A few weeks ago, I asked the Art of Simple readers a few questions about their overall experience reading the blog. I surveyed the readers this last year, and decided I’d start doing it every year in early spring, as a way to gauge if what we’re “putting out there” is being picked up, so to speak.
And just like last year, the results were eye-opening. But unlike the me of twelve months ago, I interpreted the responses a little differently.
Let me explain through a few screenshots.
These are the answers to the question, “What are your favorite topics to read on AoS?” Readers could choose as many as they wanted:
…and these are the answers to the question, “What’s your one favorite topic on AoS?” Obviously, they could only choose one this time:
Wanna know what’s interesting here? The most popular topics are my least-favorite to write. And some of the least-chosen topics are those nearest to my heart. There are a few exceptions (I like writing on personal growth), but not many.
I know, right?
Well, that’s interesting. Huh. What to do with that.
I’m still mulling over that What to do with that? take away, but I’ll tell you one way I know I’m not going to do such-and-such with that.
Two years ago, I probably would have interpreted those results as my needing to buck up, roll up my sleeves, and set aside what’s on my heart for what the readers want to hear. After all, this is a business sort-of blog—I love it, but it earns money for my family, so if I need to keep bringing home the bacon, I need to keep up the traffic. And to keep up the traffic, I need to keep on writing what the readers want to read.
But a year ago, I went through something called Brand Therapy (yep, ti’s really a thing. Don’t mock it till you’ve tried it.). And in those six-week Skype sessions with a smart gal who told it like it is, I learned that unless I’m truly passionate about my message, it’s not really going to be a strong message. And if it’s not a strong message, it’s not worth people’s time to hear, because people are busy and there are a lot of voices in their lives.
I need to be true to my own voice.
Instead of catering to what the audience wants, this therapist said, I need to write what I want, and invite whoever’s interested along for the ride. I might lose followers initially, but eventually, I’ll find the right tribe who wants what I have to give.
These were small but powerful words, and they were what I needed to give myself permission to do the hard, risky, and ultimately freeing thing.
This was the impetus to changing so much of my work last year—closing shop on a “network” model and handing over the keys to the Simple blogs to the editors that loved them. A fresh design more reflective of me. New contributors to share smart ideas. And ultimately, a completely different blog name.
So what’s different this year? Obviously, there are readers who want something different than what I’m passionate about giving. I’m choosing to look at the results to these answers two ways:
1. I need to bring in writers who are passionate about sharing the topics current readers want to read. And,
2. I need to find a different audience.
That second one isn’t meant to sound as harsh as it initially sounds. But it is a risk. What I’m saying is that instead of kowtowing to these survey results, and thereby shelving my passion for metrics, I need to stick to writing what stirs my heart, and scour the audience for a few faces willing to nod in agreement (and possibly share these words to friends they know would like it, too). Or, that I do my part online to present my writing to places that would appreciate it, in hopes of finding new people to welcome to the AoS readership.
In other words—I find the people to want my words, I don’t find the words to match my current people. Don’t get me wrong; I love my current people and am glad they’re there. But if I write reactively, constantly guessing what they might like to hear, it’s ultimately not going to be the real me—and I think even they would like to read a real person.
Another survey result was fun for me to see—a lot of people like some ideas I’ve wanted to add to the blog for awhile now:
Readers were excited about the idea of us publishing reader stories, something I’ve wanted to do for, oh, three years now. (The first offering is live today.)
They dig the idea of us creating a separate travel “channel” to the blog, where we’ll chronicle our family’s upcoming travels, along with travel-y thoughts on how to do it well with kids. Awesome. I’m itching to do more travel writing.
More Intellectual Grownup posts, more talk about ethics, and embedding the podcast on to the site directly were all popular as well, and that makes me happy. Those are energy-givers to me, not energy-drainers. Done, and done. (Well, eventually. All in good time.)
So in all this, I guess I’m saying I’m learning to heed the answers to questions I honestly asked, and yet to take the answers with a grain of salt. Or to interpret them differently than how my gut tends to default. Whatever the phrase, what I’m saying is that I’m slowly, slowly becoming better at living in freedom, not apologizing for being myself, and am willing to write a little riskier. Even if it means disappointing a few people who simply need something else.
Because at the end of the day, I’ll be a better me. And that’s what will make me a better blogger.