Have you ever wondered why Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz continue to thrill audiences nearly a century later while the box office leader three years ago over Christmas weekend can’t be sold by Wal-Mart for less than a dollar from the remainder bin? Why does The Shawshank Redemption still perform well after more than two decades?
Closer to home, why do some personal finance blogs find a massive and growing audience while others languish? Mr. Money Mustache publishes a few times a month and still generates 5 million page views or more per month. What characteristics do perennial sellers have? More important, can we replicate their success?
Last week one of my all-time favorite authors, Ryan Holiday, published Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts answering the above questions. Holiday has ample experience to draw from in his work with companies such as Google and cultural icons like Tim Ferris.
You can reinvent the wheel or you can learn from the best. Perennial Seller breaks the process of creating long-term success into four parts: The Creative Process, Positioning, Marketing and Platform. We will touch on each of these before we end with a real world example from our personal finance (PF) community.
The Creative Process
Before something becomes a long-term successful seller it has to be created. Too many people want to jump ahead to marketing. They want money and they want it now. Unfortunately they will not like what the marketing section has to say if they do.
Creating a blog with a growing audience and dedicated fans willing to support the blogger, you first need to create the product. Books need to be written before they show up at the bookstore.
Holiday spends most of the book talking about creating a perennial seller in the arts: books, movies, music. He does expand the discussion to his days working for American Apparel before the CEO went off the rails. His advice can easily encompass business models for goods and services, too. The PF community will find the process valuable for their side gigs.
Creating a product, writing a book, composing a song is all hard work. The tendency is to follow a hot trend or create a knockoff of another successful product. It rarely works. You might get some success, but it never lasts. The original has the advantage when it comes to standing the test of time.
When I started this blog I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Money Mustache. And why not? His readers would be my readers. Working with an icon of the early retirement community meant people would find me by reading MMM. At first.
I knew I would be different, but I always found myself apologizing for the differences, especially the idea of retiring early. Read my early work here. It drips with desperation. Slowly I moved into the open prairie where I felt most comfortable. I started writing my stuff my way. No apologies.
I always told storing which is my hallmark. But the idea I’d be a successful follow-on of the MMM crowd gave me a momentary boost the first few weeks before curling up in submission. My traffic has since exceeded anything I managed those early days.
I stopped apologizing and started doing what I needed to do. I was different and knew it. When I allowed the differences to show through I found my audience. And good thing.
A recent reader emailed to let me know he reads over a thousand PF blogs and never saw one with a picture of Hitler on the front page above the fold. Yeah, I knew it was different.
Readers beg me to publish a book (it’s in the works) of blog posts. More on that in a bit.
The creative process is hard work. You need more than one idea, one book, one blog post. No matter how brilliant you are you need to create more.
As you think about your product, service, book, blog, or song, you need to know who it will appeal to.
Ryan Holiday has provided excellent guides to determining what your work is about and whom it is for. Positioning within a genre is vital if you want to produce a perennial seller.
Success of any kind, long- or short-term, almost always is classified in a category or genre. Nothing appeals to everyone! Too many bloggers, writers, singers think they are serving everyone. Bull!
You can make a comfortable living with a mere 1,000 dedicated fans who buy everything you produce. (Holiday said it in the book and shows how.) Imagine a humble blog, like, ah, this one. Selling t-shirts, ad revenue, third-party affiliates, and Amazon can provide a nice income stream. A thousand dedicated fans buying your book or program can add up. A simple $100 from a thousand dedicated fans gets you to a six figure income.
The trick is getting to a thousand “dedicated” fans. Part II of Perennial Seller is dripping with information on how to position your brand, You, Inc., to acquire those thousand dedicated fans. In all likelihood you will end up with many more as your cult grows.
Now we get to the section everyone wants to talk about. Well, forget about it.
Ryan Holiday is a smart young man and he knows he can’t tell you to do this and do that and you will sell a million copies of your book or get a million page views.
I’ll talk about marketing more in Part 2 of this post to be published on Wednesday.
So no one ruptures an internal organ I will share a taste before moving on.
You do not need a publicist, Google or Facebook advertising, or any other expensive promotional activities to sell well. Most money spend on advertising is useless.
You know what might work? Giving away free copies of your book to the right person. A certain tax guy might want to provide free tax preparation or advisory services to a mustachioed gentleman from Colorado. Or the same tax guy might speak for free at conferences and help attendees gratis as a goodwill gesture.
Doing these things and a few similar gestures will give you more work than you can handle. Then you need to go back to the creative process and create more and develop the brand You Inc. further. It is also time to move toward building your
You can (and should) start building your platform even as you begin the creative process. Gathering followers is how you will generate buzz and early adopters of your book, blog, song or product. I’ll share an idea Ryan Holiday used (mentioned in the book) and that caught me early in his career.
Before Holiday had a product he knew he needed a platform from which to sell his books. He tried blogs/web pages, but eventually settled with the idea of building a mailing list of his monthly book recommendations. By the time his first book came out he had 5,000 people on his email list he could recommend “his” book to. The list has since grown to over 80,000.
As you can imagine, the mailing list is a powerful tool Holiday used to sell his books. And it worked. His books continue to sell better and to a wider audience as the mailing list grows.
Before I include a personal story not in the book I want to share a special gift Holiday gives to his readers. At the end of the book he includes a web address for additional case studies and interviews not in the book. The web address is: perennialseller.com/gift. Or you can email Holiday at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will email back the bonus information.
Before you consider me a lout for sharing this information before you even buy the book or borrow it from the library, know that Ryan Holiday is building his email list as you take him up on the offer. He is building his platform while you get additional free information. A bit of quid pro quo.
In the Real World
Well, who in the heck is this Ryan guy anyway? You may have never heard of him until now. How about we use a live example from our own community: Jim Collins. (If you are reading this Jim, sorry. I needed a guinea pig and you were an available victim. Should sell a couple of books for you though if it is any consolation.)
Last year Jim published The Simple Path to Wealth. You probably heard me extol the virtues of the book. It is pulled from the Stock Series of his blog.
When talking to Jim you will hear him say there is nothing new in his book; it’s all in the blog. It’s a lie. (Sorry to rat you out like that, buddy. Somebody had to expose you.)
Jim’s book is all in his blog, of course. What he doesn’t tell you is he reworked the entire set of blog posts, fixing grammar errors and tightening up the text.
Then he sent the finished product to qualified first readers who promptly pulled the whole thing apart, exposing massive (several hundred) problems. Jim fixed them all. Then he sent it out to another qualified first reader confident he fixed all the boo-boos only to learn a few hundred more were missed the first round.
This went on for a while until the book was as clean and tight as any professionally published book from a major publishing house. As an end user I can assure you The Simple Path to Wealth is better edited than 95% of the stuff from the professional houses. That is saying a lot.
And it’s a self published book! It was the reason I delayed reading the thing. I know how self published books can be. Then I made the mistake of reading a few pages. I was hooked.
My good friend, Mister Collins, has had excellent sales figures on his book. A high quality work, well edited, well created, is a masterpiece. Here is how he did it using Ryan Holiday’s formula.
Jim wrote (the creative process) the blog and later edited part of that into the book, polishing to a bright shine. He positioned his blog and book right down the middle of his genres: personal finance, early retirement and financial independence.
Jim marketed his book through his blog and asked Mr. Money Mustache to write the forward, which he did. Jim already had an awesome platform with his blog and mailing list. People were buying Jim’s book to give as gifts! Camp Mustache SE in January 2017 gave a free copy to every attendee. Nothing beats word of mouth as a marketing tool (also in Holiday’s book).
One Last Thing
Normally I tell people they can either buy the book or pick it up at the library. This book is different. If you write a blog (many readers do), run a business (many readers do) or have a side gig (many readers do) then you want to own Perennial Seller. If you do not fall into one of these categories feel free to visit the library on this one.
If you are a writer, blogger, musician, artist, business owner or have a side gig you will want to hold this one in your hand and keep it within arm’s reach in your personal library. Better bring your highlighter too. You’re going to need it.