Derek Halpern has been doing business blogging for only a year and a half, but has a massive audience and is recognized for his business training material. Tune in as he shares some of the secrets behind his success.
In this episode:
01:54 – What Derek does
03:14 – Getting hold of research
04:15 – A background in persuasion
08:08 – An authoritative personality
11:47 – Picking a name you can grow into
15:18 – Restarting podcasting
19:13 – Lessons from the celebrity gossip world
23:26 – The effect of style
27:47 – Should one prune old content?
29:09 – Derek’s biggest mistake
33:47 – Why money isn’t the main offering
38:27 – Build an audience with this free email series
There’s a gap between what science knows and what business does. [Click To Tweet].
Pick a name that you can grow into. [Click To Tweet].
Podcasting is dumb if you don’t take it seriously. [Click To Tweet].
People identify with improvement. [Click To Tweet].
You can’t have light without shade. [Click To Tweet].
James Schramko here from SuperFastBusiness.com. Welcome back to the show. Today I’ve got a super authority in the blogging niche, Derek Halpern from Socialtriggers.com. Welcome to the call.
Derek: Hey what’s up, man?
James: Well, I’m down in Mexico so I’ve sort of rigged up a little bit of a microphone here. But I don’t let travel stop me from getting the good discussions going and that’s why I hit you up. I know you’re in a similar time zone. You’re over there in New York?
Derek: Yes I am. New York City, baby!
James: Do you travel much, Derek?
Derek: Yeah, people always ask me this question and it’s funny because I have the freedom to go wherever I want. I can leave right now and go anywhere I want. But I don’t travel at all. Nothing makes me happier than just being able to wake up, walk to the park, stare at the sky, read a book and just chill out locally.
Actually I avoid travel so much that I just got my passport like three months ago. So, I was one of those 80% of Americans that didn’t have their passports until they were adults.
James: Right. So, you know what I’ve found with travel that it’s been really interesting to observe different cultures to find out the way that people deal with business, with social stuff transport. And it’s been interesting for me to incorporate that into my business. But your main business thing is observing research documents and then talking about that on your show. Is that a summation of how you would see what you do?
Derek: Sort of, right. My whole business genre is about helping entrepreneurs just get ahead in life and I found that Dan Pink said it best in one of his Dan Pink Ted Talk. It was Dan Pink in the Ted Talk. He said, “There’s a gap between what science knows and what business does.”
He said this in a 2009 Ted Talk for his book “Drive” and what’s very interesting is, when he said that, I remember my eyes lighting up because how many times do you know the right answer of something and see people do it wrong anyway? And that’s what my whole business is: Finding people who are doing things wrong and trying to show them the right way of doing things. This happens to be rooted in using research, personal tests, and stories of other entrepreneurs to help bring that to life.
You know what I mean? So, research is part of it. But really it’s about helping people find the right way of doing things.
James: Well I think you’re probably talking about the why and the how, right? With this research stuff, is it hard to get access to the documents?
Derek: So it’s not as hard as you would think. You have to look for it obviously and it’s different. You know these things like Google Scholar where you can find it, but to get the new research, the stuff that’s just coming out every quarter published in the periodicals, in the journals and everything like that, I actually donated money to a university in New York City just so I can gain access to their library.
Because their library, they have access to all the research documents you ever want so I donated money so I can basically borrow books from the university library. Kind of nerdy if you think about it but that’s how I did it.
James: Well I like that. I like the aspect of getting yourself an advantage of figuring out… I guess that’s kind of like a 4-Hour Workweek hack isn’t it? Just that little thing, it’s like a membership card to a club that cost a little bit more but gets you so many more privileges.
How much did you know or how qualified were you about persuasion and this sort of topic and field that you’re studying now before you started publishing it on the Internet?
Derek: Yeah so actually, when I went to college, I was one class away from a major in Psychology. So I basically majored in Psychology in college. But, to be honest with you, I actually forgot everything I learned right after I, you know, as I was learning it. I was just going to college to learn Psychology to learn to take tests, that’s it.
However, where I really got my, you know, gritted my teeth in the persuasion speech was two different spaces. I used to play a lot of poker and I played a lot of poker; I’m saying hours upon hours of poker. We’re talking like 10 hours a day. So I learned a lot about persuasion at the poker table. That was the first place.
The second place I learned a lot about persuasion is actually, I did this really horrible job when I was 18 years old. I worked for a sign company. It was at the sign company that I would make the signs and then they would hire installers to install the signs and my job there, I was getting paid like you know, maybe 10 bucks an hour or whatever.
My job was to find people in different states around the United States who would install our sign for like 800 bucks. I wanted to find who would install our sign in a local location for $800. So I’ll do a lot of phone calls trying to give people business. But they said I couldn’t spend more than $800.
I turned it into a game, where I always try to see how much people would want to do this for. What’s the least amount of money people would do it, and still do a good job. And I somehow convinced people to do it for like 500 bucks or 400 bucks. Just by, like, practicing talking on the phone.
So that’s kind of like where I really got my, you know, gritted my teeth with poker and this in sign installation thing. Very weird.
The Business Of Games
James: Right. So you’ve taken a sort of a… I guess it must have been… well maybe I’m assuming… but it must have been a slight interest for you have taken course in it, of all the courses you could have taken. You’ve then found a commercial application, you’ve got some in the field experience. Do you treat business like a big game?
Derek: Yup. Yes, that probably stemmed from the fact that I was very competitive chess player when I was in my teens. I was also… poker was the same thing. Poker was a game to me. I played another.
I played these thing that’s called collectible card games. Are you familiar with this at all?
James: Ah like baseball and stuff. Trump cards?
Derek: No, no, no, like Magic: The Gathering.
James: OK, yeah. I’ve heard of it.
Derek: Very weird. So I used to play games like that and I play that very competitively as well, like I did this one game called… I’m probably making people think I’m like the weirdest dude in the world right now. But I play…
James: Well, I think so far they’re not going to engage in a game of poker with you, or chess.
James: So you’re kind of limiting your options if you want to be entertaining yourself out there.
Derek: Yes. So I play this game called The Spoils and I did that competitively where I travel around the United States to 44 states in three months where I was getting paid to play like a child’s card game essentially.
James: Yeah, interesting. When I was selling, I used to play Gran Turismo and I love that car game on Playstation and I love the aspect that you had to win races to reinvest the price money into developing your car so that you could win a better race to get more prize money to develop your car or trade it for better. I saw the analogy and it was really also a nice relief for me to be able to let some steam off.
Sales and Marketing
James: Now in your sales and marketing, I’ve noticed that you use a certain tone or I guess a leadership positioning. You have quite an authoritative style. I guess I would call it directive. I think I’ve even asked you about it before.
You are very, very clear and firm about what your reader or what your listener should do and you do ask them to do a lot often. Go and write this, or click on this link or go here and do this or submit this entry. Could you talk a little bit more about that and the sort of results that it’s been getting?
Derek: Yeah, so, let’s just be clear for a second. I am from New York City. So if you paint a picture of what you think a New Yorker would look like, I’m probably that person. I’m loud. I’m a little brash.
Some people hate me. Some people love me. That’s just my personality and I let that show through online. And it tends to be this directive, authoritative personality.
I just always had that. And I do that for a couple of reasons, especially as it relates to business.
I’m of the mind, that if you go… like my site, Socialtriggers.com, you go there, you find that I give out a lot of free content. I do weekly videos. I do podcasts. I do all those great stuff for people.
Now this content I am releasing into the world because I honestly want to help people get ahead in whatever they’re trying to do. Nothing makes me happier than getting an email from someone telling me that I helped change their life. However, I make it very clear that even though the content they get doesn’t cost them anything, that it’s not free, you usually got to do something for it.
Now it’s not like required. I don’t tell people you have to share this article to unlock access to it. It’s more like just doing the right thing, “Hey since I did this for you, it’ll be cool if you do this for me.” And I don’t track it. I don’t require them to do it.
But since I’m being helpful, people want to do it. Do you know what I mean?
James: Yeah I think that it could be described as a reciprocation and you’re just reminding them of that. So, how often do you come across a piece of research and then have a “whoops!” you know, I’ve been doing something wrong or “wow! There’s somewhere I could really improve or change the way that I’ve running my own business?”
Derek: Yeah so that was a good question and a lot of people say… they always want to know where do you research and then they would also want to know does research actually help? But it’s funny because I might read a hundred articles, a hundred academic papers, I might read 20 books before I’ll finally find something that would change my life.
So to find these good stuff, the stuff that really matters is very hard and it requires you to be very scholarly. However, when you do find it, it’s a different between you know making a thousand dollars and making a million dollars. It’s just that’s the type of impact this stuff can have on your business.
So I don’t find it that often and when I do, I tend to share a lot of it as content. And I also tend to figure out how to apply this research directly to whatever it is I’m working on for myself and also show people how to apply it to themselves.
Brand Name vs Your Own Name
James: Yeah, that makes sense. OK, so, you’ve started out this blog, you call it Social Triggers. How do you feel about having a brand name like that versus putting it under your own name? I mean, interesting that you prefer to stay at home.
You know, so you’ve got some different viewpoints on some of the other people in the Internet business space but you did take a business-y sort of decision to have a blog brand instead of a personal brand like johnchow.com for example. What’s your take on naming?
Derek: Yeah, so I think you have to pick the name that you can grow into. Now depending on what you’re trying to do, using yourname.com, is a great way to do it. I mean, my friend Marie Forleo, she does marieforleo.com and that’s great for her because she has a lot of different passions and she can talk about everything that she wants to talk about on to her name and she’s never going to be pigeonholed because how can you be pigeonholed into your own name?
You know what I mean? So I think using your name is a great idea! On the flip side, I chose socialtriggers.com because when I first started it, I always had in the back of my mind that what I was doing could be bigger than me.
James: Right. So…
Derek: It’s not bigger than me yet, but I thought what I was doing could be bigger than me. So I gave myself an opportunity to pursue that if I want it. If you go to socialtriggers.com, I got a picture of myself in every blogpost. It’s really the Derek Halpern show.
So yes. But I have the option to expand.
James: Right. So is that what you advise people to do with their own site?
Derek: No. I advise them to look at themselves and figure out what they’re trying to do. I think if you want to build a lifestyle brand, where you’re travelling the world living the life, usingyourname.com is a great way to do it. And the best part is, as your interests change, so can your website.
If you use a website like socialtriggers.com, you’ll find that it’s much harder to expand or change your interests. However, when I picked that as an example, Social Triggers is a site that I can grow into still. I’m not pigeonholed into talking just about psychology and blogging.
I can really talk about the psychology of everything, from fitness to health, anything, just out to do anything right. So I’m actually right now, after being known as this blogging marketing guy for a while, I start to talk more about things like productivity and social skills and other types of things that make people better people.
James: How long is the blog been going so far?
Derek: Actually I just passed the two-and-a-half year mark. I launched it March of 2011.
Derek: So it’s now 2.5 years ago. I can’t even believe it actually. I can’t even believe time flies like that.
James: Yeah well it’s interesting. You know I was speaking to Noah Kagan about Appsumo and he was telling me that, you know, he’d expect it to be going broader but he started in a startup niche and it’s just so big. So it’s interesting you’ve lasted a few years in that part of the sphere where you’re at and now you’re going broader and you can definitely do that under your brand. I think that that’s a great brand for that.
A lot of my listeners have a website. They’re probably doing blog posts and some video, perhaps audio like I teach in OwnTheRacecourse.com and I’m interested in some of the behind the scenes stuff. I noticed that you recently restarted podcasting?