Marketing Strategy Interview with Pat Flynn


Being laid off at work. Does that sound like a good start to you?

This is how it all began for Pat Flynn, owner of the Smart Passive Income Blog .

Now this is not the only blog Pat owns, yet – it all started from there.

In my interview with Pat, we talk about giving content away as part of the marketing strategy for a business.

So, lights on – Pat Flynn.

Helen: I am joined today by Pat Flynn, the owner of the Smart Passive Income Blog. Pat, how are you doing today?

Pat: I am doing excellent. Thank you Helen, I appreciate it.

Helen: Pat makes his living out of passive income he makes online. In November 2012 he made $47,000. Pat, how did you manage to do that? Can you share your story with us?

Pat: It’s an interesting story. It actually started after I’d graduated from college. I have a degree in architecture, and I got on an amazing job in architecture, loved it, but in 2008 I was laid off. And it was a waking moment for me. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I was going to do architecture for the rest of my life.

Luckily, when I was still working in architecture, I created a blog to help people pass – or to help myself pass – an exam in the architecture industries. It’s called the Lead Exam. It’s about green buildings, and environmentally friendly buildings, and things like that. I created the site to help myself pass because I found it was the best way to study – like writing notes, as my handwriting’s really bad. I just posted my notes online on a blog, and it allowed me to share my notes with a couple of my co-workers. And that was it. I passed the test, everything was good. I just let the site sit there.

And when I was laid off, I was like, “What am I going to do?” And I got inspired by a lot of people who were doing really good things online. I learned that if you had a website and you had traffic coming to it, maybe you could potentially make money from it. I actually got tired to get another job in the architecture industry, and I couldn’t – nobody was hiring anybody who was designing buildings at that point.

I took my blog, and I was like, “Ok, maybe there’s something I can do with this”. Obviously, a couple of my co-workers were interested in it, so maybe I could share it with the world. The first thing I did is I put a little tool on the site to help me keep track of how many people were coming to it (like an analytical tool). The next day I saw that thousands – five to six thousand – people already were visiting my site every single day to help them pass the exam. I had no idea how it happened or why. But it was because I had posted all that stuff online, and Google found it, and people shared it: people shared it on forums, and I had no idea that it was happening.

Just to make the long story short, I ended up turning that website into business creating an epoch study guide for that site. First month I sold that e-book (it was in October 2008), I had made $7,905 selling a $19,95 cents e-book. It was just a life-changing moment for me right at the point when I was laid off, it was perfect timing. Then I introduced an audio guide to go on with it. My income skyrocketed up to $30,000 a month, and it was incredible. I could not believe it. And that’s when I started the Smart Passive Income Blog where most people know me from. I wanted to share all that amazing stuff that I had figured out, that I had no idea existed. It really took my lay off to open my eyes about what was really possible. And I don’t want other people to have to go through stuff like that to understand what’s available to them. I wanted to show what was possible. Now on my site I share tips, I share exactly how I created that business and new businesses that I’ve created. Just last month (in November 2012), like you said, I earned $47,000 through many different businesses that I have included into the Smart Passive Income Blog, mainly through affiliate marketing. I don’t sell anything on the Smart Passive Income Blog, I just share information for free. And through affiliate links people want to pay me back by sending over some commission as a thank you. It’s just great.

Helen: Was giving content away a good strategy for your business?

Pat: You know, if anyone wants to find how to do things these days, you can probably do a Google search for it and find it for free. If you would provide that information in a really well-organized manner on your site for free as well, people are going to go to you and think of you as the expert. And there’s some psychological thing about ‘free’ – ‘free’ gets people doing some crazy things. You know, people will stand in line for hours to get some cupcake or something for free, right? There’s something powerful about ‘free’: it moves people, and it gets some to take actions they wouldn’t normally take. ‘Free’ is a great way to get people into what you’re doing, and who you are, what kind of brand that you have. But important thing to realize is that ‘free’ is not a business model. You know, ‘free’ is incentive for your business model. You want to utilize ‘free’ in that power and drive behind ‘free’ to help people, build a relationship with them to have them understand that you’re giving away for free as a proof that you are the person or brand they should be going to. And then you want to take that relationship to the next step and have them possibly buy something from you, or subscribe, or whatever. So, ‘free’ is just the first step. By enabling stuff for free on your site, you can get so many people coming your way.

Now there is something to worry about with ‘free’. One of the hardest things to do in business is called the ‘penny gap.’ There’s a huge difference in demand between giving something away for free and even just charging a penny. Once you start charging for anything, the demand is going to go way down. People love free stuff, and once they have to pay for something, there’s that sort of idea that they’re going to lose something, as a fear of loss there. What’s cool on the Internet it’s bloggers that can build relationships as opposed to someone just giving away a cupcake. We can build relationships with people, and close that ‘penny gap’ to increase the number of people who convert from free to paid. Once you eat the cupcake, it’s gone and it doesn’t do anything. But whenever you give away for free, especially online, it can be reproduced, it can be shared, it can be exposed to many more people over and over again without you actually having to do much more work.

Helen: What content is best to give away?

Pat: I feel whatever it is that you’re on its needs to get them to your goal.Whatever that may be. For example, one of the best things I gave away for free on my site was an entire series of posts on how to build a website from scratch: from start to finish, all the way from what keywords to pick or what industry to get into. I’ve revealed everything for free, like stuff that normally people wouldn’t feel like they would have to pay for. But it’s all free, it was spread virally. People were really interested in what I was going to do, and over time, within three months, I got a number one in Google. And the site started making a couple of thousand dollars a month. And it’s just a major proof for what I do.

Even though I gave all that information for free, like how to build the website from scratch – the stuff that they want, that’s the point, they still wanted more. People were asking me, they were willing to pay for coaching, they were like, “You’ve got to come out with a course, and I will pay you for it”; and I could just make higher quality stuff than what I’d already shared for free on the site. It’s hard to just pinpoint what exactly it is: it depends on what you niche is and who your audiences are. I thing the first step is actually understanding the needs of your audience, and what is it that they want, what is their goal; and whatever that is, just give it to them.

Helen: Why does giving away content for free works so well in the online business?

Pat: There’re a lot of reasons. It’s easier to consume, there’s a viral aspect of having it to be shared, and everybody’s online these days – from PCs to tablets and mobile phones. I mean you can just build a relationship with someone that all the way across the world. And just like here at News Media Expo, I am meeting people for the first time who I feel I have deep connection with. Even though we never met in person, because we’ve read each other’s content, or they know who I am though my posts and videos, especially videos … I mean just the ability of video to build a deep relationship with someone who could be all the way the other side of the world. It’s just amazing.

Helen: What are your future plans? Do you have some interesting projects you’re planning to experiment with?

Pat: I’m always planning new experiments. Right now I am writing a book that’s a lot more difficult that I had expected because I hadn’t finished it before my daughter was born. I have no time anymore to write but I am still working towards that. It’s my first taste of using Kindle market because people are buying books on Kindle now and doing really well, and it’s another marketplace that you can go to, even giving something away for free (like a book). I mean content that you give away for free on Amazon. Amazon has three hundred million people on it, so you can get in front of people who you would never gotten in front of before.

I just have too many ideas. We can talk for an hour about every single thing I’m going to do. I mean new businesses I want to create. One of the things I’d love to do on is to experiment with new businesses and just reveal everything like I did with that, the ones we have talked about, and just go over what worked, what didn’t work, so that other people can see and have a head start. And I feel like I am a crash test dummy in that sense.

Helen: Pat, thank you for joining us today. It was a very insightful interview.

What about you? What do you think about giving away content for free? Does that sound like a great plan to you?