an entrepreneur is that you are only as good as your last “win”.

In the case of LearnDash, we may work months on a really great feature and immediately after its released, people want to know what’s coming up next.

But when you’re in the product space then that is pretty much par for the course. It’s to be expected.

In turn though this means that it is necessary to stay motivated in order to continually innovate. It’s an endless cycle, which is one reason why I truly believe that not everyone would necessarily enjoy owning their own business.

Towards the end of the summer my motivation was on the downward trend, and it was happening in parallel with my physical health. Mentally I was in a weird place as well. I wasn’t depressed, but rather just more negative… if that makes sense. My response to daily business and life events had a negative slant. Things just seemed “hard”.

Fortunately, I have since made a positive shift.

I’m still disappointed that I can’t participate in boxing but recently I’ve replaced it with a new challenge: P90X3. I figure that the best way to shake myself out of the funk was to commit to a structured program. If anything it would help me to start creating healthy habits again.

So far so good with P90X3. I’m done with the first month. I’ve cut back on the unhealthy snacks and drinks, and I cook a bit more instead of making something in the microwave. When possible I try to get to bed at a normal hour… I could probably be better at that one.

As a result I’m feeling like I have a bit more energy to take on the daily challenges associated with business ownership. I look and feel better, and this translates to increased confidence.

It’s possible that I am not always going to be motivated and in a positive frame of mind, even if am practicing healthy habits. And you know, that’s okay. I just won’t be staying in that place.

So here’s to re-focusing on healthy habits, and to keeping them going… even through the holidays! 😯

Should You Use “WP” in Your Brand?

Many new WordPress businesses pigeon-hole themselves from Day 1. Don’t.

As the world’s most popular CMS WordPress has has incredible reach. It’s flexibility has made it an ideal platform to build upon for our learning management system (LearnDash), and certification automation software (SimplyCertify).

Given this immense popularity it’s no wonder why we see entrepreneurs and developers flocking to WordPress. Everything from SaaS offerings to themes and plugins. Developers around the world find in WordPress a platform for fulfilling their entrepreneurial aspirations.

But platform and code are one thing. Creating your business brand is another.

Since the first themes were created for WordPress the overwhelming temptation in the WordPress industry has been to slap “WP” or “Press” into the product or business name.

It’s almost like one or two people did it and then everyone followed.

But when you think about it a bit more, do you have a specific reason as to why it makes good business sense to use “WP” in your brand?

Most people use “WP” in their brand name because others before them have done so. And hey – the domain name is probably available so all the more reason! … right?

Well, not necessarily.

Using “WP” might in fact be a good business decision for you, but if your only reasoning for using it is because it’s a WordPress product then I think you might be limiting your product and brand before you even begin.

The question that forever changed our business…

Not many people know this but before LearnDash came to be LearnDash, it was called “WPLMS”.

Yes, it’s a mouthful.

I even had the domain name ‘wplms.org’ (still own it in fact).

In 2012 I made an aggressive push to build awareness for the brand. The WPLMS blog was growing and the interest was starting to build. I even began to see our brand mentioned in a couple websites after a few short months of content marketing.

But then I got some very candid feedback from someone showing interest. They weren’t rude, but just straight to the point…

“Why are you calling it “WPLMS”? It’s hard to remember… and I keep forgetting that it’s “.org” and not “.com”.

This individual highlighted some glaring problems that I didn’t consider initially.

First, I didn’t own the ‘.com’, but figured that the ‘.org’ version was just as good, or better given that WordPress and all of its plugins live on WordPress.org.

I was wrong. It’s worse.

I realized that people will always assume your domain is “.com” the first time they hear it.

Always.

Plus, even if they do remember the actual domain it’s likely that their “finger memory” will resort to typing “.com” anyway. It’s just what people have been accustomed to. It’s why Android smartphones have a quick “.com” button but nothing for “.net” or “.org”.

Not too long after receiving that feedback I found myself speaking to someone over the phone prior to our official release. The conversation is pretty forgettable, with exception that I clearly remember myself having to spell out the domain name very deliberately so they could understand it. When I was done, they asked me: “So what does WP stand for again?”

It’s at that point that I realized people might not be looking for a “WordPress” solution, they are just looking for a solution.

We scrapped WPLMS and switched the name of our LMS to “LearnDash”. I still consider this to be one of the best decisions we made for the business. It’s catchier, a helluva lot easier for people to remember, and it doesn’t pigeon-hole us to just the WordPress die-hard fans and users.

We aren’t the only ones to do something like this.

By way of example, the WPValet dropped “WP” back in 2016 and just become Valet. Valet’s founder Mason told me once that one of the reasons for this switch was because not all of the work they did was necessarily confined to WordPress and they felt like they were limiting their market potential.

It just goes to show that even if you’re using “WP” right now, it doesn’t mean you have to keep using it.

Well-known WordPress brands bypass using “WP”.

Ever hear of WooCommerce? Of course you have. Notice… no “WP”.

Same can be said for OptinMonster.

And GravityForms.

And Jetpack.

And EventEspresso.

And Easy Digital Downloads.

And Paid Memberships Pro.

I could go on but I’m sure you get the point. While most of these plugins require WordPress they decided to build their brand to be “WordPress agnostic”. My question to you is why not do the same for your WordPress business?

The advantage that these brands have by not using “WP” is it allows them to more easily enter markets that aren’t directly associated with WordPress.

WooCommerce can more easily go up against Shopify while OptinMonster is in a better position to take on LeadPages. We find that LearnDash is able to snap-up some of the target market of Teachable and Thinkific. If the name was still WPLMS, I know we’d have a more difficult time in that segment.

Just something to consider.

Using “WP” isn’t always a bad thing – it can be quite good as well.

I do want to make it clear that it is perfectly fine to use “WP” in your brand if you want to.

If based on your market research you feel like this gives you a competitive advantage or helps to clearly articulate your core value, then by all means you should make a point to use it.

WPEngine WordPress hosting is a great example of a business that has built an extremely successful brand by using “WP”. It works, and works well. You get an immediate sense about what it is they have to offer and who they serve.

Another great example is WP101, the popular site offering WordPress training. In this context using “WP” makes a ton of sense. In an instant you get an understanding that they offer WordPress based courses (and good ones at that). It’s recognizable and incredibly easy to remember.

Deciding what to choose for your brand.

So how do you know if you should make “WP” a part of your branding strategy?

There is no hard-set rule. It comes down to your primary industry and customer — which requires that you do ample market research (something that’s so often neglected by WordPress entrepreneurs).

But here’s an example.

Let’s say you have a WordPress plugin that is designed for design firms to manage projects. It’s sort of meant as a replacement for Basecamp, but is a little different.

Based on the target market information alone, do you think it would make sense to call your plugin “ProjectMangerWP”?

No, it doesn’t.

You could call it that, but design firms don’t necessarily care if the solution is on (or related to) WordPress. They just want to manage projects.

Okay, I cheated a little because this is an actual product from my friend Ross Johnson.

Ross didn’t use “WP” for his brand and came up with the catchy brand name in Project Panorama, which in my humble opinion gives his product a lot more reach.

As you build out your product (or better yet, before you build out your product) try to really identify who it is that will get the most value from it.

Take the time to create customer profiles and then based on those profiles you can make an educated decision as to whether “WP” actually adds value to your brand, or if it instead limits market and growth potential.

7-Months Owning a Dog

Dogs are a joy, but not always enjoyable.

For years Kloé and I have contemplated getting a dog, and finally this year we decided to take the plunge.

In April we brought Romy into our home and she has been a welcomed addition. Well, except for the cat. She’s not a fan.

Entering mile two…

Romy is a French Brittany Spaniel which means she was bread to be a hunting dog.

Except we don’t hunt

So, we have a really energetic dog that needs heavy stimulation to replace what she’d normally get “out in the field”. 🙂

This means we go for walks. A lot of walks. Four to six miles a day walks. Needless to say my health has definitely improved since getting a dog. Seriously, if you are looking to make a healthy lifestyle change then forget starving yourself with diets, just get a dog. They’re more enjoyable anyhow.

Besides walks though she has a good number of “dog friends” that she gets to wrestle with every week, so that helps to deplete her energy levels as well.

While our experience with the dog has been a positive one, it doesn’t mean that we always enjoy it. Honestly, having a dog with this amount of energy can be a lot of work. Some days are definitely harder than others.

If you are thinking about getting an dog then make sure you heavily research the breed. If the breed is a hunting breed then here are some things you can expect…

  • Three walks a day (mileage depending on breed)
  • Super intelligent, to the point where the trouble they get into is pretty sophisticated
  • Multiple “fetch” play sessions each day
  • Always on alert and will run to the nearest window to look for (bark at) God-knows-what because you didn’t hear anything

Some days dealing with the above can be a challenge, but these are also the qualities that make up the personality we enjoy so much.

As someone who has always been more of a cat person I can say that getting a dog has made life a lot more interesting. More laughs, new challenges, and new life habits.

Plus, one positive byproduct about all these walks is that I get a lot of time to think about our business. I’ve come up with some really creative ideas while hiking through the forest. Something I would otherwise be missing out on.

While I am by no means a seasoned dog owner, my only piece of advice would be to make sure you research the hell out of various breeds before you get a dog (assuming you don’t go the rescue route) so that you can get a dog that fits best with your lifestyle. You will be happier, and so will the dog.

One Is The Loneliest Number

…As in, this is the first blog post.

I have owned the “.com” version of my name forever.

For a long time it pointed to my LinkedIn profile as I never really knew what to do with it. I considered starting a personal blog many times, but this time it’s different.

In the past I had grandiose plans of building up a “personal brand”, but I no longer have that interest.

Well, scratch that. It would be nice, but being an entrepreneur has taught me some valuable lessons about building a brand… least of which is that it’s freaking hard.

I simply don’t have the energy or hours to dedicate to such an endeavor.

So what’s the point of justinferriman.com?

Over the years I have learned that I need to create headspace if I am going to be effective as an entrepreneur, husband, brother, son, friend, etc. My mind has been known to hold me hostage if I don’t get my thoughts out “on to paper”.

This site is that paper. It’s the place where I get to share things that I feel are important.

You might not find these same things important. And I’m okay with that.

You see, once my thoughts are out and “on paper”, they are no longer spinning in my head and it leaves space for me to think about other (important and not-so-important) things.

So here we are. The first blog post of hopefully many, but I really don’t have an agenda. This site may go weeks without a post, or may get multiple per week – I suppose it all depends on what I need to get out of my head.