How to Profit From Your Passion

A new book demystifies Facebook and Twitter and explains how to cash in on what you love.

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Write a blog. Cultivate Facebook friends. Tweet. You know you have to do all this. But why?

The new tools of social media are mystifying to many—and enriching to a few. One of the new social-media impresarios is Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of WineLibraryTV. Vaynerchuk used the Web to turn a sleepy New Jersey liquor store into a $60 million business, and his consulting firm, Vayner Media, advises companies on how to harness the power of social media without the hard selling that turns off customers. Vaynerchuk's new book, Crush It: Why Now Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion, explains how individuals can build a personal "brand" and build a following while doing what they love. I've spoken with Vaynerchuk a few times recently, including this interview on Hulu. Some excerpts from those conversations:

What's the brief history of how you got started selling wine? I was a child entrepreneur. I started by selling baseball cards. My dad had a liquor store, Shoppers Discount Liquors, in New Jersey. I came home from college every weekend to work at the store. I wanted to pump it up. I was selling baseball cards and other memorabilia, making so much money from that, I figured I could do the same with my dad's store.

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In 1997, I launched WineLibrary.com. After college, I went to work with my dad. That was May 1998. Now I run the day-to-day operations. I said, "Dad, we need a brand. There are 40 other stores with the same name as this store." The first year I was there, we went from about $3.5 million in sales to $10 million. Sales are now approximately $60 million. Half of that is from retail; half is from the Web. The Burger King next door went out of business, and we expanded into that. The website juiced the retail location.

What drew you to the Internet as far back as '97? In 1995, in my dorm room, I heard a modem. Other guys were thinking we could meet chicks on this; I was thinking I could sell baseball cards on this. I grew sales up to about $45 million with the Internet. But that was traditional Internet—E-commerce. Then in 2006, I started WineLibraryTV. I created content. That's when it really took off, and that's what this book is about: creating content.

What's the revolutionary difference with videos? It's not that I put up the videos themselves. It's what I did in the next 15 hours after the videos went up, which is get my hands dirty, get in the trenches of the new social Web. That was prior to Twitter, and Facebook was a college thing, so I wasn't going to be pushing wine on college kids. I used blogs, wine forums; I became active because selling a store in those communities felt too pitchy. Becoming a content producer as part of those forums felt much more natural. I'd start talking about zinfandel instead of trying to sell zinfandel.

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The subtitle of your book is "why now is the time to cash in on your passion." So how do people do thatmake money from their passion? First, recognize what your passion is. A lot of people have trouble with this. Recognize what you love. That's No. 1. Understand that you don't have to be an expert. You have an ability to communicate in any form: the written word, audio—a lot of people overlook audio—and, obviously, video. Pick which one you feel most comfortable in. Don't get caught up in the nuances. The lighting. The sound. A lot of people get upset with me on this, but I'm not that passionate about grammar. I just know if you're passionate and you deliver your message the best you can, you have a chance of succeeding because it's raw. And then understand this is very hard work.

Talk about that. There's this impression that if you simply create a blog or open a Twitter account, people will suddenly discover you. I agree. "Oh, I got a Twitter account!" Well, what do you want, a cookie? The biggest fundamental belief I have is that you have to work ridiculously hard. To be an entrepreneur, to build your own business, you're not working for the man.

Define ridiculously hard. How many hours a day, how many days a week? When do you get to golf or go on vacation? You've got to work every hour you can. The more you put in, the more you're going to get out. I work about 16 hours a day. There are a lot of people right now who can't afford to quit their job, which is why they'll read in here that I want them to work on their passion afterward, from 7 p.m. till 2 in the morning. They're going to have to stop watching Lost or football with the guys.

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That filters out people who don't have that kind of stamina or that kind of work ethic. True, but not everybody needs to make a billion or a million or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you're a Dodgers fan and you love it and you take the nine hours a week you spend on the Dodgers and turn them into three hours of production, you may make enough to pay for six Dodgers games a year. A ton of people are going to make $4,000 a year. Not enough to quit your job, but enough to take your family on a bad-ass vacation. What gets really neat, when you're doing the thing you love the most, you're going to be shocked at how much time you're willing to put into it. You just work harder.

How do you use Twitter and other social media tools to pursue your passion? On Twitter, engagement is my differentiator. I show a different concern level than everybody else. I have about 850,000 followers on Twitter, and 100,000 people a day watch WineLibraryTV.

What about people who are selling something other than wine? You have to ask, what do you want? If you have a coffee company, what you want is to build your brand. It's all about engagement. You create a Twitter account, a Tumblr account, a Facebook fan page. You start talking. If you own a soda company, you get on there and say, "We're thinking of launching a new flavor of soda. What do you guys think about orange?" But more importantly, you handshake. You definitely don't sell people because they don't want it. It's a winning game because it's caring.

If you're a sizable company and you're not doing a Twitter search every day, searching your brand, you're not engaging with the people saying pros and cons about your business. You're making a hypermistake. A lot of big companies want to spend $10 million or $20 million on a big marketing campaign and be done with it. Nope. We consumers expect engagement.

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Some people think Twitter and other sites like that are overrated. Twitter, Tumblr, etc. get credit for what they don't deserve because it's really the Internet as a whole. It's the continuation of these sites that matters. On the Web, everything is going to get quicker and easier. There will be massive segmentation. I don't think people understand how this will happen. There could be 10 different people in wine, like the Pinot Grigio Hour. I'm hoping that Crush It will garner enough excitement to help people understand this.

The famous question on the Web is "How do you monetize your content?" Chris Anderson has this book out, Free, which he says is the new price of everything. Is it? Free is clearly in play. I don't fight the market. First, you must build a brand and a relationship. That's why I spend so much time answering E-mail. Treat others the way you want to get treated.

Remember, a guy who has a garden blog or a Dodgers blog or a mom who has a cupcake blog—their overhead is very different than for a business. There's really a separation between entrepreneurs and corporations. The Internet is the new printing press. It offers the lowest costs in the history of entertainment and media. There are going to be catastrophes and casualties. Of course, a lot of people are going to have a difficult time making a business of it. The volume of content is so high so the value is lower.

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So how do you bring in revenue? Advertisers are not going anywhere. People who want to sell stuff go where the eyeballs are. Everybody I know who's been producing serious content for five years or more is up in advertising. If you give stuff away for free, people come. It's not about giving stuff away—it's about herding people onto your site.

Maybe what you need to do is go and get a BS job at a desk, and do your three hours of work in eight hours, and spend the other time working on what you really love. Go get that BS job so you can pay your rent and bills, then get home and start building something and putting something in play from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. 

Which companies do you think are the most endangered? Clearly, the newspaper industry. There's obviously a filtering out process going on. Television. Cable television subscriptions. Look at things like boxee.tv. There are a lot of things that could replace TV. Look at Hulu. People consume content in short form. Those 100,000 people a day who watch WineLibraryTV for half an hour: Guess what: They were watching something else five years ago. You've got to think about those things.

Everybody wants more time. How can people find an extra four hours a week to pursue their passion? Write out everything you do in a week. I guarantee you can save four hours. Every human being can sleep two hours less, if you want to make it happen. Maybe you can't go bowling every Thursday night. Then there's this garbage about the four-hour workweek. We've gotten a little soft. People are crying that they don't have an extra 55-inch TV screen or that they can't go on a third vacation. You might have to live without some of that for awhile.

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Your goal is to buy the New York Jets some day. Why? I was born in Russia and moved with my family to Edison, N.J., in 1982. I spoke very little English. One of my friends asked what my favorite football team is. He was a Jets fan. So I asked my parents for a Jets jersey. They were expensive, so instead of buying me one, my mom made me one. I have it framed in my office right now.

How much will it cost to buy the Jets? Maybe a billion dollars. 

Do you have it? No!

How long are you giving yourself? I'm 33 now. I'll say 53. Twenty years would be good.

Whether I buy the Jets or not, I'm going to be really happy along the way. You only get to play once. And I don't understand, with the way we work in America, the amount of work we put in, why people don't want to position themselves to love the process.

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  • Rick Newman

    Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback to Success and the co-author of two other books. Follow him on Twitter or e-mail him at rnewman@usnews.com.

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