What a Cocky CEO Can Teach You About World-Class Blogging

Jack Welch

To say Jack Welch is cocky is a gross understatement.

Legend has it that some twelve years after he joined GE , Welch announced at his annual performance review his plan to become CEO.

And that was in fact just what the brazen young engineer did. In 1981, Welch stepped into the roll of GE’s youngest Chairman and CEO ever.

During the first five years of his tenure, Welch cemented his reputation as he eliminated employees ruthlessly, earning the title “Neutron Jack”– the people vanished but the buildings remained. From 1980 to 1985, he cut 112,000 jobs.

What was his hang up? Welch was obsessed with dismantling nine-layers of bureaucracy, cutting inventories, shutting down factories, reducing payrolls and cutting lackluster product lines.

He had a ferocious desire for efficiency. And profit.

Introducing the Most Successful Manager of the 20th Century

Some criticize Welch as mean-spirited and petty. Brutal. Apathetic. Others claim he’s quick to judge. Says he used limited information to size people up. And write them off.

But one thing can be said about him: he was successful.

During his 20 plus year tenure, GE’s market capitalization rose from $13 billion to $400 billion. Revenues grew from $27 billion to $127 billion. And earnings grew tenfold.

In 2000, Fortune magazine said Jack Welch was “Manager of the Year.”

The Single and Solitary Rule to Welch’s Success

What was the key to his success? Certainly more than one factor contributed to it. But if I was to name one singular and solitary reason for his dominance I’d say it’d have to be his philosophy to cut any businesses that GE couldn’t be #1 or #2 in.

This concept was a simple way to make quick, sound judgments. And to remain focused, lean, fast and competitive.

Ideas, projects or business that couldn’t meet this criteria were thrown on the trash heap. Welch was obsessed with keeping GE trim and in fighting shape. Fat nor sloth were welcome.

How can this idea help you in blogging? Easy. Figure out what market you can enter where you are guaranteed to be #1 or #2.

Why This Is So Important

You have to think about this deeply before you tackle a project like a blog. Otherwise you are doomed to fail. You are doomed to fail for three reasons: lack of audience, lack of discipline or lack of motivation.

Almost everyone you know–including yourself–has failed at blogging. When I say fail I mean that most everyone has at least one languishing or dead blog in their history.

If you don’t, I think statistically you will in the next two years.

There are three factors that will contribute to your blog failure:

  1. No one is listening.
  2. You’re not very good.
  3. Or you simply don’t care.

When you use Welch’s principle this is what it does: it gets you to focus. And it has one other unintended effect.

It demands discipline.

Case Studies: 3 Blogs That Dominate Their Markets

Watch blog launches by successful bloggers and you’ll get the sense that not only did they take Welch’s principle into consideration–but they in fact live or die by it.

Darren Rowse did this when he launched TwiTip. And the truth holds for Dosh Dosh and Copyblogger. These bloggers launched blogs they were fairly confident they could dominate as #1 or #2.

Regarding TwiTip, no one else is doing anything remotely close to it. It’s a unique, early adopter blog. In this post, Darren said he’d been toying with the idea (read: evaluating the market and seeing that no one else is doing it) for quite some time and then finally decided to pull the trigger.

The same is true for Copyblogger. Before Brian Clark launched his blog there was…well, no one. Lots of tech blogs. Political blogs. Cultural blogs. Some social media blogs. Blogs on marketing. But no blogs dedicated to online copywriting tips applied to content–it was the first.

But you can’t always be the first. Case in point, Dosh Dosh.

Maki had a monstrous mountain of competition already on the playing field. And new marketing and copywriting blogs constantly emerging. But he’s defined himself pretty narrowly:

  • He’s got an odd, but easy-to-remember name: Dosh Dosh.
  • He’s branded his site and posts with cool, anime graphics that do nothing but intrigue.
  • And he writes provocative, comprehensive articles.

What You Need to Do Next

Domination demands positioning yourself to win. It also demands hard work. But it’s well worth the investment. Just ask Darren, Brian or Maki.

So. Wanna start a blog? Or resurrect the languishing one? Or overhaul the lackluster yawn-fest you are working so hard on now?

Then decide what topic you can dominate the #1 or #2 spot. And get to work.

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Comments

  1. I absolutely agree with this article. One must know exactly what market they are entering in and then concentrate on being that #1 or #2 spot. You must do your research and know what is (or is not) out there. Thanks for the article.

  2. Great post, I just started reading Welch’s Bio that he wrote in 2001.

    You mention that the reason’s blog fail are:

    1) No one is listening.
    2) You’re not very good.
    3) Or you simply don’t care.

    I am wondering if you have any guesses as to the priority of those reasons. And whether you believe them to be linked.

    To me it seems that the most important reason is number 2 because number 1 and 3 follow directly from it.

    Your not very good so no one is listening. Because no one is listening you simply do not care. On the other hand if you are good then people will listen and so you will care.

  3. Almost everyone you know–including yourself–has failed at blogging. When I say fail I mean they have everyone has at least one languishing or dead blog in their history. If you don’t, I think statistically you will in the next two years.

    There’s a lesson in there about sweeping statements… and I’m pleased to know that I break the statistics :)

  4. Excellent post!

    This dovetails nicely with what I always tell my copywriting students and coaching clients. Strive to be the biggest fish in the smallest, most profitable pond/s you can find. I’d also add that playing to your strengths and passions, casting narrow rather than wide, as a blog or marketing writer will also bolster your ability to ‘keep at it” and keep your readers captivated.

  5. James, if you’re not doing enough new things to fail, you might not be learning as much as you could. Failing is good.

  6. Ok, I’m playing devil’s advocate second day in a row, but I don’t entirely agree with Jack Welch’s systems. For one, he had a really good run from the 80’s to 2000’s, when for the most part the economy was doing quite well. I’d have liked to have seen that same kind of result in an economy such as this.

    The second reason I don’t agree is because you’re talking about cutting businesses that aren’t #1 or #2. And that advice (and I strictly blame Jack for this, not you), is erroneous. Because a lot of people sit around for a long time, being average, before exploding in a world of exuberance.

    I used to be a pretty hopeless marketer and was an excellent cartoonist (still am). And so cartooning was my No.1. Well, in 2001, I decided that I wanted to do marketing. And there was no reason for it. I just felt like it’s something I was good at. The truth was, I was lousy at it. But within two years, Psychotactics went from being reasonably average to very well known. In the last seven years, we’ve gone from being below average in marketing, to well…you can have a look at our website and judge for yourself.

    So I don’t agree with Welch. I would rather see someone very average, with the right attitude, because to me it’s the attitude that is more important than anything else.

  7. @Brian: Well, maybe not GOOD but helpful and necessary :)

  8. However I do agree with parts of your post. Because I know you did mean well. It’s incredibly easy to be lost in the millions of blogs and websites out there.

    Whether domination is needed, is debatable. I know of many people who do absolutely stunning work, lead lovely lives, and wouldn’t change a thing. And they really don’t feel the need to be #1 or #2.

    The world has been built around this concept of #1 or #2, but in fact, it’s a very stressful position to be in. #1 and #2 in video games were losing bucketloads of money, and #3 in the world (Nintendo) was in turn turning amazing profits.

    So yes, it’s easy to get swayed by the terminology, but the facts don’t always represent the credo.

  9. @ Brian –

    James, if you’re not doing enough new things to fail, you might not be learning as much as you could. Failing is good.

    Considering that the definition of failure could be ‘the lack of success’, I disagree. Failing is not good, because that presumes there is no success.

    Having learning experiences that teach you better ways, methods, strategies and alternative paths to reach the goals that you didn’t reach on your first attempt is good. That is success.

    And that, I do.

  10. To me it seems that the most important reason is number 2 because number 1 and 3 follow directly from it. You’re not very good so no one is listening. Because no one is listening you simply do not care. On the other hand if you are good then people will listen and so you will care.

    Not entirely true. You can be very good, but no one can be listening. This is why writers, singers, speakers need an audience. It doesn’t reflect on their ability to speak, write or draw. But in their ability to be appreciated.

    The greatest speaker in the world becomes a bit of a washout if there are three people in an auditorium of 500. It saps your energy. However, if those three people happened to be the only ones the speaker was expecting, then he/she will turn out a world-class experience.

    Which is why if you’re starting up a blog, I would get at least two-three people to visit (and bug you) so that you get motivated. The biggest issue is the appreciation, and not the ability to write, draw, speak.

    Being able to be very good is a nice-to-have, but most writers, speakers, etc start out very, very average. In some of my early speeches, I had to take a ten-minute break because I forgot what I was going to say. Early articles used to take me two days or more to write, and I’d struggle. But it was the audience (and believe me, back then they were tiny audiences) that kept me going.

    Tiger Woods had an audience of two (his father and mother). It was not his so-called talent that mattered. He didn’t start out as the world’s best golfer. But without the audience, he probably would never have gotten there at all.

  11. Demien,

    Great post. Enjoyed the way you worked in the Jack Welch analogy to blogging. Does your advice apply equally to a new business blog for a new business? Many business blogs:

    1. Have no choice about the blogging niche
    2. Customers not Internet, blog friendly
    3. Product/service pretty dry

    I understand it’s my responsibility to create a buzz. Any thoughts?

    Thanks!

  12. Blue chip post. Jack Welch WAS ruthless in his focus, but GE stock kept splitting and growing and becoming more valuable. Happily for me at the time. Notice who went bullish on GE last fall? Warren Buffet, in a *downturned*economy, even though Welch is no longer personally at the helm. Legacies are built with focus. Strategic considered positions. Investment in solid , solid authority just keep getting better and better.
    Love the analogy here. It reminds me of the question Brian asks and James too, “Are you building a job or an asset?”

  13. That’s exactly what I did when I started Administratrive Arts a year ago. I looked first at what I knew and felt I could contribute valuable information to, and then I looked at what was already available in the niche. And in the administrative support field, I could only find a couple of blogs, neither of which really provided what I was looking at providing. I’ve since found a couple of others that were closer to what I’ve been doing. I can only assume their SEO wasn’t that good, because I only eventually found them by seeing someone else refer to them.

    So I set myself up in that niche. It was a slow start for several reasons, but it’s really starting to take off now. I’ve grown my subscriber base in the last almost 4 months from 27 to over 250, and I’m looking at continuing that growth. I’m glad I stuck to it, because I’m starting to feel like it really does fill a need. I don’t get many comments, but I do get a number of e-mails from people who read the blog and want to ask questions or just comment on what they’ve read and how it’s helped them in their work.

    I’m looking now at other niches I can do the same thing in, spreading my wings a bit. I’m actually very excited about what this next year may hold.

  14. Very interesting article.

    Cheers.

  15. Damien,

    I agree with what you are saying but also agree with Sean in that, you should be striving to be the best but sometimes just being #3 is more satifying and also a lot less stress. Especially when you have other commitment.(ie. FAMILY).

  16. @Sean: I guess what I didn’t make entirely clear is that Jack wasn’t an overnight success. He had a principle he applied consistently over decades, which plays into what you are saying.

    I know you already know this, but success is a marathon. Not a sprint. It’s about building a long-standing asset as Janice pointed out.

    Thank you for playing the devil’s advocate, by the way. ;-)

  17. I agree with Roman,
    The reason fail in blog is begin from no. 2 “you are not very good”. When we’re being very good, we should be success in blog. What the way to be very good? Anyone can give smart solution?

  18. I love it when I get to play the crotchety old man.
    @Sean

    For one, he had a really good run from the 80’s to 2000’s, when for the most part the economy was doing quite well. I’d have liked to have seen that same kind of result in an economy such as this.

    Ol Jack started running the GE ship in the early 80’s. There was a recession. Umemployment was bad and getting worse. It was in fact very much an economy such as this. Really. I was there. Working for GE.

    But the main point is sage advise.

    Find out what’s working. What’s important. Focus on them. Ruthlessly. Get rid of the rest.

    It works both for business and life in general.

    I think it’s about finding out what you’re about at your very core, and being true to that.

  19. I love Jack Welch and have been FREQUENTLY reminded lately that one of his most controversial management practices is to lay off the bottom 10% of his workforce every year – PERIOD!

    If you’re in the top 90%, you’ve got a job next year. If you’re in the bottom 10% – even if, compared to the rest of the world, you’re a top 10% player – you’re history if you work for Jack Welch!

    James – I’m sorry but Brian is SPOT ON! Failure is the result of stretching and trying new things. If you haven’t failed recently – you haven’t tried to reach something beyond your grasp. Failure is a good thing as long as you remember that the definition of success is falling (failing) 9 times but getting up 10.

  20. Some of the top blogs got where they are today because they were first. Some, not all, mind you. But if you take an objective look at some of the “top blogs” many are trash with nothing new to say.

    Bloggers will read blogs about blogging, and leave comments because they want backlinks. Some niches don’t have that built-in way to appear successful. For that reason, I wish bloggers would stop holding up metabloggers as success stories when there are so many other examples.

    That said, the point made by this article is excellent. We only have so much time to invest in a blog, so why not trim the fat and build one that works? Maybe you don’t measure success in terms of “ranking” number 1 or 2, but hone your blog to reach your right people and you can be “successful” under your own definition of the term.

  21. Ol Jack started running the GE ship in the early 80’s. There was a recession. Umemployment was bad and getting worse. It was in fact very much an economy such as this. Really. I was there. Working for GE.

    I stand corrected. :)

  22. I agree with you regarding the need for focus and discipline. It is all well and good to want to be a top blogger and be successful. But it takes real discipline to sit down at the keyboard and write good, hopefully great content for your blog. It also takes focus, not to spend all your time reading other bloggers blog about blogging, checking your analytics and 100 other things that will keep your from your main task–writing great content.

    It is a lesson that I am continually learning.

  23. Some of the top blogs got where they are today because they were first. Some, not all, mind you. But if you take an objective look at some of the “top blogs” many are trash with nothing new to say.

    They weren’t just first. They were also geek-oriented. I don’t know if things have changed at Technorati, but about 60% or more of the blogs were tech-driven. That makes sense because only techies were even willing to put in any RSS on their systems about 3-4 years ago.

    The point of course is assuming you need big numbers. At Psychotactics, we figure we only need 300 paying customers to do exceedingly well. And so size of audience doesn’t really matter.

  24. Interesting, but I think wrong.

    First of All, Welch left a mess for the current management.

    He got out just in time, to get divorced.

    Secondly, being #1 or #2 in airplane engines, finance, or nuclear power plants makes sense.

    Doing that in the blog world does not.

    The point is that you do what you want and write what you want. Being #1 isn’t the goal.

    Shaun Dakin
    CEO
    StopPoliticalCalls.org
    @EndtheRobocalls
    @IsCool
    @Mashable Open Web Award Winner

  25. My mate told me I should write about what I know. But I didn’t listen. I had to spend months fiddling fruitlessly with haikus & t-shirts! Now I’m getting fair dinkum. Recruitment advertisements (job ads) is my specialty & by golly I’m going to say something about it! Thank you for your wonderfully clarifying article, Demian! P. :)

  26. I think we can get caught up in “I can’t be the #1 marketing blog (or weight loss blog or technology blog” and that means I have to quit.”

    I don’t think that’s where Demian is going at all.

    I find this weird almost Zen paradox in blogging. I have to be #1 at being Sonia Simone. Which you would think would come easily for me, but it doesn’t. It still requires care and work and thought. I have to be the #1 version of what Sonia Simone can be. If I’m playing a C game it shows.

    That’s not Demian’s point, but I think it’s related. You can find a great little pond to dominate–as Sean points out, the right 300 customers can keep you very very comfortable. But that doesn’t give you license to be mediocre. Quite the opposite. You need to be the best in the world, but you also get to define “your” world, and a big part of that definition comes from what you can uniquely offer.

  27. Great post. I’ve Stumbled it. While there are other business models to GE’s under Welch, no doubt this strategy is a good one for success.

  28. I do agree with the article to some extent, but I’d debate that Twitips (although good) is unique – Darren’s previous successes meant that he had a very good chance of being #1 from day one, but there are plenty of blogs covering microblogging and Twitter that were around before Twitips – including my own!

    Fortunately I’m concentrating more on analysis of the space and interviewing developers, so moving away from Twitip beginner guides to Twitter – whether that’s a market that will make me millions or not is a lesser concern than whether it’s fun!

  29. Great article, but I find Sean’s input more relevant, human, and realistic.

  30. Truly inspirational and motivating article. If you don’t mind I have to resurrect my blog. Thank you.

  31. This was a great read, and I’m a Welch Fan!

  32. Sean, you’re a good devil’s advocate! Totally support your points.

  33. Sean, your comments provoke and prod.

    The essence of gaining the 1rst or 2nd place in any category is all about personality. Some personalities exude an essence that attracts or detracts.

    Welch added to GE’s results while subtracting employees and products. Not every effort worked. He also demonstrated his magic within an unparalleled world economy. That’s a bit of synergistic luck.

    Welch had vision and that vision gave him purpose and drive. Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, having a wise dose of chutzpah, and joyful discipline has got to bring significant results.

    The key, I think, is to find your unique and personal gift, seek eternal wisdom on how to use your gift, and then, go for it!

  34. I like what Sonia Simone had to say (Comment 26). Yes, it’s important to aim for #1, but to also be satisfied with my current level of achievement while striving to improve that daily. It does take business planning, SEO optimization, quality content, and hard work as well.

  35. Essentially, this was a purely motivational blog post. I enjoyed it. Thank you.