– Entrepreneur Extraordinaire. Catablogging & Health Care Coverage

March 2, 2007

This final set of questions from John covers his successful use of the Internet to sell his artwork in a “catablog” format and his take on health care for the self-employed.

I first discovered your blog via a guest article on written by Brian Clark of A main topic of the article was your use of a “catablog” to market and sell your artwork. What percentage of your total art sales come from the art portfolio on

The first year was probably only 10-20 percent of my income. The next year was probably 35% or so. Last year, about half of my income came either directly or indirectly from my blogs. In addition to selling existing art or items like the Great Bowl O Fire, I’ve had far more commission inquiries than I ever did with a static HTML website.

Two of the downsides of selling on the Internet are shipping costs and that the customer can’t actually touch and feel the product. I’ve found a good risk reversal for these issues to be offering a money back return policy. How do you handle these hurdles with your artwork, especially since items such as your Great Bowl of Fire and Le Grand Flambeau Tiki Torches are heavy items to ship?

Shipping is the most difficult problem I have with selling online. Most of my work is too heavy to ship via UPS or any other ground shipping option so I end up shipping via Fed Ex Freight. And even with a 55% discount, the costs can be high. Although the great Bowl O Fire lists the shipping cost at $150, the true cost is actually between $300-400 depending on where it’s going. I’ve learned to adjust prices to cover some of the shipping charges because it just doesn’t seem right to people to pay equal amounts for the art and the shipping. The fire bowls, for example, sell more than twice as fast since I lowered the shipping and raised the price.

I’ve decided not to offer a return policy for this exact reason… By the time an item has been shipped to the buyer and then back to me, there’s really nothing left to refund. Although I might make more sales if I had a return policy, I’ve decided that it works better for me to know that all the sales I do make are definite.

Brian Clark talks about the marketing power of the Internet for small businesses, “it’s the little guy with the unique product that can gain the most benefit from worldwide exposure.” One key here seems to be the uniqueness of product. Your art is definitely one of a kind. What kind of other products or services do you think would sell well on a catablog? What types of things would struggle?

I think it is certainly possible to sell mass produced items with a catablog. It depends on the personality of the blogger and on how well they retain readers and develop their reputation. For instance, if you were a well known book critic or movie critic, I don’t know why you wouldn’t be able to do well selling books and DVDs via Amazon’s affiliate links or their aStore program. This morning I was thinking about the viability of selling worldwide luxury real estate over a blog. I don’t know quite how you’d work the commission angle on that, but with all the real estate listings that are online I could easily see a market for a blogger who scoured the listings for the most interesting properties, maybe combined with practical posts about mortgages, rehab, home repair or on the other end, posts about the life of the glitterati who can afford the most spectacular homes.

The most common model for monetizing blogs is still advertising and affiliate sales. I never found that model terribly interesting personally, probably for the same reasons I’d rather be a moderately successful entrepreneur than take a day job at twice the income. I feel like the fact that a blog can help you build a community, network with others in your field, and reach out to niche markets makes it much more interesting to build a market for a product than to rely on clickthrough models.

So what do I think would do really well? Information products, self-published books, software, downloads of any kind (music, video, reference materials, templates)… all of these should be very easy to sell via a blog. Also things like classes, seminars or events seem like a good fit for blogs. I’m currently working on a site for a woman who arranges tourism packages in France. I think a blog is a perfect way for her to show her expertise, share interesting facts and stories, and generally engage an audience who has an interest in travel. One of her tours involves watercolor classes with a well know artist/educator in the Provence countryside. By posting photos of the places the tour goes and the pictures that they paint, I think the tour becomes a very exciting possibility for people who find the blog.

I’m not sure what kind of products I’d recommend against trying to sell through a catablog… perhaps items that can be highly customized and require a lot of fields for options, or items that are of local interest only? But even in cases where a blog may not be the solution for selling an item, I think there’s a fair chance that it can still be of use for marketing, building awareness and developing a community that is interested in learning more about what you have.

Do you have any advice for people interested in starting catablogs for their own service or product?

I think the most important thing to know going in is that it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to make it work. You not only need a great product, but you have to be able to write compelling posts, build relationships with customers and other bloggers, stay on top of online trends and services, etc. Blogs don’t write themselves (unless you’re doing well enough to pay a writer, and even that’s dicey because I think the personality behind a blog is a big part of the success).

Although catablogs have done very well for me, they’re still very much in their infancy. I have yet to find an easy way to add ecommerce to a blog. All of my catablogs use extensively modified templates and at present I’m still hand-coding Paypal buttons into individual posts. I’d love to find a third party solution to make setting up a catalog of my own items as easy as building an Amazon aStore or setting up a store on Etsy, Cafe Press or eSnips. There are great storefront and shopping cart solutions and great blog software, but as yet they haven’t quite found a perfect integration.

One thing that’s a big issue for entrepreneurs today is the topic of health care. What have you found to be the best way to provide health coverage for your family as a self-employed person?

Ah, yes. The monster rears its head. I’m still on what someone once called the “lucky boy plan,” which means, basically, I’m not allowed to get sick. Fortunately, for all my bad habits I seem to stay pretty healthy. When I lived in Chicago, I could go to Cook County for free medical care (if you don’t mind free-range TB patients wandering around and various other assorted horrors). They did a pretty good job of patching me up on my then-annual visits for stitches. I guess my idea now is still that so long as I don’t injure myself past the possibility of driving 6 hours and lying convincingly about the state I live in, I could still go there. Yeah, bad plan, I know.

Happily, my fiancée has a plan health that I will apparently be covered by automatically when we wed. I actually have mixed feelings about that, but it does seem a good thing. I’m probably getting too old to be running around uncovered. I do suspect though that one is more careful when they know they’re at risk. Ever since I lost the free hospital in CHI, I’ve not needed stitches once.


That wraps up the interview with John Unger. Thanks to John for sharing his experiences with us, hopefully we’ve learned a thing or two from him. You can check out John’s art over at and his Typepad customization site at Stay tuned for the next interview, you can follow them all here as we go.


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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2 Responses to – Entrepreneur Extraordinaire. Catablogging & Health Care Coverage

  • Richard Quick Esq

    The easiest and most profitable way to monetize a website is to charge a cover charge. I charge $1.00 per day to visitors of my site. Unlike your site, they get many times more than $1.00 value from each visit.

    To those who say it doesn’t work, or it’s bad form, I say: “That’s why I’m a millionaire and you’re not.”

    Millionaire Richard Quick, Esq.


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