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Interview with Zach Holman of Good-Tutorials.com

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Zach Holman is the founder of Good-Tutorials.com – the leading online resource for Photoshop Tutorials. Founded in 2002 – Good-Tutorials has been featured on the BBC, SkyNews, TechTV (now G4), in the British magazine iCreate, and has been linked to by thousands of sites, blogs and forums.

Hi Zach

Great to have you on board for this interview. I have been a FAN of Good-Tutorials.com for sometime. Awesome website!

First off – can we have a little background information – Where you live? How old you are? What motivates you? Inspires you?

I’m 22 and a senior at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I think the easiest answer to what motivates or inspires me is simply my RSS reader: getting regular updates through blog posts, news articles, and so on really just keeps me in the loop with new technology, new methodologies, new opportunities, and so on. Sometimes the smallest titbit you pick up can make the biggest differences.

Main Questions:

1) Tell us about your main project, Good-Tutorials.com? Why did you launch Good-Tutorials.com?

Good-Tutorials started off in 2002. I was learning PHP and MySQL, and I’m one of those people who can’t really learn new technology without a purpose behind it. I figure if I made a website with some of these fancy new technologies then I’d be able to learn them much quicker. There was only one or two other sites online doing this sort of thing at the time, and I thought I could do better. That’s how Good-Tutorials was born. After about three or four months, it became clear that I had tapped into something that people really were interested in.

2) You rank highly in Google for the search term Photoshop Tutorials, and you also rank very highly for 100’s of other Photoshop keywords. How did you achieve such amazing Goggle rankings? Do you have any tips, suggestions?

I read up on search engine optimization, I understand concepts of PageRank, linking, and so on, but to be honest I never really bothered with it too much beyond some of the more basic techniques. I figure that if I spend more time building a quality site, more people will link to it. It seems to have worked. Google and other search engines are great and all, but don’t forget the original basis for the desire to list well with them: you want more people to visit your site. If your site doesn’t provide an enjoyable experience, people won’t promote it for you, and they won’t come back. All the search engine optimization in the world won’t matter at that point.

It does depend on the site though; some companies are fine with random, in-and-out visitors, but for what I tend to deal with, I think crafting an enjoyable user experience makes more sense.

3) What advice would you give someone who wants to make money with tutorial sites?

Originality and high-quality content. Running AdSense used to be very lucrative in the tutorial market about two or three years ago, but since then the revenue has taken a bit of a nose dive. I know a few sites used to push out high-volume, low-quality work and thrived in the good ‘ol days, but it’s not as easy nowadays. It’s harder to break into the market and to differentiate yourself from the hundreds (upon hundreds upon hundreds) of cookie-cutter sites out there.

That’s not to say you can’t do it. There have been a handful of sites in the last six months that have taken this idea of quality to heart. They write incredibly compelling tutorials that help people learn, they spend a lot of time designing a beautiful layout for their site, and in return they get a heck of a lot of return traffic.

4) Was Good-Tutorials.com your first website? What was your first website?

Well, technically it goes back to when I was twelve or so… around 1996 or 1997. That’s when I was first getting into HTML and all of that fun (hooray <FONT> and <LAYER>!) I ran a few smaller sites here and there throughout the years, mostly focusing on web development, but nothing that really broke big ground.

5) If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, creating websites, what business related advice would you giveyourself?

I think it’s really helpful to have a breadth of knowledge. Knowing a bit about a lot of varying things can help out. When you design the front end you can take into consideration back end, server administration, and business concerns, and vice versa. Sometimes it’s a matter of knowing just enough about a particular subject to be able to hire someone else to do it better than you could. Or maybe not getting ripped off when you outsource that area to someone else. Or maybe you find out that hey, you know enough about Linux now and you don’t have to spend all that money paying someone else to do it. A little bit of knowledge can go a long way.

6) Do you think that entrepreneurialism is something that is in your blood? Or is it something that can be learned?

I don’t necessarily think that there’s anything mysterious about it. Everyone wants to make money. The only difference is that you’re reading my words right now, which means that it doesn’t matter if it’s in your blood or if you’re here to learn it– you’re already interested in it, and that’s what matters. I think much of entrepreneurship is unglamorous anyway; persistence plays a big part, for example. There’ll be up and down days, and there’ll be boring days. It’s all part of it.

7) Is there anyone that you look up to and model yourself on? (You can name more than one)

I try not to go too crazy with idolizing people, though it’s definitely great if you can aggregate some of the best traits from a number of people. Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive, for what they’ve done with Apple post 1997. Steve and Woz from the days of early Apple (particularly since they balance out each other’s bad traits so well with their own good traits). David Heinemeier Hansson for a lot of his philosophy behind Rails, 37signals, design, and usability. I could really go on and on, but the point is that there are plenty of people out there to admire. But at the same time, a lot of the best people out there have their drawbacks… for example, DHH doesn’t exactly have the most admirable bedside manner (nor does Jobs, for that matter). But that’s part of the package deal sometimes. Perhaps that’s what makes them great.

8) Do you have any favourite business related, Photoshop related or personal development related books that you can recommend to other young entrepreneurs?

I’m a pretty avid reader, so it pains me to try to come up with a short list of things to read. Again, there’s plenty of great advice out there, but I still haven’t found a silver bullet… you have to pick and choose what works for you.

More specifically for the web developer / young entrepreneur though… 37signals’ Getting Real is a super quick read and is packed with a lot of gems.

9) What is the best advice you have ever been given?

One of the entrepreneurship courses I took here at Carnegie Mellon focused on a central theme: pain. Entrepreneurship is all about discovering what your target market’s current pains are, and then developing a solution for it. It’s really as simple as that, when you get down to it. The best part of it? People love to pay you money if you solve their pain and make their lives easier (particularly if you save them money in the process).

10) What advice would you give to a Young Entrepreneur setting up their first business?

Be flexible and be fairly aggressive. By “aggressive” I mean that you should be ready to try different things. Sometimes your favorite pet project or feature that you’ve spent months designing will suck the big one, but the small thing you made on the side in an afternoon will catch fire.

11) How many hours do you work daily and what are your daily tasks for your sites?

It’s pretty variable. The last few years I’ve been really trying to automate where possible the mundane, day-to-day tasks that I used to have. It’s boring, and by removing myself from the equation it greatly frees up my time and it almost always makes the process easier on my users. With more free time, however, I spend more and more time coding or attending to business matters– arguably the part that really makes the site grow.

12) If the Internet had not exist – what do you think you would be doing?

I think I’d move into the business side of things– management, financial aspects, maybe get into the start-up side of things. I’m quite happy the internet *does* exist, though!

13) What do you like best about the Internet?

That there’s always something new to discover.

14) What do you like least about the Internet?

That there’s always something new to discover !!

15) Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future plans / goals / lifetime goals?

A lot of stuff is going on for me right now. I’ll be working on and developing a number of new (and old) projects this semester, I’ll be graduating in the next few months (!), and I’ll be moving across the country to the Valley. It’ll be an interesting time… we’ll see how things turn out!

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