Blog Business

Being Human: A Web Geek’s Guide to Business

To say that we live in a “web world” these days would be an understatement. However I don’t believe that the web world has to differ all that much from the real world if we choose to make it so. Recently during my workshop for CreativeLIVE I made the comment that it was time for business to become human again. What I meant by this is that it’s time for businesses (and personalities) to stop treating the web merely as an outlet for shameless self-promotion and start looking at it as a way to cultivate a community and build relationships with their customers/fans.

I try very hard to respond to each and every tweet, email, or message that I get on the web. Yes, this is a daunting task and most of the time it consumes me more than it should, but still I believe it’s important. I’m always shocked when people are surprised to get a response from me or that they’re so grateful that I took the time to email or tweet them back. I am human after all, so why wouldn’t I respond? Think about it. You’d be a little pissed off if you walked in to the office one day said hello to someone and they simply ignored you, right? Well, by not acknowledging messages or feedback that we get on the web, that’s exactly what we’re doing to people. I understand that there are some personalities and brands out there that have followings much larger than mine, and their excuse will inevitably be that they don’t have the time to respond to all of them… Well, bullshit.

As the proliferation of web based companies increases over the next few years, the idea of web based customer service and online communities will become increasingly important. Therefore we almost have a responsibility, as web geeks, to help move the business model forward in that space. I made a comparison recently to the 1940s and 1950s and how if we could turn web based businesses into businesses like that of the 40s and 50s that we’d be much better off. I stand firmly behind that statement. You see, back in “the day” people were so human and civil. You’d walk into a pharmacy or grocery and people would say hello and greet you with a smile. People knew your name and what you were going to order even before you ordered it. You didn’t frequent the same stores because they were the best or the cheapest, but because they gave you a more personal and enjoyable experience while you were there. That’s what we’re missing in today’s day and age.

I still consider myself a small fish in a very big pond, and quite frankly I’m ok with that. Being a small fish allows me to be more personal with those people who do follow me and participate in my community. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I’d rather have 100 followers that genuinely care about what I have to say or teach and that interact with me on a daily basis, than 1,000,000 followers who simply follow me blindly because of my name or affiliation to a company. I’ll continue on my “crazy, non-sustainable” path for as long as I can. I’ll continue to interact and ask questions and respond to them as well, because that’s what humans do. Without relationships our lives are basically meaningless. You’ll see that this will hold true both for people and businesses in the future. What you have to decide is whether or not you have the passion and patience to change your ways and start cultivating communities rather than crunching numbers!


  1. As a startup designer, I’m trying to maintain the personal part of my business. And, for me personally, I enjoy meeting my clients face to face than to just shoot emails back and forth or chat over the phone. I believe that a visual business like mine needs that touch. One of my local “competitors” never returns phone calls or takes forever to even respond to a simple question about getting an estimate. To take it even a step further, though, I have to ask if they even know the people they’re doing business for personally.

    Thanks so much yet another great post, Justin.

    1. Hey David, thanks for this man. Nice to see someone out there practicing this in their business. Keep it up, it will pay off in the end I’m sure πŸ™‚

  2. I watched you give your knowledge & your heart at Creative Live in Seattle. You don’t just talk the talk, you live the human philosophy you are writing about here. I also believe that your focus on your “small but choice” audience will pay back more than a herd would. You should be proud of what you are accomplishing by passing on your own life experience. That’s what the best thought leaders do.

    1. Thank you Cynthia, I really appreciate that. You’re right, I give everything I have during my classes because I feel like that’s what my audience deserves. Thanks for watching. All my best to you!

  3. Justin,
    I agree with you 100%. I remember when I first opened my doors and not having many contacts. I knoew from all the business seminars and everything I read about and learned talked and taught about, “it is all about the relationships”. I used to struggle trying to figure out how to start developing those relationships.

    Then, one day, not so long ago, I realized that now my business does have those relationships and that part of business is what keeps me going. When I find out that a client has fallen and broken a leg, I take the time to send a card. When I am lucky enough to have my clients allow me to become part of their lives, I care when I hear they have lost a loved one – and it warrants a moment of my time to at least send an email that is NOT filled with anything but sympathy.

    We don’t have to do huge things to make huge impacts in people’s lives, we just need to take the time and be “in the moment”.

    Thanks for the post.

  4. my first “interaction” with you was watching your most recent creativeLIVE gig. and i enjoyed it. you’re a must-follow and read now. you are dead on with this observation about engaging your public. my best friend and i started a not-for-profit and we want to engage people, however it is they come to us. i work another gig full-time and she works part-time, so i can be tricky. but thanks for the affirmation that we’re on the right track!

    1. You’re definitely on the right track, and I understand that it can be hard. You don’t necessarily have to respond and/or engage with people instantly… As long as you respond, period. That’s the key.

      1. Justin,

        Spot on here. Sometimes “instant” responses can come off as canned or insincere. But a response of some kind at some point is needed. I’ve been following you since (a much larger man using your name) presented at the first D2WC in KC. I have been impressed with the real person behind the brilliant demonstrations since then.

        Jim Hinds

        1. Thanks Jim, that is much appreciated. I’ll be back at D2WC this year, so look forward to seeing you if you’re there πŸ™‚

  5. Justin, I’m in agreement with you on getting back to the customer service of the good old days. (My husband’s dad owned a pharmacy in the 60’s and 70’s – and it was just like that – he knew every person he filled scripts for) It seems many product and service companies, especially those with little competition, lack in this area. (Like I am so lucky they are accepting my money – really?) You’re so right that it comes down to simply treating people with kindness and respect. I learned a lot of the technical stuff from your CreativeLive workshops, but as I build my brand & website I am thinking more about how I want to interact with people. Thanks for sharing your insight & great workshops!

    1. Hi Kim,

      Thanks for the comment. You’ve hit the nail on the head here… That’s exactly what I was trying to convey in my workshop and I’m glad people are taking notice and practicing what I’m preaching πŸ™‚

  6. One other thought here, Justin. You may not realize how your life’s journey with weight loss, getting fit, but most of all getting happy, gives this community something to “stick” to that’s real. In my branding seminars, I show good examples of people who are sharing their lives and personalities to teach. You’ll be on the PPT next. BTW your tagline is excellent. Not bad for a bot from Paducah!

  7. Hi Justin. Thanks for this post. After listening to snippets of both of your CreativeLIVE courses last week I bought both. I appreciated your authenticity and your willingness to share little details that most would be reluctant to share. I love the idea of being yourself for marketing and prioritizing conversations over audience size… This is my first response ever to a post! So thank you for the push.

    I can relate to your post in that I have sold more paintings by inviting friends to dinner and playing Settlers of Catan than I have with all my internet and social media. In the past 3 weeks, I have made a focused effort to build a wordpress blog to create this conversation (so your CL course timing was perfect)… I wonder if you have tips on how to start conversations. My current strategy of ending a post with a question has yet to initiate conversations. Thanks again!

    1. Joanne, thanks for the comment. If you want a conversation, you’ll have to be the one to initiate it at first. Actively find people in your chosen niche either through social networks, forums, or message boards and just start talking to them. I used to spend hours in forums answering questions about Photoshop and other digital imaging products. I also started a podcast and encouraged others to leave comments or suggestions on my blog. My audience didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been at this stuff for 5-6 years now, and I’m just now starting to see a big boost in traffic and conversation. You have to remember that it’s not a sprint, but a lifelong marathon. All my best to you.

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