In this episode Colton talks to Larry Ludwig about growing and selling InvestorJunkie, things that he learned along the way, mistakes that he made, as well as where he feels blogging is going in the years to come.
With over twenty years of experience, Larry has been there himself. He has overcome many obstacles and can tell you how you can too! Larry has assisted solo-entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies with their digital marketing.
SKIP TO THE GOOD PARTS:
- 0:35 – 1:55 Larry Ludwig shares about when he got started and how he eventually sold his company, InvestorJunkie, for 6 million dollars.
- 5:01 – 5:24 Larry shares how an unfortunate incident helped him see how beneficial optimizing one’s search and diversifying traffic was for his business.
- 5:37 – 6:11 Larry shares what ultimately led him to sell Investor Junkie in 2018.
- 9:34 – 10:14 Larry talks about the struggles of an entrepreneur’s mind never really shutting off.
- 10:54 – 13:13 Quality versus Quantity and properly tracking one’s site’s traffic.
- 15:14 – 15:40 Larry shares his thoughts on the importance of keeping up and staying to date with with one’s blogging content.
- 17:45 – 18:29 How not properly tracking one’s traffic is a recipe for failure.
- 19:07 – 20:07 The importance of having a close relationship with your affiliate managers.
- 21:18 – 21:23 Creating a brand that can sustain longevity in your company.
- 28:47 – 30:19 Larry has yet to find the right business to acquire.
- 38:31 – 41:52 Larry shares what he thinks will be the next 9 big trends in blogging.
Colton Moffitt 0:02 This is the domain magnet show where you’ll learn everything you need to know about buying, optimizing and selling online businesses with your host, Michael Barris landscaping.
Colton Moffitt 0:09 Hey everybody, we’re here today with Larry Ludwig. Larry Ludwig is a well known SEO in affiliate marketing space. But we’re going to talk to him today about acquisitions, selling businesses. So he’s the CEO and founder of Ludwig Media. But how he got to where he is now and the whole process along the way is really kind of an interesting story. So, Larry, why don’t you just tell us a bit more about yourself and how you got started and what’s on your plate at the moment?
Larry Ludwig 0:35 Sure! Thanks for having me, first of all. I started in 1994. So I was really, I knew the…actually, even before that, I knew the web was really going to be changed with the whole idea of a web browser, at schools, going to Clemson University, realized that the, you know, that was the future of the Internet. And if anything before that was much more archaic. So I knew though things were changing, but unfortunately the time there’s really no job opportunities in that space. It was more my background being computer science. So from that, I worked at a regular traditional company that was in technology. But eventually 1995 worked for a company who helped develop some the pioneering websites out there called Poppe Tyson. And from that just grew into building websites for a lot of Fortune 500 companies and in 1999, decided go off on my own and created a web hosting web development firm. And in 2009, this is really obviously a shortened version of my story…in 2009, decided to create a website called Investor Junkie, where I was kind of frustrated trading other sites for other clientele, their websites were growing but you know, I was not getting, or reaping any of the profits from those businesses and decided to create a business that was based on affiliate marketing and the blog was called Investor Junkie and in 2018, I sold that business for 6 million.
Colton Moffitt 1:55 Congratulations on the sale. You know, Investor Junkie is an interesting kind of model and obviously a lot of people who are familiar with affiliate marketing, and content based businesses in general, there is a ton of money in financial publishing. But it’s hard. It’s harder to find quality writers, it’s harder to find the right audience that’s actually going to purchase products that aren’t complete scams and do well with those. So I’d love to hear more about what that process was like building up the business to the point when it was ready to be sold. And then how you made that decision.
Larry Ludwig 2:26 Yeah, I mean, so in 2009, I saw another blog was sold by Drinkaholic, for 12 million in 2008. And that was pretty much a one man show. And it was all based on affiliate marketing. So that was really based on banking products and services. I got the idea of why not create a blog myself that was really just on investing because I saw a lot of other blogs out there on debt and debt services like credit cards, and it was a crowded market already in 2009 and figured, why not do one on one investing instead, and just, not only that, but also had a natural interest in it as well, on top of was my existing web hosting web development background. Worst case, I thought use it as a showcase to showcase the capabilities of my firm. So we can scale this WordPress blog to be, you know, hundreds of thousands of visitors as opposed to just, you know, not just talking to talk, but here’s an actual living example that people can reference to. So with that said, yeah, there’s really an issue with I think part of it was just starting off the bat with a blog that was specifically on one niche and not going to general a lot of my other friends in the space did personal finance, or just getting out of debt. And I just didn’t want to go down that path because again, I thought it was overplayed and decided to focus on one niche. And from that grew it from literally zero audience to I think when I sold it last year, about 300,000 unique visitors a month, you know, from that was purely I would say 80% SEO based, you know, search engine optimization, and the rest were really starting to ramp up paid traffic as well.
Colton Moffitt 3:53 Interesting. And when you decided to ramp up the paid traffic, was that a challenging process? Was it a big deviation from the normal process? Because many of the people that are watching or listening to this, they might have more experience with organic and have more experience with SEO. And the paid stuff we see is more with the lead gen and e commerce guys.
Larry Ludwig 4:13 Well, in some ways, there’s the affiliate. I didn’t know this…that until like maybe a few years ago, affiliate marketing….there’s this whole subculture of affiliate marketers that purely do paid traffic, it’s really just a play on arbitrage. And I, you know, I, ironically, I kind of was shied away from that I believed in adding value. We added we created these reviews that really helped the reader determine whether or not the service or this other service was appropriate for them and did comparisons and really created value and more than just pure copy. And to me, that was the differentiator for our blog compared to other websites. With that said, yeah, I mean, SEO was still a primary traffic, it’s for most, I think, blogs, most websites, SEO is a primary motivator of traffic where you know, what has been said 50 to 80% of all traffic is search. So if you’re not optimizing search, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. It’s you should diversify as well. And that was my biggest fear going to pay traffic. I didn’t want to rely on just one source or one channel traffic because of about two years prior to selling, I was affected with a hit in Google. So I lost about 20 to 30% of my traffic. That was somewhat painful in the process, because I lost about the same amount of revenue. I didn’t want to rely on just one source or one channel. So I decided to focus on paid traffic as well.
Colton Moffitt 5:25 It’s interesting, that’s always bad news to wake up to. It’s terrible. But when you got that back on track, and you decided to look at paid traffic, how long was that before you decided, hey, it’s time to look at selling this thing.
Larry Ludwig 5:37 Honestly, I was approached. So I never, I mean, when I built Investor Junkie, I knew I didn’t want to tie it around my brand and my own personal identity. Unlike what I’m doing now, ironically. I saw other bloggers I have other friends who have sold their blogs. And honestly for me, I wouldn’t want to buy those or acquire those blogs because it’s so much tied in or ingrained into the author or a bunch of other writers and I didn’t want to do that. I want to make Sure I had created a brand into itself, that’s one of the things I definitely did differently compared to my fellow bloggers and personal finance. So that was the first issue. The second is I was really approached by a company it was wanting to acquire me, it was not like actively pursuing. And it just came down to the…the numbers made sense to just, I knew also in terms of growth of the company where I was generating the certain amount of affiliate revenue, I just couldn’t grow it, I need to change the company, much different than it was. So I had to be much more say course based, as opposed to just purely affiliate marketing, where I knew, you know, I decided it made more sense to just sell it because of locking those gains and do something different.
Colton Moffitt 5:42 Okay, and that was, you know, as you said, it’s a relatively recent deal. And I’d like to go back maybe a little bit further in time to some other deals that you’ve completed. And that was through your empowering media acquisitions of hosting companies. And you mentioned something about how that actually took a different direction later, and I think that the audience might really appreciate some insight from that.
Larry Ludwig 7:01 Sure, if I remember the date now I think in 2006 I acquired a web hosting company, it was part of…it was not their entire company, but it was part of the company. And it was interesting. The one thing I got out of that was the…you know, what was said what was promised in terms of customer base was a little different than what turned out to be reality meaning their accounting wasn’t fortulent but it was not accurate in the sense of people were thought to be customers that weren’t people were paying different amounts than what they were said to be paid in the books. So there’s definitely discrepancies that I had to deal with I did not anticipate in the deal. So that’s definitely one thing I learned in that deal that allowed me to make sure not only if I want to acquire other future hosting companies in the future, but also for actually selling Investor Junkie as well. So in other words, having my books in order having the documentation and detail that it was needed to be acquired as well for the selling of Investor Junkie made sense. So it was a it was definitely not one anticipated. It was definitely a kluge of dealing with different issues with the other company I acquired. But in the end, it wound out working out well. And, you know, I pretty much kept on those customers until I shut down my business last year.
Colton Moffitt 8:10 And what was the the inspiration or the decision making process to go ahead and close that one down after you kind of reconciled it and it was profitable?
Larry Ludwig 8:19 Um, well, I mean, Investor Junkie was sold in 2018. So again, it’s been now over a year after I sold it, and I decided that I wanted to do something different. Web Hosting is really a difficult industry to be in its commodity for the most part, it’s hard to differentiate, it’s 24/7 operation on top of that, in our case, we actually owned all the hardware and software, so a lot of other companies resell someone else’s services. So it’s a lot of work. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to do branch off and go off to something different.
Colton Moffitt 8:48 Right. So that’s an interesting transition, and you kind of you got to sell those last year and obviously, we’re all 2018 or whenever it was. So last year…we’re into the new and you know how that’ll be a mess up for the next month or two. But as far as, as what you’re doing now, I mean, of course we want to learn about that too, because there are some people who are listening to this and they’re thinking about selling their business rather than buying one, which about half of them probably…many people are buyers and sellers. So what was that kind of like, wait, all right, I have a lot on my plate right now. Did you already have a big plan that you wanted to execute more thoroughly? Or were you kind of having one of those little mini retirement moments where you gradually got bored with being a company.
Larry Ludwig 9:34 I mean, as an entrepreneur, there’s always something going on. I always have ideas going on in my head. And there’s certain things obviously in the personal finance with my non compete I can’t do at the moment and I may do those after the entrepreneur expires but in terms of I want shortcuts after, I don’t believe in the actually sit down and retired if some beach and drinking your pina colada. I don’t think that’s reality for most people, especially entrepreneurs. So with that said, I want to make sure you know, I think can help other entrepreneurs in my case, with their blogs, I think a lot of people don’t either understand how to monetize or monetize effectively. And really, you know, with my background for many years now doing this, I think you can add value to other fellow entrepreneurs.
Colton Moffitt 10:14 That’s really interesting, too. So you know, you’ve got these skill sets you’ve developed over the years from the web development to the SEO and affiliate, when you get into affiliate marketing, obviously, it seems pretty simple at first, but as so much of it does come down to relationships and getting the best rates you can get. So if you had to grab, you know, the top three takeaways from the skill sets you’ve developed that you would like to convey to more of the fellow entrepreneurs you’re working with. Now, what would those three be?
Larry Ludwig 10:40 In terms of affiliate marketing or even more broader than that?
Colton Moffitt 10:42 In terms of whether it’s optimizing their revenue for the site? So I’d say monetization, best things you can do from monetization perspective and pairing your organic traffic with your offers or with the ads you’re running. Things like that.
Larry Ludwig 10:54 Yeah. I mean, the first and foremost, it’s all I’ve always been about quality than quantity. I mean, you see many people determine, you know, I get X amount of visitors per month. And I don’t think that’s the right way to think of your traffic. I think it’s making sure it’s the right traffic. I have used this example before. At one point on Investor Junkie, we had what’s called NLP, Master Limited Partnership. So to touch on investment, and unknownst to me, MLP can also mean My Little Pony. So I was getting a lot of traffic, or something, it was not appropriate for tweens that had nothing….So you get the idea that, again, these people are visiting this web page thinking is for My Little Pony. And in fact, it’s for Master Limited Partnerships, again, not the right audience. That’s a great, great example of how you want to make sure you get quality over quantity. So with that said, as an entrepreneur, you want to make sure you and that’s one of the things we focused on and the merchants that we work with always commented on that we always sent the best quality traffic to the right affiliate program. And that’s something you should think about being in someone else’s services or your own is making sure you get the right leads, and also understand where they are in the sales funnel be SEO to pay traffic. They’re all sales funnels. And I think most people lose sight of that fact that SEO is just another sales funnel. And where are they on that journey, if they’re at the beginning of their journey, hitting them really hard for sale, it’s not going to do any good if they’re really just trying to understand who you are, maybe that you’re not even the right solution. So you’ve got to make sure as they’re compared to down the road where they’re just ready to buy, like we did a lot of reviews, that worked really well, because of that’s usually the last step before they’re ready to convert. So you gotta understand that process. So that there’s two key takeaways. Outside of that, I guess, I would say, is really focusing on SEO, if you’re going to do that, really understand that it’s really, again, writing for the readers, I think, gone are the days you can gain Google and create, you know, keyword stuff for keyword 10 times on the article and it will instantly rank for that, that keyword. Nowadays, it’s much more about writing for the audience. I think you know, much more alignment to the readers, you’re going to make sure again. Not only were they on the sales funnel, write that content appropriate for that, but understand you can go to transactional for your content. And Google will not will penalize you for that reason as well. You can understand, you’ve got to write content for that reader.
Colton Moffitt 13:14 Gotcha. And where that readers is at, at that time? And what do you feel about the the email marketing element or building communities so that you can keep that contact with that person throughout their journey and get your content sort of segmented and targeted?
Larry Ludwig 13:32 Well, I mean, I’m always of the mindset that email is definitely critical, you should still use it. But I’m now with the mindset of the you gotta own the list. And you you control by having a mailing list, you own it, when in fact, you know, I made the comment of Google still, you still have to deal with Google at that level, because Google is the biggest email provider and you’re dealing with, you know, I think it was 80% of the marketplace. If Google decides to put your email in the spam folder, it might as well just not even be delivered. So you have to be aware of or leaving the tabs, which I’ve noted to be a 10% decrease in open rate. So you’re still in the control of Google at some level with you an email. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have an email list you should, must definitely. But I would also think I’m more concerned with multi channel. So you have a YouTube channel, email shop, you know, email list, a push notification, a SEO, a paid traffic of social media, you have all these contents, you have the various channels. And these are the ways that people can get in touch with you. So you’re not relying on Google, unlike I did, you know, initially rely on Google too much. And so the negative effects from that so it definitely you have to make sure you diversify your audience.
Colton Moffitt 14:38 Quick question back to the issue of the actual writing. Did you do all the writing yourself? Or did you have writers? Did you bring them in to pay outsource writers? Were there contributors? How’d you handle that?
Larry Ludwig 14:50 Initially, it was just me. Well, I initially wrote the blog in 2009 until about 2012-ish. It was just me. And then after that, I hired an editor. So to make sure the quality of content was up to snuff, and started harshly hiring consultants to write articles on the site wanted because it just got too unwieldy. There’s just too many articles that needed to be written. But also on top of that, it was just one of the things I started focusing on much more was updating the content. We wanted to make sure for review or whatever it may be, people would read that article and understand it was updated as of the date of the whatever change they made to that service, or let’s say a rule change in regulations for retirement plans, we want to make sure people came to the site and understood it was updated as of that date. That’s what a lot of work, we focused much more. In other words, there’s only so much stuff you can talk about in investment space. And I think that applies to pretty much any niche out there. And you really need to focus on keeping that content updated and current, as opposed to having a content it looks six month old. It just looks outdated for readers and causes a poor experience. And Google also, I think penalizes you for that reason as well.
Colton Moffitt 15:58 Yeah, that makes a lot of sense and when you have that evolution of your business throughout, you bring in more people because you run into new challenges. What did that do to your skill sets? You know, from the very beginning of your career until now, what do you think has been the most dramatic shift other than going from web development into affiliate stuff? Maybe in the past five years, where if you really ground your skills?
Larry Ludwig 16:19 Much more understanding the sales funnel process, meaning…really where people are in that journey, and how it applies to paid traffic, SEO, social media, email, and really getting that you’re creating that story and that narrative where they are and making sure again, you’re targeting that audience the right way. In other words, again, where are they on the sales funnel? You shouldn’t again, hit them hard for…I use this example quite a bit is what is mortgages, much different intense than what’s the best mortgage rate? So the case of what is a mortgage, we’re really educating the person on a mortgage, as opposed to hitting them over the head with the best mortgage rates, which a lot of people I see do I think it’s a classic mistake. You think that because of their wanting to find out information on something, you should also hit them over the head with other stuff. And what you should do is be linking at minimum linking to other articles on your site, but not just purely doing a transaction or looking for a transaction, you should be educating and helping that person along the way.
Colton Moffitt 17:16 Yeah, that’s so key. And you see a lot of kind of lower end blogs and lower quality sites that are out there. And they’re clearly spun up to make some cash. And that’s a huge part of the industry. And there’s nothing really wrong with that people learning they’re already getting along the way toward their own their own skill development. But what are some of the other big mistakes you see, because you’re working with clients, now you’re helping them get better at this? What are the big ones for someone listening to this, they could just quickly go change dramatically?
Larry Ludwig 17:45 I would have to say the biggest issue I find is the lack of tracking. And one of the things I always focused on is attribution is properly measuring…you know the conversions be, again, my case with affiliate products, but people don’t do it with their own products. I mean, I find that fascinating that people will pay for traffic, and then not know what the ROI and they’re just you’re crossing your fingers and hoping that it works. And that’s not that’s the recipe for failure. I say that’s probably the biggest issue I’ve seen is people just not properly measuring, and seeing how well stuff converts. If you’re not doing that you don’t know if what you’re doing is better or worse. And same thing can be applied to SEO same thing can be applied to anything you do. It’s just measuring, are you are you improving every day or you’re getting worse? And Google helps you at least convert that black box into something that’s more clear.
Colton Moffitt 18:33 Okay, cool. Something to really listen to you guys. If you’re watching this, listen to this and you don’t have your tracking dialed in. Not only are you leaving money on the table, opening yourself up to risk and everything that Larry has said, but you also make it harder for someone to buy your business later on. So, in keeping that in mind, I’d like to sort of shift into a discussion of making connections, you know, your business development efforts and how you can connect with advertisers and leverage those relationships to optimize your site revenue? How you can connect with your affiliate managers optimize your site.
Larry Ludwig 19:07 Yeah, I mean, the biggest thing I decided early on was having close relationships with the affiliate managers, without question, and eventually hired a person specifically for that purpose. All she did was literally work with every vendor that we had a relationship with, even tried, of course, to get other relationships as well. So she works very closely with the various merchants and making sure that we a they were happy, but also be you know, B, making sure we can say hey, here’s an idea that we can help better convert because of with affiliate marketing, unlike, say, traditional ad banners, once they leave your site, you’re pretty much in the hands of the merchant to make sure they properly handle that customer to convert. And some cases people do on their side the classic mistakes of like sending them to a homepage, having a poor landing page, you know, lack of tracking on their site as well, or just issues that just come along with anything, any type of marketing campaign. So therefore you’ve got to make sure you really want closely with these vendors, in some cases, they got it in some cases they don’t. I mean, that’s the classic issue. So without question, making sure you have a close relationship with them, and understanding what their needs are and making sure you’re in the end your, your product, and in our case, the reviews we had the comparisons were accurate. That was one of the things we always told the the merchants in the end, they couldn’t determine whether we gave a positive and negative review. But in the end, if there’s any issues with the review in terms of features and functionality, it was missing or not accurate. By all means. We’re like, tell us, you know, if you’re introducing new feature, tell us immediately, you know, don’t leave us hanging where we have to go out and figure out, hey, you added this new feature three months ago, well, why didn’t you tell us this? You know, some cases some merchants got that. And some cases we had to figure out on our own. Oh, yeah, they added this new feature, we got to update our review to make sure that includes that documentation.
Colton Moffitt 20:49 Yeah, that makes sense. So when you’ve got these issues too, and you go and you get your your various deal struck, and you’re able to get better rates better condition might be awesome in a way but you have to maintain the integrity, the integrity of your content, the integrity of your messaging. And as you mentioned earlier, there’s so many personal finance and investment directed blogs, or content sources online, which are really, they’re not writing so much for the reader they’re writing to the affiliate program offers the best condition.
Larry Ludwig 21:18 The readers get that too. I think they see right through that nowadays. And I think that hurts ultimately their brand. I mean, if you’re trying to create a brand for longevity, and not purely just a short term game for income, you’ve got to go down that path you’ve got to be ultimately for your readers. In the end, that’s ultimately who’s paying for the traffic for your site. And you also have to make sure everyone’s happy. I mean, what I just waited was sending the certain visitor to the wrong service. Our goal is ultimately make sure this person went to the right service that was right for them. And everyone in the end was happy. I was happy. Our company was happy. The merchant we worked with was happy and the person that you sign up for that said service was happy and everyone benefited, but we want to make sure everyone’s happy in that process.
Colton Moffitt 22:00 That’s a great point to visualize the full lifecycle of where that dollar comes from that you ultimately get paid. It does start with the customer, even if you’re an affiliate, even if you’re running, you have ads on your site, the money ultimately needs to come in your mind from that person that you’re serving with your information. Where do you think that shift really started to happen in the personal finance and investment niche, but also, more broadly, in kind of online content? There was a lot of I want to say between 2005 and 2010. There was a lot of garbage out there that people hadn’t quite caught on to yet.
Larry Ludwig 22:35 Yeah. When did it start? I mean, I think when some of the blogs started selling for seven figures, I think just when people realized, Hey, this is a real business, it’s not just a little hobby, you can make a few thousand dollars off of it. I think people started realizing that I think really started to grow the idea of Hey, you know, what is the long game we can do very well at it. But also making sure that you’re not like you said, not just purely doing it for a short term play for income, again, a lot of people have done that have disappeared in the process. I mean, I’ve known or seen many bloggers who have burnt out after a few years of doing this. And you know, needless to say, I was around for 10 years before, so…and I’ve quite a few other friends have been around the same period. Because of they bet longevity. They understand, you know, the short term pain, perhaps, of maybe decreasing your income. It’s a long term game of just being around, you know, to survive and thrive in the end. We’re against someone who’s doing it just purely for revenue will get hurt, I think will wind up putting their brand and hurting their reputation and disappearing very quickly, because people see right through that.
Colton Moffitt 23:41 Absolutely. And that has been so accelerated now with how much everything is easily accessible information about people. It’s not as easy to put up. Well…let me take that back. It’s just as easy to put up a site with a fake picture and a fake name and do that sort of and say it’s a pseudonym and it’s okay. But there’s also a much greater appreciation now of people who are willing to put their name and their face out there. Just because of how much scamming did happen in the past and the internet marketing world got a really bad, really bad name. But functionally, digital marketing is almost the only marketing is everything’s integrated.
Larry Ludwig 24:20 Yes, exactly. I mean, the interesting thing I found out is I actually created Investor Junkie without my name on it. I was anonymous. In fact, in around 2012, around that same period, I decided to, you know, make sure it was branded as much, you know, I was part of the company because of…I want to make sure again, we’re legitimate. And again, it legitimizes that you’re not some no name, given advice on various products and services that you want to give a background, who without question, I mean, that goes also to Google as well. Ironically, Google aligns all that stuff now even more so than previously where the whole idea of EAT, eat. Google’s algorithm, you’re making sure you have that expertise, authority and trust you’re part of is just by having your name on the site. Actually, I’ve consulted a few clients, where they have nothing on there. They’re just an anonymous blob brand. But they have no author names, which this is bizarre, because if you want to have that you it adds credibility not only to the readers, non SEOs idea, but from even from Google as well, nowadays, they’re very much in alignment, which is great for your perspective, because you can it’s one, it’s harder for others the game, SEO, but also for your end it if your authority in the space, you can easily rank for content, where before it was you again, you had to play these stupid tricks.
Colton Moffitt 25:31 Right. That’s a troubling and frustrating balancing act if you’re going to sell it, I’m sure. You know, there’s a way to handle…my brand is associated with this as an individual. But my brand is not the entire business. And so that’s something where we at Domain Magnate and have acquired somewhere. Yeah, there’s a very clear author that the readers are familiar with, and it’s a real person, the seller, but it’s relatively easy to make the transition. It’s a process and we get better at it every every time we do it but it is a little bit daunting versus someone who’s whose whole business is wrapped around who they are, which is that’s a tough sell.
Larry Ludwig 26:08 I mean, I have a few friends who have sold their blogs and one of them you know, get rich slowly. Katie Roth is the author. And he was very well known in the space, he started, I think 2004 blogging. We started monetizing I think around 2007. And he sold it to Quinn Street in 2009. I want to say 2010, I believe, and again, that was so tied to him. And he actually stayed on board for a few years. And ultimately, he bought back in 2016. I want to say he didn’t disclose the amount he bought it back. But I’m sure it’s pennies on the dollar from what originally was sold for. And in the end, he’s, of course happy with it because he owns that blog and has all that content again. But again, I can’t imagine buying someone who’s so much tied into the brand, that it just doesn’t make sense. You want to hear we’re looking to acquire a website or blog. You should have it should be A brand into itself, at least at some level, that the person who created or founded it, be removed out of it. And someone else can be inserted in with maybe not no difference in quality, but it’s not discernible to the average reader, where maybe someone who’s really highly engaged highly big fan of that blog, or the website will notice, but the average person won’t. And but most of the personal finance space, it’s the exact opposite, usually that the personal finance person is the expert is the authority, and so ingrained into a blog, it’s very hard to remove that person. So some of the companies like your web pals who acquired me, have had a difficult time finding blogs that meet that criteria because of that reason.
Colton Moffitt 27:38 Right. It’s a challenge. And it’s, it’s an important one to deal with. If you’re right now you’re a buyer, or you’re going to sell at some point, just being aware of strategies you can use to make that go well, there are cases where as Larry saying here, most readers won’t notice they’re not necessarily super engaged or attached to the personality. There are other cases. is where it’s a larger business. And you want to have a, you know, kind of PR friendly way of saying, this is a great thing for what this project is and what we’re trying to do for you, the reader or the customer, we’re now going to be able to do it even better, because we’ve been acquired and this is what’s happening with the founder and yada, yada, and turn it into a positive because generally people that do have some brand loyalty don’t like to wake up one day to find out that some faceless corporate entity or private equity firm is now running the show, and they might just stop reading. So now for you. You don’t want any more hosting business in your life and you got a non compete in the personal finance kind of space. So financial publishing, maybe in general, if you were to go buy a business tomorrow, what would it be?
Larry Ludwig 28:47 I have been looking for acquiring again, you have the gears always running in the back of your head with the entrepreneurial spirit. And I guess I’ve been looking for other niches outside of personal finance, of course, and I’ve there’s few of them to look at, the problem is the multiples I’ve seen are just too way too high, or their demands their traffic they get the amount of revenue they generate. And the multiple they’re asking for is just crazy. And I just can’t see myself acquiring some of them. So so far, I have not found anyone out there. But I’ve been looking at various niches really completely different from the personal finance, like one of them was an auto blog. Another one was, the other one was in furniture. I from my end, again, the issues came down to more multiples. And you know, but their opportunity was there. I think they were under, I think most blogs or most, most sites in general are under monetized or not monetized well enough. And it again goes back to the quality over quantity. What matters is how well you’re monetizing not how much blog visitors you get per month. And I think people still lose sight of that fact. So I was looking at opportunities in this space is the ones there, you see are not a really well designed site. You see the generate income on a regular basis and maybe have some loyal fan base, but there’s just not you can see opportunities for upsells or down cells or other ways to monetize, say through affiliate format that matter if they actually have their own products and services that you just didn’t think about yet. And that’s really you create a better relationship with that customer. So but right now, I have not found any blog or website interested in acquiring just yet. Oh, hopefully.
Colton Moffitt 30:20 Well, hopefully, our audience doesn’t inundate you with emails offering. At the end, when we when we ask how they can get in contact with you, maybe you’ll be careful.
Larry Ludwig 30:32 I mean, my I’m fine with that. Honestly, if it’s a good offer I’m interested.
Colton Moffitt 30:37 Good, good. So that actually you know it brings to mind the idea of the multiples and we we also struggle with this on the buy side operating and his from micro private equity capacity. Our view of the multiples that are going around right now is a little bit sour, like all right, we’ve got to find more motivated sellers. We have to go more off market, we can just do things the way it was easier a few years ago. But on the brokerage side and we do some brokers, I do, Michael does involve with a brokerage efforts. So you could say to their credit, you know, the brokerages have really professionalized over the past five years, they’re able to get higher prices, big buyer lists and do proper due diligence and marketing for those opportunities. Where do you think that is going to get to be uncomfortable? Because for you, you’re saying these and these multiples are a bit ridiculous. What is the comfortable multiple for for your risk tolerance? And, and do you think that we’re going too far now towards the 36, 48 months? You know, beyond that.
Larry Ludwig 31:39 Good question, I guess. I mean, like anything, wherever the market bares and what other people are buying doesn’t mean necessarily, like, I look at no different, hence my background with investing. It’s no different than investing in the stock market. You know, just because of the multiples are out there doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. And there are cases like WeWork being a classic example that happened a few months ago before we went public, and just the multiples they’re asking for and how they’re evaluated at just didn’t make sense. It was just ludicrous. The numbers they were asking. And it can be the same thing with smaller markets like we’re doing here with blogs, you know, with affiliate marketing or otherwise, or even Amazon stores. We have seen many Amazon stores asking multiples is just insane for just the Amazon store, no actual physical storefront or blogger or separate website for that matter. I just find that bizarre as well, because you’re relying on one channel. I mean, as a person buying those type of sites I would look at as opportunity to maybe again, they’re under monetized. So I mean, to your point, I don’t know if there’s a right answer or a wrong answer to this question. I guess it really depends. It really depends on the niche your business is in and the other is, you know, what opportunities do you see to grow that business? And if it’s fully maxed out, then it’s purely an income play for you and then you should be expecting a certain multiple whatever that may be. If it’s below, if there’s under monetize, then you know, you even though they may be paying a high, or asking for high multiple, you see huge opportunities for growth, in the end you’re still coming out ahead. So I don’t see any disadvantage for high multiple, it’s just a matter of what opportunities you see to increase that revenue.
Colton Moffitt 33:14 Right. And on the buy side, you know that it’s going to differ from team to team or individual who has different kinds of skills and connections. And so what multiple you’re willing to pay again, it’s kind of various, as Larry says, but on the sell side, if you are looking to sell your business and you’ve got a number of things that need doing still, and you know that it’s really not fully maximized, then, knowing that there are actually quite a few opportunities in the market for people, you have to be realistic. And you definitely have to find ways of increasing your competitive moat, so to speak, because the barriers to entry for online businesses are so low and the risks of them disappearing overnight are so high that you don’t typically get the same kind of businesses you get, for instance, you mentioned a publicly or now publicly traded company. But some of these venture backed startups in the ideas of what multiple could be gotten later, that is just not really applicable here. So it’s a funny little balance that we’re working with. But I find it interesting. We always have to evaluate that what can we do? What’s too high? How do we know this is a great deal? And we turned down a lot of good deals and people who are listening to this right now may have actually tried to sell something to us. And it’s not that it wasn’t a good business. It’s just that we knew the opportunity cost of not going with others was not acceptable.
Larry Ludwig 34:39 The festive Warren Buffett statement, you know, you can go bat and you want to swing whenever you want to, and not be called, you know, called out. It’s the ultimate you you decide, you know, if you have the money, you can swing whenever you want. You don’t have to swing at every pitch that’s thrown to you. And right now, I think that people lose sight of that. Like, I think a lot of, I mean again, there’s some companies that They’re venture capital based and want to have a huge acquisition. And they’re forced to, you know, a certain amount of acquisitions per quarter per year. And I think that’s for small business owner like myself, you’re not playing that game, your ultimate is your money, you decide which is the best fit. And it depends on where you want to allocate, it doesn’t make sense to put it in things like the stock market or other investments, you’re always comparing your investments to other other opportunities out there. So it’s an opportunity cost from your end you don’t have to put into a company you could put into a CD if you want to. I mean, as boring as that sounds, but you know, what other opportunities are out there. It’s a matter of, if the multiples are too high, you just sit and wait.
Colton Moffitt 35:36 Right? These adjustments they happen…it’s kind of these leaps. And then you’ve got a little bit of this is the standard is the industry standard, and then a big leap again. And I think that that has to do with the cycles of digital marketing and global commerce and gentlemen, so when I was working on previously with Flippa, as an account manager, and there was a six month period, it seemed like every single lead that came in some of the ones that list, deal with account manager was a Shopify drop shipping store, there was one of Facebook ads to a one or two products, were inundated with them the edexcel. But just the expectations were sometimes way off. So when there’s a flood of them, obviously that shifted.
Larry Ludwig 36:15 Oh yeah, Amazon is doing the same thing right now.
Colton Moffitt 36:17 The FBA stuff is all over the place. And it was interesting with FBA is that people are more reliably able to get something that looks like a very substantial business. If they run it for a few years. It doesn’t look as easily replaced and copied as a Shopify store, although it pretty much is, but it has a certain air of this is more legitimate. I’m not certain exactly why that is, but that has been the way it was.
Larry Ludwig 36:43 I mean, my end you’re still relying on one channel. If Amazon decides to sell or undercut your price, you’re kind of screwed. And you can’t rely on just one source of traffic. So from my end, that’s, I think, a recipe for disaster no different than relying on Google for SEO only.
Colton Moffitt 36:58 Right and I actually have a very good friend who works in operations and accounting or excuse me, marketing head for a, they actually have their warehouse, they don’t use third party logistics and they have a pretty substantial amount of products and skews and 65,000. It’s a pretty massive operation, but a small team that does it. And they’re able to because of things like Amazon, and things like Sears and Walmart and all these other channels they use and they use a company called Channel Advisor to help them manage all that since it’s gotten out of hand. But when you look at buying a business like Amazon FBA business, it is also really important to say, well, when are they just on Amazon? Is it just that one traffic source and the risks that Larry’s talking about? Or do they also have their listings on Sears, Walmart, Newegg, whatever it is, they’re selling the appropriate sort of sub niche marketplaces. It’s a hassle. It’s more of a hassle for us the buyer but if they have a team in place in a larger one will, that’s a real business that’s going to be around for a while and not something that was created because someone bought a course did it and now they bought a new course and they want to go do that other thing. Nothing wrong with it. But different multiple different profiles different risks. Now, I want to get your kind of prophetic insight into where you think the next 5-10 years where things going on. You’ve talked a lot about Google, really kind of doing some good things really in catering to the quality for the user and reader. So let’s hear what you what you think is coming next.
Larry Ludwig 38:31 I actually wrote an article recently on my own website, Larryludwig.com about this. So I wrote actually, what is it nine? I said, yeah, blogging trends for the next 10 years and be one of the big ones was the less organic search without question and you really just compare the stats from 2014 to now. It was a 8% decrease. So people are getting less click through rates through Google. And that’s only you know, past eight years or so. And that’s a huge difference. So you got to make sure and that’s just the number one thing position no less. I mean, keypoint gets dramatically worse once you’re past number one. So that’s a big issue. Because Google wants to keep people obviously on their site, and I can’t blame them. So that means you’re, I mean, in the end, people must think of SEO, social media, what have you, you’re still you’re renting that traffic. You’re not you don’t own it, you know, a mailing list, you do own to a degree, but the problem is getting delivery. But with that said, you got to think of it as you’re just renting this traffic, you’ve got to treat it as such. And that means you got to do other ways to get people to your site via through podcasts, Youtube Video Channel, you know, paid traffic, social media, what have you, you got to look at other channels. You can’t just rely on just one channel, no matter what your business is. I mean, I think the biggest issue, people lose sight of that I’ve seen so many businesses go out of business. Because they had this you know, the Instagram I think I forget the name of the business, but they were relying on Instagram for all the traffic, Instagram instantly changed their algorithm. And the next day they’re out of business. And it’s a shame but that’s people rely on things you can’t control. So that’s always, I think the number one issue. And it’s I mean, obviously, for me, who was affiliate marketing, you know, obviously, I can’t control those products and services. And I knew that was, you know, one of the reasons I can’t say ultimately I sold but it was a lot in those games I looked at, it was just relying on too much. Eventually, I knew in order to get to the next level of income, I had to be a much different company. And I knew I had to have my own products and services. I knew I knew I had to have courses. But at the time the offer came down it was the offer was right. So I decided to sell and lock in those gains. So that’s one thing. I think the biggest thing that I found fascinating in the past 25 years of being in this industry, is the idea of, we’ve taken for granted of all this free content. And you know, honestly, people haven’t monetized…they’re are the products in the sense of, you know, these ad banners or affiliate, really more ad banners and affiliate marketing, but people are the product and you’re being marketed to by targeted ads. And I think we’re gonna see more gated content, more content behind a firewater paywalls you will, then we’ve seen previously, I mean, even look at the Wall Street Journal’s been very successful at it, or New York Times has actually been very successful at it. And even you look at things like Disney plus, we’re kind of eliminating that middleman the whole idea of having going to a movie theater, or you know, getting to your first CD at Walmart, it’s all been eliminated, literally overnight. Now, Disney is going directly to the consumer at a flat rate per month, behind a paywall. And that, to me is the future of everyone’s content for the most part. I mean, you have to give away some free content out there, to entice the reader to, you know, engage in your site and be interested, eventually pay for something. I think we’re going to see much more dawn as a way of just rely on advertising as a revenue model. I think it’s just one is people getting sick and tired of seeing ad banners and all these pop ups and hence the putting more ad blockers on their browsers. But I think also it’s just becoming less and less effective.
Colton Moffitt 41:53 Yeah, and when you’re going forward in the next five years, if you’re running a site, think about it…okay, this idea, what you’re describing is kind of coinciding with the the death of truth that some people have been declined, like the 21st century is so hard to know what’s true because there’s so much information. And something would be 99% True 1% BS and you’ll repeat the BS because it came with a full plate of truth. And it spreads virally. And there may be now a point at which people are realizing, hey, content I paid for I can trust much more than content that’s free.
Larry Ludwig 42:28 Yep. I mean, it’s also another trend I see as well as the whole idea of deep fake. You know, I talked about in my blog post here, personal brands, I think personal brands are even more important and more critical in the next 10 years. That’s not to say I mean, ironically, I’ve created or transitioning more to my own personal brand, and but in the same notion to us, and we’ve come more scalable than ever with the idea of deep fake. If you look at things like video and audio, you can easily replicate, you know someone like myself, even though I’m an actual physical person, you can turn into whole like Max Headroom style type of automation where they can literally spew out videos and podcasts, and you would never be the wiser, it’s actually a computer doing it instead. And that’s I think the trend we’re gonna see in the next 10 years, is you’ll be able to create a personal brand that’s scalable, you know, infinitely compared to what you’re only limited by your own personal time and availability. But I think it’s gonna be a fascinating change that not always your point, it’s hard to determine whether it’s real or fake. In the end, if you’re a personal brand, it won’t matter as long as it’s trustworthy, that that brand again, even if it’s done by computer, ultimately, they’ve respect and trust that brand, because if it’s been said by that brand.
Colton Moffitt 43:38 Gotcha. And so it’s personalized, it’s a human type entity that they that they’re receiving the information from, but ultimately, it doesn’t need to be. In fact, in China, they’ve rolled out I think, a male and a female algorithmically generated, essentially a deep fake type of news cast. It’s a very fascinating movement and people are apparently comfortable with that. And we don’t have any problem watching a cinematic in a video game and appreciating that. So we’re really just that little bit of uncanny valley being bridged now.
Larry Ludwig 44:11 Yeah. I mean, I have an example of my own website from Joe Rogan, the podcaster. They’re all, it’s all deep fake, you cannot tell the difference. It’s not Joe Rogan speaking this podcast. It’s just amazing. So you have to think in those terms for your own site. I mean, the technology is becoming become so cheap, be easily available, you can easily do it yourself, and use it to your own advantage for your own business. So by all means, I think that’s one of the things you got to keep aware of, is the idea of people do want a shortcut. They want it, you know, just tell me the answer, don’t make me think they want someone to tell them, here’s what you should do and then therefore, personal brands do become even more important than before.
Colton Moffitt 44:50 And you have shifted to your personal brand. And so I’d like to take a moment and talk about what’s next for you. Larryludwig.com the way that you’re approaching teaching people and helping them kind of get to where some of the points that you’ve been at. What else is in it for you? And what are you hoping to do in the next few years?
Larry Ludwig 45:07 I mean, like I said, I think is a huge opportunity in education. I think there’s a huge opportunity to help other fellow entrepreneurs, effectively market and promote their brands. And I’ve been working on doing consulting and creating courses to help fellow entrepreneurs.
Colton Moffitt 45:25 Great. And you know, for those who are listening or watching and they think you seem like you really know what you’re talking about, and they would like to work with you, or at least learn more about what you’re up to and check out some of those articles. There’s Larryludwig.com, L-U-D-W-I-G, we’ll have a link, but let us know is there anywhere else that they should get in touch with you something more direct? And if there’s anything else that you would like to kind of announce right now that maybe they’d be interested in?
Larry Ludwig 45:51 Um, yeah, actually two things. So I have a if you go to Larryludwig.com/podcast I have a sign up for my mailing list, you can actually get a guide on affiliate marketing, the things you should avoid in affiliate marketing, I think they’ll be helpful some of the audience. Outside of that I’m working on a course on how, if you sign up for my mailing list. I haven’t released it yet, but I’m working on a course on a full time bloggers. So helping people who come from…unfortunate a lot of people are part time, and really not generating much revenue from their websites. My goal is to help people become full time at it. You know, I think a lot of people aspire, when they’re first going down on this entrepreneur path, they may be monetizing at some level, without really fully utilizing the capabilities of what can be done on the web. And my goal is that with the course to help them,
Larry Ludwig 45:52 Yeah, and it can be really helpful when you’re doing these kinds of things to have somebody who has the outside perspective, and because we know you’re sitting there and well, I should do this, and I should do that. And these are ways I could probably squeeze a little more money on this. I’m leaving money on the table there. But which one do I do first? And which one’s gonna give me the most impact? So having that outside view that’s been there and done that is hepful.
Larry Ludwig 47:02 Not only that, but it’s the…I’m not you know, I don’t recommend doing the pushy sales either. It’s a matter of, you know, promoting or discussing something at the right time is the right moment for everything again, going back to what is a mortgage pushing someone for the best mortgage rate is really not the right time for it. You have to understand that there’s a build up you have to do, you can’t just instantly you know, buy my stuff you can’t just doesn’t work that way. I think a lot of people lose that lose sight of that fact.
Colton Moffitt 47:28 Yeah, well, unless you’re standing outside selling a beer in 95 degree weather. Pretty much you’re gonna have to build a relationship. So Larryludwig.com/podcast, get on the mailing list, check out the podcast and check out the upcoming course and if there’s anything else that they need, can they reach you on LinkedIn or email?
Larry Ludwig 47:52 Easiest way just go to Larryludwig.com I have a contact form on the bottom of page. I mean, I hate giving out like, here’s my Twitter account, my Facebook. Here’s the The five different ways go to Larryludwig.com, it’s easy enough that way.
Colton Moffitt 48:03 Yeah, all the channels are there. All right. Thank you so much Larry, it’s been great to chat with Larry Ludwig. If you want to work with him, go check out Larryludwig.com, if you don’t want to work with him yet, check out the podcast. Anyway. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Larry Ludwig 48:17 Thank you.
Colton Moffitt 48:19 Domain Magnate is a leader in buying and selling online businesses with a proven track record of expertise gained from over 300 deals since 2004. To learn more about how we can help you acquire or exit and profitable online business today, head over to Domainmagnate.com for more details.
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