Courses and membership programs can be a great way to monetize your experience and expertise in a specific domain.
But with so much free content out there, what do you do when the niche you want to target is already saturated with information?
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from a hobbyist-turned-entrepreneur about how to create and market the best online courses on Shopify with a membership program.
Danielle Spurge started Merriweather Council to help entrepreneurial makers leverage their talents to create sustainable craft-based businesses.
The same way you can pay for one gym membership that’s $9 a month or one that’s $79 a month—what level of experience do you want to have? Pricing is a tool to attract (or repel) people who are right for you.
Tune in to learn
- Why niching down will actually build your business
- How to transition from being a hobbyist to a business owner and how much time you need
- How to create and market a course even if you don’t think you’re an expert
- Store: The Merriweather Council (Blog)
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Instagram
- Recommendations: Product Upsell (Bold Apps), Sky Pilot, Shopify (Shopify Payments, Abandoned Cart Emails, Gift Cards)
Felix: Today, I’m joined by Danielle Spurge from the Merriweather Council. Danielle helps entrepreneurial makers leverage their talents to create sustainable craft-based businesses and was started in 2010 and based out of Virginia. Welcome, Danielle.
Danielle: Thank you so much for having me.
Felix: Yeah, so you told us that you started off by growing an embroidery business where you’ve made 8000 the first year, then grew 74000 the second year. So tell us a bit more about this experience. What do you find separates someone from making four figures to grow to an almost nearly six-figure business?
Danielle: Yeah, that was my experience. Pretty low four figure year, my first year in business, and the upper five figures in that second year. And now that I’ve worked with so many makers and have been through the experience myself, I honestly think one of the biggest factors is people really honing in on what it is they actually want to be doing and what is actually a marketable product for them. For me, that was a huge shift in really being honest about what do I like doing and what do I want to continue to make. Especially when you’re doing a handmade product, it’s really important that what you’re doing is sustainable not only in production but in your own like mental state of doing it over and over. And I think, you know, one thing people can really do is just be really honest with themselves about what do they want to make, how much of it do they want to make, and then build their business based on those realities.
Felix: What were you doing that you decided to stop doing when you started thinking more and more I guess consciously about this?
Danielle: Yeah, so when I started my business it was really from a place of no plans. I was in college and I had planned to go to graduate school, and at the very last minute, like on the eve of college graduation, I decided not to go to graduate school. And so I didn’t have any plans, and I just decided to start my business because that’s something I’d always been interested in and had been researching throughout my senior year. And so I decided to just go for it since I didn’t have anything else to do. And so I started, you know, really from this place of, like I said, no plans, and I was making all sorts of different products, and just trying to see what would land and what do I like doing. And I do think that is an important step for a lot of people to take, is just trying things and see what works and adjust from there.
But I was making a lot of sewn products, you know, fabric buntings and different sewn projects, and I just decided that I really wanted to only be embroidering. That was kind of my like the main thing that I loved to do, and it was the thing that I felt the most drawn to, I had the most creativity concerning. So once I like really cut the other stuff out, I was able to really focus on those embroidered projects and do more of them, evolve them better, do them differently, do them better than I had been doing them, market them better. It’s really about finding that niche and digging into it. I think that is really what separates a lot of, you know, these people from people who are struggling is there just too afraid to go all in on something. And for me, that was like a really huge step. So I always suggest people do that.
Felix: Yeah. So you’re talking about two things. It’s like focus, but then also focus on what you’re most passionate about. And these are certainly lessons that I hear often from entrepreneurs. I’m interested in hearing what kind of questions did you ask yourself to determine that this particular niche was what you would be focusing on? How did you arrive at that point where you said, okay, let me cut everything else out. And again, like you said, it’s a big, big step, and it’s fearful because you are essentially making a decision that could essentially make or break you because now you are making the decision to cut things out of your business and focusing, going all in on one thing. It’s a big step. So what kind of questions did you ask yourself to make sure that you felt comfortable enough to make that jump?
Danielle: Well, for me it was a matter of accessibility. I really, you know, I was doing this business thing and I’m like, if I’m going to do this, let me do this on my own terms. I’m already so doing this on my own terms because I have no reference, I have no experience. Let me just continue to do this all on my own terms. So for me, I really wanted to be able to move around freely. Whether that means like within my workspace or within my state, within the country, I really wanted to be able to travel easily with my stuff.
And for me, embroidery was a very easy product to take with me. It’s lightweight. You don’t need a lot of stuff for it, you don’t need a machine, it’s all human powered. And so that was one of the biggest factors for me. And I know that sounds like weird probably to some people, but for me, that was a really major factor because it made it more enjoyable for me to do it, and it made it easier for me to do it. And so that was a huge factor in happiness and production.
And I also just, like I had to step back and think about what is it that people are asking me for? What do people come to me for? What do they say? Like, what do I hear from people at shows? At the time, I was doing a lot of shows, like weekly markets, and I was just listening to what people were telling me and I was like, you know, this seems more interesting to people, it’s more interesting to me, so let me just dig into that further.
And I’m sure that you hear this a lot too, but you know, people often feel like if they cut things out, they cut people out and they’re afraid of cutting off, you know, the chance of making money, especially at the beginning, because it feels like the more things I offer them or people who can buy from me, but you know, I’m sure you hear this, you know, the opposite a lot of times is truer, where if you’re doing one thing super, super well, more people who want that one thing done super, super well are interested in it. So that was really, for me, the biggest factor was what can I do well that I want to do more of and continue to grow it and make it better?
Felix: Right. So it’s also not always something specific about the product that you might be passionate about, but it could be about the type of business or type of product you want to focus on that gives you the lifestyle that you can create, because it sounds like that’s something you mentioned, which is that it wasn’t so much about the product itself, but you wanted to be able to easily create the products on the go, and not every product can fit into that niche. So that’s something important to look at. Don’t look at the products, but look at the kind of lifestyle that you’re going to have to adopt essentially if you choose a specific product or category.
Danielle: Yeah. I mean and I don’t mean to make it sound like I was jet setting all across the globe, but I just wanted to be able to have the flexibility to pick something up and bring it with me if I wanted to like go visit someone for the weekend or whatever. And you know, it really, it is, like you said, about finding something that you feel comfortable and happy with not just because you like to make it or whatever, but the sustainability of that production and happiness factor I think is huge and people often overlook it, especially with makers.
And some people, they don’t care about, you know, they need a lot of things, they need to be in this one specific place to make their product. That’s what makes them happy. So whatever it is, like just go for it because your happiness is going to create the atmosphere of output really. So whatever it is, the lifestyle that you want to have, I think that’s … You know, most people get into being an entrepreneur to have some kind of control over their lifestyle to begin with, so it’s really a very acceptable place to begin with your thinking.
Felix: Right. I heard from one of the entrepreneur friends, one thing that she mentioned was that it is a huge luxury that we get to make this choice and it would be a waste if we didn’t choose, if we didn’t actually use that opportunity to say I’m going to choose to do this thing, I’m going to focus on this thing. So you also mentioned that one of the other factors that you looked at is what is a marketable product? And something I hear from other entrepreneurs that are just getting started is that they are not getting this feedback loop where no one is saying anything to them, or they’re not getting any feedback from customers, they don’t have a lot of customers yet. How do you look for direction when you are at this stage where you’re either not getting feedback because you don’t have a lot of customers or maybe you’re just not asking the right question? Like how do you begin that feedback loop?
Danielle: I feel like for someone who has no customers of their own or audience of their own to give them feedback or maybe you know, sometimes people do feel like they don’t want to give unsolicited feedback, inviting the people around you to talk to you about your work I think is that kind. That’s probably something I picked up from art school where critique and conversation were a huge cornerstone of production, but also just being aware of what’s going on in the industry or the niche in general.
Like you can look at what people say to other people who make products similar to yours. You can look to see like what are people not getting from the market as it exists right now? What do people say they want that they can’t find? What do people say to other people? I think that is not necessarily something I was doing, but I definitely do that now, you know, in researching for other things, like what do people say they want that they can’t find. Whether that’s my audience or a different audience is still insightful to me.
Felix: Another thing you had mentioned to me was that you were not afraid to niche down, as you mentioned earlier, and how it actually had an impact on your pricing. So I’ll start with the first part about niching down. I think it’s like an exercise a lot of entrepreneurs go through where they realize they have a focus, but then their next question is how focused, how much should I be niching down? How small should it go? What kind of questions do you think entrepreneurs should ask themselves to determine if they have focused down enough?
Danielle: That’s a good question. I think it actually makes logical sense to start small and then build on that. Like, I don’t know if such a thing as too niche. I really believe there is a market for every product, whether the niche is big or small. I love to see, like with a lot of the people I work with now, they kind of start with one idea and then it kind of evolves and they bring in products as they get to know the people who they want to serve and who they are serving, they bring in products because they’re inspired by that audience or those problems that the audience has or the problems that they have that they want to solve. And so it’s almost like the natural progression to start with like one super specific thing that someone likes to make and then make selections and decisions based on how that goes.
But on the other hand, I know there are people who start out like me who are like, let me make all the things and then pick one. So I don’t know if this answers your question necessarily, but, you know, starting small I think is great and necessary. And then building from there, because, you know, I sort of went from this place of like making several kinds of things to making one thing, and then from that one thing that I really loved to do that I was niched down about, I was like, well, now like the natural next step or the natural evolution of this would be to do this other thing that’s very similar to this, but it’s like next level in some way or serves the people who already bought this one thing and now they want something else.
So I don’t think you can be too niche, especially as a maker. I think people really love to see a specialty, and it’s in some ways offers even more assurance to the browser or buyer that you have this specialty and you’re really, really, really good at one particular thing, especially when you’re starting out. It’s less confusing for the buyer to see something that is super concentrated.
Felix: Right. So to you, does this mean as small as one product, one product category, or are you talking about late to start solving one audience’s problem? How finite or how small would you recommend someone start off if they’d want to start at the very beginning and then grow from there?
Danielle: I guess it kind of depends on the process the person is using or the manner, like the craft. I know for some people, there’s, you know, very specific like painters, you can make big paintings, small paintings, you know, there’s only so many ways to do something, but you usually have like a style. And so for a painter, they might have one very specific style and they apply it to various products, like big, small prints, whatever. Maybe they’re transferring their artwork to some other product, but their style is really their specialty.
And so in the case of someone like that, I’d say like, you can have more products, but in the case of someone who’s like making one thing at a time, you know, as a jewelry artist, you know, start with like a really concise collection, like two, three, four products that really go together and really build them out. Even now just thinking about what I just said, I’m like, well it really depends on the person and what their product is and what they like to do. So it’s really a hard question to answer, but I don’t think people should be afraid to have two or three products in a shop to start out. They just have to be, you know, really solid.
Felix: Right. Yeah. So one thing when I think about the makers that are starting businesses is this concept in the book, The E Myth, which is around the idea that there is a technician, which is just someone who’s really good at making something, that has an entrepreneurial seizure, meaning that all of a sudden they have this like drive to think, okay, I’m great at making this thing, I love making it, I should start a business around it. And quickly they’ll learn that it’s a whole different skillset, right? Building a business is a whole different skillset than just being good at making the products. Being good at production is different than building a business. What do you find is the most common challenge that you see makers that are trying to make this, I wouldn’t even call it transition, they’re trying to basically create another, a new skill on top of a skill hey already have What is the biggest challenge you see people that are going through this transformation?
Danielle: I think the biggest challenge is probably exactly what you said, is they didn’t realize that it wouldn’t be just to make it and sell it. There’s like a thousand steps between make it and sell it and a bunch of steps after sell it to be in business. I think that is absolutely like … I always, it’s sort of similar to what you just said from the book, but I always say it’s kind of like the opposite of what we see on something like Shark Tank, where these people who have this entrepreneurial spirit in them already, they come into some situation where they’re like, I had a problem and I fixed it with this app or this product or this thing.
You know, most makers come into business sort of like accidentally, where they just were making things that they loved to make for themselves or their kids or their friends or whatever, and people around them and telling them you should sell these. And they’re like, yeah, I should. And then they just thought that would be it, and they didn’t realize, you know, oh, I have to have this and this and I have to do that and this.
And you know, that they just, they didn’t realize and then they get discouraged that they don’t know how to do it and they just give up too easily or they give up too soon, because they’re intimidated by all of those things that make business business outside of the product because, you know, as people settle into their business selling products, I think they realize, you know, it’s like 30 percent making your product and 70 percent doing business, which I think some people don’t want and that’s why they like back out of business because they just really do want to just be makers and they don’t want to have the stress of business. But I definitely think that is the number one challenge, is people just had no idea what it would involve.
Felix: Right. And for people out there that are stuck in this phase, what do you recommend they look at in their business and their process and their life, or what should they focus on to determine how to unstick themselves from this situation?
Danielle: I know for the people I work with, a lot of times they’re up for the challenge of business, you know, the people who come to a point where they’re willing to invest in coaching or courses or whatever, they’re willing to stick it out for business.
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Danielle: Or whatever. They’re willing to stick it out for business, but they need to compartmentalize things or prioritize things and look at things in pieces rather than this one big conglomerate of business. So I usually like to suggest pick one avenue of marketing that you can focus on for a little bit and see how does that go for you. Or just pick one thing at a time and work through it, create some kind of a system. Because it’s a lot less intimidating when it’s one thing and you can create a system for it and then move on to the next thing.
Everyone thinks they have to do all the social media all of the time at 100% output. And that’s not even really true, it’s just what we’ve been conditioned to believe. I think also people compare their micro business, and in this case, a lot of maker businesses are one person, they compare their one person operation to Pepsi or whatever giant conglomerate that has this infrastructure that they’ll never have doing all of these things. And they’re like, “I can never succeed because I don’t have that.” And it’s like, no, you just have to work within your means. No ones expects you to operate at the same level as this giant conglomerate. It’s just like really being realistic and honest with oneself about what can they realistically achieve in a day and focusing on just a couple of things and not letting the pressure to participate in everything take over.
Felix: Right. I think just as much as you fell in love with being a maker, and on the production side, you have to fall in love with the marketing as well. But to your point, that doesn’t mean you have to fall in love with all of the marketing and pick everything. But there might be, hopefully, there’s something out there that vibes with your personality, the type of person you are. Or, like you were saying, create a system that makes it so seamless and frictionless to consistently show up in terms of showing up with the marketing that you’re able to scale it from there without having to necessarily fall in love with that process.
So, yeah, I think it’s important that you can’t just … If you are completely in love with the production and making, be a maker, it’s not going to be enough. You have to go from not just that, but you have to be as much about getting your product out there. You got to love that process as well just like you’re saying.
so it sounds like there’s a couple of stages that I usually see, which is that there are people that are doing this as a hobby, usually meaning they’ll start selling on Etsy or something and then turn it into a side business, probably still selling on Etsy because it’s a lot of handmade. And then transitioning to either their own website through Shopify or some other platform into a full-time business. So can you talk to us about the stages here, and what’s important to jump from each stage to the next? Like, let’s say that you are doing this as a hobby, and you want to actually be able to make enough money on the side to save up for a big purchase or something. What should you be focused on to go from the hobby stage to what you would consider more of a side business?
Danielle: Yeah, well I think, again, just being realistic about not rushing into thinking you have to have everything done perfectly immediately is a huge realization that people have to have, so that they don’t get discouraged too early on. I honestly believe that is the most major downfall I often see in people is they want to go from, like you said, hobby to side business, something that sustains, generates usable money for them and their family, and pays for things. They just get discouraged too quickly. So being realistic is the first thing.
For me, I find that with my makers who are literally hands-on making one thing at a time, or several things at a time, whatever, it’s a matter of having enough product, making enough product to meet whatever goal they have. So they have to be really specific about what their goal actually is because then they’ll know that they got there. That’s the one thing I find peoplethere are don’t have a goal, so they’re not even sure what they’re working towards. So they have to have a goal in mind, and they need to create a plan for the product to meet that goal.
I get emails from people all of the time who are like, “I want to generate X number of dollars, but I’m struggling.” And then they send me a link to their shop, and I click through, and I’m like, “You only have three products in your shop. So even if you sold all of these right now, you wouldn’t hit your goal. You need to have a shop that presents in a way that it can generate what you want it to generate. It’s not the shop’s fault. It’s not even the product that you’re selling. There just needs to be enough of it for you to get where you’re going.” So I think that very first thing is being realistic and setting a goal so you know what you’re working towards and you’ll know when you get there because I see that all the time. People, they have goals, then they’re like, “Why aren’t I reaching my goals?” And it’s like, “Well, you don’t have a business that could reach that goal. You need to do more or you need to do something different in order to get there.”
So a lot of times that comes down to how much product does a person have and also pricing, which is its own big issue. But I think for a person going from hobby to business, that goal, knowing what that goal is, is of massive importance.
Felix: Right, I’m not sure if you had to go through this, but then there’s that stage where someone might be working a nine to five, and they’re doing this on the side, it’s generating an income or a side income, but not enough for them to quit their day job and go into it full time. So either from your experience. if you had it or from others that you worked with, what about that? What’s the key that you’ve seen or what is the pattern that you’ve seen of success from people that are making that jump from a side business to full-time business?
Danielle: Yeah, this is one thing, and I know this is a massive privilege and very uncommon, my experience was very different from the experience of most of the people I work with. Where I had just graduated from college, and because of the issues that precipitated me not continuing on this graduate school path, I did have some support from my parents, my family. This whole thing was disrupted at the very last minute, and so I think people just kind of felt bad. My parents wanted to help me get settled into what I wanted to do instead since I couldn’t do this other thing. And so I did have some financial support from somewhere.
I know a lot of people do have that either from a spouse or from savings or whatever, so in that sense that’s not crazy, outlandish, ridiculous, but I never worked a nine to five job while I was running my product based business, and that is unusual. But I know from my students and friends of mine who do this that a lot of it is just not glamorous. There is a lot of hustling sometimes to make space in your day, make time in your day to put things into your business, whether that’s man hours making things or marketing and all that kind of stuff, the business side. It’s really not often that glamorous. There is a lot of work. It is really hard.
I think in my case, the people I know for sure who are doing this, they don’t necessarily have the desire to completely leave their job. They want to have their job for various benefits or they love their job or they’ve invested a lot of time and effort and money into having that job. They have various degrees or whatever and that’s the job that’s like their career. And then they have this passion business, right?
And so some people if they want to, I have had students who have scaled back to part-time from full time because their business was able to supplement some of that income. I think a lot of it is about planning and having a plan for saving and being really willing to do it slowly if you have to because that’s the safe way I guess to do it. Obviously, everybody’s gonna have different financial situations and what they need, different financial needs that they need to have met. But I think just having the willingness to take it slow and be really intentional about where you’re putting your effort and your energy and not allowing yourself to scroll through Instagram several hours a day. Little things like that really do add up.
I hear it all the time from people who are like, "Once I stopped doing this thing that was just busy work, and I was able to focus on doing this other thing that actually mattered, that was a massive help. So sometimes it’s the really simple things, and sometimes it’s bigger things like full blow financial planning. But I think planning, in general, is the top thing, and then time management. But that’s such a nebulous sort of abstract idea because we all have different things that we need to manage our time with and from day-to-day that changes, so there’s really no one solid answer to that. But everyone’s situation is going to be different, so everyone’s path is going to be different, which I think is important for people to realize too. It’s not going to look the same for every single person.
Felix: Right. So I’m sure that the answer to this question also it depends, but I like that you are very realistic about your answers, so I want to ask this question which is what is the minimum threshold that you’ve seen in terms of time commitment that is required if you want to keep moving forward, no matter how slow, in growing a business to the point of being able to have the option of going full time? And the reason why I ask this is that sometimes I will see people posting online about how they are complete … I’m not sure how they do it. They are a single parent. They got like two kids. And they work three jobs, and they’re still doing this on the side. Are those stories, not necessarily are they true or not, how much time do you really need to put into something if you are a maker and you want to eventually be able to grow it into a full-time business of your own?
Danielle: Yeah, it definitely depends on how long does it take you to make one thing. That’s probably a huge factor. But I definitely think you have to work it in the same way you would work in anything else that matters. So if you have a pet or you have a hobby or you have people that you care for or that you have to go and visit or whatever, you have to work it in. It has to become part of your daily life whether it’s seven hours on Sunday and 30 minutes every other day of the week or two hours a day, you have to make it be something that you are accountable to. But I guess bare minimum starting out, I would say probably like seven hours a week, seven to ten hours a week bare minimum.
I think people kind of have to, again, be realistic about what they put out and what they get out of what they put out. So if you can put in more, you get more, or you get there sooner, or whatever, but it has to become something that you do over and over consistently. You have to be accountable to it. So at whatever level you can do that, I think that is more important than how much time is it? It’s a matter of sticking with it and continuing to check back in on it and make it part of what you’re doing day to day.
Felix: Right. I think you touched on how there are a lot of entrepreneurs who are wondering how come I’m not succeeding or how come I’m not growing? And you mentioned that a lot of times it’s around waste of time outside their business. They’re spending hours scrolling through Instagram like your example. I think what also is dangerous or actually may be more dangerous is the time people waste inside their business where they think that what they’re working on is moving the needle. What do you see people wasting their time on that’s inside their business that people should take a hard look at to determine if, hey, is this the best use of my seven to ten hours a week if you’re doing this on the side?
Danielle: Oh my goodness, so many things. Probably the number one thing is learning a lot and never doing anything with what you learn or thinking that you’re learning things, but you’re not actually absorbing any of them. So like watching videos on YouTube that teach you something, but never actually taking any of that and doing anything with it. Or reading thousands of articles, blog posts, Pinterest, just spending so much time hoarding information to read later is one of the things I see people doing over and over. And I have done that too, that is very easy to do. Just hoarding information, never actually taking action on any of it.
And then also getting really spun up about little things. Like one thing that happened recently in my community specifically was this whole idea of should we ship for free became this super hot button issue and people freaked out. Etsy did this big push about free shipping, and people were just like, “It doesn’t work for me. I can’t make it work for me.” And thinking that their business was going to shrivel up because of it. And really focusing too much on things that ultimately don’t truly matter as much as we’re led to believe they do. That kind of stuff, I think people are super susceptible to. Just hoarding information and taking small things and turning them into big things, and also, yes, scrolling Instagram for hours.
Felix: Yeah, I’m a fan of the just in time learning model which is just learn enough to do what you need to do this week or ideally this day, and then only when you hit a roadblock where you’re not sure where to go or you hit an obstacle that you’re not sure how to overcome, do you go back hit the books or hit YouTube and try to troubleshoot from there. So kind of going with the troubleshooting mentality rather than needing to know the entire “path” before you begin, which I think, like you mentioned, it’s almost a crutch. A lot of people will spend a lot of time learning and reading and absorbing and not taking action because sometimes it is a fear of failure. It’s a fear of if I get started and try this thing, then I might fail, and then I look stupid right in front of everyone. And they stick to the safer route, which is, “I’m still learning, I’m still planning,” which again, doesn’t get you to where you want to be. And again, most likely, that’s not your goal, just to learn. It’s probably to build a business.
So because you have experience working with makers that want to build a business, we’ve been talking a lot about your path and your experience as a maker who’s made that transition, but I want to talk about the second kind of transition you made, which is now that you’ve gone through that process of becoming a maker with a business, you’re now helping other to do the same thing. I think there are going to be other listeners out there that are also in this phase where they have some kind of expertise and want to help others, help them build some kind of service, some kind of coaching, some kind of course around their expertise. Talk to us about that transition for you. What was that like?
Danielle: Yeah, so had experienced this level of success with my product based business that other people had noticed and were asking me about a lot. And I found myself, well, I’ve always really loved to talk shop with people, various business owners. That’s just one of my things I like to nerd out about. So whenever people would ask me, I couldn’t help myself. I would just love to talk to them about it. And I found myself doing that a lot. And I’m like, there’s got to be a more succinct way to package this and distribute it so that I don’t keep repeating myself. And obviously, people are interested, so I started doing blogging and that kind of thing. And then I decided to make a course, and I had no clue what I was doing when I made this course at all. But I did it, and people bought it, and it was cool. And then it grew from there.
And then also at the time, my husband had joined the Navy as an officer, and so he was in training and he was gone, and I knew that we were going to be moving and in this transitional time in our personal life. And I thought this was a good time to why not add one more transition on top of that? So I started really focusing on this educational branch of my business. And it was so much fun for me. I had spent all these years, probably somewhere between like year four and five of my product based business that I started doing this. I’d spent all this time in my studio, mostly alone, working by myself. And it was really fun to talk to other people more often and have other humans involved in what I was doing day-to-day.
And it’s also because I knew from my own experience, I had so many, even coming from an art school degree, an art school background, I had so many people who were like, “That’s probably not going to work, what you’re trying to do.” Telling me there’s no way you could make this viable product based business, hand making things. And I just wanted people to know that if they have people in their life who are telling them that, that that’s not true because, look, I’ve done it. Look, I see other people are doing it, and you can do it too. And I can help you, and that makes me feel good to be a part of the success of multiple shops rather than just my own.
Danielle: It was just really exciting for me to be able to participate in the world in this way, helping other people do what I had found so much pride in doing for myself. That’s really where that started, and then that kind of took off in its own way as well, and so I’ve been running the service space business alongside the product-based business for about four years now too. That is definitely happy place; I love to make my products and sell my products, but I love also to help other people make and sell their products too because that kind of scratches a different itch.
Felix: Wow. It’s also good that you’re still in touch with [inaudible]-
Felix: To teach to people if you’re no longer in that audience, so I think that’s great that you’re able to be a student and then also be a teacher at the same time. It’s funny that you mentioned the objections that people come up with or discouragement. It’s funny because objections always come from people that have not done it, right? It’s never from people who have done it; it’s always from people that don’t want you to succeed, not because they don’t want you to succeed, but I think it says something about their path, that they haven’t been able to accomplish that as well if you were able to do it. At the time where you were coming out with the services and the course, were there competing services or courses out there? I’m sure there are today, but back then four years ago, was anything like that out there?
Danielle: I honestly don’t know. There probably was, but I didn’t even know enough to think about that or to… I just have no idea. There definitely is now. There probably was then, but I was super in my own “this is what I’m doing, so it’s going to be my own thing,” and I did it, but yeah. It would be stupid for me to think that there wasn’t, so I’m assuming there was. I just don’t know exactly what it was.
Felix: Right. For someone out there that wants to follow your path, should they look? Should they look to see if there’s competing courses? What kind of extensive market research should they do in that direction?
Danielle: Yeah. I mean obviously in hindsight, it would’ve been cool if I had done more, and obviously in this past four years I’ve evolved my services and courses dramatically, but I think in developing any product, like we were talking about earlier too, it’s like looking to see what do people want that they can’t find, or what are the gaps, and then filling in, but really also coming from your own experience I think is the biggest thing. In that sense, there is no competition because no one can have your exact experience or exact outlook, but I definitely would suggest at least by way of making sure you’re not calling something exactly the same as somebody else, or differentiating enough that people would be able to tell you apart from someone else at bare minimum. Definitely would suggest doing that.
Felix: Yeah, I think the Imposter Syndrome that I will see from people that are in this situation where they have an inkling that they might want to do something like you were, they want to create courses, is that they will first say, “I’m not an expert,” and then the second thing is, “I’m not an expert with a unique viewpoint.” I’m not sure if you faced that at any point or if you hear from others that want to follow your path saying similar things. What are your thoughts on those kinds of internal thoughts?
Danielle: I hear that a lot from my product sellers, that they think something has been done so many times already. “There’s just no room for me,” “No one will notice me because there’s so many things out there already that are so like the thing I want to make.” My usual response to that is, again, that there’s a market for every product. There’s a thousand places that you or I or any other person can go and buy pants from, but only three places that we actually do because of however much we’re willing to spend or whatever style we particularly like or what fits us well, whatever. There’s a market for every product. People are attracted to different things for different reasons. Your people are out there; you have to be visible to them. There’s a reason that I’ll stop at this store, not that store, even if I can get the same thing at both places. Pants are not just pants at the end of the day, right? You have different preferences and things you look for. The same reason we have McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, et cetera. All these places, they have their own audiences and they’re all doing well.
Anything is possible; you just have to find what differentiates you and dig into that. Be okay with not everybody who needs a thing buying it from you. People buy things from different people for different reasons. That’s fine.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). When you sat down and either improved the course that you have today or start a new one, what exercise do you go through to determine what should be in the curriculum, what should be in the course?
Danielle: Well at first, it was “this is my experience, and so these are the steps I took” or “these are the things I paid attention to” or “here’s what I think is important, and what turned out to be important alongside ”here’s what I thought was important; turns out that doesn’t matter at all.“ Then I do obviously evolve on that same track, like ”here’s what I’m doing now,“ ”here’s what I’ve tested,“ whatever. Then I also learn a lot from my students and their questions, things that they follow up with me about, so I can see, ”Okay, this is a gap that can easily be filled in this curriculum,“ or, ”This is something that people are struggling with, let me see if I can address that.“ Sometimes I have Shiny Object Syndrome where someone asks me a question and I’m like, ”Oh my gosh, we can have a whole thing about that," but I have to stop myself because too many things creates too many things to maintain, and that does serve anybody. I have to be careful, I think everybody has to be careful about what they spend their time on and just being really intentional about where and how they distribute whatever it is they’re distributing.
Even though I do learn a lot from my students, I think it’s a disservice to them to inundate them with things that maybe are not important to everybody and this may be just important to this one person. Knowing the difference, I think, is important, and I think that just comes from knowing your people and in general what they need and want. That whole differentiation factor. For me, when I’m building something, I do try to come from my own experience and what I know will be useful to people but without overwhelming them further, because the goal obviously is to help them make progress instead of give them another thing to build a wall that causes them to be slowed down.
Felix: Right. What about pricing? How do you price your courses? I’m looking here, and it ranges from $47 for one course up to $447, so pretty wide range of pricing. How do you determine how to price a course product?
Danielle: For me, a lot of it is volume, like how much is included, what do you get out of it physically, like how much am I giving to you in this bundle. Then a lot of it comes from what are the likely results that you could achieve. If something has the potential to make you thousands of dollars, then it’s worth a couple hundred. If it’s something that’s just like, “Here’s a quick and dirty tutorial on how to fast-track to this one end result of something is completed,” that’s different than “let’s build your whole business from the ground up.” Depending on what it is and how much is in it is probably the biggest thing, and that potential ROI for the person, but then also just how accessible is it and considering what people are able or willing to spend in the audience I think is important as well. I think pricing also helps attract and repel customers, and that’s useful for the business owner too. You don’t want to have a bunch of people who only want to buy things for $10 probably if you want to have… Like for me, it wouldn’t make sense to price something super, super low and then want to deliver a really high-quality experience for people because that’s not what they’ve paid for.
It’s the same way you can pay for one gym membership that’s $9 a month or one that’s $79 a month, and it’s just what level of experience do you want to have. The $79 a month gym is not going to run a special to get people in there for $9 because it’s not their customer. It’s all about knowing who you want to work with, and I think pricing is a tool just like any other tool to attract or repel people who are right for you and your product.
Felix: Right, and pressing such an emotional and psychological lever too; it’s not logical where you can just say, “Well I spent 10 hours working on this thing, so I’m going to charge 10 times my hourly rate.” It has so much more impact than that, and I think that when you do price things higher, in my experience, I think a lot of people can speak to this too, is that the higher the price of a product or course, the more committed to are, which I think usually means the more likely you are to succeed. I’ve gotten plenty of free content or free courses or very cheap courses, and I just don’t bother going through them or taking them seriously. I think there is a commitment that you are granting your audience, granting your students as well by pricing it to the point where they have to commit and you are attracting the type of customers that you want, which are people that have the funds and are serious enough to [inaudible] throw down the dough, essentially, to learn from you.
What about the marketing side? You create a course—maybe this happens before you create it at all. How do you begin to build up the hype and the marketing behind a course?
Danielle: Well, the first time I did this, I was basically just selling it to the people who had already asked me for it. That was kind of easy, but it was never like that again. I enjoy creating content like videos and blog posts and podcasts. I enjoy doing that, so for me, a lot of it is creating supplementary content that goes along with whatever the course topic or whatever is.
Felix: This is free content?
Danielle: Yeah, like putting out blog posts or podcast episodes or videos on various channels that sort of speak to the person that this thing is for and inspire them in various ways, like curiosity-wise, pique their interest, or just make them curious about something to want to know more about it, or address one of the hurdles that would stop them from wanting what I’ve created so that there’s less barrier to them taking action on it once it’s there. If I can help people understand, “Hey, this is something that you currently believe that’s not true,” or, “This is something you’re currently doing that you don’t need to be doing,” if I can eliminate some of those things before they’re presented with the option to buy something, that’s usually helpful. Again, that’s just me; I like to put things on my blog or on my podcast. If some people had like a vibrant Instagram community maybe, they would put it there.
It’s just about knowing where your people are and where you show up best, and putting out little teasers. For me, that’s what’s always worked really well, is being super honest about what it is that you would need in order to have success with what I’ve created for you, and then helping people sort of get to a place where they stand to be successful with it.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), right. So you’re creating this supplementary content through blogs, videos, and podcasts. [inaudible] to create this kind of content, which is for marketing purposes. How much should you be giving away in terms of teaching what’s going to be sold eventually versus how much you should be using it to build curiosity and desire to buy the product?
Danielle: You know, that’s an interesting question because anybody you ask will have a different answer. I think for me, I don’t know enough to know which of those works better yet: like do you give away a lot of “here’s how-to” stuff or “here is how why” stuff, like “why you should whatever first” versus “how you should whatever first?” I’ve definitely read a lot from different people on the effectiveness of either of those things. I think it really depends on the audience that the person would be presenting this to. I know my audience likes to see some how-to stuff, but they also need, they might not realize it; they probably wouldn’t ask for it, but they need to see potential in why things should happen rather than how to do things only. I think for me, it’s understanding these people, what they want, and what they respond to, and then trying different things out. For certain ideas, maybe leaning heavily on one approach works better than for a different thing that we’re presenting to them.
I think my advice to people who are trying to do stuff like this is just to try it out, see what you can do for your audience, because it’s really going to vary depending on who the people you’re presenting it to is.
Felix: Right. Yeah, I think one of the simplest frameworks that I’ve seen is the “What and How” model, which is the free content is about “what,” and maybe to some extent, the “why” as well or “why you should be doing something.” Then if they want to know how to do it, particularly how to do it faster or how to do it the “right” way, that’s the paid content that they have to paid for. Yeah, so that’s a framework that I’ve seen.
Danielle: I guess we can call it like a matrix where it’s like “here’s what you should do,” that’s free. “Here’s how to do it,” that’s paid but low cost. Then there’s “here’s we do it together,” that’s paid but it’s more money, and then “here’s what to do, I do it for you” and that’s the most money. Various levels. It can be paid but it can be affordable or a lesser amount of money. There are different levels; it’s not like all or nothing.
Felix: Right. Yeah, thank you so much for your time, Danielle. Merriweathercouncil.com is the website. It’s going to be where the products are being sold; also, for any of the training that we talked about as well. You’re obviously doing a few different things; you’re juggling a couple of almost different businesses right now, which are very inter-related but also not. Where do you want to see the business go over the next year? What do you want to be focused on or what do you want to be working on over the next year?
Danielle: Sort of in the transitional phase again right now where bringing about more of an automated process and streamlining some of what we offer in terms of services so that they’re easier to sustain and more concentrated on the students that we’re working with. Then bringing back, because I really would love to do more of my product-based business than I have been doing in the past two years especially, so me doing more of my creative products is the big driving force behind a lot of this too. Still working with my students and being really intentional about what I put out in terms of services in order to make time for me to have that product-felling experience even more than I have right now so that I can tap back into that at the level that I would like to just for my own interests. That’s what we’re doing right now. I would love to see my business be more of a 50/50 between the two. I don’t know if it’s possible, but that’s what we’re aiming for.
Felix: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time, Danielle.
Danielle: Thank you so much for having me.
Felix: Thanks for tuning into another episode of Shopify Masters, the E-commerce podcasts for ambitious entrepreneurs powered by Shopify. To get your 3-day free trial, visit shopify.com/free-trial.