439: Developing a Content Strategy to Stand Out From The Crowd with Joe Pulizzi

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This episode is sponsored by Clariti and CultivateWP.

Welcome to episode 439 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Joe Pulizzi.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Remy Park. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Developing a Content Strategy to Stand Out From The Crowd

Joe Pulizzi knows a lot about content marketing and has been an entrepreneur in this space for over a decade. And this week on the podcast he joins us to share all of his tips and tricks for differentiating yourself in the crowd as a food creator!

Bjork and Joe also discuss the importance of finding your niche as a creator and how you should approach creating content as you grow your business. They also chat about building trust with your audience, and why it is such a critical aspect of content marketing.

This episode is the perfect deep-dive into content strategy as you start brainstorming your content calendar for the new year — don’t miss it!

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In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What ‘content marketing’ means in 2023 and how it differs from advertising.
  • The importance of differentiating yourself and delivering consistent content.
  • Why you need to find your niche.
  • Why you should build your audience before you consider selling a product or service (and how to figure out what to sell).
  • What content tilt is and why you should apply it to your content strategy.
  • Why exit planning is important for every entrepreneur.
  • More about Joe’s professional journey.


Thank you to our sponsors!

This episode is sponsored by Clariti and CultivateWP.

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Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode!

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If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

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Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti. You spend a lot of time on your blog content, from planning to recipe testing, to writing, to promoting, but do you know if each of your posts are bringing you the most traffic they possibly can? With Clariti, you can see information about each and every post, which is automatically synced from WordPress, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console so that you can make well-educated decisions about where your existing content may need a little attention. Think broken links or broken images, no internal links or missing alt text. You can also use information that Clariti pulls about sessions, page views, and users to fuel the creation of new content because you’ll be able to see which types of posts are performing best for you. Get access to keyword ranking, click-through rate, impressions, and optimization data for all of your posts today with Clariti. Listeners to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast get 50% off of their first month of Clariti after signing up. To sign up, simply go to Clariti.com/food, that’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food. Thanks again to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.

Emily Walker: Hey there. This is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. This week on the podcast, Bjork is interviewing Joe Pulizzi. Joe has been an expert in content marketing for many yxears, and you may know him from his book Content Inc. or his newsletter, The Tilt, in addition to his podcasts and the events he organizes. He knows content marketing forwards and backwards. In this episode, Bjork and Joe will be chatting about what content marketing even means in 2023 and how you can think about it different from advertising.

Joe also discusses the importance of differentiating yourself and delivering consistent content in this market and why you need to find your niche. Joe also shares more about what content tilt is and why you should apply it to your content strategy and why exit planning is so important for every entrepreneur and might give you a new way to think about the goals you have for your business.

One quick note before we jump into the episode. If you listen to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, a recent iOS update might mean that you are no longer subscribed to our podcast feed. If you head over to our show page at foodbloggerpro.com/apple and make sure that you’re still following the podcast, so just click that little follow button, that will ensure that the episodes you want to listen to are still downloading to your phone. Thanks so much for listening, and without further ado, I’ll just let Bjork take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Joe, welcome to the podcast.

Joe Pulizzi: Thanks for having me. It’s about time.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, this is old hat for you because you have the setup. This is first time with a new camera. People can watch on video if they want to do that later, but you are a podcaster among many other things. So talk about a couple of the podcasts that you do and then maybe just a quick background on your story because it’s really cool to hear how deep you’ve gone in the content world.

Joe Pulizzi: Yeah, boy, I’ll try to keep it brief because I’m old now and I’ve been in creating content for 25 years. But yeah, I have two podcasts, a Monday morning podcast called Content Inc. It’s five to seven minutes long. It’s for content creators trying to become full-time content entrepreneurs, so hopefully something inspirational or informational on that. And then Robert Rose and I have been doing This Old Marketing since 2013, and it’s a news show covering content marketing and media news. So we’ve been working on that over 400 episodes on both of those. And I got into this whole business by starting in business to business publishing. I just fell into it. I started account managing projects with a company called Penton, and Penton Media was the largest independent business to business media company at the time, and I was in this little division called Custom Media, and Custom Media did stuff that Pet Media didn’t do anything, so Pet Media was the trade shows and magazines and then big websites and Custom Media-

Bjork Ostrom: Really traditional marketing type stuff.

Joe Pulizzi: Really traditional B2B stuff. And then I found out about this custom media thing. I’m like, oh, we started to help big brands like Microsoft and Agilent and HP and Autodesk tell their stories, and they did that at that time through quarterly magazines. So then we went from print, and then we got into blogging, and then we got into webinars and then social media, and I was like, this is amazing. I thought it was going to be the future. And in some ways it was where I said, “Well, these brands are going to have to start learning how to tell their own stories because we’ve got all these pipes available and they’re going to want to build audiences and then try to maintain or change behavior of those audiences.” And that’s when I left in 2007, my wife and I created what became Content Marketing Institute and our event, Content Marketing World. And then I’ve been the content marketing guy for shoot, a long time, 15 plus years into that area.

Bjork Ostrom: What’s so great about your story is you’re able to see the evolution of it. And so you can see echoes of probably some of the traditional things that existed 20 years ago that still live within the world of media and content marketing in 2023, but you’ve also seen the things that don’t work that used to work or maybe some of the things that people are still holding onto and trying to make those things work and they don’t really work, but for whatever reason, just because people have always been doing them, they still exist, and so they’re still around. In 2023 today, when you say content marketing, that’s a really big umbrella. How do you view that? What’s underneath that umbrella?

Joe Pulizzi: Yeah, I mean if I’m just saying content marketing, I’m talking about the philosophy or the strategy that a company would employ to say, “Oh, I’m going to create valuable, relevant, compelling information on an ongoing basis to a target audience in order to maintain or change behavior.” And you do that many different ways. You can do that through a podcast, you do through a blog, a webinar series, a custom magazine, event, all sorts of things. And it’s funny, you talk about, I’ve seen things. I’ve been around long enough to see things.

Bjork Ostrom: I’ve seen things. Yeah, totally.

Joe Pulizzi: And it’s funny. So over the past 20 years, it’s the same mistakes over and over again. And on the one side, most companies don’t differentiate themselves in any way. Basically they’re creating content just like everyone else in their space is creating content. It’s the same stuff. It doesn’t differentiate. We call that a content tilt. They don’t have anything that breaks through all the clutter and gets any kind of attention. They don’t build an audience and they’re wasting their time. And the second thing is they don’t deliver consistently. So we see this over and over again, how companies of all sizes, they start and stop. And that’s why when you see these successful content creators out there or brands, it’s because they continue on when everybody else stops. They’ve been doing it for two years, three years, four years, five years. Red Bull’s a really good example.

You talk about how did Red Bull become Red Bull Media House and one of the largest media companies in the world. They started in 2004-

Bjork Ostrom: And kept going.

Joe Pulizzi: They’ve been doing this for 20 years now. It started as a magazine. So those are the two things. So it’s easy to go in when I go into some of these companies and they say, “Joe, we’re doing all the things. What’s wrong?” I’m like, “Yeah, you’re doing all the things, a little bit into each one. You’re jack of all trades, master of none. You’re not targeted. There’s no niche here. You’re not building an audience. You might as well just advertise.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, interesting. And the difference between content marketing and advertising is advertising being you’re putting something out there, it’s getting in front of people, it’s maybe getting top of mind, but it’s not building an audience or telling a story. Do you feel like that’s the difference, or how do you differentiate those?

Joe Pulizzi: Well, that’s one of them, and you could look at it that way, but basically with content marketing, you’re trying to build and control your own channels. You’re basically trying to become your own little media company. If you’re advertising, you’re sending out your message in somebody else’s channels-

Bjork Ostrom: Just somebody else’s.

Joe Pulizzi: And there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, everybody advertises, it’s no problem. But if you don’t want to spend the 18 to 24 to 32 months and really do the one thing really well, like I’ve got an amazing blog or an incredible podcast or an awesome YouTube channel, that’s where it starts. Or a lot of companies start is they say, “Oh, I have to do all the things. I have to be in seven to 13 different channels.” I’m like, “No.” And the ones that have been doing it a long, long time and diversified their way there-

Bjork Ostrom: Have a team.

Joe Pulizzi: You start on doing one thing really, really well.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s one of the things we often talk about is especially when people are, they have a family and they have a part-time or full-time job, and they’re trying to build a content business, in our world it’s food bases, and they’re trying to publish to Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp channels comes out, “Oh, I got to add that in.” And suddenly you’re doing all of it kind of well, but not really well. You’re following best practices, but best practices only help if your content is excellent. And I feel like that’s what I hear you saying a little bit is focus in, get a narrow focus on maybe one specific channel, get really good at that, and this combination, novel, unique, consistent. Does that feel accurate? It has to stand out. It has to differentiate, and you have to do it consistently for long period of time.

Joe Pulizzi: That’s very, very accurate. The biggest recommendation that I make when I talk to content entrepreneurs is I never say, “Go do more of this.” It’s always, “Do less of something. Get off of X. You’re wasting your time on Instagram.” Maybe you’re doing… Maybe TikTok is your thing, maybe it’s YouTube, maybe it’s the podcast, whatever. Something has to start as home. And if you look at media business models 101, whether you start with the New York Times or Huffington Post or whatever, they’ve all done it the same way. They start by being really good and figure out all the intricacies of that one channel and they focus on one specific audience and how they can solve the pain points and the informational needs of that audience. So if you do those things and then you ask yourself, “Well, if we do the work, like you say, if we do it over a long period of time, can you become the leading informational expert over that thing if you do the work”, and if you’re laughing about that and say, “No, that’s crazy, we can’t do it”, then you’re not niche enough.

You got to go down and figure out, okay, there’s a content area that you’ve got to exploit more. You got to go deeper there. Or maybe there’s an audience. Maybe you’re not just targeting people that enjoy Hostess foods. Maybe it’s something even lower than that. Who knows? I don’t know. But you’ve got to go down to something that’s really, really underserved today, which is really easy to do actually, because we’ve got all these great tools-

Bjork Ostrom: So many things.

Joe Pulizzi: That help us find that. But it’s hard to make that decision because we inherently, as human beings, feel that in order to have the most opportunity, we have to go wide. We want to target consumers, we got to target 18 to 54 demographic or whatever you’re doing, I’m like, “That is not going to work. You start small and then you can broaden”, but you’ve got to build that audience first from a very, very small standpoint.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think a good example of that is the person who introduced us, Kate Ahl who has Pinterest as her focus, she knows Pinterest inside and out. She really understands it. She’s built an audience there. She’s built a business around that. And that building a business piece is one that I want touch on because I think that that’s the question that comes out of what is content marketing in service of? And for some of us, you’re building content and that content is the product. And what you’re doing is, back to that advertising versus marketing conversation, you’re using your platform to then bring advertisers in and then advertise against that content that you’re creating.

So you’re taking those, I think of AG1 or Athletic Greens in the world of podcasts, they’re not building a big brand. They’re advertising, but they’re using people who have built big brands and partnering with them to draft off of their audience. So there’s this idea of you start out, you have the focus, it’s niche, you have your channel, you’re going to become best in class in that niche on that channel, build a following in service of what? What does that lead up to and how? Do you need to know what that is at the outset of your content business building pursuit?

Joe Pulizzi: So you can do it either way. There’s no one right way to do it. But let’s say that I’m a solo content creator and I want to become big. It’s actually better if you don’t have a product that you just say, “Okay, here’s the audience that I want to target. Here’s the thing that I’m passionate about and love. I love this certain aspect of photography. I would like to show it. I want to talk about it. I want to instruct it.” And you go and create this amazing Instagram channel around that, whatever, and you start to build an audience. Once you get close enough to that audience, then that audience begins to know, like and trust you, they will absolutely tell you what things that they want to buy from you. I’ll give you an example. This happened with Content Marketing Institute. I was doing a blog four or five times a week talking about the how of content marketing and all the things that we could do and the strategies and how you could structure it.

And I was trying to sell basically a matching tool to match up content creators with brands that needed content and nobody wanted to buy that. That was the product, that’s what it was in service of, to use your terms. But nobody wanted that. They wanted, they let me know loud and clear, “Hey, Joe, do you have any training available for my team to understand content marketing?” “Joe, are there any events around content marketing that I could send my people to?” “Joe, do you do consulting around content marketing?” I didn’t do any of those things, but they told me loud and clear once we built this audience that they were going to do that. So it would’ve been easier if I wasn’t pushing this other product. Now that said, that’s what I would do right now, if you just a joke, you want to get into this space, I would say don’t have a product.

Launch your product secondarily, build an audience first. But if you’re Autodesk and you want to sell 3D software or CAD software or whatever the case is, you would then say, “Okay, well we’re going to solve these mechanical engineers challenges in this visual space and teach them all these things. And hopefully when they come to know, like and trust us solving their informational needs, they will buy more of our stuff. They’ll be more loyal to our brand, they’ll come to our events. They’ll do those sorts of things.” So basically sell more product or stay longer as customers. So that’s generally loyalty. Content marketing started as a loyalty driven activity through custom magazines, if you will. So you can do it either way. So big brands that are already out there, they’re doing it because ultimately they want to sell more stuff, which is fine, and content creators out there are doing it because they don’t really know what they’re going to sell yet, but they could do like a MrBeast did. MrBeast had no idea in 2012 when he started his YouTube channel that he was going to launch Feastables.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is a chocolate that he sells, which is like you would ask him 10 years ago, and it’d be like, “Ooh, no idea.”

Joe Pulizzi: Yeah, now it’s probably, you tell me, you know more about it, it’s probably almost a billion dollar brand-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I would assume.

Joe Pulizzi: Getting to that point. But he launched that because he saw that opportunity because of the 100 plus million followers he had on YouTube at the time, which is probably 200 million now. So MrBeast launched it where I don’t have a product yet, then I’m going to launch all this other stuff. He launched the burger place as well. What is it? Beast Burgers or MrBeast-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, Beast Burgers, I think.

Joe Pulizzi: Beast Burgers, whatever. So he is launching all sorts of things because he built the large audience to do that. So that’s one way to do it. And the other way to do it is, “Hey, I already have a customer database. How do I get these people to rely on me more without selling directly to them?” So that’s why we’d never call our content advertising. We’re doing content just like any other media company does, because if it’s salesy information, nobody’s going to want to engage with it. So it has to be really, really good today.

Bjork Ostrom: So I interviewed Nathan Barry who has ConvertKit email platform, and one of the things he’s doing right now is they have a podcast that, it’s like a podcast tour, they’re calling it Billion Dollar Creator. But the idea behind it is that idea of what in service of what, and what he’s talking about is the importance of building a business that’s contact base in service of then selling a product. And it echoes a lot of what I hear you saying, which is be really strategic at being best in class in something. And you do that by being consistent, being novel, unique, and figuring out, I think this is the third piece with it, what is it that your audience needs? What are you great at? And what does your audience need? And find that overlap and continually create within that.

Eventually what will come from that when you have an audience is the ability to ask or see the need that exists for them and to create some type of product around that, whether it’s a service, whether it’s an actual physical product, whether it’s a company that does almost… Well, in your case it was like doing conferences. You build this audience and then one of the products that you have is you can do conferences or training. So all of these different options come from it. It gets a lot easier once you have an audience. And we’ve seen that too with the products that we’ve created. Having an audience makes it so much easier. Do you have any advice around figuring out what that is? When you have that audience, how do you formulate what it is and when do you know when you’re ready to actually do that, sell something?

Joe Pulizzi: That’s a great question. My answer is you want to drive revenue as soon as possible. Most of the content entrepreneurs I talk to or content creators getting into the space don’t have a lot of disposable income where they can wait nine to 12 to 18 months for somebody to give me money. So I talk about this in my book Content Inc. There’s 10 different ways to drive revenue, and most of the content creators I talk to drive revenue in five, six, seven different ways. So where it’s almost the opposite of what we talked about before where we want to focus on one channel and serve one audience really well, with revenue we want to do all the things to figure out what’s going to stick. So the lowest hanging fruit is you’re probably going to sell some kind of sponsorship or advertising.

It’s like, “Hey, I got a newsletter, I’ve got a podcast. Somebody wants to reach my audience. Great, I’m going to insert that ad.” Boom, you’re doing that right now. And they say, “Oh, okay, well, I’ve learned that we could actually do a side event or a webinar or something.” So you’re in the event space now, or you could do affiliate marketing and affiliate links, which a lot of creators do. You could sell books and eBooks and white papers and those types of things, and you could even do a Kickstarter program and get donations. So you could do all these different things, just like a media. By the way, those are all products that a media company would launch. They’re all, if you look at your local newspaper or website, any industry, they’re all making money all those different ways, and they’re doing as much of it as they can.

And then you’re on the outside, you might say, “Oh, okay. Now, what Nathan talked about, Nathan did his thing and launched ConvertKit. Great. It’s an wonderful email service. So he wants to sell more subscriptions, product subscriptions to that product.” Or maybe you’re a consulting person. It’s like, “Hey, I want to do coaching or consulting.” Well, you could sell all kinds of time for dollars that you want to from a coaching standpoint, or maybe you’re a big company like a Red Bull or an Autodesk or Microsoft where you want to keep your customers more loyal or have them buy more high ticket items, if you will, and create yield. So there’s 10 right there that you can go through and look at. So that’s the difference is we want to be singularly focused on the content side and build that audience. And once you build that audience, you’re basically staying up all night every night figuring out how can I drive revenue and keep the lights on?

And then you’ll figure out, you’ll say, “Affiliate marketing, that doesn’t work really well for my audience”, but you’ll say, “Wow, this event really took off.” When we launched Content Marketing World 2011, I started talking about at the end of 2010, I was hoping a 100 to 150 people would come to Cleveland for a big content marketing event. I had no idea that that first year, 660, would show up and four years later, we would hit 4,000.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s crazy.

Joe Pulizzi: I was just like, “Oh, let’s try it”, like a good content entrepreneur should do. So that’s where you get it, and you don’t necessarily have to choose, but you need to try a lot of those revenue components on that side, and then you’ll know which are the winners and which ones you can move on from.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. And similarly to the different platforms, you probably will come out of that experimental phase with a leader like, hey, this is the main thing. You’re doing services, you’re selling a product, you’re doing conference, you’re doing training, you’re doing consulting. That becomes the main thing. But then you also have those additional revenue sources potentially that are supporting that are also there, but aren’t the main driver. But your point is, when you are creating, create singularly, focused in on one specific platform, one specific area, the thing that you are most natural at, that’s going to be the easiest for you to create on that platform. When it comes to the monetization side, think strategically about trying all of them, seeing what works, and then maybe out of that double down, is that-

Joe Pulizzi: That’s exactly right. Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of people mistakenly believe, oh, I need the focus on the content and audience side, and I need the focus on the revenue side. I don’t agree with that because you don’t know. You have no idea. Things are changing so fast with the audience. I don’t know. I didn’t know that an awards program would take off in content marketing, but it did, so great. That was a product that we could launch. I didn’t know that we weren’t going to be able to sell anything at all for digital advertising, but we had a waiting list for people to be in our email newsletter.

Who knows? It’s all different. It’s different in the food industry, it’s different in marketing, it’s different in whatever.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great.

Joe Pulizzi: So you definitely want to try that and test it out and then learn, fail fast, if you want to put it that way. Say, “Oh, that works. That one doesn’t. That one.” All I knew is that I was three years into this whole project and I’m losing money. And I’m like, if I don’t figure this thing out fast, I’m not going to be able to pay for the kids going to school, and my wife is going to hate me.

Bjork Ostrom: Motivation.

Joe Pulizzi: She quit her job to watch the kids, and I was the sole breadwinner. This is going to be bad quickly, so figure it out.

Bjork Ostrom: What turned in that point for you? What was the thing that was the breakthrough?

Joe Pulizzi: I fell in love with this product, this matching tool that I thought was going to be great, ’cause I’m like, “Oh my God, all these brands need content. They don’t know where to find it.” Google wasn’t the Google that it is now at the time. It’s like, “Oh, okay, well, we can be that match. We can be the eHarmony for content marketing”, and I wouldn’t let go of it. And I kept pushing it and pushing and pushing it. And then basically what happened, this was September of 2009, my best case study, if you will, that was paying for the service, I called to re-up the annual service, it was an annual fee that somebody had to subscribe into and talked to the CEO on the phone. And she basically said that they weren’t going to re-up, and we had delivered them millions of dollars in revenue. And they’re like, “Oh, they could find better ROI somewhere else.”

And I’m like, I don’t know what to do now. This is the best. I can’t do any better than this, and this person’s not going to sign up and buy. And so I was dusting off the LinkedIn, I’m ready to go find a job. And then that’s when I just sat down after feeling sorry for myself and wrote it on a cocktail napkin, believe it or not. And I wrote the model and I said, “Okay, we are going to focus on.” I got all this, started realizing, going through my email and started to listen to what my future customers actually wanted to pay for, and then put the model together, that became Content Marketing Institute, Content Marketing World, Chief Content Officer Magazine. And the goal was to be the leading destination for content marketing education. And then were able to do that in a couple of years from them once we pivoted away from that product that nobody wanted to buy.

Bjork Ostrom: And so it almost sounds like in you talking through some of these suggestions, it’s like you then looking back, that’s what you did. You built an audience. You said, “Here’s what we’re going to build an audience.” From that audience then listening and saying, “What do people need?” Creating that product and launching to that audience that you built?

Joe Pulizzi: That’s it.

Bjork Ostrom: Does that feel accurate? Yeah.

Joe Pulizzi: That’s absolutely accurate. And then I was basically, the same model, everything we talked about, we were doing it really well. Our platform was the blog, and then the blog was paired with the newsletter. So that was working really, really well. And we kept hitting them over the head with, “Hey, sign up for this service”, and nobody was doing it. And then once we flipped that and said, “Oh, okay, well, let’s just stop. It’s not working.”

Bjork Ostrom: It’s almost like saying what do you want to sign up for? And then people say that, and then that’s what you create.

Joe Pulizzi: It’s so weird how you become blind. I mean, they’re telling me, I’m going through these emails, I’m going through the blog comment saying-

Bjork Ostrom: So relatable.

Joe Pulizzi: “Joe, is there an event for content marketing?” And I’m like, “No, there’s really not.” Oh my God.

Bjork Ostrom: What would suggest I do if I want to go to event for content marketing?

Joe Pulizzi: So I mean, there were events, don’t get me wrong, but they were really small events, 75 people, a hundred people, they’re more workshop type things. And I said, well, nobody has built the event for the industry. And by the way, when my wife and I sold in 2016, the valuation of Content Marketing Institute came from the event. I mean, that’s why we were purchased because UBM, now Informa, wanted to buy Content Marketing World, even though we had six or seven or eight different ways that we drove revenue and profit, the big money maker was the event.

Bjork Ostrom: The thing for them that was most valuable was that event.

Joe Pulizzi: Was absolutely that event. And that’s where, it’s funny, I was just talking to somebody in a different call. We were talking about the importance of building a moat, and then Warren Buffett talks about this is he invests in businesses that have some kind of moat around that protects that business. When you build an event business or a membership business or a subscription business, you are building a moat that’s different from every other newsletter out there, every other YouTube channel. So as you build your audience and you look at the products you can launch and say, “Hey, is this something that we are uniquely qualified to launch that we can do that other people can’t?” So that you can build that moat in.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And the moat in that case is community. Is that what you’re getting at? Or how would you describe it? If you have a membership, if you have subscription, if you have this conference, those being moats is the level underneath that community.

Joe Pulizzi: I would say launching in a large scale event is something that most people weren’t willing to do or risk or had enough knowledge to do, but it’s because of the way we had built a community that we were able to do it. So we knew all the speakers because they were already on our newsletter list. They were already participating and guest blogging on our platform. They were in our LinkedIn group. We already knew all these people really, really well. So if somebody else was going to come in and say, “Hey, they wanted to do a content market, large scale content marketing event”, it’d be very difficult for them without that knowledge and wisdom and participation from these wonderful people that wanted to work with us and see us succeed ’cause we were helping them.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great.

This episode is sponsored by CultivateWP, specifically a new offering they have called Cultivate Go. So CultivateWP, the agency or the company focuses on designing and developing food blogs, and it was founded by Bill Erickson who’s this incredible WordPress developer. We know because as I’ll share, we’ve worked with him and Dwayne Smith, who’s this incredible designer. And Bill developed a version of Pinch of Yum before we had our own internal team, and it was one of the fastest growing versions of the site that we’ve had. So as you know in this industry, word spreads quickly about people who do good work, and Bill and Dwayne have really filled their calendar over the past few years with doing these custom websites for some of the biggest food sites on the web. You can see the list on their website, and they would create these fully custom designs, but they would cost literally multiple tens of thousands of dollars.

And that makes a lot of sense if you’re a site that gets multiple millions of page views. But what they realized is there’s a lot of really successful sites who need the best technology in the world to power them, but can’t justify spending multiple tens of thousands of dollars. So that’s why they launched Cultivate Go. It’s a semi-custom theme design and white glove site setup. So you choose one of the core themes, they have multiple options, and then their team customizes the logo, the brand colors, the topography, so it matches your brand exactly.

And then they set it up on a staging environment where you can test it out, get a feel for it, and can launch your site within just one week. And the cost is only $5,000. And here’s the thing, you have the exact same features, functionality, and support as the themes that cost up to 10 times as much as a Cultivate Go theme. So that means your Cultivate Go site can compete on an even technological playing field with the biggest food sites in the world. If you’re interested in checking it out, go to foodbloggerpro.com/go, or you could just search Cultivate Go in Google. Thanks so much to CultivateWP for sponsoring this episode.

One of the things, when you talked about Content Inc, the book, and you have this flywheel, I don’t know how you’d describe it, but two parts of that that I’d be interested in talking about, we can include it in the link to the show notes so people can see it, but you talk about selling, this exit and the last step is sell or go big. So I’d be interested in talking about that. And then also one of the steps is the content tilt, and The Tilt is the name of the newsletter where you talk about content entrepreneurship. So we don’t have to talk about each one of those. People can read the book, they can check that out. But can you talk about those two specifically, the second step of the process, the content tilt, and then this idea of seller or go big? And then if there’s other pieces to fill in, would be interested to hear that?

Joe Pulizzi: I’m more than happy to. Yeah. I’ve been working on this model for a long, long time, my own experience, but interviewing a lot of content entrepreneurs and what they found to be successful, and we broke it down to seven distinct steps that pretty much work in that order. But the second step is content tilt, and it’s important to talk about because it’s where we talked a little bit about this, where most content creators, whether you work for a brand or not, they completely miss the point. When they look at the content they’re creating, it’s just like their competitors’ content. There’s no differentiation. So basically your content tilt is how do we find a way to cut through all that clutter, breakthrough and get the attention of an audience in some way? So it’s basically how do you differentiate? What’s your hook? Why should people pay attention to you?

So all those questions are, you have to have it, and most companies don’t. In some of the presentations that I do, I’ll do a thing on cloud computing and I’ll say, “Look at all the content on cloud computing.” And I would go to Amazon’s page and IBM’s page and Oracle’s page, and I would take their content on cloud computing and I would put it side by side, and it’s exactly the same. I said, “Luckily, these companies are already billion-dollar companies and they don’t have to worry about having the exact same content. If you have no budget, you can’t think this way. And plus, let’s just say you were going to do content on cloud computing. You’ve already got companies that are putting millions of dollars behind this. How are you going to break through?

So we’ll brainstorm and say, well, it’s cloud computing for operational managers in the food industry space that live in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t know.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah.

Joe Pulizzi: So that could be a niche that you could be the leading informational expert. So basically, I always challenged, when I used to do consulting, I always used to challenge the marketing team. I’m saying, “If we do the work, can you be the leading informational expert on that?” And when they stopped laughing and actually got to a point where they said, “I think we could”, it’s like, “Good, let’s do the work. Let’s go down to it.” The sell and go big-

Bjork Ostrom: The sell or go big.

Joe Pulizzi: I’m sorry. Sell or go big. I’m a big proponent of exit planning, and I believe exit planning happens before you start anything that you do. So for example, 2007, I left corporate America. I had a VP position in publishing as we talked about, left and started a business, and I wrote down in my journal that by 2015 that I would sell the company that I was currently working on for $15 million. So the &15 million was the exact number because I talked to my accountant and said I wanted forever money, money that I wouldn’t screw up everything. I wanted to make sure I could take care of my kids and my family. And I went and I talked to my accountant and I said, “What do I need to have $10 million at the end of this thing?” He said, “Well, you need 15 after taxes.”

Bjork Ostrom: After taxes and-

Joe Pulizzi: After taxes and the whole thing, to pay for all the stuff and to do the bonuses and everything, I need 15. So I said, okay, it is 2008, I said, in seven years that we would sell for that. Every decision that I made with the business, I looked at that goal. I’m like, “Okay, well will this help that happen? Not help that?” So I mean, I’ve worked with a lot of content entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs in general that have no idea. I did a workshop for about 50 entrepreneurs in all sorts of service industries and whatnot, and I said, “How many of you have some kind of exit scenario?” And one person raised their hand, said, “Yeah, I plan on my kids getting this.” And I said, does your kids know that they’re going to inherit your business? He said, “No, we haven’t talked about it yet.” So I’m like, “Okay, everybody stop. Why are we doing this? Why are you in the business that you’re at?”

So I would compel everybody listening to this, why are you in your business? Is this something that you’re doing as a hobby for the rest of your life? And that’s great, and that’s fine if that’s the case. I know a lot of people that don’t like exit planning ’cause they like to say, “I just want to live my life the way”, fine. I don’t. I wanted to travel more. I wanted to be around more for my kids than doing all the stuff that I was doing, not being a part of their lives. So I had specific exit planning goals. And so that as a content entrepreneur, you get to a point, I knew where I wanted to go that I wanted to sell and exit that business for a specific amount of money. And when we got to the point where I was able to bring in people to look at the business, I knew that we were going to be valued at that because I’d done all the research on it, but some people want to grow a big business.

Bjork Ostrom: So did you share it publicly? Did you sell it for-

Joe Pulizzi: Oh, yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: That was the number.

Joe Pulizzi: So 2015 came along, 2014 would’ve been the year to sell by 2015 to get them. We didn’t have the valuation then. We had to wait one year. I looked at it, I’m like, “We had to make some other decisions”. And the middle, so June of 2015, I knew that we were going to be at a point where we could get that valuation and we started to get people involved. I started that process. At the end of 2015, we did the memorandum. I did in-person meetings. I got the LOIs in, and we ended up going through the process specifically with UBM and so it was June of 2016, we sold for more than that $15 million number, so.

Bjork Ostrom: Wow, dude, that’s so awesome.

Joe Pulizzi: Everything worked out. Yeah, it was-

Bjork Ostrom: That’s incredible.

Joe Pulizzi: It doesn’t often work that way, but a lot of people probably don’t realize that I reviewed that goal every day. And I think when you’re that focused on something, and I’m not saying everyone has to do this, but I believe that everyone should have their goals written down that you should review them first thing you get up in the morning and before you go to sleep at night. It starts to work while you’re sleeping. And you figure out, “Okay, what am I going to do? What impact am I going to make on the world?” And that could be financial, it could be spiritual, it could be mental, physical, it could be whatever, family, whatever it is, focus on that. And the same thing holds true to building a content business, knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s incredible. What a story. That’s awesome. I think specifically the idea of writing that down and then achieving that within, I said it was a little bit outside of the timeframe, but essentially when you said you were going to do it is really, really inspiring. And I think a huge part of that is the mindset, like you talked about going into it to say, “Here’s specifically what I want to get out of it. Everybody doesn’t have to get the same thing out of it.” The point is, define what it is that you’re after, the reason that you’re starting. It’s that classic seven habits. Start with the end in mind.

Joe Pulizzi: That’s exactly right.

Bjork Ostrom: Apply that to your life, but also apply it to your business. So in your case, that was sell. You knew you wanted to have this life-changing exit where you would sacrifice for this defined period of time that would allow you to live differently after that. How about in the case of go big, what does that mean?

Joe Pulizzi: So when you get to a point, and like you mentioned Nathan Barry, really good example. He’s definitely going big, but he’s figuring out a way that he can still do all the things that he wants to do with this new billion dollar thing and whatever. When you get to the 25, 30, 35 employee contractor level, you get into a whole lot of issues of scaling. So you have to make sure that you know that the organization has to change. That’s when you’re hiring new operational people to come in, new salespeople, it’s a whole different set of headaches.

So it’s definitely not impossible. Every major media company that you know of has gone through that. They’ve gone through the, we’re a really small media company, we get to that 15, 20, 25, 30 employee level or whether that’s let’s say seven and a half to $10 million in revenue, and you’re like, “Okay, now we’re getting for a whole new set of headaches”, because I don’t want to say it’s easy growth, but it’s easier growth. Once you get what we call a minimum viable audience, in the book of an audience that’s willing to buy from you, and then enough of that audience that you can pay for the lifestyle you want, then you got to start, okay, we got this hockey stick growth.

It happens in almost every content entrepreneur business. So the first two, three years, you’re sparring, you’re figuring it out, and then you get to years three and five and you see this amazing hockey stick growth where they go from a hundred thousand in revenue to $2 million, $3 million, $4 million in revenue, and then they start to stall. You have to figure out, okay, well we’ve got the easy growth. You’ve figured out the one product category, and now you’ve really got to take it to the next level and figure out how you’re going to operationalize this thing. And it has to be without you, the founder. You can’t have your hands into all these things-

Bjork Ostrom: Everything, right.

Joe Pulizzi: That’s where really gets into hiring and firing and figuring it out. And honestly, they’re tough decisions I never wanted to make. I absolutely didn’t want to go there. And so I already knew, okay, good. I was at that point where scale or sell, I already knew I wanted to sell. And thankfully, it all worked out.

Bjork Ostrom: And you knew that number. So the interesting thing about that is then you got back into it, you started new things and pursuits and talk about what that was like. Post exit, were you able to do what you wanted to do and how was it different than you thought it would be?

Joe Pulizzi: So yeah, real quickly, so I stayed on with the company until 2017. Part of my earn out, everything went well, great. 2018, I took the entire year off. I did a 30 day no social media, no email in January of 18, and the rest of the year I worked on it. We have a nonprofit called Orange Effect Foundation, and I did more with that. I started working on my novel and I finished the novel in 2019, The Will to Die. So I started to use all different parts of my brain that I never worked before. I stopped the podcast, I stopped This Old Marketing and stopped Content Inc. And everything was great. It was spending time with the kids, and then Covid came along.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Joe Pulizzi: And to be honest, I started dabbling in a lot of different things because of sheer boredom. I don’t want to say I was bored, but I was like, I was home a lot. I wasn’t doing… 2020 was supposed to be a full year travel for my wife and I.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, change of plans.

Joe Pulizzi: And that didn’t happen.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s like the most drastic change of plans, yeah.

Joe Pulizzi: So basically, and so here’s where your plans go awry, right? I was like, “Okay, what am I going to do now?” And I started to learn about the creator economy, and I started to talk to a lot of my friends who were trying to do this thing. And then I re-released Content Inc. which was originally done in 2015, and said, “Okay, this can be very helpful.” I said, well, I should do a newsletter. I should launch an event. I basically did the whole thing over again. And hindsight, I would absolutely do it again, but I wasn’t planning on doing the same model twice, which is basically what happened, which is why I then course corrected after Covid was done, and we ended up selling The Tilt and Content Entrepreneur, Expo CEX, to a wonderful company called Lulu, and now they shepherd it and I help them continue this thing growing.

Bjork Ostrom: Point being, you would do it again, but you wouldn’t use the same model. Do it again, meaning you’d get back into something creatively building something, but maybe not necessarily replicating the model that you had done before.

Joe Pulizzi: So I was very excited for the first year and a half of doing The Tilt. I thought we were doing something really different. We were testing out tokenization and content creators getting into that, and I was learning about things I’d never heard of. Nobody did. And then that the whole tokenization thing went down the tubes as…

Bjork Ostrom: Like web currency-

Joe Pulizzi: And all that.

Bjork Ostrom: And Crypto, yeah.

Joe Pulizzi: It didn’t work very well. And then we had to shift the model. And that model became exactly what we did before. And again, I love being involved with The Tilt, I love being involved with CEX, I will continue to, but I didn’t want to do the same thing again, once I realized that’s what we were doing. So now we ended up selling, which worked out really well. And as I told you before we talked, I’m working on my second novel, a secondary novel to The Will to Die, which was the first one, and just now I’m back traveling again and speaking and doing a lot of things that I love. So a weird 18-month period, which I guess was probably for a lot of people during Covid, figuring out what you’re going to do. But now I feel really good about what’s going on.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s cool. So we did episode 415 we did an interview with Matt Briel. Do you work with Matt at Lulu?

Joe Pulizzi: I just talked with Matt. Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: So encourage people to check that out. One of the things that you talked about is wanting to encourage people to figure out, as a creator, how do you sell outside of the ecosystem of Amazon? We talk a ton about that in that podcast. So it’d be encourage people to check that out, knowing that it’s now part of this Lulu ecosystem. Encourage people to check out The Tilt, which is, can you describe, elevator pitch, what The Tilt is all about?

Joe Pulizzi: Yeah, The Tilt is a free newsletter for content people who are doing any content creation, who want to build full-time businesses and what we call content entrepreneurs. Get it every Tuesday and Friday, and we’re trying to teach you and then cover the news that’s important to you as a content creator or professional content creator. And then the event that goes with that is CEX Content Entrepreneur Expo, which will be May 5th to 7th in Cleveland, Ohio. We’ll have 500 content creators coming together, learning on the spot, networking with each other, trying to support each other and build our businesses. So that’ll be in May. And then to your point about figuring out the ecosystem of books, our initiative with Lulu, which is really exciting for me, I get to work on something I haven’t done before. We’re trying to figure out how content creators can be successful, who launched books.

So these are, you launch a nonfiction or a fiction book, how they can be successful without having to rely on Amazon. And I’m a big rented land, own your own land proponent, whether that’s on X or on Instagram or YouTube or someone like Amazon, a content created, putting all their eggs in that basket and basically that they can make any changes. They’re not your followers, they’re their followers. You’re renting that land. And then what do you do with that land to make it your own and build your own business?

So I see that happening with authors on the Amazon side where Amazon’s making the decision on what’s going to work and what’s not, and I just don’t think it’s fair, and I would like to see more authors sell directly. So that’s what we’re trying to figure out with Tilt Publishing where we can take your manuscript, help you get that manuscript to publishing, and then set it up so that you can sell directly from your own website to your own fans instead of having to send them off to Amazon and having Amazon keep the profit and Amazon keep the data.

Bjork Ostrom: How do you reconcile, ’cause that might be something that people would say is like, “Wait, wasn’t that something we were talking about before where you should focus in on one platform, build your audience on one platform?” So how do you reconcile the don’t build your crop on rented land with the focusing in on one platform?

Joe Pulizzi: So when you make your decision to pick your channel, I don’t have any problem of what decision you make. You might say, “I’m going to go on YouTube because my customers or my audience are already there.” That’s what’s great about those platforms, they already have the audience. That’s why they’re so seductive. You could say it’s LinkedIn, you could do Twitter X, you could do Facebook, whatever it is, TikTok, you choose those. At some point you have to say, “Okay, how do I move all that power that I have or lack of power with the followers that I built on that platform to something that I can control?” More than not, that becomes some kind of an email newsletter or a subscription program or a membership where somebody is giving you their personal information, their email, and giving you permission to contact them. And then you don’t have to go through an outside entity

Bjork Ostrom: And an outside algorithm.

Joe Pulizzi: Or algorithm, exactly, and you have your own business. And by the way, this is again, media business 101. If you look at New York Times or you look at Huffington Post, or you look at any of the great media companies that have been built, they at one time or another, they say, “Okay, we can’t rely on all that social. We’ll still use it.” It’s fine. I’m not saying don’t use it. I’m saying don’t rely on it. It’s the same thing with Amazon. And we’re finding us with all these authors that have saying, “Okay, well everything that I have is on Amazon.” They don’t even let it be possible for one of your own fans, your own subscribers to purchase from your site and give you that information directly. And I think we just have to change some of that thinking. And my concern is a lot of new content creators aren’t even thinking about the algorithm that they don’t have any connection with those people directly and they can get booted off the platform at any time. And that’s what scares me about what’s going on right now.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and as an example, let’s say your book is super successful on Amazon, you sell a hundred thousand copies, there’s no way for you to connect with any of those people who purchase your book. You just won’t know. You don’t know who they are, you can’t connect with them. You have an event coming up, you can’t market to them.

Joe Pulizzi: My example is this. So Content Inc., a book, I’m very proud of, two editions that sold more than a hundred thousand digital, print and audio copies. I don’t have one piece of information from those hundred thousand. I would give a lot to get 5,000 of those names versus the hundred thousand that I sold. And that’s just the thinking that the changes. It’s like I don’t care about the sales, I don’t care about bestseller. I want the connection with my audience. So that’s the different way to think about it. And that’s why now in the future, all my books that I’m going to be writing will be sold directly from my own website.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Joe, there’s a lot of places we could send people for projects that you have been or are currently involved with, but what would your preference be if we did a shout-out, a few different places where people can connect with you, follow along with what you’re up to, because we want to make sure that we do that.

Joe Pulizzi: Oh, thank you. So joepulizzi.com, P-U-L-I-Z-Z-I is the best because you can get everything there. But I have my own personal newsletter there. So if you were going to sign up and you wanted insights from Joe, if you got anything out of this conversation, sign up to the newsletter there and you’ll get that. And then if you would like to meet me in person, I would like to meet you in person. You can go to CEX, which is May 5th to 7th in Cleveland, Ohio. You can sign up at cex.events and all the other stuff, you’ll find me in the social media sphere, if you will, but I’d rather talk to you directly. How about that?

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Joe, thanks so much for coming on.

Joe Pulizzi: Thanks for the opportunity.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there, Alexa here from the Food Blogger Pro team. Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. I wanted to take a quick second to make sure you are aware of the Food Blogger Pro membership. So the Food Blogger Pro membership, Food Blogger Pro in general was started when Bjork and Lindsay Ostrom, Lindsay is the content creator over at Pinch of Yum, when they started getting a ton of questions about starting and growing and monetizing food blogs. So people would come to them and say, “Hey, I see what you’re doing. I love what you’re doing. How can I do the same thing?” So they just started Food Blogger Pro to be the place where food bloggers, food content creators, can go to learn how to start, grow, and monetize their own food blogs. So we have different courses, we have different events, we have different tools and deals for our community.

We have a community forum where members can connect, collaborate, and troubleshoot with industry experts and their fellow Food Blogger Pro members. And it’s just a really active place. I always like to say that your Food Blogger Pro membership won’t look the same the next week after you join because we’re constantly adding new content, new value to your membership. I wanted to read this testimonial from Food Blogger Pro member Alistair from the Pesky Vegan, and he says, “Starting a food blog can feel pretty daunting. More often than not, it’s probably something you’re trying to do on your own without much prior experience. Signing up to Food Blogger Pro was one of the single best things I could have done as it removed a lot of the worries I had and provided me with a supportive community and a wealth of invaluable information. When I think about the journey I’ve been on, I simply can’t imagine getting to where I am without this membership. Thank you.”

It’s so cool to see so many different experiences with Food Blogger Pro. We have tons of testimonials on our site if you’re interested in learning more. If you’re interested in learning more about the membership, what that looks like, what you get when you sign up as a member, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/join. You get access to everything we have the moment you sign up, so no content is dripped. You can just create your own journey through our content and access what is most meaningful and beneficial for you. So again, that URL is foodbloggerpro.com/join if you’re interested in learning more. Otherwise, we’ll see you here on the podcast next week, and until then, make it a great week.

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