Art and Money Feedback, Q&A, Lessons Learned

It’s time for the Sunday Store Update. I use this time every Sunday afternoon to tell you more about the small business I’m building to support the rest of the site. I have a no-hype marketing policy, and I ask that you don’t buy anything from me unless you have a clear need for the…

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The Unconventional Guide to Art and Money


My new product, the Unconventional Guide to Art and Money, attempts to break down the different between successful and unsuccessful art marketing.

It's for artists of all kinds who want to support themselves with their art through new media.

It's not for non-artists (obviously), anyone who is uncomfortable with the internet, or anyone looking for the quick fix.

(For the secret connection between art and money, see yesterday's post.)

Click here to order, watch a 6-minute video, or read more.... ###

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Coming Tomorrow: The Secret Connection* Between Art and Money


Let's be clear: there's no real secret. I subscribe to the 10,000 hours theory. When I wrote about it six months before Outliers came out, I called it the 14,600 hours to virtuosity.

Then Gladwell's great book arrived, everyone started talking about 10k hours, and I thought, “Awesome. Now we can all save 4,600 hours!”

Anyway, the secret connection between art and money involves working hard on the same thing for a long time.

There you go! Get to work. By the time evening rolls around, only 9,992 hours will remain.


The other secret is that you can waste a lot of time doing the wrong things. Nothing can replace hard work, but it's good to know that you're working hard on the right things. With that in mind, I started working on a project a couple months ago that would break down the right kind of work that artists can do to make more money.

Yes, money. I've noticed that some artists have a hard time talking about money. What's up with that?

I know that not every artist wants to support themselves from their work, and that's totally cool. The problem is that many do, but don't know where to begin. It's kind of like real jobs - not all real jobs suck, but many of them do. I'm interested in helping the people who want to escape, not those who already have a great job that they love.

When it comes to artists, I'm interested in helping those who want to get paid for the great work they do. Working with a great coauthor, I recruited a number of successful, working artists and asked them to share what they do and how they make it work.

Several of them gave specific numbers about how much money they make and how they make it. Others talked about etsy, ebay, and all of the other web sites you can sell your work on... and which ones are worth your time and which ones will get you nowhere.

Almost all of them talked about social networking and building a community to support their artwork – whether it's painting, drawing, crafting, writing, or something else.

More about that tomorrow, but for now, my big thanks to the artists who participated. I've listed most of them below (a couple of them requested witness-protection-program anonymity). Check out their sites, follow them on Twitter, watch what they're doing. If you're an artist, you'll learn from them.

Karen Walrond (USA via Trinidad and Tobago)

Twitter: @chookooloonks

Michael Nobbs (Wales)

Twitter: @michaelnobbs

Leah Piken Kolidas (USA)

Twitter: @leah_art

Hazel Dooney (Australia)

Twitter: @DooneyStudio

Dan Duhrkoop (USA)

Twitter: @emptyeasel

Sandra Miller (USA)

Twitter: @pandarazzi

Soniei (Canada)

Twitter: @soniei

Shannon Okey (USA)

Twitter: @knitgrrl

Joseph Szymanski (USA)



The Coauthor:


To provide balance, I like to work with fun people who don't have ADD and don't fly off to random places all the time. In this case, I found a perfect collaborator in Zoë Westhof.

Zoë is from the U.S., but lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She has her own community of writing and the arts at Essential Prose. She's also on Twitter as – what else – zoëwesthof. Zoë conducted the interviews and wrote most of the accompanying manual. It's a good thing, because if you were waiting for me, you'd be waiting a long time.


So, about the Unconventional Guide to Art and Money. It's actually more than a guide. It's 51 pages of text and 200 minutes of audio. You'll also get an additional 50 pages of transcripts from the interviews, just in case you'd rather read.

It's a clear value, one low price for a “Starving Artist” version and another for the “Picasso” version. I had a big pricing complex over this one, but in the end I decided to keep with the same budget pricing I've been using for my other products. I reserve the right to increase it in the future, but I'll let you know before that happens.

Like everything I produce, this isn't for everyone. I've tried to be clear about that, but I also like to overcommunicate. Here's how I see the target market -

Who It's For: Artists of all kinds who want to achieve greater independence through relationship-based sales.

Who It's Not For: Non-artists, anyone who doesn't like the internet, or anyone looking for the “real” secret with no hard work.

Also, this product won't make anyone a better artist, technically speaking. It will help artists build a community and connect with people interested in supporting their work. For technical training, look elsewhere, since I don't even know how to hold a paintbrush.

Fair enough?

Art and Money will launch Thursday morning, 12pm EST / 9am PST. Check in tomorrow and you'll see it here.

Thanks again to the cool artists who helped Zoë and I make this great. I really appreciate their willingness to share what they know.


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The Outsider’s Guide to the Cook Islands


If you read last week's post, you pretty much know how this trip came out of nowhere the week prior. Air New Zealand phoned me up, offered me a trip, and since it sounded fun, I said yes.

Was it worth it? What happened? Details here, in 1300 words + photos.

Trip Preparation

Despite it being such a far distance, this was one of the easiest trips I've ever prepared for. I was only going to one place (usually I go to several), I'd be gone for less than a week, and, for the first time ever, someone else was arranging my lodging and other logistics.

In other words, my preparation consisted of 25 minutes of packing on Sunday afternoon before riding the train to the airport. Super-easy. If anything, I overpacked, since I only needed two outfits.

I flew United down to LAX (it wasn't that bad, but I have low expectations for most U.S. airlines) and connected to Air New Zealand – more on that in a moment.

About the Cook Islands

The Cooks consist of 15 small islands in the South Pacific, with Rarotonga being the capital and largest island. There are currently no franchise properties anywhere on the island, a fact that the local hospitality reps are proud of. In addition to a plethora of scooters, there are two buses that travel back and forth along the main road, designated as “Clockwise” and “Anti-Clockwise” to help keep you oriented.

Sometimes people wonder how much you can see of a place in a relatively short time. I always answer that it depends on the place and what you actually do. In the case of Rarotonga, I feel like I was able to see quite a lot. We had an island tour, harbor visit, lagoon cruise, mountaintop trek, various dinners with people who live there, and a hotel located right on the beach. In a place like Rarotonga, those are pretty much the highlights, and as much as I like to travel independently, I probably wouldn't have done all of those things if I was on my own.

I'm much more of a city person than an island lover, but I liked the Cooks better than most Caribbean islands I've been to (about 15 so far) and certainly better than Hawaii. There's not much left in the world that remains undiscovered, but if you're looking for relatively unspoiled, the Cook Islands are a great choice.

The Travel Style


In addition to the New Zealand journalists who came along to cover the event, a number of U.S. and Canadian travel writers were also along for the fun. Since this was the first time I've been to this kind of thing, I was curious to hear more about how it works for them. They told me stories of going to exotic destinations every couple of months with all expenses paid. One guy said he had been to India five times, but didn't feel like he had really seen it because each trip was a junket. Another guy told me that the city of Cleveland kept calling him up, trying to get him to come out and write about them. No offense to anyone living in Cleveland, but I don't think that's an offer I'd accept.

Normally I pay my own way everywhere I go. It was a little unusual to go to dinner at nice restaurants where everything was paid for by sponsors. The upside of this experience was free cocktails and bottles of wine that kept reappearing at the dinner table. The downside was loss of control, and for me, that's a big downside.

I think it would be easy to adjust to this kind of travel if it's all I did, and to be honest, I don't really want to adjust. In the end, freedom is worth more than free wine. This is not really a criticism of traditional travel writers; just a differentiation. I'm doing something completely different that isn't really comparable to what they do.

Air New Zealand Service


Before the trip, Air New Zealand asked if I'd consider writing about their service when it was over. Keep in mind my first-ever writing disclosure – they brought me over and paid all expenses – but they also made it clear that this was optional and I could say whatever I wanted.

In the Koru Lounge heading down, (LAX Terminal 2), the service was great – I had a reserved table when I showed up after walking across the street from United's Terminal 7. No Sauvignon Blanc had been reserved for me, but I managed to reserve it myself by visiting the complimentary wine bar. I picked up a copy of the New Zealand Herald before heading out on the flight.

On the first ANZ flight (LAX-RAR), I wasn't that impressed. The Business Class seats were the older style, and the service was a bit abrupt. At the same time, transferring to any decent airline from a United Airlines connection is kind of like checking into the worst hotel in Guyana after sleeping in a Haitian guest house – it's definitely a step up. I stayed up for most of the overnight flight and watched New Zealand sitcoms to acclimate myself. (Kiwi readers, I'm now quite familiar with the antics of Jacqui Brown and the interesting career of the Topp Twins.)

I arrived in Rarotonga at 6:00 a..m., and things got better on the ground. The local Cook Islands Tourism staff had joined up with a couple of people who came over from Auckland to arrange everything. As mentioned, I don't think I've ever been on a trip where I didn't have to think about paying for my drinks and dinner – that was definitely nice.

The flight back home went via Auckland, and I traveled halfway with a couple of journalists based in New Zealand. All three of us were given seats in a Business Class service that I found to be a lot better than the longer service from L.A. Four hours later I wandered for half an hour in AKL airport, popped into the Koru Lounge (it's appropriately comfortable), and got on the plane for a 12 hour flight back to the states.

Before transferring to United Economy Class for my final connection, I got to fly in Air New Zealand's nice long-haul Business Class product. This product is based on the style pioneered by Virgin Atlantic a few years back, where each Business passenger gets their own lie-flat bed and panel dividers that provide more privacy than most other cabins. Check out the photo tour to get an idea of what it's like, and remember that these seats usually go for thousands of dollars each way.

A big thanks to Karen, Tracy, and other Air New Zealand staff who helped to organize the trip. They did a great job.



Overall, I had a good time on the trip. I'm not ready to jump on a plane to Cleveland, and I don't want to make a career out of these trips – but I think if the right opportunities came along, I'd be up for checking them out a couple of times a year.

Now that I'm home, I have two domestic trips coming up in June – a family vacation in Utah followed by a working trip to New York, but otherwise, I'm home for about five weeks. During that time I'll be working on the book, launching Art and Money (Thursday morning! It will be fun!), and thinking ahead to a few other summer projects.

I hope all is well in your world. See you Wednesday with a special edition preview of the new product.


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Why People Hate Marketers


Hey everyone, I'm reporting live from Rarotonga in the South Pacific. It's a nice place! Details on Monday. But first, I have an important message from our sponsor.

(Yes, that would be me. There are no sponsors.)

The Important Message

The title of this post is deliberately provocative. First of all, I know that marketers are people too, and most people are marketers of one kind or another.

But when I talk about hating marketers, you probably know what kind of marketers I'm talking about. I'm talking about car salesmen marketers who play on our emotions to get our money.

Anyway, here's the deal. I'm proud to say that 279 Days is still kicking ass. It's going all over the world, literally - a Chinese and Spanish translation are both on the way from two volunteers. I've lost track of all the people who have told me about the new blogs they've started by following the model. I wish them a huge hard-working success, and I'm tremendously excited for everyone who has applied some of the lessons.

However, during the big launch week, I received an email that I found profoundly disturbing.

It's not what you're thinking - the message wasn't from a vampire. The writer wasn't criticizing me, at least not directly. He even said I was "awesome" - but instead of feeling happy, I felt sad in a way that I couldn't precisely identify... at first.

Here it is:


I don't mean to sound silly, coy, or to pry, but why do you not have people opt-in to receive your manifesto?

You'd be building an email list of followers who'll eventually turn into customers, clients, etc.

You are sitting on a goldmine here far beyond what's being tapped now. Why not make this a monthly membership program with a call-to-action, $49 or $97 a month.

And your income will probably be 10x what you estimate for 2009 if you play your cards right...

You are doing awesomely great dude!

Where do you want to take this?


P.S. The value is in that list of followers. And not just on twitter but your email list which you have cleverly disguised as "small army".

Make the email opt-in obvious. Put it in the upper right like everyone else. Even if you just use it to gift ideas... But eventually you can use it to sell your stuff and the stuff of others.

Because we are all so busy with information EVERY FREAKING DAY you need a strategy to stay in touch with folks if they don't buy the first time...

I know I'm not telling you anything you don't know - but do this stuff man - do it now.

OK, I'm out...

It took me a while to figure out why I was so disturbed by John's message. As I said, it wasn't a direct criticism, and if you're not familiar with internet marketing, you might miss some of the nuance in what John is writing about. Later that night as I went for a run in the park before dinner, though, I realized why I was so troubled.

The way that John sees the world is all about manipulating people.

See, the approach outlined in John's email is defined by scarcity. According to the scarcity perspective, you all are my prospects. I'm trying to convert you to customers. If I get your money, I win. If not, either I'm doing something wrong or you suck.

Well -- that is precisely the OPPOSITE of what I believe.

As John alludes to in the end, I do know how internet marketing works. I know where you are supposed to put the email form; I know how to use scarcity to increase sales.

I just prefer to operate from a perspective of abundance. Freely give, freely receive. Why force people to join a list before reading my work? Some of them would resent that, and the commitment level of the others would be pretty weak. Why inspire people with something and then tell them that they need to pay me each month to “really” get what I have to say?

Yes, I call my network a small army - but this is not a "clever disguise." It's the real deal. I spend hours every day building relationships with people. Many of them are in India or Africa and will never give me a dime. That's OK with me.

The Money-Making Side of Things

I'm sorry to pick on John - he is far from alone in thinking this way. The problem is that this attitude runs directly counter to what I believe and why I started this project to begin with.

Ironically (or not), I actually have a pretty high conversion rate when I sell products. With the Working for Yourself guide, it's about 4-5%. If you're in marketing, you know how high that is - if not, 1% is usually a base number.

But even with a high conversion rate, that still means 95% of people don't buy. I don't view this wide majority as “prospects” who have failed to convert into customers. They are doing cool stuff, probably don't need anything I sell, and I am honored for the chance to connect with them.

That's what disturbed me so much about the message – realizing that to many people like John, building a community is all about building a cash machine.

I'm not an evangelist, and I realize that I probably can't change anyone's mind about anything. Someone asked recently, "How can you convince someone that your opinion is right?" I'll write more about this later, but there's an easy answer: you don't. If your business model relies on convincing, I think you have a uphill battle ahead of you. Instead of convincing people who are opposed to your message, spend your time finding people who are already predisposed to it.

Trust and Money

By the way, you want to know something? I think I'll do just fine without John's tactics. Here's another email I really enjoyed. This one came from Joel, in New Zealand by way of Canada. Joel had just bought something from me, and here's what he had to say:

Thanks Chris!

This is the first information product I have ever purchased. It took a step of faith to make the purchase:

A) my grandmother wasted a fortune on mail-in sweepstakes, so I've been raised to be thrifty and suspicious of being suckered by strangers. (And your pitch is the opposite of smarmy. Here I am.)

B) I've already quit the job and flown from my home in Canada to stay with family in New Zealand. There ain't no money coming in for the time being. So this expense is an investment in a new life.

I don't need to tell you that the future looks bright. It's nice to know it.


Check out Joel's second paragraph:

"It took a step of faith..."

This was a highly emotional decision for Joel. To earn $39 is relatively easy. To earn someone's trust, well, that takes some work.

"This is the first information product I have ever purchased..."

Obviously he had been pitched before. I'm not the only guy on the block. But when he read about this offer, something clicked.

Product Launch Update

Speaking of products and salesmanship in general, I'm coming out with two new products over the next month. I'm excited about them, and I know they will help many people. The first one is called the Unconventional Guide to Art and Money. After a few delays to make it better, the launch is coming up very soon. (Yikes - we have a lot to do to get ready! Time to wrap this up.)

But first, I had to talk about marketing and explain where I stand. My stance is, treat people with dignity and respect. Take the high road and give up money if necessary. In some circles, sorry to say, this is an unconventional perspective.

Then, of course, do the good kind of marketing that people don't hate at all.

This kind of marketing provides clear solutions to stated needs. According to this perspective, if you have a need I can meet, I don't need to force you to join my list (you'd join on your own); I don't need to auto-bill you each month (you'd be happy to pay).

I don't like to debate by email, and besides, I get a lot of mail. I wrote back to John, short and sweet:

Hi John,

Freely give, freely receive.



John wrote me back with more things I was doing wrong. He told me to save his email address and write him in 10 years to let him know what happened. I guess the implication is that I'll be sorry then, he'll have been proved right, whatever. (Yeah, I know - at that point I just hit the archive button. Life's too short.)

No thanks, man. Who knows what will be happening in 10 years, but I suspect in some form I'll be busy keeping up with everyone else out there. Every day I hear from more great people all over the world, including plenty of places where PayPal is not accepted. Good things are on the way; the future is bright.

Most importantly, wherever you are, I'm honored that you care about what I have to say. No cash machine, auto-billing, or email opt-in required.

Thanks for reading.


Used Car Salesman Image by TexasEagle

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My Unexpected Trip to the Cook Islands (Courtesy of Air New Zealand)


I've been home from my trip to Haiti and South America for about a week now, and I didn't expect to go anywhere for a while.

Then all of a sudden, I got an email from Air New Zealand... offering to bring me along with a group of journalists going to the South Pacific for a press event. The offer came via Chris Brogan, who recommended me to Air New Zealand – big thanks to Chris for that.

The interesting thing was I only had about five days notice before the trip (and 24 hours to decide). I liked the idea of heading out to the South Pacific on less than one week's notice, so naturally I said yes.

Lesson: if you get an email from Air New Zealand offering to fly you down to the Cook Islands, take a serious look at it.

I'll be writing about the press event while I'm there, and will post updates on Oregon Live and Huffington Post, as I do at least once a week now. Of course, live updates are also on Twitter from wherever I am – so far I've posted from about 35 countries, I think.

Where Are the Cook Islands?

Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of them – but by all accounts, the Cook Islands are an interesting place. This group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean is a “self-governing democracy in free association with New Zealand.” What that means is that the Cooks are not really a country by U.N. standards (New Zealand is responsible for defense, for example) but the islands maintain their own foreign relations with other countries around the world.

If it sounds complicated, that's how it can be for a number of places around the world with varying degrees of independence. For my own travel goal, I chose to focus mostly on the U.N. list not because I agree with all of the politics, but mostly because I needed to go with some kind of list and it seemed easiest.

Anyway, here's a map:


I'm going over on the Sunday night red-eye from LAX, so by the time you read this, I may already be there for the p.r. event on the 18th. Afterwards I'll stay around for a couple of days to see the rest of the main island (and hopefully one other island) before coming home. Other than the 18th, the schedule is open-ended, but that's good since it's just a short trip.


This is the first time an airline has ever offered to host me on a trip. As mentioned, I said yes because the dates fit my schedule and I've never been to the Cooks. Since they don't want anything from me in return except for an open-ended commitment to write about it, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't hop on the plane.

However, now that airlines are offering to host me (well, at least one airline so far), I realized I should create some kind of disclosure policy. I'm not a real travel writer – I write more about the process of travel, the practical aspects of how to go anywhere, and the random things that happen to me around the world.

I pay my own way everywhere I go, but that's mostly because no company has ever offered to help out. As long as I disclose any relationships that come up, I don't really think it's a problem to accept a trip like this. Travel companies of the world, feel free to send me partnership offers. I like the upper deck of the plane, but I don't mind sleeping on the floor of the airport. (Well, not all the time – just once in a while.)

Unfortunately, I doubt that any sponsorship opportunities are forthcoming from Congo Airlines or Air Guinee – many of the places where I really need to go are fairly difficult to get to on major carriers.

OK – Time to Head Out

Six days notice is more than enough time to go anywhere, and what I pack doesn't really change from place to place. I hope your week is amazing, and I'll see you next from Rarotonga in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.


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Site Update: May 2009

This overdue monthly update comes to you from the Dominican Republic – I’m actually not there now, but that’s where I wrote most of this update, so we’ll call it good. *** Each month I look back at what’s happened with in the previous month. If you’ve missed some articles, you can catch up…

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French Guiana and the $100 Question


After arriving in Paramaribo, Suriname on a long overland journey from Guyana, I was tired.

The week before I had been in Haiti, relearning humility thanks to missionaries and mosquitoes. The missionaries I liked, the mosquitoes, not so much – but as I tell myself from time to time, it's all part of the adventure.

Paramaribo is a sleepy place, but it was my favorite stop of the time in South America on this trip. The people were friendly and helpful, I didn't get lost anywhere (new readers: I usually get lost almost everywhere I go), and I had a nice place to stay. After my time in Haiti and the 13-hour overland journey between borders, I was happy to hole up for a while, do some running, catch up on all the email, and so on.

Except for one problem: French Guiana lay 150 kilometers eastwards, and when would I possibly be in this part of the world again?


(Click to enlarge the regional map on the left)

Even though I'm known to get around, the odds of my coming back this way anytime in the near future are pretty slim. When faced with a travel dilemma like this one, I'm not above making a basic pro-and-con list. Here we go:

Reasons NOT to Make the Trip

  • I was feeling worn out after 10 days of challenging travel (West Coast-East Coast flights, Haiti, Guyana-to-Suriname overland)
  • In Paramaribo, I had my best hotel of the trip, with free internet, air conditioning, and good coffee.
  • There was no public transport available, and chartering a taxi would require the princely sum of $100
  • I missed out on getting an early start, and had already had too much sun over the past couple of days
  • French Guiana is not technically a country – it's an overseas region of France - therefore, I wouldn't technically get one country closer to my goal

I thought those were all pretty good reasons to sit on my ass that day. But of course, I also had some good reasons to go for it.

Reasons TO Make the Trip

  • It was only about a five-hour journey there and back, in addition to whatever I did on the other side. Compared to my record of 36 hours in a bus (East Africa, 2007) or even the 13-hour journey a couple of days prior, five hours isn't that bad
  • $100 is a lot to pay a taxi driver, but on the other hand, $100 to visit a new country is extremely cheap. Now that I'm running out of Caribbean islands and places like Luxembourg ($20 train ride from Brussels), there aren't many $100 countries left for me
  • Even though it's not technically a country, it's certainly an isolated, geographically unique place. Think of somewhere like Puerto Rico or Guam, except much further away from the U.S.
  • I don't want to get to 190 countries and decide that I didn't really complete South America because of one small “sort of country” in the northeast. It's a long way to get back!

The basic dilemma was that most of the time I do what I want, and I didn't really want to head out on a trip that would be even more tiring. At the same time, though, I knew I pretty much had one chance to do this. Thus, I was puzzled and indecisive, and I had to make a decision quickly. In the end, what swung the decision was one simple question:

If I didn't go, would I regret it later?

Part of me wished for a different answer, but the rest of me knew better. The answer was yes. If I wimped out and hung around drinking coffee, I'd feel better that day, but later on I would have regretted not making the journey. My rule is “never pass up a country when it comes your way,” and breaking the rule once would be like missing a posting day – that way lies madness, as King Lear might say.

I also remembered my experience in Thailand years ago, where for just $20 and a one-hour truck ride I could have gone over to Cambodia for the weekend. At the time I thought $20 was “too expensive” and sat out the trip. Fast forward six years, and I went back to Cambodia and had a great time – but it cost much, much more than $20 since I wasn't already on the border. Now I was looking at dropping $100 - a lot to pay for a taxi, but getting there from anywhere else in the world would have cost much more.

All things being equal, I figured that $100 is the new $20, and five hours in a taxi is the new one-hour truck ride.

No place is really "undiscovered" anymore - that's a travel writing cliché that went out of style about 50 years ago - but Suriname and French Guiana are definitely off the nomad grid. Suriname sees some Dutch visitors, and French Guiana sees some adventurous French travelers, but otherwise, there's not a lot of outsiders who regularly drop in.

I might complete South America this summer with all of the official countries, but I felt like there would always be an asterisk beside the northeastern part of the continent. I can picture it now:

Completed South America in Summer 2009*

*did not make it to French Guiana, the almost-a-country north of Brazil

The Decision... and the Journey

Here's where the story picks up in real-time.

I do the right thing: I order the taxi. We ride over to the border on two-and-a-half hours of bad roads. There's not much you can say about driving along over bad roads – it's pretty much the same everywhere in the world.

The taxi has a DVD monitor installed, and my driver, two other guys in the back, and I watch a rousing set of low-budget Surinamese rap videos for about two hours. For the last half-hour, the driver throws in a bootleg Alicia Keys CD, for which I'm grateful. Alicia's got style. Surinamese rappers, well, I think there's some room for improvement.

Advanced Passport Stamping

We make it to the border, which is a bit confusing and has the potential to cause visa problems for beginning travelers. The trick here is that there is no actual border post where the pirogues take people across the water to the other side. To properly exit Suriname – which you'll need to do to be allowed to enter what is effectively the European Union on the other side - you need to go to the border post a few blocks before you get to the actual crossing. Most of the time, stops like these are mandatory and hard to miss, but no one checks anything at this border.

I go to the border shack (that's really what it is), get my stamp, and a warning – if I don't get the same set of stamps on the other side from French Guiana, I won't be able to get back into Suriname. Of course, I'll already be in Suriname by then, since the border shack is several blocks inland – but the point is, then I would be denied “entry” into the country and have a problem leaving from the airport back in Paramaribo the next day. If it sounds confusing, welcome to my world.

To avoid all the confusion, just remember this: be sure to get the right stamps.

I get the right stamps, go back to the beach, and pay the set rate of $5 to go across the water. On the other side I wander to a container that serves as another makeshift border outpost. The French guys look bored as they give me two stamps – one entry, one exit. Apparently I'm not the first person to come over here for the afternoon.

“What do you do?” one of them asks me. “Écrivain,” I say – I'm a writer. I don't know how to say “unemployed authority-challenger” in French, and it's probably not smart to say that to immigration officials anyway.

The bored French guys tell me they don't care if I stay around the border town for the rest of the day, as long as I leave by nightfall. I do hang around briefly, but there's even less happening in French Guiana as there was in the other Guyana. Also, since French Guiana is effectively a South American France, everything is priced in euros. Suriname isn't really that cheap either – a lot of things are imported there too – but at least it's better than a European Union on the wrong continent.

My two-week trip is winding down, and this is the turnaround point. I look at the water for a while before getting in another pirogue. I pay $5 and go back across the water, where my driver is waiting. We run a couple of errands for him around town, and one for me as I stop back at the original border shack. I receive yet another stamp, which entitles me to officially leave the country from the airport in the morning.

We drive back to the city with more rap videos en route, but no Alicia Keys. I pay the $100, which combined with the ferry rides of $5 each, make for a total of $110 for the day's adventure. Worth it? Probably not in a touristic interpretation of travel, but it's plenty authentic for me. Also, it makes for a fun story. You're still reading, right?


Back in Paramaribo at 9:00 p.m., I get another surprise when I hear that the airport shuttle is coming to pick me up at the enticing hour of 2:30 in the morning. I knew it was an early flight (6:30), but a 2:30 a.m. pickup is a record for me. Apparently the shuttle makes a lot of stops, and I'm the first one. “You can sleep on the bus,” the receptionist says cheerfully.

Uh, I don't think so. But no worries – I've successfully finished my first adventure in this part of the world. After Haiti, Guyana, and Suriname, I even made it to French Guiana for $110, with a free lesson on advanced passport stamping included.

Next, I head to the Dominican Republic, where I finally get to run and drink coffee for a few days. And then I come home, via SDQ-MIA-LAX-PDX. Here I am again – for a while.

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Building Influence to Gain Widespread Authority

This is a more advanced look at how I've been able to build the AONC site into a diverse community over the past year.

I've already written 79 pages about this subject, so this follow-up is mostly for the 50,000 people who have read that report so far. What I want to do in this article is focus on using multiple spheres of influence to create widespread, perceived authority.

One of the most important parts of developing a following is answering the “reason why” question and proving yourself to be an authority on at least one thing other people care passionately about.

From the very beginning, it's important to understand that almost all authority is perceived, not objective. What this means is that if people think you're smart or interesting, voila, you're smart or interesting. In 279 Days I wrote about this in the strategy I called “Be Bigger than you Really Are” - also known as “Fake it 'till you make it.” A big part of building influence is essentially creating the perceived authority.

Usual disclaimers: I'm not an expert (no one is) – I've made many mistakes along the way. Use what helps you and ignore the rest.


To kick things off, take a look at this image (click to enlarge):


This image represents the largest traffic sources that regularly bring readers and visitors into the AONC site. I haven't broken them all out into percentages or anything quantitative, mostly because I don't worry about things like that. I'm more interested in the qualitative characteristic of having perceived authority in several areas that each help me get more readers.


Just as you don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to, you also don't have to choose one specific topic to develop expertise in. As long as you can a) be somewhat interesting, and b) work hard over a sustained period of time, you can develop the following you need to achieve almost any goal.

This represents an effective diversification of influence, and ultimately a diversification of followers.

THE BIG PICTURE (for this site)

I write about nonconformity in Life, Work, and Travel – a topic that is admittedly quite broad, and thus it draws readers from a variety of backgrounds. I have a USP – see the great Sonia Simone for more on how that works – for each primary area of my interest.

Life – Within Life, people come to the site to read about challenging authority, finding alternative ways to set and accomplish goals, doing great things for yourself while also helping others, and standing up to vampires and other small-minded people.

The USP in this subject is what I mentioned earlier (and continue to mention frequently, because it's important): You don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to. In the image above I defined it as, “Be yourself, because everyone else is already taken” - one of my favorite quotes from Oscar Wilde.

Work – Within Work, people come to the site to read about unconventional business ideas, the products, and general advice on breaking out of traditional employment. I connect with entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, executives, and people who aspire to those roles.

The USP in this subject is that, for better or worse, I have been self-employed for my whole adult life. Whenever I get endorsements from business bloggers (especially someone like Seth – who is essentially a one-man Business Week, except much more interesting), I get a large group of new business-minded readers who want to know more about how that works.

Travel - Within Travel, people come to the site for the Journey to Every Country, the Frequent Flyer Challenge, general travel hacking info, trip reports, and sometimes just to connect with another world traveler.

Just as with work, when it comes to travel I'm much more of a generalist than a specialist. I don't claim to be the most widely-traveled person in the world, or a photojournalist who spends months taking pictures of villagers. Other people can do that much better than me.


Diversifying my perceived authority has led to a diversification of traffic sources. Every day new readers come to the site from a variety of referrals. The largest ones are listed and explained below.

Blogs – By far my biggest source of traffic, readers, and good vibes comes from other bloggers who tell their own communities about the site. If you want to help, the best thing you can do is link me up. If my site was never indexed in Google, I'd still all of the traffic I needed thanks to other blogs and sites who link to me.

World Domination Manifesto – I wrote the Brief Guide to World Domination to be flagship content – something that would draw readers in and help me define my stance as a professional authority-challenger. The manifesto has been online since June 2008, but every day I still get emails from people who have discovered it for the first time. I love that!

279 Days Manifesto – The follow-up to World Domination, this report has brought in even more readers – which is ironic, since I wrote it for a more limited target market than the first one.

Twitter – The only major social network I regularly use – although feel free to add me on LinkedIn as well. I explained recently how I use Twitter – basically the goal is to add value, connect with people, deliver helpful information, and make other people look good. Say hi anytime – I'm @chrisguillebeau.

Newspaper Column – I recently started writing a travel column for the Oregonian, the largest newspaper in Oregon. My column is in the printed paper about once a month, with a few blog posts in the Travel section of their site in between. It doesn't really bring a huge amount of traffic, but being a newspaper columnist produces a certain amount of perceived authority, and I'm hoping to syndicate the column to a broader audience in the future.

Other Media – So far the site has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Times, La Presse, MSNBC, and a bunch of smaller outlets. Of course, new media authorities like, LifeHacker, and Huffington Post are also important, and I'm grateful to them as well. I regularly build relationships with journalists, offering to help without being quoted, and trying not to be anal about whatever they want to say about me. (This process could be an entire article, so I'll save it for the future.)

Huffington Post – Speaking of syndication, the ever-insightful Gretchen Rubin told me recently, “Ubiquity is the new exclusivity” - meaning that the more places you can be with the same message, the better. I thought that advice was brilliant - and it's basically the approach I used when HuffPost asked me to start writing for them.

The gig is unpaid, and I was concerned about writing original content for them when I'm supposed to be writing a book (in addition to everything else), so I was happy when they told me I could cross-post some of the travel articles I publish here on AONC. They win because their readers get access to content they didn't have before – presumably it's good content! - and I win from the broader exposure of the HuffPost name.

(In fact, I have another, similar deal coming up this week – I had to quickly edit this article, since I originally included the source by mistake. Oops... hopefully they won't notice!)

Organic – I don't get a huge amount of organic (search engine) traffic, but it's slowly growing. The beauty of legacy content is that, over time, a few of the better articles receive good indexing in Google, and new readers every day through the archives.

Some of the Google results I see are really quite funny. Last month three people arrived when searching for “ass kicking of a lifetime.” Another person came in by searching for “take over the world while being nice.” Lots of people drop in for variations on terms like frequent flyer miles, round-the-world plane tickets, world domination, working for yourself, jobs that travel the world, and so on.


When I first started writing, one of my big concerns was about defining a core audience with the broad topics I wanted to write about. Would people “get” it? Would entrepreneurs care about international travel? Would people living in cubicle nation want to hear what I had to say about working for yourself?

The answer turned out to be a qualified yes.

I had to learn to mix it up, preempt objections, and accept that not every article relates to each reader, but those things were to be expected. It also helped when I learned to provide more details and background – how much it costs when I travel, all the details of conducting your own annual review, and so on. I was worried about writing longer posts (this one is more than 2,000 words), but it turned out that the details are what most of my readership really wanted.

At this point, I'll say that I honestly don't worry about it that much. For the most part, I write about whatever I feel like as long as I think it is interesting and centered on helping others. After one year of writing, I have a strong archive of legacy content on multiple subjects. If I head out on a long trip and write about travel for a while and someone gets tired of it, there is plenty of other content they can consume if they want.

They can also just stop reading, and I know that I can't please all of the people all of the time. The other day someone unsubscribed because “the articles are really long!” I told him he was right – if you want to read an online comic strip, there are plenty of those out there. I'm trying to attract a more thoughtful crowd.


This model is unconventional because the traditional wisdom on building an online presence (or small business) is that you should start small and expand outwards.

If your passion or business is golf, you're supposed to write only about golf. According to this theory, no one cares what golfers think about tennis, let alone politics, the state of the world, or anything related to your personal life.

Naturally, I think this belief is wrong... or if not wrong, it's clearly old-school.

The model I used to build out this project is unconventional, but it's no longer unusual. About 50% of the people I wrote about in 26 People I Highly Respect are following a similar model.

At some point I'll post a more detailed update on the reception to 279 Days, including my response to some of the limited criticisms of the report. One of the criticisms I disagree with is the idea that as more people start blogging (or whatever medium you choose), there will be less “followers” and the value of any one person's project will become diluted.

I may be wrong, but I believe the opposite: the field is wide open. One person's success does not cause another person to fail. If anything, there's never been a better time to begin an unconventional career.

In other words:

Be yourself, because everyone else is already taken.

Avoid scarcity; embrace abundance.

Help others and do what you want.

That sounds good to me... how about you?


If you're still reading after 2,064 words, here are a couple of questions:

  • What is your perceived authority?
  • How can you leverage it to help others and create multiple spheres of influence?

Feel free to share stories, tips, or other questions in the comments.

(By the way, thanks for your patience with the delayed comment posting over the past couple of weeks while I was traveling. I'm home this week and can interact more quickly now.)



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Overland Journey from Guyana to Suriname

Part I: Georgetown to New Amsterdam, Guyana

My sleep schedule is still off from the 3:30 a.m. arrival a couple of nights earlier, but it's an early morning wake-up to get to the Guyana taxi station. I fall asleep at 2:00 a.m., and the alarm goes off at 4:45. Nice. By 5:15 I'm downstairs paying the bill and waiting for my first ride of the day.

The car drops me at the station, I pay $3, and I'm immediately surrounded by would-be chauffeurs. Five guys make a simultaneous grab for my carry-on, but I keep my hand on it too. Naturally, they all want my business for the first half of the journey to the border.

In situations like this, it's not all about who's cheapest -- it's also important to find out who's leaving first. I settle for a guy who says he has eight passengers in his van and is almost ready to go. I count six, but that's close enough. For the next 20 minutes he keeps saying, "One more! One more!" - as in, we need one more passenger before departure. Three more passengers get in, but who's counting? We finally take off.

For the next three hours, we drive on mostly good roads through towns and countryside. I'm tired from the lack of sleep the night before, but it's not a bad journey. Along the way we drop people off one-by-one, and at a couple of stops more people get in. In the end, it's just me, the driver, and a Guyanese woman. The woman is meeting her friend at the ferry terminal. I'm going further - across the river, and out of Guyana and into Suriname. Next up, the ferry.

Part II: Crossing the River

The waiting game starts at the ferry terminal. I don't like the waiting game, but if you hate it too much, you'll be an eternally frustrated traveler. The waiting game is you spend an undetermined amount of time, usually at least one hour, waiting around for something to happen. In some cases, the waiting can be as much as 50% of the total travel time.

I like forward motion. I like going places. Waiting is stationary, but a necessary part of travel. I buy my $10 ticket and wait at the ferry terminal. It's 9:30 a.m. now, and the ferry is scheduled to leave at 11:00. Or maybe it's 12:00 - no one's sure. It looks good for 11:00, because the ferry arrives from the other side at 10:30 and everyone goes to queue up.

Except nothing happens. We wait in the queue for 30 minutes, then half the people go back inside to sit down. False alarm. Another 45 minutes later and we hop on board.

I have a love / hate relationship with ferries, and the quality of the relationship is determined by how long the ferry takes, how crowded it is, and how rocky the waves are. In this case I win on all three counts. The ferry takes 30 minutes, it's full but not overcrowded, and the water is smooth. It's a good ferry. I spend the time talking with an Ethiopian muslim who is traveling with another group of muslims (from several countries) for three weeks in the Guyanas and Caribbean. He tells me to read the Koran when I get home.

On the other side, the waiting game resumes. We arrive at a shack that serves as the immigration stop for Suriname. One guy is doing immigration for everyone -- about 50 of us. He's not in a hurry, either. One other guy is watching the whole time, and when the immigration finishes for everyone, he starts doing the customs check one-by-one. As to why they didn't perform the tasks simultaneously, no one knows, but I'm not the only one who's wondering.

Another hour goes by standing in the queue, but it's finally over. I hop in another mini-taxi for the third and final part of the journey. Only four more hours to go.

Part III: Surinamese Border to Paramaribo

The first taxi was like the ferry - full but not overcrowded. This taxi was a tight fit before they put the luggage in. I sit with my laptop bag on my lap for the whole journey. A Surinamese girl falls asleep on my shoulder, and an old man who's been allocated the front seat alternates between smoking and coughing.

We stop for supplies at a gas station. I change $10 and buy cookies and a bottle of water. The old man and I split the bag of cookies for the rest of the journey. He offers me cigarettes - no thanks.

The roads in Suriname are much worse than in Guyana, which surprises me since my impression is that Suriname is a more well-off country overall.

We pull into Paramaribo at sundown and the driver stops dropping people off. I'm last on the list, but the benefit is that I see the city en route to my hotel.

I make it to the Hotel Zeelandia, where I had booked a room in advance for two nights with the option to stay a third if I like it. It has a bed, wifi, and is next to an Indian restaurant, so I do like it.

At the Indian place I eat my first meal of the day at 7:30 p.m. just after arrival. It's been a long day, but it was a good day. The beer is cold, and they have good channa masala. Later on I realize that the meal costs $22, but when I consider that it's my only meal of the day, I decide that $22 is not a bad per-diem for food on a 13-hour journey.

Here I am in Suriname. Country #109. I feel like I'm far away from where I came from, and that's just fine with me.


Suriname House by Ahron

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Keeping It Real

Hey guys, today's post is a combination article + video update. They both have the same overall message, so take your pick. It's mostly an inside message about how things work over here, but if you have your own following, you might learn something.

Here's the video, live from the zona colonial in downtown Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic:

And Here's the Written Message

Whenever a community experiences rapid growth, some people feel left out. New people come in and don't know the history. Meanwhile, the people who have been around for a while worry that they have been forgotten in all the excitement.

A good leader needs to be able to reach out to new people, expand the pie, while also "keeping it real" as much as possible.

This is my attempt to do so, live on location from the Dominican Republic. Specifically, here are a few important points:

Scaling Kindness and Coolness

I believe that kindness and coolness are scalable. I might miss a few things, and growth can be challenging when I'm not continually online. But I'm trying hard to keep it real.

Last week I was in Haiti. I stayed in a missionary guesthouse with no running water, limited electricity, and shared rooms. Breakfast and mosquitoes were included at no extra charge. I'm not complaining - it was good for me. As I said, if you ever find yourself in need of a reality check, go and hang out with missionaries, nuns, and aid workers.

During one of the few times I was able to get online, I saw that someone was asking, "Is Chris Guillebeau turning into a broadcaster? He's not interacting with his followers anymore."

My thought was, dude, I'm doing my best. It's kind of difficult to interact online when I can't even take a shower. Wi-fi is ubiquious in some parts of the world, but not in Haiti or rural South America.

When things started getting crazy before the trip, I actually thought about staying home to deal with all the email. I probably could have processed things quicker, added more people on Twitter, sold more products, whatever.

But then I realized, hey, this is my regular life. In 279 Days I wrote about how you need to provide a good reason why other people should care about what you're doing.

Part of the reason why people care about this is because I'm actually out there in the world doing crazy stuff. Also, I keep the schedule no matter what's happening. Right now we are 59 weeks into the project, and I've never missed a scheduled update.

If it doesn't slow down, I have to find a way to work with it. You're reading in real-time - airport camping, big successes, mistakes, and all. I might not always be online, but I'll do my best to keep it real.

Twitter and How I Use It

Other than the occasional update on LinkedIn, Twitter is the only social network I actively participate in. I try to add value, pass on other great stuff, engage in conversation. My goal is to promote great resources and other people's stuff at no benefit to me at least twice as much as I promote my own stuff.

I enjoy learning from all kinds of people, but at this point I don't automatically follow people back. If I have 200 people a day adding me in, it is very difficult to sort through all of them while I'm roaming from place to place. Instead, I follow people I want to follow without expecting they will follow me back.

Here in the D.R. I just went through and added 300 people to my network, and I'll continue to do that from time to time. If I haven't gotten to you yet, we can still interact, and I read every message that has my name in it.

Not there yet? Come on over and hang out. It's fun.

Comment Guidelines

I'm pretty open-minded, but a blog is not a democracy. The publisher of a blog has the responsibility to police all of the content. If you read some popular blogs, you probably know that it can be a jungle out there with people saying anything they want and verbally attacking other people. That's not going to happen here.

My comment policy is pretty basic - don't use the comments to blatantly promote yourself, and don't be an asshole. Disagreeing is fine, but don't just tell me why I'm wrong - tell me what you think the alternative is.

A couple of weeks ago I was rude to a Citibank representative on the phone, and I felt bad all afternoon. To avoid feeling bad (and making me feel bad), think twice before you post a personal attack on me, someone mentioned in the article, or another commentor. I'm probably not going to publish vindictive comments, and if you just want to feel better, go and hit a tree or something. Then ask yourself, "What's the alternative? Am I really adding value?"

I know this does not apply to the 99% of the commentors who are cool people, and the 1% who enjoy living in their insanity probably won't read this, but it's good to have it out there.

ALSO - every day my volunteer editor and I delete at least a dozen comments that are self-promotions disguised as article feedback. They usually look like this:

Hey Chris! Great site. I really enjoy (blah, blah, blah). Listen, I wanted to ask if you've ever considered (product or service). My company makes this and we think it's fantastic. You can read more about it at this link: http://

Oh, and I wrote a great blog post about it, which you can read here: http://

Hope to hear from you soon!

If you want to pitch me on something, that's fine - but use the contact form. Otherwise, put your link in the field that says "web site" (not the comment box) and write something meaningful. Every day hundreds of people read through the comments and click links they are interested in, but the way to get noticed is by contributing to the conversation, not by blatantly promoting yourself.

My Secret Trust Fund

When rapid growth takes place - especially when it comes from mainstream media coverage - I've noticed that some new people make assumptions without really doing much research. After reading a profile in the New York Times, for example, one guy wrote in to ask, "How big is your trust fund?"

As everyone who actually reads the site knows, I have no trust fund or secret pension. Whenever someone accuses me of keeping money under the mattress, I always think about calling up my dad:

"Hey Dad... what's this about a trust fund? How come you've never said anything?!"

I don't think my dad has something he's been keeping from me for 31 years. What you see is what you get.

For better or worse, what I do is 100% legit. I do fly First Class (sometimes) and I do sleep on the floor of the airport and in random guesthouses in poor countries. It's all part of the adventure.

Sometimes I'll fall behind with some things -- like when I can't take a real shower or am riding in buses for 13 hours through South America. But whether I'm online or not at any particular moment, you all are welcome to be a part of this in whichever way you want.

You've got email updates, RSS, Twitter, free manifestos, 108 countries, Store, etc. Take your pick.

10,000 People I Highly Respect (very important!)

Lastly, about my list of 26 People I Highly Respect - that was just the list of blog and social media mentors who have helped me get to where I am now. They are truly awesome and I wanted to publicly acknowledge them.

For everyone else, I highly respect your time and attention too. I'm grateful to have connected with many of you (probably about half of the entire group) over the past year.

You rock my world, you are an extremely motivational force that helps me keep going, and together we have a long way to go. Thanks so much for being a part of this.

Keeping it real from the D.R.,


P.S. Those of you with small armies of your own, remember that it's important to continually touch base to let people know what's happening. Find your own way, use your own voice, but the goal is to acknowledge your shortcomings, make people feel welcome and valued, and encourage the community to be a part of something greater than themselves.

As I see it, that's keeping it real. Feel free to add your own perspective in the comments as well.



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