Jesus Christ, there is SO MUCH online business advice out there. Some of it’s good, a lot of it’s shit, and most of it is regurgitated crap you’ve read 673 times before. Today I’ve decided to share a few of the main pieces of advice out there that I gleefully ignore, in the order that you are probably supposed to do them in.
1. Offer a free multi-day email course to get subscribers!
Come on now, be serious: is MORE email really a thing people want? Like, a new one every single day for a week? Especially when you know it’s just going to be the same generic bullshit available on every other site you sign up to? AND you know every email is going to be long? No thanks. Any time I’ve signed up for something like this I’ve lost interest before the second email’s arrived. When people are excitedly researching stuff – such as how to become a freelance writer – and they find your email opt-in, they probably are excited to get their hands on it. But, well, when I’m in that frame of mind, I want to devour everything IMMEDIATELY – and if you make me wait five days, I’m not going to get through it. Just give me that shit now, and give it to me as a PDF so I don’t feel like I’m spending my entire life in Gmail.
2. Put your opt-in box above the fold
If you take a look at my home page, you will notice that my email opt-in box is more than halfway down it. ‘What a fucking idiot!’ business gurus across the web would cry. ‘Doesn’t she know she’ll get more subscribers if she moves that box above the fold?!’
‘Above the fold’ is the bit of the website you see on your screen as soon as you land on it, by the way. Thing is, I used to have my opt-in box there. But when I redesigned my site at the start of this year, I moved it, and I put a whole fuckload of text before it. AND MY SUBSCRIBE RATE WENT UP. And not only that, but now I know the people who opt in are people who really want what I have to offer. They are people who found their eyeballs pulled down my entire home page because they were excited about what I had to say and wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any of it. Making people sign up for your shit before you’ve even said anything of value to them is just fucking dumb.
3. Make your first product super cheap
My first ever product was £99. People bought it. Three years later, I am still here. The end.
4. Create a ‘killer’ sales funnel
Just thinking about sales funnels makes me want to die, let alone using the phrase on my website. Yes, they work, but I still feel itchy about it. The standard advice is this: tantalising email freebie to get people signed up; cheap first product to encourage people to buy from you; more expensive product(s) now that people trust you.
Writing that I now realise I do have something kind of similar going on with Untamed Writing, but what the hell. It was au naturel, baby. I was not intentionally creating a ‘sales funnel’. When I picture a sales funnel, I imagine thousands of tiny little internet users being shaken upside down screaming into a giant evil black funnel, and only the ones who give you money make it out the little hole at the other end alive. Everyone else is doomed to be infuriated to death by the one thousand emails per week they shall henceforth forevermore receive. The funnel is probably also engulfed in flames.
Holy shit I just figured out why people call them KILLER sales funnels.
5. SEO the shit out of everything
I have Yoast installed on my website. If you don’t know, Yoast is the go-to ‘omg it’s fucking amazing’ SEO plugin. If you make all the little dots green (not orange, which is bad, or red, which is very bad indeed) you will see SEO success and rise in the Google rankings!
Here’s what Yoast has to say about my most recent post:
My page title ‘has a nice length’, huh? Thanks Yoast, that means a lot to me. Now here’s the thing: I don’t pay attention to Yoast at all. I installed it because it was the thing to do but then never used it. HOWEVER! I still rank pretty well on Google. Because Google has excellent taste and has decided it likes me, regardless of the fact that I shun Yoast at every turn. You wanna know my secret to success? I write good shit, I go deep (NEVER JUST THE TIP, GUYS), and I use words that normal people use (and therefore type into Google). Bam. That’s it.
I can’t claim my Google success is due to some insane guest posting strategy either, by the way, because in the entire existence of Untamed Writing, I’ve only had two guest posts published. (For your information, guest posting will not be making an appearance on this list, even though I don’t do it much. I’m not gleeful about that. I want to do it more but, well, I’m too lazy. Ultra-optimised, super-efficient, life-hacking business owner I am not. If I ever claim to have hacked anything, please just stab me in the face with a flaming sales funnel.)
6. Follow specific ‘how to write for the internet’ rules
Yoast also has this ‘readability’ thing, where it basically tells you how well-written your work is. I often get slapped in the face with this little gem, along with a string of things I ‘should’ improve to make my writing more readable (remember, RED IS BAD):
I mean, at least they’re polite about it. Here’s the ‘readability’ suggestions on one of my most popular posts:
I do agree with some of the suggestions our lovely young friend Yoast makes. However, I’m also aware that if you write good shit with personality, people will want to read it, no matter how many sub-headers have more than 300 words after them (I’ve definitely done that again here. I think Yoast is going to be break up with me). Anyway, there’s no formula for good writing, guys.
7. Schedule social media posts
If you see me on social media, you can talk to me because I am actually there. I don’t really have anything against people scheduling social media posts. I can totally see the sense in sharing new (and old) articles intermittently, and not bombarding your followers with a bunch of stuff at once. However, I am too lazy to do it and I don’t think it’s done me any harm. So whatever. I mostly use social media for fun and don’t lose my shit over doing it ‘right’. (Come say hi to me on Twitter! I hang out there a lot when I’m procrastinating.)
8. Make your blog archives inaccessible
I read somewhere that this is something you should do because it means you’ll be able to repackage and sell old blog posts in the shape of ebooks. I don’t have a problem with people repackaging their posts into ebooks and selling them if they also update and polish those blog posts in the process. Because, let’s just be crystal fucking clear here, books are sacred things – so the flood of bullshit Kindle books infiltrating Amazon pisses me off. Self-publishing on Kindle shouldn’t just mean republishing a load of old shit you once shared for free. I mean, okay, I know blog posts aren’t necessarily shit, but they’re not exactly book-standard, are they?
Whew, I’m getting off track here. This wasn’t supposed to be a rant about people who self-publish utter bollocks (BUT FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST, HIRE A FUCKING EDITOR, WOULD YOU?). My point is that I LOVE browsing blogs’ archives, especially when I find a new blogger I adore. It irritates me when the only way to browse a blog’s archive is to read through posts a page at a time in reverse chronological order.
I always try to do things the way I would want them to be done, which is why I have a very straightforward archives page. Also, in my experience as a business owner and blogger, people who ravenously devour your entire blog’s archives are the ones who become superfans who buy your shit. Why would you want to hinder that process by telling them ‘NOPE, SORRY this is gonna be a ballache for you unless you give me money, in which case you can have this repackaged thing I made in three minutes and slung up on Amazon.’
9. Put a video on your home page
Apparently this is the new cool thing to do. I don’t know. I’m a writer. I have a personality and I use it. I like to think you feel like you know me just by reading my words. Besides, if you want to see video of me, you have to buy one of my courses and join my students’ Facebook group, where I occasionally post drunk videos of students I’ve hung out with. (I’m in the videos too, for the record. I don’t just ply my students with booze and then record them doing stupid shit.)
Moral of the story: do shit your own way
The point of this post is not to tell you that you shouldn’t do any of those things. I mean, those things work. For some people, they definitely work. For others, they might not. No piece of advice is a guarantee of success however you look at it. (Yes, ironically, I am now going to give you a piece of online business advice. BEAR WITH.)
My advice is this: when you see someone doing something and you think, ‘Hey, I really like that. That seems like a cool way of doing things,’ you should try that thing. Or at least consider it and how it would work with your business. Because maybe it wouldn’t work for your business. But yeah, if you like an idea, you should at least take it out for a drink and see if it’s something you want to bring home with you.
If you see someone doing something and you think, ‘I don’t quite get why they’re doing that, but apparently that’s what you need to do to be successful,’ you could MAYBE try that thing. If it seems like an okay-ish thing to do, there’s (probably) no harm in at least testing it and seeing how it goes for you. If you feel like it. But first, try to figure out why everyone’s doing it and what you’d hope to achieve by doing the same. If you can’t figure that out, give it a miss. Perfectly acceptable to cancel on that idea because you’ve decided you’d rather stay in and binge-watch Planet Earth 2 while eating the meatiest pizza you can find (which, here in Portugal, according to Google’s stellar translation, is something called a ‘Feast of Flesh’).
And, perhaps most importantly of all, if you see someone doing something and you think, ‘Ugh, that is gross. I can see why they’re doing it, because it’s obviously making them marvellously wealthy, but I’d still rather eat a Feast of Flesh pizza made out of actual people before doing it myself’, DEFINITELY DON’T DO THAT THING.
My point here is that you shouldn’t blindly follow every piece of advice you see out there. Because holy fuck, that is the shortest route from taking deep breaths in front of your laptop to hiding under your duvet there is. There’s only one sensible, reasonable way to make decisions about your own business if you want to get through this with your integrity and sanity intact: think about what makes sense – and feels good – to you, and make decisions based on that. Don’t be afraid to test new ideas. And, more importantly, don’t be afraid not to. Because only YOU can figure out the best way to run your business, no matter what the fucking gurus say.