My biggest piece of advice is that clarity only comes from action.
Our favorite quote
My biggest piece of advice is that clarity only comes from action.
Our favorite quote
How She Started: What's Cubicle to CEO's story?
Ellen Yin: Cubicle to CEO® is inspired by my journey of leaving the corporate cubicle and becoming the CEO of my own company. I chose to leave that job without a backup plan, and early on in that job search process, I connected with an old coworker of mine who became my first social media client. That kickstarted my freelance career which I then built into a social media agency. That evolved into an education company, and now we're a media company. It's seen many stages, but that was the genesis of my company and the brand that Cubicle to CEO® would become.
HSS: What were the key strategies you used to start the business and grow your customers?
EY: It looked a little bit different for the different business models that we've had in our company history. I knew I wanted to position my service as a premium service. We started with one-to-one marketing services and we grew that through networking, understanding how to develop relationships, and creating messaging around the service. I also found that relationship building came in many forms like collaborations, in-person networking, visibility opportunities, etc.
On the education and media side, our biggest spike in new customer acquisition was when we introduced low-ticket digital products under $30.00 that we ran a lot of paid traffic to. It gave people a very low barrier to entry into our world, but it allowed them to experience what we had to offer and build that trust early on.
In the sales and marketing world, it's always easier to upsell an existing customer than to acquire a new one. We looked to build our list full of buyers and saw immense growth; ~10k+ new customers into our ecosystem over 1-1.5 years. It's continued growing since and because of that success, we evolved our done-for-you marketing agency to online education and now media.
HSS: How do you retain your audience and customers?
EY: From a retention perspective, I think it has to do with building consistency with your audience in a way that builds your content into their daily, weekly, and monthly behavior. For example, with the podcast, we've shown up every Monday for four years in a row, so the people who listen to our show incorporate the podcast in their routines.
They listen on their morning walks, when they wash their dishes, etc. Whatever their habit, they know when to expect to hear from us, and they develop this deep relationship that goes so much beyond basic content consumption. Instead of being randomly served our content in a crowded feed, listening to our podcast is a behavior where they intentionally seek our show out and it becomes more of a destination.
HSS: Is there a moment that you can pinpoint where you felt like Cubicle to CEO® took off?
EY: There have been a couple of different inflection points. We started as a group coaching program, not as a podcast. With that program, we saw a spike in growth around November of 2019 when we developed our first evergreen webinar.
Up until that point, sales were sporadic because there wasn't a streamlined sales vehicle that we were sending everybody to. Once we had that evergreen webinar funnel up, all roads led to that destination. With any traffic efforts or visibility opportunities we would make, I would lead people to watch that free training.
It was like duplicating myself 24/7, so we saw a huge spike in growth. We continued to fuel that through ads and through joint venture collaborations with our peers who would serve a similar audience.
On the podcast side, we saw our biggest growth last summer. We invested in paid advertising specifically for the podcast. Before that, we had played a little bit with running some ads on social media to direct people to the show.
If someone's being served an ad on a social platform to listen to your podcast, and they're not already a podcast listener, it might be too big an ask for them to explore an entirely new content medium. We started playing with advertising on actual podcast apps.
We completely restructured the format of our show before this big inflection point. Every single guest we bring on is chosen for how compelling their case study is and how willing they are to be financially transparent about the data surrounding the implementation of a revenue growth strategy they’ve tested in their own business. Our listeners have come to expect this format and to be able to access transparent data and behind-the-business insights from their favorite entrepreneurs that they can't find anywhere else.
Someone like Amy Porterfield, for example, who has one of the top five marketing podcasts in the world. In her case study, she shared financial insights and her entire pre-launch marketing plan that she had never even disclosed on her platform. Being able to tap into and create that exclusive content makes our show much more attractive to new listeners and helps with retention.
HSS: What is your growth strategy?
EY: Borrowed traffic. While audience building is a necessity for long-term sustainability, in the beginning, you usually don't have a large audience. If your only path to revenue is building your audience first, you'll be playing the waiting game. The best thing to do is think about “where do my ideal customers or audience already exist and how I reach them through the gatekeepers that own those audiences?”
HSS: What are your lessons learned so far?
EY: Because we are constantly evolving, I never stop learning so it’s hard to distill 5+ years of experience into a few succinct lessons. That said, I’ve always built in public and one of the key advocacy efforts I prioritize in my business is publicly disclosing my quarterly financial income reports on the podcast. In these income report episodes, I reflect on the last 90 days and I tell listeners exactly what our business earned, spent, and profited in that quarter.
HSS: Where was being a female an advantage for you and where was it a disadvantage?
EY: I think being a female in business has been an advantage in the ability to be empathetic to your audience and understand on a deep emotional level where they're at, what concerns they might have, what excites them, and what intrigues their curiosity. Having that emotional intelligence has served us in building long-lasting relationships with our community.
Where it's been a disadvantage, I feel is just in the visibility opportunities sometimes that are not easily accessible to women or women may not be the traditional go-to source for expertise.
If you go to some of those bigger industry conferences, it's not uncommon to see everybody looking the same, and oftentimes that is a full male lineup with maybe one or two women peppered in. I think the main disadvantages would just be the path to visibility and sometimes the opportunities. Luckily, I have been very intentional about developing a network of like-minded people who place an emphasis on making sure there is a diverse range of voices represented on stage.
HSS: Do you have any advice for female-founded businesses?
EY: Yes, I would say the biggest piece of advice is that clarity only comes from action. People often assume the opposite, where they try to get clarity by planning and researching and thinking through potential outcomes. The truth is, you don't know what you don’t know until you have real-time data.
Even your best research can only produce assumptions. You have to be willing to actually test those assumptions. I think it’s vital to adopt that mindset of “if I test an assumption and it's wrong, it doesn't say something personal about me.”
I always tell my students to think of themselves as scientists. Scientists are always testing hypotheses, and when the data doesn't prove their hypothesis, they don't shame themselves and go “Oh, I'm not a worthy scientist.” They see that discovery as the true win, and they utilize the new information to make a better-informed hypothesis the next time. I think you kind of have to tackle business the same way and the more quickly you are willing to take action, the more clarity you will receive. That behavior will also lead to making yourself available to notice and take advantage of more opportunities in your path.
HSS: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me!
- Understand your ideal market positioning and integrate that positioning into your marketing strategy.
- Network in multiple environments.
- It is easier to upsell existing customers rather than acquire a new one.
- Ensure your brand is trustworthy and reliable.
- Determine strategies that integrate your business into a habit for your end user.
- Find ways to automate.
- Create strategies that target your ideal customer profile.
- Iterate your strategy based on customer responses. In Ellen’s case, when she became more selective with her podcast guests and interview style, she was rewarded with immense growth in subscribers.
- Your best research is only an assumption so test your hypotheses.
I formed a partnership with SHE Media. SHE Media is "A mission-driven media company that focuses on the extraordinary power of content to inform and inspire the world."
I've always been passionate about women helping other women. I created this blog to tell stories of successful female-founded businesses. Hopefully, these stories will help inspire more women to found their own businesses.