This week’s guest on the podcast is John Fotheringham from Language Mastery. He runs a blog, a podcast, and sells guides in which he shows you how you can learn Mandarin and Japanese by yourself, no matter where you are. John has been in the game on and off for over ten years, and in this interview, you’ll learn:
John’s background and his personal motivation to start a blog and a podcast
How to get people in your podcast if you’re just getting started
Why you should consider selling ‘bundles’ instead of books
Benefits and challenges of being a Langpreneur
How to become comfortable in front of the camera or mic
John’s background in Japanese
John majored in linguistics at university. He became interested in learning Japanese as well as teaching English to speakers of other languages. After graduating from university he went to Japan to teach English at a rural high school in a small town. That helped him to develop his broken Japanese all the way up to being fluent in about a year. He spent his second year in Japan working for the prefectural government in its international relations department. He mostly worked as a translator and interpreter, but also served as a counselor for English teachers in the region.
The birth of Language Mastery
In 2009 John launched his blog ‘Language Mastery’ while he was living in Taiwan. He was frustrated with the disconnect between how languages should be taught and how they’re actually taught in classrooms. He used his blog to share his vision of how languages should be learned. As he says, ‘a blank blog post is a good listener’.
It was either The 4-Hour Work Week Audiobook by Timothy Ferriss or one of Chris Guillebeau’s books that showed John that it was possible to work online and live wherever you want. That inspired him to create his first guide called ‘Mastering Japanese’. He made his first sale in 2010 and it’s still going strong!
The pain of niching down
Because of John’s passion for learning many languages, he didn’t want to just talk about Japanese on his blog. He now realizes that that was a mistake as he has followers that are interested in all kinds of languages but he only has courses for a few segments. If you have an audience that’s interested in something very specific, you potentially only have to create one course to solve their problem. That can help you to magnetically attract your ideal customer and get traction much faster.
In most people’s minds, a book should cost $10 or $20. If it’s a guide, it breaks the pattern a bit and people reconsider how much they are willing to spend on it. Also, don’t just sell a guide, but instead, sell a ‘package’. You can do that by adding expert interviews, for example.
Not only did John become friends with the people that he admired and interviewed, they also helped him promote his products later on down the line. He also wrote guest posts for Fluent in 3 Months and offered to become an affiliate. Connecting to people who already had an audience that John was targeting has been a game-changer.
Should you sell your book on Amazon or on your own website?
The big disadvantage of selling your books (or should I say guides) on Amazon is that you only receive a small margin and you also don’t capture your buyers’ email addresses. That makes it difficult to follow up with your buyers and send them free updates, or offer them more of your products.
The benefit of offering books on Amazon is that you become visible to a whole new audience. John only recently decided to make his books available on Amazon and although he makes some sales, most of his revenue comes from sales he makes through his own website.
Your language business will always be there
John has had various stages in his life where he worked on other projects. The good thing about running an online language business is that you can always go back whenever you want. Your content and products are still going to be there, so if you want to go on a break or work on other projects for a while, it’s all possible.
Language Mastery Podcast
At first, starting the podcast was just an excuse for John to talk to his heroes. Having a show is a great way to connect to people who might otherwise ignore you. Many of John’s friends today are people he’s previously interviewed on his podcast.
How to get people on your podcast if you’re a ‘nobody’
There are a few things that need to be mentioned according to John: First of all, it helps if you interact with the person in advance. You could for example comment on their blog posts or on their social media posts. It helps if they’ve already seen your name. It also helps if you already have a blog, for example. That way you can already appear to have some kind of authority. Secondly, in the case of Langpreneur for example, not all Langpreneurs get the opportunity to talk to other people in their industry on a regular basis. Offering to do a podcast interview gives them an opportunity to get the word out and connect to other like-minded people. People want to be heard and you will be surprised how many people are going to say ‘yes’ if you give them the opportunity to talk to your audience.
The power of podcasting
No one is going to buy anything from you before they know they can trust you. Podcasting is a great way to let people know who you are and build an emotional connection with your audience.
Biggest lessons that John has learned over the last decade
– Don’t hide behind words. Put yourself out there on a podcast or on video from day one. Show the real ‘you’, be authentic and vulnerable.
– Don’t be a perfectionist. Launch your product as soon as you have something that’s viable, get feedback from your buyers, and constantly improve your work. – Set a deadline for your course launch and stick to it. Don’t postpone. Even if it’s not 100% ready, get it out, and improve your product later.
– Talk to your audience and ask what they want. You can only build a successful business if you truly understand your customers’ struggles and motivations. The best way to get to know them is to talk to them one on one. A good way to do this and get paid for it on top is by offering them coaching.
Becoming comfortable in front of the camera
During his career, John has given talks in front of hundreds of people. Public speaking has never been a problem for him. Recording yourself on video, or even just your voice for a Podcast intro, for example, is different, John says. Talking to a microphone or camera feels very weird and unnatural in the beginning. It’s like learning a foreign language. In the beginning, you feel awkward and you’re going to stumble, but the more practice you get, the better you become.
‘’The biggest benefit of being a Langpreneur is the ability to work where I want, when I want, how I want, and on what I want.’’ ‘’If you work in a company, there is only a certain amount that you can earn. As a Langpreneur, the sky’s the limit.’’
The importance of patience
In the past, John had made the mistake of quitting a well-paid job so that he could go all-in with Language Mastery. The reality is that building an online language business takes time. Ideally, you start building your online language business as a side project. That way you keep the pressure on your art low and it’s also a good way to test if you like the lifestyle that it provides.
‘’Do something for money and do something for love’’