The Chateaubriand Business Model for Writers

I’m a profit-first kind of guy. But never at the expense of autonomy, free time, family, fitness, travel and all that good stuff. Today I run my own company. I have a direct-response service offer. I run an email list to people all over the world using ConvertKit. I have sold digital products to 600+ people on Gumroad. I don’t ask anyone’s permission to spend time with my kids, go on a weekend trip, or have lunch in the sun. This is what I’m calling The Chateaubriand Business Model

But life was different back when I was working in a tech startup in Berlin.

I had KPIs.

I answered to a boss.

I meekly submitted holiday requests through a clunky online portal.

Startups (especially early-stage ones) are great places to learn. They’re exciting and scrappy but if the experience slips they become frustrating and chaotic. Then toxic and unpleasant. I’d done three of them. Enough was enough.

I wanted a more holistic life.

The Holistic Writer

I didn’t want to just bounce around applying my hard-earned skills to other people’s moonshots.

I’d catch myself looking out of the window wondering what else I could be doing. And I often found myself reflecting on this quote from François Chateaubriand:

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

I took a photo of this quote the first time I saw it. I’ve had it on my phone ever since.

And Naval Ravikant has written something similar:

“I’m always ‘working.’ It looks like work to others, but it feels like play to me. And that’s how I know no one can compete with me on it. Because I’m just playing, for sixteen hours a day. If others want to compete with me, they’re going to work, and they’re going to lose because they’re not going to do it for sixteen hours a day, seven days a week.”

Some people quit their job because they’ve chewed on a little too much YouTube success porn.

They want “disruption,” venture capital money and the cover of Forbes.

I never wanted that.

Agency vs Agencies

I wanted freedom.

I knew I could earn more money than in a 9-5, but I didn’t want to stray too far from the craft. I wanted agency, not an agency. I wanted to write, not manage a team of writers.

Agencies are a sound business model, but they come with trade-offs like bug eyes and burnout. When building your castle, you have to be careful not to lose your soul. I prefer to play the role of hired gun or lone wolf. That’s introverted me finding somewhere to do my best work while leveraging the way the world works today.

It’s an incredible time to be alive:

Autonomy, sovereignty of time and location, the pursuit of mastery, fulfilling creative work.

These are out on the table for anyone to take.

The Chateaubriand Business Model

To return to The Golden Triangle:

  • Service Offer
  • Email List
  • Digital Products

In practical terms?

  1. Solve problems
  2. Tell people about it

For example:

When I started freelancing, I didn’t want project work, I wanted retainer deals. So I worked out the best offers for retainers, then told other people about them in Master Key. When I started consulting ad agencies, I wanted a quick way to see good, organized market research in one place to save time and increase efficiency.  I designed one, tested it, and then told people about it in The 80/20 Market Research Method.

About 80% of my business is my service offer, but the 20% that comes from selling digital products represents more value. When you’re out for a stroll or meeting a friend and someone buys from you? That’s a glorious feeling.

Writing as Leverage

Nothing holds more leverage than the opportunity to build and nurture long-lasting relationships with people who enjoy and value your work.

Warren Buffet once said, “If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die.”

With the Chateaubriand Business Model, the principle is the same, if not the scale. You learn skills by serving other people, then leverage software to distribute your knowledge.

A personal brand is the highest leverage asset and traffic source for a real business. And in an age of leverage, one correct decision, one well-positioned product, can win everything for that business.

That business is you.