9 Secrets to Pat Flynn’s Success with Smart Passive Income (gleaned from his New Media Expo presentation) #NMX

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9 Secrets to Pat Flynn’s Success with Smart Passive Income #NMXThere were a few sessions that were highly anticipated at this year’s New Media Expo in Las Vegas. I won’t name names but one of them was clearly Pat Flynn’s Day 3 presentation, “Proven Methods to Use Free in Your Business to Get More Traffic, More Subscribers and More Customers”. Frankly, he could have spoken on “What I Like to Eat for Breakfast” and it would have been a packed session.  Pat has just developed that kind of passion amongst his fans.

Rather than covering the topic of “Free”, I thought I’d talk about what his presentation taught me about why he’s become such a success online – all without a major product of his own and by building his own platform from scratch (i.e. not coming from a large company that had a platform to lend him). Reading this, you may also pick up some tips on how to deliver a compelling presentation for your own audience.

Let me set the stage:

Pat comes in – sets up his ipod to play a series of songs over the PA system. We later learn that the theme was songs related to “Free”. See the playlist here:


He then proceeds to walk around the audience and hand out Hershey’s Kisses and Lindt truffles. We later learn that this is not just a nice treat and a way to connect with each of us, but it will be used in his presentation as a way to make a point about relative value between different items, and how “free” skews that relative value (see the book Predictably Irrational for details on this Kiss and Lindt experiment).

Pat’s dressed sharply in a tie with a vest – we later learn that this ties to another part of his presentation as well.

The presentation starts with an entertaining video and pictures of the crazy things that people will do to get something for free (even low value items). Standing in huge lines, painting their faces, bowing to a machine in front of a huge crowd, touching a car for 72 hours to get a car (this one may be worth it!), and more.

The basic presentation structure includes (my interpretation):

  • The Power of Free
  • How To Use it to Support Your Business
  • Types of Free That You Can Use
  • Case Studies (including how people in the audience can use Free)

Overall, it was an awesome presentation with lots of surprises and great content – you can access free resources and a paid replay of all of the sessions (including Pat’s) here: NMX University (affiliate).

Watching the presentation up close (I was there early and sat in the front), gave me some insight into why Pat has been so successful online. This presentation is just one example of the type of work that he delivers on his blog, in his podcast and with each of his projects.

Here’s my take on why he’s been so successful with examples pulled from the presentation or his other work.

1) Keep The Big Picture In Mind

In his presentation, in his coaching of entrepreneurs from the audience, and in his various projects, Pat always seems to focus on the big picture. Who’s your audience and what outcome are they trying to achieve? What are your goals based on this and what are the pieces that need to be put in place to grow your platform and your business (including the role of free content).

Business Lesson:

Know your goals so every piece of your strategy will fit in with them. This includes how you strategically use free content to grow your audience.

Strategy of Free, Smart Passive Income

2) Sweat the Details

Having the big picture in mind is critical, but flawless execution is key. In pulling together his presentation, Pat had plotted out each step, each prop, and each piece of content. And it all tied together to give the audience an amazing experience and some excellent lessons. In Pat’s business, his execution is pretty incredible. He admitted that he used to waste a lot of time focusing on even minor coding changes – several hours at a time – because he wanted to understand it intimately. He’s finally letting VA’s handle some tasks but has started with a foundation of extreme care and attention to the smallest details.

Business Lesson:

Tying big picture strategy with flawless execution is a combination for success. Being focused on strategy but lazy on execution will bring sub-par results. Focusing on the trees but never seeing the forest is a recipe for burnout.

3) Provide Insane Value

Pat could easily have delivered a solid presentation on autopilot. Hey, some of the other lesser-known presenters went through basic presentations and took questions. Done.

Why did Pat work about 10x harder than those other presenters when he could have coasted through this presentation?

That’s a key to his success and the success of many other top bloggers, podcasters, authors and speakers. Delivering insane value is the reason they’ve become so successful. In this case, he produced an “experience” to remember.

Business Lesson:

Doing just the basics or going through the motions will produce sub-par results. To achieve success, you’ve got to over-deliver early and often.

4) Touch Multiple Senses, Use Multiple Platforms

In the presentation, we had touch, taste, smell, sound, and of course visual stimuli. Pat used music, video, visuals, crowd interaction and co-creation with the audience (via live case studies) to keep us interested and attentive. In his business, he uses podcasts, videos and text across multiple platforms to grow awareness of his business.

Business Lesson:

Be creative in how and where you deliver your message. Touch multiple senses and address different modes of learning and content consumption. Of course, consistency is key on any given platform.

5) Be a Great Teacher

People want to learn. Think from their perspective. How can you make it actionable for your audience? In Pat’s case, he covered the Why, What, and How of using free content for your business. He also showed us case studies and showed (real time) how he would brainstorm content strategies (for free products) for the businesses of people who volunteered. On his blog, in his emails and in his podcast, he goes into great detail and provides tools, templates and guides.

Business Lesson:

How are you helping your audience learn? Are you providing multiple ways to learn? Do you have enough supporting elements?

6) Leverage Your Network / Don’t Hog The Spotlight

You’re not in this alone. If you are, that’s a recipe for disaster. The longer I’ve been in this business, the more I realize how important others are for your success. Your audience/readers, your peers and your teachers/influencers are all critical to your success.

In Pat’s presentation, he clearly focuses on giving the audience insane value and on connecting with them. He mentions his mastermind group in his presentation as well – made up of peers and influencers/teachers. By interviewing others and connecting at events and elsewhere, Pat is able to meet more teachers and influencers.

Not only this, but in his presentation, he liberally mentioned others like Derek Halpern, Ramit Sethi, Chris Drucker, John Tuggle and several others.

Business Lesson:

Have you considered how you build and strengthen your authentic connections with audience/readers, peers and teachers/influencers?

7) Connect With Your Audience / Get Personal and Vulnerable

From sharing stories about the lint in the crook of his son’s finger to stories about his childhood fishing trips, Pat’s able to provide a very personal connection to each member of his audience. On his blog, he has shared his stories of his usage of P90X, including shirtless pictures (from out of shape to in shape). He’s shared stories of project successes as well as failures and challenges.

In his presentation at NMX, Pat brought up two people to do live case studies with him (answering the question, “how can you use Free to grow your business?”), helping to co-create part of the presentation.

Business Lesson:

Are you willing to share some of you or your company’s personality, history, vulnerabilities and failures? Are you willing to get more personal in exchange for a deeper bond? 

9 Secrets to Pat Flynn’s Success with Smart Passive Income #NMX

8) Teach Via Stories / Weave In Case Studies and Proof

Stories are memorable and powerful. They leave a lasting impression. Whether they’re tied to a pictures (like the power of free and how people will paint their faces to look like a cow for a Chik-Fil-A burger and the story/pictures of how a pizza restaurant, Varasano’s, published their pizza-making secrets to develop a huge following) or not (the story of how from Real Men, Real Style got tens of thousands of downloads of his free ebook using Pat’s free eBooks the Easy Way techniques).  but the story and the proof that goes along with it are very memorable and powerful.

Business Lesson:

Rather than saying, “solution x is very powerful and will get you lots of traffic”, demonstrate it with a story that shows exactly how someone used this solution and what it did for their business. Show rather than tell.

9) Surprise, Delight and Entertain

I learned this also from Jon Morrow, who said, “delivering what you promise to deliver is boring. Surprise is what keeps people coming back!”. In his presentation, Pat kept it interesting from the beginning, with the music, chocolate hand-outs, videos, live interaction and more. In fact, he gave away ipod Nano’s to the two people who agreed to do a live case study with him (I was lucky enough to be one of the two!). That’s certainly a nice surprise.

Business Lesson:

Delivering what’s expected is not enough. How are you doing to surprise, delight or entertain your audience or customers?

9 Secrets to Pat Flynn’s Success with Smart Passive Income #NMX

The Hardest Working Man in Online Marketing?

One of the names James Brown earned was “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” because he did so many shows.

I now think of Pat as “The Hardest Working Man in Online Marketing” and his success is well deserved. Not the result of a lucky break, being in the right place at the right time, having lucked into the right connections, or having family wealth to fall back on.

Based on what I’ve now seen on Pat’s blog, in his podcast, in his videos as well as in how he prepared for and delivered this presentation, I can more clearly see where his success has come from. What other elements do you think have led to Pat’s success as a marketer or which of the above do you think is the most important?

Let me know in the comments and if you enjoyed this, please feel free to share it!

Tom Treanor is the founder of the Right Mix Marketing blog. He’s the author of the Search Engine Boot Camp, the co-author of Online Business Productivity, and regularly speaks at industry and corporate events. His writing has been featured on the Content Marketing Institute, Social Media Examiner, Copyblogger and other leading industry blogs.


  1. Great breakdown, Tom! I saw Pat speak at BlogWorld NY in June, but I couldn’t be in Vegas this time around. This is a good substitute 🙂

    I agree – Pat really is the hardest working dude in online marketing. I’ve been consistently blown away by the amount of amazing things he offers, especially his podcasts, which are half the reason I run.

    That slide of his in your first point is probably the thing that has resonated with me the most since I started blogging and trying to implement what I observed Pat and other bloggers doing. The indirect way to profit (I guess you can call it the soft, soft sell) works better for me because I get to build a relationship and an image as an expert/cool guy in the reader’s mind before ever getting to the point where they know I’m making money from their action.
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    1. Thomas, I love that you say that Pat’s podcasts are half the reason you run. That’s the only reason I actually like the long drive from SF to LA. Now that I got the new Nano from Pat I’ll have to run (and listen) more.

      Great point about that slide and how this approach allows you to be the expert/cool guy without the hard sell. I think it’s a much better way to do business if you can get it all working right. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Tom, spot on synopsis. My first day of NMX of very underwhelming with regards to the sessions I attended. However, on Day 2, Chris Ducker loaded up the bases and on Day 3, Pat knocked it out of thr park. Both their sessions turned my experience completely around. I’m glad I got the virtual ticket as I’ll be listening to both sessions multiple times this year as motivation.
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    1. Thank you Jason. I missed Chris Ducker, Rand Fishkin and couldn’t get into Cliff Ravenscraft’s session so I got the virtual ticket as well. I have it from a year ago too and it has some amazing content.
      I appreciate your comment!

  3. Thanks for sharing such detailed thoughts, summaries and takeaways. I wasn’t able to be at NMX but I’ve become a big student of Pat’s works since I discovered his blog and other work via his podcast in summer 2012.

    Very helpful info you have here, Tom.

    1. Hi Ryan,
      I was intrigued by his preparation and presentation style so I thought that would make an interesting topic (tied with his business). I’m glad you liked it and it would be good to connect at NMX next time!

  4. Tom, thanks for the run down. I would have loved ot be NMX and would have expecially enjoyed Pat’s session. It sounds like he impressed his fans as always. He is so easy to relate to and keeps things real no matter how much success he obtains.

    His topic “Proven Methods to Use Free…” reminds me of a guest post I recently wrote for ThinkTraffic.net (http://thinktraffic.net/the-value-of-free). I would have like to see if any of his points correlated with my thoughts about the topic of free. Maybe an audio or video track of this session will be shared one day.

    Thanks again for this post. Best of luck with your marketing blog.
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    1. Mike, nice post. I think you’re on the same page in general. Pat is pushing people to think about their big picture strategy, what outcomes their clients need and then what free item can they use to support their business (by growing the platform). Thanks for your comment!

  5. Ryan – I totally agree with you. The transparency is pretty unique in the industry because he doesn’t really turn it off. Thank you for your advice on the opt-in box – I always appreciate some good constructive feedback! Thanks for adding to the discussion here!

    1. Dylan – Yes, that’s a problem. I’ve been there. Once that happens, you can listen also to Social Triggers and other podcasts while you wait for Pat!

  6. I stumbled upon Pat’s website a couple years ago and has since followed him. He is great at what he does: his openness to share information and help someone. It is clearly evident why he is very successful. I had the opportunity last year to meet him at a mutual friend’s wedding and he is just as down to earth in person as he is in his blog and podcasts. I think that is what makes him successful.

  7. Fantastic analysis of MIT-trained Pat Flynn’s successful journey and approach to a successful career.
    I followed him from the very beginning; admired his guts to experiment and persevere in a way that an academic environment would not have encouraged. So many important lessons.
    I only wish that 60 years ago I would have come across someone like him and thought this is what I weant to be when I grow up.

    1. Hi Joan – Thank you for your comment. I’m not sure if this is the same Pat Flynn (I see an MIT-trained one), but I think this Pat Flynn is a Cal Berkeley grad (like my wife). Great story either way and I appreciate you stopping by!

  8. Great points! Making your story a fun and interactive one is a great way to build your audience and cultivate them. The key to turning your audience into fan-marketers (like Pat evidently has you) is to inspire them to “get up offa that thing!” as James Brown did.

    Hard work matters – if you plan and incorporate the right kind of work. This means, creating your audience before you start trying to ask them to do something like read your blog, comment, subscribe, and creating your audience by designing your whole business as a story in which you and they can become individual characters. They’ll turn themselves into fan-marketers for you because they’ll be subconsciously selling their own story.

    1. Hi Tom. Yes, you could say I’m a fan-marketer. There are several marketers who I really respect and I enjoy watching them work (and understanding why they’re successful). It was interesting to see Pat work up close and to really “get” why he’s done so well. And yes, he did a good job of getting me (and a few other people) off of that thing. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Best Post Tom, Thanks for sharing in-depth presentation of Pat. This post indeed helped to those who are not present during Pat’s presentation. I am one of such unlucky person but you came handy. Best thing is you given point-wise details that helped a lot!
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