Can You Learn How to Be an Overnight Success?

Can You Learn How to Be an Overnight Success?

It’s easy to look at someone else’s success and feel envious about it – especially when the person seemingly shot to celebrity status nearly overnight. It’s not so easy to remember that everyone started from nothing – and that there’s a history you can look back on to find the steps you need to reach success as well. Amy Harrison tells us all about it in today’s guest post – enjoy!

When you start freelancing, you usually spend time online looking for the big names in your line of work. You become familiar with them, admire them and you’re comfortable aspiring to be just like them.

Then a few months go by and pow! A new name’s on the scene. The A-listers are talking about this person, people are recommending his site, and you wonder how he became this overnight success.

You can’t help but get a twinge of envy as the new kid on the block releases an ebook to resounding online applause, followed by a fully subscribed e-course. As you follow the fuss, the temptation to do what this person is doing feels compulsive.

You tell yourself you should be moving faster, working on releasing your own product sooner, spending more time on Twitter promoting your work – just like he did. And you add “idea for ebook and ecourse” to your to-do list, thinking that this’ll help you reach that success you wanted.

This makes you panic a bit, because you realize you might miss the success boat. You want to get moving quickly, but you’ve got so much work on your plate already. But if that guy’s doing this, then you should do this as well, right?

So you decide you’ll just work longer hours and beat yourself up a little bit more. The problem with this is that…

You’re looking at the wrong part of his success.

It’s not a bad idea to keep an eye on what the success stories are up to today, but if you’re really looking to learn something useful (and reduce your stress levels), then you need to go back in time.

If that overnight success has a website, look at his blog archives. Go right to the beginning when his posts weren’t getting any comments, and see how long and how many posts it took for him to grow his followers. It’s likely that you’ll see a long archive of posts that took time to build up.  A clever tool to try is the wayback machine, which shows you what the site actually used to look like as much as a few years ago.

What you probably find is that where this new huzzah was 6 months, 12 months or a couple of years ago is where you are today. Take comfort in this. This guy isn’t superhuman. He had the same passion for his work as you do – he’s just a few steps ahead.

Study those steps. What did he do that lead him to success today?

Don’t believe all the hype

Who you believe might be the next big hit might not be a hit at all. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the online world, and there are a lot of incredibly “successful” personalities with shiny avatars that don’t have the tangible success that you might be looking for.  It might just be that the person you think is making it is just very good at playing the social media game, but not at making any money. So…

Put that “panic energy” to good use

Take that sudden burst of ohmigod-I-have-to-do-something and put it into your current work. Keep working hard and with passion for your current clients and keep trying to find new ones.

It’s so easy to become addicted to RSS feeds, commenting, reading blog posts and spending hours running in circles and then panicking because you’ve got nothing done. A little bit is useful to interact with your online community, but too much and not enough work on your business won’t get you the clients that put food on your table.

I’ve been hungry and desperate before. A sandwich beats a retweet every damn time.

Remember the unsexy steps the overnight successes had to take

There’s nothing gorgeous and exciting about staying inside with your computer all day while the sun is shining because  you have to work. But there is something sexy about completing a project that you’re proud of and that results in a happy client who refers you to someone else while you cash his cheque at your bank.

Think back to that overnight success you envied. The person may have worked on those unsexy steps for years. He’s bought courses and put them to use. He’s honed his skills, improved his business and had more than his fair share of bumps along the way.

He know that no one owes him anything, and that the glory of being where he is today is secondary to building a sustainable, profitable business that gives value to its customers.

So keep your eye on those “overnight” successes. See what you can learn from them to make your business better.

Over to you! Any lessons you’ve learned from “overnight” success stories? Any methods you’ve used to keep calm and carry on when you feel like you’re getting left behind?

Amy Harrison runs Harrisonamy Copywriting. She loves helping excitable business owners communicate to their customers how awesome they really are. Subscribe to her blog or follow her on twitter: @littleunred for more copywriting (and sometimes irreverent) updates.

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. Informative article you got there. I just started freelancing last month and I can really use this article of yours. It taught me a lot.
    .-= Tim Gordon´s last blog ..Prudential Deal Near Collapse As AIG Snubs Lower Offer =-.

  2. Being a freelance newbie without my own tricks that keep me on the ground, posts like this help me move on and get back to reality. I really appreciate this post, thanks a lot! Now, back to the current project 🙂

  3. Oh Amy I can totally relate to this post. I’ve been feeling a bit like this lately.

    The thing that has got me through is reminding myself what my real goals are. The ‘buzz’ is really attractive, but when push comes to shove I’m actually quite happy where things are at.

  4. @ Tim and Umbata, It’s incredibly overwhelming when you first start, and sometimes you need to unplug from what’s going on online to help that.

    @Sally – The buzz can be inspiring, or it can make you feel like you’re “not there yet”, but as you put it, learning to be happy with where you are right now (as well as having your dreams) is a great skill to have!
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..Will Creativity Build or Break your Business? =-.

  5. Amy,
    A great post for anybody new to internet marketing. I have saved your article and would read it every time I have a feeling of being left behind.
    .-= khush- AdSense Information´s last blog ..How to Write Inspiring Content for Your Blogs =-.

  6. This is a cool post and comes at an opportune moment. I was just recently researching various tactics and strategies – what worked in 2008 versus 2009 and today.

    Thanks for being relevant, Amy. Great post! 🙂

  7. Good stuff, good stuff. Ah yes, I remember the days when my to-do list was filled with items that began with “Start…” “Think of…” “Look into…”. Glad thats over with. I think we have all experienced overnight success as bloggers.

    Mine cane when my blog was just a baby and one of my post made “the most popular” on SU and Delicious. It brought tens of thousands of visitors but I wasn’t prepared for it. I didn’t even know what an RSS feed was. One thing I learned is if you are not ready for the success you don’t want it.

    Stumbled and Dugg this 🙂

  8. @Khush – glad you found the post helpful!

    @Peter – I’d be really interested in that research. The other frustration is when we try and imitate successes when they come to the public eye, it’s often on the end of a trend that that person has been studying for a while. You’re always going to be a step behind and be frustrated.

    @Ralph – I’m so with you on the “think of…” “start a…” It can be paralysing and the relief when you can cross those off your to do list is immense! Thanks for the Stumble and Digg!
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..Will Creativity Build or Break your Business? =-.

  9. What a true article.

    Many want an instant outcome online. They want success in the first month!

    Every business takes work and time. The same is the case with a web business. It requires work and time just like any OFFline business.

  10. The road to the overnight success is long and hard. most of the stories I write prove it, but most of all the story of Madonna
    She had to go to her overnight success for a long time and then she had to maintain that success for even longer and fight for it even harder
    .-= Edward´s last blog ..Lisa Kudrow – Piquant Flavor Of Friends =-.

  11. Success is an inspiration. I welcome it from anywhere. I want to know the secret of it. I would like to emulate it. I feel one needs to work hard at what one is good at, and success would automatically follow us. That is clear FOCUS.
    Being in the limelight, hugs and accolades is so great a feeling…. that can make ourselves forget the present back-ache and frustration. If not now, at least in the future! Cheers!
    thanks for the great article!

  12. Wait, so you’re saying I CAN’T be an overnight success? I was so hoping to wake up tomorrow to fame and fortune, and now you’re telling me I actually have to WORK for it. Bummer… (grin)

  13. Amy,

    It’s always good to have a post that bring folks back to earth.

    We are so bombarded by the American Dream (or whatever-side-of-the-pond-you-are-from dream) coming out of every orifice you can imagine, that it’s critical to take a big ‘ol step back.

    That’s why I always appreciate when the A-list bloggers show us their success timelines, as well as the movie stars that show us the diner where they washed dishes… and the copywriters that reveal the pro-bono work they did for the local pet store just to cut their eye-teeth.

    Anyone can make it. The media just doesn’t like to glamourize hard work, because it’s not as sexy.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire
    .-= Joshua Black | The Underdog Millionaire´s last blog ..Small Business Owner: World’s Oldest Shoe Reveals Most Important Customer Lesson =-.

  14. @Nabeel, @Edward, work, time and hard graft is exactly it, and whilst success is an inspiration like Solomon says, focusing solely on the success can stop us from getting there.

    There’s also a danger that if you’re chasing success for the sake of it, you’re probably not going to enjoy it even if you get there. If you can love what you do even in the hard times, when things pick up, it’s going to be really exciting.

    @Deb – Ah, but doesn’t all that blood sweat and tears just feel so good? 😉

    @Joshua – It’s great when you can see how the A-listers did it, and almost all of them tell you the same thing, work damn hard, learn with every mistake and don’t give up. Not sexy, but if that’s what they say, I’m going to listen to them.
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..Will Creativity Build or Break your Business? =-.

  15. Hi Amy!

    Thanks so much for this fantastic article! I’m so glad I signed you on to “my team” earlier this week to help me become an overnight success!!! 😉 Best, s

  16. Hi Amy,

    Great post. It is so easy to get caught up in comparing yourself with other people when you use social media. I just try to focus on my goals and ignore the commotion! There are days when I feel discouraged but I know deep down that the buzz doesn’t really matter because it’s not a popularity contest; it’s business!
    .-= Kathleen K. O’Connor´s last blog ..Why I’m Unsubscribing from Your Blog =-.

  17. A lot of great points here — especially that you really don’t know how actually successful the person may be (attention does not equal success!), and also that you have no way to see the work that went into it.
    .-= Sonia Simone´s last blog ..The Spooky Secret to Designing Your Perfect Business =-.

  18. @Amy

    That’s the value of the wayback machine I guess… you’ve got to be eagle eyed and discerning, to make sure you don’t jump on a dying bandwagon. Kinda like rockbands who are trying to make it big on myspace in 2010. 😉

    @Sonia – crucial point. Are you trying to win notoriety or dollars? Or something else entirely?

  19. @Sonia, it’s so true about the attention and the hard work. I was explaining to my fella last night how:

    “Sonia…disappears into the wilderness every now and then, and on her return, she’s taken over another part of the Internet – in a good way.” 🙂

    I don’t think he really understood but he nodded like he did because he’s well trained.
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..Will Creativity Build or Break your Business? =-.

  20. Right on, Amy. This applies to client relationships as well, not just a reminder to ourselves. Clients need reminding that building a relationship online is similar to building a relationship offline. Having goals is vital, as is being willing to water it daily, to rotate it in the sun and cultivate it over the months and years.

    Also, “I’ve been hungry and desperate before. A sandwich beats a retweet every damn time.” Yeah, RT’d that. It’s one of the Hugh Macleod reminders – sometimes you really do have to just ignore everybody.

  21. Mellaman says:

    But isn’t success simply a matter of being male? I mean that’s pretty much what you wrote isn’t it? Or are you now saying there is more to it than that?

  22. @Mellaman – I’d like to think that success hinges on far more than just being male. Yes, there’s a predominantly male bias in many industries, but being a man alone doesn’t guarantee success.

    (I like to think I’m a good example of that!)

    @Gwen – Yeah, that line was a beauty, eh? I liked it too.

    @Sonia – Well said, that one, lol

  23. Great post Amy. So many of these points would be great to reflect on during discouraging days.
    .-= Brett Oblack´s last blog ..The Magic of Self-Imposed Limitations =-.

  24. Preparation and knowing when to go all in. Someone I respect once said that “luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity.” That big break came because the individual was ready for it, and saw the opportunity.

    There have always been plenty of talented people who never made it, and there are people who had the opportunity but couldn’t close the deal.

    Great article!

    @Mellaman… Seriously? The sex card!? Eventually everyone has to look at the hand they were dealt and make something of it. Why cheapen someone’s success because of something they can’t change? That’s discrimination writ large!
    .-= Matthew D Herrmann´s last blog ..What We Need… =-.

  25. Hi Amy, great post.

    It´s a good “down to earth” for any kind of success I think: business, personal or academic. We tend to look at the last steps leading to it, even if we know how hard the person worked. “OK so he struggled and worked his butt off for two years, but when he did THIS he got his success, so THIS is what I´m gonna do”, and then we attempt to skip all the steps before that. Doesn´t work that way, does it… 😉

    .-= ThoreyO´s last blog ..Top 5 Things for (extremely) Shy Writers to Think About When Introducing Themselves and Their Work to Strangers. =-.

  26. Success, overnight or not, is usually rather unsexy. I’ve been freelancing for years and took on a slew of what can only be described as crap work. Or work I was in over my head for taking. Then I decided I would be obstinate and stubborn and not give up just b/c I kept getting ‘no’s. And now suddenly I have 5 travel guidebooks under my belt. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. And that’s because success is a journey, not a single moment. It takes cultivation and trial and error, it takes sweat and sometimes crashing and burning. I even think it takes sitting on your ass moping, trying to figure out what to do next and having the determination to do it.

    But, it is technically true. Success does happen overnight. The night before you’re not, the morning your work comes out and it’s noticed it is. And that kind of moment is gone again the very next morning. Leaving you with the next ‘overnight’ to work toward.

  27. Part of success is mental. You need to set realistic goals and feel the success of your first sale, your best month, the freedom that your job gives you. It really does come down to how you define success.

  28. Mellaman says:

    Being a man alone doesn’t guarantee success? But that’s not at all what you wrote in your article about how simply adopting a male nom de plume led you to great success. You said that was all their was to it. Have you changed your mind? Because all the advice you’re giving indicates that there is lot more to it than simply being male. It would have been nice if you would have said that in the article instead of claiming that simply pretending to be male guarantees success.

    @Matthew D: I’m not playing the gender card, that’s what “James” did when she wrote that she was able to achieve success simply by pretending to be male. I simply point out that if it was that simple then why the need to write about all the various requirements essential to achieve success, when you previously claimed that all it takes is a male first name? If you’re unsuccessful, just adopt a male name. How that explains the lack of success of those who already have male names, perhaps “James” can tell us.

    “I’d like to think that success hinges on far more than just being male”

    Then perhaps you shouldn’t have written an article claiming that that was all there was to it?

  29. Hey Mellaman,

    Hmmm, I think you have selective reading going on, if I couldn’t write well, didn’t have skills and wasn’t able to perform at a higher ability, then I wouldn’t have reached ANY kind of success, male or female.

    My personal experience in regards to gender and names is that I’ve found a male name attracts MORE success and provides MORE opportunities than a female name.

    But a name is not all it takes. I’m not sure where you read that.

    Also! While gender bias is a lovely topic I’m happy to discuss via email, it would certainly be a better idea to focus on Amy’s post and HER ideas, don’t you think? So if you’d like to pursue the subject, give me a shout via the contact form.

  30. @matthew – I really like the idea of opportunity and preparation. The more you improve what it is you do the more you tend to see the opportunities spring up as well.

    @ThoreyO – Hi! It’s those last few steps that get most of the attention but it gives us a skewed impression of how things are achieved.

    @Susan – I admire your grit and determination and your honesty about sitting on your ass and moping. I’ve definitely been there and sometimes reaching that point of pure frustration is just what you need to spur you on and keep going.

    @Business Logos – Definitely, believing in yourself is a powerful skill to have to succeed and for me, looking at overnight successes dulls that rather than working to improve what I do.

    @Mellaman – I think your point shows that James is a perfect example of the overnight success.

    There are a lot of people who became aware of James and her work after the article explaining why she adopted a male name. Suddenly everyone was talking about it and it got a lot of attention.

    But like I mention in the post, it’s too easy to focus on this part of James’ journey and if you only read that article you’d be forgiven for thinking that taking a male name was the only reason she succeeded.

    However, it doesn’t take a genius to see past that and discover the real formula for Jame’s success: the volumes of great writing, first class freelancing advice, the eBooks James has released, the guest posts she has written and the fantastic service that has resulted in an extensive client list.

    Regardless of how much attention James received by adopting a male name, it’s her relentless determination and prolific writing that created her own “overnight success.”
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..Will Creativity Build or Break your Business? =-.

  31. @Amy – My “overnight” success also took four years of damned hard work to reach this point.

    Each year was better than the last, of course. And according to my growth chart and mathematical calculations, I expect to own a mansion that has bathtubs filled with gold within just two short years. 🙂

  32. Interesting read! I believe it’s not about competing in the freelance world..sincere efforts and hard work, when being put, certainly reap rewards sooner or later.
    .-= Sarah Rahman´s last blog ..Recollection: 1ST Annual Pakistan Blog Awards 2010 =-.

  33. @ James, and after the bathtubs filled with gold, the pen-shaped swimming pool of course. 😉
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..Will Creativity Build or Break your Business? =-.

  34. The thing that has got me through is reminding myself what my real goals are.Success does happen overnight. The night before you’re not, the morning your work comes out and it’s noticed it is. And that kind of moment is gone again the very next morning. Leaving you with the next ‘overnight’ to work toward.

  35. This is a good reality check for anyone who is starting a new business. It’s always good to keep a watchful eye on your competitors and find out what they are doing to replicate their success but always keep in mind that their success took hard work and dedication.
    .-= Matthew´s last blog ..The ICON1 Paging Microphone is Arriving Soon. =-.

  36. The main thing for me is to know what my goals are and keep going after them. Continue reading those success stores and learn what they did and if I implement some of their strategies and they get me going a bit more closer to my goals just a bit faster, great. If not, keep doing what I’ve been doing and keep learning.

    Bottom line from my perspective is that success CAN happen over night if you’ve been working hard and have a plan and take action on that plan and know where you’re going. THEN you absolutely one day and wake up and realize you’ve finally made it, and others will then look at you as the over night success and question what you did and how it happened to you so fast.


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