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business 2.0

Why What Matters Now Is Audacity

by anna on December 16, 2009

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I had two things I wanted to write about today: 1) Seth Godin’s collaborative ebook, What Matters Now, that launched this week; and 2) Jay-Z’s single, “Empire State of Mind.” As it happens, they dovetail nicely into a discussion of what seems to matter now more than anything, based on my assessment of what leads to success in the new world economy. So, Mr. Godin, since you seem to have forgotten to include my name in the list of Important Internet People to consult for your ebook project, here is the one-word-themed entry I might have made to your ebook, but only had I been asked.


It is no longer enough to be good: to succeed in the new world order, you must also know that you are good, and proclaim yourself to be good by making outrageously audacious statements about yourself and making self-conscious decisions that inevitably compare yourself to past examples of greatness. The new BEST is decided by evaluating audacity, even (and especially) when you should realize that the level of success you have (objectively) achieved suggests you should just zip it and go back to drinking Mai Tais by the pool.

Finding audacity in rap music is not revolutionary; still, the lyrics to Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” are instructive when discussing a culture of audacity. “I’m the new Sinatra, and since I made it here,” Jay-Z reasons, “I can make it anywhere, yeah, they love me everywhere.” Now, why must an undisputed rap mogul assert status in this way, over and over again? In my day, you did not flaunt your success or underscore status like this in a public format. Privately, sure, you might say things like, “Shit, I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,” after a few too many drinks at the Harvard Club. But you would never go around proclaiming, in a song, no less”New York, New York / (I made you hot, nigga!)”

(You hear that, New York? You were never “hot” until Jay-Z showed up, bought the New Jersey Nets, and turned them into the worst team in basketball, year after year after year. Wait. What?)

But this is not just a trope from rap music! No! We’ve got athletes — Tiger Woods has affairs with 34 women and has the audacity to call one of them up and ask her to change her answering machine message so that his wife cannot call her, not to mention the audacity to believe that multiple mistresses in several cities and parties with prostitutes, and texts, and CHRIST KNOWS WHAT ELSE, will never get out because, well, he’s Tiger Woods? LeBron is walking around in “Witness” shirts and with “Witness” license plates on his car, and “LBJ” letterman jackets, and nobody is batting an eyelash. Politicians — Obama is riding the same train route as Lincoln to his own inauguration, as if to force comparisons between himself and his favorite past President, Lieberman is denouncing his own party because he didn’t get a spot on a presidential ticket? Sarah Palin is presuming to write a book, like with letters and paragraphs AND EVERYTHING?!

Is the world big enough to accommodate the size of all these overblown egos?

But here’s where I really get into the business of audacity because — and I’m not going to lie to you: I love Seth Godin, but he’s not coming away clean here, either, because hello? who presumes to curate a collection called What Matters Now? Is this not, in effect, saying, “Not only do I know what matters now, I have the authority to publish on the topic and to determine from whom else we should hear on the topic.” WOW. Holy audacity.

And audacity doesn’t stop there: Dave Ramsey has the audacity to make me read about God in his entry, and Penelope Trunk View definition in a new window has the audacity to pontificate to us on — wait for it — social skills. Hugh MacLeod sagely advises us to “Savor obscurity while it lasts,” which is super useful information and — wait, what the fuck? In the real world, does anybody actually know that Hugh MacLeod is anything but obscure? Some entries from What Matters Now are better than others, and some are more audacious than others, and overall I have to applaud the effort to put out a high-quality information product for the benefit of the community at large. It is generosity that is at the heart of the project, and one of the best reasons for the success of many of the project’s participants.

Plus, I’m a sucker for a good Venn diagram.

But I still have complaints: why is one of the (only) 16 women to be consulted on this project (of over 70 contributors), that flighty chick who wrote Eat, Pray, Love? And why is she not the only one of those 16 women to have credentials that in some way trace back to Oprah? Have we no other sources of female wisdom at our fingertips? And, more importantly, why are these women consulted rather than — God, please forgive me for using them as good examples of anything, but fair is fair — one of the two only women that I can think of who are making a six-figure or above living from blogging (pure blogging, not selling products or exploiting the blogging labor of others)?

Sure, sour grapes, sour grapes, I know. Still, I cannot help feeling the same way today as I did the first time I heard a blogger refer to herself as an “A-list blogger,” or when another blogger responded to a compliment I paid her writing by enthusiastically agreeing with me that she was, in fact, an excellent writer in her own estimation. What happened to humility? What happened to “there is so much left to learn”? And must we all sacrifice a commitment to humility if we, too, hope to someday count ourselves among this burgeoning elite?

Are You A Natural-Born Professional Blogger?

by anna on December 14, 2009

Friends, today I present to you, in the grand tradition of stupid and ultimately meaningless lists generated in the personal finance genre, a list of ideal characteristics for the professional blogger top possess. I have been inspired most recently by Bankrate’s recent contribution in the form of the article entitled, Are you a natural-born entrepreneur? to make this list to prove a point; namely, that there are certainly a set of skills that it might behoove one to possess before they set out to build a business, but that the presence or absence of these skills neither guarantees success nor predicts failure at your chosen venture. Because 1) who gives a shit if you’re a natural born entrepreneur if you never make or sell anything? and 2) who gives a shit if you aren’t a natural born entrepreneur but you’ve still managed to make and sell several million dollars worth of products? Similarly, if you do not possess the skills on this list, you might have a hard time becoming a professional blogger. Or, you might just invent a really clever workaround. So here they are, the ideal characteristics of a Professional Blogger, have at them.

  1. Is Not Discouraged By People Looking At Them Strangely And/Or Patronizing Them. People in The Real World still do not really understand what blogging is, much less how you could make money from doing it. So when people ask you what you do for work, you’ll have to either 1) lie, or 2) endure their confused and/or patronizing responses to your answer of “I’m a blogger.” While you may understand intellectually that this is just a bias of their generation or experience, the reality of dealing with these kinds of responses can be grating, which is why I personally just say I’m a Stay-At-Home-Mom. At least that way, if they seem patronizing, I’ll know it’s because they’re a misogynist and not merely a Luddite.
  2. Can Hold Out For The Long Con. Even if you are working at your blog(s) with the same intensity as if it is your full time job long before it is supporting you financially, it is going to take at least over a year for your blog to gain any kind of market traction. In most cases, it will take longer than that. There are exceptions that prove this rule, of course, but for the most part you don’t want it to take a lot less time than that because building a blog as a business is just like any other company: if it grows too fast, you can have problems with retention and overhead. You need to base your business on building a hard-fought and loyal community, and it’s hard to do that without time. Most bloggers are not going to get rich off nickel and diming the AdSense: to make a real income, most bloggers will need to be in it for the Long Con of the CopyBlogger Model (not actually a con, but the metaphor works). The real money in blogging is found through consistently creating useful content over a long period of time, building trust in your audience, and making the occasional offer. Sadly, there is no shortcut to this kind of success: to be a successful professional blogger, you need to be able to wait patiently until the right time to cash in.
  3. Knows How To Design Websites, Is Intimately Involved With Someone Who Knows How To Design Websites, Or Is Willing To Do A Lot Of Learning. There are lots of professional bloggers who cannot code their way out of a paper bag, it’s true. And with all the great technology available to you these days with blogging platforms and awesome customizable premium themes, it is very true that you can get a decent-looking blog up and running in little time with almost know tech know-how. That said, to distinguish your blog from the eleventy billion other blogs out there just like it, it is a huge advantage to have tech skills because, like it or not, people judge the success of your site from how it looks. If it looks professionally designed, then people will assume that you have made enough money to hire a professional web designer, and therefore your blog must be worth reading. Success is like 50% perception (or some other super-scientific stastistic like that). The more you know (or can learn), the more you will be able to set yourself apart from the other bloggers in your niche. Sure, you can hire people to do this for you, but good web design and programming is painstaking and expensive, so unless you’ve got a huge start-up budget, this is unrealistic for most bloggers.
  4. Can Write Reasonably Well Very Quickly. Sure, old-skool journalists can write well, but what nobody tells you is how fucking long it takes them to put a story out, and how many hands have touched that story before it ever hits print. If you’re bootstrapping a professional blog, it’s just you between writing and publishing, and this can be an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on the day. There will be times where you will spend a longer period of time researching and polishing a post, and then there will be posts that go up almost immediately after you write them. How long does it take you to write? How polished is your writing after a first or second draft? Bloggers have to put out a lot of material, and they have to do it fast. It doesn’t have to be Pulitzer-caliber every time, but it has to be good without much help from outside.
  5. Has Slightly More Knowledge Than Average On A Variety Of Topics. Most people are not going to make it by purely personal blogging. Though there are notable exceptions, the most successful bloggers provide useful content of some kind over the course of long periods of time and get at least some of their traffic from search engines. Still, even now, most people use the internet to answer a question of some kind — be the answer to that question and you can build an audience. To do this, you need to have more information and expertise than average in at least one (but ideally two or three) different areas of interest.
  6. Be An Interesting Person. Even if you provide useful information on a few different topics, if you cannot bring something interesting to what you’re writing, it will be tough to maintain an audience. The idea is that you get people coming to you for their information on X topic because not only do you know what you’re talking about, you say it in an unusual or interesting way. This is how to make yourself stand out in an already saturated and boring niche like, say, personal finance.
  7. Can Handle Constructive Criticism Constructively, Or Convincingly Fake It. Once your blog gains traction, you will start to get criticism. Some of it is just noise, but some of it is worthwhile. You need to be open to hearing criticism and implementing it on your blog: if your audience is not getting what they need, they will go elsewhere. Listen to them.
  8. Can Ignore Destructive Criticism. If you think people can be assholes in regular life, just wait until you get them on the internet. The thing with negative, non-constructive criticism is that it’s not just annoying and upsetting, it’s also a potential minefield for bloggers: how you deal with it can go a long way for or against you in the eyes of your audience. Constantly complaining about it in a non-humorous way will not earn you points, and lashing out won’t either. To deal with this kind of stuff, you have to learn how to mostly ignore it, except for the occasional quip in public.
  9. Can Type. A corollary to the “writing well quickly” rule: you need to be able to type well and type quickly, or else you are at a huge disadvantage as a blogger. It may seem stupid or superficial, but it’s the truth. We don’t have time to hunt and peck.
  10. Has Access To a Decent Camera. People like pictures, and they’re more likely to read a post with pictures. The easiest way to include pictures on your blog without violating somebody’s copyright is to take them yourself. Also, using your own photography adds the more personal element to blogs that to which people really seem to respond. If you have a decent camera, start taking pictures all the time, of everything. You never know when something interesting will show up.
  11. Has A Copy Of Photoshop. I cannot tell you how important it is to have a copy of photoshop at your disposal if you want to be a problogger. There are just so many things you can do with it and so many ways it will make your life easier. Beg, borrow, or steal a copy if you want to be a professional blogger: you will use it as much or more as WordPress.
  12. Has a Basic Business Sense And Can Figure Out Good Business Moves On Their Own Without A Ton of Hand-Holding. When you’re a small businessperson, you don’t have the budget to hire a consultant to decide every move you make. People who are trying to blog professionally often get caught up in endeavors that are not going to get them anywhere. For example, it’s a good idea to do guest posts as a means of promoting your own blog. Guest posts don’t pay money, so you need to make sure you’re getting a good bang for your buck every time you do it — questions to ask yourself are: 1) do my ideal readers visit this blog that I’m considering writing for; 2) are my ideal readers likely to click over from this blog to my blog?; 3) how many people actually read this blog I’m considering writing for; 4) is the readership mainly search-related (because if so, they are much less likely to click over); etc. If you want your time to become valuable, you have to act like it’s valuable: writing for free for many different sites and ignoring your own is not the way to get ahead in blogging. Build your own URL.

What have I missed?

I set out to muckrake another dust-up in the mommyblogosphere this week as a result of a tweet that made reference to “that freakshow MomDot.” When I see an open condemnation of a mommy blogger on Twitter, it’s impossible for me to resist digging into the story, because we are usually much more passive aggressive in our criticism of one another. I figured I must have missed something big, so I kept reading, and holy wackadoodle!: there’s a whole universe out there about which I knew nothing. This controversy centers around Trisha Haas and her attempts at monetizing her blog, MomDot, but the story is so big, and so convoluted, that it would be impossible to confine it to one linear argument about blogging for money and the success thereof. Therefore, I’ll address the business angle here as an example of The CopyBlogger Model for blog monetization used incorrectly, and refer you to other pages for recaps of tangentially related issues events as noted. Please bear in mind that I am coming to this story third-hand and have no particular affinity with any of the parties involved; as such, my summaries are an attempt at reconstructing a factual timeline of the story insofar as I’ve been able to piece it together after the fact.

A Word On The Class System of The Mommy Blogosphere

I had heard of MomDot before the other night, but only in the context of The Great PR Blackout Nonsense of 2009. I wasn’t overly invested in that whole controversy at the time, except insofar as it seemed to underscore, yet again, the class-system-that-dare-not-speak-its-name that exists in the Mommy Blogosphere. This class system might be unspoken but you can usually figure out when it is at work by noting a disparaging use of the terms “PR,” “product reviews View definition in a new window,” or “paid posts” and the dependence upon platitudes like “integrity View definition in a new window,” “community,” and “transparency View definition in a new window.” People, I consider myself to be a member of the Third Tribe of bloggers: I am neither a blogging purist nor a strict monetizer, but I find it troubling when I see anything like paternalism or marginalization along class, ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, or even geographical lines in the blogosphere.

That said, I can lament the unfair segregation of bloggers all I want from an ivory tower, but I’m still subject to the same prejudices as everyone else in the real world. Despite my best efforts, my analysis is probably going to be guilty of class bias here. Suffice to say that I don’t read MomDot, and after doing research for this post, I’m frankly not itching to start reading it any time soon. MomDot attracts a different demographic from that of ABDPBT View definition in a new window, but the success or failure of a subscription model for blogging is something that could potentially be of interest to bloggers everywhere. This experiment is therefore worth a second look, I think, even if Tricia Haas’ move has angered some people, and caused others to doubt her sincerity. (Read more on why MomDot has gone to a subscription model here.)

The CopyBlogger Model For Making Money From Blogging

At present, there are three generally agreed upon means of successfully making money as a result of blogging:

  1. By running direct advertisements;
  2. By blogging for somebody else, either as a paid staff writer or on a pay-per-post basis; and
  3. The CopyBlogger Model.

The first two methods are dicey for reasons with which you are probably already familiar: it’s tough to get enough traffic to make a good income from display advertisements, and as a result this only works for a fraction of bloggers online. Though many bloggers do make money through this method, only a small number presently make enough money from display advertisements alone to constitute a real income replacement — like, say, enough income to replace a job. It is slightly easier to make money using the second method, but it’s still difficult to find a single writing gig that pays enough to serve as one’s primary job, so in order to have this be your only source of income, you have to piece together a bunch of freelance writing gigs. Usually, these kinds of jobs are easier to get if you already have a considerable blog following of your own, so bloggers who write for other people are often being paid (at least in part) for the fanbase that is likely to follow them wherever they post.

The third, and by far the most successful model for making money as a result of blogging is also probably the least used, because it is hard and it requires a lot of dedication, perseverance, and patience. (If you are already familiar with The Copyblogger Model, then please skip my summary, because it’s probably going to over-simplify what is really a rather elegant business model devised by Brian Clark et al, of CopyBlogger. For expediency’s sake, though, I’ll just say that The CopyBlogger Model is a means of making money from blogging that involves (roughly) four main steps:

  1. Create lots of free, high-quality online content and build a considerable following (this part takes a long time);
  2. Create more free high-quality online content and continue to grow your following, upping the ante by giving away extraordinary things for which you could rightfully charge money, e.g. ebooks or online courses, but which you choose to give away for free;
  3. After some time has passed and you have built up lots and lots of goodwill in your audience, make your audience an offer;
  4. Repeat indefinitely.

“Making an offer” consists of selling something to your audience, but the key to this model is that you are selling your audience something — a tangible product, an information product, whatever — in which you believe. It is something that you use yourself or would use yourself, and you offer it to them at a price point and under terms such that it is clear to them that the benefits they are getting from it far outweigh how much money they pay. It is essential that you do it this way because you are not just looking for one sale: you are hoping to build a community of lifetime customers, who will get as much or more than they give to your community. You want them to be your friends, essentially, but friends who will also sometimes consider buying things from you. The key is goodwill — the audience is never required to do anything, and can continue to take advantage of free content as long as they want. That’s why nobody gets resentful.

For people who have used it, The CopyBlogger model works. The best example of this is Brian Clark, the founder of CopyBlogger and the co-founder of DIY Themes, the people who brought you the Thesis Theme for WordPress (on which all of the ABDPBT blogs run, by the way). He has made a ton of money (some say in the seven figures now) from selling the Thesis Theme, and most people who have used Thesis are happy with the money they spent on it (I am). Other examples of people who have used the CopyBlogger Model successfully, viz. by making an offer that is of a greater intrinsic value than its monetary cost include: Chris Guillebeau (travel guides), Naomi Dunford (small business guides); Sonia Simone (marketing guides and courses); Darren Rowse (ebook: 30 Days To a Better Blog); and Johnny B. Truant (web design, consultation). All of these people view the quality of their blogs as being essential to building the right to sell things to an audience, and this is why they are successful.

Why MomDot’s Use Of The CopyBlogger Model Must Fail

There is nothing wrong, in theory, with providing some content that requires paying a subscription fee. It has not been used by many bloggers yet, but there is no reason why it could not be successful in the future. The thing is, the value must be clear to the subscribing party — there has to be a clear benefit to payinig $5.99 per month to see blog posts. I have tried to figure out where this value might be and have failed, and I’m not even sure that MomDot’s audience is big enough to support a subscription-based site (Read more about my skepticism about the accuracy of MomDot’s traffic statistics here (NOW UPDATED).) While itt is clear that MomDot has made quite an impression on certain parts the Mommy Blogosphere, it’s not clear that a large amount of goodwill has been built up: there is no shortage of posts complaining about MomDot, whether it is about a recent post that some of her readers found objectionable or about her behavior to other bloggers. There is even a twitter account devoted to the topic of how much people hate MomDot (the strangeness of which is doubled by the fact that this account has been posting links to Macbook giveaways for most of the past two days, interspersed with pleas for people to realize that MomDot is evil). I will admit that the credibility of these comments is undermined by the fact that many of them appear in all caps (e.g. “DON”T SUPPORT MOM DOT!!! SHE MADE CRUEL REMARKS ABOUT CHILDREN!!! BOYCOTT HER AND HER FOLLOWERS!”) and make dubious, nearly incomprehensible claims that are littered with misspellings (e.g. “I think I will goggle [sic.] to find forums for children who are getting bullied and post the petition on all the sites!”). However, this much is clear: there is not a whole helluva lot of goodwill out there for MomDot.

At the very least, it seems like it’s a fair bet that is not enough goodwill built up in this readership to support a subscription site.

But the fundamental problem with this stab at using the CopyBlogger Model is that there is no value being offered for the price of admission. Why would I want to pay to get blog posts that I’m used to getting for free? What makes these posts so good that I’ll offer up the money? And more importantly, where am I going to get a taste of how good they are, which will keep me coming back for more? I’ll be the first to admit that making enemies online is not a tough thing to accomplish, particularly as your site gains traction. But there should be plenty of goodwill to outweigh the bad if you’re doing things right. So, in my mind, there is no way that this effort to create a subscription site can do anything but fail.

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