Do you want to start your own online micro-business? Or have you tried, but maybe it’s not going as well as you hoped?

More and more of us are freelancing, creating portfolios of work rather than relying on one job. We wear marketing, sales and customer service hats as well as delivering our product or service. But pulling in the revenue takes time, effort and, above all, the right approach.

I know many Paper.li publishers are small or micro-businesses. So I thought we could use some help. Robin Good (no, not Robin Hood) to the rescue!

First, who is Robin Good?

If you haven’t met Robin online, he is an author, interviewer and master content curator with a successful publishing and educational businesses, MasterNewMedia. Between 2004 and 2010 Robin made over $1 million from Google AdSense with his site.

He is also the Chief Guide of the Robin Good University POP Campus, which focuses on transforming a personal competence or passion into an online information-based business. He says it is about “helping others find the best possible ways to utilize opportunities. Helping them communicate more effectively, which is at the root of producing an income, and find their own best way to do it without following traditional business models”.

Robin Good in Wired magazineRobin came to Internet publishing accidentally.

His business grew out of a newsletter he had started writing for students when he worked for international organisations in Rome. They included the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Bank Institute, and the United Nations itself.

At the time he was frustrated and disappointed by those organisations, as much as he had been by his previous world of advertising agencies.

On the positive side, he was working at the intersection of education and new technology, which led to the newsletter.

He wrote it unpaid, on the side. He explains: “It was just to have an outlet where I could do the things I thought were really interesting, rather than doing just what I was being told to do. It was a place to share my discoveries with others – incredible new technologies that were becoming available every day.”

Next came a website, visitors and subscribers. Then one day in 2001 some friends suggested he put Google AdSense on his site. He was against advertising at first, but tried it anyway.

Fast forward one-and-a-half years. Robin discovered he could make a living writing about the things he was interested in, so he left his job.

“I took this ‘irresponsible’ step and went off in the online world all by myself to do only the things that I liked, at the time that I liked, without any more lawyers, banks or invoices. No more of the things that had nothing to do with my life.”

It went fantastically well, leading to his $1 million dollars from Google.

But there was a downside. In 2008 he was penalised by Google and realised that he shouldn’t bet all his money on just one horse.

Robin Good seminar
So he changed direction, stopped depending on third parties he couldn’t control, like advertisers and partners, and created a business with his own customers. Now his Google revenue is only 15-20% of his total.

So what’s at the heart of a successful online micro-business? Communication, according to Robin. 

It’s NOT about amassing a large number of followers or fans. “Just because people have 5,000 or 10,000 Facebook fans doesn’t mean they are communicating,” he says.

“Success online is not a numbers game, nor the ability to stay up with the newest WordPress plugins. What really counts is your ability to communicate and interact with individuals who are interested in what you have to offer.”

Robin’s 4 steps to building a successful online micro-business

1. Find a PIN (Problem, Interest or Need)

“Think outside the box of the traditional business world. Go for a very specific PIN – problem, interest or need. Do NOT go after an ‘idea’.

“Most people say they want to build a blog that does ‘this’, or a newspaper that curates ‘that’. You can’t make a successful micro-business online with that attitude. The proper attitude, as I have learned myself, is to go after an existing problem.”

How do you find that problem? 

“You may be one representative of the tribe with the problem. You may decide to solve it yourself, and as you do so you also solve it for other people. It may be a problem that is part of your industry or the type of work or activity you do.

“It may be around an interest. An expertise you have, something you’re passionate about. For example, say you are great at growing purple roses indoors. You learned this in some faraway country and you want to help those who are deeply interested in learning how to do it.”

 

2. Create valuable content on your topic and publish it to ‘intercept’ your tribe

“Imagine you’re a shop in the physical world. You’re on Broadway, there are people walking by and some of them will stop. Your ‘Broadway’ may be the top search results in Google. So, to get people to you, you need to address their very specific need with your content.

“That valuable content – let me make this clear – should NOT be just a series of blog posts. That is what lights up in people’s heads when I say ‘content’. But I don’t mean blogging. Everybody does that.

Robin Good of Masternewmedia“If you want to stand out from the crowd you’ve got to do something significantly better.

…the blog has just become a commoditized means of communication.

“There is nothing wrong with blogs, there are some outstanding ones. But you won’t attract people just by saying you have a blog.

“If I say I have a site where there is the full list of all the different ways you can grow purple roses, with the manuals, someone who’s interested in purple roses is definitely going to check it out.

“Valuable content makes the difference. To reiterate, that is typically NOT daily blog post. You need something extra: a different format, a gallery, a collection, a series of interviews.”

 

3. Start to communicate and interact with people who will be enthused by your content 

“You need ways to interact. Why? Because you need to have ‘smart ears’.

“You can interact through Scoop.it comments, a Facebook page, maybe Twitter. Perhaps you may do some live events online such as webinars, or physical live events.

“But the best way is to get people onto your mailing list. But how to get lots of people into that precious list? The best way you can do that is by going out of your way to give away for free what – until yesterday – you would have charged for. For example, you create a great guide about a specific topic and offer it completely for free to your web readers. For those who like it and want more, you offer a beefed-up version to download as a PDF and request a name and email to send it to whoever has requested it.

“The important thing here is that first you need to provide real value without asking anything. Then you can gently find a way to get your readers or prospective clients to give you an email.”

 

4. Listen with your ‘smart ears’ for what your fans really need

“Really listen to the conversations you participate in. Listen between the lines and find out what your customers’ pain points are. Then you can build the next service, the next guide, the next course, the next software plugin, or whatever they need.

“I have a campus, I have students, and I listen to their needs every day. I don’t ask them what they need. By having conversations with them, and reading their emails and what they post in my forum, I can understand what they’re frustrated about.

“This allows me to build new products and information services that satisfy exactly what they express.”

 

In Part 2, coming on Thursday, Robin talks about how to create a micro-business by monetizing content curation. Stop by or subscribe to RSS for updates. 

Photos from Robin’s Facebook page.

Liz Wilson
Liz Wilson writes copy in the Marketing Communications team at Orange Switzerland and used to edit this blog. She likes talking about content, copywriting and social media on her personal blog.

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