Everyone should be free to share their opinion, as long as they don’t object to having their ideas challenged and they have the humility to be willing to change their position in the face of a reasonable argument.
Just for fun, try posting the above paragraph on any popular internet marketing forum and enjoy the flurry of derisory posts that quickly follow.Aside from the occasional, well-reasoned, response, the usual IM forum responses to points of view anywhere outside the norm are ridicule, insults and intolerance. Depending on your personality type, this makes IM forums annoying, frustrating, or vast amounts of fun.I was a regular forum user for the first few years of my online career (until I realised it was a poor substitute for doing actual work). I enjoyed the banter and the debates, and it proved to be a good way to network and make contacts. It taught me to pay respectful attention to – and learn from – other successful marketers. It also taught me not to be afraid to express unpopular opinions, and not to ignore my own intuition.
This is a tricky balancing act for online entrepreneurs. On the one hand, you don’t want to “reinvent the wheel” and try to learn everything through trial and error; following the example of the marketers who have already established their skills is a smart thing to do. However, by definition, entrepreneurs are never going to enjoy a career that purely involves following someone else. Original thinking and testing new strategies, when kept in proper proportion, is an important part of the journey and without this spirit no-one would ever make new discoveries.
As is my want, the above is just a pre-amble to a story. It’s of the “true” variety and it always gives me reason to chuckle but it’s a story I’ve never told publicly. This is partly because it sounds like shameless name-dropping with a side-order of self-aggrandizing. Okay, I’ll be honest. I’ll come up with some learned life lesson to give the article a sense of profundity but mostly I just want to tell a story. Just go with me on this one.
Dare To Be Different
So I stumble across a website with an odd title and a quirky twist on the advertising exchange genre. It’s a novel idea and I register as a free member so I can poke around a bit. The early signs look good so I email the owner a couple of questions, not really expecting a reply. I’ve been online long enough to know that emails to the owner of an Internet Marketing website rarely receive a response. In fact it’s possible to accurately calculate the odds of a reply as it’s usually inversely proportional to the success and celebrity of the recipient.
To my surprise I received a detailed and friendly response from the owner. We exchanged a couple more emails and he was kind enough to reveal the strategy behind the website and how he’d used it to turn a tidy profit.
An imaginative website with a pleasant, intelligent webmaster? Naturally I rushed to post the details at my favourite forum. The forum regulars were overjoyed at my discovery and couldn’t wait to give me a digital slap on the back for making such an interesting and profitable discovery.
No, wait, that’s not quite right. Let me try that again.
An imaginative website with a pleasant, intelligent webmaster? Naturally I rushed to post the details at my favourite forum. The forum regulars turned their nose up at my recommendation, rubbished the concept, picked holes in the strategy and suggested that the owner was, shall we say, less than honest.
Yes, I’m sure you saw that coming. Hindsight is easy, right?
I was totally nonplussed. They made completely inaccurate assumptions about how the program worked. The webmaster was unknown to them, yet they were quick to assign nefarious motives. The forum thread was awash with cynicism. Bear in mind that these forum posts were not solely from negative newbies, struggling to make a dollar. Many of the comments were from experienced online marketers, making a full-time living online; people whom I respected and whose advice I rarely failed to heed. A seriously insecure person might well have soaked up this criticism and completely changed their view of the website and webmaster that had impressed them.
I, on the other hand, had plenty of confidence to call upon (some might have mistaken it for arrogant and stubborn pedantry, but those people are just wrong) and I wasted no time arguing my corner. In previous debates, I could usually rely on at least one or two people sharing my point of view, and supporting and adding to my arguments. But, for the first time, I found myself a lone voice. A position that likely only served to create the appearance of desperation. I unwisely persisted, severely annoying several people in the process. I realised that I had pressed too far when I reached the point where accusations were being made that I had a financial stake in the project. At this point, I cut my losses and abandoned the argument.
I debated inwardly for some time about whether persisting in my view was arrogance or simply a case of being more intelligent than everyone else. I reached the conclusion that either answer was… well… arrogant. I continued to enjoy using the program for some time but, if I’m honest, I didn’t promote it as aggressively as I had originally intended. I couldn’t subscribe to their point of view but I couldn’t bring myself to totally dismiss the opinions of the people from whom I’d learned so much.
I had a sense that this was all part of the learning curve but I still struggled to resolve the inner conflict. A complete novice is ill-equipped to contradict experienced marketers but, at some point, the novice becomes sufficiently seasoned and is able to use that solid foundation of received knowledge to start building an online business in their OWN way. As I already implied, an entrepreneur wants to create something that, to at least some degree, is unique to them.
Had I reached that point? That was the question I struggled to answer. If I was giving myself too much credit and placing too much stock in my own opinions, then I was treading a foolish and risky path. Equally concerning was the possibility that I was right to be confident in my judgement and that too much hesitancy was restricting me.
If my life was a Michael Mann film then this would be the point where I’d be sat by the window brooding while the rain lashed at the pane. The camera would cut to a wide shot from outside the window, the water running down the glass, turning my image into a set of fragmented, blurry, shapes, thus symbolising my tortured, splintered soul. That would be pretty cool.
Alternatively, if you prefer, a Quentin Tarantino movie would encapsulate this moment in an orgy of bloody violence and gratuitous cursing. Followed by an hour of conversation about why Superman is unique among comic book superheroes . . .
It’s Only Words
In the long run, I received an answer to my question. The maligned webmaster created a string of successful sites and went on to become one of the most recognizable names in Internet Marketing. Most of the people that had scoffed at my recommendation became his affiliates and wrote gushing, promotional emails to their lists.
Saying “I Told You So” is juvenile. It might have been satisfying to dredge up an old forum thread and embarrass one or two people, but it would be a hollow victory. Hollow because, despite this disagreement, I continued to enjoy learning from the experience and knowledge of these veteran marketers.
The nettle I had failed to grasp during my indulgent self-analysis was that opinions are just . . . opinions. The basis for my recommendation was a handful of friendly emails and some research into the website. Just because my opinion was eventually proved to be correct on this occasion, didn’t make it more valid than anyone else’s point of view. I had a little more data from which to make a judgement, but hard evidence of the webmaster’s marketing nous would only be confirmed over the next few months and years.
If I can show extensive data from an exhaustive split-test, demonstrating that bananas are better than apples . . . that’s one thing. But opinions will never carry the same weight. As soon as it was evident that my recommendation wasn’t welcome, I should have left it at that. I could have my opinion and they could have theirs, and it didn’t have to be a big deal. I could still use and promote this new website with a reasonable amount of caution and my opinion would eventually have been proved to be correct or incorrect. At which point I would take action accordingly.
Whether they are yours or that of someone else, opinions are free. Place too much importance on them however, and they can become very expensive. They can cost you your confidence, other people’s respect, and the opportunity to grow as an entrepreneur. They are also great at wasting valuable time.
Is that assessment profound enough to justify the telling of the tale? It’s okay to say yes or no; it’s just your opinion. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the website in the story was called Don’t Touch My Ads and the webmaster was calledMike Filsaime. I hear he went on to do pretty well for himself.
By David Congreave
This article was originally featured in Mike Filsaime’s print newsletter, “MDC Monthly.” You can get a free trial copy shipped to your door by clicking here.
David Congreave is a thirty-two year old writer and editor who lives and works in Leeds, in the UK. To read more of his views on Internet Marketing and Narcolepsy, you can browse his blog at www.DavidCongreave.com.
David Congreave runs an Internet writing and editing business in the UK, with his wife and sister. He is currently the managing editor of Mike Filsaime’s print newsletter, “MDC Monthly”.