How Brian Dean (aka Backlinko) Found Success on His Terms
World traveler Brian Dean has found great success as a digital marketing consultant, blogger, and SEO pro. Based in Berlin, Germany, Brian’s built his company Backlinko into a resource that helps site owners around the world succeed on the Web.
We asked Brian to share more about his experiences as an entrepreneur, and offer some insight on what it takes to find lasting success in the digital marketing field.
Who is Hosting This: How did you get started in digital marketing?
Brian Dean It all started a few months after dropping out of a PhD program in nutrition.
Because I had a Master’s degree from a good school (Tufts), I thought getting a job as a nutritionist would be a breeze. After sending my resume to over 100 HR departments, I realized that I was dead wrong.
I basically spent 3 months in my parent’s basement, applying for jobs and wondering what I was doing with my life. Then one day I had an idea for a business: a nutrition-focused search engine. The idea was that you’d type in a question about nutrition (like, “how many calories are in an apple?”), and the search engine would give you the answer instead of 10 blue links.
It was pretty much what Google’s Knowledge Graph and Hummingbird updates are attempting to do today.
When I went to the book store to get a book about starting a business, I found “The Four Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferris. After that, I realized the search engine was too much work and that I should start an information product instead.
And that’s when I created my first site (awful) and went out and marketed it (even worse). Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot since then.
WiHT: What’s a typical workday like for you?
BD: I like to start the day slowly.
I usually get up at around 8:30 AM and have breakfast with my girlfriend.
I usually start the workday writing something or recording a video. I see my job as a writer and a teacher, so I make sure to put that first and foremost.
After that, I usually move on to some sort of outreach: either outreach to promote a piece of content on my site or to build relationships with other people in my industry.
Finally, I check email, Twitter, etc., at around 4pm. I try to put “checking things” off as long as possible because I find that my productivity nosedives after that.
I usually finish the day with the little things that don’t require a lot of mental energy (ordering things online, paying invoices, etc.).
WiHT: You’ve visited and lived in more than 25 countries. How do your travels shape your perspective on work and life?
BD: The #1 thing it’s done is made me a lot more confident in my business and life.
After canoeing in crocodile-infested waters in Vietnam and trekking in the jungles of Malaysia, it’s hard to get too nervous about dropping a few spots in Google or an outreach email being ignored. It’s basically given me a lot of perspective on what’s important and what really matters.
WiHT: What has been your favorite country to visit, and why?
BD: It’s hard to say, but I’d have to say Japan or Turkey.
What both have going for them is:
- They’re just so different than the States
- Super-friendly and kind people
- Beautiful sites (Mt. Fuji, Pamukkale)
- Great food (Sushi and Imam bayildi)
WiHT: You currently live in Berlin, Germany. What kind of effect, if any, does this have on your working with clients and colleagues in countries outside Europe?
BD: It’s not a huge issue, because the time difference is only six hours from NYC. The only time it crops up is when I need to talk to someone on the West Coast. If they can only talk at 2 PM PST, that means 11 PM for me. But it’s actually really rare because most people I work with are super-flexible with my Euro-schedule.
WiHT: What makes working remotely work for you?
If I didn’t have systems that kept me on track, I’d be a distracted mess.
Although there are probably more distractions in an office environment, there’s at least people around you who hold you accountable. Not so when you work in your living room.
Over the years, I’ve developed somewhat-psychotic routines and systems that keep me on track (like the aforementioned not checking anything until 4pm).
WiHT: What kind of work setup do you have? A home office? A co-working space?
BD:I have a table in my living room that acts as my desk. I usually put an empty box on the desk with my laptop on top of that so it’s a standing desk (a bit ghetto, but it works).
I’ve considered a co-working space dozens of times, but I don’t think I’d ever actually go. When I feel like I need to work outside of the house I usually head to one of Berlin’s many nice cafes.
WiHT: What life lessons did you take from Tim Ferris’s book “The 4-Hour Work Week”?
BD: The most important lesson the book taught me was: “You’ve seen people living awesome lives. People not struggling to make a buck and generally having a great time. You can totally be one of those people!”
That message was very empowering for me as a bum living in my parent’s basement.
I’ve come to realize that—as corny as it may sound—we can do pretty much anything we want with our lives.
WiHT: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in digital marketing who wants to build the kind of success you have?
BD: The first thing they should do is build and promote their own website. It’s one thing to read about Internet marketing—or even work at a digital marketing firm—but it’s something else altogether to actually create and promote your own site.
That’s really the only way to learn all the little things—site design, conversions, content development and promotion—that make a site grow and flourish.
My first few sites failed. But every time I launch a site now it’s better than the last one. So step one is to create a site and do your best to drive traffic to it. If you can consistently drive traffic to a site—whether it’s from SEO, social media or PR—you have a skill that’s almost like printing money.
WiHT: What is the most important thing anyone must do in order to escape “the rat race” and design their ideal lifestyle?
BD: The most important thing is to brainwash yourself into believing that you can do it.
I know that sounds weird, but we receive a lot of messages growing up that affect our thought patterns:
“Better safe than sorry.”
“Most businesses fail within the first 3 years.”
“Make sure you get a stable job with benefits.”
And these thoughts limit your ability to design a lifestyle the way you want.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those messages. But they’re not a balanced view of the world or what’s possible.
To get some balance, I recommend reading books about lifestyle design (in addition to the aforementioned “Four Hour Workweek”, books like “How to Be Free”, “The Art of Non-Conformity”, and “Vagabonding” can also help show you what’s possible).
And when you actually try any of the things in these books—like starting a business or going on a 6-month backpacking adventure in Asia—you’ll have a completely different view of what you can accomplish with your limited time on this Earth.
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