When You Can’t Outspend, You Need to Outteach

Showing Your Process Is the Best Promotion

One tried-and-true formula to promoting your work requires you accomplish something, draw people’s interest (and sometimes money), by showing them how they can do the same thing. I’ll paraphrase what Kathy Sierra writes:

When you can’t outspend, you’ve got to outteach.

CEOs, creatives, and marketers all approach me with the million dollar question: But what can you talk about when you don’t have a story, or any accomplishments, yet?

1. Do something interesting and document it

My favourite example of this is Eddie Huang’s The Pop Chef. His restaurant, called Baohaus, was originally called the Pop Kitschen. Eddie writes in his first blog post, “So, the point of this blog is to document the opening of my new restaurant…. Leading up to the opening of my new restaurant, I’ll be showing you guys the recipes, the branding, the menu, etc. Should be dope, so stay tuned!”

Is starting a restaurant interesting? It’s alright for people who eat to live, but it’s meaningful to people who live to eat. If you’re like me, you stick around because Eddie can make anything interesting. The guy opens up a blog post, “Getting a Loan,” with a photo of a masked robber pointing a gun at a barely visible bank teller. He uses words like “entrepoorneurs.” It’s funny. He makes up his own reader questions, then he answers them. He hits back at ideas that he doesn’t agree with.

Here’s a very short list of examples, off the top of my head:

2. Study other people’s processes and show the parts that get your attention

My 12th grade english teacher always told me that the most important thing in the world was perspective. If she were inclined, she could’ve used that line to become a VP at McKinsey. The idea stuck with me — perspective really is important. The funniest part of this success strategy, is it doesn’t even have to be your success, as long as it’s your perspective.

There are all sorts of ways to use your perspective, but to tell a story with other examples. The 48 Laws of Power uses all historical examples. When I explored Slack’s content strategy, I spent 55–60 hours looking at old and up-to-date Slack sites to deconstruct how it worked. Andy Raskin looked at Elon Musk’s speech, and I’ve read that post like 10 times. Maria Popova open-sourced her notes, which led me to buy Figuring. (And now her blog is in the library of congress web archive.)

3. Listen, talk, and figure out your own counterintuitive truths

When a CEO approached me for editorial support, he told me about how he wanted to write something counterintuitive. That’s actually only half the battle; it needs to be a counterintuitive truth. This is one of those things that sound simple, but is actually quite difficult. 

Jason Fried and David Hanneimeier Hanson are probably the best at doing this. They’re outspoken, honest, and they think really clearly about what they’re actually writing. They say they only write when they have something to say, and I actually believe them.

The idea doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be simple. The aptly-named “Value add disease” is a good one that anyone who has made/received an unnecessary contribution could have written. 

There are a lot of other ways to teach people. And there will, forever, be knowledge that’s gated away. People gotta eat! But eventually, even that knowledge will become free as more people teach to build their own audiences. To try to win the attention lottery.

One day, it’s possible that this incentive will lead to knowledge being accessible for everyone. It’ll just be a matter of organizing all of it and curating it.