November 4, 2010

Starting Over

The question comes up a lot: “If you were starting over with this project, what would you do differently?”

In my case, I probably wouldn’t put the domain on chrisguillebeau.com. If you have chrisg.com, that works—but Chris Garrett got to that one first, and for some reason, a lot of people have a hard time with Guillebeau. Oh well.

I would try to have a better understanding of my readers from the beginning, instead of waiting 6-12 months to figure it out. And I would have an agenda and a clear message of what kind of change I was trying to create.

But the more important question is self-reflective: how can you start something?

My advice is to find a few leaders you respect, go back to the very beginning of their project and see what they did as they grew. This is easy to do with blogs and online platforms, even if you don’t care about being a blogger yourself. You will almost always see an evolution as they figure things out and gain their footing. With that in mind, here’s what I’d do if I were starting today.

I would pay $10 for a domain, get a cheap hosting account, and use WordPress for my blog.

I would post on a regular schedule, even if the schedule was only once a week—in other words, I would prefer consistent attempts at creativity to sporadic bouts of genius.

Every day I would ask questions of those around me and try to be helpful.

I would follow back everyone who follows me on Twitter, unless they gave me a reason not to.

I would start a Facebook Page early on and make a big push for it. (Personally I like Twitter better, but I find Facebook “fans” to be more active than the average Twitter user.) However, you also want to be careful –a page with 10 fans doesn’t look so good.

Unless the project was in a tech-heavy industry, I would focus on email instead of RSS, since most regular people have no idea how RSS works, and even the people who use RSS often get behind on reading their feeds. Therefore, I would develop some kind of content that is only sent to my email list, and gently encourage readers to join the email list.

I would then set a goal: every day I want x new readers on the list. I would ignore most other metrics in pursuit of that goal. (According to this theory, traffic that comes and goes is much less important than subscribers who join and stay.)

I would think about monetization (i.e., getting paid) from the beginning. It’s OK to evolve carefully and organically, but you want to have some idea of how you’ll actually make money if that is part of the goal. The best time to introduce paid products or services is after you’ve gained some initial influence but before the project is widely known. Do it too early and you won’t make any money because no one cares. Do it too late and the transition may be awkward, because the community isn’t expecting it.

Mistakes are normal and expected, so I wouldn’t worry about never making them; I would just try not to make the same mistake over and over. In fact, I would tell my community about the mistakes whenever possible, because they like to know what doesn’t work as much as what does work.

I would pursue a lot of different ideas, leveraging the ones that worked and moving on from the ones that didn’t. (Trying to improve your weaknesses instead of capitalizing on strengths is usually a losing battle.)

But mostly, I would focus almost exclusively on two things:

1) Creating something worth talking about

2) Getting the word out to more people

As explained here, some people are good at the craft but not good at the talk. While that may be preferable to the other way around (being good at talking but not about work), it’s better to do both. “Building relationships” is in danger of joining “be authentic” in the category of overused social media advice—but if you can really build relationships and focus on how you are actually helping people, that’s how your project will become successful.

So every day, I would focus on exactly that—creating something worth talking about, and then trying to get the word out wherever I could. Everything else is irrelevant, or at least subservient to those two strategies.

If you do that every day, then every day the work will get better and you’ll get better at promoting it. And sooner or later, momentum will kick in and you’ll be along for the ride with everyone else.

What if it’s “too late?”

One more note: on book tour I’ve been hearing from a lot of people with ideas for projects. They often wonder: Am I too late? I wish I had done this earlier. Someone else is already doing something similar.

Well, I wish I had started earlier too. I thought the marketplace was saturated and I had no idea if what I wanted to do was actually unique. But despite the uncertainty, I’m glad I finally managed to take a leap. These things have a funny way of growing once you move from thinking to action.

So now the question is… when are you starting? Because it’s not too late.

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Image: LonelyRadio

Comment on this article

64 Responses to “Starting Over”

  1. I think that spending 6-12 months to get a better understanding of your readers is much better than doing nothing. That’s part of the process and that’s being willing to make mistakes. I still haven’t figured out where I’m going either, but I feel that I’m much closer to finding my path than 6 months ago. And I believe that this process is worth a lot. Thanks for the inspiring advice.

  2. Excellent advice Chris! I think I’m happy with the domain I set up, and I’ve been following in the footsteps of excellent bloggers like yourself and things are going swimmingly. Focusing on e-mail is definitely fantastic advice for those of us not blogging about technology (or blogging itself..)

    My own site really took off after I realised how important the relationships aspect of it was – even for those talking about something completely different, we can all help each other.

    I’ll add that starting NOW is definitely the best idea. I didn’t start earlier (even though I had a good message to share) because I was worried that I wouldn’t be a good enough writer. That’s BS and people should start a blog immediately and discover their own writing style.

    Excellent post! I’ll refer people to it who need some encouragement to get started.

  3. November 4, 2010

    Alex Hajicek

    So now the question is… when are you starting? Because it’s not too late.

    I’m starting to write. I’m not a great writer, perhaps not even a mediocre one, but I believe that consistently can beat any adversity.

    P.S More importantly and more exciting is what I’ve decided not to do…pursue an MBA.

    I’m going to start trying to build a business/blog (or more realistically fail to build a business/blog but learn a few things) and then pursue business full steam after I graduate college.

    Thanks Chris (along with Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss, and Josh Kaufman) for giving me the courage to not be another sheep-walker, blow 70 grand, and another two years of my life on dated meaningless text book drivel.

  4. And just as a tactical extension on figuring out your readers, I’d suggest KISSinsights, a cool question-asking tool for websites. I’m not affiliated with them in any way, but I’ve been testing on a couple sites and like the results so far (especially on product pages). Something to check out.

  5. Fabulous article! I think the “it’s too late” thought process can be pretty debilitating for emerging bloggers and knowing that others have not only made a name for themselves, but flourished, is encouraging.
    I had someone ask me recently how I had so much to write about when my blog was relatively young. I had to think for a minute- and then it smacked me on the head- my blog is young, but I’m not! Our stories, the lives we lead and the relationships we build are what fuels our writing. Seems obvious, but relevant. I think we overlook that sometimes. Keep up the wonderful work, Chris!

  6. Thanks for the reflection! It’s quite a statement, “Trying to improve your weaknesses instead of capitalizing on strengths is usually a losing battle.” Ya, play to your strengths for sure, but there is also something profound about taking the ugliest room in the house and making it the most beautiful, especially with a fixer upper.

  7. Solid stuff Chris. Thanks for the transparency to help us newbies avoid some pitfalls.

  8. I agree about posting regularly. I used to not post regularly. You (Chris!) were one of the people who, by example, encouraged me to set a schedule. Now I post every Thursday. So every Wednesday I have to write a post. And actually, knowing that I “have” to get something up on Thursday usually spurs me to write something cool on Wednesday.

    -Erica

  9. Wow, I needed to hear this today. If I looked on my birth certificate, I’m sure my true given name is “I wish I wouldda”. Sometimes I swear that my head was originally attached facing backward.

    Chris–someone asked me the other day way I talk so much about your stuff, and I replied with two words: abundance and generosity. I think I’d add a third: optimism.

    I don’t always agree, but I always leave your articles with an increased sense of possibility. Thanks for that gift.

  10. I think I may frame this article and hang it in my studio above the place where my laptop goes. Thanks.

  11. This is great info here and very useful to someone like me, who’s still relatively new (site’s been up for 3 months). I think that what you said re: Facebook and Twitter makes sense. Also, I agree with you re: e-mail vs. RSS. Most people don’t understand the concept of a feed and don’t quite get how to subscribe.

    Speaking of that issue, I’d like to find a good email subscription system: one that’s easy for people to sign up for–not just on the homepage but at the end of blog posts–and easy for me to manage (easy for me me to send out newsletters to groups within my main list) and nice to look out (allowing for html, etc.)

    Is there anything you recommend? Free’s nice, but paid is OK (if not too much). Thanks!

  12. Great article. I’ve started more than once, always around the same idea. I’d like to think that I learned something from each of those false starts that will carry over to my current project and make it better.
    One of the mistakes I made was in studying other sites/blogs. I wasn’t able to clearly distinguish between a great looking site and a “successful” site, so I followed some examples that weren’t achieving what I’d set out to achieve. Lesson learned.

  13. Thanks Chris, this is a great article and has given me some focus at a time when I was drifting a little bit! A great quote that helped me to get started was: ‘You cannot plough a field by turning it over in your mind’ (Chinese proverb I think). The best advice is just to start, things can evolve and adapt, it won’t be perfect but it will be something. I pondered over starting my project for almost year but once I started a site (on wordpress) it all became real and is just growing in a fantastic way that couldn’t have happened if it was all just ideas inside my head!

  14. You did it again, Chris. Great post!

    I’ll be heeding your advice. I’ve been blogging for 6 years and only recently have I been stretched and challenged to make drastic improvements. You’re leading the way as far as I’m concerned.

    Thanks!

  15. Excellent timing. We have just been in the middle of extended conversations over how to take our project from infancy to adolescence. I think it is always important be bold about your goals for the project and to be responsive to the feedback you’re getting from your readers. When the time comes to ramp it up, go for it!

  16. It’s never too late to start! I’m glad I started writing – it’s been a fun journey so far and it’s only been a few months. When in doubt, go for it – You never know unless you put forth the effort!

  17. Great advice, Chris, especially the perspective to capitalize on strengths rather than getting bogged down with a focus on improving weaknesses.

    What would you suggest to those of us who are breaking ground in our fields? When I started blogging a year and a half ago, there was no visible expert blogging in my niche. All the leaders I’ve learned from are in other fields, and the translation is often tricky.

  18. I would say you need to wait a while to see the outcome of this project. You have to look beyond getting your book out there and ask yourself what the relationships you are creating are going to mean for you. As you already know a relationship may not bare fruit for a long time. You may realize you are doing the exact right thing considering the long term.

  19. Chris, this is just awesome. Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom with us in an honest, straight-forward way. This kind of info is extremely valuable for guys like me just starting out! I’m still a puppy of the blogging world, but looking back on my start, I definitely would have started sooner, focused more on a consistent posting schedule instead of trying to be a perfectionist (Just Ship, as Seth Godin would say), and connecting with more like-minded people. I am just starting to connect with other bloggers now and it’s a tremendous community with so many energetic people.

    As far as the “too late” excuse. Let’s face it – none of us is 100% unique. Sure, we’re creating things that are our own, but they’ve been done before. The key is to create something awesome and worthwhile with a personal twist and a new way of communicating your message/product/service.

    Thanks again for the pointers. It’s posts like these that make you and your blog remarkable.

  20. “Ready, Fire, Aim!” “Just Do It!” “Screw It, Let’s Do It!”

    Stop spending so much time planning. Just get it out there. Get as much help as possible. Prototype, Prototype, Prototype! Don’t be afraid of screwing up. We learn by screwing up. Buy the book, Making Ideas Happen. Read it, and get to work!

  21. As far is “am I too late” I think one of the advantages we have now is that content on the web has a very short lifespan, especially with blogging. So long as everyone else isn’t writing the stuff right now, it doesn’t matter that it is well covered already.

    You certainly want to have your own twist and most certainly don’t want to plagiarize, but never think a topic is done online.

    What I’m testing at the moment is writing to a theme for six months and then trying to use that to sharpen the focus, based on what I learn and what my readers are keen to hear about, and growing like that. It means not having to have it all sorted out yet.

  22. Yeah! Thanks for the inspiration! I put off starting my blog for six months after I got the idea because I couldn’t think of a beginning that was awesome enough for what I wanted it to be. But then I watched a video by Mary Jaksch of A-List Blogging Club fame, and she said something like “don’t even worry about your first three months–nobody reads you then anyway.” Oh! So I just started writing, and I got into the groove pretty quickly. What a blast! The thing about waiting because it might be too late… is that it never gets any earlier.

  23. Great post Chris. I am just getting started with my world changing agenda, and having someone like you aspire to is so affirming not to mention helpful. I am sorting out my agenda and attempting to predict my audience and will no doubt stumble a bit, but your advice is clear and smart. You and a few other driven young people make me believe I can.

  24. Thanks Chris-
    You are right it’s never too late to start. I know from my past experiences that doing, even doing badly is a much better feeling to have, instead of all the coudda, shouldda, woulda pinballs bouncing around in one’s brain. Thanks for the kick in the pants, this older baby bird is going to be leaving the nest today.

  25. Last night I watched a film, BLAST, on PBS. (DevlinPixs Production) It’s a about a space camera taking pictures of stars millions of light years away. The stars may not exist anymore. All that’s left is the light. “Too late?” Never. We’re right on time.

  26. Chris – great reminder here. All of us at some point probably wonder if it’s too late or worth it. The key is: if what you want to do is in line with one of your passions, then you’ll have the ‘gas in the tank’ to move forward and be in for the long haul. If it’s not in line, then move past it and don’t waste your time.
    cheers
    Michael

  27. This post reminds me of the quote by George Eliot: It’s never too late to be what you might have been.

  28. Did you write this just for me? Cuz it sure feels that way! Writing down notes as soon as I finish sending this!
    Sarah

  29. To answer the question “When are you starting?”: My partner and I got started last month. And I also got started with a site dedicated to my music and guitar teaching back in August.

    It feels good to be learning as we go rather than sitting on the sidelines.

    It’s great to read these tips for things you’d do if you started over today. Echoes some of what you said at our local UBT stop. Glad to have it all in print to refer to as we move forward.

  30. Nice post, full of truths. I think it’s easy to use these sort of excuses to protect yourself from various fears (failure, success, being redundant, not being good enough) but you really have to put some selective blinders on and forge ahead, no matter how scary. I’m talking to myself here, too!

    I don’t mean to be “that guy” who promotes their blog on someone else’s comments, but I wrote on the topic you get at the end a couple days ago… that there is so much abundance in the world, and specifically, the blogosphere, it’s ok to jump in. Everyone has a unique voice, by default. I find it almost religiously reassuring that there is so much room in our world for us each to do our thing. If interested, click my name to read “Your Blog lives in New York City”.

    Always looking forward to what you come up with next Chris!

  31. Had you gone about it differently success may have been delayed, or eluded you. Even so, many of us curiously ask those who have punched through to some level of success, “What would you do if you were starting today?” But, it’s impossible to unlearn what you’ve already learned. That process of learning is part of the pivotal process of finding success. I’m glad and happy you did it the way you did it, otherwise I might never have heard of you.

    Reese’s design work here is still among the best going. You sure got that (and many other things) right. Oh, and I’m sure glad you’re chronicling your travels so home bodies like me can sleep in our own bed every night. I prefer to keep my flying limited to my dreams.

  32. Great article! I think it’s very easy to Google something your interested in and see pages of other people already doing what you want to do. Instead of disappointment we should be excited to see that our idea is a good one. The best part is that after looking at what everyone else is done you can alter your good idea into a great idea by taking the positive points from those who have gone before. Greatness is waiting for the individuals willing to look at a “good” status quo and add our own personal touch!

  33. Very concise, Chris. I’m working with a couple of folks right now on this type of project. As a result, of course, I’m confronted with the messy room that is my own enterprise. HAHA. Coupla thoughts:
    a. Don’t be afraid to cross-promote in other media. Even that ol’ “lamestream” media. TV, radio, print. People still like that stuff–and it goes a long way to “nationbuilding” your brand or product.
    b. Get that product, service or money-feed going. Two of my money-making enterprises really took off…not quite by accident but certainly exceeding my wildest expectations. I know–easier said than done. And believe me..I’ve said more than I’ve done. HAHA. We’re looking fwd to seeing you up here in Anchorage later this month on the book tour!!

  34. Good article Chris, I’m enjoying your emails. When I was deliberating over a major life decision and worrying that maybe I was too ‘old’, I read a quotation somewhere that went something like this:

    If you worry and ask yourself what age you will be by the time you’ve finished your degree, learned to play the piano, lost a lot of weight, or whatever it is you dream of doing – the answer is, you’ll be the same age you’d be if you didn’t do it.

    So go for it! Seize the day.

  35. Hi Chris. I read your blog today and I agree that you’ll never know if your idea will fly until you try it. I’ve found as I get closer to the end of my life there are things I’m trying . I don’t want to say on my death-bed ” I should’ve tried this.” How do you know if you’ll be successful or not until you try to do what you’re thinking about doing. make your life fun by trying things out. Blessings,jim.

  36. Thank you. I needed this.

    By the way, The Art of Non-Conformity and UnMarketing are my top two books right now. I keep reading and re-reading sections. Very powerful, sir. Just FYI.

  37. I know… sometimes it’s so hard to stop planning and actually DO! Planning can be addictive. Especially when you’re a designer type like me and make lots of pretty lists and graphs and diagrams instead of real STUFF.

    I second the recommendation for “Making Ideas Happen” for those symptoms. Also Hugh MacCleod’s “Ignore Everyone” and Jonathan Fields’ “Career Renegade”. And, of course, everything Chris has written!

  38. Thanks for the pep talk. I needed it today. I’ve been blogging consistently for one year with no real results. I was planning to quit my blog all together starting next week, but maybe I’ll just post once a week.

    I’ve been consistently posting photos of my painting progress most every weekday, but I think it’s cutting too much into both my work time and personal life; becoming a huge pointless burden. I feel like at this point, the small group of people who follow me are thinking “who cares??” with my weekday posts.

    I guess I’ll try a new approach since what I’ve been doing for the last year isn’t working. That’s probably smarter than just scrapping the whole thing completely.

    Thanks again for the practical advice.

  39. Nice article. I am about to launch my first ebook and terrified. Still, I know that it is not too late.

  40. Very encouraging.

    Good reminder that our past does not predict our future, or more important, our “here and now.”

    I make mistakes everyday, but at least I will have a mulligan for tomorrow.

    Alex

  41. As usual, great article, Chris. Did you write this just for me? I’m kidding, of course, but I’ve had several articles sitting on ready for a new blog for several weeks whilst I make excuses one after another. I ran out of excuses yesterday: I finally found the perfect blogging software and successfully installed it on my server. The domain I want is available (not yet purchased), you have smartly kicked me in the pants. I guess it’s my move. Thanks.

    Devin, congrats! I’m going to check it out, see what your fright is all about. :)

  42. Great post. I started my blog a while back and decided to revive it this summer. I worked hard on the redesign (I’m a graphic designer) and launched it in August. At first, I thought there are so many other travel bloggers doing so well, is there even room for me? However, I read an article somewhere that there was room for everyone so I kept truckin’ on. I’m glad I did because my blog has been well received so far and I’m thinking of starting another in a similar yet different niche. I have the keys to success, I only have to use them.

  43. Best post in a while. By the way, it hard to find your site. I can never remember how to spell your last name when im doing a google search. I always have to go back to my emails to get the link.

  44. this cuts to the core. you’re right – it’s never to late to start over, for reinvention. time to have that brainstorming session to flush out those book ideas forever milling about. thanks.

  45. I’m joining the chorus of “Did you write this for me?” Sitting here in the privileged position of shifting gears after a year of learning tons about online biz, with mediocre results. Now I’m heeding your advice and getting out there ready for success. Thanks, Chris, for putting it out there so succinctly.

    Amy

  46. Hmmmm, I was thinking of trying another blog, so maybe I should instead of just thinking about it. Though being obviously unique has never been my strong point. (I’m quite unique, I’m just not used to that being an accepted thing. So I’ve become adept at hiding it.) I really miss writing about finance and money, ha.

  47. For me Chris, this hit the spot. Brilliant timing!!

  48. Thanks for the insights, especially concerning the email subscription aspect; given that my topic is NOT techie, that is important to know.

    It’s essays like this that are giving me the gumption to move ahead with my ideas. I’ve spent time writing content and developing the site the way I want it, but I’m still plagued sometimes by the old “am I too late to the party?” worry. Thanks for the encouragement!

    ::::kbs

  49. You always make me feel that I can get out there and conquer the world! (Not to mention my fears.) Thanks for the continued inspiration, Chris.

  50. This is by far the clearest and more useful post I’ve read on growing an idea and a blog. Everything else is technical. How important then, to believe in one’s ability to create something of worth, to actually do it and then share it. Thank u for this.

  51. Hey Chris,

    I asked you about personal branding when you were here in DC on tour and I asked that because I felt stuck. I found myself being stuck into a niche that was too limiting and it didn’t feel authentic anymore. I didn’t really think about my agenda and was just following tactics I couldn’t keep up with (i.e. posting daily, being on social sites for hours on end, etc.)

    Now I’m ready to start over and go forward with an agenda along with worthwhile content to support that. I hope to get started this weekend!

  52. i agree with your content based starting over protocol. i have just started a blog about food and information. the aim is to help people expand their horizon but also for them to become creative themselves.
    i want to attract the most loyal following and dont really give a damn if people dont like me. it is an arrogant attitude, but i know it is the best for my psychological well being

  53. Thanks Chris for your very timely and sound post. I am looking to revitalise my blog and establish a routine for social networking and I found your enlightened post to be just the thing to get me going and stop procrastinating.

  54. Chris this is a great post…thanks for your very thoughtful open and considered sharing…

    Mostly thanks for your continued generosity of heart.

    Looking forward to meeting you when you finally make it to Oz.

    warmly,Christine

  55. The most powerful message you share, I think, is that it doesn’t matter if the market is saturated. I’ve been allowed myself to stall in the past because I thought others had beat me to it and were doing it so well there wasn’t room for me. Then I started paying attention to industries like music and athletes and books (the biggie for me, becuase I’m an author), and I see that however glutted the market is, there’s always room for one more. Because if we are true to our authenticity, OUR version of the old theme will be new. Even though I know this, I like hearing it over and over, and you always say it with just the right hint of challenge that lands like a nice, firm kick in the butt. :) Thanks!

  56. Chris, I learnt how to spell your name by looking at the domain name of the AONC site every time I visit here. This domain name even helped me go even further and I ended up becoming very good at spotting the name “Chris Guillebeau” in written materials.

    OK, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but the domain name did help me become familiar with your name for sure. I don’t think it wouldn’t have worked so well if you used “chrisg” instead of “chrisguillebeau”, because there are a number of people whose name could be written as “Chris G”.

  57. Thank you for this post. I am new internet marketer by way of plenty mistakes from which I learned. I am passionate about internet marketing therefore there are never failures, just lesson learned. I will take your plan of action to heart. I think it will prove a value exercise. I am not a blogger that part will be challenging. Thanks again

  58. Keeping in constant conversation and dialog
    with potential customers, friends, even enemies,
    to find out about their assumptions, emotions,
    wishes, problems and how this connects with
    the passionate vision you have in mind.

  59. Great tips for some of us small fries Chris.

    I’m glad to know that I am already following some of these already. I try to post 2-3 posts a week, even if they aren’t “genius” or “top notch” quality. I figure that they will always improve over time.

    I’ve also recently kept track of more metrics, like average time on site, and how many newsletter subscribers I get a day.

    I completely agree that it is never too late. Those who say that are just excuse-makers.

  60. Thanks for sharing those valuable lessons, Chris! I especially like your goal of following everyone who follows you on Twitter. I know I was particularly stoked to see you following me shortly after I’d started following you- I was inspired to start Tweeting more afterward. Many thanks to you!

  61. Getting things right from the word go is probably one of the most paralyzing things for most people so it’s nice to see you pen your own little how to list. Many people who possess the perfectionist gene will sit back and over-analyze every aspect of their new project to the point that the project never actually gets off the ground. Then it may not be too late, but the desire to move the project forward has certainly died. Focusing on the few crucial steps to getting out there such as the ones you mentioned seems like a good way to at least ensure a project is given a real opportunity to get off the runway.

  62. Always a pleasure.I enjoyed the candid nature of the post, and the extremely practical nature of the “advice” therein. I agree that consistency is king, holding to a regular blogging schedule, and keeping the message all-of-a-piece as much as possible.

    Getting started is hard enough, but starting over, at least “re-assessing” your projects on a regular basis is maybe just as valuable in sustaining your online publishing pursuits.

    Thanks again!

  63. Wow, thanks. For me this has been one of your best posts – many points that feel very useful and to the point. Some of them really made me go ‘wow’ and inspired me to write down some ideas of my own.
    Being at a time when I’m trying to define my business and build my website, this feels really valueable. And I already wonder what it would look like if you did another post like this in another 5 years… :)

  64. They often wonder: Am I too late? I wish I had done this earlier. Someone else is already doing something similar. — My biggest resistence, man if i did this a year ago i would be ahead”‘ key and helpful blog for me as I push forward, thanks for the push & assurance to let it fly

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