Most of you know me as the Johnny B. Truant who exists today. It’s hard to define what I am, and this is a problem I run into all the time. Am I a blogger? A WordPress guy? A coach? A creator of courses and information products? Or should I just do what Tim Ferriss did when he got tired of trying to describe his business… and start telling people I’m a drug dealer?
But this guy, this Johnny, has a definable business with certain definable characteristics — even if they’re hard to slap a label on. Yet none of those characteristics (and none of that business) existed two years ago. In its place was an old business that was similar in some ways to this one and very different in others; successful in some ways and spectacularly miserable in others.
Maybe it’s time I tell the story about that business, and the story about why it died.
Take the time to read all of this one. The lesson is one you shouldn’t have to learn on your own.
Chapter 1: Qualified for nothing
I graduated college in 1999 and started pursuing a post-graduate degree in genetics and biochemistry. I was paid $12k per year on a fellowship to look through hundreds of thousands of anesthetized fruit flies under a microscope and pull out the ones with red eyes.
Surprisingly, I got bored with this career path. Then I started having panic attacks until I quit. I had lasted 9 months. I was now incredibly well-qualified for a career that I had absolutely no interest in anymore.
Chapter 2: An unprofitable interlude
When I left my lucrative career as a fruit fly counter, I luckily had a lucrative alternate path lined up. My mom ran a marketing firm and had me write copy for 1-page sell sheets for restaurant tableware and glassware. I got $75 for each of these, and in a week I might do as many as one of them. Or, on busy weeks, two.
I worked on an as-yet-unpublished novel during the days when my busy sell sheet business allowed, but eventually decided to get a part-time job as a barista in a Borders bookstore cafe “just for fun.” I repeatedly amused myself on this job by pretending that I was doing it solely to get out of the house and that I didn’t need the money.
For some unfathomable reason, my saint of a wife, Robin, didn’t insist that I get a real job or even raise it as a possibility during this time. Maybe she knew that the structure and confinement would kill me, and we weren’t on the bread line yet.
Chapter 3: Better jobs. Still bossless.
Maybe because the universe saw that I was too dull to realize that I could just get an office job, I started finding more odd writing gigs. An article for a local diabetes magazine for $75. A bit of copy for $150. I thought I’d hit the big time when my sister, who had a job at a human resources organization with a print newsletter, asked if I’d like an assignment for a $400 article. I wrote a few of those.
Eventually I landed a big fish when a friend of my dad’s hooked me up with an editor for a large human resources magazine and I began writing for them for $1200 per article. I was flying high, and still stubbornly working from home.
Chapter 4: Three clients, and the twilight times.
After I started writing for the HR magazine, I wrote features for several other large industry magazines, but those opportunities were hit and miss. As far as writing was concerned, I had one client.
During this quest, I started designing websites the old-fashioned way, building pages one at a time using HTML and Dreamweaver. The process was incredibly time consuming and complex, but the upside was that “time consuming” and “complex” meant that it was also sustainable, repeating work that paid well.
During this time, I started working for two main clients. At the peak of my magazine writing and HTML development days, I was making around $65,000 per year. Not rich guy wages — but good enough, and I was working from home.
Chapter 5: The shit hits the fan.
Within the space of six months, the following happened:
- The magazine client stopped using me because the economy was tightening and they were assigning articles in-house to save money.
- One of my big website clients went out of business.
- My other big website client went out of business.
Incidentally, at the same time, the real estate investments I had been picking up started to show their true faces and that market collapsed. But that’s another story.
Chapter 6: Rebirth
Over the next six months, I tried to start something new. Someone in my past had said I should be blogging. So I started blogging. Sometimes bloggers sold books, so I self-published one and sold that. Sometimes bloggers had ads in their sidebars or even asked for donations, so I did both.
I made a few bucks. Almost literally.
Chapter 7: The big a-ha.
The first big hit I had at the start of my current business came in the form of a $3000 month after I’d changed my business model yet again — this time to technology services. I like to say that before this, I’d never earned a cent online, but it’s not literally true. I had made as much as $200 total over the past four months selling books.
But for the most part, that $3000 month was the debut month of a brand new business. Zero to around 60% of the income it’d taken years to build before, and this time I’d done it in a month.
It came out of my very first free blog promo, wherein I’d set up blogs for free as long as clients would use my affiliate links when they bought their website hosting. It came when I asked, “How can I give something to people, and make money doing it?”
This was a pretty fundamental shift. In the past, I’d asked myself how I could get money from clients. Maybe there was a service I could pitch to them. Maybe it was finally time to re-work their website for XYZ. And since my client base was narrow, could I get some referrals, too? I’d ask them: Do you know anyone else who’d hire me? Is there anything else you need done?
Get. Get. How could I find ways to squeeze more out, to find more money out there?
It worked for a while, but the problem was that when my old clients went away, I hadn’t developed any new meaningful relationships to take their place. I hadn’t found referral clients because my focus was on receiving, not finding ways to sincerely help and improve the businesses of others. I was indispensable to nobody. Nobody was raving about me. Sure, I’d been good enough, and I’d provided value commensurate with what I’d been paid. But nobody said they couldn’t do without me, and nobody had said as much to their professional friends throughout those years I’d been working.
I hadn’t built emotional investment. I hadn’t created an army of raving fan customers. Nobody had stories of the great things I’d done to help them. I hadn’t overdelivered to induce any sense of reciprocity.
To reach that first big month in my new business, I’d asked how I could give something to people. As in, how could I provide something (or a part of something) for free. And, because I still wanted and needed to receive as well, I’d had to look for another source, and I’d found it.
Repeat the “give more and give first” method for two years and you get to where I am now. I’m not too worried about collapsing at this point, because too many people feel good things about me. A network of good will is a powerful thing to have as your ally.
You’ve probably guessed what’s coming.
I’ve had people who want to make money ask me why they would ever need my new course with partner Pace Smith, Profitable Idealism. And because pre-registration closes tomorrow and Pace and I have absolutely zero plans right now to offer this course again, I’m going to answer that as honestly as I can, while there’s still time.
It’s because you need to learn how to give (to “be idealistic”) in the right ways if you want a sustainable business that is supercharged by good will rather than bogged down by unbranded mixed impressions.
It’s because there’s more to this art than just “do good and get money.” (If you don’t believe this, look around for the many, many people who are doing both and getting nothing.) There is a right and a wrong (or maybe “effective” and “ineffective”) way to add idealism to your business in order to make good money from it. I mean, look at me. Do you think I’m really going to suggest that you pet bunnies and distract yourself from your focus on business just for the hell of it? I have a very strong focus on profit. It’s so strong that Pace is having to explain me to her people and tell them that no, really, I have a good heart. And I do. But don’t confuse “good heart” for “stopped caring about money and now just wants to do good deeds for nothing.” Far from it.
It’s because if you think that I’m saying to slap charity onto your business, you’ll spin your wheels, waste time, and maybe look phony. Because if you don’t know how to weave giving into the fabric of your business in a way that’s synergistic, your efforts to do good will cost you time and effort and money instead of giving you more of all three.
And what’s in it for us? Well, obviously some profit, plus an equal amount of idealism. We want to make money, but we wouldn’t have created it if we didn’t truly want to help businesses make more profit, and to help idealists create and improve mutually-beneficial businesses.
I really can’t understate this: I am here today because I figured out how the correct use of idealism could make my business go, could make it sustainable, and could surround me with thousands of potential bosses so that the bottom can never truly drop out again.
Profitable Idealism pre-registration has almost ended. Once it does, the price will go way up, and all of the win-win bonuses we picked up to give to you will go away.
C’mon over and sign up, and see how idealism can supercharge your business the way it did mine.