Today’s episode is with my friend Emily Burton. Among being a friend and full-time RVer, Emily is also a top 1% seller on Etsy through her shop called The Paper Giraffe Shop.
With over 1,300 reviews, Emily has been able to carve out a niche for herself by largely selling printables on Etsy. If you’ve never heard of printables, they are actually a pretty incredible business for travelers because you carry zero physical inventory — you’re selling just that — digital designs for cards and invitations that people can print off at home.
What we talk about in this episode:
What Emily would do differently if she were starting her Etsy store today
In 2017, Heath and I decided we wanted to make Youtube videos. Our podcast was all business and our blog was all teaching about RV life—Youtube would be our chance to show some personality. We could be real. We could be fun. And we could share our story in a way that allowed people to connect with us more authentically.
At that point, Heath and I had been blogging for five years and were pretty comfortable knowing a few thousand strangers were reading and now watching our lives play out online…which now that I’ve typed it out, sounds a little weird.
But the longer you create content, the more end up feeling comfortable sharing. So the idea of people seeing us inside our home, going on adventures, and living life didn’t seem like that far of a stretch beyond what we were already sharing.
There are some things we were always careful about, like sharing our exact location. We would release videos days or weeks after we left that place and post Instagram photos in coordination with our videos. (This is something most bloggers or vloggers will do.) We wait to write where we are in our email newsletters until the last day we are in an area before we leave.
But still, every once in a while, people will find you.
Does that sound ominous?
The more you put yourself out there, the more often people will find you.
Not going to lie—sometimes this is awesome.
MAJOR shout out to Logan, who I ran into while staring at the gate locations TV screen in Honolulu trying to find the gate for our next flight. We had just landed from Sydney and she had just landed from Japan. She introduced herself and recognized me from watching our New Zealand videos (and, like anyone who watches on Youtube, asked how I was in Hawaii when our videos just showed us crossing from the south island to the north island!).
Really I just like telling that story because it makes me feel like a movie star and it’s the only time someone has recognized me without an unmissable redhead standing next to me. (Heath, on the other hand, gets recognized at all the campgrounds we visit because he’s so handsome.)
But for every exciting moment when you meet someone who tells you that they love following your content, you get the people who just…follow you.
Like, send you a picture of yourself walking through the campground follow you.
It. Is. Weird.
This has only happened a handful of times, but it’s creepy every time. People will send us a photo of our RV or of us walking by taken from their RV window. They don’t come to introduce themselves in real life or say hi. Just send a little photographic proof that they know where I’m sleeping.
And this is why you have to decide how much you’re comfortable sharing online.
Do you drive an RV or bus or van that’s easy to spot? One you’ve posted a hundred photos of on Instagram? You can count on someone walking up at some point—you’ll probably be half-dressed or in the middle of a video call when this happens—to say hi.
Do you share your real-time location and lots of videos about yourself? Someone is going to recognize your face and invite you to go out for drinks with them tonight.
And depending on who you are, this could be something you love or something that freaks you out a little.
I love being a blogger. I love connecting people who have followed our story, read my book, watched our videos, raved about Heath’s podcast. It’s a reminder that just sharing your story is meaningful and can make a huge impact on people’s lives.
We fully believe that the best bloggers are honest and authentic and that the more genuine we could be, the more impact we could have.
Aaaaaaand then we got pregnant.
Most people will tell you to keep your pregnancy a secret for the first trimester due to the risk of miscarriage. That was our plan. We could easily hide a baby bump in our videos and delay releasing them until after that 13th week. NBD.
But then reality set in.
Pregnancy isn’t easy (that’s the socially appropriate way to say that it sucks but at least you get a cute baby at the end) and it’s an incredibly personal experience. An experience that I realized very early on that I was NOT okay with sharing online. Which is why you won’t see many bump photos on our Instagram and zero videos about being pregnant in an RV on our Youtube.
A couple of weeks ago at our RVE Summit, someone asked me how much I would share online about our daughter once she’s born.
“Ummm, we’ll see,” I believe I responded.
Because I have NO idea.
(I hope you didn’t come to this blog post looking for an easy answer for what things you should share online because I don’t have it.)
Some vloggers will share videos from the delivery room. Others will write long blog posts about their experiences. Some bloggers may have a baby without you ever having any idea they were even pregnant.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy checklist of things you should share versus what you shouldn’t.
I wish it were that easy, but it all comes down to you and your preference.
When I’m writing or filming, there are three things I keep in mind:
1. I picture someone who I know follows me online and ask myself if I’m comfortable with that specific person knowing this detail about my life.
I used to picture family members I haven’t seen since I was three (you know, the ones who would email your parents concerned if you ever posted anything worrisome online) or old co-workers I don’t keep up with any more that I’m sure would love to gossip about me.
But the other day my little brother told me that my old high school pastor follows my blog so I’ll probably picture him from now on. If I’m okay with him knowing, then I’m okay with 10,000 strangers and anyone with internet access knowing too.
2. If someone ran into me at a campground and asked me about this, how would I feel? Creeped out? Awkward? Totally okay with it?
The girl I met in the airport asking me where I’m flying to next? Totally okay with it. I blog about travel! Telling people our future travel plans is par for the course.
A stranger asking me what specific medical condition I’ve dealt with during pregnancy and did our health insurance cover it? Super weird (and also socially unacceptable in general).
My mom texting me to ask when I last showered because my hair looked terrible in our latest video? Well, yeah you’re right mom but we had been boondocking for a week and were out of water okay.
3. I don’t have to answer every question thrown at me.
The more you share online, the more people feel like they know you. They’ve read your book, heard your story, know your face. And consequently, they think they know you well enough to ask you personal questions. You know, the things you’ve intentionally chosen to not include in your last blog post.
In my experience, this is really the point where you can feel the most uncomfortable about how much of your life you’re sharing with people you’ve never met. Personally, dealing with the responses to new videos or blogs is easily the hardest part. So I’ll tell you what I wish someone would’ve told me years ago:
When someone comments with something that makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to respond. Ignore it. Delete their comments or emails. Unsubscribe them from your email list.
You’re in control of what you share online and that includes replying to the personal questions you may get in response to your content.
I once had a woman email me multiple times over a period of months asking me why Heath and I hadn’t had children yet and urging us to get pregnant immediately. I never replied—because HELLO that’s rude—and would get angry emails from her asking why I hadn’t responded to her highly invasive questions! (Interestingly, she never congratulated me when we did announce our pregnancy.)
I move her emails and all the other strange, awkward, and rude emails to a folder in my Gmail labeled “weird comments”. That way should we ever truly feel threatened or like we are in a dangerous situation because of a follower, those messages are all saved somewhere. Nothing like that has ever happened, but it’s an easy precaution to take to make yourself feel safer if you are worried that you’re sharing too much online.
My favorite message in our weird comments folder is from a guy who replied to our pregnancy announcement and said: “WHO CARES?” 😂
Welcome to the internet! You never know what people will say.
On the other hand…
Sharing our story online is one of my favorite parts of blogging. It’s empowering and embarrassing and freeing and the benefits outweigh the occasional creepiness.
For every one weird, uncomfortable encounter we have online, we have ten amazing ones. Emails from people that say “Thank you for sharing this struggle, I needed to hear this” or “YES! I can totally relate!” or “This post helped me so much—thank you!”
This is why we all started blogging in the first place, wasn’t it? To make an impact on others by simply sharing your life. (Which is why there is also an “awesome comments” folder in our Gmail where we can always find encouragement to continue blogging).
Navigating the grey waters of what you should or shouldn’t share online is a part of building an online presence—whether you’re writing a blog, recording a podcast, or creating videos about your life and travels—and how much you share is totally up to you and what makes you comfortable.
So how much will we share of our daughter after she’s born? I still have no idea. I suppose we’ll see!
Last month, Heath was telling our friend Wes about a tweet he had seen. We were coworking out of Wes’ office space in Alabama as we prepped for our Summit and I had forgotten to bring my headphones.
Heath is the person in the coworking space who loves coworking as a chance to talk to people and share ideas, while I’m sitting at the end of the table with headphones on drowning out the distractions so I can write in peace.
But since I forgot headphones, I had no choice but to eavesdrop on Heath and Wes while they talked about Twitter.
“I don’t remember where I saw it but it was this new thing that lets you build an app from a spreadsheet.”
“Dude, what’s it called? We’ve been wanting to be able to build apps for our clients.”
“I don’t remember. I’ll have to find it.”
It wouldn’t be a conversation that I would remember if Wes hadn’t spun his chair around to hand me his phone a few hours later.
“Bam! I built an app,” he declared.
“That fast?!” I asked incredulously looking at the screen on his phone. There were icons and maps and different tabs. It looked like weeks of work, but here he was swiping through showing me an entire app that he built from the time it took for Heath to find the tweet to now. Which gave me an idea.
Heath was in the other room on a marathon video call with his mastermind and had a good 40 minutes left before he would be done.
“Show me how you did it,” I asked Wes.
He pulled up Glide Apps and showed me the basic steps and pointed out all their sample apps where you can see all the different functionalities the online application offered.
“This is all free?” I asked, skeptically. When Heath and I have looked into app building in the past, it was upwards of $2,000 for a plug-and-play app, not even a customized app.
“Yeah it’s free unlimited apps and then you just connect it with your Google spreadsheet and edit it all from Google.”
Every year, we’ve wanted to build an app for our Summit. It would be a way for attendees to have all the event information right at their fingertips.
I always thought the only way I could have my own app would be to spend thousands to hire someone to build it for me. That, or I could spend years learning how to code and then build it myself. Both of which were not ideal options. But this was interesting. And even though the event kicked off in under two weeks, I felt like this was a sign that we could actually make it happen.
I had 40 minutes before Heath was off his call and I figured why not give building an event app a try? Heath is always talking about this idea of runway: how much are you willing to invest in an idea before you give up?
I gave myself a runway of 40 minutes. If I couldn’t figure it out in 40 minutes, I would go back to my Trello to do list and work on the ever-growing list of things I actually needed to do before the event started.
I created an account, opened a new spreadsheet in Google, and got to work.
In 40 minutes, I had the full event schedule uploaded into the app. Every workshop, meet up, and event was listed.
It was live!
My spreadsheet had five pages: Pre-Conference, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This made for five different tabs on my app with each one displaying the full day’s schedule. Not bad for 40 minutes. Not bad at all.
Actually, it was weirdly easy…
I built a working app in under an hour.
Watching Heath download the app onto his phone was thrilling. I made that, I thought to myself as he flipped through each tab excitedly.
We marveled in the fact that it was even possible for us to make an app on our own for about three minutes before the entrepreneur-side of us came out.
This was easy. What can we do make it better?
Just the schedule was helpful for attendees, but how could we provide even more value? How could improve our existing product?
Or in business terms, this was iteration one. It was our MVP—minimum viable product. The absolute least we could do.
How could we make it bigger? Better?
So I started a new spreadsheet. I scrapped the old one entirely and had a blank page in front of me. We could put the entire schedule on just one tab instead of five. Then we could have a tab with all the FAQs we get. And the speaker bios would be nice too, so people can see the speakers’ photos and read about their sessions before they take the stage. And what about little things like how registration works or what the address is for the campground? People will need to know those too.
And within a few hours, we had iteration 2.
By the time we sent our next informational email to attendees, I had added in a section about how to download the app, we had tested it on multiple devices, and it all worked without issue. Altogether, it took a maybe two days of work to get the final version of the app live, including the random additional last-minute updates like changed meeting times or added activities.
Now I’m biased because I’m clearly very proud of myself for doing this all on my own, but that’s seriously impressive. I can’t tell you a single thing about how apps work but there on my phone screen is the icon for a real operational app.
You can do anything.
A few times a year, I get emails from readers that say “Can I do this?”
I’m in my seventies.
I’m still in high school.
I’m recently divorced.
I have three kids.
I’ve never run my own business before.
I have no idea how to make money while traveling. Can I do this?
It’s one of the hardest questions I’m ever asked. It’s so much deeper than just “can someone in my circumstances live full-time in an RV?” This is people asking me if I think they have what it takes to move into an RV, to find a remote job or start their first business, to travel the world without going broke or getting hurt. It’s a life transition that takes a lot of guts and courage and questioning whether or not you’re totally crazy for ever thinking it could be possible.
There so many things I’ve done that I, at one point, I’ve been sure I cannot do.
I cannot build an app since I don’t know how to code.
I cannot quit my job, move into an RV, and spend a year visiting all 50 states.
I cannot drive our Winnebago while towing our Honda through downtown Nashville traffic.
(That last one was when traffic came to stand still so Heath decided it was a great opportunity for him to abandon the driver’s seat, run to the bathroom, and pee. Traffic instantly let up and I had to jump into the driver’s seat. This is not the first time this ever happened.)
Building this one little app was a reminder of how easy it is to get in your own head and psych yourself out from even trying.
To say “I can’t”, instead of “It would be cool if I could learn how to _______” or “Wouldn’t it be crazy if we decided to _________?” To not try at all, instead of researching and finding the tools you need that make the task possible. To assume it isn’t possible for someone like you, instead of emailing someone who can give you a little encouragement to keep going.
I likely never would’ve built an app if I hadn’t seen my friend Wes do it. I really wouldn’t if Heath had not found a tool that made it happen.
Because seriously, if I can build an app, you can do anything.
PS I’m in no way affiliated with Glide Apps, but if you’ve ever wanted to build an app for your business and have 40 minutes to spare, I really did have a lot of fun building my own app! I’ve gotta add app developer to my Linkedin profile now.
I’m convinced that no one has to make more decisions on any given day than an RVer. (Okay, except maybe the president.)
How far do we want to drive today?
How much should I fill up the fresh water tank?
What are the stores like where we are headed? Should we stock up on groceries here?
Do we refill with gas now, or try to find a truck stop down the road so it’s an easier stop?
Do we want to do this hike or this one? Or should we take advantage of the weather and kayak today instead?
Interstate or backroads? (And are there any low clearances or length limits that we need to research ahead of time?)
On more than one occasion, Heath would ask me yet another question and I would throw my hands up in the air and say I don’t care! It’s 9 AM and I’ve already had to make a dozen little decisions about my day. It’s exhausting.
We’ve all heard about Steve Jobs famously wearing the exact same outfit every day to cut down the number of decisions he has to make in a day. Decision fatigue is a real thing and for travelers—specifically RV entrepreneurs—it’s a million times worse.
In addition to worrying about travel logistics, you’re throwing in details like “We can drive 100 miles this morning, but then I have a Skype meeting at 11:30 AM. So we should stop somewhere with reliable internet by 11:10-11:15 so I can prep.”
(Please tell me we aren’t the only ones who have structured travel days like this.)
And while you can cut down the items in your closet to make dressing easier, commit to making the same meals to make shopping and cooking easier, and plan your travel routes ahead of time to avoid last-minute decisions, you can’t completely avoid having to make multiple decisions every day.
This is something Heath and I struggled with BIG TIME in 2018, for a lot of reasons:
Because we were in smaller RVs in New Zealand and Canada, we were traveling a lot faster, staying in places for only a night or two at a time. This meant constantly deciding where to stay tonight, what to do that day, how far to drive, etc. Oh and BONUS! These were both foreign countries so we had the added difficulty of converting kilometers to miles or remembering to drive on the left side of the road or trying to recall what the names of the good groceries stores were.
Heath was onboarding new customers to Campground Booking and trying to decide if he could realistically scale the business while traveling full-time.
In June, we were searching for the perfect campground to host the Summit and found two we loved. How do you choose between two awesome campgrounds???
We were shopping for campgrounds online so we could buy our own and trying to nail down where to spend the next couple of years of life.
And on top of it all, we were trying to decide if now was the time we wanted to have a baby. (Because why not throw on one more major life decision?)
There were so many decisions piling up and each one was wearing us down slowly.
And then Heath came to me and said, do we really want to go to Canada this fall?
It was June, we had just gotten back to our Winnebago after three months abroad and two back-to-back weddings. It was hot, we were exhausted, and nothing sounded worse than driving a few thousand miles across Canada.
All of a sudden, Canada wasn’t this sure thing we were doing anymore. It was another decision to make.
Easy decisions like what to eat for dinner were daunting. Which RV park to stay at tonight became an argument. We couldn’t even decide where to host our Summit (Heath was team California, I was team Alabama), so we created a poll in our Summit Facebook group and let past attendees decide for us to avoid making our own decision.
The added decision to go to Canada was the hardest of all. It had been on our calendar since before we left for New Zealand and it was a sure thing. But once Heath threw out the idea that we didn’t have to go, things got tense.
One more major decision to make.
The road trip was for Campground Booking. We would be traveling across four provinces recording data on various campgrounds, national parks, and points of interest to build out CB’s trip planner feature. It was a three-month commitment that would involve thousands of miles of driving every single day, after we just spent months driving daily in NZ. It would almost be a full-time job with all the travel and all the work we would be doing in addition to running our blog, making Youtube videos, and recording the podcast.
And since it was all for Campground Booking, the real decision to make was: Is this trip worth it for the company?
Which led to, is spending all this time on Campground Booking worth it?
Should Heath be working on Campground Booking at all?
Did he waste three years building this company?
What are we even doing with our lives?
Side note: If one seemingly small decision leads to you thinking ‘what am I even doing with my life?’ You’re probably in dire need of a massage and a nap.
I can feel all that pass stress bubbling up in me just writing about those times.
For the past year—namely since those intense summer months when Heath and I were constantly trying to decide if going to Canada was worth it for the business, if we wanted to sell our Winnebago or take Leisure up on their offer to try out their new Wonder, if we wanted to keep RVing full-time at all or just nap indefinitely on a beach somewhere—I thought we were the only people struggling with this. Surely other people don’t get stuck in this loop of indecision and decision fatigue.
And then we had coffee with a couple RV friends and I heard the most comforting thing.
“The indecision is the worst part. You just have to make the decision and be okay with making the wrong decision. And if you do make the wrong decision, you just fix it later.”
WHERE WAS THIS ADVICE SIX MONTHS AGO?!
Heath and I spent so much time weighing pros and cons, trying to map out the future, struggling through big decisions, and I wish someone would’ve come along and said hey. You’re killing yourself with this indecision. You’re stressed, you’re not happy, you’re not going to be happy until you figure these things out. So just make a decision and move forward. And if it’s the wrong decision, you can fix it later.
This mindset has lifted the weight from my shoulders…and opened my eyes to how deeply our decision fatigue was affecting Heath and me. We were constantly overwhelming ourselves trying to make the perfect decision instead of making a decision and being okay with it regardless of the consequences.
I wrote this blog a few months ago when Heath and I had just moved into our apartment and still in the throws of making big decisions. (Did we really want to sell our Winnebago? Wouldn’t that make part-time travel easier if we just stored our motorhome when we weren’t using it?)
I realized I couldn’t in good conscience post this blog without taking the time to actually come up with a solution and a framework for how Heath and I make decisions now having learned from our past mistakes.
Here are the five rules I’ve come up with to help combat decision fatigue.
Rule #1: When in doubt, just say no.
The best part of being pregnant is having an automatic out to say no to everything without feeling guilty. My official answer for anything right now has been “We aren’t making any major decisions until after our daughter is born. Ask me again over the summer!” (I would say only about 1% of the time do people actually follow up, so you’re off the hook with this line!)
If a decision is going to load on more work, add stress, take away your time, or you’re not 100% sure you want to do it, just say no. (Nancy Reagan would be SO PROUD.)
Having worked in film over the past few years, Heath and I almost always decide to say yes to film opportunities. We always learn so much and have a blast. It meant four days of travel and missing out on a week of running our business and it didn’t really make sense for us business-wise, but it would be fun! And everyone could use a little more fun in their lives I think.
Rule #3: Find a way to make fewer decisions daily.
Deciding to move to an apartment in a town we knew was one of our solutions to our decision fatigue. No more needing a GPS or needing to research the area to make a quick trip to the grocery store.
We make extra food for dinner so we can have leftovers for lunch—one less decision to make in the middle of the workday.
I can only fit into maternity clothes now, leaving only a few options when I’m getting dressed in the morning.
These little decisions add up. Your solutions may look different than ours, but anything you can do to make fewer decisions in a day (specifically in the morning when your brain is fresh) will free up your mental energy to focus on other tasks or even make future decisions.
My personal favorite: Before I close my laptop for the night, I move 2-4 Trello tasks to my “Today” list so when I open my computer in the morning, I already know what I need to tackle that day.
Rule #4: Set your values and filter your decisions through them.
When we set our goals for 2019, we took a different approach this year. Instead of just setting our normal goals like “100K pageviews a month” we started with figuring out what our biggest values would be for the year.
For me that was:
Growth (both personally and in business)
So when an opportunity comes along that would make us a lot of money but isn’t good for our family, it’s a no.
When an opportunity comes along that is good for our family—like the beachside RV resort that offered to let us stay this week and enjoy a “babymoon”—it’s a yes. Any time a decision leads to more quality time with Heath, the answer is yes because he’s really cute.
Rule #5: If nothing else, remember that you don’t have to do it all right now.
I don’t know if this is something all entrepreneurs struggle with or if it’s a sign of our youth, but when we come up with a business idea, Heath is ready to do it RIGHT NOW. Once he built an entire job board for RVers in a day before he realized that running Campground Booking, HeathandAlyssa.com, our production company, AND a job board might be a little time-consuming.
Can we run four businesses? Sure. Can we do it all at the same time? Um, NO. That is a recipe for burn out.
When we moved into our apartment, we were still searching for a campground to buy and trying to figure out how to balance our plans to travel across Europe with our daughter and run a campground. This would be on top of Campground Booking and our blog and podcast, of course.
Again, it would be too much at once! We would burn ourselves out, become overwhelmed, and struggle with decision fatigue.
So we decided the campground is part of our 3-5 year plan (How adult does that sound? We are planning years ahead!) and that traveling with our daughter (value #1 is family!) would be more important.
Don’t overload yourself trying to do it all right now. Sometimes the best decision you can make is to say “I’ll revisit this in a year” (or feel free to use my noncommital “Not making decisions until after the baby is born” line for guilt-free decision-making).
2018 was an unnecessarily difficult year for us because we let decision fatigue plague us for months. I hope these five rules that I made up to help us navigate future decisions can help you avoid the self-inflicted stress and torment we suffered.
Today we’re starting a five-part series on how to write, publish, and launch your first self-published book. Heath graciously agreed (after only a few months of nagging, mind you) to let me come on the podcast and share all my stories that I’ve been DYING to share about publishing a book. So you can listen to our conversation by hitting play above, or read a version of our conversation below.
We’re talking about:
My goals for selling my book
Why giving away my book for free was BRILLIANT
Why I wanted to publish a book
Validating a book idea
And my secret for actually finishing and publishing this book
For years, I dreamt of publishing a book. It was a pretty pie-in-the-sky dream, and one I’ve had since I was six years old. Of course when I was six I also wanted to be a prima ballerina but one of these goals seemed much easier to achieve than the other.
I started a blog before writing a book—because that was the advice everyone was giving five years ago when I was graduating college and trying to figure out how to make my dream happen. If you want to write books they said, you start a blog, build an audience, become an expert, then write your book.
That was the proven path I took. I started AlyssaPadgett.com—which was later combined with Heath’s blog to form HeathandAlyssa.com because two blogs were WAY too much for this family. We grew our site together, sharing everything we knew about full-time RVing and running a business on the road, and then I wrote my book (along with a few other pit stops along the way).
Before self-publishing my book on Amazon I was terrified.
I was terrified people would hate it, terrified nobody would take me seriously and terrified of all the unknown factors standing between me and clicking “publish”.
I look incredibly calm, but this was hours before clicking publish on my book.
In my head, I had built up writing a book as something you do after 40 years of experience and once Random House comes knocking on your door. It wasn’t something you did after a few years of blogging and with just a crazy idea that I could actually do it all on my own.
Nothing brings out your internal doubts and feelings of imposter syndrome like publishing a book. Like I talk about in this podcast episode, I couldn’t sleep through the night without waking up from stress dreams about my book. The most recurring one was that I end a sentence with “AND ADD MORE HERE”—my internal note to myself to finish a thought before publishing. So far this mistake hasn’t happened, but the fear of it will jolt me from a REM cycle!
Fear—that pesky little emotion that creeps up any time you attempt something cool and worthwhile—kept me from publishing my book for months (back on episode 100 I talked about what I was feeling right before the book launched).
Now that six months have passed and I can look back on the whole process in a slightly more stable emotional state, I’m overwhelmed at the results of launching this book.
In this blog post, I wanted to share with you what I learned from writing, launching and marketing my first book. This is actually the first of five podcast episodes/blog posts that I’m writing to share my book launch experience. My hope is that by sharing what I’ve learned in this process, maybe it can encourage others to get over the fear of clicking publish on their own book.
What I Expected from My First Book Launch
My main goal for my book launch was simple: sell 400 books.
Rumor is, according to various sources on the internet, the average self-published book sells 200-300 copies in its lifetime (2,000-3,000 copies if you work with a publisher). So my goal was to at least knock those numbers out in my first week. I wasn’t entirely sure how possible that would be, but I had a launch team and a marketing plan that I hoped would serve me well.
Screenshot of a private Facebook group I created for my book launch team that helped me share the book once it went live on Amazon.
I told Heath that if I sold 400 books in my first week and 50 a month after that, I would be ecstatic.
I ended up selling over 2,000 books the first day, over 5,000 in the first month!
WHAT! That’s crazy!? And quite possibly proves I know nothing about setting sales goals.
To date, here’s a breakdown of book sales for the first six months:
Kindle books: 7,366
Paperback books: 1,282 (released in late February)
Total books sold in 6 months: 8,648
After the first few hours on launch day, I reset all my sales goals for the year. I had based my sales goal on what I knew about self-publishing from Heath’s book. When we launched his book in 2016, I think we sold 20 in the first day and about 350 in its lifetime using Gumroad (he didn’t release on Amazon). A little bit of my goal of 400 was just wanting to outsell Heath’s book in spectacular fashion. Mostly because I had a lot of ideas for how we could make Heath’s book successful and he did NONE of them! (Not that I’m bitter about it, obviously.)
Just like I was when I launched my book, Heath was worried it would suck and everyone would ask for their money back, so he didn’t invest time in marketing the book. Instead, it sat on our website dormant for two years selling a couple copies here and there. Please if you spend hours and days and weeks writing your book, don’t let it suffer this end!
The major difference with my book was that it launched on Amazon, where the effects could snowball in a massive marketplace.
I didn’t intend to sell as many copies as I did (my goal leaped from wanting to sell 2,000 copies in the first year to 10,000 copies). However, I spent many a long night researching launch practices, evergreen sales, and Amazon hacks to develop a marketing plan that would make my book successful. And one unlikely tip rose to the top of my strategy.
So I suppose the real kicker is that when I say that I sold 2,000+ copies on the first day, I kind of didn’t. Because I gave the book away for free.
Why I Gave Away My Book for Free (Initially)
A few people expressed their disbelief (and unfiltered judgment) for my poor decision to give away my book for free during launch week. Why would you put all this work into making a product and then give it away?
But fortunately, I don’t listen to bad advice and did it anyway.
I decided to give my book away for free in order to reach as many people out of the gate as possible and boost my status in Amazon’s algorithm, which ended up converting to more sales.
Here’s how it worked for me:
I found that when you make your book free during that first week, it does a couple things.
1. Amazon shows you love in the search algorithm when you sell more books (even if they are free).
You aren’t earning money, since the book is free, but a book sold for free = a book sold to the Amazon algorithm. This affects your sales rank, so as you are selling thousands of free books, you’re getting higher and higher in the Amazon store. My book made it as high as #49 in all of the Kindle Free Store on that first day. (So note to future published authors: you need to sell around 2,000 books in a 24-hour period to make to the Top 100!)
This initial rank tells that Amazon algorithm that my book is worthy of reading and to rank this book higher in search results in the future. Reviews, the information on your product page, and keywords will also play a role in how the algorithm favors your book as well. But all these metrics factor into how your book will perform long-term. You want to have an amazing first month of sales, and I found that making the book free initially helped gain more early momentum for me.
2. More word of mouth and people reading my book right out of the gate.
Since I’m a first time author, 99.9% of people have no idea who I am. Making my book free allowed an initial flood of readers to find my book. When they liked it (hopefully), they could share the book with their friends or family or leave a review of the book (which helps again with the algorithm).
Amazon shows you how many pages are read via Kindle Unlimited each day, a really cool stat.
How to give your book away for free on Amazon:
When I say give your book away for free, I don’t mean making your price set to zero. When you sell your book on Amazon, you use Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP. With KDP, they give you two types of promotions you can run on your book each quarter. Kindle Countdown Deal and Free Book Promotion. With the Free Book Promotion, you can make your book available for free for five days during the quarter.
I scheduled five different dates in the first month for my book to be available for free. Those free days sold 4,500+ copies of my book. The real kicker is this, every time I run a free promotion for a period of time there is a large spike in paid book sales immediately following the promotion.
More Reasons Why I Wanted to Publish a Book (And Why You Should Too, Really)
I wanted to write a book for years. Learning how to leverage and sell on Amazon was a major bonus for us, but writing a book was strategic for us in a few more ways.
A book establishes credibility.
If you’ve written a book on a topic, you’re automatically regarded as the expert. Blogging and podcasting and video are great but a book is the ultimate business card saying LISTEN TO MY BRILLIANCE (again, Amazon’s words, not mine).
A book compiles all our knowledge in one easy to read place.
70% of my book you can read for free on this blog. This is true for many books written by bloggers. We test the info on our website to validate the book chapters and gather comments and questions and update, re-write, and clarify the content.
Taking all of those blog posts and putting them into a book makes it easy for readers to learn and understand all the information. Everything is in order and categorized. It saves time and creates a resource you can easily look back on when you have questions in the future.
Zig while they zag.
In the past few years, every blogger I know has started publishing courses. There’s an online course for EVERYTHING. Of course we have courses too, so I’m not knocking this approach.
But there’s something to be said for zigging while everyone else zags. There’s plenty of courses on how to start RVing, but fewer books. Writing the book was my way of standing out and branching away from what everyone else was doing. Plus, many of these courses cost $20, $30, $50. My book would fill in the same info at that lower, more affordable price point.
Following what everyone else is doing is tempting. But if you want to stand out, do something different.
How do you write and publish your first book?
This post is the first of five Heath and I will be sharing about writing, publishing, and launching a book (though many of these strategies will apply to any product launch!). In the next episode, we’ll talk about how to validate your book idea before you even start writing it.
If you have questions throughout the series about writing or publishing a book, drop a comment and I’ll answer all of them!
Today’s episode is with Ashley Mann. Ashley runs RV Inspiration, which is a blog focused on RV decor ideas and inspiration, among other useful advice. She started the blog back in 2017 and it’s now providing a full-time income for her as she travels with her husband Josiah in their fifth wheel.
I took quite a bit from this conversation with Ashley, but one thing, in particular, was how she went about launching her website and catering content to her audience. She didn’t just sit in her own little space and think about what people might want to hear about, she went out and found actual problems people were struggling with as they made this life transition and just gave them solutions.
If you’re wanting to build any kind of content channel (whether it’s a blog, YouTube channel or podcast), I think you’ll really enjoy this conversation with Ashley.
What we talk about in this episode:
Why it’s okay to pivot in your entrepreneurial journey
How to write content that will help your audience and grow your blog
Where to find your target audience and how to identify their problems
How to monetize your blog and treat it like a business
The RV Entrepreneur 2019 Virtual Ticket
Alyssa and I are a week out from our third RV Entrepreneur Summit that we’re hosting in northern Alabama. This started out a few years ago as kind of a glorified meetup and now it’s turned into a several day conference with quite a few amazing keynote speakers, workshops and this year we’ll have 350 attendees.
The whole goal of the event is to take similar content from this podcast and kick it up a notch with our speakers and immersive sessions and then combine it with being able to experience it with other community members. One of the biggest struggles for us our first couple years on the road was finding other like-minded people who we could share ideas with and who understood the kind of business and life we were trying to create.
If you’ll be attending this year, I’m pumped to meet you. If you didn’t grab a ticket but would still like to tune into the workshops and keynote speakers, you can grab a virtual ticket.
When you’re first starting out as an entrepreneur or small business owner, it’s easy for people to not take you seriously. Heck, it’s easy to not to take yourself seriously—hello imposter syndrome!
For Heath and I, we were young, inexperienced, and let’s be honest, making it up as we went along. After filming our documentary, we decided to put our film equipment to good use by starting a production company. We didn’t know anything about attracting clients, running a service-based business, or what types of videos we would want to film.
Our first client wanted us to film an online course for him, which thank goodness meant sticking a camera on a tripod and very simple editing. We could do that easy.
But we didn’t think about how we didn’t own any lighting equipment (thanks Amazon Prime), how we didn’t have a studio space, and how we were filming in a city where we had never visited before, so we had no contacts to ask for help on where to rent the equipment we would need or where to rent studio space.
We ended up filming in a gym that had onsite meeting rooms, pausing filming occasionally when a toilet would flush in the bathrooms next door or when the people in the meeting room across the hall burst out laughing.
It wasn’t our most professional moment, but we learned a ton, gained great experience, and figured out how to meet and manage client expectations. (I was NOT prepared for the moment when our client showed me a bunch of shirts and asked what would look best on camera. Don’t worry, the bright yellow shirt above did not make the cut!)
After that first client, we upped our game—taking courses in film production, studying how to create a great backdrop, and learning how to market ourselves as professionals. Hey, we had one paid client! That meant we officially did film production for a living. It was time to make this business official.
Look how professional that looks! We look like we actually know what we are doing and everything!
Regardless of experience or income or what type of business you’re running, there a few really easy things you can do to make yourself appear professional, even if you’re just starting out.
1. Have a website!
There are a shocking number of businesses that don’t have a website.
“We don’t have a website, but we have a Facebook page.” —something I heard from a coffee shop employee today. If you own a business, you need a website! They are not that expensive! This is my new pet peeve.
Once your site is up and running, you only need three pages for it to be ready to show clients:
An about page (with a great photo of your pretty face)
A services page (ideally with a little pricing info, but not required)
A contact page
Once you’ve been up and running for a while, client testimonials and a portfolio of your work are great additions too. But when you’re just starting, the above three pages are all you really need. That way clients can get to know you, familiarize themselves with what services you offer, and reach out to hire you with ease.
If you want to be professional, owning your corner of the internet is a must.
2. Use an email address that isn’t @hotmail, @yahoo, or even @gmail.com
I cannot take anyone seriously who uses a Hotmail email address. You’re running a business not connecting with a pen pal, and your email address should reflect that.
Even Gmail addresses don’t give that air of professionalism like they used to.
Once you’ve got your website set up, you have no excuse to not use an email address that is firstname.lastname@example.org. (Or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or whatever first half of the email address you’d like.)
This screams I know what I’m doing instead of I’m writing this email from my couch.
It’ll take about 20 minutes of your time to get all this set up. We use the G Suite to run our @heathandalyssa.com email addresses, which I personally love since we use a lot of Google Docs and other Google apps to run our business. Plus Google has a ton of help articles and tutorials to help you get up and running.
Having an email set up at your domain not only looks professional, but since you own your domain and likely won’t be changing it, you’ve also got an email that you can use for years.
A tip for the ladies (or anyone who has changed their name):
Please, PLEASE make sure the name that displays when you send an email is the same as your legal name (or whatever name you would use to sign your emails). I’ve gotten so many emails over the years that say they are from Rebecca Donaldson and are signed at the bottom Becky Katsopolis. Um, WHAT IS YOUR REAL NAME?!?!
If you changed your maiden name, make sure you update your name everywhere, including the “send email as” name. (In Gmail you can update this by going to Settings and then Accounts.)
And if you go by your nickname and encourage people to use your nickname, make that your send email as name too! There’s no shame in displaying your name as Abby instead of Abigail or Steve instead of Stephen if that’s how people refer to you in real life.
My Bad: When Heath and I first started our firstname.lastname@example.org email address, I didn’t double-check the sending email as name and sent emails for a MONTH as Heath Padgett. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why people kept replying “Hey Heath!” and it drove me crazy! Double check that your name is accurate, especially if it’s a shared email account like ours.
3. Send consistent, easy-to-read invoices
It would be embarrassing to show you all the invoice designs I’ve sent over the years. Because I’ve changed their look. A LOT. And they have not been cute.
I’ve also had many clients email me back with comments like “Can you add an invoice number to this invoice?” or “When is this invoice due? I don’t see any terms of payment” or “Where should I mail this check to? I don’t see an address.”
I honestly thought I was the only person who struggled with making invoices, until someone sent me a question recently asking how I invoiced our clients because they couldn’t figure it out. Hooray, I’m not alone!
Making invoices is one of the most annoying parts of managing clients (but also the best because YAY it means you’re making money!).
For years, I used Microsoft Word or Pages invoice templates. Then those started feeling stale so I used Canva to make a pretty branded invoice with our RVE logo and everything. Then I realized I was spending hours designing and manually emailing invoices. Not to mention following up with clients after realizing you haven’t been paid on time and trying to remember if you’ve invoiced all the right people or not (where did I save all those invoice files anyway??).
When you’ve got multiple clients, specifically clients on retainer, you realize that you’re doing the same tasks over and over.
I signed up for the free version of Freshbooks to try to fix my invoicing woes. At the time, I needed to send invoices to six different clients. A couple of them would be recurring too, so I could have these invoices auto-send each month instead of setting monthly reminders and sending them manually.
This was a serious game changer.
First, all the little things I would forget to do when creating a new invoice (updating the invoice number, adding today’s date and marking when the invoice was due) were all automatically done for me.
Second, all of the sudden, making and sending invoices took 2 minutes! I added all my clients into my account, chose one from a dropdown menu, and clicked the send button. No more exporting as a PDF, attaching it to an email, CC’ing the accountant and our client on the email, and writing a short little email that said more than pay me please. (Why are invoice emails so awkward to write?)
And third, I can have clients pay by credit card. In the past year, this has become a big deal.
Accounting departments take forever, depositing checks when you’re traveling and not near your mailbox gets difficult, and accepting credit card payments means you get paid instantly. Once we started allowing credit card payments, we started being paid by clients the same day we invoiced, instead of waiting 30-60 days for payment. You do get hit with a fee (which is a tax deduction that Freshbooks will track for you since it’s a whole business accounting software), but when the alternative is waiting months to be paid, the fee can be worth it.
We use this feature a lot while we were in Canada and didn’t want to deal with the added hassle of checks and international banks.
I’ve been using Freshbooks for over a year now and while I don’t even use all the features (it also can track your hours, keep records of all your business expenses, and even has a feature where you can send proposals and estimates to prospective clients), the invoicing feature alone has made running our business so much easier! I can keep track of what invoices I’ve sent, which ones have been paid, and which ones are overdue all in one dashboard. No more rummaging around my Documents folder trying to remember what I titled that invoice…
Sending invoices that are easy-to-read, have all the information your client needs, and are sent on time(!) is one of the easiest ways to show your clients that you’re a professional.
4. Set up a business address and phone number.
As an RVer, this is where things get tricky. For years, Heath and I didn’t have a set business address.
In fact, if you look back at our past newsletters (which require you by law to display an address) we used “123 Main Street” for years.
Yeahhhh, don’t do that!
If you’re running a business, you need a business address and phone number. You’ll for sure use these when setting up a business bank account, doing anything tax-related, or if you use an email service like we do. Heck, even Instagram and other social networks will ask for your phone number.
As an RVer, you’ve got a few options for your address. You can:
Set up a PO Box at a post office or rent a mailbox at UPS
Use your domicile address (especially if you’re freelancing, because there’s no need for a fancy address!)
You’ll need an address if you file an LLC no matter what, and any of the above are good options for that (in my experience, a registered agent office is the best option for travelers!). No matter what you choose, make sure mail scanning and/or forwarding is an option so you don’t miss anything important.
Setting up a business phone number is easy (and free). We use Google Voice, which only takes a few minutes to set up. Just sign in to your Google account, choose an area code, and select a phone number. Then follow the instructions on the page. And you’re set! No more giving strangers your cell phone number.
Your address and phone number should both be listed on the contact page of your website, and if you’re really fancy, in your website footer as well.
Yeah I just went down a rabbit hole of terribly branded websites and that one is definitely the worst one I’ve seen. Let’s just set a rule now that no good branding involves a paisley design.
A better example to show off how a little branding goes a long way would be the Day Designer website:
You’ll see they have two brand colors: a light teal green and gold. They use gold for all their headers and teal on anything where they want your attention, like the banner at the top for free shipping or the review button.
And if you look really closely at their website, you’ll notice many of the photos they use have hints of gold and teal in them:
To create branding for your site, you don’t have to be that fancy, but you do want to set up a few brand elements. This means picking one, maybe two colors to represent your brand.
For us, this looks like all our links, menus, and buttons being the same shade of blue (41d0dd if you’re curious). You’ll note this is the same blue color as the sky on my book cover and the same blue as our latest ebook, 50 Business Ideas for RVers. Consistency is key!
There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to picking your brand color, so don’t get too caught up here. You can always change your color (excuse me, rebrand) later if you suddenly decide that the shade of green you chose is the absolute ugliest color on the planet.
Do keep in mind as you decide on a color what other brands or causes are associated with those colors. Pink is breast cancer, red and blue are patriotic, the six colors of the rainbow are LGBTQ (which you wouldn’t choose rainbow anyway because you only need two colors max!).
Beyond consistency of color on your website, you’ll also want consistent fonts throughout your website. We use the same font for everything on our website, but it’s perfectly acceptable to use one font for all your body text and a different font for all your headers.
For us, this is the extent of our branding. One main color, a couple of accent colors, and we’re done! We aren’t designers and you don’t need to be to make sure your business has consistent branding.
Create your own brand style guide by keeping all your color codes and fonts that you choose in a Google doc. That way when you inevitably find yourself making an ebook or a proposal or a printable in the future, you have all your brand elements recorded in one place!
Things You DON’T Need to be Professional:
An active presence on social media.
For goodness sakes, please don’t believe the lie that you need to be everywhere online. While you should own any social media handles with your business name (if for no other reason than that no one else snatches it up), you don’t need to tweet daily to be a professional business. Focus on what matters and ignore anyone who says your business NEEDS a Youtube channel. Keep doing what you’re doing!
Blogs are great (says the blogger)! They can get traffic to your website, boost your online presence, show off your expertise—and if you want to blog and have the time, great! But blogging and content marketing are not required to show off your business professionalism.
In doing research for this blog post, I found a shocking number of people recommending that new businesses hire a VA to appear more professional. Um, that’s just about the worst advice ever. You don’t need to go around hiring employees to legitimize your business! Even if having someone else reply to your emails is tempting…
Once your business scales and you need extra help, hire away! But you definitely don’t need a virtual assistant just to show off your business professionalism.
Above all, do great work.
At the end of the day, whether you have a business address or send your emails from email@example.com, the best thing you do can for your business is to provide great service.
Do what you say you will do—and complete it on time and on budget. Reply to client emails quickly so they know you’re paying attention to them. Be kind and courteous and keep your client up to date on work.
The better work you do, the more like your client is to refer you to their friends. Which means more business (and fewer marketing costs!) for you.
On today’s episode, I’m interviewing a dear friend of ours named Dr. Samantha, who is the author of the book Overcoming Overwhelm. Alyssa and I met Dr. Samantha the same way we’ve met many of our friends over the past few years—we were passing through her city and she invited us to park our RV in her driveway.
Even though we just stayed a few days together, there have been so many things that Dr. Samantha shared with us that have stuck with me, specifically around self-care and our health. When we packed up to leave, she actually wrote a prescription for Alyssa that said: “Drink lots of lattes and learn to relax.” She advised me to stop eating so many bowls of cereal in a day and to switch to a healthier alternative, like smoothies. (Who knew eating three bowls of Cheerios a day wasn’t a good idea??)
Dr. Samantha Brody is a licensed naturopathic physician and acupuncturist, and the founder of Evergreen Natural Health Center in Portland, Oregon. She’s had more than 30,000 patient visits over the past two decades. She is a sought-after speaker and has been featured as an expert in the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and occasionally hosts random RVers in her driveway.
While she’s not an RVer, I brought her onto the podcast for a couple reasons:
She helps people overcome a sense of overwhelm. While her actual job title is much more than this one thing, I feel like we’re in this era where so many people are trying to do too much and burning themselves out—myself included.
She’s worked with a number of entrepreneurs over the past two decades in her practice to help them get clarity on their values and what’s most important. I feel this is just a really important topic to dig into for anyone who’s trying to create a business of their own.
What we talk about in this episode:
Understanding stress and overwhelm
Identifying where it is coming from in your life
Determining your values and what is most important
Using your values and other insights to overcome overwhelm