Justin Cooke

August 16, 2012

Everyone wants the “automated” business…the idea of trotting off to some exotic location while getting paid or making money while you sleep. Who doesn’t want that, right?

Maybe it was the “4-Hour Workweek” and Tim’s idea of a muse business or Chris Guillebeau’s “The $100 Startup” that comes to mind when you think of automated income or “cambodia cash“.

Unfortunately…most find that it’s not as easy as it sounds. There’s NEVER a specific method or formula that will always get you there. (I don’t care HOW many ebooks promise otherwise) If it was that easy…everyone would be doing it, right?

Still, it isn’t a total pipe dream…plenty of others have done it successfully.

So…the odds are against us, but we know it IS possible and it’s something all most of us want, right? How can we improve those odds? Push them closer to our favor?

Stop being anonymous and start being authentic! – Click Here To Tweet This!

Authenticity and anonymity don’t mix well. Sure, you CAN share openly and honestly under a fake name, fake Facebook/LinkedIn profile, etc…but there’s an automatic distrust that comes along with that type of trickery. It may also prove difficult to maintain that honesty when things are NOT going as well. Sure, it’s easy to be open, public, and honest when things are going great…but what about when you make mistakes? What about when you screw things up? Being anonymous can make the temptation to fudge things that much stronger and that much more difficult to resist.

Playing RouletteHow Authenticity Is A Multiplier

I’m a bit of a whore at the Roulette wheel. (I know, I know…Craps and Pai Gow would be way better games to blow my money on…not to mention poker…but stick with me a minute!)

For those unfamiliar with the game, there are 38 colored numbers. (18 are black, 18 are red, and 2 are green) You can bet on black or red, the dealer will spin the ball, and the color it lands on wins. If you bet on black or red, you’ll double your bet approximately 47% of the time. On average (and over a long period of time) you’ll lose your money due to a “house edge” of approximately 5%.

It’s not a great game for the player…but what if instead of instead of winning 100% of your bet, you were able to win 120% with a bet on black or red? 150%? I’d be spending A LOT of time at the casino!  Those small improvements to the winnings (20%, 50%, etc.) would tip the game in your favor!

Well…those are the EXACT types of improvements you can realize in business through being real, open, and authentic with your customers, partners, and audience. Wonder why we’re often sold out of sites? Why we get multiples others don’t usually get on Flippa?

Consider This:

  • We respond to almost EVERY comment, email, and tweet
  • We link to our (real) LinkedIn profiles in our Flippa auctions
  • We share our successes and our failures in income reports, blog posts, etc.
  • We meet up in “real” life with readers, listeners, and customers…many of whom we would now consider friends!

The Results?

  • Our sites often sell for twice as much as other niche AdSense sites (Ok…not related to authenticity only…but it’s our authenticity that lends a voice to the legitimacy and quality of our sites as opposed to so many other sellers)
  • We’re often “out of stock” on our BuyOurSites page
  • We’ve made some amazing connections and deals with people who’ve reached out to us via email, Twitter, etc.
  • We’re taken seriously when we reach out to others for interviews, advice, etc.

Please don’t get me wrong here…having a good idea, a valuable product, positioning your brand and your business, determining the right niche, executing successfully on your idea, etc…these are still critical to having a successful business. What I’m trying to point out is this:

Authenticity can expand an established business and determine success/failure for high-value projects. Click To Tweet!

Value Of AuthenticityActual Monetary Value

“Ah…well I don’t sell niche sites so this doesn’t apply” you might be thinking. How might this apply to YOUR business? Consider what the following might do for you:

  • An XX% cut in your refund/return rates on your info product, ebook, training program, or affiliate sales.
  • Recurring customers staying an additional X months, adding XX% to the Life Time Value of a customer.
  • A price increase of XX% without a drop in sales
  • A XX% increase in email subscribers, their purchase rates, or keeping them on your list X more months, on average

The best part? These gains aren’t mutually exclusive. Seeing an increase across the board could skyrocket the value of your business and/or cross the threshold between failure and success on a particular project.

Another Real-Life Example

Joe and I are both involved in an online membership group. There was a recent discussion on Quora from someone asking whether it’s worthwhile…worth the membership fee. It’s a legitimate question, of course. I think Brittany was right in her questioning some of the replies…but you’ll notice from the other members that joined in they’re almost scoffing at the OP for asking. It’s not that they meant to be rude…it’s just that, from the inside, it seems silly.

We’ve traveled SE Asia to hang out with some of the other members, had some of them stop by Davao to spend a few days with us, become online and “real life” friends, and have collaborated or given/taken advice on multiple projects. Price of admission? $97 every three months.

The truth is we could probably be members for free if we asked…but we WANT to pay. We’re HAPPY to pay. We feel like we’re getting away with something and should be paying MORE. How long will we continue to be paying members? Well forever forever’s a pretty long time, but I can’t see why we would leave.

Do your members or recurring customers feel that way? Are you wondering how you can get them to stick around an extra 2 or 3 months? Wondering if people would still sign up if you raised your prices?

The way to see those kinds of gains is to provide real value and make real connections…and it all starts with being authentic.

Is Authenticity Required?

Being authentic isn’t necessarily required for a business to be successful, but it sure as shit helps.

Consider our outsourcing company, TryBPO. We’ve put some pretty lame/horrible content on the site, have a more “corporate” feel and we were STILL able to make the business a success. (Mostly due to outsourcing as an emerging industry, leveraging our connections and our USP of having Americans on the ground here in the Philippines)

Still…how much MORE successful would we have been if we would have been real…if we would have been authentic? Consider Chris Ducker and his Virtual Business Lifestyle (VBL) brand. Sure, he’s had a few years on us to grow his business…but he’s positioned himself as THE authority for outsourcing to the Philippines and has been KILLING IT in recent years.

Cambodia CashIsn’t being accessible the OPPOSITE of “Cambodia Cash”?

Probably…making real connections with people can take a ton of time, effort, and energy. It takes time to respond to individual emails, money to fly around the world to meet up with people, etc. Whenever I start to whine/bitch/moan about it I think about Gary V individually replying to everyone, Mark Cuban sitting at his desk emailing people back, and Derek Sivers sending his personal email out over Twitter…who the hell am I to complain?

Oh, and let’s not forget about the grandfather of lifestyle design, Tim Ferriss. You may not get much more than an auto-responder email back if you email him today, but don’t forget about him hustling his ASS off for years on his businesses or flying around like a madman to make connections that would help him sell his book. 4-Hour Workweek, indeed… :-)

But I run a “professional” business…

Alright, so maybe you can’t totally let loose in every aspect. Still…you can probably get away with (and appreciated for) a lot more than you think.  Check out the email sent out when you purchase from CD Baby or the email I got when I signed up for Shopify:

 

Email From Shopify

Almost a year and I’m STILL showing this off!

Sometimes it’s really just the little things and putting yourself out there that can make all the difference!

Wrapping It Up

I have quite a bit more to say about being authentic including how to apply this to your business, how to spot those who are faking it, etc. but I thought it better to make this point first and hear your feedback!

Credit for the title and inspiration for the idea goes to Derek Sivers and his post on ideas as a multiplier of execution. (If you haven’t read that post, I HIGHLY recommend clicking through to check it out…really good stuff there!)

Now…over to you! What are your thoughts on authenticity? Is it a valuable business philosophy or a cheap marketing trick? How could YOU be more authentic in your approach to business, online or otherwise? Let us know in the comments below or give us a shout on Twitter!


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Discussion
Leave a comment
  1. […] Authenticity As A Multiplier – 1,605 […]

  2. Frank says:

    Great Post Guys! I love listening to you guys and your personality shines through.
    I just started my own blog and I’m hoping to connect to people as well as you guys do.

    Frank
    http://www.iblogJuicing.com

  3. Yasu Tano says:

    You definitely hit the nail on the head in terms of utilizing authenticity and providing a real “face” to a business. Obviously, as some pointed out this will not be able to scale in all businesses–but for most of us its relatively easy implement.

    I certainly have seen a difference when I shifted from running anonymous blogs to adding a identity just in the increased amounts of social sharing, commenting, and not to mention monetary terms.

  4. Ryan mclean says:

    Quick question for you which I also asked Trent at Online Income Lab
    ,

    I have an authority site that I want to take from 100 visitors per
    day to 1,000 visitors per day in search traffic (which should achieve my initial income
    goals). I have a bunch of ‘long tail’ keywords I am going after (less
    than 1,000 searches). But because I am in the real estate niche
    competition appears to be decent.

    My question is what approach would you recommend I take

    1) Punch out lots of articles on the cheap (eg. Textbroker 3 stars) and get as many long tail articles up as possible

    2) Go a slower route and higher quality content writers (will be
    slower as I have limited capital) and write some myself with the goal to
    have the best article for every term?

    Any feedback will be appreciated.

  5. DylanC says:

    Great job on the article. Keep it real :)

  6. Sheyi says:

    Let me just say little things that counts.

    Husstle real time and the success will come in due time. Its 5:10am here in Nigeria. I’m about to take a short sleep and I decided to read this.

    Now, Justin, the sleep just left. After seeing your link about Tim’s hustles.

    You see, this is more of a personal development post and you are not just saying it, you’re living it.

    Thanks for showing me love on my book as well. You rock… hey Joe!

    Sheyi

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Thanks for the comment, Sheyi!

      Yeah, Tim was HUSTLING to get his book out there…to hit that critical mass that would push it viral.

  7. Dave Starr says:

    Nothing more important thna the people to people aspect. Having already met up with Joe and having one of my best friends online meet and vouch for Justin, I’d buy from them sight (or site, LoL) unseen.

    So many people think their being ‘cute’ with their mysterious anonymity, or more often with their coldness and downright rudeness and uncaring attitude. It doesn’t work, “men of mystery” ;-)

  8. Marcus says:

    This article covers a lot. Not just authenticity, but also transparency, responsiveness and trust.

    One of my favorite bloggers, The Blog Tyrant, wrote anonymously before finally unmasking himself. He did it as a marketing experiment. Anonymity can work for a deliberate purpose. In his case, the anonymity was a strategy to create mystery and interest.

    Google would be a lot more boring if it revealed exactly how its search algorithm
    worked. Apple wouldn’t have long lines of people waiting for its launches if they blogged about every step in product development. Mystery is part of their appeal.

    There’s also the question of whether your site is based on personality or brand? Can anyone name the current CEO of McDonalds or BMW? (Without Googling it, ha ha) Yet surely most of us recognize these companies. If your goal is to connect personally with your customers, then authenticity would be more important. If your products are the attraction, the focus should be on them instead.

    I’ll get back to blogging. Two of the biggest blogging empires are the Cheezburger Network (e.g. I Can Has Cheezburger, FAIL Blog) and Gawker Media (e.g. Lifehacker, Gizmodo). Outside of the tech world, most people would
    struggle to name Ben Huh or Nick Denton. Their websites are more famous than they are. This could be because those sites are focused on entertainment and news. The topic comes ahead of the personality. For how-to and informational websites, I definitely prefer to connect with an individual person instead of a no-name author on eHow.

    Maybe authenticity is more critical when you’re building your own products to sell? In the previous examples, those entrepreneurs are more about supervising than creating. If you’re buying music, it’s because you like the band or performer, not their record company.

    It could also depend on what stage your business is at? In the beginning, authenticity is more essential. Personalized service is how you can differentiate yourself from the big boys.

    When your company becomes established and seen as reliable,maybe less so. I don’t buy from Amazon necessarily because I like Jeff Bezos. I buy because I think Amazon is the e-commerce leader. For certain kinds of purchases, I’d prefer a big company with resources and logistics expertise.

    I once bought a lavalier (a.k.a. lapel) microphone from a small independent audio company run by one guy. He got busy with buying a new house, and it took forever for my microphone to get shipped. Sometimes the higher expectations can backfire. You expect better service from a small boutique than a big chain.

    Another issue is that it’s harder to scale the personal touch as your company grows. What if Steve Jobs wanted to autograph every Apple product? If he had, Apple would never be able to go into mass production. Would have been cool, though.

    Just offering more food for thought.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Marcus…really interesting points here.

      I should say that I REALLY like Ramsay/Blog Tyrant and his writing style. That being said, I was “meh” about his anonymity and his “big reveal”. It felt a little gimmicky to me…even though I know he’s a shit-hot blogger who writes interesting content. I think he might have been successful with it IN SPITE OF his anonymity…not because of it.

      The brand point was interesting and I think you’re right. Still…as I pointed out with CD Baby and Shopify…I think both of those companies showcase personality along with their brand…I think THAT would be the way to do it if the brand is your focus. (Check out @Voozahq on Twitter…loving those guys!)

      I think your Amazon/Steve Jobs point was legit…but this blog isn’t for those guys! :-) We’re non-VC, bootstrappy, hustling entrepreneurial gangstas. hehe

  9. Dennis says:

    Back in the time that I didn’t have much orders I took more time for my clients and when I asked for a review when they were happy with the results I got it 100% of the time.

    Nowadays it’s becoming more automatic, okay I still reply e-mails myself but it has gotten pretty automatic like: “thanks for your order, report will be send in x days” and when it got delivered like “Your order is complete I attached the report”. Sure with a bit more words but it comes down to that.

    Now if I ask people to leave a review in my sales threads the success rate is about 50%. So people definitely love the personal touch indeed. I should get that back cause it can lead to much more repeat business when you’re more concerned with your clients.

    Personally I see that others where I place orders care even much less, maybe I’m copying their behaviour which would be a terrible thing so this is a good post to think about / to do a reality check.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey, Dennis…thanks for sharing!

      Yeah…it’s easy to get “lazy” with your connections at times. That’s ESPECIALLY true if you’re still just ahead or right at the level of your competition. Still…that personal touch tends to get gains in your business that you might have never realized…the areas that are hard to quantify, heh.

  10. Claire Smith says:

    I love the post guys. I never considered being anything other than myself online, it’s just easier. People can take it or leave it, but when they see you are real I think they linger longer, and when you answer questions they have taken time to think about and write down for you, they keep coming back to ask more on other topics and it feels like a community.

    I love the human contact online, when the cash rolls in no matter what, daily, the highlights are dealing with others and helping them get going too. Makes it more fun and that’s what this should be or you may as well be working in a cubicle!

    I am really enjoying the posts, keep it up!
    Claire

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Thanks so much, Claire!

      Yeah, I’m always amazed at those that are even capable of lying on such a regular basis…how do you keep all of the BS straight in your head, lol.

      I think, though, that more people fall into the “I’d rather stay anonymous” camp rather than being outright scammers. I get that, but wanted to point out the serious benefits of putting yourself “out there”.

      • Claire Smith says:

        Justin, there is a quote we have in our family, my mum used to say, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”. You don’t have to remember the truth, it’s easy!

        I can understand people wanting to stay anonymous in a way, but everything is trackable really unless you want to go to extraordinary lengths and efforts to remain hidden.

        I like being able to point friends to my stuff (not Adsense articles though!) when they ask about what I am up to online, as many are starting to want to do IM themselves. If I was being really secretive online, I’d have to be secret with them too and wouldn’t be able to help them as directly.

    • Hi

      I cant decide if i like the chicken or the hat more :-)

      eye sight is getting worse i though it was a dog to start with..

  11. Love it Justin. This post kicks ass.

  12. HI

    “People buy from people”

    (they like/admire/trust/respect/thing offer a good deal/or their future wife’s father!)

    Most everything you do is open and appears genuine so kudos to you for that.

    I truly love that email from Brian @shoppify.. OMG what an awesome move..

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Totally true about “people buy from people”…no question.

      Yeah, LOVED that email from Brian…thought that was a really nice touch, hehe.

  13. I started reading y’all’s blog to learn more about niche sites, but I keep reading because of posts like this. Y’all are having success with niche sites right now and though I certainly hope it continues and grows, I think you’ll always be successful because you seem to have rock solid business/life/character fundamentals.

    As for authenticity, I can’t agree more. I think “Cambodia Cash” (I like that term too) is possible, but it’s the result of a lot of hard work over a long time. Once you already have credibility and chops, it’s a lot easier to put your brand on something and turn it into Cambodia Cash.

    My other take on that is, do you really want idleness long term? I’m not saying I don’t like to get out and take some time off. At least personally, I’m at my best when I’m active and engaged.

    That’s my $.02, though I liked yours a lot better.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Thanks, Taylor!

      We’re definitely thinking (hoping?) that applying some of the same principals and authenticity that we have to AdSense Flippers will work in some other niches we operate in, for sure. It’s not all “Cambodia cash” but that is the goal, eh?

      I definitely like/need to take breaks and get away. It’s nice to have a business that allows for this and doesn’t break down if I’m away for a few days or weeks, heh.

  14. Sud.L says:

    hi guys, do you have a plan to create a membership for this sort of creating hot nichesites? :D

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey there!

      I was always worried about a membership as I didn’t want to “hold back” on content because it was hidden behind a paywall or required access. (That…and we give away our exact process already in our niche site guide!)

      I’m less worried about that now and the idea of building a community around it is interesting. It may be something we do in the future…I’m really not sure to be honest!

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