Maverick Traveler

Location Independence, Geo Arbitrage, Individual Freedom

Category: Money and Hustle (page 1 of 2)

How To Live Abroad And Make Money Online Without Becoming An English Teacher And Losing Your Dignity

I get tons of emails per day and around 75% of them are questions about making money online.

Most of these come from people who decided to quit their jobs and travel the world. Some have even started blogs. 

But when it becomes apparent that writing about their experiences on some blog can barely fund a cable bill back home, some have resorted to teaching English or even freelancing for some sites in order to make ends meet.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want you to become an English teacher abroad. I want you to make good money selling awesome products and services so that you’re happy where you are and aren’t forced to cut your trip short by returning to the USA (or some other country) and begging your old boss for a job.

The biggest problem these people face is the same problem I faced when I began my online money-making journey: I had no idea what I was doing.

I once believed that I can start a blog, write a few articles and money would mysteriously fall from the sky.

That’s not quite how it works.

There are a lot of gurus out there who’ll tell you that the way to make money is to start a blog.

The truth is that they’re probably trying to sell you something.

First of all, a blog is a terrible way to make money. 

You can’t make money writing about your experiences in Mexico, Lithuania or Cambodia.

Actually, let me back up a minute. It is possible to make money doing just that, but you need a well-devised and well-executed strategy and plan.

I can certainly tell you that 99% of bloggers are not making more than $50 per month (if that) from their blogs.

The reason: they don’t have a strategy in place that comes along with treating it as a business and not a hobby.

This brings me to the first lesson: you must treat your making-money goals as a business.

Most people are super casual about it: they treat it as a hobby. 

Their blogs are hobbies.

Their websites are hobbies.

Their online stores are hobbies.

Everything in their life is a hobby.

It doesn’t work like that.

Anything that you build for the purpose of making money should be treated as a business.

You have to be super serious about it.

My ecommerce stores are businesses.

My affiliate sites are businesses.

I don’t do many niche sites, but the few which I do have are definitely businesses.

The blog you’re reading now? That’s more of a hobby and a way for me to connect with the audience, and help people anyway I can.

The important point I want to drive is that there’s a Chinese Wall that separates my businesses and my hobbies.

That means that my businesses all have super high priority because they pay the bills and fund my life.

I don’t fuck around with the businesses. 

I live in spreadsheets. I analyze every cent of the revenue, sales and profits. Everything needs to add up.

If I’m losing money somewhere, I need to find out why.

If I’m making more money than normal, I must find out way.

You will never be this serious if you just treat it as a hobby.

Look, I get it. You escaped the 9-5 job, you’re traveling around the world, you’re living in some exotic place like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil or Medellin, Colombia, so why do you need to work?

Lapa, Rio de Janeiro: One of my favorite places in the world

That’s especially true if you’re living in a country with a low cost of living.

Well, that rent for your bachelor pad in Ipanema and money for your hot Carioca girlfriend isn’t going to magically appear out of nowhere. 

You still have to earn it.

The second lesson: don’t only focus on things that you’re super passionate about

This is something I notice all the time: people only choose to concentrate on things they’re extremely passionate about.

That blog you’re writing from your Rio de Janeiro apartment is your passion. After all, you love Brazil and can’t wait to tell people about the women, the beaches, the BJJ training, or how everything is just awesome 24-7.

I get it.

I’ve been there.

I love Brazil and still fondly remember my multi-year sojourn there.

There’s nothing in my life that I’m more passionate about than traveling and living abroad. 

Right now, I’m having the time of my life living in Ukraine, and I want to tell others about it.

The problem is that just because you care about it, doesn’t mean that others do as well.

And if you’re not solving other people’s problems, then you don’t really have a business.

I’ve struggled with this for a long time. That is, until I figured out that helping other people is the easiest way to put cash in your pocket.

So, I started to diversify.

Now, I run various websites that have absolutely nothing to do with this blog.

Don’t get me wrong, this blog is my passion and I will probably continue to run it forever, but it doesn’t exactly solve the most pressing problems that people have.

As it happens, there are more pressing problems in the world than figuring out how to get a Brazilian girl to like you.

Imagine that.

This blog is mostly a way for me to philosophize and connect with like-minded individuals.

For instance, here are some earnings for a site which I started fairly recently.

Those aren’t exactly life-changing numbers, but that’s just one site of many that solves very specific problems for a laser-targeted audience.

This is not a site about a subject I’m passionate about at all. In fact, I knew nothing about the subject as little as two months ago. 

But there are many people that do care about this subject, so I needed to figure out how I can help them.

I quickly learned that when there’s a problem to solve and money to be made, one can be passionate in just about any area. Over time, I even developed interest in this particular subject area.

My e-commerce stores are pure businesses as well. I built my first one back in February of this year, and gradually added more over the year.

Some of the products we sell are loosely connected to one of my passions, but many others I have zero interest in. They just sell really well. I like money, so I roll with it.

Empathizing with other people’s problems is the difference between making enough per month to cover dinner at a sushi restaurant in Manhattan versus making enough to have a luxurious life anywhere on the planet.

The third lesson: you must work really, really hard

Let me ask you something: when was the last time you worked 16 hours per day—all week? Or two weeks? Or an entire month?

Because that’s exactly what you’ll have to do if you want your business to succeed.

I’m not afraid to admit it: I can be pretty lazy. Especially when I spend the summers in Ukraine in my awesome centrally-located apartment. I can’t get any work done.

There’s something about being surrounded by beautiful women and amazing architecture that turns off my hustling mind.

Coincidentally, it’s during those periods that I don’t make much progress and increase my income very much.

But I can also be very hungry and determined. I want to grow my businesses and build new ones.

The major reason that I’m so hungry is because I treat these activities as businesses.

I don’t know many people who spend 12-16 hours per day working on their hobbies. Maybe they exist, but I haven’t met one personally.

On the other hand, a business is different. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been putting in 14 hour days building a brand new business. In about three months, I expect it to easily generate several grand per month, and, if things go well, I expect it to bring in low 5-figures soon after.

There are times when you rest and times when you work. 

Right now, I need to hustle hard to make that happen. I need to work harder than I ever worked at my old 9-5 job in Silicon Valley.

I need to be obsessed with completing as much work in a single day that most people complete in one or two weeks.

All my friends who make a killing online basically live in either FB Ads dashboard, Google Ads dashboard, some SEO keyword research tool or some fancy landing page builder.

They’re obsessed with creating new products, new sites, new landing pages, new pitches, new funnels, etc.

They’re obsessed with always testing, always experimenting, always seeing what works and what doesn’t.

They all work long hours because they want to create more and make more money.

They love it.

Of course, they take vacations here and there; a good friend of mine flies to Miami from NYC every month.

It’s the work hard, play hard philosophize that I absolutely love.

So, if you’re lazy, succeeding as an entrepreneur will be an uphill battle. It requires lots of work and dedication. Much more than you ever did at your 9-5.

I honestly don’t know a single person who makes a killing but is also lazy. Never met one. I don’t know if they exist.

Remember, you make money by starting a business and by treating it like a business.

Imagine you opened a convenience store. What would happen if you show up one day on time, but then show up at 1pm the next day? 

What would happen if you don’t show up for an entire week?

You think you’re going to make money?

Of course not.

Once you begin treating something as a business, the next thing you’ll realize is that you’ve just traded one boss for another; you traded your annoying 9-5 boss for millions of perspective customers whose business you need to keep the lights on.

Some people will relish in this new environment; others will suffer and complain.

Personally, I love building and selling my own products. I couldn’t have it any other way.

I also don’t mind working 16 hour days if that means substantially increasing my income and making serious progress.

When I was a software engineer, I was fairly shy and introspective.

Building my own businesses forced me to go out and become more aggressive, breaking down some of that shyness and insecurities.

That is something you’ll have to learn to love as well.

In the end, it was a lot easier than I thought.

If not, you can always return back home and beg your old boss for a job.

How To Make Your First $1,000 Online

Earning the first $1 is infinitely harder than earning $100. After that, it gets infinitely easier to earn more money; it’s easier to go from $100 to $1,000 and even easier to go from $1,000 to $10,000.

At the start, it’s important to clarify that in order to make money, you have to sell something, either a product or a service, for which you will receive a payment in exchange. You must have something that another party deems valuable enough to give you money.

Let’s say you have no experience with making money online and are looking to make your first $1,000.

What would you do?

Well, the first step is to figure out what exactly do you want to sell.

What’s your pitch? What’s your product? What’s your hustle?

That could be something physical; for instance, a physical product that solves a particular problem to a specific audience.

That can also be an informational product that provides certain guidance or instructions for getting something done, whether it’s moving to another country or building a specific business.

As they say, information is power. Useful information that comes by way of experience can help others save enormous amounts of time and money, allowing them to accomplish something much quicker and easier as compared to if they lacked this information.

When it comes to actually building something, there are two primary ways of doing so: build an online store that sells products directly or create an information-based site that helps visitors in some way shape or form.

An example of the former is an online store that sells something like mattresses or accessories. An example of the latter is a country portal about Colombia where people can learn about the country and then pay for further assistance in specific areas (e.g., help to find apartments or get a residence visa).

Obviously, it would be a lot faster to generate a profit by selling an actual physical product that people are already searching for and can’t wait to purchase. You simply show the product and people buy it.

On the other hand, when you’re creating a custom service, the prospective customer needs time to learn more about you and trust you before partying with their money for the service you’re offering.

Should you follow your passion?

During my many years of mentoring tons and tons of people, the first question that inevitably comes up is whether they should choose an area that’s closely connected with their passion.

So, if a certain person is passionate about a topic such as dog-training, they should build a site about dog training and then figure out ways of making money from it later.

My answer is that it depends. You definitely want to work on something you have some kind of interest in—at least be somewhat interested in.

Most importantly, however, you must pick an area that already has a sizable demand of people who’re looking for a particular solution to their problem.

For instance, fitness is an area with lots of demand. Same for building a business. Lots of people want to make money online and dump the 9-5.

Even if I’m very passionate about teaching my Yorkie Terrier various tricks (I don’t have one), it’s probably not an area I would choose to pursue and build a business because it’s just too small and constricting in size and scope.

On the other hand, let’s say I’m living in Argentina, and I’m super passionate about helping others move and get settled in properly in the country. In that case, that’s something I might pursue doing because of 1) I’m super passionate about Argentina and 2) I realize there’s a sizable demand of people who are trying to do the same.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people give up because they lost interest in the topic they chose to work in. As time went on, they realized it they weren’t interested in cat knitting or building a site about a little city in Nepal as much as they thought.

Now that you decided what is it you want to work on, the next thing is to figure how to get customers to visit your site so they learn about your products and services and hopefully purchase them as well.

Getting customers to your site

The first thing you need in order to make money is people who’re willing to give you money: customers.

Generally, there are two ways to get traffic: free and paid. Free traffic comes to you via places like Google searches (organic traffic), links from other websites and things like word of mouth.

Paid traffic is traffic that you “purchase” via advertisements. Popular advertising platforms are Google Ads (Adwords), Facebook Ads, and tons of others.

I typically employ both strategies depending on my goals.

If you’re tight with money, then free traffic is ideal.

On the other hand, if you know exactly how much you’re making and how much you need to spend on traffic to either break even or turn in a profit, then paid traffic can work really well.

Monetizing customers

Once you’ve discovered ways of getting people to your door, the next step is getting them to buy something from you. This process is called monetization.

Compared to finding a steady traffic source for your products and services, monetization isn’t very difficult. If you there are people who come to your site because they’re looking for a specific solution to their problem, and you have this solution to their problem, selling it to them won’t be very difficult.

After all, they’re on your site because you promised to help them, right?

While there are tons of different offers you can create, there are two primary ways to make money: sell your own products/services or become an affiliate for someone else’s products/services.

When you sell someone else’s product, you get a cut of the transaction (commission). That’s called affiliate marketing because you’re an affiliate for the seller instead of being a seller yourself.

Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing one of my first huge online successes back in 2003. I was one of the largest affiliates for a particular site. If I referred someone and they signed up for the service, I received a commission. As I referred more and more people, I received bigger and bigger commissions (higher tier). As time went on, I ended up making an absolute killing in commissions.

The beauty of affiliate marketing is that you don’t need to build and support the actual product. That means no need to hire web developers and no need to handle customer support. All you really need to do is promote a marketing product or service while letting the vendor handle everything else.

One of the largest marketplaces to find products to promote is ClickBank. There, you can find all kinds of products to promote all kinds of different niches (markets for different audiences). You can also sort each product by how much money is making ensuring that you’re only promoting products that are selling and not some duds that no customer would ever purchase.

For instance, let’s say you’re promoting a product and they pay you a commission of $50 whenever anyone signs up through your link. That means you need to refer 20 users who signup for the service in order to make $1,000. If you’re referring just one paying user a day, you’ll be earning $50 per day. That’s $1,500 per month, a pretty comfortable sum for living anywhere outside the West.

Of course, you also need to provide the traffic. That can be done either via free sources (Google SEO) or paid sources (Google Ads, Facebook Ads).

Dropshipping

While dropshipping is all the rage these days, I have been doing dropshipping back in 2005, so I have quite a bit of experience in this area.

Dropshipping is attributed to ecommerce. You set up a store that sells physical products. A customer visits your store and places an order. But instead of going to your own warehouse, picking out the item and shipping it, you’re asking another supplier to fulfill the order by shipping it directly to your customer.

This way you never even see and touch the product.

Dropshipping is very similar to affiliate marketing. Whereas in affiliate marketing, you’re a middleman for an informational product or service, with dropshipping you’re a middleman for a physical product.

There’s a lot of negativity about dropshipping, but these people don’t understand what dropshipping is. Dropshipping isn’t “positive” or “negative”; it’s simply a logistics model of product fulfillment. So, instead of you fulfilling your orders, someone else does it on your behave. There’s nothing inherently negative about that.

Selling physical products online (ecommerce) is one of the fastest ways to make money. The main reason is that you don’t need to sell the customer very hard on the product. The customer sees the product and they know right away whether they need this particular product or not. They know whether this product can solve their problem or not. This is different from an informational product where the customer needs to be persuaded that this particular product will solve their problems.

The business model with ecommerce is slightly different from affiliate marketing. First of all, you have the cost of the product. So, if you’re buying a product for $25 and selling it for $50, your profit is not $50: it’s $25.

There are other expenses such as the cost of ads (if you’re buying traffic and not getting free organic traffic).

Still, even with all the expenses and overhead, it’s easy to become profitable very quickly if you find a good quality product that solves a problem. And when you experiment with various products, you develop a “sixth sense” for knowing when a product will sell or not.

For instance, let’s say you’re selling a product that you can source for only $5 (you get volume discounts because you’re a high volume seller). It costs you another $5 to ship the product to your customer. Then another $10 for ads. You then sell the product for $30. That means your expenses are $20, so your profit is $10.

In ecommerce, it’s very common to have profit margins of around 15-30% as opposed to 100% when you’re selling an information product that doesn’t cost you an additional amount to produce (e.g., selling another license of software or access to a course).

So, if you can sell 100 of these per month, you will make $1,000 in profit. That’s only 3 items per day, not an impossible feat by any measure.

Building and selling your own product

When you’re an affiliate, you’re getting a cut of the commission (typically 25-75%), but when you’re selling your own product, you keep the entire profit for yourself.

If you already have a certain website up and running and a steady supply of traffic that comes to your website and loves the content, then the next step is creating your own product and service. When you do that, you won’t need to split the profit with anyone else; you pocket 100% of the profit.

The disadvantage is that not only do you need to spend ample amount of time creating this product, but you’re also responsible for all kinds of customer support issues.

If someone signed up and they’re having problems, you must deal with the customer. If your server is down, you must fix it. If your product isn’t being displayed properly, you must fix it.

Unlike someone who’s a mere affiliate who sends the customer over to a third party site, as someone who owns the product, you have a lot of responsibility to handle everything.

I have tried both approaches and there are pros and cons to being an affiliate for certain products, but also creating your own products as well.

The decision comes down to expertise. If you run a website that you’re very knowledgeable about, it shouldn’t be much of a challenge to create products and services that your audience would crave. On the other hand, if you somehow have access to traffic of an audience you have nothing in common with, then it might be wiser to become an affiliate for a third party product instead of creating your own from scratch.

For instance, I have no problems building products in areas I’m an expert in such as digital marketing, making money online, dropshipping and learning foreign languages, but I would never build products in areas I know nothing about like knitting or woodworking.

The right mindset to start

The most challenging part of making your first $1000 is believing that $1000 is somehow a lot of money and making that much money would be difficult if not outright impossible. That’s the wrong mindset to have.

The right approach is to ask yourself the following question, “What can I do right now that will allow to me sell one thing to one person?”

Is it selling a physical product?

Is it helping someone obtain a second passport in Brazil?

Is it teaching someone how to bench press 2.5X their body weight or helping them lose 30 lbs before Christmas?

Is it becoming an authority in a specific area and then consulting companies via your knowledge and expertise?

Now, combine the above question with a group of people who need this problem solved. Congrats: now you have a product, an audience, and a business model.

Final thoughts

I still remember that fateful day when I made my first dollar online. That was over 15 years ago. Of course, the Internet was very different back then. Facebook Ads didn’t exist. Google was an up-coming niche search company.

Nevertheless, the principles are still the same. What worked back in 2003 still works in 2018 and will work in 2033 and beyond.

At the core, any business is really about people. It’s about forming connections. And when a useful connection occurs, money is usually exchanged.

When I think about entering a specific market, usually my first question is, “How can I add value?” or “What can I do to help a particular person or group of people” or “How can I make their lives better?”

This answer to this question usually becomes a product or service that, when combined with an enticing offer, is then presented to the prospective customer. They purchase it.

After all, people all over the world are hungry for various solutions to their problems. And, as a person who happens to have answers and solutions because of an extensive experience and knowledge, it’s your duty to solve these problems for them.

Is Dropshipping A Good Business Model?

One of my first business successes was buying cell phones from one eBay seller, adding a markup and then reselling them back on eBay for a small profit.

After finding success, I began buying phones locally in my city and then selling them on eBay. After that worked, I began selling stuff that I didn’t physically have. Right after the customer placed his order, I would ship the item out from the third party store directly to the customer.

Basically, I was dropshipping before dropshipping became a buzzword.

All of this was back in 2005 before the era of the smartphones and commoditization of the market first by the iPhone and then by Android devices.

In the past 3-5 years, dropshipping has been making a lot of waves as a method for creating a business from nothing and making money relatively quickly.

In this article, I want to talk more about the different types of dropshipping, discuss the pros and cons of the business model, talk about my personal experience and close out with some final thoughts.

Introduction

When you dropship, you sell something that you don’t physically have. Then, after the customers order this item from your store, you separately fulfill the order from another supplier (or store) who then ships the product directly to your customer.

The business model is very similar to affiliate marketing; instead of selling your own product, you’re acting as a middleman who connects the customer with the store that actually has the product and then takes a cut of the transaction.

For instance, let’s say you’re selling a widget for $30. You know you can order the widget for $10 from a supplier.

When the customer orders the product, you get paid $30 minus the $10 that you paid to your supplier.

Of course, there’s also the cost of ads that must be also factored in. But, hopefully, when everything is added up, you should have a profit.

Types of different dropshipping

There are different types of dropshipping models. They vary by their business models, the type of products they’re selling and the type of customers you’re targeting.

The first type of dropshipping is the more traditional one where you’re selling high-ticket items such as furniture on your online store. Think of it as a brick-and-mortar store that joined the Internet and built a website.

In this case, your actual supplier is in America and your customers are probably there as well.

The advantage of this model is that, because you’re selling high-ticket items, you’re making a nice profit margin on each one, therefore you only need to sell a couple of items to earn a decent living.

Another advantage is that, because you have an official agreement with your supplier (you’re an authorized dealer), you’re able to deliver the products in a very timely manner (as you’ll see below, this isn’t always the case).

This is the “traditional” model of dropshipping and has been around for at least a decade, if not more.

The Shopify/Facebook Model

Around the end of 2015, a new model of dropshipping emerged that quickly gained momentum. It was called the Shopify/FB Ads model.

In this model, you’re basically taking a product from an online catalog (usually a Chinese site), and then creating Facebook Ads for it. Then, when you have a sale, you forward the customer’s information to your supplier (usually in China), who then fulfills the order and ships it out to your customer around the world.

In this case, most of the products sold are low-ticket items. This could be anywhere from $10-60 price point. Although they are items that have been sold for much more, up to around $200.

There are several pros and cons with this model. First of all, the barrier to entry is very low. Anyone can create a Shopify store$, fill it up with random products from an Aliexpress.com (or something else) catalog, create a bunch of Facebook Ads and then start selling.

The second problem with this model is that unlike in the first case when you’re dealing with a reputable company and become their authorized dealer, here, you’re dealing with some random, no-name supplier in China.

This supplier can exist one minute and be gone the next. That can be problematic when you suddenly stumble upon a great product and sell a ton of it, then you forward the customer’s orders to the supplier and pray they’ll actually ship the item out and your customer receives it in a timely matter.

Unfortunately, this happens often and the new business you started quickly goes from “cash—money” to a nightmarish situation where customers gave you money for products you don’t have and you have zero control of actually putting those products into their hands.

Imagine, you received 100 orders from customers to your online store, just before Christmas. They might order for themselves or as gifts for others.

Then, you forward all the orders to your Chinese supplier who you know nothing about.

The supplier promises to fulfill and ship the orders to your customers, but never does or screws up and messes things up.

This is actually a pretty common situation that I’ve seen happen to many people. Nightmare is the proper word to describe the experience.

Getting a fulfillment center

A solution to this dilemma is to get a fulfillment center in China or elsewhere (America).

This means that instead of sending each order you receive to a supplier one-by-one and praying they’ll ship, you hold inventory in a warehouse and then ship right out of your own stock.

This eliminates the problems of shady suppliers and missing orders. Additionally, by buying directly from the warehouse in bulk, you can get your products at a much lower price.

My team and I actually have a warehouse in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen where we store our products and then ship them out to our customers. Since we have a warehouse, we know exactly how many units we have and have complete control of the shipping and delivery to our customers.

Dropshipping and competition

One of the problems with dropshipping—especially with the low-ticket items sourced from some Chinese site—is the fact that anybody can do it.

Today, you’re selling a certain widget and making good money. Tomorrow, five new guys begin selling the same item from their stores. That would immediately affect your sales.

This is something that happened to us a few weeks ago. One of our best products was picked up by another store which then began promptly selling it.

Our sales immediately took a hit and there’s nothing we could’ve done.

This happens fairly often, so when you stumble on a great product, it’s important to scale it quickly and sell to everyone who you think might be interested.

So, if you’re a possible market of 1 million interested people, instead of selling them 5 items per day, you increase ad spend so that you’re selling 50 items per day (or more).

This way, you exhaust your market quickly before someone else shows up and steals your thunder.

Dropshipping and branding

Of course, worrying about a competitor showing up is not a stable business model. It’s not a passive income business if you can’t sleep at night because you’re afraid your sales will suddenly drop.

The solution is to build a brand. When you build a brand, you’re essentially selling an image and no longer competing on the product itself.

This means if I have a strong and widely recognizable brand, and I’m selling Widget A, and you’re a no-name store who’s also selling the same Widget A, there’s a good chance, the customer will probably buy it from me because they recognize the brand and don’t know anything about yours.

Later on, as your brand becomes stronger, you’re able to retain customers because of something called “brand loyalty”; customers will keep returning to buy new products from your store because they believe in the brand and what it stands for: solid quality, good customer experience, etc.

When you have a brand, you’re no longer selling the product itself; you’re selling everything that comes along with that brand.

The downside is that it takes some time to build up a quality brand; good brands aren’t built overnight.

Making money quickly

One of the biggest advantages of the dropshipping/ecommerce model is the fact that you can scale your sales very quickly and make a ton of money in a very short amount of time.

The reason for this is because you’re paying for customers in the first place (advertising) instead of getting them via organic traffic (free) that you get from search engines.

Once you realize you have a great product, all you have to do is increase the budget on your ads and more people will begin seeing your add. That should typically lead to more sales.

This is how a lot of people are able to make a lot of money relatively quickly, something that’s not possible via other means.

I’ve had situations where I was making something like $50 per day and, then once I realized the product is selling well, I was able to scale it to $500 per day in just a span of two days.

I know many others were making only $100 per day and then suddenly started to make $1,000 per day.

Facebook Ads challenges

On paper, dropshipping from China sounds pretty easy and straightforward.

All you have to do is find a great product, make ads for it, and then start waiting for sales to pour in.

However, one of the challenges with this model is actually in the part where you’re acquiring customers: Facebook Ads.

Facebook Ads, while can be very effective, have a steep learning curve that takes a while to get going. This is the area that creates the most confusion for people because there’s no set pattern of how things should work.

In fact, many experienced people have called the system “random.” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

I can definitely relate. In my experience, the notion of what works varies from one week to the next, or sometimes even from one day to the next.

One week you can have absolutely amazing sales and then the next week suddenly nothing seems to be working. There are tons of different communities that discuss Facebook Ads and everyone experiences the same thing.

I once remember making $500/day pretty consistently for about two weeks. Then, Mother’s Day came along. On that day, I made like fifty bucks.

Thinking that something was wrong, I checked to make sure everything was working. There were no issues.

The next day things gradually began returning back to normal. This randomness is something you just have to get used to.

One option is to buy ads elsewhere. Many people switch over to Google Shopping network and notice a more stable return on their revenue.

But, Facebook Ads still has an important place. There are over 2B active monthly users and many of these people simply aren’t searching for specific products on Google.

Thus, whether you hate it or love it, Facebook Ads is still very lucrative for any kind of business, especially if you’re selling products that aren’t available elsewhere.

My experience with dropshipping

I started a new store in January of this year.

Initially, I was just experimenting, trying to sell different products, playing with Facebook Ads and just getting familiar with how all the pieces work.

After a few iterations and playing with different products, I was able to find a product saw immediate success and scale it fairly quickly.

I started making about $50/day, and that quickly went to $500/day. That continued until at some point were making approximately $1,000 per day.

Eventually, I added new products to the initial store. Later on, we built two more stores to cater to a different audience.

My plan is to build a couple of new stores in the next several weeks in anticipation of the end-of-year demand, which is higher than usual.

Dealing with customers

Dropshipping also exposes you to a whole array of problems, not least of which are angry or unsatisfied customers.

Unlike in affiliate marketing where you’re simply a middleman who sends traffic to an offer and aren’t responsible for any customer support because the vendor is, in dropshipping you’re the vendor and are wholly responsible for making sure the customer is happy and taken care of.

That means if the customer isn’t happy with the product they’ve received—for whatever reason—it’s your job to make it right.

If you don’t reply to their emails, all they have to do is make one call to their credit card company and the friendly representative will immediately return them the money “pending an investigation.” (Most of these investigations are won by the customer anyway).

Fortunately, most customers are reasonable (at least in my experience), it’s not difficult to work something out if it means a quick refund or an exchange.

Moreover, if you don’t want to deal with customers yourself, you can hire a virtual assistant to do that for you.

Dropshipping is not sexy

One of the biggest problems with dropshipping and e-commerce, in general, is that it’s not a very sexy business model.

I don’t know many people who would call selling furniture or mattresses online as something they’re extremely passionate about.

I know I wouldn’t.

Even, now, in one of our stores, we’re selling small niche products for a very passionate audience.

This is definitely more interesting than selling chairs or tables, but I can’t say that I’m thrilled about selling random products from China.

Of course, it’s a lot sexier to start a blog and write about your thoughts and experiences of living abroad or dating exotic women than selling random widgets and fulfilling orders.

Nevertheless, what dropshipping is, is a business in the purest form. With a blog, you need to wait years and years before you even see a minuscule return on investment (99% of bloggers don’t make any money), but when you start an online store, you’re able to make money immediately.

That’s why many bloggers I know have a blog where they philosophize about life and their place in it and a separate business where they make money and which pays the bills.

If you ask me, I believe that money is money and profit is profit. If you’re able to build something that generates you an income, then who really cares if it’s boring or not—provided it’s at least faintly connected to your interests.

And even if not, you can always outsource the menial work and then sit back and collect the profits.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the 30,000-foot view of what dropshipping is, how it works, its main challenges, my own experiences and whether it’s for you or not.

I don’t know about you, but I was initially very skeptical of the whole model. I was more interested in writing about my experiences and thoughts and getting to know people around the world than selling random products in some store.

Many of you are probably thinking along the same lines.

Nevertheless, I now view it differently. As an entrepreneur, I consider any business that makes money as a business that’s worth pursuing, regardless if it’s considered “sexy” or not.

Like my mentor once said, money is money.

What’s Working For Making Money Online In 2018 And Beyond

It’s hard to believe that 2018 is soon coming to a close and people are starting to think about what they’re going to do for New Year’s. I still vividly remember ushering in the 2018 and thinking about my plans for the year.

My main goal for this year was to try new things and expand my business empire. It’s been a year full of challenges and many ups and downs. Fortunately, I also gained experience in a bunch of new areas that I look forward to expanding and growing in the months and years ahead.

E-Commerce

The big push this year was undoubtedly ecommerce. Many of you may not know this, but ecommerce was one of my first online biz successes. Back in 2004-5, I used to hustle on eBay, selling and reselling various electronic products before opening up my online store and sourcing products directly from China.

The beautiful thing about ecommerce is that it’s a pure money-making play. Unlike a blog where you write, write, write and then, one day, hope and pray to somehow monetize it, ecommerce is about making money from day one. There’s a product, a sales page, a checkout page and, finally, my favorite part of all: the credit card input form.

In this way, you have a business from the very first day and a business is only as good as how much money it’s bringing into your pocket. If you don’t know how to sell, you need to do something else or close up shop. I really like this aspect because it forces you to be super focused. Customers either like your product or not. You either have a business or you don’t. There’s no in between.

My team and I are currently running 3 ecommerce stores. A new one is being launched next week, while another one should up and running sometime in October. They’re all selling products in different areas, serving different market segments and audiences.

Timing is key. October marks the start of Q4 (Quarter 4) which is the most profitable time of the year. Q4 includes huge shopping days such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas. It’s essentially a period where people are buying everything and anything in sight, either for themselves or as gifts for others.

Ecommerce forced me to understand many interesting things about selling physical products such as sourcing in China, fulfillment of orders, worldwide shipping and even a bit about manufacturing your own products, basically all the behind-the-scenes stuff you don’t even think about—although we’re not yet doing the last one.

Facebook Ads

The other thing I dove into head first at the beginning of the year was Facebook Ads. Many years ago, I used to buy Google AdWords to promote various products and services, so I’ve gotten fairly proficient at it. FB Ads, however, is an entirely different animal.

Advertising on Facebook is extremely powerful because FB knows so much about their users (usually even more than you know about yourself), that it can accurately predict whether the person it’ll show your ad will buy your product or not. As a result of such a powerful algorithm, it’s very easy to quickly see if the product or service you’re promoting will be successful.

The downside of FB Ads is that the platform itself is extremely complex. People who’ve been doing online advertising for decades believe that FB is the most complex advertising system out there right now (or ever was). It’s certainly not for a faint of heart. After several months of experimenting with different techniques (and losing a ton of money), I finally figured out a strategy that works predictably well for what I’m trying to do and makes me money while I sleep.

FB Ads has a rather steep learning curve and that’s why a lot of people start and quit soon after. Still, it’s an extremely powerful tool to reach users around the world and pitch your products/services. Even if your initial campaign or business fails, you can turn around and sell something else on the platform.

In the next several months, my team will be increasing our ad spent in anticipation for the year’s most profitable time, Q4.

Niche sites

While I’ve been building and running different blogs for many years—even before this one—I never took blogging seriously before Maverick Traveler (and even that is more of a hobby instead of a real business). However, this year I decided that I will take blogging more seriously. How? By becoming laser focused and delivering lots of value.

Back in 2016 and 2017, I experimented with building various sites in different topics geared for very specific audiences. Somewhere along the line, I lost interest in running them and they eventually languished and mostly died.

So, I took the lessons from that experience and began building a couple of more laser-targeted sites earlier this year. A few of them are up and running and others are being launched very soon. This time, however, they’re being built around areas of topics I’m super passionate about so hopefully I’ll have the motivation to run them for the foreseeable future.

Brands

The biggest problem with starting an ecommerce business—and where blogs have an upper hand—is in branding. I’ll be honest, the ecommerce stores we’re now running aren’t exactly built around a brand. They’re just products that we’re sourcing from China, putting them into our own warehouse and shipping them all over the world. Thus, it’s very easy for a competitor to come in and sell exactly what we’re selling while undercutting us in price.

The solution is branding. When you create a brand, you’re essentially selling an image. Coca-Cola may sell a black fizzy sugary drink that anyone can make, but there’s a reason it’s a multi-billionaire dollar company and it will be next to impossible for someone else make a similar drink and steal their sales. Their brand is just too strong.

In the upcoming months, the focus will be on creating stronger brands around everything we do, especially in areas where substitute products exist, such as ecommerce.

This means hiring professional photographers, videographers, and designers to create unique experiences for our products and present them in ways that truly connect with our audiences. Since others aren’t doing that, we’ll create a stronger brand and make more money.

Branding is a long-term play that won’t pay dividends immediately but should increase in value in the months and years ahead.

Information products

Thanks to assets that I’ve been building such as niche sites, ecommerce, and other properties, I have access to an audience with specific interests. That means creating more products and services that solve the audience’s problems.

Information products can be lucrative as soon as you know who your audience is and what problems they’re trying to solve. You attract the audience by delivering lots and lots of value, and then you monetize some of that value by creating products that go above and beyond what’s already available out there.

If someone has a specific problem to solve and you have the experience and/or the knowledge to solve that problem for them, they won’t hesitate to pay you for the solution, if it means saving a lot of pain and time in solving it themselves.

I’m currently planning to launch new informational products targeted to the niche sites’ audience as well as the buyers who bought products in our ecom stores.

Maverick Traveler

Last, but not least, there’s the site you’re reading now: Maverick Traveler. To be honest, this site is more of a hobby of mine and a way to give back by explaining what I learned and show you what worked or didn’t. It’s also a way for me to share my living abroad experience to show you how such a lifestyle is possible.

While I haven’t been writing much during the summer, my goal is to put out more content, most consistently. New content will be primarily in two categories: making money and travel/living abroad. I look forward to keeping you updated on my journey in both areas.

Lessons learned

This was the first year when I slowly started building a team. I have a partner on a certain piece of the ecommerce business, and he’s been pushing me to delegate a lot of what we’re doing and outsource it.

Call me a micromanager, but I’ve always been much more comfortable doing everything myself or at least controlling what everyone else is doing at all times. So, delegating and hiring people to do the important things have been challenging to say the least. This is something I need to become comfortable with in order to scale the business.

“Everything works”

When I started my online biz journey many years ago, I only stuck to the business areas and techniques that I was familiar with. I initially thought that I was capable of only making certain things work, and would automatically fail at others.

A few years ago, I realized that my thinking was incorrect. There are a lot of different techniques and methods of making the Internet spit out cold hard Benjamins, and every method and technique should have its place in your arsenal.

The point is that everything works. Everything has its place. Everything. Even if you’re only good at blogging, there’s no reason to ignore ecommerce which is seriously blowing up right now. Even if you’re an ecommerce king, there’s no reason not spin up a couple of (or a few dozen) of niche sites and enjoy free traffic from Google.

If your customers out there, you should find a way to reach them one way or another.

From now on, I’ll be trying anything and everything that even has even the slightest chance of success.

After all, if there’s one maxim I continue to live by, it’s that for all my successes and failures, one thing I still don’t know is how to create the former without the latter. 2019 is shaping up to be an interesting year.

How To Become Successful If You Don’t Have A Lot Of Money And Connections

Call me a masochist but I’ve always seemed to choose the hard way when embarking on any mission, whether it’s building a new business, learning a new language or completing some other ambitious task. Although I’ve heard of others finding an easy way or shortcut, I’ve rarely experienced this myself. Today, I want to teach you my mindset of approaching, embarking and conquering even the most difficult challenges.

First, let’s define the word “success.” I define success as a point in your endeavor where each addition (marginal) effort you make results in a much greater output. For instance, if you’re running a successful business, you no longer need to frantically hustle 24-7 trying different things, you simply need to work several hours per day and the business will not only continue working on autopilot but will keep growing. This is very different when you’re just starting the business because all your efforts and energy is employed on figuring out what works and finding traction.

This concept is applicable to any endeavor. If you’re learning a foreign language, the first few weeks (and months) must be spent on merely learning how to read (if the alphabet is different) and memorizing very simple words and phrases. After you’ve built the base, things get a lot easier because you can leverage what you’ve learned to absorb more and more stuff.

Thus, if I’m learning Japanese, and I’ve learned enough where I’m at a point where I can have a very basic conversation with a local, it’ll be a lot easier to learn more phrases and expressions. That’s not the case when I’m starting at zero and must spend all my time memorizing Japanese characters before I can even learn the words such as “Hello” or “Thank you.”

In other words, regardless of the endeavor, there are startup costs that must be factored in before you start seeing any return on your effort.

This stage is the toughest mentally. Most people quit here. More people usually quit before their new business gains their first customers compared to the number of people who quit while trying to scale their business from $5,000/mo to $50,000/mo.

More people quit learning Russian before they could string basic phrases together compared to people who’ve quit after they were able to have a conversation but got discouraged because they couldn’t read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Piece.

Realistic expectations

The first rule of overcoming this hurdle is to have realistic expectations. From my experience, I’ve noticed that many people have very unrealistic expectations. A few years ago, a student applied to my mentoring program. When I asked him what he wanted to achieve, he replied that he wants to make $500/day within a month and move to Bali. Oh, and he also had zero business experience.

Here’s a perfect example of unrealistic expectations. Of course, people do make that much online (I have good friends that make much more), but they certainly didn’t get to those numbers overnight. It took them months/years of trial and error to get there.

When learning a foreign language, an unrealistic expectation is becoming super fluent in a week or a month. While you can certainly become conversational in a month or two (or less, depending on the language), becoming fluent will take much longer because fluency means knowing everything in the language and you simply can’t learn all aspects of a foreign language is a month. There aren’t enough hours to do it. Unless you completely suspend any notion of reality, you simply can’t learn what took someone 20 or 30 years to learn in a space of just few months.

Having unrealistic expectations dooms from you the start. You give up much quicker because you feel that anything short of making $500/day or learning fluent Chinese in a month means you’re an utter failure. That’s absolutely the wrong mindset.

The key is to start with healthy realistic expectations. When it comes to building an online biz, a realistic expectation would be to make something like $30-50/day. That’s absolutely doable and you can build a game plan for achieving that.

If your objective is to learn a foreign language, a good milestone would be to hold a 3-minute conversation with a native speaker. That doesn’t require advanced knowledge so you can achieve this level fairly quickly.

When I moved to Brazil years ago, my goal was to learn Portuguese. I actually couldn’t care less about was fluency; I just wanted to have conversations with locals. I achieved that objective in a couple of months. Sure, my Portuguese is not “fluent”; but it’s a lot easier to become “fluent” now that I’m conversational than if my goal was “fluency or bust” from the start.

The base belief

Although there are people who have unrealistic goals and the blind confidence that they will achieve these goals tomorrow morning, there are also people who don’t believe that something is possible because of low-esteem or other factors.

Let’s clear the air here. It’s 2018. The Internet is over 20 years old, and people still ask questions like “Is it possible to make online?” to “Do Google Ads work?” to “I heard Facebook Advertising doesn’t work” to “Do blogs make money?”

I used to entertain these questions. No longer. The way I see it, these questions are philosophical in nature. If you’re a philosopher and you want to discuss the meaning of life or existentialism, that’s great, but I’m not a philosopher—I’m here to help you build a business.

Before you start any endeavor, you need a certain amount of base belief. If you move to Japan, you must believe that you will be able to learn conversational Japanese. If you move to the Middle East, you must believe that you’ll be able to learn conversational Arabic.

Similarly, if you’re starting a business or learning online marketing, you must believe that you’ll eventually build that business and learn marketing. You must believe that you’ll eventually get the hang of Facebook advertising, Google Adwords or something else, and start to make $30-50/day consistently—at least at the start.

This is an absolute must. It’s not negotiable. I don’t care who you are or your past failures, but you must absolutely know in your gut that with enough time and perseverance, you’ll get to a point where you’ll achieve a certain level of success. You don’t need to become a millionaire overnight, but you must know that you will at least make something online.

Now, if you’re someone who read the above and immediately countered, “But James! I don’t know about that—9/10 businesses fail,” I’m sorry but you’ve failed the test. You need to do some introspection and fix your mindset (or find another website).

Let’s imagine you’re building an online store. You know nothing about building an online store. You know nothing about marketing. You know nothing about websites or tools or WordPress plugins. You know nothing about sales funnels. That’s fine. All of that is secondary. At the very least, you must at least know that someone out there will give you some money for your product one way or another. That’s your base belief.

Or, let’s say you had to pack up everything and move to China tomorrow (I’ve actually been thinking about visiting China for a while). You also know that you would need to learn Chinese. Well, you must absolutely know that you will at least become somewhat conversational in Chinese. It might be the crappiest Chinese in the world, but you must know deep in your gut that will string some Chinese words together and the other person will at least understand you. Remember, we’re not talking about fluency in any way, shape or form.

This is one of the most important things to internalize. Everything starts from here. If you don’t have this minimal level of this base belief, don’t even bother starting.

One of my first businesses was selling physical products on eBay back in 2005. My background was mostly in selling digital products and advertising, so I had zero experience selling physical products. But I saw a product that was selling well, imported it from China and listed it on eBay. The result: I was profitable from day one. Even before I started, I knew I would succeed one way or another. I didn’t care about making millions, I just wanted to make few bucks and grow from there.

Obsession

The next rule with becoming successful is that you must be absolutely obsessive about it. This is also not negotiable. You must feel that you have to succeed at all costs (within limits, of course).

Forget motivation. Forget some fuzzy feeling of happiness or whatever the hell that even means. None of that matters. What matters is your absolute determination to crack the puzzle. And to crack the puzzle, it’s not enough to treat it as some hobby that you do in your spare time like that 200-page book you’ve been “reading” for a year.

It needs to become a central focus in your life. I don’t want to say it must consume your life, but that’s a good way of putting it. The more obsessed you are, the faster you will succeed. I will go a step further and say that if you’re truly obsessed with succeeding, it’s not really a question of “if”—it’s a question of “when.”

One way to become obsessed is to want it bad enough. You must be in such state of pain that you simply must do something—anything—to change it. Ten years ago, I wanted desperately to leave the Bay Area and move to Brazil. The only way to do that was to build a side business to finance that lifestyle. Casey Neistat, in one of his videos, mentioned that his drive to succeed came from hating his life (he was living in a trailer park and working two jobs).

One of the guys I’m currently mentoring hates his current country and wants to move abroad. It’s this rebellion against his current situation that will eventually propel him to succeed. Nobody has ever succeeded by reading a business book while being completely comfortable with everything in their life.

Brute forcing success

There are several ways to speed up this grind. Money is one way. Money buys time. When you have money at your disposal, you’re able to buy experts, buy data, buy people and pretty much anything else. This will allow you get results quicker.

Of course, if you had a million dollars at your disposal, you wouldn’t be reading this article and following this path because you most likely have a competitive advantage that you can exploit.

If you’re starting from scratch, you really can’t buy time and expertise, so your only option is to grind it out. And to do that you must “brute force” success.

If you’re not familiar with this term, it means trying everything until you get the outcome you want. Brute forcing a combination lock means trying to open the lock by trying every possible combination. It’s the complete opposite of finding shortcuts or tips. It’s also the complete opposite of having a certain view of the world and believing certain things work while others do not.

Optimizing your efforts

The problem with brute force is that you can’t brute force everything simultaneously. Unlike a simple combination lock, your endeavor probably has many moving pieces and many “combinations” to get right. You must pick your battles. Thus, it’s important to focus on one objective at a time and only move to the next objective once the previous one has been solved. This forces you to focus on what’s important and remove everything else.

For instance, let’s say you just moved to Brazil and started learning Portuguese. The primary objective here is to become conversational. This main objective can be broken down into various phases. The first phase might be to learn conversational words and understand at least 10-20% of daily conversations.

In order to get to the 20% point, you write down every word that you don’t understand. Then, at the end of each day, you look all of them up and memorize their translations. You keep doing that every day until you understand about 20% of the spoken language.

Once you reach that phase, the next phase becomes understanding 50% of spoken speech. Daisy chaining these phases helps you to get from zero to your main objective in a controlled and predictable manner.

When it comes to making money, your objective could be to make $100/mo. But if you break it down into various phases, you can attack this problem in a predictable and sequential matter. The first phase might be to pick a good product. The second phase might be to get engagement from the audience. The third phase might be to market to that audience more efficiently. And so on.

The currency of hustle

When you’re grinding it out and brute forcing success, it’s very difficult to know whether what you’re doing is moving you closer to your goals or not. You need metrics. You need data. You need an effective feedback loop.

There’s a currency at play here. This currency informs you whether you’re on the right path or just wasting time. It’s not money. It’s also not time. It’s shipping. The faster you create, the faster you make things, and the faster you put them out into the world to see, the faster you learn what works or doesn’t work.

The opposite of shipping is perfection. At this stage, perfection is your worst enemy. I’m not saying that perfection is necessarily a bad thing. It’s good practice to create high-quality products, but you have to know what the product or service is first. When you’re trying to find your beachhead in a crowded market, your job is to make something; perfection can wait until later.

If you’re brute forcing success, forget perfection. Nobody cares about it. I’m more than certain that your customers don’t. All they care about is whether what you’re creating solves their problems and makes their lives a little bit more comfortable and better off.

Hustle dream team

Last but not least, even if you internalize everything above, it’s important to surround yourself with people who can push you.  Surrounding yourself with people who make shit happen helps exponentially. After all, it’s true what they say: you’re really the average of the five people you interact with. This has been an integral part of my success.

I’ve been fortunate because back during my college years I accidentally became involved with very successful guys who got a lot done. They worked hard, build lots of products and essentially printed money. Although we don’t really keep in touch anymore, merely seeing them work so hard and achieve so much in such a short period of time truly opened my eyes to what’s really possible.

I can certainly tell you that it’s one thing to talk about making some “bucket list,” writing down your goals, or saying that you’ll launch this or that “this year,” but it’s entirely a different thing to witness a bunch of guys accomplishes a month’s worth of tasks in one day with your own eyes. That’s what I call compressing time.

If you can’t physically surround yourself with winners, the next best step is to join an online community where people are making moves. Although I’m part of several online communities, there’s only one (a paid mastermind community) that comes somewhat close to being physically surrounded by hustlers.

Most importantly, you must enjoy the ride. There’s hardly a point of suffering through what might seem an endless tunnel when all you’re looking forward is the tropical ending. Whenever I embark on a new venture or project, I view it as a puzzle that must be cracked—at all costs. I actually enjoy the ride.

I also know that if I keep tinkering with the moving pieces, I’ll eventually stumble on the right combination that will pay exponential dividends for the rest of my life and also serve as a jumping point for the next challenge.

How To Monetize A Blog

Humans tend to overcomplicate things and making money is certainly on top of the list. But it’s not rocket science. Generally, you have two options: build your business or work for someone else’s business. Either you create value or help someone else create value. Those two paths summarize my early years. When I was in my teens and twenties, I alternated between running my own businesses and helping someone else run theirs.

Blogging is a different beast. I started mine completely by accident. Mostly out of sheer curiosity and boredom. It was sometime in 2009, and I was living in a small apartment in Rio de Janeiro’s colorful Copacabana neighborhood. I was living alone. I was lonely and bored. Naturally, I figured sharing my thoughts on the Internet would help me connect who were in a similar situation. Making money with my blog was the absolute last thing on my mind.

Over the years, I kept working on these two interests in parallel. I kept writing about my experiences in Brazil. I also kept building different businesses. Gradually, both things started to grow. My blog started to attract more and more readership. My businesses started to generate more money.

Then, one day, something unexpected happened. I had just returned back to my apartment after a morning swim in the Atlantic Ocean. I opened my laptop and loaded my favorite email client. There was an email waiting for me from an unrecognized sender.

The email was short and straight to the point.

“Hi James, I really enjoy your blog. I’d love to schedule a call with you over Skype. I will pay you for your time.”

I thought it over and agreed. Moments later, I received the payment. Few days later, I advised him on a specific issue he was having. (We quickly became good friends and still keep in regular contact after all these years.)

“That was interesting,” I remember thinking myself. “Someone agreed to pay me for my words and thoughts, for my bits and zeroes that I had plastered all over the Internet.”

“I finally monetized my blog,” I thought to myself.

I was wrong. There was no moment. There was no epiphany. Nothing really happened.

What I didn’t realize is that I didn’t just start ”monetizing” my blog the moment someone paid for my services. I was ”monetizing” my blog the entire time. While I wasn’t being paid directly, I was being paid in another commodity: attention. People discovered my content and found it useful enough to continue reading instead of doing something else with their time.

Attention is a much more important commodity than money. If you can capture someone’s attention, money will soon follow.

Capturing value

The whole notion of monetizing anything is misguided. You don’t “monetize” anything—you either provide value or you don’t. A table that I’m typing this article on right now provides me with value. So is the laptop that helps me craft my thoughts and convert them into zeroes and ones so that I can shuttle them onto the Internet for all of you to see. Then there’s my apartment that’s keeping me warm and safe from all the predators so that I can live long enough to hit the “Publish” button.

All of these things provide value. That’s why I purchased them and own them. That’s why the person or company who created these products or services are duly rewarded with my money.

Of course, the things I mentioned above are all physical products. Blogs are not. They are digital products. And, as it happens to be, words and thoughts are much more powerful than the chair, the table or even my apartment.

Blogs are personal communication mediums. And communication mediums are an extremely powerful way to connect with people. Instead of having some end product that you can touch and feel, words and thoughts are the atoms, the building blocks of life. They can influence emotions and get people to think in a radically different way.

That’s because humans are irrational and emotional beings so thoughts, feelings and ideas always come first. Physical products evolve later.

Writing is like having your own virtual factory from which you can produce anything in the world. If you write about travel, you take the reader on a journey to some distant and mysterious land. If you write about productivity, you help the reader master their time and achieve more. If you write about different tables and how each can help become more creative or more productive, you help the reader choose the right one for their unique situation.

Before I went to Bali for the first time last year, I had no idea where it even was (pretty embarrassing for a geography nut like myself). I had no idea that it was a true tropical paradise on earth. I had no idea that it would be one of the most amazing places in the world to visit and live.

So, I immediately did what I always do when I don’t understand something: I began educating myself. I found a couple of good Bali blogs. I started learning more about this region of the world.

Most importantly, I studied how this region of the world can benefit me, and what I was looking for in a vacation destination. There are plenty of amazing places in the world. But that doesn’t mean I’d like to go to Siberia, Tierra del Fuego or the Galapagos Islands. While all of them are interesting in their own right, I had just spent a freezing winter in Eastern Europe and the only thing on my mind was sun and relaxation. Siberia was out. Tierra del Fuego was out. Galapagos islands, maybe next year. Bali was the overwhelming winner.

Two days later, I bought a one-way ticket to Bali. Two weeks later, I had rented a scooter and was busy exploring this amazing island. I stayed for an entire three months and can’t wait to go back. None of that would’ve happened if someone didn’t educate me on this amazing country by helping me see how it was the perfect solution to the winter dread I was experiencing through the use of their crafty use of words on their blog.

Printing money

David Ogilvy, one of the most successful copyrighters and advertisers, once said that if you can write a good copy, you can print money. I couldn’t agree more. I would even take it a step further and say that if you can write anything well, you’re monetizing your very own words.

Naturally, when people think about “monetizing” their blog, they start thinking about all the products they can create, whether it’s some eBook, a course, or something else. That’s the obvious path because people just want answers handed to them on a silver platter.

Unfortunately, they’re missing the forest from the trees. It doesn’t matter what “premium” product you create, whether it takes the form of a book, video or a workshop. Everyone can do that. You can outsource book publishing and course creation to some guy in Bangladesh or Jakarta. You can outsource software creation to some guy in Kiev or Minsk. You can outsource article writing on any topic under the sun to anyone in the world who can stitch two English words together. The problem is that if everyone can do it—and they can—the end result becomes a commodity. Commodities aren’t worth much.

But you can’t outsource thoughts and ideas. You can’t outsource original value. You can’t outsource your experience of living in another country while struggling to learn the local language in order to integrate yourself into the confusing culture. You can’t outsource failing for the twelfth time and finally succeeding on the thirteenth with a business that finally gets traction. You can’t outsource helping someone overcome procrastination and laziness so they can finish their first book, the one they’ve been putting off for twenty years. You can’t outsource helping someone quit their shitty 9-5 job and allow them to discover true freedom. You can’t source the pain, the suffering, the triumph, the jubilation. You can’t outsource making a person feel one way one moment and then something completely different another moment.

Monetizing products is about demonstrating how they will benefit someone. Monetizing words is about making someone feel something. Whether it’s getting someone to buy a one-way ticket to Bali, or getting someone off Facebook so they can finish an important task first. The person must impact someone. They must be able to connect to those words in a profound and meaningful way. They must want to take action.

If you can’t do that, then none of that matters. In that case, you might as well sell me a finished product that serves a specific purpose like a nice table or a comfortable chair, and let someone else’s words, thoughts and ideas inspire, motivate and ultimately affect me in ways I didn’t think were possible.

The Most Important Rule When Starting Your Business

I recently decided to expand the way I spread my message by creating various videos on YouTube. After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a million words. So far, I’m enjoying the journey and plan on creating different content and different channels.

Spending lots of time on YouTube while viewing all kinds of interesting content has allowed me to discover creators that I wouldn’t have discovered any other way. The majority of these creators don’t have their own blog or any other channel (or at least don’t market them on their channels), so their main presence is exclusively on YouTube. Many of them aren’t selling their own products either; they’re creating videos for fun. Nevertheless, one nice thing about a huge platform such as YouTube is that there’s an automatic way of making money: become a YouTube partner.

Earning money with YouTube is simple. Make a video, toggle the setting so the ads appear and wait for the money to come in. Advertisers pay Google/YouTube for the ads to be shown, Google keeps a portion and the rest goes back to the video creator.

It’s a win/win for everyone, especially for people who’re starting from scratch. That means you don’t need to spend years building out the brand and then creating products; advertisers simply pay per video views, regardless if the channel has 1,000 subscribers or 1 million. Naturally, the more people see your videos, the more money you make. (Although, because advertising is based on supply and demand, the amount you per view is largely dependent on what kind of content you have.)

Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll become automatically rich. First of all, if you don’t have a large following, the amount of money you’ll make will be very little. It takes a relatively decent audience (typically, more than 5-10k subscribers) to see a steady income that can cover your cable bill.

The second problem is much bigger and negates the benefits provided above. It’s the fact that you’re using YouTube’s platform for your content instead of building on your own platform.

When you create your own content and then host it on another platform, your content is governed by the platform’s rules. This forces you to abide by the platform’s rules. The first issue is that you give up some of those rights to the content. The second issue is that  you’re dictated a certain way to make money and no other way.

So, if you create the best videos in the world and put them on YouTube, you can no longer charge whatever you want for them.

Last week, YouTube introduced a new monetization policy. Starting next month, people with less than 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of views will no longer be able to monetize their videos. Once you reach those thresholds, you can reapply to the program for a chance to be able to show ads on your videos and get a portion of the profits.

This announcement affected thousands and even millions of creators out there. Although creators that don’t meet those thresholds weren’t making much money to begin with, it still signaled that YouTube was becoming more picky about the videos it wanted to be associated with.

But, mostly, this was a signal of something much more important: YouTube is now more concerned with its advertisers than with its up-and-coming creators. YouTube had grown up. Not everyone was automatically welcomed to its gated garden. And if you want to be part of the club, you need to go through strict checks. It’s like going through face control at a posh club instead of a cozy coffee shop that’s open to everyone.

This underlines something I’ve been talking for a long: it’s very risky to build important things on someone else’s platform. You’re building a dream house on a land you don’t own. Thus, you could have the most amazing content, but you’ll always be rewarded according to the most common denominator: in this case, specific ad rates that advertisers negotiate with Google, YouTube’s parent company.

Own the platform

Building your dream house on a land you don’t own is always a poor business strategy unless you make a little tweak: build that dream house on a land you do own. That means owning the platform.

Creating your own platform should be the cornerstone of any business, especially online businesses. I’m no exception. My own platform is Maverick Traveler (and some of the other sites I own). This is where all my content resides. This way I’m in absolute full control of the content I create, how I choose to present it to my readers, and how I monetize my products and services.

When you create content on another platform or channel, you’re powerless to do anything if those platform’s owners deem it unsatisfactory for their audience. If they don’t like you or your channel, they can flick a switch and make you disappear. That will destroy years of hard work and eliminate any revenue.

But when you own that platform, nothing like that can happen. Unless you screw up technically and delete your own site (and there’s backup for that), your site and your brand (along with your products and services) will always be online, 24/7, 365 days per year.

Hard questions

One of the side-effects of building on your own platform is that you’re forced to think through difficult problems. First of all, you need to decide what your brand is all about. If you’re just creating random stuff on YouTube or Instagram, you don’t really need a specific strategy; you can create random videos or post random pictures, but when you create your own platform, there needs to be a unified theme that generates serves a specific objective.

Creating and uploading a video to huge platforms like YouTube is straightforward because YouTube is an already establishment video platform, a problem that was solved when the company was being built. There’s also no discovery problem because your video is simply a search away from the site’s visitors.

On the other hand, when you create a brand tomorrow on your own server, nobody will know about it. Thus, you need to worry about how others will discover it and why what you do will be relevant to them. It’s much better to solve these problems in the beginning than after five years of fruitless labor where you’ve created lots of videos or written many articles but nobody knows who you are.

Leveraging other platforms

While it’s critically important to build your own platform, don’t simply discount other platforms. They have their uses as well. In fact, the best strategy is a hybrid one where you cultivate your own platform and leverage the other platforms to spread your message.

For instance, you can have a main authority site or a personal brand that hosts your articles and other types of content. And then you can use other platforms for spreading that message. It’s a strategy I’ve been using for more than a decade for great results. My main site is hosted here along with all the articles I’ve ever written. But, I also leverage other platforms, like YouTube for reaching new types of audiences.

To be sure, building your own platform requires an initial investment. You must provision a server to host your own content. You must design and build a site. Build products and services. Do marketing and customer acquisition.

But, all of this is something must do anyway in order to be successful. It’s not a question of “if” these questions need to be addressed—it’s a question of “when.” And, it’s much better to address those issues now while your brand is evolving, and you have an array of options than in some distant future when your brand has matured and your options are much more limited.

How To Lower Or Eliminate Your Taxes As A Digital Nomad

Disclaimer: this article is not financial or tax-based advice and should not be taken as such. I’m just sharing with you things I learned while researching taxes and other financial matters.

For most of my life, taxes were a complete mystery. That was fine because I never needed to worry about them. I was either employed by others or made too little on my own, so doing them myself or using a piece of software usually sufficed. Then, as my income rose over time, I simply hired an accountant to solve this problem. In both cases, I was successfully shielded from needing to understand this important part of any business.

Until now. Late last year, I partnered with another entrepreneur on a new business. For this company, we decided to incorporate it not in US—where we’re both from—but in another country, mostly because of better legal protection and lower taxes. This was a wise decision. This decision also prompted me to finally understand taxes on a much higher level.

In the simplest sense, taxes are a way for governments to take a cut of the action. It’s a form of exchange. Governments provide basic services such as police and paved roads so that you can get to work and build businesses and, in exchange, you give them a percentage of your salary or profits.

There are all kinds of different taxes, and to complicate things even further, the specific cut the government will get depends on the entity that’s being taxed.

Individuals are taxed differently from corporations. Different corporate structures are also taxed differently.  So, if you’re operating as an individual, you will pay taxes at a particular rate, and if you’re a corporation, you will pay taxes under a different rate.

To complicate things further, each country, state, and other jurisdictions have specific tax rates. In America, individuals are taxed on a sliding rate that varies anywhere from as little as 10% to as high as 39%. The American tax rate for corporations is a fixed 39.1%, making it one of the highest in the world.

Most companies typically don’t pay those rates because as a business you have perks like deductions and credits, which allow you to lower your taxable income by “deducing” things like business expenses and other items, things that aren’t available to individuals or employees.

Taxes get more interesting (and complicated) when you become a global citizen. Usually, moving overseas exempts you from paying taxes in your former country. For example, if you’re a Canadian citizen and move to China, you no longer need to pay Canadian authorities a part of your income, regardless where that income is coming from. (Although depending on your status in China, you may be liable to pay taxes there.)

If a country stops taxing you when you move out, the country implements something called a “residence-based taxation.” Only the residents of the country are taxed. Germany is an example of a country with residence-based taxation. Anyone who’s a resident of Germany—regardless whether they’re a citizen or not—is liable to pay taxes in Germany. This means if you move abroad, you no longer need to pay taxes there.

Many countries around the world are like this. Canadian residents citizens only need to pay taxes if they live in Canada. Danish residents and citizens only need to pay taxes if they live in Denmark. If they move abroad—or remain abroad for the majority of the year (usually more than six months, but depends on the country), they’re essentially exempt from paying taxes in that country while still remaining to be the country’s citizens.

Another type of taxation is called “territorial-based taxation.” In countries that implement this system, you have to pay taxes only on the income that originates from inside the country. So, if you’re living in a country like Georgia (Republic of Georgia, not the US state)—a country with territorial-based taxation—you’ll only have to pay taxes if the source of your income is inside Georgia.

Territorial-based taxation is great because you can leave a country with residence-based taxation that taxes everyone who lives there and move to a country that only taxes local income. It’s specifically advantageous to nomadic entrepreneurs who most of their income from customers in other countries and, thus, don’t need to pay taxes on this income.

Finally, there are also countries that don’t have any income taxes whatsoever like Dubai or Bahamas. It doesn’t matter if you’re a citizen or a resident. It also doesn’t matter whether your income comes from inside the country or outside. No taxes means no taxes.

Unfortunately, the only people that can’t take advantage of the different tax systems abroad are American citizens. America is the only country in the world which taxes its citizens (and permanent residents) on their worldwide income—regardless if they reside in America or somewhere else. Americans must file their taxes every year even if they’ve been living abroad for the last decade (or more). That’s because American tax system is based on something called “citizenship-based taxation.” As long as you’re an American citizen, you must file your taxes yearly.

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Nomadic advantages

Fortunately, being nomadic offers many advantages even to American citizens. The first is the double-taxation treaties. American tax authorities (like most other countries) perfectly understand the fact that other countries may tax you because you’re living and work there. Thus, the amount that you pay elsewhere is used to offset your tax obligation in America. For example, if you’re living and working in Denmark (a country with resident-based taxation) and paying taxes there, that money you pay to Denmark’s tax authorities is used to offset the money may need to pay American tax authorities. That makes sense, otherwise, you’d be paying taxes twice on the same income.

For American citizens, the other nice perk of living abroad is that you’re granted with huge exemption that reduces your taxable income. As an American taxpayer, you’re granted an exclusion (the first $100,000+, it’s adjusted yearly for inflation) if you’re not living in America. So, if you’re not present in the US for around eleven months out of the year, you can use this exclusion to reduce your overall tax bill.

While it’s certainly not the same as not needing to pay any taxes when you move out, it greatly reduces your tax bill if you’re traveling around the world and not really living in America. There’s little reason to pay for things like government services when you’re not in the country to take advantage of them. That partly explains why lots of American location-independent nomads limit how much time they spend in America to less than a month per year.

All of these different taxation systems are options that you can leverage once you unchain yourself and embrace the freedom to live and work anywhere in the world. Once you’re not tied to a particular country, you’re free to live in a low tax country or even in a country without any taxes.

The holy grail of legally lowering your taxes is by mixing and matching the right countries and their requirements for becoming a tax resident. Although American citizens must file (and possibly pay) their taxes regardless where in the world they are, living outside the country can significantly reduce your the amount of taxes you’ll need to pay to Uncle Sam.

Things get really interesting when you get into more advanced stuff such as forming a foreign company and becoming an employee of that company. This allows you to do even more interesting tax and legal optimizations.

What was once a boring and mundane topic, taxes and legal planning are gradually becoming an integral part of my overall nomadic strategy as I’m traveling around the world and looking at countries with not only a pleasant quality of living but also ones that aren’t burdened with high taxes and ineffective legal frameworks. After all, taxes are important. And while you don’t need to become a tax attorney, having a basic understanding of different tax systems will help a great deal. Or, as one wise man once eloquently said: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Why Do People Still Have 9-5 Jobs?

New York is a unique place. As known the world over, it’s truly a city that never sleeps. It’s also one of the few cities in the world where people are endlessly hustling. There’s an energy in the air unlike of other cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Kiev or Chiang Mai; other fantastic cities where I’ve lived and dream about returning from time to time.

As time went on, I’ve also discovered something else interesting and unique about NYC: it’s the only city in the world where I interact with people who work at 9-5 jobs. Everywhere I go, whether I’m in Belo Horizonte, Bali, Barcelona or Kiev, the Big Apple is really the only place in the world where I meet people who—like clockwork—wake up at 9 in the morning, commute to some distant office, usually on the other side of the city, and then return home at 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening. To an untrained eye, it’s almost like the city is populated with an army of robots.

So, who are these people that I’m meeting with regular 9-5 jobs? They are mostly my old childhood with friends with families (some with kids) who live their lives exactly how society wanted.

The other day, I met such a friend for coffee after work. We were scheduled to meet at 6 pm, but at the last minute his boss forced him to work more, so he showed up an hour and a half later. When I saw him, he was completely exhausted. He told me that he’d been working 16-hour days for a few weeks now because they were nearing the competition of an important project that was being delayed a few times.

After seeing him in this lifeless state, I took mercy on him and cut the meeting short so that he can return back to his wife at home.

Everywhere else around the world, the people that I deal with on a constant basis are never 9-5 employees, but other self-made digital entrepreneurs. The South African friend who’s running a six-figure business in Thailand. The British expat whom I’ve gotten to know when I lived in Brazil. He recently bought a lavish beachfront condo in Rio and has no plans of going anywhere else. Then, there’s a guy in Kiev who found me via the blog. He’s from The Netherlands and has spent seven years living in Bali, but recently decided that Ukraine is a fantastic place to be in the summer. Naturally, we quickly became good friends. And, how can I forget my old friend from Lithuania, from when that country was my home. He has a small but thriving business that allows him to spend summers in his own country while bicycling around Southeast Asia in the winter.

As far as I’m concerned, this is the new normal. I’m surrounded by people who’re hustling and running their own businesses, whether they’re in Ukraine, Lithuania, Brazil or Thailand. Everyone is hustling. Everyone is experimenting. Everyone is endlessly hustling, experimenting and building new business.

I used to think that business and entrepreneurship was something that was exclusively reserved for the “used car salesmen” type or just plain insiders. However, as I quickly discovered, I was very wrong. Actually, dead wrong. In fact, it’s as though my reality has been turned upside down; the world that I inhabit is made up of nothing but entrepreneurs, meeting someone who isn’t experimenting with a new product or service, or a new marketing campaign is now strange and unusual.

Five people

They say that you’re the average of the five people you interact with on a constant basis. That has been absolutely true in my experience. Sure, you can become a lone wolf and learn everything on your own. I’ve done that for many years. I’ve gone the solo route, devouring information and endlessly experimenting. While it’s not easy, it can definitely be done.

But it’s also helpful when an event happens that shifts your reality in fundamentally new ways. About fifteen years ago, one fine afternoon, I made friends with a guy who was selling t-shirts out of his locker in high school. I was immediately impressed. We became friends. He introduced me to his other friends. They were more successful and ambitious than him. Let’s just say they were selling much more than t-shirts to high school students.

Seeing these men build value and literally print money spoiled me for life. There was no way back. From that point on, everything to me became about building businesses. And I’ve done it all. I’ve built websites. I built e-commerce sites. Created my own software company. Wrote and marketed iPhone and Mac apps. Imported phones from China and hustled them on eBay (This was before the iPhone ruined my market). I’m currently running several businesses and very close to launching the “business of my dreams.”

When you’re surrounded by hustlers and go-getters, your mindset and thinking shifts and what was once some aspiration or ambition becomes the new normal. As a result, what were once insurmountable challenges and struggles instantly become more natural, seamless, easier and frictionless.

That’s because a big part of trying something new is actually changing the way you think. It’s about shifting your perspective. As humans, we tend to mimic others and naturally move towards a path of least resistance.

If you’re surrounded by people who’re all working at a soulless corporation, then you’ll find nothing strange about working at a big corporation. If everyone around you is working 100-hour weeks at a startup, you’ll find nothing strange about working 100-hour weeks at a startup.

And, if everyone around you is an entrepreneur who’s juggling several online businesses and easily clearing five-figures per month, you’ll begin to view everything except business building as strange and unnatural.

Perspective

This is precisely why, knowing what I know now and seeing the experience of others with my own set of eyes, I can never work at a regular company ever again. These were my beliefs ten years ago when I embarked on this journey. And, not only have these beliefs persisted since, but they have become even stronger over time.

One of the reasons these beliefs have strengthened over time is because becoming an entrepreneur in today’s hyperconnected world is literally a matter of clicks. Everything that’s needed—from researching a new market, making a product to selling it—can be done on the Internet in a matter of hours, not days or weeks as was the case before.

Then, there are the unstoppable economic forces that, depending on whom you ask, are either slowly eroding the labor workforce or outright crushing it through automation and artificial intelligence. In twenty years, children will ask their parents to define the word “job.” Indeed, we’re in a middle of an important transformation of how we work, create wealth and live.

Spending time in New York is making me see that, for most people, a job is simply the “default” path. It has nothing to do with intelligence or ability. There are plenty of smart people who’re working boring and monotonous jobs, people that, with the right motivation, can easily start a simple business, automate it and enjoy a new stream of income—income that didn’t exist before.

Ultimately, what is life? Life is short, yes. We’re born. We live. We learn something. We use our skills to cooperate with others and create something bigger than ourselves. Then we die.

We can’t unborn ourselves and we can’t escape death. But what happens between those two important events is up to us. We can use that time for meaningful purposes or we can simply let our society and culture erect that purpose for us. We can serve ourselves or we can serve others. We can choose to find our own path or follow where society takes us.

The only meaningful life is a productive one, a life of never-ending hustle. That’s why my biggest culture shock is no longer going to a favela in Rio de Janeiro. It also isn’t passing by a rough and decaying Soviet-era neighborhood in a Moscow suburb. It’s not fishing with the locals in a tiny village on the island of Bali. It’s also not getting lost in Mumbai, India and being surrounded by crowds of people and cows as I’m rushing to the airport to catch my flight to Thailand.

My biggest culture shock is New York City after spending time with people who work 9-5 jobs. They seem so lifeless, pale, and devoid of any ambition or interests. They’re the modern day robots, specifically trained to perform tasks in a predefined, predictable manner.

But they’re not robots. These people are just like me and the other entrepreneurs I know. They look like me. They talk like me. They are also intelligent and capable. And since we’re all really the same, then what remains is a subtle matter of perspective, environment and your definition of reality. And, maybe, just, maybe, meeting the right person in a high school locker room.

The Two Standard Business Models Of Making Money Online

Although they’re virtually unlimited ways of making money—both offline and online—all of them can be condensed into two basic models.

The first model is the product-first model. That’s where you start with a particular product or service you want to sell. It can be pretty much anything: mattresses, power tools, toys, tables or chandeliers. It doesn’t matter if you build the product yourself or resell other people’s products. When you’re selling someone else’s product instead of your own, that’s called affiliate marketing because you’re acting as an affiliate (broker) for someone else.

The second model is the brand-first model. First, you build out a brand. Then, once you’ve established the brand and built a sizable audience, you create products/services that solve a particular problem unique to your audience. For instance, you could start a fitness blog targeted at a 40+ crowd or a finance blog targeted to millennials. You create a blog or a youtube channel (a marketing outlet), and, by producing content tied to your brand, build a sizable audience.

There are crucial differences between the two models. In the product-first model, you already know what product/service you want to sell, so marketing and selling that product is relatively straightforward. In the brand-first model, you don’t yet know what products/services you will build, so you develop a brand first and later create various products and services that will appeal to your audience.

The product-first model is more suitable for making money faster. If you’re selling a mattress or a desk lamp, visitors know immediately whether it’s something that they either want or don’t want. Either someone is in the market for a mattress or a desk lamp, or someone isn’t. Obviously, your success will hinge on your ability to target the former, which, given the advanced marketing tools at our disposal, isn’t very challenging.

The brand-first model is more of a long-term strategy. Building a successful brand typically takes years. I spent over five years building my brand (the site you’re on now) before releasing my first book and earning any money from the site. So, it’s definitely not something you can cash in overnight.

This long-term investment has important advantages. When you build a brand, you’re effectively differentiating yourself from a busy market. Products and services can be easily copied—how many fitness programs are there on the Internet?—but each brand is unique. That’s the reason why you could have a ton of fitness gurus each with a successful brand. That’s also the reason you can be successful in pretty much any niche/market if build out your brand properly. A successful brand is able to connect with its target audience in ways that no generic product can.

A brand is a good idea if you’re building a community and don’t yet know what kind of products (if any) you will have. I started this site back in 2009 from a small 1-bedroom apartment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil because I wanted to share my thoughts about the city and country. I was motivated to start this site because I was very curious to know if there were others doing the same thing as I was. It was an outlet to connect with others. Building and selling products was never the goal. It was only after I was able to build a brand and connect with the audience via the community, that it became perfectly clear what kind of products and services to create.

Things are very different from a user’s perspective. When a user visits a site showcasing a product, he’s in a buying mood. He’s the scouring the Internet for the best product, ready to click ‘Purchase’ with his credit card in his hand. He’s not looking to join any community or read philosophical ramblings on existentialism or the pros and cons of living in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He needs a product and he needs it now.

When a user visitors a brand, he’s not necessarily in a buying mood. It’s not yet clear what the user wants. Perhaps he’s looking for a solution to a specific problem (“How to pickup Brazilian women”). Or maybe he’s looking for an idea for a vacation. Or maybe he’s looking for ideas and advice on becoming a digital nomad. Typically, the user himself doesn’t even know exactly what he’s looking for, unlike someone who knows the product they want (and has a credit card ready).

The fact that the user isn’t in a buying mood has its own advantages. A brand is able to “capture” the user before he even decided that he even needs a particular problem or service; before he even enters the market. Think of a brand as something wide, something that encompasses various ideas, thoughts or philosophies. It’s a way to educate the audience in an interesting, even opinionated way. It’s a great way to build a community of like-minded individuals. It’s a way to nourish a relationship and even influence a visitor to take a specific action and buy a specific product at a later date.

Building an audience for your brand can be done for almost nothing. Apart from a domain name and cheap hosting fees, you don’t need to spend much money to get customers. If you’re doing it right with your content marketing channels, they will find you all on their own. I’ve spent a grand total of zero on advertising and my site easily gets over 100,000 visits per month.

On the other hand, a standalone product can’t bring in customers all on its own. Since it doesn’t have the strength of a brand behind it, it’s necessary to buy traffic from different sources. The advantage is that you’re able to laser-target users who’re looking for a specific product and are ready to buy it immediately, something that you cannot do with a brand. Marketing strategies and user acquisition work very differently for products and brands.

Brands and products solve different needs. A brand solves the psychological need for a community, acceptance and self-actualization. A product solves a more pressing need with clear goals and benefits.

If my brand is built around location-independence and living in Brazil, then I’ll be able to build a community of like-minded individuals who are interested in doing the same. Each visitor may have completely different motivations. Maybe one guy is sick of America with its politically-correct culture. Another guy is tired of the high cost of living. And, yet, another guy is simply starting to start a new life in a tropical country and learn Portuguese. Regardless of each person’s actual reason for wanting to emigrate, all of them are linked via similar interests and passions, thus forming a community.

Brands are also very versatile, so everyone can easily build one. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, your race, sex or background. If you’re living and breathing, you can build a powerful brand that represents you and your values and connects them with your target audience. My mother is the last person who you’d expect to build a brand. But, in fact, she has a pretty interesting job in the medical field, so there’s definitely potential for creating a cool and unique brand which will allow her to build a community of like-minded individuals. She can actually create a pretty cool brand.

The same cannot be said for building a product. Not everyone can (or should) create a product. In fact, many brands are perfectly fine without products. When I started this site, I had no idea what product (if any) to build. My mom, who can easily start a brand today, will probably do it for fun, not as a way to make money, and, thus, would never create any products or services.

My preference is to almost always build a brand. A brand allows you to differentiate yourself from a busy market and create something that’s truly unique, something that’s truly yours. Apart from this website, I run all kinds of different websites, each with their own unique brand. Some of these sites sell products or services, others do not. I’ve learned so much over the past ten years, that I can easily predict which brands will succeed and which brands will fail. I can also easily determine whether it’ll make more sense to build a brand or a product on a case-by-case basis.

Also, unlike a product, a brand is something that you can potentially develop and grow for a very long time. Although I sell several courses that teach you how to live life on your own terms, things that my audience has asked me to create for many years, I would still continue to write simply as a hobby. Being able to connect with like-minded individuals is its own reward. That’s one of the perks of running an interesting lifestyle brand.

Don’t worry about monetizing a brand. It’s actually very easy to monetize any successful brand. Creating products and services after building a successful brand is relatively easy and straightforward. Just the fact that you’re providing lots of value and have build a successful brand will allow you to see how to create incrementally better value that your audience will pay for.

The brand-first strategy gives you another strategic advantage: it allows you to form relationships with your audience, learn their needs and wants, and only then build a product that satisfies those needs and wants. Instead of simply locking yourself up in a. closet and then building a product that no one needs, a mistake I’ve committed on a few occasions.

Having said, I do admit that if you know the kind of product you want to sell, it’s much quicker to just market and sell the product without building a sophisticated brand around it.

The decision of which model to follow also depends on your personality and unique situation. Are you looking to sell something specific for a set price? Follow the product-first model. Are you looking to write a wide array of thoughts and ideas? Follow the brand-first model. Are you looking to build a community of like-minded individuals? Follow the brand-first model. Are you looking to make money relatively quickly? Follow the product-first model. You do not know what you’re doing? Follow the brand-first model.

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you don’t have a specific product that you want to sell. Maybe you don’t know even know if you’ll ever have a product to sell. In that case, you should start a brand. As you develop the brand, you’ll gradually discover what your audience wants and needs. This will give you time to develop a product that your audience will crave.

Besides, I can certainly tell you that there are very few things as rewarding as building a community of interesting like-minded individuals who have similar goals and aspirations as yourself.

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