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There’s a really big problem today.

You can be internet famous and have tens of hundreds of thousands of subscribers and followers and still be making no money.

You might even (gasp!) have to get a day job.

We have people thinking they can just “get famous” and once they have a massive audience, they’ll automatically be set for life and start making bank.

What’s wrong here? Why are there stars with 100,000 followers who still have to go to work at a minimum wage job?

They have no business model.

Repeat after me: a YouTube channel is not a business. A blog is not a business. An Instagram account is not a business. I don’t care how many followers you have. A BUSINESS is a business.

What is a business? That’s exactly what we talk about in this episode. You need a business plan and a strategy. Blogging and videos are acquisition channels. They are merely tools that advance someone on the Buyer’s Journey.

What is the Buyer’s Journey and how can blog posts and videos lead people to buy? I’m glad you asked. Tune in to the episode.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Only a certain portion of your audience is going to get value out of what you’re trying to sell with ads.
  • A business is an organization that provides goods or services to consumers—a blog is merely an acquisition channel.
  • People are increasingly blocking and tuning out ads.
  • Your acquisition channel becomes a business when you come up with some kind of product or service to sell to your audience.
  • If you’re going to play the ad-revenue game, you have to realize that it’s not sustainable.
  • If you want to be sustainable, make a business.
  • The purpose of a blog or a video is to get people’s attention through providing value.
  • Lead your followers to a product or service that serves their needs.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of asking your audience what they need.
  • You should never be guessing at a product—you should be making it in response to people.
  • People are eager to tell you what they’re struggling with—that’s how you learn what to make.
  • If you’re building on someone else’s platform, you can’t control the outcome.
Show Notes
  • 05:36 Sean: I read this article, Get Rich or Die Vlogging: The Sad Economics of Internet Fame. They’re telling the story of these people who have 60,000 followers, 140,000 subscribers, 400,000 subscribers—these people who are internet famous but still have to work normal jobs. They still have to go into Starbucks to work. One girl said that she had to stop working at Starbucks, because her fans memorized her schedule. They were coming in all the time. They’re famous and a lot of people know them, but they’re not making any money. They’re broke. On top of whatever content they’re consistently putting out, they’re having to make ends meet and get normal, real-life jobs.

“Viewers Complain About Product Placement”

  • 06:45 They’re kind of complaining, because their viewers or followers are complaining. This was kind of about YouTube in many regards, but we could say the same thing about people who are Instagram famous or Twitter famous. They’re complaining because the viewers/readers/subscribers are complaining about product placement. You’ve got 400,000 followers or subscribers and you’re not making money? You can put ads on your videos, which presumably they’ve done, and it’s not enough to support them. Beyond that, they start doing product placement deals. They get a little bit of extra money from that, but they lose subscribers every time.
  • 07:34 They lose followers because people start complaining, “Oh great, look, another sell-out. Someone else who’s doing sponsors and ads.” All of the followers get upset, so these content creators start losing followers by trying to make money and make ends meet. They’re frustrated because they feel like the followers don’t understand and the subscribers aren’t supportive. “They think I’m just famous and all the money comes with that, but I need to make ends meet. That’s why I’m doing this product placement, but my stupid followers think I’m a sell-out and they’re mad at me.” It’s this big complaining game. Everyone’s complaining.
  • 08:15 Ben: It’s kind of misleading when you get into that realm. Conventional wisdom tells you, “You have the attention of this many people.” That’s worth something, and if you can’t decide that that’s worth something to you and your audience, the route that most people take, that seems to make the most sense, is to let that be worth something to someone who will compensate you for sharing their product or their ad. You’re selling the attention of your audience to whoever will pay you to do so. The problem with that transaction is that it’s a really narrow version of value.

Only a certain portion of your audience is going to get value out of what you’re trying to sell with ads, even if it’s something that should cater to that audience.

  • 09:22 I think about that a lot with Back to Work. I love that show, and the things they talk about are pretty relevant to the audience that they have, but it’s not as targeted as it could be if they were sourcing from their audience what the real problems were and providing some kind of catered solution for that.

The Fall of Advertising

  • 10:03 Sean: I’m about to take this in a different direction. People in the chat right now are saying, “People complaining that someone’s a sell-out is the worst.” Cory Miller said, “It’s easy for consumers to complain because they don’t have the struggle of creating.” There are a lot of people still in the mindset of, “People shouldn’t complain. This is how creators have to make their money, so we need to suck it up and deal with it and stop being complainers.” That’s not where I’m going with this show. Here’s where I’m going—AdBlock is on the rise. More and more people are blocking ads or fast-forwarding through ads.
  • 10:47 I just saw Gary Vaynerchuck speak, and he mentioned something that’s really interesting to me. The fast-forwarding of commercials—is it going up or down compared to what it used to be? I would have said “up,” but it’s going down. Why is it down? Because people don’t even care enough to fast-forward the commercials because they’re on their phones. They’re not looking at the advertisements because they’re on their phone. I was at a conference, and even when they were pitching something, a sponsored thing related to the conference, all of these little screens come up. Even in the middle of a conference, people think, “Oh, they’re pitching me. I’m going to my phone.”
  • 11:53 I’m watching a show. I’m not even going to go grab the remote, because I’m just going to look at my phone. I’m going to do my own thing for a minute, and when it comes back to the value, I’m tuned in. It’s the same on the internet. We block ads. We don’t want ads. Impressions are down now, they’re less valuable. Ten years ago, if you had a blog and you wrote regularly, you could sustain yourself. You could make a living just blogging with advertisements. Now, you need 10 million visitors a month for that to be a sustainable living. Everything is down.

People are blocking and tuning out ads because they don’t like them.

  • 12:39 It’s no wonder that everyone is complaining about things like product placement and sponsored posts, whether it be on your YouTube channel or your Instagram. They’re complaining because it’s an interruption of the value. There are different discussions going on here. The creators who want to justify sponsored posts and ads are saying, “I only take on sponsors that are relevant to my viewers. It’s providing value.” Your viewers are the ones who are complaining about this, so you can say that they’re the ones with the problem because they’re complaining and you have to make money. Or, you can reevaluate here.

“How Do I Monetize My Blog?” Is the Wrong Question

  • 13:25 Do I actually have a business? That’s the question you need to ask yourself. You may think you have a business, but a blog is not a business. A YouTube channel is not a business. An Instagram account is not a business. A business is a business. It is transactional. It is commerce. What is a business? A business is an organization that provides goods or services to consumers; a blog is merely an acquisition channel.
  • 14:09 Ben: The company who’s product people are trying to do product placement with or ads for, those companies have businesses. Their model is to utilize an acquisition channel and then throw a small percentage of what they earn for their business to the acquisition channel.
  • 14:42 Sean: I wasn’t considering that sponsored model in that example. For instance, if you are purely an acquisition channel for other companies, that can be a business. There is commerce going on. There is a transaction. You are simply an advertising company—you get people’s attention with entertainment, but ultimately, you are there to sell your viewers attention. You are there to sell the eyes and ears of your consumers to the advertisers. That is a business, commerce, a transaction.
  • 15:19 Ben: You’re talking about just a blog.
  • 15:18 Sean: I’m talking about someone on their own who says, “I’ve tried product placement, and all my viewers get upset. I don’t want to do that anymore, but why am I internet famous and still broke? How can I turn all of these followers into money without making them upset?” That’s the question people are asking. The problem is that they think having an acquisition channel is a business. It’s not automatically a business, because there needs to be a transaction here, goods or services in exchange for compensation.

Your acquisition channel becomes a business when you come up with some kind of product or service to sell to your audience.

  • 16:32 You have to come up with something to sell. A business is the provision of goods or services, so what do you have to sell? Your videos or whatever channel needs to lead people to those offerings. If you’re just making videos or just blogging and you’re not making money, you don’t have a monetization problem, you have a business problem. You don’t have a business strategy. You don’t have a business plan.
  • 17:03 Ben: If you’re listening to this and saying, “I’m not in it to sell things to people. I just want to make good content,” then you have to stop complaining about not making money when you’re not selling anything. Your entertainment is valuable, but if you don’t have something to sell to your audience and you’re giving it away for free, they’re not going to just come to you and say, “Hey, we’re receiving this from you for free. Can we pay you for it?” Unless you provide some way for them to compensate you for the value you’re creating, they’ll just go on taking it from you.
  • 17:52 Sean: The “ask” part is dead-on. I think these people are trying to practice relationship marketing. They want the benefits of relationship marketing without actually putting the principals into practice. They say, “I’m giving, I’m giving, I’m giving. I’m entertaining. I’m creating. I’m putting out content. Where’s my money? I’m building relationships, so why isn’t relationship marketing working?” Well, you forgot about the second word—relationship marketing. What are you marketing? You aren’t marketing anything. You’re just putting up content. You have no business. A blog, a vlog, an Instagram account, is an acquisition channel. It is not a business.
  • 18:43 You need to think of it as an acquisition channel. People who are saying, “How do I monetize my blog?” are asking the wrong question. That’s like saying, “How do I monetize a billboard?” You don’t monetize a billboard. What is a billboard? It is an acquisition channel, a place where you can put up a message. What is the point of that message? It’s to sell something, to promote something. You have to sell, you have to ask. Within relationship marketing, the idea is based on the Rule of Reciprocity, where you give value first and then ask. What are you asking? You’re asking for the sale. What are you selling? You’re selling goods or services. If you’re missing those pieces, you don’t have a business.

You Need a Business Plan

  • 19:34 Ben: If you can’t think of what product you would create that meets your customers or your audience’s needs, maybe you’re purely an entertainment channel, you can sell them access to exclusive content. You continue providing the free content that you’re doing, do more of the same, and put some of your higher quality stuff behind a membership pay wall. Then, you can sell exclusive access to that content. It doesn’t always have to be something different from what you’re doing right now. The video content that you’re giving away is valuable content, but because it’s not an acquisition channel, it’s non-transactionable. Offering a product to your audience could look like giving them more of the same, but giving them exclusive access to it.
  • 20:39 Sean: I want to give a shout-out to Levi, who put up a video called Untethered. Go check out his film—it just got Vimeo staff picked. He decided to put up his film for free. He could have sold it. What makes Levi different from everyone we’re talking about here? Levi actually has a business plan, a strategy. He put up the film for free, but he sold a 4K version. That’s added value. He’s getting a bunch of attention, and a percentage of those people who watch or are exposed to his film will see that there’s a 4K version and think, “I’ve got a 4K TV or computer monitor and I want to see that version,” so they buy it.
  • 21:39 Also, he’s going to be teaching. He’s releasing tutorials to get people onto his list, and eventually, he’s going to be selling to them. That’s a business plan. He’s using a video as it was intended, as an acquisition channel. He put up something valuable that was so great that it got Vimeo staff picked, which means that it got even more exposure that brings people in. That’s not the end of the story. He’s got this great landing page saying, “There’s even more value! Sign up, and I’m going to give that to you.”
  • 22:14 Ben: I would love to learn some of the techniques he used to get those shots. I enjoyed it both as a person who enjoys good films and as a person who is creative and is interested in learning how to create beautiful films. It was really incredible. I’m glad he’s going in that direction with it instead of saying, “Okay, here’s a nice film. I hope you like the next thing I come out with.”
  • 22:44 Sean: I personally know people with 500,000 followers or 750,000 followers that listen to this show. There are internet famous people who listen to this show. There are also a lot of people who are not internet famous.

If you are internet famous, get things on track and start making money by having a business.

  • 23:07 If you aren’t internet famous yet and you’re still trying to grow your audience, you need to be mindful of this stuff. There are a lot of people who think, “I’m good. I’m entertaining. I do great work, take great photos, or make cool art, so I’m going to keep putting this online and I’m going to get a big audience.” They think everything else is just magic from that point. Like this article was saying, there are a lot of internet famous people today with tons of followers and subscribers who are just normal people. We have seven figure downloads on the podcast. I get thousands of people visiting my website and tens of thousands of people signing up for Learn Lettering, either the free version or the newsletter.
  • 23:54 I’m not making money from that. That’s me giving away value, giving away podcasts, making videos, and giving away free guides. I understand that that’s an acquisition channel. I’m bringing people in, and for the people I bring in, I have something greater. I have a business model. We have the Community, which is a subscription service. We have courses, which are paid. We have physical products. In the past, I’ve done client services like design or consulting. You have to start thinking of your video channel or your blog as an acquisition channel. You need to start over and make a product or come up with services that you can provide if you want to have a business and make money. You can’t just sell people’s attention to the advertisers and then complain when they complain. Look at the trends.
  • 24:53 People are getting turned off by ads. You could argue that’s because they’re not targeted, but we’re getting better at targeting because Facebook and Google are getting tons of info and data on us that allows them to target ads better. That certainly helps, but by and large, people are getting turned off by it more and more. Look at the trends and where things are going. If you’re going to play the ad-revenue game, you have to realize that it’s not sustainable. It’s not going to last forever. Technology is going to continue to improve, and people are going to continue blocking ads. Asking your YouTube subscribers to whitelist your channel is not the solution. It’s not sustainable.

If you want to be sustainable, make a business.

If you have great brand equity, be smart with that.

  • 25:45 If people love your logo, put it on products and sell it. I’ve got a few questions you can ask yourself, but I want you to revisit the reason that you started. What got you into this? Why did you start blogging or making videos? What do you blog about? What do you make videos about? Who are you helping, and what are you helping them with? What are their biggest struggles? What problems, if solved, would make the biggest difference for these people? The answer to that question is what you should be addressing in your products and services.

Stay On the Right Side of Reciprocity

  • 26:27 Ben: This is something you should be gleaning from your audience through the conversation you’re having with them in these acquisition channels. You need to be having conversations with your audience there. When you do sponsored ads and things like that, the value of whatever product or service you market/sell needs to exceed what the customer is going to pay for it. That keeps you on the right side of reciprocity. You’re giving away free value, and then you make an ask and somebody buys something from you. Because the value of what they’re receiving from what they purchased exceeds what it’s worth, you’re still the one who’s given more in that relationship. You can’t guarantee that with sponsored ads, with something that wasn’t targeted specifically and meant to answer the specific problems that your audience has.
  • 27:39 Sean: In Gary Vaynerchuck’s show, the #AskGaryVee Show, he takes people’s questions, answers them, and provides value. If he did ads or sponsors, I would feel like the Rule of Reciprocity has been satisfied. The transaction was made. I gave him my attention, and he sold my attention to a sponsor or to the advertiser. I would not feel like I owed him anything. He sold my attention, that was the transaction. What he really does is he puts out a valuable show, gives away tons of value, and it’s just free. He’s giving, giving, giving, and I got so much out of that that I want to give something back.
  • 28:26 If he wasn’t asking for anything in return, it’s not relationship marketing. It’s just an unsustainable business model. It’s like the YouTubers who make videos and then wonder why they don’t have a bunch of money because they have a bunch of followers. They aren’t asking. Gary asks. He said, “I’m doing this show because I’m coming out with a book in March of 2016 called The #AskGaryVee book, and I’m going to sell it. I want you to buy it.” He’s very clear about this. I’ve received so much value from him that I tweeted at him and said, “What’s the best way to pay you back for all the value? Do you want me to buy a bunch of books?” I didn’t know if he had some other offering. If he had a higher offering than a book, I would have bought that.
  • 29:17 I asked him about the books, and I know that even if he did have something higher, it would help him to buy books because he wants it to rank well. He wants it to spread. He said, “Yes,” so I bought 30 of them. I pre-ordered 30 #AskGaryVee books. I don’t need 30 books, Cory. I just need one. I’m going to give them away. More value for everyone! I wanted to pay him back. That worked because he provided value, he had the ask, and then he had the product. I bought from him. You’ve got to figure out what that product is for you.

The purpose of a blog or a video is to get people’s attention through value.

  • 30:06 It’s whatever they’re interested in. That could be education or entertainment value. The purpose of this acquisition channel is to provide value. You have to give that value away. A blog may not be a business, but it’s a useful tool. You have it to provide value—what does providing value look like? Providing value looks like answering questions and helping people along the Buyer’s Journey. You have to be thinking about this.

What is the Buyer’s Journey?

  • 30:41 The buyer’s journey covers stages someone goes through on the way to buying products or services from you. Why are they buying this? They want to solve a problem. At the core, there’s a problem they want solved, and this product or service is going to solve it for them. At each stage along the buyer’s journey, they’re going to have questions, fears, inhibitions, or uncertainties. The blog or the video channel can help people along this journey. It can establish your expertise, build trust and loyalty, bring new people in, and lead people to a paid product.
  • 31:24 Ben: One of the most important pieces of advice I got when I was working for a bank, where it was all about sales, was when they said, “You need to build the customer’s objections into your sale’s pitch.” It didn’t take many interactions with customers to learn what those were. After a certain amount of time, they started sounding similar. Similarly, think about the story you’re bringing people through, the narrative you’re telling when you’re bringing people along the buyer’s journey. How are you addressing their concerns, and how can you learn about those concerns?
  • 32:11 You get feedback from people. You have to start somewhere. Maybe you start selling something and you put a product out there before you know what those concerns or objections might be, and you learn those along the way. You build that into the way that you sell. Maybe somebody has the concern, “This thing says that if I buy it, I’m going to be able to make a living with hand lettering. What if I don’t know what tools to use?” As a part of the journey, you might say, “I will talk to you specifically about the tools you can use, or how to use any tool that you have available to be a successful hand lettering artist.”

Get more specific information to address the concerns of your future buyers.

  • 33:03 Sean: That’s something I had an article on, too—“What tools do I use?” One of the common questions was, “Can I really make a living as a hand lettering artist?” I go into explaining why hand lettering is big and why clients want it. People are into it, and if people are into it, clients can use it to reach them. I explain all the different ways you can make money at this specific thing. “Oh, I guess I can only make my own products. Can I really sell enough mugs?” Maybe not, but you can take that same design and sell t-shirts. They say, “What if I can’t sell enough physical products as a whole?” That’s fine, because you can also do custom work for people. You can do custom commissions for businesses or for individuals.
  • 33:53 Once you get to a level where you’re really good, you can teach it. There are so many different ways that you can make money at hand lettering, but people had that question. They’re wondering this, so I create content in response to that. A lot of people are just throwing content out there. They think, “I need to keep people entertained, so I have to throw something out there.” What is the purpose of the content? Fear, uncertainty, unanswered questions, inhibitions, that’s what this piece of content should be helping someone overcome. It’s helping them along the buyer’s journey.
  • 34:31 When you’re putting out content, you have to think about this. Ultimately, if you want to make money, you need to think of this as a business. The media side is just the acquisition of the customer. Your followers need to be led to a product or service that serves their needs. If you don’t know what those are, you have to open up that conversation. It’s really easy. If you have a YouTube channel, say, “Hey, I’m wondering, what’s your biggest struggle when it comes to X? Let me know in the comments below, because I want to help you out with this.” You can continue to make videos in response to things, or you can notice the most common struggle and make a product or service in response to it.
  • 35:19 “People actually want to start their own YouTube channel and they have no idea what they’re doing.” You could offer consulting and say, “Here’s how to do it the right way. I’m going to show you all of the mistakes I made and how you can save time.” You can find so many ways to create value. The product will essentially make itself. If you’re guessing at what you need to make, that’s where you know there’s a red flag. You should never be guessing at the product—you should be making it in response to people.

Don’t underestimate the power of asking your audience what they need.

  • 35:48 Ben: I was consulting with a dog trainer the other today, and he doesn’t do any content marketing. All of his stuff is word of mouth right now. I was encouraging him to get into content marketing and to start working with his local connections to start providing material. Somehow, in the conversation, he figured out that he’s got enough of an Instagram following that if he just put a cute picture of a puppy up there with a question mark and said, “Hey, what questions do you have about training your dog?” he would get tons of responses. I threw down my notepad and I said, “That’s a gold mine. You need to do that as soon as possible.”
  • 36:50 Right now, as early as I am in the In the Boat With Ben podcast journey, I would love to have that kind of access to people’s real questions. I know how to get it in other ways, but to have your own audience giving you their own struggles and being able to address those directly, not just in the content you’re providing, but eventually in a product or a service, that’s the best scenario for providing a valuable product or service.

Ask Your Audience

  • 37:29 Sean: There’s a lot to take away from what Ben just said, but in case it wasn’t clear, the call to action for you is that you need to ask your audience. Have a conversation with your audience. Brent Galloway does t-shirt design, and how do I know this? He finally curated that on his website. Before, he was just a freelance guy. Why would anyone hire him? I don’t know. Nobody knows. Now he’s the t-shirt guy now. I wasn’t planning on bringing Brent in just now, but I was going to give a random example about t-shirts and I thought of him. Curate!
  • 38:13 Let’s say you do videos on YouTube about t-shirts. You know your audience is interested in t-shirts, because they’re downloading your templates, watching your videos, and asking questions. Here’s what you do. Make a 60 second video with a thumbnail that’s something like a blank t-shirt, an arrow pointing to the right, and then a finished t-shirt with a design and a price tag on it. Then there’s a big question mark underneath. How do I get from nothing, a blank t-shirt, to something that will really sell? Pick something like this that you think your audience will resonate with, and ask them in the video, “This process is somewhat mystified. How do you get from point A to point B? I did it the wrong way a lot, and I want to help you. Rather than spew my knowledge everywhere, I want to hone in on what your biggest struggles are right now. I know I’m not in the same position, and I don’t want to guess. I want to hear what you have to say. Let me know in the comments below.” Or, like Ben said, on Instagram.
  • 39:21 I’m going to bring in Kyle’s comment here. Kyle’s an icon designer. How do I know? He stopped being an illustrator, icon designer, user interface designer, and whatever you want designer, and he started being an icon designer. What could he do on his Instagram? He could make an icon that’s split in half, either diagonally or vertically, and one half is done while the other half is unfinished, almost like the Invisible Details artwork. Something like a blueprint or a wire frame. How do I get from this point to that point, from idea to execution? From concept to something I can deliver to a client?
  • 40:07 He puts that out there on Instagram with a big question mark. What are your struggles? Someone on Instagram who listens to this podcast did this—he posted an Instagram photo and ended up tagging me in some comment that he was replying to someone. He had something like 70 comments. He asked, “Hey, what are your biggest struggles?” He got tons of comments.

People are eager to tell you what they’re struggling with, and that’s how you know what to make in response.

  • 40:39 Ben: I like the examples Sean gave, because they were relatively specific. It wasn’t just asking, “What are your biggest struggles in life?” Even beyond the specific industry or the specific artistic expression, it got down to a specific process. How do you take an unfinished icon and turn it into a final icon? If you get that specific with people, they’ll more likely give you a specific question or struggle that they have. The more specific you can get, the easier it’s going to be to provide a very valuable answer. People might say, “Well, I’m not struggling with that, but since you’re asking, there’s this thing that I haven’t quite figured out.” You get all of that. You get the benefits of being more specific, but you also get the benefits of having asked and getting people to give you their feedback.
  • 42:10 Sean: I also like what Kyle said about the editorial calendar, which is something I taught in my Supercharge Your Writing workshop. It’s $99 and I’m going to remove it. Read the testimonials on the page. I’m going to remove this workshop because I’m creating a much more premium writing course in 2016, and it’s not going to be available forever. That’s where I taught this editorial calendar process. Kyle says, “Editorial calendar plus product calendar and tie them together with references. I believe that would be the key to successful income growth for me. Make a plan.” I like this a lot.
  • 43:02 If you’re just spewing out content, thinking, “A post is going to go out, and it’s 3am the night before! I have to throw something together and make sure I publish it so everyone sees that I keep up my schedule,” it’s not purposeful. Where does that fit in on bringing someone from one step to the next on the buyer’s journey? Try planning things out purposefully like Kyle’s doing. He’s scheduling out his products in 2016 and tying his editorial calendar, the content that’s going out, to those products. Reverse engineer it. Backwards Build it. What’s the product? What are the objections people have? How do I answer those? That becomes the content. You’re providing value all along, so to anyone else, you look like yet another YouTube channel or Instagram account, but you’re being purposeful. Even though you look similar to anyone on the outside, you’re actually making money, and they’re freaking out about product placement and people getting upset in the comments about ads.
  • 44:18 Ben: I know how much work it takes to come up with topics, not just sourcing that information from your audience. A lot of people stop there. Getting from having topics, or even planning it out with a year’s worth of topics, to actually having a plan for those topics, when they’re going to come out, in what order, and what product or service they’re going to lead up to isn’t more than double the work it took to come up with the topics in the first place.
  • 45:05 Sean: Ben, I know for a fact that you haven’t watched Supercharge Your Writing. You know how I know? If you had seen this editorial planning process, three people independently said the words, “Blew my mind.” I didn’t put words in their mouths. I’ll give it to you, because I’m nice like that, but only if you promise to watch it. When Kyle went through this, he had his content planned through May within no time, and we did this workshop in November. He literally wrote me right after doing the workshop, and he had his content planned through May.
  • 45:55 Ben: You’re saying that if I had watched it, I wouldn’t have even asked that question.
  • 45:58 Sean: You wouldn’t have given the example, because coming up with this editorial calendar, this road map, this Buyer’s Journey, is so ridiculously easy when you understand this.

Patreon vs. Selling

  • 46:12 Levi asks, “Sean, how do you feel about Patreon for support of regularly created content entertainment? I still have this nagging feeling that building a product like an ebook/mini course would still be a better idea than starting the Patreon model. Thoughts? In a perfect world, I would do both eventually. What should I focus on? Am I missing out by not asking my current audience to financially support?”
  • 46:43 I’m not afraid to sell. It costs me money to put on this show, so I’m going to provide even more value, I’m going to sell it, and I’m going to point people to it because it’s relevant. What are we doing on this show? We’re saying, “Look, you’re internet famous. You have 40,000 Instagram followers and you make no money. You have 120,000 YouTube subscribers and you make no money. You’re wondering why, you’re throwing ads and sponsors and product placement at it, and you’re upsetting your listeners/viewers/subscribers/followers, and you’re still not making money.”
  • 47:55 I want to help people understand that they’re focusing on an acquisition channel without having a business model, so I’m teaching them how to do that, how to reverse engineer and plan ahead, how to create an editorial calendar and accelerate people along the Buyer’s Journey. I want to see their content not only provide value and entertain, but ultimately sell, even though it looks exactly the same to everyone else on the outside. I have a workshop that teaches people how to come up with all of those in no time. It’s the perfect opportunity to sell it, so I don’t apologize at all.
  • 48:41 Even then, right there, I’m teaching. Yes, I’m promoting my thing and getting one more impression for, but I hope people are also listening. I hope they’re learning from me. I was at a conference last week, and I was getting value from the speakers, but I was also taking a step back—as you should—and learning from how it’s being done. It’s the same with email courses. Sign up with email courses, learn from the material, and then step back and look at how they did it. What did they say in the first email? How did they break it down? What questions did they ask? How are they teaching me? At what point do they promote their product? How do they link to it? What is the language?
  • 49:50 Like I’m doing right now, I hope people listening think, “Sean’s giving a lot of value, but he also sold really hard on his workshop right there. Maybe I can do that. Maybe, when something’s relevant for me and I’m writing up this blog post, I shouldn’t be afraid to promote a related product that’s going to provide value.” Let’s get back to Levi’s question about Patreon. I’m going to ask you first, Ben—what are your thoughts on Patreon? Maybe we can go through pros and cons.

There are some good aspects to the Patreon model, but there are also some bad aspects.

  • 50:16 Ben: First of all, I’m not a big fan. It’s using someone else’s platform, so you’re having ot give a percentage of what you’re making to that platform. That’s a downside that I think of immediately. I’m a big fan of all of the value I provide and the money that comes in from that value going to me. On the other hand, I can see the value of being on a platform that’s optimized for providing the kind of content that I want to share with my audience. It makes it easy for me to do it, I don’t have to worry about setting up all of that stuff and creating that experience myself, but that also brings me to another downside. They could change the way they do that, or maybe they present it in a way I don’t agree with. Maybe their model will change.
  • 51:10 I don’t know, because I don’t have any control over that platform. As far as the interaction with the audience is concerned, as long as the interaction stays between the audience and the artist, there’s still some purity there. When it’s through something like YouTube, you monetize your channels, and now they’re seeing stuff that isn’t relevant to the content you’re providing, or if you have a sponsorship model. That’s when it feels like it takes away from the purity of that relationship. Patreon can preserve some of that because it still keeps the artist and the audience connected.
  • 52:01 Sean: In my mind, it’s a bulleted list. Let’s tally up the pros and the cons. Let’s talk about the good first. When you’re putting out free content, you’re building up an audience, you want to be able to support yourself, and you have loyal fans that are interested in what you’re doing, having some sort of subscription model is a great way to do that. A poor way would be to only take people’s money on a subscription to say thanks. You could do that and take donations, but I don’t like to.


  • 53:03 Learn Lettering, the starter class, is $0. I used to charge $99, but now I give it away. We get dozens, if not hundreds, of orders a day. Most of them are the free class. There are subscriptions, courses, products, and physical things, but most of them are this free class. The problem is that when I go to look at my orders, I see all of these $0 orders from people. My orders list is basically non-functional. It’s really hard to find something that might need an action taken on it. I go to check my order list and looking for a way to filter, and there’s no way to filter. You can’t filter the orders.
  • 53:50 The list is clogged up with all of these free orders, which renders it useless for processing paid orders if I want to do something manually. I have a developer friend, and his name is Daniel Espinoza. Daniel runs a website called Shop Plugins. I use WordPress and WooCommerce, and he makes plugins for WooCommerce on his own platform. There’s a reason I’m promoting him. He runs a show called WooCommerce Office Hours. Every week, he answers questions and provides value. I had this question, because I use WooCommerce to look at my orders and I’m wondering how to fix this. Who comes to mind?
  • 54:58 Daniel comes to mind, because he’s specialized. He’s a brilliant developer and he does all kinds of things. He used to work on Magento sites and all these other examples, but he specialized to be the WooCommerce guy, so he comes to mind. I hit him up and asked him the question, “Hey, I have all these free orders. Can you help me?” He says, “There isn’t a way to do it, but I can make you a custom plugin. I’m going to make it and share it on my show, and then you can download it.” He didn’t charge me, and he did. I was watching his show, and he also messaged me in case I didn’t catch the show with a link to the plugin, I installed it, and it worked perfectly. It filtered out all of the $0 orders and my orders list was now functional again. He just solved a problem for me.
  • 55:53 I said, “Thanks so much, man! It’s working for me. Where’s the tip jar?” He said, “There’s no tip jar,” and that was the last message. I haven’t spoken to him since he sent that message about there not being a tip jar. If you’ve tuned out by this point, you’ve missed the biggest value. This is critical. The conversation ends, and this is where my thoughts on the subject branch off into two separate directions. Had he had a place to donate, I would have given him money. I compensate for value. I’m not a freeloader. I listen to shows on because they have great shows there, and I’ve been essentially freeloading from them, getting great value, much like our own listeners.
  • 56:54 I hadn’t compensated them yet. I had received tons of value, dozens of shows. Value, value, value. They came out with an Academy plus a Summit, a conference that’s connected to what is essentially their membership site. It’s very similar to seanwes conference, which you can still sign up for. Early bird tickets are still available. If you sign up for that, you get a year of membership. This was very similar. I signed up for it, no brainer. Sure, I’d like to go to the conference, but more than that, I wanted to pay them back for the value. I bought 30 of Gary’s books. When people give me value, I compensate them. I find a way—I don’t freeload.
  • 57:37 I’m asking Daniel where the tip jar is, because if he accepted donations, I would go straight to it and I would pay him. I would pay him more than he would have charged me, because I want to be generous. The Rule of Reciprocity—if you buy someone a coffee, they buy you a lunch back, because they don’t want to feel indebted. They overcompensate. I was ready to give him money. This is the argument for having donations, but this is not where the conversation ends. I’ve often been asked if I have a place to accept donations, and I don’t. I realize that I’m leaving money on the table. Or am I?
  • 58:21 I am now feeling the burden of reciprocity for my developer friend Daniel. I’m talking about him on my show to many thousands of listeners. I’ve bought plugins from him before and I’ve hired him for custom work in the past, but when he comes out with something new, I’m going to be very likely to buy it if it’s remotely related to me because of reciprocity. It’s the same thing here. I’m essentially interrupting my show to tell this story to promote Daniel, because he’s given me value and I feel obligated to return the favor. I don’t have a place where I accept donations at all right now. I don’t have a Patreon or a PayPal Donate, and a lot of people have asked for this.
  • 59:16 I get emails from people saying, “Where can I donate?” I say, “Well, you can sign up for the Community,” and they say, “I don’t have time.” I say, “Why don’t you sign up and support us even if you don’t use it?” They don’t bother to do it. I’m not putting up donations for a reason. Am I missing out on money? Maybe. Yes, there are people who have expressed the willingness, but what could this good will turn into? I’ve provided value, they have good will, and they want to donate. It could be a future course purchase. It could be a conference ticket. It could be sharing an episode with a friend. Who knows? Nobody knows.

If I accepted donations, my appreciators would send me $20 and the reciprocity would be considered fulfilled—they would move on.

  • 1:00:10 What’s the value of a conference ticket? It’s a lot more than $20. You have to think long term here. Are you shortchanging yourself and the value you’re putting out by doing Patreon?
  • 1:00:30 Ben: A donation and a Patreon are a little bit different in nature.
  • 1:00:39 Sean: If you’re using Patreon, not to provide additional exclusive value, but just as a way for people to give you money with nothing in return, this is something to think about. The other way to use Patreon is essentially like a membership site. If you’re doing the donation thing, whether you’re using PayPal, Patreon, or whatever, these people are going to come in and give you $3 a month. What’s $3 a month? It’s $36 a year. Don’t you think, if you provided value consistently and had products for sale, that you might get more than $36 a year from people? Think about this. Think about the long game. If you accept that $3 a month Patreon subscriber just for support, that’s it. The reciprocity is fulfilled. They’re compensating you back. You haven’t put a price on it, you said, “Just donate,” so whatever number they put is satisfying the reciprocity.
  • 1:01:40 Ben: Patreon doesn’t care how low that number is. They’ve got hundreds and thousands of users, and whatever percentage they’re getting off of those $3 donations from all of those patrons is great for them. That’s the thing I dislike about Patreon and sites like that. When you’re thinking, “What am I going to provide of value that’s exclusive for people that support me?” There’s a guided process that’s not in your best interest. It’s not really in your audience’s best interest, either. It’s in the best interest of the platform. Maybe you come up with some good ideas based on the guidance they give you for products and services to offer, but what if you did those things on your own? Even more, what if you asked your audience what they wanted from you and you provided that on your own platform?

Use Your Own Platform

  • 1:02:47 Sean: The main benefit of Patreon is that it provides a platform for people to deliver exclusive value. Some people use Patreon just as a way to get donations and they don’t use it as a place to provide content or anything exclusive. Other people say, “Hey, if you pay me at this level, you’ll get an extra video, a couple stickers, weekly exclusive member updates,” or whatever. Where do those updates live? They live on Patreon. This comes back to the whole platform thing (Related: e69 Build Your Platform—Not Someone Else’s). Maybe we need to do another episode on this topic to refresh people, but there are a lot of problems with using someone else’s platform.
  • 1:03:37 They get to change the rules. You’re just playing whatever game they set, and they can change the rules of the game whenever. If it’s there, it’s working in their favor. Also, where are you pointing people? We just had an episode about if social media went away tomorrow, what do you have? Put another way, if all other platforms that are not your platform went away tomorrow, what do you have? You have 279 videos on YouTube telling people to go to, but that’s not your platform. You can’t change all of those links. You’ve said that. It comes back to this question: where do people go?
  • 1:04:54 If you want to find seanwes stuff, where do you find it? We have properties on social platforms. We have social media accounts. We do provide value there, but it points back to is the home, the hub of everything. We don’t use third party platforms. We don’t use That’s not where you go to get courses from seanwes. Our home, our platform, is where we tell people to go, and we control that platform. You’re not thinking about the opportunity costs of cross-promotion. When someone goes to your platform for whatever content or course this is, they see whatever else you promote. “Hey, by the way, we have a membership. By the way, sign up for the email.” The email leads to all kinds of wonderful things.
  • 1:06:06 You can sign up for the membership, you can buy this other course, and we have physical products on the topic of the post you’re reading right now. It’s very targeted. These other platforms are also very targeted in their best interest. YouTube will show you related videos—not necessarily yours. Sometimes it might be yours, but other times it will be other videos. They want to keep people on their platform. Autoplay turns into ad revenue which makes them money. If you’re pointing them to Patreon, that’s not your home. You don’t control that. It’s just a place you’re hanging out.

If you don’t have a home on your own site, you don’t have the opportunity to cross-promote and you’re missing out.

  • 1:06:50 Think bigger here, on enterprise level. You may have one product right now. You may have zero products, and you’re working on your first. You need to think about your 5th and your 25th product. How many times do you watch a YouTube video that was published in 2012? That’s not that long ago. It’s three years ago. What have you done in three years? What will you do in the next three years? There are tons of people who will go through and see your old content, and where is it pointing? It’s pointing to
  • 1:07:24 There’s nothing wrong with Patreon. It’s brilliant. It’s very smart for them, because we have this problem that we’re talking about today, all these internet famous people with no money because they have no business plan. They have no business strategy, so this is the perfect patch for a much deeper problem. That problem is that they built something without thinking about it, without being purposeful about it, and now they have all of this attention and they want to convert it. They want to do that without thinking long term enough to build their own platform because they don’t have the money to build their own platform.
  • 1:08:01 Ben: When you go to somebody else’s home, it may be really nice, inviting, and warm. You may feel very at home there, but try going to the refrigerator and drinking out of the milk carton.
  • 1:08:35 Sean: You have to be long term. If you say, “I’m going to be YouTube famous. I’m going to make a channel and be a YouTube star and everything’s going to be great,” I encourage you to think about your business model. Why are you getting into this game? Who do you want to help, and what are their struggles? If you just think that you’re going to be a famous YouTuber, that’s not good. You need to go out and say, “Who is this person I’m trying to reach?” Have conversations with this person. Get to know this person intimately, their fears, their struggles, and their problems, and help them solve those problems. Even if your YouTube channel is entertainment, think of it as a tool.
  • 1:09:30 It’s a way to bring people along that buyer’s journey and bring them to a product or service that will make their life better. It’s a long term, sustainable strategy. I don’t think YouTube is going away, but you don’t know. We forget about the things that go away. I’m trying to think of some big acquisitions that have happened, that have gotten absorbed. Some big company buys out something that everyone uses, and then it gets absorbed or killed. They really just wanted the developers or the talent. You forget about those platforms. You think something is indestructible, that it’s going to last forever.

If you’re building your house on someone else’s platform, you can’t control the outcome.

  • 1:10:22 It may be years before you get there, before you realize what I’m talking about. I’m trying to set you up for long term success.