In this episode of The Lede, Demian Farnworth and I share some of our personal stories of success and failure online, in the hopes of inspiring you and educating you (but mostly inspiring you).
The two biggest concerns for the average blogger are obscurity and sustainability.
In other words … for the vast majority of us who set sail creating content online, we want to first develop an audience; and then, once we have an audience, we want to find a way to earn a living from our content.
The first concern can feel daunting enough, because building an audience isn’t easy.
The second concern can feel damn near impossible — because despite countless examples of people who have done it, sometimes we struggle to see ourselves succeeding in the same way.
Which is silly.
So long as you’re willing to take pride in working hard and have a humble heart and mind when it comes to learning from the people who have already done it, you can achieve sustained success online.
Because if we’re here hosting a successful podcast like The Lede for a company as strong as Copyblogger Media, then there really isn’t any reason why you can’t find your path to online success too.
In this episode, Demian Farnworth and I discuss:
- Our personal stories of success and failure online
- How to overcome obscurity
- The scariest part of starting an online business (and how to conquer it)
- The importance of building an audience that builds your business
- If we could go back in time 10 or 15 years, knowing what we know now, what would we do differently?
- What you need to know to start your online business
- Why many online business models aren’t sustainable
- Demian’s one critical piece of advice for anyone just starting an online business
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The Show Notes
- What You Need to Know to Make a Living as a Blogger Right Now — by Demian Farnworth
- Free New Rainmaker course — the training you need if you want to learn how to earn a living from your blog to continue to do what you love
- The Copybot — Demian’s website
- Guest Posting Best Practices From Copyblogger’s Guest Post Gatekeeper — by Stefanie Flaxman
- Goins, Writer — Jeff Goins’ blog about writing, creativity, and making a difference
- Midwest Sports Fans — the sports blog Jerod founded
- Synthesis — superfast and secure WordPress hosting plus content marketing and SEO tools
- How One Marketing Blog Tripled Its Email Subscribers With 3 Simple Strategies — by Noah Kagan
Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.
The Lede Podcast: How We Built Our Careers Online (And What You Can Learn From It)
Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. I’m your host, Jerod Morris.
On Monday, November 17, we published a post on Copyblogger titled “What You Need to Know to Make a Living as a Blogger Right Now.” It was written by Demian Farnworth.
In the post, Demian highlights the two biggest concerns for the average blogger: obscurity and sustainability.
In other words, for the vast majority of us who set sail creating content online, we want to first develop an audience, and then once we have an audience, we want to find a way to earn a living from our content.
The first concern can feel daunting enough, because building an audience isn’t easy.
The second concern can feel damn near impossible because despite countless examples of people who have done it — who have built successful, thriving businesses around their online content — sometimes we struggle to see ourselves succeeding in the same way.
Which is silly.
So long as you’re willing to take pride in working hard, and have a humble heart and mind when it comes to learning from the people who have already done it, you can build an audience that drives a sustainable online business.
There is, of course, a sustainability road map.
It’s what Brian Clark and Robert Bruce chart for you in the free New Rainmaker training course that you will find at newrainmaker.com/register.
Go ahead and get started with the two-week course if you aren’t one of the 25,000-plus people who have taken it already.
Our personal stories of success and failure online
In this episode of The Lede, Demian Farnworth and I are going to share some of our personal stories of success and failure online in the hopes of inspiring you and educating you.
But mostly inspiring you, because if we’re here hosting a successful podcast like The Lede for a company as strong as Copyblogger Media, then there really isn’t any reason why you can’t find your path to online success too.
Demian, you love your job, at least based on all of my interactions with you. You seem to love your job. You get to dive deep into work that you really love without having to sacrifice time with your lovely wife and your two incredible kids.
I would say that you have found a way to overcome the obscurity and sustainability concerns you wrote about in your most recent post. How did you get here, and what role did your personal blog, Copybot, play in it?
Demian Farnworth: That’s a great question. Copybot was my business card, and that’s kind of lame, but really: it’s the place, it’s the hub, it’s the place to point people.
It’s also my book, and it’s everything that I need to create visibility, both in the search engines and just the social sphere.
When I quit the corporate world and said I was going to work for myself, I knew that I needed a website, and so I started writing that website, and that allowed me to work through a lot of content that I had created in my mind.
When I was looking for guest writing and freelancing opportunities, I needed somewhere to point people back to — a body of work.
That’s exactly what Copybot allowed me to do, and that’s the purpose that it serves. That’s the body of work that I’ve created.
It’s my portfolio. It’s my resume.
How to overcome obscurity
Jerod: So putting the content out there, creating these posts on Copybot, that kind of got you started with the whole overcoming-the-obscurity part that you talked about in your post.
And then you talked about going out and guest posting using Copybot as that reference. How did you then go from overcoming the obscurity concern, getting the audience, and then to a point of sustainability?
You’re not on your own anymore, but you have a career now that you built on your own. How did you get there?
Demian: I tell everybody I talk to that we all start at the bottom, and I certainly started at the bottom.
I had some connections, but I wasn’t on anybody’s radar as “This is someone you should hire; this is someone who’s doing things.”
There’s not a day that goes by now when I don’t get an email or some sort of response in the social sphere where someone asks to interview me or wants advice, or wants me to guest write.
Clearly, I started out with none of that, and I started out with nobody knowing, virtually, who I was. And so there’s no secret.
This is kind of lame, but it was just simply putting one foot in front of the other and consistently creating that body of work, and reaching out, and creating that work that people admire.
Creating work, like you said, guest posting.
That’s first and foremost one of the best ways in order to expand your visibility, to increase your visibility, and the other thing, too, is to write things about other people that challenges what they say.
There might be some influencer in your industry who you don’t agree with, and so if you do that respectfully in a meaningful, articulate, and powerful way, then people are going to pay attention to that and you’ll get on their radar.
It’s not a flash-in-the-pan type of thing either. You have to do it consistently.
It’s better to be on a slow burn than it is to be firing out with all cylinders and all cannons blazing and stuff like that.
Because a fast rise usually precipitates a fast fall, too — you want a slow, steady burn.
Jerod: Your story is compelling to me especially — and also our audience — because I think your story in particular is closer to what most of our audience experiences than perhaps mine.
I didn’t have the corporate job first, haven’t had a family, so I’ve been able to make a lot of decisions just based on what was best for me in the moment.
You did all of this with a family, having that job, being a little bit more settled.
What I’m curious about, and I think the point that a lot of our listeners, a lot of our audience members get to, and people that I’ve talked to get to when they get to the sustainability concern is that moment of fear, the moment of trepidation, being able to take that leap of faith.
What was your scariest moment? What was that moment of trepidation for you, and how did you overcome it?
The scariest part of starting an online business (and how to conquer it)
Demian: That’s a great question. My scariest moment was the morning after I had turned in my two-weeks notice, because I had nothing else planned, with no job lined up.
I would not recommend anybody do this.
But it came down to points like — no, I’ll let God worry about the future, I need to worry about today, right here. And so I did that, and that was definitely the scariest part.
I had lunch with Jeff Goins a couple of weeks ago, and he and I were talking about that sort of moment, and he had a much better approach.
He actually built the business while he still had a firm, steady job, and he had a wife, and I believe they had a young one at this time.
He had those family concerns, but he built the audience, and then he built the business behind it.
He sold the products that made him a lot of money, and he finally got to the point where he thought “I can do this.”
He will tell you he’s very conservative, and he had way more money than he needed, if there’s such a thing, but he was definitely in a position to say, “Hey, I’m ready to make this move.”
I took that leap partly because that’s just my personality. To be honest, I don’t do anything unless my back is up against the wall.
I’m lazy, I’m passive, and yes, I do have self-discipline. I can keep a job, and I’m loyal to that job, but at the same time, if I need to make a dramatic change in my life, I will.
If I had not made that move, I would not be here.
I would still be stuck in a dead-end job, just moping along, continuing to do the daily grind without the opportunities that I have now.
Despite the pain that I went through, I’m glad I did it. I would never wish or recommend anybody to do it, because there is a better way to do it. However, like I said, I don’t regret that moment.
The importance of building an audience that builds your business
Jerod: I think it’s important to understand, too, that everybody who has succeeded online, going through this process of building an audience, then building a business around that audience, has their own individual story.
A lot of people have your story, where their backs were against the wall for some reason, or they hated what they were doing, and this almost felt like the only way out, or they had to do it.
But it’s not necessarily always some act of desperation.
Jerod: I talked about this in the intro — that there is a road map for success doing this. So many people now have succeeded doing it in different ways, with different audiences, for different reasons.
What is the through-line of success, then, for the people who succeed online?
Because ultimately, there are people behind audiences, and behind the businesses that they build.
While everybody has their own story, for people listening and maybe they’re trying to think about if this is the path for them, or maybe they’re at that moment of trepidation themselves, what should they look at in themselves to say, “Okay, if you have this, if you can do this, then you will succeed.”
Demian: The best way to answer is probably to talk about how I learned a lot about myself when I went to work for myself. Because within the first eight months, I realized that I did not want to do this.
I did not like working for myself. I thought I would; I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for someone who’s an introvert and who manages themselves well.
Like I said, I am driven and I have initiative, but about eight months in, I was like “I need to find a job.” I already had the structure, but I realized I didn’t want to build a business.
However, back to Jeff Goins. I’m impressed with him because he had that desire and that drive, and the ability to build that business.
He built the audience, and then his business is basically the membership model with the training courses, so that’s working incredibly well for him.
You have to find out who you are and what you want. You have that drive to build something like a business, and that’s the path you follow.
Even those people who have built full careers, rather than just businesses — Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, those guys — they, again, built audiences and then they built the businesses behind them.
It just begins with going from that point of obscurity, getting the visibility, building the audience, and then figuring out how to monetize that.
Conventional methods for monetization are advertising or affiliate marketing, and there are people who are quite successful at affiliate marketing.
I think those are channels and streams of revenue, but they probably shouldn’t be your sole method.
You would also want to have memberships, forums, training courses, ebooks, and resources. Maybe also do some consultancy at the same time.
Jerod: We talked about this on our editorial call yesterday, actually. And I’m curious to bring this part of the conversation to the listeners.
If we could go back in time 10 or 15 years, knowing what we know now, what would we do differently?
I think Robert asked, “If you could go back in time 10 or 15 years, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?”
Demian: That’s a good question. I really wasn’t sure how to answer that yesterday, but I’ve given some more time and thought to it.
I wouldn’t go down the corporate path. I would have realized that I’m a maverick and I need to find environments that allow that to be my strength, which Copyblogger does.
I probably would have paid more attention to the Internet, of course, because I paid zero attention until probably the year 2001. What about you? What would you do differently?
Jerod: That’s a great question. Like you, I didn’t know how to answer it when he asked it, but I’ve spent some time thinking about it.
Ten years ago, just like you, I wasn’t really paying attention to the Internet.
I love where I am now, and if you had told me then that I’d be where I am now, I’d have said, “You’re crazy,” because it’s been such a zig-zaggey, roller-coastery ride here that couldn’t have really been predicted.
I would make the conscious choice that this is where I wanted to be, and I think I’d do more to get here faster and to be even further.
Part of that would involve some of the blogging projects I had before, like the sports blog that I had; I’d do that in a much smarter way.
I’ve talked about this before — that kind of flying by the seat of my pants, loving the part of creating content, and enjoying getting traffic, all that was great.
A lot of positives came out of it, but I didn’t even understand the first part about building an audience.
That site was pretty much obscure a week after a big post if there wasn’t something daily on there because I wasn’t building content assets, right?
It was pretty much the opposite of the Copyblogger model, but I think all of that effort that I put in there early on was so valuable just in terms of learning about content creation and some of the basics.
If I had been smarter then about actually building an audience, building an email list, and building an asset with that, I mean — I shudder to think what that could be now, as valuable as the experience I actually had was.
Demian: Tell me if you think differently, but for me for some reason, that question too, “What would you do differently 10 to 15 years ago if you knew what you knew today?” … I always have trouble with that question.
I think I would not engineer it any differently because, for me, it’s part of the fun. It’s like learning about yourself, right?
That wisdom, that experience, that suffering, the trials and tribulations that you go through. Maybe I’m just sadistic, but I enjoy that because it’s a learning process, and it’s an experiment for me, too.
Both you and I probably think a lot alike in that sense, and I think this is true for a lot of us at Copyblogger. We may not be entrepreneurs, but we have that spirit within us that we want to try something new, we want to try a new initiative.
We’re never short of ideas, and we’re always kind of pushing the envelope and saying, “Hey, what can we do next? How can we do that?” Which, again, is a great opportunity.
I wouldn’t give up the experiences that I went through 10 years ago. Because ultimately what we want is to speed up where we’re at.
We always want that shortcut. But is that fair?
What you need to know to start your online business
Jerod: Here’s the other question I wanted to ask you: what advice would you give to someone listening now?
Someone who reads Copyblogger, who listens to this podcast, who knows that they want to create content, but maybe doesn’t have the perfect vision or plan for what they want to do yet.
Why should he or she get out there anyway? Ten years ago, we couldn’t have really predicted that we’d be where we are now, and I think that’s true for a lot of people in this day and age.
And that’s okay.
Even when you start out online, where you end up online may be completely different from where you started.
Starting out as a sports blogger, ending up at Copyblogger. You can’t really predict that.
What advice would you give to somebody who’s teetering on that line between “Should I do it? Should I not? I don’t really have that perfect plan yet.”
Why should that person do it anyway? Or should they?
Demian: You don’t need the perfect plan.
I was just talking to a good friend who’s kind of branching out on his own. He was saying: “Here is my tagline. This is going to be my unique selling preposition.”
He had four or five, and I said, “Listen. All those are great. Choose one, move forward, because it will change.” It will evolve over time because as you experiment, as you get out there and you do things, it will change.
You will say, “Okay, that’s not working, but some people seem to want to go this way.”
The question you have to answer, though, is: “Do you have the passion, the energy to sustain this long-term?”
If it’s something that you’re considering, it might be a good hobby but if you think “Jeez, I’ll exhaust this in 30 days,” then it’s probably not a good business idea.
Because the one thing that you have to have is that energy to say, “I want to do this. I want to make this happen. I can see myself spending the rest of my life, at least for the next decade and a half or whatever, doing this.”
You’ll need that because the first two years, you’re going to feel like you’re alone.
You need to have that belief and that vision to accomplish what you can, and to sustain it until you get to the point where you have an audience that you can then monetize, that you can then leverage into work, whether it’s for yourself or with another company.
Jerod: Yeah, it’s interesting. Tell me if you agree with this, but I feel like a lot of times people’s perceptions get flipped about what it’s like to create success online.
I think people think that it will be easy in the sense that it doesn’t require as much work, but they also may be intimidated because the technology part is hard.
I actually think it’s the opposite.
Like I talked about: The road map is there, right?
The New Rainmaker training course is one example of a road map that shows you how to get to that point of sustainability.
So many other people have charted that course — that part is actually simple.
But I think it’s the other part: the daily grind, to use that term. And just like you said, the passion to do it consistently over time. That’s really the harder part, where more people fail.
But it doesn’t have to be if you have mentors and study the examples of others. Do you find that, too? Do you agree with that?
Why many online business models aren’t sustainable
Demian: I do, and I think your experience is a great example with the Midwest Sports. You had a quick rise to success and fame, but did you have the long-term sustainability?
Because it is hard work.
That’s the truth. And for me, it is a lot harder because once you have the visibility and people are looking at you, there’s a lot more pressure in order to perform.
My biggest fear is that I will become stale, I will become routine, I will become predictable. And I don’t want to do that.
For me it’s always constant — I want to beat everything I’ve done previously. And that’s a lesson that I learned.
I remember I waited tables for about six months. I was absolutely terrible at it. But I got great advice from a server who was really good.
He said, “You’re only as good as your last table.”
Whatever he meant by that, which I’m not 100 percent sure, but I interpreted it, the young, impressionable 21-year-old I was, as: “You have to continually improve and beat each time. Each table is an opportunity to excel from what you did last time.”
That’s the pressure that I’m on now, and so when I come to a piece of work, again, I deal with that procrastination of thinking, “Shoot. How am I going to make this the best thing that I’ve ever created?”
There’s a lot more pressure because a lot more people are looking at you and expecting things from you.
Jerod: It’s funny, thinking back. Midwest Sports Fans are still going today, although I’m not active on it on a daily basis. It’s funny. The passion, the excitement, was never the problem.
I always woke up excited to create content. What eventually killed it, though, was having such a poor strategy where you essentially start over every day.
One of the reasons why that strategy was poor is because I didn’t have enough humility. I thought I had all the answers, and thought, “Okay, this is working. I don’t really need to study and figure out the next step. This is working; let me just keep doing it.”
Eventually the flame started to flicker out a little bit because it’s like, “Man, it’s the same thing all the time.”
If you’re not actually building an audience and building assets with your content, then you’re just like a hamster on a wheel.
Every day you start over just trying to drive traffic for the page view based ad revenue, which is a model, but that can kill that passion too.
I think long-term you really want to study the successful models and figure out a way to build assets that aren’t just going to lose value the next day.
Because that will kill your passion. That’ll kill your excitement for it.
Demian’s one critical piece of advice for anyone just starting an online business
Demian: Right. Right.
Jerod: Well Demian, this has been fascinating. I love talking with you about your history, your path, your journey.
Which is why we wanted to take a little break from doing the series that we’ve been doing on The Lede and have a more personal episode that talks about our experiences.
Or email us: Jerod [at] copyblogger [dot] com or Demian [at] copyblogger [dot] com.
Tell us your story. Because they’re interesting, and we love hearing them.
Although we all have our own individual stories, there are a lot of through-points that we all experience, that we can relate to and help each other out with.
Always a fun conversation, Mr. Farnworth.
Demian: Thank you. I appreciate it.
I’ll just end with this: I’m always really kind of surprised and I’m always humbled when someone says, “You’ve inspired me,” or I get an e-mail of encouragement.
To me, that’s how I know what I’m doing is working.
I’ve been given — we’ve all been given — a talent. Something to do.
I think the best response to that talent, which I consider a gift, is to become the best you can absolutely be at that and that alone.
They’ll be ups and downs.
The point is, just be grateful for whatever attention you get. Because, ultimately, “I have so many followers on Twitter” is not what count. What counts is the lives you touch and the relationships you form, if that makes sense.
Be grateful for whatever you get. Always be grateful. That’s helped me enormously.
Jerod: Great final thought to end on, Demian. Thank you.
Demian: You bet.
Jerod: We’ll talk in a couple of weeks and get another series started.
Demian: Sounds good.
Jerod: All right, man. Bye.
Jerod: Thank you, everybody, for tuning in to this episode of The Lede.
If you enjoyed this episode, and if you like what you’ve been hearing from us on The Lede, please consider giving the show a rating or a review on iTunes. We would greatly appreciate it.
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Thank you again for listening. We will be back in a couple of weeks with another new episode of The Lede. Talk to you soon, everybody.
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*Credits: Both the intro (“Bridge to Nowhere” by Sam Roberts Band) and outro songs (“Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart) are graciously provided by express written consent from the rights owners.