Updated: Mar 27
This may just be another post about super-fans. I'm not sure. If you've been down that road, consider this a case study that bolsters it. If not, the first person I heard digging into it is Pat Flynn (a super sweet guy who helped ease my nerves before going on stage at a client's book launch), and I recommend you head his way for more.
AI content generators are dominating the collective conversation right now, and after being asked about it several times, I realized I have some pretty strong opinions about it. Not whether or not to use them, but how their existence underscores bigger problems that have plagued us for years now.
Short version: algorithms created a moving-target demand for constant content generation (literally in exchange for "exposure"—who else do we tolerate that from?!) that has consumed our focus and turned writing into a chore that can now be completed by those same algorithms. I'm not here to make predictions...I'm just saying, it probably won't end well.
And then, a stomach bug hit my household of six, and the first man down took the last drops of the tincture I swear by for any kind of stomach upset.
No problem. I needed gatorade anyway, so off I went to the store that should have it. Except they didn't. Called the others, and they don't even carry it at all. I even spelled out "B-i-r-t-h Song," feeling desperate at this point and sure I'd heard "bird-song" repeated back to me.
Stomach Soother? Sto-mach Sooth-er? Please?
I almost turned toward the store at that point, sure that meant they had it. But no. She just knew the maker, as do I, and wished she could carry the products. "Call her," she encouraged. Which I'd kind of already tried when I messaged the website. An autoresponder popped up with her business hours, and that was almost the end of that.
But something about dialing a big-name store and connecting with a friend-of-a-friend (I wonder now if she and I have met, actually) jarred me out of Product Buying mode.
My youngest and my husband have been throwing up. Any of us could be next. Maria caught two of my babies and mentored me through my earliest years of adulthood. She makes remedies for such a time as this. She's a healer and a friend. So I messaged her.
Ten minutes later, I was riffling around her front patio while she worked and I tried not to touch things with my plague-carrying hands. Then went to the actually right patio (wrong side of the house, whoops) and found the bottles waiting for me. I'd mentioned only needing one, but two were there, tied up in a little bag. An invoice is coming later, which she noted would only be for one. She's a healer and a friend, and I'm a die-hard super fan.
Driving home, magic in tow, I teared up. Possibly a bit triggered by the no-contact transfer of goods with a sick household—March, 2020 is not far enough away—but mostly just grateful. For her and her immediate, unquestioning kindness. For the reminder that direct connection is and always has been the most powerful needs-meeting mechanism. And for the people who immediately came to mind when I wondered who would "drive all over town" for something I offer.
To this point, I have only worked from word of mouth referrals or organizations (that I got to via someone else's recommendation). But late last year, something shifted and I thought I needed to market more. I tried making a course. I did make a "lead gen." I brainstormed content strategies and made plans that made me cringe. Some of it stuck, but some of it got put on the back burner because more referrals came in.
Sometime around there, I recorded an episode with Travis Scott of Winding Road Careers, for his fantastic podcast about atypical career paths. We talked about my steps to becoming an editor, his experience writing a book, and riffing on the misconceptions that keep folks from writing about their experiences. Then we stopped recording, and in the few minutes of chat that follow that kind of conversation, I sheepishly admitted (to Travis Scott the Marketer) that I'd never marketed beyond word of mouth.
I expected a nod and encouragement to try. Instead I got a genuine, "Amazing! That's the best kind of marketing there is."
Immediately, excuses and fears came to mind, mostly boiling down to how do you scale that?
Budgets and planning dominated the framing of those excuses, but really it came down to growth. And maybe control, if I'm honest. Where are the input-outputs? Yeah, yeah, good service. OK, OK, ongoing relationships. But aren't I supposed to be doing more? Shouldn't I be findable on the big platforms and discoverable by strangers? That's the next level, yeah?
I mean, I went looking for my friend's product today—nothing else would suffice—but my one purchase can't sustain her. How many times have we had a favorite hole in the wall restaurant close? No matter how many times our one family gets takeout, it can't keep them open. How many incredible books never make best seller lists, never crack 1,000 sold? Businesses need customers. Authors need readers. We all have goals. We all have to market.
I can feel that anxiety bubbling underneath my "eff the system, get back to connection" rants, of late. Cool, cool—but we're still in a capitalist hells cape that requires us to make money and spend money and, and, and...
And none of the scaling shit really works if you don't have the foundation of people who will drive all over town with a sick husband at home because you have the thing you need. None of it works if you aren't actually a healer. If you won't put that thing on a pallet by your house after a random message hits your inbox on a Saturday.
My friend has, by all surface measurements, scaled. She's in stores (who I asked to carry that specific product). She's on Amazon. I talk to folks all across the country who already know of her when I suggest a specific item.
And being in the store didn't meet my need. Our connection did.
The combo of our interaction and the value of the product itself only anchored my fan status, and reminded us both that it's been far too long since we've had coffee and caught up. (After the virus is clear of our household, of course.)
So when I say "get back to connection," I mean double down on your foundational relationships. I mean the SEO goalposts are going to move, but your core connections will not. I mean Google will never chase you down like a super-fan will. I mean the power of a good referral covers so much more ground than a good landing page ever can.
I mean Travis was right (because of course he was).
I mean Maria is still teaching me (because of course she is).
I mean we're all going to make it, as long as we don't lose sight of each other.
Do you know who your super fans are? Do you know who you are to them? This is exactly what I guide you toward in this free discovery PDF or print workbooklet—and if you want extra support, consider diving into a discovery call.