I’m fascinated by marketing, but I’ve always hated selling. I love learning how we can use marketing to reach people and share information, how we can understand the way an audience will react to a particular message or service based on how we present it. But I hate the ways we can manipulate people into believing they need what they don’t or following a message that isn’t right for them.
It’s an annoying dichotomy.
When I decided to dedicate my career to professionally being an artist and sharing a message, I was hit head-on with this dichotomy. I’ve been forced to face it and figure out how to deal with it in my business. How could I at once make enough money to live and let go of any concern about making money? How could I at once grow a thriving online community and ignore guru advice about gaining readers, subscribers, and followers? How could I run a successful business without being so… business-y about it?
What I’ve learned is that I — we — can achieve these goals by taking a truly content-first approach to the way we share our art, message, and service.
I watch my favorite artists do it all “wrong” business-wise, yet see explosive results. Louis C.K. breaks a lot of rules of stand-up comedy. Pete Holmes is deliberately breaking the mold of late-night T.V. Kevin Smith made what should have been dismissed formulaically as shoddy, low-budget films. Let’s get more literary for non-comedy-nerds: Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller couldn’t get published for years in the U.S. because their erotic writing was far from acceptable for the times. And for the bloggers and entrepreneurs: Penelope Trunk’s blog is theoretically way too personal and scattered to be successful.
Yet, each of these creative minds has built a formidable empire around their work. Whether their fame is restricted to a small but mighty cult of fans or they’re the reigning kings of an industry, these artists are all quite successful in their respective businesses. We love them — and love to talk about them — because they take risks to create awesome content first, and make it viable and profitable second.
Content marketing, in theory, is supposed to be about this approach to business. Instead of selling your product or service with smarmy and manipulative sales tactics, you simply share value, and your audience begs for something to buy from you.
But have you read up on content marketing lately?
Expert advice and desperate entrepreneurs have turned content marketing into just another manipulative, formulaic approach to making sales — we tired our audiences of infomercials; now we’re exhausting them with SEO and subscriber freebies.
What if you just created something and gave it to your audience free without expecting any ROI? What if you just wrote a blog to share your message without begging for comments or shares in every post? What if your business just donated money to charity without using it to boost promotion or sales of your products?
What if I said you could do these things in business and still build a thriving community? You could still make money? You could still have a successful business?
This content-first philosophy is how I’ve decided to run DIY Writing. I have a lot of kinks to sort out — writing this piece has been a stark reminder of that — but I like the track I’m on. I have a gorgeous online community of dedicated and supportive readers. I have a cache of services starting to earn a slow but steady drip of income. And I’m proud of the work I do, the things I create, and the people I’m connecting with. I don’t spend my days sweating over metrics or dollars. I love every minute I put into my business, and every person I work with.
Sure, I have panicky moments of wondering where will the next client come from, how will I sell the next book, should I be doing any of this the way I’m doing it at all?
In those moments, I return to the generous praise from my community. I look at the journeys and work of those artists I admire. And I remember why I’m doing this instead of anything else: I want to share what I create with the people who will love it. With that focus, I can’t fail.