Brian Clark is Doing … What?

This may come as a shock, but Brian Clark is going to start publishing articles on a site other than the ones he owns. Find out where, his reasoning, and why this isn’t what you think it is.

In this 26-minute episode, Brian Clark and Jerod Morris discuss:

  • Brian’s decision to syndicate articles on Medium
  • Why this isn’t digital sharecropping
  • The single most important element of a smart syndication strategy
  • How to think about curation like an entrepreneur (not just a content creator)
  • What Brian thinks of the latest trend of sites (like The Ringer) being built entirely on Medium

Plus, Brian updates us on how his side projects — and Unemployable — are going.

And we talk about Brian’s recent interview with his hero, Henry Rollins.

The Show Notes

Brian Clark Is Doing … What?

Voiceover: You are listening to The Digital Entrepreneur, the show for folks who want to discover smarter ways to create and sell profitable digital goods and services. This podcast is a production of Digital Commerce Institute, a place to be for digital entrepreneurs.

DCI features an in-depth, on-going instructional academy, plus a live education and networking summit where entrepreneurs from across the globe meet in person. For more information, go to Rainmaker.FM/DigitalCommerce.

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Digital Entrepreneur. This is episode No. 18 of The Digital Entrepreneur. I am your host, Jerod Morris, VP of marketing for Rainmaker Digital.

Last week, Sonia Simone joined us to provide a little taste of her closing keynote at the upcoming Digital Commerce Summit, which takes place this October in Denver, Colorado, as we mentioned. You can get more details about the summit at Rainmaker.FM/Summit.

If you missed that episode with Sonia, make sure that you get caught up. It’s called Sonia Simone’s Secret to Starting the 1,000-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle of Building a Successful Business. If you’re looking for some advice and inspiration about the mindset needed to be a successful entrepreneur from a trusted source, that episode is for you.

This week, another of the keynote speakers at Digital Commerce Summit is here as Brian Clark makes his triumphant return to The Digital Entrepreneur, fresh off his season-ending interview with Henry Rollins over at Unemployable, which really is a must listen for anyone who fancies himself or herself a digital entrepreneur. We will link to that in the show notes.

Brian, how was that interview with Henry? It was certainly great to listen to. It must have been a blast to be able to interview one of your heroes yet again.

Brian’s Recent Interview with His Hero, Henry Rollins

Brian Clark: Yeah, ‘yet again’ is the key phrase because I don’t get nervous, Jerod, and the first time I interviewed Rollins, I was a wreck. It didn’t really come across that way, so I held it together. But this time, he’s just such a cool guy, and you know that I drove him to Boulder after our event last year for his show that you went to as well, which was awesome.

Jerod Morris: Yeah it was.

Brian Clark: It’s not like I respect him any less, but he’s a guy. He’s a great guy. You just start to realize that fame can sometimes make people worse, but it certainly hasn’t done it to him. This time, it was just really a very relaxed conversation. I think it came through that way.

But you know Henry. You throw up something for him, and he’ll talk for 15 minutes on that and say things you couldn’t have imagined that you could have coaxed out of him. Then you just throw him another one, and he runs with it.

Jerod Morris: Yeah, and well, I loved how you mentioned being respectful of his time toward the end that you were going to cut it off, and he’s like, “No, no, no, I’m enjoying answering these questions. Ask me more. Keep going.” That was awesome.

Brian Clark: Yeah. I think Henry, understandably, doesn’t mind being recognized for how hard he works and all the things he’s done, not being with his hand held by management or whatever. Black Flag, they had to do it all themselves, and he just kept doing that.

You’ll notice the theme of that, which you hear from us a lot. Why we bootstrap and those type of things is because it’s freedom. He gets to do what he wants to do. He does this project in order to do the next project. That’s been a recurring theme over at Unemployable all season, which is really interesting to me because, again, that’s how I am. I just thought I was weird.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. Well, definitely check out that episode. You can check it out on the show notes for this episode or go to Rainmaker.FM and find it on the Unemployable page.

On this week’s episode here on The Digital Entrepreneur, Brian is here to update us on how his side projects Further and Unemployable are going and talk a little bit about what he’s learning, what his future plans are.

First, Brian, this is related, but you sent me an interesting email this morning. We were going back and forth about what to discuss on this week’s show. You said we could talk about “why I’m going to start publishing on Medium.” Immediately when I read that, bells started ringing. Let’s just into this right now. You, on Medium? What’s going on?

Brian’s Decision to Syndicate Articles on Medium

Brian Clark: It really is a function of trying out new things with my side projects. No risk, low impact. It doesn’t matter if it works or not, really, compared to the main business. But as you know and Chris Garrett knows, I’m one of the best sources of feedback for the Rainmaker Platform by using it. Often, you won’t find a CEO that actually uses the technology they sell.

We always have, and that’s very important to me, the user experience as a content producer, a curator but not an overly technical person. The more I can do by myself, the better, which is why, unless I just get really stuck, I don’t let any of you guys help me. Obviously, I’m in the podcast network, so for Unemployable, that really helps. But Chris Ducker and Jon also have those deals, too. I get treated like anyone else when it comes to that stuff.

Why This Isn’t Digital Sharecropping

Brian Clark: The whole idea of publishing on Medium is something I want to try. Now, the first thing that is popping in people’s heads, going, “Wait, wait, wait. You, the anti-digital sharecropper extraordinaire are going to go publish on someone else’s land?” No. I’m not going to blog on Medium. I’m going to syndicate on Medium.

What that means is, I’m going to take content that I’ve already created–for example, it could be some of the articles I’ve written for Further in the past. Actually, I know for sure a lot of the topics I covered on the Unemployable podcast, I’m going to take the transcripts, go back and review, and then turn it into an article.

We’ve talked about repurposing content over and over again over the years. Let’s take Unemployable, for example. My main goal with Unemployable, at this phase–I’m not selling anything yet–is the podcast and the curated email newsletter. Those are my assets. Those are my original things that I own, and that’s where I’m always pointing everything to.

But if I can repurpose content and put it on another platform, to me, it’s like guest posting–except there’s no requirement that it be original content. I’ve been watching Medium for a while, and there’s some really interesting aspects to it. I think you might have picked up on those as well.

Jerod Morris: Yeah, I have because I’ve been thinking about doing the same thing with some of my side projects and the same, not publishing new content over there, but taking content that’s already been created and syndicating it over there.

It is. It’s interesting what they do with collections. It’s interesting what they do with their own curated newsletter because I get that. I get that in my inbox, and I find myself reading over there. There’s a lot of interesting content, interesting things going on there. It’s a good way, it seems, to get discovered.

When you look at people that are doing it right, you read their article, you get down to the end, and a lot of times, there’s a call to action to get on their newsletter or to go connect with them over on their site. That’s a very important part of any strategy like this. Like you said, it’s not publishing. It’s syndicating.

Brian Clark: Exactly. Now, if you’re a hardcore SEO-type person, you may not like it, but Google is getting much better at finding the original source anyway. If you just publish on your own site first, you can probably almost immediately go over and hit Medium.

But think about it this way. Again, if you were guest posting … and a lot of people, from Leo over Zen Habits, Danny Iny did it when he started out, they just went on this massive guest-posting binges because you get access to someone else’s community, someone else’s audience.

That’s what Medium is right now. It’s built probably more effectively than a lot of other platforms in the sense that there is a community over there. It’s something like 650,000 people at this point. Not massive, but it’s interesting.

The mechanisms by which things prove to be popular is very much like a social network. It’s a social content platform. There’s a community there, and if you publish good content and it catches on, you get access to that community. And like you said, everything is pointing back to my site and, in particular, the assets that I’m trying to build at this point.

Here’s the kicker. When I got over there and was playing with it and I actually set up an account–got Unemployable as my log in, thank you …

Jerod Morris: Nice.

Brian Clark: Then I realized that, because I logged in with Twitter, the founders of Twitter and Medium … it’s not a Twitter company, but they’re the same guys. My largest audience is at Twitter for social media, and all of a sudden, everyone who follows me on Twitter that’s also on Medium prepopulated into my audience. I had an instant following of 24,000 people. That’s kind of cool.

Jerod Morris: That is kind of cool. It’s very cool. When it comes to your strategy over there, then, how will you decide or determine which posts to put over there, which posts to syndicate?

Identifying Which Posts to Syndicate

Brian Clark: That’s the fun of it really. Like I said, there’s a ton of audio content, and despite there being transcripts, it’s not really in that really digestible format that a good article might be. Some of those episodes you can make two articles out of, maybe three.

Quoting people I’ve interviewed–like Rollins, Gary Vaynerchuk, Tim Ferriss, Annie Cushing–lot of great guests where you can take what they talked about, turn it into an article, quote them. That’s pretty cool. That’s one aspect of it.

The other thing is, like I mentioned with Further, taking some of the short curated summaries that I do as my lead, which is different from what I do with just more brief summary and link stuff over at Further, and publish some of that stuff and see what happens.

The first thing I’m trying … and by the time this airs, I should know what happened. We may have to do a follow-up episode. But what I did was take some of my sources that I curate for Unemployable, and I created those classic attention-getting “The 22 Best Sites for Freelancers,” “The 10 Best Sites for Creative Entrepreneurs”–you get the idea.

When you think about it, that’s a perfect post. It has a good chance of being popular. Number two, you lead in and say something like, “Hey, I do the work for you with the Unemployable newsletter, curating the week’s best content, but I thought you might like to see some of my favorite sources.”

You’re promoting the newsletter in a very organic way, right there in the lead of the article, and people are like, “Yeah, these are some good sites, but why do I want to go surf all these sites every week. This guy’s going to do it for me.” So we’ll see how it works.

Jerod Morris: With both of those, with Further and Unemployable, you’re very much in the audience-building phase of those projects. For someone who’s listening to this who may be further along in one of those projects or look at us, for example, with the platform or with Digital Commerce Institute, if we were going to try and use Medium as part of that strategy, would you recommend …

Brian Clark: And if it works, we will.

Jerod Morris: Oh I’m sure. Is that something where you would recommend writing a post, writing a piece of content and then having a direct call to action at the end to go to a product? Or would you really more try and use it to build a list that would then pitch a product? How would you address that?

The Single Most Important Element of a Smart Syndication Strategy

Brian Clark: You know the answer to that. The only difference between what I’m doing now, say with Unemployable, which is a general list-building strategy versus a specific funnel that leads to an eventual offer. That’s the only difference in how I would use Medium. So when you have something to sell, you get more strategic about where you send people. Effectively, you’re always list building.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. So let’s talk about Further and Unemployable on a bigger scale because I know there have been a lot of questions. Every time we have a Q&A that you’re going to be on, people want to know more about how these are going.

Let’s maybe just talk about each one individually, maybe something important that you’ve learned, and what your plans are going forward. How would you assess that with Further so far?

Updates On How Brian’s Side Projects– and Unemployable–Are Going

Brian Clark: Further, I don’t really think about. It’s clearly got commercial potential down the road, but I don’t really worry about it so much. Unemployable is a good channel for both Digital Commerce Institute and the Rainmaker Platform, so I think more commercially about that project–although most of the time, I forget to even do it like a sponsor.

But the main thing is, I really enjoy curation. There’s an art to it, and I think it’s necessary–not because there’s so much great content that no one can find it, because there’s so much crap content that someone needs to weed through the click bait. People have actually gotten shy about clicking a great headline anymore because they’re worried that it’s just hype.

Why the Role of Curator Will Grow Even More Important

Brian Clark: The role of curators is going to become more and more important. Now, of course, in 2006, I said, “No, you can’t do that. You’ve got to create original content,” but that was a very different time. I think some people blame Copyblogger because … “You’re supposed to write a great headline with great content, people”–I always said that. But the curation thing is enjoyable.

I’ve developed an entire methodology and even a business model where you never have to create your own content if you don’t want to, although I think it makes sense down the road once you have an audience to start doing originals. That’s what I’m already starting to do with Unemployable, as I mentioned.

But curation is so broad and necessary. For example, I consider the podcast interview format an act of curation. Effectively, you’re taking someone else’s content. They’re just speaking it to you, though, in an interview format. The better interviewer you are, the better curator and content creator you become.

But it’s still not the same as just having to sit down and create something from scratch. Because I do both type of episodes–I do solo lessons, and then I do the interviews–I can tell you, I love interviews. They’re so much fun. As long as you’re good at asking questions, it’s easy.

Jerod Morris: They are.

Brian Clark: But beyond that, look at affiliate marketing. Look at The Wirecutter. Now, they do reviews, which is a valuable original content creation service, but they’re curating Amazon products, effectively. Then one more step removed, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen
, but they don’t even write reviews. They just curate the best products. They point out what’s on sale, what’s cool, what’s hip. I can’t believe, but apparently they make a lot of money. It’s amazing.

When you marry the topical content curation aspect with the relevant product and service curation, which is the same way we develop products, it’s easier to find someone else’s product and see if people buy it, of course. I don’t know if you remember that interview I did with Darren Rowse on this show under its former title. That’s how Darren figures out what to create. He sees what people buy as an affiliate, and then he builds his own version of it.

Jerod Morris: Where are we at with curation right now? Obviously, we’ve seen a lot of people who are starting to do more curation. Is it still in the early stages where people should get in and start to carve out their niche? Is it already getting over saturated? How do you see the current curation market if someone’s thinking about doing this?

The Current State of the Curation Market

Brian Clark: I think people struggle with the business model aspect of it. Even Jason Hirschhorn of MediaREDEF, he wants to charge money for curation. I don’t think people are going to pay. I don’t know. I could be wrong. Dave Pell has sponsors every once in a while, but Dave mainly does that because he’s an Angel investor. That probably brings him deal flow.

Everyone has their own reasons for curating, but I think a lot of people get stumped on, “How do I actually make money from this?” That’s why I’m trying to point out the intersection between curated products and curated content. That’s a natural match.

Again, once you have an audience, you can afford to publish original content. You just start to supplement your newsletter with your own stuff. Then you’re getting into more search benefits, social sharing, all that kind of stuff. Then also, on the affiliate side, you find something that’s working and that gives you inspiration. You know what your audience will buy at that point. So all you’re left with is the traffic and audience-building problem.

Jerod Morris: Yeah, I think the big struggle for folks when it comes to curation is that it is a time investment to do well. That’s really the value that you’re providing–the time to go out and read, research, and consume 30 articles and pick the best five. There is some legwork that’s involved in that.

Then it’s figuring out, “Okay, what business model, either direct or indirect, more likely, can I have on this that is going to make that time investment worth it?” That’s why some people have started and maybe not finished or not continued because it does get a little bit time-consuming for them.

How to Think About Curation Like an Entrepreneur (Not Just a Content Creator)

Brian Clark: Well, let me point this out. The issue here is, if you’ve got something to sell, you can advertise. You can break even and/or make a profit while building your audience. That’s huge. Now, think about Further for a second. Let’s say that I’m a live coach. Further would sell the hell out of those services. Anyone in the wellness industry, personal development is such a huge field, so if you’re a service provider, that’s a no brainer.

That’s what I really start thinking about in terms of potential business models. But again, if I had that type of business, starting something like Further is an immediate ROI venture. Further’s not huge because I don’t do anything to market it, but thousands and thousands of people have signed up for it even though I am not a personal development guy. I’m more of a personal development wreck outside of entrepreneurism, but I’m fighting back, man.

I’ve told people this all the time. Take people on the journey with you, and all you’re doing is sharing what you’ve learned. People start looking at you like, “Hey, this is a guy who knows what he’s talking about.” It actually is working on me because you learn better by teaching others.

It’s one of the number one ways to internalize true expertise, to have to teach someone what you just read. You can read a book three times, and you’ll never know what it as well as if you are forced to sit down and summarize it for people accurately.

Jerod Morris: That’s a great point. One question. I want to go back to Medium real quick before we close off for this episode. I want to ask you a question because we’re starting to see a trend now of sites almost building themselves directly on Medium.

Of course, you talked about using this as a syndication strategy, but what do you think of this trend that we’re starting to see? For instance, Bill Simmons’ new site The Ringer just launched today, the day that we’re recording this, and it’s all on Medium. They don’t even have their own website. It is all built directly on Medium. What do you think of that?

What Brian Thinks of the Latest Trend of Sites (Like The Ringer) Being Built Entirely on Medium

Brian Clark: I think that’s a mistake. Bill Simmons is Internet savvy, but I don’t think he’s learned his lesson. Where did his problems come from? Being on ESPN’s platform. Now you just go on to someone else’s platform. He’s going from … where’s ESPN, Connecticut?

Jerod Morris: Yeah.

Brian Clark: He’s gone from Connecticut to Silicon Valley. Do you think they care about you anymore? Eventually, they will change the rules, and I’ll be fine because I’ve got my own home base. You use these platforms until they change, but Medium’s got to make money someday.

I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but we know what happened with Facebook. We know what happened with Tumbler. We know what happened with YouTube. Come on, people. Syndicate, but don’t just build your house over there.

Jerod Morris: You’re saying the fundamentals of digital sharecropping remain.

Brian Clark: Unfortunately. We will talk about this until we’re just old people, I swear.

Jerod Morris: We will. Well, Brian, thanks for coming on. Thanks for the insight. We’ll be looking forward to seeing your posts on Medium and get an update on how it all works.

Brian Clark: All right. No problem at all.

Jerod Morris: Hey, one last question for you before you go. Sonia gave us a little bit of a heads up on her keynote, what she’s going to be talking about at Digital Commerce Summit. You’re going to be talking about the future of digital commerce, opening up the second day over there at Digital Commerce Summit, which I can’t wait for. Any little tidbits? Any insight you want to share on what you’ll be talking about during that keynote?

The Focus of Brian’s Keynote at Digital Commerce Summit

Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s definitely a look forward that’s not too esoteric because I think things are happening maybe even a little quicker than we think. You and I spoke about virtual reality a couple weeks back. That’s going to be included.

There’s just interesting statistics now. We’re talking at the entrepreneur level at this summit, but I saw some interesting data that said that the largest fortune of MarTech spending at the enterprise level is on digital commerce.

Jerod Morris: Wow.

Brian Clark: Yeah. Scott Brinker says, “We don’t do digital marketing anymore. We market in a digital world.” That’s true, but wait till it’s literally a digital world when we immerse ourselves in these environments, and it changes the way we work, how we collaborate.

Companies like ours that are all over the world are going to become the norm instead of the weirdos. It’s fascinating to me, and I realized that, if I’m this charged up about something after 18 years on the Internet from a business perspective, then that’s probably what I ought to talk about.

Jerod Morris: Which makes me think, if we end up having virtual meetings, 15, 20 years from now, how will the introverts handle that? Will they be okay since you’re not physically in the same room?

Brian Clark: I think that will be more like five, and I don’t know–but I’ll let you know firsthand.

Take Your Digital Business to the Next Level

Jerod Morris: Again, for more information on Digital Commerce Summit, go to Rainmaker.FM/Summit. The early bird ticket pricing is still available as of the publishing of this episode, so you don’t want to wait because eventually that price will go up. We would love to see you all in Denver this October at Digital Commerce Summit. Again, Rainmaker.FM/Summit.

All right, Brian, thank you for being here, and thank you for listening to this episode of The Digital Entrepreneur. We will be back next week with a brand-new episode. We’ll talk to you then.