My business story…told with the tools I use

It can be quite revealing to find out which tools other people use in their businesses.  So let me take you on a rollercoaster of an adventure through my business successes and failures, told using the software that got me there. (That last sentence may contain some poetic licence! 🙂 ) I’ll share some links to tutorials I created along the way that might help you, too.

2004 – A loooong time ago… with Aweber and WordPress

I became a freelance IT trainer in 2000, right after companies had blown their IT budgets on fending off the millennium bug. So I obviously had great timing!

By 2002 I felt the IT training market might be slowing down because young people were coming out of school with far better IT skills than ever before and many adults were being trained on IT skills at work. I decided it was time to re-train. Looking back, I was hilariously wrong because 15 years later I’m still doing a little associate IT training work for Bedford College, and there are loads of people still taking those courses. Anyway, I trained as a life and business coach.

Somewhere back in the mists of time I learned about delivering personal development online. Online video was new and broadband was still a luxury item, so it was still the days of pictures and text. The tools of my trade were a WordPress website and Aweber for my email marketing. I was cool with this set up because it was still mind-blowing to me that you could publish anything on a website so easily – no coding needed.  Happy days! Aweber and Clickbank were the only options I knew about for delivering digital products, it didn’t occur to me to shop around.

I tried to launch a coaching business but realised I was better with a mix of tech and people than I was with just people. So the coaching business never got off the ground.

Unfortunately, I was burned out by the freelancing work that was my bread-and-butter at that time so I went off and got myself a full-time CRM (customer relationship management) software training job. Then in 2008 and 2009 (yeah, about 18 months in total) I got married and had two babies. So I was a tad busy with those ‘projects’ until…

2009 – 2013 Dipping a toe back in the water with WordPress and MailChimp

I knew I wouldn’t have the time for a job or the money to pay for childcare for a few years, so in an attempt to not lose my mind under a pile of nappies I started another WordPress blog. This time it was full of business ideas for mums with young kids, and with a few months author Antonia Chitty asked me to co-write a book with her, Start a Family Friendly Business. It was time for new mailing list and now Mailchimp was on the scene with its zero-budget freemium account if you had under 2000 subscribers. Bargain! This is where I really started to learn about building my mailing list, promoting products to it and creating digital products.

2013 – A switch to Aweber, Udemy and getting my wrist slapped by Mailchimp

By 2013 I had a bit more time on my hands and online courses were starting to happen. For the first time ever it was practical and inexpensive enough to make online courses as a one-woman band working from home. Oh the possibilities! I joined Udemy, an online course platform, to give me more reach. My business for mums blog wasn’t really right for this, so I started (WordPress again) although didn’t blog much here for a few years.

I also took Internet marketing courses, and as I did so I became increasingly frustrated with Udemy. I had to put a lot of effort into promoting my courses there, and as they only ever sold for $10 because of the heavy discounting, it devalued everything else I did. Also, the approval procedure was irritating in that I had to jump through a lot of hoops at Udemy when I could get my own courses published almost immediately on other platforms. Plus many of the courses they did approve and appeared on their first page weren’t that good at the time.

It’s much better now and the top Udemy courses are amazing value for money.

At that time I stepped up my affiliate marketing activity which I knew could be an issue with Mailchimp. Mailchimp’s terms said it allowed affiliate links but not affiliate marketers, which to me is nuts as they are the same thing. Unfortunately I made a silly mistake, crossed over that invisible line from affiliate link wrangler to affiliate marketer and had my account frozen. It took Mailchimp three nail-chewing days to respond to my apology and my promise to never do it again.

After that I made myself a promise to go with a platform that was 100% OK with affiliate marketing and to never be dependent on free tools with poor customer support ever again. I’m happy to say I’ve been with Aweber ever since, I’ve never had any problems and their customer support is excellent. Aweber went through a phase a few years ago when their features fell behind a little, but they’ve since caught up (my video demo of the new features is here) and are great value for money for what you get.

At this stage I was using Screencast-O-Matic to record screencast videos and Windows Moviemaker to edit them with slides from Google Slides. I made a Moviemaker tutorial video at that time which has had nearly 23,000 views at the time I’m writing this. Crazy!

2014 – A brief trip with a WP membership plugin, Vimeo, Clickbank and the dreaded EU VAT. Plus voiceovers

Now feeling disillusioned with Udemy, I decided to set up courses on my own site. So I set up three plugins from Tips and Tricks HQ – WP eMember, WP eStore, WP eAffiliate – and hosted my videos at Vimeo. All was looking fine and dandy until the European Union decided to change way VAT (sales tax) works for digital services, which was a massive pain for small digital product producers like me. On the plus side I did get a decent number of views on this YouTube video explaining how I got around it.

After a lot of research I discovered I could hook up Clickbank to my membership plugin WP eMember, and Clickbank would take care of the EU VAT for me. At that point it was one of just two platforms that could handle the EU VAT for a membership, there are many more now. I also upgraded my course creation tools to Camtasia and PowerPoint, plus a Blue Snowball microphone. Later in 2015 I moved my courses over to Zenler, meaning I could get everything I needed in one place – video hosting, taking payment, issuing passwords to clients, tech support and affiliate programme.

This worked for about a year…then I saw the online course industry booming. Everybody wanted to sell them, so I started to create ‘white label’ courses at that anyone could buy and publish on their own sites.

At this time I also recorded and produced voiceovers for other people’s courses and marketing videos.This was fun for a while, but I didn’t want to scale it up because I don’t have a spare room to work in at home where I can leave a studio set up. Packing and unpacking my kit each time a client wanted a change made to a voiceover was just too time consuming.

2016 – White label courses – JVZoo, Aweber and a bucket load of affiliate marketing

By now I was getting smarter and I didn’t just look for a product to sell, I looked for a channel to sell it through right from the beginning, too. In other words I looked at the whole package, client, sales, marketing and product between having the business idea and starting to implement it. There was already a healthy market for ‘private label rights’ text that you could buy, edit (if you liked) and then publish as your own, but not a lot of video. I reckoned I could make video faster and better than most people out there, meaning I had a nice little gap in the market. Plus most American customers seemed to like my British accent.

I knew a website owner who was looking for WordPress videos and couldn’t find any that met his needs, so I started with those. As affiliate marketing was the main method for promoting PLR , that’s the marketing channel I used. The launch went well – I talk through what I did in this video. My tools were the platform JV Zoo (as that was the one most widely used by the affiliates I hoped to recruit), Paypal, Camtasia and PowerPoint (PowerPoint video tutorials are here).

Unfortunately I hit a few snags after that. The videos my clients wanted most turned out to be the ones I couldn’t make due to IP issues. They wanted videos on specific tools such as Mailchimp and Canva, but the terms and conditions of these platforms wouldn’t allow me to do this. And even if they had, keeping the videos up to date with the rapid pace of development of these tools would be a thankless task. I could look at outsourcing the work, but one of the features of the PLR market is that buyers want a lot of content and cheap – it was going to be hard to outsource video production and make a profit. The only way I could see it working was to have a membership site where members got unlimited updates for as long as they paid a monthly subscription, but my heart wasn’t in constantly updating software videos, especially with the narrow profit margin. Very frustrating.

I made a course on making online courses, too. But by then it felt like every (wo)man and his/her dogs were telling people to make online courses. The truth is it’s a lot harder than everyone says, takes a lot more commitment and most people didn’t allocate enough time and resources to online course creation to make it a success. So I didn’t pursue that beyond the pilot course.

2017 – Still using WordPress, working on client sites and email marketing platforms

By this point I was getting a little despondent. All these years and I still hadn’t hit upon ‘my thing’. Had I given up all my ideas to soon? Maybe, but there were good reasons why each of my great (erm…maybe not) ideas had hit the buffers, I wasn’t just jumping from one bright shiny object to another. Three things were obvious:

1) I wasn’t spending enough time with other like-minded people, and I knew from my experience in 2005 that this was a big factor in burning out

2) I’d learned a lot about setting up websites AND the entire sales and marketing system behind them, and

3) Everyone wants to create a passive income product but relatively few people have the sales and marketing foundation beneath it to sell more than a few of copies.

I sorted out number 1 by becoming the Bedford group leader for Drive the Network. That forced me out of the house at least once a month!

Numbers 2 and 3 gave me an idea. If I helped people build their sales and marketing foundation they could sell anything they wanted online. That was the piece of the puzzle that so many small businesses were missing. And I was well-placed to help because I’d learned so much about it through my own projects. All those years spent as a software trainer meant I was good at learning software quickly and explaining how it works to others, too.

2018 until now – streamlining other people’s sales and marketing systems

I helped my first client with her email marketing in Summer 2018 and have gradually built that up since. I’ve now worked with Mailchimp, Klaviyo, Aweber, Constant Contact, Convertkit, Active Campaign, Mailerlite, WordPress including tons of plugins, Shopify, Woo Commerce, Capsule CRM, Hubspot CRM, Zoho CRM and Sage CRM, too. Plus I’m learning more all the time.

And the lessons learned are…?

SO many lessons! I think my top ones are:

  • The things that get results are the apparently mundane ones like goal setting, planning, focus, consistency.
  • Don’t rely on free tools. Some are fine, but don’t let key parts of your business depend on them e.g. your mailing list or website.
  • Don’t ask ‘what’s the best software to do X?’ in a Facebook group and run with the answer you get. Work out your business needs and pick software to fit those.
  • Spending longer testing stuff out and implementing than you do thinking and planning.
  • Be decisive about when to give up. It’s no use hopping from one business idea to the next, but on the other hand sometimes you just have to cut your losses because to keep a project going will just drag you down and suck energy from another project that will be a success.

And if you’ve made it this far…thanks for reading!

If you’d like more posts like this (but shorter, honest! 🙂 ), please sign up to my newsletter. I’ll also send you a set of free cut-and-paste email templates to help you automate your sales and marketing.

This post contains affiliate links, but it also contains my honest opinion.

4 thoughts on “My business story…told with the tools I use”

  1. I loved this Helen. Having followed your progress on-line for so many years it great to see it all laid out logically like this and be able to join the dots (its easy to see why you’re a good trainer!).
    Its so easy to appear one dimensional when we need to niche to reach a specific market so its good to see the depth of knowledge you bring to every project – great post!


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