Thursday, March 29, 2018

Changing Directions: The Story of a Website

I started 12Writing just over ten years ago.  At the time, I didn't know enough about websites, about teaching, or about writing.  But I was confident.  I was convinced I could do better than others who teach and write online.

And I was wrong.  So as I turn my thoughts forward, here are some reflections on the past.

Networking: It's About Friendships

I've always been told I need to network.  It's the advice we all hear.  But I long made the mistake of seeing networking as simply a business transaction.  I thought that you go up, introduce yourself, and then establish some kind of professional relationship.  Which is part of why I was terrible at it.  I hate asking people for anything - and to me, establishing a "business connection" is a lot like asking for a customer to buy something.

As a teacher, I've found that my best semesters are the ones where I make friends with my students.  We don't get through all the projects and assignments I have planned, but my students trust that I'll help them with their writing because I pause, I listen to their thoughts, and then I adjust my feedback to meet their needs.  And this, I think, is what true networking means.  Your aren't supposed to "ask" for something - you're supposed to listen.  You exchange ideas and information, you get to understand each other, you see the ways in which an ongoing connection can foster an actual friendship.

To be honest, I didn't come to this realization on my own.  One of my students actually explained this too me as part of his research.  He interviewed a tattoo artist about how he runs his business, and the tattoo artist explained that he's not in the business of finding clients - instead, he's making friends.

Successful Websites Are Active, Not Static

So I used to think I could simply post amazing stuff online, and then it would take care of itself.  But that's not how it works.  Everything online ages fast - sometimes within minutes of posting it.  So it's not about what you post, but about how your work continues to impact those who read it.  This is the lesson I keep having to remind myself, even as I write this long-ish blog post about having learned it...

Search Engine Optimization Matters Less than Personal Connections...

Seems like a "duh" concept.  But it's an important corollary to the previous two points.  But the paradox to this is...

...but You Need a Solid Product to Sell

Yes - it's true.  To succeed at business, you need a product.  For a long time, I thought that "teaching writing" was enough of a product.  As long as I was "good" at it, I figured, people would pay me to offer the service.  But how do you measure how "good" someone is at something so nebulous as teaching writing?  Is it student satisfaction?  Is it the teacher's publishing record?  Is it the niche you fit into as a teacher?

I've since figured out that teaching writing online isn't as rewarding as I once thought.  And closely following a business model for teaching can erase the most important element of education: the personal connection that comes with individual mentoring.

My Product Is Writing

It seems obvious, I know.  I'm a creative writer - I write.  But I haven't published much.  And given how diverse and unusual my writing is, I don't believer I will ever fit into the standard branding of a traditional marketing campaign.  I mean, how would a publisher list my books?  How would they place dinosaur children's books alongside science fiction time travelers alongside a poetry collection?

Rather than hold these works in, trying my hardest to figure out which agents to approach with this crazy concoction of creative works, I'm going to start marketing them myself.  Some of them would never be picked up by a traditional publisher, and some of them would probably do much better if a traditional publisher placed them on the racks at Barnes and Noble.  But if I manage this work myself, then I approach my audiences over time, not having to worry about marketing campaigns that end with the book tour.


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sofia williams said...

I can relate to your networking point so much. I had the same issue I was never good at communication until I started giving English Literature Essay help to students. before that my communication was only a give and take, you say something and I will something in return but when I started communicating with students and listening to their needs. Giving them the solution to their problems I realized what true communication is not an exchange of words but it is an exchange of thoughts.

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