Self Promotion vs Confidence & Self Esteem

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.

Limited Perspective

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.

A Challenge

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.

Super Salesman

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 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.

Please Recycle!

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.

"Free" Help

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! :)

Published: February 16, 2009 by Aaron Wall in marketing


February 17, 2009 - 12:16am

Reading your book last year helped boost my confidence last year. I realized that there are others out there doing what I do, that I wasn't following a pipe dream...and that I wasn't crazy. Other's just don't have an easy time understanding what I do. It's becoming a bit easier trying to explain it though. Nice post.

February 17, 2009 - 12:18am

Hey Aaron;

It's refreshing to read such a personal post, and it's evident that your wife means a lot to you. You're a lucky guy!

Thanks for all you do, and I look forward to reading your new posts every day!

Best regards

February 17, 2009 - 12:51am

Hey Aaron, thanks for the honesty and encouragement.

Be well,

February 17, 2009 - 12:53am

Thanks for opening yourself up and writing such a great post Aaron. I find it encouraging and inspiring...someday I'll make my living online too.

February 17, 2009 - 3:16am

This is an absolutely fantastic post!
Thanks for sharing.

February 17, 2009 - 3:45am

Thanks for doing this post Arron, it couldn't have come at a better time in my career development.

Hearing someone at the top of his game delve into specifics of personal/professional development is incredibly valuable and rare.

I'm after many fits and starts I'm for the first time charging for campaign after continually being told by others outside the industry that there is no value in a service if you don't put a price on it. I responded "yeah...but..."

No more. Now that it's coming straight from a respected source I feel allot more confident (hopefully not overconfident).


February 17, 2009 - 4:20am

Few people in your position retain the humility to write a post like this, Aaron. Your success gives you good reason to have self-confidence, but it's reassuring to see that you haven't succumbed to conceit.

As someone who has himself struggled with issues of self-confidence I find this post especially relevant.

I believe in reminding ourselves of our failures and sharing them - not out of masochism, but to remind ourselves, and each other, that we are human. The beauty of life is in our failures and the experience of learning from them.

For whatever it's worth, you're something of a mentor to me, if such a thing is possible without your acute awareness - you're the only blogger whose posts I read religiously (I don't think I've missed one in 4-5 months now). So thank you for writing.

February 17, 2009 - 4:36am

Aaron, thank you so much for that post. I'm working my way towards creating an online business and I'm always fighting my self confidence. It is very encouraging to read a post like this. Thank you for sharing!

February 17, 2009 - 4:41am

[QUOTE]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). [/QUOTE]

Holy cow..this reminds me of my high school years...During the last 2 years of my high school time, my speech was blocked in most social situations and I was barely able to make a voice in those situations (reading out loud or giving a speech was impossible for me)...I'm still amazed that I got through all of those 2 years without ever having to read out loud in class (by faking soar throats, skipping class adn the like).......

Obviously it would have been a lot easier if I had just been courageous enough to tell someone about that problem

Sixth Man
February 17, 2009 - 4:50am

Aaron, that was the best post I've read in quite some time. Thank you very much for sharing. Confidence is a funny thing. I was painfully shy until I was in my mid-20s. Though on the surface I now appear confident, it still simmers under the surface.

Your eBook was my first training in SEO. I took what I learned in your book and used it at my company as a "non-sanctioned" in-house SEO. Guess what, it worked! Then they "officially" let me do it. This led to another job, then an agency, and now I have my own little agency in the Pacific Northwest. A whole lot of people like myself appreciate the work you've done to help us and this community. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks.

You helped me start down a path I love. Thanks for lettin' it all hang out in your post.

February 17, 2009 - 4:50am

Hello Aaron,

I shy away from blog comments and forums. I discovered this blog by searching for information on the Navy, Military experience, and landing on your earlier site that featured your dismal experience serving as a submariner. You provided a forum for many abused in similar disdain by the US of A Military Machine. I wanted to know more about you, and searched long and hard to find information. I eventually discovered your personal blog and then this awesome site. This post was exceptional in its honesty—I felt like you were speaking directly to me, not at me. Your story is amazing. Have you considered writing a Biography—on or off-line? Your story is inspirational. I, as many others would benefit from your personal experience. I would give 15 years in exchange for a tenth of your talent, Aaron. Thanks for keeping it real.

February 17, 2009 - 10:48am

I feel it would be a bit too self-aggrandizing to write a formal Biography. I would need to be much older and wiser and a much better person before I would consider doing anything like that.

Thanks for the kind feedback everyone!

soccer balls
February 17, 2009 - 7:45am

good one, just sounds like my own story. lessons learned the hard way.

February 17, 2009 - 10:47am

Aaron, inspite of making good money online since the last 4-5 years, I still have the same problem you left long back – low self confidence!

Heck, every time I invest a dollar online, I gonna wonder if this time it will come back with 1.5 or more. More often than not - it does!

Believe me if I had a little more self confidence – I would have made a lot more!

But this self-confidence!

Thanks for the post. (I post quite regularly but this is the first time I am thanking you – so I mean it!) I hope it will help me to build more self confidence.


February 17, 2009 - 4:34pm

Boy........from suicidal depression to a year old Professional SEO Community Trainer............I have always been looking up at u for inspiration when i feel down........Keep it up Aaron and wishing you a more successful journey in the Future.

February 17, 2009 - 7:17pm

I still am working on improving my confidence...I need to learn to say no to additional projects at work :)

I really appreciate the humanity you displayed in this post :)

February 17, 2009 - 8:14pm

Thanks for the candid post Aaron. Encouraging story to say the least...keep up the great work and reading this gives us all promise to keep trudging forward!

February 18, 2009 - 9:21pm

Thanks for the post Aaron. You are the man... you have to be a strong dude to say stuff like that out in public, and I think it just makes other people respect you more. Plus it gives confidence to everyone out there that reads it.

Good work, congrats on the 1yr anniversary!

February 20, 2009 - 8:27am

Very inspirational post Aaron.

I thought I was the only one who wasted his time answering all those "Dear Sir you've got to help me" emails.

Your post resonated with me so much.

You didn't use the word lonely in your post, but that is one of the key issues that I felt that impacted my early years working on my own from home. Any email was welcomed and answered!

Finding communities of likeminded people like yourself are a great comfort.

Oh and finding a great wife - something we both share.

February 20, 2009 - 8:28am

Oops - just read my post above and realised it might be misread.

Obviously we don't share a wife.

You have yours and I have mine :)


February 20, 2009 - 3:15pm

When I moved from north central Illinois to central Illinois the neighbors referred to their mom as "mom" ... even when talking to other people ... as though everyone came from 1 mom :)

February 26, 2009 - 12:23am

Killer post Aaron - going old school on us & it's always good. btw, NFFC is a frickin genius. Any chance you can pull him out of the woodwork again for an interview?

February 26, 2009 - 4:35am

I should try to do an interview of him again. :)

February 27, 2009 - 12:08pm

Great post Aaron. As you're no doubt well aware, you're not alone in struggling with these issues.

Though here's another perspective: a lack of self confidence may have held you back, but it might also be big strength of yours.

Let's face it, many people with your level of knowledge and success would have disappeared up their own arses years ago. People with a fraction of your knowledge and success disappear up their own arses all the time.

But you remain a altogether nice chap - you inadvertently make this clear on your private forums every single day. No bragging, no inflated ego, no know-it-all attitude, no condescension, no BS.

And I, for one, respect that immensely. You set the tone for the whole community, and you make seobook a truly great place to learn and share knowledge and inspiration.

February 27, 2009 - 1:30pm

Thanks for the kind feedback (and for being a member!) Bromley :)

February 28, 2009 - 12:19am

Well, of all the posts to find, this one reminds me of too much of that which is within myself. Only I haven't managed to to overcome it yet. I found this site from an Expression Web online tutorial forum, they had good things to say about seobook. So I came to check it out, they were right! Looking for information about the much mentioned SEO optimization and all that goes with it. I know nothing about it and appreciate reading the information. Thanks for your work. Can't say I have much support, just my own mind and brain and determination to learn.

February 28, 2009 - 4:47am

Everything is a process Jashryn. And the web is a good support network if you can filter the noise and use the best bits to help achieve your goals.

June 7, 2009 - 3:11am


I'm 25 now, around the time you started. . . if I can accomplish a fraction of what you have, it seems as though I would have all the confidence in the world . . but I guess the lesson here is it takes that confidence in order to get there. My father and I just got an office space and are eager to get the first few clients to prove what we believe we are good at. This was a particularly touching and motivational message for me. Thanks so much for sharing.

Sean Dolan

June 8, 2009 - 6:39am

Welcome to the site Sean. And congrats on the killer viral marketing of that site!

June 8, 2009 - 9:12am

Glad to be here! And thank you :)

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