Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, one of the most well-known paleo/primal living websites. I first met Mark at a conference several years ago, when my blog was more a labor of love than a business. We talked about how “a blog is not a business” – and I wanted to continue and expand on that conversation today. Especially since Mark’s blog/website is a cornerstone of his ever-growing business empire which includes supplements, live events, and a publishing company!
One of my favorite moments in this interview is when Mark shared that he “didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until his mid-40s” – and then shared some advice that he’d give to his younger self.
For all of us who feel that confusion about what we really want to do when we grow up – or that success is just not happening fast enough!!! (Can you relate?) I think you’ll enjoy what Mark has to say. I know it was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment!
Plus, we talk about tons of specific business-building tips especially for online entrepreneurs, and a good dose of entrepreneurial mindset. Get ready to be inspired, it’s a good one.
What you’ll learn in this episode:
- The right mindset to build your business
- The common pitfalls Mark sees in new businesses
- Why having a unique perspective is critical in the blogosphere
- How Mark used his blog to become his own advertiser for his products + services
- Why investing in yourself and your personal brand is the best long-term investment
- How to approach your blog to make it a successful business
- and Mark’s inspirational advice to his younger self (and for you too!)
It’s never too late to find your calling Transcript
Amanda: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Wellpreneur online podcast. This week is very exciting because I have on the show Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple. You must know Mark’s Daily Apple if you’re involved at all in the paleo or primal space. His site’s been around since 2006 and it’s just so well-researched and it’s just a massive treasure trove of information about how to adopt a paleo lifestyle.And what I also love about Mark’s business is it’s a really great example of what you can do with an information marketing business. So, he’s diversified into lots of different types of products. Besides the blog, he’s got a podcast, he’s got a very active online forum.He writes books, he’s basically started a publishing company that he talks about, and he also runs in-person events as well as selling supplements. So, it just shows you that with an online platform, you can really develop your business in a lot of different directions that make sense for you.So, I first met Mark several years ago in an event while I was still going through my health coach training, at an event in California, and we talked then about how a blog isn’t a business. And we really continue on with that conversation today in the fact that developing the online platform is important because that gives you your audience.But actually, you’ve still got to be a business, and really, you’ve got to approach your online business just like you would any business; making sure you’re really passionate about it, you’re in it for the long haul, you see a clear need and that you’ve got products and services that people want to buy.So in our conversation today, Mark really digs into his background of how he built Mark’s Daily Apple, when he was one of the very first paleo or primal sites on the internet, and now he’s built it into this massive organization with employees. He’ll talk a bit about what his company looks like today, which is pretty neat. And we’ll also talk about some of the common pitfalls that he sees from people that are starting businesses, what he would recommend to people just starting out, and he also shares the advice that he would give himself if he could go back in time and talk to himself and he was just starting with Mark’s Daily Apple. And I think you’ll really like that advice. I know I found it very reassuring, and positive, and optimistic, and exactly what I needed to hear at this time. So, I’m really thankful to Mark for sharing, sharing your opinion about that and your wisdom from what you’ve learned, because I think it’s something that will… I know it helped me and it will help a lot of people out there. Now, before we jump into this interview with Mark Sisson, I just want to let you know what’s going on back at WellpreneurOnline.com. Because this week, I’ve got some super valuable free training available on my site that’s time-limited. It’s only going to be around for another couple of weeks. And this training is all about building your email list and specifically finding your first 100 fans for your business. So, if you are in a position that you don’t have a lot of people on your email list, maybe you don’t even have an email list; you’re just getting started. Even if you don’t have a website, you can start building your email list and I’m going to explain how you can do that. So, please pop over and watch my free training. It’s at WellpreneurOnline.com/findyourfans. So, if you just go there, you’ll be able to sign up to get access to this free training while it’s available. So without waiting any longer, let’s go over to the interview with Mark.
Amanda: Hi Mark, thanks for coming on the show today.
Mark: It’s my pleasure to be here.
Amanda: We’re talking halfway across the world, London to Southern California.
Mark: Isn’t that amazing? That technology allows us to do that?
Amanda: Love it.
Mark: I mean, that’s really one of the reasons that I built my business, was because of technology.
Amanda: Yes. So, I was wondering, I’m sure everybody knows about Mark’s Daily Apple. It’s been a feature in the health online world for a long time, but can you give us an overview? I’ve noticed over the past years that I’ve been following your site, it’s really expanded. So, it’s gone from the blog, you have now a forum and a podcast, you’ve got books and different products that you’re selling. Can you kind of give us an idea of what your business looks like now?
Mark: Sure. You know, I started in the supplement business 25 years ago and originally grew my company as an educator. I would go on local cable health talk shows and discuss diet, exercise, nutrition, all the things that I felt were important to achieving good health, and then sort of tangentially sell my supplements which I had created to enhance that life that I was talking about.
And I grew quite rapidly and quite well on this television model as an educator. But that model ceased to work around 2004/2005 for a number of reasons, largely because there were just so many cable channels on these satellite networks where you could get 300 or 400 different choices, that the market kind of dried up but the costs were the same.
So, that’s when I really started blogging and I thought, “Well, I’m great at creating content. I know what I’m talking about. I’m passionate about my area of expertise, and I’ll start a blog and I’ll write something about health, fitness, diet, exercise, even medicine on a daily basis and I’ll create an audience that way. And with that audience, I’ll become my own advertiser, if you will, of my products, and that’s really how Mark’s Daily Apple got started back in 2006.
It has grown, with a great deal of my gratitude, it has grown to the point now where after a few years, enough people ask me about what I was writing and could I encapsulate that in a book. So, I wrote a book and I self-published the book because I had a platform with this blog and it made sense as a businessman to self-publish. Within a few years, I had a couple more books, cook books and other programs, and then I started publishing other people’s books because I had that same platform.
And so, I grew basically what amounted to a publishing arm. So within a few years, I had the supplement business, I had a publishing side-business if you will, and I started to do events. I started to get requests to go speak at events. And there are a couple of ways to do speaking if you’re in this business, and one of which is to get compensated for your speeches, your talks by organizations that want you to come and present to their audiences.
The other way is to manage it internally and start to sell one’s own tickets and create events out of thin air, which is what I did and we did. It started with one-day seminars and sort of morphed into three-day vacation experiences, and I just got back from Tulum, Mexico where we had an amazing six-day vacation. So, now we have the supplements side, the publishing side and the events side, and they all grew sort of organically out of a need that was established by my audience. The audience said, “We want this. We want more of this.” And it was my pleasure and obligation as a businessperson to fulfill those needs.
Amanda: I love how you started off in television too, because your business is like the perfect example of information marketing and how many different directions you can go in with that, like, how robust it can become. And that it started off… You know, in television it was still the same thing.
It’s just that was a platform at that time that was working, and then it stopped working so now the platform that’s working is creating an online hub for your brand where you start to build up your own audience, and then you can sell that variety of products. So, I think it’s quite nice for everyone to see what you’ve done because you’re a few steps further along the journey, quite a few actually for most people, where you have been able to really diversify the amount of products and things that you sell.
Now, do you do any sort of services at all, or is it all product-based?
Mark: We’re introducing physician consulting service. So, people who have had an issue with their blood work and don’t… I hate to use the work don’t trust their own personal physicians, but whose physician has not had the experience in the primal or paleo or ancestral health world, we have this new service where people can have their blood work done and then speak on the phone from anywhere in the world with one of our physicians who has been well-versed in how to interpret those results and then the sort of steps to take to maybe bring them more closely into alignment.
So, that’s a service that we’re offering now. We’ve had an online coaching service for about a year and a half. We haven’t really advised it that much because we’ve been growing it and trying to tweak the model, if you will, because it obviously requires very well-informed coaches on my end to offer up the services, but we’ve had that as well. So, there’s very few areas of this health world that we haven’t explored or have the intention to the explore in the near future because so many people, again, have so much… they’re requesting these sorts of goods and services.
Amanda: Yes, I’d like to talk about that, actually, because that’s a common question that comes up from people. Well, sometimes, we’ve got people that are in a situation that maybe they’ve built a blog, but it’s not really as I think… I remember when we first met at that event a couple of years ago, we talked about that, that a blog is not a business. And just because you have an audience, that doesn’t mean that… Well, it’s not a business. You’re not necessarily making any money. And so, people are in that situation or the situation of sometimes just getting out of school and trying to figure out, “What is it that I can offer?”
And so, you mentioned a couple of times that people are asking you to create certain things. So, can you talk us through how you decide what products you’re going to create, and is it really that simple: people just ask you?
Mark: Well, these are all just business choices that I make. Some of the requests make a tremendous amount of sense and some of them I have no interest in following up on, but I certainly listen to my audience and try to understand what it is that they want. It’s really not so much a process or science as it is, “What are they saying that resonates with me?”
This year, we’re starting a food company and it’s called Primal Kitchen, and we’re making bottled sauces, dressings and toppings that contain none of the bad ingredients that we always talk about on Mark’s Daily Apple and contain only the good ingredients, the approved ingredients, and that tastes great. I’ve gotten requests for that for years and years, but the reason I’m doing it is because, as I do with a lot of my products and services, I do it because I want it for me.
You know, I’m frustrated that there’s a lack of these types of products in the marketplace, so I’m creating a product to fulfill the needs that I perceive to be among my customers but that also resonate very, very strongly with me personally. And you know, that gets back to this idea that it’s so important for people to be passionate about any endeavor that they engage in, particularly when at the beginning it doesn’t appear as if there’ll be great quantities of money that will be coming in immediately. I think I might have joked with you that my blog was a hobby that cost me a hundred thousand dollars a year for the first two or three years as I was building it up.
And I had some grandiose assumptions that when I first started blogging in 2006, that within a year I’d have a hundred thousand visitors a day. Well, at the end of one year, I had a thousand visitors a day. So, my high expectations were sorely mismet and yet a lot of people said, “Wow, that’s cool. You have a thousand visitors a day. How did you do that?” There’s a bit of a point of view that you have to have that allows for some amount of growth and some amount of not meeting your expectations, but still being passionate about it.
That was the bottom-line, and that’s why I didn’t quit, is I still loved what I was doing and I was okay from a financial point of view in investing in this, because I knew that if I kept doing it, it would grow to the point that I could begin to monetize it. But that turn around probably came two and a half to three years after I started the blog.
Amanda: I’m so glad you said that because people often… You just see these people online, once they become successful, and it seems almost as if it’s happened overnight, but actually it’s a marathon blogging. I mean, you’ve got to build an audience and plant seeds out there of all those traffic sources and you know, and it starts to snowball. And so, it’s really good to hear that it does take – you’ve just got to be passionate about it so you can stick with it for those couple of years until… And hopefully if you do it right, you can accelerate that cycle a bit.
I know when I started, I didn’t really know what I was doing. So, if I start and blog now, it would hopefully go a lot faster than it did back then. But it still takes a while.
Mark: Yes, and I try to buy traffic. I made a lot of the mistakes that a lot of people do, and I realized fairly early on that blogging is a very organic process and it’s best to just create great content, do it on a regular basis, build up an audience, interact with your audience, respond to their questions and their needs. And at some point, if you have (INAUDIBLE) services that you want to offer and you’ve established that there’s a need for those among your audience, then that’s the time to start playing in that arena.
Amanda: So, were there certain turning points, or things that you did, or big media hits, or something that really were the turning points in your business?
Mark: Well, that’s interesting. I haven’t really thought much about that because I don’t think there were. I think it was really a very gradual growth. But what was most interesting to me, that until last year, or maybe until two years ago, my traffic doubled every year. And that doesn’t sound like much at first, but then when you get into the 20’s, 20 thousands a day and 40 thousands a day and then 80 thousands a day, that becomes a very significant growth rate. And I think maybe I’ve hit a critical mass where…
Well, a few things have happened. In the space that I’m in, when I started, I was one of the few people talking about ancestral health. There might have been four or five blogs total when I started in 2006, and now there are 4,000~5,000. So, my growth rate naturally declined because there were competing blogs, and some of them are great. I mean, some of them are some of my favorite blogs as well. So, I don’t have to go check on what everybody else is saying in the blogosphere, and I would imagine that’s the case with a lot of people who come in to this area fresh and want to find out about the paleo world, or the primal world, or ancestral health, or even the low-carb aspect of that.
So, my growth rate has slowed but it was pretty exponential for the first couple of years. So, what I realized was that if you have a unique perspective, that that would be your unique selling prospect to your potential readers. If you’re in the yoga world, I don’t know how many yoga blogs there are but there are probably a lot of them. So, how is what you are saying going to be unique? How are you going to create a voice for yourself that stands out? In my case, I was sort of the anti-conventional wisdom guy. And again, when there were no other paleo blogs, I think everybody in the paleo world was probably anti-conventional wisdom.
But when I first came out, it was this slightly outrageous voice against the traditional medical establishment. And I was able to back it up with pretty good research, and with great research, and with points of views that were kind of unique or spun in a way that the average person was able to take complex research and I could then distill it to some major a-ha moment that would leave the reader going, “Wow, no one ever explained it this way before! This is great!” Now, I get it.
Amanda: I mean, that’s one of the things that I really like about your site, actually, was that you really do go through a lot of research and you don’t seem afraid to dig into the science and really try to explain it to people. Whereas a lot of sites stay at a really superficial level. And both are okay, actually, I think it depends on what your audience is asking for. So, was that something your audience asked for, or did you really want to get in the research, or are you just kind of… just happened that way?
Mark: Well, initially, I was one guy trying to blog every day, and that was really quite a daunting task. Because I made this commitment, it’s Mark’s Daily Apple, you know? And in those days, a lot of it was based just on my personal views and history of what I’ve been involved with, either sports or in the fitness and health training world. And so, I have a lot of perspective and points of view that I put out there that was certainly based in research and science. But other the years, as I was able to hire researchers to assist me with really digging deep…
Because you know, ironically, I said when I started the blog, “Well, I’ll blog every day for a year and then I’ll have written everything that needs to be said about health, fitness and diet, and that will be the end of that. And hopefully, the content will be evergreen, and so it’ll be an investment that lasts for a long time.”
Well, at the end of one year, all that came up were new questions, and new tangents, and new areas to explore, and that required literally having a team of virtual assistants who could scour the internet for the research papers that I needed to link to delve deeply or deeper into some of these points of view that I had earlier expressed just as, “Well, this is what I believe based on my own personal history.” But as we get more and more into the details, it became more and more important and critical to back them up with the kinds of research that we do.
So, it evolved naturally into this. And now, I have a lot of people who trust what I’m going to advise them is probably an appropriate choice given all of the other possibilities. And so, I really do feel compelled to give the most compelling research that we can find on that topic.
Amanda: Yes, it make sense. I’m curious what your team looks like today. Do you actually have an office space or is it all virtual?
Mark: Well, I have an office space because we do warehouse and fulfill, and we do customer service on the products side. So, I have nine employees at work in a space in Malibu. It’s about six miles from my house. I go there once a week for ten minutes. I pretty much work out of my office because I’m either editing, or writing, or orchestrating some project that’s going to require a couple of weeks’ worth of advanced research.
Probably five people are spread around the country doing the research. Oddly enough, my editor, the editor of Mark’s Daily Apple, has worked for me for six years. And the first four years, he worked in my office in Malibu, and then his wife got a job offer in Sydney, Australia and that was kind of traumatic in some regards because he thought he was going to lose his job. So, he came to me and said, “Can I try and do this from Sydney?” And I said, “Let’s give it a shot.”
It’s been two and a half years. So, Aaron Fox, who’s the editor of Mark’s Daily Apple and makes sure that everything runs smoothly there, and plots the strategy a month out in many cases, I haven’t seen him for two years and he’s a full-time manager, manages the office out of Malibu from his home in Sydney. So, really kind of taking advantage of the technology here in a big way.
Amanda: Yes. That’s awesome. So, I’m sure you must get, because I know I even get loads of questions and you must get a hundred times as many, but people contacting me and saying, “Okay, well how did you build your blog? How have you done this? How have you built your business?” You must get that all the time. So, what are the big mistakes you see people making, or the things that you just wish you could tell everybody about, to answer their questions about what they should be doing to build their presence online?
Mark: I guess the first thing I’d say is don’t go into this just on a whim because you had an a-ha moment overnight and you thought that would be a great idea. Spend a fair amount of time deep in contemplating in many regards to make sure that this is something you want to do. Because it will take time, it will take more time than you thought it would, it’ll take probably more money than you thought it would.
If it really were easy, everyone will be doing it. And while at times it seems like everyone’s doing it, if it were that easy, it wouldn’t be worth the final output or effort. So, be sure that this is something you want to do. And then when you do, be smart about it. Sit down and figure out, “What is my unique point of view that I have to offer the world that no one else can offer?”
And it may not just be really, really one strong point of view in one area. It could be a combination of subsets of that. I tell people, “Look, I come up with this information myself. I gather lots of information from hundred thousands of different sources, and then I wrap it into my own particular world view.” That’s how the ten Primal Blueprint laws came to be, is like, “Okay, how can I organize this in a way that represents how I feel, and then I can take out to the universe, put it out there in all different manifestations, but still stay true to my original point of view and to the original concept?” And that’s really how I created the brand Primal Blueprint.
So, that’s another thing that I would recommend people do: is brand yourself however you can do it. Whether it’s your own personal name, whether it’s the movement that you’ve created, whether it’s a coaching service, where it’s a personal training service. Branding has become more and more important as the field of health, and fitness, and online blogging, and everything else has become more and more commoditized. It just becomes really, really critical to brand yourself.
So again, I tell people, just figure out what it is that you’re best at, what it is that you’re passionate about, what it is you would be willing to invest in yourself, and then spend some time creating a strategy and a business plan based around that.
The other thing that I tell a lot of young people is, don’t worry so much about putting a thousand dollars or 1,500 pounds away in the bank every year when you’re young. That amount of money is much better used investing in yourself. So, invest in yourself as often as it makes sense and is appropriate to grow your business. That’s, I think, more crucial than ever, that the ability to get returns of 10x on an investment that you make in yourself versus keeping your fingers crossed to try to squeeze out a return of 5% on the money that you salt away these days.
Amanda: Right. Well, the other thing I love, and especially in this online world, is that when you’re building a platform, so if you’re investing time and learning how to build your blog and create whatever people might be creating, online programs, e-books, you’re really establishing a brand that is an investment in yourself and it can stay with you forever. So, once you’re building this audience, I mean, that’s yours, that then you can call upon at different points in your life. So, it’s really different from just investing time and working in a company, for example, where you’re building for somebody else. You’re really building an asset for yourself this way.
Mark: Absolutely. That’s what I mean by investing in yourself. You know, I tell my kids I didn’t know what I wanted to be until I was 47. I bounced around in a lot of jobs, I worked for other people, I worked for myself, and it wasn’t until I was about 47 that I realized that I found the path that was going to lead me to the kind of success that I envisioned for myself.
I wouldn’t change anything about how I got there because part of that process was organic enough, again, that when it finally hit me at a later age in life, everything that I’ve done had led me to that point. So, it was all really visceral. It felt so right when it finally hit and I said, “Yes, now I can see doing this for the rest of my life.”
Amanda: I’m so glad you said that, because I think we all have this sense, like it’s just not happening fast enough, you know? And no matter how old you are… I mean, I can remember being 25, which is ridiculous, and feeling like I was too old to do stuff which is just absolutely crazy. And I think a lot of people have that sense of, “Oh, is it too late for me? Is it too late to start this?” or “I wish I had done this earlier.” And I love that, that you found what you wanted to do at 47. I mean, that’s great.
Mark: Yes, and the other part of that story is that I thought I was going to retire at 55. Even after I started Mark’s Daily Apple and things were going great, I just thought, “Well, I’ve slowed down. I’ve got things pretty well-handled. I’m going to start to do what I talk about a lot which is inject more play into my life.” So, I really slowed down on all aspects of my business. At the time, most of my income was generated from the supplement sales.
I took a year and tried to play golf two or three times a week, and I’m out there in the middle of the course and I’m maybe not having a good day because I’m not that good at golf, and that was one of the revelations was, “What am I doing out here, trying to have fun when I’m not having fun?”
So, I went back and I said, “Okay, I’m going to reinvigorate the business.” And that’s when the publishing started, and that’s when the other events started, that’s when the other things started because I’d had this year of contemplating thinking, “Oh, that’s it. I’m done. I’m okay. I’m pretty much comfortable.” But there was more to be done. I had to arrive at that organically again.
Sorry, I’m using that word so much today, but I had to arrive at it, I had to feel it. I couldn’t just intellectually say, “Okay, it’s time to go back to work.” I had to have the feelings that drove me to go, “Wow, okay, now I’ve reinvigorated myself. I’m passionate about the publishing. I’m passionate about getting out on the road and talking to more people. I’m passionate about creating a certification program.” That lit the fire under me once again.
Amanda: I’m curious, were you feeling burned out before that, that you decided to take the year off? Or you just thought, “Okay, I’ve made it. It’s time to retire”?
Mark: A little bit of both. I mean, I have worked 40 hour weeks since I was 12. I quit school when I was 12, but in the summers from the age of 12 I would have a full-time job mowing lawns. I’d take weekends off and shovel snow, because I grew up in Maine in the US. I worked in restaurants when I was in my early teens. So, I’d be working for 48 years and I thought, “You know, that’s a long time to be working. Maybe I am burned out a little bit on that.”
But then I had to redefine my concept of work. I was burned out working and struggling, but there was another way to do it and that’s what I’ve tried to create for myself for the last five years, which is that’s how I’ve been able to… Now, I’ve hired people, so the publishing… Now, I have editors, and I have copywriters, and strategic planners and PR people. So, I’ve created a virtual publishing company but I only did it because I knew I could make it easy and I knew I wouldn’t have to take on that burden myself.
So yes, again, strategic thinking. I sat down and go, “How can I make this happen with ease and grace and comfort, and not with struggle, and suffer, and all the other things that accompany that?”
Amanda: It doesn’t necessarily have to be hard, yes.
Amanda: Yes, I love that. So, we’re getting about to the end of our chat. But I’m wondering, if you could go back and talk to yourself when you were just getting started with Mark’s Daily Apple, do you have a piece of advice that you’d give yourself?
Mark: Yes. I’d say be careful about how much you worry, and stress, and sweat and angst over small things. Because ultimately, it’ll all work out. And you know, I do go back every once in a while and go, “Wow, there were times when I was almost suicidal with how my life was going and how I wasn’t getting to where I thought I should be based on the expectations I’d set for myself.”
And it was depressing and unnecessarily so at the time because I still had a nice life; I’d paid my bills, I didn’t go into debt, I was able to have relationships. And all of the elements of a basic life that I have today, I had then. It was just I didn’t have as much stuff, but that really doesn’t matter in all the contexts. So, I would go back and I’d just say enjoy the moment more, enjoy the process more.
Take the time to appreciate what you’ve done up to this point and then to acknowledge going forward; that the intention here is not to, in agony, and stressed, and worried and all the things that at least in my case used to keep me up at night, but to enjoy the process and recognize that the choice that you’ve made is a good one and people will benefit from this choice.
And you kind of have to put that out there too: that what you’re offering, almost always, is something that people want and they will appreciate from you. So, it’s one of the greatest sources of income for me, is what we call psychic income now. If I walk through an airport and somebody comes and, “Oh my god, can I hug you? You saved my life.” You know, “I’ve lost a hundred pounds, I’m off my meds. My doctor said I was headed down this slippery-slope.” That is huge to me, to be able to get that kind of acknowledgement and realize that something that I did, sitting at my desk, 2,000 miles away from this person, helped transform that person and brought a smile to that person’s face. Big stuff.
Amanda: And it’s so much more than just the money. I think we just can get so tied up on, “Oh, when I’m making X amount of money, then my business will have made it.” But actually, you can have so much more of a bigger impact than that around the world.
Amanda: That’s wonderful. Well, we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much, Mark. It’s been great chatting with you.
Mark: Yes, my pleasure, Amanda.
Amanda: Thanks so much for listening to this interview. I hope that you enjoyed that as much as I did, and especially Mark’s advice to himself. I thought that was really just exactly what a lot of us needed to hear. So, thanks Mark for sharing that. Now, you can get all of the resources and links that we talked about in the show notes which is at WellpreneurOnline.com/15.
And don’t forget that this week, I’ve got free video training available on my website that’s time-limited. And it’s all about how to build your e-mail list. So, if you’re just getting started with your business or if you’ve got an email list with not very many subscribers, please jump over and watch my training. It’s at WellpreneurOnline.com/findyourfans.
Thanks so much for listening to this episode and I’ll see you back here next week.