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I’m a pretty big contrarian. As female contrarian’s go, at 6 foot 5 I’m probably one of the biggest around.
I’m also an avid reader. I consume the same best-practices slop being cast in the collective trough of all online small business owners.
Apparently, even though we’re smart enough to start our own businesses, we still desperately need to be told:
- What time of day to post to social media
- How many words need to be in out blog posts
- All the places our audience surely must be because lots of other humans are there a lot of times doing things
and of course,
- Seven Hundred Eighty must-know secrets to become a ninja/boss/rockstar/sultan on Instagram.
I get it. But I also don’t get it.
If we’re all following the exact same advice, where’s the originality in that?
Market researh is a valid first step to starting a business, but sometimes it feels like 80% solo online entrepreneurs are blindly copying the 20% on whom the Google gods have shined, blessing them with viewers, subscribers and oh yeah, money to pay the staff that helps run the blog.
Maybe, since we’re solo and all, some of us side hustler types, freelancers and coaches could break from tradition and get away with it?
Take a peep at some of the biggest, longest-running blogs out there. They aren’t exactly beauty queens, but they pack a punch, knowledge-wise.
Looks aren’t everything, thank goodness.
Still, I tend to run into the same three website looks over and over again in solo-startup land:
The Look-At-Me Website
When I land on most websites run by my fellow one-person shows, I’m greeted with their photo filling my entire mobile screen and telling me to shove and otherwise cram their “free” information into my already overflowing email inbox.
Still, they’re doing everything right — their huge photo is making eye contact with me. Showing teeth. Their non-threatening hands are scientifically visible — or at least they’re striking the weird blogger-lady pose where you put your hand on your hip, bend over like you’re about to fall off an invisible skateboard and laugh really big — hopefully convincing the viewer that your life is REALLY, REALLY great and theirs will be too if they do exactly as you say.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach. I see it about twenty five times per day, but still there’s nothing wrong with it. If it attracts your people then it’s the right look for you. Roll with it.
If your Look-At-Me site is on your nerves too:
Figure out WHY you want to take a felt marker to every picture of you that graces your website. It could be the start of some REALLY engaging content. Rip the sleeves off and tell us who you really are if we can’t see the REAL you in your pictures. I probably won’t even mind the enormous photo if you’re saying something truly original with it.
The Blazing Pool of DO IT, Website, aka The Shia-site.
There’s also nothing wrong with that hyper-aggressive, brightly colored THING that immidiately pops up and holds your content hostage until I fork over my email address. I had 15 seconds in which to decide if I wanted to fall in love with one of your five blog posts. I spent 11 of those seconds trying to find the microscopic x that would let me peer past your gimme-card and into your soul. The other 4 seconds were filled with my blood pressure quickly rising because your, give-me-that-email-info banner is SCREAMING at me. Now I want to go back to the lady with the invisible skateboard accident waiting to happen. Still, if it works for you, enjoy.
If you’re not getting much conversion action from your megaphone banner:
Lighten up. I just climbed in the treehouse and you’re demanding that I swear my undying allegiance to you or else I have to go home. Can’t we have some cookies or milk or something first? If you’ve got to shout at me, why not shout at me as I’m on the way out . . .with an exit-inent pop-up. At least then we’ll know if we like eachother first.
The It Takes a Village Website
On the flip side, there’s websites whose owners have clearly fallen into barter-pergatory; that never-ending cycle of cash-free favor-swaps. Usually this becomes obvious when there are about four solo-shop owners with killer landing pages, who are all featured in one-another’s testimonial pages. Beyond the landing and testimonial pages, they have about ten super-generic blog posts spread between the four of them. These sites have great bones, but they feel like retail shops with no inventory inside, no matter how many different designs you try for your services page.
If your site is all dressed up with no one to read it:
Stop waiting until you’re “ready,” to create content. You’re never ready. You’ll find your voice by creating lots and lots and lots of total rubbish-bin content. If you create 25 peices of non-needy-sounding content and 20 of them suck — the last five might just be the cornerstone of your future award winning mega-content. But we won’t know until you stop trying to trade your way into looking successful and just CREATE something. Spur eachother on to create a UNIQUE voice.
So why’s my site so ugly?
Building my website in one of these popular styles is probably a great use of the hours we spend orbiting the sun and what not. I don’t, however, build my website in a promo-first way for a very scientific reason: My gut doesn’t like it, so I don’t do it.
The Your Slip is Showing Website
When people arrive at my page, they land immidiately on my latest blog posts. Or lack there of. Each one is dated to show my shame if I’ve let posting (or re-arranging the dates) slip. There are typos. There are re-writes post-publishing.
Here’s why I do this, even though it may cost me clicks, views and cash in the short run.
- I want my audience to be as happy with my content in five years as they were when we met. I want them to feel like we went on a journey together and we BOTH grew. Even if we have to break up, I’d love for us to still be friends. And friends know about their friend’s imperfections.
- Sharing my blog should be about my audience, not me. I seriously agonize over making sure my weird little pop ups and banners are a.) easy to dismiss and b.) really, really useful. I want my audience to think, “Oh I was wondering how to like you on Facebook, T. A., and now I know!” Instead of, “Why in the bloody heck would I LIKE you? I don’t know anything about you!”
- I want my audience to fall in love with my message, then with me. Then I want us to form a close bond. Then I want them to buy from me because like a sappy love song, they know I’d never do them no harm. It’s not enough for me to be liked. I want head-over-heels mutual giddiness with my audience, and I just don’t think I can create space for that if I greet my audience with a jump-scare, a scream attack or a bare-bones landing page at first sight.
The moral of the story is, content matters. It matters a whole heck of a lot.
Your content is your handshake. It is your eye contact. It’s your hand on your audience’s shoulder keeping them from walking out in front of a bus.
More people care about the quality of your content than how pretty you are or how pretty your site is, believe it or not.
So, for now, when you arrive on my page, you won’t see my teeth. You won’t be greeted with a zippy tagline. If you’re one of my people, those professional odd birds who are working their side hustle mojo, you’ll get the most recent thing I made FOR you, because I care about you.
If that’s not what you’re looking for, you can message me. I know a few people with some truly gorgeous landing pages I can send you to instead.
This post was previously published on Medium here, and if you like reading the musings of a very large contrarian, originally from the state of Arkansas, click the heart, then leave me a comment. I’ll write more things for you.