There are thousands and thousands of posts written on Medium every single day. There are hundreds of thousands of stories on the platform. There are millions of blogs and bloggers. There are different (and not entirely different) combinations of words being thrown together every single day and pushed out into the world.
That’s the reality if you’re a blogger starting out today. You’re not just competing with the people in your orbit, you’re competing with every blogger in the world. And you’re not just competing with every blogger in the world, you’re competing with Donald Trump, North Korea, every single person on Snapchat and the latest shit-storm from Uber, all of which can distract your potential audience and prevent them from giving a damn about your blog.
But I want to tell you something else. You can still make it as a blogger. You can still grow your readership and build an audience, and have your life completely transformed by it along the way. It just takes a hell of a lot of time, effort and energy.
Here’s the cold, hard truth…
Most people are going to refuse to commit the time.
It’s true. Most people won’t commit to spending years of their lives building a blog. They just won’t. They’ll be completely excited about their brand new blog for roughly 3 weeks (seriously, that’s my experience of most new bloggers) before they walk away.
They will refuse to commit to growing their blog over 5 years. But that’s pretty shitty. Because 5 years isn’t really all that long. Not in the big scheme of things. I can guarantee you that your favourite blogger didn’t blow up out of nowhere — they hustled and stuck with the grind behind the scenes for years, plugging away and trying to get somewhere.
I started the blog that became Creatomic 10 years ago. Think about that for a while.
You can’t set short time frames. That’s short-sighted.
“In order for innovative ideas to bear fruit, companies need to be willing to wait for 5–7 years, and most companies don’t take that time horizon.”
— Jeff Bezos
You can’t become a successful writer, artist, entrepreneur, designer, potter, architect, software developer or puppeteer over night. There is no such thing as a surprise, smash hit. Nothing is immediate.
That’s something that I am completely, 100% sure about. Any success is going to take a commitment of time, and a solid amount of time at that. No matter where you want your career to go, the only way to get there is to accept that you are going to have to dedicate years of your life to it.
I like to follow one rule. I never start anything that I’m not prepared to commit 5 years of my life to. That’s a long time frame, I know. But it gives me room to plan, to try and to measure what I’ve done.
I figure at the end of 5 years, if I haven’t succeeded or I can’t predict success, it’s time to re-evaluate.
You don’t have to necessarily set that many years out. But you do have to think in that kind of time frame, because expecting anything to happen faster is only going to disappoint you and burn you out.
It takes time to learn.
I feel like we’ve lost sight of this. We all measure our current success, before we’ve achieved anything, against the current success of people who had a head start on us and have refined and worked on what they do.
You’re an entrepreneur. Are you measuring yourself against other entrepreneurs? Or are you measuring yourself against some billionaire founder who’s the CEO of a global company?
You’re a writer. Are you measuring yourself against other writers? Or are you measuring yourself against Hemingway, or Ginsberg, or Kerouac, or Rowling?
The thing is, all of those people put in years of work before they could reach a level of competency, skill and creativity that allowed them to create the work you look up to. You can’t just start out, wave a magic wand and become as good as them. So you learn. Or you try to learn.
It takes time to get it right.
I hear from artists, and writers, and founders all the time who tell me they’ve created something but it’s not perfect, and they don’t know how to fix it before releasing it. To those people, I say this. You will never, ever perfect it. Because nothing is ever perfect.
All you can do is improve. Constantly improve. And the one, single way to do that is to set whatever you’re working on loose, gather feedback and try again. You repeat this process every time you make something, and sooner or later, you’re going to get better.
That takes time. Getting it right takes time. Iterating, modifying and improving can take years. Sure, I do OK as a writer and entrepreneur. I have my share of readership, and I have a growing list of clients. But it has taken me a long time to get here.
I’ve been writing online for around 15 years, all up. I’ve been starting and running businesses ever since I was 17. I have so many years of failure under my belt that I could write the book on it — and I just might do that.
Getting to the point now where I’m happy with what I’m achieving, it took time.
It takes time to build an audience.
You can’t expect anyone to be listening, reading or buying straight out of the gates. It doesn’t work like that.
Let me tell you about a band called Green Day. Sure, they had a break out album in ’94 with Dookie. But did you know that was their third album? And that they’d been together for 8 years before they released it?
That was 8 years of work. Touring, writing, playing shows to empty rooms full of drunk weirdos who didn’t give a shit. Releasing songs that nobody liked. Spruiking a style of music that was patently un-cool.
They built up that audience one-by-one. Show by show.
My point is, you can’t expect to write something, release something, design something and suddenly be blasted to the top of the world and lauded by your peers. Sure, it happens. There’s always exceptions, but they are just that — exceptions.
I started this article out with a quote from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.
Amazon are one of the only companies who weren’t completely fucked by the Dotcom crash. Looking back on the graveyard of promising startups and entrepreneurs who were wiped out by the crash, Amazon’s grave is still empty.
I hate those articles that promise to tell you the One Single Reason X Was Successful — those are always bullshit, because there’s never a single reason for anything. When you try and find one, you’re trying to tell a story rather than state the facts.
But I do know one reason for Amazon’s success. And survival. And continual rise. Jeff Bezos doesn’t think on short time frames. He doesn’t try for instant, hyper growth and he doesn’t expect the world to turn a the snap of his fingers. He can wait for success, and work for it.
You can too.
The good news is, there are people who can help.
Here’s a list of people who a lot of people hold up as the be all and end all of bloggers. They’re pretty incredible and they’ve all done some great work. You know these names.
But those folks seem pretty huge right? Almost unattainably huge. That depresses a lot of young bloggers, because they don’t understand how they can get from an audience of Zero to the hundreds of millions of people who follow the big names.
The thing is, you don’t have to look to the massive bloggers for guidance. Because there is a new guard of bloggers and writers coming up who can help you too.
- Benjamin P. Hardy writes some of the most inspiring shit on the internet. Seriously. I can wake up and read his work and feel an incredible amount of motivation and pressure to push myself further and try harder.
- Yann Girard is out there hustling as hard as possible and teaching people how to do it, and breaking just about every goddamn rule there is.
- Bianca Bass is an absolute gun, and she’s building up a body of work that is practical as much as it is going to push you to have, explore and be open to new ideas.
- Chad Grills is a killer publisher whose blog, The Mission, gave me a huge boost in my early days and truly contributed to a lot of the great stuff that I have going for me today.
- Laila Alawa is a writer and publisher who gives voice to a lot of people who might not ever get heard, who wants to push the boundaries and isn’t scared to show the reality of digital publishing.
- Jon Westenberg is a total asshole who would have finished this blog post a lot faster if he hadn’t taken a pretty extensive Xbox one break…
My point is, there are a lot of us who are working to try and make blogging the best it can be. To write, to publish, and to work as hard as we can. And we’re trying to make it accessible for new bloggers too.
So how do you start to break out?
Find One Person Who Gives A Shit. The Rest Is Easy.
It’s all about making someone care.
Everything seems difficult when you try to do everything at once. You’re not alone in thinking the entire world is stacked against you from the word go. It’s natural to think about how hard it is going to be to get anyone to care about what you do.
You write a blog. Have you worked out how many people it’s going to take to justify your advertising so you can make any kind of money?
You play music. Have you thought about how many punters you need to drag to your gigs to just break even on the cost of hauling shit, buying gear and rehearsing?
You build software. Have you thought about how many people need to download your app and use it more than once to make your entire career choice valid?
You’ve probably thought all this shit through, and you’ve found it incredibly depressing and daunting and damn near impossible. You might have even thrown your hands up and straight out quit.
I wouldn’t blame you. I wouldn’t blame anybody for giving up when you’re banking against the immense difficulty of making the right people give a shit about what they do.
But here’s what I know to be true. You don’t have to worry about getting a whole of people into what you’re doing. That’s not something you have to care about or concern yourself with.
Here’s my rule. It applies whether you’re building a startup or writing a book or recording a mixtape. It’s the same principle for anyone making something.
All you have to worry about is getting one single person to give a shit.
Because it’s manageable.
If you set out with the goal of reaching some set number of people, or meeting your calculations about what your audience has to be like before it’s worth doing what you do, you’re going to crash and burn.
It is staggeringly demoralising to do that. I want to be clear, if you keep thinking about the audience or the readers or the customers you need as being an insurmountable number, it will paralyse you.
You will not be able to do anything.
You won’t even be able to find the right place to start.
But if you’re thinking about trying to find just one person — that’s a whole lot easier. That’s doable. It’s a matter of reaching out and starting a conversation about what you’re doing and why. That’s not a tough thing to do.
You can set up a simple out-reach process that will allow you to accomplish this every single day.
One success is going to motivate you.
Seriously, when just one person cares about something you do, it’s incredibly motivating. You’ve managed to make something that has touched the life of another human being. Someone you don’t know. Someone who now believes in you.
From now on, every time you fuck up, fail or just want to throw in the towel and walk away, you’ll be able to look back on your one success and remember what it’s like to win.
The biggest reason people quit, I truly believe, is that they don’t think anybody is going to care. They think that if they disappeared, not one person would notice.
Get to one fan or customer. And there’ll be at least one person who will miss your work.
The drive to get to more than one person comes from there, and it’s a solid, motivating force. A force that will push you forward.
You won’t be shouting into the void.
The hardest part about making something is when you put it out there and nobody responds — and it’s like you’re wrecking yourself screaming into the void and getting total silence back.
That used to break my heart. It was like getting lost in a sea of voices, with nobody listening or wanting to hear what I had to say or do. It was killing me.
If I put something out there and I didn’t get a response, my natural reaction was to delete it. Hate it. Erase it. Start again. I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in that, there have got to be other people who feel the same way.
But if your release strategy is not just to shout about what you’re doing — it’s to give it to one person and get them to care — you won’t experience that deafening silence. You’ll experience a connection.
Without the silence, the urge to give up will weaken slowly, every day. It may even disappear altogether. I don’t know. But I know you’ll feel better about what you’re doing.
It’ll make you appreciate every win.
You know what sucks? When my page views are down. When my reads and my recommends are down. I get fucking depressed and I go to my (extremely patient) partner and tell her that the whole world hates me and I should quit.
It’s dramatic and it’s self absorbed and it’s ridiculous. And every time I do it, she calls me on my behaviour. And she tells me, if one single person read about what you do today — you’re doing OK.
She’s right. I need to appreciate every reader. When I remember that just reaching a single reader is my overarching goal, I never feel like I’m a failure. I don’t feel like I’m falling short.
Taking anything for granted is bad. Taking your audience for granted is fucking terrible. Don’t do it. You need to appreciate everyone, every single person who cares about what you do.
They’re real people, and they have lives and feelings and a limited amount of time to spend on this rock, and they decided to spend some of that time on you. Unless you’re a selfish jerk, that should matter.
You can build on one person, every day.
So I know what you’re thinking right now. One person isn’t enough of a fan base or customer base to let you do anything major. And you’re right. You’re 100% right.
But you remember how manageable it was to reach out to just one person and get them to care?
What if you did that every single day? Every day, at the top of your To-Do list, you have one task. Reaching out to another person and telling them about what you do and trying to explain why they should care.
If you do that every day for a year, not everyone is going to respond. Not everyone will like what you do. Not everyone will give a shit. But if even just 50% of the people you talk to are interested, you’ll have 180 people.
180 people who care.
Shoot for that.
One person who genuinely gives a shit is better than 10 casual fans.
I would always rather have one person that has a personal connection with me and the work that I do than 10 people who maybe care a little, who are interested one day but not so interested the next.
I think you need to divide your audience or customers into two groups. Numbers and people. The numbers are the ones you can’t care about. They’re the faceless statistics that you see in your analytics panel.
They’re the bulk of the 1,000 views you might have had on that one blog post or artwork. They’re impressive. But they don’t matter. They’re a vanity metric.
The people are the ones who talk to you every day, who look forward to your work and want to engage with it.
They’re faithful. They’re loyal. They’re long term. And you’ll learn their names one by one, because you’ll have some incredible conversations with them. The chances are, these are the people who started as your single daily outreach.
The people are the ones who matter.
You can ask them for feedback.
Feedback is so important to everything we do. I can never see how crap something is until other people point it out, because I am firmly planted in my own reality distortion field where I believe that I’m awesome. I’m arrogant like that.
When I can get some quality, honest feedback from somebody it lets me step into their shoes and look through their eyes and understand a different take on what I’m doing. I love that. I love finding out that I was wrong.
Being able to reach out to one person, on an individual level, means you have an opportunity to get some of that incredible and honest feedback every single day without begging people for it or waiting for an anonymous troll to give you way too much of their opinion.
Just imagine how much you could learn.
You can create an advocate.
This is the dream. Having somebody who loves what you do and has enough of a connection with it to become your biggest advocate. When you’ve done it right and built up someone to honestly give a shit about you, you’re starting your own tribe.
They’ll find other people and want to share your work with them. They will spread the word. They will stand up for you, fight for you and repeat your name where it matters.
Do you know who the greatest punk rock band of all time are? Fugazi. They never had a radio hit or a top 10 record. They had an audience who would leave every show and go out into the world and tell other punk kids that they had found a band who were authentic, real and the holy grail of underground music.
It worked. That band is legendary.
So how do you get to one person? How do you make one person care? It’s easy. You identify a persona, you find someone who matches that persona, and you hit them up.
I like to look for creatives who are doing something similar to me. Bloggers, writers, artists — whoever it is. Then I go on Twitter. I find their audience, and I find some of the people who follow their work, and I get to know them.
I reach out and explain that I found them because we’re both fans of the same creative. And I want to share my work with them. I have an 80% response rate from people I reach out to in this way.
Almost everyone will take the time to check out your work, as long as you aren’t spamming them or being disrespectful. This isn’t a situation where you can blast out an email or a tweet to a hundred people, it has to be extremely personal and tailored.
There is something to be said for eating the world one bite at a time. It’s the only way to do it.
When my partner and I have to clean our apartment, we start with one area. We clean the couch first.
When Jobs and Wozniak started apple, they didn’t try to sell a thousand computers. They sold one computer first.
When Green Day started making music, they weren’t selling platinum albums. They were selling one record at a time to people they talked to at their shows. Somewhere along the line, they sold one record first.
When any billion dollar startup first kicked off their journey, I promise you they did not have hundreds of customers and advocates. They reached one customer first.
If you start small, it does not mean you have to finish small. All it means is that you’re taking on a manageable slice of work that you can easily accomplish.
I know this isn’t a groundbreaking concept. Get to 100 customers. Get to your first $100. This has all been said before. But I give a shit about it enough to say it again and say it smaller.
If you want to make it as a blogger in 2017, you have to get over your jealousy.
I consider myself an email power user (I get approx 2000 emails/day) and there is no way I would try and deal with that many emails on the iPhone or even an iPad.
You know what my first reaction was? Jealousy. Why wasn’t I getting 2000 emails a day? Why wasn’t I that popular and successful? Why did he get to that level and I didn’t?
It was a stupid reaction, I know. Shawn probably doesn’t want to be receiving that many emails. And even if he did, it wouldn’t be a measure of his professional success or achievements. But when I looked at his life and saw something I felt I should want, I was consumed by it.
I do this all the time. I have a major problem with jealousy. I can’t go through a single day without coveting something that someone else has. When I listen to music, I find myself feeling jealous of the artists who made it, when I quit music. When I talk to start-up founders, I’m jealous of their Tech product and wish I was the CEO of their project. When I talk to writers, I want their audience and their views. When I talk to artists, I want their skills.
I think the root of it is believing that what I’m doing isn’t good enough, isn’t valid. Believing that it won’t be until I have the success (or at least, the trappings of success) that I see in other people. The jealousy arises through comparing and benchmarking myself against the world.
I know I’m not alone here. People tend to feel like they’re under a lot of pressure to be a young prodigy with the world at her feet. They look at people like Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s 25-year-old rich-as-fuck founder, and ask why they’re 29 and still funding their app with a mounting credit card debt. Or why they’re struggling to write a single blog post when other writers are already published and doing it full time.
It’s one of the modern world’s favourite tropes. Successful people should be young and they should be the children of destiny. They should have amazing, instant trajectories, instead of grindingly hard work.
They should be Steve Jobs, not Tim Cook.
The pressure mounts to turn into extreme jealousy, where we are absolutely green and sick with the desire to have more and be more because we looked into someone else’s backyard.
But this is bullshit. There are always going to be stories like Evan Spiegel’s, about billionaires in the early twenties who achieve more than most human beings could in 80 years. But they aren’t normal, they’re an anomaly.
For most people, the story is going to be about years of hard work and gradual growth. The kind of story that won’t make a good movie, but will still equal success.
The jealousy doesn’t help us work harder to get to that level. It doesn’t help you work harder. It’s not motivating, it’s just distracting and depressing. It makes you doubt your work and hate what you’ve done. You can’t accomplish shit when you’re piling that kind of weight onto yourself.
The only thing you can is determine what you really define success to be and then find a way to accomplish it. For you.
Being jealous of other people who have made it somewhere is admitting that you don’t hold yourself to your own standards. You hold yourself to their standards. In the end, no matter what work you’re doing, you’ll only ever be able to win on your own terms and by your own benchmarks of what success looks and feels like.
I’m reminded of Fulton J. Sheen:
Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius.
You need to realize that you’re going to fail as a blogger before you win.
I know this sounds like the same advice that bloggers hear and repeat every day. We’re told that we can’t give up. We can never stop trying. Quitting is for the weak. You only truly fail when you walk away.
But there’s a reason we repeat this advice.
The reality is, every now and then you are going to fail. Because every now and then, you will reach a point of objective failure, where to continue, to keep trying, to just *believe* would feel like a mistake, and it’s at those points that you cannot give in.
There’s a point where you have to accept that the path you have been on, and the product you’ve been building, and the profession that has taken center stage in your dreams, are not the right fit.
But that’s not the end of the world.
There is no shame in resetting.
I think there’s a real problem with how we view failure. When you’re a multi-billionaire, you’re praised for all the times you missed a shot, fucked up and fell through. It’s admirable.
When you’re not yet at that level, when you’re still going through those failures without a glimmer of success and without a big break, it feels like something to be totally ashamed of.
But admitting you’ve failed when you’ve made a decent, thoughtful, carefully balanced call that you need to try a new idea, a new strategy, a new solution? That’s a good thing. It means you won’t waste any more time on a project that is going nowhere.
Throwing in the towel doesn’t mean you’re a loser, or you’ve given up on anything. It means you’ve reset your priorities and your workload and your dreams, and you are about to get the fuck over it and find a brand new challenge. Or a brand new way to take on the old challenge.
There are some problems that cannot be solved.
You are going to come up against some moments in your life, both professional and personal, where you can’t win. They’re true Kobayashi Maru situations, where no action you can take (beyond cheating…) will lead to a positive outcome.
No matter how much you believe, or how focused you are, or how productive you can be, there are always things that cannot be done. Or that simply cannot be done by you.
When you reach these situations, being able to identify the futility is incredibly important. Because if you can’t do that, you could waste the rest of your life tilting at a windmill and telling everyone it’s a giant. Nobody will be fooled.
It might even be that your product is right, you’re right, but the timing is wrong. The company is wrong. The strategy was wrong. Any of those things could mean that you’ve hit a wall, and you need to burn everything and walk away and come back with something new.
You’ve got to be a big enough person to see through your own reality distortion field.
Iteration isn’t losing.
When we idolize the failures of billionaire founders and successful artists, we tend to only focus on their iterative process. What we call fuck ups were really tests, hypotheses and early versions of future successes.
I think we’ve reached a misunderstanding of what losing is. It’s not missing your target market, making the wrong product or focusing on a bad solution. Those are all learning opportunities, not the end of the road.
Losing is when you have reached a point at which there is no going forward and no going back.
In fact, losing is when there is nothing left that you can do to save your ass. And you have to walk away. That’s not the same thing as failure.
When you fail, and you can’t see a way out, there could be a chance to make some changes and take another shot. You can make a clean break and start again.
Failing is only bad if it’s the last shot you take.
I almost drowned once. I was surfing on a secluded beach in Sydney, and there were no people around. No surf life savers, no other surfers. It was early in the morning, and I’d headed out to catch some waves before I hit the office.
I was dumped by one particularly large wave, and suddenly everything went wrong. I can remember my leg rope’s velcro breaking, and the rope becoming wrapped around my neck, dragging me under the board.
I couldn’t come up for air, because the board was on top of me, and the leg rope had me frozen with fear. I was starting to choke.
To this day, I still don’t know how I managed to disentangle myself, but I know I passed out and ended up on the beach.
And that was the last time I ever went surfing. I came to, looked at the ocean, and felt so utterly terrified that I never took another shot. I failed once, and I gave it up completely. I couldn’t even skateboard after that.
To me, that’s what losing is. Losing isn’t failure. It’s not having the raw fucking guts to get back on the board and go for it again.
When you fail, when you go through that shitty process, when you’re so incredibly terrified that taking another try with something new feels impossible, you have to do it. Because if you don’t get back in the water then, you might never manage it.
Finally, understand that the perfect blog only looks perfect to you.
You can’t see the blind, clutching panic.
I was talking to a software entrepreneur recently whose business has cracked $1,000,000 profit this financial year. That’s pure profit. He’s self-funded and he’s the sole owner. To anyone else, that would be hugely impressive. They look at his business and see an empire in the making, they look at him and see a millionaire entrepreneur.
But because he’s right in the thick of it, all he can see is the pressure and the panic.
It’s tough for him to step back and appraise his own success from anyone else’s point of view. He sees missed opportunities, a mounting pressure to grow, and the financial burdens and responsibilities of a steadily expanding team.
It’s the same with fitness bloggers, and Instagram celebrities, and artists, and musicians and anyone who makes, builds, writes or starts anything.
It’s the same with me. I’m focused so much on freelancing for startups and firms, and working in tech marketing and attempting to start a career as a writer, that all I can see are the problems. The cracks.
To me it feels like my work is wildly inconsistent, my writing is total shit, my marketing practices are badly thought out and managed, and my Dad was right about my lack of potential.
To anyone else, it might not seem like that. You might see a blog post every day, and an evolving brand, or a speaking engagement and think it’s all running smoothly. You can’t see the blind, clutching panic.
You can’t see me reading an article about a new software startup and suddenly losing all faith in my professional services business, and frantically texting my long-suffering girlfriend about how much of a mistake my entire life is.
You can’t see me sitting on the floor, in the corner of my workspace, struggling with a panic attack.
Whether you’re running a business, writing a blog or trying to build a freelance creative career, you are always going to feel like your life is in total chaos. You are going to feel like the whole thing is held together with duct tape, band-aids and a few well placed staples.
This is the way everyone feels. Please believe that, no matter how successful you’ve been, every minor problem or small issue or inconsistency is always magnified times a thousand. Until it turns into Godzilla. And you lie awake at night, with a huge mutant lizard rampaging through your head.
It’s because you’re right there in the trenches. You’re slinging shit every day trying to make it work, so to you every little aspect of your project seems so much bigger, so much more important. Every imperfection almost screams at you.
But then you look at everyone else. The other entrepreneurs, whose image looks so perfect. The writers with Instagram feeds full of tastefully posed photos of manuscripts and whiskey. The “freedom business” bullshitters, sunning it on a beach in Fiji with a laptop and a coconut.
And it looks perfect, doesn’t it? It looks like they’ve got everything under control? Surely, they’re running a smoothly operating, well-oiled machine?
No way. Don’t even think that for a moment. They are operating on the same level of blind, clutching, stressed out panic as you are. You can’t see it, but it’s there.
I don’t want to depress you. Or convince you that trying to make it, trying to start shit, trying to build something is too scary to be worthwhile. That’s not true. What I want to say is this. You can’t hold yourself to a standard that doesn’t exist.
You’re never going to have a business or a project or a life that feels as perfect as everyone else’s looks. It’s not possible. Their world is as hellish and tough as yours, even if it doesn’t seem that way from the outside. But this is a good thing.
It means that when you’re panicking, stressing, and feeling overcome with self-doubt, you’re not doing any worse than the rest of us. You’re not alone, in feeling that way. It’s completely fucking normal. You’re one of us, and we get it. We’re not #lovinglife or feeling #blessed. It may seem that way, but it’s not the case.
You don’t have to be a machine. You don’t have to think positive. You don’t have to “just believe and breathe.” That’s all the advice you’ll get when you tell people how much shit is on your plate. But you don’t have to listen to it.
All you have to do is get through it. Perfection is a game you can’t win because the rules keep on changing and you’re only playing against yourself.
This piece originally appeared on Medium.
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