A Few Thoughts on Content Creation, Monetization, and Strategy

118 Comments


(Photo credit: Shewatchedthesky)

This is short post on content creation and monetization.

Below is an e-mail I received from a friend of a friend. My answers to him are inline after “TIM”, and I’ve elaborated on a few.

The e-mail itself is also a great example of a thoughtful approach to a busy person (me). I bolded one key phrase.

For those who want to explore further, here are two related posts:

How to Build a High-Traffic Blog Without Killing Yourself
Tim Ferriss Scam! Practical Tactics for Dealing with Haters

Now, let’s read that e-mail…

The Email: Questions and Answers

Tim -

I realize you are a very busy man and you mentioned in your last reply that you are taking a couple of months off from doing interviews. I respect your request and, having read your work, understand the motivation behind it. I certainly don’t mean to intrude, but I’m working on a project for my work as a Content Strategist and would greatly appreciate it if you wouldn’t mind taking two minutes to answer two questions. I promise they are short and to the point and that I will not follow up your answers with more questions, unless you specifically allow me to. I thank you for your time in advance.

TIM: No problem :)

The questions are as follows:

When working with brands, specifically big multinational brands, I often run into the mindset that volume and velocity are the most important aspect of content marketing. Yet, it seems to me that agility and ensuring the content is found, consumed, shared and acted upon – meaning that content leads to conversions of direct business value – are more important than simple speed. What is your rule of thumb as it relates to content that keeps you from being in the news business and so focused on specificity while allowing for flexibility in topics and responsiveness?

TIM: You can’t out Fox News Fox News. Timely news-based content turns life (or business) into a keeping up with the Joneses nightmare. I focus on evergreen/useful content that is as valuable 6 months from now as it is the day it’s published. It might mean less immediate traffic, but it means sticky traffic and also Google traffic that will add up to monstrous traffic later. This all factors into conversion and sales, if that’s your priority.

My approach allows great flexibility and offers the option to hit STOP without losing it all. If I stopped writing blog posts tomorrow, I’d still make tons of income from my traffic (via books, start-up intros, speaking gigs, etc.). That was never the primary intent of my writing, but it’s a nice side-effect!

People prefer to trust other people, not brands (e.g. Steve Jobs versus Apple), so I have the advantage of being a single-person-based media provider. Brands can do this by singling out killer personalities to drive their brands (e.g. Bobby Flay for Food Network in the early days).

People want to follow humans, not trademarks. Plan accordingly.

How much of your content is planned vs. responsive?

TIM: 90% planned, at least. I write about the things that capture my attention and imagination, first and foremost. Guessing what other people want is exactly that — guessing. The remaining <10% is experimental and based on reader leads.

As a content marketer, the value of my work is often calculated in the same terms that media ROI is determined by. Yet, working in the digital space, it seems we can be so much more precise as it relates to causation. TV and media metrics often fall into the old logical fallacy of “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” (“After this therefore because of this”) Knowing that you are devotee of Drucker’s axiom “that which gets measured gets managed” I wonder what model you use to calculate the ROI of your content. Can you make a recommendation?

TIM: I don’t quantify the profitability of each piece of content, as it would affect my editorial purity and stymie my curiosity to explore things on the edges… yet that’s precisely what’s built my reputation, if I have one!

I write about what most excites me and assume that will hold true for 10,000+ people… if I write about it well. If I get 100 die-hard fans per post like that, I can build an army that will not only consider buying anything I sell later (assuming high quality — most critical!), but they’ll also promote my work as trustworthy to other people. This compounds quickly. The product — here writing — needs to stand on its own two feet.

Furthermore, it’s much more interesting to me to sell something like a small-scale, $10,000-per-seat seminar every 2-3 years, instead of obsessing over monthly, weekly, or even daily Amazon commissions, for instance.

Many high-traffic blogs and publishers are coming to similar conclusions and doing much the same. Optimizing a bad business (or marginally profitable one) is not as elegant as creating a parallel, higher-margin revenue stream. Think TED videos and TED attendance. If TED charged for their videos from the beginning, where would they be now? Near obscurity.

As Warren Buffett once said, “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

That said, if you’re operating in a CPM-ruled world, you might have other near-term pressures, but I’m building a snowball the size of continents. The catch: it sometimes moves at a glacial pace. Big things take time, but that’s OK — almost nothing can stop a glacier from moving once it reaches critical mass.

Thank you again for your time and consideration in this matter. I certainly appreciate it, as I do all of your work.

TIM: Thank you and my pleasure!

###

AFTERWORD TO READERS: What are your most burning questions about content, whether as craft or business? Please let me know in the commments, and I’d love to hear your own best practices.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

118 comments on “A Few Thoughts on Content Creation, Monetization, and Strategy

  1. Just headed back home and good thing to read before thinking of topic for the night to write. Amazing answer with tip top wording from Tim, and the guys has sexually compose his words to get Tim to reply to him and probably become friends with by now :)

    Loved reading it and Thanks for sharing Tim.

  2. Tim,

    It may be very difficult to write on a certain subject that wasnt written or debated over and over again. I, having started a blog on personal development, am not very sure on how to structure or to create my content…

    Do you think it would be best to take a subject that has already been discussed and try to add some personal notes or opinions to it, or would it be best to grasp something on my own?

    Also, I see that you are creating your articles from a subjective point of view…I dont know why but I considered this approach as not being very legit and reliable for a long period of time…However, you do add many clear facts and researches to your articles and posts which gives them reliability and confidence.

    I am trying to see the approaches of other big names and blogs in writing their content, but my second question would be:

    Do you think that an objective perspective (like the one mass-media should have) is a bad or less successful approach compared to a subjective perspective (written very well, like yours).

    Thanks man

  3. Spot on.

    My takeaways:

    The right way ask a question to a high profile person and also how to craft a great question. It was to the point, specific and current.

    “Furthermore, it’s much more interesting to me to sell something like a small-scale, $10,000-per-seat seminar every 2-3 years, instead of obsessing over monthly, weekly, or even daily Amazon commissions, for instance.”

    Solid advice. The internet keeps getting more and more consolidated into big media outlets and like you said you can’t out Fox News Fox News.

  4. tim
    ive read an article that says not to use whey protein as it spikes insulin levels…is this true ..i rely on whey alot to supplement my protein needs
    many thanks phil

  5. Hi Tim,

    Love this concept — “People want to follow humans, not trademarks.”

    Do you have any thoughts on how much you need to create/develop this kind of persona, versus just being whatever you are? I feel to build a business based on “you” rather than a brand, you need to make sure you are presenting yourself in at least a somewhat integrated way, maybe even simpler that the complex person you might actually be (for example, you are the lifestyle design guy, Steve Jobs is the design genius who wears black turtlenecks, etc* )

    Did you find the need to sort of simplify/develop/focus your public persona, or do you just throw it all out there and watch how the market responds?

    *Writing this part of the comment made me realize distinct clothing can also be an element. You had your Vibrams, Seth Godin has his glasses, Steve Job turtlenecks, etc.

    Thanks as always for your awesome content

  6. Thanks for sharing those emails Tim! You could have easily not shared them and no one would ever know (isn’t that what integrity is?).

    I definitely like your philosophy of producing quality content that lasts rather than masses of throw away content. I’ve tried the mass content strategy before. It was low quality and guess what? No one actually bothered reading it. If they did they certainly didn’t become raving fans.

    My best results have always come from writing about something that inflames me, good or bad. With so many people searching on Google, there’s always going to be someone that have the same interests and share similar points of view. It’s also more fun writing about stuff you find interesting.

  7. This is such a timely post for me as I examine my content and traffic! Thanks for sharing your perspective. It’s easy to become discouraged when you don’t quickly see the response you’re looking for. I needed to be reminded that things will move slow when you’re “building a snowball the size of continents”. Great post!

  8. I think great content is definitely about the effort you put in. You can’t expect to generate fantastic content, or fantastic work with minimal effort. Sure the 80/20 principal might work for some things, but it’s that extra 20% that really makes the difference and certain things stand out when it comes to written content (IMHO).

  9. Like you, I try to write about what I like… it keeps it genuine and I’ve found there’s folks out there like me who dig the same things! Since I’m writing about custom cars, to distinguish my articles, I try to explain what it is about the car/truck that defines their personality… that’s “My Ride is Me”. Working so far!

    Loved the post, I shared, “I’m building a snowball the size of continents. The catch: it sometimes moves at a glacial pace. Big things take time, but that’s OK almost nothing can stop a glacier from moving once it reaches critical mass.” with a guy I call my “Business Dad” Thanks!!

  10. Hi Tim,

    Just wanted to say thanks for all the recent guidance. I really appreciate it and I’ve found it very helpful. I also tried to register for your quarterly package, but my card was not accepted. I will try again. Looking forward to more….

    Best,
    Matt

  11. Sigh.

    This article, as with many others you’ve written, proves to be very topically insightful in relation to my current situation. However, in this case, I can’t easily say it’s enjoyable insight: I have just come to the realization that I am, in-fact, on a chronically leaking boat and my colleagues and I have spent far too much of our energy patching the leaks.

    What’s more, though we do nothing related to content creation/marketing, there are other relevant insights here for us to understand. For example, we failed to understand the concept that, if we “get 100 die-hard fans” from each piece of work we produce, we can build a business which will grow and even flourish as each piece of work compounds upon the last. Instead of our product standing on it’s own two feet, I’d say that we may have in fact cut its feet off altogether – courtesy of our misguided focus on speed over quality (we were never that fast anyway!).

    What’s truly sad is that I already knew this on some level but have been more than happy to hold onto blind optimism when I should have long ago changed my strategy. So, thanks for setting me straight! While I hate to admit it, it’s time to leave this leaky boat and board a new ride. May I use what I have learnt here as well as elsewhere to avoid sinking in the future!

    As always, I look forward to your next words of wisdom.

  12. Great Post as always Tim. I love the Buffet quote as it is extremely relevant to my current business situation. Most of my current time is being spent putting out fires and patching up expenses here and there, and at the end of the day no time to focus on building any kind of snowball. It really made me think about the opportunity cost of staying vs selling and making a small loss, however bigger gain in the near future.

  13. I started taking the internet marketing world seriously back when the 4hww book came out. Buzzwords like content marketing wasn’t like it is today. I really appreciate you taking time to answer those questions and sharing it to the community. Thanks Tim!

  14. How often do you write?
    How do you think of content topics?
    Do you pick a topic you want to learn more about and then hack it and were about it?
    How could an author without your fame get started creating a unique audience?

  15. Thanks Tim,

    Great Response to a pair of Great Questions. Brief Direct questions get answered by busy people. Rambling questions do not.
    Rick

  16. Hey Tim–I really dig the power of your glacial pace strategy. I call it “taking the long view of things,” and it absolutely works despite conventional business wisdom which these days is typically so shortsighted it’s absurd.
    As to the benefits of building slowly and intentionally, please allow me to illustrate how my own experience with your work would definitely qualify me as among your diehard 10,000–or whatever the number.

    At 53, married with grown children, I’m acutely aware that I don’t fit the profile of your market’s readership nucleus. But five years ago, 4HWW turned my life inside out in remarkable ways–and I am still buying copies for friends and telling others about you. Even as late as three weeks ago while I was enjoying a cigar in a Phoenix lounge while nearing the end of something like my eighth mini-retirement since 2008, a new acquaintance ordered a copy of 4HWW after I gushed about the dividends your writing has produced for me (monetary and otherwise).

    Not only will I continue to buy every book you write, I have also acquired or purchased other products because you mentioned them. For example, I use the Lift app and I’ve lost close to 100 pounds using my Nike Fuel Band, a product you mentioned almost in passing in a post or interview (I forget where). I bought one, have hit my goal 178 straight days since and even gotten other friends to buy one. I’ve also started doing some reading on the concept of the quantified self, a term I had not heard until you talked about it.

    Point being in all this, I think it pays to calibrate one’s strategy for success to a long game. Yes, 4HWW was an “overnight” sensation (after it was rejected by 26 publishers). But by engineering two subsequent runaway bestsellers, you’ve proven that the glacial pace strategy is far more powerful than chasing quick returns. By the way, I don’t think you’re living in the 14th minute of your 15 minutes of success as you quipped in the Hulu day-in-the-life vid. As you noted above, once a glacier reaches critical mass, it’s unstoppable. I think you will be as enduring as Drucker.

    Brian

    PS. Doing something fun with you in person someday is on my bucket list. I’m working my own glacial pace strategy to make the happen.

    • Dear Brian,

      Thank you so much for this wonderful and kind comment. It made my night… and congratulations on all the transformations!

      I hope to meet you as well someday to say that in person :)

      Have a wonderful weekend,

      Tim

  17. I don’t think something is worth doing unless it is actually providing value to another person or group of people. It builds integrity when you genuinely have something you are passionate about writing about and educating people on rather than just trying to push a product on them.

  18. Tim,
    Great thought about just writing about what interests you at this point in time. I also really liked the comment about Farming teh internet with information. Keep planting and nourishing it and it will grow.

    Rick

  19. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for sharing your insights here; I agree with you about keeping content ‘evergreen’. It is important to give your readers something they can really use and to build up that trust and relationship with them. We always encourage clients to post content in a ratio that ‘gives’ more over posts that aim to sell products or services.
    Do you have any thoughts on what an optimal ratio would be? Particularly for those starting out?
    Regards,
    Andrew

  20. Hi Tim,
    first of all I really appreciate the content you create on your blog and in your books – great work! I like the idea of “evergreen” entries that have their value throughout a long period of time. That applies in the same way to your books. I read all of them, and once in a while I reread them again. Always a pleasure and always helpful!

    Secondly I find it pretty amazing that although the approach of “evergreen” entries applies to most of the content but that for example the last three of your entries answered three of my current question directly in their order (examples of successful online businesses, getting loved ones to change their behavior and creating content) – might be accidental but it’s pretty cool ;-)!

    And last but not least I consider myself to the die-hard fans you mentioned. Meanwhile there’s a number of people in my work surrounding and office that that buy and read your books because of my recommendation. A colleague of mine recently lost 20 pounds in 5 weeks by following my advise that I have from the 4HB. I also recommend you and your work to friends and on my German blog, which is my try and contribution to get the glacier moving in Germany and get people in lifestyle design where it is not so common yet (any advice or tips?) Greame mentioned that he trusts your opinion and reccomendations and has never gone wrong – I can only support that! Vibram five fingers, GoLite, Aeropress, lots of books and much more- love it!

    Please keep on writing, it always makes my day!

    Sascha

  21. Tim – interesting that you have 90% content pre-planned and only 10% spontaneous. I try to plan but often my best stuff is actually spontaneous. then again, I have lots of planned stuff that backs that up.

  22. Hi Tim,

    I have read 2 of your books and they are great inspiration for me!

    If you produce content for your blog, how you spread the word out to social media and other sites? Are you using tools like Hootsuite or something else?

    Thanks for answering,
    Kristjan

  23. While I’m a bottom-line kind of guy and “quantifying the profitability” of every piece of content was something I use to focus heavily on, I’ve come to realize that focusing on this was backwards. Yes, the bottom-line is important, but what’s the point if your creating content for others and not for yourself. I believe that once you create content for yourself, content that excites you and motivates you to keep writing/producing, you will find that there are plenty of others (10,000+) who feel the same way, building the proverbial army you talk about over time (if written/produced well, of course). It will be an army that is more loyal and passionate than the few you might get from your mass-produced, generic, bottom-line focused content. Steve Jobs once said, “People with passion change the world”, not people who create the most content. Focusing on the profitability of each piece of content removes the passion for me, which in turn actually decreases future profitability. Great post as it was reassurance that my change in mindset is accurate. Cheers to that!

  24. It’s interesting to see that people think that sheer volume of content is what makes you successful in terms of content marketing.

    A single blog post that adds real value and remains as evergreen as possible (as you so rightly said) is going to be far more valuable than 5,000 pages of keyword stuffed dross.

    Anyways amazing post as usual Tim – nothing new there :-)

  25. Great content! Your content provide a good insight for the best takeaway for the business from the idea behind sharing the email an your responses. I would love to see more articles and content based on reply to readers or friends in this manner. Looking forward to this!

  26. Tim, I find your philosophies and antidotes inspiring and most times comforting. I am not an expert in business or marketing. I’m a homicide detective, and although I believe in the importance of what I do, I often feel trapped when finding creative ideas and putting same into action. I admire you and other people who have posted their successes on your site. You have a courage that I envy. I get so close to breaking free and taking that leap of faith only to find myself hitting that invisible wall I call fear. I want more for my family. I want more time to spend with them. I spend too much time away from them and what I see at work robs my thoughts when I am physically with them. But it’s what I know. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and creations the way you do. I will continue to eagerly follow what you and others have to say about their courageous steps to success in their lives knowing that one day it will get my courage up enough to take that leap.

  27. i have always been interested in running my own business which i have done previously with varying degrees of success. Tim, you continue to inspire me with your books and this blog. Content creation is very important to todays businesses and the ways its power can be harnessed for promotion and building your business and your brand. Thanks for your continued inspiration.

  28. Hi Tim,

    I absolutely love your blog and approach and can relate to the questions asked in the email. I have a few quick questions myself:

    1) Your interests are, in a sense, quite broad – fitness, writing, travel, learning, etc… but somehow you manage to cut a clear picture of what your blog is about. In previous posts you’ve mentioned how you shut down your original blog and focused on a few core themes (and came up with the term: “Lifestyle Design”. Like most of your readers I have similar interests but have a difficult time conveying the overall approach of the blog in the same way you do. Is it a matter of taking those interests as verticals and applying your own mindset to them (quantified living, focus on being effective, dismissing conventional wisdom, etc) or is it something else? Any advice in this department?

    2) Do you deliberately not blog about certain topics that interest you because they may conflict with your theme or not be very useful to readers, for example, angel investing, etc.?

    Thanks!

  29. Excellent topic. Often people are chasing the money, where if they chased their passion, the money would be chasing after them.
    I am finding this to be true as a marketer.

    I began with starting up a business trying to monetize it immediately, but then switched gear offering value to small businesses or those who want to and have found much more creativity and freedom when I am not tied down to any monetary goals or expectations.

  30. $10k per seminar every 2-3 years? How many attendees do you usually get at each one of these events? It definitely seems like a very steep price, but I guess if you’re making 5, 6, 7, or more figures a month then it’s chump change! lol. Unfortunately I’m not there yet, but working towards it! Great post!

    • $10k per seminar is quite steep but I think it’s not about the amount… If you choose to pay that much to get to the next level than it is all about the commitment!

      Volume is not that important in my opinion. A good piece, even an individual post can achieve much bigger effect than a hundred written pages. Just think about viral posts… it’s not how many, it’s how many times it gets shared ;)

  31. Thanks for the great advices, I can’t do anything but agree. We need timeless content, one that will be good even 6 months from now.
    Unless you have couple of millions I guess there is no way anyone can compete with something like XY News Corp. Its just a totally different game. And thank you for confirming that for me.

  32. This is great Tim. Would love to see more posts on content creation..
    Really enjoy your blog and learn something new from you each week.. Keep up the great work you’re doing…

  33. I have no idea how old this post is, however…as you’ve stated…it is timeless content and was worth the 7 minutes or so it took me to read. By the way, I am always battling the urge to find quick, short term profit versus my understanding of evergreen long term growth via slowly, methodically building out content that will be “good stuff” years from now. I’m grateful you share what you share and hope to some day get an audience with you, as well. Thanks for everything, Tim.

  34. Hi Tim,

    Figured it was worth a shot, to see if I could get an answer. Few questions….

    I have read all 3 of your books in the last 3 months, as my best friend feels I have a similar personality….

    1) – I have severe nut allergies, and I am allergic to eggs as well. Any good substitution for these (i.e. the almond butter and the raw nuts)? I have been eating morning star breakfast sausage for my 30 in 30, but I afraid it may not be allowed as it is soy based (but nearly every nutritional info is more favorable than regular sausage).

    2) Is it possible to exceed the boundaries of cheat day? Here was my first and I think I may have! (My second was just as bad, but did not keep a record) – https://www.evernote.com/shard/s235/sh/2d9608cc-909a-4077-b567-60f103ee2dc4/e0074b84cf4aba339168ea45e9375540

    3) What recumbent bike do you have and/or recommend? I bought one a couple years (not even having read your book) just so I could be productive during my bad video game habit. The resistance is no longer enough for me, and I am considering a new one.

  35. “…but I’m building a snowball the size of continents. The catch: it sometimes moves at a glacial pace. Big things take time, but that’s OK — almost nothing can stop a glacier from moving once it reaches critical mass”

    This is amazing. I have written it on a big piece of paper and attached to my mirror! Thanks

  36. Hi Tim,

    You are probably at the age in which you know people who have married, then divorced. Some of those are going through ugly battles and others are finding out that the justice system isn’t exactly what it is cracked up to be… things like judges conversing and e-mailing with Ex’s before the case ends up in the judges court… or other scenarios where a judge calls a petitioner names in open court. If you were to launch a campaign to grab the attention of media and more, what would your 4 hour work week look like ? And what is your 4 hour guide to getting rid of your ex… because no matter how pretty she is, someone is sick of her B.S.

  37. I have been reading the 4HWW for the second time and I see no other way of contacting you. Anyways,

    Writing have been a passion for a while now and I am finding your blog and books extremely valuable.

    I recently saw a video on YouTube where you talk about Desmopressin and I have been using DDAVP all my life ( im only 31 now ) because of Hypopituitarism caused by the removal of a brain tumor. Your attitude and looking at life is adding a lot of value to my life. So when i saw your challenge with the students in your book ( 4HWW ) i decided to somehow contact you to see if any communication with you is possible.

    Thank you once again.

  38. I am not very experienced in this field. What I do now is try to write a piece from a reader’s perspective. Whether it is readable and communicative enough for the reader to understand. I hope I am doing fine!

  39. I love the idea of creating evergreen content that is good for a few years rather news which is only as good as how fast you can publish it. Really hit home with my own efforts. Thanks for putting it into perspective. Bless!