Let’s take a quick break from web design and web development and talk about how people make money online. This is very relevant for designers, developers, and bloggers out there who want to earn online. But how?
I’ve already explained why web designers and web developers should learn more about online marketing. There is a lively discussion going on there and I suggest that you contribute as well.
The controversial question is this: how much sheer luck do you need in order to succeed online?
There is no black and white, only shades of grey
It’s interesting how every time the topic of luck comes into play when discussing successful online businesses it polarizes people:
- One group of people, let’s call them naysayers, say that those who are successful online became successful only because they got some lucky breaks.
- Another group of people, let’s call them yaysayers, say that luck didn’t play a significant role in some people becoming successful online, and that their success can be replicated through sheer hard work and determination.
Well, as much as I’d like to agree with yaysayers, like I did when I was young and naive, I can’t (mainly because now I’m young and wise). The luck issue simply isn’t that black and white, and if you fail to see the shades of grey, you will have a hard time trying to build a successful online business. Let’s talk about some things that almost no one talks about, shall we?
Yes, luck does exist and it does play a role in your success!
Now, I don’t actually think that luck exists, since I’m a Buddhist, and I believe in karma, but let’s not get into that and call finding oneself in unexpected positive circumstances luck for the sake of simplicity (and to avoid philosophical and religious debates in the comments section :D ).
There’s some sort of myth that people who achieve great success in life managed that solely by putting in hard work and persevering until they achieved their goal. That’s a very comforting thought, right? Well, yes and no.
In the book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell argues that there are a lot of other factors influencing our success besides hard work and determination, factors such as being born at the right time or getting an opportunity that most people in the same career didn’t, etc. One of the many examples could be the story of Bill Gates and Microsoft. There’s no doubt that Bill Gates is an extraordinarily smart guy, but he also was lucky enough to get access to computers when computers were still a total novelty. This allowed him to develop skills in a new and developing field far earlier than many other people did, and turn Microsoft into a company that it is today. You can read more stories like that in the book if you are interested in the topic. The point is, luck plays a much bigger role in our successes and failures than we would like to admit.
You can easily see this trend in the blogosphere when you take a look at the top blogs out there, including blogs on personal development, online marketing and web design.
Here’s what a lot of them seem to have in common:
- They were started somewhere between 2005 – 2008
- People who started those blogs didn’t intend to turn them into businesses.
It’s clear that timing played a big role in these successes. The blogosphere was much, much smaller back then, therefore it was much easier to get noticed by readers as well as by other bloggers. Yes, you did have to work your socks off, but the return of investment was much bigger back then. I’d say that a lot of current A-listers owe much of their success to lucky timing.
The fact that people who are very successful now didn’t have the intentions to turn their blogs into businesses also tells us a lot about the situation back then. In 2005-2008 the idea “write great content and they’ll come” still worked. Good luck trying this one now: the reality is that it’s very unlikely that someone will accidentally build a foundation for a profitable online business without any intention to do so. That just doesn’t happen anymore.
Now, these things are really quite obvious, therefore a lot of people notice them and quickly jump to conclusions, deciding that the train has passed and their attempts to build a successful online business is doomed to fail.
Well, not so fast, people, since there are quite a few more recent success stories!
“Blogosphere is overcrowded!” – Yet some people still pull it off
There are two interesting stories in the online marketing niche (which IS overcrowded):
- Danny Iny and Peter Vogopoulos founded Firepole Marketing in 2010. They were internet nobodies and didn’t have any connections in the blogosphere. Despite that, Firepole Marketing is a popular and respected marketing blog, and Danny is well-known among people in the niche (Peter seemed to intentionally stay in the shadows).
- Derek Halpern started Social Triggers in 2011. His blog exploded in the online marketing scene, and now is one of the most respected online marketing blogs out there (you can take a look at this interview where Derek describes how he got 17, 000 subscribers in just 11 months).
Now, if the naysayers would be right, and starting a blog in an overcrowded niche is a recipe for a failure, then surely both Danny and Derek would have failed. However, the last time I checked, both of them are doing great. How is that possible?
Well, the same way there’s more to success then hard work and determination, there’s also more to success then sheer luck.
Why do some people succeed when so many others fail?
I’d say that the two main reasons why Danny and Derek managed to succeed where so many people have failed (and keep on failing) are:
- They had very clear intentions of building profitable online businesses from the very start.
- They had a lot of business experience and marketing knowledge before starting their blogs.
Now, online marketing is a niche which is extremely hard to break into, mainly because you are competing with a bunch of other people who know how to play the game very well, and have been at it way longer than you. However, many other niches (such as web design or web development) are very different, because within those niches there a lot of people who are great at their craft, maybe even good writers, but they are clueless about online marketing. This means that if you know even a little bit more about running online businesses than the average person in your niche does, you can get ahead much faster, and the more you know, the easier it is. You’re not only playing against people who have no idea about the rules of the game, but often are unaware that they even are in the game.
Which one should you choose to rely on: luck or hard work?
It’s clear that there are two ways to succeed online:
- Luck. You need to be in the right place at the right time and with the right people.
- Hard work. You need to continuously invest time and energy (and sometimes money) into mastering online marketing and then invest some more time and energy (and sometimes money) into putting everything you have learned into action.
Everyone who is in their right mind understands that we don’t have any direct control whatsoever over the luck factor, therefore we can’t build our futures on our hopes to get our big break someday. Moreover, luck can even be dangerous, because it gives you an illusion that you know what you are doing, when the reality is that you will be completely lost once the circumstances change (and they will inevitably change). Hard work, on the other hand, is something you can control, something that can help you to produce the results you desire. It also provides you with a deep understanding of the mechanics of business success, as opposed to superficial tactics, that, in turn, enables you to adapt to any shifts in the market.
Wouldn’t it be wise to make a decision to rely solely on hard work and pour your time and energy into acquiring all the skills necessary for success, instead of daydreaming about your big break? Maybe you will be lucky, maybe you won’t be lucky, but one way or another you will have a successful online business, because your success won’t be dependent on luck.
Don’t learn from superstars, learn from the experts!
There’s this interesting article on Forbes called “Why You Shouldn’t Model Yourself On Top Performers.” The main idea is that people who are superstars in most fields became superstars because of some sort of lucky break, not because of their actual skills, therefore it’s much wiser to analyze people who are great at what they do, but aren’t a superstar. This article is thought provoking because it challenges our assumptions about learning and success.
I think the main lesson in the article is very relevant nowadays, especially if you are trying to build an online business. A common problem in the blogosphere is that people who became successful largely because of sheer luck don’t understand that (or don’t accept that) and try to teach others their strategies. Many people look up to these superstars and try to learn from them. This might seem reasonable at first, but a deeper analysis quickly shows that the success of those stars cannot be replicated. Well, who should you learn from them?
We live in an extremely fast-paced time, when the news of yesterday is the history of today, but don’t be fooled by that: some things remain the same.
Have you ever wondered why so many modern copywriters learn from guys who lived way before the internet was invented? It’s because tools might change, tactics might change dramatically, but the underlying principles remain the same. How come those underlying principles rarely change? It’s because all businesses ultimately deal with people, and whether the new hot thing in town is Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, people are people. You should always analyze why people became successful to see whether their success is due to the sheer luck, or rather to their business mastery, and then learn from them if latter is the case. This way, you will learn from people who can replicate their successes, and consequently, you will be able to adapt to a changing landscape and replicate your own successes. Don’t be mesmerized by everyone who is successful.
Don’t aim to be a superstar, aim to be the expert!