A Guest Post by Johnny B Truant
I saw Gary Coleman on TV last night and thought, “That guy has to be rich. Everyone knows who he is.” But then I realized that Gary’s true paid celebrity ended over 20 years ago, and whether he’s rich or not today is really a matter of luck and investment.
But that’s not how most people are wired to think. We figure that if someone is or ever was in the public eye, they probably have a big fortune. But who knows how well Gary invests? It’s distinctly possible that most of us here have more money then he does.
This whole thing occurred to me after a few people asked me if I was loaded yet, since I made Problogger’s list of 30 bloggers to watch in 2010. They were asking tongue-in-cheek, but there was a grain of truth behind it. The simple fact is that people equate popularity with riches, and that’s not accurate at all.
I’ve gotten a fair number of new readers and Twitter followers since that list came out… but I had a couple of five-figure months under my belt already. And I did that with subscriber and reader numbers which were hardly stellar.
Do you want fame? Or do you want fortune?
If you say “neither,” then scale it back. A more moderate stopping point on the “fame” spectrum would be getting more readers and more followers. That’s probably the #1 stated goal among bloggers, in my experience. But a close second is along the “fortune” spectrum, and it’s simply to make some money from what you do.
I’m going to make a guess here. It isn’t backed by any scientific research, but I’ll just bet that it’s right.
I think that of the two, people actually want “fortune” goals more. But I think I hear “How do I get more readers/traffic/subscribers?” more often because people think that increased popularity will lead to increased income.
But… nope, sorry. Not always. If you want a “fame” goal, great. But if you want “fortune,” shoot directly for fortune instead of trying to make it happen via fame.
I know several people who are very, very popular online but who don’t really make much at all from their blogging. Large numbers of readers do not equal large amounts of income.
If you’d like to shift your goal to making a living online instead of just entertaining as many people as possible, I have tips. (Or rather, because what follows came out of a discussion I had with fellow Problogger list-mates Naomi Dunford and Charlie Gilkey, it’s more accurate to say that WE have tips.)
1. Your audience has to be willing to buy
I’m not saying they have to be willing to buy from you. I’m saying that they have to be willing to buy period.
I used to write a pure humor blog, and tried to make money via AdSense and selling a hard-copy book. What I discovered is that the humor audience is largely unwilling to buy. They want to read funny stuff and then move along. I made virtually nothing while doing pure humor, despite decent popularity.
Along the same lines, blogs centering on a small-budget hobby are going to have more trouble selling at high prices than those about a more expensive hobby. Charlie G, who I mentioned above, gives the example of a blog about crafting vs. a blog about photography. If both promote a $39 e-book, the photographers are less likely to hesitate at the price because they’re used to paying higher costs for products and services in their niche.
2. You have to be willing to sell
I’m always shocked by how many people seem to think selling is dirty. If you handle selling correctly, all you’re doing is referring something that you think is fantastic. It could be your own product or an affiliate product, but what you’re doing is seeing a need and saying, “I have a fantastic product or service that would really help you out.” It’s not about getting people to spend money on something they don’t want, or out of pity. It’s not like when the local grade school kids come to your door selling fruitcakes, and you buy one just to support them.
Establish early and gradually that when a cool product comes around that your people could honestly benefit from, you’ll let them know about it… with an affiliate link if it’s not your product. Your “true people” will understand such offers in the way they are intended, which is in the spirit of mutual benefit.
3. You have to build a reputation for being trustworthy
I’m able to generate good business off of a relatively small list because those people have grown to trust me. They know I won’t promote something I don’t believe in, and they know that I won’t put out a junky, half-effort product. They also know that I’ll tell them the shortcomings of a product or service before praising it (I think I should trademark my concept of the “anti-guarantee,” discussed a bit more in this Problogger post I wrote about building trust (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2009/08/30/how-to-boost-your-business-by-developing-bulletproof-trust/)… what do you think?) and that when I don’t know how to do something, I won’t pretend that I do.
When you’re operating online, you’re asking people to give you money in advance for something, usually without talking to you, seeing you in person, hearing your voice, or really knowing anything about you. If they don’t trust you impeccably, they’ll never pay you.
4. You have to generate goodwill
The best way to get great mileage out of even a small list is to have that list work for you. I swear, sometimes I think my readers and past clients are out there beating through the brush to find new people to send my way. And the reason this happens is that I try to provide great service to all of them. I’ve done small add-on jobs for free, answered questions and investigated issues for non-clients, and helped people out of tough jams. This creates happy folks.
At the end of last year, I did a free blog setup promotion. If a customer would simply purchase their hosting (which they’d need no matter who set up their blog) through my affiliate link, I’d set them up gratis. I did this largely because it’s a great win-win — a way for me to profit without the money coming directly from my clients. But what I didn’t see right away was that all of those people who were so grateful that I didn’t charge them anything would start sending their friends to me.
5. You have to have faith in yourself, as a real person
I’m a huge evangelist for what I think of as “personality marketing” over the more common ways to do business online. Personality marketing means using your own voice and own self and own talents to generate value rather than embarking on an anonymous system like niche websites or AdSense.
Now, I don’t want the niche sites or AdSense people getting all up in arms here. I’m not saying those things can’t work, but I am saying that they didn’t work for me and probably won’t work for anyone who’s at all like me. Or at least, they may not be your best use of time if you’re like me. I’ve been using AdSense for over a year now, and just recently got my first check. It was for $111, which I can now make in around a half hour by just “being Johnny.”
(Now, if you can’t make $111 in a half hour or an hour or a day or even a week by employing some personality marketing, could you make it in a month after a bit of practice? If you can, you’re still beating my AdSense earnings by a factor of twelve.)
Remember, it’s not always about numbers. If you want a huge list just so that you can have a huge list, great. If you want a hundred thousand RSS subscribers, great. If you want to be an internet celebrity, great.
But those things don’t automatically translate to income. If you want to pursue the cliche of “becoming rich and famous online,” you’ll need to pay attention to both sides of the equation.
Johnny B. Truant is your source for business and technology coaching, building blogs and websites, and eating nachos. You can find him at his website, and you can find the full discussion between Johnny, Naomi Dunford, and Charlie Gilkey at The Charlie and Johnny Jam Sessions.