I’m noticing a trend in the blogging world that I really don’t like. It’s where all these people are jumping right into teaching people how to make money, but they haven’t actually done it themselves.
I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s everywhere. People without any online business experience – never created a product or service, launched a course, built a social media following, or even thought about ROI – have put themselves in the spotlight to teach about these topics they know nothing about.
Imagine trying to learn algebra from a teacher who knows nothing about math. Maybe they watched Good Will Hunting and thought, “How hard can it be?”
I don’t doubt these people have read blogs about successful online business. A quick Google search will turn out pages on pages of these stories. But you can’t teach something if you’ve only read about it. You need experience. You need to be elbow-deep in the trenches.
So I’m just going to come out and say it. If you’re teaching people how to make money and you’re a beginner, jumping straight to that point, I think it’s a scam. Your content is a scam. You don’t have the experience to back it up. You’re not helping people.
Don’t we all want to be the next Pat Flynn?
As much as I’m opposed this scam, I can actually relate to the desire behind it. When I first got started online, I was fascinated by blogs discussing how to increase revenue of SaaS applications, what people were doing with A/B testing and how they were improving funnels. I was obsessed with reading and learning as much as I could about marketing and wanted to jump right into teaching those things. But the problem was I had no experience doing with those topics.
I had run a SaaS app before, but it hadn’t done well. Seriously, my app was only making $600 a month in revenue. And I know we talk a lot about how size doesn’t matter, but I wouldn’t label that the kind of success that warrants an audience’s trust yet. I was in no position to teach from this resume.
So I thought, “How can I do this? If I want to be known for growing SaaS apps, how do I get to the point where I can start consulting around that?”
At the time I was reading case studies from Dropbox about how they grew their affiliate referrals and what Beanstalk and Postmark did to increase account activations and upgrades. I loved those stories. It was all about finding that one weird trick and making money. I so badly wanted to write blogs like that. So I decided to take a stab at it the only way I knew I could- by aggregating the expert’s ideas.
I started with a blog about ways to increase SaaS revenue. Now, I was very straightforward about where all my information came from. I was pulling content from reliable sources and citing everything. But as good as that information was, it still wasn’t my own. I had no personal stories to show authority or prove any methods. I didn’t have the kind of proven and exciting experiences as the blogs that I loved so much.
I realized that I couldn’t jump into teaching how to run a successful business if I hadn’t done it yet myself. The only logical next step was to go back to what I knew.
The art of pivoting.
So instead of trying to teach on a subject that I had only observed and read about, I turned back to my profession, design. This was where I was an expert. This was the place I had a wealth of knowledge and personal experience. I realized that I needed to start there and figure out how to pivot into where I really wanted to be – online marketing.
So I started my own business teaching design.
By building this design business, I could apply all the techniques and tactics I had read about and begin creating my own experiences. As a business owner I was getting first hand experience with all the victories, failures, and continual trial error with online marketing. I finally had an honest platform to teach from.
I was still pretty green, so I didn’t put myself up as expert. However, I could write about what I learned that day. I wrote about money, business and marketing as it happened to me. This kind of first-person narrative got people’s attention and I started building a name for myself in this sphere. With everything I learned while growing my own business, I was able to make the switch from teaching software design to teaching marketing business.
I’m not the only one pivoting.
Pat Flynn did the same thing. He didn’t start with SmartPassiveIncome.com. He actually started out teaching people how to pass the LEED certification exam for architects. He built an audience there and started selling an eBook that grew from $1K a month to $5K and up. Through it all, he shared his journey talking about the money side of business. Now he focuses almost entirely on building online audiences and business.
That’s actually how he makes most of his money these days, but he didn’t jump right into teaching about money when his expertise was LEED certifications. He didn’t just read the experts, parrot their advice, and go straight to teaching. He has his own story. He started his own business and learned along the way.
Sean McCabe also took the same path. He started in the hand lettering world and built a following on Instagram and other mediums teaching people how to do his incredible work. On the business side, he was working as freelancer and building a distribution company selling his prints, t-shirts, posters, and coffee mugs with his designs on them.
From there he produced a course about hand lettering that did really well. His experience creating that course led him teach others about creating online courses. Instead of jumping the gun to teaching, he waited until after he ran the gauntlet himself and found methods that continually worked. I don’t see that as a scam.
I see that as teaching a very valuable skill. Because really there’s no better skill to teach, than teaching people how to make money. It’s like the old proverb – “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” That’s what I want to do for you. I want to teach you to fish.
How to pivot.
In Sean’s case, he actually wants to talk about business. That’s his favorite topic and for me it’s the same thing. Business, marketing, audience growth – those are my favorite topics. I actually enjoy them far more than software design these days. But I had to put in that work, Sean had to put in that work, Pat had to put in the work in the core topic to learn those skills for ourselves first before pivoting to talk purely about the business side.
So how do you do it? How do you go from starting in one area to actually feeling like a credible expert to teach people how to earn a living online?
Step 1- Don’t jump straight into teaching people how to make money.
It’s artificial. Just don’t do it.
Step 2- Build a real business.
Pick an area that you have an expertise in or that you’re going to work to build an expertise in and build a business in that. It could be anything from selling t-shirts to starting a Facebook consulting business. Put all your focus on that and turn it into the best business you can. Learn every day and apply what you learn to your business.
The great thing here is you’ll know how your tactics perform because your business will live or die by them. If it lives, congrats! If it dies, start again. But no matter the outcome…
Step 3- Share your journey along the way.
I didn’t think I would pivot out of design so quickly or become know for self-publishing. I was just taking each learning experience I had and writing about it. The byproduct of me launching an eBook was that I learned about stats, marketing and audience growth. I shared my numbers, my tactics, and everything else I learned along the way.
It turned out that those behind the scenes blogs were getting more traction than the original content about design. I was getting asked more about how self-publish a profitable eBook than how to redesign a web application. That’s when I knew it was ok to start making the transition into teaching the marketing and business side without it being a scam.
So put in the work, do what it takes to become an expert in what you know, share your experience and pivot your way into what you’re passionate about. Build on your foundation to get your experience. Yes, it will take time. It might be a difficult road. But if you’re really passionate about the work, the wait is well worth it.