I should be clear in that my business partner and I have had a "real" or traditional business through our outsourcing company before we got started online, so it's probably not the same as getting started from scratch. Still, in less than 2 years of launching our blog we were able to achieve over:
- 326K Visits
- 160K podcast downloads
- Nearly 7K "engaged" email subscribers
- $200K in 2012 (Around $350K overall from this "side-gig")
Some will be astounded with those numbers while others will yawn. It's ok...it's all relative. Still, we're happy and proud of what we were able to accomplish for two guys just donking around and trying to build an online presence. We made many mistakes (and continue to) but we're still learning new things, figuring it out, etc.
Ok...on to the tips!
- Build A Profitable Process First - SO many try to outsource or hire someone else to test out a business idea and this is almost ALWAYS a horrible idea and leads to a Dead On Arrival project. Get it making money and have a clear process or method to your madness and THEN build in people/automation to get it done.
- You're Going To Have To Sacrifice (Give Things Up) - Maybe it's getting drunk on Friday nights? Maybe it's all the tv shows you watch during the week? It's easy to let distractions creep in. Remember to take inventory every 3/6/12 months about what you're doing, working on, and where your priorities are. (This is topical for me today...doing exactly this myself) The quote is something like, "Live Like No One Else So That You Can Live Like No One Else"
- Some Will Question Your Sanity - This isn't something that I dealt with much myself, actually, but I've heard it from SO many entrepreneurs I've talked to that it bares repeating here. When just starting out, some close friends and family will question your judgement, warn you against your path, and make you question the wisdom of your decision. You have to fight through this. Some might argue they're jealous or wish they were doing what you're doing, but I don't think that's necessarily true. They likely just want to look out for you and are worried. When asked whether someone's idea is a good one to pursue, it's much easier Psychologically to shoot it down. You don't want to recommend a course of action and then when it doesn't work out have them come back and blame you for THEIR decision...so it's easier to recommend NOT starting anything. Fight through that...it's hard to keep your head down and get the real work done if you're questioning whether you should be doing it in the first place.
- Niche It Down - We couldn't have even begun to tackle the quite-large "Make Money Online" niche, but building, buying, and selling niche AdSense sites was a small enough niche to tackle and make a dent in. Don't start another general site/brand about tips on making money...niche down until it's slightly uncomfortable and then give yourself an angle to attack it.
- Steal Others' Ideas - Ok, that sounds a bit provocative...but what I'm talking about here is innovating on things others have started. Our friends Dan and Ian at the Lifestyle Business Podcast advocate a "Rip, Pivot, Jam" strategy. Rip a successful approach or tactic from others, Pivot the idea to improve/innovate/differentiate yourself, and Jam by putting your head down and knocking out the work.
- Stop Asking For Permission - You know what I mean. You'll see a ton of threads here where people are asking things like, "Does this really work?", "What do you think about this approach?", etc. This is an employee mindset...asking your "boss" for permission to start on a new project. In many cases, you'll get people that know LESS than you responding...how is that helpful? Avoid asking for permission from family/friends as well. (See my point above about questioning your sanity) If you want to hash out some of the finer points in a particular plan, do it with your customers/clients...the ones that pay you for what you deliver.
- Find A Mastermind/Community...Or Make Your Own - It's said that you are a reflection of the 5 people closest to you. It's a good idea to make sure those people are guys/gals you're proud of...defensible. Reach out to others you like/respect online and see if they're involved in a mastermind, community, etc. that might be a good fit for you. If not, consider starting your own! :-)
- Earnings Are A Direct Reflection Of Value Created - This sounds a little New-Agey, but we've found loads of demonstrable proof this is true. The best way to build authority and connections in your niche (and ultimately make money) is to be incredibly helpful and provide tremendous value to others. I'm not talking about unique content purchased on Fiverr...I'm talking about over-the-top, "I HAVE to email you just to let you know how much this affected me" kind of value.
- Blog Drafting Works - I think I heard of this from Derek Halpern or some other marketer, but the basic idea is to find others in and around your niche that have similar goals and align yourselves with them. Freely share their information with your readers/listeners, invite them on for interviews, guest posts, etc. We did this with Chris Guthrie, NichePursuits and TropicalMBA and it has made all of our sites/brands better for it.
- Make Regular Deposits In The Trust Bank - Whenever we provide something of value for free or specifically get involved in helping others solve/sort a problem without charging, we view it as a deposit in our trust bank. It boosts the trust that others put in us and strengthens the bond we have with our readers, fans, super-fans, etc. This trust leads to purchases...so keep the bank full! Careful with this...it can take a long time to build trust but it can be lost awfully quickly. Protect that at all costs.
- View Engagement As A Funnel - As you grow, you'll see that there are different levels of engagement in your audience. I haven't fully fleshed this idea out, but basically there are: New Visitors, Casual Readers, Regular Readers, Fans, Superfans. Make sure you're speaking clear enough and engaging the first 2-3, but add in connections with the last 2 specifically. Do your best at easing them down the funnel as best you can. (See the 1,000 True Fans post)
- Employ A "Be Everywhere" Strategy - I have to give Pat Flynn a bunch of credit for this as it's a strategy he champions and it definitely works. The different groups I mentioned above prefer to consume content through different mediums...so give that to them. Create blog posts, Tweets, FB groups, podcast episodes, video, Google +, Quora, etc. Remember that video and podcasts are GREAT at building value and for sliding people down the engagement funnel.
- Don't Worry About "Site Leakage" - Others will make valid arguments against us, but this works for us and so I'm sharing it here. Don't be "That Guy"...the one that doesn't want to link to or share other helpful/valuable content with your audience because you don't want them to leave your site. Yes, this may work and be important for niche sites or a sales page, but not for your business...your brand. It's better to make yourself a hub of information and link to others that know MORE than you! We've always taken this approach...if the visitor doesn't care enough or isn't "smart" enough to be able to come back to our site for more information...we don't really want them anyway. :-)
- Respond To Everyone - Whether it's an email, a comment on our blog, an iTunes review, etc. We reply to, comment on, and highlight each and every one of them. I think this stems from a genuine amazement that others are so appreciative of our work and an interest in connecting. I recently heard that others I respect and are at the top of their game (Gary Vaynerchuk and Mark Cuban) employed a similar strategy. I didn't know that when we started off, but it makes sense looking back. Again...this encourages them to head down the engagement funnel. We also have Google alerts every time our brand is mentioned and I'll often comment/respond no matter how big or small the blog, reference, etc. (I actually had someone tease me about this once...I showed up on the blog/comment and saw something like, "I know Justin will be along shortly to comment" or something along those lines, hehe)
- Create Content For Your Avatar - No I'm not talking about the movie or some virtual reality creation! :-) Your Avatar in this instance is that ONE person you envision as the "perfect" customer for what you're looking to sell. Give him/her details. What does he/she like or not like? Where does he/she live? What is their life like? How can you help them? Speak to your Avatar and you'll build a tribe of customers/clients/audience that look like that.
- Write The Stuff That's Scary - You may or may not be a fan of Howard Stern, but I love the transition in his movie (Private Parts) where he goes from holding back in his job as a DJ to just letting loose...and how that boosted his success. Along those same lines but in a different context, we've found that talking about and sharing those pieces of our business that are a bit uncomfortable turn into some of our best content and often gets the best response. Writing detailed income reports, sharing our struggles with our partnership, etc...things that are somewhat private and uncomfortable to talk about are the EXACT things that resonate well with our audience.
- Build A Real Business - My friend Dan mentioned this the other day - the "World Of Warcraft" entrepreneur - and I thought that was an interesting way to describe someone. Some here and elsewhere will advocate whipping together some PPC campaigns, ebooks, or niche sites and calling it a day with their business strategy. Sure, that can work if you're just looking to make a bit of cash on the side, but don't bother calling it a business as it's more of a hobby. Some are fine with that as a hobby or while they're learning or figuring things out...but don't deceive yourself and call it a business.
- Haters Gonna Hate - If you're taking a stand on anything it's going to turn some away and piss some people off. That's fine. In fact, you might want to consider having an Anti-Avatar...an idea of people you do NOT want as customers/readers/clients. Go as far as calling them out! Tell people why they're not a great fit for you. It might piss them off, but your "true fans" will love you for it.
- Find A Target You Respect And Try To Crush Them - I have a ton of respect for Pat Flynn and his approach at SmartPassiveIncome. Still...I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to "crush" him on revenue with our income reports! It never happened (came close one month) but I think we're the better for it and a little friendly competition (one sided as it was) helped us grow. Our "shoot for the stars and hit the moon" strategy...
- Attention Is A Valued Currency - Earning someone's attention makes everything else in the sales process SO much easier. You can use tricks to snatch people's attention (paid traffic, social media promotion, etc.) but you have to have an offer that keeps it. Make them need to come back to you as a source for information in your niche. My buddy Dan puts it like this, "Be the New York Times in your niche regarding X."
- Respect Your Audience's Time - If you're sending out an email, linking to a video, etc...consider the time implications on your audience and respect that. For example, if I link to a blog post that will take 20 minutes to read and send it to 7,000 people, I'm asking for 2,333 hours of their time!! I'll probably only get 25% of that (583 hours) based on Click Through Rates...but I have to respect that and only send them to high-quality stuff. It may not appeal to everyone, but it should at least be top-tier content.
- Be A Real Person - I used to think that when doing business, you need to be "corporate" (stuffy?) so that you promote an air of professionalism and come across as non-offensive. I've found much more recently that it's FAR better to inject yourself, your personality, and to care less about that. I can be silly, kind of dork, and casual in tone and that's fine...MY customers don't care about that and probably appreciate it. (You might want to tone this down just a touch in a true B2B approach...but not so much that your personality doesn't shine through...I'd still lean towards more personality and less pompousness)
- Runway And The 1,000 Day Principle - On the LBP, they discuss the concept of "Runway" and the "1,000 Day Principle". Basically, this talks about the fact that you have to have enough personal savings in reserves to start working on your business full-time. Cut out any needless expenses or fluff you've built up while working your job or in corporate America and stick with the true necessities. As an example, that can turn your $20K in savings from a 5 month runway to a 10 month runway...allowing you enough to give your business the lift it needs to get off the ground. It will likely take your business 1,000 days to go from start-up mode to an operating business so keep that in mind. (Your business could become profitable much earlier than that of course...but it's a good estimate on how long it will take for your business to become mature)
- Building A Job Vs. Building A Business And Knowing The Difference - Many consultants end up putting themselves in positions where they're not replaceable. Maybe it's just them or they've hired a small 2-3 man team (with Virtual Assistants even) that handle the needs of their clients. That's ok, but they're not building a business. In building a business you're constantly replacing yourself and baking in enough cashflow to where you're not the linchpin required to keep the business running. You should make a decision on your direction, know the difference between the two, and start heading towards that.
- Don't Be A Gatekeeper Of Knowledge - If it's a business you're after, don't put yourself in a position where you're protecting information to keep yourself in a position of power. This is likely weak carry-over thinking from your employee mindset. (If you're the only one that knows how to do it you keep yourself from being redundant) This has no place in your company and your employees that use this tactic deserve no respect.
- Use A Skill Transfer Process - By far, this has been the absolute best way to transfer knowledge and skillsets from person to person that I've ever seen. I learned it from my mentor Dan M. years ago and we've used this in several different businesses and with hundreds of employees in the US, in the Philippines, etc. It works across cultures and has been amazing for us. We talk about it at length here and here.
- You Don't Have To Follow Your Passion...Let It Come - I know plenty promote a "Follow Your Passion" approach, but what I've found is that you're very likely to FIND your passion in whatever it is you're doing so don't let that be the primary deciding factor on whatever it is that you choose. For example, I'm not terribly fired up about writing content for a site about "blue ski boots"...but I'm definitely passionate about helping our agents here in the Philippines provide for their families, helping them grow and learn, sharing with others around the world our lessons to help them leave jobs they hate and change their lives, etc. Your passion will manifest itself, don't worry.
- Take All Of This With A Grain Of Salt! - It's often that someone finds something that works for them and they automatically assume that it will work for others. (Worse yet...they'll think their idea is the ONLY way and that other competing ways/ideas are losers.) We're all guilty of this at some level or another...but keep in mind that nobody has the answer to YOUR path to success. They may share what worked for them, but it doesn't mean it's repeatable for anyone else...especially for you! Avoid anyone that tells you this is the ONLY way or definitively the BEST way. (How would they know...have they tried EVERYTHING else? Bleh...) They're likely selling something. (Poorly, I'd add) I'll add that you're right to be skeptical of online claims and that honing your BS detector is a good idea.
- Get Started - On something...today... As my friend Damian repeated to me the other day, it's much easier to change direction when you're moving. So pick a direction and start heading towards it! Maybe it won't work...maybe it's an old/tired approach...but you can't listen to armchair quarterbacks, you have to try it out for yourself.
Which points stood out, have you struggled with, or have been shown to be true in your business? Any tips you'd like to share? We'd love to hear your thoughts and hope you found this valuable. If so, let us know...we'd love to hear from you!