This Is Why Consultants Blog: Interview with Tamara Gielen



Mike Zipursky: Hi, everyone. It’s Michael Zipursky from Consulting Success. Today, I’m excited to have Tamara Gielen on the show. Tamara Gielen has over ten years of experience in online email and direct marketing. She is the author of b2bemailmarketing.com, the founder of an international email marketing community and a regular speaker on email marketing international conferences. Prior to becoming an independent consultant, Tamara worked at EBay and Cognos and then at Ogilvy One. Her clients include Microsoft, DHL Express, Booking.com, Wizards of the Coast, NATO and Swift. Tamara, welcome.

Tamara Gielen:  Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

Mike Zipursky:  Tamara, you’re an email marketing consultant. What is it that you actually do?

Tamara Gielen:  What is it that I do? Well, I basically work with big brands – not only with big brands – but I basically work with brands – when they ask my advice on how to get started with email marketing, you know, how can they get more customers through using the email marketing channel, how can they get more people to respond to their emails, how can they get more people to sign up to their emails, how can they overall just have a good meaningful relationship with their clients using email as one of the channels to communicate with them at different stages in the life cycle of the customer journey.

Mike Zipursky:  Okay. Are you actually doing the implementation work for your clients or is it mainly that you’re providing advice and then they take that advice and they do the implementation? How does that generally work?

Tamara Gielen:  It really depends. I have clients that basically ask for my advice and then they go ahead and do it themselves. I’ve got clients that really need me to take them by the hand and guide them through everything while they do it themselves, and I have clients that say, “Okay, we need an email campaign. We need to do this, this and this. Can you do this for us?” In my history of working as an email marketing for eBay I used to do everything from segmentation to strategy work to writing the copy, writing the codes, doing the design work, so I have a very broad experience covering all aspects of email marketing.

Mike Zipursky:  Okay. Let’s go back for a minute. You were working with eBay, Cognos, Ogilvy One. Why did you decide to become a consultant rather than, you know, move up the ranks and add big companies like that?

Tamara Gielen:  Well, I guess I got into consulting because at the time when I was working at eBay, the one thing that I liked doing most was actually talk to the other countries and help them figure out how to do stuff. Belgium being a really small country within the eBay ecosystem, the things that I was doing with email marketing were pretty advanced for them and everybody came and asked me questions on, “How should we do this,” and, “What should you do there,” and I really loved just helping other people figuring out what they needed to do. That’s why I got into consulting.

When I was speaking at an event in the U.S. at one point in time, somebody came to me – somebody from Ogilvy came to me – and they said, “You know what, we’d like to hire you as a consultant in our Belgian office.” That’s basically how I got into consulting. I stayed with them for about a year. I did some consulting work with a couple of [inaudible 0:03:34] clients and then after a year I was like, “You know what, I’m …” the agency world is a very specific world and coming from an environment as eBay’s where everything is performance-driven, I didn’t really quite do very well within the agency world, at least not – I mean, you know – so I basically decided that I’d be better off on my own.

Mike Zipursky:  So you’re saying that it was because at eBay you had the experience of everything being performance-driven but in the agency side, it wasn’t like that?

Tamara Gielen:  I got the impression, and I guess as a consultant it’s all about billing hours but I like to focus on bringing – it’s really weird to say it like this but I’d like to focus on making sure that my clients get good results rather than continually think about, you know, “How can I bill more hours?”

Mike Zipursky:  Right. Was that one of the challenges for you at working at an agency, kind of the pressure from above – to bill hours – or was there a focus on, you know, we need to create a creative campaign that’s going to win awards?

Tamara Gielen:  Yeah, all those things. I don’t want to talk badly about agencies because some of them are really, really good and they have their role to play and everything. It’s just it doesn’t feel right to me.

Mike Zipursky:  Right. Okay, so that was kind of the impetus for you to leave and get into the world of consulting. Once you made that transition or decided, “Okay, I’m going to go out on my own and become a consultant,” what did you do at the beginning to start getting clients?

Tamara Gielen:  Well, I’m probably in a very unique situation where I’ve been blogging about email marketing since 2005 before I started working at eBay. Because of the blog and because of the fact that eBay is a cool name to have in a conference program, I started getting invitations to speak about email marketing at eBay, at conferences all over the world. I became an independent consultant at the end of 2008. I had been building my network for three years and most of my business basically until today comes in through the blog, through the speaking engagements. They come in because people refer me. It’s through the network. I don’t go out and hunt for clients. They just find me. Probably if I would go out and hunt for more clients, I’d probably have a ton more work but I’m very comfortable with what I’m doing. I’m making good money right now the way it is and I’m actually having a social life as well, which is really good.

Mike Zipursky:  All right, yeah. A question I have for you is, why blog? I know we’re going back now I think you said at 2005 or so, but why even start a blog? This started you said before you started working at eBay, so why create a blog?

Tamara Gielen:  Why did I create a blog?

Mike Zipursky:  Yeah. What was going on in your mind that made you want to start a blog and write on a regular basis?

Tamara Gielen:  Actually, that’s a funny story because I didn’t really start the blog because I wanted to start blogging. I started the blog because I was attending a course about – an ecommerce course – and that was 2005. They made us do a project in which we had to do something on the internet that made money. I figured, “You know what, if I start a blog I already have a ton of content on email marketing so I can fill the blog with content and then I’ll just sell advertising and maybe I’ll up-sell it later to like a membership model and God knows what. That was the whole big idea behind it and I totally failed for the program because I wasn’t able to make money in those first three or four months. That was 2005. In 2008, from the advertising that I was selling on my blog, I made like $25,000.

Mike Zipursky:  Right, but it sounds like your blog has actually made you quite a bit of money over the years, all the speaking engagements and clients.

Tamara Gielen:  Yeah, I mean, indirectly for sure.

Mike Zipursky:  Okay. Why email marketing? You had created content and I guess you were interested in email marketing even before you started your blog, so what was the background there? Why did you get involved in email marketing?

Tamara Gielen:  I was working at Cognos at that time, which was a business intelligence company. They basically sold reporting and analysis software and Belgium being a small country having little budget and again, we speak two languages. We have the Flemish side and the French side and then, you know, everything in marketing costs money. We didn’t have a big budget so they decided in 2001 that we’re not going to be sending out direct mailers anymore to people to invite them to our webinars or to our live demo sessions, but let’s start using email.

I was the marketing assistant at the time so I started using email. We started sending out emails throughout 500 names and bcc at, you know, the good old-fashioned way, and we managed to get blocked at some of our biggest clients within the first couple of months. They already had their mail service set so that you could deliver messages that had so many names in bcc and blah, blah, blah. That was for me the point where I was like, “Okay, so we’re doing something and we know that it works, but how can we do this better?” There were a couple of books on email marketing but there were no courses that you could attend or there was not much out there yet in that day and age. So I started reading anything I could get my hands on and I just started saving all those good materials that found in my inbox, because I was subscribed to a ton of newsletters around email marketing. That is basically how I got an interested in the medium.

You can measure everything from who opens, when do they open, what do they click on, where do they go after they click, how much money is the email making. It’s such a powerful medium and I was drawn to it like, I don’t know – how do you say it – like slice to sugar.

Mike Zipursky:  You told me that one of your biggest challenges early on was figuring out how to price your services. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Tamara Gielen:  Yeah. Pricing has always been a difficult one in the beginning. I had a reference point from what Ogilvy was charging from my time and I figured, “Okay, so if the …”

Mike Zipursky:  Do you remember what that was roughly?

Tamara Gielen:  I think it was 150 euros per hour. I figured, “You know what, I’m on my own so I don’t have the overhead that an agency has so I’ll probably lower my prices. I went with 100 an hour. I started using a certain rate and then up until today, sometimes I charge more. Sometimes I charge less. It really depends on what the feeling is of what the client’s budget would be. If it’s a smaller client, if I know that they don’t have a lot of budget I may lower my prices. It really depends on the type of the client. It also depends on whether it’s a short-term project or it’s something that’s going to run over the longer term.

Mike Zipursky:  So your approach to fees has really been just kind of you learned over time what feels right and there’s no specific method or anything that you’ve learned around setting your fees that works for you. It’s just kind of been trial and error.

Tamara Gielen:  It has been trial and error. I also know that there’s some psychology to it where, you know, the higher the price the more value to services, so I’m trying not to put a price that’s too low, of course, but it really depends on gut feeling most of the time. You learn by trial and error. You see that when you charge a certain price people respond or they don’t respond.

Mike Zipursky:  Right. You work from home actually in the countryside of Belgium and maybe the last place where people would imagine that you’d be running a successful email marketing consulting business, and also working with brands like DHL, booking.com and others. You told me that this can also get lonely. What’s that been like for you?

Tamara Gielen:  Well, I’ve been doing this for four years now and being by myself in an office where there’s nobody else around. Nobody else lives in my house so I’m just living here by myself. Sometimes I have weeks where I don’t see anybody so I keep in touch with people. I’m on Facebook all the time. That’s so I’m connected to the outside world.

About a year and a half ago, in 2011, I started working with someone who actually does exactly the same thing as I do but she lives in the UK so we work together. She has her clients and her projects in the UK and I have my clients and projects here in Belgium and in the US and anywhere else where people want us. We talk regularly. We have shared files so when she does training courses she shares the files with me so I can have a look at what she does and vice versa. I have someone to basically bounce ideas off and that really helps. You need to have a person that you can – whether it’s your partner or a friend or somebody that you can trust. In this case we were friends. We met at a conference in the US, I don’t know, five or six years ago. Since we were both doing the same thing and we weren’t really competing with each other at all, she was in her geographical area and I was in mine, it just made sense. We both needed somebody to, you know, bounce ideas off and to feel like we were not alone.

Mike Zipursky:  Yeah, I think that’s a really important point because that’s something that a lot of consultants are faced with at one time or another because a lot of us do work independently and so it sounds like for you, finding someone else that you could almost partner with or check in with on a regular basis or bounce ideas around with whether it’s a mentor – in this case, a colleague – has been the way that’s worked for you.

Tamara Gielen:  Yeah. I mean, I could imagine you having a mentor as well, somebody that you could just, you know, that’s not in your business but someone that can help you. You need to have someone like that.

Mike Zipursky:  Right. Let’s talk about email marketing for a minute before we get to today’s action bite. What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see people making in email marketing?

Tamara Gielen:  How much time do we have? Sending everything to everybody, that’s mistake number one.

Mike Zipursky:  What do you mean by that?

Tamara Gielen:  What I mean is, not all your customers have the same needs or they’re not all interested in the same thing. I have B to C customers and I have B-to-B customers. If you take a B to C example where I’m a mother – let’s pretend I’m a mother – and I have small children that still need diapers, then an email that promotes diapers makes total sense to me. If I’m old and I have a problem and I need diapers then sending me an email about diapers will make sense to me. If I’m in the middle and I’m not, you know, I don’t have kids and I don’t have any physical problems, then don’t send that commercial on diapers to me.

Mike Zipursky:  Or it could be two different kinds of diapers for the babies and for the older people, right?

Tamara Gielen:  Most likely. Bad example, I knew it. But, yeah, don’t send everything to everybody. Make sure that the emails, you know, people just want to put in so much content in the emails and then at the last moment they forget that they also need to link back to a website so people can actually take action. You cannot believe the amount of emails that I’m receiving where the call to action is not clear. People need to be able to see where they can click. People need to be told where to click and where to go and what the next action is. What else?

Mike Zipursky:  What about frequency? How often should people be sending emails?

Tamara Gielen:  That’s also an “it depends” answer. It depends on the content. If you have good, relevant, valuable content then you can mail me everyday. On Twitter the other day, I wrote that my favorite daily newsletters today is the YouTube daily newsletter, because I’m very much into music and because I’ve liked so many videos on YouTube. The emails that are coming to me on a daily basis are very relevant and they all contain music that I either don’t know or that I like really well. The ones that I don’t know are actually really good as well so it’s kind of like Amazon for Music.

Mike Zipursky:  Right, so very personalized.

Tamara Gielen:  Yeah, and they can send me emails everyday and I open them everyday. I remember getting ten emails a day from eBay and they were all relevant to me because they were all about promoting a favorite search that I had on eBay for a certain item that I was looking for and when new items came and were posted on the site I would get an email saying, “Hey, you. There are new red shoes, the ones that you’re looking for, blah, blah, blah, go here.” Those were relevant emails and the amount of emails that I received was not an issue.

When you send me everyday an email promoting something that I don’t care about, if you talk about sell-sell-sell all the time, you don’t give me anything of value and you don’t really respect what my interests are, then sending a daily email is going to get you probably in trouble by people unsubscribing or not clicking or reporting your emails as spam.

Mike Zipursky:  Any other big ones that stand out, something that you’ve seen with a lot of clients, the mistakes that they’re making that you’re able to help them fix, or it’s kind of the best practice but people seem to ignore maybe?

Tamara Gielen:  There are so many of those but I think if there’s one thing that I would like to add is people very often think of email marketing as, “Let’s get this weekly newsletter out,” whereas they should be looking at email as a channel that they can use to send one to one messages. I mean with that, when somebody comes to your website and they go away without doing something and you recognize that they’ve been on your website, then you can follow up with a certain message. If they’ve already subscribed to your newsletter, for example, and there’s a cookie on their machine and they come back and they click on a certain product and they, you know, those are old things that you can capture. You can trigger emails off of that. If somebody comes and downloads a white paper, so many things that you can detect that people are interested in certain things. There’s a term for that. They call it digital body language.

If you figure our that somebody’s been to my website over the last week and they’ve been through five product pages and they’ve been looking at this and they’ve been looking at that, you can basically score them based on what they’re doing and then trigger off messages that can help them go further in the buying cycle, for example. I mean, it’s just all about trying to trigger and automate messages at the right point in time with the right kind of message that’s based on something that somebody does or doesn’t do.

Mike Zipursky:  Those were some great tips. Let’s get into today’s action bite. For today, you’re going to talk about how consultants can stay in contact with their clients in a more automated way. Tell us more about this and also how consultants can benefit from it.

Tamara Gielen:  Okay. For me, I’ve been blogging for God knows how many years now. The way that I’ve been using my blog is, my blog is my constant repository. To be honest, actually my repository is basically Diigo, which is service like delicious. Whenever I read something that I find really interesting I do one of two things: either I bookmark it on Diigo and then I tell it to also post it to my blog, and then everyday there’s a blog post that appears on my blog – the best articles that I read and the selection of things that people need to read. With the blog that I have, I hardly ever write messages myself or blog posts. I basically repost stuff that other people write. With that, it may sound weird but it’s been very successful for me because everyday there’s like tons and tons of material on email marketing that’s being posted on the web and I provide like a curation service. The best articles that people should read, I will put them on my blog.

That’s what Diigo does. It puts the bookmarks that I’ve put on Diigo. It puts it on my blog in a daily blog post. On the other side, I use a service called Buffer. What Buffer does is, I have scheduled – you can schedule tweets basically. What Buffer does for me is I have scheduled tweets from Monday to Friday between the hours of, I think, it’s ten in the morning and nine or ten in the evening. Every hour it will basically post one of the bookmarks that I have bookmarked on Diigo.

Mike Zipursky:  So you’re not actually going in yourself and scheduling all these tweets to go out.

Tamara Gielen:  No, Diigo does that for me. I’ve set it up so that when I add a certain tag to a link, then it will add it to Buffer. I’m using another – I’m very technology advanced here.

Mike Zipursky:  Yeah, it sounds like it.

Tamara Gielen:  Yeah, I’m using a bunch of services. I’m using Diigo and Diigo then triggers – there’s a website called IFTTT.com – if this then that – basically. If I post a new bookmark on Diigo and it’s tagged with X, then send it to Buffer or then send it to here or then send it to there, so I’ve got everything automated.

Basically, people have come to know me as the expert in email marketing and I share with people only the things that I find really interesting. I don’t get people to pay me to post stuff. I only post if I really find it valuable for my audience and I try to post it on Twitter, on my blog and then the RSS feed of the blog that will be pulled into – I use a tool called MailChimp. MailChimp allows me to send RSS based emails so what that means is I’ve set up a campaign and I’ve told it, “You know what, every week if there have been blog posts in the last seven days, pull in those recent blog posts and send out an email automatically.” That all gets triggered by what – well, I used to use Google Reader to read …

Mike Zipursky:  That’s disappearing soon.

Tamara Gielen:  Yeah, so I’m looking for alternatives. I just read a lot. If you’re an expert in your field or if you are in a certain profession then you have a lot of knowledge but you also need to keep up with what’s going on in the marketplace and whatever you find interesting, there sure is going to be an audience out there that’s going to find that interesting as well, so why not share it?

I have a bookmarklet in my browser so I basically just push a button and tell it, “This article, I like it. Put it in Diigo.” From there on, I have it all set up and it works.

Mike Zipursky:  That sounds amazing. It’s very interesting. I like the way that you’ve automated and cleared the system, which – I mean, I can imagine how much time that would save people.

Tamara Gielen:  You know what I always say? I’m a very lazy person so I don’t want to do anything that’s not efficient enough.

Mike Zipursky:  What have you found with regards to your blog and engagement. People might be wondering about that because I’m wondering as I’m hearing you talk about this, that if someone comes to your site and then all you’re doing is, you know, point them to external sites, are people still engaging on your site or are you seeing them coming back and is their time on site decreasing because you’re pointing them to other sites? Also, are they returning to the sites on a regular basis to see new content or how have you found that?

Tamara Gielen:  Well, I’ve got my following on Twitter that reads my posts as well. I’ve got the people that I signed up to the newsletter so those ones are definitely coming back. To be honest, I don’t really look at time on site and all those things, because for me this is about me positioning myself as an expert. My blog does have a little blurb about me about what I do and there’s a link to my consulting services and my training courses and stuff like that. If you’re wondering whether there’s a strategy behind the approach that I’m taking, not really.

Mike Zipursky:  It’s worked for you, though.

Tamara Gielen:  It’s worked, yeah, and whatever works I just don’t question it. I just keep on doing what I do. I get invited to speak at conferences because people end up on my blog and for me it is more – by giving away knowledge, people will understand that you know what you’re talking about and if they need your services they will come to you. I’m sure that 80% of the people that come to my blog, they just take the content and they go and do it themselves. They’re probably not the clients that would work with me, anyway, but the other ones that are in larger companies and they, you know, they just need to find someone that knows what they’re talking about and that can help them rather than them trying to figure it out by themselves because that is saving them time.

Mike Zipursky:  Tamara, it’s been great having you on the show. Thank you for sharing with our community.

Tamara Gielen:  Thank you. It was lovely.

  • vinodh

    Thanks for the interview. particularly the idea of Diigo and buffer .
    useful to wannabe consultant like me but a full time programmer now.
    regards
    vinodh

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Vinodh. I agree, Tamara shared some very cool automation tips near the end of the interview.

  • vinodh

    Also a valid point by Tamara that most of the client can do it themselves by seeing her blog contents. But its the very small percentage of potential clients that are corporates who can afford the service of an expert like her. But most consultants worry about revealing insider information. They have opinion that the client wont hire them. On the contrary the clients who will pay high fees don’t have expertize or time to do it themselves.
    regards
    vinodh

  • Simon

    Thank you Mike. Your interview with Tamara Gielen has been very
    helpful to me. When I saw the headline of your article, it attracted
    me so I said to myself that this is exactly one of the things I am
    looking for. After reading your interview interaction, I felt so
    satisfied that I had to copy and paste it so that I can safe it for a
    later use.
    I thank both of you for giving me this insight..

  • Miki

    Lovely show/interview! helped me on how to use my blog to attract clients and earning of extra income, I want to know more on how to earn income from using my blog.

    • Miki – great to hear and I’ll look at covering this topic in more detail in an upcoming article/show.

  • Miki

    THANKS LOOKING FORWARD FOR THE ARTICLE!