Settle in for a terrific conversation with Kate Toon.
Kate Toon is an award-winning SEO copywriter and SEO consultant with almost two decades of experience in all things advertising, digital and writing. Originally from the UK but now based just outside Sydney.
She has worked with big brands such as eHarmony, Curash and Kmart. And she’s helped countless small businesses produce great content and improve their copywriting and SEO.
Kate is also the founder of The Clever Copywriting School and The Recipe for SEO Success eCourse, as well as co-host on the Hot Copy Podcast.
She presents the Write for Business show for the Dale Beaumont’s Brin.ai app and recently launched The Copywriting Conference – Australia’s first dedicated Copywriting Conference.
Kate’s book “Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur” is one of the best books I’ve read this year!! Treat yourself to a copy!
To listen to my conversation with Kate:
You can listen right here Healthy Numbers website
You can listen to the full interview on iTunes click here.
You can listen to the full interview on Stitcher click here.
Read the full transcript here.
My guess is that you are here because you are curious about what it might be like to start a business?
Perhaps you’ve been wondering if you have what it takes? If your idea will work or even how much it actually costs to build a successful business?
I’ve written a book that can answer pretty much all your questions “So You Want to Start a Business” and you can download the first 20 pages at www.thestartupsteps.com
15 years of experience working with start up businesses are condensed into this book.
It’s your step by step guide to launch your business smarter and faster and I’m so excited to be sharing it with you and can’t wait to hear about your progress.
Are you ready to grab your excerpt? Click here www.thestartupsteps.com
Happy reading! Now here is the full transcript of the podcast.
Ingrid: Hello, and here we are here with the very famous, or is it infamous, Kate Toon, and hello Kate.
Kate: Hello. I’m not sure I like being called infamous but thank you.
Ingrid: Famous, definitely famous. So, Kate to start with please tell us what business are you in? What is your business?
Kate: Gosh, this is such a simple question but I find it so difficult to answer these days. I use to be a copywriter, so that was quite straight forward. I use to write copy for other businesses, but these days I’ve kind of branched out into lots of different things. So, I have courses and memberships and directories and podcasts and books and all sorts of things. I guess you would call me an entrepreneur, which is a horrible word, but I guess that’s what I am.
Ingrid: It’s what you are, but it does involve the internet and social things doesn’t it?
Kate: Yes, I mean I pretty much live my day just by making comments on Facebook. That’s what I do all day pretty much. I’m a digital creature, everything I do is pretty much online.
Ingrid: Thank you. So, when you started your business it was some time ago when you said, as that copywriter, when did you start your business?
Kate: I say about nine years ago I was a copywriter. Yeah, I was working in an agency full time and I got pregnant and I couldn’t keep that job because it was a sort of 14 hour day kind of job so I took a leap and set up a freelance copywriting business.
Ingrid: Okay, and so that kind of answered the next question about why did you start the business but it’s really then what did you want from that business from day one? What was the business going to give you?
Kate: I think it was freedom from the rat race. I didn’t want to have to commute, so I didn’t want to have to work in an office every day. I think by that point I was a little over office politics and everything that goes along with having a real job. So I was looking for freedom, I think, freedom to make my own decisions and to sort of succeed or fail on my own terms.
Ingrid: That’s nice. And this is one of my favourite questions is when did you realise that you were actually in business? When did your business become real?
Kate: That’s a great question. I don’t know maybe yesterday. I think at least two or three years in was the point when I thought I don’t have to go back and get a real job. I think when you go out on your own, there’s bit of you that thinks, “Well look the worst happens I can always go back to real life.” So I think two or three years in, I started to think, “Yah, no, I actually I can make a living off this. It is working. I’m in.” So, yeah, probably about maybe three years I’d say.
Ingrid: Maybe three years in. Do you remember was there a point, or was there something that happened, that felt more real about being in business or just that sense that you didn’t have to have a job?
Kate: I think, no, there’s another milestone, which happened probably about five years in which is when I decided, maybe six even, to build myself a home office in my back garden. So, I actually got a hut in my back garden, that I call the Toon Cave and it was quite an investment. Probably about $15 000 – $16 000 by the time I’d done it. And that really felt like me saying I have business, I’m investing in my business. I’m building an actual physical structure to house me and my business. I am officially a grown-up. So that’s my real milestone.
Ingrid: So, it’s the big milestones isn’t it that gives us that sense. My next question is: How did you know what your customers wanted? So you’ve been working in copywriting, then you started as a copywriter but as you said you’ve moved into a number of other fields. How do you get a sense of what your customers want?
Kate: I think I always been a relatively good listener. I’m a huge talker but I am also quite good at listening and I’m quite good at figuring out what a client is after. That’s what sub skill you have to have as a copywriter cause you’re trying to get inside their heads. I find my clients saying, “Well yeah it’s great. I’ve got you to do this bit but I wish I could find someone who could do this. Or I wish I could find someone who could do that.” So that was part of it and then just comments on my blog post, comments on social media from other copywriters asking me how I did what I did. From that came another business, the Clever Copywriting school, and then a lot of people sort of struggling with SEO and being burned by the SEO people and from that grew the Recipe For SEO Success, which is a course teaching people how to do it themselves. So really just listening to my customers and being willing to just make something and see if it works and not being too attached to it so if it failed miserably I could get rid of it as well. So experimentation.
Ingrid: Experimenting and listening is so, so critical. And somebody saying, “Oh I wish I could get this,” then it’s a wonderful opportunity for people to be that willing to share that with you. It’s a great opportunity to be able to respond to that, isn’t it?
Kate: It is. There is sort of a double edge sword to that. I’m very much somebody who wants to do all the things and I think often just because I could do something doesn’t mean I should do something. One example of that is obviously I, for a long time, wrote copy for people and they also wanted a website. I built my own website so I know how to do it and I could have done that and it would have been profitable and people would have bought it I think but I think there’s three elements. Do people want it, will it make me money, and will I enjoy it? And one thing I’ve always strived to do is make sure that I actually want to do the thing because otherwise what’s the point of running my own business.
Ingrid: That’s great advice. I hope everybody listening is taking notes of that one and if you were just drifting off there as you listened to what Kate just said, rewind and listen to that because that was a really sage guidance. Kate, you talked about a big investment. I guess in the early days you as a copywriter, as long as you had a decent internet connection and a phone, it didn’t take a lot funding to get you started, but how do you fund a business and then how do you fund a big expansion?
Kate: So you’re exactly right. I think I started my business on fumes. I built a word press site myself. I remember getting a 100 business cards, for instance. I think I have 98 of them left nine years later. So, no, I spent nothing and I’m really stingy. It took me about three years before I was willing to use an accounting programme like Xero. I’m reluctant to spend money and I never had any investment or bank loans. So, I invest the money that I earn and one of the biggest things that I did in my business was create this big course, this Recipe For SEO Success course, which was not an investment of money but of time and that was a big struggle. And I really had to say to myself, “Okay for the next three months you are going to have less income because there is no way you can serve your copywriting clients and build this beast of a thing.” So, I took a risk. I invested time. I built it myself.
Kate: Yes, and then now when things start to make money, when I proved my concept. So, I make the thing, it’s not great but it’s pretty good. I sell it to a few people, prove that it works and then I make it better, and then I hire a designer to do the logo rather than making one myself, and then a hire a video guy to record a video rather than doing it myself on my iPhone. So little increments and being prepared for the business to be an evolution and accepting that the first version of anything I create might not be that great but that’s okay.
Ingrid: And so long as it’s providing the content and the value that your customers wanted or your clients want, people can be quite forgiving of a lot of that early developmental stuff, can’t they?
Kate: I so agree. I think too many people worry about everything having to be pretty and perfect and yes when I first started my course the videos were a bit blurry and the worksheets were just word documents that I cobbled together and now they are all schmick and pdf designed but the content, the actual information, hasn’t changed. It’s just the presentation and as you said it’s the content that people are paying for not the pretty pictures. Not to dismiss designers cause they do great work but the content has to be solid. What I mean is great design can’t make bad content good.
Ingrid: Exactly. And the thing is people are looking for that information and if the information’s not there they’ll let you know certainly won’t they?
Kate: They will, they will.
Ingrid: So with that then, so you embarked on this, you tested it out on a few people, how do you find new customers? How do you know where they are, who they are, how do you find them and attract them to you?
Kate: I think the last couple of years for me have been a big learning in that because obviously the first year or so with my courses and my products I was selling them to people I already knew, existing customers, previous customers and there is only so many of those. You can only send them an email about something so many times before they say, “Kate, I don’t want it.” So the last couple of years I’ve expanded my reach through my podcasts, so I have a podcast about copywriting and one about SEO.
Ingrid: Please give us the names right now because people need to take, please shamelessly promote yourself.
Kate: Shamelessly promote so I have one called the Hot Copy Podcast, which is a copywriting podcast about copywriting, interesting title. And then the other one is called, The Recipe For SEO Success Show, which is episodes teaching people to how DYI their SEO and talking to experts. So that was good, that brought in a complete random people. I set up groups on Facebook, so I have two large groups on Facebook. They attract people in and then this year more than any year before I’ve done a lot of speaking events on both small local business groups and also conferences as well. That introduces you to a much bigger audience.
So those three things this year have been big part of the expansion in my reach, but the main way I get customers is by old customers telling people. I really do try and keep the people who I’ve lured in already as happy as I can and give them things and then they spread the word. I don’t actually have affiliate programmes for anything I do because I sometimes feel that they kind of undermine the fact that people are recommending it. They’re like, “Oh your only recommending it because you’re getting money.” So all the recommendations I get are really just from people being nice. So that’s been a big factor as well.
Ingrid: Yeah, I think often people spend a lot of time and energy looking for new people in that broad ocean environment of people and honestly their customers and clients that we have, who can refer friends, family, colleagues, others, it’s often an untapped resource for people isn’t it?
Kate: It really is and people want to trust someone. They want a recommendation. Just getting your name out there as much as you can but also being kind to the people who already have invested in you.
Ingrid: And being kind, it’s such a lovely word, isn’t it, in the concept. So, talking about trust Kate, years ago I came across your website and your video about charging and I’ve often pointed people in the direction of your website to have a look at here’s what to do, because often I’m asked what do we do about pricing, do you put it on your website, do you not put it on your website, how do you talk about pricing. So I’ve got two questions. Well the first one is, could you tell us about the reason that that’s on your website? And then what process do you decide for choosing a pricing strategy? And I don’t need to know, we as the audience, don’t need to know your actual prices but just what’s the thinking about how do you come to a pricing strategy?
Kate: Yeah, I think my whole brand and everything I try and do is about being honest and straight up and transparent. So I share a lot of information about how I charge, what I charge, when I fail, when I succeed. Physical actual numbers I’m very honest about that so I always found it a little bit silly when I went to someone’s website as a copywriter and they’d have a page saying, “What do I charge?” And you’d get to the page and it would say, “I’m not going to tell you because every project is different.” And it use to annoy me because I was like every project isn’t different. If you’ve been in business for a little while you kind of have a ballpark figure in mind when someone says they want this. You kind of know so why not just tell them, and the pricing conversation has to be had at some point.
And for me it got to the point where I was getting a lot of tyre kickers. I was putting a lot of effort into proposals that never went anywhere and it was because the gap between expectation and reality was too big. So I never priced everything. When I was a copywriter I never said, “Here’s my price for everything I do.” I came up with one thing that I like doing, which was websites, and I priced that and I was very clear about the inclusions and exclusions and there was a range of pricing, and that really helps people self select. So people would come to me and say, “I want this package.” And it was great for my business because it meant I knew that the proposal was going to get signed off because price wasn’t an issue anymore. It was just about narrowing down the details. So, for services I think it’s good to maybe have one thing that you do that you can package up and it’s an indication of your overall pricing. Does that make sense?
Ingrid: It makes perfect sense to me so I’m sure it makes perfect sense to people. So you chose a website as an example of a type of work that you do.
Ingrid: So you do copywriting for a website and that would include this and this and this and for this package you pay this much and this is what you get. It’s clear and it goes on your website. Ad people know if I get all of that for that much money then if I wanted this or this then it might be relative to that price.
Kate: Exactly, so if someone is charging a $1 000 for three pages of copy it’s a pretty clear indication that they’re probably not going to write your eight blogs for $50. You can head back to Fiverr if you want that kind of pricing, so that worked well for the servicing. With my products, so I have shops and courses, I don’t have some magic formula. I have some products that I price low and stack high. What I mean by that is it’s based on volume. I sell a lot of them and they’re cheap and they usually think that at the beginning of my funnel, so low cost things I can sell to people and then they trust me then they’ll buy more expensive things but my big courses, they are expensive a couple thousand dollars to do one of my courses but that was an evolution as well. So I started off maybe charging $700, and then I tried to charge a bit more and a bit more and a bit more. You can always go up, but it’s very hard to go down without looking like you’re failing. If I launched a course at $2 000 but the next time I run it, it was only $800 people would be like a: annoy the people who signed up the first round but b: people would be like why is she doing that? I always start low to medium then increase.
Ingrid: As you add more, as you said, your content stays substantially the same, but the ease of using the system, the way that the templates or worksheets work they get upgraded, you get better quality videos, people can…All of that changes so it’s a different set of value, isn’t it?
Kate: It is and I think something really important that I’ve discovered is, I’m sure I could charge more for my SEO course for example. People finish it and that’s what they say, “I would’ve expected this to cost more,” but that is a great outcome. If someone finishes something and they feel though that they’ve got fantastic value for money, well then they’re going to talk about it to their friends. There’s nothing worse than doing something and thinking that was such a waste of my money. So, yes sometimes I maybe charge a little bit less than I could because again for me it’s that word of mouth recommendation is so important. I spend nothing on advertising so I don’t buy Facebook ads, I don’t buy Google ad words, and I never really have. I’ve done little odd boosted posts. All my stuff comes through branded SEO search and people recommended me, so the pricing is a part of that. If you’re too expensive, people won’t recommend you.
Ingrid: Yes, and get to the end of the course and think, “Wow, what did I pay for?” Kate, and again as much as you want to tell us about your exit strategy, have you thought about where this goes or how it ends?
Kate: That’s such a good question but it’s a horrible one because no I haven’t at all and it’s something that keeps me up at night. I sometimes think about doing, gosh it’s an American exercise instructor, Richard Simmons, I sometimes think of doing a Richard Simmons that I don’t know if you know but he just completely disappeared one day and has never been seen again.
Kate: Yep and sometimes I feel like doing that. Like sometimes just switching it all off but no I haven’t really. I mean I have financial goals. I want to pay off the mortgage and get to a comfortable position and I’m only, how old am I, I think I’m 43. So I’ve got a bit of time up my sleeve and I do very much enjoy what I do and when I don’t enjoy doing it, I will just stop doing it. I have for everything that I’ve set up, all my courses and my membership, there is a caveat everywhere that says it’s all ongoing but if I decide to stop it stops after six months and everything will be gone. So people know that. I can press the stop button and know that I only have six months left to finish off. But no I’m not ready for exit yet. I haven’t thought about it.
Ingrid: That’s alright. It’s just I’m curious because it is one of the things, that I do talk to people about is where does it go in the future cause it’s just something to have in mind.
Kate: It’s an important question and I do feel slightly emu head in the sand about my approach. It’s just something I don’t like to think about at the moment. Make hay while the sun shines but I realise that’s slightly naive so I think maybe a couple more years with emuing and then I’ll start to plan my exit strategy.
Ingrid: Well, in some ways the business that you started has gone. It’s this constant evolution is where you’re constantly exiting something that’s been and recreating something else. So that in itself is an evolution isn’t it?
Kate: It is, yeah, thanks, that’s a good way of putting it.
Ingrid: My pleasure. If you think back to the beginning, and I know that’s nine years ago, but where there things that you, if you look back on that time, and think what do you really wish you had done differently at the beginning or at some point? Is there somewhere along the line you think wow I just wish I’d done that differently?
Kate: Honestly, there is no big decision. Every decision I’ve made, even the terrible ones have, it sounds cheesy, but I’ve learned a lot from them.
Ingrid: No, that’s great.
Kate: I think the only thing I wish I’d done earlier is stop worrying about my competitors and stop comparing myself to other people. Probably about three years in I started to really consciously reach out to my competitors. I formed a community of competitive copywriters, which then evolved into my copywriting business. It was a great decision because I was watching all these other people doing so well and I was feeling bad about myself and I wasn’t achieving things, and by reaching out to them and forming this little community you get to know the reality behind the business and they were all struggling with the same things. They were all worrying that I was doing really well. We were all looking at each other, so I wish I’d done that a little bit earlier on, but I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that on Day Dot. So maybe not buy those 100 business cards that I still have 98. I think that’s probably it.
Ingrid: Yeah I think I’ve got 97 of my 100 as well. Of course they’re completely useless now. Slightly different question, is what do you wish you’d known from the start? If somebody could’ve given you a piece of guidance or if somebody could’ve told you something or even since then. Is there something that somebody could’ve told you? Cause thinking about our audience, our audience predominately people thinking about starting a business or in that early stage.
Kate: I think for me, it’s something I might’ve touched on earlier. There’s an amazing guy called Robert Gerrish, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but he runs the Flying Solo group and he gave me some advice about, “Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should” but also it’s so important to define your own version of success. You could do all these things, like I could launch another course and another course and I could make this one more expensive and take in more people and I could earn more money but what do I really want out of all of this and if I’m honest what I really want is to work a little bit less, have a bit more free time.
I don’t actually want any more money. I’m comfortable and I don’t have huge financial expectation so really getting to grips with what you’re trying to achieve. What is your version of success because is you are not clear on that, you get swayed by every shiny object and you get jealous of everybody else’s success. And that’s been a real learning for me in the last couple of years is to go, yep look at that person they’re doing that great thing but I don’t want to do that. That is not for me. That’s not something I want to do. Once you start understanding that a little bit better it makes you so much happier in what you’re doing.
Ingrid: That’s terrific actually. I’m so glad you mentioned Robert. I know Robert very well for a long time with Flying Solo. So my next question is about who, apart from yourself, has been of greatest assistance to you and your business? So Robert has been one of those people, is there anybody else?
Kate: It’s sounds a little bit tweed but my mum and dad. My dad had a business as well. My parents, I send them proofreading work. They do proofreading for me and I buy them both a ticket to Australia once a year to come for their holidays. But they give me good advice. They’re a great sounding board, they’re incredibly supportive in a way that often parents only can be. They celebrate my successes. Sometimes I’ll say something to my husband like, “Ooh this happened,” and he’ll be like “Yeah great,” and then move on. Whereas they’re like,” Well done Katherine,” they call me Katherine. They’re very sage, they give good advice, they’ve stopped me making some daft decisions. So yep I think my mum and dad.
Ingrid: That’s so lovely isn’t it? What a great deal they’ve got doing the proofreading. So this is slightly different. Who can give you good feedback or useful feedback?
Kate: For me now, what I’ve done, is I’ve always wanted to have a group of business owners I could talk too and unfortunately now the groups that I’m in, many of the people in it are my customers, so it’s not appropriate for me to be going in there going, “Oh this has happened, what should I do.” So I’ve actually formed a little group of five other business owners who are at a similar point to where I am and that’s my place where I go and vent and get advice and get opinions on what to do. It’s just a little group on Facebook that we self-formed and that’s been really helpful for me.
Ingrid: So, you use Facebook for that or do you meet in person?
Kate: We meet in person when we can and often with speaking at the same event or I’m in town and running a workshop and they’re there. Mostly it’s online though. It’s the water cooler that we all miss when we are working at home and it’s so helpful. That email that you need to send that you just can’t articulate and someone else just writes it perfectly for you. That’s what you need sometimes.
Ingrid: I think that is, I know for myself and this is your interview, but I know for myself it’s the collegiality of the people I use to work with in a corporate world that I miss. It’s exactly that, isn’t it? Yes. Kate, if someone comes to you and they’re super excited they’re going to start their own business, what would you say to them? I know you already covered a fabulous amount of guidance and wisdom but what would you say to someone wanting to start their own business?
Kate: I think I would get really practical because a lot of the advice I’ve given is kind of quite ephemeral as it were. I think I would be like right, how much money do you want to make this year? Break it down. Some fantastic tools out there that will look at all your outgoings and tell you what you need to earn to cover that and what you need to earn to then make some kind of profit. What tools do you need to make that happen? You’re going to need a website number one. You can’t have a business without a website. What social channels are you going to invest in because you can’t do all of them. It’s better to pick one and do it well.
What products and services can you start selling right now rather than waiting six months to start something amazing. Just start selling something small now. I think I would break it down into small steps but also just some realism because I think there’s a lot of nonsense online at the moment selling the six figure, seven figure dreams and courses you can do. Do not invest in a course. Even though I have a course I would say, “Do not invest in a course right now.” Just get started. Probably if you’re at the point where you want to start a business, you already know a huge amount of things so start with that and then learn one new thing. Don’t go and buy a $5 000 course and thinks it’s going to change your life because it probably won’t in my experience. So start with the basics and start small and then evolve would be my advice.
Ingrid: That’s terrific. Kate, what three characteristics do you think you have that make you successful in your business?
Kate: I thought about this one. Yeah I think creativity, so I’m never short of ideas. That can be an issue as well because they’re all backing up in my mind screaming to be done. So I think I’m quite creative. I think I do the work. I do come into my office and I sit there and I do the work even on the days when I don’t want to and I work hard. That sounds silly but I think a lot of people think they can just drop in, do the four hour work week, and be fabulously successful. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case for me. I plug away. And I think permission to fail. So, I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m not sickly glamorous. I make typos in my Facebook posts. I have things that don’t work and don’t sell and I just quickly move on. Giving myself permission to not be amazing has been an important one because I am a perfectionist believe me but I’m a big believer in done is better than perfect. And I just get stuff done and then it’s out there and hopefully I made me a little bit of money.
Ingrid: Get stuff done. Done instead of perfect is such an important thing isn’t it? As you say just create something, get it out, start, and then make it better as you go along.
Kate: Exactly, yeah.
Ingrid: So I know that’s what’s made you successful, is there anything else that somebody for the budding start up, and you talked about finding out about how much money they need and what their product will be and a website and social, but what characteristics are essential for somebody getting started?
Kate: I mean I think to own your own business is to wear many hats, you have to be: organised, would be an excellent asset but I think honestly the biggest one is enthusiasm. Enthusiasm will get you through the dark days, it will get you through the failures, the financial flops, the bad clients. If you really enjoy what you do, and it’s not enough just to be passionate, I’m not saying that because that’s another kind of big thing that’s sold online, “Just be passionate. It will all be great.” It’s not true, but if you can be organised, financially savvy, and practical then enthusiasm goes a long way. It really does. There’s no point setting up like an organic hedge hog jumper making company if you don’t like hedge hogs and you don’t like knitting. Just because it’s going to earn you money, if you’re not passionate about it, and you can just talk about it and talk about it and talk about it for years and years and years and still not get bored, then you’ve got an idea that will last I think.
Ingrid: Yeah, that’s so true. It truly is. That whole idea of, “Oh follow your passion and the money will roll in,” that’s not how it works, is it? Kate, thanks so much. So, where can people find you? I mean what you offer is pretty terrific, well it’s very terrific really, how can people find you?
Kate: Well thankfully I’m pretty good at SEO so with my course, so if you just Google Kate Toon, you’ll find all my various, I think I’ve got about seven websites when I last counted and podcasts and books and whatever. Yeah, if you Google me or search me on Facebook I’m sure it’ll show something of mine will pop up.
Ingrid: And then it’s a smorgasbord for people to select from.
Kate: I like that, yeah. A cheese platter of offerings.
Ingrid: That sounds just lovely. Thank you so much for your interview. Is there anything else that I haven’t covered that you would like to say or are we pretty close to done?
Kate: No, we’re done. I just wish everybody who’s thinking about starting up – I wish you success, and give it a pop. What’s the worse that could happen? As I said, you can always go back to your day job but you probably won’t. Once you break free, you’ll never want to go back.
Ingrid: Indeed. Kate, thanks so much. Bye now.
Kate: Thank you.
If you are thinking about getting started in your own business and wondering what are the first steps, you may want to take the Business StartUp Readiness Assessment over here at my website healthynumbers.com.au/quiz and assess where you are on the business startup readiness scale. Once you complete the quiz you’ll be asked for your name and email address and we’ll send you some useful and helpful information about how to create, start and grow your own business, including an extract from my soon to be released book “So You Want to Start a Business”
Remember: Ideas without action …. Well, they are just that… “ideas” …… What action are you going to take today?