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10 Questions with Online Business Expert Pat Flynn

Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income is not only one of the most popular business bloggers and podcasters online, he’s also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Don’t let that fool you. Behind that winning smile and unwavering commitment to his family and friends lies a brilliant marketing mind that has once and for all proven wrong the age-old adage.

Sometimes, nice guys finish first.

He has built an incredible following online, with tens of thousands subscribers, fans, and followers, all eager to learn his secrets about generating passive income. As with everyone we profile, Pat “did” before he “taught.” As you’ll read below, his success came not through books or opinion but through firsthand experience, the greatest teacher of all.

Pat was kind enough to share his story and strategies below. To dig into everything he has to offer (and get a truly refreshing look at online marketing), visit www.smartpassiveincome.com. Most important, read closely what Pat says and then put it to use as soon as possible. Ideas are nothing without action.

SH: How and when did you get started online?
When I was working in an architecture firm in southern California, I started a blog to help me keep organize and keep track of my notes for an exam called the LEED AP Exam. The website helped me study while traveling and also let me share my notes with my co-workers who were also studying for the exam. After passing in March of 2008, I let the site sit for a while until I learned that I was going to be let go from my position. That’s when I started to explore the idea of online business and see if I could take this personal study site and turn it into something more.

As soon as I started keeping track of my stats, I soon found out that thousands of people were already using the website daily to help them pass the exam. It was shocking, to say the least, because I had no idea why. Later, I learned that I had written so much relevant and unique content on the site, that Google started to rank it near the top of the search engines for related keywords, and then once people found the site people started to share it like crazy.

After realizing that I had an audience already, I wrote an eBook study guide for the exam which was launched in October of 2008. That first month, I earned $7,906.55 from that one little eBook, which was more money than I would have made in 3 or 4 months of my job in an architecture firm. It was amazing and life changing!

That’s when I started SmartPassiveIncome.com, which is where most people know me from. On this site, I share as much as I can about my existing and new businesses that I create – not only what’s working for me, but what doesn’t. I even share how much I earn from each of my businesses. My goal is to help people realize what’s possible online without having to go through something like a layoff. I had no idea that any of this was possible, and I have my layoff to thank for it. Getting laid off, as much as it hurt at the time, was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Currently, I’m averaging $200,000 per month through all of my various online properties. I definitely feel like I’m living a dream and I want to give back as much as possible for all of the great things that have happened these past 6 years of my life. 

That first month, I earned $7,906.55 from that one little eBook… It was amazing and life changing!

SH: What have you done to set yourself apart?
I do a number of things on SmartPassiveIncome.com that help me stand out of the crowd. If you ask my audience, most of them will probably say that it’s the fact that I’m completely transparent. In this space, it’s easy to hide things but I put it all out there, from my income to my failures. The truth is, creating an online business is not easy and many people will fail, yet most people who teach and sell information about creating an online business don’t tell the whole story, which unfortunately leads to disappointment. The more honest I can be, the more chance people have of actually understanding what to expect and eventually succeeding, which many of my readers have done, and it’s such an amazing feeling. The more I can help others succeed, the more successful I become along the way.

Money is a result of how helpful you are and the kind of relationships you can establish with your audience. I use my email list as a content resource and a relationship builder, not an ATM machine.

Another thing I do and I enjoy very much is that I’m very personal on my site. I talk a lot about my family (not too much, of course!), hobbies and other things that really have nothing to do with online business, but everything to do with, again, building that important relationship with people. When I meet readers and listeners at conferences for the first time, it always feels like we’ve been buddies for years. 

The more I can help others succeed, the more successful I become along the way.

SH: What scared you the most and how did you overcome the fear?
I was most afraid of going beyond publishing text and actually putting myself on camera for video or getting behind a microphone for my podcast. Text was easy because I could edit along the way, but actually using my voice or putting my face on camera – I was not excited about it, but I knew it would help me in the end.

I started by taking baby steps. I published short videos of my computer screen on topics that I knew very well. That way, I didn’t have to worry about my face and I knew the material well enough so that I could just talk and things would make sense, generally speaking. Each time I recorded a video like that, I got more confident. I eventually added my face on the screen and then ventured into podcasting and recording 30-40 minute solo shows.

It’s all about the baby steps!

SH: If you could only use one method to grow your audience, which would you choose?
Podcasting has been amazing for the growth of my brand. Unbelievable, in fact. I ran a survey on my blog (and only my blog) asking my audience “how did you first find out about me or my brand?”. The results blew me away.

Coming in at #1 was my podcast, at 18%. Next was YouTube and then links from other sites. Social media and Google (SEO) were not the largest contributors to my site, however that’s where I knew most people were spending time on.

Podcasting is still a totally untapped platform and there’s no other place where you can easily put yourself next to (and sometimes above) brands like The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, Suze Orman and Oprah. My show has had over 2.5 million downloads since starting in 2010, and I was recently featured in the New York Times for the success of my podcast. It has been an amazing ride, and it’s definitely not over!

SH: What decision allowed you to financially take your business to the next level?
In 2009 I had a chat with a mentor of mine, Jeremy Frandsen from Internet Business Mastery, and we were discussing where I was headed in the future. I was coming up with all of these new business ideas, but Jeremy stopped me in my tracks when he said the following:

“Pat, these business ideas are great, but there’s one thing missing from all of them. You. You are what make GreenExamAcademy.com and SmartPassiveIncome.com a success – all you need to do is put more of you out there.”

It was great advice, and that’s when on both sites I stopped thinking about trying to act like a big business or corporate brand, and started thinking like Pat, the guy people can connect with and relate to. That’s when I started to get more personal on my sites and it has made a world of a difference. No matter what business you have, there’s nothing better you can do to connect with people than get a little personal. I think that’s why podcasting is so successful for most people – it allows your audience to learn who is behind the brand, and the voice never lies.

No matter what business you have, there’s nothing better you can do to connect with people than get a little personal.

SH: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
I would:

1. Get started sooner. If I knew what I knew today I wouldn’t wait until I was laid off to get started.

2. I would work with virtual assistants sooner. I was a control freak and tried to do everything myself at first, but it was when I finally reached out for help that things started to take off. I could focus on what I really wanted to focus on, and things I didn’t want to spend time on would get taken care of by people who could probably do those jobs much better than I could!

3. I would have started building my email lists sooner. For both GreenExamAcademy.com and SmartPassiveIncome.com, I started a year or two after the site went live, which is a huge missed opportunity – not only to have a bigger list, but to truly connect with people in the way that email allows.

SH: What is the biggest mistake beginners make online?
Expecting results too fast. Yes, I did make $8k the first month I launched my eBook for the LEED exam, but what people forget sometimes is that the site had been up for nearly two years, building an audience and pumping content out onto the Interwebs. SmartPassiveIncome.com was the same way – it took over a year and a half to really see results from the work I was doing. Ask any successful entrepreneur, and if they tell you the truth they’ll tell you that the road to success was long, and it definitely was not straight.

…the road to success was long, and it definitely was not straight.

SH: How do you stay motivated?
My family motivates me like none other. Absolutely. I’m lucky enough to work from home and each day I see my kids (3 year old son and 4 month old daughter) and they motivate the crap out of me. I want to succeed for them. I want them to look back years from now and be proud of their father’s work.

Another huge motivating factor for me is the constant stream of thank you messages I get from my audience. I base my success off of thank you’s, not income – but it just so happens they are proportional. Again, the more I can help people, the more I am rewarded. I have a collection of hand-written thank you notes from people who I have helped that I treasure and look at from time to time for motivation.

SH: You wake up tomorrow and it’s all gone…what are the first three actions you take to start rebuilding?
The looks I wouldn’t worry about – my wife is stuck with me, she says. But if all of my businesses were gone and I didn’t have any following or connections, I’d restart by doing the following:

1. I’d freelance. I’d find an industry I’m interested in that I could write for or shoot videos for, contact those who have a specific audiences I could connect with and just freelance – help out with whatever I can. I’m not working for myself at this point, but I am building relationships and learning about a specific industry, which is the basis for all online success.

2. Based on what I learn by freelancing (again, this takes time – probably lots of time), I’d try to figure out if I could bring anything new to the table in that field. I’d create a specific and unique angle (i.e. USP, or unique selling proposition) and start to build an audience by creating new and unique content on a blog and podcast and building an email list.

3. From the above, I’d go hard with creating deep relationships with my first 100 readers and just go from there, continuing to build relationships with other influential people in the niche as well.

This is all very general, of course, because I can’t possibly pick a viable industry and an angle within without some due diligence and research, but those are the steps I would take to rebuild.

SH:Your best advice in six words or less?
Fall forward.

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