BlogWorld 2010: A Lesson In Personal Branding

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend BlogWorld in Las Vegas.

Overall, the event was a blast. I met a ton of fantastic bloggers, drank a lot of great scotch (courtesy of McCallan), and sang Karaoke with a live band in front of hundreds of people.

I even got to enjoy a free helicopter ride across Vegas (courtesy of Infolinks). They picked us up in a champagne filled limo. Not bad; seems like being a blogger is already paying off =).

Anyhow, here are some of the big takeaways:

Make Friends With Influencers: A good strategy at conferences is to make friends with a few influential people and then have them introduce you to everyone else. For me, those people were Srinivas Rao at BlogCastFM and Chris Ducker at Virtual Business Lifestyle. Both of them were amazingly helpful in plugging me into the blogging community.

Be Active On Twitter: Up till now, I never really took Twitter seriously, but now I realize just how powerful it is. Throughout the conference, I was tweeting people to find out where they were and what afterparties were going on. I also learnt that you often get a better response out of Twitter than e-mail when trying to connect with someone in new media, so that will be my strategy going forward.

Have Deep Conversations With Smart People: On Sunday, I was lucky enough to sit down with Sid Savara, a well-known blogger in the personal development space. Sid had some tremendous insights on how to generate more traffic for my blog and also improve sales within my online marketing business. We must have talked for 3-4 hours, and I really got a lot out of it. I'll probably write up a post in the future about these specifics.

Most Sessions Are Meaningless: While there were a few good speakers (including Jonathan Fields), most people didn't really put a whole lot of effort into their talks. As a result, a lot of the content was fairly general and unhelpful. I quickly realized that my time was better spent networking with influencers around the conference hall.

Conferences make a LOT of money: At one of the afterparties, I was talking to a lady who organizes conferences for a living. I found the economics to be very interesting! Evidently, sponsors pay for all of the expenses, so ticket sales are basically pure profit. Blogworld is a smaller conference, but some of the big ones can net the organizers many millions of dollars.

Link To Cool People: I met a ton of cool people, and the best way to stay on their radar is by linking to them frequently. This lets them know that you value their content. In fact, I'm going to do it right now: here are some of the coolest people I met.

How have you gotten value out of conferences/networking events? Please share in the comments.

How Ramit Sethi Will Make Millions From The Earn1K

(note to Ramit: If you read this, I invite you to post a detailed response in the comments)

This year, Ramit Sethi at I Will Teach You To Be Rich launched a high-end information product called the Earn 1K. The basic idea is a detailed, step-by-step guide explaining exactly how you can earn your first thousand dollars as a freelancer.

Ramit has always put out great content, so I figured why not take a look?

And then I saw the price point: $999

I was skeptical. I didn’t believe there was enough of a market to justify this high price. $100-$200 was a reasonable possibility, but $999? That’s crazy! But after talking to some third party sources, I heard that the program has actually been selling extremely well.

In full disclosure, I haven’t bought or read the Earn1K. I don’t feel like spending $1,000 to learn things that I personally already know. However, I was intrigued by this success and wanted to dig a little deeper.

So I started walking through the Earn1K sales funnel. I went to Ramit’s site and clicked on the Earn1K link. Then, I signed up for his newsletters. I also read his most recent blog posts from the last six months to get a good idea of the channels he was using to promote his offering. Finally, I took a long look at his FAQ section.

There are several things that I like about Ramit’s approach:

Honesty

On the Earn1K FAQ, Ramit is very upfront about the fact that this program isn’t for everyone. He goes out of his way to say that if you are in debt, you shouldn’t buy this product and instead focus on saving money.

This is a very unusual tactic. Most people would sell their product to anyone even thinking about buying, but Ramit has more integrity than that. He believes that there is a market for his product, but that there are also people who don’t fall in that category.

The good news: this integrity helps potential buyers trust him even more, which ultimately leads to more sales and a better overall brand.

Investment, Not Product

Ramit has done a masterful job of branding the Earn1K as an “educational investment.” People who complete the program are called “Earn 1K Graduates.” This helps put the Earn1K in the “online education” category of products, which are very expensive. Here, people aren’t just paying for information, they are paying for a brand and a credential.

The Earn1K is an impressive achievement in branding, especially considering that it isn’t an accredited program.

Price Signaling And The Allure Of Exclusivity

Ramit has a large number of preview videos and other material that helps drive sales. In all of these materials, he pitches the Earn1K as a very exclusive product. He implies that if you buy the product, you will have access to information that others simply can’t get very easily.

Another trick here is the concept of Price Signaling. By charging a high price, Ramit is implying that the product is worth a lot. The reasoning is that if others are willing to pay this high price, there must be something special about it…and I’ve got to find out what it is! This is the same concept that helps sell high-end cars and expensive timeshares.

While this is very smart marketing, I’m not sure I believe that this information cannot be found elsewhere for free, or at least at a MUCH cheaper price.

A Long Sales Funnel

Ramit doesn’t just try to sell you from the first moment. Instead, he first lures you in by offering a free “idea generation tool” which will help you determine ways you can make money. In order to get this tool, you have to sign up for the Earn1K newsletter. Ramit then sends you a long series of e-mails, starting out with softer sells that highlight his own successes. If you don’t buy, he then sends you significantly more aggressive e-mails.

In fact, one of his e-mails is actually called “The Hard Sell…Be Very Afraid.”

Some people might think this is over the top, but I actually think it makes a lot of sense. It is different, and bluntly honest. It is very refreshing from all the scammy stuff we see in e-mail marketing these days.

30-Day Money Back Guarantee

Some people are afraid to give a money back guarantee. Big mistake. Having a money-back guarantee is one of the best ways to increase sales, and very few people actually try to return the product. Tim Ferriss actually discusses this extensively in the Four Hour Work Week.

Payment Plans

This is actually a fairly new development. Evidently Ramit was getting a lot of questions about the price from people who wanted to buy, but didn’t have the cash on hand.

Creating a payment plan is a very smart move. It opens the product up to a new market, and as a bonus, Ramit is giving away another one of his information products, the “Scrooge Strategy,” to anyone who buys right now.

Have you heard about the Earn1K? What are your thoughts?

What We Can Learn From Facebook’s Success

In 2003, Mark Zuckerberg was an undergraduate at Harvard University looking to start the next great internet company. Like many successful entrepreneurs, he had a unique vision: to enhance communication, openness, and sharing around the globe. Even before Facebook, Zuckerberg had founded several web enterprises, including an online version of the board game “Risk” and a music player called Synapse that attempted to learn about the listener’s musical preferences (much like Pandora). Neither of these projects generated serious momentum or financial potential, but Zuckerberg was undeterred. He began looking for the next groundbreaking idea…and thus, Facebook was born.

In the last five years, no company has grown faster or had more impact on our daily lives. From its beginnings as a side project created in a Harvard dorm room, Facebook has evolved into an iconic web platform with more than 500 million users and a billion dollars in revenue. It has even been the subject of a book and an upcoming movie. There’s no doubt that Facebook is here to stay, and has permanently changed the way we use the internet. With that in mind, here are a few things we can learn from Facebook’s success.

Continue reading What We Can Learn From Facebook’s Success →

Motivate Yourself with the “Just For Today” Technique

Having big goals for ourselves is important. Unless we think big, we’re never going to develop the skills and the personal brand needed to earn the money we want.

The problem is that big goals can often be overwhelming – whether it’s changing a behavior, learning a new skill, earning more money on the side, or starting a new career. It’s easy to get bogged down by the number of obstacles you face along the way.

Several years ago, I found myself getting into meaningless fights with my friends, family, and girlfriend. These fights wasted a lot of time and energy and strained my relationship with my loved ones.

I knew that it was a serious problem but I didn’t know how to change. I felt pretty depressed and went to talk to a close friend about how to deal with the issue.

“It’s simple Vik,” he said. “The problem is that you’re thinking too big right now and it’s getting you down. The best way to fight this is to take small steps. Here’s an experiment you should try – it’s called the “Just For Today” technique. Focus on one thing you’d like to do differently just for today that will help you change your behavior. This success will give you the boost in confidence you need to keep working towards your goals.”

Continue reading Motivate Yourself with the “Just For Today” Technique →

Six Steps To Making More Money With A Killer Sales Funnel

First off, a big welcome to readers from Smart Passive Income!

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a good friend. He had recently started a marketing agency and was struggling to get clients. "I don't really understand," he said. "I'm having a lot of trouble getting leads, and when I do get them I always ask for the sale but I never end up closing. What am I doing wrong?"

When you're selling a high-end good, you can't just ask for a sale right away. Instead, you need to lure the customer in, bring them in slowly and steadily, using a marketing technique called a "sales funnel." Here are the six major steps to increasing your sales through a killer sales funnel:

Continue reading Six Steps To Making More Money With A Killer Sales Funnel →

Brand “You” – How to Develop Your Personal Brand

Every year, BusinessWeek and InterBrand collaborate on a survey of the Top 100 Most Valuable Brands in the world. As expected, big companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft, McDonalds, and Coca-Coca routinely top the list. What astonished me was the total estimated value of these brands: $2,000,000,000,000.

That’s two trillion dollars

And that’s just the value of the brands. That number doesn’t account for the infrastructure, the people, and everything else that makes up the business. Two trillion dollars of value contained in a few trademarks and logos. How can that be?

Continue reading Brand “You” – How to Develop Your Personal Brand →

The Difference between Passion and Drive

My friend Lisa is a professional musician. She practices and performs more than 60 hours a week, all for very little money. She is a very intelligent person who could probably have a much more secure job, but in her own words she “loves what she does.”

I have another friend, Maggie, who is a corporate attorney. Like Lisa, Maggie works long hours in the office. She doesn’t particularly enjoy her work (although she is very good at it), and she is rewarded with a large paycheck every two weeks. When I asked her why she decided to be a lawyer, she answered that “it was the safe thing to do.”

What is interesting to me is that both my friends are motivated to work hard and excel at their careers, yet their sources of motivation stem from two completely different forces: passion and drive.

A lot of people confuse passion with drive. After all, they both seem to accomplish the same end result – the motivation to succeed. But there is a key difference, described by Randy Komisar in his classic book “The Monk and the Riddle.”

Passion and Drive are not the same at all. Passion pulls you towards something you can’t resist. Drive pushes you towards something you feel compelled or obligated to do. If you know nothing about yourself, you can’t tell the difference.”

Well said, Randy. Passion is addictive; it flows through us naturally and pulls us towards something that we desire. Lisa’s passion was the joy of creating music. Everything else – the lifestyle, the performances, the long hours, was driven by this singular passion.

Drive is different – it is about outside expectations. Perhaps society wants you to do something (like go to graduate school or take a secure job). Maggie doesn’t particularly like her career as an attorney, but the stability and respect she commands from her friends and family is a tremendous motivation.

Is passion better than drive? I think so, for one simple reason: your memories. Passions tend to evoke positive memories and experiences – things that you actually want to remember, as opposed to the things you did because you felt you had to. When you look back on things, you’ll have fewer regrets.

So take a moment to define your passions. What is that pull that you can’t resist?

How To Define Your Value in Business: The Four Pillars

Value.

It’s a word we throw around a lot in business. In any job interview, in any negotiation, the central question is always “how is this deal going to add value to me?”

But what exactly is value?  Is it just about immediate financial results, or does it include intangibles as well? What are those intangibles and how do you measure their impact?

The truth is that there are no magic formulas. However, there are four pillars that can help provide a framework for how to think about value. All four pillars are important to business, relationships, and life; the trick is to figure out who’s providing what and how to maximize your own contribution.

The four pillars are Sales, Operations, Innovation, and Branding

The first pillar is Sales. Unfortunately, the word “Sales” often has a very negative connotation in the business world – it conjures up images of sleazy brokers and realtors who are only looking after their own interests. I agree that there are many unscrupulous salespeople in this world. But the truth is that sales makes the world go around, and most of the time, it actually results in a win-win solution. A truly good salesperson finds a deal that benefits all the parties involved, thus creating value.

Good sales practices aren’t limited to the workforce. Couples can “sell” each other on ways to improve the relationship. Good salesmanship is about creating value for everyone – this kind of deal creation is the lifeblood that builds sustainable businesses and relationships.

Next up we have operations. Operations are about figuring out ways to add efficiencies to a situation. In businesses this usually means cutting costs while maintaining all aspects of quality. There are many ways to accomplish this – training people to improve customer service, cutting out the middlemen, and changing the way people get paid to increase productivity.

Like sales, good operational practices aren’t just limited to the business world. Couples can use these techniques to divide up household chores and other responsibilities. The trick is to figure out what each person is best at, and thus improve efficiency and reduce the overall time. For example, my mom enjoys cooking and is excellent at it (while my dad is less talented). So my dad focuses his time on setting up the table and doing the dishes, letting my mom concentrate on her strengths. This way, they both contribute while maximizing productivity.

The third pillar, innovation, focuses on all things new – new technologies, new products, new markets. Things evolve, and one great way to provide value is to drive that evolution. If you are a creative or engineering type, this may be a great opportunity for you.

The fourth and final pillar is branding. Brands are all about trust. Google, Starbucks, and Coca-Coca are successful because people trust the quality of the products. This is why Starbucks can charge $4.00 for a coffee drink – people know exactly what they are getting and they’ll pay an exorbitant premium for that trusted brand.

But brands aren’t just limited to corporations. As I mentioned in a previous post, each person is now an individual brand. Cultivating your own brand by building other people’s trust is the best way to increase your own value and ultimately, your earning power.

Now that we’ve talked the four pillars, it’s time for the sixty-four thousand dollar question: where can YOU add the most value? Please share in the comments.

Three Great Tips to Save Time…Starting Now

Ahhhhh….too much to do, not enough time!

How often have you said this to yourself in the last year? It’s true: our time is our most valuable asset, and there’s never enough of it to go around. More time = More money. With that in mind, here are three tips to help you save more time for the things that really matter most:

Tip #1: Set Up An Information Firewall

We all suffer from information overload. Every day we’re bombarded with new messages from clients, co-workers, family members, and friends…not to mention the constant news updates and social media distractions. The key is to keep out the information that you don’t really need by setting up an information firewall. Here are a few steps to get you started:

  • Do not take calls from people you don’t know. If you see a phone number that you don’t recognize, don’t pick up. Let it go to voicemail and check it once a day. Another great option is Simulscribe (which sends you text e-mails of all your voicemails so you don’t have to listen through each one).
  • Set designated times for e-mail. This is straight out of the Four Hour Work Week, and I can’t tell you how much time it’s saved me. I used to click the refresh button on my inbox at least a dozen times a day. Now, I limit myself to checking e-mail no more than once every few hours. It’s amazing how much more I can focus on actual work.
  • Set agendas for all meetings and calls. Before each meeting, take time to find out what each person wants to learn. Then, use this information to clearly define an agenda for the meeting. If you don’t do this, people will just ramble on endlessly.
  • Set priorities: find out who matters most to you (family members, close friends, high-profit customers), and devote most of your available time accordingly. Do NOT get sucked into long conversations and commitments with people who don’t really matter to you. Take time to define the few things that will make a major positive impact on your life.
  • Take time away from the digital world. Unplug your internet for a few hours a day. Go for a walk without your cellphone. We’re all so dependent on constant information that we often get distracted from actually getting things done.

But regardless of how much information we filter out, there’s still way too much for us to get done. How do we prioritize?

A few months ago, I had a realization. I was quite overwhelmed; my “To-Do” list just kept getting longer and longer and I never had time to get everything done. That’s when I decided to try something new: a “stop doing” list.

Tip #2: The “Stop Doing” List

A “stop doing” list is exactly what it sounds like: a list of things that you want to stop doing. With our busy lives, it’s really easy to get caught up in the things we need done. Often we forget about the things that we need to stop doing and the bad habits we need to fix. Lifehacker has a great quote about how to identify the problem:

“take a hard look at how you spend your day and try to identify where your giant black holes of time are. Too many coffee breaks? Too much time spent surfing productivity sites (though we’ll give you a free pass on that)? Once you figure out where your time sinks are, write yourself a do-not-do list so you minimize how much time you spend doing things that aren’t particularly productive.”

Some people believe that staying busy is the key to success. That is not true; the secret is to stay busy with the right set of activities. If you put all your effort into low-reward situations, you’ll end up getting nowhere.

This is where the “stop doing” list can help. You can use it to figure out the high effort, low reward activities that you’d be better off avoiding. It also helps adding a sentence or two reminding you of the benefits of stopping this particular activity.

Here’ s an example of my “Stop Doing” List from a few years ago:

1)      Stop my trivial web surfing. Eliminate constantly checking www.nba.com for game highlights while I’m trying to do work.

2)      Eliminate long chat sessions with my friends that don’t serve a purpose. Get to the point quickly; don’t get distracted by idle conversation.

3)      Stop eating out so often. It is expensive, time consuming, and usually bad for my health.

Now I have a confession: I actually haven’t fully stopped doing any of these activities. I still surf the web, chat with my friends, and eat out. It’s really challenging to eliminate any bad behavior one hundred percent. The process of adaptation was very slow. But it’s been worth it: over the last few years, I’ve saved a lot of time, energy, and money by dramatically reducing each activity on my stop-doing list.

Tip #3: Saying No – Even When It Hurts!

The best instant time saver I know of is to say no. People have a hard time doing this even when it is the obvious response. They are afraid they may offend someone, they may be hedging their bets, or they may simply not want to make a decision at that particular moment.”

-  Mark McCormack, founder of IMG and author of “What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School”

It’s true. It really isn’t easy to say no, but it really is often the best policy.

One of my friends works in sales at a major software company. He was working to close a major deal with a potential client. What he didn’t know was that the potential client really had no interest in the software but wasn’t comfortable with just saying no. Instead, the client kept rescheduling meetings and delaying any decisions. Finally, several months later, the client told my friend that they weren’t interested.

My friend was very upset. He felt he had been misled. The worst part was that it was a lose-lose situation – everyone had wasted a lot of valuable time. If the client had just said no upfront, both parties could have moved on to more productive things.

But what about the other person’s feelings? Won’t it hurt them?

I’m not going to lie. There’s a good chance that saying no can hurt someone’s feelings in the short term. No one likes to feel rejected. Back in high school, I had a crush on this really popular girl. It took me months to build up my courage to ask her out, and I was pretty bummed when she turned me down. But honestly, it would have been much worse if she’d said yes but not actually been interested. Eventually, the relationship would have fallen apart and I would have been even more hurt. Hearing the upfront “no” was tough, but helped me move on with my life.

Another thing: it’s important to say no, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk about it. The girl who turned me down was really nice to me. After I’d gotten over her, we actually ended up becoming friends. It is possible to reject someone and still cultivate a positive relationship.

What are some techniques you’ve used to save time? Please share in the comments

I’d Do It, But…

“I’d do it, but….”

How many times have you said these four words before? I personally say them all the time – way more often than I should. When we say things like this, we’re setting up psychological barriers. We want to accomplish or change something in our lives, but are having trouble putting in the effort. So instead, we come up with excuses on why we can’t achieve our goal.

“I’d ask her out, but I don’t think she’ll say yes”

I’ve personally said this all too many times, and I’ve always regretted it later. You never know until you try. Sure, I’ve been shot down a lot, but putting my heart on the line also helped me get into a truly rewarding relationship. The times that I regret most are the times that I never even tried.

“I want to learn about personal finance, but I’m afraid to ask my friends because they’ll think I’m stupid.”

Never feel afraid to learn. It is impossible to know everything, and most people will be impressed that you are making an effort. And if they don’t, who cares what they think? Seriously – your personal education and ability to make good decisions are far more important than how other people view you.

“I’d go exercise, but I really need a new pair of gym shoes.”

Don’t go out and buy the shoes right away. If you go for this kind of instant gratification, you’ll just end up coming up with some other excuse. The shoes will sit in your closet unused and you’ll have wasted a bunch of money on nothing. Instead, use the shoes as a reward for achieving a goal. For example, if you run five times a week for a month, you’ll buy the shoes for yourself. This will motivate you to start exercising right away.

And of course…

“I’d like to earn more money, but I don’t know how…”

For starters, keep reading this blog =)

But seriously, if you want to earn more money, you shouldn’t stop constraints like time or lack of capital get in the way. There is always a solution, it’s just up to you to find it. Here are a few ideas to help you start taking action:

1. Take responsibility:

The word “but” is an excuse, a way to avoid owning up to something. Instead, take responsibility for your goals and come up with a solution. Otherwise you’ll just end up procrastinating all of your tough choices.

2. See the end goal:

Understanding the end result allows us to focus on the positives. When we make excuses, we’re usually focusing on the negative aspects of anything. So take a moment to understand the reason you are working so hard. If you really want it, you’ll feel a strong boost in your motivation.

There’s a chance you’ll realize that you don’t really care that much about the end goal. This can be a scary realization but it’s actually a good thing. You shouldn’t be putting a ton of effort into something that doesn’t matter to you; that’s a surefire recipe for getting sucked into a black hole. Instead, cut your losses and focus your energies on something more worthwhile.

3. Make yourself accountable:

Find other people who can “spot” you when you start making excuses. It’s one thing to let yourself down, but it’s a lot harder to rationalize when you feel you are letting down others. I used this trick when I was trying to get in shape. Instead of just working out by myself, I’d set a schedule with friends. This way, if I didn’t go, they’d know that I wasn’t following up on my commitment.

A final thought: This is an excerpt from a poem by Shel Silverstein. It definitely got me over my "buts" and I hope it does the same for you!

"All the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
Layin' in the sun,
Talkin' bout the things
They woulda-coulda-shoulda done…
But those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
…All ran away and hid
From one little did."

What are some of the tricks that you use to overcome excuses? Please share in the comments section