Welcome to The Blogger Genius Podcast brought to you by MiloTree. Here’s your host, Jillian Leslie.
Jillian Leslie 0:10
Hey guys, welcome back to The Blogger Genius Podcast. This is Episode 59. My guest today is Lars Hundley. This is interesting. If you think about diverse income streams, Lars is your guy.
So first off, he has a an e-commerce business called Clean Air Gardening, and what’s cool is he not only sells stuff on his website, he’s also a big Amazon seller. And we’re going to get way into what that means, what’s going on on Amazon today, how to sell products.
Also, he has two blogs that he has grown. One is Gardeningchannel.com. The other is Roadbikerider.com. Now, Gardeningchannel.com, he has grown his Facebook page to, gosh, millions of followers. I’ll tell you, 1.4 million fans on Facebook. Pretty cool.
So let’s get into this because we want to talk about — you’re going to hear how he thinks about Facebook, how he thinks about growing his businesses, the multiple income streams he has, and also what it’s like to be an Amazon seller today.
So without further ado, here is Lars Hundley. Lars, welcome to the show.
Lars Hundley 1:29
Hi, thank you for having me.
Jillian Leslie 1:31
So the way that we connected was you sent me this really long email about MiloTree, about the podcast, and I was so touched that I said, “Please, come on the show because I want to learn about your businesses.”
Lars Hundley 1:47
Yeah, it’s funny that you say ‘really long email’. That’s what my wife says about all my emails, too.
Jillian Leslie 1:52
Oh really? It was very specific and it was interesting because I kept wondering, as I’m reading this, like, you know, what’s your angle, and there was no angle. It was just to say thank you.
Lars Hundley 2:05
Well, yeah. It was because I had read the transcript of one of your podcast and I really enjoyed it. And it also validated something that it was a theory I had about Pinterest and I was doing something similar. And I just thought, “Wow, this is awesome,” so I had to send you an email.
Jillian Leslie 2:23
Thank you so much. And I don’t know if people know this, but we have transcripts for every episode. If you just go to, if you search for The Blogger Genius podcast, you’ll see that we have transcripts. So I’m so glad because I wasn’t sure if anybody was reading the transcripts.
Lars Hundley 2:45
Yeah. The way I found it was I clicked through on…
I’m on your email list as well and I clicked through and it’s right there underneath the podcast itself where you can either hit play or you just scroll down a little bit and then it starts. And so I can read things so much faster than listening and so I could just tear through them. And I really prefer it that way.
Jillian Leslie 3:06
Oh, that’s great. And you also use MiloTree?
Lars Hundley 3:09
Uh-huh. I use it on Gardeningchannel.com. And I’ve been using it for I think, two years now.
Jillian Leslie 3:16
Wow. And what are you growing with it?
Lars Hundley 3:18
Well, so I started out using it to grow my Facebook audience. And I’ve got a pretty big Facebook, like, following.
Jillian Leslie 3:33
Wait, I have to stop you, I have to stop you. It’s not just pretty big; It’s ginormous. Can you share how many followers you have on Facebook?
Lars Hundley 3:42
Okay, it’s 1.4 million people.
Jillian Leslie 3:44
Oh, my God. Okay.
Lars Hundley 3:46
But I would say when I started with your plugin, it was, I think two years ago it was less than a million. So I believe your plugin was helpful in growing it like that.
But in the meantime, you know, the reach from even a very large Facebook page like that is nothing compared to what it used to be. So I actually use your plugin now to promote my Pinterest page instead, and it’s also very useful for that.
And my Pinterest followers have grown pretty substantially, too, and I think it really helps my Pinterest account to show that there’s a lot of followers, even though the way the algorithm works these days, I don’t know how important it actually is to have them.
Jillian Leslie 4:33
Right. Well, what we know is it is. Because what happens is you pin something and it gets shown to your followers first. If they start to interact with that pin, it tells the algorithm “ooh, this is good content,” and then it will show it to a wider and wider audience.
So your followers are like your testers and because they have a commonality, like they’ve actually decided to follow you, hopefully, then they will like what you’re doing and it will help give your stuff a boost.
So that’s what we know about how follower count fits in to the algorithm.
Lars Hundley 5:19
Jillian Leslie 5:20
They’re you’re good, like, you know, beta testers.
Lars Hundley 5:24
Awesome. Yeah, Pinterest is still sort of a mystery to me, but I’m figuring it out. And I do a lot of my own Pinterest now. And I use it on a different site, actually, also that’s a site that has mostly a male audience,
Jillian Leslie 5:46
And how are you finding that because I think for men, Pinterest is a secret weapon.
Lars Hundley 5:54
I 100% completely agree with that. You know, I personally do not use Pinterest other than pinning things.
And I have two accounts that I run. Because one, I’m not really a visual person; I’m more of a text person. And two, just, I don’t know, it’s not my, I don’t know, it just doesn’t click with me for some reason.
And for the longest time, I thought, well, this is just something dudes don’t use Pinterest. And it’s a girl thing or something.
But I decided, “Well, you know what, I’m going to to mess around with this anyway.” I bought a cycling website. Cycling is my other hobby other than gardening that I’m really into. And I mean bicycling.
And so I built a Pinterest account, had no followers, and I started just building original vertical pins with my own photography, you know, because I had a bunch of photography from different bike races that, you know, I had the copyright to.
And I would make pins for, like, some of my articles that seemed, you know, that were kind of general evergreen articles about cycling. And I started getting regular traffic from it.
And also, it seemed to really help with my SEO with newer articles. I would, you know, pin it at the same time that I would post it, and then it would get re-pinned and I would get some clicks that way and then suddenly, Google would pick it up seemingly faster.
And I was surprised that there’s definitely guys using Pinterest. In fact, if I look at my Pinterest analytics on that cycling site, it’s around 50% men, which I don’t think Pinterest itself is anywhere near 50% men yet, but there’s guys.
And since no one else is really pinning cycling content either, it’s been great. I’ve got like a secret traffic source that all the other cycling sites don’t want to have anything to do with because they’d be too embarrassed to be, like, associated with Pinterest because it’s like some thing that they think is only for home decorating.
Jillian Leslie 8:25
Exactly. In fact, there is this synergy between Pinterest and Google.
For example, so our site that we built is called Catch My Party, and we are the largest party ideas site on the web. What we have for content… And we, by the way, just crossed over a million followers on Pinterest.
So Pinterest drives a ton of traffic to Catch My Party, but what’s interesting is our boards will rank number one on Google for certain keywords. So our boards will rank higher than our site will rank.
So it’s kind of a circuitous route in that you search for something specific. I don’t know if this is like an example which would be like rainbow Trolls birthday parties or something like that.
And we, let’s say, have a trolls board, it will rank number one on Google. And then of course, you click on it and then you end up clicking on a whole host of our pins and end up on our traffic on our site that way.
But it’s really interesting how Google, if there aren’t people writing blog posts about rainbow Trolls parties, our Pinterest content shows.
Lars Hundley 9:46
Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s also a good way sometimes to get two spots in the search engines on the front page because they can find you those two different ways. Maybe they’ll find your blog post and also the Pinterest thing.
It’s sort of like the way YouTube is both its own search engine, but also YouTube videos will appear in the Google search results. So you can also create a YouTube video about some kind of keyword that’s pretty good, and suddenly you’ll find yourself rank in both places.
Jillian Leslie 10:18
Absolutely. Let’s take a step back because I want to hear about your journey. Not only are you this very successful blogger, you also have an e-commerce site. How did you get into this?
Lars Hundley 10:33
So I have been making a living online since 1998, so this my 21st year.
Jillian Leslie 10:42
Lars Hundley 10:44
And the first two years, I still had a day job. But since 2000, I’ve been completely self-employed.
And my real business, my day job is actually in e-commerce. I run a site called Cleanairgardening.com that sells eco-friendly lawn and garden equipment, like old fashioned push lawn mowers and compost bins and gardening tools and things like that.
Jillian Leslie 11:15
Okay. And you’ve always, I guess, had an affinity toward gardening.
Lars Hundley 11:20
Well, you know, strangely, no. When I started that site, actually, the original domain name was Clean Air Mowing and I only sold the push lawn mowers. And the reason why I launched that is because I was running a house and I had to take care of my own lawn
And I didn’t own a lawn mower and I was too cheap to, like, buy an expensive Toro or something like that. And so I went to, I don’t remember if it was Home Depot or Lowes, but one of the big box stores and hidden down on the bottom shelf was an old-fashioned push lawn mower.
I bought it because it was only $100 or something and it worked. And I thought, wow, nobody even knows about these.
And it started the wheels turning because I was working for a web development company at the time.
Jillian Leslie 12:10
Okay, so you’re techie. So you understand technology.
Lars Hundley 12:13
Well, I was doing PR for them, so I’m only semi-technical. I’m not a programmer or anything like that. But I’ve always been, you know, I guess semi-techie maybe.
Jillian Leslie 12:23
Lars Hundley 12:25
So it turned out there was a really cool German-made push mower that’s like the Mercedes of push mowers. And I found a guy that was importing those into the United States and started an important relationship with him, because we both lived in Colorado at the time.
And I started selling those mowers and that was my first product and then it grew into the gardening thing. And I learned more about gardening and got interested in that after the business, strangely enough.
Jillian Leslie 12:55
Wow. And people then would buy… so all you sold initially were push mowers.
Lars Hundley 13:00
Yeah. That was my first product, and that was my only product line for probably the first two or three years.
Jillian Leslie 13:06
And how did people find you back then?
Lars Hundley 13:09
Well, it was things like AltaVista and Yahoo.
Jillian Leslie 13:12
Oh, wow. Okay.
Lars Hundley 13:15
But yeah, it was. the search engines and there wasn’t really anybody selling stuff like that. In fact, when I first started selling, I couldn’t accept credit cards and I had to send things UPS COD.
Literally I stored these mowers in my apartment and I would get an order and I would drive them over to the UPS depot and buy the labels and send it COD. And then I would get a check two weeks later.
Jillian Leslie 13:50
Wow. Wow. How things have changed.
Lars Hundley 13:54
Yeah, it’s a little bit easier to get a merchant account now.
Jillian Leslie 13:57
Yes. And then you expanded that into a variety of products, right?
Lars Hundley 14:02
Yeah. Now, it’s all kinds of gardening stuff.
Jillian Leslie 14:05
But here’s a question. In today’s world, how do you compete with Amazon?
Lars Hundley 14:12
Well, okay, I guess that leads me to the next thing because I am also an Amazon seller,
Jillian Leslie 14:18
Lars Hundley 14:20
In my opinion, you either have to have a unique product that only you have access to, or you need to have some kind of real following.
And really, you know, customers that really like you or is very difficult to compete with Amazon at this point, because, you know, more than half of all product searches start directly on Amazon.
So there’s half, boom, they’re gone they’re never even going to find you because they didn’t search Google, they just opened up the Amazon app on their phone and typed in whatever the product or was and then they’re just going to choose something else if you’re not there.
Jillian Leslie 15:03
Right, right. So when did you get on to Amazon as a seller?
Lars Hundley 15:10
You know, okay, Amazon was my biggest enemy for the longest time, and we refused to have anything to do with them. And I tried to make sure that any of my exclusive products were not listed there because I did not want them to be there.
But after the financial crisis, our sales really dropped off. It was also sort of when the green products bubble kind of burst right along that same time period and our sales really fell off. And I had a whole warehouse full of stuff that wasn’t selling.
Jillian Leslie 15:49
Lars Hundley 15:50
And we had this guy and he was working for us, and he was really smart. I wish he never would have left. But he went on to bigger things.
But he decided, “Well, we’ve got all this stuff that that’s just not selling. I’m going to list all our junk inventory that we’re going to have to throw away on Amazon just to see what happens.”
And within like two years, we sold like half a million dollars worth of inventory that I literally thought we were going to have to throw away because we couldn’t sell it anymore.
And that was when I woke up to the possibility that Amazon isn’t necessarily your enemy. It’s just another sales channel. And you can figure out how to work with Amazon and make a living that way too.
And so I pivoted and so now we also sell on Amazon and in fact, unfortunately, I hate to admit that Amazon is our biggest sales channel now.
Jillian Leslie 16:55
That was my question. What percent of your sales are coming from Amazon and what percent of your sales are coming from your website, your e-commerce site?
Lars Hundley 17:03
Well, I don’t want to say exactly but it’s more on Amazon. It’s embarrassing.
Jillian Leslie 17:08
Well, it’s good that you found it.
Lars Hundley 17:12
Yeah. I mean, you know, the downside is, you know, when you depend on someone else’s platform, you’re always at risk because, I mean, ask anybody who had a big Facebook page or got all their traffic from Facebook and then Facebook changed the rules and suddenly their pages aren’t bringing them traffic anymore and they’re out of business.
Or, you know, you only were doing YouTube and then they don’t like that subject anymore. So it’s really a dangerous spot to be too dependent on any one platform.
Jillian Leslie 17:47
Exactly. Like a lot of influencers on Instagram are just on Instagram and they don’t have a blog, or they don’t have any way to collect email addresses to be in touch with these people.
And so I always say have a site that you own so that you can then leverage it to build a business because we’ve seen social networks are unreliable and over time they do change.
Lars Hundley 18:17
Yeah. They’re looking out for themselves and what works for them might work for you and then they might decide that something else works better for them and it doesn’t work for you anymore, and they’re like, “Well, too bad because this is the new way that works better for us.”
Jillian Leslie 18:33
Exactly. You’re like a sharecropper on their platform. Now, do you sell on Amazon in the way that you are dropshipping your products to Amazon and then they are doing fulfillment?
Lars Hundley 18:53
That’s not called drop shipping, I mean…
Jillian Leslie 18:55
Okay, what is it? Sorry, I don’t know.
Lars Hundley 18:56
I’m an FBA seller. That means fulfilled by Amazon.
Jillian Leslie 18:59
Lars Hundley 19:02
So generally, what happens is, and mostly what I sell on Amazon are products that I have exclusives on, so that I’m the only person selling that product and so I don’t have to compete for the ‘buy’ button.
Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed as an Amazon buyer, but let’s say you’re going to buy GE light bulbs, a 12 pack of GE light bulbs or something. There might be 20 different people that are selling those GE light bulbs, and only one of them has the ‘buy’ button or the buy box, as what Amazon calls it.
And that means so if you search GE light bulbs and you see the light bulbs, and you hit ‘add to cart’, that was the person that got the sale and the other 19 didn’t sell anything at all. So it’s difficult if you’re selling the same stuff that everybody else is selling on Amazon and so I try to sell my own exclusive products.
Jillian Leslie 19:59
Now wait, how do you get the ‘buy’ button if I’m one of those light bulb sellers?
Lars Hundley 20:05
You have to have the lowest price. And if everybody has the same lowest price, then Amazon chooses through their algorithm (which is secret) who gets the buy button.
And generally, though, like, let’s say there’s five people that are all selling it for 19.95 and they all have their light bulbs in the Amazon warehouse. Then Amazon will typically rotate between those five, so like each of them will get 20% of the sales.
And then if a six person jumps in, well, guess what, your percentage of the sales just went down. It’s really kind of a depressing competitive race to the bottom.
Jillian Leslie 20:46
I was just going to say, race to the bottom.
Lars Hundley 20:48
It’s a scary competitive platform.
Jillian Leslie 20:53
Okay. So for you, so give me an example of something that you have exclusive rights to that you sell on Amazon?
Lars Hundley 21:01
Well, you know, in I think 2009, I designed my own compost bin. It’s a tumbling compost bin. It’s the kind that you throw your stuff in and then you can tumble it to mix all this stuff up.
And then after 60 or 90 days, or whatever, your compost is finished and then you take it out and you put it in your garden. So I designed this and had a mold made. This is my product. I get the manufacturing runs made and then it comes to my warehouse.
And I have like hundreds of them sitting here in my warehouse right now that I’m looking out the window and I can see in the back of the warehouse.
Jillian Leslie 21:43
Okay. And I’ll link to it in the show notes so everybody can see what it looks like.
Lars Hundley 21:48
So then what will happen is, I send in 10 or 20 of those to Amazon at a time. I ship them to Amazon and then they’re in the Amazon warehouse, and then Amazon sells my compost bin. And they take 15% off the top because that’s their fee, plus they’re handling fees for it being in their warehouse.
But then it’s a product that’s Amazon Prime. So if anybody searched for compost bin on Amazon, they could still find my compost bin. Whereas if they search for compost bin on Amazon and my bin is not there, then they’re never going to find it.
Jillian Leslie 22:26
Right. And do you sell it for a higher price on Amazon than you do on your website?
Lars Hundley 22:34
You are not allowed to do that, technically. They want you to have the same pricing as everybody else.
Jillian Leslie 22:40
Really? Okay. Well, everybody else meaning all other compost bins? Will they know that you have a different price?
Lars Hundley 22:48
They know. They check all the other marketplaces like Walmart, and they search. And so if they see it listed someplace else at a lower price, what they’ll do is they’ll hide the buy button. And maybe you’ve seen a product sometimes on Amazon where it says ‘available from other sellers.’
Jillian Leslie 23:05
Lars Hundley 23:07
That’s because Amazon is determined if they’re selling it at a price that’s higher than where it’s available elsewhere, and so they just don’t even have the buy button there and less people take an extra step.
Jillian Leslie 23:19
Lars Hundley 23:21
So they really want everybody to be selling it at a competitive price.
Jillian Leslie 23:27
Okay. But then you are making less per sale if you sell it via Amazon versus your own e-commerce site.
Lars Hundley 23:36
Well, okay. Yes and no. You have to consider that with e-commerce, you’re going to have a customer acquisition cost anyway. Right?
Whether you’re running AdWords or Facebook ads, or anything like that, those might easily run more than 15%. So technically it could be cheaper and, and you could make more money selling it on Amazon than you could trying to acquire those customers yourself through direct advertising.
Jillian Leslie 24:03
Lars Hundley 24:04
Yep. So, you know, I mean, any way you look at it, some platform wants a piece of it. There’s no getting around it.
Jillian Leslie 24:14
It’s all about how to get your stuff, how to let people know that you’re selling this, you know, that is the cost of doing business. You might have the best composter out there but if nobody knows about it, you’re not going to sell it.
Lars Hundley 24:28
Jillian Leslie 24:30
You know, and that typically takes money.
Lars Hundley 24:34
Well, I like to hope that there’s still a place for the person that builds a website and they can get organic search results, traffic to a site, and sell things and still be able to sell things.
But it does seem like it’s going in the direction of big data and big retailers with big money where, you know, like it’s getting more and more competitive over time. And it’s, I don’t know, the way you put it seems depressing to me.
Jillian Leslie 25:17
Well, that’s where though sites like Pinterest come in right now. Meaning eventually, you know, Pinterest might say, “Well, sorry, we’re not going to give you as much free traffic.” But there’s the opportunity.
If you are looking for traffic today, free traffic, I would say it’s Google, it’s SEO, and it is Pinterest, which is also SEO.
Lars Hundley 25:44
Yeah, I agree with that. And Pinterest, you know, I started my cycling Pinterest site less than a year ago. And I started pinning and, you know, I get several hundred visits per day from that Pinterest account now. And that’s like a very small Pinterest.
I mean, I feel like Pinterest works pretty quickly. And as long as you have the basic concepts of SEO about how to name things, it’s very similar to search engine optimization for Google. And so they sort of work hand-in-hand, I think they’re a good combo.
Jillian Leslie 26:31
I do, too. Pinterest thinks of itself as a search engine, not as a social network. And I think that when you can put yourself in the mindset of you’re here to provide solutions, you’re not here to chat and to comment, and all of that. I think that that’s when Pinterest clicks and you’ll understand it better.
Lars Hundley 26:54
Yeah. My strategy with Pinterest is really to make sure that I’ve got a good description in there that I use keywords that are related to my subject, you know, where I’ll put in cycling and bicycling and bike.
And then let’s say I’m talking about intervals or something like that. I’ll make sure that the word ‘intervals’ is in there. And I will make my title for the pin also fairly straightforward. But then I’ll make sure my pin graphic is more social media friendly, where it’s got good photography.
It’ll sometimes, you know, ask a question or have a call to action, like, “Have you tried these intervals?” or “These are the top five intervals that’ll make you ride faster.”
And then so it all sort of works hand-in-hand where people that are scrolling, and Pinterest knows that’s a topic related to cycling, will make that sort of discoverable. And they’ll be like, “Oh, intervals. That’s something I’m interested in,” and they’ll click on it.
Or people that are typing ‘intervals’ into Pinterest, because they want to see, “Well, what are some good intervals I could try?” might find it that way. And so you got, you know, the different discovery methods, I guess, that sort of work hand in hand.
Jillian Leslie 28:11
Absolutely. Now, how did you grow your Facebook followers to 1.4 million? And how do you feel emotionally about the fact that you’re probably not getting the same amount of reach from Facebook as you used to?
Lars Hundley 28:29
You know, okay, I try not to let it get me down because I try not to keep all my eggs in one basket. Because I’ve seen over and over again, you know, I’ve had sites in the past that really ranked well on Google and then just suddenly didn’t rank on Google anymore.
So I’ve seen how you can build something and it just goes away or withers. And so, it was not a surprise to me. In fact, even as it was succeeding, I was thinking this is not going to last forever because this is way too easy.
In fact, the story of how my Facebook page started, it’s the stupidest funniest story. When Facebook first created Pages, you know, they used to just be, what was it, Groups, or what were they called before? They weren’t Pages at first.
Jillian Leslie 29:22
Right. I don’t remember. But I remember when they switched, that when you had your business, when all of a sudden you could have your business page.
Lars Hundley 29:29
So as soon as they invented those, I thought of it as an SEO play. So I thought, I’m going to make a page called Vegetable Gardening and I’m going to make a page called Composting because those are the kind of things that my customers would be into.
And when Pages were very first invented people would actually, they would like things because like, I like vegetable gardening and they wanted to show people that’s what they liked, like the like was a completely different concept.
Jillian Leslie 30:02
So it was a way to signal.
Lars Hundley 30:03
Yeah, exactly. And so I created those sites or those pages, and I posted a few times and nothing really happened and I forgot about them.
And then about four years ago, maybe it’s five years ago, I was on Facebook and it shows you all the pages that you own that you create as sort of hidden away. And I looked at the one called Vegetable Gardening and it had like, 80,000 followers.
I’m like, this must be bots or something where people are fake following different stuff, so you can’t tell which ones that they’re getting paid to follow. I thought it’s just not real people.
And so I posted something, like I posted an interesting link about gardening to see what would happen and it got all kinds of engagement and I realized that they were real people. And I was like, “Whoa! This is something.”
And so I also had a gardening informational site that wasn’t even really hooked up with that Facebook page yet. So I I hooked it up where it went to that URL and I started posting my own content and it started bringing in major traffic.
And then also since people were engaging with it, like Facebook was recommending it like crazy, and I was just growing by leaps and bounds for years at a time.
Jillian Leslie 31:33
Lars Hundley 31:34
And I was getting sometimes like tens of thousands of new likes a month.
Jillian Leslie 31:40
Lars Hundley 31:41
When it was growing. And then, you know, when they changed all the rules, what was it, a year or two years ago, and, you know, BuzzFeed and Mashable and Upworthy and all those guys just suffered.
And my page is the same way where it doesn’t get anywhere near the the engagement that it used to and it still drives… you know, I’ve got a three-legged stool of traffic to my gardening channel page. It’s Pinterest, Google, and and Facebook. And it’s still one of the legs. It’s just not a very long leg anymore.
Jillian Leslie 32:26
And would you promote your store on your Facebook page and would it drives sales?
Lars Hundley 32:33
No, that never worked.
Jillian Leslie 32:34
Lars Hundley 32:35
In fact, the reason why I originally built Gardeningchannel.com was because I thought this will be a community of people that are actually interested in gardening, and these will be the perfect people —
Jillian Leslie 32:50
Lars Hundley 32:51
To push my gardening products to, right?
Jillian Leslie 32:53
Lars Hundley 32:54
So I did that and then I tried it with the Facebook page, and it was a total flop. Well, on Facebook, you know, people go on social media because they like to socialize. They don’t want to have products pushed down their throat.
And also, Facebook totally throttles anything that’s product-related because they want that to be a Facebook ad. So for those two reasons, it didn’t work.
And then with my informational site, Gardeningchannel.com, it was the same way. It was like people went there because they wanted to learn about gardening. They didn’t want to have tools shoved down their throats.
And so eventually what I discovered was that I made more money selling ads on Gardeningchannel.com than I did advertising my own products, trying to get people to click through and buy it.
And so I just gave up and made that into an advertising site and that’s like a separate revenue stream for me that sort of insulates me against the challenges of e-commerce.
Jillian Leslie 33:57
Wow! So in your articles on your site, you’re not even linking to your products?
Lars Hundley 34:04
No, no, I run ads. I use AdThrive.
Jillian Leslie 34:09
Yeah, we use AdThrive.
Lars Hundley 34:11
That’s who I work with.
Jillian Leslie 34:12
Are you going to be at the conference?
Lars Hundley 34:14
Yes, I plan to. It’s in Austin, right?
Jillian Leslie 34:16
Okay, I’ll meet you there. What did you say?
Lars Hundley 34:18
It’s in Austin.
Jillian Leslie 34:19
It’s in Austin, exactly. Yes. Were you at the original one?
Lars Hundley 34:23
No, I haven’t been to it before, so I’m looking forward to it. I’ve only been with AdThrive for about a year now. I was using AdSense. And then some blogger told me you need to get on AdThrive. And I was like, I think it more than doubled my income. And I was like, “Oh, why didn’t I learn about this a year ago?”
Jillian Leslie 34:42
Yes. Yes. Okay, so you use AdThrive. And then are you writing all your articles? Like, how often are you updating your site?
Lars Hundley 34:58
I do not write them myself anymore. I write some of the articles for my cycling site. But generally, I have contributors.
Jillian Leslie 35:08
Okay. And do you pay your contributors?
Lars Hundley 35:13
Yes. Okay. Or on the cycling site, some of the contributors are either coaches that want to promote their own coaching business so they can they can get clients and they are paid that way because they promote their own stuff and they donate.
Or they also sometimes their own e-books on the site and they get paid that way. And some get paid for writing a post, it depends.
Jillian Leslie 35:49
I wanted to share what we’re busy building at MiloTree. We’re building a pop-up that lives on your blog and says ‘Shop My Etsy Shop’ and then it will connect over to your Etsy shop and it will show your most recent Etsy products.
If you have an Etsy shop and you’re interested in trying it out, please reach out to me at Jillian@Milotree.com.
Also, we are expanding our email pop-up because I know a lot of you use an email pop-up separate from MiloTree. We want to figure out how we can combine those. If you are interested in talking to me about it, again, please reach out. And now back to my interview with Lars.
And how do you manage all of this with your time? So you’ve got your e-commerce business, you’ve got your warehouse filled with product, you’ve got your business selling on Amazon. You’ve got your two big blogs, or at least one is I’m assuming very big and one is just growing.
But how do you manage? How do you split your time managing all of these?
Lars Hundley 36:56
You know, I have this terrible case of shiny object syndrome. And also, I’m super like sort of ADD. And so it’s actually to my advantage to have all these different things that I can flip back and forth between because it works with my personality type. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody else.
You know, all the most successful people in life sort of figure out how to grab one thing and focus relentlessly on it and make it successful.
But that’s not my personality type. So I would rather be semi-successful at a bunch of things and be happy than to have to do one thing all the time.
Jillian Leslie 37:36
But I mean, I would say you seem very successful, both personally and, you know, professionally, like this is totally working for you.
Lars Hundley 37:44
Yeah. I’m not a single employee. I work with my wife, she works with me full-time.
Jillian Leslie 37:52
Lars Hundley 37:53
And there are two other employees here at my warehouse. So as far as the, you know, shipping boxes and things like that, I’m not doing.
But I mean, I indeed do a lot of the Amazon stuff myself and I even answer all the amazon customer emails and I write all the product description to myself.
I think you can do a lot more in a day than people really think. Because I personally feel pretty lazy.
Jillian Leslie 38:27
Lars Hundley 38:28
Like, I don’t work that hard. I’m home by 5 every day. I’m not a workaholic or anything like that.
Jillian Leslie 38:36
And yet, you’re able to… like you’ve got blog posts that need to go up and contributors and all of these kind of moving pieces.
Lars Hundley 38:45
Well, yes an no. Let’s say like with the Gardening Channel site, for example, like, if I didn’t add any new content to that for two months, it wouldn’t really matter because I have several thousand articles on there.
And so I could just re-promote stuff on Facebook and on Pinterest that people haven’t seen in six months or a year and don’t even remember anymore. So I can let that one drop at anytime for when I get busy.
With the cycling website, it has a newsletter that goes out once a week. So, you know…
Jillian Leslie 39:23
Do you write the newsletter?
Lars Hundley 39:24
I edit the entire newsletter and sometimes contribute at least one article myself. So I don’t know if you’d call it writing it. But I mean, I put it together and I have somebody who helps me with it, like with the loading it into my email program and that I don’t have to do that.
But that takes me generally half a day to a day, once a week to really focus down and and work on that.
Jillian Leslie 39:42
Wait. What is the purpose of the email newsletter? Is it to drive traffic? Is it to sell things? What are you offering?
Lars Hundley 40:05
The cycling site, it is a membership site so you can be a premium member for that site.
Jillian Leslie 40:11
Okay, so you’re monetizing that way.
Lars Hundley 40:15
And also, I sell cycling training-related e-books on that site and so I’m pushing those to the newsletter. And also, the site started out as an email newsletter only and that’s the most engaged audience and they like new content. And so that’s just part of the deal of what came with it.
And so it does drive traffic. But I actually turn off the ads on newsletter day because that’s my most engaged audience. So on those articles that are in the newsletter, I turn off all the ads for the first 48 hours after I send the newsletter because those people are so engaged and they’re my biggest fans, I don’t want to annoy them with ads.
And so they get to see it all ad-free. And then if they go to it after 48 hours, they see ads. And then as it gets established in the search engines and on Pinterest and on Facebook, then people see the ads later. But I just sort of do that as a sort of courtesy to them.
Jillian Leslie 41:18
Are these members who are paying you?
Lars Hundley 41:21
It’s some members…
Jillian Leslie 41:22
But still if I’m on your email list, for free I will get this email, I can go to those articles and I won’t see any ads.
Lars Hundley 41:32
Jillian Leslie 41:33
Wow, that’s very kind of you to do.
Lars Hundley 41:37
Well, it’s sort of a function of when I took over the website, it didn’t have very many ads. And I felt like it was really going to annoy people and I didn’t want to annoy the audience because, you know.
So, I don’t know, maybe really I was afraid. I’m not kind.
Jillian Leslie 42:08
Okay. And so did you create these e-books or are these other people’s e-books that you’re selling and getting an affiliate? Are you an affiliate, I take it?
Lars Hundley 42:18
So the way it works with the e-books is that as the publisher, I’m the publisher, 50% royalty and the writer of the e-book gets 50%. So if somebody buys an e-book for $24 about how to train on a road bike, then the author will get half that money and I get half that money.
Jillian Leslie 42:44
And how many different e-books do you promote?
Lars Hundley 42:47
There are more than 20. But frankly, the e-book space is dwindling right now and that’s because, you know, if you think of e-books, you only think of the Kindle and that’s really the only way you want to buy an e-book these days, is you open up your Kindle and buy it there.
Instead of, say, a PDF?
Instead of, say, a PDF. And also, like Amazon has completely changed the value proposition for what you get with an E book. Like if you can buy an e-book from Random House, that’s 200 pages that might only cost you 7.99.
Well, then you get one of my e-books that’s 35 to 40 pages and is good, but it’s 35 to 40 pages from an author that you might not know, and I’m the publisher and not a major publisher. And so, people are like, “Why am I paying this much?”It’s become more difficult.
And so I feel like I’m still working on how that’s going to work for me over time. I feel like sometimes you have to just move ahead and then you figure out monetization later. If you’ve got a good audience and good traffic, eventually monetization works itself out.
Jillian Leslie 44:06
Interesting. Speak more to that. What do you mean by that?
Lars Hundley 44:11
Well, I mean, it’s like to go back to my Gardening Channel site. When I started that site, like I thought, well, I’ll get all this gardening traffic and then I’m going to sell my gardening tools to these people and then I’m going to get rich and retire, go to the Bahamas.
And it didn’t work out that way, they didn’t want to buy my gardening tools. But I had built up a site and then there’s traffic and then it sort of worked into the whole Facebook page. And then it’s got AdThrive revenue.
And so now I’ve got this income stream of AdThrive revenue that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. And it’s all because of I built something that has real readers and traffic.
Jillian Leslie 44:58
Interesting. Now, do you feel like you are able to talk to your traffic and understand what problems, for example, you could solve for them? Or is it more passive than that?
Lars Hundley 45:15
Now, the two sites work differently. With Gardening Channel, I don’t even have my name on that site. Because I’ve got like impostor syndrome. Actually, I’m a certified master composter but I am not a certified master gardener.
And, you know, I’m a mediocre gardener. I mean, I can garden but I’m not awesome. And so I don’t feel like I have the authority to put my name as like, “Hey, I’m Lars Hundley. I’m the most awesome gardener you’re ever going to meet and take my advice on gardening.”
And so I sort of manage it like a magazine editor more than I do as trying to make myself the personal face behind the site.
And whereas with the cycling site, I’m also actually a sort of mediocre cyclist too if you think about it. But I know a lot about cycling, so I feel more confident to put my name behind that, I guess. I’m not sure what the difference is exactly.
I mean, I’ve got other top contributors that are really well known people on the site that gives me more confidence because they provide a lot of the content also.
Jillian Leslie 46:50
Okay, okay. Is there some sort of master gardening certificate that you could have gotten? Or is this just the kind of a way you feel about yourself?
Lars Hundley 47:03
No, no, there really is a thing, it’s called master gardener in almost every state.
And it’s quite difficult to get and it’s time consuming. And once you get it, you have to actually volunteer your hours with like helping other gardeners.
Jillian Leslie 47:23
Oh, I didn’t realize that, okay.
Lars Hundley 47:24
It’s really cool. Like, if you ever have a gardening problem, you can look up like master gardener for whatever your state is for your county in the United States. And then there’s people that will help you with your gardening problems.
So it’s really cool. I would like to be a master gardener someday. But it just seems like a lot of work.
Jillian Leslie 47:48
That’s interesting. Now back to the cycling site. Are people selling courses? Are courses working? Like as you’ve been selling e-books, are there courses that people want? Because I feel like that’s a pivot that people have made from e-books into courses.
Lars Hundley 48:14
So I know at least one person who does have a cycling skills related course and his is related to mountain biking because there’s a lot of technical skills for mountain biking, you know, like how to bunny hop, how to climb, really technical things and how to wheelie.
You know, there’s all these skills that are related to mountain biking. But the challenge with a cycling related course is that it’s a lot of video and it’s really difficult to get good cycling video because you’re moving.
And the audio. Like there are a couple of big YouTube cycling channels and they must have like enormous budgets because their camera work and their audio is just so amazing.
And so that has been what I’ve bumped up against with building a course related to cycling is that I don’t have the video and audio skills to put together something like that.
But yes, I also agree with you. The courses are definitely the direction that it’s going.
Jillian Leslie 49:19
Right. I have a friend who works at Facebook and he’s very techie and he’s also a unicyclist, a mountain biking unicyclist, and he has a drone follow him and take footage of him unicycling,
Lars Hundley 49:34
Jillian Leslie 49:37
So he posts his videos on Facebook. He’s not talking in them. I mean, the drone is I don’t know how many feet above him, but you can see his adventures with his drone.
Lars Hundley 49:47
Yeah, I’m imagining the shot right now. It seems like that would be really cool to watch because you could see him going over the off-road stuff on his unicycle.
Jillian Leslie 49:56
Exactly, I didn’t even know that off-roading unicycling was a thing until I saw his videos.
Lars Hundley 50:03
You can always niche down.
Jillian Leslie 50:05
Exactly, exactly. So tell me what about your business are you most excited about right now? Where do you think the opportunities are?
Lars Hundley 50:21
Well, that’s such a hard question. I feel like right now as far as revenue, Amazon is where there’s a giant opportunity. And Amazon right now, it’s leveling it up. It’s way harder than it was two years ago.
And I think Amazon is trying to force out the amateurs and get rid of them because they want to work with really professional sellers. And they’re also dealing with a lot of… there’s all this weird…
Jillian Leslie 51:04
Counterfeit weird stuff.
Lars Hundley 51:06
Yeah, counterfeit fraudulent stuff that’s going on and that’s starting to hit the news and Amazon doesn’t like that. They don’t want to be associated with that. And they’re really cranking down on fraud and trying to get rid of fake reviews and fake sellers that are selling counterfeit stuff or poor quality stuff that they’re trying to pretend is good.
Jillian Leslie 51:28
Like I’ve been told do not buy vitamins on Amazon because even if somebody has shipped the product to Amazon, like they can pull from a variety of… what would I call it, like you might not be getting it from that seller. Is that true? And it can therefore be counterfeit.
Lars Hundley 51:51
Yeah, you have to pay attention to who the seller is. Because indeed like let’s say you’re going to buy some vitamin C from whatever, some major brand and you want to buy the Amazon. Well, there might be 15 different sellers that are sending in that vitamin C.
Because the other issue, and by the way, I’m not saying that Amazon is selling fake vitamins, but actually, I buy my own vitamins from Vitacost directly because I know they directly pull it from their warehouse.
Jillian Leslie 52:22
Exactly. But isn’t it true though that if I think I’m buying it from, say, “Vitamins Direct” which is, let’s say, a real vitamin store and they’ve sent their product to Amazon, Amazon could be pulling stock from another seller selling the same thing and send that to me.
Lars Hundley 52:40
That used to be more of a problem than it is today. That’s called commingling. And these days, any smart seller will never commingle his products because somebody else could poison the pool of inventory and then you go down for it.
So let’s say then somebody like, let’s say, I’m not commingling, and I’m just sending in or I am commingling and I’m sending in my vitamins into the same pool as everybody else. And somebody sends in some counterfeit ones and they happen to pull a counterfeit one on my sale.
And somebody reports that is counterfeit, my account would get turned off. So you can turn off that feature as a seller “do not commingle my stuff” and then they make you individually sticker your stuff with a sticker that identifies the product back to you as a seller.
And that’s how you prevent that as a seller.
Jillian Leslie 53:31
Is that more expensive, though?
Lars Hundley 53:33
No, it’s not more expensive. It’s just more time-consuming because you have to individually sticker things.
Jillian Leslie 53:37
Got it. Okay. Because I had heard horror stories about that. And so I’ve stopped buying vitamins from Amazon for that very reason.
Lars Hundley 53:46
Well, you can also buy like if Amazon.com has the ‘buy’ button, that means that they are the seller and they bought it wholesale directly from the manufacturer, generally,
Jillian Leslie 53:57
Right. Okay. So you feel like the opportunity today is on Amazon for you, for your business. And it’s about being a sophisticated seller.
Lars Hundley 54:09
Yeah. I think what I tell people about Amazon now is Amazon wants you to go pro or go home. And they don’t want you to treat it like eBay where you can argue with customers. And you know, where you treat like “What do you mean you didn’t get it on time? I sent it.”
They don’t want to hear you dealing with customers like that. Amazon, they think the customer is king and they are going to treat the customer like their king. And you have to work within that framework if you’re going to sell on that platform.
And so you have to accept that even if somebody is a jerk to you, and you think they’re lying or whatever, you got to treat them fairly and politely and sort of give the buyer the benefit of the doubt because you can’t win an argument with a customer.
And frankly, I’ve learned a lot from selling on Amazon because this applies to my own business directly as well. I learned that you really can’t win an argument with the customer. All you can do is make sure that you never have that customer again.
Because you might “win” the argument, but they’re never going to buy from you again. That’s for sure. And they’re going to tell everybody what a jerk you are.
Jillian Leslie 55:23
Right. That’s interesting. So is your plan to build up your products on Amazon or to create more products like your composter and sell those on Amazon?
Lars Hundley 55:37
Yes, I hope to sell more exclusives like that, the things that I make.
But the other thing I say with Amazon is that, you know, I want to make hay while the sun shines. And I don’t think this Amazon opportunity, it might not be here forever.
Really that’s why I’m working on all my other informational sites and things like that is because I have a little too many eggs in the Amazon basket right now, and I don’t want to be in trouble. If Amazon, you know, changes all the rules or their platform, or suddenly I’m not important to them anymore, and then I’m out of business.
So you got to be careful because Amazon is just like any of the other platforms where you’re sharecropping.
Jillian Leslie 56:32
I love that. I love that. And what tool would you say you use just to manage your businesses that’s important to you?
Lars Hundley 56:46
Like, well, give me an example.
Jillian Leslie 56:47
Like for example, I couldn’t live without Slack.
Lars Hundley 56:52
Okay. So I also use Slack. In fact, I’ve got a small mastermind group with a bunch of, with four or five other Amazon sellers and we trade Amazon tips on the Slack channel. So I also use Slack, but I don’t really use it to manage employees or anything like that.
I would say, you know, I don’t even use a giant number of tools. Like, I post directly to Facebook with my page. I make my pins directly on Pinterest and create them right there. I use Canva. There’s one.
I use Canva all the time because I make my pins with Canva because I’m a terrible designer and graphic designer, and I’ve got no graphic design skills. And if you look at any of my pins, you’ll see that. But don’t let that stop you if you’re a bad graphic designer.
You know, I think with a lot of things in life, you can’t be afraid to just move forward and don’t be afraid to be bad at it. Because eventually, maybe you’ll learn to be good at it. And if not, you can be mediocre enough to get by.
Jillian Leslie 58:07
I love that advice. I think that is just so brilliant. I live by that. Because otherwise, I would never be able to get out of bed in the morning. You have to learn to be embarrassed to be a successful entrepreneur.
Lars Hundley 58:21
Yeah, that is totally true.
Jillian Leslie 58:26
Lars, please share with everybody how they can find out about you, reach out to you, how can they find you on all of the places that they can.
Lars Hundley 58:38
So you can find me on Facebook at Facebook.com/gardeningchannel. That’s my big gardening page. And then my Pinterest account is Pinterest.com/gardenchannel or you can go directly to Gardeningchannel.calm. And hopefully, you’ll like my gardening site and learn something.
Jillian Leslie 59:00
What if people are bikers?
Lars Hundley 59:02
That site is called Roadbikerider.com and it’s for road cyclists.
Jillian Leslie 59:08
Wonderful. Well, Lars, thank you so much for being on the show.
Lars Hundley 59:13
Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Jillian Leslie 59:16
If you’re enjoying The Blogger Genius Podcast, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. I’d love it if you guys reviewed us. And share it, share it with a friend. And I will see you here again next week.