Whenever you’re starting doing something new, it’s OK to feel lost.
You’re stuck with ‘unknown unknowns.’
I’ve been in this situation more times than I can remember. I am going through this right now while working on my ‘bank for creators’ idea.
I don’t know anything about fintech. I have never built a bank before. I am not even sure it will be a bank.
I have too many ‘unknown unknowns.’
I was in a similar situation three years ago, when I decided to start an agency business back in Russia. I had no idea what the agency business was about. I didn’t even know what an Account Director did – or how you get clients.
But I went around and asked people. I read.
I found that the two surest ways to turn ‘unknown unknowns’ into ‘known unknowns’ – i.e., to figure out what you don’t yet know is to:
Talk to a lot of people. Especially people who have experience doing what you’re about to start. Yesterday I was talking to a successful entrepreneur (20 years older than me) through Zoom, I told him about my idea and finished with, “So, what the fuck should I do?”. By being vulnerable (and blunt), I got some of the best insights in a long time.
Research everything on the subject. Including news, blog posts, books, podcasts. Your job is to get the ‘feel’ for the industry: the slang, the opinion leaders, the way of doing things. Every sphere is unique in this sense.
When you want to create content for money or turn content creation into a career, you are in a similar position.
You know where you want to be. But you have no clue where to start.
You don’t know what to research – literally, what words to type in the Google search bar.
Let me save you hours, days, weeks, and potentially months, by turning your ‘unknown unknowns’ into ‘known unknowns.’
I will show you precisely what you need to understand to turn content creation into a career.
Three Things You Need To Know To Make Content Creation a Career
Audience-building. You first need to learn how to attract an audience—your ‘1,000 true fans’, as Kevin Kelly would say.
Audience-monetization. I hate the phrase ‘audience-monetization’ (it sounds like I am selling people), but at one point, you need to understand how to make money off the following you’ve built. Be it through Patreon, Substack, Medium, books, online courses, or everything at once.
Scalability. And finally, when you have an audience, and you’re making money off of it, you need to scale your business. Yes, I just said ‘business’ – because when you’re making money as a content creator, you’re essentially a media entrepreneur.
If you remember one thing from this week’s newsletter, let it be this.
These phases have to go in this order, and they require very different mindsets.
You can’t build an audience in the same way you learn to make money. And you can’t scale when you don’t have an audience (or cash to scale with).
So if you’re just starting, don’t be the Medium writer, the podcaster, the YouTuber, the entrepreneur who complains, “Oh, gosh. I wasted three whole months of my life on this, and I am still not making any money.”
Success in content creation is not Amazon Prime. It doesn’t come the next day with free shipping.
Tell yourself you won’t make a single cent for the next 24 months. You’ll dedicate 2-3 years to building an audience, a following, a tribe, a community.
That’s your only goal.
If you do make money (like on Medium, where they pay you whether you want to or not) – great! Let that inspire you to keep writing. But that’s not the goal. Building an audience is.
What Happens When You Build an Audience
You create content that you want. Not the one that makes the most money. You’re looking for your unique voice.
You are not jealous of other creators. Let them do them, and you do you.
You are patient. The slowest wins the race. There will be 100,000 new Medium writers and about the same number of YouTubers this year. Well, guess what? There will be approximately the same number of creators who quit. If you rush now, you’ll end up being disappointed and quit too early.
You’re building leverage. According to Jack Conte, Patreon’s CEO, the only thing that separates successful creatives from not-so-successful is how much their fans love them. Your job – your only job – in the first 24 months of creating content is to build a relationship with your audience.
Some platforms help you build an audience quickly and for free: Facebook, Medium, YouTube, podcasting.
Pick one and go. Don’t overthink it. These platforms have fantastic curation algorithms, and simply showing up there regularly will build you an audience.
Plus, some things you figure out only by doing them.
Forget about growth hacking or making money. Just focus on the content.
And look for the fit.
How To Find Your Content/Audience Fit
Startups seek to find their ideal ‘product/market fit’ (i.e., when the product they make resonates with the people they’re targeting), but very few do.
Most startups fail, and 80% of startups who claim they’ve found their ‘product/market fit’ actually don’t. They found something, but it’s not the fit.
You know you’ve found your product/market (or audience/content) fit when things go nuts.
When your only job becomes – in a startup – just to make sure your servers don’t go bust with all this incoming traffic.
And you know you have found your content/audience fit as a creator when things go viral. When all you do is create more content to engage the evergrowing audience.
Achieving that fit is very rare.
As I said, most content creators achieve a semi-fit, almost-a-fit-but-not-quite. But among the top-1% (Joe Rogan league here), they all had that fit ideally in place.
When you’re in your first phase of content creation (and if you’re reading this newsletter, you probably are), your job is to build an audience.
But your goal is to find that ‘fit.’
That golden intersection between the content you create and the audience you make it for.
It might seem you have just two variables to play around with: your content and your audience. All you can do is tinker and experiment with them until something clicks.
(Rule of thumb: if you’re asking whether you have a fit or not, you don’t.)
But if you think about it, you have one variable.
It’s not that you can write about anything you want, right?
Some things just feel more interesting.
For example, I am incredibly inspired when I write about life, self-development, and the ‘passion economy.’ These are the three topics my DNA likes most. No matter how hard I try, I can’t change that.
So do you – you have topics that nobody else is interested in. Or maybe interested, but not in a way you are. Spend time to figure out what those things are. This will be your content. It’s a constant.
Your only variable in the content/audience fit is your audience. And thanks to the modern world, you can pick your audience.
About a decade ago, Kevin Kelly wrote a piece that you’ve probably read, called ‘1000 true fans’. The premise behind the idea was that this new Internet – the passion economy, where people get to be themselves, to create and make a living off of it – would allow us to connect with not one, but different audiences. And to find theirs.
When you seek to make a living doing anything, you’ve got find the intersection between what you find valuable – and what other people find valuable. (This is just another description of the content/audience fit.) People only pay for what they find valuable.
In the old world, where you only had one audience to play with (e.g., in your local village), you had to adapt your tastes to the market. But today, we can choose an audience.
We can stay true to our tastes, our content, and things that interest us.
If you’re interested in pink unicorns, I bet we can find a few thousand people around the world who share your interest. These people will then become your ‘fans’, your audience, and you’ll achieve your fit.
The goal then is not just to build ‘any audience’. It’s to build an audience you can resonate with. It’s to find people like you.
People who get you.
People who like what you like.
People who subscribe to what you say because you’ve articulated something they thought about too for a long time. (Quite often this is even better than saying something new.)
These people don’t have to like everything you do or even agree with everything you say.
But if they enjoy the type of content you create, you know you’ve got a fit.
11 Things To Do In Your First 24 Months Of Creating Content
Create every day: something, anything.
Be true to your interests and passions. Create content you want to see in the world.
Find people who ‘get you.’ People like yourself.
Use platforms like Medium, YouTube, Facebook, or create podcasts.
Forget about monetization until you’ve built a considerable following.
Look for the ‘fit.’ You know you’ve found the fit when things go crazy.
Be patient. You can’t make nine women pregnant in 1 month.
Just give it 24 months.
Don’t do ‘growth hacking.’
Create content that makes you money while you sleep. (I wrote about it here.)
Don’t quit. If you just don’t leave, you’ll already be successful.
Now go and make something meaningful.
What you might have missed:
Why Write? – To avoid getting lost in your head.
How To Write a Blog Post That Makes You Money While You Sleep – You’re allowed to do anything, except one thing: let them get bored.
Everything I Thought About Medium Might Be Wrong – Write only when you’ve got something important to say.
Don’t Confuse Writing With Content Creation – Art is subjective; content is not.
5 Ways To Become a More Creative Human Being – Or how to stop writing about writing.
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In case you didn’t know, I also have a book out – Blog Is a Platform: What Blogging Can Do For You and Your Career. A lot of my readers found it valuable.
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