Welcome to episode 430 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Nathan Barry from ConvertKit.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Rachel Korinek. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Grow Your Email List with ConvertKit’s Creator Network
Nathan Barry is back on the podcast this week to chat about all things email marketing and strategic business growth. ConvertKit recently started the Creator Network and Nathan is here to explain what it is, as well as how food creators can use it to grow their email lists.
Nathan walks listeners through how to get started with the Creator Network and shares compelling case studies about how creators have strategically utilized the Creator Network as part of their business models.
This is a great episode for anyone looking to diversify their income streams in a new way. We think you’ll leave this episode feeling inspired to try something new and with a fresh perspective on sharing your content.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How ConvertKit has changed over the years and what it offers to creators.
- How email should fit into your marketing model.
- Why ConvertKit started the Creator Network (and more about how it works).
- How to get started with the Creator Network.
- Tips for optimizing your profile on the Creator Network.
- How to use the Creator Network strategically to optimize growth for your email list.
- How to collaborate with other creators within the Creator Network.
- More about ConvertKit’s acquisition of SparkLoop and how to monetize through SparkLoop.
- About flywheels and how the concept applies to business.
- 140: From $300k in Product Sales to $9m in Software Sales with Nathan Barry
- Follow Nathan on Twitter
- James Clear: The 3–2–1 Newsletter
- Sahil Bloom: Curiosity Chronicle
- Ryan Holiday: Reading List
- Susan Cain: The Kindred Letters
- Lamberts Lately
- The Perfect Loaf
- 393: How Passion and Sourdough Feed a 9 Million Pageview Food Blog with Maurizio Leo
- Morning Brew
- The Skimm
- The Hustle
- Mark’s Daily Apple
- Primal Kitchen
- The Billion Dollar Creator essay
- Billion Dollar Creator Podcast
- Join the Food Blogger Pro Podcast Facebook Group
Thank you to our sponsors!
Interested in working with us too? Learn more about our sponsorship opportunities and how to get started here.
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: Danielle, the owner of Businessese and our Food Blogger Pro legal expert is so generous with her knowledge and time with this community, and she’s given all Food Blogger Pro podcast listeners free access to a resource called for tools to protect your food blog. In this resource, you’ll learn all about the most essential website policies, including an overview of the current state of privacy laws and get an exclusive discount code to use in the Businessese shop.
Bjork Ostrom: And if you decide to purchase any templates or bundles from Businessese, you’ll get lifetime access to any of the updates they make. Head to businessese.com/foodbloggerpro. Food Blogger Pro is all one word to download the four tools to protect your food blog resource for free. Again, that’s businessese.com/foodbloggerpro. Thanks again to Businessese for sponsoring this episode.
Emily Walker: Hey, this is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and you’re listening to The Food Blogger Pro Podcast. This week on the podcast, Nathan Barry from ConvertKit is back on the podcast after a few years to chat more about email and ConvertKit’s new project called The Creator Network. In this interview, Nathan shares more about what the Creator Network is, why they decided to start the Creator Network, and how you can get started with the Creator Network if you’re not already involved.
Emily Walker: Nathan also walks listeners through some case studies from the Creator Network that show how creators from all sectors are having success within the Creator Network and why collaboration with other creators is key to seeing success here. He also shares a little bit more about ConvertKit’s recent acquisition of SparkLoop and how that plays into the potential for monetization within the Creator Network and some other tips for optimizing your profile on the Creator Network to see success. It’s a really interesting episode from a strategic business perspective and also just kind of inspiring to think about another way you might want to monetize your business or think about growth for your business. So we’ll just let Bjork and Nathan take it away.
Bjork Ostrom: Nathan, welcome back to the podcast.
Nathan Barry: Thanks for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: A lot’s happened since we last chatted. It was years ago. It’s been multiple years.
Nathan Barry: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: The COVID time warp makes it hard to understand when exactly it was, but a lot has happened at ConvertKit. There’s three different pieces that I thought would be helpful to talk about. One, my guess is the vast majority of people who are listening understand ConvertKit what it is. I would also guess the majority people who listen would be using ConvertKit, but we can touch base on what that is and how it works and why people should be using that. Bloggers, publishers, creators should be using ConvertKit. And then there’s two things that I’m really excited to talk to you about. We’ve dipped our toe into each one, Creator Network and SparkLoop. But before we do that, let’s take a step back. What is ConvertKit?
Nathan Barry: Yeah. My background as a blogger creator and I set out to build a tool made for creators for email marketing. So that’s where we started. Now we’re trying to build the best place to earn a living as a creator on the internet. So it started with email opt-in forms and automation and selling digital products. And then it’s expanded into the things I think you mostly want to talk about, which is the Creator Network and our sponsor network and more ways just to earn a living and grow faster.
Nathan Barry: It’s turning into a one-stop shop for everything but different from a social network. It’s really where you as the creator have full access. It’s your audience. You can see exactly what people are doing, what they’re buying, what they’re engaging with. So we’re trying to build a lot of the upside and benefits of a social network without the downsides of like, “Oh yeah, and by the way, Facebook owns all your data.” It’s actually like, “And you own all your data.”
Bjork Ostrom: Totally. And can change an algorithm that’s suddenly something that was working really well for you. You had a lot of momentum with it. It suddenly doesn’t. There’s a meta creator group and essentially it’s just… It’s like a customer support group on Facebook of people being like, “Why is the thing that I was doing not working anymore?” Why is nobody viewing my videos anymore? Why am I not getting any traction here?
Bjork Ostrom: With email and other things beyond that, building a product, selling a product, the point that I hear you making is that you control that. And so ConvertKit starting as this place of, “Hey, email opt-in forms,” but now expanding beyond that and thinking of it as like, “Okay. You are a creator. You create things online and what are the ways that you capture value?” And not always, but often convert that into revenue and ConvertKit wanting to be the solution for creators who are doing that. Is that more or less what you’re saying?
Nathan Barry: Yeah. That’s exactly right. And even just taking it in all these other platforms, you deliver the same message to everyone kind of regardless. But not everyone has the same level of interaction with you. I might have joined your list yesterday and someone else might’ve joined six months ago and already purchased whatever product and engaged with everything. When I’m putting out a tweet or I’m putting out a post on Facebook, there’s nothing that’s like, “Hey, let’s talk to this person differently if they’ve bought five things from me versus this other person who is brand new.” And so you’re like, “I guess we’re pitching this launch. Here we go.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Nathan Barry: And someone is like, “Wow, I just signed up. And Nathan is just pitching nonstop. Wow, I guess this is how it’s always going to be.” And you’re like, “No, no, no. I do a once a year launch.” And with email you could just say like, “Oh, hey, people who joined the last 14 days, let’s not even include them in the launch.” Or let’s send them one note and say, “Hey, we’re launching this now. If you want to hear more about it, click this.” Otherwise, here’s this other thing. And the people who have bought four products from you already, you can say, “I’ve got a fifth that I think you’re going to love. Here’s why.”
Nathan Barry: You can personalize and change all that messaging and the timing of it, and you can automate that, which is pretty wild. So it’s really the difference. That’s what ConvertKit has always been good at. And now we’re trying to get good at the growth side as well where the advantage that Facebook and Twitter and Instagram have always had is they have discovery built in. If you put out-
Bjork Ostrom: Can you explain when you say discovery, what that means?
Nathan Barry: Yeah. So it’s always been this fragmented market where email is the best way to connect with your audience, but emails never go viral. I cannot think of a single, someone writes that.
Bjork Ostrom: Unless it’s like an email you’re forwarding.
Nathan Barry: Yeah, exactly. They don’t go viral in a good way. I guess the ones that go viral has been-
Bjork Ostrom: Worst case scenario.
Nathan Barry: … Apple and Google are… What’s the word? Not collaborating, the negative version of that. Let’s not hire each other’s employees. And then years later, it leaks and people are like, “That’s illegal. That’s the version of emails that go viral.” You generally don’t want it. But if I put out some content, if I put out a great reel on Instagram, my friends, my followers will engage with that. That’ll get traction. The algorithm will say, “Hey, people seem to watch this towards the end and like it. Let’s show it to more people.” Oh, those people like it. Let’s show it to more and more people.
Nathan Barry: And then you get to the point that something is being viewed hundreds of thousands or millions of times. And so that’s the best way to engage with other… Basically to grow your audience. And so a lot of creators have a hub and spoke model where they have their channels that are best for attracting new visitors. People usually have one or two social channels that they’re most invested in and then especially in the food space, search is going to be a huge one. It’s high intent.
Nathan Barry: So I’m going to be like, “Okay, my methods of discovery are organic search and then Instagram and Facebook.” But none of those are great at retaining readers.
Bjork Ostrom: You think of search, somebody comes, they leave the percentage of people who are actually bookmarking something to come back is minuscule.
Nathan Barry: Yeah, it’s pretty low. And so that’s where we’re using email to be able to say, “Hey, download these recipes, meal plans, whatever else, and then stay in our community. Don’t just drive by and get the recipe and leave. Come hang out for a while.” Maybe we won’t get you on your first visit. It might be your third visit where you’re like, “Oh, I’ve cooked a recipe from this site before. This looks familiar.” And so really it’s those two sides in that hub and spoke where distribution comes from the spokes of the social platforms and organic search. And then your core retention usually comes from email.
Nathan Barry: So what we’re doing that is starting to be interesting is being able to provide distribution as well through the Creator Network of partnering other creators with each other and then they can grow faster off of inbound traffic.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. So painting that picture, ConvertKit was built originally, you being the founder of the company, had this idea of like, “Hey, we need to build something for creators, for bloggers, for publishers that’s going to be give them the ability to segment,” which means what you’re talking about, “Hey, you don’t have the same conversation with your best friend as you do with somebody you just met.” You want to replicate that in all different forms, including your email communication. So if somebody’s brand new, you want to send them an introductory email, but if they’ve been around forever, you’re not going to send them the same email.
Bjork Ostrom: And so ConvertKit has this ability to do this segmenting to really speak to people in a well thought out way to automate that process. That’s always been there in the heart and soul of what it is. But what you’re saying is now looking at the landscape, there’s this reality that you had to do a lot of work to get those people in. You had to get search traffic. You had to build following on Facebook or Instagram. You had to have CTA, a call to action to say, “Sign up for my email on your blog, on your Instagram.” You’d get those people in. What I hear you saying now is that you’re starting to think about your team starting to think about how do we build in some of that functionality where you can do that within the network of convert care creators? Is that more or less accurate?
Nathan Barry: Yeah. That’s exactly right. And so thinking about the collaborations that are already happening. How can you make them happen on autopilot? Every big inflection point in my career as a creator usually came from a conference. And not because I sat in the row seven of the conference and was like had my mind blown by a talk. That did happen sometimes, but nine times out of 10, it was because of someone that I met in the hallway at that conference or at a dinner or something else, and then that formed either a collaboration or a guest posting, or I’m just learning from them, or we started a mastermind group or something else.
Nathan Barry: So really the most… Everyone is like, okay, how can I have an algorithm that drives me more growth? And what we realized is all of the personal professional growth and audience growth comes from other audiences. If we go on YouTube and if you look up YouTube’s advice on how do you create my YouTube channel? They’ll say, “Do collaborations.” Collaborate with other creators? And you go, you’re like, “Okay, shoot. Now we’ve got to… What are we going to plan? We’ve got to make a video together. We’ve got to do all this.” You put in a bunch of effort and you get this one spike of subscribers.
Nathan Barry: So the question that we were thinking about a lot is how do you automate collaborations and make it run constantly? And so now the way that it works is inside of ConvertKit and the Creator Network, you go in and it says, “Hey, who do you want to recommend?” And so I can say, “Oh, I want to recommend these four creators that I personally enjoy their content. It’s a genuine recommendation.” And then when someone subscribes to my newsletter, it’ll pop up and say, “Hey, thanks so much for subscribing. Why don’t you check out these other creators that I recommend?”
Nathan Barry: And then you sign up. I go from there. Someone can say, “No thanks.” Or it’s like, “Yeah, I’d love to check this out.” So you ended up with these almost pods of creators where there’s one… If you use even some big creators like James Clear, Sahil Bloom, Ryan Holiday, Susan Cain, they all recommend each other. And because they’re some of the fastest growing newsletters on the internet, when they recommend each other, they send a lot of recommendations. James Clear, when he’s recommending other people, he is referring out a thousand subscribers a day or more.
Bjork Ostrom: Wow.
Nathan Barry: And so then what happens is everyone grows faster because someone signs up for James’s newsletter, he’s recommending Sahil, and Ryan Holiday, and Susan Cain. So someone says like, “Oh, I don’t know Susan Cain’s work. Okay, great. Yeah, I’ll sign up for her stuff.” And then vice versa. So what we found is everyone grows about 50% faster through the Creator Network.
Bjork Ostrom: So to talk through what that actually looks like, so you’re a ConvertKit member, you have to be using ConvertKit. All this is built in functionality. You go to the Creator Network. I’m looking at for Pinch of Yum, we were looking at our Creator Network and we can see we have 30 people recommending Pinch of Yum. We signed up, I don’t know, it was maybe a few weeks ago, a couple months ago. So thank you to anybody who’s recommending Pinch of Yum. shout-out Lamberts Lately is the latest one to do that. So thank you. And then if you imagine as a reader or as a user or subscriber, what’s happening is somebody will come to Lamberts Lately and they’ll say, “Hey, I want to join her email list.”
Bjork Ostrom: Maybe it’s like a opt-in on an email or on a blog post. They go through the process, they put in their first name, their email address, and they say, “Subscribe.” On the next page, there’s a confirmation-ish type thing, plus you should also some other recommendations of people to follow. Is that the general flow? And then you can say, “Okay. Your information has already been put in.” So you’re essentially just opting in to allow additional emails from these people that this creator has recommended. Is that the general workflow?
Nathan Barry: Yeah. So basically it’s saying, “Okay. You think these other people are good?” So yeah, I’ll check them out as well. Discovery was a hard problem as a creator. It was hard to get discovered. And then you also often are looking for more people that are interesting. You and I have been in the blogging world for a long time, so we go back to the blog role, which was this little collection of links that sat in the lower half of the sidebar on your WordPress blog, and it was just like, “Hey, this is who I think is cool.” And I would discover so many people through the blog role like, “Oh, who does Chris Guillebeau think is cool?” And you’re like, “Leo Babauta. I didn’t know about Leo Babauta.”
Nathan Barry: I discovered Chris Guillebeau through Tim Ferriss. And then you get this string of people down from there. And this is sort of recreating that of just like, “Here’s who I genuinely think has great content.” And then people often recommend each other. Right?
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm.
Nathan Barry: And so you might form a partnership with people who are growing at a similar size and say, “Oh, let’s recommend each other.” And then we’ll grow faster. The other thing is, if you go to what happens in social networks right now, it’s pretty common to have to do giveaways or something or to say, “Hey, let’s come together and promote this event together or do a collaboration on Instagram.” And basically what happens is we’re promoting each other’s social profiles, building that up. Hopefully some of that traffic is coming back to the website, sticking around on the email list, et cetera. But now what happens is the more I promote your social content, the more it amplifies that and the more subscribers you’re going to get. But the cool thing is you are promoting me in your subscriber flow.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right.
Nathan Barry: So basically the more I promote your social content, it’s a little roundabout, but then the more subscribers I get. And vice versa.
Bjork Ostrom: Point being you’re aligning incentives.
Nathan Barry: Correct.
Bjork Ostrom: And I think Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s kind of business partner says, “Show me the incentive and I’ll show you the outcome.” And it’s like, “What does it look like to align incentives around recommendations?” And if you have somebody that you know is recommending you, your incentive is going to be to promote their content because in some way, some of that comes back to you. Is that what you’re saying?
Nathan Barry: Yeah. Oh yeah, totally. And if you think about it, even in the simplest way like a mastermind group. I hope every creator listening to this has a group of people or is in the process of forming a group of people who they can rely on for advice and help and everything else. And before, maybe there’s some co-promotion or stuff like that that happens. But now in a mastermind group, you could actually just be recommending each other.
Nathan Barry: And if one of you in the group goes viral, the others do too, which is kind of wild. There was interaction, I’m trying to remember who it was. I think it was a creator named Josh Specter on Twitter who said, “I just got a huge spike in subscribers today. I’m still trying to figure out where those came from.” And it was like four or 500 subscribers that he got that day on, I don’t know, 20,000 subscriber list or something. So he’s like, I’m getting normally 20 to 50 a day and I just got 500. What’s up?
Nathan Barry: And then Jay Kloss raises his hand just on Twitter and is like, “Oh, that was me. I had a post that went viral on LinkedIn. That added 700 subscribers or 800 subscribers for myself, and I recommended you and so you went viral.”
Bjork Ostrom: As a secondary downstream effect of that.
Nathan Barry: And so it’s like we’ve had this idea of when one creator wins, all creators win. And we’ve talked about it at a high level as a business, even thinking a few years ago, five years ago, six years ago, a full-time career as a creator was a pretty weird thing. And so everyone who normalized that and made that happen, you’re like, “Oh, okay.” Now, someone else is saying, “Oh, I could do that. It’s normalized an industry. We can charge more for sponsorships.” Audiences are growing all that. So it was at a high level when one creator wins, all creators win. Now ,this is very tangible.
Bjork Ostrom: Like literally-
Nathan Barry: The more your list grows, the more my list grows.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I was just thinking the other day, I was reflecting on that and thinking about my inner circle, not because it’s like we’re in the space and we’ve connected with these people and now that’s our circle, but really my inner circle of friends who I’ve known for 10 to 15 years and their career evolution into roles that are creators, some of them just full-time on social media, but a lot of them in support of people who are doing those roles. We have a friend who does video full-time for Lindsay and doing food video, and then a friend who has 3 million followers on Instagram and TikTok.
Bjork Ostrom: We have all of these different people who you’re starting to see that as something that is existing within the world, the role of the creator. And my guess is as you do more of the work with ConvertKit around helping and supporting creators seeing that as well. So if nothing else, encouragement to people who are listening, whether you’re in it or after it, that that’s something that can happen. So let’s talk about the Creator Network. You’re using ConvertKit. What does it actually look like?
Bjork Ostrom: I mean, we don’t have to go into tutorial mode, but what does it look like to get up and running? One of the questions I had is we were setting up our profile. Do you have any tips for internally optimizing to make it appealing for people to sign up and-
Nathan Barry: Recommend you?
Bjork Ostrom: … recommend you? Yeah.
Nathan Barry: Yeah. So the first thing is when you set it up, we have this discover tab inside the Creator Network where you can browse and search for creators. So you could say, “Okay. Who’s on in food? Who’s on in business investing?” These different categories. And what types of creators? So you could say, “Okay. I really want to connect with bloggers versus podcasters, et cetera.” So I think the first thing is when it asks you what categories you want to be in, pay attention to that because that’s how other people will find you.
Bjork Ostrom: When I’m looking at mine, is this specifically the recommended for you section? I saw The Perfect Loaf, Maurizio who we interviewed on the podcast. Great site, great following. That was one of the recommended for you, for me, when I’m looking at Pinch of Yum.
Nathan Barry: It’s still a relatively basic algorithm at this point, but it’s basically looking at the overlap between the subscribers in each of your audiences and then the categories that you chose and type of creator you said you are.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool.
Nathan Barry: And I’m trying to do that. That’s the biggest thing for us to get better at is to have really good recommendations who you should partner with. So setting up that profile well, it’s just like the rest of your web presence, good photos, good copy, all of that. But then really what I’d say is, as much as I wish the Creator Network was magical, it’s not. So what you need to do, or I would say that the people who are having the most success on it don’t just set up a profile and step back and be like, “All right. Well, let’s see what happens.”
Nathan Barry: They’re actively saying, “Okay, who is a good fit for my audience?” And they’re going through their mastermind groups, who they’ve met at conferences and everything else and saying, “Hey, I’m on the Creator Network. Do you want to recommend each other? I’m adding about 50 subscribers a day. Does that seem like a decent match if we recommend each other?” And they’re forming those deliberate partnerships.In the same way that if you’re doing YouTube collabs, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Yup.
Nathan Barry: You can’t just start a YouTube channel and sit back and be like, “All right, well people will-”
Bjork Ostrom: People are going to collab like recommend my contact, whatever.
Nathan Barry: People will want to collab. You can’t hang my sign in the window. It’s like you have to actually go out and say like, “Hey, I’d love to partner up.” And then the other cool thing is the UI limits you to showing three to five recommendations in the subscription flow. I personally like three or four. We let you do five, but that feels like…
Bjork Ostrom: Too much?
Nathan Barry: That’s too much. And so what you can do is you can control who goes in different slots. So let’s say that you and I both have wildly popular food blogs and we’re recommending each other, because we feel like we’re complimentary to each other, we might pin each other in that top slot and then leave the other two slots as random rotations.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, sure.
Nathan Barry: And so then what I can do is I could partner with seven other people who rotate through those slots.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Nathan Barry: And show up kind of I guess round-robin. And that way you don’t-
Bjork Ostrom: So you can have one be permanent. And then what you can do is you can have other ones be… You could pick 10 like, “Hey, I have 10 people that I’m close with and they’re going to have two slots, so every fifth visitor will see the same.”
Nathan Barry: Exactly. And so you can control that and we’re going to build more advanced functionality there because we also want… I’ve seen a few creators do this where they have the big partnerships that they’ve lined up people on their level and it’s like, “Look, we’re mutually promoting each other.” If you take James Clear and Mark Manson, two wildly popular authors make sense that they’re recommending each other all the time. But we’ve seen creators then use this last slot not to get anything back, but sort of their pay it forward.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Nathan Barry: And they’re like, “I am going to rotate through five or six up and coming creators that I think are doing really interesting things,” and use that last slot for.
Bjork Ostrom: What I love about that, and we talk about this often is if you’re just starting out, one of the things that can be most discouraging is you know you’re doing good work, but you don’t have the traction yet.
Bjork Ostrom: But what we often talk about is what matters isn’t necessarily how many in those early stages, but it’s who. And you never know who’s going to come across your content. And if it’s good and if it’s at a certain caliber, eventually you will get recognized. And I feel like that’s a great example where you can be really early stages in writing and video, whatever it is, but if it’s excellent, people will find you and they’ll notice that. And this would be a great example of that where you might have somebody who has a huge following look and see you’re doing good work and recommend that, not because you also have a huge following, but because they want to be associated with good quality work. And I love that idea of paying it forward.
Nathan Barry: It’s a genuine recommendation. If you think of someone who’s a tastemaker, they’re the ones who are saying, “This is worth paying attention to.” And now I’m paying attention to you because you told me this is worth paying attention to and you were right. And you told me that it’s worth paying attention to, and you were right again. And so now it’s like, “Honestly, whatever you point me at in the future, I’m going to sign up for a checkout because you consistently have great taste.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Do you have any thoughts on, let’s say you are in that situation where you’ve elected to have five recommendations. So you get somebody who signs up and they’re like, “Yeah, I’ll do these five creators as well.” And then suddenly they’re a part of six automations for email onboarding. How do you balance that? In some ways, you’re sharing your attention which helps you mutually grow your following, but the potential downside of that is more distributed attention during the process of getting onboarded?
Nathan Barry: Well, that’s a good way to go back to what we’re talking about is getting automation and segmentation. The right message to the right person at the right time. The nice thing is because of the rest of the platform we’ve built, you can choose to what level you want to participate. You could put the Creator Network on all of your forms. You could do it on just certain forms, maybe a more general opt-in form, and the ones that’s a perfect lead into the course that you’re selling or the meal plan or something else.
Nathan Barry: Maybe you’ll leave it off of that that has a really dialed in email sequence for it. The other thing you can do is you get to know, did this subscriber come in from a recommendation or did they come in organic through my own?
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, interesting. You can tell where they’re coming in from?
Nathan Barry: And you can automate differently based on that. So if you came in straight through my lead magnet where I don’t have Creator Network turned on, I might have a tighter cadence of the emails that I’m sending you. I might be every other day or that kind of thing. But if you came in through a recommendation for someone else, I’m like, “Okay. You probably got recommended three or four other creators at the same time.”
Nathan Barry: I might slow down. Well, I do two things. First, I’d introduce myself. There’s a decent chance that you join my email list and you don’t actually know who I am.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Nathan Barry: Right? Or I say, “You didn’t come to my website.” So I can say, “This is what I’m all about.” And I could change that flow accordingly. And so we haven’t released this yet, but what we’re about to release is even the ability to customize it based on who the recommendation came from.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Nathan Barry: So if you take James Clear and Tim Ferriss. As an example, someone might know James’s work, they might not. But they sign up for Tim’s list because they want to learn more. He recommends James. Now, they’re on James’s list. What James can do is send a custom automation email. Says like, “Hey, here’s how you joined my list.” You came over through Tim. Tim and I are good friends. Here’s a podcast episode where Tim interviewed me on his podcast. If you’re looking for an introduction to my work, that’s a great place to start. So you have this smooth handoff and you can customize all of that. It could be a single email for each of your main referral sources that you customize. Right?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Nathan Barry: You and I are recommending each other. I’m going to be like, “Okay. With that time that we were at tastemakers together, here’s a photo.” We’re going to try to bridge that gap and add as much credibility as possible. And I’m going to write that email once and it’s going to work for me for years to come.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. Which is great. It feels good.
Nathan Barry: The point is you have to be aware of the context of a subscriber and tweak it accordingly. I would back off my automations in this environment knowing that they’re probably going to get a few others.
Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. And so in the situation where you are recommending other people to be strategic about that and say, “Not only am I going to place that in certain areas, probably more general areas as opposed to specific product or sales related areas.” So you’re focusing on more general catchall, but also you could potentially decide to change the frequency of it knowing that there might be more additional emails that people are getting during that time.
Nathan Barry: And I would chat. If I was doing a big promotion or a big partnership with a couple other creators say, “Hey, let’s all recommend each other. This will be good for everybody. Let’s also promote each other on social.” Because that early reply to a tweet or a LinkedIn post or an Instagram, that matters in the algorithm.
Nathan Barry: People will dis on it and be like, “Oh, that’s just an engagement pod.” And it’s like, “Look, if you’re making great content, it is your duty to get that in front of as many people as possible.” And if the algorithm says like, “Replies in the first 10 minutes, it means more people will see it then feed the algorithm. And so I would just be deliberate and say, ”Hey, let’s promote each other’s content on social. Let’s promote each other in Creator Network.“ And then let’s just think through, ”Okay, if I sign up for all of your lists simultaneously, what am I getting?”
Bjork Ostrom: What would that look like.
Nathan Barry: Hey, I don’t know, Sarah, why did you back off that twice a day email sequence that you have going on? That’s not going to jive well with everybody. You can customize it from there.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s really cool. So it’s been fun for us to get up and running on it and would love to… We’re excited to dive deep into it and have already seen, I’m getting the emails. People saying like, “Hey, just got one today. This blog is recommending you.” So it’s cool to see that loop working. The other thing kind of related to this, but in a little bit of a different category, so Creator Network, you log into ConvertKit, you can go there. Do you have to have a certain plan level? My guess is that… Or is it just open to anybody?
Nathan Barry: You have to be on a paid plan.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, yep.
Nathan Barry: We might change that in the future. Right now it’s just a good way to help filter for quality. There’s a lot of sketchiness that happens on the internet.
Bjork Ostrom: Especially when there’s no money associated with it.
Nathan Barry: So we started with paid. We’ll probably open it up to the free plans as well, but for now it’s paid.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Let’s take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. 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.
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Bjork Ostrom: But recently also ConvertKit acquired another email company called SparkLoop. Can you talk about what SparkLoop is and how it’s similar and also how it’s different?
Nathan Barry: Yeah. So SparkLoop did a couple really interesting things. First, if you’ve ever seen an email referral program where if it’s, “Hey, refer three friends and unlock this meal plan. Refer five friends and get this tote bag or this T-shirt for free. Refer 25 friends and you get to have dinner with us at…” Who knows what, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Nathan Barry: Hopefully somewhere a little bit better. Quick side note, that I think people will appreciate. Years ago I was going to everything food conference in Salt Lake City.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Nathan Barry: And at the same time… This must’ve been six years ago, I was hiring an executive assistant. For a remote job, especially back then, you get tons of applicants. I like to ask a simple question to just filter from 500 applicants down to 100. And I want something that’ll take you 10 minutes to answer, so it’s not like this big investment, but even just like will they reply is a good filter.
Nathan Barry: So one thing that I did is I was like, “Okay, I’m going to everything food conference in Salt Lake City on these dates. I want to host a dinner for some of the speakers. Just suggest three places that we should have dinner.” It’s a basic filter. I gave you the name of the conference so you can Google it and find the location. And so I thought it was a really good test, but there were so many that people were like, “There’s Olive Garden, Cheesecake Factory.” And I was like, “This is a food blogging conference.”
Bjork Ostrom: McDonald’s. McDonald’s, Subway, and Burger King.
Nathan Barry: I was like, “If I took a bunch of food bloggers to Cheesecake Factory, I would not close any business.”
Bjork Ostrom: But there’s so many options. That’s the great thing.
Nathan Barry: There’s so many options. Anyway, on a more relevant tangent, so with SparkLoop, they first had that referral program tool and we partnered with them on it. It’s in the Creative Pro Plan. On ConvertKit, you get it for free. And then what they did next I thought was super, super interesting is they looked at the problem of advertising to grow your email list. All businesses, every e-commerce brand, they’re advertising to get sales. All the big newsletters or advertising running ads on Facebook and Twitter and Google and everywhere else to get in front of more people, grow their email list.
Nathan Barry: So what SparkLoop observed is that there’s a problem. There’s a lot of risk in that. If I’m thinking about I’m going to run an ad on Facebook to try to get an email subscriber, I’m basically… First I have the visuals. I’m paying for the most part on a cost per impression basis, and then I have to-
Bjork Ostrom: Can you explain what that is for people who aren’t familiar in the ad world?
Nathan Barry: Yeah. So basically CPM is the abbreviation, and it’s cost per thousand. And so basically without saying is I’m paying for every thousand views. Maybe I’m paying $5 or $20 or something for every thousand views that this ad gets. And then down from that, there’s cost per click and that’s basically saying, “Hey, I’m paying for everyone who clicks the ad rather than who views it.” And so you can choose different things in there. But basically if I’m advertising on Facebook or Instagram, I’m paying for impressions or clicks. The conversion rate through to a landing page is up to me.
Nathan Barry: And then I need a conversion rate from the landing page to signing up for the email. And then I need, is that a random email address or is that a real human? Are they engaged? And so as we go from a view all the way through to an engaged subscriber, there’s a lot of variables in there and there’s a lot of risk. So I could reasonably spend $5,000 on views and not get many engaged subscribers.
Bjork Ostrom: And these are newsletters like people who are running the newsletter is their business or very much so in support of their business, which I think for people in our space who think publishing first and then newsletter as a good catchall, it’s a little bit of a mind shift to think actually there’s a lot of businesses and really successful ones. Would they exist to get people on the list and then they market either their own ads on that list or product? Do you have an example of a company that would be doing this?
Nathan Barry: Oh, I mean there’s so many in the space. I don’t know in the food space quite as well, but anyone who sells their own products and they’re going to have a higher revenue per subscriber. So whether that’s cookbooks, courses, meal plans, all of that, it’s going to… Go ahead.
Bjork Ostrom: And these are people who have… The other thing they probably have pretty dialed in is I know that for every person who signs up, that’s worth $3 to me or $2. They have those metrics dialed in because they have a product and they can see, “Okay, if 100 people sign up today, then three months down the line, I track those a hundred people and I see that they’ve bought $100 worth of products.” You can kind of correlate that one-to-one and say like, “Okay, an email subscriber is worth a dollar to me.” So if I can spend 50 cents to make a dollar, you’ll do that all day long. But what you’re saying is the traditional avenues of advertising aren’t always the best way to do that.
Nathan Barry: Yeah. There’s a lot of risk in there. And then the other problem is who are you paying for that? So if you have that $5,000 budget, and let’s say it works out all the way down, you’re paying $2 per subscriber, and that does work out, then what you’re running into is like, “Wait a second.” All of this money is going to Twitter or Facebook. I think Mark Zuckerberg is good on the amount of money that he has. As a creator, it’s not part of my job. I’m like, “You know what? To grow my business, I would like to pay Zuckerberg more money.”
Nathan Barry: What SparkLoop did is they looked at the industry and they said, “Well, hold on. You’ve got creators who want to earn more money and creators who are very good at capturing attention.” There’s no one better in the world at capturing attention than creators. And so they made this marketplace and they said basically we will allow one group of creators or brands or publishers, sponsors to say, “Hey, I’ll pay $2 or $1.50 or whatever for every engaged subscriber someone sends me.” And you only have to pay for the engaged subscribers.
Nathan Barry: And then on the other side, creators can go through and browse this marketplace and say, “Oh, Pinch of Yum. I love that site. I’d recommend them for free. I’ll happily get paid $2 forever engaged subscriber that I send over to them.”
Nathan Barry: And so you end up with this marketplace where it’s connecting creators with each other. It’s cutting out Facebook or whoever else, and the risk is way lower because you’re only paying for who’s engaged. And so now-
Bjork Ostrom: And so there’s not as much potential for something to shift with the advertising that then decreases the traffic, which then decreases the amount of subscribers you get. It’s like a subscriber is a subscriber, and so if you know, you can pay $2 per subscriber, you can set that as your payment and then you can just run it without any shifts in the earnings or spend.
Nathan Barry: And you get to set the criteria as the advertisers saying, “Hey, engage to me means they’ve opened at least three emails in the first 14 days they were on the list.” Right?
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Nathan Barry: And if they haven’t met that criteria, then I don’t have to pay for them. And you define that’s-
Bjork Ostrom: Upfront. Got it. And that’s tracked then within ConvertKit, or is there some tracking pixel that SparkLoop puts in that tracks it?
Nathan Barry: So SparkLoop, the cool thing about it is this is an open network, and so SparkLoop integrates with 18 different email providers. And so you get to see the subscriber be referred in ConvertKit and then say it is paid by a big publisher who uses sale through or something like that, or Marketo or one of these enterprise tools. Then they can be tracked all the way through to how they behave. And SparkLoop will go, “Cool, that subscriber should be paid for, this one should not.”
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. And so one of the things that we often try and talk about and really shine a light on is there are different ways that you can create an income. You can do product, you can do advertising, you can do sponsored content, you can do actual product. One of the things that I think is often left out of the equation is things like this where there’s creative ways that you can do… It’s kind of like advertising, but you’re doing it in different places and in different ways. Do you have any metrics? It’s probably really hard to know specifically, but any example of like, “Hey, if I’m getting a thousand subscribers a month and I sign up for and use SparkLoop, here’s maybe how much I could be earning.” Or is it too difficult because of the number of variables that exist?
Nathan Barry: So the cool thing is a lot of monetization methods require a big audience, and this one doesn’t. It’s pretty proportional. So thinking about, let’s see, 1,000 subscribers a month. Let’s say that you have three slots in your recommendation, and two of them are free recommendations, and one of them is paid. About $2 per subscriber is the recommendation. So you have a few numbers here. So if we were to go a thousand subscribers, let’s say 60% of them end up taking you up on your recommendation, that’s about what we’ve seen. So 600 a month, you’re referring out somewhere. And then what you’re going to have is maybe let’s discount it a little bit more.
Nathan Barry: Let’s go 50% take you up on this paid recommendation. Some will select maybe just one out of the three or something else. But then from there, if you’re making… So you have 500 subscribers a month that you’re referring out to this paid recommendation. You’re making $2 per subscriber. And then let’s say that about half of those are going to stay engaged enough that you’ll get paid for them.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Nathan Barry: That’s going to depend on the rules. So in this case, a thousand times 50%, so we’re at 500. $2 per subscriber back up to 1,000 and we say 50%. So I think it’d be fair to say if you had 1,000 subscribers a month and you’re making one paid recommendation, you’d be making five to maybe $600 a month.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is substantial.
Nathan Barry: Without having a single slot there. Now, the other factors, you could do three paid recommendations. You could go all in on that. You can say, “Hey, monetization is most important to me, so I’m going to do that.” Well, If we’re at that point, then we’re going to be more like 1,000 to 1,500 a month off of that. So there’s all kinds of things that you could do. It’s a pretty quick way to monetize your organic traffic. The other thing is you don’t have to stay in your industry.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Nathan Barry: So for example, as a food blog, you don’t have to only recommend food blogs. Someone who enjoys food blogs probably enjoys news. And so Morning Brew or something like that, or The Skimm or The Hustle, some of these other major newsletters that are all active advertisers on SparkLoop, they’re all paying 2, $3, $4 per subscriber. And so you could recommend a food blog that you’re getting paid for and you could recommend one of these other publications. So there’s a ton of different options.
Bjork Ostrom: So what does that look like, the signup process for that? So ConvertKit, obviously you’re signing up for an account, and then once you’re in ConvertKit, you can join the Creator Network, and that’s where you’re organically… It’s almost like that’s… What you’re trading on there is social equity. SparkLoop, what you’re trading on is financial equity.
Nathan Barry: Cold, hard cash.
Bjork Ostrom: You’re trading with cash. And so it’s a different bucket, and the signup process probably looks different even though what’s happening to the reader or the subscriber is going to look the same. It’s like an option to sign up. But what does it look like for a creator to go through the process of signing up for and integrating with SparkLoop?
Nathan Barry: Yeah. Basically what you can do is you create an account with SparkLoop and then you connect it to ConvertKit and then you can configure who you’re recommending inside of ConvertKit. The tools are a little bit separate now since we acquired SparkLoop and we’re actually going to keep them independent, but you’ll be able to set it all up inside of ConvertKit. Because it’s really important to us that the network stays open, and as much as I want everyone to use ConvertKit, I’m not going to force it.
Nathan Barry: If you’re using ActiveCampaign or MailChimp or something else, you can participate in this just the same way. And so you set it up and configure it in SparkLoop. You can do the same thing where you could choose four or five paid recommendations and then rotate through a single slot where you could fill all your slots with paid recommendations. Because the other thing that we’re doing is as a sponsor, you could say, “Hey, a subscriber is worth a different amount to me based on different things.”
Nathan Barry: Maybe a subscriber in the US is worth $2 to me, but a subscriber in Asia is worth $1. And so what SparkLoop will do is when a visitor comes in and it goes to load that form, it’ll say, “Oh, this visitor is in the US so let’s show this program that pays the most in the US.” So let’s maximize your earnings as a publisher for this particular visitor. But then if this program doesn’t pay for anyone outside of the US, for example, then, “Oh, let’s slot it in a different program so we don’t waste that visit and that recommendation opportunity.”
Nathan Barry: So there’s a lot of interesting algorithm things happening behind the scenes to make sure that you as the publisher earn the most and you as the sponsor get the highest quality recommendation.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s really cool. ConvertKit, Creator Network, SparkLoop. And then, Nathan, you have your own stuff. You’re creating courses as a creator and publishing content on your own site. You’re in the weeds doing it, which is awesome. So just as we wrap up, can you talk about that a little bit and then we’ll do a little shout-out to Convert Kit if people want to sign up? Yeah,
Nathan Barry: That sounds good. I’m obsessive about this stuff. This is my world. I’m not someone who came in because I’m like… I actually see this a lot in the creator economy as I guess they call it now where people are like, “Oh, this is a great opportunity.” We should invest and start in this, or you see this money flowing in.
Bjork Ostrom: Business opportunity.
Nathan Barry: And it’s just like, “No, this is what I live and breathe.” These are my people. This is what I hang out with. I use ConvertKit every single day as a customer for my own blog. And then I love thinking about business models and flywheels. And so something that I’m working on now is a course about flywheels. I think it’s a concept that’s not well understood.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about what that means? I mean, if people know that word, but what does that functionally mean?
Nathan Barry: Yeah. So basically the analogy I came to is years ago I was in a country called Lesotho, which is a landlocked country in inside of South Africa. This is in 2008. And we were working on installing a well there. And with that, electricity was not common or it was common, but unreliable. And so we didn’t want to have an electric pump for the only source of water for this orphanage we’re putting the well.
Nathan Barry: So if you think about that, normally you need a pump that’s not electric. You can think about a hand pump. And it’s like, wait, you might find in a campground or something. And that’s great for a campground, but it’s not going to work in if it’s the only source of water for 100 kids.
Nathan Barry: So what we installed instead is a flywheel. So if you imagine the physics of a hand pump, it’s this up and down, this long handle. There’s a direct correlation between the effort that you put in the results that you get at. You stop pumping, you stop getting water. The flywheel is interesting. It’s this big metal wheel that sits on top of the pump and as you turn… It’s really hard to turn it first, but instead of this linear up and down motion, it’s this continuous circular motion. And once it builds momentum, it gets easier and easier over time.
Nathan Barry: So there starts to be a disconnect between the effort that you put in and the results you get. It’s a form of leverage. And so what ends up happening is you get to the point where this flywheel, when we actually install it as well, at first it took me and my friend Luke both pushing as hard as we could to get it turning. And then after a little while, we could both do it kind of easily and then he stepped away and I could do it, and then I could do it with one hand. And then it just had this momentum.
Bjork Ostrom: You can blow on it.
Nathan Barry: Yeah. With one finger, I can keep it going. And so it’s that concept applied to business where what if you could take put systems in place in your business that follow three rules. It’s a continuous process that feeds itself. It’s circular. It gets easier with time and it produces more with time with the same amount of effort. So I guess tying this together with SparkLoop and Creator Network and all of that, there’s a creator named Sahil Bloom who I’m a big fan of his stuff and he has this flywheel implemented that I love. He’s on a mission to get to a million subscribers on his email list.
Nathan Barry: That is his singular goal, put out great content, grow to a million subscribers because he’s got a book coming out and he knows that’s the best way to spread his ideas to as many people as possible. So what he does is he has subscribers coming in from his social. He focuses on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Then when someone comes in, they hit the Creator Network form and he’s partnered with James Clear and other creators at his level, and they recommend each other.
Nathan Barry: So every subscriber turns into more at that Creator Network recommendation. Then he sends out his email twice a week and through the ConvertKit sponsor network, we sell advertisements in his newsletter or sponsorships. That’s how he makes money. There’s direct correlation to how many subscribers he has and how much money he makes for each sponsorship. Then what he does is he takes all the money he makes from the sponsorships and he dumps it all back into the SparkLoop and says, “Hey, I will pay-”
Bjork Ostrom: To grow his list, yeah.
Nathan Barry: “… to grow my list.”
Bjork Ostrom: So what happens is the bigger his list is, the more money he makes. Which means his list grows faster, which means his list is bigger, which is the more money he makes and so on.
Bjork Ostrom: Interesting.
Nathan Barry: So he started out the year like 150,000 subscribers, and now we’re recording this in September. He’s a little over 500,000 subscribers.
Bjork Ostrom: Wow.
Nathan Barry: He’s not going to pull off a million by the calendar year.
Bjork Ostrom: But he’ll get there eventually.
Nathan Barry: But we’ll give him three more months.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally.
Nathan Barry: An early rotation of the flywheel might’ve put off $10,000 and 5,000 subscribers. And now these later rotations are putting off like $50,000 and tens of thousands of subscribers. So you just watch it snowball and build momentum.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool.
Nathan Barry: And it’s totally grown.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome.
Nathan Barry: That’s just one example. There’s so many.
Bjork Ostrom: Point being with the flywheel, that’s a course that you’re creating to talk to business owners, creators about what it looks like to build those structures and systems in your business.
Nathan Barry: This is the stuff that I obsess over. I’m doing that. I’ve got the flywheel course coming out. Just nathanbarry.com if you want to check that out. And then the other thing that I’m kind of obsessing over right now is this concept that I’m calling The Billion Dollar Creator. And the super quick version is, as creators, we’re the best at capturing attention. And just a question of what do you want to direct that attention to?
Nathan Barry: It could be advertising. It could be an affiliate deal. It could be your own digital product, it could be a substantial brand like Mark Sisson with Mark’s Daily Apple, he captured a whole bunch of attention. He was great at monetizing it. He was probably making, I’m guessing, $1 million a year off of his blog back in 2014, 2015 a time without… I mean it’s still an insane amount of money, but at the time that was unheard of amounts of money. He ended up directing that attention towards a business that he started called Primal Kitchen.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Nathan Barry: And saying like, “Hey, in the paleo diet world, it’d be great to have salad dressings and mayonnaise and all of that that was paleo friendly. So let’s start that.” He uses his audience to kickstart it. Anyway, the short version is he ends up selling it to Kraft two years later for $200 million. And so The Billion Dollar Creator idea is like, if you have this attention, what’s the highest ROI place you could direct that attention? And thinking about how can you build equity in something.
Nathan Barry: So I wrote an essay on this called The Billion Dollar Creator, and then I just started a new podcast with another creator called Rachel Rogers, and we’re kicking it off with a podcast tour. I’m going to New York in two days for our first live recording. We’ve got a sold out venue there and it’s super fun. So yeah, I’m in the creator world, In the SaaS world.
Bjork Ostrom: Totally. Both of those things and those overlap in a very real way for you. We’ll be sure to link up to all those in the show notes. Obviously convertkit.com if people want to sign up there. Nathan, it’s so great to talk to you. Thanks so much for coming on.
Nathan Barry: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey, hey, Alexa here from the Food Blogger Pro team. We really appreciate you tuning into this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast. I’m here with a special announcement. Are you ready for this? Because I’m hoping you’re sitting down. It’s a big one. So one of the things that we pride ourselves here at Food Blogger Pro on is the fact that we always are contributing content to the membership. So our members’ memberships are always growing in value because we’re adding new courses, we’re doing new events, we’re adding new deals. It’s just a constantly changing and evolving membership in a good way because things change very often and new strategies need to be talked about, et cetera.
Alexa Peduzzi: So one of the new pieces of content that we’re really excited about for 2023, they’re called Coaching Calls. So we’ve been asked for coaching calls or one-on-one calls with Bjork or with the team just so many times over the past few years. And we’re finally doing it for our membership. So you can work through your specific blogging and business questions with the one, the only Bjork in these calls. So you and Bjork will discuss your blog and your business and we’ll record each conversation and add it to the membership so the greater Food Blogger Pro community can learn from the advice shared there.
Alexa Peduzzi: So any active Food Blogger Pro member has the opportunity to take part in one of these coaching calls. We actually have an application that members can submit, and you can find that over on foodbloggerpro.com/live. So if you’re an active member, be sure to go there and you can submit an application. But essentially we’ll go through the applications and reach out to you if we think there would be a good time for you to come on and have a coaching call with Bjork.
Alexa Peduzzi: So we are just so excited about this and if you’re not a member and really excited about the opportunity, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/join to learn more about the membership and get signed up right there. Otherwise, we’re really excited. We’re just so excited about this new content idea and we hope you are too. So that does it for us this week. We’ll see you next time and until then, make it a great week.