by Niall Doherty

In my interview with Benny Lewis last week, he noted that he doesn’t see himself as having a business: “The blog and my travels are just my current lifestyle. Because of this, it’s only natural that it is full to the brim of my personality.”

I know exactly what he means.

Recently a few people have asked me how many hours I work per week. That’s no longer an easy question for me to answer. The line between work and play is becoming increasingly blurred for me. For example, all the challenges I did for Random Acts of Courage — yes, even lying down in a department store, going commando, and flirting with outrageously hot women — could be considered work. That was one of the busiest weeks of my life, and also one of the funnest (that’s a word, right?).

Everything I do now is part of my business, because my business is me. There’s no separation. When I meditate in the morning, that’s part of my business. It gets my mind ready for the day to come. When I have the quick banter with a stranger in line at the supermarket, that’s part of my business. Who knows where the interaction will lead.

That’s not to say I’m always thinking about money. I don’t see profit as the ultimate aim of my business. While making money is definitely important, I’m more concerned with building relationships and providing value. By focusing on those two things, I believe the money will largely take care of itself.

Case in point: I earned my first consulting fee last week, spending a couple of hours with the WhazOn folks, sharing what I know about building an audience online. How did I land that gig? Five weeks ago, I stopped to ask a man on the street about his bicycle.

Not only did that interaction lead to some paid consulting work with a small local business that I greatly admire, but I also ended up with a speaking engagement through the grapevine. And all because I let myself be my curious self that day on the street.

Was I working that day, or just having fun? I’m not sure, and that’s the beauty of it.

Things that don’t feel right

With my business as a form of self-expression, there are a few things I find myself passing up, things other folks tell me are good ideas, smart moves. I pass them up because they don’t feel right to me, and I believe it’s important I stay true to myself.

A few examples…

Building a mailing list

A couple of people kindly suggested that I should ask folks to subscribe to a mailing list before they can download my free manifesto. I’ve heard this advice before, I know it’s well-intentioned, and I’m aware of all the benefits of building a mailing list… but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Why?

Because it always pisses me off when I’m forced to join a mailing list before I can download something. I’m being asked to give up my e-mail address to a stranger before I get a look at their work? I think it should be the other way around: If you put out a free product, let people download it with a single click, then have a mailing list ready and waiting for them once they’re done reading. If they’re blown away by your work, they’ll sign up.

And I figure those back-end sign-ups have to be worth much more than sign-ups on the front-end. You won’t have anybody signing up on a whim, then unsubscribing immediately or (worse) hitting the spam button when you first e-mail them. You know people want to hear from you when they sign up on the back-end.

(That’s not to say I won’t have a mailing list when I release my paid product next month. Again, I ask myself what feels right when I’m at the other end of the interaction, and I never mind subscribing to a mailing list after I’ve invested good money in a product.)

Welcome popups

I take similar issue with these. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, just browse around the blogosphere for a few minutes and you’ll inevitably be interrupted by a colorful box blocking out the content and asking you to subscribe. Even though such popups are reported to be a surprisingly effective means of building an audience, I have never given up my e-mail address to one of them. I find them very annoying, and so I won’t subject my own readers to one on my site.

Long sales pages

Whenever a blogger releases a paid product, it’s generally accompanied with a crazy-long sales page complete with several BUY NOW! buttons and lots of emphatic formatting. Menothinks I’ve ever read more than a third of the text on those pages.

See, I don’t believe reading a sales page is a good way to decide if you should buy a product or not. I generally only buy something if it has been recommended or produced by someone I already know and trust, and that truth increases as the price does.

When I launch my paid product next month, I intend to keep the sales pitch short and sweet. I’ll have the usual video, a few paragraphs, a few bullet points. I expect most of you who buy the product will have already made your decision before you see any of that. You’ll have been reading my blog for a while and know what I’m all about, or maybe you’ll get a good reference from a reliable source.

So I guess a general business rule I’ve come up with is this: If I wouldn’t like the other end of the interaction, I shouldn’t subject other people to it. (I hear yer man Jesus said something similar way back when.)

Yesterday though, I found myself wondering if maybe that’s a bad rule to have. Aren’t I just projecting my browsing and buying preferences onto other internet users? Perhaps other people do appreciate long sales pages and in-your-face mailing lists.

I’ve since stopped second-guessing, decided that the rule is a keeper. While I’ll always consider alternative viewpoints and try to give people what they want, I also know I have to stay true to myself. If I don’t like those popups, I’m not putting them on my site. How can I feel good about subjecting my readers to something when I hate being subjected to that very thing myself?

A course in courage

While I’m here, and since I’ve alluded to it several times above, I guess I should let you know what my paid product will be about.

Since it was so well received — thank you, btw! — I’ve decided to take the Random Acts of Courage concept, add more challenges, create a bunch of resources, and turn it all into an online course. The aim will be to help other people level up their courage and experience the same sense of empowerment and confidence that I was left with after RAoC.

Since the initial project, I’ve heard back from too many people saying something along the lines of “I wish I had the balls to do that!” Like I’ve said before, I’d rather not have a passive audience, so hopefully with this course I can help a few people get out there and start living more courageously.

I’ll open it up to a small group of beta testers in mid-March and make sure it can deliver good results before letting everyone in. I haven’t decided on a final name for the course or any pricing yet. Lots of work to do. Should be an interesting few weeks 😉

I’d love to hear your feedback on this idea. I’m creating the course to be an excellent resource for you, so your suggestions are greatly appreciated.