I never intended to start a business…

Back in 1991 when the internet was still an obscure network for scientists and geeks… I was an experimental writer and poet doing my Masters Degree in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

Yes, I was once a poet – wandering lonely as a cloud, crafting my thoughts with an ink-pen, agonising over the tiniest detail.

To pay for my Masters Degree, I took out a loan at a ridiculously high interest rate (it was back in the days when rates were in double figures!), which I then needed to pay back when it was over.

Obviously poetry wasn’t going to pay the bills…

In fact, most poets – even those published by Faber or other well-known companies – would have been lucky to sell 500 copies of their debut book, earning them an infinitesimal amount of money after costs, bookshops’ cuts and the publisher’s take.

So I took a job in London as a copywriter for Fleet Street Publications – a financial newsletter publisher.

It was an old fashioned paper ‘n’ print business. We’d send marketing materials by post to invite people to subscribe to our newsletters, books, events and courses.

By 2000, the internet became too big for the company to avoid. So I became responsible for launching our international company’s first UK eBusiness division.

Since then, I’ve built up my own business largely upon the internet, using email, blogs, subscription websites, Google adwords social media… each new thing that comes along makes it that bit easier to publish quicker, reach more people and change lives.

Now here I am – more than twenty years after my poetry days – at the helm of Digital Upstart, helping grow profitable businesses online.

And here’s the remarkable thing…

Thanks to all these digital tools, networks and platforms, you can now make money from almost any niche… even the ones that used to be utterly profitless.

Yes – that includes the most infamously unprofitable artistic niche of all – poetry!

This Guardian article last week revealed that there’s a new breed of self-publishing poets on Instagram (dubbed Instapoets) who are building massive audiences and monetising that with publishing deals and books that sell 10,000 or more copies.

The big names – Lang Leav, Rupi Kaur and Tyler Knott Gregson – are online superstars who are mobbed at signings.

To show you an example, one poem on Instagram has 34,900 likes and the author has an Amazon bestseller!

That’s an extraordinary audience for a 4-line poem.

Back in 1991 if I’d had the power to get each poem to 35,000 people, I’d have undoubtedly stuck with it.

Not that I’m complaining, I love what I do now.

It doesn’t matter what you think of that poem, by the way.

I happen to think it’s sentimental rubbish.

But my opinion dopesn’t matter. What’s important is if simple haikus and love poems can make money, really anything is possible.

These Instapoets are purely using networks like Instagram, Twitter, Tumble or Facebook, to self-publish and build vast and engaged audiences.

They then turn that work into a book and sell it back to that list.

These books are going for OVER £10 a time.

If you have 50,000 followers on Instagram, most of whom are fans of your work, you’ve got an instant audience… never mind all the people they then share your work with on their networks.

One of the poets, Lang Leav has 47,900 followers on Twitter… and 131,000 followers on Instagram.

Her third book has sold more than 300,000 copies in three years.

At £14.99 per book, that’s £4.5 million!

If she gets just 5% of that, she’s made £224,850… from POETRY!

It beggars belief.

I know these are big, big figures.

I’m not saying that you can – or need to – build a 131,000 following on social media. And it’s likely you have no intention of becoming a poet.

But I hope you can see that the world is being utterly transformed by the internet. All kinds of formerly small, niche and unprofitable niches have the potential to be scaled up now.

Whatever business you’re in, there’s an audience there for you. You just need to get your stuff out there and start connecting.

The networks are increasing in speed, size and connectivity. They’re all easy to join, user friendly and totally democratic.

There’s no longer an advantage to being techy or knowing code or design.

All you need to do is plug a good idea into this network, and follow through with commitment, passion and authenticity… be yourself, and dream big… and really anything could happen.

Ask yourself:

  • What visual information could you publish every day, connected to your business or field of interest? A daily photo? Product shots? Images sent from customers? Pictures of yourself in action? Set up an Instagram, Tumblr or Flickr account and start publishing
  • What written information could you publish every day? Words of wisdom? A tip? Recipe? Updates on a travelogue or diary? Get on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Google+ and begin broadcasting.
  • What sort of articles, images and ideas could you share to excite your ideal customer? (They don’t have to be your own, you can share other people’s.) Start sharing through your blog, email and Twitter and see what gets people sharing and commenting.

These are just some ideas to start with. I’ll be back with more on this soon.

Don’t forget, there’s a wealth of information on the site, including how to get set up and using the social media networks I’ve talked about in today’s email. www.digitalupstart.com