How Showing Our Work Intentionally Has Led to Making Millions
At the time of this writing, Focus Lab has made $3,330,727.15 in revenue as a result of showing our work. So how have CMSs, Dribbble, and niche communities made this possible? I’ll tell you a story.
I remember this decision like I made it yesterday. I was sitting in my cubicle reading a blog post about how to do something in ExpressionEngine (“EE”), a Content Management System we’ve used for years. I noticed that a few specific developers kept coming up in the blog posts, forum threads, and podcast episodes. As I looked into those people more, I realized that many of them made most of their revenue through their expertise in EE.
For a few years my Co-Founder, Bill Kenney, and I had been doing what I’ve come to consider “co-freelancing” — basically just doing small jobs together without intense focus on growing a business. But eventually I was ready to find a way to get our little company off the ground and able to support us full time. We wanted to quit our day jobs and run after this thing!
While sitting in my cubicle I made a decision. It was goal-setting time. I set three goals that I felt would help us nudge our way towards enough revenue to quit our day jobs. They were all centered around ExpressionEngine because that’s what I knew best at the time. The first goal was to be recognized as “the ExpressionEngine guy” around Savannah. (I later realized that there was pretty much only 1 other EE guy in the area. Either way, a goal is a goal.) The second goal was to be a recognizable name in the virtual EE community. I would measure this by how often people either pointed others to my blog posts, mentioned me in forums, or talked about my work on podcasts etc. The final goal was to get on stage at an ExpressionEngine event and teach people something about EE. (I hadn’t done any conference speaking at this point.)
Over the next 12 months I worked hard at making these things happen. And in less than a year, I had been referred to, verbatim, as “the ExpressionEngine guy” by someone in the Savannah area; I was being recognized in the EE community online; and I was scheduled to speak at an EE conference. The best part is that these things all helped bring in more projects and revenue to our little business. It was a series of EE-centric projects that allowed me to finally quit my day job and start Focus Lab full time.
If I had to point to one thing that helped this all happen—it would be sharing my work with others. In the EE world this meant creating free plugins for the CMS and teaching others how to use the system. I enjoy helping other developers and I love teaching. Sharing my work also often led to great feedback and insights from others which helped me continually improve my craft. After doing this for a year and some change, Bill realized we should probably do the same on the design side of our business.
With no name for himself in the community, Bill Kenney took to Dribbble with a goal of finding his niche — much like EE was for me. We realized how crucial this was for the development arm of our company so it only made sense to take the same approach on the design side.
At this point Bill was not familiar with Dribbble but he heard it was the place to be. After finally getting an invite he got right to work. Over the next two years it seemed like he was more active than just about anyone on the site. Between posting work, interacting with fellow designers, building friendships, etc. he made it his second job. There was a long stretch — about a year — where his goal was to post a shot nearly every day, learning that consistency and volume was key.
“The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning in front of others.”
— Austin Kleon, Show Your Work
Fast forward four years and Bill has grown a following of 40k on Dribbble. It has become a lead generation machine for our business, hence the title of this article. And best yet, Bill has developed some really great friendships and experienced tons of personal growth along the way.
Sharing our work has become an integral part of our culture and our process. So much so that with every new project kickoff we discuss with the client what sharing the work could mean. We intentionally seek buy-in from them. A fellow designer asked us about it recently so you can read more about our approach to that client conversation in an article on MadeBySidecar.com.
Sharing often leads to many things: critical feedback, a larger possibility of finding similar existing work, increased exposure, and overall growth as a person. This article isn’t about where you should share you work, or even how. And I’m not saying that sharing your work will lead to $3+ million in revenue for you. But what you should do is share your work—and do it intentionally.
“Put yourself, and your work, out there every day, and you’ll start meeting some amazing people.”
— Bobby Solomon
What will you share this week? Let me know on twitter.