Quit the Growth Hacks & Algorithm Games

There’s only one real way to make money over the long haul.

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Licensed from Adobe Stock // Jacob Lund

ou’ve seen the countless articles about gaming elusive algorithms and hacking your way to cash money millions. I plan to gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch if I read one more hack preaching about beating the system.

People, you are dealing with humans. One person’s random success on Instagram, TikTok, or Medium does not a blueprint make. Sometimes, success boils down to luck, timing, and privilege. If I were born a generation later, who knows? Maybe I would’ve been an influencer preening on Instagram. (Probably not because I don’t preen and I’m allergic to social media.)

But I digress.

Today, my online friend Bianca Bass wrote the article about Medium I’ve always wanted to write, but she’s done it better.

You’re don’t care about the platform? Hold onto your pants, this isn’t a story about Medium. This is relevant for everyone, especially if you’re in a service-based business.

Let me preface what I’m about to say with the fact that I know what it’s like to live on ramen and oatmeal for months at a time. I’m in year three of five in Chapter 13 bankruptcy, shelling out four-figure payments per month. I’m not doling out advice from my gilded throne.

If your sole objective in anything is to make money, you will not make money. [Counting down 3,2,1 to the bros in the comments who will tell me otherwise. Please don’t.]

One more time for the people in the cheap seats: If your sole objective in anything is to make money, you will not make money. Your work will reflect your thirst. Your obsession will make you myopic. You’ll build yourself a growth hack box, rarely jumping out in fear of not following the advice of the herd. Writing your ten vague, common sense ways to live a good life, etc.

Your #1 objective should be to deliver value.

Let’s get neurological for a hot minute. We’re wired to feel first, think second (fight or flight). Couple that with the fact that people consume content and read stories for selfish reasons, mirror neurons are key in understanding how people form bonds with other people, and yes, with brands. Let’s say you’re on the highway and you see a horrific four-car pileup. Part of what your brain does to process the information is to re-enact the situation from your POV so you can empathize and comprehend the severity of what you’ve just witnessed.

Neural coupling occurs when an event or story activates parts in the brain that allow the listener to turn the story into their own experience. With mirroring, listeners will not only experience similar activity to each other, but also to the storyteller. Our brains are wired to empathize for, and make connections with, others and the stories they tell.

Our reactions are primarily emotional until the rational, more pragmatic side of our brain kicks in, which means, stories have the power to draw people in immediately.

What does this have to do with making some sweet coin? WELL, FRIEND. LET ME TELL YOU.

People scan aisles and websites to determine if what they’re being sold is right for them. Is this speaking to me? Does this product or person understand me? Are they echoing back what I’m thinking, feeling, doing? Are they mirroring my wants and needs but solving them in some way?

People make instantaneous decisions about who to read and what to buy based on value. Value could be in the form of utility, reciprocity, education, entertainment, or saving/making $$$. People want their needs met and problems solved. They’re busy and have a proliferation of choice and they want to make sure that you won’t waste their time.

If you show up consistently at work — whether it’s in a traditional office setting or at home in your platypus pajamas — and deliver real, tangible value, the money and accolades will come. What does that mean practically? Let’s say you’re an email marketing consultant. Here are a few ways to bring value to your prospective clients:

  • Publish “teardowns”: Val Geisler is genius at this. She takes emails from the kinds of companies she wants to attract and analyzes them in detail — the good, bad, and ugly. Offering constructive feedback on how they can improve their communication. Not only does this get the attention of a prospect, but it positions her as an industry expert. I have no doubt she’s won adjacent clients because of the teardowns she’s published online.
  • Don’t cast vague bait: Go into your area of expertise and burrow deep. Be specific and comprehensive in writing articles and tutorials. Cite reputable research and sources. Back up the information with case studies or industry examples that illustrate your point. Broaden the scope of your work beyond you but at the same time go deep. Don’t slap up a post that took you five minutes because some guru told you to publish every day even if it’s garbage. Everything you put out into the world makes an impression. And do you want to waste someone’s time?
  • Don’t gate everything behind an email sign-up, FFS: Give them true value before they sign up and keep the goods going after you have their email. Share the checklists, worksheets, and tutorials online. Let them wonder, “Hey! If I’m getting valuable content without giving you anything, what would you give me if I actually gave you my email or paid you?” It’s a question for the ages, mis compadres y comadres.
  • Give real-life examples: I can go on about how many articles I’ve read from people who are not marketers giving marketing advice. They might have done their research, but they don’t have the track record. They haven’t endured the agita of a campaign gone wrong and what one learned as a result. You can’t teach what you haven’t done — I’ll fight you on this. Share case studies (blotting out client names and material information if you’re under NDA) and what you’ve learned from the campaigns — the good, bad, and violently ugly. This communicates to prospects that you’ve done the work before, successfully, so they’re more inclined to show up in your inbox.
  • Make the complex simple: People want to know that you can solve problems. Every industry has its jargon, methodologies, best practices — all that jazz. Explain hard concepts simply, in a voice that’s wholly you’re own. Prospective clients won’t feel intimidated or feel the need to pull out a dictionary every time they get on the phone with you. You’ve excited them because they learned something from you, something that’s not in their area of expertise, in a way that made sense to them.

If you’re a creative writer, are you improving on your craft? Or are you merely getting better at sending more people to mediocre work? Are you a ravenous reader, a student of the word? Do you study other writers and dissect their work? Many people are blinded by their ego and don’t want to admit that they have to do the work to make their work better.

Sometimes, your work might not be good enough and your ego is holding you back. But sure, complain, it’s easier.

You’re not entitled to readers because you’ve spent six months writing on the internet. You’re not entitled to clients simply because you exist. Stop getting high on your own supply.

You have to play the long game. Put in the time and work. Consistency breeds legitimacy. Consistency breeds trust. Consistency bonds clients and readers to you. Gaming a fucking algorithm does nothing for you over the long haul.

Who cares if the fast-money, shiny object-shakers are cashing in right now? Who knows where they’ll be in a year or five or ten? Don’t aim to be anyone other than yourself. People are buying and reading you — not the cheap knockoff of an industry titan.

I got my MFA from Columbia (biggest regret going) and I learned this — you can teach the mechanics of plot, character, dialogue, structure, point-of-view, and all the things. You can coach a writer into finding their voice and honing their style. But you can’t teach magic. You can’t write books for them. It’s up to them to take the tools and apply them.

Same with your revered “gurus” online. Take the tools, but make your own magic. Tell standout stories. Give the kind of value that puts a client’s heart on pause.

But it’s hard to see past the glare in a world where people are impatient. It’s been six months and I’m not making $10,000/month! It’s been three months — where is my first million in sales? Failing to realize what they consider long is, in fact, a minute.

Here’s a fact. 85% of my clients in 2019 came as a result of the articles I published on Medium. Six figures earned off the platform. Five figures earned on. I’m not saying this to brag because bragging is gauche, rather, I’m sharing this because I’ve been writing articles, comprehensive tutorials, and how-tos for three years. I’ve been on Medium since 2013.

Look at me, the tortoise. Shimmying her way to the finish line.

How did I build a thriving consultancy? I showed up consistently for my specific audience and delivered value. I didn’t write SEO-drenched articles that were vague photocopies of bland Inc. originals. I didn’t dangle a carrot and snatch it away if you didn’t sign up for my email list or purchase my course for the low, low price of $997.

I don’t have a course.

Instead, I rolled up with tutorials, case studies, detailed strategies, and tactics. I poured out my brain onto a computer screen and spoke plain English when all the kids are gasping over “synergistic innovations.” I shared methodologies and frameworks in detail. My “How to Build a Brand” series is a 250-page book spread over eight articles.

Friends, I’m not playing around. People noticed, and then they hired me.

This week, I’m signing a five-figure, two-month engagement with a client because the founders found my brand development articles valuable. I’m giving a two-day, four-figure brand intensive workshop for a start-up in New York because their VC, who vouched for me, was impressed with my work online. We spoke for all of 2019 — a year — before he gave me my first project.

I didn’t complain about the fact that this VC didn’t move faster. That the gigs didn’t start rolling in as soon as I hit publish. I was being a farmer, playing the long game.

It’s easy to whine. It’s easy to read hacks and optimize titles for search. It’s easy to copy what others have done because it’s safe and that one article went viral or that one campaign blew up like nitro on Instagram. It’s easy to focus on tactics without considering the big picture.

But it’s hard to show up. It’s hard to bring your A-game consistently. It’s hard to identify who your audience is, figure out what they want, and deliver on that want in a way that knocks the little bootie socks off their feet.

Quit complaining. Create.

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Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Marketing Exec/Author. Work in Human Parts, OneZero, Forge & Marker. Hire me t.ly/bEnd7 Branding/Content Strategy Guides t.ly/ZP5v List: https://cutt.ly/9j7Ngvz

Falling Into Freelancing

All the tips, tools, and resources you need to thrive after your 9 to 5.

Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Marketing Exec/Author. Work in Human Parts, OneZero, Forge & Marker. Hire me t.ly/bEnd7 Branding/Content Strategy Guides t.ly/ZP5v List: https://cutt.ly/9j7Ngvz

Falling Into Freelancing

All the tips, tools, and resources you need to thrive after your 9 to 5.

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