My advice to Mike

Imagine one of your best mates came to you for some advice.

Imagine it’s in a realm that you genuinely know something about and have skills and experience to offer.

Wouldn’t that be a great conversation to be able to share?

I mean, it would be your best work, right? Not so much that you’d overwhelm them, but not so short on detail as to be useless.

And you’d give them the warts and all version, not just the edited highlights.

Well, that’s what I’m doing here.

Curiosity got the better of my friend Mike after watching my Twitter feed for a while and the image above is the WhatsApp he sent me last night.

This is the most honest answer I can write about this question which in some form or other gets asked every day:

Can I make some money online, without all the drag I have in my day-job?

Let’s get started…

There’s 3 questions in there:

  • What is it you really do?
  • Is it as straight forward as it sounds?
  • Could it be done alongside a day job?

I’m going to answer each one here…

What is it you really do?


I haven’t actually retired, I don’t spend my days on a yacht sipping cocktails, I do actually work moderately hard, for a few hours a day at least.

Most days.

OK, the crux of what I do is to help businesses make more sales from the traffic going to their website.

There’s a lot of moving parts in that, but my favourite weapon is email. I build email lists, and use them to sell stuff.

Some background, because it will help with the next question.

I’ve done this for a long time now. I built one of the UK’s biggest mailing lists while I was at Claritas (now part of Axiom), then I worked for two of the early Email Service Providers (ESP’s). These were forerunners to the likes of Mailchimp. I got to work with big direct response businesses like The Sunday Times Wine Club, Argos Direct, Reed Business Information and EMAP.

Then I grew a list of 2 million email addresses for a loyalty programme called iPoints. It was like Nectar points, but for smaller online businesses.

Built an email list. Sent them deals, all day every day.

It sold for $10 million.

This might look like an “unfair advantage” of a lot of years, but the reality is that in the early days we spent most of our time battling technology, and doing things based on how we understood other mediums like catalogues and TV ads.

You can get going a lot faster than I did by skipping all that trial and error

In the course of these jobs I learned a lot about how to build email lists fast, how to sift out the best customers, and how to sell by email.

I started building my own list to send affiliate offers to (more about that later) and that little side-hobby gave me the buffer I needed to quit my job and start my own business in 2006.

So, I have some lists of my own, and I help a few other companies with theirs as well.

Is it as straightforward as you make it sound?

Yes, and no. It depends.

Let me hark back to a turning point with my Twitter adventure.

I posted a tweet in June:

My favourite response was this one:

Adam makes a full time living from promoting affiliate deals, and he hits the nail in the head.

We overcomplicate business.

He did, I did.

You can succeed if you focus, but we get distracted.

We get distracted by well-meaning family telling us to get a “proper job”. We get distracted by other shinier opportunities just as the going gets tough.

These are the things that make us fail.

It’s not complicated, but it needs persistence.

With consistency, and focus, anyone can do it.

The hard part is resisting the distractions.

But, what should we focus on?

Let’s look at our ABC. That seems like a good place to start.

  • Attract an audience
  • Build a list
  • Convert to customers

Step one – Attract an audience.

This is really the hard part.

Everyone focuses on the tactical and technical stuff. How to set up a landing page, how to format your emails, what shopping cart to use.

These are all just “busy work” though. Distractions from facing up to the real work of figuring out what to sell and who to sell it to.

It’s not the attraction bit but the audience that’s hard to pin down. Picking which audience to attract is where everyone screws it up.

They don’t screw it up because it’s difficult. They screw it up because of bias and over-valuing what they have to offer.

I’m going to labour this because it’s so important. The rest of it I’ll skim through because I have whole ebooks about them – when you’re ready.

Marketing is misunderstood.

People who don’t have much of a marketing background sometimes think that marketing is some sort of secret sauce that I pour on a business. Some magic spell woven into our advertising copy that makes people buy shit they never thought they needed before.

I wish it were that easy. Everyone wishes it was that easy. That’s why they believe it.

No. Marketing starts with a market.

A market is just a group of people wanting to solve a problem.

Health, wealth and happiness are the three big problems. Almost everything we buy is there to fix, or distract us from these three issues.

We’re mostly overweight, unhappy, and poor (from spending too much in restaurants, probably). If you can convince someone you can fix those problems, you’ll be a wealthy man in no time.

In reality markets spending money are easy to find. Most markets aren’t hidden, we just choose not to look for them.

Just go on Amazon and find a product with 1,000 reviews. There’s clearly a market for that product. You can easily take a slice of it for yourself.

The screw-up that everyone makes is to have a “brilliant” idea, then try to find people to sell it to. This is back asswards.

Let me repeat that. It’s the most important lesson to anyone going into business.

Don’t find buyers for your product. Find products for buyers.

I’m lucky that there’s a market for something I like doing (making money by writing emails, and building websites that build lists), that I’m good at it, and that I actually enjoy doing it.

But I’m also happy to apply it in other places.

I’ve made money out of women’s skincare (obvs not for me), ground coffee (I only buy beans), work shirts (I haven’t worn one in years) and even sex toys (because this is the internet, I need to clarify that I don’t use them either).

You need to disassociate yourself from what YOU want to sell and look at what the market wants to buy.

If you can fulfil both, then your life is going to be pretty awesome, but you have to start with what the market is buying and do everything you can to avoid the bias that tells you that the rest of the world wants to buy what you want to sell.

Mike, I know you’re a big sports fan. This could be a blessing or a curse.

People will definitely spend money here. Season tickets, SKY TV, Fantasy League subscriptions, supporter’s shirts.

You can waste a lot of time gassing about your opinions in this market with something people won’t buy. Forums are full of it.

When you understand WHY they spend money and emotional energy on a bunch of blokes they’ll never meet, then you start to peel back the lid.

They want a sense of belonging to a tribe, a distraction form their fat wife and micro-managing boss, a reminder to dream about the day they had a trial for Accrington Stanley FC.

Get under the skin of those emotions and people will buy from you, and use logic to justify the spend.

For every idea you have, try to fill in this formula:

  • People are already spending money on_______.
  • They do it because they want to feel__________.
  • My product makes them feel the same way.
  • But they’ll buy my product because it also does _______ which the existing products don’t talk about.

Notice how this starts with the market, not your product.

OK, I’ve made my point. You’ll ignore it, and fail a few times, but at some point you’ll remember it and you’ll succeed. Mea Culpa. I did it, for a long time. Everyone did.

Let’s leave it there and move on to the other steps.

Attracting an audience.

You have 2 choices of how to do this.

Time or money.

If you invest time, you can build up a social following around the market you’re selling to. If you invest money, you can show them ads about it.

Both require some skills, but both can be learned.

Personally Id’ start with social media. It’s slower but you can learn in small steps. Ads can really hurt when you get it wrong.

If you’re selling knowledge. Go for Twitter, Facebook & YouTube, maybe LinkedIn if it’s business related.

If you’re selling something physical then learn Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Pick the one that suits your style.

I write OK, so Twitter and Facebook are great for me. I’ve been told my video work has potential so YouTube is on my radar, but I need to master one at a time. YouTube will probably start when I’m at about 5k followers on Twitter.

After that it’s just Geology.

If you’ve seen the Shawshank Redemption you’ll know what I mean.

“Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes, really, pressure and time.”

The amount of pressure will depend on your platform.

  • Facebook – daily posts
  • Instagram – 2-3 times daily
  • Youtube – weekly
  • Twitter – 5-10 times daily

As well as output you need to network with other people on the platform. Share each others’s stuff, help each other out.

An old-school, corporate view of “competition” will kill you.

Don’t compete. Build a cartel.

For transparency. Social traffic is my weak point. I’ve hired experts like Lawrence to help out with my social strategy. I do much more sales via paid ads, but I don’t recommend this for day one.

I got my head start when SEO was still an easy technical game. When the game changed, I suffered. Thankfully I knew a bit about paid ads from my day job.

Social media has replaced easy SEO. Get on board with it. Swallow your pride. Hire a young millenial to help, but one who is actually making money.

OK, next steps

Build a List

An email list is just another audience, but it’s one you own.

As I write this, Donald Trump announced he’s killing Tik Tok in the US.

All those influencers are in a mad scramble to move their followers to another platform. If they’d built an email list this would be so much easier.

You have control in other ways too.

Twitter and Facebook only show your posts to a small percentage of your audience. If they look like they’ll be popular, they show more people.

In email, you have the potential for everyone to see every message.

Of course, not everyone will read them all, but they’ll at least see your subject line, and be given that chance.

Build trust with these people and you’ll be able to sell to them over and over. This is why I love email. You get more than one bite at the cherry. You get the whole bowl.

There are two longer pieces I’ve written about this.

The first one is specifically for Twitter, creating a profile page that’s optimised for clicks to your email form (follow the thread for the offer).

The second is this guide on building landing pages that will grow your list:

(Hint for the cash-conscious: When you get on my email list, you’ll get an offer for a heavy discount on this.)

Convert them to customers.

If you paid attention at the start, this should be easy.

  • You already have a product that you know they want.
  • Your list has shown a level of trust by giving you their email.
  • You can literally put what they want in front of them and they’ll buy.

It’s like running a restaurant with the people already sat at the table. All you need to do is give them what they want.

Sure, there are tricks to get them to buy more, spend more and come back more often, but the fundamentals were done before you gave them the menu.

Be sparing with the sales though. Mix it with some entertainment and education and your audience will tolerate, even get excited by the sales, when they come.

Here’s my one-tweet email strategy:

It’s like that feeling when you’re offered the drinks menu, and the dessert menu. You don’t care that you’re being “sold to”. You like the waiter now, you want what he has in the kitchen.

It’s a done deal already.

What to do next.

If you’re going to do this, hold fire on starting websites, creating logos, building your social profiles and all the rest until you’ve found your market.

Watch what people spend their money on.

Can you create a product that fills a gap in one of the existing products in the market?

If you sell information products, ebooks, courses and the like, finding gaps in the competition is easy. There’s no comprehensive course on anything.

If you wrote everything you know about Rugby, it would fill a library.

Finding “gaps” is simple.

Alternatively, can you find someone else’s product that you can sell to them. This is what I call “affiliate marketing”. Some of the products I recommend, I get paid a cut for doing it. Simples.

Remember, you’re going to have to do this for years, so run every idea through a filter of “can I do this for 2 years with no reward?”.

It probably won’t take that long, but it might. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

So Mike. There it is.

What I do is simple, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re still excited about doing this, hit me up and I can help you to evaluate any ideas you might have.

And good luck. It’s a crazy journey, but I love every moment of it.