The Grand Internet Business Idea that Didn’t Succeed

  • August 31, 2011 by Corbett Barr
  • 31 Comments

I’ve seen a variation of a very similar story play out online for dozens (perhaps hundreds) of people over the past two years.

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

Let’s use a fictitous person named Fred to illustrate the story.

Here’s what happens to Fred.

  1. Fred hates his job. He does something for a living he doesn’t care about and feels like he’s not following his dreams. He feels like he dies a little inside every time he shows up at work. One day, he’s had too muchand decides he’s going to find a way out.
  2. Fred has an epiphany. He reads about how some lucky SOB is making a gazillion dollars online and only works 4 hours a week.
  3. “Why can’t I do something like that?” Fred thinks to himself. “It sounds so simple.”
  4. Fred does one of two things:
  5. A) Fred starts a blog about how he wants to quit his job in 6 months, and how he’s going to do it by making money online.

    or, B) Fred learns about “Internet Marketing” and starts jumping from one “proven formula” to the next for making money online. He hopes his “job problem” will be a thing of the past within six months.

  6. Fred doesn’t reach his six month goal of earning enough to quit his day job. At this point Fred either repeats step 3 (with a new formula for instant success), or he gives up on making money online and starts looking into something else like trading penny stocks or flipping real estate or maybe just getting a different job.

Where did Fred go wrong?

  1. Like many people, Fred doesn’t like his current job.
  2. Unfortunately, hating your job might be enough motivator to get you to think about entrepreneurship, but it definitely isn’t enough to make you successful.

    Fred’s motivations are incomplete. Starting a business is always partly about you, but it also has to be about the people your business will serve.

    We’re not necessarily already on the wrong foot here, but things usually go one of two ways from this point.

    Either the entrepreneur starts thinking about how to help other people with a business idea, or he continues to think only about how his business can help himself. The former leads to success, the latter leads to step #2.

  3. You can’t fault Fred for being seduced by the idea of working from home while drinking a beer and wearing a bathrobe (what could be more glamorous?).You can’t fault Fred for being seduced by the idea of a four-hour workweek either. Who wouldn’t want to travel the world while working one afternoon per week?
  4. The problem is, Fred’s expectations aren’t rational. The four-hour workweek concept isn’t what he thinks it is. How on earth could anyone become good enough to earn a living from something he’s never done before in just four hours a week?

    Don’t take everything you read at face value.

  5. Fred is now looking for a quick fix. His expectations are that anyone should be able to build an online business in six months.
  6. He starts looking around online and turns either to blogging or Internet marketing as his savior.

    A) In the blogging version of this scenario, Fred’s attempt is too self-centered to succeed. The fact that you want to leave your job in six months isn’t enough to build a blog around.

    If you want to build an audience around your blog, you have to solve pressing problems or fulfill burning desires. Fred’s blog is all about him, when it should be all about his readers. It’s like that asshole at a party who just talks about himself.

    Sure, you should talk about yourself on your site, but the main focus has to be on how you can help or entertain your visitors.

    Also, your idea has to be unique from what other websites are already doing. There are a million and one of those “I’m going to quit my job in six months by learning Internet marketing” blogs out there, and I have yet to see one succeed. Not one.

    The concept doesn’t work because it’s too self-centered.

    B) In the Internet marketing version of this story, Fred becomes obsessed with figuring out what the “secret strategy” is to making it online.

    Is it building an email list? Creating a membership site? Learning Facebook advertising? Starting a video blog?

    Fred is putting the cart before the horse here.

    The only secret about building a successful online business is this: you have to give people what they want or need. That’s it. Creating value has to come first.

    Yes, tactics and strategies are important, but they shouldn’t come first. If you don’t create insanely useful or entertaining content or products for your customers, everything else is a waste of time.

Things don’t have to be so hopeless for Fred

In step 4 of this scenario, Fred either gives up or repeats the cycle. Some people in Fred’s position will work hard enough to eventually figure things out, but most won’t.

Some people know that failures are the building blocks of success. With the right expectations, you’ll win the war even if you don’t win every battle.

This scenario happened because of Fred’s:

  • misguided motivations
  • irrational expectations
  • self-centered attempt at creating a business

By changing just one of those components, Fred’s entire experience could have been different. By changing all three, I believe Fred has a very high chance of success.

What about you?

Have you seen this scenario played out online? Have you been guilty yourself of following part of this plan?

Where do you think Fred went wrong?

Over at my other site Think Traffic, we’re kicking off a big ambitious new project this week that you might be interested in.

Here’s how it’s going to work: we’re going to build a profitable blog (on a topic not related to making money online) and show you exactly how we do it, live, from the very beginning.

It’s completely free to follow along, and you can create your own blog as part of the project. Check out the Million Dollar Blog Project.

I’d love you to join us.

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


Think Traffic is now The Sparkline. Click here to check it out.

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Michael Said August 31, 2011 at 2:59 am

Nice post Corbett. Sadly many of the scam artists out there need to take the blame for all the “Freds” out there. It is very easy to become obsessed with earning millions overnight when that is all one is fed on a daily basis.

Wilson August 31, 2011 at 4:31 pm

I sorta dissagree with you. Yes there are people out there selling the dream…”make $10,874 online with the click of a button” whatever.

But most of it is his fault. He went in thinking about making a ton of money, not thinking what can I create that people think is valuable and will pay money for.

Poor Fred…wish he knew about Corbett or Pat Flynn, things would’ve been a lot different.

Chris Stott August 31, 2011 at 3:08 am

I see some of myself in this post, however I never went down the route of blogging about internet marketing per se.

The problem is, and I’ve seen this in myself, is that many people get guru envy. And why not? The people who are preaching the lifestyle are the people that those in dead end jobs idolize. It’s a human nature thing to want to follow suit.

I think that Fred probably went wrong by changing to every shiny new object that came along. I’ve been online in various guises for quite a while now and the people who are killing it now are the ones who have stuck at it and built something amazing.

Also Fred probably spent too much time consuming and not enough time creating. In my opinion the only two things that you should focus on to be successful in your ventures is creating amazing value and awesome connections.

Great post Corbett! Nice reminder.

hyyvon August 31, 2011 at 3:10 am

Hi Corbett

I know a lot of Freds… I’ve been there done that too.

Most people just can’t help but to think they are going to make it big it overnight. But, it’s not how it works, there’s no shortcuts.

Keep up good work !
Cheers from France

Maarten August 31, 2011 at 3:39 am

I agree that there are a lot of scam artists online. But the fact that there are a lot of people online who claim internet marketing and 4 hour workweeks are easily accessible doesn’t change the problem within Fred himself. His focus is not on living his dreams or doing what he loves. He probably doesn’t even know what his dreams or ambitions are. And thus he has nothing interesting to put on the table.

Changing his way of earning money wouldn’t make him a happy person. In the case of Fred I’d say the first step is to find what his ambitions are. What things get him excited and energized.

The 3 reason for why his blog (and he himself) fails are in my opinion the right ones. Who would wanna read a story about a guy who doesn’t like what he does and who’s only goal it is to make money (probably openly discussing that his readers (you) are the ones helping him earn money in the end). There is no benefit for the readers in his blog.

It’s a sad story.

Natalie Sisson August 31, 2011 at 4:55 am

Yep have to agree with Maarten on this. You need to discern between online entrepreneurs and internet marketers with integrity who can back up their success as opposed to well thought out landing pages that promise and don’t deliver. And yes Corbett I was pretty much following this path when I quit my job/ business continued on with my passion (my blog) but i knew it was never all about me – it was all about them – my tribe. They’re the ones who’ve kept me going in earlier times when 6 months down the track I was wondering what I’d done!

I think getting people to read Carol Roth’s book the Entrepreneur Equation before they quit that job would be a great start – some people aren’t cut out to be business owners (online or offline)

Sarah Russell August 31, 2011 at 6:16 am

There are definitely people out there whose businesses revolve around making false promises and ripping people off, but I don’t think that totally excuses our personal responsibility to investigate ideas thoroughly before pursuing them (especially when there are big chunks of money changing hands).

Instead, I think the bigger issue is that, although our culture encourages it, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur (which is fine – there’s no shame in not having the particular skill set that leads to success in that arena). Working for yourself has its own set of challenges and it sounds like Fred isn’t trying to pursue this lifestyle because it’s a good fit for him, but because he’s anxious to escape his current situation.

Maybe what he needs isn’t his own company, but a different job :)

Barbara August 31, 2011 at 7:15 am

The spectre of becoming a Fred has haunted me over the past eight months since I decided something had to change. I didn’t hate my job, I hated being away from the baby. I wanted a four-hour work week but couldn’t see how to do it. I investigated affiliate marketing and other online money-making models and thought spending my days doing that would be harder to endure than going to work.
I started a blog, which is pretty much about me. But I try to make it entertaining, because people seem to want to be entertained. (Geez, this comment seems to be all about me, too, which wasn’t my intention.)
But, while I’ve run down many dead-end passages, I have made some progress. On Friday I quit my job and at the end of September we’re flying to Thailand so I can try to build a location independent business. It will take up more than four hours of my week, it won’t make millions but I think it will be enjoyable and it will give me much more time to hang out with my very funny little daughter, who turns two in November. Oh, and I have two clients lined up, so I won’t have to do too much chasing around begging for projects.
So, maybe I was a Fred and I just kept plugging away. Perhaps I am a Fred-with-a-passport. Perhaps I will become a Fred-who-travels. Perhaps the moral of the story is that it’s too hot for bathrobes in Thailand, so I will never be a Fred.
Jokes aside, the aim is to be a happier person with a happier family.

Janet August 31, 2011 at 9:28 am

i’m definitely finding myself more guilty than not :/

i started blogging 10 years ago before it was even called ‘blogs’ and was more of personal journals. it’s changed a LOT since then and it’s been hard to transition myself in this new phase of being relevant, giving readers value, etc. i am a newly self-employed and not really making much money while living in third world conditions in the Philippines. I quit my job in November 2009 and took a career break for a year but now its time to make money again.. I find myself mostly talking about my process to try to craft a ‘rags to riches’ tale. I’d love to help others along the way, perhaps more people who are unemployed, 99ers, etc. but I am not an ‘expert’ because I’m just figuring it out as I go along as well! I just realized a couple days ago from another blog that blogging about trying to ‘make it’ is probably not going to get you anywhere because of the self-centered nature of it and also because you’re not establishing yourself as an expert. So, back to the drawing board for me as I figure out HOW to focus my blog! Since I’m trying to make a web design business, I guess that’s a good clue..

Joan August 31, 2011 at 9:42 am

VERY good post. Gave me a lot to think about.
As an aside – will you be adding Google +1 buttons to this blog at any point soon? I was looking forward to immediately “plusing” this!

Corbett September 1, 2011 at 1:49 am

Thanks Joan! I just added the +1 button, thanks for the reminder.

Sal Greco | Surfer Lifestyle August 31, 2011 at 9:50 am

Poor Fred…

I was thinking about this yesterday, when trying to describe to someone about starting an online business.

It is NOT a game. It isn’t something that you can just “learn how to manipulate” and your computer starts throwing money at you.

First things FIRST…

It is a BUSINESS that WORKS online… You made that great point, and in business the first thing you need are CUSTOMERS. So…

How are you going to help people?

How can you help them online?

THEN… when you have a business running, and the web can facilitate it with ease… do you have a successful, sustaining online “marketing” job.

GREAT enthusiasm here. Loving the insights!

Surfs up,

Jeffrey Trull August 31, 2011 at 9:55 am

I feel like this is more or less how 99% of blogs start now. Maybe that percentage is a bit high, but it’s definitely the majority. I’ll admit to guilt in following some of this plan due to my own ignorance.

I think Fred’s biggest problem is that it’s extremely difficult to supplant the income from a full-time job with an internet marketing income within the first 6 months. People have done it, but they are definitely the exception rather than the rule.

Doug August 31, 2011 at 10:14 am

I can’t think of anything more glamorous than working from home while drinking a beer and wearing a bathrobe. Sexy. I’m going to go grab a beer right now!

Brad - Minimal Moose August 31, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I have definitely been down that road myself. I’m actually still on it.

It took a lot of time and reading to figure out what I was doing wrong. I’m glad I found your blogs awhile back, because I’ve learned a lot and I would like to think that I’m headed in the right direction.

Cheers!

Hugh August 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm

I’ve been there and realized my mistake a few months back. Working hard to make amends.

Jason B. August 31, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Totally agree on your point about helping others. Content is king, and always will be when it comes to internet business. Otherwise, people have no reason to spend time with you (via your http).

–> Oh, and here’s another vote for a Google+ button on your posts. :)

Briana Myricks August 31, 2011 at 3:13 pm

I could’ve been Fred. I was almost Fred. There’s still a possibility that I can become Fred. I didn’t hate my job but I definitely hated the commute. I made it a goal to figure out either A) How to convince my job that I could work from home, or B) Become a consultant for my job and add some more clients to my list. I had a blog that was about what I did (social media & Internet marketing) and was learning the ins and outs everyday. Then I got laid off.

Right before I got laid off, I started a personal blog. Not about how I was going to make it, but just about my journey to doing whatever it was I was doing. An entertainment blog. I’m also learning exactly how to build an online business (service the people, not yourself).

I think there’s a bit of Fred inside of all of us. It’s hard not to be Fred when you’re constantly bombarded with people who swear they make all this money with so little time. I read 4 Hour Workweek and knew it wouldn’t be easy. I’m reading Think and Grow Rich and know it’ll take longer than 6 months. I just have to keep trying, and so do the rest of the Freds out there.

Bill August 31, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I am posting this comment in my bathrobe while drinking a beer. I think I may be an entrepreneur!

Ben August 31, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Wow! That is how you grab your readers attention. Everyone loves a story they can relate to. Once again, thanks for awesome content.

Ana | Internet Marketing Tools September 4, 2011 at 10:13 am

When the decision is not too self-centered, you will give your readers more value and that is when you really succeed. That is the lesson that’s missing in many aggressive sales training seminars. In the end it is not so much about finding the right niche or the selling the right stuff, but it’s about building relationships and people don’t want to build relationships with people who sell 100% of the time.

Corbett September 5, 2011 at 3:49 am

Absolutely Ana, people know when they’re being sold to. Sales pitches are much more acceptable coming from someone who you know cares about you and who has shown that by helping you repeatedly.

Dane September 4, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Great post. It’s tough not to fall into these traps. But when you learn these lessens you can really make it.

Wade | Freelance Writer September 5, 2011 at 12:15 pm

While convention tells us that there are no shortcuts, I believe that making money online of off line should be much easier than it is. I think people should work together to see that money changes hands more freely.

Tim September 7, 2011 at 1:33 am

Hey Corbett,
Thanks for changing my name to Fred for this example!!! ;-)
After many false starts I feel like I’m getting there now and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
One plus side about researching and building authority sites is that I have found some new interests and areas of knowledge. It’s a bit like the “old-school” srtyle of going to evening classes to better oneself..
Thanks again for the advice and inspiration,

Tim

Jeff - Digital Nomad Journey September 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm

“Fred’s”, time frames were completely unrealistic. It can take most IM newbies 6+ month or even years, just to deal with the paradox of information overload, hoping on the next “automated income while you sleep extravaganza” big thing.

Other than providing value by filling a need, the most important thing I’ve learned in 7 years of running online business, is:

1. take consistent action everyday
2. Find a mentor, and save yourself years of wasted time or money.

It’s not hard to feel for Fred. Those long letter sales pages are salivating and very convincing. Just another $19.95, how can it hurt? lol.

Peter September 26, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Fred needs to either change his message into something more personal and private that readers can connect with, or simply follow something that he’s passionate about and the rest will come. Sadly, I think a lot of blogs think they can follow the WordPress Path to Retirement but it’s just not realistic (and infinitely boring). Write/speak from the heart and we can all only hope to not turn into “Fred”.

Michelle October 18, 2011 at 11:13 pm

I am Fred :-/

Elli August 31, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Yeah, Wilsom, but *why* did he go in thinking about making a ton of money vs. creating something valuable for his potential customers?

Because the scam artists and Make Money In Your Underwear people very rarely talk very much about those things. Fred didn’t want to work at home in his underwear; Fred wanted *not to work at all*.

Problem is: if you tell the truth…that you’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked for an employer, for longer hours, in a mostly-isolated environment that will leave you with a coffee addiction and bags under your eyes the size of Toledo, before you ever see a CENT of that money, and if you’re lucky and continue to work hard, you may well finally get to see a return that equals your day job, and after THAT may get to a point where you can possibly do something else….

…well, that wouldn’t sell all that many copies, I’d wager. Fred wouldn’t have been interested. Fred, I would think, would settle back into his cubicle and rearrange his pen collection and surf the net for new sudoku puzzles for his breaktime.
:D

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