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Internet Entrepreneur Success Blueprint

Published February 20, 2019 in Guides - 0 Comments

This is a long and thorough guide on how to succeed as an internet entrepreneur from A to Z, catered specifically to internet marketers interested in affiliate marketing and network marketing.

Because this is quite a long guide (over 8,000 words), I have created jump links for you below for easier navigation if you would prefer to skip farther down the page to the topic of your choice.

Once you click on a jump link, simply click on the back button in your browser to return to the top of the page.

Finally, if you have not signed up for the members portion of Earning Ability yet, please do so here if making actual money online is something that interests you.

Here are the contents of this guide:

Chapter 1: 5 Questions Every Entrepreneur Wants Answered


Let’s face it, we are great at avoiding tough questions. The stuff that requires us to change our areas of life that might make us feel embarrassed or insecure.

And you know what? Entrepreneurship is often one of those areas…

Entrepreneurship and idea development is less about strategy or tactics as it is about personal preparedness.

It’s about building your maturity, personal leadership, and self discipline as a protective precaution to your dream.

Below, I have collected five important questions many new entrepreneurs are afraid to ask and offered my perspective on them.

Q. I’m really scared to quit my job. The fear of an irregular income freaks me out. Is it possible I don’t have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?

A. Being scared is very common. To be honest, it’s almost impossible to avoid it.

Going out on your own is risky. It requires boldness, bravery, and faith. Fear is the cost of those characteristics.

In my experience, the fear fades as you become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. And with every win (even the small wins), the trust in your entrepreneurial abilities will increase.

One strategy that has helped me stare fear in the face is building a “Plan B List.” Start by taking a moment to write down all the options you have if your business fails.

For example, who would hire you, lend you some money, let you move in with them, and so forth.

Also, list qualities you know to be true of yourself. Maybe a skill that you have or a degree you’ve earned.

These moments of fear can make you second guess the facts of who you really are. By having them written down, you can turn to them for strength in a time of worry.

By relieving the unknown of potential failure, you’ll gain the confidence to push through even the strongest seasons of fear.

Q. I have a really good business idea. Should I share it with anyone? Should I make them sign a non-disclosure agreement first?

A. Remember, good ideas are common, what’s uncommon are people who are disciplined enough to turn them into something.

Also, if your business idea was really that easy to start, then it’s likely not that good an idea in the first place.

I know this might be a hard pill to swallow but as you’ll learn, starting a strong business is difficult.

We need people. And a paranoid entrepreneur only limits the feedback, connections, conversations, opportunities, and open doors that will likely come along their journey.

Q. I don’t have the confidence to do this on my own. Should I get a business partner to help me?

A. A lack of confidence is never a good reason to get a business partner. A business partner should always offer value that you could clearly not afford otherwise.

I see too many new entrepreneurs get hung up in the romance of a partnership because of the “time they will save” or because “they are such a good designer” or because “they are really smart.”

While these are all great reasons to consider a partner, choose wisely. Starting a business with another person is at all levels a marriage.

You share bank accounts, legal commitments, stresses, and you must make decisions, together.

I am not against business partners but I hate seeing great businesses fall apart three years down the road because of a partnership that was never truly right in the first place.

Q. At what point is safe to tell people I’m starting a business? I don’t want to tell my friends and family and then fail. That would be embarrassing…

A. Over the last few years, I’ve watched parents who are pregnant wait until they pass the “12 week window” to announce it to friends and family.

They say things like, “It’s still too early to share.” Personally, I think that’s crazy.

Whether you have a healthy pregnancy or not, the fact that you’re having a baby is worth the celebration alone. And if there is a turn for the worse, you have community there to support you.

It’s the same with a business. This is a huge adventure. A new season of life for you. And you’re going to need community by your side.

By keeping it a secret you’re only isolating yourself from support.

Secondly, when people know you’re starting a business you’re able to think out loud, which is a critical practice in understanding your business at the core.

But keep in mind, some people can be mega downers filled with negativity and unfounded skepticism.

In reality, they see you chasing your dream, and because they dislike their own life, they can’t support you loving yours. Don’t let these people pull you down.

Q. What if this idea is just not working? At what point should I fold my cards and walk away?

A. Earning Ability is my 3rd business in 7 years. One of my ventures lasted 2 years while the other is still going.

And while many people think good entrepreneurs never give up, I’ll shoot back with, “but wise ones do.”

Remember, entrepreneur is not a job title, it’s a lifestyle. For example, this course is not just for “this business idea.” My goal is to teach you how to start a good business. Period.

But a good metric for quitting is if three close friends tell you to give up, you might want to listen.

As the saying goes, when three people tell you you’re drunk, you should take a cab home. It’s okay to fail as long as you try again.

Chapter 2: Make Your Value Proposition by Offering These 11 Benefits


Many entrepreneurs fail by never truly articulating a compelling value proposition.

Establishing a substantial value proposition is critical if you want to move the journey from an “idea” to building a successful company.

The value proposition is the reason why customers turn to one company over another. It solves a customer problem or satisfies a customer need.

In its simplest terms, a value proposition is a positioning statement that explains what benefit you provide for who and how you do it uniquely well.

It describes your target buyer, the problem you solve, and why you’re distinctly better than the alternatives.

Some value propositions may be innovative and represent a new or disruptive offer. Others may be similar to existing market offers, but with added features and attributes.

A value proposition creates value for a customer segment through a distinct mix of elements catering to that segment’s needs.

Values may be quantitative (e.g., price, speed of service) or qualitative (e.g., design, customer experience).

Below I have provided 11 value proposition angles for you to consider.

Angle #1: Your Product or Service Is Fresh

Some value propositions satisfy an entirely new set of needs that customers previously didn’t perceive because there was no similar offering.

This is often, but not always, technology related. Cell phones, for instance, created a whole new industry around mobile telecommunication.

On the other hand, social good companies who give a portion of their profit to charity, is new but not technical.

Angle #2: Your Product or Service Is High Performance

Improving product or service performance has traditionally been a common way to create value.

The personal computer sector has traditionally relied on this factor by bringing more powerful machines to market.

But improved performance has its limits. In recent years, for example, faster PCs, more disk storage space, and better graphics have failed to produce corresponding growth in customer demand.

Angle #3: Your Product or Service Is Personalized

Tailoring products and services to the specific needs of individual customers or customer segments creates value.

In recent years, the concepts of mass customization and customer co-creation have gained importance (think Nike Shoe Designer or Kickstarter).

This approach allows for customized products, services, and experiences while still taking advantage of economies of scale.

Angle #4: Your Product or Service Increases Productivity

Value can be created simply by helping a customer get certain jobs done.

For example, social media agencies help non-marketing companies execute the needed communication across the web.

This allows the customer to focus on what they do best, while your startup gets the job done.

Angle #5: Your Product or Service Is Well Designed

Design is an important but difficult element to measure. In the millennial generation quality design equals credibility.

Also, the fashion and consumer electronics industries, design can be a particularly important part of the value proposition.

Angle #6: Your Product or Service Is Well Branded

Customers may find value in the simple act of using and displaying a specific brand. Using a Mac instead of a PC is a sign of a creative, for example.

On the other end of the spectrum, skateboarders may wear the latest streetwear to show that they are part of the “in” crowd.

Angle #7. Your Product or Service Is Cheaper

Offering similar value at a lower price is a common way to satisfy the needs of price-sensitive customer segments.

But low-price value propositions have important implications for the rest of a business model.

No frills airlines, such as Southwest, easyJet, and Ryanair have designed entire business models specifically to enable low cost air travel.

Another example of a price-based value proposition can be seen in the Nano, a new car designed and manufactured by the Indian conglomerate Tata.

Its surprisingly low price makes the automobile affordable to a whole new segment of the Indian population.

Or consider a Free Model. Your startup might provide free content like podcasts or PDFs where others may charge. But keep in mind, free is only the trail that leads to a transaction.

Angle #8: Your Product or Service Reduces Costs

Helping customers reduce costs is an important way to create value.

Basecamp project management software for example, allows businesses to alleviate the need to hire a full time project manager.

Instead, the software fulfills the need and reduces the cost (time and money) to the business.

Angle #9: Your Product or Service Lowers Risk

Customers value reducing the risks they incur when purchasing products or services.

For a used car buyer, a one-year service guarantee reduces the risk of post-purchase breakdowns and repairs.

Incredible customer support removes the fear of a new customer not being able to figure something out.

Angle #10: Your Product or Service Increases Access

Making products and services available to customers who previously lacked access to them is another way to create value.

This can result from business model innovation, new technologies, or a combination of both.

Airbnb, for instance, allowed regular home owners to become vacation rental managers.

Or Uber, who allowed anyone to become a taxi driver.

Or even Skillshare, who allows anyone with a skill to become a teacher.

Angle #11: Your Product or Service Increases Convenience/Usability

Making things more convenient or easier to use can create substantial value.

With iPod and iTunes, Apple offered customers unprecedented convenience searching, buying, downloading, and listening to digital music. It now dominates the market.

Which of these value proposition areas is your startup focused on?

Chapter 3: Make Your Brand Talkable with These 13 Principles


Growing a talkable brand is a choice.

It’s a choice to stand out and be remarkable. It’s a choice to build meaningful relationships with your customers.

It’s a choice to cut your own path and innovate in your industry. It’s a choice to stand out, attract customers, and drive sales.

But what is a talkable brand? Talkable brands have something captivating and special about them — they draw customers to them.

And once the customer buys, they realize the outside was only a piece of what makes the business special.

You can experience this dynamic by imagining a hot new restaurant opening in your neighborhood. Before your first visit you hear the buzz.

Your friends and colleagues rave about their experience and suggest you try it too.

You might see the reviews and write-ups on Yelp, and you can see the comments online. But until you try the restaurant for yourself, you are only experiencing the external qualities of the brand.

The magic happens when you visit the restaurant and the experience not only lives up to the hype, it exceeds it. The ambiance is great and the food is even better.

The more you visit the restaurant, the more you get to know the people and form an emotional bond and a relationship with the business.

Each experience builds on the last, and soon the restaurant becomes your first choice when dining out.

The restaurant has built a talkable brand. Talkable brands bring together purpose, vision, customer service, passion, operational excellence, and strategy to deliver remarkable customer experiences.

Customers don’t beat a path to the company’s door because of its marketing. Marketing hype scratches off quickly.

Customers seek out talkable brands — and come back again and again — because those companies offer real results and a memorable experience.

Chapter 3.1: Position to Win

brand positioning

Talkable brands play to win.

They focus all their expertise and resources on where they play, who they serve, and how they deliver value to their customers.

Customers choose talkable brands first because they are simply better.

Principle 1: Simple Clarity

Simple clarity is the ability to simply and succinctly describe your business, what makes it unique, and who it serves.

Simple clarity is about speaking to customers how they need to hear it, not how you want to say it.

Simple clarity is the foundation of a talkable brand. When you achieve it your business becomes more findable, referable, memorable, and desirable.

Principle 2: Tilt the Odds

Talkable brands tilt the odds in their favor because they are not all things to all people.

They choose where to play and how they will win to create a sustainable competitive advantage.

Tilt the odds for your company by focusing on niche markets or services where it stands out as the first choice.

Principle 3: Function That Resonates

Function that resonates is the pursuit of delivering value-added services that resonate with your customers.

Customers want substance over flash and will seek out companies who truly understand them and their needs.

What do your customers really want? Identify how you can evolve your services to deliver measurable results for your clients.

Chapter 3.2: Authentic Differentiation

ultimately, brand differentiation is about creating value

Talkable brands don’t behave like faceless companies.

They stand out because they reveal their personality, share their opinions, and build real customer relationships.

Principle 4: Engage the Eye

Talkable brands are visual brands.

They engage their customers’ eyes because they know their customers judge them based on what they see.

Sight is the most important human sense for evaluating brands and making purchase decisions.

Build a strong visual identity for your brand that engages your customers’ eyes and lets them know your business is unique.

Principle 5: Total Customer Experience

Talkable brands are built on a collection of experiences.

It doesn’t matter what the company promotes, it’s what the customers experience that counts. The experience shapes the perception of the brand.

Talkable brands provide their customers with compelling experiences that keep them coming back.

Find what makes your business unique and better, and bake that into the customer experience.

Principle 6: “That’s Interesting. Tell Me More.”

The five best words you can hear a customer say are, “That’s interesting. Tell me more.”

If you can get them to say that, you have caught their attention and they will listen to what you have to say.

Talkable brands cut through the clutter of their market and engage their customers with brand storylines — stories that engage them in a conversation and build relationships first, sales second.

Chapter 3.3: Punch Outside Your Weight Class

punch above the world's expectations #bemorehuman

Talkable Brands stand out in their industry.

They can compete and win against the big guys, because they’re not afraid to blow their own horns.

Make your brand so visible and engaging that it’s hard to ignore.

Principle 7: First Call Advantage

Talkable brands are their customers’ first call when they are ready to buy. It’s a powerful sales position.

A first call advantage sets customer expectations, and provides an opportunity to solve.

Principle 8: Be Everywhere

Talkable brands just seem to be everywhere. They have a buzz about them that’s usually the domain of much larger companies.

Unlike the big guys, they don’t spend outrageous amounts of money on marketing and advertising.

They stand out by growing a community. Grow a community around your brand.

Build and scale relationships so your brand is everywhere.

Principle 9: Pick Your Priorities

The number one value of growing a talkable brand is sales. Talkable brands sell more, faster — provided they are purposeful with their resources.

Small- and mid-sized companies don’t have vast marketing budgets and resources to move the sales needle.

To drive sales and grow a talkable brand, focus on one priority at a time: volume, velocity, or value.

Chapter 3.4: Overcommit, Overdeliver

always deliver more than expected - larry page

Talkable brands are deeply committed to the performance of their products and services and the results they deliver.

That focus on client results empowers their teams to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Principle 10: Branding from the Inside Out

Talkable Brands are built from the inside out.

Their people, culture, and values all come together to foster innovation and deliver remarkable client experiences.

Your company’s people, culture, and values are the glue that holds it together.

Those strong bonds enable your company to attract the right employees and serve your clients even better.

Principle 11: Proud to Serve

The people who grow talkable brands are filled with pride.

They take a great deal of pride in their work, their customers, and the results they deliver. And it shows.

They cultivate adoring customers because they are deeply committed to the work they do.

Pride is powerful. It propels your company to innovate and deliver exceptional services.

Principle 12: Big Goals and Bold Actions

Talkable brands make big goals and take bold actions.

Their goals energize the brand. They create momentum and excitement around a business that is infectious.

People are excited to talk about the company, refer others to it, and buy from it, because of its accomplishments.

Ratchet up the energy and excitement in your company with big goals and bold actions.

Bonus Principle: Choose Your Brand

Talkable brands are built by people: ambitious, impatient, talented people. People who are not satisfied with the status quo or growing just another business.

Talkable brands are built by people who commit to growing them. Choose your brand. Grow a brand that stands out in your industry like an orange tree in an evergreen forest.

Chapter 4: Make Your Website Persuasive with These 15 Neuromarketing Tactics


Neuromarketing is a fancy sounding word, isn’t it? It’s closely related to some even fancier terms like behavioral economics, persuasion research and social psychology.

Here’s a quick definition. Neuromarketing (noun): The science of using cognitive biases to influence the decision making process of consumers in marketing.

In web design, the goal of neuromarketing is to increase conversion rates and the percentage of visitors who take action by using specific cognitive biases in the design and content of the website.

Here is a list of 15 neuromarketing tactics that any website can use. Each is based on a specific bias.

Most of these are simple, subtle, and very common if you know where to look. Every website should be using at least a few of these tactics.

Chapter 4.1: Use Social Proof to Exploit the Conformity Bias

conformity bias

We are all naturally inclined to do what others do. It’s called the “conformity bias.”

For better or worse, it’s how our brains work. Marketers have played to this bias for more than a century by using social proof.

“When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.” — Eric Hoffer

Social proof is evidence of legitimacy. Simply show that others have chosen your product or service.

The goal of social proof is to make any choice other than buying from you seem abnormal.

It would be weird for visitors not to choose your brand. It’s the most common type of neuromarketing in web design because it’s easy to do.

Everybody is using social proof on their websites. You should too! (See what I did there?)

Tactic #1: Testimonials

Testimonials use the words of your audience to give evidence of your quality. They are, by definition, more credible than your marketing copy since the language is authentic.

“When you say it, it’s marketing. When they say it, it’s social proof.”

The best place for a testimonial is on the page of the product or service it relates to. Here, they can support the assertions you make on that page.

Think of them as supportive evidence as you make your case. Your audience is testifying for you.

Pro Tip: Never make a testimonials page. These pages tend to have low traffic since visitors don’t visit websites to read testimonials.

Testimonials are weak when you put them all together. They are strong when they appear throughout the site.

Tactic #2: Endorsements and the Halo Effects

If someone with a strong reputation likes your brand, show it. It makes you more credible through association.

It’s called the “halo effect.” The positive impression the visitor has of them rubs off on you.

Endorsements are everywhere these days. A few kind words from a tweet can easily be copied and pasted into a web page.

Pro Tip: On Twitter, use the “favorite” button (the little star) to collect kind words people have said about your brand.

When you favorite a tweet, it shows that you’re grateful for the compliment, but also makes it easier to find later.

Just go back and look at your favorited tweets. It will be there, waiting to be added to your site.

Tactic #3: Social Media Shares

This is a common type of social proof found on blogs everywhere. Social media sharing buttons often show the number of shares across your various social networks.

Counters that show the number of comments have the same effect. “Wow, this was tweeted 85 times? It must be good?”

Warning: Do not use widgets that show the shares or comments if the numbers are low. “Whoa, zero people have tweeted this post? I’m leaving this ghost town…”

Tactic #4: Social Media Widgets

Some social widgets do more than show the numbers. They show the people.

The Facebook box shows who in your network likes that website. This is powerful proof because you know these people.

“Hey, Kurt likes Warby Parker? It must be good…”

Tactic #5: Trust Seals: Certifications, Memberships & Awards

Faces are great. Logos are good too. Industry associations, chambers of commerce, BBB, certifications, B-Corp Seal, and awards are all trust-building credentials.

Put them all together (in a “trust box”) on an important page (like the home page), but not in a prominent place (the footer is fine).

Tactic #6: Number of Happy Customers

Think of the McDonald’s sign, “Billions Served.” Tell visitors how many customers you’ve helped.

Specific numbers look more credible; very large numbers may make you look like McDonald’s.

“They launched 72 websites last year? They must know what they’re doing.”

Tactic #7: “Our Most Popular” Best-Seller

The popularity contest is everywhere. Just look at books, music, and movies: New York Times Bestseller List, The Billboard 100, highest grossing movie at the box office.

The idea is simply to show that others are buying.

Ecommerce sites: create a “best selling” product category. Also add information about popularity to the product descriptions of the best sellers.

Software subscription websites: on your pricing page, indicate which option is most popular.

Blogs: use a widget showing “what’s hot,” most popular, and most commented.

Bloggers: write a roundup of your top posts

Tactic #8: Studies and Statistics

Numbers sound scientific and build credibility quickly, especially odd numbers. Also, numerals stand out in a line of letters, attracting attention.

Find the one statistic that emphasizes the importance of what you do and make it prominent on your site.

Can’t find one? Create your own. Studies used in marketing aren’t necessarily rigorous.

A short survey of 100 people can help you find a super compelling statistic. And who knows what else you might learn.

“4 out of 5 marketers recommend using short surveys to create statistics”

Tactic #9: “As Seen In” Press Mentions

Just like an endorsement, a write up in the press builds credibility. But press mentions come and go quickly. In the end, few people in your audience are likely to see the piece.

So the best way to get durable value from a press mention is to add an “as seen in” logo to your website. For web marketers, this is one of the biggest benefits of PR.

Pro Tip: Guest blogging is a type of PR, so the placement of a guest post can also create an “as seen in” opportunity.

Tactic #10: Reviews

Star reviews are standard on big ecommerce sites. They show visitors that others like the products.

Stars also appear in Google search results, as long as the pages are tagged properly with “microformatting.”

This can provide a small traffic boost, since the product pages are more visually prominent in Google when they rank.

Chapter 4.2: Use Priming to Exploit the Anchoring Bias

anchoring bias

The human brain tends to over-rely on the first piece of information it receives when making decisions.

We are “anchored” to this first piece of data. All subsequent information is viewed in the context of the first.

So marketers “prime” their audiences through context. If you see big numbers up front, you’re thinking big.

Small numbers? You’re thinking small. This is why priming is important in pricing and negotiations.

Tactic #11: Plans and Pricing Pages

How did Williams-Sonoma nearly double the sales of their high-end breadmaker?

They added an even more expensive model (source). This set price expectations of shoppers higher, making the second most expensive option seem more affordable.

Consider how these two pricing pages put visitors in different mindsets…

$249 seems like a lot to me…

$150 sounds pretty reasonable!

Anchoring can easily backfire on ecommerce websites. A big price discount on the homepage may put visitors in a price-sensitive mood.

Make sure there is always at least one higher-priced product on your homepage.

Chapter 4.3: Use Scarcity to Exploit the Loss Aversion Bias

loss aversion bias

When making decisions, the brain tends to overvalue losses and undervalue gains.

We are generally more worried about losing something than excited about gaining something. This bias is called “loss aversion.”

Loss aversion is so powerful, shoppers who are normally courteous will literally trample each other to death during the holidays.

According to Black Friday Death Count, there was only one death in 2013, down from two in 2012.

Why do we do this? We’re scared we’ll miss an opportunity to buy at a discount.

It’s an easy neuromarketing technique to work into web design. The goal is to remind people what they will lose by not buying or becoming a lead, or to create urgency by indicating scarcity.

12. Limited Supply

Scarcity makes people worried they’ll miss their chance. This is called #FOMO or “fear of missing out.”

If you have a limited supply, be sure to let visitors know (“This event sold out last time”).

Many marketers selling products with unlimited supplies create artificial scarcity.

For example, Amazon offers “in stock protection” to many publishers, allowing them to print on demand and ship even if they don’t have a book in stock.

That’s an unlimited supply! But they still show inventory to indicate the current physical supplies are limited.

13. Early Bird Registration, Countdown Clocks, Sale Ends Saturday

Time is always scarce. If you have an offer that expires, let visitors know.

Ecommerce sites selling holiday gifts can let visitors know how many days they have left to order in time to get it there. This works for every holiday.

(By the way, every day is a holiday. Happy Northern Hemisphere Hoodie-Hoo Day!)

Loss aversion is also the psychology behind early bird registration. This second deadline and a second chance to make visitors feel they may lose an opportunity.

14. Trial Periods, Free Samples & the Endowment Effect

People will pay more to keep something they already have than to get something they don’t already own. This is called the “endowment effect” and it works both online and offline.

The idea is to get the product or service into the hands of the customer, knowing that once they have it, they’ll feel ownership of it …and they’ll feel loss at the idea of giving it up.

Sites that offer free trials can take advantage of this with a “Don’t lose your access to…” call to action.

It’s because of the endowment effect that subscription websites offer free trials. Sites that sell books offer free chapters. Ecommerce sites offer free samples.

Chapter 4.4: Use Action Colors to Exploit the Von Restorff Effect

von restorff effect

Neuromarketers and usability pros use special cameras to track eye movements on web pages. The goal is to discover what visitors look at (and don’t) to guide design decisions and get better results.

Let’s look at an eye tracking study to see what web design tricks we can learn.

15. Colors and Action

In 1933, psychiatrist and researcher Hedwig Von Restorff published a paper explaining how visually prominent items are more likely to be remembered.

It’s called the “isolation effect” and it works because the eye and brain are constantly scanning for interruptions in patterns.

Using an “action color” that contrasts with the brand and the design itself is just one of many ways that web designers can guide visitors toward successful outcomes.

Find a good designer and trust him or her!

Brilliant? Or Creepy?

Some brain science-based web design techniques make a huge difference. Others are so subtle, they may give only a tiny improvement, making them worthwhile only if you have a lot of traffic.

They might make you want to take a shower to wash off the creepiness, but once you’re aware of them, you’ll see them everywhere.

Remember, 100% of your target audience has brains. B2B or B2C, lead generation, or ecommerce, it doesn’t matter. Keep those brains in mind in your web design.

And as consumers, we should be aware of how websites are taking advantage of our own biases.

Chapter 5: Make Your Startup Thrive by Taking These 8 Actions

actionable steps that will help your startup thrive

A wise man once told me, “The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” Hopefully I’ve set you on a path to create an exciting and profitable startup.

The first major hurdle is launching; then, getting your first customer; and then, proving the concept and generating a wage for yourself in a scalable way.

What happens after all that?

Now it’s time to run your business, and your decisions from here out will make or break it in the long term.

Many businesses don’t survive, so what do you do to keep yours growing?

Despite a lot of failures, I’ve managed to stay in business for more than 7 years. Here are some of the personal philosophies that helped me get there.

#1: Press into Assumptions

You are better off launching quickly and paying attention to real data rather than making assumptions.

This doesn’t just apply to launching; it’s a general business principle that you can apply for almost every decision.

Most of the assumptions you have prior to and after launching your business will be wrong.

– Before the iPhone, people assumed you needed a keyboard or a stylus on your phone. Five years on, the BlackBerry and styluses were all but extinct.

– In the ’70s people assumed no one wanted a computer in their home. Now everyone has a computer in their pocket and some people wear them on their wrist or their face!

– In the early 2000s people were happy copying their data to USB sticks. Now they use Dropbox.

– In the 2000s, people assumed mass market electric sports cars were impossible. 10 years later Tesla brought out the mass produced electric Model S and won car of the year.

Your assumptions don’t have to be as dramatic. The business world is changing rapidly, and small things don’t get tested.

If you have an open mind, you can easily test your assumptions and those assumptions made by others in your industry.

  • Why does everyone in your industry do things a certain way?
  • What do your customers really like about your service?
  • Why aren’t people buying your product?
  • Why are they buying your product?
  • Are people using your product?
  • How are they using it?
  • Why do they love it?
  • What do they tell people when they refer you?
  • Are certain parts of your product necessary?
  • Do you need an office?
  • Do you need a business card?
  • Do you need a logo?

Similar to the examples above, there may be assumptions in your industry that have prevented people from doing certain things.

There’s a very good chance they haven’t been tested recently. One small discovery might be enough to kickstart a whole new business or product.

#2: Find Solutions as Problems Arise

A lot of business owners spend time solving problems they don’t have. Rob Walling refers to this as “premature optimization.”

Examples include:

  1. Getting a flawless credit card payment process setup before they have customers.
  2. Optimizing their website before they have traffic.
  3. Hiring staff before they have work for them.
  4. Investing in the best systems before they have enough work to warrant it.

Normally these decisions stem from believing that when you have a problem, you won’t be able to resolve it quickly.

Yet this assumption is often wrong. Many of these issues can be resolved quickly.

Here are some examples from our own business:

1. Earning Ability had 50 recurring customers before it had a help desk.

We were using Google docs, Podio, and a shared email inbox. When the business outgrew that system, it moved to a help desk system in one day.

2. I launched Earning Ability with an MVP (minimum viable product) site that I built off a template.

Once I had proven the business and had enough traffic to the site (20,000 visits per month), my team invested $20,000+ in a professional design and it was live within a month.

These days you can solve most business problems quickly. There’s no reason to spend any time on problems you don’t have.

Doing so will only cost you valuable time and money. It will take attention away from the work you should be doing.

There’s a good chance that if you are a new business, you only have one problem: not enough customers. That’s where you should be spending your time.

#3: Benchmark to the Stars

Launching quickly is important early on when the conditions are uncertain. Once you have a clear path, however, quality is more important.

For example, with Earning Ability, the first website took me 10 hours to put together.

When it was clear the team was going ahead with the business, I put up a new site, and made sure it was well designed and communicated better than anyone else in the industry.

Any time you feel yourself wondering if what you are doing is good enough, compare it to the best:

  • Don’t ask your friends to pick between three logos. Instead, compare them all to Apple. If it’s nowhere near as good, try again.
  • If you write a blog post, compare it to one on KISSmetrics.com. If it’s not as good, rewrite it.
  • If you launch a website, compare it to bench.com or simple.com. If it’s nowhere near as good, then you can do better.

It’s often asking a lot for a small business to reach the levels of an established leader. You will be compared to leaders, and if you don’t measure up, then people will notice.

By comparing yourself to the best, you set higher expectations for yourself, and you will be better for it.

#4: Outlearn Your Competition

We must remember that startups exist not just to make stuff, make money, or even serve customers. They exist for their teams to learn how to build a sustainable business.

The companies that learn the quickest, win. This is partly because they do not make decisions based on assumptions and partly because they learn from their predecessors.

While your competitors are debating which assumption is better than the other, you can build a competitive advantage on data, facts, and wisdom.

#5: Search for Momentum

Do more of what is working. I’ve worked on over ten different business ideas and only one of them has really taken off.

The best thing I’ve done is make sure my attention was focused on the one that had the momentum.

It would be easy for us to gloat in achieving what Earning Ability had in the first year of business and think it’s a result of the team’s great work.

The truth is: I have made big mistakes, just as regularly as I have with other failed businesses.

  • I completely butchered our ideal customer profile, spending months chasing the wrong kind of customer (most of them would later churn)
  • The team spent months marketing to audiences for a grand total of a few thousand dollars, refuting one of the major assumptions I’d made launching the business in the first place
  • I had changed the product offering model regularly, only to change it back months later
  • I launched a bunch of new products, all of which failed and took away valuable time and attention from the core business

Once momentum kicked in, these had little impact. In a job, this kind of incompetence would be grounds for dismissal and would cripple a lot of companies.

In fact, one month Earning Ability started the month by losing lots of money on a failed marketing strategy. This put the company at negative 6% growth on day one.

Getting to 0% was going to be a struggle, not to mention hitting the 10% growth goal.

However, by the end of the month Earning Ability had grown by 15%. Momentum got us there. People kept buying products.

Being part of a business that fails is tough. You feel like you are doing great work and you probably are. But no matter what you do, you can’t win.

You improve your product, up-skill yourself, talk to your customers, read books, change pricing — you name it. Success eludes you.

On the other hand, when things are on a roll, no matter how many mistakes you make, things keep going in the right direction.

You screw up a few jobs, miss a few deals, waste time on the wrong things, get distracted. Things still power on.

I’ve been in both positions in the last 5 years.

From losing 90% of my savings on a startup plagued with chronic failure to a business that was profitable in 23 days and had over 5,000 customers in the first year or so. Doing more or less the same things.

Momentum is a powerful force, so keep an eye out for what is working and do more of it.

#6: Stay Pumped or Die

Your own personal happiness and motivation are the most important keys to the success of your business.

I know plenty of people who have created great businesses, taken them to a point, and then lost all motivation.

“You should be more excited about Monday than you are about Friday. If that’s not the case, there’s a good chance things aren’t going to work out.”

If you are struggling with motivation, join a forum, start a mastermind, find a co-founder, hire people to do the hard work, and get back to what you’re good at. Take the warning signs seriously.

#7: Retention Is Greater Than Conversion

The only thing that will kill a recurring business is that more customers leave than sign up. It’s hard to get new customers, but it’s easy for them to leave.

You need to do everything to keep your customers and the data you get from churning customers is priceless.

Make sure you are delivering constant value for your existing customers. If someone does leave, don’t send them a long and detailed survey, send them this — it’s a Jay Abraham trick.

Subject: Did we do something wrong?

Body: Hey [first name], I noticed you cancelled your subscription, did we do something wrong?

Most people will reply to this and you’ll find out the real reason people are leaving. Figure out why and deal with any issues that arise.

#8: Kill Bad Customers

Difficult customers will waste your time, kill your confidence, and destroy your motivation (and soul). No amount of money is worth working with a difficult customer.

Every difficult customer can be replaced by a better one, generally much quicker than you think.

The work required to replace them is a far better use of your time than any work spent trying to help them.

My team prides themselves in sniffing out potentially difficult customers prior to signup and scaring them off.

I also cheer when the team lets a bad customer go or they leave on their own accord. I want to work with good people, and my team values time and group sanity.

Normally it’s simply people being unreasonable.

Customers with high expectations are great because they can push your business forward, but some people are unreasonable and you are better off without them.

Chapter 6: Make Customers Find You Using the 5 C’s of Content Marketing

content marketing

There are three main types of content that you need to create over time in order to perform effective content marketing: core, connection, and conversion.

Copywriting follows, because you’ve earned the right to make an offer to your audience.

First, however, you need to provide the initial, crucial “C” — context. Without it, none of the content “types” will be effective in meeting your business objectives.

Let’s take a closer look at what I call the “5 C’s”of effective content marketing.

1. Context

The critical first step of any successful content marketing strategy is the context within which content is developed and delivered to the intended audience.

Mess this up, and you’re going to waste a lot of time and effort for not much, if any, return.

Sales and marketing 101 says that you focus on the problems and desires of the prospects, and match those up with your product or service.

Content marketing is no different, except you’re delivering independent value with content before you attempt to make the sale.

The internet has disrupted the traditional sales process, allowing the prospective customer or client to begin on their own terms via search and social media.

This means savvy marketers must adapt to the information-empowered prospect in a fashion that more resembles courting than it does selling.

When someone has a problem or desire, what they’re really contemplating is a journey of transformation, whether large or small in scope.

The job of the content marketer is to mentor — or coach — the prospect through this journey, and at some point your product or service becomes a necessary and desirable way to complete the journey.

Thinking of the content you produce as coaching advice is especially apt.

The word “coach” derives from kocsi, which is Hungarian for “carriage.” Your content is the vehicle which carries the prospect on their journey of transformation.

Content marketing starts the sales process in a way that doesn’t leave the prospect with the feeling they’ve been sold to.

Further, great content differentiates you from the competition in ways that traditional features and benefits fail to in a cluttered marketplace.

2. Core

As the name implies, core content is the foundational topic(s) of your website, as well as your overall content marketing strategy.

A core is something that is basic, essential, indispensable, and the chief foundation upon which something is constructed or developed.

These topics are what people need to know to make use of your website and do business with you.

Once developed, these beginner, or “101” level tutorials/articles can be cross referenced from your other content, which provides an exceptional front door for new visitors and subscribers.

These are also the topics that you want to rank well in search engines for. And when approached in a strategic fashion, this content can do very well with Google, et al.

The key is creating compelling content that’s worth linking to and sharing, and then finding a way (social, email, etc.) to get the word out.

It also means aggregating lots of high-value content on one page that is both compelling to people and easily understood by Google.

For McDonald’s Canada, core content naturally revolves around the food they serve.

In keeping with the theme “what do people need to know to do business with you,” the fast food chain’s Our Food, Your Questions program has taken 10,000 questions from consumers about their concerns and answered them all on the website.

This kind of foundational content is golden for site visitors and search engines.

The benefit of core content is twofold:

  • Fantastic foundational content that site visitors and subscribers can learn from, refer to, share in social media, and link to from their own sites
  • High search engine rankings resulting from real people “voting” on the quality of the resource thanks to social sharing and linking

Core content demonstrates that SEO is not about tricking an algorithm; it’s about creating content resources so valuable that people want to share them and cite them as authoritative on the topic.

3. Connection

Connection content is all about teaching aspects of your core topics in a highly engaging way.

Instructional design experts will tell you that the key to higher comprehension and retention is engagement by the learner, and with content marketing, we’re educating people so that they’re able to do business with us.

What makes for engaging content? Think of connection content as a combination of meaning and fascination.

Meaning: This is the informational aspect of your content that your regular readers, listeners, or viewers look to you for.

This is also a topic that matters to the prospective audience you’re trying to reach through social media sharing.

Another way to think of this important aspect of your content is relevance.

Content must be highly relevant to your existing and prospective audience, but I prefer meaning, as it implies an extra level of value that makes people treasure your startup.

Fascination: The fascinating element your content is where your creativity shines.

It’s the fun, shocking, or entertaining aspect of your content that makes people pay attention and share with their friends and colleagues.

Often you’re using an analogy, metaphor, or simile to make an associated connection between something cool and an important topic that might otherwise be pretty boring.

Not only does this attract and hold attention, it also aids in comprehension and retention for your audience, which in turn increases your subject-matter authority with them (because they actually learned something).

You can spot the mix from smart headlines alone (meaning in italics, fascination in bold) using musical, cinematic, and philosophical references among many other approaches:

  • 5 Ways an Introvert Can Build a Thriving Online Audience
  • Tyler Durden’s 8 Rules of Meaningful Innovation
  • Stoicism for Modern Stresses: 5 Lessons from An Old School Man

Many marketers have trouble with connection content out of fear of indifference from a part of the audience who won’t “get” or appreciate the angle.

The result is content intended to appeal to everyone, which in turn appeals to no one.

The point of connection content is to bond strongly with someone rather than boring everyone. You can please another segment of your audience with the next piece of content, and so on.

4. Conversion

When it comes to conversion content, I’m not talking conversion in the traditional sales or lead generation context.

Rather, it’s more like in the evangelical sense. They are born again followers of your startup.

What do people need to believe to do business with you?

You’re not trying to alter people’s larger worldview here — that shouldn’t be necessary if you identified context correctly from the beginning.

What you’re doing is framing the problems and desires of your audience so they match up with your products and services.

One scenario is your direct competition in the marketplace. Most consumers report an inability to differentiate between various offerings, and immediately resort to price comparisons.

Conversion content allows you to differentiate on philosophy, worldview, and belief in a way that product or service features and benefits cannot.

Whole Foods sets forth their Four Pillars of Healthy Eating on their blog as an example of conversion content.

The article leads with “At Whole Foods Market, we believe…” which indicates that you also need to believe in the four pillars of Whole Foods, Plant Strong, Healthy Fats, and Nutrient Dense, or you’re more likely headed to Safeway.

Often, your direct competitors are not the issue. The problem comes from those whose business models create brand or message confusion among your prospective customers or clients.

You can satisfy desires and solve problems with your content day in and out. But if your audience doesn’t believe what’s necessary to do business with you, they’re not really prospects after all.

Remember, people don’t buy what you sell, they buy why you sell it.

5. Copy

In the traditional advertising and direct marketing worlds, copywriting is what powers the entire message.

In other words, an attempt to “push” products and services in a way that amounts to proposing marriage before the first date. Which in my opinion, is never the right way.

Content marketing, on the other hand, is more of a seduction. A strategy that courts and coaches prospects in a way that’s agreeable to them, much more like how dating actually works.

The irony is that the subtle “pull” approach is much more persuasive than the in-your-face “push” approach — again, much like dating.

Element s of the old-school direct response copywriting applied to the modern content copywriting work exceptionally well for gaining attention, increasing engagement, and prompting action.

That’s why great headlines, compelling openings, riveting storytelling, and well-formatted text are hallmarks of great online journalism, as well.

With content marketing, you’re accomplishing the bulk of the sales process without overtly “selling” — getting people to know, like, and trust you, and educating them so they can do business with you.

By accomplishing that, you’ve effectively earned the right to “pop the question” by making an offer.

At this point, traditional copywriting techniques are alive and well.

You’ve got to craft an irresistible offer, communicate benefits, creatively overcome lingering objections, reverse risk, and other tried-and-true copy fundamentals.

Great copy still matters, but you don’t have to hit people over the head to get them to buy. That is, if your contextual content marketing strategy was on target to begin with.

Stated another way, your content is like a mentor who takes the prospect on a buyer’s journey. What you’re really doing is telling a story over time, with the prospect in the role of the hero.