Every day I get an email from someone who wants to sell me a course about building a marketing platform and making money online. Lately my eyes glaze over when reading the stuff. It’s an echo chamber that’s rife with repetition:
Get as many eyeballs as possible on your website…. Blog, blog, blog…. Build your email list…. Get more followers on Twitter and Facebook…. Start podcasting now…. Master video today….
I got a heavy dose of platform building tips during my time on Michael Hyatt’s Platform University. I also canceled my membership after one month.
Lately, though, I’ve read some inspiring posts about building an online presence that go beyond counting eyeballs.
Maria Popova on Brain Pickings
Maria Popova created Brain Pickings—ad-free, reader-supported, and wildly popular. In an interview with Jocelyn K. Glei about Staying Present and Grounded in the Age of Information Overload, Maria said a couple things that took the top of my head off:
You know, it’s funny because I frequently get emails from young people starting out and asking, “How do I make a successful website or start my own thing?” And, very often, it’s tied to some measure of success that’s audience-based or reach-based. “How do you build up to seven million readers a month or two million Facebook fans?” But the work is not how to get that size of an audience or those numbers…. The real work is how not to hang your self-worth, your sense of success and merits, the fullness of your heart, and the stability of your soul on those numbers—on that constant positive reinforcement and external validation….
I read things that stimulate me and inspire me and help me figure out how to live and then I write about them. The fact that there are other people who enjoy it is nice, but it’s just a byproduct.
Leo Babauta on Building Zen Habits
Leo Babauta claims that over one million people read his blog Zen Habits every month. I have no reason to doubt him. Though I have some reservations about Leo’s content, I don’t question his integrity.
In notes on writing, Leo describes his vision of a great website:
Writers and other creators really want to make a living online, so they fill up their blogs with junk that they think will make money. But the junk is disrespectful of the reader, and so the reader goes away. Trying to force people to be on your mailing lists by making them sign up to get stuff, or putting a popup in their faces before they can read your content, is disrespectful. Ads and affiliate stuff are tiresome for the reader. Here’s how to make a living online: create great stuff that will help people, and build a readership. Then create great stuff and sell it to those readers in a respectful way, while still giving away your free great stuff.
In Confidence in Your Business, he reiterates:
Maybe you see people who’ve made millions online: How did they do it? Internet marketing. They built mailing lists, then manipulated those lists through emotional tactics, social proof, creating false urgency, building funnels, warming up the lists, making the potential customers think they need this or they’ll fail….
All of a sudden, your excellent blog is pushing me to join a mailing list to get a free report. There’s a popup trying to get me to enter my email address. If I do, I start to get all kinds of emails I don’t want, trying to push me into a funnel. You post a thousand things to social media trying to get me interested in your sale….
What if, instead, you had confidence in your business? You created something of value and believed it would help people? You made its value and how much it helps people your metrics.
You can learn more about Leo’s approach in How I Conduct My Business and his interview with Jessica Jalsevac about Principles for Running Your Business.
James Altucher on Writing for a Living
James Altucher is one of the most prolific and omnipresent people on the Internet. His book Choose Yourself has sold over 100,000 copies. So I was surprised when I found this sentence in his post How to Write for a Living: “PLATFORM IS SHIT.” He elaborates:
I agree it’s important to have some Internet presence. You need to sell your first 1000 books once you publish and the Internet is a good way to do it.
But your free audience is not the way to do it. They read your blog for free. They don’t even want to fork over 99 cents to buy your book.
I will give you an example: on my last book, “Choose Yourself!” I obviously encouraged my readers to buy it. But another group, Stansberry Research, recommended it to their paying subscribers.
In two weeks through them I sold tens of thousands of books. It took my free audience, which was millions bigger, three months to catch up in sales to an audience that had never even heard of me before.
Even though your blog won’t sell books, it’s still important to build an online presence, says James:
I encourage people to find online communities that they like and feel like participating in and start blogging there or guest posting there.
If you are unsure of where and how to blog, start by practicing on a site like Quora, which is a question and answer site that also hosts blogs.
Practice answering questions there. See what gets upvoted and what doesn’t. Improve your skills. See if you enjoy it. Then start taking some of your answers and making them into a blog. Then start guest posting on other sites.
Bonus: Patrick Rhone on His Personal Brand
I live in Minneapolis, and on the other side of the Mississippi, in exotic Saint Paul, dwells Patrick Rhone. He’s got several websites, including Minimal Mac and The Cramped—The Unique Pleasures of Analog Writing.
Patrick’s wise and compassionate presence is as refreshing as a slow, deep breath. I especially enjoy his ideas about personal branding. Basically, he ignores it:
Because, I now know that worrying about “personal branding” and “social media strategy” and the rest of that silliness has ZERO to do with success….
Seth [Godin] doesn’t even host a blog on his own domain name. He uses TypePad for gosh sake! The only personal brand he has is this: He shows up, every day, with helpful advice about (mostly) marketing and life. He shows up with a desire and willingness to create things that help people be better at sales and marketing.
The only personal brand I strive to develop is genuine kindness and a desire to help others.
Are you willing to do the work? Do you, or do you not, want to help people?