JULIE BALL: “The subscription-box business model that I love is the recurring-revenue model. Can you imagine, you know, not chasing those one-time sales all the time, but rather chase that sale, and then it automatically renews for you every thirty days or every sixty days, however long your sales cycle is? And so unlike one-off sales, like, that is more predictable, that feels more stable, you can plan better, and so you can start a subscription box or add it to your existing business by, you know, thinking about what type of products your existing audience might like to get on the regular. So that's the first way.
“Now, I realize that there's a lot of moving parts to a subscription box, so you might not want to start your own. But the second way that you can grow your business with a subscription box is pitching yourself to be in a subscription box. And so—”
AMY PORTERFIELD: “Oh, okay.”
JULIE: “Yeah. —so you want to be featured in a box. So maybe you have a product and that product could be featured in a subscription box to a complimentary-but-non-competing business. You're getting in front of so many new people, that visibility factor. But if you have a digital course or you're a service provider, you can still pitch yourself to be featured in a subscription box.
“And let me give you a quick example. So Sparkle Hustle Grow, which is the subscription box that I ran—it's for female entrepreneurs—every month included a book. So if you're an author, pitch your book. Every month it included office supplies, tech gadgets, and stationery, right? So if you're a product, there you go. But it also featured a guest expert. Someone would come in and give us business training. So over the course of six years, that’s, like, seventy-two virtual stages that I’m providing.”
AMY: “Wow. I love this idea.”
JULIE: “Right? So this gets you in front of that audience on this virtual stage. And we've featured many DCA alumni.”
INTRO: I’m Amy Porterfield, ex-corporate girl turned CEO of a multi-seven-figure business. But it wasn't all that long ago that I lacked the confidence, the budget, and the time to focus on growing my small-but-mighty business. Fast forward past many failed attempts and lessons learned, and you'll see the business I have today, one that changes lives and gives me more freedom than I ever thought possible, one that used to only exist as a daydream. I created the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast to give you simple, actionable, step-by-step strategies to help you do the same. If you're an ambitious entrepreneur, or one in the making, who's looking to create a business that makes an impact and a life you love, you're in the right place, friend. Let's get started.
AMY: The Duct Tape Marketing podcast, hosted by John Jantsch, shares marketing tips, tactics, and resources for small- to midsize-business owners and marketers. John recently did an episode where he talked about the topic of analytics, specifically tracking results either for your own business or your clients who you work with. The episode’s called “What You Should Be Tracking in Your Marketing Efforts and Why.” And I know my audience. I know you love to know benchmarks and numbers and analytics and what you should be tracking. So you are going to love this episode. He also talks about the other marketing aspects, like how to support your customers and build an online community.
So, you can listen to the Duct Tape Marketing podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Enjoy.
Well, hey, there, friend. Welcome back to Online Marketing Made Easy.
Listen, have you ever noticed just how popular subscription boxes are these days? I mean, anything from hair care to workout clothes, you can get a personalized box delivered right to your door. It's definitely a savvy business idea, and for the recipient, something exciting to look forward to each subscription cycle.
One of my students has actually gone on to create an extremely successful subscription-box business, and she recently sold the business as well. Her name is Julie Ball, and she's the founder and former chief sparkler of Sparkle Hustle Grow, a monthly subscription and online community for female entrepreneurs. So she definitely caters to much of my audience.
Sparkle Hustle Grow has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur on Fire, POPSUGAR, Mashable, and USA Today. So, no biggie, right? Julie is an author, speaker, community builder, and a subscription-box coach, which is going to play a big part in our conversation today. She also has a digital course called the Subscription Box Bootcamp.
In today's episode, she's going to share why you may want to consider adding a subscription box to your digital course or online business and how it can significantly benefit your bottom line. Then, we're going to get into the step-by-step process of just how you would get started adding a subscription box to your business, from how to decide what your box concept and focus should be to how the industry works and how the heck to even get started. This episode is full of resources I've never known about before, nor have I ever shared, so this is a very unique episode. We're also going to talk about three ways to incorporate a subscription box into your existing business, and I think you might find some of the simple strategies very surprising.
Listen, if you’re thinking you should skip this episode because you're thinking, “You know, I'm never going to create a subscription box,” stay with me here. I urge you to stick around because I got an idea for this episode that surprised me. I'm not going to create a subscription box, but I very much want to be involved in one. So I'm not going to give it away. She's going to give so many great ideas. I think you're going to spark some creativity from this episode.
So not only has this been a game changer for Julie's business, it's provided her with tons of flexibility and freedom. But it has also given her the chance to retire her husband from a toxic teaching job. So what she is going to share has been life changing for her, and it could be for you as well. So keep an open mind.
I think you're going to be very pleasantly surprised of how easy and fun it would be to incorporate something like this into your business. So enough from me. We're going to invite Julie to the show.
All right, let's get to it.
Hey, there, Julie. Thanks so much for coming on the show. I've been really looking forward to this conversation.
JULIE: Me, too. I am so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
AMY: Oh, my goodness. We have so much to cover. Here's the thing. I want to start at the top with your story. I want to talk about how the heck did you start a company that is a subscription-box company? I don't know a lot of people who have a subscription-box company, so I'm very curious how you got your start. And I want you to tell me more about your company, Sparkle Hustle Grow.
Funny, I just said, “Your company.” However, the day we reached out to you to have you come on the show was the day after you had just announced you sold your company.
JULIE: Yep. Surprise.
AMY: And we didn’t know. So that was perfect timing. So now we get to talk about how the evolution kind of moved into you actually selling it, which is very exciting.
So, we’ll get there, but let’s start at the beginning. Talk to me about how you got started.
JULIE: Yes. It all started in 2011, when I left my corporate career, something that you and probably a lot of your audience is very familiar with, the exit strategy. And I left a ten-plus career in music marketing, radio, that type of industry. And I left because I had my daughter, McKenna, who is now eleven—it's hard to believe—but I felt like I needed an out, like a real reason to leave. And in hindsight, I know that I didn't need that. I can choose my mental health as the reason. I can choose that it's just not a good fit as my reason.
But I knew that it was the wrong place for me when I was in a sales-manager position—and it was a mostly male-dominated industry—I showed up. I had on cute pants. I had on, you know, a professional top, but I wore my Chucks to work that day. And it did not go over well with my boss. And he's like, “You can't wear Chucks to work.” I was like, “What? I work in radio. What do you mean I can't wear Chucks to work?” And for that, for whatever reason, that just kind of—it was that moment in my head where I was like, “Okay, this really isn't the right fit for me.” I know that sounds silly, but it helped me make that decision.
AMY: Yeah. Just little things kind of just spark that, “Ooh, maybe it's time I move on.” And it could be as simple as your Chucks.
JULIE: Exactly, exactly. So I became a stay-at-home mom, and I was side hustling during nights, naps, and weekends, creating websites and doing social media for other businesses.
And at the time, I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina, and we decided to move to the mountains, where we live now. We live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Asheville area. And I was just getting really lonely behind the screen because I didn't have any new friends in my new town. I was doing all my work behind a computer. And so I had this void that I started filling with subscription boxes, with happy mail, like retail therapy. I know, not great, but it was filling this void.
And so I subscribed to some boxes like Yogi Surprise, which would help me with my yoga practice; HelloFresh, which helps me prepare meals; and Stitch Fix, which helped me find clothes that I loved and felt good in, because if I looked good, I felt good. And so I was opening these boxes. I was being surprised and delighted, and it was just making me really happy in a time where I felt really lonely. And as an entrepreneur, we can all oftentimes feel like we're on an island, you know. And so it was filling that void.
And I just thought to myself, “What if I put stuff in a box for entrepreneurs? because that's what I am.” As I look back at my receipts and I saw that I bought lots and lots of books, personal development, professional development. I bought lots of office supplies, not just your generic blue or black pen, but, like, cute things; maybe things for the wall, with affirmations; cute notepads. And then, finally, courses. Of course, I buy lots of courses. I mean, talking to the course queen here.
So I thought to myself, “If I put those things in a subscription box and deliver it monthly, it might have legs.” I didn't know. Like, I hadn't validated the concept yet. But that's kind of how it all started, where I was looking at my own receipts, trying to fill a void and serve other female entrepreneurs.
And it's funny because I thought that through the subscription box I would find more clients to build websites from. And I'm like, “That is the most expensive lead magnet ever.”
AMY: Oh, my goodness. Because you were building websites on the side?
JULIE: Yeah, yeah.
AMY: Okay. Got it.
JULIE: And here we are, within nine months, it was able to replace my full-time income. And so that was enough for me to say, “Okay, I'm going all in on this.”
AMY: And the business, so you had it—did I hear you right?—for about eleven years?
JULIE: No. So I started my first business in 2011, but I launched Sparkle Hustle Grow in 2016. That's when we moved to Asheville. And so as of now, you know, when I sold the business, I had it for almost six years.
AMY: Six years. Got it.
JULIE: Yeah. During that time, we sent over sixty-five thousand boxes and almost two and a half million dollars in sales. So I guess it had legs, right?
AMY: Yes, absolutely. Okay. This is so cool.
Now, the reason I wanted you to come on the show is that you actually have this unique perspective of how a subscription box can go along with a digital course or an online business. So I'm dying to hear more about your simple ways to add this to an existing business. And can you share some of those tips?
JULIE: Yes. So I've broken it down into three simple ways. Like, we need to keep—I love keeping things simple, so let's do that.
JULIE: So the first way that you can do that is by starting your own box business, whether you're starting it from scratch or that you might add it as an additional stream of revenue in an existing business. So think about, one of the things about the subscription-box business model that I love is the recurring-revenue model. Can you imagine, you know, not chasing those one-time sales all the time, but rather chase that sale, and then it automatically renews for you every thirty days or every sixty days, however long your sales cycle is? And so unlike one-off sales, like, that is more predictable, that feels more stable, you can plan better, and so you can start a subscription box or add it to your existing business by, you know, thinking about what type of products your existing audience might like to get on the regular. So that's the first way.
Now, I realize that there's a lot of moving parts to a subscription box, so you might not want to start your own. But the second way that you can grow your business with a subscription box is pitching yourself to be in a subscription box. And so—
AMY: Oh, okay.
JULIE: Yeah. —so you want to be featured in a box. So maybe you have a product and that product could be featured in a subscription box to a complimentary-but-non-competing business. You're getting in front of so many new people, that visibility factor. But if you have a digital course or you're a service provider, you can still pitch yourself to be featured in a subscription box.
And let me give you a quick example. So Sparkle Hustle Grow, which is the subscription box that I ran—it's for female entrepreneurs—every month included a book. So if you're an author, pitch your book. Every month it included office supplies, tech gadgets, and stationery, right? So if you're a product, there you go. But it also featured a guest expert. Someone would come in and give us business training. So over the course of six years, that’s, like, seventy-two virtual stages that I’m providing.
AMY: Wow. I love this idea.
JULIE: Right? So this gets you in front of that audience on this virtual stage. And we've featured many DCA alumni, like Jamie Trull. She came in and taught us about business finance. We've featured Bevin Farrand from, yeah, Take the Damn Trip. And this month in particular that we're recording this, October, Lianne Kim. So all of those people have been through DCA.
And you can see how if you cultivate those relationships and you can pitch yourself—just like you're pitching yourself on other stages or maybe you're pitching yourself to the media, you can pitch yourself to be featured in a subscription box.
AMY: Ah, fantastic. I didn't even think of it that way. Do you think your subscription box is super unique in the sense that you do feature people? Have you seen that elsewhere?
JULIE: I've seen it a lot. It's unique in some ways. But the fact is, subscription-box business owners right now just can't send a box of stuff and expect you to keep coming back. Subscription-box business owners want to create an experience.
So, yes, they're curating the products, but what can they do beyond the box? So a lot of them are creating communities. A lot of them are creating events, whether they’re virtual or in-person. A lot of them have other experiential factors beyond those products.
So yeah. All you have to do is go to Google or YouTube, or you can search on the Cratejoy subscription-box marketplace to find boxes that serve your niche.
AMY: Cratejoy, you said?
JULIE: Yeah. Cratejoy is a subscription-box marketplace. Think of, like, Etsy, where it’s a marketplace for handmade goods; Cratejoy is the same thing but for subscription-box business. And I swear there's a box for everything out there.
AMY: Who knew? That's a great resource. Anyone thinking about starting a subscription box, check that out. Anyone wanting to get into somebody else's subscription box, check that out. I love that.
Okay. So that’s two different ways. What’s your third?
JULIE: The third one is to subscribe to a box. So you can get the support that you need to grow personally and professionally. Of course, we've already mentioned Sparkle Hustle Grow, but I know your audience is diverse.
What if you're a teacher? So maybe you could subscribe to a teacher box. One of my students, Dawn, she has a box for teachers called Teach Sparkle Pop. And it helps them create the lives in the classrooms that they dream of.
I have a student who has a box for nurses. Her name's Karen, and she has the Resilient Nurse Box. But listen, it's not just a box of stuff to help a nurse get through their day. She also has an online community where other nurses can support each other. And she does resilience training.
So that's what I was saying. Subscription-box business owners, there's more than just a box of stuff. There's just so much support surrounding it and virtual aspects of it as well.
AMY: So I feel like subscription boxes have come a long way. And I also think that you've led the way in terms of creating an experience versus just a box of stuff. So I know you're a big advocate for that, and I really do love that.
And some people are listening right now, and they're thinking, “Okay, I could see how this could possibly work in my business, actually creating a subscription box.” So where do you even start?
Now, I know you have a five-step crash course on setting up a subscription box in your business. So can you walk us through that crash course so my listeners, if they wanted to get started, they actually know this is what it looks like?
JULIE: Yeah. So those five, I like to think of them as these simple, clear-cut steps. They're going to take probably about two to three months to get through unless you have an existing list, like a lot of your listeners might already have a list or if they have an existing business.
But the first step is going to be to validate your concept. You probably saw that coming. I mean, just like any business, you need to validate your concept. You need to think about, specifically with a subscription box, what's going to be in it? What audience are you going to serve? What problem are you going to solve and how you're going to solve it with the products or the community, or what other aspects are you going to bring to the table to help that person?
So the first step is definitely validating your concept. And it's asking questions, too. Like, asking your ideal-target audience, “If I sent this box to you monthly, what would you want in that box? Like, what are the dream brands that you would want to show up in your doorstep every month?” So that's the whole concept of validating your concept.
And then the second one, the second step would be to just start growing and nurturing that audience. This is probably music to your ears, right? You got to grow that email list.
JULIE: So in my experience, people are going to buy, or be a founding member in your subscription box, from your email list, not from social media. And so it's really important to grow that email list and to take them along the journey. So as you're building that box business, show them the behind the scenes. You know, do a logo reveal. Ask them questions like, “This product or that product?” and let them help you guide those decisions. If they're a part of the journey while you're building it behind the scenes, they're going to be so primed to buy at launch. And so I think it's really important to, you know, grow and nurture that email list because, I mean, that's who your buyer’s going to be. It's going to be from your email list.
And my favorite way to grow the email list—just a giveaway, just fun fact—I love a giveaway, and with a product-based business like a subscription box, it's a no-brainer what you're going to give away. You can just give away a box or a three-month subscription.
And I have to tell you this quick story. So as a rookie, I didn't have anyone to tell me back in 2016 how to start a subscription-box business. I wish I had that, but I didn't. And so I thought I would launch with a giveaway and make it a twelve-month subscription. Like, someone's going to win a whole year of Sparkle Hustle Grow, which was great. Everyone was really excited. It really helped me grow my email list.
But I forgot, as I fulfilled that product, I forgot to turn off the auto renew. And so on month thirteen, it charged her, like, a five-hundred-dollar fee, you know, whatever the twelve-month subscription at the time was. And she was so angry, and I had mud on my face. I felt so bad. But it was just a rookie mistake.
And so if I can give someone, you know, a little bit of feedback, you don't have to give twelve months away. Three months would be enough. But make sure it also doesn't auto renew.
AMY: Oh, that’s such a great point. It’s the things that we just don't know to even think about. So what you would do is you would do kind of like a contest. Like, enter to win three months of the subscription box, and then one lucky winner would get that?
JULIE: Yes. And I used KingSumo as the software to run it. I like simple, and KingSumo is very simple. It also has that viral capability where I was asking them, “Come back every day and enter again. Share this for more entries.” And I recommend KingSumo, and Kickoff Labs is a great one, too. I recommend those to all my students to help kick start that email-list growth when you're in that pre-launch stage.
AMY: Got it. Okay. And when you do that, is the box ready to go or is that winner waiting till that first box is created?
JULIE: Yeah, that's a great question and a great segue into my third step is that product development, where you're going to create a prototype. You don't have to buy your boxes and your products that far out. And I'll get into that in a minute.
But you do have to mock up a box or two to physically see, like, what does this look like? Start sharing that with your customers. You could go to somewhere like Target and bring home your haul of goodies of items that you would maybe put in the box, share that with your audience, and ask them, “What gets you most excited? Which of these products would you love to see in the box?” And so you start, during that product-development phase, you're going to just literally mock up a pretend box. You're going to play around with pricing and just, you know, see what it physically would look like, because this is very different than a course. A course, it's all PDFs, and it's videos. This is physical product.
And I want to share a little secret about this stage with this product development, and this is literally the make or break of making money with a subscription-box business. So with my story of going to Target, let's just say I'm going to buy a notepad, like, a cute notepad to put in Sparkle Hustle Grow. Maybe I'll pay ten dollars for that notepad, retail price. Well, the secret to making money with a subscription box is by buying wholesale. And I don't know if you've talked about wholesale much on your podcast or not, but wholesale, essentially, is when you're going to resell a product, you can go directly to the manufacturer and buy in bulk for a discounted price. And the rule of thumb is typically about 50 precent.
JULIE: Right? So say I bought that notepad at Target for ten dollars. If I went directly to the manufacturer, I could probably buy it in bulk for five dollars. That’s how you make money with a subscription-box business because you’re paying less than retail. So it’s really important to know that you—most states, you have to just get a reseller’s license, which, in most states, doesn't cost anything. And then you can just reach out to companies and say, “I'd like to set up a wholesale account,” or you can go to a marketplace, a wholesale marketplace, like Faire—that's F-A-I-R-E—the Faire marketplace connects you to thousands of small-business owners who will sell their products to you at a wholesale rate.
AMY: Nice. Okay. These are resources we've never talked about on the show before, so this is really valuable.
AMY: Now, I have some questions, but I think I'm going to hold them because I want you to get through your steps, and then I'll circle back.
JULIE: Okay. The fourth step is tech time. Just like any online business, you're going to have to carve out time to create your website, right? So that’s a no-brainer. You’ll need shipping software. You’ll need a credit-card processor like Stripe or PayPal. But the unique thing about tech time with subscription-box businesses is you need to make sure that you have a recurring-cart software.
So for example, most out-of-the-box software, you're going to be able to sell a one-time product. Well, you need to make sure that you have software that is capable of charging those renewals every thirty days or every sixty days or however often you do that renewal. So there's specific softwares out there for this type of business. Some of my favorites are Cratejoy. They also have software. Subbly, and then even Shopify. That's one of the most popular online-cart softwares, and you can add an app from their app store so that it does that recurring-cart software.
So, again, just like any online business, you got to make sure that you set up all your online systems. So that's number four, tech time.
And then the fifth one, I like to include this. This is called a presale. And for your listeners, I would liken it to that, like, fast-action-taker bonus or that early-bird bonus that a lot of students will use for a course. It just helps you get a little money in the bank before your actual first sales cycle starts.
So I'll break it down. Think about a subscription-box sales cycle as a thirty-day sales cycle a month. You're selling that box during those thirty days. Once those thirty days are up, you move on to the next box. So it's just this, like, repetitive cycle.
So in order to extend that first cycle at launch, just so you have a little bit of extra time, I like to do a presale, which would be anywhere, it could be a day early or it could be a week early. I did a week early, so I had a five-week sales cycle instead of a four-week sales cycle. Again, it just helped me get that head start. I think I made about fifteen hundred dollars in that presale, which gave me the money I needed to start buying my actual boxes and some of those products.
So it's—not everybody does a presale, but I like it because it gives you that little bit of kick start—you know what I mean?—right before your founding-members’ launch.
AMY: Got it. So the presale is you've never kicked off a box yet, but you're allowing yourself just a little extra time to ramp up and get those orders in before you fulfill your first subscription-box order.
JULIE: Exactly. And you can really use marketing techniques, too, to share with your VIP list, “You have access to this presale; the general public doesn't. So you get first dibs.” Maybe I cap it at a hundred, which is what I did. I said, “I'm only going to sell a hundred in the founding-members’ launch. So you get first dibs.”
Now, I'll tell you, behind the scenes, I only sold, like, forty-five or fifty in that first founding-members’ launch. But that doesn't matter.
AMY: No one needs to know.
JULIE: Yeah! I mean, capped it at a hundred because, one, that would allow me to plan. I didn't want to feel overwhelmed and say, “I have no idea how many I'm going to sell.” I was just going to plan for, “Okay, I’m going to try to sell a hundred.”
And I knew that the finances supported that as well. I didn't want to be stressed. I didn't want to get in over my head in month one. So I called my email list “my VIPs.” I said, “You guys get first access to a limited-time founding-members’ launch. And if you order during this presale, you're going to get an extra item in your first box.”
AMY: Oh, cool.
JULIE: Oh, that one worked really well. Yeah, they loved that.
AMY: I bet.
So, it turns out solving complex marketing problems doesn't require complicated, difficult-to-use systems. A HubSpot customer-relationship-management platform is easy to use and impossible to outgrow so that scaling your business can feel like something that comes easily to you. That's because HubSpot connects your people, your customers, and your data, so everyone is on the same page, allowing you to spend less time thinking about and managing software and more time creating better customer experiences at every stage.
For my business, this is of the utmost importance. So learn how HubSpot can help your business grow better, at HubSpot.com.
Okay, so this is so fascinating to me. So that was one of my questions. Basically, how long do you sell before you start to fulfill? and especially if you're just starting out. So did I hear you right, where I know you've got that week maybe of the pre launch, but are you selling for a good, at least, thirty days, and maybe you have a goal of a hundred or whatever it is, and then you fulfill your first orders?
JULIE: So the way I like to look at it is during your sales cycle, you're pre-selling your next month. So in the month of September, any boxes that I would sell in this month, I would fulfill for the October box. So it's almost like you're always pre selling the next box. And there's four important dates. It'd be the first day of your sales cycle and the last day of your sales cycle. I like to have that the first through the thirtieth. It's just intuitive. It's easy. You know, it's a month-long cycle. And then the other two important dates are your shipping day and your renewal day. Your renewal day is most likely going to be right in the middle of your sales cycle. And then your shipping day is typically a couple of days after you close out your sales cycle.
So, you know, I would sell, just for a simple factor here, if I sold in September, I would close it out on the last day of September and ship at the end of the month so those October boxes arrive in the first few days of October.
AMY: Gotcha. And your goal is to get new people into this subscription, and then fulfill your people who have already subscribed, and they're getting it month by month.
JULIE: Yes. And then thirty days later, they're going to renew, and you're going to ship another box to them the following month. And so that is, that renewal thing, that is the beauty, that recurring revenue, with subscription boxes.
And every single month, you’re always going to lose people. That’s normal. It’s called churn. Keep it under 10 percent, and that's healthy. And so you just plan. It helps you plan, though. Like, if you know that your average churn is 5 percent, you know to stay at that same subscription-box level, like, how many you're sending, you need to at least replace that 5 percent. And then you could, you know, plan to grow, if you're going to use Facebook ads, or if you're going to, you know, be at events or things like that, where you can get new customers.
AMY: Okay. So let's talk about getting new customers because I'm guessing this is not what it feels like. But when I hear about this sales cycle, in my head, I’m like, “You’re always launching. You’re always selling. It never stops.” Does it feel like that?
JULIE: No, I don't think like it feels like that. It is like that in the back end. You always have something new. But if you plan out your months very specifically—so, for example, say you ship on the first day of the month. That’s your announcement for the day. “It's shipping day. Yay!” And then maybe on the fifth or the sixth of the month, you announce the next month's theme.
You're doing the same thing over and over and over again, so it's not like this big launch. That founding-members’ launch is the only one where you're going to have that big, long pre-launch runway and have, you know, the pop and the champagne and making all the big offers. After that, it becomes very cyclical. And so it doesn't feel, even though you are launching a new box every month, you're not only able to use that monthly rhythm and get into a solid monthly rhythm, which is really easy for operations, but, too, you're going to automatically renew, say, 90 to 95 percent of those people from last month. So it doesn't feel as heavy. You don’t have to get as many sales, because you know they’re going to automatically renew. Does that make sense?
AMY: It does. And are there any little secrets you have for making sure that the people that are subscribed stay subscribed? Beyond just the box being incredible, are there any other things you can do to help that churn?
JULIE: Yeah. I really think the community helped. We had a Facebook group exclusively for our subscribers, and we had a lot of planned activities in there. We would have Facebook Lives. We would do a book study, with book prompts, to make sure that you were reading the book, with accountability check ins, things like that. But at Sparkle Hustle Grow, and me personally, I just have this very “work hard, play hard” attitude, so we would definitely sprinkle in a ton of fun, too. And by having that community, we had that direct line. We had, I think, our finger on the pulse of did people like those products? Because if they didn't, they would tell us.
AMY: Yes, I bet.
JULIE: But if they loved a product, too, or if they were really excited, they also told us that. So we kept it a really safe environment, a fun environment, and we asked them for their feedback a lot. We would always ask, “Product A or Product B? Which one do you want in the following box?” And then they would see us choose the one that won, and they felt like they actually had a say in what they were going to receive. Even though it wasn’t a custom box, they still felt heard, and they had an opportunity to give us feedback.
And the fact, too, that we had the business trainings, people would make money based off of what they were learning, or they would grow professionally or grow personally. And when you actually solve a problem or help someone move forward in their life, then it becomes a non-negotiable.
AMY: Yes. Okay. So community, I could really see how that's an amazing retention strategy, for sure. And you mentioned, like, Jamie Trull was one of your experts. Does she go into that community? How does she deliver her training?
JULIE: Yes. So we would invite the guest expert into the community. We would ask them to post three to four times, but also to engage with other people in there. And then, their training would be delivered in a membership hub. So we just used MemberVault, and so it was gated. And if you were an active subscriber, like, you paid for a box that month, you would get access to that back-end training.
AMY: Oh, that's so cool.
JULIE: So it's pretty easy to deliver. Yeah.
AMY: Yes. I love this concept.
Okay. So you also do something called a welcome box. So can you tell us a little bit about that?
JULIE: Yes. That's different than a subscription box.
JULIE: So a welcome box, I feel like it could be a game changer for a lot of your students based off of what it can do as a one-time product. So you don't have to be in it for the long haul, month after month after month. And so a welcome box is a box of goodies that you're going to send to a new client or new customer or new student, whatever program it is, at the onset of that program. So it's almost like an on-boarding technique to help improve their experience.
So it would be perfect for courses.
JULIE: Like, someone just joins your signature course. Send them a welcome box. I do that through my own course. I have a course called Subscription Box Bootcamp. When someone joins, I send them a welcome box. So it's perfect for courses, masterminds, retreats, whether that's in-person or it's virtual. It'd be perfect for affiliate programs, summits, especially those events that are virtual, where this might be the only tangible thing that they get in their hands from their work with you. It's so much fun.
AMY: I think that's a great idea. I know my coach, Corinne Crabtree, does virtual events, and she will send a notebook and, like, a squishy thing, like a stress ball, and some stickers, and a water bottle. But it's just fun. And it reminds you like, “Oh, I got to show up. I got to be there.” This is just a little extra nudge to make sure you're showing up. I thought that was really smart.
Also, a lot of my students, not a lot, but a good many of my students have a digital course where they're teaching people how to do some kind of craft, whether it be painting or sewing or quilting. And they want their students to have specific products to get the best results for what they're teaching. And I know that they have thought, like, “Could I send them the products that they need?” And you need to think if you're going to do that, this is going to be part of the cost of the course. So sure, they get a welcome box, but they paid for it as well.
JULIE: Right. But you can buy wholesale, so you're getting that better pricing. So say they’re going to buy yarn. Maybe they can reach out to—so there's a company called Notions Marketing. They're an online crafters’ marketplace and a wholesaler.
So you got to find the tools and resources that are going to help them succeed in your course or in the mastermind or whatever the program is. It can reflect the company culture. So it can bring that little dose of fun.
It can squash buyer's remorse. I mean, when someone buys your signature course, and they're just like, “Ooh, I don't know. I just spent a lot of money,” get that welcome box in their hands before that refund period is up, because that's going to bring them so much joy, and they're going to have those tools, like you said, that can help them succeed with what they're about to embark on.
AMY: Absolutely. Okay. I love this idea of a welcome box. All my digital-course creators, this is something you absolutely can do. And I do believe that it helps decrease your refund rates, so that’s also a great idea.
Okay. So I want to talk about you getting to the point that you decided to sell your company. But before we get there, I want to stay with, let's say you still have your company. And during that process, you were able to retire your husband from a toxic teaching job; move your team to a four-day work week, which is what we do as well over here; and set yourself up to spend tons of time with your family. So what would you say to someone just starting out who can't even imagine a life like that?
JULIE: Yeah. I would say—and this is based off of what I've learned—is to just get really clear on what your version of success is. And that version can change throughout the years. Mine certainly has.
And I think that in hindsight I could see that I would set my goals or plan my day or plan my future programs based off of shiny-object syndrome, seeing this person do this or this person do that. And when my vision cleared and I could see like, “Oh, what they have is not what I want,” that's when I really could decide, like, what my version of success was and how I could get there practically. Like financials. Like, what are the numbers? Figure out what you need, back into it. That's just practical math.
And do you want a four-day work week? Maybe. But maybe you want to work just part time. Or maybe you just want to work during your peak hours. For me, my peak hours are ten to two. And so sometimes I'd rather work five days a week, but just during ten to two. So I think you need to get clear on what your version of success is and what your dream day looks like, what your dream life looks like. It doesn't have to be based off of someone else's version or someone else's Instagram Reel
AMY: Absolutely. Amen to that.
Now, what led you to think, “I want to sell my company”?
JULIE: That's a great question. So for frame of reference, I sold it August first of this year, 2022. I started thinking about it a year prior to that. Things were shifting a little bit in how I felt about my business. You know that feeling when you're in a corporate job, and you're kind of, like, checked out from time to time, and you're just like, “Mm, I'm not sure that this is the right path for me anymore”? I started getting those little thoughts. And it didn't feel strong. It was just kind of, like, thoughts.
And so I have a podcast myself called Subscription Box Basics, and I interviewed a business broker because I wanted to learn about it. That's how I manage my podcast very often. It's like, what do I want to learn? So I'll seek out that person.
JULIE: Yeah, you know. So I found a business broker, and I just interviewed her. I was like, what does it look like to sell your business? Everyone talks about starting a business, launching a business, scaling your business. But no one in my industry was talking about exit strategies. And so I felt really lost.
And so over the course of that year, I started digging in, just learning about, what does it even look like? I mentioned to you before, I'm a little bit woo, so I really believe in serendipitous moments and reflecting on what that really means. And I trust the process a lot. And I knew it would be really clear to me when it was time.
And in March of 2022, I released a twelve-episode podcast called “A Better Way to Hustle.” It's all about ditching the 24/7/365 toxic hustle culture. And I thought—again, here's my lead-magnet idea—like, I thought this would be a lead magnet for Sparkle Hustle Grow. Women might relate to it, and then they would subscribe to the box because they like what I stood for.
Well, for me, it was more therapy. Like, we got zero new subscribers from the podcast, but I got complete clarity. It was like therapy, going through it.
And after that podcast launched, I sat down with my husband and my daughter. He had a beer, I had a glass of wine, McKenna had a juice box, and we had a dream-life session. We said, “What does our dream life look like? What would we want to do every day that fills our bucket? What do we want our month to look like?” We've a lot of flexibility because we homeschool. My husband, being a former schoolteacher, he's perfect for that role. And so after talking through that dream-life session, it was really clear to us that Sparkle Hustle Grow was not going to be a legacy brand that I passed down to my daughter. It wasn't going to be something long term. I still loved the business, and I was really proud of it, and it had so many good aspects to it, but it was clear to me that it wasn't going to be a long term, beyond this year.
And I forgot to mention that my husband packs all the boxes.
JULIE: So we have a two-car garage that we converted into a warehouse. So this was really important that we all talked about it because I was running the business, the face of the business; he was doing all the operations and logistics, you know, sending hundreds and hundreds of boxes each month. So it impacted all of us.
And so after that decision, after that dream-life session, I started diving deeper, and I found myself a broker that just felt immediately when I got to her website, I knew it was right. She said, “All the excitement of selling your business without the stress,” based in San Diego, just absolutely love her. And she helped me sell the business in ninety-four days.
AMY: Wow! That's incredible!
JULIE: Crazy. For multiple six figures, with our dream buyers, too. That's where I say “trust the process,” too, you know? Never did I think about an exit strategy before that.
But as I was going through the motions and researching it, I realized there's kind of three things you're going to do with your business. Either you're going to pass it along to a family member, like a legacy brand; you're going to close it down; or you're going to sell it. This was the first time I even thought about any of that because I was so busy launching and scaling.
AMY: Yes, absolutely. And did you say that you sold it to a family?
JULIE: I did. We had used the listing site BizBuySell, which my broker had managed all of that for me. But it's a great place to find, to sell, or to acquire a business.
And throughout the process, I got to do pitch sessions with all the potential buyers. I did about ten or so of them. And it was really clear to me, when I met a potential buyer and I would tell them about the business and they would tell me about themselves and why they want to buy a business, it was pretty clear whether or not we were going to get to the next stage or, like, is this a good fit or not? because you have complete control. If you're selling your business, you don't have to just accept any offer. And it was really important to me to find someone, whether that was a person or a family, to take good care of my customers, you know? It was really, really emotional to pass that baton, so to speak.
And the moment I got on the pitch call with this family—it was a husband and wife, and they have kids. They are based out of Seattle, so the whole way across the country—and there was just so many serendipitous moments, where I was saying, “My family's ready for our next season,” and they were saying the same thing. And she was really passionate about personal development. And we ran in some same circles. And so it just felt really, really good.
AMY: Okay. This is so exciting. And what now? Like, what's next for you now that you've sold your business? Are you 100 percent out of it?
JULIE: I am—at this point, yes. When you sell your business, a lot of times you're going to be built in for a certain amount of training hours. So we've done a lot of those training hours, and it's been fun, and I've been supportive throughout that process. And I'm still available to the buyers, the new owners, if they have questions. There's never going to be a moment where I'm going to say, “Sorry, I can't help you.”
JULIE: Like, I'm always going to be supportive. I want that. I want them to succeed.
But at this point, I am not making any of the decisions. They are, you know, reaching out from time to time when they have a question.
My next season, at this point, is to really focus on my family. McKenna just started middle school, so that's a really unique time for moms and daughters, and I really feel like I wanted to be there more to support her. And then I'm doubling down on my subscription-box business coaching, having the experience of launching from scratch, scaling it, and then selling it for multiple six figures gives me this unique set of skills and experiences that I can bring to the table.
And, you know, just like you, I'll go first, and then show you and teach you what I learned. It won’t always be pretty. Sometimes it’ll be scrappy. I’ll tell you when I make mistakes, and I've made plenty because I'm human. But it can help other aspiring subscription-box business owners launch faster and more profitably and have more fun doing it.
AMY: Absolutely. I love that you're doing the coaching. And the digital course that you have, did that go with the buyer, or did you keep that?
JULIE: I kept that. So that was really important to me on the purchase agreement that we made note of that, that I can still do my subscription-box business coaching. I was a parallel entrepreneur, essentially, running two businesses side by side. They were very complementary to each other, but they were essentially two businesses.
So I sold the box side of the business, and then I retained the coaching side because that's my new role. And I didn't feel like I really could sell that part of the business anyhow; I didn't want to sell it. But it's me. Like, I'm the face of that brand, and I have a team member from Sparkle Hustle Grow that also does the coaching with me. So you know, she does the back-end stuff and social-media marketing, and so we've got this great partnership, so to speak, being able to share what we've learned along the way.
AMY: Absolutely. Okay. So this has been such an interesting, different type of conversation that I've ever had with anybody on the show, so I really appreciate the transparency.
And tell me this, what would you say have been your biggest successes as an entrepreneur in this niche that you're in now?
JULIE: I'll start by saying my version of success has changed a lot over the years. So when I look at the whole ten-plus years of being an entrepreneur, the biggest success for me was actually leaving my corporate job and actually making it work. When I left to be a stay-at-home mom, and I was running this little side hustle of building websites, I didn't know if that was going to last thirty days, if it was going to last three months. And here we are ten-plus years later, and I'm still making it work. And I really believe where there's a will, there's a way. It was really important for me to make this happen. And so it wasn't always pretty, like I said, but I did it. So that would be, you know, one of my biggest successes.
Another one along the way, and this is kind of, like, middle of that decade, was bringing my husband home from a toxic teaching career. It was not only mentally toxic, but it was physically toxic as well. There was mold in the break room, and so it was really impacting physical and mental health of my husband. And there's such a trickle-down effect when you're in a family. When we saw how that was impacting us as a family, I was like, “What can I do to change this?” And that's when I launched my course.
JULIE: That first launch, when I first launched my course, that was the money that we were able to replace his income with.
JULIE: Right? How courses can change our lives.
AMY: Yes, I love that so much.
JULIE: So then the last success that I clearly am excited about is selling Sparkle Hustle Grow and having it happen so quickly. And when I say I sold the box business in ninety-four days, not any of that other stuff happened overnight. This is ten-plus years we're talking about. And I know how easy it is to see highlight reels on Instagram or to see someone else's story and not see that first 90 percent of it, maybe. Maybe they're meeting me for the first time here and they're like, “Wow, that's so cool.” But man, there was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in it that you're not seeing.
AMY: Yeah. That is true. Amen to that.
You have had a beautiful, successful journey. I am so excited to know you and get to really understand how it's all unfolded. I love that we got to you right after you closed the chapter and opening a new one. So congratulations on all your success, and thank you so very much for sharing all of this with my audience, because for a lot of them, including me, this is a new concept, and this is so very different than just digital courses.
So if somebody wants to learn more about you, maybe get some coaching from you, how can they find you?
JULIE: Yes. The best place would be, if you're interested in actual subscription boxes, I have a podcast called Subscription Box Basics. But if you're just interested in diving into what I'm up to, a little bit about Sparkle Hustle Grow, a little bit about the coaching side, my website is mrsjulieball.com.
AMY: Mrsjulieball.com. Perfect.
Thank you so very much, Julie, for being here. I really appreciate it.
JULIE: Yeah. This has been so much fun. I appreciate the opportunity to chat with your audience. I can't wait to meet more of them.
AMY: For sure. You have a great day. Thanks again.
JULIE: Thank you.
AMY: Okay. How cool was her story? I think that subscription-box businesses are such an out-of-the-box, creative idea. And it's amazing to see what they can do for an online business, not to mention that because they are so popular, they definitely aren't going anywhere. They're only growing.
My biggest takeaway was this: I have a book coming out, so I love that she said there's a marketplace of subscription boxes that I can go and research them, and then pitch my book to be in different subscription boxes. You can bet I will absolutely be doing that this week.
So, hopefully, you also have some ideas as to how a subscription box could work in your business, whether you want to start one, and if you do, use Julie's five-step crash course to guide you through this research. She gave you so many great points in this episode. And also, we now have learned there's other ways to get our content in other people's subscription boxes. I would have never thought about that until she shared that. So I hope you found such great value in this episode.
And listen, have you ever—this is a side note—have you ever left a review for my podcast? I read every single review. I would greatly appreciate it. The more reviews I can get for this podcast, the more the algorithm will push it out to new people. And I would just greatly appreciate if you would take five minutes or less to leave me a review on any platform that you use to listen to this podcast. It would mean the world to me. So thank you so much in advance if you do that. If you've already done it, thank you. Thank you so much.
And I can't wait to see you again very soon. So same time, same place. Bye for now.