Staying Motivated Running a Virtual Business

Jul 9th

I've been self employed most of my life and once in a while, I hit the motivational pit. Lack of motivation was easier to combat when I ran a business with customers. Being accountable for my actions drove me to get up early in the morning and commit my end of the bargain.

However, running websites and publishing premium content is an entirely different animal. I've been doing it full time for almost 4 years now and while we're making a decent living out of it, my motivational juice has dried up. It has nothing to do with lack of passion. I truly love what I do and would not trade it with any other job. It is tougher to maintain a routine when you have no customers because sometimes they can be hell to deal with and that is enough to keep you alert. I also think contentment plays a role in ones waning motivation in business. I've been happier in the last 8-9 months and not only did that bleed my motivation, it also packed a few pounds around my waist and thighs.

I wrote this post to share what I did in the last couple months to reverse the trend and revive some of my motivation back.

1. Create a to do list DAILY and be accountable for every item. Aaron does a good job with this and it rubbed off on me.

2. Have variety with work duties - Lately, I've been doing a lot of offline marketing and it's absolutely awesome because I'm not as tied in front of the computer.

3. Associate with like minded people - It's better if they're more successful than you :) A few months back, Aaron and I met up with Andrew Frame of the Ooma fame. His entrepreneurial energy was contagious and his product, disruptive. I guess I'm extra fascinated with his company because they now carry Ooma at Costco's a tangible product. Andrew is a forum member and it made me proud to see a lot of high caliber minds at our forum.

4. Reward yourself - Only after you've completed the tasks in the to-do list. You will also realize that completing the tasks is already a reward in itself. Fulfillment can be addicting and soon, you will back on track with your motivation.

I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

Apr 30th
posted in

What were the things you know now that you wished someone had told you when you started out?

Personally, I wonder whether I would have actually listened had someone told me. Some things I just had to learn by making dumb mistakes.

Sometimes twice!

But if you are starting out on the web, and you want to skip all that hassle and expense, here is my list.

Old-hands may recognize a few mistakes that they have made, too. Please share your words of wisdom in the comments.

1. Business Case Comes First

Don't start by building a website. Start by building a business case.

I wasted time on domains and activities that would never be profitable because I didn't ask and answer some fundamental questions. Web design, SEO, blogging, social media marketing, writing, networking, posting on forums - all these activities can be worthwhile, but if your aim is to make money, they only bear fruit if they support your business case.

Otherwise, they're a waste of your time.

Ask yourself:

  • How will this activity make money?
  • What are the unmet needs in the market, and am I able to fill those needs?
  • How much time/money do I need to put into this, and will it pay back more that the input cost?

2. Don't Be Cheap

Competing on price only works if you can do volume.

Competing on price is ultimately a losers game. There will always be someone else who can undercut you. There are waves of third-world SEOs/E-Commerce Operators/Marketers who can survive each day on a lot less than you can. Where do you go when they undercut your price? You follow them down, until one of you goes broke.

If you can't do enough volume to make small margins worthwhile, then focus on quality and service aspects.

What is that you do that adds more value than the other guy? Do you have something unique to offer? What can you do better than anyone else? Find out if that one thing is in demand and profitable, and do it.

There is another good reason not to compete on price. People tend to value things that are expensive.

It's a curious aspect of human psychology that if we believe something is valuable, then it is. Conversely, if you put a low price tag on something, people perceive it as being junk.

3. Give People Three Options

Say a retailer wants to sell one particular refrigerator. Does she stock only that refrigerator? No, she doesn't. What she does is she carries one low priced refrigerator, one mid-priced refrigerator (the one she sells a lot of), and one expensive refrigerator.

Most people will choose the middle refrigerator, even if the features are similar across all three. The customers price expectation has been set by being able to compare low/mid/high. They tend to go for the middle, "sensible" choice. Not too cheap, not too expensive.

Always structure a deal that creates a basis for comparison. And put the choice you want the customer to take in the middle.

There is a danger in giving too many options, however. People get confused by too many choices, and when people feel confused, their perception of risk increases. When their perception of risk increases, they are more likely to back away.

4. It's Not About You, It's About Them

People don't care about you.

They just don't.

They don't care if your site runs on Linux. They don't care how much you've invested in usability. They don't care if you're the (self-proclaimed) "best".

They care about solving their own problems.

Your language must be their language. Everything you do must be geared towards identifying and solving their problem.

5. Business Is About Human Relationships

Business isn't about Lear jets. It isn't about business cards. It isn't about conferences, lunches or expense accounts.

Business is about the relationships between people.

Business is all about what you can do for someone, and what someone can do for you. If that relationship creates more value that you can do so by yourself, you've got the makings of a business that can grow.

A characteristic common to successful business people is they have large personal networks. They constantly leverage these networks. It really is about who, not what, you know.

Learn to stay in touch with old friends, learn to ask for help, give out before you get back,and understand that everyone you meet is going to know things that you do not.

6. Where Possible, Avoid Intermediaries

When I first used the internet, in 1993, you didn't need to buy domain names. You could get one just by asking for one!

What if I'd known then what I know now? What if I'd seen domain names for what they really were - undeveloped, directly accessible real estate in a gold mining town.

Learn the lesson of domain names. You should take positions where you don't rely too much on the whims of others. SEO, in itself, is a risky business model because your income is susceptible to underlying changes in the search engines sort algorithms. There is an entity between you and the customer, over which you have no control.

MLM? Forget it. You need to be the guy at the top of the chain.

PPC/SEO? Find a way to lock in those customers so you don't re-advertise to the same people.

7. Know The Power Of Compounding Interest


What's this topic doing in a web column?

Well, what are you going to do with your web income once you get it?

This is one of those concepts that is so simple, true and fundamental to "living well" in a capitalist society it should be drummed into people the minute they start school. Money literally makes money.

What are you doing with that money you're making on the web? Are you buying stuff? What is the true cost of that thing you're buying? It's not just the price of the thing itself, it's also the opportunity cost of that money had you chosen to invest it.

If you've buying something on credit, chances are you're enslaving yourself to your future self, unless that credit is used for something that can generate further income or capital gain.

8. Invest Money Across Investment Classes

The old "don't put all your eggs in one basket" rule.

The internet can be a difficult place to make money. At times, it can be really easy. But ask anyone who has been in the game a while, and they'll tell you it is always flaky. It is flaky, in terms of generating income, because it moves and changes very quickly. Most business operations find it difficult to move and adapt very quickly and maintain the same income level.

One way to overcome this risk is to have income coming in from different asset classes.

I do this by taking a percentage of my earnings and putting it into rental property and shares. I've done this for many years now. The rental property market, compared to the internet business, is very dull and predictable. But that's a good thing. The steady rental streams cover any down weeks I have in the flaky internet game. The share market returns above all other asset classes over time.

Being dependent on one source of income can be precarious.

9. Live Within Your Means

My share broker recently gave a seminar in which he asked the question "can you take a 50% drop in house price and a 50% drop in income, and still be happy?"

If the answer is yes, you'll survive this recession with a smile on your face. Or any recession, for that matter. Boom and bust cycles are inevitable in market-driven, interventionist economies, so expect them and plan for them.

Living within your means creates a buffer zone.

Is there big income to be had by leveraging? Of course, but the current crash is showing the downside problems that can occur if you're over leveraged. When betting, try not to use your own money, but make sure you can cover that bet if it doesn't go your way.

10. Those Who Have The Most Time Are Rich

Having stuff is easy. If you can get credit, you can get stuff.

But what do people complain about not having most these days?

Invariably, the answer is time.

One of the best things about running your own internet business is that time is your own. Want to go fishing for a few hours? You don't need to ask anyone. To me, that's the most valuable thing in the world. I have stuff, but given a choice between acquiring more stuff, or having more experiences, I choose experiences. And you need to have time for that.

There's a book called "Avoid Retirement And Stay Alive". The idea is that retirement has no place in modern society. If you can make work enjoyable by balancing it against the other things you want to do, then you can live like you've got all the time in the world.

If you could tell your 18 year old self a few things, what would they be?

The Link Economy is Ruthless

Apr 27th

Jeff Jarvis explained why our current media machinery does not fit the web:

Every minute of a journalist’s time will need to go to adding unique value to the news ecosystem: reporting, curating, organizing. This efficiency is necessitated by the reduction of resources. But it is also a product of the link and search economy: The only way to stand out is to add unique value and quality. My advice in the past has been: If you can’t imagine why someone would link to what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. And: Do what you do best and link to the rest. The link economy is ruthless in judging value.

Part of making sure that what you create counts is creating something great, but another (often overlooked piece) is to content for the right markets. Links alone won't make you money. Some websites want to limit exposure.

Geocities, which was bought for $2.87 billion (in cash) will close before the year is out, as Yahoo! looks to cut costs and focus on their core business. Many new sites are blocking exposure in low earning markets:

Last year, Veoh, a video-sharing site operated from San Diego, decided to block its service from users in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, citing the dim prospects of making money and the high cost of delivering video there.

It is far easier to program something like Chartly than it is to create something that generates millions of needed daily page-views to become profitable. Even if you pick the right markets (and are building off a big network) there is no guarantee you will be profitable, which is part of the reason why many media companies will start building more interactive sites with more tools on them. The media needs to shift from being a spot you read the news to a spot where you interact with and discuss the news. Perhaps even a spot where you help share and create the news.

Don't get me wrong, I love amazing content like this, but it just doesn't make money.

Uncertainty, Risk & Profit Potential

Feb 2nd

Given the recent economic uncertainty in the world, I find myself reading more stuff about economics...a field which I currently find far more complex and fascinating than SEO.

I came across an article pitching the idea of another potential great depression. I don't know if that will happen, but these 3 bullet points from that article are particularly appealing to the entrepreneur in me:

  • Circa 2000 – It doesn't matter that Internet stocks are trading at multiples of revenue because 'these companies are going to change the way we do business'.
  • Circa 2005 – It doesn't matter that people are borrowing 125% of the home purchase price because 'the price of homes always goes up'.
  • Circa 2009 – US government 'T-bills and T-bonds are risk free', so the federal government can borrow unlimited amounts of money. This example of bubble-mentality thinking not only ignores the defaults by countless governments, it also ignores the history of US sovereign defaults (gold in 1933 and silver in 1967) as well as the continuing debasement of the sorry US dollar from inflation.

Whenever and wherever people are looking to pay for certainty and safety, they are paying a premium for that privilege, often yielding a net negative real return. The future does not mirror the recent past, but we are inclined to operate in a herd/bubble mentality. This, and our emotions, are why it is so easy to lose money in the stock market. By the time US actors and rappers are asking to be paid in Euros, all the dumb money is on that side of that trade, and the market is about to shift the other direction.

Business opportunities are like buses, there's always another one coming. - Richard Branson

Business opportunities are like buses, but you can't just sit around waiting for them to pull up. If an opportunity has to be "proven" before you are willing to try it, then maybe there won't be much opportunity left by the time you go after it. If there is already a "make easy money using xyz" ebook on the market, then the opportunity is probably already closed for most new market participants.

Group-think is the enemy of success. You usually have to create and believe in the value system you are selling to others for it to spread. You can't create the ideas and movements that spread if you are only following someone else's lead.

How does this concept of uncertainty vs profit potential apply online?

  • Overture (and Google) built their search marketplaces on uncertainty
  • early domainers built their empires on uncertainty
  • the first bloggers built on uncertainty
  • those trying new online business models and publishing formats right now are building into uncertainty

I got on the web in 2003, way late to the party (and broke). But in my first year of observing the web I saw that search was going to become the center of the web, noticed that domain names were important (buying domains &, and quickly built a blog (because I saw other bloggers getting lots of links - primarily because they published blogs).

Simply by interacting online and observing trends you can see where the web is headed in a way that most people can not. Where others see risk, you see opportunity. Your knowledge of fields like search, blogs, commerce, affiliate marketing, and adverting lower the risk of failure for any new project you start. Each additional discipline you are aware of adds value to your other skill sets.

The cost of testing things online is minimal. Even less if you already have built up a widely read distribution channel. In the coming years new trends will augment or take the place of blogging, search, and domain names. But you have to be willing to "take risks" if you want to reap big rewards.

With ads falling off a cliff, people have been ramping up other attempts at monetization, looking for ways to be better than free and find new ways to monetize their data.

Facebook is trying to study sentiment (could that be used as an investment tool)? Fred Wilson highlighted the bloat that exists at many Web 2 companies, which holds them back from profitability. Chris Anderson, who promotes the concept of free with his new book, notes that free is pushing against its limits, and entrepreneurs are going to have to start charging during a period of limited VC backing:

What about the oldest trick in the book: actually charging people for your goods and services? This is where the real innovation will flourish in a down economy. It's now time for entrepreneurs to innovate, not just with new products, but new business models.

Time to catch the bus. Are you feeling "risky"? Today is the day. No point waiting around until things seem "safe." :)

Fracturing Media to Help Small Online Publishers

Jan 12th

The Financial Times highlights that nearly a half billion dollars was recently raised for tech and media investments, but Drama 2.0 highlights how some of the web 2.0 companies that raised capital are still losing money 4 or 5 years after being founded. The NYT highlighted how companies like AOL are nichifying their publishing businesses, which could be cause for worry for some mid-market players, but should not worry passionate publishers.

The business cycle: Someone has a good idea - creates a company - creates a movement - creates profit - gets corrupted - becomes what they despise (leaving an opening for the next person with a good idea).

In many businesses financial interests eventually exceed the purpose of the business in importance. Which leads to ethical decay and sleazy behavior. Corner cutting starts off small, but keeps growing until the house of cards collapses. The small print keeps getting smaller until it creates a big deal:

The letter, posted on the FDA's Web, notes that the ad presents risks associated with the drug in "extremely" small type that fails to adequately convey the serious risks connected to the product. Humira's label carries a black-box warning, the FDA's strongest, that details risks of tuberculosis and other infections, some fatal.

Some companies are founded on lies. Some businesses are only profitable because they lie. Some industry organizations exist exclusively to perpetuate lies. Some industry spokesmen are no better than whores - selling their mouths to the highest bidder.

As marketing becomes more integrated into the web, the web becomes more integrated into our lives, attention becomes more scarce, media is dominated by public relations talking points, and more scandals are surfaced by the glut of information, the need for (and value of) people who are willing to speak the truth keeps increasing.

I pay ~ $100 a year to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. I would pay well over 10 times that to access Barry Ritholtz's blog (if he charged for access). If a company stays small it does not need to keep finding (or creating) additional growth...there is no need to work the books or lie to the public to please investors.

Markets have never been free, but small businesses do not need to ignore big risks or hide the truth due to "political realities."

In circumstances where there is even the slightest chance that the result of failing to deal with a possible situation would be the death of the world, then, if it wishes to survive, the human race has no option but to take whatever action is necessary to deal with that situation, however unpleasant and difficult that may appear to be, and to take it at once.

They don't need to let money become the master:

Money becomes a tool and a means to an end rather than something that controls you. For most people, money becomes so important that it clouds judgment with regards to ethics, it breaks or makes relationships, and can devastate lives (winning the lotto or going broke). The less focus on money, I’d argue the more you are able to control money (and not let it control you) the more you are able to generate more income. Very non-intuitive, but true.

Instead of worrying about money or competition, online publishers need to worry about creating the mood.

Eight Reasons Why Now May Be The Right Time To Invest In Your Site

Oct 31st
posted in

The game changed September 15, 2008.

As world markets came tumbling down, the future of many internet start-ups also turned to dust. The message from the financiers is clear - they will be no more money. Web watchers, such as TechCrunch, feature a deadpool of failed internet start-ups. That list is going to grow exponentially in the new year as company after company runs out of cash.

Not good.

However, history tells us that where there is chaos, there is opportunity.

After all, we've been here before.

Take, for example, this memo by Ron Conway, founder and managing partner of the Angel Investors LP funds who backed Google, PayPal, and more.

"....I was an active investor in 2000 when the "bubble burst" and remember it vividly and want to give you the SAME EXACT advice I gave to my portfolio company CEOs back then.I have pasted in the e-mails I sent on April 17th 2000 and May 10th 2000 and every word applies today. Unfortunately history DOES repeat itself but I hope we can learn from history and prevent the turmoil from occurring again. The message is simple. Raising capital will be much more difficult now".

Once of the benefits of market cycles is that history often repeats itself. This allows us to learn the lessons of the past, and apply them to the present.

I'd recommend you watch this presentation by Sequoia Capital, entitled RIP:Good Times.

So the good times are over. Now what? Sequoia recommends managing spending, revising growth and earnings assumptions, to focus on quality. lower risk, and reduce debt.

In 2000, Google was still a struggling start-up. The tech bubble had just burst. One year later, hijacked jets hit the Twin Towers, sending markets, and our collective notion of global security, into a tailspin.

Yet, it was during these seemingly turbulent times that Google rose to become the powerhouse it is today.

Part of that success was due to a focus on quality, careful spending (Google never spent a lot on advertising), network effects, and failure of the competition to grasp opportunities. Everyone else was distracted. Google remained focused on building value.

Research shows that companies that spend money on marketing during a recession tend to benefit the most.

Over the years hundreds of studies have been conducted to prove companies should maintain advertising during a recession. In the 1920’s advertising executive Roland S. Vaile tracked 200 companies through the recession of 1923. He reported in the April 1927 issue of the Harvard Business Review that the biggest sales increases throughout the period were rung up by companies that advertised the most. ....The findings of six more recession studies to date by the group present formidable evidence that cutting advertising in times of economic downturns can result in both immediate and long-term negative effects on sales and profit levels. Meldrum & Fewsmith’s former Senior VP, J. Welsey Rosberg reports “ I have yet to see any study that proves timidity is the route to success. Studies consistently have proven that companies that have the intelligence and guts to maintain or increase their overall marketing and advertising efforts in times of business downturns will get the edge on their timid competitors.

Marketing is an investment, not just an expense. And just like in the stock market, that investment can pay the biggest dividends when assets are under-priced, because everyone else is selling, not buying.

Let's look at a few features of a down market that you can turn to your advantage.

Down Market = Cheaper Ads

Advertising markets are cracking. One of the first casualties in an economic downturn is marketing spend. Not great if you sell advertising, but great if you buy it.

In down markets, you can get a lot more advertising reach for a lot less money than during boom times.If your strategy involves building brand awareness, then now might be a good time focus on this aspect. Being visible creates a sense of familiarity, and that's much easier to do when your competition isn't flooding the channel with noise.

Note: A lot of advertising spend will shift from traditional channels to the internet as people seek value.

We forecast that the Internet advertising market will continue to expand at a strong pace in the immediate future (with a predicted 31.4% increase in expenditure in the UK in 2008), and that it will experience a less steep but steady momentum thereafter, to 2012.

Fight In Short Bursts

One idea, often used by offline marketers on television and radio, is to bombard an advertising channel with short bursts of intensive advertising and then go off the air completely for a few weeks. It is a lot cheaper than maintaining a constant advertising presence, and with fewer advertisers to compete with, you costs should be lower, and your impact higher.

It's a high impact strategy that will fit well with sites looking to build brand.

Follow Warren Buffett

Warren Buffet is the worlds most successful investor. And what is Buffett doing at the moment?

He's buying assets while everyone else is selling.

Might now be a good time to buy up websites, too?

Competitors Cutting Costs And Losing Focus

One of the problems during the 1930s depression was that government cut spending. When government started spending again, the economy picked up. Governments have learned from this mistake, which is why we're seeing government making cash injections.

It's more complex that this, but the takeaway point here is that cutting costs and losing focus on the goal might also ensure you never reach it. Going into hands-off cruise mode could be costly.

If you have the cash, then sowing the seeds of growth now, whilst everyone else is navel gazing and slashing their costs, makes it hard for them to catch up with you again when they do start spending.

Diversify Marketing Spend

Take a strategic approach. Spending aggressively in a down market doesn't mean throwing your money at everything.

In this article, Recession Marketing, Amanda Stock outlines how you can diversify within a search marketing strategy:

It is also important to take a strategic approach when you diversify your marketing budget. For example, if you are currently investing the majority of your marketing efforts in a Pay-Per-Click campaign, you may want to allocated half of that budget to an SEO campaign which, in the long term, can increase the return on investment and decrease dependency on paid search.

Key Tips: Advertisers with a solid PPC track-record have an incredible advantage for venturing into organic search (SEO) because the PPC data such as which keywords converted best and which led to the highest volume of sales or average ticket price can now be a major factor in prioritizing the SEO targets. Since SEO is long term you want to be absolutely sure you’re targeting the right keywords long before you reach the first page for them.

Build Network Effect Advantages Into Your Work

But what if you're cash strapped?

Try to build network effects into your strategy. A network effect is the effect one user of a good or service has on the value of that product to other users. An example is the telephone. The more people who own telephones, the more valuable the telephone is to each owner. Similarly, auction and social network sites become more valuable the more people use them.

One marketing advantage of a network effect is good word of mouth. Word of mouth is the cheapest and most effective form of marketing there is. Again, because the channels are quieter during a down market, chances are you'll be heard more easily if you're one of the few outfits making noise.

In this article on Forbes, Roelof Botha, the venture capitalist who backed PayPal & YouTube, advocates taking word of mouth one step further, using viral strategies to boost consumer adoption:

A truly viral business is "like a disease," says Botha. "It needs to be transmitted from one person to another"--and the other person has to catch it. Once the next person catches it, he or she becomes a carrier too. Here are some good examples:

-- PayPal. If Bob sends Mary $25, Mary has to join PayPal in order to claim her money.

-- Evite. John e-mails you an invitation to his bachelor party but in order to read the details such as when and where, and to RSVP, you have to log onto Evite. E-card vendors work the same way.

-- Plaxo. A friend or business associate sends you an e-mail asking you to update your contact information. Once you log onto Plaxo to correct your phone number, you’ve caught the virus. Other services such as Birthday Alarm use the same strategy.

-- Skype. In the beginning, the only way you could make a free phone call over Skype’s Internet voice service was if the person you were calling was also a Skype member.

PayPal & YouTube also made it a strategy to be part of other networks. In so doing, they grabbed those networks audience share, and without the need to go into partnership.

eBay had an open software platform, which meant sellers could insert their own HTML code such as icons and visitor counters onto their auction pages. So PayPal built a tiny piece of code that allowed eBay merchants to include a PayPal payment button. By the time eBay got around to buying its own payment service, PayPal had infiltrated its business so deeply that eBay’s customers wouldn’t hear of using anything else....YouTube similarly benefited by becoming an insidious element on MySpace and other social networks and blogs.

Focus On Quality

Word of mouth comes about when you focus on being remarkable.

Learn the lesson of Google and PayPal, both of whom flourished during economic downturns. Provide a quality service, and people will use it, and talk about it.

Go back to basics. What is your value proposition? It needs to be compelling. When people are short of cash, they focus their spending on the the essentials, not the frivolous. Are you solving a real problem for people? Do you really know your customer? Ask not what they want, ask what do they need.

Focus On Essentials And Value

People who are worried about where their next dollar is coming from are going to be hesitant about signing up for expensive items, or long term deals. If you're selling an essential service or product, as opposed to a desirable product, you're going to find it easier. When the buyer has less discretionary spend, they're unlikely to be talked into non-essential deals.

Instead, focus on building relationships. This can be as simple as communicating well, showing integrity, and being passionate about what you do. When people do have more money to spend in the future, they'll remember you.

Deeper vs Broader: Exposure vs Engagement

Oct 30th

One of the most salient points of Seth Godin's Tribes book is that in the long run it is much more profitable for most businesses to create a deeper community with stronger and more passionate connections than it is to create a broader one that has strong reach but no message.

Without Relevancy, Nobody Cares

Do you remember the hype around the launch of John Reese's BlogRush about a year or so back? It was a blog focused ad network promoted through a MLM / pyramid scheme. The viral nature of blogs and the pyramid scheme helped it spread far and wide, but in spite of great growth it failed:

While the service is still going strong (serving a few million impressions a day) I just don’t see things improving for our users. The click-rates across the network are dreadfully low (and getting worse) as so many Internet users now ‘tune out’ links and other ads on sites.

Because of this, and many other issues, I’ve made the tough decision to shutdown the service.

John couldn't even get people to click the links because

  • everyone in the program was a webmaster
  • most of them were writing blogs targeted to webmasters
  • webmasters rarely click on ads
  • the links looked like ads
  • there was no relevancy in the ads (other than many being part of the webmaster blog demographic)

There are a wide array of ad network based start ups - with virtually all of them destined to fail, largely because they can't compete with Google on relevancy. If a person learned only one thing from search it should be that relevancy is a key to engagement.

Content Becomes Advertising

But even beyond advertising...what happens if we think this process through to content strategy? If the web keeps getting more saturated, more relevant, more biased, with more niche competitors, and people are willing to give away content to help do their marketing, then eventually the user engagement with your content becomes far more important than what you advertise. Content is advertising.

The plain truth is, great content is the most effective way to advertise online, because to be considered great content, it can’t look anything like what we consider advertising. But great content does need to naturally demonstrate that you’re knowledgeable about your field of expertise, and that’s why it works so well.

Think about it… the advertising we actually enjoy is often witty and entertaining, but it doesn’t persuade us to do anything. Even a dry article about tax savings tips has more promotional value than most hip television commercials.

Selling Ads to Yourself

One of the biggest flaws that new bloggers make is putting too many ads on a blog before they gain enough market momentum to build a strong revenue stream, thus segmenting themselves into the perceived group of "spammy" blogs by other webmasters who could offer powerful links.

If BlogRush makes so little per pageview that John Reese can't justify running it (even with the benefit of being able to give himself a large percentage of the ad impressions for free) then how could there be any ROI for an end user/publisher? Wouldn't that publisher make more money by featuring some of their own best content in the sidebar to build a deeper relationship with their readers?

Increasing User Engagement

Traffic is nowhere near as important as engagement and conversion are:

One other thing you can do is get hooked on the traffic, focus on building your top line number. Keep working on sensational controversies or clever images, robust controversies or other link bait that keeps the silly traffic coming back

I think it’s more productive to worry about two other things instead.
1. Engage your existing users far more deeply. Increase their participation, their devotion, their interconnection and their value.
2. Turn those existing users into ambassadors, charged with the idea of bring you traffic that is focused, traffic with intent.

A big part of why I changed my business model (from serving 13,000 + customers at $79 each to serving hundreds of customers at $100/month each) is because it became obvious that as the web expands and search becomes more relevant, what you can offer packaged loses perceived value (unless it is quite unique and/or you are good at doing hype driven launches), while the value of depth of interaction keeps increasing.

Buying & Selling Websites

On Sitepoint Clinton Lee wrote a 6 page high quality web site valuation guide.

The New York Times recently published a great article about flipping websites, quoting my buddy Peter Davis.

Shane Pike recently blogged about selling one of his sites to Internet Brands. The site he sold was the one that let him quit his job. I gave him some tips on how to build traffic and increase monetization during a 15 minute chat at Elite Retreat in December of 2006. He quickly took my advice to heart and is a richer man for it. Here is his revenue graph from that site

But where he really made a killing was when he found investment bankers to help him sell on a nice multiple of that

If you believe your site could sell for more than $100,000, you’re throwing money away if you don’t use an experienced broker or investment banking firm to help you sell it. Because they’re much more adept than you at running an efficient process, finding potential buyers, and maximizing the bids from those buyers, they make up their fee many times over.

For example, this whole process started when I received an unsolicited bid for the site. Before all was said and done, though, my representatives had secured not just one, but two final bids that were ten times that initial offer. I couldn’t have gotten half that on my own.

Populism to Kill the US Economy?

Aug 5th

Yesterday I finished a monologue by Manuel F. Ayau titled Not a Zero-Sum Game in which he explains the basis of economics with common sense passages like:

Understanding that in a market economy a person can only get rich by enriching others torpedoes claims to the moral high ground of those who propose that government redistribution of wealth is a means to alleviate poverty.


[In a market economy], one cannot "make a fortune" at the expense of others, but only by offering others a better deal and, thereby, making them richer.

On some levels some type of wealth is built through fraud (see the mortgage industry over the past 5 years), cronyism (see Iraq), and other nefarious means, but on average most entrepreneurs create wealth through efficiency improvements. Google makes so much money because they make advertising more targeted and automated. I do well because I help people get more exposure on Google at a rate much cheaper than what it costs to buy that traffic directly from Google.

You can take wealth creation and distribution as a concept and move it away from our own industries to everyday trade and consumption. For example, I had an eye appointment and just got my prescription today. Rather than paying retail in the store I decided to hunt online to save money. And that worked out well because

  • I found a discounter
  • that offered free shipping on a bulk purchase
  • there was no sales tax
  • I ordered enough that I got a $60 rebate coupon from the manufacturer
  • I found an affiliate link for a coupon that got me another 15% off my order (before the $60 rebate)

The net result is that I saved hundreds of dollars today due to the efforts of the above people. But if the government takes away their incentive to take risks in the hopes of profit (through higher taxes), then those cost savings to me as a consumer disappear. Thus I pay more to get less. Worse yet, as government spending increases it drives up the costs in most marketplaces it touches because it is not as efficient as individuals are.

Brian Provost highlighted a WSJ article about Obama's tax plan.

As ugly as that chart is, the situation is even uglier than that. If I am only taking home ~ 37% of my earnings and many of my customers are only getting 37% I get hit both directly and indirectly...I get a smaller piece of a smaller piece.

The WSJ article also highlights 2 more frighting issues

While Mr. Obama also proposes an alternative minimum tax (AMT) patch, he could instead wind up with the permanent abolition plan for the AMT proposed by the Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D., N.Y.) -- a 4.6% additional hike in the marginal rate with no deductibility of state income taxes. Marginal tax rates would then approach 70%, levels not seen since the 1970s and among the highest in the world.

And the article also states that Obama is a protectionist who dislikes free international trade.

Mr. Obama has also opposed other important free-trade agreements, including those with Colombia, South Korea and Central America. He has spoken eloquently about America's responsibility to help alleviate global poverty -- even to the point of saying it would help defeat terrorism -- but he has yet to endorse, let alone forcefully advocate, the single most potent policy for doing so: a successful completion of the Doha round of global trade liberalization. Worse yet, he wants to put restrictions into trade treaties that would damage the ability of poor countries to compete.

All trade is from individual to individual. When intermediaries exist it is typically because they lower cost and/or make trade more efficient (like the use of cash does). If we block foreign trade we increase the cost of goods and services to our poor because they will not be able to benefit from the division of labor driven by lower overseas labor costs. Read Underdeveloping Indiana to see how absurd blocking free trade is as an international economic strategy.

The true reasons the US economy is so screwed up right now is because the government is already too big, we use our military in an attempt to force our view of the world onto other countries (economically inefficient and ineffective), and the average American feels entitled to consume more than they can afford while suffering from uncompromising intellectual sloth.

  • I can't vote for McCain because I would feel like I was promoting the spread of unjust wars, torture, and murder.
  • But I can't really vote for Obama if he wants to kill both my incentive to work and the economy.
  • I wish Ron Paul would have been nominated. :(

If you live in the United States, at what point would a tax hike be high enough to make you work less or move overseas? A 65% to 70% tax rate would probably do it for me!

[Update: a reader pointed out a couple other tax charts that did not look as scary as the above charts. You would think you could trust the WSJ, but I probably should have done more research before posting this...too often I let emotions get the best of me.]

Why Working Weekends Can be a Great Competitive Advantage for Publishers

Jul 26th

Many businesses are still stuck around the concept of working on weekdays while working little on weekends. I actually like working weekends and then try to take some time off during the work week. Why?

  • Many companies time news that they do not want discussed. For instance, at 1:02AM this morning the WSJ published an article titled Two More Banks Fail. During the weekday it is hard to beat others to the scoop, but it is much easier to do on weekends.
  • In the constant blur of noise it is easy to get distracted on weekdays. But on weekends it is much easier to be productive because not as much is going on.
  • If I go to the park today I pay $3 for parking and there will be lots of people out and about. On weekdays parking is free, fewer people are using the same resources, and there is less traffic.


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