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The Story

2008 was the definition of a roller coaster year for me.

In March, I received a huge promotion and a raise at the architectural firm I was working for. Soon after that, I proposed to my girlfriend and got engaged.

In June, I was told I was going to be let go from my job and I moved back in with my parents to save as much money as I could. I also went into a little bit of a depression.

In October, after scrappily building my first website to help architects and designers pass an exam (the LEED exam), I sold my first product online – a study guide – and earned $7,908.55 in a single month.

In November, the revenue was closer to $9k, and in December 2008 I cracked five figures in a single month.

Things were looking good until May of 2009 when my world got turned upside down…again.

The organization that administers the LEED exam, the United States Green Building Council, decided to create its own study guide. They literally write the exam questions, so why would anyone purchase a guide from a regular person like me?

I remember being too afraid to check my email or sign in to my shopping cart that month to check sales, but eventually, I had to. And what I found surprised me:

I had the most sales I had ever had in a single month. Over $30,000 in revenue.

This totally went in the opposite direction that I thought it would, and I couldn’t understand why, but I needed to find out.

So, I sent a survey to my new customers asking them two simple questions:

  1. How did you hear about GreenExamAcademy?
  2. What made you decide to go with GreenExamAcademy over other study guides that are offered to you?

Soon, I understood EXACTLY what was happening.

The USGBC’s email blast about their new study guide prompted tens of thousands of people to get excited about taking the exam, and when researching what else was out there to offer help, my name and face came up. That’s how they found me.

But why did they decide to buy my product? I had to dive into the depths of my records to find these, but here are a few exact responses copied and pasted from survey question #2:

“I decided to buy The LEED AP Walkthrough because of you, Pat. You took the exam yourself and it almost feels like you were tutoring me.”

“You personally have first-hand experience earning your LEED credential, Pat. I think this is why I trusted you over the others.”

“I dunno Pat. I think it was the way you talk to me on your blog. You did it first and then you were gonna show me how to do it. It was encouraging.”

Almost every response that came in highlighted the same thing—a connection to the fact that I had taken the exam first. It made the material, me as the instructor, and the product more trustworthy. And back in 2008, this audience didn’t trust random sites selling things on the Internet.

This was the exact moment when I discovered the power and the value of leading by example. Doing the thing first, and then showing people how to do it.

If I’m teaching something but don’t have an example or an experience to share behind it, how could it be trusted?

When I started SmartPassiveIncome.com in late 2008 to teach online business, it was with a real-life case study of Green Exam Academy behind it.

When I started teaching search engine optimization, I used real examples from a website I built in the security guard training niche. Because people were seeing me do it first, not only did it encourage others to do the same, but clicks on my affiliate links for products I was using went through the roof!

I taught podcasting only after having a successful podcast. On YouTube, my how-to podcast videos over the years have been seen over 3 million times, and our podcast course is our #1 bestseller!

In today’s creator economy, where information is freely available and publishing content is easy, you MUST create your own unique experiences that no one else could have to support what you teach.

Your Call to Action

It’s a jungle out there. Are you going to be the person at the front of the pack with the machete clearing a safe path for everyone behind you, or are you going to be like most people who just use their platform to tell people what to do?

Your call to action this week is to choose to do something that you know your audience is interested in doing themselves and do it yourself first.

Document how it unfolds and what you learn along the way. What mistakes did you make, and what new things did you discover?

That experience can create multitudes of content, build more trust, and potentially turn into something much much bigger. Spend some time thinking about what it could be (or better yet, ask your audience what they’d like to see you try), and then…lead by example.


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Get Unstuck

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter, Unstuck, to get tips, tools, and my best advice for creating a thriving online business.



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