Interview with Steve Sztopek, whose membership website for professional picture framers and gallery owners is a model of decorum

Steve Sztopek

Steve Sztopek

Steve Sztopek says that, metaphysically, you have to be out of your mind to be successful. Whatever he is doing, it seems to be working.

In the following inspiring interview, he tells us how he followed his bliss, learned picture framing, marketing, and finally, online publishing.

MEQUODA By way of background what did you do before PictureFramer.com?

SS It all started out of desire to be in my own business in 1981. Previous to starting, I had no experience in picture framing except to cut my own mats and assemble a metal frame together.

I did have a passion for photography, developed and printed my own black and white photographs and entered various art competitions.

It’s really very simple. If you want something, go get it! It’s called determination and persistence. 

—Steve Sztopek

I was a member of the Los Angeles County Art Museum, did a lot of gallery hopping at higher end galleries, not the decorative type art galleries that are everywhere and fell in love with abstract and contemporary art.

When I started out, I was at a low end in my life, didn’t want to work for someone as an employee and decided that picture framing was going to be my work.

It’s funny how when you make a final commitment and decision to do something in your life, doors open, phone calls happen and you meet people who can further your desires and aims.

I told everyone in the world that I was a picture framer. Since I didn’t have a store yet, I made house calls and some customers even came to my apartment to get art framed.

Now my business is three brick-and-mortar stores strong. Once you have the formula down, just repeat it.

Location is a very important factor but I could open a store anywhere and still make money, because the quality is there.

Once customers recognize that you put out the best frame in the world, they’ll beat a path to your door and turn into lifetime customers as well as refer their friends to you.

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MEQUODA What best describes your position with PictureFramer.com? Are you the founder/sole owner/president/webmaster—all of the above—or what? Was this website your creation?

SS All of the above.

I was fascinated with the boom of the internet in 1997 and started collecting domain names. At one point, I had 54 domain names, now only 32.

I noticed that even in 1997 names were being scooped up left and right. Pictureframer.com was available, so the rest is history. In the beginning, it was a very amateur looking website. I used a WYSIWYG editor to make it.

MEQUODA What motivated you to launch your membership site?

SS At the time of capturing the domain name pictureframer I wanted to provide information to other framers. Call it the teacher in me.

So I started writing about what I had learned thus far in my 16 years at that time.

I gave away the information free just to get subscribers.

My subscribers are new picture framer entrepreneurs and existing framers who want to market their business and make more sales and more dollars.

Only in the last two years have I started charging for the information in The Ultimate Guide To Picture Framing Success letters. It was originally called Riches instead of “Success” in the title. Riches seemed to sound a little hypey.

MEQUODA How long has your site been active and what is your subscription fee structure? What is included with a subscription?

SS The MemberGate website has only been active since February 16, 2004. That was when the decision was made to take the website to a professional level. I give thanks to Bill Myers who I had been following for six or seven years.

I used Bill’s fee structure as my model. I felt it was a fair charge for my 23 years of learning experiences handed to the novice on a silver platter.

The fees are $24.95 for three months recurring and $87 for a one-year subscription.

Before the MemberGate conversion, I was charging $37 just for access to the Ultimate Guide letters. The rest of the site was free.

MEQUODA How easy, time-consuming, etc. is the process of adding new content? How often do you add new content?

SS Adding new content is easy, just like Bill says at the MemberGate site. I’m a one-man show for the website and content is added weekly to monthly. Part of the website is in HTML through copy and paste with my HTML editor, but most of it is through just typing in the content through the fantastic control panel in MemberGate.

MEQUODA I notice that one of the downloads that you offer members is Claude Hopkins’s Scientific Marketing. You’ve been reading marketing books for a long time, right? What are your favorites? Which books have most influenced you?

SS You can never read enough about marketing. My first entry into marketing was through a seminar I attended given by Jay Abraham. I was hooked after that three-day seminar.

Then I received a letter from Bill Myers with a headline that said, “Is There A Writer Inside You?” I signed up for his newsletter delivered by mail and have been a devout fan ever since.

In fact, I modeled his headline and changed it to, “Is There A Picture Framer Inside You?” Bill is a dynamic, creative and very smart man. I’m a member of his site bmyers.com and have hooked other friends onto him as well.

I probably invested over $15,000 buying every marketing and copywriting book out there, most off the Internet.

My most favorite and influential mentors are Jay Abraham, Bill Myers, Dan Kennedy, Brian Keith Voiles (copywriting), Ted Nicholas and Claude Hopkins.

MEQUODA Marketing and promotion seem to be a great challenge for most subscription website publishers. How have you approached this task, and what kind of results have you experienced?

SS I’m not the smartest when it comes to search engine stuff, so I have my basic key words and meta tags listed and that’s it. Since the site has been around for seven years, I usually have first page listing with most search engines.

However, one secret I do use is Google AdWords and that has been a big boon to the website.

You have to invest in yourself. When I get emails from all the whiners out there who complain that my site used to be free, I say if you can’t afford $24.95 to invest and sculpt your future, then good bye and go get a job the rest of your life.

My results for the first full month in business (March 2004) was the most money I had made on the site since first charging. I was surprised. This month (April) is projected for even more.

MEQUODA Do you have any plans for advertising on your site? If so, how will you attract advertisers? Is ad revenue a significant source of your business model?

SS Yes, I’m going to offer marketing books that I have purchased the resale rights to and some affiliate books. And no, ad revenue is practically non-existent at this early stage of the website as it is currently only two months new.

MEQUODA For Mequoda members who are devising premium content strategies for their online properties, any advice you would offer?

SS Role model bmyers.com. Whatever ideas you have in your mind…well, get them out of your mind and into your website.

If you look at it metaphysically, you have to be “out of your mind” to be successful. Everything, all the ideas in your mind, can only be successful when you manifest them on the physical level. That means getting them “out of your mind”.

It’s really very simple. If you want something, go get it! It’s called determination and persistence.

MEQUODA What has been your greatest challenge to date, doing business online?

SS The challenge is learning all the stuff to pull it together with a regular website. From getting a real merchant account set up that transfers the money into your bank down the street to making the site interactive.

You want to make your site “sticky” so that visitors hang around for more than 20 seconds.

With MemberGate, you can take yourself to the next level, because it is modeled after the top 100 websites on the Internet.

MEQUODA What tips would you pass on to aspiring publishers who want to start a subscription-based website?

SS Follow the leader. In one word: MemberGate.

MEQUODA What’s the best or smartest thing you’ve done? What’s the worst?

SS The best and smartest thing I did was learn everything I could about marketing and put the principles into action. If you don’t implement your ideas, nothing happens.

The worst thing you can do is nothing. As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as failure. Risk is not failure. Failing to risk is failure. Just do it. You’ll learn from every experience you do, whether it’s learning your craft or learning how to market to your customer base.

MEQUODA What subscription-based websites do you subscribe to and/or recommend?

SS Of course, I belong to your website, Mequoda.com and bmyers.com. My focus is on marketing because it is the only thing that builds sales. And sales build referrals, which in turn build more sales. Once your snowball is rolling, it can only get bigger.

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