Money, then everything else
A lot of times we pay attention to things in our business that aren’t true markers of anything meaningful. Worse, we can let these false markers guide decisions in our work.
- 1,000,000 followers on Twitter
- 1,000,000 newsletter subscribers
- 1,000,000 visitors to our website
- 1,000,000 downloads of our free software
It would be great to have any of those things, right? And sure, they can definitely help a business or show a little bit that we’re heading in the right direction.
But still, any of those numbers may or may not translate into the only real marker for a business: money. Money earned means we’re on the right track. Money earned means we’re creating enough value for others to pay us. Money earned means we’re making good decisions in our business.
It’s easy to get caught up in the game of false markers because they’re alluring and seem like valid signals. Sometimes a lot of social followers doesn’t translate into any money though (I know too many social influencers who don’t make enough to support themselves adequately). I’ve had companies send emails to their million person mailing lists about my products and watch all of zero sales come from it.
Any marker that doesn’t always and consistently lead to money in your business is a marker that yes, you could be on the right track, but it isn’t nearly a true marker of business success, unless it’s consistent. As in, if 5% of your site visitors lead to sales, then that’s a pretty good marker. If 10% of free downloaders turn into paying customers, that’s also a pretty good marker. But if those things don’t happen, or happen consistently, then we don’t need to pay a lot of attention to them.
We can get overwhelmed with markers and data. There are so many things to pay attention to with a business! But really, we just need to watch the money. If most of our mailing list subscribers say they’d buy something from us and we built it, and none do, well people sayingthey’ll buy and them actually buying doesn’t always line up. If we’re popular on YouTube but can’t turn that into revenue, maybe it’s not a business—it’s just an awesome hobby (or even just a way to connect with other humans).
If we instead whittle down our attention to money, we can be less data-dazed and laser in our focus. For example, if we want to test whether or not our audience wants to buy something from us, maybe we don’t ask them in a survey, but we give them a way to actually buy it (or pre-order it). Money is the ultimate way to prove value.
Money itself is binary. You have it or you don’t. Your product made some or it didn’t. The sale happened or it didn’t. The problem is that our view of money is anything but binary. We’re completely rife with feelings about it, based on society, our upbringing and countless other things.
If we like making money in our business, then we may assume we’re shallow or greedy or capitalist pigs. At least that’s how it seems like anyone who considers themselves a creative or an artist should feel about money—it should be about the art, not the money, right? But we can challenge that assumption if we want to make our art our living. In fact, money if you’re a creative or an artist, can be awesome and empowering. It can be what keeps us doing our creative work indefinitely. It can be what keeps us providing value to our customers. It can be what gives us a valid marker that our direction is sound, and that we should keep at it. It can be what gives us more power to do good and affect change.
Even if we’re creatives or artists or whatever label we want to give ourselves that makes us think that money isn’t important, it still is. If what we do needs to sustain ourselves or our families, then it certainly is. We don’t need to chase money at the expense of our health or happiness or freedom, but we still need to consider it as the most important factor in our work. As soon as we start relying on our creativity or art to pay our bills, then we’re artists AND business owners, and businesses need profit to stay open and functioning.
Whenever I go off on a tirade about not caring about social media or not being on Facebook or Linkedin or whatever, people ask me how I can stay in business without using those things. The answer is simple: they don’t make me money and I make money in my business without them. Most businesses, outside of our little internet bubble, make money without them or have existed since a time when social media wasn’t even a thing. Social media didn’t even exist when I started my company, and it was still able to generate profit.
The point is this: it can be freeing to know we don’t have to pay attention to everything at all times. We can use this knowledge to focus on serving our paying customers and generating more of them (if we need more). For myself, as long as I’m looking at the money first, and everything else when I feel like I have the space to, my business can keep going with as little stress and overwhelm as possible.