2010: Lessons Learnt
The year has come to a close and what a year it has been! In this post, let me share part of my journey as well as lessons learnt in 2010.
1) Marketing Matters
At the beginning of this year, I was already an entrepreneur and (almost) completely self-employed. In fact, I had already been entrepreneurial for several years and it had been a long time since I’d had a job. However, while I was doing ok, I certainly wasn’t doing great. I sometimes worried about having to pay the bills, is what I’m saying.
I had always been a content creator and a product creator, but never much of a marketer. Sometime in 2008, I began taking marketing a little more seriously and pulled something of a personal branding stunt that landed me an interesting contract. But still, I was mainly a content creator. I believed that people would see the value of what I offered by themselves and I thought of marketing as somehow wrong and manipulative.
It wasn’t until late 2009 that I got serious about marketing and started really digging in and learning about it. And I quickly realized that marketing was much more significant than I’d ever imagined. Not only is it a hugely important driving force for any business, it’s also an almost fundamental human skill. Marketing is about the ability to get a messag across in an effective and powerful way. And marketing is also about listening and relating to people, because unless you offer something that someone needs, the best campaign in the world will do no good.
Without marketing, there is no business. And marketing is fundamentally about effective communication (although few internet marketers make it seem so).
2) Systems Are Important
Let me repeat that: Systems are important. And what I mean by systems is anything that handles a recurring process in your business. Signing up new contacts, receiving payments, refunding payments, labelling packages, shipping packages, following up with customers, gettin the paperwork right,… anything recurring.
Here’s how I learnt this: Above, I mentioned an “interesting contract”. Without boring you with too many details, I basically got an exclusive drop-shipping contract with a large retailer of a niche-product in Europe. I got this thanks to some personal branding (and a lot of hard work) that I’d been doing in the niche. Consequently, I was in charge of an online store for the past two years. In many ways, the store was a huge success. Mainly thanks to a need in the market, combined with the brand I had built around myself, business took off quickly and kept growing at a steady pace.
There were two problems: The first problem was that while revenue was very high, profits were minimal. There were too many costs associated with shipping and handling and all that. The far greater problem, as I soon discovered, was that the systems this store was built on (e-commerce system, warehouse-management and shipping etc.) were rubbish. They were poorly implemented and lacked flexibility. When working on the orders, I had to have up to five different windows with different programs, spreadsheets and applications open and do a lot of manual processing, even for the simplest tasks.
This meant I was spending hours a day, every day, doing what a few good automation systems could have handled in seconds. And it also meant that there were more problems and support tickets than necessary (lots of human labour = lots of human error).
Bottom line: the business was run sub-optimally, wasted my time, didn’t make enough money and didn’t leave enough time in the day to do the thing that would have increased profits: Marketing.
Automation systems were the difference between this business being a stellar success and me quitting after two years, having given up hope.
3) Some Things Are Worth the Wait
After a very good run with my first free products offered in the IM space as well as my first paid product, Backlink Battleplan, I got stuck. And I remained stuck for months on end. If you’ve been following along, you probably noticed this: There are several products that I talked about, but still haven’t released and I’ve been mentioning “technical difficulties” more often than I like to admit.
You maybe also noticed the epic post about membership site software and know that my own solution for memberships, product delivery and affiliate management has been pending for months.
Let me be clear: All of this has been very, very frustrating. But it’s also been necessary. Due to my previous experience with shoddy systems I will not settle for anything less than the best. I want the best product delivery system, the best autoresponder and the best affiliate program. No compromise. I’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money on my search for this perfect solution. And while, as of this writing, it’s still not 100% finished, it’s getting there and it will be worth it.
When I create a product, I take longer than most product creators. Because I don’t settle for “ok”. And it pays off, for me and for you.
I’m building an affiliate and product delivery system that will pay off. Big time. For me, but mainly for you.
4) Business Partner Heaven/Hell
In the past, I’ve worked on joint projects with other people and been bitterly disappointed. I can’t even remember how many joint ventures failed because some of the partners involved didn’t pull their weight. And yes, sometimes I was one of the ones not pulling their own weight, too.
Being involved in a partner-project where things aren’t working can be hell. It can be very frustrating and cost a lot of time and money.
On the other hand, if you have a business partner where the cooperation is smooth and dynamic and all partners are equally ambitious and excited about the project, it’s pure bliss. If you can work in a team where everyone can contribute with their greatest strengths while others do the tasks they’d be overwhelmed with, it’s amazing how much progress you can make.
I’ve been extremely fortunate this year, to find several business partners that amaze me with their levels of excellence and ambition and where we have a great dynamic of complementing each other. And needless to say, as a result of this, some very exciting things are under way!
Taking time to find the right business partners is another thing that can be very much worth the wait.
5) Finding My Voice
This is something that’s difficult to put into words. Gradually, over the course of the year, I’ve found my voice in this market. I am slowly but surely becoming more authentic and more confident in my content. It’s not that I ever tried to be anything but authentic, it’s just that it didn’t work right from the start. This is something that content creation of any kind is great for: The more you write, create and record, the more you find your own voice.
It’s very liberating to speak in your own voice and be heard. And if you’re not there yet, just keep creating content and keep digging until your find your own voice.
6) The Human Learning Machine
The human brain is amazing. It’s as amazing as the education system I went through is flawed.
Just over a year ago, I did not know how to build a website myself (I always had to hire people to do it for me), I had limited knowledge of marketing and I knew absolutely nothing about all the systems and technology that drive online marketing. Fast forward to now and I have a portfolio of over 30 sites I built myself, I have a reasonably good practical and theoretical understanding of marketing and I know the technology behind it all as well as any non-programmer can know it.
I was always a barely-good-enough-to-pass student. My grades were never great and I had difficulties learning. Yet, in the past year, I have soaked up more information and gained more practical experience than in all my years in school. So it seems, at least.
The human brain is a learning machine. Get into the trenches and learn-by-doing on a topic that you are truly interested in and amazing things can happen. No matter what your grades looked like.
If I had to narrow all of my journey in 2010 down to one thing, it would be gratitude. Of course, it’s fantastic to have income streams that take care of all the bills and then some. And I’m grateful for that. Much more than that, I’m grateful for the people I’ve connected with, grateful for the experiences I’ve gained and grateful for the opportunity to work with and help people in their marketing efforts.
In other words: Thank you (yes, You).