Sales: A Numbers Game of Rejection and Perseverance

Sales may be a game of numbers, but for some (like me), it can be an even greater test of emotional fortitude in the face of nearly certain rejection.

tumblr_oo7plv54tF1rt7qgbo1_500It’s 2017 and I’m selling paper. Seriously. It’s not exactly like The Office, but pretty damn close. I am selling a “service” that nearly all businesses still need in one minor capacity or another, despite the prevalence of digital media in today’s marketing and advertising landscape: business cards, brochures, invoices, envelopes and letterhead, but also banners, apparel, signs, even yacht sales and every door direct mailing. If you can print on it, we can do it for you. Full service, all that Jazz. Now when somebody smugly says, “Okay salesman, sell me this pen,” I respond with, “that particular pen has 1.6 miles of ink inside of it. That’s a lot of deposit slips.”

I’m no stranger to outside sales. As I child, I sold lemonade and wrapping paper to my neighbors. In middle school, I sold custom burned CDs with original artwork. In college, I lived in my best friend’s guest bedroom and sold framed artwork door-to-door. At 19, I started a record label and sold compilation CDs through a network of “street teamers” and an obsolete web storefront. In Australia, I sold Vodafone upgrades door-to-door in residential neighborhoods. I sold circus school memberships in San Francisco and cedar beehives in Portland. Now I’m selling spiral bound manuals, wedding invitations, and high school graduation tickets. But this sales job seems different somehow. Lately I’ve been thinking… is this the job I’ve been avoiding my whole life?

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Offset Press

I bound into work each morning with an absolutely unwarranted level of energy and enthusiasm, not only because you can still pick up the “new car” smell on me but also because, until just recently, I was the youngest employee by more than two decades. On top of that, I also happen to be the only homo sapiens in the office that drinks coffee at work. I had to beg the Production Manager to get us a five-cup coffee pot… and I have to provide my own coffee! (I know! Vietnam, right?) So I beeline over to my desk and sign in to the ever important “time clock.”

My daily responsibilities are predominately divided into two categories: inside sales calls (and database updating) and deliveries with a round of outside sales in the form of door knocking. I know! It keeps getting better and better, right? Totally. After the quick “work in progress” (“whip”) meeting, I settle down with my spreadsheet of “warm” contacts (specific to my territories) and I get to calling numbers. These contacts are every customer in our branch’s database, broken out by area code. I’m also given their last date of purchase, which often times is more than a decade ago.

If I’m relentless and meticulous with my notes, I can knock out around 20 calls over the course of an hour. Yep, that’s right, because most of the calls go like this…

Me: “Hi, how’s it going?
Receptionist: “Umm… good.”
Me: “May I speak with [some name], please?”
Receptionist: “Can I ask who’s calling?”
Me: “Chris from [blah, blah, blah, here’s my pitch about “winning back your business!” There’s absolutely no opportunity for them to talk.]”
Pause…
Receptionist: “I’m afraid she’s unavailable, may I transfer you to her voicemail?”
Me: “Sure, that’d be wonderful. Thank you so –
Click… BEEP.
Me: “Chris from [blah, blah, blah, here’s my pitch about “winning back your business!”

“It’s a numbers game,” they tell me. What they really mean is, “you’re going to be rejected a ton, but don’t worry, because it’s all part of the job. You can’t take it personally.” I wasn’t really sure what that meant, but as I have been dealing with varying degrees of rejection and failure a bit more lately, I figured it would be no big deal. Oh yeah… did I mention my salary is 100% commission based. So I’ve got that going for me, which is great. Enjoy!

For the sake of transparency and to alleviate boredom, I crunched the numbers on all my sales calls yesterday, and they broke down into the following categories.

Voicemails: 46
Receptionist Messages: 12
Disconnected/Closed Business: 6
Not Interested: 6
Email Follow Up: 8
Recently Deceased: 1 (Yes, you read this correctly. She was crying on the phone to me that the person I was attempting to reach had just died.)
New Clients: 3
Total: 82

tumblr_omxs677zA81rt7qgbo1_500As I mentioned earlier, an additional part of my sales job is “door knocking,” where I go to the business around one of my clients (presumably after delivering a batch of scratch and sniff door hangers) and give them some free stuff (with my business card stapled to it) while seeing if I can get an item to quote for them. No Soliciting signs don’t mean shit, apparently, because I’m offering a “free quote,” I’m not actively selling anything… per se. The owner says he’s delivering “gifts” in the form of a calendar and some other branded stuff. I’ve circled my birthday in every calendar I give out.

Lucky for me, that part doesn’t last all day (although I’m sure Corporate wishes it did). In fact, most days I’m on my way home by 3:30 PM. When I get home, I descend to my garden-level suite to catch up on the Mystery Tin brand, whether it’s my screenwriting, affiliate marketing, the email newsletter, or the Happy Hour! game development. Mystery Tin is my night sales job, the only one that really matters.
During the Kickstarter campaign for Happy Hour!, I sent out personal emails to 170 of my friends to check out the campaign and take advantage of the special deals. Sales. Unfortunately, those emails only resulted in five backers, but perhaps more impactful than that, not a single person responded to the email itself. It took me hours to draft and write an email to each one of those people individually, informing them about the fun, new project I am super passionate about, but it was met with crickets. Nada. But wait… this is par for the course, right?

last-callAllegedly “consistency is king” and it requires around seven communications in order to close a deal (blah, blah, blah), but sales is a necessary evil of business. Passion projects and business forms alike, consistency delivers results and that requires blind perseverance and consistency. I can’t spend my time stewing about the rejections, I need to keep showing up. I could (and occasionally do) go back through the MailChimp “unsubscribes” from my monthly newsletter, letting each person occupy my thinking with anger and frustration (fuck those guys!) but why spend time looking backward at the 11 who unsubscribed versus the 600+ readers who are still signed up? (No but really, why would you unsubscribe from a once-a-month email newsletter? If you don’t want to hear from somebody only once a month, you’re basically telling me to fuck off.)

Taking rejection is really hard when you’re passionate about what you’re doing, which is why I’ve always taken things so personally, because I’ve always done my best to avoid doing jobs I wasn’t particularly passionate about. Music, circus, bees. This job doesn’t feel like the others, it’s different. It’s uninspired. I’m not passionate about the product. I’m not (that) passionate about the process. But I am invested in my coworkers. So I guess the real struggle is determining if that is enough to keep me here, doing what I’m doing in this outside sales position, door knocking and cold calling?

We’ll have to wait and see.

CHE

Kickstarter Postmortem: Redefine Success

Over the course of February, I ran my fifth, creative crowdfunding campaign, this time for Happy Hour!, a sequencing card game based on the concept of bartending and making mixed drinks. The drinking game was created in partnership with Walker Cahall, a graphic artist out of Portland, Oregon, but more importantly, a longtime friend. Our goal for the campaign, only lasting 28 days, was to raise $6000 dollars. The campaign ended up raising a total of $6117, or 102% of our goal. While this looks to be a successful campaign, there was much to learn.

This is a public postmortem in hopes that others may learn from our mistakes.

Where We Excelled:

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Artwork. Walker Cahall (Waltronic) is an absolute professional, and the best thing we did for our campaign was to showcase Walker’s artwork in it’s many forms. We had a handful of Recipe cards and a few more Ingredient cards ready by the launch, but one of the best parts of our campaign came when Walker volunteered to make these tiny animations to support the campaign.

last call.gifcheers

These animations were immensely popular with our followers and on social media. When we shared these images and animations with the proper tagged (i.e. #whiskey), we started to gather the attention of distilleries and alcohol brands. Although these “likes” and “follows” would prove to be of little benefit to the Kickstarter campaign, but we do believe the future of the Happy Hour! card game lies in creating partnerships with a handful of these brands. (More on this later!)

Facebook Marketing. We decided that based on the crisp, graphic design of the game, and Walker’s amazing animations, we would run some “experiments” in targeted Facebook and Instagram advertising. We boosted posts and created campaigns. We spent approximately $75 on Facebook advertising with an average CPC of around $0.57/click.

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Not without surprise, we did run into some issues when it came to marketing the game on Facebook. First, there are regulations on the amount of text that can be in a featured image or video. A lot of the animations indicated what percentage of our goal we had achieved (25%, 50%, and cheers!) and some other cute animations, but ultimately, we were only able to run a few of them as campaigns, and a few were hobbled from the beginning.

Advertising Alcohol to Minors? Another interesting issue we ran into was the concept of the card game in relation to it’s content of alcohol. Alcohol is the theme of the game and consuming alcohol is not a requirement to play (although optional and *highly recommended*). Our goal is not to promote binge drinking, but rather, educate players on a dozen mixed drink recipes they may not have known before. One of our prime demographics for this game would be college kids, but many of those college kids are under the age of 21. There are laws that prohibit advertising alcohol to minors, but that’s now what we’re doing, we’re promoting a card game!

Is it okay for college freshmen (soon to be drinking age) to play a game that teaches them the proper portions for cocktails? 

Play Testing. We play tested this game in excess of 25 times with friends, family, strangers, and while live streaming from various drinking establishments. We had a review sheet that we asked everyone to fill out after playing, asking them to elaborate on their favorite parts of the game and the areas that need improvement.

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Thanks to these play tests, I can tell you that Happy Hour! is (without a doubt) 25x more fun now than it was when we first created the game. The more we play tested, the better the game became. While this is outwardly a good thing, it may have also been a major hinderance to our success. (More on this later, as well.)

Where We Underperformed:

We knew we were being aggressive in launching the campaign when we did. We knew that our game would be educational and beautiful, but we wanted to put the concept out into the world to see how many would be interested in getting a card game about bartending. We were hoping the Kickstarter would be both a proof-of-concept and a digital storefront all wrapped into one… because that’s the ideal outcome for a game like this.

Kickstarter Page at Launch. We looked at a handful of Kickstarter Pages of successful games similar to ours, specifically card games. (In retrospective, this part of the research may have been too thin.) There is a massive market for games on Kickstarter (over 500 live projects and millions of dollars raised). We did our best to structure the Kickstarter in a similar manner to how their pages were organized, hoping to emulate their success.

There were a few areas in particular where we fell short,

Gameplay. A majority of the successful games on Kickstarter not only have elaborate gameplay instructions and supporting images, but they also have a video of someone demonstrating the different methods of gameplay. We originally started with an infographic, but we took it down once we had changed the gameplay beyond similarity.

With Happy Hour!, we were still working out the best method of gameplay. We knew the “bartending theme” was sound and the concept of assembling ingredients was a fantastic base for a competitive card game, we just wanted to make sure that the gameplay was the perfect balance of entertainment and educational (how many recipe cards are on the counter? how many ingredients are in the bar? should we take more than one? can you play a drink a shot on the same turn? how many alcohols are required to use the “make it a double” card?), so rather than locking in on one method of gameplay, we intentionally left it vague. Ultimately, the lack of specificity in how the game is played most likely played a major role in our lackluster performance.

Rewards. An effective use of your reward tiers can help alleviate a lot of the stresses and the simple math of getting your campaign funded. I’ve experimented with these in differing degrees in my previous campaigns and Happy Hour! was no exception.

We started with just three tiers: Early Bird ($25), Happy Hour! ($30), and the Poster Pack ($65). Each one of these categories included shipping, but on face value, they seem really high, especially for a game that consists of just cards. If I could go back, I would include shipping additional, and drop all the prices by $5. $20 feels like a deal, and $25 feels like the right price for Kickstarting a game.

Bar Poster.png

We were just hoping to sell the game and maybe make a little money on top with the posters, but ultimately, we didn’t sell out of either the Early Bird or the Posters level, so we added another tier above and below. For $5, you can get some drink coasters with Happy Hour! artwork on it (may be CNC’d or printed on thick card stock), and for $125, you could become an Official Sponsor of Happy Hour! These two categories generated nearly 20% of our total revenue.

Also, in an interesting turn of events, we had three backers pull back their funding, a first in any of my campaigns. One was a backer that publicly supported the campaign, posted a highly critical note for improvement, and when I messaged him thanking him for the support but asked him to send that kind of message to me privately, he withdrew his pledge (than backed us for $1 to post that he was “withdrew his pledge” on our wall, then cancelled the $1 pledge, then claimed he still supported us). The other two, completely unknown to either myself or Walker, withdrew their pledges after the game was successfully funded. Walker thinks they are just trolls.

Email Marketing. As I’d written about in January, I used a freelancer from India for lead generation in more than a dozen categories of businesses we felt would be interested in our game, now or later. I downloaded the Google Streak extension and proceeded to draft and execute scheduled mail merge emails to each of the different categories. While it was exciting to have over 1300 seemingly relevant contacts, I ran into a number of issues, including…

Dead Email Addresses. Of the 1200 email contacts I was given, nearly 200 of them were dead or discontinued. I would also say that another 200 were sent to a mailbox that was not once checked. I mentioned this to Shah, so he sent me an additional 150 email addresses, which also contained some dead emails.

Miscommunication. Going through the email contacts, it became apparent to me that the language I used in my request was not as specific as it could have been for my freelancer in India to translate and execute on. In retrospect, I should have asked a little bit of his methodology in collecting the information: if he has a “bot” that scours web addresses for email addresses based on a series of keywords, I would know that I need to give 12 very specific keywords, but if he had a program that he wrote himself, perhaps he could choose better than me?

This inadvertently manifested itself in soliciting my drinking game to the president of a dry fraternity, reaching out to breweries and wineries (which aren’t in the game), and contacting a bunch of tabletop game conventions on the East Coast which I’d never heard of and have no desire to attend. It did generate some leads, but overall, it was probably not a super effective use of my time and $60.

Personal Contacts. We wrote emails to our friends, families, and mailing lists about the game and showed them some of the artwork. Ultimately, I don’t think we had enough in place on January 31st when everybody saw the page to excite them enough to donate. A good percentage of the early backers were Walker’s personal contacts, while my base was much slower to come around to donate. Perhaps I’ve overstayed my welcome.

Redefine Success:

Shifting Perspective. While the game did have a ton of traction, Walker and I had a very serious conversations about the campaign and playing out the scenario of failure. We had a lot of people, over 100, who believed in us enough to put their money on the line to help us make Happy Hour! come to life, how would they feel if we let the campaign fail?

As I mentioned earlier, our ultimate goal was to have Kickstarter serve not only as the proof-of-concept (“This is a good idea!”) and a marketplace (“I’ll buy that!”). Accordingly, the $6000 we were seeking to raise was in part so that we could afford to purchase the game in bulk and create a huge inventory of the game to sell ourselves. Those that missed the campaign could purchase it directly from us, and they’d receive it like everyone else. We’d also try to put these games into stores and retailers.

Unfortunately, the game proved to be a good concept, but as it was currently advertised on Kickstarter page, there was not a heavy demand for it. Thus, we sought additional financial support to ensure we met the goal. Even more unfortunately, this meant we had to completely rebudget based on our new financial obligations. While it does slightly hinder our ability to deliver the game we wanted in quantity, it was a necessary step required to succeed and we’re thankful for every penny we received from all of our backers.

A Quick Note About Chemicals. If you are considering a crowdsourcing campaign, be prepared for your body to go through a serious chemical rollercoasters throughout the course of the campaign. All Kickstarter creators should have the Kickstarter application on their phone throughout the course of the campaign. It’s your finger on the pulse.

The downside (if you allow it to be) is enabling “Push Notifications” when your campaign receives a new pledge. So not only do you have the endorphin kick of the push notification, but your phone is interrupting you to tell you that you just made money. This will start to creep into other corners of your life, including 3 AM wake ups and while you’re in the bathroom (obviously).  If your campaign is struggling, the kick is even more powerful. You’ll tap your phone in desperate hope of receiving a pledge you didn’t know about. How about now? Anything? Please beware.

(You can turn off the push notifications but I recommend it at the beginning of the campaign to get a gauge on how the campaign will likely run.)

Now What?

The Real Beta Test Begins. We play tested the game over 25 times, but it was often while Walker or I was present to answer any questions, concede to new suggestions, and make small rule changes (once a “douche card” was suggested to increase volatility between players), and more! Now, we’re creating Happy Hour! to be put out in the world to our family of backers for their turn to beta test the game.

With our backers’ feedback, we’ll be able to refine Happy Hour! one more time before we attempt to launch it into the commercial realm. Rather than flat out failing, we made the investment into our game, and our community, to expand the beta testing process beyond the borders of Portland, Oregon into your living room, bar, or around your campfire.

One Last “THANK YOU”:

Thank You! We couldn’t have done it with the support of our friends, family, and the Mystery Tin community. From everyone at Mystery Tin Games and Waltronic, thank you for backing our game and we can’t wait for you to help us make it something really special

Cheers!

 

Happy Hour! Card Game Now on Kickstarter!

Happy Hour!the first bartending card game, is now available on Kickstarter. It’s the latest game I’ve been working on with my good friend, graphic artist Walker Cahall. We’re really proud of it and we’d love it if you checked it out on Kickstarter, but first…

Dinner’s Ready, the first game I created on Kickstarter back in October of 2015 was really a proof of concept for a style of gaming I call “competitive learning.” You’re playing a card game, focused on the competition and gameplay, but the more you play, the more you subconsciously learn about a particular topic. With Dinner’s Ready!, we wanted to teach people about healthy eating and whole ingredients. With Happy Hour!, our aim is to get people familiar with the world of mixed drinks and to start learning cocktail recipes.

tumblr_okv3mm2v4e1rt7qgbo1_500Bars pride themselves on having fully stocked bars and the ability to make “any drink you want.” The problem is, with the limitless possibilities behind the bar, we’re overwhelmed so we inevitably defer to our “go-to drink,” a simple, unimaginative, cocktail. It inevitably involves three ingredients, one of which is ice. If we knew more about mixed drinks and cocktails, maybe our palette would expand also!

Happy Hour! was born!

From the beginning, we set out to make Happy Hour! both fun but also somehow an educational experience. We bounced around between different formats of gameplay, styles and designs, and base rules in order to best deliver the information we want to get across. In doing so, we made some tough decisions. We decided to omit the facts on the ingredient cards. We chose to ignore the “preparation method” of each cocktail for the sake of clarity and ease of play. We increased and decreased the size of the bar and the number of orders waiting at the counter. But after every play test, it would always loop back to that feeling: we were onto something special.

happy-hour-handHappy Hour! is the FIRST competitive bartending game that’s not only fun to play, but also teaches you an array of actual mixed drinks! Soon enough, you’ll be a master bartender!

Imagine this… it’s a Friday night and you’ve got three friends in town. In anticipation of your friends arrival, you’ve stocked up on some booze. Around 5 o’clock, commonly known as “happy hour,” you bust out the Happy Hour! card game and set up the bar and counter.

Now it’s time to choose an alcohol: whiskey, vodka, tequila or gin. For the rest of the evening, when any drink is played that contains your alcohol, you’ve gotta whatever drink you happen to be consuming. (Extra points if you pair your alcohol to your side drink.) When a player collects 21 points, everybody else has to finish their drink. Sounds pretty good, right? (You can obviously play the game without this optional drinking rule, but… why?)

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Whiskey Sour!

The games typically last 7-15 minutes for 2 people and around 30 minutes for 4 people. That means you can get two rounds in, and (maybe a little north of) two drinks. Not only does that get your evening started for a night on the town, you also have a head start on ideas for drinks later on in the evening!

The Kickstarter page is now up and the campaign will run until February 28, 2017. You can still get the game at the “Early Bird Special” price of $25 (including shipping), otherwise the game is $30 (including shipping). Join the Happy Hour! community by backing the game, following us on social media, and sharing our project with your friends!

At the time of posting, we’re currently at $1263 or 21% of our overall goal!

Thanks again for your support, and I look forward to sharing a drink with you all in Happy Hour!

CHE

Did you like this post? Check out some of our other popular Mystery Tin posts!
The Wisdom of Shark Tank 
is a mega-post of the insight I gained by watching every episode of the investment show Shark Tank
Starting A Monthly Newsletter is a look at the inner workings of my new Mystery Tin Monthly e-mail newsletter. (You can sign up here!)
How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign is a fantastic overview of the nuts and bolts in running a crowdsourcing campaign.

Two Helpful Hacks to Grow Your Mailing List

I recently started my own monthly newsletter, Mystery Tin Monthlyand I wanted to make sure I got most of my contacts onto the mailing list. For the sake of transparency, I have a somewhat “large” social presence (FB: 1403, T: 550, LI: 698) and I have a ton of contacts in my Gmail.

Here are two helpful hacks to get e-mail addresses, specifically from LinkedIn and Gmail:

LinkedIn:

  1. Starting at your LinkedIn Profile page, on the right sidebar, under the advertisement, click on the “More” button. This is buried among the other links for “About,” “Help Center,” etc.
  2. Click “Manage your account and privacy.”
  3. Scroll down to “Getting an archive of your data.”
  4. Choose the “Fast File Only” option, which will deliver your profile information, connections, and messages. This will generate an e-mail containing a .zip, arriving approximately 10 minutes later.
  5. Inside the .zip file is a number of .csv spreadsheets, but the one we’re looking for is connections. Open it.
  6. The .csv file is a breakdown of your connections: First Name, Last Name, E-mail Address, Company, etc.
  7. Import this list into your newsletter database and you’re all set!

Gmail:

  1. Starting inside your primary e-mail account, click the white grid in the top right corner to access your “Google Apps.”
  2. Scroll down until you reach Contacts. (Duh?)
  3. You will see a screen that has your “Frequently Contacted” list and below that, your “All Contacts” list. On the left side, at the bottom of the menu, click the “More” button.
  4. This gives you a list of options, including “Export.” The new, preview version of Google Contacts doesn’t support exporting at the moment (Get on it, Google!), but when you click “Export” it gives you the following options:
  5. Click “Go To Old Contacts,” which will bring up a new window with everybody you’ve ever e-mailed.
  6. Select the “Other Contacts” link on the left sidebar, then use the “Select All” box at the top of the list. With all your “Other Contacts” selected, click the “More” dropdown menu and select “Export…”
  7. This brings up a menu of download options, specifically which lists you’d like to export. At this point, I select “All Contacts” and export as a Google .csv.
  8. Important Note: The list generated here is going to include every e-mail address you’ve ever contacted. This means mailing lists, info e-mail addresses, etc. It is smart to go through this list and refine it, removing the useless e-mail addresses you are sure are going to either bounce back or unsubscribe. It’s going to take a little bit, but you’ll get into a rhythm and narrow it down to the contacts you really want to e-mail.
  9. Import this refine list into your newsletter database and you’re all set!

Using these two simple “hacks,” my newsletter will reach nearly 1,000 people next month!

Do you have any helpful hacks for collecting e-mail addresses? Share them below in the comments!

Did you like this post? Check out some of our other popular Mystery Tin posts!
Hiring My First
Freelancer 
is a post about my first foray into outsourcing lead generations from a virtual assistant in India, using Upwork.com.
The Wisdom of Shark Tank is a mega-post of the insight I gained by watching every episode of the investment show Shark Tank
Starting A Monthly Newsletter is a look at the inner workings of my new Mystery Tin Monthly e-mail newsletter. (You can sign up here!)
How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign is a fantastic overview of the nuts and bolts in running a crowdsourcing campaign.

Hiring My First Freelancer

In preparation for my upcoming crowdsourcing campaign in February, I decided to get started early on the market research and lead generation I’ll need to run a PR and marketing campaign.

Happy Hour! is a competitive drinking card game, challenging players to collect ingredients to deliver drinks like a real bartender! Not only is Happy Hour! fun to play, but players are also subliminally learning facts about their favorite alcohols and drink recipes.

In order for Happy Hour! to have a wildly successful campaign, we would need to market the game (and it’s future possibilities) to the alcohol, nightlife, and cocktail cultures. I knew the areas that I wanted to focus on, but I honestly didn’t have the first idea on where to start. For Dinner’s Ready!I sought out celebrity chefs to endorse the game. This project was going to be a much bigger project that quite frankly, I wasn’t interested in doing.

I decided to outsource the project to a virtual assistant. I figured somebody else out there has had a similar need to acquire contact information, so chances are there is a freelancer that runs a “bot” that scours the internet to return a spreadsheet containing rows and rows of contact information. However the information is collected, I’m sure it was going to be happen faster than I could do it.

Here’s my original job posting on Upwork:

I’m looking for someone to help me build a database of alcohol-related contacts for marketing an upcoming crowdsourcing campaign.

I’m looking for you to fill out a spreadsheet containing the following data:
First Name, Last Name, E-mail Address, Company, Phone Number, Note

Ideally you would locate approximately 100 contacts for each of the following categories (roughly 750-1000 contacts):
– Bartending Schools (online and offline)
– Bar and Restaurant Chains (North America)
– Tabletop Game Stores (North America)
– Alcohol Brands (International)
– Distilleries (International)
– Fraternities (North America)
– Adult Gaming Communities (online and offline)
– Relevant Newspaper Contacts (online and offline)
– Drinking and Liquor Blogs
– Tabletop Game Blogs
– Famous Bartenders (if there is such a thing?)

If doing this kind of research sounds interesting and fun to you, please Submit an Application! Also please include the recipe of your favorite mixed drink. If you omit this, I will not consider your application.

The response I received to the ad was not what I had imagined, but it was definitely what I needed. I received a message from Shah, from Bangladesh, India. He cut right through to the core of my job, and he didn’t waste time with my challenges. Maybe he didn’t read the whole post? Maybe he doesn’t know the word cocktail? Maybe Shah doesn’t drink?

Nevertheless, this is the response I received:

Hi, I can do the task.You can trust me in your project.I see all of your requirements and ready to star now. Please reply me and give me the opportunity. Thanks. Shah.

Looking over his freelancing resume, I had to trust him. His portfolio was extensive in just one area: scouring the internet for e-mail addresses. Despite the secrecy around Shah’s favorite cocktail, everything seemed good enough for me so I reached back out and we started working out the kinks, mostly negotiating the price per 100 rows of contact information. Ultimately we decided on 1200 rows of contacts.

Hi, Sir Here is first 100 rows. Kindly See my attach and check this. I start first Country – USA. keyword Bar and Restaurant Chains. Please replay me. Thanks,shah

His grasp on the English language is starting to wear thin, but that’s not what I hired him. I hired him to track down info, and here he was delivering the first 100 rows, less than 24 hours after we started the project. As I went through the information, I noticed he had collected contact information for dozens of restaurant chains in Montana. While that information may one day be important, in pitching a cocktail-related drinking game, restaurants are probably at the bottom of the list. Shah and I recalibrate on goals, and locations, then I sent him back to check in at 250 rows.

Sure enough, 12 hours later, Shah sent me the first 250 rows. Everything looked great so I sent him off to collect the remaining 950 contacts as I tucked into bed, Shah just returning from his lunch break in Bangladesh.

As I thought about it more, there’s no way that Shah can be doing all of this research by hand. He’s got to have a bot or something scouring and collecting data. If that’s true, then he should be able to turn this thing around in a few days. Since it’s my first time hiring a freelancer, I decided to reach out to Shah to see how long it would take to get the full 1200 addresses.

Yes Sir Thanks for replay. I will complete it within 2/3 days. Or ASAP. Thanks- Shah

My man, Shah!

On Friday, I got this e-mail:

Hi, Sir, Here is Completed Task.. Kindly see and check my attach. Here is 9 tabs, Total 850 Rows. Previous 350 rows. Total 1200 Rows Completed. Rate $5 + $1 Upwork Fee. per 100 Rows. So, Total, 12* ($5*$1)= $72 USD. You Already paid $30.00 . Thanks-Shah

I checked into the spreadsheet and I was happy to see that he had collected a majority of the data I was looking for, but there was one caveat: the bars listed in the spreadsheet were all from Charlotte, North Carolina, rather than Portland, Oregon. So I reached back out to Shah, asking if there was any chance he was able to collect the 100 bar contacts in Portland.

After a little negotiation…

Ok I will Add new Row for that.

I woke up this morning and pulled up my e-mail, and sure enough, there was Shah!

Here is new Sheet. Kindly see and check this. 

He provided one last spreadsheet with 99 bar contacts for Portland, Oregon (and one from New South Wales, Australia, which makes me sure he’s using a bot.) But that was absolutely great, and I couldn’t have been happier with the results of my first attempt at outsourcing.

All in all, this entire data collection project cost me a little over $70, including fees, and saved me hours upon hours of my own time. Collecting this amount of information would have most likely taken me a full 40-hour week, but working with Shah, the project breaks down to roughly $0.05 per contact. Not a bad deal!

Did you like this post? Check out some of our other popular Mystery Tin posts!
The Wisdom of Shark Tank 
is a mega-post of the insight I gained by watching every episode of the investment show Shark Tank
Starting A Monthly Newsletter is a look at the inner workings of my new Mystery Tin Monthly e-mail newsletter. (You can sign up here!)
Personal Fire Ecology is a quick look at the rationale behind my yearly purge by fire.
How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign is a fantastic overview of the nuts and bolts in running a crowdsourcing campaign.

The Wisdom of Shark Tank

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 9.18.13 AM.pngI’ve seen literally every single episode of ABC’s award-winning reality television show, Shark Tank. Here’s just the tip of the information iceberg.

I used to wake up to watch an episode or two of Shark Tank before work (they’re only 42 minutes without commercials) and I’d watch a few episodes at night before I went to bed. At one point in my illustrious career of interesting jobs, I applied to a dozen companies that appeared on Shark Tank, and I eventually landed a job for Bee Thinking, a company that was featured on Shark Tank Season 6 (and Beyond The Tank Season 2).

Many of my friends and family have asked me, “So when are you going to apply to Shark Tank?” I’m always truly flattered at their confidence in me, but the answer’s remained the same for many years…

Not anytime soon.

Why? My own entrepreneurial endeavors are currently “small potatoes” compared to the companies that eventually get the handshake deals on the hit television show. Entering the “Shark Tank” is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (except for the four entrepreneurs that were able to get on the show twice, only one got a deal both times), so more than anything else, I don’t want to burn my one chance on a half-baked project that isn’t likely to get funding.

In the meantime, after watching over 93 hours of Shark Tank, there are some valuable lessons that can be taken away from the small businesses pitching on Shark Tank.

Your Story is Everything

Whether you’re interviewing for a job or pitching an investment for a shark, people want to work with people they like. That’s why Shark Tank has those introductory videos and the Sharks seem to ask those “poignant” questions that just happen to bring up the most personally defining characteristic of the business owner. Don’t be afraid to share the tragedies, struggles are the hallmark of an entrepreneur.

A few times on Shark Tank, we’ve seen what’s referred to as the “acqui-hire,” where a Shark accepts a deal for no other purpose than hiring the business owner to work for them in one of their portfolio of companies. While this isn’t exactly ideal (entrepreneurs tend to not work well with others), it is a very real possibility if your product is a flop, but you’re a rockstar.

Solve a Problem

Do you solve a problem? If not, it’s gonna be one hell of an uphill battle. A lack of s’mores in your life is not a big enough problem to get an investment, hence no deal. Needing a mobile breathalyzer to prevent drunk driving solves a HUGE problem, that’s why all five sharks went in on that deal.

Own It

You need to own the space you operate in. More specifically, you need to own your intellectual property. If there’s nothing proprietary about your product or business, there’s nothing to prevent a larger company from ripping you off and killing your “cockroach” of a business in their industry. If you don’t own your IP yet, you should probably get on that immediately.

If you do own your IP, there’s a number of avenues in which the sharks could take you, including QVC/HSN, big box retailers, or leasing to one of the major players. Also, in a time so electric with frivolous business lawsuits (Mark Cuban has dipped out of a couple deals to the potential for litigation), owning the IP right out is the best way to defend your product from being infringed upon, but it’s also a necessity to go out and enforce your patent to reinforce your position in the market. If others look like you, you’re not that special, and therefore, not that valuable or investible.

You MUST Know Your Numbers

Despite what Barbara Corcoran has said in the past, when you’re seeking an outside investment in your company, you have to know (and share) your numbers. Too many entrepreneurs have come into the Shark Tank with the attitude, “There’s two things my momma told me never to talk about, that’s my weight and how much my bags cost…” Plain and simple, at the bare minimum, you have to share your manufacturing cost, your margins, and your gross profit. You should also be aware of your customer acquisition cost, customer lifetime value, and your monthly burn rate. You may think it will negatively effect your business when a nation of eager consumers hears about the inner workings of your small business, and while a few consumers may be turned off, the “Shark Tank bump” will bring in potentially hundreds, maybe even thousands, of new customers. It’s important to sit down with your P&L ledgers and crunch the data. Share your numbers!

Market Size

Don’t go into the Shark Tank with the “Our target market is [Size A], which means we the total market value is [B Dollars], and we can just capture a fraction of that market, we’ll make [C Dollars].” It’s not that the any of that information is irrelevant, it’s that market size and value is already known, and the Sharks are more concerned with your business, your success, and the methods you used to break into that large market.

Be Willing to Negotiate

There’s nothing more aggravating to a Shark than somebody coming into the tank with no desire to negotiate from their original proposal terms. It’s a delicate balance between offering an ownership percentage and maintaining a high valuation, and that’s where the negotiation tactics really kick in. Only a handful of companies have seen their wildest dreams realized: getting a shark on board with more money and less equity than their original offer, increasing their company’s valuation. For everybody else, if you’re lucky enough to get an actual offer from a shark, chances are you’re going to be giving up more equity for your ask. If you’re not going to deviate from your original offer, don’t enter the tank.

And on that note, if there’s one thing that “Mr. Wonderful” hates more than anything else, it’s being offered a measly 5% share in a company. “I don’t even get out of bed for 5%,” he frequently grumbles at these low-offering, high-evaluation deals. This is where he then goes into some ancient tale, maybe from Greece, maybe from Africa, but no matter the content the story, they all end the same way… fingers tented, “you’re dead to me.”

Seek Real Value

Sharks love the idea they’re considered “smart money.” If you’re heading into the Shark Tank looking for a payday, rather than a smart working business relationship with one of the Sharks, I can’t be the first person to tell you that you’re doing it all wrong. It’s about their brains, not just their bucks. (If it boils down to dumb money, get ready for a no equity/loan/residual deal from Mr. Wonderful). If you want passive money, write a pitch deck and go to a bank. If you want a strategic business partner, that’s why in you’re in the Shark Tank, and you need to be ready to elaborate on how each Shark can individually contribute to the success of the company.

Shark Tank is Just the Beginning

Unless you are like one of the three businesses that offered 100% of their business to the sharks, if you are lucky enough to get a deal, it’s only the beginning! The buzz can last overnight, but the very next day, you gotta get back to work and keep hustling!

From my experience at Bee Thinking, I can tell you the “Shark Tank Bump” is a very real thing, especially if you don’t get an offer. Overnight our orders jumped up from 26 to nearly 400 overnight after the airing of the Shark Tank episode, and a similar epic bump happened when we appeared on “Beyond the Tank.”

It really is a trial by fire, and if you’re not ready to buckle down and deliver, you’re going to drown in the wake of the Shark Tank.

Keep it Together!

Never having been on Shark Tank myself, I can’t tell you what it’s like to stand on that rug, in front of the sharks, with the hot lights blaring on you. What I can tell you is you need to keep an even emotional keel when you’re up there. Your business is your baby, and nobody is doubting how invested you are in it. But, if you are overly-emotional, it’s gonna end up hurting you. The last thing you want to do is get down to one shark left, and you completely melt into a groveling puddle begging for a deal, because chances are you’re not going to get a deal. Everybody loves passion, nobody loves desperation.

Do Your Research!

You gotta do your research on the Sharks, and know how their individual networks would work in with and benefit your business. All the Sharks are interested in a good business, but each of them has an area of expertise.

Here’s some information on the sharks, why I would work with them, and some affiliate links to the books they’ve written.

Kevin O’Leary

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-9-59-26-am“Mr. Wonderful,” “The King of Licensing Deals,” “The Devil Incarnate.” Whatever you want to call him, there’s no denying that Kevin knows how to make a deal that stings so good. “Don’t cry for money, it doesn’t cry for you.”

I would be interested in working with Kevin O’Leary because taking businesses to the next level is his reputation. With O’Leary Ventures, his connections may almost be worth the terrible royalty he’ll try to stick you with. But deep down, I gotta admit, there’s something slightly heartwarming about watching Kevin laugh so hard that he cries, even if it’s at a business owner’s expense.

Kevin’s written three books of “cold, hard truth:” Cold Hard Truth: On Business, Money & LifeThe Cold Hard Truth On Men, Women, and Money: 50 Common Money Mistakes and How to Fix Them, and The Cold Hard Truth on Family, Kids & Money.

Barbara Corcoran

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 9.59.09 AM.pngBarbara makes a lot of food and product related plays, but she’s really more concerned with the business owner herself. As a charismatic entrepreneur, she prides herself on being able to partner with up-and-coming businesses and turning them into billion dollar businesses.

I would love to work with Barbara because she reminds of me my grandfather, who first introduced me to the stock market with a newspaper and a yellow highlighter. Both of us are “zany” (to say the least) and to be a business partner of Barbara’s would be a total trip!

Barbara’s written three books, Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business, Nextville: Amazing Places to Live the Rest of Your Lifeand If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails: and Other Lessons I Learned from My Mom

Daymond John

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 10.00.11 AM.pngDaymond is perhaps the most eclectic Shark, with investments in everything from fashion to food, child inventors, tech plays, and mail-order companies. This doesn’t mean he lacks focus, but more importantly, it means he’s completely focused on building brands in whatever industry they’re in.

That’s predominately why I’d love to work with Daymond, because I know that he could help me take the Mystery Tin brand from a handful of staggering companies to a mammoth network. (Hit me up, Daymond!)

Raymond’s written three books, Display of Power: How FUBU Changed a World of Fashion, Branding and LifestyleThe Brand Within: The Power of Branding from Birth to the Board Roomand most recently The Power of Broke (which is fantastic!).

Robert Herjavec

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 10.00.34 AM.pngCyber-security, extreme lifestyle, and cuddly pets are all of interest to Robert, but if there’s anything you can learn from his Croatian legacy, it’s the unparalleled value of hard work and intuition.

Honestly, I would be interested in working with Robert because he’s not like the other sharks. He’s like my cool “Uncle Robert,” a guy that would give me business advice and then show me his latest car or toy. He’s the “buddy shark,” and sometimes, that’s all you really need in a partner.

Robert’s written two books, Driven: How to Succeed in Business and Life and The Will to Win: Leading, Competing, Succeeding.

Lori Greiner

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 10.00.22 AM.pngThe “Queen of QVC” focuses mostly on simple products and patents. With over 120 patents and 400+ products under her belt, she’s got some great advice for inventors and entrepreneurs.

I would love to work with Lori on some of my products, especially the family card games. With her influence, she could undoubtedly get me into the big box game retailers, as well as connected me with the right people to cut down on my manufacturing costs. I also feel, on a personal note, I could benefit from having more female influence in my business ventures and ideas, and Lori could bring it in spades!

Lori’s written one book, Invent it, Sell it, Bank it! Turn Your Million-Dollar Idea into a Reality

Mark Cuban

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 9.58.58 AM.pngThe only billionaire in the Shark Tank, Mark’s looking for mammoth growth and a minimum of a 5x return on every single investment. Most of his deals are in the social media and tech space, compliments to his Dallas Mavericks, or something completely random (“Let Me Draw A Cat For You”). You never know when he’s gonna throw his hat in the ring, but if you can get a little insight into his psyche, you might figure out a way to land the biggest shark of all.

I would LOVE to work with Mark Cuban because… he’s fucking Mark Cuban! Not only does he have the business acumen to hockey stick any small business, he’s also a basketball loving, tech-savvy dude, that drinks gluten-free beer and loves a good party. Entrepreneurs should aspire to be like Mark, well balanced between his work and home life. As he said in Season 3, “I’m a business builder. I take small businesses and make them great!” That’s why working with Mark Cuban’s on my bucket list!

Mark’s written one book, How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It.

Now What?

After I hit “publish” on this blog post, it’s back to work on writing the marketing e-mails for the Happy Hour! card game, building out some webpages for an upcoming website project, and taking the afternoon to do a little business reading.

Now get to work!

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Did you like this post? Check out some of our other popular Mystery Tin posts!
Starting A Monthly Newsletter 
is a look at the inner workings of my new Mystery Tin Monthly e-mail newsletter. (You can sign up here!)
Personal Fire Ecology is a quick look at the rationale behind my yearly purge by fire.
How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign is a fantastic overview of the nuts and bolts in running a crowdsourcing campaign.
Starting a Podcast (Network) for Under $200 on WordPress is the play-by-play I used in setting up the show MAD Potential (with Ben Mehl) on the Mystery Tin Podcast Network.

Starting A Monthly Newsletter

I took the leap yesterday and started a monthly newsletter called Mystery Tin MonthlyThe experience was enlightening, and humbling, to say the least.

I finally decided to put my money where my mouth is, so I started my own Mystery Tin newsletter. I previously wrote a post about what starting a newsletter can do for an artist, but after binge-listening to over 50 episodes of the Side Hustle Nation podcast on the 16 hour holiday road trip home (and back), it is the unanimous opinion of online business owners that in order to succeed, you absolutely must cultivate a mailing list for direct e-mail contact and marketing. Most importantly, this group isn’t primarily a sales pool. These people are your tribe. So at first, it is advisable to move slowly and tread lightly. I think I did that part right.

It took me a quite while (and a little bit of magic) but I managed to scrape together nearly 700 e-mail addresses of my friends, previous businesses associates, and business contacts. I know I didn’t get everybody on the list (I still don’t think my parents are signed up yet) but chances are if you’re my friend on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn, I most likely added you to the mailing list for my new newsletter. Did you get it? (If not, click here and sign yourself up!)

The newsletter is a monthly e-mail newsletter, Mystery Tin Monthly, containing the top blog posts, photographs, great links, and updates on projects under the Mystery Tin Brand, sent out on the first Monday of each month. This first newsletter was a little bit longer, broken into sections with an introduction to the newsletter, my top 3 blog posts on MysteryTin.com, my top pictures on Instagram, a sneak peek of Happy Hour!, and a reminder that Dinner’s Ready! is available for sale. Oh yeah, and a call for action and sharing. Duh.

I designed the newsletter in MailChimp, which also offers a number of added benefits that you can work into the campaign, including opens, clicks, bounces and unsubscribes. I clicked all the boxes I could and I scheduled my first newsletter to fire off at 12:15 PM, landing squarely during the lunch hour on January 2, New Year’s Day Observed. It definitely got my heart racing, but once the e-mail was out, I was refreshing the report over and over again, watching the results come back in real time…

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For the sake of transparency in the pursuit of knowledge, I’ve included a screenshot of my newsletter report. At the time I’m publishing this post, Tuesday, January 3, the e-mail was opened by 38.1% of recipients, with 26 total clicks for a 3.2% click rate, 10 bounce backs and a grand total of 33 unsubscribers. At first I was weary of the seemingly low numbers, but when compared to the industry standards, it actually appears I’m doing really well with my list (nearly 2.5x the industry average!). Maybe there will be some promise in this newsletter thing for me after all!

Of course, as a glutton for punishment, I couldn’t help but go through the unsubscribes. Who would unsubscribe from my newsletter?!?! I was expecting a small number of unsubscribes, particularly from those obscure apiary connections from China I friended on LinkedIn, but when I opened the unsubscribe list, I was actually quite surprised. Former co-workers and bosses, fraternity brothers, high school classmates, and more surprisingly, a handful of close family friends had all opted out of my newsletter. Part of me was shocked to see that people I really cared about, people I was actively invested in, people I grew up with, were not interested in hearing about my life. The way I looked at it, it was a monthly newsletter, so if you can’t stand one e-mail a month from meyou’re basically saying “I really don’t give a fuck about you.” It’s only one e-mail a month!

Thanks for being a good friend… jerk.

Emotions aside, e-mail marketing is simply a game of averages. Yesterday, I e-mailed nearly 700 people, so there’s bound to be some blowback. I can’t spend my time worrying about each and every person that unsubscribes from my newsletter, because no matter what, there’s always going to be somebody who isn’t interested in reading what you have to say or isn’t interested in buying what you’re selling. The challenge is, you must go on ceaselessly toward your goals, because “you’ll never get where you’re going if you stop to throw rocks at every barking dog.” I think that was a Winston Churchill quote.

The only thing I need to do now is set up the all the extra bells and whistles to get people signing themselves up for the Mystery Tin Monthly mailing list. I have the sign-up page, but I’m having some trouble with the pop-ups on my own website and embedding a sign up box in the text box (anybody out there want to help me with this?!)

What did you think of the first Mystery Tin Monthly? What would you like to hear more about? Let me know what you think by responding to the e-mail to mysterytin@gmail.com or by posting your comments below!

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Did you like this post? Check out some of our other popular Mystery Tin posts!
Personal Fire Ecology
 is a quick look at the rationale behind my yearly purge by fire.
The A-Z of My 2016 is my year in review mega post of 2016, complete with anecdotes, photographs, and some of my favorite songs and content from 2016.
How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign is a fantastic overview of the nuts and bolts in running a crowdsourcing campaign.
Starting a Podcast (Network) for Under $200 on WordPress is the play-by-play I used in setting up the show MAD Potential (with Ben Mehl) on the Mystery Tin Podcast Network.

Hey Artist, Start a Newsletter!

I love creative people.

There’s something inherently fascinating to me about people that create art. Whether it’s painting, music, film, writing, racing, manufacturing, or some other creative outlet, I get a ton of joy out of speaking with people about the motivations and ambitions behind their art. If given the chance, I’ll give my “two cents” about how they can turn their art into their full time job. Regardless of the genre of art you create in, chances are my first bit of advice is to start a newsletter.

In the constantly moving digital landscape of today, the most important thing you can do is to deliver consistently. If you deliver quality work on a consistent basis, people will begin to incorporate your work into their lives. Just as we know what day of the week our favorite television show comes out, delivering your content on a consistent basis will create an expectation of delivery and people will work you into their routines to consume it. Dependability and reliability are essential for building trust. Again, consistency is the keyword here.

That’s where the newsletter comes in, and it’s actually way easier than you think. In the beginning, there’s no need to get bogged down by third-party websites and apps to help you deliver a high quality newsletter to thousands of subscribers. Google allows you to send up to 500 e-mails a day, so chances are that’s going to be more than enough to get started with.

img_6990Step 1: Ask your friends. Unless your artistic talent is a complete secret (why?!?!), your friends will know what kind of art you make and, if they’re actually friends worth having, they want to support you in your artistic pursuit (in the least financially taxing way possible). The easiest thing to do is shoot your friends a quick text message, asking them if you can add them to your new mailing list. Unless they’re a complete asshole, chances are they’re gonna say yes!

In the half dozen times I’ve done this, I’ve never once encountered somebody who didn’t want to be included in the newsletter. People I’ve added without their permission, however, never hesitate to let you know they’re not interested.

Step 2: Build a Spreadsheet. I’m sure the idea of a “spreadsheet” scares the most sensitive of artists, but when you’re starting out, having an organization system for your contacts is essential. The reason I recommend starting with a spreadsheet is because, later in the process when you’re ready to upgrade to those newsletter programs, you can easily upload your spreadsheet into your contacts list. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but you do need to make sure that at a bare minimum, you have their First Name, Last Name, and E-mail Address.

PRO TIP: If you don’t want to manually input contact information, I recommend making a simple Google Form, asking for their contact information, which will dump their answers into a spreadsheet on your Google Drive. Post this Form on a landing page and share the web address on your social media accounts and include a link in the bottom of your e-mail.

Step 3: Pick a delivery day and stick with it. As we went on ad nauseam earlier, consistency is key. Think about what day you’re want to send out your newsletter, and be sure to consider the time you’ll need prior to create and deliver the content. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. I’d also spend some time thinking about “where” your content fits into your subscriber’s lives. If you’re a motivational writer, you may want to consider sending out your e-mail early in the week (when people are motivated) and early in the day (when people need a jumpstart). If your speciality is nature photography, maybe think about sending out your newsletter in the middle of the week, while people are making plans for the weekend. (Bonus points if you can build the expectation into the title of your newsletter like, “MAD Potential Mondays” or “Don’t Die on Saturdays.”)

PRO TIP: With a little searching, you can easily find an extension or Google App that allows you to send e-mails at a later date. Find what works for you!

Step 4: Engage. You want to share your art, you asked your friends if you could share it with them, you found a day that works for you, and now you’ve sent out the first edition of your art newsletter. Congratulations… now get back to work! Now is the most important time to engage with your readers. Ask them what they thought of your art. Ask what they’d like to see in the newsletter. Ask if they’d consider sharing it with their friends. This first wave of support is the most important, you want your readers to share your content, letting the ripple extend beyond your reach. Feed the animals and they’ll feed you back!

Step 5: Monetize. Okay, this is way down the line (most likely months or years), but it’s worth keeping in mind early in the process. When it comes to cultivating an online presence, the most important thing you can have is a robust mailing list. Having a solid mailing list allows you direct access to your readers, which opens up longterm financial opportunities like brand cultivation, selling merchandise to your readers, or advertising space in your newsletter to sponsors. I promise you don’t need hundreds of thousands of fans, in fact, some people (like Kevin Kelly) believe all you need is 1000 true fans.

Sounds easy enough, right?

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Instagram: Aaron Morales (@RatxLife)

Let’s say you’re an artist, like my friend AaronHe draws cartoons containing some odd, dark, creative characters. I really like his stuff and one day I can see it on shirts and skateboard decks (apparently he’s already done shirts, so he must be onto something).

I asked him if he’d considered starting a newsletter, and he (like many), simply thought it was too much work. I told him it didn’t have to be too crazy, just one comic and a little paragraph about it, with a call for sharing at the bottom. Again, the guy goes to school and he works nights, so the free time he does get he tries to spend with his girlfriend, his pitbull, or drawing. The thing he does not want to do is spend his hard-earned free time building spreadsheets. I totally get it.

I might have begged him to reach out to his friends and ask if they would be interested in receiving his newsletter, and he did. I laid out the four steps above for him and told him about another artist that I’d give the same advice to…

Week 1: First Newsletter. He sent out the newsletter to his closest 20 friends from his Gmail account. Just one comic on Friday. A few people responded, but it wasn’t a standing ovation his first time at bat. No biggie. Onward!

Week 2: Second Newsletter. The all-important follow up. Successful delivery of the first newsletter shows that you have the ability to craft and deliver an e-mail (good for you!), but when the second e-mail newsletter shows up in your readers’ inbox, their thinking shifts. They recognize you’re serious about this newsletter thing, so subconsciously, they’re gonna give it a tad more attention than they did the first time. Again, a few more people responded, complimenting him on the cartoon and newsletter. He even got a few shares on social media and picked up a few new readers. Progress!15302514_373258299674168_1234013622_o

Week 3: He missed it. Sometimes life gets in the way, or you aren’t inspired, or whatever, but he did not send out his newsletter on the third week. To many newsletters, this could be a death wish. He tried, he got off the ground, but crashed on week three. One could assume in the finicky world of e-mail newsletters that many would have crossed him off the list and moved on with their lives…

But that’s not exactly what happened. In fact, he received a few e-mails like, “Hey! It’s Friday. Where’s the newsletter?” In just two short weeks, he had already worked his way into the Friday routines of some of his readers. Circus clowns only need “that one person” to laugh in order for everything to be worth it. Your newsletter shouldn’t be much different, if it matters to one (other) person, it’s worth it!

He buckled down and got the newsletter out for Week 3. His tribe was content… for now.

Week 4: Back on it. Now that he knew his cartoon newsletter was not only being read, but also anticipated, he got back onto the newsletter game with more fervor than ever. He worked hard on his craft, working long hours into the night. He was being relied upon now and he promised himself (and them) he wasn’t going to let them down. He started promoting, and sharing, and encouraging others to sign up for the newsletter. The rest? You’re gonna have to join his newsletter to find out.

If you’re an artist, consider starting a newsletter. It’s simply another venue for you to display and disseminate your art, but unlike Facebook and Twitter and those message boards you thought would promote you, direct e-mail is the most likely to be opened and acted upon. If you’re knocking on their door, chances are they’re gonna open up for you. And when they do, I hope you’re standing there with your best art in your hands, ready to share.

CHE

P.S. If you want to join Aaron’s newsletter, leave your name and e-mail address below and I’ll pass it along to him!

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Instragram: Aaron Morales (@RatxLife)

Starting a Podcast (Network) for Under $200 on WordPress

If you want to start your podcast (or your own podcast network), here’s the play-by-play of how I started the Mystery Tin Podcast Network and how we achieved success with our flagship podcast MAD Potential (with Ben Mehl)

Start with a Solid Idea

There are close to 250,000 podcasts on the internet, most you can find through the iTunes Podcast Marketplace. This number shouldn’t scare you away from starting your own podcast. In fact, it should inspire you to go ahead and take your own shot. Everybody else seems to be doing it, so go ahead and jump off the cliff!

I approached my friend Ben Mehl to see if he was interested in doing a podcast to supplement his private coaching practice. As a physical trainer and self-help coach, I felt he had a powerful message that would come through in a self-help style podcast, mixing in interviews with prominent figures in fitness industry and influential people in his own life. We would also use the podcast to recruit new clients, expand his social media impact, and drive people to his blog.

Get Ready for Personal Hurdles

The biggest hurdle for Ben to get over was the idea of recording his own voice and listening to it. It’s not an easy thing. In fact, it’s really awkward for the first few recordings if you’re not already involved in the radio/podcasting realm.

To help Ben get over the hurdles, I had him record a few paragraphs of his introductory episode over, and over, and over again. When he thought he had a good take, we exported the audio on my phone and went out to my car. Since a majority of listeners play podcasts in their cars (during their commutes to and from work), I wanted him to hear what his listeners were going to hear when they’re behind the wheel. It was uncomfortable, but that simple episode gave Ben the confidence to go ahead and try making the podcast.

Structure is Key

If you’re not an “on the fly” conversationalist, structure will save the day. I had Ben sit down and write out the content for many of his solo episodes. Working together on these drafts, we were able to get down everything he wanted to get across and eliminated any of the superfluous or repetitive talking points.

Jumping ahead slightly, after we launched the podcast, we decided to change up the structure of the show. We had originally intended for the MAD Potential episodes to run approximately 45-60 minutes, but as we progressed, we saw the need to change formats:

  • 45-60 minutes was a long time for Ben to generate his own content. Despite having the structure written out in advance, there was still a good amount of time that needed to be filled in order to reach our quota of 45 minutes. This added extra stress to Ben to deliver, something that podcasting is not supposed to be! Accordingly, we ended up lowering the target time to around 30 minutes, enough for roughly one leg of the daily commute.
  • Outside of the larger episodes, we also started “in-between episodes,” which consisted of strong bursts of inspiration intended for quick consumption. Clocking in under 5 minutes, we wanted his listeners to have something to listen to during breaks from work, or whenever they didn’t have time for a full hour-long interview.

Tools

Starting from absolute scratch, we needed to not only get equipment but also set ourselves up in WordPress to feed seamlessly into the iTunes marketplace.

CAD U37 USB Studio Condenser Microphone (<$50)

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This was a simple microphone for us to get started with. The CAD U37 plugs directly into the USB port, so there was no need for additional equipment like mixers, converters, etc. You simply plug it in and you’re ready to start recording!

Perhaps most importantly, if you’re looking to start your podcast on the cheap side, this microphone is under $50 on Amazon. It sounds just fine, which is all you can really ask for when you’re starting out.

We had such success with Ben’s podcast that I went ahead and purchased a handful of these for the other podcasts I would launch on the MTPN.

GarageBand (FREE!)

That’s right. We launched the podcast using Garageband, a free download from Apple. We weren’t doing any highly technical editing, just simply an intro song, Ben’s recorded audio, and the outro song. Simple and free, it was a great place to start. (If you’d rather spend money on “the best” podcasting audio program, my recommendation is picking up a copy of Pro Tools)

WordPress Premium ($99/year)

This caught me slightly off guard. I had gone ahead and paid for the custom domain to host all the content on, but there are restrictions on the kind of media you are able to post with a basic account. I didn’t realize that you couldn’t upload .mp3 or .wav files without the premium account.

But once I did sign up, there were a handful of additional benefits, including the invaluable  “Live Chat and Customer Support,” 13GB of storage, and the ability to monetize the site with banners and side advertisements.

Podcast Art ($50)

MAD PotentialYou need to have good art for your podcast. People will be scrolling through the artwork on the podcast marketplace and if you have a great cover, people will give an extra second to click it.

I asked an artist friend of mine, Brian Rose, to design something cool, creative, and inspiring. This is what he came up with.

In retrospect, it probably would have benefited Ben and the podcast if the cover art featured his face (or likeness), but we decided to stick with this cover art until we found another one that fit better. (Unfortunately, this never happened.)

Distribution Tips

You need your podcast RSS feed to make it into the iTunes Podcast marketplace. They do a good job of giving you the necessary play-by-play to list your podcast, but before you’re ready to submit there are a few essential steps along the way.

Whether you are doing one podcast, or an entire podcast network, the best way for WordPress to create your RSS feed is by creating a “Category” within your blog that is solely committed to the podcast. This could be “Podcast” or it could be more specific like “MAD Potential.” This crafts the RSS feed to only contain posts held within that particular category, whatever the media content may be.

Since WordPress nor iTunes provide listenership analytics, we went with Google’s own Feedburner site. Here you’ll enter the RSS feed from your WordPress site, and it’ll spit out a new RSS feed address that can be tracked using Feedburner. You’ll receive your download numbers, individual episode downloads, as well as allow you to make changes to the metadata attached to your podcast. The new RSS feed information they provide is what you’ll submit to iTunes when you’re ready to launch.

An important note: iTunes won’t host your podcast until you have at least one episode available in the RSS feed. For this reason, we chose to do short “teaser” episodes for each of our shows. We posted this (without telling anybody) to get approved. Once the show was approved and displayed on the iTunes marketplace, we then promoted the show’s weekly release (MAD Potential was released on Mondays as a way to jumpstart your week) and encouraged our listeners to subscribe directly through iTunes, rather than checking the MTPN website for updates.

For the Mystery Tin Podcast Network, we have the following categories/RSS feeds feeding into iTunes:

Marketing

The cheapest method of marketing the MAD Potential podcast was through our pre-existing blogs and social media accounts. We promoted the launch on our individual websites, Facebook Pages and Profiles, Twitter, and any other websites that would support our goal of reaching people with our “self-help” teachings.

We started by e-mailing our closest friends and family and asking them to listen to the first episode of the podcast, and if they liked it, to rate the podcast and leave a review on the iTunes page for the show. Ratings and reviews are the best way to get noticed inside the iTunes marketplace.

Another extremely helpful element of doing an interview-style podcast is the extra bump you get from the guest’s social media presence. Bringing in prominent figures in the fitness industry really brought bumps to our listenership and download numbers. They shared the episode with their friends, and clients, who then shared it with their friends.

For the biggest names we interviewed, or the most popular episodes, we would occasionally spend $10 on Facebook advertising to promote the episode. This isn’t required for you to get the traction you need, but we did see some positive responses to our sponsored posts and a direct correlation with downloads on those particular episodes.

What about Sponsors?

You don’t need sponsors. Sponsors aren’t involved in creating good content, nor are they really involved in the distribution and marketing of your podcast. But most importantly, if you want to gain the attention of sponsors, you need to build momentum first. Some sponsors are willing to pay upwards of $250 an episode, but they need to see their investment is worth it. If you’re getting less than a few thousand downloads per episode, chances are, they’re not interested.

To reference Field of Dreams, “If you build it, [they] will come.” You gotta build it successfully first!

Results

We promoted MAD Potential really hard during the first season, promoting nearly daily to our networks, but all the hard work payed off. We landed on the “New and Noteworthy” section of the iTunes Podcast marketplace.

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We were beginning to make waves, so we really leaned on our guests to help push us into the ratings. Fitness professionals like Ben Ceccarelli, Greg O’Gallagher, and Anthony Madonia were integral to spreading the show to a much larger audience.

img_2364We kept our foot on the gas, encouraging listeners to leave ratings and reviews and share with their friends. I’ll admit that at times it felt like we were begging for attention, but in the end, it was ultimately the best series of events and decisions made for the show, because we managed to make our little two-man show climb to the #4 spot on all of the iTunes “Self-Help” podcasts.

It’s really that simple. We didn’t use any high-tech editing software, social media algorithms, or a ton of advertising. We simply stuck to our guns, made a podcast we were proud of, and eagerly shared it with those around us.

The MAD Potential podcast, after amassing over 6,000 downloads, ended last year, but not because we didn’t think we were successful. Ben’s passion projects (other than the podcast) required more of his time, so we decided to put it “on hold” until a later date. I did apply this practice (and a few other “secrets”) to the other podcasts on the network, and they too succeeded on varying degrees

For More Information:

Podcasts are a media platform that is here to stay, and if there’s anything I can do to help you with your podcast (or podcast network), here are a few more options for you:

The Modern Artrerpeneur Podcast

Other Relevant Blog Posts on The Mystery Tin:

If you’d like one-on-one consultation for your podcast or podcast network, you can always e-mail me directly at mysterytin@gmail.com. I’d love to hear what you’re up to.

CHE

Find Your Funk, Save the World

There is nobody like you, and there will never be anybody like you again. Nobody will have your same idiosyncrasies, your same experiences, your same dreams, passions and personal ghosts. Your uniqueness is what gives you your very existence. It’s what gives you your… funk.

As you mature and advance through life, you discover more and more that the barometers by which we’ve traditionally measured success are, quite frankly, ineffective and outdated. Experience is more valuable than your college GPA. Earnings are more important than extra credit. Social impact is more important than our collected accolades. You are the result of what happens to you.

The good news is, a majority of life’s choices are yours to make. You, and you alone, determine what happens to you. To live a fulfilling life, you’ve got to be authentic. Billionaire Chris Sacca calls it your “unapologetically weird self.” Be honest with yourself. If you feel the music in you, sing your fucking heart out. Dance while you’re in line for coffee. Tell jokes. Swing from trees. Play harmless pranks. Go on adventures. Make people smile. Have deep political conversations in different voices with vegetables you found in the organic food section because their stems are hysterically shaped like mouths and they oddly resemble the caricatures of a couple that lives together but kinda secretly hates each other’s guts… sorry, I got carried away there. My point is, whoever you are inside, the real you… that’s the funk, baby.

Perhaps the most important part about being your authentic self is that it’s okay for you to admit to your problems and failures. Failures are the best lessons that life can give us, and to hide them is to disregard the greatest teaching moments. Falling down is painful. Defeat is humbling. Loss is enlightening. How we respond to these moments, the darkest, hardest moments of our lives, gives us insight. These moments give us the most important emotion of all: empathy.

Empathy is the bridge of emotional connection that we build with one another. The bridge gets built through shared experience. Brick by brick. We are able to empathize with our best friends because we’ve been through so much with them. We’ve witnessed their decision making so we understand their thought process in dealing with a situation. We relate to strangers (or new friends) through our own previous experiences in the same or similar situations. If you’re a surfer, you can always empathize for another surfer that gets straight barreled by a double overhead. But empathy, true empathy, only comes about as a result of authenticity. You can’t lie your way past authenticity; it’s too honest.

If you do your best to bring honesty and true empathy into every situation, you’ll feel good about whatever you do. You may even find yourself drawn to helping others, drawing on the wisdom you’ve gathered from your own experiences to solve the difficult problems of others in a way only you know how. Look at Steve Jobs. Look at President Obama. Look at Dean Camen. Look at the hit, primetime reality television show Undercover Boss. Empathy can truly change the world.

Be authentic. Do what makes you happy. Find your funk, and save the world.

CHE

Check out this blog post if you haven’t read how I’m changing the world, aka. Saving Bees!