by Jason Baptiste
“The best part of blogging is the people you will meet”- Hugh MacLeod repeating wisdom from Loic Lemeur to me at the Big Pink at 2 am in South Beach after the Future of Web Apps 2008.
If you asked me to tell you a list of three of the best decisions in my life, I can certainly tell you that regularly writing is one of them. It’s the reason I’m an author here at OnStartups, made many new friends, had interesting opportunities cross my radar, and most importantly had the chance to share knowledge that has helped other entrepreneurs.
Why You Should Write
You Will Meet Other Smart People
Writing has allowed me to meet a slew of smart people. Some of these people are now virtual acquaintances and some are very close friends on a personal and professional level. Each article that you publish is a synthesized thought process that may click with other entrepreneurs instantly. Have you ever had a feeling when reading an article that “Wow, they are thinking exactly what I’m thinking”? By writing, you are likely to encounter a handful of people that experience the same thing. Occasionally one of those people will reach out to you via email or bump into you at an event. You might make a new acquaintance, a new co-founder for the future, potential investor, hire,etc. At the end of the day, being an entrepreneur is about finding other smart (hopefully smarter) people to collaborate with and writing frequently helps make this happen.
Example: I ended up becoming a writer here at OnStartups due to my own writing. A year ago, I put out an article called “Disruption and My Next Startup”. This is how I first met David Skok from Matrix Partners. David later introduced me to Dharmesh, who has become a good friend since moving to Boston. After talking about all things entrepreneurial, we realized we both had the same altruistic goals with writing: to meet other smart people and help share the lessons we’ve learned. Small piece of trivia: OnStartups was started in 2005 on Dharmesh’s birthday. I joined OnStartups on my birthday this year (September 8th).
Your Experiences Will Provide Insightful Knowledge To Other Entrepreneurs
Every entrepreneur has been through many of the same yet different experiences. We find co-founders, we all work at building a product/service, we all try to get customers, etc. Even though we’re doing the same thing at a high-level, we all have different experiences. We may have found great co-founders, built a great product, but fail to acquire customers. Each entrepreneur+startup mix is a unique permutation that varies from the rest of the world, hence providing a snowflake of experience. Through writing you can not only help share your successes, but also the pitfalls that lead to your failures. There’s no magic bullet to entrepreneurship, but the wealth of writing from experienced entrepreneurs out there such as Paul Graham, Dharmesh here at OnStartups, Jason Fried and Joel Spolsky have prevented young entrepreneurs from making mistakes that they might have made otherwise. Open source technology has helped entrepreneurs get started immediately with no capital while significantly reducing risk (you would have to raise a large amount of capital to launch anything with lines of code behind it a decade ago). I believe open source knowledge on entrepreneurship can help do the same when it comes to the business side of things. Getting as many entrepreneurs writing + sharing their insight is the very first start of this.
You Will Establish Domain Expertise
Every person is an expert in their own right at something. It might be user interface design, Coding Solutions, leadership, raising money, investing, etc. By writing you get a chance to establish that domain expertise by sharing it with the world. Don’t worry about people stealing your secret sauce either. Famous chefs share their secrets and hints all the time without fear that it will cause their demise.
It Helps Build Dedication
Writing on a regular schedule takes a lot of discipline, just like going to the gym or practicing a new martial art. Nothing happens overnight, including building an audience and becoming a good writer. Like most things in life, writing takes time and strong dedication. Unwavering dedication is a valuable skill in startups that many seem to forget. If you keep yourself dedicated to writing on a consistent schedule, those important values will carry over to other facets of life including startups.
Your Communication Skills Will Get Exponentially Better
It takes a lot of work to become a great communicator as an entrepreneur. You have to break down complex problems, very technical solutions, and intricate details into soundbites that flow logically. By writing, you develop the ability to communicate more clearly to an audience of many, by providing a logical argument with a unique angle to your position. In some ways, you’ve been learning this skill your entire life through schooling, but writing as an entrepreneur in a public medium is something completely different. Through schooling you write for an audience of 1-2 people. Those people will usually judge you based not upon the content, but whether you agreed with their point of view. Writing as an entrepreneur in a public medium puts you in the spotlight of tens of thousands to millions of unique readers. If your writing isn’t cohesive, there are many that can call you out. I had some rough professors throughout my undergrad years, but no one will call you out like internet commenters, many of which may be trolls. By the third article, you start to subconsciously think “Is this cohesive/does it make sense?” as a gut reaction when writing in order to avoid negative feedback.
You Will Build An Audience That Will Give You Candid Feedback
If you’re really lucky, you will start to build an audience that isn’t full of trolls, but that consists of those that are genuine and honest. They may give you negative feedback, but it will be candid+honest. Don’t just look at the number of re-tweets on an article, look at the articles that get the audience to participate. You will eventually find a groove of what your audience enjoys and what they consider good writing. Try to reply to every comment as well, even if it is a simple “Thank you.”
It Is A Rapid Accelerator Of Serendipity
Startups are certainly impacted by luck, but I believe they are impacted just as much by serendipity. You never know who knows who or who you may run into at an event. By putting yourself out there and making yourself open to meeting as many people as possible, serendipity is much more likely to happen. Once you have even a minor audience, you are now likely to experience the effects of serendipity. One article might reach 500 or 50,000 people in a short span of time. Remember that we live in a world where content/information travels faster than ever before. Out of those 50,000 people, you never know who might be reading, who might reach out to you, or who might leave a comment. I can tell you this: The majority of good things that have happened to me in business can be traced back to my writing
9 Tips How To Get Started
Many think that writing is as simple as registering for a WordPress/Tumblr/Posterous account and all of a sudden they’re the next Seth Godin. Just like anything in life, it takes time, practice, and finding the formula that works well for you. I started writing almost 2 years ago, but didn’t get into it seriously until approximately 3-4 months ago. Here’s a list of some of the things that I’ve learned along the way that will hopefully be useful food for thought.
Keep It Simple And Worry About The Aesthetics Later On
Sign-up for Posterous, Tumblr, or WordPress. If you really want to customize things later on, host your own WordPress install. Find a good, simple/basic theme, set up some basic settings + SEO, and get to the races with writing. Try to use your own name as the domain name. If you have a popular first+last name combo and can’t own your exact name, try to get something similar. Last, but not least, try to have a picture of yourself somewhere on the site. It’s good to put a face to your writing and this will help people identify with you when meeting up in person. Besides the simple stuff above, just start writing. Insightful content is king and that’s where you should be focusing your efforts.
Define A Specific Audience To Write To
As you’ll see in this link , which is also listed below, John Gruber writes for a specific audience- himself. You can further narrow down John Gruber as an apple fanboy who is geeky and educated. When writing I try to do the same thing. I write every article as if I owned a time machine and could mail myself letters five years ago when I was first getting started. To be honest, I still don’t really know anything, but back then I knew absolutely nothing at all. Everytime I’m in the midst of an article, before completing it, I ask myself: “Would this have been useful to me five years ago?” If I say “No”, then I stop writing, and possibly come back to it later to re-evaluate things if a new approach to the article comes up. Find your audience, that one exact ideal person, and write to them every time.
Set A Regular Routine
I get one article out every week and try to stay to that schedule regardless of what else is going on. I put it in line with working out everyday. It either gets done or not done. Sure the world won’t end, if you miss a week, but that’s not the point. It’s about building dedication and putting something fresh out. I do all my writing on Sundays, edit throughout the week, and then release the articles when I have time to deal with comments/promote the article. The downside to this is writer’s block or feeling like you have to write for the sake of just writing. I stray away from this by breaking things up into chunks and sections.
Don’t Force It
Whatever you do: Do Not Force An Article. Set your schedule loose enough that you can get something out the door on time, but don’t wait until the last second. Spend a lot of time thinking about your articles before hand. Most of my articles are formed before I write a single word in textmate. While I run, spend time on the T, and shower I usually think through the logic of articles. By doing this, you’re not looking at writing an article like it’s a high-school essay. It will flow naturally and won’t be forced.
Initially Share With Close Entrepreneurial Friends
In the beginning there is a good chance you won’t have a large readership, but that’s okay. Send the article to close friends in the entrepreneurial community and just ask for some basic feedback. If they like it, ask them if they can share it with others. Also start sharing with other communities that you may be a part of, such as the one here at OnStartups or Hacker News.
Watch Your Analytics
Check to see where most of your traffic is coming from and double down on those avenues. Also pay attention to direct traffic sources. This means that people are either emailing your article around, sharing via instant messenger, or actually going to the URL directly. Also look at which articles ultimately become most popular with readers. Over time you will start to understand what your audience likes (ie- entrepreneurial advice, tech insights, interviews with other entrepreneurs, current event analysis, etc.)
Have a main topic + supporting points to avoid rambling
Each and every one of my articles has the same general format. Position/Argument usually found in the title, opening paragraph, supporting H2 tags, and then a closing paragraph. It might get repetitive over time, but it allows me to form arguments clearly + segment things out well enough into chunks.
No linkbait, just “thoughtbait”
I don’t get into flamewars or write linkbait. It may work very well for some entrepreneurs to get recognition and increase pageviews, but it shouldn’t be about that. It should be about sharing your knowledge and hopefully educating your reader. I like to write what I call “thoughtbait”. A reader should come away with actionable knowledge that makes them think “I need to try this” or “I’m pumped up to get something done”. Readers should also be sharing the link to help others gain the same knowledge as well.
Make Yourself Easy To Reach
Last , but not least, make yourself approachable and very easy to reach. Put your email addresss up, Twitter account up, and possibly your phone number. Robert Scoble still has the same phone number from when he first got started, and will still pick up/respond to texts. It may seem like a burden, but it’s not. If you want to meet as many smart people as possible, you need to make yourself approachable and easy to be contacted. I get multiple emails a week from readers or people saying “thank you” re: my articles. This is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced. Great part is this: You can start experiencing it too. The goal of this article isn’t just to inform and educate, but to hopefully start a movement to get as many entrepreneurs as possible to start writing. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned startup veteran, writing will not only benefit you, but it will benefit those who need your knowledge. If you start writing or already write insightful pieces about your experiences, please drop me an email: email@example.com . I’m certainly going to start compiling the list as it grows and will share it. One of my first additions was my buddy Wayne , who founded i2hub.
Here are some other useful resources on the topic:
Spencer Fry- http://spencerfry.com/on-writing
Marco Arment- http://www.marco.org/691438863
Interview With John Gruber On Writing- http://shawnblanc.net/2008/02/interview-john-gruber/
So, are you convinced you should be writing — or writing more? If you’re convinced, what will it take to get you to do it? If you’ve already been writing, have you found it to be useful? Would love to hear your stories and experiences.
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Oh, and by the way, you should follow me on twitter: @dharmesh.