June 13, 2011

Why I Don’t Read Seth’s Blog

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Meredith @ 6:53 am

Today’s post is inspired by an article I mentioned on Friday’s “Link Love”. Mark Collier points out that a lot of A-list business and marketing bloggers are considered A-list more so by reputation than the actual content of their writing.

Mark writes “A very unfortunate side-affect of using rankings such as friends and followers to determining authority is that the ability to teach isn’t as important as it once was…it seems that more of the supposed leaders want to tweet about how you should ‘be awesome’ instead of teaching us how to be awesome. We don’t need to see tweets telling us to ‘be awesome’, we need more teachers that will roll up their sleeves and teach us how. And if someone can’t do that, then do they really deserve to be viewed as authorities?”

Bravo, Mark! You put into words what’s bugged me for a long time about a lot of so-called A-list business bloggers. This brings me to why I don’t read Seth Godin’s blog.

If you’ve been around the marketing blogosphere more than a minute, you’ve probably heard of Seth Godin. When I was new to marketing, the more experienced marketers I knew all suggested I read his blog, so I did. And you know what? I didn’t like it. I know he’s very popular and has a huge army of loyal fans, but his writing just didn’t resonate with me. He would write things like this and I would think he sounded like a freaking fortune cookie. He mostly offers a menu of common sense and platitudes—nothing revolutionary. Nothing specific and actionable I can apply to make my business better.

The writing he produces that doesn’t revolve around what are, in my opinion, no-brainer observations, focuses on things that are too vague to be of use. Here’s a classic. The gist is that when you market online you can keep trying to bring in more visitors/customers or try to romance the ones you’ve already got.

Why don’t I like this article?
As far as concepts go, Seth’s busker post is a lot like my article on transactional business models vs. relationship-based models. The difference is I didn’t dance around the concept with analogies about buskers and simply say “you have the choice of doing one or the other”. I wrote a concrete explanation about the difference between these two models, complete with examples of businesses that use them.

I know I learn best from concrete explanations and examples, so that’s how I write. I hope that the people who read Smaller Box appreciate this method of learning and that my writing resonates with them. This is also why I enjoy blogs like Get Elastic. Their writing is full of examples and specific actionable ideas based on case studies. This article doesn’t just say “Overcome resistance with incentives”, it gives me a specific example, complete with visuals, on how an ecommerce company does exactly that. That’s advice I can understand and apply to my own website.

I feel only a tiny bit bad picking on Seth. I don’t really like to pick on anyone, but he’s a popular guy with a huge following and he probably has a thick skin, so he can handle someone like me saying his writing isn’t my cup of tea. Plus, I know a lot of people do enjoy his writing, so read whatever floats your boat. This article is mainly about my problem with people reading the writing of a “guru” just because he’s considered a “guru”, and I think a lot of people do this. What I’m asking you to do is take a really critical look at the people you follow for business advice and decide for yourself if they provide value and make you better at running your business. Ignore their fan count, their ranking on the best seller list, etc. And most of all, ignore the fact that what they’re saying makes you feel warm & fuzzy. It’s easy to want to listen to people who offer blind, unconditional encouragement; we all like to have our egos stroked. But do they make you better at what you do? If not, find a new role model.

I’m not a famous guru, but here’s why you might want to listen to me anyway:

1. I have experience doing the thing you want to do
There are a ton of business bloggers who dispense advice for small online retail businesses, despite the fact that they do not now, nor have they ever, owned a profitable online retail business. In my case, all of my writing is based on personal experience running a profitable online retail business. I also often seek advice from other people who’ve had experience running a profitable online retail business, and share their experience with my readers.

So when I write my recommendations on this blog, it’s not conjecture or guesswork or me making things up; it’s all based on my own experience selling thousands of products online every year to customers all over the world.

2. I won’t tell you want you want to hear
Smaller Box is like eating your vegetables; it might not always be fun, but it will be good for you. I don’t write to make you feel good, I write things that I hope will make you good at what you are trying to do. That means I’ll tell you if something is difficult, expensive, time-consuming,etc. Running a business is all of those things and I don’t want to sugarcoat that and waste your time if you’re not up for the challenge. I can tell you how smart and creative you are all day, but that won’t make you a dime richer. So instead, I’m going to tell you how to do SEO, how to optimize your website for conversions, how to properly capitalize a business. If you don’t like hearing this stuff, you probably aren’t ready to run a real business and reading this blog isn’t a good use of your time.

3. I understand the hard and fluffy parts of running a business
A few weeks ago I wrote about balancing what I call the hard and fluffy parts of your business. Most people, especially those without much experience running a profitable online retail business, really understand and gravitate towards one side or the other. They either really love the technical side (things like SEO, A/B testing, etc.) or they really love the softer science part of business (things like mission statements and connecting with your niche). I love both. I’ve had to learn to love both because my business depends on it. So when you read Smaller Box, you’re going to get a dose of both sides, because you need both to succeed. I know most of my readers are drawn to the fluffier side of business, so I try to write about the more technical aspects in an accessible way.

4. I tell you what and how
A lot of business and marketing blogs only tell you what. They basically dispense advice like “be awesome.” They don’t tell you how to be awesome. My brain doesn’t work that way, so I don’t write that way. I both suggest being awesome and write about specific actionable things you can do to be more awesome. That’s why I don’t write “Design product packaging that’s memorable.” I write specific articles about how your peers have done this, so you can get specific ideas of your own on how to make your packaging more awesome.

Your challenge for today
So many of the “experts” in the business and marketing blogosphere are glorified cheerleaders. They talk about how you can be more successful and say things that sound good and make you feel good, but they don’t actually make you better at anything. So my challenge to you is this: get rid of one false idol from your regular reading intake. Really evaluate the marketing and business experts you regularly follow and think about whether they’re providing concrete value and making you better at running your business. If not, get rid of ’em and use that time you spent reading their blog, books, Tweets, etc. on something more productive.

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  1. A very bold post, but I have to agree with your analysis. I have several blogs in my reader but to be honest, there are only two I read regularly: Yours and Megan’s CraftMBA. (I’ve got Seth’s blog in my reader also but rarely read it. I’ll read it for amusement and that’s about it.)

    Yes, of course I want everything to be awesome, and I’m learning little by little but when I’m stuck, I need meat and potatoes how to. I know you reference lots of blogs in your weekly link love, but what top 3 – 5 blogs do you recommend for regular reading that provide the same level of detail how-to as yours?


    Comment by Doris J — June 13, 2011 @ 9:14 am

  2. Thanks, Doris. I realize some people get something out of blogs with abstract writing, so more power to them. I just don’t personally get anything out of it and don’t recommend people stick with those types of reads just because they are popular.

    Craft MBA is good. I really like Get Elastic, but it can get fairly technical. Search Engine Land is hit or miss, but sometimes has good stuff. A Smart Bear: Startups and Marketing for Geeks has good stuff, more philosophical than actionable but still pretty good. Practical Ecommerce and Econsultancy are sometimes good. Conversation Marketing has some good stuff, but not all relevant for SB readers. I guess those 7 would be worth adding to your reader, even if they don’t have stuff in every post that is helpful.

    I don’t know of any other blogs (other than CMBA) that are closer to Smaller Box. As in written by an online retail biz owner about running an online retail biz and written with a focus on biz thinking and practical/technical biz tips geared to a non-technical audience.

    Comment by Meredith — June 13, 2011 @ 9:36 am

  3. This post is exactly why I read your blog. I love when you say what you really think even if it might not be the popular point of view. I started reading Seth exactly because people said I should. I thought it was a lot of fluffy nonsense with no actual advice (I need real advice!), and eventually I unsubscribed. Thank you for all of the tangible guidance you provide. It’s been so invaluable to me, even if, as you say, it’s not always what I want to hear.

    Comment by Jillian — June 13, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

  4. I’m glad I came to Smaller Box today – whilst I’ve occasionally read a few fluffy, candy floss blogs when I need a sugar fix, I much prefer advice with a bit of bite and substance, which is what you serve up *G* Even if I don’t/can’t always follow the advice myself, it’s far more interesting to read.

    Comment by Hazel — June 14, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  5. Wow, this post really resonates with me! I’ve felt so dumb because I really don’t get that much out of so many gurus that so many people seem to rave about. It was wonderful to read you put into the words the reason why.

    Love Smaller Box for that very reason, love Crafting an MBA, and love ScoutieGirl/TaraGentile. But I do feel that Tara is starting to join that herd and move away from the practical and more to the abstract, and I really want to grab her and pull her back again. I don’t know how to do that without offending her, so I probably won’t say anything but, for me, practical (with real-life examples) is where it’s at! Everything else starts to become just a distraction.

    Comment by Anne — June 15, 2011 @ 11:05 am

  6. I forgot I signed up for your monthly newsletter and was in for a surprise. Great article and thank you for those blog recommendations! I like what I’m reading on your blog, will definitely check in more often (:

    Comment by Jenny — June 16, 2011 @ 10:27 am

  7. Excellent post again Meredith!

    I found Seth’s classic post about pimping for more buyers or romancing the ones you’ve got pretty handy. Sometimes I just need a little seed of an idea at the right time to re-think how I’m doing things.

    When I’m digging into a topic, I really appreciate your more thorough articles.

    Seth is sort-of the teaser, and you’re the encyclopedia. Well, in my mind anyway 🙂 I hope that sounded like a compliment because it was meant as such. 🙂

    Comment by Tricia McKellar — June 16, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  8. I happen to be reading (in tandem) one of Godin’s books right now, and I keep finding myself holding out for some real direction on exactly what you are saying..how to be awesome/indispensable. Will I ever get there???? 🙂

    I always get my daily/weekly or monthly challenge from your writings. I’m amazed that you can do so much!

    Comment by amy — June 16, 2011 @ 11:37 am

  9. Must be something in the air:) I just spent my morning writing my blog, ranting about another “Seth” and his survey results that say blogs shouldn’t get personal. I always question ‘gurus’ and folks’ “expert” status. I want to know what they did before they got popular….It’s like– if you were so successful at the other, why did you get into this?:) Sorry for my cynicism, but it pushes a button for me!ha! Your candid approach is refreshing.

    Comment by Trishia Jacobs — June 16, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

  10. Eh, can’t comment on that survey without more context. I think some people get overly personal in their biz blogs and it doesn’t look professional. If you have a art blog and you went on vacation and took amazing pix of street art, share! If you’re in a bad mood because your IBS is acting up, keep that to yourself. There’s definitely a difference between being authentic and oversharing.

    I don’t think all the gurus are always wrong. I don’t even think Seth Godin is “wrong”, I just find his writing too vague and platitude-heavy for my liking. Always be a little skeptical, question “expert” qualifications. Does their writing make you better at what you do? Do they have personal experience being successful with what you want to accomplish?

    Comment by Meredith — June 16, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

  11. Thanks Meredith. I had subscribed to Seth’s blog because I felt I “had to.” That lasted about four weeks. I truly try to stick with what I can take something away with me. I have been trying to cull my reader and keep only that which I feel benefits me. Otherwise it’s just an energy drain.

    I love the way you write. Thank you.

    Comment by Deanna — June 16, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  12. I struggled to understand what the fuss was all about with Seths blog too. I stopped following after a short while, there was a lot of noise and I was bored. Took me a while to work out I wasn’t getting anything from it. I kept thinking I must be missing something.

    I bought two of his books & just finished reading those. I enjoyed them! They offer more and I felt I got something out of them.

    You may not be famous, but you’re on my must read list! (Along with CraftMBA).

    Comment by Jeanie — June 16, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

  13. I completely agree with this. I’ve never read any of his books and at this point I’m not sure I’d have to, because I’ve spent enough time reading his ‘followers’ blogs that claim that his way of doing marketing is the gospel truth.

    The reality is that while they’ve gained great skills in selling themselves, it truly seems as if there is so little knowledge about business tha it makes me wonder whether they have ever even worked for a company. I hope that people don’t think that starting your own biz means your no longer working for someone. Because the reality is rather than having one boss, everone of your clients in a way becomes your boss. Your job is to serve them… if this is not understood it might be better to pitch your sales to a mirror.

    I’m rambling now. Basically from what I’ve observed this type of marketing is how the prom queen earns her title. But in the end being a Prom Queen will never help you understand Chemistry. So why do we all of the sudden believe that having Accounting 101.

    Plus its creating a lot of noise so that those who understand these things take time are burried under relentless fluff.

    Argh.. I think this will change very soon now. The creme always rises to the top as they say.

    Comment by Jessica — June 16, 2011 @ 8:09 pm

  14. Woops on of my sentences got chopped up somehow… This is what I meant to say:

    “So why do we think that gaining some sort of guru celebrity status means that somehow means that you can call yourself an entrepreneur without having a clue about what cash flow statement is… Hello welcome to accounting 101. “

    Comment by Jessica — June 16, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

  15. […] in Smaller Box land! Tons of good conversation about marketplace websites, branding, and picking the best business/marketing blogs to follow. My anti-guru rant had been a long time coming since it’s a subject that irks me and […]

    Pingback by Smaller Box :: Blog :: Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week — June 18, 2011 @ 10:14 am

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