Career & Business

How To Be Real Online (And Get Paid For It)

April 28, 2010

Hi! I'm Marie

You have gifts to share with the world and my job is to help you get them out there.

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This is a special guest post by Johnny B Truant, creator of the new "Question The Rules" program.  I'm a fan and after this post, you will be too.

I was pretty hepped up when Marie got in touch recently (inspired, totally living in the moment, and a few cups of coffee ahead of schedule) and asked if I'd accept the awesome honor of being her first-ever guest poster. I'm not sure why this happened.


Maybe it’s because Marie’s new puppy is consuming all of her time, or maybe it’s because I used a shirtless picture of Brad Pitt at the top of my recent post about Fight Club. (Apparently shirtless Brad is the only existing still from that movie.)

But maybe — just maybe — it was because Marie saw in me a bit of what she sees in herself: a non-niche, multi-passionate entrepreneur who seems to pay little attention to the rules of running an online business.

And I’m not saying that in a “Like wow, I’m such a rebel” sort of way. I just mean that I make this up as I go along, and for some reason it seems to be working. Luckily.

But this multi-passionate entrepreneur thing? Yeah, that’s totally her term, and her idea as far as I’m concerned.

We spoke a few months back and she essentially gave me permission to stop being a humor guy on one site and a tech guy on another site. She told me it was okay to have a bunch of ridiculously disparate interests, and to toss them all together, and consequences be damned.

“You can just ‘be Johnny B. Truant,’ and talk about whatever the fuck you want on your site,” she said.

Because, you know, Marie says “fuck” a lot.  So yeah.  That was good advice.

Since that time — since dropping niche thinking and just kind of “being Johnny” with all of his intricacies and foibles — I’ve more than tripled my monthly income and my readership.

I’ve planned and done joint ventures with some of the biggest names in blogging.

And I got Grand Pimp Darren Rowse of Problogger (that’s what they call him around the water cooler) to admit in print that I’m on the “A-list” in his RSS reader, which would be awesome if he hadn’t said it just because I’m blackmailing him.

All of that has come from ceasing to think of myself as “the guy who specializes in X” and embracing all of the facets of my personality, everything I do, and everything I am.

So, yeah. I know what you’re thinking.

Is the big and important business secret I’m telling you here really just “Be yourself”?

Because if so, that’s a total cliche.

But you know what? The other day I yelled at my boy for running with scissors. Why? Because kids run with scissors. Cliches are cliches for a reason, and this is no exception.

Carving out one aspect of yourself and saying “This is who I am” is dumb.

Pretending to be perfect, to put on airs, to affect a different manner than who you really are? Also dumb.

Ten months ago, I hadn’t made a cent in my online business, and now I regularly make five figures a month. That happened as a direct result of being myself and doing everything just plain wrong in my business, if you listen to the normal set of rules.

I’m even going to go so far as to say that if I had continued to do things the “right” way (find a niche focus, try to sound on-topic and authoritative at all times, work with anyone who would pay me, sell hard), I would be looking for a retail job to supplement my income right now.

You guys know this already, though, right? You’re used to this scattered focus? I mean, Marie is a coach, a dancer, a choreographer, an internet marketer, and like six other totally different things.

You can get coaching programs in her store… right next to her workout videos. I think she likes me because I do the same weird crap.

Right around the time I was selling a record number of WordPress blog installs, I was running a post on my blog called “Christmas is Gay.”

That’s logical, right? Write about Christmas and sell website services. Oh, but don’t charge people for those holiday blog setups. Do them free, yet find a backdoor way to make a crapload of money anyway. Yeah, not a lot of what I do makes any sense at all.

But I think I get it. I think I have a part of it figured out, as to why it works anyway.

The thing is, the internet can be so disconnected and so anonymous. Men can pretend to be women, scammers can pretend to be honest, and misinformation campaigns can make you believe that unless you buy something now, you’ll suffer dire consequences.

People are so accustomed to bullshit that when they see something or someone that is 3-dimensional and quirky and flawed and real, they know it’s genuine. They flock to it. They rally around it.  No real, authentic, honest-to-goodness person is a niche.

No true human has only one interest. No genuine person is perfect. Change your paradigm.

The goal is not to sell your niche product or your niche knowledge. The goal is to sell yourself.

When clients ask how my “personality brand consulting” works, I tell them that the upshot is that I teach people how to make friends for a living.

I tell them that when you have friends, those friends will come to you instead of searching Google when they have a need that you can fill.  I tell them that friends want to help friends, and that if you do things right, those friends will go out of their way to work with you even if your competitors cost less . . . and they’ll tell their friends about you.

I tell them that the more honest you are — about who you are, about what you’re into, about your motivations and even your shortcomings — the more people will trust you. The more they will identify with you, even if it doesn’t make sense from a “business” perspective.

When I say that I do things “wrong” in my business, I mean that I tell people where I make my money and I tell them when they should go to a competitor who would be better for them.

I mean that I don’t use my email list right, that I don’t upsell correctly, and that I’m terrible at closing sales in the traditional way.

I un-sell. I un-guarantee. I tell people that they won’t build their business quickly, that it’s really hard, and that there’s a pretty good chance they may fail a few times before finding something that works.

It’s gotten to the point where I’m curious just how wrong I can do things before the system collapses. So the other day, I was on the phone with a potential client and I quite literally told him, “I don’t give a shit if you work with me or not.” And within five minutes of hanging up, he’d sent me $1200.  It’s so messed up. It’s so spectacularly, wonderfully, effectively backward.

The more transparent you are, the more you’re beating your customers’ doubts to the punch. If you lay your cards on the table, people can be reasonably confident that you’re not holding any behind your back.

If you think you have to single out a niche interest, and be professional, and be perfect, and create an “image,” and only write about and do one thing to be successful online, I’m here to tell you that’s not always true.

If you think you have to build a persona and put on airs, I’m here to tell you that you may be better off just being you.

People will stop liking what you do and will start to like you. They won’t read your blog; they’ll read you. They won’t buy your service; they’ll buy you.

You want to be rich, happy, and hot? Try doing things wrong in your business.

And, you know, bathe regularly.

—–Johnny B. Truant writes at and is the creator of Question The Rules: The nonconformist’s punk rock, DIY, nuts-and-bolts guide to creating the business and life you really want, starting with what you already have. You can also follow him on Twitter, because sometimes he tweets about zombies and sandwiches.

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