Some years ago, I had a long talk with my good friend John Pugsley, whom I believe was one of the most clear-headed thinkers of our time. One of the things John and I discussed at some length is a subject that is front and center in the minds of most entrepreneurs and businesspeople today: how to make money on the Internet. It’s been my observation that, other than self-proclaimed Internet gurus, most people seem to be quite befuddled by this challenge.
During my discussion with John, I made the point that I believe most people feel overwhelmed by the amount of e-commerce information that’s floating around. It’s self-evident that you can never learn more than a small fraction of what there is to know about the Internet — and, worse, what there is to know increases daily.
In addition, it’s easy to feel intimidated by the Internet Diaper Corps, those whiz kids who babble incessantly, with an overconfidence that takes one’s breath away, about website optimization, SEO, pay-per-click, list-building secrets, etc. How can anyone possibly keep up with such an overload?
John and I came to the joint conclusion that the only solution to the problem of feeling intimidated and overwhelmed by all this information is to simply not worry about what everyone else is doing. That’s right, just ignore conventional wisdom and do things your way.
Don’t get me wrong. You should strive to acquire all the knowledge you can, but when it comes to taking action, you would be well advised to follow your own instincts. If those instincts take you in a lonely direction, that’s probably a good sign.
I can’t imagine anyone who would have thought a dull business like selling books could be an online success, but Jeff Bezos concluded otherwise and — presto! — Amazon.com was born. Bezos started out in his garage, down on his knees wrapping books, just twenty years ago. His idea seemed crazy at the time, but he later said, “I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.”
As if we needed any greater example than that of the founder of Amazon.com, what further convinced both John and me that going against the grain is a sound Internet strategy was what we remembered our own early days in business, particularly the marketing end of things. Nothing either of us ever did was conventional.
When John wrote and self-published his first book, Common Sense Economics, he knew absolutely nothing about typesetting and printing, let alone marketing books. He just as well could have been talking about me, because I was in precisely the same situation with my first book, Winning Through Intimidation. When it came time to market his book, John, the master of common sense, simply asked himself how he could best reach the kind of people who were most likely to benefit from his advice.
It’s a long and fascinating story, but the short version is that he went to the Orange County (California) Yellow Pages and extracted the names and addresses of doctors and dentists. He then paid work-at-home women to type their names and addresses on plain envelopes, apply postage stamps, and mail out an ad he had written for his book.
Before you start laughing out loud (I did when I first heard John’s story), let me jump ahead to the ending: Employing this simplistic, unconventional approach was the beginning of one of the most successful book-marketing campaigns in history — a campaign that led to John’s selling a staggering 150,000 copies of his book.
This, in turn, launched him into a highly successful newsletter, followed by seminars, speeches, and more books. To this day, I find John’s story to be one of the most remarkable testaments to the efficacy of following one’s own instincts, no matter how simple or unconventional they may be.
Now, fast-forward to the world of cyberspace. When it comes to the Internet, there’s no reason to feel insecure, because everyone lacks knowledge. There’s no “right way” to approach Internet marketing, so be cautious when it comes to taking advice.
On the other hand, do be a sponge when it comes to gathering information, but use your own instincts when it comes to taking action. Be bold and don’t be afraid to be different. Never hesitate to go against conventional wisdom.
Above all, don’t get hung up on planning, because a new Internet train leaves the station every day, and the sooner you climb aboard one of those trains, the better. A plan too long in the making is a plan for yesterday’s Internet.
General Patton must have been envisioning the Internet when he advised: “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”