We often base our decisions on perception rather than reality, a perception of our making that sometimes gets in the way of making wise choices that benefit us in the long run.

For example, having a corporate job gives you a sense of security and stability that is rarely real. There’s a hefty amount of uncertainty involved in both holding down a full-time job and in running your own business.

I was eager to learn how Matthew Woodward, one of the best SEO specialists on the web, built his impressive business while helping thousands of people and transparently sharing his journey.

For Matt, leaving the ”cozy” corporate world and launching his own business was a painless transition because of his approach (which he shares in detail).

So if you’re looking for struggle p0rn, you won’t find any of it in this story.

If you’re searching for thought-provoking questions that help you identify and move towards life-changing choices confidently, then hit play!

Listen to this episode to learn:

  • The importance of using the basic knowledge of offline sales in the digital marketing space;
  • The one mistake most digital marketers constantly make;
  • How people managed to inject human emotion into the stark SEO world;
  • The worst thing that can happen if your new business fails;
  • Why asking basic questions leads to understanding a person’s perspective on the subject you’re interested in.

A few ideas that stuck with me:

  • The power of observation – As digital marketers, we base many of our decisions on the data we are provided with by the different analytics software. However, the caveat to this approach is that we risk forgetting that behind those numbers there are real people with complex motivations and intentions. To remain connected to human nature, we can rely on observation – one of the most underused tactics. Questions like “Why did people take that decision? What problems are they facing? How can I connect that to a solution and a product?” can be especially revealing and can only be answered by paying attention to the human behavior. We can learn more by doing that than by reading any charts or books.
  • Living versus existing – Finding and pursuing our passion is the element that differentiates these two notions. Experiment and see what works for you, what helps you grow, what makes you tick, and what gives you energy, because, at the end of the day, if you’re in a job or if you’re running a business that you don’t love, it will be hard to find the work-life balance that we’re all looking for.
  • Never assume. Always ask questions – Matt emphasized that even if we’re sure we know the right answer, it doesn’t hurt to just ask – it might actually unveil new opportunities. Setting aside our ego and keeping an open mind to other people’s perspectives on a particular subject allows us to broaden our understanding of the answer, even if it’s something we consider basic.

About Matthew Woodward:

Since 2012, Matt has been publishing detailed tutorials and case studies focused on helping people grow their business and reach new levels of success, by increasing search traffic and profits.

Over the years, his blog – matthewwoodward.co.uk – received a bunch of awards and has helped thousands of people.

On top of his consistently great work, Matt is very transparent about his process. He published a monthly income report for nearly six years, complete with details about his journey of taking his blog from zero to a million dollars. He shares exactly what he did each month and why he did it, along with all of his traffic sources, income, and expenses.

Key Discussion Points:

01:35 – How Matt got started in digital marketing;
04:20 – The reason why Matt built his first website and what he learned from that experience;
08:40 – The one thing that stayed the same throughout the evolution of the Internet – seen through the eyes of an SEO specialist;
13:24 – What Matt has learned about human nature by working in the SEO world;
19:02 – Why Matt decided to move to Costa Rica;
25:24 – Matt’s transition from the corporate world into starting a business on his own;
35:50 – What is Matt’s first question when he interviews someone;
38:57 – The story of Matt’s income reports that he published every month for 6 years;
45:16 – The benefits of always asking the questions whose answers you think you already know.

Connect with Matt:

Resources mentioned in the episode:

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Full episode transcript:

Andra Zaharia: It’s excellent having you here, Matt! I’m really excited to talk to you today!

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, thanks for having me on! This is very different from any podcast I’d normally do, so I’ve actually been quite looking forward to it and to sharing different things that have contributed to my journey and success with everyone.

Andra Zaharia: Me as well, especially because I think that being able to talk to someone who’s so open about their process in so many ways, and has taught many others, of course, through that transparency, and I think that’s one of the things that helps us the most because – as we were chatting about just a minute earlier – so much in our industry, in digital marketing especially, but in the world, in general, so much is changing that I think that the one thing we can rely on is our process. So, I’m really, really excited to find out more about how you do things.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah! I’ve got a lot to share, so I hope everyone listening has got at least a notepad to hand.

Andra Zaharia: That is excellent! So, your story has so many aspects to it, and you’ve been on this journey for over two decades now, building your own business, contributing to building other people’s businesses – either in your background as an employee or as a mentor and kind of a guide for other people around the world. So, I think it would be interesting to kind of share with people how you got started in digital marketing. From what I know from you, it was kind of something that happened naturally, instead of being that decision that I’m going to do exactly this profession. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

Matthew Woodward: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t decide I was going to do digital marketing and I guess I was doing digital marketing before digital marketing had a name. I didn’t really know it was what I was doing. One of the things many new digital marketers miss is they miss basic sales knowledge, and that really helps you get a leg up in a competition because you can apply all of the different principles of sales and marketing offline to the new digital world. It’s the same lessons, just in a different medium many, many times. So, I’ve been doing sales for as long as I can remember. I was a kid that was selling sweets at school, selling Pokémon cards, I’d spend my weekends going door to door, knocking on people’s doors and asking if I could wash their car or tidy up their garden or whatever, just for a few dollars.

Andra Zaharia: And did you have a mentor for that or an example in the family or was it just something you felt naturally drawn to?

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, well, I guess I was naturally drawn to it, but the reason I was naturally drawn to it is my dad was always in car sales – he was one of the most successful car salesmen in the UK. He would, then, go into failing car garages and turn them around into making a lot of money. And he had a very specific kind of three-year plan in how he did that and he went garage to garage doing that. So, I’ve always been passively fed lessons and mindset in sales. So, I guess that’s why I was the kid that I was.

Andra Zaharia: And you kept on building on that.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, yeah. All of that has progressed. I mean, the reason I built my first website was I was playing competitive games online, way back when, like, again, before eSports was a thing. We were playing that, we were doing LAN parties, and it was just when it was getting started, just when Intel and AMD would start to sponsor teams 15 – 18 years ago. So, I created a website so people could share their videos of their best bits, their highlight reels. But to create those highlight reels back then, we had to get our video out from the computer to a VHS player, press record on a tape and play the tape back into the computer. I’m talking before YouTube days. So, I built a website that allowed people to share those videos. Now, because I was a kid, and looking back on it, I lacked the vision to create YouTube – I built a website for people to share videos of their best gaming moments, whereas what I should have done is build a website for people to share videos.

Andra Zaharia: But still, it was kind of your MVP, it was your way to test the idea and see if it touched people.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, it was my first website, I built a community, I was learning the basics of copywriting, administration, all that tech stuff of setting up servers. At that moment in time, I was delivering newspapers before school to pay for the server. And at the same time, competitive gaming taught me a lot about teamwork, strategy, planning, and execution. So, all of those things back then, when I was really just a kid playing – I was just playing games really, and then built a website to share some of that, that’s all I did – but it gave me the foundation skills which has now allowed me to help tons, and tons, and tons of people because I’ve now built a community where I help people grow their business rather than help people correct their gaming profile.

Andra Zaharia: But still, that was an important stage in your life because you basically started acquiring, let’s say, the hacker’s mentality, but the good version of hackers.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah. Google was my teacher for whatever it was – I was learning the basics of video editing, animation, and lots of other things that, at that time, ironically enough, my mom always used to be like, “Why are you wasting time playing games? Get off that bloody computer!”

Andra Zaharia: I remember mine telling me something similar in high school, “Stop wasting time on that!” Even though I did good in school. But yeah, it was like this big distraction and, hey, look at it becoming our actual profession and our actual activity.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah. And people didn’t have mobile phones and it was dial-up internet, so if you were on the internet, no one could use the phone – it was a big deal.

Andra Zaharia: It was! It was kind of an event, a very eventful happening in the family. It was like an intruder into their lives, I think, that they didn’t fully comprehend. I’m sure that we didn’t either, but I think that kind of teaches us an important lesson about how we see the future or how we imagine the future is going to be because we have absolutely no idea what it’s going to look like 20 years from now. We never ever would have imagined the past years happening as they did.

Matthew Woodward: There was a time when you wouldn’t have predicted MySpace.

Andra Zaharia: Oh, yes!

Matthew Woodward: I’ve seen the birth of Google, I’ve seen the birth of YouTube, I’ve seen it all come and go, and even actually being in it, like heavily involved in it, all of those years, I still have got no idea where we’re going.

Andra Zaharia: That is so true! But what do you think has stayed the same throughout this evolution? Because you’ve seen these trends so closely, you’ve seen platforms evolve, you’ve worked with them and, being an SEO specialist means that you get to understand them in-depth, and you get to study the algorithms behind it, the intention, the philosophy behind the product. So I’m very curious what you think hasn’t changed throughout all these stages – maybe about humans or the process itself.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah. I mean, the common denominator is humans, right? Like, we always are the same, and as much as we like to think we’re all individual, unique people, psychology essentially tells us that we’re not – we’re one of 12 personality types. We’re all driven by similar things, in the end, and we’re just in a different visual style, but mentally, a lot of us are very similar, and we’re driven by different things and that stayed consistent. There’s always a human at the end of the computer. Now, as an SEO specialist, and where I actually gain a lot of advantage over my competitors is I stay connected to the human part, and the reason I can stay connected to the human part is because I was the dude that was knocking on your door trying to sell you stuff. I’ve done that and I’ve carried that over into the digital world. It’s very easy. We have data, and analytics, and numbers, and we forget that there’s a human at the end of that number. If you get 100 visits on your site, it’s very easy to kind of go like, “Well, yeah, I just got 100 today.” You downplay it a little bit. But if you were in a room with 100 people, all staring at you, and you were reading your content to them, you’d feel that, but you don’t feel that by looking in a graph or in Google Analytics, or wherever it is. You don’t feel it. So, the thing that’s remained consistent is humans, but one of the consistent mistakes I see from digital marketers – and I especially see it from anyone like SEOs or anything technical – is forgetting about that consistent. And I see it from how people write an outreaching email, to how they create content, to how they… Just things that they do. They just forget that, at the end of it all, the web is connecting people, and that’s the thing that people forget a lot of the time.

Andra Zaharia: I love that observation so much! I think it’s so valuable and it’s going to become increasingly valuable the more we get disconnected from each other through technology, by over-relying on technology and forgetting what it’s all about. And you’re talking about this purpose so articulately. I think that’s kind of a lesson that really overflows into all of the areas in our lives because it’s changed our behavior as marketers or as people working behind the scenes, let’s call it, whatever that scene may be – a website or a product or whatever – and the people actually using the technology who also sometimes forget that there are humans behind businesses. And I think that the most valuable businesses are exactly that. They’re extremely, extremely human.

Matthew Woodward: At the end of it, a human is the person that’s going to pull their wallet out, type their credit card information, and then give you a sale – not a data or a chart or anything else. So, keeping that human in mind really, really, really is important. And all of that really comes just from observation – one of the most underused tactics, again, because of data and analysis and all these other stupid things. Just observe.

Andra Zaharia: Exactly! Just talk to people!

Matthew Woodward: That’s why I focus on the people – just observe what’s happening in any market, observe why do people take that decision? Why do they go there? What problem are they facing? What fear does that generate? How can I connect that to a solution and a product? All of that is observation with a human in mind. And oftentimes, if you just sit back and think, or even just look at Facebook groups and even just go and ask a question on a Facebook group, you’ll learn more doing that than you will in any kind of tool that does any kind of analysis for you. One of the most underused things is the computer between our ears, right now.

Andra Zaharia: Yes, I preach to that! So true! And building on top of this topic about your experience and your expertise, I think that when you look at it from a psychological standpoint, SEO is basically a process to help other people make decisions, of course, in favor of a business because in an ideal world, we would all work for businesses that we truly believe in that are actually doing something truly helpful and kind of helping people navigate all the information overflow right now. I think that that’s a very important process. I’m curious what’s the SEO process and what your success in this area taught you about human nature since we’re exactly on that topic?

Matthew Woodward: Well, from a cynical point of view, the SEO community generally will abuse any opportunity it finds until it dies.

Andra Zaharia: I love that you tell it like it is. Always!

Matthew Woodward: Yeah. And, as soon as anyone gets a whiff of anything, it just gets abused, absolutely hardcore. And I’ve seen it so many times over the years. And you do see it, even if you turn the news on and watch for 20 minutes and you’ll see examples of exactly that, throughout humanity. So it’s not just the SEO community, but we definitely have a reputation not exactly squeaky clean. Not completely squeaky clean. And one of the really interesting things I see in the SEO community – and specifically how it relates to human nature – is the black hat SEO and the white hat SEO divide. Some people like to say, “Oh, I’m super ethical, I’m white hat, I’m clean. I’m whiter than white” and they kind of put themselves on a perch. The black hat guy says, “I don’t follow the rules. I’m cool.” They’re kind of like the bad boy, and they put themselves on their own perch. And for me, if you label yourself as a white hat SEO, you’re an idiot, and if you label yourself as a black hat SEO, well, you’re the same type of idiot. And then, you’ve got people that label themselves as grey hat SEO – they’re trying to play both roles – and that’s just two types of idiots put together. And the reason I say that and why it’s interesting about humanity is, even in a world that’s driven by a computer algorithm that has no morals, no ethics, no anything whatsoever, and our job as SEOs is just to give the algorithm the signals it wants, even in something so inhumane, we’ve managed to inject human emotion to it and created division by labelling it as white hat and black hat. Like, that is human nature at its finest – how we’ve managed to create division over something that is not humane. It’s an algorithm, it’s a computer, and we’ve somehow created a divide over that.

Andra Zaharia: Because we can’t help it! I don’t think, literally, we’ll never be completely objective. It’s just not within our power.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, yeah. And that’s very interesting from an observation point of view, of how people work, not just in the SEO community, but when you look outside of the SEO community, it starts to make sense why there’s so much conflict in the world. And, if I hear anyone label themselves as a white hat or a black hat SEO, it only tells me you don’t understand the full picture because if you label yourself as white hat SEO, you inherently become ignorant of anything black hat. And, it’s the same, if you label yourself as black hat you inherently become ignorant of anything white hat. And when you do that, you only serve to stop yourself from growing and learning because you become ignorant to half of the knowledge. So, that’s like yeah, that’s human nature, right?

Andra Zaharia: And that’s beautifully put. This reveals how deeply you’re rooted in the process, not just in the SEO industry, but in psychology in general, because I think that’s kind of the fundamental aspect to our jobs as digital marketers, and our jobs as humans, because the better we really understand how the human mind works – ours and other people’s – that’s when you actually get to make a change. And I think that kind of change, being the constant in our lives, adapting to it, and learning from it and growing is this invaluable skill that you can’t survive without, basically.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, and it’s just so interesting that we create human divide in that. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve seen Terminator, but I’m pretty sure we should be united against the algorithms, not creating human divide.

Andra Zaharia: That is true! I think that’s one lesson we may have to learn the hard way.

Matthew Woodward: Oh, it’s coming! That lesson is coming!

Andra Zaharia: Yeah! But, to keep things in an optimistic direction, I wanted to switch a bit the focus from your work, kind of peeking behind the scenes, as we talked about. I know that you moved to Costa Rica a while ago, and I’m curious about how that happened. I know you’ve told a bit of the story on your blog – on your website, actually – but I’m curious to hear it from you and understand how this decision happened and how you see it now, looking in hindsight.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, I mean, the blog’s been a great journey because it’s allowed me to elevate so many people and the biggest reward from that is the Testimonials page. I promise, if you try and read all of the testimonials, you’ll get bored before you read them all. There’s just so many of them! And one of them that came in was an email saying, “Hey! I’m an Italian guy living in Costa Rica. You’ve helped me out a bunch. I’d like to invite you for a beer and let’s talk.” So, I was like, “Yeah, cool, let’s go!” So I went out and spoke with them and spent a bit of time here, and when I went back, I was like, “Hmm! England really sucks!”

Andra Zaharia: How long were you there for?

Matthew Woodward: Only for a couple of weeks. And it’s not like I wasn’t traveled – I’ve been to lots of other places and lots of other cultures before that – but Costa Rica was very different in that, outside of the capital, it doesn’t really suffer from consumerism, it doesn’t suffer from capitalism and people don’t have very much but they’re all walking around, happy, glowing, the people are just open, kind, nice. It’s just a very, very nice culture in the way that they do things. In contrast, I’ve returned to the UK and, if you walk around any town or city where people have, essentially, a lot – everyone’s miserable, they all have these grim looks on their faces. And you feel that. Once you see it, you feel it. And having seen in Costa Rica how people were just happy, it was just by default, they were just happy. Any interaction with any human was just happy – even in little things, like paying for groceries, they were like, “Happy talking to you, how’s your day?” People are just happy. You go pay for your groceries in the UK, that is like, “beep, beep, beep”, and they’re just looking at you and you’re like, “Hey, how are you?” And they just look at you, like, “What do you want? Just stand there and shut up!” And you feel that, once you’ve seen it. So, I couldn’t handle not only the UK way of life but in most first-world countries – the United States, I felt it a little bit in France – it’s just not… Yeah, it’s just a very different way of living, here. The mindset is completely different. And I actually think that’s largely down to the fact that there isn’t consumerism and capitalism, which is ironic, being a marketer.

Andra Zaharia: Yes! I know, I know.

Matthew Woodward: The irony it’s not lost on me.

Andra Zaharia: I find that increasingly more people, especially those who work in technology or have done so from a very early age, are kind of overstimulated and always connected, they feel the need to kind of balance this out with a different lifestyle – one that brings you peace of mind or, as you mentioned, the default say that something that’s more much more relaxed in human and disconnected from all these mental health issues and general societal issues and so on and so forth.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, well, down here, we can tell who is a tourist by how fast they walk, and that really sums up I think a lot of the problems in society, because you’re always rushing to wherever it’s worth, to make ends meet with the bills, to make sure your kids get to wherever on time – whatever it is that’s pressuring your life to run around like a headless chicken. That just doesn’t happen here. It just doesn’t. And you can see the difference just by how fast people walk – it’s one of the observations.

Andra Zaharia: So that was a big motivation for you – the culture – for moving your entire family there.

Matthew Woodward: At that point, it was just me.

Andra Zaharia: Oh, okay! I didn’t know that aspect!

Matthew Woodward: Yeah. Since then, I bought a house here, I have a baby, a dog – the full nine yards, yeah.

Andra Zaharia: Congratulations!

Matthew Woodward: That was after finding what I never even thought could ever imagine. I could never imagine a place like this existed or even happy people really existed.

Andra Zaharia: That’s such a wonderful thing to hear, that things kind of fell into place the moment you found the place where you felt like you belonged, because I think that one of the underrated aspects of traveling is not just to go about going there and learning about other people’s history, but sometimes you can actually find a place that you feel much more comfortable and natural calling home than your actual home.

Matthew Woodward: It wasn’t that I wasn’t comfortable before. I was! I was perfectly happy, up until I knew what the other possibilities were.

Andra Zaharia: So when the baseline kind of changed.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah! And once I’ve seen it, and then I went back, then I was like, “Oh, well, that’s a bit inconvenient, isn’t it?”

Andra Zaharia: Did the same thing kind of happened when you went from your corporate job to building your business? Was it kind of building your project set that baseline in a different way than the job you had back then? Because that was also kind of a big change in your life.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, I mean, the corporate world was, let’s say, an interesting journey. I certainly learned a lot of lessons I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. And when I was unlucky enough to be in… Well, I wasn’t unlucky enough – I hate that word – I chose to be unlucky and live in the corporate world. Digital marketing, online sales and that, it wasn’t really a serious sales channel; people, not only did they not take it seriously, but didn’t understand it. So, as someone that had kind of grown up on the internet and doing sales and marketing all my life, I was finding great success there, but the problem was the corporate was really slow and rigid and web’s fast and dynamic. And then, everyone in charge, they were all used to the slow, rigid corporate way of doing things. It was just a constant battle. And when I say a constant battle, it meant like, sometimes, if I sold a unit of stock, because of their stupid internal systems, it meant I had to print a form off – well, first of all, create the form, then print it off – and then run around and get three signatures from two different levels of the building before they could release a stock to send it out. And you had to do that for nearly every single order. I mean, next-day delivery was impossible because the process was so slow and rigid in how it worked. So, the corporate world was progressively growing more frustrating. The more success I had in the corporate world, the more frustrating it was, because I was always banging my head on the ceiling and really having to fight to lift that ceiling. I was always, no matter what success we had, we always had that next ceiling that was really hard to punch through and after you’ve punched through a few ceilings, it really gets tiring.

Andra Zaharia: That’s true! No matter how much energy and drive you have, it gets old at some point and I know that you were told – because you wrote about this – you were told, “Matthew, you’re too passionate about what you do to work in the corporate environment.” That kind of left me like, “But isn’t this kind of what we’re looking for?” I like people who own up to their way of doing things. At least they’re open about it.

Matthew Woodward I was constantly in HR for disciplinary meetings. I personally didn’t feel like I earned them, but, if we were pushing forward on something, and someone was imploding in the way, I’d tell them, “Come on, look, we’ve got to get this done! Why haven’t you done that?” But, in the corporate world, you can’t do that. You have to tell your manager and their manager has to tell their manager, and then they have to speak to them and then they have to have a meeting about it. So, when people were told they weren’t performing by someone that they probably shouldn’t have been told by…

Andra Zaharia: That is an issue entirely by its own.

Matthew Woodward: Well, I’m like, “You’re all moaning that you didn’t get paid your bonus. Come on, let’s go and make some sales so we’re all happy!” I wasn’t complaining that people were not pulling my own way – I was doing 80-90 hour/week as a corporate slave, I was truly a corporate slave in every sense of the word – but having great success, financially, despite all of the problems. So, while I was on that corporate journey, at the same time, I always had my personal interest in building sites and communities and whatnot. So, I was also building my own sites and trying things and experimenting and this, that and the other. For example, I remember trying to get just an email and a newsletter deployed on a site in the corporate thing – it took us 14 months. Like, 14 months of meetings, we had to take a two-hour train to London to go and have a 10-minute meeting with some developer and it was just ridiculous! Whereas, in my spare time, that was 10 minutes tops to deploy that. So I started to take advantage over the corporate machine, and I was building my sites, building my sites, ranking them and it got to the point where all of the people that were disciplining me or creating the ceilings, I was making more money in a week than they were making in a month, but they were still looking down.

Matthew Woodward: So, my jump from the corporate world into doing my own thing was relatively risk-free because I’ve spent time building it up outside of work so that there wasn’t a point where my income stream dropped. It only dropped when I lost the salary from the corporate job, but I was still making more than that, anyway. So, the decision was very easy, financially. Mentally, it was a bit of a different transition because you’ve got to get used to creating your own working environment, your own schedule, your own process. So that was more of a challenge than the financials of it.

Andra Zaharia: It always is, isn’t it? I think that this happens to most business owners who go into this to perform, not just to create, not just to do it for a hobby or just to get away from something, but to build something. And I think that that’s a big difference because I’ve seen many people transition from their role as an employee – myself included having gone through this process – and I’ve seen some of them fail because they were just trying to get away from something, not build toward something. You had acquired this habit through so many years of practice.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I didn’t do it on purpose, I never intended.

Andra Zaharia: But it’s true!

Matthew Woodward: If anyone’s listening, that is in that position and they’re thinking about taking the jump, look, I didn’t have the additional fear or worry of money and at that age neither did I have the additional fear of family or any of those pressures. But, if you’re in that position now, the important thing to remember is that no matter what happens, you can always get a job like you’ve got now, you can always go back to where you are now. So that thought has helped a lot of people that I’ve helped take the jump and once they’ve realized that the worst thing that can possibly happen is to end up back in the position they’re in now, that frees them from a lot of the fears of, “Will I make it? What if I fail?” It frees them from that because they know that no matter what happens, they can just walk more or less into a similar job than they already had.

Andra Zaharia: That is true! And I think that is something very helpful to use up to kind of offset some of the risks and offset some of the anxiety that this change comes with.

Matthew Woodward: It’s a mental battle. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met that have the skill to be hugely successful business owners because once you’ve done it, you see the different skills and qualities in people and you’re like, “Why are you wasting yourself at a job? Why? Why?” And there’s a number of names running through my head right now – and they all know who they are because I’ve had the conversation with them – and they just can’t get past the mental fear to the point, you know, one guy is telling me “Yeah, but a job’s secure. Like, it’s secure! I always know how much I’m going to get paid at the end of the month!” He’s been made redundant three times in five years, and despite being made redundant three times in five years, he still has clings on to that security of a job. Whereas I look at that, like, “Wow! You’re not in control of anything. There’s no security, what are you talking about?”

Andra Zaharia: Exactly!

Matthew Woodward: And he’s a guy that would do very, very, very, very well on his own, but he can’t get past that mental block of security, even though there’s no way of rooting it into the logical real world of his experiences. So, that’s how strong the mental block can be, and I’m lucky that I didn’t have to face as much of that because I wasn’t worried about the financial side of it, but that’s a big, big, big, big fear for many, many people.

Andra Zaharia: And I believe that there are two ways to kind of offset this risk, this perceived risk, of course, because as you mentioned, there is no stability and nothing is certain, and certainly not a job, no matter how well you’re positioned in the industry or how long you’ve been with the company. I think that, besides having kind of this financial backup, just having the practice and building the habit of doing something on the side, of doing something that’s your own that kind of defines you outside of your role as work or even outside your role as a professional. I think that is so important, and so many people miss that, especially now that it’s so easy to do something that’s yours, your corner of the web and just experiment and learn.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, and not even anything web-based. If I ever interview you, the first question I’m going to ask you is, “What is your passion?” If you struggle, if you even stutter, answering that question and you even need to think about it, you’re not getting the job because if you haven’t got a passion, that tells me a lot about the type of person that you are. I want people to breathe and live and explore, and if you’ve got a passion, that usually means you’re happy to push your comfortable boundaries, because you’re exploring that passion more. And so, I was very lucky from an early age to be told to, first of all, find what you love doing, and then find a way to make money at it. I watched a TED talk from a professional yo yo-er talking about finding what you love and finding a way to make money at it. I was like, “Wow, yeah! It’s a thing!” So, I was taught that from a young age. And whatever hobby you do on the side, even if it’s not related to online, you’ve got to have a passion, just to contribute to your own mental health, you’ve got to have something that you’re passionate about. And I don’t care if that’s dogs or building sites or whatever it is, but if you don’t have a passion for something, you’ll probably find that your work-life balance is completely wrong. But, if you have a passion for something, you force yourself to make time for that passion, and then, subsequently, for yourself and your own happiness.

Andra Zaharia: That lesson, right there, I think is so worth emphasizing, because this passion that you’re talking about, I think it comes from a mindset that’s set for growth, and from a place of curiosity and just nurturing that constantly. I think that that actually helps you understand what your passion is, because there are so many people who claim, “I don’t know exactly what I want to do”, and I get that. It happens to all of us, but the only way to actually figure it out is by trying and experimenting and seeing what works for you, what makes you grow, what makes you tick, and what gives you energy, because at the end of the day, if you’re in a job or in a role or even running a business that you don’t love, and that doesn’t give you that energy, so you can kind of reinvest it into it, that’s when you know you should make a change. And I think that your lessons here are very, very valuable.

Matthew Woodward: I’m looking at that from an employer’s perspective. Like, I don’t care what qualification or experience you’ve got, if you stutter at that question, that’s the end of it because if you haven’t got that passion, you’re not living and if you’re not living, then… Going back to the one consistent thing is humans, and I want humans in my business and I want humans that are living, not existing. There’s a difference – if you don’t know what your passion is, you’re just existing.

Andra Zaharia: So true! And speaking of consistency, there’s something that you’ve done for the past six years or so: every single month, you’ve published an income report, which I remember when I first read it – I think it was the first income report that I actually read – now I know that there are a few people who do it, but the first people who did it, I thought that that was such a refreshing and a very surprising perspective because people are never open about how much money they make, unless they want to boast about it. They don’t do it constructively as you do, and that’s changing the perception around money and around our relationship with it. I think that is so important. And I was very curious to know what kind of lessons you learned in terms of decision-making that come from this habit that you developed?

Matthew Woodward: The income reports, first of all, I didn’t really create them. The first income report I ever read, and I believe the creator of them was John Chow – who many people may not have heard of, or if they do, they might have heard of him in negative connotation – but he really paved the way for a lot of the affiliate marketing world way back when. He did a lot of good things, and he was the first guy to really prove that you can make a lot of money with a blog. And he started documenting it through income reports. So that’s where I got the inspiration to do income reports for my blog because my blog was set up as an experiment and I wanted to document the experiment and I thought the income report format was great, except I expanded a little bit and rather than just publishing income and expenses, I actually publish all the lessons of that month: this is what I did, this is how it went, this is what worked, this is what failed, this is where the traffic came from, this was the most popular content, this was where all the income came from, this is where all the expenses came from.

Andra Zaharia: So you provided a lot of context.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, yeah. And I did that every month for six years. So, anyone who’s looking to take the leap, I mean, that documents literally from ground zero to $1.2 million – the full journey. Now, I stopped publishing the reports once it reached $1 million, because the purpose of publishing them was to track the progress of an experiment and at the point has made $1 million and won a bunch of awards – I feel like I could tick that one off. But they’re still all up there, all of the lessons are still relevant because you’re still marketing to humans at the end of it, and anyone that’s looking to get a real behind-the-scenes look of building a business online and the pains and the successes and the failures and the effort and the blood and sweat and tears and everything that goes into it, that all leaks out of those reports.

Andra Zaharia: It’s really nice!

Matthew Woodward: I’ve had so many people in the testimonials come back and be like, “They really helped me in whatever it was, to overcome this fear or solve this problem.” So, yeah, they’re a great resource, and if you start reading the first one, you’re probably going to lose the rest of your day until you’ve read them all. There’s like, 60 of them. More I think.

Andra Zaharia It’s true! And I’m definitely going to link those in the show notes, so people can actually see how your process looks like, because I’ve seen there are some key elements to great decision-making, in my opinion, and you check so many boxes of that process, which means you’ve built a habit out of documenting your process, so you can follow it, so you can track progress. You’ve also taught so many people how to think about their business, not just how to execute because executing I think comes naturally after you understand how to do something.

Matthew Woodward: You can hire someone to execute.

Andra Zaharia: Yeah, exactly! Plus, I think that one of the important things is providing this context because I think that without context we can’t really make great decisions, and getting that context means being curious and exploring and having this constant focus on what can I do and how can I push myself. And I think you asked some really great questions, generally, throughout your work – and one of them really stuck with me from your About page. You mentioned, “Always ask the question you think you already know the answer to.” Is there a specific moment where you remember that coming from or what other questions similar to this do you use when you’re making important choices?

Matthew Woodward: The two biggest things that I use to my advantage – we touched on it before – the power of observation: just sitting back and watching whatever it is, just watching, observing, looking, thinking, is really underutilized, especially in the SEO world. The second one is not assuming that I know something, even if it’s really, really what I consider basic knowledge. I never assume that I know it, even if I do know it. And I’ll ask people really basic questions, just to understand their perspective on it. It’s less about the answer and more about the perspective because once you learn the perspective, that allows you to broaden your understanding of the answer, even if it’s something really, really basic. So, I never ever assume I know the answer to anything, even if I already know the answer. And that was really, really, really ingrained to me when I was a kid – a lot younger, like 14 or 15 – and I’d been hustling and doing my thing to make money, and I’d managed to save up enough money to buy an iPod, which had just launched at that time. It was like THE thing to have – if you had an iPod you were cool.

Andra Zaharia: And that held on for so many years!

Matthew Woodward: Yeah, you were like royalty if you had an iPod because it had just come out, and the world was going mental – back then, everyone was using Napster and that was a big need, the iPod was the edge of cool if you were a nerd. So we’d spent all day driving around trying to find one, and no one had it in stock because it was the hottest item of the moment. And, eventually, we came to a store and – I was a scruffy, 15-year-old kid and ran up to a sales guy, probably looking quite desperate, asking him if they’ve got the iPod, and he kind of just looked at me and went “Yeah!” And I immediately asked him how much it was. Now, I already knew how much it was when I asked him, but he said £250 pounds and I knew that it was £350. So, at that moment, I just pulled the cash out, put it in his hand, and he counted it, and the look on his face was just like, “What? This kid just wept out a bundle of cash and put it in my hand!” And we went off to the checkout to pay for it. As we were walking to the checkout, I’m thinking, “Oh, well, what’s going to happen?” So, when they ran it through, and it came up with £350, which is £100 more than he told me – and bear in mind, I put the cash in his hand, he had the money in his hand, like he’d counted it and told me it was right, he couldn’t use that, to then say… And we had the manager over, we were arguing, and in the end, I walked out of the store with a brand new iPod, a 30% discount because the law in the UK is that, they had to follow it.

Matthew Woodward: And if using the power of observation, why did that guy make that mistake? Two reasons. First of all, he just underestimated me – he just looked at me, and just thought, “Idiot!” And then, secondly, I asked the question I already knew the answer to because he’d already branded me an idiot – so, then, I asked an idiot question. And I didn’t really plan it, I wasn’t thinking like that at the time, as a kid, but that situation taught me a lot. If you let people think you’re an idiot, you tend to see their true colors, and some people still treat you nice and some people try and lead you in whatever direction they want to lead you in. And the second one, obviously, don’t assume that you know the answer. If I just said, “I’ll take it!” and put £350 pounds in his hand it would have cost me a bunch more money.

Matthew Woodward: And, actually, that followed me in my corporate career. I was often the youngest person in the room and people often treated me like that, and treating me like I was lower. And I allowed that to happen because it was my advantage and I knew it was my advantage because of what had happened when I was younger. So, I quite often just let people assume things and just see where it goes. And you know, that comes back into the greatest way you can learn anything – just observe. Observe the people that have achieved it, observe the people that are trying to achieve it, observe whatever it is, just observe, and you learn a lot more observing than you’re going to do reading anything in my opinion.

Andra Zaharia: That’s such a lovely way to round things up!

Matthew Woodward: Yeah. Yeah, it’s highly underutilized, especially in a world of data and tools and analysis and automation – just observe.

Andra Zaharia Yes! I think the most effective things are the simplest, but you have to really, deeply understand what’s behind them, and not assume.

Matthew Woodward: Yeah. And quite often… I’ve met a bunch of rich people – granted, most of them are miserable – but the richest people, when you look at a room, you’d never know they were the richest people. They’re always the ones that you look at and you just assume that they haven’t got anything – and people blend in like that.

Andra Zaharia: Yeah, humility and modesty go a long way.

Matthew Woodward: What that means is they’ve got credit because if they’ve earned that, they’d have the humility and not be doing those kinds of things. So that’s the great lesson – don’t assume based on how someone looks, how they present themselves or anything like that. Quite often, the most intelligent person in the room is a person you don’t even look at twice. If you can play that role, you often find opportunities.

Andra Zaharia: That’s a beautiful lesson to wrap things up with, and I could talk to you for hours and I think that there’s so much you teach people – again, not just in the way of building a business but building a rewarding life and a fulfilling life, that rounds you up, just rounds you up like a human being and gives you those moments and those experiences that really have no financial value.

Matthew Woodward: People make things too complicated. Just keep it simple.

Andra Zaharia And keeping it simple, I will thank you for your time and energy Matt, and I’m looking forward to what you do next and to keep learning from you.

Matthew Woodward: Thanks very much! It’s been interesting talking about all these kinds of subjects. Usually, I’m grilled about specific SEO problems or digital marketing problems. There’s not many people talking about mindset. A mindset really underpins everything in our lives – our happiness, our success, and even our sadness. It underpins everything. So, it’s been great to see this kind of podcast. Thanks for having me on! And, yeah, I look forward to, hopefully, hearing more of your podcast in the future because it’s a subject that clearly resonates with me and there’s not enough people talking about it. So, thank you!

Andra Zaharia Oh, I appreciate your kind words so much! Thank you, Matthew!

Matthew Woodward: No problem!