Today we interview Martin Stellar, who has a fascinating story. He currently lives in Spain where he helps artists and artisans with their copywriting and email marketing. But before doing that he was a high-end custom tailor – and before that he was a monk. So if you want to find out how he got from there to where he is today, check out this week’s episode.
Martin: I used to really loathe and despise everything “marketing”. I thought it was all very unethical, dirty, and manipulative. My opinion of it didn’t help me when I started my business after I spent 12 years in the monastery. I became a monk when I was about 21, and in that monastery I learned to be a fancy tailor. I made bespoke clothes, a suit that you do by hand which takes 80 hours to make — very fancy stuff.
Once I left the monastery, I decided to start a business. The only thing I was doing at that time was talking to people on forums about clothing and I started a blog. I was one of the first tailors in the world to start a tailoring blog. It went all right and I got some business, but, of course, I didn’t do any marketing because marketing was “very dirty.”
Then my father passed away and left me around $150,000. I thought, “Man, I’m unbreakable. With this now I can’t fail.” I still didn’t think that I needed to do any marketing, so I just went about making the clothes. I continued with the blogging and the forums. But money doesn’t last very long if you don’t know how to bring in business.
At some point that money ran out, and I realized I needed to get wise. I started with Copyblogger. That was the first site where I actually began to understand that marketing doesn’t have to be a dirty thing per se. I spent a few years really studying everything I could get my hands on. From Copyblogger, I went to very intense copywriting courses. I read everything that I could. At some point, I just couldn’t keep it up with the tailoring, even though I had become a little bit smarter, so I decided to move to closer to Marbella, a bigger city about 2 hours away from where I lived, where there are more wealthy people who can afford to buy fancy suits.
But when I moved closer to there, I realized that I needed to start a network because I still didn’t really do any marketing. In the meantime, to pay the bills while building the network, I started writing articles just to get some cash flow. I really liked it and it went very well; people were very happy with it. They asked, “Do you do copyrighting?” So I tried that and it worked. Then came the moment of truth to decide whether I was going to pause my tailoring or basically put it to sleep and become a professional writer. And that’s what I did a few years ago.
Just this year, I decided to make another change and stop selling copy to focus on teaching. I found that was something much more useful for people to understand how business marketing, sales, relationships, and trust all go together.
Meredith: Do you think that if you had known more about marketing when you were doing your tailoring business that you’d still be in that business?
Martin: Yes, I probably would, because I really like the work. It’s beautiful to see the fabric take shape, and it’s a lot of fun to deal with the customer and do the fittings and draw the patterns. I didn’t want to give it up.
Jasper: You actually had an interesting mentor, didn’t you? I remember when I first got into blogging, way back in something like 2009, the thing that motivated me to get into that was a book by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel called Naked Conversations. One of the examples they used was a tailor on Seville Row in London, which is a famous place for people who make very high-end suits. This tailor used blogging to build a market in New York. He would travel there once a year with his suits, sell them to his New York patrons, and then go back to Britain. And he became a sort of mentor of yours, didn’t he, when you started doing the blogging for that?
Martin: In a way. I don’t know if mentor is the right word. At one point, he was going to visit Brussels (I was living in Belgium at that time), and I said, “Hey, I live in Belgium. I would love to meet you. I’m also a tailor.” So we met and had a couple of very nice conversations. He said, “Martin, if you want to start your own business, once you leave that monastery of yours, just start a blog. It’s what I am doing, and it’s working.” So he’s the one who got me started on that whole path of blogging. I was really happy with that because it’s a very human-based way of doing your marketing.
You see, most marketing is about numbers and getting as many clicks as you can, but behind all that, there’s the fact that you need to build a relationship, which is based on trust. That’s the great power of blogging — you can communicate directly with people.
Jasper: Especially with something like tailoring because it’s a very high art craft requiring technical skills, and people who are prepared to pay the money for a high-end suit want to see the craft that goes into making that suit.
Martin: Absolutely. And it’s also a very personal thing. It’s actually quite intimate, not just in the physical sense as you need to get close to somebody and measure them in all kind of places, but also psychologically and emotionally. You have to really understand each person and try to assess what their tastes are. You have to observe their body language and their movements so that you know where to give extra ease for their particular language. For instance, if somebody is always folding his hands with his arms in front of him on the table, he needs a slightly wider back. So you need to really get to know a person in that one, two, three hours you spend with him to cut a pattern that’s not only going to look good, but also feels like it’s made for him.
Meredith: That probably gave you some really good instincts for marketing around your ideal clients and really getting to know them and their needs and tailoring your market to them, because I think a lot of people start out from the perspective of “this is what I have to tell you.”
Martin: Yeah, but that’s a no-no. Yesterday, somebody showed me a website from a physicist who built a new audio system and it’s really, really revolutionary. It’s going to make some waves, I think, when this goes live. In the website, the first line after the brand name starts with, “This is our first product.” It’s not going to fly. It doesn’t work like that, because when somebody is exposed to your marketing message, whether it’s on the website or in a magazine or on Facebook, they don’t care about you and your product. They care about what it means to them, what you can do for them, what problems you can solve — “What’s in it for me?” If you don’t communicate that to people, then you are never going to have the start of the relationship. And without that relationship, it’s going to be very difficult to lead it into a sale.
So, when you say that tailoring taught me something useful, absolutely, because it taught me to listen, observe, and take in what the other person is about. That listening is what all marketing is made of. It’s the other person and his needs, his pains, his worries, his fears, his frustrations, what keeps him up at night. That’s what you want to know. You can only find that out if you listen to people.
I have a marketing newsletter called LEAP, which stands for “Listen, Explain, Ask, Profit.” These four items are what you need in a healthy business, and there’s a very good reason why it starts with listening, because it’s always about the other person.
Martin’s top tips For Marketing A New Business
1) Build a website as a place where people can sign up – it is the first function of your site – you need to build it into a list building machine, because it is from your own list that you will get sales.
2) Emails are the best way to convert people who have shown an interest (ie. signed up) – I write an email to my followers every day. So get your WRITE on!
3) When you write, don’t stop – make your first draft as fast and dirty as possible – get the idea out, then clean it up later.
I like to think of having 3 separate identities – the visionary (the idea generator), he passes the idea onto the writer (the one who does the dirty drafts), – the third persona is the editor – he makes it look pretty and gets the grammar and spelling right ( but don’t ever let him interfere with the writing process or he will stifle it).
4) When you write your email, always include a pitch. If you make it a habit to always include a pitch people will get used to it – as long as you make 95% of the email useful and entertaining.
5) Write as if you are just having a casual conversation with someone (what they call “barstool conversation”). And write to the reader – don’t write about yourself, or your product or service. Show them the solution that you have that will improve their lives.
After spending 12 years in a monastery I went back into the world and found it to be much more fun than I remembered.
I ran a fancy tailoring company for a few years which didn’t work as well as it should have, mostly because the process of tailoring is a very offline kind of business, and I had stubbornly chosen to live in the smallest village I could find on the southern coast of Spain. Dumb? Maybe. Taught me a lot though.
While running that company I studied marketing like crazy (I’m a wordaholic so I read EVERYTHING).
At some point I had to choose: either I move to Madrid or Barcelona, or do something else, location-independent.
City life isn’t for me, so I decided to put my years of marketing study and my well-trained writing hand to good use.
That turned into Single Malt Copy, and these days I teach artists and artisans how to sell their work.
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