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What will your creation become?

Time for another business post folks. This one was written on the flight home from Ironman Louisville, one of my annual pilgrimages to support the amazing folks on Team Endurance Nation.

After a few hours of checking up on by business reading, which mainly consists of sifting through my contacts via Twitter and checking in on the key blogs I follow, I am beginning to get a little disenchanted. If I open another email from another expert selling me a $1000 program to creating the best blog ever, I might just keel over.

I have to wonder where such a swath of experts were hiding, mere years ago, until the advent of Twitter and social networking. I am not personally overwhelmed by the information available 24/7 on the web, but I struggle daily to make sense of the people who are involved.  Who to follow? Who to listen to? Who can help me?

I have come up with a simple criteria I use when navigating the expert-o-sphere. I simply ask: Is this person trying to sell me something or teach me something?

If you are selling, then I take what you have to say with a grain of salt. And the higher the price of what you are selling almost instantly lowers your value to me.

If you are teaching, then I am interested. The web is a good place to make money (see selling above) but it’s also a platform for educating, sharing and creating change. These elements don’t preclude making money, but they do require a fundamentally different approach to communication.

Why Selling vs Teaching?
Well, I had to start somewhere. Seriously. But it’s also because I am looking for role models and leaders in my personal and professional quest online. Having been at the online entrepreneurial game now for five years, I have learned that the quick fix stuff never really works as well as you’d like it to. If the web is full of information, then the most important people to me are the ones who are going to help me to learn and to put my learning into action.

Someone who sells just drops by via email, or maybe by phone. Think 30-second dating. The teacher, on the other hand, is there consistently. Whether it’s daily or weekly, s/he is putting out thoughtful content that challenges me to be better as a person and as a professional.

This isn’t to say that the person teaching won’t, at some point, try to sell me something…but if they have already taught me something then I will be more likely to purchase from them.

It All Comes Down to Building
At the end of the day, I think the real power of the web is to connect people and ideas and to reduce the barriers for further exploration. There are few, if any experts out there. There are lots of opinions, and that’s a good thing. But the most powerful experiences are where dialogue and information sharing improves our collective understanding of any given concept.

The folks who do this well are what I call “builders,” people who are creating online communities of people able to access high-quality information. The next step for these folks is to create the opportunity for their followers to connect with each other, driving the process forward exponentially faster.

I think of Gary Vaynerchuk, Tim Ferris, Derek Sivers, and Cal Newport as a few of the powerful voices that affect how I work and live. These people generate ideas and food for thought, but aren’t (yet) building online communities for their many followers. I think that’s going to be the next iteration…and you can get a jumpstart on these thought leaders by building out that community on your own.

If you are looking to succeed online today, I think it’s important to consider yourself a builder, not a seller. A teacher, not a marketer. Take a personal long-term view on your content and how you build relationships online. The longer you play the game, the more likely you are to win.

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