Real Online Business Models: Interview with Copyblogger’s Brian Clark

Since joining the world of online business in 2006, I’ve often wondered who and what is real and who and what isn’t.  There are a lot of bullshit artists out there and it can be hard to know who to trust.  So, I’m starting a series offering you interviews with online business owners I know are the real deal building real deal online businesses on a variety of different business models.  These interviews go behind the scenes into how they grew their online business, what it does and what you can learn from their experiences.

We kick it off with one of the most real deal online business owners I know …

Brian Clark, the writer / producer / entrepreneur / recovering attorney behind Copyblogger.

Brian is a guy who knows a thing or two about great content, copywriting and building a real deal online business. Copyblogger gets over 240,000 unique visitors each month, and Brian’s three highly successful businesses pulled in millions of dollars last year… but he still laughs at being called a mogul.

He’s down to earth and generous, and was kind enough to spend some time answering my questions about business, strategy, and the truth behind online business models.

In this interview, Brian reveals:

  • How he made the transition from being an attorney to an online mogul (my word, not his!)
  • What direct marketing really means–and why it’s nothing ugly
  • Why the concept of copywriting is about more than advertising
  • The beginning of Copyblogger and the strategies Brian used to build it from zero readers to a renowned site with hundreds of thousands of monthly readers
  • What a great content strategy really looks like
  • How your subscriber list helps you create great content
  • What role partnerships play in Copyblogger’s business model
  • The pieces of the business model Brian personally focuses on–and the ones he lets go
  • What he sees as the essence of entrepreneurship

Click here to listen to my interview with Brian Clark: Click to listen

Or right-click (on a PC) or option-click (on a Mac) on this link to download the interview.

Follow-up questions with Brian

I couldn’t help myself! After talking with Brian, I still had so many questions I couldn’t wait to ask. Fortunately, Brian was game for a few more.

1. How much time do you spend behind your computer each day?

Mostly too much. Lately I’ve found that limiting myself to early morning until lunch in front of the computer is usually all I need. I then use the afternoons for phone calls, strategy, brainstorming, etc.

2. How much time do you spend on each business each day or week?

Hard to say about “each” business, because even though they’re separate, I treat them as one thing that have all originated in one way or another from one place — Copyblogger. But I’m working in some fashion at least 50 hours a week, even though “work” can sometimes be going for a walk where I come up with one clear solution or one actionable new idea.

3. How do you decide what to do be doing at any given moment of the day or day of the week?

First I loosely list everything that needs to be done in the near term, and then prioritize things in order of importance. Then, once reality sets in and that all goes to hell, I flow between what presents itself as important and what I’ve mapped out as important.

4. You gave me revenue of each of the companies, what are their profits?

I won’t share specific numbers out of respect for the financial privacy of my partners, but our margins are incredible because we sell downloadable software, digital content, and virtual interaction. Our overhead as a virtual company is minimal, and our biggest expense for each company is paying affiliates (marketing partners).

Even there, we have a direct trusted relationship with our prospective customer base, so affiliate expenses are less than you might think even though we pay them really well. Life is good. 🙂

5. What sort of administrative support do you have? How has this changed/shifted over the years?

Customer support is our main growth area and the arena is which we will ultimately succeed or fail long term. Last year, for example, DIY Themes (maker of Thesis) grew so fast we almost lost control of the support forums. Support and interaction are a big part of what we sell when it comes down to it, and failing in this area is unacceptable. So we now take a proactive approach to adding support systems and staff to all of the companies before we hit overload. You only have to look at companies such as Zappos (side note: if you haven’t already read it, pick up a copy of Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness for an inspirational read about how to build a real deal online business that is so much more than just that) and Rackspace to see that fanatical customer service and support can be a prime differentiating factor in a competitive market — but you’ve got to walk the talk without excuses.

Thank you to Brian Clark for his candor and willingness to share so many valuable online business model insights!

1 Comment

  1. JobJennySunday, November 7, 2010 at 5:24 pm 

    Sunday morning, my 5 and 3-year-old kids are gathered nearby, riveted to “Mommy’s work radio.” There really are a lot of BS artists, and Brian’s the real deal. Truly the guy to watch if you want to thoroughly understand how critical excellent content (and a STRATEGY) is to online marketing.

    I never knew the back story on Brian. Glad I stumbled on this, and big thanks in advance for planting this tiny little entrepreneurial seed into the minds of two little girls enjoying “Mommy’s work radio!”


    Jenny Foss (JobJenny)

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