Life is full of surprises! For many of us, our careers have become our identity where sometimes we are forced to reinvent ourselves personally or professionally. And sometimes all it requires is turning our niche passion into a revenue-generating business!
We chat with Julie Merrill, “The Paddleboarding CPA”. As a military spouse, Julie found herself uprooted many times where she had to learn to reinvent herself every time by taking on various jobs to accommodate the travelling family lifestyle. As luck would have it, Julie stumbled across her real passion – her love of paddle-boarding. So, began her new career journey of combining her expertise with her niche passion.
- Julie’s journey from corporate CPA to ‘Paddleboarding CPA’ (her online business)
- Turning a hobby into a revenue-generating business
- Building an online business – a whole world of opportunity and new customer base
- Finding the balance between passion and expertise through trial and error
- The work that got you HERE won’t get you THERE
- Identifying the client avatar – who do you really want to serve
- We can’t serve everyone well! We can’t be all things to all people!
- A broad audience vs. a niche audience
- The ability to provide more value to niche clients and adapt to serve their needs
- Changing our business mentality from ‘village’ to ‘global’
- The minimum requirements for starting a niche online business
- The variety of ways that Julie monetizes her passion:
- client consulting and client relationship management
- podcasts and blogs
- online programs and courses (broad and specific)
- low-cost tutorials
- product reviews
- affiliate links and partner programs
- Facebook, Instagram, G-suite, LinkedIn, Shopify, Amazon
- Adapt your offering from the feedback you receive from your client avatar
- It takes time to understand what your value proposition really should be and what people want
- Be flexible on your short-term goals – it is a journey!
- Grab your customer with what your client wants and then guide them to what they really need
- Building trust with your client avatar
- Quick wins motivates you to continue in the right direction
- What you build today allows income-generating streams to support you tomorrow
- The ultimate goal is to have ‘The Four-Hour Work Week’
Learn more about Julie Merrill
If you are looking for some great ideas to start making money from your couch, listen to Six Ways to Make Money Sitting On The Couch.
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Speaker 1: 00:00 Welcome to Working women’s Wealth, where we discuss what it takes to build real wealth in a way normal humans can understand. Here’s your host Lisa Linfield.
Lisa Linfield: 00:21 Hello everybody and welcome to today’s episode of Working Woman’s Wealth. I’m joined by Julie Merrill, who is the Paddleboarding CPA. She has both a business in that name and she has a podcast show in the name Paddleboarding CPA. Hello Julie and welcome to our show.
Julie Merrill: 00:40 Hi Lisa, thank you so much for having me today.
Lisa Linfield: 00:42 You are a Paddleboarding, which I assume is that stand up [inaudible 00:00:48].
Julie Merrill: 00:49 Yes.
Lisa Linfield: 00:50 A CPA, which is in our terms a chartered accountant or a registered certified chartered accountant, is that correct?
Julie Merrill: 00:58 That is correct. It’s the same meaning in the US. It stands for a certified public accountant.
Lisa Linfield: 01:03 Oh, wonderful. Okay, so you have gone from certified accountant, bean counter, number crunching everybody’s books and things like that to having an online business, called the Paddleboarding CPA. How did you make that change?
Julie Merrill: 01:19 Gosh, it’s my life story, right? Coming out of college, I went into accounting, but here in the US when you say CPA, typically people think of taxes. I don’t know if that’s the same in South Africa, but there’s a whole other side to be an accountant, which is on like the business side of it. For years, I worked with corporations and many startup companies, helping them build their business from idea phase to not having any funding to getting venture capital funding or some other type of self-funded venture bootstrapping and building a business behind it. Then, I married someone in the military and as a military spouse, you kind of have less say on where you live. We kind of have been uprooted and moved around. We’ve lived overseas twice and he’s got 21 years in and we’ve been married 15, so we lived in Japan for two years, came back to California and then, we moved to Italy for three years. As you can imagine that does quite a change on someone’s career. Early on, it was just about me, being this career woman and my career was really my identity. That’s kind of uprooted and shake things up and move things around. I’ve had to reinvent myself multiple times each time I moved to kind of find where I fit in and where I can continue doing the things I love.
The CPA is definitely like my roots, my financial side. I think in numbers, but I also have a passion for marketing. On this last overseas trip, where we lived in Italy for three years, I wasn’t allowed to work because the unemployment is so high in Italy. My husband says I had a midlife crisis because I started going on all these adventures, something I’ve always loved, but never really made time for. I was kayaking and paddle boarding and canyoning and zip lining and it led me down this journey that had me working with tour companies on the kayak and paddle boarding side, where I was running tours and being like a standing guide and translator because I had learned to speak Italian and really became this like dream life, living in a kayak and a powerboat off the coast of Italy for a few years. It was amazing, like I can’t even explain it in words, other than I lived this life that was incredible. Of course, with the military and anything else, they shake it up and they move you back.
When I came back to the States from living three years and two of those years kind of on and off on the water, my husband’s like, “All right, go back to work.” That was his response. You know I did, I dabbled back in the business side. I came back in and was an interim controller for a while, but my heart was really on the water. I was just searching, again for my identity and where I fit in and where I was going to be happy with my passions and how I could combine my passions, how I could take this business, this marketing background and incorporate my love of the water. I started calling myself the Paddleboarding CPA. The responses were amazing and people were like, “Okay, well now what are you going to do with that?” It led me down this path of helping people in aquatic shops and instructors and manufacturers and retailers in the stand-up paddle kayaks SUP. We call it SUP here, in Europe, they called it soup, but it’s a stand up paddleboard community, helping them make money with their passions.
Lisa Linfield: 04:46 When you set this up, was it always going to be an online business or how did you get to thinking or considering an online business, given that both your CPA stunts were real-world, face-to-face and even in Italy, you were physically doing stuff, so to then move on to this almost online coaching, teaching kind of helping you with your marketing strategy, how did you even get into that?
Julie Merrill: 05:14 It’s funny when I came back from Italy, I really wanted to dive into the digital marketing space because so much had changed even just in the three years that I had been gone. I enrolled in an university to get my master’s in digital marketing and after a semester of writing papers on theory, I realized that I wanted to learn how to do it. My sister at the time had been building an online business and kind of took me to one of these online business conferences. We went to a Marketing Impact Academy with Chalene Johnson. It just opened me up to a whole other world of opportunities in a way that I can reach more people, have maybe more flexibility by working from home. You think with an online business, it means that you work less, but that’s not always the case starting off because you do have to grind to build it and build your customer base.
I really kind of was still stuck in wanting to serve the business side, not really sure how I could balance out my passions. When I started in the online space, I was actually doing like instruction and videos. I have online courses on how to start a business. In the US, we call it a limited liability company, an LLC and so I have this extensive course that I built on how to do it yourself, build an LLC. It’s what I used to do. Sometimes what you used to do isn’t what you should do. James Wedmore is one of my mentors and one of his things that he says is, “What got you here won’t get you there.” Using what I’ve learned and all my experience and somehow finding a way to take it down the path that I was meant to be on and finding that path, it’s been a trial and error. Again, I’ve tried helping small businesses, I tried helping corporations and startup companies. It really came down to who do I want to serve and identifying who that customer avatar is and really drilling down on what they look like. You can serve everyone, but you don’t serve everyone well when you serve everyone, so having your ideal customer really identified, helps you provide more value to them.
That’s kind of where I decided, “Okay, I’m going to just focus on this aquatics market and really serve them, really add value to them and bring all my expertise that I’ve brought and learned along the way, adapting it, so it makes sense for them.” That’s where my Paddleboarding CPA really came in. Now, it’s just a thrill to bring my experience and help out so many people. I’m helping them out more because all my speaking, my podcasts, my online courses, it’s all targeted to help that market. Because it’s targeted in a way that I’m just focusing on that one ideal customer, I’m serving them better and I’m able to understand what their needs are and adapt what I’m teaching, it’s more effective. If it’s a general audience, you serve everybody, but not as well as if you really niche down.
Lisa Linfield: 08:19 It’s such an interesting concept that whole thing of niching or niching because I was having a conversation with person the other day and we were discussing this whole concept. I said, “I think one of the challenges that we have is whilst we know in our heads that you can access the globe by the internet, we actually haven’t changed our mentality from the village,” because if you were to say, “I’m going to help paddle boarding or water businesses, you kind of think that you would be able to help the people, who have water based businesses around your little village.” What I keep trying to say to people is you can access online that niche or niche around the globe. You’re not restricted to the next-door village on either side of you these days. Whilst I know that sounds condescending and parochial, I think in our minds, we forget that if we have a very narrow hobby or niche of people that we just have to get a fraction of those people of the global market, not our local market in order to be successful. In a country like South Africa, for example, where we have such a very low economically active population, we have 50 million people, but roughly between five and 15 are economically active.
When you have such a small market like that you forget that actually you could get the paddle boarders in California as well as you can get the paddle boarding companies in Italy, anywhere along the Mediterranean, anywhere along any of the curse in the world as your audience.
Julie Merrill: 10:00 Yeah, I think there’s a balance because absolutely, I have people in my community, I have an online community that’s on Facebook of paddleboard instructors and kayak guides and shop owners. They range from the US to Canada. I have people from Germany, the UK, Turkey, all over the world. I’m able to bring them together online, but you can’t discount the in-person connections as well. I also work with local shops and anytime I have an opportunity to meet someone online in person, it takes that relationship to a whole new level. Having both, I think makes you able to better serve the mass, having those in-person connections. It just really takes things to another level. If you’re just online and not having anything in person, you can probably do it, but having a balance of both, I think is the winning combination.
Lisa Linfield: 10:56 Absolutely, so describe to our listeners the variety of things that you do to earn more money.
Julie Merrill: 11:05 Okay.
Lisa Linfield: 11:07 How do you earn money online? I mean if I was to start the pedal boarding niche or whatever, what have you done that you’ve monetized this combination of your experience, your business experience as well as your passion?
Julie Merrill: 11:20 It’s a trick question, right? It should be easy, but I have various ways in which I’m making money. I’m also looking for other ways to make money. Here we say, not putting all your eggs in one basket, so to say. I do work with shops in person. I work with instructors in person, on a one-on-one basis. I do like, I guess you could call it consulting from the business side, one on one, helping them strategize and implement marketing and business strategies. I also have a podcast. My podcasts, like you know you have a podcast, it’s free and so it’s really providing more visibility in helping more people to reach more people to bring them into your different programs. I do have some online programs that are like a course. It is so many lessons, do at your own pace, video based online courses that teach specific topics. I have done that in the past and I will continue to modify and change that because it’s always trying to understand what the market wants, what they’ll pay for it and then, getting feedback from your customers to help you get like a review of why others should buy it.
I’ve done broad courses and I’ve also done really specific ones. When I first started, I had the one that I was talking about earlier, which was how to start a business that helped you set up your own limited liability company that was a massive. The last one I came out with was Incentives That Ignite and it was how to turn your customers into your marketing resource and how to provide incentives to your customer. It was a much more like smaller topic that was easier to consume, faster consume, lower price point. Now, what I’m finding and this is really getting to know your customer and going back to identifying who your ideal customer is, who you’re serving. The feedback I’ve gotten is that people want my help and they prefer to have the one-on-one help, which I think everyone does, but for me to dedicate my one-on-one time to one person, it becomes expensive. I have to balance my hours and make money to feed my kids and getting my dedicated time is more than most people in this industry want to pay.
What I’m doing [inaudible 00:13:35] I’m rolling out is a low-cost, like a group coaching program that’s monthly. Every month, I’ll have a tutorial and a training that will work through as a community with accountability. I’ll provide the lessons. I’ll bring in topic experts. We will implement together with some time-saving tips, some templates to make it easier, really an easy button because most people in my industry, what they want is they want to reach more paddlers, they want to get more customers in essence. Through all these different things that I will teach each month with each theme, we will be able to do it all together and save time doing it because of the trainings and the templates that I’ll provide. As I’ve actually talked to my market and my customers, it’s funny having a one course that maybe takes a couple months to get through that is a higher price point, there’s less interest than having someone walk them through for $20 US a month and having a bigger group and in like a community going through the steps together and having their hand held. It’s much more enticing to them to join something like that.
I am moving towards that type of program and I’m going to see how it works, but just through actual contact, actual discussions I’ve had in person with people, who are in my community of my customer, this is something that they seem to be more interested in. That will be launching soon.
Lisa Linfield: 15:06 I love the fact that you have changed what you do so much in response to your customer. I think the thing that really resonates with me is that everyone assumes that you’re supposed to start up this business of yours, be it full-time or be it creating a business from a hobby and you know exactly what to do on day one and you rake in the millions of dollars. One of the things I really try and implore people to understand is that it takes time to learn. First of all, how do you do this online stuff? Second of all, what exactly are customers willing to buy and to pay for? This is a learning game. In the old days, we used to go out and pay for three years’ of university and as you said, you decided to come home and do a master’s in online marketing. Then, you worked out that actually you’re going to pay for theory when it’s actually probably cheaper and more reliable to spend a small amount of time or money to put something out there, be it as you did a course in the beginning or whatever it is out there and then, work out what it is that people want.
Through each time you do something, you learn a huge amount about yourself as well. As you said you thought you were going to come back and teach people how to open a limited liability corporation, so that’s hugely important in starting your business, but as you then went through the journey, you worked out more and more and more with that focusing on your absolute passion, which is this industry in aquatics or water based stuff, helped you to refine that value proposition and work out how you don’t be all things to all people.
Julie Merrill: 16:46 Yeah, it’s been a total journey for me and I think it is for everyone. I think that it’s a misconception that anyone starts a business and is successful from the start. There are some really, really great ads out there that speak to what people want. I just got an email today and it was Starting Your Seven Figure Business, which makes me laugh out loud because before you get to seven figures, I mean you really have to start with one figure. Then, it moves to two figures and then, it moves to three figures. Yes, you can have that goal, thinking big and long term, but you also have to have like short-term, attainable goals and being flexible on where that goes. One of the first things I did was I took a YouTube class and what drew me to that was because I have kids and it’s a big challenge for me to get them off YouTube. I see so many people going to YouTube for answers and so I took Sean Cannell’s Video Ranking Academy course and it was fantastic because it got me focused.
I think starting an online business, what’s the hardest is you hear all these different components that you need. You can build a lot of them and not do well or you can focus on one and implement it. I started with YouTube and so looking back, I was just looking at my YouTube channel and I have videos on how to implement stock options. It’s going back to-
Lisa Linfield: 16:46 Wow.
Julie Merrill: 18:10 … when I first started that was my startup days. I have how to do business licenses. I think I have a video there that has like over 11,000 views, it’s what I used to do, but it was all trying to figure it out and getting now the aquatic side of my queue of those videos out to really get to my new market and learning from this. It’s definitely a journey. One of the best things I did was I created a Facebook group. Facebook pages used to be the place, where people would follow you and you could get your customers listening to you. Facebook’s really on the business page side has become more of like, I kind of see it as another website for you, where it’s if people want to find you, they go there and find their information, but unless you pay to play, you’re not really reaching people through your Facebook page. The groups are fantastic avenue still for your community. When I started a Facebook group last year with my aquatic business owners, one of the great things about Facebook groups is you can ask three questions when they apply. You don’t just accept everyone, but you ask them questions.
The first question I asked them is what is your biggest challenge in business and marketing right now? I took all those answers from all the people, who have joined my group and it’s amazing that 80% of them answered with the same exact problem.
Lisa Linfield: 19:34 Wow.
Julie Merrill: 19:36 Very eye-opening for me, light bulb moment is that’s what I need to teach that’s what I need to help them with. That is their problem in their words, how can I solve that problem for them? That became my focus in listening to them because in business we think we know, well, usually we do know what our customers need, but if you try to sell them what they need, they’re usually not aligned with that same need. They know what they want. To reach them, a lot of times, we have to understand what they want and serve them and deliver that while providing them what they need because a lot of times, they don’t even know that they need what we’re wanting to teach them. It’s kind of like my limited liability course, everybody needs that course, but nobody knows that they need that course. That’s kind of where I pushed it to the side because I needed to really find out what my customers wanted, so that I can then lead them back.
I do lead people back there once I serve them with what they want, but again, it’s a slight variation, but it’s enough that it makes you more connected with your customer and being able to sell them and provide more value to them.
Lisa Linfield: 20:48 That’s fantastic, a million great learnings in just that one small sentence. How did you get that group up and running? Was it people you had already worked with or did you drive advertising for people to apply to the group or how did you get it going?
Julie Merrill: 21:04 It’s interesting, I went to a conference and I had been like friending people and messaging them on Instagram and that’s where my market is. That’s not where everyone’s market is, but that’s where my customer is on Instagram. I have been sending messages and following people and kind of like the cyber stalking almost, but seeing what people are doing. One of my friends is like, “You got to get these people together, you just got to do a Facebook group.” I’m kind of glad I didn’t take any courses or learn about it. I just did it. Sometimes just doing it, making mistakes is the fastest, easiest way. Looking back, I would have changed a few things at the beginning, but I just did it. I went out and these people that I had been commenting on their pictures and their posts in Instagram and engaging with, I told them about what I was doing and I invited them to the group. I almost hand-picked the first people, who were part of it. Then, it became more of people were referring people in. I started doing trainings and tutorials and people saw value and they refer like five of their other instructors or shops that they knew of because you got to see what she’s teaching in here.
The group is not large and I’ve intentionally kept it that way. I didn’t want to do mass promotions. I wanted it to grow organically because I wanted the right people in there. I’d rather have a smaller group that is really my target than open it up because I’ve had people ask to join it that have nothing to do with what I’m trying to teach. I don’t let them in. It’s my people. It’s my community and I want to keep it pure and targeted, so that it can continue to help them out specifically with what they need. It’s been the best thing I’ve done as far as getting connected with what my ideal customer needs, aside from meeting people in person. Social media and online is so powerful, but when you make those connections online and then, you can actually meet that person in person, it happened to me this weekend. I was a speaker at the SUP Industry Association Summit and also attended the Pacific Paddle Games here in Dana Point, which is one of the international paddle boarding races in the world. That’s really well known and people come in from all over the place to race in this paddleboard race.
More than once, I mean I can count probably on two hands, there were people who I’ve interacted with online, who I met in person and it was just so powerful. It’s like I wanted to hug them and in fact, some of them, I just hugged them right away because you feel like you know them, but then meeting them in person and having those conversations in person, it takes the relationship and the connection to a whole new level. So powerful if you can take the online side and then, connect it to the in-person side, I think it just exponentially makes the relationship that much better. One of the things I teach to my customers is having a relationship, having your customers feel like they know you and they trust you. People buy from others that they know, like and trust.
The more you can create connections, whether that’s in social media, in person, in videos, wherever you’re at, those connections make customers buyers.
Lisa Linfield: 24:16 Yeah, I think that in this world of shallowness, it is the Instagram, Facebook kind of world of the ability to just watch other people’s lives go by that we forget that in order to buy, I’ve got to trust you. I’ve got to trust that whatever I’m putting my hard-earned money towards will have the results that I want them to have. It’s a really interesting journey that I think that we come back full circle back to this fact that you actually need to build those relationships. As you say, the in-person connection makes that relationship so much more personal. If you were to start from scratch again, what would be the first two or three things you’d do?
Julie Merrill: 25:05 For me being active on Instagram was a huge player and then, starting the group, but starting from scratch, I hadn’t discovered that this was the path. I was still trying to find where my passion was leading me, but sometimes putting profit first and trying to find the quick wins, there’s a lot of long game strategy in the online space, where you’re building business over time and relationships, but having some quick small wins in the beginning is so motivating and so rewarding. I know we talked about one of my podcast episodes was about creating passive income. In that episode number three, I talk about some really quick wins in ways that you can add value and make money.
A lot of my early YouTube videos were reactive and trying to solve problems. Even if I had a problem myself, I would document it in a video, solve it for somebody else and then, put it out on YouTube. I would get an affiliate link and I don’t know if you are familiar with affiliate links, but when you refer a sale to someone else for a product or service, you get like a revenue kickback for it. I have one of my things even in my business course is setting up your business email. I love G Suite. I use the Google Suite for my business and personal and couldn’t live without it. Without Google Calendar, my husband and I would have a lot of conflicts because we use that even [inaudible 00:26:27] to schedule everything.
I have my business suite, so setting up your business email through G Suite seems pretty simple. Well, I recorded myself doing it on my computer and then, shared it out on YouTube and I have a YouTube video on that. Within that YouTube video, I have a link for someone to click through to sign up for their own G Suite, so they can basically implement what I taught them how to do in the video. Well, I just got a check from Google for $300 because I’ve had thousands of people watch that video and they’ve used my link and Google shared some of that revenue with me. Quick wins, right, like just a little extra passive income. There’s some quick ways that you can do that by doing product reviews or one of my favorite things to do before the holidays is doing a video or a blog post or even a Facebook Live on the top gifts that I recommend for whoever your customer is.
I have like the 10 best Christmas gifts for 2017 for paddle boarders and I link that to a page, where I have Amazon affiliate links. If they buy a product through Amazon, I get a revenue share. Amazon actually sends me a check if someone clicks through my link and buys one of the products I recommend. I’m not doing it in a way that I’m just like trying to refer products and sell them. I’m trying to add value, but some easy wins for people who are like just wanted to get a taste of it and finding ways to add a little extra income without a ton of the long game work that goes into actually starting an online business.
Lisa Linfield: 28:03 I think that’s so powerful. I mean in my previous life, I was a corporate strategist and I always used to say, “You have to deliver quick ones as well as your long-term game,” because it’s hugely important for us as humans that we believe that we’re moving in the right direction. One of the greatest motivators of human beings is a feeling of achievement every single day. I remember my first $2 from Amazon. I had links to books that I had mentioned in podcast and I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about $2 in my entire life. The fact that this thing actually [inaudible 00:28:37]-
Julie Merrill: 28:37 [inaudible 00:28:37].
Lisa Linfield: 28:37 … so that someone clicked on the link, bought either that book or with Amazon, it’s whatever they buy in that shopping session, I don’t know what the person bought but I got $2. It was like I remember that.
Julie Merrill: 28:51 So exciting, right?
Lisa Linfield: 28:51 Yeah, I mean I come from old corporate days with large salaries. I have never been so excited about any one of my large salaries as I have about those $2 that I got from Amazon because the thing is that if you can do it once, you can do it again. I have a friend who’s wonderful entrepreneur and he says, “If you can sell one thing to one person once and make $1, you can do it again, but you first got to sell that one thing to one person once and make a dollar before you can actually move on.” I think that there are very few people out there that know that they are so many of these affiliate links or partnership programs, where essentially what they’re paying you to do is to be their sales force. If your hobby is knitting or golf or whatever it is, there is a niche out there that you can target that if you refer them to Amazon or to whatever the major marketplace is for your particular niche that you can earn some commission from it. You don’t actually yourself have to physically build a product and ship it out. You can literally sell other people’s products when you first start off.
Julie Merrill: 30:01 Yeah, I think there’s a huge market of that especially if you have a customer following. It all comes back to your following because it’s very difficult to sell things if you don’t have people listening to you, whether that’s online or in person. People who’ve been blogging for years or have these big email lists and huge customer followings, a lot of them make a decent income off of referring other sales, these affiliate links to programs or physical products. That’s a huge portion of where they make their money, but when you’re just starting out, if you kind of aren’t targeted into a customer following, it is a little more difficult. With social media, like anyone can throw up a YouTube video or you can do a Facebook Live. The barrier to entry is much smaller now, but the success and actually going from those one figure, those $2 checks to $200 checks to $2,000 checks really comes down with how many people you’re able to reach.
Lisa Linfield: 30:57 Absolutely and it comes back to what we were saying about I’ve got to know you first, know you exist, then I’ve got to like you and then, I’ve got to trust you that if I buy this, it is the real deal. I think that’s what I observe a lot of times is that people abuse that trust relationship to sell stupid things. If your customer relationship is the most important thing and you’re wanting to build trust, you’ve got to know that whatever you’re recommending to your customer is the real deal. It works, it achieves what it says it achieves. As you said, you don’t sit there and say, “Now, these are the 10 best gifts for Christmas for women, who like makeup.” Your 10 best gifts for Christmas are for people who are into paddle boarding and so you speak with integrity. I mean I was looking through your website in preparation for this interview and I looked at half that stuff and went, “Oh [inaudible 00:31:52] yeah, no idea what it is or what it does,” but I’m not your target market. I think that’s what it all comes down to is that whatever it is that your passion is or your business is in, it’s the authenticity of that throughout your entire online business and face to face.
Julie Merrill: 32:09 Yeah, I have a personal rule that I don’t refer out anything I haven’t used myself. I recommend that for other people as well because it’s really easy and you see people teaching this, where you go find the hot products right. Those are the ones that you drop-ship or those are the ones that you refer out on Amazon. That might get you a dollar today, but it doesn’t do anything for you in the long run for building a following. I firmly believe in the integrity behind being behind a product and having used it yourself. When I’m building up my list of gifts that I’m recommending for Christmas for paddle boarders, I get my own little Amazon shipment that I get my own little pre-Christmas gift for myself because I want to try them out. I want to use them before I recommend them. I think that’s important behind any brand is believing in what you stand for.
Lisa Linfield: 32:58 Absolutely, do you think that almost anyone can make money off their hobby or interest?
Julie Merrill: 33:06 That’s kind of a trick question, so I believe anyone can make some money off their hobby or interest. Building a business around it is a whole other thing. I come from like the business side, where I’ve helped people with millions of dollars in funding build businesses and some were successful and some weren’t. Having the business mind and the strategy and implementing and making smart decisions, it takes time and money to build a fully profitable business. As a hobby, making some money on the side, I firmly believe anyone can make some money on the side. Do I recommend you go quit your 40-hour a week job to do that right away? Absolutely not, I think that it becomes a hobby first and you kind of dabble in it and you juggle and you see what works before you dive straight in because there’s a risk involved. There’s a lot of learning curve and there’s some quick wins and you can do it, but it takes the mentality of like the entrepreneur and not everyone has that mentality or you might think that you’re going to be working two hours a week, but likely from the beginning that’s not where it starts. I’m actually working more hours a week on my own business than I did when I was working full time for a company.
The goal is to get to like the 4-hour workweek, where the things I’m creating today will then build revenue streams for me tomorrow that like have longevity, so that if I build a course today, I’m spending tons of time and grinding to get it done and learning as much as I can for my customers to make it great that that course can then be remarketed at a later time and again and again with less time spent. The grind is there at the beginning and I think anyone that comes into starting a new business, whether it’s online or in person, you can’t discount that time that’s spent upfront and the learning and doing it yourself. You can hire out and you can hire and outsource everything, but that takes a lot of funds to do that. That is a quicker path to getting launched and getting successful, but sometimes learning it yourself and doing yourself is the best way to learn how you want to do it and kind of getting your strategy really defined in a better way.
Lisa Linfield: 35:20 I totally agree. I mean even when I started my wealth management business, I didn’t quit my job one day and go into it the next day because it takes time. The setting up of a company takes time. Getting the right certifications and things that you need takes time. I absolutely agree with you. I think that with a lot of the stuff, there’s a long road that you need to walk first to build your following and your understanding of your customer market and how to do the website and the LinkedIn and the Facebook and the Instagram and all of the stuff. There’s a lot that you can do and learn and a lot you need to learn before you have the ability to sell one thing to one person for $1. It takes time to build that learning and that understanding. It is, as you said, a trade-off also between money and time.
You can throw money at someone building your website, which would probably be quicker than you building it yourself or you can throw money at someone doing your social media or you can learn to do it yourself. It’s this trade off of time and money, but I think you’re correct in that. I do think that anybody can make some income off their hobby. I think that it takes a lot of work to build an online business and that notion of the 4-Hour Workweek that comes from Tim Ferriss is I think the end-state goal, but it requires you to do a lot more work and a lot more hours than four hours in a week to build up, to develop the stuff that can sell theoretically while you sit on the beach, where you don’t trade money for time because that’s essentially what passive income is, is not having to trade money for time.
It doesn’t mean that you never have to put a lot of time in before you would have that set up. Going back to, you say that you would set up your group, you would get on to the Instagram and do a lot of interacting with people on the Instagram. Then, you’d get some quick cash from doing some affiliate marketing or some quick ones from doing some affiliate marketing. Wherein that radar of things, which are good learning experience with not much capital outlay would you contemplate doing or selling a physical product?
Julie Merrill: 37:33 I have physical products as well and talking about the trading time, it’s not really passive income because you definitely got your time into physical products. I do have another division of my company that is selling stand up paddleboard jewelry, clothing and accessories. I don’t recommend doing both because as you know, I’m juggling two different things and whenever you’re juggling two different big things, you don’t do well at either of them. What ends up happening is I focus on one and put one aside and then, I focus on the other one and put the other aside, but they do tie together because it’s the same market. I’m serving the same market with my online business and I am with my physical product business, but again like making money with your hobby, like you were saying if you’re a knitter or if you sew, you can create products very easily that you can sell for that dollar. It’s not going to be passive income. Now, if you want to turn it into passive income in that situation, you could teach people how to sew themselves and do the same ype of training, where you’re a trainer versus actually trading your time for that dollar. The physical product side of it when you become legitimate, like so you’re not just selling something you made to your friends or maybe like a craft show, but getting behind actually doing retail and wholesale physical product marketing, there was a lot more involved. It was a great learning experience and I’m still going through right now with my jewelry line that I mean I can show you some tips that I’ve learned along the way, but I’m kind of still right in the middle of it.
What happened was last, was it two summers ago, I really wanted a necklace that was a [inaudible 00:39:15]. I looked online everywhere for one and I couldn’t find one. Then, I went to the Chinese manufacturers’ websites because everything like that is made in China. There’s got to be one out there. I started looking and couldn’t find anything that was appealing that I really liked, but what happens when you start searching through the Alibaba website is people start contacting you. Are you not finding what you like, can I make you something? It let me down this path, where I actually worked with a designer to design a stand up paddle board pendant for a necklace, but of course when you’re sourcing from a manufacturer, you got to buy in bulk. I ended up with 600 of these pendants and was like, “Okay, I guess I got to sell them, so now what am I going to do?”
I went through where I created necklaces with this pendant and got a little website up through Shopify, which if you’re selling physical products, man Shopify makes it super easy as far as getting your website set up. It also connects with the Google Store, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram. It really, really does a lot of the backend work for you as far as it being an easy place to start. I started selling necklaces and I started sponsoring paddle board events, where I would go and have booths and quickly, I got my paddle board necklaces in a couple local stores.
I started getting a lot of interest from other people to get my necklaces in their stores and I really hit the breaks because I didn’t want to get too big before I really got a lot of feedback on my product. For the first real busy season of this last summer, I only had my stuff in two local stores because I wanted to see what people thought, I wanted to see what they liked, if the price point was good. For some of my stuff, I realized that the price point was maybe a little high. What I was pricing at $29, if I could price it at $20 and make it work, it would sell, but that extra $10 being over $20 made it so that it didn’t sell. Like learning from your customer and getting that feedback early on before you going really big was a big learning point for me.
Last Christmas, I thought that going big was selling on Amazon. I went down this path, where I got my products in distribution centers all over the US for Amazon and tried to sell through Amazon. I quickly realized that you can make money on Amazon if you sell a lot, like your volume is really high, but when your volume is low and you’re just getting started out, they end up taking such a large portion that you’re not even getting back your cost because they charge for storage and they charge you to ship to all these different warehouses all over the country. Then, they charge you for fulfillment fees and then, they charge you per month and then, they take 30% of each transaction. It was like, “Wow, I made thousands of dollars in sales this month and I actually like only put 15% of it in my pocket that didn’t even cover my cost.” I pulled all my stuff from Amazon. Again, I’m going through this learning curve, trying to figure this out. Where I’m at now is I’m really going towards the wholesale market because it’s less time, it’s less time for me to market to the consumer and the shops around all over the place, all over the US and even in other countries, they already have the relationship with the customer. By having products in shops, they also provide a better level of customer service.
I had to stop shipping overseas because like I shipped some tank tops to Canada. When they get there, if they don’t fit and they want to return them, my margin is gone like by the time I pay for shipping back. You just can’t provide the same level of customer service versus an in shop. The learning process of the physical product has been its own beast, if I can call it that and finding where I want to spend my time. It’s definitely like do you sell it retail, do you sell it wholesale? Go back to my financial background, there’s a different model for those. If I crunch the numbers, the wholesale is going to give me less margin, but it’s also less work. It’s also more guaranteed sales at first is going the retail path.
Lisa Linfield: 43:22 What I love about that story is the whole thing of putting the brakes on and I see it in my own business is that there is such a great temptation to grow quickly. We need the money, we want the money, if someone says they’re interested, all of those kind of stuff. Whether it’s a virtual or a physical business, I think that our need for instant gratification and our dream of overnight success means that we are so often so tempted to outlay too much money before we know that the business model is going to work and before we’ve had all of the things like a customer returning a tank-top from Canada back to America, the various permutations are so huge that whether it’s a physical business, whether it’s a virtual business, whatever the business is, there is this element of [inaudible 00:44:10] that you’ve got to go through in order to get to that other side.
There’s a view that it takes three years for your business to “Reach profitability,” and whether it’s actual profitability or whether it’s just that there is a learning curve that yes some people can do it quicker and some people will do it longer, but it just takes time to get the learning you need to set up that business. If you’re working on it consistently and if consistently is two hours of day or consistently is eight hours a day, they are just certain amount of learning curve that you have to go to and you need to resist that temptation of trying to put out too much money into this thing before you’ve actually worked out what will work.
Julie Merrill: 43:22 Right.
Lisa Linfield: 44:49 I mean it’s been the most fascinating, I’ve learned so much. I’ve taken my own personal notes, many of them in terms of businesses and the way you think about it. I just really am so grateful for having the opportunity to learn from someone, who’s had the courage to stick to their niche and not go so broad and has worked out like many people do, their response rates and the engagement is much higher and therefore, creates a successful business. Thank you so much for your time. If our listeners want to get hold of you, how would they do that?
Julie Merrill: 45:22 Thank you first for having me. Yeah, so all of my information, my programs, my podcasts, my courses and I have a ton of free downloads are all on my website, which is at juliemerrill.me. My podcast is called the Paddleboarding CPA and it has its own website, thepaddleboardingcpa.com. I’m also very, very active on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube at paddleboardingcpa. Like I said, I have too many things going on, so my stand up paddle board line of jewelry is actually SUPchicks, so that’s the website. Then, the social media accounts are all supchickofficial.
Lisa Linfield: 45:59 That’s fantastic. I really am just in awe of your journey and really appreciate it. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Julie Merrill: 46:07 Thank you for having me.
Lisa Linfield: 46:08 That was Julie Merrill, the Paddleboarding CPA. I don’t know about you, but I learned an enormous amount from her and found myself taking a lot of notes and a lot of kind of actions and follow-ups. The thing I loved most was around the fact that everybody with a strong love for anything, a hobby, anything that you’re interested in can make some money off that. You don’t need to necessarily have a whole business, but as I’ve said through the series, it’s great to be able to have some extra income. What would you do with an extra 10,000 rand or a $1,000? Well, you never know, but as the Americans say, “The riches are in the niches or in the niches.” I would encourage you all to just start playing around with building an online community and some online people, who get to know you, like you and trust you with respect to this field that you’re interested in, so that at some stage when you have the courage to step into it that they might buy from you.
I would definitely visit a lot of her things. I’m going to follow her on Instagram now to learn some more about what she’s teaching. I would, if I was you, explore that idea that this thing that you love or interested in, if it’s jazz, if it’s knitting, whatever it is could be a place where you can start making some income, even if it’s just from the affiliate products and affiliate links on Amazon or other people’s businesses or products that they sell. Give it a try and just start learning because you have nothing much to lose through any of these adventures. Have a good week. Take care. I’m Lisa Linfield and this is Working Women’s Wealth.