I’m a big believer in simply getting started. Whatever I am working on, whether it’s a new blog post, video, review, or a testing philosophy, I just try to get started as quickly as possible.
Derek Hales is a digital marketing professional, WordPress enthusiast, content creation aficionado, and lover all things digital. Derek is the founder and author of Sleepopolis. Sleepopolis is dedicated to helping sleepers research, compare, and find mattresses and other sleep products best suited to their needs. When not working on Sleepopolis Derek enjoys cooking, table tennis, golf, tennis, and PC gaming.
Where did the idea for Sleepopolis come from?
Sleepopolis came quite by accident. My wife and I got married last summer and we needed a new mattress. When we first got married we were sleeping on my old innerspring full sized mattress. We started looking at mattresses at stores near our apartment. We were shocked by the prices but accepted them because we didn’t know any better. We were on the verge of spending $5,000 on a new mattress when a co-worker of mine introduced me to Tuft & Needle (one of the first major online mattress companies), which at the time was selling their King size mattress for $600. I was unfamiliar with them but decided to give them a try due to their 100 night trial period. Tuft & Needle didn’t work out for my wife and me, but it did open my eyes to the online mattress industry that was just beginning to flourish. We ordered another online mattress and I decided to create a little 5-page blog to review these mattresses, compare them, and help answer questions about them. Sleepopolis grew slowly, averaging a few hundred visitors a day for the first few months. Despite the modest following, I was getting great feedback from my readers and requests for more reviews. I added more reviews, guides, and videos wherever my readers were asking for them. Sleepopolis has continued to grow both in content and readership and has become one of the preeminent authorities on mattress reviews and sleep help.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
In a typical day, I usually spend 4-5 hours working on my next review, tutorial, video, or guide for Sleepopolis. I believe in creating the highest quality content possible, content at that level requires a great deal of research, writing, formatting, editing, testing, photography, and videos. I try to create at least one piece of content for Sleepopolis each day. I spend around 2-3 hours per day answering emails, building relationships, and engaging with my social followers. Lastly, I try to spend 30 minutes a day doing other misc. administration tasks.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m a big believer in simply getting started. Whatever I am working on, whether it’s a new blog post, video, review, or a testing philosophy, I just try to get started as quickly as possible. I’ve spent far too many days of my life not getting started, always trying to wait until I had all the answers or an amazing long range plan. I would say, “trial and error” is my primary process. When I first started Sleepopolis it was a bit of a mess, the review methodology was an overly simply, there weren’t enough objective tests, and the content just wasn’t that engaging. Over time, I have refined my testing process and improved the engagement on-site with more visuals, videos, and a deeper level of helpful content.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The growth of the mobile industry is really interesting and exciting. I am continually amazed at the volume of traffic I receive that’s mobile or tablet based. As we move forward I think we’re only going to see more and more mobile traffic, with some people exclusively browsing via mobile and tablets vs. traditional PCs or laptops. Anyone with a website will need to ensure they are fully optimized and designed for mobile users in mind. Mobile payments (like Apple Pay and Google Wallet), integrated experiences between all mobile devices, mobile wearables, and cross-device retargeting (with a mobile emphasis) are all going to see a dramatic growth over the next 12-24 months.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I try to only respond to emails 2-3 times a day. I receive lots of questions about what mattress to buy and other sleep-related questions. These come in at all hours of the day and night, but I try to save them and respond in batches. This allows me to keep me focus on my other daily tasks without breaking my concentration every 10 minutes as emails come in. I typically respond to urgent business related emails first thing in the morning, do a batch of reader support emails early afternoon, and one final email check in the late evening.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Painting the outside of houses at the height of the Kansas City summer as a red head. Exhaustion and severe sun burns were my only companions that summer. It was a very difficult job, and while I have respect for people who can do that all the time, I certainly was not one of them. The greatest thing I learned was simply that I wanted something different for my career. I feel very blessed and fortunate to do what I do today. Despite the tough jobs I’ve worked in the past, I’m eternally grateful for those experiences. They helped inspire the drive to push myself to shoot for the jobs, career, and dreams that I truly wanted for myself.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would spend a little more time to come up with a longer range plan. When I first launched Sleepopolis I really had no expectation that it would grow to this level. As a result, there were some major improvements that had to be made fairly quick with regards to the web design, domain, content structure, URL structure, social channels, among others. A little bit more planning would have helped save me quite a bit of time.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Take time to nurture and grow your relationships, even ones that you may not think are particularly valuable at first glance. I spend a lot of time answering emails, responding to comments, and engaging on social media. Some might say I should spend less time on this and more time simply doing more reviews and growing my content base. However, I believe that by providing a high level of personalized help is the biggest factor in Sleepopolis’ success. My readers trust me and appreciate this approach. Each person I help becomes a loyal reader and may recommend me to a friend or share Sleepopolis over social. I have had countless reader referrals come to Sleepopolis for help and the positive response and appreciation has been truly overwhelming.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Personalized and rapid reader engagement and support. I try to respond to reader questions (both email and over social) within 12 hours and I never ignore a reader’s comments. I feel that if someone is taking the time to send me a question or comment I should always take the time to respond. I value each and every one of my readers. Without their support, Sleepopolis couldn’t exist. I have seen a tremendous amount of reader referrals, word-of-mouth growth, and an explosion of branded interest around Sleepopolis resulting from this tactic (and other cross-over tactics).
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
A few months ago I had an email conversation that I could have handled much better. A very small mattress company requested a review, which I ultimately declined as I felt their product and service offering just didn’t align to the needs or interests of my readers. Needless to say, this upset the company owner quite a bit. In this particular case, I was unable to overcome the failure and find an agreeable solution. However, the experience did provide valuable insights into how I could (and should) have better handled the conversation. It’s a mistake I hope I don’t ever make again.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’m really intrigued by monthly subscription based boxed good businesses. These have been around for years, but it seems that as it has become easier organize, shop for, and ship these products we’re starting to see more and more of these pop up. I’m a huge fan of Amazon Prime Pantry. I order 1-2 boxes per month of various food, bathroom, kitchen, and other non-food products. The great thing about this idea, you could take it literally any direction that you fancied. For example, here’s a recent success of a niche box for power chewing dogs, . A tightly niched box could setup and align perfectly with the right content marketing strategy to support the growth of the organic traffic stream.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Micca MB42X Bookshelf Speakers, $89.00 on Amazon. Useful for both work and pleasure. I’m on the
computer working or gaming 12-14 hours a day and these speakers help keep me sane. This is the first pair of higher end speakers I’ve owned (previously I just bought the sets in a box). The Micca’s look sleek and put out loud, clear, lossless audio. Absolutely stunning quality for the money. Pair these with a basic amp and you’re in business.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
My days working for a search agency grew a love for ScreamingFrog ). While it’s designed as a tool to crawl websites for SEO purposes there are numerous other uses, including competitor research, content audits, redirect checker, among others. This is my go-to tool anytime I need to do serious SEO work or I want a high-level quick look through a 3rd party website. QuickBooks Online is another one of my favorites. It’s inexpensive, fairly intuitive, and easy to use. Additionally, it has enough functionality that I should be able to use it for the next several years as my business grows and expands. Lastly, Dollar Photo Club. $10 / month for up to 10 photos. Good selection, great quality, and ultra-high resolution. I try to do all of my own photography, but eventually I come to photos that I just cannot take myself. There’s where Dollar Photo Club comes in.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Outliers takes a bit of the mystery out of what makes successful people. I think that many people view successful people as overly talented from birth or just lucky. And I don’t want to discount the influence of those factors, but a much more important indicator to success is simply the number of hours spent practicing. Gladwell proposes a “10,000-hour” rule, in which anyone can master any skill with 10,000 hours. Gladwell offers several examples who have followed this 10,000-hour rule, including Bill Gates and the Beetles. Since its publication, some critics have said that the 10,000-hour rule isn’t accurate, stating many cases in which more or fewer hours are required. However, I think the underlying principle is what’s most important; excellence is achieved through practice, hard work, and dedication.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I was an avid reader of ProBlogger, built by Darren Rowse, in high school and college. His ideas around content creation and content marketing made sense to me and it’s something I’ve tried to emulate on my own websites. Tim Ferriss’ Four Work Week was another one of my favorites. While I’m not sure that the four hour work week dream actually exists, Tim makes a lot of great points in his book and on his blog to help improve efficiency and time management. Lastly, Mr. Money Mustache. One of the most popular blogs about building wealth, retiring early, and letting your money work for you.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.