My email list subscribers know I’m nomadic. Travel is a big part of my why—the reason I started a business that lets me live and work from anywhere.
The speaker line up was impressive (especially for a first-year conference). I knew that, even though I’m not writing a travel blog, I could help a lot of people at the conference and learn a lot.
And guys, I learned so many marketing lessons from this conference.
Here are my top 15 epiphanies.
Some of them are pretty quick and will only take a few minutes. Others will take a couple of hours.
Pick one of them and do it. (If you do nothing else, do #2.)
- 1. Find Long-term Success by Making Something that Lasts
- 2. Magnetize Your Tribe by Being for Someone and Not for Someone Else (i.e., Establish Your Niche)
- 3. Create Content Your Audience LOVES (with Market Research)
- 4. Get Insider Secrets and Discover New Places by Talking to the Locals
- 5. Promote Yourself (within your personal networks)
- 6. To be a blacksmith, you have to blacksmith
- 7. The Key to Success is Showing Up
- 8. Pitch Anybody with the 3x Why Framework
- 9. Go Undercover and Talk to the People who Could be Your Audience
- 10. Build a Community and Get More Likes, Comments, Shares, and Followers
- 11. What I Learned from The Nutella Girl
- 12. Relationships > Platforms
- 13. Two Ways to Stand Out from the Crowd
- 14. Report Back on the Human World
- 15. Be Friendly, Meet People, and Talk to Everyone
Lesson #1: Find Long-term Success by Making Something that Lasts
The central question of Perennial Seller is this: what makes something last? What are the elements or pillars of a long-lasting book, business, or idea? Why do some things stick around while other things become forgotten?
Or, even better—how can I make the stuff that sticks around?
Ryan had a few guiding principles:
1. Do the Work
Obvious, but worth stating anyway. Creating something that lasts is hard…if it were easy, everybody would be doing it.
But that’s a good thing.
Because when you do the work, you stand out.
And there’s nothing wrong with being average. If all you want is to be another neighborhood pizza joint that gets some business, creates some jobs, makes a few people happy, and pays the bills, that’s perfectly okay.
But if you want to stick around long enough to create lasting and meaningful change, then you need to do the work.
Why this thing, specifically? Why not that business coach, that other Instagram course, that other book about traveling the world?
In 2017 in San Diego, about 5 poké restaurants opened up in the same neighborhood. They served the same product, looked the same, and appealed to the same audience.
I don’t think any of them are still around.
They didn’t answer that question: why you?
Your answer to this can’t be something like, “because I actually get people results,” or “because my stuff is better.” Think deeper about what makes your offering unique.
- Targeting a different [segment of the] market?
- Targeting more beginner or advanced levels that the other people?
- Approaching the topic through your unique experiences?
I think of it this way:
The entire market is a pie. There is a very small sliver of that pie you are uniquely qualified to serve because of your own combination of skills and life experiences. This is your smallest possible audience—your audience of one, or five, or nineteen.
You can create something radically different from anything anybody has created before.
You can (and should) create a blue ocean. You can (and should) create your own niche.
You can (and should) create something unique for that tiny sliver of the pie.
Whatever you create has to work. It has to do the job.
You can’t make something unique but ineffective and expect it to last. People will quickly catch on.
“Oh, that’s just another gimmick.”
…and when I say it has to work, I mean it has to work better than the competition.
The reason that book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up exploded? Because it worked.
Bad restaurants don’t stick around, no matter how good the marketing.
Bad books don’t sell. The public catches on, even if the initial reviews were good.
MySpace was good at what it did, but Facebook was better. Facebook became more effective than MySpace, and we know how that story ended.
Effectiveness isn’t just for right now. Effectiveness matters for the future.
Horse-drawn carriages? Very effective for thousands of years. The instant the automobile, something more effective, came along? No more carriages.
If you can help it, don’t create a carriage.
This is trickier. How can I create something evergreen—something that is timeless?
A good trick is to look at what’s already working.
Stories, for one. The stories of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Odysseus, and Achilles have been around for thousands of years and we are still telling them.
The stories of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe are still around because they touch on timeless, universal horrors.
We’re still reading Shakespeare some 400 years after his death.
Charles Dickens was forced to pawn off his books and work in a factory when his father was thrown into debtor’s prison. A Christmas Carol is his commentary on social and economic inequality. (And it fared much better than, say, a manifesto.)
Wrap what you have to say in a story. Stories are memorable. We remember stories.
I’m not saying you need to write an epic poem, a play, or a novel to create something timeless.
There are also timeless paintings (Mona Lisa), buildings (the Parthenon), songs (Greensleeves), and even languages (Latin, Hebrew, written Chinese).
Some of these are still around for historical or cultural reasons, but others are around because they’re good. They make us awestruck.
(…if you wanted the secret to making something timeless, sorry. I’m as much in the dark as you are.)
Lesson #2: Magnetize Your Tribe by Being for Someone and Not for Someone Else (i.e., Establish Your Niche)
This was the other big lesson from Ryan Holiday’s speech that stuck out to me.
One thing I’ve been asking a lot lately—and I’m not sure where I heard it—is this question: are you a wandering generality or a meaningful specific?
If you’re for everyone, you’re for no one.
Ryan Holiday brings up Iron Maiden.
He asked: how is it that this band, who hasn’t been on the radio in 39 years, sold out this giant concert venue in San Antonio?
(Or was it Houston? I’m sorry—I didn’t capture the exact location.)
Lady Gaga said the following about Iron Maiden: “Those guys were filling stadiums, and they still are. And it’s because of the culture of the music, the poetry that’s so powerful, that whenever the fans come together, they unite in the essence of what Iron Maiden is all about.”
And Iron Maiden’s top 5 songs on Spotify have more streams than Prince or Madonna. They’ve sold over 90 million albums.
Here’s what Ryan Holiday has to say about that:
The reason I admire Iron Maiden has never been about sales though. It is instead in how they achieved their success, and it would still be impressive if they’d sold 1/10 of as many records. To think that this band has thrived for all these years without radio airplay, without MTV, without really ever having been on “trend,” is almost unbelievable. Iron Maiden performed for 250,000 people as the headliners of the Rock in Rio festival—twenty-six years after the band was formed. They sell their own beer, they tour relentlessly, and they do it in a Boeing 757 piloted by the lead singer.
In other words, Iron Maiden is made for someone. It’s definitely not for me—I don’t appreciate metal (although maybe I should?).
And that’s important, too. Because the people who Iron Maiden is for don’t want me there. I’m not part of the culture.
Who is part of your culture? Who isn’t? How can you get in front of the people who are and repel the people who aren’t?
This might be the most important of all the marketing lessons in this post. Do not skip this one.
Lesson #3: Create Content Your Audience LOVES (with Market Research)
Being for someone and not for someone else means knowing your audience.
I heard this advice from several speakers at the conference—Ryan Holiday, Kiersten Rich of The Blonde Abroad, Adam Groffman from Travels of Adam, and Dani Heinrich from Globetrotter Girls—and it made me very happy because I hear myself saying this all the time.
If you know what your audience struggles with, you can make things that solve their problems. You can create things for them.
This is the essence of content marketing. And it’s one of the most essential content marketing lessons you can learn.
(Woah, see how it connects to Lesson #2 above?)
…but how exactly do you learn about your audience?
(I know, I know—not the sexiest of topics. Get over it.)
There’s probably plenty of research if you’re working with a broad demographic. Adam and Dani talked about LGBT travel so they mentioned some LGBT market research.
But there’s a lot of diversity within the LGBT community, so you have to be a bit more specific. Are you blogging about the challenges of being a gay black man from a white majority country and navigating the complex feelings of returning to your roots in Nigeria or Kenya and how that might be different from, say, a gay white boy from Minneapolis returning to his roots in Norway?
(Remember I told you to be specific?)
That’s why I recommend getting in the trenches and doing the market research yourself.
Ask them questions. What do they struggle with? If a paid solution existed to solve their problem, would they buy it? For how much?
I’m serious—getting people on the phone for 25 minutes and drilling down deeper into their pain and their desires around the work you do might be the single most important thing you do for your business.
Lesson #4: Get Insider Secrets and Discover New Places by Talking to the Locals
Helen Russell gave a talk about the lessons she learned moving from London to a small town in Denmark, which she captured in her book The Year of Living Danishly.
The first two points of her keynote were:
- Choose adventure
- Eat like a local
Then she talked about Danish pastries.
More specifically, all the people she met at the Danish pastries.
Bakery. Locals in her small town. Mothers, working professionals.
She made friends and become known as the nosy Brit who asked too many questions.
But she got to something more at the core of Danish culture than she would have otherwise. People started inviting her to dinner. To birthday parties and to simple, no-frills get-togethers.
She asked them, “what do you do for fun?”
They told her.
Imagine having this level of connection with your readers.
If you engaged them in that kind of conversation—what do you do for fun? Would you like to come to dinner? Go to yoga class together?
What could you learn about them?
What secrets might they reveal to you?
What do they know that you don’t?
And then, just maybe, they’ll send you to places you’ve never heard of.
Lesson #5: Promote yourself (within your personal networks)
I didn’t use to promote myself on my personal Facebook page.
I had this vague hope people would be interested in what I was doing and would ask.
…because I totally did that to everyone else.
(Newsflash: nobody does this.)
My business coach told me to promote myself on my personal FB page for months before I actually started posting regularly. She said, “Jake, if you weren’t my client I would have no idea what you do.”
Chris Guillebeau said somewhere—I’m paraphrasing—about not being interested in traditional work/life balance. At the end of the day, he said, the work is what allows for the lifestyle.
You see the conundrum? I felt like I could only share the good travel stuff on social media…but not talk about the enabling vehicle.
Silly. I started talking about my business on social media.
It was such a good idea.
I wanted to bring this up because Oneika Raymond talked about it in her keynote.
She said many people—specifically black women—struggle with feeling allowed to promote themselves.
And then she told us a secret little tactic she uses.
…ready for it?
Just ask yourself:
“What would a white man do?”
Seriously. That’s it. And then, as an example, she mentioned a well-known political figure whose name I don’t want on my blog. 😐
Jasmine Star says it this way: if you don’t talk about your business like it’s Disneyland, ain’t nobody else gonna do it.
As someone with a business and a mission to create change in the world, you have a responsibility to promote yourself and get your message in the hands of the people who need to hear it.
(Do I sound like a broken record yet?)
Lesson #6: To be a blacksmith, you have to blacksmith
In other words, you need to do the thing that describes you—a marketer, writer, painter, coach, creator, singer, podcaster, blogger, traveler.
You a traveler? You need to travel.
You call yourself a coach? You need to coach people.
I’m a marketer, traveler, and writer. These words define my brand.
And I market, travel, and write almost every day. I am in the trenches, doing the thing that I call myself.
You can’t call yourself a writer unless you’re writing.
You can’t call yourself an entrepreneur unless you’re
entrepreneuring running a business.
If it sounds simple, that’s because it is.
Go do the thing that creates the artifact you want to bring into the world.
Lesson #7: The Key to Success is Showing Up
Successful people aren’t any better or more capable than you—they’ve just been in the game longer.
Ryan Holiday mentioned this in his talk. He mentioned the Lindy Effect—the idea that the life expectancy of a business or a book is proportional to its current lifespan.
It’s kind of like inertia for business. A business in motion will stay in motion.
A business that’s been around for a long time will continue to be around for a long time.
Ryan talked about this in the context of the stuff we create—a business, a blog, a book.
Oneika brought down the hammer. She said to be consistent and keep going.
Dani Heimrich said there were only two lesbian travel blogs when she started Globetrotter Girls. Neither of those is around. And she lamented this pattern: a promising blog starts, stays around about a year, then dies.
Because here’s the thing:
When you’re starting out, you’re still learning. You don’t know how to talk to your audience yet.
(You’re also still building an audience.)
You don’t know what examples will resonate with them.
You’ll publish awesome content and it’ll take some time for the traffic to flow in.
And you’ll start comparing yourself to the other people who are already established. The people who already have the Lindy Effect working in their favor.
But comparison is an addiction to losing. Living in a comparison mindset is what will keep you from showing up.
(Stop doing that!)
Stay consistent and show up. Outlast the others. Success is in the long game.
Lesson #8: Pitch Anybody with the 3x Why Framework
I attended a breakout session organized by the editors of a few well-known publications. They talked about pitching.
One of them said there are 3 “whys” you should answer when you’re pitching a piece to a publication.
- Why me?
- Why now?
This 3x why framework applies to everything.
Why read your blog post?
Why your blog post?
Why should I read your blog post right now instead of doing something else with my time?
Or if you’re trying to sell someone your online course or coaching package:
- Why do they need you to teach and support them?
- Why are you the person they need?
- Why can’t they join the next time enrollment opens? Why now?
Answer these questions and you’ll be on the right track to selling more, helping more people, and bringing in more money.
Lesson #9: Go Undercover and Talk to the People who Could be Your Audience
I attended a digital marketing session on using contests and Facebook ads to grow your email list. The presenter was Jack Paxton, the co-founder of Vyper.io, an LA-based software company that lets you run viral contents to grow your email list.
Afterwards, I went up to someone who had asked a question about the quality of new subscribers. She was worried about her email open rate. I was worried about the quality of engagement I’d be getting.
(Before I go any further, let me say—Jack’s presentation was very good and he gets results for his clients. I am not about to dump on Jack, Vyper, or contests.)
You see, I’m constantly telling people to keep their email lists nice and tight. I’d rather they have 100 email subscribers and a 100% open rate than 1000 email subscribers and a 10% open rate.
I’d rather your tribe be tiny and very engaged instead of large and lukewarm.
Contests grow your email list.
…and you’re sure to attract a few tire kickers. Why? Because people like free things. Tire kickers want the thing you’re giving away but aren’t part of your tribe.
(There are corrections for this. Ask better questions. Give away more specific, specialized things.)
And then I realized:
How many of my potential clients have these unvoiced objections when I walk about the work I do?
Attending someone else’s presentation in an area I’m familiar with gave me a lot to think about.
If you’re a career coach, go to a workshop run by a dating coach. Talk to some of the attendees. What concerns them about coaching? What could they teach you about the blind spots in your own business?
Lesson #10: Build a Community and Get More Likes, Comments, Shares, and Followers
I met Mike Corey, who runs the adventure travel site Kick the Grind. He was taught to not spend time responding to emails and DMs from his followers.
(He said this after a session by Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness, who gave him permission to get into those DMs and respond.)
Here’s why I disagree with that:
We produce free content because we want to find people who share our worldview. We don’t want fame, adoration, or even to make a ton of money.
We want the connection. We want that connection with other people who are like us.
Why would you not respond to those DMs?
You would ignore them if you’re not trying to build a community. If you’re not interested in surrounding yourself with a tribe of like-minded people.
Anything you ever do related to marketing only needs to pass one question:
Will this help my tribe find me?
So yes, you should be answering your emails and your Instagram DMs. You should be posting on your personal Facebook page, hosting meetups, running ads, and investing in SEO. These things help your tribe find you.
If you truly believe you do life-changing work, then you have an obligation to create a tribe and get in front of them.
Lesson #11: What I Learned from Nutella
While at TravelCon, I met a blogger who is a marketing genius.
Her name is Gloria (Glo) Atanmo and she runs The Blog Abroad.
(The blog name is why I’m declaring her a genius. Obv.)
A few weeks ago I sent my email list a lesson about The Log Lady from David Lynch’s cult hit Twin Peaks.
I talked about how The Log Lady was the embodiment of the show’s you-get-it-or-you-don’t factor.
(If you got it? Twin Peaks was made for you. Also, let’s be friends? She’s my favorite thing ever.)
Glo created her own Log Lady…sort of.
The Blog Abroad readers know Glo is a tiny bit obsessed with Nutella.
If you search her website for mentions of “nutella” you get 90 results.
I thought of her as the “Nutella girl” three years after reading this post about money-saving apps.
Because here’s the thing:
Glo made her brand very obvious.
She writes her blog for other black solo female budget (aspiring) travelers. That’s her tribe.
She ties Nutella into everything on her site. Sure, it’s a runaway punchline at this point, but it works.
How did she bring Nutella into a post about money-saving travel apps? She said to stop sending her Nutella in the mail. Instead, send her $5 using one of those apps so she can buy Nutella where she is in the world.
(And I said, girl, send me your Venmo.)
Do you want to know how you can telegraph to someone what you made is for them?
Find your you-get-it-or-you-don’t factor.
Lesson #12: Relationships > Platforms
Thursday night of TravelCon we had six hours of SPONSORED drinking.
SIX HOURS of SPONSORED, unadulterated alcohol consumption.
And lest you think this was a throwback to the glory days of college binge drinking, let me set you straight.
(Ugh, drinking in college. Vodka, we are never ever ever ever getting back together.)
We drank just enough to get chatty. And I think this was a genius move.
But that’s because Matt and his partners understand the importance of networking. Matt created TravelCon to make the community he wanted from other travel industry events. He wanted people mixing around the room (or bar) and meeting each other.
This isn’t anything revolutionary; the old adage “it’s who you know” has been around the block a few times.
Meeting people isn’t difficult.
You know what is difficult?
Maintaining that relationship.
…especially in a genuine way.
In the age of social media, it’s becoming easier and easier to “connect” with people.
It’s also becoming easier to wandering into an algorithm-constructed echo chamber.
…but you can also use the algorithm to your advantage. ENGAGE with these people. Teach them how to engage with you (leave thoughtful comments, people). Teach the algorithm this is a person you want to engage with.
Another trip I use—
Get on their email list.
Now, I know that joining 30-40+ email lists in a single week is not for the faint of heart.
And you don’t even have to open and read every single email. (Don’t tell them I said that, though.)
But you should, periodically, open their emails and respond.
Interact with them the way you want them to interact with you.
That’s how you nurture that relationship.
Lesson #13: Two Ways to Stand Out from the Crowd
This epiphany was spurred by a session I attended with a few publication editors.
One of the editors was talking about how everyone is pitching him articles about Tbilisi and wine.
And he said some places feel sort of…”done.”
One of my friends told me the other day—Tulum was so 2015.
And while I don’t necessarily condone this line of thinking…
…it opens two doorways for you as someone who wants to create things and spread the world.
First, you could go to those “done” places and do something new. That’s worth talking about. You’re essentially a modern-day flâneur, rediscovering all the overlooked, forgotten stories in a city.
(Go to Tbilisi and don’t pitch an article about the wine. Woah.)
Second, you could go somewhere people aren’t going.
The other night I was browsing Google Flights…
(Do I need a better hobby? No. Don’t hate.)
…and I noticed a $190 plane ticket to Frankfurt from Dallas, TX.
And I thought, “that’s interesting.” I know Frankfurt is a hub, but I don’t recall hearing anyone actually talk about Frankfurt.
There are tons of places like this.
Visit Valencia instead of Barcelona. Göteborg instead of Stockholm. Toulouse instead of Paris. Querétaro instead of Cancún. Natal instead of Rio de Janeiro. Kaohsiung instead of Taipei. Bari instead of Rome. Córdoba instead of Buenos Aires. Cork instead of Dublin. Odessa instead of Kiev. Nagpur instead of New Delhi or Jaipur.
(You get the idea.)
Heck, I met someone at TravelCon who had just gotten back from Kazakhstan.
My point is this:
You always have two choices. You can go where everybody’s already going and do something different, or you can go someplace entirely new.
Marie Forleo says the best way to stand out from the crowd is to zig when everyone else is zagging.
Lesson #14: Report Back on the Human World
Rolf Potts, a travel writer and author of Vagabonding, said this while talking about travel writing, but I think, as marketers—as people who tell stories—”report back on the human world” is an important reminder of what we should be doing.
At the end of the day, we’re interested in people.
The art we create.
The causes we care for.
The issues we struggle with.
Think of the story you’re telling with your brand…
(Even if you’re focusing on the SEO, think…why this post? What is this post saying about your brand?)
…what does it say about the human world?
I think about the classics—1984, Pride & Prejudice, Les Misérables. They all have something to say about the human world.
What does your business have to say?
How can you use your content and messaging to report back on the human world?
Lesson #15: Be Friendly, Meet People, and Talk to Everyone
The very first day of the conference I picked a seat front and center for Ryan Holiday’s talk. There were a few empty chairs at our table and plenty of people doing that awkward I-don’t-know-anyone-in-the-room look, so I waved someone down and she sat next to me.
Her name is Sylvie and she runs a travel blog called Food Surf Sun.
The last night of the conference I ran into Sylvie and she was like, “we’re going to see the bats. Want to come?”
…and I was like, “excuse me? Bats?”
Right. Bats in Austin are a thing. I had totally forgotten.
She was with two other people and introduced me to them. I would not have met them otherwise.
(This shouldn’t be news to you.)
But it’s hard to meet people unless you’ve already met people.
If you want to find your tribe, make the change you want to make, and meet the people who believe in the vision you have for the world, then you need to get good at meeting new people.
Unlearn stranger danger. Invite the lost-looking person to sit with you.
You just might get to see something cool.
Conclusion: Implement one of these marketing lessons
Now I’d like to hear from you:
Which shift from today’s post are you going to make first?
Or maybe you attended TravelCon (hello there!) or heard one of these speakers in another context and I didn’t mention a marketing lesson you learned.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.