How Cole Humphus Turned His Photography Side Hustle Into a $1 Million+ Profit Per Year Website

Today’s guest on the Niche Pursuits podcast is Cole Humphus.

Cole’s story is inspiring, exciting, and somewhat unique. He’s here today to talk about his side hustle and highlight the steps he took to scale the company into a multi-million dollar business with a relatively small team.

Cole’s blog was a content site in the photography niche, totally unrelated to his education and job in corporate finance. And yet he turned it into a full-time income and thriving business making 7 figures per year.

He eventually sold the business to a software company and now advises entrepreneurs on how to scale revenue rapidly without sacrificing their lifestyle or profits.

Cole talks in detail about his strategy to build the blog, which involved content marketing, paid ads and utilizing an email business funnel. He also discusses how he used tutorials and started a membership community to grow his revenue.

During the chat, Cole offers advice on how website owners can add additional revenue streams depending on their traffic and niche — so that you’re not leaving money on the table!

And it’s good to listen to what Cole has to say in this regard.

The talk concludes with a brief chat about Rapid Scale Group (Cole’s latest business) including what it does, and how it can help you.

SOME OF THE OTHER THINGS DISCUSSED DURING THE CHAT INCLUDE:

  • How a conversation with a friend caused his jaw to drop and inspired him to teach his skills online
  • Building an audience through content
  • Making $135,000 in the first year selling courses on the blog
  • What Ryan Deiss said to him to change his life
  • How he scaled the blog to reach seven figures PROFIT for multiple years
  • The importance of not just relying on organic traffic
  • Using and scaling paid ads
  • Building a brand
  • How to best serve the visitors to your website
  • Tactics to get leads to use Facebook messenger and email.
  • Advising Jared (our host) on what to do with a cleaning blog to increase revenue online (A role play dummy experiment during the call)
  • What’s working with paid ads today
  • Leveraging other experts to help with business growth

Listening to what Cole had to say was inspiring and educational — sit back, take notes, and enjoy this excellent episode.

LINKS AND RESOURCES:

This Episode is Sponsored by: Ahrefs & Surfer SEO

Watch the full interview:



Read the full transcription:

Jared: Welcome back to the niche pursuits podcast. My name is Jared Bauman. Today. We are joined by Cole. Memphis.

Cole: Hey Jared. What’s up, man.

Jared: Good to have you. It’s pretty fun because we have a really fun success story that we’re going to talk through today. You’re a colleague of mine turned friend of mine.

Now I’ve been privileged to, you know, kind of be alongside you in terms of just getting to watch this success story unfold here. We live in the, in the same area. So I’m really excited to have you on the podcast because I know some of the details about your story pretty well. And it’s just such a fun and wonderful a business you’ve grown.

So I want you to give us a little background on yourself. Tell us what where you got started in business and then where you ended 

Cole: up at today. Yeah, yeah. And, and yes, this will be an awesome time. It’s always fun when we chit chat. So the only difference is now we get to share the fun with everyone who’s listening and that’s always really fun to sort of help inspire and motivate.

So, yeah, that’s such a loaded question. When anyone asks, like, tell me the backstory cause I, and I, over the years I’ve [00:01:00] had, I’ve gotten practice of making it as succinct as possible. So I guess where I should start is I was, I worked in corporate finance and. I would always sort of just like dream of like being an entrepreneur and not mostly.

So I didn’t have to work a day job. Right. And one day I had what I thought was the best idea in the world, which was to become a wedding photographer. And the reason why it was the best idea in the world was we live in expensive California. And this was a job I could do on the side of my Monday through Friday weddings on the weekends.

And so I taught myself photography and I started making money doing weddings three years into that on a photo shoot with a friend, I knew he had an online business and I asked him about that online business and his words were something to the effect of I’m crushing it. And I said, well, what do you mean?

Are you just like running ads on your website crush? [00:02:00] Because he had said, he’s making, like he says, no, I do these online summits and I’ve done three this year and everyone’s done six figures. Of course, at the time I was making $48,000 a year in my corporate finance job and work in the weekends as a wedding photographer.

And I’m like, jaw drop moment, like, wow, this multiple six figures here. So I said, I should teach photography online. And he was like, oh yeah, you should. And that was the end of that months went by and lo and behold, I actually did start. And the way I started was a YouTube channel. I had a, I had a WordPress blog and it was called Cole’s classroom.

And I had a YouTube channel and I want to say, my first video was September 29th 2012, I think on YouTube, maybe 15, but it’s funny. Cause I still look back and that video actually, it’s no longer there. That’s a whole nother story, but when the video and the channel where they. That video was the number one thing that got [00:03:00] ranked.

And I looked so scared, like scared shitless. I accidentally cropped the aspect ratio on video is different than photography. And I cropped out the, my forehead and I was so scared, but yet it got over like 150,000 views and it was about me just sharing my wedding gear equipment, but to fast forward a little bit.

I mean, that’s how it got started was literally just my own internal motivation drive and inspiration to do something bigger, something online, everyone who wants to do something online because we all think it’s passive. We think it’s easy. Those of us who’ve been around long enough. We know it’s not ever really past.

Unless you’ve already put years and years and years of active work, then maybe you get some bits and pieces that are passive. But I grew that company over the next seven or so years when it was under my leadership. And then I took it from zero to 10,000 monthly members at $49 a month. And I sold it to a software company.

[00:04:00] So that’s the, I don’t want to take up any more of our time on backstory, but that is, and it was a fun ride. So you 

Jared: took this, you started a, a wedding photography business. As a side project for your day job. And then you started a website and you know, classroom style tutorial website for for, for photographers as a side project here, wedding photography.

Did you ever think the way w when you started the wedding? As a, as a corporate finance day job. Did you think that even thought your business was going to replace that? Was that your aspiration or was it always just something you wanted to do on the side just as kind of scratch that 

Cole: itch? Yeah. Yeah.

That’s such a great question. I mean, it was never, ever meant to replace the full-time job. And conversely, when I started the blog, which then became a kind of business, you know, and I think now it’s easy to just to distinguish the two, even that was sort of [00:05:00] just like, oh, this is great. You know, we’re making 50 K and at the time, you know, the 50 K salary turned into 60 over the next handful of years to 70 or whatever.

And then, you know, making 50 or 60 from doing weddings as a sort of a side hustle we were doing okay, I mean, you know, we weren’t like gonna retire early California. You aren’t exactly right. But then when we also added in the first year that we tried to make money with Cole’s classroom, which was, I believe well, the first year, all I did was put content out and I know everyone who’s listening here.

Do they understand the value of SEO and content marketing? You know, so all I did, I didn’t even try to make a buck. It was all about building an audience through my own content. And I would wake up in the morning at like four 30 or five before going to the gym before waiting in traffic and sitting in the car, go to work and I would make a new tutorial.

I, [00:06:00] and I would, sometimes it would only be for YouTube. Sometimes it would only be a blog post. Sometimes it’d be both. A lot of times when I got smarter, I would then look at the better performing blog posts and then add in a video. But the real fun happened when. I started to get some articles ranked on SEO.

And that was really what opened the door into us making real money. And by real money, it was going from just being a content site with no monetization to make it 135,000. In that first year that we started launching courses, there was no ads, it was just our own courses. 

Jared: I really want to get into the details about how you grew this, this this website and really this brand so fast.

And it’s such a large, you know, a monthly number in terms of revenue, whatever you’re comfortable with though, just so people can kind of understand where the, where the business got to, whenever you’re comfortable sharing, what is, you know, what kind of numbers did you end up doing towards the tail end of you owning the business?[00:07:00] 

What, you know, what kind of number valuation did you get when you sold the business? 

Cole: Yeah. You know, it’s a lot of uh, some of it’s on my website. So, so I’m, I’m more than happy to, to regurgitate some of that. The evaluation will be trickier to give specifics, but essentially we went from a hundred, I guess.

Let’s, let’s just talk high level. Cause I know a lot of, there’s probably a lot of people who are listening, who are only focused on SEO content or SEO traffic, right. Traffic from Google organic versus paid, like with just all of the, not all of the years, but the year, year and a half of me, audience building and organic content marketing and YouTube and all NSC taking whatever SEO I can get kind of thing that got me that first $135,000 for the year.

And that was from, for the most part one and a half. It’s kind of two products that I created. I finally, at that point, decided that it was [00:08:00] time for us to leave our day jobs and in doing so when I went to. Marketing conference. There was something that was told to me or told rather on stage, not to me, I was one of thousands in the audience and it was by now my friend, Ryan dies too for a long time.

I didn’t know this guy, but he became my mentor and now a friend, but he said something that changed my life, which was, you know, a lot of people come to me and they say, they have a traffic problem. I need more traffic. I need more traffic. But I say, there’s no such thing as a traffic problem, you just have to go to the traffic store and buy it.

And the traffic store is Facebook or Google or YouTube or at the time, you know, Pinterest. And now of course there’s Tik TOK and all these other things. And I was like, wow. Okay. That makes sense. Like I already, at that point, knew my metrics. I knew that, Hey, for every on average, at the time I can almost regurgitate it four and a half percent of the traffic that hit my, [00:09:00] one of my products, my best line products.

So, therefore I knew how much my effective earnings per click were. So if I could just get a cost per click cheaper than my earnings per click, then I can just to some extent, infinitely scale. And it’s good that I’m saying that now to now it’ll make more sense with how I was able to then the next year go from 130 grand, 1 35 to 1.5 million and then doubled it again to three.

And then I changed the entire business model, went to membership. Some of which was from a breakfast that you and I had. And I still remember where we were. And we were, I was sort of at a crossroads. Do I keep doing these, these all a cart products or do I go into a membership? Is absolutely a much harder thing to scale and sell.

I did. I went all in, so that year was sort of a transition year. I then made the business. I grew it again another 50% year over year. And then we got [00:10:00] acquired. What I’m comfortable sharing is we had for multiple years you know, seven figure profits. I mean, these were, this was not like one of these e-com physical product businesses that did like, you know, 10 million in sales.

And they were left with like 800 K in profit because I mean, anyone can, or a software company that’s doing for years, you know, multiple seven figures, even eight figures in, and they’re still not profitable. Like this was a highly profitable business. That was the rapid scale was fueled by not only relying on organic traffic and that’s the distinction organic.

But organic gets hard to have a lever to pull. 

Jared: Well, let’s talk, that’s really where I think we can get a lot of value today, because like you said, the audience that listens to the niche pursuits podcasts are pretty much all website builders in some capacity, [00:11:00] or at least using a website to, to, to, to fuel their business growth.

But so many of us, and I’ll speak for myself here as well, rely on a couple of different levers for revenue, right? We we’ll typically rely heavily on organic search traffic and maybe not dive into paid as much. And then a lot of people rely on either affiliate income or. Advertising income as the primary bulk of their revenue for their site.

What you did was took a platform of content, which everybody here understands really well, but you found other ways to, at a scale it rapidly and be monetized at a much higher amount. What, when did you kind of start getting the idea to add these paid tutorials? I’m taking this all the way back to kind of, when you first started finding new revenue channels, when did you get the idea to start adding paid tutorials and what can other people look at in their business, their website to think through whether or not it’s a good time to add these paid tutorials?

Cole: [00:12:00] Yeah. Great question. I mean, it was always part of the plan. To monetize with courses. Cause once again, what does everyone out there want passive income? What does everyone who has a business think? I make a course, you know, it’s all profit and I’m going to start like rolling in the dough. And I laugh because it’s never that easy, but the actual, I think the way that I can a great aha moment that I had and, and became the reason for selecting the product that we first did is going to be the number one thing for anyone listening right now to really pay attention to.

And that is because you guys already love and know SEO data for me, I was just producing content and I was, my SEO strategy was like Yoast, SEO, plugin. Right. If it was green, like we’re good. Like, and that was it. There was no backlinks or anything in hindsight, I wish I did SEO [00:13:00] for that entire five, six year journey.

Because you just can’t, you can’t there’s so much value in just that long-term approach to, to, to S E O when you need it sort of like insurance, it’s not like, Hey, add sir, sucking. Now, let me, I need SEO and I need it today. Well, sorry. Like, yeah, it’s good to start now. But so, but the, the way that I knew what product to first create was simply one day I said, oh crap, this tutorial that’s about newborn photography is, is ranked number one for newborn photography tips.

All of our traffic coming to the website is from newborn photographers. Guess what? It’s probably a good idea to make a course for them. And that was it. And then, you know, you just parlay that. I mean, when I look back on the entire career of that website, before I then sell sold it, I think one of the number one things that I did.

[00:14:00] Even better than a lot of my competitors was. I just simply let the data guide the conversion decisions or the product creation, like like it got to the point that we would only create a product. After I asked if our, I would just send an email or a post in the Facebook group with thousands of members, I’d be like, Hey, we’re thinking about doing this, this we’re thinking of making a new product.

And here’s what it will be. Here’s about the price point we think. And here’s what you’ll get comment below if you, if you’d be interested and it would just be like, well, no, last time we did this, there was like 200 comments, this one there’s 10. Nah, you know what I mean? So that nothing was scientific, but it always, always our product decisioning was based off of the data that we had.

Jared: You clearly, cause you hinted at it just now, but you, you, you clearly created a bit of a, more than just a website. You had an email list that you were [00:15:00] mock marketing to. You had a community. I don’t remember. You said that was on Facebook or at a private community set up how important is it or was it for you I guess to not just have the website traffic, but the, you know, to, to move them into other channels as well.

Like the email, like the, like a forum or the Facebook group for those kinds of things. 

Cole: I think it’s, I mean, if anyone’s trying to, I think the first step is, is anyone who’s listening, they have to decide like, what am I building? Cause I think there’s plenty of value if somebody wants, if you don’t want to build a brand.

And a lot of this is probably not necessarily, not necessarily, although even if you aren’t the fact that you could probably very easily. Start collecting emails, which then when you want to flip your, your niche site, it’s going to be worth way, way, way more. So you’d be silly not to even if you don’t monetize them, you just get them to give, to give their email in exchange for something, for any brand builder.

It’s everything you can’t rely [00:16:00] on. I mean, jeez, even for us paid acquisition people, Google’s getting away with cookies, I think by next year. So that’s going to change things. Facebook’s already removed a lot of targeting, like, so, I mean, geez, even I think email open rates are more subject to being inaccurate because of things that apple has done.

Like this is the age that we’re in or the age that we’re in is like all of the big tech sliding, like the lever back to give more control to their end users. Which will make it hard, continue to make it harder for any brand builder or website operator. Because privacy is everything. So, you know, I think we are moving to, so for anyone, I guess my answer is for anyone who just wants to have a passive kind of operation, then yeah.

Go and do your SEO thing. And many of you are wicked smart at growed over 18 24, [00:17:00] 36, however many months you want monetize it the easy way, then it truly is passive income. You already had to put a lot of work, but it’s pretty dang passive. And off you go flip it, get your three or four X and call it a day for anyone who wants to build a brand.

It, you have to, in this day and age, take a very omni-channel approach, right? It’s like, okay, I got the traffic now, how do I multiply that track? And by multiple, I don’t mean that same person, but how do I multiply, multiply the touchpoints that I can have with that person? So for us, yeah, email’s a given, but we also would collect phone number or we already had phone number from our customers.

And if somebody bought something, then we also have address. I can now, now I literally w you know what here, let me, you’re going to like this one, Jared you know, everyone would have an opt-in yeah. Free training put in your email, whatever. Well, a [00:18:00] sneaky thing that I did, it’s, it’s nothing like Blackhat or anything, but is to have another bonus download that they would get by, through, through.

Oh bass or chatbots? No, not SMS. So basically messenger. Let’s say that they give you name, email phone, and then it’s like, Hey, congrats. We’re going to be emailing you the the free training, blah, blah, blah. If you want to go in and get this free a bonus, download click here, it’s going to open up in messenger and it will deliver it to that way.

So now I have one lead that I instantly had. Name so I can personalize stuff. I get emails. So they’re on my email list. Obviously I got phones so I can use SMS marketing and I got them on messenger. So I, you know, so that’s multiply out the communication touch points and that’s going to become more and more important in the next years to come let’s role 

Jared: play let’s role play.

So let’s, let’s say that I’m a, I’m a site owner, right. And I’ve got a site that I’ve [00:19:00] built to, you know, whatever. We’ll come up with some traffic number if we need to. But most of my traffic is coming in from organic search. I’ve got a couple of pages that are doing really well. I am in the, here we go.

I’m in the home cleaning business 

Cole: a little bit, but yeah, this is good. 

Jared: I grab a cleaner off my desk here. So I’m in the home cleaning business and you know, I’ve got traffic. All I’m doing though, is putting ads on my site and I’ve got some affiliate products, some affiliate relationships I’m recommending and making some money there.

What would I, what would I do first and foremost, walk through some of the steps to take, even from a high level to add additional revenue streams and additional traffic. 

Cole: Well, let’s start with traffic. You know, maybe we have a free download that is like the top seven natural, you know, home cleaning products that every, you know, not homeowner, but even if [00:20:00] you’re renting it, still use it, but that everyone needs to, to, to use.

Right. So now you have a quick PDF that you can easily have. You can do the research. It’s probably already on a blog. One of the long form blogs written hire somebody on Fiverr or Upwork and for anywhere from probably 25 to a hundred dollars, turn it into a nice PDF. Now, open up your active campaign or MailChimp or whatever.

Now you have an opt-in to build your email list. Okay. So that’s number one. So you can expand your traffic. Communication channel. And from a revenue standpoint, what I’d be looking at is I’d look at that traffic and I’d see where’s the bulk of this traffic look at where’s the top 80%. Cause we all know the 80, 20 rule.

You probably get the bulk of your traffic from maybe just, if you have 200 articles on there, 80% of your having might come from 10 articles. Right, right, right. Maybe they’re all in the category of let’s say clean or like clean cleaning, you know what I mean? Like no chemicals and [00:21:00] what a natural cleaning agents or whatever.

Yeah, exactly. So now if that’s the case, well now maybe you can, or better yet look at your Amazon affiliate stuff. What are the things that people are buying? Okay. Now what if it was me running the site? I say, well, can I go ahead and create my own brand? Instead of me sending it to somebody else’s brand on Amazon and collecting a measly three, four, or 5%, whatever it is now, I know they keep changing it and is category specific too.

But what about if I go ahead and create my own brand of clean cleaning products? Green, I guess is what I should say. That’s probably the right term green cleaning products are good for the environment. And then now I can capitalize the traffic’s coming in for predominantly this category. Instead of me only collecting three, four, 5%, I can send them to my own product.

And now I have potentially an e-commerce brand that then I can expand [00:22:00] further. So the whole point is like, for people not to think too big, don’t think so broad that it’s like, well, I don’t know anything about being a manufacturer and what other approximately sells it doesn’t matter. Just pick one because I can almost guarantee you that you can Google clean green.

Cleaning you know, solution wholesale price. Yeah. Like white label manufacturer. And there’s going to be plenty of people that are already doing this for all these other brands. You just have to slap your label on it and obviously go through and do testing and change, whatever formulas you want. And now you’re in business.

So that’s just one example. I mean, anything in the cleaning space I think is right for an e-comm play. 

Jared: And you would recommend like different plays for different spaces. You know, obviously some, some spaces might lend themselves more like what you did, which is more of a membership group, a tutorial, you know, selling online education, that sort of thing.

Cole: So sorry to butt in, but like, let’s, let’s just take the same role-play idea, but instead of it being a [00:23:00] product based thing. Oh, and by the way, one more thing on the, on that last role-play Google ads is exactly where that could be a perfect fit for something like that. So now you have. A product that maybe is your brand and you have organic traffic and an email list now that you can market your brand.

And now that you have your own brand with your own product, you can also run Google ads because there’s everyday people that are searching for that exact thing. So just like what we just said, like, Hey, for different websites, there’s a different, best monetization path for different products and businesses.

There’s also a better or best paid acquisition channel are. If people are already searching for the thing that you do, though, then you’d be a fool not to use Google ads or Amazon ads. Right. So what I was going to say is let’s, let’s think of a good thing for a [00:24:00] community. Something like fishing, you see I’m wearing my fishing shirt.

I own a lot of fishing shirts now. I also have a guitar back there. So I used to be, I used to be a musician. Now I’m in a fishing. Both of those are great community plays, right. Musician that has a great info product play. There’s always going to be people that want to learn how to play music, but, and this is similar to like what I did with photography, but even with the teaching component, they’re like humans inherently.

I mean, it’s, it’s like literally gang mentality. Like we like to be with each other. We like to be around people. We don’t like isolation. So that’s why communities are so important. I know for a fact that some of our longest term members. In Cole’s classroom repeatedly. They only kept paying us $49 a month, [00:25:00] not for the content, but for the community.

And here’s something fun. The other day I went back in, it’s been almost three years since selling the company I went in and I gave a live video. I haven’t done a Facebook live in there in years and I just did it just to be, cause I earlier in the day it was like, Hey everyone, how’s it going? No worries.

Like, oh my God, Cole, how are you? I’ve been seeing her kids grow up, blah, blah. And they’re like, man, we missed your lives. And I’m like, all right, 2:00 PM today. Let’s do one. But my point is, there’s a lot of people in there that I recognized. I know have been members since we started it back in 2016. That’s six years ago.

They’re still there because it’s the. It’s who they identify with, it’s their people. So anything that you can do, like if you’re building a site that has less, and this is great for SEO stuff, because there’s so many SEO focused websites that are all about the buying guides, all it is is like, oh, it was a buying guide for the, for guitars [00:26:00] or for a guitar players.

That’s cool. But it limits you if all your content or a golf, if all the content that you’re getting, if all the traffic, all the content you’re producing is bringing only traffic for people when they’re in the purchase decision that can hurt you from a further monetization opportunity standpoint. So, 

Jared: yeah, there’s some really good examples.

And I think it covers, you know, if you’re more in the hobby or passion niches, Community plays are great. If you’re in more of the product, niches e-commerce could be great, but it doesn’t change the, some of the other things you’ve talked about. Email build, email list, building, having free valuable information to get people over to your email list and maybe also mailing list, maybe also SMS list, maybe also Facebook messenger and just finding ways to then engage with them, not on your website, but in like an email platform, a community, these other [00:27:00] types of platforms.

Cole: Yeah. I mean, think about one last role-play example. You’re just, I want to make sure people understand what we’re talking about. Like, I didn’t really touch on the fish example. The fishing example, fishing is something that there probably isn’t as much opportunity to sell courses. I know there sort of is.

Cause I have friends that are doing it. That doesn’t mean that there’s not opportunity to make money in the fishing space. What are they buying? Right. So one thing that I think I would encourage them to think about is if you have a website or two or five or 20, it’s like, just ask yourself, like, how can I best serve that person who’s visiting my site.

Right. Or ask it differently. What are all the different ways that I can serve that person? So let’s pretend I have a fishing site. Well, they’re going to be buying gear from somewhere. Is that something I want to do once again, I can send people to an affiliate thing or [00:28:00] I could just maybe start my own brand.

Maybe they aren’t really into courses. Is there a coaching component and probably not. Okay. Well community. Yeah. Cool. Because fishermen want to hang out with other fishermen. I’m wearing a sh people wear shirts. And they dress a certain way because it’s people will wear things because that’s their identity.

So that’s why back when I would play in my punk rock band, I’m always wearing my converse. And that’s why now I’m like, Ooh, that’s cool fishing shirt. Everyone sees me though. Again, like I fishes. So there’s a gazillion ways to monetize things. Heck you could even have, if you have all these people that are already there on your site, you can create a community, even if it is on Facebook.

And now there’s other softwares out there that might be a good choice and you can charge a whopping two, three, $7 a month, 10, whatever you want. Like just bring people [00:29:00] together. One thing 

Jared: you did a really good job of at close classic that we haven’t talked about yet, is that. Up until this point. It I’ll say maybe it could sound a little overwhelming for people, a lot of work, you know producing content and focusing on SEO.

That’s that’s, I mean, that’s enough to keep us all up and working all hours of the day as it is. You did a really great job, but when you were creating courses and tutorials by leveraging other experts in the community to do all the legwork talk about that approach and how that might’ve contributed some to your scale.

Cole: Yeah. I mean, obviously that didn’t happen at first. So in the beginning it was just the Cole show and then what ha it organically happened. And I guess my, I just want to first touch on the idea of business owners being overwhelmed. I think one thing that I do well, and especially with my clients that I work with now, it’s like, you have to be able to just do things incrementally and we should always be taking a step back and thinking like, is what [00:30:00] I’m working on right now.

A needle mover in the business. Cause there’s a lot of us all at different times, including myself, that we’ll spin our wheels and we’re doing work, but it’s not meaningful work that has a true impact to the business. So this is what I’m going to be sharing. It’s all a combination of, you know, time management slash diligent focus diagnostics of knowing where, what, what tasks will contribute, have the biggest contribution to the business and then who should be the one to do it.

So as the brand was growing, it was very easy to start picking out people who had real talent. The cool thing is, is I literally taught them. So they’re already loved the brand. Anyways. They’ve been with me for a while. So the next logical step is, Hey, do you want to go and write some content and help other photographers?

And I’ll pay. Of course, we want [00:31:00] experts that are from within our own community. Right. Instead of just outsourcing all of the writing. So then they’re like, heck yeah, well then you just keep shrinking it down. Some of them stick around for a long time. They’re like, I’m loving this. What else can I do? And some of them before to even, they had to ask, I offered them.

They didn’t know anything like that. But at that point, if I already had already had a brand, our head audience, what I needed was more products. And I didn’t want to be the one to only be the one to make the products. And also I wasn’t the expert in all these other areas. I knew what I knew, which in the photography realm was weddings.

And then of course I could teach basics of photography. I could teach editing and I could teach business. Well, nobody cares about business ever and editing. Yeah. Editing I already did. So I had all these gaps in the business that I needed. Specific experts on. So it became very easy. If, if I knew that we’ll take Betsy, [00:32:00] for example, she was the first person who I sort of did this with.

I’m like, and she was a great family portrait photographer. Hey, Betsy, you want to go and make some portrait? I mean, a family portrait products that we can sell and the arrangement was quite simple. Then everyone asks me, well, how do you handle the, the money and all that? Well, if you don’t have a big brand, then I would just pay them a flat fee and be done with it anywhere from a thousand to $5,000, depending on the scope of the thing and boom done, I’m going to pay you.

You’re going to do this then it’s mine Kapeesh. Cool. In my case, since I already had a big enough brand and audience, it was very simple. It’s sometimes they even gave him the option. I’ll pay you flat, or you can take a 50% of the profits in the first 30 days. And that’s it. So most people opted for that.

And for the most part, it was extremely lucrative for them and it dramatically let me scale our content catalog [00:33:00] and the business. And the cool thing was, was everyone knows me as sort of the membership guy, but every single thing that went into the membership, I first sold on its own forever. I thought once you went to the membership, then they just get everything.

W no, I’m going to sell it first because there’s a lot of people on my list that aren’t in the membership. And some people who are in the members. They are planning on sticking around forever. So let me, there was so many different ways to monetize it. 

Jared: Well, I’m part of the reason membership idea was even able to be possible for you is because you had such a large amount of content of tutorials or courses that you’d already created at that point, because otherwise a membership that’s based on getting access to a lot of valuable tutorials, it’d be a very time consuming and potentially expensive process to put together.

If you hadn’t already, back-filled so much content at that point. 

Cole: Yeah. But if you don’t have a brand and if you don’t have a community to pull and pick people from a great strategy is just [00:34:00] to look at, go to like udemy.com or Skillshare, or I forget the other ones. Udemy we’ll give you plenty to pick from.

And then, because they got literally instructors on every topic. So let’s say that you are looking for golf in experts, go to blue. To me. Is it Udemy or you to me? I don’t know. 

Jared: I don’t know. I figured you knew, 

Cole: but it’s spelled U D E M y.com. So you to me is how it sort of looks and then go type in golf or whatever your topic is.

And you’re going to see a gazillion courses and most of them haven’t probably made any money yet. But they created a course to sell. Right. And everyone created it because they thought it was going to be easy. And then they realize it’s not easy and they haven’t made anything. So if you come around and contact them and the cool thing is, is you can preview the course.

So you see if they’re any good anyways. And then if they come around, if you wave a thousand dollar check in front of them, many of them are [00:35:00] going to say, hell yeah, sign me up. So that’s what I would do. And you can even do that same logic with YouTube channels all the time. I’m looking at YouTube channels.

There’s people with millions of views hundreds of thousands of subscribers. And you just go to look at their like best performing videos and look at their description. And if they don’t have any call to action, if they aren’t sending them to a website, if they aren’t, then you know, they’re only making money off of YouTube.

Some of them to make money off apparel. They’re like, Hey, buy my shirts or pet Patrion support my channel. So you can bet your little butt that if you come around and I mean, those guys are always going to be hungry for more moneymaking. 

Jared: You run the rapid scale group now where you you work with clients.

I know, I don’t know everything you’re doing with them, but I know you do a lot of paid ads now where do paid ads in today’s market because it’s changed dramatically since you started close [00:36:00] classroom. And since you grew it in the back of paid ads and today what’s, what’s working with paid ads. And then how does that apply to a site owner specifically the type of site owners we’ve been talking about today?

Cole: Well, I think the right ad channel, well, let me say differently. I believe that in the quote old days, and by old days, I would sort of say anywhere from three to five years ago, In the last year and a half, it’s gone harder with Facebook, but right in the older days, the older you go, the easier it was, I’m just going to straight up say it.

Right. And the old days you could just about, if you had any experience at all with like, if you had any chops at all with marketing and sales, and if you had a good offer, whatever it is and by offer, I mean, the thing that you’re selling, if it was good, it can’t suck. And your marketing can’t suck either.

You still didn’t know what you’re doing, but yeah, if your product was good enough there was [00:37:00] enough margin in a lot of the times in because the ad cost was kind of cheap enough that you can still like grow quite, quite well. And of course people, even back then, they weren’t good at marketing and they didn’t have good offers, so they still can make ads work.

Well, now it’s just that much harder. We say 

Jared: the same about SEO, by the way, what was that? We say the San, what? SEO 

Cole: is so much, everything’s harder. Not that that’s the thing. Everything is harder. And that’s why I said now it takes a much more omni-channel approach. Yes. You got to do SEO. Yes. You should be also doing paid ads, but only the right kinds of paid ads, the right channel.

So it really takes an expert. And that’s where rapid scale group in myself. It’s like, you have to be able to, if you aren’t from the paid ads world, if you aren’t from the like business growing world, it’s overwhelming and you don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s why I’m not an SEO expert. And I.

Outsource that to experts, but what I am good at is helping [00:38:00] people monetize their traffic, pick the right ad medium ad channels and put their best foot forward on those ads. So that, and monitor them appropriately so that we aren’t just burning money like so many people have, but, you know, just to make sure I’m not leaving any hot tips here for everyone.

I mean, I think Facebook has gotten more expensive and less smart in terms of their targeting options. Combined with conversions have an attention has been harder to get and conversions go down because there’s more entrance in the market. So if you’re selling a really cool e-commerce kind of thing, that people are able to just sort of cruise on their phone and aimlessly scroll, looking at memes, and then they’re like, Ooh, I want that then great.

Facebook ads probably still crush it for you if you have the backend. Yeah. And all the different offers and monetization strategies to support it. But if you don’t or if [00:39:00] you’re selling like information only, or a course, let’s say for a hundred or $200, no. I mean, people are on Facebook to have fun, to hang out, like to be entertained not to be like, make a hardcore purchase decision.

So in that like crude example, which is not very crude at all, it seems with software, like these kinds of offers require very high intent of the traffic. You know? So everyone here who focuses, even if some organic traffic, it’s like, what’s the intent of that traffic, somebody who is searching best blank that has buyer intent.

Whereas somebody who might be searching, how has educational intent. So right now, the difference between today and the old days is you have to. Be intentional. You have to be strategic and map and match up. Here’s the right offer. Here’s the right product for here’s for the right traffic. And [00:40:00] what that really means is for anyone who just has content sites and they’re monetized only through affiliates, but wants to do something more to expand it.

That means you’re probably going to need multiple products to sort of fit into these different kinds of the different categories of traffic that you have. But Google ads is great. If there’s any search demand already, then that’s why I say you got to do Google and YouTube. I find that. It’s harder to produce because they require a scripting, a video and all that, but there’s really cool targeting options available that I’m really geeking out on.

Right now. You can build audiences based off of how people are searching for particular things on Google. You can build audiences based on apps that they’re using in the app store and the list goes on. So, wow. I’m really enjoying. I’m really doing well with Google ads and YouTube for our clients right now.

Jared: If somebody wanted to like I [00:41:00] guess the question is. Do you ever see any ROI or any case to be made for driving paid ads? Just to build an email list, you know, without a purchase at the end of it, is that something that nowadays can work without a massive budget, a budget that maybe an individual site owner could come forward with?

And if so, what kind of budget or what kind of approach would someone take 

Cole: or is it even realistic? I think it depends on the niche. But I think for the most part, everyone in this day and age, unless you really just wanted, there’s a couple of use cases where that would make sense for me. I have done that and I would do that if you are starting something from brand, if you’re starting to brand brand new and you want to test demand before going out and invest in all this, like, let’s take a SAS, building a software as a service.

That’s a big investment, but let’s start simpler and build just literally a quick PDF guide or even a video training. That is still good for lead generation to see if people are interested in [00:42:00] that topic. Right? So you can solve a lot of the things that maybe the software would solve, but in a non-software way, and then run ads on Facebook or Google or YouTube, and then really get some, get a pulse on from the conversion metrics to say, do nobody’s signing up for this free training?

And if it’s, if they aren’t going to buy this free training, or if they aren’t going to sign up for the free, then they really aren’t going to give me the a hundred dollars a month. Like I thought, but that I would view these things as tests that will take an investment. I would not with my own money. One of the things we did well and why we ran such a highly profitable business was we try to always never lose, you know?

And, and it’s sorta like running managing your stock portfolio. It’s like you manage the losers and let the winners run. So I would always control the downside. And I would urge everyone else to do the same. And what I’m trying to say is like, I would never allow anyone or [00:43:00] myself say, like, we’ve got to go build an email list because it worked great 10 years ago and I’m going to go spend $10,000 in, see how many leads I get, and then I’m going to monetize them later on.

When I finally build my product, like just kiss it goodbye because the leads after 30 or 60 days are pretty much next to worthless, in my opinion. Anyways, 

Jared: I remember your, your, what you were just talking about. Reminds me of a story, the famous 10 minutes, Tim Ferriss story. When he was looking for what to name his now famous book before our workweek.

And he took like 10 titles and put it on, you know, ran Google ads to it, to see which one got the most clicks. And the most of 

Cole: the title of the four-hour workweek data is everything. It’s everything. You know, I think where a lot of people. Struggle right now is they inherently lack the expertise and they are in a position.

They can’t really hire the expertise, or they just don’t even understand the extent [00:44:00] that the strategy is needed on the monetization. Right. And once again, this goes out the window for anyone who is happy to just collect their affiliates and their ad revenue. Right. But if you’re doing that, you’re absolutely leaving a lot of money on the table.

A hundred percent. If you already got the traffic, let’s just monetize them better. 

Jared: One thing you do one thing. Okay. So I have the opportunity of hosting this podcast. So I get to interview. People that I, I, you know, I get, I think there’s something I noticed clearly noticed. And if you, if you’re a regular listener, you’ll, you’ll notice this too.

And that is this theme of the people that we bring on that have these success stories of when they see success happening, they dive in headlong, they double, they triple the quadruple down. We’re constantly interviewing people who have a really successful exit on a website or a very profitable website.

And you ask them why. And they say, I saw this as working and I just went for it. I scaled it massively. And for [00:45:00] you, you saw your paid ads working really well. And so you went for it as well. You scaled up to the point where your scale happens so rapidly and so fast. I imagine that there’s a little bit, you know, asked for this a lot, but I want to get your opinion on it.

I imagine. Trepidation at just like going all in, like you, like you were doing right to scale the business. What, you know, was there any, if there was, can you kind of talk through some of the strategies to kind of get over that and logically, you know, make that 

Cole: decision? Well, you just said a word logically, and I think that’s, that that’s always been the key for me.

Right. I’ve mentioned data to drive decisions I’ve mentioned. Or you just mentioned like going all in on what’s working. What? I hadn’t had a chance to say it. I’m glad this is coming up is, but we did talk earlier about 80 20 rule and like focus. What’s going to be the biggest impact to the business and really put your energy there.

So for us, that was Facebook ads, like, but the cool thing [00:46:00] was, was I w in the heyday, I was spending $5,000 a day on ads and we made a lot more than that off of them. So, but I didn’t go from $50 a day. When I started to 5,000, right? Like it truly wasn’t even an exponential, like really increased. It was like fairly gradual.

So I guess the short answer here is I didn’t have any sort of concerns because the day I kind of was continually monitoring the data to make sure that I wasn’t losing money. Like rule number one of investing is don’t lose money. So yeah, there’s times when, like we didn’t get as much of an ROI or we had a campaign flop, but those were always done and managed in such a way that that downside was so limited that we would cut it, cut the loss fast.

So I mean the actual path for us was started with, I learned ads with 25 to $50 a day budgets. And then I was like, oh, this is [00:47:00] working. Let’s do a hundred a day. Oh, it’s working two 50. Then 500 and then a thousand. It wasn’t until I got really to that a thousand to 2000 a day, mark, where it’s like, all right, I guess I should just keep going.

Then from like three to 5,000 a day, it’s like, okay, I better be really, really, really good with monitoring the data and being able to run analysis and spreadsheets. And luckily for me, that’s sort of, one of my superpowers is financial analysis. Yeah, that’s my background and it’s sort of cool how corporate America actually, what I learned there really gave me a I guess a step ahead of everyone.

So, but, but I guess I, I can’t, I have to make sure that I acknowledge that because of that. We did not focus on SEL when we should have, cause we didn’t need. Until we needed to, and then it was kind of too late to have it be [00:48:00] a real needle mover. But you know, you can imagine the amount of traffic that we were getting from thousands a day in spend, there was literally no, there wasn’t even enough search volume to even come close to that level of, of traffic and conversion and ultimately sales.

But we didn’t do, we didn’t focus on YouTube. We didn’t focus on social media. We didn’t focus on anything other than Facebook ads and then improving the profitability of the funnels so that we can continue to scale faster and serving our members and improving retention. And that was it. 

Jared: It took a reminder for everyone.

The great thing about paid traffic is that it’s instantaneous feedback. Yes. The terrible thing about SEO traffic is that it’s the exact opposite of instantaneous feedback, but there’s still data points. There’s still data you can use to inform your decision. There’s still history that you have on your side that says, you know, generally speaking, when I do a, B will happen and you still use [00:49:00] data and then you go, you know, quote unquote all in.

But I think what you really outlined as well, it was never really all in. It was always a gradual more in very technical terms I’m using here. I realized, but well, 

Cole: no, but it’s also too. I think where what I’m hearing from you is like, it’s always, every business has to be a constant, like revision. Oh like a review and revision, right?

So it’s like you have to review is, is what was working still working is do we now have new traffic that I need to pay attention to? Like, just cause it was converting really well to whatever your however, you’re monetizing it now it’s not why like one of the number one things that everyone ought to do is always just ask yourself why this is happening.

Why like, just get really, really good at understanding what is driving the result you’re getting so that you can then improve it. So 

Jared: before we wrap up here, is there anything [00:50:00] covered a lot and you really shared a lot of really great tips, but is there anything that we kind of left off the table that you think people will get value out of hearing or anything?

I forgot to ask you? I didn’t get to. 

Cole: Well, I think the important thing that I want everyone to know is like to not psych yourself out and allow yourself to get too overwhelmed that you don’t start. So whether you have a content site or portfolio of sites and year, maybe you’ve thought about having your own e-commerce or further monetization things.

But you just haven’t like, there’s, you just have to start period. So don’t be afraid of taking that next step. And if you’re listening and you haven’t really started your site yet, for whatever reason get started you know, when I look back at everything we did and even, you know, how we ended up getting the business acquired, it’s interesting to always just be like, wow, that one phone call then led to that or that one person that I met or that one email then led to that.

It’s just, there’s so many different times [00:51:00] that I could have allowed my. Comfort and complacency to not move the needle forward, but that, and what I’ve now seen from even consulting and helping other website owners and businesses grow it’s, there’s no shortage, or I should say there’s no substitute for being laser focused and determined.

And having that just sorta constant, like mechanical, like outlook on the business, like just always be turning a wrench or tweaking a bolt, you know, and like figuring out if I do this. Cause, cause that’s really how I grew up. So fast was asking myself every weekday question, Hey, if I just do this differently, maybe my conversional go from 2% to two and a half or 3%.

Or if I change this upsell here, then that means my ROI will be here. So then I can invest more. And so, yeah, the only difference is I guess the other side of that is yes. Get started. But [00:52:00] also don’t let yourself get discouraged when things are hard, because it’s hard. It’s always been hard and it’s harder now.

So if there’s one thing I probably should have done different, I would have got involved and invested in my own network, whether that’s masterminds or even coaches or mentors invest in experts, people who’ve already done it. Rather than trying to figure it all out yourself, because there’s just too many things to really have to be good at, to really have a monster impact.

And that does mean you can’t do it. That just means you have to be strategic and intentional with your time and money. Yeah. 

Jared: So you’re with rapid scale group. Can you tell us a little bit it’s rapid scale group.com. Tell us a little bit more about what you do, what you guys, who you guys work with and how you guys help businesses.

Cole: Yeah, well, the beauty is, is just me. So despite the name, it’s just me. And I say that because I’m, I’m fortunate now that, you know, I had sold my [00:53:00] company and now I get to, I’m not trying to rapidly scale despite the name an agency, if you will. But essentially how I help people is, you know, a lot of companies when they’re growing, they don’t have the budgets for very highly experienced team members, right?

So even if you have a company and you’re making a hundred thousand 200,000 a year and you have aspirations to go to seven figures, we probably don’t have the budget to bring on a full-time you know decades worth of experience marketing and sales guy, which would cost you 200 grand, you know, for anyone.

Good. So then people are left with hiring very junior people. And what I found was that has a very, that can be very problematic. And the reason why is when you have people. Like, if you aren’t the expert on marketing and sales and growth, and then you bring in somebody who’s junior, you’re trusting your money with somebody who’s brand new and green.

Cause that’s all you can kind of afford. But [00:54:00] then now it’s very easy for things to magically just not work, but you don’t really have the skillset to really manage them or even know when things aren’t working. So rapid scale group. Right now I, I work with people in their business to help them grow.

That’s the simplest way of putting it. And I do it on a part-time basis. So for the companies that don’t have the budget for a full-time in-house hire they get to have me with all of the experience that I have go right into their business. For in many times, You know, similar to what they would pay a full-time junior level person.

So, yeah. And it’s everything, every business is different. So some people I’m running just marketing campaigns on an ad campaigns and others I’m just helping on the strategic front. But you know, at this point it’s, it’s fun. It’s fun for me too. There’s a lot of people with some really great talent and really great.

Have built a really great asset that just need a little helping hand and some [00:55:00] guidance. 

Jared: You probably see some pretty cool businesses. 

Cole: It’s really fun. It’s really fun. And I’ve learned a ton just by not only being in my photography bubble, but running marketing growth for different niches, different industries and even different business types.

Well, 

Jared: people can catch up with [email protected] and we’ll get that URL in the in the show notes here. Cole, thanks for coming on. I mean, like I said, the outset, you and I will get coffee or lunch once in a while and just talk shop and it’s kind of fun to do it in front of a group this time.

That’s kind 

Cole: of what we just did. 

Jared: Yeah. I’d have to buy you lunch this time either. 

Cole: I think, I think you might know me this time, but either way. It’s my pleasure. And I appreciate you having me on the show. Thanks for coming by. 

Jared: And I really appreciate you sharing so much with everyone. I’m sure there’ll be a lot that everybody gets out of it.

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