What the Heck is Ghostwriting?

How to Start an Online Business: From Diddly Squat to a Booming Career!

by Henneke Duistermaat


Want to learn how to start an online business, but feeling overwhelmed? Learn how a well-known (and well-paid) freelance writer started out.


Soul-destroying, isn’t it?

You look at popular freelancers, bloggers, and entrepreneurs.

With thousands of Twitter followers.

Hundreds of blog comments.

And digital products selling like hotcakes. At premium prices too.

Webinar? Sold out.

New infographic? Gone viral.

And then …

You look at your own online presence. A handful of comments. A few hundred Twitter followers. And a faint presence on Facebook.

Does it make you feel down? Overwhelmed?

Does earning a living online feel impossible? Like an insurmountable task?

In October 2012, I felt the same way.

I’d just quit my job.

I had no blog, no audience, no clients, and virtually no social media presence.

My plan was to take a year off to find my feet and recover from a near-burnout.

But things didn’t quite work out…

That Lazy Sabbatical Never Happened

Before quitting, I had struggled to cope with the increasing pressures of my marketing job. Smaller budgets. More work. The symptoms of a tough economy.

While I walked into the office with a smile painted on my face, I had lost my sense of fun. I felt more and more nervous about my Dutch accent. I suffered from palpitations. And I had my first bout of migraine headaches.

My boss told me to toughen up.

And I felt like a failure.

Deciding to quit my job and start my own online business wasn’t a dream come true – it was an emergency measure.

I never had an Aha moment about running my own online business. I didn’t have a burning desire to be an entrepreneur.

I’d simply had enough of working for a boss.

Exhausted from 70-hour work weeks and suffocated by self-doubt, my main plan was to take things easy and recover my sanity.

So I focused on what I had started to enjoy most: writing.

I had finished Jon’s Guest Blogging class. He and Marsha Stopa had taught me how to pitch and write guest posts, so that’s what I did. I wanted to build an email list, but I hadn’t figured out much else.

Heck, I didn’t even know how I’d make money.

But within a couple months, I stumbled upon my first copywriting clients.

Not the type of energy-sucking clients you’d expect as your first. These clients were fun. And they paid well.

As a non-native speaker, I had never thought people would hire me to write for them. What idiot hires a writer who can’t even speak proper English?

But soon I had a steady stream of copywriting clients from the US and the UK. Within a year, I was turning inquiries away. I cherry-picked projects and doubled my fees.

Want to know how I did it? And do the same?

Let’s start at the beginning …

Step 1. Decide to be a Beekeeper, Not a Zookeeper

Are you learning how to start a blog from scratch like I did?

Without a thriving blog? Without an email list? And without a social media following?

Then I have some news for you.

Your quickest way to make money online is not by affiliate marketing. It’s not by online advertising. It’s not by developing an ecommerce store or digital product.

Your quickest way to make money blogging is by offering a service.

And to attract initial clients for your service, you must turn yourself into an authority – quickly. Even minor authorities can charge higher fees; and without having to hustle, people knock on their doors to hire them.

Sounds impossible, right?

When you look at established authorities like Jon Morrow, Chris Brogan or Sonia Simone, you might feel intimidated by their wide-ranging and in-depth knowledge.

Do you feel you need to try and master everything too?

Don’t do it. Flimsy knowledge about a wide variety of topics won’t make you an authority.

Instead, start with a narrow focus – be a beekeeper, not a zookeeper.

As a social media expert, for instance, you might want to focus on Facebook ads only. As an interior designer, you could start with learning everything about color schemes or textures only. Or, as a content marketing expert, you can focus on content strategy alone.

To build your authority, read real books. Or even better, study them and apply the knowledge. Real authority requires in-depth knowledge – knowledge you’ll gain by reading serious books, listening to real experts, and gaining hands-on experience. And this is much easier when you focus on a narrow topic.

When I quit my job, I thought about becoming a content marketing consultant. And I wanted to build an online audience so I could sell information products.

But I felt overwhelmed. Even frightened.

Content marketing was too big for me. I didn’t know much about Pinterest or Instagram. I wasn’t even on Facebook. Learning all these content marketing tools felt daunting.

So I followed my curiosity and narrowed my focus down to writing for the web – a topic I found fascinating. And when I decided to concentrate on that one topic, becoming an authority suddenly didn’t feel quite so impossible.

You might feel overwhelmed too. And you might think that everyone knows more than you.

Don’t despair.

You already have valuable skills and knowledge. You know more than you think you do. It’s a common human trait to think others know more than we do.

Write down a list of your existing skills, knowledge, and work experience. How could these benefit others? Which area fascinates you most? What would you like to learn more about?

Remember, don’t try learning everything about each wild animal in the world. Start out as a beekeeper – learn everything about one tiny animal. And then tell the world what you know about this tiny animal.  Because that’s how you establish your reputation quickly.

Step 2. Write a “Honeypot Post” to Boost Your Authority

The web is full of superficial posts.

You know the type of posts I’m talking about, don’t you? Ten simple tips to achieve this or that and seven mistakes to avoid if you wanna be awesome.

But a short list of generic tips doesn’t make you stand out. You’re wasting your precious time churning out flimsy posts.

To attract clients, you must stand out as a serious problem solver. You must write an epic tutorial instead of dashing off a series of wishy-washy posts.

We’re living in an amazing time – anyone can find clients online. But you must stand out from the masses who are also trying to sell their services. And you must go where your clients are – if you don’t have a large blog following yet, the best way to do this is by guest posting.

A problem-solving post published on a popular blog showcases your knowledge and experience. Potential clients discover you in a context they already trust – the pages of one of their favorite blogs.

To select a host blog, think about your potential clients:

  • Who are they, and what do they want?
  • Which blogs are they reading?
  • Do those blogs accept guest posts?

Guest posting is not as scary and difficult as you may think. Knowing how you can help a blog’s readers is more important than being close friends with editors. A willingness to put in the work is more important than creative writing skills.

To come up with a topic, think about your clients:

  • What’s the biggest problem your potential clients struggle with?
  • How can you teach them to solve this problem (or the first part of it)?

Don’t worry if you feel you’re not an established authority yet; you can insert serious authority enhancers into your blog post to strengthen your credibility and reputation:

  • Be as specific as possible – provide detailed steps on how clients can solve their problems. Sharing specific details demonstrates deep knowledge.
  • Make your post as useful as possible – don’t fret about giving away your secret tricks. Sharing your expertise makes potential clients more likely to hire you, not less.
  • Present detailed examples or case studies to show you can apply your knowledge in real (or at least realistic) situations.
  • Insert book citations, include credible stats, and quote experts to demonstrate you have current knowledge of your field.
  • Share strong opinions using power words. Don’t be afraid to alienate readers who aren’t right for your business.

A honeypot post solves a client’s problems clearly, succinctly, and seemingly instantly. That’s why it attracts clients to your business like a honeypot attracts bees.

Case Study: My Honeypot Guest Post on KISSmetrics

In October 2012, I published a guest post on KISSmetrics (now NeilPatel.com): How to Write Seductive Sales Copy Like Apple. I had quit my job the previous month, and I wasn’t even sure yet whether or not I wanted to be a copywriter. (My bio still refers to content marketing expert!)

This guest post helped me win my first copywriting client; and over time, it generated around 10 great copywriting and blogging leads.

This is how I planned and wrote the post:

  • I studied the KISSmetrics audience who seemed business-focused – good prospects for copywriting or content marketing services. I spent several days reading and analyzing posts, and I noticed a couple of posts about Apple and Steve Jobs that were popular. That’s why I decided to use Apple as an example for a copywriting tutorial.
  • I spent more than a day studying Apple’s web copy, looking for examples of specific copywriting techniques.
  • I wrote an extensive tutorial listing 11 tips for writing web copy. Each tip explains a technique, analyzes an example of Apple’s copy, and encourages readers to apply the tip to their own web copy. The resulting post is over 3,000 words.

When I won my first copywriting clients, I didn’t have a thriving blog.

Hell no.

I hadn’t even started my blog, and I didn’t even have my website live. All I had was a landing page so people could join my list. My blog post and author bio generated enough interest for prospects to sign up and email me.

This approach can work for any service, whether you’re a coach, a freelance blogger, a web developer, or a social media expert.

Guest posting is often “sold” as a traffic-building tactic – a way to grow your email subscriber list. And that’s true, but here’s what few people realize…

A guest post can also lead directly to your first clients.

That’s what happened to me. People read my posts, liked what they saw, got in touch, and asked for my help. And guess what? Some of those inquiries turned into well-paying clients.

Once you’ve published your honeypot post and gained your first clients, how do you keep the momentum going? How do you turn a handful of inquiries into a steady stream of leads so you can handpick the highest-paying and most enjoyable projects?

Step 3. Dive into Every Aspect of Beekeeping

Yes, you can get noticed – and even get clients – with a single guest post.

If you’re lucky, your post will rank highly on Google and continue to generate email subscribers and business inquiries.

But you can’t sustain your reputation with only one guest post.

So, what can you do when you’ve already given your best tricks away in one extensive tutorial? Should you branch out into other topics? Should you stop writing about bees and start writing about butterflies, beetles, and bugs? Nope.

I tried to branch into related topics, but I found it’s far more effective to dive deeper into your topic and write more specific posts. Below follows a selection of guest posts I’ve written about different aspects of web writing:

Step-by-step guides:

How-not-to guides:

Specific aspects of copywriting:

Exploring narrow aspects of your topic can provide countless ideas for new guest posts.

Let’s look at another example, this time from someone else. Here’s how Chris Hexton writes about email marketing:

Each post explains one specific aspect of email marketing. Chris establishes himself as a prominent authority by covering all aspects within his narrow topic area.

To build your reputation and generate a steady stream of clients, you don’t want to turn yourself from a beekeeper into a zookeeper. Instead, write posts about the details of bee feeding, beehive ventilation, and bee medication, or about specific types of bees, like bumblebees, honeybees, and yellow-faced bees. (Did you know there are 25,000 species of bees worldwide?)

So how can you generate enough ideas to enhance your authority and gain a steady stream of clients via guest blogging?

How to Create 30 Guest Post Ideas in 30 Minutes

Start by taking 30 minutes to brainstorm. Challenge yourself to generate at least 30 guest post ideas:

  • Start with listing the top problems you can solve for your customers – don’t spend more than five minutes on this.
  • Write down ideas for how-to guides and how-not-to guides. Don’t worry about headlines; write down simple ideas – spend a maximum of 10 minutes on this.
  • Go deeper – which specific aspects of your topic could you write about? Keep generating ideas until your 30 minutes are finished. You usually generate your best ideas last.

Don’t worry whether you’re capable of writing a post about a topic while brainstorming. You can use this list to deepen your own knowledge too. Create a list of your favorite eight to 10 topics and start researching:

  • Look for stats and quotes.
  • Collect examples or case studies.
  • Read blog posts or, preferably, books that go into more detail.

Building your reputation is not about how many posts you write. It’s not even about how many tweets on Twitter or Facebook likes your posts get (although that may help). It’s about demonstrating what you know.

Showcase your knowledge and skills with detailed tutorials, and help readers get results.

And you know what’s so valuable about this approach?

While you’re gaining a steady stream of clients and deepening your understanding of your topic, you’re also building a rock-solid foundation for an online information business – a business based on selling e-books and e-courses.

Step 4. Grow Your Income by Pivoting from Services to Products

A service business is great – you can make money quickly.

And you can expand your online business by hiring people to do the work for you. Or increase your fees to make more money from each hour you work.

But you have another option: you can pivot your business and move into information products.

You’ve already laid the ideal foundation because each guest post has:

  • enhanced your reputation in your chosen field
  • helped you build relationships with other bloggers in your field
  • boosted your email list – the most valuable asset for your future online business
  • deepened your own understanding of your field (that’s priceless, too!)

And when taken together, your guest posts can form the basis for e-books and e-courses – products you can sell while you sleep.

Here’s how I pivoted from a service provider to an online training provider:

  • In my first year, I focused on building my target audience and sharpening my copywriting skills. I also launched my first Kindle book.
  • In my second year, I continued building my audience, launched my second Kindle book, and introduced my first premium online course. Half of my income was from client work; the other half from books and my e-course.
  • In year three, I worked towards gaining most of my income from e-courses and e-books.

Your progress may be faster or slower. It depends on the competitiveness of your niche, your current level of authority, and what online assets you already have.

Remember, I started from scratch. I wasn’t a copywriter. I had virtually no online presence – a modest number of followers on Twitter and a dormant LinkedIn account was all I had.

If I can start an online business, so can you.

Quit Doubting Yourself

You may feel overwhelmed.

You may even feel intimidated by others bragging about their huge followings, their launch successes, their great online business idea, or the amount of money they’re making.

But remember, everyone starts at zero. Zero followers. Zero subscribers. And zero profit.

You may doubt whether you’re able to pull this off.

That’s normal.

Even people like Neil Gaiman, Sheryl Sandberg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Emma Watson feel like a fraud sometimes.

Nobody is perfect. Nobody knows everything. And nobody possesses the perfect blueprint. We all stumble around from time to time.

So pick up the courage to get started.

And keep moving forward.

You can do it.

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Henneke Duistermaat

Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent copywriter and business writing coach. She's on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook and to make boring business blogs sparkle. Get her free 16-Part Snackable Writing Course for Busy People and learn how to enchant your readers and win more business.


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Written by Henneke Duistermaat

Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent copywriter and business writing coach. She's on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook and to make boring business blogs sparkle. Get her free 16-Part Snackable Writing Course for Busy People and learn how to enchant your readers and win more business.

123 thoughts on “How to Start an Online Business: From Diddly Squat to a Booming Career!”

  1. Hey Henneke,

    Great post here on BBT.

    I nenever knew about your back story. 70 hours work weeks? That’ll burn plenty people out quickly.

    I love your advice in this post. As a person who’s been blogging for a year and trying to build up a presense first, I’m in need of sound advice like this to help me turn this into a career and star “trying” to make money from it.

    I agree with you about the quickest way to make money online. Offering a service is great and is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. But my problem is trying to find out what service to offer. What can I offer that I can be an authority in that people would want to pay for?

    But, I’ll take your advice and write down a list of your existing skills, knowledge, and work experiences.

    I’m a HUGE believer in guest posting. In fact, that’s one of my main strategies to grow my blog this year. And I also love your tip here, “Knowing how you can help a blog’s readers is more important than being close friends with editors”.

    I like how you broke down that process you used for that guest post on KISSmetric as well. Very insightful.

    Question. Do you pitch first or write first (if you know your topic is a good fit for a specific blog)

    Excellent post here again, Henneke.

    – Andrew

    • Hi Andrew

      I pitch first and then I write. Sometimes it happens a blog isn’t interested in a topic because they’ve already covered it (which I might have missed). It has also happened to me that a blog changed direction and that post ideas that would have been accepted in the past are no longer accepted.

      And when I have a pitch accepted, there’s also a greater incentive to write the post. I’m more productive when I have a deadline to meet 🙂

  2. Henneke,

    Yowza. I feel like a swaggering parent I’m so proud of what you’ve done for yourself with focus, hard work and tenacity.

    Didn’t you forget to include an around-the-world move in those first two years?

    You are definitely one of our brightest stars.



    • Well, yes, I did move around the world (and back), but that was a little longer ago.

      Thank you for all your wonderful support, Marsha 🙂

  3. Hi Henneke,

    I love step #3, though all the steps are important. I’ll go and read some of your guest posts you linked to.

    Will try your 20 guest post ideas in 30 minutes and report back here. Recerntly I started writing 10 headlines a day after hearing this from Jon, and I’m glad I’m doing this homework regularly, and loving it.

    Thanks for telling, we don’t need to worry about our own blog. I think this is one of the fears people have when they start. They worry inside, not having a blog, or if having one, not posting regularly.

    • Let me know how you get on with generating guest post ideas!

      When I need to come up with one guest post idea, I struggle. But when I need to generate 30, it somehow becomes easier, because I know I can reject the ones that aren’t any good.

      Have fun 🙂

      • Try it. It works for generating blog post ideas, too!

        Good to see you here, Caroline 🙂

        PS I tend to think it’s less about talent and more about focus and hard work 😉

  4. Hi Henneke,

    *Sigh* indeed…

    I just love your writing. You know this. I’ve told you this at least a dozen times. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I learned things about you I didn’t know (your origin story!), and obtained great blog tips to boot. 🙂

    Sorry for not stopping by Enchanted Marketing in a little while. Things have been quite hectic in my neck of the woods! I will remedy this very soon.

    Great post, Henneke. Well, well done. I’ll tweet it shortly.

    Hope you have a great and blessed day.


  5. Hey Henneke – great to see you back here on BBT. 🙂

    Great blueprint that connects all the dots from getting started to making a living with blogging.

    It’s super easy to get distracted with all the bright shiny objects, but this roadmap is a great way to stay focused.

    I’m super glad you escaped from the corporate world! No bueno at all!

    • Thank you, Sonia. It feels good to be back here on BBT 🙂

      And yes, I’m soooo glad I escaped! It’s been so much better to find my own tribe rather than trying desperately to fit in.

  6. Great post.

    The idea of becoming successful online begins from standing on the shoulder of those that have gone ahead (Stealing audience through guest post e.t.c ). This explains why I think blogging is a trade of slavery.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Hey Henneke

    What a great story, and congratulations on your success. And WOW, all that as a non-native English speaker too. Truth be told though, there are plenty of native speakers who can’t string a sentence together in a way that is even mildly comprehensible LOL.

    I’ve been writing for a long time, in fact, have managed to write 6 books for Amazon Kindle, which has created a modest passive income for me, 3 of them hitting bestseller status in moderately competitive categories. Writing books on subjects you are interested in is FUN.

    Your approach sounds much like that from Firepole Marketing’s Audience Business Masterclass. Did you follow that program? I’m doing it right now, not because I don’t have plenty of time served working and building businesses online, but because I actually want to, and am building a business that is far more aligned with my passions in life, rather than from a rather cynical money-making angle.

    Do you have any recommendations for copywriting skill acquisition, other than Jon’s course? I’m always excited to get feedback and recommendations from other people.

    Anyway, a great post, on a great topic. And pivoting, ah yes, a very current buzz word, but it’s something I have to do. I get very bored with one focus, I need to do a number of things, and pivoting allows you to acquire new skills, re-energize yourself, and build a diverse, multi-layered business that will create a number of income streams over time. Security right there!

    Thanks again


    • Nope, I’ve not done any of Danny Iny’s courses.

      Copywriting resources? Copyblogger have great free ebooks plus if you take the time to go through their blog archives, there’s plenty of great advice, too.

      And forgive me for plugging my own site, but you’ll find good copywriting advice there, too (and get my free course!).

      Of course, if you want to go deeper than there are plenty of good books, e.g. Drew Eric Whitman, Joe Sugarman, Chip & Dan Heath.

      But I’ve probably learned most from studying how other people write. J Peterman, Apple, Evernote, Dropbox, Mailchimp, Mancrates etc are useful sites to study from a copywriting perspective.

  8. Love this post Henneke! I think if you could sum it up, it’d simply be:

    PROVE you can deliver value.

    You don’t have to be a 10 year veteran writer – you clearly showed how through one blog post you delivered clear value, attracting clients (and an audience).

    Good work!

  9. Oh, I so needed that Henneke. Good, sensible, solid advice. And I have to tell you that your English is a LOT better than a lot of English people that I know – so don’t ever worry about that.

    You must have been looking over my shoulder. I’m on Jon’ course and had planned it all out and started building a site about all aspects of writing (just for the landing page). Along the way, I started dipping my toe into the Social Media pool – thinking I’d better check it out…and fell in love with it. So I’ve been swinging from one to the other and not knowing which way to turn. To the point of not even knowing which blogs I wanted to target…

    You brought me to my senses when you said Content Marketing was too big for you. Social Media is MUCH too big for me. I’m going to hunker down and go back to my first love. What was I thinking?

    I’m so pleased that you’re doing your own thing now and not exhausting yourself for someone else. Rough, eh?

    Thanks for the inspiration Henneke. Perfect timing and I’m very grateful 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Mary.

      Social media IS huge, and it can be a huge time suck, too. I’ve kept my involvement quite minimal. I still haven’t set up a Facebook account. Some people may think it’s crazy, but you can build a blog without spending hours on social media.

      While it’s useful to have some social media presence (and it can pay off in the long term), guest posting is a much quicker way to build an audience (and a business).

      Good luck with your journey!

      • Thanks Henneke 🙂 You’re so right about the time suck…I’m dragging my focus back now. That distracting blue bird has lots of other people to play with!

  10. Henneke, thank’s for sharing your story!
    I like your bee metaphor 🙂

    I’m at the beginning, and your story inspired me to work harder and persevere.

    Thanks for stressing the importance of solving our clients problems.
    It’s easy to lose focus and just write an inspirational but not helpful post.

    The 30 Guest Post Ideas in 30 Minutes is a great exercise.
    It’s so simple but it just works!

    Your e-course is wonderful. I’ve learned so much from it.
    I hope you succeed in your future courses and books 🙂

  11. Hi Henneke!

    I love the beekeeping metaphor. While I think that bloggers and social media marketers need to have a general overview of the different elements in the business, becoming a master in one very specific micro-niche is the fastest way to stand out online. Then, you can grow that micro-niche into larger areas, but it’s that initial expertise that gets you on the playing field.

    Great article. I always love a good success story.


    • Yes, exactly. You can’t completely ignore the big picture, but if you try to fill in the details everywhere, you get completely swamped.

      Glad you like the beekeeper metaphor 🙂

  12. Such a great article for so many of us, writers or not. And with so many valuable resources — some of which I’m checking out now. Thanks for telling your story in such an inspiring and relatable way. I’m in Jon’s class now, have a book coming out soon, and am on the early side of putting all of this together. Your article is just what I needed when I need it. I shared it via FB so that it may inspire others also.

  13. Great post, Henneke. Your English was flawless, the message inspiring and the instructions clear enough to know how to take action. Thanks for sharing. I will be tweeting it out now!

  14. I read so many blog posts about being an authority on something, yet my blog is set up for my local community. I don’t envision an authority niche on this site and I offer opportunities for locals to write articles of interest to them.

    I think the only service I can offer to make revenue is to sell local advertising. If anyone sees anything else I can offer in the way of monetization, I’d love to hear your ideas. Thank you.

    • I have no experience with local websites, but I think working with local realtors is one of the most common ways to monetize a local-focused site.

  15. Wow.

    Such an inspiring post to me.

    I am at no where right now, looking to clamber out of the greasy walled empty cave.

    You’re an inspirational writer to me and the fact you like to cycle is yet another amazing quality.

    Thank You!

    • Only way to climb out of that cave is to keep moving forward, step by step. You might stumble into that greasy wall and knock your head sometimes, but the only way to get out there is to move.

      Thank you for stopping by, John.

  16. Hey Henneke,

    Just wanted to thank you for sharing this here.

    You absolutely blew my mind and I literally can’t wait to get home and check the rest of the references you pointed here.

    I’ve been procrastinating for a while (for several reasons and plenty actually mentioned here) and this gave me some really needed motivation.

    Thanks again!

    • Yes, we all suffer from procrastination. We all think we need to learn more, but the best way is to get started with what we know.

      Once you get moving, it becomes a whole lot easier.

  17. Thank you, Henneke, for your comprehensive and inspiring advice.
    No wonder Marsha is proud of you -please accept my respects.
    Unfortunately, I am resident in a squatting and very diddly position at the moment but, with application, time and advice from Jon’s army of geniuses, I shall hope to rise to a standing, walking and then striding mode.
    Thank you again and kindest regards.

    • Yes, you go for it – and get as much support out of Jon’s army as you can. Their support is priceless 🙂

  18. Noted your remark about working 70 hours a week in a so-called “real” job; reminded me how often I’ve heard people say, in effect, that you don’t stand a chance of succeeding as a freelancer (or finding a new day job for that matter) unless you’re doing it “full-time”–which to them means a set minimum number of hours, usually close to 40 or 50. No, if you’re going to succeed as a freelancer, you have to be reasonably confident you can decide for yourself how much time to invest, and what type of activity and yes, field of expertise to focus on. So many people want to be freelancers but expect one expert’s personal history to be something anyone can copy step for step.

    • I agree with you. There’s absolutely no one size fits all. You have to decide yourself what your aim is and how many hours you need to (or can spend) to reach your aim.

      Some people want to make a lot of money, others want a work / life balance. The good thing about being a freelancer is that you can decide your own rules.

  19. Henneke,

    What can I say? This is a masterclass in guest posting. One of the best I have seen. I empathised with your work situation, I cheered as you got your first clients, aha’d as you realised the immediate route to monetisation. Great step by steps and the coup de grace was nicely creating a reason to link back to many of your other works.

    Awesome stuff, thanks

  20. Henneke,

    Thank you for this thorough article full of great tips. I especially like the idea about brainstorming for 30 guest post ideas. It is such a simple solution, but will help me out tremendously.

    Thank you for laying the groundwork for us!


  21. Hi Henneke,

    I loved one of your last posts — I think I saw it on Twitter — about drawing your own pics for blog posts.

    I did it last week, just like you said. Drew a pic, snapped it w my phone, and emailed it to myself. Ugly but as you said… endearing.

    Thank you for that tip.

    And oh yes… this was a very encouraging post as well.


    P.S. I’m pretty familiar w the Dutch — I was a member of a Dutch Reformed Church in NYC of all places.

  22. Hey Henneke

    Great post, the part about the accent hit home, especially because we have the same one (I’m Belgian).

    I’m wondering, did your clients contact you or did they go through some sort of sales funnel that you set up?

    • I think a Flemish accent is more charming than a Dutch accent 😉

      And nope, I didn’t have any sales funnel set up. I didn’t guest post to get clients. I didn’t even realize I could get clients from the guest posts.

      All I had was a simple landing page to sign up to my email list.

  23. I love the idea of the beekeeper versus the zookeeper, Henneke. It’s actually something that I did in my own business – purposively homed in on a very particular niche and immersed myself in learning all I could. It definitely worked out for me so I can second the idea that it’s a smart strategy that works 🙂

    One thing that I know helped my success in the beginning – similar to what worked for you – was not saying something like, “I’ll help you with everything to do with getting more clients.” It was more specifically, “I’ll help you figure out exactly who you want to work with.” Or, “I’ll help you decide what your very first offering should be.”

    Being able to pinpoint clear, specific, narrow results – especially when you’re just starting out – can be super attractive to potential clients because they can easily imagine what working with you would help them achieve.

    I’ve see what implementing this strategy can do for people time, and time again. So I wanted to highlight the super important point you’re making – don’t try to help everyone keep all 25,000 species of bees. Pick one. The European honey bee, for example. And teach people everything about them – what temperature they like, how to house them, how to keep out predators, etc. Then grow from there.

    Narrowing your approach can be a powerful way to stand out when you’re just starting out. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  24. “But I felt overwhelmed. Even frightened.”
    Henneke, this is EXACTLY where I find myself. There is so much good information out there that it’s hard to know what to do first. I have to remember that it’s like starting a new job. I can’t know everything right away. It’s a process and I will feel more confident in a few months. Everyday I try and do one more thing that helps me understand this new online business world. I just need to remember to have fun! I find that I love to write, and I love to help people on small business forums. Thank you sharing. It’s encouraging.

    • Guest posting was an excellent starting point for me, but I picked this as starting point not so much because it seemed the best starting point, but because I had learned how to do it.

      Getting started is the most important.

  25. Loved the post Henneke. The idea to be a beekeeper rather than a zookeeper is an amazing one. It is so crucial yet so many bloggers miss that point. Trying to be a Jack of all trades doesn’t quite cut it in today’s times.

    It might have worked a while ago – to have shallow presence in lots of areas and to have websites that talk about different things. Those were quick money making routes that are almost extinct now.

    Being a zookeeper doesn’t make you authoritative. And without authority, making money from products and/or services is impossible.

    Thanks for the well-thought, motivating post 🙂 Very well done!


  26. Thank you Henneke, that was just what I needed to read. It is so easy to get overwhelmed when you’re starting out and compare yourself to others who seem to be flying. It is so useful to hear from you about your process and struggles. It helps put things in perspective and gives me hope!

    Thank you for being so honest, it really helps to hear about people’s struggles along the way as much as their successes.

    • Yes, this comparing game is dangerous and deflating. I still struggle with it.

      But we can only compare ourselves to our former ourselves and celebrate the progress we’re making.

      Thank you for stopping by!

  27. Henneke – I loved this post so much! After I read it, I realised I’ve read so many of your posts over the last 2+ years. Funny how that happens.

    Really timely & necessary post, thank you! Shared on inbound.org – hope it helps you get a few new readers!

  28. Thanks a lot for your great, post Henneke.

    This was exactly the motivational boost I needed, and to be quite honest, your message and story hit me straight in the face like a 2 pound rock (yup, that`s a good thing).

    I recently quit a six-figure corporate job in order to follow my passion – to help online entrepreneurs free up more time, so they can do what they love.

    I love the story about how you started from scratch, then joined Jon`s guest blogging course and started guest blogging.

    Guest blogging is my main strategy as well.

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Henneke.

    Tor Refsland

  29. A slice of granary bread with pumpkin seeds, a little butter and clover honey. Yum.

    Glad you enjoyed the post.

  30. Fantastic post, thanks Henneke! So you think I should give away all my “secrets” that I was going to put into a course in blog posts instead? And then turn these posts into an e- course later rather than doing the course first? Still feeling a bit lost 🙁


    • Blog posts can never explain the whole story. The framework is missing. So while your posts may seem to be giving away your best secrets, it’s not immediately easy for others to implement.

      My Kindle books are based on my blog posts. But because it’s delivered in a different format, with new examples, and more structured, it becomes valuable.

      My blogging course is based on my book about blogging, but because the course includes videos, exercises, and tutor feedback, it’s hugely more valuable than the book.

      Here’s another example: I’ve not done Jeff Walker’s PLF formula course, but people who have done the course told me they were blown away by how much he’s put in the course. Do you think he gets fewer sign ups for his course? He probably gets more because he’s reaching more people with his book – it’s a sales letter for his course.

      Chris Garrett also wrote a useful post about this over on Copyblogger: http://www.copyblogger.com/sell-or-give/

  31. Thank you for this post. I love it. It helped me realize in an instant what my “honeypot’ is. It’s how to get started. That’s where I have always helped people. What a great post.

  32. Henneke, thanks for the great insights. I recently joined Jon’s Serious Bloggers Only community, which is a wealth of information that has me building quite a long to-do list. Something I haven’t quite picked up on though, until your post, was the value of preparing really in-depth guest blog posts, and not publishing fluff. Your 30-minute exercise has got me really excited. I started it…and even after only 5 minutes, my mind was on fire. I can feel some real possibilities here. Thanks so much for this post and also your sharing your story. Great job. Joe

    • That’s great to hear! Isn’t it amazing what we can come up with when we allow our minds some time to wander around?

      Thank you for your kind words 🙂

  33. Hey Henneke

    Awesome to see you on BBT 🙂

    I really needed this post, it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes and its good to be able to get some perspective.

    I think even the most popular bloggers would get overwhelmed once in a while. It can be seriously discouraging seeing the success others have, especially if you’re struggling.

    You have done a fantastic job with your blog and I’m excited to see what you bring us in 2015. Best of luck with the ecourses!


    • Yes, it’s totally overwhelming, and it’s also really easy to get distracted by what others are achieving and wonder whether you’re doing it all wrong. Those thoughts still attack me from time to time. But we only see the outside of what others are achieving, and usually we don’t see the mistakes they’ve made, the doubts they’ve had, and all the hard work that went into building that success. Overnight success doesn’t really exist.

      The first steps are the hardest. Growing an email list, for instance, does become easier over time.

      Good luck with your blogging journey!

  34. Hey Henneke,

    Wow, right about now I’m thinking about the 70 hours/week you use to work. I thought it was bad for me, but I have it pretty good.

    But I like reading posts like this where bloggers/copywriters like yourself go from ground zero to prestige! It gives your audience a lot of confidence in themselves and to show that anything is possible!

    Yes I like the fact that you mention that your first and foremost goal is to solve problems and to be a beekeeper and not a zookeeper. This is so true. When I first started online, I was literally like an octopus on roller-skates. I just wasn’t going anywhere and I was trying to dab into everything. Well this goes to show that it’s much wiser to chose one topic that you’re quite familiar with and go from there.

    I also like the idea of taking that one topic you’re already knowledgeable about and going deeper with it. I remember this Shaolin Kung Fu saying, “I’m not afraid of the man who knows 10,000 punches and practices each one once. I’m afraid of the man who knows one punch and practices it 10,000 times”. This holds true when you’re more focus on one topic and become known for it.

    Guest posting is what I plan on doing this year. I’ve been blogging since 2010 and you know what? I never guest posted. Sad isn’t it? But it’s never too late right and you’ve already showed how beneficial it can be!

    Thanks for sharing Henneke and I hope you’re enjoying your weekend!

    • The image of an octopus on roller-skates made me laugh!

      I can definitely recommend guest blogging – it’s a great way to meet new people, boost your email list, and find clients (if that’s what you after).

  35. Henneke

    This is one of the best posts I have read in a long time – and I read a lot. Fantastic work – thanks for all you have done and best wishes for the future.

    I have been audience-building since the end of October 14 for my site http://www.WingsToSuccess.com and it’s gone better than I could have dreamed so far. Now to boost it up further – guest posting here we come!

  36. Hey Henneke,

    I liked the guest post idea. Making up 30 ideas about your topic is a good way to test yourself, how much you know the topic you write about. If you can’t come up with 30 topic ideas, then you probably should rethink if you are truly pursuing your passion.

    Take care,
    Siimon Sander

    • Yes, that’s a good way to look at it, too!

      I don’t think you should beat yourself up if you can’t write 10 or so posts yet, because you can use your list of ideas to guide your learning process, too. But if the idea of writing a lot about one topic makes you feel tired or lose interest, then perhaps it’s a good idea to look for another topic.

  37. This is such a wonderful post. It got me thinking about my life’s purpose and if I am actually serving it — the best way. I am not! So I have taken a number of your ideas and turned them into action items.

    In as far as learning a new topic — did you use a specific technique or used a specific tool? Thanks.

  38. I like how your whole process started with figuring out what you liked doing most, writing, then pursuing it. The next steps seem easier after that, don’t they?

    The beekeeper metaphor is a great reminder to stick with a specialty area.

    You’ve done a great job of expanding your own knowledge and then using it to help others grow. I’m very happy with what I’ve learned from you in the Enchanted Business Blogging Course.

    Now back to the bees:)

    • Yes, that’s true. If you follow your own curiosity and do what you enjoy, it does become a whole lot easier, because most of the time it doesn’t feel like work.

      Thank you for stopping by, Jessica. I look forward to seeing your case study here some time soon 😉

  39. What I really like about your work is that it’s simply solid, practical (& entertaining) advice that you can use. No hype or obfuscation (love that word, but it’s hard to say..).
    And you’ve inspired me with this post to look at Guest posting again.

    PS. Like yourself, I also took a year sabbatical and also found it tricky to do *nothing*! 🙂

    • Yeah, obfuscation is definitely too hard for my Dutch tongue to pronounce 😉

      Perhaps we’re just not good at sabbaticals?

  40. Thanks Henneke Duistermaat for this great content. I will surely use these ideas for blogging. I love your guest post part and I will not loss my confidence.


  41. Hi Henneke!

    Awesome post, one I’ll be printing out for sure. LOVE the tips on writing a Honeypot post. I’m slowly but surely building my authority (locally) as a yoga teacher and creative writing guide. My core message is “Let Go Move Forward.” I’m all about helping others live a happier, healthier, more positive life.

    Taking your wisdom and applying it!!


  42. Thanks Henneke for the reminder that stumbling around is okay!
    Absolutely love and admire your ability to share your warts.
    I’m a huge fan.

    • Thank you so much, Susan. Good to see you here!

      And yep, stumbling is okay. (Somehow we all seem to think we’re the only one stumbling!)

  43. Hi Hennekke,

    I love reading your emails, blog posts, and also your ebook. They have all helped me to write better, so thank you.

    My question is, how do you feel about syndicated content versus original content for guest blogging? Do you find that most blogs will not accept content that has not been especially written for their blog? And once you post a blog on someone else’s blog, do you then syndicate the content or a teaser of the content to your own blog? I haven’t seen you speak about this, although I have read forum posts by others about this topic, and they mostly recommend using syndicated content for guest posts. Do you have any thoughts about this?

    Thanks, and I am looking forward to reading more from you!

  44. Henneke, thank you, I took notes while reading this! It was SO useful and well written – you certainly practice what you preach! I not only learned about building an online career, I also learned how to write a great post from you. And I did the 30 minute exercise with great results. An inch wide and a mile deep is definitely the way to go. Thank you!!!

  45. It’s a really pleasure to read your story. Being a non-native is a dreaded feeling that lies deep in me every after being a freelance writer for a while. The insightful and practical ideas that you shared with your own personal struggle is now just pushing me hard to consider guest blogging even more seriously than I earlier did. This time; however, I have to focus on authority blogs. It’s time taking I know, but your advice is a great roadmap.

    Thanks 🙂

  46. Hi Henneke!
    Thanks for a very informative and inspirational post. It’s amazing to hear how you skyrocketed to success without ever using social media! I am one of those scaredy cats who is obsessing over the little details of site layout, topic focus, SEO, etc rather than just diving in. I definitely plan to check out your site, brainstorm topics, and start pitching my guest posts!

    • One of the things I hated in my job were all the unproductive meetings and how long it could take to make decisions.

      I thought that when I would work on my own, I’d be decisive and agile.

      But at times, I was as agile as an elephant. It can be hard to get going, because we want to make everything perfect. Things like social media and SEO can slow us down tremendously. But getting started is more important than covering all our bases.

      I have some presence on social media (but still don’t have a Facebook account). I enjoy the interaction on social media, but building my email list has always been my priority.

      SEO can also be a distraction. When you write specific posts that solve your reader’s problems and if you get some links from guest posts you write, you have a good basis for SEO. That’s all I worried about in my first year (and I still don’t spend much time on SEO).

      Focusing on a limited number of tasks and getting better at them, makes a bigger difference to our business than trying to master too many things.

      Thank you for stopping by, Dina. Nice to meet 🙂

  47. Hey Henneke,
    What a great stuff. Hats off to you.
    All the tips for building business online are immensely meaningful. The sequence and elaboration with examples make it really awesome. Thanks for giving a ‘sure to work’ road map to me as I am all set launch myself in the field of online business generation. I shall certainly and religiously follow the road map.
    It is no exaggeration to state that the write up is so much inspiring and powerful that I felt, I am not reading,instead I am talking to my mentor who transmits messages directly into cerebrum wonderfully well.
    I must confess that I really need to be a beekeeper and turn myself into an authority in my niche area. Further I need to express my secrets thereby making my expression really a problem solving stuff.
    Great to learn about your personal success story. I wish you an exciting third year of your business.
    I would love to hear from you how have you mastered the art of life like mesmerizing expressions.
    God bless you,

  48. Henneke,

    Thanks for another stellar article and lots of links to more quality information. I have earned at least half of my consulting income the past year from my articles. I have provided a link to a guest post I wrote for a commercial real estate blog in my byline “How I made $16,189 Bogging for Commercial Real Estate”. I’m working on products as well, but to date the consulting income is greater.



    • That’s such an interesting case study you linked to. Thank you for sharing!

      And good to see you again 🙂

  49. Hi Henneke,

    Loved this. Thank you so much for such a great, insightful and actionable post.
    Hats off to you, for going from diddly squat to a booming business, its such an inspiration .

    Tip no. 1 is the best strategy out there. I keep moving from bees to butterflies to beetles and it becomes frustrating at times. The bee-keeper advice is something I will definitely focus on.
    This whole post was so informative and I’ve learned so much and I loved how you gave such an insightful example of your first guest post, so well-written.
    This was immensely helpful, thank you so much for this!

    • Yes, I think we all hop around from bees to beetles and to butterflies now and then. A little hopping around is fine, but you can build your authority much faster if you concentrate your efforts on a small topic only.

      Glad you found the post helpful!

      • ” You can build authority much faster if you concentrate your efforts on a small topic.” Right on. But in regards to authority, I had a question that I can’t see being answered anywhere, and I’ve literally spent the whole day reading and learning so much from BBT, so my question is this-how do you build an authority on that one small topic you choose to blog about? or in other words, how do you qualify yourself as a beekeeper? What if you’ve never been to beekeeping school, what if you taught yourself, what if you’re a newbie to the beekeeping sphere, or what if you just dabbled in a short bee-keeping course? The question I’m trying to put forward is… when you offer a service or pitch a guest post, what makes you an authority on that content, what gives you credibility? Is it experience from previous jobs, or experience, say from Jon’s guest blogging class that you did? What if you’re just starting out, not in the blogosphere, I mean in life…. what if you’re a freshman in college? In the middle of a gap year? A junior or senior in high school? Say, you have gained considerable knowledge about your chosen niche. For example, your chosen nice is fashion for teens and you have a burning passion for it and have studied it all you’re life…or say the niche is writing or cooking…but at the end of the day you’re just a college student, or in high school, when you think about starting out so young, you still have so much to learn, so why would someone want a service, a product from you, when you’ve barely finished a year at bee-keeping school, you have knowledge but not enough. What then, gives you credibility, authority? Why would someone want you to guest post for their site, if they can’t see any examples of your ‘best work’? And say you do have examples to show, what makes those examples credible?

        Another thing I’ve been struggling to understand fully is guest-posting… posting on your own site in the beginning is like talking to an empty classroom-and I fully agree with this concept, and guest posting is a genius strategy. But again, comes the question, what makes you an authority on the guest post that you have pitched? Say, I pitch a guest post to BBT about Writing seductive content, but what makes me an authority on writing seductive content, when I’m still figuring things out.

        I really am serious about blogging and BBT has been beyond helpful. I’m sorry if these questions are a bit silly or confusing, but I feel like I’m going in circles with it. Don’t post your own content unless somebody is listening, to get people to listen, you guest-blog…but to guest-blog, should you otherwise be an established blogger? So it gives you more authority? But to be an established blogger, people need to be listening first and to get people to listen, you guest blog… you see where I’m going with this. It’s like a cycle and I can’t seem to grasp the concept clearly.

        If you’ve figured out what your niche is, you have a fantastic landing page, you know what service you want to offer… but you’re still a newbie, why would anybody want a guest post from you, what makes you an authority or your content? Is it just about the quality of content?

        For example in your case, you weren’t a copywriter and you had no virtual online presence, how then did you go about becoming an authority on copywriting? How did you make your content credible?

        If you could help me out with these few dozen questions that I have, it would be immensely helpful and I would appreciate it a ton! 🙂

  50. Authority is not so big as you think. Even a freshman can build authority. Even a freshman has some experience, some knowledge, some skills to share.

    Rather than focus on what you don’t know and what you haven’t done, focus on what you do know. I had no copywriting experience and am mainly self-taught ( I did have a background in marketing which helped).

    When you pitch a guest post, you show an editor that you understand his audience and you have a good sense of what will be popular. Then you give him a headline that makes his mouth water because your headline is seductive and it sounds like it’s exactly the post he’d love to have and he’s pretty sure his readers will love your post. Authority doesn’t come into play at this stage at all. You don’t have to prove anything other than that you understand an audience to suggest you’ll write a popular post.

    And then in write your post and share your best knowledge – just like I did with the post on KISSmetrics. I used lots of examples to prove my knowledge wasn’t superficial. I hadn’t done a single copywriting project when I submitted that post.

    • Thank you so much for clearing that up. I get it now, the whole deal with authority and guest posting. You’ve been extremely helpful.
      Thanks a lot! 🙂

  51. Henneke,

    It’s amazing that you were able to all those questions that were popping inside my head while I was reading your amazing article.

    You didn’t even miss one.

    It’s very rare for me to come understand something as big as an online career in one complete perfect article.

    Keep up the awesome work.

    Now it’s to time to read the articles you have mentioned in the post 😉

  52. Ha, I love this article, especially this part ”My plan was to take a year off to find my feet and recover from a near-burnout.” this piece of advice will come handy to those bloggers who feel like giving up on their blogs.

  53. Hi Henneke!

    Great Post! During my initials days, I spent a lot writing content and doing SEO and from blogging that I made my first dollar online. It’s tough because you really need to spend a lot of time in thinking and writing good valuable content that will excite your readers.

    Like any business owners (restaurant, flower shop, lawyers, doctors/dentists, construction, authors, pottery, pet grooming, etc.) you want to take advantage of the benefits of email marketing. There’s endless lists of benefits, but one of the most relevant and influential reasons to use email marketing is its return on investment (ROI).

    I guess for any bloggers, internet marketers or affiliate marketers if you are just a beginners, it is wisely to have your own landing page/optin page set up to optimize your writing effort or if you are planning to spend any dime in promoting your own product or affiliate product, having your own optin page is ideal before redirecting them to any affiliate products.

    Jeng Cua

  54. “I just came across your post and i must say I was also in the same situation when i got tired of working for a boss and wanted to do something worthwhile, which earns me a living. I certainly agree with you when you said become a beekeeper not a zookeeper, There are lots of online opportunities out there
    but only be focusing on what you already know and using the resources that
    you already have will make you successful in your endeavor. Again thanks for these awesome tips.”

  55. What an article! Very insightful. I am motivated to reignite my efforts toward my writing dreams. I am sure several of us wants to achieve what you did. I agree with you that everyone starts at zero, but with the help of a company that helps people realize their dreams, you can achieve success!

  56. Hey Henneke, as a content writer myself, your post is really a huge help. Several times, I have been confused about trying to write a good blog post that will reach thousands of readers. Your analogy hit it right. What I’ve been doing so far to reach audiences from Invisume is not enough. I will try guest posting now..


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