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Hello, this is Gavin McCoy and on the Internet Marketing podcast today, my guest is Neil Stafford, who swapped his corporate career for an online business. Today you’ll discover what exactly was the unusual product he sold to get started, and how he felt when he got his very first sale, and the secret of generating an endless recurring income from simple membership sites plus much, much more as we say hello to Neil Stafford.
Hi Gavin. Good to speak to you again.
When did you kick off in internet marketing
Oh, my word. I will say back when the internet was gas powered so … very short story. When the internet started taking off, if you remember the mid 1990s, web designers were getting paid a fortune to build simple three, four, five page websites.
So I said, “Oh, I can do that. I’m sure I can.” So I walked into a local computer shop in Wigan where I live in the Northwest of England, and it’s still there to this day. One of these in like an old converted terrorists house with computer parts everywhere. And I said, “I want to build websites.”
He said, “You need Dreamweaver.” I said, “I love it.” He goes, “It’s 300 pound.” Which is about $500.
I went, “Oh! That’s a lot.” But I managed to take a deep breath and bought it and then I wandered over to the local bookstore and I bought the Idiot’s Guide to HTML, which is like the forerunners to the dummies book and proceeded to try and teach myself how to build websites.
Well, long story short, I did and my word, they were ugly. They were really, really ugly. But I saw some sort of potential in it.
Fast forward a couple of years and my first sale online was back in May, 1998 and that was for, believe it or not, an oil painting. Now, I wasn’t the artist.
My design skills and artistic skills are like a three year old with a crayon. But a friend of mine was an artist, and it developed out of an idea that we had where I used to go with him to craft firs and exhibitions to keep him company. And one time a lady came up to me and said, “Does he do paintings from photographs?” And I went, “Yes.” I had no idea whether he did or not. I went, “Yes.” Took a deposit and said to my friend Paul, I said, “Paul, can you do this?” He said, “Yes.” So he did a painting from photographs. She was happy. So we started commissioning more paintings from photographs.
Then we placed adverts in magazines where people will ring up for an information pack. Now this is pre-digital photography. So we had to take photographs, all these painting, scan them and put them on to printed material and send them out and they’d send it back with an order form and a check. And that’s how that went on. And I went, “Oh, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we, instead of getting them to ring up for an information pack, this newfangled internet thing, we can send them online because I know how to build websites, ugly websites. They can read it, and then they consult it out online.”
Now, I always call myself and Paul back then dumb and dumber because, we have no way of taking payments. There was no PayPal, there was certainly no Stripe or any way of taking payments online except with a bank merchant accounts and they wanted [inaudible 00:03:13] firstborn and profits for life. So, what we did was we simply put the brochure up online, ugly website, and let’s put it into context. We placed the adverts in a magazine and we use GeoCities for our hosting because they gave free webspace, but that meant our website address was geocities.com/squigglyline3754 and they were really horrible domain name.
But we did it. We placed the adverts, waited for the magazine to come out and to put it into context and all that came through … What the person had to do was buy the magazine, take it home and read it, read the classifieds in the back, see our adverts, go to the computer, turn it on. Now this is 1998 [inaudible 00:03:55].
Gavin McCoy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Neil: They weren’t fast to turn on. Connect to the internet with dial-up, yeah [inaudible 00:04:01] this all ugly looking website. Read through it, print off an order form, ready? Write the order form, write the check, write the envelope, put the stamp on an envelope, walk down to a post box and post it to us. But low and behold, that’s what happened to me. I would love Gavin to be able to say it was on this date in May. I just can’t remember the date, but I know it was May, 1998 that this envelope popped through the letterbox with a check inside for back then 95 pounds, about $140 at the time, $150 and it was our first order generated online, although it was an offline payment, if that makes sense.
Now, despite those disjointed steps that led to your first sale, Neil, how did you feel looking at that check?
Wow. I always talk about tipping points with people. So that was our tipping point. First sale generated online and the tipping point is, “This could work.” There is something in this and they [inaudible 00:04:58] belief and whether you’re going for your first sale online, your first thousand dollar month, your first $10,000 a pound month, each one of those is a tipping point that takes you past that point of flipping [inaudible 00:05:11] this works. Where could it go?
Now for many of us, our foray into internet marketing is in fact a plan to escape from a day job, which takes too much time and probably doesn’t pay too much. If I’m able to ask you Neil, what did you do prior to breaking into this business of internet marketing or information marketing?
Neil: Yeah, so past careers have been working for an insurance company in customer service, working in shops, being a DJ mobile and club DJ for a good few years. And when I started looking at the internet side, I’d actually settled down into a bit of a career in the financial services industry. And I always say, “I can’t give a rags to riches story.” Because I had a a pretty good career. I was climbing career ladder. But one thing I did was look ahead and I didn’t like what I saw where I was going to be in five or 10 years.
And again, these little things that happened to you, many years ago when I was 15, 16 years old, a family member he was very successful said, “Have a plan B Neil. Always have a plan B.” Now my deejaying was plan B for a while. So I worked on DJ before I went deejaying Jane full time. And then when I started in financial services, I still doing deejaying. But because of the way the career took off, I stopped the deejaying. But this internet thing came along. So that started to be my plan B. So, my career was well paid, it had great bonuses, company car all et cetera, et cetera.
So on the outside looking in, you say, “Oh they’re successful.” But what they didn’t see was the company owns you basically.
And the higher you climbed up the ladder, the more and more success we had, the more and more income you had, but less and less time you had.
I’ve had phone calls at one o’clock in the morning to put a paper together to be released to the stock market because something has been said by my bosses boss [inaudible 00:07:01] ringing milk. And that was another tipping points thinking, “Hang on a minute, this isn’t right. If they can do that and ask me to do it.”
Which I did. It got released after [inaudible 00:07:10] clock in the morning, job done. So with me it was more of “Okay then let’s get this plan B rolling again and see where it can get to.”
Gavin McCoy: Now Neil your first excursion into using the internet as a marketing vehicle was for solid, tangible products. Of course, today the biggest part of our industry is selling information products. What was your first attempt at that?.
Note From The Editor:
This is a bridged version of the full interview which is available to listen to separately.