The past couple of years have been an eye-opening journey. I’ve experimented relentlessly, experienced huge successes and even bigger failures. I’ve learned and absorbed along the way.
By no means do I have it all figured out. But as we close out 2013, I wanted to assemble a roadmap for the digital entrepreneur in 2014.
This list resolutions is as much for me as it is for you. I need these reminders as well.
Following is a collection of words I will continue to try and live by as digital entrepreneur…
[Tweet “If you don’t add anything new, you’re no more valuable than an RSS feed. You are Google Reader. You are replaceable.”]
1. Don’t Follow the Herd
Before you’ve established a loyal audienceThis is the group of people who can potentially see your ads. You help influence this by adjusting age, gender, location, detailed targeting (interests and behaviors), custom audiences, and more. More or a stable business, a lack of confidence is understandable. But it’s holding you back from success.
When something is unpopular, you’ll be tempted to respond with the same tone as the other big names in your industry.
When something is unclear, you’ll be tempted to copy the recommendations offered by others.
But taking these paths is precisely what’s keeping you from being a leader. It’s preventing you from establishing a true voice and building a raving community.
If you don’t add anything new, you’re no more valuable than an RSS feed. You are Google Reader. You are replaceable.
Your highest priority should be to establish your own voice. Don’t go against the grain for the sake of disagreement. Do it because you know it’s the right thing to do.
Not following the herd can be scary. But you’ll stick out from the noisy crowd, and you’ll gain respect for it.
2. Be Helpful
That leads us here…
If you regurgitate what others are saying, you aren’t being helpful.
The goal of your content should be to provide value to the lives of your readers in some way. Usually it will be to educate or entertain.
Know the questions your target audience is asking. Know how much detail they need to answer those questions. And then answer them.
Some seem to think that helping people and making money are contradictory goals. They aren’t.
Create content and products with the goal of making the lives of your target customer better. The minute you’ve lost this focus, you are on the path to failure.
3. Don’t Sell Out
And of course, that leads us here…
As your business and audience grow, you will begin getting numerous partnership opportunities. You will notice that if you recommend a product, people listen. And you will see dollar signs.
I’m not suggesting you avoid all partnerships. I’m not telling you that affiliate marketing is bad.
But be selective. Be careful about the brands you associate with. Only promote the products you use and love.
There is a very fine line here. And I fully appreciate needing to make a buck. But you can’t make a buck at the expense of trust.
You’ll know the minute you’ve gone too far. It won’t feel right. And if you don’t pull back, you’ll quickly lose the trust of your audience.
As a reader, I’ve gone through this cycle many times. It’s disappointing when I reachReach measures the number of Accounts Center accounts (formerly users) that saw your ads at least once. You can have one account reached with multiple impressions. More the point where I no longer trust the author I once respected.
Understand that you’ve been able to build an audience through trust. You provide value. But that value takes a hit when your intentions lose focus.
If your partnerships and affiliate marketing aren’t 100% in line with your goal of providing pure value to your audience, you’ve sold out.
4. Establish Personal Business Ethics
That leads us here…
What feels “wrong” to me may not feel wrong to you. But you need to mark a line in the sand.
Make a list of the things you definitely will not do. It’s your personal business ethics constitution. Trust me, you’re going to need this later.
There is a lot of gray area in the entrepreneurial world. And if you haven’t navigated it before, you’ll be confronted with many tough decisions for the first time.
Sit down and provide clarity on your business goals. Who is your ideal customer? Who is your ideal partner? What is the value you provide?
If you establish your business rules ahead of time — if you know what you definitely won’t do — it’s far easier to respond when confronted with these tough decisions.
5. Say No to Money
And… that leads us here.
In the early going, I was excited when anyone wanted to work with me. Whether it be a client or a partner, it was very difficult to turn away business. When I was earning a paycheck, it was a sign that “it’s working.”
But you know what is an even better sign that you’ve made it? You stare money straight in the face, and you say, “No Thanks.”
Some of my best decisions in 2013 resulted from simply saying “no.” It enabled me to focus on what truly mattered.
Before taking on a new client or partner, ask yourself a simple question: “Does the thought of this energize me?”
If not, let it go.
6. Say No to Freeloaders
In the beginning, you’ll want to answer every question that’s asked of you. And if you have the time, that may be good practice.
But eventually, you’ll need to draw a line.
Some people will not respect your time. They write long emails. They demand immediate action. You must “fix” their problem. They want you to move your schedule for them. Let these people go.
Some people will not respect your business. They want a discount when one isn’t publicly available. They will demand free advice when your business is to charge for it. Let these people go.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a line here. I freely answer questions that come into my inbox. I occasionally give discounts to people when they aren’t publicly available.
But be selective about this. If someone is disrespecting your time, they are not going to be a good client. If someone is disrespecting your business, they are unlikely to be repeat customers.
A lesson I was told repeatedly in the early going but was difficult to accept is this: “You attract a specific type of customer.”
If you only attract customers who want things for free or close to free, it’s your own fault. You left a trail of breadcrumbs for them to follow.
It will become obvious whether someone fits the profile of your ideal customer. If they aren’t a fit, let them go!
7. Don’t Be a D*ck
And that leads us here…
As you get more business, you’ll get more and more of these requests. Your patience will run thin.
Ignore the urge to lash out. It won’t be productive. Answer politely, use a canned response or ignore the request altogether.
As your profile grows, use it for good. Don’t use it to tear down others or publicly mock them.
You may be well known. You may be making a lot of money. But don’t take any of that for granted.
People are watching. Potential customers are watching. How you handle yourself, even when you have what seems to be a stable and thriving business, matters.
8. Remain Grounded
And… that leads us to the last one.
In our line of work, it’s popular to humble brag — or even consciously boast — to show how successful we are. It’s a strategy for some to show pictures and tell stories of their lavish lifestyle so that it’s clear you are someone worth listening to.
Again, I’m not going to set your business ethics for you. But I ask that you think twice before posting.
I know, I know. “It works.”
Sharing photos of your expensive car and lavish vacation “works.” But more often than not, you’re attracting a certain type of customer.
As a consumer, I don’t trust you.
If you avoid this approach — even if I know you have all of these amazing things — it shows me you are comfortable in your own skin. That your value goes beyond materialism.
And this is the type of person I trust. This is also the type of person who builds a loyal, long-lasting following of raving customers.
What is Missing?
These are the main items in my list, but it’s far from complete. What else would you add to the roadmap?
Let me know in the comments below!