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If you’re not sure what you’re meant to do, but you are sure it’s not what you’re currently doing, you will love Jeff Goins’ story. He is a non-profit marketing director turned full-time blogger and the founder of Tribe Writers. He is the author of four books, including the national bestseller The Art of Work and the recent Wall Street Journal bestseller, Real Artists Don’t Starve. His award-winning site, GoinsWriter.com, launched in 2010, has had over four million visitors from around the world. His work has been featured in The Washington Post, USA Today and Psychology Today.
I caught up with him recently in Nashville, Tenn. to talk about his journey from frustrated marketing director to full-time writer, and his latest bestselling book. If you feel like turning your artistic side hustle into a successful business is nearly impossible, read on.
Allow yourself to be the apprentice.
Goins had a full-time job that he didn’t mind, but he knew it wasn’t his final destination. This is what he calls a season of apprenticeship. He didn’t know what was next, so he read books, attended conferences, stopped and started blogs and ideas. This is a phase we often want to rush through, but Goins suggests giving yourself space to experiment.
“Every few years, I would go, I need to go do something else. Which I think is very common and I think that’s actually part of this season of apprenticeship where you’re doing something, you’re not quite sure why you’re doing it and there’s a lesson to learn there.”
The lesson, he explained, is to keep scratching until you find the itch. You may not know what to do next, or why what you’re currently doing feels wrong, but you know the itch is there. Keep reading and experimenting until you find your answer. This takes patience — another key tactic I write about often in my study of success and successful people — but it’s worth it.
Consider what you take for granted.
Goins had always been good at writing and enjoyed writing — which caused him to actually overlook writing as an option for his life’s work. He quoted Derek Sivers, who says “What’s obvious to you is amazing to others.” Many of us still have deep rooted beliefs from ideas we’ve heard and seen repeatedly throughout our lives, such as the “starving artist” story, the “Mondays suck” narrative, the “everyone hates their job, why should you be any different?” idea. So, Goins explained, if we stop and look inward, we may find the belief that if we love it and it’s easy, it’s not truly “work” and thus can’t become our source of income.
If you are naturally great at something, why not make that your career or business?
Build a bridge.
Even after Goins discovered what he wanted to do, and started to gain momentum, he did not “take the leap” in the first year. Instead, he “built a bridge” between his corporate career and his writing career. Goins’ own path matched those of the successful artists he studied when writing Real Artists Don’t Starve.
Taking a leap sounds sexier, but Goins explained that leaping off a cliff often leads to, well, certain demise. “The myth of going big or going home, [usually means that you]go big and you go home . . . the way that most people succeed is slow and steady, just one step at a time.” Goins decided to simply write every day for two years, with the goal of gaining 250 subscribers in that time. Within his first year, he had 10,000 subscribers, and after the second full year, he had replaced his income and quit his job.
Practice in public.
“I think we all do our best work when we’re doing it in front of somebody else. And I grew up playing music and I noticed the significant difference when I was practicing guitar in my bedroom in the basement of our house,” he shared.
Past guests of The Pursuit (and New York Times bestselling authors) Don Miller, Jon Acuff, Glennon Doyle and even fiction author Jamie McGuire, all used this strategy as well. Writing daily in his private journal may have honed some of Goins’ skills, but it wouldn’t have replaced his income and made his dream of writing full-time a reality.
If you’re a writer, start blogging publicly. If you want to be a speaker, start recording your talks and post them online. If you’re a musician, start releasing EPs. Goins added, “What’s kind of cool about it is you build an audience while you grow. I had 10,000 readers reading my stuff every week and they started to email me, When are you gonna write a book?”
Share your unique world view.
I know you want to know, as I did — how did Goins go from 0 to 10,000 subscribers in the first year? He answered that he shared a unique point of view, which goes beyond just finding a topic or niche. All the niches have been covered already. What truly makes you different?
“When I started talking about writing, I talked about doing the work because you love the work. People say, ‘I hate writing, I love having written.’ That’s bogus, I hate that. I can’t write six hours a day if I hate the process. You have to love the process. That was a fairly unique world view that I brought to [the writing]world.”
If you want to build a tribe, you’ve got to be thinking about, What is it that I think and believe that is unique, that I can bring to this topic that nobody else is saying quite this way?
Be around successful people.
It’s no secret that successful people all tend to know each other and hang in the same circles. In his research, for example, Goins found that Hemingway didn’t really become successful until he moved to Paris and connected with all the other people in that creative scene.
There is a great group of authors and entrepreneurs in Nashville, and Goins knew he needed to make his way into said circle, without being skeevy, I might add. He started working at popular coffee shops, going to meetups and trying his best to help others in the local community who were “at his level” rather than immediately trying to connect with the biggest influencers.
“If you go around and help enough people, without expectation of reciprocity,” Goins explained, “the thing that my dad said while I was growing up is true, ‘What goes around comes around.’” He also offered to write about conferences on his blog and social media channels in exchange for a ticket, so he could be around successful people and absorb their wisdom. (I may or may not have started a traveling talk show for the same reason.) It was at one such conference he asked another one of my past guests, Carrie Wilkerson, for advice on how to monetize his blog.
Ask your tribe what they want and give it to them.
This was Wilkerson’s advice to Goins. He sent out a survey, and wrote the book they wanted to read. “That sold 10,000 copies and I made about $50,000 off of an ebook on Amazon,” he shared. “My email address was at the end [of the book with], Hey, if you have any questions or anything, just let me know what you thought of the book, email me here. And I started getting hundreds of emails every week from these people and they were saying, “Show me more. I need help with this . . . . I want you to walk me through this. I want a course.” Thus Goins’ flagship product, the Tribe Writers course, was born.
Change your money mindset.
As I wrote earlier, it’s probable you have some hangups about money. Most of us do, especially those of us who want to do things like make videos in our home office or write 30-second jingles for commercials or draw comics — and get paid for it. One point Goins touched on about money was to make sure you never work for free. By that he doesn’t mean you must get paid for every napkin sketch. It means actually working for nothing in return is a rare gift for a friend rather than a way to build your portfolio.
“Understand that when somebody says zero, the threshold is always a little bit higher. It doesn’t mean that you still can’t do a bunch of favors [but you can]start charging $20 a print or $50 an article or something just to get started and then from there, incrementally raise your rates and your prices,” he said. “When somebody gives away an ebook on a website, that’s not free, you’re collecting an email address for that, right? So we can be strategic with the things that we’re giving away.”
Another main point about money Goins had was to realize it’s simply a tool. He shared a Walt Disney story. “Somebody wrote him a letter and said, ‘You’re just doing this for the money.’ And he wrote him a letter back and said, ‘We don’t make films to make money. We make money so that we can make more films.'” Goins continued, “I think money becomes a better means than a master. It helps us achieve the things that we need to achieve.”
Watch in-depth interviews with celebrity entrepreneurs on The Pursuit with Kelsey Humphreys.
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