Two years ago, around this time, Danielle and I had just sold my SaaS FeedbackPanda. But we didn’t just sell a business: I quickly learned that I had sold my source of passion and motivation as well. Someone else got to do what I had enjoyed doing so much.
I fell into a pretty bleak void, grasping for something else to do that would allow me to be as helpful and productive as I had been running a productivity SaaS for Online English Teachers. Only after selling the business did I understand how much joy I had felt interacting with our customers, making their lives a little less stressful, and building a valuable company in the process.
So, there I was, looking for something new.
I recalled the times before we started FeedbackPanda. I read a lot, listened to many podcasts, and lurked in all kinds of entrepreneurial communities.
And suddenly, I knew what I wanted to do. It was time to stop consuming and start creating. Instead of learning from others, I wanted to teach what I had learned. I knew that I was standing on the shoulders of giants, who freely shared everything they knew. Now it was time to give back and allow others to benefit from what I had come to learn.
That’s when I decided to start a blog.
That was really all that was. A blog, with a few blog posts. Growing organically over time. Something that would be under my control, leaving evidence of my work on the internet for many years to come.
Now, wanting to have a blog and actually running one are two very different things.
It was pretty easy to get started. I made a giant list of all the topics I wanted to write about. Then, I picked a few and wrote about them. I spent maybe a week on this.
Those few articles became the seed content for my blog when I launched it.
I quickly understood why so many blogs are abandoned after a while: it’s hard to write on a schedule. It’s hard to create consistently.
I always prided myself on being so lazy that I quickly built automated systems to do what I didn’t want to do manually. This is a great trait in a software engineer. We have the tools, and the problems we face are usually solved more effectively by automation. But this won’t work with creativity. If I want to come up with something insightful and instructive every week, I can’t automate that. I need to show up every week and create.
So automation was out of the picture. But there was another thing that I knew could help me: externalized accountability. I needed people that expected me to deliver every week. I needed them to wait for my work to show up for them on a schedule.
I needed a newsletter audience.
So I started a newsletter. I knew that if there were even one person subscribed to my newsletter, that would motivate me to keep it going.
For as long as I had a single subscriber, I promised myself — and my subscribers — to show up every week with something that would be worth their time. I externalized the motivation for being consistent to an audience of eager readers.
Content-wise, I started with a newsletter that contained all kinds of things: links, shoutouts, a few thoughts, and a link to my weekly article. I have since simplified this: my weekly writing project became the sole content of the newsletter. This was my first foray into content recycling, and it has been met with a lot of approval.
People consume content in vastly different ways. Some people love to browse blogs, and some have RSS readers. Others prefer their weekly reading to happen in their email feed.
And then, others don’t like reading at all. A few of my followers told me about this, and I understood that they needed to be able to consume my content in another medium.
So I started a podcast, effectively reading my articles into a microphone. There I was, using one piece of content in three ways: as a blog post, a newsletter issue, and a podcast episode. I cross-linked all these mediums:
- The newsletter would link to the podcast and the web version.
- The podcast had links to the website and the newsletter signup.
- The blog post would have the podcast episode embedded and provide a signup widget for the newsletter.
I made this so that people could quickly find their preferred way of consuming my content.
Alright. Now that I had the distribution system figured out, I still needed to come up with relevant and refreshing content every week — and then write an interesting article about it.
Thankfully — I mentioned this earlier — I am quick to build systems. That is maybe one of the most significant learning of running FeedbackPanda: anything that can be automated or documented should be automated and documented. So here are a few ways I am using processes and tools to get my work done reliably week after week:
- Understanding my audience using GetTheAudience by Matthias Bohlen. Getting insight into what people are talking about is INCREDIBLY useful when it comes to understanding what I should be writing about.
- Communicating new articles, newsletter, and podcast episodes using Hypefury by Samy Dindane and Yannick Veys. Most of my Twitter content is scheduled, as I want to reach a globally distributed audience. This tool tweets for me when I sleep.
- I have a giant list of content one-liners in a Notion database. Whenever I come across an interesting idea, topic, or concept, I just throw it into the list. Every week, I browse the list and see which of the ideas feels ripe enough to be written about.
- I pre-outline my articles. Often, weeks before I write the actual article about a particular topic, I take a few minutes to collect my general thoughts on it and write a little outline for the future article. It’s just a few bullet points, enough to hint at what the contents of the article might be. I do this for a few articles at a time and revisit the outlines often. This allows me to start my writing from a “pre-warmed” outline. There’s no need to fear the empty page when I already have an outline.
- When it comes to distributing my content, I have templates. I record using Adobe Audition, and I have a template there for the podcast — with all the intro music and stuff like that. I have text templates for my newsletter, particularly for the footer and any potential sponsorship fragments. I have templates for my weekly content tweets and for common questions (“where can I find your newsletter?”)
- I have days for writing, recording, editing, and packaging. Monday is my writing day. If that’s not enough, Tuesday, too. I record my podcast episode Wednesday, finish up the editing for everything on Thursday, and schedule all my weekly content on Thursday. On Friday, my publishing day, I talk about what I have written on social media and push the content to my audience. On the weekend, I grill lots of steaks and enjoy the birds in our backyard. A structure like this allows me to focus on individual parts of the process while still having some wiggle room.
Most importantly, I engage with my reader audience at all times during this process. I ask them about the topics I am researching, engage with them when they talk about what I wrote and source my future topics from conversations that are already ongoing in the community.
A reader recently asked me, “What are the most important, specific behaviors to practice consistently to build an audience on Twitter?” The answer here is very simple: I observe and take notes. I listen and engage as a peer among peers. I automate posting and retweeting so that I can reach a global audience.
And most importantly, I don’t project anything I am not. I interact with my followers and audience members the same way I’d talk to friends or colleagues. I am very aware that my brand is my authentic self.
This allows me a few things: I can write about anything I want as long as it’s honest, based on experience, and important to me. My readers expect that, and I have come to expect that from myself. I have found my voice in my writing because I neither imitate anyone else nor talk down to anyone. I share with my readers the same way I’d share with life-long friends. I try to be the least possible amount of pretentious in my work. Most of the time, it works 🙂
And that’s what I understand to be at the core of consistency: feeling accountable to those I chose to serve and empower. There are many Mondays where I feel like I can’t write anything meaningful that day. Then I remember how many times a happy reader has reached out to me after reading what I thought was a mediocre article. Their joy in having learned something new reliably blows me away, and it makes those days much easier. I just stick to my schedule and trust the systems that I have put in place.
That’s where perseverance comes in: my biggest battles are the ones that happen exclusively in my mind. I fight with impostor syndrome regularly. I often consider myself to not be enough of an expert to talk about things in public.
And then, I dismiss those feelings and write about the topic anyway.
Because I have 99 topics that I wrote about, and people enjoyed my work. So why would I not write another one?
Consistency fuels consistency.
Accountability helps to stay the course.
Perseverance allows you to fight through those dark days.
Combine this, and you have a system that works for my creative ambitions.
I’m quite sure it will help you as well, adapted to your own needs and circumstances.
Just keep at it. The world of business is an infinite game. The best move is the one that keeps you playing. I’ve tried to make as many of those moves as I could, and something interesting happened.
In the beginning, I felt like I needed to stick to a schedule because that was the strategy I had set up. I compelled myself to write every week to build up the consistency muscle. Over time, the feeling that I needed to write transformed into a want. I started to really enjoy going through the research process every week. Even on those days where I felt like my writing was a little bit off, I leaned into my trust in the process and quickly started to enjoy writing.
In the beginning, I felt like I needed to write. Now, I want to write every week. My self-doubt has a much harder time showing itself when I do what I love.
Consistent work, pushing through the hard days and showing up for the people I want to serve and empower made it possible for me to love what I do and do what I love on my schedule without changing who I am.
I hope that I get to do this for a long time.