Priceless Education: 11 Painful Business Lessons I Wish I Didn’t Learn the Hard Way (the $96,382.48 difference)

Written by Scott July 31, 2012

painfully priceless business lessons

“Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year – and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade.”

– Tony Robbins

What Can Happen in a Year?

Last Thursday marked a year since I made the decision to switch my old blog Reading For Your Success over to a new brand – Live Your Legend.

It took months to finally decide to make the switch (thanks to the friendly arm twisting of my buddies Corbett and Leo).

I think about that decision a lot.

I can think of no more profound change related to my online business career. Nothing even comes close.

Reading For Your Success experienced just about 0% growth for the first four years I ran it.

Once I made the switch, our community doubled almost overnight (from 4k to nearly 8k in under two weeks). Since then it’s more than doubled yet again.

It’s been an unreal ride and I’m grateful to have experienced it. With it came some hard-learned lessons I want to share, but first here are some of the specifics of what’s gone on since our launch…

Here’s the first year of Live Your Legend by the numbers:

  • Monthly visitors: from 10,254 to 56,804
  • Community members (subscribers): from 4,350 to 15,739
  • Articles Written (excluding guest posts): 58
  • Total visits in 12 months: 573,348
  • Countries reached: 158
  • Total site revenue: +1,089%

But more importantly, by the milestones:

And most importantly, by our biggest measures of success, Impact & Engagement:

On top of everything above, we’ve been able to help a lot more people do work they love.

But this metric is a bit more difficult to measure. We could go with number of comments, which was 2,023 (including mine), but that really doesn’t indicate much.

I prefer to measure by the number of people making progress towards living their legends. I still don’t have the best metric for this (although with all of last week’s Reader Spotlight submissions I hope to change that!), but I did recently receive two comments that I want to share with you that check the box pretty well against our mission.

Someone who’s made the transition…

Thanks to LYL my life has changed completely (I am a fan since the very beginning). I quit my job, got my license as a running coach and can now do work I really love (even though I´m still in the beginning). I would love to give back something to LYL and to support other people in doing the same. – Pia

And someone who now believes it’s possible…

Thank you for being brave enough to choose to live life as it is intended. I found “Live Your Legend” earlier this year and I can’t adequately express how much the site has helped me. I truly believe you have some of the best free content around. While I am still stuck in a conventional life path, I feel there is a way out now and a whole community of people prepared to help. – Erica

This is the kind of change Live Your Legend sets out to make, and I’m sitting here shaking as I see it actually happening. Wow.

I am extremely proud of the community we all have built here and the impact it’s had in such a short period of time.

But that of course wasn’t without some brutal education. 

For starters it took me nearly four years to start figuring things out.

And in reflecting on LYL’s first full year, the successes and the failures – a few major lessons stand out. Lessons that I so wish I would have been taught many years prior. But I guess that’s how it always goes…

So grab a tea and get cozy. It’s time to go deep.

priceless education

The 11 Painful Business Lessons I Wish I Didn’t Learn the Hard Way:

1. Branding and design matter. Content is always king. We know that. But without a design that calls to your message, no one’s ever going to read your rockstar work- no matter how much blood you pour into it. Yeah it can get a little expensive, but a few thousand dollars (or sometimes plenty less), is money incredibly well spent, especially if you plan to make your site into a business, or get anyone to take you seriously. Don’t skimp on this. I did this for years. People took my site about as seriously as I appeared to be taking it.

2. There’s power in a name. This is your brand’s first impression. It can be your achilles heel or your rocket fuel. The best part is you get to choose. Why so many people take the “hurry up and name it so we can get started” approach, blows my mind. Give this step the attention it deserves. When Corbett Barr and I were brainstorming name ideas, he said a name should contain something aspirational and something beneficial.

I wanted an active phrase that encouraged visitors to hold themselves to a higher standard. Little did I know that it’d do the same to me. I spent three months figuring that phrase out, and it didn’t come to me until I was deep in Patagonia on a fly-fishing trip reading The Alchemist along the Palena River. You don’t have to spend three months, but most should spend longer than they do. You have control over this one. Get it right. Choose a name that embodies your message and makes people want to tell their friends. It should go hand in hand with your story and your site’s reason for being. Inspire yourself while you’re at it!

3. Build what you believe in. You cannot build a following, message or company without starting with a foundation that resonates with your core. This is why just making something to fill a market doesn’t usually work. It needs to fit a market, but that market must squarely intersect with a deep belief you have about the world. You must Start with Why, as my friend Simon Sinek has put so brilliantly: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. People don’t want to visit a website or buy a product. They want to join a movement and support a cause. They want to belong. Give them a place to gather.

4. Your community is everything. Nothing exists without you guys. Treat your tribe like gold. Ask what they need. Listen. Pay attention. Then do your best to create and deliver it for them. You don’t build what you want to build. You build what they want and need. Interact in every way possible. The more live and in person the better – something I’m excited to do a lot more this year (btw, our first live event will be in S.F. on August 28th I believe – so keep an eye out!). Chris Guillebeau and Steve Kamb are my ultimate models for this.

Get your community involved and weave them into the story of your brand and movement- that’s a huge part of our Living Legends Reader Spotlights we launched last week. When in doubt, side with the decision that provides more value for those who support your movement. The rest will work itself out.

5. Your community is the teacher. You are here to solve their problems. Step inside their world. Walk in their shoes. Experience life as they do. Then create whatever you can to solve their problems. You don’t have to “figure out” what products to create anymore. Just ask the people who trust you. Build accordingly.

6. Don’t promote crap. Don’t get caught up in trying to promote whatever affiliate product or deal comes your way. Cherry pick only the very best for your community – no exceptions. I have an 8-point checklist that must be met before I’ll promote something. Hence I think I’ve backed about 4 things this year – all products that have personally worked for me, are made by people I trust and fit with the pains you all tell me you genuinely need help with. As a result I ended up being the top affiliate for a couple of them. If you really listen to your community, this shouldn’t be a problem. Don’t get seduced. No one will buy if you do. And you’ll look like an asshole.

7. A product changes everything. I had been told for nearly a year, by respected mentors, to create a paid product for my audience. The day Live Off Your Passion launched, was the day the game totally changed and the day Live Your Legend turned into a real business. I launched it last November and in the last two months it made up about 69% of the site’s 2011 income. More importantly it proves to the world, and yourself, that you are deadly serious about making the impact that your brand and site claim to make. Your credibility goes through the roof. So does your perceived (and actual) expertise.

I had dozens of partnership offers within two weeks of launching the course. It also makes you start thinking about things as a business. Before that all I thought about was producing top notch content for my site and others. There’s still nothing more important, but after the launch I suddenly had to think about delivery methods, partnerships, pricing, copywriting – all the things a real business owner has to think about. That’s when a blog becomes a business.

8. Get the launch right. You can create a product and then write a blog post about it or you can spend a few months preparing your audience, getting their help in building it and creating what they actually need. The strategy and energy you put into a launch can literally make a 1,000% difference (or much more). That’s why I created the seven-page $31,000 Product Launch Checklist. This is probably the most extreme 80/20 relationship I’ve seen online. Take the launch seriously.

constant learning

9. Be personal. People want to be a part of your story, not your business’s story. They want to buy from you, not some company name. Be who you are. Tell vulnerable stories & call yourself out. Don’t just try to mimic what everyone else does (as tempting as that is in the beginning). I was recently on a run with Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness as he told a story of how for the first nine months blogging he published “proper” blog posts five days a week, every week. His site stayed at 97 subscribers for all nine months.

Then someone told him to stop following a template and be his crazy self. So he started writing about wild fitness and travel adventures and how it all related to video games and being a geek. He blew up and had well over a six-figure business within the next year. Being you is one of the biggest differentiators there is.

10. Tell people what you’re going to do. Then do it. This goes for your community, mentors, everyone. I am constantly dropping hints to all of you about whats coming next, like the Connect with Anyone course I’m working on. Keep people engaged and a part of the story as it evolves. Same goes for mentors. Last year I met Jonathan Fields for the first time at World Domination Summit over tea with our mutual friend Leo Babauta. I told him my plans for Live Your Legend. He graciously said he’d be happy to help how he could. I can only imagine how many times he’d heard that story: “hey I’m about to launch this really cool job-quitting personal development blog” type of line.

Then I spent the next year pouring my soul into Live Your Legend and creating something meaningful. Not long ago Jonathan had me on a call with his Good Life Project team as a guest contributor. It was an absolute blast and a huge honor. He continues to send people my way as an example of someone who took his brand, business and launch seriously. After that call I told him how thankful I was to have his support. He simply responded with, “dude you actually did what you said you were going to, and you did it in a really big way. That was awesome to see.” All I did was stick to what I told him over tea. It’s not that hard. Make big claims, then live up to them.

11. Massively over-deliver. I talk about this a lot. And without knowing it, it turned into one of my best differentiators. I do crazy research for each of my posts. They sometimes take a full day or more to write. I create free five or ten page workbooks to ensure what I write can be implemented- then I give them away for free in our Passionate Work Toolkit.

I’ve talked to a lot of internet marketers who say I give way too much away. They tell me the key is to give just enough to get your readers excited – so they want and need to pay you for the rest, to get the full benefit. I call bullshit on that – Perhaps even a bit disgusting. I may be giving up sales, but the “give as little as possible” strategy is not congruent with me providing as much value for you all as humanly possible. So far our approach has worked just fine. It’s taken a bit more work, but I don’t really see another option. Be in the business of blowing peoples’ minds (or at least attempting to). There isn’t much competition up there.

Not everything will work out. Do it any way.

This is the most important of all.

By default, all projects are not a success. Others might take years to figure out. I might look like everyone around you is always getting it right, but it’s just because no one likes to talk about the things that didn’t work so well. If you believe you need to build something for your community then build it. No matter how it works out, it’s learning. And the more you know about your audience, the less risk there is in falling flat.

Earlier this year I created the free Should I Quit Test. I poured an insane amount of energy into it and I’m super proud of what we created. I had huge plans for it (I still do), but to be totally honest with you all, so far it has been a pretty big disappointment. People take it and it’s been helping, but not nearly on the level I had thought. This happens. And it’s ok – although it took a little while for me to agree.

When things go wrong, what’s most important is your next step.

Try. Learn. Improve. Repeat.

The Difference a Year Can Make

Tony Robbins has this quote about people overestimating what they can do in a year, but underestimating what they can do in a lifetime.

As true as this is, it’s even more powerful as you scale it down.

You can get more done in a week, a month or a year if you give pure focus to the small steps – that on their own appear so insignificant.

Those are the ones that add up.

The words written, the miles logged, the books read, the pitches given, the conversations had.

It’s easiest to focus on the gap between where you are and where you want to be. It’s also this same obsessive focus that keeps most from ever getting there.

What we forget is how quickly small minute by minute, day by day acts can pile up.

A bridge never looks like much on day one, when the first bag of cement is poured. Even after a month or two, it’s unrecognizable.

But keep pouring and magic starts to happen.

I’m grateful for what I’ve been able to experience with you all in the past year.

I can only imagine what’s to come.

-Scott

For the comments: What’s one business lesson you wish you learned before it hit you in the face? Share it so perhaps the rest of us won’t have to learn the hard way!

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Reader Spotlight contest update: I’m super excited to say that we got way more submissions than expected for the Reader Spotlight contest we ran last week. So much so that I am going to need more time to process all your stories. I’m sorry for the delay but I hope to have the results in the next week. Thanks for your patience, and your stories!

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