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February 26, 2018

Build an audience, understand how they consume media

In this episode, listen to Josh Cobb, CEO of Stepps, explain how he grew an audience of 30,000 listeners in under 1 year through his Real Estate Pros podcast, and built a Digital Agency around their needs. Josh highlights the ups and downs of his business journey as well as the importance of delivering useful, educational content in a way that engages your target audience.

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Josh Cobb, Stepps

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Stepps was founded by Josh Cobb in 2014. Josh has advised more than 100 brands since starting the company and hundreds of agents who have attended his workshops. He is the host of the popular Real Estate Pros podcast, oversees digital strategy for top performing real estate agents and teams, and travels the globe with several international speaking engagements each year.
 
Recently, Josh was named as a finalist in the 2017 REB Awards for Industry Thought Leader of The Year.
 
In addition to web development and digital strategy consulting, the company also runs Stepps Media, a fast-growing education company that produces an iTunes top-ranked podcast, training events, email and webinars.

Interview Transcript

Mark Engelmann: Hi everyone, welcome to today's episode of the Go for Growth Show. My name is Mark Engelmann, and I'll be your host for today's episode. Here with me is Josh Cobb, the CEO from Stepps. Josh today is going to talk to us today about his business and some of the great growth that he's seen in a very short amount of time. So, Josh let's just get straight into it. Tell us a little bit about what you do at Stepps.

Josh Cobb: So we're a digital marketing company just in the real estate industry. So our primary, I guess, core business is website design, website development. And we build software for real estate agents and offices and provide the strategy advice that kind of ties it all in together and we use all of those things to help them grow their business. So, That's our industry. We're just working real estate and having a good time doing it.

Mark Engelmann: One thing that I always am fascinating by is people's journey from often an employee and the transition into entrepreneurship and business ownership. Can you tell us a little bit about what you were doing before you started your journey with Stepps?

Josh Cobb: Well Stepps was kind of born out of a problem that I had. I was a property manager for about nine years before I got into ... before I started Stepps I was working for a property management consulting firm as their marketing manager and one thing that I wasn't very good at, nor did I really like that much, when I was a business development manager in property management, was prospecting and cold calling. And all the things that people in real estate are very good at, it just wasn't fun for me. It was very uncomfortable for me to go and knock on someone's door or call them if they've never spoken to us before ... it just wasn't something that I enjoyed doing. So, I started exploring other marketing strategies and how businesses outside of real estate got the phone to ring the other way so I started coming across terms like inbound marketing and content marketing and just fell in love with this idea that if you gave enough value, over time people would come to you eventually. So that's kind of underpins everything that Stepps stands for and the products that we build and the advice that we give to real estate agents and business is, if you provide enough value consistently to an audience, who find your content relevant to them and love getting it from you, that will come to you eventually. So that was kind of the challenge that I had back as a property manager and Stepps is really a consulting firm to really help real estate agents and agencies get the phone to ring the other way. And really add ... not replace what they're doing, but enhance what they're doing.

Mark Engelmann: So you mentioned two, sort of, key words that get thrown around a bit these days and they were inbound marketing and content marketing. I guess you also mentioned another doozie in our audience. Now when you started Stepps, I know that you had a very clear strategy in terms of building an audience, tell me sort of about that strategy that you started with and has that changed over time and when did it change.

Josh Cobb: So for the first nine months of Stepps, we didn't have anything to sell. We literally had no product, and no services.

Mark Engelmann: Yeah.

Josh Cobb: And I had a microphone and a lot of relationships with people in real estate that I really thought ... they have amazing stories. And what always fascinated me was the story behind someone's success. Not necessarily what they do, which is great, but it really ... the story of how they got there is something that I love hearing and I love listening to. So armed with a microphone and a laptop, I reached out to the people that I knew in the industry and wanted to share their stories with the rest of the industry to inspire people to really understand who they are and how they got to where they are. Not just because of their work ethic, but who they are as a person. So that was my mission, was to ... the strategy was to tell stories about inspiring people to the real estate industry and hope that they would hand over their email address and would continue to get that content on a weekly basis. We have a weekly podcast, it's still going 130 episodes or something ...

Mark Engelmann: Wow.

Josh Cobb: The mission for the first 9 months was to... every time someone subscribed to that podcast, we asked them one question, and that was if there was one thing that you would love to know more about when it comes to digital marketing or social media, or content marketing, what is it. We just wanted that answer. We ... that's how we built the products that... we got into web development, we got into web design, we started providing training courses on digital marketing because that's what people were telling us and we've been very fortunate that we've been able to build an audience not just around content, but that's helped us create products and services that we know people for a fact actually want in the industry. And I have no doubt that that strategy alone has helped us get to where we are today instead of what a lot of businesses do when they start out is they start with a product and they just jam it down people's throats as much as they can and hope that something sticks. We're very fortunate that we have an audience of about 42,000 email subscribers who... when we have a new podcast that goes out to, or if we have a new training course that goes out to that audience and it's... they know us, they luckily find our content engaging and relevant, which is great. So I think, yeah, we started with no products or services to sell, but we trusted the people would tell us in that initial nine months what they wanted or needed in their business and we just went and built it for them. It was really that... I know that sounds kind of simple, but that's kind of how we grew the business to where it is today.

Mark Engelmann: Yeah, alright. And so talking about podcasts, as using podcasts as a way to build that audience, tell me about the day to day sort of planning and effort required to get that regular or weekly podcast rolling out and were there ever any disasters along the way.

Josh Cobb: Oh for sure, there's always disasters. I think if I go back a step, the reason why I chose a podcast was understanding that real estate agents spend a lot of time in their car and it's very hard to watch a video or read a blog post while you're driving...

Mark Engelmann: Or they spend a lot of time at the gym too.

Josh Cobb: Exactly, so it made a lot of sense to do something that they could consume ... that was part of their daily routine and not interrupting it. So podcasting seemed the logical solution. It's something you can do while you're driving, you ... a lot of agents do. A lot of real estate agents listen to whether it's training or coaching tips when they're driving. They just plug it into their Bluetooth and their car and away they go.

Mark Engelmann: Yeah.

Josh Cobb: So that's probably, one of the mistakes I think a lot of businesses make is just thinking, oh I'm going to do a blog or I'm going to do a podcast, I'm going to do a video series, or an event, and they don't think well is this actually intertwine with the daily lives of my audience or is it going to interrupt them? So podcasting was natural for me. The planning is ... I have a background in musical technology so I studied music technology at the Conservatorium of Music.

Mark Engelmann: Yeah okay.

Josh Cobb: So it was quite easy for me to plug in a microphone and know how to get it audio, so for the first 12 months I did everything myself. It was the plugging in the microphone, organising the Skype interview, making sure that the audio was working, sending out the questions well ahead of time, making sure that the person who I was interviewing knew exactly what I would expect of them, and then record the interview, have it edited, have all the marketing put together around it, the email set up on a weekly basis. The Facebook ads to promote it out, all of the stuff to promote the episode and then each guest that I had on the show I would always make sure that I would send them a gift afterwards to say thank you for being a part of the show and sharing your story. And that system I've followed now, we still do it to this day, our podcast is just as important as delighting our clients. It's the content we're always waking up in the morning thinking what's a question that we haven't answered on our podcast or something with an interview that we'd love to ... so that's some ... yeah the weekly routine has become natural after a long time, but there were some disasters for sure. We had an interview, I interviewed a lady by the name of Wendy Alexander who is an amazing business operator of Barfoot & Thompson in New Zealand. And I realised after the recording that I had actually deleted the audio. So I had to call Wendy, who was on holidays in Wales at the time, and anyone who had seen Wendy speak would know that she is very honest and blunt and that's what people love about her. And I was really worried about making that phone call. And she said Josh, I actually wasn't happy with my part of the interview anyway, so let's do it again. Thank God, so that's probably one of the biggest mistakes I've made, which now everything is backed up triple, quadruple ... we back up the audio a lot. But yeah, it's been a good time, good ride.

Mark Engelmann: Yeah, cool. So you launched your podcast, you presumably may have recorded a couple of episodes in advance, how did that audience grow and how did you ... a lot of people are probably wondering, that sounds like a bright idea, I understand building an audience, but how do you get those first few subscribers and then how do you grow that?

Josh Cobb: If I start with the mistake I think a lot of businesses make in the first instance is they know that content is important, a lot of businesses are just creating content for content's sake. And when they finish that blog post or podcast or video, they're on to the next thing. And they're not spending the time promoting it. There's a great saying by Andy Crestodina, and Andy Crestodina runs a company called Orbit Media Studios in Chicago, in the States. And an amazing content marketer. Here's a great saying that the New York Times doesn't have a list of the best books. They have a list of the best selling books. So it's not the best content that wins, it's the best promoted content that wins. That's always resonated with me so whenever we produce a piece of content, we would spend probably 30-40% of the time creating it, and 60% of the time promoting it. So in terms of building the audience and getting those first few subscribers, it was really spending a lot of time creating the content but then an equal if not more time promoting it on the channels that our audience was hanging out. So Facebook and LinkedIn and having our interviewees share that with their audience and driving that traffic back to the website where the website was configured to collect emails. So we made that pretty prominent on the website. I think driving traffic is one thing, but if they're not converting into an audience or if you're not making it easy for them to do it, that's ... all the hard work's kind of undone. Yeah, that's kind of how we went about it.

Mark Engelmann: Okay.

Josh Cobb: And still do, to this day.

Mark Engelmann: Yeah, yeah. And moving on, what's down the track for Steps? What are some of your upcoming sort of key priorities and strategies to continue your growth and success?

Josh Cobb: Like any business, we've evolved into a company doing things that we didn't think we would be doing. If you told me three years ago we'd be doing web development, doing web design and development I would have told you, you're crazy. So we're building now some other products and services and software that we're really excited about that we know for a fact that the industry wants, but again we've asked, we've constantly asked the audience what are products and services that you want, and what are the problems you're trying to solve in your business. So we've spent a lot of time in the last 12 months really going to the industry and spending time one on one with not only our clients, but people who come to our workshops and asking them, what are the things that they need in their business. So I'm really excited in the next 12 months we've got some really amazing things that we're doing part on the industry but we're really confident or really excited to see them roll out because we're confident they're products and services that are needed. So I think if it's anything we're working on, it's really the software side. We're kind of moving into a bit more software development not just web design, and that's really exciting. From a business standpoint, software doesn't require as much human interaction if you're a consultant out there pounding the pavement, money for your time, software can kind of make money for you while ... it doesn't need you as much. So that's really exciting for me from a businesses owners standpoint is where we're going is kind of having that recurring revenue from other products and services that work themselves.

Mark Engelmann: There's plenty of examples out there of consulting businesses that have grown into service providers and software companies and I think in some respects that's kind of a natural progression, so that's very cool to see.

Josh Cobb: Yeah, it's exciting.

Mark Engelmann: So in terms of tips for our listeners and viewers, what's your number one tip for any business out there that's really looking to sort of boost their growth and they're kind of exposure to the market and if they're on their way down the inbound marketing journey and feeling their way, what's your number one tip?

Josh Cobb: I think today, it's that you've got to be hungry for learning. I think ... it’s that old adage, “this is the way we've always done is” isthe most expensive words in business today. The world has changed. It's not changing, it's changed. I think you've got to be hungry for learning. We spend I don't know how much money on travelling all over the world going to conferences that have nothing to do with our industry but we do that because it
gives us ideas that haven't been done in real estate before and we bring them back, we test them out to see if they're working, and one of the things that keeps
resonating more and more that a lot of businesses have really adopted is this content first approach. And content marketing has actually been around for
hundreds of years, it's not new, and if they do a little bit of googling they'll see some examples and case studies of how content marketing was done a hundred years ago and two hundred years ago and so many businesses are now going back to how that was ... because it's harder than ever to cut through the noise. So a lot of businesses are now bringing content marketing as a business strategy and having that steer their entire business across all departments. I think you got to be number one hungry for learning. Looking at how other businesses outside of your industry have really evolved and why this idea of content and content marketing is a business strategy that helps you cut through the noise but you need to know that it's not going to drive leads overnight. But, eventually, fortunately for us we're kind of hitting that payback period where we've got an audience now that we're very fortunate we can communicate with one to one, and that no doubt, has really put us well ahead of a lot of people in our space. Only because we've really invested in the audience and really giving them content they want instead of pitching products and services to them. So I think hungry for learning really looking outside of your industry, and understanding that content marketing is, I think how marketing will be done in five years. It won't be this new thing. It will just be how marketing is done.

Mark Engelmann: Yeah, great. And last question before we wrap up. Josh, can you tell me are there any pieces of technology, software applications, or tools that you're using today in your business that are making things easier for you, more convenient, helping you with capacity issues, any of those sorts of things?

Josh Cobb: Probably where Beepo comes into this is our team over at Bepoo our project management over tasks has become a lot easier with tools like Trello. A lot of people watching are probably familiar with Trello or BaseCamp. So that's what I'm really loving at the moment is the kind of Kanban approach of, the three, kind of columns: To do, in progress or complete, or testing and then completed. So using tools like Trello just make it easier for working with our team over in Clark at Beepo, and prioritising tasks and everyone can see what everyone's up to. I'm really loving Trello, that's one that people should ... if they're really mindful of process and follow up and systems, that's one that I think they certainly want to check out.

Mark Engelmann: Awesome, awesome. Well Josh, thanks for your time. I'll let you get back to the digital world. That you're heavily, heavily involved in.

Josh Cobb: Yes it's this mystical world called the internet that we just ... well anyway.

Mark Engelmann: Well I hope you enjoyed today's interview with Mr. Josh Cobb from Stepps and we'll
chat again in a week's time. Thanks everyone.

Josh Cobb: Thanks so much.

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