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How to Build an Empire: 3 Online Business Truths I Learned From Chris Guillebeau

in Do What You Love, People & Products

Today, Chris Guillebeau opens up another 24-hour window to his blockbuster “Empire Building Kit” guide.

The Empire Building Kit, Chris’ most ambitious and value-packed guide to date, focuses on building a “lifestyle business”, which Chris defines as “a business oriented around something you love, with less than three employees and net income of $50,000+ a year.”

Now that’s what I’m talking about!  :-)

Last time Chris opened up a 24 hour window (his launch last month), his payment processor freaked out at the sudden surge of traffic and sales.  Buzz dominated the interwebs for a day and it quickly became Chris’ most successful launch (that’s saying a lot).  But after the 24 hours, as promised, Chris removed the product from the market.

This time around, Chris is opening the product up again for affiliates of his Unconventional Guides.  As most of you know, Chris is one of the few people/products I proudly support on the “Products I Love” page here.  His previous guides have changed my life, enhanced my travel, and revolutionized my business, so I knew Empire Building Kit would be great…  I just didn’t realize how insanely deep Chris was going to take it!

In honor of the impact Empire Building Kit is having (with myself and several other people I know), I wanted to share 3 of the countless business lessons I’ve learned from Chris.  These are the areas where he’s influence me the most, either through his writing or in our chats.  Whenever I talk to someone who asks me for advice, these are almost always the first few concepts I share.

1.  You can do it yourself.

In other words, stop worrying about specialty systems, outsourcing, and hiring a virtual assistant.  Also, stop complaining about e-mail, productivity, scheduling, and how busy you are.

You see, around the 6-month point, Man Vs. Debt was experiencing a huge growth spurt.  I was connecting with readers, growing my audience with targeted guest posts, and looking to shift to more of a “business” mode.  Unfortunately, I also started to shift responsibility for success onto external factors.

I started to feel overwhelmed at keeping up with e-mails, comments, and communications.  I started to believe I needed help scheduling (especially since we were traveling).  I felt I need to hire a VA (even though I wasn’t making any money) to do all the stuff that I didn’t want to do anymore.  That’s what “business mode” looked like in my head.

None of these things are terribly bad in themselves, but the problem was when I started to view them as my necessary steps in my business.  The simple fact was I was generating excuses.  I was placing hurdles, based on what I saw many other “successful” people doing in the online space.

If I woke up the next day with 10 employees, ready to work, my business wouldn’t have been any better off. Once I realized this, the beauty of Chris’ model really sunk in.  Chris processes and answers at least 10x the e-mail I do.  He’s created 6x the products, traveled to 20x the locations, and has much more demands on his time (large audience, upcoming book, speaking, etc…)

And Chris is just one example.  J.D. Roth is another.  There are dozens and dozens of example in my own life.  The only barriers to my success were internal.  Like Chris, I had built up a website, a blog, and business that would be based on caring. I did this both unintentionally and intentionally, because I love interacting with people.  It’s a source of empowerment.

Chris Guillebeau taught me that you can’t scale caring by outsourcing it.

Instead, he recently told me in Chicago, “Baker, my advice is that you have to pick which communication channels you are going to use and then do those extremely well.”

For example, Chris doesn’t respond to comments on his blog (he gets hundreds a week), but he’s nearly perfected e-mail.  He’s generated stock replies to handle many different e-mail situations (this is a big part of e-mail processing for me), but takes the time to genuinely answer authentic readers and fans.

In the outgoing realm, Chris reserves most of his writing for his own site, products, and book.  He rarely guest posts, saving his exposure for high-leverage industry leading sites (like Anderson Cooper’s blog).  He also doesn’t accept guest posts.  He’s active, but selective on Twitter and has built an amazingly passionate following on Facebook.  Heck, Seth Godin doesn’t even use Twitter!

Pick your channels carefully… and do them extremely well.

I still struggle with being selective about which communication channels I’ll utilize (for both outgoing and incoming), but I’ve learned a lot from Chris’ example.  Most importantly, I now fully recognize that I can build a business capable of 6-figure income, without “selling out” (staying true to me), without hiring a single employee, and without discovering some top-secret system.

The only thing standing in my way is…  me. I either do it or I don’t.

2.  Focus on “Benefits”…  not “Features”.

About a week before the launch of Unautomate Your Finances, Chris took time out to jump on the phone with me.  I barraged him with dozens of questions, but honestly I don’t remember any of them.  I do, however, remember how stressed I was about writing my first landing page.

For the first time on Man Vs. Debt, I was writing a page that was designed to sell.  I wanted to be able to convert a new visitor, but more importantly I wanted to stay true to the people who had supported me (a.k.a. I didn’t want to sound like an internet marketer).  I was stressed about writing it, what to say, and what people would think.

Talking to Chris, I whined “This landing page is going to kill me!  I just don’t know where to start or how to approach it.”

To which Chris replied, “By biggest advice is to focus on the benefits… not just the features, which is your first instinct.”

He was right. In my mind, I was thinking…  25,000 word eBook… video interviews with Leo and J.D….  cool bonuses… give me money and I’ll give you this list of things.  These were the features of my guide, not the benefits.

Chris continued, “The product is amazing, Baker.  You’ve worked your butt off and you know it’s way more valuable than what you’re charging.  Anyone who buys it is going to be impressed, so focus on the benefits you will give people… the problems you will help solve.”

Ding… ding… ding…  He was right, again. I had the advantage of deeply believing in what I was selling, because I had put the work, time, and value into it.  There was nothing to be nervous about actually, I just needed to really unearth what benefits my hard work could offer someone.

If you look at the landing page now (still the one I had on launch), nearly 75% of the page is dedicated to benefits.  It’s far from perfect and there are plenty of ways it can be approved, however I’m comfortable with it.  I’m scared to think of what it would look like, without this simple, but game-changing advice Chris gave me.

For another example, here’s my own breakdown of the features/benefits of Chris’ “Empire Building Kit“:

Features:

Literally what you get…  a.k.a. not as important as the Benefits.

  • 7 Video interviews with entrepreneurs who have actually created passion-based businesses, which generate $50,000+ per year, with less than 3 employees.
  • Each interview is downloadable and comes as an additional transcribed PDF
  • 18 in-depth case studies of everything from murder-mystery theater, to person finance website (no not me), to photographer, to dog trainer.  Real life examples, some online, some offline, some mixed.
  • 9 Tactical Videos on tools, principles such as Aweber, Upselling, Minimizing Refunds, Continuity Programs, Markets, and Affiliates.
  • A Product Launch section containing a 43-item checklist (for launching a product) and a specific interview with Dave Navarro, “The Launch Coach”.
  • A full breakdown of Chris’ business, income, product successes/failures, full numbers… gory details…
  • 365 daily e-mails. Yes, 365… e-mails.  One a day, for a whole year.
  • A “no question left behind” webinar with the original batch of customers from the first launch.

Now, that’s a lot of features.  But it still only conveys a tiny percentage of the value.

Benefits:

These are the benefits of the guide that I’ve personally received in my business…

  • The video interviews inspire me, by showcasing real, tangible people who have created life-changing businesses around a passion.  Specifically, they dig deep down into how their business works and the specifics of how much they earn. I be lying if I didn’t admit this is a big benefit for me.  I’m always amazed and inspired about how much money is out there (and how much money genuine people are earning).  You don’t need a ton of subscribers, you don’t have to have a popular blog, or a new product/invention.  These interviews prove that through their transparency.  I love watching them.  I feel like I’m there inside the conversation.
  • The 15+ PDF case studies showcase the wide variety of concepts that people are turning into businesses.  I love that Chris really searched wide for entertaining examples.  They aren’t all lifestyle design or personal finance bloggers, who built an audience and now sell information products.  Some are online and others are offline businesses.  The real benefit of these studies is in their ability to expand your brainstorming on what is possible. How about a person who makes doll clothes?  Stages homes?  Translator?  Web Designer?  This has really opened my eyes (and even Courtney’s eyes) to “outside the box” business opportunities.  There are tangible segments that are applicable to any business concept.  Any. I truly believe that after reading them.
  • The tactical videos speak for themselves.  While I believe that the “how to” part of building a business is far easier to nail down than the why behind it, I admit that many of my questions early on were of a tactical nature. How to set-up and foster an e-mail list (I should have done this way early than I did).  The specifics of different business models… continuity programs, information products, affiliate marketing, and which is most applicable for your business moving forward.  Most importantly for me, there is tons of information on making the transition to selling: upselling, cross-selling different products, demonstrating value, and increasing repeat customers.  The real tactics on how to avoid mistakes early if you’re getting started or take your business up a notch if you’re already rolling.
  • The 43-step Product Launch and interview with Dave Navarro is worth the price of the product alone.  I sincerely estimate that Chris’ advice on my first launch netted my at least $1500-$2000 extra dollars. This is a combination of tactics (step-by-step) and strategy (branding/marketing approach, etc…).  Once you get to the point of launch, 1 or 2 small tips can generate you tons of extra sales/revenue.
  • At first, I was skeptical about the daily e-mails.  In fact, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to get them (I get enough e-mail).  Man, would I have been sorry.  You see, Chris understands that delivering access to so many features at once is a double-edged sword.  It allows people to dig in and get started right away, but often there is so much information that we may not process it all or even get to it all.  So Chris settled on giving the best of both worlds.  The content is available for anyone to go through at their own pace, however each day Chris highlights a business concept, theory, or tactic from the kit. Some e-mails may just be short reminders to think about a specific segment, while other may introduce a step-by-step walk through on evaluating opportunities to increase revenue.  Some point out specific concepts within the video interviews, while another may breakdown a item on the Product Launch checklist even further.  Something I wasn’t even sure I wanted, has quickly become my favorite part of the guide. Each e-mail tends to send me down a small rabbit hole… sometimes it causes just a 2 minute reflection, but other times it may lead to a complete overhaul of a project I’m working on.  It’s almost like a daily accountability to prioritize my business… perfect for me right now!  :-)

So if I were creating Chris’ landing page (which I’m not, he’s far better) or I was giving an interview about the Empire Building Kit (again, probably not needed), I would look back through the way the product has benefited me and extract the key problems it can solve for others.

This is now the same advice I pass onto anyone who asks and what I’ll be doing for any future project, guide, or business I’m involved in.  :-)

3.  Show Up and Ship It

This is one area where Chris’ actions speak louder than his words.  I’m sure he’s written about it several times, but I don’t remember his writing.  What sticks with me is what he does.

Simply, Chris just shows up. He writes.  Every Monday and Thursday for the last 2+ years like clockwork.  He answers e-mail.  He creates products.  He sets clear boundaries, communicates those to his fans, and then shows up.

Looking back, I’ve had foggy boundaries, done a poor job of passing those along, and been extremely inconsistent.  I’ve had periods of a month where I didn’t provide free value to readers through the blog (that’s just silly).  I’ve juggled the issue of which product to create, in which order, and exactly how it will look, and exactly how it will go.

Chris deals with this, too.  He procrastinates just like everyone else I know, but at the end of the day he “ships it”, as Seth Godin calls it.  He gets the product to a point where he can be proud and he delivers.  He doesn’t let the perfect, become the enemy of the good.

Last week, I talked to 3 different people who were working on their first product launch.  Different niches, even different mediums, but all with the exact same problem.  They were doing the same thing I do and did.  They were letting their quest for perfection delay and even destroy their ability to just freakin’ launch it.

So I told them the same thing, everyone with experience told me…  just freakin’ ship it.  Get it to 80% and let it fly. Screw market research, the best feedback you’ll ever get is once you try to sell it to someone.

The ability to adapt in business is much more desirable than the ability to plan.

Some may disagree with that advice, but every time I’ve followed it I’ve been glad I did.  As soon as it fails, I’ll let you know… but for now I’ll continually push myself to stick to Chris’ example on how to consistently show up and consistently ship it!

Final Thoughts

Don’t get me wrong, this post is a 100% endorsement of Chris’ Empire Building Kit.  It is the best investment you can make for your business that I’ve ever come across.  If someone is doing this better, I’ve not met them or seen the product.

At the same time, even Chris admits that 95% of his audience won’t ever purchase a premium product.  So for those of you that aren’t in a position to benefit from the guide, I wanted to share how I’ve been influenced.  I’m fairly confident there is value hidden somewhere above.  :-)

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  If you are interested in the “do what you love” part of this site.  If you are interested in creating a business based around a passion, that generates at least $50,000 per year, with less than 3 employees… the Empire Building Kit is the best of the best.  You should not only buy it, but you should seek out Chris Guillebeau as a mentor.

Bonus:  One-Hour Business Chat with me…

As an affiliate with Chris, if you decide to take your business to the next level with Empire Building Kit, I’ll jump on the phone with you for 1 full hour and talk about the specific details of your business, my experience online, building traffic, branding, launching a product…  whatever you need.

We can talk strategy (my favorite part) or I can answer specific questions about tactics, software, programs, and getting started.  You can pitch and idea and I’ll be completely honest about what I think, what I love, and the holes I can see.

I’m in no way a “business” coach (although I’m strongly considering launching coaching), but I’ve had the opportunity to receive a lot of advice from amazing people that I can pass along and apply to your particular situation.  This will not be about me (although we can spend 5 minutes on that if you like)… it’ll be about you and your business.

The Empire Building Kit is only available for 24 hours.  Once you order, send me and e-mail and we’ll get on the phone as soon as you have the time (I’ll make the time).

See you tomorrow!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff @ sustainablelifeblog May 18, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Wow baker.
I dont know much about chris (i’ve never read his blog) but you’ve got me seriously considering whether or not I should buy this kit he’s got. Im interested in the kind of things that he’s doing, but I’m not sure that what I want to do falls in line with what he’s trying to do. That being said, business is business anywhere you are, and any tips can be helpful in some way, shape or form….
I havent made up my mind, but I’ll remember to get it through your site if I end up purchasing it.

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Erin May 18, 2010 at 3:16 PM

I think your sales writing must be improving because by the end of this post you made me really want the kit! Unfortunately we just can’t afford it at this stage, although I’m sure it probably would be an investment. I’ve trained myself so well to not buy things that I can’t bring myself to spend that kind of money.

It’s an interesting post though even if you aren’t interested in the product. We just promoted our first affiliate product and although it’s something we genuinely love and believe in we still feel a bit wrong trying to get people to buy it. The advice Chris gave you is great and we always try to remember to just ‘ship it’!

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Chris Guillebeau May 18, 2010 at 3:43 PM

What up Mr. Baker! Thanks so much for the props, and well done on the huge value-add.

Can’t wait for the big “Baker Building Kit” whenever the time comes…

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James Schipper May 19, 2010 at 2:47 PM

There is a lot of good info in this post, even aside from the Empire Builder Kit. I have been guilty of a few of the things you have done in the past (I like to think of it as consistently inconsistent).

Chris really knows what he’s doing, and even more importantly: he’s doing it.

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Prague May 23, 2010 at 5:47 PM

Well, I just tried to get his product and it’s all gone, locked up until June or something.

Is this scarcity marketing really creating benefits? It’s an online product, it doesn’t have to ‘sell out’.

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Barb Friedberg August 28, 2010 at 9:37 PM

You hit it out of the park with this one. Making a point, selling a concept, and sounding genuine. You have a gift for simplicity in your writing.

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