Why Many Successful People Become Jerks

Feb 9th

Why Popular People May Seem Negative to Some

I was chatting with a friend today about one of our projects and he mentioned how he stopped liking a few other internet marketers recently due to their negativity. Him stating that gave me a bit of internal reflection, and I think it comes down to a few things...

  • When people get from a certain level of success to say 5x or 10x, many may feel guilty about making the money and become negative about others to justify their own behaviors (after all, in *many* cases, when you grow income beyond a certain level it can require either moral flexibility and/or the ability to sharply change your internal values).
  • Some people forget where they came from and become arrogant.
  • Market forces force you to value your time. If you don't the market will set it at $0. And so (the people they used to help for free) they now tell to screw off simply because their time is valued more and they keep having less of it to spread around to a larger pool of people. This is also a learned behavior because the neediest people are often the laziest, rudest, and least appreciative. If a person is not willing to pay you for your time they simply DO NOT VALUE IT.

That third point is worth thinking through from an economic perspective. The law of marginal utility states that the first x is worth more than the second x (be it Dollars, hours of free time, video games, pieces of food, etc). But if you are becoming abundant in one resource (cash) and scarce in another (time) the impact on the required rate of conversion is multiplied...not only is your time worth more, but even at a higher price you still have less of it to spread around.

I look to pass off some consulting projects I would have loved to have done years ago just because I have no time. (Or perhaps I lack the creativity to be able to derive sufficient yield from those projects). And, at the same time, in spite of having plenty of money to hire them I have been rejected as a potential customer. Rejection sucks, but trying to please everyone is a sure path to failure.

What is Popularity?

In Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody he described popularity as basically being an imbalance between the attention you garner and the attention you can give the market. Sure you can reach out to a few dozen people. A few hundred? Maybe. Thousands? Not a chance.

You Can Never Give Enough

In this interview Bob Dylan talks about how he can never do enough, and how the media distorts a lot of what he does in a negative frame:

On a micro-level, consider how a person who suddenly became popular may have been happy (and excited) to do an interview or 2 felt after about a dozen AOL robo-reporters contacted them in a single day. Suddenly it doesn't feel as exclusive, important, or exciting. Wait a week or 2 and see that 90% of the interviews they did never got published and it feels at best wasteful.

And people who are popular (even in small niches) have people try to give them false complements and try to goad them into doing free work. That is part of the reason I love our current business model. I can respond with "Great question. Feel free to ask that in the member forums!" It not so subtly tells them that if they value my time they are welcome to it, and if not then they are not.

Does the above always work out perfectly? Not always. I have been told I was rude from people who had questions about things with our site (and were alleged potential customers) but most of them were from people who were too lazy to read the publicly accessible information BEFORE trying to dip into my time. If someone needs a lot of your time to become a customer they are not likely to become a customer. And if you sell consulting then they are likely going to waste a lot of your time if/when they actually become a customer (as they will be the type of person who reads nothing, ignores responses, and has about 40 questions in their first day).

*(Perhaps the only exception to that is large slow moving corporations which need a sign off from many people. But even then I never do RFPs just because it means you are being shopped and they are not serious about hiring you).

Just a Quick Question ... (or 10)

You have to filter or else you are valuing your time at nothing. This is especially true if you run a small company and have heavy load on yourself day in and day out.

The big issue with email (especially with non-customers) is that you can never give enough. Even if you give your time away for nothing many of them try to use the "just one more quick question" approach. A recent freeloader asked "what do you recommend for an internet business?" and my response was "sell your time and expertise to people who value it enough to pay for it, and forget the rest of em."

And he got the message :D

But while mentioning the above about the perceived negativity of some other internet marketers to a friend, I wrote "the thing is, if we didn't chat and you didn't see me helping on the forums and just read my blog, sometimes I would sound quite negative right?"

A person who read the last dozen blog posts but didn't know the background context on Mahalo would certainly think that way. But those posts were made out of love for the industry. You just need to share the love to understand it. ;)

Deciding what goes where bit is also where selling information becomes tricky. There are tips worth 3, 4, 5, or even 6 figures (based on results) that have been shared in our community. And I have also shared many such tips on the blog here too. But it is tricky to figure out what to post where. You want to post enough publicly to maintain relevancy and audience and awareness, but you want to keep a lot of your best tips private so the people who are paying you get far more than their money's worth. That is the only way to keep subscribers happy. And it is far more efficient to keep current subscribers happy than it is to churn through a ton of members & hunt for more.

It is amazingly hard to have enough time to keep learning, come up with original stuff, and keep adding value in a saturated marketplace for a few months straight. And it is infinitely harder to do it for close to a decade. But we try our best, in spite of the fact that expectations from us and pressure on us never lower.

When Doing Charity Work...

Once you go from helping everyone because you think you have to & feel it is your duty ... to a person who realizes 95% of people are useless (and won't even listen to the advice they claim to NEED, but need for free) ... well it makes you more cynical when helping the needy and resource-less, and keeps you focused on productively spending your time on the 5% who do matter :D

There is a large segment of people who think they can act like dirtbags just because you are a small business, but trying to help those types of people will just pull you down rather than lifting them up. Their lack of perceived value in others is a reflection of an internal perceived lack of value. The best marketing techniques are often a reflection of the passion of a business owner. Its very hard to make a career out of providing marketing services to people who lack self-esteem (unless perhaps you are selling a get rich quick package).

The fact that you cant help everyone forces you to filter. And if you want to do charity work you may as well monetize your time at market rate then use some of that income to feed a bunch of poor children in the third world, rather than give your time away to pikers who don't value it.

Insecurity / Peter Principal

Many people who are successful are not any smarter or more gifted than everyone else. They are not superheros. In most cases they just work harder and are more focused. Timing helps too.

And in some cases if people become popular too quickly they may fear that their reputation has got ahead of them. Any time they interact with others is some level of risk of being exposed. And if they interact with people quickly and hastily then those people will be far more likely to misquote them or try to tear them apart...so sometimes it is better to be non-responsive than to respond, especially when the opportunity offers little to no upside to counterbalance the associated risks.

A relevant example:

Bullying Freetards

One time a guy on Twitter complained about our conversion flow and he was too lazy to click the "don't show again" link on a pop up...while being too lazy to click that link he was willing to go to the length to write a feature attack post on his blog.

Another time on Twitter a girl threatened that she would no longer recommend our site because we require people to set up accounts to download our free tools. I explained that the email option is primarily so we could give the people who would potentially care to convert another path / chance to. But she stated that I needed to state what all promotions I intend to email for the next x months/years upfront to collect an email. Meanwhile you can't buy a server from her company without going through multiple high pressure sales calls with multiple final offers, etc. Freetards *always* demand more transparency from you then they provide themselves (or offer at their place of employment).

After reading a post on why I thought making Google Chrome SEO extensions was a bad idea that would cost me money while providing 0 yield one guy wrote a blog post about how evil I am for only offering Firefox extensions. He then explained how he thought all SEO stuff should be free. Meanwhile he is a programmer who has done exactly nothing useful for the SEO industry and has already heavily wrapped his blog in cheesy ads, promoting some of the very paid tools he stated should be free ... (and the ads were often promoting the scammiest end of the market, too).

Summary

Lots of great things are free. And its awesome that there are so many cheap or free options. But figuring out how to combine them all into something profitable is valuable. Having the courage to invest heavily (in marketing, in education, in content, etc.) is crucial in a market saturated by noise. Food and rent are not free, and neither is our time (when you consider that we all eventually perish). When some people filter out noise they may be seen as negative, but in most cases if you were in their shoes you would probably do the same things they do.* ;)

* Except for the cheesy mo-money rapper photos. Nobody likes that crap. NOBODY

Published: February 9, 2010

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Comments

February 9, 2010 - 8:34pm

Love that you were able to work in a Bob Dylan reference (and video) into a marketing article, but must politely disagree about the mo-money rapper photos. Some of those are ok ; )

I often struggle with managing my time and not giving too much of it away on efforts (and people) that will not reward me or give me the proper credit if/when the success (i.e. clients and/or revenue) come in.

In fact, I would argue that knowing how and when to turn people away (politely of course) is the most important skill in my field. It even trumps my technical/marketing expertise in certain situations.

February 9, 2010 - 9:30pm

One time a guy on Twitter complained about our conversion flow and he was too lazy to click the "don't show again" link on a pop up...

It wasn't that he was too lazy, the "don't show again" link didn't work. I clicked it all the time and it never went away.

It was weird to me when it kept showing up after I clicked "don't show again".

February 10, 2010 - 10:27am

I tested it on multiple operating systems (Windows XP, Windows Vista, Mac OS) and on multiple browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera) and had no such issues.

Maybe for you the problem was different, but for the freetard I am mentioning, he claimed that it was him clearing cookies frequently that was the problem, but that it was still my fault.

February 9, 2010 - 9:35pm

Except for the cheesy mo-money rapper photos. Nobody likes that crap. NOBODY

hahaha so true !

February 9, 2010 - 11:43pm

Wow Aaron. Really well expressed and insightful post. While it's definitely off the beaten path, I couldn't stop reading it 'till I read the entire thing.

I'm sure I can't even begin to understand the pressure you face with requests made upon your time, but from my vantage point, don't sweat the small stuff. People who ask for something for nothing are small people. Give 'em a quick, almost imperceptible nod of the head and keep walkin' on down the street.

If they have a problem with that, the important thing to remember is that it's THEIR problem, not yours.

February 10, 2010 - 1:39am

Hey Aaron,

Awesome post mate.
Couple of things on this topic I thought I'd share...

Most people swap time for money
Wealthy people swap money for time

& remember we only get about 4000 weeks - so use 'em wisely!

Mike

February 10, 2010 - 3:49am

My sentiments X 50

February 10, 2010 - 4:50am

This is why I find myself coming back here. As always well written. I love it when I find myself sad to see the scroll bar nearing it's end like a crack junkie watching their last fix burn up.

Where else can you find information about how to earn money and then offer advise on what to do and expect when the cash gods smile on you.

I feel like I know Aaron and I will be the first to admit I would probably get pretty excited to hear him speak or to meet him, but not like the freaky groupies Mr. Dylan is speaking of. I know this is the public side of him. As I began to research SEO & SEOBook I also read everything I could find about Aaron Wall to see if this guy had any credibility. As I searched I would find little bits about Aaron. It wasn't his achievements that I felt I could relate to him and his perspective, but his early struggles and even failures. I think more than anything that is what has made me a raving fan.

I have taken his lessons on time leaches to heart and will begin to wean them from my breast of sweet time.

On one important side note however I think that there needs to be something said for balance, something that is always an inch outside of just about everyone's reach. Time and money seem to have a hatred for each other you can never find them together in the same room. But it's ironic that this is where the true measure of wealth is found, when they play well together. For the record I am still seeking this balance, it's even more ironic I seem to have a lack of both at the moment.

But let me say that I have cashed (deposited actually) a single check for six figures before and I must be honest I was left feeling kind of empty. A lifetime of dreaming was wrong. I always thought that I would feel different with that kind of achievement. I am not sure if I figured that angels would sing or what, but truth is the real happiness was found over the next several months calling in and listing to the automated teller's sexy digital voice speak my balance back to me in her digital voice. I would sometime hit redial a few times just for a little pick me up. In the end the lesson learned was that is wasn't the money that was the most comforting, it was the security.

Thanks for the post :)

February 10, 2010 - 6:34am

Brilliant, Aaron. I really enjoyed this article.

February 10, 2010 - 7:42am

This is also a learned behavior because the neediest people are often the laziest, rudest, and least appreciative. If a person is not willing to pay you for your time they simply DO NOT VALUE IT.

Ain't that the truth...

That third point is worth thinking through from an economic perspective. The law of marginal utility states that the first x is worth more than the second x (be it Dollars, hours of free time, video games, pieces of food, etc). But if you are becoming abundant in one resource (cash) and scarce in another (time) the impact on the required rate of conversion is multiplied...not only is your time worth more, but even at a higher price you still have less of it to spread around.

Lets not forget about the compounding factor... if you don't have time to get shit done then your losing money that you have never seen.... and as that lost money that you have never seen compounds that adds up... and thats why making great use of your time is a must..

Many people who are successful are not any smarter or more gifted than everyone else. They are not superheros. In most cases they just work harder and are more focused. Timing helps too.

shit man i remember my first site... it was a wedding favors store... you may remember the ol' Brad Fallon days of him doing myweddingfavors.com and starting his kate aspen wholesale biz.. I used to follow brad thats how I got into the wedding favors and man I worked a 4-1am job/5 days a week and before work and after work i was busting ass 18/hrs a day for months.. not to mention the couple years before that I was trying to learn shit before I felt confident to work on something for months.. the end result was a successful store that I eventually sold.. because of TIME...

my time wasn't being used to its full potential.. I was answering phone calls, emails out the ass, placing orders, returns etc.. all that bs that go's with running a successful ecommerce store by yourself.. and I couldn't focus on what was getting the most bang for my time.. I figured that I could set up almost autopilot websites where I wouldn't have to deal with customers (although I built another store and sold it too) and that brought me to almost a zero workload and more cash in my pocket then ever before... TIME is everything.. no WHAT YOU DO with your time is everything..

nice post Aaron....

February 10, 2010 - 7:57am

Aaron, what an excellent post. I'm going to print this out and post it on my wall. I happened to read this right after I answered a "Just one more quick question." email that I knew I shouldn't have been answering - should have directed them to our forum.

Your comments about deciding what content to post publicly versus what to put in a members area was spot on. I've run a successful membership site since 2004, and I struggle with this question constantly.

And it IS hard to find the time to learn, create content, deliver it, keep ahead of the curve and meet customer expectations.

When I started my site back in '04, I was already over-delivering value, but at least at a pace we could reasonably keep up with. It amped up to unreasonable over time. And interestingly, I found that the more you give, the less people appreciate it.

So it's now the process of reclaiming time, bringing value back in line with price, and finding the balance between delivering what customers or potential customers want and trying to feed a content monster that is never full.

Thanks for the reminder that if you don't set boundaries on your time, people will take every ounce you have.

February 10, 2010 - 9:50am

"sell your time and expertise to people who value it enough to pay for it, and forget the rest of em"

I love this response :D
Great post, I'm so much with you this time. I have people who buy a script for $17 and then will suck my blood for free help worth hundreds. Without knowing how to turn such people off you'll waste all your time and power.

February 10, 2010 - 5:55pm

I have to disagree with the part about if they won't pay for your time, they don't value it. There is a big part of life that is not about money, and many many people live in that part. They don't *understand* money, so they mis-communicate on matters of money.

Sometimes, a person will refuse something simply because it was valued as currency. Offer to help with $$, and they decline, but if you give some time, they appreciate it.

Sometimes they simply want your heart, not your money/productivity.

February 11, 2010 - 12:59am

There is a big part of life that is not about money, and many many people live in that part.

Of course...but the people who are contacting you with business interests in mind are ... well ... interested about business :D

And almost nobody worth buying consulting from sells 1:1 consulting for $0 to just anybody and everybody, especially if/when they are rude and/or demanding right off the start ;)

Sometimes, a person will refuse something simply because it was valued as currency. Offer to help with $$, and they decline, but if you give some time, they appreciate it.

That is especially true with family.

The funny thing is that if you ***really*** help them out and do a lot of the work then they might thank you for the help, then complain to you about the increase in their salary you caused forcing them to have to pay the government more. Pretty funny, that ;)

February 11, 2010 - 3:21am

As someone who recently asked Aaron just a quick question via email, I'll try not to take this post personally :)

At the risk of blowing huge volumes of smoke up a particular orifice of yours, it's posts like these that make you the Dylan of the SEO industry - I am not always sure what you're talking about but I always like the way you say it.

About three months ago, I was watching the Rolling Stone Special on TV. Bob came on and he was in a real cranky mood. He was kind of bitchin' and moanin' about how his fans come up to him on the street and treat him like a long lost brother or something, even though they don't know him. Now speaking as a fan, when I was fifteen and I heard "Like a Rolling Stone", I heard a guy who had the guts to take on the whole world and who made me feel like I had to too. Maybe some people misunderstood that voice as saying that somehow Bob was going to do the job for them, but as we grow older, we learn that there isn't anybody out there who can do that job for anybody else. So I'm just here tonight to say thanks, to say that I wouldn't be here without you, to say that there isn't a soul in this room who does not owe you his thanks, and to steal a line from one of your songs - whether you like it or not - "You was the brother that I never had".

February 11, 2010 - 6:19am

I did respond quickly to you...I just stated that I couldn't take on any more client work...which is true when you consider how much stuff I am already doing. My biggest problem is over-committing and spreading myself too thin. Great quote there BTW ;)

February 11, 2010 - 10:08am

You would be an expert on this topic because I remember when I sent you the best idea ever and all I wanted was for you to handle the promotion and affiliates and I was even willing to give you 20% but you made me wait almost 2 hours for a response and then told me you just too busy to take on another project just then but thanks for thinking of you. SHEESH How RUDE!

Seriously, I have never known anyone online whose time was more valuable and yet treated people as professionally and with as much respect as you do.

Like my dear old grammy used to tell me when I was just a tyke, "hey, joke em if they can't take a f***".

Massa

February 13, 2010 - 4:17pm

A great article given how many people ask-for, expect and want technical marketing services and advice for free, while they continue to over pay-for now-ineffective advertising ways of the past.

It seems to be a trend that as businesses have to adapt to a changing online world which they do not fully understand or appreciate, the don't contribute to the success of the people trying to help them - and it may be to their demise.

I was a paid member of your site in support your content & tools and in appreciation of its value; but, the recession combined with three devastating hurricanes has stymied the cash flow in our market.

So now I am back to being a "freetard", but at least a very appreciative one.

February 13, 2010 - 8:07pm

I think there is a distinction to be made Mike...freetards are not people who do not pay (or were once members but are in a hard financial position)...freetards are people who do not pay, have no desire to pay ever, AND do 1 or more of the following

  • rude at hello
  • in need of lots of custom help right from hello (even without paying you)
  • believes everything should be free (except whatever they sell)
  • feels entitled to endless free product and endless 1 on 1 free support
  • has tons of product recommendations and advice on how you can help them do better (while never spending a dime with you)
  • wants/expects you to offer refunds & or customer support for other products they purchased from other companies and/or people
  • try to goad you into offering highly customized advice for free
  • joins your site for a day, claims it has no value and they want a refund, and then STILL try to send you emails asking for personalized business advice. (one jackass that did this actually asked for personalized advice the next day after he canceled his account, mentioned that he used to be a subscriber, and then when I told him I thought he was useless he tried to brag about how big his budget was)
  • wants to act like they are broke and try to discount your time down to next to nothing, then (if you were dumb enough to say yes to a lower rate) relies on your advice to make 5 to 7 digit capital allocations
  • suggest or demand you destroy your conversion flow to make their lives 0.00000000001% easier
  • views your website as a free marketing platform for trashy stuff they hawk via bogus affiliate reviews
  • mock you and try to bully you and trash your brand on social media channels if you don't give into their crap

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