This week I’m sharing this space with my friend, Bryan Clark. Bryan is a professional writer, blog editor and evangelist. He has contributed to leading news properties and blogs in tech, entrepreneurship, finance, and the digital lifestyle. He’s had work featured at Problogger.net and Enterpreneurs-Journey.com as well as offline publications such as The Chicago Tribune and USA Today. You can follow him at ImBryanClark.com
Enter, Bryan Clark.
First, some back story.
When I met Nate, I told him this story, and he said it might be a great one to share with all of you. I don’t claim that the decisions made in this story were intelligent ones, nor do I think that I’d do this the same way again, but I do think that it makes for a good story and shows you just how branding works and how important it is to your business.
When I first ventured into the world of making money online, the blog I started was appropriately named One Man’s Goal. I was someone that was learning how to make money online on the fly and sharing what I had learned with a small audience of a few thousand visitors. It was great, until it wasn’t great. There wasn’t a ton of money to be made there from a non-authority figure such as myself. I would have been better off putting my hosting money towards radiography courses like my parents.
One day a friend showed me the Flippa Marketplace, which was the Sitepoint Marketplace back in those days. He had listed a site and within days it was sold for what seemed like a fortune. After blogging for about 6 months, he pulled in about $1,800 for a domain that prominently featured his name in the URL.
My mind started to spin. It took me about 4 minutes of deliberation before deciding to list my site. It was fun, and making a decent amount of money, but I was getting burnt out on the entire process and I figured out long ago that I could be making more money doing some of what I had been learning. I started the auction and about 9 hours later it sold for $8,500. Jackpot!
Here’s where my real revelation from this story comes into play. After selling it, I checked in regularly to see how the new owner was doing. On paper, he was doing everything he was supposed to: blogging regularly, providing value in his posts, interacting with his visitors and he even shared a few solid tips here and there, but his audience was growing frustrated. Traffic and revenue were dipping month after month, and neither of us could figure out why.
Finally, in an act of frustration, he asked if I’d purchase the site back. I told him that given the circumstances and the dwindling interest, money, and traffic numbers; I’d have to decline. He told me to make him an offer, no matter how ridiculously low, he just wanted to be done with it. So I offered him $650. (In PBB fashion, I did this early J.) He took it, and the site was transferred back to me within 48 hours.
I blogged there for another 3 months. The site never had the same feel to it, and although I had built the traffic and revenue numbers back to their previous levels (a bit more actually), it just never had the vibe that I had previously enjoyed.
I re-listed, and sold it for $10,500. If you are keeping count, that’s $18,350 (not including the $700-$1,1200 it was making me monthly) including the purchase price of $650.
Nobody – even me – can do what I do. Let me explain.
During the first go-round, people related with me because I was them. I was struggling as a minnow in a world dominated by sharks. I wasn’t a professional, but I was trying to be one, all while making good money in the process. This is relatable. Then I sold the blog to a new owner that wasn’t me. Having $8,500 laying around to purchase a blog was a far cry from the donations I took to purchase a domain and hosting. To this audience, he wasn’t a relatable character. He wasn’t me… or… former me.
The few months I didn’t own the blog gave me the mental break I needed to come back refreshed with better content than ever. It didn’t matter. Apparently I couldn’t do what I did anymore. I guess a better way to put that is; I couldn’t do what “former me” did anymore. I had some money in my pocket, and I was seen as less of a novice, and more of a professional. I wasn’t a minnow anymore. I wasn’t quite a shark, but I certainly wasn’t at the bottom of the food chain.
This is why I say you can’t do what I did. I couldn’t even do what I did. The audience responded to me, to my brand, and to the persona that I had become. Once I shifted from that, I was no longer the everyday hero, I was just another blogger in a sea of non-authority blogs. I was a B-list blogger in a world dominated by C-and D-list bloggers. This put me in the awkward situation of not being popular enough to fit in with the A-list crowd, but not broke and new enough to work out for the C-and D-list audiences. My branding had failed me.
What if I could get a “do over?”
If I had it to do over again, I’m not sure that I could have changed anything to be more successful in my attempts at branding. If I had started as a less relatable character, I wouldn’t have moved into an authority so quickly. On the other end of the spectrum, starting as a relatable character made me outgrow my audience as I succeeded and they stayed put. I think from a branding standpoint it worked out as well as it could have. I outgrew my audience, and moved on to my next venture. It wasn’t a clean break, but it wasn’t as messy as I’d thought it would be.
I adapted by selling a bit of my own persona when I sold my original blog. In hindsight, I couldn’t have continued to grow as a person or a brand with that hanging over me, so I’m not sad that it’s gone. It’s nice to know where you came from, but that doesn’t mean you should ever look back.
Nathaniel Broughton is a veteran internet entrepreneur and investor. Dating to 2002, he has helped produce 3 Inc 500 award-winning companies. Nathaniel owns Growth Partner Capital, a venture fund that provides SEO consulting, premium link building and online reputation management services. He is also owner of SuretyBonds.com, a nationwide bonding agency. Previously he served as CMO of VAMortgageCenter.com, a $65 million nationwide mortgage bank which acquired his marketing firm Plus1 Marketing in 2008. A resident of San Diego, Nathaniel often writes from his experience as an investor, marketer, and advocate of “networking like Paris Hilton parties – Nonstop”. Follow him on Twitter – @natebro.