This is the second post in our series on Blog Business Models.
Kevin’s written about his business journey here at ProBlogger before, but here, he explains in detail how the blogging-and-print-books business model works for him.
Kevin, what was it that drew you to blogging in the first place?
Well, I was selling hardware and software computer solutions to businesses and answering the same questions over and over again. After doing this for a while I was bored and needed an outlet for my energy, talents, and skills. I decided to write down not only the computer problems businesses have encountered, but also the answer to each computer problem.
My unique approach is: not every business problem needs a computer solution and not every computer solution is a good fit for a business. Too often geeks see a computer answers for every problem. From a business perspective, you need a Return On Investment for the money you spend on computer solutions.
So, to get things moving, I started writing things down, having no clue where it would lead. As I wrote, I began noticing trends in what issues businesses were having and shaped my content to fit each trend. After helping a business person one day and mentioning my business, and computer articles and writings, they suggested that I convert them into a book.
Hmm … I hadn’t thought about that before! I thought about it after work and asked myself: What does this mean? How does it change what I’m currently doing? Is this doable? The answer: Yep, sure could. So, ok, let’s head in that direction now.
Like most budding authors I had intended to find an an agent who hopefully would find a publisher to get my book on the market. Fast-forward a few years. Listening to a teleseminar, the speaker mentioned that it was no longer just about your book, but about your content. The teleseminar guest mentioned that your content could become books, blogs, seminars, workshops, DVDs, coaching, and ultimately the potential for multiple streams of income that comes from your experiences.
As with anyone doing anything they love, it’s no longer just about your craft, trading time for dollars, but turning your craft into a business.
Bingo! The shackles on my brain came off. I was now mentally free to pursue and use all of my talents and skills for my readers’ and customers’ sakes—not just those that a publisher wanted me to use. It was about making more money based on a whole host of things I could do with my talents, skills, content, books, and blogs, not just the limited few wanted by others.
Besides, in recent years because of POD (Print On Demand) technology, the publishing game rules have changed, both for the “Big Six” and for independent publishers like myself. Most authors today who sign contracts with publishers find those publishers want want you to market your book yourself. Why sign a contract then? Do it yourself and keep more of the profits.
As my book writing progressed further other well-known authors mentioned that I had a blog so I could connect directly with my readers. Blogging not only helps in getting noticed more through Google search, but also helped in doing market research for my book’s content, and now provides additional content beyond my book.
For example, after a book editor suggested I put an initial cap (in my case, a drop cap) in the book, I spent about three hours deciphering the technical solution in iWork Pages and ended up posting the solution on my blog. I wrote the blog post about drop caps because I knew that eventually I’d probably forget how to do it myself, so I could always look up my own blogged answer. I wasn’t sure whether people would be interested in this post, but it had became my fourth-most-viewed blog post within weeks of my posting it online. Wow, the power of the 24/7 internet and search!
So for me, blogging is an extension of my writing and provides marketing insights from potential readers and clients.
Do you think writers make good entrepreneurs?
As I was planning for this interview, and having a discussion with another entrepreneur about whether or not I had planned to become an entrepreneur, I thought back about my journey as an author and a blogger.
I started out just with an idea and began writing down answers to solve some business and computer problems. With suggestions from others, that idea progressed into writing a book, and then to become a blog. This ultimately changed into the potential of starting my own business with my idea, and purpose of my talents and skills.
Just having an idea does not make one an entrepreneur, but taking action on the idea does.
So, looking back, I’ve come to a realization: I never started out thinking I’d be an entrepreneur, but I grew into one as I took numerous steps toward an ever-changing goal. Only as I learned and grew did I ultimately transform myself from a writer to a published author, and from a blogger into an entrepreneur. With other more experienced entrepreneurs mentoring me along my path I’ll get better and more profitable at it.
Your blog supports sales of your print book, but you had the book before the blog. Most people would tackle things the other way around. How has your approach worked in terms of building an audience for your self-published book?
While I started with the book and then added the blog, ultimately they both have affected each other, and it was not until later, through considering them both as part of a business, that their purposes have merged into a more cohesive whole.
As any entrepreneur learns, the most crucial part of any business is searching for the right business model based on your idea, and you’ll have to change many times before you find your right business direction and model. This means try something, test it with your customers, then change (or “pivot” in entrepreneurspeak) to the new input. Test again, change again, and repeat often as necessary until you succeed.
For example, I originally started writing about Windows, Mac, and Linux in my book. But my first pivot was to drop the Windows and Linux and focus only on Mac content—and on companies with over 500 employees—after realizing most Mac fans don’t care about Windows or Linux.
My third pivot came after I found that a vast majority of businesses in the US have under ten employees (i.e. they’re startups, mompreneurs, and dadpreneurs, not businesses with over 500 employees). That means I’ll sell more books to smaller businesses than to bigger ones.
Taking one path or another at first is an “either/or” thing, but over time it will eventually become an “and” at some point as your business grows.
As a blogger, it’s the same. You start with an idea and take the necessary steps toward your goal and you write and get feedback with Google Analytics and reader feedback.
My blog and book have both evolved over time as I have personally learned and grown. It’s the same with any endeavor you decide to take. In fact, I just signed in the middle of June 2012 another author to do a Windows version of my book due out this fall titled, “How to Start a Business: PC Version.”
Well, your book talks about startups, and this is a very startup-typical approach. Can you tell us why you took that approach, rather than the more traditional approach most bloggers would use?
Why? Because you can’t steer a parked car. I just took my first step. Take action, any action, in any direction and then various things begin to appear and “line up” that need to be done as you move forward and observe the various reactions. You’ll then need to steer over and around various customers, vendors, issues, and obstacles as they affect your blog and business as you come into contact with them.
As bloggers, authors, and business people, we’re paid to solve problems and/or provide entertainment. You can’t do that sitting and meditating a lot about it. Get going.
So can you tell us a bit about how you use blogging to support your book?
When you sell a book, you may or may not get feedback on what you’ve written. Blogging gives me direct feedback as to what my customers are looking for, through the analytics of my blog posts. It also provides the 24/7 marketing and analysis about my content, book, blog, and for those that find the help they need from me.
So I search and find ways that it supports my overall purpose for me being in business and blogging. Like any entrepreneur, I never stop looking for more answers and solutions, to provide more and more value in my responses to questions people ask.
So what’s the biggest challenge you face in using your blog to support the business of selling your print book?
Keeping creative, relevant, and valuable in my topics, and finding problems and answers that people are looking for.
But more importantly, getting people to realize there are some issues they’ll face as entrepreneurs which are essential to a business (and blog), and to quit chasing after the SOS (Shiney Object Syndrome, the next “in” thing), since that only delays them in getting to where they want to go.
While there is the creative part, the fun part, the stuff we just love to do and can’t stop doing, there’s also the not-so-fun parts, and they’re just as important for your blog and business. For instance, there is never a quick way to riches. You’ve probably heard that it takes years to become an overnight success? It’s 100% true. Besides, making money is only part of the issue. You personally have to change to handle your new-found income and success.
When you get rich quick you don’t necessarily get the time to grow and absorb what’s necessary to handle your success. Why do you think nearly all lottery winners go broke soon after they get their money? Because they didn’t earn it and did not personally grow as they earned it, like most successful entrepreneurs do.
My purpose is about telling a story with my book and blog, but also telling the truth. But as it has been said: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I was writing my book and it was suggested that I take it online and build a web site. At the time, I was focused on completing my book. Little did I know that years later I’ve come full circle and am will be putting more and more of my content online. I was not ready at that time, but now I am.
And it’s a really captivating blog, too. What are the key factors, or components, that have helped you get it to where it is now?
First, not getting married to my blog idea (The What: a blog about Macs), but to focus instead on a purpose for my blog (The Why: i.e. helping startups, mompreneurs, and entrepreneurs using Macs). Ideas and blogs are a dime a dozen; finding our why you are in business, or blogging, makes your potential blog and business last longer.
Second, dogged determination to keep moving, not quitting, it’s all about being focused on helping my readers and clients.
Third, making changes if things are not working out. I don’t fail, I just test and change as frequently as needed until I am successful.
Fourth, work at keeping your blog and business a no- or low-cost startup. For example, most professional book editors and designers said I needed to do my book in Adobe’s InDesign or Quark, each priced at about $700, or pay someone to do it for me. I could not afford either at the time. I researched and found that Apple’s iWork Pages could still handle the book results I wanted, and I’d pay only $20 for the application. Same with WordPress and its plugins.
Fifth, love what you do and it won’t feel like work, but also get a life. Don’t get so wrapped up in your blog and business that you can’t turn it off by taking a day off once a week and do something else with your family and friends—and I do mean relax. If you don’t know how to turn your blog and business off for one day, it’ll become just another high-paying job or time- and energy-sucking hobby.
Sixth, get outside your blog and business to get connected and noticed, and learn more. Recently, in a LinkedIn group I belong to (Society of Physician Entrepreneurs), a post asked some questions about healthcare reform. I answered with my idea, and that comment was picked up by a major medical web site.
Seventh, and the most important: get a hand up and give a hand down to others. Have a hand up: look for mentors that are willing to help you out, and be thankful and grateful for their help. Especially, tell others publicly either in a blog post or as a testimonial about their help. But also have a hand down: always find someone you can help out as you’re getting help. Justin Bieber invested his wealth early on in other startups such as gaming outfit Sojo Studios and Spotify. Sart helping others when you start your blog and business.
If you aren’t thankful for mentors and helpful to others, you’ll slow or delay your blogging and business growth, and your reputation will be negatively affected.
Okay, so what’s unique about the way you’ve developed your offering—what makes your blog business unique?
First, everything is a number of processes hobbled together within in a system. Just like building a house, you need four things: tools, materials, an idea, and then a step-by-step plan of what needs to be done and a sequence to do it in (much like a formula of 1 + 1 + 1 = 3).
Some blogs and businesses provide you with some tools, others provide you with some materials, others give you ideas, and very few provide a step-by-step complete plan to get it done (Content blog + Book + Idea – Outsourcing x multiple streams of income = Business).
If you have an idea, I focus on providing the other three elements of tools, materials, and a good sequence of instructions on how to get it done. That makes my approach unique in most of the blog and startup business world.
The most common comment you hear from people is, “I can get anything free on the internet. Why should I pay for things?” It amazes me that people do not understand that while free means you may not pay actual money for something, you are paying for it with your time and effort to find your own answers.
And more importantly, there is usually a good sequence you need to follow that will help you achieve your results quicker. Getting free information on the internet may not be part of the right sequence to get your task (or business) effectively, efficiently, and profitably done.
What makes my offer unique is I search for all of the essential elements and steps that need to be followed in a proper and good order to do things a better and quicker way. Just like building a house, you start from the design, lay the foundation, to finishing the landscaping and moving the furniture in. You learn from your mistakes. That makes things not only effective, because you can get results, but also more efficient, because it costs you less as well, which ultimately leads to better profitability.
That’s what makes my blog and book offering so compelling: I make your efforts more effective and efficient at getting to profitable results. By spending three hours figuring out how to do drop caps in iWork Pages, I saved others three hours of work. And that should mean something to them: at $10 or $100 an hour, I saved them either $30 or $300. Multiply that over how many times they do that and that’s a chuck of change that solution has save someone.
Sure. Speaking of tools like that, can you recommend any software or services that you’ve used to develop your blog business?
Not many, even being the geek that I am, but I’m more of a business geek. The simpler, more effective, and more efficient, the better (going cheap is not always better).
My hosting ISP is Bluehost.com and I use WordPress for my blogging software. But since I’m in business and writing is my business, I use all of my Mac’s tools (iLife, iWork, and WordPress plugins) for everything for my blog and business. I use Apple’s iWork Pages to do all of my writing, especially since I wrote my book using it. I then just cut and paste the content into a WP blog post and format it. I’m about to improve my blog experience and WP theme as I change my business and blogging emphasis very soon here.
Same goes with tools and services for blogging—as the need arises, so does the need to search out more tools! I work at keeping things simple with the tools I use. Simple means less expensive, which translates into more profits and further growth of my business.
That’s great advice! What other tips would you give to someone who was just starting out as a print-pubished author using a blog to support book sales?
- Know who your readers and customers are, and the numbers surrounding them (in my case, Apple sells millions of Macs per quarter, and a percentage of them are to businesses and consumers who later become businesses). You have to know your market and business numbers—this is essential for anyone starting a blog and business.
- Solve your readers’ and customers’ problems by providing them good value. And you don’t have to give away the farm, but you need to give a sample of your work so they can try the results that you promise.
- Build a name for yourself as you become the expert in that niche by providing quality solutions. Matthew Bennet’s story in my book How to Start a Business: Mac Version is about someone who found a niche solution between expectant mothers and doctors and solved both of their problems at the same time with his book the Maternal Journal.
- Do the work up front. Do your due diligence and prove yourself as an expert. The money will come if you’ve hit the right market for your talents.
Finally, Kevin, can you tell us what you think the future holds for your business?
Here’s how I describe any entrepreneurial business and life.
You’re in a convertible car (your life) during July, with the top down on cool, moonlit night. Alone with the stars and your family (your family is “in business” with you, right?) driving down a winding, rural, two-lane road. You’re driving with your headlights on and carrying on a conversation with your family as you head toward “our destination.”
You can only see as far down the road as your headlights will show you, much like a blogger or business person seeing into their business’s future. The road ahead twists and turns based on the lay of the land (the market place and your business model). While you can see the outline of the lay of the land (your business future) in the moonlit shadows and stars, you can really only see as far as your car’s lights will shine on the road ahead (your business goals and paths). That’s anyone’s business future.
Most entrepreneurs are not only the Christopher Columbuses and the Lewis and Clarks, they’re also the Cornelius Vanderbilts, John D. Rockefellers, Steve Jobses, and Mark Zuckerbergs and thousands of individuals taking a chance at changing their and our worlds—hopefully for the better.
As an entrepreneur, it is more important to focus on the journey rather than the destination (goal) because at some point you’ll be let down after you have arrived at your “destination.” Ensure that you have a long-term purpose, rather than just a short- or long-term goal, to ensure you keep moving ahead.
David Ogilvy said, “Pay people in peanuts and you get monkeys.” So, while you can just blog for the fun of it, look to provide value to others to earn more than a living with it, and by that I mean you earn more than just peanuts as a blogger.