In a flurry of self-branding excitement and possible arrogance, I rushed headlong into the world of web and graphic design. Armed with a blog about sustainable transportation with a self-centered title, a large group of supportive friends and family, and another group of confused classmates, professors, and colleagues, I charged forward and consumed all of the tutorials and free how-to web pages I could get my hands on. I already had one project lined up and I was confident that my charm and charisma would push me from project to project, swinging on each accomplishment like monkey bars towards fame and fortune.
I devoured blogs about search engine marketing/optimization (I barely knew how to code), Photoshop tutorials (I have access to a copy at school and even then I find it hard to do something as simple as crop an image), and design instructions. I poured over CSS galleries and design samples and coding forums. I signed up for hosting, bought a new computer, and set out to pursue this insistent, confusing, potentially disastrous dream of mine. It was my time, I would not be denied!
Very quickly, reality set in. I had quickly acquired a heavy pile of new books to certify myself in all things IT-related, another egotistical URL (joshcanhelp.com – heard of it?), and a sinking sensation that I might be going about this all the wrong way.
It took up until this morning to understand where I started to go wrong. Seth Godin describes it perfectly:
Here’s an interesting dichotomy:
I published a book so I need you to read it
There’s something you need to read, so I wrote about it.
I’m fifty and I just made an album because it was time for me to make one.
These songs won’t let go of me and I want to share them with you because they matter.
The first is me-centric and explains that we’re promoting something that got made because we need to sell it. What we do is make stuff and sell it, and what you do is buy it or watch it. “I needed to make something to sell, here’s the best I could do.”
The second is you-centric. It starts with the needs and desires of the consumer and ignores the committees, the compromises and the economic realities. It says, “I found something for you, here it is.”
I like you-centric, I talk about you-centric, I try to push for you-centric at work, I’m all about you-centric. I’m a consumer and I want things and entertainment and media that makes sense for me. I’m a producer and I want people to like what I do and let me work on their projects. I want companies to give a damn what I think and I want to be insanely useful to my friends, families, clients, and colleagues.
So the problem I’m seeing with my initial “business plan” (there are quotes because, for the time being, I do not have a business plan) is that I envisioned putting myself out there and the business coming to me because, well, I’m me. This is celebrity thinking, actor and model thinking, author, director, and musician thinking. I’m just entering the market with the ludicrous assumption that there are already people waiting outside my virtual door for the next insightful Josh blog or the next amazing Josh service or the next crazy Josh endeavor. Like a product devised in a boardroom and never once shown to consumers before rushing to market, I figured that the idea was sound simply because I had it.
Read my About Me page and this post and you’ll see that, through and through, my intentions have always been to be a resource before anything else and offer the kind of service and attention that is only possible by someone (like myself) who truly enjoys connecting with people, old and new. But the problem lies in the fact that I had no idea what the market was like out there and no clue what people needed.
Four customers deep and I’m already starting to get it:
- The blogs that I read, the designers that I follow, the tutorials that I read… none of these people are who I’m going to help. All things can always improve but these people do not need me.
- The coolest Flash gadget, the slickest widget on my blog, the best Twitter post will not get me closer to the people that are having trouble managing their technology. Referrals, USPS, and networking will.
- Unlike me, most people don’t really care what the code on their site looks like or how a wireless network works. Most people want to know how to use what they have and they want it to function properly ad infinitum
- Just because you’re a teacher, just because you know something, just because you have information to share does not mean there are always students waiting for you.
- Few people care about the design process, design elements, and the subtleties of good design. That’s why many people probably don’t immediately call a web designer an artist.
Thanks again, Seth.
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