When I was a kid — I loved the ideas of the American Pioneers and Cowboys of the 18th and 19th Centuries.
As a little tike, I even had one of those raccoon-skinned Daniel Boone style hats and a pair of sleek black on black, slate black cowboy boots to go along with it.
I was dripping in cool…
I loved how these Americans (popularized in lore by real life characters such as Boone and Davy Crockett) went into the unknown in order to build a life and experience uncharted ground.
Of course there are no need for those types of pioneers, prospectors, cowboys and cartographers (map makers).
But there is still a need of certain individuals to travel into the uncharted areas of the internet and all of its glory and opportunity.
That’s the reason I haven’t taken that metaphorical raccoon-skinned hat in 30 years.
I’m addicted to looking for patterns, discovering new things, and coming back to the settlement and sharing them with my tribe.
Over the course of nearly half a decade, I’ve been searching these uncharted areas and seeing what gold I can prospect. I have been able to build a $10,000 a month online business in the process.
I want to share with you the top 5 lessons I’ve learned from that journey.
So let’s get into it…
Secret 1: It’s not about going viral
This might shock you…
“But Jon! What about all the writers on here with tens or hundreds of thousands of followers?”
Yeah — what about them?
There are a few content creators, bloggers, YouTubers, and online entrepreneurs that come to my mind when I think about tens or hundreds of thousands in terms of follower counts.
Perhaps they’ve had several pieces of content go viral (to which there’s really no agreed upon definition, by the way) but there’s something more as to the reason they’re experiencing success.
Let’s agree that, for the purposes of this argument, that in order for something to be viral, it needs to be shared and have views of excess of 25,000 within one week. Are there going to be content creators and online entrepreneurs who reach such requirements?
But what really is going to manifest long-term and sustainable success in this space is growth over the long haul.
I have multiple articles that have gone for over 150k views (see images)
Those articles are about a year old each.
However — they generate about $100 a month just floating in the wilderness that is the Medium platform.
And you know how many articles I’ve written?
Most of the content doesn’t get close to 25, 50 or even 100k views.
However, compounded over the days, weeks, and months, those earnings start to add up and I’m generating about $6,000 just from my articles.
Another $5,000 is generated from my email list.
Really — the biggest indicator I can use to predict one’s success in the online content and online business space is the consistency of producing.
- Producing content
- Producing digital products
- Producing email correspondence
I’d like to examine that third bullet point for our next secret.
Secret 2: Don’t pan for gold — sell shovels
A nifty story that coincides with the pioneers and prospectors of the West has to do with Levi Strauss (yes — from the jeans).
When countless Americans headed west in 1849, so did Strauss.
Originally an immigrant from Bavaria, Germany, Strauss knew that individuals were heading to California in attempts to find their “pot of gold” through prospecting. Strauss originally fled west so he could sell wholesale dry goods: food, fabrics, etc. (through a company founded by his brother) to the prospectors. He quickly ran out of product
A customer, Jacob Davis, wrote to Strauss in 1872. Davis, a tailor in Nevada, had bought cloth from Strauss for his own business and developed a special way to make more durable pants. Davis used metal rivets on the pockets and on the front fly seam to help the pants resist wear and tear. Unable to cover the cost himself, Davis asked Strauss to pay the fee so that he could secure a patent for his unique design.
That unique design later became the blue jean and subsequently helped Strauss become a millionaire when he sold these durable jeans to the prospectors.
There is a common adage in the marketing space that says,
“Sell shovels in a gold rush”
Of course — I’m not literally asking you to sell shovels.
In the new digital Wild, Wild, West your shovels are sold as digital products and courses through your email list.
In field in which you’re operating, what are some “shovels” (solutions) you can help your audience with?
Through this model, I’ve been able to generate an extra $4,803.80 by “selling shovels.”
Below are the images from both my Stripe as well as PayPal analytics to note the sale of these shovels.
That’s an extra $5,000 in earnings that I would be missing out on had I not been “selling shovels” and just creating content.
What you should be focused on here is creating a solution to a problem that your audience is dealing with — when you can do that, you can upload it to a free digital product storefront (like WooCommerce or Convertkit Commerce) and start selling your shovels!
Secret 3: It’s not for everyone
I know the idea of this sounds like an amazing life…
- You get to work your own hours
- You get to have a say in your potential income
- You get to work and live where you want
- You don’t have a boss
But let me tell you — this isn’t for everyone.
It isn’t always the images you see when your scrolling Instagram.
- Having a perfectly smooth butt (mines pale and flat)
- Living in a mansion (I live in a humble apartment)
- Filled with parties (this is a very solitary profession that involves being alone and pacing back and forth in your apartment)
- Easy (you’re your own boss — you actually have to find the discipline and order to get your work done)
If you’re not a very conscientious person, it’s probably going to be hard for you.
I find that really hammering out a routine helps me get the work done. It’s a lot of Googling for solutions, building things that may not work right at first, dealing with rejection from publishers and customers, and more.
All in all — it’s tough.
My own conscientiousness resulted in me needing to give myself “shutdown” hours because the workload can feel so overwhelming and if you don’t have a schedule — it can swallow you whole and you lose sight of having a personal life.
Secret 4: Telling people what you do for a living is weird
This one makes me laugh and I’m still not totally used to it.
I love meeting new people and getting the proverbial American,
“So what do you do?”
After a few years of doing this now, I found it very strange answering that question.
Like, I’m definitely proud of myself (as I know a lot of the other online entrepreneurs are), but when you’re in this space — it’s a bit hazy.
I like to think,
“Did the pioneers and cowboys of the 18th and 18th Century know they were pioneers and cowboys?”
Of course there’s no way in hell someone who be asking a pioneer what they did for a living when they were grabbing a mug of backwater hooch from the local saloon, but it’s fun to think about.
When you’re in this space — what are you?
- A blogger?
- An online entrepreneur?
- A content creator?
- A business owner?
- A writer?
That’s why I’ve coined myself as an Internet Cowboy.
It get’s that strange look from people that gets me going.
Then of course when conversation opens up, I can explain to them more in depth what exactly I do.
And of course, that leaves them even more confused.
It’s something that no one tells you about.
Because here in America (and I’m sure in other countries and cultures) we identify heavily with our profession and career.
This is of course for better or for worse. I’m not arguing that we should do that or not — it’s just a product of the culture.
But even though you can build this life where you’re fulfilled internally because you’re:
- Creating things that fulfill you
- Working for yourself
- Earning wages you believe you’re worth
There still is a small hole of not fully feeling accepted by the society because they cannot peg you into their comfortable pigeon hole.
I guess that’s why the cowboys carried Colt revolvers with them — they could just kill the people who didn’t understand them.
I’m kidding, y’all…
Secret 5: You have to start
You probably want to slap me with this one…
Sorry I’m not sorry.
What do I mean with this?
Well, back in 2018 I used to write a lot about cartographers vs. explorers.
A bunch of my old Quora articles talk about this.
Here is the distinction:
Like I said earlier — a cartographer is a map maker.
- They are always drawing up plans.
- They are making measurements.
- And they are mapping things out in their life so it can be perfect.
That’s all great — you don’t want to consistently fall into folly because you aren’t thinking.
But what if all that planning and strategizing is causing you to walk in place rather than moving forward?
No article is ever going to be “perfect.”
Neither are any of the digital products you create.
Or any of the partnerships you form.
Or the emails you send to your list.
Heck — I’ve made the mistake of sending out unfinished templates to my list of thousands of people and having to sit there as scores of subscribers corrected me and watched as I cleaned the egg off my face.
But explorers on the other hand — they’re different.
Explorers like getting dirty.
They like going places where others haven’t gone.
They like setting out into uncharted lands with perhaps just a horse, a canteen, a six shooter, a compass and a blanket to sleep on.
They know the road is going to be hard.
They welcome it.
Because they are always moving forward and exploring — they learn at a way quicker rate than the cartographer.
Nothing is ever going to be perfect.
The explorer understands this.
Are they going to make mistakes, fall over and have to retrace some steps?
But that’s part of being the explorer.
- They’re okay with their articles perhaps not performing as well as they might envisioned if they can learn from it.
- They’re okay with creating a digital product and having it fail with zero sales because they can learn how to make the next one better.
- They’re okay with being rejected over and over from partnerships and publishers because they can take the feedback and get better.
And through it all — they keep progressing through the new territory.
And they start.
They’re not constantly planning, strategizing, and mapping out their next move.
Building a sustainable online business can be one of the hardest things you undertake.
But it can also be one of the most rewarding if you do it right.
In this article, we’ve gone over 5 secrets that I wish I knew when I started working on building my online business four years ago.
Had I known these things — perhaps I’d be even farther along than where I am now.
It’s my goal for you to take these secrets and apply them to your own situation.
These 5 secrets are:
- It’s not about going viral
- Don’t pan for gold — sell shovels
- It’s not for everyone
- Telling people what you do for a living is weird
- You have to start
Now go forth and start building your own online business