A Deeper Look at How I Discovered My Online Business Model and How You Can Too

by Marcus Sheridan

This past month, The Sales Lion turned three years old. And as I sit back and contemplate how this blog and business have changed over this time , I feel prompted to share maybe the most important lesson I’ve learned during this period. In conjunction with this, I want to answer a question today that many readers have asked about , but I’ve never taken the time to fully explain– What is the business model of The Sales Lion and how do you make money?

You know,  we hear a lot of talk about how to create successful business models. And although understanding the concept of business models is certainly important, I think sometimes we might put too much stock into knowing exactly what we are and exactly what we need to be before our identity is allowed to appear.

Many readers likely do not realize this, but when I started The Sales Lion, I thought this was going to be a blog about retail and in-home sales. Believe it or not, the main focus was not going to be inbound and content marketing. But this is exactly why listening is so very important. If we really want to be successful as bloggers and business owners, far and away listening is the most important key.

My very first post on TSL, and it had nothing to do with Inbound and Content Marketing.

Listening to Yourself, Your Readers, and Your Clients

After the first couple of months of writing this blog, I realized the passion I have for retail sales and in-home selling wasn’t nearly as much as my passion for inbound and content marketing. So I did an about-face (I listened to my gut) and started to change the theme of what this blog was all about. But not only was I listening to myself, but I was also listening to my readers, who always seemed to be more responsive to my thoughts on inbound and content marketing . They wanted to see exactly how I was able to elevate my swimming pool company from near bankruptcy to the top of its industry. In other words, the readers showed me where the business needed to go, and all I had to do was listen.

Once I made this important decision, I continued to listen to the reader and tried my best to understand what they were looking for. As I did this, I could see that many wanted help with HubSpot. They wanted help in using the tool and they needed someone to guide them. So once again, I listen, and I followed. It was during this time I became a partner with HS and before long I was signing people up to use their software and was getting paid to teach them how to be successful inbound marketers utilizing the tool.

This was the first time I have ever made any money with The Sales Lion, and it occurred well over a year after starting the blog. Today, with respect to number of clients, I’m one of HubSpot’s largest VARs in the world.

Another Business Appears 

Speaking at Block Imaging, my first full-day content marketing workshop, and one of many that would follow.

About a year and a half ago, I started getting calls from people who wanted to get their staff involved in inbound marketing. They wanted help producing content, blogging, and teaching. This request came more than once, and finally, when my friend Krista asked me to come to Michigan and teach Block Imaging and their entire organization how they could all embrace a culture of inbound and content marketing, I decided it was time to listen. Since that time, Block Imaging has become a major thought-leader in their industry, their brand has grown, and sales have benefited. Furthermore, they’ve been the subject of quite a few social media case studies, including one on Social Media Examiner.

Further Listening Equates to a Better Business Model

After meeting with Block as well as a few other companies to give this workshop, I knew it was time to promote this service more openly to my blog audience. The demand was there. I was listening. And even though I never dreamed of giving these types of workshops when I started The Sales Lion, the business had presented itself. The model had taken shape.

Today, I give inbound and content marketing workshops all over North America. In fact, these workshops now make up a huge portion of the income generated through TSL. After giving a few of these workshops, though, I realized, upon listening to my clients, that many wanted more. They needed someone to guide them through the initial process of creating a successful content marketing campaign that was built to last, and built upon a company culture. Once again, because I was listening to the needs of the clients, a business model presented itself. Currently, I have multiple clients set up on six-month consulting retainers, where the whole purpose is that of making sure they’re able to establish this very important culture.

The Birth of EasyBizBlogging

Recently, you may have heard me announce the new service provided here at TSL—EasyBizBlogging. This service came as a direct result of listening to the many e-mails and conversations I’ve had with readers and clients over these last few years. Because so many said they simply did not have the time, skills, or understanding to make blogging a priority for their business — I decided to provide a way for these same businesses to use the intellectual property and industry wisdom that was in their heads and distill it in a digital manner by using an interview-based blogging format. This way we are able to overcome the problem of time and skill with professional ghost writers, but the clients still are using their information in their voice. This would also allow them to develop stronger relationships with their potential clients, because the content is real and genuine. After just a few short weeks since the launch, I can see that EBB is going to be very successful. There is a huge demand for it. It makes sense to businesses.

Would the model of EBB have made sense to me a few years ago? No, of course not. But today it does. And it does only because I have listened again and again to the needs of my readers and potential clients, which has enabled the business model to appear.

EBB never was on my radar until the constant need kept popping up from readers and clients.

I don’t mention any of these business victories to brag in any way. I’m not smarter than anyone that reads this blog or any other blog for that matter. But I think sometimes we tend to make this whole process of marketing and blogging and business development much harder than what it has to be.

What is most important in all of this? The answer is simple, and one you already know — we need to listen. Sometimes, we’ve got to stop talking. We’ve got to stop writing. We’ve simply got to turn on our ears.

By so doing, the answers we’ve been looking for will often appear—and so will the business success we so desperately seek.

Your Turn

I’d love to know about a business decision you’ve made over the last couple of years that stemmed directly from listening to your readers/customers. What were the results?

Also, if you have any questions about the TSL business model, I’d be happy to openly answer them here.

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