Here’re two distinct posts from Seth Godin about online business. What he has to say, as always, is insightful and true. These two posts relate to each other well, even though they weren’t posted together.
Each post below has been shortened by a few paragraphs to keep this post short, but you’ll get the gist of his ideas. You can click on the titles for the full versions, both posts are worth reading in full.
The most effective way to make a living from attention paid online is to earn trust, connect a tribe and then sell something that isn’t online. Attention is precious and trust even more so.
Many folks, though, would like to be able to deliver a digital ‘product’, an ebook or video or some other online good that they can produce at low cost and sell in volume. There’s a long history of brilliant writers and directors finding markets for their work using movies, books and other media that used to be new, and it would be gratifying if it could work here.
Unfortunately, most people do it wrong. They use a long sales pitch letter with highlighted boxes and fake testimonials. They make grandiose promises of secret riches or long-hidden techniques. And most disappointing to those that would build trust, they enlist a legion of affiliate salespeople, linking to one another and gaming search results or buying fake search ads.
The better way …the model is the same: it’s free to get started. So free, in fact, that most people who engage discover that all they need is the free stuff. Since the marginal cost of sharing these samples is free, it costs them nothing to add one more person to the ever-growing list of those that trust, that pay attention and that gladly give permission to their teacher.
The magic comes in because of the inevitable movement of the most motivated students from free to paid. Not because the teacher has to hold anything back to sell out of panic or greed, but because the committed student is happy and eager to pay.
In more and more fields, the originator of the novel idea reaps an outsize share of the benefits. One reason is that it’s easier to gain attention quickly. Another is that once you gain attention and reputation, it’s easier to lock in permission and turn it into a foundation for your next project. And most of all, when attention is precious, earning that attention with innovation is priceless.
Yes, there are exceptions for those that bring service or price or reliability along to polish an existing idea. And there are certainly businesses that profit from taking over after the innovator, exhausted, gives up and moves on.
But given the choice, I’d say first is a better use of your talent.