When I was very young I knew I wasn’t like the other kids.
I had no desire to conform to accepted practices at the time, nor did I see myself following in their footsteps as we grew into adults.
It was very clear to me that I would never have a “career”, or be comfortable working in a set environment for set hours toiling every day to grow someone else’s idea. I had to be in charge and I had to have the freedom to explore my own ideas unencumbered.
Of course I realized I needed money. Money is the fuel that powers freedom in our society.
My parents were not rich and we didn’t win any money in the lottery that my father loved buying tickets for. As a result I concluded business was my most likely path to financial freedom.
I Had A Simplistic View About Business
At the time I had no real role models for what makes a successful business besides what my mother was up to selling crafts at local markets on weekends.
Perhaps because of her influence and what I observed at the markets, I came to see business essentially about two things –
- The product(s) you sell
- How you reach people to tell them about it
In my mother’s case she went to the markets to find customers and made the products herself with her bare hands during the week. As far as I was concerned this required too many early morning starts and hours toiling over products with very small profit margins (to this day I am still impressed that she was able to support our family for so many years doing this!).
At the time I thought advertising was the secret to finding customers. Television and radio ads, bus posters, billboards – all these seemed to me how most big businesses got customers.
My focus at the time was about coming up with a great product, some kind of killer idea that I could sell with advertising.
Although I had fun fantasizing about business ideas and ad campaigns I could run while riding the bus to school, nothing really came of it. I knew business was in my future, but I wasn’t sure what form it would take.
The Internet Changes Everything
In a case of fortuitous timing, just as I turned 18 and entered my university years, the internet also came of age as a platform to do business.
Although much of the talk at the time was hype due to the dot com bubble, after it burst and the real companies were still left standing, it was clear that the internet was the new killer app for business.
…And boy did it appeal to me, especially as an introvert!
I could sit behind my computer and sell to anyone all over the world, and I could start small all by myself since the capital outlay was minimal online (no employees, no office, no physical goods – brilliant!).
As a result of this shift in focus, no longer was I thinking in terms of what product I could create, instead I was thinking about what digital service or “online portal” I could offer to start the next eBay, or Yahoo! or even Napster (despite the legal issues it faced at the time).
My first taste of online success came from essentially owning an online magazine – a website that published content about the card game Magic: The Gathering. I also had a small e-commerce store selling cards from the site, but the same issues that faced my mum – long hours for small margins, was evident in selling cards too.
I much preferred the content model, earning money from advertising while I spent my time creating articles and building an audience.
After graduating from university at 22 years old, my first full time income stream came from a business that merged all of my understanding of business up to that point.
I created an online company that delivered a service (proofreading) and I used a very traditional format of advertising to get customers – printed posters placed on university campuses.
It was a great business – a true lifestyle business that leveraged the power of the internet as a tool to connect people. I made money as the middle-man selling what was essentially a digital service provided by humans. I had created a tiny version of Elance just for proofreading, long before the outsourcing craze took off.
Enter Direct Response Marketing
Despite enjoying some success online, I hadn’t actually learned much about marketing.
I was reading and studying a lot about startups, but these stories gave me the impression that founders just came up with a great idea and the internet handled the rest. They were beneficiaries of good timing and viral word of mouth growth.
That was essentially my hope too – I’d have an idea that was good enough that the marketing would handle itself. Unfortunately that was not the case.
By this time I had grown out of playing the card game, so I sold my magic card magazine site. I had also concluded that I’d taken the proofreading business about as far as I wanted to. I just didn’t care enough about it to put in the effort to expand the service.
I hadn’t been “lucky” in terms of my company just exploding thanks to word of mouth. I realized that any further expansion would only come from good old fashioned marketing. I’d have to reach more people and the idea of focusing on a proofreading company just didn’t excite me.
It was around this time that I first discovered a new breed of internet marketer – the direct response marketer.
There were guys online using email to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of digital products. Sometimes they didn’t even have their own products, they were making money selling affiliate products. Their entire business was just an email list, which was like some kind of magic money-printing machine.
I started learning about this world, and began getting the kind of education I really needed – an education in direct response marketing.
I learned about copywriting, sales psychology, persuasion, and why the “list” was the most important asset in a business.
To this point I had used email to market my business. I had an email newsletter for my card game website, and I even used it to make money selling sponsorships, but it was a trickle of income at best.
The proofreading company also had an email list, but it wasn’t the right kind of business model to really benefit from it, nor was I motivated to expand that channel because it meant writing emails about proofreading – how boring!
I continued to study direct response marketing, but since my proofreading company was my bread and butter income source, I didn’t have a way to really practice what I was learning.
I had also just started down a different path… I created my first blog.
Blogging As A Magazine
After a brief false start with a proofreading blog for my company (again – boring!), in January 2005 I created a hobby blog to tell stories as an entrepreneur (the blog you are currently reading).
At the time all bloggers were running what basically were magazines. They made money from advertising (the majority relied on Google AdSense, which was the new killer ad platform at the time) and affiliate income, in particular selling products from Amazon.com.
Since I had run a card game magazine site as my first successful website I understood how blogs could make money. I just needed to build an audience and then find sponsors to buy banner ads on my site.
Unfortunately despite learning about the power of direct response marketing via email, I continued to ignore the wisdom and focused on the magazine model.
I did okay during my first year of blogging, making up to $1,000 a month by the end of the year. By my second year I was making as much from my blog in advertising income and affiliate product sales as I was making from my proofreading company – plus I was enjoying it a whole lot more!
During this time I continued to learn about direct response email marketing and finally took the advice I heard many years ago – I started an email list. I decided to offer traffic advice for bloggers via a weekly newsletter. I placed an optin form on my blog and immediately had about ten to twenty new subscribers each day.
I Become An Information Marketer
It was around 2006 that information marketing exploded. The big million dollar launches were becoming common, more and more stories surfaced from people running membership sites, and selling digital home study courses, making hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Although I was hesitant at first and ended up wasting eight months on an ebook I never finished, in 2007 I finally launched my first ever information product, a course about how to make money blogging called Blog Mastermind.
The course did brilliantly, and not just for me as an income source. Many graduates went on to build hugely successful blogs, some making more money than I did (you can see the graduate success stories here).
My success with a blog training course lead me to release two more in the next two years, which were best-sellers as well.
My blog had grown and was feeding my email list to the tune of 50 to 100 new subscribers a day. I sold my proofreading company (and all my other websites I had bought over the years as an investment strategy) and became one hundred percent a blogger and trainer.
By 2009 I was making half a million a year. As far as I could tell, I was one of the first bloggers to truly combine the power of direct response email marketing, blogging and information marketing into one business.
The Burn Out
By 2010 I was tired of creating training courses. I enjoyed the process, but after creating three fairly substantial programs I was ready for something new.
In some ways I was torn. Logic (and financial sense) dictated that I should ride the same wave even further. I had built up a solid following and I was good at what I did.
I was asked to become a paid speaker and could have made a million or more a year on the speaking circuit, but I dreaded the travel and all the time on stage. I just wasn’t ready for that step.
By this time I was very well versed in direct response marketing. I continuously studied materials from modern-day information marketers and legendary direct response marketers from the past.
I was especially interested in the concept of a “sales funnel”. I knew I was leaving money on the table because all I had were three courses, all of which I would shut down by the year 2011 because they were in need of updating.
My head was full of all the lessons I had learned over the years. I had results too – I had made money using different business models. None of this knowledge was available beyond a haphazard collection of articles buried in my blog.
I had a vision for a proper product catalogue – and not just because I knew I could make more money. I wanted to get everything I had experienced down into digital training programs so I could help more people and always have a place to direct them for advice.
I could see myself having a range of free email courses and reports for people to get started, then entry level products, membership sites and flagship courses. I knew this was the next step for my information product business.
Unfortunately by this time I was over it. I dreaded writing new email series, creating sales pages and products. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to create a startup company that was not about me as a trainer.
And that’s exactly what I did.
The Tech Startup
I was devastated by the loss and crushed by what I was exposed to in the hospital. It was a grounding experience to say the least, and gave me a perspective on life and death that still impacts me every day.
I was thankful that I could spend almost every day with my mother during this time because I didn’t have a job. My business had given me the kind of freedom I wanted, I just never saw it leading to this situation.
Prior to my mother having her stroke I committed to my new tech startup called CrankyAds. It was an advertising management system using a similar business model to my proofreading company, connecting two groups of people using technology (bloggers and advertisers this time).
Unfortunately due to the challenges of software development I never got to realize the vision for what I wanted the software to do. I also had the realization that I entered an industry I did not want to be in.
As a result my co-founders and I decided to close the startup down. We walked away feeling good for the experience, if a bit deflated and frustrated by all the roadblocks we hit along the way.
The one big lesson I took away from this experience was how much I loved the information marketing world and the “lifestyle” business model. A startup company is not a lifestyle business.
The Blog Sales Funnel
In 2013 I returned my focus back to my blog teaching business. I had continued to blog throughout all the hospital and startup years, so nothing had changed there (even if some people felt I had “disappeared” for a while).
Although it wasn’t intended as a break, the experiences of those “lost” three years left me feeling excited again about creating training products. I wanted to build the funnel I first envisioned back in 2008.
Once again in an uncanny piece of timing (or maybe just my reticular activation system taking notice), the concept of sales funnels was becoming the “in” subject in the world of internet marketing.
Although funnels were nothing new, suddenly everyone was teaching how to create an online sales funnel. It was like the industry all at once had realized that in order to compete long term, you needed a stable funnel. Once-off launches, or creating multiple niche sites was not sustainable. People wanted a real business, with stable long term profits, and the funnel concept was how you got there.
In my case I knew that a funnel was the way to go for my business, however I had one distinct difference to all the internet marketers – the same difference I had all those years ago – I am a blogger.
Once again I found myself in that unique crossroads position, combining direct response internet marketing and blogging.
It was clear to me that the traditional magazine model of blogging is flawed for the average person because the internet has become too crowded. It’s very difficult for a new blogger to start today and create a blog that gets enough traffic to live solely off advertising income.
However most people who are bloggers hate the idea of doing internet marketing and are frankly, just not good at it. Bloggers don’t want to focus on sales, they want to focus on blogging.
In my personal experience I was comfortable sitting in the middle, combining the power of direct response marketing, with the trust and audience building power of blogging.
My goal – the challenge I faced – was how to turn my business into a proper sales funnel based on a blog.
The Basic Funnel Model For Bloggers
I understood how the basic concept for a sales funnel could work for bloggers, but I wanted to up my training.
I enrolled in a couple of funnel courses and went back and studied the materials I had from 2008 when I began studying the ascension model of business (the funnel).
After studying funnel marketing I felt comfortable about what I needed to do next. I was going to combine everything I knew about information marketing, blogging, direct response email marketing and product launches, and create an automated “Blog Sales Funnel”.
The key outcome I was looking for was making sales from my blog automatically. I didn’t want to do live launches all the time to drive sales. I didn’t want to rely on advertising or affiliate products either. I wanted to help my audience with my best ideas and I wanted everything to run automatically so I could just focus on blogging.
The concept in principle is simple. It goes like this…
- You have a small niche blog that attracts a targeted audience
- You funnel a percentage of that traffic on to a problem-solving email sequence
- You sell a product to people who want more help using both the blog and the email list
Everything is linear. The blog is your platform and prequalifies people to join your email list and buy your products. The email list builds relationships by solving problems, and prequalifies people to buy your products. Your products offer a next level of problem solving help.
All of this runs on technology that is automated. No broadcast emails, no new blog posts required once setup (at least not for the funnel – your blog of course should be updated periodically). You have to work your butt off to create the initial blog posts, emails and products, but once you are done, they keep working for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Coming Up Next: My First Funnel
I’ve created three funnels since I dedicated myself to the Blog Sales Funnel process. I’m still excited every time I make a sale.
While I’ve always loved the thrill of making money while I sleep thanks to blogging, nothing compares to this experience when you sell a product you personally created. It’s the ultimate gratification for a creative person – another human being willing to part with money to pay you for your creative output – and it all happens automatically online.
In part two of this article series I’ll explain how I built my first blog sales funnel, and what are the key components you need to make it work for your blog.
Part 2 is now available –
If you have any questions about what I covered in this article, please leave a comment reply to this blog post or via this post on Facebook.
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