Selling by Teaching: Why Snowboard Addiction Bets on Tutorial Videos

Selling by Teaching: Why Snowboard Addiction Bets on Tutorial Videos

snowboard addiction shopify masters

Give a person a fish, and you might feed them for a day. But if you teach them how to fish, you can sell them fishing gear.

That's the main premise behind content marketing—it helps you attract and create more customers through education, entertainment, or inspiration via content that relates to the products you sell.

Nev Lapwood is the founder of Snowboard Addiction, your source for snowboarding tutorials and training equipment.

On this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn how he built a $1 million business by creating and promoting snowboard training videos on YouTube and Facebook. 

We'll discuss:

  • How to drive customers from your videos to your email list.
  • Why negative comments on YouTube videos can be a good thing.
  • How to decide what content you should give away for free and what you should be charging for.

    Listen to Shopify Masters below…

    Like this podcast? Leave a review on iTunes!

    Show notes:


    Transcript:

    Felix: Today we’re talking to Nev Lapwood, from SnowboardAddiction.com. Snowboard Addiction offers the best snowboarding training products and tutorials and was started in 2007, and based out of Whistler BC Canada. Welcome Nev.

    Nev: Hi Felix, how’s it going?

    Felix: Good, good, thanks for coming on. Tell us a little bit more about your story. What are some of the most popular products that you sell.

    Nev: I grew up in New Zealand, which is why I have this different accent, and snowboarding was my passion when I was growing up. After I finished school in New Zealand I basically moved to Canada because I wanted to be able to snowboard more. There, I was eventually put into a situation where I had to figure out how to make money to live. What I decided to do was to make a business based around what I knew, which was snowboarding.

    We actually started out by just producing videos that would teach people how to snowboard. We would sell them on DVD or you could download them from our website. From there over many years and trying different things, we’ve branched out into selling people physical training products that help people to improve their snowboarding year-round.

    Felix: That’s amazing that you already had the passion for this and just decided to earn a living by building a business around that passion. I think that’s a goal for a lot of entrepreneurs. Did you have any experience in the past launching businesses, or was this your very first entrepreneurial pursuit?

    Nev: I dabbled in bits and pieces. This was my first major business. I’d done a few different ventures, but nothing significant. I would have been about 23 when I started this, so pretty young when I started Snowboard Addiction.

    Felix: Why do you think that this one was the one that took off and became much bigger than your other attempts?

    Nev: Well, this was the first business that I really took seriously and I just made it the best in the world for what it provides. If you want the best online video snowboard instruction, or the best snowboard training products, you basically have to come to my website to buy them because no one else is as good. That’s one of the reasons that we were successful is that we listened to what our customers want and we made it really good.

    Felix: Yeah, so when you first launched the business, did you, were you selling online right off the bat, or did you try selling in person at the beginning?

    Nev: Pretty much all online and then at the start, we were selling a lot more DVDs because that was a very popular format for videos at the time, and then it transitioned into obviously digital media content and physical products from there.

    Felix: Mm-hum (affirmative). How did you promote it early on, because you’re saying this was a business that you started, and it was your first big one in an industry that you knew a lot about, but it didn’t seem like you had a heavy background in online marketing, or anything. How did you get the traffic and the sales early on?

    Nev: Our biggest traffic provider for the first five plus years of the business was YouTube. We had a huge YouTube following. At the time when I started doing the videos, video cameras were not very popular. GoPros didn’t exist. HD video was only just coming out and not many people had access to be able to make videos. Our YouTube channel was very popular and it consistently provided about 50% of all the traffic to SnowboardAddiction.com, our website.

    Felix: This YouTube channel, the business was launched in 2007. Was the YouTube channel started around the same time or did you have a period before that you were created these videos?

    Nev: Started the exact same time.

    Felix: Oh, wow, so you grew this thing step-by-step with the actual business. Then I guess the question is how did you grow the following so quickly? What were you doing to gain a following on YouTube in 2007?

    Nev: YouTube, it came down to having really good videos, obviously really good tagging, good key wording, having descriptions throughout YouTube videos. YouTube wasn’t as competitive back then as it is now, so it was easier to get a following. Just really good content, really. Having the best snowboard instruction content was what made our following.

    Felix: These were tutorial-based videos?

    Nev: Yeah, all of our videos were tutorial based.

    Felix: I think that’s an avenue that a lot of people are thinking about pursuing too because it’s worked really well in rating content of course, where you’re teaching through your blog and you’re driving traffic that way doing content marketing. That’s like the most, I guess bare-boned approach anyone can do. Video is a bigger step up. It requires much more investment of your time, but then it can provide a much more lasting impact for your customers. I think one of the difficult that a lot of people struggle with is how do you know what to be creating. How do you know what you should be teaching your prospective customers?

    Nev: How did we know? We were just teaching everything that I knew in my head. I had a bit of an unfair advantage. I’d snowboarded most of my life at a very, very high level of snowboarding, and predominately self-taught because there wasn’t a lot of snowboard instruction available back in the day when I started. A lot of it, I was lucky enough to be relatively good at teaching people, just naturally.

    What we did from our YouTube channel, then, is we tried to get a lot of people to our newsletter. We used MailChimp to collect emails. We did a lot of email marketing. A goal of mine from the start of the business was to get a lot of people on our email newsletter and that’s still a goal today and it’s been very successful for us. We’ve been able to set up a lot of automated campaigns that are constantly hitting people’s inbox, that help convert our leads into customers.

    Felix: Very cool, so these are customers or prospective customers who are coming from the YouTube channel onto the mailing list?

    Nev: Yes, initially from the YouTube channel. Saying that today, a lot more of our marketing today comes from Facebook. I think it’s pretty easy to agree that right now, Facebook is a huge platform, and YouTube is slightly declining in popularity. Today, we’re getting a lot of traffic from Facebook, whereas in the past it’s been predominately from YouTube.

    Felix: When you say, Facebook, you’re talking from Facebook video, or what from Facebook?

    Nev: Well, we have our Facebook fan page. I think it has maybe 100,000 people on that. Somewhere. Maybe it’s 80,000. What we also do in addition to that is we do a lot of paid advertising with Facebook. We will be putting up videos and we will be boosting the post of those videos and then retargeting those videos to basically appear on the newsfeed of anyone who likes snowboarding, or who likes similar demographics to snowboarding. We find that we’re able to get a lot of very affordable marketing by using the current Facebook advertising platform.

    Felix: Okay, let’s talk about Facebook, and then in a second we’ll go back to YouTube real quick. I think in YouTube and videos in general are I guess the direction a lot of entrepreneur can go towards if they feel comfortable creating videos, being on camera. In your many years of experience, any tips to provide here? If you’re creating your very first video, how do you even begin to structure? What should you keep in mind to create great videos right off the bat?

    Nev: The funny thing with videos, is the first time you make one, you’re probably going to suck at it. I definitely sucked at my ones. But the more you do them you get better. Just because you suck in front of the camera isn’t a reason to not to it. The more you do it, the more clear you’re going to get, the better you’ll get at presentation, the better you’ll get at editing, the easier it will become. Definitely I experienced that with my own business. Tips right off the bat, is you don’t want them to be too long. These days the attention span of people is getting shorter.

    Now we’re trying to make all our tutorials two the three minutes in length, whereas in the past some of my tutorials were like 15, 20 minutes. Five, six, seven years ago, there was a bit of a different mindset. We’re making really short videos, lots of action. Instead of just me talking in front of a camera, we’re always having snowboarding, or exercises showing the different movements that we’re describing, rather than me just standing there talking, so the videos are more interesting to watch. Those are a couple of tips that will probably help out.

    Felix: For someone who is also teaching, I guess maybe not in as a chaotic environment as snowboarding, but let’s say they’re just sitting down in a studio, sitting down at their desk and they want to be teaching, is there a particular format that you follow that you like to go back to, to make it a very clearly or a very approachable video for beginners or for people that want to learn whatever you’re teaching.

    Nev: We don’t have a strict format but we definitely try not to cover too many topics at one time. If you try to cover too much the video is just hard to follow. It’s better to pick something in particular and explain that aspect in as much detail as you can, because people will really appreciate if you can pull out all the individual points that relate to what you’re trying to teach.

    Felix: Got you. When you were doing a YouTube, I guess when you were focusing more on YouTube, and driving that traffic, how were you doing that? What was some ways that you were able to drive traffic back to your store, and was it that you were trying to drive them to an opt-in page or were trying to drive them to an actual product page, where they could make a purchase immediately?

    Nev: Most of our videos, we just try to get them to the home page of our website. On our home page of our website, we have an opt-in page. We use an application called Tsunami, which basically makes a landing page to collect emails. If you’ve been to our website in the last 30 days, it won’t show you that, but if you’re coming back and you’ve never been in the last 30 days, you’ll see that landing page and that’s designed to collect the emails. We don’t try to push people directly to a purchase straightaway because if we can get them on our newsletter, they’re going to get enough exposure that eventually they’ll hopefully purchase anyway, so that’s more of the strategy that we take.

    Felix: Makes sense. Are you just posting a link to your home page in the description of the video, are you putting it at the end of the video itself, what are some good places to get some of that exposure for link back to your home page.

    Nev: With YouTube in the description, the first thing we ever do is put a link right up top of the description. We also have this thing on YouTube called a card, which is basically in the top right hand corner of your video which tells you about us and there’s a link to our website there. We sometimes also make links with what’s called annotations, which is little snippets of information that can pop up over the top over the top of your videos, so you can say, “Hey, for mere information on this, go to our website, SnowboardAddiction.com.” You can put your website there. We’ve also used the strategy that a lot of people will use on YouTube, at the end of the video you put up a little video that says, "Hey, subscribe to our channel and you can find out a lot more at SnowboardAddiction.com, which is our website. A little 10-second sub-video put on the end of your YouTube videos.

    Felix: Got you. I not sure how prevalent this is when it comes to tutorial videos like this, but one of the biggest knocks on YouTube is the comments section. It’s sometimes very atrocious where people are just hurling insults and everything back and forth. Did you ever experience this, and of this kind of negativity with your YouTube videos, and if you did, how did you usually handle those situation?

    Nev: The funny thing is, I like the bad publicity. All publicity really is good publicity. If people put up a bunch of crazy comments that are pretty rude, it gets people talking. It gets more comments, it gets more replies, it gets more reactions, and that’s great. That’s fantastic from my [inaudible 00:13:14] because it can send more people to your website. In saying that we haven’t had too much negativity on our YouTube videos. There’s occasional things but we haven’t had some compared to some people. I’ve seen a lot of hate on YouTube videos, and we don’t get too much of that. Probably because we’re helping people and we’re helping people improve their snowboarding, so it’s a very honest channel with what we’re trying to achieve. I have no bad feelings about bad comments because I actually try to encourage them.

    Felix: I think that makes sense and I think that it really depends on your brand too. I think for yours, I guess you’re saying just in general it’s always a good thing to have a lot of engagement, a lot of conversation. I think if you do have a strong brand, a strong following, a lot of people that are in love with your product in love with your company, they will love to back you up. They will love to come out of the woodworks and just essentially battle back against the negativity and create again a lot of this engagement that I think helps improve things like the visibility of your video or just gets a lot more people talking about it or linking to the video because of what could be going on in the comments itself.

    Nev: [inaudible 00:14:30] yeah, if you’ve got a strong brand and an honest reputation people fight back for you, and that’s even better because the more comments that your videos get, the more they get seen. I think it’s something probably in the algorithms of YouTube and Google that if something is getting attention and getting comments, it gets shown more and that’s what you want.

    Felix: Yeah, and that make sense too from YouTube and Google’s perspective because the want to show people things that are entertaining that will get people to stay on the platform more. If you’re providing content that’s doing that, that will get you to stick around more, then YouTube and Google will reward you essentially for bringing that kind of content to their platform.

    YouTube obviously was a big success for you right off the bat and you’re saying now Facebook is more of a focus for you. Was there anything between, that transition between YouTube and Facebook? Was it pretty, from point A to point B, or did you make a stop anywhere in terms of marketing channels that worked well for you guys?

    Nev: Well, we do lots of little bits of marketing all over the place, but the biggest one initially was YouTube and the biggest one now for us is Facebook. Along the way, we’ve used the different social media platforms. We use Instagram quite a bit still. We have Twitter, we don’t use it very much anymore. We’ve done a lot of SEO stuff, we’ve done a lot of blogging. We’ve don’t a lot with our email newsletter, which I’ve already mentioned. We’ve done Google AdWords. There’s a lot of different bits in between, and we still do tons on YouTube too, but right now Facebook is our biggest focus for marketing.

    Felix: For a product like yours, where you are giving away a lot of the content for free, it looks like you’re posting a video once a week, almost on YouTube? Yeah, you’re posting pretty consistently and you’re giving away great free content, but then you’re also selling content that’s obviously better and more in depth than that behind the free YouTube videos. If someone wants to take the same approach, maybe it’s not YouTube videos, maybe it’s just written content, but the point is they’re giving away something for free right off the bat to give that value to essentially do that content marketing and then sell a more premium product behind it, how do you know how to balance it? How do you know what you should be giving a way for free versus what you should have people pay for.

    Nev: That’s a very hard question because I don’t know 100% the answer and it is a delicate balance of how much you give away for free versus what you charge. In the past we would probably give away about a quarter of our material. Whereas, now, the focus of my business has moved more away from digital products and is moving more into physical snowboard training products. In saying that now, when we’re selling our physical training products, any of the videos that relate to those physical training products, we’re basically giving them away for free that we still have a very, very big library of snowboard tutorials that we sell a membership to but that is becoming slightly less of a focus for us than it has been in the past.

    Felix: That makes sense. I think that’s another avenue that a lot of entrepreneurs want to go down, especially newer entrepreneurs that don’t want to take the risk of having physical inventory, is to sell digital products. I think one of the concerns that entrepreneurs have is piracy. They’re worried that because their product is digital, once it gets out there once, anybody can just spread it and then they lose that market. Was that ever a concern for you? Did it ever happen to get to that point?

    Nev: We had some piracy. We had more piracy four or five years ago when I feel like downloading was more of a thing. They had, when there was a lot of torrenting going on and things like Pirate Bay, but these days, we’re putting out so much video content that it’s extremely hard for torrent companies to keep up with what we’re doing anyway. I definitely have not focused much the last couple of years on protecting stuff from piracy, it hasn’t seem to have a big impact on what we do. I really wouldn’t worry too much about piracy. If people want to try to pirate your stuff, they’re going to do it anyway, and it shouldn’t affect whether you’re in business or not. There’s enough people out there willing to buy it if what you do is good enough.

    Felix: Yeah, and there’s also the argument that the people that are pirating it, I can’t say it’s 100%, but a good majority of them would never buy from you anyway, just because they’re not a buyer. They’re out there looking for free things a lot of times. You mentioned that you have a lot of videos behind a membership program, which is another great business model to have if you can execute on it and you have an actual large membership, I guess a member base to sell to. Tell us a little bit about this. I know you said it’s not much of a focus for you today but what was the plan in setting this up and how were you able to grow that membership?

    Nev: What we realized is that we made these really good instructional snowboarding videos, but we kept making them every year. We figured, why not put people on a membership so they can keep getting all the new stuff. For a long time, I think my membership must have been running for seven or eight years now, we had a lot of people paying for the new videos and that was really cool. But in saying that now, we’re getting a lot more growth in the company from the physical products we’re doing, whereas the membership is staying more or less stagnant. We get new members all the time but we get old members dropping off. I think the reason we get old members dropping off is because there’s a little bit of a reluctancy to pay for digital content these days. There’s so much media out there for free that people don’t feel like they have to pay for it, whereas with a physical product, you can’t really download a physical product, so people are more willing to part with their money for physical products.

    Felix: You were selling this membership program right off the bat, or was it like something that you decided to add on, or not off the bat, but were you selling it directly to new customers or were you trying to upsell to previous customers to this membership program?

    Nev: Yeah we’ve been selling it directly to new customers for a long time and we would re-bill them once a year. It was a great way to be able to get recurring revenue from our customers for sure. We still got lots of long time customers that have been on the membership for years.

    Felix: Do you find that the marketing and promotion behind a membership program to be different than selling one-off digital products? Has that changed the way that you market to your customers?

    Nev: I don’t think it’s really changed the way we market to our customers. How we market to our customers is by basically promoting the world’s best snowboarding instruction videos, getting people on to our website, trying to get them on the newsletter and then trying to get them to purchase either memberships or physical training products. We try to streamline it so it’s very similar marketing no matter which product we’re trying to push.

    Felix: Yeah, the last thing you want to do is to have a different marketing plan for every single product that you put out. That’s not scalable at all.

    Nev: It would make a lot of work.

    Felix: What you were saying earlier, you made this transition into physical products and it’s obviously a big difference between creating your own product versus creating digital product where the distribution’s already there it’s pretty much all laid out already. A lot of it you can essentially outsource. But when you are creating a brand new product, was this a product that you had invented as well?

    Nev: More or less how I came across my first physical product was there was a company in the States that was producing a snowboard balance training product. They asked me if I would like to review the product. I basically told the guy that I liked the idea of it and I would prefer to rebrand it and sell it on my website. He agreed to that, so that was our first physical product, which was the balance bar. It got to the point where we were selling so much more of the balance bar than he was that we actually just acquired his company. He basically shut his company down and we purchased the molds of the product from him so that we could keep producing.

    That was the first product, and then once we had started selling the first training product, we realized, “Well why don’t we sell these other training products?” There was other training boards out there on the market and the one that we sell was just quite a lot better that the current tramp boards that are available in other places. Our trampoline snowboard, which is used to basically train any time of the year. You can train on your home trampoline, or on a gym trampoline and simulate and learn a lot of different snowboard tricks. It’s based on the real construction of the snowboard with a proper wood core and fiberglass so it actually bends and flexes and feels like a snowboard, but has a firm bottom, which makes it very safe for trampoline use or safe for even use inside your living room at home.

    Felix: Yeah, I’m interested in this rebranding deal you did right off the bat or one of your first physical products. What does a branding deal like that look like because I think it sounds like … Does it make sense for anybody to get into, to take an existing, I guess a product, and then white label it and then place your own brand on top of it, or is it something that’s only possible once you have a following already?

    Nev: Definitely a lot easier once you have a following. In saying that, there’s no reason why you can’t go and rebrand someone else’s product and make a following. Making a following could potentially be more work because you’ve got to get people interested to buy the product. In our case, we already had this strong following of snowboard customers and we rebranded a snowboard balance product, with Snowboard Addiction branding, and we already had a market for it. I guess it was somewhat easy for us to sell that product, and it made it easy for us to get into the business of a physical product because we didn’t really have to have any large investment. We just had a product ready to go with a commission structure from the owner of that business.

    Felix: I was going to ask, when you, you don’t have to give the specific details of you’re deal, but when someone wants to take this approach of working on a rebranding deal with the manufacturer, what terms should they be mindful of? What’s important to pay attention to when you put together a contract like this?

    Nev: If you feel like you can trust the person, that’s good. I never had any actual physical contract. It was all just kind of trust, word of mouth. What it was is we basically rebranded his product with my branding and he would just be paying me a commission on every single one of them we sold. In fact. He actually even shipped them out, which was pretty cool. That was at that point. Eventually, when he stopped running his business, we purchased the molds from his company and now we actually work with his previous manufacturers, produce it all ourselves, warehouse it and ship it ourselves, and as a result, we make much better margin now than what we were making to start with.

    Felix: Very cool. Let’s get back to Facebook, you said that’s the biggest channel for you now. I also want to talk about email automation after that. But, first with Facebook can you explain again, what are you doing on Facebook, are you just running ads, or are you promoting content?

    Nev: Cool. I’ll answer the questions best I can, but actually one of my employees does all the Facebook work for me, so he will know the answers better than me. What we do on our Facebook page is we’re constantly putting our content, whether it’s snowboard tutorials, or photos of what we’re doing or new product photos, or just something that’s just interesting in the snowboard world, and then what we’re caught up doing is boosting those posts, which is a very easy thing to do on Facebook, you just basically choose an amount you’re willing to boost and it will circulate that post to a lot more people who might be interested in it. Specifically, for us it’s snowboarding.

    When you make your own Facebook account, you basically have certain things that you’re interested in. If you’re interested in snowboarding, you’re probably going to get a lot of our posts. From there we’re basically doing pay-per-click marketing, which is very similar to what our Google AdWords has been doing for a long time, is we’re basically paying for people to see our content. It’s predominantly videos. The cool thing with the Facebook advertising platform right now, in 2016, is it’s very affordable to get a lot of views for a minimal price. We sometimes get video views on Facebook for 0.1 cent per view. What that means is that we get 100 people to watch one of our videos for one cent, which is incredibly cheap.

    Felix: Wow, do you find that strategy is different for promoting a video versus written content or graphic content?

    Nev: We haven’t really promoted any written content. We’re predominantly promoting all video content. I think we’ve done a few bits and pieces with photos and it’s the same process.

    Felix: Makes sense. Once you have this video up and your are driving a ton of eyeballs, so a lot of people are watching it, what’s the path to getting them back to your store? Is it just a link in your description? I guess, where is the call to action?

    Nev: There’s a couple of different ways that you can do it with Facebook. One is just creating awareness, which is just getting as many people to watch that video as possible. That’s the cheapest way because it keeps people on Facebook. Then there’s other ways where you can actually pay for people to click through to your website. I think they call that conversion marketing on Facebook. That one is quite a bit more expensive. To give you an example, I think we’re paying round about 10 to 20 cents for every person that we get to click through to our website from Facebook, but we are doing a lot of that as well.

    Felix: Mm-hum (affirmative), and do you run both the awareness program and also the pay-per-click version of the Facebook ads?

    Nev: Yeah, we’re running them both all the time, in fact there’s probably somewhere between five to ten different campaign running all the time.

    Felix: For a store though that’s just starting out, and they’re trying to do some paid advertising through Facebook, do you recommend one or the other first if they are just trying to drive traffic to their store?

    Nev: Probably a balance. Probably a balance. Awareness is cheaper because it keeps people on Facebook, and Facebook just seems to make that cheaper, whereas getting through to your website definitely seems to cost a bit more. It’s probably best to balance out both and then see what works best for you. It’s really hard to tell what is working best for you, but it’s just part of the process and we do it all the time, and the more you do it, the better you get at it. There’s no real science to it. There’s all these people on Facebook trying to sell courses on how to do Facebook advertising. I haven’t looked at their courses, but I think they’re a lot of bullshit. You should probably just learn it yourself because you’re gonna learn more doing it for your own company than you would trying to follow someones program on it, but in saying that, I haven’t tried their programs.

    Felix: Yeah, I mean, if they were to follow that, your advice to get in there and try it out for themselves, any recommendation on how to test out, use a $100, $500 ad budget on Facebook for the first time. How should they set it up? How many campaigns, how many ads should they be running, what’s your advice on having a $500 budget so spend on Facebook?

    Nev: If I had a $500 budget, I’d keep it simple. Just run a couple of campaigns and see what results you can get. So, maybe run two different campaigns that convert people to your website, see which one performed better, and run two different campaigns that just get awareness, and see which one gets better. Then the one that gets better, if you’ve got more money, park it on to that. But if you try to run 10 or 20 campaigns on 500 bucks, you’re going to drive yourself crazy because you’re not going to be able to analyze the results good enough, so just keep it simple and try to find a measurable result with how much it’s costing you. It’s very easy to set different budgets with Facebook, so if you’ve only got 500 bucks to spend, it’s very easy to set that limit and it won’t go over the limit that you set.

    Felix: For you, when you first started running these ads on Facebook, or your team started running these ads on Facebook, were they profitable right off the bat or did you have to learn and kind of go into the red for a bit.

    Nev: It’s quite hard to know because we were running a profitable business before we ever started advertising to Facebook, but now that we’re spending more money on Facebook we’re definitely getting more sales. But it’s hard to attribute that to exactly a Facebook sale. Because, for example, someone might watch one of my videos on Facebook and go to my website, but it might be six months down the road before they purchase. When they purchase it’s hard to attribute to that, that they found it from Facebook, but really they did find it from Facebook. When you have a business, the more people that you get to your website, eventually the more people are going to purchase, so one of the goals that we have is just to get as much targeted traffic to our site as possible and as long as you got a good product and good pricing and good customer service and you’ve got something people want to buy, then eventually, more traffic equals more sales.

    Felix: Makes sense. Once they get to your site on Facebook, are you driving them to a product page, or still trying to get them to that home page so they eventually make it onto the email list?

    Nev: We start off trying to get them to the home page and then from the home page, depending what they’re looking for, we have a bunch of free listens on our website that will teach them various aspects of snowboarding for free. Then, if they’re trying to find the products, they are just going to have to navigate over the top of the products to find them.

    Felix: Okay, you mentioned before that the email list, the automation that you have going is one of the keys to success for your business and your marketing. Can you say a little bit more about this? What kind of automation are you doing?

    Nev: We’ve been using email automations for a long time with MailChimp. Basically when someone joins our newsletter, we a series of emails that will go out to them for about two years. I think it sends out an email once every two weeks for about two years on different stuff on our business. There’s some discount emails, there’s some introducing different products, giving out some free videos, some free lessons. There’s a bunch of stuff, but what that does it just always keeps Snowboard Addiction in the back of their mind. When they’re on the newsletter, they also get our regular newsletters, which are about once a week or once every second week. The automations have been pretty strong for us for a long time and definitely helped convert sales.

    Felix: Mm-hum (affirmative). What are you sending to them? You said, every two weeks for two years, is that 48 emails that you are sending out or I guess in that entire funnel. How do you break that down, how do you know what to be sending them at which times?

    Nev: It’s mostly we only send out stuff that is good value stuff, like, for example, a good lesson that’s going to teach them something about snowboarding or something about back country safety. Something talking about the mountains. Things that snowboarders are interested, or then we’ve got a couple of ones that are like sales, that is just timed on based on when they joined the newsletter. All sorts of stuff, really.

    Felix: You basically set this up and it just runs on its own. You don’t touch your email, pretty much at all, your only job is to find way to drive people into that email list?

    Nev: Correct, we review it once every six months or so, we go through and touch things up and change a few things, but in general, we just let it run.

    Felix: Very cool, I think that’s a way to set up a business. If you want to free up your time in such a high-converting medium like email, if you can automate it, your job becomes way easier, because all you have to do is just get focused on getting people into the list and then your automation handles the rest of it. Can you give an idea of how large the email list is at this time, how much has it grown over the last I guess over almost 10 years now?

    Nev: At the moment we have over 45,000 on our email list.

    Felix: That’s awesome. Do you find, I’ve always heard about, especially with email list, that they can get stale over time. Do you find that happening. How much time do you have to convert somebody before they become a stale lead?

    Nev: I don’t know the answer to that question, but we definitely every now and then we will go through the email list and clean it up. If people haven’t opened an email in a couple of years, we delete them off the list type thing, because there’s no point in having 100,000 people on your email list if they’re not opening our emails.

    Felix: Makes sense. One thing that I noticed when I went to your site, just to give an idea of the date, it’s November 19th today when we’re doing this call, so before Black Friday, I see an opt-in, that says, “Would you like access to our Black Friday deals?” In clicking on that, get me to the opt-in page. Do you guys change this up depending on the time of year or what you’re trying to do, in terms of how to entice people, incentive people how to joint that list?

    Nev: Yes, we do we change it up every now and then. The guys right now in my office have basically got a bunch of specials going on for Black Friday, especially for people on the newsletter, but also for the public on Black Friday. The newsletter subscribers get a little bit of early access to the Black Friday specials.

    Felix: One thing that you mentioned in the pre-interview questionnaire, I guess, was that you want to make sure that people or entrepreneurs keep on top of their accounting and always make sure to keep the revenue higher than expense. This obviously sounds very straightforward, but also a very big challenge for entrepreneurs. I think one of the big issues is how to keep track of all that, how to manage all that. Do you have a system in place of how to keep track of all the revenue and expenses that are coming in and out of the company.

    Nev: Yeah, we’ve got lots of systems for accounting. In fact, we have lots of systems for the business in general. Everything we try to do for the entire business, we basically try to write a manual around it which says who’s doing it, why are we doing it, when are we doing it, how often are we doing it. Et cetera. With accounting, we have that. I do a lot of the bookkeeping for the business myself just because I really like to keep on top of the accounting. Other than our actual accounting manual, we’re using an accounting program called Xero, which is spelled, X-E-R–0. We moved to that accounting program just over a year ago and it’s really been awesome. It’s been a hell of a lot better than the previous accounting program we used.

    It’s much easier for us to keep on track of our revenue and expenses, especially because my business, we sell predominantly in U.S. dollars but we’re based in Canada, so we’re constantly dealing in two currencies, which makes it a little bit more complicated. With my new accounting program, it’s been a lot easier to deal with multi-currencies, and also inventory. Now that we’re selling physical products, there’s a lot more accounting for inventory. How much are you spending in inventory. Forecasting how much are you going to need. How much are you holding, how much are you selling. We set up systems that have helped us be able to maintain and control that aspect of the business.

    Felix: Yeah, I think one of the struggles too is identifying what expenses are actually necessary versus just nice to have. How do you make sure that you’re investing in the business appropriately. Because you do need to spend money to make some money, but how do you know what you should actually be spending your money on?

    Nev: We try to keep it super lean. We don’t really spend money on anything unless we have to. I’m pretty, I mean I guess I’m a little bit frugal with how we spend money. We won’t go and add a bunch of different software if we don’t need it, but if it’s something that we’re going to use and it’s going to help the business, then we’ll definitely add it.

    Felix: Based on your experiences of almost 10 years in business and probably seeing and talking to other entrepreneurs, do you notice any common mistakes that that other entrepreneurs make with their accounting or spending?

    Nev: I think a lot of people try to avoid their accounting or hand it off to other people. But I’m saying that I think it’s very important to understand how it works and to be on top of it yourself, because it really helps you make a lot better decisions for your business if you understand it. If you’re handing off all your accounting to a bookkeeper and accountant, how much are you meeting with them to keep on track of it. Are they keeping you up to date with where you’re at? Because, the money that’s sitting in your bank is not always the money that you’re making. You could be a lot more profitable than your bank’s showing or you could be a lot less profitable than what your bank’s showing.

    Felix: I’m sure all this accounting and all this careful attention to revenue expense has helped a lot because you made an appearance on Dragon’s Den, so I’m assuming they wanted to know a lot about these details as well. Tell us about your experience on there. Maybe start off with what you were looking for when you first came on the show.

    Nev: When we went on the show, we went in trying to get $100,000 for 10% of the business and we did get several offers from the Dragons, and we ended up doing a deal on TV with Michele Romano for $100,000 for 15% of the business. In saying that, in real life, we decided not to go through with the deal. It didn’t work out in the due diligence period between the two of us, and it didn’t work out to be an investment worth doing for either of us. In saying that, we got great publicity from being on the show and it was a cool experience as well. If you’re ever going to be going on anything like Dragon’s Den, or pitching to any investors at all, you better know your numbers really well. I did know my numbers really well, which was why I was able to get several offers in the Dragon’s Den and that all comes down to accounting. People are going to rip your business apart real quick if you don’t know your numbers. That’s what accounting is.

    Felix: What did you want the money for, the $100,000?

    Nev: It was mainly for new stock and inventory. When you get into physical products, you have to spend a lot more money on having stock. In saying that, we weren’t desperate, so it didn’t matter to us that we didn’t get a deal. It would have been really … I mean I would have loved to have a Dragon on board just for the growth potential of having a Dragon on board. You know what, it wasn’t critical for our business either way.

    Felix: Got you. Do you remember what the after-effects were of the airing of the show in terms of revenue or traffic that was coming to your site after being featured on a television show like that?

    Nev: We definitely got a decent bump, but the reality was is that Dragon’s Den is only a Canadian TV show, and my business is international. In fact, 90% of our sales is outside of Canada. The bump was a very small portion because 10% of the business is Canadian. It didn’t affect us like in a way as if you’re a 100% a Canadian business, and then you had on the Canadian TV show, you would get a much more proportionate bump than what we got.

    Felix: Got you. In almost 10 years of business now, and great success. Can you give us an idea of how successful the business is today?

    Nev: Yeah, so we just come off our most successful year ever, and we are now producing around just under $1 million in revenue and running at about a 25% profit margin, so around $250,000 in profit on the $1 million in revenue.

    Felix: Very cool. What do you have planned for the future of the business, of the brand. Where do you want to see Snowboard Addiction go in the next year?

    Nev: Right now, we’re working on a few new products. We’re working on some variations of our balance bar, which make it even more realistic for snowboard training, and we’re also prototyping some training skis right now, which are trampoline skis, and the prototype we have is extremely fun. We’re trying to push that product out to the market as soon as we can. We’re pretty excited about that.

    Felix: Awesome. Thanks so much for your time, Nev. So, SnowboardAddiction.com again is the website. Anywhere else you recommend our listeners go and check out if they want to follow along what you guys are up to?

    Nev: If you want to follow along what we’re up to, the best way is actually to get on our newsletter, which they can get on just at SnowboardAddiction.com and also our Facebook page. We do a ton of stuff on our Facebook page.

    Felix: Cool. Well, [inaudible 00:43:44] Thanks again Nev.

    Nev: No problems thanks so much, Felix.

    Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today visit shopify.com/masters, to claim your 30-day trial.


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    About the Author

    Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs, and founder of TrafficAndSales.com where you can get actionable tips to grow your store’s traffic and sales.

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