Like everyone else on the social web, I just read Seth Godin’s new book Linchpin. It’s a big book, not so much in number of pages, but in number of ideas.
One core theme is the idea of emotional labor — bringing more human feeling and connection to your work, some essential part of yourself that can’t be automated or outsourced.
It strikes me that this gets to one of the key distinctions between different models for doing business online.
No matter how you approach business, you’ve got to decide on a topic, and probably niche that down to a viable sub-topic.
So you might be in the fitness business or the beauty business or the writing business or the business business.
One approach has us doing some keyword research within our topic, creating enough good content to rank for those keyword phrases, and then applying a revenue strategy — maybe advertising, maybe an affiliate offer, maybe an ebook.
The other approach has us creating a blog on the topic, doing a lot of soul searching to figure out our USP and/or our sub-topic, finding some readers who particularly resonate with our approach, understanding who we connect with (and being willing to scare off everyone else), and then making an offer (or series of offers) that bring in money.
The biggest difference isn’t how the revenue comes in, how our site is set up, how we approach SEO, or just where on the “long tail” our keywords are.
And contrary to what you might think, the difference isn’t in how much work we put in. Both approaches take a lot of work.
The difference is emotional labor.
The problem with paint-by-numbers
When you’re starting out, it’s tempting to look for a paint-by-numbers solution.
Something that tells you exactly where to start, what to do, and how to do it. Something that works a lot like a franchise, with a three-ring binder that explains what buttons to push.
The problem with push-button systems is that you can train a robot, or an ultra low-wage worker offshore, to push that button for you.
If the business’s genius resides in the system and not in you, what happens when someone comes along who can push the button 104% more efficiently than you can? Or who can push it at 97% of your cost?
My problem with paint-by-numbers systems isn’t that they lack creativity. My problem is that they’re risky. When you make yourself into a cog, by definition you make yourself replaceable.
Don’t be afraid to bring your best game
Emotional labor is about the part that’s outside the system.
It’s about the part that you can’t train a chimp to do. It’s about the part that wants your creativity, your strange ideas, your ADHD, your intersection of interests, your passion, your giving a damn, your hard thinking.
Simply put, it’s the love that you put into it.
You might pour a lot of emotional labor into maintaining a fantastic relationship with your readers and customers. Or you might pour that energy into making something that’s more useful, more user-friendly. Or you might pour it into developing a market position that no one’s seen before, that fills an old need in a new way.
You might pour it into “all of the above.”
Even if you’re following a system (and I think systems are tremendously useful), it’s when you get outside the system that you start to find real success.
By “success” I mean money, sure. But also satisfaction. The thrill (and terror) of saying, “Actually, I’m much too interesting and complex to be a cog. I’m a human being. Here’s how I help other human beings get what they want.”
Money can’t buy love, but can love buy money?
My favorite technique for competing in a hyper crowded niche?
Make yourself more useful or better-loved. Ideally, both.
Now you don’t have to put your personal life into your blog or business. Some people just aren’t comfortable doing that. They may want to protect their privacy, or it just may feel too awkward and embarrassing.
You get to decide. That’s why you started a business in the first place.
But if you think you might be comfortable putting a little more you into your brand, it can, frankly, be the shortest path between you and success. You don’t have to share every detail of your personal life (and please don’t tweet about the sandwich you’re having for lunch), but it’s very helpful to be a complex and individual human being.
Make a stronger connection. Care more. About your readers, about your customers, and about your own business. I don’t care if you have a four-hour work week or a hundred-hour one. I care about how much love you bring to the work when you get there.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!