At a family dinner the other week, my aunt shared a story about her terrible baking skills (her words, not mine). My cousin, who knows her way around the kitchen, had some oven mishaps and accidentally messed up two cheesecakes. Frustrated, she took a nap and resolved to swing by the store and buy a cake on her way to the party that night rather than strike out a third time. My aunt, feeling sorry for her, made a new cheesecake while she slept.
Although my aunt followed the recipe exactly, she said the cake didn’t come out as well as if my cousin had made it. There was something missing.
We’ve all shared that experience — following a recipe, step by step, only to wind up with a mediocre dish. It’s why Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali’s restaurants get more popular when they release a cookbook, not less. It’s why Tim Ferris is happy to write 10,000 word articles about his exact Kickstarter strategy.
Because even with specific, detailed instructions, it’s impossible to replicate someone else’s success. There’s something that always gets lost in translation.
Maybe You’re Missing the Magic?
Spend enough time reading articles on Medium (or following the bloggers I do), and you’ll see the same advice crop up when it comes to using your creativity to make money online — create free high-quality content, build a large email list, test and validate a product before you build it, etc.
Armed with all that advice, doing anything else seems foolish. You start to wonder how anyone can succeed online without 10,000 followers and a complicated sales funnel. And yet, talented, passionate artists are doing it every day.
Two creators (that I support) come to mind immediately. The first, Marshall Sutcliffe, hosts Limited Resources, a podcast about Magic: The Gathering (the trading card game). Each episode earns $2,000 on Patreon, and as far as I know, Marshall does it without an email list or even a modern website. Jamie Stagmaier of Stonemaier Games is another creator that comes to mind. He just launched a Kickstarter for his board game, Scythe, in the spring that earned $2M — which he built off previous successes and a simple blog (no email list, no sales funnel, no free giveaways).
I don’t say any of this to knock these guys (I love their stuff), I say it to show that it doesn’t take a fancy sales funnel, a weekly email, content upgrades, and product validation to be profitable online. Those things might help, but they’re no substitute for “The Magic” — the passion and love for an idea that drives you to stay up all night working on it, that fuels you even when you’re down or when things aren’t going well.
Many flame out combining the latest trend with the standard advice, hoping to become an overnight success. Few build something they love and fail to reap the rewards.
Magic in My Own Life: A Case Study
My own creative journey serves as another powerful reminder that “The Magic” is real.
In the two and a half years I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve created two products. The first, Improv ABC, was a huge hit (at least from my perspective). There aren’t a lot of improv comedy books to begin with, and many of the most popular are theoretical rather than practical. I decided to write the book I wish I had when starting out — a simple, clear, and actionable guide to improv basics.
At that time, I didn’t know much about digital marketing. I had a list of roughly 50, and my promotion consisted of a few photographs posted on my personal social media profiles, one email to my list, and word of mouth.
The result? $1,200 in presales and a total of $2,500 after one year without any additional marketing beyond the launch. No, I can’t retire to the Bahamas on that, but I’m happy with the result.
The other product I’ve created in the last year is The Better Blog Course, an self-paced, video course about building a sustainable blog, getting published, and growing your audience. I “validated” the course by getting 13 email sign ups. I created a survey to get a sense of exactly what types of modules I could create. I sent out periodic emails reminding people about the launch and the launch discount.
In the end, I sold three courses for a total of $90…and I haven’t sold another one since.
The blame can be laid, in part, at my own feet. I didn’t sell the course as hard as I could have. I didn’t talk about it in-person as much as I did the book. I didn’t post about it on my social profiles as often. And it’s not that the product was bad — it was that I wasn’t excited to talk about it. It didn’t feel like “me.” There wasn’t any “Magic” to the idea. It just felt like another of the 100’s of courses trying to cash in on a trend.
The course felt like something I created quickly because it was “trendy” and felt easy. The book was something I created because I saw a need — and I invested plenty of late nights, long weekends, and love. “The Magic” was worth $2,410, and no amount of marketing was going to change that.
Magic > Marketing
This is not me blessing an “if you build it, they will come” strategy. You can’t create a product in your basement, never speak about it, never build a following, and wonder where your fans are. All of the standard advice doeswork. It’s “standard advice” for a reason.
But this is me cautioning you against creating something for the sake of creating something or creating something to make a few bucks or creating something because everyone else is. That’s the surefire way to make something that’s seriously lacking in “The Magic.” This is me giving you a warning — that the standard advice is like a recipe. Just knowing the steps doesn’t guarantee success.
I’ve seen marketing for a few online courses lately that promise to help you start a profitable online business even if you don’t have an idea…which seems insane. Because the truth is creating, marketing, and selling anything is hard. as. fuck.
Make stuff because you love it. Because the market doesn’t offer it. Because you think about it every day and it keeps you up at night. And then pour your love, passion, and dedication into the product.
You’ll be rewarded. Probably not with 1,000,000 fans and $10,000 overnight. But slowly, you’ll build an audience who’s equally passionate about the subject and is happy to financially support your efforts. $2,000 for an hour and a half podcast episode doesn’t sound too bad…it just takes seven years and a lot of love.
Every Monday, I publish a new article that will help you get inspired, master your limited time, and build sustainable creative habits. Sign up to get inspired.