Whether you are interested in travel, lifestyle design, or competitive basket weaving, we all need to earn a living. There is no better source than Naomi Dunford of Ittybiz.com for making money from a small business. Naomi has managed to build a $200,000 a year business in just a couple of years. Part of her success stems from her ability to make great business content humorous and entertaining. Her blog posts always manage to get a few chuckles out of me. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
Please tell us a little about your history and how you started IttyBiz.com.
I started IttyBiz in late 2007 after realizing I was completely unemployable. My son had just turned one and I didn’t want to send him to daycare. Plus, my earnings capacity at that time was basically zilcho. I knew if I was going to make any money, it was on my head.
The reason I started IttyBiz.com instead of HowToKickAssAtMacrame.com or TheProblemWithCannibalism.com because there was a massive hole in the market when it came to marketing. People were giving big biz advice — advice to marketing executives at companies like Coke — and “small biz” advice — keeping in mind that the government definition of small business is one with fewer than 500 employees. 500 employees is “small”? You’ve got to be kidding me. Nobody in the online sphere was really helping the little guy. When you consider that 80% of the companies in the US are sole proprietorships, that’s ridiculous.
You have said that you made more than $200,000 this year, How exactly do you make money?
Magic. Duh. Oh, you mean seriously? I have several revenue streams, all of which come via IttyBiz. I have several products people can buy so they don’t have to hire a marketing consultant… audio courses, home studies, ebooks, classes, that sort of thing. I have a monthly membership program called the SpeakEasy where people get a class every week. I’m an affiliate for some products. And I offer small business marketing consulting.
Can you please give a rough breakdown on what percentage of your income comes from each source?
- Products and downloads – 40%
- Teaching classes – 40% (I’m assuming you’re including the SpeakEasy here.)
- Consulting and coaching – 10%
- Affiliate marketing – 10%
- Niche sites – 0%. (At this point, the income that I make from other sources makes the maintenance too expensive. I’d have to pay an assistant to deal with them, and they don’t make me any money if I have to outsource the administration.)
Why did you stop doing writing services like copy writing and sales pages?
Because I hated them. That and I was doing so much writing of my own that I didn’t have any brain left to write for anybody else. When you write people’s copy, you have to become that person (or their product) for a while, and to do it well, you have to be very immersed in it. I didn’t have the time or the brain space and it was just stressing me out.
Would you recommend niche sites to others starting out online?
Only as a last resort or backup method for people who want to diversify. The effort to reward ratio is really, really low. If you don’t have any other immediately marketable skills and just want to get some equity, they’re not bad. But if there’s anything else you COULD be doing to make money online, do that instead. Take the time you would take making niche sites and use it to brand build your other thing.
How did you initially get traffic and subscribers to IttyBiz.com?
I launched IttyBiz by donating a prize to Darren Rowse’s Problogger Third Birthday Bash. I also created a concurrent contest on my own site. I emailed everybody who entered Darren’s contest (I didn’t have their email addresses — I had to find them based on the sites they linked to in their Problogger comments) and invited them to IttyBiz. Then I emailed all the other prize donors, doing the same thing. I think I sent about 400 personalized emails in about two days. Then, to enter the contest on IttyBiz, you had to leave a comment saying what your biggest questions were regarding starting or running your own business. That gave me a month’s worth of blog post ideas and several hundred subscribers right off the bat. It pretty much grew from there.
What did you do to launch your first IttyBitty package?
Not much. I didn’t have an email list yet, so I pretty much just announced on the blog. It was discounted a bit — down to $99 from $129 — but we just kinda told them they had to buy by Day X to get the cheap price. And, nice people that they are, they did.
How important have joint ventures or collaborative efforts been to your success?
Incredibly. Financially, of course, it’s great to make money off somebody else’s list. But more importantly, it’s given me the chance to hold the attention of people I never would have otherwise had access to.
You have a very direct writing style, using many colorful (read that as vulgar :-)) words, do you feel that has helped to fuel your success?
Definitely, for two reasons. One, and this has nothing to do with the swearing itself, I differentiate myself from my competitors. Let’s face it… most business blogs are pretty dry. Mine is a lot of things, but dry it ain’t. Two, we’ve provided a safe place for the people who would never read a normal business blog. We’ve created a whole new market. Freaky, scrappy people who would never be caught dead in a suit or at a Toastmasters meeting can hang out and feel welcome and not want to throw up at all the damn buzzwords. And any time you can create a new market, you’re golden.
You have mentioned that the biggest mistake many small online businesses make is releasing a product too soon. Can you please explain that?
If you release a product too soon, a couple of things happen. One, you don’t get paid well for your time. SEO School took a LONG time to write. Marketing School took about four times that. If I had done all that work and gotten 20 sales, I would’ve been seriously disappointed and disillusioned, not to mention broke because I would’ve had to place my efforts in the product to the exclusion of other money making ventures.
The other problem is social proof. If you release a product and you don’t have a critical mass of people to buy it, nobody talks about it. There’s no chance for buzz or anticipation or people talking about how much they’re looking forward to it on Twitter. That hurts your sales, both of this product and subsequent ones. Because if people think you weren’t worth talking about the first time around, you’re not worth talking about now.
Many people seem to be trying for easy passive income and low hour work weeks, is that realistic?
Not at the beginning, no. At the beginning, you work your fucking ass off and get nothing in return. (Read this post for a primer: How to become Rich and Famous on the Internet.)
But if you work your ass off strategically, if you pay attention to your personal networks and your brand, if you basically pull a Gary Vaynerchuk, then yeah. You can do it. If I quit right now and never did another lick of work again, never wrote another email or blog post, I could have money for a long time. Not a lot of money, but enough to live off. I’d probably have to kick the pumpkin latte habit, though.
If you could go back to the beginning of IttyBiz, what would you do different?
I would have created more concrete goals. When I started, I was so desperate to just make some goddamn money already, I didn’t care what I did to get it. As a result, some of my efforts were pretty scattershot. Had I been more focused, I think I could’ve accomplished the things I wanted to do a lot sooner.