Mark Herro - Sharpologist

Episode 1 from the Master of Letters podcast.

In this episode, we meet Mark Herro. Mark is the owner and writer at sharpologist.com. After getting married in Las Vegas, where he experienced a proper, old style shave, Mark returned home hoping to find similar barbers nearby. Only to find that there weren't any. Since then, Mark's been on a mission to help people get better shaves.

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Transcription

Benjamin Dell: I'm your host, Benjamin Dell and here's today's episode. Today we have Mark Hero. Mark is the owner and writer at sharpologists.com. After getting married in Las Vegas where he experienced a proper old style shave, Mark returned home hoping to find similar barbers nearby only to find that there weren't any. Since then, Mark's been on a mission to help people get better shaves. Welcome Mark - pleasure to have you on.

Mark Hero: Hi, Ben. Thanks for having me.

Benjamin Dell: So I'm intrigued as I'm sure everyone else is. I mean, I was tempted to do a bit more research before this and read a few of your posts and find out precisely what you talk about, and do, and offer on your site. But quite frankly, I want to hear it from you because it's clearly to do with shaving. It's what I love about this. It's super-specific. It's clearly based on an interest of yours, but by being niche and specific there's clearly going to be a captive market there. So I'd love to find out a bit more about what you're doing and how it's working. But before we do- just very, very top level, just to explain the business behind this. Is it just the website? What is the business model? Do you charge for anything or is it purely informational without any monetary gain? Just paint a picture for us first, if you can.

Mark Hero: Sure. Well, first, if you could, if I could describe the website in one sentence. It would be what your father didn't teach you about shaving.

As you mentioned, I got an old fashioned barber shave a few years back, and the results were really truly life changing. So I kind of went on a mission to be able to give myself this amazing proper shave and discovered that there was very little information about it at the time. So I decided to do something about that by releasing some videos on YouTube.

And then later I started the Sharpologist website with a view of some sort of monetization. At the moment, my monetization is through advertising and affiliate sales. I do hope to release some of my own products soon, perhaps within a year. And it's doing quite well. My wife and I get a number of daily emails and messages of one kind or another saying we had no idea shaving could be so pleasant and easy, or at least easier.

And my way, or I should say that the old school way of shaving with a single blade razor and a lathering shave cream and a shaving brush can have some really significant benefits over shaving with a multi-blade cartridge and a can full of goo.

Benjamin Dell: Love it! How many people in your team? We will go into more depth in a minute on the nature behind the site, but how many your team, if you have any, or is it just your wife and yourself?

Mark Hero: My wife and myself. And then I don't know if they really count as a team, but I do have a blog host that takes care of almost all of the backend of the site. So I don't end up playing with or tinkering, somebody takes care of it for me.

Benjamin Dell: Cool. So you can entirely focus on content and commercial aspects?

Mark Hero: Correct.

Benjamin Dell: Nice and simple, nice and lean, as it should be when you are sort of really kicking things off and when you've aspirations to do bigger and bolder things such as your own products and everything else, it's good to keep those costs controlled.

What's the traffic look like today? What sort of volume are you getting monthly to your website?

Mark Hero: I get about 200,000 page views per month. That's what I really concentrate on.

Benjamin Dell: Cool. That's impressive. And do you know what that equates to in terms of unique visitors?

Mark Hero: Frankly I don't really track closely uniques because typically my outreach tends to get people in and they stay.

Benjamin Dell: Yeah. And for you given that it's about sharing content and actually educating people and presumably you have the products through there as a result of the affiliate stuff that you're talking about, you want to see that they're clicking through and exploring I suppose.

Mark Hero: Exactly.

Benjamin Dell: Yeah. Makes sense. Well that's impressive. I mean, you've got good healthy traffic there. How's that growing? Would you say that is fairly static? Have you reached the peak?

Mark Hero: Actually I have. Within the last year or so I have pretty much plateaued. However, I think part of that is because I've had some challenges personally over the last year where I have not been able to concentrate as much as I wanted to. My wife had become sick and my in-laws had some issues, but that has largely resolved themselves over the past couple of months and site traffic is beginning to start to grow again. So I am hopeful that the plateau has been broken through and I'm starting another upward journey.

Benjamin Dell: Perfect. I like it. And do you have subscribers? For your newsletter - how many do we have en masse since we're just on the numbers still?

Mark Hero: Ten thousand.

Benjamin Dell: Okay. Again that's a good, healthy number just to be doing stuff with.

Okay. Let's talk about the content marketing. Now they're sort of the real, I mean, this is clearly a central central part of what you do. It's all about the content. It starts off, I would imagine, with people wanting to find out more and then from there, it sounds like you've got sort of workflows such as a product you're selling and other things like that.

So you started off with YouTube. You're now focused on the site. Does that mean that you're entirely blog focused in terms of content? Or do you still do videos? Do you do podcasts or eBooks? What does your content strategy look like in terms of medium?

Mark Hero: Sure. The majority of the content is the blog. I put out new content three times a week- Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The YouTube channel frankly has been sort of forgotten about for a while, but just within the past three weeks now, I shouldn't say three weeks, really three months - I have begun to use the channel again. I do have a fellow that does a podcast for me, hosted on the site.

I do have some eBooks and I don't know how to describe it- like eBooks and resources and things available. But the vast majority of my time is taken up with the content of the website, because frankly that's where most of the revenue comes.

Benjamin Dell: Right, yeah, absolutely! So let's now look at that journey that gets you to the revenue. So someone lands on your site for the first time. What's the primary action that you're looking for them to perform? Is there one or is there multiple?

Mark Hero: Really I initially want them to just browse around the site to kind of get a feel for the enthusiasm, the kind of the old school vibe of shaving this way. People kind of get enthusiastically into it then. And then I do try to get them gently to sign up for the newsletter. I actually have an onboarding process that is four months long with one email per week of solid content, no selling. The selling related emails that I may put out to my list are intentionally excluding the people in the onboarding process, because I do not want them to think that's all I'm doing is trying to sell them something.

Benjamin Dell: Yeah. That's good. You are obviously intentional about your strategy there and happy that you can wait, you know, you're contented to wait four months and presumably you have people converting product before that as well, but you understand that it takes time and it's a soft approach here, and it's all about getting the right content in front of them and not being that hard hustle sort of sale, which is nice. A lot of people can learn from that because we're all sort of encouraged to look for quick conversions and quick wins. And ultimately that does require a hard sales and it's not the thing that really always rubs well enough with the audience.

Mark Hero: So that's not really my personality. I just can't do the hard sell. I would much rather show someone the benefits in a casual structured way and then let them make the decision. And normally I will give them some options. You know, I say for example, a razor. I may say, look, you know, for this particular set of circumstances, razor X may be something you should look at and for other circumstances is there a Y maybe something you should look at?

So I don't generally try to push them into one particular item or one particular sale and to assist with me with that, I do have an Amazon affiliate relationship. Of course Amazon, you can buy darn near anything on.

Benjamin Dell: I suppose it also leans well to the people that you're talking to because it's not a time sensitive action that they need to perform. It's not as if they're coming to you, having never shaved before with a beard, so long dragging to the ground that they desperately need a shave today. And if you don't sell it to them, they're going to go somewhere tomorrow. They'd be shaving before, most likely and they're probably just looking for a new way and they're intrigued and they want to learn more. And so it makes sense that it takes a bit longer for them to gain the confidence or the knowledge to feel comfortable. Say, hey, I'm going to give that a go. So I like the fact that you're not just pairing the strategy there with how you like to work and how you like to present yourself, but you're pairing it with how I think your audience would expect to be interacted with during that process, given that it's not something they need today.

So that's really nice. That's nice to see. What can you tell me about the numbers there in terms of that four month period? What's the average? Do you have an average timeframe that it takes for someone to purchase something that then gives you a bit of affiliate juice?

Mark Hero: Actually, I've never really looked that closely at the timeframe because I actually have a number of other content related articles that give me really good SEO juice and almost immediate sales as well. One in particular is an article I have about what is the best shaving cream. It's a topic that is searched quite a bit. I get excellent SEO juice from it. I'm on the first page for that question. And the number of alternatives, as I said earlier, is fairly significant so people can read it, decide what version they would prefer and try it right then and there, if they wish.

Benjamin Dell: That's interesting because we're in the SaaS space with Missinglettr and speaking with a number of other SaaS businesses. One content marketing strategy that is often used is one where the SaaS companies will create a comparison blog post or reports page that will say Hey, Missinglettr versus buffer and trying to be objective and not too biased. There is obviously a bias there, but they're trying not to slant it two-way and be sort of honest about the differences. I hope they are obviously being that it puts your company in the right light.

With you, you're in a position where you don't have any obvious affiliations with prototype or product, but you can just go straight out, play at the same strategy, compare the two or three top products and leave it to the customer to decide. All you need is for them to choose one of those versus an exact one in the other space. So that's an interesting strategy there.

Mark Hero: Correct. As a kind of detail to that I am blessed with the view from others that I am an authority in the niche, so that really helps along that line too, where people say, okay, here's a set of 10 different shave creams that this guy says any of them will work well for me, I'll choose for myself which one it is. So the authority of the website really comes into play in that respect.

Benjamin Dell: Yeah. And that's something you're in a position now where it's built up and that's paying dividends, which is great to see. So let's get back to the numbers, then the sales there. You've got how many of those, so what numbers do we have so far? We've got 200,000 page views per month. You’ve got 10,000 in your subscriber list and you have this four month period of a drip sort of newsletter. How many sales do you get or how many of those do you get business from would you say in a given month?

Mark Hero: For the newsletter, that is the typical newsletter that is not in the automation - I generally have a 40% open rate and a 10% click rate. So you can kind of extrapolate from there what kind of typical sales I get from the individuals email. Not every email sells

Benjamin Dell: But the click won't necessarily always translate to a sale though presumably, so probably you've got to a certain percentage within those clicks that then convert to sales.

Mark Hero: That is true. And the conversion rate is remarkably high on the order of 50%.

Benjamin Dell: Wow. Okay. So that's for the newsletters that you're sending out? This is not the drip one you mentioned here.

Mark Hero: That’s correct. So this is my regular one. The drip one does not sell anything. It is strictly content.

Benjamin Dell: Right. Gotcha. And how frequently are you doing the standard newsletter?

Mark Hero: About every other week. Although I'm going to try doing, actually starting next month, I'm going to try doing it every week for a while to see what happens.

Benjamin Dell: That's fantastic. That's a good, healthy number of sales there. If I can sort of throw your numbers out that we're sort of looking at, roughly speaking, a thousand people buying every couple of weeks?

Mark Hero: I think that's a fair number.

Benjamin Dell: That's really healthy and it shows that you've got it an engaged audience there.

Mark Hero: Oh yes, very much so.

Benjamin Dell: And actually what's fantastic about what you're presumably selling is that I suppose on the one side, you've got the shavers and the razors that do last a lot longer, but then you've got the perishables as well. So people who have purchased last month are not excluded from purchasing the next month. There may well be a lot of repeat. Fantastic. What a great story though. I would love to see how you progress with this. And as you start to focus on it more, we must get you back to find out. I love how it's just a super focused tight sort of operation there that is starting to turn things out.

Okay. So let's just wrap up with a quick fire round. So short answers, if you can.

If there was one social network that you or business could use to help assist you with your promotions or growing it and engaging with the audience, however you like to do it, which social network would be the one that you'd stick with?

Mark Hero: That's a really good question. And the surprising answer is there really isn't any. I continue to do questionnaires and checks of my readers and viewers and half of them do not use any social network at all which really surprised me. Of the half that are left about half of them are on Facebook. But on my niche, the Facebook users are very clique-ish and niche-y, so there are a half a dozen related groups. None of them are particularly popular. I think the largest one has a couple thousand members and on a site like Facebook that's basically a drop in the bucket. Instagram is starting to come up a little bit.

Twitter is okay. But nothing is really amazing. Nothing really has the big numbers. And frankly, that's where Missinglettr comes in. I use Missinglettr to automate my social messages, because while it's not a big source for me, I don't want to ignore it either. So I want to get content onto social media, but without using a whole lot of my time, because frankly it doesn't translate into revenue.

Benjamin Dell: Yeah it's clearly better spent elsewhere. And that is one of the very clear educators that we launched the product for. Well I am in danger of this turning into an advert for Missinglettr so let's quickly shift on. But it's great to hear that you liked that. Let's hope there's a different answer for this one.

What's your favourite online tool that helps you in whatever capacity grow or manage your business?

Mark Hero: Oh, wow. I created my own tool using the number of different paid and free data collection things to create a latest discussions feature on the website which is basically taking RSS feeds from a large number of sources, blogs, and forums and things like that, filtering them into specific topics and then separating them into separate pages that people can look at on the website to gather information on the topic they're thinking about.

Originally, I created that for myself so I could discover the topics that were upper most in the minds of the readers. And create content for it. As far as other things I use Google analytics, Google webmasters, and some of the SEO tools I have used on occasion just basically as a confirmation, more than as a resource.

A lot of my traffic actually comes from SEO and email, not so much from social. So those are the areas I tend to look at more closely. And some of the affiliate sales types of programs like Amazon and share a sale and commission junction I use to kind of drill down into what people are buying. So I can maybe do a little more with that.

Benjamin Dell: Love it. I mean it makes sense because you're obviously, you know, content focused, both on the production of it and the analysis of it and making sure that it's ticking over. So that makes a lot of sense.

Okay. Let's imagine now that for someone who's already in business, who hasn't yet embraced content marketing, blogging, and everything else that goes with it, what's the one piece of advice that you would give them now to help them on their journey with content marketing?

Mark Hero: Wow. It is a tough space right now, generally, because there are just so many alternatives for basically any niche that you happen to be in. I would suggest taking the mindset of not trying to make a tonne of money overnight. Sharpologist has been online since 2011 and only within the past couple of years has it made me a full time income. So take your time. Investigate what sources of traffic are working for your niche and then double down on the ones that relate to revenue coming back.

Benjamin Dell: Yeah, it really is a patience game. Love it.

And then finally, is there a CEO or marketer that you're following right now?

Mark Hero: Actually not. I do look at sites like Neil Patel and search engine land, and a couple others on an RSS feed but the niche is changing such a way that no one seems to have the right answers at any particular time. So I kind of browse what people are generally saying, make a few minor tests on my own to see if any of those can relate to what I'm doing and if they do, then I move forward with that.

Benjamin Dell: Yeah, like it. Good. Well you seem to know what you're doing so perhaps you don't need to be following anyone too closely for now.

So well there you have it. We have Mark Hero. He started off producing videos and quickly moved to the website sharpologist.com where he publishes around three blog posts a week. Revenue was made up through affiliate sales and advertising, although he has aspirations to release his own products in due course. He's getting around 200,000 page views a month, which has plateaued recently. He's now hoping to beef that back up with future focus. He's getting 10,000 subscribers in his list, which is converting pretty well. He's getting 40% open rates, 10% clicks, and about 50% of those 10% clicking through and actually making a purchase, which is really, really healthy. He says, be patient when it comes to content marketing, take your time and think about it properly, about what you're creating and it will start paying off in the long term. Mark, it's been a pleasure speaking with you. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

Mark Hero: Thank you. Appreciate your time.