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Win Consulting Projects With This Simple Email Strategy: Interview with Peter Sandeen

Mike Zipursky:  Hey, everyone. It’s Michael Zipursky here and today I’m excited to have Peter Sandeen on the show. Peter is a website conversion specialist based in Finland. His business has had some impressive growth and I look forward to having Peter share with you his story. Peter, welcome.

Peter Sandeen:  Thanks.

Mike Zipursky:  Peter, I introduced you as a website conversion optimization specialist but let’s start off with having you tell us a little bit more about what that really means and what it is that you’re doing today.

Peter Sandeen:  Website conversion optimization basically means changing your website so that it just converts more visitors into subscribers or customers or consulting clients, but it’s not just about changing your website. If you’re talking about website conversion optimization then, sure, it’s just about websites, but conversion optimization at least in my mind is a lot more than that. It’s about looking at your competitors, looking at your value proposition, which is actually the most important thing about conversion optimization. It’s about looking at a lot of things, about how to get your ideal clients to your website and all that. Technically, it is just about changing your website but that’s just one part of it.

Mike Zipursky:  Let’s go back now a little bit. How did you get started in this business? What were you doing before you got into the website conversion optimization area?

Peter Sandeen:  Well, I did – I think a lot of people did – I started as a very, very general business consultant, maybe with a slight focus on marketing. I didn’t really have any clear focus on it and it didn’t work. I think that’s a fairly common question people come to me with now, is still, “Okay, how do I make this work better? I’m doing the marketing consulting.” It’s just too vague, at least usually. From there, first I started focusing on referral marketing, I don’t know. It was interesting and I think it works and you can do it very well. I just realized that most people aren’t interested in creating a really well refined referral system, so it didn’t really work.

All the while, I noticed that I was increasingly interested in just conversion optimization and all the stuff you can do on your website to just make it work better and better and better. Also copywriting, which is an important part of it but conversion optimization seemed like something I was just intuitively good at. I have no idea why. I’ve never been like the really geeky guy who’s all the time on the computer but it just came to me quite naturally, and there are very few people in the world who do this. I can easily count like five to ten companies doing it but that’s it, and there’s a huge potential there. If I get a less than 100% increase when I do like a full conversion optimization for a website, it’s really minimal that the increase is going to be huge. Obviously, if your website is already great then the potential isn’t that big but most of my clients have a lot to do there and the increases are huge.

Mike Zipursky:  Right. You talk about what it was that got you into it with regards to noticing that you were spending more time or having more interest around conversion optimization. It sounds like it was a bit of a passion of yours. Also, you realized that there was a lot of potential in the market, that it could be a lucrative area for you to get into, you know, dollars and sense-wise. What was it that really drove you? If you could kind of go back and think about that moment, would you say that it was more the opportunity that you saw in the market and it was the money that initially drove you or was it your interest and passion that really put you forward?

Peter Sandeen:  It was definitely more the interest. I like the money, I’m not going to lie, but I wasn’t thinking of I’m looking for some great money opportunity. It was just the thing I noticed I’m all the time doing, and I’m getting better and better at it. I think the tipping point was when a very big conversion agency, one of the biggest in the world, contacted me out of the blue. I have never even talked with any of them. They just contacted me and, “Hey, we want to hire you.” I was kind of struck by it because they’re huge. They don’t want to tell who they are because they don’t want me to be able to advertise it but that was the point where I knew, “Okay, I really know how to do this,” and they’ve constantly told me that, “You can really become one of the best in the world.” I’m still doing some work for them, although I’ve always been just a subcontractor for them but I think that was the point where I’ve realized that, “Okay, I’m very good at this and I can become really good at it.”

Mike Zipursky:  How did they find you?

Peter Sandeen:  I have no idea. I got an email from the founder who just said, “I really like your website. Can we talk on Skype?” We talked and his message was basically, “We want to hire you. Are you up for this?” I didn’t want to be hired. I wanted to be just a subcontractor but that’s how it started. I don’t know how they found me. I never asked.

Mike Zipursky:  Initially, you’re saying that they contacted you through your website.

Peter Sandeen:  Yes.

Mike Zipursky:  I’m sure the people listening to us right now are going, “Well, how does one of the biggest companies in this space all of a sudden just contacts Peter?” You must have done something to attract their attention. I mean, were you writing articles on your blog? Did you put together some sort of a presentation? What do you think would have contributed to them getting in touch with you and finding your website?

Peter Sandeen:  Honestly, I think they’re growing so they needed more people. When someone said that I was starting to introduce myself as a conversion guy so I think that caught their attention. When they were on the website – I don’t know how they got there, I’ll have to ask because it’s interesting – but I think they just realized that, “Okay, I’m not just calling myself a conversion guy but I’m actually doing all the stuff on my website,” but I don’t really know. It might be guest posting because that’s what I’ve been doing more. That’s how I drive traffic to my website, apart from some ad words and LinkedIn.

Mike Zipursky:  Were you doing that at that time when they contacted you? Were you already doing some guest posting?

Peter Sandeen:  Yes.

Mike Zipursky:  All right. That could potentially be one avenue there.

Peter Sandeen:  I’m fairly sure it has to be that because I’m not that good at SEO and I’m not even trying to be good at SEO. It’s so competitive and so expensive.

Mike Zipursky:  Okay. Let’s just talk a minute about – I mean, is guest posting one of the big methods that you use to attract clients, past and present?

Peter Sandeen:  Yes, it’s by far the most important one for me.

Mike Zipursky:  Why is this so important for you?

Peter Sandeen:  First of all, I can do it fairly easily. First of all, I’m not a native English speaker so writing English isn’t that fast for me. Still, I can write a good guest post in a couple of hours, maybe three hours. If I make a video for it then it takes a couple more. If I get a hundred leads from it or 150 leads from it, I think it’s worth it because alternatively I could pay, let’s say, $2 per click, on ad words, or even let’s say a dollar per click. Let’s say I would get a 30% conversion rate on my landing page, so that I would pay basically $3 for one lead. I don’t know, it seems like I’d be paying at least $300 for the same leads. They might be better quality if I paid for them but I don’t know. I’m getting a lot of leads from it and it doesn’t take too much time. It just makes perfect sense for me.

Mike Zipursky:  What’s interesting here is I like how you’ve broken this down. You can see your experience within, obviously, the conversion optimization kind of online world speaking through what you just said there. Probably some people maybe are listening thinking, “Well,” you know, but you just had $3 per lead and your value [in case 0:08:27] about roughly a hundred leads, $300 but you’re saying that you might spend three hours, so you’re not really charging a very high rate if you look at the time that you spent to write that guest post.

Probably what some people are forgetting if they are thinking that is that when you put up a guest post, the difference when you compare it to pay per click is that pay per click happens at that moment. When someone clicks, it happens. When you stop paying you stop having those ads there, whereas with guest posting, that post could be out there for obviously years and years and years. Even though the traffic may come down for a minute, there’s still some value that it can have over a longer period of time so you could still continue to get leads on an ongoing basis from guest posts that you’ve written a long time ago, right?

Peter Sandeen:  Yeah. Actually, that’s the thing that makes the difference for me is that I’m building relationships and I get a lot of referrals from the people I write guest posts to. It’s just that I’m still a fairly small fish in the pond of marketing blogs, so when I write a bigger blog I’m creating a relationship with that person. It’s not the main deal. I’m not trying to fish for links or something, but it’s also creating a relationship with them. We are in the same mastermind group and I got there by doing guest posting at first. I got them invited into it because of those guest posts, because I created that relationship with one person who then invited me to the group. It’s just all that relationship building which makes a huge deal. At least in the beginning of a career I think it makes a huge deal.

Obviously later when you already have, let’s say, tens of thousands of people on your list, things change and you can’t build your list fast enough with just guest posting.

Mike Zipursky:  Peter, let me ask you. Again, I’m thinking about what the people listening to this call right now are kind of thinking about in their minds. You talk about the agency that contacted you and how you’ve generated some business through that – I believe from our previous conversation, you know, a substantial amount of business – if that agency wouldn’t have contacted you, would you still be guest posting? Would you still recommend to people that that’s the way that they should be going?

Peter Sandeen:  Well, I wouldn’t recommend to anyone just blindly. It depends on your business, really, but it does work in fairly a wide range of businesses. I think yes, because it’s creating more than half of my business still, way more than half of my business. The agency is sending me – I’m doing a few projects a week or a month. It’s nice money but it’s not the main source of income for me. It’s the other leads and those leads are coming mainly from guest posting, so yes, usually I would suggest doing it until your list is really big, assuming you’re even going for the email list.

Mike Zipursky:  Right, good point. I think that’s a good answer, especially that it really depends on the type of business that people are in and that some people might recommend guest posting and other people talk about social media, this and that. The reality is that everyone’s situation can be unique and, you know, that it’s just all about choosing the method that works for you and it’s going to get you the kind of results that you want. That was a good point that you made there.

Peter Sandeen:  Even though I think it’s coined as the perfect marketing strategy, it definitely isn’t. It doesn’t work for every business. If it doesn’t then I think guest posting usually won’t be the right way to go. Those seem to go hand in hand.

Mike Zipursky:  Okay, good point. I know in your first year, if I remember correctly, you said that you hit maybe about 70,000 in revenue and that you’re on track to double or triple that. I’m wondering, what’s your strategy to attract the clients that’s allowing you to see that type of growth? Again, are we coming back to guest posting here or are you doing other things that are really allowing you to double or triple your income in a short period of time?

Peter Sandeen:  The leads, as I said, are coming from guest posting, and this year I’m going to do a lot more of it. My business model used to be just purely services, and very time-consuming services – coaching and just really big consulting. It takes a lot of time and even though if you can charge a nice amount of money per hour, still you’re restricted by the time. What I’m now doing is just making it more sensible. Instead of selling just the time I’m making it more sensible for me, so even if it’s a service – for example, I’m launching a new service which is basically a written report about your website, which tells you what to do to change and increase your conversion rates. It takes a lot less time for me. It’s still more valuable for people than a two-hour phone call with me because you have to write down all the stuff and I can’t give exact examples as well as I can when I’m writing it down.

Still, I can charge for it because it is more malleable, so I’m just doing changes like that. Now, I’m writing a book about value proposition and even though it won’t be like a really expensive book but still I assume it’s going to sell well enough to justify the time. Again, it’s just turning from purely services to either services that are just better constructed so that they take less time and provide more value and just creating some sort of products either books or training programs or something.

Mike Zipursky:  Okay, so you’re looking at how, even with your services, you can put into places more systems and process that allow you to almost productize your offerings in some form so that you can really leverage your time and what you put into, any work that you’ve done for a client previously, you can kind of leverage that for clients going forward or something along those lines.

Peter Sandeen:  Yes. Really, the key point is to make it even more valuable because I don’t think it can work that you change from service-based business to a product-based business and just take away from value from it. I think you should only do it when you can actually add more value into it, and usually that works better. At least in conversion optimization the best way to make your conversion rate higher is to make it more valuable, to make your services more valuable or your products more valuable.

Mike Zipursky:  Great. Now it’s time for today’s action bite. I’d really love for you to share one tip or strategy or tactic. I know we talked about one that you’re going to share with everyone listening today. Take it away. Tell us what you’re going to share today and then let’s get into some details.

Peter Sandeen:  This is something that creates a significant part of my clients. It doesn’t really nearly always create them immediately but I have a good reason to believe that it has affected the decision to hire me for most of my clients and it really is [inaudible 0:15:39].

When you join my email list you get the welcome message. In that message I ask people to reply. I urge them to tell me something about their business and what they hope to get from me, learn from me, or if they have any specific questions, and I reply to every email. If they have questions I answer them and that’s basically it. Now, many of those who reply convert to clients within just a few days, and I’m talking a significant part of them. It’s not just like half a percent but actually a significant part of all the people who reply actually convert to clients within days. Most people who ever hire me have originally replied to the first email.

Obviously, you could say that most or some of them would have hired me anyway, but I think the first email, especially those who convert really quickly, the first email just opens up the conversation. First of all, I genuinely help them. If they ask something I answer it as well as I can and that’s part of my marketing strategy, to actually help people and then tell them, “I can hire you more if you hire me.” It just opens up the conversation and it shows that I’m approachable which is a key element of my marketing strategy, that it’s very easy to contact me and I don’t push for the sale. I really want to help, so it makes perfect sense for me.

To be fair, this won’t work for every consulting. If you have a huge consulting business and if you get, let’s say, more than a hundred options everyday, then it starts to get a little hot because it takes time to answer. Even the days when I get a hundred options I can still do it and I’m doing this so far alone. I’m looking for a personal assistant it’s doable.

Mike Zipursky:  Can you give us an example of how many, like what percentage generally you find that you’re having to reply so if you’re getting a hundred emails per day, how many of those leads are you actually finding that you need to write a personal email to.

Peter Sandeen:  I think about 25% is about the average. It depends a lot on the traffic source. If I have a guest post go up at a writing blog, which I did once – it wasn’t that good of an idea, those leads weren’t the best I ever got – but I got a lot of replies but most of them didn’t ask anything so it was just almost like a copy paste reply. It was just, “Okay, thanks for replying. If you have any questions let me know.” I didn’t copy paste them but I actually could have so those take hardly any time.

But then about maybe 10% of all the people who reply are really high quality leads, or at least let’s say half of all the people are people that seem to be able to pay for it and interested in [inaudible 0:18:39] at some point, so the point is to actually help them as much as I can, just help them, nothing else, just answer their questions and ask questions about their business if they something interesting to say. Often they aren’t a match.

You can’t ever get rid of all the people who aren’t a match for your business, but still so many of them turn to clients and so many of them seem like the perfect kinds of clients for me even if they haven’t hired me yet. I think it makes perfect sense for my business to help people as much as I can at that point and just start the conversation. Additionally, many of the questions I get actually turn into email ideas that I reply to them within the email list. I actually reply to the whole list. Obviously, I ask their permission for it first and stuff like that but it has the whole benefit.

Mike Zipursky:  I want to go a little bit deeper, if that’s all right with you, on this topic. If you can actually break this down into steps so that everyone listening can really grasp the process that you’re using here. If you could just do that, kind of like step one, someone’s signs up to your newsletter or into your email list. Then what happens? How do you actually reply?

Peter Sandeen:  When you join you get this automatic welcome message. In that email, I literally say, “Don’t do anything else before you have replied.” This is email. I even give an example, “You can just hi or you can tell me something about your business and if you have any questions feel free to ask them.” You can really do that. That’s what I do. When people reply, if they don’t have any questions, I don’t try to answer any questions. If they’re just saying, “Hi. I’m looking forward to learning from you,” I won’t start to try to strike up a conversation. I just say thank for replying. But if they have a specific question I answer it as well as I can or I can even just reply and say, “I need a bit more information to be able to answer it.”

Sometimes, even if they don’t ask anything but they start talking about their business and it seems like this could be a good client, I basically just tell them, “Hey, I’d be interested to hear a bit more about your business.” I make a few questions about it and that’s it. It’s very friendly. Really, just think of them as your friends and just reply to them, “Hey, I’d like to learn more about your idea.” All the people I’ve ever talked with like talking about their own business. If you ask them to tell something more and you have a specific question, they tend to like it so you’re just starting to creating the good will, which at some point, might lead to them hiring you.

Mike Zipursky:  Do you think this approach would work in all kinds of industry? We have consultants all over the world, all different types of industries and specialties. Are there some that you think that maybe this would not work for?

Peter Sandeen:  I think it’s not so much about the industry. It’s about what you’re delivering at the end, what you’re focusing on. What I’m focusing on and what my core value proposition is about is being very straightforward, being very easily accessible and just very open about what I do. I really like helping people. That’s my approach. The people I work with, I always tell them to email me back and tell me if they have any followup questions or just tell me how things are going. If they have any new ideas I’m happy to help.

It’s really a part of that, more than the industry. Obviously, there might be some exception. I don’t know, I can’t think of any, but I’m sure there are. There’s always an exception. I think it’s more about how you want to do your business. If you are more of the corporate approach kind of business so that you’re not so much focused on creating a really personal relationship with people. Instead, you’re focused on the idea of business to business that your consultants and you go in and basically tell people what to do, maybe I should be called more like an educator because I don’t really go in and tell what people should do. I really help them understand themselves in the consulting of my business. I think it’s more about that rather than the industry.

Mike Zipursky:  Okay, that’s a great tip. The whole goal really there is just to build a relationship and to connect with your audience, with your leads coming in.

Peter Sandeen: Yes. It’s an easy way to screen the people coming in for the best leads.

Mike Zipursky:  Right, so it does take obviously some effort on your part, not for the lazy but the rewards that you’re seeing from it are, you would say, well worth it.

Peter Sandeen:  Definitely. I would assume that I would lose about half of my business if I didn’t do it.

Mike Zipursky:  Really?

Peter Sandeen:  Well, maybe not half but a lot of it, because so many of those people turn into clients almost immediately, like within days. I’m fairly sure they wouldn’t if I didn’t start the conversation.

Mike Zipursky:  So this is really a powerful tip. I mean, you often hear about, “Here one thing you can do that can revolutionize your business or whatever,” and a lot of people think that’s hype when they hear that kind of talk. They don’t believe it. You’re actually saying that this is in fact one strategy that you use that has revolutionized your business or has really impacted in a big way.

Peter Sandeen:  Yeah. I would have trouble if I stopped doing it. I could do it but it would create a big [inaudible 0:24:43] in my business. It’s really about the business I’m running so it might not work for everyone but I think if you’re running a similar kind of business and you want to build those personal relationships then I think it’s one of the best ways to do it.

Mike Zipursky:  Great. Peter, thanks for sharing that. I know we wanted to talk a little bit about value proposition and specialty. Time-wise, we’re kind of getting close to the time that I mentioned to you. Do you have a couple more minutes?

Peter Sandeen:  Yeah.

Mike Zipursky:  Okay. When we spoke before, I know you mentioned that for you the value proposition of choosing your specialty was really key to your success. Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean by that and explain to people how the value proposition and really honing on your specialty was so important for you?

Peter Sandeen:  I think it’s important for everyone because value proposition is one of those words that most people use but don’t really have a meaning for. It has several meanings depending on what source you look to. For me, it means basically it’s the reason why people hired you and it’s the reason why people hired you instead of all your competitors. It basically answer those two questions – why do I hire you and why don’t I hire someone else like you?

If you’re not specialized at all, say, you tell that to your marketing consultant. There are a million people out there who can say the same thing, that they are marketing consultants. You don’t really give people any reason to hire you instead of someone else. When you make it more specific, as in my case it’s, I do basically two things, it’s either the conversion optimization or coaching and consulting about creating value propositions, you give people much more reasons, first of all, to believe that you can actually do it and that you can actually do it better than most others, because you are specific about it.

I’m also targeting fairly small businesses. I don’t care if you make a few million. I’m not targeting Apple and Google and huge corporations. Again, that makes it more specific. I think one of the key things is being specific and just telling people exactly what to do so that they can believe that you can actually do it better or at least as well than anybody else.

Mike Zipursky:  If we use an example of that, you mentioned one before actually which I think is spot on. That’s when you started you were looking in being a marketing consultant but the reality is that there are a lot of marketing consultants out there, a lot of people that call themselves marketing consultants, and that there really is – just by saying that there’s no differentiation in that. There’s no real way to clearly explain your value proposition just through that because even though it is a specialty, you know, it’s in saying you’re a consultant, that’s one layer deeper saying that you’re a marketing consultant. Still, that’s so wide that what you did is you went to the next level which is saying, “Okay, you’re still dealing in marketing but you’re a website conversion optimization consultant. That’s benefited you.

Peter Sandeen:  Yeah, I think at some point I maybe should focus on just one or the other because now I’m really helping people on the conversion aspect and on the value proposition aspect. I might need to actually cut one of those away because, again, it would be more specific.

The other way to look at value proposition is that it also has to be something people want. Nobody wakes up in the morning thinking, “I want to hire a marketing consultant.“ It’s just not something you want to do? Why would you? You want the end results that a good consultant can help you get and a value proposition is just, it’s at least as important for yourself as it is for the customers, because it helps you understand what it is that you’re specifically helping people achieve and why they would like to do business with you. If you don’t have it clearly in your mind you can’t really even know what to say to people, how to market your business or anything, because you don’t really know why people would want to hire you. So it’s at least as important as an internal tool for yourself to really understand what you’re supposed to say to people and what you’re supposed to build the entire business around.

Mike Zipursky:  You know, Peter, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been to plenty networking events over the years where I’ll meet someone and start chatting and I’ll say, “What do you do?” They’ll say, “I’m a marketing consultant,” or “I’m a business consultant,“ or “I’m a business coach.” That’s all fine but that doesn’t really tell me what it is that you do. I mean, again, it’s so wide and vast that there’s no real benefit that I can see in what it is you offer. If I was a prospective client, that wouldn’t peak my interest because, again, it’s so wide that you’re not talking about anything about the benefits or what it is that you offer in a situation.

Really, as you’re saying, and I think this is such an important point that’s why I’m kind of regurgitating it here a little bit, is that really by having that specialization and focus, it’s important for yourself but also for your clients because if you have a very strong value proposition, when you meet someone, even in a networking event or even on a telephone call or whatever it might be, you can instantly get their attention by saying the right things and so I think that’s key for people to think about.

One thing, though, I want to ask you, Peter, is that a lot of people have – and I’ve seen this over the years – they have a fear that by choosing a specialization and that by narrowing their value proposition too much to focus in on a smaller piece of the pie per se, that they’re going to lose opportunities and lose potential business and make less money. What would you say to those people?

Peter Sandeen:  Well, it is true that you’re going to lose potential business. The point is that you won’t get any business if you’re not more specific. I like to say that if you target everyone you will never get anyone. You cannot be so vague. If you are a huge business and you have a thousand consultants working for you, then sure you can specialize in everything. But really, who wants to hire marketing consultants who know nothing more than marketing. It’s like a really vague concept. Instead, if you tell them, “I help people create strong value propositions,” that’s so much more convincing. People actually want that.

I know the fear. I have it and that’s why I started as a marketing consultant without any luck getting clients, or just very minimal. Obviously, you get some clients but it’s really difficult and it won’t really last for long. It’s more about luck finding a few people who haven’t realized that there are better opportunities out there. It’s just getting over the fear. I know the feeling. It’s horrible but it is worth getting over it because it does make a huge difference to be able to say what you actually do and why do people need to believe that’s what you can do. Obviously, framing it as a benefit statement or just framing it so that people understand what they will actually get – because they don’t want the marketing consultants. They want more clients or they want some aspects of it.

Mike Zipursky:  Right. It’s almost like taking a hundred fish and throwing them into a large ocean and fishing there, or taking those same hundred fish and putting them into a small pond and fishing. By having a real specialty and strong value proposition around something specific, sure, you’re fishing in a much smaller pond and so it may seem initially less lucrative and it may seem counter-intuitive that it have so much greater potential, but the reality is that obviously you’re going to get a lot more fish in that smaller pond than you would in a vast ocean.

Peter Sandeen:  Yes. Obviously, you can make it more specific. I’ve seen that happen. People are trying to sell something that maybe one person in the world wants to buy. Obviously, that’s not going to work. When you create a value proposition, it has to be something that there is enough potential clients but if you do this right you will create it so that it won’t be a problem to be able to get clients. It’s more just finding the ways to find the right people. Usually those people are in clumps. You won’t just find one. When you find one, you know how to find a hundred others. It just changes the whole thing, how you can run your business. I feel that it’s the core of your business and if you don’t really know how it’s done or if you don’t have a good value proposition it just makes it so darn hard to run any sort of lucrative business.

Mike Zipursky:  Peter, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate you sharing your story and your tips around value proposition and also the trick or strategy, I should call it that you use with regards to your emails that’s been a big part in your business and as well how you’re marketing your business through guest articles. I really appreciate you sharing that with all of us here. Thank you again for getting on the call today.

Peter Sandeen:  Thanks for having me.


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