Today’s interview is with Andrew Walton, a writer who I’ve known for awhile online, and someone whose work ethic I’ve always admired (this guy can really write a lot of good quality content).
Early on in his internet writing career, he wrote a bunch of articles for a revenue-sharing website, and was able travel Europe for 15 weeks while living purely off the passive income he earned from those articles.
Since then, he’s turned his focus to other projects. In this interview, he not only discusses his journey, but he shares his strategy for being able to produce a high quantity of quality content. He also talks about his new project: Cracking the Happiness Code.
Read on to find out more…
Andrew, we met a long time ago on the forums of InfoBarrel (I think), and I was always amazed at how much high quality content you produced on a consistent basis. I know you’ve had a lot of experience writing online, but tell us a little bit about yourself and your history. What kind of work have you done online, and do you work online “full time” (if not, what else do you do)?
Hey Eric, first of all thanks for making me a part of The Daily Interview, it’s very cool to see you doing this project having followed “My 4 Hour Work Week” for years and being a huge fan of your work.
Yeah, I actually found InfoBarrel because of your blog post about how to make $2k/month there. I had just read Tim Ferriss’ “The 4 Hour Work Week” and was searching for ways to make passive income online as I had some major health complications that made me more-or-less unemployable. Writing over at InfoBarrel was my very first experience earning money online, and I’ve never looked back.
With InfoBarrel and the ideas from 4HWW, I started outsourcing quite quickly once I worked out a viable system and got the numbers working in my favor. I’ve managed over 100 different employees — thankfully not all at once, but ultimately got frustrated by my inability to scale to the level I wanted and the fact that SEO writing was a bit of a killjoy for me.
Since then I’ve written several blogs, built niche sites, done some copywriting, and created the marketing materials and strategy for a fitness product. I’ve done some sporadic freelancing. But my income is basically 100% online at this point.
And even though I’ve dabbled in many areas with moderate success, I keep coming back to blogging, because that’s where I get to actually express myself and do work that’s meaningful.
What has been your greatest success (or successes) so far, with regard to your online endeavors?
For me it was actually my very first project, the InfoBarrel one. I went from nothing – no experience, website, list, money to invest, contacts and so on to playboy billionaire status almost overnight.
By that I mean I had a ton of initial success – within 3 months I was able to book a trip to Europe and enjoy a 15-week vacation doing nothing except checking my AdSense stats and thinking “I’ve made it.”
I’m sure there are a lot of people who could paint the success picture better than I can, but I’ll say this much: It’s really cool to think, after a day traipsing around Paris, watching the Pope speak in Vatican City, or hiking the hills of Sicily, “that was amazing…and it was FREE.”
It didn’t last, but over a 6 month period I had around 250,000 page views and enough money to pay for my trip, even if I wasn’t a true rock star – yet.
The interesting thing was, I didn’t do anything particularly profound, innovative, or complicated. I just worked out a simple system that was right for me and my skills, and scaled it up as much as I could manage with virtual assistants.
I think we often over-complicate things. Things have been difficult so we feel like they’re supposed to be difficult. That success is an arduous, painful, labor intensive journey.
I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. But I’d much rather have an ELF business like Joe Polish says: Easy. Lucrative. Fun.
All successful people stumble along the way..What do you consider to be your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?
Wow. That’s both an incredibly difficult question for me to answer and an incredibly simple one.
I started this fitness site with a good friend of mine. It was about helping guys get abs and build muscle on a “paleo” diet. Worked great too; I’d seen him work with guys in the gym and it got results, so I was pumped. We were going to dominate a space renowned for its inability to get results for clients – unless you count getting them through up sell funnels.
So he was the fitness guru and was featured in all our videos, I was marketing and strategy and all the tech stuff. We invested 1 year building this thing, perfecting the message, the content, the marketing. I invested a year’s income in it.
We hired an expensive copywriter who’s done million-dollar projects, created a beautiful launch sequence; opt-ins, emails sequences, the whole package. It was our first time doing any of this stuff so I was studying tactics and strategy constantly. I wrote some AdWords ads that converted at over 8%…it was supposed to be our — MY — big breakthrough.
Then my partner quit.
Ultimately, he didn’t want to put his face out there in a space dominated by charlatans and shady, manipulative marketing approaches. He didn’t want to be painted with the same brush.
And to be honest, I don’t blame him one bit for it. In fact, while it was a huge failure from a time, money, and unmet expectations standpoint, it was also a huge relief.
Why? Our copywriter was convinced the launch would crush sales, and he had no reason to be hyperbolic as he was being paid mostly on commission. I felt I had every reason to be devastated.
But the thing is, there are a million ways to make money online. Counter to most internet marketing wisdom, the trick isn’t finding the right way to make money, it’s to find the way that’s right for you. Something that matches your values, goals, interests, skills and desire to contribute to the world.
We spend our time focusing on tactics: How can I get more traffic from Twitter? Which headline converts more? Does my website have sexy graphics? And we don’t spend enough time asking ourselves why we’re in this business in the first place.
I think one of the struggles that many bloggers (or anyone who is creating content on some medium) have is that they can’t write with a high level of consistency. Either they “run out of ideas,” “can’t find the time,” or any number of other excuses.
What have you found to be a good strategy for producing a high quantity of content, without sacrificing quality?
Am I allowed to say “that’s an easy one?” Most people will disagree, but this is a lesson I took from my time as a jazz musician.
I remember one of my instructors telling a story about how the best players, the men and women who could get on stage and improvise for hours without running out of ideas, weren’t necessarily those with the best technique or who spent the most time in the practice room.
They were the people who spent the most time experiencing life. And often the people with the hardest lives were the best players because they had experienced so much and had so much to “talk” about when they got on stage.
If you want to create content that is really spectacular, that engages people emotionally, then it’s much more important to go get your hands dirty in the real world than it is to do research — and I say this as an avid lover of reading.
No, get into trouble, go screw something up, fail in a spectacular fashion, and you’ll never, ever run out of interesting things to say. It also works with purely positive experiences by the way.
And if you do this, you’ll need to share your experiences so badly that the question of having enough time won’t even come into play. We always find time for what matters most to us.
Oh, and never talk (or write) for the sake of talking. Forcing conversation is a perfect way to ruin relationships with lovers and email subscribers alike.
I understand you have a new project getting ready to launch, called “Cracking The Happiness Code.” I’m intrigued by the title. What’s this all about? Why is this something people should pay attention to?
I’m really really excited about this project, and I think it’s something to pay attention to because it addresses a huge part of the human experience almost nobody talks about, but is crucial to understand if we want to be happy and fulfilled as individuals and build healthy, functioning societies.
Cracking the Happiness Code is a new approach to creating change on three levels: individuals, communities, and our global society. The problem with most traditional approaches to any type of self improvement – doesn’t matter if we’re talking business, weight loss, dating, or whatever – is that they’re based on a faulty assumption:
That we, as human beings, are inherently flawed.
And therefore we must motivate, discipline, structure, willpower, positive think, productivity hack, “law of attraction” and repress ourselves in order to overcome these deficiencies and achieve success.
This is nonsense, and I don’t know if it’s our philosophical heritage that’s brought us here – you know, with Christianity’s idea of “original sin” or Buddhism’s “life is suffering” – but if we want to maximize human flourishing then we need a better starting point than “I’m broken.”
Instead of judging ourselves, our desires, and our actions as bad and trying to willpower & motivate & positive think our way out of our nature, we would be much better served trying to understand that nature. Then we can structure our lives and environments in such a way that leads to positive outcomes more naturally and sustainably.
Let me give a concrete example. Obesity rates in America are hovering between 65-70% (overweight + obese). The normal weight loss strategy is to simply exercise more and eat less; maybe eat differently too.
All these activities require an enormous amount of willpower, motivation, discipline to sustain long enough to form habits and make change. Forcing ourselves not to eat when we’re hungry is psychologically draining and possibly damaging – it’s a hugely repressive activity that goes against our instincts.
But if we want to eat less without any effort, we can simply buy slightly smaller plates. Our brains don’t trigger fullness based solely on the quantity of food eaten — they believe that we normally eat “so many” plates of food, and that’s when we’ve had enough.
It’s like an optical illusion; it works on everyone, regardless of intelligence or effort – and as you’ll notice, this change requires exactly zero input on the dieter’s part.
When we stack a number of these changes that have unconscious benefits, then layer our willpower, motivation and discipline on top, positive change becomes much, much easier – if not automatic.
So that’s really the heart of what Cracking The Happiness Code is about: Developing a deeper understanding of human nature as a means of personal growth and social progress. It’s biology, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and history in action, as seen through the lens of my personal experiences. Sort of a Dan Ariley’s “Predictably Irrational” for happiness.
As for why it’s important? Because it addresses these important, often-hidden aspects of the human experience precious few people are talking about — but which are critical for improving our lives.
Such as how our environments and our communities matter – how they affect the results we get regardless of the effort we put in, and how institutionalized prejudices prevent the people with the most merit from succeeding.
For instance, in North America, a disproportionately high percentage of pro athletes are born between January and April, and relatively few in December. Is that because January babies just work harder and think more positively than December babies?
Or maybe it’s because, when kids are six, seven, eight years old and being streamed into special programs, the most talented kids are the oldest and biggest. A December baby is effectively competing against children a whole year older at this time. So the children born earlier in the year end up receiving a disproportionate amount of special opportunities for skill development based on their age, not merit.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I want to live in a world where people succeed or fail based on merit, not their age, race, gender, sexuality, religion, country of birth or anything else like that. I mean, I’m a mid-20s, straight, white, male born into a middle class family in Canada. That means I’m one of the luckiest people in the history of humankind — out of billions upon billions of people — in terms of unfair social advantages.
But I’d be even better off if every other passionate, creative, intelligent, compassionate human being out there who doesn’t have all the perks I have thanks to a celestial roll of the dice had the opportunity to capitalize on their skills.
I’ll get off the soapbox before I break it, but that’s why I’m doing this, and for now that’s the “concise” version of what Cracking the Happiness Code is about. Seth Godin I am not.
Let’s take a step back and look more generally at blogging or making a living online. If you had to take your best advice and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
The only right business is your business. [Click here to tweet this]
If you make $100/month online doing something you love and it sustains your dream lifestyle, then congratulations, you just did something amazing.
It doesn’t matter how many Facebook subscribers or Twitter followers you have, it doesn’t matter what your conversion rates are or if they’re better than the next guy’s. It doesn’t matter how many products you have or how big your list is.
It only matters if what you have and what you’re doing matches your goals. Leo Babauta of ZenHabits barely uses email or social media and most of us would dropkick our grandmothers in the teeth to swap places with him. Tim Ferriss publishes one article a month – sometimes.
If you’re going to build a business that doesn’t ultimately match your lifestyle goals — say it takes too much time, or it doesn’t allow you to be away from the Internet for any length of time, or it doesn’t scale, or you have to manage too many employees, or it doesn’t create the social impact you’d like, or whatever — then you just built yourself a job. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t think this is why most people dream of leaving their office job.
I’ll give you another quote from samurai philosophy that sums up my business building philosophy:
Win beforehand. Most people fail because they decided to build somebody else’s business, not their own. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources?
My favorite resources actually have nothing to do with workflow efficiency, but maintaining our health. I feel like if we don’t take care of our bodies, then we can’t possibly be at our best when we go to serve our clients. And the number of problems we’ve developed as a society from spending too much time sitting in front of a computer screen are rather depressing.
This probably stems from my own struggles with repetitive strain injuries, but it really is important to take some small, proactive and preventative measures if our lifestyle is going to require sustained computer use.
So one of my favorite resources is F.LUX, which changes the type of light your computer emits according to the time of day. It’s great for nighttime computer users for saving your eyes and not disrupting your sleep.
The other is EyeLeo, which schedules short breaks where you look away from the screen and do a random eye exercise, with one larger break every hour to get away from the computer completely.
Finally, where can people find you online?
The best place to find me is on my website, http://crackingthehappinesscode.com. I’m a fan of the “gift economy” and keep the website ad-free and free to use. This way, whoever thinks I’m doing good work can support me through my Patreon page and nobody gets bombarded with sales pitches or ads – everybody wins.
So I’d encourage you to check it out and see if you agree – that this is the way content creation should be done in the future.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Andrew!
Do you have any questions or comments for Andrew? Leave them below!
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