A False Sense of Credibility

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 12/07/10 •  8 min read

There are a lot of people on the internet these days, who are saying a lot of things.  Often times, the tough part can be figuring out who to pay attention to.

We live in a world where everyone can have a voice.  Many of those voices speak louder than others, and just because they’re speaking up, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the ones you should be listening to.

I’d like to add a note that this post is directed at no one in particular, it’s just based off of random comments I’ve seen and an interesting discussion that developed in my last post “Most People Hate Location Independence”.

There are thousands of bloggers out there who think they have what it takes to make a living telling other people how to improve their lives, make money, or do any combination of other things.

It can be hard not to wonder how many of those people out there are actually living the things they’re preaching – and does it even matter if they are?

In a recent post by Ashley Ambirge of the Middle Finger Project, a commenter called out the fact that not everyone should attempt to be an authority, because the fact of the matter is not everyone is:

tmf comment1

I’ve seen a lot of questions and concerns from people that are similar to this.  So as a blogger and community, how do you go about it?  Do you be completely straight up and tell people that you’re not an authoritative source?  Do you fake it til’ you make it? What’s making it? What’s considered deceit and what’s legit?

Personally, I think you’ve gotta be real about what you know and what you don’t know.  Most people want to see the struggles and the learning just as much as they want to see the success.  They want to be able to relate to others, just as much as they want to have an “authority” tell them exactly how to achieve whatever is being promoted.

You don’t have to be an authority to be a successful blogger, and if you keep at it long enough, you will become an expert –  at which point, you’ll be able to leverage the respect and credibility you’ve earned along the way through being straight up with people.

A Shift Towards Monetization

As the location independent/lifestyle design (for lack of better terms) blog movement continues to grow and roll on, many bloggers (myself included) are starting to figure out ways that they can make all of this hard work pay off monetarily.  Membership sites, ebooks, consulting, advertisements etc. are all different ways people make money.

It’s only natural right?  There were a ton of blogs that started in 2009 and early 2010 with bloggers putting in countless hours to build a brand and a voice.  Being compensated for that is a natural progression – and is completely reasonable.

However this is when the credibility question actually becomes an issue.  Who actually knows what they’re talking about and who doesn’t?  Who’s actually creating a living doing the stuff they’re talking about?

It’s a completely valid question and after some comments I received last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of credibility.

Many of you probably read the rather harsh words that Kevin left in the comments last week, but by the end of the conversation he brought up a question that’s actually pretty interesting:

“Why am I credible?”

Sure I quit my job and traveled for a few months, but why does that give me the entitlement to tell you how to do anything?

Perhaps it doesn’t.

I’m admittedly pretty deliberate about what I say in regards to the specific work I do and the money I make.  Much more about all of that stuff will be revealed in due time, but until then there are probably a number of people who don’t view me as a credible source, and therefore disregard what I have to say.

And I’m totally cool with that.

For one, the majority of this blog isn’t necessarily me telling you what to do, but rather what I’ve done and how it’s worked out for me.

Also, something I’ve realized is that you don’t have to be an authority regarding everything you talk about.

I believe I’ve become an authority when it comes to overcoming fears and striving to work towards a life that makes you happy.

I have 172 other blog posts to back that up.

So I created a product around overcoming fear and uncertainty because I believe I honestly have a lot to offer when it comes to that topic.

Notice how the product isn’t called “Overcome Uncertainty and Become a Millionaire”.

I may talk about making money and creating a location independent business – but I have yet to establish myself as an authority on that subject.  So I don’t attempt charge anything for that information. Not to say I couldn’t, but it’s just how I’ve decided to go about things.

When you all have a more clear sense I make my money and what my businesses are – the question of credibility in that regard should be much less of an issue.

This is something to consider when you’re putting your message out into the world.  If you’re trying to become an authority, what niche are you doing it for? Would you listen to yourself if you were one of your readers?

I think that’s one the best ways to honestly assess where you’re at when it comes to your authoritative status.

If you would take advice from yourself about a given subject then create a product, give advice, and push forward with your expertise – it sounds like you know what you’re talking about!

However if you aren’t there yet, there’s a ton of value you can still provide to your readers.

Does Credibility Even Matter

There’s another school of thought related to this matter which says it doesn’t matter what someone has done, rather it matters what they know.

There are business consultants out there who have never worked in any specific industry, yet they could tell you exactly how to build your business and become successful.  Are they any less credible because they’ve never done it themselves?  Good information is good information regardless of who it comes from.

The hard part is deciphering what information is good and what’s bad.  It’s made increasingly more difficult by the fact that on the internet, everyone gets a voice.

I think there are a ton of people out there who have an incredible amount of useful information to offer.  That said, I agree with Zero Dean – I want to see more people being genuine.  In my mind, that’s a hell of a lot more powerful over the long term than trying to be something you’re not.

For you personally,  how do you decide what’s worth paying attention to and what’s just noise? Is it based entirely off perceived credibility? Entertainment value? Both? Neither? Share your thoughts!

Important Note! This Thursday Riskologist Tyler Tervooren, Minimalist Tammy Strobel, and myself will be having a bit of a meetup in Portland at the Lucky Lab on Hawthorne.  We’ll be there at 7, so come share some beers and good times!

If you enjoyed this article then you’re going to LOVE my new email series about becoming location independent – check it out over in the sidebar.  If that’s not your thing, maybe you’d prefer Twitter or Facebook instead.

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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27 comments on "A False Sense of Credibility"

  1. Tom Meitner says:

    I find a great way to figure out whether or not the person is real is by checking out the stories they tell – are they personal ones? Do they demonstrate the struggles they are dealing with? Nobody’s perfect; if I’m going to follow somebody and listen to what they say, I want to hear that they have their own problems to deal with. An honest blogger is one that has some authority behind their words.

  2. Brian Gerald says:

    Gah, so much yes. Listen, I read your blog somewhat regularly. I don’t subscribe to it but enough people in my “network” post links to it that I catch a bunch of posts. I jumped back to read Kevin’s harsh comments and you know what, I gotta agree with him. But I think his criticisms apply to more than just you or your blog. Heck, they probably even apply to me.

    There’s certainly a location independent / unconventional living / 4-hour-work-week / life hacking community/movement on the internet and where there is a movement, there is money to be made. I left a comment recently on Jenny’s blog (whereisjenny.com) comparing this whole movement to multi-level marketing where yes, you can make some money selling products (Chris G’s travel guides, Adam Baker’s Sell Your Stuff guide) but the REAL money is to be made in selling how to sell…which you seem to already have figured out.

    I think it’s important that we’re honest about where we’re at and what we’re doing. I’m a solo web developer. Yes, I’m able to work from anywhere (and sometimes do) but I also have clients that pay me big chunks of money on a regular basis. Jenny from Where Is Jenny runs a graphic design company. And apparently you do IT consulting/contracting.

    We’re not all Chris Guillbeau and Leo Battista. And that’s just fine.

  3. Joel says:

    Had this talk a lot lately with a few different people. Because the barriers to entry for blogging are so low, it’s easy for anyone to jump in and write stuff.

    You need to be careful who you listen to. I think you can mostly filter out a lot of the fakes based on what they write and whether or not it rings true. The part I’m amazed at is how many people don’t question critically what people actually say and just devour it. Those are the people I’m scared for.

  4. NomadicNeill says:

    Funny, I just wrote a post about accepting ignorance.

    People, it’s ok to not know! You’d be surprised how much ‘experts’ don’t know about the area they work in.

    This discussion also takes place in the internet marketing scene. It seems that most people first starting out in internet marketing do so by teaching other people how to make money online. And they aren’t even ashamed of it. They justify it by saying they’ve read all the best books and watched all the DVDs put out by the gurus.

    I don’t think it’s right to do it that way. It’s dishonest and hurts the people who are looking for real advise.

    But isn’t that how so much of our consumer culture works? People selling bullshit consumer goods and ‘experiences’ through bullshit means.

    Sorry to sound so cynical, but that’s just the way I see it. And none of those ‘life-style gurus’ fool me.

  5. NomadicNeill says:


    “This discussion also takes place in the internet marketing scene. It seems that most people who start out in internet marketing do so by teaching other people how to make money online. And they aren’t even ashamed of it. They justify it by saying they’ve read all the best books and watched all the DVDs put out by the gurus.

    I don’t think it’s right to do it that way. It’s dishonest and hurts the people who are looking for real advice.”

  6. Rob says:

    The biggest thing I look for is whether that person did it or not. Are they walking the walk? It’s easy to see. But you are right about the business coaches who offer great information but have never started a business themselves. Don’t kill the message because of the messenger. Valuable information is still valuable. The biggest drain on any “Information Sharing” is the fact that there are those who are going to complain no matter what. Those are usually the people who are too lazy to try…

  7. Frank Mocerino says:

    Sean –

    Great food for thought. When I’m reading the blogs of less-experienced folks, I really enjoy seeing a few things:

    – “We are learning together. “The writer is completely transparent about the fact that they aren’t an expert on the subject, but shows me some shortcuts to cut through the hardest stuff. Your guide on how to build a blog is a perfect example of this… I know that you aren’t yet a complete expert on this, but your guide helped me cut through 95% of the problems I would have encountered.

    – Your suggestion – Become an authority on a smaller subject. This is probably my favorite thing to read about, from any poster. There’s a lot of things that 98% of the population know NOTHING about; bonsai tree care, how to make your own homemade face lotion, how to use RescueTime to create a real plan around time management… My point is this- If you’ve dedicated significant(ish) time to learning and testing a unique thing, you’ve got the right to be heard.

    Regarding LifeStyle Design Bloggers: I think it’s important to remember the 98% principle. Because you are part of that community, things seems to get replayed. BUT, there’s still a massive audience that knows nothing about the lifestyle you are creating. Reach that audience, and based on your experience, you are an “expert.”

  8. Edward says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that you don’t have to be monetizing your blog to have something important to say that has value.

    Success is not something that you just wake up to one morning. It is a process. Sharing that process is arguably more valuable then just telling the world how successful you are.

    Personally I get a lot more out of your blog than I do from the A-list bloggers because you are in the trenches. That has its own credibility.

  9. Jenny says:

    When you put yourself out there, there are going to be people that either don’t get it, don’t have all the information, or just want to displace their insecurities. It’s a valid question though… why should anyone listen to you? It’s a question I ask myself as I’m growing my own site. A question I think we should all ask ourselves.

    I think writing about your growing pains, why you made certain decisions, ect. are really valuable to those that are in the same arena or thinking about making a life-altering decision. Those are all things that us smaller bloggers can add that the A-listers can’t. They aren’t there anymore. We are. Like Edward said, we’re in the trenches and that does give it’s own sense of credibility.

  10. Kevin Evans says:

    It’s cool you tackle this subject head on. Andrew Keen talks a lot about his as well and he takes the side that the internet is full of “truthiness.” There is a large truth to that. Silicon Valley hates him, but they still listen. On one end the internet is like Wikipedia, everyone gets an equal voice, whether you are a teenager dabbling in molecular biology or are a 40 year veteran noble prize winning biologist.

    I feel if you are putting out value and of course come from a genuine place (which there is no manual of genuineness), people will respond. I think Chris Guillebeau on his article on hustling covers this very well: http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/on-hustling/

  11. Dan says:

    This article brings up a lot of things in my head, a few concepts if people are interested further: ad hominem fallacy, survivor’s bias.

    Sean regularly gives me business advice and thoughts on how we should proceed. My follow up isn’t “you’ve never done this before!” or “you’ve never owned a business like this I’m not sure I agree.” Same goes for when my friend’s solicit advice from me regarding their much larger businesses. The fact that I’ve never run or owned a 15 million dollar business doesn’t seem to matter.

    Because ideas are generally best evaluated without their authors in mind. This is much easier to do if you have a testing ground– a business and customers.

    People without those two things, especially online, seem to go on forever about who said whats.

    I can guarantee you @AnythingIan doesn’t give a damn who said what, he cares if it works, and he’ll go find out.

    This is a classic quote used often in business circles: “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.” It’s not universally true, of course, but I’d venture that the back and forth about how credible people are is generally coming from people who are looking for leadership, and if you are looking for someone to lead you that’s the first thing you need to address on your path to entrepreneurship.

    If you are deeply interested in why hearing directly from how others have made success (and expect that same path to work for you) its worth taking a peak at Parrondo’s Paradox. Applied to business it can mean that the most profound successes can often come from synthesizing two “losing” strategies.

    Success is often singular, and if you find yourself on the path of with a bunch of others, you might want to jump ship.

  12. Zero Dean says:

    Hey Sean! Thanks for highlighting my comment. 🙂

    It seems everyone is talking about about fear (and overcoming fear) lately — I just wrote about that today, in fact!

    I only just discovered your blog as a result of you mentioning my name (where’s my site link!? 😉 ZeroDean.com) but I’m going to subscribe and take some time to dig deeper.

    I’ll be back!

    Zero Dean

  13. Jamie says:

    Credibility does matter, its the most important asset that you can own as a person… Period, Especially so if your someone in the business of trying to connect with others.

    Whether your goal is to get people to push a buy button or just being a vocal part of a community, credibility leads to trust, trust leads to relationship which is the foundation point for anybody trying too position themselves as an industry leader.

    I don’t think there is any question to the advantages of been perceived as credible. I think the question is more, should credibility, specifically credibility for bloggers only be judged on how long they have been writing on a particular subject matter.

    Personally I would have to say it doesn’t matter, as Sean say’s “good information is good information”, its irrespective of whether or not that person is a long term blogger.

    For me credibility is about respect, respect for your readers, your customers and most importantly yourself.

    I have respect for what Sean is trying to obtain in his life, whether he achieves it or not. I have respect for his openness and honesty in which he documents his life’s successes and shortfalls and in turn that respect leads me to see him as a credible source of information.

  14. Hi Sean,
    I love this follow-up post. I agree with you that genuine bloggers stand out (like you!). There has to be some realness, “the magic” that makes you think, “Yes, I understand this. I’ve felt this way, too.”

    Those are the blogs I read, then read again.

    Much love to you.

    Melissa Gorzelanczyk

  15. Great post Sean. I have been having this conversation more often recently as well.

    There are so many people peddling the lifestyle design/ location independence who have barely any life experience. Even worse, there are people recommending the lifestyle who aren’t making any money and who have never traveled.

    Partying on an exotic island is NOT “kicking ass” or living “awesome” or being a “non-conformist.” It is just people with no-obligations having fun for usually a short time. For the vast majority of us it is not a sustainable lifestyle.

    Bloggers talk like all work sucks and you need to start a passive income business, etc. Work sucks for unskilled and inexperienced new graduates but many people actually enjoy their work. Starting a blog to sell over-priced ebooks is not exactly changing the world.

    On my travels, I have met professors, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs of real businesses that hire full-time staff at fare salaries, even bus drivers, waiters and shop keepers. These are the people that are extraordinary because they are committed to doing their work to the best of their ability everyday. They are not trying to change the world, they make the world go.

    Does credibility matter?
    I think it does for most people but we all know that gullible people can be suckered into buying things with enough hype and bullshit. Selling is not a rational appeal it is an emotional one with false scarcity tactics. Convincing someone to buy one of the hundreds of make money online ebooks is not so different from getting them to buy the latest gadget of fashion accessory.

  16. You make a good point Sean. I think you have credibility on getting out of the 9-to-5 and taking some risks. Anybody who is contemplating doing so should ask you for your advice.

    And, regarding making money being location independent, it’s good you admit you don’t have that credibility yet. It just takes time.

    Reading blogs is entertainment to me, and should be for most.

    One big question: Do you think it’s a coincidence or not that there has been a surge of lifestyle blogs with the biggest economic downturn in our lifetimes?

    @John – Good comments!

    1. Sean says:

      @FS Personally, I don’t necessarily think the economic downturn has a huge impact. It certainly helps, but I don’t think its the driving factor. You look at a lot of the people who are really seeing success doing the “lifestyle design” thing and I think they’d be doing it regardless. I also think that over the last few years the notion of a blog has become much more mainstream and accessible. As soon as a few people got a voice and saw some success with the idea, thousands of others ran with it.

      @John, I think your right on. A lot of people think that their “gap year” trip makes them location independent. Sure if you use that time wisely you can build something up in that time frame, but the vast majority of people arent making livable incomes. Awhile back someone said I failed by coming back to Portland. Frankly, it would have been way easier to stay in a foreign country. Coming back to the states in my mind is more a sign of getting closer to making it – but regardless its certainly helping my ability to grow a sustainable business. Thanks for the thoughts.

      @Jamie Really appreciate this. I like what you say regarding credibility being about respect. If you’re misleading about what you’re doing that isn’t respectful to anyone…

  17. Alex says:

    In my humble opinion people shouldn’t be pitching about “how to be location independent” to achieve just that, just as they shouldn’t be pitching about “how to make money online” when that’s their primary source of income. If you have a legitimate business making legitimate money that allows you to be “location independent” and having a blog on “location independence” as a bonus, that’s perfectly fine in my opinion. But when it leads as far as the John Chow slogan “I make money online by telling people how to make money online” respectively “I am location independent by telling people how to be location independent” then that’s really a suspect starting point and shady business model and people will see through that.

  18. Dave says:

    I love reading the lifestyle design blogs. Largely because it would be a dream for me to live independently anywhere I want in the world with a passive income or similar.

    I do think there is a lot of rubbish in some of them though. The really great ones are from the people out there doing it who seem like they just happen to blog to share the adventure. My favourites are people like myeggnoodles.com, nerdynomad.com and junglejil.blogspot.com.

    For a lot of people doing or not doing this stuff isn’t about fear it’s about rational choices.

    I suppose the best way to extinguish any doubt on your credibility is to work hard and make it.

  19. Anthony says:

    Hey Sean, great thought provoking read and one of good timing. Sometimes the person who is doubting the credibility can actually be the person in the mirror. When you want to grow and learn about an industry such as location independence and have all the enthusiasm in the world, there are moments when your are stifled with the “who do I think I am?” kinda doubts.

    This is something that I have recently struggled with however, it helped give me direction to my new blog. I’m being very up-front about things and accepting to be a human guinea pig that is learning as the readers are.

    On a final note, I think many people ask and take advice from the wrong source. This became very apparent to me and I think advice should be considered from people who have been or are already on the same kind of path that I want to take.

  20. Anthony says:

    when you are stifled*

    MAN I hate doing typo’s haha.

  21. John DeVries says:


    Fantastic post. I think this pushed a lot of buttons and pulled a lot of strings with people. Especially since many of us are bloggers, writers, etc… who follow you because we want to create what you have.

    It’s all pretty much been said above. But I just had one last thing to add to the conversation.

    You really encourage people to start a blog as a way of gaining their location independence. When I initially came across that in your course, I was dissuaded because I thought, “I’m not an expert”. However, the point has been made above. You can write on the things you ARE an expert on. Or, just tell your story. If your story is good, people will listen.

    So, I guess I’m writing this because I don’t want people to become so paranoid, that they don’t start a blog.

    I’m not an expert. But, blogging has allowed me to connect with some amazing people (Sean included), that I otherwise would never have met.

    Be honest. Put it all on the table. People gravitate towards inspired truth. So share that with them to the best of your ability.

    Anyway, really thought provoking stuff amigo. Thanks for this.

  22. John DeVries says:

    Oh, and sweet beard.

Comments are closed.