The Mercenary’s Guide to Building
Your Internet Marketing Empire

image of survival knife

I don’t kill people for money (I do that for free).

I’m not wanted in 17 countries.

And I don’t ride on a steel horse.

But by many standards, I’m somewhat of a mercenary.

It started a few years ago, when I cut my teeth online by playing around in the internet marketing game.

Before I’d heard of Brian Clark, Chris Brogan, Darren Rowse, or Sonia Simone . . . I’d heard of Frank Kern, Mike Filsaime, and Jason Moffatt.

My first masters — the pure marketers

I spent a lot of time hanging out on the Warrior Forum. Not with Kern and Filsaime and Moffatt, but with a bunch of their customers. We talked about how to sell dating guides and dog training ebooks, and told each other that the customer didn’t matter as long as we were making money.

Although I was doing everything they said I should, something didn’t feel right . . . especially that hole in my wallet.

I made a few dollars, but it was by creating sites I wasn’t proud of. Spamming the net with silo sites and working in niches that I had no interest in. It all started to wear on my soul.

So I started talking about what I thought was wrong with that style of Internet marketing, and was laughed out of the virtual building.

No problem, I didn’t like those guys anyway.

My second masters — the affiliate ninjas

I was on my way out the door when I bought an ebook that was described as the “best Twitter guide on the forum.” I thought it was terrible.

Considering I’d started hanging out in the social media scene and had been using Twitter for almost a year, I started thinking, “I could make something much better than that!”

So I did. And Twitter Rockstar was born.

In a matter of weeks, I sold a few thousand dollars’ worth of that course. And oddly enough, I found that if you create something that’s actually useful and as good as you can make it . . . people are more than willing to pay for it.


So I kept searching for the next “guru.” I found guys like Ed Dale and John Chow, both a little closer to what felt right for me, but not perfect.

Still, knowing good marketing when I see it, I tried to learn everything they had to say. This time, on the affiliate marketing front.

I started blogging a bit and working the affiliate scene in a different way. I still wasn’t crushing it, but I knew I was getting closer.

My third masters — the Third Tribers

Eventually, I stumbled on to guys like Brian Clark, David Risley, Chris Guillebeau, Gary Vaynerchuk, Naomi Dunford, Sonia Simone, and Jonathan Fields.

Dudes and dudettes who were killing it not just online, but in the real world. It was at this point it really started to sink in. I could make money doing something other than selling World of Warcraft leveling guides and dieting ebooks.

What a relief.

You mean I could actually make a living online, selling real products that people wanted, and would also be fun to create? Whoa! (Keanu Reeves or Joey Lawrence impression, take your pick).

So naturally, I absorbed as much as I could. I started buying stuff, reading their blogs, and studying their marketing (I always try to do what they do, not just what they say).

Great stuff . . . but I wanted more.

Becoming my own master

So here I was, a product of three masters, but a servant of none. Remember, I’m a mercenary. A heartless profiteer. And I wanted my own empire, so I set out to build one.

My thoughts went like this:

Instead of sticking to a single way of thought, why not take the best of each and make it my own? Sounds a little Third Tribe, I know. But this is a tribe of one.

For the most part, I’m anti kumbaya. I don’t blog for free (if I can help it), and I think that most bloggers are underpaid . . . so I opted to change that.

Instead of calling myself a blogger, I started calling myself a platformer. Instead of working my butt off to build a platform that I gave away for free, I worked doubly hard to build a variety of products that are worth charging for. Instead of spending all of my time with freeloaders, I started spending most of my time with customers.

What I’ve found during this process:

  • Without some of those “pushy” marketing tactics that traditional internet marketers use so well, I’d be blogging for free.
  • Without a little kumbaya, I’d be following the dollar instead of my passion.
  • And without those Third Tribe “best of both worlds” techniques, I’d have no place to call home when I needed one. Even a mercenary likes a hot lunch and a soft pillow sometimes.

The point I’m trying to make is that there isn’t any single “right” way to do things, and that if you want to build your own digital empire, then you need to learn how to become your own master.

You need to study the good, the bad, and the ugly.

You need to get as comfortable telling people to buy your stuff as you are asking them to retweet it.

You need to be confident enough to price your products high enough to make a profit.

And you need to be brave enough to ride on your own when the mission calls for it.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I know enough to say that when it comes to the success of your business, you’re the one in charge. Learn the skills you need to know, and don’t be afraid to use them.

Don’t get tied to ideas, labels, or systems. Get tied to what works for you.

The way of the mercenary is a matter of survival, and in business, nothing else will do.

About the Author: Nathan Hangen teaches people how to build digital empires, helps them rock through their workday, and works with small businesses to implement digital marketing campaigns.

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Reader Comments (68)

  1. says

    I love this. It’s all about self-worth; not only making sure you feel good about yourself, but also that your product is good enough. Worthy of what you expect back from it. I love it.

    And it’s reminded me that I still have yet to ask for what I want from my readers. I’m a slow learner, but I’m getting there. Thanks!

  2. says

    Hey Nathan,

    That is great what you shared. You have to become your own master. This is so true since you can’t look and smell like someone else. However, you do have to learn from the current masters online right now before you can become one yourself.

    Chat with you later…

  3. says

    WOW now this was a great angle! Different and a cool twist. I could hear the song in the background “I’m a cowboy on a steel hoarse I ride and I’m wanted dead or alive” LOL You were drinking whiskey from a dead mans hand when you did this one. (oh jeeze I been in Texas to long Chicago hear I come LOL)

  4. says

    Excellent post, Nathan – a mentor of mine always says “Remember – it’s your business. It’s not Frank Kern’s business, or Ed Dale’s business.”

    And he’s right – on some level, you have to do what feels right for you. It’s not Brian Clark or Naomi Dunford or Sonia Simone’s business either – that’s not saying they’re wrong (ever), but what works for them still isn’t being true to yourself.

    It took me a long time to realize that, instead of hunting around to find a “Guru” who had my identical interests and values, that I could pick and choose the parts that suited me if I had the confidence to be true to myself.

  5. says

    Great post as always Nathan! You can see the soldier in you coming out in this one.

    It is always great to share your story, your point of view and make your point a personal one while illustrating a benefit to fill a need in your post, as you’ve done with this one.

    I learned this lesson the hard way as well, several years ago. I’ve followed and listened to many leaders within my industry. Slowly I took in what was working for them before molding it into my own methods that work best for me. Taking what fits well with you and discarding what doesn’t to implement your own plan of attack will always go a long way to help you meet your goals.

    Nathan, I always enjoy reading your point of view, maybe cuz I’m a former U.S. Marine and it echoes my own 😉

    You’re killing it my friend!

  6. says

    It’s great to hear someone else who has been through the same internet marketing experience. I’m so tired of these formulaic emails that are so long you could be drawing your pension before you get to the end. And then you find the information is so basic you could tell the author more about the subject than they’ve told you.
    Wouldn’t it be nice to get something that feels much more genuine but still gives a guarantee. If someone in a store tried to sell something with the kind of script in most sales pages you’d be out the door quicker than an olympic sprinter.

    Has anyone out there been successful by breaking the mould and trying honesty and brevity?

    Keep it up Nathan!

  7. says

    As someone who gives away the kitchen sink most of the time, I like your style. It’s all about the postitioning of your business and I think that you are on your way to developing a serious niche that people are going to have a hard time taking away from you.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  8. says

    Nathan: After recent inspiring events, I knew there were things that needed to be done that I wasn’t doing. In my head, there were things I learned from a previous career that are actually required, but up until now, they’ve only been thoughts and “I shoulda’s.”

    We all know “I shoulda’s” get you nowhere and your words here hit a chord in me that helped spark my focus even farther in looking at how I want to obtain some goals of mine. “We are what we focus on!” Right?

    Hence, I’ve fine-tuned my brain this morning and have moved forward!

    As I actually look over my fellow commenters comments, I see we’re more or less all of the same mind. That should say something also.

    It says: Well said Nathan, well said! I was thinking I should say thanks… oh, never mind, let me just do it:


  9. Sharon Collman says

    Though you never write for free, I’m glad I can get a complimentary copyblogger for now. I’ve learned useful things, and saved them all for review and will explore the mercenary items when I’m ready to step on the escalator. Thank you very much, Sharon.

  10. says

    “You need to study the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
    I like that sentence, seriously! Often we would only want to learn from those who had succeed. Seldom we want to learn from their shortcomings.
    Being a Money Making Blogger makes a person up to a different level…and learning is part of it..

  11. says

    Excellent post, Nathan. Because of all the alternatives available to us, I think many times we seek “permission” from our mentors to make a decision and take action: “I’m thinking of doing such-and-such, but am worried about this-and-that… what should I do?” There’s nothing wrong with seeking advice from people who have been there, done that. But it can be an excuse for procrastination. Ultimately, like you said, WE are in charge of our own business. We need to kick ourselves in the ass and get on with it. Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. says

    That’s awesome! You are a true entrepreneur. Stepping outside of the box is, in my opinion, the best way to create a brand uniquely your own. If you become a mindless follower, you can only go so far. When you become a leader and make a product or service your own, you can truly enjoy your career path and be profitable!

    Thanks for your motivating post.

  13. says

    I too have been down this path and have thought the very same things. Sounds like a plan. Gotta be different and provide value.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Grow on… all the best

    Deb DiBiasie

  14. says

    I gotta say that you did a great job on the headline and first line

    *applause breaks out in loud agreement*


    Seriously, I’ve been on a long time. My original guide was a graphic artist that had no idea about the Internet and I unfortunately listened to him–but I did have a cutting edge site with valuable content.

    Today, well I was lucky to hook up online with a tutor named Yaro Starak.

    I’ve never had any “gurus” because they tend to fall off any height you put them on but I’ve followed the work of a few (like Ed Dale, Dan Raine, Michelle MacPhearson) and studied under a few.

    Yaro still has the model I think works for those who want to give value and maintain integrity but keep ahead of the masses is also good.

    I like to snoop on everyone. LOL

    As for me, I still am plodding along, many of my classmates gave up.

    I am slowly achieving my goals and will celebrate when I finally get to the level I dream of.

    There are always going to be different spins on things, I think the key is to find what you like, commit to it, and then learn from the best people you can.

    If you have a team of people or a group that will help–so much the better.

    See you in the 3rd Tribe forums and rock on!

  15. says

    Nathan, you have blown me away with yet another truly fantastically written post!

    You are standing out in a crowd for me, of people whose ideas, no matter how big their following, just dont ring true for me.

  16. Scott says

    Wow, we must have been separated at birth – not sure I could have written as eloquently as you did…but you have perfectly described my experience online over the past few years.

    I started with the “gurus” as well, whittling that list of people I’d even listen to down from about 200 to maybe 4 or 5. Oh, and Filsaime was NOT one of them – in addition to his hard-sell and immature products that were released 6 months early, I just couldn’t take the horrible spelling and grammar in all of his materials. The only good lesson I learned from him? You can get rich by executing and not being a perfectionist – so I guess I need to thank him for that!

    Anyway, really well done, very “real” post which has made me subscribe to your blog – which is something I rarely do any more because I’m too busy trying to execute instead of being a student forever…

    Thank you for the great thoughts.


  17. says

    Well stated, and it appears you have taken your share of bumps and bruises along the way to your success. Thanks for being honest about doing the things that we are passionate about…they can make profits, too.



  18. says

    Thank you for this post. I like the term “platformer.” You make an important point — all too often overlooked — that one needs to spend time with potential customers. We need to serve those customers — not people who want our skills for free.

  19. says

    I love your style, Nathan. It’s true, many of us get so caught up in giving away good stuff that we never get around to creating anything for sale. Less people would get frustrated and quit trying to work online if they followed your approach.

  20. says

    Good stuff Nathan. I totally agree with ‘do what they do not what they say’. Great advice! Combine pieces of what makes everyone successful, put them together, then create your own path. :) You have done that well.

  21. says

    @Corbett – Was JUST talking about you with Danielle LaPorte…thanks for the ups, I appreciate that.

    It’s so true…just follow your heart. Sounds cliche, but it’s true.

    @Beki – Excellent points. No one is going to give you permission…you have to give it to yourself.

    @Darren – thanks man, I wasn’t drinking whiskey, but the next best thing…Blue Moon (my favorite beer)

    @Michael/Joseph – thanks guys. Looking back, it doesn’t really seem like something I’d write, but maybe it was the Blue Moon talking :)

    @Jeff – absolutely…it’s great to learn, but eventually you have to step up and do your thing.

    Sean – you’re right…I think the soldier brings out the ass in me…(does that even sound right?). Changed my life in more ways than I’ll know.

    @Bruce – “I shoulda’s” are killers. Actually writing about that tomorrow. No regrets…it’s never too late.

    @Nicky – That means a lot, I really appreciate that.

    @Deborah – Yeah, the platforming thing sounds much more fun to me…but I need help getting it to take off :)

  22. says


    This is cool. I think a lot of third tribers can associate with your story.

    If (as you say) its an unusual post for you to write, then I’d simply guess (reading between the lines) that’s because you’re changing the way you think about the game. It means a (another) breakthrough is coming, imo.

    Good luck!

  23. says

    Killer post Nathan. I’ve followed a VERY similar path and very happy to be in the Third Tribe. It’s a rocky path but you definitely come out better if you’ve seen the good the bad and the ugly.

    @Darren, I’m Wanted… :)

  24. says

    Amen, brother. You know… they don’t hire Jack Nickolson to play a role Philip Seymour Hoffman would be a better fit for. You have to put out the products that fit the part. Products that are a true reflection of who you are, what you stand for. It has to be great work and deliver outstanding value. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  25. says

    Awesome style, Nathan, your writing becomes more and more compelling – yep, you have to be confident when it comes to selling your products, and you have to find your own, unique frickin’ way !

    Interstellar post ! If you’re a mercenary then I’m the space Ninja !

  26. says

    And I kill to have CopyBlogger’s Blog. LOL! Nice article. Kinda solid that you’ve mentioned that you shouldn’t be relying too much on affiliate products when you have a better chance in selling your own products instead. Though then again, either way can mean a lot of work. Sadly, once everyone realizes this, there won’t be ClickBank affiliates anymore.

  27. says

    Thanks for this. The implicit assumption seems to be that I AM comfortable asking people to retweet stuff… I have to work on that first!

  28. says

    Well written & fun to read, one is usually made up from their expierences, you have taken the positives from both types of marketing and made them work for you, well done!

  29. says

    I didn’t quite know where you were going with this blog in the beginning but I’m finding out this may be a common thread to your blogs? 😉 Make the reader work for it? It all tied in together well at the end and I have to agree.

    Whether it’s Internet marketing or another business, there’s no guru that can tell you everything. I like your “innovation” to price products that actually make you a profit and to focus on making money!

  30. J says

    Hey Nathan – nice post. We’ve chatted a few times on the Warrior Forum (I HATE that place!)

  31. says

    Nicely said Nathan.

    I’m far from where I want to be, but I’m continually amazed at how people are looking for a one size fits all solution to their specific issue or problem. There’s a lot to be said for absorbing all you can and learning from the folks who’ve been there and done that, but photocopying someone else’s approach isn’t gonna bring you what you’re looking for.

    People are always looking for easy solutions for the same reason that water runs down hill. It’s nature. The tricky part is educating people so that they know and feel like they can innovate based on what they’ve learned and what matters to *them*. The tricky part is trusting your own judgement, going to that sweet spot between exhilaration and terror and having the balls to make decisions.

    Guess what? That’s confidence ;P

  32. says

    Asking for the sale is something that always needs to be done in any selling situation. Also we do need to have a high enough price to make a profit.

  33. says

    The last line is just as awesome as the first.

    “The way of the mercenary is a matter of survival, and in business, nothing else will do.”

    It just rings so true for anyone that’s dumped the 9-5 in the pursuit of building their own empire. Powerful stuff man.

  34. says

    Nathan, This is a very nicely written post, especially the 1st sentence. What a way to get our attention.

    The part that stays with me is the need to study the good, the bad, and the ugly. But in my case, I need to be “comfortable..confident… and brave enough to ride on my own when the mission calls for it.

    These are great words of encouragement.

  35. says

    Awesome article. I’ve been through a similar situation. It’s about staying true to yourself and doing what works for you! Having integrity and being authentic with your business will ultimately bring you success.
    Take what you learn from others and create your own ’empire’ as Nathan put it so well in this article. If what you are doing is not getting you excited, than take a look at who is running the show, yourself or someone else.

  36. says

    You hit it with selling something that is worth selling. The second step is to find people to notice (after you create it of course) without spending a fortune (that hole in the wallet) doing it. That is and has been my biggest challenge.

  37. says

    re: Pricing stuff high enough to make a profit…

    That one sentence out of this entire post hit me. I’m a kumbaya mf’er (mike fook’er) and I love to give my readers something they can use. I love to give it away when I can. When I charge for something I used to still be giving it away. Sales lagged.

    I jacked up the price and I was off to the races. Price equates to perceived value everyone selling something online will tell you. Over the past decade I must have told a few thousand people that exact statement.

    I just never thought much about applying that truth to my own situation until I tried it. There was a guy selling a book on learning Thai that was put together by a troop of monkeys banging keys. He was selling them for $20. I was selling my guide for $9.95. He was outselling the pants off me. I couldn’t figure it out… then I did.

    Jack the price and it rains rice.

  38. says

    Well written and nicely explained. well i’m in the affiliate marketing and manage to make some money but didn’t get much out of it. Well i’m working on it to extract more out of it. thanks for sharing these tips

  39. says

    You did it once again… You should seriously consider making this a members only area (please don’t :))… The value of these posts are incredible….

    I totally agree on the value of learning essential skills… Like copywriting for example… I’m on my way myself, but still not there yet :)

  40. says

    Hooah, Nathan!

    Great post like usual (and you aren’t wanted in 17 countries, you are wanted in 18!).

    I’ve found it’s really important to create what works for you.. what may work for one person won’t work for another. If you create your own.. motley of ideas and methods, you are much more likely to succeed in whatever you want to do.

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