On today’s podcast episode, I’m chatting with Charlie Gilkey. He’s back for a third time on the podcast. His experience in content creation and productivity is hard to beat, and I’ve even referred to him as the granddaddy of online business. I really respect his body of work and his thought process. We are chatting on this episode about the current state of online business and current trends, so let’s dive in.
How Has Online Business Changed Since 2006
Charlie has been doing this work since 2006, so he has more experience than I do. I started creating online content in 2008, but it didn’t really become my job until 2014. It’s definitely my perception that things have dramatically changed and I wanted to talk about that more with Charlie.
When Charlie started out, MySpace was still a thing. It was all about trying to get people to subscribe to RSS, which is like an email list, but different. Blogger and WordPress felt like totally different platforms at the time. There were comments that led to conversations right on blogs. There wasn’t a ton of content repurposing like there is today with all the different social media channels.
I learned marketing because I wanted people to read what I wrote on my blog. Marketing was about relationships with people made through reading blogs, commenting, and participating in Facebook groups. I still have a lot of those initial relationships from when social media was actually social and meaningful. Now, things have changed.
Kevin Kelly talked about needing “1000 True Fans” to be a successful creator. These true fans are people that will buy anything you produce. If you can create enough to earn $100 per fan and you have 1000 true fans, you will earn $100,000 per year. But now, it’s all of a sudden not good enough to have 1000 fans, it’s all about how many likes did you get. It’s more about what Charlie calls “clout culture.” But the truth is, likes, emojis, hearts, and followers don’t put food on the table.
A Lack of Reciprocity is Real
Both Charlie and I can be a little hostile towards social media. Part of that is because we are grieving the relational piece that seems to be gone now. Today, content is published, and no one shares it anymore or comments on it. There’s a lack of reciprocity. Consumers feel entitled to this content even though they are getting it for free. It’s like the podcast, which is free for people to listen to, but it’s not free to make it.
Charlie explains that he will go months without hearing any positive feedback on anything, but as soon as there’s a slight delay in publishing something, people are emailing and asking questions. It feels wild that people feel entitled to something that is completely free to them, and they have never once been a paying customer. As a business owner, we have to focus on the things that feed our families and bring in revenue.
Are There Still Successful SEO Tactics?
It’s difficult for Charlie to quantify how much of his business has been built on relationships and how much comes from traffic marketing. One of the benefits of being in the business for so long is the fact that he has a lot of old content that Google loves because it has had a lot of traffic. He learned how to write information that people were searching for. Not the SEO hacks that people learn now, but real relevant content.
SEO is algorithmic. Charlie has built great habits of keeping the content fresh and relevant and that keeps his SEO performance strong over longer periods of time. These long-tail strategies are the only real leads that convert. Statistics show that 50-75% of your leads aren’t going to be a good fit, but the ones who are will be split into 15% buying now and 85% buying later. You can’t dump the 85%.
The problem now is that you’re competing with AI content. Search engines are going to answer people’s questions with AI content instead of directing them to a website. It will take content from multiple websites and piece together answers without sourcing anything. This is an area that we will need to continue to learn about and remain aware of.
Relationship Building is Still Essential
Charlie’s business started with some affiliate marketing and grew his business from there to include coaching and charging for those services. My coaching business started in a similar way with weekly blog posts and then beginning to charge for the coaching services. The fundamentals of that time are still relevant today, they have not really changed. Relationship building and creating solutions for people and building trust is still going to be a successful strategy.
So many marketing people are out there talking about how to grow your following and gain likes, but at the end of the day, that brand of marketing doesn’t always work for people. If you become an expert at social media and figuring out the algorithms, you still have to figure out where your money will come from. Traffic doesn’t equal revenue automatically, you need to have a strategy.
You Need More Than Just a Big Following on Social Media
It’s important to understand the physics of business. If you don’t have customers yet, you need to identify an audience that wants the solution that you are selling. You need to understand who people are currently buying that from, because there is definitely someone out there already selling your solution.
If there isn’t a competitor for your solution, you have an invention, not an innovation. That means that the marketplace doesn’t understand that this is a solution worth paying for. You need innovation. Once you have that, use the AIDA framework—awareness, interest, desire, action. The first two can happen with a social media account, but you need to focus on desire and action too if you want people to buy something.
Most of the value in business is in the back-end pipeline. These are the people who bought from and had a neutral or good experience, but you haven’t circled back with them yet. Instead of going out and looking for new customers, it’s essential to go back to the people that have already said yes and ask them what they want next.
Final Thoughts on the Shifts in Online Business
Whenever Charlie comes on, he helps me drive my usual points home. He confirms everything that I say and believe. Growth strategies today are hard to do successfully. A few years ago, you could spend a few thousand dollars and make that money back with new subscribers right away. Today, it’s way more difficult because people don’t want to buy work because it sounds like work. You can’t be a business owner if you don’t want to do work, even if some marketing campaigns make it sound possible.
Looking back, we both wish we had leveraged the tools more and feel like there were some missed opportunities. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20. But my mental health is intact, and my business is minimalist and sustainable. And it’s important to remember that the fundamentals still work. Even with AI and all the changing things in technology, there is an opportunity with the people in front of you.
Pre-order Charlie’s new book, Team Habits, which comes out on August 27th.