What can you learn from Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug lord, about starting a writing business?
More than you probably think.
I’ve been watching the Netflix series Narcos this week.
And with each episode I’ve grown more and more impressed by Pablo Escobar’s business savvy.
Before we get to that let me make one thing clear:
Pablo Escobar was not a good man.
His rise to power and infamy left a trail of death and destruction in its wake and shook Colombia to its foundations.
And yet his story — at least how it’s dramatized in Narcos — is packed with lessons for building a successful writing business.
Here they are …
Starting A Writing Business:
7 Lessons From Pablo Escobar
1. You need a big, bold vision
In his 44 years, Escobar rose from obscure poverty in Rionegro, Colombia to the world’s 7th richest man.
He made Forbes magazine’s international billionaires list seven years in a row.
At his peak, he was turning over US $21.9 billion a year in personal income.
Let that sink in for a moment.
A dirt poor smuggler from a shanty town in a third-world country shot past property developers, business magnates, oil tycoons, and heirs of family fortunes to become one of the wealthiest men to ever walk the planet.
How’d he do it?
The first step was having a big, bold vision.
There’s a scene in the second episode of Narcos where Pablo Escobar is introduced to a man named Mateo Moreno, better known as Cockroach.
Cockroach is a drug smuggler who’s having a tough time selling cocaine in his native Chile thanks to a government crackdown.
Cockroach wants help selling cocaine in Colombia, but Escobar has a bigger vision.
He tells Cockroach, “If cocaine sells for $10 a gram in Colombia, imagine how much it will sell for in Miami.”
Escobar did not have the limited, narrow vision of a run-of-the-mill criminal.
He had a big, bold vision.
And everything he did was in service to that vision.
That’s why he landed on Forbes billionaires list for so many years.
Likewise, you need to have a big, bold vision for setting up a writing business.
Don’t settle for $5 articles in the content mills.
Don’t scramble to say “Yes” to whatever work comes your way.
Don’t publish “good enough” blog posts.
And then ACT in such a way that the vision you have for starting a writing business MUST become reality.
2. You need to eliminate distractions and excuses
He introduced Pablo Escobar to the cocaine trade.
For a few years Cockroach oversaw the laboratories hidden deep in the Colombian jungle that cooked up Escobar’s cocaine.
It was a profitable deal for all parties involved.
Then Escobar discovered that Cockroach was selling secrets to the police.
And this caused major distractions for Escobar’s growing cocaine empire.
So he did what you’d probably expect a ruthless drug kingpin to do in that situation:
He put a bullet in Cockroach’s head.
You need to be just as ruthless with distractions when you’re starting a writing business.
Distractions like Facebook, Netflix and YouTube tempt us away from the work that needs to be done.
Excuses like “I’m too busy”, “I’m not ready” and “I’ll start tomorrow” distract us from taking action.
Even if it’s only ten minutes a day, you need to figure out how to make time for your writing.
You can’t afford to let distractions and excuses stop you from starting a writing business that has the potential to change your life.
As the great Jim Rohn said:
Are you looking for ways to get your writing business off the ground?
Or are you looking for excuses?
Because whether you’re looking for ways to make it happen, or excuses for why it hasn’t happened yet, you’ll find what you’re searching for.
3. You need to focus on a niche
Pablo Escobar was known as El Zar de la Cocaina — “the Tsar of Cocaine”.
He wasn’t “the Tsar of Illegal Drugs In General”.
He wasn’t “the Tsar of Whatever Drugs You’re Looking For”.
His thing was cocaine.
That was his niche.
Likewise, when starting a writing business it pays to focus on a specific niche.
Why focus on a niche?
A couple of reasons:
- Focusing on a niche makes you an expert and, generally speaking, an expert commands higher fees than a generalist. (Just think of how much a general practitioner earns compared to, say, a brain surgeon.)
- Focusing on a niche makes you easier to find, especially when you’re starting out. Optimizing your LinkedIn profile or website for an SEO friendly term like “email marketer for the pet industry” makes you visible in a sea of fellow freelance writers.
- Focusing on a niche cuts down your writing time. You won’t need to get up-to-speed with every new project or book topic. Plus, you’ll write faster and better as you gain expert knowledge in your field.
We don’t have the space here to go into all the hows and whys of focusing on a niche.
Fortunately, Laura Pennington — who built a six figure writing business by focusing on a niche — discusses this important topic in Episode 06 of the Just Add Hustle podcast.
4. You need to satisfy a market demand
In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel was shipping 70 to 80 tons of cocaine into the United States on a monthly basis.
Let’s give that some perspective:
The average car weighs about two tons.
So that’s like sneaking 40 cars made of solid cocaine into America every month.
It’s a mind-boggling amount of cocaine.
Did Escobar’s cocaine wreak havoc and harm on individuals and families across America?
But here’s the thing:
Escobar was able to move mountains of dope into the country because people were willing to buy it.
He was satisfying a market demand.
Likewise, you need to go where the demand is when starting a writing business.
You might be fascinated by, for example, the history of dolls in Victorian England.
And writing about that topic could make you happier than a dog with two tails.
But if there’s insufficient demand for writing about Victorian dolls, you’re going to struggle to get your writing business off the ground.
Think of it like this:
If you were starting a burger restaurant what’s the one thing you’d want before anything else that would practically guarantee your success?
Would you want the world’s best hamburger? The best location? An unbeatably low price?
Nope, nope and nope.
You’d want a starving crowd.
If you want your writing business to be a big success, it needs to cater to a starving crowd. Click To Tweet
For a more detailed look at writing to market, check out my conversation with Dave Chesson, the Kindlepreneur, on how to write a Kindle bestseller.
5. You don’t need to do everything yourself
Pablo Escobar knew there were certain things only he could do.
He supplied the vision and strategy that grew his drug cartel into a multi-billion dollar business.
But it takes more than vision and strategy to grow a business.
You need action.
And a lot of the activities that help a business grow are time-consuming and mundane.
In Escobar’s case these were activities like smuggling drugs into the United States and paying off the local police force.
It wasn’t feasible for Escobar to be personally involved with these time-consuming, but essential, activities.
So he delegated them to a small army of devoted henchmen.
Likewise, when starting a writing business you don’t need to do everything yourself.
You CAN’T do it all yourself.
Your time is limited.
And to make the most of it you may want to hire out important tasks that don’t necessarily need your involvement to get finished.
Tasks like uploading your books to Kindle and other online marketplaces, editing blog posts, image creation, social media management, and so on.
These things need to be done as you’re setting up a writing business.
But are they the best use of your time … or do they eat up precious hours that would be better invested in something else?
There are certain activities ONLY YOU can do to grow your freelance writing business.
Determine what they are.
These are your highest-value projects.
Then, hire outside help to manage all the other stuff so you can spend most of your time focused on these high-value projects.
6. You need to make marketing a habit
Pablo Escobar was the undisputed King of Cocaine.
Sure, there were rival cartels that tried to elbow their way into the market, but they were pretenders to the throne.
They were Kmart to Escobar’s Walmart; Wendy’s to his McDonald’s.
And yet despite dominating his market, Escobar was constantly looking for ways to make his business even more successful.
He forged strategic alliances, positioned himself as a ruthless killer to his rivals, and built trust with the common people.
In other words:
Escobar never stopped marketing himself and his business.
Likewise, when starting a writing business you have to look at marketing as a long-term project …
Not something you do in the beginning and stop once you have your first clients or sell your first books.
What those marketing activities will look like all depends on your specific writing business.
But the point is to make marketing a habit you stick with, even after your writing biz is off the ground and making money.
7. You need to decide how bad you want it
It wasn’t an easy path Pablo Escobar walked to become the world’s 7th richest man.
Over the course of his career he faced opposition from the Colombian government, rival cartels, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, and traitors within his own gang.
He smashed his way through these obstacles because he was obsessed with being the richest, most powerful man in Colombia.
He wanted that more than anything.
Likewise, you need to decide how serious you are about starting a writing business.
How bad do you want it?
You WILL face opposition.
It could be a lack of time, capital, ability and other resources.
It could be a client who is as “pleasant” to work with as French kissing a steel bear trap.
It could be a tiny, insidious voice in your mind whispering, “Who are you to start a writing business?”
But here’s the thing:
If you want it bad enough, you WILL OVERCOME the opposition.
And your writing business will become the foundation of a life of freedom, fun and financial security.
Are you starting a writing business? Let’s discuss your challenges and successes in the comments.