“Your blog is not your business.”
If, like Pat and me, you started looking to the internet in the late 2000s as a possible avenue for new career opportunities, then you’ve probably heard that phrase once or twice…or a hundred times. It became standard advice during the height of the blogosphere boom. New sites were bursting to the scene like wildfire. Blogging was the new it thing. Everyone wanted one. And thousands upon thousands of people started one because blogging had become intertwined with the dream many of us were chasing.
The dream? To escape the 9-to-5 job. To become your own boss. To pursue and perform work that is meaningful to you. To replace (or exceed) your current income level. To maybe, just maybe, build something that can grow bigger than you and become something more—a thing that creates a real, lasting impact upon others that is celebrated and remembered well into the future, perhaps even after you're gone.
I dare say that many of us entrepreneurs share that same dream—at least that broad outline of it. I also dare say that dreaming is the easy part. And that's the gritty truth at the heart of the notion that your blog is not in fact your business.
Many an entrepreneur have become misguided in their thinking that merely having a popular blog, or podcast, or YouTube channel, or similar platform with a large following is the dream personified. It's not—at least not completely, not by a long shot—though it's easy to understand why this mistake is made. On the surface popularity may look like success, but buying into the notion that popularity and success are synonymous risks the misconception that marketing drives success on its own. That's not true, though many are fooled into thinking so in part because it's human nature to ascribe success merely to the things we can see (the marketing) and then focus on those things—and only those things—with limited to no consideration of anything else that may be unseen (e.g. the business model, the operating budget, the team culture). The point: Marketing is a critical business function, yes, but it's not the whole picture and on its own cannot transform your entrepreneurial dream into reality.
The dream, really? To have a business—a real business that serves customers and generates profit—including but not limited to marketing.
Business dynamics differ. You may envision a solo endeavor performing a service-based craft to help others. Or you may want to partner up with one or two other founders in a venture that creates a product that solves a pesky problem in your industry. You may see the value in hiring and leading an in-house team. Or you may get queasy at the prospect of recruiting and managing employees. You may not want to take on any money to start because the notion of debt or having investors gives you the heebie jeebies. Or you may actually want to raise startup capital to give your new venture a fast and hot start.
Business outcomes also differ. You may never care about exiting—meaning selling in some form. Instead, a freelance business that's just you working from the comforts of anywhere you please may sound perfectly dreamy. Or, the promise of an exit may be wildly motivating and exactly what you want to build toward. Or maybe something in between sounds right—a business that isn't just you alone doing everything, that can achieve modest scale with a small team, and that generates a healthy and sustainable profit for the foreseeable future.
Despite such important differences, many fundamentals are the same. A set of documents that establish terms and boundaries with your business partner(s) (if you have them). A well-defined business model. An empowered set of culture principles. A sensible operating plan inclusive of anticipated costs. A method for planning, managing, executing, and delivering work. These assets are among the most important foundational pieces to any business venture.
Together, as a composite, they are what's meant by the “business” part of the phrase, “your blog is not your business.”
This guide exists to help you learn the ropes of these fundamentals as well as guide you through the big decisions related to them. These subjects aren't as sexy as the marketing. From someone who happens to love this stuff, I think that's just fine—thank you very much—because for what the business stuff lacks in terms of outward flashiness it more than makes up for in terms of inward intricacies that make a business a beautiful thing.
As a dream-big entrepreneur, if you’re up for the challenge to take these business matters seriously and embrace them fully, then you'll develop the mindsets, instincts, and abilities to actually run a business versus just being the face of one.
What to Expect in This Epic Guide to Business Fundamentals
This guide is for you if you self-identify as a digital entrepreneur of some variety. That's not to say that it can't help you if you're pursuing a brick-and-mortar business like a bakery or bicycle shop. It definitely can, and I encourage you to give it a go if that's you. However, the primary lenses used to structure and develop this guide come from the world of agencies, book publishing, content marketing, enterprise information technology (IT), e-commerce, software product development, MBA-caliber leadership programs, and freelancing.
It's definitely for you if you're someone who is pursuing any of the following venture types:
- A personality-driven brand and business that may incorporate self-publishing or related book deals, speaking gigs, coaching clients, and paid membership programs.
- A tech startup that may or may not be venture capital-backed and is operating in rabid pursuit of ever increasing monthly recurring revenue (MRR).
- A freelance company of one specializing in a particular craft within your industry that is likely focused on a niche client persona.
- An information product-based company that sells premium content (e.g. online courses) to students who want to learn from your experiences and skills.
- An agency that concentrates a fine-tuned collection of services toward a portfolio base of individuals and brands.
- A media company that may lean heavily on paid ads or sponsorships to monetize audiences that amass around quality podcasts, newsletters, video channels, etc.
This is not a comprehensive list by any means. I share it merely as a launching off point to help give context to the subject matter in this guide.
Here's a quick preview of what we'll encounter in this guide:
- Chapter 1: How a Good Business Is Structured, From the Inside Out
A business built without a blueprint risks a collapse. In this chapter, we'll delve into the concept of a proper business model—what it is, why it's important, and how to create one for your company.
- Chapter 2: How to Start a Business Built to Endure
False starts are an everyday occurrence in the land of startups. To avoid tripping yourself out of the gate, pay attention to several critical founding decisions, which we'll review in this chapter.
- Chapter 3: 3 Ways to Raise Capital For Your Business
Cash is life-sustaining food for all early-stage companies. We'll look at the three primary ways of feeding your business in its early days so that it doesn't go hungry and burn out.
- Chapter 4: Business Case Study: The Operating Dynamics of SPI
High performing companies establish that performance level from the inside out. In this chapter, we'll go behind the scenes at SPI to showcase some of those dynamics in action.
- Chapter 5: 7 Business Mistakes that Risk Ruin
All businesses face a range of threats that risk sabotaging its operations and very existence. We'll go deep in this chapter into seven seminal threats you'll likely face as your start and grow your business.
- Chapter 6: 15 Essential Business Tools to Help You Operate and Grow
While tools are not solutions, they can provide serious operational and growth advantages for your business. We'll take a look at fifteen such tools that we use, love, and rely on at SPI in this chapter.
- Chapter 7: The Lifecycle of a Business
From birth to death, lifecycle phases govern the existence of companies as they do our natural lives. In this chapter, we'll explore this important concept in context of business growth and maturity and apply it to helping you survive the all-important startup phase.
- Chapter 8: Our Recommended Business Platform for Darn Near Everything
To avoid serious compliance risks, streamline mission-critical processes like payroll, and enrich your culture through the extension of meaningful benefits, you'll need a go-to platform. In this chapter, we'll share our recommendation and why you should consider it too.
Before we dig into all of that, here are some not-so-exciting but important disclaimers that govern all the material in this guide:
- I am not a legal or tax expert nor am I attempting to be here. Neither is Pat. Neither is anyone else who works at SPI. The information to come is based on my personal experiences as an entrepreneur and founder, which I’m excited and proud to share on the explicit grounds that it’s for your consideration only and not actual legal or tax advice.
- Should you have any questions, comments, or concerns at all about how to apply some of these concepts to your own business, whether it’s new or existing, please consult with an accredited professional who can properly advise you.
- Our legal counsel, whom you’ll meet later in this guide, have thoroughly reviewed this guide to make sure I didn’t say something that was outdated, inaccurate, or plain stupid. (See, I’m taking my own advice and involving the real pros on this stuff.)
- Finally, this information is based on experiences forming and running companies founded in the United States. If you happen to live outside the United States and intend to start a business in your home country, I’m afraid this guide will be of little service to you.
Now, with that pretext established, let's get down to business, starting with the blueprint that underpins it all: your business model.