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The playing field has now been leveled. The middlemen are slowly fading away and you no longer have to play by the rules of the gatekeepers in order to reach your audience.

However, with the disappearance of the middleman comes many equivalent software replacements. Many platforms are seeking content creators and teachers like yourself to create, sell and teach on their platforms.

They bring the appeal of “wider reach” and “large audiences” that you will gain access to. But in exchange for this exposure, there is a very significant downside: lack of control.

When you build your own platform, you are the master. You own the domain and you set the rules. This means you can control the pricing, you can control whether or not your products are discounted, and you can design the entire experience.

Yes, building your own platform is a lot more difficult, but what does the alternative look like? Is the incentive of exposure enough for you to compromise your control and potentially devalue your products?

With the middleman gone it also places a lot of responsibility on you. The brunt of the marketing and distribution work is now yours to deal with. This can sound scary but it’s also extremely empowering.

I want to empower you: You are an independent marketing firm. Let me tell you why that should excite you.

Show Notes
  • Why middlemen exist
  • 03:01 Middlemen for a long time were the gatekeepers. If you wanted to write a book, you went through a publisher. That’s just how it was. They had the distribution, they had the relationships, the connections, the marketing, the scale, and the resources.
  • 03:27 It’s not always easy building your own platform because you don’t get to leverage the audiences or services of these gatekeepers (Related: e069 Build Your Platform – Not Someone Else’s).
  • 04:02 The middleman:
    • Does the things you can’t do.
    • Does the things you don’t want to do
    • Or both.
  • 04:09 The goal of the middleman is to go where the money is flowing.
  • To be rich, you simply have to position yourself to where other people’s money flows through your hands.

    This is what a middleman does.

  • 04:30 You have to decide whether you want to contribute to that or blaze your own path.
  • Why middlemen are going away
  • 05:59 We’re starting to replace the middleman because the playing field has been leveled. A lot of the things that middlemen did for us are now automated or widely accessible.
  • 06:12 Of course, this is largely in part to the internet. As we replace the middleman, the middleman is getting replaced with software.
  • 06:37 Middlemen want to be where the money is flowing. They want to be between you and some audience. If they can reach an audience that you can’t reach, that’s leverage they can use. It’s a reason you might be tempted to go with someone else’s platform—they have the appeal of reaching a greater audience.
  • The danger of relying on middlemen
  • 07:03 The primary downside is lack of control. I told the story in e069 of what happened when I relied on someone else’s platform.
  • 07:24 Lack of control is a factor when you use any 3rd party platform. For instance, Facebook can change the game at any time. In fact, they already have changed the rules: you can only reach 10–15% of your own fans without paying for advertising.
  • 08:33 YouTube right now is really awesome. They don’t force advertisement (currently you can choose to enable monetization), but remember: it’s their platform. They can change the rules at any time. Have a backup plan. What might that backup plan be? Anything you can control within your own domain that you own. Paid services like Wistia give you control.
  • 09:23 Ben: “Isn’t that a middleman though?”
  • 09:32 Sean: I’m distinguishing between service providers and middlemen. For instance, I pay for website and podcast hosting, but neither of them are taking a cut of my revenue. They’re also not between me and my audience—that’s the key.
  • Not all paid services are middlemen. It’s when they take a cut of your revenue or come between you and your audience that they are a middleman.

  • 12:35 Ben: “I guess the thing that’s appealing about the kind of services that you use is that you have complete control over the customer experience. It’s nice when you can design the experience from start to finish.”
  • 13:22 Another example is Amazon. Even if you self publish, when you put a book on Amazon, you don’t really control the pricing. You kind of do, but it’s very limited control—you’re extremely boxed in. For instance if you don’t hit a certain price point or range that they want, then your cut goes down significantly and they won’t promote you as much. It’s basically boxing you in to a specific price point.
  • 13:57 Also, they are heavy discounters. Long-time listeners know I don’t like discounts because discounts always devalue (Related: e064 Two Prices: Full Price & Free). When you sell an ebook there, you’re essentially forced to do it at their price point. If you say “Nope, I want to sell it at $29.99, because the value in this book is going to make people thousands,” you’ll get a much lower cut and they won’t promote you. Also, they will regularly discount things on a whim. Suddenly, your book is $0.99 or free on the Kindle store. They say you’ll make it up in volume, but the point is there are a lot of things you can’t control when you go with a middleman.
  • 14:47 Now of course, the appeal is huge. They have millions of credit cards on file. 1-click purchases significantly decrease the buying friction. They also have a huge audience. Is that enticing enough to cause you to compromise on your control and potentially devalue your products?
  • 15:10 Ben: “You know, one of the most frustrating experience I have as a buyer is when I go and purchase something and then I go back the next week or day and it’s on sale for 20% off when I just paid for it full price. I see that happen a lot online. What I really like about how you do things is you reward loyalty by offering those discounts up front to the people who are already engaged with your brand. After that, you may leave the price or raise it, but you never punish your early buyers by discounting it again in the future for people who aren’t as loyal. Having things on your own platform allows you to control the experience and reward your loyal people.”
  • Discounts devalue.

    The lowest amount your product is discounted to is what it’s actually worth.

  • 17:06 It’s not good or bad, positive or negative, It’s just a very straightforward statement: discounts devalue. And it’s not just the discounts YOU run: whatever your product gets discounted to by a 3rd party platform that you chose to participate in is also an indication of what the product is actually worth. It’s your responsibility to choose the appropriate platform where your products will not be devalued.
  • 17:34 If you’re discounting your product, you’re devaluing it. You don’t have to do that.
  • If your stuff is good, you do not have to discount to sell it.

    I raised the price of Learn Lettering by $50 and made an additional $25,000 in 24 hours because the product holds value.

  • 18:04 It’s the same with musicians. The label is the middleman. You’ve heard of artists that end up making music that they didn’t really like or want to make because the label demanded it. It’s the same with authors too. Publishers want to sell. Maybe the idea for this book isn’t actually in the reader’s best interest, but if it can sell, the publisher will continue to push you to write more and more of them.
  • Ultimate Control & Ownership: Email Marketing
  • 20:43 One of the best ways to retain control and reach an audience is through email marketing. Email Marketing is HUGE because you own the list of your subscribers. Want to change providers? Export the list and move. Done.
  • 21:37 If a publisher owns your book, you can’t up and leave. If a platform owns your course, you can’t remove it, you can’t change the price, you can’t close it down. You can’t control how people interact with your brand on that platform.
  • My Book: The Overlap Technique
  • 21:59 If I wrote a book and then tried to make a big deal about the launch, it would go nowhere.
  • 22:13 This is the Backwards-Building I talk about (Related: see #9 in e087 10 Myths Creative People Tell Themselves).
  • 22:23 I’ve said it before: People don’t notice announcements, they notice consistency.
  • 22:28 This is what everyone does:
    • “Sean, how was Learn Lettering so successful?”
    • I talked about it for six months on my twice-a-week podcast!
    • “Well, I don’t have a twice-a-week podcast.”
    • There you go!
  • 22:48 My plan is to give away the book. It’s my first book and I’m giving it away for free. Step 1: Your content has to be EPIC.
  • Marketing is telling the story, but the story needs to be about something awesome. Make that awesome thing first.

  • 23:12 My book will be epic and I’m giving it away. The hope is that people will tell their friends about it. It’s free, it’s valuable, that’s how things spread. That’s how my original introductory lettering guide spread: it was free and it was valuable.
  • 23:28 So they’ll tell their friend about this great book they read and the friend will say, “Oh! Where can I get it? Is it on Amazon?” And the other guy will say, “No, this guy’s really weird about building his own platform, so it’s only available on his website, but trust me, he has some really good points and this book is going to change your life.”
  • 23:54 You might be thinking, “I don’t know about this, Sean. That sounds a little too far-fetched.” Does it? Because that’s exactly what happened with Learn Lettering and how I made six figures in 3 days.
  • When you remove the middleman you become the middleman
  • 28:40 It’s not all fun and games and it’s not all easy. You’re not technically a middleman because it’s just you, but you absorb their responsibilities. The tasks that they performed now fall on you. That means you have work to do.
  • 29:12 The middleman isn’t just a bad guy. They’re simply trying to position themselves where the money is flowing and have it flow through their hands. They take a cut of our profits and sometimes they act as gatekeepers, but there’s also a reason they can do so: The middleman is a buffer.
  • 31:05 They take a lot of pressure off of you and that is enticing. We need buffers to focus on the important parts of our business—the core aspects of our business that are born of our insights. We need to have our attention on those things. Buffers do allow us to focus. This is what the middleman sells. If you want to dispose of the middleman, you have to do the work yourself—at least at first. This does not mean forever. Eventually, we have the option of hiring people to help as we scale. Then we’re free. Then we retain full control (Related: e076 Growth Scaling Part 1 of 3: Systems & Superhero Syndrome).
  • 34:02 Ben: “I’m honestly having a little bit of trouble honing in on a specific definition of ‘middleman’ because I think there are varying degrees. Some things seem to be middlemen and some things seem like not middlemen…”
  • 34:23 Sean: Here’s how I define it:
  • Middleman: Someone or something between you and your audience that takes away power from you such that you cannot control pricing, distribution, connection with the audience, or prevent devaluation of the product through discounts.

  • The internet has made everyone their own marketing firm
  • 36:24 The middleman is gone. We enjoy all the freedom of control, full profits, no discounting, and full realization of the value of our products, but we also bear the full brunt of the work when it comes to distribution and marketing. That’s where we have to step it up.
  • 37:07 We’re so entrenched in our online worlds that we forget how revolutionary of a time we’re living through. There are a lot of great tools at our disposal with things like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. There’s nothing wrong with utilizing 3rd party services to get people to your platform. Just know that they can change the game at any time. Engage with people there, but don’t put all your eggs in other people’s baskets. Don’t be surprised if they pull the rug out from under you.
  • 39:29 “How much time should you spend marketing?” First make something GOOD. First make a lot of really good things and then you can worry about marketing.
  • 40:26 “Where should I start? Should I blog, should I do newsletters, should I podcast, or should I make videos?”
  • 40:36 I made a video answering that exact question: “Should you podcast or make videos?”
  • 40:52 Ben: “Is the fact that you made a video about that the answer to that question?”
  • 40:57 Sean: Oooh. But I’m also talking about it on a podcast, Ben. BOOM!
  • 41:02 Ben: “I’m so confused.”
  • 41:03 Sean: It actually works out because I’m going to spoil it: the answer is BOTH. You should be doing podcasts and videos. That is the answer because you want to be diversifying the kinds of media you’re putting out there.
  • Every different kind of media that you produce is giving your audience a look at a new facet of your personality.

  • 41:18 The more they get of your personality the better they’re going to feel like they know you. The more they know you, the more they’ll trust you. The more they trust you, the more loyal they are to you. The more loyal they are to you, the more likely they’ll be to recommend you to someone else and also buy your products and support you.
  • 42:28 Ben: “For some people, it’s a tall order to try to do everything. How do you know where to start if you aren’t able to make a bunch of different kinds of media right now? Where should someone begin?”
  • 42:53 Sean: Great question, Ben. If you don’t currently have the capacity, you don’t know how, aren’t good, don’t feel comfortable, or simply don’t have the time to pursue all of them: start with audio.
  • 43:24 Because here’s the thing: people will be more inclined to watch poor-quality video with high-quality audio than they will good-quality video with poor-quality audio.
  • 43:39 No one wants to listen to bad audio. Spend a couple hundred dollars on a mic. If you want to have really nice video, it can cost you thousands of dollars—nice audio is a really good lower-end investment. It’s going to go a long way. Even if the topic is exactly what people want to hear, people won’t sit through terrible audio and let their ears bleed.
  • 45:32 Start with audio and when you go to video, you don’t even have to spend a bunch of money. Even use your phone’s camera and just use a nice microphone.