Growing Through Fanatical Customer Engagement

Growing Through Fanatical Customer Engagement

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There are some people in this world that are nuts about pens. We’re not just talking about the classic boxes of Bics, but pens that are worthy of being held in their own mahogany box and destined to sign an important document. Brian Goulet of Goulet Pens is one of those guys. He understands that engaging customers about something they’re passionate about is crucial to the success of his business.

Brian shares his tips for an engaged Facebook group, talks about why listening to customers is crucial and also weighs in on why handwritten notes are still a good idea.

You’ll learn:

  • How to use educational guides to grow your business
  • The future of organic traffic
  • Smart ways to grow a team successfully

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(With your host Andrew Youderian of eCommerceFuel.com and Brian Goulet of GouletPens.com)

Andrew: Welcome to “The eCommerceFuel Podcast,” the show dedicated to helping high six and seven-figure entrepreneurs build amazing online companies, and incredible lives. I’m your host, and fellow ecommerce entrepreneur, Andrew Youderian.

Hey, guys, Andrew here. Welcome to “The eCommerceFuel Podcast,” and thanks so much for tuning in, joining me on the mic today. Today, I’m excited to talk with Brian Goulet, from gouletpens.com.

Brian is a community member, our private forum member who joined us last year, and just really stood out to me and other members of the community for a lot of his impressive contributions, experience, and I just wanted to really with no agenda, get him on the podcast to learn more about him, get to know him, hear his story, yeah, because he’s got a lot of cool things to share, a cool company he has built.

In researching for this, kind of the theme that came out that we’ll talk about is just the value and the power of exceptional customer engagement. I mean, so many of us hustle early on in the business, but Brian really did that with his company, of course.

And really, the whole foundation was built on engaging with customers, reaching out to them in forums, building rapport with them. It wasn’t paid traffic, it was really hustle and kind of a lot of one-on-one hustling. He doesn’t do quite as much of that one-on-one today because he’s got a large team, as you’ll hear, but that still is very much at the root of what powered his business.

So, we talk about that. We talk about why he’s never been on Amazon in 8-plus years, why doesn’t plan to be on Amazon even though it could drive a lot of short-term, or maybe even long-term revenue for him. Fun discussion with him, so I hope you enjoy that.

Before we do that, I wanna thank our sponsors who make the show possible. I love our sponsors, they’re both companies I can…The only sponsors I would have on are ones that I can authentically get behind, and I can really do that for both of these.

First one is Klaviyo. If you listen to the show, you most certainly know them, but if you don’t, they make email automation easy, and powerful. Five quick reasons why you should be using Klaviyo if you’re not, for your e-commerce email marketing. First, segmentation. That is what they just kill it at.

They let you break out your email list, your customer list. You can pull in from Shopify, WooCommerce, pretty much any shopping cart, and send targeted automated email flows to them based on their behavior.

They’ve got a really great Facebook integration so that you can market and retarget to people on Facebook based on your email list. They just rolled out a fantastic visual flow builder that makes it much more intuitive to build out some of your complex flows.

They’ve got a really nice email design template editor that makes your mobile emails and your desktop emails, they’re like way…they look sharp without having to have a designer, and they’ve got very powerful analytics and reporting to show you what’s working, and what’s not. So, check them out. If you’re not using them, you can get started for free at ecommercefuel.com/klaviyo.

And then secondly, a big thank you to Liquid Web, who offers world-class web hosting for your WooCommerce store. So, recently, this last, you know, within the last six months, I moved all of my…all of my infrastructure is at Liquid Web: VPSs, WooCoommerce, WordPress, everything.

And I actually chatted with Chris, my tech guy who moved it over, and I said, “Chris, what was your experience like moving it all over to Liquid Web?” and the four things he said was he loves how the WordPress and the WooCommerce sites get automatically updated, so I don’t have to worry about that from a security standpoint, with screen shots to check to make sure things look properly, because they do a pre and post screen shot to make sure everything looks properly. It’s all automated.

The VPSs we use handle all the security certificates automatically. Our performance, we host the eCommerceFuel directories on Liquid Web, and the performance there has increased dramatically. And it’s incredibly easy to create sites and manage them, at least that’s what he said.

So, if you don’t trust me, which I wouldn’t, I’m kind of sketchy, trust my tech guy, Chris, because is a pretty legit dude. And you can learn more about them, especially if you’re in WooCommerce, that’s what they really know and specialize in. You can learn more about them at ecommercefuel.com/liquidweb.

All right, thank you, guys, for making this all possible. And with that, let’s jump into my discussion today with Brian Goulet.

Background into Brian’s Business

Brian, when did you start the business? And where are you today, in terms of your team size, your facility, you know, things like that?

Brian: So, I have kind of two versions of my business. It took me a long while to kind of figure out exactly what it was that I needed to do to succeed. I was a woodworker, and I was making wooden pens kind of as a hobby. I did that for a couple of years, never really made any money from it. I just kind of, anything I would make, I would invest back in tools, or wood, or whatever.

But it wasn’t really until 2009 that I started getting into selling fountain pen products. It was originally just my wife and I that started out in our dining room, you know, kind of classic American Dream kind of story. We had an idea we started, you know, just selling on our own little website.

We had a little blog and just, you know, started out just doing this stuff kind of on the side. And then we’re at the point now where we have, my wife and I, are 2 out of the 42 people that we have work in our company. We have a facility that’s about 24,000 square feet that includes both office and warehouse, because we do our own fulfillment. It’s quite an operation these days.

Brian Has Always Been a Pen Guy

Andrew: That’s cool. Congrats on the growth and the success you’ve had. And you have, I mean, you started…I mean, you’re making these pens by hand so guessing this was a, you know, a product of love early on. It was an interest of yours.

Brian: Oh, for sure. Yeah. I mean, it completely was not driven by setting a business plan, or anything like that. I mean, I was itching to make stuff with my hands, because I’m a very kind of tactile person, so I somehow convinced her that it would be a good idea for me to buy a small pen lathe. And what ended up happening is the first day that I made pens, I made like four pens in a couple of hours. I was like, “This is amazing. I love this.”

And then I looked around, I was like, “Oh, my Gosh, I have more pens than I’m going to use for like the next five years, how am I gonna keep doing this hobby? I’m gonna fill my house with pens.” So I was like, “I need to figure out a way to sell pens so that I can keep doing this hobby.”

So, I started looking online, so I googled it and looked on some forums and stuff like that, and I was like, “How do you use a fountain pen? What is a fountain pen? How does it work?” and that’s when I found there’s a forum called The Fountain Pen Network, that was kind of the prevailing forum of the time where people were going to kind of hang out and talk about pens.

I completely fell down the rabbit hole personally, and I saw it as an amazing opportunity from a business standpoint, to serve the community.

Philosophies from Gary Vee

Andrew: You’re a big Gary Vee fan, and I think most people are familiar with him. What is it that you think that he gets right, and what philosophies have you stolen from him, or not stolen, but embraced, of his philosophies?

Brian: I call it “Inspired by.”

Andrew: Inspired by, let me get out…You know, I said that and I was like, beautiful, very eloquent answer. You build rapport, your get started off…

Brian: No, no. No. It’s all good. Like, I’ll give Gary Vee a ton of credit because he wrote his book, “Crush It,” back in 2009. He’s on his fifth book now, but he wrote his first business book back in 2009 called “Crush It.” It was after reading that book that I was just like, “Holy crap, this guy has done exactly in the wine world, what needs to be done in the fountain pen world.”

And I pretty much just took exactly what he did, and said, “I’m gonna go do that. You know, I’m gonna start a video blog, I’m gonna do a written blog. I’m gonna go heavy on education. I’m gonna be super engaged with my community, and I’m gonna respond to every comment, and I’m gonna just learn from them and respond back to them, and be super generous.” And that has worked phenomenally for me.

How Education Has Helped The Business

Andrew: You talked about, you know, the things that he…being really engaged, a video blog, education. Those are kind of the core pillars of what you’re doing. The blogging makes sense. Give me a sense on the engagement, like what do you do to engage with your customers in a way that other e-commerce stores aren’t, and what kind of advantage that you think it gives you. Because I think that’s kind of part of the secret sauce of what’s made your business successful.

Brian: I mean, I’ve kind of done all the hard stuff first. You know, it’s like I started out, I had no money, so I like having a marketing budget was laughable, you know, because I mean, literally, when Rachel I started…Rachel’s my wife.

When I started doing the content marketing, as the term has come to be known, I didn’t know that that’s what I was doing at the time. I just was doing what was practical. You know, YouTube was there and you could comment, and you could respond to people’s comments on You Tube. Twitter was there. Facebook was there. Instagram wasn’t, at the time, which is crazy to think about.

But, you know, social media at the time was somewhat new, but really it was just a matter of there were forums, there were blogs, there were places where people could comment, and you could comment back. And I was like, “You can have a conversation with people about, you know, things.” So, I would ask and be like, “Hey, what paper do you guys use, and why do you like it?” they’d say, “Oh, I like Clairefontaine,” or whatever they would say. “I like Rodeo.”

“I like this brand.” And I’d be like, “Okay, so where do you buy?” and they’d be like, “Oh, there’s this place but they’re out of stock a lot, and there was this other place, but they don’t even have a checkout, you have to mail a check in.” And I’m like, “That’s insane.” I was like, “What if I carried this and sold it like this?” they’d be like, “That’d be amazing.” I’d be like, “All right.”

So, I would go and carry it, and then I would go back, and I would tell them, “Hey, I carry this now.” And they’d be like, “Oh my Gosh, that’s amazing. I’m gonna buy it.” And I was like, “Well, this is kind of a no-brainer, you know and it cost me nothing except for time.”

So, I was literally kind of researching, finding out exactly what the community wanted, then I would offer it. And as soon as people saw that I was engaging with them, and asking their feedback, and offering what they wanted, they came and just told me more, and more, and more.

And I was like, “Well, this is about the easiest thing I think I’ve ever done,” because after grinding for like two and a half years making pens, and trying to hit corporate people up and, you know, running into dead ends, and it was not a passion-driven thing for most people, it was very easy for me to engage with people that were excited about the hobby that they were invested in.

And I, as a retailer/influencer, if you will, before the term came to be, that’s exactly what I was doing. And so I didn’t pay any ads for anything, I had no pay-per-click. I had no banner ads. I had none of that kind of early, you know, Web 1.0 stuff that was going on. I was just engaging with people, and building an audience and a following, and building a rapport, you know, in the community.

Brian’s Personal Involvement in Customer Interaction

Andrew: For the market research, that makes a lot of sense. And when you’re, you know, when you’re one or two people, it’s easy to have that passion. Something that’s new, it’s early, and you’re hustling. You’ve got 40 people now, it’s eight years down the road, is that something that you still maintain? Like, do you or your team still personally reply to every single YouTube comment, every single Twitter comment, all that kind of stuff?

I guess it’s a two-part question, are you doing that personally? I’m guessing, no. And if it’s not you, like, is that a core part of what you’re still doing to interact personally with every single customer?

Brian: It’s definitely a core part. When I say like we started the hard stuff first, like that’s the stuff I started doing first, like spending eight hours learning a product, and shooting a video, and publishing it, and then spending the next four hours engaging on comments, following up on it. I would do that, but I know very little, honestly.

I know very little about running ads, and doing, you know, the kind of stuff that I hear in the ECF about people that are like syncing up Shopify with Klaviyo, and then hooking it up to Facebook messenger, where I’m like, “That sounds amazing, but I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about.”

Like, I would sit down in front of a video and I can talk to you till you’re blue in the face about pens, and be super-engaging in the community about like, you know, you were talking about retargeting and list off, and I’m like, I’m starting to learn that stuff now because everything that I’ve built so far has been on content and engagement.

So, as my company’s grown, you know, I’ve got 42 people, but myself and my wife, to a degree, we do, you know, some of the content stuff, but I have a team of seven people that are, you know, involved in social media, content production, that kind of stuff. So, you know, think about that just in terms of how much of the business is devoted to that. It’s like a quarter of my business is engaged in content, and social media stuff.

Trust Is The Currency

Andrew: So, Brian, there’s a quote that I just, you know, I saw it when I was researching for this. It was that, you said, “I sell fountain pens, for crying out loud, which is all based on community, passion, and connecting with other people. Trust is my currency. And I always find it credible payoff when I do stuff like responding to people individually, because people know that I actually care, and Amazon won’t do this.” We’ll talk about Amazon in a minute, but initially, this was kind of your pricing compared to your competitors.

I’m guessing based on just the approach that you’ve taken, the love, and care, and TLC you’ve put into the business, the fact that you’re trustworthy, that you’re, you know, very engaged with people, not that you want to by any means, you know, take your consumers for a ride, or your customers for a ride and gouge them, but I’m guessing you guys are probably on the, at least…definitely on the lower end, if not on the higher end of the pricing scale, because people know that you care, and, you know, you’re engaged.

So, am I fair in guessing that allows you to charge a premium over a lot of your competitors?

Brian: I mean, I try not to view it as like charging a premium. I try to charge a price that creates a lot of value, so I don’t even look at it so much as like price is the determining factor. I’m very aware of prices, but for so many people…and I’m in a niche industry. It’s not a highly commoditized industry. You know, obviously, the more competition you have, the more tendency there is to just drive the price down.

I really love a quote from Seth Godin that says, “The problem with the race to the bottom is you just might win.” I never wanted to view it as, I want price as my differentiator. Amazon, ultimately, is going to beat you on price. You just gotta realize that’s what’s going to happen. So you will never be a differentiator purely on price.

So, I charge what I need to charge to be able to do what I need to do, so if that happens to be more expensive then so be it. I’ll be rewarded for the other things that I do that had value if people find it of value.

Deciding Not To Sell on Amazon

Andrew: Talk a little about…before we started recording, we were talking about Amazon, and I cut us off because I wanted to save it for the actual on-air recording. But you mentioned for your competitors, you’ve seen…you don’t sell on Amazon right now, despite how large your business has grown, zero sales on Amazon.

A very deliberate choice, and one you have kind of, offered you repression, in some regards. You haven’t sold, I mean, you guys started selling 5, 6, 7 years ago when, obviously, Amazon wasn’t as mature, but you made the intentional decision not to.

You kind of referred to Amazon as the “Kiss of death,” for some of your competitors. Talk a little bit about why you decided not to go that route, what’s happened your competitors who have sold, and, you know, why you think you’ve been able to thrive so much despite completely going cold turkey on Amazon.

Brian: For sure. I mean, yeah, Amazon does a lot of things right, obviously. That’s why they’re so huge. You know, there’s a ton of people that love buying through Amazon, and they’ve done so many things right. Very early on, in 2009, as somebody who wasn’t shopping on Amazon, and I very rarely buy from them.

I’m not a prime number anything like that. You know, I’m not like, “Amazon’s evil,” but at the same time I’m like, “I know what they’re up to.” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how they’re working things.

I’ve been doing the business probably six months, and believe me six months in, we were not selling a lot. We were still in our garage, it was just me and Rachel. Their fulfillment services reached out to us about doing Fulfillment by Amazon, and I, you know, got the numbers and I was like, “Oh, you’re how much of a percent? I don’t have that kind of margin to just give up. I’m shipping out of my garage, I can fulfill it just fine,” you know.

And then they kept hitting me up harder, and harder, and harder, and I was like, “Why are they coming after me so hard?” and I just put two and two together I was like, “Wait, they want me to send my product direct from my supplier to them, they wanna sell it. What am I doing? Like, why am I getting paid anything? What value am I adding here? Why wouldn’t they just go direct to the manufacturer?” and I was like, “Oh, that’s what they’re doing.”

And then I did a little research, and I kind of found other industries, you know, smaller niche kind of industries where that’s exactly what was happening. They would get people that have a huge marketplace, you know, with lots of traffic and eyeballs, that people, you know, buying on Amazon.

So they would get small retailers who couldn’t handle the fulfillment side to do the Fulfillment through Amazon, and it’s really appealing, and you build this nice, pretty business model, and then they would find out your supplier, and then they would start buying direct from the supplier, and then they put pressure on the supplier to drive down prices. I was like, “Wow, this is not a super healthy scenario for a niche industry.”

Like, the fountain pen industry, it’s a very passion-driven industry. A lot of the suppliers that I have, they’re small companies. Like, I’m talking…one of my product lines is one guy working out of his house. Like, he can’t supply Amazon.

You know, he can’t drive down price. Like, it’s just not…it’s not beneficial to the fountain pen industry to play it that way. I just looked at that and I said, “This is not for me.” Like, other people may be able to figure out how to make this work, but this is not gonna work.

On Growing a Team

Andrew: You then, of course, started…yourself and Rachel, two people. You’ve now got a team of over 40 people. Which stage of the process have you enjoyed the most, and which stage in the, kind of the evolution to 40 people was the hardest from a managerial or team size standpoint?

Brian: I think for both of those, I wanna say all of it. For me, it’s an interesting…so, my personal story is like, my wife was seven months pregnant with our first child when we started selling fountain pen products. And I started my first video 10 days before my son was born. So, there’s a really strong correlation between like when I started my family, and when I started this business.

So, the two have really gone in parallel. I actually probably worried more about the early days of the business as I did with like, my son, because I had a super easy kid, the first one. I would stay up until like 2 o’clock in the morning, working in the business, and shipping out orders, and blogging, and stuff like that, and my son to sleep like eight hours a night. The two are really strong and parallel, so that was definitely a hard phase.

My wife was on maternity leave. She works for, you know, a Fortune 500 company. She decided, at the end of her maternity leave, that she couldn’t go back. She couldn’t leave our son. She wanted to stay home. And I was like, “Oh, okay. That’s something that we haven’t talked about, yet.” So here I was like, “I don’t have a salary.

I have not been working for any corporation or anything, for the last three years.” At this point, I was 25. You know, I was like, “I’m not a very marketable individual.” So it’s like, if we can’t get this business really working well in the next few months, I don’t know what we’re gonna do. I was doing all the product photography. I was shooting videos.

I was doing all the order fulfillment, you name it. I don’t even remember much of that phase because it was working 18 to 20 hours a day, every single day, and that’s just what it took to get it off the ground.

Finally, you know, after the first year, it was about a year after we started the fountain pen thing, that we were able to actually pay ourselves a salary. And I was like, “Oh, dang. I can’t get sick because I’m gonna get a week behind in work, and never catch up.” Like, “What do I do now?” you know.

And so that’s when I started thinking about, “Oh my Gosh, we really need to start thinking about hiring people.” It was either, “We need to hire people,” or, “I need to stop providing good service.” Like, I didn’t know what the alternative was. Like, how do I get people to stop wanting what we’re doing?

Andrew: So, with a team of 40, do you have a COO, or a Director of e-Commerce?

Brian: You’re looking at him, my friend. So, the things look very weird in our company, just because my wife and I started it together. We’ve worked on it full time together for nine years, we’re still in it full-time together. So, she kind of is more of the COO role on the operational side.

I do all the leadership stuff. I’m heavy in like the content marketing production. I’m like the pen expert, if you will, the face of the company, and the ra, ra company meeting kind of stuff. And both of us are involved in like picking new products, and vendor relations, and stuff like that. So, it looks a little funky in our company that it only works because her and I are married, and so in sync, and so driven together.

Not Your Typical CEO

Andrew: It seems to be, increasingly, for, can I just say four members that are kind of getting up there in that mid-seven, or a low eight, like that seems to be the lynchpin hire, I think, that seems to be from, just with people, just the hardest one to make, because it’s…you can get to that level as the owner fulfilling that role, but to get past that, you’ve gotta find someone who’s experienced enough, who cares enough, who’s a good cultural fit and can handle all of the balls that are up in the air.

That seems like probably lynchpin higher for people to look at and get past that stage.

Brian: I think, especially in like the e-commerce space, it’s kind of a unique thing. I think this role itself…I have a media team, so, I have two photographers, a videographer, and three people managing the different social media channels, because we trying to be everywhere. And I have one manager for that team, but I’m really looking for kind of a director, if you will, who will help to like manage the ads, be involved in strategy, help in like products, maybe oversee like some of the customer service side of things.

I’m a little deeper involved in that than your typical CEO would be, but part of that’s because I grew up in that, and that’s where I came from, so I know it really well. But still, it just requires more time than I really have to give it full-time, and I’m start to feel some pain from being pulled in different directions.

I would definitely say that that could be a game changer for anybody that’s looking for that. I’ll be in line with everybody else, sharing the same labor pool that seems to be very small out there.

Andrew: We’re trying a little pitch for you, to see how, the problem we’re trying to solve because we’re seeing it more and more, and by the time it’s aired, we should have launched the ECF, the eCommerceFuel job board, it’s a public job board.

So, if you are at director level, they’re really gonna be focused on, or they are focused rather, on e-Commerce Director VP, you know, kind of manager positions, marketing positions for e-Commerce, and also world-class customer support for your business. So, if that sounds like you, like if you’re thinking, you know, Brian’s talking to you, like, “That sounds like me,” you can put your resume on file, people like Brian can search for you. And if you’re a store owner like Brian, you can post jobs there too.

So, that’s a problem we’re gonna be trying to solve over there in the next, you know, year, year or two, three years. Because it seems like the one that’s coming up a lot with store owners, so.

Brian: That is pretty awesome. And, you know, if you don’t get your act together, Andrew, and don’t have that up on the forum yet, you can just reach out to me directly, because I’ll probably have a position up on my site for this very thing by the time this podcast will be live.

Andrew: Beautiful. Yeah. I mean, of course, reach out to Brian directly. And we can get you, of course, that posting up there for free, Brian, but yeah, we can definitely…if you’ve got it up. I kind of mentioned it because it gives me the incentive to make sure the job board’s up and running, which kind of like an accountability thing, but on your site too, if you get it up, like why don’t we do both? We’ll make sure the job board’s live, and we’ll get your posting in the show notes for this.

Brian: There you go. There you go. I need to finalize some stuff before I get it live. It’s not on my site yet, but it will be by the time this publishes, for sure.

Andrew: Perfect. This is going out tomorrow, is that all right?

Brian: Very funny. Very funny.

How To Get Good at Blogging

Andrew: So, a couple of things before we wrap up. You have talked, and I’ve noticed a lot just, just getting to know you in the community, but also kind of just throughout the threads of our conversations. Media education is so huge, blogging, and video.

Tackle blogging first, I’ll link up to an article I did with a couple of other people: Anastasia, and also Andy, on building out a successful e-commerce blog. But for you, how crucial has it been to your growth, and how focused are you on keyword, you know, very, like really rich keyword optimized content, versus just trying to organically write stuff that you think your audience is gonna really like?

Brian: You know, kind of like I said earlier, I’ve done everything the hard way, so even as far as like keyword optimization, and SEO, and all those kind of stuff, like that all sounds great. I don’t really know what I’m doing there. It has been way more focused on organic content.

You know, that’s why the engagement side of things is so important for me, because if I put out content and I get comments, and I get feedback, and, you know, the amount of time that people spend reading my stuff, if that stuff is really solid, and I’m getting good engagement with customers, then like that’s great. Like, that tells me what I need to know.

So, I’ve never been like a super metric-driven, you know, business guy. You know, I maybe look at that to kind of validate a little bit just kind of how things are going, but I care way more what people are deciding to do, and how much value they’re getting out of the attention that they’re giving me. I view that as my number one kind of North Star.

So, if I’m posting something and it gets very few comments, I don’t care how keyword-rich it is, it tells me that people aren’t really getting a lot out of that.

But if I post off, like we just created a Facebook group, you know, in the last two weeks. So, I waited way too long to create a Facebook group. We were kind of sitting on it. We had the idea, and we sat on it forever. We finally did it. We finally got it together, and in the last two weeks we’ve had 2,700 people join this group.

And like, I think we’re averaging somewhere around 1,000 posts a week in this group that our community is posting, and it’s like I can hardly even keep up with what is being posted in this thing because it’s so active.

So, I look at that and I’m like, “Okay, that’s like the only metrics I need right there.” People are freaking loving it. I’m seeing the enthusiasm people are having. They’re engaging. They’re asking questions. Like, I’m good there.

So, it’s somewhat subjective, but I care about that way more than I care about some metric about my keyword stuff. And I’m probably missing out on a lot of opportunities with the optimization side of things because I don’t really know what I’m doing there.

But on the same token, that, to me, is a like a lot easier to kind of clean up, and a lot easier to do now that I got more reputation, and I’m kind of more solid in the pen community. There’s tons of people out there that know about SEO, and keywords, that I can go, and find, and get some help there and cleans some things up, and boom, you know, it’s just like a fuel injector in what I’ve already built.

But I can’t go and just hire a pen expert to build an entire community of thousands of people. That doesn’t happen overnight. That only happens with work.

Organic Traffic in the Future

Andrew: Are you seeing on the, in terms of organic traffic from your blog, getting mixed reviews, and hearing from some people they’re seeing organic, not perceptibly taper off, but start to dip a little bit, and not from enough people that I’m, you know, I’m wondering how systemic it is, kind of in e-commerce partners in general. Are you seeing organic traffic as strong as ever, or are you seeing it weaken or soften a little bit?

Brian: You know, because I put out so much content, organic is still the dominant referral for me to my site, organic and direct traffic. It’s like 70% of my traffic comes from those two channels. I’ve seen some effects of it, for sure, and certain social media platforms, at different times, you know, like Facebook has, you know, changed some stuff in the last couple of years, to where organic has changed a lot.

The Facebook group, the reason it’s so vibrant is there’s no, you know, there’s, I shouldn’t say there’s no algorithm rhythm, that kind of messes with that. But, you know, anybody who’s in the group can kind of see whatever’s posted in there, so it’s super vibrant.

I used to be super prideful about the fact that I paid zero for advertising and marketing, because I did. I mean, I paid my team and I did the content, like I paid for it in labor and time, but I paid nothing in terms of Google ads, or PPC, or any of that kind of stuff. There was no free option. You had to pay to be in it at all. And I was like, “Okay, I now have to pay.” And that’s how they’re all gonna move, right? Like, they’re free for a while. They become, you know, kind of a thing, and then you have to pay to play.

That’s just kind of the way that every social media platform eventually goes. So, if you think about it a little bit differently and don’t just like, “Oh, I’m running organic stuff,” okay, but you have amazingly targeted tool, and if you put, just change your own mentality a little bit and think about what it is that’s available to you, and not even so much of like, “Oh, I’m gonna go target this group,” but like you can say, “Okay, I have a Facebook…” like for me, for example, we’ve got about 40,000 in our Facebook group, which is like good, it’s not amazing.

But it’s a solid group, right? And they’re very engaged.

I can take, you know, a, they call it a lookalike audience, so based on the interests of the people that are in my group, I can run an ad, you know, which sounds…the word “Ad,” I don’t like that word, really. But I can run a post that takes a really good piece of content that I’ve created, you know, “How to use a fountain pen,” like a Fountain Pen 101 type of thing. I can take, and I can put that in people’s feed who are a lookalike audience to the people that I know are already following me.

There’s a much greater likelihood that they’re gonna be super engaged in that, and I’m gonna find people that have never seen me, never heard about me, but I know are a great likelihood of being interested in me. That’s the power of these ads, and stuff. It’s kind of the same thing on Instagram, kind of same thing on YouTube. Facebook is really the king of that super like targeted ad stuff.

Okay. Now Who Wants a Fountain Pen?

Andrew: I love. It’s a great point on the mind shift. Brian, one thing I wanna ask you, kind of starting to wrap up here if we’re gonna let you around is, you know, so for people who are interested in maybe getting into the product line, it’s a cool product line. I think we’ll have a good number of people listening to this say, “Hey, that would be awesome to have some of that stuff.”

For someone who’s buying their very first, you know, really getting in for the first time into the, kind of the fountain pen industry, what one pen, ink, and wax stamp kit would you recommend for them? We’ll link up to this in the show notes.

Brian: You know, this answer is gonna be a little bit different for everybody. I have put videos out on much of this. You know, I have my Top 5 Favorite Inks in one video. I have my Top 5 Favorite Fountain Pens For Newbies, which is, you know, one of my top videos of all time.

Personally, I think a great pen to get started out with is one that’s called “The Pilot Metropolitan.” It’s a great performing pen, very affordable. It’s under $20, which for this type of pen, is really solid. High quality, made in Japan. That’s a really good one. Lots of fun colors, and stuff like that.

For ink, it’s really all over the place. Fountain pen ink, just pick a color that you like. You know, there are so many good ones out there. Diamine is a brand in the UK that’s really good, that has a ton of different colors. Really, ink is kind of pick a color that you like. We have 600 different colors of ink, so you can pick whatever the heck you want.

Wax seal stuff, that’s not gonna be for everybody. That’s like a super kind of deep going way into it. Wax seal stuff is a lot of fun, but it’s definitely not for everybody. But J Herbin is one company out of France that makes a flexible sealing wax, so you can actually get different symbols on the wax seal, or you can get, you know, like a letter that represents your first, or your last name, or whatever, and you melt this flexible wax, and you can actually send it through the mail system.

It’s funny, because wax seals used to be like a security measure. You’d have a brittle wax, and they would hand deliver the letter, and they knew it was tampered with if the wax seal was broken. So that was originally the reason why wax seals were a thing, but that’s clearly not really that much of the reason why people do it now. Now, it’s for like wedding invitations, and more of a kind of aesthetic thing.

The Lightning Round!

Andrew: I will link up to those views you mentioned in the products for show notes. I’m gonna dive deep into the, get good on the rabbit hole here. Brian, I wanna do a couple of let me around questions, so feel free to…I’m just gonna throw these, lob these in, you know, feel free to just answer quickly, these are rapid fire.

If you had to identify the number one thing you’re trying to optimize your life for right now, what would it be?

Brian: Oh, gosh. My health. You know, I’ve had some health issues. I’m seeing a nutritionist, and I’m trying to get some of that stuff under control.

Andrew: Who’s the last person that you sent a handwritten note to?

Brian: I actually don’t know, because I do handwritten “Thank You” notes that go into the orders that we sent here, and I wrote five of them today that are gonna go in orders. So, I don’t actually know who it’s gonna go to, but it’s gonna go to a customer of mine.

Andrew: Who’s someone you strongly disagree with?

Brian: Strongly disagree with? Oh, gosh, you know there’s all kinds of political stuff going on these days, I would say I pretty much disagree with everybody about something, so. But I’m a pretty agreeable guy. I really don’t get too upset about anything from anybody, so I think I’ll screw this question.

Andrew: Fair enough. How much money is enough? What would be your number of, you know, money in the bank where obviously, you could you keep working if you wanted to, but where you’d feel like, “This is enough money for me,” the number in the bank account balance?

Brian: Honestly, I hit that number as soon as my wife and I started drawing a paycheck in this business. So, my needs are super, super low. I would say as long as I have like $50 grand a year, I’m good.

Like, yeah, obviously, I’m running this larger business, and like we’re beyond that, but it’s not about the money, man. It’s about doing something that you love, and providing value to people that are really passionate. Like, that means so much more than money.

Andrew: What’s the worst investment you’ve made in the last 10 years?

Brian: Worst investment in the last 10 years? You know, the current website platform that we’re on right now was pretty expensive to get into, and we’ve had some bumps and…

We were an early adopter on our current platform, and we experienced some pain for that. I mean, in the end, it’s worked out okay, but in terms of time and stress, I would say that one probably ranks up there pretty good.

Andrew: And apart from your business, what’s been the best investment you’ve made in the last 10 years?

Brian: Oh, Gosh, apart from my business? You know, I’m gonna go with a non-financial answer on this one. My parents, they raised me with…they ran a business out of the house. It was never a wildly successful business, but the time that I was able to spend with them as a kid in the family business, meant everything to me.

Being that my wife and I run a business together, and we can, you know, work in it with our kids, and our kids are school age now, and they’re starting to get involved in certain parts of it, the time that I’ve been able to spend with my family has been the best investment I’ve ever had.

Andrew: Totally, cool. And finally, what was the first CD you ever owned?

Brian: The first CD? You know, this will date me a little bit. I actually bought 12 CDs at once when I started Columbia House, if you remember Columbia House subscriptions.

Andrew: 02, I remember. I was a BMG guy, but absolutely, I remember.

Brian: Yeah, so I don’t remember…I bought 12 CDs at one time, so my…I honestly don’t remember all of it. I remember Everclear was one of them. Eagle-Eye Cherry, you know, so many like one-hit-wonder. I mean, I was probably sixth grade, so it wasn’t really solid musical choices, but, you know, just like typical like, mid 90s bands that had like one hit, and I bought their CD, and like never listened to it again.

Andrew: I love it. I had totally forgotten about those, you know, either the get six CDs for a penny, or the buy 1 get 12. Oh, those were good days.

Brian: Exactly. Exactly. I paid like $15 bucks and got 12 CDs, and then I like never bought anymore. And the subscription was up and they were like, “Well, you gotta buy like 12 more CDs, because that was the contract,” and I was like, “Crap,” you know, and that was it. So, I bought like 12 at the beginning, and like 12 at the end, or whatever the heck it was. So I never really put loads of thought into it.

Andrew: Brian, it’s been awesome. Thank you, so much. Again, if this is something that, especially on the pen side, we’ll link up to all the products we talked about. Check out his company, The Goulet Pen Co at gouletpens.com. Brian, thanks so much for coming, and talking, it’s been fun.

Brian: Thanks, Andrew, it’s been a pleasure. I’ll give you a shameless plug here. ECF has been…I’ve been in a lot of different forums, a lot of different groups over my years in business here, and especially if you’re in e-commerce, this has been the most vibrant, most exciting, most relevant group that I’ve ever been a part of.

Don’t even give it a second thought. Like, I’ve wasted thousands of dollars on coaching and other various things to try to help my business, and all that was wasted, compared to the essentially measly amount you have to pay to be in the forum.

So, if you don’t get wait-listed because it’s maxed out like I did at the beginning, Andrew, because it’s such a solid group, like, seriously, don’t give a second thought. Look into it.

Andrew: I appreciate the kind words, man. That’s really nice of you. And it’s been awesome having you in the community, in the forums, and also, you know, hanging out with you at ECF live for the first time this year. And, you know, hopefully, we get to do it again.

Brian: Heck, yeah. I’ll be there in a second.

Andrew: Awesome. Hey, thanks buddy. We’ll talk soon.

Brian: Thanks, appreciate it.

Andrew: That’s gonna do it for this week’s episode. But if you enjoyed what you heard, check us out at ecommercefuel.com, where you’ll find the private vetted community for online store owners.

And what makes us different from other online communities or forums, is that we heavily vet everyone who joins to make sure that they have meaningful experience to contribute to the broader conversation. Everyone who we accept has to be doing at least a quarter a million dollars in annual sales on their store. And our average member does seven figures plus in sales via their business.

So if that sounds interesting to you, if you wanna get, you know, connected with a group of experience store owners online, check us out at ecommercefuel.com, where you can learn more about membership, as well as apply.

And I have to, again, thank our sponsors who help make the show possible. Klaviyo, who makes email segmentation easy and powerful. The cool thing about Klaviyo is they plan your entire catalog customer and sales history to help you build out incredibly powerful automated segments that make you money on autopilot. If you’re not using them, check them out, and try them for free at klaviyo.com.

And finally, Liquid Web. If you’re on WooCommerce, if you’re thinking about getting on WooCommerce, Liquid Web is the absolute best hosting platform for three reasons: one, it’s built from the ground up for WooCommerce, and optimized by some of the best industry professionals in the WooCommerce space that really know the stuff, and it’s highly elastic and scalable, as well as comes with a whole suite of tools and performance tests to optimize your store.

You can check them out and learn more about their hosted WooCommerce offering at ecommercefuel.com/Liquid Web.

Thanks so much for listening, really appreciate you tuning in, and looking forward to talking to you again next time.

Want to connect with, and learn from other proven ecommerce entrepreneurs? Join us in “The eCommerce Fuel,” private community. It’s our tight-knit, vetted group for store owners with at least a quarter million dollars in annual sales. You can learn more and apply for membership at ecommercefuel.com.

Thanks so much for listening, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again next time.

 

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