Seven Years Is Better Than Seven Months. Make Your Long Game Work
The more time you spend building the narrative around your side project, the easier it gets.
Sticking with one thing that you create is far better than dipping in and out, and constantly reinventing yourself.
In October 2013, I started You Are The Media.
It all comes down to being clear as to where you’re wanting to go and then choosing a path that you’ll be able to stay on.
— investment in your narrative over a number of months = you start with what interests you
— investment in your narrative over a number of years = you focus on what interests your audience
Over time, and as your audience grows and you shift from building awareness to developing trust, your narrative will become more of a conversation between you and your audience. This, and the simple fact that you’re more practised at creating content, will mean that you will start creating more impact while spending less time doing the work.
Less time, more impact. It can be done.
Sharing The Proof With You
I began with an interest in documenting my thoughts on a content marketing approach and building an addressable audience.
During the first few years, the time spent on YATM was immense. However, that investment of time helped shape me into being a better writer, stronger presenter and a more confident person. Needless to say, I don’t look back fondly at writing until late into the night on a Monday and then continuing into Tuesday evening.
Being in unrelenting content-creation mode became unsustainable and it ended up breaking me. I shared an article in 2018 about my tipping point and burnout (you can read it here). In the article (my writing is effectively a scrapbook of what happens, told in the moment), I pointed out that I was dedicating an additional eight hours a week to my side project (You Are The Media).
This meant that every month, 32 additional hours were going to something separate from my main business.
The article highlighted the following, “What I do know is that you have a balance between what is seen as the longer-term goals, such as a commitment to be relevant and add value, versus the short term plans, namely delivering the tactics. You have to find that balance between the work and projects that are sustainable and the activity that requires short bursts.”
Looking back at this article now, it seems that the longer you stay committed to, and take responsibility for something, the easier it gets and you start getting some time back. For instance, there is now a core team of people who are a part of YATM, so it’s not just all on my shoulders.
What Would Happen If You Gave It Up After A Few Months?
Dedicating seven years is better than seven months.
What would have happened if I’d given up on You Are The Media after seven months?
It’s something many people and businesses do – invest time, money and effort – only to walk away. They do this because:
— There was no strategy behind their efforts, everything was concentrated on “doing,” i.e. tactics
— Their message falls flat – it isn’t focused on what interests their leads or subscribers
— They hae spent too much time creating and not enough time promoting what they’ve created
— The focus is solely on transactions made, not on connections earned
— They haven’t attracted enough leads or subscribers
— They have concentrated on the wrong metrics, i.e. views and likes.
If I had given up with YATM after seven months, this is how my world would have looked:
— My connections (beyond LinkedIn) would be fewer. There wouldn’t be a community, or a group of people that feel like they belong to something.
— The allies would not be there. These are the people who enjoy the work produced, feel a part of something that connects with them and are prepared to tell others.
— My confidence would be lower. I put my work out there as I believe in it, this has helped me not hold back across the board. You get stronger the longer you share.
— I would have missed out on being able to discover new spaces for sharing. If I’d stopped after seven months, YATM would have never progressed beyond writing and distributing the weekly email. Over the years, I’ve become comfortable with podcasting, presenting, hosting and recording, not just hiding behind a screen.
— I wouldn’t have seen a growth in subscribers, attendees and revenue. Pulling the plug means not being able to see what the future could hold and the audience and returns you can build.
— I would have reinvented and dabbled in a number of side projects with no consistency or real commitment. Before my focus on YATM, I was in the habit of doing this without a longer term vision. Have a look at this which proves my former inability to join things up.
Make Short Term Wins After Long Term Investment
The longer you are involved in something, the easier it becomes.
For instance, the eight additional hours per week I mentioned earlier now constitute four hours (the main investment of time is writing and putting together the weekly email).
What I want to highlight to you here is that spending less time on something becomes possible when you’ve already invested in making it long term. Here are some of the wins that come from longevity, familiarity with what you’re doing and being in the flow:
— Feedback – If I had reached out for feedback (to a very limited audience) after seven months, the response would have been minimal.
Now there’s an audience of people familiar with each other and so it becomes easier to ask for and receive feedback. This also means that everyone has a voice and feels listened to, so the end product is a lot stronger and attuned to what people want and need.
— Approaching people is easier – There’s greater awareness around what you do when you’ve been around a while.
For instance, if I’d established the YATM Lunch Club from a standing start, i.e. there’d been no lead-in, no building a following via the email, it would have been a lot tougher to convince people to come along and join in.
— It becomes easier to experiment with new ideas – As there is a groundswell of trust in the overall YATM message, ideas for additional activity that’ll complement our mission become easier to test in a sort of live lab situation.
For instance, the YATM Workshops are new for 2020. They’re very much part of the overall YATM ethos of learning and creating, but they’re nevertheless a new initiative that’s starting from scratch, albeit hugely helped by being underpinned by something of seven years’ standing. Over time it is possible to broaden horizons without it being a huge risk.
— Creation is fluid – as you get to know your audience over time, you get to know exactly who it is you’re creating for.
Time spent on writing is now a lot less than it was, based on knowing who people are and recognising topics that relate to them (centred around audience, ownership, creation and just building something that is yours). The way I work now is much more structured, more often than not aligned with a set of questions I need to answer – a method that forms the basis for what you’re reading now.
— The main thread of messages can be used again – When you build a library of work, it becomes easier to pick up on trains of thought and delve deeper into particular areas you may have already highlighted. For instance, if what I covered was just ‘marketing’ then this would be too broad, with too much to cover.
By focusing on owned media and creation, this means that the topic areas are a lot more focused. Also, if there are articles that are popular with your audience, it can be easier to pick them up again and look at them from a different angle, using the original as a benchmark.
— You are selling over years, not days/hours – The work you produce can help as a directional tool for others.
Perhaps you have a new client on board and a particular piece of work you’ve already created within your narrative is relevant to them and a means, for them, of finding out more about you. Sharing this with them can also usefully confirm to them that they’ve made the right decision in choosing to work with you.
— Easier for people to trust – The longer you stay visible, stepping up to share, the more others can come to rely on you. As the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer highlights, the future belongs to those who do the right thing, partner and lead. Trust can only be built by playing the long game.
Seeking short-term wins is no substitute for having become a long-term goal.
If you only ever look to the short term, the odds are always going to be stacked against you.
In investing time at the beginning to build, create awareness and encourage people to stand with you, you’ll end up spending less time directly involved in creating and trying to convince others over the longer term. Your early groundwork will have already built trust and the space you stand in.
That return on your investment – “less time, more impact” – then becomes a huge win for you.