March 9, 2016

Nick Stephenson helps authors build their audiences and sell more books. He begins by refuting the image of the author as a noble artist, struggling to get by while living in a cave….

…and paints a different picture of an empowered entrepreneur who is a strong marketer with the right skills and tools to market himself and build a profitable writing business.

I recently had a chance to talk with Nick and learn some of his tricks of the trade.

Prefer to listen to the audio version of Jack’s interview with Nick Stephenson? Listen here!

Could you give us a little bit of your backstory, including who you serve and how you do it?

My website is yourfirst10kreaders.com and the traditional model of writing a book and spending years trying to get it published while the publisher handles all the marketing is gone. Even if you’re fortunate enough to get published, you are still expected to go out and hustle to sell your book. Now that the Kindle revolution is here, people have found that going out on their own can be kind of liberating and very fun and, often, can make more money for them as well.

I always wanted to write, but never really saw the business model in it. Now I’m kind of figuring out that writing as a business is possible and I’m trying to share this with as many people as possible.

Most authors are building up an audience completely from scratch. They have no idea where to start.

Your first 10,000 readers is all about helping authors, particularly self-published authors, get a foothold and learn the basics and the strategies of marketing and building up an audience because most people are coming to this completely from scratch. They have no idea where to start and my aim is to try and help them get started and build up towards their first 10,000 readers.
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Can you give us an idea of what your funnel looks like? I know you have to include training and educate people to start thinking differently about marketing their books, their business, etc.

It took me about four month to build my course, so Your First 10 Thousand Readers is a premium training course helping authors grow their audience and exposure. I launched it in March 2015 with a live launch so there was zero automation involved. I approached this from the standpoint of someone who has never launched a course before and doesn’t really know about marketing funnels. I didn’t know about targeting or anything, I just used MailChimp and that was it.

After I launched the course, I very quickly realized that MailChimp really needed to be hooked up to my ecommerce side of things so I fiddled around with Zapier as well.

The key thing for course, for pretty much anything you sell online, is to have scarcity, a deadline, to say that this going to go away in X number of days, so if you want to buy it, you need to act now.

What types of scarcity tools did you try in the beginning?

I played around with some cheap WordPress plugins, a couple of free tools that would put a timer on my page. Initially, all I was looking for was a timer and then when it got to midnight on the last day, all that would happen is the page would forward somewhere else. That was fine for me because this was the first time I had ever launched a product. I wanted to do everything manually and really learn the ins and outs of the launch process.

I used OptimizePress, but that wouldn’t automatically shut the page down when the countdown reached zero. So I was staying up late every night and I had to remember on the closing day to get up and end the promotion. This worked but it was quite labor intensive and I wanted to figure out a way to do it more automatically for the next launch. Then I realized what I really wanted to do instead of having one great flagships course was to launch two or three times a year; what I really, really wanted to do was have an evergreen funnel.

What does evergreen funnel mean to you?

how an evergreen funnel works

Basically, in an evergreen funnel, someone signs up for an opt-in bribe like a PDF or a video training series, and then goes through a funnel as though it’s a live launch which closes on a specific date. It doesn’t matter at what point they sign up, they will get their own personalized countdown. So you can basically leave your launch open all the time.

My dream was to have this live launch sequence happening all the time, but for people going through it, it would seem like a live launch and there would be genuine scarcity. If people missed their deadline, they genuinely wouldn’t be able to get the course.

What scarcity tool did you try next?

I played around with so many different kind of strategies on this and I think I spent several hours on the phone with someone who was doing it. They were using MailChimp and another kind of countdown timer that would swap over the page at the right time. But, it just ended up with me having to have 55 different automation sequences and I would have to switch them over every week and I would have to change the links out in the emails and I would have to do all kinds of stuff. I was just thinking to myself “Yes, this will work, but if there is any human intervention in this process, there is a chance for it go wrong.” I would have to pay an assistant to swap out links and change pages and change lists every week. I couldn’t rely on that person being able to do that correctly every single week.

It sounds like you wondered why your solutions were ‘kind of’ automated, but not all the way.

Exactly. I have this mantra that I think I stole from Bill Gates, where the more automated something is, the more scalable it is, but if there’s any sort of inefficiency, scaling up is only going to multiply that inefficiency.  My plan was to have tens of thousands of people go through this funnel and if there was a point that required manual intervention in that sequence, there was a good chance for something to go wrong.

I know from experience that if something can go wrong, it will so I wanted to remove human interaction as much as possible from the funnel and then I saw you come along with Deadline Funnel, which basically answered my prayers, it said “Look, it will just do it for you automatically, it will just work,” it was very exciting.

So you took the leap and got Deadline Funnel?

Yes. I think I bought it the first time I saw it, and started playing around with it. I managed to develop the funnel I was looking for where people could sign up for their lead magnet, go through a pre-launch sequence, then go through a cart open sequence, and a cart closed sequence. And they each had their own personal countdown, which was awesome, and it didn’t matter if they were on their computer or their phone, because it was all tied to their email links and they were being tracked by ip address and cookies and all kinds of complicated stuff that I don’t know that much about.

I tested it out and it worked great. After the launch ended in May 2015, I left the Deadline Funnel running until January 2016. I turned it off for another live launch and it ran for eight months flawlessly and I was getting sales every single day and I didn’t have to touch it at all and it was absolutely perfect. It just saved me frustration and saved me the possibility of things exploding in my face.

Launches are great, but if you only do live launches you might see boom/bust, or a roller coaster ride of revenue. Was that your experience when you were doing launches?

It was, but I when I started I was always planning to do evergreen promotions.  What I wanted to do was have, maybe, two or three big launches per year and then in-between the launches I would have an evergreen system set up. Otherwise, I would get the huge influx of customers a couple of times a year, which is great, but I preferred the steady stream of income from the evergreen as well.

What I didn’t want to have was big revenue at the beginning of the year and then just watch my bank account dwindle down to nothing.

What I didn’t want to have was big revenue at the beginning of the year and then just watch my bank account dwindle down to nothing. If you do that, when you get to your next launch, you have everything riding on it succeeding and it is kind of nerve wracking, so if you have got something bringing in revenue in the meantime, that is amazing.

How is Deadline Funnel working out for you?

One of the main things I got from Deadline Funnel was I actually saw sales improve. In the month before I actually signed up and got it working, I was using a very manual process to do semi-live launches, but not really live, but sort of. I was manually switching out the links, I was manually putting people through different funnels at different times and I found I was converting people, actual conversion rates were 6.5%. For a $597 course, 6.5% is great.

What would happen there is that people might have to wait a week or two to go from the pre-launch content into the cart open sequence, because I would have to wait for everyone to catch up and I would put them all through the cart open sequence so I could have an end date for them, otherwise people are just going to wonder what the hell is going on. I was very happy with a 6.5% conversion rate.

I then took the same funnel and put it through with Deadline Funnel’s system and people were then able to move smoothly from the pre-launch content straight into the cart open sequence and then have the deadline. It was all very smooth, there was no waiting around. I found that the conversion rate jumped up to 8%.

That is a pretty big increase in conversion rate.

Nearly 30%, well 25% increase in conversion rate from before, basically it meant people weren’t waiting around.

Imagine this, you go through a pre-launch sequence, you see great videos, great content and I am promising a course coming up. And then I wait two weeks to tell you the course is available. You have potentially lost interest or gone away or my emails get lost, etc. It makes a lot of sense that if you are waiting around with nothing happening, that the conversion rate is going to drop down a little bit.

Did using Deadline Funnel continue to increase your conversions?

I was very pleasantly surprised to see that conversion rate jump up. Actually, over the eight months I have been using it, a few tweaks here and there, the conversion rate is now up to a little over 9%, so that is another 15% increase on top of what it was before. So somewhere around 45% increase from 6.5 to 9% conversion rate.

That is great because I have just been able to let it run and if I need to make a change, I just kind of tinker with the emails, but I know that Deadline Funnel is still working in the background. Once it is set up, you basically don’t have to touch it.

Are the tweaks that you made to squeeze out that extra percentage specific to your funnel, or would they work with other people’s businesses?

It was really honing down my voice in the email communication. I started off using a swipe file from someone. It was very effective, exactly hit every point that needed to be hit, but it wasn’t really my voice because I had just taken it and tweaked it a bit. I really started paying attention to what people were engaging with, listening to feedback from people as to what they were looking to learn, why they didn’t buy, etc. Then I included that in my new emails to really hit those points and try to convert that 15% of people who were on the fence and didn’t join up.

I also made a few changes to pricing levels. I introduced a lower-level payment plan, stretching it out over a longer time. It is definitely worth looking at and the cool thing is that when you are tweaking this and doing your research and improving your funnel, you don’t have to turn anything off, it is still working in the background, so you don’t have to worry about breaking it, which is very cool.

There is a huge advantage in doing an evergreen funnel and mixing in launches every so often.

Exactly. I have only done two live launches, one to launch in the first place and one last month. Over the last 12 months, this course alone has done over seven figures and less than 50% of that is from live launches, so the evergreen aspect of the business is a huge component of that.

If you can imagine if someone  signed up in April or May of last year and had to wait eight months for me to launch again, chances are they would have unsubscribed or they would not be opening emails, or they wouldn’t be engaged. There is a good chance I would have lost that opportunity by waiting so long. Having the ability to target and offer people the right product for them at the right time is essential. And if I can do it automatically, then all the better.

Having the ability to target and offer people the right product for them at the right time is essential. And if I can do it automatically, then all the better.

If you look at businesses out there that are doing multiple seven figures, they have lots and lots of products. They go through periods of offering engagement content, offering free stuff and then offering a product. Then the next month it will be a different product, and the next month after that it will be a different product. It is perfect because eventually one of those products is going to be perfect for me and I have ended up buying things because of that. The first three weren’t for me, but the fourth product was.

I only have one product. I have one main product and the ability for me to take that product and then offer it to new people at the right time. That gives me the benefit of having multiple products in terms of revenue, without having to have 10 different courses.

I see that your lead magnet offers educational content which also gets your subscribers in the frame of mind to understand your offer and understand the benefits of what it can do for them. Can you give us an overview of what people experience when they sign up for their free book marketing training? 

I experimented with a couple different lead magnets, so there is a conventional wisdom that if you offer something short and sweet, like a cheat sheet or a case study or something small, that the conversion rate tends to be higher on the opt-in page and I tested the crap out of this.

I had about 15,000 people go through a launch sequence last month and I was offering several different opt-ins, they could either download a PDF ebook or they could get video training, or they could get a webinar.

The PDF and the video both had a conversation rate on the page within 0.1 percent. There was hardly any difference between them. I opted to stick with the video training which I love, because it gets really qualified people involved. So now I say, ‘Sign up here and I will give you some free video training. It is aimed at authors and I am going to show you how to build your audience. I am going to show you how to reach more readers, sell more books and not get overwhelmed by technology and put everything on autopilot as much as possible’.

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They get 3 videos and then a sales video, so the 1st video is delivered right away and then the 2nd video arrives two days later. And then two days after that, they receive the 3rd video. In between, I am also emailing them about articles I have written or podcasts I have been on, trying to really show them where my expertise is, demonstrate credibility and other people I have worked with.

After the 3rd video, there is a catch-up session and then the sales video. After the sales video there is a 7-day sequence where I try to hit all of the objections a customer might have prior to buying. It might be, ‘Here is all of the testimonials in one email,” or an email talking about what results you might expect, or it might be about what is in the course, or just about my expertise, my qualifications. At the end of that 7-day sequence, they get two emails and then the cart closes. That is all automated.

How long are the videos?

They are pretty long, between 30 and 50 minutes each. I had people telling me they are far too long and that people won’t watch, but I have measured (I use Wistia so I can see who is watching what, when, where they turn off, which parts they re-watch, etc.) and I found out that the engagement for my ridiculously long videos was actually slightly higher than my short ones. Which is great. People watch all the way through and re-watch parts of the video. There is always going to be a drop-off at the beginning, but then it was very level all the way through.

I am very happy with them. The more free content you give, the more value people get out of it, the more likely they are to trust you and invest in you further with whatever premium training or products and services you might have later. I found it really rewarding because people who decided they didn’t want to buy, were still really happy about the fact that I gave them so much free stuff. Even those who didn’t buy, actually told me, ‘I didn’t buy this time because of X, Y and Z, but I would love to get involved next time around’. Engagement is great, conversion rate is great, and I feel good about it too. I don’t feel like I am hard selling anything.

What are you offering? Discounts with bonuses, or a limited-time opportunity?

I don’t do discounts. I don’t like them, so I stay away from discounts, but I do offer a bonus package and then a deadline as well. It seems to work very well. If I’m on a live webinar, I will offer extra for people who buy while we’re live and that is really helpful as well.

I have also experimented with evergreen webinars using Deadline Funnel, which uses the exact same process except instead of sending people three pre-launch videos, I just send them straight to a webinar and then I run the exact same follow-up sequence to the people who watch it, using Deadline Funnel and it works a treat.

Do you send them to a page that has a video and the Deadline Funnel countdown timer on it? How is that set up?

For the main funnel, the one with the multiple videos, what happen is Deadline Funnel is integrated into their opt-in form, so as soon as they sign up, Deadline Funnel tags them and their countdown starts. Then when they visit the sales page, their timer is already configured to their date, which is great.

For the webinar, what I do is offer a webinar replay. I am really upfront about it, and tell them ‘the replay is not live, it is a replay, go watch it here.” I offer this to my existing list. They have already signed up and already been tagged by Deadline Funnel at some point, but now I want to tag them if they go watch the replay. I put the Deadline Funnel code on the replay page, so when they visit the page they are tagged with a different countdown and go through a follow-up sequence afterwards. This page only tags people who actually go watch the replay, rather than sending everybody through a sequence. It’s quite targeted that way.

Thank you, Nick!

I have to thank Nick for pulling back the curtain and letting us see exactly what is going on in his funnel. I love how he is using Deadline Funnel to really make sure that people who go through the funnel, are getting great content that they want and that they need, and then he tells them, “Look, this is your opportunity. Either buy or don’t, this is your best opportunity right now.”

Deadline Funnel keeps that deadline genuine and authentic for each person, even if they are switching different devices. The proprietary Deadline Fingerprint (SM) technology tracks them from device to device, from page to page.