Image bypygment_shots, via Flickr
So, I know I haven’t been very present around here lately. 2013 has started in a rather worrisome way for me, and I’ve been doing my best to cope and grow. And in such times, it can be hard to be publicly perky.
Things are slowly coming back together now, and I’m in the middle of a big re-org that I’m excited about. My posts here will be sporadic for a while as all this is going on behind the scenes.
I did decide to go ahead and share the post below, which I wrote a few weeks back. I think it gets at a new wrinkle in the whole Free and Sustainability subject, and maybe it’s something you’ll find applies to your own online experiences. Enjoy, and I’ll see you around.
Image by Kalexanderson, via Flickr
When I ended my podcast, I knew I’d feel a bit sad. But I wasn’t at all prepared for the anger that welled up inside me. I was one rage-filled woman for a while there. Poor K – I can tell you, he has the patience of a saint.
On the surface of things, I was angered by the flood of well wishes on Twitter and Facebook, and in my emailer. I knew that anger wasn’t the appropriate response to such kindness, but it was there anyway, utterly undeniable.
It’s just that hearing people say “I’m so sad that the show is ending” when most of them hadn’t supported the show financially – that felt painful. Hearing so many people say “I can’t wait to see what you do next” when my last project was dying – that felt painful too. Even though I knew in my heart that every single person who said those things did it with the best of intent.
Image by graibeard, via Flickr
My friend Kim wisely pointed out that business failures usually have a number of seeds. My podcast failed because not enough people subscribed (or renewed their subscription, or visited my sponsors), but it also failed because I was asking you to pay for something no one else was asking you to pay for. And because my online store wasn’t able to deliver the shows like iTunes does, with a single click and the money transaction kind of hidden. And because I could have marketed better. And because production, sponsorship sales and admin, plus all the technical tasks of maintaining subscribers added up to so many hours, it wasn’t a project I could sustain on my own.
So again, it wasn’t appropriate to be angry at all the nice people who were wishing me well. But I was angry – really, really angry. And I think I’ve finally figured out why.
It’s because I failed, over the course of seven years, to create good exchanges with most fans of the show. I was angry at myself. And I apologize for the moments when my anger was misdirected.
Image by hectorir, via Flickr
That’s a complex idea, so let me explain. I have always sucked at building mutually-beneficial relationships – in business, in romance, you name it. I’m someone who gives to the point of over-giving, and then hopes everyone will intuit the best way to give back, and then is shocked and disappointed when they don’t. Rinse and repeat, that tendency goes way back.
It’s an unhealthy pattern for so many reasons, and it inevitably leads to burnout. Back in the Day Job Era of my life, when the pattern played itself out to burnout, I’d just quit my job and get another one, hoping that “this time it’ll be different.” (Spoiler: it never was.)
Now that I’m self-employed, I have nowhere to run from this tendency to over-give. It’s time I faced up to it.
Here’s what I should have done, in terms of the podcast. Every time a nice person emailed me, over the past seven years, expressing thanks for the value they received from the show, I should have said more than “Thank you.” Saying “Thank you” is nice and expected, but you know what? It’s a bit of a door-closer.
Instead, I should have created a future for me and these kind souls by saying something like:“I’m so happy that the podcasts are bringing you value. If you’d like to give something back to the show, how about blogging about it sometime? How about telling your friends? Do you have a contact at any company that might want to sponsor? I’d love any and all help to keep this project going!”
See what I mean? There’s way more power and possibility in asking for an exchange. It’s important to know what you need, and then ask individual humans for it directly. And I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I communicated the show’s need of support in a general broadcast-y way, which feels somewhat safer to do, but which most of us, truth be told, usually ignore.
It’s not that the show didn’t bring me anything back for my efforts. Of course it did! But I can see now that, by making the shows and putting them out there and never asking anyone else to get meaningfully involved, I just created a kind of bubble around them – one that ultimately had no choice but to pop.
So here are some things I’m going to do differently, going forward:
• When people say to me, “Please let me know what I can do to help you,” I’m going to make myself take the opportunity. I’ve made a list of things I need, and it’s posted by my computer so I won’t default to saying “Oh, I don’t need anything right now, thanks.” This year, I am going to ASK.
• When people reach out to me to say “Thank you for all you do in the community,” I’m going to offer them some easy and specific ways to give back, if they choose to do so.
• I’m going to continue making free content, but always with a call to some small, easy action for those who consume it. I know not everyone will take that call, but again, it’s important to ask.
Image by andjohan, via Flickr
Actually, I think we could all take a meaningful step in the direction of sustainable Free just by getting clear about what we want to get from our online sharing, and then clearly asking for it. (And yes, I know it’s tempting to say that sharing for sharing’s sake is awesome, but at the end of the day, we do things because they give us some kind of reward back. If we weren’t getting some kind of reward, we wouldn’t do it for long.)
The exchanges we want don’t even have to be monetary. Maybe all you want is for someone to compliment your work. Maybe what you want is more web traffic. Whatever it is, again, it’s important to make that clear. Because how else will we know how to support each other?
How do you ask people for meaningful exchanges? Or do you ask directly? What kinds of exchanges do you wish you were having?