What do you do when the trolls come marching in?
Online trolls routinely call me a spammer, a hack, a link-baiter, a self-centered and flippant asshole, and shoddy excuse for a writer who would do better if I stopped putting articles out.
And that’s just from last week. Seriously.
The week before last, I got a review from a reader who said he wanted to come to my house and punch me in the face for writing my latest book.
I’m not telling you this for sympathy or shock value or to scare you; I’m just telling you what can happen when your work reaches other people, even if it’s not many. They might hate it. They might hate it enough to hate you for making it. They might hate it so much that they need to tell you how much they hate it and you, and then tell others.
Such is the state of the Internet.
Anyone with an opinion can dole it out—publicly on social media, in comments, on their own website, or privately via email or phone. I receive all of these on regular basis.
It’s not just me either, it happens to anyone who has ever created anything and shared it with others.
John Nolan, the guy who created Ghost (a blogging platform), raised $300k to build his free, open-source platform through a crazy successful Kickstarter campaign and much media and nerd fanfare. His idea went from zero to a big deal fairly quickly.
On launch day someone tweeted, “@JohnONolan – $300,000 and Ghost is total piece of shit. How do you feel?”
How should he feel? Something he poured his life into to build for the past 18 months was summarily and publicly written off by some troll who probably didn’t pledge a cent and wouldn’t ever use the app.
The problem is that the more someone’s work gets out there, the easier it seems to be to criticize them. A troll’s aim doesn’t have to be as good when they’re taking potshots if that person is in the spotlight.
What’s worse is we hold these people to higher standards if they’ve made something of themselves. If they speak out, reply undiplomatically, or just stand up for themselves, it’s seen as bad. Like they’re attacking an underdog (who attacked them first). I’ve seen it happen with others and I’ve been called out for doing it myself.
Perception is a such a weird and screwed up thing, especially online. I try to be honest in how I put myself out there, and am okay with my flawed —and sometimes angry— public self when I’m standing up for what I believe in.
Here’s what I won’t do, though: I won’t let criticism or my own fears of criticism affect my work. It was a turning point for me when I realized that fear and action can exist in parallel. Realizing that led to me to start writing and sharing more. It led me to experiment publicly with how to put my work into the world. It has led to some verbal battles, some embarrassing mistakes, and absolutely zero regrets.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” – Teddy Roosevelt (1910) via Brené Brown
Progress as a creative is impossible if we let our fear dictate our actions and our art. It’s why Seth Godin doesn’t have comments on his website. We should be more concerned with our work being an honest representation of ourselves than hoping it’s not going to offend anyone.
We share our creativity because we know that even though there’s the risk of criticism, hate, and judgment, there’s also the opportunity to connect, change, and most importantly, to help.
I don’t need to save the hateful, personally attacking, and negative emails because I remember every single one of them, even if I only read them once. But I actually save the emails from anyone who has told me my writing has done something positive —even tiny— for their lives or their art. Those emails I need to be reminded of from time to time.
Just today (timely, right?) I received an email from a substance abuse counselor who asked if she could share an article I wrote with her group of people in recovery. It’s an article that I’ve been told “brings nothing to the table” and “is a waste of words.” It was a business article but she said how much it related to and could help her group understand the commitment of giving your word. My day = totally made. Email = saved.
If we let even one person sway us in sharing our art, our work, our voice—then they win. And I’m not into online trolls winning. They can have their bridges, but not our creativity.
The most useful business advice you’ll ever get from me
The Internet isn’t a meritocracy, where we can just do good work, put it on a website and hope others will find it and buy it. Nothing will do this for you — not social media, not Kickstarter, not Medium, not Amazon, and not your blog.
Unless you hire yourself to be the publicist/head marketing person for your work, it’s going to languish in obscurity (which is next door to the land of broken dolls in a really bad part of town).
Here are some equally motivating (since anyone can do these things without permission) and depressing (that’s a lot of people doing the same things) stats:
- There are 152 million blogs on the Internet.
- There are over 12 million books on Amazon.
- There are over 155 thousand projects on Kickstarter.
- There are over 7 million products on Etsy.
Hot dog! That’s a lot of millions.
So how do you stand out from the noise?
You’ve got to get people talking about what you’ve built before you build it. Do this by making genuine connections with other people: your competition, people you admire, people who engage with you on social media, people who have audiences that relate to your own.
Every opportunity I’ve ever had with writing or design has come from a recommendation within my existing network of people with which I regularly connect. Everything from high-priced web design projects to writing articles for large publications is because someone told the person in charge that (a) I exist and (b) they need to work with me.
(Let me state that again, because it’s important.)
Every opportunity I’ve ever had has come from connections I’ve made with other people.
I spend at least an hour a day connecting with people. Not just because it’s good for business, but because I actually enjoy talking with my network.
There aren’t any tips or tactics for how to specifically foster these connections, because interacting in real and meaningful ways can’t be disingenuous. I connect with people in a way that works for me. That can’t be taught, but what can be taught is remembering to take the time to keep those connections alive. Send follow-up emails, keep in touch with people to see what they’re up to lately, and help out where they need anything that you can provide. Stay on people’s radar, not as some selly-schmoozer but as a real person who interests them. There are no absolutes.
The good thing is that this doesn’t have to be forced. You’re doing the work you do (hopefully to some degree) because it’s interesting to you. So talking to others about similar topics shouldn’t be like pulling teeth.
On occasion you can let these people know that you have something new you’re releasing/selling. But that would never be the first or second email. It should be several emails deep in a chain of two people talking normally about their shared interests.
Too often I get pitches or requests from people I don’t know asking me to promote something they’ve made. A lot of the time, it’s not a fit for what I do, or talk about, or even care about. Those emails aren’t even personalized to me, and are basically asking me to donate my time to them, for free, to help them make money.
Anyone can now get in touch with anyone else — that’s just how the Internet works. So because of that, many influencers are forced to ignore emails simply due to the sheer volume they receive.
Chase Jarvis (founder of CreativeLIVE) gets 20-30 emails every single day asking him to review photography portfolios. Neil Strauss (bestselling author) gets 50-60 emails a day offering to buy him a cup of coffee to pick his brain on writing/dating (he can afford his own coffee). Tim Ferriss (author/entrepreneur) gets 10+ books a day to review or write a blurb for. Even I (who’s no one special) get 10+ emails a day with questions, requests for help, or wanting to hop on a quick call.
These are all asks of time commitments from people who don’t have time to spare (even if Tim only works 4 hours per week…). And it doesn’t just happen to those people, it happens to anyone with a bit of a following or audience for what they do.
Before reaching out, start with some research
When I wanted to start writing for large publications I started first with research. Who did I know that was writing for these publications? Could I find the email addresses of editors of these publications? Could I follow these editors on social media and start replying to and retweeting their work?
Every publication I’ve ever written for has been because either the editor contacted me or someone else put me directly in touch with an editor. I’ve blind-emailed hundreds of publications to write from them, and even with my credentials of writing for other big publications, I got zero response. But every time I get a personal introduction to an editor, I get the gig (even if it’s the same publication that ignored my blind emails).
For my web design services (which have a higher price tag than writing assignments), every lead I get is from a referral. These aren’t just possible leads that I have to really work hard and pitch to either, these are people who have been told about me and want to work with me. So sales calls typically involve a quick chat to see if there’s a fit in terms of cost and timing. This is because I’ve spent years building a network of people, helping them when I can, and engaging with them.
So even my web design business runs on referrals.
Building your network and communicating with others is one of the most important aspects of a business, and it’s something too many creatives forget to do. Whether you’re wrapped up in work or pounding the pavement with sales and marketing, sometimes the best way to grow a business, sell a product, or have people hire you for a service is to simply build a network of people you regularly communicate with.
Creating an inner circle like this isn’t done overnight or by collecting thousands of business cards at an event or trade show. You have to put real effort into it, spending time learning about other people and helping them where you can. It’s not just what they can do for you, but also what you can do for them. Also known as: quid bro quo.
It’s all about who you know. So the sooner you can build a network of folks you enjoy connecting with, the easier it will be to eventually get your work in front of more people.
How to be rich like me
People assume that if they’ve heard of you, you must be raking it in.
The theory goes something like this: If you work for yourself and make things that other people buy, your income magically skyrockets past what an average corporate job would pay.
Many times, readers or people asking for website design quotes have told me, “Oh, but I’m not rich like you.”
To which I look around my normal house (outside the city, where it’s cheaper) that I rent and my car that’s a few years old and think, “Wait a minute, I’m not rich like me either!” If you want to see my net worth, watch this.
I also look around at the other folks that make things on their own on the web, and with a few exceptions, they’re not rich either. They do well, sure, but it’s not 34-bedroom mansions & Cristal every night.
Our views get skewed because our interest is also skewed. We are more interested or likely to read about the blogger who made 6 figures with ads or the writer who made $60,000 on their launch day. These stories are interesting because they are not the norm.
It’s not as exciting to read about the person who makes an extra $10,000 a year writing books on the side or the person who brings in an extra couple hundreds bucks a months with their product. Or the person that makes enough off their creative pursuits to live a normal life. That’s not as sexy, even though it’s the average.
If you’re new to the game of blogging or online business or putting your art onto the Internet, I’m doing you a solid by telling you this without the typical industry BS: there are A LOT of people out here trying to sell you the illusion of riches.
Put up a website, master conversions and BAM, your bank account will turn into an ever-skyrocketing balance.
Except, it rarely works that way, even if you do what you do well, and build a following.
As far as income goes, I can’t complain—I’ve worked for myself a long time and have some semblance, as much as one can, of a steady income. But it’s all a balancing act.
I also squirrel money away, like, well… a squirrel.
I make enough to enjoy a comfortable life, and I don’t take that for granted—ever. More than half of my income comes from the web design work I do, which is why web design work comes before anything else (like writing or making new and fun creations).
I consider design and writing my “day job” even though I work for myself. And as much as I enjoy it, I’m not 100% the boss of me, since I answer to my customers.
Making, playing with digital products online is more like a side gig. Sure, they bring in money, but not enough to survive on.
Let’s look at the life of one book (it could be any self-produced product, though).
Say you sell it for $5 (the average price of my books). If you sell 10,000 copies, the simple math is $50,000! That’s good damn money for one book. But, let’s say it’s sold on Amazon, so that instantly becomes $35,000 if you are in the 70% royalty bracket (otherwise it’s 35% or $17,500).
The mailing list to support that costs $1,200/year and hosting would be $400. Copy-editing cost you $1,000. Editing was another $4,000 and artwork $500. Now, we’re down to $27,900.
This assumes you don’t need a professional website for the book or your brand. This also doesn’t include corporate tax (15%+ in Canada, since we’re socialist bastards), which brings the total to $23,715.
If it takes you about 12 months to do a decent job on a book, that’s more than $6,000 below the poverty line in Canada (currently sitting around $30,000).
In the above scenario, that book is considered a best seller. 10,000 people is nothing to shake a stick at (even if you’re into shaking sticks).
And yet, it didn’t earn you enough to keep yourself afloat for a year, especially if you have dependants or live in a city where the cost of living is high (I’m looking at you, Vancouver Island!).
I’m being overly simplistic with the numbers, but they aren’t far off from real scenarios. Sure, most authors make a bit of money writing for other people, if they’re lucky, but most paid articles run $200/1000 words.
Even fewer get paid speaking gigs, which thankfully, jump into the $1,000s. But again, not many authors even hit the 10,000 book sales mark. Given that there are something like 12 million books on Kindle, the percentage of them that are best sellers is no doubt less than 0.1%.
You also have to factor in the sheer volume of work it takes to put out and sell into the best seller range. The work before launch, the work daily to cultivate and engage with an audience, the work required to pump out the necessary “content marketing” for your brand as often as possible too. It’s almost a full-time job to make less than minimum wage while having an audience bigger than what most creators dream of.
Yes, there are exceptions—called exceptions for a reason—where some very smart folks can make 5 or 6 figures on a single launch day. The thing about exceptions though, is that they’re not the rule/average/typical scenario.
Sounds bleak, right? So why bother?
The biggest reason, at least for me, is that it’s enjoyable. I love writing books, and would do it even if only a handful of people bought them. I’ve found a way to produce and promote them that fits with me and my personal style. I still have a day job to pay my rent, buy my plant-based groceries and put diesel in my little car.
The second reason is that I’ve found creativity thrives on limitations. Since I refuse to use my web design income to fund my books, I’m left with a small budget to make things happen. So I get creative. I trade, beg, borrow, steal (ok, not the last one).
I get off on finding new and interesting ways to promote or get things done that cost little to no money. I also get creative with my time, since I don’t have a lot of it to spend on my side projects. So I create daily practices to get into the flow of writing quicker. I group similar tasks together to get them done faster and I say no to a lot of other things (like TV and a massive social life) so I can spend time creating.
Another thing to consider is that you can keep making money off of books or products as you put newer ones out. Every time I release a new book, my back catalog has a sales spike. So over time, as more art is created, more money is made. It’s certainly not quick (if you’re producing one book a year), but I’m in this for the long game, the life game, not the quick-wins-at-all costs game.
I also enjoy the diversification of both income and creativity. Money-wise, if my web design business suddenly dried up, I’d at least have some income from books and courses to keep me going. If my writing income dried up, at least I’ve got web design. If I don’t pump out a book a year, I still get paid to write articles.
Tying this back into a conversation about money, being creative has never paid well (in terms of money).
Record labels keep their artists in debt to them, book publishers pay little-to-nothing in terms royalties, and so on and so on, since the dawn of time. Business people take advantage of the fact that artists care more about sharing their work than making money.
A lot of people find it horrible that artists are taken advantage of like this, time and time again. But really, it doesn’t matter.
Creatives thrive on limitations and pain can make art better (although certainly, it’s not required). Even with the gatekeepers removed from the mix, where artists can now connect directly with their audiences, there are still costs involved and not a whole lot of money to be made. Now there’s faster and cheaper entry but much more noise to cut through.
Being a touring musician for years, I was under no illusion that writing books or making things for audiences to consume would net me any riches.
I made enough in a band to keep touring and pay for recording new albums, but that was it. Same goes for writing— most of the money I make gets funnelled back into writing more. Not because it has to, but because that’s where I want it to go. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough for me to keep going with it.
There are so many people out there offering to teach you how to be “rich like me.” They might mean well, and even if they’re being honest about their riches, they’re an exception to the rule.
I would absolutely love to live in a world where art is valued and paid for at the level of Fortune 500 executives, but we don’t live in that world – at least, not yet. And that’s ok, for the most part, because we can make a decent enough living (even if our art is a side project) and support ourselves and our art, and then (not to sound trite or overly motivational…) we’ll become rich in lots of other ways.
I’m not saying I don’t like money or even that artists should be so noble that money doesn’t matter, because that’s not true.
Get paid for your art, and the more you can get paid for it, the more power to you. As long as the way money is coming in lines up with your values then by all means “sell out”, as often as possible. Making money from your art is awesome and rewarding.
Art rarely makes artists lots of money. Yet we do it anyway.
Most of us have little to no choice in the matter, because we feel we’re called to create, regardless of the outcome or income. And even if you “make it”, it’s still a long and hard road to actually see those riches. But we’ll keep aiming for it.
For me, I’m not trying to figure out the next book that’ll net me millions of dollars. I’m looking for the next book that’ll connect with an audience, who’ll in turn pay me enough so I can write more books. Anything left is a bonus.
100% Proven Tactics
Face it. You’re trying to game the system.
Even right now, reading this, you’re hoping there’s some new idea presented that helps you learn a new marketing or promotion tactic to take what you’ve made to the next level.
100% proven to grow your audience with little to no work!
You’re hoping for the magic pill that will get you in front of more eyeballs, and more importantly, have those eyeballs give you money (if eyeballs had wallets).
Here’s the thing: anytime a specific and proven tactic actually works, it will only last for a short time, and then only for the first few people who use it.
Then they invariably tell others and it gets watered down until everyone is trying the exact same thing and wondering why they aren’t getting results, possibly even paying money to learn what worked for the now-successful early adopter.
MySpace used to be the place for musicians (an easy example because I am a musician who used MySpace). In the beginning, it was easy to build a fan-base on their network, connecting with lots of people quickly and building a following. Some musicians even started huge careers just because they had a lot of MySpace fans.
You created your account, uploaded your music and started friending people. Boom, done.
After a while, promoters and venues were only letting musicians contact them via MySpace to book shows. Eventually, every musician started to use MySpace.
But, as I hope most of you are aware, MySpace died a horrible, lonely death. Sure, it still exists, but do you know even one who person uses it? Even one musician that’s used it with any success to build fans or sell records? They hired Justin Timberlake to promote their launch and it still tanked.
Any musician that assumed simply creating a MySpace profile would net them big shows and lots of dedicated fans was shit out of luck.
That’s not a real strategy. It’s a lazy attempt to get out of the hard work of playing shitty venues for 0-5 people, night after night, until they got good enough for people to notice.
We all think the latest and greatest tactic to get a bigger audience is going to go so well for us. Except the reason we think it’s going to work is because we just read about it on a popular blog (along with 10,000 other people, thinking the same thing we are). We can’t just set up a MySpace profile and wait for album sales.
We also assume the platforms we use will promote our work for us. If we just have a Kickstarter campaign, we’ll be part of their marketing machine and get the project funded. Stretch goals unlocked!
Or if we put our book on Amazon and make it cheap, it’ll fly off the digital shelves. Bestseller! Oh, you want to buy the movie rights?!
Or if our app is in Apple’s app store it’ll get featured as soon as it’s approved. One million downloads, what?!
The likelihood of any of these things happening is like winning some sort of marketing nerd lottery.
Lottery winning rarely happens and you certainly can’t hedge your bets on it.
The only way to ensure what you’ve made has the traction it needs to take off is to bring your own people to the party.
That way, if the party needs to change location, everyone’s game to move it elsewhere with you. You can’t stand by the punchbowl and cross your fingers, hoping people show up. You have to invite others. But before even that, you have to actually make friends and foster relationships. Really, you have to build a following of people that like what you do. People that would benefit from what you’ve made and maybe, just maybe, like it enough to tell other people they know.
There’s no quick tactic or simple way to game the system to build a loyal audience of people who are eager for what you create.
More importantly, you can’t put all your stock into a single tactic — it might not pay off, and even if you’re lucky and it does, you won’t know how long it’ll work.
Tactics come and go.
Tactics get watered down.
Tactics are MySpace profiles.
So, how do you do it?
How do you build 1000 loyal fans? A tribe? A small army?
You have to abstract it out a little, to a point where there are no easy answers. Except that it’ll involve hard and onerous work on your part.
There are no quick hacks, just a lot of time (measured probably in years, not days) put into what you make. You keep working at what you do, constantly doing it better and then showing the people who’ll benefit from that creation.
It might start with one person in your tribe. Or it might start with no people, in which case you have to go back and work harder at what you’re creating and try again.
Once there is at least one person that wants to be part of your following, you have to keep producing something of value for them. And then they’ll hopefully tell someone else. That’s two people now, which means you just doubled your audience. And then you keep working and launching and showing the right people what you’ve made.
Slowly, if the work is good enough and you show it to enough of the right people, more people will start to show up at your party, regardless of its location. They’ll bring eyeballs (the kind with wallets).
Maybe you show people what you’ve made using MySpace (hey, it could make a comeback) or maybe it’s Twitter or SuperSocialX (which doesn’t exist yet, but Justin Timberlake is on call for the promo video). The platform used to promote isn’t important.
The platform can and will keep changing.
What matters is that you’re connecting with your people and building them something they value. So when that platform changes or dies, those people are still willing to follow your party to another location.
Produce work that others find valuable and share it with them.
If you produce something that no one finds valuable, go back and make it better. Then try sharing it with the type of people that could benefit from it.
Otherwise, you’re just posting your music on MySpace and hoping you’ll get lucky.
A (fall out of) love note
Listen to constructive feedback but ignore your inner critic. Fall of out of love with it immediately, because it doesn’t serve you. The world needs you to create, not to constantly edit what you make and dwell on your perceived shortcomings.
We need you. Not the you that you’re supposed to be, not the you that you think we want you to be, but the real you. The you that scares us a little because it’s so honest (and even a little weird).
Being the real you is important, because it makes it easier to align yourself with your values and easier to keep doing meaningful work. When the filters and masks are taken away, what’s left is unique and magnetic.
You can’t wait until later to do this. You can’t wait until you’ve “made it” to show the real you. You owe it to yourself to start being you right now.
We love dwelling on our shortcomings because it’s easier and less vulnerable than sharing our work with the world. It’s safer to make something and simply say, “This isn’t good enough” and hide it away. But, that deprives the world of our point of view and something that could make a real difference for someone else.
Fall out of love with your inner critic immediately. Kill its voice before it kills you.
I don’t live up to my online self
In fact, I come up very short in social media comparison of my online self to my real life self. Online me is a fearless, straight-shooting, awesome(ish) communicator. While nothing about that is an actual lie, it’s not always true. Just like everyone else, I illustrate certain points and let people see part but not all of me.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – T. Roosevelt
- Sometimes I think the only reason I write is so I can appear like I’m interacting with others when really it’s a way to keep everyone at arms length and feel like I’m part of the world without actually being part of it. I love connecting, but would just rather do it online than in real life most of the time.
- I talk endlessly about pushing fear, but I don’t always do that. My wife’s always wanted to go on a roller coaster with me, but I’m afraid of heights and refuse to. She asked me once that if her dying wish was to ride one with me, would I? I told her we’d find something else on her last day to do. She wasn’t impressed.
- On Instagram I’m always adventuring with my hipster, retro-looking Fuji camera. In reality though, even if the weather’s good, I tend to be in my office, by myself, working. The camera’s hung on the wall behind me more often than not.
- I talk a lot about creation over consumption when in reality there are times I’d rather watch shitty action movies in my underwear and eat coconut ice cream.
Even someone like James Altucher who appears to have zero filters around making himself seem like an asshole just adds to the fact how human and likeable he is in his apparent unlikeability. Even in my own brutally honest way, I can’t compare to how he does it.
This makes it tough in our own minds because comparison obviously happens. I’m not nearly as awesome as the (ridiculously attractive) people I follow on twitter who are always doing epic shit. We let a fantasy we have of reality be what we compare our actual reality to and we end up feeling bad when we come up short.
But even if the factors for comparison were identical, and all points were considered, what purpose would the comparison serve?
It is worth being aware of this regardless though, that who we portray ourselves in the online world tends to be putting our best foot forward. There’s nothing wrong with sharing only some things if they’re honest, but next time you think you don’t measure up to anyone else, consider that they’re doing the same by putting their best foot, intentions, ideas, life, etc… forward too.
They may be sitting alone, watching bad action movies and eating coconut ice cream too. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
Fear plays you against yourself. It can’t actually do anything to you, but it makes you think that it’s the biggest, baddest bully in the playground, who’ll slap you down if you stand out enough for fear to notice you.
Fear only has the power you give it. It’s power is making you get too afraid to try something. So if you’re afraid but try something any way, it doesn’t have any power.
I’m, almost literally, afraid of everything. Leaving my house, people, groups of people, heights, flying, sharing my writing, being criticized, talking to people, to name a small few of them. And if there’s something I’m not aware I’m afraid of and you ask if I’m afraid of it, I’ll probably develop a fear of it right there on the spot.
One time I wrote down all my main fears. It was a big list. Only one of two them had the potential to result in my death. Both those weren’t very likely situations either. The rest would, at worst, bruise my ego and make me look bad.
These fears don’t stop me from trying things. Things I sometimes fail at and then my fear is realized. Sometimes I look stupid doing them. And I haven’t died yet.
But I face my fears and push towards them each time. I continue to leave my house, exist in groups, write and publish things. I keep trying to innovate, create new things, and push my limits.
I start small at first, with small pushes. I know that being afraid and continuing down a path doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. I work up to medium pushes. Fear still can’t do anything I don’t let it do. Then I push harder. Don’t worry, fear can take it, and fear can’t fight back.
push, Push, PUSH.
Crisis of Confidence
Feel like a fraud? Like you’re not good enough or that you lack confidence? Like what you make isn’t as good as what other’s make?
Join the club.
What validates the things we create has changed. Gatekeepers are no longer required in the creative process. All you need to do now is share your voice. No record deal, publisher, investor or invite from MoMA required.
But without these gatekeepers we are forced into the unknown by ourselves. To share things without the precognition of how they’ll be regarded by others. And even if we could know this, would it matter?Would knowing that affect what we do positively or negatively?
External validation is nice for the ego, but not required. End games should be more than likes or retweets or cacophonies of “YES”s if what we’re doing is something we’re truly passionate about. Beyond making it a career or garnering fame/agreement. But more to the point of creating what we love because it makes us happy. Because we feel it in our bones that it has to be created and told through our unique lens as part of our story.
The only difference between someone that sticks their neck out by sharing their creativity and a second person who doesn’t is that the first simply did it. They felt that fear that everyone feels before doing something, like pressing “PUBLISH”, and did it anyway.
Most days when I’m writing a book I wake up with a knot in my stomach because I’m afraid. What if my new book isn’t as liked as the last? What if no one buys it? What gives me the right to share my ideas with anyone? How am I an expert when I haven’t got a fucking clue what I’m doing most of the time?
I wake up thinking about every single fear I have and how inadequate I feel about my own writing and work. And then I do it anyway.
The unknown scares the shit out of me—and yet, I go there. I’m not braver than anyone else, I just acknowledge my fear and keep moving towards it.
I have a crisis of confidence every time I see a blank page.
Don’t ask for the wrong things
There are common things clients of web design ask for in every project. These aren’t always the right things to ask for or even focus on, yet they are almost always brought up. Not because it’s the best thing for a project, but because it’s what clients think they should be asking for.
Make the logo bigger
The only person a bigger logo matters to is the owner of the website. No one in the history of the Internet ever said, “I’d buy this product if only the logo was 10% larger” or, “I just don’t trust someone with a logo that size”. Of course a logo on a website should be clear and visible, but size (in this instance) is one of the least important things.
Make the content pop
The use of different fonts, weights, colours, and exclamation points does nothing except make content harder and slower to read. The design of the typography on a website should make the content as easy to scan and read as possible. A better idea is to write epic content that is broken up with short, clear sentences, headlines and clear calls to action. The only way to make content ‘pop’ is to write good content.
Use a roadblock
Roadblocks are anything that interrupts the reading of a website with a promotion. It can be a subscribe box that pops over content, or an ad needs to watched for 15 seconds before the content loads. These things definitely lead to better short-term conversions, but they do so at the expense of a visitors patience. For every person that signs up for a mailing list on a roadblock, how many closed the site out of frustration? It makes more sense to add calls to action (for things like signing up, tweeting, buying, etc) after the content.
Just because successful blogger X jumps off a bridge (and then goes viral), doesn’t mean that’s a guaranteed route to success for everyone else. Ideas and strategies the leaders use might only work for their unique audiences and with their unique brands. Focusing specifically on a website’s goals and how best to accomplish them is a better way to go.
There’s a fine line between creative copy and how easily those words are immediately understood by an audience. An about page called ‘Flowers & Essences’ (this is not a real-world example) might confuse website visitors, whereas simply calling it ‘About’ makes it immediately identifiable. There’s a place for on-brand creative copy, but never at the expense of clarity.
I encourage every person who’s involved or going to be involved in a web design project to question things before asking for them. Question what your friends/colleagues tell you are ‘must haves’ for your website. Question what marketing experts on top blogs tell you will result in optimal conversions. Question the advice you get from web designers (even if that web designer is me). Then lean on the answers to see if what you want is the right course of action for you and your website. It’ll lead to a better website for both you and the people you want to use it.
Copying someone else’s design is stealing, twice. Once from the person who owns the site and it’s design, and once from me (the person who created it). This aspect is sometimes as an honest mistake, as some people think the websites I create are done using replicable themes which can often be used by infinite websites (I create each theme from scratch for each client and never resell them).
But stealing being wrong isn’t the most valid reason to not copy someone.
X’s website was visually organized to meet their needs and serve their goals. It speaks to their audience in the right visual tone that matches their brand. Copying that would be as useful as copying every blog post they wrote or selling their ebook on your website, passed off as your own. After all, you can’t just take Facebook’s design and make a new, more popular Facebook (if only it was that easy).
The Internet shares new ways to interact and complete tasks that get translated lots of times onto lots of websites. Like having a Twitter feed on your sidebar, or even those annoying sign-up boxes that appear over the website as you read articles. Taking one idea, one element or one type of interaction seen on one site and making it work for your website isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and is how the web works. But taking everything from a single source and passing it off as your own is what I’m talking about here.
Design is a visual language, unique to each brand. Past the ethics of stealing, you aren’t serving your business or your audience by using someone else’s language—your business needs its own special language to stand out.
To serve your true voice and that of your business, you need to “package your quirks” (via The Impact Equation by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, which is a brilliant book). Focus on what makes the way you do business and what you offer that’s different from everyone else. If your competition goes green, go blue. If they speak corporatese, swear like a motherfuckin’ sailor (if that’s true to who you are). If they are all offering more, offer less (with better focus).
A lot of success comes from the value people get from what makes you different from your competition. So build on that.