Personal business lessons from 2015 and what you can learn from them

personal business lessons

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

The end is nigh for 2015, which has been an interesting year for the online world, to say the least. Blogging has been declared dead, before it was revived, after it has been dubbed micro-blogging, but before it was dead again.

Today, I want to share the most important personal business lessons from my online career in 2015. It’s my hope that you learn from them so you can (mentally) plan for a more successful 2016…

You don’t buy where your customers are

My cousin from the countryside recently visited me in Berlin. She told me how much she loved writing stories and complained how hard it was to find a traditional publisher. As a self-publisher myself, I told her how simple it is to sell digital books via online platforms like Amazon.

She just cocked her eyebrow and said, “But I don’t look for books online. I only browse through bookstores.”

Welcome to the kiddie bubble thinking. Along the lines of: “If I close my eyes, the world doesn’t see me, because I don’t see myself.”

It’s natural to only distribute content and products on platforms you love from your point of view, assuming your customer does the same, but you should really put your customer’s preferred platform over your own biased preferences. Since my customers are predominantly in the US, I want to use networks that North Americans prefer, like LinkedIn, even though the European-centric rival Xing is much better for the local biz networking here. An American wanting to do biz with Germans for example should first focus on Xing, even though their preferred platform was LinkedIn.

Another example: Snapchat is big for marketing to US kids, but it would flop devastatingly in Europe because most kids here haven’t even heard about it. I’m not a big user of Pinterest or book sharing sites, but since my reader audience likes to hang out there, I have to be there. On the other side, I luv Twitter, but it’s terrible for book marketing.

Lesson: Common advice says you should use your favorite social media platform and become a power user. 2015 has shown me this doesn’t work. Pick the platform your customer uses, and even if you hate it, learn how to use it. In this case, the means justify the end;)

Networking: keeping instead of katching.

I love networking, to me it’s a not a dirty word that requires a mouth wash every time I use it. But I’ve made a huuuge mistake when connecting with people over the years, and it’s the same mistake I see big corporations committing: focusing on acquisition instead of retention.

You see, it’s easy for me to approach people via email, Twitter or Facebook and jumpstart an online relationship quickie.

But just the other day, when I did an inventory of my Facebook and Twitter allies, I realized I hadn’t talked to some of them in YEARS, even though we shared good biz relationships.

Don’t ask me what happened—I want to blame the demons of time and distraction. But the truth is I’ve desperately focused on upping my follower’s list instead of concentrating on the connections I already had. Loss of relevance and biz deals guaranteed.

Lesson: Stop turning into an online networking machine that collects connections like Pokemon—Gotta Catch ’em All style. Do what others won’t–reconnect with valuable folks you haven’t talked to in a while for no other reason than to show that you’re still thinking about them.

That’s why I’ve created a boring but useful spreadsheet with people I care about and want to stay in contact with. I draw personal b-day and ‘thank you’ notes to let them know how much I value them.

Fear the fatigue and fight it

Who would have guessed that good ol’ Steven Spielberg was going to change the way I looked at my online biz?

In an interview, the legendary director once said that with all the DC and Marvel superhero movies flooding the theaters, there was going to be a superhero fatigue in the near future, resulting in subsiding ticket sales–independent of the movie’s quality.

That made me think.

I remember reading Problogger because it was THE blog on blogging back in the day, when, well, blogging was still the new kid on the block (see what I did there). Recently, I’ve accidentally checked out the site again (my fingers pulled the Harry Potter on me) and I realized it still sported the same design from 3-4 years. It had few to none comments, the same article styles from years ago, and worse, the site wasn’t even mobile-friendly in frigging ’15.

Suffice to say the site has drifted into irrelevance.

About 3-4 years ago, I myself was a ‘mere’ blogger, before I shifted to online illustration and then upgraded to self-publishing, although I do both now. I reinvented myself multiple times to keep the money flowing and to prevent stagnation, which I see to a lot of other online outlets happening. Mark Schaefer calls it the content shock.

Creating the same content and/or products, no matter how good in quality, will sooner or later cause a customer/reader fatigue because limited attention but high competition, which will lead to losses. Premium blogs like Copyblogger and Buffer were the kings of content creation, but even they reported a 50% loss of social media referral traffic over the last year, even though their content is still stellar.

My belief is that good blog posts are losing the fight against quick videos and podcast audio because there are simply too many high-quality blogs out there.

Lesson: Even if you’re the king of your domain, you must see the changing trends and ride them. I now focus on Facebook indie-book marketing which makes me a middle-aged dinosaur in 2016, because I overslept the last two years. Don’t let it happen to you.

Which brings me to the last point:

Become a futurist to survive (and thrive)

Too many peeps online, and that unfortunately includes me, read only ‘contemporary’ sites teaching us tips about the online present, like “How to do X marketing in 2015”.

That’s short-term thinking, and it reminds me of an often cited and cheesy quotation that I’ll have to use here because it’s just too damn fitting:

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
— Wayne Gretzky

For example, three years ago, I would have thought that blogs would exist for many, many years to come. All the usual suspects I’ve read prophesied a loooooon-lasting How 2 Make a Full-Time Living Blogging era, and I too, jumped on the hypertrain. I’ve wasted almost two years on blogging instead of creating more of my own services and products.

It’s too easy to get stuck in the current bubble. Gary Vaynerchuk is right when he says you always have to look for the long-term because it’s gonna eat the present.

Lesson: Read blogs like Wired, FastCompany and {grow} or subscribe to YouTube channels like Dnews (Discovery) where you learn more about upcoming tech impacting your (work) life. As digital citizens and soon to be cyborgs, we should all minor in futurism.


2015 has taught me tons, mostly to keep changing my approach, to always adapt and to look out for the long-term. What’s your top (online) warning lesson from 2015 that you want to implement in 2016?

mars dorian
Mars Dorian draws funky illustrations and pens sci-fi thrillers for the Internet Generation. His latest novel is available on Amazon for just $2.99! Consider his artwork for your next project:
Original illustration by the author.

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