Lead With Value

I messed this one up this week.

My brother and I have been gearing up for the launch of our new web app Benchmark, which goes live on March 30th.

Part of this “gearing up” was completing a Typeform Quiz that would help those who take it to quickly identify the current stage their business is in and what they could focus on to grow.

But I broke one of my rules.

Lead With Value

To lead with value means that you serve and contribute before any transaction occurs. That could be a monetary transaction, or even signing up for something with an email address. You’re still transacting – trading an email address for more information or access.

I hate that. 

I don’t want to be promised that the value lies just beyond this $1 signup, or entering my email address. I want you to prove to me that you have the goods.

It’s like that movie, Hitch. You come 90, I come 10.  

My mouth was open, Albert!”

The order matters. YOU come 90, then I come 10.

Not the other way around. 

Well, I messed this up. 

In the Typeform, I made the email question required, even though the wording said it was optional.

Meaning that I put the order in reverse. I was promising value on the other side of that email transaction, but hadn’t done anything to actually provide any value up to that point.


The results speak for themselves:

12 people started the quiz. Zero got past question 2, “what is your email address”.


Once I spotted the error, I quickly fixed it and double checked that it was CLEAR that people didn’t have to enter their name or email in order to take the quiz. 

People started taking the quiz and getting the feedback they needed from us, which was the whole point of adding a quiz to the website in the first place.

Now, I could have approached it differently and said, “well, we only had 12 people try it, so we just need to get more traffic and get that number up in the thousands”. 

But the principle is the same – people don’t want to transact first. They want you to prove to them the value that you have created and show them the results before the transaction. 

I highly recommend approaching your business in a value-first way. Don’t think about optimizing funnels, adding more people to the “top of funnel”, or any of that nonsense. 

Treat people with respect. Show them the goods before you ask them to transact with you. Prove your value and give them some results up front, and the right people will be naturally pulled toward you and your business.

PS – If you want to take the quiz for yourself, you can do so at http://benchmark.app/#quiz

Also wanted to shout out two great people that I came in contact with this week. Randall Kanna has being doing amazing things in growing her Twitter account, and just launched CrowdFox, a new tool to help you manage your Twitter growth.

Stefan sent me an email about a new tool to help get control of your calendar back. Rather than having people schedule blocks of time on your calendar for meetings, they can now, using his tool Callworthy, just get in line, and you can decide when and who you want to call when it works for your schedule. Pretty brilliant. 

You can use code DARENSMITH at checkout and get 10% off for the first year. It’s a pre-order, so if you’re hipster like me and getting in early on awesome new products, this one is a perfect opportunity to do just that.

Getting Traffic To Your Site Through Blogging And SEO

A longer-term approach to building your business through blogging and SEO.

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Identifying The Constraint

I had a problem.

I had spent months building out the “infrastructure” of my business, Craftsman Creative.

I created a course platform using Thinkific, created two courses, and launched them both within a month!

It was a TON of work, but was extremely fulfilling…



I had almost no traffic to the site. Even though I’d shared my new courses with everyone I knew on every social media channel and every email list…I sold only a handful of courses.

Now, I have to keep reminding myself that my decision to launch a brand new website and two courses at the start of a shutdown caused by a global pandemic may have attributed to the results…

Nonetheless, I needed to fix one of two things – the traffic, or the offer.

Since I didn’t have enough traffic to figure out if the offer was working, I decided I need to figure out traffic.

Here’s the results from that first month of the site going live:

As you can see, I only had 262 sessions and 161 new users. For context, I would need to sell 40 courses – more than one per day – to hit my target of $10,000 per month in revenue.

40 courses from 161 users would be a 25% conversion rate… in reality, my conversion rate was 4%. Not terrible, but also not enough to make up for the lack of traffic.

Having identified the issue – traffic – I set out to affect what I had control over and fix the problem.

Coming Up With A Plan

There are only a few ways that you can get traffic coming to a new website. You have paid traffic – using ads or affiliates to send traffic your way.

I didn’t have enough revenue or data to start pouring money into ads, but I did set up some affiliate partners. That earned me exactly 0 sales.

You can use partnerships, which I’ll talk about in a different post.

Then you have free/organic/earned traffic. This is the traffic that comes from people searching for you, seeing a link to your stuff, or coming directly to the site because they heard about it from you or someone else.

I narrowed in on the free traffic options, and realized that I had a lot of opportunity when it came to search.

My audience that I was seeking to serve was out there, and they were looking for what I was producing – courses on how to make something creative, how to start a business, how to create products, and more.

I just wasn’t doing anything to let them know that I existed.

After taking a deep dive over the last month into SEO and content marketing, I want to share the approach that I’ve taken. While I don’t yet have results to share – SEO can take 6 to 8 months to start seeing results – I’ll keep you updated as things progress.

Using Content & SEO To Get More Traffic

This is a summarized version of what I’ve done over the last month to set up my site(s) for SEO success in 2021.

Step 0 – before even starting the SEO strategy – was to define a goal.

I want to get 10,000 people a month visiting my site from SEO.

With that goal in hand, I could begin, and have a way of measuring the success over the next few months. (You can see how that goal resembles the one I have for this blog, and the 60 Days Project).

Step 1 – Set Up The Site Properly

You can see how my mind works. I always go to building the infrastructure first. It’s motivated from my experience launching things too soon and being “caught with my pants down” a bit when it comes to the execution.

While some people may say “launch before you’re ready” or before you even have a product, it’s just not comfortable for me.

Here are a few steps I took to make sure my site was set up properly:

Make sure that you’re using a site that can handle SEO and blogging.

There are certain sites that are better set up to handle SEO and content. Thinkific, for example, is not. They aren’t a blogging site. They’re a white-label course platform.

In order to hack a blog together, you’d have to use custom pages, but it wouldn’t really work and is a lot of extra steps to make it look, feel, and function like a blog.

Historically I’ve used WordPress to set up my sites. This site is build on WordPress. I’ve done it enough that I was able to get up and running with proper hosting, a lightweight theme, and all of the tools and plugins that WordPress provides.

(For those interested, I use SiteGround for my hosting, and the Generate Press theme, and the most important plugin for SEO – Yoast)

The reason I chose a self-hosted blog rather than something like Medium, is that I want the traffic to come to me, not to Medium.

It’s the same reason people are moving their newsletters from Substack to their own platform, because all of their traffic was going to newsletter.substack.com.

They were losing out on all of the benefits of SEO. (Though Substack now allows you to pay for a custom domain…)

I highly recommend using WordPress or even Squarespace for your blog, that way you have the ability to add important things like keywords and metadata that we need for each post.

Two other considerations – make sure that your blog posts end up with real words in the link, rather than a random string of numbers. So daren.blog/name-of-post rather than daren.blog/11/10/2020/postid12ANRUYkfty21.

That second option gives no context as to what the post is about, whereas the first one – and every blog post on this site – is very clear as to what it’s about.

There’s a TON more that you can do, but for sake of time I’ll link to my favorite resource I found during this process, which is the free course from Growth Machine, a content agency in Austin, TX run by Nat Eliason.

Step 2 – Find Keywords For Your Site

This is arguably the hardest part, as it takes a lot of time, a lot of focus, and a tool that isn’t free.

Since I was determined to figure it out, I went with AHREFS, the industry standard tool for this kind of research.

They have a 7-day trial for $7, so I was sure to cancel the subscription before it kicked in at the hefty price of $99/month.

Since I’m not an agency, I didn’t need the full month subscription, so I just made sure to do all of my research in those seven days.

What this stage looked like was a lot of guessing, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of searching for some hidden nuggets.

I’d never done anything like this before, so initially it was a bit daunting but after a day or two of it I found it to be a lot of fun.

There are countless blog posts and youtube videos that can walk you through the process step by step, but here’s a breakdown as an overview:

  1. Come up with high-level topics that I would want to be “ranking” for when people search for them. I asked myself the question “what can I help people with” and came up with a list from there.
  2. I would then take each one of those terms or topics – known as “keyword prhases” – and enter them into the Keyword Explorer section of AHREFS.
  3. There are thousands and thousands of keywords that come up, so I narrowed it down using filters. I would search for keywords that had the word I was searching for, and then narrow down the KD, or Keyword Difficulty to be less than 30, and the Volume to be greater than 500. This meant that I was only looking for keyword phrases that were potentially easy to rank for, and had enough people searching for it each month to be worth writing a post about it. Here’s a video from Nat on that process.
  4. Go through that process for each of my high-level keywords, and write down the ones that felt like a good fit. For example, a high-level keyword I found for Craftsman Creative was artists and clients. It had a keyword difficulty of 1 and 3,000 monthly searches. I could easily think of a post about “artists and clients” that would be a great resource for those searching that topic.

Step 3 – Plan Out Your Content

With 100+ keywords in a spreadsheet, I could now sort them based on keyword difficulty, interest, and search volume. I planned out 3 months of content that way, in about an hour.

I knew the topics I was going to write on, and even organized them into groups so that one week I could write about coaching, another week about leadership, and so on.

The recommended frequency is about 2-3 posts per week. As you’ve noticed, I’m doing 7 posts a week on this site all under the same process. I’m very specifically targeting keywords with each new post, and writing a post a day will get me more posts faster, so that I can get to the results quicker.

Ultimately this blog will be a feeder for my other two companies, Benchmark and Craftsman Creative, while also encouraging people to work with me directly from this site.

(Remember how I said that Thinkific wasn’t set up well for blogging & SEO?)

Step 4 – Write Content With SEO In Mind

At this point it’s time to write the content. There are a few things that I check with every post to make sure that it has the best chances of “ranking” – meaning appearing on the first page of google’s search results – possible.

If your content isn’t on that front page, it’s very rare that people will find it through search. I read that 90% of the traffic goes to the links on the front page of Google. So we need to do everything right to show Google that our site best answers the question or is the right resource for that person who is searching.

Here are the main things:

  1. Title – include the keyword phrase in the title
  2. Headings – make sure to include it in at least one of the headings. Be sure to USE headings, not just bolded text. Ideally an H2 or H3 tag, as below that gets ignored, and the H1 tag should be reserved for the title of the blog post.
  3. Metadata – if you’re using a tool like Yoasts SEO plugin, it will give you fields to fill in at the bottom of a post where you can add your focus keyphrase, a slugline, and a meta description. These are the most important things, but it also gives you feedback on how to improve your post, as well as a simple green/orange/red scale for how your SEO looks.
Meta indeed – here’s the Yoast SEO section for THIS post…

Green = good, so it’s important to spend some time making sure that you get your SEO good to go before hitting publish.

Step 5 – Promote Your Content

It will take a long time to get your content to rank if you never share it with anyone. It’s like writing and publishing a book but never putting it up for sale.

Simple things I do each time I publish a post is to share it on social media. Facebook – as much as I hate the platform and don’t even like having the app on my phone – consistently does better at getting people to my site than other platforms. I have about the same number of friends on FB as I do followers on Twitter, but I get 10x the clicks from FB.

I share new posts to my personal profile, the appropriate facebook page, and any groups that might find it helpful.

I share it to Twitter and LinkedIn as well, all using a site called Buffer. Buffer lets you write one post and schedule it across multiple platforms, saving me time.

Three other tricks I use that help – first is to tag anyone that I mentioned in the post. For this one, I’ll tag Nat Eliason on Twitter, since his resource is the one I’m linking to in this post, and he’s become “the guy” that I turn to online when I have a question about this, as he’s written extensively on the subject as well as runs an agency that does this for people. (I had a call with them last week to discuss working with them in the future…)

The other is to use a service called Quuu. Quuu lets you select posts that you’ve written and get them shared by their audience of people. I’ve only been using it for about a week, but it has doubled the number of views to my content.

The most important promotion strategy that I use though is to have an email list. I have over 1,000 people that have subscribed to get my content, and I can share any post with those that have given me permission to do so. Each week as part of my BCC newsletter, I can include links to these daily posts from the 60 Day Project and share them with those who may have missed them.

While right now I’m not getting a lot of search traffic, I can get people reading the posts and visiting the site, which signals to Google that this is a real site that real people are visiting, and depending on how many sessions are occurring over a given time period, it will help signal that I’m a site that’s ok to include in search results down the road.

Step 6 – Track Your Data

You may be wondering what my obsession is with data. Well – I have found it to be the fastest way to identify the constraints in a business and then take action in a way that gets results.

Want to grow your business? Use data to identify the constraint – in this case, traffic – and then get creative on how to turn it from a constraint into a strength.

Using a tool like the Benchmark App I created this year with my brother will help you do just that – identify the constraint and decide what to do about it.

You need to check in once a week or so on how your data is doing. Use tools like Google Analytics to see the site traffic, and you can use AHREFS or other tools to see how you’re ranking for keywords down the line.

Write down a few numbers and track the changes over time. Don’t just write a blog post and ignore it.

Had I figured this all out years ago with my other sites, I probably would have thousands of visitors a month to my content. Instead, I get an average of about 20-30 visitors a day, and nothing comes of it because I didn’t optimize those pages for SEO or for getting people to take action using a content strategy.

I’ll keep you updated as things progress, and will share the specifics for traffic and results when they start coming in.

Want help with your own blogging & seo strategy? Let’s see if I can help you get set up.

Content Is King, And Distribution Is Queen

Mastering and optimizing your content is essential, but if no one sees it, it has little – if not zero – effect.

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If you’re following along, we start with a working content strategy and check all of the boxes there when it comes to how we create our content.

But if we don’t take the next step and work on distributing that content properly, we’ll be frustrated with the results that our content gets.

Let’s quickly look at three ways to increase the distribution of your content so that not just more people see it, but more of the right people see it.

By that, I mean people who will engage with your content, and take the next step in that journey to subscribe, follow, or even become a customer or a client.

Publish To Existing Channels

Important to start with what you have, and get it working as much as possible. Most people encourage posting three to four times per day to try and reach as many people as possible.

That doesn’t mean that you should be posting calls to action or asking for things in each of these posts. But onec per day or so it totally within reason.

Look at the profiles that you follow and engage with online and see what they do. What do they post, how often, what do you click on and comment on?

Reach Out To Potential Partners

Whenever you post, are there people that you can reach out to who might be able to help you share it with their audiences? Whether it be on their profiles, or in groups or forums, who else would benefit from sharing your content?

If you’re sharing their work, it helps them look good to re-share your content with theri audience.

If you have a big launch or a piece of content you really want to get out there, you can reach out to people who have a similar audience to you to help promote it at a specific time, right as you launch.

In marketing circles this is called a “joint venture”, and often there’s a financial incentive for partners to help promote content.

These partners, or affiliates, are incentivized to share your product or company by getting a percentage of any sales that come from their referral or link.

Giveaways is another form of this – using people who you may not even know to share your work with their audiences.

Who do you know that might help you share your content with their audiences and can benefit from doing so? It’s rare that people will share your stuff without any direct reward or incentive, so think about that when you reach out and ask them to share.

Pay For Reach

There are also ways that you can pay to get more views on your content. You can boost a post on Facebook, or run a post as an ad. You can drive traffic to your work using ads on Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit – any number of platforms.

It can be expensive, but it is an option that can work, and is often used in conjunction with other strategies.

Get Resourceful

Think about how many people need to see your work in order to get the results you’re after. For example:

You sell an online course for $99. You want to make $10,000 per month from your work. In this case, you need 101 people per month to clear that threshold. One of out every 50 people that visits your website will purchase a course, so you need a little over 5,000 visitors per month to your site.

Working backwards, you can determine what your needs are, and measure what is currently working or not working.

If you’re only getting 500 visitors per month, you know that you’ve got to do something to get 10 times the traffic in order to get the sales you want for your business.

How are you going to do it? Get resourceful, work with what you have, and make sure to measure what works and what doesn’t.

It is also important to be patient – many of these distribution efforts can take months to start working. SEO, for example, can take 6-8 months to start showing signs of the work you’re doing at the beginning. Don’t give up too early.

The results in your business are completely within your control, if you take the responsibility seriously. Figure out what your business needs, and get to work.

A Simple Content Marketing Strategy For Artists and Creatives

The difference between someone with a lot of followers and not much money, and someone with a lot of revenue but fewer followers comes down to the way they each use their content. Use this content strategy to reach the goals in your business faster.

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This post is part of the 60 Day Project – one post a day to help you prepare your business for success in 2021. Subscribe using the button below to get new posts sent straight to your email.

Today I want to share basically everything I know about creating content with a purpose.

What’s that purpose? To reach the specific goals we have for our business.

Whether your goal is more sales, more freedom, more control, more followers, it doesn’t matter. Content marketing is a free way to get the outcomes you want for your business and your life.

The common story that I come across is a creative or artist who has spent years building up their social media following, with nothing tangible to show for it.

10,000 or even 100,000 followers on a social platform has no inherent meaning other than people are interested in what you post.

The number itself doesn’t equal sales, or revenue, or freedom, or any of those things.

So the disconnect between followers and results is where we need to put our focus today.

How do we use content to get the results we want in our business?

Let’s dive in:

Creating Content With A Purpose

Most creatives approach social media with the idea that they need to post as much as possible, get more followers, and somehow the results take care of themselves.

I have rarely seen this to be true. Every so often there’s an outlier that creates a new social profile or YouTube channel or blog and it becomes a massive hit and they can start to monetize off of all of the awareness they’re getting.

We can’t build a system around outliers. Rather, we have to look at what works across industries and people who have figured out how to turn content into results.

Years ago, I was taught the 4 Cs from Jeffrey and Daniel Harmon, collectively known as the Harmon Brothers.

This is a team that has made a business out of creating content that gets results for their clients. Just look at their home page.

Harmon Brothers Clients & Results

Here’s the 4 Cs they taught me and my business partner years ago:

  1. Content
  2. Collaboration/Cross Promotion
  3. Consistency
  4. Call to Action

Let’s walk through them one by one, because it’s likely that you’re doing one or two of these quite well, and just need to add the rest to get the results you’re after.

The Content

When we talk about content, we’re not only referring to the video, image, tweet, or post. The content refers to everything – your title, your thumbnail, your hashtags, your profile.

What I’ve found to be most important when it comes to content is to make it as “native” to the platform as possible.

The most recent example of this in 2020 is the recent battle between TikTok and Instagram Reels. You see plenty of people trying to copy/paste their tiktoks over to Instagram, but Instagram isn’t promoting those as much as their native version (*cough* copy *cough*) of that short-form content.

Similarly, if you post a YouTube video to Facebook, it will get much less distribution from the platform than a native video you upload directly to Facebook.

One of the videos I produced has over 18 million views on YouTube:

But when they added the video to Facebook, they uploaded it natively and it added another 340 thousand views:

The same thing goes for blog posts. Whenever I paste the content of a blog post into a new Facebook post, rather than just linking to the post on my site, there are 10x the views.

The platforms want to keep people on their platforms. The more you can post natively, the more they will share your content with your audience.

You’ve got to give the platforms what they want – native content.

Collaboration & Cross Promotion

The size of your audience is what it is at any given moment. When you’ve got a big piece of content that you’re going to publish – a new album, a sale on your products, etc – you’re limited in your reach.

The fastest way to exponentially reach more people is through collaboration and cross promotion.

I’ve used this principle over the last month to grow my newsletter faster than I have been over the summer. I started reaching out to other newsletter publishers with a similar audience to mine and asking if we could each promote the other’s newsletter to our audiences.

The results speak for themselves:

Total subscribers for the last three months in ConvertKit

Some other ways people use this principle are in collaborations on YouTube – inviting another channel of a similar size or greater than you to be in a video on your channel.

Podcasts are built on this principle – you invite a guest on to be interviewed and get their audience to consume your content when the guest shares it with them.

Instagram giveaways often include products or services from multiple vendors, and they all benefit from each other posting and requiring that you follow all of the accounts in order to be eligible.

Who else out there has an audience of the people you’re trying to reach and how can you work with them to collaborate or cross promote each other’s work?


I remember years and years ago when Devin Graham (aka DevinSupertramp) spoke to a bunch of us YouTubers here in Utah at a meetup. One of the things he mentioned that has stuck with me is the concept of consistency.

It was around the same time we had this chat with the Harmon brothers, and so it was really reinforced over a short period of time.

If you have an online following, you need to be consistent with how you release your content.

Whether it’s once a month, or once a week, or four times a day, the consistency is key.

People want to know that if they follow you or subscribe that they know what they’re getting into.

Whether it’s explicit – “new episodes every Tuesday!” – or not, decide on a publishing schedule and stick to it. You can scale it up or down over time – look at this 60 Days Project for an example of scaling it up – but be clear with your audience and bring them on the journey with you.

How many of you have a favorite podcast that you listen to on the same day every week? That’s the power of consistency. They associate an entire day with your content.

(For me, every Tuesday is for Scriptnotes, and every Wednesday is for Akimbo…)

Calls To Action

This is the one that most people avoid or forget to incorporate into their content strategy.

A “call to action” is what it sounds like – an invitation to do something.

“Click the link in my bio”

“Watch now”


“Tag a friend”

When you forget to do this, your content – as great as it may be – serves no purpose other than to give your audience something to consume.

(Or, possibly, to scroll by with the flick of a thumb…)

When you include a call to action, you’re telling your audience that they need to DO something in order to GET something.

Now, you don’t want to – or need to – be “salesy” about it. You can do it gently, naturally, and in a way that makes the experience of consuming your content a pleasurable one.

If someone posts a new song that they released, I want to listen to it, or add it to my library, or purchase the full album.

I don’t want to have to work to find out how to buy it!

You have an opportunity to make it easy for your fans to be your fans!

Calls to action are an opportunity to pull your fans closer to you and engage at a deeper level.

Someone sees your content with no call to action = they keep scrolling.

Content with a call to action = a percentage of people will click on that link or do that thing you asked them to do, and those are then given an opportunity to become an even bigger fan.

Someone who has purchased your music is a bigger fan than someone who just follows you online.

Someone that comes to your show is a bigger fan than someone who just purchased your music.

See what I mean?

Calls to action are like different parts of a freeway. You have the slow lane, the fast lane, and the express lane! You’ve got to give people options.

Maybe the slow lane is to subscribe, then the fast lane is join your email list, and the express lane is to hire you and become a client.

What are the ways that you can create opportunities for people to become bigger and bigger fans of your work through calls to action in your content?

One note – limit yourself to just one call to action. You don’t want to give people too many options – like, follow, subscribe, share! No thanks.

Give me one action to take and make it as simple as possible. Then at that point you can invite those people who took that first action to take another.

Focus On The Outcome

Going back a bit to where we started, what is the outcome that you are after?

More fans? (Why?)

More revenue?

More freedom?

Choose the outcome that you’re working towards and then “reverse engineer” your content to help you reach that goal.

Use the 4 Cs with your content and track the work that you’re doing to see how it helps you get what you’re really after.

Oh, and before I forget my own call to action – I’ve added a “work with me” page on the site, so that you can easily take the next step, if you enjoy posts like this one and want to take things to the next level with your business.