Corbett Barr – Fizzle.co
James: All right, welcome back my friends to another episode of the Big Value Big Business Podcast. I am your James Lynch. I’m really big, big, big, big time super excited about my very special guest today his name is Mr. Corbett Barr. Corbett comes to us from Fizzle.co, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders, and artists all working to support themselves independently on the internet. Corbett is the creator of the online course, How to Start a Blog that Matters. It’s a 90-day program that shows you step-by-step, the exact strategies that have been used to start some of the biggest and most celebrated blogs on the web. In addition to creating several award-winning blogs himself including Think Traffic and Expert Enough, Corbett has dedicated his entire career to teaching people how to attract and build highly-engaged audiences and grow real sustainable online businesses.Corbett is also a trusted adviser to some of the most influential bloggers online; we’re talking about bloggers that reach millions of readers each and every month. That’s a mouthful. Let’s say hello to Corbett. Corbett, how are you today?
Corbett: And thanks James. That might be more than I knew about myself actually.
James: Yeah. Well, I’m going through and saying maybe it’s a little much. We could have peppered it in through the entire the conversation but now everyone knows who you are and I want to thank you very much for coming on the podcast. How are you feeling today?
Corbett: I’m doing great. I’m in Mexico actually calling you from beachside and it couldn’t be a all lot better.
James: Oh-oh. Living the lifestyle. I love it. I love it.
James: That’s awesome. I’m envious. I’m in a – we’re in the signal digits here in the northeast with about six or eight inches of snow on the ground but I digress. Just (inaudible 01:36), I’m excited to share just a little bit about how to put together an awesome online presence and how we can provide or learn to provide big value to attract and engage a huge online audience that’s really interested in what we have to offer so like a plan.
Corbett: Sounds great. Cool, cool.
James: If we could start out maybe to get a little history about Corbett Barr to find out like basically where you come from and little bit about the journey that brought you to here where you are today.
Corbett: Yes. So I’ve been an entrepreneur now for eight and a half years. I can almost not believe that it’s been that long but it has and my background prior to that was I guess I sort of followed the traditional career. I went to college, studied Business and Technology, tried to get the best job that I possibly could eventually that led me to being a consultant for Fortune 500 companies which is sort of the dream I guess if you’re in the business world because you work for prestigious clients on big projects and that sort of thing. But after working in the corporate world for eight years or so, I came to the conclusion that I just really wasn’t fulfilled by it and I didn’t really care about the things that I was working on and I had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I would never really be happy unless I try to see if I had what it took to become an entrepreneur. Because for some reason, since I was a kid I just always felt like being an entrepreneur would be a really interesting and exciting thing to do. So eventually I decided to take the plunge and it wasn’t an easy road by any means. I mean, I’ve been at it for eight and a half years now and I’m thankful that I am still here alive and have earned enough to put food on the table and all that kind of stuff but it has been a bumpy road and I’ve had companies fail and have learned a lot along the way.
Mostly what I learned about entrepreneurship is that there are different ways to go about being an entrepreneur. I guess, my world view to begin with was that either you climb the corporate ladder as fast as you could and try to retire while you still had some good years ahead of you or you’re an entrepreneur and you tried to swing for the fences, hit a homerun so that you could make enough money to then do what you wanted in life. And about five years ago, I mentioned that I’m in Mexico actually spend every winter here now and about five years ago, my wife and I in between startups that I was running, decided to hit the reset button and take a sabbatical to Mexico.
And we did that because I had always just jumped from one thing to the next in life and in my career and instead I wanted to consider what I wanted to do next and while we were down here I’d learned about a third way of going about your career and that is figuring out ways to make your career work around your life instead of the other way around and that’s what led me to the business that I run now.
James: That’s fantastic. Or design your business around your lifestyle, is that fair to say?
Corbett: Absolutely. Yeah, 100%.
James: That’s fantastic. I love it. So you mentioned a good five to eight years span there, what was the turning point where you said, “I’m just going to go for it” specifically and I know you did mention it but if you could just get like in your gut, what did it feel like to just take the plunge and was it a long conversation you have with your wife and you guys meet in the middle, and could you just tell us about that?
Corbett: Yeah. The first time around essentially I had become rather disenchanted with the work that I was doing because – partly because as a Fortune 500 consultant, I had to travel quite a bit. Every week basically I was on the road. I lived in the Pacific Northwest but often was working in Texas or Chicago or California or whatever and so I spent a lot of time away from home which I understood it came with the territory but eventually it just became clear that there was really no regard for lifestyle at all especially when we had projects that were rather close to home but for political reasons within the company I was unable to get myself scheduled in one of those.
So I left that corporate job, that consulting job and worked temporarily for another consulting firm but that was more regionally based and I helped them open an office in San Francisco when I moved there and that was great. But just randomly as we moved to San Francisco and I was helping open this office, I was reconnecting with people that I knew, old colleagues, and things like that just to get settled in our new city.
And I happened upon a guy who I had worked with about five years before and he was planning to build a startup and I knew that he had experience in startups before. And this just seemed like just one of these opportunities that come out of the blue. I was in a new city and I was kind of halfway disenchanted with my existing career, I knew I wanted to try entrepreneurship and this guy was in the beginning planning stages and was looking for people to join him. So I ended joining as a co-founder and I didn’t jump in with both feet right away. I actually sort of transitioned for a few months out of my existing job. They were kind enough to let me work half time on the startup half time on that. But eventually I took the plunge and jumped in and we didn’t have investment, we didn’t have revenue coming in, and all I knew was that we – going through the sort of traditional startup route, I knew that we needed to build a prototype of our software and start shopping it around to venture capitalists and just try to get a little bit attraction in the marketplace. And that ended up taking us a good nine months after I left my other jobs. So I was working based off of savings. It was very stressful. My wife was supportive but at the same time, she was in grad school and so it’s a stressful time. And I’m glad that I made through and that I didn’t go back and just take a job out of fear and looking for safety, I made it through. But that first year, boy, that was rough.
James: And you answered my next question, I wanted to talk about the challenges but just living from savings and trying to keep your wife in grad school, I can totally relate that that was probably one of your biggest challenges you faced?
Corbett: Yeah. It was definitely a big challenge. And not just the heartache of watching your savings dwindle also but the emotional game that you go through as an entrepreneur. There’s just so much going through your mind. One day, you feel like you’re on top of the world because you’ve got it all figured out and it’s just a matter of time. The next day, you just can’t believe how stupid you were for throwing away your good career to try this thing that was completely unproven and who are you to make it work. And it’s this emotional rollercoaster that you go through as an entrepreneur that people don’t really talk about a whole lot but it’s there and it’s powerful. And at one point I ended up going to see a doctor because I was having such extreme stress-induced anxiety that I thought there were something physically wrong with me and the doctors like, “Look man, you have to figure out a way to calm down because this is eating you inside.”
James: Oh, my goodness. I can definitely relate having been both sides of the fence and I’m back on the other side. I’m back on your side again and I’m battling to stay there and I totally know the battle that takes place in the minefield of the mind. Absolutely..
James: Absolutely. So talking about turning things around you, you said earlier that you had a couple early ventures, this startup to be one of them and when do you think things started to turn around? And do you think Fizzle.co is the turning point and your home? When did turn around, when did you come upon that and when did that make your home and your primary focus?
Corbett: Well, the big turnaround for me actually came while my wife and I were on that sabbatical that I talked about. Because when we came down to Mexico on this road trip, basically I wanted to hit the reset button and get in touch with who I was and what I wanted out of life and my career and that sort of stuff. But initially I thought that I was going to come up with another sort of traditional software startup idea and that this time around I would just be more careful how I build the company but that basically I would build another prototype again and probably try to raise venture capital and go that whole route again. But something interesting happened, we kept meeting people who weren’t rich or retired but had figured out ways to make their careers work around their lives instead of the other way around and we’re able to live in a foreign country for months out of every year. Some people brought their work with them. Some of them left it behind and did something new while they were down here. Some people just were able to put their career on pause, that sort of thing. And because of all these interesting stories and because of the existential questions that I was having, I decided to start a blog sort on a whim actually and I started chronicling our trip. I started asking myself questions out loud about the inner relationship between work and life and I started telling stories about these people that we were meeting and the blog took off actually. And I sort of rediscover that I really enjoyed writing. I hadn’t done anything since I was the editor of a high school newspaper a long time before. And I discovered that I love writing and I just kept on it and by the end of the first year, half a million people stopped by that site and I had tons of connections. I started meeting people who are entrepreneurs online. I started to realize that this blog could be more than just fun. It might the basis of a business and really the entire business that I ran now which has grown to three full time employees and thousands of customers really all of that came about because of the blog that I started on a whim while I was traveling.
James: You trace it all back to that?
James: Oh, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. So getting back to the blog then or talking about the blog, besides just chronicling what you’re going through and what other stuff was going on in your life, where you were, who the people that you met, how do you correlate the lessons learned from someone that’s reading the blog? How do you – that what kind of value you think you’re bringing to them or what have you been told? Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Corbett: Yeah. So I don’t know if I knew this intuitively or if I figured it out along the way, I can’t recall exactly but you can’t simply write a diary about yourself and expect people to show up because you’re probably not providing them a lot of value unless you happen to be a very entertaining person with a really interesting story and people are reading just for the entertainment value. But really what I ended up doing over that first year was realizing that there was this ground swell of interest because this was in 2009 after the financial world had collapsed and the unemployment rate went through the roof and a lot of people were feeling like, “Hey, you know what? I thought I had this really secure job but all these people around me are being laid off or maybe I was laid off or my spouse or whatever and I need to reevaluate my life.” And a lot of people were in that stage, the same place I was.
So I was thinking these things out loud and luckily there were a lot of other people who were thinking the same thing and so I was able to turn the focus from me to my audience rather quickly because the topics of lifestyle design, location independence, being a digital nomad, all of these alternative forms of career and entrepreneurship were becoming hot topics at that time and so I decided to focus on those and to connect with all of the other bloggers in the space who were kind of coming up at the same time and that was really the value I think that I was providing. It was trying to find out what’s actually possibly because there’s a lot of bravado, a lot of hype around being an entrepreneur online and I was able to kind of dive in to find out answers for myself and then to share those with my audience with the people who are looking for the same answers as me but maybe we’re just a handful of months before me essentially.
James: Yeah. They hadn’t reached the point where you were and they know that writing was on the world heading towards what you had experienced then — so you was like you were letting them know what to be in for and what to look out for. That’s awesome.
James: That’s totally awesome. On a personal note, I myself was downsized in 2009. It was a pretty crappy time.
Corbett: It was a crappy time and it’s easy for us to forget it but corporations have no loyalty to you. It’s all about the value you bring and I think that for a long time people have just felt so secure in those jobs and you realized during a time like that how insecure they really are.
James: Totally, totally. I totally agree and experienced it firsthand. So tell us as far as the business goes, could you give you us an insight into your current value proposition or what do you do that in your mind that you’re actually providing a lot of value and that you’re helping folks?
Corbett: So our main business now it has adapted over the past five years but essentially what we do is we run a training library, a really comprehensive training library and community for online entrepreneurs. So when you’re getting started, when you’re trying to build a business, there are so many things that you need to do. You need to build a site. You need to figure out who you’re helping, who your audience is, what problems you’re solving for them, how to turn those solutions into products and services that you can sell, how to interact on social media, how to create effective and engaging content, all of these different things that you need to do. There’s a lot. And it takes a long time to learn and a lot of people either flounder for a number of years or they end up giving up because there are just so many hurdles in front of them.
A lot of people also end up spending thousands and thousands of dollars on false promises. There a lot of courses out there that are very expensive that promise to create an automated cash machine in 90 days or whatever they say and a lot of people fall for that kind of stuff. And so we try to save people that heartache, we try to save people from spending money that they don’t need to spend. Basically you can get in and check our community for a dollar for the first month and then it’s $35 ongoing and it’s not just us, we’re bring in other experts. We have people like Leo Babauta, Pat Flynn, Scott Dinsmore, Steve Kamb, big names in the blogging space and the online business space teach courses within our training platforms. So that’s really the value that we provide and the differentiator I think is as we try to say is we try to do honest online business.
So not only the way that we teach the material and the structure that we have for the program but also the kinds of businesses that were teaching people to create our businesses that are based on real value not on smokescreens or hype or loop holes and the Google algorithm or anything like that. It’s really based on simply understanding that there is a crew of people out there who have problems that you might be able to solve, figuring out what those solutions are and just putting them out there and charging a fair price for it. That’s really what business is and for some reason online, there are lot of shysters that came in from the direct marketing world and from other worlds in the beginning of internet business and I think we’re finally coming out of that and you’re seeing a lot of really cool stuff happen. And we’re just trying to lead that wave of new people who are simply trying to support themselves independently on the internet doing something that they love.
James: Touché and amen to that because you was so right. Anyone even now looking to escape the corporate or just work from home you’re still going to run across a lot the “shysters” and you have to really be careful. I’m so grateful to run across folks like you, like Pat, like Scott, James Schramko, all people like that who are really, really strong and grounded and help folks to build real, honest to goodness live businesses that they can be proud of. One piece of advice that I like to ask of my guests is: If you had a close family member and this is right up your alley because you obviously you help people build a small business soup to nuts but a lot of folks I ran across are they have a business and there’s just there site is just sitting there doing nothing, they really don’t know where to turn.
So I like to determine this that if you have a close family member say a brother-in-law- or sister-in-law, however, they had a small business online, say it was a service business like a remodeling company or even a plumber, lawyer, anything like that, small mom and pop. They will try to expand and grow to attract more customers and they had a mediocre website. It was kind of back in the day when it was all about just putting up an online brochure rather than a customer magnet. What would be the first thing you’d have them drop back, assess and put into play?
Corbett: The very first thing and I think this is true for any kind of business whether it’s small mom and pop or whatever is that you have to understand specifically who your audience is and why, what you do matters to them versus everything else that’s out there. Because you have to realize when someone is looking for a plumber or they’re looking for a blog about fitness or something. In their mind what’s happening is they’re trying to evaluate you versus what they already know and there’s going to be competition no matter what you’re doing. And so when someone comes into your website, they’re asking themselves subtlety maybe not expressly but they’re asking themselves, why should I care about this site?
Like what’s in it for me? What is this matter? How is it different from what’s already out there? And so you have to see yourself through your customer’s eyes and in order to do that, you first have to understand who that customer is. If you’re a plumber and your just general purpose like how does that fit within your customer’s mind and where do they compartmentalize you versus everything that’s out there? So it might be better to – for example, focus on something very specific instead of something general. For example, like you could be I don’t know the plumbing business, but let’s say you could be a plumbing for marine application.
Corbett: You could be like a boat plumber or something and if someone has an issue on their boat and they’re going to look for a plumber and they come across the one plumber that focuses on marine applications, obviously you’re going to be the choice for them because you know their problem better than anyone else. So the same could be true in fitness. For example, a friend of ours named Steve Kamb runs a site called Nerd Fitness and this is – fitness is one of the biggest industries in the world. I mean, it’s a multi billion industry. There are hundreds of thousands of blogs out there about fitness and yet Steve somehow has been able to build an audience of millions of people and he has done that over the past few years because he knew that there was a group of people out there who are being under served. These are people who self-identify as nerds, they don’t identify with the big bulky brawny people on the bodybuilding magazines or even the people on the cover of runners or whatever who look like perfect specimens.
These are people who just want to do something healthy for themselves. They feel like they don’t know where to start and Steve was one of those people at what time and so he decided to create a blog aimed at those specific people and it’s taken off. And so don’t underestimate the power of focusing on one specific crew of people within the overall universe because I know that it seemed counterintuitive that by focusing on a smaller group, you’ll actually grow faster but that’s the truisms of marketing that I know is easy to overlook but it really does work.
James: So what you’re saying is identify your customer, who you’re trying to reach and get inside their head to find out why they would even recommend your solution over all the other noise that’s out there, and then niche it down and try to specialize and standout among the general population. Is that a fair overall?
Corbett: Yeah. Absolutely.
James: Cool, cool, cool. I like that. I like that a lot. And we often get to niche it down to – but again, you said it yourself, people are afraid to start small. They think they’re missing something or cast a light net or throw as much against the wall and see what sticks but is something be said about niching down and specializing get a handful of rabid loyal customers and then it’s just a matter of word of mouth and social proof and going out there?
Corbett: Well this – and this is especially easy to fall prey to when you’re working online because you can put out a lot of content and you really don’t know exactly why people aren’t sticking around your site, why they aren’t recommending you because you’re not speaking with people one-on-one. You don’t get to understand why they like your site, why they don’t like it, what’s going on exactly because it’s sort of one-sided. There’s no one to listen to. So when again, whether it’s a blog or mom or pop or whatever, your goal is identify a group of people, figure out what problems they have, how you can solve them, and then to create products and services based on that.
And for me, the first goal for anyone online should be to prove that just one person finds value in what you’re doing, one single person and a lot of times that means you’re not necessarily starting a blog and reaching millions of people, it means finding one person that maybe you already know personally and not focusing online but just talking to them and understanding the problems that they have and crafting a solution for them so that you can then use that as the template to reach a broader audience from.
James: That’s gold nugget there for my listeners and I do appreciate it. Corbett, on a personal level, you do a lot of introspective, obviously you really like writing and how about the mindset? How do you keep your self – how do you stay engaged with what you’re doing? Do you have any productivity or accountability, rituals that you go through to stay consistent and moving forward?
Corbett: Yeah. one of them is simply that I’ve gotten more comfortable with the reality that you’re not going to get much done every week. In fact, if you get a handful, a few things done or if every day you get one thing done, you’re actually doing pretty well and it’s very easy as an entrepreneur especially in the beginning when there are so much to do to set a lot of just unrealistic expectations about how much you can accomplish and then to feel defeated at the end of every day or the end of every week and just to create the sort of downward spiral that doesn’t lead anywhere good. So if you instead say, “You know what? If I look at today, if at the end of the day I have this one particular thing done and then anything else that I get done, that’s gravy, that’s really great,
That’s great. That’s great. And that’s the important thing because for every entrepreneur that you talked to, they tell you that success is just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other consistently every day and not getting stuck for a month at the time. A lot of people who are trying to be entrepreneurs especially if you’re working a day job, it’s really easy to get up against some sort of roadblock and then not to make any progress for a month. But at the end of the day after you look back, after I look back on the last five years, basically I showed up, I got a little bit done, I made a little bit of progress, I learned something, and try to improve myself the next day and that’s really all I can ask for.
James: One foot in front of the other. I love it. How about a business resource? Do you belong to any masterminds yourself or do you listen on a regular basis to any podcasts? How do you stay informed?
Corbett: So I guess I’ll frame this in terms of what I did in the first year or so because that was maybe more relatable to people listening to this. The thing that most kept me on track was absolutely 100% being part of a mastermind group and I’ll just define what that was for me. So essentially when I got started blogging, I met a lot of people, a lot of people online and basically just had conversations with them either over email, over Skype, or at conferences. I went to some blog conferences in the beginning and I met some people.
And out of that group, I realized that there were some people that I really identified with and connected with and one of them actually reached out to me and asked if I would like to meet once a week in a mastermind format to just help each other stay accountable and to move forward. And so we formed a little group with three sometimes four of us depending on – we had a fourth member who kind of rotated in and out but there was a core group of three people. We met every week for a couple of years.
Corbett: And the goal of that was basically just to show up, talk about what we accomplished the week before, talk about anything that we were stuck on that we might need help with or just getting our head around it and then planning out – committing to getting a couple of things accomplished over the next week. And that simple format kept each of us who was in that group from quitting actually a number of times over the course that duration that we were together. I recall talking people off of the ledge, people that were going to throw in the towel and vice versa, people talking me off the ledge either of throwing the towel in completely or just not doing something that I thought I was going to do because I had talked myself out of it. And in reality, it was a good idea to begin with. So that’s a really great resource. I highly recommend people get themselves into – plugged into some community or some small group of under entrepreneurs that have a commitment to one another to keep each other accountable.
James: Yeah. So even if it’s not a mastermind group where you actually have to pay, I mean, obviously a Dan Kennedy or something like that, where you would have to pay big bucks but get some like-minded individuals that are on the same page just as hungry, just as accountable, and meet with them on a regular basis and do all everything that you listed which it makes perfect common sense but to have some partners to hold your feet through the fire every week is a lot of difference in the world.
Corbett: Yeah. And I’m not suggesting you need to pay for anything.
James: Right, right. No, that sort of what I say you could just meet some folks.
James: You don’t have to go out and become a member of a “mastermind” just to be part of it. No, absolutely.
Corbett: Right. And just the exercise of trying to find those people is so important because half of my success has been because of the people that I have met and connected with and the help that they’ve given me and the help that I’ve given them along the way. And so many people operate in a vacuum. They just sit in front of their computer all day. They never talk to a soul. They don’t meet other people that are trying to do the same thing and so if you can’t meet other people and put together a mastermind with three or four people, I think you’re in trouble for a lot of reasons partly because you’re just afraid to connect with people and to break out of your shell. So that’s a great exercise on its own and then the benefits of the mastermind group are just unbelievable.
James: I’ve talked to people about that and they – some people think, “Well, I don’t want to share my ideas or somebody might steal my idea” or how you do know everyone has your best interest at heart?
I know that’s small-minded thinking. What are your take on that?
Corbett: I don’t know. Like I’ve just told you the reality, the reality is that none of my ideas were ever stolen by close friends –
Corbett: – and that the value that they brought to me was almost infinite. I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t connected with people that were hungry and that we – I was able to form mutually beneficial relationships with. There was – it was a 100 X in my direction in terms of the value of those people brought to me. So I agree I think it’s small-minded thinking.
James: Absolutely. So okay, all you naysayers out there take that to the bank. All right, So we’ll start wrapping things up a little bit. You’ve been so generous with your time. How about some parting shots? Can you tell us anything that you’re working on besides your tan there in Mexico? What’s going on?
Corbett: Yes. So the biggest thing again is the Fizzle Community that I mentioned. We have a number of ways for people to check us out. We have a podcast called the Fizzle Show. It’s weekly. You can find us on iTunes. We have a blog called the Sparkline where we have hundreds of blogs post in the archives with just tons and tons of information about how to grow a thriving audience online and how to build an online business and then of course, the products side of the house, the thing that we our meat and potatoes, the thing that we work on every week is the Fizzle Training Library and Community and as I’ve mentioned people can check that for a dollar, see if it’s right for them or not, and if it is then they join a group of about 1200 active entrepreneurs who are in there every week fighting their demons, slaying their dragons, and just trying to make progress day after day in their businesses.
James: That’s great. And so where’s the best place where we can find you hanging out?
Corbett: Just head to Fizzle.co and from there you can find out everywhere else that I’m hanging out.
James: Awesome, awesome. Corbett, thank you so much for your time today. You’ve been most generous and I look forward to talking to you again soon.
Corbett: Awesome, James. Thanks it’s been fun.
James: All right. You take care.
Corbett: All right.
James: Bye, bye.