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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(Erica’s note: I’m back and committed to blogging for 2017!)
I recently started a new diet–low-carb, or ketogenic. (I’m more “low carb” than ketogenic right now, the difference being that I try to keep myself under 50-60g net carbs per day, whereas ketogenic takes it to an even larger extreme.
I started the diet after gaining 25 pounds having my daughter, Mackenzie. Then those pounds never disappeared! They just hung around, and after nearly a year, I realized they weren’t going to go away on their own. I was a size 6 when I got pregnant and now I was up to a size 12. I wanted to fit in all my size 6 clothes again.
Committing to a diet and building a business have many similarities. There are a ton of people who want the results without doing the work. Shortcuts abound. I’ve never been one to be afraid of work, as I’ve seen how effective it can be. My problem with the diet was that it was going to force me to re-learn nearly everything I knew about eating. Most importantly, it was going to force me to learn how to cook–something I never really grew up doing, and never learned how to do. Popping a frozen meal in the oven was about as far as I’d ever taken cooking.
Nevertheless, I committed to it. Perhaps the most important part of what made me want to stick to the diet–even more than fitting into my pre-pregnancy clothes–is that I didn’t want Mackenzie to grow up with a mother who didn’t know how to cook. I am about the least domestic female in the world, but I wanted Mackenzie to be able to see and learn the domestic side of things so she didn’t grow up with a domestic “handicap” of sorts. Whether she takes it and runs with it and becomes a fantastic cook, or is more on my side of things and sees it as more of an option–either way is fine with me, but she should know both sides of it and be able to make a more educated decision.
I spent a couple days picking out low-carb recipes, making a Trello board, and going shopping. I approached all of this positively; I am a creative person, and would enjoy putting my creativity to use this way! Plus, I suspected going low-carb would help with the low energy issues that have plagued me for years.
Then disaster struck! My entire house decided to break down. This may sound hyperbolic, but I’m not kidding; in just 7 days, the dishwasher broke, the washer hose sprung a leak and flooded the closet in Mackenzie’s room, then we broke the vacuum because we tried to vacuum up water without realizing quite how much water was there, and on top of that, the front door lock bizarrely stopped locking the door. We pulled the lock off the door and put it back on–no luck. So here we were, in a 7-day period, buying a new dishwasher, a new vacuum cleaner, new washer hoses, and a new door lock.
The “woo-woo” side of me knew what had happened. I have a habit of shifting energy really quickly when I’m determined to do something. It’s how I can manifest results so quickly. Unfortunately, I’d shifted so fast that I’d shut down a significant portion of the electronics in the house. Energetically, when you shift like that, anything that’s not vibrating at that level leaves your life–well, apparently we had several appliances that just weren’t interested in the ride to a new energetic level.
Not surprisingly, we got new upgraded appliances and our life is much improved. 🙂 I’m not surprised, but it is annoying when you realize you just laid out almost two thousand dollars because you shifted your energy! Oops. 😉
Right after all that happened, I caught a horrible case of strep throat. It got so bad that eventually I went to the doctor and got on some potent antibiotics. Strep should resolve itself after 5-7 days; I was at day 6 and still having fever sweats when I finally went to the doctor. That, too, was part of the ride, as I learned a bit more about some chronic health issues I’ve been dealing with for the past several years (a different blog post.)
All of that would have made many people quit, or throw up their hands and say “It’s just not meant to be!” But I’m not one to wrestle with an alligator and let it win.
Wrestling the Alligator
You may be familiar with the concept of “resistance” as it relates to creative endeavors. It’s often described as that little voice in your head that says “You’re not good enough!” or “Who are you to think you can write this book/lose this weight/create that business?” What many people don’t realize is that sometimes it does not manifest as a voice in your head. Resistance can be very real and quite physical. It can show up as all the negative stuff that happens in your life when you try to make changes. Look at my example: My whole house broke down! It would be completely ridiculous and cause me breakdowns if I didn’t know exactly why it was happening. But I won’t quit.
Guess what happened after all that. It’s been 13 days since I started the diet and I’m down 5 pounds despite not being able to stick with it 100%. (Let me tell you, when you’re used to having a dishwasher and you suddenly don’t have one, that’s the best excuse in the world to just go eat out and say “Forget it!”–but I didn’t do that.)
I fought the alligator and won. I expect the diet will be pretty straightforward after this. And not only that, with the mental clarity gains I’ve been seeing, many of the diet chances I’ve made I’ll stick with permanently. Assuming I’m losing weight in a healthy manner, I should be back to my goal of a size 6 sometime in March or April. And I’ll have more energy to boot. It’s a huge win–because I didn’t allow life to blow back in my face.
These tests, this resistance, happen absolutely every time you make a big shift in your life. You break up with a partner who wasn’t good for you and some friends give you crap about it. You decide to start a business and everyone comes out of the woodwork with bad advice. You dig yourself out of a financial hole and all of a sudden, a million financial stresses pop up all at once. This is the resistance in physical form.
It’s a test. Commit to wrestling the alligator and winning. And when you do, everything from there on out will feel like a cakewalk.
My next post, on Friday, will share what I accomplished in 2016 and an exciting new announcement for 2017. If you haven’t yet, sign up for my email list and I’ll send you an email when I post it. See you then!
Alligator image by carmenqueasy, CC-licensed
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I launched erica.biz on December 4, 2007. This week, I’m celebrating 6 years of blogging here. Wow!
It’s been just over 6 years since I sold my last company, as well, and I’m amazed at how much I’ve grown. This week, I figured I’d do something special, and share some of the deep, heartfelt lessons I’ve learned in the past 6 years. Some of these were tough for me to grok. All of them have changed me as a person. This may be a tough read for some of you…but I hope these lessons will have as much of an impact on your life as they did mine!
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Through a sort of strange coincidence, I found myself reading Tucker Max’s blog today.
If you know who Tucker Max is (and many people do), you may think I was reading his famous “asshole” blog. Interestingly enough, though, Tucker seems to have matured lately, and is now writing a more thoughtful blog on how to become a writer, run a startup, and get published.
He highlights a thought-provoking question on his post “How To: Find A Mentor”:
“‘Why do you want to be a writer?’ 99% of [people who tell me they want to become a writer] have no fucking concept of how to answer that question. They’ve never even asked themselves this most basic and fundamental question. They stutter and stammer and can’t come up with even one concrete reason. [And BTW–there is only ONE correct answer to that question, I will cover that in another thing I’m writing.]”
Interested, I thumbed through the rest of his blog, but I never found where he followed up with the answer. Since I’ve gotten this question too (although it more often comes in the form of “How do I become a blogger?” with me), I figured I’d answer it from my perspective.
I Struggle to Answer the Question
And then…something strange happened. I struggled to answer the question. I had a momentary panic attack: Was I one of those awful 99% of people who “wanted to be a writer” yet “had no fucking concept of how to answer that question”? But no, that didn’t feel quite right. (more…)
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