Founder of Sweet Fish Media, James Carbary, shares his story
Where he began
I was working for a tech start-up in 2014, but unfortunately they were selling their product only to the government, so the sales cycles were super long. I couldn’t close enough deals to make the investors happy. Funding dried up and they had to let me go towards the end of 2014, but while I was with them, I was studying marketing while trying to help them grow. I kept hearing people talking about content marketing and coaching people on how to do it.
What I found in my role with the startup was I didn’t have a problem knowing how to do this stuff, because everybody was talking about how to do it. I had a problem with actually finding the time to do it.
I thought we could offer a done-for-you solution. A business owner might spend four hours trying to craft a blog post, because they’re not a writer, that’s not their strength. Instead, what if they spent 15 minutes talking to someone from our team? We record it and then we go send it to a professional writer to have it written in their voice.
That’s how we got started and we started within a day. I pitched it to two friends in an afternoon and I had recurring revenue. I thought, “Man, well, this might be the thing.” That’s how I stumbled on to it and then just grew it from there.
How he brings value to clients
We have a done-for-you content marketing service. I started it in last January and for the first year we did pretty well from a customer acquisition standpoint. We’ve done quite a bit of cold email using a service called LeadFuze.
But we’re shifting in 2016. We do content interviews with the business owner, then we turn those content interviews into written blog content. We’re creating a combo of three services – podcast, cold email, and blog content – and we’ll be going after a different market, like folks in the B2B space.
We’re going to reach out to people to be a guest on your show. We have the podcasts produced and then our graphic design team does all the promotion and stuff around that. So that’s what we’re shifting into and I’ve got some existing clients that are interested in doing it.
How he sticks out from the crowd
Promotion is where many people drop the ball. We have a lot of automated systems in place. We’ve got folks on our team that are focused on making sure that our social queues are staying full, both with our content and with other like-minded content. We’re not just pushing our stuff. We’re pushing great content, and it just so happens that about half of that is our content.
We use a service called SocialOomph. I know Meet Edgar does some similar functionality where you can plug in posts and they just keep recycling over and over and over again. We write a few different headlines for each one of the posts that we write and so we try to mix it up a bit and then just figure out our cadence. We want to put it into a cycle to where we know that all of our content is going out on a consistent basis.
CoSchedule is also really good for that too. It plugs right into WordPress. We can set all that up right when you’re publishing your blog post to WordPress.
Derek Halpern says you have to spend 80 percent of your time promoting it and 20 percent of your time creating it. That’s proven to be true for us. We’ve gotten traction pretty quickly with our content and I think it’s just because we promote it more than everybody else.
We launched the podcast a few months ago. We tried to get some traffic to that via Facebook, but we would have to make a big investment on Facebook to get in front of enough people in order for it to really move the needle.
Favorite Tools of the Trade
We run our entire business out of Google Drive. I’m a huge, huge, huge Google Drive advocate. We’ve got a pretty intense kind of organizational structure of how we organize it. It’s where we store all of our content and as well as our client content and then we integrate that with Trello. Our workflow is all on Trello and then clients and everyone on our team can access all the content that we work in straight from Google Drive. It plays real nice with the other tools that we use.
Apple is my favorite because their products are a part of me and I use them every day. Obviously, I’m on Facebook every day too, but I’ve either got an iPhone in my hand or I’m sitting behind a MacBook Pro every day.
I recently read The Go-Giver. It rocked my world. It’s not a traditional kind of self-help business book. It’s told through story but the principles that they teach in that story are very well-defined. It just gets you thinking on a whole different level.
How to Win Friends and Influence People is amazing as well. Then The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes is also a really phenomenal tool for me. I read that one a couple of years ago. I still find myself going back to it. The Millionaire Fastlane has been really helpful too. It’s more of a mindset book.
How he keeps a work-life balance
I got married a while ago and so getting married has forced me to shut the laptop down at 6 o’clock when my wife gets home whereas before, kind of the first nine months of starting the business, it was heads down. I would be up working on stuff until 2:00 in the morning and then back up on a sales call at 8:00 AM the next day.
I think the only reason I mastered work-life balance is because there’s now another human that wants my attention and that I want to give my attention to. That has been a great help. Waking up earlier has been helpful. I am not a morning person by any means, but I’m trying to be. I’m trying to wake up with my wife whenever she gets up and that has been very helpful. I feel like when you can get up before your inbox starts going crazy, you can get some real meaningful work done that’s more on business stuff as opposed to in business.
I also think having a team around you is huge. From the very start, I think I sacrificed a lot of personal income, not paying myself a lot because I knew that I wanted to build an infrastructure around what we were doing and a team around what we were doing. I knew that if I was the only one writing articles and I’m the only one posting to all these social media sites for all of our clients, if I’m the one doing all the graphic design, then nobody is there to run the business and to really see it grow and to go in the direction that you want it to go.
I think I see a lot of founders making that mistake of being in their business way too much. So you wind up working 16, 17, 18-hour days and when you really assess your day, most of the stuff you’re doing you shouldn’t be doing.
His advice to fellow entrepreneurs
My advice is to build systems and processes.
I think doing it all yourself seems easier, but if you want to build a business, not just build a job for yourself, you’ve got to start documenting every aspect of your business. Ultimately, you need to run the thing and you’ve got to be able to get that stuff in your head out. Maybe that’s specific to people running Internet businesses more so than folks doing the brick and mortar thing, but I still think it plays everywhere.
We’re a content marketing service. We bring on a lot of writers and it probably took me six months into this thing before I defined an on-boarding process and had my marketing assistant start on-boarding new writers. I set up the process one time and I haven’t had to touch it since then, but it was something that was a stressful thing for me every time we brought on new writers in the beginning.