Derek Sivers on making your website stand out in 2020

Published by Rob Hope in Interviews, on 19 May 2020

Derek Sivers (@sivers) is an author, musician and entrepreneur famously known for founding CD Baby. What started as a hobby, turned intro an independant music juggernaut helping over 150,000 musicians sell $100m worth of music.

This interview was taken from my Yo! Podcast interview with Derek Sivers:

[Rob] So my niche is One Page websites. I’ve collected over 8,000 single-page websites over on my website, One Page Love. Simplicity and directness in message are at the core of these websites. So you can imagine my fascination when you launched, simply encouraging the world to start a /now page, telling everyone what are you doing, and nothing else. Do you think we’ve lost our way online with verbose marketing waffle?

[Derek] I’m a big fan of the personal, non-commercial web, right? I’ve been online since 1994, and I was one of those guys that, in the early days, I laughed at the people that were talking about trying to make money on the internet. I was like, you don’t go to the library to make money. You don’t go to church to make money. And you don’t use the internet to make money. Of course I was completely wrong, but I still kind of have that approach to it. I don’t think of the internet as some kind of moneymaker, right?

As far as the…what did you call it? The marketing waffle. Think of the offline, in person equivalent of this, where you know someone who’s just a cool person. Like, they’re fun to talk to. You like bumping into them. I’m talking like really, like, in person, where you live, right? They have interesting things to say, they’re interested in you, they’re also good at what they do, and if you needed something that this person offers, it would be a joy to give them your business. They didn’t have to ask for your business, you know what they do. And they’re just a cool person. So you’re happy to send them your business, if you need what they have to offer.

But if that same person instead was always trying to sell you something and turning every hello into a sales pitch, or like trying to convert you into a customer every time you ran across them, well you’d start to avoid them. They wouldn’t be so cool anymore. And in fact, you’d also feel kind of icky about sending anyone their way. So this to me, is the Dao of business, that this constant selling actually drives people away. I think it’s shortsighted. Like it might rope in some strangers, but repels the rest.

So I think it’s the same with our online presence. Remove the marketing. Remove the selling. And while you’re at it, remove all the bloated JavaScript and tracking cookies. Just be personal. Be cool. Be considerate. And by doing so, you’ll be more likeable. And then you’ll let people come your way because they want to, not because you used some trick to trap them into your clutches.

[Rob] That leads into my question. For someone who’s about to go down that road and try to big themselves up with some fancy-pants portfolio with all of the JavaScript libraries in the world, what advice would you give them to stand out online?

[Derek] I’m not impressed with anyone’s portfolio. I’m more impressed with their responsiveness. Right? It’s more impressive if you’re easy to contact. Like a clearly posted email address, phone number, WhatsApp, Skype, Signal, Twitter, wherever, so that I can use the communication medium of my choice. And then most impressive is if they’re able to whip up a quick spec to express interest even before getting hired. And what I mean by this is many times I’ve gone looking to hire an artist to do some work, whether by browsing the web or one of those specific marketplaces. And often, just one person of many will jump into action and reply immediately, like within a day and then give me a quick rough draft of whatever I asked for in my original email, before they’re even hired.

Like, I’ll put out a call in some marketplace saying, “Hey, I’m looking for somebody to do this kind of thing,” and yeah, some people reply with a graphic immediately saying, “You mean something like this?” And they’ve already scratched up a rough draft. I’m like, whoa. Okay, well that kind of responsiveness means that I can stop searching and just pick this person. Maybe they’re not the best, but they’ve shown a capability and an interest, so my search ends there. That counts for more than some mysterious person out there that might technically be better.

[Rob] That’s such an excellent reply. So replace all those efforts to try and glamorize your website with focusing on how quick can we turn around a transparent and direct reply.

[Derek] Because I mean that’s the core lesson of business is, it’s not about you. You’re a servant to your clients and your customers. It’s all about them. This isn’t about you. So the more you can make it about them and the less you can make it about you, the better.

If you are enjoying this conversation, don’t miss the rest of the Yo! Podcast.

Much love,

Twitter: @robhope
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