Actually Make Something

I come from a world of physical products, a world of wholesale and retail, and people offering up their hard earned money in exchange for a physical product. It’s a very different world from this one. It’s different from a world where our ideas, our words and our time might be all that’s needed to make a living.

There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding the realities of making a living solely from online advertising and how it’s creating a race to the bottom. Gabe over at Macdrifter made an excellent counterpoint, talking about how it’s truly a race to the top. I agree with his take and if you’re looking to make a living online, I strongly suggest that you read it. There are a ton of websites that are going to contradict me, but let me be blunt: there are very few people who will be able to sustain making a living solely by sharing their opinions on the internet and putting them next to ads. It’s going to be difficult no matter how they seek to make that living, no matter how important they, or even their audience, think those opinions are.

It often seems large, but those who make a full-time living writing for the web are the tiniest visible tip of the iceberg that is people writing on the web. And those who sustain that living for a lifetime… well, let’s just say that we should probably start a hall-of-fame for achieving that feat. It’s also rare that web-based writing alone will generate enough income regardless of how you “monetize”1. There are speaking gigs, book deals, consulting jobs, book tours, side projects, paid products. It’s a lot like a musician’s life. Seemingly awesome, these jobs are actually ton of hard, occasionally soul-crushing work.

I probably have no business talking about this considering I’m not looking to make my living from these words. This is a passion project and a regular attempt to sharpen my own pencil (while occasionally, hopefully helping others). All you really get here are opinions, experiences and occasionally a little bit of fact. No matter how good I get at serving those up, it’s unlikely that this will ever feed my family (although it may help keep the lights on and might even put some beer in the fridge).

Unless you are that rare anomaly, you’re going to have to do more. If you want to make a living doing this, you’re going to have to go one step farther. You’re going to have to make more than words, you’re actually going to have to make something. Actually, scratch that, you’re probably going to have to make a lot of things. Things that we want. Things that make it easy for us to help support you living and that enable you to sustain it.

The reality is, if you’re looking to make a living by typing words and posting them on a website, you’re going to be cobbling that living together for a while… you know, just like every other early-stage business owner out there. Encourage your readers to help, give them a reason to help support you, but if you really want this to be your livelihood you’re going to have to make something more than just your words alone. No matter how valuable they actually might be.


  1. Yes, I hate that word as much as the rest of you.  

14 Responses to Actually Make Something

  1. Michael, if being a writer is anything like being a musician, you are talking year long peaks and valleys.  Sometimes, life is good and other times, life is a couch at a friend’s house.  I no longer play that game, but remember it all too well.

    • Having never lived either life, I can’t quite say for sure, but it seems that the two are very similar. A lot of time away from home, a lot of sacrifice, it’s not an easy gig to be at the top and a lot of people would sure like to be there.

  2. Michael, your points are well made. As you know, I use my blog to help drive traffic to my site and connect with prospective clients for my consulting business. And it’s a lot of work to crank out blog posts, let alone try to figure how to “monetize” blogging. I give those bloggers, who have built successful online communities of people willing to purchase their products or pay a monthly fee, all the credit in the world.

    Every day new people enter the race to earn a living online and your advice for them to read about the realities is spot on.

  3. Great post.  Yes, you either have to use your content to establish thought leadership for consulting purposes, or you have to use it to build a base to sell a product.  Brian Clark at Copyblogger, for example, didn’t want to be a consultant a la Chris Brogan or Brian Solis, so he went in the direction of developing tools to sell.  

  4. Michael, great point.

    And it is spot on. If I had advice to someone starting online… whether a blog or whatever… my questions would be, “What are you going to sell?” 

    Start that now. You will have to build your platform before it pays off… but don’t wait to build a product.

    • It’s definitely sound advice for someone who knows they want to try, but do you think that’s most? Or do most find themselves with an audience and then need to figure out the rest?

      I also think there’s the flip side to your coin, which is “just decided you aren’t going to sell anything”.

      • Good questions. I think most set out with some sort of success goal. Whether that is to create a business or just to express themselves.

        I think that is an important issue… “What is your goal?” To make something for yourself? Others? You can always change your mind, of course.

        • Oh, I agree, I just think that the second group (those who just set out to express themselves) tend to change as they keep at it. There comes a point where you wonder if there’s something more you can do to it.

          I just wonder if all blog roads lead to either monetization or abandonment. But I’m probably just being skeptical.

  5. I know a lot of people doing affiliate marketing that mostly fit the description of what you’re talking about here. They use SEO to attract people to their sites and then seek to provide enough value in their words to move the visitor to purchase. With the updates Google has put into place over the past year and the deeper integration of social signals used as ranking factors these folks are having a much harder time.

    I foresee having this type of business becoming nearly impossible in the very near future.

    • Exactly. It isn’t quite the goldrush that it once was, but I still think there’s a living to be made here. People are just going to have to… you know… work for it.

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