10 Fast Ways to Become a Better Writer (Even When You’re Burning the Midnight Oil and Can’t Afford an Editor Just Yet)

In the world of online and email communication, writing powerful copy makes all the difference.

Writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you’re bad at writing and don’t like to do it, you’ll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated. -Paul Graham

The sun’s been down for hours and you are alone with a warm drink next to your laptop. You’re burning the midnight oil again in the back room, building your online business, and you know you need to put another post up on your blog, but you’re just not sure what, exactly, to write about.

The struggle of building your business and hustling on the side is that you don’t always have the time and luxury to write whenever you want, and while the idea of editors, proofreading, and revising your essays sounds great-you need to write something and write it now.

For people working a full-time job during the day, juggling families, and responding to other demands, having ample time to fill notebooks, draft, and re-write sounds like a pipe dream.

How can you quickly improve your writing? What tools are there beyond grammar and spellchecker to make sure you’re doing your best work?

Sometimes we need tactical, specific, and immediately useful tips to make our writing better. Most writing tips, for me, always seem to feel good – and then I struggle with the actual writing and re-writing. How do you transform the writing tips of Stephen King, Stephen Pressfield, Seth Godin, and Ray Bradbury (amazing storytellers, all) into actionable outcomes?

Here are 10 of my favorite strategies that help when you’re self-editing, scrambling to make ends meet, and holding both a beer and a coffee in your hands while trying to write-and want to do your best work.

1. Start with a story.

Begin your piece with a fable that illustrates your point and shows the reader what it is that you’re talking about. Develop a scene and a scenario where people can nod their heads and say, yes, I see, that happens to me. I can picture myself doing that.

Despite how useful facts and lists are, stories are what resonate. We’re pulled into the grip of a helicopter crash, and most of us can’t look away when we see bright lights or hear loud noises. It’s the pull of the story and the unknown that captures our attention. Stories are memorable, and we can tell and re-tell them; they are, in fact, how we wire information into our brains.

Great writers on the web today hook readers in with stories, creating fictional (or narrative non-fictional) scenes with detail, specificity, and color.

Here are two great examples:

DANIELLE LAPORTE, ON MANAGING & LOVING MONEY:

No one ever taught me how to manage money. My folks were young and working, Catholic High School didn’t give me any tips, and I skipped college. So that left me and my Visa card, which mysteriously showed up in the mail on my nineteenth birthday. I promptly went shopping that weekend. And the next weekend.”

If you look closely, the post is actually about a book launch, but the first paragraph isn’t about the book, the author, or the call-to-action at the end of the post. It’s a relatable, tangible story that outlines the problem all to common to many people: the problem of managing money, and the story of what happened when she got her first free credit card.

Caleb Wojcik, on The Metrics You Should Measure:

You know the rush. A guest post you’ve written goes live on a huge site, you finally launch the product you’ve been working on for months, or an older article of yours gets Gizmodo’d. You watch your traffic spike and you can’t peel yourself away from the analytics for the whole day.

‘Look at all those visitors!’ you yell to your significant other as they feign interest.”

This post is about what you measure when you’re evaluating your blog, website, traffic, or product. The introductory story, however, is about that feeling you get when you see a post of yours go live, hit the charts, or make the rounds in Twitter-and the way your significant other may or may not be involved in your online business.

You can also use this strategically in personal emails. For example, rather than jumping to the question you’re dying to ask, you can start out with a quick story (or set the scene for where you are). This situates the reader (on the other end, perhaps in some place far different than where you are) within the framework of your life. Like Instagram but with words, you can give a little snippet of your life through language:

For example, change typical emails that begin:

Hey Ryan, how are you? Hope you’re well.

To a quick setting of the scene-showing where you are and what’s in your life:

Hey Ryan,The other day, I was walking through the streets of San Francisco and grumbling about the never-ending fog. I realized that the city was like a refrigerator. Now that I’m in New York, I miss the air-conditioning and I also miss many of my friends like you dearly. It reminded me to email you and say hello. I hope you’re well.

In both blog posts and in emails, using stories helps you illustrate your point and takes general advice and makes it something the reader can see and feel.

2. Start with a question.

Much of life, and blog posts, are paradoxes, not answers. Starting with the answer first can be terrifying (and worse, inaccurate or incomplete).

We revisit the same ideas over and over again not because we’ve conclusively decided, but because each topic is worth thousands of conversations. We need the reminders, we meditate on the ideas, and we each have our own flavor and take on the issue. In a recent New York Times Opinion piece about the suffering in Syria, the author opens the essay with a question that haunts human philosophy: Does the torrent of suffering ever abate – and can one possibly find any point in suffering?”

You don’t need to answer the question to write a great story or essay. Begin with a question, and add your thoughts.

3. Play with the use of first, second, and third person narrative.

First person is filled with “I” statements-great when you know the author, or you have a relationship with the person doing the writing. Second person uses “you” all the time-and can be a wonderful tool for creating empathy and describing a scene that you want the reader to inhabit-but can become bossy quickly with excessive use. Third person focuses on the scene or the action from an anonymous observer within the room.

Most of the time, we don’t actually care about the writer. Your reader wants to know exactly how the writing affects him or her-and whether or not the reading is going to matter to them specifically Right from the start, you should paint a picture of the person or scene and show the action happening.

While first-person can be a tremendous tool as a writer, many bloggers (myself included) are often far too liberal in writing our experiences. Luckily, there’s a quick way to fix this: write the post you would normally write, and then edit selectively to remove the “I” from a couple of paragraphs.

Take a paragraph that looks like this, for example:

I was tired and hungry from a long day and the rain was beating down on my bike helmet. I didn’t want to work anymore-I was completely exhausted and ready to hit the hay. But I knew how important it was to continue to get this project out the door-it was my first real project as an entrepreneur, and delivering it mattered.

And turn it into this (reducing the use of I statements-but still narrative):

The rain beat down on my bike helmet. It was a long and tiring day. Sometimes it feels better to hit the bed instead of continuing to work-but I wanted to impress my newest client. Getting projects out the door on time is critical for first-time entrepreneurs. It was important to deliver, and deliver well.

You’ll know when removing the first person is great when the paragraph stands on its own without the use of the first person narrative.

Take this post by Chase Reeves on “How Much You Should Be In Your Business?”– the opening sentence is focused on the reader (the second person). For the sake of contrast, I’ll rewrite the opener in two different ways as a point of comparison.

Original (Second Person): “You’re here because you want to create a business that supports you. You want to build something that earns and affords you the life you aim for.”

First Person: “The more important thing to my business is creating something that supports me-something that affords me the life I want and creates earnings I can live off of.”

Third Person: “It’s clear why building a business is critical—it’s a form of support. It’s a source of earnings and creates a desirable lifestyle.”

To me, the original (second person) option is the most powerful-it connects with the reader, has them nodding yes, that’s my vision, and sets the parameters for the post. The first person version makes me wonder why I care about theirbusiness, and the third person feels dry and impersonal.

If you’ve written something and you know the content is good-but it’s not resonating in the way that you want-try re-writing it from a different point of view. That might be the trick to creating the snappy writing you want.

4. Talk it through.

Start with the communication vehicle you’re most comfortable with. Most people get stuck writing because they haven’t done it enough. They haven’t sat at the computer and made writing a habit, and each time they do eventually get to the screen, they agonize over each word choice and sentence until they’ve beaten the poor essay to death, 500 words and 2 bottles of wine later, declaring, “I’ll never write again, no, not me!”

If you’re stuck on writing, chat with a friend and use voice recorder, or stomp around your office or hallway and talk things out. Much of great conversation and thinking is done while moving-why should we sit and expect the great ideas to pour out of us once we’ve relegated our bodies to stillness? Start talking, start recording, and go for a walk. Many a mile I’ve walked with an earphone in my ear and a voice recorder on, pretending to talk to someone else while I’m actually just talking to myself.

5. Write the outcome you want first-by beginning with the ending.

Start with the ending, and the desired action. Sometimes the posts I write are creative, lyrical, poetic, and exploratory-that’s fine. Other times, I want something, and I want something specific. Perhaps it’s a donation to charity water, or a sign-up to my latest writing workshop. Each time, I think carefully and specifically about the person who will be reading the essay, and the end of the piece, and what action I want them to take.

Step one: write the desired outcome. Before writing your post, write the action or outcome that you want people to do. How do you want them to take action?

For example, a desired outcome might be getting people to sign up and enroll forFizzleCo. So, begin by writing this outcome down:

Sarah goes to the website, reads my post, and nods. Yes, she’s having all those problems I’m articulating. She really wants something to help her with online business training. Why does she click on the post at the end? Something is really compelling-she clicks because she’s having trouble figuring out how to make great videos and wants to talk to more people who are having the same issue-so, here’s what I’ll write at the end: Want to get better at making outstanding videos and meet more customers? Sign up for FizzleCo.

Step two: Outline the puzzle pieces (usually I use post it notes across my desk) that create a story framework that will lead to this desired outcome:

  • Start with a story-introduction that elucidates the situation or pain point
  • Add in background information and expert details;
  • Create the framework for a solution to the problem with suggested steps;
  • End with a call to action and final solution (your recommended solution).

6. Write about things you know.

Write about things that seem incredibly obvious to you (and that you’re perhaps overlooking). Describe how you do things, and how you sort your day. Pay attention to the questions people ask you at conferences, in email, and during dinner conversations for clues to what people want to know. Surprisingly, people are incredibly different and what you do may be novel to someone else.

7. Be incredibly specific.

Clichés and abstract thinking are painful to read and prevalent across every type of writing. The solution to clichés is to get incredibly specific-start detailing the scene and describe who is doing what, where you are, and what is happening. Examples are more powerful than anecdotes.

For example:

It was grueling, and I was exhausted. I’d never worked so hard in my life.

Can be turned into something much more specific, with details about who, what, where, when, and why:

My arms were quivering and shaking; in retrospect, doing a 26-mile run the day before writing my launch essay was probably not the best strategy. I could barely keep my fingers above my keyboard.

8. After you’ve written your essay, go back and delete the first and the last paragraph.

After you’ve written your post or essay, go back and delete the first and last paragraph. The body usually contains the most of the “meat” of the post, and many writers amble on too long in the introductions and conclusions. Try deleting it and shortening it to make it sweet and punchy.

9. Mimic great writers you like.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you’re stuck, use Evernote to copy and trace patterns that you like. I like to save out great essays and drafts from my favorite writers, print them, and then highlight them to study how people write effectively. Behind the words that you enjoy the most are patterns and clues to great writing.

For example:

  • Email headings: Pay attention to what you click on in emails-what were the five emails you opened first today? What did the headlines say? Jot those down. Circle words that felt great. Were they long or short? What made you want to click? Take one you like and flip it around to become something that works for your business, idea, or model.
  • Start with a bang. Use powerful ledes. Not sure what a lede is? (It’s the bullet or grab at the beginning of a story, made clear in the first paragraph) – skim 5 opening paragraphs of the New York Times with a highlighter and see what you like about each one. Convert it to your own style.
  • End with a boom. Wrap up the writing with a punchy statement, a leading question, or a call to action. If you’ve deleted your first and last paragraphs, perhaps there was one sticky statement you wanted to keep-perhaps distilling that into one sentence will do the trick.

10. Write less and link more.

Find examples and point to them. It’s perfectly okay to not reinvent the wheel – it can be equally valuable to curate great content or showcase your process of discovery if it’s lead you to a great outcome or conclusion.

Here are three of my favorite articles on how to be a better writer:

In todays’ world of digital and fractured communication, writing is more essential than almost any other skill-when you get better at writing, you get better at everything.

Writing isn’t just a tool for communication – it’s a tool for creative generation and unlocking what’s within your mind. It’s a tool for discovery, search, synthesis and re-wiring. Writing regularly is not just a means to create content, but is itself a tool to generate ideas and crystalize ideas. Whenever you can, use a notebook, use Evernote, google docs, or another system to capture your ideas and practice collecting (and imagining) ideas.

The more you write, the easier it gets, just like any other habit. When I first began writing, it could take me 6 to 8 hours to write a short post. Today, I can start and finish a post in under an hour minutes if I’ve been thinking about it during the week-writing has gotten easier to do because I keep it up as a habit. I use writing and sketching regularly as a means to generate ideas. My notes become stories, my stories become paragraphs, my thinking wanders over the page, and then I pour content into the computer.

But when you’re pressed for time-or you’re stuck in the here and now of needing to write a post, having someone to tell you that “practice” and “consistency” are the best tools to get better at writing doesn’t help you with the post that you’ve got to find a way to write-right now.

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13 Successful Founders Share First Product Stories

13 Successful Founders Share First Product Stories

Hear how they made their first product along with lessons learned, what they wish they’d known and their best advice.

The Fizzle Show dedicated the month of January to helping folks think better about making their first product by sharing the stories of others:

  1. Finding The Idea for Your First Product
  2. Pricing Hangups
  3. Conversion Essentials
  4. The Failure Plan
  5. 13 Successful Founders Share First Product Stories (this one)

Below we’re making available each interview featured in the series… of course, you’ll miss out on our brilliant commentary in the podcasts, but we thought you’d like it this way as well.


Anne SamoilovBlogger and founder of Fearless Launching, a step by step course for launching your first anything.

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • She didn’t have confidence at first… which was crazy, she had already done TONS of this kind of work.
  • Struggled with “this isn’t sexy enough; not good enough yet.”
  • She didn’t see how valuable this stuff was… “the stuff I just did every day was super valuable to people.”
  • “I wish I had charged more.” She was afraid people wouldn’t show up.
  • She was a great team player… helped others with their products even if they were in competing spaces; saw it as a chance to grow her own reach and influence.

Matt Alexander — Founder of NeedLifestyle.com, a startup in mens fashion with all the right backers making all the right moves.

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • He had a feeling of inadequacy. It ended up becoming an asset… the fresh pair of eyes and naiveté was useful.
  • He had nothing but the value of a good idea… thought it wasn’t enough, but it really was.
  • Be humble, you don’t know what you’re doing. no one does.

Leo Babauta — Founder of ZenHabits.net, one of internet’s top 50 sites (!). A guy who drinks tea slowly and serves his audience matterfully.

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • He wanted to create something of value instead of selling their attention with advertisements.
  • The product idea came from a handful of posts titled Zen to Done that his audience liked a lot.
  • Your first product is a learning process. Expect that.
  • Because he was blogging, the audience already trusted him.
  • He worried a lot about numbers early on… traffic, affiliates, launch day. None of that matters. Put something out that really helps people and it will grow.

Josh Shipp — Founder of Youth Speaker University and an insanely popular youth speaker. (He does balloon animals. He toured with Bill Cosby. Literally).

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • In order to one day make the product you want to make, you have to start with a crappy first draft.
  • Learning before earning: let the first one be about what you learn… not just the results of the sales.
  • Realized his speaking career was a “high paying manual labor job” that limited both his income and his impact.
  • Wondered how he could put his service oriented business in a box.
  • On Creating: really define your audience… have a visual reminder of them WHILE you’re creating the product.
  • On Selling: presell your product. If you decide 3mo from now you want to sell a thing: pre sell it now for 3 reasons:
    1. creating a sales pitch forces you to make decisions on what a product is and isn’t.
    2. if you presell you can fund creation of the product this way.
    3. if you presell you now have 11 people expecting it, no procrastination.

Chris Johnson — Founder of SimpliFilm.com and Flowtility. Also, the best salesman I know; and I mean that in the best possible way.

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • It’s never gonna be good enough, just get it released and see if the market likes it or not.
  • The idea for the product was in the client work he was already doing. People wanted what they did but couldn’t afford it.
  • Plan ahead, have a checklist, follow through.

Paul Jarvis — Writer of books, designer of websites, blogger of blog posts at PJRVS.com.

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • Note: this one gets a bit cussy. Avoid if you’re not comfortable with grown-up language.
  • Come at it with the spirit of “lets see if this works.” Try it — whatever the results — and be OK with what comes. Don’t get attached to any particular result.
  • Take some more risks and get it out quicker.
  • Meat Matters: all this ephemera about conversion, button color, etc., none of it matters. What does matter is the actual work, the thing.
  • His first book was really small… that’s fine. Make yours small if you want.
  • Say no more. Focus on what you’re working on.

Jason Glaspey — Founder of Paleo Plan, a weekly meal planner for folks who want to eat paleo.

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • There was no business in his first project but opened up a ton of doors for him.
  • The first sale mind blowing in this one is pretty good 🙂
  • Solve a problem that’s exciting to solve.
  • He wished he would have hired people to help sooner.

Jenny Blake — Founder of Life After College and author of the book by the same name. Check out her 10 week course Make Shit Happen.

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • She had the website for 4 years before she started the book. Took her 2.5 years to make the book.
  • Nervous: never asked anyone to buy anything from her before. Fear of money being exchanged. It was different than just writing and making stuff.
  • She was scared people would say it was “no good,” “a pile of clichés.” Somepeople did say that. I’m still here, just fine 🙂
  • 2nd product fear was different: “if this doesn’t succeed all my hopes and dreams are questioned.”
  • Tip 1: it doesn’t help to put that much pressure on a situation. It’s a learning experience. every aspect will in fact pull up fears. Expect that. Take the pressure off, you’re brave.
  • Tip 2: it’s all good. the things you’re worrying about are not a problem. You’re WAY more resilient than you think.

Derek Halpern — Founder of SocialTriggers.com where he blogs about the intersection of psychology and marketing.

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • He started the blog with an idea for the product but focused on building the list first. However, as the blog started growing the product he wanted to make wasn’t the one people wanted to buy… he took that feedback and made the changes.
  • Email Tip: reply to every subscriber and ask “what are you struggling with right now?”
  • Blog posts are easier than creating a course. The hard part is creating a roadmap and walking people the whole way from A to Z.
  • If I Could Do it Over: spend less time creating the product (do it in 2 months instead of 6) and more time getting small amount of people to go through it. Do a round, get feedback, THEN make it better and release it bigger.

Dan Provost & Tom Gerhardt — Founders of Studio Neat, purveyors of insanely successful Kickstarter campaigns, makers of delightfulproducts like the Glif (a tripod mount for your iphone) and theCosmonaut (the world’s best fatty ipad stylus).

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • Make some fake product for fun; it’s helpful to pretend… going through motions of branding and telling story.
  • Just start with the rough draft. The hardest part is still knowing how perfect to make it… when to stop.
  • Kickstarter: we pre-sold it so now we HAVE to make it.
  • They were making these products for fun, on the side. They still had full time jobs. Taking the pressure off helps.
  • Mentors: advice from people who walked the path before was invaluable.
  • Some big time bloggers shared their campaigns… not because of some email script, but because of relationships that had grown naturally with those bloggers over time.

Danielle LaPorte — Hot n’ steamy writer at DanielleLaPorte.com and creator of the Desire Map, an holistic approach to life planning.

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • The heart part: I knew I had something to offer. I was confident I had something useful to share.
  • It’s never going to feel perfect. Just get it out the door. You have the space to iterate! You can do 2.0, 3.0, etc.
  • Declare your launch date… even before you know what you’re making.
  • Do a pre order campaign. They can order it in advance and get a chapter or something for free now.
  • Be totally turned on by it. You need to feel the surge. It was like a NEED to make this product… or it would whither on the vine.
  • GIVE YOURSELF A DEADLINE.
  • Talk about the process while you’re doing it. She wrote a post about how nervous she was to launch, that boosted a lot of sales.. they loved the vulnerability.
  • Mistake:  launch and then take your foot off the gas pedal… keep sharing and promoting it.
  • Mistake:  asking people if they want it. 1000s said “YES!” But it did not translate to sales.

Tara Gentile — Business strategist and creator of the Customer Perspective Process for building truly social business models.

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • She was teaching already: people kept asking “how do you come up with blog post ideas.” That was the point of frustration for them. So that’s the problem she addressed in the first product.
  • Product took 2 weeks to make from start to finish. Worked on it every day for one hour at Panera bread.
  • Making the product was a new way to make something valuable for her audience, a new way to translate the value that was already coming in the blog posts.
  • Lesson Learned:  the email list is SO important. She realized just how difficult it is to get purchases from facebook, twitter, or blog posts alone (even if your audience is super engaged). They weren’t buying from there. They were buying from email.
  • While a launch is important, also put time and energy into the long tail of the product. Over time the reputation of this product built up and now sells much better than it did then. you can make the product work for you over time.

Brett Kelly — Founder and creator of Evernote Essentials. He literallywrote the book on Evernote (and it was so good Evernote hired him).

THINGS TO LISTEN FOR

  • The inception is fun, the launch/sell stuff can be fun too, but in the middle is the real work. The slog of finishing it…
  • Get the hard stuff done everyday… and pepper the fun in throughout the thing.
  • Start writing things now that relate to what you’re going to be selling… writing about it repeatedly helps the audience self identify AND helps you see how they respond, where the questions are, where the pain points are, etc.
  • The launch formula will not make or break you. Even though Brett sucked at ALL the launch stuff, it sold well because the right pieces were in place: good product, honest problem to solve, trustful relationship with audience.
  • Selling: it’s not black and white, one or the other. You’re not either TOTAL douche or NOT AT ALL.
  • You’re always going to annoy someone. Worrying about what they think of you is a mistake.
  • Getting feedback helps build the product.

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Geez… big list of experts sharing their first product stories. I’m inspired!

21 Quick Actions You Can Do Today to Set Your Blog Up for Massive Success

21 Quick Actions You Can Do Today to Set Your Blog Up for Massive Success

You can read all the blogging advice in the world, butnone of it matters unless you take action.

To set your blog up to be a massive success, you have to ruthlessly focus your efforts on things that work, and stop spending precious time on things that don’t.

Today I’m going to make it easier for you to take the action you need to take to make your blog better. All you have to do is set aside 10 or 15 or 60 minutes to tackle one of the 21 simple steps below.

The more you complete, the more progress you’ll make.

You’ve probably already completed some of these, but I guarantee you haven’t done all of them. If you have completed all of ‘em, please tell me in the comments. Better yet, share one of your own extra tips.

Action #1: Start Building an Email List (20-30 minutes)

Why this is important: If you aren’t building an email list, you’re missing out on the most powerful and consistent way to drive repeat visitors and customers to your website or blog. With an email list, you become less and less dependent on external sources of traffic, and gain more ability to interact with your blog’s audience.

Start building an email list in 20 minutes:

  1. Sign up for an email marketing account with AWeber or MailChimp.
  2. Create a sign-up form for your email list. Use these instructions for AWeberor MailChimp.
  3. Put your sign-up form on your blog, both in the sidebar and on your about page.
  4. (optional) Offer a free giveaway for people who subscribe to your list. Offering a workbook or an ebook or video series (or even a whole toolbox of resources) can drive many more signups than not offering something.

Don’t wait to start your email list. The sooner you do this, the faster your list and your blog will grow.

When you have an email list, you can create forms and ask people to sign up for email updates like this: enter your email below to get updates from us:

Subscribe for free updates

That took me 30 seconds to add to this post and now I’ll get more email subscribers. 😉

Action #2: Start a Post Ideas Journal (10 Minutes)

The best ideas for blog posts don’t always come while you’re sitting down to write. Try keeping a simple journal of blog post ideas so you don’t miss out on the best opportunities.

You can write this in a Google Doc, an old-fashioned notebook or by starting a quick draft in WordPress for each idea.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, the point is just to keep a running list to work from.

Action #3: Add Facebook “Like” Buttons (15 to 20 minutes)

People who visit your site represent a massive marketing opportunity. If your visitors like what you’ve published, some of them will share your content with their friends, but usually only if you make it easy.

Over 500 million people are on Facebook, making it the biggest social network in the world. Chances are, a lot of your readers are on Facebook. Give them an easy way to share your great content by including Facebook “like” buttons on your posts. You could get a ton of traffic from Facebook. Here’s how.

Add Facebook like buttons to your posts in 20 minutes:

  1. Head over to the Facebook Like Button configuration page.
  2. Configure your Like Buttons as you wish. The page will show you how they’ll look on the fly as you make changes.
  3. Copy the code Facebook provides.
  4. Paste the code into your blog posts, anywhere you want the button to appear.
  5. (optional) If you’re up for the challenge (or if you have a tech person), you can add the Like Button to all of your posts, either at the beginning or end of each post, or both. This will require editing some PHP files for your WordPress theme, and the specific instructions depend on which theme or platform you’re using. Here are sample instructions for the Thesis theme.

Action #4: Add Twitter Retweet Buttons (15 to 20 minutes)

Twitter is another huge potential source of traffic for your blog. This site receives hundreds of visitors every month from Twitter, and it takes very little time to gain those benefits.

The method for adding a retweet button to your blog is pretty much the same as adding Like Buttons above. First you’ll need to head over to the Twitter Retweet Button configuration page. You’ll want to copy the code provided for your configured button and paste it into your posts (or optionally add it to every post by modifying your theme files).

Action #5: Make a List of Every Blogger in Your Niche (30 minutes)

Whatever you blog about, chances are there are other people who blog on the same topic. Your job is to become friends with as many of your fellow bloggers as possible.

Why would you want to become friends with your “competition?”

It’s simple. In every niche I’ve studied, the bloggers who succeed fastest are the ones who band together and help each other out, instead of trying to protect turf. Don’t think of other bloggers in your space as competitors, they’re actually your best chance of making your blog a massive success.

The strategy is simple: make a list of everyone who blogs on similar topics to you. Don’t just include a-listers. Include your peers and up-and-comers as well. Now prioritize the list based on who you think you’d naturally hit it off with.

If you blog in a huge niche, this doesn’t really need to include everyone who blogs on the topic. If you blog in a tiny niche, you might want to expand a little beyond your space.

Making the list is the first step. Next comes the real work. Make it your goal to reach out and create genuine relationships with as many people on the list as possible.

Special resource: start with these tips on how to connect with people online.

Action #6: Add Social Proof to Your Blog (15 minutes)

Social proof is a powerful influencer. When people see that other people are doing something, they’re more likely to do that thing themselves. If they see lots of people are subscribed to your blog, they’ll be more likely to subscribe as well.

You have to be careful though. Social proof only works when the numbers are impressive. Showing new visitors that 23 people are subscribed to your site probably won’t drive new subscribers. In fact, it might actually repel people (social proof works both ways).

If your blog is established, you might be able to show RSS or email subscriber numbers, or monthly readers. If your blog is new, you might want to show Twitter follower numbers (Twitter followers tend to be easier to come by), Facebook fan page subscribers or something else that looks more impressive. You might also simply need to wait until you have something with enough momentum to display.

How to add social proof to your site in 15 minutes:

  1. Decide on which form of social proof to display(use whichever seems more impressive – avoid numbers less than 500 or 1,000). For most people, displaying RSS subscribers or Twitter followers is a good option.
  2. To add an RSS subscriber count, you’ll want to use either Feedburner or some other service that keeps track of your subscriber count. In your Feedburner account, look for the FeedCount link under the “Publicize” tab.
  3. To add a Twitter follower count, TwitterCounter is the standard choice. Start by configuring your widget here.
  4. Once you have your Twitter or RSS widget configured, you need to copy the code provided and put it somewhere on your site. An easy place to put your widget is the sidebar of your blog. Just add a new text widget and paste the code in there.

Action #7: Refine and Explain Your Blog’s Unique Selling Proposition (30 minutes)

Why this is important: to attract and retain visitors to your blog, you have to answer the question “why should I read your blog instead of the hundreds (or thousands) of other choices out there?”

To answer that question, you need a point of difference or unique selling proposition. Your blog needs to be different in some way from other blogs in your space.

If you haven’t thought about this before, start with this guide to finding your unique selling proposition. It shouldn’t be hard to identify several ways your site is or could be different.

Once you’ve identified your “special sauce,” you need to communicate it to your visitors. Do this either through your tagline, in your sidebar, in your about page or within your blog posts. You’ll probably want to explain your USP in several of those places, and remind your visitors regularly.

Action #8: Learn SEO Basics (60 minutes)

Why this is important: Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of those things that takes an hour to learn and a lifetime to master. By just learning the basics, you can set yourself up to take advantage of a ton of opportunities over the coming months and years for your blog.

Resources:

Action #9: Implement a Call to Action (5 minutes)

The best way to get visitors to take a particular action is to explicitly ask them to. This is known as a call to action.

Want more email subscribers? Ask people to subscribe.

Want more retweets of your post? Ask people to retweet.

Try this in your next post. Ask your readers to do something you want them to do. If your content is good and you’ve provided genuine value, some of your readers will be happy to help you out. Just ask politely and try different tactics to see what works best for your audience.

Once you dial in your call to action technique, make a habit of using a call to action whenever you want your visitors to take action.

Action #10: Show People Your Best Stuff (15 minutes)

When someone comes to your site, you need to put your best foot forward. The easiest way to do this is to link to some of your best posts in your sidebar or within a special “start here” page that you link to from your main navigation menu.

How you determine which posts are your best is up to you. You could show your most linked to posts, your most commented posts, your most viewed posts or something else. You could hand pick the posts you think best represent what your blog is all about.

If you want to show popular posts, you can use a widget to do the work. There are several good ones in the WordPress plugin directory. If you’ve never installed a plugin before, it’s pretty easy, but you might want to read the instructions first.

Action #11: Take Down the Ads (5 minutes)

When your blog is new, one of the worst things you can do is to plaster advertisements all over the place. If your blog is small, those ads won’t earn you more than a few bucks, but could be costing you big. You’ll turn off readers and stunt your growth during your critical formative months.

Is it really worth limiting your growth potential over a few bucks?

Once your site is bigger, you can start to introduce advertisements if you really want to in a tasteful and relevant way. Better yet, use a more effective way of earning income from your blog like affiliate marketing or consulting or developing your own products.

For now, take down the ads and focus on growth.

Action #12: Develop a Facebook Fan Page (60 minutes)

I already mentioned above that Facebook has 500 million registered users. In addition to adding “like” buttons to your posts, you should also consider setting up a Facebook fan page for your site.

Our Facebook page is a top 10 referring site here. I’ve done very little to publicize the fan page and it doesn’t take much time to maintain.

I’m not an expert on Facebook pages by any means, but luckily my friend Pat Flynn from the Smart Passive Income blog has written an excellent Blogger’s Guide to Facebook.

Pat’s guide has just about everything you need to know about how bloggers can use Facebook. If you’re in a hurry and just want to learn how to set up your fan page, start with his 6-minute video on how to set up a page.

Even if you don’t plan to completely build out your Facebook fan page now, set one up sooner than later so readers who prefer connecting via Facebook can. At a minimum you can simply add an entry any time you write a new blog posts. Eventually you can expand the page to build community and interact with your members in a deeper way.

Action #13: Commit to Updating Your Outposts Regularly (10 minutes daily minimum)

Why this is important: outposts are an important concept in blogging. Your blog is your central platform, but outposts like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. can help you find and interact with new readers where they already hang out.

The key to making the best use of outposts is to get in the habit of updating them regularly. If you have multiple outposts you might want to focus on just one at first until you get the hang of making regular updates. You need to make regular updates to show your visitors you’re committed to the platform and that you’ll be providing additional value there.

How to commit to updating your outpost regularly:

  1. Set a reminder on your calendar at first to update your outpost every day.
  2. Study examples of other blogs (preferably in your space) which have a thriving outpost. Observe the types of content they post, how they interact with members, and the frequency of posts.
  3. Make sure you don’t just treat your outpost as a glorified RSS feed (where you post only links to your recent blog posts). If you want your external community to thrive, you need to provide extra value.

Action #14: Try a New Content Format (90 minutes)

If you’re only writing similarly formatted blog posts, you might be missing out on some big opportunities. For example, maybe your audience prefers video over written content. Maybe you’re better at producing audio content than you are as a writer. Maybe you should be writing quick inspirational Seth Godin style posts instead of your usual standard 800 word posts.

Whatever format you’ve been using for blog posts, here is my challenge for you: get out of your comfort zone and try something completely new.

Choose from a format on the following list that you’ve never tried before:

  • Video
  • Audio
  • E-Books
  • Workbooks
  • 2000 words or more
  • 400 words or less
  • Interviews

It doesn’t matter what you choose, the point is to get used to trying different content types. You need to find out whether your audience responds better to something you haven’t tried, or if you’re better at producing certain types you haven’t tried before.

Start with one new type now, and come back here later to try additional new types.

Action #15: Check Your Mindset

Why are you blogging? There are lots of valid reasons for blogging, but there’s one reason that has to be at the top of your list if you want to build a massive success.

You have to want to help or entertain people (or both).

If you don’t help or entertain, why should someone read your site? Your blog needs to solve problems, address needs, fulfill desires and enlighten or inspire. Whatever personal reasons you have for blogging need to take a back seat todelivering value to your target audience.

How to check your mindset in 10 minutes:

  1. Write down all the goals you have for your blog (money, fame, recognition, and anything else that comes to mind).
  2. Write down why you chose this particular topic to blog about.
  3. Write down why you are uniquely qualified to blog on your topic.
  4. Now check your answers. If one of your goals isn’t to help your readers, you should reevaluate your motivations and topic. If you didn’t choose your topic because you really care about it, you should reevaluate your motivations and topic. If you aren’t specially qualified to blog about your topic, you should reevaluate your motivations and topic.

Action #16: Write a Rant

Why this is important: common views yield common results. If you want to grow faster than everyone else in your space, you need unique views and bold opinions. When you feel strongly about something, you’ll make an impression on and form stronger relationships with your readers.

How to write a constructive rant in 60 minutes:

  1. The key here is to write a constructive rant, not just any rant. You want to write about something that could be improved or thought of in a better way.
  2. Think about the topic you blog about. What bothers you about the conventional wisdom? What do you think everyone is thinking but no one is saying?
  3. Make sure this is something you’re actually passionate about, don’t just choose a view counter to common opinion simply because it’s different. You want your passion to show in the post.
  4. Write your post in a stream of consciousness to begin with. Just let it flow. Edit after your first draft instead of while you’re writing to let the emotion come through.
  5. Watch the reaction to your post. If it isn’t well received, don’t be discouraged. Try another topic next time.

Bonus example: I wrote a rant earlier this year about why typical online marketing advice is worthless (or worse). That post became a mantra of sorts here and helped me to refine my unique selling proposition.

Action #17: Interview Someone Influential (90 minutes, including prep)

When you’re just starting out, you don’t need to have all the answers. Your visitors don’t expect you to, and you need to give yourself time to find your voice and form your opinions.

During the early stages, it can help to think of yourself as a facilitator instead of as an expert. Your job is to bring great information to your audience instead of creating all of it yourself.

Interviewing someone influential in your niche can be a great way to bring useful content to your audience. Interviewing an expert also helps by associating you with the expert in the minds of your readers. It also helps you create a relationship with the interviewee and potentially to borrow the interviewee’s audience if he or she links to your interview.

Here’s a special post about how to use interviews to grow your audience. Check out Rise to the Top, Mixergy and BlogcastFM for examples of blogs that have been built entirely using interviews.

Action #18: Set Aside Weekly Content Planning Time (30 minutes weekly)

Shooting from the hip doesn’t always produce the best content. A little planning can help you produce much better content, and more importantly, much more consistent content.

How to plan your content for maximum results:

  1. Block out 30 minutes on your calendar each week. I like to do this on Monday, but the day doesn’t really matter.
  2. During this time, review and update your post ideas journal from above.
  3. Keep a running list of post types you that have been effective for you in the past. For example, I keep post categories like “interviews,” “ask the readers,” “monthly reports,” “writing epic shit” and so on. Look back at previously successful posts for ideas for new posts.
  4. Make a tentative plan for posts you’ll write over the coming week and month. This isn’t set in stone, but it will help you each time you sit down to write if you have ideas ready.

Action #19: Ask for an Outside Point of View (60 minutes)

When you get close to a project for a long time, it becomes hard to see things as other people see them. To become a successful blogger, you’ll need plenty of help from friends and colleagues along the way to help you see things through fresh eyes.

Try asking a friend, colleague or consultant for a quick critique on a blog post, your about page, your design, your branding or anything else you suspect might need to be refreshed or revised. The ultimate goal is to make a habit of doing this whenever you feel stuck or stale.

The bonus to this action is that it gives you an excuse to reach out to a fellow blogger and form a stronger bond. Offer to help by returning the critique service whenever your colleague needs it.

If you want a thorough review, try enlisting a professional service like a design review from Reese.

Action #20: Ask Your Readers

Building community around your blog is a great way to make your readers feel appreciated and committed to your success.

Your posts don’t have to be the only things that deliver value at your site.The comments can also be a great place for extending the value of your content and encouraging your visitors to interact. Those interactions can lead to other opportunities for your readers outside of your site.

Comments can also be a great way for you to learn about opportunities for new content and products.

If you want more comments for your site, you need to do a few things. First, write about topics that have multiple possible right answers. Second, write in a way that leaves the door open to discussion (don’t force your readers to agree or disagree with you, it stifles comments). Third, and most importantly, you need to ask for your readers’ opinions.

I like to do this with formal “ask the readers” segments here about once a month. You can run a series like that at your own blog, or simply ask your readers for comments at the end of your posts.

Either way, just make sure you ask.

Action #21: Get Some Accountability (60 minutes)

A big part of building a successful blog is staying motivated and staying committed to your blog long enough to see success.

One of the best ways to ensure you stay motivated is to become accountable to others. When you know other people are expecting certain things from you,

How to get some accountability for your blog:

  • Decide where you’d like to be held accountable. There are three possibilities I recommend: a formal mastermind group, a blogging forum or your own blog.
  • To join a formal mastermind group, you’ll need to find two or three other people to participate, or find an existing group that needs a new member.
  • To use a blogging forum for accountability, you’ll need to find a suitable forum. Within our flagship learning platform, Fizzle.co, we have forums where people are holding themselves accountable.
  • To use your own blog for accountability, you’ll just need to announce your goals on a regular basis in a special blog post series (see my monthly reportsfor an example of this, or Scott Dinsmore’s annual goal setting post)
  • Whatever you decide, the principles are the same: regularly announce your goals for a set timeframe (weekly, bi-weekly or monthly is best). With each announcement you should also review your performance during the prior period.

You can of course try to hold yourself accountable privately, but public accountability is much more effective at driving action. It’s easier to opt out when you don’t have people waiting to hear your results.


The key to making many of the actions above work for you is consistency. Many of them need to become habit before you’ll experience maximum benefits, but taking the recommended actions above will get you started.

You don’t have to do everything on this list, just pick the ones that you think will work best for you.

The key is to take action. Try something above and let me know how it works for you. Most items above only take 30 minutes or less.

What would you add to this list? Let’s hear it in the comments.

If you liked this post, please share it on Facebook or Twitter below.

5 Things I Learned In My First REAL Year of Entrepreneurship

5 Things I Learned In My First REAL Year of Entrepreneurship

A month before turning 29, after having spent the majority of my 20’s working for five different companies, I finally decided to strike out on my own.

In September of 2012 I said goodbye to what I hoped would be my last office job. In October, I created an online business that would teach entrepreneurs how to get started with online video.

Even though I technically started my business in October, the first 6 weeks were spent building a website (I had no skills and no experience doing so), and the next two months were spent blindly going to networking events and slowly becoming aware that:

1. In-person networking is a horrible way to grow an online business.
2. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

While I had budgeted, planned, and prepared, I had still somehow missed the fact that the key to my business making money was having a captive audience and lots of web traffic.

I had neither.

My fifth and sixth months were spent teaching Skillshare classes, consulting 1-on-1 for clients, trying to find businesses to produce videos for, all the while continuing to network like mad. I was essentially grasping at straws since I hadn’t yet really made any money and was rapidly burning through my savings.

It wasn’t until February of 2013 that Fizzle (then ThinkTraffic) posted acompetition to get a year of free business mentorship from Corbett Barr. Knowing I was desperately in need of help, I did the only thing I really knew how to do, I created a pitch video.

I won the contest, and Corbett and Chase immediately set to work helping me figure out what would be the most sustainable model for me, something that I would enjoy that would also make me money.

Immediately I found focus, and realized I would rather be making videos than teaching people how to make them. So I pivoted, created a new site with a new name (from a template this time) and set out on a fresh course with a fresh set of challenges.

Today, after 18 months of what has felt like grasping in the dark, I am able to look back and observe some tangible things I’ve learned, and continue to benefit from.

1. It Costs More to Be An Entrepreneur

Articles will tell you to budget for unforeseen expenses, and I did. But not nearly enough.

One thing we are not used to doing when we have a full time job is putting away money for taxes. Since it is usually taken right out of our paycheck we don’t have experience with this. And since most likely as a fledgling entrepreneur our paychecks are few and far between, we find ourselves using every dollar we have just to keep going.

Remember, you should aim to make considerably more than whatever your monthly expenses are going to be. For me that number was double my monthly expenses. It might be less (or more) for you. But this should be something you give a lot of thought to.

You’re also going to be paying out of pocket a lot more for things you didn’t consider.

You’ll probably take a lot of meetings at coffee shops. It might be only 4 bucks a pop, but twice a week and suddenly it’s several hundred dollars a year you didn’t factor into your budget. There are a lot of other little expenses like that.

I did a year-end review after my first full year as an entrepreneur, but honestly I probably should have been checking every three months. And that’s something I’m going to start doing this year!

It’s ok to budget in a significant amount of money as “unknown”. Working for yourself means making a lot of little adjustments on a regular basis, not just one big change every so often.

2. Double The Amount of Chickens You Count Before They Hatch

When I first started, my goal was to make $5,000 a month. And I based my early revenue predictions on the clients I thought I might be bringing in.

A potential client would tell me they could afford a $2,000 video, which to me meant a guarantee. And if I had three of those lined up I thought, “oh great, I’m going to make $6,000 this month. I’m set!”

What I didn’t realize is that there are a lot of things that will happen. Things like:

1. A client will back out and not work with you.
2. The project will get delayed and that money won’t come in for months, perhaps even a year!

It took me a long time to figure out that if I want to be making 5K a month, I need to have at LEAST 10K in opportunities, which made me realize I need to be doing a shit ton of outreach to make sure that’s a possibility.

That way, if I have 10K in possibilities and half of them fall through, I can still pay my bills, but if they all come through… woohoo new shoes!

I use Insightly to keep track of my contacts and my revenue, but I also have a simple revenue forecast at the bottom of my to do list in Evernote, so I can adjust it every day easily and always be aware of how much money is coming in.

3. Specificity Up Front Saves Weeks on the Back End

I will readily admit this is the hardest one because you don’t know what you don’t know.

I have no background in law or contracts except the 5 months of business law I took in the 8th grade from which I remember nothing.

So when it came to my first contract, I cobbled it together from ones I found on the Internet and other entrepreneurs I knew. And inevitably, no matter how great I thought a client would be, it always ended in me adding a new clause to my contract about something I didn’t anticipate like… a kill fee, or 50% up front, or the specifics of the terms or even WHO the check should be made out to.

Make your contracts as concrete and clear as possible so there is no question of what needs to be done.

Sometimes a client wants to get to work right away without a contract. I don’t care how much you like them, it’s not worth it.

Every project I ever did without a contract turned into a nightmare.

If you can, find a lawyer friend to do you a solid in the beginning and help you get a legit contract to protect yourself. Even if it’s taking a while for a client to pay me, as long as I have a signed contract in place, I feel much more secure than if I don’t. Which brings me to my next point.

4. Clients Who Haggle Over Price Will Be a Problem

This isn’t that revelatory. You see this talked about in many entrepreneur blogs, but it really is true. Keep in mind, haggling is different than negotiating.

Call it the 80/20 rule or whatever you want, when clients beat you up over price, it is foreshadowing that they will beat you up over everything!

In the past 18 months I have done jobs that range in price from 600 dollars to 10,000 dollars. And looking back now, every time I discounted my rates because I needed the work or was trying to be a nice guy, it has caused me enough stress to lose sleep.

I have found a magic number regarding the price of projects for my own clients that sets apart those who complain about everything from those I actually enjoy working with.

If at all possible, say no to unfairly discounted rates. Set a floor for yourself and then price yourself quite a bit above that so even if you have to discount, you aren’t really taking a loss. But you probably shouldn’t even take those clients because they still are trying to get something for nothing.

I know this is hard if you aren’t bringing in any money and you need that contract to pay the electric bill. I have been in that scenario, so I really do understand. That is why it is important to have multiple streams of revenue, savings, or at least a fall back part-time income that can sustain you.

Once you start doing crappy projects, it’s hard to break out of that cycle.

5. There Are a Thousand Different Ways to Get Clients and You Might Need to Try Them All

I spent an entire year going to between two and four networking events a week. I joined 20 Meetup groups. Some days my first networking event started at 6:45am and my last event ended at 10pm.

It was exhausting.

Do you know how many clients I got from going to 100+ networking events in one year? Zero. Not one. I emailed every single person whose business card I got, of which there were over 600, and had a bunch of lunch meetings, calls and coffees but not a single one amounted to a dollar made.

On the surface, it appears that networking events were a horrible investment.

But I did learn a lot from them.

I learned how to talk about my business in one sentence. I learned how to interact with people and to promote my business without being a jerk. More than anything I learned a ton about human nature.

Looking back it was really just flying blind. The quickest way to make money is to find people who need your services. I can’t tell you where that is, but there are always options. If you feel like you don’t have any options, it means you aren’t looking in the right place.

Bonus

A lot of things make no sense as an entrepreneur.

I’ve had leads come from places I never expected. I met great clients in places I almost didn’t go. I’ve acquired clients from calls I almost cancelled. For the most part, you have to use a fair amount of discretion in choosing where you allot your time because you can’t do everything all the time. You can try, but you just can’t.

Allow yourself to be surprised, consistently check out new avenues, try new things, experiment. If something doesn’t seem like a good investment of your time, it will be hard to get excited about, but ask yourself, could this provide some other value outside of monetary? Many times you won’t know the answer.

And many times it will be very hard to figure out where your efforts are actually paying off. But you must plow forward. You must continue to do. Because when you stop doing, you stop getting. And when you stop getting, you stop making.

I’m getting better at understanding and trusting my gut. It’s a powerful tool when you are on your own. If nothing else, just take some time to think about your options.

If somebody wants you to commit something immediately and you’re not sure about it, give yourself a day to think about it. Time and perspective are incredibly important for making good decisions. And the more scenarios you find yourself in that require that skill set the better that skill set will become.

The first year as an entrepreneur will be messy.

You won’t know what to do in every scenario and you will have to face a lot of discomfort. But like Brene Brown says, lean into the discomfort. Nobody gets through anything by leaning back.

How Content Marketers Are Putting Themselves Out of Business

How Content Marketers Are Putting Themselves Out of Business

“Content marketing” is what its called now. We used to call it blogging.

If I abstract it one level, what I think we’re really talking about is writing. Nowadays we’d also include making videos and images. I guess podcasts should be in there too.

Might as well include painting and direct mailers and lanyards with logos and giveaways at conferences as well.

Whatever bit of “content” you’re “marketing,” if we abstract what’s happening a layer or two further we end up with this (at least for the good ones):

  • someone has a solution to a problem (or an idea)
  • and they share that thing and other people find it
  • and it’s helpful and it’s useful.

That’s how it started. And it was so helpful and so useful it became a thing with a name and there were tracks called “content marketing” at conferences and books about it and sections for it in online bookstores.

Some of us have been “content marketing” for years. We know exactly what it is, what it’s like, how it feels, how it works.

And this article from Rand (a response to this article) poses the question: Are we putting ourselves out of business?

  • Are we creating more “content” than there will be eyeballs looking for that “content?”
  • Are we answering questions nobody’s asking?
  • Are there too many “content marketers” for any one of them to achieve much success anymore?
  • Are we doing what advertisers have done to advertising?
  • Are we making next years version of a banner ad?

Here’s the brutal truth: yes. Every thing you make reduces the impact of every other thing you’ve made.

We’re marketers, we ruin things. We’re ruining “content marketing” too.

Every thing you make reduces the impact of every other thing you’ve made.
  or copy + Facebook


Another truth is: (warning: there’s some language here) FUCK “CONTENT MARKETING.”

  • Screw “content.”
  • Screw blogging.
  • Screw social buttons.
  • Screw this insatiable need I have to hear someone applaud me for my blog posts.
  • Screw comments.
  • Screw how I judge myself based on how much an article was shared or how much a video was liked.
  • Screw viral.
  • Screw headlines.
  • Screw list posts and polls.
  • Screw buzzfeed.
  • Screw everything about this industry (except anyone who’s using funny gifs… you’re cool).

Screw all that stuff (again, gif guys, you’re cool) and do 2 things:


1. Love this work… for the right reasons. Writing is about connecting, about sharing darkness, about shedding light, about being a corkscrew, about digging and helping people take a step and move forward and lean a smidge out of the loneliness and decay and brokenness and disconnection and into a little hope and improvement and happiness for a moment in the bore.

Writing and making and filming and publishing and creating is the work… The work is it’s own reward. Love it for the right reasons.


2. Grow an audience now. It’s only getting harder. Discover who you are, decide who you’re going to serve, dig in, care, try, click publish and wish more people saw it and wonder why more people aren’t sharing it and make more stuff and click publish again and again regardless. Help and be honest and get better over time.

If you’re anything like me, the only way you get to a point where you’ve discovered who you are, how to be yourself and how to be useful to a crew is by clicking “publish”… a lot.


Rand finishes the article with this quote:

“Bottom line: whatever you’re doing in content strategy, production and promotion today had better be so runaway incredible that you can earn and own an audience soon, before the world of content (potentially) goes from the wild west, to an overcrowded, hyper-competitive field where standing out to jaded, fatigued consumers is 10X harder than it is today.”

The sentiment is bang-on IF you’re a corporation trying to “increase mindshare” and “grow consumership” and “establish social capital” and “make these people care about our goddam product.”

But I don’t agree with the line he draws for the rest of us. You can absolutely earn a living from a small and meaningful audience. You can absolutely build a relationship with earnest people by going to dark places and sharing what you learned.

The opportunities are still there. Maybe they seem smaller than before, more niche, more specific, more intentional and focused. But that’s because the internet as we know it is only about 15 years old… it’s maturing. The opportunities are there for those who care enough to try.

Maybe the opportunities seem harder. We talked about that before. I think it’s true that it’s going to get harder and harder to get a million people to your website. But it’s easier than ever to get in touch with and make meaningful things for every single unicicle riding, utilikilt wearing north Portlander.

{Plz replace that weirdness with your niche or target market or crew.}

“Content marketing” may be eating it’s own tail, but the market for usefulness and improvement and education and love and help and desire and humanity grows with every baby born.

So get into that market.

(2,000 babies were born since you started reading this post. 361,481 a day.)

3 Reasons to Never Take Another Job

Let’s face it. Jobs suck.

I spent 13 years of my life working in various jobs, and I never felt right about it.Not once did I feel like I was doing my life’s work.

There was always a little voice in the back of my head telling me “you’ll never be happy working for someone else. When are you going to get the balls to try working for yourself?

In 2006 I found those balls.

After 13 years of working on shit I didn’t care about, after the boredom, the depression, after all the crap I endured from bosses who expected 60 hour weeks and still gave me a hard time about taking a week off here or there, after feeling like there MUST be more to life than Corporate America™

I decided to ditch my well-paying but mind-numbingly-boring job and find out for myself if being self-employed was the answer to all my prayers.

I always knew my life would be incomplete until I at least tried working for myself. To see if I could do it and find out what life would be like without the rules everyone else lives under. For some reason, it took me 13 years and 5 jobs to finally take the plunge.

Finally I looked myself in the eye and asked, “why the fuck should I spend close to 50% of my waking hours during the most healthy and vibrant period of my life at a job, doing something I couldn’t care less about, contributing far less than my true potential to the world?

I decided I wanted my life to be about more than powerpoint slides and meetings, and worrying about what some boss thought of me.

Why the hell did it take me so long ask this question and own up to what I felt was my destiny?

Mostly it was fear. Fear and comfort…

Why You Should Never Work a Job Again

Listen, if you like your job, that’s cool. I know there are some people out there who are fulfilled by their jobs. (although I suspect you might not be totally satisfied if you’re still reading this)

Most people I know pretty much hate their jobs. They complain about the work, the people, the commute, the pay, the hours, the lack of vacation time and control over their lives.

They talk about dreams and hobbies and “some day” as if it just isn’t in the cards for them. That version of life is for someone else, someone with better luck and fewer responsibilities.

99% of these people will work a job until they retire or die. Most just acceptthat having a job is something you simply do in life. You’re born, you grow up, you work at a job, you retire and enjoy yourself for a few years or a decade, you get old, and then you die.

Some of the poor and middle class complain about corporate control of wealth and power, and yet most of us work for those companies, buy what they sell us, watch what they create and accept their vision of the world as our reality.

But don’t get me started on that…

This isn’t about society or what other people do.

It’s about you.

It’s about asking yourself what you want your life to be all about. Do you want the next 30 years to go by, only to feel like you never tested yourself? Like you never stretched your limits and capabilities and experienced everything you possibly could in life? Like you wasted your potential because you lived under some invisible set of rules your whole life?

I’m not saying you should quit your job tomorrow (although you would probably be just fine if you did), but if you have the entrepreneurial bug like I did, you’ll never be completely satisfied until you try working for yourself.

If you feel like your job is keeping you from living the life you really want to live, here are three reasons you should never take a job again.

    1. Working a job gives someone else control over the majority of your life.

These aren’t feudal times. If you live in the free world, there is no reason you have to work for someone else. The freedom to pursue happiness and live the life you desire is the greatest gift of modern society, yet most of us piss that opportunity away.

When you work a job, someone else is ultimately in control of what you work on, what you’re responsible for, when you work, when you take time off and how much you earn.

If you absolutely love your job, perhaps giving up that amount of control is worth it. For most people, it seems insane to accept those conditions.

    1. Working a job is dangerously comfortable.

When you work for someone else, life is just comfortable enough to keep you from asking the really important questions.

Sure, you feel like your soul is being crushed every day at work, but at least you get a paycheck, right?

How much of that paycheck is spent on vices and entertainment just to make yourself feel better or to cover up the fundamental lack of fulfillment you feel?

Fear is what keeps most people from doing extraordinary things in life. Most people choose to stay in jobs they hate because they’re scared shitless of the alternative. They’re afraid they don’t have what it takes, that they’ll fail miserably and become homeless embarrassments.

The truth is, if you get past the fear and laziness, there’s no reason you can’taccomplish anything you want.

Jobs keep you just comfortable enough so you never have a strong enough reason to confront those fears and start living your life’s purpose.

    1. Working for yourself is one of the most challenging and rewarding things you will ever do.

As a kid growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I spent a fair amount of time fishing with my dad. I used to see this phrase on t-shirts and bumper stickers a lot:

“The Worst Day Fishin’ is Better than the Best Day at Work.”

The same is true of working for yourself.

During the worst days of working for yourself, you’ll be terrified, worried, anxious and full of self-doubt. You’ll think you made a huge mistake and you’ll convince yourself that you don’t have what it takes.

But even that day will be better than the best day of working for someone else. Maybe not on the surface, but deep-down there is still a sense of purpose and satisfaction that can only come from pursuing self-reliance in it’s highest form. Lions in the wild seem about ten times more alive than lions in the zoo.

There’s no better time than right now to start working for yourself.

How do I know this?

You’ll never be younger, and you’ll never be fully prepared.

The perfect day to commit to your dream will never come. There is no such thing as being fully prepared. There are things you can never learn or prepare forexcept by actually doing them.

Working for yourself takes a tremendous amount of courage and energy. Every day you let go by makes it less likely you’ll ever pull the trigger, and less likely you’ll persevere if you do decide to quit.

If you’re feeling brave enough, here’s a challenge to consider:

Make your current job the last one you ever take.

Commit to making self-employment the only alternative to the job you have right now. Don’t give yourself the option of finding another job. Ever.

If you get sick of your job and want to find another, use that drive to go freelance or build your own business. Don’t give in and take another job.

If you get laid off or fired, use that as a sign that it’s time. Take your unemployment benefits or savings and buy your freedom by jumping into self employment.

But don’t wait around until you have no job, or until get so sick of your current job that you have no other option. Instead, commit to yourself that you’ll quit your current job by a certain date. After that date, you’ll never work a regular job again. You’ll do whatever it takes to support yourself through your own creativity and perseverance.

If you’re reading this and you don’t have a job right now, fuck looking for one. How long will you spend looking for a job that you’re going to hate in six months anyway? Use that time instead to build a life of freedom and fulfillment. Live on your parents’ couch or live off your spouse’s earnings for as long as it takes. Convince your supporters that this is the greatest gift they could ever give you, and then don’t let them down.

Don’t accept this challenge lightly.

Take a weekend by yourself to really think about this challenge. Go away for a couple of days and ask yourself life’s hard questions. Ask what you really want your life to be about. What do you want to try, to experience, to accomplish?

If you decide that working for yourself should be a big part of your future, give yourself some time to put a plan together. Then, don’t be shy about telling people your plan. Once you set a date, the world will conspire to help you make your dream happen.

And remember, the worst that can happen probably isn’t all that bad.

The journey won’t be easy, but at least you’ll be growing and pushing yourself. You’ll be testing your limits. That’s one of life’s greatest gifts.

The irony is that by at least trying self employment, you’ll learn so much and gain so many new skills that you’ll end up becoming much more employable anyway.

Whatever you decide, be honest with yourself. You don’t have to accept yourcurrent reality as how you’re “supposed” to live, or as what you really want.

Start having this conversation with yourself today, because it’s one of the most important things you can do.

You owe it to yourself to live the life you know deep down you were meant to fulfill. You know it’s there. Making it happens all starts with admitting to yourself what you want.

64 Ways Location Independent People Earn a Living

Have you ever wondered how you could earn a living that would allow you to live and work anywhere in the world? Many people already living that dream shared the details of how they make a living in the recent Location Independent and Digital Nomad Survey.

64 of their answers are below. The results might surprise you if you thought location independent people were all bloggers or online business owners.

The truth is that these people earn a living in many different ways. Sure, there are plenty of freelance writers, consultants and web developers, but there are also professional musicians, lobbyists and land developers on the list.

Check out these 64 real ways people earn a location independent living:

  1. Database consulting for MySQL
  2. Sales (other peoples’ products)
  3. Public affairs and public relations working in digital engagement
  4. Updating blogs and ghostwriting
  5. Through coaching and consulting, by helping expats and diplomats cope with homesickness and culture shock, staying focused on their goals and overcoming the emotional and motivational challenges of expat life
  6. As a music composer and sound designer along with running an audio production company
  7. Website design and audio engineering
  8. Through a business that produces ready-made newsletters, sold online to people cross North America
  9. Graphic design for a Fortune 500 company
  10. As a freelance writer, involving blogging, copywriting, ghost writing and article and e-book writing
  11. Affiliate marketing
  12. Software development, end user support, training, documentation, database management, project management, technical marketing & strategy and producing travel content
  13. As a self-employed webmaster, blogger and travel writer
  14. Communications strategy consulting and content development
  15. Running a yacht charter company
  16. Professional poker player
  17. Freelance script writer and script doctor
  18. Online community manager, community consultant and entrepreneur
  19. Translation and related language services
  20. Instructional designer and consultant for large businesses
  21. Reporting, copywriting, and marketing consultation
  22. Project Manager for an electronic medical records software company
  23. Geographical information analysis for research institutions
  24. Consulting services for organizational development
  25. Selling information products and coaching
  26. IT project management and regulatory compliance
  27. Web development
  28. Senior consultant for a large data services/hardware company
  29. Customer service manager for online software company
  30. Website design and management with 2 major contracts
  31. Sales (conducting phone sales with Skype to contacts in the US)
  32. Market research
  33. Writing for other people, recording conferences and audio programs and selling “stuff” on-line
  34. Web developer
  35. IT systems design and software implementation
  36. Creating websites to sell online niche products
  37. Freelance translation of technical documents
  38. Working as a full time employee at home for a major IT company
  39. Through three websites and some freelance design work
  40. Building blogs and websites for small companies and social media consulting
  41. International airline/aviation consultant and lobbyist
  42. Land development and consulting
  43. Affiliate marketing manager and digital marketing consulting
  44. Through recurring income from web hosting and support contracts
  45. Adjunct professor specializing in online learning (teaching and designing online courses)
  46. Consulting, training and coaching in the fields of new ways of working and information worker performance
  47. Professional musician
  48. Public relations for creative (advertising, marketing, PR, design) firms
  49. Working for a publisher (writing, illustration, photography)
  50. College instructor
  51. Health and wellness coaching
  52. Running a web application with a monthly subscription model
  53. Consulting in software development
  54. Selling an extension to a popular content management system
  55. Working for Matador Network and Where There Be Dragons
  56. Arts consulting
  57. Business advisor
  58. Manage operations of online business
  59. Senior IT consultant
  60. Marketing coach and copywriter
  61. Trading forex (foreign exchange)
  62. Owning an internet business
  63. Selling online eBooks
  64. Running a technology sales website

Selling Bubble Gum For A Living

Selling Bubble Gum For A Living

I was out on a date the other night with my wife, and after a few particularly spicy servings of curry she left craving Juicy Fruit — you know, the bubble gum that I could had sworn was a victim of the new millennium. Weird, but whatever.

Well, we managed to find a pack at a nearby grocer and the craving was subdued (and a lot of failed attempts at blowing bubbles were made by me). But this article isn’t about bubble gum. Instead, it’s about the psychology that went into craving gum and then ultimately swiping a debit card.

That pack of gum was what’s called an impulse buy. It didn’t affect my wife’s and my finances in any meaningful way, and we’re not going to miss the few bucks we spent picking it up. No mental overhead went toward debating the pros and cons of buying that pack of gum.

Now, had we left the Indian restaurant and she turned to me saying, “Brennan, I really, really want a new MacBook Air,” the night would have gone a bit differently. Where spending a dollar on gum has no bearing in my budgeting, spending a thousand or two on a laptop does.

And let’s pretend I had no knowledge of Apple as a brand. Would this laptop work the way we needed it to? What was the likelihood that it would break the next day? How right is this laptop for me and my family?

It’s all about risk

With any transaction, there are two types of risk. First, there’s the money risk — Am I going to get more value out of this than the money I put into it? And second, there’s the product risk — Is what I’m being sold really what I’m getting? Am I being duped?

As the sticker price of the product moves north, the more these risks become a factor in the buying cycle. But you knew that. We all know that.

However, I see a lot of people who try to sell stuff online put together an ebook, a course, or a membership site and after driving traffic to it (and often times at a cost), they’re left wondering why sales were so poor or non-existent.

Sometimes, it might be the product. But more often than not, it’s the way they go about selling the product. They’re asking strangers to go home with them on the first date, which statistically tends to have a high risk of failure.

Digital courtship

My premium product is something I call the Consultancy Masterclass. It’s $1,799, and sells out almost every time I host the class.

I like to say that the fact that it sells out has little to do with the copy or design on the sales page. I could drive all the paid traffic in the world to the sales site for the class, and I’d likely make zero return.

And I’m by no means an expert copywriter, nor have I discovered some secret sauce that allows me to sell thousand dollar products where others struggle to sell stuff for $10. What I have done, though, is court my customers.

The lifecycle of a Masterclass customer is generally something like this:

  • Reads an article of mine and takes my five day free course. They’re also now on my newsletter, and getting free educational content each week in their inbox.
  • A little later, picks up my introductory book (generally through a little autoresponder nudging on my part), “Double Your Freelancing Rate” for $49, which for a B2B transaction is practically like buying a pack of Juicy Fruit.
  • They manage to raise their rates and end up netting thousands of dollars in new revenue, and internalize that by spending money on Brennan, they netted a huge return.
  • Later on, they’ll pick up my second book (again, after being gently nudged through some autoresponders — more on this in a second), which helps consultants become better at sales and marketing. This book can cost a little more: the packages range from $49 to $249. And then, once again, they derive an ROI (e.g. they get a new client or two through some of the tactics I outline.)
  • Next, they discover I teach a two day intensive course which involves a lot of individual coaching from me. It’s almost $2,000, but so far they’ve made thousands of dollars from our relationship.
  • It’s a no-brainer. Remember: spend money, make money. I’ve been courting them for months, and we have a very healthy, and very mutually beneficial relationship.

The idea is that I’m aiming to offer my best products to those who have had the best results. You can get an email with brand new content from me each week for free, and this is where all of my customers start and stay. But a segment will self-select to dive deeper into one of the topics I cover, like value-based pricing. They’ll pay $49, and walk away with more value than they put into it. And then an even smaller percentage will opt to dive even deeper into pricing and the mechanics of running a consultancy, and they’ll pay close to $2,000 for group access to me. Finally, my customers who have had the best results self-select to pay $24,000 a year for 1-on-1 access and accountability each week.

Free -> $49 -> They learn and net an ROI -> $249 -> They net an even greater ROI -> $1,799 -> etc.

Ramit Sethi, the NYT best selling author of “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”, takes a similar portfolio approach to his products. The majority of his audience finds him either through his $4.95 book or blog, but through — as one commenter pointed out — a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of interconnected autoresponders, he’s able to channel his audience into the funnel that makes the most sense for them and their goals.

His products range from a few hundred dollars to his $12,000, in-person workshop, which he only offers to his most valuable and most successful customers.

The importance of the followup

There’s a clearly defined funnel in my product business. Entering the funnel involves joining a free email course of mine or a newsletter, which is something that everyone is talking about nowadays.

But what isn’t always discussed, which is instrumental in the success of my business, is what happens after someone buys from me.

Where the typical progression might be: Public blog post -> Email course opt-in -> Hard sell -> Product sale, I’ve tacked on autoresponders that fire after a sale which are meant to telegraph customers from one stepping stone to the next.

Let’s say you’re on my list, and my initial set of autoresponders drive you toward checking out my first book. After you buy that first book on pricing, I’m not done. I’ve established cashflow — you’re not a newsletter subscriber any longer, you’re now a customer. And my primary goal is to make sure that the customer experiences and, more importantly, realizes that they’ve made an investment and not an expense.

So right after you buy that first book, I’m going to send out timed emails that offer additional perspectives on what the customer is likely digesting at the moment in my book, and establish a standing offer to help however I can. The emails make it clear that I’m not looking to have a one-night stand with my customers: “Have you done X yet? OK, what’s stopping you? If you’re stuck, here are some resources. Still stuck? Reply.”

The results of these followup autoresponders have been outstanding, for both the success of my customers and the balance of my checking account. I’ve been able to effectively glue my products together, with next to no continued input on my end.

Automate all the things

The single best way to move people toward paying for your monthly membership site or buying your premium course is to deliver a lot of free value (through blog posts, newsletters, email courses, and downloadables) that steers people toward your products and asks for the sale only when it’s time.

And don’t leave your customers out in the cold — followup up with them and help them make the most of your products, and they’ll come back for more.

The best part is, the majority of this can be done using a cheap Mailchimp account and some Zapier hooks between whatever you use to sell your products and your lists.

Once you have the right processes in place, you can spend more time doing what you do best — talking to your customers about their particular situation. Much of my time is spent each week in my inbox, responding to emails that came about from machine-generated emails to my customers, but in the last year alone resulted in $324,073 in product sales — with almost half of that revenue coming from my most premium products that only 2% of my customer base bought.

How to Build a Sustainable Coaching Business (And Double Your Rates in the Process)

How to Build a Sustainable Coaching Business (And Double Your Rates in the Process)

“So, what do you do?” – Random person at a friendly gathering.

“I run LivingforMonday.com where we do coaching and training for young professionals.” – Me

“Oh, so you must be in pretty good shape, huh?” – Same random person in complete confusion.

“Dammit.” – Me knowing that was coming.

That’s my typical conversation at a get-together where I’m not particularly keen on diving into the details of what it means to be in the business of helping people become great at what they do.

Which brings us back to you and I. As a reader of The Sparkline, I’ll bet you may have considered becoming a coach as a way of creating a revenue stream for your business.

The problem with coaching as a profession lies in our tendency to resort to it as the answer to turning any blog into a business or idea into revenue. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple.

I’ve managed to increase my hourly coaching rate 444% over the past 12 months, create a steady income stream from coaching, and generate regular referrals from my existing clients. My goal with this post is to help you start on the same path with three steps:

  1. Have a well-defined target audience
  2. Creating a unique selling proposition
  3. Build social proof

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Have a well-defined target audience for your services

“You can be best in the world at whatever you want as long as you define world the right way.” – Seth Godin

To be the best in the world, you have to choose your definition of world, which starts with creating a crystal clear picture of your target audience.

Successfully defining your audience should provide answers to four key questions:

  1. Do you care deeply about your audience?
  2. Is your audience able to pay your rate?
  3. Can you produce 5-10x your coaching rate in value?
  4. Do you still care deeply about helping?

DO YOU CARE DEEPLY ABOUT YOUR AUDIENCE?

I believe picking an audience you care about is the most important step you can take in building a successful business. Start by thinking back to your “best” clients (this is subjective), or brainstorm a list of the people in your life you would love to work with. Why were these people your best clients or why do you want to work with them? What do these people have in common? Or, in other words, why do you care?

For example, my best clients in the past have been young professionals who are business owners or co-founders, executives, or salespeople. I can relate to their challenges, their work ethic motivates me, and the right ones are willing to pay me what I’m worth. This group also allows me to see a variety of business challenges and opportunities, which satisfies my desire to work on multiple projects.

Pick an audience that you care about.

IS YOUR AUDIENCE ABLE TO PAY YOUR RATE?

How much money does this audience make per year? Would the financial advisor of your ideal clients say they have the ability to pay you double your current rate (regardless of value provided)?

I initially coached college students and young professional employees. This was a bad decision because neither of these groups has the ability to pay my current rate for coaching services.

This realization led me to redefine my audience and focus on Under 30 CEOs, executives, and salespeople in Atlanta — they have the ability to pay my rates, I care about them, and I can reach them face to face (which is how I prefer to sell + coach).

Work with an audience that is able to pay your rates. If your audience doesn’t have this ability, start over, or reconsider individual coaching as a service.

CAN YOU PRODUCE 5-10X YOUR COACHING RATE IN VALUE?

The key to producing 5-10x returns from your coaching services is to understand your audience’s goals and challenges. People are willing to pay to reach goals and overcome challenges, but only if you get them right.

Most people make assumptions about their audience rather than do the hard work of actually sitting down with members of their audience, asking great questions, and listening for their true needs.

Take the time to have individual conversations with 10 – 25 of your target audience members. Ask great questions questions to pull out the thoughts they rarely share out loud. If you need a more specific framework for your questions, think in terms of the seven areas of life (ranked by ease of proving return on investment):

  1. Financial (think investment advice)
  2. Career (think job change or executive coaching)
  3. Travel & Adventure (think travel hacking)
  4. Physical (think Paleo or Crossfit)
  5. Learning (think reading or skill acquisition)
  6. Relationships (think family, friends and romance)
  7. Spiritual (think meditation or religion)

You should see patterns of similar goals or challenges emerge as you conduct interviews. You can consider diving deep in your area of expertise, but remember that your expertise may not match a real need.

People pay to reach their goals and solve challenges in their lives. Help them reach a goal or solve a challenge that produces 5-10x your coaching rate in value.

DO YOU STILL CARE DEEPLY ABOUT HELPING?

Now, here’s the part where you have to be brutally honest with yourself. Given the audience you care about, their ability to pay, and the challenges or goals they have expressed to you, can you create a sustainable business? If so, do you still care enough to put in the work?

I’m not talking about, “Yeah, I could do that,” but, “F*%^ yeah, let’s do this.”

It will be hard to help your audience solve their challenges or reach their goals. You’ll spend countless hours researching, pounding your head on the table, reading books, pacing your office, and suffering entrepreneurial insomnia as you think through ways to help.

Select an audience goal or challenge you care about enough to become an expert and they care enough about to pay you for. If you don’t care, or they don’t care, start over.

Step 2: Create a Unique Selling Proposition to Appeal to Your Target Audience

“Achieve more.” “Reach your potential.” “Make your dreams reality.”

These are phrases that appeal to no one by trying to appeal to everyone. And yet, the majority of coaches brand themselves this way.

You know your audience better than anyone else because you’ve done your homework and you’ve identified patterns, and your unique selling proposition, or USP, should reflect that.

You can think of your USP as filling in these blanks: “I help “audience” in “location/industry/area of focus” do/become/solve/overcome/achieve “challenge or aspiration.”

But, but, but, I’m on the INTERNET! The Four Hour Work Week said I could be a lifestyle designer and location independent!

Great. Maybe you’re right. But remember, you can be best in the world at whatever you want as long as you create a feasible definition of world to start with. If you can’t be best in the world of [insert hometown here], how can you be best in the entire world? I’m not saying you shouldn’t leverage the internet, but I am saying you should focus on a geographic area or area of expertise that allows you to build a sustainable business.

In my business, I have had to do the same thing. My USP for my coaching services is, “I help under-35 entrepreneurs, executives, and salespeople in Atlanta create systems to exceed your goals while holding you accountable to the projects that will most directly help you profitably achieve your vision.” The last four words can change based on sub-segments of my audience.

Create a USP that specifically identifies your audience and the goals or challenges you are solving for. +1 if you can do it in their own words. If you can’t, then it’s time to do more interviews.

Step 3: Build Social Proof for Your Services

Social proof convinces to skeptical audience members that you can do what you say you can do in your USP. Your job is to build enough social proof that it makes it easier for your audience to say yes to your services.

I use a list of experiences and a growing book of client testimonials to back my USP up. The experiences include working for Seth Godin, advising Coke’s Chief People Officer, and being a top performer at a well-known global consulting firm. I have past/existing clients write a “letter to a potential client” to build my book of proof.

I understand that you may not have the same background, but you can build social proof for your services even if you’ve never had a single client. Here’s how…

Pick 10 people you know and care about in your target audience. You may be able to look back at your interviews from your target audience research for good candidates. Offer each person a free 30 – 90 minute coaching session in exchange for being able to film/record the sessions and post them publicly. (This is exactly what Derek Halpern did with website conversion reviews when he was getting started at Social Triggers).

Side note: This post is not about how to become a great coach, but I hope it goes without saying that you have to actually be able to deliver value in order for this method to work for you. (If you have no coaching experience or training, starthere, here, here, and here.)

Once you’ve recorded the 10 coaching sessions, hire a video editor to create a highlight reel of the most powerful moments from the sessions. Put your highlight reel on a landing page where you make the full video recordings available to your audience in exchange for an email.

Use the recordings to design an email funnel that slowly but surely builds trust, confidence, and expertise with your audience. At the end of your email series, offer a free 30 minute session for anyone that is interested in hiring you as a coach. This will allow your audience to transition from seeing others being coached to experiencing it for themselves.

The end of your 30 minute session is your chance to convert a prospective client into a paying client. Conversion methods are for another post, but the most important thing to do is to directly ask for the person’s business in a non-threatening way.

Something like, “Now that you’ve experienced my coaching, are you interested in becoming a coaching client? I have a 3-month starter package that would be perfect for you if you believe I can help you reach your goals.”

Some people will want to wait or think on the decision. That’s fine. Ask them how often they would be comfortable with you following up to see if there is anything you can do to help. Assure them you’ll never pressure for a sale. Make a calendar reminder to follow up accordingly.

Other people will want to hire you right then. You should have options available in case they want to sign up for more than 3 months. I suggest you create 3 month, 6 month, and 12 month contracts that will allow for flexibility. I don’t recommend starting with less than 3 months, because it is hard to achieve any kind of results in that amount of time in my experience.

Tell these people exactly how the process works and exactly what they need to do to get started. Your process should include: 1) An intake form that gathers information about them, their goals, and why they hired you. (Here’s mine.) 2) An initial session that revolves around building the relationship, establishing ground rules, and setting goals for your work together. 3) Any assessments you want to use. And 4) your process for when and how you get paid.

And then the part on doubling your rates.

At some point during your process, people will ask you about your rates. Your impulse reaction will be to tell them your old rates or, if you’re just getting started, a rate that doesn’t feel scary.

Your job is to resist the urge to sell yourself short and tell them your rate is double what it used to be, or twice what you think it should be if you’re just starting out. For a benchmark, look up the average coaching rate in your city or location.

In Atlanta, the average executive coaching rate at the time of this rating is about $300/hr. When I first started coaching, I felt that $75/hr was more than I was worth even though people would have easily paid $150/hr.

I eventually realized I was providing way more value than I was getting paid and that less than $300/hr is not sustainable for building a full-time coaching business. With every other new client I brought on, I simply doubled my rates when I was asked, all the way up to the average Atlanta coaching rate. Because I had a growing client base, it gave me more confidence in the value I was providing and put less pressure on me to bring in new clients, allowing me to increase my rates 444% in just one year.

The Key is Confidence + Results

It turns out that the single most important factor in raising your coaching rates is your own confidence in the value you provide. If you have done the work, the real work, as I have described it throughout this post, then you will be better than 80% of “coaches” in the world. You are committed to becoming an expert on helping your target audience achieve their goals and overcome their challenges. Your number one job after landing new clients at your new rate is to follow through on that commitment.

As your client base grows, so will your confidence in your coaching abilities. As your coaching abilities and client base grow, your schedule will begin to fill up. As your schedule fills up, you should continue to raise your rates for new clients. The more successful you are with a targeted group of clients, the more you will be able to expand to new groups of clients as your referrals and reputation allow.

What are you waiting on? Get going. Your coaching business is waiting.

How I Increased My Conversion Rate by Over 3,000%

Are you frustrated that your email list is growing at a snail’s pace? Do you find traffic coming to your site, but few visitors turning into subscribers?

For years, I was frustrated with the slow growth of my email list, and I didn’t know what to do. I thought all I needed was a popular blog to link to me, or a post to go viral. Or maybe a new plugin!  Yeah, that’ll do it.  Like that would solveall my problems.


Note from Corbett: one of our success stories in-the-making at Fizzle is John Corcoran ofSmart Business Revolution. He’s a practicing small business attorney and former Clinton White House Writer. I asked John to write this post after I read his account in the Fizzle forums of how he was able to increase his email signup conversion rate by over 3,000%. There is a lot of good stuff in John’s story below. I hope you’ll apply his tips to see how much they improve your own conversions.

Take it away, John.


It turns out the problem may not be your traffic; it’s probably your conversions.

Six months ago, using a combination of trial and error, a knowledgeable web coach, and Fizzle training and support, I started experimenting with ways to increase my conversion rate.

By testing what resonated with my readers and tracking my efforts, I was able to dramatically increase the .3% conversion rate I was experiencing for the primary email signup box on my site. At times my conversion rate for the primary email signup box has hovered around 10-11% conversion rate, and some of my dedicated landing pages for guest posts have converted at much higher rates – some at 40 to 50%.

It’s actually easier than you may think to double, triple or even quadruple your conversion rate, if you are willing to test, track and experiment with what leads more of your website visitors to become subscribers. These increases can have a significant impact over the long term.

In this post, I’m going to share how you can use the same trial-and-error approach to dramatically increase your conversion rate and the rate at which you add subscribers to your email list.

But first, let’s talk about the “what” and the “why”.

Whatsa Conversion Rate?

Your conversion rate is the rate at which visitors to your site turn into subscribers (or customers, or whatever other metric you’re measuring). It’s a simple formula – divide the number of visitors to a page by the number who accomplish your metric, in this case, becoming an email subscriber.

A lot of email marketing services (such as Aweber or Mailchimp) and email optin plugins (such as Optin Skin) calculate this number for you.

Why You Need to Focus on Conversion Rates

Imagine you had a water line under your house which had over a dozen leaks in it. What if it was so bad that for every gallon of water that left the hookup at the street and began traveling through your underground water line, only one teaspoon reached your tap? You’d want to do something about that, right?

Conversion rate is kind of like those leaky pipes. Like your water line, you may start with 1,000 visitors or 10,000 visitors, and your job is to reduce the leakage so that you can retain as much of your initial source as possible.

Conversion rate is all about keeping people on board and flowing towards your end destination.

Start by Evaluating Your Purpose

In my experience, the biggest conversion killer is not having a clear focus to your blog or a free opt-in offer that your visitors really want.

Before I joined Fizzle in November 2012, the focus of my site Smart Business Revolution was generally entrepreneurs and small business owners. I thought this was a good niche for me, but I soon discovered that it wasn’t targeted or “different” enough to capture casual web browsers’ interest.

The headline on the primary email signup box on the main page of my site was “Grow Your Small Business, Strategically,” and I didn’t offer any PDF download or video for people in exchange for their email address.

It didn’t look visually all that different from the out-of-the-box look provided by my Generate theme from Copyblogger:

jc-signupbox

The conversion rate at that time was around .3% or even lower. I think I offered some kind of “Entrepreneur’s toolkit” for awhile, and even a 5-part video series, but it wasn’t clear the value in either of them so they didn’t convert very well. I also didn’t know how to describe these opt-in offers well using good copywriting so people would understand the value in downloading them.

Because the value wasn’t clear, my list growth was very, very slow.

The far right column is new subscribers (per month):

jc-subscribers

(Hey, at least I wasn’t losing subscribers… those zeros are my unsubscribes)

I needed to niche down. Here’s where Fizzle became really valuable. I batted around ideas in the forums, getting vital feedback from the Corbett, Caleb and Chase and dozens of smart Fizzlers such as John Muldoon, Darlene Hildebrandt,Omar Zenhom, Tom Morkes, and others.

I have this weird backstory where I worked in politics before becoming a lawyer and advisor to entrepreneurs, so I thought that was a “unique” angle I could highlight on the blog.

So, around May 2013, I decided I would focus my site on how entrepreneurs can use political strategies in business.

I decided I needed an ebook download as an email opt-in offer, so I created an ebook called “10 Ways to use Secret Political Strategies and Tactics”. It was well written and I spent a ton of time on it — too much. People who read it gave me good feedback but it didn’t convert too well because people didn’t really know what it was or why they should download it.

I should have written a 3 page freebie download and then tested different titles over time.

At that time, the headline in the main signup box on my index page was “Use Political Strategies in Business.” It converted at 2.5% which was better, but still not great.

The headline was OK, but still confusing. The value wasn’t immediately clear.

If Your Value Proposition Isn’t Clear, Change It

Then some guys in my mastermind group (specifically my friend Antonio Centeno of Real Men Real Style) kept telling me I was really good at building relationships and using relationships in business, so I should focus on that.

When in doubt, listen to others.

I tested the idea by offering two free webinars around June of last year on how to use networking to grow your business, and I got 200 signups. That provided the proof of concept I needed to pivot again.

It took me awhile to get to this point, but I was finally starting to realize the importance of providing something people really want – in my case, I could teach my readers how to attract more clients, customers & revenue by forging new relationships with VIPs and nurturing relationships with current contacts and friends.

The idea about using political strategies in business was cute, but it wasn’t directly beneficial to readers’ lives, which is why it didn’t convert well.

Study Copywriting

I’ve done just about every type of writing, from writing speeches for a President to creative writing to drafting legal briefs. Then I started studying copywriting, and I realized how much I didn’t know. On the advice of the great writer Jon Morrow, I read Breakthrough Advertising and Scientific Copywriting. I also studied good copywriters like Ramit Sethi.

I also began working with Fizzler Darlene Hildebrandt’s husband Rob Cooper, who helped me track the tweaks and changes over time to see what was working and what wasn’t.

Over time, my conversion rate went steadily up. Rob suggested I test language in just one spot on my site, which was smart. He also suggested creating a single “Journal” where I would track changes and their impact. So I A/B split tested the language of various offers in the signup form in the top right column of my site, using two different forms and always having a test running. You can do this directly through Aweber. It’s not hard.

Steadily, my conversion rate for the right column signup form increased from .4% to .5%, and on up. I would take language that worked well from that A/B test and put it in the main opt-in box on the index page.

Around August, I changed the headline of the main signup box to “Turn Relationships into Revenue,” and the conversion rate increased to 3.2%.

Around September, with the help of a number of Fizzlers, I created a new ebook. Again, it was too long, but it was better. The title was “How to Create Your Personal Networking Plan.” I also created a new 3D image for my ebook and the conversion rate on the main sign-up form increased to 5.2%.

People Judge a Book By Its Cover

News flash: Even though we’ve been told for our lifetimes not to “judge a book by its cover,” the reality is people really do judge a book by its cover, and by its title.

For that reason, I continued testing different names for the ebook. I actually tested different individual words and phrases.

Because it would have been very difficult to change the cover image every time, I simply didn’t change it.

That’s right. The PDF that was being delivered often had a different name from what people signed up for. But you know what? I only got 1 email from 1 person who was confused about the title over about 3-4 months of testing. So I figured the potential confusion was worth it for the value I got from testing different names and different ways of describing the ebook.

I also tested dropping my photo from the main signup box (based on the fact that Derek Halpern does not have a photo on his) and my conversion rate increased (while my ego went down a notch).

For the bullet points in the main signup box, I made the benefits more clear, and moved them from the end of the sentence to the start of the sentence in each bullet point. The conversion rate went up again.

I even changed the color of ebook from blue-themed to yellow-themed and the conversion rate went up.

Most recently, I added more media bugs to the signup form and a picture of me and Bill Clinton, and the conversion rate went up again. Here’s what it looks like now:

Screenshot 2014-02-19 14.35.40

The signup box will probably look different again by the time you read this. I’m constantly trying new things, which is the whole point of this exercise.

For awhile, the conversion rate was hovering around 10-11%. Based on 1,000 impressions, that meant the difference between 3 signups (at my original conversion rate) and 100-110 signups (at 10-11%). Depending on your traffic, it could mean the difference in thousands of subscribers per year.

Here’s the great part: I am implementing the language from these tests across my site in various different places and in landing pages I set up for guest posts, so really my conversion rate is going up in other locations as well. Some landing pages for guest posts have hovered around 40-50%.

After months of testing different elements of the title for the ebook, I settled on a new title – “How to Increase Your Income in 14 Days by Building Relationships with VIPs, Even if You Hate Networking.” The content is basically the same, but the title converts at a much higher rate.

So what is the lesson in all of this?

  1. Test every element if you can, but test them one at a time so that you know what change led to what increase or decrease in conversion rate.
  2. If you belong to Fizzle, then study what others are doing in Fizzle, get involved in the forum and take the Fizzle courses. I was very active in Fizzle throughout this process, and I wouldn’t have gotten these results without feedback from the supportive, generous community of Fizzlers. Get to know other Fizzlers. The more relationships you build in here, the more people you will have to help you out.
  3. Always Be Testing. You should always have at least 1 test running on your site, and as you get more comfortable with it, you can do more.
  4. Study copywriting. This is soooooooooo important.
  5. Take your time. This process can take awhile, especially if you don’t have a ton of traffic.

Finally, I just want to say you can do this. It may not be sexy, but it works. It’s not rocket science. But it does take something which arguably may be harder than rocket science – committing to a long-term, dedicated course of action and being consistent in your testing over time.