Outlier Linguistics is known for helping people to learn Chinese and Japanese characters more effectively through their courses and their useful etymology dictionaries.
But, while many Langpreneurs begin by building an audience and later developing their products, John and Outlier co-founder Ash Henson did the opposite by creating and pre-selling their Chinese etymology dictionary right from the start.
What you’ll learn in this interview:
Validating your product with pre-sales
Building relationships with potential mentors
Do paid ads work?
Thinking beyond Facebook ads
John’s tips for Langpreneurs
John was studying music in college when he became fascinated by the sound of Mandarin and by images of ancient scholars carefully brushing characters onto their scrolls.
After college, he won a scholarship to study in Taiwan and hit the books so hard that he was able to start freelance translating after only a year.
When he began his master’s degree in Linguistics and Paleography, (the study of the ancient script), the varied courses gave John a fantastic overview of how and why Chinese writing changed over time. Now, the logic behind the characters made total sense, and he wished he had known it when he was first learning the language.
Would this knowledge help other Mandarin learners too? When John met Ash, he found a kindred spirit who was convinced the answer was ‘absolutely yes!’
The starting point, they agreed, was with an etymology dictionary.
Validate your product with presales
John and Ash knew they were onto a winner but needed to prove it, so one of their first steps was reaching out to Mike Love of Pleco — a giant in the online dictionary world.
Independently, each man had already built a small connection with Mike by emailing him with helpful comments and interest in Pleco. It meant that when the men introduced their dictionary idea, Mike already knew their names. Validation quickly came when Mike said that many Pleco customers had been asking for just such a dictionary.
So, Outlier negotiated a deal with Pleco to licence the dictionary as an in-App purchase. Then, on the strength of that, they launched a Kickstarter to raise funds and to gather interest in their product.
Build your product.
Put it out into the world.
Reach out to partners.
Listen to feedback.
Continuously learn and improve.
“Build a thick skin because there’ll never be a time when everybody likes what you’re doing.”
Build relationships with potential mentors
Successful people in the industry are usually very willing to share their advice and expertise if you are genuine.
John says, don’t directly ask “do you want to be my mentor.” Instead, strike up a conversation and when the time is right, ask for help. You may not be actively looking for a mentor, but when you build that relationship, mentorship can follow.
When John first met Peter Galante of Innovative Language, Peter sent him home with an assignment to “come up with two products that you could presell within two weeks.”
It’s advice that Peter often gives to struggling language entrepreneurs, and usually, he never hears from them again. But John and Ash brainstormed over the weekend and on Monday morning presented Peter with their best course ideas.
Building those courses proved to be precisely what they needed to take their business beyond that initial dictionary.
Start by building relationships.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
When a mentor gives you advice, follow it.
Reach out again when you’ve done it.
Keep in touch.
“You can either hope that you figure it out yourself or you can talk to people who have been there and done it, and reduce the amount of pain you have to go through.”
Social Media Ads: Do they work?
Many businesses spend a great deal of money and effort on Facebook and other adverts but do they see any real return? And can you rely on ads to build your business?
John says advertising needs to be a full-time gig because each ad has a finite time before it stops being effective. That means you have to come up with new campaigns frequently.
“It’s hard to scale ads. After a while you’ve reached everyone who is potentially interested in your product and then the ads stop working.”
One difficulty lies in finding the right market. John suggests targeting your competitors’ followers with LeadEnforce. Again, it won’t work forever, but it should give you many leads for a short time.
Outlier is currently advertising an automated webinar which is successfully bringing in new customers. In the webinar, John and Ash give tips about Chinese characters and pitch their product bundle at the end; $300 worth for $199. John reckons that $200 is the minimum you should charge in a webinar funnel because below that the advertising costs are too high.
Finding the right creative person to design your ad helps a lot. Choose someone who knows what works, uses eye-catching photos and (if appropriate) injects some humour into your ads.
Think beyond paid Social Media Ads
If you are considering using advertisements, think outside the traditional sites. Posting on Reddit and other forums can be a great way to get your product noticed and to build an audience.
Another strategy can be to guest post on well-known blogs in your niche.
Follow hashtags on Instagram and add comments and posts. Interact with people on the sites. Once again, be personable and look to form relationships with an audience as well as to make direct sales.
“If you have something valuable (to offer) then reaching out to people with a bigger audience can be a really good way to get started.”
If it’s valuable, then they will be willing to share it with their audience, which can result in a boost for you.
Build a mailing list because buyers are more likely to buy again
When you have a mailing list, you have a starting point for marketing new products too. People on the list are “warm leads,” i.e. they have already bought from you or expressed interest in your ideas.
Outlier Linguistics gather emails from every possible source, starting with that early Kickstarter campaign. They get signups when they sell their dictionary on the internet and collect more from Pleco when they send out affiliate emails.
And, of course, John and Ash posted in forums and Reddit to alert Chinese language learners to the presales of their new courses. All those who purchased were automatically added to the mailing list.
John’s tips for Langpreneurs
Learn with “Course Creator Pro”
John says he learned a vast amount in this course; from the equipment he needed, all the way through to how to market effectively.
Don’t rely on ads alone to sell your product
Have many strings to your bow, e.g. create more organic content for Instagram and YouTube; be consistent; have a robust affiliate programme.
Don’t jump in and go full time straight away
That is what John and Ash did, but they found it a rough slog. In hindsight, John says, “It’s better to start out as a side project and build up from there.”
Know your specific niche.
It’s hard to come up with a new product that’s going to blow people away if you’re not in a very, very specific niche.
It’s a mistake to ignore the importance of SEO
“We should have focused on affiliate stuff and SEO more early on. Get that stuff in place so you can be stable from that traffic and then paid ads can be something that you do on top of that once you have stable revenue.”