The Internet has created a new way for businesses to brand and market themselves, and Ken Courtright, founder of IncomeStore.com knows just how to help companies do business in the Internet age. Based on his popular system on how to “Grow any business in any industry at any time,” Ken shares his insights on how to build company webpages that avoid coming off “salesy” but build social proof and establish trust.
Growing Your Business and Brand in an Internet Age
The following is an edited transcript of this podcast. Since how we talk and how write is often very different, this transcript may contain uses of the English language (including grammar) that are not 100% correct. We are counting on your understanding in advance.
Karen Leland Branding Expert: Thank you so much for joining me on our podcast today. My guest is Ken Courtright. He is the founder and CEO of incomestore.com. He is an expert on doing business in the Internet age.
Ken, I’m so happy we could finally get this scheduled to be together on this call.
Thanks for having me.
It is my pleasure. You travel a lot, and one of the things you do is travel all over the world talking about, among other things, how people can make money on the Internet. But it’s really way more than that. It’s really about doing business in the Internet age and this whole way people now brand and market themselves. Can you talk a little bit about your company, on what you do and what your mission is?
Well sure. We’re about 24 years old. I’d like to start off quickly correcting people; they think we’re a web-based company, an Internet marketing firm, or an SEO shop when they find out about what we do. The reality is we have 87 employees, and over half of them have nothing to do with Internet marketing and things like that. But what we specifically do is we live by our 24-year-old roots as a growth-consulting firm. We like to think that we can meet a business owner, ask a few questions, look them in the eye, and comfortably tell them that we can grow their business.
Usually their first questions will be, “How exactly can you grow this? It has been a family business for 20 years,” or, “We just started and are hitting a brick wall. You don’t even know us. How can you say you can grow us?” We have a tagline that we can grow any business in any industry at any time. The reason is, we don’t think traditionally. We had the ability and the serendipity in 2009 to step outside the box, if you will, to look at our own growth-consulting firm and say, “What is something that could be done in any business, in any industry, at any time that could add a second, third, or maybe fourth and fifth revenue stream to a business?” We can quickly surmise that if you add a website that is industry specific, that is built for no other reason than pure monetization, you can add that type of website to any business, in any industry, at any time. We have spent the last six years building a team of 80 incredibly sharp people who strategize certain industries one at a time.
We meet people at their needs. If they need leads for their business, we’ll build a website for that. They just need cash flow to stabilize the company, or a household, or maybe keep their wife from going to work, or maybe keep the husband from the second or third job; we’ll build a website or buy a website just to add extra income to the household. If we were to summarize it in one sentence, we help people, businesses, or private equity firms add additional revenue streams to their main source of income. We do it through monetized web properties.
Wonderful! By the way, I want to say it for the listeners, I don’t think you meant keep your wife from going to work if she wants to work. I think you meant if she wants to stay home and raise children or do something else, so that she doesn’t have to work.
Yeah; unequivocally yes. My wife works 80 hours a week.
She does. Your wife is your partner in your business there—a fabulous businesswoman and wife.
Yes. She loves what we are doing. She would have just corrected me, just like you.
That’s why she and I are friends. I’ve heard you say a lot in the conferences I’ve been to where you have spoken that trust trumps everything, especially today. I want to know what you mean by that. Also, how do you think that this idea of trust trumps everything impacts the business and the brand in today’s world?
That’s excellent. For a year and a half, that was my main talk. I have a book coming out that you’re aware of. That is the centerpiece, and it goes like this: For a couple hundred years, the business and marketing books would teach the concept that if you’re selling something, for people to truly buy something, they have to know you. Then they have to like you. Then they have to trust you.
I’ll give you an example: You could take an insurance salesperson, a marketing expert, even a school teacher who wants to do part-time work on the side or over the summer, when these people go into the marketplace to position themselves so people would want to buy from them, anything today in 2016, that is let’s say more than a hundred dollars, the odds are well past 50 percent, that somebody is going to Google that person’s name, and then they’re going to Google the company name. They are looking for certain trust factors. Does this person have a social media presence? Are they on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook? Do they have a website? The single most important aspect of trust trumps everything was the 6- to 10-year run that companies were doing at what is now known as social proof. Social proof proves that if we, as business owners, say that our product is the best, we as business owners are looked at as salespeople.
If our website said that we have the number-one product in this space, and people look at websites like salespeople, they’re simply not trusted. However, if the world says it’s so, it must be so. The definition of social proof is, if the world says it’s so, it must be so. If, for instance, the website of TOMS Shoes, the fastest-growing shoe company in history, has nothing but shoes all over the homepage claiming they are the best, it’s just a website selling shoes. The fastest-growing shoe company in history, TOMS Shoes, has no shoes on its homepage. It’s a picture of a gentleman named Blake—the founder—sitting next to a mountain, and right under the picture of Blake, it’s explaining that, “If you buy a pair of shoes here, we’re going to put a brand new pair of shoes on a kid who has never worn shoes before.” He does not sell shoes. He sells a message. The message is well received, and he’s not pumping shoes down people’s throats. The world tells the world how great TOMS Shoes is. Right underneath that picture where Blake is right next to a mountain, he has literally hundreds of testimonials of his customers telling the rest of the world how great TOMS Shoes is so he doesn’t have to do the work.
Right now, today, in 2016, the websites that can deliver the most upfront trust and comfort are the ones that are excelling and growing the fastest.
It’s amazing to me how many people in businesses—both individual entrepreneurs or small businesses and even larger companies, middle-sized companies—really don’t get that. They don’t understand the importance of establishing that trust in the website. I’ve talked to so many people where they know they need a website. They will say, “Well, I hired my aunt, or my uncle, or my cousin, my friends’ son, who isn’t really a web designer, a writer, or a brander,” and they have those people do that work and put up a website that’s really mediocre. They will often say to me, “Does it really matter that much?” I’m very shocked that people don’t know that. Do you find that? That a lot of people still aren’t aware of what you just said?
Definitely. As much as there was a lot of homework done on social proof, none of the foundations or the industries or the institutions that did the homework have anything to gain by following up on the publishing of their findings. It’s up to the marketers to see what’s really working in the marketplace. I’ve never seen that being brought into business—social proof. My podcast and a few other books I’ve read touch on this subject. I don’t think it’s a commonly understood formula of success.
The scary thing is, I’m seeing just as much of the 4 P’s today as I did a few years ago. The 4 P’s are: product, pricing, positioning, and promotion. That was taught for 100+ years. You get the right product to the right niche market. You do the right pricing, make sure the positioning against competitions is on point and the pricing matches, and then, you promote it. The old adage is, “Tell more; sell more.” If the other 3 P’s are in place when you do your promotion, that product is going to make it.
The reality is, that’s not true today. The fact of the matter is, and I’m going to say it as simply as I can, that nobody wants to go first. If somebody starts a business today, they launch a website. They hire a web designer. They get all excited. They will have a 10- to 20-minute interview of, “What would you like for the homepage, frequently asked questions, about us, products and services, and tools and resources sections?” They set up what was a great website in 2000. That doesn’t work today. The reality is, when you live by the 4 P’s, you’re actually making these millennials gag. The last thing they want to see when they open your homepage is a product with a dollar sign with it. They buy stories. Quite frankly, the reality is that people today, especially the millennials, they buy cool people in cool companies. They don’t necessarily buy cool products. They want to do business with the people who are very cool, very cutting edge, even comedic and funny. They want to buy companies with big hearts with deep, worthy causes that matter.
Quite frankly, even the millennials who don’t necessarily have the big bank rolls, they will find the money to buy the right products from the right companies. I agree with you; I don’t see a lot of people who are paying attention to social proof and trust trumps everything. They’re still focused on the 4 P’s. Honestly, it’s just a matter of time. They will go by the wayside like the taxi cab is going by the wayside with Uber.
It’s interesting about the 4 P’s, because in branding work that I do so often, that’s how people are able to find their brand. It takes me an entire day to sit down with people and help them look at their brand in another way, and I think you’re absolutely right; today you have to define a brand in a much deeper and broader way that includes your story and contribution. It’s essentially what you said: You have to have a narrative about your brand. You can’t just have, “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.”
In his incredible book No BS Marketing to the Affluent, Dan Kennedy wrote something that, when I was riding in an airplane as I read it, I physically felt my heart stop. He said, “Over six years, we studied the top 10 reasons that the affluent make a buying decision.” I want to say that he said there were 280 to 300 interviews. The number one reason that the wealthiest people buy anything, believe it or not, it’s the story behind the brand. The story goes, when someone is making a decision between three $30,000 watches, what he envisions is himself playing poker with his buddies. They will say, “Oh, nice watch!” Then he goes, “Let me tell you about that watch.”
The wealthy want to make a buying decision about the company or the brand behind the product because they really want to buy a story. It is exactly why the 2007 book Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk went absolutely ballistic as one of the best-selling marketing books of all time, because he told the story of how he turned his father’s liquor store from a $1-million-a-year liquor store into a $20-million-a-year liquor store in under a year. He did this by simply taking a bottle of wine every single night, going to the basement, Googling that wine brand, and telling the brand story to a flip phone for 5 to 7 minutes. He proved to the world that the story sells wine, that the brand sells wine. The wine sitting on the shelf at the right price point doesn’t sell wine.
There is a counter-side to this, which is—just to be devil’s advocate for a moment—that you can be telling a great story and have a lot of social proof, but if you’re not delivering a product of quality, eventually, you’re not going to be making it.
No question. The reality is that the tipping point to a potentially explosive business is the brand story, but then it just tips it over what I call the flat table. The flat table is supported by the legs. You better have an incredible product. You better have a great customer service division, because we’re in the world of customer service. You better have still-legitimate pricing. If you’re pricing yourself out of the market, you’re going to be looked at sideways. If you’re underpricing, pricing is branding; you are also going to look like something’s wrong. You’re going to need a great product. You need a great customer service support team. You need a great price point. The bottom line is you need a serious business. You need real employees doing great work.
If you want to be explosive, it can’t be just about the product or the pricing. You said it; the perfect word is your narrative. You’ve got to have a narrative story that resonates. A lot of people today are still living in the 4 P’s. They’re not positioning their product in their customer’s language. Here’s an example from about 2 to 3 months ago, right before our last event: I’m sitting at the kitchen table, and we only have one phone in our home, it’s a very old phone from a very old fax line. Nobody has the number, not even my dad. All of a sudden, I’m sitting 20 feet away from the home phone, which is the 911-emergency phone, and the only other person home at this time is my 14-year-old daughter. I know she is about six feet away from the phone, because she’s in the garage outside the door putting on her roller skates. She’s going roller skating.
All of a sudden, the phone rings. I know that the only people that have this number are my wife and my three daughters. I know where my wife and my two other daughters are. They’re unreachable. The only other person that has this number is my 14-year-old, who’s six feet away from the phone. I realized very quickly this son-of-a-gun pulled her cell phone out of her back pocket; she is closer to the phone than I am, but she’s still dialing that number. So I got up from the kitchen table, walked up to the phone, answered, and said, “Can I help you?” I know it’s her.
Cameron says, “Yeah, dad. Can you do me a favor? I left something on the counter. Can you bring it to me?” Here’s what’s crazy. I think most people would get angry and upset at their 14-year-old who is closer to the phone than the adult was. I remember being spell-bound, holding the phone thinking, “Oh my goodness! This is how my 14-year-old’s brain works. Her cell phone is in her hip pocket. It’s faster and more convenient to her to reach her father by calling the phone, than it is for her to very quickly pull out of her skates, walk up six steps, open the door, and yell at me.”
In reality, it’s an incredible business lesson. How many business owners today are still branding their product, marketing their product, and building their websites the same way they did five years ago? Every year on the Internet is like dog years. Five years ago on the Internet is 35 years ago in business. Does that make sense?
It makes total sense.
We have to remember that these millennials, they are the future of this country. They’re the influencers. They influence the seniors on how to use the Internet. They influence their parents on how to communicate online.
I’m seeing some very grave mistakes out there. We have 700 revenue-generating websites to do this split testing on. It’s not fair for me; I have a little bit of an edge on the game; I can see it coming before it’s coming. It is painful for me to sit back and see people sleeping and not understanding. They don’t know how to reach out to us.
That’s something that I’ve always talked about is doing business with your customers the way they do business with you, not the way you want to do business with them.
You better believe it. You nailed it.
Then, that’s how you do it. It’s interesting. You have all these websites. You are managing over 700+ websites for people. Is that correct? How many are there?
There are 716.
The 716 websites, can you give 2, 3, or 4 of the best practices today in terms of a website that is well-branded, well-marketed. They reach the audience, the millennial audience, that’s out there?
First and foremost, as a business owner, you have to understand the difference between mobile, mobile-ready, and mobile-responsive. In the last two and a half to three years alone, there has been a huge shift in getting websites mobile, and then there is mobile-ready, which ESPN just pulled off about 13 months ago. ESPN shut the site down for two hours and flipped it to mobile ready. This way, everything they have shows up both on a desktop and on a phone at the same time. The difference is, not every advertisement shows up and not every app or every distributor shows up. The next wave is mobile-responsive. That’s where any tablet, smartphone, any desktop, every ad, everything, shows up 100 percent; nothing is cut off, nothing is left off.
Google is so passionate about making sure the world understands this, they decided to penalize, without telling you they penalized you, those that are not mobile-responsive. They’re not saying it’s a penalty, so you technically can’t quote me, because you’re not going to find any of the guys at Google saying the word “penalty.” Just take my word for it. If your site is fully mobile-responsive, and all things are considered equal—social signals match, linkbacks match—if everything matches up to your competitor, and you are mobile responsive and they’re not, I assure you that you are going to rank higher than them.
Number one, you’ve got to make sure that you understand that 65 percent of every page view online today on a mobile device—this is all pushed and led by the millennials—is on a mobile of some kind. So that’s the first thing.
Number two is, we can’t forget yesterday. I had a podcast on this, it’s podcast number 2, called “How to Read Your Client’s Mind.” We can’t forget the fundamentals of using the Internet. This is the first time that business owners have been able to communicate directly with the client without talking to them.
In the old days, the times of Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, his mantra was white shirt. You get in front of your customers. You ask them a million questions until you know exactly what they want. Then, we’ll build them what they want. You have to physically talk with the client. Today, there are so many tools, like Google’s Adwords keyword planner, SEMrush, Quantcast, that can physically show the world what your client is typing into a search bar. We can see what they want unequivocally with the data of how many times they search that every month.
We know, if we know what tools to use, exactly what content to write on a Monday, once a week, or once a month. People are forgetting the old-fashioned getting to your client, getting what they want. Build what they want, and don’t build what you think will sell. That’s the key.
That is an excellent point. I know from working with you that one of the strategies that is working effectively is finding out those key words and key words phrases and just continually writing about those. I have never paid a dime for Google Adwords. I’ve gotten very high ranked in some my areas, and I’ve had clients ranked high just by using that strategy.
It’s just a simple strategy. It’s almost too simple that people don’t believe that it’s possible. It is what you said. It’s founded in that old-fashioned idea of giving your customer what they want. What they want is what they searched for. It’s giving them what they searched for, not what you think they will search for.
We have a website called theplumbinginfo.com. As of December 7, 2015, it became the number-1 plumbing website in the world. It ranks on 162,000 plumbing terms. What’s scary is that we’ve only written a piece of content every Saturday for three and a half years, which is not a tremendous amount of content, and we’ve done really little traditional marketing. They key is we asked Google ahead of time—we stay six weeks ahead of the website—we asked Google via this Google Adwords keyword planner tool: What is the world searching for right now that we have yet to write on? It physically talked back to us. As long as we’re writing on what Google has proven the world’s looking for, Google has an internal algorithm that balances the amount of pages written that are titled a certain way. Let’s call that title an answer to a key phrase.
Google was saying: We’ve got this key phrase, “How to fix a leaky toilet,” that only 10 people in history have written on. If you’re going to write a piece of content on how to fix a leaky toilet, Google is already craving that because they’ve only got 10 pieces worldwide. If we make it 11, we’re pretty much assured to get 9 to 10 percent of that traffic. It’s just pure math. For whatever reason, we’d like to do the hard work and the labor of finding that stuff out. If you write on that, it works for everybody.
That’s a great strategy. So many people say, “I can’t rank if my key word is ‘money’ or ‘Internet.’” You can’t rank for that pure key word, but you can rank for those longer tails and phrases using key words and questions, which you were just talking about.
Yes, completely. You nailed it. You start with a long-tail and find a five- to seven-word phrase. You can almost assure yourself that not very many people have written on that five- to seven-word phrase. Then you can get to the top one, two, or three positions on that phrase just by continually writing on that phrase differently. Those are called the authoritative pointers.
If Google sees that you are toward the top of page one on seven to 1ten long-tails all of a sudden in that industry—and Google doesn’t know any better; it’s a computer program—they think you’re an authority. So when you write on a three- to four-word phrase, you’re going to become an authority quicker. Then you write one- to two-word phrases, and that’s exactly the strategy we used for theplumbinginfo.com.
That’s funny because in a way, what you’re doing is showing Google your social proof by doing it that way. That’s interesting. You talk about the success wheel. Can you say a little about what that is and why it’s important for building a brand today?
After a presentation, we found out our flight was delayed. We have to stay an extra night in that town. The convention organizer ran up to me, “Ken, I heard your flight was delayed. Could you do one more talk? Just 25 minutes?” I said that I hadn’t prepared anything. He said, “We’re just going to ask you some questions. We’re just going to mic you up. You sit on stage. It’ll be centered on a talk you previously gave.” I figured it’d be fine, so I got up on stage.
What this gentleman asked me is one simple question that they wanted that 25-minute answer for, which was this: “In 24 years, you’ve had three huge growth spikes in your company’s career. One growth spike, then you went not just flat, but you almost lost everything. Then, you grew back and went flat for four years in a row. Now, you’re growing again faster than you’ve ever grown before. Can you map out for us over 24 years, what are some of the critical decisions you made to grow, to get out of almost losing your company, to grow again, to get out of going flat, and then to grow again?”
I said, “That’s probably going to take longer than 25 minutes, but I can at least take a rough stab at it.” I walked up to a flip chart and big markers out there. The first thing I figured out when I was 22 years old is I was very ignorant on business. I knew I had to get my brain around business owners, so anybody that came through Chicago—like Brian Tracy, Zig Zigler, Tom Hopkins, and Tony Robbins—anybody that remotely sounded business savvy to me when I was 22, I attended their event. I became what I called a conference junkie. I noticed there is something very interesting when you go to these conferences: You can definitely tell the people from stage that are pure-hearted and the people who are just going to sell you some cassette tape, which was the thing to do at that time.
I can’t tell you how many of these huge clam-shelled cases of cassette tapes I came home with. The cool thing was, as much as I wanted to buy their cassettes to further get to know these people, what I found way more intriguing was that the pure-hearted people would often, on purpose or accidentally, drop hints of what they’re currently reading or what they just read. I would literally sit there waiting, sometimes through a two-and-a-half-day session for them to mention a couple of books they’ve read. I would go home to the local book store, and whatever book these “superior” businesspeople mentioned they were currently or just finished reading, I would read them like crazy.
Usually when I draw this in front of a group, I’ll put “conferences” at the bottom left as a word with a little circle around it. Then from conferences, I draw an arrow up and to the left, indicating that they drew me to certain books. Then I draw a circle around the word “books.” At the very top of the piece of paper, I write “IP,” which stands for intellectual property.
What I found so intriguing after a year and a half on this, what I call the success wheel, is the books more than anything because I can read them and I can reread them. I can consume myself in these books. They gave me so much IP, intellectual property, that in a very short period of time, before I was even 24, I could walk into a chamber of commerce event or some kind of a networking event, I would only be halfway into an event, and I’d have a crowd of people around me wanting to know what I knew.
I, at the time, had a low self-image. I didn’t date anybody in high school and very few in college. I never drank a beer or anything like that. I was a complete introvert, yet, you put me in a room of businesspeople, I felt completely in control because I felt that I read more than these people, I studied more than these people. Sometimes they were 40-, 50-, or 60-year-old businesspeople with 40 years of business experience on me.
Something dramatic had happened in year three of this success wheel. Conferences led me to the books. The books led me to intellectual property. The intellectual property would allow me to go to these events and these meetings and bump into businesspeople who would want to either buy products from me through marketing services or just partner with me and do a joint venture. I made some great friends in my first few years in business, many of whom would do actual business deals with our growth consultant company, so at the bottom right of this wheel I would write “deals” or “business flow” and circle that.
The success wheel is this: After a few years of growing, we doubled five out of seven years, and then we went flat for two years and almost lost everything. In the three-year period of time, I asked myself, how in the world could we go from doubling every year, almost tripling sometimes, to flat and then backwards? Then I realized, I actually said to myself when I was 28 years old, “I probably should stop going to these conferences, because I think I know more than these people. If I keep going, I might dumb myself down.” I didn’t realize it for 10 years. That was the dumbest thing I ever could have said to myself.
There’s a phrase in business, “When the students are ready, the teacher appears.” I found out the second time around the wheel, when I was about 28 or 29; I jumped back to the exact same conferences, exact same ones with the same speakers. All of a sudden, even though it was almost an identical presentation as when I was 24 years old, everything was speaking to me at a whole new level. I realized it wasn’t the speaker; it wasn’t even the information. It was that my business and my person were at a different level. I needed different material. I needed different input.
All of a sudden, the same people, the same Tony Robbins, the same Brian Tracy, these people are still out there talking on stages with the same and new information. It was speaking to me so differently. The most critical aspect is hearing them recommending different books. I jammed on the books from 1998 to 2003. I read one, at least, if not two business books a week for five years. My intellectual property of how to grow or market a business exploded.
Just one quick question about that: When you say “intellectual property,” I know you don’t mean it this way, so this is just to clarify for the people listening; I know you don’t mean that you took ideas from those books and used them, because that’s their intellectual property. You mean that those intellectual properties helped you grow your business.
Correct. When I say IP, it’s just a very general sense that my business smarts, my business knowledge, my knowledge base in business overall, my personal intellectual property grew unbelievably. I wasn’t really quoting Brian Tracy. I wasn’t quoting anybody else out there. I wasn’t using any of their techniques. It’s just my overall, general understanding of the book. I always think of the book The E Myth; Michael Gerber has done an incredible job of describing why solopreneurs get stuck, why they can’t grow past themselves.
Yes, that’s a great book.
My intellectual property, the second time around the wheel, exploded our company. The real magic came when I went four years in a row. I was very satisfied. I had a great life 10 years ago. I started having a bunch of kids. We moved three times in I don’t remember how many years.
Things got very comfortable. I got very scared because I know in life, you’re either in a storm (things are very difficult), or you’re coming out of the storm, or you’re about to go inland. I felt so comfortable, I said, “I must be so comfortable that I’m about to go into a storm.” I remembered looking back and thinking, “I haven’t gone to a conference again in four years.”
Here’s what’s amazing; one thing I didn’t stop was reading. This time when I went back into the conferences, the conference coordinators of almost every event I was going to got to know me. They remembered me since I had been going to a conference now for 15 to 20 years.
They would start to ask me, “Ken, how come you’re in the audience? How come you’re not on stage?” Then I’m like, “What are you talking about? I’m not a speaker.” They told me that I might want to consider it. I started getting on the stages of the events I used to attend. What I learned in business through books and conferences was enough meat to propel my business forward.
I realized that one of the greatest ways to learn is to teach. I realized I really need to know what I’m talking about if I’m going to teach people. It’s not just helping them grow their businesses. There’s another level of accountability when you’re a teacher. This third time around the wheel, which I’ll be on the rest of my life when I die with my boots on, I found one item of the success wheel that brings more people more success than anything else in business; I have yet to find anything that can beat this. It goes like this: If you’re on a success wheel—and everybody’s on their own success wheel—it could be books. It could be watching TV. Who knows? Everybody has their own success wheel whether they admit it or not. What I found is that if you attack your own personal success wheel to build your own personal intellectual property bucket, something dramatic happens.
The bigger players, when they want to get around you, they bring their success wheel with them. They bring their whole black book of contacts with them. They bring their whole book of clients with them. The deals we started doing on our third time around the success wheel, the size of these deals was staggering, to the point where our average deal size just six years ago was about a $14,000 contract. Our average deal size today is a $172,000 contract. It’s because we got around people who played a bigger game. Does that make sense?
It totally makes sense. I went to a financial class once about 30 years ago that totally changed my life. They said, “There’re only two ways to make more money: Either you increase the amount you’re charging to a very narrow stream, or you get next to a much larger stream. There are only two ways to do it.”
What I love about what you’re saying about the success wheel, and it’s something people miss so often, is you have to keep learning. Whether they’re personal or business brands, the strongest brands are brands that continue to evolve, grow, and learn rather than stay stagnant.
The most underused and dustiest room in everybody’s home is the room for improvement.
We met at a conference. You’re obviously very successful with what you do. I just have to honestly say, Ken, that the humility that you have in terms of listening to the speakers in what you are willing to gain from them, you probably knew 99 percent of what those speakers were saying, but you never had that attitude. That is something that is a source of your success.
Yes, I appreciate that. The reality is we can always learn something from everybody. I don’t go there with the understanding that I’m going to gain two golden nuggets today or I’m going to get three great contacts from this conference. I’m there because I actually feel I’m supposed to be there. There is something that’s going to come off from that stage that if it isn’t for me today, it’s supposed to teach me something that I’m going to need in six months.
It’s more of an attitude of just going there to receive, and even today, I’m a faculty, as you are, of CEO Space, I’m a regular at Secret Knocks, I’m a regular at New Peaks, I’m probably a regular at seven major events. But when there’s somebody there speaking, I would still be part of the audience, not backstage farting around with the other speakers. I think that’s where I’m supposed to be is in the audience.
I know you’re the CEO and founder of incomestore.com, and you’ve won the Inc. 5000 two years in a row, is that right?
Two out of three years, and then apparently, from what it looks like right now, we’ve grown more in this past year than the other two that we won. It looks like we’re going to do it three out of four years, which is fairly unprecedented.
Can you say a sentence or two about the conferences that you do so that the people can know about that and take a look at them?
We have Digital Footprint, which you’re a regular speaker at: digitalfootprint.net. Forbes says it is ranked one of the top-5 must-see, can’t miss business conferences of 2016. They’re held twice a year, and we do those east coast, west coast. The next one is late October in the L.A. area.
The concept is simple: The greatest business model ever created is to follow a working model. If you look at Burger King, all they do is move in next to Mc Donald’s. That’s not me saying it; it’s their physical demographic model. The greatest, quickest path to success is to model someone else’s success, because it takes away a lot of thinking.
Digital Footprint was created to show businesspeople how business was done for the last hundred years by using working models. We flipped the working model into just digital pieces. If you just want to model someone’s website, what would you look for? If you want to model somebody’s e-mail campaign, how would you look for that? How would you model it?
By the time people leave the conference in three days, they’re walking out of there with five to twenty-five models they can follow. We give away an iPad to somebody who can find the most things that could be created or duplicated for free or nearly free. One girl who won the iPad heard 202 different things in three days from our stage that she could model for free or nearly free. We have four people who found 150 things they could model freely.
People can find out or register at www.incomestore.com, correct?
You either go to incomestore.com, under “events,” or to the actual event page at digitalfootprint.net.
I’ve started asking everybody who appears on this podcast three questions at the end. They’re not specific to what you do in general, but I think there are things that are important. The first one is, who’s that one person in your life who had a really deep positive impact on you? What did you learn from them?
No question. It is Brian Tracy. When I was 24, I picked up the book The Psychology of Selling. It transformed our business. It definitely changed my life. There is one specific part of the book where he talks about an income barometer, that every person will earn exactly what they think they’re worth. He proved it. It wasn’t just Brian proving it; I think it was Yale that did a study, another group did a study in the 1930s, and then another study went back across different countries for a couple hundred years. The reality is that one chapter of that one book showed and proved that I’m going to create a company the size of what my worth is: my personal worth. That told me I don’t need to work on my company size. I need to work on my personal worth size, my income barometer. Because of that book, I went so deep into self-improvement books like Awaken the Giant Within and Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins and See You at the Top by Zig Zigler. It was part of my mission of absorbing anything that got in front of me. I think The Psychology of Selling is maybe one of the top five business books ever written. That is what definitely hit me the most.
The second question is, who is the person who had a negative impact on your life? What did you learn from that? Don’t tell us the name of the person!
I won’t name the person, but it was partly because of something I read in a Brian Tracy book. He mentions that if you want to grow ten-fold in your company in two years, you’ve got to go headhunt someone who’s at that level of a manager at a company that size and bring them in to work for you. In the mid ’90s, I did exactly that. We were what’s called a Microsoft-type of company. Just to tell people how it was back then in the late ’90s, we got things done very quickly, made snap decisions. We were growing so quickly.
This person had what’s called a Procter & Gamble mentality; it would take this person four months just to order a stapler. I mean that. He would want paperwork done. It was oil and water or jumbo shrimp, whatever oxymoron you can come up with. We did not mesh. Because of how we didn’t get along with that, I let it go on for six months. It literally took our chain of video stores down. It cost us a million dollars.
He was great as a person, but it was a terrible business decision for me to bring him on. I did not vet the person at all, and he definitely had a negative impact on me.
It’s a good lesson there! If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, from the age you’re at right now, what would it be?
It sounds almost impossible to believe. I would tell my younger self, as much as I’ve read, READ MORE. I’m doing it now, reading two books a week. The growth came because I read and studied what I knew I should, where everybody else was watching TV and going out with their buddies, doing what average people do. I didn’t. Now, we look like overnight wonders. It took us 24 years to get here. I could have cut the time in half had I been more specific in my studies.
Ken, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much for being on the podcast to talk about building your brand in an internet age.
My pleasure; it’s been great.
About Ken Courtright – Founder and CEO of The Income Store
A Best Selling Author in 5 Categories, Ken has recently been featured on WLS, FOX, CBS, A&E, Forbes and most recently on the Biography Channel. Their portfolio of 700 revenue generating websites are viewed almost 200 Million times each year. After doubling revenues 6 years in a row, in 2013, 2015, and now again in 2016, Ken’s 23-year old company was ranked in Inc. Magazine as one of the 1,000 Fastest Growing U.S. Companies.
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Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, and in bookstores now.