How HELPING Sets You Apart from the Competition

Several weeks back I talked about how the secret to social media success was CARING. Today, I want to share a story that illustrates this point. It comes from a successful entrepreneur who used it in the offline world, and it’s all so simple that it’s genius…

Dan BlankTodd Smith was recently interviewed on, explaining his career. One story that really stuck out was how he succeeded in selling real estate.

Todd was a licensed realtor working at a well-established real estate agency. He was young, and needed to find houses to sell. To get listings, he focused his efforts on people who were determined to sell their own homes. These are called “For Sale By Owner” or FSBO homes.

Now, many realtors target FSBOs, cold calling again and again, trying to convince the owners to list their home with a realtor, instead of going off on their own.

But Todd did something different.

On the first day a homeowner listed their own house for sale without a realtor, Todd would give them a call. But instead of pounding them with a sales pitch, he offered to help. He would tell them that he wants to help them with their goal of selling their house without a realtor.

He offered them a thick ‘sales kit,’ which included a ton of information on how a homeowner can sell their own home. There were marketing tips, negotiation tips, sample contracts, etc.

But that wasn’t all. He told them that if they did receive an offer, he would gladly come over and write up the contract for free. To top it off – he would even give them “for sale by owner” signs to put out in their yard.

So what was in it for Todd? Three things:

  1. He was competing with other realtors to woo homeowners to list their houses with an agency. By helping homeowners with their goals, he stood out from the crowd.
  2. He didn’t pitch homeowners to list their houses with him, he instead asked for a referral if anyone they knew ever wanted to list their house with a realtor.
  3. Many homeowners fail at seller their own homes, and when they consider listing with a realtor – Todd would be their first choice since he was so familiar and so helpful.

You can listen to Todd tell this story in his own words at around minute 21:45 of this interview. What was the result of his efforts? He was voted into RE/MAX’s Hall of Fame at age 28.

So what can we learn from Todd’s experience? A few things:

  • He was different because he helped.
  • He put the needs and desires of others first.
  • He offered to help before anyone else, uncovering opportunity.
  • He built trust that might not pay off until much later, if ever.

Most people are not willing to do what it takes to be successful. They take the quickest line to their goal, and disregard anyone who doesn’t serve THEIR needs at the moment they want them to.

Todd took a different route. One that helped.



Authors Have To Be Entrepreneurs. Here’s Why.

In all likelihood you will never earn a decent income as a published author. (I’m sorry to say that, really.)

But, you can earn a decent living BECAUSE OF your book; they are an incredible platform to develop other revenue streams. Today I want to share one compelling example as to why that is. I’m going to focus on someone who published a successful nonfiction book. In fact, he got his book deal because of his blog, and he earns a significant income because of everything BUT his book.


Dan BlankDarren Rowse  makes 6-figures a year (close to 7-figures a year) by blogging. But the blog is merely a POWERFUL launch platform for other products which generate his revenue. This is how his revenue streams break down for April:

  • 23% AdSense Ads
  • 22% Affiliate Ads/Partnerships
  • 16% E-Books
  • 15% Continuity Programs (Subscription forums)
  • 7% Direct Ad Sales
  • 6% Chitika (A search-targeted advertising solution)
  • 5% Amazon Affiliate Program
  • 3% Job Boards
  • 1% Speaking

The last revenue stream he left off the chart because he only collects royalties twice a year: book sales. He said if he included it, it would rank in the 1-3% range. TINY compared to his other revenue streams.

Darren’s book is ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income and his websites include, Digital Photography School, and Twitip.

Okay, let’s model this out. I’m not doing this to pry into Darren’s finances, but to understand how it is someone can really earn a living because of their blog and/or book. Assuming Darren made $750,000 in 2009, this is how the revenue streams would break out (on average) for each month:

  • $14,375 AdSense Ads
  • $13,640 Affiliate Ads/Partnerships
  • $9,920 E-Books
  • $9,300 Continuity Programs (Subscription forums)
  • $4,340 Direct Ad Sales
  • $3,720 Chitika
  • $3,100 Amazon Affiliate Program
  • $1,860 Job Boards
  • $620 Speaking

Keep in mind, this is PER MONTH. Now, some revenue streams deliver higher revenue depending on if there is a new product launch or time of year, so this is just a guestimate.

If you add in the book sales, that would be an additional $700 or so a month. BARELY ANYTHING compared to his other revenue streams. YET, the book features prominently in his marketing as it establishes his authority and builds his platform.

To give a more balanced view, let’s assume that 30% of Darren’s revenue goes to expenses and another 30% goes to taxes. (Darren works from home, and has been careful to not build up a lot of overhead in his business.) Even with these figures, he would still take home $300,000 a year, own his business, along with a variety of revenue streams and the skillset that goes with them.

What does this mean for you? It means that AUTHORS HAVE TO BE ENTREPRENEURS.

Not because the world needs more business people, but because no one is more passionate about your work than you – no one can connect with your target audience more than you – no one wants your writing career to succeed more than you.

The web affords you incredible opportunity that authors in the 20th century never had. This is not something disrupting to your goals, it is empowering!



Writers: Develop Your Audience, Not Just Your Book

As a writer, yes, it’s your responsibility to develop a GREAT book. But it is ALSO your responsibility to create an engaged audience. Maybe you can’t conjure up 4 million passionate fans by yourself, but you may be able to engage 400 or 4,000 fans.

Dan BlankSteve Blank and Eric Ries have some innovative theories about this. They focus on startup companies – those who have a great idea for a product, get financial backing, then work furiously hard to make it a reality.

Most startups focus on PRODUCT development. Once they get financial backing and put the team in place, they lock themselves in a room and focus intently on developing the PRODUCT, working towards launch.

What Steve and Eric evangelize is the idea of focusing of developing CUSTOMERS.

This means involving your target audience at every step of the development process, and constantly iterating your product based on their needs & feedback.  So instead of focusing on the ‘thing’ you are building, you are focusing on the needs & people you are creating a solution for.

It’s not a direct correlation for authors, but consider it this way: Too many authors work alone in a room on their book, then get the gears rolling at a publishing house, only to drop their LIFE’S WORK into the world, and have it greeted by silence.

Do you want crickets chirping when your book finally hits the shelves?

These authors developed the product, but not the audience. They ASSUMED people would react a certain way. And we all know what happens when you assume…

If you want to earn a living as an author, don’t focus just on the book. Focus on the audience – at every step of the process, involve them. By the time you come to a publisher or agent with your book, you should have proven your ability to not just write a book, but develop an audience.



The Secret to Growing Your Business Online: Customer Service

David Taub
David Taub successfully transitioned his guitar instruction business to the online world, and now earns his living via the web. Today, I want to share the reasons that online made sense for him, and his tips to building a successful online business.

David’s brand is Next Level Guitar, which I profiled a few weeks back. He and his business partner Tim Gilberg create guitar lessons on video, promote them via YouTube and sell them via subscription & DVD on their own website.

Why online?

  • Scale
    David had a successful in-person guitar instruction business where he lived, but couldn’t expand further. He had about 30 students a week, which was his max. Likewise, there is only so much you can raise prices before he is priced out of the market. He hit the wall in terms of trading time for money.
  • Expand his Reach & Influence
    David has been playing guitar since the 6th grade and has been teaching others for years. As he honed his skills more and more, the brick & mortar nature of his business limited his influence. He may be the best guitar instructor in his area, but people in other states and other countries would never benefit from his teachings.
  • Differentiate His Product Offering
    People learn in different ways, and for his in-person lessons that meant constantly creating custom lessons for each individual student. With virtual instruction, David could productize these lessons to fit a wide variety of teaching styles and musical styles. Today David sells a variety of DVD packages in addition to his online courses and has several other instructors teaching for him, each with their own flavor and teaching style.
  • Build a Stable Business
    Before the web, 100% of David’s income came from him showing up to teach someone. Today, is clearly the linchpin of his business, but he has come a long way. He has a business partner who runs part of the operation, he has brought other instructors into the fold, and while he still works long days, it is certainly possible for him to hire others to help run the show if he needed time off or focus his efforts elsewhere. All along, he has been honing his skills as a businessman, understanding how to build a stable foundation and plan for growth.

I had a chance to speak with David recently, and these are the tips he shared for building a succcessful online business:

  • Focus on Things that Deliver Long Term Value
    Don’t wait to go ‘viral’ – that’s akin winning the lottery. Give your online business a solid backbone, focusing on core customer needs and building great products. It can be tempting for some to do a hard sell, trying to scale revenue quickly. This may work for some people in the short term, but it is difficult to build long term value this way.
  • Customer Service is Critical
    David feels that most companies miss the boat because their lack of focus on customer service. David works long days, and his top priority is ensuring that all emails are answered quickly, all products sent out immediately and that daily operations are running smoothly. There are always hiccups in business systems, and David focuses his energies to ensure these don’t affect customers.
  • Have a Plan
    I’ve seen many brands approach their online business by allowing their most junior employee to sketch it out and launch. Senior managers wait for it to pan out before they give it their attention. This only hurts your business, and makes it harder to re-align once you do approach it properly.David and Tim spent months prepping for the launch of their business, spending long days recording videos and setting up their online operations and marketing efforts. To this day, they still work long hours creating new material and taking measured steps forward.  They are conservative about spending money, and are risk averse.
  • Build on Your Strengths
    Don’t focus on some wild new idea that is outside of your core competencies. David spent decades honing his guitar playing and teaching style and Tim has a strong background in the web and marketing. They each stuck to their strengths and partnered to create more value together than either could by themselves. Find out what your existing customers value most, what you do best, and focus on bringing that experience online.
  • Keep Overhead Low
    David and Tim each work from home, research all expenses before making a decision and keep their operating expenses as light as possible. For their camera equipment, they buy budget cameras and lighting, ensuring they balance quality with price. Don’t assume that ‘the big boys’ are buying expensive systems, so you need to as well.

Every step of the way, David mentioned his focus on serving customers, and each of the tips above reflect that. So many companies worry too much about finding office space or complicated promotions instead of just creating a great product and ensuring their customers are happy.  Thanks to David for sharing his story!

Have a ‘Customer Strategy,’ not a ‘Social Media Strategy’

Marketing Job Wire just posted an interview with me, asking for advice for young marketing professionals. Below is an excerpt of how I feel marketers should integrate social media into their overall strategies:

Social media not about the technology, it’s about what it enables. The goal is not to have a Twitter strategy, but have a customer strategy… which means you are always listening to and connecting with your customers no matter which platform you use.

Young marketing professionals need to move away from the broadcast-only model of marketing, whereby the goal is to blast your message to the widest audience possible. Social media has allowed us to serve the needs of customers, instead of simply interrupting them with your pitch.

The most important characteristic a marketer needs is quite simple: Care about your community, their needs and what motivates them. Find ways to enable them to reach their goals.

Social media is about being open and taking action. Start small, stay focused, and measure your effectiveness.

For young marketers just starting out, remember that the value you create for others will shape your career more than the value you create for only yourself. This means connect with people, help them realize their goals, and do so with passion.

Read the entire interview on Marketing Job Wire.