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Make Money Online Never Normal Podcast

How to Make Money Online – Never Normal Episode 007 with Niall Doherty

In this follow-up conversation with guest Niall Doherty (eBizFacts.com) we discuss strategies to get started making money online.

Audio Only / Podcast Version:

In This Episode We Talk About:

  • The best way to get started making money online
  • The mistake we both made when we started out and what we recommend doing instead
  • How to build a “bridge” from traditional 9-to-5 work to working online
  • How to approach freelancing and whether or not you should be willing to “sell your hours”
  • The 6 levels and 19 types of online businesses according to Niall’s framework (https://ebizfacts.com/start-earning-online/types-of-online-business/)
  • Why online contests aren’t a good way to get started for most people
  • How to become a famous YouTuber or Blogger, even if you’re starting from zero
  • What you should do before buying an expensive online course (and how to get three top-rated online courses for $30 – $40 total)
  • What you’re really paying for when you enroll in a premium online course
  • What Niall would do differently if he were to create another course
  • Getting feedback on your first attempts (avoiding the indifference of the internet)
  • What to look for in a course about making money online
  • How to find a great community of like-minded online entrepreneurs, creators, YouTubers, etc.

Links:

Footnote: After recording this episode I did a little digging for the sake of nostalgia and found the old “plant growing” game I mentioned to Niall. It’s called “Lunar Greenhouse” and it was released for the Apple II. You can find a video of the game being played on YouTube here.

Transcript:

Neville Mehra:

Niall, welcome back to Never Normal!

Niall Doherty:

Thanks for having me back, Neville.

Neville Mehra:

You are the first ever two-time guest, so that’s saying something.

Niall Doherty:

Ooh, pressure’s on!

Neville Mehra:

You’re invited back because, well, one, I always enjoy our conversations, but I think last time in part one of this, we covered your origin story and some of the adventures and missions you’ve had along the way, but we left off just as we had gotten to talking about your business now, eBiz Facts, your website, and how you had, I would say finally found your groove with affiliate marketing. You had gone on this almost 10-year quest of building a business online with some ups and downs along the way, but you just released your October 2020 finance report, and I think you earned something like $17,000 last month or a little over that. So congratulations on that. Well done.

Neville Mehra:

You’re now consistently earning well over $10,000 a month, which I know is a milestone. It’s taken longer than expected to get there, nearly 10 years, as we said. So I’d love to just start by digging into maybe what you’ve learned along that path. What do you know now 10 years in that you wish you knew at the beginning that would have helped you get there a little bit faster?

Niall Doherty:

The biggest thing is, I wish I’d taken freelancing more seriously in the beginning, which sounds weird because that’s not how I’m making money now, but I feel like it took me so long to get to 10K a month consistently because I was looking for shortcuts. I was trying to do more difficult online businesses and trying to build more complex online businesses before I’d had some good success with the basic stuff. And the basic stuff really is just freelancing or a remote job. But for most people, I think freelancing is the way to go because you can just learn so many skills as a freelancer.

Niall Doherty:

Not to think of it as, “This is what I’m going to do forever,” but it’s a really good bridge business, to steal a term I’ve heard Sean Ogle use, Sean Ogle from Location Rebel. He calls it a bridge business. It helps you build the skills, build the confidence and build a bit of a financial cushion so then you can invest more time and energy into building a more passive income business. But if you try and go straight into the passive income, the businesses with passive income potential, I just see a lot of people failing if they don’t those fundamental skills, that experience of running a freelance business, dealing with clients, figuring out how to deliver value, and just consistently bringing in an income that way. Does that make sense?

Neville Mehra:

It makes sense. And it’s something I’ve seen you write about before, and I’ve heard, as you mentioned, from others, this idea of a bridge business. It’s almost counter to some other common wisdom that’s out there, which is, don’t sell your time or get away from that as quickly as possible because it’s a trap. Once you sell your time, you’re just always chasing that next billable hour and you’re never building something that is, well, you mentioned passive income, but just like Jack Butcher, the Visualize Value guy, he talks a lot about build once, sell twice.

Neville Mehra:

It’s shorthand for what we all know that if you want to build a scalable, sustainable business, you have to be earning money by doing something other than just selling one hour at a time, which is the definition of freelancing. If freelancing is a great way to get started, how do you make that switch? Or how do you not just end up getting stuck freelancing forever?

Niall Doherty:

Well, the key thing is to use freelancing to build skills. Freelancing is great because you can start earning pretty quickly. If I told somebody, “Go away and build a drop shipping business,” versus I tell somebody, “Go away and build a freelance business.” The freelancer is way more likely to be earning like $1,000 a month sooner rather than later. Now, it’s not going to be able to scale as much, but the drop shipping business might never even get to $1,000 a month because many of them don’t. So you want to be learning and earning from your freelance business.

Niall Doherty:

If you’re just earning and you’re not really developing any skills along the way, then it’s going to be really hard to transition into something more scalable. But if you think of it in terms of… I tell people this all the time, because I’ve read a lot about affiliate marketing and I get people emailing me saying, “Oh, I want to build an affiliate marketing business. How do I do it?” And they’re usually brand new to working online, have never built a business. And the suggestion I usually have for them is “Why don’t you go to somebody who has a successful affiliate business and offer to work for them?”

Niall Doherty:

So offer to write articles for them, offer to do SEO for them. You might have to take some courses first. You might have to build those skills to at least a baseline first, but you could offer to do some virtual assistant or for them project management, whatever it is. And when you do that, you’re freelancing, but you’re learning how a successful affiliate marketing business operates because you’re working with someone who has that kind of business. You’re going to learn a way more doing that while you’re earning money, than going straight into building your own affiliate marketing business and trying to figure everything out yourself.

Niall Doherty:

Like even if you have a really good course, it’s still not good as working in an already successful business and being able to pick the brain of the owner and see what they make certain decisions, see how they actually are building an online business.

Neville Mehra:

Yeah, that I think makes a lot of sense. I mean, that’s intuitive to me, find someone who’s already doing it or someone who has got it figured out and learn from them, I think is great advice. Obvious but not often followed, if you know what I mean. It doesn’t need a lot of explaining, I think.

Niall Doherty:

I follow it myself. That’s a big mistake I made. So when I’m saying this, I know from experience that I would have achieved that 10K mark way faster if I had done this myself back in the day, but I was too fiercely independent and too, “I don’t want to work for anybody else. I want to get out of freelancing. I don’t want to be paid by the hour.” And because of that attitude, it actually hurt me because I had to figure everything out on my own instead of just going to establish entrepreneurs and saying, “Hey, I’ll basically do whatever you want. I have these skills. Maybe I could help you with this. You don’t have to pay me a lot. I could even start off with a low rate and prove myself.”

Niall Doherty:

And if I’d had done that, I would have been way further ahead or I would have gotten to that 10K a month mark way sooner.

Neville Mehra:

Yeah. And maybe this is just another way of saying the same thing, but a little bit by analogy. For some reason, out of all the things we did in school, this is one of the ones that stuck with me. It was probably like third grade or second grade or something like that. There was this computer program that we did, and it was part of a science class. This was like Oregon Trail era of computer programs, so very simplistic, but we were growing plants in this computer program and you had three variables, and it was sunlight, water. I don’t even remember what the third one was. Let’s say it was soil or something like that.

Neville Mehra:

And you could adjust those three and then see, depending on which your ratios of sunlight to water, to whatever, where did your plants grow the best? How did you get the most tomatoes, or whatever? And the takeaway wasn’t supposed to be the perfect ratio, the takeaway was supposed to be this idea that you have a hypothesis and then you adjust one variable at a time, so you can see what’s actually doing it. And this is a roundabout way of saying, I think a lot of us, when we first start on this path to online entrepreneurship, we go into a new industry in a new type of business, doing a new type of work and a new setting, so working from home or working independently rather than part of a company.

Neville Mehra:

So we’re changing every variable at once. So you don’t know, “Is this business a good idea? Is this industry a good industry to be in? Am I any good at copywriting? Do I have the discipline to work on my own?” All of those are variables. And so it makes it very hard to incrementally improve or to even see. You might be a great copywriter and you might be doing a great job and you might’ve picked the right platform, but you’re in an industry that just is very difficult, for example. And so by modeling someone whose work or whose company or business, website, whatever is already successful, you eliminating some of those variables.

Neville Mehra:

Or, to go back to the, your first point about freelancing as a way of getting started, the simplest thing, I think for a lot of people is just to freelance doing the same type of work they were already doing. It’s not as glamorous as burning all your bridges and starting something completely new, but it at least takes some of those pieces out of the equation, some of the variables out where you already know how to do the type of work, maybe you already have a network or some credentials, and now you’re just like, “Okay, how do I sell this work? Where do I find clients?” Those are the skills that you’re learning as opposed to something completely new.

Niall Doherty:

Yeah. With freelancing as well, if you go into it with a scale, which I did. My last nine-to-five job was as a web designer, and so I had this skill that I could easily freelance. And then the only thing I really need to learn is selling that skill, so how to find clients. Serving those clients is the same as serving my old employer in my nine-to-five job. So it’s really just the selling part that I need to learn, which isn’t that difficult. But if you want to start a drop shipping business or an affiliate marketing business or a software business, there’s so many more skills you need to learn.

Niall Doherty:

You’re going to need to learn a lot of project management. If you want to do affiliate marketing, you’ve got to learn about SEO, content creation. And even in SEO, there’s all these bits and pieces you need to learn and sub topics you need to know about. It just gets way more complex. So freelancing has the benefit as well of just being a much simpler business model, and therefore it’s easier to actually earn a living from it, and you can do it much faster than with these more complex businesses that take a long time to figure out and to actually get up and running properly.

Neville Mehra:

I think something that’s also baked into freelancing is typically, you’re doing something freelance that there’s demand for, like you mentioned web development. You’re not inventing an entirely new industry. I know for me, going back on my own journey, almost everything that I tried along the way wasn’t like, “Oh, this thing works. Let me copy this business or work for somebody else.” It was like, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if such and such service existed and there’s no market for it.” It’s just something like starting Facebook or something. To me, that was always more glamorous.

Neville Mehra:

And there were social networks before Facebook, but still, it’s this idea of Mark Zuckerberg invented this thing that one day we’ll all be connected. But starting that type of a business is very different than the kind of path that we’re talking about of building your skills over time. Do you see… Well, let me back up. You recently published a framework in a similar vein of Nathan Barry, the founder of ConvertKit, Ladders of Wealth, drawing a line between these various types of online businesses and how one might progress from one to the next. Do you see those all on a continuum, like something freelancing to building an empire, let’s say? How do those fit together?

Niall Doherty:

I wouldn’t say they’re exactly on a continuum, but the way I have it broken in the framework is 19 types of our main business. I broke those into six levels. So level one is the easiest, but you’re not really going to make a living of this, you’ll probably just earn a bit of pocket money. So that’s doing like stuff survey sites, contests online, or spec work, where it’s just not really a reliable source of income.

Neville Mehra:

So that would be something like a logo design where you’re submitting to a contest, something like that?

Niall Doherty:

Yes, exactly. I’ve reviewed some of those sites and you can actually scrape a lot of the results on them. And you can see that compared to the amount of people on those sites, it’s only a tiny minority that are actually earning a decent living from it. So the odds that you’re actually going to make a living from those, it’s tiny. So again, I wouldn’t recommend going that route unless you get a buzz off contest and you’re not really relying on us to pay the bills. It can be fun, it can help you build a portfolio, but it’s just not a reliable way to make money online. So that’s level one stuff.

Niall Doherty:

Level two is what I think where most people should start if they want to actually earn a living online sooner rather than later, and that’s freelancing or a remote job. So they’re pretty standard remote jobs, just a regular office job, but you’re doing it from home or from anywhere. Whereas with freelancing, it’s the same thing, except you don’t have one employer, you have multiple clients.

Neville Mehra:

Yeah. And just to pause briefly there, I think one thing the pandemic has taught a lot of people who have unwittingly or not necessarily they set out with a goal to make money online, but who just had a regular office job and became remote workers, is that suddenly working from home or making this transition to where you’re not working from an office, there are some different skills involved in terms of just motivating yourself or staying… I think you can be much more productive working from home, but it requires a very deliberate approach, as opposed to, there’s something with that physical separation of like when I’m home, I’m at home, and when I’m at work, I’m at work.

Neville Mehra:

And in a lot of cases, you’re just being paid for being there. I’m not saying people are not doing real work at the office, but no one’s necessarily measuring every minute of your day and saying, “Were are you on task this minute of the day?” The assumption is if you’re here from 9:00 to 5:00, we’re paying you from 9:00 to 5:00, and if you’re not doing the work well, you can get a new job or something. Whereas when you’re working from home, and especially if you’re freelancing, it’s almost being an Uber driver or something where no one’s just paying you to randomly drive around. You’re only as good as those minutes when you’ve got somebody in the car.

Neville Mehra:

A lot of us have realized, working from home during the pandemic, that yeah, again, those are skills and that there’s all the different things that you have to learn. Look, a remote job, even if you’re not building a business by working remotely for someone else, you are building habits and discipline and learning about yourself and how you work best, like, do you need to get out of the house and go to a co-working space or something like that? Is it enough just to have like a separate desk or a little office in your home? All those kinds of things, we all find our ways of making it work.

Niall Doherty:

Yeah, absolutely. I sometimes forget, because they went through that transition so long ago and it wasn’t that hard for me, I think it’s harder for people who are much more extroverted because a lot of what they love about regular nine-to-five jobs is the water cooler conversations and that kind of stuff. But thankfully now, especially with the pandemic, it’s accelerated all these different tools that you can use to be more in contact with your colleagues and check in throughout the day. So it is getting better for people who might struggle with that, the isolation of at ill.

Neville Mehra:

Yeah. But even people like yourself sometimes it’s the opposite, sometimes it’s burnout. It’s like if there’s no separation between work and home, it’s too easy to just never stop working and never feel like you’re off.

Niall Doherty:

Yeah True. True. I haven’t even figured out that part yet, I still have the occasional burnout.

Neville Mehra:

I read your momenta, so I know from time to time you have a day that just nothing went according to plan today, and that’s okay, or whatever. These are all, I think just things that we deal with on this path. But back to your framework. I think we covered level one and two.

Niall Doherty:

Yeah. And then from there, it just gets… Going to level three, we’re talking about an agency, which is kind of like a freelance business, but you just have more contractors doing the work on your behalf and you’re focused more on project management and sales, or some people build an agency and they can be completely hands off if they’re very good at putting a team in place. Then there’s referral businesses, resale businesses, and we’re getting into affiliate marketing type stuff. Resale is you buy something for one price and resell it at a higher price sometimes in a different country, but you can do a lot of that online now.

Niall Doherty:

Level four, beyond that, is creating digital products. So everything before, you’re not actually creating a product, it’s more service-based or reselling or referring people to existing products. Whereas now at level four, you’re either creating your own digital product or the other type of business in level four is an authority business, which is really building your own audience online. So classic example is YouTubers or Instagrammers, where it’s not necessarily a product or something that they’re selling, it’s more a personality or a brand that people are drawn to, and that can be monetized in various ways.

Neville Mehra:

Would that be a blogger as well?

Niall Doherty:

Can be a blogger. I mean, my site now started off level three, which is just a referral site. So you’re just getting traffic from Google and then you’re trying to point them towards good products or services and you earn a commission, but as you grow your audience and you actually have a bigger following via email or social media, you become more of an authority business. Or now people are checking back in because they like the brand and it’s not just they’ve found you once via Google and they don’t even remember your website, they never come back.

Neville Mehra:

David Perrell, who runs the Write of Passage course online and is a big advocate of the value and benefit of writing online, talks about this idea of building your own personal monopoly, which I think is a good way of putting it where it’s like, we’re in this era where it’s so easy to comparison shop and check prices across multiple places, and a lot of things have become commodities in a way. I don’t care. what brand of monitor I have, I just check a few different specs and as long as it meets the requirements, I’ll just buy the cheapest one that’s available on Amazon Prime or something like that.

Neville Mehra:

And that’s happened for a lot of different products and different industries, but as an authority, as you’re describing, what you really want to do is not be interchangeable with anybody else. And when you think about celebrities, that’s the perfect example. Someone gets paid $20 million to play a part in a movie. Sure, you could find some other actor, but it’s just not the same.

Niall Doherty:

And to underscore again, the different levels, someone who goes straight into, “I want to be a YouTube star,” and that’s their first online business,” that’s really hard to pull off. And that’s why I call it a level four business. There’s other levels before that are much easier because to become a YouTube star, there’s these different skills you’ve got to pull together. You have to be creative to come up with great content. You have to be able to actually present that content in an engaging way. You have to be good at editing. And you can hire people to do this, but then you need to be good at hiring people, you need to be good at managing those people.

Niall Doherty:

Or you just need to have a bigger budget quite often for these type of businesses to succeed. Someone like Mr Beast who I was looking at recently, he was plugging away for years before he broke through, and he spent a lot of money and put a lot of time into this. And that’s usually the case with these type of businesses. As you go up the levels, it’s going to take a lot more time, energy or money to succeed.

Neville Mehra:

So would you suggest then that somebody… Because I think for this current moment in time, what you’re describing as these level four businesses are, I would say pretty glamorous or at least appealing to a lot of people, especially a younger generation. You have this traditional career path, nine-to-five, office, boring. Doesn’t really ever get you anywhere besides maybe retired someday. And then you have like a YouTuber authority figure. You hear about people who make millions of dollars a year posting videos, which are a lot more complex and difficult behind the scenes than maybe they look at first, but they still have this kind of like, “Hey, this is my daily life.”

Neville Mehra:

It seems very different than law school for a bunch of years and all of that just posting videos about doing your makeup, again on the surface. So I think, again, that’s very aspirational for a lot of people right now, but you’re saying that’s not the easiest place to start. So for people who want to create that type of, what you’re calling a level four business, is the path to work your way up levels one, two, and three first, or to just know that it’s going to be more difficult because of what they’re trying to achieve? How does someone take this framework and apply it to their journey?

Niall Doherty:

You can take either approach. So you can just go straight into, “I want to be a famous YouTuber,” but just acknowledge the fact that, “Okay, I’m trying to climb a pretty big mountain here right out of the gate without having ever climbed a mountain before, and so it’s probably going to be a very steep learning curve. It’s probably going to take a long time for me to actually break through. And it’s probably going to require possibly a lot of money or a lot of energy.” And sometimes those are interchangeable because you can’t throw money at it, you can just troll more time into it and do more things yourself.

Niall Doherty:

So I’m not telling people not to go that route it’s totally fine as long as the people have the right expectations that, “Hey, this might take two or three years before you can even be making a decent living off of it.” The other route, which I think is better, is to go more like the freelancing. So you figure out, “Okay, my eventual goal is to become a YouTube star. What are the skills that I need to make that happen?” And you might realize, “Okay, I need to become good at video editing, so maybe I could take a course on video editing, maybe I can approach some already successful YouTube offers and offer to edit their videos at a low rate at first and then I can gradually take on more clients and increase my rate.”

Niall Doherty:

“I’ll experience working with them, seeing the choices that they make, seeing how they want their videos edited, seeing what works for their audience versus what doesn’t. Then maybe I can learn a little bit about YouTube SEO. I can maybe freelance a bit at that.” And all the while, they can be building their own channel on the side, I’m not saying they shouldn’t do it at all, but everything they learn from freelancing, they can then pour back into their own project. They’re applying things that are tried and tested by people better than them and more experienced than them.

Neville Mehra:

Yeah. And again, when you say it like that, because on the surface, it sounds a little bit counter intuitive, like if you want to become a successful YouTuber, you should freelance first. It doesn’t strike me as inherently obvious, but when you say it like that, this idea of an apprentice, which has existed for centuries where it’s like, if you wanted to become a blacksmith you should hang out at some blacksmith shop and do his grunt work. And not only will you maybe get paid a little and learn some of the skills, you’ll also be able to watch and see who are the customers who come in the door? What type of metal is he buying? I have no idea what…

Neville Mehra:

The possibility of taking a course to learn a skill in addition to freelancing and practicing as you go. And a lot of the content on your website these days is actually reviews of online courses, most of them related to this idea of making money online or building a successful business. Would you suggest these types of courses as a good place to start for someone who’s new to this? Or how do you think about that?

Niall Doherty:

It depends on what you want to learn, some stuff you can easily learn for free online. If you want to learn, well, I was going to say copywriting, but there are some very good copywriting courses out there. I think probably for most things, it works that you can learn everything you need for free, it’s going to be pretty scattered around the internet, you’re going to get a little piece from this website, a little piece from that website, there might be a good free course on YouTube, but it doesn’t go super in depth, but you’d get a bit from that.

Niall Doherty:

If you find a really good paid course, the advantage is that everything is in one place, it’s very well-structured, again, if it’s a good course, there’s a lot of bad courses out there, but it’s very well structured and it takes you through a step-by-step. And often, there’s a community aspect, so if you get stuck, you go into the community. There’s people in there who are very experienced and knowledgeable and they can speak to your specific sticking points and show you how to get out of that. So yeah, I’ve taken courses over the years that I’ve benefited from, I’ve spent a lot of money on courses that I didn’t benefit from.

Niall Doherty:

Sometimes it was the fault of the course, sometimes it was my fault because I didn’t really know what I was getting into. What I would recommend to people, if they’re not sure what they want to learn, don’t go spend a ton of money on a course unless you’re very confident in their refund policy. I think a good approach is to go to something like Udemy, wait till they have a sale, you probably want to have to wait a week because they do a sales almost every week and just buy, like say, you want to learn web design.

Niall Doherty:

Buy the three most highly rated courses on web design. If you bought the top three on Udemy during a sale, that’s going to cost you $30-40. And then you can go through them. They’re usually not very long Udemy courses, you could probably go through the three courses pretty quick in a weekend and then decide, “Okay, I know in general what this is about and what the important things I would need to learn, what those are, do I want to go deeper into this?”

Niall Doherty:

And if so, if you feel like you haven’t gotten enough from those courses, then you can go and invest in a more expensive course. I think that’s the safest way to do it so you don’t end up spending a ton of money on really expensive courses without even being sure if that’s what you want to get into, if it’s going to work you.

Neville Mehra:

Yeah. I’m inclined to agree, I think I was, I don’t want to say I was anti-course, but I was very skeptical of online courses for a long time, and mostly because I just felt that the information was generally available for free. It’s like, why do I need to pay when I could just Google the stuff? And if you tell me, like say, copywriting as an example, or editing a YouTube video, punch either of those into Google and you’ll get about a billion and a half results and there’ll be some phenomenal articles that’ll teach you a lot more than you knew going into it.

Neville Mehra:

And I think it actually comes down to just at least for me, a different understanding of what you’re paying for with the course. I think when we think of education and all that, we think we’re paying for access to knowledge, but with the internet, it’s all out there, whatever it is, I don’t know, nuclear physics, guaranteed, you can find it for free online. And in many cases these days, you can find it for free from the likes of MIT, Stanford, Harvard, they’ve all put course material online for free.

Neville Mehra:

So that’s not what you’re paying for, I think with an online course, you’re paying for a combination of somebody has laid it out for you, you should learn this step one, you should do this exercise to put that knowledge and practice, step two, then you should learn this step three. Someone has created a sequence rather than you just Googling a bunch of random stuff and trying to learn and you’re not putting things in an order that’s going to be easy for you and you’re having to figure all that out as you go.

Neville Mehra:

But in many cases, I think what you’re paying for is almost just the accountability, the fact that you’ve spent, especially with the expensive courses, a few thousand dollars just makes you more likely to show up, you’ve invested in this, you’ve got a group of other people who are going through the course in many cases with you. And that gives you this sense of like, “Okay, I’m not just dabbling in the idea of copywriting, I’ve spent $4,000 on this copywriting course, and I’m going to become a copywriter.” I think just making that purchase almost flips a switch in your mind, at least for a lot of people.

Niall Doherty:

Yeah. It does make people take it more seriously, not all the time, but I think you’re right about that.

Neville Mehra:

You’ve also created a course yourself and now you’ve reviewed many, many other courses and been through many courses. What have you learned along the way, if you were to go back and create another course? What makes a great course great or makes the students more likely to succeed?

Niall Doherty:

I think that the main mistake I made with my course, if I can come out of it from the course creator angle, if anybody’s interested in that, I don’t think I had a big enough audience when I created and launched my course. So if anybody out there is thinking of creating a course and they think they’re really knowledgeable on this topic, but they have no following online, I think that’s tough to actually succeed with that kind of business, you’re better off building an audience first and then creating a course with feedback from the audience as you go to make sure that they actually want what you’re putting together.

Niall Doherty:

But in terms of what makes a good course from a student standpoint, is that more what you were getting in?

Neville Mehra:

Oh, I think what you just said is extremely relevant, but I’m also interested in hearing from the other side.

Niall Doherty:

I do like when there’s a community aspect, like you said, information alone, you can get that pretty easily for free, although if you do want the course to be well structured and well thought out, so everything, it’s not just all dumped on you at once. So the best courses are usually broken up into modules and lessons, but very consciously and they don’t want to give you too much too soon, and there’s a nice sense of progression as you go through the lessons. But that’s just one aspect of it, another would definitely be the community. So they’ll never have everything you need to know in the lessons, there’s always going to be unique stuff for you.

Niall Doherty:

So you want to be able to go into a community and ask people that are in there who are knowledgeable, not just the course creators ideally. Some of the best courses I’ve signed up for, it’s usually other students who are just way further ahead, who provide the most value in those groups, those communities by just sharing what they’ve learned, what they’ve been through, or, “Hey, you’re having this issue, I had something very similar.” I had a problem with my own site last year and being able to go into a community attached to a course that I bought hearing someone say, “Oh yeah, don’t freak out. This has happened to me several times. It’s not the end of the world. Here’s what you should do. Here’s what you should check.”

Niall Doherty:

That was super helpful, and that’s just not something you can get in the comments of a YouTube video, for example.

Neville Mehra:

Yeah. You actually couldn’t have segued better because the next question I had for you was actually how important is community, but I think we’ll circle back to that a couple of times. On the idea of a community within a course, I think you hit one of the major benefits, which is learning from other students because it’s just more people are going to have had more experiences, there’s a higher chance that someone else has been through what you’re going through exactly as you described.

Neville Mehra:

I think there’s also that same accountability benefit where if you’re sitting in a classroom, like think back to school and there’s 30 other people in the classroom and they’ve all done the homework and you haven’t, that’s never a good feeling. So just that, like we’re all moving through this together, add some value to just keeping you on track because I think maybe it’s an unspoken thing here, but when it comes to online courses, I think there’s a huge percentage of people in core sales where someone buys a course and then either doesn’t start it or doesn’t end up finishing it.

Neville Mehra:

So just that bit of getting through all the lessons and doing the work is probably the biggest failure point for most of these courses. The other benefit I think of having a community that I’ve only come to realize more recently, I took one of Seth Godin’s Akimbo Workshops. He has the altMBA, which is his flagship expensive bigger, and then he has a bunch of smaller ones on, I think writing, storytelling, podcasting, with various creative practices. I’d looked at these forever and I’ve been getting his emails forever, and I sat on the fence for a long time and I finally bought one of them.

Neville Mehra:

And the first day that I logged in, I’m like, “This is a joke.” I regretted buying it. And when I started going through the lessons, they’re so short, they’re seriously five minutes, but it’s one every single day. There’s a lesson every single day, and there’s an assignment out of each one. And the assignment almost invariably is go do something and then post about it in the group. And I said, “Okay, fine. I’ll give it a shot.” I bought the course, before I go ask for a refund or whatever, I’ll give it a shot. And I did the first few things, and what I realized is that the thing that’s holding most people back is, in this particular case, for a creative thing like that is the fear of showing up.

Neville Mehra:

It’s not the knowledge, you could, again, it’s a podcast and you could Google everything you need to know about, what’s the best podcast microphone? How do you record? How do you edit the audio? 30 seconds and you’ll find the answer to all those questions. What you won’t find is someone saying, “Yeah, you’re afraid, but go record it anyway, make the recording. Yeah, you don’t like the sound of your voice, do it anyway. Post it here, gets feedback from five other students who are going to tell you, ‘Oh, you should slow down a little bit.’ Or, ‘I really liked the part where you did this.'”

Neville Mehra:

And so forcing you to show up, but then also giving you a safe space where you’re not putting something out like the entire internet that’s going to live there forever as your first step, but it gets you in that practice of showing up every day. That was a major benefit to me from that course, the lessons didn’t matter, just having a bunch of other people who were there, who were giving me feedback. And then the last point on this, being required to do the same for them, because I think whenever we learn something new or try something new, there’s a tendency for our ego to get in the way a little bit where we’re afraid to look bad, or we just can’t see that we’re making a certain mistake or having trouble with a certain thing, but we can really see it when it’s somebody else.

Neville Mehra:

And so being forced to give someone else, feedback, you tune in to these things. You also, “Maybe I’m doing that too.” This person is speaking too quietly or is whatever, going on too long or whatever the case may be, and then you hear them doing it and then you start to think, “Yeah, maybe I’m doing the same thing.” And if you’re just doing a course by yourself, you don’t get any of that benefit.

Niall Doherty:

Yeah. Those are great points. What you’re really doing there by giving other people feedback is you’re honing your own taste and that informs your work then, what you said about the safe space as well as… Yeah, that’s absolutely true because a lot of people, if you’ve never really put stuff out there before, if you go and you just work nine-to-five, it’s very intimidating to put out your podcast, put out your first YouTube video. So having those kinds of private communities where you can get that feedback and get specific pointers on how you can improve, so your first foray into the real world, when you first publish something for everybody, it’s going to be much better than it would be otherwise.

Neville Mehra:

Yeah. This may be getting a bit philosophical, but there’s a quote, something along the lines of the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. And I feel like that applies with a lot of this stuff with the internet where maybe people are afraid, yeah, they’re going to go post that first YouTube video that everyone’s going to say some nasty comment or something, but chances are, that’s not going to happen. What’s going to happen is no one’s going to watch it, by default, it’s going to get zero views or maybe your mom. And that’s it.

Neville Mehra:

Whereas you’re having a community where you can say to these people, “Hey, all 30 of us are creating a YouTube video for the first time, here’s my first one, what do you think?” And you’ll actually get some replies.

Niall Doherty:

Communities, it varies a lot. I’ve reviewed a lot of courses and just because they have a community, does mean it’s a good community. Often, there’s nobody in there or the people that are in there are just spamming the community. So that’s why one of the things is I always look for in a course, especially if it has a high price point is that refund policy. And I know there’s good arguments to be made for not having a refund policy because it forces people to take it more seriously.

Niall Doherty:

There’s arguments you made for like an action-based refund policy, we have to show you did the work before you can qualify for a refund. But personally, it’s a much more of a thumbs up for me, if a course just as a no questions asked like 30-day refund policy or two weeks or whatever it is, but enough time for someone to get in there, properly evaluate the core, see like, “Is this for me? Test out the community, see if they’re getting the responses they hope they want. And if not, they can say, “Yeah, this isn’t for me right now.” So I just get my money back and I haven’t wasted any money, I’ve invested a little bit of time, but at least I haven’t wasted any money by giving this a shot. So that’s always something I look for

Neville Mehra:

Yeah. And we’ve come at this from a little bit of a different angle now, but as I said, one of the questions I wanted to ask you is actually about community, because I think when you and I started down this journey, it was a pretty lonely path. There were other digital nomads and certainly other online entrepreneurs, but I didn’t really feel like there was some gathering place for us. Now, you’ve got co-working spaces all around the world, you’ve got these communities that have popped up in places like Bali, Medellin in Colombia, Lisbon in Portugal and plenty of other cities around the world where you’ve got this just like hubs where there’s a lot of people who are on this path, who are hanging out in those places.

Neville Mehra:

And then you’ve got all the various online communities, places like Indie Hackers, Product Hunt, you’ve got your own online community as well on Facebook, the Freedom Business Builder. So just coming back to this, then how important do you think community is for somebody starting out? Like, should they go and actively seek out a community

Niall Doherty:

You don’t know what you don’t know, you are going to make loads of mistakes and the sooner you can identify and correct those the better. So if you’re not part of any community and you’re just trying to become a famous Instagrammer or whatever it is, and you’re just trying whatever feels like the right thing to do and are copying other people that you see them doing it, oh let me do that, it’s going to be tough. If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’re just copying surface level stuff, you probably don’t have much of a strategy, you’re probably trying things that were two years ago, but may not work now.

Niall Doherty:

So being part of a community of like successful Instagrammers, getting access to that, really helps you figure out what works now and what these people would do if they were starting over now. And it’s just going to be way more effective than following your own intuition.

Neville Mehra:

Joining a course is certainly one way to find a community like that, but as you said, not all online course communities are created equal. Is there some other way that you would recommend people find communities, current pandemic aside, would in-person be… Would you say, “Yeah, “Hey, go to Bali and go hang out in one of those co-working spaces”? Or how does one find if I’m just starting out and I want to be one of these people, where do I find my tribe as they say?

Niall Doherty:

I think maybe the most foolproof way is find the people in your niche who are already successful. The people you look up to, the people who you are like, “I would love to be at that point someday.” And reach out to them and ask what communities they recommend. And they’ll probably be able to give you a good answer, they’d probably be able to tell you what communities they’re in or what communities their friends started up that they actually think is really good.

Niall Doherty:

That’s probably the best way of doing it, of course, you just have to be careful of who you ask because there’s a lot of people out there who are successful, but they may not have the best of intentions. But I think it’s still better than any other method is to go about it that way.

Neville Mehra:

Yeah. And maybe triangulate a few answers, you don’t necessarily have to take one person’s word as gospel, but ask around, if you’re trying to become a YouTuber, maybe ask a handful of people doing that you respect. So we’ve covered courses and communities and this framework and various ways people can get started making money online. Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you think is an important or often overlooked step in that journey that would smooth that path or a little bit of like a ladder up that mountain that we talked about for getting started?

Niall Doherty:

One thing that I didn’t mention, which I think is a good way to think about it is when building up that freelance business, or I think I haven’t really spoken enough about a remote job, that can be just as good, if not better sometimes as freelancing. One of the downsides of freelancing a course, is that you’re constantly looking for clients. Unless you get lucky enough that you have a repeat client and they’re funding a lot of your lifestyle, which is the situation I found myself in for quite a while when it was just one main client, and that was enough.

Niall Doherty:

Well, sometimes a remote job can be better because it’s usually more long term, it’s usually more steady. But what you want to get to, I think, if your goal is to build one of these more scalable, passive income producing businesses is to get to the point where you’re working about 20 hours a week or less, and earning enough in that time to pay all your expenses and add to your savings a little bit. So if you could do that, if you could be working 15 to 20 hours a week and you’ve increased your rate enough, or your salary enough doing a part-time remote job, money isn’t an issue anymore. you’re able to pay your rent, you’re able to pay for food, you’re able to pay for some fun stuff.

Niall Doherty:

So you’re not worried about paying the bills next month, and then you also have plenty of time on the side to really get one of these higher level businesses off the ground. So thinking of it like that, 15 to 20 hours a week, how can I get to that level with freelancing or remote job that I’m earning enough to fund my lifestyle, and then I have all this free time to invest in one of these more long-term, higher level businesses. Or with that free time, and with that money rolling in, you can do the digital nomad thing if you prefer, that’s a pretty good option too, which is what I did for many years before I really seriously started trying to build one of these higher level businesses.

Neville Mehra:

So funny when you say that because it was totally not deliberate for me planned out that way, but that’s basically exactly what happened to me also is I got to a point where I could work half time and still earn like a full-time salary, if you want to think of it that way, it wasn’t a salary. And then I got to a point where I had been trying to build a business and I just maybe a little bit burned out. And I had my eye on the whole digital nomad thing for a long time and I realized, “Hey, I could just work half the number of hours and make the exact same, or even a little bit more money,” because I was investing in building a business at that time, like hiring sales reps and going to conferences and doing all kinds of stuff like that that costs money, maybe has benefit in the long run.

Neville Mehra:

But there was an alternative where I was like, “Or I could just go travel for a while and make the same amount of money just working half the hours.” And as you know, that’s what I did, but I came back to this idea of using the other time to build a business. I think that’s a really good place to leave it. I just want to mention before we sign off again, as I said last time, I think your site eBiz Facts is without question, the best place to go online for anyone who is either getting started or looking to move up to that next level or who just enjoys this topic of making money online, building a business, finding a community, taking online courses.

Neville Mehra:

I love the no bullshit reviews that you do, it’s very hard to find straight truth when it comes to this subject. There’s just so many scams and like, “Earn $17,452 working one hour a week from home in your pajamas, click here.” Cutting through all of that.

Niall Doherty:

Yeah. Always red flag.

Neville Mehra:

Cutting through all of that noise is difficult, I think you do a great job of that. And I will say again that I love your weekly newsletter, which is full of all the type of stuff that we’re talking about right now; how to get started making money online, following various creators and entrepreneurs journeys, and what they are doing and how somebody made $300,000 last year, what’s the path that they took, and all that kind of great stuff. So, keep it coming. And for everyone listening, please, check it out, eBiz Facts.

Niall Doherty:

Thanks very much, Neville.

Neville Mehra:

Yeah. Thanks for joining.