How To Power A Successful Blog Through Storytelling With Jeff Bullas [AMP 084]
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How do you deliver traffic to your blog? How do you move from chasing an audience to attracting and keeping one?
Today, we’re talking to Jeff Bullas, an internationally renowned speaker on digital marketing, including social media, blogging, and brand building. His mission is to help people win at business and life in the digital world through the art of storytelling.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- Storytelling: If people forget what you told them, they won’t forget how you made them feel
- Marketers in different countries face the same problems; they all want more traffic and conversions
- How Jeff took a $10 investment to generate more than 25 million visitors
- Books and blogs that inspired Jeff
- Build credibility and create content
- Description of Jeff’s virtual team; how he avoids the office because it feels like work instead of fun
- Make your brand memorable
- Connection between storytelling, social media, and driving traffic to your blog
- Make your audience the hero of a journey; convince people that they are capable
- With traffic, you have to earn and own it to convert it to leads and sales
- Passion and purpose is not a destination, it’s a calling and journey
- Develop a daily routine that becomes a habit
- Where to start: Ask yourself, Why am I here? What’s my passionate purpose?
Jordan: What’s the linchpin of driving traffic to your blog and how do you move from chasing an audience to attracting and then keeping one? Well, today’s guest has some great answers to these questions and he’s a real world case study of doing exactly this because today, we’ve got Jeff Bullas on the show. Jeff is an internationally-renowned speaker on digital marketing including social media, blogging, and so many more topics. He’s been featured on Forbes as a top 20 influencer of chief marketing officers for 2018. He’s included on entrepreneur.com as one of the 50 online marketing influencers to watch in 2018. Listed on Forbes as one of the top 20 influencers of CMOs in 2017 and so many more recognitions that are well-deserved because of a serious marketing expertise but best of all about Jeff is his mission is to help people win at business, in life, in a digital world. Today’s conversation certainly helps him fulfill that. I’m Jordan with CoSchedule. Now here is Jeff Bullas.
Jeff, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Jeff: It’s an absolute pleasure and great to meet you and we’ve already had a few stories behind the scenes which we won’t tell anyone about but that’s fine.
Jordan: We’ve had some very secret conversations and we’ll see what kind of forays we make in the rest of this interview.
Jeff: Men secret business, I call it.
Jordan: That would be your next book coming out but I don’t want to ruin it with any spoilers.
Can you kick us off by telling us more about what you’re up to these days? What countries you’ve been jetting off to, and all the exciting adventures of Jeff Bullas?
Jeff: Over last years or so we’ve been to Norway. We’ve been to San Francisco a few times. We’ve been to other parts of Americas–Spokane and Seattle. We’ve been to Portugal. We’re about to head off to Jordan. We’re back to head off to Bucharest, Romania. Then, we’re thinking going to Stockholm.
It’s been great to actually just meet some fabulous people around the world that have a passion similar to me, had great companies in a digital world, and had business life in the digital world as well, because I’m really serious they believe that. Life and business should not be separate, it shouldn’t be go to work, hate what you do, come back at 5:00 and find your life again. I really believe that in this digital world it’s possible to have it all as they say.
We’re doubling down on a publishing, so we got some projects based on that. We’re writing a lot more long-form content. We’re working with some big brands on influence on marketing like sales force and ensured, so a lot of interesting stuff happening. I suppose a lot of my passion submerged more over the last couple of years is the storytelling in getting your message across to the world and have brands that can do that, whether you’re a personal brand or bigger brand, because I love the quote. “People forget what you told them, but they don’t forget how you made them feel and that’s very much what a story does.”
Jordan: Fantastic. I love talking to people like you too who are all over and you sort of have a bird’s eye view of the digital marketing world, and the content marketing world. Something I wonder is do you find that marketers face the same problems even when they’re in the different countries? When you go see the marketers in Jordan, and you go to Bucharest, and all of these other places, are they the same core problems we’re all having?
Jeff: Yes, they want more traffic. They want more conversions. The reality is still the same, it’s just quite often that might not have the same platforms locally. In other words Facebook might be big in one country and not quite as big in another or Twitter is really great in one part of the world, and not so great in another. It varies. But, essentially, the foundation and your strategy shouldn’t be much different.
Jordan: This is a great topic today for our interview with that question, because I really wanted to dig into traffic with you. That’s something that you are an expert in and not just before you talk a lot about it, but because you’ve done it. That’s what makes me excited to talk about this with you today, because if I’ve got your stories straight, you took a $10 investment, you started it 10 bucks, and now you had over 25,000,000 visitors. You have a powerhouse of a brand and you found success as an entrepreneur. Can you just take us back and give as the cliff notes like how did you go from $10 to where you at today?
Jeff: It started as a little passion project. I was going out with a lady at that time and she introduced me to Facebook in 2008 and I went, “Wow.” This intersection of humanity and technology which is what social media is about, enabling people to publish. I noticed people’s obsession with it and then I got into to Twitter, I went with the same type of attitude, and I went an approach and I went, “Wow,” this opens up the world to me and to anyone that actually has something to say or very little to say, because we often start with not knowing much about our topic or what have I got to say that hasn’t been said before.
This obsession with social media became my obsession as well. Part of it was driven by a book by David Meerman Scott, The New Rules of Marketing and PR. David talked about how content could attract an audience and I went, “Wow, that sounds good,” because I’ve been so used to chasing at audience. There’s a quote used by Jeremy Epstein in his which I just came across the other day, which is really fabulous. He sums it up beautifully. He said, “Sales is where you call them, marketing is where they call you.”
Jordan: That’s good.
Jeff: I went, “Wow,” because David’s book was very much about creating content and attracting an audience, inbound marketing and we call that today generally around the world as content marketing. Then, I read Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek book around the same time but I went, “Wow, this digital world is offering this opportunity to be free of geographical constraints.” Free of working 9:00 to 5:00, that really attracted me as well with that sort of mindset. Then, I read a blog post by HubSpot which said, “Do you have an inkling of what you want to start a business or you want to write about start a blog?” I don’t even know what a blog was. Actually, I think I had Google what a blog was back then.
Jordan: Yes, it’s awesome.
Jeff: Blogs were just for geeky people and I wasn’t a geeky person. I work in tech for a couple of decades and I’d have to adapt and evolve for decades as well. In 2009, March, I actually started the blog and I just brought the domain name which is the $10 investment. I’m doing Twitter by then and I realized, “I need to do two things. I need to create the content and then I also need an audience.” I got really obsessed with building that audience.
Twitter became my go-to platform, Facebook was sort of there, there was no advertising at that time. Because I had no money, I had to be creative and even inventive. I discovered that Twitter was pretty a cool way to actually get some attentions. Then, we got put on list of Social Media Examiners as one of the top 10 finalist or something of social media blogs in the planet, and started building a little bit of credibility, and just kept creating content.
It was just a passion project and I was actually between jobs, that’s the code for unemployed, and what was really interesting was I actually got a job on April 1, which is Fool’s Day. I don’t if that’s the same in America. April 1 is Fool’s Day pretty right around the world. I got the job but I’ve already started the blog and what was interesting was I had to create content, so I did time blocking. I write late at night and I discovered that couldn’t work because you go out for dinner and you meet new friends, you have a couple of glass of wine, you come back, “Oh, I got to write.” That wasn’t going to work.
Jordan: Things get pretty interesting.
Jeff: Exactly, so I started writing but what was fantastic about writing at night is I could see the world wake up, because I was a bit of night owl. At 11:00 PM, America is actually is waking up and my audience was primarily and still today is mainly USA and North America, about 40% of my traffic is from there. It was interesting, because I would end up having conversations on Twitter with people as they got online. That was really fascinating.
Essentially, this passion project escaped the lab. I was working for this digital agency and I started speaking around the world as the bog grew. I went to Italy. I went to Kuwait. I went to Beirut. I went to Istanbul. I was taking leave without pay and they get, “Well, you’re not just interested in growing our business because you’re so distracted by your own blog.” I’m like, “I can’t, but I really need a job.” They actually cut me down to three days a week, cut me down to two days a week, and about four years after I started, I got myself slowly fired from my day job.
In the meantime, I was creating content. I changed my habit of doing deep work, it’s a great book by Cal Newport. I’m recommending anyone to read that. He actually gave a name to what I was doing, it’s deep work, which I got up at 4:30 AM for four years, and actually wrote from 4:30 AM to 9:00 AM before I started my day job, and wrote, and created, and published, and shared.
Eventually, I got myself fired from my job. Actually, they contracted me back for a day/week and that was about four years ago. Today, that business actually has folded and we’re booming here. Passion project escaped the lab essentially to make long story short.
Jordan: That’s the best way to describe, a passion project escaped the lab. I’m going to steal that from you, that’s good. What does your team look like today now? I understand it’s not just you in the lab anymore, so who are the scientists with you?
Jeff: I’ve got SEO guru in Europe. I’ve got my marketing funnels expert, she works in Colorado in USA. I’ve got my editor, he works actually in Sydney, but in different location. That’s about it really. I’m just thinking if anyone is hiding behind the scenes. I also have web designer/developer, he’s in Melbourne. Then we got different contractors in the […] copywriting and so on. Essentially, I just got a core team, it’s a virtual team. I do have an office, but I don’t go there very often because when I go to the office, it feels like I’m working whereas if I have my home office where we’re in today, it feels like I’m just playing which is really what I’m doing.
This is still very driven by what I’m passionate about, which is making a difference, creating content, learning to write better, learning to tell better stories, and hopefully people will actually want to hear and maybe pay business for doing some of that, which I do. It’s a lot of fun. I really don’t feel like I’m working. This is not a job. This is still a passion project.
Jordan: Well, when you have fun, we have fun. That’s the thing. We catch that from you, that passion is infused in your content, and we pick it up in the audience.
Jeff: That’s great to hear. I suppose it stems a little bit from when I started as well is that social media was fun, it was authentic, it was real, it was raw, it was human, it was wild west. We’ve lost a little bit today, because it has become corporatized, but I suppose part of is to keep it real and still keep it fun. That’s interesting. When I started blogging, I was doing some branding what I’m like. I didn’t do any deep workshops on this logos or anything. I said, “What am I going to be called in blog world?” I have a strange name, so likely that domain name was there 10 years ago, jeffbullas.com.
When I was in a schoolyard, Jeff Bullas maybe wasn’t that great of name. You could go on to the iterations of where that’s going to go. I’m not going to say them because people might be offended who has some sensitivities about four little words.
The reality was that I had an artist friend across the road and my partner said, she said, “Why don’t you use a caricature of you?” John, my artist friend across the road sat down in an afternoon, it was couple of hours just to drew this character. That’s what you’ll see today on the blog and it’s fun. I think he capture the essence of me and the brand. I think we carry that through today. We use that on the book covers. Maybe it’s quite a little bit strange, but it’s memorable. See, that’s the other thing too, is that a nice glamour shot of me is maybe not going to be that memorable. But not to take myself too seriously, a caricature is actually much more memorable and that’s proved to be the case. It was a branding mistake success, really.
Jordan: Everybody was zigging with the clean polished stuff and then, boom, here’s Jeff and every one is like, “I like the zag.”
Jeff: I get accused of having a big head sometime so I say, “Yes, I do. There’s my caricature.”
Jordan: This is interesting to me because there is some talk around storytelling and it can become buzzword but I think that’s something that you’re actually very good at and you actually see business value and business result from, so could you talk a little bit about the connection you’ve seen between storytelling, social media, and then driving traffic to your blog sort of this that you’re really owning?
Jeff: If you just leave the facts, everyone’s got facts, everyone’s got content. It was a friend of mine who actually saw the video that Mark Schaefer did for me with content marketing world. I’m the only one they held, which was in Sydney, Australia about four or five years ago and I had a quick chat to Mark and he just had his phone. He took a video. It’s about six to seven-minute video taken with a smartphone.
She saw the video and it’s actually one of the first time that I actually shared my story and she said, “You got to tell that story more.” I said, “Who cares about my story?” That’s what makes it different. No one can take your story. You’re the only that has your story. It’s the same with the brand, why you started, no one else has your story, but you can borrow facts until the cows come home.
The reality is that it’s your story and that’s where it starts to become powerful is when you get better at telling that story, and then make a point from that story. That essentially become embedded in my keynotes, it become embedded in my rising. Now, I’m fascinated by how to tell hero’s journey. It’s great book by Donald Miller which I’m sure you’ve heard about the story of brand and his brand.
I just finished reading that the other day, I just published a five-book review on Monday about a few other books I’ve read as well. I just love his approach to that. Also, the guys behind contently, they just release the book recently, and that’s very much about the big automation as well as AI, which are the two big futures for content, which excite me and worry me.
They also weave the importance of storytelling as well. Story is yours and I think that’s where you’re going to start from and then you’re actually going to give people a plan how they can actually reach the world, you need to be the guide. That was Star Wars story all over again.
Jordan: One of the things I really like about the talk around the archetype like the hero’s journey framework is you really have to make your target audience the hero. It’s not necessarily about your journey as the hero, it’s about them as the hero, and you sort of being of Obi Wan or Gandalf or whatever. Is that how you think about it? Go ahead, talk about that.
Jeff: Exactly. Nothing wrong with you saying, “Well, it’s about humble beginning,” just how it started, I had a crisis, I had a call, existential threat to the business all of my life, that’s what did happened to me. I was unemployed in the middle of a divorce, hundreds of thousands in debt when I started and I’m 60. The reality is I’m an old guy. I had to reinvent myself, so if I can do it, you can do it. Let me be your guide, let me give you a plan, so you can be the hero and that’s how it goes.
Jordan: There’s this element of you having to almost convince people though that they can do something, like they are capable of taking the steps that you’ve taken.
Jeff: Yes, and that then comes down to distilling the complexity and the simplicity, which is where content creation becomes. You got to get your cloudy content and information that swirls around in between your two ears and you got to actually distill that into the simplest plan you possibly can and then take people on that journey. That’s what you got to do and that is quite overwhelming, because you’re going, “I want do that. I want to do this. How do I actually distil that down?”
That’s the challenge and that’s what I love about writing, the actual art of creations. Because when you actually create, you got to do that. You got to say, “How people going to understand this topic?” You’ve got to actually break it down. You’ve got to give it a structure. You’ve got to give it a form and it’s going to make sense. You got to get away from using big industry acronyms that actually confuse people.
I have a saying, “If you see any acronym, shoot it.” Because it’s industry peak and you got to rush people through the journey. You want to keep them with you and you’ve got to write for a nine-year-old.
Jordan: Which is incidentally my reading level, I appreciate that. I like to watch videos of you on YouTube, Jeff, and I think a lot of people do, not just because I like your accent, but because I like what you’re saying. One thing that you’ve said that has stuck with me, you talked about when it comes to traffic, you have to earn traffic which you said like that’s becoming attractive, but you also need to own traffic and then keep the relationship going like you can’t just keep them there, you have to invite them back. Take us deeper in storytelling, and owning that traffic, and keeping that relationship flourishing.
Jeff: I had an aha moment in Chicago about three years ago. I become quite good at earning traffic. In other words I have search engines delivering traffic to me. I built distribution on social. I was good at creating the content, I was good at getting the traffic, but I was missing that last piece, and that was converting that into leads and sales. At the simplest level, that’s building your email list.
About three years ago, I’ve decided after this, because I met a guy called Tod Brown. He was at this Mastermind event with Danny and a few others. He just went through what he works in conversion. In other words, building funnels. That’s what I’m not doing very, very well. I’ve got all this traffic, I’ve got all this great content, and I’m not doing much with it.
I double down on that about three years ago and was really been working much harder at owning that traffic. An email list is the closest you’ll get to actually owning traffic. I call search engines, building searching engine authorities earning traffic, building a social media list is earning a tribe that works. But you just got to keep delivering, that’s the hard part. You got to play a long game here. This is not about, “Wow, I got a valuable piece of content this month,” wait another year to get that. I never want quick wins.
The reality is you just got to strap yourself in and keep doing the work and that’s why the passion is very important part of that purpose, because you’re not going to do that every day unless you actually are passionate about it, because tough times will come. If you love what you’re doing, your topic, the people that you surround yourself with, that will make it so much easier to actually sit down and create content, inspire, entertain, and educate, that’s what’s really important.
You got to have the right foundation. It took me 15 years to discover what that foundation and purpose was. But the thing about purpose and passion is that it’s not, “I’ve arrived.” I think that’s what people don’t really understand is that, “Hi, I’ve arrived. I’m here. I’m home.” The reality is it continues to be a journey. You got to keep reinventing yourself. You’re going to keep learning. You got to keep growing. Passion and purpose is not a destination, it’s a calling and it’s a journey.
Jordan: That’s beautiful. I resonate with that too, because I’m a content marketing strategist here on our team so I’m like, “Content, content, content.” This is my life. This is what I do. Like so many others, I hit the walls sometimes and one thing I started doing is I just have my orange sticky note and I go back to like, “Why am I doing this?” “Why am I creating this automation funnel?”
That can be the driest, the most technical thing, but then I realize like, “Man, I’m trying to deliver really helpful content that solves problems for people that I care about who are like me at just the right time. It sorts of just like sparks you. You get infuse with this like, “Oh, man, I want to do this,” even though it’s 3:00 and I feel like I need another tank of coffee.
Jeff: Yes, it’s true. Sometimes you’re just going to strap yourself and go, “I’m going to sit in my chair, I’m going type one word, and I’m going type another word.” Then, two hours later, you realize you’ve actually written a blog post or written an article or written an idea or written a strategy. It doesn’t mean every day it’s going to be great or perfect. I think this is where routines become important, the daily routine.
We got knocked off our daily routines regularly, it’s to have that routine to go through so I think that’s really, really important. Also, you’re going to be doing what feeds your soul is that what you’re doing is meaning to you, and not get distracted by the moment.
Jordan: I just imagine 4:30 AM for four years, that take some passion to get up in the wee hours, where it’s not even morning yet, that’s still night to me.
Jeff: I don’t do that today. I get up at about 5:30 now, but 4:30 because I had this deadline of 9:00 AM which I don’t have anymore, because that was the day job deadline to start. That 4:30 AM, I don’t know if I can do that my whole life, because it was just that time that was right for me. I seized it. I time blocked and I created a habit.
I remember driving over the Sydney Harbour Bridge at 5:00 AM after having a shower and getting up. I actually go to the office where I was working and I would actually work there because no one else was in the office, I turned up, and this building is like a ghost site. It’s just me. It’s just my lemon and ginger tea and double shot of black coffee, and I’m sitting down here. I’m just checking what’s going on the first for the day. It said that a crisis happened on social media and then I would go in and just write.
It was that routine that became a habit. It’s very, very powerful and that’s what Cal Newport actually outlined briefly in way in his book, Deep Work, which describes different ways of doing it, whether you’re an academic that goes and does a sabbatical or whether you do it in the morning or whether you’re like a journalist that dives in and dives out during the day to write something. As journalist you can approach the monastic approach. There’s the habit approach, so there are all of those different ways. You’re just going to have to try and find a way that works for you.
Jordan: One of my favorite questions whenever we’re bringing interviews in for landing is sort of coming to you and saying, “Okay, Obi Wan,” or, “Okay, Gandalf,” it’s like the sage wisdom time. What if someone is here in this place and they want to play the long game with content marketing, and they haven’t had this mindset while they approach it, and they said, “Jeff, where do I start? What’s the most important question I need to ask myself?” What would you tell them?
Jeff: I think you got to start with the right foundation, which is you really got to ask yourself the question. I think this is the question that we should all should be asking our life is, “Why am I here? What’s my passionate purpose?” That’ll be an intersection, your experience, your expertise, your innate ability. Then if you have inkling of what that is I think the best thing to do then is actually start creating content around that to actually write, if you don’t like writing, do a podcast, if you don’t like podcast, do a video. Just choose a medium of choice. Gary Vaynerchuk chose video, I chose writing, but I think the real reality is that if you’re going to distil this cloud of confusion in the clarity and distil, you really got to create.
I would recommend anyone to take their IP, their intellectual knowledge that might be buried in the corporation of what they’re doing. In other words, they shop to the day job, they add value to the business, but don’t do anything for them. What you’re going to do is build something for you because the reality is a about having that day job is that if you get fired, your authority, and your credibility is just positional.
The reality is you should be investing in you and that means create, not only create, you need then to publish, share it to the world, that means then you grow, you exist. Do not wait for that lucky win, someone to discover you. It’s actually create the best content you can, not only do that, share it with the world. Because what will happen is the world will talk to you and the you will talk to the world. The world will change you and you will change the world. That’s the power of actually creating in a social media world.
May 8, 2018