Getting Going – The False Prophets of Online Success

It didn’t take long for the two of us to start gathering steam, as both our sites were blessed by a lot of early attention and immediate momentum.

This hint at early success fueled us to push harder, publish more and experiment with new ideas such as our earliest endeavor, the .99 cent “Wee-Book.” The concept of the wee-book was simple, and held in it a magic we both embrace to this day; our words and art blended together and spread as far and wide as possible. Wee-books were our first stab at collaboration and harbored something we instinctively understood, but had yet to correctly interpret.

Neither of us had any idea how difficult it would be to sell solely from the strength of a blog post. Fortunately, our early experience with wee-books helped us to curb this misconception quickly. Though we would still, of course, stumble a few more times, it was ultimately our faith in the strength of our collective voice that led us to keep fine tuning the vehicle. At the time, though, we were driving with blinders on, convinced that the wee-books would eventually do well.

We had started to follow the false prophets of online success.

Comments and accolades are great. They can buoy your self esteem like little else. The danger, however, lies in believing they are something they are not. Listening to the rally of a few dedicated fans will prompt you to ignore the jagged reality of hard, unyielding numbers.

Online success is all about reach, something that is nearly impossible to achieve when you are just starting out, no matter how loud you are screaming. 1,000 subscribers may seem like a lot, but it’s nothing really – at least if it’s how you are expecting to make a living. We released our wee-books with half that number – and without marketing or a sound strategy in place.

We foolishly believed producing the product and publishing a post announcing its arrival would be enough. The romantic whispers from Field of Dreams, If you build it, they will come, echoed in our ears. It seems funny now a year later, not so much back then.

We converted 2% of our audience, which we now nderstand is relatively high. For our hours of work we yielded a grand total of $10. Split between us. For many hours of work.

Ouch.

This, however, was a 24 karat lesson which enabled us to understand that comments are not legal tender, nor are they a promise of things to come. Same holds true for subscribers. Most importantly, we realized a product without a plan to push it forward is just a car without an engine; a nice place to sit and watch the world fly by at 55 mph.

It was a good lesson to learn early. Little did we know there was a dragon that needed slaying.

Stay tuned. Monday we’ll be publishing the next part in our series looking back at our first year online.

4 responses to Getting Going – The False Prophets of Online Success

  1. Corey - Simple Marriage

    It’s so easy to fall victim to believing that a high subscriber count or a lot of comments on your site will translate to cash. I have fallen into this same thing – in fact it was last year. Now I’m pulling back a bit and refocusing my efforts.

    Thanks for sharing your journey.

  2. Sean

    Hi Corey,

    It’s so true. High subscriber and comment counts mean nothing. In retrospect, I can’t believe I placed such high value on them to begin with. At least now I know and can place my focus in a more intelligent direction. High subscriber counts and active audience engagement are at the very best, only a good beginning, but they are far from the end game.

  3. Hayden Tompkins

    Very rarely do people buy from the blog they visit. That’s why launches often involve guest posts at almost all the “big” blogs to create enough momentum where the average person will eventually check it after seeing it for the 6th time.

    OR

    You have to have readers who are less friend and more fan, who want whatever you are a part of.

    I suspect that in Corey’s case that many of the people who are subscribed are people who want to reinforce that marriage is awesome in a media storm where it seems to matter less and less. It’s subtle validation for their own choices. I know it sounds weird, but I don’t know that they are actually looking for help.

    In your case, WriterDad is a group of your friends. And friends, while emotionally supportive, don’t necessarily whip out the check book. In my particular instance, I don’t have kids so the Wee Books or potty training books aren’t helpful for me right now.

    If you could get traction with big name mommy bloggers whose readers, by and large, are mothers – I think you’d get to your target market a little more specifically.

  4. Sean

    Hi Hayden,

    All excellent points. I resigned myself a while back to approach Writer Dad as a more intimate site where I share stories rather than trying to make into something more business minded, and so far that is working for me, at least for my mindset. I also see it as something that should be ever evolving though, so I would like to see it go through a few more transitions over time.

    You’re totally right about the mommy bloggers, I’m just not sure I could devote the time needed to make that happen. At least not while trying to nurture a budding business and stoke the fires of our personal projects. I do believe that some eventual success with our children’s books will help nurture Writer Dad into something more evolved, it will just take time.

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