Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Barron and I run Effortless Gent, a men’s style publication focused on helping guys feel confident and look sharp in the clothes they wear.
Through our written articles and video content, we teach guys how to build a Lean Wardrobe, which essentially is a versatile set of clothes unique to every guy’s situation that easily mix and match and make dressing well much easier.
EG generates on average $8,000/mo through a combination of ad revenue (display ads, brand sponsorships), affiliate revenue, digital products (an eBook and self-guided style improvement program), and 1-on-1 online or in-person styling consultations.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Growing up, I’ve always been interested in my own personal style.
I loved being experimental and trying new trends. I learned through experimentation that how you dress can change the way you feel about yourself, as well as how other people perceive you.
I’d advise to start small and be consistent. So if you’re going to be a content creator, focus on producing content regularly, whether that’s 1x a week or 1x a day.
Because of this, I was usually who my guy friends turned to when it came to questions on matters of style.
Throughout high school and college, I noticed the same questions were being asked over and over, and I remember thinking that I should start a simple website with all the answers to these questions so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself over and over… I could just point them to my website.
So in 2009, I was looking for a side hustle project where I could combine my love of design, clothing, and my coding skills, and Effortless Gent was the result.
At the time, I was working as a front-end developer at a San Francisco-based technology company. I was in my mid-20s and still at the beginning of my career, but I’ve always had an entrepreneurial side. I didn’t love the limitations and restrictions that came from working at a job.
I knew I wanted Effortless Gent to be my full-time business one day but I wasn’t entirely sure how I would make that happen in the beginning; I just remained open to any and all possibilities.
I worked at my job during the day, and in the evenings, after dinner until 1 or 2 am every night, I would work on my site.
At first, it was just planning and strategizing, then actually designing and building the site, and finally, creating content regularly.
I remember keeping up this routine almost nightly for a long while… at least the first 2 years. I never felt forced to work on this; I loved it, enjoyed it, and found it both exciting and challenging. Exciting because of the possibilities, and challenging because of my limited time to work on it.
Take us through the process of getting started and launching.
I should mention I have a web design and development background, and back in 2009 it definitely came in handy, but nowadays it’s so much easier to put together a website that actually looks good.
Back in 09, most people used Blogger, Tumblr, and Wordpress.com sites, and even Wordpress themes weren’t as robust and easily customizable as they are today.
When I officially launched, it was literally me just flipping the switch and making my site live on effortlessgent.com. I double-checked everything and made sure my first post was already published before I made the site live.
(screenshot of the site in the very early days, via Wayback Machine)
My main goal back then was to create content consistently, week after week. Since it was a brand new site with no readership, I didn’t know what would resonate and what wouldn’t, so I covered a wide range of topics within the realm of men’s style.
Experimenting allowed me to figure out what worked and what didn’t, and helped me hone in on both what I wanted to write and what resonated with my readers.
I started with 3 shorter articles per week, and eventually moved to 2, then 1 longer piece per week tackling a specific topic. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong amount of content to produce when you’re first starting out, though consistency is definitely key.
In those days, I promoted the site mostly through Twitter. I believe Gary Vaynerchuk once talked about how back in the Wine Library TV days, he would use Twitter’s search functionality to find conversations related to wine and engage with people. I did the same thing, but for men’s style… like if guys were tweeting about outfit- or style-related things, I’d jump in on the conversation (assuming I had something relevant and useful to add), maybe I’d send them a link to an article I wrote, and repeat. I would do this over and over.
I also used my Facebook page to promote new content. It’s a little different nowadays since organic reach is practically nonexistent and you have to pay to boost your posts to your own audience. Back then, there were no restrictions and everyone who followed your page could see what you posted to it within their own feed.
As far as effectiveness, social as a whole is our smallest traffic source, accounting for maybe 12%. Google search is our largest, at around 82%, so because of this, we focus on optimizing SEO as much as possible. I wasn’t always the best at this, and admittedly have only taken an active approach these past few years, so my editor and I are constantly going back to older articles and adding focus keywords, optimizing titles, updating the content, and so on.
One piece of advice is, if your business is reliant on good content, make sure you optimize your SEO for everything you publish. In fact, I suggest doing keyword research before even writing down your first word. Doing keyword research will influence the direction you take the article or video, and it’s much easier designing a piece of content around a good keyword or phrase people actually search for, than it is to retrofit a keyword to an existing piece of content.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Consistently creating helpful, entertaining articles with actionable advice, as well as working to build relationships with my readers.
Currently I’m producing one piece of new content per week, either a written article or a video for the YouTube channel. And the rest of the week is spent either promoting it, brainstorming a new piece of content, or updating and republishing old content.
I’m a bit smarter with my approach to SEO nowadays, but I still keep it really simple. First, I think of some ideas I’d like to create content for. Then, I dive into keyword and keyphrase research.
I use the webapp AHREFs for my keyword research–this tool is $99/mo but is incredibly detailed and granular with data. It helps me nail the perfect keywords to target. A good free option is Keywords Everywhere, which I also use… as well plain ol’ Google Keyword Planner.
After gathering my target keyword or phrase plus a few related keywords, I can then write the article, the message and takeaways will be clear, and there’s a much better chance that Google will know what my article is about.
A lot of the SEO best practices and strategies I picked up from sites like Moz, or friends who know a bunch more than I do. One course I do recommend because it’s super simple to follow along and implement is called SEO For Bloggers. My friend Matt (course creator) has built a number of successful niche sites and he’s all about white hat, long-lasting, Google-friendly SEO practices, no shady practices or tactics that try to game the system.
I do most of my communicating with readers via my email list. Every week I send out a note. I keep it very simple and casual in tone, text only, and include a link to the content I want them to check out.
(Example of a weekly email I send out)
Usually I’m letting them know about a new article or video, or perhaps a big sale at one of our recommended stores, or I’m doing a digital product launch for our eGuides and course.
To grow my list and attract subscribers, I created a eGuide called The Lean Wardrobe, a PDF all about putting together a no-nonsense wardrobe, that's sent directly to them once they subscribe. My thinking behind this is that no one wants another email newsletter subscription, but my target reader has a specific problem he’s trying to solve (he wants to dress better) and this free guide will get them started on the right path.
What’s the business model and how you do make money?
I knew I wanted to create digital products, so in the beginning, as my audience grew, I would talk to them constantly, either through email, Twitter, or within the comments section of each article.
I needed to learn what their struggles with clothing were.
Diversifying income streams definitely helps, but can also distract (insert analogy about spinning plates here), and I’m learning the longer I do this, the better it is to focus on 2-3 streams and really dedicate time and effort into both maximizing and refining those.
I also wanted to understand how they thought and the words they used to describe their struggles. I knew that speaking their language, using the phrases they did, would be helpful when describing what my product was and how it would help them.
I discovered my audience was mainly guys my age (at the time, mid-20s), usually coastal, and either in school or getting their first jobs. They knew dressing well wasn’t their strong suit, and they felt the pressure of adulthood and the necessity to dress the part.
So I took what I learned over the first 2 years of writing style articles regularly and getting feedback from my readers and put together my first eGuide which was called Graduating Your Style. In it, I laid out the basics for leveling up your wardrobe from a college kid to a young adult man heading to his first serious job.
I took my readers along for the ride during the whole process of building out the eGuide. I got their feedback with titles and content, and in general, updated them regularly leading up to the launch. I did this, of course, to let my readers know I did have a product coming out, and that I wanted them to buy it.
Graduating Your Style launched for $26. I gave a $10 off code to the first batch of buyers, and in the first month, made $6,100 in sales. I can’t remember exactly what my list size was at the time, but I’m almost certain it was no more than 1,000 people.
So not a ton of money, but selling my first product validated the idea and I knew I could continue to evolve, create more products, and monetize in other ways as well.
I created several other products since then—a few other eGuides, a membership site, a style improvement course—and diversified the income streams with display ad revenue, as well as brand partnerships, affiliate relationships with brands, and personal styling both in-person and online.
As far as traffic growth, it’s been slow but steady. SEO is one area I regret not being more strategic about earlier. In 2016, after 7 years of consistent growth, I saw traffic plateau and even dip a little. I did a bit of research and realized I lost ranking and referral traffic on a few keywords that were bringing significant traffic.
So in early 2017, wanting to prevent any more loss of traffic and knowing I could be much more proactive, I started taking SEO very seriously and formed a strategy to optimize every piece of content I created. I’m also going back to old content and consolidating posts around a strong keyword or phrase, or simply updating and re-publishing articles that are already good, but just needed to be refreshed a bit.
(traffic from the day I started the site up to Jan 2019)
There’s still a lot of work for me to do here, but I’m hoping that with these improvements to the content and my overall on-page SEO strategy, traffic will break out of that plateau and continue its upward climb.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
So diversifying income streams definitely helps, but can also distract (insert analogy about spinning plates here), and I’m learning the longer I do this, the better it is to focus on 2-3 streams and really dedicate time and effort into both maximizing and refining those.
For example, one of my largest revenue generators over the past 2 years has been brand partnerships. This is when I create a piece of content and a brand or product sponsors it (the sponsor has no say over the content).
But recently I’ve taken a step back to consider where I want the business to be in the next 1-2 years, and what I want to spend most of my time on, and I decided it wasn’t brand sponsorships.
So for 2019 I’m actively scaling back on those types of projects, and instead re-focusing my energy on selling my own products as well as continuing to create great content for my readers and viewers. Coincidentally, my display ad and affiliate revenue grows the more I create and promote good style content that brings readers to the site.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use so many different tools to run the site and business. A few of note:
For our sales pages and opt-ins, I use LeadPages. For affiliate link management within WordPress, we use Earnist (which recently has become free, the founder is launching a new affiliate link management WordPress plugin called Lasso).
For drafts and edits, we work within Google Docs before moving the whole article into a WordPress draft.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The 4-Hour Workweek introduced me to the idea of location independence and the possibilities with an online business, and Crush It! teaches you how to become a brand, choose a medium for your message, and focus on authenticity in everything you do.
I feel like the messages of both books are still very much applicable today, and are a good place to start if you’re still toying with the idea of starting a business, a brand, a blog, anything.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I think the most common advice would be to just start, but I’d say doing your research, establishing both your point of view and your target reader/customer avatar before writing and publishing your first piece of content is really important. I really like Donald Miller’s body of work that teaches you how to build a story brand, if you need a framework for how to do so.
And that’s not to say your avatar or point of view won’t change, but knowing what you stand for (or against) and who you’re trying to reach is monumentally important, otherwise, what are you even doing?
I’d also advise to start small and be consistent. So if you’re going to be a content creator, focus on producing content regularly, whether that’s 1x a week or 1x a day. This is especially important in the beginning because if it’s something like a YouTube video or a blog post, your fans will tune in regularly on those days you commit to publishing. Also, it helps to establish that habit in your own routine.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m currently looking for more freelance writers to join the team. This is a paid position, and I’m looking specifically for writers whose focus is solely within the men’s style and lifestyle vertical, or who have experience writing these types of articles.
Where can we go to learn more?
Our homebase is always at https://effortlessgent.com, but we’re also a few other places online:
- Youtube: https://youtube.com/user/effortlessgenttv
- Instagram: http://instagram.com/effortlessgent
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/effortlessgent/
- Our FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/effortlessgent/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/effortlessgent
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!