Think and Grow Chick Founder Courtney Sanders shares how finally started growing her online business
Meet Courtney, the brain behind one of my new favorite go-to sites Think And Grow Chick. I connected with Courtney because her site’s mission really resonated with mine. After perusing her site, I knew she was someone who you all would LOVE to hear and learn more about.
This post is a bit long, so I’ll keep the intro short. If you have time, I encourage you to READ every word of this interview. Courtney keeps it 150% real and I know you’ll walk away feeling more motivated to keep going hard at building your personal brand and business.
In this BRANDMAKERS you’ll learn:
- How Courtney shifted her blog by re-focusing on her initial goals for the site
- Why the question “Are you building a blog or building a business?” is super important
- How “putting out ships” led Courtney to a relationship with her “online mentor in her head”
- The women that inspired Think and Grow Chick’s work
- Why being “authentic” has allowed Courtney to SHINE
- The question Courtney wishes people would ask her (and her response to it)… and more!
My biggest takeaway? It may take a while for you to figure it out, but once you start focusing on the bigger “business” picture and providing true value to your target audience, your brand will truly start taking off!
Check out the interview below!
What inspired you to start Think and Grow Chick?
As the name suggests, it had a lot to do with that famous book Think and Grow Rich. I came across the book at a time where a lot of things were going wrong in my life. I was borderline failing out of school, in credit card debt, and all this craziness. I wanted to get out but I wasn’t sure how.
I attended a Women’s Entrepreneurship conference and there was a life coach there who was hosting a session and she kept raving about this book Think and Grow Rich. I went home and read it. It was the first time I was ever exposed to the goal setting process. I had always been ambitious and I knew that there were things I wanted to do, but I didn’t realize that you have to make a plan and then determine what sacrifices you’re going to make and chart it out in order to get there. I just thought that you want to do something and you try to figure out a way to do it and it just happens. The book opened my eyes to the power of goal setting.
There were a lot of things I needed to get together in my life. I still had wanted to start a business and get that going. I said why I don’t I just become the Think And Grow Chick and I’ll create a blog and hopefully I will get a few readers and they can hold me accountable. It was just supposed to be a diary of me just talking about my journey to accomplishing these goals and I made it public as a way to just accountable. I didn’t know it would turn into what it is now.
What were the early days of Think and Grow Chick like?
My major goal was trying to get out of credit card debt and get squared away with school. I was also very much into natural hair and that was a goal. The business was a goal. Getting back in shape was a goal. The original blog was just a hodge podge of different things I was learning and found interesting. I would post about natural hair along with the finance and entrepreneurial posts. I would get so many emails asking me questions about natural hair so there was a period of time where I tended to focus more on the natural hair just because it was what people were asking me for. It was never my intention with Think and Grow Chick for it to be a natural hair blog.
After about three years into it when I had a really dry spell where I just felt uninspired and I couldn’t figure out why. I admitted to myself I had gotten too far away from what the original mission of the blog was.
I was doing what was popular and what was getting me hits but that wasn’t what I wanted my work online to be.
I was doing what was popular and what was getting me hits but that wasn’t what I wanted my work online to be.
I didn’t want it to be about hair. I wanted it to be about personal growth. Towards the end of 2013 after I had graduated and was finally in a place where I could focus on doing the blog. I had more free time and I said I really want to pour back into Think and Grow Chick but this time I am going to shift away from the natural hair stuff and just focus on the original mission: Personal growth, Finance, and Entrepreneurship.
What kind of challenges did you face early on building your blog?
When I first started the blog it was just me doing whatever I wanted to do and what made sense to me at the time.There’s so much information online about how to have a successful blog. I really struggled with trying to learn best practices and principles that I should apply to make my blog grow but then still not lose my voice and what I felt made Think and Grow Chick unique.
The way I combated that was that I would test things. For example, I read something that said your post shouldn’t exceed 500 words. Eventually I just had to admit that my blog wasn’t going to be that style. Most of my posts now are sometimes 1500- 2000 words. That’s because I feel like there’s a lot to talk about and a lot to explain. I had to learn to ignore some advice.
If you’re not going to give your readers what is necessary for the topic that you are talking about then it makes your readers feel like it’s a waste of time that they came because you didn’t even give them what they really needed. People appreciate that if they are going to spend the time to go to your blog, you might as well give them something [worthwhile.]
What did you learn about marketing yourself and your blog since you started Think and Grow Chick?
The biggest shift I have made in learning about marketing is that Think and Grow Chick is about not only about me. I’m the vessel through which a lot of this information comes through and which this movement of women wanting to do better comes through. It’s about my readers. Everything that I create needs to be clearly beneficial.
Marketing techniques weren’t so difficult as it was getting out of that mindset that it’s about me and what I want to talk about and shifting to really knowing my readers and getting to know what they struggle with, what their pain points are, and what kind of language they use.
[I try to be] as creative and helpful as I can in coming up with something that helps them and then figuring out the best ways in order to make sure that what I’m doing gets out in front of them We all get wrapped in, “My business my blog.” We get so focused into what we want. It takes a minute to get into the mindset of thinking of other people. Once you do, all kinds of creative ideas can come up to how best you can target your market audience. It is a learning curve to do that in the beginning.
How did you pinpoint your target audience?
It started with me putting the content out there and being totally and authentically myself and then seeing what came back. I was so surprised that so many people related to me and what I was talking about because I just thought I was this crazy girl who just had all these problems and I couldn’t get it together and I was struggling.
There’s obviously a lot of other African-American women [that follow me] but I don’t think it’s so much a race thing as it is a cultural thing. I use our little isms and language because that’s a part of our culture and a part of my life. The majority of the people who are going to understand that and pick up on that are other African-American women like me. That’s not to say that other women who aren’t African American don’t get it but they would have to be familiar with our cultural references.
Even if you don’t necessarily want to address a target market that is exactly who you are, what you put out should still have some personal connection to you.
How did you transition from blogger to business woman?
I have been blogging since 2009 and I’ve had a pretty solid readership from the beginning. It’s grown steadily a lot in the last year, but like a lot of people I was frustrated. I have this blog but I’m not really making any money. I would maybe get $50 every two months from YouTube from some of the old hair tutorials that I had. I would see other bloggers, especially entrepreneurial women, who were just seemed to be doing It. They had all these products and services and people were signing up for their coaching programs and I was like, “How are they doing this all time?”
I was starting to get really beside myself trying to figure this out. I remember looking at another woman’s blog and website and it was clear that she did this full-time. I got this sense that my brand was actually bigger than hers yet she was doing this full- time and making money and I wasn’t. That really bothered me. Everyone has always told bloggers: You have to get your traffic and readership up and once you do that, you will be able to do this full- time. I had my readership and traffic up and I’m sitting here looking at this other blogger and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have the audience that I do yet she’s able to make money in a way that I’m not. I didn’t understand what was wrong.
So I’m sitting here looking at her blog feeling really frustrated and pitying myself. I got this thought: The reason she’s making money and you’re not is because she’s building a business and you’re building a blog.
This literally stopped me in my tracks. She’s a business woman and I’m just a blogger. That’s the problem I needed to shift my mindset from trying to be a blogger to actually figuring out how to build a business.
What did you do next?
I shifted away from reading a bunch of blogs that teach you how to blog better and focused on building the technical blog.
Shift away from reading a bunch of blogs that teach you how to blog better and focus on building the technical blog.
I started looking at business women. How did they market themselves? What kind of products were they offering? What was the business model? How could I structure Think and Grow Chick in that way so that I could start generating revenue, too?
If you are struggling with that, shift away from the technical thing that you do and find someone in your industry who is actually a business person. Start looking at the business practices they engage in and start seeing how you can start modeling that yourself to start generating revenue.
Who are some of the people who were really instrumental in how you wanted to model your own business?
Rosetta Thurman from Happy Black Woman is a big one. I really love the lifestyle that she was able to develop for herself. I loved that she did it through her personal life journey because I knew that was something that I wanted to do, too. I also love Tiphani Montgomery. She has this crazy but really inspiring story where she was a teen mom and had like a 0.0 GPA. Everyone was telling her that she wasn’t going to amount to anything but she ended up writing and publishing a book on her own using her tax refund check. She ended up selling it hand to hand in her neighborhood.
Over time she started investing in her education- not that “I’m going to school” education but going to Barnes and Nobles and googling things education. She recently posted where she said something to the effect that she should have a degree from Google University and Barnes and Nobles Community College. They taught her everything she knows about her business.To see the growth and how she continues to grow her business and teach people about publishing is super inspiring.
A major inspiration for most people is Marie Forleo because I feel like she was a forerunner in showing what my business could even look like and what was possible. A lot of people look up to her in terms of realizing you can have an online business based on your strengths and talents,connecting with people, and coming up with really helpful products that help people AND make a great living doing it.
What are the different services that you offer what’s the most profitable for you?
I’m still building it up. I really just started doing different things in November when I had that shift. I have my book and my events I have done. I have a joint workshop with Natasha Cole from The Go and Glow Project. I also offer personal development and entrepreneurship coaching.
I’ve had women come to me for things like helping with time management, getting their schedules together, and generally figuring out how they can get their goals on track.
The entrepreneurship coaching has definitely been more popular particularly with people working with me to help them get clarity around their blog or whatever it is that they do online and figuring out how they can start to profit from that passion. I actually have a mentorship program, Idea to Income, that is all about helping people walk through that.
I have my Get What You Want workbook that I put out there. The coaching and the Launch Your Life workshop that I have with Natasha Cole have been the most profitable.
I have a time management course that I’m working on now. Because I get so many questions about blogging, I’m putting together a blogging bootcamp that I’m hoping to get done around May or June where I can hopefully show from start to finish my best tips and strategies what I did to get Think and Grow Chick to where it is now. I want to help other bloggers and people with online brands get their brands together.
How would you advise someone to really build the confidence to start charging what they are worth for their services?
Look objectively at what it is that you’ve created and say, “What is the value of what I am offering here?” Some people use little metrics such as whatever the return is that the person is most likely to get from this product, then I’m going to charge about 10% of that because that’s a great exchange for the person who is receiving it.
If I do this blogging bootcamp, I’ll use this method: If you follow the steps that I’m talking about, in your first month in business, it’s common that you can make $1000. I’d price that product at $100. That’s a good value for the person that’s taking it because they will get 10x from it. It’s a good value for me because I can sell it multiple times to multiple people.
I just try to look at it as strictly from a value standpoint of what is it that I’m offering. For the coaching, more service oriented things or where I am working with people directly I factor in my time because I’m researching for you, creating a plan, and giving you a writeup at the end.I factor in the general market, how much others are charging , and what is my value comparatively. Am I providing something that’s up to snuff?
If you have this really great product and it’s unique and is going to help people then charge what you’re worth. If you have something that you’ve just thrown together and it’s not quite put out there then be honest and charge what you’re worth. If a person is going to take this product, are they really going to get that value from it?
What has been a tactic you’ve use to attract new readers and business to your blog?
You have to build relationships. Getting in front of other people’s audiences is basically how I’ve done it and what I’ve seen other people do the most successfully. You may have this amazing content but just because you’re posting it on your social profile, if others are not aware of you, then they’re not aware to know to come to your profile to see the post that you have posted on your blog.
I have been doing this since 2009 and because of the blogging friends and alliances that I’ve had, I don’t have to ask people to tweet out my stuff. I’m so grateful they do it on their own. That’s just because I know them. We’ve Skyped together just to meet each other. I do that constantly if I see someone who’s doing really well online and I just really love what they’re doing. I’m like, “Hey can we do a Skype coffee?”
That’s been huge for me as far as developing broad friendships for people to market what I’m doing. There’s this term I use: “putting out ships.” The thought of sending out ships is you put something out into the world or try putting something in front of someone where there’s a risk, but there is also a great return, too.
When has “putting out ships” worked for you?
I know most people who follow me now or lately they are familiar with me because of the master class I did with Myleik Teele. Almost a year ago, I was listening to her podcast and thought they were really good. I was taking notes and typing them up because I’m a nerd and I do that with everything. One day I wondered, “What am I going to talk about?” I looked through my Evernote and I was like, “You know what? I sat here and took notes on Myleik’s podcast and I know people enjoy her. I bet they would like a podcast if I just shared the notes that I took from some of my favorite podcasts of hers.” I did that. As I was crafting the post and doing the headline, I happened to have a thought that this would be me sending out my ship.
The post was called Mentor In My Head: 53 Life Lessons from Myleik Teele, Curlbox CEO. I got the idea, Why don’t I use “@Myleik” so that when my followers see the post and retweet and share it on Instagram, she will be more likely to see it because it is attached to her handle. I retitled the headline “My 53 Favorite Lessons from @Myliek” versus just putting her name to ensure that when people retweeted it, she would see it.
It was a longshot. It was just me sending out a ship. I thought, “Hey, if she checks it out and she likes it hopefully she will see that she’s got a fan here at Think and Grow Chick. That’s exactly what happened. She actually started following my blog and looking at it. It wasn’t until months later that she reached out to me personally and was like, “Hey I’ve been following you I really like what you’re doing. We should do something together.” This was in 2014. She said we should do something together for 2015. We got on the phone and that’s how the idea for the Google Hangout came. That ended up being an amazing thing. That was 1000 new people that weren’t introduced to Think and Grow Chick and would not have otherwise.
You have to “put ships out there.” Put things out into the blog sphere or online or just things that if it catches on, it’s likely to have a good return for you.
Put things out into the blog sphere or online or just things that if it catches on, it’s likely to have a good return for you.
I’ve made a habit of taking those calculated risks, and thus far it’s worked out.
What’s one question no one has ever asked you before when it comes to your blog?
People always ask me about how I got started. People don’t necessarily ask where I’m going, what I’m working on, the things I’m nervous about or trying what I don’t know, or am unfamiliar with. I’m still learning. I get excited about testing different things out in my business and life. I feel like no one’s asking me, “What’s something that you don’t know? What is the uncharted territory that you’re working on?”
I feel like no one’s asking me, “What’s something that you don’t know? What is the uncharted territory that you’re working on?”
If someone was going to ask me that right now I would say that I’m still learning online marketing and I’ve had some early success with it which is really exciting. I still get nervous and think, “Is this just a fluke? I don’t really know what I’m doing really, do I? There’s still kind of insecurity and trying things out.
I am just really excited about internet and email marketing. I’m really excited about the way blogging is moving from just people putting a written blog post, podcast, or video, up to blogging 3.0 – which is going to be where you create an entire array of different content for people to consume from you at one time.
What I am working on towards that direction is I’m trying to create more challenges. I just did the 21 Self Discipline Challenge and that worked out really well. I want to see what new challenges and webinars I can do.
I have an idea for a virtual conference that I would love to do. I have some high-profile women in mind that I would really love to reach out to. That’s where I’m going. I’m in an arena I’m not so familiar with.
What makes you shine?
My biggest strength is not being afraid to be authentic. From day one I have put all my stuff out there. When I was first blogging, my friends and family were like, “Why are you telling people about your grades and your credit card debt?”
I did it because I was trying to Think and Grow in my own little way and get better in my own life. I hoped that my experiences in my life would help someone else. And that’s exactly what happened. So many blogs are telling you the tips, the tricks, and the strategies. What set mine apart is I’m not just telling you, “Oh you should do this or should do X Y and Z.” I’m showing you how I’m doing it.
I’m being honest about when I failed at something or something doesn’t work out. I never try to put myself out there as I’m this big guru because I’m not. I’m still on this journey along with everyone else. I’m not afraid to be transparent. A lot of people appreciate that and I think it’s developed a bond with my readers… not just with me personally but with the movement and the mission of what Think And Grow Chick is all about.
COMMENT TIME: Name one thing that you want to work on in your blog or business and why this is so important to you.
Connect with Courtney online:
Google +: https://plus.google.com/+ThinkandGrowChick
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