One of my early successes

Before I went online I was (surprisingly) offline.

I was in direct mail. In fact there are a few people who kindly read my blog and can remember the early days when I used to write for business opportunity publications.

I had some stunning successes and even more glaring failures and I’d like to share one of the successes with you because it applies just as much to internet marketing as it does to offline marketing. I know because I use this technique in some of my niche sites.

It’s possible that some of you might question the ethics of this method. I’ll leave that up to you. I have no problem with it at all.

Back in the nineties, at least in the UK, people with less than great credit records could have difficulty in obtaining loans and mortgages, (Interestingly it seems as though things are going down the same road at the moment).

I’d noticed that there were one or two publications on sale that offered to show people where they could go to get credit even if they had poor credit records. Once I’d noticed the publications I spotted more and more ads for the same kind of thing. It seemed that there was a market for them.

So I bought a couple. I remember the cheapest was £9 (about $20) and it was 10 roughly photocopied sheets of A4 folded and printed into a small booklet.

All it contained were adverts for small loan companies, offshore banks and details of larger banks who would look at mortgage applications for people who had previously been blacklisted. I phoned a few of these ads and sure enough it seemed as though they did in fact offer sub-prime lending.

After chatting to a few of these people (some of whom were not nice and I got the impression they would ‘send the boys round’ if you missed a payment) I decided to do some of my own research.

Taking the publications I’d bought as a starting point I spent about a week (and over £100) phoning round various organistaions and asking about their policies on sub-prime lending. I went through the Yellow pages and when I’d finished I had enough contact information to publish a decent sized booklet. What’s more the information was up to date.

In essence I’d back engineered an idea after reading through a few publications (which I’d bought legitimately) and improved on their work. Nothing was plagiarised or in any way stolen or misappropriated from the original except the idea, which can’t be copyrighted or ‘claimed’ by an individual.

So I’d seen a good idea and pinched it OR I’d spotted a niche with a few sellers in there already and entered the market alongside them. You decide.

If you’re in Internet Marketing you can’t cry or sulk when this happens to you, because happen it WILL at some point. I had a very nice little income stream coming from an ebook I’d produced about setting up a profitable hobby newsletter from home for a couple of years.

Then suddenly someone came along, bought my book, rewrote it and published the information for free on his website. What hit my business hardest was that he got a higher place in the search engines so my sales dried up. He monetised the site with Google ads and offering a printing service for people who wanted to publish their own newsletters. I was impressed. Very clever – even though it had buggered up my income stream.

I could have tried to do the same – publish the info for free, monetize the site and try to SEO my own site higher in the rankings but it wasnt worth it. I seem to remember banking around $600 a month from the book, but had other streams and genuinely valued the lesson.

So what am I saying about Internet Marketing?

Well I don’t believe the old saying that ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’, but I don believe that finding it can be damn hard work.

So I suppose what I am saying is don’t try to be too different. We publish ebooks about how we make money – we give examples, proof of income – the lot. That’s something that’s hard to do unless you’ve made money from IM or unless you’re lying to your readers. There are ways into IM without making a penny as Sara wrote about in a free report some time ago, but if you’re looking for a way in to niche marketing then take a long hard look at what other people are doing.

I’m not saying buy their books and copy them. I AM saying that ebooks are a legitimate source of information if you’re looking to compete in a niche.

Some people have a strange view – that buying a book from a bookshop for research purposes is fine, but buying an ebook with the purposes of entering the same niche isn’t. I think that’s plain wrong.

If you’re looking to get into the viral marketing niche then buy Viral Sneakiness and use the information in it with my blessing. Plagiarise it and I’ll be down on you like a ton of bricks but use the information to create your own product and that’s cool. See the difference.

So if you’re interested in tropical fish, buy some books, some ebooks, read some sites and talk to some people. If there are people in that niche already then COMPETE. Make your product better – make it eaier to read or better value. But don’t be put off by people who think they OWN a particular niche because they don’t.

A mate of mine in IM – a talented and clever marketer – told me about how he went into a niche and dominated it completely. In the process he basically wiped out the business of the person who was previosly top dog. Now he didn’t do this on purpose, it was a by-product of him being better at it and offering better products. But his competitor went crazy. Got very angry and pulled a few underhand stunts.

If you trample on someones income stream it’s unfortunate. I don’t think many people would want to do that on purpose. But we are in the business of making money and a sale going to you can mean a sale taken away from someone else.

But with niche marketing your competitiors are providing you with all the information you need to successfully enter that niche, whether they’re aware of it or not. Look at their ads, buy their products, look at what they offer, their upsells – the whole thing.

Your competitors are almost as important as your customers.

Now you might think that’s all well and good but what if you’re the person who’s book is being used as research. Why spend the time and effort it takes to research and write an ebook just for some lazy marketer to come along and pinch your idea?

Well for a start it WILL happen in you’re involved in IM for any length of time. But it doesn’t mean it will affect your business, Many people enter niches and find they either don’t enjoy them or can’t make a profit out of them and leave. Others will enter but won’t be as successful as you. And many more – in fact most people – will never enter any niche because they won’t take action.

But for me the main answer to the ‘why bother’ question is that whether someone pinches my idea or I end up making $10,000 a month from it is that we – you and I – are Internet Marketers. We’re trying to improve our situation – both financially and from a lifestyle point of view and it simple doesn’t matter what other people do. We’re doing this for ourselves and our families, and not for anyone else.

And by doing this we find ourselves in that tiny, wonderful minority of people who are taking responsibility for their own lives (I know you’ve heard this before but it’s true) and are striving to be independent, fearless and just plain BETTER people for doing it.

Comments welcome as always.


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24 responses to “One of my early successes

  1. Aleta

    I see your point and agree. Ideas are not patentable or copywriteable, however, how those ideas are made into products are. If I’m stupid enough to pledgerize, I deserve to be nailed for it.
    I am capable to legitemately buy an e-book and then create my own version of the concepts presented.

  2. Tony Shepherd

    Exactly – there IS a difference.

  3. Hi Tony,

    Normally, I tend toward thinking, if you have to ask if something is ethical, then it’s not. However, I think there are some issues here that could use some light.

    Anyone who has read more than one book on copywriting knows the basic concepts are the same in nearly every one. Indeed, it would be nearly impossible to write about copywriting and avoid many of these ideas.

    You could say the same thing nearly any field – health, golf, tiddlywink farming. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

    Generally speaking, the oft cited rule is “three sources or more and it’s called research, less that this is plagerizm”

    One source ( even paraphrasing or summarizing someone else’s ideas is plagarizm. If I hadn’t cited the source would I be guilty of the same?

    Each of us has something no one else does – our own perspective. If you write or re-write something and add your own unique perspective then you should be all right.

    Hey, you asked.

    God bless,


  4. Graham

    If that well-known beer (ok, then, lager) manufacturer were to run a blog and write posts for it, it would probably be just like this! Excellent stuff, Tony!

  5. Tony,

    I believe it’s called RESEARCH.

    And the internet is a fabulous place to do it.

    But re-write, dont copy… as you say.

    Your piece here also highlights the vulnerability of relying on just one product or one business model. Diversify indeed.


  6. Tony Shepherd

    HI Andy

    Thanks for posting – some highly quotable bits to your comments –

    “Normally, I tend toward thinking, if you have to ask if something is ethical, then it’s not”

    I actually think there’s a lot of truth in that. I think my methods are 100% ethical but (and since this is a marketing blog and I’m an honest bloke), I knew that mentioning the word ‘unethical’ would get more people to open my email!

    That said the source you quoted that thinks –

    “even paraphrasing or summarizing someone else’s ideas is plagarizm”

    is just plain old wrong.

    If you read an ebook and rephrase the material it’s worth thinking to yourself ‘So where did HE get his info from?’

    Great Post mate – thanks.

  7. Tony Shepherd


    What a flattering comment – and beer is always a subject that’s close to my heart.

    I think only UK readers will get this one!



  8. Tony Shepherd

    Gary, you’ve hit the nail on the head. If you do go into a niche and get flak from existing marketers in there, you can bet it’ll be from those who don’t have any other income sources.

    Thanks for posting


  9. Stealing or plagarizing someone else’s content is wrong. But studying their work to learn for yourself is called research and perfectly acceptable in my mind. You mention tropical fish in your post…if I were going to jump into that niche with my own ebook I’d most definitely want to check out the competition and see what kind of content their ebooks contain. More importantly, I’d want to find what they’re missing so I can fill in the gaps and offer a better value to my customers.

  10. Tony Shepherd

    Spot on Mike

    Your competitors are doing a lot of the work for you.

    I mentioned tropical fish because I know of at least one big IM chap has done very well in that niche. Don’t let that put you off though.

  11. Tony,

    I completely agree that we all NEED to be aware of our competitors. I entered IM about a year ago and have been mainly focused on Resell Rights and PLR products. That being said, I know there are other resellers out there promoting the same products as me. That doesn’t deter me one bit! If anything, it motivates me to out-market my competition. As far as product creation, every IMer out there is guilty of recreating a pre-existing product at one point in their IM career. There are tons of ebooks about ebay, Google, Article Marketing, etc. I believe that whether online or offline, businesses must compete. It doesn’t matter if you have 1 employee or 10,000, if you aren’t constantly trying to one-up the competition your business WILL fail, period!

  12. Well done. Well Said. And Well recieved. Sometimes I see the heard mentality in for example when Frank Kern says that an email title with “bad news” as the title gets opened more frequent then I got 20 emails the next day with exactly “bad news”. People do not realize what you have explained that we need to take the ball and be creative not a duplicate.

  13. Tony Shepherd

    Pete – I agree with you.

    And as for re-creating existing products, it’s a very valuable exercise. if you can put something across in a way that allows people to understand it, then it gains value.

    Thanks for posting


  14. Tony Shepherd

    WhoWantsLeads – the herd mentality – what can I say?

    From a marketing perspective, people who follow the herd are never a real threat to anyone’s business, but show me someone who’s a free thinker, original and creative and who’s coming into my niche….

    Then it gets interesting!

  15. Very interesting info here. I was under the impression that ideas CAN be patented? The man who made a coat hanger only to get his boss patenting the clothes-hanger as his own creation became rich beyond his dreams, with not a single extra penny towards the employee who shaped the hanger with bendable wires.

    But I totally agree…if someone improves and sells in an already existing niche, then it’s purely known as competition. Businesses actually thrive from competition. There are so many ways to get “around” someone who’s your competitive match.

    ~blush~ I’ve said a lot. Thank you Tony for the chance.

  16. Joh Gill

    Tony I like your post. It needed to be said.
    I was on the web and fairly active in the early 90’s mostly in ‘how to’s’
    I was riptoff and dropped out .But I watched what was happening
    and in my observation it developed very slowly and not by any individual but a lttle idea here and there
    These same ideas are copied today .Sure a bit more sofisticated
    and a litle improved and certainlly better presented
    So I think where is the plagiarism ? Who plagiarises who ?

  17. Hi Tony,

    Great stuff as usual, and right on the ball. It’s nice to find people (you and Sara) who think the way I do, and although I AM one of those people who say “there’s nothing new under the sun”, I really know there is new stuff but it’s very difficult to come up with. We haven’t discovered or invented everything yet.

    (One of the lines from Abba’s “Waterloo” that frequently runs through my head is “History’s always repeating itself” – very true.)

    My first product – now in version 3 – was SmartDD. I bought 4 existing products and also found a couple of free ones, and I wasn’t happy with any of them, and that’s how SmartDD was born as my own personal fix for products that didn’t live up to the sales pitch.

    Did I think to myself at any point “gosh, I’m stealing their ideas”? Did I heck. I looked at all of them, decided which parts were good and which weren’t, came up with some ideas of my own, and out went v0.98.

    I want to make it clear though that I DO consider myself an ethical marketer, and there are many junk products out there that I know would convert well if I promoted them, but I just couldn’t live with the guilt if I did it.

    (I guess it’s the thought of that guilt and me always wanting to be a “good boy” like my parents taught me, that keeps me on the straight and narrow.)

    And let’s not forget those people who would feel stung or lied to if I pushed them in the direction of iffy products. I’d lose those loyal subscribers who are also my repeat buyers.

    So now, like you I tend to look for an existing market, and then see what I can do in that arena. If it means buying a few products to check out what the competition are doing, then I don’t see any problem with it. But I always make sure I’m one up on what they’re doing when I release my own.

    -Frank Haywood.

  18. Tony Shepherd

    Hiya Frank

    Thanks for posting. We obviously think alike when it comes to marketing and it’s nice to hear other ‘real life’ marketing examples as you’ve given in your post.

    On a side note, I’ve been meaning for some time to pick up your Support Desk script – a trusted friend of mine says it’s excellent (and it’s a great price) and she really knows her stuff.

    I’ll be in touch.



  19. I read online that both Word and Pages (for Mac) both incorporate a function which will reduce text automatically. For example, I could input this blog-post in its entirety and have it reduced to 25-30% of the original content.

    The idea being that the user then fleshes out the content again, having formed a rough document plan automatically.

    “Tremendous”, you may say. But, I can’t help feeling that there’s little substitute for actually taking in the content that we draw upon, giving us the chance to digest it and mull it over. We’re likely, in my opinion, to write a better product as a result…

    …and we may just perform better at Trivial Pursuit if we take in more of what we read.

    There you go. My thoughts.

  20. Good points in the post and the comments made. I guess it is the price we pay for a medium with extremely low barriers to entry. Diversity is the key but it sometimes gives the impression that IM is a ‘scramble for cash while it lasts’ and this is what could possibily put people with an offline way of thinking – off IM fulltime! I am sure though that Tony and other full-time marketers can testify that their income is far more solid than it first may appear from the outset to an outsider. However, a ‘me too’ business will always have more to worry about than a dynamic innovative one.

  21. A quick tip – read the other guy’s ebook(s) and then put it down. Then dictate as much as you can remember into some sort of recorder. Play it back and transcribe it. Now edit it – fill in gaps, add new observations, etc.

    Instant publication. 🙂

  22. Tony Shepherd

    Phil – I like this one – that’s a cracking tip.



  23. Nigel Yip

    Hi Tony

    Tell me about it – i’ve just become a victim too. Firstly I run a home mail order magazine and recently started to sell a new ebook guide which I was an affliate and reseller. Some ebayer came along, bought a copy of the ebook I was promoting and then got a new a ebay account and sold it. The cheek was was that my ebay advert was taken down at the same time when the new guy uploaded his. What a coincidence by ebay so I’m guess something fishy is going on. Still I shall not be defeated and I totally agree that sometimes things just happen and that we have to super aware of our competitors.

    The only snag with the newbie and I hope he doesn’t realise is that although he copied my advert, word for word, html for html, what he didn’t realised was that my affliate links is still on it – so I guess I’m getting free promotion?

    Anyway thanks for your recent resell/rebrandable guides, I bought them and they have been most helpful. I look forward to promoting them as well as any future new guides from both yourself and Sara.

    Best Regards

  24. It is also amazing how much information is available for free. I have rethought a lot of free information I have gotten and monetized it with adsense for a good living.


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