What’s Wrong With Saying, “I Don’t Know”?
Not having the answers is ok.
Saying “I don’t know” is fine.
It opens up dialogue and helps you have better conversations. And sometimes, particularly in times of change and uncertainty, it can work better if you stay with that. Begin with “I don’t know” and from that, try to figure things out as you go along.
Hands Up If You Don’t Know The Answer
At school, you get told that if you don’t know something to put your hand up. At what age does that stop?
Acknowledging that you don’t know and that many things are simply unknowable during this time of pandemic isn’t much in evidence these days.
You’ve probably seen companies trying to get you to sign up to a coronavirus themed webinar on what you need to do to succeed post-pandemic – these companies want to tell you about a future in which they’ve already carved out a role for themselves – supporting you. Coronavirus has given businesses an excuse to productise.
The opposite of this prescriptive and self-interested “how to do well when business returns…” message is “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out together.”
Working It Out As You Go Along
This article looks at how things have changed my side recently and what I’m learning from the events that have affected everyone over the past two months.
It’s for you if you’re building something where you’re looking to retain customers and remain relevant in your market.
This article has a reflective feel to it, I tend to share this sort of material when something key happens to me personally. For instance in the past I’ve talked about burnout (read about that here), I’ve reflected on what I learned from putting on the You Are The Media Conference (read here) and what happened when I deleted the entire You Are The Media database (car crash here). These reflections become a scrapbook of sorts, in themselves representing a way for me to work things out.
We Should Have Been Together
Today, Thursday 21st May 2020, should have been the You Are The Media Conference.
This has now been moved to the end of September. If it has to be moved again, it will be taking place in Spring 2021 (I’ll be making that decision in the next month and will keep you updated).
Looking back, I could never have predicted that live, in-person YATM events would all come to a halt and the momentum we were building in Bristol would be paused. It’s a salutary lesson in how we can never predict the future and foresee seismic events that can affect us all.
How It’s Been Instead
Similar to millions of people, lockdown has taken its toll on me too.
The days are running into one another, there’s repetition, more to do on the one side, less on the other and everything cloaked in uncertainty. Unsurprisingly, it’s had a major effect.
Perhaps you’ve been feeling something like this too.
Let’s start with some negatives and challenges from a personal perspective:
The struggle to balance work/family/homeschool.
I have two daughters – a seven-year-old and a five-year-old – and like many families across the UK, homeschooling is a key part of the everyday.
Homeschooling without places to take the children to, such as the library or museum adds to the pressure. It’s hard when everything has to be contained within your own four walls. On top of that, there’s client work and You Are The Media, vying for attention, as well as getting on with the ordinary business of family life.
Exhausted at the end of each week.
Even if we’re not quite sure when the end of the week actually falls – the unrelenting family, work, education continuum being played out in one physical and emotional space means that by Friday afternoon, we’re all drained. A bout of tapeworm in our household (we all got it!) hasn’t helped matters.
Fear of becoming obsolete.
As my main company is a marketing consultancy, I understand that clients need to regroup and focus on matters internally, stabilising themselves before we pick up working together again.
Nevertheless, it still feels awful when work gets put on hold or initiatives get postponed. It’s like having a line of dominoes that keep toppling over and you can never be sure if the next one is going to be the one that just might remain standing. Knowing that this experience is being replicated all over the world doesn’t make standing in the middle of your own storm and facing it head-on, that much easier.
Decisions tend towards the reactionary.
Initially I found myself taking on this role of overcompensating for there being no live, in-person events by trying to fill the gap that was left with online equivalents including a series of webinars (these did not, in the end, see the light of day). The unchartered waters of the early days of lockdown inevitably led to quite a few of these knee jerk reactions.
Where Things Flipped
As pandemic and lockdown pressure mounted, there were several options for You Are The Media:
🧠Let everything pass and go quiet (all live events had to be paused anyway), retaining only the weekly YATM email as a means of keeping in touch
🧠Document how businesses can adapt and chronicle how life through lockdown is going as you live through it (via the weekly email)
🧠Go back to the basics and share what people need to do to be building their database / audience so they can then create and share their narratives.
I became territorial and brought everything back to the reason why YATM exists in the first place – helping people build their own spaces from which to talk to their audiences.
The times we’re living through, the coronavirus and lockdown, inevitably find their way into the YATM content but what’s also been growing is a sense of opportunity: Now is the time to show my hand and share how the YATM concept works and can be put to good use, serving all kinds of businesses.
Whilst distraction was everywhere, I pulled back to dig deep into what you can do and how you can do it. You can read what I mean here: the questions to ask yourself before you start ,topic ideas to generate creation and how to get your first ten email subscribers.
As well as bringing things back to basics and so, familiar territory, an online format of the You Are The Media Lunch Club was decided upon and launched.
This has always had a cost associated with it and whilst we trialed the first online YATM Lunch Club event to see if it could work, for free, this has now become a regular fortnightly occasion with a small cost involved (£10).
We’ve also introduced a fortnightly quiz, held on a Friday at 5pm, where the second and fourth placed become the sponsors/ads for the following week’s online event.
Both the written content and online events represent everything that makes up playing to YATM’s strengths.
Doing the sorts of things that people would find easy to get back into whilst everything else around them was still unsettled has helped our re-positioned YATM offering be adopted as a new routine for our community.
It reflects this sentiment, shared by Seth Godin (Monday 11th May): “The minimal viable audience concept requires that you find your cluster and overwhelm them with delight. Choose the right cluster, show up with the right permission and sufficient magic and generosity and the idea will spread.” When you elate the people who are with you, it becomes easier for them to acknowledge they made the right choice.
Play To Your Strengths & Find The Answers With Others
In taking that side step away from purely coronavirus related material, I’ve learned, perhaps more so than ever before, what the YATM community really needs.
The following is what I’m currently learning on how to remain relevant within a space:
Know your true audience.
This isn’t about the person who subscribes and then rarely opens an email or attends an event. It’s about appreciating and putting in the effort to get to know those people who show up and support you. It’s also about making them feel included; for instance, everyone has a chance to take part in the #winning segment of You Are The Media Lunch Club Online.
Deliver extra in your newsletter.
Whilst we’ve been living through Covid19, the weekly YATM newsletter has expanded its perspective and now carries information that covers government relief, cash flow strategies and Zoom tips. The voices from the within the YATM community have a platform from which to share and be heard.
Keep up the hard work.
Output has not slowed down. LinkedIn posts have remained frequent and every new LinkedIn request has met with the person being invited to subscribe to the YATM Community. Using LinkedIn Events with the YATM Lunch Club Online has created its own lead generation exercise – people’s interest in the events is acknowledged with a DM. I have also spoken at more online events as a lead generation exercise (more subscribers).
Create separate revenue streams.
Whilst the marketing consultancy side to the business (ID Group) may have somewhat stalled, YATM, sitting separately, is still able to continue generating income. Not having all your eggs in one basket means flexibility as well as peace of mind. A side project can become an income generator.
Find something that can insulate you and your audience.
When everything became unstable in the wider world, the work you’ve put in over the preceding years pays off. Open rates for the weekly YATM email haven’t dropped off and people stepped up to attend the YATM Lunch Club Online as it was already a familiar space, somewhere that it was a relief to feel things were at least something like “business as usual.”
If you’ve worked hard to build your audience, people will be forgiving.
When times are tough and you’re looking to introduce something new, keep your overheads low. The YATM Lunch Club has had a few teething problems, notably sending out the wrong Zoom code to 50% of the audience (100% my fault), but as this is a relatively new medium, people were ok with an event starting 8 minutes late. Perhaps if we were three months into the live video format, things would have been different.
If people know you have the right intentions, they’re usually ok with blips and minor interruptions (as long as they don’t become frequent).
Experiment but don’t put everyone in unchartered territory.
The longer you can demonstrate you’ve been committed to something, the easier it becomes to introduce new elements. You can’t establish something and then immediately introduce drastic changes – that sort of approach will make people feels disconnected. For instance, I have found myself stepping up and leading the YATM Lunch Club Online, but I do have the support of others.
My goal is to hand more of this over, but as we’re still only starting out in the live online space, I understand that for now, it’s right that I lead, before others take over the reins.
Speak out, but don’t dictate.
With many businesses taking the stance of having answers to how the next few months and years will be played out, work with the people who stand with you. That way you’re forming bonds that will be stronger in the future.
News site Axios highlighted (thanks to Kelly Butler from Podcast Labs for sending this to me), “Data shows that consumers overwhelmingly want brands to speak out regularly during the pandemic, but that they don’t want to be sold anything that isn’t going to help make the situation better.”
The biggest lesson I take from what’s happened over the past two months is not to get too fixated on the need for constant forward motion through this, or indeed any, crisis.
There has to be more, not less, time set aside for reflection and trying to figure things out when you’re going through challenging times.
Give yourself permission to take a step back and figure out a path that serves everyone better.
Sharing your thinking, including your uncertainty, and what you’re doing about it, in plain sight of your audience is what will help build trust for the future.