50Plus Entrepreneurship Online: the Importance of Authority

Tillamook LIghthouse - off Ecola State Park - Cannon Beach, Oregon

Tillamook LIghthouse - off Ecola State Park - Cannon Beach, Oregon

My series of blog posts on the 50Plus demographic and entrepreneurship have been leading up to the launch of a website. It will be a home for members of the 50Plus demographic who want to understand how to unleash their inner entrepreneur to generate new income streams to support themselves in the extra years many of us are being gifted by living healthier lives. I am creating educational programs and assembling a set of tools and resources to demonstrate how to use the web to generate new income streams with limited financial risk. I want to customize these offerings to the 50Plus experience, needs and state of mind. In my teaching at Lean Launch Ventures I helped teams of Millennials and a few Gen Xers build scalable businesses whereas at the School of Visual Arts I introduced mostly Millennial students to both scalable and micro-business startups. It is clear to me that the wealth of knowledge, talent, wisdom and experience that most of us in the 50Plus demographic possess is the ideal raw material out of which to build a foundation for a web-based micro-business. That foundation needs to be a subject on which you can claim and demonstrate authority

My business will rest on authority I have earned from experience as a serial entrepreneur, teacher, mentor and self-taught student of the web since the early 1990’s. My teaching to date has convinced me of one thing: the greatest impact on students is always "case studies" of real people who had built or were building real things and could talk in depth about their experience. To provide the best education on how to build an online micro-business I will use a range of case studies highlighting some of my micro-entrepreneurial role models. In fact I will begin doing so in this post. My preference is not just to summarize what I have read or learned about them, I hope to provide audio or video recordings of personal interviews with some, if not all, over time. However, I want to go one step further: I am offering myself as an ongoing live "case study". I will show you how to leverage your own history to build a micro-business by putting details of my own attempt on display. There have been other examples of businesses built with various degrees of public exposure which I have studied, but doing it myself for you will be new, not to mention a little intimidating. I intend to structure the site with community elements so we can interact. I want to see the results of the help you get from me. At the same time you will not only see, but have a direct impact on my outcome. We will be in this together.

The key to generating income in any entrepreneurial venture is finding a need and filling it for others, providing something of value they are willing to pay for. The solution may be a product or a service. To understand this let’s start with a simple product, information that people want to learn. Two of my best online role models are great examples that both started by offering valuable information based on authority. The talented Gen-Xer from my new hometown of Portland, Oregon, Chris Guillebeau, author of the $100 Startup had a cameo appearance in my last post. Chris has been publishing for years on his website the Art of Non-Conformity (AONC) which is still his by-line but no longer his primary URL which has been changed to his name dot com. Chris currently describes AONC on his About page as, “a home for unconventional people doing remarkable things.” He goes on to describe himself by saying, “I write books and travel. Over the past ten years I visited every country in the world—but my next quest is just beginning.” Chris goes on to say “the purpose of AONC is to share the story of how to change the world by achieving personal goals while helping others at the same time. In the battle against conventional beliefs, we focus on three core areas: Life, Work and Travel.” In the language of AONC my personal goal for my new website is to launch a micro-business that will help change the world for as many of my fellow 50Plus cohort members as I can by sharing what I have learned.

I have subscribed to Chris’s postings on AONC for years, but I only met him this past spring when he threw out to his readers on AONC the offer to be part of a a class he was going to teach on Creative Live in Seattle. It was limited to a live audience of 10, an interesting mix of Millennials, Gen X and 50Plus because the Creative Live format has teachers "workshop" the issues being covered in class with members of the audience one on one to demonstrate how we could actually apply what we were learning.  We spent 4 days doing 3 shows that were streamed live on the web and 27 others that were pre-recorded for release every week day over the following 6 weeks. Chris is an amazing guy, very focused. Chris exudes authority on travel, the subject of the class in Seattle.  His travel authority is rooted in the quest he set out on to visit every country in the world using the alternative “currency” of airline miles. Chris accomplished it over a 10 year period. He visited 193 countries (he is @193Countries on Instagram), which helped him build an amazing following deeply rooted in his authority on travel, His authority has only expanded over the years, allowing him to develop authority in new domains like life and work.

My second online role model is a Millennial, Pat Flynn. Pat lives in San Diego and describes himself as, “a leader in the areas of online entrepreneurship, digital marketing, and lifestyle businesses”. He goes on to say, “(I) overcame career adversity at an early age by finding [my] own path and true passion.” In 2008 as a recent UC Berkeley architecture grad with a good job Pat got laid off as the recession hit. He was scared and said, “with the economy in crisis, I wasn’t sure how, when, or where I was going to find another job, especially one that I liked. It was all a bit maddening. Then a crazy idea popped into my head: I could work for myself.” Pat discovered that a study-reference blog he had initially started as a means to organize his notes as he prepared to test for an elite industry certification was his path to self-reliance. By inadvertently building a sizable core audience he had established a foothold on the web for himself as an authority in a very narrow niche, the LEED exam for architects, almost without trying. The good news: it became his springboard to a multifaceted career on the web as an authority on online business. [Note: Pat’s original LEED study guide effort still generates an average of ~$2,000 / month in revenue in 2016] Since the early days, Pat described has himself as “the crash test dummy of online business”. His primary business now is rooted in his website Smart Passive Income (SPI) where he has been a pioneer in creating transparency around how online businesses operate. The word transparency is largely rooted in the fact that every month, since October 2008, Pat has published a full financial report of all income and expenses from all of his online businesses, a number of which continues to grow. The report is always a fascinating and highly educational read. He has now catalyzed the formation of an informal cohort that follow his lead in writing this type of monthly report. We will delve into his reports and those of others as we go.

The next question is this: how can authority be leveraged to create income? For now, I would like to emphasize a common denominator in both Chris’ and Pat’s approach to making money online. They both have always given away substantial amounts of valuable information. On his website Chris states, “All of the writing on the AONC site is presented freely with no outside advertising. If you’d like to support the project, pass it on to someone who might be interested.” On Pat’s SPI site he does the same thing but is also transparent on the subject of “affiliate” income that he earns when his readers opt to use tools he uses to run his business. Pat only makes money when his readers make the tool providers aware of Pat’s referral, there is no obligation to use anything that he uses. However, being the “crash test dummy” that he is, Pat tries a lot of tools and generally only uses the best in class. Just to be clear, affiliate income can be earned in a transparent, mutually beneficial manner, and it is an important tool many sites use to capitalize on authority. I will address the full range of ways to generate income on the web in much more detail as we continue our journey.

The important point about both Chris and Pat’s business models is that they both pack their blog postings and in Pat’s case, his podcast and live experiments with Periscope, with an incredible amount of valuable free information. It is not that Chris and Pat don’t want to make money, they just don’t want to do it on their websites through constant high pressure, direct, and in your face, offers. Chris doesn’t report his finances in the same way that Pat does, but in the public domain you can see he earns money from a number of different books he has written, two annual conferences he runs in Portland each summer, the largest, now in its sixth year being the World Domination Summit which drew over 3,000 attendees in 2015, a separate subscription based travel hacking website and more. These all represent income streams that sprang from his authority established via the web that has continued to expand over time into other domains.

I have never met Pat in person, but I am just winding down my participation on a “launch team” of over 400 people out of Pat’s private 20,000+ member Smart Passive Income Facebook group. We received early access to Pat’s first major printed book, Will It Fly, a wonderful treatise on how to validate an idea for a startup, providing feedback along the way. It was released today, February 1. The “launch team” was a brilliant marketing idea that was first introduced to Pat's Smart Passive Income audience in the closing months of 2015 by a guest on his podcast.


It turns out Chris also has another book coming to add to his growing list of titles, entitled Born for This. It will be released April 5th. He too is employing a “launch team” but I am not part of his, having missed a chance to join it. I will cover both of these books in more detail in later posts. Will It Fly is actually my choice of a textbook, or at least suggested reading, for the educational programs that I am creating for the new website. I have used a number of different books over time, but Will It Fly is a classic even before its release. In the spirit of transparency, I should note for my readers that I have no financial interest whatsoever in Pat’s book, I am only an early reader of it, and I am quite impressed by what he has done within its pages.

I intend to pull back the curtain on the new website in February. It is not a finished product, and it still won’t be when I introduce it. It will purposely be a work in progress so that you can see exactly where I am starting, see what I have done, hear what I am thinking and hopefully provide some input on my ideas so I can best serve your needs. I will move most of my past blog posts over to it so that the archive continues to build along with the list of other types of resources. The educational offerings are still being fine tuned, and will take a few more weeks to finalize but I will provide some peeks to get feedback, maybe even form a small launch team for support.


Please subscribe to my e-mail list to keep abreast of future posts and the announcement of the new website.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  .