During our chat, Erica Douglass talks about the pain, struggles, depression, and anxiety that she experienced when she was trying to please all of her clients. Listen to her boldest move ever, and the results that came from it.
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- Erica has what she calls a “mantra”, and it’s a doozy. You’ll have to listen or check the transcripts! click to tweet!
- Have you ever shown up to your office and found that you were locked out by the landlord due to lack of payment? Erica did, and she shares the story of how she turned her company around on the brink of collapse.
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- “No” can be oh-so-liberating. Listen to how Erica uses it to liberate herself on a daily basis.
- SEO may have a bad rap, but it’s due to reputation by association. If you are doing SEO the right way, your company will benefit greatly. Scared of Google’s next update? If you are doing SEO right, you will be cheering for their next one. Curious if Erica knows her stuff? Google “How to make money online” and see what you find.
- Want to know what is working in the SEO world right now? Erica shares a little too much, but to our benefit!
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John Dumas: Okay. Let’s get started. I am simply pumped to introduce my guest today, Erica Douglass. Erica, are you prepared to ignite?
Erica Douglass: I am.
John Dumas: Wonderful. Erica has quite the story. At age 26, she sold her online business for $1.1 million. She’s written a book, How to Make Money Online, and she has over 112,000 monthly readers. Wow!
Erica has too much going on to sum up here. So Erica, why don’t you tell us a little more about yourself, who you are, and what you do?
Erica Douglass: Sure. My name is Erica Douglass. I run one of the web’s most popular entrepreneurship blogs at erica.biz. That’s E-R-I-C-A dot B-I-Z. It’s just filled to the brim with free information on how to start and grow a business. Actually, after I sold my last business, I turned my little personal blog into a rather large blog, teaching lessons about both business success and failure from the perspective of having built and bootstrapped and sold a seven figure tech company.
So that’s the perspective that I come from. I talk really honestly about success and failure on my blog, and I believe that’s part of what’s made it so popular.
John Dumas: Well, you’ve definitely had some success. So congratulations for that.
Erica Douglass: Thank you.
John Dumas: Let’s move into the first topic, which is our success quote. We always the show at EntrepreneurOnFire.com with our guest’s favorite success quote. Now, Erica has forewarned me. She’s going to change things up a little bit. I’m totally cool with that. So Erica, what do you have in store for us today?
Erica Douglass: I have a mantra instead of a success quote. That’s because I feel like this mantra encapsulates the situation a little bit better than a typical quote would. My mantra is nobody ever succeeds on the first try. It’s only when you get up and try and try again that eventually, you will be successful. The universe recognizes success when you are down and out and you have failed, and you get back up and you say, “I’m not going to let this stop me. I’m going to keep going until I am successful.” Then only then do you see true success.
John Dumas: Well, that is truly a mantra. I’ve been scribbling away furiously here. I’m probably going to have to go back to get the last couple of sentences, but I get the gist of it. I love it. Can you just really take a step into that mantra and give an example of how you’ve used that in your business, or even your everyday life?
Erica Douglass: Yes. This lesson has come up twice for me now, and I think it’s a really important lesson. This is something I’m going to start blogging about more often as well.
So basically what happened is I started a business in 2001. I started a web hosting company. We can certainly get into more details into that later of how I got into web hosting and why I decided to do that.
John Dumas: Absolutely.
Erica Douglass: But by 2006 into early 2007, my company was doing really well, except that I basically was spending more money than I was making inside the business. I wasn’t paying myself very well, I wasn’t paying my employees very well, and I wasn’t charging my customers enough to make ends meet. That was basically the deal. I was giving everybody really good deals on everything, and it was killing my business. It was frustrating because I could barely afford to hire people. I couldn’t really afford to pay myself either.
However, the company, even with all the good deals I was giving people, was showing fantastic revenue. In fact, for 2007, we were poised to do over a million dollars a year in revenue. This was the first company I had ever run. I started it when I was 20. By the time 2007 rolled around, I was just about ready to turn 26. So it gives you some idea of where I was in my personal life as well.
I was really struggling with the business, and I got to the point one day where the company that provided us the data center space where we could host all of our hardware locked us out of the building because I couldn’t afford to pay the rent and I had so many months of back bills due that they felt like I would never be able to catch up, reasonably speaking.
I owed them something like $50,000.00 or $60,000.00, and the total debt of the company – I had to add it all up – was somewhere around $120,000.00, $130,000.00, which was a lot for a company that was probably set to do between $800,000.00 and $1 million a year in revenue. That was a large amount of debt and it was all over the place. Vendors, credit cards, IRS. All these stuff.
Actually, I think I had been keeping up with the IRS payments to that point. So I delayed a tax payment in order to pay off the data center space and get them a payment right away so that we could get our access to the building back.
So we were able to get our access to the building back, and then I realized that I was stuck, and if I was going to make this business successful, I had to have the guts to do what I didn’t have the guts to do before, which was to raise our customers’ prices to the point where we were going to be really profitable on them.
I was really afraid to do this. If you think about web hosting, even in the high end web hosting that we did, which was dedicated servers and colocation working with startup companies and companies paying several hundred dollars a month for hosting. Even in that space, it was extremely competitive. We had a ton of competitors. I felt like I had to compete on price because a lot of people were even saying, “Well, your prices are too high,” even with our prices being so low that we could barely make ends meet.
So I just decided to have the guts and do what I needed to do to make the company survive. So I immediately doubled, and in some cases tripled or even more, all of our customers’ prices. I figured the worst case scenario was, well, half or more of our customers would leave, but the half who stayed would stick around and we would make the same amount of revenue, but we would have less overhead. We would not be paying as much in terms of power, space, bandwidth, and even employees to manage all of those customers.
So what ended up happening was really interesting. A lot of the picky customers left, but actually, 95% of our customers stayed. I learned a huge lesson from that, which is that customers often, they may pick you based on any number of factors, but they’re not likely to move around just because somebody else has a lower price.
It’s more like if customers are leaving your business and that’s the problem you’re having, it’s probably more something to do with you’re not offering what they want, or they need something that you can’t provide and that somebody else can provide, or you’ve delivered them poor service. It happens to all of us. As business owners, we’re never perfect. We do the best we can. But sometimes, customers aren’t satisfied with the level of service that you deliver, and sometimes customers just have unreasonable expectations that they feel will be met by another company.
So I had to disengage my ego. What’s interesting is that the ego can be engaged in two ways in a business. So you can engage your ego and never listen to your customers. You can say, “Well, pfft! That guy wants something, but I’m not going to do that because I’m not interested in providing that,” or “Well, other customers like this other stuff that I’m doing, so I’m not going to look after this bigger market that needs something that my current customers aren’t providing me.”
There’s a lot of ego involved in business in that direction. Well, I’m doing things right and these customers are just wrong. And if they want to leave, then screw them. This is not what I want to deal with right now as a business center.
So that’s one way to engage in ego, and that’s a really common way. But I actually went too far in the other direction. I catered to our customers so desperately, that I forgot that I needed to put myself first. And as a business owner, I wasn’t even paying myself enough to survive. I was barely able to make ends meet. I had to take on a roommate to pay my rent in the little duplex that I rented in San Jose.
It was that realization that I can go too far in two different directions, and in trying so hard to cater to every need of every one of our customers, I was strangling myself. I couldn’t hire employees because we had customers on all different types of hosting platforms and half of them use this and some of them use this, and whatever they said that they needed that was totally custom, I did that. Which was cool and it helped me grow the business, but it became impossible for me to give that to anybody else and I had just created this mess.
So when I raised our prices, some of the customers got unhappy and left. And that was a really small minority. A lot smaller minority than I thought it was going to be. But a lot of them stuck around, and I realized that we provided a significant amount of value to those customers.
That was really an eye-opening lesson for me that came out of failure. Not to say that the failure wasn’t some of the most difficult things I had to do. I had to lay off more than half my staff that day that the data center shut us out. That was miserable for me. I realized I – I wouldn’t say had overstaffed because what I had to do was staff all different kinds of things because I had customers in so many different areas. But I would say that I made the mistake of hiring those people before I had the money to pay them, and that was a mistake that I wasn’t too proud of. I’d always managed to meet payroll to that point so I definitely wasn’t stiffing them, but it was something where I was meeting payroll, but I was going more and more in debt in other areas.
So that’s basically the lesson that I had to learn, and it was a really difficult lesson. It had many facets where I don’t come out looking like roses, or smelling like roses, I guess is the saying, but it was an important lesson for me to learn. In my new company I’ve been much more careful with cash flow, and I’ve been much more careful with making sure that we’re actually able to afford things.
John Dumas: Thank you for sharing so openly about the failures, which is such an important journey in every entrepreneur’s life. You experienced it firsthand. You came against it. You learned lessons from it. You just gave us a big overview of that whole failure experience. Can you give us two concise points, more so lessons that you can pull from that?
Erica Douglass: Yes. Absolutely. I’m definitely not the first person to say either of these, but I think they’re both really important. The first thing is you can’t make everybody happy. You cannot – I’ll say it again. You CANNOT make everyone happy.
John Dumas: So true.
Erica Douglass: You CANNOT! [Laughs] I could’ve said that to my younger self until I was blue in the face, and my younger self wouldn’t have listened because I was so stubborn. And I believe, no, no, I can really do this. I can really pull it off. I will say this. If you try to make everyone else happy, you’re going to make yourself miserable, because you’re going to get emotionally invested in your customer’s success or failure, which is not really a great place to be as a service provider. You’re going to get upset when customers cancel, which is something I still struggle with on a regular basis.
I always ask for feedback when customers cancel, and inevitably, most of them are canceling because of business reasons, or in our software case now that I’m running a software company, they’ll say, “Well, I couldn’t figure out a use for your software,” which is always something that I want to improve on. But some of them just cancel and they say, “Well, your support couldn’t figure out this weird bug that I had,” or something like that. Those are the ones that really kill me still to this day, but the truth is you can’t make everyone happy.
We do the absolute best we can, as both people and business owners. And in terms of support, my company, I’ve always been very focused on customer support. I’ve always been very focused on making other people happy. You have to be willing to cut customers loose who aren’t providing you with good feeling inside yourself. So that’s my second lesson.
Then your emotions. What I’ve had to learn is that your emotions aren’t something that you should ignore. Your emotions are something that provide a guidance system to your life. That guidance system will tell you when you’re going in the right direction. If you’re having angry emotions or bad emotions about something in your life, then that’s an indicator that that’s not going in the right direction, and it’s so difficult for so many people to give up on that stuff.
They’ll say, “Well, yes, but that customer pays me so much money.” Yes. But if your life sucks because of that customer, it’s not worth it. If you are in tears at the end of the day and thinking that you would rather go work at the local grocery store than deal with that customer, you need to fire that customer. You need to have the cojones to stand up and say, “I am not subject to abuse. I am a service provider or a business owner. Not somebody who is going to be abused by this customer.” Stand up and say to your customer, “Listen, we’ve had a good run. We’ve had a good run with each other. I appreciate all of what you’ve done for me, but I can no longer work with you.”
And make it all about you. “Hey, I’m changing the focus of my business.” That’s a popular one. “I’m no longer able to provide you with the service that you need.” That’s another great one because they’re probably overwhelming you with things that they need. Also, “I’m no longer able to provide you with service at the rate that I was previously able to provide you with service at because I set that rate thinking that it was going to be a good thing for my business and it’s not.” So it’s okay to try to double their rates, try to double your rates and/or try to fire that customer, and not just try, but do fire that customer.
John Dumas: Erica, be honest with me. Did you ever go Donald Trump on a customer and just called them up and then say, “You’re fired!” and then hang up?
Erica Douglass: Basically, what I say is very polite. “Our business is no longer going in the direction that you want to go in.” We had a really angry customer with my current business recently, and I basically told him upfront. I said, “SEO is not the right strategy for you. You want results right away. SEO, in general, is a long term strategy.” I provide SEO services to customers on occasion. He wanted results in a month, and it wasn’t going to happen. I told him that upfront that it wasn’t going to happen.
He came back in a month and said, “Where are my results?” I patiently said, “SEO is not the right strategy for you. I don’t think this is the right fit for you. Your marketing budget is X. I think you need to reallocate X into something that’s going to have an immediate return like pay per click and focus on getting your website better at converting, which is something that I don’t do – pay per click or website conversion.”
Let other people handle that and let other people handle that customer [Laughs]. Let him go to them and have instant expectations. But yes, absolutely. I do this all the time, and there are more customers who are going to get letters like that from me for my SEO services as I move more into making my current company about SEO software.
John Dumas: Right.
Erica Douglass: Yes. Absolutely.
John Dumas: So be polite, be nice, but just be very firm about the direction that you’re taking your company in.
Erica Douglass: Yes, and let me tell you, some of these people pay a lot of money. This is no joke. I’ve fired customers paying us several thousand dollars a month before. I have because if it’s not working for you and it’s making you angry and you’re stressed out and you can’t sleep and you’re having panic attacks, which is something that I have to deal with on a regular basis. Whenever I start having panic attacks about a particular customer, I know it’s time to fire them.
I’m not going to try to exaggerate that or anything. It’s simply like if I wake up at six in the morning freaking out about your account, then it’s definitely time to let you go and to say, “Peace! This isn’t the right thing for you. It isn’t the right thing for me. Let’s just move on and call it quits.” So yes, absolutely [Laughs].
John Dumas: So Erica, you’ve been very open and upfront about a failure that you’ve experienced and how you’ve built from that failure and the mentality that you now have because of different things that you’ve learned. So thank you for sharing that with us.
As we move forward, you’ve given us many little aha moments that you’ve had. Like the liberation of saying no and only working with people that you like, and you need to just really focus on people that make you feel good.
Let’s take just one step forward and really give me a clear, concise aha moment that you’ve had where the light bulb just went on. You stood there, you looked up and you said, “This is a great idea. This is a direction that I want to move into.” Be specific. Be concise. Go.
Erica Douglass: It’s a really interesting time for you to do this interview because we’re in a massive transition with my current company. So my current company, we started out providing SEO services, and we built some software to help our customers notice their results. So when you do SEO, the hope or the objective is basically to get their site up in the search engines so that they’ll start getting more traffic.
It’s all about finding the right keywords for those customers, and then making sure that you build links and work on their site to make sure that they start getting better rankings for those keywords. So that’s SEO in a nutshell. Search Engine Optimization in a nutshell.
So my company, I started out in 2010 providing SEO services. Now I started in SEO in 1997 and I used SEO in my last company, my web hosting company, to great effect. So that’s why I decided to start an SEO company. I said, “Well, I’ve done this and I’ve gotten crazy results from SEO.” If you type in “make money online” into Google, you’ll find my site, Erica.biz, there, usually in the top three. So if I can rank for make money online, a really difficult keyword, then I can pretty much help anybody rank for just about anything.
So I started in 2010 and we had massive success with helping people rank. Then Google decided to just go completely insane and change their algorithm. Now Google changes their algorithm. They change their algorithm every few months for the past 12 or 13 years, however long they’ve been around, and it’s never been that big of a change. You read the changes. You say, “Alright. I’ll make a few minor adjustments here and there, and then we’ll move forward and we’ll keep progressing.”
But in the past two years, Google has suddenly decided that SEO is a massive threat to their business, and I am not exaggerating when I say that the last two years, and particularly last year, have been the craziest years to be in Search Engine Optimization that I have ever seen since 1997, and I’ve been following the industry for that long.
John Dumas: Wow!
Erica Douglass: It has been completely nuts, to the point where link-building companies like what we used to do have been going out of business left and right. Profitable businesses that were really helping customers are just failing because it just takes more and more effort to do the same amount of stuff.
That’s perfectly fine by Google because they’d rather people buy ads on their search engine than pay a link-building company to build links and try to get organic results. Never mind that the organic results get clicked more often. If the organic results get clicked more often, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re just going to – aha! Here’s their aha moment. They’re going to just put more ads on the site and they’re going to push the organic results halfway down the page so that the entire page is just filled with ads, and then you have to scroll all the way down to find the organic results.
John Dumas: So what was your aha moment, because let me interject real quick because I did go ahead and google “how to make money online.” It’s 2012. You’re number three. You’re just behind Seth Godin, who is a powerhouse and Entrepreneurs.com. You’re ahead of Forbes and wikiHow. I mean there you are – “20 Scam-Free Ways to Make Money Online Fast.”
Erica Douglass, it’s incredible results. You’re doing it. What was your aha moment?
Erica Douglass: So my aha moment was to realize that instead of fighting this giant battle against Google with link-building, I’m just going to go into SEO software and really help people rank. So we’re in a transition from actually like helping people do SEO to just giving them software and giving them some training on how to do SEO themselves, and letting them hire me for consulting if they want to hire me for consulting.
So that’s the big transition that we’re in, and the aha moment came recently when I got really depressed about customers who were using us for SEO services and they were upset about things. “Oh, my site’s not moving up in the rankings anymore.” Yes, Google’s changed a lot of stuff. Then me basically having to say, “Alright. We need to get out of this business,” even though it’s bringing in tons of money. Like tons of money. And paying all of my staff right now. We have to get out of this business. We just have to make a change.
That realization came from a lot of depression that I was having about this because I hate having customers who feel like they’re not getting results. That’s like the worst thing in the world to me. Then the thing is, that the strategies that worked even six months ago, now have to be more complex to work the same way, and it just takes more time and more money.
So we’re sinking more money in and we’re making less money on the SEO services because we’ve had to hire – get this. We hired 21 new fulltime people in 30 days.
John Dumas: Yikes!
Erica Douglass: Yes. We still weren’t able to keep up with everything that we needed to do. So imagine hiring that many people. Like I’m talking about interviewing them, giving them test projects, and bringing them onboard. Twenty-one new people in 30 days.
John Dumas: That’s a fulltime job.
Erica Douglass: It was. It was more than a fulltime job and I got completely overwhelmed and I was hating my life. I really was hating my life. No joke. And I said, “Forget it.” It’s just I’m done with this. We’ve hired all these people. We’re still working with those people, but we stopped hiring. We’re starting to let those customers who want to use us for SEO services go. I’ve declined several large, new contracts because there are all these companies looking for this stuff now that everybody’s going out of business, but I’ve started declining those contracts too and saying I don’t have the time and the effort that it takes to provide great SEO services anymore.
I had to make the switch to just doing consulting for companies and helping them draw out a plan and showing them how to do the things that I do, like hiring people to do this. Hiring legit article writers and people who can build links for your site and whatnot. It has been really rough. So yes [Laughs].
John Dumas: So you mentioned article writing. Now don’t give away too much free consulting here, unless you really want to. But article writing is an important part of SEO. What is something that’s really seeming to work for SEO these days?
Erica Douglass: I know the answer, but I’m not sure I want to talk about it. It’s not that it’s a black hat or anything, but I will tell you this. The whole mantra that Matt Cutts and others espouse, “Oh, just write good content and they will come,” only works if your site is already an authority, and only works if you understand how to do keyword research.
So my company’s focus is now helping people figure out how to do keyword research and getting them the right keywords, and then showing them how to optimize their sites so that they can start to see results. So that’s why I decided to build the software that I did.
So I will say – I’m hesitant to say this. I will say that guest posting does work on other blogs, but there are a lot of caveats to guest posting, especially if you try to outsource it to the lowest bidder. I’m not real pleased with the state. As a blogger, I get a lot of people asking for guest posts on my blog, and I’m not real pleased with the state of guest posting as it stands today.
Which is why I hesitate to recommend it as a strategy, because if one of your listeners listens to this podcast and says, “Oh. Well, I’m going to go guest post now. Alright. Let me go hire an article writer and I’m going to pay them $8.00 to write an article, and then I’m going to go spam 500 bloggers in my niche, asking them to post this $8.00 article on their blog with a link back to my payday loan site.” I throw up my hands in frustration at that as a blogger.
So I will say this. Thoughtful, relevant, good, well-written, with lots of thought put into them guest posts work with a link back to your blog, and then making sure that you get lots of different guest posts on lots of different blogs. Boy, am I hesitant to say that these days. It’s a shame really that so many SEO companies have latched on to guest posting as this panacea, and I do think that Google will start to discount guest posts in the future too.
I think that’s unfortunate because it’s yet another thing where legitimate people are using that to build links. The scammy SEOers come in. Some blogs accept money. I saw Darren Rowse from ProBlogger post on Facebook recently that somebody offered him $1,000.00 to guest post a backdated post on his digital photography school website. He, of course, declined that because it was a horribly written article. Anyway, what is this getting paid to post? As soon as he said no, they immediately wrote him back and increased the offer to $1,500.00.
So if you think Google is not going to be aware of that and start discounting things that say guest post or something like that in the future, you got another thing coming. As soon as the SEOs come in and decide that this is the SEO strategy du jour, Google is going to come in now. They’ve proven in the past couple of years that they’re going to come in and start really discounting those kind of links.
So it’s a sad day that I believe long, thoughtful, relevant guest posts like the kind that I am proud to write on other blogs will now probably start to get discounted in the same way that crappy posts linking to payday loan sites and people paying to get guest posts on other sites will now be discounted. So that’s a really long-winded way of saying the SEO industry is changing fast. I am riding the waves as best I can, and it’s just not easy for anybody.
John Dumas: That’s extremely, extremely valuable advice. Thank you for sharing that because it just goes back to the fact, there really are no shortcuts. If you try to take shortcuts and hire people to do quality work that have no real incentive to do so, in the long run, it’s just not a good strategy. So thank you for hammering that home. We continue to try to tell my audience that you need to be behind what you produce and believe in what you produce. Be passionate and just let it show in your work.
So we’re going to take that mantra and move it into the next topic, which is your current business. Because you’re now rolling in your current business. You have a lot of different things [pointing you] in different directions, but let’s narrow it down to one thing that’s really exciting you about your business today.
Erica Douglass: I love the fact that we’re building software that’s really going to help a large number of people figure out SEO. I realize that SEO changes on a dime and my team is prepared to make sure that our software helps with that. Then I’m really passionate about helping people learn how to do SEO the right way because there’s huge value in SEO. There wouldn’t be so many companies in it, so many companies doing it, and so many people doing it well if there wasn’t huge value in that.
I build my email list by a thousand plus people per month, whether I post on my blog or not, straight from SEO. There’s value in it. But how to do it is complex and constantly changing, especially in the past year or two. We could have built an SEO company in 2007, and I think we would have done really well. Now, it’s trickier because things are changing so fast. So I’m really excited that my company is going to help people get a grip on SEO and really learn how to do this the right way.
John Dumas: Great. So now Erica, we’re going to move into my favorite part of the show, which is the Lightning Round. This is where I’m going to ask you a series of questions, and you’re going to respond with amazing and mind-blowing answers. Does that sound like a plan?
Erica Douglass: Sure.
John Dumas: [Laughs] Great. What was the number one thing that was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Erica Douglass: I would say bad beliefs about I couldn’t do this because I’m so young. I can’t do this because I don’t have a college degree. I still don’t have a college degree. I can’t do this because I don’t have a network of people that I know. I didn’t, but I built one as I was building my business. I can’t do this because nobody knows who I am. I can’t do this because. That was basically all of those excuses were things that I had to overcome.
It has not been an easy journey. I would say I started with a lot of negative beliefs about money, negative beliefs about business, and negative beliefs about – I would say in general a low self-worth, that I’ve gradually overcome over the past 11 years that I’ve been running my own businesses, but it’s definitely been a long road. I think anybody who wants to become an entrepreneur, you’re going to have to face yourself. You’re going to have to face the negative beliefs that you have and overcome those in order to become really successful, and all of the really successful people I know have also overcome those negative beliefs. So it’s not easy, but it’s extremely worthwhile.
John Dumas: Awesome. Awesome stuff. What is the best business advice you have ever received?
Erica Douglass: There are a lot of books that talk about firing customers. I recently read The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz. I hope I’m not butchering his name there, but the book is called The Pumpkin Plan. I was really impressed with that book, and the fact that he talks a lot in there about firing customers too. It happened to come to me and I read it right at the point where I was getting ready to make that big shift in my current business. So it came at exactly the right time for me. So I’ll shout out to that book. I was very impressed with it.
John Dumas: Great! You’ve given us a lot of things that are working for you in your business right now, but let’s in the Lightning Round go with one thing that’s working for you right now in your business.
Erica Douglass: One thing that’s working for me is continuing to talk to our customers about what they need, and responding to their needs without building software that only works for one person. So basically, if we have a couple of customers request the same feature in our software, that’s when we build it.
That’s really working for us right now, is listening to our customers, and then building what they request, as long as it’s going to benefit many of our customers. I’m really pleased when customers come back to us and give us rave reviews of our software, unsolicited, because we’ve built something that they requested. So that’s really cool.
John Dumas: Great stuff. Now you’ve, unprompted, already given us a book, The Pumpkin Plan, which I will put in the show notes with the correct author’s name and spelling. Do you have a business book that you’ve read in the last six months that you really would recommend to the audience?
Erica Douglass: That’s been my favorite one. I didn’t even realize that question was coming up, but I’m glad it came up. So yes, I would recommend The Pumpkin Plan. I really like that book, and I don’t say that lightly. There are very few business books that I recommend on a regular basis, but that one was really good.
John Dumas: Great! Well, that will be your recommendation, and we will put that in the show notes. It’s one I’ve never heard of, which is rare. So I’m looking forward to adding it to my list. So thank you for that.
Erica Douglass: Very cool.
John Dumas: The last question is by far my favorite. It’s kind of a tricky one, so just take a second. Digest it. Try to understand exactly where we’re going with this question, and then go ahead and just dive into it.
If you woke up tomorrow morning and everything that you’ve built has completely disappeared. You still have all the knowledge and experience that you’ve gained throughout your lifetime, but you just had a clean slate. This is the situation that many of our audience and entrepreneurs find themselves in right now. What would you do?
Erica Douglass: I’d start asking people if I could take them to lunch. Assuming I had 20 bucks in my pocket, that’s where I would start, and I would just listen. Who I would target is business owners because that’s who I’m passionate with working with, but whoever you think your target audience is, that’s what you should be doing. If your target audience is moms who knit, then you should be taking moms who knit out to lunch, and here are the questions you can ask them. What are the problems that you have right now with your business or what you’re doing. I would say your business because I work with business owners, but maybe it’s what problems do you have with knitting? What should be out there in the market that isn’t that would help you solve your problems? What industry problems are you struggling with?
Like in the hosting industry, for instance, everybody struggle with the same thing, and that was terrible customer support. Every hosting company seem to have terrible customer support. Unfortunately, a lot of hosting companies still do have terrible customer support. You submit a ticket. They’re like, “Oh, we’ll get back to you on this.” They don’t get back to you, or they respond with some level one guy who doesn’t know what the heck he’s talking about and he asks you, “Well, have you reset your password? Have you rebooted your computer?” Just dumb, terrible customer support.
That was the problem that my company set out to solve in the hosting business. It’s not necessarily about having a better product. It’s about having better customer support. People love to feel like they’re being acknowledged. So that’s a huge part of it as well.
John Dumas: Great.
Erica Douglass: So what you do is listen. That’s what I would do.
John Dumas: Listen. That’s such a great point because just to go back to your initial if your niche is a mother that’s knitting, well, that really is a niche these days because these mothers that knit, they have access to set up an Etsy account to do Pinterest.
You can be that person, that [extrovert] that’s guiding them in these directions because all of a sudden, with a couple of clicks on the button, these mothers who are knitting at home, all of a sudden have a business and they need your expertise. So if you listen for their pain points, you solve their pain points. There’s your business.
Erica Douglass: Exactly. That’s exactly right. Your business may not be where you thought it was going to be, but it will be something amazing, no matter what, if you’re catering to the needs of customers. Never be scared to call up a customer, or even a potential customer on the phone and say, “This is not a sales call. I’m looking to start a business in this industry and I would like to know where your pain points are with your industry and how I can help serve you better by building a business to help you. I don’t have anything to sell you. I just want five minutes of your time,” and there’s hardly anybody who’s going to tell you no to that. If you call 10 people, maybe one of them tells you no, but nine of them are going to be like, “Oh my God! You want to hear about my problems?!! For free?!!” [Laughs]
John Dumas: People love to complain, and if you can really get them talking, they may never stop.
Erica Douglass: Exactly [Laughs].
John Dumas: So Erica, thank you so much for joining us today. You’ve given us some great, actionable advice, and we’re all better for it. Give Fire Nation one more piece of advice, and then give yourself a plug, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Erica Douglass: [Laughs] Alright. My one more piece of advice would be basically to always be listening to your customers and potential customers. I know we’ve reiterated that a lot, but for whatever reason, people are still scared to call up their best customers and say, “Hey, this isn’t a sales call. I’m not trying to sell you anything. You’re already a customer. I just want to know what we can do to make your life better, and what do you hate about our industry? What do you hate about your job that I can help you make better?”
I found out that one of our customers was spending 10 hours a month generating reports for all their customers. So we built a feature into our software that will automatically generate reports and send them to his customers, and he’s thrilled. It saves him 10 hours a month. We just threw it in on our larger accounts. He had a really large account with us. We three it in on larger accounts for free. So it was an amazing moment for him to save all of that time with our software. So that’s the kind of stuff I love to build.
What was the other thing that you asked me? I’ve totally forgotten.
John Dumas: Your plug.
Erica Douglass: Oh, my plug? Of course! So about me [Laughs]. So please visit my blog at Erica.biz. That’s E-R-I-C-A dot B-I-Z. Then my company that I’ve been talking about here that provides SEO software for you to get visibility into where you are with SEO, and help you figure out how to do SEO for your own site, how to write better blog posts, and how to make your site more optimized and get more traffic from the search engines. It’s called Whoosh Traffic. W-H-O-O-S-H Traffic, and we’re at whooshtraffic.com.
John Dumas: Erica, you rock. I don’t have to say it again. But thank you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Erica Douglass: Thank you so much.