Steven Harris is an expert in alternative energy and has a broad and deep internet presence. He has a personal website where he has a short bio and a list of books and courses he’s authored. He runs Knowledge Publications where he publishes books on alternative energy systems authored by himself and others. He maintains Solar1234 where he lists relevant books and other materials as well as links to his podcast appearances. He sells both equipment and guides for generating your own alcohol-based fuels at IMakeMyGas. He provides a free preparedness course at BeforeTheStormHits that has been viewed by over 100,000 people. He also maintains a mailing list of several tens of thousands, which makes him an influential voice in the alternative energy marketplace.
I first ran across Harris about a year ago in the context of easy home solar projects. Looking at the breadth of the material he had available, I assumed he had spent his whole career in consumer-oriented alternative energies. Recently, I was listening to his guest appearance on an older episode of The Survival Podcast (TSP) where he discussed his easy home solar projects. He mentions that he spent a good deal of his career working in very high-temperature commercial solar power systems. Late in the podcast (about the 1:00 mark), he discusses his career arc and how the recession “knocked him flat” and left him without a clue about what to do next. I don’t know the details about what happened, and it’s really none of my business. What’s important for this blog is that with some encouragement from friends and a lot of hard work, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and created the internet presence noted above. I’m interested in his work in solar power, but I’m absolutely fascinated by him as a case study for running an internet-based business.
As I discussed in Three Reasons Your Business Needs a Blog, a blog provides a way to leverage your expertise in your field and build a reputation that can contribute to your business. Harris has gone way beyond this by creating his network of sites. Some key points that Harris nailed in creating his internet business:
- re-focused his expertise to aim squarely at the consumer market. The market for big commercial systems may involve big dollars, but it’s vanishingly small. The market of people who can afford to pay for home systems is a little larger. But by aiming at the DIY market, Harris has tapped a huge group of people who want to save money, be a little greener, and are willing to put in the work.
- gives away basic content. His sites linked above have a wealth of free videos, podcast appearances, and other resources to get you started for free. This brings people in when they’re searching for info on these topics. It gives them a taste of the quality of content he provides. In the TSP podcast linked above, he says a fundamental part of his strategy is to give away the first-level info so people will come back and be willing to pay for the second- and third-level info.
- markets himself relentlessly. Harris has built a wide network of websites to cross-market his content, and he makes the most of guest appearances on podcasts to both provide valuable content for free and market his commercial resources.
- creates discounts and bundles of products to increase exposure to his materials. He gave a generous discount to supporters of TSP where he has guested several times, and he provides discounted bundles of books on different topics which helps to upsell potential buyers.
Not every business owner is going to build a network like Steven Harris, but every business can benefit by looking at the example he has set and seeing how even a small part of that could apply to their own business. Can contributing to a blog or appearing as a guest on podcast help build your reputation and drive traffic to your website? Can you create discounts or bundles of products aimed at specific internet audiences? Can you give away guides or other resources that will help demonstrate your expertise and bring people back for more?
Building a profitable internet presence is hard work, but it’s not rocket science. You don’t have to be an internet guru. It’s mostly a matter of taking the expertise you already have in your field and using it to provide value to your audience and build your reputation. Whatever business you’re in, with a little effort you can leverage what you already know to build a remarkable internet audience.