“What the heck were you thinking???”
That's what my wife's pastor asked her after we got engaged.
Except “heck” wasn't the word he used.
I wasn't hurt by that. Considering that her and I each were bringing five kids into a blended family (not five total, five EACH) you can maybe understand why he'd ask that question. And why he didn't say “heck.”
That may be the first question you should be asking yourself when you're thinking about turning your podcasts, videos and blog content into a business.
What's the purpose of blogging for you? What do you want to accomplish with that podcast or Youtube channel? Is there anything you want to gain by being a social media influencer?
What is your Why?
If you're like most bloggers or people thinking of making money with content, you may be a little worried about how many blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels and other forms of content fail. What makes you think you won't be one of them?
That's why this is the first article in the Content MBA series on the business of content. I believe sincerely that the most important thing you can do to ensure success is to understand your why.
Your why is the foundation to your business.
What is the purpose of your content?
What are you trying to accomplish?
Why are you getting into this? Is this something that you just think you're supposed to do? Or is there a point to it?
There are two ways to approach the question of purpose. Both are valid and the question should be answered from both perspectives.
There's the idea of purpose, as in what are you trying to accomplish?
And then there's what I think is even more important: The sense of purpose. What is the big picture? What is the why behind you doing quality content in the first place?
Your Sense of Purpose: Digging into Your Why
Did you ever stop and ask yourself why you're doing this?
Why did you decide to start that podcast? What was the reason you thought a blog was a good idea? Why would you put yourself out there on YouTube, TikTok or other social media platforms?
Start with that question. Why are you doing this?
Think deeply about that. What is the major reason behind your decision to create content.
Now think about that reason and ask yourself: Why is that important to you?
And then rinse and repeat.
“I want to grow an audience for my blog.”
Why is that important?
“Because more readers means I can earn money from advertising.”
What's important about that advertising?
“Because then I can make a living at this.”
Why is that important?
“I want the freedom to work on my own schedule.”
Why do you want that freedom? “Because I want more time to volunteer with my church.”
Why do you want to do that?
“Because I'm passionate about my faith.”
We could have gone deeper with that example, but do you see the process there? The person in the example thought their why was about growing an audience. But once you drill down enough, faith was the underlying thing.
Take some time and dig deep.
Seriously, this is a retreat worthy thing. One of the best things I ever did was take some time to head up into the mountains with no agenda. For me it was prayer and meditation, thinking through all these important questions. For you maybe it's a morning of solitude in your favorite space.
Take time. Search your soul.
Discover your true why.
How knowing your why is a blessing
One of the toughest things about making money on your own is getting a sense of direction. There are so many questions. What's the best way to make money? What should I focus on? How do I keep myself motivated?
The deeper you develop a sense of why, the better the basis you have to answer those questions.
There are a number of ways that understanding your why will help guide your business.
Knowing your why helps you find your direction
When your what and your why align, you're on to something.
Diving deep into your why has a way of centering you. Embracing it can often give you a sense of direction. Sometimes it tells you where to go with your content, and sometimes it tells you WHETHER to go.
I had a conversation recently with someone wondering whether contribute fresh content for a non-profit that she cares about. She commented that it would be a good way to establish herself as a thought leader. We discussed the idea that if being a thought leader was important, maybe she should put that content on her own blog posts and build her own platform.
As she dug into her why, it became clear that her ultimate motivation was not to be a thought leader. It was instead a passion for the cause that was related to that non-profit. It helped her determine that, for her, helping that organization was more in line with her why than starting her own platforms.
Start with why, as Simon Synek says. Then let that guide you into the what and how.
Remembering your why keeps you on task
I don't know about you, but it's really easy to go down a rabbit hole. I want to dive into this project or that idea.
Sometimes you have to stop and ask if what you're doing lines up with your why.
I think that's because it's a point of reference. In the same way it gives you direction, it helps you keep your direction. You can evaluate any ideas or directions you want to go against your why. Is it something that helps? Or is it a squirrel or shiny object?
Focusing on your why helps you prioritize
When you're doing content, there are so many ways you can go.
Do I just double down and keep doing content? Or should I step back and work on other aspects of my business? I need to build my email list. Then I have to figure out what to do with my email list. Should I add a podcast? How much do I dive into Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, LinkedIn…?
The list goes on.
A focus on your why gives you something to measure all those things against. Where does this take you in relationship to what you ultimately want to accomplish?
The truth is, a lot of things can help you get there. But which will help you more?
Striving towards your why keeps you motivated
The thing about content creation is, it's a long game.
Your blog isn't going to vault massive website traffic overnight. If you don't already have a foundation to build your podcast on, you're not going to see thousands of downloads in the early stages. Subscribers don't just flock immediately to your YouTube or social networks.
The early days can be discouraging. It takes a lot of time. You can put hours upon hours of hard work into new content and do it on a regular basis.
You're building it but they aren't coming.
And that's why so many give up before they get anywhere. You've been there, haven't you? I have. Ready to throw your hands up, call it good, and move on.
I don't think anything has done more to keep me going, keep me encouraged, and keep me on track more than my why. It took a year and a half of creating content on my EntreCourier website before I saw my first dollar. It was a lot longer than that before the dollars were more than pocket change.
There were times where writing more new blog posts just didn't appeal. But my why DID appeal. It kept me going, and even kept me enthusiastic.
Purpose in context of what your content will achieve
Your why is the centerpiece of the big picture.
It's the Purpose (Big P) of your purposes (small p).
What I mean is this: I mentioned earlier that one context of purpose is what you want to accomplish. Ultimately that purpose should line up with the main purpose. But there's also a part where you want to consider that middle picture purpose.
What are you trying to do with your content?
When you understand that, you can fit that into your bigger picture purpose, or your why.
Here's a list of 8 things that people try to accomplish. I'm sure there are plenty of others. Maybe one just really resonates with you. Maybe for you it's a combination of several of these.
1. You want to express yourself or entertain.
For you, it's art. It's as much about putting something out there that's beautiful. Or it's about creating a piece of yourself.
Growing up in the 70's, I remember a tension in the music industry between art and commercial success. I don't think that's really changed. Even today artists are celebrated more if they don't seem to have ‘sold out.'
How many blogs get started that way? Or podcasts or videos. That's how it was for my first blog, and for a few since. And the thing is, when it's done well, you can have that purpose and thrive. Entertainment blogs and podcasts can do quite well.
2. It's about educating and helping people.
The main thing you want to do is provide information that will help someone.
There's something you know that someone else needs to know. Your blog can provide that information. Your podcast can communicate what they need.
This is the thing a lot of people are looking for when it comes to relevant content. How many of us have relied heavily on ‘how to' videos on YouTube? Maybe you're here because you're looking for information.
3. You want to raise awareness
Maybe there's a topic or subject you are passionate about.
You want to build a platform so you can raise awareness.
The internet has changed everything, hasn't it? It wasn't that long ago that a few gatekeepers controlled access to the masses. Now, you can put out videos. You can communicate through social media. Your podcast or blog has an opportunity to reach people and spread the word in a way that's never been possible before.
4. Building community is what matters
Maybe the most important thing to you is getting people together.
You love that sense of community, of getting people together that share something in common. Your great content can gather others and make it possible for others to share in the things that really matter.
5. Establishing your credibility (being a thought leader)
Consistent and authoritative content is one of the best ways of establishing yourself as a thought leader.
I believe the best way to be a thought leader is to be a thought leader. How's that for being simplistic?
What I mean is it starts with leading the way in thought. It's not about appearing to be a thought leader, but leading the way with how you think. Your content is a way of expressing that.
Your podcast lets you share that expertise. Maybe blogging is the best way for you. You might work best sharing that expertise by interacting on social media. Your content is your way of putting your information out there and letting the world know that you know what you're talking about.
6. Your content supports an existing business or cause
One of my favorite podcasts is Theory of Content. It was started by a food blogger and a guy who sells alarm systems. The alarm guy has established his company as an industry leader because of the content on his business website.
Content is an effective way for potential customers to find your business. It can create trust. It shows that you know what you're talking about and that you are legitimate.
Your blog, podcast, YouTube channel may be the beginning of a sales funnel. It's all about bringing people in and points them to your own products. Or perhaps it helps your existing customers to use your products or services.
7. You just want to keep people updated.
I read blogs from old friends sometimes to just stay updated on how things are for them. I remember when a friend had a health condition. He wrote a blog that was a sort of personal diary, but it was a positive way to keep connected to friends and family. It was a good example of something that helped him process the situation and yet it served as one place where he could keep everyone up to date. I'm not sure which was more inspiring: his incredible attitude or the encouragement in the comment section. I think both fed off one another.
This kind of ‘this is my life' content was one of the original purposes for people to create content. It could service as a modern version of the Christmas letter. You could vlog or blog about what's going on in life and share your perspectives.
8. Your content is a small business unto itself
Sometimes people figure out that content marketing is a great business model.
Sometimes you discover that once you get so many viewers, you can make money from ads on your YouTube channel. Businesses will sponsor podcasters who have enough listeners because in a way it gives them a wider audience.
The best part of a content business is that you can often bootstrap it. It's amazing how you can build a quality podcast or YouTube channel with the smartphone you already have. It's possible to build a website with incredible online visibility for a few dollars a month in hosting fees.
If you were ever looking for a way to build a business without the headaches of a brick and mortar establishment, you're in the right place at the right time.
A good example is those who have mastered the use of search engine optimization and have figured out how to utilize keyword research to drive traffic to their new posts or videos. They don't need to have a specific topic that they're passionate about, they just identified needs that aren't being met online.
In the end, they found ways to earn money because of that traffic. For many it was one of the greatest low risk high reward business models they could find.
Putting purposes and your ultimate purpose together.
The list above obviously doesn't cover every purpose you may have for creating content. It wasn't meant to be exhaustive.
And the thing is, none of them are wrong.
The thing you have to decide is, which is right for you? Which fits you the best?
And more important, which works best with your ultimate purpose? Which fit best with your why?
The example of tying multiple purposes to my purpose
I'll use the example of my own content strategy. My ultimate purpose (my why) is to develop a platform that will encourage and equip churches and church leaders in how they minister to and with older adults.
That probably is a little surprising if you've read my content. How can the purpose of a blog that focuses on food delivery (my EntreCourier site) or one that focuses on content creation be about older adult ministry?
See, EntreCourier started as a training ground for me. It was an effective way to meet some needs while learning to build an online presence. In fact I once unpublished that site because I didn't want it to interfere with my ultimate purpose.
However, I realized the potential that EntreCourier could generate revenue. I started to see it as a social enterprise that could pay the bills and support my ability to develop Paradigm (the online ministry platform).
In a nutshell, that's how the big picture relates. For me, I see a combination of the different purposes I listed above in my content strategy.
- I provide information about the business of being self employed (#2) on EntreCourier and here.
- I started this site originally to document my journey (#7)
- One purpose of Paradigm is to raise awareness of the need for stronger older adult ministries (#3)
- Another Paradigm purpose is to bring people together who are involved in older adult ministry (#4)
- Developing a community through Paradigm will allow people to share ideas, information and encouragement (#2)
- My content in EntreCourier and RonLWalter provide the financial backing to allow me to pour time into building Paradigm (a mix of #6 and #8)
Tying purposes and purpose together
All of that was to provide an illustration. While there were several purposes, all of them are united by one purpose.
When I was afraid of my content interfering with my why, I was ready to back away. I didn't want the smaller purposes defeat the major purpose. It was only when I could see a way for it to fit within the larger purpose that I started things up again.
What about you?
Your content can serve a lot of smaller purposes. But where it becomes the most effective is when you determine how those purposes fit with your PURPOSE.
What's your ultimate purpose? When you drill down into your why, what is it that drives you?
And then what do you do with that?
Your Why, your ultimate purpose, should become your foundation.
When you start thinking about the small p purposes that your content accomplishes, start asking how those fit into your Big P Purpose. Let your why become the guiding principle behind the business decisions. Ask if your purposes help you accomplish your why.
All the stuff about building a marketing strategy, what to do about search engines and getting website visitors and podcast listeners, that stuff is all important. How important is brand awareness? How do you do content marketing or email marketing? What's the best way to get results for affiliate marketing? What kind of content calendar should I put together?
You'll always have questions about things like this. But when you know your why, it give you guidance for each of those.
Are you purpose first and business second? Or is business your purpose? Maybe somewhere in between.
I encourage you: Know your why. Build your business from there.