I am excited and grateful to be bringing the founder of Tiny Buddha— Lori Deschene here with you today. She created tinybuddha.com from pure passion, and a desire to serve.
From that place of giving, her blog has turned into a multi-million reader fan base, inspiring millions of people around the world.
Today Lori share’s her inspiring story and walks us through the journey.
Here we go…
Tell me in a few words what your online business is.
Tiny Buddha is an online community focused on personal development, featuring a multi-author blog, user forums, wisdom quotes, and uplifting artwork and videos. Since the site launched in 2009, it’s grown into one of the most popular inspirational sites on the web, with close to 1,000 blog contributors, nearly two million social media followers, and more than three million monthly readers.
I frequently refer to the site as a space where we’re all both students and teachers, as it’s all about supporting and learning from each other.
How many years have you been in this business?
It’s been four-and-a-half years now, though I wouldn’t have thought of the site as a business until three years ago, as that’s when I first launched an eBook and began selling ad space on the site.
Were there businesses you started before this one that helped you learn, or was this your first business and it succeeded?
Prior to starting the site, I did a lot of freelance writing work, but I’d never tried to start my own business. And I didn’t start Tiny Buddha with that intention, as I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur or business owner and had a little bit of a block in seeing myself that way.
I started the site because it was something I needed to do for my healing and something I wanted to do to help other people who’d experienced similar things. It evolved into a business, and I’m so grateful for how the site and I have grown together.
And, what line of work were you in before you decided to go on the entrepreneurial road? Did your past work and connections help in the growth of your present online business?
I previously worked as a content and community manager for a few different websites and also freelanced for ‘tween magazines. Before that, I worked in childcare, sales, social services, telemarketing, and promotional marketing, in that order.
All of these experiences prepared for me for my work on Tiny Buddha. My earlier work in childcare supplemented my knowledge of developmental psychology (something I learned a great deal about in my years of therapy), which has informed a lot of my writing. Writing for the ‘tween magazines helped, as well, as I learned a lot from the editors who helped shape the self-help articles I wrote.
My work in sales, telemarketing, and promotional marketing helped me understand what motivates people to take action, whether it’s making a purchase or clicking on a blog post in their Twitter feed.
And my work in content and community management provided me with a solid understanding of what it takes to create engaging content and build a strong community.
Tell me what the growing pain stages were like (if you went through them)
I’ve definitely had my share of growing pains! The first pertained to my early desire to keep myself anonymous (as I had been when Tiny Buddha was only a daily quote Twitter account).
I knew I wanted to create a community blog where lots of people could share their stories and life lessons, but I thought if I put myself out there, it would suddenly be or seem to be all about me—so I didn’t even acknowledge who I was.
This was, of course, poor logic, and it was contrary to what I really wanted, since I craved genuine connection.
I was writing and tweeting these short, anonymous posts, which failed to make an impression; in fact, I actually received tweets and emails telling me to stop linking to the site because I was “ruining Tiny Buddha.” I had (what I thought were) the best intentions, and I felt like I was failing.
I then realized that if I wanted to create a community where people really opened up, shared themselves, and connected with each other, I had to be willing to lead by example, which I started doing a few months in. The site started taking off once I started going all in with my writing, but there were certainly more growing pains to be had—far too numerous to list here!
Ok, let’s get nitty gritty and really share with our listeners how you made things happen. What specifically helped to grow your business? Did it start local and then you went global to the online world, or did you forgo the local scene and focus on making your presence known online?
As odd as this may sound, I’ve never really tried to grow Tiny Buddha as a business. In fact, I’ve been pretty slow with everything, and I’ve let things happen organically. It took me a year and a half to monetize at all. I’ve never pursued advertisers; I’ve waited for them to contact me. And I only recently created my first eCourse and the first Tiny Buddha app.
In the beginning, I wasn’t very proactive because I had mixed feelings about turning Tiny Buddha into a business. The site has always meant so much to me that I feared somehow tainting it by commercializing it.
I think perhaps my slow approach on the business side has actually helped the site grow, which in turn has helped with the books/products I’ve launched.
We’ve all grown weary of the ubiquitous ads we see all over the web, whether it’s a pop-up, a pop-under, or something animated and highly distracting.
I think people find it refreshing to see a site where advertising does not overtake the posts or the purpose, and that’s been a goal of mine since I’ve started making a living through Tiny Buddha: to always remember that readers’ attention is a gift, and my job is to be mindful of what I choose to share with them, and how.
Take us through it. Many people say how they make these huge sums of cash but that can be overwhelming to start-up entrepreneurs who just want to clear 500$ a month, never mind 5K in a day! So take us through the journey a little bit. Take us through the journey of that first online dollar and how it grew to the point of you being fully sovereign in your business.
I first earned money through an eBook that I no longer promote. It was a compilation of some of the posts I’d written during the site’s first year.
After that, I began selling ads directly to sponsors; I didn’t want to run network ads, through something like Google AdSense, because I wanted to approve every product and graphic that appeared on the site.
It was a little slow going, and I rarely filled even half the available ad space, but it was a start.
In 2011, my first print book came out (Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions). The following year, I launched my Tiny Wisdom eBook series, which contains five eBooks on love, self-love, happiness, pain, and mindfulness. In 2013, my second print book came out (Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself), right after I launched my eCourse (Recreate Your Life Story: Change the Script and Be the Hero). Around the same time, I attracted my first big advertiser, and that takes us today.
The site now earns through a combination of the books, eBooks, the eCourse, some affiliate earnings (through Amazon), and advertising. Hopefully soon, I’ll add apps to the mix. It’s all built slowly over five years, so my advice to any entrepreneur just starting out is to take it one step at a time and don’t worry so much about growth. All the small steps add up if you focus on each one as you take it.
What are the key specific things you do on a daily and weekly business that have led to growth and continue to help you sustain your business?
Every day, I work with writers who want to contribute to the site, whether that means reading new submissions, offering editorial feedback, or reading revisions. Every day, I engage with readers through emails, comments, and/or forum postings. And on most days, I spend time working on new ideas for the site’s growth.
I try to pay attention to what readers like, want, and need, and I aim to find ways to address that while addressing what I like, want, and need. That, I’ve learned, is hugely important. I am most effective when I’m working on things I enjoy, which is why I don’t host workshops or seminars. I simply have no desire to do it, even though it could be a natural progression for Tiny Buddha.
I focus on doing the things I love doing, and I think it makes a difference. As cliché as it sounds, I believe passion is the key to success.
When starting an online business whether you have a tangible good to sell, coaching, or an info-product people need to know about you. What would you say helped you get clients and continues to sustain client/customer retention to keep your online business alive?
I haven’t ever really focused on getting new customers. I’ve focused on building a site that continually attracts new readers, and that’s how I’ve attracted new customers. I’ve yet to explore any advertising outside of Tiny Buddha, but I’m sure I will some day. For now, I’ve been focusing on the site and letting the business side evolve as a natural extension of the effort there.
And if you had any final piece of advice/wisdom to share to aspiring or struggling online entrepreneurs what would it be?
Realize that struggle brings lessons and growth, and that slow going is still going. You may not be earning the money you’d like to earn yet, but if you are showing up every day and putting in the effort, you can trust that each tiny step will take you where you don’t yet know you need to go.
It can be tough to have faith in the process when you can’t see how all the tiny dots will add up, but the only way to find out is to stay focused, be consistent, and keep going.
Huge Gratitude to Lori for sharing amazing advice and inspiration.
Now it’s YOUR turn. I’d love to hear what 1 thing was most inspiring to you? What’s your top takeaway? Please share your insights in the comments below