A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

Posts published in the Goals category:

How Chris Guillebeau Built A “Cult of Personality”

Chris Guillebeau Recently, an up-and-coming fitness coach and friend of mine asked me how to get more visibility online. I’ve built successful marketing funnels for web hosting companies, this blog, a software-as-a-service company, and now a chain of retail stores. All of those marketing funnels are different, but the one a coach or a consultant follows I would call a “cult of personality.” It’s what I did with this blog, and it’s also how several people I know became quite famous and are making large incomes online.

Let’s explore one of them: Chris Guillebeau.

I got to know Chris Guillebeau when, many years ago, he asked on Twitter if there was a place he could stay in San Diego while he met with his agent (this was as he was writing his first book!) A mutual friend suggested me, so I got to hang out with Chris for a couple days at my house and get to know him on a personal level.

Be Dedicated. Turn Off the TV!

The first thing that struck me about Chris was his complete dedication to his readers. There he was, sitting on my couch one night…I knew a mutual friend of ours who was really into “The Amazing Race”, and wanted Chris to see it. I had a couple of recent episodes saved up on my Tivo, so I queued them up for Chris.

While I was engrossed in the show, Chris was furiously typing on his laptop. It turns out he was responding to every email he received and every comment he got on his blog (a dedication that Pat Flynn also picked up and used to his advantage.) Chris didn’t watch TV or do anything else until he got those emails done. And the thing about Chris was, even back then, I don’t think the emails ever stopped coming in!

Back then, Chris used to post pictures of his cat on his blog and call his cat his assistant. I encouraged him privately to get a real, human assistant, but I understood why he didn’t. He wanted all those people to know he really cared about them, and he felt like an assistant would weaken the connection he had with his readers.

With my low energy levels at the time, plus bad (undiagnosed at the time) ADHD, I wasn’t good at replying to emails and comments. (I’m better today, but I’m still nowhere near Chris’s level.) But those replies, to whatever his readers had on their minds, helped him develop an unmistakable bond with them. I suspect many of them still read and buy everything he has to offer, because 8 years ago he took his personal time to respond to their email. I have massive respect for his dedication in that area.

Achieve a Really Difficult Goal…And Share Everything Along the Way

Chris got publicity by having a really difficult goal and then writing constantly about his efforts toward achieving it. If you know Chris or follow him, you’ll immediately know what I’m referencing, because everything he did or said looped back to it. If you don’t know or haven’t followed Chris, his goal was to visit every country in the world by the time he was a certain age.

He did end up completing this goal in 2013, but when he stayed at my house he was still working on several of the more difficult countries–ones that wouldn’t let him get a visa or had exorbitant entry fees–and it was really unknown whether he was going to make it or not. He shared that doubt honestly in his blog, and it drew readers in like nothing else.

I’ll dig in to some of the factors that made this a huge success. First, Chris, if you know him, is a really genuine and unassuming guy. But he’s also dogged in pursuit of his goals. The goal itself was polarizing to a lot of people (if you can’t imagine why a goal like that would be polarizing, well, welcome to the Internet!) There were people who complained he was wasting his time, that he was ruining the environment by flying so many places, and–the most common complaint I saw–that his goal was stupid because it didn’t do anything or prove anything.

But his true fans got it. Chris’s personality helped; he was an introvert, but people genuinely liked him. The dude had basically no ego (I doubt he does even now; though I haven’t seen him in a while, he struck me as the type of person who would be exactly the same when he achieved his goal as before he achieved it.)

And the goal itself was an interviewer’s dream: Why would someone come up with that goal? How did he plan to achieve it? Where did he get all that money for travel (Chris was quite intelligent about this and turned his unique way of getting frequent flyer points into a “travel hacking” course and several blog entries)? Who was this introverted, slightly awkward kid with huge dreams who wrote about visiting every country in the world on a blog?

How to Build Fame When You’re Nobody

Now, if you’re wondering what you can take away from this, it’s that you don’t necessarily need to be “already famous” to make it online. But what you can do is have a polarizing, challenging goal and write about it. Think about what people would want to read about in a magazine. Then build a blog and videos and show yourself, every day or at least a few times a week, working toward that goal. Make people believe it is possible. Build your audience–get an email list going and have them sign up. Then, as you draw in fans, respond to their fears, concerns, and goals that they write to you about.

I look back at myself at that time and I certainly could have gone the “cult of personality” route. In fact, by 2012, this blog drew in over a million unique visitors a year. But I decided I didn’t want to; instead, I wanted to grow another business that was larger than just myself. Ever since then, I’ve been growing businesses, including the chain of retail stores I now co-own that has been hugely successful.

The Downside of “Cult of Personality” Businesses

My health then was precarious; I didn’t want to grow a cult of personality based all around me and then fall ill and suddenly stop producing content. That’s the negative side of any cult of personality business–it’s all based on you and your ability to perform. So consider this before you jump in with both feet: yes, it feels great to be famous, but can you really commit to living, breathing, and growing this business every day? To taking risks and being exposed if you do fail (and believe me, you’ll fail!)? To continuing to produce content even when you’re not on top of your game, and to producing extra content when you are on top of your game so you can take a break or be sick sometimes? You must consider all of this carefully before you begin.

If you think you can–then, by all means, grow a cult of personality! I’ve given you some insight on how to do it. This is why I’m back and blogging again; I’ve finally gotten my health in the right place to really commit to being here and showing up for my readers. I’m aware of the commitment it takes and I’m willing to do it this time around. The only question I have for you is: Are you ready, too?

NOTE: I didn’t reach out to Chris or interview him for this blog post, for a specific reason: I didn’t want to be influenced by what he felt made him successful. My goal was to write from my own perspective of knowing and following him in his early years and watching him grow his blog and business. If you’d like to learn from Chris in his own words, I encourage you to take a look at his 279 Days to Overnight Success manifesto (written back when he was still getting started) or his more recent “Success as a Travel Blogger” post.

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My Stake in the Ground: What I’m Building This Year

Local business It’s been just over a year since my last company failed/got acquired, and I’m excited to announce the project I’m going to be working on for the foreseeable future!

I’ve long been frustrated by the state of marketing information for small businesses. It’s what led me to start my last company, and, today, a bit more than year after that company failed, I still get the strongest sense that that’s where I want to be as a founder and CEO. What’s out there now stinks!

Small Business Owners’ Issues with Marketing

In talking to small business owners, two big issues regarding marketing come up consistently:

1) “I have no time to do any of this.” What I see here that has huge potential: A system that makes intelligent recommendations for you and then offers you the choice to do that or hire it out to a trusted provider for a fee. We can also show you how much time each item is going to take to do.

2) “I don’t know what will give me the highest ROI.” What we can do here: Use intelligent recommendations to give you the highest-leverage items to do first. For instance, if you don’t have a website with a title optimized for your SEO keywords, we’d highlight that first, as opposed to–say–adding ALT tags to your images, which is going to be a lower-value item.

I still don’t know why this doesn’t exist. It’s where we were headed previously with Whoosh Traffic as we pivoted into MarketVibe.

My best guess on why it isn’t out there today is that small businesses are notoriously hard to gather as customers, and they don’t like to pay a lot of money for marketing. Still, HubSpot seems to be doing well (they currently claim 15,000+ paying customers on their homepage), and email marketing companies like MailChimp and Aweber are also thriving.

Going Back to Where My Heart Is

When we went for this out of Techstars a year and a half ago, I got dissuaded from the small business market and I lost my focus. That was my failing–as CEO, I should have stuck to my guns and said, “Look, this is our market!” I’ve always felt most passionate about serving that market. It’s hard when you are told by investors and mentors over and over that it’s difficult to build for that market. I think they’re right–it is hard–but I should have done it anyway, because it’s where my heart is.

The other big mistake I made was focusing on the software first. This time, I’m going to build it totally differently. I’m going to build it as education first, and then gradually work my way into the software/intelligent recommendations side.

Who I’m Looking For as Beta Testers

I’m looking for Real Business Owners (small businesses with a physical presence–this could be anyone from people who have a retail store, like John, to people who are personal trainers, coaches, or massage therapists), and build a course that shows them how to market their products or services effectively.

I’ll walk through what John and I have done to grow his business from a “pocket change” business generating less than $2,000/month to a powerhouse that is on track to generate over a quarter of a million dollars in revenue this year. By the way, we’ve done that in 6 months and we’ve spent less than $2,000 on marketing. And we have an ugly-ass website. It is possible!

This is what I most want to do. This is my stake in the ground. I’m tired of people telling me that I shouldn’t work with small business owners because they are difficult and frugal. Great! I am also difficult and frugal. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think we’ll be just fine.

Today, I’m announcing the acquisition of the domain name freedom.biz, where I’ll be building my new course for Real Business Owners. My goal is to launch the first iteration of the course by the end of June, and build a fantastic community of awesome business owners. For this first iteration, Freedom.Biz will be training on how to get more customers for a real (physical) business. Then, based on your feedback, I’ll build software, help you find done-for-you services that work, and continue adding to the course and community!

Are you a coach, consultant, store owner, or Real Business Owner who’s interested in being a beta tester for Freedom.Biz? I’d love to have you on board as a beta tester. Sign up here and I’ll keep you in the loop!

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Financial Modeling: What Is It And Why Is It So Darned Important?

Financial model Ah, the financial side of your business. If this is the stuff that makes your eyes glaze over (and yet you’re an entrepreneur)…you’re the person I wrote this post for.

I know a lot of us aren’t big fans of doing the financials, and I understand why you feel that way–after all, it’s certainly more fun to build a product than it is to work on the freakin’ numbers.

By the time you’ve read this post, you’ll be able to do a financial model yourself (without hiring a crazy-expensive CFO!), and you’ll know the following:

  • How many sales you need every month to pay all your bills.
  • How to price your products so you don’t lose money on each sale.
  • When to hire your next employee (or when to quit your job)–based on the sales goals you set.
  • When you’re going to run out of cash (or, alternatively, how much cash you’ll be able to pay yourself every month without going broke.)
  • How much capital you need to raise (if any!)
  • How to quickly assess your business every month to ensure you’re meeting the goals you set for yourself–and how to know quickly if you’re in trouble, before it’s too late.

In summary, this is the blog post I wish I had 11 years ago when I was getting started in business. Let me state this unequivocally: Building a financial model has been paramount to the success of my business. However long it takes you to build a model (and it won’t take you too long if you follow the path I’ve outlined below), it’ll be worth it. It may even save your business from going bankrupt–or enable you to quit your job or hire your next employee more quickly.

Now let’s take a look at what a financial model is and how to set one up for your business… (more…)

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How to Build a Billion-Dollar Business

Build a Billion Dollar Business There are lots of posts online about how to make your first dollar, or even how to grow a modest side business. But there’s precious little information on how to build a billion-dollar company.

Before we get into the how, though, there’s something I want to address–and that’s why. Why would you want to build a billion-dollar business?

Even if you have decided you don’t want to build a business that large, I encourage you to read this anyway…it may very well change your perspective on how large you want your business to be.

Pushing Through the FUD

There’s a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) around building large businesses. In particular, news media loves to hate on “workaholics”–people who seem consumed by their work. Reporters dish on divorces or family fallouts stemming from overworked parents or people who just can’t seem to disconnect from their smartphones.

So, the logical choice, if building a huge business causes you to be overworked and potentially lose your family, is to start a smaller business, right? One where you can work on the side to begin with and not over-tax yourself. One where you can still see your family. One where you don’t kill yourself for your business. It seems like a utopian ideal. But is it really possible? (more…)

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The Indescribable Anger

Acceptance Today I want to talk about something I haven’t mentioned on this blog. In fact, I rarely mention this in real life, either. But I have a feeling I’m not the only one with this problem–and I think it will do some good to finally speak about it openly.

Years ago, I started noticing I was in significant physical pain when I used the computer for more than a few hours at a time. I used to spend 10+ hours a day in front of a computer. Figuring it was probably just time I invested in some better chairs, I bought myself an Aeron chair (and later, a better desk.)

Except the pain didn’t stop. If anything, it got worse. (more…)

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I'm Erica Douglass.
After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

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