Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Mark St. James and I started On Your Mark, a men’s travel, style, and skincare blog in 2008. The premise was vastly different in its infancy than what it is now, but the concept of providing honest, satirical writing and product reviews has remained the same.
My content is the product I “sell.” My honest reviews of products and clothing are a value add for clueless men wanting to learn more about skincare routines, how to tie a tie, or simply how to clean your shoes. Though the reader doesn’t pay me directly, their presence on my site generates ad revenue and the companies that want their products featured on my blog pay a fair price.
My unique writing style and honest criticism of fashion have landed me on a slew of news outlets including CNN, CBC’s The National, Global News, and ET Canada to name a few. With 140,000+ fans, friends, views, and followers, I’ve managed to generate a monthly income of around $2,000 with peaks and valleys.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
With my experience in retail from a young age (18), I learned so much about fashion, styling, and what not to do. It was this knowledge and interest that allowed me to be an authority in the realm of all things style. As a fat kid, I was much better at teaching than doing so I started writing. My readers liked the honest approach I took and laughed at, and with me during it. Then I lost some weight and was able to showcase the clothing and styles I was toting. This allowed me to become a model of sorts working on commercials and being featured as a brand ambassador for various fashion lines.
What set me apart from other bloggers who were natural young beauties in a world dominated by youth-obsessed readers was my content. I would always write 300+ word articles for every piece and instead of relying on looks, I put in the research and work and provided a value-add to my readers. They came back to read and laugh but what I found most interesting was how I would get more and more new readers.
Today, 96% of my readers are new. The reason for this is that Google also liked the fact that I was doing original content, original images, and my own videos to go along with it on Youtube so I ended up ranking for key phrases like “Men’s Eyelashes,” “What Colour Matches Brown,” and, “What to wear to a physical” (don't ask). These posts keep my traffic high and consistent without needing to bend to the will of what people want me to be like so I can be authentic and still receive the traffic. Not needing to be liked is a powerful thing.
Keeping up with the Jones’ was difficult when I started. Running a fashion blog dedicated to high fashion was really rough on my budget and for a long time, it was KD for dinner. Once I learned how to approach brands, created a nice media kit, and got a great manager, I started seeing a return. The overhead of my businesses was my closet (much to the chagrin of my partner), but I soon found a magical place called a consignment store which puts back a lot of revenue for the pieces I wore gently once or twice.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My product was my writing and videos. They were both pretty rough when I launched my blog. I worked on learning to write, I took English classes online even as a native speaker, and that helped considerably. I then was a sponge to everything SEO related. I became an expert at crafting content that was fun to read and loved by the search engines.
Alt text of images, keywords, a proper SEO title, finding keywords and phrases that got searches, content length, excerpts, finding the tools that worked to help me learn niches in markets that my competition would never think to write about but people were searching for answers to. These are the things that set me apart from my competition and put me on top when brands were looking for influencers. It’s a method that worked in my favor 5 years ago, and those posts are still generating the bulk of my traffic today. That traffic is earning me passive ad revenue and future collaborations.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The original site was a disaster and a monster to load and operate. I quickly turned to a local hosting company with a custom templated site using Genesis on a WordPress CMS. This is my vehicle to earn ad dollars, so I constantly keep the tank clean and luckily found a very knowledgeable programmer to work with me constantly keeping my site running smoothly.
Content is king. Without taking the time to research and craft a great article that is fun to read and informative, you’ll lose the interest of viewers and won’t see growth.
In the last two months, I have rebranded from the Marquis of Fashion to On Your Mark YVR which had some hiccups in the transition but overall was a success. Some elements of the old site are still there but it’s a work in progress.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As my site grew, so did I. I dealt with mental health issues a few years back and got the counseling I needed. It helped me overcome type 2 PTSD and work through my divorce and daddy issues. I was transparent about these issues on my site and my readers could relate.
I received an outpouring of support and messages from men in similar situations. We bonded and I’ve made lifelong friends with people all over the world by building each other up and creating a safe space for men to realize it’s okay, not being okay. This alone has allowed my brand to continue and strengthen.
In terms of PR, it was an accidental dream. People would share the content and recommend me to their friends leading to increased traffic and more opportunities. I have also made my site Vancouver (Canada) focused as I moved here on August 1, 2020. The local vibe was always a thing I was nervous to focus on as most of my traffic comes from the US and UK, but I am Canadian, so embracing that allowed my readers to connect on a deeper level.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today On Your Mark has taken on new life and is ready for the next chapter. With brand collaborations knocking on the doors, the blog has reached a new level where I have to do less door knocking and more of what I love, writing.
My costs are minimal, website hosting, annual URL registration, and salary for my part-time web developer and photographer. 75% of my earnings are profit because buying clothing for the blog hardly feels like an expense. They say if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.
Be authentic. Anyone can spot a fake and playing the game as anything but your true self will eventually haunt you.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Content is king. Without taking the time to research and craft a great article that is fun to read and informative, you’ll lose the interest of viewers and won’t see growth. Learn algorithms and keep up to date with the changes that could impact you. Don’t ever use blackhat techniques as they are for short term gain and the Search Engines know better. You may be on top one day but at the end of the day you’ll lose your credibility and end up with no traffic.
Where do you bury a body? Page 2 of Google.
So stay on top of SEO trends and work cleanly.
One thing I would suggest is to be nice. I’ve had a lot of VERY negative interactions that have impacted people poorly in their field of work. PR managers, members of the press, and other bloggers. The shark tank is only as bloody as you make it. Elevate yourself to avoid these negative interactions and you’ll end up on top every time, even if it’s not today. It will be in the long run.
Be authentic to the point of uncomfortably. No one cares about top-level chit chat. They want the meat and potatoes of who you are as a person and authenticity deserves attention. It took me a long time to get past the fluff and write truly genuine content. Did I end up losing friends because of the content I wrote? Yes, I have. But I’m happier about it because they weren’t true friends, to begin with.
Being authentic weeds out people in your life who don’t belong there in the first place. Water finds its own depth. Find yours and live there. Others like you are already there and will welcome you. Those are the friendships worth spending time on.
Finally, educate yourself on things you feel need improving or even things you don’t. When I decided to take English classes at Athabasca University I was very confident in my abilities to write effectively. I quickly learned that I had a lot to learn. This helped me challenge myself and my vocabulary and become better at what I do. Being humble helped me look at things objectively and hone my existing skills.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My website is the tool I use most. It is a custom genesis theme that works on a WordPress CMS. I also use Google for Publishers for my ad delivery and Google Analytics for my website stats. Another useful tool I always have with me is a thesaurus and Dictionary because too often these are left to collect dust when they should be front and center.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
When I write I do a lot of resources reading from university-level fashion textbooks and color referencing guides etc. so those help me out a lot. But when I’m not working, I go the complete polar opposite route and engage in mind-numbing fantasy books to relax. Of course, I’m constantly watching fashion shows and keeping up to date with news surrounding my favorite brands so I can incorporate that into my writing.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I don’t think it matters what industry you are working in, take the time to think about the message you want to send and allow yourself to learn more about that message and the field you're entering into. I found myself in the field I already knew a lot about so it helped me know where to find the resources I needed to become even more knowledgeable in my field. Never stop learning.
Finally, be authentic. Anyone can spot a fake and playing the game as anything but your true self will eventually haunt you. Meditate and keep your physical and mental health in check. Not enough people do this or take it seriously but I’m here as a shining example that it can and will catch up with you. Love yourself.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Unfortunately due to COVID, my management company went belly up so I am currently in the market for a new management company. Otherwise, currently, I am not hiring as I have created this business model to not require additional personnel. Of course, anything can change.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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