Darren Rowse, “the nicest man on the Internet,” and founder of ProBlogger.com, addressed a group of web content producers and marketers today at the Copyblogger Authority 2014 conference. If you substitute “reader” for “customer”, what he said was applicable to anyone trying to do remarkable work, like you. Here’s a summary.
“Every time I come to a conference like this,” said Rowse, “I meet people who feel like impostors. They think, ‘I don’t have the skills or the success to qualify to be here.’ They compare themselves to others. But you’re not alone, we all feel that way sometimes.” Sound familiar?
He shared lessons learned, and admitted, “Everything will be stuff you’ve heard before, said before.” He continued, “but here’s the thing: are you actually DOING it?”
And you probably do know all of the stuff below. I do. But, as Rowse said: “success is more about doing the things you already know than discovering the things you don’t know.” Getting out of paralysis by analysis is the first and most important step.
“Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started. The way you figure yourself out is by doing things.” Rowse shared that prior to starting Digital Photography School and Problogger, he had a big list of excuses. “I didn’t have the experience, skills, hisotry of sticking to things,I had a whole shed of sporting equipment I used once, I had no money to get a server or domain, I was working 3 part time jobs and studying part time, I had no ideas or passion, and I was a perfectionist.”
Sound familiar? How do you get past all of that? He quoted Dale Carnegie: “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action needs confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
“Fear,” said Rowse, “is a signal that something important is about to happen. That’s good.”
His breakthrough moment? “When I followed my curiosities with action, passion followed.”
So do something. Anything. Make a start.
2. Put Readers First.
Rowse made it very clear that when you’re in the content business, you’d better put the reader first on your priority docket. It’s a “customer first” sensibility that has served him well. It makes sense. In any relationship, doesn’t anybody want to be a high priority?
“What journey are we going on?” he asked, “How am I taking them from A to B?” He said, “If you can change their lives in some way [through your content], you’re creating meaning in their lives.” Powerful stuff. And highly remarkable.
When you’re putting readers first, you think about what their needs, problems, desires, challenges, dreams, fears, goals, habits, loves, hates, and passions are. When you think about these things, you quickly understand what change they’re looking for and how you can be a guide.
3. Usefulness Is King.
People talk about various things being “king,” like “community” or “social media” or “search engine optimization.” These things aren’t “king,” said Rowse. They’re things that help with usefulness.
“Every day on Digital Photography School, we seek to solve problems,” he said. “Become a prolific problem solver. Collect problems. Take notice of problems everywhere you go.”
Some things that people need help with are very basic. Help them anyway. Rowse related a story where he almost didn’t publish “How to hold a camera” — “it was so basic.” But then, he reflected, “most of the people in my family take blurry photos because they don’t know how to hold it.” The post went on to be hugely popular and successful.
Lesson: even the most basic problems are important problems.
4. Build Culture
“The successes and failures in my own business have related to the health of the culture on my blog,” declared Rowse. But how do you build culture? Cultures need leadership, he said. Cultures need rhythm — holidays and festivals give people a gathering point, a place to participate.
Most of all, culture is built on shared experience. His wife did a challenge on her blog and invited readers to share their experience on Instagram or on Facebook. “It was her biggest week of traffic,” he said.
5. Create Meaning
“I’m seeing fluff EVERYWHERE,” Rowse said, “people are just curating content with a clickable headline and asking for the like and the share.”
“If your call to action is to ‘Like,’ and not to change your life, it’s quite empty,” he said. He quoted one of his colleagues, Shayne Tilley: “The trend is to chase eyeballs, I care about hearts and minds.”
“In this time of fluff,” he said, “it’s an opportunity, to create something with soul and meaning. This builds lasting trust and influence.”
Rowse reminded us that 99.9% of great bloggers are not awesome on day 1. That’s true of everything. “Their awesomeness is the accumulation of value they create over time,” he said.
But people who create content need to remember that there’s no instant trick to success. “Anyone who’s telling you that there’s instant gold in blogging is telling you a story.”
Rowse’s first blog didn’t start big, and he almost quit. “I compared myself to people who had been blogging a long time, and I almost didn’t hit ‘publish.’ But I did, and my excuses began to dissolve. As I set up the blog and hit publish on that embarrassingly simple blog post I gained skill and experience… and the excuses began to dissolve.”
He reminded us that the work we do is a marathon, not a sprint. So true.
That is, if we seek to do remarkable work.