The Common Path to Uncommon Success: A Roadmap to Financial Freedom & Fulfillment, by John Lee Dumas (246 pages)
I’ve listened to JLD’s (that’s how John Lee Dumas refers to himself) podcast, Entrepreneurs on Fire, for a couple of years. So when he wrote a book it was a no-brainer to give it a whirl. The book does not disappoint. In it, JLD lays out, step-by-step, how to build a business from scratch and succeed.
The Uncommon Path is comprised of 17 chapters that walk you through the steps of building an enterprise, from inception to built-now-you’re-rich. The last chapter is a “well of knowledge” where famous entrepreneurs give their best tips to crush it in the business world.
17 Steps to Uncommon Success:
1. Identify your big idea – You need to consider all of your skills AND all of your passions and merge 2 of them for your business idea.
2. Discover your niche – it’s vital to niches down and not go too broad with your business concept.
3. Create Your Avatar – this is a common idea amongst the entrepreneurial set. You must know exactly who your customer is in order to serve them well.
4. Choose your platform – The main platforms for creating content (you ave to do this for any business) are a website, podcast or YouTube
5. Find Your Mentor – save tons of time by finding someone who has walked the path you wish to travel.
6. Join or Create a Mastermind – Hanging out with like-minded people will inspire you and keep you accountable
7. Design Your Content Production Plan – Will you publish content daily, weekly, monthly?
8. Create Content – Most people (at least at first) will need to make their own content.
9. Launch – Publish your website, podcast or YouTube channel.
10. Pinpoint Your Avatar’s Biggest Struggle – Communicate with your customers or potential customers to find their pain points that you can help with.
11. Prove the Concept and Craft the Solution – Once you know your customer’s struggle create a solution and pre-sell it to assess desire.
12. Build Your Funnel – This is the path you take your customer down, from getting their email to making an offer
13. Diversify Your Revenue Stream – Once your have a successful product or service start to work on another.
14. Increase Your Traffic – Market your message to tell more people about your offers
15. Implement Systems and Build a Team – You need this step in order to scale your business.
16. Create Affiliate Partnerships – Have other people sell your products or service for a commission to further scale.
17. Keep the Money You Make – Educate yourself and implement sound investment strategies.
Should I Read the Common Path to Uncommon Success?
If you’re looking for a book that is a roadmap for starting and growing a business — pretty much any business — the Common Path is a great read. Each step along the path is well-developed. Every chapter describes the action, why it’s important and gives examples, usually from JLD’s path to success.
This is, at its core, a macro course. There are whole books dedicated to each of the 17 steps. For example, step 14 “Increase Your Traffic” should be followed up with Russell Brunson’s Traffic Secrets for a more in-depth analysis of that topic. Or for steps 1 and 2 Will It Fly by Pat Flynn dives deeply into choosing your business idea and ascertaining if it’s a good one.
It’s a valuable tool if you’re starting your journey to entrepreneurship. It also works if you’ve been building a business and hit a plateau. Chances are if you have hit a wall in your business you’ve skipped one of the 17 steps.
The book is written in an energetic and positive tone. John Dee Lumas is adamant that if you follow each of these phases of building a business, in the order he lays out, you will succeed. He gives some tough love along the way as well. I found the book well worth the time to read cover-to-cover.
If you want the cheat-sheet version of the book read over the summary of each chapter below.
Comprehensive Summary of the Common Path to Uncommon Success
Step 1 – Identify your big idea
Here’s where it all starts. You have a desire to start your own business. Do you have an idea of what service or product you want to put out into the world? Some do but many don’t have any clue.
Here’s what JLD tells you to do: Sit down with a sheet of paper and make a “T” chart. At the top of one column write “skills” and the other “passions”.
Brainstorm all of your skills from cooking an awesome pot of chicken soup, being a badminton champion in the family to writing great thank-you notes. What computer skills do you have? Can you fix stuff? What was your best subject in school? What do friends and family reach out to you for help with?
Now take a break, walk around for five minutes, then come back and work on the second column. Again, brainstorm every passion you have or have had from the smallest to the largest. Do you like to read, walk on the beach, talk to people, go to parties, plan parties, cook, work out, knit, do puzzles?
Finally, study both columns and try to match a skill to a passion to get your business idea. I like to read books on business and finance and enjoy writing, so I created this website. When people click on some of the books I summarize I get a little commission from the seller (at zero cost to you). And I can place ads on the site for a few extra dollars. When LOTS of people come to my site regularly I’ll have a business:)
John’s skill was talking to entrepreneurs and he loved podcasts. That’s how Entrepreneurs on Fire was born.
Step 2 – Discover your niche
Once you have a general idea — or ideas — it’s time to drill down. The more niche you get the better. There are hundreds of millions of people in America and billions of people in the world. No matter how small you think your service or product is there are lots of people who might want it.
There is a woman who teaches a course on how to make jelly apples — nothing else, just jelly apples. She’s doing very well.
Another woman started a website, then a YouTube channel sharing how she cares for her curly hair. She’s making $8,000 a month and her business is 3 years old and she’s only been full-time for one year.
I listened to a guy on the podcast Side Hustle Nation who’s crushing it renting portable hot tubs! Niche, niche and niche some more.
JLD knew he wanted to podcast about business. He niched down to interviewing successful business owners. Then he further niched down to being the only (at the time) daily podcast that interviews entrepreneurs. And he nailed it.
Step 3 – Create Your Avatar
Who is your ideal customer? How old are they? Are they married? Do they play tennis? Are they mostly female? You should know the answer to thiese questions in order to better serve them.
“Everyone is not your customer” – Seth Godin
Many business owners strive to reach too wide of an audience. Most people will never be your customer, and that’s a good thing. You don’t need millions of clients, only a few hundred or thousand. In order for those few people — your ideal customers — to find you it’s essential that you know them intimately.
Once you identify your perfect customer write his or her bio in at least 500 words. Dumas’ avatar’s name is Jimmy. He’s 40 years old with a wife and 2 kids, ages 3 and 6. Jimmy has a 25-minute commute to work each day by car. He has a desk job that’s not fulfilling. That’s a bit of Jimmy’s bio that JLD wrote down.
Once you know your avatar intimately every question along your business journey is easier. For example, when JLD was lanning his podcast one decision he had to make was the length of each show. Well, Jimmy’s commute is shy of half an hour, so Entrepreneur’s on Fire usually runs under 30 minutes.
Step 4 – Choose your platform
Once you have your idea, niched down and created your perfect customer it’s time to choose how you’re going to get your message out to the world. This must be done in order to succeed. The question is: how?
There are 3 potential forms of communication you can use: written, audio or video. You must choose one and create content to find your avatar.
Each platform has pros and cons. Writing is cheap and less time-consuming than creating audio or video content. However, there’s a low barrier to entry so competition is fierce.
If you choose audio podcasting is your only viable option. It’s great because more and more people are listening to podcasts each year. They can listen while doing other tasks and it’s free for them. The cons are that it takes more work and technical skill to record and edit a podcast.
Also, some topics need visual aids to be understood.
Lots of people love to watch videos. When I need to learn something YouTube is usually my first stop. But it’s more expensive, time-consuming and difficult to make good videos. And the platform is becoming more saturated because anyone with a smartphone can press record and upload it to various video platforms.
It is crucial to offer free, valuable content to your prospective customers. Choosing the right platform to produce that content is an important step in the entrepreneurial journey.
Step 5 – Find Your Mentor
This is a common theme amongst the entrepreneur set, and for good reason. As a teacher in New York City an untenured teacher must have a mentor to guide him. When you’re starting out in an endeavor you don’t know what you don’t know. Finding a sage to point you down the proper path and keep you from veering off is wonderful.
Dumas teaches that you should try to find a mentor who is where you want to be in one year. Write down your goals — so you know where you want to be, then search for someone who is there.
He suggests investing in yourself by paying a coach to help you. When this is not possible learning from books, podcasts and courses can help.
Step 6 – Join or Create a Mastermind
A mastermind group is a small number of people (3-8) who meet regularly to share knowledge and keep each other accountable.
A typical mastermind meeting will start with one member taking their turn in the “hot seat”. The others listen to his or her challenges, ask questions and offer advice. The hot seat member will formulate a plan of action and a time frame with which to complete it. The other members will hold her accountable. Each meeting a new member will get their turn in the hot seat.
Many masterminds cost money when they’re started by someone farther down the success path. However, they don’t have to be. You can find masterminds by reaching out in FaceBook groups or start your own.
This step is easy to overlook when you’re starting a business. There are so many things you need to be doing to gain forward momentum that a mastermind falls by the wayside. I know I’m guilty of this.
Step 7 – Design Your Content Production Plan
You’ve already chosen your platform: website, podcast or YouTube, now it’s time to plan your content. It’s crucial that you off value and advice on your topic to potential customers. This will build a relationship with your audience. It will also establish your authority in the niche.
You may be tempted to be all the places, to try each platform and see what sticks. JLD — and others in the entrepreneurial arena as well — caution against this. Instead, go deep and all in on one platform until you reach success there. Only then branch out to other forms of content.
You’ve identified who your avatar is. What do they need? What problems can you help them solve? Plan out a list of ideas so that when it’s time to record or type you already know what to say.
Planning is important in order to stay consistent and on track. Being consistent is super important; it builds trust with your audience. If you listen to podcasts you know that all the successful podcasters have a schedule and you know that every Thursday, for instance, Pat Flynn drops a new podcast.
How often will you create this content? How long will it be? All of these aspects should be mapped out and recorded in a planner of some kind.
Step 8 – Create Content
Whether you have developed a new software or a clown at children’s birthday parties you need to create content. As mentioned above, the most common types of content are websites, podcasts or YouTube.
In Step 7 you mapped out what type, how often and how long. Now it’s time to hit the ground running. This is where the grunt work starts. Most people will, at least at first, create their own content.
You must produce valuable, free and consistent content to your audience. Consistency is the most challenging part of the equation. It’s not easy to write a helpful blog post or create a video, day after week after month after year. Particularly because in the beginning you will be putting your value out there to an empty audience.
It takes time for your people to find you. That means stealing yourself for thankless drudgery for — at the minimum — months.
If you’re starting your business as a side hustle in addition to your day job you’ll have to carve time in your week to produce this content. Can you get up an hour earlier and do your work before going to do your boss’ work? Are there 2 hours in the evening after the kids go to sleep? How many hours can you carve out of your weekend? Decide what works best and stick to it.
Step 9 – Launch
To “launch” means to officially make your content live, publish your posts, podcast or YouTube channel. Some people procrastinate at this stage because their work is not perfect. Perfectionism is bad.
Perfectionism is often fear hiding behind a euphemism. Your content will not be good at first. Accept that and move on. Quality comes by putting in the reps.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi
John Lee Dumas suffered from this perfectionist syndrome. He had a launch date. His social media was ready, his podcast in the can. His website was up. And the morning of his launch date he cancelled the publish order. He needed a couple of weeks to make it a bit better.
A couple of weeks turned into 3, then 4. Luckily he had a mentor. His mentor reached out and assured him that the fear was normal, but if he didn’t launch in the next week he was fired as a mentee. That pushed him to do what was uncomfortable.
Today he’s very glad he did!
Step 10 – Pinpoint Your Avatar’s Biggest Struggle
Slowly, very slowly you will build an audience through your content. The next step is to reach out to this audience and find out what they need. There are 4 questions to ask them:
1. How did you find me?
2. What do you like about my content?
3. What don’t you like?
4. What is your biggest struggle right now?
If you have an email list, or followers on Instagram reach out to them. Most won’t respond. It’s not personal; they’re busy and/or shy.
If you can get a response from a few people the very best way to get to know your audience is by talking to them. Reach out and ask if they would be willing to jump on a short call. It’s scary to do this and old school but it’s effective.
You’ll hear your avatar’s voice, the words they use and don’t use. Dumas was surprised to find out that many of his followers wanted to start their own podcast. Even though he was only 11 months in at the time, they viewed him as an expert and sought his advice.
He had hit on their struggle. When you come up with the solution to that struggle you’re on your way to serious profits.
Step 11 – Prove the Concept and Craft the Solution
Now that you know your customers’ biggest pain point it’s time to brainstorm a solution. There are an infinite number of niches that you might be targeting, but many times the solutions are similar:
- One-on-one coaching
- Writing a book
- Creating a course
- Creating a paid challenge
- Physical product
- Hosting live or virtual events
The next step is where many flounder. They have built an audience. They have spoken to their audience. They know the biggest challenge faced by their followers. Time to create the solution.
Not so fast.
The road to failure is littered with great ideas that were executed unsuccessfully. The “new” way to ensure your offer is a success is to pre-sell it.
You can ask a thousand people if they want your formula for weight loss, or the best meditation app ever, but until a few people vote with their wallets you SHOULD NOT spend time and money creating your resource.
What does this look like?
If you plan to offer a mastermind, paid course, challenge or event pitch your audience first. Pat Flynn did this when he wanted to create a podcasting course. He decided that if 10 people accepted his discounted beta offer then — and only then — would he build out the course.
If you want to build a physical product kickstarter is a good place to test your idea. Create a prototype and launch it on the platform. Anyone who likes your idea will prebuy it, giving you seed money for your first order.
Like Pat Flynn, JLD reached out to his audience before creating Podcasters Paradise. He presold his course and community for podcasters at half price. He sold twenty in the first two hours. People spoke with their wallets. He began creating the course at that time.
12. Build Your Funnel
A funnel is a step-by-step path that you send a potential customer on. It starts out with them not knowing who you are. By offering value to them your future customer grow to know, like and trust you. Finally, they are warmed up enough to buy.
So your funnel begins with the free content that you consistently put out. This allows people to know that you exist and you are knowledgeable in your niche.
Your next step is to create a valuable “lead magnet” to try and capture their email. This can take many forms. It could be a mini-course, a template, or the first chapter of your book. The idea is to give your follower something useful that will give them a quick win.
Now you have a growing email list of people who are interested in your niche. You get to communicate directly with them every week and offer even more value. Periodically you can pitch your product or service to your list.
Now you’re in business!
There are many types of funnels. Many entrepreneurs have an email sequence that goes out after their freebie or lead magnet. In the sequence is at least one enticing, discounted offer. If they take you up on the offer another “upsell” can be given before they finish checking out.
13. Diversify Your Revenue Stream
It is always a good idea to have multiple streams of income, rather than relying on one. You have to start with one, get it up and running, before you chase another income source.
John Lee Dumas started his daily podcast and began to get sponsors on his show. Only when that was coming along nicely did he begin to consider a podcasting course.
He offered a free mini course as his lead magnet. This led to sales of his course. Next created paid webinars. That led to a new course, Webinars on Fire.
JLD even created a physical product, a leather-bound journal. When that was successful he expanded the line to include several journals.
If Apple or any other streaming service were to cut Entrepreneurs on Fire podcast tomorrow JLD would not starve. His long email list of followers and many sources of income would keep providing financial success.
14. Increase Your Traffic
For the most part, you can create great content on any platform — to crickets. It is necessary to find a way to make your potential audience aware that you exist.
JLD’s chosen method, not surprisingly, was to get on other people’s podcasts. He reached out to many relevant podcasters and asked to be a guest on their show. This is a win-win if done correctly. Being a lively, enthusiastic guest that has a message, something to teach the audience adds value to the podcaster. And you get in people’s ears and make them aware you exist.
This is an effective collaboration method for most niches. There are some niches that better lend itself to YouTube. If you are a crafter or do anything visual the same outreach would need to take place on YouTube.
15. Implement Systems and Build a Team
Once you have your business up and running and know it well it’s time to scale. You cannot scale effectively without building systems into your business.
The first step in creating systems is to write down everything you do in a week. Everything. The following week look over your list. Any tasks that will not repeated this week discard. It’s your repetitive tasks that need systems around them.
You should make standard operating procedures (SOPs) for each of your repetitive tasks. Either video yourself or write down step-by-step every aspect of the task. These SOPs are needed to outsource some of your responsibilities.
Each week create one or two of these SOPs. You will quickly build a library of all the tasks that are needed in your business.
As a solopreneur there is just so far you can grow your business. Once you have anSOP library analyze it. Decide: which tasks am I good at, am I not so good at, do I like to do, can be easily outsourced?
You can start scaling slowly with a part-time virtual assistant for very little money are start to build a team, depending upon your needs and goals.
16. Create Affiliate Partnerships
Dumas is a big proponent of going deep rather than wide in your offering. This mean that you should address a specific pain or desire and go all in on being the very best solution.
As you progress there may come to light other problems your followers are experiencing. This is when affiliate offers can create another stream of income.
JLD sells a podcast course and it sells well. Some of those students may have the desire to learn search engine optimization (SEO) for their websites. JLD can suggest a course that he knows is awesome (instead of making his own course). He would then earn an affiliate commission from the SEO course owner.
You can also flip the affiliate play. Many products and services lend themselves to creating an affiliate relationship with others. You would then be the one paying a commission to other influencers that push your offering.
17. Keep the Money You Make
Once you have built a successful business it’s important to actually keep the money you make. Many people make a lot of money but are not wealthy. Their expenses grow at the same rate as their income, keeping financial independence impossible.
Another common pitfall entrepreneurs face is not really knowing their numbers. You can sell $1 million of product and have nothing to show for it. Amazon sellers are known to do this. Your widget costs $5 and you sell it for $20, nice markup! But what about shipping, packaging, storage, Amazon seller fees, pick and pack fees, pay per click advertising fees? It’s easy, scarily easy to walk away with little nothing after working so hard.
Tracking every single dollar that goes into your business is imperative.
You must pay yourself first. JLD suggests that you keep at least 10% of every dollar that comes into your business. Only then should you plan your advertising budget, virtual assistant costs, etc.
He suggests 2 books that are both great reads. The first is a short book called the Richest Man in Babylon, by George C. Clason. The other is Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. JLD calls Michalowicz a “financial genius”.
I personally recommend both of these books as well.
The Well of Knowledge
The Final Chapter of The Common Path to Uncommon Success is a compilation of the best advice JLD has received throughout his journey as an entrepreneur. Here are a few of my favorites:
– compare and despair (Don’t compare your level of success with anyone else.)
– live below your means
– get 1% better every day. (You’ll be 100% better every 3 ½ months!)
– You only have to be right once (so you can make LOTS of mistakes along the way)
– All the magic happens outside your comfort zone.
Is the Common Path a Reliable Source?
John Lee Dumas has put in the work and found success. He started with his podcast and grew a multi-million dollar company. He started with a podcast, added a podcasting course, then went on to develop physical products and author books. He publishes income reports on his websites.
In September of 2021 his net income was $280,000. Since 2012, when JLD started his podcast, he has earned a net income of $15,933,640.
While those numbers do not put in the same category as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos it clearly places him in the category of successful entrepreneur. JLD has walked the walked, and I think he has the expertise and knowledge to write a reliable book on the topic.
The caveat I want to throw in is that it’s not the common path for some businesses. There are businesses that are product-based or require research and development. These start-ups require much more capital than the information-based type of business JLD describes. So the path to success may be a bit different.
About the Author
John Lee Dumas is an award-winning podcaster. He began Entrepreneurs on Fire, a daily show that interviews entrepreneurs, in 2012. He has ground his podcast to a monthly million downloads.
JLD served in the armed forces after college. Upon his return his struggled to find his path, trying sales and real estate. He discovered podcasts while in his car for work and fell in love with the platform. When he decided to start a business a podcast was a natural choice. At age 32 Entrepreneurs on Fire was born.
By Joan Medori