Digital Marketing Strategy: How One Entrepreneur Used Media Coverage to Go from Zero to $20 Million: An Interview with Jeremy Shepherd

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Would you like to learn successful PR strategies that will reliably generate more media coverage?

How valuable would it be for you to learn actionable take-aways from someone generating millions in online revenue?
(over 20 million, to be exact)

In this episode of the Bright Ideas Podcast, Jeremy Shepherd reveals one golden nugget after another.

More About This Episode

The Bright Ideas podcast is the podcast for business owners and marketers who want to discover how to use online marketing and sales automation tactics to massively grow their business.

It’s designed to help marketing agencies and small business owners discover which online marketing strategies are working most effectively today – all from the mouths of expert entrepreneurs who are already making it big.

In this episode, I interview Jeremy Shepherd, founder of Pearl Paradise.

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Transcript

An Interview with Jeremy Shepherd
Trent Dyrsmid: Hi there! Thank you so much for joining me for the Bright Ideas podcast. I’m your host Trent Dyrsmid. And this is the podcast for business owners and marketers who want to discover how to use online marketing and sales automation tactics to massively boost their business.On this episode I am joined by the founder and CEO of a company called PearlParadise.com. His name is Jeremy Shepherd and this is an amazing story of entrepreneurial success.Way back in 1996 Jeremy started this company. He was working as a flight attendant and had gone over, bought some pearls for his girlfriend, turns out they were got appraised for home issurance reasons they were worth far more than what he paid. And he started this business by financing it with his mastercard and he’s now doing $20 million a year at PearlParadise.com. And in this interview you’re gonna learn about a social media strategy that is unlike what I’ve heard of from any other guest that accounts for 30% of his sales and it takes him an hour a day to do this social media strategy.Then he’s also gonna explain his particular PR strategy that he’s used to get on TV, to get on major newspapers and one of those pieces of coverage in the newspaper accounted for millions of dollars in revenue. It actually tripled the revenue of his company. And then we’re also gonna talk about his very specific search marketing and search engine optimization strategy that he uses to drive traffic to his website.So I gotta tell you I get to do a lot of these interviews and this one I had a blast. You’re gonna love it. I have these things called golden nuggets, actionable take aways and I told Jeremy I said “Jeremy, I think you broke the record for golden nuggets in a single interview.” So please join me in welcoming Jeremy to the show.Alright Jeremy, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for making the time to do this interview with me. Yours is a very interesting story that started all off with the trip overseas and a mastercard. So we’ll get to that in a second but welcome aboard.Jeremy Shepherd: Thank you. Nice to be here.T: So as I just mentioned before we started recording, I always like to right away give my listeners kind of the reason why they wanna keep listening to this interview and yours is a phenomenal success story to say the least. So why don’t you first of all tell us a little bit, tell us what your company does, how you make money and then kind of how much revenue you’re doing today and then we’ll go back and talk a bit about how you got started.J: Well my company is PearlParadise.com Incorporated. We’re doing about $20 million a year revenue and we sell pearls, nothing but pearls.T: Pretty simple business model.J: Pretty simple.T: In a cocktail party what do you do? I sell pearls, a lot of pearls. So this started back in 1996, is that right?J: Right.T: So at the time you were a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines. You were overseas in Asia somewhere and you bought a string of pearls for your girlfriend and then suddenly they were worth a whole lot more than… do you wanna talk about that story?J: Yeah I was a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines. I grew up as an army breadth and I was speaking multiple languages so it’s easy for me to get a job at the airlines. They’re always looking for foreign language speakers. And it was all the way over at Beijing actually. One of the popular things for flight attendants to do was either go to the pearl market, the hometown of *inaudible. And everyday flight attendants go there they buy bags, whatever, you name it. But there was a section there actually 2 floors of the market they were dedicated to nothing but pearls. I’m not much of a shopper myself and I certainly wasn’t much of a jewelry shopper but one day I did decide to go there to get a string of pearls for my girlfriend. And I paid around $20 for the string of pearls and brought them back to the States, gave them to her and she had them appraised for her home owner’s issurance. And the appraisal came back at $600 and that was sort of an aha moment for me where I thought wow, maybe there’s some sort of business opportunity that I can make out of this. And that’s basically where the seeds are sown and where I started the business.T: Okay and then you didn’t get online for quite a while and I know that from now I think it’s fortunately all of your sales come from your website, is that correct?J: Yes. Now actually I did get online right away but I didn’t start with a website right away.T: Oh that’s right.

J: Well I started out, well when I first brought the pearl, I started bringing pearls in and just keeps growing over the time. I started visiting stores, a couple of jewelry stores, and I couldn’t really find a way to market that because jewelry stores for the most part they buy on consignment, on memo, they buy from the big pearl houses in New York where they’ve been purchasing for the last 100+ years and so it was difficult to break into that market. And a friend of mine called me one day and he said “hey Jeremy, I’ve got great idea where we can sell your pearls.” He’s been selling items on the internet on this new website called ebay and said “hey maybe you can sell pearls there too.” So pearls I sold actually were on Amazon. Amazon had a format similar to Ebay at that time Amazon auctions and it was a little bit difficult for me to figure out coz I had no experience on the internet whatsoever. And I started to dutch auctions on the Amazon giving them the information from the appraisal that my girlfriend had to describe the pearl and then he put a picture of it, put a dutch auction up and immediately started selling pearls. And my first dutch auction closed with everyone in the items up that I put up there sold.

T: Wow! Talk about a rapid reinforcement that you were on to something that was gonna work. That’s something we talk about anytime I’m talking to someone about how to get going and validate a market is surveys are great, customer focus groups are great but there ain’t anything better than the buy button.

J: They’re always better.

T: That is the best validation there is. So you very quickly were strongly reinforced that hey there’s something going on here so over the next few years how long was it until you built your own website? How long did you just keep doing this dutch auctions for?

J: I did auction probably for the first, I think close to 3 years. What I did was sell everything that I brought back from China, take the money go back to China, buy the same things and more things actually, and just kept doing auction. It didn’t occur to me at the time to build a website. When I started first selling pearls I barely knew how to turn on the computer let alone put up a website.

So my brother came up with the idea to build a website around 99 or 2000 and this is around the time where websites were a little bit more *inaudible things came out platforms that mom and pops could actually build their own websites without any background on HTML or programming. And so I built my own website myself. I sat about a week in a room, doors closed, working on it for a week’s straight. I took photos without a digital camera, a regular film camera, I got the photos developed. Went to Kinko’s where they had a scanner, scanned the photos up on to a disk, a real disk. Got the photos back home, loaded them up onto the website.

I think it took about a full week to build my website and put it this way, I wouldn’t be successful today if my websites still looked like the day I built it.

T: Yeah.

J: So 10+ years ago you didn’t need the flashiest websites to be able to sell online because the online medium was relatively new. Well it still is relatively new but it’s very new at that time. So yeah that’s how I started on the internet with my own website.

T: How long was it before you quit your job working for the airline?

J: I quit my job, well there’s actually 2 parts to this. I started to go abroad in the year 2000 or was it 2001, I’m sorry 2001, spring of 2001. And I took a leave from here. And I took a leave because I wasn’t a 100% confident that I could do this on my own coz up until this point it was really just sort of a part time hobby. I would carry pearls with me in my flight bag. I would carry a credit card processing machine in my flight bag and my computer. And so my business was raised from hotel rooms all around the US and around the world while I was still making money as a flight attendant. So I decided to take a leave of absence and I believe it was just a few months and focused solely on the *inaudible .com website. And by the end of the first month I knew that I would never go back to flying again.

I kept on taking leaves for a number of years because of course 9/11 happened so a lot of people in my industry lost their job and so they let more senior people like myself take leaves of absence so that they wouldn’t have to fire the junior people. So I was able to take leaves to about I would say almost 4 years before they finally asked me to come back to work and at that point I told them that it wasn’t gonna happen. But the great part of that was that taking a leave of absence not only did I save someone else’s job at the airlines but I got flight benefits for all those years. So I was able to travel all over the world to buy pearls and it was a benefit that you can’t imagine.

T: Well yeah you saved a whole bunch of money for sure.

J: Sure.

T: So when you first built the site how did you get traffic back then and is that in anyway, we’re gonna later in the interview of course we’re gonna talk about what’s really working well for you today, but I’m curious back then was getting traffic was it completely different strategies that you used to get traffic today or are they somewhat similar and what were they?

J: Back then we didn’t have the books that we have today, the leaders in the industry that we have today. It’s just things like SEO and SEM, social media, those sort of things, you know, those words weren’t even around back then. When I first started the way I got traffic for my website was again through the auction. I put advertisements up in all the auctions that I put on Amazon and on Ebay. I did very traditional method in the very beginning, business cards. I even tried some advertising in the newspapers, etc. But it really wasn’t until about 2003 when I started getting tremendous traffic to the website and that was from probably the best move I’ve ever made and I was hiring a PR agency.

T: Really, you mentioned that in the pre-interview questionnaire that you filled out for a side guy by the name of Paul Collins I think.

J: Paul Collins, yes.

T: Alright so we’re getting way out of order in the interview but whatever it doesn’t matter let’s talk about that because I think people are always looking for how do I get more traffic and I wanna give them that information. So let’s talk about what Paul did for you.

J: Well Paul called me out of the blue. And he found my website, saw my story and called me up and said “hey, who represents you as your PR agent?” And in my line, PR agents were for movie stars, bands. It never occured to me that I might need a PR agent. But that’s an entrepreneur, you’re always looking for opportunities. So I started to have lunch with the guy. Thought what could get hurt if I did have lunch with him. He brought forward that he wanted to represent me and what he did charge me I think was around $1,000-2,000 a month for a 6 months contract and at that time it sounded like buying a lottery ticket. What can I possibly get from a PR agent?

So we renegotiated a bit and I decided to have his services for a $1,000 a month and with no contract so I could let him go immediately. Because at that time a $1,000 a month, it was quite a bit of money. I was still a sole proprietor working on my own. And within I would say the first month he not only paid for himself but he paid for his services for a year. It was phenomenal. I was travelling in China during the SARS outbreak, he got public radio to interview me on the ground in China. He got News Weekly to interview me. It was like a roller coaster. Our sales increased exponentially immediately.

And he ended up moving out of the country after a couple of years but the last thing he did for me was he got me an interview with the Wall Street Journal. And it was nearly a half page interview on the front page of the market place section and that was the million dollar interview that changed my company from that day forward. The last paragraph in the interview said PearlParadise.com is the place for people to buy a strand of pearl they know would cost a $1,000 on a jewelry store but only $200 on PearlParadise.com. And the interview and the article literally tripled our traffic, tripled our sales and we’ve taken off since that point.

T: Wow! That is a phenomenal story. Now do you still work with Paul or is he?

J: I don’t. He moved believe it or not China, Shanghai, China. He lived there as a child and decided on a whim that he wanted to go back and he wanted to spend the rest of the days there and call me when they have send me up so *inaudible. And he’s still in China. Since then I’ve had a few other PR agents that have been a bit more expensive but none of them have been quite as successful as Paul Collins was.

T: Yeah, geez that’s too bad coz I’m hearing this I’m thinking I’d like to work with Paul as well.

J: He was pretty amazing.

T: Yeah. Do you know what he did that why he was so successful?

J: I think maybe it was his personality. He was the kind of person who could walk into a room and not only be the center of attention but everybody enjoy being around him. He would talk at everyone. And he really believed in me. He believed in my story and my company. And I think that the combination of his personality and of course he believed in me really made him a powerful PR agent.

T: Yeah no kidding. And you haven’t, do you have, how big of a role does PR play in your marketing strategy now?

J: It still clearly plays a sizable role. We do things like editorial look books 2x a year. We get magazine poll because of our PR agency almost on a daily basis. They don’t know which ones magazine but yes it’s still part of what we do.

T: You said editorial look books, what’s that?

J: Twice a year we do look books for what we call editorial reviews where we create new lines in pieces and we meet with editors on the west coast and the east coast 2x a year and show them all of the new pieces that we’ve created for the year strictly for editorials. There’s some pretty crazy pieces that might not necessarily sell well on the website. And we also create look books so they can take it with them. And what that does is it sort of puts us in a place where the writers, journalists, the reporters, when they think of pearls for a particular story or for a model’s shoot for a magazine, we become sort of the go to company getting those products.

T: Yeah okay. Now I’ve gone and jumbled up the whole order of my interview by jumping ahead to that. So I wanna go back coz when I create interviews like this I have a couple of goals. One is I really wanna give people tons of usable strategies that they think they can put into work in their business now. But I also wanna give them motivation because I want people to, there are gonna be people listening to this that maybe don’t have a business yet and are just kinda like teethering and I think that’s why your story of starting off part time using mastercard to buy your first little string of pearls is such an excellent story. So we’re gonna back up just a little bit. How long did it take you to get to say when did you have a year where you did a $100,000 in revenue?

J: $100,000 in revenue? I’m trying to think around the first year, the first holiday well I did about $20,000 in sales. It was probably around 3 or 4 years before I hit a $100,000 mark.

T: Okay. And a $100,000 in revenue because the profit margin is pretty high on this. I’m assuming that that was enough for you to be able to be full time and continue to run the business.

J: Oh absolutely. When I was full time I took very little lull in business basically rent. And I didn’t buy any toy. I didn’t buy my first until a couple of years ago actually. So it didn’t take much to live on the way I was living. I wasn’t living large at all. So yeah the $100,000 a year was more than enough for me to do the business full time.

T: Okay. What toy did you buy?

J: I bought a Tesla.

T: Nice.

J: Lighter vehicle.

T: Yes. I actually used to have the Lotus Exige that the Tesla’s shares the same chassis with.

J: Same chassis, yes. Whole lot of fun.

T: A very fun car to take to the race track, that’s for sure. So I wanna dig into the psychology a little bit as well. Was anyone in your family in business before you decided to start your business?

J: My father, well I’m sorry my stepfather started his own business. He started a plumbing company when I was a child. Other than that no.

T: No. Okay.

J: But I was a serial entrepreneur growing up. It was something I always knew that I’d probably do. I started my first business very young selling cookies and I started to make a calling card business when I was a flight attendant. When I was 19 years old I started a small transportation business. *Inaudible. I was always looking for something new and I knew that I probably wouldn’t be completely happy or satisfied until I had my own company, successful company.

T: Yes absolutely. Was there a time, we’re updating with these questions as, when things weren’t really working out coz we know that’s a part of the entrepreneurial journey, highs and lows, we get down on ourselves, the visions start to fade, the confidence in the visions starts to fade, how did you deal with those particular times? Did you have a strategy? Was there certain books that you read? Did you do stuff in the morning, like what did you do to keep your head in the game for lack of a better term?

J: No I can really see where you’re coming from. You know, when people look at my business and look at me, a lot of friends that I’ve had in the past, they all think “oh, he’s so lucky. Or oh, his life is so easy.” But starting a business you’re absolutely right, you got ups and downs. There are times where you think this is not going to work, fail and plummet for a period of time. I think that innovation is probably the most important thing that I’ve been strong with over the years and that I’ve always looked for new ideas or new ways to strategize, new ways to market and a lot of that doesn’t need to come from books.

Early on in my business I decided I needed to read 2 types of books, books about online business and books about pearls. Nobody taught me anything about pearls. I had become a pearl expert on my own. Finding time to read is not the easiest thing when you’re an entrepreneur so what I did is because I go to the gym nearly everyday I started going to the gym every night and spending an hour on the bicycle and I would read a business book for an hour every single night on a bicycle in the gym. And that was the one place where I could confidently say I’m gonna spend a whole hour reading a business book every single day. And I did that for a number of years.

T: Interesting. So you read a lot of books?

J: I read a lot of books. If I can point this camera on my bookshelf I probably have a lot of same books as you do but it’s a lot of books.

T: And if any of those books come to mind, coz again I like actionable take aways. Is there any particular book that you think man oh man, this is a must to read?

J: Oh wow, a must read. Well Jake O’neil’s books on usability are very good. They helped me a lot early on in designing my website. Purple Cow. One book that stand out to me that changed a lot was Web Design for ROI by Lance Loveday. Web Design for ROI is a book specifically written for what I do, how to build a website and get the best conversion out of your website. I was so impressed by this book that I called him and actually hired him and he still works for me to this day.

T: Works for you as a contractor or works for you as an employee?

J: Contractor yeah. He reads all of our idea.

T: Okay. Great segue because now coming up, I wanna spend the rest of our time really talking about what are you doing today that’s really driving traffic, driving sales, driving conversions because there’s gonna be, I hope, some couple of golden nuggets in there that people who are listening to this who have a business can say “hey, that’s a good idea. I can do that.” So top 3 things that are driving revenue for your company right now are what?

J: Well the no. 1 thing has to be social media. That’s the most important thing I would say for my business and I start every morning with social media and I am active in social media all throughout the day. No. 2 of course is PR. And no. 3 would be search engine marketing including SEO and PPC.

T: Okay let’s dive into those, let’s dive into social media coz it’s big. Social media, what do you do? Are you tweeting? Are you hanging around facebook? Like what’s on your playbook everyday and is that the first thing you do each day?

J: First thing I do everyday.

T: And how long do you spend doing it?

J: Well I use it when I wake up around 6:00 in the morning and my wife doesn’t usually wake up though until 7. So for the first hour of the day I’m on social media. And yeah social media is a vague word, sort of a buzz word. Everybody thinks they need to be involved in social media, having a facebook page, having a twitter account, etc. My social media is very specific to what we do and in 2003 and 2004 I built another website called pearl-guide.com where I wrote a few hundred articles and posted them online.

And about a year or so later I entered a forum and at that time I didn’t even know what social media was but what I was doing was I was creating a social media platform. That forum is what I’m primarily involved in now. It had nearly a 100,000 pages in content and thousands and thousands of members. And why it’s so important is because the hundreds and thousands of pages of content, any one searching for anything pearl related online, if they’re doing the research specially they’re gonna come across pearl-guide.com and the articles that I’ve written or even just posts I’ve written on pearl guide they live forever. There are posts that I’ve written on pearl guide say 5 or 6 years ago that may have 10,000 views on them now.

And so I spend 15 minutes writing something that reach 10,000 people over the course of 5 years. Now today I’ve got thousands of posts that I’ve written and posted on pearl guide and that drive easily 25-30% of our business and it cost absolutely nothing. The only thing it cost is time, time and dedication. And of course we have a facebook page. We’ve got around 11,000 fans on facebook and we do post a lot on facebook. I have a twitter account, I post a little bit on twitter. But being so specific to our niche which is pearl it has made us the undisputed leader online for the pearl industry.

T: And then looking at pearl guide it does not appear at first glance that it’s in any way, shape or form affiliated with pearl paradise.

J: You’re right.

T: So then how’s it driving traffic? Are people finding out hey, you’re the guy writing a lot of these posts and then they click on your profile like any other forum when they say who’s this guy or gal they click on the forum and they go oh, he’s from pearl paradise, maybe I should go check out pearl paradise. Is that more or less what’s happening?

J: More or less. I think with social media there’s a mistake a lot of companies make with social media. I’m sure you’ve seen it before as well. Just think companies that have twitter accounts for example that all they do is post about stuff. They don’t post about other people. They’re not there to help people. Social media is not a talking to people sort of system, give them interaction and by meeting the CEO of a large online pearl company in the world being on pearl guide everyday and interacting not only with the members, the thousands of members that are the normal members, but interacting with people that just come on and ask very simple pearl questions. Just being there to help people has created a fan base for me and my company on pearl guide.

So not only do I go on there and talk about pearls but all the other members talk about pearls as well. They make sure photos of the pearl they got from my company, maybe even other company, but there are no other companies that are involved in pearl guide that are as highly recommended as our company. And that’s specifically because of the amount of time that I spend personally on pearl guide.

T: Interesting. So to draw a parallel for either myself or someone who’s listening, you’re saying that whatever niche that you are in you think that it is a very valuable way to spend your time to find the most popular discussion forum that’s most closely related to that niche and spend say an hour a day everyday becoming a very active participant. Even if you don’t know the discussion forum just participating in that discussion forum.

J: But there’s more to it than just participating and I think this is what the real key is. It’s not just participating, it’s being selfless in the discussions. It’s actually helping people. The people that are successful there are other companies on pearl guide, some of it buy pearls from us, some of them don’t but they participate in pearl guide. The ones that are successful on there never actually sell. It leaves sort of a bad taste to people’s mouth when people come on to these forums and they start trying to sell themselves, tell other people how great they are. When the best thing to do is just get on there and help people and if you’re seen as not only helpful but very knowledgeable people are gonna do business with you.

The analogy that I give for people that you know I’m a pearl guide and start selling themselves or go into twitter and just do nothing but link to their own websites or link to their own products. It’s almost like standing on the top of your office building with advertisement trying to make a paper airplane and start throwing them out to the street. Maybe somebody’s gonna pick it up and read them but more, gosh you’re just wasting your time and you’re just wasting money. It just doesn’t work. It’s about interaction and it’s just helping and it’s about making yourself out to be an expert without trying to sell your actual product.

T: They like showing up to a cocktail party with a fistful of business cards and go “hi, how are you? Buy my stuff” “hi, how are you? Buy my stuff”. I mean no one’s gonna want to talk to you.

J: Exactly. When they show up to the cocktail parties and you tell people what you do and they ask you some questions about maybe their business and you give them advice, well certainly they have a completely different picture of you and they’ll want to do business with you. They will take your business card. They may stay in contact with you. It’s the exact same thing in social media.

T: Yeah and that’s per my experience.

J: It’s a hard context for people to grasp because you get marketing department involved. They only know sell, sell, sell.

T: Yeah.

J: And that does not work for social media whatsoever.

T: Okay. Now well on say facebook, have you ever, let’s say someone says well you know I have a facebook page but I don’t have many fans or likes, I don’t get a lot of traffic, so what they could do is they could go to find other popular facebook pages within their niche and do what we’ve just been talking about on those facebook pages to add value to those people’s community which will then in turn draw traffic back to your own. Is that something that you’ve ever tried? I mean I think it’s common sense it will work I’m just curious as to whether you ever devoted any time to it.

J: Oh absolutely. On even my competitor’s facebook pages or just pearl fans facebook pages I’m personally on there all the time. And I will like people’s post. I will like pearl pictures that they put up. Yap it’s very similar to what I do on pearl guide. I spend a lot more time on pearl guide but our facebook fan page is if you look at the site that people like you’ll see about a half a dozen other competitors that we’ve actually included on our facebook page.

T: I was writing in that one, run that by me again. You’ve got on your facebook page…

J: Yeah I’m gonna pull over our facebook page right now and…

T: Facebook/pearlparadise okay. So I wanna make sure I’m on the right one. Yeah I am. It’s breast cancer awareness month at pearlparadise.com. Good. Still 11,000. Okay so you mentioned you somehow promote or display or added your competitors on here? How do they fare on that?

J: If you look at the things that we like.

T: Yeah pearl perfections, sea hunt’s pearls, anthony dryer. You liked your competitors.

J: Yeah.

T: Okay.

J: And what you notice what we do is in turn they’ll like you back and it’s almost like a cross promotion between the companies.

T: Yeah. I’m just pulling up my own page now to see whether or not my likes are displayed in the same way. Likes, there we go. Yeah I’ve got some of my competitors on there as well. But sadly my golden nugget here we go folks. I always try and get a golden nugget as I need to be doing a way better job with spending some time on some discussion forums and other people’s facebook pages. So you’ve motivated me.

J: It takes the dedication of time. I would say probably the most difficult part about it is that social media is not something that happens overnight. It’s not something you can throw an hour at it every month. It’s something that I’ve been doing daily for years and years. And so it’s a habit of mine. But I also know that without the work that I’ve done with social media my business wouldn’t be as successful as it is today. And it’s really cost nothing. So it’s what you actually dedicate their time in doing this. It really comes down to how bad you want it. And it’s just like getting big abs. If you wanna get in shape you gotta dedicate yourself in going to the gym. You gotta work hard. You gotta eat right. If you want to be successful in social media you have to dedicate your time to it.

T: Yeah it’s not difficult, it just takes discipline. And I know I have been absolutely guilty of like getting on the band wagon for a while but then more pressing immediate stuff, oh you know I’ve got a product launch coming, I’ve got this, I’ve got that so I can’t divert it. And shame on me for today. Okay so that is a really awesome strategy for people who have some time and a high level of motivation. No. 2 is PR. This PR is this time consuming for you or is it more of you writing checks and other people doing stuff?

J: It’s about both. I bought down into the *inaudible and those come in 3x a day. I respond to queries more or less just about every single day. So that does take time. I spend probably about an hour a day just on that. I used to handle all of the PR myself and that is dealing with all the PR agencies that we’ve worked with in the past. But now I have a team here, a team of 2 ladies doing a fantastic job. They’re both designers and they work hand in hand with the PR agencies now. So I’m not as involved as I once was but I still deal with it on a daily basis.

T: So back at my hometown there’s a guy by the name of Brian Scudamore who runs a company 1-800-got-junk. I don’t think you and I were talking about this but I’m sure you’ve heard of him.

J: Sure I remember a deal like me.

T: Yeah maybe it was you and I that were talking about Brian but he’s kind of famous for getting a lot of PR in the beginning and probably still now. And I remember talking to him and he goes “Trent, it’s not rocket science. It’s just like sales. You just pick up. You don’t need to hire a PR agency coz you can pick up the phone and call them. Keep calling, keep calling, keep calling.” People, they associate cold calling can work with sales. You pick up, you talk to enough people somebody’s gonna buy. Reporters are basically the same thing.

J: Sure.

T: And these gals that work for you, are they reaching out to the media like that? Coz you said they’re designers so what do they do?

J: Right. No they don’t reach out to media themselves although it is definitely possible. I think a great PR strategy for entrepreneurs is helpareporter.com doing exactly what you’re saying and reaching out to journalists and writers themselves. The team that I have in the office works hand in hand with a company in Los Angeles called In House PR. They are an actual PR agency that we contact on a monthly basis. And the reason we do that is because that’s all they do. Yes you can handle PR yourself but if you get a great PR agency that has all the contacts, that has writer’s that they are friends that work for different magazines, they can lead you along a lot quicker than you can do it on your own without a doubt.

But that instead doesn’t mean you can’t be successful with something as simple as helpareporter.com. I have managed all that personally and I’ve been included in books, like I’m doing this interview right now. I’ve been on Fox 2x. I’ve been on Entertainment Tonight several times. All these things I’ve got directly from helpareporter.com.

T: Now I have an alarm set 2x a day so that I know when those, the emails arrive at 9:30am and then I think it’s 2:30. There’s one that’s when I’m still sleeping so I ignore that one.

J: Yeah.

T: And another of my guest told me that, and I don’t remember if it’s here she had this point but it’s important to respond to the hard query to the email that comes out within 15 minutes. Has that been your experience? Do you set alarms? Do you know when these things are coming in? Or do you just kinda like remember to check? Or how does it work?

J: I have the query coming to my 2 email addresses, my personal email address which sound an alarm on my cellphone and my business email address. And yes I check that immediately when they come in, scan them immediately to see if there are any responses that are perfectly suited for me. I have a few emails that I have set coz a lot of them you shall find the queries although they’re completely random a lot of them might follow a similar type format it might be asking a similar type thing. So I actually have responses to the queries that I may just have to twitch that and be able to send them out almost immediately. I can only imagine that when these queries come out especially from good ones like say USA Today or Wall Street Journal. They must get thousands of responses, literally thousands of responses and there’s no way that the writer is going to read every single one of these responses.

I think that the key is getting on there quickly no. 1 and having a good headline no. 2. You gotta have something in the headline that’s going to make them want to open the email otherwise you’re gonna be buried along with everyone else. It’s all the same as applying for a job. When we put out an ad for a position in our company there are times we’ve got thousand resumes. And you cannot go through every single one of them. You start soon as they come out, you probably gonna read the first 15 or 20 of them but after that you’re just gonna start getting one down based on what’s the title of the email.

T: So let’s talk about the headline for a minute. So I’m looking at the harrow email that came in probably while we’re doing this one hour ago so just before we started this. High tech crowd funding experts is the first one. So for me I would have or I have been replying with re: crowd funding expert. You’re not doing that I’m guessing.

J: No.

T: Alright.

J: I responded in the one this morning right before our telephone call and it was without pulling it up what was the aha moment of your business. And I’ve actually already talked about sort of the aha moment of my business, getting that appraisal but I responded to it probably within about 5 minutes after receiving the harrow query and the title of it was one big whapping aha moment for you.

T: Aha, so you used some of their words but then you sensationalized it a bit so that it would stand out from all the idiots like me who are applying with re: what is the aha moment of your business.

J: Now I can’t say whether or not it’s gonna get used but I can almost guarantee it’s gonna get read. And it would turn great when it was reported.

T: Wow excellent. So another golden nugget for me right there.

J: And the reason is just looking at in my left and right I have 3 screens in front of me so I can see my other email in the other screens.

T: Yeah I’ve got a couple of screens here as well so if I’m looking down I’m writing notes. If I’m looking over here I’m looking at my laptop.

J: And you know what this might be another actually great tidbit for entrepreneurs and that is when I got 2 screens installed in my office I felt like my productivity nearly helped. The easy thing having more than 1 screen I like it so much that I had my TV pull himself a 3rd screen. Now I’ve got 3 screens in front of me. And if you work a lot with spreadsheet for example especially if you got an online business there’s nothing better than having 3 different topics going on all at the same time on your screen.

T: Well I use a really big monitor and I think it’s big enough that it’s basically like 2 screens, I just have 2 browsers and then I have my email running over on my laptop coz I try and do not look at my email generally till around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Coz email for me it’s such a distraction. I get so many of them and it takes me away from producing the content and if I don’t produce content that would be like you not selling pearls. Content is my pearls.

J: Yeah but you must be very buried at 3:00.

T: You know I’ve done a pretty good job with filters and I have 3 different email accounts and certain people gets one and another people gets other ones. It’s far from perfect but it’s working for me at this point in time.

J: And just no support.

T: With that said it’s not like I have a 100,000 people a month coming to my website, hopefully it’ll get, but it’ll be a worse problem when that happens.

J: Get on with that social media, Trent, you’ll get there.

T: Yap absolutely. Alright so anything else, any other silver bullets or golden nuggets on PR before we move on to SEM and SEO?

J: I think we’ve pretty much covered it.

T: Okay. So we know that social media is 25-30% of your sales so that’s 5 to 6 1/2 million bucks a year just by spending an hour a day for years on social media so big payback. PR any idea what percentage of sales is coming from PR coz it’s probably kind of hard to track unless you’re like a tracking link niche ninja?

J: Well it is hard to track but I can say it has been worth millions and millions of dollars, just to be on Wall Street Journal article was worth millions for us. But yes definitely hard to track except for the time when we get what we call it a big hit for example. Like if we’re on say a television show like we were on Oprah for example you would be able to track that simply because the website crashed. But for the most part it’s sort of like all of this is over. We’re always sending things out to magazines. I’m always taking interviews whenever they come. And you really never know what’s going to happen. But sometimes you’ll get a good hit and it will almost be like a domino effect and you’ll start getting other calls from other people or you get a piece of a magazine and they even get to the cover or something like that. You never know which one is going to be a big hit so it’s again something that you just have to commit to and dedicate to. Sort of like the helpareporter.com works.

T: Okay. So let’s go to SEM and SEO coz those 2 are very different, SEM is generally pay per click traffic and SEO is generally organic traffic.

J: Right.

T: What percentage of your pearlparadise.com’s traffic is coming from paid traffic and what percentage is coming from SEO?

J: Well with SEO it’s a bit difficult to tell because of course that’s organic. Some of these are trackable, some of these isn’t. The PPC is very easy to track with analytic. And it’ll vary month to month but to give you an idea we typically spend around $20,000 a month on pay per click advertising. During the holiday month we can spend a $100 to $150,000. So each one of those clicks will cost us about a $1 to $1.50 depending on what time of the year it is. So we’ll be looking at about 20,000 visits on an average per month from PPC.

T: Okay.

J: On the SEO side which of course is again very, very valuable but a lot of work, we are etched in the search engines, we’re no. 2 for the word pearls right after wikipedia, we’re no. 1 for things like Nagoya pearls, Asia pearls, all the different genres that we sell. So a tremendous amount of traffic comes organically as well.

T: Okay. Sorry I’m was just punching it and spelling the word pearls when you were saying that. Your SEM has not over the last say year coz the search engine world google has changed a lot as they always do.

J: Oh they can’t.

T: And they have been particularly aggressive or at least so it seems in this past say or even 6 months, have you noticed much of a change? For example, a lot of people using SEO have been pretty aggressive in building manufactured links, article marketing, form marketing, press releases, link wheels, yadadi yadadi ya. Did you do any of that stuff?

J: No. The thing when updated what you were referring to that destroyed a lot of websites, a lot of my competitors fell tremendously in the ranking but a couple of them more or less disappeared. There are just links anywhere, natural linking is really important. Now there are a lot of SEO companies out there that practice into the grey areas. They probably reached to the top of the ranking. And in the past it very well been successful doing that but what they’ll do is they will like you said basically manufacture a link all over the internet whether be in comments, spam or forum, on blogs, that sort of things. We’ve never done that.

What we try to do is go after links to get it more organic fashion. Blogs for example, blogs are a big part of our SEO strategy. What we’ve done over the past few years is we research a lot of blogs online that seem like they might be a good tip for our company and then we contact the bloggers and say can we host a contest on your blog. We’d like to send you a piece of pearl jewelry. You tell your readers exactly what you think about the piece of pearl jewelry and then we’ll give one away to your readers. And we’ve done this literally on hundreds of different blogs and every one of those blogs link back to our website but they do it more of organic fashion. They’re not just putting a link in the middle of it said pearl paradise where we were say for example we were buying links from these blogs. That’s how it would appear. And so when the penguin update did happen it sort of solidified my approach to the way we do this because we weren’t damaged at all by the penguin update. In fact we were helped and we knew we were doing things at the right way.

T: Yeah no kidding. The contest on the other people’s blogs that’s a strategy I haven’t heard of before now, ding ding ding and another golden nugget. And I wanna dive more into that one a little bit.

J: Sure.

T: So first of all, researching the blog how can we talk about that people can figure out how to find a blog and see just google around that’s not very difficult to find blogs in your niche.

J: I would say there is a bit of side to that. And the reason that you will want to have like your google toolbar installed. You wanna make sure that the blog you’re reaching out to is a blog that basically google likes. You know they may have a high page ranking. You’ll wanna reach out the blog that make it inadvertently reach out to one niche is blacklisted on google and if that’s right about your product. So we specifically look for blogs with good page ranking and blogs that have a lot of twitter followers and blogs that have a lot of facebook followers. Those are the 3 things that we look for when we choose blogs to reach out to.

T: Do you look at the alexa rank at all?

J: Not the alexa rank.

T: Nope? Okay.

J: Alexa ranking is usually pretty low for blogs just as compete.com rank is pretty low for blogs.

T: Yeah.

J: For most part, for mommy blogs or mommy bloggers are the primary bloggers that we reach out for as much as possible.

T: So mommy blogs. So lots of social proof and the approval of uncle google and you’re good to go.

J: Right.

T: Okay. So then you make contact with the mommy behind the mommy blog. Generally I’m assuming you just email them.

J: Yeah absolutely.

T: What do you say?

J: Well when I first started this program I personally let it up because I didn’t know who was going to be worth it or not. I didn’t know how many people would respond to me. And I just reached out to them and sent them an email and said “hey, my name is Jeremy Shepherd. I own pearlparadise.com. I read over your blog. I think your blog would be a great place for us to give away pearls to your readers. Can I send you this strand of pearls for free and you write about them. Tell your readers what you think and offer to give away a strand of pearls on your website.” Nobody said no. It’s simple.

And we’ve been sending a strand of pearls that may cost us anywhere from for a pair of earrings for example that might only cost us $20-25. And the way the contest usually work is and if they don’t understand how to run this sort of contest we can explain this to them, their followers can leave a comment for one entry, they’ll go to our website, they’ll look over our website saying what is their favorite thing on our website and leave that in the comment section on the blog. That’s an entry. They can tweet about the contest on their twitter account. That’s another entry. They can post a message on facebook about the contest. That’s another entry. And they can post about it, repost about it on their blog. That’s another entry.

So we had contests before for a simple pair of earrings that may generate thousands and thousands of entries and thousands of tweets, hundreds of facebook posts, hundreds and hundreds of comments in the comment section of the blog just for basically a few dollars.

T: How are you managing the contest because you gotta track all these entries?

J: We don’t manage the contest. The blog owner manages the contest. The blog owner just tells us who won the contest.

T: Okay.

J: And there are different apps and things like that on blog that they can use to do that and they do.

T: Yeah there are as a matter of fact. And I interviewed a guy by the name of Travis Ketchum a while ago and I think we actually did a master class, we have one on the works, and he’s got a wordpress plugin called contest domination, plug for you Travis, that works phenomenally well. And he actually has a case study on how a make up company used his plugin and they wanted to get 5,000 new email addresses they end up getting almost 7,500 new email addresses as a result of the contest. I’m gonna be using his plugin coz I haven’t even officially launched Bright Ideas yet and somehow I wanna pick your brand a little bit on that one when we’re done.

J: But you said contest domination is the name of it?

T: Yes.

J: Okay I’ll just write it down and I’ll check it out after this call.

T: Yeah. And listeners I mean it’s like $37 to buy the plugin. It’s not expensive. Now what he’s also doing, I don’t know well I don’t know if I should say it or not coz it’s not launched yet, he’s got another bigger, better, badder version of that coming out. So that’s all I’ll say at this point in time coz I don’t wanna breach any trust of stuff that he’s told me in the confidence of a private conversation. But he was very successful with this plugin and it still sells a lot of plugins everyday.

J: Well definitely I’ll check it out.

T: Contester obviously. So what if someone doesn’t have a physical product like let’s look at we’ll just use an information marketer like me. I’ve got nothing to ship anybody but I’ve got really great content. How could I run contests or how can I get other bloggers to run contests and how can I incent them in the way that you’ve kind of done without having pearls to send?

J: Well I may take some strategizing. But I think there’s quite a few things you could do. You could offer to write for blogs first of all. Create information which is what blogs are. But not only could you write for blogs but you would definitely wanna target blogs that are specific to what you do. But like entrepreneurs for example, you could offer contests an hour of your time for business coaching for someone that wants to start their own business. We all have a product whether it be a physical product, whether it be information, either way business product.

T: Yeah absolutely.

J: So figure out a way to strategize and sell or give away again coz it is social media give away your product.

T: I give away memberships.

J: Yeah.

T: And they’re even less expensive for me than pearls are for you. Yet another gold, I think you might be taking the world record or the Bright Ideas record on golden nuggets here so far Jeremy so kudos to you.

J: Glad to help.

T: I really hope that people who started at the beginning of this interview listen to the whole thing and when I do send the email out to everyone I’m really gonna drill home. And you guys gonna hang around by the end of the interview coz there’s some good stuff, some really good stuff.

J: Well thank you Trent.

T: Alright so why don’t I wanna finish off with you. There are so many other questions that I didn’t get to ask you yet. So we haven’t talked about fulfillment, we haven’t talked about team building, we talked a fair amount about marketing. You tell me where is your next, I’m on another golden nugget out of you before we finish so shall we talk about coz fulfillment, I mean 20 million pearls, you got stuff moving all over the place. But team building I don’t know which one do we wanna go on?

J: Wow, you know fulfillment is basically the core of our business and we’ve done promotions, we did a promotion for example Dec. 7, 2010 and sold 33,000 units in one day. How do you fulfill this?

T: Let’s go down that road.

J: It’s almost the topic for a whole another interview.

T: Deal.

J: I’m sorry.

T: Deal. Let’s do another interview on fulfillment.

J: And actually how to do that promotion would almost be another topic for an interview as well. We did $240 million in sales in one day for that promotion.

Teambuilding I think is also very important and we do that equally. And just a couple of pieces, we meet every morning for 5 minutes in the morning where each one of us states what we are going to accomplish that particular day. And we hold each other accountable to it every single day. We meet once a week for an hour and we recognize each individual accomplishment for the week prior. And we meet once a quarter to strategize when each individual team member is going to get done for that quarter and take responsibility for that particular quarter.

And then we have a sort of master dashboard that we got from a company called results.com and we track of all these goals and anytime somebody falls behind in their goal or doesn’t keep up with the timeline the dashboard changes colors to that particular goal and so the rest of the team see where somebody else might be needing some help and comes and help those other people.

Other than that we do company trips. We’ve gone on cruises, we’ve gone on to Las Vegas just to build a team that builds camaraderie between the employees. And I think that as any successful entrepreneur with a company will tell you, building a company on your own is really really difficult but if you can motivate and build a team around you that is not only loyal but dedicated to their job and enjoys what they do, you’re going to be a lot more successful.

T: Yeah absolutely. Richard Branson who I’m a big fan of, that’s his big thing. I mean if you’re gonna be a successful entrepreneur and you can’t get people happily, cheerfully all rowing in the same direction, good luck to you.

J: Absolutely.

T: Alright so on that note we’ll finish off this interview coz it’s already been a long one. I wanna thank you very much. It’s been fantastic. I’ve got pages full of notes here of all the things that I think I need to be taking away from this interview. Social media, being chief among them I think. And I’m sure the listeners here, by the way if someone wants to get a hold of you easiest way to do that is what?

J: Email jeremy@pearlparadise.com. It’s pretty simple.

T: Yeah like no one could ever guess that one. Alright and Jeremy I would love to have you back on the show to talk about that 2 and a quarter million dollar promotion. And I think there’s a number of master classes that you could teach so you know I’m gonna be up for that in the email after this episode.

J: It would be my pleasure.

T: Alright thanks very much. And to all you listeners and watchers however you’re consuming this content thank you very much. Without you I’ve got no business to run. And if you think that this was a really awesome interview please tweet it or share it or pinterest or whatever way to try and help spread the word because there’s somebody out there whose business isn’t firing on all cylinders just right now and they’re waking up and they’re stressed and they’re wondering what to do and maybe it’s this interview that’s gonna inspire them with a new solution or a new strategy that they can use to help dig themselves out of that hole or just simply take their business to the next level. So please share this interview and the others with people who you think might benefit from it. Alright thanks so much. Many more interviews to come. Many more master classes to come out too soon.

Alright if you wanna check out the show notes for this episode just go over to BrightIdeas.co/8. And I also want to mention if you head over to BrightIdeas.co/massivetraffic and enter your email address you are gonna get free access to my massive traffic tool kit. Now if you don’t know what that is the massive traffic tool kit is the compilation of all of the very best ideas that have been shared with me by all of the experts or many of the experts who have been here on Bright Ideas. And the very best part about this tool kit is that you don’t need to be some kind of guru, SEO guru or traffic guru to be able to do the things that are gonna be taught to you in the massive traffic tool kit. Regardless of your skill level you’ll have no trouble implementing these strategies but they are a very bright set of strategies. And by the way you get that at BrightIdeas.co/massivetraffic.

So this brings us to the end of this episode. I’m your host, Trent Dyrsmid. Well if you could do me a small favor if you really enjoyed this episode please go over to itunes and give it a 5 star rating and even better just leave a little comment. The more of the listeners that give the show a rating the higher it goes in the itunes store and then of course the more people that see it and the more people that we can touch and help with all of the free information that’s shared here by the expert guests on the Bright Ideas podcast. Alright so thank you very much for watching or listening, however you consumed this. If you have a comment or thoughts that you wanna share please make sure that you do so in the comment form at the bottom of this page. We’ll see you in the next episode. Take care and have a wonderful day.

Here are some of the things you’ll discover in this episode:

Generate Millions in Online Revenue Using Social Media & PR

How To Maximize Your Investment in PR

PR plays a very large role in Jeremy’s success. Image source: 123rf.com

Jeremy credits an investment in PR as his best initial traffic-generating move.  This was a catalyst that took really began to generate tremendous traffic to his website, and it’s a strategy he continues to make the most of to this day.

You’ll hear Jeremy describe what works for him with PR, and learn tips to maximizing your investment in this area, whether you’re outsourcing PR or instead investing internal time.

Listen to the show to find out Jeremy’s PR strategies. Top 3 Revenue-Generating Strategies From Someone Who Built an Online Empire

Jeremy shares that PR is his #2 strategy for bringing revenue to his site.

To learn #3 and #1, listen to the podcast.

Here’s a hint: one of them is social media.  But Jeremy doesn’t do social media in quite the same way that most companies do.  In fact, he shares his perspective of the mistake that most companies make with social media.

Find out if you’re making this mistake when you listen to the interview.

How to Build a Multimillion Dollar Online Empire

Jeremy has made it a part of his daily routine to study other business leaders. Image source: 123rf.com

Over the course of building his company up to the empire that it now is, Jeremy learned a great deal.  After all, when he first started selling pearls, he was still working as a flight attendant!  He learned much through the process of owning and running his business, but he also found a clever way to make time for outside knowledge and learn from other business experts.

You know that I think learning from others is crucial if you want to build or grow a serious business – hence Bright Ideas!  Podcasts are a great way to learn new information.  So are business books, and Jeremy shares his top recommendations in the area of web design and business .

Listen to the show to find out how Jeremy made time to learn business strategies that would radically grow his business.

The Ultimate SEO Strategy

Hear Jeremy talk about his proven natural SEO strategies.  Jeremy divulges what he does to have bloggers jump on board and happily promote his products to their readers.  He also shares what criteria he uses to choose the best blogs to approach, and a template for how to approach them.

Listen to the show to find out more about Jeremy’s killer SEO strategy. 

About Jeremy

By the ripe old age of 33, Jeremy Shepherd was able to build a $20 million on-line empire known as PearlParadise.com. To this day, he does very little advertising. His unique company’s success is based primarily on word of mouth, honest respectability and helpful service that Shepherd cultivates as carefully as his beloved pearls.

He now enjoys a worldwide reputation for his uncompromising quality standards and farm-direct prices. PearlParadise.com has been featured in such high profile magazines as Newsweek, Inc., and Entrepreneur. Although his company continues to grow exponentially, Jeremy Shepherd still delights in traveling to the far flung reaches of the globe to personally handpick and inspect each and every pearl for his customers.

Most people know that a pearl starts out as a tiny bead, around which many layers must form. It acquires its beauty and luster only through the passage of time, which is why it has become a legendary symbol of wisdom. It could be considered appropriate that the pearl also happens to provide the perfect metaphor for what Jeremy Shepherd has striven to achieve throughout his life.

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Welcome to the Bright Ideas Community of Entrenpreneurs

  • Just confirming that Jeremy is indeed friends with me on Facebook and Twitter and reciprocal. We even shop for pearls together.

  • Ray

    Awesome interview, 2 thumbs up! If you can get Jeremy back, I would like to know more about the logistics of running the e-commerce business, dealing with suppliers, hosting, ordering inventory and customer service. What a great interview!

    • Trent Dyrsmid

      Hey Ray,

      Thanks for the feedback; and I’m very happy to hear you loved Jeremy’s interview so much. I would love to have him back at some point 🙂

  • Rhys Davies

    I’ve been telling clients for years that you don’t need to go throwing tens-of-thousands at marketing to become a multi-million dollar business.

    This interview just proves me right… again.

    • Trent Dyrsmid

      Hey Rhys,

      Creativity can definitely trump a big budget; especially if the big spend isn’t well thought out. Thanks for the feedback!

  • I am finding so much value in these interviews. They just keep getting better and better with a full page of notes this time. His three methods of driving traffic were super important. We KNOW were supposed to spend time in forums, but who ever really does it to the extent that it actually works. PR such as spoken interviews makes me nervous because Im not a natural public speaker like you! ‘what if they ask me a question i dont know the answer to, i’ll look stupid’ hahaa, but i did sign up for the HARO none-the-less. MORE inspiration to READ like he said. Silly question, but did you happen to ask him which shopping cart he uses? Been looking at the source code, but theres no footprint whatsoever. Would love to know which software he uses to handle 20M in product.

    Thanks again for an awesome interview. Will be sharing this one as well.

    • Trent Dyrsmid

      Hey Trisha,

      Just email him directly and ask. He’s very generous with sharing info.

      Trent

  • An insightful interview – thank you.

    I found Jeremy’s idea for running giveaway contests on blogs especially helpful.

    Trent, how about a test run of a giveaway contest on your website?

    • Trent Dyrsmid

      Hey Mark,

      I do have some things planned in that regard. I’m just soooo bogged down in a few other projects right now and need to complete them first.