How a 20-year (free) book by Seth Godin completely transformed my business

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Several months ago, I started publishing a newsletter on emotional intelligence. My initial goal was to create an online email course that I could then sell to my newsletter audience.

But then I remembered a book I read a few years ago by Seth Godin called Unleashing the Ideavirus. The book is over 20 years old, but the concept was powerful:

Give away your best deals for free and they will spread.

I decided to give him a chance. Instead of selling the online course to my newsletter audience, I offered it to them for free.

As a result, my audience numbers exploded … and led to incredible opportunities. I am regularly contacted by people to let me know how much they value my work … and others who want to hire me or fire my content.

If you use content to attract people to your work, I recommend that you read Unlocking the Ideavirus. Godin originally published it for free to help prove his theory, and the ebook is still available for free on its website.

Godin recommends that you start with a “manifesto of ideas,” a powerful, logical essay that pulls together a bunch of existing ideas and creates a new one.

“As long as you can use your manifesto to change the way people think, talk or act… you can create value,” Godin writes.

Once you have your manifesto, there is a basic process you can follow to propagate your ideavirus. Here is a quick rundown of the main points and why they are so powerful today.

1. Make it fit for a virus.

“If it’s not worth talking about, we won’t talk about it,” writes Godin.

2. Find the sneezes.

Sneezes are people who are much more likely to spread your idea than others.
“Sneezing is at the heart of any ideavirus,” he writes. “Sneezes are those that when they tell ten, twenty, or 100 people, people believe them.”

2. Identify the hive.

A beehive is a very targeted audience. Godin encourages identifying “a beehive that has a problem and has the right sneeze concentration, the right amplified network, the right communication speed and, most importantly, an appropriate vacuum.”

The ideavirus will only reach its full potential when you dominate your hive.

3. State the idea.

Expose your idea to the right people and do whatever you need to do to get those people to get into the idea experience as quickly as possible. Instead of making them pay to experiment with your idea, Godin even encourages paying them if necessary, especially at the beginning.

4. Determine what you want the sneezes to say.

“You have to decide what you want the sneezes to say to the people,” writes Godin. “If you don’t decide, they will either decide for you and say something less than optimal, or they won’t even bother to pass the time.”

5. Give sneezers the tools they need.

Make it easy for sneezing to spread the idea. Can you give me a way to share the idea with one click? Can you let me join your affiliate program in sixty seconds or less?

Reward those who are willing to share.

6. Get permission.

Your goal, Godin says, is to gain attention and then build a more reliable and permanent chain of communication. Through this chain of communication, you can further improve this idea and launch new ideas faster and more effectively, this time under your control.

7. Create a cycle.

If you can amaze your audience enough, they will naturally strengthen the virus and keep it growing.

Anyone remember the Cabbage Patch Kids? How about choppy spinners? Godin says the simplest reason some viruses burn out faster than others is because marketers get greedy and forget that a short-term virus isn’t the end of the process, it’s the beginning.

“By nurturing the attention you receive, you can create a self-reinforcing virus that lasts and lasts and benefits everyone involved.”

8. Embrace the life cycle of the virus.

“Cats had a big hit on Broadway,” writes Godin. “But even great shows don’t last forever.”

“By understanding that the needs of the virus change over time (and that the benefits received change as well), the marketer can match spending to high-leverage times.”

Remember that an ideavirus follows a lifecycle. Ignore the life cycle and the virus is gone. Feed it properly and you will be able to drive it for a very, very long time.

So … do you have a great idea to share? Do you have killer content that you are trying to figure out how to monetize?

Instead, I implore you to consider taking Seth Godin’s advice and giving away your best stuff for free instead. Do it right, and it will open up a world of opportunity.

(To verify the free emotional intelligence course I built using Godin’s advice, where every day for 10 days you get a rule designed to help you make emotions work for you, rather than against you.)

The opinions expressed here by the columnists of Inc.com are theirs and not those of Inc.com.


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