5 Lessons from 5 Years of Online Business and Blogging

best lessons of online business

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

After surviving a week of German Christmas with my fammy, (think white wurst overload coated with sweet mustard, served with potato salad), I went back to my reclusive cave (aka studio), pondered the beginning of the new year, and reviewed my long internet journey. I’m not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions, because I rarely reach my ever-shifting goals, but I always review the past and see what I can learn from it. In the points below, I reveal the five major lessons that helped me build my online biz and network, failures included.

1. Long-term planning is useless.

I cringe every time some fellow online entrepreneur/blogger blabbers about 3 year to 5 year plans. Which dimension do they operate in? Long-term strategy is useless.

For most of us, foreseeing the future is as accurate as trying to hit a bullseye one kilometer away after downing a bottle of vodka. My initial goal of blogging was to make money off consulting and paid advertising, but now I’m almost exclusively living from freelance illustrations (that I offer on my blog). Not in a million millennia would I have seen that shift from blogging to digital drawing, but that’s where the digital journey took me, because I adapted to unforeseeable changes in the crazy internetz.

2. Network = net worth

In the first or two years of my blogging, I focused on publishing blogposts on a schedule. You know, the whole Monday and Thursday production schedule, not giving a frekk about those meatbags sitting on the other side of the screen (hint: I mean humans). Only when common sense dawned on me that the internet biz was all about interacting with people did my connection crusade begin. Nowadays, almost all of my interviews, consultation and illustration requests come from the word of mouth from my friends and peers.

  • Some US friend working at a startup in Chile introduces me to an interviewer and thus spreads my name recognition, check.
  • A German design friend establishes a consultation deal with a Bavarian organic food seller, check.
  • A Californian Indian connects me with a German in the UK and invites me to her blogger conference in Berlin, triple check.
  • The blogger and illustrator Hugh ‘Gapingvoid’ MacLeod said it best, your network is your retirement fund.

3. Contemplation never produces results.

Man, I regret the countless days sitting in Berlin hipster cafés with my peers, contemplating my next business steps.

All those ponderversations and crappochinos … really for nothing. Nowadays, I’ve tamed my thinking obsession (to a point) and constantly launch new art and books into the public and see how they perform. This often-repeated Army saying is true — no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Real-time feedback from clients is far more accurate than any worst-case scenario I’ve hallucinated about. What I think will happen almost never happens.

4. Describe yourself in one sentence. 

To niche, or not to niche, that is the question. Well, that used to be the question.

I do a lot of things and it got confusing. People could not describe what I do. That’s why I stripped away much of my writing and consulting to focus on creating and showcasing my artwork instead. When people introduce me at a party or to other folks, they usually say “He’s the artist guy who does these really cool illustrations,” which is usually followed by the question “Cool, can you show me some?”

On the other hand, when I try introducing people that do tons of different stuff, I stagger, because their USP isn’t clear. It’s also harder for them to get clients, because their general branding is so obtuse. Once you become known in your niche, you are tagged with the air of success, which firefuels your next venture.

5. Feedback is only valuable after they pay you.

Back in the early days, I used to ask peers and friends about different monetization ideas I had cooked up, questions like…

  • What do you think of this ebook idea?
  • Do you think people would pay money for that kind of artwork?
  • Would you pay for it?

The answer more often than not was a resounding “yes, sounds good, bro.” The problem is peers and friends don’t want to hurt you, so they say whatever they think makes you happy. I’ve created ebooks, T-shirts and artwork that apparently were cool but not cool enough for people to actually buy.

On the other hand, real clients who bought my products provide practical responses that are financially viable. Lessons learned.

Five years of the web seem like 50 years in offline experience. You blink and miss one new trendy network or app, but despite the fast pace of the web, if you keep crashing and burning, and you learn from it, you can create a marvelous biz and network.

What’s best lessons of online business and blogging you can share with me in the comment section?

Mars Dorian draws funky illustrations and pens sci-fi thrillers for the Internet Generation. His latest novel is a mix between Star Wars and Silicon Valley called Attack Planet
which you  can check out on Amazon for just $2.99! Consider his artwork for your next project: http://www.marsdorian.com
Original illustration by the author.

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