01:39 – A portable lifestyle
04:29 – Minimalist living
06:43 – Chasing the ideal business
11:33 – Escaping the inbox
15:01 – Is email going anywhere?
16:40 – Choosing your medium
20:25 – James’s business in summary
24:48 – Where business is now
27:16 – How two businesses got sold
35:34 – James and his inbox
38:30 – Operating with email
42:12 – When you’ve got all that time…
44:29 – The addiction is real
James: James Schramko here. Welcome back to SuperFastBusiness.com. Today is a pretty unique podcast. I’m actually going to be joined by Yaro Starak. I’ve known him the whole time I’ve been online, because he was already very established. And this will be Episode 637 where we will be covering online marketing lifestyle lessons, and we’ll definitely be talking about how to eliminate your inbox challenges that you’re having.
Yaro has a service that helps people manage his inbox, so we’ll cover that. He asked me a bunch of questions about me and what I’ve been up to for the last five or six years, because that’s the last time we caught up online for a podcast. And interestingly, this podcast episode will be broadcast on both SuperFastBusiness and also Yaro’s blog. So forgive the interesting format, but I do talk about myself a little bit in this podcast. However, I think it’s really useful for you. If you don’t know my story on my journey, it will definitely bring you up to speed. So without further ado, I’m going to introduce our joint podcast between Yaro and I.
A portable lifestyle
Hello, Yaro. It’s great to be here. For me, this will be podcast number 637 on SuperFastBusiness. And we thought it would be economical to join forces and talk about the topic. Two things really. Sort of where have we got to in the last 10 or 20 years, because you’ve been at this for a long time, since 1998. In fact, when I came online in 2005, you were already a guru hitting your strong points there with your affiliate promotions and blogging, and I admired your crazy writing skills and business knowledge. So I was wondering if I’m too late to the party. And that was 14 years ago. So I’ve known you for a long time, and we bump into each other from time to time when we travel. You’ve come to my house in Manly at one point, I saw you last year in California and you’re living in Canada now.
Yaro: I am. Vancouver, presently.
James: And is that a permanent thing?
Yaro: I’m calling it my base, but I’m still very much a digital nomad. I probably haven’t spoken to you about this, but I have a business in Ukraine, and that’s where my father’s side of the family is from, and I bought a little apartment there. So I’ll be going back this year for a visit. So yeah, spending some time in Europe, but Canada, I have Canadian and Australian citizenship, so it certainly makes it easy to live in those two countries.
James: You know, I think this is a great topic, and not one that I hear much about. I live in two countries, as well. I’ve got a place in the Philippines and I’ve got a place in Australia, and I move between the two. And I love being able to walk in and you’ve got your clothes, all your kitchen utensils, your furniture, TV, everything. It’s like, just arrive, and you’re there. So you really only need your passport. And maybe your phone, a laptop to get there. I don’t even take clothes. Sometimes we we get weird looks at customs, no luggage. But what do you think about living in a couple of places? You enjoy that?
Yaro: You just described what used to be a dream of mine. I wanted to have a house in all these cities. You know, it was like Auckland, and LA, and Toronto, and you know, Tokyo. And then Airbnb launched. So I kind of, you know, adjusted that dream. I didn’t feel like I need to make enough money to have this huge property portfolio and fill it with my own clothing in every single place. But I certainly do totally agree with what you’re saying about having a base and having your stuff. I haven’t done what you just said, because, you know, usually there’s some places I visit in between the staying in whatever it is, Canada, Australia or Ukraine at the moment. So I still have to have luggage, unfortunately, though I love what you’re doing, James. I think that’s ultimate minimalism. Although you know, you do kind of have two houses full of stuff, so it’s not true minimalism. But I love the fact that we can do that.
I think that really lends itself to our topic today because frankly, the only reason we kind of can do any of that is because of having a business that’s completely portable. And I guess you could call it, like, a minimalist business in some kind of ways too. Would that be right?
James: Yeah. You know, I would still class myself as fairly minimal, aside from my surfboard quiver, which seems to be expanding occasionally. I think it’s actually reached, it’s stopped now, because my little storage area is full to the brim. I can’t fit another board in so I’ve stopped that. But after watching KonMari on Netflix and seeing how much crap people have in their houses, especially in some of the more established families where they’ve had multiple generations, I feel like I’m running pretty lean. I don’t have that much stuff.
And, you know, the last podcast episode that I did prior to this one was with an expert in meditation. And I’m really getting quite interested in this whole concept of, maybe we’ve got enough. And I think that’s why I feel a little bit repelled sometimes when I’m seeing the people espousing the jet slash Bentley slash chandelier mansion life. I think excess can actually be a chain around your neck. It forces you into high adrenaline mode, high productivity, you have to keep feeding the beast. So I’m in a fortunate position, and I’m sure you are, too, where I bring in more income than what it costs to live. And if you can have properties without debt, and you don’t have things owning you, then that’s a great position to be in.
Certainly, I’ve set about summarizing a lot of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way over the last 14 years into a book. It’s a year old, so let’s call it a dozen years online. But I also brought some of my knowledge from before online, and I brought that to the table and the book’s called Work Less, Make More. And one of the important elements of this book, and an area that I am always delving into when I’m coaching is personal effectiveness, it’s actually chapter one.
And when you and I were last speaking, I became aware that you have a new service which helps people escape from their inbox. And I immediately thought, that’s the sort of thing my clients need. And it would be great to talk about email as a subject somewhere in here, and why it’s such a problem, and some ways that we might be able to deal with it. Of course, probably the ultimate solution is to never have to log into it again.
Chasing the ideal business
Yaro: Right. You know, you highlight, I think, the first goal I had for going back to that sort of late 90s when I was 18, 19, and I wanted to get online, my primary goal with a business wasn’t to necessarily grow a huge team, have that high-adrenaline environment that you’re talking about. I did want, and this was before the 4-Hour Workweek kind of made it a thing, right? I was looking for a business that could fuel my life. I wanted to work less and make more, essentially. Rename your book there, James, because I did want to have a company that was, you know, paying my bills, giving me the time freedom, financial freedom.
But I saw so many other entrepreneurs get caught up in the more, more, more treadmill, and it’s a dangerous place, like you said, with the mansions and the Ferrari’s. Because we certainly are incentivized within our society to chase these big financial outcomes. Our TV shows talk about rich people, Kardashians, so it makes it seem like that’s the desirable way to live your life. And I really, I didn’t want that, especially when I saw the burnout that entrepreneurs went through.
But at the same time, or maybe at the other end of the spectrum, I was very afraid of the people who had jobs and how they had to live their life because, you know, I’m sure a lot of our listeners still have jobs. I understand it’s a necessity, certainly, if you’re just working towards entrepreneurship. I have had part-time jobs, and obviously James, I know you, when I first interviewed you on my podcast (I don’t know how long ago it was now), you had only just become a full-time internet marketer. You were still talking about your selling cars days at the dealership. And you know, that’s a pathway that a lot of people take. But I for me, it was like, well, full time job, waking up with an alarm clock, having a boss, having a capped salary or an hourly rate. Those things were scary, as was entrepreneurial burnout. So it was kind of like, how do you find this sweet spot of having a digital business that you can travel with, that provides an income, but doesn’t suck you into a vortex of high stress, lots of busy work and perpetual need to do something more for the sake of more? So yeah, work less make more is definitely a philosophy. I agree with you.
James: You know, when I was going through that phase of transition between a job and not having a job, I got most of it right, and there was a couple of things that were slightly off on that I’ve changed my opinion of, but I was being exposed to those hammocks and pina colada type riches ideas. The 4-Hour Workweek came out at a time when I had a very expensive home mortgage, four kids to feed. I had a high-pressure job, and I was trying to figure out this online stuff. And I couldn’t really relate to a single dude with all these life tips, you know, in his 20s, or whatever he was.
Yaro: Twenty-five, would have been then.
James: It was a pretty strong “Yeah, but…” Dude, you’re 25, what could you possibly know about life and the challenges involved? So I thought my dream business would be no stock, no staff, no physical premises. So I got the no physical premises down. I didn’t do stock for a long time. I did actually end up having DVDs, and they were quite lucrative and interesting. But I think technology started to make DVDs less appealing. And of course, these days, I have a physical book. And I love the book because I don’t touch it. It’s fully fulfilled by Amazon, I don’t even sell it myself. I usually don’t even have a copy lying around my own house, because I give them away whenever they come. And I certainly don’t have a garage full of them. So I like the idea that you can have a physical product, but not actually physically interact with it.
But the thing that I really flexed on the most was the staff. I actually ended up building up to around about 65 team members at peak, several years after this declaration. I mean the 4-Hour Workweek, the main thing it delivered me was this concept of having a VA. And I tried it, even though I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with a VA. I didn’t know if I’d keep one VA busy enough. And I applied with that YourManInIndia service. But it was in meltdown after the 4-Hour Workweek.
James: My friend had a team in the Philippines, and offered to get a couple of people for me to interview. And that’s where it started. That’s probably nine years ago now. And then, lo and behold, I built this thing out.
“Having a human-powered service is a great business.”
Now, having sold off those service businesses, I sold off the teams as well. They went along with the business. And they’re all happily employed, that was my main criteria, that they would be accepted by the new employer, they’d all be offered a job, and they were, and they’re still there. And I kept a little core team of five. And as your service sounds like, where you’re helping people look after their email, and you’ll definitely have to tell us where we can find out about that, you’re having humans involved in the business. And I think having a human-powered service is a great business. It can be difficult to set up, it can have its challenges. However, it’s a high-value service that currently isn’t replaced with AI.
Escaping the inbox
Yaro: Yes. And you know, it’s funny, you talk about services, because the business we’re talking about, it’s called Inbox Done. So InboxDone.com.
And just to give the listeners a bit of an origin story there, it’s an interesting connection. Before you saw me as a blogger, James, you may have heard me tell a story about running an online editing company, an essay editing company called BetterEdit. And that was actually a services business, obviously, and I had a team of contractors. And my job was forwarding emails between the clients and the editors all day, often with very tight deadlines, as you can imagine, with students handing in essays. Often there were not many hours between when they sent it to us for editing and when they had to hand it in for their deadline.
And that business, what ended up happening, it grew. It was successful. And then I found myself in a situation where I traveled from Brisbane to Sydney back when I was living in Australia. And I was down there for a tournament and I couldn’t really attend, because I had to keep going back to internet cafes. This is prior to, you know, mobile phones with email access, no blackberries yet, or no smartphones. And it was horrible, because I had to check in every sort of hour just to make sure I didn’t miss a job. And that was frustrating. And it wasn’t freedom. So I went back to Brisbane and immediately thought, I’ve got to hire an email manager to take over this email role.
So I found a work-at-home mom. I was a bit hesitant as you probably have experienced as well. That first time you get someone to take over email, it’s like letting someone into your personal life who’s looking at, you know, something that you used to see only as something you could do. And you can’t believe they can do as good a job as you can, or you can trust them, they’re going to steal things.
So I went through a training period with her. And lo and behold, after about three weeks to a month, I was like, man, you’re doing as good a job if not better than I am. It’s all yours. And then I woke up the following Monday, and my inbox was empty. And it was quite a profound experience. On one level, I was like, What do I do now, because this business runs entirely without me? But on the other level, it was like, this is fantastic. I’ve built what everyone dreams about, this sort of passive income business.
And then fast forward only 12 years later, I have continued to have someone do my email. So I very much continued, or I should say, I took the lesson from you, James (but you weren’t teaching it yet) of having someone do your email, myself with every business since then. So when I got into blogging and podcasting, I had someone take over my email from day one; customer service for all the coaching products I’ve sold, someone was doing email.
And then a couple years ago, I was at an internet marketing dinner in Vancouver. And someone was talking about how they have to stay up late every night, replying to their email, and get up in the morning, deal with their email. And I said, Well, I only do my email once a month. And of course, everyone at the table looked at me, how is that even possible? And I said, “Well, I don’t do it. I have someone else handle my email for me. And, you know, they’ve built systems, they’ve got follow-up processes, they’re customer service, and I only check in once a month to a little folder with, you know, five to 10 messages that are built up over the month for me that only I can answer.”
And after that reaction, I was very much cemented in the belief that there might be a business here. And like you said, InboxDone.com was born as a human-powered email management service. We did a little test behind the scenes first in 2017. And then it worked well, and we rolled it out in 2018 and been slowly growing, expanding since then, providing email services for a lot of, mostly entrepreneurs, small business owners. And yes, it’s surprising how much of a need there is for such an old technology. People still handle their email. I think it’s quite surprising to think about, because it is probably the oldest internet technology we have.
Is email going anywhere?
James: Let’s talk about that. Email is not going anywhere in the very short term, is it?
Yaro: I really don’t think so. I often ask – well, I’ve been asked, is blogging going to die? You know, is email going to die? And I can ever think like, are words going to die? Is communication going to die? I don’t think so. I’m sure, you know, there’ll be new tools as we’ve watched YouTubes and Facebooks, and so on, explode, but I still have email. It’s still a big part of all my businesses today. I used to think maybe it’ll be replaced by some kind of direct telepathy, something like that.
James: Yeah, when we get the chip implant and we can tap into the Wi-Fi. I mean, that could happen in our lifetime, which is continually potentially expanding on how long we could live.
I think the landscape will be very different in 10 years from now. Like, where you’ve gone in 20 years to now, a lot of the biggest changes have happened most recently, right? And it’ll continue to extrapolate and speed up in the rate of change. But what I am seeing is, in terms of some of the core trends, I’ve put a fair bit of effort into really having high performance email. As a marketer, I keep the cleanest, friendliest, most relevant lists that’s segmented and make sense. It’s a great way for us to communicate with our buyers. That’s where the majority of our sales come from.
I think there’s a wave of bots and messengers and we’re moving in a new direction; however, I’m thinking about companies like my electricity company, my property company, etc. When they’re sending information (and the bank), they don’t send you mail anymore. They all want you to tick the box to receive the email. But I’m wondering, if they wanted to replace that, what would they replace it with? They’re not going to send me instant messenger, at this point. I think we’re way off that.
Choosing your medium
Yaro: Yeah. They’ll probably get sued for spam.
“The blog is still a good idea, even in 2019.”
James: Just as a side note, while we’re at it, I’m seeing a bit of a backlash against people posting their content on third party sites, and a sort of reinvigoration of blogging. The guys from Basecamp have pulled back their site from Medium and putting it back on their own domain. And for the longest time, I’ve been holding steady with continuing to publish on my own site, my core content. And I think where the blog is still a good idea, even in 2019.
Yaro: Totally agree. Still blogging here, as well. Blogging, podcasting – I love both mediums. They power my email list growth; they power my personal brand. Writing still is what ultimately shows up in a lot of search results in Google. So, a lot of free traffic to be gotten from that. And obviously, with podcasting, as our listeners right now, it’s such a great relationship-building tool with an audience, because they hear your voice. Plus, you’ve got how many downloads happening across smartphone. So I think it’s a great one-two combination – a bit of written content, audio content. Obviously, video is great, too. But I find the difficulty of consistently producing a type of video that gets an audience, plus simply the fact that I’ve had success already with two mediums that are much more lower labor and lower costs to produce, that I continue to go in that path. So I’m not against video. You’ve done much video yourself, James.
James: Well, I think that’s a great point. I think it’s good to work with a medium where you feel comfortable. So where you’re strong with writing, I’m not. I can’t type. I’ve done well with voice, I’ve been podcasting for 10 years. It works well for me, it brings me the majority of my audience. It’s a fantastic medium. We got into podcasting early, and we’ve got an established audience. There’s a lot of new shows, and there’s podcasts everywhere. But what I’ve been doing is supplementing with short videos. And I’m not an editor, I’m not an artist. I don’t make full on docuseries-themed videos. I’d love to do that, have the film crew follow me around and all that, but they would be so bored.
Yaro: James is surfing again. And he’s surfing again.
James: Yeah. James is going for a surf. James is doing a podcast. James is watching Netflix. James is reading a book. James is hanging out with his family, he’s going for a swim with his wife, you know, always down at the mall now. Like, I think it would get boring after a few days.
James: But the short videos, they really suit me. I’d love to just talk, I like to get to the point, I can introduce a topic and explain it, and then answer it, all within a minute. Sometimes two, if I’m going over time. And I put those across six different places, and we do two of those a day.
And I have no trouble creating that content, because I’m speaking to my clients all the time with my two memberships; I get a lot of opportunities to be aware of what topics are interesting to my audience. I could come off the back of a few coaching calls. And I could easily create 20 videos just from my notes from those calls, that will be relevant for my audience.
So that medium’s worked well. And it’s actually supplemented the podcast downloads, and it’s getting me into those native platforms, and giving me a huge opportunity to remarket to those people as an invisible list. So I think an email list is a great subscription to have, and I like to have people on iTunes and I like to have people accessible on Facebook and Instagram. And recently, LinkedIn has been the surprise one for me. That’s where the most views happen on my videos.
James: And I think that is because it’s a really boring platform. People who are in the work sort of mode can’t imagine anything more exciting than watching a quick one-minute video to distract them from their humdrum. It just stands out there, compared to Facebook or Instagram, which are extremely visual. And YouTube, obviously, it’s a video-saturated platform.
James’s business in summary
Yaro: James, you’re bringing up a lot of questions for me here, because I realize, like, you mentioned off air, most people haven’t actually listened to my interview with you. Probably should have brought this up in the intro. But yeah, there was an interview I did with James, mentioned earlier, that I went through his entrepreneur’s journey, which certainly has been the history of my podcast. But people won’t know what you do. And you just described a lot of things. You’ve got two membership sites, you’ve got a team repurposing your content.
Could you maybe summarize? You know, what is your business? What are you known for? And how do you work less and make more? What does the book actually talk about?
James: Yeah, it’s a good question. So the book is kind of a summary, of what I’ve learned that I wanted to write for my kids, to say, “Here you go, kids…” Because I got four kids the moment, about to have my fifth, and I wanted to put it in their hands and say, if you can just read this book, this would really help you.
So my business now as it sits, I have a little team of five in the Philippines. I’m pretty much the only core talent in my business in terms of the public facing, but my team are the real talent, of course, behind the scenes, doing all the good stuff. I’ve got a SuperFastBusiness community of coaching, where I help people with their online business. That one’s really suited to people who are already making $10,000 a year online with what they want help with. I don’t really do startups. I’ve done plenty of startups, and I help startups occasionally. Generally, I steer clear of that. And I’m definitely not business opportunity.
And when they get up to about 500 grand a year, then they’re probably a good candidate for SilverCircle. And SilverCircle is a higher-level community, and I’m coaching people at the level where they’re already making, they start at 500,000, and they go all the way up to deca millions. But the average student in SilverCircle makes $3 million a year. And a lot of those people in that, you would know those people, they’re quite famous online. And some of them, I’m just behind the scenes. I don’t need to take the spotlight, I want them to shine; I want them to succeed. So they’re the two main communities that I have that are a big chunk of my portfolio.
Yaro: Just before you go, what do you help the SilverCircle people do? Like, you know, people are already super successful, how do you come into their lives to help them?
James: Because things change a lot. When you go from half a million dollars a year to a million dollars a year, things are changing. And then over a million dollars a year, you definitely have a very different business than a hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year business. You’re almost certainly going to be having team, you’re definitely going to have scaling challenges. And you’re going to have to keep much better eye on the numbers and profitability. You have to be really careful about the way that you package and price things, and have a strategy around it, because it’s starting to get more competitive and the stakes are higher. You have to be more effective personally. You can’t be dredging through your inbox for five hours a day, it’s not an option. You can’t be just tooling around on social media, or watching cat videos all day. You need to start eating well, sleeping well, get other people helping you out with low-value tasks. And you need to be able to sell and convert, so you need to know what techniques are working.
There’s so many dials and buttons we can trip as a marketer – whether we should have free or paid; one-time or recurring; whether we should be doing a service or a product; whether we partner up with someone or go on our own. There’s a lot of choices to make, and having seen a lot of those choices made with a big data set, I have an advantage. If you think about this, in my core group of SilverCircle, there’s 34 people, and I’m more or less concurrently running their business with them on a constant basis. And if they’re all doing $3 million a year (that’s a median number, I’m not sure the technical name, but it’s not the average, but it’s the median) then I’m seeing what works. And like Jay Abraham, or many of the great business coaches in the past, you can cross-pollinate good ideas from industry to industry, or from business to business. And you can basically find the gold much faster if you know exactly where it is and what tools to use.
Yaro: All right. I love everything you’re saying. Especially about bigger numbers, meaning there’s bigger stakes. You can’t really screw up, because suddenly you’ve got people to pay, you got all these resources, you know, that you’re paying for yourself. So you can’t kind of be laissez faire about it all. But continue, James, you were mentioning, so there’s two, those two memberships right? Sounds like your core businesses. And I know, if people did listen to the first interview, you probably talk a bit more about the services companies you had with that large team, and you were doing, you were kind of like running a virtual assistant agency in some ways back then. I actually, I’d like to hear more about what’s going on right now. But I am curious why you sold those companies.
Where business is now
James: Yeah, it is a good story. So in terms of right now, I also run an annual event, which I know you’ve been to, and that’s SuperFastBusiness Live. And I run a mastermind in the Maldives each year, which I absolutely adore. It’s like my favorite thing in the world to do, is to be on a boat with food cooked for me, four meals a day, surfing and talking about business on a beanbag with a cocktail in my hand. I love that, that’s just like heaven. And I do okay with affiliate stuff still, a lot of my clients and students need tools and recommended resources. And I have traffic.
And the other division that I have, it’s not so public, is I do revenue shares. And that’s where I’m an interested party in my partner’s business, and they pay me a fee for performance. When I help them grow their business and it goes way better, I get a cut. And I’ve taken on quite a few of those deals over the last year and a half. It’s one of my preferred business models. I’ve just started teaching that now in SilverCircle, I’ve got five of my SilverCircle students putting those sort of deals together. And I’m about to roll that out to SuperFastBusiness. And that is very exciting, because it’s kind of like you’re an affiliate, but for their whole business rather than just the stuff you bring to them as a marketer, and I can help them with things other than just traffic. So that’s a good one. And of course, I have the book, which is on Amazon and Audible. And a big tip there – if you have a podcasting audience and you put out a book, make sure you read it as an Audible, because that outsells the book. And I learnt that from one of my clients, actually, who’s got the number one marketing book on Amazon, called The 1-Page Marketing Plan.
And to the side of the whole sort of online business, we have a few projects in the background. My team and I work on a few projects that are nothing to do with the online marketing or business coaching type space. And we’re just building out super sites, a bit like your client and friend, Alborz, what he was doing with his car site?
Yaro: Sold it, but still, he still works there.
James: Right. He’s still driving nice cars, I can see on social media, and good luck to him. Certainly, he’s done well. And I think you had a hand in that, from memory.
So that’s what we’re doing. We’re building out sites in the background that we own. And my team is so talented. Three of the five of my team used to run my SEO business. I mean, they got mad skills. The newest person in my team started over five years ago. And we’re just cranking out these things and bringing in revenue from a publishing model. So that’s pretty much it.
How two businesses got sold
The website development business, I was coaching a guy who was a really good programer and didn’t have a team, and I was actually making more profit than he was. And I said, this can’t be right. Like, I have 10 developers, I don’t know how to code, and I’ve got this business making X profit. I don’t know anything about developing. You should probably buy my business, because if you had 10 people with your knowledge, then you could make the same money that I’m making, and then boost it and grow it and, you know, actually get the best out of it.
And I hated the website development business. It was a difficult business. There’s so much subjectivity between what a client wants and what the developer can deliver. Developers aren’t the best communicators, I’ve found, sometimes – they’re a bit naughts and ones, and they sometimes lack the ability to understand what’s going on, or to communicate things, in a way that’s understandable by a customer. So it was a constant source of frustration. And it was not, by any stretch, my most profitable division in terms of pure profit. I mean, if a business isn’t making at least $100,000 a year profit for me, it’s not going to stay in my portfolio. So like a good investor, I cut that one, and I sold that business.
Now, the SEO business, different reason. That business was doing over a million dollars a year. And one of my students, who I met in Dubai (I was speaking at an event), he was sitting in the room, and he was within weeks of being deported from Dubai, because he’d been sacked from a photographic studio that he was employed at, and you have to leave if you don’t have a job. So he bought my course, and I coached him, and he built his own agency in Dubai. And it was going so well that he ended up buying a good chunk of my supply. And I had this scenario that I call big fish, where one customer is buying most of your stuff, or you’ve got most of your income coming from one area. And that’s quite risky. You get to the point where they’re going to have to vertically integrate, and go into competition with you. So you lose your best customer, and you end up potentially having a threat.
So as his coach, I said, “Hey, listen, I think you should buy my business, because you can pay for the business out of the profit, you’ll save, because 50 percent of what you spend with me is profit. And then you could have a lot more control over the the quality of the supply. And you could not even serve other people if you want to grow it.” And that’s exactly what he’s done. He’s grown the business massively, and he’s not really serving external parties, and he’s using almost all that supply for his own agency. And he’s like, by far, the leading SEO agency in Dubai. And it worked out really well for everyone.
And for me, I think it was 38 people in that team – I had a lot less on my plate to think about. I mean, that was the most profitable and the easiest-to-run business division that I had. But it was always on my mind, how are we going to go with SEO in the future? Where’s social media going? Is it as easy to control the first-page rankings as it used to be? And we out-survived all of our competitors. I mean, a lot of them just collapsed when those big smackdowns happened, the blog networks got tossed, all those tools and automation and junky linking-type things disappeared. There’s a lot of ex-SEO-industry people. So we maintained our course. We had good quality product, and it’s still alive and ticking well today.
Plus, it’s good to get a payday.
Yaro: Yeah. That’s really interesting.
James: And I really I really felt that it was worth, firstly, to get paid a large sum for something that I created from thin air. I mean, that domain that I had was, I think I bought it for $500. So I actually birthed that business in a business masterclass that I ran, a live workshop called Business Profit Formula or something like that. And I birthed it as a live case study, and then it went into being a seven-figure-a-year business, and I got the big paydays. It was super satisfying.
And of course, it puts me in the best position possible to guide and coach my own clients through the same process. If they want to exit, if they want to be paid, if they want to sell a business, I know all the moves. I’ve seen it all, I’ve done the lawyer dances. I’ve done my research, and I feel really confident that I can help them, versus, you know, theoretical. I can’t stand theoretical coaches, and there’s too many of those. Pretty much everything I teach, I’ve already done or seen.
Yaro: That’s a great part two, that little section you just said, James, to our first interview. I think it really closes the loop. I certainly had no idea. I knew you exited those two companies, but I didn’t realize the circumstances of the exits, and it certainly makes sense, too, why SilverCircle is so effective, your higher-end coaching service. I was just on a podcast where I interviewed Mike Rhodes, a fellow Australian who runs an agency, and he was a member at one point of SilverCircle. And that seems to be a thing I hear every now and then, “Oh yeah, James Schramko, he’s kind of like the guy behind the scenes to help me do something to scale to the next level.” And you make such a great point – you have to kind of walk the walk before you can talk the talk and coach people.
“You have to walk the walk before you can talk the talk.”
James: Guys like Mike are exceptional, because what he does well is he seeks out the best expert you can find, and he pays them to fast track his results. He actually contacted me and said, “I would like to set up a membership. How do I do it? Can I pay you to learn it?” I said “Yes, you can.” And away we went.
I had a similar conversation with with Kevin Rogers, and we built Copy Chief from scratch, and it’s this amazing copywriters’ membership.
Mike, in particular, I remember his problem was being stuck in the inbox. And he was the agency. Like, there was not much separation between the client and him. He was the one talking to them, and he was the one doing the work. And he’s built this incredible machine of a business with a team, and tools, and he’s doing really well.
But yeah, my client roster is, it feels like I’ve now got the who’s who of the online world in the same way that I think Rich Schefren did a decade ago when I came online.
Yaro: I remember.
James: You were in his sort of catchment.
Yaro: I was.
James: He was the guy coaching the experts back then. It was always in my mind – it was sort of like, that’s a good position to be in. And I really am blessed with the people who actually pay me to help them. I get so much joy and reward from the experience. Like, I’m on a call every few weeks with someone who the average person out there in the public would be blown away if they could actually have a 10-minute coffee with them. It’s a privilege to be at that level, and it’s not something you take lightly.
But at the same time, I live and die by my client’s results. And that’s all that matters to me. I want my client to succeed, sometimes more than they do. And it’s exactly what used to be the case when I was a sales manager. When I would hire a salesperson, I took full responsibility for their success.
So I guess I de-risked and I detuned my business a little bit a few years ago, when I sold those business units. And what happened is, it’s the same as when you prune the branches of a bush or a tree or a flower. The ones that have sort of run their course, when you prune them back pretty hard, all that nutrient and good stuff now goes to the buds that need it. And SuperFastBusiness, it’s been so stable and incredible for the last 10 years, just increased the prices and the value over time, and it’s become more and more profitable and less and less work. And SilverCircle has just been stratospherically successful. I mean, it’s literally tripled since I sold the service businesses, because I’ve attracted better and better and better clients. Some dramatic transformations there. And a lot of what I talk about in that book, Work Less Make More, are the same power moves that I’m going through with these people. Because even though they seem simple, once you hear them, not everyone’s doing all of the things.
I’ll point you to a resource that you can get (there’s no opt in required, just to point out). My friend who helped me write this book, Kelly Exeter, went through the whole book. And at the end of each chapter, we put an action step. And she actually went through and summarized all the action steps into one document, which is pretty much a checklist. If you wanted to just download that PDF, I think it’s on JamesSchramko.com. When you click on the book, it’s on the bottom left of that page, and it’s the workbook. There’s no opt in. And you could actually sort of rate yourself how you are in each of the areas. But I will say, for anyone listening to this, if you get to Chapter One, the personal effectiveness, and you’re still tooling around in your inbox, I think Yaro solved that the best possible way, where you never have to log into it except for occasionally.
James and his inbox
Yaro: I actually have a question about email for you, James. So, when did you first outsource your email? Did you ever do email, or was there a period when you were in your inbox like that?
James: I still do my email. However, there’s a few things that, you know, I’ve got thoughts on this. Like, I remember the first hire that I did was someone to actually install a help desk and to run it. And I think it was $1,000 a month, which sounds like, 10 years later, that’s still about the money, right?
Yaro: That’s what we charge, mostly, now.
James: And it was the best thing, because at that time, I was an affiliate. And in fact, all my online income came from one product. This is about 12 years ago. And what I was offering was a bonus – when people purchased the product through me, I would give them an extra bonus. I gave them this cheat sheet that was super valuable.
Yaro: I remember this. That was how James Schramko got put on a map for internet marketing.
James: That was my first hundred grand, it was my first thousand clients. And my job every day was to log in to my email and find these bonus claims, and then hook them up with the bonus. And it was like, five a day, six a day. But I still had a job. So this guy I hired to set up the help desk and start answering the tickets, his name was Matt. And I would now change the bonus claim from my email to the help desk. And I had this domain called SuperFastHelp. And people would now contact the help desk and make their claim. And Matt, wherever he was, somewhere in America, would log in, give them their bonus, and then I didn’t actually have to do it anymore. So I actually diverted stuff away from my inbox.
“How can you take away from your inbox all the stuff that should not be there in the first place?”
That’s really my biggest tip for someone, if they’re in the crossover phase. How can you take away from your inbox all the stuff that should not be there in the first place? And the the easiest solution for most businesses, and this is definitely a marker, the difference between someone making 10 grand a year or a million dollars a year, you won’t find most million-dollar-a-year businesses handling customer service from their email. It’s almost certainly going to be through a support desk. There’s really good ones, too. Like, we use Help Scout, which is very email-like for the customer, which makes it very friendly. But it’s not in your email.
And that’s the point. Like, I don’t even know how to log into my own help desk. If my team can’t answer something, then they’ll just ask me in Slack. We’ve got this little channel called “help”. And they will actually say, “Boss, this guy wants to do blah, blah, blah…” or whatever. And I’ll say, oh, yes, just say “yes” or “no”, or “I need more information” or whatever. And that’s how we do it. So I only have to go to Slack these days for most things. And this rule applies to almost all the other stuff. I don’t log into WordPress, I don’t log into my shopping cart, I don’t log into Ontraport. Any of the tools that our team uses, my team are logging into, and I’m just in Slack. And that’s one layer back. That’s what I call it.
Yaro: Yes. It’s very much how I work. I do still log into WordPress, as I publish my blog posts.
James: And I still log into my forum via my own app, because that’s my job. That’s my core skill. So it’s a matter of separating stuff. My core skill was not answering bonus claims.
Yaro: No, for sure.
James: They shouldn’t be in your inbox.
Operating with email
Yaro: I went through a period where I did switch to some customer service help desk software for a couple of years, I remember having that. But we actually ended up switching back to Gmail, which I no longer, you know, would log into. Or there’d be a folder that only I would access and no one else deals with that stuff. But that was primarily because we found, I guess, the spam and the filtering and the folder structure within Gmail good enough for the size of the business I was running at the time. I could imagine, of course, at some point, you do outgrow a Gmail inbox, although you can go pretty far.
We actually at one point had three email managers in my team, which I guess you could call three customer service agents. We called them client care people. And that was providing 24-hour replies to anything coming in, whether it’s a potential customer, or an existing customer, or the everyday emails, you know, filing away newsletters, software updates. And we still do. Like today, I actually still have a Gmail, and almost all of our clients in Inbox Done do exactly what you’re talking about, James, except they don’t necessarily use help desk software, they have an email account, and most of them refuse to login.
And yes, it will be Slack, Whatsapp, as a method to communicate with them, just to provide like a daily summary, to ask a question, like, how do I deal with the situation. Obviously, there’s a training period to get to that point. You can’t just immediately step in and take over someone’s inbox without learning how to do so and setting up systems and folders and so on. Plus, of course, becoming that person on some level, you know, learning how they reply, building a database and knowledge base of the kind of regular replies that they send.
So once you get there, though, it is lovely, isn’t it, when you can be just on Slack and that’s the only tool you really need. Like, I think I spend more time on Slack organizing my team now than any other task, to run all three of the businesses I’m involved with. Except for maybe phone calls, and my joy, my job, writing blog posts or doing these podcasts. So it’s elegant. Thank God for the internet. How much better is that than before we had the internet?
James: Interesting – my great grandfather was doing what I do before the internet, a hundred years ago. But it was just a little more complicated – you know, traveling around the world, visiting his gold and silver mines that he would buy and sell, and journaling it in his diaries. So he was kind of blogging and traveling. He didn’t have a laptop, but he had a laptop lifestyle, which actually, that was the subject of our discussion on SuperFastBusiness, which was Episode 193 in May 2013.
Yaro: Oh, you found us, did you?
James: I found us, you’re there. I think the training period’s a good point there. I would equate your inbox to being, like, if you’re doing a fitness program, you’ve got to get the metabolism right. I think the problem people have is they’ve got more coming in than going out. They’ve made some poor choices. Or in some cases, in the case of spam, they didn’t even make a choice, but somehow their email keeps getting added and added. Like, a classic newbie trap is to follow every market so you can see what they’re doing. We call this research, right? That’s a terrible idea.
I think, if you’ve got like, four or five emails, like your throwaway one and the real one, I think that’s a problem you don’t have to have – you should be able to manage everything from one email and use filters to sort them because Gmail’s so strong. I’m a huge advocate of that over the other solutions. Are you too, Yaro?
Yaro: Oh, yeah, for sure.
James: Because the labels in there, it’s just super powerful. Google’s unbelievably searchable, so you don’t actually have to file everything anyway, because it’s easy to find.
James: The only things I want to see is something that needs action, like if I have to renew a domain name, or my lawyer has asked me something about trademark or whatever – I would want to be able to respond to that, but I don’t really care about Fred Bloggs’ latest blog post. I can go to it when I need to. Yeah. So that’s really important.
When you’ve got all that time…
You know, you said something profoundly important at the beginning of this podcast that I think cannot be emphasized enough. And that is, you said when you first got your email sorted, you were wondering what you’re going to do with all that time.
Yaro: Yeah. What do I do with my life?
James: That’s the question. Like, I think some people are, they’re sort of actively enjoying being busy; they feel like they’ve got something to do, and they’re making progress. But realistically, spending four or five hours in your inbox a day is not. You should get to that point. Same as when I quit my job. When I didn’t have to go somewhere else for 70 or 80 hours a week, I could immediately redeploy that time into much higher-level activities, like my own business, and growing assets. And that was such a big change. And when you reach a point where you have a time surplus, and you know, anyone who says, “Oh, I’m too busy,” they’re kidding themselves. Especially anyone with no kids, I’m just going to put that out there. It’s much easier to exist without kids, kids will drain your time a bit. So any new parents, I’m with you.
But you can do a lot in a day. If you’re not in your inbox, and you didn’t go to social media, or you didn’t turn on Netflix, I reckon you’d be astounded what you can do in a day. I mean, I still manage to surf every day, I can still keep on top of the few emails that I have. There were phases where I’ve had help with my email from my partner, but my email is not an issue, I’ve been able to keep it to zero, since for the last 10 years. In fact, in 2011, I received 70,000 emails, and I suspect the average person listening to this podcast would be getting over 100,000 emails, just from the amount of marketing that comes firing these days.
Yaro: Scary to think about.
“Leveraged effort is one where you do it once, but it pays you multiple times.”
James: It’s a big windfall if you can eliminate it. If you could save back a couple of hours a day for a year, I mean, that is a huge redeployment of activities. And that’s really the core premise of my entire book. You did ask me what’s in it, and I didn’t really answer it. But I teach people to score their effective hourly rate as a guide to be able to choose the best activities to do; to work out what products or services they might work on that are going to pay them better; get rid of things they shouldn’t be doing to their team, and to set up the right business model so that they can continually get paid with leveraged efforts. And leveraged effort is one where you do it once, but it pays you multiple times.
The addiction is real
Yaro: You know, what’s interesting regarding this new company, and helping people with email, and I did not see this coming – maybe you would have because of your work with SilverCircle and other high level or even before that – is email addiction. And like you said before, that feeling of busyness, like you’re achieving something because you’re in there replying, or even just archiving emails. And we’ve had some clients where it’s like, you know, you hired us to take this job away from you – stop doing your email. But there’s an actual chemical addiction, I see that as, where there’s a hit, you know, you get a hit from replying to messages. Or just even seeing them, like the the excitement of an inbox with new bolded messages, and then the feeling of starting to delete them. And I think that’s really dangerous, as you said.
This is about finding that one or two or three hours, and email’s usually one of the first places. Talk about a leverage point, you can free up some time taking away some very low-leverage activities. But you have to break that cycle. And I’ve been really surprised how challenging it is, maybe because my own experience was the exact opposite. I was so happy to hand over my email. And then I never went back for the next 12, 13 years till now.
If I have to go in and actually do my email, you know, like you mentioned, having to pay a bonus for an affiliate, or if I had to go in and, like, update someone’s credit card in my system, after they send an email, that sort of work is just something I shouldn’t be doing. And it’s amazing how many small business owners, probably some listening to this podcast, are still losing those hours in the morning, or those hours at night.
And you think about what you could do instead – you could just spend time with your family, or you could travel, or you could build a whole new product, or launch a whole new marketing campaign, or write a book or just go surfing, if that’s your thing. Or as you know, James, I used to rollerblade, so, you know, go rollerblading, if that’s what you’re into. So yeah, it’s surprised me. Email addiction is legitimately a problem.
James: Yeah, that’s exactly what I was talking about, where I think people sort of warm to the activity. You got to want to not do it. When you realize that your email is a to-do list that other people get to add things to, that might reframe it for you. It’s work.
Yaro: That’s powerful.
James: Usually, when you go to your inbox, there’s work involved. You’ll have to go and pay tax, or you’ll have to respond to someone and set up an appointment, or you have to go and look up something that someone needs, or you have to pay something or renew something, or make a decision on something. Like, I’ll get an email saying, because I’ve got an event coming, I want to get some merchandise. Now when I get the correspondence from the supply company, I’m going to have to look at things and then make a decision and then send the money. So there’s all work involved. So think of your email as a to-do list that other people get to add things to, that it most likely, the only sort of emails that you really need to get are the ones that involve you doing something. So it is a bit of a chore list.
Yaro: I really like that.
James: At least get the noise separated from it and focus on the signal part.
Yaro: Right. And that’s a good point there, because I think we still have some interaction with email. Like, I’m a big fan of batch processing. And sure, you might be the person who has to pay that thing that came into your email, but it’s not necessarily the most important task to do, yet we’ll kind of default to it because it’s like, the lazy option in some ways to go empty your inbox. And that’s why I love a human being doing this for you, because they can kind of triage your messages, like that list you’re talking about, the to-do list.
First of all, you no longer default to going and working on it yourself as a default every day. You have someone else do that, who then sort of organizes it, and only puts in the really, really important things into a folder for you, or puts it into Slack or sends it to WhatsApp, whatever it is, or just gives you a text file, a Google doc or something. And then you batch process only that very important list that will give you leverage, you know, the things you might need to actually do, but you’ll do it, like me, could be once a month, or maybe it’s once a week. But it’s not like this sort of haphazard, wasting time, in and out distraction, refocus, taking away from the creative genius work that you need to be doing to actually either grow your business or get more enjoyment from your life.
James: Absolutely. It goes from just chronological to, like, instead of the order it arrived, it’s in the order of importance.
James: So there’s a couple of filters that are critical in terms of order importance. anything to do with a refund or a compliant would absolutely be a priority. Anything that has to be paid or renewed that is going to cause a loss of service would generally be a priority. If you want a quick hack to get rid of a whole bunch of junk, just search for the word “unsubscribe” in your inbox, and that should pull up most of your email newsletters, and just do a monster purge, if it’s not too late for you. And there’s a few quick wins.
Yaro, it’s been great chatting.
Yaro: It has, James. I feel like we could do more quick tips for email you know, another hour. So, we do some other things with newsletters for people who still want to actually see them, is just put a summary into one document you can batch process at once, you know, little things like that.
James: That’s so valuable.
Yaro: Yeah, that’s the great thing about having a human being in there, is you can actually come up with custom systems, you know, you can use the inbox and the content going in there, in just a smarter way.
But we’re at an hour, James. So we had a quite a ramble here, on a few different topics. I’m glad we could hear bit more about your ongoing story. And I certainly appreciate talking about email, as it’s one of my favorite subjects right now with working on InboxDone.com and seeing some happy people who no longer are in their inbox anymore. And of course, in your case with your book, I know it’s not as new as, it probably feels old for you now…
James: It’s a year old, but it’s having a sort of resurgence, it’s actually, over time it’s increasing in sales. So you know, I’ve never been the big one to launch and razzle dazzle, I’m more of a put it out there and then build on it type guy.
Yaro: That summarizes you, James.
James: I have a feeling in a few years, if this was more popular in five years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised, because I think over time as awareness takes, and now that Amazon’s really starting to give you more options to distribute through actual bookstores, I’m seeing sales increase. So I’m very happy, very happy with the book.
Yaro: Work Less Make More. So I will definitely put this in the show notes, links to your book, links to, obviously, InboxDone.com; I want to put a link to the interview you have first appeared on my show, which by the way, just in case you’re curious, it was 2010 in April. So I’ll link to that, and I’ll get my podcast guy to also link to the interview I did on your show, which you said I think was 2013 May. So you’ll have basically three other podcasts you can listen to me and James talk, if you’ve enjoyed this. There’s lots more of us.
James: And we’ll do exactly the same at SuperFastBusiness, where we’ll put this episode at number 637, you’ll be able to look up the PDF transcription and all those resources, as well. Yaro, it’s so good to catch up. And I think we should do this a little more often than every six to 10 years.
Yaro: It was like three – 2010, 2013, then now, so yes. Big gap.
Awesome. James, thank you for doing this. Thank you for coming on my show, and thank you for letting me be on your show.
James: Absolute pleasure.
Yaro: This is actually the first joint podcast I’ve done.
James: Oh, really? Yeah, I’m into it. There’s some good ones out there.
Yaro: Fantastic. And thank you, everyone, for listening in.
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