Digital Marketing From Scratch With Ryan Deiss

Today I’ll reveal my best-kept email list secrets. Plus we hear from the founder of the Traffic and Conversion Summit and Digital Marketer, Ryan Deiss as he shares the secret sauce all beginner marketers need to know to succeed in the competitive online world.

Adam: In my mind, you’re like the king of Digital Marketing. How do you feel about that? 

Ryan: Yeah, I mean, I’m that in my mind too. No, I mean look, marketing as a whole has been around longer than I’ve been alive. The only thing that I’ve done is apply old-school methods that have always worked to a new medium. I think I was fortunate to be born at a good place in time to go to university at a time when wifi high-speed internet had just come into the dorms.

So I think I’ve been very lucky and I think if I’ve done anything well it’s been distilling complex things in the simpler models and frameworks that people seem to like and understand. But, king of digital marketing? No, there are plenty of smart people out there and I’m definitely standing on the shoulders of giants. 

Adam: I love that. So you were sort of the very first internet celebrity that I ever learned from. I went to the very first Traffic and Conversion Summit, in Austin many, many years ago. That was my first eye-opener to the world.

Ryan: That’s wild. You were at the very first TNC, there were only about 200 people there. It was funny, that was like when you’re in high school and your parents are out of town and you throw a party and the whole school shows up. That wasn’t supposed to be, it was only going to be a one-time event and it was only supposed to be 50 or 60 people. When we thought it was 200, we were freaked out and shocked and lost all kinds of money, but I guess it worked out.

How did Ryan Deiss start running Traffic and Conversion Summit?

Adam: So my big question is how did you end up running TNC? Where did the idea come from? How did you end up doing all this? 

Ryan: Yeah, so the Traffic and Conversion Summit started, I’ve gotta give credit to my business partner at the time, Perry Belcher. Perry and I were going to a lot of events. There were marketing events at the time, but there were all sorts of these pitchfest-style events where you’d go and somebody would deliver some disguised content. Then they’d tell you something at the end and, look, there’s a place for that. 

I’m not gonna get all like uppity about things, but, we were a little bit frustrated about that. we’re thinking we’ve got a lot of good stuff to say and we did. I think what a lot of people do and they go to events and they count the number of heads and they multiply it by how much they paid to be in the room and they go, these people must be making a fortune!

We said, let’s go ahead and do our own event. It started out as a whim, and we figured we’d be able to get 50, or 60 people in a room, make a little bit of money, and we’d get to talk about some things that were working for us. Our main goal was really to be able to turn it into a product. That was kind of our thinking, if we could turn this into a product, that would be a good thing. At the end of the event, I remember going to lunch on the third day. It was a three-day event, so at lunch on the third day, we met with the hotel and we got the bill, and they wanted to talk about the bill and how much we were going to pay them.

We realized that we lost an enormous amount of money and the amount of money we owed was six figures. We had it, but we didn’t have it kind of thing, so we did what all good marketers do. We went up on stage and we sold tickets to next year’s event. Figuring surely we’ll be prepared and we’ll make sure that we got our finances in order by the time the event rolls around in 12 months. 

So we did. The only reason there was a Traffic and Conversions Summit 2 was because we needed to raise some capital to pay the bill for Trafficking and Conversions summit 1. And we did obviously, we fulfilled that event and it grew and we were really excited.

I remember saying going into TNC number two that I’m never going to do this again, I don’t like events, too stressful, too much work, and too much risk. But at the end of it, I was so excited. I was like, we’re doing it again, and I remember saying it and people buying tickets and it’s like, ah well, now we’re committed. 

Then just rolled on, I think in year three of the Traffic and Conversion Summit, there were about 800 people there. That was when we decided this marketing thing was a business. Before that Digital Marketer, as a company, didn’t exist. A lot of people don’t realize that the Traffic and Conversion Summit predated Digital Marketer. It was on the third day of the third Traffic and Conversion Summit we said, we should treat this like a business.

As you said, I’ve got several other companies, so teaching and talking about marketing was really a side hustle. It was a side project, but we realized after the third TNC that there was something here and we should invest in it. That was when digital marketer as a media publishing company was born. That was when we decided to double down on Traffic and Conversion Summit as an event and really as its own business because I believe you’re aware it was ultimately sold in 2018.

Adam: Yeah. Which is incredible. Now you’re staying on to help with the transition. Do you think you’ll be staying on beyond that?

Ryan: Oh yeah. So digital marketer is still the presenting sponsor for at least the next five years. I think we’re for at least another four years as a part of that, we’ll still do all the programming. Decide who speaks at the events and all that. It’s funny, we thought we were going to have to lobby hard to be able to do that because we didn’t want to see the event degrade. We wanted to see it continue to be a thing, and there are aspects of it where there’s probably some pride and some ego that comes along with that, but we also benefit mightily from the platform. 

It’s good for my personal brand. It’s good for Digital Marketer. It’s good for other companies that we launch to be able to have this. Now, it’s a nearly 10,000-person event that we can leverage. We didn’t want to lose that, and we thought we were going to have to negotiate hard but thankfully the acquirers were like, “Hey, we don’t want to!” They thought they were going to have to negotiate to keep us in that role, so it wound up being a win-win. 

The hope is that as far as attendees are concerned it doesn’t feel any different. I mean, obviously TNC today is very different than it was. The TNC you went to size scale, the industry’s changed the markets, back then it was all entrepreneurs. Now marketing is a profession, and digital marketing is a profession, so there have been changes like that. But our intention is to continue to be involved in the event hopefully forever. 

If you had to start over in Digital Marketing today how would you do it?

Adam: Your name specifically is synonymous with Traffic and Conversion. I’m a huge fan ultimately, so I have a question for you. A young Ryan D enters the world of digital marketing today and he’s you as you were back then, but he walks into a totally different landscape where it’s not the wild west anymore and it’s already formed. What advice would you give yourself today? Or somebody starting out? 

Ryan: Funny enough, I would execute the same playbook that I did when I first got started. That was building an email list. When I first got started online, everybody was building these fancy, pretty web websites. This is when flash was all the rage. So you’d go to a webpage and all of a sudden stuff would start swirling, and this little flash animated video thing would play, that was the pinnacle of cool. That was what marketing was back then. 

Before everything got standardized, from the very beginning I was building really simple websites for the purposes of capturing emails. I knew that if I had somebody’s email address, I had the ability to generate awareness on demand, but not always sales because sometimes the offers bomb. But I could at least have a shot if I had my own email database. I knew that I would be okay.

One of the very first things that I ever did was build a simple one-page website. I had people opt in back then. It was an easing, remember when newsletters were called easings? An eMagazine. I remember my first goal was to build a list of a thousand people and because I knew a thousand people I should be able to at least make a couple of grand off of that. If each one of them is only worth a dollar to me a month, that’s a thousand dollars. 

I got started when I was in college, that was all the money in the world, that would cover rent and beer. It’s interesting, there’s been a lot of channels that have come along when I first got started. We were optimizing for Alta Vista and Dogpile, Yahoo was just a directory and Google was a science fair project. So, SEO, when I first got started, wasn’t really a thing. Social Media, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, TikTok, all this stuff nobody was even thinking about. 

I remember when that came out and people referred to it as web 2.0, remember that? We’ve seen all these different iterations and all these things come along and people jump in and go all in on these different channels. But what’s funny is when you get successful marketers, you get successful digital business owners. So folks who are running like digital-first companies or companies that derive a lot of their sales needs from the web. What you find is that still, everybody’s number one source of sales, their highest ROI channel is their email list. 

It has always been the case and it has never changed. You know, social media was supposed to kill email. Millennials were supposed to kill email. Flack was gonna kill email. All these things were supposed to kill email and where we sit today, email is experiencing a Renaissance unlike I’ve seen in the last decade. You’re seeing companies hustle and build businesses that are plus figure businesses on the back of a simple email newsletter. 

We’re watching open rates start to pick up again. A lot of this is being driven by mobile. The experience of reading an email on your mobile device is actually quite good, and it’s not so interruptive, it’s more intimate. If I were starting over again and the reason I can say that this answer is for me and not hypothetical is because we start over again all the time. We launch new businesses and new spaces all the time. 

If I were to start over again, I do step one which is always getting 10,000 subscribers. I’ve upped my ask but that’s what we’d want to do. We’re willing to spend, we’re happy, we’ll allocate $50,000 if it costs us $5 per subscriber, we know that’s going to ROI, 90 to 120 days. Then we’re off to the races at that point. 

Getting Started with Google Digital Market Lab

Adam: If somebody wanted to go do it, do they just Google Digital Market Lab, or is there a way for them to go and get it? 

Ryan: If you go to digital marketer, click on memberships at the top, and you can see there’s an opportunity to join as a lab member. It’s a 14-day trial, $95 a month after that and you get access to basically our entire product catalog. So not having to spend $25,000 on courses, $95 a month and you get everything we got.

Ryan’s Two Psychological Hacks to Build Your Business

Adam: One final thing before we lose you, Ryan, if you wouldn’t mind, what’s a simple psychological hack that you have to help somebody be more successful or build their business.

Ryan: Can I give you two? There are two things that I’ve done in the last couple of years and I’ve been doing both of these now for over two years each. These two things had the biggest impact on my productivity. The first is I keep a planner and I write down one of the things that I want to get done that day. I think that’s nothing new there, but what I do is I document every single day, how I spent that day. 

I’ll go through and I will actually block out from the time we started until the time we finished doing this podcast that I was on, forcing myself and getting in the habit of documenting my day. It’s given me tremendous insights into how I spend my time. I can actually go back and look and I can learn. 

But you mentioned psychological hack when I know this is just something I do. I don’t want to just put a bunch of question marks in like saying, I don’t remember what I did then, or I don’t want to put in a large block of something that I know wasn’t very good. When I have to write it down and I have what I wrote staring right back up at me, I want it to be meaningful. I want it to be work that was effective and I’m proud of. 

When I first started doing this before the habit was formed, I’d go back and there’d be whole blocks of the day where it’s like, I don’t remember what I did. If you don’t remember what happened during a chunk of the day or whole days at a time it’s because nothing significant was done. We remember when we got married and when our kids were born. We remember the significant dates and moments of our lives. If you don’t remember it’s because it wasn’t significant. That’s the first thing and it’s good for productivity, good for accountability,  but it’s also that psychological hack. 

Work One Hour Per Day

The second is every single day I block out a single hour where I’m going to work and I only require myself to work one hour per day. If I work one hour in a day, I allow myself to say it was a good day and I know going into it, what is the hour that I’m absolutely going to work? If I’m not feeling that and choose to screw off the rest of it or if life happens and I miss it, that’s fine. 

Sometimes the hour has to shift throughout the day, but I make sure that I only work that so I can say I worked a single hour this day. I’ll tell you if I can get that hour in the morning, It’s amazing how often a focused block that’s an hour will turn into two into three into four and I’ll look up and it’s like, wow, why am I hungering up? When you get in that flow state it’s amazing. 

I used to beat myself up over not being productive and not having a lot of focus time. But I can get a tremendous amount of high leverage work done in an hour, and if in a given week I only got five hours of work, what I’ve found is those five hours of real work, I’ll get more done in that time than most people get in a week of quote unquote, full work. 

Adam: Ryan, I love that you’re saying this, there’s so much that resonates with me in that I get up every morning before everybody else wakes up and I go to Starbucks. The reason I go to Starbucks is I travel a lot and it doesn’t matter where I’m in the world, there’s almost always a Starbucks with the same environment, the same music, and the same look. It’s like my office away from home, and I do exactly what you said, I sit down and I just work on my own and I like it. 

There are no distractions, no one else is awake, and just like you, I don’t sit there and have a set time, I sit there and say, okay, I’m going to work until I don’t want to work anymore. I’ll do it for at least 30 minutes and see how I feel. I resonate with that so much. I think that’s been the key to my own success over the last few years as well. This is like the magic sauce I’m telling you about,  this is the reason why Ryan’s so successful without a doubt. Thank you, thank you so much.  

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About Adam Lyons

Beyond his own portfolio of growing companies, Lyons is an advisor for over 500 brands across the US and Canada. Lyons has been featured on the Today Show, The Steve Harvey Show, Forbes, Bloomberg Business and the NY Post. He has been awarded 3 different ‘Wicked Smaht’ Awards due to his innovative business strategies and multiple 2 comma club awards. Companies he has worked with include PepsiCo, Nike, Nescafé, Discovery Digital Networks and many smaller brands.

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