I had something of a ‘vision collapse’ early this summer, which is when I completely deleted the content I had uploaded previously. The fact is, I just didn’t have a clue where I was going.
Why is that?
Am I bereft of ideas and interests?
No. Quite the opposite.
Am I shy and retiring and worried about what people might think?
Ummm, no, not exactly…
Do I lack the talent to design and build a successful website?
Errr, I’ve been building websites since 1996 and designing since – well, it seems like forever, but professionally since 1991.
Am I lost for words?
Hmmm, ask anyone that knows me and they’ll probably say, “Hardly”.
No, none of the above.
In fact, what I now realise is that in some ways I have too many interests, and had created websites for just about all of them.
Guess what? Yup, I was trying to slice my precious time too thinly to cope with them all, and ended up barely coping at all. Most dangerously, I just wasn’t enjoying it any more, and feeling like you ought to be doing something, rather than doing it because you enjoy it, is like pushing a cart uphill.
For me, that cart had become too heavy, rolled right back over me and flattened me creatively.
Lesson 1 learned. Tick.
I had become similarly burned out with social media. No sooner had I just about come to grips with Facebook than I built a page for the hobby magazine I edit. The page is doing fine, and has a few hundred followers – not bad for the niche market I’m addressing. So far, so good.
Then, after building another website for one of my other interests, I launched a Facebook page for that.
Not so good, and it has sat, unloved and untended, for months.
Twitter. Don’t get me started.
Again, I run two accounts. The first was intended to be my ‘personal’ account, but I have to confess that initially, I didn’t really ‘get’ Twitter and the kind of dialogue it represents. Then I started another account, again for my hobby magazine. Like Facebook, it took off nicely and has a similar number of followers amounting to several hundred solid fans.
What I learned from the second account was that my original account sucked. It took me a long time to realise that the Twitter ‘me’ would never really be – could never really be – the whole ‘me’. But what to do about it?
Then, of course, came the siren call of Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and the rest, not to mention the gazillion forums where I realised I ought to be active, and the newsletters I should be sending out, and… and… and…
Erk. Screech. Crash. Tinkle…
Not everything I did on Twitter was bad. The best thing I’ve done is to follow a handful of people who really know what they’re doing. These include a very small number of celebrities who I admire and who know how to address their Twitter audience, including the polymath and technophile Stephen Fry @stephenfry who is clearly completely at ease with the medium and, as it happens, leads an interesting life as well as having a brain the size of Jupiter and, to my mind, the perfect sense of humour.
But there are two people to whom I owe the most when it comes to getting my head sorted when it comes to social media. I have never met either of them personally, but both of them strike me as highly professional at what they do and, most importantly, both of them go the extra mile to be helpful to their followers, giving away a great deal of genuinely useful information and guidance for free, and providing great value for money for the stuff that isn’t.
They are Joanna Penn @thecreativepenn and Joel Friedlander @JFbookman.
Joanna is a fiction writer who has plunged, successfully I might add, into the world of self-publishing. Her website is at http://www.thecreativepenn.com/
Joel is a highly skilled book designer who specialises in self-publishing, and you can find his site at http://www.thebookdesigner.com/
Both these worthies are multi-talented, producing not only excellent blogs and social media posts, but also podcasts, webinars and more: they’ll even turn up in person if the price is right!
Now, I’m not saying that they are the only people I follow, nor that they have a monopoly of good ideas. Far from it, the blogosphere and online world generally has a constellation of sparkling intellects. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is part of the problem, isn’t it? We’re dazzled by so many posts by so many people, most of whom appear to be much brighter than ourselves, that you can end up trawling the Internet endlessly, wasting half your life in front of your Mac, PC or portable device, but coming away none the wiser.
So here’s the thing. Choose two or three, or a handful at the most, of the people whose posts you always turn to first.
You know who they are.
When you log in to Twitter, there’s a torrent of posts to catch up on, like a raging river. You can’t possibly grasp everything that’s rushing past, but you always spot the salmon leaping. If all the other posters disappeared overnight, you probably wouldn’t miss them. But amidst the spray and roar of the rapids, you’re drawn to those shining, leaping, and strong-swimming souls who rise above the rest.
Okay, enough with the fish metaphor, but you know what I mean. These are the folks who don’t try to be clever, they just are. If there’s a link to their own blog in their Tweet, it always leads to good, solid information. If they offer you a PDF, you know it will be worth the few minutes to download and read it. If they want to sell you something, they’re honest and upfront and won’t try to fool you with a smokescreen. If they link to someone else’s site, you know it will be worth investigating. They have a voice which is reassuring and approachable, but professional and not falsely ‘matey’ or trendy.
The word we’re looking for here?
In short, you realise that they are the salmon swimming upstream, and that’s where you want to be heading too, to the spawning ground of your imagination where the truth and opportunities, nicely sifted out from all the dross and lies and speculation, really are. And if you swim with these individuals, you feel a great deal safer than trying to go it alone.
Sorry, back to pescatorial allusions again, aren’t I?
Thanks for trawling through all the fishy stuff (groan), but there’s a final link in this story. And I have to thank Joel for this.
Even though I was learning a fair amount about the kind of Tweets I like to read, and I already knew a great deal about building websites and blogs, the penny still hadn’t quite dropped about how to disentangle my own online life. I was still faced with the thorny problem of trying to do too much, in too many places, and lacking a sense of fulfilment about any of them.
Then my inbox went ping.
Well, no, I tell a lie, it makes a Microsoft-y noise that I can’t readily duplicate onomatopoeically (now, there’s a favourite word), so “ping” will just have to do.
It was a message from Joel Friedlander. I’m on his mailing list, and he only sends something when he knows it will be genuinely interesting for his subscribers, so naturally, I opened it.
The message described a webinar, with ancillary materials, that was available on the topic of “The Hub and Outpost Method”.
Boy, am I glad I clicked, paid Joel a few dollars and downloaded the materials.
Now, I imagine you might think this is starting to sound like one of those naff sockpuppet reviews, and I’ll forgive you for that. But the fact is, even coming from a hard-bitten and somewhat cynical Brit like myself, Joel’s little webinar movie – it’s only about 45 minutes long – unseeled my eyes.
If you want to know how much of a veteran non-believer I am when it comes to snake-oil schemes, think of the Cal Lightman character played by Tim Roth in the TV series Lie to Me. So I’m not easily fooled into opening my wallet online, having smelled the scent of BS with some other supposed online gurus in the past. No names, no pack drill.
But this investment – and that’s what it is, a small investment in my sanity – is well embedded in the ‘trust’ end of the scale. Joel’s webinar calmly and simply outlines a straightforward approach that is the antithesis of all the rushing-around-trying-to-do-everything-at-once stuff that had really got me down. And when I say “down”, it was contributing significantly to my stress levels – and as a man diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and moderate depression, that’s no laughing matter.
About halfway into the webinar, I realised what I had been doing wrong, and how to fix it.
Which is why you’re reading this.
On my hub.
“Hub”. That’s one of those words that, if you say it often enough, you start to wonder if it’s a real word.
But then, so is “blog”.
Anyhow, whatever I finally decide to call it, it represents the cure of my internet ills, for the time being at least. Like all habits, I’ll need to be vigilant that I don’t slip back into the same old ways, but that moment of clarity watching Joel’s webinar was so piercing that it felt like some kind of inoculation against the problem recurring.
Lesson 2 learned. Tick.
If what I’ve been describing here at all resembles what’s ailing you too, then why not find out for yourself?
Here’s that link again.
Good luck with finding your own clarity of online purpose.
And Joel, if you’re reading this: thank you.