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090: Tommy Walker, Shopify Plus – How To Turn Your Ecommerce Store Into A Content Marketing Machine Without Adding To Your Current Workload

Posted by Austin Brawner on September 10, 2015

Tommy Walker has written some of our favorite ecommerce content for some of our favorite sites over the past couple of years including ConversionXL and now Shopify Plus.

He has a wealth of knowledge about content marketing and shares with us his best strategies for establishing a system to generate a large amount of quality, effective content for ecommerce companies. He shares all in today’s episode, take a listen.

Not every ecommerce company needs content marketing as a crucial part of their strategy. As Tommy puts it… I don’t need an article about how to make my bed if I’m buying sheets online.

However, if part of your mission is to build a lifestyle brand surrounding your product then content needs to be a big focus for you as it builds community, loyal customers and drives a lot of traffic when done right.

Tommy shares his personal ‘code’ (the one he’s using for the Shopify blog he’s now running) for successfully writing articles and hiring people able to create quality, effective content.

The key is to clearly define the audience you are addressing and what your brand stands for. With this in hand, you can hire great talent and give them the information they need to be able to write the content you expect in order to reflect your vision.

In this podcast we’ll also cover an amazing workflow you can copy in order to manage content and writers just like Tommy does at Shopify. If you can run a system like this, you’ll be able to consistently (and efficiently) knock out content that attracts great customers.

Key Takeaways from the Show

  • Why content marketing might not be right for your ecommerce company.
  • How to hire writers for your content team.
  • What you need to know about creating great content.
  • Lifestyle brand vs Service-oriented product.
  • How to manage content production and independent writers.

Links / Resources

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Chad: Awesome what’s up man?

Austin: Hey Chad how are you doing man?

Chad: Good. My wife hates when I say what’s up like that. She makes fun of me. In fact, she gets mad at me.

Austin: What does she say?

Chad: She is like don’t say that to me, I am not a dude. I’m not your dude.

Austin: Whenever I tell jokes that just don’t go well, like jokes from my friends I always hear like I am not Patrick, Patrick is an old roommate so we just would have a very similar sense of humor. It’s just don’t go very well with my girlfriend so I understand. I understand.

Chad: Good I’m glad.

Austin: Anyway, today we’re going to talk about something that I’m thinking about a lot which is scaling difficult businesses or difficult processes. Something I had been thinking about a lot is we have been getting better at scaling our own business and scaling our own marketing procedures and processes and looking back and seeing where we’re at today. We’re at a point now we are able to scale, when I scale we are able to have a process for creating an outcome over and over again which is actually pretty complicated but looking back at it now it’s way more simple than a year ago. The only reason it’s more simple is because, we went through the inevitable of trying to figure out how to scale something that initially when you start out seems unscalable. Does that make sense?

Chad: It totally makes sense. We are talking with Tommy Walker of Shopify Plus today and the thing that he brings up that we believed in a way was unscalable is to content creating. I think a lot of ecommerce companies think that way too. We talk about it so much for ecommerce and you should be doing it and we get this mental roadblock, this perception that something is not scalable, that it’s difficult, that it can’t be done. All it is is the lens you’re wearing and you’re like when you remove that perception, you realize it’s really not that hard to scale. I think about a lot of the things we do and we go through this difficult experience of trying to scale something or believing we can’t and we just we grind away until we hit that turning point and say we can scale this. One thing I have started thinking about especially after talking to Tommy is the fact that juts find somebody who has already scaled and talked to them about it so that you don’t go through these I don’t know one, two years’ worth of trying to figure out how to scale something. Does that make sense?

Austin: It does make sense. So we have this conversation with Tommy who you guys might have I am sure you have read ecommerce blogs or you know any hit some Google searches, trying to figure out how to increase sales for our ecommerce store, you probably read it on one of Tommy’s blogs. I am not exaggerating here. He was the editor of Conversion Excel for I think almost a year and a half, two years. During that time was one of my favorite blogs so I have read a lot of Tommy’s work and then he since moved on to Shopify Plus and he is talking about a little bit about how he has been able to go from being the one and only person who was writing everything at Conversion Excel—one of the best blogs online for ecommerce marketing—to now scaling something that initially seemed unscalable. So that’s the topic we are going to go over today. It’s exciting for us to hear from somebody who has an in depth to in his content creation. I actually hear kind of the behind the scenes how that actually works.

Chad: I think the most important thing is we have talked so much about content creation with Sam from HubSpot and how the ecommerce gravy trains are coming to an end and how we have to create all these content. I know that so many people listening including myself when I have been thinking about this is like how do we do this for ecommerce when it’s so difficult in our heads and it’s not. After talking to Tommy today it’s like everybody—well not everybody—everybody who fits the right category and he’ll talk about the categories of people who should be creating content. He talks about how he can scale that content marketing so you can continue to ride this so-called gravy train. It’s pretty interesting.

Austin: One last thing before we hop into it. I thought what was very interesting if you’re listening, Tommy has got a very interesting take on whether or not you should create for your ecommerce store and is very clear that some business owners who you guys are listening right now, shouldn’t take the time to invest in content marketing. He makes a clear distinction between who should and shouldn’t and the why during our next conversation with him.

Chad: Yeah before we hop into that though a couple of things we want to remind you of if there is any feedback that you can give us on the podcast, whether good, bad, ugly—I don’t care what it just sends us some feedback at podcast@ecommerceinfluence.com. We want to make sure we continue to improve every conversation we have, every guest that we bring on so please shoot us an email there and let us know how we are doing and what you like to hear from us. Also, as a reminder, we put together a library of free ecommerce marketing training that includes seven guides like How to Hire A-Players on Elance, Selling your Business for Maximum value, How to get Twice As Much Done in Half the Time, Facebook marketing for Ecommerce, etcetera, plus, there are some training videos and some masterclasses with some of the ecommerce industry’s top experts and you can get access to all of that by becoming an insider. You can do that at ecommerceinfluence.com/insider. Again ecommerceinfluence.com/insider. So before we hop in, anything else you want to say Austin before I give a quick background on Tommy?

Austin: No, go for it, give the background and we’ll get started.

Chad: Alright sounds good. Tommy Walker is an online marketing strategist and he believes that that online marketing is primarily made up of two key components. One, creating great content with a purpose and two getting that content in front of the right people. Anything that can’t be distilled down to those two basic principles over complicates things and risks bringing you down a rabbit hole that will waste your time and money. Now, while he has been doing various forms of online marketing since 2005, he started taking it extra seriously after getting fired over a pair of pants which you kind of hear about in this episode. His work has been featured on various high profile blogs, many of which you have heard of including Chrisbroken.com, Thinktraffic.net which I believe is now Fizzle. HubSpot, Problogger, PC World, UnBounce and then the two that we know him for being the head editor over at Conversion Excel and now as the head editor over at Shopify Plus. In short, he blogs, he beatboxes and he gets the asses in the seats. He kind of asked us not to say that one because it was something he wrote a while ago but we thought it was awesome so we kept that. anyway, pumped to welcome Tommy Walker to the show.

Tommy: Hey thanks so much for having me.

Chad: Yeah man stoked to have you onboard, all the way from the east coast. You are at Dover New Hampshire, yes?

Tommy: Yes, yes. In the middle of nowhere in a town of 30,000.

Chad: Awesome. Well, I am a fan of towns in the middle of nowhere. That’s where I come from as well. We already gave a little bit of background on you but if you could take 30 seconds and then tell us briefly about you personally and then some of your marketing expertise.

Tommy: Sure thing man. I am the editor in chief of the Shopify Plus plug, brand new. We just launched it last month. Informally the editor the Conversion Excel and my work is primarily about trying to understand the psychological factors that influence our buying behavior. Before I ever got into marketing, I was a career actor. As a teen and a young adult and having that performance background has translated very nicely into my marketing career which even that has been close to a decade has only really started taking off in the last couple of years.

Chad: it also seems it helped you podcast voice too. You sound very good.

Tommy: Yes. I actually had two years of voice over training.

Chad: Nice I can tell. So before we get into it. All seriousness aside because I am still got something else that is kind of funny here, you apparently got fired over a pair pants and it jumpstarted your marketing career. Can you tell us a little bit about that quick?

Tommy: Yeah I’ll do the best I can to keep it short. So about six years ago, I was working for a retail company. I had taken a hiatus from online marketing for a little bit and I was selling cellphones for $12 an hour. In a 24-hour timeframe, I had gotten into a car accident, I was locked out of my apartment and there were blackout conditions for several weeks at the time so I went to work and I said to my boss, here are all the things that had to happen, I need to borrow some clothes off the floor and I said yeah sure fine, we have wees and at the end of the day I sold a ton of stuff but I forgot my cellphone in the pants. So I went back to the store, grabbed my cellphone and then two weeks later my district manager came up and said, we know you didn’t steal anything but you borrowed pants off the floor and that looked sketchy so essentially you’re fired. I was like, what? I thought this is the opportunity. I hadn’t been doing online marketing for a little while. I have been doing it off on the side but I said, either I can try to pound the pavement for another $12 an hour job and bust my ass to do that or I can do what I’m at the best at and try to make it work on my own. After two weeks of intense research, I ended up getting my first client. They paid 700 bucks and I had a $ 600-month rent and as they say, it was just a slow pole from there and the rest is kind of history.

Austin: That’s awesome and it’s true. I remember first reading some of your stuff back in I think it was 2013 in the Conversion Excel Blog which is really great, fantastic and kudos to you and a lot of your research, basically what you mentioned, psychological factors behind why people buy. Pretty interesting stuff and I really like it after reading a lot of your work for a long time. I got a lot of respect for the stuff that you have written. I’d be interested to hear from you how important—one of the things we want to talk about today is you’re in the content marketing game for Shopify, I would love to hear your take on—you had read a lot about ecommerce owners and ecommerce business owners, what do they need to be doing for in terms of content to survive as this ecommerce gravy train continues and evolve for the next couple of years?

Tommy: I think this is a great question. A lot of people in the ecommerce business and a lot of people in content, in particular, would say you know it’s critical you just create killer content in order to survive and you know in order to keep it going and to be honest I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think every ecommerce business needs to be doing content. Net-Labs did this study back in 2014 and found out only 30% of ecommerce companies were actually using content as part of their marketing mix. To me, that actually seems to be right for now. Because to be perfectly honest 70% of my online purchasing is pretty service oriented. If I am buying some toothbrush or some basic sheets or whatever like I probably don’t care if you have a blog. If you’re selling something very service-oriented type of things you probably going to have a difficult time trying to get my attention with the stuff you’re going to put out on that blog. More effective ways to make the bed—that stuff is not really compelling. It’s not super interesting to me.

But if I’m going back to that Net Lab study, if I’m going back to that research again, they found that out of 30% of businesses investing in content, the largest segment of companies was making anywhere between 100 million and one billion dollars a year. If we look at that same group, we see that content is actually driving more traffic than product listing ads, social media, affiliate marketing, and display ads. Now I don’t know, but if I had to guess, a lot of those companies who are investing content are not service oriented brands but rather lifestyle brands but rather lifestyle brands. But if that’s the case, content actually, let’s just call it media—the media that you produce is going to be essential for your success because that’s what is selling that lifestyle in introducing people to lifestyle and keeping people invested in that lifestyle in order to continually be invested to it and to keep you succeeding. For example, Esquire is a great example of a brand is content first. But would it seem out of place if they had something that was ecommerce oriented?

Chad: No.

Tommy: Right. That’s what I am talking about. I see a lot of ecommerce brands right now that are very lifestyle oriented but don’t necessarily keep people invested through content and I see a lot of content that aren’t selling things. So I think that there is like a really great opportunity between the two there. The company that is doing really well I see a lot of success there.

Chad: I see. I think another perfect example of this is Thrillist. Thrillist owns Jack Threads. So you got a perfect combination of content with ecommerce. The question remains here if a lot of our listeners are in the six-figure, seven-figure trying to get eight-figures plus that’s like the hardest thing to do is to become the next Thrillist and pumping out two, three, four, five articles per day or whatever it is. You have got video, you have got a podcast, you’ve got writing like how does an ecommerce company be able to start producing media that turns them into the engine that they should have.

Tommy: Sure you got to prioritize. The first and foremost. You have to prioritize. When I was looking at that Net Lab study I found that when I talk to just ecommerce owners, in general, a lot of it comes down to direct ROI. I don’t know—if I put an ad out there, I knew that if I spend one dollar, I get 10 bucks. The measure of that is a lot more immediate and direct. If you’re going to do content, you have to be willing to play the long game on that. For me, when I do when I work with brands on this,, is I say before you ever hire a writer, before you ever do anything where you are working with a professional before you even write a piece of text. Some up with some sort of code. This was something that I did when I started hiring writers for my team and I had a team of six people now. I wrote a code, okay article needs to be 1850 and blah-blah-blah, it wasn’t like that. What my code was is these are the brand values. These are the ethics that we’re going for. These are the people and this is what we want to do within the marketplace. From an editorial standpoint and I have seen this just being a guest blogger for a lot of different places.

This is something that people miss but it’s the voice of the brand and when you have that you’re then able to take that out there into the marketplace and you can go to ProBlogger.com and spend 50 bucks and get a ton of really high-quality writers. Once you have those people, there are tons of like writers that are hungry for work. So there is no shortage of good talented people you just have to be able to just sort through them. But if you don’t have those directions and you’re relying on that writer to understand your brand without you also taking the time to do that then you can’t build an engine because there is no core. You don’t have a block to work off of. So I don’t know if it really answers the question but first, the first step would be to write code or some sort of brand guideline that talks about the soul of the brand and then start building off of that. You know hiring people that would help establish that vision and put it out there a little bit more.

Austin: I think that’s kind of start on answering the question. I love to hear what the code is for Shopify Plus.

Tommy: Our merchants, the merchants that we have are smart and I want to make sure that we are not talking down to the readers. Rule number one is to follow the code. Rule number two is don’t paint idyllic pictures. In rule number twos and I see this in blogs especially in marketing blog in particular. Where it’s like if you do video marketing, video marketing has been knowing to increase sales by 300% so you should do video marketing and to start doing video nowadays. That’s knights of the picture and it’s not realistic. That’s just one of the things where I say be honest. Put some friction on your reader and if you’re honest with them about hey here’s how you do video marketing, it’s been known to do this but it can also be expensive to get it done properly. Here’s what you need to know when you talk to an agency. A good agency can range between 10,000 to 100,000 for a product video etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, that’s going to help that reader self-select whether or not that article is good for them and when they take that they are going to their boss and saying hey this is something I would like to try and hear like all of the pros and cons and what we need to be thinking about instead of going change all the buttons to orange because it’s going to increase sales. So that’s just one of the things in our code. Other things are asked better questions. I want better research out of it. Opinions are bold. Do the research, we are not in the business of creating blog post. We create experiences. I like, that’s rule number four. Where I think a piece of content because we are B to B so it’s a little bit different. But a piece of content, you should have to go back to it and read it serval times in order to get everything out of it. You have seen this with my work with Conversion Excel. You’ll see this with the work we’re doing with the Shopify Plus blog. I like to think of my every individual piece that we create as like a David Fentra film. I like Fight Club. I don’t like Fight Club just because it gives me a great visceral experience the first time around it is. The first time I watched it, it was amazing. Your mind is blown the first time you watch Fight Club. But when you watch it the second time you catch things you didn’t catch the first time. When you watch it a third time, you are starting to understand this world a little bit more. That’s the stuff that I encourage my writers to do. If I were to be in a B to C space, and if I were doing it as an ecommerce I would be doing the same thing. Just maybe approach it a little bit differently. If I were to look at skateboarding, say I sold skateboards, I wouldn’t be looking at just like here’s a skateboard and here is how you do techniques, I would be looking at culture and I would be looking at music and I would be looking at cool things that are going on like graffiti artists and like everything that surrounds that lifestyle, I would be looking to either write about that lifestyle or show that lifestyle so I can get people for more continuously invested into my brand because I am exposing them to a world that either they don’t know or they don’t quite have 100% access to where they are. Does that make sense?

Chad: Yeah that totally makes sense. Not to put you on the spot here but is there an example of a company other than like Thrillist or somebody that large, smaller company, a six, seven, eight-figure company that maybe you have seen who has done this well where they have taken this content and created their values around that content and produce to that level, to that standard? That people can look up and say this is what Shopify Plus, this is what Tommy Walker saying is really what’s going to be a value to people.

Tommy: So there are a couple, one that I like from a bigger brand perspective is Urban Outfitters. The content that they produce is very geared towards their audience. So they will see things new music on Mondays and they have Spotify playlist where it’s like brand new music. They have something in their blog right now that’s on, one second here my computer just refreshed. So they have a UO mixtape volume nine launch party recap and they do this mixtape. They released this music free to listen to but there are also like cool little crafts and like little hipster type things and decorating tips that aren’t hey-buy-our-products but it’s like-here’s-the-world-in-which-our-product-exist. That’s a big brand perspective. On a smaller brand perspective, we have Shopify plus customer, Beard brand and they have their website the Urban Beardsman and what I like about this site, in particular, is that they have things like the whole focus of the site, is not like here is how to do things with your beard.

That's part of it. They definitely have articles like beard growing tips or top tips for beard growing season and the best way to eat with a beard. What they focus on, the through line that goes through their content is more about what it’s like to be a man in 2015. Now, as a guy who is about to turn 30 myself, this is actually a really tricky conversation. We were raised on the internet and media and there was a lot of like. I was a botchy kid when I was growing up so both of my parents weren’t home at the end of the day and like some of these stuff like our media today on being a man, differently defined than what it was for our dads. For our dads being a man that’s going to work and working with your hands or some version of that and like as a man, we went through the whole metrosexual thing and be like packs and boybands and all of that stuff. What Beardbrand is doing with their blog is how to be a man of 2015 and being bearded is just a part of that. One of the things that I really like on their blog is how to pay off debt. That’s a man thing. That’s a real manly thing to do I think that that’s great. They have some style tips for like shoes and how to not be overly dressed but also, the urban beardsman is what the whole site is all about. There is one article I loved that was about is this guy getting his grandfather’s watch and the importance of tradition and values. Those types of conversations which is something that kind of I think severely lacks and has lacked in our education as males into becoming men. So urban Beardsman is a great example of that. I got one more for you but if you want to talk about Urban Beardsman for a while.

Austin: I do love Urban Beardsman and the whole like Beard Brand vide. It’s been interesting like watching it kind of grow on through Reddit because he’s pretty transparent about his growth and what has happened. I want to walk back just a little bit because you mentioned something earlier where I thought was really interesting and it had to do with service-oriented products and lifestyle products. Talking with a lot of clients who are ecommerce business owners, people who are owning these companies selling either product online or they are attempted to build a brand. I feel like though sometimes a tough distinction between people who think they have a lifestyle brand and maybe they just have the service-oriented product. How would you define the difference between a just a service-oriented product that wouldn’t need content marketing and a lifestyle band and where would you draw the line and how would you think about that for somebody may be listening who think we need to do content because we definitely have a lifestyle product but maybe they don’t?

Tommy: It’s a very interesting question. I don’t know to be honest. I think what it comes down to is the founding members and people who are finding the team. When I say service-oriented products I mean things like basics. I don’t need a brand necessarily behind toilet paper. Amazon is a phenomenal brand but do you care about any of their content?

Chad: Do they even have content?

Tommy: They have a blog.

Chad: Exactly my point. I didn’t even know.

Tommy: Yeah the thing is like that’s not the focus.

Austin: I was reading something hilarious. It was that they were talking about whether or not Twitter helps companies grow and it was showing, I forgot which company it was, it was like some lifestyle brand so they sent out 5,000 tweets and went bankrupt and they sent about four tweets and grew by 20%.

Tommy: We have a guy in-house. His name is Vinie Varma. He is our director video marketing and he made a really good point about Shopify in a meeting about what his team is doing right now and I think hopefully this will answer the question. He said, look at this skateboard. Skateboard is actually a relatively boring thing. It’s a plank with some trucks and some wheels. That’s it. But the thing is that there has been such a culture and a lifestyle that has been built up around skateboarding that was done by skateboarding brands who kind of dictated what that taste was and design this lifestyle that people want to be a part of. You could have Tony Hawk show you all day long skateboard tricks but unless you’ve got involved with that lifestyle, you have to want that lifestyle enough in order to make it part of that and make it part of your lifestyle and help grow that. To answer, to really dig into it, you have to have somebody in your company who lives and breathes these stuff not just from the product perspective in order to turn in to a lifestyle thing. Another example of a company that does content, William Sonoma. They sell pans and pots stuff like that, plates, things like that.

If I were to look at that, I am a guy. I am just about as a guy of when it comes to like cooking. I don’t cook, I’m terrible with that. I love my wife because she feeds me. If it wasn’t for me, I’d die. I have no interest in anything that goes around that but William Sonoma has this blog, it’s just blog@williamsonoma.com but it’s called Paste. The content that they produced is about how to be a better host. How to create stuff that’s within a season and warms people’s heart, the art of food and entertainment. Somebody internally had to have said, we need to show the lifestyle around somebody whose life revolves around these types of products but also not just because they are making stuff for themselves and their families but because they genuinely care about keeping people entertained and happy. I think that that’s really what makes the difference between a service-oriented brand and a lifestyle brand. Because you can turn anything into a lifestyle. The question is do you want to, do you need to? Some companies don’t. They don’t need to. Amazon is the greatest example of that. You don’t need to turn Amazon into a lifestyle brand because we just imprint that on ourselves. But you know it’s just something that somebody internally needs to be able to champion that and embody.

Austin: Absolutely I think it’s very interesting because we get people reaching out. I mean we have clients that reach out or potential clients they are always talking about content marketing that like, we need to do it and it’s like where do you draw the line between whether or not you actually need to do it or you’re just doing it because everyone else is doing it and that’s the tough distinction. I think it is a good distinction because whether or not somebody can be totally involved and lives and breathes it because you can pass that vibe along to somebody else.

Tommy: Because if you don’t I mean it just comes off as boring. I mean think of Beard Brand. Beard Brand is a great example of this because what do they do? They sell beard oil. If you were to look at it, if they wanted to just sell beard oil and there are plenty of companies that just sell beard oil and don’t have a lifestyle around it, they can do that. People would buy it and that would be it. But to have a blog that kind of talks about what it likes to be a modern man, that makes so the beard oil is a little bit more symbolic. That makes Beard brand a little bit more symbolic. I think that in the long run, that’s the stuff that builds loyalty. You know Apple. Their resurgence came because of this lifestyle that they started to portray with like their silhouette ads and the iPod, but what was the iPod really? It was an MP3 player and it wasn’t the first one or the best one in the market at that time. But they built this sort of like here is what it is to have an iPod. Here is who you are to have an iPod. That’s what their marketing is done and that’s what content can do if you want to do it.

Chad: It makes sense. It still though it comes back to—Urban Bearsdman is fantastic. Eric has done a fantastic job with that. I don’t even have a full beard but I still pay attention.

Tommy: I can’t even grow a beard.

Chad: It still comes back to how to get it done. If you are this lifestyle business, if you are this lifestyle brand that should be doing this type of content, like you get that first voice you find that person who embodies what you’re all about and be able to write more about that person. That happens more of the logistics. I mean you can’t just pump out content all the time. Is there a way that you have been able to systematize how you have done this for Shopify Plus, Conversion Excel and how someone can apply the same system to their website?

Tommy: Absolutely. So with Conversion Excel, I didn’t and I wish I had but I learned from my mistakes and have since done that. So after I built, wrote the code, if I went out and I personally just said I spent 50 bucks and put it on Problogger and I said hey I am looking for writers and this is sort of a description of what the code is like. I am looking for people who don’t care about what but why I am looking for people who want to understand behavior and dig into the psychology behind tactics. I don’t care about what works, I want to know why it works because then we can develop tactics behind that. I sold what it was I was trying to do to get people who are like-minded to some of that their work.

If I were doing this for just a regular ecommerce site or if I were doing it for a brand that should be a lifestyle brand, I will do my best to be creative with the language and maybe even talk to my customers. Look at my customer support queue and find the people who are going oh my god I love this and search them for talent. If not there, if you won’t find somebody there I would look for writers within the blogging space. I have seen plenty of bloggers over the years. It wasn’t an uncommon story back in like 2005 where someone is like such and such blog bought up by a big company and now they write for the big company. There is a reason for that. It’s because that person embodies those brand values. So the hiring that person is not too difficult once you just keep your eyes open for people represents what you want to represent. The managing of people though this is where it gets fun.

I had this file structure that I use within Google Drive that is broken down essentially by year and then by month. With every writer, within a month I will have every writer create a folder for their own article and then within that folder, there is another folder for images and then there is the document itself. That’s important from just a baseline foundation because that means I don’t have one folder called images and then it has got all of my images from every single article from now until last year sitting there in one place. My desktop used to be a mess because I couldn’t keep myself organized. The other thing that I have done once we have that file structure in place, I will give you a link so that you can link to it in the show notes if you want to talk about how that organization system works. I use another system on Trello that basically we start on the left-hand side there is a board for article ideas and my authors will pitch me ideas there and then I will give them a thumbs up or a thumbs down with a label and then it moves over to the next piece which is in production.

If I would approve the post it goes to in-production and then we go to in-production to needs review and if it goes to need review, I need to take a look at it. Then we go from needs to review to get permissions which I have to secure permissions for copyrights and then it goes from that to ready to be scheduled. The reason I used Trello for this is very simple. There are two major reasons that I use Trello. One is because all of my conversations on that given piece can stay right with that card. So the author pitches me the abstract. They put it as a comment, they tag me on the card, I see it, there is no other conversation happening, anywhere about anything else, that’s all I see and then I can leave comments back. The other thing that’s really nice about using Trello in this sense is that I can add due dates for it so it can send the author a reminder when something is coming close to being due.

It makes it so I can just access everything so much easier now where I work with a multi-writer team—let me back up for just a second. Two of my concepts for running this blog right now is one having content release systematically as though it was a TV show and I don’t view the blog as like a blog, I look at it as more like a TV network where we have different features and then those features have sort of a storyline that goes from week to week. Then the other thing that I do is have it it’s more of like a cinematic universe. So best example of this is on Monday, we’ll release an article about getting more people to click the add-to-cart button and research you can do on that. One of the things we talk about that article for getting insights is looking at your live chat manuscripts. On Wednesday we released an article about live chat manuscripts—or live chat, not live chat manuscripts, just live chats. Then the next Monday we followed up a piece with getting more people with add-to-cart to getting more people to complete check out. So there is a through line that goes between all of these and this is very cinematic. Form the cinematic universe standpoint, I really like what Marvel has done with this, and everything has kind of a hook and a play into something else, because all of these stuffs is tied together. Going back to Trello, stop me if this gets too convoluted, please. Going back to Trello, I have the ability for when things are in production to tag other writers on their pieces so if somebody is writing a piece on say add-to-cart I can say reference this piece over here that is in production also on live chat and you two should sync up with each other so that you’re not stepping on each other’s toes when it comes to what research you’re using or where. Always look into the other piece and give people a reason to want to open the tab. By the time they were done with this article, I want them to have seven tabs open and ready to open the next piece. That’s stuff that’s going on in my mind as this part of editor I want you to be invested with this content and I want you to lose two hours of your day just because you’re reading my stuff.

Austin: That’s what you want when I waste two hours in my day, reading Conversion Excel, you’re a real house.

Tommy: If you tell me you have done that then my job is successful. Like I’ve done a great job.

Austin: Before we wrap it up, I want to look back on one thing we have glossed over which is hiring. You mentioned you know that’s the easy part. But I think a lot of people are stuck with hiring. I guess they don’t get started with hiring. How do you structure like the initial engagement? I thought it was a really poignant comment when you said to look in your comment section and see people who are resonating with this stuff you’re doing that maybe you reach out to them. How would you structure an initial engagement with the writer to get somebody started?

Tommy: So it depends. For me, it was really easy to just put the ad out in ProBlogger and get people in. So for me, if I were approaching a blogger and let’s say for example, I sold skateboard clothes just for grins, I would look at people who are already creating content in that space and if they are writing for themselves, then I would say like hey I really like this stuff that you’re doing, I am doing the research on you and I enjoy what’s going on with you, with the stuff that you’re creating and I would like to offer you a job. Our brand values seemed to be aligned with your brand values or with what you like to do. So let’s just have a couple of conversations and see where it goes from there.

That’s it. You just have that conversation with people who you feel embody your brand values. I think the challenge is and this was my challenge when I was at Conversion Excel and these are very different scenarios, is understanding your brand values in the first place. When I was doping guest blogging for hire with people, they would give me their editorial standards and it was always like you know 1850 words, make sure there is a paragraph that goes for every couple of lines. Lines need to be two to three lines apiece. That’s all great but that doesn’t tell me anything. It tells me how to structure a piece. It doesn’t tell me the voice that you’re going for. It doesn’t tell me the market that you’re after, the different parts of your market that you’re after. Think that it’s really important to take a step back. Like when they said to me, hey we want you to do the Shopify Plus blog, I said okay cool, I’m not writing anything for a month. They are like what you’re going to do for that month?

I said I am going to talk to our account managers and I’m going to have some interviews with customers and I am going to find out what this brand is really about and who are we trying to go after and then I am going to take that, take what I understand about how people see out brand and what we’re trying to do with our brand. I am going to create a set of guidelines that make it so a writer who is coming on with us can figure that out by reading the guideline and not by necessarily going back in forth in editorial and saying oh no this isn’t right, I like this, I don’t like this. So for me, my publishing code is really what it comes back to there. Because when I got people onboard, that was a hiring tool more as well as just for them on onboarding tool and writing guide. It helped people understand what I was all about. What we’re trying to do the mission we’re trying to accomplish. I feel like when I talk to merchants that are not always as well-defined. Two examples of this and I don’t know if we need to wrap it up, I got time though too and we can have all day. There are two companies out there that sell subscription boxes that are for nerdy type people, geeky type people, I fall into this market. There is Loot Crate and there is Nerd Block. Loot Crate has done an amazing job with their research and figuring out their targeting and the creative that stands out in a very pleasant way. I enjoy everything they did in their marketing. It didn’t feel like they were marketing to me at all. When I was acting in a conservatory, they said if we catch you acting you suck and I think that applies to marketing as well. If I catch you marketing you suck. What it was when they were doing their initial Facebook ad campaign it was like targeted towards very specific sections of my profile that were like hey we understand that you are kind of a nerd and you would like geeky swag sent to you in a monthly basis because you probably don’t have enough Daryl from Walking Dead bubbleheads in your office. I was like you’re right I don’t. So let me subscribe to this thing and like get some Daryl vinyl, that would be cool and I did. Nerd Block, on the other hand, they have I think to be honest I believe the product that they have is a little bit better.

But the messaging they put out to the market I don’t see it, it didn’t resonate with me the same way. I think part of that is because just from what I see on Loot Crates from Instagram and the conversations that they have and the interaction that they do on their Facebook page and everything that I see with this brand, it looks like they are really dialed in. They are to nerds what Beard Brand to the bearded guy nowadays. Whereas with Nerd Block, I feel like they go we have a product that is kind of nerdy, it’s got some like pop culture references and things like that. We are going to focus on retro gaming and stuff and we’re going to put it out there and then it’s cool and then people would buy it. It’s true people do but I feel like it lacks that same core. That same emotional core that same through the line and maybe because Loot Crate got to me first but I think it also comes down to like doing that research and having somebody who is a tastemaker in-house.

Austin: That makes a lot of sense. I think spending the month putting the time in and effort. You’re not going to be able to scale without it. You might be able to do it yourself, I think that’s one of the very interesting things about small business owners. You might be able to write the blog yourself but if you never actually actively define it and write it out and spend that time, it’s so hard to take it from just yourself or even worse, what happens to a lot of I noticed with small business owners who maybe have sold stuff in person before. They are able to sell it like crazy in person. But they can’t scale it to the next level where their team can sell it. Because they don’t even understand what they are doing. They just know because they have been in person. Like a lot of times, we have some work with some companies that they have products in festivals and they also sell online. You can always tell the guy who sells at festivals because when you ask them why or like why their product is different with another product, they will be able to spit it out so clearly because they spent hours and hours and hours selling face to face with people. At the same time, you asked them have you written that down or have you ever like turn that into something that your team can use and oftentimes no. It’s just in their head. I think it’s good advice to get it out there and do the research before you actually invest and spend the money in content marketing.

Tommy: I mean for me with my code it was let me write down my expectations of myself. That’s’ really where it came down for me. It was like if I were to define what it is that I want to have a piece of content for myself, this is what it is. These are the expectations I am going to hold you to. A great example of what you’re talking about with festivals, Moss did this landing page. They redid their landing page a long time ago now with Conversion rate experts and one of the things they did was they recorded Ran Fishkin at a whiteboard explaining what Moss was. That was it. Then they just took the energy and a lot of it was just a transcript. They took that energy and that vibe that Ran was doing in person and then put that down in the landing page. Landing page optimization versus hiring, it’s all kind of the same thing. It’s different goals but you’re still trying to communicate like that value. What you’re all about. Definitely if you’re a person who is great at in-person selling, but terrible with taking that and putting it on text, record yourself and just bring it to a professional writer. Above all else, I am a professional writer more than anything and if you were to give me something that, here’s the energy and here is the tone that I am trying to go for with like all of that like I will be able to get that something for you.

Austin: It’s good advice. It’s an interesting place to be in because it’s a very hot topic. People know they should be doing content. I went to a content marketing seminar back about a year ago now. Very hot topic, people knew they should be doing it but we had one of the guys we had at the seminar who is like there and was really excited about it with selling visas for passports like expedited visas. So like if you are going to go out of the country you need to go on three-four days, they would take care of you. They can get it done 24 hours whatever like his whole deal, and it was interesting to think to think about how he was going to get content related to that. I’m sure there is a lot that can work with that but it’s interesting from him. He was like I know we need to do it and that typically wouldn’t have stood out to me as a company that would need the content nearly as much as the trust to be able to get some of that done.

Chad: Well I’ll tell you what we can probably go on for a while with a lot of this. Because this is something I have been saying for quite a while, we have been saying for quite a while but the one thing that pisses me off most is when people try to do content in half-ass kind of way just because they are supposed to. That really bothers me because that just telling me you’re trying to do the next fad. It’s like trying to do Periscope and putting anything into it if that makes sense. But my point is like what you have been talking about today to really narrow it down why you’re doing it for one and how to do it in a way that resonates with your lifestyle, your brand and whatever it may be and how to delineate between the two that we have talked about I think that’s been huge for our listeners today and for me as well especially as we start creating more content. That being said, I wanted to finish up with like one or two final quick questions. Quick question I am kind of curious about at this point, what’s been the most memorable aha moment you have had in the last two years working with or writing for a Conversion excel and Shopify Plus? Just right off at the top of your head like when it was kind of like, whoa that’s crazy what I just figure out. Of course like I just if you can make it quick.

Tommy: Yeah a lot of it had to do with coming with the systems and just figuring out process in order to get stuff done.

Chad: Cool. We’re huge with the systems as well so that totally make sense and I love how you have that content system kind of figure out right now.

Tommy: Yeah because it’s like I have built a system around content development, I built a system around content promotion and now the goal is to build a system around doing podcast interviews and getting mentions in newsletters. Systematizing all of these and all of these processes and documenting stuff. So if I build my team, people coming on to my team from the past know what I have done or in the future know what I have done in the past in order to get into that point.

Chad: So that last two questions that really finish it up. One where can our listeners connect with you?

Tommy: Shopify.com/enterprise and tommy is my name on twitter.

Chad: Perfect. Based on our discussion today, we have talked quite a bit about content and who should be doing it and how, but what is the one thing our listeners should do today to start seeing some type of results tomorrow and based on what we have talked about already today.

Tommy: You won’t see results tomorrow but start developing your code, start writing your code and what you’re all about and then tomorrow refine that and work at it some more and then after that find people who can be onboard with helping you with that vision.

Chad: I got to tell you I agree that you won’t see maybe the tangible results but already you talking about a code, like it made me start thinking about the code for this and for whatever else I was going to do with content world and that already gave me results in the sense that I would be able to hear you say that makes so much sense to just narrows it down and allows me to focus. I think this code is something, I think that’s my aha moment today for sure since you have done a great job explaining it so. Tommy, appreciate you hopping on the phone today and chatting with us.

Tommy: Thank you so much for having me guys. It has been a blast.

Austin: It has been great chatting with you rather than just reading your writing. I mean I have read a ton of your articles man, so it’s actually great to chat with you in person.

Chad: Austin is kind of groupie when it comes to Tommy.

Austin: I followed the conversion excel from so far back. It was like one of my go-to when I was trying to learn the ecommerce marketing.

Tommy: Good job.

Chad: Thanks again Tommy. We’ll chat with you soon.

Tommy: Thank you.

Chad: Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of the ecommerce influence podcast. A couple of things before we sign off here. First, if you’re an ecommerce business owner and you’re still using Mail Chimp, you might want to consider not using it anymore. It is not the best platform for your business. We believe that Klaviyo. Klaviyo is the best platform for an ecommerce company. Now we don’t get any commission or affiliate commission or whatever it is from these guys. We use their platform for all of our clients. Our clients love and there is no doubt it’s one of the best platforms out there for ecommerce email marketing. We have a special email set up with them so they know you’re coming directly from the podcast and will give a little bit more special attention. If you want to get a demo, ask some questions they are there to help you and you can email them with their special email address. It’s Ei@klaviyo.com. Again that’s Ei@klaviyo.com and Klaviyo is spelled K-L-A-V-I-Y-O. AGAIN, Ei@klaviyo.com. So check it out. Also you can become an insider and what is an insider you ask? An insider is somebody who has access to all the free ecommerce marketing training that we have which includes seven guides, four steps to hiring A players in Elance, Selling your business for Max value, Facebook marketing for ecommerce and much more. Plus, a few training videos and some masterclasses with some of the ecommerce industry’s top experts and you can get that in one easy simple no brainer awesome way by heading over to ecommerceinfluence.com/insider. Again that’s ecommerceinfluence.com/insider. Head over there, check it out. And of course if you’re not subscribed yet, please subscribe. Leave us a review and we’ll see you on the next episode.


Chad: Awesome what’s up man?

Austin: Hey Chad how are you doing man?

Chad: Good. My wife hates when I say what’s up like that. She makes fun of me. In fact, she gets mad at me.

Austin: What does she say?

Chad: She is like don’t sa...

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