"This kind of user testing is extremely difficult for solo creators. Let’s say you want to test out a new format for your newsletter, and soon after launching it you notice a slight decrease in your open rate. Was the decrease caused by the format change, or by the fact that a mere 20 of your subscribers went on vacation during the month of August? You simply don’t have a large enough sample size to definitively say."
Am I allowed to start this article with true adoration of Simon and the business he is building?
- I'm a subscriber, and have been since the early days
- While I don't have the specific date, I'm pretty sure I signed on shortly after June 16, 2019 when I first heard Simon on the Techmeme Ride Home podcast
- A year-ish later, I responded to his call for subscribers to tell his audience why, ultimately, they were rooting him on (via $$)
So with that disclaimer out of the way, I can now throw Simon under the bus...
Seriously, I'm rooting for Simon's success. He's creating a path for a lot of other creators who are also putting in the hard work. And he's telling a complex and difficult story while he's in the middle of building his business (and running his life).
I do believe that is where many of these creators will fail. A lack of business understanding. And the one business focal point most will miss is the same most legacy businesses fail at: time management.
The business impact
While I can't compare my work and outcome with folks like Simon, I do have the benefit of understanding how business works, with the biggest understanding that we don't all have the luxury of time.
It doesn't matter the size of the business, we're all on the same playing field when it comes to time. And if we're doing something new in a new industry, then time becomes an even bigger challenge.
The more time it takes, the more resources it takes.
And how the non-business world views the path to success can be a stinker when that realization (and time and resource needs) sinks in.
This piece from a recent MarketWatch article sums it up:
"Weiss says she now has to be a businesswoman and an entrepreneur as much as a writer and editor. She has to think about payroll, health insurance, marketing, management and myriad other things on top of the actual writing and editing. 'It’s so much harder work,' she says. 'I’m basically always working. It’s a startup.'"
(Of course, I found that article from a Simon Owens tweet.)
While owning your own business as a creator has a lot of people excited about working on their laptops from the beach, there's clearly much more that goes into it.
Sure, audience is a big piece. That audience is likely managed by the outlet or business the creator was once working for. Once on their own, does the creator have the same reach?
If not, do they have the time to create that same audience?
And that's an example of the challenge of time. Does the creator have the luxury of time to (re)build their audience into an MRR/ARR-based engine?
Or, are they willing and able to take time away from working in the business to work on the business through business education or managing staff/vendors?
The industry impact
The creator's job no longer ends at hitting the publish button. Creators can no longer focus on the next assignment, rather there is a lot of business that needs to go into making their stories successful.
Look at Weiss' quote above. That's a lot of business speak for someone who is known as a writer and editor.
The challenge for the creator economy is just that: How do creators keep their creativity and their personal life while still running the business?
(One solution to this challenge is to bring the audience along for the full ride. If time is the enemy, then bring a camera or audio recorder along. In effect, I'm answering the question: Am I buying into Simon the creator or Simon's output?)
Or, another way to look at it: Is there an opportunity to reinvent business in the creator economy?
The path forward
If we're changing how we do business, do we also start looking at how we can change business itself?
(I don't believe so.)
It seems to me the creator economy is opening up a sub-economy: the business operator economy. And maybe even creating a new vertical with a new acronym: D2CvBo.
(Terrible acronym, I know. We're also faced with DeFi, so there's that.)
Direct to consumers via business operator?
- (D)irect: Allows the creator to be the brand
- 2: Allows the creator to engage, sell and manage my relationships with my audience and members through today's platforms, connecting directly with their audience and members (ie, TikTok, Stripe, Discord, etc.)
- (C)onsumer: You, the audience and members
- (V)ia: An optional supporting mechanism to keep the creator connected to its audience and members
- (B)usiness operator: Creates partnership opportunities and manages the business in close proximity to the creator
If creators can cut out the "vBo" portion of the acronym, that not only brings them closer to my audience and members, it also cuts out some potential costs, increasing their bottom line.
On the flip side, the creator might lose the relationship building and savvy the business operator brings to the creator's audience and members. If the creator and the business operator are in sync, there is plenty of success to go around.
Is this business any different than today's business?
Not really. In order to be either a creator or a business operator, one simply needs an audience and a differentiator.
The size of the deals may be different. However, the overhead in running either side can remain small.
Which might be the longer-lasting change that comes from the creator economy: Better margins for individuals to live the lives they want.
Also, go sign up for Simon's newsletter. No, I don't get a cut from any referrals (hey, is that a business operator opportunity?).