Explaining History LogoCase Study: Explaining History

Product: Marketing Masterplan

Client: Nick Shepley, MD, Explaining History

Building a publishing business from scratch and with no knowledge of marketing has been tough. We’ve made mistakes but are now learning from them."


Explaining History is a series of twenty ebooks, supported by a podcast and other social media, the ebooks are downloadable through a variety of platforms and distributed by online publishers.

Explaining History is typical of many businesses, where the idea is born out of the founder’s passion for the topic. The depth of knowledge on the subject was vast – but that knowledge didn’t include marketing. So, the business started without a clear plan. There was certainly no lack of effort – just an acute shortage of profits.

As owner Nick Shepley explains “I started Explaining History when I was a teacher, with no knowledge of marketing whatsoever, and as a result it has grown in the most haphazard and unprofitable manner imaginable. After several years of hard work, we were only generating a trickle of revenue – and I couldn’t understand why.” (Tweet this)

How Watertight Marketing helped

Joining the Watertight Marketing Masterplan, Nick identified with the Watertight Marketing methodology, in particular the Thirteen Touchpoint Leaks – a process that highlights where a business is leaking profits. These were the key focus areas Nick identified in the programme workshop.

Leak 7 – Information overload

If you present all your information at once, you are very likely to put people off – and the Explaining History site was a classic example.

Overflowing with web copy, guest essays, book reviews, but not actually speaking directly to any particular audience it was a confusing offer. That’s because they had never given any thought to the conversation they wanted to have. As the Masterplan session progressed, it dawned on Nick that he was attempting to chase two audiences at once, history students and armchair enthusiasts – and failing to successfully communicate with either.

Leak 2 – Poor on-boarding

On-boarding is a critical period in the customer experience. It’s the time when a customer is sussing out whether a company is living up to the expectations they had – or not.

With his broad and unfocussed offer Nick was sending out confusing messages to some of the customers that he did sign up. The armchair history enthusiasts were expecting far more for their money, confusing 'introductory guides' for full blown 500 page history books – resulting in a number of unprofitable customer service issues. These took a lot of time to deal with for very little business in return. However, he did receive supportive emails from students who saw Explaining History as an important part of their learning. Could this be where the real potential was?

The wrong kind of work

Underpinning the Thirteen Touchpoint Leaks, Watertight Marketing looks at underlying behaviours that often cause them. These are called the Foundation Leaks. A common one is taking on the wrong kind of work – often because it's hard to say no as a business starts out – and, work that looks easy to win can seem extremely attractive.

While some of the Explaining History product offer was right for the education market – it was also attracting the armchair enthusiasts. These were the 'wrong kind of work' because they were eating time, and energy, for less than no return. The longer they remained catering for the wrong kind of customer, the greater the risk they’d lose the business they really wanted.

The breakthrough

Applying the profit leaks to his business helped Nick realise that the solution was obvious when you looked from outside, rather than inside, the business. Pick the audience where the relationship was good, who wanted to buy his product and focus exclusively on them. In other words, simplify the information overload and focus on creating a great customer experience for a market he knew was receptive.

Identifying where he was going wrong made perfect sense to Nick. “It is amazing to think that I really didn’t know these things before and that I had gone out of my way to confuse myself, and the customers.”

Explaining History has now re-focused on the education market. They have a planned publishing programme aimed at schools, colleges and libraries while continuing to sell on Amazon and other digital platforms. What’s more, by creating a narrow, concentrated brand that addresses specific needs, pupils and teachers will have a better opportunity to get to know the brand and what it does, giving Explaining History traction.

The future

Following the Watertight Marketing process finds Nick a relieved man. He now knows what Explaining History does, how it works and who it is for. And, while he’s not sorry he made his own mistakes, he’s pleased that working with Watertight Marketing has helped him learn from them.


Nick Shepley, MD - Explaining History

“Some people might find it galling that their work had come to nothing. I really don’t see it that way, I am glad I have made my mistakes, and with the help of Watertight Marketing learned from them. Now I have a clear sense of who my audience is, what they need, how to address that and how to engage with them in a way that pleases and excites them. I am enthusiastic to really build the brand.”

Time to say goodbye to confused customers, and poor profits.

That’s all history now!

© Watertight Marketing Ltd

This case study was prepared by Watertight Marketing Accredited Consultant – Ben Wheeler.

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