Michael Hyatt is the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the U.S. In fact, Hyatt has been involved in the traditional publishing business his entire working life.
Not the typical profile of a do-it-yourself blogger, right?
And yet, in 2012 when Thomas Nelson was acquired by HarperCollins and Michael left his executive role, it was his 8-year-old blog that opened the door to an exciting and vibrant new chapter of his life. A blog that he toiled in frustrating obscurity for many of those foundational years.
It was the blog that provided the launch pad for his New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. And it was the book that opened the door to his membership program Platform University. Seems like we can learn a few things from this guy about building our own online marketing and sales platforms.
In this 31-minute episode Michael Hyatt and I discuss:
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Brian Clark: Hey everyone, Brian Clark here with another episode of Rainmaker FM. Today I have another special guest, someone that I’ve admired from afar. And as in this case, sometimes you just don’t connect with people even though you’re in the same city, at the same conference, or whatever the case may be and that’s Michael Hyatt.
Now many of you are probably familiar with Michael. He has done some really great work in the last three or four years. He is the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, which I think was the sixth largest publisher around. He was sprung from that position when it was acquired by Harper Collins in 2012.
He did not slow down from that standpoint as you might have noticed. He is a proprietor of MichaelHyatt.com with the tagline “intentional leadership.” We’re going to talk a little bit about that concept today. He has a podcast, This is Your Life and he is the author of many, many books, more than you probably think. Most notably is Platform from 2012. He was nice enough to mention me and Copyblogger in that and we do appreciate that.
First of all, join me in welcoming Michael Hyatt to the show. Michael, how are you?
Michael Hyatt: I’m doing great, Brian. Thanks so much for having me on. As I said to you before the show, I’m a total fan of Copyblogger. I recommend it everywhere I go. It has really helped me in my writing. Thank you for what you do.
Brian Clark: I appreciate that very much and the feeling is mutual. Like I said, I’ve been watching your work and this amazing audience that you’ve built in not the longest amount of time really. I just love it because effectively you’re walking the talk.
You’re practicing what you preach and that’s really what I want to dive into today. Real quick though, I always ask people from, okay you were born and we’re here today; what happened in the middle there? I did just find out though that you went to Baylor. When were you there?
Michael Hyatt: I graduated in ’78.
Brian Clark: Okay.
Michael Hyatt: I met my wife there. And my parents lived there until two years ago in Waco, which is a little town outside of Baylor. Are you familiar with Baylor?
Brian Clark: I went to Texas A&M right down the road, but I was there a little bit after you. But you know, we don’t like each other during football season. You know how Texas is.
Michael Hyatt: I know.
Brian Clark: It’s like its own religion there. I didn’t know that, so I found that out so we did have that I-35 experience going for us. Okay, you were at Baylor and then if I understand correctly, you started your career as a literary agent. Is that right?
Michael Hyatt: No, I actually started in the publishing business. It wasn’t until much later, about 20 years later that I became a literary agent.
Brian Clark: Oh, okay. Fill me in on that because I missed the gap there.
Michael Hyatt: When I was in college, I was completely enamored with books. I just saw the power of books to really change a culture and change people’s lives. I got really committed to books.
So I went to work right out of college. It was actually while I was in college my senior year at a local, small publishing company. Then I ended up going to Thomas Nelson. I was working first in marketing and then I went over to the editorial side of the business.
Then I decided to start my own company. I did that for about five years. That company unfortunately it essentially went bankrupt. We were able to sell it so we kind of avoid all the ugly parts of bankruptcy. Then I decided to be a literary agent, which was a great education. After a while, I decided I wanted to get back into traditional corporate publishing so I went back to Thomas Nelson in 1998 where after several years I became the president and then the CEO and the Chairman and so forth.
All my background is in traditional publishing and traditional media. In 2004, kind of on a whim, Brian, I started blogging. I thought I’ve always wanted to write more and I wanted to discipline myself to do that. I thought this might be a way to express this pent up art that was in me about writing.
I was inconsistent and then I’d go in streaks where I’d try to be more consistent. But long story short, after four years, so from 2004-2008, I built up where I had about a thousand readers a month, so that was good. I had a thousand unique visitors.
Brian Clark: Right.
Michael Hyatt: Then something happened the next year. I hit this inflection point where I averaged that year about 20,000 unique visitors a month. It got picked up by my Lifehacker, Huffington Post, and a few other sites that really skyrocketed my traffic.
Then it has grown exponentially since then and I was able to step out as you mentioned three years ago to pursue this growing dream inside of my heart to be a speaker and a writer and create online courses and all of that. That’s what I do today. Today my site gets almost half a million unique visitors a month.
Brian Clark: So you’re the typical ten year overnight success. People always think that, “Oh, he just came out of nowhere.” No, he’d been doing it and putting in the work.
Michael Hyatt: Putting in the work.
Brian Clark: That’s great. That story is so common. And given also that you were the CEO of a major book publisher at the time, it kind of eliminates the excuse of “I don’t have time for this.”
Michael Hyatt: Well I say to people because we talk about that all the time. When I speak and people say, “Well, if I could do this full-time like you do it, I would have plenty of time to do it.” I’m going to tell you something, and this is a dirty little secret, it’s honestly harder for me to discipline myself to write now when I’m less busy than it was back then when I was so busy.
Brian Clark: I feel the same way.
Michael Hyatt: Do you?
Brian Clark: When I am pressed to the limit, I am exceedingly productive. When I have all the time in the world, I get what really needs to get done. But sometimes, you’re right, you’re not pushed to the point where you just go from thing to thing to thing. It’s an odd phenomenon of the human experience I think.
It’s interesting to me because you just basically said you spent your whole life in traditional publishing and traditional media. That is a space that has struggled and sometimes has found itself really far behind the curve with this internet thing, even twenty years later.
Michael Hyatt: Yep.
Brian Clark: And yet your message was always, “Hey, the old way is not going to cut it anymore.” How did that happen to you? Was it because you had that position of leadership within a traditional media company you said, “I see the change, I see it coming?”
Michael Hyatt: Well, what I’d love to say is I’m a profit and I saw it all coming and it came out just like I expected.
Brian Clark: Go ahead.
Michael Hyatt: But honestly, it was when I got involved in blogging and I think really the shift in my thinking happened in 2008 when I got involved in Twitter. All of a sudden I saw the potential to influence people on a pretty large scale.
It happened to me one time in 2008 when Publishers Weekly, which is the main trade journal in the publishing industry, did an article about Thomas Nelson and they got all the facts wrong.
Normally what would happen in the old days, is I’d write a letter to the editor. I’d complain and they would do some sort of quasi retraction on page 32 buried in between everything else. So I said, “Wait a second, I’ve got a blog.” At the point when that article came out, I was getting about 20,000 unique visitors a month and they had about 20,000 people subscribing to their magazine. I said, “Let’s forget that kind of old media way of doing this and I’m just going to write a blog post correcting the record.”
Brian Clark: Excellent.
Michael Hyatt: And I did.
Brian Clark: Right.
Michael Hyatt: And it was awesome. I mean it kind of went viral. I realized suddenly that I didn’t have to go through the gatekeepers anymore. The playing field was level and the lights went off in my head. My head about exploded.
I thought, “If I could help authors create a platform where they can get directly to the people that they want to influence and connect with, that would be awesome.” At the same time all of this is happening, I’m seeing in my own publishing house where we’ve got an editorial process where people submit their book proposals. We review them and we turn down most of them.
With increasing frequency, we were turning down really good book proposals. These were really well written manuscripts on the fiction side because the authors didn’t have a platform.
We’d always said, and it’s kind of a truth that’s often said in the publishing industry, that content is king. I realized that platform had become queen and that unless you had both, you really didn’t have the same chance as an author that you might have had twenty years ago.
On the flipside of that, you should actually have a greater chance because now you don’t have to rely on somebody to choose you or give you permission. Now you can take the bull by the horns. I think I mixed about three metaphors there.
But you can take the bull by the horns and actually create this platform and connect with the people that want to hear from you. I think that’s just an awesome unprecedented thing that still makes me go “wow.”
Brian Clark: You talk about authors with platforms. You know Wiley is a great example of a house that really grew because it exclusively went after people with existing platforms. It was like shooting fish in a barrel compared to the usual struggle, regardless of how good the content is to actually get that thing some traction.
Michael Hyatt: That’s so true and it’s such a good strategy. We kind of did that even at Thomas Nelson before 2008 because we would identify people that had large speaking platforms. Or we saw they had a television show or a radio show.
The problem with that is that every publisher is competing for those and it gets very expensive, very fast. There’s supply and demand. We started intentionally going after bloggers. I remember the first guy I got into a negotiation with was Robert Scoble. Remember him?
Brian Clark: Yes, of course.
Michael Hyatt: He’s still blogging today. I thought, “Oh my gosh, this guy has an incredible platform, we’ve got to publish him.” We ended up losing that book. I can’t remember if we lost it to Wiley or somebody else, but we lost the bid.
I had this relationship with Robert and I saw the potential of that. We ended up publishing Hugh Hewitt, another early blogger. I thought, “Man, if we can go after these guys, they’re not even on the radar of most publishers.”
You know the crazy thing? That’s even true today. I hear about people. I know our mutual friend Jeff Goins, he got his first book deal just because a smart publisher stumbled on his site and said, “Whoa, this guy has got an audience.”
Brian Clark: You know we’re both friends with Seth Godin. You get Seth talking about his frustration with the boat that was missed repeatedly by traditional publishing and he’ll talk your ear off.
I suppose it’s frustrating especially when you’ve been on the inside. Seth’s relationship, and your relationship there, you probably want to pull your hair out. I think that’s one of the reasons I stayed outside of it the whole time. I knew that if I built my own audience, I could accomplish what I was trying to do. You know?
Michael Hyatt: Absolutely.
Brian Clark: I just have that kind of personality that hates to ask anyone’s permission to do anything anyway.
Michael Hyatt: Right.
Brian Clark: Let’s talk about platform as we approach 2015. I love the fact that you take it back to old school and if you wanted people to hear you, you had to somehow rise a bit above the crowd. You could stand on a small wooden stage or literally a soapbox in the square.
Michael Hyatt: Right.
Brian Clark: And you would draw attention to yourself and have an audience for whatever it is you needed to say. Today in the tech media when we talk about a platform, we’re talking about Facebook, Amazon, and these masters of the universe. It’s these Silicon Valley companies that people do flock to.
That’s because it does provide the perception that here is where the people are so here is where I need to go stand. That’s until you realize you don’t own that platform and the rules can change or it can be taken out from under you, not metaphorically.
What’s your thinking these days? What are you telling your people as far as a personal platform? What’s the mix of distribution and ownership?
Michael Hyatt: I have this model in the book, and I think I originally got this from Chris Brogan and a friend of mine named