I typed this in the search bar on Google “What stops people from publishing online” and Quora served up an answer for the ages.
“Number one reason? Fear. Most people would rather slice the veins in their ankles and bleed to death before speaking publicly to a roomful of more than 10 people. Publishing online for a potential audience of 7 billion people is somewhat more intimidating than presenting at your company’s sales conference.
Once you publish, you can be judged. Most folks don’t handle judgment very well. So that moment, with one’s finger hovering over the “Publish” button, that is one very terrifying moment”
I can wrap up this article on that answer alone, as it captures so powerfully the trepidation that stops people from accessing all the opportunities that abound today. We know of the podcast that makes millions of dollars, the END SARS revolution that happened in Nigeria through the sheer force of social media. Or Mark Angel, the biggest youtube star in Africa with over 1 billion views, who started making shorts after he couldn’t get into the film industry.
Yet billions of people never get close to their first dollar on the internet, finding community or influencing others through their work.
The problem is not a lack of information (we’re overwhelmed by it), it’s a lack of application empowered by the fear of publishing online.
In part one of this series, I’ll introduce you to the bubble of opportunity we live in, as well as tackle the fears that stop people from starting out. In Part two, using my personal story, I’ll address how you can build upon initial traction and reap rewards from the compounding effect of consistency.
This is how I went from having nothing I was good at, to making my first dollar on the internet and empowering a community — Through writing online.
Move aside, Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer has nothing on my free WordPress blog. ($20 if you include domain name)
The Age of Permissionless Leverage
“Words are the atomic unit of the internet. With the stroke of a pen, you can build your network, improve your thinking, and create opportunities for yourself. ” – David Perell.
Lenny Rachitsky earned $65,000 in his first year of writing online, from a newsletter that doubles as an advice column for product and growth people. For comparison, the average salary of law enforcement officers in the US is $48,789. A job with high risk and guns earning less than the one sending messages to an inbox? Shoot me (Pun intended).
You know what? Maybe these guys have their lives all figured out. The top ‘1% of the 1%’. But it’s not just them reaping rewards. Mind you, rewards don’t necessarily have to be financial.
Nigerian Content Creator Salem King built a community on Instagram by sharing one-minute inspirational videos in black and white. Shot and edited on mobile, these videos have now garnered over 30k followers in under two years. Allowed him to quit his traditional job, write a book and start an online class with over 600 students in the first cohort alone.
19-year-old comedian, Elsa Majimbo from Kenya, ‘catapulted to mega fame’ in the heat of the pandemic by sharing a series of quick-cut close-up clips. Largely iPhone shot and under edited, Coveteur defines her work as “intentionally dishevelled via low-quality visuals, making for content that contrasts starkly to the hyper-filtered, often over-edited offerings of other social media sensations”.
Unaesthetic, silly, yet wildly popular.
How is This Age Different from History?
Before the explosion of the internet, 95% of our products/services needed to be in direct physical contact with the end-user. Information was limited to fractions and requisite access. Team collaboration was bounded by distance and there was no way to sidestep not having the expertise for all parts of a job.
All of that has now been obliterated by the internet. We have infinite access to information from open-ended platforms (see Wikipedia, Youtube). Large scale collaboration through non-contact communication tools (Zoom, Google Doc) and the opportunity of scaling your work without the knowledge of the whole system, through no-code tools (Substack, Spotify).
All to serve an infinite user base not limited by location, contact or time (Ex: Patreon, Amazon, Social media).
Coders can write and run code in one evening without a supercomputer facility.
Writers can sell a book without a publishing deal.
Teachers can build a course without a principal’s appointment or diploma.
Anyone can promote their lifestyle without a deal with Ryan Seacrest. (Oops)
On the internet, the permission you need to create the life you want no longer exists.
The Only Barrier Left
As Stew Fortier explains in his article on why you should share your ideas online, “The internet has created an opportunity to build a media company powered by the ideas of a single person, a payroll smaller than a convenience store, and revenues large enough that the company could trade on the NASDAQ.”
The major hindrance to people accessing these opportunities as I’ve already pointed out is fear and the excuse that the people who reap rewards are already established.
TL: DR “I’m a nobody” on the internet by pop culture standards but I’ve had a fair bit of success on the web. Here’s a three-step process on how you can do so as well.
Facing Your Fears to Create on the Internet
“Apply specific knowledge, with leverage, and eventually you will get what you deserve.” – Naval
There are more consumers on the Internet than there are creators. The ratio is astonishing. According to the 1% rule, about 1% of Internet users are responsible for creating content, while 99% are merely consumers of that content.
For every 100, or 1000 people that read this article, it will not change the number of people that wrote it — one. Even if you wildly inflate the number of creators in the niche you would like to operate in, it will never be enough to adequately reach or satisfy the audience pool for that product/service. It’s why new tech companies like ‘Xiaomi’ can swoop in and gain a portion of market share that already seems to be supplied by former operators. Consumers are insatiable.
You gain an advantage on the rest of the world whenever you decide to put content online. We’re literally in the first innings of this thing. Don’t be deceived, social media is an echo chamber. Whatever kind of creator you become, there’s an audience for you. But you’ll never find them if you never begin to publish.
Why People Don’t Start
Many people don’t start because they feel space is taken up. Or they need to have a certain kind of individual take/persona to be successful. That’s crap. Unique is not a determinant of success, value is. You get valuable enough that your work becomes unique, not the other way around. And the road to value is still a road. You begin a trip to get there. You begin.
For others, it’s insecurity about their idea/work.
- How will people respond to it?
- Is it good enough?
- Will I find an audience for my work?
- Nobody needs this.
At this point, the fear of the unknown outweighs the potential of the outcome.
There are two things you can try here to overcome the fear.
- You either get frustrated enough with your current situation. To the extent where not putting your work out there is worse than where you currently are (which is where I found myself). So what’s the worst that can happen?
- Or you see it as an opportunity to try a new path with no desired outcome. Without a goal, there’s no pressure. It’s like playing a friendly match in soccer. Win or lose, the outcome is irrelevant to the experience.
Lenny Rachitsky started by trying to figure out what to do after he left Airbnb. Documenting his time and learnings at the company, he started writing on Evernote and ended up turning it into a Medium post which ended up doing extremely well.
Disassociate your ego from your project, it’s not that personal. Give yourself room to fail and enjoy the privilege of being 100% better than the people who haven’t begun. You never know how far your initial output will take you.
How I Started Out
For me, I got frustrated enough with my job at the time and decided to try something new. It was to write one short article every day for two weeks and share on Twitter. It didn’t set the world alight. But I wrote 10 articles within that timeframe about whatever was on my mind that day. The feedback I got from people pointed me in the right direction. I was onto something.
I didn’t even think anything spectacular was going to come out of it. But I was finally alive yo! Being able to share a part of me with the world set my bones on fire and my social media game changed overnight.
Having what you look forward to sharing with people is the easiest hack to social media leverage. People who had similar interests to the ideas I wrote about, started reaching out and all of a sudden I was making new friends on the internet. Amazing!
This is my Twitter analytics in April (before I started publishing)
This is my Twitter stat in May:
The difference speaks for itself. My reward? A new passion, better social media use and new friends. I’ll take that!
The fears I had before I published the first article were “How were people going to respond to it”? And “Was I good enough to write an article every day for 14 days in a row”?
To combat it, I didn’t give myself time or space to ruminate on those fears at all as whatever we give our attention to, we will magnify. So I told a couple of friends, got their validation (fake or sincere, it doesn’t matter at this point. Get the dose you need to get to work) and began writing what was on my mind for that day. When the time came to publish, I didn’t hesitate. Why? I had done the work.
The biggest weapon you have against fear is evidence.
I felt what I wrote that first day was good enough for me, and I couldn’t wait for the ‘world’ to see it. If you’re afraid of how people will react to your work, take it as a cue to review your work. Do it until you find satisfaction for you and then the noise of the crowd fades into the background.
At the beginning, the most important person is yourself. When your soul is satisfied, you’ve already won.
Yanyi of the Reading puts it well
“In a world where everyone else is expecting something from you, make your art a garden you expect nothing from. Instead, get used to planting seeds that may take a while to grow or never do; notice the wildflowers overtaking the zucchini beds; the tomato stems bowing deeper with fruit week after week. Let your abundance show up for you. Trust that your work is enough.
When you create for the first time on the internet, you join the 1% of the most powerful decentralized group in history. How do you leverage all that power? By becoming consistent and reaping the rewards.
Huge Gratitude to Lyndall Schreiner, Padmini Pyapali, Stew Fortier, Charlie Kubal and Gian Segato of Compound Writing for constructive edits on this essay. As well as Tobi Taiwo, my friend, for final feedback.