This week Marcus sits down with Jen Bengel from Out of This World Literacy. Jen is initially from Wisconsin, where she attended high school and the University of Wisconsin. After living up north for 26 years, her family packed up and headed down south where Jen then earned her Master's degree right here at the University of South Alabama. Jen and her husband, Andy, have two girls and two boys. One of which, they adopted from Uganda in the past few years. In her free time, she loves hanging out on her back porch, playing cards with her family, and traveling to places like Belize and London. I'm sure her story already fancies you so let's dig in and hear how she is making a global impact as an accidental entrepreneur.
Marcus: Hi this is Marcus with Mobile Alabama business podcast. It occurred to me that we haven't talked about the purpose of this podcast in quite a while. So, I wanted to just take a brief moment and update everyone.
The reason for this podcast is to shine a light on the fact that it doesn't matter what your background is. It doesn't matter where you came from It doesn't matter if you are from Mobile or you moved to Mobile or what your education level is. We really just want to shine the light on the fact that with perseverance and with hard work and with some luck oftentimes, that you can start a business and be successful.
And so if you listen to these podcasts you'll find that there's a common theme that people are really just kind of taking chances. They're taking risks and they're making things happen. None of these podcasts have been paid for. These podcasts are all sponsored by Bluefish, which is the company that I own. We're an advertising agency here in Mobile. But, more so that we just want to shine a positive light on the business owners that are here in Mobile and the wonderful things that they're accomplishing.
So, without further ado, we'll get right into it.
Jen: My name is Jen Bengel and I'm the owner of Out of this World Literacy.
Marcus: Well, Jen, I am really excited for this one. Finally, got you on the couch.
Jen: I know, finally.
Marcus: So, funny story, we'll get into this a little bit more but, Jen actually has a business but it's an online business. She does business all around the world and when I asked her to be on the podcast, she was like, wait I have to like, come to your office? This is so archaic. But I'm very excited that you're here. We've known each other for a number of years and I'm very excited for what you all are doing. The changes that have happened for your family and so, let's get into this.
Jen: Yeah and I want to say upfront too, thanks for having me and inviting me here. I'm totally honored and humbled to be here so it's great that you have me here.
Marcus: Yeah, awesome. Well, to get started, we always want to get some backstory so tell us the story of Jen. Where are you from? Where did you go to high school? College? I know you're married but go ahead and tell us about your family and then we'll just kind of get into it.
Jen: Sure, so right off the bat you'll probably notice that I don't have a southern accent. I'm actually originally from the Midwest, from Wisconsin. My husband and I met in high school and we endured 26 years of grueling winter until we finally made a road trip down to Daphne, Alabama. Shook hands in a hotel bathroom and six months later we were moved down and said goodbye to winter forever.
Jen: And so I actually went to high school in Wisconsin. I got my undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh and earned my Master's actually right here at the University of South Alabama and I also have a post-graduate degree from Leslie University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Marcus: I just think it's so cool that there's actually a place called Oshkosh.
Jen: Oshkosh B'gosh, oh boy!
Marcus: She's bringing out the accent just for you folks.
Jen: I can really bring it out if you want me to.
Marcus: Yeah, bring it out. So, you, and I'm sorry, you studied ...
Jen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jen: I studied education to become a teacher so my undergrad is in elementary education. My graduate degree is as a literacy coach so actually transitioning from teaching students to teaching teachers and supporting teachers. And then my post-graduate degree, I trained with one of the top reading specialists in the nation, Irene Fountas, and her colleagues. And it's there where I learned to be a professional developer and really understand the best practices in literacy and instruction.
Marcus: Okay, so going back, what was your first job and were there any lessons that you remember from that?
Jen: Yes, absolutely. My first job actually I was lucky enough to land an internship at an Indian Reservation. A Native American Reservation in Wisconsin. So, I wasn't student teaching. I was actually getting paid for my student teaching and it was incredible to work on this reservation. We had pow wows in the gym where we'd bring in horses and have drummers. It was incredible. And then my first teaching job was in a small rural farming town in Wisconsin. I taught fourth grade and after that, I moved down to Daphne and I taught actually at Spanish Fort Elementary for five years. I taught sixth grade and third grade there and that was an amazing experience as well, great school.
Marcus: Awesome. So, now we're gonna fast forward a little bit but I was telling the story right before we started recording, that we met because we go to church together.
Marcus: But Andy came over, your husband Andy, came over and at the time was an electrician.
Marcus: And, was, he did some electrical work for us, just installing a plug for our TV or something. I don't remember what it was but, and so, you were teaching, he was an electrician and if I remember correctly he went to Ostal at one point and time and now your business has become so successful that he's joined you in that.
Marcus: Okay, so without further ado, what is Out of this World Literacy?
Jen: Out of this World Literacy is the company that I formed in 2012 when I became an accidental entrepreneur. That's what I say.
Marcus: I love it!
Jen: I didn't mean to do this at all. It was completely organic and I literally got shoved into it. What happened was I was working as a literacy coach and I was helping teachers, supporting them in the classroom and I was giving them lots of professional development on theory-based stuff and they were like, Jen, can you make us some lessons? And I was like, no, make your own lessons. That's your job, like, do it. And they were begging me to make the lessons for them and I had heard about this site called Teachers pay Teachers at a staff meeting. And I was like, teachers pay what? You know, like what is this? And I realized that there was this opportunity where I could upload lessons that I create and sell them online or offer them for free to teachers all over the world. And I immediately was intrigued. And then I was like, okay, I'll make your lessons for you.
Jen: And so I started making a unit of study for the teachers in my school and I thought, I'll make it just a little bit more general and put it on this site and see what happens. And people like it. And then people started buying it and then I made another unit and they started buying that and then I made another one and suddenly I was like, whoa, this is amazing. It just kind of grew from there and I have been writing curriculum now for five years and I absolutely love it. It's really a passion of mine. To be able to write curriculum and help teachers that are struggling in the classroom. Feeling overwhelmed, feeling like they don't have the resources they need, not feeling confident enough. It's a big passion of mine to be able to support teachers and help them know that they got this today.
Marcus: Right. I would imagine that on top of everything else between actually spending the time teaching the students and grading the papers and coming up with the tests and so on and so forth that actually creating the plans, that it can be quite time-consuming. And everybody likes to think well teachers get three or four months off every year but the truth is during the school year, they don't have a whole lot of time to be doing stuff like this.
Jen: Absolutely. They're at school an hour before the kids, two hours after the kids, answering parent emails, answering administrative emails, in meetings with students, differentiating instruction all day, every day. So, it's a huge job.
Marcus: Wow. So you accidentally started this business.
Jen: Yes, I did.
Marcus: But, I mean, it's absolutely taken off. Give us kind of a picture of where this is now. What does it look like? What's your day today? How has it transformed your life?
Jen: So, within the first six months of the business, actually I realized that maybe I could go part-time the next year in my career. Which, I was blown away by because I had three kids at the time and I was, at a teacher, as a literacy coach, at the school all the time. It felt like an incredible opportunity to be able to just go part-time, And then, by the spring of that first year, I thought, well, I could quit. I could do this full time and that's exactly what I did. I took this huge leap. My husband has said one brilliant thing to me his entire life. And it was when we were standing in front of the stove in our kitchen and I was debating should I quit and do this full time. And I was telling him, I worked so hard to become a teacher. I worked so hard to teach teachers. I feel like I'm giving up my career if I do this and he looked at me and he said, "You're not giving up your career. You're just giving up the public school system."
Jen: And I was like, okay, I can do this. And so, off I went.
Marcus: And just to encourage you a bit. We often times think that we have to be the ones that are doing the actual work. The truth is that the training, one step above that, the training of those people that are actually doing the work is actually ... That scale ... You're having an impact at a much greater level than if you're just ... So, if you're doing the work you may be influencing, you know, a hundred students or something like that. But, if you're influencing the people that are doing the work, you're influencing thousands or tens of thousands of students.
Jen: Yes. And so, I do a lot of webinars online and I have teachers from Australia, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, the Dominican that jump on. Teachers in Spain who are waking up at two a.m. to make the live webinars. It's just incredible and I always have taken the mindset that every resource that I create for teachers when they put that in front of their students, those students become my students too. So I take it very seriously, what I do. I make sure that it is of the highest caliber. I don't just put stuff out there for a quantity quick purpose. I make sure the quality is of the highest rigor that I can possibly make it. It's a big job because I don't take it lightly ...
Jen: I can possibly make it, it's a big job cause I don't take it lightly because they're so many people counting on me every day to make their classrooms great and make their kids the most successful and gain as much as they can every day. That's a big responsibility, but I'm honored to do it, I love it.
Marcus: The reason why I find this so interesting is because you aren't brick and mortar, you are basing this business mostly off of promotion that you are doing online.
Marcus: Obviously you've learned a lot of lessons in the last couple of years of how to actually do that. What are some of your biggest takeaways when it comes to making that work?
Jen: Yeah that's a great question. It was very difficult to transition from an elementary school teacher, literacy coach to online entrepreneur. Like-
Marcus: That snapping in your neck, whoa just got whiplash.
Jen: It did not happen overnight, and there were growing pains. Technology is not my friend a lot of times. Trying to figure out how to get technology to work for me and learning about how to get my message out to the world. It's definitely a huge learning curve, which I'm still learning a ton with, but it's been every step of the way. I look back six months ago and think "wow, look how far I've come now, look how far I've come now," and just always making those gains and setting goals is really how I've grown. I'm always learning. I love to learn. I'm a lifelong learner. That's a big thing.
Marcus: I often find that people that like teaching, they are learners right?
Marcus: So when you look at giftings, I've always viewed myself as a teacher and so even in what we do with the Marketing Madness Videos and even this, this is even just a form of teaching other business owners about business.
Marcus: Right, or teaching other like-minded individuals cause they don't have to be business centers about business. Yeah, it's definitely a passion of mine. If you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, specifically speak to the online stuff, what is the one bit of wisdom you'd impart to them?
Jen: I would think just be true to who you are because if you stay true to who you are and what your passions are, then you can't help but be successful. Everybody has an important message that we are supposed to deliver to each other. We are relational as humans and I think it is important that everybody has a unique voice. So if you have something that's deep down in your gut that you are passionate about and you feel strongly about, you don't even have to know a lot about it. Anyone can go become an expert at anything. Go take the time, put the effort in. You really just need the drive, the motivation, the hustle, and the passion and heart for something and you can be successful online. Go buy your domain, think of your name, get your domain-
Marcus: That's often times the hardest part isn't it?
Jen: Yep, just start there. Go to GoDaddy or wherever you want to go and buy your domain, think of your name and get yourself out there.
Marcus: Don't hesitate.
Jen: Don't hesitate. Just go do it.
Marcus: Just do it. Yeah because it's going to take ... how long have you been doing this, five years?
Marcus: So yeah, five-ish.
Jen: Yeah. Almost six.
Marcus: And how long was it before ... you were able to quit your job and we mentioned that Andy has now joined you, what did that look like?
Jen: SO it was about I think two years before I thought well maybe he could come onboard too, and I remember we went on a little weekend getaway to Destin, and I pitched the idea to him about maybe him-
Marcus: Pitched the idea-
Jen: I did-
Marcus: Quitting his job.
Jen: I pitched the idea-
Marcus: Yeah because most guys would be like "Yeah sure, let's do this."
Jen: Well you know, because he's a guy, his ego, I didn't know, you know. I thought you're not going to be making money, is that gonna be a problem for your manhood. I don't know some guys are like that.
Marcus: I love it.
Jen: So we were at this fancy dinner with this big fish aquarium and I pitched the idea and he dropped his fork and like literally made this loud noise and I think said something like ex ... what's the word for swearing?
Jen: Thank you. I swore to him like "Yes." So what we did is, we hatched a plan where we actually saved six months of his salary before he "retired" and that way I knew for sure that we could do this without his income and then in the Spring of 2016 I think is when he retired. We had a retirement party. I was pretty funny.
Marcus: That's cool.
Jen: And he's been on board and he's really ... that was a process too. Getting him on board and just finding out what he wanted to do again. I didn't want to be his boss even though I fire him frequently but he gets rehired. He really has a passion for Facebook ads so he started watching podcasts, taking courses, learning about Facebook advertising and took over all of my advertising on Facebook.
Jen: Which has been amazing.
Marcus: And is that the platform that you use most for reaching your audience?
Jen: That is my main platform, yes. And I have a huge email list which is also really good.
Marcus: Okay let's get into some nitty gritty, cause this is unusual in that most of the people that we talk to don't have that kind of information. You obviously have lead magnets that you are using in order to .... so for those of you listening to this, I mean lead magnets are basically some piece of information: an e-book, a PDF. Something you are giving someone or it could just be an email course that you're giving someone in order to get their email address so that they can start to build a relationship with them.
Marcus: What does all that look like for you and just kind of give us a glimpse into that.
Jen: Sure, I'll try to do a quick funnel in a way that is pretty practical. I work through a funnel. Most of it right now is starting with a blog post. I'll write what I call an epic blog post and in that epic blog post is something a little bit more than my other blog post. It gives the reader a lot more information about something that they really are needing like six ways to make a reader's notebook. And I'll go through all the six ways, and then at the end of the blog post I'll have a button that says "If you would like additional resources you can get a free ten-page hand out on all the pages of how I set this up for you." And so then they can click on that button. Then it takes them to a lead box, which I use LeadPages, and they have to opt-in with an email address, and then I have them on my email list. From that email list they'll go into a funnel, where they'll get more informational emails, a couple more, a couple more, and then they'll get an email with a product pitch in it.
Marcus: About how many emails do you send them before you send them the pitch?
Jen: Usually about three or four.
Marcus: Three or four? So it's not a 20 or 30-
Jen: No, and every couple of days they'll get it. And sometimes I'll send them to a web ... I'll invite them to a webinar first, and of course in the webinar, at the end of the webinar they're getting 45 minutes of free professional development but then they're getting some sort of offer for a curriculum.
Marcus: And are you pre-recording those webinars or are you actually doing them live?
Jen: Right, I'm struggling with that right now actually. I've been doing webinars since the Spring of 2016. It first it was only live and it was a massive growth in my business. Exploding like "Wow, this is a huge stepping stone in my business." After that, I started automating them, which was a challenge to get through. Then I started, because I had so many webinars, cause that is what I do, train teachers, it was my passion. So I found I was making all these webinars to help teachers, and ended up with 10 webinars. So I actually bundled them into a course that I sell on a site called Teachable, which you can sell anything on Teachable. So I have a lifetime webinars access to all my webinars. They can buy them and watch them whenever they want, have access to all the notes, the note-taking pages, and the resources and everything there. So right now currently I have about 900-lifetime members and then I also do live webinars. I'm trying something right now called a Flash-Free Webinar. So basically I'm allowing them 24-48 hour access to just one of my webinars for free, and then it goes away.
Jen: That way I don't have to be live at night and I can be with my kids.
Marcus: And they can watch at a more reasonable hour instead of-
Jen: And I have people in Australia that are going "I can't make this time, it's 4:00 a.m." And I have people all over the world that can't make that live-
Marcus: And that's why I asked if you were recording them for those situations where they get an email saying "Hey, we're giving a live webinar, go here," and they go to the landing page and they can select which time they want to attend, and then they just get a notification that the webinar has started. Sometimes those are live like you're talking about.
Marcus: And sometimes they're pre-recorded.
Marcus: And I'm just curious as have you noticed any difference in the performance between those two?
Jen: Live webinars always have a better selling punch because you have 90 minutes to get it on sale. So for live webinars, I always get higher sales.
Jen: For the lifetime membership I have all my hot leads in one spot. All my loyal followers right there, which is really nice. The flash webinars are great to bring in a colder audience and let them sort of get to know me through one webinar.
Marcus: So they all serve some purpose.
Jen: So they all serve some sort of different audience or purpose.
Marcus: Did you say, 900-lifetime members?
Jen: Uh huh.
Marcus: So I mean Seth Godin has a general rule of 1,000 rating fans makes you ... basically, that's a business.
Jen: Oh yeah.
Marcus: So if you have 1,000 people, you obviously have way more than that, just those people that have opted in buying webinars on Teachable, that's huge.
Jen: Yeah it's really awesome.
Marcus: I mean, that's huge.
Jen: Yeah, it's really awesome. It's really awesome.
Marcus: An understatement. Yeah. That's the quote that's going to go along with this. Yeah, that's really awesome.
Marcus: I know that you all, I mean you mentioned it, learning is just part of who you are. It's how you operate. So this next question ... there are a lot of times I get fluffy answers from this but I expect some good answers from you on this.
Jen: No pressure.
Marcus: Are there any books, podcasts you listened to, people that you have been mentored by, organizations that you are a member of, or even conferences and things like that that you have been to that have been extremely helpful and propelling your business forward?
Jen: Aw man, you all need to get out your pens and paper.
Marcus: Come on people this is juicy stuff.
Jen: I'm about to bring it. No, I am just kidding. Sort of. So, there are a lot of incredible, incredible, huge marketing entrepreneurs that we have learned from. Rick Mulready has taught Andy pretty much everything he knows about Facebook ads. Amy Porterfield taught me about the epic blonde pose and how to do webinars. Chris Ducker, I just attended his first conference in London in November. Incredible guy, incredible trainer. Pat Flynn, amazing. I've gone to this social media marketing conference in the Spring in San Diego of the last two years it's coming up in just a few weeks, I can't wait. I'm going to the podcast movement conference in Philadelphia this summer. Let's see, what else? Those are, like, the top ones that come off. Right now, I'm reading a couple of books. Grit, I'm reading. I'm reading ... I can't remember the title but it's about marketing, the power of influence in marketing. Chris Ducker's new book actually I got a copy of it in November. It's called Rise of the Youprenuer and it's launching February 20th. So, he's incredible ... his new book is awesome. I actually got a copy of it because I went to his conference.
Marcus: Well by the time this is released, it will be out.
Jen: Yeah, so, yeah, get Chris's book, it's a really, really awesome book. He lays things out in a very simplistic way. You don't have to be a really advanced entrepreneur to understand the messages that he's giving people. And it's an easy read and has a lot of great tips in it.
Marcus: So, of all those like expand on, I mean you just kinda expanded on his book, but tell us more about the conference, because I know you and I have spoken about that a number of times in for the life of me I don't know why I'm not going this year. I can kick myself for that, I think it's cause I have another conference in February, but, what were some of the main takeaways that you got from last year's conference?
Jen: Are you talking about the San Diego one?
Marcus: Yeah, the San Diego's Social Media Conference that Pat Flynn does.
Jen: Right, the cool thing about this social media marketing conference is they have tracks. So if you really are interested in elevating your Facebook game you can just go to sessions on Facebook. You can also if you attend the conference, you can get, or you do get, all of the conference presentations in an audio format that you have access to for an entire year. So, if you feel like well I want to go to this section but this one is at the same time, you actually get, you can listen to them for a whole year afterward.
Jen: You can also just buy the recordings, you don't have to be right at the conference.
Marcus: Oh, good.
Jen: So, Marcus if you wanted to just download the recordings, you can do that at a much more discounted rate than actually being there.
Marcus: Yeah. Now, going to conferences has been one of the things that I have found has been extremely good for me and throughout my career. And now, its kind of interesting because I'm going and I'm actually speaking at those conferences. And for those of you that aren't familiar with Pat Flynn, he has a podcast, he has books, he has a website, and all of his resources are geared towards helping people do what Jen has done, which is basically come up with an idea of something that you are passionate about and build an audience and then turn that into an actual business and Pat, unlike a lot of people that are in that space, seems to be doing it with a lot of integrity and character that you would wanna be associated with. Which I think is just phenomenal so if you haven't heard of him and you have an incline or a desire to go down this path then definitely look him up.
Jen: Yeah, I believe his podcast is Smart Passive Income.
Marcus: It is, yeah. What's the most important thing that you have learned about running a business?
Jen: That's a really great question. The most important thing I have learned about running a business, you're gonna have tough days, you're gonna have days where you have imposter syndrome where you're like I shouldn't be doing this. I'm not that good at this, someone else, this is someone's else's thing. Who am I kidding here?
Jen: And you're gonna have those days even when you're far down the road and you are successful. You're still gonna have those days and just make sure that you never let that voice become bigger than actually what it is that you are doing because even when you think you're not making an impact, you're making an impact and a positive impact. If you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, what feels good in your gut, what you're passionate about, you're making an impact for other people so just don't listen to that.
Marcus: And make sure you have a couple of like-minded individuals on speed dial for those days too because occasionally you just need to hear it from somebody else.
Jen: Absolutely, yes. I wanted to say quickly too, something exciting that I am doing that's local. One thing that I am doing that's local.
Marcus: Terrestrial based?
Jen: That's in like Baldwin county.
Jen: I am really excited to be teaming up with this school and actually helping them improve their literacy. I'm gonna be working with the teachers, training them over the summer and actually kind of taking over their literacy instruction at the school.
Marcus: Very cool.
Jen: I have a meeting with them, actually tomorrow, we're gonna set up a summer training and were gonna actually invite local teachers to join us as well. It's at the Renaissance School.
Marcus: Very cool.
Jen: In Daphne. And I'm really excited to help them and the teachers are so amazing there and their so excited to have my help and work with them so I am excited too.
Marcus: Well I would imagine there's gonna be some learning for you that comes out of that too because any time you step into that it's like okay well what problems are they dealing with?
Marcus: It gives you additional material as well.
Jen: And it feels like I have a school home again. You know? Because sometimes I am just like I know there's people all over and I know what I'm doing in my pajamas is good for people but I am still ... I miss that connection sometimes so it's really exciting for me to kind of go back to my roots of being at a school and coaching a school and teachers locally so I'm excited to do that.
Marcus: And that's awesome that you are still willing to do that
Jen: Oh yeah. And I'm completely volunteering too. Like I'm not charging them at all. I'm just going to help the school because I have a big passion for that school and there's a lot of great things going on there and I wanna build them up and make them really like the king of literacy and instruction in our area.
Jen: This is my goal.
Marcus: That's awesome.
Marcus: What do you like to do in your free time?
Jen: I like to read and I really like to spend time with my family. My backyard. Sit in my backyard and hang out with my family, play cards, watch movies. It's just chill.
Marcus: Yeah, and then I know you guys have been doing a lot of traveling as well, which I think is very ... I only bring it up because of this. The type of business that you own enables you to do that and so the whole premise of, you know like, we mentioned Pat Flynn's smart passive income, you know, you create these assets and those assets are selling when you're in, you know, Costa Rica, or when you're in, you know, Italy, or wherever ... or while you're in San Diego at a conference. But, where have you been in the last year that has just blown your socks off?
Jen: Well, we actually adopted our son from Uganda three years ago so we lived in Uganda for several months through that process and that's when we started homeschooling our kids because we had to. And after that when our oldest was graduating from high school we decided we were gonna go on this big trip to Belize so we spent six weeks in Belize and just hung out, climbed the mountain ...
Marcus: Remember getting the pictures on Facebook and just like wanting to ring your neck, you know?
Jen: I know, I know.
Marcus: But, six weeks in Belize on the beach.
Jen: Yeah, it was pretty amazing.
Marcus: Fishing, and all kinds of other fun stuff. Andy shaking his head like that was a blast.
Jen: They all want to go back.
Marcus: I can imagine.
Marcus: Well, tell people where they can find out more about you, about the products that you have and you know, stuff like that.
Jen: Sure. So, my company name is Out of This World Literacy. So if you went to outofthisworldliteracy.com you would find where my blog is. I also have a pretty big Facebook page that's Out of This World Literacy. You can also go to my name, which is just JenBengel.com and that's where you'll see all of my curriculum and resources that I have available for teachers.
Marcus: Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast to wrap up any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Jen: No, just that this was fun and it was worth getting dressed and driving over eleven miles that I needed to get here.
Marcus: Quick note, she's not wearing pajamas.
Jen: I have on jeans.
Marcus: She actually put on, you know, like real people clothes that have to like go out into the world.
Jen: And there's a picture to prove that.
Marcus: Yeah, there is. There will be a picture accompanying this podcast. Well Jen I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you!
Jen: Thank you Marcus; thank you for your time as well.