2010: Lessons Learnt

The year has come to a close and what a year it has been! In this post, let me share part of my journey as well as lessons learnt in 2010.

1) Marketing Matters

At the beginning of this year, I was already an entrepreneur and (almost) completely self-employed. In fact, I had already been entrepreneurial for several years and it had been a long time since I’d had a job. However, while I was doing ok, I certainly wasn’t doing great. I sometimes worried about having to pay the bills, is what I’m saying.

I had always been a content creator and a product creator, but never much of a marketer. Sometime in 2008, I began taking marketing a little more seriously and pulled something of a personal branding stunt that landed me an interesting contract. But still, I was mainly a content creator. I believed that people would see the value of what I offered by themselves and I thought of marketing as somehow wrong and manipulative.

It wasn’t until late 2009 that I got serious about marketing and started really digging in and learning about it. And I quickly realized that marketing was much more significant than I’d ever imagined. Not only is it a hugely important driving force for any business, it’s also an almost fundamental human skill. Marketing is about the ability to get a messag across in an effective and powerful way. And marketing is also about listening and relating to people, because unless you offer something that someone needs, the best campaign in the world will do no good.

Without marketing, there is no business. And marketing is fundamentally about effective communication (although few internet marketers make it seem so).

2) Systems Are Important

Let me repeat that: Systems are important. And what I mean by systems is anything that handles a recurring process in your business. Signing up new contacts, receiving payments, refunding payments, labelling packages, shipping packages, following up with customers, gettin the paperwork right,… anything recurring.

Here’s how I learnt this: Above, I mentioned an “interesting contract”. Without boring you with too many details, I basically got an exclusive drop-shipping contract with a large retailer of a niche-product in Europe. I got this thanks to some personal branding (and a lot of hard work) that I’d been doing in the niche. Consequently, I was in charge of an online store for the past two years. In many ways, the store was a huge success. Mainly thanks to a need in the market, combined with the brand I had built around myself, business took off quickly and kept growing at a steady pace.

There were two problems: The first problem was that while revenue was very high, profits were minimal. There were too many costs associated with shipping and handling and all that. The far greater problem, as I soon discovered, was that the systems this store was built on (e-commerce system, warehouse-management and shipping etc.) were rubbish. They were poorly implemented and lacked flexibility. When working on the orders, I had to have up to five different windows with different programs, spreadsheets and applications open and do a lot of manual processing, even for the simplest tasks.

This meant I was spending hours a day, every day, doing what a few good automation systems could have handled in seconds. And it also meant that there were more problems and support tickets than necessary (lots of human labour = lots of human error).

Bottom line: the business was run sub-optimally, wasted my time, didn’t make enough money and didn’t leave enough time in the day to do the thing that would have increased profits: Marketing.

Automation systems were the difference between this business being a stellar success and me quitting after two years, having given up hope.

3) Some Things Are Worth the Wait

After a very good run with my first free products offered in the IM space as well as my first paid product, Backlink Battleplan, I got stuck. And I remained stuck for months on end. If you’ve been following along, you probably noticed this: There are several products that I talked about, but still haven’t released and I’ve been mentioning “technical difficulties” more often than I like to admit.

You maybe also noticed the epic post about membership site software and know that my own solution for memberships, product delivery and affiliate management has been pending for months.

Let me be clear: All of this has been very, very frustrating. But it’s also been necessary. Due to my previous experience with shoddy systems I will not settle for anything less than the best. I want the best product delivery system, the best autoresponder and the best affiliate program. No compromise. I’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money on my search for this perfect solution. And while, as of this writing, it’s still not 100% finished, it’s getting there and it will be worth it.

When I create a product, I take longer than most product creators. Because I don’t settle for “ok”. And it pays off, for me and for you.

I’m building an affiliate and product delivery system that will pay off. Big time. For me, but mainly for you.

4) Business Partner Heaven/Hell

In the past, I’ve worked on joint projects with other people and been bitterly disappointed. I can’t even remember how many joint ventures failed because some of the partners involved didn’t pull their weight. And yes, sometimes I was one of the ones not pulling their own weight, too.

Being involved in a partner-project where things aren’t working can be hell. It can be very frustrating and cost a lot of time and money.

On the other hand, if you have a business partner where the cooperation is smooth and dynamic and all partners are equally ambitious and excited about the project, it’s pure bliss. If you can work in a team where everyone can contribute with their greatest strengths while others do the tasks they’d be overwhelmed with, it’s amazing how much progress you can make.

I’ve been extremely fortunate this year, to find several business partners that amaze me with their levels of excellence and ambition and where we have a great dynamic of complementing each other. And needless to say, as a result of this, some very exciting things are under way!

Taking time to find the right business partners is another thing that can be very much worth the wait.

5) Finding My Voice

This is something that’s difficult to put into words. Gradually, over the course of the year, I’ve found my voice in this market. I am slowly but surely becoming more authentic and more confident in my content. It’s not that I ever tried to be anything but authentic, it’s just that it didn’t work right from the start. This is something that content creation of any kind is great for: The more you write, create and record, the more you find your own voice.

It’s very liberating to speak in your own voice and be heard. And if you’re not there yet, just keep creating content and keep digging until your find your own voice.

6) The Human Learning Machine

The human brain is amazing. It’s as amazing as the education system I went through is flawed.

Just over a year ago, I did not know how to build a website myself (I always had to hire people to do it for me), I had limited knowledge of marketing and I knew absolutely nothing about all the systems and technology that drive online marketing. Fast forward to now and I have a portfolio of over 30 sites I built myself, I have a reasonably good practical and theoretical understanding of marketing and I know the technology behind it all as well as any non-programmer can know it.

I was always a barely-good-enough-to-pass student. My grades were never great and I had difficulties learning. Yet, in the past year, I have soaked up more information and gained more practical experience than in all my years in school. So it seems, at least.

The human brain is a learning machine. Get into the trenches and learn-by-doing on a topic that you are truly interested in and amazing things can happen. No matter what your grades looked like.


If I had to narrow all of my journey in 2010 down to one thing, it would be gratitude. Of course, it’s fantastic to have income streams that take care of all the bills and then some. And I’m grateful for that. Much more than that, I’m grateful for the people I’ve connected with, grateful for the experiences I’ve gained and grateful for the opportunity to work with and help people in their marketing efforts.

In other words: Thank you (yes, You).

About the Author Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Cheryl says:

    Shane – I have to admit I have followed a LOT of marketers over the years, learned some here and there from each of them but your way of coming across is the right balance of confident and knowledgeable with an honesty/transparency that I find refreshing. I’ve only “known” you since you launched BBP (when Andy Williams promoted it) and I can tell you I have learned more from you in those 6 or so months than in my 4 years online.

    Your products and approach show you care. Like you, as a student that got by just enough to get out of public school, I have learned GOBS more on my own – I found my groove outside public education.

    Anyway, I’ve rambled enough – Happy New Year and I look forward to watching you continue to grow!

    • Shane says:

      Hi Cheryl,
      Thank you very much for your response! I’m thrilled to know that my content has been so useful to you!
      And a big congratulations on your pulling-self-up-by-bootstraps efforts! :) It is great to find one’s groove.

  • Cheryl says:

    PS I really admire your clean and professional graphics throughout your sites and products. Do you do it yourself? or do you have a graphic designer that churns out those cool thumbnails and header graphics?

    • Shane says:

      I make them all myself. The only exception is the IM Impact logo, which I hired someone to do for me. Apart from that, I’ve done all the graphical stuff myself. I do also use pre-made content, if I find something that I’m allowed to use. For example, the icons in this post weren’t made by me. I got them from this site.
      Design is something that I’ll increasingly outsource, though, just to save some time.

  • Chris says:

    Hi Shane,

    I loved your post as usual.. Also thank you for your share regarding the graphics, great site. I’ve it bookmarked for my next post!! LOL

    2010 has been a steep learning for many here on your list including myself, may it continue with the great content and interaction over the next year. It is so refreshing to actually be part of your “list” though i’d call it more of a community!

    Keep the great content and updates coming for 2011.

    Happy new year to all.


    • Shane says:

      Thanks, Chris! I agree, it feels like a community to me too. :)

  • Rema says:

    Hi Shane,

    Thank you very much for putting the year’s happenings in a nutshell. Motivating indeed!! There is so much to learn from you. Wishing you a successful year ahead!!


    • Shane says:

      Hi Rema,

      Thank you very much for your comment! All the best to you too!

  • Tony says:

    Hi Shane,

    Thanks for giving us an insight into your year – plenty of valuable lessons there.

    I realize that this next year for me is all about implementation. I feel like I spent all of 2010 learning, reading, watching etc. but now I need to be actually ‘doing’.

    All the best for 2011. I hope it is a great year for you and everyone that is part of the community that you have developed.

    • Shane says:

      Sounds like a very good plan, Tony! It can be difficult to find the right balance between learning and doing. Since you’ve already done so much learning, you can probably focus almost entriely on doing, for now. No doubt you’ll see great results from it!

  • Mirko Gosch says:

    Hey Shane,

    That´s a very compelling story you are sharing here, certainly one of the best blog posts of 2010 (not kidding) and I can´t thank you enough for all the awesome stuff you produced and shared in 2010.

    You are a great source of authentic inspiration and guidance in the IM world and you are also bookmarked under “friend”. One of my favorite books in 2009 and 2010 was “The Go-Giver” and following you online is like being inside the story of that book all the time.

    Your way of teaching and your style of marketing has already impacted the market and I have no doubt that 2011 will be a year of extraordinary stuff and success-stories from IM-IMPACT.

    Plus and even more important I absolutely agree with the other commenters saying that you have woven a super awesome community of like minded people through your list. I just love witnessing your truly honest and value driven Go-Giver way of marketing that is attracting so many other folks from all over the world and I am grateful to be part of this community :-)

    Let´s make it an extraordinary awesome year, my friend Shane, for all of us!


  • Awesome post Shane. Definitely agree about the partners bit!

    Here’s to 2011.


    • Shane says:

      Thanks, Paul. And thanks for pointing out the spelling error.
      Corrected it (although I can’t stop thinking of “I’m full of grates” when I read it).

  • Yeah that one’s a weird one – I only discovered I’d been spelling that wrong my whole life the other day!

  • One of the highlights of 2010 was discovering you & getting to know you. Thank you Shane for everything you are doing & for this wonderful community!

  • Hello Shane.
    Thank goodness a real person on the internet that is not making $100,000 a month and all of it on Auto-Pilot!!!
    Seriously though I like the everyone else really appreciate your transparency because it allows us to have belief that we can have all these faults and still make a living online. Your product reviews have been great and allow us to make sensible decisions based on facts and not a slick sales page. There are about 3 people I follow now with great interest because of their knowledge and credibility and they are in no particular order. Yourself , Dr Andy Williams & Mukul Verma http://www.internetmarketingcrunch.com. Mukul lives about an hour south of me in Toronto Canada and has been very up front with his teachings. Hope you don’t mind the plug for him, but just to clarify this is not affiliate link but just info.
    So I’m looking forward to lots of great stuff.
    Thank you

  • Tony Clingan says:

    Hi Shane

    It’s been good to get to know you in 2010, to discover somebody straight down the line in this business is rare, your one of a handful of people I can really say I trust in this business

    Your exposure of some of the sharp practice has been valuable and your recommendations are always good

    Finding your voice is important, Stephen Covey’s 8th habit is a great resource, I think you have found yours

    So all it leaves now is to wish you well for 2011 and I look forward to seeing where you go next

    Thanks for sharing Tony

  • Hi Shane, wishing you the very best for 2011!

    I had the great fortune of falling over your Backlink Battleplan 5 months ago and saw my brandnew website go from position 25 million in the Alexa rankings to currently position 1.3 million. I’m sure the fact that I managed to attract around 130 news backlinks since using your plan hasn’t hurt!

    Hearing about your struggles and successes is very inspiring. I’m really looking forward to whatever new products you come up with!

    Kind regards, Marion

  • NEW backlinks, not news backlinks!! (it’s getting late here, typos start creeping in – lol)

  • Alex says:

    2010 was a helluva year for me too, lots of lessons there amd lots of finding out what the heck I should be doing online after so much effort and so little to show.

    After trying adsense, product creation,membership sites I’ ve come back to simple affiliate marketing and what to market?…tangible products – real stuff!

    It is such a relief to be able to write about exercise equipment or headphones or whatever rather than about “information”.


    And my Christmas sales are best I’ve seen – so it’s just down to me using Backlinks Battleplan to ramp up the traffic.

    Thanks for the Battleplan and for your insights!


  • Ravi says:

    Hi Shane
    It has been an awesome journey into the inner recesses of the IM World and you are a great guide in carrying so many people with you in the past year. Thanks for all the knowledge you have shared with us. Wishing you a happy and prsoperous 2011

  • Hey Shane,

    Love your list and #2 got me thinking. One of the programs I took notes on Stompernet’s “Formula 5” course that was conducted by the genius Paul Lemberg.

    One of the 5 elements in “Formula 5” had to with organization of time, resources, assets.

    In this section he talked about how to create systems and what a business should have systems for. Below is a small section of my notes I thought might be useful to a couple of people here who are serious about systematizing their office…

    Steps to Create a System:

    1. Decide on the purpose
    2. Figure out the steps
    3. Graphically Illustrate it
    4. Build a Checklist / Worksheet
    5. Add Clarifications
    6. Add Tools
    7. Create Metrics
    8. Test
    9. Train
    10. Tweak

    3 Situations That Need Systems:

    Situation 1) A well-known procedure that isn’t documented.

    You know how to do it or somebody in your business does but there isn’t a list of
    steps recorded. This should be easiest of all.

    Situation 2) A procedure you don’t know well and you don’t have anyone in your business who’s an expert at it enough to document it. This is where you find someone outside the company who’d be willing to share it.

    Situation 3) A brand new procedure to your company so there’s no existing procedure here or any where that you know of. So, you get to invent it from scratch.

    4 Ways to Figure Out The Steps:

    Catch Someone in the Act

    This is simply observation & capturing a useful level of detail

    Things to Capture

    o Process
    o How they do it broken into discreet steps
    o Conversations can be turned into scripts
    o Actions (Physical/procedural
    o Documentation
    o Mindset stuff
    o Why they do what they do

    Tools for capturing this stuff


    Best way to do this…


    Screen capturing/Camtasia

    Story boards…
    Can be the fastest way to absorb the process

    Interview Someone Who Knows What They’re Doing…

    Can be someone on your team who you can’t observe or a consultant, outside expert or non-competitor in the same field. Highly recommended

    Seminars, conferences & training programs…
    Interview multiple experts there because someone may shine light on something in a way that really makes it easiest to understand

    Adapt Something That Works…
    Carry over something that’s working in another field and drop it into your

    Invent It From Scratch


    Survey Experts…
    Ask them how they’d go about doing it. People pay Paul all the time to conceive processes for them.

    Trial & Error…
    When you do this make sure to document what you’re doing so you don’t repeat what doesn’t work. Conceive, draft, and document. Refine & test, refine & test


    Thank you Shane for giving your insights here. I’m always curious as to learn what’s unique and working for other entrepreneurs. Especially knowing life is nothing but continuous changing and evolution of perspective.

  • Shane,

    Great post. I especially like the “Systems are important” idea – too often I jump from marketing idea to marketing idea, and forget to be consistent with the ones that work.


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