What you will learn
- How to maintain style and quality of content as you scale production
- How to support your team without becoming a bottleneck
- How to plan growth effectively and double-down on what’s already working
- How to identify which problems are actually worth fixing as you scale
- How to find the right work / life balance as you continue to grow
One of our big goals recently has been to create and implement systems that would allow us to scale our online businesses, and naturally, we faced some challenges along the way.
There comes a point in every successful business when things start to stagnate, and that’s a crucial time where key decisions need to be made in order to take the business to the next level.
Specifically, we’re putting a lot of emphasis on producing more content because that’s what drives revenue, and that’s ultimately that’s where we see the biggest return on investment.
For example, we can spend anywhere from $50-80 on a piece of content that has the potential to generate thousands of $ down the road (and often does).
In fact, our Adsense earnings alone for the top 10 pieces of content on HealthAmbition.com has generated $18,000 in revenue in 2 and half years. That’s content we paid at most $600 for in total.
Challenge #1: Maintaining Quality And Style Of Content
It’s fair to say we have pretty high editorial standards on both Authority Hacker and Health Ambition, and one of the biggest challenges of that is maintaining those standards with new people bringing new people on board.
We’ve even gone as far as deleting weeks of content production at our own expense, purely to keep the bar high and to stop sub-par material seeing the light of day. But that level of sacrifice early on is often what it takes to scale successfully in the long run.
Take Health Ambition. We’re not health experts by any means, and don’t claim to be – but we do run a thriving health blog and we’re committed to the quality and accuracy of all our content. So we hired an editor with background in the pharmaceutical / drugs industry to assess our writers.
The hiring process wasn’t easy, either. We started with TextBroker.com, then moved on to hiring internally via Upwork.com – but we found was, 75% of people just couldn’t meet our standards. It can often take a lot of your own time and money before you’re able to find the right people.
Things really clicked when we started to develop content templates for our writers to use (we give these away in Authority Hacker Pro). These would allow us to maintain a certain style with our content regardless of who wrote it, and that was invaluable to us as we began to scale.
Challenge #2: Stacking Projects And Staff Management
One of the things we found as we grew our team is that people can start to rely on you a lot and you quickly become the bottleneck of your own business.
Of course, it’s important to guide your team and keep everyone productive but it’s also important to keep yourself productive, but it’s a good idea to set a specific time when you can really commit your time and energy to them – and obviously make that clear.
And giving feedback isn’t just about quality. It’s also about the process. If you can develop a more efficient process to reduce the amount of time it takes to achieve a set goal, that’s a productive step forward for everyone. Those extra minutes really start to add up when you scale.
This relates back to the last point, but don’t fall into the trap of hiring more staff to increase output. In a lot cases, you can keep costs down and boost productivity simply by optimizing your current systems and processes.
Challenge #3: Planning To Ensure ROI
A growing business is always an exciting thing to be a part of, but it’s also not uncommon to start losing efficiency along the way. And as you get bigger, those cracks really start to show and it’s important to be aware of that early on so you can plan effectively.
Thorough planning gives you a clear vision and that’s essential to have when scaling your business. It’s no longer a case of throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Scaling is about identifying what’s actually working and doubling-down on that.
And finally, it’s so easy to lose control of your spendings as you scale – especially when your business is already doing well. You still need to justify your costs and put everything into perspective. If 80% of your income is coming from 20% of your content, then investing money into the 20% that’s already proven is easily justified.
Challenge #4: Dealing With The Stuff You’ve Neglected
When you’re a small site and you’re just starting out, it’s always better to overlook surface level issues in your business (whether that’s branding, positioning, etc.) in order to focus on growth.
When it’s time to go back and reevaluate, start with the things that are actually worth fixing. For example, if your branding is costing you 10% in lost traffic but you’re only making $1k per month, that’s only $100 per month.
The question you always need to be asking yourself is, is fixing this thing really worth my time at this stage, or could my time and energy be spent elsewhere for better ROI?
As long you remember that not every area of your business will scale at the same rate, and not everything will scale as easily. Issues will arise and it’s important to know where your time and money is best spent at any given stage.
Challenge #5: Work Life Balance & Finding Your Place
As you scale, your role within the business will naturally start to shift, pressure will start to build and things tend to get a little stressful. That’s just the name of the game.
The key thing to remember is that during this time, you’ll start to depend heavily on other people. And you need to be able to invest in yourself and learn how to manage a team because that alone will massively impact your ability to scale effectively.
(We do recommend some books for this and we’ll link to this in the resources below)
When you know how to do that, you can start to delegate tasks and hang on the things you enjoy doing, which makes the whole process of scaling infinitely more enjoyable. It also gives you the freedom to take holidays, talk to people, find your balance and develop new habits.
These are all things that contribute to a healthy mindset, something that absolutely needs to be aligned if you’re looking to scale your business properly.
So there you have it, those are the 5 biggest challenges we faced as we took on the mammoth task of scaling our multiple online businesses.
If you follow the advice we outlined here, not only will you be able to set the right expectations for yourself and your business going forward, but you’ll also be able to remove the most common roadblocks people face as they start to scale.
Resources Mentioned In This Episode
Gael: Hey guys, welcome to the Authority Hacker podcast. Today I am not with another guest, I’m with Mark. So we are back here, how is it going Mark?
Mark: Back again finally, going good.
Gael: Yes, basically we didn’t do a podcast together, just the two of us, from the beginning of the year.
Mark: Sort of mid December, I think, because a lot of those for Christmas we recorded early December, I think.
Gael: Yeah, it’s been a while. And today, we are going to talk about the compromises and difficulties that come along with scaling, and you can find the show notes on authorityhacker.com/scalingpodcast. That is something that we are facing right now, because we are really working on a lot of content. In January for example, I did a keyword research for 250 pieces of content each, and I am expecting that it’s not really going to slow down once the writers have caught up our Slack, which is now our team chat has now six people basically full time, plus maybe double that in freelancers working on and off on what we do. And as we are doing all that stuff, and definitely we are doing well because it’s scaling, it’s cool, but there are new difficulties and new challenges, showing up along the way, and I want to talk about that because a lot of people are doing quite okay with their site, but they are looking to scale, they are looking to get bigger, they are looking to build a team etc, and there is a whole new set of challenges that come with it. How do you feel about that whole scaling thing overall, how has it been going for you in general?
Mark: I love it because it’s kind of what I am good at I guess, designing these processes and figuring out who does what, when; it makes more sense inside my brain because how we previously did it, let’s call it the Gael way, it was very chaotic and lots of stuff going on at the same time, and it’s easy for me to get a bit lost in those kind of situations.
Gael: Hey, it worked.
Mark: Yes, Absolutely. I think that’s the best way to do when you are starting out or even until you get to the point where you want to scale like crazy, it’s more effective. But yeah, it’s very interesting. I am not saying it hasn’t been times when it’s been frustrating, especially like the writer turn and trying to find good people, that’s probably one of the most difficult parts, but all in all- it’s pretty interesting.
Gael: Cool. I think before we get started on the challenges though, we should explain why I think it’s important, or what we think is important to scale. First of all, there is that kind of personal challenge thing, if I end up doing the same thing for more than two years, I get bored with it. So I know, it’s basically if we don’t grow, I am just going to get bored with what we do and look for something else to do anyway. It’s a personality thing, I know you have the same thing, so I am not going to ask you. Another thing as well is the site creation ownership industry, there is a lot of capital entering it, now people are starting to see websites as real investment route, a volatile one, but a real one and as a result, more and more capital is entering the industry and a lot of legacy publishers are starting to get into affiliate marketing and all these things, and as a result, I expect that the industry is going to tighten up a little bit and small players will maybe be squeezed out eventually at some point. And so if you are someone that makes high four, low five figures per month, you are definitely one of these small players that could be squeezed out eventually. So your mission today, if you want to do that in the long run, is to grow into a bigger publishing agent that can compete with bigger budgets etc, and to do that you need to scale.
Mark: Something I want to add to that as another point is, I think as more and more people, a couple of days ago I heard about some Google update which affected PBNs apparently, I don’t know if it was a big deal or not, again, we don’t really use those, we don’t use them at all so it doesn’t really affect us, but I think as more and more people are switching to white hat, they are realizing that it’s actually worth investing in-
Gael: You can actually do that stuff.
Mark: Yeah, because back in the day five, six years ago, the thought of ordering hundreds of pieces of content for a single site, it was like why, you are just going to get penalized eventually, and you have to start from scratch.
Gael: Yeah, especially when content is not like 1500, 2000 words for content. It’s pretty classic now, for like semi competitive keywords. And it does cost money, right, you can’t get your articles for 10 or 15 bucks anymore. It was the case back then, right, it was pretty frequent, you could buy your content for 10 bucks, it was terrible, but you could make money with it. Today, you are more looking at like 50 to 80 bucks for like piece of content that has a decent chance to rank and has enough quality to convert. But it’s still massively profitable, when some of these pieces of content work, and I was actually like just before that podcast I was going on the analytics on Health Ambition and checking what the ratio of success versus failure is, and it’s basically 50% is successful but a successful piece of content makes us thousands of dollars.
Mark: Yeah, I think the ROI on organic as well, especially if you are doing the SEO is just crazy, over long term, I’ve been sort of, I am not quite sure how to explain it but I’ve been mesmerized in the past when people have said “Oh you know, I am spending this amount of money on PPC and it’s generating all this revenue”, I thought, “Oh wow that’s awesome.” But actually-
Gael: The profit is not that high.
Mark: When you look at SEO, organic content, over several years, the value just keeps on coming and you are building an asset there as well, which is sellable, and all this sort of stuff, so yeah.
Gael: If you look at the top ten pieces of content and just AdSense revenue on Health Ambition, and they haven’t been monetized for the whole time, maybe they have been monetized for two and a half years, they cost us I would say probably 500 to 600 dollars all these pieces of content, top ten, and it made us over 18 thousand dollars at this point. And that’s just AdSense, that’s not counting any other Ad network, that’s not counting any affiliate revenue, not any email subscriber, etc. It’s just like it’s easy to see on AdSense, I would need to do a lot more work to figure out the rest but it’s probably like double or triple. You spend one dollar and you make 30 or something, it’s really good. Obviously, when it works out, so even if 50% works out it’s really good still.
Mark: So, is it fair to say then that why it’s important to scale is because once you’ve made some money, you then want to make a lot more money? You figured out the model, you figured out what works and you just want to do a lot more of it.
Gael: Yeah, but would we get massive upgrades to our lifestyle at this point? You could but it wouldn’t change everything anymore I think.
Mark: No, but as a business it’s something you want to do.
Gael: You know what I mean, it’s not really something that you do for personal reasons anymore. It’s like scaling the business.
Mark: Yeah, but business exists to make money, so-
Gael: Yeah, it’s a game basically.
Gael: So let’s just jump into the challenges. We are going to have five and have a bonus one at the end that I actually didn’t figure out how to fix yet. So actually, people can answer in comments. The number one is maintaining quality and style of contents. So, as I said, I brainstorm 250-ish pieces of content in January to order, and both of our sites have, editorial standards are pretty high, I’d say higher than average, definitely on Authority Hacker I think we are, on Health Ambition I think we are above average as well, there is a lot of crappy health blogs out there and we care about quoting sources and what do government guidelines are, etc, all that stuff, and being able to maintain these standards when you bring a lot of new people on board, then bring them up to these standards is very complicated, even on Authority Hacker when we hired Perrin, he writes extremely differently from me, first of all, he is writes without grammar mistakes which is like a huge difference, but the other one is I am much more technical practical, I am like 1, 2, 3, 4, do this and this, and Perrin writes long sentences, and he goes over how he feels about doing it etc, he’s got a different style, and his style works now, but the truth is the first month he started, we did not publish a single word he wrote, the whole time was just training etc. And, we have another person that you guys haven’t seen, but actually I think we are going to publish the first review he wrote this week, and same thing, it’s Lewis and his first two weeks I think we basically deleted everything. Literally, it was brutal, he told me that is the hardest job he ever picked up, basically. But, it’s a challenge for us too, because we are paying these people during that time and it’s quite a bit of money actually, so it costs us thousands of dollars to not publish their content. But, to maintain the standards it’s actually quite complicated. how did it go for you and Health Ambition, because Mark is scaling the Health Ambition content.
Mark: Yeah, so the thing with Health Ambition is, I wanted it to have a fairly solid base, in terms of editorial oversight and it is a little bit more difficult because neither you nor I are health experts. So we basically have to rely on other people. Just getting writers in, I am not really, I can roughly assess whether they are good or not but I am not really one to say oh is that the right vitamin that is in this fruit or something. So, to address that problem, we hired an editor, actually, specifically recruited for an editor, post on ProBlogger had a number of people apply, filtered it down, did several rounds and in the end, got someone really good who had degree in pharmacy or something like that but had a background working in the drugs industry basically, writing technical manuals, and this kind of stuff. So, that landed quite well to editing, something you need a huge amount of attention to detail for, not to mention the in depth knowledge of the subject, so once we had that person in place, she is then able to accurately assess what other people are writing, what other writers are producing. And, we tried various ways to recruit, at the start, we used textbroker quite a lot, and the difficulty with that, there were some good ones, some bad ones, the difficulty in terms of maintaining quality and style on textbroker is you tend to get assign different writers every time, unless you go out of your way to kind of build a team and it’s-
Gael: That’s what I did for the authority sites this time essentially.
Mark: Yes, it can be a bit difficult doing this at scale, because and especially in health, a lot of them are unresponsive, the second time after you’ve invited them to your team and whatnot, so then we moved on to actually having internal people, so just recruiting them from various places, Upwork was one them, we used a lot. I am really glad we had the [11:42 indiscernible] because getting the quality was quite a challenge I’d say, probably about 75% of people who we hired just weren’t able to meet the level of standard that we demanded. So I am kind of glad we had that person in place to do that. In terms of style for Health Ambition, we used the content templates basically, these are now the ones, or something very similar is available in Authority Hacker Pro in the content outsourcing, content production and outsourcing blueprint, so we basically use that when we are producing it so everyone who is reading it knows exactly the backstory and the structure and what to do, what not to do. That was kind of really helpful as another layer in as well, I think.
Gael: It’s probably one of the best things we did before scaling these content templates actually.
Mark: Yeah. definitely.
Gael: I know a lot of pro members abuse them a lot as well, and it’s working pretty well for them. The thing is because people come in and they don’t have the style, the way I kind of like decided to go with Authority Hacker at least because basically Mark is the editor for Health Ambition I am the editor for Authority Hacker, is first of all really redefine and re-agree with your site’s mission, so like on Health Ambition that would be like helping busy people make healthier choices, and on Authority Hacker that would be showing you how to build highly profitable and ethical web properties, and then when I read that person’s content I am like okay does that fit in, does that actually help people practically build the better websites. And if yes, then I am like okay, next question, if no then I usually delete everything.
And then the second question I ask on the content is would I find it useful if I faced the problem that it solves, so for example Perrin wrote this article about SEO copywriting and he is actually a professional writer like really proficient writer compared to me, and he broke down his entire system etc, and if you ask me actually that is probably the best article on SEO copywriting out there, and i need to really be excited and be like okay that’s someone that has that problem, they find the solution in there, but then, all the stylistic stuff and my style of making shitty diagrams on my iPad or whatever it’s not a 100% necessary, it’s great, and that’s what partly made the success of Authority Hacker, but Tim Ferris has this minimum effective dose theory where it’s like there is a quantity of effort that requires to get your result and you should not go past that necessarily, and it goes the same with content especially when you are scaling, if we wanted to stay the way we are I should probably still keep writing the content but in that case, once I’ve answered these two questions we’ve posted a few articles and it seemed that they still had hundreds of comments and reshares etc, then essentially I was like well it’s good enough, but it doesn’t mean we can’t work on it, it means we can scale, and I can actually work on things that will push Authority Hacker further in other aspects, so I’ve been working on the courses, I’ve been on the podcast, I’ve been working on a bunch of technical stuff back in the scenes that people don’t see. But really if you look at your alternatives it’s like go through that all, stagnate, I would just have stopped posting at all because I have all this other things to do as well. So overall, it is a challenge and I think finding this minimum effective dose is really important. Anything to add on that problem, on the challenge?
Mark: Yeah, I just think as a point that kind of apply to both Authority Hacker and Health Ambition it’s, we very much took the view that we are not in the rush to scale, we want to get the angle, the quality, the structure, all that kind of stuff right, like a 100% right before we started to scale.
Gael: You want your audience to not feel betrayed by your willingness of scaling. If I went ahead and started publishing 500 words articles on Textbroker on Authority Hacker, that would have been an outrage, right? So you kind of have to ensure continuity of the audience and ensure that they get what they came for. But at the same time you need to find other people that can do it and they will bring their own style with it, it’s going to be different; the question is it’s not whether you like it, you want more, it’s whether the audience likes it as much at least. It’s that way like, I’ll be honest, a couple of posts from Perrin I was like, hm, I don’t like it so much and I told him and he was like oh we’ll see, and I just published it, I was like you know what, I am not the audience, let’s publish it, right. And these are some of his most successful posts. So I am definitely wrong many times. And you know what, it’s all about the audience, it’s not about me, and you need to be able to take your feelings off that and take some risks as well. let’s talk about the challenge too, and the challenge is actually what you lie but what I struggle with, which is stacking projects and stuff management, so when you start your website, when you go the Gael way, you do everything, right, you do the site tech, you do the writing, you do the illustrations with your horrible drawing on your iPad, you do all these things and it’s kind of like you basically lock yourself in your room and you don’t talk to anyone for the whole day and then you come out and ta- da, you just did something.
When you scale up, you end up like, as I said, we have like six people basically working full time with us on Slack plus we have like double that of freelancers around that all to get their work done they need to interact with us, so they need to ask us questions, they need to get specs and they need us to give them feedback on what they have done etc, and so for example, on my end, like removing hosting right now so I am talking with tech stuff, we are working on a new start here page on Authority Hacker, so I am working on that with Perrin, we are working on reviews with Lewis, we are doing ongoing content orders with Mark, I am doing new site content order with Mark as well, I am going to be working on the new blueprint and the new funnel for Authority Hacker, just after my new site order is done as well, so that is with myself, plus I get various feedback and emails, and that means you get an absolute ton of interruptions by email, by chat and messenger, you get phone calls, and most importantly, you start becoming the bottleneck of your business, if you don’t handle that properly and that increases stress and pressure. How do you feel about it and what’s your take on this?
Mark: I think it’s important to have a little bit of foresight on this, like what are the areas which are currently causing a little bit of stress, where I am a little bit of a bottleneck on, and if we were to let’s say double content production or double or quadruple the size, would really become a problem, and kind of hire people to take care of those things in advance. So, for example, right now, we are actually just planning on opening an office in a couple of weeks, here in Budapest, once again, and we are going to be putting certain people to do for example customer support, which is an issue with Authority Hacker, especially in the most recent launch we did in January which had so many people on Intercom asking us questions and couldn’t get into their account or forget their password, simple-ish kind of stuff, so it’s important to kind of get ahead of such problems before they really start to have people canceling and refunding and that kind of stuff, you can usually tell if that’s a problem when people aren’t just complaining about it, but they are actually unsubscribing or canceling the refunding, that kind of stuff, in terms of like how I handle lots of different things, like lots of different pieces of work going on, I tend to do one big thing per day which will take up my personal system, it’s like it will take up a half to two thirds of the day, and then the rest of the day just to do other stuff. And in terms of prioritizing what to do, there is no like oh this day I do this, this day I do this, it’s all net present value, so like what activity I am going to do today, is going to make the biggest difference to the bottom line in 3, 5, 10 years, whatever, so that is kind of my thinking on how it goes. One thing I just want to say about hiring though, is we’ve really made some mistakes in the past, when you start to scale, particularly if you are making a lot of money, which sounds it’s like a good thing but it can actually lead you into a trap and I see lots of people do this, is that in order to solve problems of scaling, for example oh you need a customer support person, or you need an editor or something, or there is technical problem with your site, rather than really figuring out what is the best person for this, what is the most reasonably priced person for this, what is the best process for this, like all that kind of stuff, a lot of people would just throw money at the problem, so oh I am going to hire this agency and they are going to just fix all my issues; or I am going to hire ten people and they are just going to do all the support, Bear in mind that when you hire people, you have to manage them as well, so there is time sink in there, I don’t really think there is such a thing as truly kind of hands off business where it just kind of runs itself, so I would caution people to be a little bit weary of such approaches.
Gael: That’s why they hire like SEO agencies, essentially. It’s like I am going to hire this agency, and throw a bunch of money, every month and they will do my SEO.
Mark: Yeah, if it all goes wrong I’ll just blame them, it’s like you can blame them as much as much you want-
Gael: It doesn’t save your business.
Mark: Yeah, exactly.
Gael: Yes. I agree, it is a problem. For me, I am a little bit of a different person, I do need my time when I just lock myself in and don’t talk to anyone, to work on the high value stuff, whether that’s planning or whether that’s like writing, or planning a new blueprint, whatever it is, I usually split my day into two types of periods, a period where I lock myself in and literally, all notifications are off, like you send me a message I don’t reply, I don’t reply to anyone, my girlfriend doesn’t even get reply in the apartment, right, that is the level, but I need that to do what I call high concentration work, but the rest of the day usually after lunch, usually I do that in the morning and then after lunch, I literally dedicate the rest of my day to support the team, like to just help people with their projects, whether it’s like planning their work, giving them feedback, editing and reworking some of the stuff they have done etc and so that gives people also like, they are very satisfied with the amount of feedback they get on their work, like I spend literally half of my day just doing that with people, but in the end, that gets a lot more things done if I am doing that for like 4 or 5 people, I can be handling the hosting change at the same time as i am editing a piece of content from Perrin, and then in between I’ll take a break and have a call with Lewis and like giving him a demo of the tool I want him to review and then he is going to go and structure it, etc, so a lot of people get a lot of stuff done when I am doing that, it’s very useful as well. And I find it a good way to balance kind of like the high value individual work I can do with making sure everyone is productive and I would agree on what you said in terms of throwing money, it’s just most people under manage their stuff, they don’t realize it’s actually taking time from you to have someone work for you, and you need to give them time like nobody is going to be happy with their job if you never look at what they do, never give them any feedback, that’s your dream maybe to sit on the beach but that’s not their dream job, and they are going to quit some day if they have the opportunity. So you can’t build a long term team by just building a passive business, I don’t think so.
Mark: Yeah. I think you have to dedicate a certain amount of time each week, whether it’s half a day on Friday or just whenever, to just being available for everyone so if you are doing this deep work thing, or something, actually I think you should do this Gael, because, I always wondered why it’s difficult to get a hold of you in the mornings. [laugh] But you should just tell everyone look, don’t talk to me during these times, talk to me during these times. And because there is a lot of times I wake up in the morning and I am like hey what are we doing with this, you just like don’t respond.
Gael: And then you get a reply at 2 p.m. [laugh]
Mark: Yes. That makes a lot of sense, but just making people aware of what is going on there is probably good thing for staff. And one more thing as well, to add to that is, and this is really particularly true when it comes to scaling is, not only giving them feedback on quality but feedback on process is super important, I spent the best part of a week, over the last couple of weeks, working on our outreach process, and basically have 5X the speed of which we can do it, and probably double or triple the response, the effectiveness of our responses that we are sending, so it’s not just me obviously, the guys have been working really hard on it, but thinking through the processes and spending the time to get like okay, so your are copying this from this spreadsheet to this, than you are doing this like I’ve literally watched people do the work, for a while and understood what was going on and making like little time save, you know saving a few minutes here, few minutes there off of everyone, when you are scaling things, those time savings really start to stack up. And it just makes everything much more efficient.
Gael: Yeah, that is the difference, like we had an agency with a lot of people before if you guys didn’t know and you are listening this podcast for the first time, so we had a staff like 35 at some point as an agency, and we made a lot of mistakes doing that, right, I mean, we hired over a 100 people doing that, etc, it was a lot, with the turnover, And so, a newbie will probably do that but hire another person, you know, they would be like hey I want more outreach output, let’s add another person.
Mark: Yeah, it’s almost like crazy parallel to, we used to run a guest posting service, so people would pay us to do guest post for them, basically, like to do the outreach, to land the post, to write the content, the whole thing. It was a link building service, and as we got more orders, I was like okay, great, let’s just hire more people, so I just kept doing that and kept doing that and kept doing that. Not realizing the whole time, the whole process was incredibly inefficient and people were just like wasting so much time doing unnecessary things, repeating each other’s work all this kind of stuff. And, it doesn’t take long to just sit down and work your way through it, and save a lot of time.
Gael: But I think that’s the big risk, as you said, it’s like when you are making money, you are willing to trade money more than time for growth and you end up like really wasting tons of money which you regret later. That’s actually good because that’s our next point which is next challenge rather, planning and ensure return investment. We’ve talked a little bit about it already, but it’s pretty frequent when like a site or a business is profitable, and people are like okay let’s scale up, let’s double down, or triple down, or whatever, and then during that process that business becomes incredibly inefficient and actually stats losing money and then goes [27:17 indiscernible] right, that is a pretty frequent scenario, and usually that is due to what I believe is a lack of planning and monitoring of what is going on essentially, and so on top of having to manage these people, you get an extra bunch of work, where it’s like measuring the efficiency which essentially is what you’ve done with the outreach process, and also, planning other people’s work, especially when they are starting out and you are in the scaling position where essentially people are not trained on the job, they just started out, etc. They can’t plan their work, you essentially need to babysit them at least for the first six months I would say. And so, that means, that is a mistake I see a lot of people do and especially in the authority site system and so on, I see people starting their websites and some people they have their domain live within three days and they literally- in authority site system essentially we tell people you need to plan every single piece of content before you actually buy your domain name before you set your website up etc, you need to have everything ready and plan then I can see, the people that are not going to be so successful is most likely the people that actually have not taken the time to plan and also they don’t necessarily have a very good vision of like how they are going to make their money back, right, because when you plan you also say okay that’s why I put the money in, and that’s how it comes back and you have a really clear vision in your head and that allows you to whenever you give feedback to someone that is working for you, or whenever you are planning like subtasks etc to really stay within that vision because you spent that amount of time planning and hopefully, you started to track some stuff, and we are going to talk about how to do that in a second.
Mark: Yeah, I just want to add something to this, the difference between planning during a scaling phase and during a startup phase is you don’t really need to plan so much during the startup phase, if this is your first site, that is, because it’s more important just to start, just to get going, and I think certainly when we started our site, we did a lot of things wrong, we didn’t have a model to follow, so there was, our goal really at the start was to figure out what works. Now, if you already know what works, then great, but we didn’t, so we had to spend the time doing that.
Gael: And publishing hundreds of articles that haven’t made the return investment.
Mark: Exactly, yes. That was a painful and difficult process, but it was also kind of fun because we were learning, we were figuring out as we go, but it’s completely different when we are scaling because we are not trying to do something different, we are just trying to do more of the same. So it’s just like a fundamental different psychological position you have to take.
Gael: So basically just be careful, you need to plan for people, and you need to monitor, that you maintaining your profitability, I mean, obviously, you are going to be spending a bunch of money and you especially if you do content marketing and SEO you spend the money today, and you expect a profitable ROI like on month 24, 2015 or something so you won’t get that money right away but you need to definitely like I am monitoring a lot of the new content on Health Ambition, I am looking at the success rate like how long it takes for these pieces of content to get to like 200 visits per month etc, and what percentage gets over that just so that I am like okay, we are doing the right thing, we should keep investing, or is there something we are doing wrong, do we need to go back and tweak something, because otherwise, the risk is, we are going to order a thousand pieces of content, that are slightly off and 80% fails and we’ve lost basically most of the money we invested and that that’s a big risk, because of the amount of money essentially, so one thing I like to do is well, you are going to have to spend more time on spreadsheets so for example I take the link to that page on Google analytics so that I can make my spreadsheet with maybe like all my affiliate commercial content then I can directly go and check it really quickly within my spreadsheet so I build these things, we are starting to use advanced affiliate tracking and I am also looking at how efficient people are when they post and write their stuff etc, and most importantly, I also have dedicated right planning time usually from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. so usually when people are done with their work, I like to take one to three hours every day to just plan what is coming next and it’s not as intense as writing or something, but it’s going to build that clarity in your mind that is going to allow you to transmit it to other people when they have to do their task and keep the end goal which is the return investment in mind. I like doing that way. Do you want to add anything to that point?
Mark: Yeah, you mentioned a lot about ROI, that’s hugely important of course. One other thing you have to be very careful of when you start scaling is keeping control of your costs, so it can be very easy when you start seeing 5 even 6 figures a month coming into just spend on unnecessary things. Or commit to long term office leases or these kinds of things.
Gael: You mean what we just did.
Mark: Well no, ours is a one year commitment. So it’s not really a big deal, but we did make this mistake before with our agency, we committed to, was it like three year, I forgot how big the space was, like-
Gael: 250 square meters, right.
Mark: Yeah, 300 or 400 square meters, it was huge, and it was like a proper office price, so they charge you per square meter or square foot, you know what square meter is, [laugh] but, basically we committed because we expected growth to maintain at its current rate, which it didn’t. So that created a huge problem for us, and we ended up having to move out of the office in the middle of the night, break the lease, but that is the story for another day.
Gael: Yeah, that is going to be a bonus scary Halloween moving out of the office at night story some day.
Mark: Yeah, but the point is though keep control of your costs all times, you have to, would you spend that money if you were not going to be guaranteed growth?
Gael: I like to keep the money as close to what actually generates money as possible, so like, if you are looking at the office lease, I am looking at how many pieces of content that is or like how many we know our cost per link more or less, so how many links that is to our site that we are trading for that office space, that we are trading for whatever fancy unnecessary expense we are making. And also, a good way to calculate recurring expenses is to annualize it, to look at how much it costs per year. Because it’s easy to say oh it’s only 300 bucks per month, or 500 bucks a month etc, but it’s actually a lot if you add it up, like I mean, even if you had the lease that is like 2,000 a month, I mean, you are looking at 24 thousand dollars per year, how many pieces of content is that, like a lot, imagine if half of them are really successful, it’s crazy. That’s literally 480 pieces of content so you have started two or three new sites with that money, wouldn’t you be better off without an office but with three profitable sites.
Mark: Exactly, and that actually leaves me on something else I wanted to say, it’s about focus so I think a lot of people when they are scaling, this is particularly true if you have a few different sites which if you’ve been in this a while, most people have a different projects, or even if it was just this one site, you have like different types of content, or some is ad based, some is affiliate based, some is something else, but, I think it’s important especially when you first scale to focus on doing one thing, and repeating that over and over and over again, because, if you try and scale five sites, simultaneously, it just becomes a lot more difficult and you need to figure out which is the profitable kind of content on your site and which is the profitable site.
Gael: Yeah, I mean, we mention starting new sites in our case, but we are basically putting three or four times more content on our existing sites than we put on the new sites, so it’s kind of like a future investment more than like a massive growth on many sites.
Mark: Yeah, but it was like, with Health Ambition, we are ordering a lot of content for it, but, it’s very specific kind of content, we’ve done all sorts of weird and wonderful and kind of strange content if I am honest with you in the past, and there have been some that worked like the famous example Gael always quotes is our article on how to stop farting which apparently-
Gael: You were mad at me when I ordered it.
Mark: Yes, it makes quite a lot of money on Amazon.
Gael: It makes a lot of traffic, I mean, Amazon too. We sell activated charcoal on it.
Mark: Yeah, so I mean, that content did really well, but what we did is we looked at all of our content and we tried to sort of group the stuff which was doing well and categorize it and say okay this is the kind of content we want to do more, and it could be a specific structure, it could be a subtopic, it could be any way you want to cluster your ideas or your content around, but it’s important to figure out what is making the money and the 80- 20 rule usually applies here in most businesses, so 80 percent of your income comes for the 20 percent of your content, so find out what that 20 percent is and just scale that. Don’t scale the whole thing.
Gael: Yeah, I agree, at least at first, focus on the revenue, then spend money on the long term links. So let’s jump on number four. It’s dealing with stuff that you’ve neglected so far. Because, a lot of things are not very important when you are a small site or when you are making like a 1000 dollars a month or even 10 thousand dollars a month. They are not that important, so for example bad branding, let’s say your site looks terrible, well, that maybe telling, like 10 percent of people would decide to abandon your site because your branding is horrible, right, well if you are making 1K a month that is costing you 100 dollars, if you are making 10K a month that is costing you a 1000 dollars, and if you are making a 100K a month that is costing you 10 thousand dollars. Now, it’s becoming, these things are starting to really cost you quite a bit of money which they didn’t when you were a small site and so you get this kind of like, basically all these skeletons in the closet, all these things that you forgot, you ignored etc, because you focused on growth as a small startup site that you’ve go to catch up on, and that thing can be, well the bad branding and positioning as I said, so for example if you’ve only made a review site so it’s like I am reviewing vacuum cleaners, and then that site was successful and then you are like well, how do I scale that thing now, because it’s like reviewing vacuum cleaners, unless I find more vacuum cleaner models there is not a lot to do; well, bad positioning, you are going to have to figure that out, usually the solution to that is to rebrand, actually take a new domain on cleaning or house improvement or something like this, and move that content to a new domain and so when redirect it, 99.9% of the cases you’ll keep your rankings but you are able to expand and actually scale up, like you are going to have this kind of big projects, there is also the pull tech setup, people that are still on like Bluehost and their site takes 9 seconds- in our case, apparently are loading better, the time is pretty bad so we definitely need to work on it on Authority Hacker, but pull tech setup is something you need to work on, actually that is something we are working on right now, on both of our big sites.
Site structure as well, if you have been putting content left and right and your navigation is all over the place, hint hint Authority Hacker, then that’s something you are going to have to be fixing as well, because as you grow your content, if it’s all over the place, first of all you are going to be losing rankings because your content is not ordered properly, and second of all, you are going to be losing, it’s going to be hard to navigate your site, you are not going to look pro basically. And finally, conversion rate optimization is becoming increasingly important so now I am actually starting to test things, like testing our call to actions on some articles, etc, because once again, if it was worth maybe a 1000 or 2000 dollars to improve by 10% before, when you are scaling and you are 10X everything, these improvements are potentially massive, and so all these little things now become worth it and you need to work on these.
So the way we are dealing with it right now is we kind of like take all these things and we have one big project that we work on at once, we just accept that we can’t fix everything at once because these tend to be big projects, for example as I said, now we are merging our membership sites with the main sites, and we are moving to a new proper hosting because we got timeouts on the membership etc, and essentially you take these one by one, usually by the base so like I like fixing the tech setup first and fixing the branding, fixing the structure, then fixing the conversion rate optimization, you kind of like go out from the basic technical level, all the way up, and yeah, you are going to have to add that on top everything else that we’ve talked about to your workload, and you are going to be in that phase where we are, exactly where we are on Authority hacker if you are listening to this podcast as we release it, where it’s like we’ve definitely overgrown the current branding, the current hosting, everything we were getting too much traffic for, everything we have, but it’s not fixed yet, and you are going to have to live with it for a while, it sucks a bit but rushing it is also a bad solution. I mean, how do you feel about all that, even the branding etc?
Mark: Yeah, I agree the branding can be a lot of work. Actually, I was at a conference and I put our Authority Hacker Pro sales page up at like a teardown session, this pro designer was doing, I told her how much we’ve made and she was shocked, like I can’t believe it, the site which looks this terrible made that much money. So, yeah. Every big company in the world has this issue, I mean, companies don’t get big by having your perfectly planned, perfectly structured operating model and just they magically grow and everything is perfect. Every company has problems, every website has problems, and so just take on the project basis as Gael said, and once you finish one project start another, no need to be doing multiple things at the same time because you are just not going to get them finished. Hire help when necessary but again, if we, or when we do the rebrand on Authority Hacker, for sure we are going to get a very good designer to help us out, but you have to acknowledge that that process takes a lot of your time as well even if someone else is doing the design, you can’t say hey go and do this, they are going to ask you questions, like what style should we use, and bounce feedback around, it takes a lot of your time to manage that so you have to prepared for it I guess.
Gael: Yeah, it’s just like, usually, your business doesn’t scale, not everything scales smoothly at the same time, it’s such that you are going to reach the point where you have a lot of content but you still on your stock WordPress theme, as we are right now on Authority Hacker, or you are going to be looking amazing but have no content yet, whatever you pick first, you just going to have to pick one and go straight. Let’s jump on challenge number five, which is definitely a challenge after everything we’ve said, which is work life balance enjoyment and finding your new place essentially. And, essentially I put that one because especially like for my personality, for how I do things, like I usually do everything at the beginning, the design, the writing the everything etc, your role is definitely changing inside your own company, the other people are taking your job essentially. And sometimes they are not doing it as well as you did, sometimes they are doing it better, in both cases that can be frustrating. They also are waiting for direction from you and maybe you start at the point it was kind of like, you definitely probably started when you were one man business, and you didn’t really have to like debate or explain or anything like that and all of a sudden, you have to do all that communication with people, to scale up, you just won’t be able to scale up on your own. So one thing that is important is that you are going to be getting quite a bit of more stress, or social pressure, whatever you want to call it, and that could take away the enjoyment of building your site, one thing that is important to remember is that if you reached that point where you have to scale, you are probably doing pretty well already so like even if I took two weeks holiday tomorrow because I felt too pressured or whatever, it’s like it won’t be a big deal I think, and I think you need to try to keep that fun and exciting and it can be great fun when you build a good relationship with your team which is also why I am not very much for the hands off team that you never talk to, like if you check out Slack,like everyone is just like sending jokes and talking about the videogames they are playing, or sending articles and sending funny videos etc, and it actually builds it more into kind of like a social part of working which a lot of people lose and miss when they start working from home, well, they can actually rebuild that back and I think that can be pretty fun but also I think you need to start defining working hours when you start doing that stuff, because obviously there is so much more planning, there is so much more feedback to give and many times you also keep a lot of your responsibilities, you need to be able to take some time off,so usually I don’t work weekends. Today is an exception.
Mark: I was about to say do you find it ironic that we are recording this on a Sunday?
Gael: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say, we are literally recording it Sunday February 5th for Monday February 6th, so that’s how in advance we are on the podcast [laugh] but like, in general, it can happen, but otherwise, it’s good to take some proper time off which you usually don’t take too much when you are running your site solo, right, if you have to do support etc yourself, like I remember doing intercom on my phone when I was in the cinema and so on because nobody else was there. How do you balance that?
Mark: So, I think the most important thing, before we even talk about the specifics of work life balance or anything like that is to remember you’ve already invested like, by the time you get to the point where you want to scale, you’ve already invested a lot of your own time, money and effort into acquiring a scale, which is online marketing and all the various bits and pieces which go around that. So it would surely then make sense if during the next phase, which is going to be heavily dependent on other people on your ability to build processes and to manage people, that you should also invest heavily in learning those skills as well, and there are plenty of books out there, we’ll put a few of my favorites in the show notes anyway on this kind of stuff, but it’s worth taking the time to actually get good at it, or to at least learn about it, because otherwise, if you just kind of wing it and think oh I’ll be a good manager, or I can design awesome processes, I know what I am doing, if you don’t study on that, then chances are it’s not going to be so good, so I think that’s important like investing in yourself, and if you do that, at least the parts of that I’ve done it, I find it to be much more enjoyable and the stress for me at least goes down because I kind of feel like I know what I am doing more, than in like back when we had our agency it was kind of stress, oh did I make the right decision, am I approaching this the right way, am I handling this problem the right way.
Gael: Most of the time we didn’t but yeah.
Mark: Yeah, I mean it certainly helped for me. The part about like changing roles, you have always got to be adaptable as an entrepreneur and what you are doing this time next year is definitely going to be different to what you are doing right now, so just accept that. If you really hate doing a certain thing, then don’t force yourself to do it, there are lots of things I hate doing and I just avoid them, I mean, I am not saying I don’t get them done, I find someone else who can do it or I figure it out and then outsource it. But, if you actively try and manage the enjoyment of your own work in that way, then it becomes really fun actually, and I don’t know, I am kind of the office, I found like the more we scale, the more I enjoy things because I don’t have to do the shit that I hat basically, and then, what else are we talking about, work life balance, yeah, so holidays I think are super important, I know Gael you never take any holidays ever.
Gael: That’s right.
Mark: Perhaps that’s a source of your stress.
Gael: Probably it’s something I should work on.
Mark: Yeah. But, I find even taking like two, three days, long weekend, makes a huge difference when you come back. What I really miss though is I think it was three or four years ago I went to Cuba for a week and a half over Christmas and New Year, and there was at least back then, there was almost no internet in the whole country, and even if you did get it Google Apps didn’t work, and a bunch of stuff, or it was slow it was basically pointless, so I was just off the grid for I think ten days and it was amazing, it was probably the most relaxed I think I’ve ever felt in my entire life, it was great.
Gael: I’ve done that in Vietnam as well like I do no laptop holidays with my girlfriend actually.
Mark: Though you did take your iPad so I think next Christmas so in eleven months from now I am going to take a two week holiday somewhere and just not take my laptop, not even check any emails. So I think that’s probably a good approach.
Gael: I think a lot of people that do that kind of stuff do that actually, it’s a pretty frequent thing. And I would recommend it eventually, like I mean I did take a tablet but like I was literally traveling in trains all the time, I had no internet most of the time.
Mark: For me, it’s like during the week, I really don’t mind if someone needs to ask me a question at 11.30 p.m. like okay, cool, I’ll answer it, I’ll deal with it, I don’t really have that distinction between work and non work during the week.
Gael: It’s different, you need to find your balance, you need to try talk to a lot of people, hear how they do it, and try what they say essentially, that’s how I figured out my balance, it’s like I just talk to a lot of people that do that stuff, like you can talk on Facebook groups or whatever or you can go to local meetups, and maybe it’s not the way that Mark and I do it that’s good for you, maybe something else but you should definitely talk to other people and that’s how I find new habits that improve my life, usually. Anyway, I think we are going to wrap it up because we’ve been talking for a long time, so guys, if you are considering scaling your websites up, or if you are doing it and you are facing some challenges, then I hope that helped you and we’ll see you next week for another episode, bye.