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We all want to be known for something, we all want to make a name for ourselves, but there’s a harsh reality we’re up against:

The reality is people put other people in boxes.

We are cognitively limited to maintaining 150 close relationships.

What does this mean? It’s means people are forced to categorize. They’re going to put you in a box. There’s nothing you can do about that—it’s going to happen.

What you can do is define the box they’re already going to put you in. Embrace the fact that you will be put in a box and define what that box is.

You have an opportunity to shape the box others put you in. How do you shape it? You curate what you share.

 

 

Highlights, Takeaways, & Quick Wins:
  • People can't process the full complexities of each and every individual.
  • Curate what you share (selectively project one thing).
  • You have to put people in boxes, and other people are going to do the same and categorize you.
  • People treat following online like a magazine subscription.
  • When people follow, they’re looking for something specific.
  • You can’t control whether or not someone puts you in a box—you can only control what kind of box they put you in.
  • You can choose to be known for one thing, or you can choose to be known for nothing.
  • People want to follow those who look like they have a sense of direction.
  • Although people cannot process complexity all at once, people do possess the capacity to process additive complexity.
  • Keep it simple and then add complexity gradually.
  • The world cannot process your awesomeness.
  • Go all out on one thing right now and serve that audience to the best of your abilities.
  • You have to say no to things if you want to be effective.
  • You want people to associate you with something and associate that something with you.
  • Life is too short to be somewhere that you hate.
  • If you hate the box you’ve been put in, the right time is right now to go find something else.
  • Share everything you learn.
  • Make sure you’re being very clear about the one thing you’re focusing on.
Show Notes
  • 03:22 Sean: We’re up against the harsh reality that people are cognitively limited to 150 close relationships, which is known as Dunbar’s number. We can only process so much complexity of other individuals, beyond that it falls apart. We can’t hold more than that many close relationships. In the online world, where there’s thousands of people and so many sources of information coming at you, you can’t process the full complexities of each and every individual. They have too many facets, traits, and personality quirks to them, so out of preservation of our own sanity, we have to categorize people.
  • 04:35 Ben: By necessity, we are lazy thinkers. Anytime our brain can use some kind of shortcut to process information, it will and a lot of times without our permission. It’s the reason why we can be fooled into thinking two colors of a cube are two separate colors, when in fact they’re the same of you take away the shading and light perspective. Our brain doesn’t want to use up so much processing energy. It takes a lot of energy to process those things. In order to shortcut the process of understanding other people we come into contact with, we automatically create our own associations with them based on our previous experiences and what we see on the surface.

Curate What You Share

  • 05:46 Sean: We have to simplify in order to process people. People are probably thinking, “Well, I follow more than 150 people, Sean. Debunked!” The reason you can follow more than 150 people is because you simplify. We’re talking about close relationships here—you can’t process the complexities of more than 150 people. Beyond that, if you’re going to process them at all, you have to simplify and categorize them. You have to put people in boxes, and other people are going to do the same for you. They’re going to put you in a box, so you have to curate what you share. We’re going off of the assumption that you want to build an audience, make a name for yourself, be known, be seen as an authority, and attract clients to you for your specialty.
  • 06:57 If those are your goals, you have to curate what you share. This is where it gets complicated because you’re a complex individual with multifaceted talents. Your default state is to project all of those in a stream of consciousness—what you’re doing, making, and thinking. It’s what most people do and it makes sense. There’s nothing wrong with being a multifaceted, complex individual but if you want to be known for something and start building an audience, you have to curate what you share. What I mean by curating what you share is selectively projecting a single focused thing. Back in 2011 I used to project a bunch of different kinds of design work—icon design, illustration, user interface, web design, logos, lettering, and videography.
  • 08:32 I was posting everything I made on social media and my exposure online reflected that. I had about 300 followers but one day I decided to curate. Lettering wasn’t something I was doing much of for my job but I really liked doing it after hours. I decided to only put out lettering, even though I was doing all of this other stuff for my work. If you look at the growth over time, that is the clear inflection point in my growth. That’s where everything started to trend upwards—I got more followers and it was benefit snowballing. People starting thinking of me as, “The Lettering Guy,” which didn’t happen right away. It took about two years of doing this regularly.
  • 09:46 It took two years of curating like this and the reason this works is because people treat following online like a magazine subscription. Why do you subscribe to a magazine? Because you like the type of content you’re going to get. How do you know you’re going to get that kind of content? Because they’ve curated. If they’re talking about tech, they’re not going to suddenly talk about beauty and fashion. They’ve focused and you know what you’re going to get. It’s the same with internet or TV channels. If they were like, “I know you might have an internet package but this month, we’re going to give you TV channels so now you can’t get online.” You’re going to be angry because you didn’t get what you expected. This is how people treat following online.

When people follow you, they’re looking for something.

  • 10:37 They want to know what to expect and what they’re going to get out of it. The way they do that is by trying to process you—they simplify you and see if you fit into a box. If you’re not being clear about what you’re delivering and what they can expect, you’re throwing it up to chance what box they put you in. Maybe they put you in a noise box, miscellaneous box, complaining box, or a “tweets pictures of their shoes or coffee” box. Who knows what kind of box they’re putting you in but if you’re not intentionally curating that, they’re going to just pick one.

You can’t control whether or not someone puts you in a box.

You can only control what kind of box they’re going to put you in.

  • 11:45 They’re already going to put you in a box. What you can do is define that box by doing the work of coaling out all of the noise. Get rid of the things that aren’t the essence of what you want to be known for. If you do that work for people, you get to define the box they’re already going to put you in.
  • 12:11 Ben: There’s this interesting thing that happens when you start to project a single thing vs. many things. You may be very good at many different things and you may do excellent work. Even people who don’t care about hand lettering might have a more general box that what you do fits into so they’ll throw you in there, like “This person does art.” There are also people who have very specific boxes and they say, “This person is an artist that does hand lettering.” The smaller the box the box you can get, the more powerful of an experience that’s going to be for your audience.
  • 13:21 Sean: If you’re talking about niching down, I want people to know that there is a line at some point. If you go too far, you’re in obscurity. No one cares about upside down hanging watercolor hand letterers of Benjamin Franklin’s quotes written backwards in Elven script. It’s less about a small box and more about a focused box. You’d be better off not sharing the other things that aren’t this one specific thing.
  • The Woodworking, Programming, Guitar Player
  • 14:33 Maybe you’re a woodworking, programing, guitar player. Maybe you’re good at all of those things or you’re exploring them. People simply don’t have the capacity to process the complexity of you being all of those things, even if you are all of them. You have a choice and the harsh truth is:

You can choose to be known for one thing, or you can choose to be known for nothing.

  • 15:04 Later, we’re going to talk about an exception for how you can possibly be known for multiple things, but you won’t get to that point without starting by projecting one thing.
  • 15:22 Ben: This doesn’t mean you couldn’t build some audience around any one of those things but we’re talking about building the kind of audience that’s powerful enough to support you and propel you toward the things you really love to do. That kind of audience only comes when you focus.
  • 15:50 Sean: I had 300 followers and that’s great, but I wasn’t making any money from it and it wasn’t growing past 300. Now it’s growing very rapidly. You don’t have to follow my rules but the goal here is to grow an audience. If people think lettering, they think Sean—that is what you want! It’s easy to say, “Think of this person and what do you associate that person with?” I think of Cory and I think of video, but do you think of video and think of Cory? Probably not and for most things like that, you probably don’t. With this type of curation over time, you can get that. I get tagged all the time in conversations on social media that other people are having and that, when I look back, started with lettering. Lettering = Sean. That’s the power you can have if you’re curating. That’s how you’re going to build an audience that’s so strong you can actually support yourself financially from it.

You attract what you project, but if you’re projecting noise, you don’t attract anything.

  • 17:37 Noise is a funny thing because something that is otherwise pleasant or musical can be something that comprises noise. If you have lots of things that are nice, some things that are just ok, and some stuff that’s annoying and you layer all of these things, you have noise. It’s not longer something nice, it’s just white noise. People don’t hear white noise, they go to sleep with it. They tune it out. I wanted to help illustrate how this plays out in real life, so I wrote this short story:

You are not special.

We’re all good at many things. No one is good at only one thing. Even specialists are not only good at one thing. Everyone has more than one strength. Everyone knows how to do more than one thing—many of them well.

You look to the people who are known for something and part of you desires to be known in a similar capacity. The other part doesn’t want to be pigeonholed. You don’t want to be put in a box.

You’re too good for a box. You’re good at many things, remember? Everyone else—that’s fine if they want to hone down being good at one thing. You? You’re good a lots of things. No box can hold you.

You sit back smugly, thinking about that remark. “No box can hold me.” It sounds good. You’re too complicated to fit in a box. You’re good at so many things it’s crazy! It would take an entire day just to tell someone a mere list of all the things you excel at and have better than average scores for. “Boxes are for squares,” you think, amused at your own pun.

You look across your living room from the couch where you sit and on the floor in the dining room, you see a box. Printed in black, all capital letters on the side is the word “CURATE.” You’re not sure where you got the box, but boxes are for squares, right? You won’t be needing this anymore. You break down the box, head outside, walk down the stairs from your second story apartment, and place it in the dumpster outside. “That silly box,” you chuckle.

The cognitive limit.

We are cognitively limited to a small number of close relationships. We can process the complexities of these individuals, but beyond that, it’s simply not possible.

In order to make sense of things, we put people in boxes. It doesn’t matter what you do, you cannot avoid being put in a box. People will put you in boxes. It’s either going to be very clear to them which box you go in, or you will go into the ambiguous bin.

When you want something specific, you look in a specific box. But when do you ever look in the ambiguous box? The miscellaneous box? You know what I’m talking about—it’s the junk drawer that’s your catch-all. Sure, you store item in it, but good luck finding something specific later on when you really need it.

You don’t get to decide whether you’re put in a box. The only thing you can do is define what kind of a box people put you in.

The way you do this is by curating what you share. You have two options: you can be known for one thing, or you can be known for nothing. People cannot process your awesomeness so if you do not curate, you will not be remembered.

But you’re good at a lot of things.

“That whole curation bit is fine for the simpletons,” you think. “It must be easy being good at so few things.”

No! You are not special. I am not special. This is coming from someone who is good at a ridiculous number of things. People tell me I have the “hand of Midas”—everything I touch turns to gold. I have spent countless hours practicing and getting good at things.

I’ve spent most of my life learning and practicing. I’ve wasted relatively little of my time on this planet and as a result I’ve gotten good at a great number of things.

Do those many skills work together? Yes. Do the abilities I’ve acquired over time play off of each other beautifully? Yes. Have the years of effort and thousands of hours of practice brought forth multi-faceted expertise that gives me unique insight that others don’t have? Yes. But all of that is for naught if you project noise.

Noise? Yes, noise. Is a bird singing noise? What? It’s lovely! What about someone talking? Surely that’d be considered interesting. What about a violinist? A stereo? Children playing? Rain?

Noise is something gradual. As a television signal loses clarity, at what point is it just a low-res picture and at what point is it simply white noise?

Noise is the continual layering of one unrelated thing on top of another. The more you project various things, the greater your output of noise is. When you project everything, you project nothing. You create noise. When you’re so caught up in letting everyone know how good you are at *all* things, you end up with no one hearing that you’re good at anything.

Too many boomboxes.

I want you to picture a boombox. You’re outside in a park. You have a boombox that contains a pre-recorded message. You recorded this message. This message is telling people you’re a great piano player. It tells people how many concerts you’ve performed, how many albums you’ve sold, and how many songs you’ve memorized and why you’d be great to hire for their next event.

After a few minutes, an older, long-haired gentleman walks up to you and says, “Hey, I’ve been looking for someone to play music at one of my businesses, but we don’t have actually have a piano in the venue—only an organ. Would you be able to play for us?”

Little does he know, you used to play the organ in church. “Of course!” you say, holding out your business card. He takes it and thanks you warmly.

This was incredible! You just advertised for piano and you ended up getting a gig to play the organ—which you’re also good at!

Suddenly, you get a brilliant idea. There’s a little secret about you. You not only play the piano and organ, but you actually play many instruments! You’re somewhat of an aficionado at all of them. Most people are decent guitar or piano players, but you—you’re practically a master at every instrument you’ve been able to find. You’re adept at guitar, drums, bass, cello, piano, harp, clarinet, saxophone—heck, you even sing!

You rush to the nearby electronic store and buy out all of their boomboxes. The small business owner is ecstatic—he never thought he’d get rid of them! I mean seriously, boomboxes?

Back at the park, you haul a flat cart stacked with boomboxes. One by one, you set them all out and begin pressing play on each of them. See, after you’d left the store, you recorded a message on each boombox telling people about a particular instrument you’re good at.

One by one, the boomboxes are turned on and begin projecting your many skills. The collective volume gets louder and louder until each individual message is no longer able to be discerned. You start getting stern looks from people and parents begin pushing their strollers out of the park and away from your boombox monstrosity.

To add insult to injury, the older gentleman who was at the park earlier returns. “So, it seems this arrangement won’t work out after all,” he shouts, trying to project over the racket. “I was under the impression that you specialized in piano and thought the organ might be up your alley, but I have to be honest: with this display you’re making, I can only assume that you’re mediocre at best with all of these instruments.”

Downtrodden, you take back your business card. The older gentleman begins to walk away but then stops and pivots. He holds up his index finger as he walks back to you and you can tell he’s about to share a thought. “I think I might have something you need,” he says. From behind his back, he produces a box. Where did that comes from? This crafty old man…

“You have a lot of ambition, but if you want people to take you seriously, you need curate what you share. They can’t process the complexity of all this nonsense you’re trying to project here,” he waves his hand back and forth in the direction of your boomboxes as if he was trying to fan away a pungent smell.

You look down at the box and on the side, printed in black, all capital letters, is the word “CURATE.” It was the box that was there in the beginning. You look up and the old man is gone.

What if I Want to Do Something Else?

  • 29:25 Someone is probably wondering right now, “What if I want to do this curation thing you’re talking about, project one thing, become known for it, and what if I want to do something else? Haven’t I just painted myself into a corner and ruined everything?” The wonderful thing is you’re not limited to this one thing indefinitely. In the beginning, you’re limited because you’re curating purposefully. As time goes on and you’ve established yourself as a specialist in one area, you’ll develop an audience.

People want to follow those who look like they have a sense of direction.

  • 30:03 They want to know what to expect and you’ve given them what to expect in the form of your sole focus on one thing over time. Now that you’ve developed the audience, you have the freedom to pivot. You can scale from there and actually move from one thing to the next. The people that know you for that original thing will continue to know you for that thing, even when you move on and start doing other things. This still know you for that one thing but they follow you on to the next thing, because they see you as someone who has a sense of direction.
  • 30:45 Ben: You’ve left a lasting impression because of how consistently and focused you’ve curated.

Additive Complexity

  • 30:59 Sean: In my case, people still know me as a letterer. Just last week I was asked to do a workshop at an event as a letterer. In my mind, I’m doing all this other stuff and pivoting away from that but people still know me for that, even though I don’t actively do a ton of lettering anymore. I used to do client work and made products with my artwork, which a still do a little bit, but once I put out the Learn Lettering course, I shifted my focus to helping people with business and making a living with their passion. People still follow me for the new thing as well as the old thing.
  • 31:55 The reason this works is, although people cannot process the complexity all at once, people do possess the capacity to process additive complexity. The example I like to illustrate that with is TV shows, where there’s very gradual character development. You can’t just throw all of the personality quirks of a character into the pilot episode. It’s too much to process. You ease people in and with every installment you show people a slightly new facet and, over time, they feel like they get to know this whole person.
  • 32:36 Ben: Isn’t it like a relationship, in a way? When Rachel and I were dating and she asked me to tell her about myself, I didn’t tell her how I wash my clothes, fold my underwear, that I don’t make my bed, or I like to eat candy late at night. You give it in increments because people are just weird. You don’t put all that weirdness out there in the beginning. You have to think about your audience in that same way. You’re developing a relationship with them so you’re not going to inundate them with all the complexity of who you are, but because they were able to put you in a box and they’re following you, they want to get to know you. They want that added complexity over time. In general, that’s just how relationships work
  • 34:46 Sean: I’m bringing this up so you understand I’m acknowledging that people can process complexity. It’s not that people can’t handle complexity, it’s that they can’t handle close relationships and personality quirks beyond 150. If you want to get inside peoples’ boxes—the things they’re paying attention to, listening to, reading, watching, etc.—you have to simplify so they’ll be like, “This show is about friends that sit on a coach and they say funny things.”

Keep it simple and then add complexity gradually.

  • 35:31 People can process the added complexity. It’s cumulative over time, and that’s where I want people to understand I’m not saying you have to strip out your personality or you can’t be a human. It’s that you want to show your personality gradually, over time, in a curated fashion if your goal is to build an audience.
  • 35:59 Ben: We’re talking about building an audience but there’s also attracting clients, which can be part of your audience. Earlier I met with Kyle Adams, one of our Community members and we actually talked about this very subject this morning. I really liked the word he used in our conversation, which was facade. Not in a negative sense, like you’re lying to people. The reality is you’re good at a lot of things but to the outside world, you have to put up this facade and say, “This is what I am,” so people can even get in the door.
  • 37:02 Sean: The reason I use curated projection is because it’s something you, as a person with a bunch of unique traits, is projecting. You’re putting it together and you’re saying, “I’ve made this for you.” It’s like the person that curates a magazine. Yes, they’re a person with all kinds of interests—maybe they like sci-fi movies—but this is about craft beer. You’ve put that together for the person with this interest. It’s a curated projection and the reason I would take issue with facade is I don’t want people to think you’re pretending to be something you’re not.
  • 37:43 Ben: I don’t mean it in the negative sense, I mean that it’s your storefront. If you want people to come in the door, you can’t sell more than you can write on the sign. The sign has to be simple and people have to know what to expect before they walk in. When I was struggling with curating and narrowing my focus, I didn’t like the feeling that if I niche down I would have to focus on doing that one thing for now. What was encouraging for me was the idea that I need to project those specific things, but during conversation with a client, we might discover they also need another service, which I also happen to be able to do.
  • 38:57 It’s like the piano player who can also play the organ example. Those kinds of things happen. When it pertains to your audience, you can also think about how you can use those other gifts and creative skills you have to compliment and highlight the more specific niche focus. A great example of that is the way you used video to talk about your lettering and teach it. You got to exercise those creative skills, even though it wasn’t about the video. It was about the lettering but you still had that outlet
  • 39:47 Sean: Same with music too—getting to produce the intro music for this show, Lambo Goal, and all the music we play for the Community members in the after after show. Taking Small Scale Sabbaticals is another way of keeping those secondary passions fresh and not totally losing touch with them, but not making it something I’m projecting. On my main channels, I’m not saying, “Here’s some new music I’ve made,” even though people in the Community keep telling me they want a seanwes album. They want that now but they’ve gone with me on this journey of going from one thing to another over a course of years, so they’re able to see me as a more complex person. I’ve brought them in through something that’s focused.

How Long Do You Have to Focus?

  • 40:44 We get asked this question a lot. The main theme here is to start specific, not broad. When it comes to client work, most people tell you to take whatever work you can get but that’s terrible advice, because it’s rooted in Scarcity Mindset. You need to start absurdly specific, to the point of being afraid of turning people down because they’re not up to your standards. Eventually, you can take those people on to the next thing. This is the only way you’re going to get attention in a noisy world and the only way you’re going to make a name for yourself.

The world cannot process your awesomeness.

  • 41:46 Do you want to be just another photographer, designer, or developer? That’s what you’re doing when you follow the advice of, “Take whatever work you can get.” You’re diluting yourself and spreading yourself out. Start specific—curate what you share and niche down. This is where the Overlap Technique comes in, and it affords you the stability to be able to curate. The day job is step #1—bills are covered—that way you can be very specific and selective about the jobs you take on. You’re not worrying about, “What if I don’t take this job on? I’ve got to pay the bills.” When you think that way, you take on the wrong type of jobs, you compromise on professionalism, and you don’t charge what you’re worth.

You have to have the guts to niche down.

  • 42:42 You’ve got to niche down to bring people in. It’s got to be the first step. You need something tangible that they can grasp. It’s a handle with which they pull themselves into what you’re about. You have to define the box people are already going to put you in, then you’ll be able to bring them on to the next thing.

Questions

  • 43:07 Sara asks, “How do you laser curate when you’re still exploring the passion you chose to pursue?” By, “exploring the passion,” do you think she means trying to find what you’re passionate about? Could it be multiple passions, like exploring what the passion is?
  • 43:30 Ben: That question comes with a lot of other questions for me because when we talk about passion, we talk about the act of doing it, not just the idea of it. There’s this amount of time that goes into figuring out whether it truly is something you are in love with the act of doing vs. the idea of it. I think she’s saying you have a list of things you like the idea of doing, but you’re not sure which one is going to be what you really love doing day in and day out.
  • 44:19 Sean: Explore, do things, try things, and make things. Curating what you share is for the sole purpose of building an audience. You can live your life however you want, make whatever you want, project and share whatever you want. There’s no rules. I’m giving you guidelines for supercharging your audience growth, subscriptions, followers, and your sales. If you don’t know what you’re going to give your followers or what you’re going to sell yet, you don’t need to worry about it. You have a free pass. Go try and explore things. Go find out that you actually don’t like the act of doing things that you thought you did. That’s ok! Don’t worry about building an audience right now, worry about finding what you like the act of doing, and don’t even worry about what you’re projecting.
  • 45:33 Ben: In the chat room, Sarah, who asked the original question, brought some clarification, “What I meant was when you discover what your passion is, there’s still layers of niches you can explore.” Would your answer be different to that question? Instead of niching down from videography, web design, and photographer, it’s what kind of photographer do you want to be?
  • 46:13 Sean: At least you’ve found something you enjoy doing at this point and now you have the first world problem of which even more specific sub-niche can I pursue? It’s the same situation all over again with giving you a free pass to explore and try things, except you have something curated. You want to continue projecting things that are within this one passion that you decided to pursue, and as long as everything you’re putting out is within that parent category, go ahead and try the other sub-categories. You’re not going to fail, you’ll eventually be able to be more effective with those sub-niches. Once you find out what that is, you can hone in even further.
  • 47:03 Sarah is a letterer so until that point, keep putting out lettering—digital, hand drawn, script, brush pen, sketched with a pencil—meanwhile, you’re exploring different tools, mediums, techniques, and styles. Figure out what you like and then gradually hone it down. Justin had said, “Please define, ‘absurdly specific,’ for people. For example, are you talking about, ‘hand letterer,’ being absurdly specific vs. something like, ‘artist’?”
  • 47:42 When I was talking about getting absurdly specific, I wasn’t talking about niching down, I was talking about curation—only projecting one thing and not talking about everything you can do. The specificity isn’t how niched down it is, but how focused you are on that thing, even if it’s just photography. Photography is broad with a lot of sub-niches, but you’re exploring and that’s fine. If you’re focused on photography and you’re exploring, just make sure you’re not projecting anything else.
  • 48:23 Ben: Your Instagram account would only have your photography on it, it wouldn’t have your photography and a selfie you took with your friends at dinner.
  • 48:34 Sean: Or a screenshot from some app.
  • 48:40 Ben: For some people, saying, “I’m not going to stream my life to people anymore. I’m not going to share pictures of my children anymore,” as a step one is a big deal.
  • 48:54 Sean: “I’m not going to complain about software bugs.” There’s someone who only complains about a certain Adobe product and they even have a hashtag for it. It’s all negativity. I think in their mind it’s supposed to be funny, but it’s not providing value. They do other stuff but that’s a large part of their feed and why I unfollowed them. I followed them for some of their illustration work and they had this reoccurring theme of negativity. It might mean not venting whatever you’re feeling, hating, or watching.
  • Having Two Audiences
  • 49:55 Eric says, “Can you have multiple online identities unrelated to each other if you want to have products and content for two audiences?” You absolutely can do that. I would recommend keeping things very separate if it’s two different audiences, but the real problem actually has nothing to do with curation and everything to do with focus. If you have two brands that you’re managing and two audiences you’re trying to serve, you have split focus. It’s not that you can’t do it, you just might run yourself into the ground and it will do a disservice to your audiences. What I would really want for you, Eric, is to go all out on one thing right now and serve that audience to the best of your abilities. Know that we have seasons of passions and just because you’re not pursuing a secondary passion, it doesn’t mean it won’t ever be the season for that.

You have to say no to things if you want to be effective.

  • 51:24 The real answer to his question is that it’s possible to have multiple identities and it’s good to separate things that are unrelated for different audiences, but I worry more about focus for him.
  • 51:34 Ben: I like the permissiveness of your answer because you really can do whatever you want. Then, you put the “but” in there and give them something to think about. It puts the power in the listeners hands instead of being perceived as Sean telling them what to do. You can do whatever you want, but here are the consequences of this vs. this.
  • Getting Out of the Box You’ve Been Put In
  • 52:15 Sean: Cory Miller asks, “What does it look like to get out of the box you’ve been put in?”
  • 52:47 Ben: When I hear that question, I’m reminded of something you said, Sean, “People don’t notice announcements, they notice consistency.” With In the Boat with Ben, we’ve set a launch date and we’ve been talking about all the steps we need to take between now and when that happens. Essentially, rather than the podcast just being about running a business in the context of raising a family, the focus is going to widen and we’re going to talk more about family related things. It’s still going to come from myself and Rachel, who are free-lancers and business owners.
  • 54:12 Sean: The reason I was saying to broaden it a little bit is because from the outside, people want to listen to a show for you. They know how Ben is and what Ben is about. Basically, we’re making it to where you’re not trying to serve a slightly different audience, it’s allowed to encompass everything you’re about. You can call the show whatever you want, but at this point, you already have an audience and people are listening for you.
  • 54:56 Ben: I was worried that people already associated In the Boat with Ben with this more specific idea that I already had about it. I was asking you if I should make an announcement to my newsletter subscribers about the direction we’ll be taking it and you told me that it would be more powerful to consistently project what I’m doing now instead of making an announcement. People may recognize that shift, but to others, it’ll just be me doing what I do. I made it a bigger deal than it really was and I was focused on having a catalyst moment where people would take me out of a certain box and put me in this other one. Really, it’s the consistency that matters, because if people are paying attention to that box they put you in, they’re going to see you no longer fit into it and you’ve moved on to another box. If they’re not paying attention to it, it doesn’t matter anyway.
  • 56:28 Sean: To answer Cory’s question, “What does it look like to get out of the box you’ve been put in?” What it doesn’t look like is two frames: one with you in the box and one with you out of the box, standing next to it. It looks like a gradient in photoshop—at what point is it the new color? It’s a gradual thing and it takes time. It’s something that happens over time through consistency. If you want to get out of a box other people have put you in, start over and curate what you’re projecting. Start consistently putting out the new thing you want to be known for. You can’t put out an announcement and say, “I’m this guy now,” you’re only going to be the old guy who says that. You have to show people over time.
  • 57:26 Ben: The gradient thing might be a little misleading. You aren’t trying to guide people from their current understanding of you to a new understanding of you. You can’t put out 90% of what you used to and 10% of the new thing, then tomorrow 80% and 20%. You don’t want to do that. To you, it feels like you’re turning on your heel, but to the outside world, it’s more of a gradient.
  • Self-initiated Projects vs. Client Work
  • 58:27 Sean: Cory McCabe says, “I’m a filmmaker. How should I balance curating my content output to define the box people put me in for my own projects, and showing client work that I’ve done? Should I not share client work to my following?” The main thing is you want people to associate you with something and associate that something with you. As long as what you’re putting out is within that realm, it’s ok that it’s a different medium. It’s ok that it’s a video, a case study where you employed your skills with a client, or a side project short film you did. As long as it’s encompassed with the thing you want to be known for, you can share client work, self-initiated projects, or mix them together.
  • 59:31 I would encourage you to mix them together. Eventually, if you wanted to phase out of client work, you could get rid of it but if you’re trying to get client work, you want to show your capabilities. Have a portfolio of what you’ve done and talk about those projects—what the challenges were and what you wanted to accomplish. That could be the case with a self-initiated project, just like it would with a client. You’re able to tell a story either way that tells a potential client that you’re someone worth hiring.
  • Hating a Successful Box
  • 1:00:11 Another question from Cory Miller, “What if you’ve been put in a very successful box that really has brought you a lot of attention and is where you have a huge audience…but you hate the box?”
  • 1:00:34 Ben: If you’ve had a lot of success, what do they love more? You or their box?
  • 1:00:42 Sean: It’s going to be a mix of both. Look at any star that’s been known for something, they got sick of it and they wanted to move on. Because they’re known, they can move to something new—an actor can become a singer and vice versa. The reality is you’ll lose some people and there’s going to be people that follow you to the next thing. Those are the people that care more about you as a person, and your take on being a singer, more. I ran into this a little bit myself because I still enjoy lettering. I don’t hate it but I’m moving beyond it.
  • 1:01:32 I’m doing more than just that and that was really difficult. I have the exposure and monetary success in the lettering world, so I’ve had to use the Overlap Technique a little bit. Right now, that’s paying the bills—mine and the payroll. I’m maintaining that as long as it’s affording me the ability to overlap to what I want to do. I always say that if your full-time job requires you to work 40 hours a week or you’re fired, you’ve got to save up and quit cold turkey. Otherwise, if it’s flexible, you can ramp it down and that’s where I am. I’m ramping down the lettering as I ramp up the business stuff—doing more podcasts, expanding the network, and investing in the Community. As I do those things, my revenue in those other sources gradually increase. I’m phasing out of it but I’m not in the position where I hate it.

Life is too short to be somewhere that you hate.

  • 1:02:52 It’s too short to be somewhere where you want to kill yourself every day because you hate your boss, your coworkers, and what you do. It’s not worth it. Stop saying it’s not the right time right now—the right time is right now to go find something else. If it’s not something you completely hate and it’s working really well for you, hold on to it and treat it like the Overlap Technique. Maybe you don’t love the day job but if you’ve got something successful, keep it alive while you overlap.
  • How to Handle Stagnation
  • 1:03:37 Aaron says, “I’ve achieved success in my field, but I’m worried about being stuck here and stagnating. Do you have any advice for transitioning into something else when you’re super busy with your current box?” Aaron and I spoke about this a little more in the chat room. He’s The Podcast Dude and in the last few months he’s been treating his newsletter and blog very seriously. He’s been making high-quality screen casts. He’s been consistent and he’s doing great, but it’s only been a few months. It’s probably been six months or a year, or feels longer, but it’s probably been longer than I realize and that’s the point. I’m just starting to pick up on it and I know Aaron! Other people are probably just now picking up on it. If you’re worrying about stagnating, show up every day for two years. Do it for a while because you decide you’re stagnating and not making any progress.
  • 1:04:51 Ben: Because we’re so close to the work, we have a tendency to project our experience onto other people. We feel like we’re doing this thing every day and constantly doing these meticulous things, we think other people are having that meticulous experience with us. Maybe we’re detaching from that a little bit but we’re thinking about every single piece of content we put out. You have to realize that even if they put you in a box, most people aren’t going to consume every single thing you produce.
  • 1:05:35 Sean: Not only have I done a show on curating what you share, I’ve also done a seanwes tv episode with the same title as this show we’re doing today (Related: e074 Curate What You Share & tv028 They’re Going to Put You in a Box – Curate What You Share). I mentioned the topic of the show in the chat, everyone asked questions, and then Terrance asks, “Am I the only one that doesn’t know what this put you in a box thing is?” That’s why we’re doing this show again! I’ve talked about it a bunch of times but people still haven’t heard it.
  • 1:06:07 For the people that have heard it, there’s the Magic of 7. They need to hear it again, this is a new time, a new context, and we have new things to say about it. You’ve got to keep going with stuff. Aaron was also asking, “What if I hit a ceiling and I’m only making $60,000 a year, how am I going to make my Lambo Goal with that?” Who’s setting that ceiling? Is it a salary you’re getting from working for someone else? You’re trading the job security for a consistent paycheck, so there’s going to be a ceiling. They off-set that by giving you bonuses or raises, but what’s 1% or 3%? If you want the upsides of doing well in business, you have to take a risk and go out on your own. If you’re on your own, you set the ceiling. You’re the Podcast Dude and you’ve taken on all the shows you can take on, you might think that’s all the money you can make.
  • 1:07:10 Remember the Trifecta: you can make money with client work, selling products, or teaching (Related: e080 Making A Living With The Trifecta Part 1 of 3: Client Work, e081 Making A Living With The Trifecta Part 2 of 3: Products, & e082 Making A Living With The Trifecta Part 3 of 3: Teaching). Also, you can scale any one of those. If you’re at capacity with clients, start putting out educational material to start building your teaching empire and then start turning that into training material, so you can not only sell it as a product but use it to train people you want to hire under you and grow your podcast editing agency.
  • 1:07:48 Ben: Aaron, imagine if you had a dozen people working for you doing 12 times the work you would be capable of doing on your own at your quality standards. You’re getting a cut over single one of those because you’re the one who built it. Sometimes people feel bad that if someone else is doing the work, why should they take a cut? You’re the one who built the brand and you’re bringing work to those people. Why shouldn’t you get a piece of that? Maybe someday you hire a manager to manage those people, so now you own something that running without you having to be involved.
  • 1:08:45 Sean: I want to reiterate the Trifecta one more time. You’re working with clients and you’re learning things during that time, so you should share everything you learn. You’re going to give so much away that people won’t even be able to read it all. You don’t have to worry about repurposing that as something you sell in the future. Give it all away and teach people. From teaching people, you find out what resonates, and turn that into a training product. Think about it as, “I want to hire someone on my team. What do they need to know to be me?” Train them and you also have a product that people will buy to learn.
  • Focus on One Thing
  • 1:12:12 Cory Miller asks, “Is it possible to be known for one thing that covers several things? Smaller boxes in a large single box? Like, ‘I’m the product guy who does branding resources.'” You want to make sure you’re being very clear about one thing you’re focusing on, and if there’s a sub-niche underneath that, make sure it’s very clear that it’s beneath it. It’s easy to start muddying the waters here. Are you a product guy that does branding? Are you a branding guy that focuses on branding products? Are you a product guy or a branding guy? It’s starts getting muddy—make it simple. Are you the branding guy? If so, say that and say nothing else. Let people discover the other things. Are you a product guy?
  • 1:13:11 In the chat room, I said, “You’re trying to pierce the leather that is someone else’s cognitive Dunbar limit. The more pointed you are, the more effective you’ll be at piercing the noise filter of your potential audience member.”