Category : Writing

Writing

LinkedIn Put My Corporate Career Through a Paper Shredder - I Can Never Go Back and It Feels Weird

Tim Denning career and LinkedIn

Image Credit: StockUnlimited


Social media is promoted as being amazing for your career.

It’s supposed to lubricate your soul. Everybody tells you at work to build a personal brand and share interesting insights with your network. HR and marketing teams even run workshops at most companies to help employees use LinkedIn. Social media is one big happy picnic with cupcakes, sugar, that can cause your career to explode.

Nope.

There’s a dark side to social media.

Freedom of speech doesn’t matter in the corporate world

When I started one job I got told to stop posting on LinkedIn — or any social media platform. The ask took me by surprise. I wouldn’t give up writing even if you put a gun to my head. I live to write, not to work a job.

Social media is where we go to express ourselves. When we express ourselves we feel free. It helps us make sense of the world. It allows us to gain feedback. The corporate giant I worked for didn’t care.

Corporations want you to shut up, not have an opinion, get back to work, and not stand too tall (else they’ll slap you down to size). They want you to wait your turn, precious, until it’s time for your tiny promotion and $1k pay rise that doesn’t even keep up with inflation.

When I got told to shut up I pretended to listen. Then I kept writing on social media anyway. I covered my tracks by not tagging my employer on LinkedIn. There are times in life where you’ve got to go “fuggit … I’m doing it anyway.”

I got away with my LinkedIn addiction because, even though I can sometimes share polarizing opinions to make people think (not agree), I nailed the intent. My intent is to inspire people through writing. It’s hard for a corporation to argue with that. So they turned a blind eye as long as I didn’t name companies or people in my content.

Takeaway: Don’t name and shame in your content. You can get away with a lot at work when you resist the temptation. Plus, it’s an unofficial rule of the content creator’s code we all follow.

People think you’re a reporter. They run away.

I met one customer for coffee. The plan was to sell him a new piece of software for his department. All went well.

Two hours later, I got an email from the customer. My face lights up with delight. I can’t believe my luck. I’m ready to go and buy a lottery ticket. I open the email.

“Our conversation is private. Please don’t quote me in Business Insider or any other publication.”

Gif Credit–Kare11/Giphy

Like what the hell? At no stage did I introduce myself as a journalist or pull out my phone to record the conversation. The guy panicked — as often spineless employees of the corporate mothership do.

If you publish content on social media people can think everything they say is being recorded. They may be less likely to open up, or, they may not even take a meeting with you out of fear you’ll turn their name into a headline. It’s stupid. But the capitalist machine makes people do dumb stuff. Be prepared.

Customers will think you’re too entrepreneurial

Early in my career I attended a customer meeting with another colleague. The client had an awesome business and I was excited to meet them — it felt like meeting Barack Obama.

We sat down. We got down to business. About 30 minutes into the meeting the customer asked me if I could leave for the last part.

Being marched out of the meeting room felt weird. Something was up. On the way back to the office I asked my colleague what went down.

“Look, don’t tell anybody what happened but he thinks you’re too entrepreneurial. He saw your LinkedIn and he’s worried you’ll steal his new business idea.”

My colleague told me the business idea, which was to sell cars through an app. It was dumb. A 5-year-old could have thought of it.

Making money causes people to do dumb stuff. It’s easy to think an idea is going to make you millions, when it’s actually the execution that makes all the money, that most entrepreneurs fail at.

“Too entrepreneurial” is a compliment. Yes, if you publish content on social media you are quietly entrepreneurial even if you don’t realize it. Content builds an audience. An audience may buy a book or digital product from you. Again, in the words of Sean Kernan, fuggit. Move on.

Egomaniacs get pissed off if you have a bigger audience than them

This one is weird. One boss told a colleague, who’s also a friend, that they hated my social media activity. Their problem? They wanted to do exactly what I was doing.

They’d wanted for their entire career to be a thought leader. I accidentally had done it even though I hate thought leadership. Their envy grew. They sabotaged my career. Eventually I got let go. They thought I didn’t know about their envy … I did.

Jealously is common in the corporate world. People do dumb stuff if they think you’re further ahead than them. What these people always do wrong is, get someone in trouble and then go and blab to other colleagues. Someone always leaks the information back to the person that is thrown under the bus.

Who cares how many followers a person has. Rather than be jealous, try to learn from them. Or at least be inspired by them.

Envy kills career joy.

This guy ruined his writing dream

I met two people while at one job who both wanted to write. It’s all they ever wanted. I helped them get started.

Two weeks later: “So did you publish anything yet?”

Both of them couldn’t do it. One was crippled by fear. The other person did something stupid.

“Hey boss, can I write every day on LinkedIn and talk about my work?”

Obviously their boss said no. They scared them half to death. They recited policies and shared horror stories. The poor guy could barely catch the train home after work without bursting into tears. Now he looks like the kid in the movie The 6th Sense who can’t stop saying “I see dead people” as if he has been haunted by ghosts.

Asking for permission in the corporate world is a no-no. You succeed at work when you assume the answer is yes and beg for forgiveness later.

Hidden background checks will find your content

Employers do background checks. There are tonnes of startups that provide data from the internet on an individual. Companies don’t tell you this.

As data continues to drive business, the inevitable will happen: if you publish content on social media then it will come up in background checks when you apply for new jobs.

I don’t even want to see my 5000-page readout. My name will get matched to keywords like heroin, porn, the f-word. That’s because I’ve written about people who are associated with these words, not because I’m a heroin addict. But in the corporate world you are guilty until proven innocent. In fact, you’re not even guilty. You’re simply damaged goods.

Here’s what is missed: your resume hides your opinion. Social media reveals it. Every company in the world can find out your political views if you’ve ever spoken about them online. Even if you delete your social media posts they can be found again. Look at finance genius Michael Burry’s deleted tweets that the SEC in America asked him to delete. They’re deleted. And they popped up again the next day. It’s called a screenshot. Sorry SEC.

One workaround for employees is to use a pen name. But a pen name is attached to an email address and a profile photo. Technology is smart enough to match both of those to a real name. Dah.

And pen names can be seen as weak. A pen name won’t get the same traction because the audience will never quite know if the content creator is a real person, or some angry troll being highly critical for the thrill of it.


I can never go back to a traditional job. Social media has put my personal and corporate brand through a paper shredder. No new boss would take the time to look hard enough and see the truth about me — that I just want to inspire people and make them think.

It’s easier for a potential employer to grab a fear-ridden newbie off the conveyer belt of LinkedIn jobs than it is to hire me. I get it.

The takeaway is this: If a company cares so much about what you do on social media, then you shouldn’t work for them. Social media is our basic human right to freedom of speech. We need to share our thoughts to progress conversations that advance society for the better.

Don’t let the corporate monster silence your creativity. It’s not worth it. There are other options.


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Writing

How I Permanently Cured Writer’s Block

Medium.com Writer's Block

Photo by Carlos Gil on Unsplash

Writer’s block is a dirty little secret.

Most writers never admit it. I’ve encountered it a few times in the last few months. When I analyze what has happened it comes down to the following:

  1. Feeling like any ideas I have are terrible.
  2. Overthinking everything.
  3. Not enough research.

Out of three, the third cause is the one I least expected to be a problem. Then a chat with fellow writer Todd Brison explained everything.

What most writers do

I am what Todd calls a cowboy writer. I write on the fly and don’t pre-prepare anything. I wear my cowboy pants proudly and rely on instinct.

Here’s what it looks like: I sit down to write for two full days per with nothing but a few badly written headlines in my ideas folder. Then I madly scramble around google like an out of control crash test dummy, looking for ideas to complement the headline, find evidence to back up the main points, source decent stories, and discover legitimate research to add in.

It’s a nightmare. All this research and googling kills my writing time.

Let me give you a clear example of why this is bad. If I watch a movie tonight about the life of Aretha Franklin, I’ll write down 2-3 sentences, mention it once in the next 7 days in an article, and then never think of or talk about that movie ever again. I’ve repeated that process for the last seven years.

Don’t you think that is bloody ridiculous, mate?

Of course it is. It’s insanity. I’m not alone. I’ve spoken to many writers in the communities I’m a part of that all do the same.

The huge problem

When you live life like a cowboy or cowgirl writer, all of your consumption becomes individual pieces of nothing.

You miss out on joining the dots between ideas.

Image Credit David Perell via Twitter

To be able to join the dots you need a solid place to store ideas, jot down notes wherever you are, and synthesize what you’ve consumed.

Most of us use something like Apple Notes. It’s a disaster. Apple notes organises things the same way society does: with a hierarchy. When I search for notes via a keyword I get a word soup back as a result. It feels like I’ve been out on the piss the whole night and forgot where I put my keys when I open my notes app. As a result my notes get inputed and forgotten, instantly.

There’s a new way for writers to join the dots.

This app changed my life

It’s called Roam Research. It’s a note-taking app that us writers can use without any hierarchy. The structure is the same as the internet. There are links and backlinks on every note that you create. These act as the glue between ideas.

The real magic is the “unlinked references.” These are the suggestions made by Roam’s AI that put forward ideas to you that might be linked to the one you’re looking for.

No more decision fatigue

Traditional note-taking apps cause decision fatigue. You have to decide how to organize your notes and what folders things belong in. Some things belong in multiple folders so you have conflicts.

No more duplication

There is a huge amount of duplication in my notes. If the same quote applies to multiple notes then I end up with it copy and pasted in multiple places. Not with Roam. Roam has reference blocks. Essentially you can write the quote down once in Roam and then reference it on many different notes.

You get a handy number counter next to the original quote that tells you how many times you’ve used it and where. Because I can see the original note, I can see the context of what happened when that note was taken. This adds little details that make the quote more interesting when I share it. Why?

It’s the little details as writers that our readers care about. Imagine having the context for every note you’ve ever taken?

I hate journals. Now I love them.

I’ve always hated journalling. I’ve trashed it like a badass many times. Then Roam entered my life and moved into the spare bedroom. The context of a note, that I mentioned before, comes from the “daily notes function.”

The Roam apps automatically creates a brand new note every day with the day’s date. You can’t switch it off. I use this daily note to write down anything I observe or consume. There’s no organization. It’s all random.

Everything is linked, though, in Roam. So these random notes surround the more permanent notes that I want to use in my writing. The result is powerful context rather than an ordinary note taken in obscurity.

The magic of Roam Research isn’t obvious at first

Roam is your personal database. It takes time for it to work, though. Roam is only as good as what you put in it. In the first week it’s pretty pointless. The longer you use Roam the bigger the database becomes, therefore, the more potential there is for ideas to fall in love, have idea babies, and connect to each other in a rage of lust.

I have become obsessed. I can’t stop recording thoughts that I have.

You link your thoughts in Roam with hashtags. A hashtag is a topic. When you put loose topics around every thought, you arm yourself with a weapon you can deploy on your writing days. If I want to write a self-help article then I simply bring up Roam and look under the self-help hashtag. BAM!

All the thoughts I need are there. Then I can filter them down further based on additional hashtags I may have added. As I look at my notes the web starts to untangle. Other notes start to weave their way in — because that’s how Roam works.

Roam gives you connected thoughts. This is only spell-binding once you’ve experienced it.

Gif Credit: Tenor

How Roam Research nukes writer’s block

Good research and stories make writing easier. Roam creates a proactive library of everything you need when you sit down to write.

What I do is come up with headlines on days when I’m not writing. Then I add a few references to the headline from my Roam database that act as potential points or subheadings in the article. On my writing days all I need to do is write the intro, write the conclusion, and flesh out the pre-chosen points.

Pro tip

If you write down what you consume in your own words beforehand, you can simply copy and paste entire notes into the body of your article. This saves a lot of time.

It’s all about timing and energy

Before Roam I had zero confidence in my notes. So I wouldn’t use them and would try to wing it on my two writing days per week. Disaster.

It all changed when I found that the best time to write about something is when or straight after it has happened. That’s when the idea has the most energy. Roam gives me the confidence that if I spend the time to take a detailed note in the moment, then I’ll be able to:

  1. Find the note again.
  2. Ensure that note has value.
  3. Understand the context.
  4. Relive the high energy of the thought.

Takeaway

Remove hierarchy from your thoughts. Let the sorting of your writing ideas become automatic and intuitive with Roam’s design. Roam is so simple to use a 5th grader can figure it out in an hour.

Once you’re able to join the dots together of what you consume, your writing life undergoes an enormous overhaul. You become like a new writer.

Connected thoughts destroy procrastination forever. How? Roam.

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Writing

Followers Are Useless - Here’s a Simple Way to Turn Followers into Subscribers on Twitter

Revue Review

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash


The illusion of followers is a paradigm that’s changing.

Social media platforms are starting to give creators access to their audience’s email addresses. This is an exciting change. Without an email address you’re at the mercy of an algorithm that prioritizes ads over your content.

Recently, Twitter caved and now allows content creators to own email addresses. It’s not obvious or straightforward. Most people missed it.

The Twitter acquisition that changed the game

Newsletter companies are multiplying faster than an infectious virus.

Twitter decided to join the party and purchased newsletter company “Revue.” Shortly after, they announced it would be integrated into Twitter. No big deal. I snoozed on the news. I already have a newsletter with ConvertKit.

Then author of Atomic Habits James Clear, who has one million email subscribers, did something odd. I went to his Twitter profile and saw a subscribe button below his follower count. OMG. I quickly emailed Revue.

“Hi Revue, take my money right now.”

Screenshot of James Clear’s Twitter. (Edited by author in Canva)

I told their support team I had ConvertKit just like my buddy James Clear. James’s newsletter on Revue had the same name as his ConvertKit newsletter, so it seemed logical that he wrote one newsletter, and used an integration or some automation to let Twitter users get direct access via the subscribe button on his Twitter profile.

“Sorry chief, ConvertKit doesn’t have an email integration with us. Try Mailchimp.”

My first reaction was “no way.” I got banned for life by the apes at Mailchimp and they wouldn’t even tell me why. I stepped on their imaginary tripwire and they banished me into digital exile — such is the nature of centralized big tech without formal regulation they have to follow before they delete a user’s entire life.

My only option was to send an email to James Clear and ask him. Fat chance he was going to reply.

The accidental surprise of my life

I decided to tinker like Einstein. I went into Revue to see if there was a way. I came across the integrations page. No ConvertKit.

Then it hit me: “What if I simply launch a newsletter with Revue to collect the email address. Would that work?”

I tried it. Jackpot. You can turn on Revue in your Twitter setting and pretend you have a newsletter. Then all you do is fill out the customized fields in Revue about your newsletter to match whatever your actual newsletter says. In my case, I copied the description from my newsletter, made the name ‘Unfiltered’ (same as my other newsletter) and then hit go.

Within a day I collected a few email addresses.

Three newsletters become one

With the addition of Revue I now have three newsletters. Pain in the butt. So I asked a few other content creators for help. Nick Wolny came out from his marketing desk with an answer.

There is a paid tool called Zapier. The philosophy of Zapier is “if then, do this.” Turns out I already had Zapier to help automate the process of selling eBooks through my website. Nick gave me this screenshot.

Image Credit: Nick Wolny

Basically, every time someone subscribes to my newsletter via Revue, Zapier automatically adds the email address to my main email list in ConvertKit. Now I’m James Clear, just without the good looks, bald head, and bestselling book.

Now if you don’t want to pay for Zapier then there’s another way. Go to Revue once per week and manually export the email addresses, then import them into whatever email software you use.

What this means for you

If you create content online you now have a reason to build an audience on Twitter. Or if you’re a social media dinosaur like me and have had Twitter since 2009, now you can encourage those faceless Twitter followers to join your tribe, by adding a Revue subscribe button to your profile.

A follower is lost in a crowd of creators and may never see your work again. A subscriber is a member of your audience that you can serve.

Turn on Revue on your Twitter profile. That’s how you turn followers into subscribers that can love-you-long-time.


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Writing

My Writing Experiment on Quora - The Incredible, The Bad, The Eye-Opening

Tim Denning Quora

Photo by Onur Binay on Unsplash

I’ve always hated Quora.

Then my brain struggled for a few weeks to come up with writing ideas. I fired up my good ol’ Quora account again. That’s where I found a bunch of awesome questions that triggered some of my most successful writing.

Quora is notoriously hard to use. The layout isn’t pleasing to the eye. And, well, the users, I’ll tell you about them shortly.

What put Quora back into the spotlight

Quora has gained attention again after they decided to turn on multiple ways for writers to earn money.

Many writers I admire started to publish on there again recently. They offer paid memberships to Spaces (publications) and answers, and a share of the revenue from ads on the platform. It’s not a lot but for writers who are desperate to quit their jobs and do it full-time, Quora provides yet another income source.

My Experience with Quora

200-word content is so refreshing

On Quora the word count of a blog post can be a lot lower. I typically see between 200–500 words as the norm. It’s nice to write short-form again. Writer Michael Thompson gave me some critical feedback about my writing when I asked him for it.

“You try to say way too much in your articles.”

Now I aim to say one thing clearly in every Quora answer. It’s made my work a lot more focused. Instead of ranking ideas and trying to choose my darlings, I simply choose one idea.

No headlines to write

Headlines are crucial to online writing. Quora doesn’t have them.

The question asked by a Quora user acts as the headline. This is a lot of fun for me. I’ve noticed that I spend more effort on the subheadings now because of it. Fellow writer Ayodeji Awosika regularly preaches about the importance of subheadings. (This is the resource Ayo recommends here.)

Ask your own questions

I never knew you could do this. Quora writer Sean Kernan is cheeky and asks his own questions and then answers them. Through the process of asking your own question, you can come up with some wild content. Questions are the source of some of the best tweets of all time. Questions make us think. Questions help us look at both sides of an argument.

Give headlines a rest. Try asking phenomenal questions on Quora.

Answer a question with a story

The most popular answers to questions are stories. The most popular stories on Quora are personal stories. This is great for us writers. We’ve all got tonnes of personal stories.

The problem is we often don’t think our stories are valuable or we don’t know how to frame them properly as a written article that people want to read. That’s different on Quora.

In a way, Quora has lowered the barrier of entry for writers by allowing personal stories to be seen more than any other type of content. This excites me. I have hundreds of personal stories. The trouble is many of them don’t require a full-length blog post, and a tweet doesn’t allow enough space to share them. Now I have another option.

Personal experience matters

Quora has credentials. But they don’t have to be traditional credentials. You can customize the credential featured on every piece of content. For example, I answered a question about vaccinations and put my credential as “took the Pfizer vaccine last week.” The answer doesn’t offer medical advice. It offers advice on what the experience is like for those who haven’t done it yet.

By redefining credentials, you start to believe as a writer that you’re qualified to write about more topics. Credentials give readers perspective on where your writing comes from. That gives the reader the option to choose the angle of the perspective they want to read, rather than a decision about which headline or byline they like.

The secret to Quora

There’s one skill you need on Quora that you don’t need anywhere else: you have to get good at finding what questions to answer. Here are the factors you must consider to have your writing seen:

  • How old is the question? Questions that are more than two years old often get no traction.
  • Has a top writer already got the first spot on the question? Below every question is all the answers. They’re ranked based on views. If Sean Kernan has answered the question and got a million views already, you’re probably not going to beat his answer. Quora works the same as Google. Do you want the first search result in Google or the 8th? If you want the first result then choose questions without superstar answers.
  • How many followers does the question have? This isn’t an exact science. You can answer a question with one follower and do okay. I’ve had better success when I find a question that has 5–10 followers. Followers tell me people care about the question. One follower tells me nobody cares.
  • Does the question appeal to you? The smartest questions to answer that do the best are the ones that instantly speak to you. I saw a question about Game of Thrones and straight away thought of my fiancé who forced me to watch it on our second date. Questions that speak to you will produce better writing.

The Dark Side of Quora

Not everything about Quora is champagne, horderves, and high-fives. Let’s explore.

Moderation sucks

There’s a lot of garbage content on Quora. The worst type is memes. The platform is drowning in them. People who are not content creators post them because they get a lot of upvotes (likes). They drive me nuts. Quora would be significantly better if moderators removed a lot of the spam.

Many top writers have disappeared

An Aussie friend of mine has been on Quora for years and amassed a sizeable audience. I got him to put together a list for me of the best writers on the platform. The list was incredible, but as I went through each person I noticed more than 50% of them had dropped off.

Content creator retention is something many social media apps overlook.

They simply think new creators will keep popping up so it doesn’t matter if they destroy the veterans. What they fail to understand is the veteran writers motivate the beginner and intermediate writers.

When top creators disappear the content on the platform starts to go downhill. From there, paying subscriber numbers start to fall off a cliff because their favorite creators are elsewhere. Before they know it, they’re adding loads of features nobody wants in an effort to regain dominance.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon (slightly) through my Quora experiment. It’s nobody’s fault. The only way to overcome it is to have a few content creators on the platform as employees or consultants. Us content creators are a weird bunch. Platforms like Quora think we’re solely after money. When you dig deeper you realize that’s not a high priority.

We want to write and build an audience. Whoever helps us do that is our high priest that we worship.

Quora users

There are some really smart users on Quora. The platform seems to attract the intellectual type. I don’t find that a lot of the content has links to research and evidence, though, which sometimes detracts from the credibility.

There is a NewsBreak vibe too. Anyone who has written on NewsBreak will tell you the sheer terror of the comments section. The racism, harassment, and bullying is wild. You literally can’t read a single comment on NewsBreak if you like yourself even one bit.

Quora comments can be pretty crazy too. There is less moderation these days on the platform since they laid off a large number of staff a while back (probably to cut costs and refocus). Treat every person you encounter on Quora with an open mind and respect, and you can’t go wrong.

What you don’t want to hear about writing on Quora

Can you handle two ‘likes’ (upvotes) on Quora for a year? That’s the real question that slaps writers in the face. You’ll likely get very few views and upvotes when you write on Quora. (My best post is like six upvotes…haha.)

Quora — like most platforms — rewards time in the game, the number of answers, and the engagement you get on your content.

You won’t simply be able to post answers and get 10,000 upvotes tomorrow. That occurrence is rare based on my research. So it comes down, as always, to whether you’re willing to put in the work and be patient. I am. Look at writers like Mark Manson on different apps — he is.

No social media platform will work for you as a writer unless you stick at it for more than a year. Writers hate hearing this but it’s the brutal truth.

Should you write on Quora tomorrow?

After my experiment with Quora, here’s my conclusion.

  1. Use Quora to get questions you can utilize for writing ideas.
  2. Publish a 200-word answer on Quora here and there if you have time.
  3. The Quora+ memberships that earn writers money have just started. Look at the results first from other writers before seeing Quora as a way to earn money from writing.

Bottom line

Quora is an old platform. It’s had lots of issues over the years. Their employees are trying lots of new things, but nobody knows if any of them will work.

At the same time blockchain is fixing the problems of centralized social media apps that run on ad models. Apps like Bitclout are questioning the follower model, where writers have no email addresses of their readers. It’s an interesting time to write online.

I’ll leave you with this: there has never been more opportunities to make money from writing and not work a normal job if you choose. Stay open-minded. Experiment with where you write. Focus on writing for the long-term and the quality of your work. You’ll succeed wherever you write when you do.

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Writing

If You Are a Content Creator, This Simple Sales Philosophy Is Crucial to Understand to Build an Audience

Simple Sales Philosophy

Photo by Dmitry Zmiy on Unsplash

If you create content then you work in sales. Congrats.

Most of us aren’t born salespeople.

In fact, many of us hate anything salesy. Sales applies to content creation because you need to persuade and market your work to build an audience — there’s no way to avoid it. If you want to go the extra step and then build a business from content, you’re in for an even ruder shock.

I’ve spent most of my life in sales. My original mentor taught me to be stupidly honest and remove all the tricks and hacks. The tips I’m going to share make up a simple sales philosophy that will help your content reach a larger audience without feeling sleazy or salesy. Here we go.

Your audience is overwhelmed. Sorry.

The problem with content creation is social media is extremely noisy. It sucks away our energy and leaves us deprived of dopamine.

Many content creators forget about this, or are unaware. They assume their content is the only stuff being seen by the audience and that they woke up in the morning just to be part of their happy, awesome club of wanderlust lovers. Not true.

The key to getting an audience to consume your work is to put them first. Think about what it must be like to be in their shoes.

Now imagine this: they’re right-hooked in the face every few seconds by some creepy stranger who doesn’t give a damn about them. The internet is a salesfest. If you forget this simple rule, you’ll become part of the forgotten crowd that lurk behind closed doors and slap internet users in the face.

You’re selling and probably don’t know it

Many content creators I’ve spoken to think that selling online is only when you ask for money. Not true. Here are some examples of uncommon selling:

  • When you post an external link on Twitter, you’re selling.
  • When you ask us to follow you, you’re selling.
  • When you ask for a donation to your Patreon, you’re selling.
  • When you tell us to check out your friend’s video, you’re selling.
  • When you retweet another content creator’s post, you’re selling.
  • When you use affiliate links in your content, you’re selling.

Tattoo this on your forehead: every ‘ask’ is selling.

So add up your ‘asks’ to see how much you’re really selling.

Overdoing it is far too easy

Most of you are not trained sales professionals so you accidentally overdo it.

You send way too many emails to the audience. When you have no method for sales and marketing, you have the opposite effect. Instead of growing your audience, you squash the size of your audience.

The result is huge spikes in unsubscribes on your email list. Or the silent unfollows on your social media accounts that are hard to track. Or even better, the gentle press of the mute button on your content.

Stop spamming your audience with asks — both direct and indirect. Stop all the overdone self-promotion, and the promotion of your friends or businesses that you have a vested interest in. Want to know what overdoing it looks like?

I once went to a sales seminar. The guy presenting was a real estate content creator and auctioneer. He told the wannabe content creators to wrap their personal cars in signage, only wear clothes with their company logo on it, give business cards out to all the parents at their kid’s school, place their logo on the background behind them when they do meaningless self-promotional podcasts nobody is listening to, and when they go on holidays, get a tattoo with their business.

I mean jesus freaking christ. This is what I mean by overdoing it. It screams “buy, buy, buy.” When you’re good at what you do, there’s no need to slap people over the head with all this selling.

The simple test that reveals the truth about you

Many content creators are lying to themselves. They pretend they’re not selling. I have a way to cut through the crap. I call it the “timeline test.” Go to the timeline of your favorite social media app and look out for these things I’m going to demonstrate.

Let’s do the test on Tim Ferriss’s Twitter (sorry Timbo).

Screenshot taken by author of Tim Ferriss’s Twitter

His first tweet is an ad for a conference he’s speaking at. His second post is a retweet to promote someone. His next tweet is a retweet. The tweet after that is a retweet with an external link to a Youtube video. Then he links to his website and asks us to listen to his podcast. The last tweet is one that says how amazing Mr Ferriss is. See the problem?

This is how most content creators market themselves and it’s totally wrong.

Timmy Boy is drunk on selling. He’s broken the cardinal rule of sales. All he’s doing on Twitter is asking for stuff but not giving any value in the form of a freshly written tweet that hasn’t been posted elsewhere. Now, Mr Ferriss probably doesn’t care about being a great law-abiding content creator. But you definitely should.

A totally different way to think that will save your content creator life

Justin Welsh is a badass LinkedIn creator. He taught me to think of an audience like an iPhone battery with his “recharge method.”

When you ask the audience to do anything, the battery goes into the red. Every day you don’t ask, the battery slowly goes back up until it’s green. Once it’s green, then you can ask again.

Screenshot of Justin Welsh method

You get to do one ask at a time. So you wouldn’t waste an ‘ask’ on a silly thing like a retweet or by posting a link to a Youtube video on LinkedIn, would you?

Post a valuable ask that significantly helps you grow your audience — like ‘buy my online course’ — then leave them the heck alone for at least a week. Ideally, after the big launch of a product, you should wait at least four weeks before selling again.

There is a hidden part of your audience that wants to be sold to a lot

The place where selling hurts content creators the most is in emails sent from the likes of Mailchimp and ConvertKit. Just because you have an email address, doesn’t give you the right to oversell.

There are some members of your audience — I call them superfans — who can’t get enough of your asks. What I do is segment my email list. If people respond to the first ask then they get tagged. If they respond to the second ask then they get tagged again.

When you segment the audience, you can do more asks to those who engage more times than normal, without overdoing it.

Bottom Line

It’s easy to oversell. The temptation to do it comes from the desire to build an audience far too fast because, often, we compare ourselves to other content creators who are 1000 steps ahead of us.

An audience is built slowly. Ask less. Give more.

Superpower: give a lot more than you think you should.

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Writing

Here’s Why Sean Kernan Is One of the Most Successful Writers on the Internet

Sean Kernan Medium

Photo by Elijah pilchard on Unsplash

“Son of Quora.”

The tagline was bizarre. I first found Sean Kernan on Quora about five years ago. Every good question on Quora had a witty answer from him.

On some days it looked like he literally ate, bathed, and slept in front of a computer screen with voice-to-text software he used to answer questions on Quora. Since then Sean has diversified onto many other platforms.

I like to study prolific writers to see if I can uncover a few nuggets of wisdom from them. In case you’re wondering, this isn’t a bro hug. I don’t care whether Sean reads this or whether you like him. The point is to get better as writers and we do that with an open mind and through analysis.

Here’s what I learned by studying Sean (without him knowing).

Ruthless curation

Many writers are lazy at curation, including me. We add every story and every dot point about a topic into the finished article. We hope the reader will filter out the crap parts so they can find the gold. This is a myth.

If you leave in half-baked thoughts or poor-quality stories, the reader will simply click away.

I read a comment by Sean on one of his posts. He said to a reader “yeah sorry, that dot point didn’t make the final cut.” There isn’t an ounce of wasted content in Sean’s articles. If a sentence isn’t strong or a paragraph doesn’t wow us, he removes it without attachment.

Cut out lukewarm content so what’s left can shine.

Self-edit. Then recruit a fanboy to edit.

Sean has said many times that he edits a lot. I estimate he spends more time editing than writing. Recently, Sean admitted that writer Michael Thompson, who also loves his work, helps him edit. Michael is a secret fanboy of Sean, although I don’t think he knows it.

It’s easy when we edit our own work to think everything is awesome. Feedback from another writer can help you overcome the “I’m the best” bias. I’ve recently taken inspiration from Sean and got a fellow writer to do the same for me. We read each other’s work. We aren’t afraid to be brutal. The coolest part is we play with each other’s structure.

Stream of consciousness writing, sometimes, can simply screw up the order of points. I do this all the time.

Seek help from writers who are on the same level as you. We rise up through the writing world by lifting others up. Also, get out of your head. The biggest liar about the quality of your writing is yourself.

Get to the point j-j-junior

Sean’s intros are shorter than a one-night stand. The guy gets to the point. He sets up the article with one thought and then gets to the meat.

Too many writers fluff around and destroy the little energy and attention the reader has right at the start. There’s no recovery from this. Online readers are brutal. They simply don’t give a f*ck. If you get to the point too slowly, they click away and forget about your story, never returning to it again for eternity.

Halve the length of your intro.

Adopt the habit of an archaeology professor

There are two Sean Kernans: pre-archeology girlfriend, and post-archeology girlfriend. The first version is the one I read on Quora. There’s some research in his stories but nowhere near as much as now. It’s no wonder. Sean’s (current) girlfriend is an archeology professor. No doubt her habit of researching a topic to uncover the finer details has rubbed off on Sean.

Look through his stories and you’ll find carefully sprinkled statistics and facts that back up his points. There are nice underlines that link to research so you can go down the rabbit hole if you choose. The challenge I see with this approach is people link to every damn thing. They accidentally believe it’s an intelligence test and every word has to be backed up.

It’s okay to use your life experience or explain your view of the world without the requirement to link to Science Daily.

Trust yourself to be an authority on a topic.

Turn into a giant weirdo

Many of us wonder what weird shit Sean reads. He finds the stories none of us have ever heard. I guess that’s Sean’s little secret. Here are three killer examples:

  • Nazi IQ Tests
  • An Elderly Mathematician Hacked the Lottery for $26 Million
  • Pepsi’s $32 Billion Typo Caused Deadly Riots

Some speculate Sean spends a lot of time on Quora reading. There’s a lot of weird stuff on there, so maybe that’s his source of secret inspiration. One day the mystery will be revealed. Until then, let it remain a mystery.

You can find your own weird stories. Go to uncharted territories of the internet. Dare to read stories that aren’t popular. Search through old history books to find weird battles, or people who would remain dead if you didn’t bring their story back to life again through your writing.

I sometimes wonder about my own life story. Yesterday I filled in the government census which is mandatory in Australia. There was a tiny tick box at the end that read something along the lines of “Do you consent to your information being released to the public in 90 years?” Kind of a weird question, right?

“Why not? I’m not going to be alive by then. Maybe someone can benefit from the data collected about my life,” I thought quietly to myself. So I ticked yes.

Stories shouldn’t die with people.

Diversify across multiple platforms

Sean doesn’t write on one platform. Around the time Quora took a u-turn into death’s valley, Sean started writing on other platforms. Now you can find him, well, everywhere.

This is a smart strategy used by many of the top writers I’ve encountered. You never know what a social media app can do. Social media apps prioritize making money over your content. They don’t care about your feelings or whether you like their rules. Look at NewsBreak now: dumpster fire.

When you write in a few places you de-risk your writing career.

A sense of humor is a gift

Too many writers take themselves way too seriously. Some go too far in the other direction and end up publishing story after story that reads like satire.

Sean’s gift in his writing is balance. Take this line: “The startup collapsed within nine months. It was like a reverse pregnancy.” It’s subtle humor that makes a story interesting without going overboard.

Be a little witty in your story. Make us laugh once in a while. We need it after the virus that shut down the world.

This destroys writer’s dreams

This lesson from Sean gets me in trouble. Every. Time.

Here goes: Sean consistently publishes every week. He’s not a once in a blue moon while the algorithm is red hot kind of writer. He doesn’t come for the bonuses, or the contests, or to win the writer lottery over at Vocal Media.

Every month he publishes around 25 stories. That’s why he is one of the most successful writers on the internet. Consistency separates the real writers from the pretenders. Read that again.

If you haven’t made a career out of writing, it’s because you’re not consistent. Or you started writing yesterday. Time in the game beats complaining.

Make a bold statement

A lot of writing makes me sleepy. It’s full of cliches and Instagram quotes we’ve been drowning in for years, like “Be busy being awesome.” Yuck.

Sean makes bold statements when he writes. They make you uncomfortable. Here’s the best one:

Do a little life math. If you are the common denominator in a series of repeating problems — it’s probably you.

See what I mean? Sean makes a stand. Bold statements make us think — and in a world where so many don’t think and can’t understand basic science, this skill is crucial to good writing.

I often say in my writing that I don’t care whether the reader agrees or disagrees, I simply want to make people think. That’s what the power of inserting bold statements in your writing can do.

Forget trying to please everybody. You’ll please nobody.

Final Thought

I’ll be careful offering any critiques of Sean. His dad was a navy seal, after all, that would happily beat my skinny Aussie ass into mash potato. Just joking, Sean 🙂 *Escapes the country forever*

While Sean is a great writer — according to the data and his enormous online audience that spans across multiple platforms — I don’t agree with everything he says. That’s how I like it. Living in an echo chamber of people who all believe the same as me feels like a slow walk off a cliff of misinformation. I’ll leave you with this line a mentor once told me:

The sign of a brilliant writer is one you don’t always agree with.

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