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How to Build Your Business with a Content Machine

Today’s episode is about how to build your business using content marketing. It’s an interview with Dan Norris, a serial entrepreneur and popular blogger. Dan has used content marketing as his key strategy to building his successful businesses. He shares his experience and insider tips so that you can turn your blog into a successful business too.


In This Episode

You can listen to today’s episode above or in iTunes or Stitcher (where we’d also LOVE to get your reviews on those platforms if you have a moment).

Today’s episode is sponsored by our event partner Telstra Business.

Telstra business is there for advice on all your technology needs like cloud and communications, so you can do your thing. If you’re in Australia visit your local Telstra Business Centre or

‘Do Your Thing’.

In today’s episode:

  • How Dan went from an unsatisfying office job to becoming one of Australia’s most successful online entrepreneurs
  • What is content marketing and why it is so powerful
  • Real life examples of companies and individuals who do content marketing well
  • The elements that a successful content marketing strategy needs
  • What makes content great
  • Why ‘sharing’ is the only metric Dan really looks at to evaluate the success of a piece of content
  • Why Dan suggests going outside your niche can be a good strategy
  • Why Dan doesn’t have a reader ‘avatar’ to aim his content at
  • The 3 types of content that always seem to work on the WP Curve blog
  • Why Storytelling is such a powerful tool in content marketing
  • What to do when you start to build traction
  • The importance of having a ‘great business’ if you want to do great content marketing
  • What ‘monetization logic’ is, and why it matters
  • How to differentiate yourself as a blogger
  • How to get content in front of people once you’ve created it
  • How Dan has scaled his content marketing by building frameworks and identifying great tools to use.

Further Reading and Resources for How to Build Your Business with a Content Machine

You can connect with Dan and more of his tips on:

Full Transcript Expand to view full transcript Compress to smaller transcript view
Darren: Hi there and welcome to the ProBlogger Podcast episode 64, an episode I’m really excited about. It’s my second ever interview and it’s with Dan Norris. Some of you who know Dan, he’s a serial entrepreneur who founded (among other companies) WP Curve, which is a service that gives you access to WordPress developers for unlimited small jobs. It’s also got an amazing blog which Dan and his team have used as part of their content marketing strategy to build his business. 

Dan recently spoke at the ProBlogger event in Australia as part of our small business boot camp that we ran in partnership with Telstra Business. For those of you who are from an international audience who don’t know Telstra, they’re Australia’s largest telco and have been a great supporter of ProBlogger. In this interview, I talked to Dan about content marketing and a bunch of some of the content that he presented in his presentation at the event. It was actually one of the most highly-rated sessions at the event this year. It’s something I wanted to circle back to and share with a larger audience.

In this interview, he gives some really great tips on how to create great content marketing, how to differentiate yourself from literally hundreds and thousands (if not millions) of others who are creating content online, how to scale your content creation and much more. 

We want to thank Telstra for their support in this podcast episode. Telstra business is there for advice on all your technology needs like cloud and communications, so you can do your thing. If you’re in Australia, visit your local Telstra Business Center or go to 

You can find today’s show notes at Now, here’s the interview that I just recorded with Dan Norris.

Good day there, Dan. How are you?

Dan: Good day, Darren. Thanks for having me.

Darren: It’s really great to have you. As I’ve said in our introduction, you recently spoke at our ProBlogger conference here in Australia and raided it off the charts with our attendees in terms of your content. I’d love to talk through a little bit about some of the stuff you touched on in that. I really want to focus on content marketing which was a fairly big part of your presentation. 

Before we get into that, I really would love to hear a little bit about your story which you did share a little bit in your session as well. I wonder if you could just share with our listeners your story of entrepreneurship. I know back in 2002 you weren’t working for yourself. You’re working for, was it a government department of some kind?

Dan: Yeah. Thanks for that, first of all. I just found out about the ratings. That’s really nice. I was kind of worried I offend a lot of people by telling them they shouldn’t think of themselves as bloggers and they should think of themselves as content marketers. I always see myself offending many people.

Darren: No. It goes very well, I think.

Dan: I think after talking about my entrepreneurial journey all day, if I could do it in a couple of minutes, I would say that I started in 2006 just because I was bored working for someone else. It’s interesting that a lot of entrepreneurs start being entrepreneurs because they want to get rich or because they want to discover themselves or whatever. Other people will just do it because they literally don’t fit into the alternative. I was sort of one of those people. 

I didn’t mind working for someone else but I get bored every three months. It was always impossible to find a job that was flexible enough to keep me motivated to more than a three month period. I left, I was about 26. I had no idea what I was going to do. It was a very good job, a well-paying job. I like to build websites for people. I didn’t know how to build websites. I’ve got a bunch of books out, learned how to do JavaScript, PHP, and whatever else you had to do back then to build websites. Sort of pre-WordPress.

I struggled for seven years working on that concept of building websites for people. I’m trying to understand that business and making the transition from, “Yes, I’ve got a business where people pay me to do something for them,” to, “Now, I own a business and other people did the work.” It’s more of a service and a scalable top offering.

I battled for seven years trying to figure that out with the agency. I eventually failed. To my judgment, I failed and wasn’t able to do that. So, I sold it, gave myself a year to build something else. I spent that year working on a piece of software which failed even worse than the agency. Two years ago, I had nothing left. I was two weeks away from having to go back and get a job. Probably move back to Brisbane. That’s when I started WP Curve and a whole lot of stuff has happened since. I hope we’ll talk about some of that in this interview.

Darren: Yeah. Maybe if you could just introduce our readers to WP Curve. I know some are definitely familiar because it comes up with the conversation all the time. Where did the idea come from? What is it today?

Dan: I was in that awkward position where I felt like things were going well because I have my blog going. I was building my email list, building my traffic on my site. At one point, I think I won an award for blogging. I sort of felt that that aspect was going well but no one wanted to buy the software I built. I have to come up with something that my audience wanted to pay for. What I came up with was a monthly subscription where we would fix whatever small problems you have at WordPress sites. I defined it in small 30 minutes jobs and for $69 a month at that time. You would get as many small 30 minute jobs as you wanted on a same-day turnaround and 24/7. 

I made that up because I thought, “Well, if I have a website, I would want this service. I wouldn’t want to think about when the developers are available. I wouldn’t want to think about what it’s going to cost me each month or how quickly are they going to respond.” I would just want to pay a fixed monthly fee and just know that it’s looked after. I emailed my list and had 10 people signed up in the first week. I had about 10 people sign up, net, so every week since then over two years. 

Now, it’s more exactly the same service, it’s $79 a month up to $200 a month, depending on what your response time is. I think we’ve got about 900 customers each month and a team of 40+ people. It turned into a really interesting business.

Darren: What sort of jobs do people typically ask for? I know a lot of our readers who’ll probably be interested in this type of service.

Dan: It ranges from bugs, where things break. The good thing about WordPress is you can customize it. You can have a bunch of plugins. You can tweak whatever you want with the themes. You can do anything you want with WordPress. The downside of that is you do have the capacity to break it. If it can break, it will break. Bug fixing is a big part of it if something breaks, if it is proactive type stuff, like setting up backups, helping with security, those kinds of things. There’s the bulk with small tweaky sort of things, like you’ve installed a sidebar widget and it’s not the color you want, it’s not quite the size you want, or you look at it in the mobile and something comes up over the screen that’s unusable. You need a developer to get in there and fix it.

It’s all the little annoying things that would take an expert WordPress developer 30 minutes to fix but it’ll take you a couple of hours trying to figure out or take your developer a couple of $100 worth of work because of the way their business works.

Darren: I think I need to sign up for my wife because I end up trying to fix a lot of bits of pieces. I’m not a developer and I end up spending three or four hours of time on something that should take three minutes.

Dan: Yeah, and sometimes it’s not even stuff that really a developer is native for. Sometimes, it’s just procedural. We know what plugin to use or, “This was broken because of this reason.” We know that. We don’t need to be a developer. We just need to know WordPress. It’s a little bit an overlap with things you might be able to crack it. But more often than not, it’s much easier for someone who knows WordPress backwards to fix it or know what the problem is rather than having to crack it yourself.

Darren: Okay. Let’s get on to content marketing. I think it’s the best business ever. The thing I loved about the way you built the business is that you’ve used content really well. WP Curve blog is something that I’m sure most readers have ended up on one time or another without even realizing it because it produces so much great content. I presume that’s where most of your business was coming through or at least a fair bit of it?

Dan: Yeah. I have to answer this question every day in my community. What business was started and marketed primarily through content? My answer was, you would probably never know. Content marketing is pretty much the only marketing we do, but whether or not someone has heard about us through content or whether or not they heard about us because we’re covered on Fox TV, we’re on, someone read my book, someone read our blog, someone referred a friend, or someone saw someone’s affiliate review, it’s impossible to know exactly where your customers come from. Otherwise, I just had to see the overall philosophy that I don’t want to do other sorts of marketing because I try to live it and I suck at all of it. All I wanted to do is content. 

I just set out to start a business using only content marketing. I suppose, all that press in there as well. I think those two go hand-in-hand. They’re the only deliberate marketing we’ve done. It’s a broad definition of content marketing which I include in writing my books, in interviews, in podcasting, and presenting in events. Also, just getting press and getting attention to our ideas. Between those two things and word of mouth, that’s the only way anyone’s ever heard about WP Curve.

Darren: All right. Let’s just get into the definition here. How would you define content marketing?

Dan: You talked about blogging. I think for a while I saw myself as a blogger. I got to the point where I knew that I primarily needed to build a business. When I think about content marketing, I think that primary motivation is to figure out how to build a business. I do that by generally giving stuff away free. It could be broader than that. I know there’s a lot of content marketing that goes on out there that actually turns into paid products. For the sake of having a useful definition, the way I think about it is really giving away anything free that builds trust, credibility, and eventually gets people to refer people to your business or to become a customer. 

The way I did it was I tried hundreds of different things. I rely mostly on written content because that was the one I could do that I could manage and do effectively. People do podcasts, written content, videos. It ranges all up to high production Hollywood star movies for companies like Red Bull or all the way down to Seth Godin writing a two-sentence blog post and emailing it out. It’s putting the information out there that’s going to be inspiring or at least is going to be interesting to someone, and it’s using that to build your brand.

Darren: Yeah. I think for us, it’s a lot of creating interest, building relationships, and grabbing attention. It’s that trust, credibility, and authority that can convert someone from just being interested into a customer and into a long-term relationship. 

Dan: I think that relationship stuff is really interesting. The thing I always come back to is it’s so hard to measure. Even if I think about just me being at your event and this podcast, I wrote a guest post for you in 2012. One of the first guest posts I did. I didn’t think you’re even involved, you probably don’t even remember.

You’ve been on my radar for years and years and years. It’s exactly the same thing with anyone else and at any other event I’ve spoken at. It’s been a situation where I’ve been on that person’s radar or they’ve been on my radar, I probably had a podcast with them or they’ve been on my podcast, or I’ve written on their blog or they’ve written on mine. It’s an ongoing thing that after years and years, it ends up turning into something really powerful.

It’s a thing where you have to believe to do it because you wouldn’t invest in something new for the benefit in six years’ time unless you really believe it was a smart thing to do.

Darren: Yeah. It’s really ever (in my experience at least) the one piece of content that actually does it. It is that relationship. It’s almost a spotted web of all the things that you do just build this momentum towards a relationship. It’s a tricky one to describe sometimes.

Dan: I think the more I learn about business—you have things to go well and things don’t go well—is just about building a brand and having a story that people might not consciously tell people but they subconsciously know the story. I’ve seen that with WP Curve. 

It was a great story. I was a couple of weeks away from happening to get a job. I was desperate and I was doing these income reports every month that people really delve into because I was doing everything right by the book, but it was just failing miserably and I turned it all around, so it was a really cool story at that time.

Now, I’ve noticed with our income reports, I actually stopped doing them because no one reads them anymore. It’s no longer an interesting story. I’ve noticed with our other business, Black Hops (with the beer), this really interesting story is emerging with that business the people have really grasped them and it led also to amazing things. Now, when I start a business, all I really think about is what’s the brand and how people are going to talk about it? What stories are they going to tell? When things have failed, they haven’t done a good job with that. When they’ve gone well, I try to do more and more of that.

Darren: One of the things I love about your presentation at our event this year was you’ve stepped back a little from the content itself. I think you mentioned three things successful content marketing needs. Number one was great content which I expected from that presentation. Number two was a great business. I think it almost should go without saying, but it shouldn’t at the same time. I wonder if you could just talk to that a little bit and why you included that in the presentation about that content marketing. You talked for five or so minutes about building a great business.

Dan: In the Content Machine book, I started writing that content. I think I wrote about 25,000 words before I thought, “People are just going to implement this and fail if they don’t have good businesses.” I added about 6000 or 7000 words on how to build a good business. I put it right up at the start of the book. Just from observing, a lot of people will lean on me or on my Facebook group, they’ll come and say, “What’s wrong with my content?” You can give them as much feedback as you want to make it better. Great content is obviously part of it. 

If there’s something wrong with the business, it’s not going to matter. The way I think about it, you need to dial into some great content. We can probably talk about that all day. I think this is something that people don’t really understand that well. They’ll look at the quantity of their app and not necessarily how deeply it’s impacting people which is difficult to do. When you create something, it does impact people deeply. You’ll know what that is and you know you can do more of it. That’s a great content side. 

The really great businesses that have built themselves on content marketing have this really solid business fundamentally behind what they’re doing. I mentioned brands. When I think about business, I think about brands. I also think about things like how scalable it is? How’s the underlying profitability? Is it just something you’re working on and getting paid for your time? And as soon as you replace yourself, you are no longer going to make any money? It’s that fundamental, like what is a good business and what is a good brand. It’s how the two are linked together. 

I remember the exact examples I used in the talk. If you think of something like Moz, I know Rand spoke at your event before. You look at the early content those guys were doing. That SEO guide was industry-standard SEO advice. When I was learning about SEO all those years ago, everyone you would ask would point at Moz’ SEO guide. Their content was bang-on, but their business, this recurring software business, is high lifetime value. It’s a really well-known brand. It’s a really strong asset they’re building, their algorithms in understanding links and whatnot, and a really good team. That stuff is really fundamentally good business. They had this amazing link between the two.

In the book, I called it monetization logic. I only called it that because I was in a hurry. I didn’t think of a nicer word to call it. Obviously, you have to have business, you have to have money, you have to be pretty keen on SEO because you need to be happy enough to spend a couple of $100 a month on software. If you read that SEO guide, you see their content, and you see their brand everywhere, it’s logical that you will become a customer of theirs. This is a mistake I see a lot of bloggers make. They’ll blog until the cows come home but just from a lack of really basic fundamental level, it doesn’t make sense for someone to read their blog, and become a customer for what they’re selling. I think the people who do this really well just have that really neat linkage between what they’re writing about or what content they’re putting out there and the business that sits behind it. 

You see epic scales of these. You see amazing businesses that do no content but do really well. You’ll see amazing blogs that just don’t have a good business but have this huge blogging, this huge audience, but can’t make enough money from them. Where I try to get to is somewhere in between where you’re producing great content, you’re getting a lot of traction, engagement, and growth from the community but you also got a great business. For those people who had made sense to sign up as a customer or refer a customer, then they do that because they see your brand and they refer people to your brand.

Darren: I think you have a diagram of the slides of the three things. You had great content on one side, a great business on the other, and then monetization and logic in the middle. As I saw that diagram, I’m thinking of readers who read ProBlogger. They usually fit into one of the categories. They have a problem with one of those three areas.

A lot of people come to ProBlogger because they think they’ve got a problem with content but they actually have a problem with their business. They don’t have anything to sell there. They don’t have an asset there.

There’s others who have a disconnect between the two. They have great content, but they’re not getting people to their business because there’s no logical step in between. This thing is a great format for thinking through. I’d encourage listeners of this podcast to actually identify where their problem is and to work from that place, would you agree?

Dan: Yeah. I think that’s true. The great content is so hard. It really frustrates me because everyone says to produce great content. People have been saying that for years even in the grey hat SEO days where everyone was buying links and whatnot. People are still saying, “Google loves great content.” I still think people just misunderstand it.

For me, the difference was I wrote 300 or 400 blog posts before I wrote one that got real traction. I think I’ve got a maximum of 10 tweets. I don’t think I even got 10 tweets on any of those 400 blog posts before I wrote a podcasting guide. When I wrote the podcasting guide, I got 200 tweets just for that one post. That’s a turning point for me. For the first time I understood, the quantity just doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter how much you’re putting out there. You need to somehow figure out a way to get those posts that people really liked so much that they share. 

When I’m looking at content, I don’t really look at the other metrics. I just look at sharing because it’s a friction-filled process for someone to share your content. It’s okay for them to like it or to double tap it on Instagram but for them to actually share with their audience, it’s a whole new step. I think if people still know that, write good content, great content but then, “I don’t know what that means,” then I would encourage them to look at where people are sharing and what they’re saying about your content. That will hopefully get you closer to really tap into the stuff that people really need. They’re not getting elsewhere.

A big part of it is it’s business generally. If you think like an entrepreneur, the first thing you think, “How can I stand out from other people? How can I differentiate?” Content is the same. You need to be thinking about, “This monthly income report was really cool in 2012,” because there weren’t that many other people doing it. There’s certainly no one who does it. It wasn’t making any money. I think I was the first there, the lack of income report. Doing it now, everyone’s doing it. It’s not that interesting anymore because it doesn’t stand out.

You need to not only look at what you’re producing but you need to look at what’s actually getting traction in your audience, what other people are doing, what you could put your head up above everyone else and get noticed.

Darren: Yeah. Let’s dig into great content a little bit more. I think you defined great content in your talk as something you provide to your audience, that captures their attention, encourages them to engage and share, which is pretty much what you just said. When […] give seven things that you can do in great content to make it great. I don’t know if you’ve got that in front of you but I can walk you through it if you want.

Dan: I think from memory I had examples from people, I said, “These are six models of differentiation,” but they’re actually seven on the screen. Hopefully, you didn’t notice that.

Darren: Yeah. The first one was don’t be afraid to go outside your niche. I thought that was an interesting one because a lot of advice in blogging is just go stick to your niche. Never go outside your niche. You seemed to be advocating that it’s okay to go outside your niche. I wonder if you could talk to that for a moment.

Dan: Yeah, definitely. My number one rule with content is it needs to be interesting. If you look at the core definition there, it’s to capture people’s attention and build trust. If you’re not capturing attention, it’s dead on arrival. I think going outside your niche, for me, probably didn’t happen again just because I didn’t want to write about WordPress. I’m really not that excited about writing updates on WordPress. 

What excites me are stories about entrepreneurship, online marketing guides, and stuff like that. I sound like a nerd, don’t I? That was by accident. I thought, “Okay, I put this WordPress blog but I don’t want to write that much about WordPress.” I started writing about other things. That was the best thing I could’ve done because at least I passed that first hurdle of creating something interesting to my audience. 

It’s just an automatic thing. I think people take this niche advice far too seriously. They hone in on an avatar and they try to create everything for that avatar. They try to just make the topic about what exactly they’re doing in their business. The only outcome of that is something that’s either boring or it’s already been done a million times because it’s what everyone does. I think going outside your niche gives you the opportunity and the freedom to just create something interesting to start with. That’s what you have to do to get through the first hurdle type of content. 

Darren: Do you think with you going off topic or outside your niche beyond WordPress, you still are really writing for that avatar? Are you still writing for a particular type of person who may have interest outside of WordPress?

Dan: I think all of our aidence has interest outside of WordPress. In fact, I don’t think any of our audience has an interest inside of WordPress. 

The avatar thing has always troubled me a bit because it’s just too tied to the definition when it comes to content. I think what happens to content in the real world is that I’ll write something and over the few years, it’ll become the usual resource for people, and people will refer to others there. Eventually, the WP Curve will be mentioned so many times when someone has a WordPress problem. They’ll call us. 

When creating content, I do think broadly, “Okay. I’m not creating content for doctors. I am creating content for online entrepreneurs as a broad group of people.” I don’t have a specific avatar. If anyone reads out content and they’re in a position to share our content, that’s going to get in front of more eyeballs. In the generally broad space of online entrepreneurship, that’s where our niches want to go.

Darren: Yeah, that makes sense. Number two is to care about your community, that you’re talking about, with great content.

Dan: Yeah. Again, it all comes back to that definition. You need to get people’s attention and build their trust. The only way you’re going to get people’s attention is to do something they care about. I think you can do this in a number of ways. You can be super useful with people. If you’re really close with the community, whether it’s through turning up to events, just by being active on social media, or just being a member in the community. A lot of great blogs are started by people who’ve actually got that problem to start with. They’re a member deep in that community already. 

With Black Hops, with the beer, that’s what happened to us. We’re in that community already. We’re going to the events hanging out online with all these guys and are really passionate about that community. That’s put you in the position where you know what they want and what they’re not getting from elsewhere. 

Fundamentally, if you want to get their attention and you want to be useful in that community, then you need to be a part of it or care about it. That’s what I’ve got now. There’s a bunch of points when it comes to great content. The community is a huge one. The others are more things that have worked for me. Going outside your niche is a general thing that a lot of people could try. With all this stuff, I think it’s okay to try and see what works. Caring about the community is a no brainer thing that every content marketer should be doing. 

Telling a story, I think, is another one. These are broad things that pretty much anyone doing blogging or content marketing can do. The other one’s are things that have worked for me. The other things on that list were being more generous. As an example, I talked about in the book and in the presentation, when I was in the Pat Flynn podcast, I listened to Noah Kagan on that podcast. I was like, “This guy is just off his mind, generous.” He was on there for extra 20 minutes. He’s confirming with Pat, “Have I delivered enough values? Is the best podcast you’ve ever had on this podcast?” 

He’s like, “You know what I would do? We’ll fly people out to Austin. We’ll do a competition where one guy will come out and spend the day with me working his business.” […] podcast, he gave a pair of undies. It’s like that relentless […] more generous in the next person.

When I was on Pat’s podcast, I offered to do website reviews to anyone who commented on the post. I ended up having 700 comments on that post. I spent the course of the next couple of months traveling around, reviewing these people’s websites. It was the best thing for me to do because it was a couple of hours over a couple of days and over that month. It was something that just got a lot of attention, it helped a lot of people, and it drew attention to our brand. That generosity had really built trust. If you’re going to aim to build trust, then generosity, transparency, that kind of stuff is a really good way to do it.

Darren: Yeah. I think the other ones you have were, be more transparent, be more contrarian, and be insanely useful. I think different bloggers almost take on some of those but not all of them. Would you agree with that? These are just sort of things that you can try, probably need to reflect your personality a little bit too, particularly contrarianism.

Dan: Well, it should be. If it’s not, then you can pull up that because you’ve been contrarian. The way I see all of this stuff is to try as many things as you possibly can and figure out what works for you. That’s exactly what I did with my stuff.

Transparency, I talked about with the income reports. Being insanely useful is just by writing really super practical posts and really thinking about how people are using what you’re creating and how you can make it easier for them to do that. I talked about the podcasting guide I wrote. That was the first one I did that was really useful for people. It showed them exactly how to start a podcast. This was quite a few years ago. It’s still useful now.

I started my Black Hops Podcast a couple of months ago. I brought up that blog post and used it. I think that’s a really good criteria to have. The contrarian was interesting and that happened by accident with me because I wrote one blog post that pissed a lot of people off because it really went against the lean startup idea. It was called Is Startup Validation BS? I just noticed how much traction got that for me. That blog post ended up turning into a series. The series ended up turning into a book called The 7 Day Startup. That 7 Day Startup book ended up becoming my online community of which I’ve got thousands of free members and about 90 paid members now. 

It’s become this movement, this 7 Day Startup thing, that I can trace all the way back from one blog post that I wrote out of frustration having a go at what everyone else was saying. You’re saying this to me before, quite often when you have an event, the top speakers will also be the one that generates some of the negative criticisms because they polarize people. That’s almost part of getting attention. You’re naturally okay to have a crack at an idea and do something interesting and contrarian, then I would definitely encourage you to do that because it’s a very good way to get attention.

Darren: Yeah, definitely does. We noticed it with our speakers and also on the blog as well. When we have a guest poster, often the best ones or the ones that polarize people. The realization there is you don’t need to please everyone to have a business. You just need to find your people who are on the same track that you are. 

I think one of the things that I’ve heard you speak about just then but also in the presentation was traction. The word traction came up quite a few times. I get the sense that you experiment prolifically in terms of different types of content and really honed in. You mentioned starting with a blog post. For me, 31 Days to Build A Better Blog, my bestselling ebook started with a blog post as well. It continued to evolve over time, went into a series of blog posts, and a second series. Then, it turned into an ebook, then it turned into a podcast. You really got to pay attention to those little sparks of energy that come along when you try all of those different things, would you agree?

Dan: Yeah. This is what I learned over the 9½ years of being an entrepreneur. You can do all of the same things but if you’re doing them in an area that has traction already, you’re going to get 100 times the results if you’re doing it in an area that’s getting no traction. It’s weird because people look up to people that have some success like their gurus but quite a lot of the time, they’re just doing the same stuff as everyone else. They just found this momentum. 

I actually wanted my first book to be called Momentum and to be about the idea of momentum but I just couldn’t really think of a useful thing to say on the topic except that when something works, do more of it. Try to avoid stuff that’s not working.

Darren: Yeah. I was actually trying to write a book on the same topic. I’ve written a paragraph and I think I’ve said that it turned into a Periscope. 

Dan: Yeah. It was just so important. It frustrates me because I see people going to events and posting in forums saying, “What I’m doing is not working. What am I doing wrong?” It’s not a case of what you’re doing wrong. It’s just that when something has that natural momentum, it’s almost like you’re doing something wrong for it to stop. With WP Curve, I’m in the […] interview I just did recently and he’s like, “What did you do to grow the business?” I’m like, “To be honest, we just try not to stuff anything up for two years.” That’s mainly what we did. 

We did the content, we got the press, and all the rest of it. The thing just exploded. That happened to be a couple of times. It happened with my book. It’s sort of happening with Black Hops with the beer as well. I’d love to claim credit for it, but the reality is that sometimes, things just hit on something and the story captures people, the brand captures people. It’s hard to predict and it’s hard to understand, but what it can do is double down on that when it’s happening and really milk it, for want of a better word. That’s what I’m trying to do with the things that I’ve taken off. 

In the case where things haven’t taken off (of which there are hundreds), I’ve just been ruthless. Over the years, I’ve got more ruthless and ruthless about scraping them quicker and quicker to the point where I’ll do something one week. The next week it’s not working. I completely scrapped it, forgot about it, or moved on to something else. 

Darren: I find most bloggers that I talked to who had success have 5–10 types of blog posts that they just keep doing. It always becomes, not a formula, but they’ve tested hundreds of these five types of blog posts. I looked at Digital Photography School. I know there’s 10 different types of blog posts that we pretty much do every month. What types of content worked best for you in WP Curve? Not so that we can all do it exactly the same because it’ll be different for every blog. What types of content have worked for you?

Dan: I pick three. I pick contrarian. So, anytime I have a view on something that was not shared on a mass scale, I’d be happy to put that view forward. That’s got me a lot of attention. Things like the startup validation post, questioning gospel in the startup world, pretty much. That kind of stuff has worked well.

Storytelling has worked incredibly well. I would include in that book, The 7 Day Startup Book, which is the story of how I was close to failing at entrepreneurship, and turning that around. My income reports which early on by far the most popular post on the site.

With Black Hops with the beer, the same thing. It’s the story, it’s the podcast, the press we’re getting, the attention for the story of every guy just made a homebrew, and all of a sudden, we’re brewing the beer for the biggest brand on earth. That kind of stuff has really worked for me. 

Just learning more about storytelling, getting better telling those stories when I speak at events, and just accepting how powerful those stories are. Even when I liked to think, they’re the ones that are really going to be actionable, useful stuff. I have a podcasting guide. I’ve got marketing guides on the WP Curve blog about hiring remote stuff, using Slack, using Trello, for content marketing calendars. Anything. There’s so much stuff on that site. That stuff goes really well as well.

As much as I’d like to think that a highly actionable online marketing guide is the secret to what we do, I think the storytelling is really being so powerful. If you ask people how they heard about WP Curve or how they’ve heard about Black Hops or how they’ve heard about 7 Day Startup, it’s probably as a result of a story in there somewhere. They’re the three things—storytelling, contrarian, and being as useful as possible.

Darren: Yeah, that’s interesting. I’d say, probably for us, it’s been the insanely useful kind of stuff but again, it’s the stories that create the memories, I think. People don’t remember the useful stuff as much. Sometimes they do but it’s almost always, “I remember when you tell this story about your wife or your kid,” or that type of stuff, and how it related to a breakthrough moment in your business. That’s what seems to create the memory and I think that’s what builds the brand.

Dan: It also creates a deeper connection. People will read a blog post about starting a podcast and get some values from it, but it’s when they listen to a story they feel that they’re a part of. I was really surprised when I started attending more events and speaking at events. A lot of people will come up and say, “I felt like you’re telling that story about me with my agency being unprofitable,” that kind of thing. That’s when you know you’re really connecting with someone because they feel like they’re part of it. It’s a much deeper connection than someone who’s just getting value from you. 

It’s interesting. I was chatting with Nathan. You know Nathan from Foundr magazine?

Darren: Never met him but he’s on my list of people to track down. I think he lives in Melbourne as well.

Dan: Yeah, he does. You should try and get him for ProBlogger next year. It’ll be awesome. He’s a smart dude. He’s got this insane thing going on in Instagram. He started this less than a year ago. He’s up to about 430,000 followers on Instagram. Absolutely insane. He just shares quotes. He’s got it down to a fine art. In America it’s the same. They know the sort of quotes. It’s not just the way the qutoes look. There’s emotional connections, some of the quotes have with people. They know when they post a quote which one’s going to get a lot of traction.

Nathan knows. He’s like, “I could share one of your quotes.” I’ll send him five and he’s like, “No. Those four would be useless. This one’s going to be really good.” I’ll look at him and I’m like, “They’re just quotes.” But because he’s gotten so good at tapping into his audience and knowing exactly what they like, what inspires them, and what makes them feel like they’re on the right track, he just knows. I think that comes back to knowing your community and understanding how they feel, giving them something that connects with them.

Darren: One of the things I loved in your talk was when you talked about differentiating yourself. This is probably one of the biggest struggles I see bloggers and content marketers have. There’s this massive content being produced every second. There’s something new being published. It’s really just so difficult to stand out and differentiate yourself. You shared seven models of differentiating yourself. I think some of them you’ve already touched on in what you’ve talked about. I just wonder if you can talk to that pain point that so many bloggers have right now.

Dan: I guess I’ve mentioned it before, but I think the approach to take if you haven’t got to the point where your blog is getting traction is to test a whole bunch of different ways of doing something interesting. You just need to figure out a way to do something interesting for a group of people. 

I really want to hone in on who the people are to grab my attention early on and what did I actually do that was different to other people. I went through a bunch of these examples. I’ve talked about being more generous, the Kagan example. Just being obsessed with giving more is a relay, really, good way to stand out. I listened to a lot of Smart Passive Income episodes. I know Kagan was the one that stood out for me. That’s the most memorable one for me. 

If you want to get to the point where you’re the most memorable at something, then you need something. For him, it was about giving more. Humor and another really interesting one. If I’m to go to a conference, […] ask me about the speakers, I’ll always remember the funny ones. Otherwise, they have more of an impact because humor’s such a massive attention grabber and a deep connector for people. 

I think if someone like Marie Forleo, I’m sure she’s put out a lot of super useful videos before. For the most part, what I remember when I first discovered her videos was just her sense of humor. I just remember her being really funny. I remember being quite surprised that she was telling these rude jokes. I’m sort of expecting to be educated but I was just being entertained. I supposed I was both. I was being entertained and educated. That’s what stood out for me. I know Marie Forleo’s a famous name now. I don’t know exactly what basis people connect with her but for me, it was a sense of humor. That is what really stood out for me. 

I think that was one of the things I wanted to try out. I would really focus on that, really learn about what standup comedians do, which I’ve delved into a little bit in my looking at content marketing in a book. These guys are trained professionals. Most of them, for the most part, are naturally funny people but a lot of people weren’t actually funny people. The good standup comedians, they’re just really good craftsmen at standup comedy. They do follow rules about telling jokes. They have ways of presenting things that are just a lot more funny than the way an average person presents something. If you’re naturally a funny person, I would delve into that. Maybe that’s going to be your thing.

Design is another one I’ve talked about a lot. I look for areas that are sort of underutilized. Design, I think, is something that a lot of people don’t take seriously, so if you can put out a lot of content that is just really beautiful. Instagram is huge for this. The company is […]. There’s a whole bunch of companies at Instagram that have literally built million dollar companies just by posting beautiful images on Instagram. 

A couple of years ago, you wouldn’t even have thought that it would be possible to start a business like that. Design is such a powerful way of connecting people. If you’ve got that aptitude and you want to explore that further, that could really be a big differentiator when it comes to content. It doesn’t have to be Instagram. I think Instagram is so powerful. If you have any kind of product that lands itself well to that, then Instagram is a no-brainer. 

It could be your blog, it could be infographics, it could just be the attention you pay to the way your blog looks. I know a lot of really top writers that I look at, they take this stuff really seriously. They have really beautiful looking websites. They do infographics that are really nicely designed. I mentioned Nathan before, if you look at the Foundr stuff, look at that magazine, it’s a beautiful magazine. The images are really amazing. It stands out so much from the average blog. It’s like in a league of its own. 

Design is a huge one. I like standup comedy or just generally being funny, being more generous. They’re three of them. I could probably go all day with the others but the message is to find something that naturally resonates with you and also somehow connects with your audience.

Darren: That’s right. I think what I love about the examples you gave at the event, you talked about Michael Sheridan revealing secrets and John Lee Dumas at hustling. I think they grabbed attention in the early days by doing these things and they kind of evolved into something else like Marie. She was funnier than anyone else. That grabbed everyone’s attention and then she followed it up with other stuff as well.

It’s almost like they’ve got the foot in the door with being more transparent or being funny or giving more or doing something first or being beautiful with design. Once the foot was in the door, they then presented something else as well. You just got to find that thing. 

For me, in the early days of ProBlogger, it was being first. You can’t always be first. You’ve got to find something else that’s your foot in the door to create that first impression with people.

Dan: Right. Being first was on my list, too. I could’ve had you and a bunch of people on there. The real point is, when you discover something for the first person, you’re like, “That’s the guy.” The example I have was Pat Flynn with his income reports. I could have had it with the blogging or any number of other people that really doubled down on something for whatever reason became the guy or the girl right at the top.

Darren: Yeah. I actually was the first to do the income report. I actually beat Pat to that but I never continued it. It keeps me up every day. 

Dan: You did okay. Come on, share it around a bit.

Darren: For me, it was the “Aussie not wanting to talk about money” type thing. I was like, “I don’t want to really keep talking about how much I make,” because it just felt grated on me personality-wise. The lesson there is you’ve got to find something that really fits with your personality whereas Pat just does it brilliantly.

Dan: For me, I’ve always struggled with consistency. I know a lot of other people struggle with this as well. There’s probably two ways I’ve been able to manage that, which is probably a personality flaw—the inability to do something consistently—which is something important in business. One is just to really choose something that I’m passionate about. That’s why I want to build this business using content marketing because it’s the only thing I’ve been able to do on an ongoing basis as an entrepreneur. I’ve been doing it since 2008 or 2009. I’ve been able to keep doing it. It’s the only thing I can think of that I’ve been able to keep doing. Choose something that you really love doing.

Also, get really good at automation and delegation. That’s the other part of the Content Machine message. Once you’ve dialled all the stuff in (which I imagined is going to be one of your questions), the automation and delegation part is so critical especially for someone like me which I imagined a lot of people in your audience are similar. You get excited about doing something like your income reports. Maybe you just get to the point where you just don’t want to do them anymore. Maybe they’re still good, but you need a system, a staff member or something, a process to make that happen consistently. I had to get good at that because that’s been a really big challenge for me every year I’ve been an entrepreneur. 

Darren: Funny you mentioned that. That was my next question. How do you actually scale this? Your book is called Content Machine. How do you build it into a machine as such? I think you’ve mentioned in the talk that you don’t write most of the content or any of the content anymore on WP Curve. You’ve got people working with you. How did you build that? Any tips for taking it to the next level?

Dan: Yes. When I started writing this book, I thought, “This is one of the more interesting things about the WP Curve blog.” We’re not a funded company so we weren’t really able to employ a huge content team to take it off. I just actually knew that I couldn’t do 10 blog posts a month consistently for WP Curve anymore. I just lost interest in doing the same thing. I have to get really good at the procedures.

What I put in the book was a whole bunch of frameworks. I think 10–11 different frameworks that we use to manage our process for creating content. They range from editorial guidelines, Trello boards content ideas, a framework for generating ideas, and for exploring those ideas into multiple post-topics. A style guide for just really simple, absolutely everything you need to do in a blog post to make sure it meets the WP Curve standard, a template for promoting your content. Everything to do with content that I used to do myself. I put it into a Google doc and I did my best to explain it to someone else to look after. 

All these resources are free. I don’t know if you could put up a link in one of your URLs to tell people. To me, it’s about, first, figuring out the content puzzle which is how you create something interesting and engaging for people to the point where they want to share it. That’s the content part. Then, have you do it consistently. To me, you do it through the use of software, processes, and people. 

In our content team, we have a content marketing manager. We’ve got a great person that helps with the aspects related to content and how it’s leveraged like email opt-ins, sequences, and stuff like that. We’ve got an admin team that does the content promotion. We’ve got a bunch of tools like Zapier, I use it extensively. Trello, we use to manage our ideas, manage tasks. Slack, we use for communicating. Google docs, we use for the processes. All of those things combined with this stuff happening without me actually having to do anything. I’ve approved a few ideas once a month and have a weekly call to make sure everything’s on track.

Darren: That’s so good. You just covered off my next two questions that are all about tools and some of those frameworks. That’s great. Can you tell us a little bit more about Content Machine? What’s in the book? You’ve already touched a lot of it but I think it is such a useful book for bloggers, business people in general, entrepreneurs.

Dan: Yeah. It really just goes into a lot more detail and all the stuff we talked about. My philosophy’s around content are probably a little bit different to what people are used to hearing if they’re following the blogging well. I think if you’re a blogging sort of person, it would be useful hearing it from a person who identifies himself primarily as an entrepreneur and secondly as a blogger. If you’re an entrepreneur, I think it’s useful because that counter that content world and that blogging world, and I tried to put the two together. The book is my best effort to put everything that I know about content and entrepreneurship through content marketing into a book and a bunch of free resources. 

It was well received. It actually got to number one in the web marketing category in Amazon, I think a few weeks after I launched which was actually high ranked from my first book which was a nice thing to happen. I think I sold 10,000 or 15,000 copies and it’s going quite well.

Darren: What’s next for you? You’ve mentioned your beer brewing company. Can you just give us the one minute version of what’s going on there? I know there’s been some exciting news over the last few weeks that you’ve announced.

Dan: Yeah. This is, again, just following traction. We brewed homebrew and I got carried away. I put together a logo, put together a fake bottle, put it in there. I sent it around the bloggers, and started getting attention. People started asking when we’re going to brew it commercially, so we brew a batch commercially. People started asking when we are going to open a brewery, so we got the money together and started looking into how we can build our own brewery.

That all started a year ago. We’re now working on a location in Gold Coast to open the tasting room and the brewery. We’ve ordered equipment from China. We just brewed a beer with Call of Duty, it’s the biggest entertainment brand in the world. It’s just a crazy story where I’m trying to spread as much as possible. 

From the blogging side, it’s cool too because what we’re doing with the Black Hops podcast and the blog is quite different to what people are seeing in the industry. Again, just taking some of those lessons from the online marketing, transparency, telling people what we’re up to, doing really detailed useful blog posts on how to order equipment, how to put together […], all that kind of stuff. Sort of second nature stuff for online entrepreneurs with things that people in a more traditional industry have probably never seen before. That just had tremendous success for us. That’s really what I’m really excited about at the moment. Hopefully, we’ll be open. I’ll say, at this stage, it’s probably early 2016. We’re hoping to brew this year but it’s quite a process.

Darren: I can imagine. This brick and mortar stuff that I’ve got no idea about. 

Dan: It’s a fun journey. It’s one of those things that I’ve never really thought I’d be evolving something like this. It’s probably quite a high risk and maybe a little bit stupid, but I’m lucky enough to be in a position to do it because of the success I had at WP Curve. I’ve got a bit of stability there, a bit of success, and a bit of credibility to be included in a team to do this. It’s a good story about what some of these blogging stuff can lead to.

Darren: That’s great. Thank you so much. There’s so many more things that we could’ve delved into today, but I think we’ve covered some really useful ground for our listeners. Can you let our listeners know where they can connect with you if they want to get in touch?

Dan: Yes. My focus for the online marketing world at the moment is with my Facebook group which is The 7 Day Startup Facebook Group. I’ve got a free group and a paid group. If you just put 7 Day Startup into Facebook, you can see the free group. If you want to learn about the paid one, you can just go to I’ve got a bunch of stuff there about it. That’s where I’m focusing my attention now.

Darren: That’s great. We’ll link to that in today’s show notes along with all of the other things that you’ve mentioned in all of your other projects. Good luck with the beer. I’m really looking forward to tasting it myself. 

Dan: Yes, I’m sending you some. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Darren: I’m looking forward to it. It’s something for summer. Excellent. We’ll certainly put all those links in the show notes today. If you’ve got anything else, you can shoot them through, and we’ll include that for our listeners as well. We’ll chat with you all. Thanks for listening to everyone. We’ll chat with you in the next episode of the ProBlogger Podcast. 

A huge thank you to Dan Norris for being so generous with his time today. I hope you found value in today’s episode. You can find today’s show notes at

As I mentioned at the start of this podcast, today’s episode was presented by Telstra Business who is one of our ProBlogger event partners in Australia. As a business owner, you don’t want to spend all your time fretting over wifi issues or counting all the missed calls from the customers. You’d rather spend your time on the things that you do best like blogging, looking after your clients, talking up sales, and growing a business.

Telstra’s there for advice and helps with your technology needs like cloud and communications so you can get on with doing your thing. If you’re in Australia, visit your local Telstra Business Center or head to

I look forward to chatting with you in the next episode of the ProBlogger Podcast.

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