This article is an outlier in that it explains my motivation instead of giving actionable advice like the rest of my blog. My argument applies to blogs in general, so it still helps you in your decision-making process as an aspiring writer. While I don’t feel like I owe anyone an explanation, this is my small contribution to bringing some much-needed transparency to the business world.
The internet is overcrowded with blogs, especially business blogs, and it’s worth asking if the world needs another one. It’s difficult to determine the absolute number of blogs because of the variety of platforms and constantly changing figures.
The number of monthly blog posts is a more accurate metric than the number of blogs, because inactive blogs are irrelevant. WordPress.org is the biggest content platform and the affiliated hosted version wordpress.com publishes their monthly number of blog articles (July 2018: 79,703,841). This number covers only one platform, but it gives you a rough idea of the sheer amount of blogs on the internet.
You might be inclined to give up on the idea to start a blog seeing this enormous number. Not so fast my friend, let’s break this number down first. The number of overall blogs and blog posts is irrelevant because you only have to dominate your niche. You have to segment all blogs into different topics and then look at your niche and the quality of the existing blogs.
A blog is a small monetary investment and more importantly a massive time investment. You should only start one when you are crystal clear about your motivation and your goals. From a purely financial point of view, it’s hard to justify starting a blog because other ways of making money (Amazon FBA, productized services,etc.) are easier and faster.
If you think longterm (>3 years) a blog becomes a much better value proposition, because its value increases over time as the readership grows. I think of my blog as a platform, which I can use to launch different projects (books, documentaries, podcasts, products, etc.). Therefore, I am willing to sacrifice quick money for the long-term opportunity.
Before I start any project, I think about the success metrics and when to quit. My favorite marketing guru Seth Godin has written an excellent book about this topic called “The Dip”. The dip is the phase of struggle where you have to decide between quitting and pushing through. I think one of the core skills of entrepreneurship is knowing when to quit.
The next chapter breaks down the competitiveness of niches based on the quantity and quality of existing content.
The best bet for a successful blog is to specialize in an attractive niche. One example would be Medellín, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, but only a small number of bloggers serve this audience. It’s an attractive niche because it has high demand and low supply. People are more willing to forgive blunders like poor formatting when the information is in high demand. Other cities like Chiang Mai are covered extensively and therefore it’s also a more competitive niche to write about.
My niche is remote work and therefore I don’t have to worry about other topics on the internet. There are less than a handful of blogs in this niche, who meet my quality standards (content, design, format, style, etc.):
79,703,841 monthly blog posts have come down to three blogs, which is much more manageable. Pioneers like Basecamp have also published great articles about remote work, but it’s not their primary focus and therefore excluded from this list. The founders of Basecamp have also written the definitive book “REMOTE: Office Not Required”. Zapier published a comprehensive list of the best articles about remote work, which is worth a read. They also published a free ebook guide about remote work.
The absolute number of business blogs is irrelevant because you only have to worry about your niche. It’s like the comparison of a Lamborghini and a Kia, which are in fact both cars, but they don’t compete with each other, because they serve different niches. Maybe you wonder why I didn’t include any business blogs from individuals in my list. So far, I haven’t found one which meets my quality standards and publishes unique articles about remote work on a weekly basis and I am stepping up to fill this gap. The weekly delivery of long-form articles about remote entrepreneurship and related topics is my unique selling point.
Not all blogs are created equal. The variance in quality is immense. I would say at least 99.99% of the content on the internet is rubbish and that’s me being generous. The explanation for this abundance of crap is simple. It takes a lot of hard work to write a good article, let alone a great one. You have to do proper research, develop your argument, write a draft version of your article and then edit it until you are satisfied.
It’s much easier to write a short opinion piece about any topic that comes to mind and hit publish without any form of editing. You are doing yourself and your readers a disservice with this sloppy approach because nobody is interested in average content. You can’t stand out with average stuff on the internet. Therefore, being average is the worst thing you can do and a direct path to irrelevance. It’s a better time investment to write one thought-out 2000 words article than four half-assed 500 words opinion pieces.
Most blogs are catering to the masses by dumping-down everything. On the contrary, I am interested in catering to a small subset of the population (smart action takers) and I am actively discouraging the masses to read my business blog.
I publish only one article per week as quality control (sign up for my weekly newsletter now!). The time restriction forces me to revise my articles several times before I finally publish them. The moderate schedule also reduces the pressure to publish subpar articles to meet an artificial deadline, while forcing me to write new articles continuously.
Another form of quality control is the length of my articles. I exclusively publish articles with a minimum word count of 1200. I feel like this is the minimal word count to convey an idea without being simplistic. It forces me to dig deeper into every topic and consider different dimensions. Another form of quality control is revision. My articles are constantly evolving based on my new experiences and learnings. I am constantly tweaking old articles by changing the wording and adding examples to keep them relevant.
What is the difference between good and bad writing? The assesment of writing style is somewhat subjective. However, a couple of objective quality criteria exist:
I think uniqueness is the most important criterion. Most writers copy each other and it’s boring to read a slightly different watered-down version of the same article all over the internet. I think people copy each other because they don’t have to say anything noteworthy themselves. Still, it’s not enough to write great content. You also have to present your content appealingly:
And you are not done when you have written a nice quality article. You also have to distribute and promote your content. Otherwise, you will be invisible and your voice will be drowned out by all the noise on the internet.
You need two different skill sets to be a successful writer. You need to write great content and you have to be a great marketer at the same time. The problem is that most people possess only one of this skill sets. One end of the spectrum consists of pure writers, who write compelling content, but fail to attract readers in the first place. Older writers tend to be less tech-savy and therefore they are at a structural disadvantage on the internet. The other end of the spectrum consists of pure marketers (SEO wizards), who can send eyeballs to their site but fail to convert them to regulars because their content lacks substance. Maybe they should team up to compete with me.
The competition on the internet is massive in quantitative terms, but it shrinks down to a handful of blogs when you consider the niche and quality level. There are a few quality blogs about remote work out there, but I think we can coexist because I have a different angle. There is only one Julian Power and that’s me. Nobody else can offer my unique point of view. Let’s talk about my goals and motivations after covering the online media landscape.
My short term goal is to generate a modest affiliate income (≈1500€ per month) and my long-term goal is to establish a platform, which I can use to launch various projects.
Everyone and their mom talks about building a platform nowadays. The gist of it is that you need to build a platform to reach your audience. Seth Godin has written a couple of interesting articles about the importance of building a platform:
1. The professionals platform
2. The platform vs. the eyeballs
3. Where’s your platform
He also developed the related concept of tribes, which goes a step further. It’s based on the notion that it’s human nature to seek out tribes and that the internet facilitates the connection of a tribe. My favorite articles:
1. The tribe or the person?
2. Inventing a tribe
3. There is no tribe of normal
He has written the book “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us”, where he describes the three steps to building a tribe:
1. The desire to change things.
2. The ability to connect a tribe.
3. The willingness to lead.
You need a platform to connect a tribe. My goal is to use my platform to connect a tribe of remote entrepreneurs with specific attributes (hard-working, positive, proactive, smart, etc.). Michael Hyatt has written a practical book on using social media for building and growing a platform.
All of Seth Godin’s books are worth a read. For a couple of bucks, you get access to the most brilliant mind in marketing. His books tend to be short and present big picture frameworks. Some people like to call me the new Seth Godin, but I wouldn’t go that far (yet).
4.2. I get money
When I think about money, I differentiate between covering my living expenses (1500€) and additional capital, which enables me to work on bigger projects. For the short term, I am aiming for 1500€ in affiliate income, which I need to keep the lights on.
Far more interesting is the long-term monetary potential of selling products (books, documentaries, etc.) on this blog. As a platform builder, I believe in providing massive value before selling anything. Therefore, I am going to launch my first products at the earliest in 2019. I am going to discuss the long-term monetary potential in time.
I think you should be laser focused on one goal and that’s earning an after-tax income of 1500€ per month in my case. Therefore, I don’t think about the long-term monetary potential of my blog right now. One step at a time. Right now I am burning through my modest savings and I don’t have an infinite runway. As a result, I have a real sense of urgency to make money.
It’s also interesting to go one step further and ask why I want to make 1500€ per month. This amount of money enables me to work on my projects without worrying about paying the bills. Autonomy is one of my core values and I like to have the ability to choose my projects, working style and location (besides expensive cities like New York or London). If you can’t cover living expenses, you have to find a job eventually. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you depend on a shitty job to make ends meet like most regular folk.
4.3. Fame vs. freedom
For whatever reason, many people aspire to be famous, so I am going to discuss this aspect as well. I never understood the allure of fame. I am more of a low-profile dude and therefore I rather see it as a necessary evil that comes with the territory.
I also could have tried to remain anonymous, but that isn’t feasible for two reasons. Number one, it’s unrealistic to remain anonymous on the internet for long and your real name will always be revealed eventually. Number two and far more important, my writing is less powerful when I don’t personally stand up for my opinion. Why would you read anything from anyone who isn’t willing to vouch for his views?
Justin Bieber is an excellent example of the negatives of fame. He is a global icon and you can’t possibly become more famous than him. He has almost unlimited purchasing power and can buy a Lamborghini Aventador on a whim, but he has to pay the price in that his set of choices is dramatically reduced in other areas of life.
Let’s say he needs a break from music and wants to take a gap year in Australia. He can’t do it like the average Joe because wherever he goes, people will bother him for an autograph or selfie. On top of that, he never knows who is having an agenda because fame tends to attract freeloaders, gold diggers and shady characters in general. He has to choose between ignoring the general public or avoiding it altogether and living in a golden cage.
It may sound like sour grapes, but I would never trade places with Justin Bieber. On a side note, you are lying to yourself when you can’t admit that he released some bangers recently. Credit where credit is due. Fortunately, my content functions as a litmus test for action takers and consequently it will never appeal to the masses.
When you see a personal brand, you automatically assume the person behind it is a shameless self-promoter. In most cases, you wouldn’t be too wide of the mark (Tim Ferriss being the prime example). However, I like to think of myself as the rare exception of this rule as I have explained earlier.
4.4. Interim conclusion
You might conclude that I am only building a platform as a tool to make money, but that’s not entirely true. My motivation is far more complex than that and I am going to break it down in the next chapter.
It’s extremely powerful for yourself and your customers if you have a clear picture of your why. Simon Sinek has given an excellent TEDx Talk on this topic. I am not a big fan of watching TED Talks all day long, but you can find some gold nuggets between all the bullshit. He has also written a bestseller book called “Start With Why” about this topic with an accompanying practical guide.
I love writing. It’s the only activity besides playing Basketball were I almost always enter flow state immediately. The moment I start writing, I am in the zone and blend out my surroundings. Imagine the writing scene in the movie “Limitless“. At the risk of sounding cliché: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
5.2. The craft of writing
I think it’s important to master at least one skill in life. It can be any skill as long as it reflects your personal interest and talents. By mastering a skill, you also learn several meta-skills like work ethic. If you want to understand mastery you have to watch “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“, which accompanies one of the world’s greatest sushi chefs and captures his obsession with perfecting the craft of sushi preparation. It’s one of my favorite movies.
The book “Mastery” by Robert Greene describes the strategies of historical figures like Leonardo da Vinci and contemporary individuals, who have mastered a skill. I also like the book “Zen in the Art of Archery”, which describes the experience of a German professor of Philosophy in Tokyo, who spent six years to learn archery from a kyudo master.
Writing is my number one skillset and I am improving it with each article. Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the 10.000 hours rule, which states that you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a world-class performer in any field, in his book “Outliers”. The authors of the original study have disagreed with his simplification of the concept, but it’s useful nonetheless. I like the concept because it makes world-class performance quantifiable. I am willing to bet on anyone who has practiced his craft for 10.000 hours. To quote Bruce Lee: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Let’s apply the 10.000 hours rule to my writing. Assuming I am writing 5 hours daily, then I am writing 1825 hours per year (365×5=1825). Therefore, I need almost 5,5 years (10000:1825≈5,48) to become a world-class writer, which sounds reasonable. Each hour of writing brings me closer to my goal of becoming a world-class writer.
English is my second language and the writing of business articles accelerates my learning in terms of grammar and vocabulary. I have improved my English tremendously over the last couple of years through my studies and living arrangements. I had to read mainly English texts during my studies and a lot of my courses were held in English. I have also lived in several shared apartments with internationals, where English is the common denominator.
I consume almost all media in English (blogs, news, books, movies, etc.) because of availability and originality. Each translation slightly dilutes the original message and the majority of content is only available in English. For example, quality German business blogs are almost nonexistent. Therefore, you are missing out big time if you can’t speak English because you are at an informational disadvantage.
I wanted to reach the maximum number of action takers with my message and therefore I decided to write this blog in English. Furthermore, I am planning to add a German and a Spanish version of this blog over the long term.
I think my main strength is the burning desire to learn new skills (Spanish, basketball, video production, etc.) and to acquire valuable knowledge (business, stoicism, etc.) to get an edge. I may not always be the smartest person in the room, but I am confident to say that I am the most well-read individual wherever I go.
The development of an argument in my articles forces me to structure, review, rework and finetune my existing ideas, concepts and beliefs, which leads to clarity in my thinking. Another huge part of my writing process consists of research on various topics, whereby I acquire new information at an accelerated pace. I think too many writers skip the research phase and it shows in their texts.
“Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.” Accordingly, writing is a creative process. I develop concepts and theories and connect them in new ways. This form of self-expression is deeply satisfying for me. It’s the complete opposite of the work of a data monkey, which I have done in the past (market research).
I hate the feeling when I am exhausted after a long workday and I haven’t created a tangible output short of countless emails, meetings and various forms of paperwork. In contrast, the writing of an article is something long lasting, which will benefit me for the rest of my life.
5.6. Giving value
I also have an altruistic motive besides the above-mentioned selfish concerns. I want people to take control over their lives and I think the best tool for this undertaking is entrepreneurship. Not everybody is cut out to be an entrepreneur, but the overall percentage should definitely be higher. An underrepresentation of entrepreneurs is especially true for risk-averse countries like Germany, which lack entrepreneurial culture. People like to rationalize the shortage of entrepreneurs with a strong domestic labor market, but it’s more complicated than that.
I want to inspire other people to take action. You have to give yourself permission to take the road less traveled. Venture out of your comfort zone and take the first step in your entrepreneurial journey. It’s going to be a long, hard and stressful journey full of self-doubt and setbacks and you don’t know where it will lead you at the end. In return, you will be rewarded with the freedom to work on your terms (location, time, projects, etc.), which is priceless.
However, it’s essential to keep your expectations in check. You don’t have to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. It’s totally fine to become a run-of-the-mill millionaire.
You have to balance long-term thinking with your current resource allocation. If I am not able to attract a sizeable and loyal readership (>1000 email subscribers) until the end of the year, then I will refocus and move on to more promising projects.
I see this blog as an experiment with huge upside potential and limited downside. I want to add a new perspective to the discourse about entrepreneurship and inspire people to take action. Likewise, you have to be crystal clear about your motivation before you start any project. Otherwise, you won’t be able to push through inevitable times of adversity.
Now you know everything you need to know about my motivation. It’s time to clarify your own.
The rest is up to you,
8. Recommended books
Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team
Outliers: The Story of Successs
Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World
Remote: Office Not Required
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
The Dip: The extraordinary benefits of knowing when to quit (and when to stick)
The Ultimate Guide To Remote Work (free)
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
Zen in the Art of Archery