Episode 185 – Smart Brand Marketing with Tom Libelt
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to our Becoming Your Best listeners, wherever you might be in the world today! This is your host, Steve Shallenberger and we have a fun, interesting guest with us today. He has a rich background, he is an entrepreneur, he has done a lot of stuff, he has been around the world, and so, welcome, Tom Libelt!
Tom Libelt: There we go! At least you got the name right, now! How are you?
Steve Shallenberger: Doing so good! And before we get started today, I’d like to tell you just a little bit more about Tom. He has a fun website, so if you go to the Internet, Tom Libelt, you’re going to see an interesting background. He had learned from a young age how to sell and negotiate business by getting haggled by Russian vendors, his family moved from Poland to the United States to escape communism and his parents took any job they could, to survive. He is a survivor, and now Tom spends most of his time in Thailand. He runs Smart Brand Marketing and We Market Online Courses. He is going to tell us a little bit about that. He has published about 5000 Kindle books and this is an interesting story as well. It has to do with a blog site he set up and he will tell us what to do and not to do. And he built a successful SEO and online course marketing business, and so he just has a great background. Let’s just turn it over to Tom. Tell us about your background and especially including any turning points that have had a big impact, and especially on what you’re doing today.
Tom Libelt: So, when I started out, I was helping my dad sell on soccer stadiums around Poland and that’s where the haggling came from, that’s where the Russian vendors ripped me off. One of them sold me a soccer ball without the rubber inside, so I found out really quickly that not everything is what it seems in business. A few of them, when I went to comic books stands, they would look at which comic book I liked and hiked the price up immediately, so I learned how to tell them, “Oh, this looks horrible!” at everything that I liked. I was five, six, seven years old back then, and their job was to rip me off and my job was to not get ripped off, so it was a good business experience.
Tom Libelt: When we came here, my parents, they had three, four part-time jobs, making $4.25 an hour. I’d never see them – when I went to the school bus in the morning they were gone, when I went to sleep they were gone. We didn’t have much money either. Working for other people it’s not really… There’s no way to get rich. You’re not going to get rich doing that. And even when I went to work at sales companies, later on, to get sales experience, I realized that too. “Anything I sell, they get the recurring income, I’m just a number that’s going to be replaced at the end” and I didn’t like that. I was like, “If I can sell recurring income stuff, I can do it for myself, and just make most of the profit myself. I can keep it.” It doesn’t take that much to make five, six figures. So, yeah, a lot of hobby stuff on the way, did stuff in hip-hop, in Polish hip-hop, had some hits on the radio, on TV, I filmed a documentary called, “Your Own Way Out.” A lot of pivots too. I’m not sure how much you want to hear about the pivots with the companies.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, maybe that will come out, Tom, in our interview. But, tell us how you ended up in Thailand?
Tom Libelt: There was a conference that I went to in Berlin, and it was part of a bigger group. And that bigger group had their major conferences in Bangkok. And what happened is, a lot of these guys, they run very successful businesses online, and on their laptops and they travel the world. Well, they end up migrating, so they kind of all go to the same location. And after the Bangkok conference that I went to, I’ve seen everyone go to Chiang Mai, which is a city in the North of Thailand. And it’s kind of ridiculous, you know, between October and January, we were 3000-4000 people from all over the world working on their laptops in one city, which is hard to replicate. So I just stuck around there, then I found a girlfriend and we started splitting our time between up north and down south, just living by the ocean for a couple of months. And then, I still travel to conferences, do other stuff but yeah, it seemed like a good place.
Steve Shallenberger: Good! And tell our listeners, what your business is today.
Tom Libelt: The business now is Marketing Online Courses. So when people have a course that they put out, that’s not selling, we fix it. We see what’s missing. Is it the transformation? Is it the value? Is it the positioning? Or is just a traffic problem, conversion problem and we work to fix that. And that came from my SEO business. So, I guess this is one of the pivots. When I was doing SEO for a gym in Atlanta, I was working with Muay Thai Gym and the owner was a Muay Thai guy and the manager was a Muay Thai Champion. And the manager and I became friends, I ranked them #1 for a lot of stuff, and he just asked me one day, it was like 6-7 years ago, if I can create an online course for Muay Thai training. And I said, “I don’t know.” But I did. And he said, “Well, we could sell it. Can you figure out the marketing?” Once again, “I don’t know.” And it took a year to figure it out. Once we did that, he sent a few more people my way and then I found some other clients and this became a booming business last year. It took about three, four years to really get it moving and yeah, we’re doubling down on marketing online courses now, our main focus for the company.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay. Alright, renaissance man, way to go! Big Tom! Well, I’ve had some really great podcasts and some of those have had to do with artificial intelligence, the changing economy, how things are changing. Well, if there’s anyone that’s right in the middle of it, that’s what you’re doing, Tom, way to go!
Tom Libelt: Yeah, it’s definitely not the brick and mortar and the business classroom type. I went to business school before and the stuff I learned, I don’t think I use any of it, except for, there was one class which had to do with business law and that helped me a lot, and accounting, just to understand what is happening to the money. I remember this one teacher. He was an old school factory owner, he was the only teacher that actually owned a business, which is not usual in this college, most of these guys don’t know anything. But this guy, he comes up to me, he takes me aside after one class, and it was a weird thing he said to me, but it stuck through with me ever since. I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing, I think it’s more of a bad thing, but still… He took me aside and told me, “Don’t worry about these other clowns, they aren’t going to accomplish anything. You are going to run a business one day. And I want to tell you one thing, don’t worry if it’s ethical, worry if it’s legal.”
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, my goodness! Yikes!
Tom Libelt: And in the beginning I thought about it and I was like, “I think this is why he ended up a teacher, something must have happened!”
Steve Shallenberger: It’s good to have both, legal and ethical, it’s nice.
Tom Libelt: Because the class he was teaching, the one session was ethics, and the class was arguing and I was thinking more about profits at that time, I was like a 17-year-old or 18-year-old, I think. It was my first year of college, I was still supposed to be in high school but I just graduated quicker, so they sent me to college. And I’m listening to this, I’m thinking about the profit, they’re thinking about what’s right and wrong and that’s kind of the basis of why he said that, but I still, to this day, think that it was the weirdest thing ever being told by a teacher.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, that’s pretty strange. Tom and I, we were just talking about the Becoming Your Best and the 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders and how these are natural principles, just like gravity and they’re just as powerful and one of those is to be True to Character and I’m just laughing, “Be legal, but not ethical”, that’s a good one. I haven’t heard that one. Tell us, Tom, what is Muay Thai champion, what is that?
Tom Libelt: Muay Thai is the science of eight limbs. So, usually here we watch boxing, which is just the hands, or we watch kickboxing – your hands and your feet, but Muay Thai is when you use your knees and your elbows, as well.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, yeah.
Tom Libelt: It’s a very brutal sport. So, when the Muay Thai champ, he and I became friends and he was actually inviting me to his fights. Watching that stuff from couple feet away, when someone gets knocked out with a knee and he is shaking on the bottom of the ring, like, that stuff stays with me to this day. I don’t know if that was a good idea to watch it so close up, it’s better on TV, it’s much better on TV, from far away.
Steve Shallenberger: Great! Thank you for the background. We’d love to take advantage of your perspective, your insights. As you’re looking at business ideas, how do you assess, quickly know, which business idea is good and which isn’t?
Tom Libelt: There’s a couple of things. I think a few of them will be aligned with your principles because one of them, how is the industry? Do I enjoy this industry? So, for example, I played in the SEO industry for a long time and in Bitcoin industry a little bit, and I quickly found out that these people are usually not ethical, these are not people I want to hang out with, they’re scumbags for the most part.
Steve Shallenberger: Right.
Tom Libelt: When you have little control, so if you’re building a business based on Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, whatever it is, you have very little control, like that Amazon business is, and they destroyed me. That SEO business is still running but I have times when Google just wakes up and messes things around and we would wake up to just a disaster. Not a good business. There’s no control. So I looked for control. So, are you a big fish in a small market or are you an average fish in a big market? Like, is that a possibility? So here’s an example. When I was running just a marketing agency in the beginning, people would say, “Well, why should I buy from you, and not J. Abraham?” Or something like that, the big guy, there’s the big guy, at the top of the line. I was like, “I don’t know. I can’t actually give you a reason.” But now, when someone says for Marketing Online Course, “Why should I buy from you and not J. Abraham?” “Because J. Abraham has no idea how to market an online course.” I’m the guy in my industry, I’m good at my niche. So, sometimes you can make much more money and have an easier time in a small niche, than just being average in a huge one. Some people say, “I have a huge market, I can sell to billions of people.” It’s nonsense.
Steve Shallenberger: Good thought! Okay, good ideas! Anything else on that? Those are great! Good little check marks!
Tom Libelt: Yeah. The thing is, the part of what we spoke, the integrity. Like, people pay me pretty big money now, and they do that because of integrity. They told me, I’m one of the most honest people, I tell them how it is, then I get great references, which is very important to do in a small market. If you’re a big fish in a small pond, everyone kind of knows you, so if you can’t pull off what you’re going to promise, it’s going to end badly, very quickly. And when it comes to picking, let’s say traffic, because a lot of people listening there, are “Oh, I need more customers.” Well, if you want to get customers, you have to figure out who that perfect customer is, and most people I ask have no clue. And they think really deeply about that, if I ask them, like “Who is the ideal customer?”
Tom Libelt: Then, you’ve got to figure out, what possible channels could they be on? Is it on LinkedIn? Is it on Youtube? Is it on Instagram? And then you kind of rack the shotgun you have to try five or six different channels and kill off anything that’s not working really quickly, and just double down on what works. But it takes testing. No one can come up and just tell you, “Oh, this is the perfect channel, this is exactly what you’re going to do.” Because you just don’t know. We just had a client who we tested stuff on Instagram and it did not work, even though he wanted it to, but we went on Pinterest, which is that picture site from years ago, and he’s doing great on it.
Steve Shallenberger: Wow!
Tom Libelt: And we had no clue, but we just knew that his customers are visual and they’re usually female, so they hang out on the visual media, so I said, “Let’s try out the visual media” and he was like, “Oh, Pinterest is not going to work.” Well, it worked. So you still have to test but first, you’ve got to figure out just who the client is. If we didn’t know they were women, we would’ve tried maybe something else, but I was like, “Women, visual – I think it’s going be more of that type of thing.” So it’s just because of his niche too. But yeah, there are different ways of going about this.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, good stuff! Alright! Your specialty and what you’re really good at, making a difference, is online courses. So what are three things that separate successful online courses from courses that fail?
Tom Libelt: The first one is the person that’s running and doesn’t treat it like a business. If someone sold them a dream, they drenk the cool aid and they put a course out there and it’s not selling. And this is a normal occurrence. It’s a business just like anything else. The reason why it’s usually not selling, that someone is treating it like a business, it could be a couple of things. Maybe the sales conversation doesn’t make sense. When you go online, when you try to sell something, your website and the whole channel of you pulling someone in, needs to be like a salesperson. So, for example, someone is going through Facebook, well, you’ve got to interrupt that zombie, because he’s just scrolling mindlessly, you’ve got to interrupt them, you’ve got to drive them in, hopefully get their email, warm them up a little bit, get them to trust you, let him see what your sale speech is, get a handle of the objections and close the sale. And if the sale doesn’t close, you’ve got to follow up, so the conversation needs to make sense. Most sales pages and conversations don’t make sense. If a person just says, “Hey, I’m offering meditation.” And people are like, “I don’t care.” Or they’ll say, “This is who I am and why you should buy from me.” And once again, “We don’t even care about what you’re selling. We don’t care about you for sure.” So the conversations don’t make sense at all.
Tom Libelt: Sometimes it could be the positioning, maybe someone’s trying to sell a public speaking course and they keep saying “Oh, I hate public speaking!” Maybe you need to sell them a persuasion course or you’re going to speak to influence or you will learn how to tell stories or sell, you just position it differently. Another thing could be that the transformation doesn’t make sense. So if someone wants to take an online course, before the course, they’re in place A, after they take the course, they’re in place B. Well, what happens during those two places? What did transform? Do they really know how to make $100,000 now? Do they know how to get 1000 Instagram followers? Do they know how to pass this exam? What’s the transformation? Most people don’t have a transformation.
Tom Libelt: Then, once you get that, what’s the value of their transformation? What I teach you is worth $10,000, for example, and I’m selling the course for $500, no brainer. But, if what I’m selling you is worth $1000 and I’m selling the course for $500, now I’m losing money. And this is why. If someone is taking your course, that means they’ll pay $500, the course will take them maybe 10-15 hours to take, those hours are worth something too. So, maybe that person’s valuing their hours at $100 an hour, and now taking your course, they’re actually losing them, $1500. The value doesn’t make sense. So there are a lot of different parts of a course that when you sell it, they all need to align for someone to buy it. It’s not that simple.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s a good checklist right there and this is the kind of thing that you do, you help your clients find the customer, really craft the message to wake up the zombie and then be sure the systems are aligned so that they can deliver that product and see the value that it’s worth the investment, that it’s going to pay far greater dividends than what they’re paying.
Tom Libelt: Yeah. Like I said, if we cannot find the transformation, if we can’t attach a value to it, if I don’t think this can sell, I’m just not taking on the client.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah.
Tom Libelt: Because not everything can be sold. These things need to be in place, these basics need to be in place to be able to even write a good sales copy. And you can’t cheat people into buying it, because they’re going to get refunds. It doesn’t make any sense.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, exactly! So what are essential SEO things that every website needs?
Tom Libelt: The thing with SEO these days is… Nothing’s changed, SEO is not magical, you need a clean site, which means clean code, you need a fast website. So, at least, install something like Clouds Player, just to make sure that the speed of it goes up, maybe tweak the server a bit, or pay someone to tweak the server. So, speed, clean code, and easy content. Don’t write for SEO. Write stuff that your actual clients are interested in. So, with me, I do, not a lot, but I do a little bit of pull marketing. Pull marketing is just information that my clients would pay for, that I occasionally give for free and it brings them into my website and gets me most of my leads. So I write about the problem that my client has.
Tom Libelt: So, just one example, “The five things that I do if a course is not selling.” And there will be an article. I would just tell them exactly what our company does. First, we’ll look at positioning, then we’ll look at this, then we’ll look at that, explain to them what we do and why. And they get it, “Oh, wow, this is cool, maybe I should look at my pricing. Maybe I should look at that.” I explain a little more so that they feel like, “Okay, I’m getting some value from this.” Not everything, but a little bit. “How do I sell multiple online courses at the same time?” That was another article, which made me a huge amount of money just by the engagement and the amount of people that came in, like, “Wow, this guy knows it!” So just a little bit of content, but the right content. And then, backlinks. So one of the things I do, is I go on people’s podcasts, then they link back to my website and I get an easy backlink and some promotion. But you need to just get backlinks. That’s what SEO companies mostly do, they get you backlinks.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, and just for our listeners, can you describe what a backlink is?
Tom Libelt: Yeah. Backlink is basically another website pointing back at your website, saying that it’s important. So, if you have a website like mine, smartbrandmarketing.com, once this podcast is up, most likely you’re going to have a page for my episode, and just going to say, you can find Tom at smartbrandmarketing.com. That tells Google, “Okay, they looked at the website, there’s probably something about marketing on this website, and it mentions, ‘look at smartbrainmarketing’ “, that means that my website has something to do with marketing and it’s giving me some extra points.
Steve Shallenberger: Got it! Oh, good job! Good description! Alright! And why is ongoing SEO a waste of money for most businesses?
Tom Libelt: What happens once we rank a website, and the content keeps getting created, engagements coming in, natural backlinks start coming in because people start mentioning you a little bit, that’s it, that’s what an SEO company would do. So, usually, when an SEO company does maintenance, it means they’re not doing anything. They’re completely not doing anything other than making sure your website is active, which you can do with pluggins now. And you’re just paying $300-$400 a month for nothing. So the thing is, get yourself ranked, get some momentum going, once you see things hang in place and you see engagement, there’s no more need for an SEO. Look, the gym that I ranked, 5-6 years ago, the Muay Thai gym, kickboxing gym, they’re still ranking first. I haven’t looked at them for 5 years.
Steve Shallenberger: What a great tip! That’s very interesting! Alright! Good for our listeners to know, isn’t it?
Tom Libelt: It’s just what it is. People try to make SEO seem like it’s magical and it’s not. Sometimes a company might be better because they have access to better backlinks, but what’s usually scary about these companies is they control those backlinks, which means they keep you hostage. They’re going to say, “Okay, we ranked you to #1, now you need to pay us $900 a month, and if you stop paying us, we’re going to take those backlinks off and you’re going to go right back to where you came from.” And that’s a scary proposition. So when you’re dealing with SEO companies, you’ve got to find these stuff out, and anyone that tells you, “Oh, this proprietary information, we can’t show you the backlinks, it’s a secret thing”, it’s someone to stay away from, because either they have private links that they’re going to take away when you’re done, or they’re scamming you and they’re not doing anything.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good! Well, Tom, I am always, totally shocked how fast time goes and we’re towards the end of our show, and what are some final tips that you can leave with our listeners, that you think would be helpful for them?
Tom Libelt: The one thing which I realized about myself and it kind of helped me move from one income to the next a few times, is realizing my anchor. And not always people know what their anchor is but it’s the amount of money that you think you deserve every month. So, for me, before, maybe when I was thinking about, it was $3000. And no matter what I did, my income always went back to $3000. If I made more money, I somehow managed to mess it up. If I didn’t make enough money, I hustled and got back to $3000. And then I realized that that was my anchor. So once I moved it to $7000, which took a while of reprogramming, like, “This is fine, you deserve this, you’re getting the value”, I was stuck at $7000. The same thing happened at $10,000. So, once people realize, if you’re making a similar income and you see that sometimes you get a few more clients, and you mess it up and you move back where you came from, it’s that mindset. You’ve got to get that anchor, like, what’s your anchor? Figure it out, and then move that. Do anything in the world can to move that, be like, “I’m worth more” because if you don’t, you’re going to be stuck at the same income and for some reason it’s always going to average out at whatever that anchor is.
Steve Shallenberger: Great advice! Good job, Tom! That’s wonderful! No doubt, one of the things that we actually talk about in our seminars is, what are we really capable of doing? And if we were to give a pen or pencil to many of our listeners, I am sure that we would sell ourselves short in many areas of our life. And so, not selling ourselves short is great advice. Way to go!
Tom Libelt: Yeah. There’s a couple of things like that. With my company too – is very short advice, I don’t want to keep you on – I let my company find the culture. My company rolled out exactly how things should be, when people should get fired, when they should be hired, everything. And they control that. So, give your people control, treat them really well. I’m friends with my workers in a way, there’s still that boss-employee thing, but if one of them comes up to me, “Tom, I’m running another business”, I’m like, “Okay, how can I help?” And my employees don’t leave. They’ve been with me for years. Most of them six, seven years, eight years, since I’ve started the company. It’s treating the people right. You’re sure not going to make it on your own. And just have rules in play, have a minimum and don’t move that for anyone. It’s going to become a problem client. If you have rules in place, like, “We need money upfront”, the client says “I’ll give you 50% upfront”, “No, company’s policy”, it’s going to become a problem client. Just make sure to have your boundaries set in place, it’s going to help you a lot.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good advice! Well, Tom, how can people find out about what you’re doing?
Tom Libelt: Just come to smartbrandmarketing.com and if you have a course that’s not selling, wemarketonlinecourses.com.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good! That’s great! Tom, this has been a delight, to visit together today. I love your enthusiasm, your insights, your experience, it’s been great content today!
Tom Libelt: I appreciate it, thanks for having me!
Steve Shallenberger: You bet! We wish you all the best in the things that you’re doing, the lives that you’re touching for good, and to all of our listeners, never forget, you too are making a difference, every single day. So, we wish you a great day, remember, you are radiating a light and goodness. This is our capacity to lift the world and as we do these things and align ourselves with good principles, we do become our best and make a difference. Tom, thanks again for being on our show today!
Tom Libelt: My pleasure to be here.
Steve Shallenberger: This is Steve Shallenberger, signing off, with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day!