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Very often when I'm working with students or clients, I hear a common question. “Is there a shortcut?” It's not always phrased in such an obvious way, but it comes up more often than you might guess.
It doesn't matter whether we're trying to grow a Youtube channel, get more search traffic, find high-paying clients, or grow sales of a product. We've all heard stories of overnight success and things going viral, and it's only natural to want that “instant” solution.
But do shortcuts really exist? Yes and no.
Without a doubt, there are more efficient ways to do most things. In general, however, most of what we think of as “instant success” comes from a failure to understand what drives real value.
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Overnight Success: A Study of Two Bloggers
For the purposes of this example, we'll look at two imaginary bloggers in this same niche.
Blogger A: This guy's been blogging full-time for over a decade, but he still struggles to make ends meet. His site has over 1000 posts, and he's written 4 different books on his site topic. Most of the posts don't actually get any traffic, but a lot of them are really long and well-researched. He also hires a number of writers to help create content. His books don't sell very well, aside from one that gets a slow and steady trickle of sales. He spends a lot of time contacting businesses to sell them ad space on his site, but it's a constant struggle and things get really tight any time a big advertiser leaves.
Blogger B: She's relatively new on the scene, and her two-year-old site has just 120 posts. Still, she gets almost as much traffic as Blogger A. She recently put out a book and it's selling very well. While the site earns what most people would consider a healthy full-time income, she rarely spends more than 10 hours/week on it. Given her current growth rate, she'll completely overtake Blogger A's traffic levels in less than 6 months – but with more earnings, less content, and no extra writers on staff.
Blogger A has gotten wind of Blogger B's success, and he writes her off as a lucky overnight success. “She probably knows someone,” he thinks. “There are no shortcuts for guys like me, though.”
The Real Story…
Here's the thing. Blogger B didn't do anything particularly special. Blogger A could have done the same things to get roughly the same results, but because he didn't understand where the value lies, he missed out. Even worse, he wrote off Blogger B as lucky – so he didn't learn anything.
Success Leaves Clues
Sure, there are those times when you wonder how somebody got where they are, then you Google them and find out their parents are rich and famous and they never really had to try at anything. Unless you're lucky enough to be one of those people, let's forget about them. The old “Step One: Get small million dollar loan from parents” approach has never been an option for most of us.
Instead of assuming somebody got where they are through luck, remind yourself of this: SUCCESS LEAVES CLUES.
Blogger B didn't succeed because she was lucky. She learned about SEO and keyword research and she wrote the kind of content people were searching for. Her book was successful because she interacted with her audience and learned exactly how she could best help them, then made a book with that in mind. Instead of wasting her precious time trying to sell ad space to individual companies, she used an ad network to fill the spaces. When one proved to be a low earner, she found a different company that paid better. She found that company by looking at the ads on other successful sites, and interacting in groups full of experienced and successful bloggers.
Blogger A skipped these steps, writing instead about the topics of greatest interest to him. He decided he wanted to create quality long-form journalism, but he never checked to see if anybody was searching for the topics he wrote about. When he wasn't wasting his time writing loads of content nobody asked for, he was spending hours contacting businesses to sell ads. He didn't want to be an ad salesman, but he thought perhaps he could get just a little more for his ad spaces if he sold the ads and didn't pay a commission to some network. He forgot to consider all the lost time when he could have been creating valuable products or content.
If Blogger A had studied Blogger B instead of getting angry and dismissive, he would have learned most of these things pretty easily. He might not have wanted to give up unpopular long-form content completely, but he could have reclaimed his ad sales time and used it to write more marketable posts. He might have gotten some better ideas for books to publish. He could have learned more about his audience and their needs.
Value is the Only Real Shortcut
I hesitate to call value a shortcut because there really isn't a shortcut to value – but understanding what adds value to your skillset or business is the fastest way to make progress. Some people know this instinctively, and they go out into the world looking for that small subset of inputs that create maximum output. Other people fight it, making life a lot harder than it needs to be.
How Do You Figure Out Where the Value Is?
The most obvious way is just to study those who have achieved what you want to achieve. Don't just pick one, because one could be an oddball or fluke who got where they were in spite of their actions, or because of wealthy parents. Look at several people, blogs, or businesses and figure out the common factors. The things you uncover might surprise you.
Once you've looked at what makes successful people and businesses tick, look at some you know to be…less successful. What do they have in common with the successful people? Where do they differ? Sometimes, it's just a matter of age and experience. Focus on the ones who have been at it for years with little to show for it – or the ones who gave up prematurely. With a bit of focused observation, it's pretty easy to figure out the differences.
As a side note – those newbies you spot who are doing all the right things? Introduce yourself to them. There's no better time to get to know somebody than on their way up.
You can also seek out a coach or consultant. Often, they have the ability to quickly zero in on things you're missing. A good coach can hit you with the hard truths you need to hear – saving you quite a bit of time and energy if you listen. The important bit being “if you listen”. Too many people get a great coach, then proceed to ignore all the advice they don't want to hear. Make sure you're not that person.
Failing that, look for courses or books from people who have actually done what you want to do – not random people with opinions, but people who have gone where you want to go. Then listen.
That's really all there is to it. Most of the answers are out there if you know where to look.