People often debate whether you should focus on quality or quantity as a creator. That question presumes an inherent tradeoff between the two.
There are strong stances on both sides of the aisle – some saying that you MUST choose to focus on one or the other, and other says that it's a false dichotomy.
But, like most things, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. When people ask me whether they should focus on quality or quantity, I say "yes."
If you step back and look at the journey of successful content creators, it's marked by three distinct phases:
- Quality Quantity
Let's break them each down.
Stage 1: Quantity
In the beginning, your work will be bad and you won't know what you're doing.
I'm sorry to be harsh, but it's true. And, someday, you'll realize that too!
So...how do you get good at being a creator?
The fastest way is getting reps. You have to fill the gap between your taste and your ability by getting in more reps.
"The most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work." – Ira Glass
If you get more reps – and you're focused on getting better (i.e. you aren't just going through the motions) then you will get better.
As James Clear told me, you let the schedule drive the work. You publish because you have a deadline.
Here's the thing – when you don't have an audience, the numbers aren't in your favor – it's just math.
Let's assume that you can convert 1% of your followers into true fans. True fans are people who consume your work, share your work, and even buy your work.
Well, you don't even get a single true fan until you've attracted 100 followers. And one true fan isn't enough...so two get a second, you may need to attract another 100 followers.
What attracts followers to you? Publishing work that resonates with them.
So the more you publish, the more attention you attract, and the more quickly you can build a critical mass of true fans.
And remember – with each rep you get, you are getting better. You're finding your voice, your vibe, and your style.
You are becoming the creator you are meant to be.
Stage 2: Quality
As you find your voice, your vibe, and your style, you start to feel a lot more comfortable as a creator.
Once you really feel comfortable with your unique approach, you naturally begin thinking more about the quality of your published work rather than the quantity.
Your inner artist begins to take over.
It feels like a yearning.
You start to look at others in the space whose work you really admire – and that's an important distinction:
You aren't just admiring the success of others, you're admiring the work itself.
The more creative work you produce, the better you understand the level of thought, intention, effort, and artistry that went into making it. Things that once seemed simple on the surface actually begin to reveal the innate challenges of making that great thing.
Basically, you've tumbled down from Child's Hill into Insecure Canyon and have begun climbing Grown-Up Mountain. You begin to recognize your own naiveté.
For example, beginning creators may look at the writing of Seth Godin and think, "A couple short paragraphs? Simple observations? I can do that!"
But, over time, you realize the skill that is noticing things. You realize the difficulty in finding perfect analogies. The restraint in choosing just enough words. The grind of publishing every day (for 30 years).
There are examples on the other end of the spectrum of scope too.
When I watch Inside by Bo Burnham on Netflix, I see the layers and layers and layers of work involved in making that film. It's so layered that it inspired a 10-part series (nearly 10 hours of analysis) on Dissect!
You can look at works of art like this in two ways:
- Demoralizing – I can never do something like this.
- Inspiring – People like me can do things like this!
It's not a cut-and-dry, binary decision – you'll often weave between both! But if you're able to keep pushing yourself back to being inspired by work like this...you'll be able to achieve it.
But this yearning to go deeper has challenges.
When you start to feel this yearning, you may not have language for it. You don't know what's going on. It may feel like some creeping feeling of frustration, boredom, or even anger.
You just feel uncomfortable.
That discomfort comes from a subconscious cognitive dissonance – on some level, you feel the desire to change your approach (but you haven't actually changed your approach yet).
You feel the pull to slow down and focus on quality, but the machine and habits you've built are still designed for quantity.
If you don't understand where this discomfort is coming from, you'll likely just keep publishing. And with each piece you publish, you feel more and more discomfort.
Each piece of work feels like a reminder that you could do better.
If you're feeling this way now, hopefully this puts a name to the feeling you're experiencing – that's the first step! Once you recognize why you're feeling this low-level hum of discomfort, then you can begin to make the changes you need to get rid of it.
You may need to reframe how you think about consistency:
Instead of consistently publishing on a high-frequency schedule, maybe you slow your schedule down and focus on consistent improvement. Maybe you focus on consistently blowing peoples' minds with how great your work is.
This is a shift I've made with Creator Science.
Initially, we were publishing a new video on YouTube every week (alongside the newsletter, podcast, social media)...and it was just too much.
So we slowed down. We don't publish because we have a deadline, we publish because we hit our goal for quality.
I'll also shout out Chenell at Growth In Reverse for doing this very, very well. She publishes on a consistent schedule (every week) but she dialed in her format very quickly. As a result, she's been focused on consistently delivering VERY high-quality, in-depth breakdowns every week.
As a result, her focus on quality has earned her nearly 10,000 email subscribers in just five months.
You'll feel some growing pains. When you begin to feel the discomfort, you still haven't closed that gap between your taste and your ability.
The temptation is to create to the level of what you believe to be your ability...but then that begins to feel comfortable. You'll either get complacent or you'll start to feel that gnawing discomfort again.
So the next step is to actually push your ability to new heights – but how do you do that?
I like to ask myself, "What would the BEST version of this [project/post/piece/business] look like?"
The goal is to think about the [thing] objectively and to lean into your taste – without filtering for what you believe your level of ability to be.
It's almost certain that you underestimate your own ability.
So if you find yourself having a hard time thinking objectively and removing the filter of YOUR presumed ability, try this question instead:
"What would [this thing] look like if [my creative hero] was doing it?"
You can choose any creator you admire. Don't think about their unique view or voice...just think about their bar for quality. How far would they push this thing?
These questions can set the bar for you to strive toward.
Stage 3: Quality Quantity
Most creators never reach stage three. And of the ones who do, even fewer are successful in mastering it!
Stage three means continuing that same level of quality (actually pushing that bar higher all the time) and increasing the frequency of publishing.
Now, in order to conquer stage two, it's likely that you slowed down your publishing schedule in order to put more effort into your pieces. So it's obviously challenging to continue creating that SAME level of quality...but several times over.
This is the game creators like GaryVee, Alex Hormozi, and Codie Sanchez are playing. Not only do they do great work, but they're also competing on volume.
Truthfully, I don't think this is realistic for creators unless you reach the final stage of my PARTS framework – Systems.
In order to increase your output, you need to built a system to support that level of output.
With few exceptions, we're not talking about being a solo creator here. To reach this stage, you should expect to build a team.
At this stage, your time should be devoted to the smallest part of the process where you have the greatest leverage as an artist. Maybe that's ideas, maybe it's editing, maybe it's performance, or maybe it's leading the team!
Whatever your zone of genius, you should be maximizing for spending ALL of your time there and building a team to enable the rest of the process.
I believe that you won't build a resilient, sustainable creator business without a bias towards Quality. But it's unlikely that you'll create that bias without spending a season focused on Quantity.
Ultimately, the biggest creator businesses don't compromise – they do both at a high level. But, in order to do so, you'll need to build systems, processes, and a team to support you.
That may seem overwhelming right now, but take it one step at a time.
Start by closing the gap between your taste and your ability.