This is going to be a bit of a personal post...if that weirds you out, then please skip it. :) It explains how my lack of self-confidence developed, and how I slowly developed confidence over the years - and used it to build a thriving online business.
A Lack of Confidence Limits Success
One of the biggest things that separates really successful people from people who are only moderately successful or just getting by is self esteem. I have always been a bit cynical in my perspective, and have been consumed with self doubt since sometime grade school. It turns out this is quite common, though few people admit it publicly.
Establishing Seeds of Doubt
One of my weird attributes is that at times it seems I have a photographic memory, but I was on the border of being legally blind - without knowing it. Whenever I would get an eye exam I would fail them in school, and then when it came time to go to an eye doctor somehow I would squint or cheat or something (to this day I am not sure how I passed them). Perhaps it was because I didn't want to be flawed or different. About half way through high school I got glasses and it made a world of difference to improving my confidence. But it only went from super low to low. ;)
My older brothers were a bit of troublemakers and picked on me a bit, which was not so good...though my sister was very caring and nurturing toward me. 2 weeks after high school I joined the Navy. The current military is not the military my grandpa served. They generally only teach you what you did that was wrong, and structure and orders did not get along well with me. So after about 6 years of that I started playing on the web, and within the first year was doing well enough to quit my job. But a lot of my flaws and self destructive behaviors did not disappear right away...many lingered for years.
I did decent off the start, but earned somewhere in the 2% to 3% of my potential. A lot of the 97% of potential revenue was missed simply because I did things to keep busy and did not act as a business person - going to SEO conferences but not really selling anything, spending thousand of hours on forums, and offering a better customer service to $79 ebook buyers than most SEO companies offer when they are getting thousands per month from their clients.
When I started making enough money to get by I was happy with that. When you go from making nothing to doing pretty well (even only relatively) it can feel a bit weird. What helped me decide to earn more was when Traffic Power sent a bogus lawsuit my way, costing about $40,000 in legal fees from a lawyer that told me that the $5,000 retainer was more than enough to cover the case. At that point I decided it made sense to build up a bit of a war chest in case anyone tried to screw me over again with some bogus crap like that.
Ignorance vs Scholarship
Some people are academics. Some people have street knowledge. A rare breed of person has both, while still finding enough time to do self promotion to make it all worthwhile.
The people who know the least often scream the loudest, and I have always worked hard to try to balance learning vs selling...making sure to keep myself way over on the learning end of the spectrum. The problem with that type of strategy is that unless you sell aggressively and/or apply that knowledge to the right verticals, you are simply killing your profit potential as opportunities around you disappear.
I recently heard an audio interview of a multi-millionaire info-marketer who stated that he started online marketing via bulk email spam, but did not make any money doing it. His first real moneymaker was selling an information product on how to make easy money online. Think about that...here is a guy who had no success, straight out teaching others on how they can easily gain success. Sorta feels like fraud, and yet the guy can say it with a straight face and confidence. It takes a lot of self-confidence to be able to do that.
Another internet marketing company that has sold 10s of millions of dollars of internet marketing products bought my ebook and said they loved it passing it around the office. They asked beginner level SEO questions, and less than a month later they were selling an SEO info-product. Years later one of their senior members joined our training program because he was struggling to rank websites and said that he was blown away at the ideas I came up with.
Another top selling SEO course actually lifted lines from my ebook to put in their product. I am not sure if they intentionally did it, but when they asked to get an up to date copy of my ebook for the second launch of their product I was pretty certain that it wasn't an accident.
Everyone is Broken
I also get to talk to some internet marketers off the record, and some of them have revealed things like that they were about to go bankrupt, and that they created a project out of thin air because they had to in order to prevent their business from going under. Seeing that others are just as flawed behind the curtain makes it easier to be comfortable with ones own flaws.
Asking for Reciprocity
Another info-marketer in the golf space bought my ebook and then tried to use that as a free ticket for about 10 hours of consulting. I answered a number of his questions, with the end answer being "your site(s) are nothing more than cheesy spammy looking salesletters that offer the web no value whatsoever until after people give you money." Eventually I asked him if he valued his own time at $8 an hour, because I could use some help with my swing. About 2 years later my wife read a book about info-marketing millionaires, and saw this guy profiled in the book. Offer discount pricing and people will not respect you or listen to you. They will waste your time though.
Change Takes Time
Even AFTER I ranked well in the search results with many sites, spoke at dozens of SEO conferences, and was recruited by a Microsoft headhunter to head their SEO team, I still was lacking in confidence. Part of why I stuck with the ebook model so long was just general self doubt. It was working well enough, and in spite of selling $1 million worth of the ebook, helping to make many multi-millionaires (as per customer feedback), and ranking for many high value keywords, I still wondered if I knew enough to be a teacher.
There is Always an Excuse
My general lack of respect for authority made the idea of being perceived as an authority confusing. And seeing how marketing is sometimes used in exploitative manners made it hard for me to push too hard on that front. And I didn't even like subscription based business models because of how shady pharma corporations hook customers on drugs that solve symptoms rather than problems.
Markets Drive Value Toward Price
If you do not value yourself properly then the market will work to help discount the value of your time. And, considering that we are all going to die someday, it is quite self-defeating to put arbitrary limits on your potential. Yet we all do it in some ways virtually every day.
Your Are Your #1 Competitor
The whole point of this winding post is that until I gained enough self confidence there were always excuses to say "this is good enough" and/or "I can't do that." Online you have lots of competition. And any bias self-imposed limit that clouds your judgement lowers your perceived value and your ability to create profit. Your biggest competitor is yourself.
Until I met my wife I was so longing for connection that I actually used to respond to emails like this one
"plz sir i am starting a new blog can you tell me that how i have to start its search engine optimization .
The details are not required but just the steps you follow while doing your work .
Please sir i am a boy of 18 years old help me i want money very urgently .
sir u know that now there is a hard competition in world of seo so anybody recieving this male please forward to Mr. Aaron for GOD sake Please .
Thanking you .
who is reading please forward thi message to Mr Aaron Wall"
There are billions of people in the world, but billions of them are unwilling to put the effort in needed to become successful.
After about 5 years of answering those types of emails, I learned the hard way that if people do not pay for help they intrinsically value your time and advice at $0 (or really close to it). Help the wrong people who are unwilling to do work and you not only waste your own time, but you get their internal frustrations cast on to you...further lowering your sense of self value. I can really see the difference in quality between free and paid when I venture off our forums to check out some of the "free" ones...a lot of misinformation to be had!
Sage Advice on Resonance
I really wish I would have listened better to one of my mentors when in 2005 he said:
I think the best brands, the best sites have a large portion of their founders personality in them. Never be afraid to be yourself, after all there are 1/2 billion people on the www, not all of them have to agree with you. Concentrate on the ones that share your views, concentrate on making their experience the very best it can be, the rest forget them.
Or to put it another way, the best sites say - this is what we do, this is how we do it, if you don't like it go somewhere else.
What helped me gain adequate self-confidence?
- My wife meeting me and falling in love with me. She thinks far more of me than I do!
- My wife pushing me to charge more and do better (at first this created stress because I took it as me not being good enough...but she was right all along. To this day she still has way more self confidence than I do and I am so lucky to have her in my life.)
- Working with some of my mentors. I was stoked when we hired Peter to help work on the blog here because he was one of the 3 people I tried to pattern my initial online strategy after (Seth Godin and a friend from the UK nicknamed NFFC being the other 2).
- Working with my partner the caveman to optimize some of the largest and most complex websites of companies worth 10s of billions of dollars...and getting repeat business from those clients (even though they have internal seo teams).
- Using the power of SEO & marketing to promote good stuff - like PBS :)
- Watching Thom Yorke's struggle with success in Meeting People is Easy.
- Some of our other projects working well and generating more revenue than this site does.
- Seeing about a half-dozen people or companies that know less about SEO the I do re-wrap my ebook in another format and sell it for anywhere from 5 to 100 times the price.
- Working with Conversion Rate Experts to improve the conversion rates of this site and seeing a great lift.
- A better and deeper connection with our customers afforded by the membership site business model where you get to see people learn in real time and see the excitement of their progress when top rankings roll in.
Still Have Some Bumps & Bruises
If you don't fail then you never tried to do anything great.
I still fall short on many goals. Today was the 1 year anniversary of the change in our business model, and I wanted to have made 10,000 forum posts in the first year, but I only made 9,928 so far...falling 72 short. I still spend too much time sitting at the computer and do not exercise or read books as much as I should. I still am a bit overweight, but I will start working on that soon...and in spite of that, I have way more self-confidence than I did a couple years ago when I was able to run a sub 6 minute mile.
Given the complete fraud that is our corrupt taxation policy and fascist banking system (everyone should be in debt forever except for the bankers who destroy trillions in wealth and loot the treasury) I have a renewed sense of cynicism, but at least I am not lacking in self-confidence! :)
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