HOW TO QUICKLY BUILD AN ENGAGED AUDIENCE

How to quickly build an engaged audience with John Meese

  • We focus more on the longterm strategies that really stand the test of time to build an engaged audience and we spend less time on like TikTok and whatever the latest cool thing is.
  • If you put systems in a few areas of your business, it dramatically increases your results.
  • Email has continued to succeed and that's really the foundation of our business. So then it's a question of, “Okay, who's on your email list and how do you get them on your email list?”
  • To quickly build an engaged audience I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out online? And I pick one of those to focus on.
  • At the core of it, are you creating real solutions to real problems for real people?

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HOW TO QUICKLY BUILD AN ENGAGED AUDIENCE

To quickly build an engaged audience I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out online? And I pick one of those to focus on.

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Doug: Well, welcome back. Listen to another episode of Real Marketing Real Fast. Today we're going to talk about profit and process. My guest in studio today is John Meese is the Dean of Platform University. John leads a team focused on simplifying online marketing for professionals and runs three successful businesses including a coworking space that is walking distance from his house. John's passion is teaching entrepreneurs and busy professionals how to systemize their business and build an engaged online audience. Well, hey John, super excited to have you on the Real Marketing Real Fast podcast today.

John Meese: Well, thank you, Doug, for having me. I am so excited to be here.

Doug: Looking through your bio, it looks like you've got lots of gifts and talents and lots of ways that you serve your audience. Do you want to share with our listeners right now what do you consider your superpower and how you help people?

John Meese: Yeah, no, I'd be happy to. I think that's, of course, my own perception of my quote superpower is definitely changed over time but something that really stuck with me that a colleague shared probably only a year ago was that… She commented that I have a unique perspective to understand the need for both process and profit. And so I've really been over the last couple of years really just been developing better, my understanding of the kind of where I fit in the middle of that because I find most entrepreneurs are typically either drawn to a kind of like the big promotions and big launches that generate lots of revenue or they're drawn to like operations and efficiency and managing budgets. And I'm in this weird tension in the middle where I get excited about profit being the scorecard. And profit is a mix of both how you make money as well as how you keep the money.

John Meese: I mean a lot of times when I work with clients they say that the like the whole idea of turning complex ideas into simple concepts something you can act on and that's something they often come up in the comment themes and feedback. So yeah, I mean I would say those would be my superpowers is simplifying things and then process and profit.

Doug: Well, and I mean obviously both those things are important for you to keep the lights on your business.

John Meese: Yes.

Doug: And my experience as I've gotten older is that I've now found myself spending more time on process than I did before too when I was a young entrepreneur was like, “Hey, what can we do just to get out there and make some money?” And then you kind of learn that, well now you want to scale. Now you need some process or processes in place and some systems, there are some operating procedures as you're going to start to staff or outsource and delegate. So is that what you're talking about when we're talking about process?

John Meese: Totally. Totally. Well, what I find is that a lot of… I find, I mean I end up working with people who are on the extremes and they're sort of like the people who are using a Rocket Fuel language for a minute. Are you familiar with Rocket Fuel or the U.S. by any chance?

Doug: I'm not.

John Meese: Okay. Well, you'll at least understand the concept, which is that they kind of talk about in the book Rocket Fuel about how like the best businesses typically have someone who's the visionary and someone who's the integrator. Someone who's got the big ideas, who's moving fast, who's breaking things and somebody else who's kind of saying like, “Okay, let's clean this up and let's operate.” But there ends up being this really, this tension between those two often. So what I love to do is I love to talk to visionaries, people who are excited about building things and creating things but don't see the need for process and really just help them understand that there's really just a few key areas of your business where you don't need a detailed operations manual. If you put systems in a few areas of your business, it dramatically increases your results. And typically that's your sales and your marketing. I mean, and your financial management. I mean, that's like literally, it's just like where money happens. If you put those systems in place, everything else becomes a lot easier.

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HOW TO QUICKLY BUILD AN ENGAGED AUDIENCE

To quickly build an engaged audience I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out online? And I pick one of those to focus on.

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Doug: That's cool. I'm just making a note. I did notice when I was looking through your website that one of the services that you have online kind of dives into that in terms of systems and then also making sure you're paying attention to your numbers for sales and finance and how much money comes in and how much money goes out and how predictable it is and are you keeping track of it. So when you start working with business and me… Why don't you give us an idea of what types of businesses you work with in terms of size or maybe industry?

John Meese: Sure. Well, I will say that actually the bulk of my attention these days is typically through Platform University and that's where we simplify on their marketing for professionals. So a lot of the systems building that I do is actually been on the backend of Platform University. For the last couple of years, I've really just… That's where we… It's a membership site. It's a multimillion-dollar membership site that's been around for seven years, which on the internet, in terms of membership sites, that's like a dinosaur-

Doug: It's a really long time. Yeah.

John Meese: Yeah, it's a really long time. So really coming into that as something that Michael Hyatt built and then I came in as the Dean to take over as a brand director and run that as a business unit. It was actually a really cool experiment to walk into something that had been built huge and quickly. And there was a little mess going on and so I was able to come in and really build out those systems and then use that same systemized ability mindset, which is what I talk about on my blog to break down the whole idea of what is online marketing and how do you do that as a professional. I mean a lot of the times our customers are attorneys or accountants or doctors and nutritionists and they're not looking to become full-time marketers. They're just looking to figure out how do I grow my practice? And they know that online marketing is a key thing, but they really wanted the simple path.

John Meese: And so we simplify that whole process and make it step by step in terms of what do you need to do to grow your audience and what way to grow your business. And we focus more on the longterm strategies that really stand the test of time and we spend less time on like TikTok and whatever the latest cool thing is.

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HOW TO QUICKLY BUILD AN ENGAGED AUDIENCE

To quickly build an engaged audience I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out online? And I pick one of those to focus on.

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Doug: I can't keep up with the latest stuff. I feel kind of bad because I look at how many hours I spend on the computer and all the new technology I look at and all the guests that I interview in my podcast, man, I can't keep up with that. How can a small business owner have that chance in keeping up with the changes, they change so quick?

John Meese: Totally. Well, that's what we just don't try. I mean, kind of because we are a dinosaur-like over the last seven years serving more than 25,000 paying students. Through Platform University, we've been able to see what actually works and what works year over year over year. I mean not just what works like in 2014 but also what works in 2020 and what's worked every single year since then. And so there are a lot of things and strategies that change, but there are some core foundational strategies that really have continued to… We rely a lot on those.

Doug: So what stayed the same and what has changed?

John Meese: Well, one of the things and it's actually, it's kind of like the least… To a lot of people, it's like the most boring part of online marketing is email, but the reality is it's just having a direct connection to real people through email has allowed people to build six or seven-figure online businesses for more than 20 years, for more than 20 years. No other time… I mean, that's like before Facebook existed, back before Myspace. I mean it was like all of those things, email has continued to succeed and that's really the foundation of our business. So then it's a question of, “Okay, who's on your email list and how do you get them on your email list?”

John Meese: There's a lot of different strategies for that, but really what we teach is that you want to have direct contact with your target customer. And so you have to have clarity on who your target customer is but it really comes back to having the ability to go around the gatekeepers. I mean, building social media platforms on Instagram or Facebook or YouTube or Twitter, et cetera, that can all be a really great way to build your core audience or to engage with people. But you have to take that a little bit deeper beyond the sort of community vibe for a couple of reasons. One is you want to go deeper with customers to better understand them and to help serve them and the second is that you're building your house on a rented lot if you're relying on social media exclusively. The rules can change at any time. I mean, organic social reach on Facebook is almost zero now. I mean, it went from when you first got… If you get 2% of your audience to see one of your posts, that's a good day without paying for ads. And so that's just… I don't like those numbers.

John Meese: And so we use social media strategically to grow our email list, but it really comes back to email being the core of that.

Doug: Well, I was just going to let you carry on and talk about email because my deep expertise is in partnering with publishers and renting their data to get them to send your message out-

John Meese: Oh that's awesome.

Doug: … to their audience.

John Meese: Well, I didn't even know that so, but perfect.

Doug: I appreciate that. Thank you. I fully support your position on email.

John Meese: Good.

Doug: Well one of the things we found to that point, just to expand on it a little bit, is that it's highly scalable.

John Meese: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug: We've hired, 10 years ago we started hiring social media influencers on Twitter to post and people say, “Well what's your ROI?” And so we'd look at, okay, so the least expensive is organic traffic, but it takes a long time to get the SEO right and compete. The next most expensive if you want to look at it that way and the scales is rising is social media. And then Google and then third party email and then direct mail. However, when I wanted to scale, I couldn't scale quickly enough unless I use email because I couldn't go out to Google AdWords or to Facebook and I couldn't buy an audience of five or 600,000 people that would see my message in 30 minutes.

John Meese: Yeah, I love that and I think that… I mean this is… What you're describing is the same reason why we've seen… I mean industry studies kind of vary whether it's, one email subscriber is either 10 times more likely or 20 times more likely to buy a product than a social media follower. But whatever the number is, it's a lot. I mean that's just the data's right there. But I also love to think about it, because it coming back to the whole idea of simplifying things. If you're talking to a small business owner or maybe someone's listening right now, if you're a small business owner or you're a professional and you don't want to become a full-time marketer, you've got to focus first and what do you already know how to do well?

John Meese: Well, you've probably spent years or decades of your career emailing people, right? I mean like opening Outlook or Gmail and sending an email to a client or a friend. And so you've essentially trained yourself, you spend your 10,000 hours getting good at sending people emails, and then all we're saying is, well, why don't you translate that skill and turn that into a marketing strategy where you can send one to one emails at scale. Because that's really… I'm not talking about sending an email, quote blasts. I mean that's like the worst thing. I'm talking about sending one to one emails at scale and really developing relationships and conversations with people.

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To quickly build an engaged audience I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out online? And I pick one of those to focus on.

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Doug: So walk me through a little bit of how your platform works. So you're, like you said you're working with doctors, dentists, accountants, those types. So are they wanting to learn how to do it themselves or are they coming to you to learn how to evaluate potential vendors and partners or have an understanding? What was the reason they use the platform?

John Meese: Sure. So I mean, it's an educational information product membership sites. So we primarily teach people how to do it themselves. But we do cover delegation strategies and tactics in there but we always encourage people to learn the basics first. And when I say basics, I mean really we're focusing on fundamental strategy and then we talk about, okay, you can then pull in a contractor to help you with either… There's a lot of different steps that you can outsource, but especially for the small business that doesn't have a huge budget, you need to have a rough idea of the kind of what you're doing first to be able to actually profit from having that delegation in the first place.

Doug: Well, the big demand and the social side for… Facebook advertising, for example, it's not uncommon to see people charging from anywhere from a thousand dollars but most are two or $3,000 and up per month as a retainer before you even put any dollars into advertising spend.

John Meese: Right. Well, and we're telling people… So our membership side, I mean just candidly, it's $47 a month to be a member and then you get access to the training and our community and we do live coaching as well through there. And then when people actually come through there, we teach them… We really usually go through the framework of, okay, let's assume you have 30 minutes a day of focus time spent on building your platform, your online audience. Most people can't spare three hours a day. They're busy enough as it is, but most people can spare 30 minutes a day. And so we walk them through, okay, if you just have 30 minutes, here's what you should do. And so it's bite-sized. And so you're not going to go through that and suddenly like triple your business in a month, but you're going to build the habit of really investing in the online side of your business. And so then that you see that incremental growth, which I mean really scales really quickly once you hit an inflection point.

John Meese: And so that's what we teach is, let's assume you have 30 minutes a day. We can teach you what to do to grow your audience and to launch your digital products as well that are really going to grow the digital side of your business or create a digital business from scratch if you don't already have other products elsewhere.

Doug: So I just need to bring up or ask the question I guess in terms of your view on social media.

John Meese: Yes.

Doug: When I looked at your bio and your background and what you're doing in a world where everybody's fascinated and spends four hours on their iPhone every day. What's your take on social media today?

John Meese: Okay, so it's a… I did this… Well, I should back up a little bit. I thought about getting rid of my social media accounts a while ago, but I essentially like, I teach digital marketing for a living publicly. So I knew that I couldn't make the decision unless I like clearly documented and thought through why because it was going to be a question on every interview, which it is now. So I actually wrote a blog post detailing this on my own blog. So johnmeese.com/social. But I want to summarize it for you.

John Meese: I think there are really two different ways to think about this. One is your personal use and one is the professional use of social media. And so since we're talking about marketing, I'll focus on the professional use side, but there's this sort of what I like to call the visibility bias going on every day online. And that is essential that if you are trying to grow your business and whether it's a new business or an established business, if you're trying to grow your business, then it's, in fact, good practice to look around at, “Okay, what other businesses are doing well in your industry and to kind of learn from them.”

John Meese: But if you do that, this is where you run into the visibility bias. If you see the other people are successful, all you can see that they're doing is posting on social media and comments and likes. You can't see what they're doing behind the scenes and so it creates this bias where it makes it seem like social media is the most effective marketing strategy today, but it's actually just the most visible. And if you back up from that, the reality is that you can't see, even if you're looking at a successful business, which you cannot see from your side as an outsider, is how many people are landing on their website from a Google search, how many people are leaning on their website by clicking a link in an email they sent. How many people are on a phone call with a real-life person. How many people are in a live chat window. You can't see any of that if you're on the outside. The only thing you can see is what they post in social media and so it sort of seems like they post on social media, therefore they are successful and so it creates this default situation where every new business, the minute they come up with the name of their business, they're already creating social media handles. They're already saying, okay, like creating a business is synonymous with social media.

John Meese: And I'm not anti-social media across the board. Instead, I back up and say, “I want to just change the default. I want for business to default to no social media, just like I default to no on every other marketing strategy.” Right? Like you don't by default, I don't do paid advertising. By default, I don't do SEO. By default, I don't have social media accounts and then I evaluate each of those opportunities and say, “Okay, where do I want to spend my time and my money to get an ROI?” And social media is an option but even then, social media as a category, as a subset of that, I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out? Are they on Instagram? Are they on LinkedIn? Are they on Facebook?” And I pick one of those to focus on.

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HOW TO QUICKLY BUILD AN ENGAGED AUDIENCE

To quickly build an engaged audience I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out online? And I pick one of those to focus on.

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John Meese: And that's what we tell our Platform University students as well as to say hyper-focus on one and once you've achieved a certain measure of success and you can expand your team to help have dedicated marketing resources, then sure you can be on other platforms. But don't try to do it all yourself cause you just going to spread yourself thin and you're just not going to see ROI.

Doug: You're right. Yeah. I mean we focus typically find a channel that works, leverage it and get it working. So it's producing lots of revenue, lots of leads or whatever the goal is then to add a second one. But you can't get 10 up and running at the same time.

John Meese: Yeah. So that's why Doug, I mean, kind of like the question behind the question is, and that's what kind of led me to delete all of my own personal social media accounts because I didn't wake up with this sort of enlightenment. I kind of gradually came to this conclusion over time because I realized that I was spending… I made a list of all the things that I knew I needed to spend more time on that I wasn't doing, like spending more time optimizing my content for search engines or spending more time writing more content or launching a YouTube channel.

Those were things that I knew that I needed to do, but I kept kicking the can down the road. And then what I was doing, which was like tweeting clever quotes and posting good pictures on Instagram. It just seemed like… It seemed ludicrous to really prioritize one over the other. And so I just deleted the social media accounts to take away the temptation and I've been so much more focused because of it.

Doug: No, that's really cool. So that's a very interesting perspective because that's totally opposite of what you see most people doing. But you're right. I mean when we're working with a client or even looking at our own business, people may see… The only thing they see is what's available publicly, which is the social side, but they don't see anything else.

John Meese: Exactly.

Doug: So they miss where the real secret sources and even when we're working with clients, we're renting data. So if we went to the Washington Post for example, and had them send an email to 300,000 people they'd never see that unless they were on the list.

John Meese: Exactly.

Doug: Yeah. And so sometimes we would put social up there to deflect people. So they would look at our client who's just trying to emulate or emulate what we're doing and copy. They all look at all the stuff they're doing the social, it's like, yeah, that's just a distraction. That's just a placeholder. We're making the real money in the backend. Like you said, building a really big responsive list that people can't see.

John Meese: Yeah, it's kind of like looking at a… I mean, I'm just trying to think through like a brick and mortar kind of example, but it's kind of like looking at a coffee shop that's really successful that has a line of customers out the door. I mean like, man, they've got a well-painted sign. It's like that's sure that's the most visible thing, but that's not why they have so many customers. They have a good product and they have good marketing. I mean, then it's got to be more than just the pretty sign on the door, which is often what social media becomes.

Doug: So do you have an example of a case study that you can share of a client or a few clients that you've worked with?

John Meese: So I actually haven't done one to one client work in a couple of years. I used to do that or probably for three years. But we have done… So I did a group coaching program last year, but usually, it's actually like the students themselves in Platform University that are the focus. So I can say they're a good example of one of our stars… I say two-star students who've done really well. One is Mike Kim and another is Javan Ellison where they have essentially taken everything inside of Platform University and they've just like gone to town.

I mean they've just… They've built entire, they've changed their careers by building online platforms where they're creating free content to serve a specific target audience and they're creating… I mean, I love to say… By the way, I love the name of your podcast, Real Marketing Real Fast because what I always tell people that success in business is to create real solutions to real problems for real people.

John Meese: I mean, and like sure, we can talk about how to do that and the tactics all day long, but that's what it comes back to. It's like at the core of it, are you creating real solutions to real problems for real people? And in my Kim's case, he was able to leave a six-figure job as a CMO in New York city to just essentially write. I mean he's a copywriter and a blogger but he simply does that, not just essentially he does, he does that full time and he's been able to work directly with the John Maxwell Team as well as Donald Miller's team and other well-known marketing companies by taking what he's learned and put into practice.

Doug: That's really cool. Well, I thought it was really interesting is you said that you encourage your customers, your clients that are on the university platform to spend 30 minutes a day. And I'm thinking, man, I don't know any of my clients that spend 30 minutes a day-

John Meese: Yeah.

Doug: … on marketing. They're usually big vision guys and there's a team of people working with them and there's normally someone following up behind them and cleaning up the mess.

John Meese: Yes. Well, yeah, no, I think that's probably… That's really, that's pretty common. I mean, and honestly, the same is true for many people that join Platform University with every intention to do 30 minutes a day. And that some don't do that. But the ones that do, I mean, the first 30 minutes, you may not feel a sense of accomplishment. The second day, maybe not. But by the end of a week, when you start looking back at what you've accomplished, it's stacked. And so no matter what your role is in the company, even if you're a busy CEO or owner if you spend 30 minutes a day on marketing, I mean what more important thing could you have to do then grow your business. I mean, that's what marketing is. It's basically it's strategically telling people that you are here to solve their problems and to make their life better and make the world better and to grow your business because of it. I mean, it's one of the noblest things you can do in business.

Doug: Well, and I would say, spend time on both sales and marketing every day and what I've often said that people talk to me as I talk about social. I mean I do lots of stuff in social, but to your point, I have resources that… I have one person who manages my Linkedin account.

John Meese: Right.

Doug: So it's very easy for me to be on LinkedIn and field requests and qualify people because somebody does that. But often I see entrepreneurs that… They don't like selling. So they will mask their work by say, “Hey, look, I'm posting on social.” Which is great if you're getting leads from social, but don't use that as an excuse to say, “Hey, look at all the work I did today.” Like, did you talk to a customer?

John Meese: Exactly.

Doug: To your point, did you send an email to a customer? Did you respond to somebody's request? Just simply updating your status on Facebook isn't enough to keep your bills paid.

John Meese: Well and Doug to that point, I mean I love that and we don't really spend much time talking about renting or buying email lists, but usually our customers are building them from scratch. And so one of the deep dives we've done in our Teach it Forward newsletter is to talk about how you get your first hundred email subscribers is literally you pick up the phone. And so many people are doing what you're describing where they're saying like, “Oh man, I'm posting on Facebook. Or like I made a pretty opt-in page and it looks nice, but for some reason, I'm not growing my email list.” And for the first hundred email subscribers, we're saying like, no, you literally you get your phone and you go through your contacts and you call or text people that you think are interested in whatever it is that you're offering. And you call or text them and you say, “Hey, I'm creating this thing, would you be interested? Can I add your name to the list?” And they say, yes and then you do it.

John Meese: So no, that doesn't scale. Like after a hundred email subscribers, you can't grow an email list of 100,000 subscribers that way efficiently, but you have to have those conversations when you start because you learn things, you craft your message better, you become better at actually confidently marketing what you have to offer in those conversations. And so it's a mask to hide behind posting on social media or creating opt-ins and not just talking to people and forgetting that the whole… I mean, all we're doing in business is we're creating real solutions to real problems for real people. And if you don't get to the real people, if you never connect with them, you can be completely out of touch and not know it.

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HOW TO QUICKLY BUILD AN ENGAGED AUDIENCE

To quickly build an engaged audience I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out online? And I pick one of those to focus on.

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Doug: Well and that's what I found so interesting. Like we talked briefly the first recording about the time that we're in now where-

John Meese: Right.

Doug: … everybody's at home because they have to be at home. I've had some great conversations with people, not face to face obviously, but video calls. And it's been so good to reach out and just introduce people that don't typically do that. They just work behind their computer and there is no visibility and they say, “Hey, we're going to hop on a Zoom call. We've got four or five other people I want to introduce you to.” So simple to do. No sales pressure. It's just a conversation.

John Meese: Yeah. Well, on that sales pressure, I love that. I love that. And I mean, on the topic of the current crisis and just like the whole idea of connecting to real people, it becomes really easy to know where you need to pivot your business, your marketing strategy if you have clarity on who the real people are that you're helping. So the real people when their world changes because of some quarantine or social distancing or health or economic or emotional crisis, it becomes… It's not confusing at all for you as a business owner. You know exactly where you need to pivot your language in your marketing or to pivot how you're marketing to people if you have clarity on who the real people are. There are human beings on the other end of that marketing funnel. And if you get clarity on who those human beings are, everything else just becomes part of being a healthy person, empathy. And so empathy becomes your superpower as a marketer.

Doug: So what are you most excited about in the next six to 12 months? I mean, I know this is an odd question. I mean normally this question seems so normal to ask because business as usual, but now business isn't usual.

John Meese: No.

Doug: So yeah, anything but… From your point with what you guys do because you're providing-

John Meese: Sure.

Doug: … a digital connection.

John Meese: One of the things that I'm most excited about is definitely not business as usual, which is that we've kind of… We created some content in the past and we've talked about leaning into doing just free YouTube content more often because we actually do professional, really good video content on regular basis, but it's all behind the paywall of our membership site. So we know how to do it really well. We just haven't prioritized YouTube as a channel. So in the spirit of what does makes possible in the current crisis where all of a sudden people are being laid off, people are starting to question the stability of their income, people are stuck at home and they're looking for other income sources. We realized that we're uniquely positioned to help those people and not just sell to them but help them genuinely.

John Meese: So for the month… Well I mean it's recording this, we're about to kick this off. So for the month of April, we're publishing a video every single day on our platform, university YouTube channel. And each one is a tactical tip that you can apply to build an online audience from scratch. And so that's… I'm really sad about that. I mean, can we keep up a daily momentum after April? Probably not. I mean that's not business as usual for us. We're literally doing 30 days of a video every day and they're going to be like highly produced videos and really good content because I've already written the most of them. So I'm excited.

Doug: I'm sure if you meet their need-

John Meese: Right.

Doug: … and they have that connection and that feeling of reciprocity, I mean it will grow your business and it might be something you continue ongoing.

John Meese: Totally. I don't think we'll do it daily, but we are planning to keep doing it after… We will probably switch to every other week or weekly or something like that after that. But I'm excited because it allows us to really say like, “Wait for a second, we thought we had a year's worth of content, but let's just publish it all in a month. And let's just say like right now, people have this need desperately. We want to meet that need. We want to serve them.”

I mean genuinely we want to help these real people, and on the flip side of that, we fully expect that many of them are going to subscribe, either become paying members or just become email subscribers that refer friends and that that's going to grow our business. I mean, so I'm confident there will be growth on the other side of it and also just confident that it's going to help. It's going to really going to help people out. So that's what I'm excited about right now.

Doug: So what are you seeing right now in terms of engagement? Are you seeing any… Is there any difference from a month ago, two months ago or this time last year?

John Meese: Yes, yes. There's a huge uptick for us in engagement. I will say that right when the new cycle kind of hit its pinnacle and everybody kind of froze, like not sure what to do about COVID-19. That sounds weird to say out loud. COVID-19, coronavirus. Right when the new cycle hit its pinnacle, then everything kind of froze.

We were actually in the middle of a big promotion and it just stopped. Like just everything stopped, everything froze because everyone was just kind of like not sure what was going on. But as soon as we got to the other side of it as we're recording this, we're still in the midst of a health crisis. But people have at least started to kind of… At least move forward and take action a little bit more.

John Meese: Now all of a sudden we've seen a huge uptick in our existing members who pay us a monthly fee. Some of them hopping on who haven't logged in months or saying like, “All right, I'm in. I'm here, what are we going to do?” So we actually want the 90-day jumpstart just for our members. That's just like a live walkthrough of core concepts and deliverables of helping people get their first a hundred email subscribers and launch their website and all that good stuff. So yeah, huge uptick and engagement. And up until recently, Platform University was usually closed. Like we only open enrollment once or twice a year because there was already so much demand. We just… I mean literally we just like flipped a switch and turned it on and said okay, it's open. And 20 people signed up immediately.

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HOW TO QUICKLY BUILD AN ENGAGED AUDIENCE

To quickly build an engaged audience I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out online? And I pick one of those to focus on.

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John Meese: I mean it was a PS of one email. We were like, PS, we decided that we want to leave this open because we don't want to hold you back if now's the time for you to focus on building your platform and 20 customers immediately sign up. So we're definitely seeing an uptick right now.

Doug: That's really cool. I like the idea of the 90-day jumpstart. I did a Facebook live with one of my podcast guests I had a few years ago, a really sharp guy and he basically said, “Hey, now's the time for all of us. Type A personalities that bought a whole bunch of online programs on Black Friday to actually log in and use them.”

John Meese: That's true. That's true. I mean, last night I told you about this YouTube thing we're doing. So literally last night I was like logging into that one… That one course on YouTube that I bought, who knows how long ago that I've never logged into. I was thinking I should review a couple of these things and make sure that I'm on the right track.

Doug: Yeah. We were in a mastermind call, we were talking about just kind of boys being boys going, so how many courses have you bought that you haven't opened up?

John Meese: Yeah.

Doug: It's like, we don't want this to go public, but yeah, it wasn't a pretty slate.

John Meese: Yeah.

Doug: So in terms of digital marketing and what you guys do, what are kind of the two or three pillars that you advise people to get started? I mean, obviously we're not going to go through your whole course, but there's got to be some starting points and some low hanging fruit.

John Meese: Yeah. So I think that you really have to be sensitive to what your target audience needs and there's a little bit of… there's a lot of that that changes too depending upon what industry you're in and who you're helping. But you also have to just pay attention to global trends. And right now, not to because of the current crisis, but like right now, as in the last 18 months there's so much going on at such a high pace that people are really desperate for quick wins. So that's really what we recommend is that you're creating free and public quick wins. That could be a video that's like 45 seconds long that you just give someone a tip that they can immediately apply in their business or their personal life depending upon your niche.

John Meese: Or it could be a blog post that is the same thing or it could be a podcast, but you want to focus on those quick wins as a public. I mean not behind a paywall and not behind an email list, but a public service that you're doing. Because the world has changed so much in the last 15, 20 years where now the consumers have all of the power. I mean they have access to infinite information through the Google gods. And so when they're looking around and trying to figure out who to follow and who to listen to, they're expecting to have immediate access to something that's valuable.

John Meese: And so you just need to give that freely and then have a very clear next step for them. Whether that's for us, it's like, “Hey, we have this free blog and this free YouTube channel, but hey the next step is, is if you subscribe to our free Teach it Forward newsletter, we're going to give you that for free every week.” I make a free newsletter that's actually valuable and helpful, but that's the next step. And then after that, we go into paid products, but we always have this very clear, what's the next step? And we really try to start at the top with the quick win. So I mean that's really… I would say that applies to every industry.

Doug: Yes it's true interesting Looking at my inbox, to see who's serving, who says they're serving and who hasn't changed their approach at all?

John Meese: Right. Yeah, no, I mean like we had a whole scheduled campaign. We had like dozens of emails that were written in the queue and scheduled when the headlines kind of broke and all the news kind of hit its [inaudible 00:32:03] around the [inaudible 00:32:04] and we just deleted them. I mean, like they're all sitting in Google docs and Google drive. We'll probably never use them for anything, but we stopped and we said, look… I love, Brian Kurtz has this metaphor. He talks about the moose on the table.

Like, imagine you're in a room where everyone's sitting around this board room and there's this dead moose sitting there right in the table with flies all around it. It's been sitting there a while. It smells kind of funny. It doesn't look good. And imagine you were just sitting on that table kind of like casually chatting and not acknowledging it all. Right. Like you would just seem like the most clueless person if you weren't acknowledging the moose on the table.

John Meese: And so there are a lot of people in my inbox who unfortunately are not acknowledging the moose on the table. They're sending the same exact emails that they would've sent three weeks ago, four weeks ago before we had the threat of an economic crisis and a health crisis and emotional crisis. And it's not sensitive and it's not relevant.

Doug: Yup. Totally agree. So what have you guys done to kind of to adapt to… Are you making any changes to your business aside from your messaging?

John Meese: Yeah, I mean, messaging is the biggest change, but we are also… I mean, not just messaging but also delivery. I mean, like I mentioned this whole like daily YouTube strategy that we're doing right now is definitely a reaction to the current need, a demand just to say like, okay, well let's just go all in. I mean, let's just ramp up instead of ramping back.

The flip side of that I would say is that I think the most important thing we did was we stopped all email communication. We waited a day, we paused and then we send an email that just said… I mean the subject line was literally where do we go from here? And I just connected to people, it was from me and said like, here's what's going on in the world. You feel it. We feel it.

John Meese: Does that mean we're going to back off? No, because it means we're more committed than ever to help you simplify online marketing because now you need to get heard above the noise more than ever. And we want to help you succeed. So we're going to continue creating free and useful resources as well as paid resources to help you. And really just, we communicated candidly about that and we got so many thank you messages. I mean, essentially we sent an email that said, “Hey, I'm going to keep emailing you and selling stuff to you.” And we got thank you messages back and that was really validating, but that's what we're after. 

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HOW TO QUICKLY BUILD AN ENGAGED AUDIENCE

To quickly build an engaged audience I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out online? And I pick one of those to focus on.

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Doug: Well, I think from what… The way I see it, I mean, I worked through the 2007, 2008 financial crisis with all my clients in the finance business.

John Meese: Oh great.

Doug: And we didn't try to take advantage of people. We just served people by giving them the advice they asked for or paid for. And what we saw were huge, huge wins for those people and a whole bunch of people just disappeared. So yeah, I mean, we're talking about taking advantage of people. Like you said you're offering to help them. Your company needs to pay its bills, pay it, staff, just like mine does.

John Meese: Totally.

Doug: So at this time, we're trying to support all the businesses that we can. We haven't cut back. I've just hired… I just added new staff members just a couple of days ago. So yeah, we're just going to keep plugging away and serving people and communicating.

John Meese: Yeah. Well, and I would say, I mean, we do have to be sensitive to the fact that it's different for every industry a little bit because I also… Like I also own coworking space and it's literally closed. I mean, it's just like by local ordinance. That's out of my power. And so there are a lot of industries that are hit pretty hard by this and you still have to pivot. Do you still think of what does this make possible? Thankfully in my situation, I'm diversified and so I'm not too worried about it. But I think, yeah, you got to look at how do you serve people. I mean, that's really what has to be the focus.

Doug: So as a person who's got lots of expertise in this space in terms of branding and digital marketing, stealing a Tim Ferriss question, what's some of the bad advice that you hear out there that entrepreneurs will often hear?

John Meese: Well, you can probably infer one of them that you need to be everywhere, right? I mean, I've already kind of given my social media speech, so I don't need it to give that one again. But I do think that another one is really… I mean, this one, I just had a conversation online with someone about this today. But it's the myth and the holy grail of the logo. You know, how many people spend hundreds of dollars they don't have on quote-unquote professional looking logos for their website because they want to grow their business. But the reality is a logo serves a purpose.

I mean, the purpose of a logo is to have a memorable brand mark, to have a memorable sign that reminds people that really just like it actually works psychologically to tie memories back to a specific icon. So companies like Bank of America, Microsoft, Apple, et cetera, all these big huge companies, they spend ridiculous amounts of money every year trying to make their brand relatable, trying to humanize it and personalize it.

John Meese: And they do that with their logo, among other things. And so many times I see the individual professionals. So it's like a John Meese or like a one-person shop or a small team who they're creating this logo to try to appear professional but they're forgetting the fact that they were actually born with the best logo in the world on their face. And so they're just spending… That's just one of the pieces of bad advice I hear is to invest in the professional logo because if you're building a personal brand, if you're investing in anything, it needs to be a professional headshot, but you need to really lead with your face and your personality because the big companies with logos, they're trying to spend mass amounts of money to pretend to be human. You already are a human. Just use that to your advantage, use that to your advantage.

Doug: That's a great point. I love that. Yeah, they're trying to pretend to be human. That's good. Well, and it's funny because back a number of years ago, I wanted to run an experiment. So I was doing a lot of client work in the U.S. so I set up my first C-Corp and I thought-

John Meese: [crosstalk 00:37:55].

Doug: … I wonder how far I can go without having any tools at all. So I incorporated the company or had the lawyers incorporate the company and set up the office and do everything to be compliant. And then I landed my first two contracts without a business card, without a website.

John Meese: Wow.

Doug: So then I had to… I got home back from LA, registered the domain name, set up an email account so I could email them the invoice. They mail be the check, I drove to the U.S. office, picked up the check, went to the bank and opened up the bank account.

John Meese: That's great.

Doug: So I think for people that are listening that may need to pivot, hey, I was doing this before and that industry's not going to recover or have a brick and mortar. Like you said, your coworking space is closed down. To be digital and online. I mean I've got a phone and so those conversations were done by phone or they were done in a face to face meeting and there was no logo, there was no branding, there was no anything. It was I showed that I could help somebody. They believed that I could help them. We agreed on a price, I sent them a proposal and then the rest is all history.

John Meese: Exactly. I mean what you're describing is what I mean when I come back… I am repeating myself now, but when I mentioned that the whole idea of creating real solutions to real problems for real people is that nowhere in there do you need a logo or a business card. I mean those can be useful tools that may be in the right context, but you actually need to focus first on the people and find out what problems they have and then what solutions can you offer. I mean, you kind of work backward from there. And so before you worry about a logo or a business card, worry about the people, get clear on who are the people that you're actually helping?

Doug: Yeah, I used to instruct at a [inaudible 00:39:36] volunteer one day, every five weeks and go in and do like a five or six-hour lecture for new business owners and I had them a list, what are all the things that you think you need to do to market your business? Then I would get a copy of their marketing plan and then go through and ask them. So who's your target audience? Does your target audience read the local newspaper? Do they actually go to the chamber of commerce? Well then why are you going to join or why are you going to run an ad there? Why do you do this? And I said to them, I said to them, “Would you be surprised if I told you I don't have a brochure?” And they go, “What do you mean you don't have a brochure?”

Doug: I said I don't have a brochure. I just don't. I don't have one. I don't print one. I don't have one. I don't use that. So it's part of my selling process. I said, what I do when I go to a client and have a pitch deck either. People have a problem, they usually phone me or referred to me. I have a notebook and a pen and I go ask them questions about their problem what they've done before and then I get back to them if I think I can help them. And that's it. And for most business owners, I don't know why they wake up thinking, “Hey, I need to have all these things. Maybe it's because like you said, they look at the big brands and they want to be… You need to be like them.

John Meese: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that's exactly what it is. I mean, it's really just trying to look at the big successful companies and it's just missing the whole point. I mean, saying like, okay, they have a logo, I need a logo. They're on social media, I'm going to be on social media. And that's pulling out my economics nerd part, that's a correlation, not causality. And like you just need to focus instead on like what actually drives results.

Doug: Yup. Yeah. I've had that conversation a bunch of times around branding going, you can't afford to brand. What do you mean you can't afford to brand? So you guys don't have the budget for that. You're not McDonald's. You're a startup. We've got $100,000 of marketing money to spend this year and we shouldn't be spending it running branding ads. We need to drive sales.

John Meese: Exactly.

Doug: So who's one guest I absolutely have to have on my podcast?

John Meese: Well, if you haven't already talked to him yet, then I would definitely say Mike Michalowicz. He's written a lot of books, but I think the one that's been most influential to me has been Profit First. Should've probably heard of it. People talk about a lot, but I think that he mostly focuses on business operations, but I love the way that he breaks down Profit First as it relates to even thinking about your marketing budget differently and so yeah, I mean that book changed me. I mean, I'm just going to… There are a few books that make that list that changed me and that's one of them. So I would say Mike Michalowicz.

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HOW TO QUICKLY BUILD AN ENGAGED AUDIENCE

To quickly build an engaged audience I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out online? And I pick one of those to focus on.

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Doug: Okay, excellent. And if you would make an introduction, I'd really appreciate that.

John Meese: Sure.

Doug: And now John what's the best place for people to reach and connect with you?

John Meese: So you can't find me on social media.

Doug: Yes, I tried, I wanted to see if that was true in your bios, I went looking and guess what, you're not there.

John Meese: Well, I did just create a YouTube profile, which is kind of like… That's like technically social media, but it's not. Well, but forget that for a minute. So if you go to platformuniversity.com/rmrf as in Real Marketing Real Fast we actually wanted to… I wanted to curate a few resources for you. So I mentioned and earlier some of the tips that I talked about are actually in our Teach It Forward newsletter, which is a free newsletter that we give away every week through platform university and you can sign up for that there if you're interested in.

Doug: Super cool. And I did while you're chatting because you've got the ability to multiple screens, just type in the social media and I did find your post on johnmeese.com/social-media.

John Meese: Good. Yeah, that's it.

Doug: So-

John Meese: Yeah, please join the comments if you want to… If anybody wants to spar with me, I'm also happy to take disagreements.

Doug: I'm just happy to grab a cup of coffee when we're done this interview and have a read through it.

John Meese: Good.

Doug: So I want to say, hey, thanks so much. I appreciate you taking the time. Crazy times for sure.

John Meese: Yeah.

Doug: But just so happy that we were able to connect and you're so generous with your time and your information.

John Meese: Well, thank you, Doug. I'm glad that I could be here and thanks for having me.

Doug: So there our listeners in another episode of Real Marketing Real Fast. I highly recommend that you head over to John's website and have a look. He's got lots of information on Platform University. There is a quiz there you can take as well to see how you're doing. One of the things we didn't cover with him in detail today which I'd love to have another conversation is around systematization or… Whatever that big word is I can't pronounce right now. But yeah, head over to his website, have a look. Yeah, you won't find on social as he mentioned, but you will find all of these details in the show notes when we get it transcribed. I just want to say, thanks so much for listening and we look forward to serving you on our next episode.

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To quickly build an engaged audience I try to think through, “Okay, where's my target audience already hanging out online? And I pick one of those to focus on.

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