Darren: Hey there friends and welcome to Episode 279 of the ProBlogger Podcast. My name is Darren Rowse and I’m the blogger behind problogger.com; a blog designed to help you to start and to grow a profitable blog.
Today on the podcast, we have a special guest, Jeff Goins. I’ve been wanting to bring Jeff Goins to the podcast for a while now. Many of you know of Jeff, he has a fantastic blog that I do encourage you to check out. We’ll link to it in the show notes today. He writes great advice for people who write. If you want to become a better writer, particularly if you want to write a book, he has some great advice.
I wanted to get Jeff on the show today to talk a little bit about how his business or his blogging business has evolved over the years, because he started a number of years ago now. What he’s doing today is very different to the way he started. He really started in a personal record keeping kind of way with his blogging and he’s grown his brand, and his business around that. As he says in this interview, he’s actually had nine blogs over the years and his last one has really built the business. He’s got a lot of great advice today as we talk about this idea of evolving your blog.
Today’s interview is actually a little bit different to any interview I’ve done before because I sent Jeff the questions via email and he recorded them in one hit. He kind of interviews himself, although the questions do come from me. It’s a new style of interview, it helps me to create this because we’re in different time zones. I really like what he’s put together, so this might be something we do in the future a little bit more because I think it’s very effective. In fact, Jeff says stuff during this interview that I really needed to hear on a personal level myself. I might talk a little bit about that at the end of this interview.
The other reason I’m bringing on Jeff today is that he’s speaking at our upcoming ProBlogger Event in Melbourne on the 9th and 10th of August. We still do have a small number of tickets available to that, particularly the mastermind which Jeff is going to be at for two full days. If you enjoy Jeff in this and you can get to Melbourne, Australia on the 9th and 10th of August, go to problogger.com/events and you can see what we’re running there. You might just be sitting around the table with Jeff for a couple of days in August.
I’m going to hand over to Jeff now. At the end, I want to come back and just pull out some of the things that really impacted me in this interview of sorts. Here’s Jeff.
Jeff: Hello, this is Jeff Goins. I am answering some questions that Darren sent me. I think what I’ll do is I will read the question, and then share my answer.
Question number one: how has your blog evolved to the point that it’s at now? Tell your evolution story.
My blog really began as a series of different blogs over the years. My first blog was in 2006, 2005 and 2006 I was touring with a band all over North America and I wanted to catalog the journey. I started a blog on Xanga. I’d always journaled and written as a kid, and this was another outlet. This was a way for me to share my journey. I had a hand full of friends reading it. It was just fun to share.
It was a big wake up call for me when halfway through this year of playing music for a living–which I had always thought was the dream–that my favorite part of the week was not playing shows for sometimes thousands of screaming, and sometimes thousands of indifferent teenagers. It was this hour in the afternoon usually on a Saturday or a Sunday where we would be staying with a family somewhere and I would ask to use their desktop computer and I would write a blog post cataloging what we have done that day.
That was my first blog and my first experience with sharing my life and my ideas with the world. Just the thrill of pressing publish and sharing that. This evolved into me moving to Nashville, getting a job with a nonprofit, actually training missionaries in how to blog for this nonprofit organization that I worked for for seven years. Becoming the Marketing Director there, learning about online marketing. In that process, deciding I wanted to get back into blogging for myself. I had been helping other people share their stories and I wanted to start doing it again for myself; I missed it, I felt like I had something to say and want to share it with the world.
Over the years, I had started these different blogs and fits and starts. Honestly, I’ve been following ProBlogger for a long, long time and wanted to make a living as a writer but didn’t know how to do that. I remember Darren sharing on a webinar that the first year as a full time blogger, he made $36,000. He was saying it like you’re not just going to start off making six-figures, it’s kind of hard. That was exactly my salary that year and I was like wow, I could replace my income with blogging? That sounded really exciting.
I had started all these blogs. I think I went back and counted recently, it was like nine different blogs. From that first Xanga blog in 2006, to 2010 when I at the end of the year started a blog called Goins, Writer, goinswriter.com, which is the blog that I have today.
I was really frustrated with myself for quitting all those previous blogs. I realized that all those failed blogs had one thing in common, and that was that I quit them at some point. I had grown up a little bit, I had a little bit more responsibilities, I better understood marketing and what might, might not work in terms of a blog and a message.
I had decided when I started this blog at the end of 2010 when I was getting much more serious about writing for a living that I would do this for two years before I would quit. I would write every single day on this blog for two years without quitting. At the end of two years, if I didn’t have at least 250 subscribers, which was the most I’d ever had in any blog, then I would quit and go do something else. I wasn’t going to do it forever, but I was going to give it a good, solid try.
In the past, I always heard of these blogs. Anywhere from six weeks to six months later, I would quit and I would go start something else. I thought what would just happen if I just stuck with it? That’s what I did. In 2011, I blogged every single day. I started paying attention to what I was learning on ProBlogger and Copy Blogger and following other writers and bloggers online. I reached out to them, I asked to guest post, I offered them opportunities to guest post on my site, and I just started building email lists. I learned about lead magnets and ways to get people on your subscriber list.
By the end of 2011, I’d grown an email list of about 10,000 people and realized that I could monetize this. Then in 2012, I sold a couple of ebooks and made about $50,000 off of this ebook called You Are A Writer, so Start Acting Like One. Then from there, I turned that ebook, essentially, into an online course called Tribe Writers and made an extra $100,000 or so off of that and some affiliate marketing that I was doing.
In 2012, I made about $150,000 in side income off of this little blog business that I had started in the last six months of the year. I was still working at this nonprofit, making about $30,000 a year. That year, my wife quit her job. She gave birth to our first child, our son Aiden. She quit her job, she didn’t go back after having our baby. I was getting ready to quit my job and we started this business. We tripled our household income in a matter of months. That was 2012, and in 2013 I quit my job, I turned 30. I’ve been a full time blogger, author, speaker, and online entrepreneur ever since.
That’s been my blogging journey, lots of other stories in there. Where I’m at now is when I started the blog, I didn’t know what I wanted. I had a goal of replacing my wife’s income, which was about $30,000. I thought if I replace her income, I can keep my job and then do this thing on the side. I’ll essentially have two jobs, she can stay home and be a full time mom for a while which is something we agreed would be good, we both wanted that. This is what I would do.
When my initial goal was met and then exceeded, I didn’t really know what to do with that. I just started chasing more for the sake of getting more subscribers, trying to get more money, doubling and tripling our revenue every single year, growing a team, doing all this stuff. One day, I woke up and realized this isn’t what I wanted.What I wanted was way back there, it was this simple life and way to do my work where I was getting paid to write the stuff that I wanted to write.
A big wake up call for me was I started this online education business, teaching online courses so that I could write and make money. I wouldn’t have to worry about hitting the bestseller list every time and selling hundreds of thousands of copies of a book so that I could make an income off of my writing. I could just get paid and write books that I believed in, and not worry about them having to be bestsellers.
It was a big wake up call for me when I realized that I was so busy running this education business that was supposed to provide the income and freedom for me to write that I no longer had time to write. I had actually hired a writer to write my blog posts for me. I realized man, something is off here. This business that I started so that I could be a writer is now keeping me from writing.
Over the past few years, I’ve had to make a series of difficult decisions to get back in my lane, get focused on the creative work which is the work that only I can do and not worry about what everybody else is doing. Just learn how to run my own race, and the results of that has been I have felt more successful, I have been happier with my work than I’d ever been, and just more at peace.
As a result, I think the work is better, I’m actually personally netting a higher income while generating fewer sales just because I’ve gotten really specific and focused on the work that I want to do, that only I can do. It doesn’t have anything to do with growing some huge media empire, it’s just about me doing the work that I believe in and sharing it with the world. That’s my blogging story and my answer to question one.
Question two: what are three top tips behind the success you’ve achieved?
I believe that all education is broken up into three areas. One is principles, two is strategies, and then three is tools. A lot of people in the online marketing space like to talk about tools and strategies, meaning what’s working now and how do I do this? How do I grow my email list? Well, you need a lead magnet and you can set it up in MailChimp. MailChimp is a tool, the strategy is using a lead magnet to get more subscribers.
Underlying, most strategies and tools are principles. Tools change often, strategies change sometimes, principles never change. Principles are usually timeless truths. If they change, they change very gradually over the course of decades, if not centuries.
I’m very interested in the principles. A few principles that have worked well for me, that continue to work although the modalities, the strategies and tools that I use to accomplish these things have changed. One lesson that I’ve learned, one principle, is that you always have to give before you ask. You always have to give more than you want to take.
I heard Gary Vaynerchuk talk about this in regards to his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. He said most people think that means give, give, give, take. It doesn’t mean give, give, give, take; it means to give, give, give, ask. For every ask: hey, sign up for my email list; hey, buy my book; hey, do this, do that; I want to give these three things away for free. A phrase that we use in a lot of courses with our students is you have to be relentlessly generous. You have to be relentlessly generous with your audience.
When I would start a blog, it was about me, and of course it’s your words, it’s your ideas, it’s your story; in a sense, it is about you. Something that really, really helped and lots of people talk about this but get so focused on the practicality of it. You have to be generous.
For me, giving, giving, giving, without asking. I wrote a free blog post every day for two years before I sold a single thing. I gave away ebooks, webinars, trainings, tools, all kinds of things for free. First of all, I didn’t even know what I was doing. I was just trying to figure it out, I was practicing in public sharing my work, trying to get feedback on the stuff that was resonating, that was valuable to me. I was also trying to build up a lot of trust.
At the end of that two years—it was more like 18 months before I started making an income off of the blog—I started hearing from readers saying, “Hey, this is great. Thanks for sharing all this stuff with us for free. But, can we buy something from you? Can we pay you for something?” One of the lessons that I learned is that if you give, give, give, give, if you make it all about them, they—some of them—will make it about you.
You really can give your way into success. Every new business pursuit, idea, I’m just finding ways to plant seeds of generosity, helping people without asking anything in return. I think more often than not, that comes back to me giving time, giving money, giving resources to my audience, to my friends, to my network. People that I know, just trying to spend that goodwill. Overtime, you become known as a helpful, resourceful person. When your name comes up in conversation, people talk about you in a positive way. It just spreads this positive brand, plus it feels good to help people.
That was one principle, it will never hurt you to out-give your audience. It will only ever help you. It is a great way to establish yourself from everybody else.
Another tip, lesson, principle thing that I learned was to listen to what the people who have done this for a long time tell you to do. For a long time, I thought I don’t need to listen to Darren, he’s old. Just kidding. He’s been doing it for a long time and there are these timeless principles, like using a lead magnet. I thought I was above that and I was trying to pave my own path without first paying attention to the ways that this has always worked. It always works to give before you ask people to pay attention to you, to use a lead magnet to get somebody on your email list. That’s not tricking them and getting them in your email list, it’s rewarding them for their attention.
A really big moment for me was when I stopped thinking I knew everything and just started listening to anyone, especially those who had done things that I wanted to do. Assuming I knew nothing, taking the posture of a student and acting like an apprentice, then just trying things. Being willing to do what other people said without arguing about it.
Often, I talk with folks who are struggling to succeed with their blogs or online businesses. They go, “Oh yeah, I’ve tried that, I’ve heard that. Give me something new, give me a new idea.” It turns out that the oldest things that have worked for a long time are the techniques and strategies that are probably going to keep working for a long time, they just might need a fresh coat of paint on them.
Do what works for other people, at least try it. Be humble enough to admit what you don’t know, become somebody else’s student, and try it.
I think the last thing that works really well for me is connecting with influential people. It sounds bad and I’ll explain what this means for me, but essentially leveraging their influence to grow my own influence. What that means is I would reach out to folks and I would try to be as helpful as possible, people like Darren Rowse, Brian Clarke, Seth Godin, Michael Hyatt, a lot of people in the blogging and online marketing space. I never said how can I be helpful because that’s not very helpful, but I always say hey, can I write a guest post for you? Or could I share this tip with your audience?
Obviously, there’s something in it for me when I would do that, but there was also something in it for them. I found that by simply meeting influencers, people that I considered mentors, and sharing something with their audiences, that was a fast pass to getting in front of a lot of people in a short amount of time.
How do you practically do this? Well, oct people don’t do this very well, I didn’t do this very well for a long time. It’s because you get in front of somebody and say hey, let me talk to your audience. That’s not going to work; they don’t trust you, they don’t know you, they don’t know if you have any right speaking to their audience. What I practiced without realizing it, and in retrospect I now think of it as the case study strategy. What I did was remember lesson number two, be humble enough to admit what you don’t know and try new things based on what other people are saying.
The second part of that is to become somebody’s case study. If I read something on Michael Hyatt’s blog that said you should have a lead magnet, I’ll go okay, great, I’m going to do that. I would go do whatever so and so influencer had said and I would implement it, and then I would report back to them. I would send them an email, or comment on their blog, or tweet back at them, reply to them on Twitter, and share the results. I would do this over, and over, and over again with people who were sharing advice particularly about blogging and online marketing.
I did this, I just thought of it as seeds. I thought of it as a way of being helpful to people that helped me by saying hey, you might want to know that this worked for me and I just want to say thanks. I did this enough times with enough people that some of them started talking about me. Michael Hyatt was one of these people where in a way I became one of his case studies. He had just had a book come out called Platform which I think came out in 2012. I was growing my platform at the time. It was working, and I was sharing it with him, and he actually invited me to write a chapter in that book about guest posting, which I had gotten really into and had shared with him how it had helped me grow my blog.
That relationship probably saved me years of hustling. I think there was a number of people. There are plenty of people that said hey, this worked, and never heard back from them. But those that I did hear back from, I doubled down on that connection and built a relationship, a friendship with these people.
That, lots of people talk about that, everybody wants to get in front of influential people and have them share their stuff with the world but it’s actually really hard unless you realize that these people who are constantly sharing advice very rarely hear back from people who are actually doing the work and applying the principles.
This is what I call the case study strategy, you do what other people say that you should do and you let them know about it over time. You build a relationship with them, and some of these people will just talk, you don’t even have to ask. Sometimes you can ask, “Hey, can I do a guest post or share this on your podcast? Or would you endorse my book?” Whatever. I have found just by simply being the case study of the giants who have come before you, it can save you a lot of time and it can help you get your work in front of a much larger audience without having to spend years on building that audience.
Those are some tips that I think were pretty helpful for me.
Question three: what’s the next step and the next challenge in your evolution? I’ve done the thing where I’ve worked with tens of thousands of customers buying courses, ebooks, and programs. That’s been cool, it’s made a lot of money, millions of dollars in income. The more I do this—I’ve been running my business for almost seven years now—the more interested I am in going deeper with fewer people.
The two things that I’m really interested in are masterminds, I currently run a mastermind of creative entrepreneurs, about 20 people. I’m wanting to keep growing that. We meet every week on Zoom, we meet in person three times a year. Really walking these creative entrepreneurial journeys out together, really fun. I love the impact, relationship, connection that happens, and community that happens in a space like that. I can see growing more groups like that, I love the mastermind experience.
Live events, doing a live conference for years has been really fun. This will be the last year of our conference called the Tribe Conference but I’ll probably do some more regional, smaller, mastermind kind of events. I like workshops. It’s funny, all the things that an online business afforded me—scale, opportunity, reach—a lot of people with a click of a mouse, being able to create a product once and share it with a lot of people, do it all online. In some ways, building an online business is moving me back towards offline activities, getting together in person, working with fewer people on ways that aren’t necessarily scalable. That’s where I’m seeing a lot of the impact. I’ll continue to do online programs and things like that, but I’m really excited about that, working with creative entrepreneurs.
We have a program, helping people write great books, it’s called Write A Bestseller. I like that a lot. I hope to focus more on that, helping people get their books out into the world, that’s something that I’m focusing on a lot, and less on how do people grow their blogs, and get better at internet marketing. I think there’s a lot of value there but there’s a lot of people who do that really well. What I do well is I write books and teach people how to do the same. I’m looking forward to doing more of that from a teaching perspective. That’s it, those are all the questions. I hope this was helpful, let me know if I can be of any more service to you.
I will be speaking at the ProBlogger Event in August, hope to see you there. If you have any questions, feel free to email me, [email protected] If there’s a question that you have for me that I wasn’t able to answer in this interview, feel free to shoot me an email. I’ll see you in Melbourne in August, thanks.
Darren: Wow, thank you so much, Jeff, for your wise words today. As I said at the top of today’s show, got a lot out of this myself. Jeff is someone that I look to for advice as a writer. I quite often will bounce ideas off of Jeff, but he’s also someone who I think has a lot of good things to say of us who are building a business as well. You can check out Jeff’s site at goinswriter.com. Check out all of the things that he’s got to say there.
Few of the things that really stood out to me. Firstly, he really talked about the success of his latest venture, goinswriter.com. He has been answering the question what will happen if I stick with this? I really relate to that, because I think a lot of bloggers do have a series or a trail of half finished blogs behind them. One of the biggest things that really, I guess, gets in the way of success for many bloggers is they just don’t stick at it. Or, they have a series of blogs rather than one blog. I love that, Jeff.
Finally did stick to blogging and got serious about it. He mentioned a number of things there that I think are really important for those who are just starting out; developing an email list was a big part of what he did. Having that email list of people who were regularly hearing from him really enabled him to monetize in the long run. I loved that advice.
I secondly really related to this idea of having the mindset shift that he realized what he wanted wasn’t more. I don’t know if that wake up call that he had was something that you relate to, but I find a lot of us as bloggers who have been around for a number of years and I’ve used this analogy in the past. It’s almost like we build a machine around what we’re passionate about, but the machine actually takes over and we spend our time feeding the machine.
Jeff talked a little bit about how he built a business which he thought would allow him to do what he loved, writing, but it actually stopped him from writing. I think a lot of bloggers actually get to this point, particularly bloggers who have had some success. Many of us do need to have these moments in our business where we realign, where we perhaps narrow our focus back down to the things that we really started out wanting to do. In the case of Jeff, it was writing.
I really appreciate the fact that he shared that lesson that he had because it’s something that I know I’ve had to do periodically over the years, and perhaps even need to do at the moment as well. I thank Jeff for sharing that.
His three top tips that led to his success. Firstly, you have to give before you ask; I love that line from Gary V. Give, give, give, and then ask; rather than give, give, give, and take. There’s a difference between asking and taking from your audience, and I think a lot of us as bloggers do have the temptation to just take instead of asking our audience I they would like to buy something from us. Be relentlessly generous was the advice there. I think that really does represent the success of many of the bloggers that I admire over the years, their generosity.
Listen to those who have gone before you. Again, this is something that you’ve heard on this podcast before. The oldest things that have been working for a long time, it turns out those things will continue to work into the future. That’s why we do preach that you need to develop an email list. This is old fashion technology that continues to work today. Yes, we do need to learn how to continue to use it, and tweak it, and we’ve got podcasts here in the archive of ProBlogger that all about that. But don’t just latch onto all the new, sexy things that are coming out. Actually look at what’s already been working for decades now and latch onto those things.
Lastly, his advice to connect with influential people. I love that strategy that he talked about being the case study of the influencers. I just think it’s such brilliant advice. Actually, implement the advice of the people you want to get in the radar of. Then, tell them what happens, and then you become their case study. Whether that be as a guest post or an interview, or something that they just use in passing as an example. I can actually think of a number of people that that’s happened to, both that have approached me but also that I’ve approached others by being their case study. Brilliant advice, really encourage you to try that one out yourself. Influencers are looking for that feedback and they are looking for case studies that prove that their own advice work. Actually be the case study for an influencer. Brilliant advice, really wish I’d come up with that one myself, so thanks Jeff for sharing that.
I love this interview, in fact I’m going to listen to it again because there’s more in there that I wanted to get into. You might want to go back and have another listen to today’s interview with Jeff. Please share it with anyone who you know of that needs to hear this advice. I really hope that this episode does get shared wildly because I think it’s got so much valuable stuff into it.
If you would like to check out more from Jeff, you can head to goinswriter.com and also consider coming. I know it’s last minute notice now, to our August event in Melbourne. We do have a handful of tickets both to our beginner event—we have a whole day of training for our beginners who want to start a blog or who’ve just started their blog. Jeff will be talking at that, he’ll be giving a keynote on how to develop your voice.
If you’re a little bit more experienced, whether you are intermediate level or more advanced, Jeff will be at our mastermind event as well. As he mentioned in his interview, he loves masterminding and I’ve seen him in action at that type of event, he’s excellent, which is why we’ve got him to our event. Our events are in August in Melbourne. I know that cuts out some of you, but if you are able to get to Melbourne, head over to problogger.com/events. Hopefully, there’s still a few tickets available and we’d love to see you at that particular event.
Thanks for listening today. Our show notes today, and there’s a full transcription of this podcast at problogger.com/podcast/279. Thanks and we’ll chat in the next episode, 280. Thanks for listening.