Do Good Work and the Money Will Follow—If You Have Enough Followers

Every month, the Patreon team holds a crowdcast to answer users’ questions, and the most common and consistent question is “how can I expand my reach and get new patrons?”

You have to create good work on a regular schedule, they answer. And you have to start with your family and friends.

This isn’t the answer we want to hear—because, for a lot of us, our family and friends aren’t enough to bring us either the recognition or the income our creative work needs. We want to reach mentors and influencers, or at least a few people beyond our small group of Twitter followers.

We don’t want to know how to get our family and friends to support our work. We want to know how to be successful.

At this point I want to clarify that I’m not slagging on Patreon. My Patreon project is doing exactly what I hoped it would do: publicly committing me to draft a novel while connecting me to a group of beta readers and providing me with modest financial support. I would not be 66,000 words into my draft without Patreon, because I am way, way too busy to ever do NaNoWriMo.

But I keep thinking about this idea of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and how all of us will be in charge of managing our own constantly-shifting careers — and how the advice, for so many of us, boils down to this: do good work and start with your family and friends.

Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Get Ready to Hustle. – The Billfold

Do good work and tweet that you’re looking for a job.

Do good work and try to make a connection on LinkedIn.

Do good work and start your own blog and put the posts on Facebook.

It’s always been this way—it’s always been about who you know—but social media has given us the illusion that the only obstacle between us and the rest of the world is our own engagement. If you don’t have the career you want, the advice goes, look to your social network.

How does this advice play out in reality?

First, there’s the “who you know” part. When you tweet that you need a job, which of your followers will be able to connect you with a job opening?

Second, there’s the “multi-level marketing” part, in that you’re always hinting that your family and friends should share your work with their family and friends, and so on until all of this turns into money for you and money for the companies that hire you.

Third, there’s the constant self-promotion part, which we used to jokingly call “shameless self-promotion” until it got to the point where everyone was doing it.

Fourth, there’s the cost of looking like you belong. If you haven’t yet read Broadly’s Making Split Ends Meet: The Hustle of Being a Beauty Vlogger, this is what it’s all about:

“Why do you always use the same brush?” commenters wrote, not entertained. To keep her audience, the then-21-year-old philosophy student had to buy more brushes; in other words, she had to invest in being more professional. She had to review items she didn’t already own. She needed money for that.

This applies specifically to people doing public-facing creative work, but as Ester Bloom noted yesterday when she wrote about buying cheap vs. expensive boots, it can apply to nearly everyone in the workforce. “Investing in the $300 version can become the difference between your being taken seriously by the establishment and being dismissed out of hand.”

Nobody WANTS To Buy Cheap Boots – The Billfold

You need to look good in your avatar pic, you need to have a smartphone that can handle the latest social network updates without crashing, and you need to publicly present yourself as a professional, even when you’re just being personal. After all, you might remember Ester’s other recent post:

When The Internet Gets You Fired – The Billfold

Your social network not only decides when to hire you—it also decides when to fire you.

It gets better, because now that both Facebook and Twitter have turned away from chronological timelines, your social network determines whether you even get seen. It’s not yet clear how Twitter’s new timeline selects which tweets to display, but on Facebook, if you don’t regularly read or interact with a person’s posts, that person all but disappears from your feed. As Slate explains:

Once every possible post in your feed has received its relevancy score, the sorting algorithm can put them in the order that you’ll see them on the screen.

Do good work and start with your family and friends—but you’d better make sure you’re creating consistently great social before you need that job or connection, otherwise your family and friends aren’t even going to notice.

Also, make sure you’re maintaining all of those relationships, because the one thing I’ve already picked up from Twitter’s new timeline is that it knows to show me my closest friends’ updates first.

But the problem is that we don’t want to know how to get our closest friends to pay attention to us, because if they’re our closest friends they already are paying attention to us, or at least they should be.

We want to know how to be successful.

Does that make the do good work and start with your family and friends advice wrong? If I trace my career backwards, nearly all of my current connections can be linked to the group of people I knew, both online and in person, back in 2010—back when I started focusing on creating original work and sharing that work with my Twitter and Tumblr followers. I suspect my connections five years from now will derive directly from the people I know today.

But it’s not a continuous chain, one person linking me to the next. My career isn’t really about the group of people I hung out with online five years ago. It’s about the three or four people I met through those connections, the ones who had the power and leverage to give me the opportunities that helped me grow.

I have no idea if I would have met those people without social media. But I do know that being on social media doesn’t mean you’ll make those kinds of connections.

(My career is also about applying for jobs, including jobs that weren’t directly related to the Good Work I dreamed of doing. Sometimes those jobs connected me to the right people too. You never know.)

I feel really ambivalent about this do good work and share it and everything else will follow advice, which is probably why I’ve written over 1,000 words on it at this point, typing and erasing at least six different endings to this post because none of them felt right.

I don’t have an ending because the “how do I do good work and get my work noticed by the people or companies who can financially support me” is one of the biggest questions of our modern era. Everyone’s asking it, from the recent graduates aching for a chance to build a career to the senior citizens working multiple jobs and living out of their cars.

Your Retirement Options: An RV Here Or A Flat In The Developing World – The Billfold

(Yes, I’m linking to a lot of Ester posts because they’re GREAT.)

Which means I’ve got to turn the question over to you. Would you advise someone to do good work and start with your family and friends? Even if we all know that success is a little more complicated than that? Or would you advise them to do something else?

What advice do we give people, at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

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