The more I embrace my mission of helping people become professional creators, the more I find myself being more brutally honest.
Because here's the thing – it's really hard to be a professional creator. Not only to get to the point where you're earning good money, but to sustain that momentum too!
The journey doesn't end once you've started earning a living. There is no moment of, "I did it! Now I can just sit back and collect!"
You're still at the starting line, my friend – you need to continue to build your business into a resilient creative and financial machine.
And I want people to enter into this journey with their eyes wide open. There are a lot of people out there who will try to convince you that this is easy and all you need is their blueprint for making it happen.
But it's just not true.
It's easier to sell people on the dream when you don't share the full truth. But the full truth is that this business model takes a LOT of work – and there's no One True Path!
There are certainly frameworks to help guide you along the way, but you'll have to do a lot of innovating to create your own path. You'll need to take best practices and put your unique spin on them. After all, the creator business model is predicated on doing things differently than other creators!
It's a noisy, competitive world out there. And more than ever, I believe the creators who succeed do two things well:
- They are meaningfully specific
- They obsess over design
Let's talk about both.
Being meaningfully specific
I almost called this "uncomfortably specific" because in order to be as specific as you probably should be, odds are, it'll feel uncomfortable.
I talked about this with Dickie Bush in a recent episode of Creative Elements. It feels uncomfortable to put yourself in a tiny box because of course you have insight and experience outside of that box.
But it comes down to referability (apparently not a real word, but it should be). How referable are you? What are you referable for?
I used to teach this to freelancers all the time – specializing is the best way to generate more word-of-mouth and referrals. We all have very specific problems (even if they're not technically specific, we think they are!). And we want specific solutions for our specific problems.
So we aren't looking for just any copywriter...we're looking for a B2B copywriter who specializes in the education industry. Or go even deeper – I don't want to know how to change any air filter, I want to know how to change the air filter in a 2010 Ford Fusion.
The more specifically your solution aligns with my specific problem, the more referable you become. You become a magnet for people just like me.
If someone asks me to recommend a copywriter to them...I'm going to think through the lens of THAT person and their business. The copywriter who has gone out of their way to say, "I specialize in X for Y!" is more likely to get the referral because they're a more exact fit.
I know it feels like being meaningfully specific limits your overall market...but I promise you, it'll be much easier to REACH and even saturate that market than to try and take a big chunk from the more generalized market.
And once you've saturated even a small market, you have a meaningful audience who REALLY like you and your work. It's an incredible jumping off point into a related market.
Obsessing over design
I've said it before and I'll say it again – our design expectations get higher every single day. And for better or worse, we associate trust with design.
When we see something beautifully-designed, we are automatically more inclined to trust it. When we see something poorly-designed, we are inclined to NOT trust it.
The benefit of being meaningfully specific is that odds are you'll have the appearance of being the ONE person talking about this specific thing...so design matters less. When you position yourself to be a category leader, you buy yourself a lot of time to figure design out.
But if you're trying to compete with other creators...you need to care about design. And not just once – all the time! You need to be obsessed with continuous improvement.
I can't tell you how often I find myself tweaking formatting or moving pixels around. It sounds like nothing, but a little bit of that every day is what has helped the visual design of my digital properties get a lot better over time.
But design doesn't just mean visual design...design also means experiential design. The full experience someone has interacting with your creative platform is just as much of a design exercise as anything visual.
You can succeed with poor design by being meaningfully specific. You can overcome some lack of specificity with great design (and a lot of brute force).
But if you're neither meaningfully specific or well-designed, you're going to have a very tough time finding traction.
Dig in. At least push the boundaries of your comfort zone when it comes to specificity to see what it would be like to really, truly niche down. Maybe you don't go all the way to that end of the spectrum...but you'll certainly improve your odds the closer you get.
And if you don't feel equipped to design your creative platform, either visually or experientially, please hire someone to help. It's an investment, but would you rather invest cash in order to see a return, or invest all of your time in an effort that won't see a return at all?
I'm just being honest.