The Most Effective (And Fun) Foundation for Your Business

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I sometimes hear that we’re in a “post-authority” culture.

I can see what people mean by it. We’re looking at doctors, religious leaders, and (lord knows) politicians with a skeptical eye.

The Occupy movement is a sign of a growing refusal to accept things “The way they’ve always been.”

And the millennial generation (at least in the eyes of those of us who passed 40 awhile back there) don’t seem to recognize the authority of anyone trying to tell them what to do.

They don’t accept arbitrary authority over what time they should be at work, what they ought to expect out of life, or whether or not they should wear pants.

But there’s another kind of authority that’s actually more important than ever. Create this, and you can write your own ticket to wherever you might want to go.

The 21st century authority isn’t a white-haired guy in a lab coat. Or, at least, the lab coat alone isn’t enough to get us to trust him.

I’m not a doctor, but I play one on T.V.

That memorably ridiculous quote came from an 80s television ad for cough syrup, and it pretty well sums up what was wrong with traditional authority.

Too often, it was more about appearance than it was about actual knowledge.

Cheap products used to appear in drugstores with a little red banner saying, “As seen on TV!”

Now the banner reads “As seen on YouTube!” (Not a joke, I’ve seen it.)

But the human brain is wired to look for authority — especially when we need help.

And the more pathetic our traditional leaders become, the more we crave leadership. Which means that right now, we aren’t in a period of decline in authority — we’re in an era that needs it more than ever.

Legitimate authority. Ethical authority. Truly earned authority.

The source of real authority

Real authority comes from taking the time to learn how to solve real problems.

Sometimes it involves a piece of paper — a certification or a degree of some kind.

Sometimes it involves a lot of real-world work.

Sometimes it involves a major dose of street smarts.

You might solve esoteric, hard-to-solve problems. That can be very cool.

But you might also solve relatively simple problems for newbies. That can be tremendously cool also, actually.

Real authority comes from you being able to competently lead someone from where they are now to where they want to go next. That’s it. It’s not any more complicated than that.

If you aren’t an authority yourself, help someone who is

You may not be able to coach marathon runners, teach ninja software skills, or take a passionate quilter to a new level in her art.

But there are people out there who can do those things — and they desperately need partners.

They’re subject matter experts, not marketers.

They’re authorities, not entrepreneurs.

And they make fantastic business partners for authentically authoritative teaching-based businesses.

That’s why, if you know a lot about a topic and you’re able to solve an audience’s real problems, you can build a brilliant business around that.

And if you don’t know a lot about any topic, and you don’t have the skill to make customers’ lives better, you can still build a brilliant business around that.

You can be the expert, you can be the producer, or you can be both.

Your specific individual role isn’t that important. What matters is that you contribute — that you do the work of making your audiences’ lives better, in whatever way suits you best.

So how are you going to get there?

You may already have all the resources you need to build this kind of business — a business based on teaching your customers and making their lives better.

But if you need a little help with that, we do have some resources for you.

First and foremost, because we’ll be re-launching our flagship course Teaching Sells, we have a free content series for you, to help you figure out some of the common sticking spots.

Things like the 20-step road map that we use when we’re creating a new project, to make sure we’ve covered all of our bases.

And a live webinar that goes with the road map, so you know how to use it.

And articles about how business is changing, and how you can evolve along with it and “surf the wave” of change to your own advantage.

If that sounds good, go ahead and get on the Teaching Sells email list and we’ll get all of the content to you — straight to your inbox.

We’ll also be letting you know about how you can join us for this round of Teaching Sells, if you’d like more help in getting your business going.

The free content is only available during this pre-launch period, so sign up now to get all the good stuff.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on twitter @soniasimone

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Reader Comments (38)

  1. says

    …and this is why so many well-respected companies are behind the eight ball now. We’ve all but given up on the old ways of being sold. It’s just too easy to whip out your phone in the middle of Wal-Mart to find out if that giant, inflatable duck is enjoyed by others, how many stars it earned and whether it’s actually ‘fun’ when you get it home… not just fun because they told you so.

    Plus, I think that teaching as a sales tool leads to a more gentle sales process. The customer makes all the decisions while the seller creatively positions all the facts.

    I’m in.

    -Joshua Black

  2. says

    Brilliant article, Sonia! Especially the fact that ‘Real authority comes from you being able to competently lead someone from where they are now to where they want to go next’. This really does connect with how we should re-position and present ‘Authority’ to the rising generation. I remember as a student in the late 60’s, the only ‘authority’ figures I really respected were those who showed me and others how to develop our careers and realise our potential. And when I was a young Copywriter, in the ‘good old’ Direct Mail days, the person I respected most was my Ad Agency boss (who went on to become a ‘famous’ Direct Marketer of the day) who helped me start up my own small Copy consultancy, taking one of his biggest clients with me! I respected him then, and I still do today, as he was the ‘Authority’ who helped me (and many others) go forward and develop my career the way I wanted to. Meantime, keep up the great work on Copyblogger!

  3. Di says

    I’m 50+ and always feel I was born in the wrong era. Your description of millennials proves it. I too have problems accepting what time I should be at work. Good article.

  4. says

    Sonia, I like your point about “If you aren’t an authority yourself, help someone who is”. One of the proven way of doing business in unfamiliar area is to look for partnership and collaboration.

    • says

      If you think the linking in this post is done for SEO purposes, you’re a little confused.

      Think about it. If you’re trying to prompt a specific action (clicking to visit a site), from a copywriting standpoint, you want to provide multiple opportunities for the reader to take that action, at the point in the copy when they’re ready.

      No Panda issues here. I think you might be a little confused about Panda, too. But we’ll be talking about those issues more in the future. 😉

      • says

        Matthew’s got a point, though. I’m a “right-clicker, open in new window-er.” When I see a link that interests me, I open a new window for it, then go look when I finish the page I’m on. What I expected was not what I got:
        21st century authority — an explanation of who the new authority is
        teaching-based businesses — examples of teaching-based businesses
        Teaching Sells — the program you are promoting
        get on the Teaching Sells email list — details about the email list
        sign up now to get all the good stuff — straight to the sign-up, skip the details

        Instead I got the same page five times. I did sign up, so it worked, but one link at the bottom would have done that too. Putting the same destination under five different titles is a little annoying. But the first one — that’s deceptive. A search for “21st century authority” would not find that page.

        Nonetheless, I look forward to the emails. :-)

        • says

          Gideon, the page headline is “Here’s the Best Online Business for the 21st Century… Period.”

          The way to build that business, in part, is authority — which is the point of this article. Let’s not throw around words like “deceptive” too lightly. It was contextually accurate anchor text.

  5. Dennis says

    Well said. Of course, what we’re really talking about here is not “authority,” as in Eric Cartman dressed in a copy uniform wielding a nightstick, but “authoritativeness.” Use of the truncated version “authority” is largely a result of our ADHD, culture, struggling to process a hundred-million simultaneous messages. That said, your point is well-taken and consistent. The only downside is that this authoritativeness takes time to build, which runs contrary to the aforesaid ADHD, culture.

  6. says

    **Real authority comes from you being able to competently lead someone from where they are now to where they want to go next. That’s it. It’s not any more complicated than that.**

    Well said. A lot of people think being an authority means having a big list, but lack the ability to competently lead someone from where they are to where they want to go.

    Course, on the other hand, there are people who are authorities in their field, but couldn’t teach if their life depended on it. Knowing how to do and knowing how to teach aren’t the same. Learning to teach is a learned skill, too. Geez – you’d almost think I’m here to pump the teaching sells program. lol.

  7. says

    Sonia, great post as always! I spent 6 years as a college professor…degree and all. In that entire time, I watched the millennial generation’s growing skepticism that I had anything useful to offer. Of course, I was teaching stats and research methods…but from my view in the trenches, your viewpoint is spot on. And, in the coming years and decades, teaching will sell a lot more!

    If trends in higher education continue (grade inflation, watered down online course), there will be an entire market of professionals who actually know how to DO very little. They’re going to need help synthesizing the information and formulating solutions.

    Hoping I’ll be able to join you for the next Teaching Sells program…sounds fantastic (and I need to brush off the ole marketing/management skills).

    • says

      So interesting, Rob, thanks for chiming in.

      As someone who got a lot out of my own time at university, I’m very interested/concerned to see what’s happening with formal higher education.

  8. says

    Love it, Sonia. Love the idea and the possibilities. I am going to try and work on this one, sounds like something to have fun with. And getting on that list ASAP, every time I subscribe to something here, it blows my mind. So I am sold, lol

  9. says

    Thanks for the information! I can’t wait until the Teaching Sells course opens up. I’m practically sitting on edge reading all the information you send me, it’s so great. I’m new at freelance writing, but I’m becoming a better writer and any material that helps me grow is welcome. :) Can’t wait until the course opens up.

    Thanks again!


  10. says

    I had a sneaky suspicion you were reading my mind when I read one of your last posts. Now I’m convinced. Or there’s something going around… I’ve always had this issue with assumed authority–professors, doctors (especially), best-selling gurus–you name it. I don’t believe someone is an authority until I’ve observed for awhile or read a little bit, at least, on the sidelines. I don’t automatically believe, no matter how many degrees or tenure or books sold. Probably the “question everything” attitude I picked up from older hippy types as a kid or from my own punk-ish sort of days. Or something.

    I really like how you put this, about the partners. It’s kind of like an “ah-ha” moment–yeah, having that issue right now. Having a hard time switching back and forth between creating and marketing and then settling in to the business side of things like taxes or whatever. Sheesh! Signed up :)

  11. says

    So if I put on a lab coat and a pair of spectacles, I won’t get instant authority? I’m crushed!

    I’m actually going about it a slightly different way. I know perfectly well that I’m not an authority, but I’m learning. So I’m sharing what I learn along the way. I’m hoping someone else finds that useful if they’re learning too. Like having study buddies.

    • says

      I think that’s a great strategy. You can always teach what you know — if you’re a beginner plus a bit, you can teach beginners. It works (and it’s a great way to truly understand what you’re learning).

  12. says

    Sonia, I find this post to be a brilliant example of what y’all teach here at Copyblogger. Seriously inspirational and hooky intro, great info gap created and then closed beautifully. I couldn’t click the sign up link fast enough lol.

    I personally love references to the big picture perspective of where we are right now in the entrepreneurial revolution. Business is being done differently, marketing is being done differently. HOW we are doing business is up in the air, too—and acting from a place of real authority is right up there on the list of “How to do it Right”.

  13. says

    Hi Sonia,

    From someone else a bit beyond 40 who is not a good follower. At. All. thank you!

    Here’s to real authority vs. some actor in a white coat 😉

    Love your writing and content of course, but am wondering when the Copyblogger podcast will be up and running again? I kind of miss it.

  14. says

    I really like this one “Real authority comes from taking the time to learn how to solve real problems.” Everything you said here are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  15. says

    This course appears to be what I need right now, as my consulting business is growing and my clients are looking for direction in creating content authority sites on their field of expertise. I look forward to joining.

  16. says

    I enjoyed your article, so thank you.

    I do agree with the basic message about traditional authority and the newer type of authority, but I also had a feeling authority was being confused with leadership, at least from my own perspective. I mean, look at those in leadership roles, many of them don’t know which way is up. In my view, authority, or being an authority doesn’t mean leading people or telling them what they ought to do. I don’t think we need more leadership at all. I feel we have too much leadership already which we need to move away from.


  17. says

    I want to thank you for the recent email from the Teaching Sells launch, explaining what it is and so forth. For any questions we have, where is the best place to address them? Here in this comment thread or to a particular email address? I would like to know how Teaching Sells differs from Third Tribe Marketing. The cost for each are vastly different, and so I want to be clear on the value each one has, particularly on how Teaching Sells is that much more valuable.

    • says

      Eve, we have a forum thread going in Third Tribe that I can recommend — that way you get the perspective of other students, and not just my answer. :)

      • says

        Hello Sonia, thank you for the offer to view the forum thread. Is it viewable publicly, because I do not have an active Third Tribe membership. I had cancelled it a while back, because I was looking for more teaching and business life cycle concepts than a private area to socialize with like-minded people (socializing wasn’t my priority at the time). I think Teaching Sells is what will fit my objectives. I just want to make sure my hunch is correct. Thank you.

  18. says

    Great article Sonia,

    I really like your idea of building authority with helping or leading people to achieve to the next step of their problems, not any other complicated thing after that. All the people have their own problems. And each problems will contain many other sub-problems to achieve in order to solve the “real problem”.

    When they can solve one of those sub-problems, they can ask for a help from the same person, or they can find other people in the same field to solve their other sub-problems if the first person is not able to help. We don’t need a really super-master problem-solver, we just need someone who are already passionated about something, and we ask them for their experiences.

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