How do you monetize an existing website? Today's guest, Nora Joy Wilson, has a popular website that helps people learn written Chinese at WrittenChinese.com. She also has a big email list. But despite having these resources in place, she's struggling to put it all together and make best use of what's she's got. As she says, she feels like she's “in a life raft in the middle of the ocean with a bag of gold bullion, but there's no land in sight.”
I help her hone her unique selling proposition, figure out how she can take advantage of ads, and dig into how she might use affiliate partnerships in a really smart way. Nora's dilemma doesn't have obvious answers, but there's nothing wrong with a challenge! Together we find some starting points for her to experiment to see what resonates with her audience and start to monetize her existing website. Check it out.
You can also follow Written Chinese @WrittenChinese on Twitter.
AP 1176: How Can I Monetize a Website That People Already Use and Enjoy?
What's up, everybody? Pat Flynn here, and welcome to episode 1,176 of AskPat 2.0. You're about to listen to a coaching call between myself and an entrepreneur just like you. Today, we’re talking with Nora from writtenchinese.com. She's actually during this call in a little bit of a predicament, stuck in Bulgaria because she wasn't able to go back home to China, during COVID. It was kind of a crazy thing. But anyway, I'm hopeful that everything's okay now. And if you're listening to this, Nora, I hope you're back home with your family.
But anyway, we have some interesting opportunities with Nora and her website, but also some predicaments and things that might be a little bit tough.
And what we do in this episode is we brainstorm together and we talk about how she might be able to monetize this thing that she's built, that people actually use and they're enjoying. She has an email list that's quite sizable, but things aren't really moving in the direction that we want them to yet.
And hopefully, and perhaps by the end, you'll see, just kind of the things we talk about and the ideas we express and some of the ideas I offer that were already tried, and we kind of explore that too. But anyway, lots to talk and lots to discuss today, as you can tell it’s a little bit longer of an episode, because we want to go deep.
So that's what we do today with Nora, from writtenchinese.com. Here she is.
Hey, Nora. Welcome to AskPat 2.0. Thanks so much for joining us today.
I am so delighted to be on the show, Pat. Thanks for having me.
Oh, absolutely. It's a pleasure. Let's get to know you a little bit. Nora, who are you and what do you do?
So I’m actually broadcasting to you from Bulgaria right now. It's kind of a complicated story, but I actually have been living in China for the last 11 years. But I went to visit my family during the Chinese new year of last year. And that's when everything happened with the coronavirus, and our flight was canceled to get back into China.
So I haven't actually been able to get back to my place in China. I'm actually here in Bulgaria now. My husband's Bulgarian. We have two kids who were both born in China. And so we're here visiting family while we wait for the opportunity to get back into China. So it's a little bit of a crazy story.
I’m so sorry to hear that. That's insane. Your business: I'd love to know where you are at with what you're doing online. Give us a little bit of background in terms of what you do on the internet.
Okay. I think my business has kind of a non-traditional story because it used to be part of a bigger project. I used to work for an app development house in Shenzhen, China. And we made a bunch of different apps, and one of them was a Chinese learning dictionary. So it was a, basically an English–Chinese dictionary, but it had a lot of bells and whistles to go with it, like a flashcard function. It was cross platform. And my business currently is kind of an offshoot of that.
So eventually that app development house had to close. The CEO wanted to close it up, but I acquired the website. So the website is geared toward teaching people how to read and write Chinese. So it's focused on the written component of Chinese learning, which is something I'm really passionate about, especially after having lived there for so long.
But we have a lot of issues, and we have a lot of opportunities. I would say some of the main opportunities are that we have a huge email list. So we have about a hundred thousand subscribers, and that's after we cut it down; we're very active in cutting out inactive subscribers, but the list continues to grow and it's just really crazy. And I have just one partner who used to work on the project with me during the time that it was at the app development house. And now it's just the two of us, and we're trying to make it work.
And we also have a massive Facebook fan page with over a quarter of a million fans on there. So we know that there's a lot of interest in learning written Chinese. And I believe as a Chinese learner myself, that there aren't very good tools out there to teach people who are non-Chinese people, how to read and write Chinese.
So I know that the market's there. I see the opportunity, and we have a podcast too that's also really popular. I don't know if it’s okay to say the name of it. You can cut that out if you want.
No, no, no. I'm here to promote you too. So what, uh, what's the name of it and your website too?
Okay, so the website is called writtenchinese.com. So it's very focused on that component of written Chinese. And the podcast was part of the marketing funnel when it was at the app development house, but we also took over that too. And it's called “The two white chicks in China.” And so the podcast is more about culture in China and it's kind of more broad than the website itself.
But the website was never really set up to run as its own business. And so we haven't really been able to find the right product to serve our audience well. And I kind of feel like I'm in the weeds or something like my, I have a full-time job. I actually work for a different tech company in China now. And that consumes pretty much all my time. And I have two small kids at home, but I know that the site, there's a lot of value there, and I don't want to abandon it.
And my partner also, Holly, who’s also my co-host on the two chicks in China podcast, she also has a full-time job. And so we know there's a lot of value there, but between the two of us, we don't have a whole lot of time to dedicate toward serving that audience. And we also have been working on it for a long time. I mean, this project was started maybe eight or nine years ago.
And so I think we would really benefit from some fresh eyes on it, which is why I'm so excited and happy to be on the show today, because I feel like just getting a fresh take on it would be really, really helpful.
Yeah, for sure. Thank you. And I'm at the website right now, written Chinese, writtenchinese.com in case anybody wants to check it out. I'd love to hear from your perspective, what makes this website and the way that you teach writing Chinese different than, say, a lot of the other popular places where people can learn how to do this stuff? What's unique about the situation here?
I don't think, first of all, I don't think that there are a lot of other places where they teach written Chinese.
I mean, you can find flashcards, you know, there's a lot of language learning platforms out there, but none of them really address the Chinese learning component because it's not like a phonetic alphabet. You can learn Cyrillic in a couple of hours, then you'll be able to read the words. You may not know what they're saying, but you can read them fairly well, as somebody who studied Bulgarian. But with Chinese it’s totally different because each character represents, I wouldn't say a word, but it's a part of the meaning. So when you don't recognize the character, there's no way of understanding what it means or how to read it. And so it's a completely different need when it comes to teaching the language.
And so my experience trying to learn it on my own, when I would have a professional Chinese tutor, they've all been Chinese themselves. And because they learn the written language as children, they don't really understand the process for teaching it to adults. Like they basically are like, okay, they're going to throw a bunch of vocabulary at you and then you take it home and you write it a thousand times, and you'll remember it. But this doesn't work, you know, after you get up to 500 characters—some of the ones that you learned before, because there's no like inherent logic to a Westerner, you just start to forget them. I don't really think, at this point I haven't found, a really solid method for actually learning the written language.
Gotcha. Okay. This is because, first impression on the website, I don't know that. I don't know what makes this unique and different. And if perhaps you were a little, just more forthcoming with the fact that on this page, you can finally learn and remember, versus—and I know you say it here, master Chinese characters, study every element of a character and never forget a word again—but this doesn't really position yourself.
This is just like, here's the solution, but it doesn't really tell me why this is the solution. Do you understand the difference behind that?
To be honest, not really. Because I feel like it's, it's talking about the main problems, which are not being able to remember the characters and then the method to learn it. And so maybe you can expand a little bit for me.
I will, I will. Thank you. Uh, and I thank you for being honest. It's the difference between giving people the solution, which is what you're doing here. Here's the solution for the problem, like you said, versus, “This is the only place that you can actually get this done. Like we have a proprietary way and methods and templates that you cannot get anywhere else that have proven specific scientific ways to help you memorize these things.” I'm not saying that that's true. I'm just saying now that makes me go, “Oh, this is the one spot to be" versus, "Oh, okay,” versus, “Here's a solution on the shelf that I could get that really doesn't tell me why this is unique and different than anybody else.” Right? So leaning into the uniqueness, what we call the unique selling proposition. If the unique selling proposition is the fact that this is the only place that you can learn in the most efficient manner to never forget again, then tell me that. Tell that straight away up front, because right now it just seems like I'm in a store looking, and then there's all these different solutions. And again, I don't know this as somebody learning, but you can be a little bit more forthcoming about why this is the spot. This is the place to learn.
That's just number one, based on my first impression, because even me was already thinking of, well isn't there that one app with the owl that can teach me this? Isn't there Rosetta Stone that can teach me these things?
That's what a person's thinking when they're coming here. And even though that might not be true, you need to tell them that's not true. Basically, you need to hit them over the head with these objections and go. “No, no, no, no. Those don't work because they don't help you remember. And we focus on the stickiness of this so that you can actually use and implement this in your life.”
Does that help make sense in terms of like the nuances of that?
It does. Thank you for that. And I feel like you've really defined the unique selling point of the site. But I think the main problem is right now is that we don't actually have that solution. So right now, the products that we have done, we haven't been able to fully develop. Like, I think basically what people need is a full-on curriculum from start to finish, how to do this, but we actually haven't done that. So what we have on the site so far are more like tools and components that you can use with the curriculum. But so far, because we ourselves, we don't have master's degrees in teaching… And actually my dream for this site would be to work with somebody who has an expertise in memory, because I think it needs to be approached in a way that's not as conventional as other language learning, just because it is such a different experience studying this language. But we still actually don't have the solution ready.
So you're definitely right to point out that the unique selling point is there. But I think one of the reasons is because we don't actually have the product to fit that. So we have like this huge audience and we know the desire is there, but we don't actually have that product. And because there's not a whole lot of money coming into the site, and because we have so little time, I don't know exactly how to move forward with it in creating that.
Let's keep brainstorming. I’d love to sort of just pour into you in terms of what I'm thinking. If you only have a part of the solution, you can find another person who has the other part, and you can combine forces, similar to what you were just talking about, finding a partner.
Now, I guarantee you, there's probably other people in this world, other creators, probably people with massive audiences who teach Chinese, who you can imagine they probably have a lot of influence. And if you know that your product is very unique and would perfectly complement what they're doing, then you can start reaching out and start seeing how you might be able to work together. Maybe you become the resource that they provide to their audiences in terms of where to get these things. And you can come up with a little package so that it's just really convenient. Maybe that's something that they sell as an affiliate. They become an affiliate for you, or you become an affiliate for them.
Affiliate marketing is recommending other people's products because they're complementary to what you're teaching, and you can earn a commission doing that. So that could be a very quick and easy way for you to start seeing dollars coming in is partnering with other people, and either with your giant email list, sharing and recommending their stuff, but also with their lists, them sharing and recommending your stuff. If you have ebooks and other things, which I see you do, and you have a store and these templates. And it would be really cool if, for whatever reason, let's say I was an influencer and helping people learn Chinese—by the way. I really wish I learned how to speak and write in Chinese because this is just awesome.
There’s still time, Pat!
Oh yeah, no, I know, I know. There is time, and there isn't time, but yes, you're absolutely right. And so I’m definitely going to be coming back here. But if I was an influencer, for example, and I was like, “Wow, Written Chinese has the best templates. I just want to integrate them into my course. Can we do that? And you can just create a deal.
Yeah. For every sale you make, send $5 our way as a part of that. And now you have money coming in, but I'm doing all the work because I'm selling my courses, but I want your templates, but this is your proprietary information. It's almost like getting a royalty for allowing me to use these in my course, for example. So
that's one way to do it. Also, depending on how many viewers you're getting. I mean, I can imagine, especially with some free resources and such, and the website looks beautiful, it's very well laid out and it seems like it's a great resource. If people are visiting this quite a bit, you could potentially just start to at least supplement your income by including ads.
Now, it being in China, that may be a little bit more difficult. I don't know where this is hosted, but depending on that, I mean, it could be an issue or it could not be an issue, but there's a lot of people who have a lot of views on their webpages who are using something like AdThrive, which is a Google AdSense-like ad engine that you essentially just put some code on your website. And for every impression you'll get a few cents here and there. And of course that adds up over time and again can help supplement some of the income coming in there too. But again, I think affiliate marketing would be a huge play as well, and essentially licensing your products, your development here into other people's programs to me would be a quicker, but higher-leverage way to potentially go about monetizing this.
I completely agree with you. And actually we did put AdSense on the site, but it kind of gunked everything up; the algorithm wasn't very good, and we felt that the ads that were being served, they weren't relevant to our audience. And we just felt like the money that was coming in from it was not worth the devaluation of the site content.
I haven't tried AdThrive. But we also have done that real affiliate programs before, but even though we have this massive email audience, either the affiliate isn't willing to compensate us with a decent amount. Because a lot of the affiliates, for example, for us, would be, for example, one-on-one online tutor because we don't have that.
You know, that's something that's a very complementary product. But they have to pay their teachers, so it's not like a digital product where the margin is really big. It's a really small margin. And so we haven't found affiliates where it’s really worked out. We do have one on there that's on the sidebar that's been okay. And that's because they're willing to give us a bigger chunk than your average affiliate. And it's actually somebody that I personally know from China, and their business is quite complementary to us. And so that does supplement a little bit. It helps, but it's still not what I would like.
I just, I feel like I’m in a life raft in the middle of the ocean with just a bag of gold bullion, But I have like, no—there's no land in sight. I know that there's so much value here. I feel, we've tried a lot. We've actually, Holly and I both are big fans of AskPat and Smart Passive Income. And so we have a lot of those things that we've tried were based off of your awesome advice. We're really grateful that we have been able to make some of it work a little bit, but I think the main thing here is just, we need to create some kind of product, but I don't know how to connect with either like the professionals that we need to help us create this. Because it's a very specific niche. Like, it's not just a Chinese teacher; it needs to be a Chinese teacher who understands, because I've known lots of Chinese teachers. They're all Chinese. They don't understand how Westerners, how the needs are different when they're learning the written language. So it's a very specific subject.
And so I feel, I feel a little bit lost in what to do. And especially with the, with the limited amount of time, I guess, have been hoping to find the perfect partner who has the time, who sees the value, and who is willing to help us develop that. But still so far, it hasn't happened.
Yeah, I mean, number one: If you're in the middle of the ocean, you still have to have hope. You still have to look, you still have to search and row a little bit around, so it's not all lost. And this is a journey. I mean, all of us are on the same journey. And I think that understanding more about who it is that you want to work with is going to be most important.
Number one, I was a little bit—when you said, oh, like we have resources, but they're not offering like a big enough commission, that is a little bit of a red flag to me because it's like, well, you're holding back the service and the offering that you could give to your audience to be helpful simply because there's not money coming in. And I think that you could potentially see a lot more reward by working with others who might not have as high of a commission, but because it is providing that second half to the solution that was missing. And it's almost like if you went to somebody who was like, “Hey, can you teach me how to memorize Chinese?” And you were like, “You know, I could. I have the resources, but there is somebody that's helpful, but they're not going to pay me very much. So I don't want to give you that solution.” That's kind of how it can be perceived when that comes across.
And I know that's not necessarily what you mean, but for me, it’s like let's pour into helping the audience get what they need as much as possible. And right now you have some of that with the proprietary stuff that you have, but there could be other solutions and other people that you could work with. And I would still explore that as an option to see how you can complement others.
And I do hear you on the specificity and the specialty that you need. I'm looking at Angel's website now, from Mandarin HQ. And she was the one that you recommended in the sidebar, I think, is that correct? Angel Huang.
There's gotta be a way that both of you could work together in some way, shape or form where maybe, yes she implements her course. I think she has a course herself, and maybe she uses your templates, and as a result now you're not just putting her in the sidebar, which in my experience, just putting some one in the sidebar is not affiliate marketing. That's just like a, oh, this is nice. Most people don't even look at the sidebar. But when you make a campaign that says, “Hey, email subscribers, our templates are best used in a course that has memorization and stickiness in mind. And we cannot recommend anybody else, but angel over at Mandarin HQ, who actually uses our templates to teach. And here is a story of somebody…”
Actually, you could even maybe pull out a couple of people who want to test this with Angel and yourself to see how this works. Because when you start pulling out these stories of people who are using your templates and tools, and are going through her course, now people are more likely to go through it. Have you ever run a campaign where for two weeks, you're talking about how to use your templates and tools, and then basically showing people that they need a tutor, they need somebody like Angel to help. Have you ever run a campaign like that versus just sticking her in the sidebar and maybe a quick email or two?
We have, actually, we've had her on the front page. In the spot where you see right at the header, we've had her, we've had a big ad for about a year, actually. And we've also done several email series with her as well.
But for whatever reason, even though I think her stuff is great—and don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I'm not going to recommend something if it's not going to make us money—but we've had a lot of people see our, for example, our Facebook page, because it's so massive and they just want to get on there. And maybe we've made mistakes in the past, trusting that people are going to serve the audience with quality materials or has been misled before. But it seems like we give a lot of value and we just don't get anything back, and our audience—basically they're selling something to our audience.
So if I knew, if I was 100% certain that what was being sold was really going to help them then I wouldn't be as concerned about the profit margin, but because we've tried several times before with affiliates and we just—or I'm not sure whether they're being honest, like they're, not all of them have a proper system set up. And I think it's because it's such a niche market.
When you promote an affiliate product like Angel’s or whoever’s, are people buying it and then they're telling you this wasn't good, or are they not even buying it at all?
We did pitch one product and we put it in the email, and we've had, there were technical problems with it. And so all that, those issues came back to us. And I'm not sure whether or not that affiliate was being very honest in terms of how much, because we basically just had to trust them because they didn't have a formal platform set up to track the affiliate links or… this is also several years ago, so I think there's a lot better tools out there now. But we basically just had to believe them when they said, okay, we got this many sales from this many links.
And so I think Holly and I, we feel a little bit wary now, we've been burned before. And so I think we're, I'm less hesitant to go the affiliate route. Because I just feel like we give so much, and I don't want to just send our audience off here. And then I feel like we've sent them off before, and I'm not sure how much value they did get. And so that's why I'm more hesitant to go that way. I would really love to have a stronger hold on—I want to just backtrack a little bit to just say that Angel's course is great, but it deals with a completely different kind of learners. So it actually is not completely complementary to ours, because she focuses specifically on speaking. We focus specifically on writing, and in my experience, those two things do not happen in parallel. There's one type of learner that comes to our site who is kind of like a, I would say like a light learner. They think Chinese characters look cool. They want to get a tattoo. They want to find out more, but they're not really serious about learning how to read and write the language for the long term.
So there's that kind of learner, which I think is cool. Like, I think that there could be something to serve them with too. For a while, we had like a tattoo service, where if you wanted a Chinese tattoo. You could fill out a form and we would help you do a Chinese tattoo. I don't recommend this to people who are listening. It's kind of strange for Chinese people to see Chinese characters on your body, so I don't recommend it, but we actually have a really high ranking page for that search, like “get a Chinese tattoo.”
And then the other learners have usually studied the spoken Chinese first, and now they want to fill it in, because you can learn much faster how to speak before you can learn how to read and write. So a lot of people, including myself, when we started learning Chinese, because I started to learn Chinese in China, I just needed to speak it because I need to use it every day. And so I didn't start with learning the characters until years later. It’s a little bit of a disconnect. It's not the same as other language learning systems where you learn the two in parallel and they fit really well together. It's a bit disjointed. And so I can recommend a one-on-one tutor, but usually they're going to focus on the speaking part, in which case our templates, so we have like principle worksheets, ’is not going to be able to keep up. Like, you won't be able to do the worksheets as fast as you'll be able to learn how to say this stuff. So it's kind of tricky.
Yeah. It is a little bit tricky. It's very niche and specialized, like you said. There's a few things I would do to finish up here. Number one, again, I would see how you can integrate your worksheets into somebody else's stuff, and make a deal with them in that way. So instead of the affiliate marketing, which you've tried, like you said, and it didn't work, there are ways to track that now that are a lot easier than before. Plus, you can have things like bonuses that you will deliver to people who purchase through your link. And that's how you can verify when people come back to get the bonus, they send you an email. That's how you can be sure, just for future reference. But maybe going affiliate the other way. Maybe you have this bank of templates and tools that you can give people who have students access to, to complement what they're doing. And that might be really interesting.
I think also using this list to just learn more about what it is exactly that they need would give you some insight and some direction that you can go. Maybe it's just a simple question that you could ask, or maybe it is a little bit of a survey with three or four questions that might ask, like, “Okay, well, What are you struggling with right now?”
Or figuring out who perhaps has already learned how to write Chinese and then what they want to do next. Or perhaps people who haven't started, asking them questions like, “Well, why haven't you started yet? And what do you need to do that?” That can give you some insight.
And then if you ever end up working with somebody in the future, I think it would make sense to still continue that search for somebody who is that specialty, who you're looking for to complement what it is that you guys have. Do a little test first before you actually make like a huge announcement. Maybe for the people who emailed back to say, yeah, “I would love a tutor who could help me,” be like, “Great. I found a tutor. We're not sure, but would you like to be the person who tries it out, and maybe you can strike a deal with them to have them come in at half price or something?” Not even for an affiliate commission to start, just to like have some of your audience, a small micro test to see if that actually works out for them or not. And that way, if it doesn't work, then it's not something that you announce to everybody, but you can essentially take a few people through a test to see if it works. And if it does, great—that's your way to vet those people before doing what happened last time.
So there's probably a lot of other ways that we might be able to think about this. And I'd love for people who are listening to this episode to respond on Twitter, if you have a Twitter account, just to kind of offer some more advice based on your thoughts. I'm sure the audience is thinking of potentially other solutions too. Where might people Nora be able to reach out to you? Do you have a Twitter account that we can add you at to see if we can continue the conversation just to kind of brainstorm a little bit more?
I don't use Twitter so much these days. Can I give a Facebook page?
Yeah, sure. That's fine. Yeah.
Okay. For the podcast, we have “Two white chicks in China.” Two white chicks, and it’s spelled out t-w-o. That's our Facebook page, and that'll be the easiest way I think to reach us, but I will definitely be scanning the Twitter feed. So I really appreciate any input from anybody, or if there's anyone out there who's listening who understands the struggle of learning written Chinese and who thinks that they have cracked the method,
I would love to hear from you. I don't know if I can share, our email for the website is [email protected] So Holly and I are the only ones behind the scenes there. So we will get your message, and I would love any advice or opinions or partnerships. We're open to that. So thank you. Thank you for that opportunity.
Yeah, no worries, Nora and Holly. Thank you for being here. The other thing that came to mind was doing live workshops. Right. Maybe there is a way for you to charge a smaller dollar amount, maybe $29, $49 to come in for two hours to watch you with another group of people online in a Zoom call or something, just to kind of learn. They get access to the tools, they get access to the worksheets, and they can hear your instruction for just that two-hour period. It's not a course that you have to spend weeks on. It's like a two-hour workshop on this day, you sign up, you get people to come awesome. If you get no tickets sold, awesome, you validated that and you can try something else. But I think that could potentially work out with something so specialized that it seems like it's hard to find others. You guys know this space more than anybody it seems, and you guys are the experts. Just, there's not a lot of time. That could be a great way to sort of find a little bit of time to offer and get paid for, to supplement some of this stuff, at least for now.
Okay. That's a great idea.
Awesome. Well, thank you, Nora. We appreciate you. And this is fun brainstorming. Hopefully we can brainstorm even more. And I look forward to checking up on you later to see how things go.
Awesome. Thank you so much.
All right, I hope you enjoyed that conversation and coaching call with Nora. Again, you can find her and her website, WrittenChinese.com. That’s writtenchinese.com, and wishing you all the best, Nora. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing and just being vulnerable and letting us know what's going on and seeing how we might be able to help—not just me, but everybody listening. And thank you for providing your support email there at the end as well.
Speaking of support, if you are a listener and you'd like support from me as well, just like Nora got coached today, all you have to do is go to AskPat.com. You can find the application button there, and fill out that application. And I might reach out to you in the future and we can work it through. And thank you again, because these shows are about me helping the people on the other end, but also helping you the listener. And hopefully you've been enjoying the show. And if you have, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts; those go a very, very long way. And I appreciate you again for listening all the way through. Thanks so much. Take care, peace out, and I'll see you next week. Cheers, and Team Flynn for the win.
Thanks for listening to AskPat at AskPat.com. I'm your host, Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess. Our series producer is David Grabowski, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland. AskPat is a production of SPI Media. We'll catch you in the next session.
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