Stacking the Bricks Podcast
EP36 - Building Trust at Scale with Will Toms and REC Philly
In this episode…
Over the last few weeks, I have been visiting podcasts all across the internet, talking with entrepreneurs and creative people, just like you.
REC - which stands for "resources for every creator" - is a pretty incredible community and resource center geared towards helping artists, musicians, and other creators turn their creative skills into real business opportunities.
Just last year, they opened an amazing facility for that community of creatives, sort of like a gym but with digital audio stations and recording studios instead of treadmills and weights.
I also admire their dedication to education, and making sure that their community knows how to make the most of having access to those incredibly powerful tools.
But most of all, I love the people. The staff, the leadership, and every community member I've met at REC is smart and creative, some of the best Philly has to offer.
So I was excited when the team invited me to one of their "creator sessions" to share some stories and lessons surrounding one of my personal favorite lessons in The Tiny MBA: Audience Building Building Trust at Scale.
The entire session is more than twice as long as what's here on our podcast, and includes parts of my personal business story. You can check that out on REC Philly's youtube channel.
But here on the feed, I jumped straight to the lessons. In fact, you'll hear me give details and context for ten of MY favorite lessons that I hand picked specifically for this audience of creators, and why I picked each one.
After sharing these lessons, I was joined on the virtual stage by REC Philly co-founder and my good friend Will Toms. Will is one of my favorite interviewers and moderators to watch work, so for me, being on the receiving end of his questions was a LOT of fun and for you, you're gonna get some new answers that you definitely haven't heard me talk about anywhere!
Some of my fav questions from Will and the audience include:
- The importance of listening as a business skill, and how you can practice it.
- Where I learned how to sell people back their time and confidence.
- And how much sharing is oversharing.
I love any chance to jam with the REC Philly crew, and I'm very excited to share this session with you.
So with that, I hope you enjoy this very special presentation from the REC Philly archives. Here we go!
Alex Hillman: What is up Brick Stackers! Welcome back to a brand-new episode of Stacking the Bricks. As always, I’m your host, Alex Hillman and this is another edition of The Tiny MBA Podcast Tour.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been visiting podcasts all across the internet, talking with entrepreneurs and creative people, just like you! This time I paid a visit to the REC Philly community right here in Philadelphia. REC stands for Resources for Every Creator and is a pretty incredible community and resource center geared towards helping artists, musicians, and other kinds of entrepreneurial creators turn their creative skills into real business opportunities.
Just last year, they opened an amazing facility. It’s sort of like a gym, but with digital audio stations and recording studios, instead of treadmills and weights. I also really admire their dedication to education and making sure that their community knows how to make the most of having access to those incredibly powerful tools, not just giving them those tools.
But most of all, I love the people. The staff, the leadership and every community member that I’ve met at REC over the last couple of years is so smart and creative and really some of the best that Philly it has to offer. So, I was so excited when the team invited me to one of their creator sessions to share some of the stories and lessons surrounding one of my personal favorite lessons in The Tiny MBA - that audience building is really just building trust at scale.
The entire session that I did with REC is more than twice as long as what you’re about to hear on the podcast and includes a bunch of parts of my personal business story. You can check that out on REC Philly’s YouTube channel which I’ll link in the show notes, but here in the feed, I jumped straight into lessons.
In fact, you’re going to hear me give details and context for ten of my favorite lessons from The Tiny MBA, which I handpicked specifically for this audience of creators at REC Philly, and of course, why I picked each one. After sharing these lessons, I was joined on the virtual stage by REC Philly cofounder, and my good friend, Will Toms.
Will is one of my favorite interviewers and moderators to watch work. So, for me, being on the receiving end of his questions was a lot of fun. And for you, you’re going to get some new answers that you definitely haven’t heard me talk about anywhere.
Some of my favorite questions from Will, and the audience, included: the importance of listening as a business skill and how you can practice it; where I learned how to sell people back their time and confidence and how much sharing is oversharing? That last one’s new.
I love any chance to jam with the REC Philly crew and I’m very excited to share this session with you. So, with that, I hope you enjoy this very special presentation from the REC Philly archives. Here we go!
What I really want is for folks to see these lessons and do one of a couple of things. I hope that they either show you a path to a thing that you already wanted to do. Maybe they affirm a path that you’re already on, but you don’t hear very often. I think there’s a lot of times, as creatives, we are taking a path that is uncommon and our friends don’t get it, our family doesn’t get it, and then we look at what’s happening in the media and we go, well, why am I not as successful as that person? Maybe I need to do the things that they’re doing in order to get there? I’m here to say that so long as you’re focused on the fundamentals, that that almost is never true.
So, number one, I hope that something here affirms you. Number two, I hope maybe something causes you or encourages you to ask a question. The stuff that’s in The Tiny MBA – it’s not a replacement for an MBA. It is definitely not everything you need to know about business, but it is meant to be a set of – in many cases – the hard one lessons that I’ve learned through building both Indy Hall, as a community and a business, and Stacking the Bricks as both a community and a business.
They’re the things that I get asked about the most, the things that I observe the most, but don’t get asked about and wish more people asked me about. And they’re the things that I think are the fundamentals that people know, but then forget when they get caught up in whatever’s going on in their life, work stress or peer pressure, or just getting inside of our own heads. It’s so easy to do that.
So, the first lesson is really the title of this talk, which is that audience building is really just earning trust at scale. To go a little bit deeper on that, there’s another lesson here that says lots of people get stuck on the idea of audience building because it feels like an abstract outcome of self-promotion. For a lot of people, especially creative people, self-promotion holds serious negative connotations. I think that this is because a lot of people have only seen examples of bad self-promotion.
I have always gotten the sense and vibe from the REC Philly community that this is a place where when people are talking about themselves, it’s done in an environment where people are sharing because they want their peers to lift them up. I think that if self-promotion is done well, that’s exactly how it works. It can be you talking about your work so that your peers can lift you up. It can also be talking about your work so the people who already bought your work can talk you up. I love buying art from Philadelphia artists, and I really, really struggle sometimes when those artists make it hard for me to talk about how much I love their work or where to buy their work, make it easy for the people who love your stuff to talk about your stuff. That’s just as critical of a piece of self-promotion as talking about it in the first place
Related to that, the next lesson that I wanted to share is that earning trust is a critical piece of sales. Sales is a weird word in creative circles, and I think for the same reason that self-promotion is a weird word. People say I don’t like being sold to, and that’s true, but I think most of that is because people don’t like feeling like they’re being manipulated. Sales and manipulation are not the same thing. In my opinion, in the same way that bad self-promotion feels bad because you’ve only seen bad parts of it, bad sales feels bad because it skips a step. A really important step, which is earning the privilege of asking for the sale.
I want you to think about what that really means for a second. If you want somebody to buy something from you, and I’m going to use the word buy, buy doesn’t necessarily mean to put money directly from their wallet into yours. If you’re a musician, buy could mean stream my song on Spotify, tune into my live stream on YouTube buy can be money, but, buy can also be attention, buy can be people sharing their effort and action. If you have not done the work to earn someone’s trust, you also haven’t done the work to earn the privilege of asking for the sale.
That’s why asking for sales feels bad to us, because we feel like we haven’t earned it. I think that that’s a good thing to understand about ourselves and realize, okay, all that means is if I’m giving more than I’m asking, I’m good. Right? That means putting out your work, not being selfish with your work, not being protective of your work, showing the creative work, also showing the creative process, bringing people into your creativity. In some cases, teaching people how you do it.
I’ll give you a concrete example and not that they’re selling me anything, but I love watching cooking videos, on YouTube in particular. And I love eating. I love delicious food. I do not have any desire to learn how to cook, but I have a deep passion for craftsmanship and learning how people who are good at what they do make it. And if they ever give me something to buy, you can be sure that I’d be there to buy it, whether it’s with my money, my time or my attention. So, inviting people into your creative process is, and can be part of that. Bring them into your world with you. I think that’s part of earning trust at scale.
There is another lesson in here, I call it ruthless generosity - saying that scales extremely well, and that I’m amazed that more people in companies don’t deploy it at scale. People can only deploy it to a certain scale. Companies, I think have the potential to deploy it at massive scale, just because there’s more than one person doing it. But when you’re just one person, when I say ruthless generosity scales extremely well, I mean sort of two things. One, being ruthlessly generous means looking for ways to be generous not just when people are asking for something, but ways to help people before they’ve even had a chance to ask you specifically. That means being places where your audience is, spending time, they are, learning what they love and being there to anticipate when they want or need something and then to offer or create that. Be generous before they get a chance to ask, and you can only do that if you are where they are.
The other piece to being ruthlessly generous is to look for ways that helping one person can help more than one person. I’ll give you a really concrete example of this. If you’re a creative person with creative skills, you have inevitably been asked, “Hey, can I pick your brain about something?”. Whether it’s a friend or a family member or something like that. It puts you in an awkward position because you’re like, “Yo, I’ve got to get paid for my time, but I’ll see”. You know, that that’s kind of an awkward response and sometimes charging for that time puts you in a position to maybe be turning away an opportunity a couple of steps down the road, so you’ve got to earn the trust first.
So how do you handle all of this? One of the things that with the practices I’ve built is when somebody does reach out to me, or when I notice an opportunity to help somebody or provide value for somebody, I look for ways to make sure it’s recorded. That’s something that this community is very, very good at.
If I’m helping somebody over email, I like helping people over email because it gives me time to work on my time to formulate my thoughts, but it also gives me the ability to take what I wrote, copy it out of that email, put it in a Google doc and then come back to it in a few days or a week or longer and say, what else would be needed in this in order to have this piece of advice or perspective help more than just one person? Because the thing to remember is helping one person in the way they need to be helped is a pretty good clue that they’re not the only person who needs that help now or will ever need that help in the future.
If you can think those couple of steps ahead to make sure that the way you’re helping one person sets you up so that the next time somebody asks that question, or the next time somebody has that problem, you can say, “Hey, I recorded a video about exactly how to do that”. Or, “Hey, I wrote an article about that”, or, “Hey, I already have a song or piece of art all about that”. It makes it look like you’ve anticipated their needs, you’re a wizard, when in fact the truth is most people want similar things, just not always at the same time. Having things documented gives you the ability to scale your generosity beyond an initial moment.
Thirty minutes answering an email of one person is not practical if I’m not getting paid for it, but responding to that email in a way that takes thirty minutes, that it can help hundreds or thousands of people when they type that problem into Google or YouTube? Absolutely worth it, those thirty minutes might be the best thirty minutes I spend that day.
What I’m talking about as being a force multiplier? You put in thirty minutes of effort, but the value scales. Over and over and over, over time. In order for that to work, you need to know where your clients and customers feel like they are wasting their time and effort. If we’re talking about creative skills – and this is a little bit different from selling art – but I think if you have creative skills that you’re selling to businesses or other professionals, the key here about valuing time is that when somebody is buying your time, they’re not actually buying your time. What they’re doing is they’re buying back their time.
People don’t value your time, inherently and definitely not the way you do, but what they do value is their own time. If you can understand how they value their time and then do something that saves them time or effort or energy, or gives them confidence to be able to accomplish the thing that they want to do, they’re going to perceive their time as finite and valuable. Therefore, it is worth paying a proportional amount for your time because it’s actually them buying back their own. That’s kind of a loopy thought and I think folks might want to go back and listen to the recording of that.
An example I’ve shared about this which I think is really interesting is why things like Uber and Lyft are so popular. It’s convenience, yes, but the truth is, there’s also the potential loss of time of calling a cab or waiting for a cab. How long am I going to be waiting? Are they even going to show up? Whereas using Lyft means I can press a button and I know exactly how long it’s going to be before the driver gets there. For that fee I’m not only buying a ride, I’m buying the time and confidence to know when my ride is going to arrive and that I’m going to get to the destination that I need to get to on time. So, thinking about how other people value their time, when pricing your own.
Most people overlook their own customers as a potential source of growth capital. People think, I need to grow, therefore I need investors. Maybe, but if you’ve done good things for your customers, if your customers value you, nobody wants you to succeed more than your customers do because they want you to be around. When we were starting Indy Hall I didn’t know how to go get investors, but I also knew that I had people who wanted this thing to exist as much – in some cases more – than I did. If I could figure out how to have them, effectively be the source of capital without necessarily even needing to give up equity and control; if I can think about things like presales, if I can think about things like packaging, I could have our existing members and customers – we’ve done this with Stacking the Bricks, countless times – the funds from one product or service can be then used to fund the creation of the next one.
Looking at those sort of stair-step approach has been foundational in growing Indy Hall into what it is and being in total control of our own destiny and in everything we’ve ever done in Stacking the Bricks, just the same. I was able to hire whatever designer I wanted. I was able to spend as much time as I wanted publishing The Tiny MBA because we’ve got other parts of the business already making money. I can reinvest that money into the new products and services.
The next lesson is that you never know, and you can never know which client or project, or conversation or relationship will be the one that helps you achieve your next goal. When you were in those early stages of community or audience building, it is really easy to think about, if I could just get on that one person’s podcast or if that one streamer just puts my song while they’re streaming, or in their tech talk or whatever it is. If I just get that one big one, that’s my big break. Right. But the truth is, it could come from anywhere. It could be a big one. It could be a small one. There’s no way to know. But you also will never know if you don’t ask for help from the people who have a reason to trust you.
So, bring all that full circle. If you’re investing time and energy into building trust, you have the opportunity to then make withdrawals from that investment and say, hey, I’m looking to accomplish X here’s where I want to go. Can you help me get there and give them concrete things to do. You never know who’s going to be the person who’s got that next piece of support that you need, but you also will never get it if you don’t ask. And I know how hard it is to ask for help, but I also know how valuable it can be to ask for it from people who already love what you’ve done for them up to that point.
If you’re new to an industry, and I know there’s a bunch of folks in here that are breaking into your creative industry, one of the best habits that you can cultivate is to work in public. Document what you’re thinking, what you’re learning, what you’re doing as you go, this will perpetually be a valuable as a skill and an asset. Even if you don’t know exactly how, but the key is that the longer you wait to do it, the harder it is to start because you start feeling like everything needs to be big or important or profound. When in reality, the most important stuff, whether it’s relationships or knowledge is small stuff that adds up over time.
Last summer, I hired somebody to help me redesign my personal blog, which I’ve been writing in since 2005. Without knowing it, I was documenting the creation of Indy Hall. About two years into that, I started getting emails from people saying, “hey, I found your blog about how you started Indy Hall, it was super helpful for me. I’m starting a coworking space in some Eastern European country”. And I’m like, who are you and why are you reading my blog? The truth is, even though I was writing it for myself at the time, I was basically journaling in public because I was writing down what I was learning and how I was solving problems, somebody else down the road was going to come across that stuff, find it useful and guess what? Now they’re interested in what else I have to say. You can imagine how valuable that can be going forward.
Last bit here. This one is actually the very first piece of the 100 pieces in The Tiny MBA. “Most people pay way too much attention to the things that do not matter to their customers”. That is key. It’s not that it doesn’t matter, it’s that it doesn’t matter to your customers. Things like press and awards and drama and hype. And you know what I’m talking about, your customers don’t care about that stuff. They care about themselves. They care about how you help them. They care about how you reach them, how you touch them, how you connect with them and impressing awards and drama, and hype are real good for the serotonin for that moment, that juice that makes you feel a certain way, but in the long run, your customers and your audience don’t care about that stuff.
And they almost certainly won’t remember it. The advice I give is to pay to who and what you were paying attention to. Be picky about that. Pick two big things that you’ve let distract you in the past and get rid of them. Cut them out: press, awards, drama, hype. You can pick a category, you can pick one specific source of it, however you want to do that. Take that with you.
The last piece is if you can’t build the business you’re dreaming of today, build the business you can build today. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s a whole hell of a lot better than building no business at all. Will, if you want to come back and shoot some questions I would love to answer them.
Will Toms: You’ve got it. You’ve got it. First off, thank you! That was incredible, I feel the same way I feel after our conversations. I’ve taken the notes so I can really go back over some of this stuff because it’s just so dense and valuable information.
So, thank you first and foremost. Alex, I actually have a couple of questions on my own and I also grabbed a couple from the chat as we were going. For anyone who has questions right now it’s a great opportunity and a great time to go ahead and drop those in. Let’s go ahead and be able to glean all the insights from Alex while we have him.
So, first and foremost, Nick in the chat asks, “how do you be ruthlessly generous when you’re just exhausted at having done that?” What are your thoughts?
Alex Hillman: So, as the flight attendant says, “put on your oxygen mask before helping somebody else”, and the reason they give that advice is because if you don’t, we’ll die. But also, even if they don’t say it differently. I hear it differently - put on your oxygen mask so that you can help other people. So I said before, and they typically say put on your oxygen mask so that you can help other people. The truth is, if you are not putting on your oxygen mask, you cannot be ruthlessly generous, which means you need to make time to recuperate.
You need to find things in your life that give you energy to sit down and do it. I’ll say that sometimes it doesn’t look like you’re going to have that energy going into it. But here’s the other piece to this. Having a bit of self-awareness to figure out where you get your energy from, I think is a big tool that every creative person can do, because the way you do your creative work is probably very aligned in some way with how you make your energy or get your energy. So, everyone’s a little bit different, but one of the things that I know about almost every creative person that I know is part of the way they get their energy is a feedback loop.
Many times when I feel most exhausted, and when other people that I’ve talked to are feeling too exhausted to sit down and write down that thing, it’s because they’ve spent so much time in their own head without a feedback loop that they can’t really imagine how good it feels when you do send it off and somebody writes back and they go, Oh my God, this is exactly what I needed, thank you! If it’s been too long since you’ve heard that, you’ve got some work to do to sort of build-up that flywheel again.
I think self-care is super important in nursing where you get your energy from. The other thing is my generosity modes are different depending on the day and how I’m feeling. Sometimes it’s an email. Sometimes it’s on Twitter. Sometimes it’s that somebody writes in and I’m like, I really want to answer this, but I just don’t have the time, because writing is the hardest kind of thinking that exists in my opinion. And Will knows this trick – sometimes I’m like, don’t worry about writing it down, open up your phone, pull out a voice memo or a video and talk for a minute. Everyone can talk for a minute. Do that. Worst-case scenario, you get the idea out of your head and you know what to write. In some cases you get it right on the first take, and now you can either send that person that video – and they’re going to be like, Oh my God, you recorded a personal video for me? No, I’ve created a personal video for me and you get to benefit from it, but then you can also do what I’ve seen the REC crew do so well, which is take that one piece and break it up into a million different formats.
Now that video can be turned into audio, it can be transcribed into a blog post. It can be put in multiple places. So get comfortable being like, “if I don’t feel like writing it, maybe I should try recording it?” Sometimes if you were truly exhausted, which, look, especially now, there’s a lot of reasons to be exhausted!
Be kind to yourself and give yourself that oxygen mask so that you can help people ruthlessly.
Will Toms: I love that. Thanks for that question, Nick. And thanks for the answer, Alex. That was great.
One of the things that I really just love, that I’m going to maybe tattoo it in the future, I don’t know, that idea that people don’t buy your time, they buy back their own. I think that was an incredible idea to really kind of grasp. I’m wondering, at what point did you grasp that concept? Is there a story you can share around when realized that there was a pivot you can make and how you thought about that?
Alex Hillman: I can think back to early sales experiences that really molded me and that was long before I was anything entrepreneurial.
I worked in sales at Staples. Retail job. Everybody’s got one. I sold computers. I sold business machines, they called it. So I’m selling computers, I’m selling printers, I’m selling cables. This is the time where software was sold in boxes. That was weird. Cell phones, computer parts, all the electronics, all that stuff. I had an advantage of being knowledgeable for a customer base, who at this point in time was not knowledgeable. In many cases, people were buying their first computer. Interesting time, right? An interesting time to think about.
First of all, I watched my fellow sales associates and I watched them bring somebody in and as quickly as possible talk them into the most expensive computer that they could because it’s going to boost their numbers and they’re going to get a bonus, and that’s why people feel skeevy about sales. I took a long view. And I said, I would rather somebody buy a computer that actually fits their needs today, so they’re going to come back next time when they have a question or problem and they’re going to ask for me by name. This is a slightly different version of buying back their time. People weren’t just buying a computer, they were buying confidence in the computer and that they made a good decision and that they were going to be smart using this tool that they were worried was going to make them feel stupid. I made it all about them. I said, what do you want to do with this first computer? Oh, you want to get on the internet. Do you want to do word processing? Do you have any kids? Do they want to play games? And I take what they told me and I’d say, okay, here’s the one that’s going to fit your needs now, and it makes it easier for you to do upgrades down the road, so I’m selling them back their time, I’m selling them back their confidence and I’m buying myself a future customer.
I’m actually spending more time with the customer upfront than any other sales associate, but I’m closing more deals and I’m going to make more when they decide, okay, it’s time to buy a printer or, hey, I need to buy that accounting software or, hey, I bought a computer from you two years ago and it was great, but it’s time for an upgrade or we need a laptop, or the kids going to college. I was buying a lifetime with a customer and I think that is very much related to how time is purchased and sold.
Will Toms: One of the things that I feel like I’m hearing throughout some of the different kind of business lessons you’re sharing is this idea of you being an incredible listener. You’re asking the right questions and then listening. It’s the early days of Indy hall or you were getting interface opportunities with community members and listening. How important do you think that skill is as an entrepreneur when we’re looking to build trust? And maybe even specifically when we’re thinking about the right things to create for our audiences.
Alex Hillman: Number one, it’s something that takes a lifetime to get good at. So start practicing now, if you’re not doing it already. I will offer a book recommendation besides my own. This book recommendation is in the book and it’s one of my favorite, I think it is my number one favorite non-business business book because it is all about listening and most business books aren’t. They abstract that stuff away. The book is called Just Listen by an author named Mark Goulston. Mark is a clinical psychologist. So, he’s coming at this from the perspective of – hs job is literally to listen to people when they’re not listening to each other and help them listen to each other. That is what a psychologist does. Mark Goulston is also a trainer for hostage negotiators in the FBI.
Will Toms: Oh, wow. Sounds like light work!
Alex Hillman: What do they have in common? Listening. It’s all about meeting somebody where they are, which means you have to really understand where they are and conflict between life and spousal partners, kids and their parents, close friends, coworkers, managers, and a hostage and the cops. It’s all about what happens in our brains when we’re in conflict.
One of the key pieces of it is we feel like we’re not being heard. All we want to do is be heard, but we can’t figure it out and so we lash out. Again, he’s framing it in conflict, but if you think about this in a sales or community building context, it’s like, how anxious is this person versus how open is this person? How alone is this person versus how connected is this person? Think about it on that 10-point scale – where they are and where they need to be. Almost no one is going to start at one end of the spectrum or the other. They’re going to be somewhere in that 10-point scale. And if you find someone’s at a seven, you can’t jump them to a one or a two, you’ve got to go from seven to six, six to five, five to four. And what are you doing at each step? You’re earning trust. I’m meeting you where you are. I’m not telling you where to go, I’m trying to get us on the same page so that they can take us one step closer to common ground, one step closer to trust.
In terms of practicable skills of listening, I think just listen as a book, the subtitle is “how to get through to absolutely anybody”. Because that’s what people want to do, but what people need to do is actually listen to the other person in order to figure out where you need to get them to.
It’s brilliant. My favorite thing about this book is it does teach really practicable lessons. But the last thing you want to do is learn some psychology tricks and then use them on your girlfriend or your teammate or whatever. So instead it has you use them on yourself. We are real bad at listening to ourselves too. And so, every piece of this framework is something you can do, but you practice it on yourself before you go do it on somebody else. It’s these exercises, I literally use them every day.
Will Toms: I love that. Yeah. I’ll definitely have to check that one out after I’ve finished your book of course!
Alex Hillman: Yeah. This one first, then Just Listen.
Will Toms: Another question I had for you, you were talking about some strategies for folks to be able to self-promote, especially if you’re an introvert that could be some of the most nerve wracking things. You talked about like working in public and how sometimes documenting your creative process can be an easy way to promote yourself. I ‘m wondering, what’s your perspective on when is too much sharing? How much sharing is oversharing or is there a such thing? In the digital age, sometimes we can stress ourselves out about how much content to put out, so what’s your perspective on how little, too much?
Alex Hillman: That’s a really interesting question. The way you sort of frame it at the end, there’s a volume question. You know, how often am I sharing? And when I heard the question, initially, I wasn’t thinking about volume, I was more thinking about what you’re sharing.
So there’s kind of two questions in there, so maybe we’ll look at both.
I’ll answer your question first and then I’ll go back to my take on it. In terms of volume, I think the key is thinking about signal versus noise. Are you sharing to share? Are you sharing for a reason? And what is that reason? If the only time you talk is because you’ve got something to talk about, that’s not really connecting. So, I think there’s a fine line between shouting into the void to create volume and therefore sort of increased odds of being seen. I feel like that’s where things get dicey and potentially too much.
If you’re sharing to connect, that means you’re doing it in a place where you know, people are, you know they’re listening, and what you’re sharing is stuff that you already know they want. So if you’ve skipped that first step of knowing who you’re creating it for and where they are, it’s really easy to kind of overstep your boundaries and just be like, “got a thing, got a thing!” And never get that feedback loop because they’re like, “good for you!”
But if you connect first – you’ve got to make that deposit before you make that withdrawal, then it’s about keeping it balanced. I don’t think there’s a right equation, I do a lot of work with folks that are more on again on the tech side of creative. So, you know, programming and design and web design and graphic design. There’s a sort of an unspoken rule in some online watering holes about the 10 to one ratio. Give 10 times before you ask. That’s not a hard and fast rule. I think it’s more about reading the room. I think it’s more about looking for cultural norms and I think it’s more about looking for ways to do more than the bare minimum.
If the rule is 10 to one, I would do 15 to one. If the rule is five to one, I would do 10 to one. I want to be ruthlessly generous. I want to give more than the bare minimum. So that’s in terms of volume, but again, that other framing is what you share, and so again, part of that is what’s going to connect, what do they want? What do they want more of? That’s where that feedback loop is required, but in order for a feedback loop to start, you need to listen first – back to our last question. So that’s why that listening is so paramount. I think where things get tricky with opening up your process, I think sharing of process, it’s hard to share too much. I think people love seeing the nitty gritty. Some people will pay attention to everything, most people will pay attention to a tiny slice. I think it’s just the nature of the beast.
I think when I’ve seen sharing turn into oversharing - so here’s the thing - vulnerability with your audience can be super, super powerful but you have to earn trust in order to do that too. If you’re having a bad day, I think it is really powerful to tell people, Hey, I’m having a bad day, so I’m going to take today off. That is a really, really valuable thing to do. But if three out of eight times you go on IG live and you’re talking about how stressful your day was, then all this stuff is about you and how hard things are for you and not about them and not about how you want to connect with them.
There’s a line to walk between being vulnerable about the realities of being a creator and an entrepreneur and making it too much about you and not about them. Again, I don’t think there’s a hard and fast ratio of rule here. There is a bit of knowing who your audience is and maybe there’s a core audience that you’re a bit more vulnerable with.
Maybe you’ve got a special private DM that you’ve got them in and you share a little bit more with them because there’s more trust being built there. But I think being smart about boundaries and remembering that proportionally it’s got to be more about them than it is about you, which is weird when you’re a creator and it’s about your art. It’s about putting yourself out there. There’s a reason people love your art. It’s because your art connects with them. It’s doing something for them. Makes them feel a certain way. It’s not that they don’t care about your feelings, it’s they care about their feelings more. And so finding the balance and finding ways to, if you’re going to share it, share it to connect and look, you’re going to fuck it up, it’s okay to do that. And then it’s okay to apologize about that, but don’t apologize. Get back on track. If you find yourself off track, the easiest way to get out of your own head is to get into somebody else’s. Spend some time in their head of what’s going on in their day, ask them about them and then show up for them.
You can undo a misstep by showing up for your community and your audience so long as you don’t make the same mistake too many times in a row. If your default is look, I’m here for you, you can go really far.
Will Toms: I love that. Thanks for that, Alex. I guess one of the reasons why I think I like learning from you so much, because I feel like you’re the perfect balance of like a philosopher and a doer.
You know what I mean? Maybe the philosophy that that’s why you have them, because you’ve done so much shit that you have the foresight, or I guess the reflection skills to step back and then glean those philosophies.
One of the things that I always see is almost like a moniker of yours is these four letters, J F D I. Tell us what that is and what that’s all about and where that philosophy came from.
Alex Hillman: So it’s a moniker, it’s literally tattooed on my arm, so I have to see it twice a day when I’m brushing my teeth. JFDI stands for Just Fucking Do It. This is fun to share because I don’t often share this in front of a crew where there’s musicians in the room.
So there’s, JFDI on this side. On this side, the circle is just like a design flourish. But in this circle is a fermata from sheet music. Those two symbols and ideas are complimentary. I got JFDI first. JFDI, just fucking do it is a reminder to myself to that thing that I know I’m supposed to do that I should do, but I’m hesitating for some reason, that I’m not trusting myself to just fucking do it.
It’s not just fucking do anything. It’s not just fucking do everything. It’s the thing that you already know is the right thing, but you’re not trusting yourself to make the action happen. Make the action happen. And there’s no way around it. The only way to do it is to do it.
Here’s the thing is, is JFDI has been picked up as sort of a mantra within Indy Hall and lots of other communities among creators that I think picked it up for the right reasons. In some cases, maybe took it away a little bit too far, and it sort of starts bordering on recklessness where it’s like, whatever you want to do, just do it. No, no, no. That’s not the point here. Consider. And so, the reason that fermata is on the other side, is the fermata means sustain. One of a number of sustained notes - sustained notes are markers in sheet music, to tell the musician to hold the note for a two-count a four-count an eight-count, whatever it might be, the fermata is unique in that it tells you to hold or sustain, and the word sustain is what really drew me to it. It’s like JFDI but make sure you’re sustaining; you’re keeping a long view. You can hold the note, philosophically speaking. The thing that I love about the fermata is it’s, to my understanding, the only mark in all of sheet music that puts the creative control back in the hands of the player or the conductor.
Everything else tells you how many beats, the fermata says, hold that note for as long as you feel is appropriate, which means you need to read the room. You need to feel the vibe, you need to make the decision. And so, there’s a layered story to this mark. One is the literal interpretation of sustain and hold the note, and the other is YOU are driving. This is your call. Play the note as long as you think, but it’s your call.
I feel like those two ideas are yin and yang. They hold each other up. One doesn’t make sense without the other. You have to take the action in order to have a thing worth sustaining, but if you take action too recklessly without the intention to hold the note, and I feel like those are all tied together in sometimes a practical, tactical and strategic way and sometimes in a philosophical and cosmic way, but I think they’re all part of the same message and story.
Will Toms: love that. And I think that’s a really good place to close, because I think this whole conversation you’ve delivered us tons of value just around this idea of building trust at scale.
I think at the end of it, though, we’ve got to kind of dive into the importance of just trusting yourself first. This has been really insightful for me. I know some other folks are taking value in the chat as they’re watching as well.
But again, please give it up for Alex Hillman, show some gratitude in the chat for him, Alex, we really appreciate your time, man. Thanks for hanging out with us.
Alex Hillman: If you enjoyed that episode, and I hope you did, I’ve got a couple of quick things before you go. The first of course is making sure that you have your very own copy of The Tiny MBA. If you haven’t ordered it, I’d love it if you did, and you can grab a paperback or ebook at Tiny.MBA.
I also hope you’re subscribed to this show. We’re going to be releasing more episodes like this one with other creators and entrepreneurs, just like you and I’m going to be talking with them about their favorite lessons in The Tiny MBA, learning what’s going on in their world and sharing it all with you. You can search for that by looking for Stacking the Bricks wherever you get podcasts.
And one last thing, check out the Stacking the Bricks website, we’ve got a great newsletter with new articles coming out every week or two following on a lot of the same topics and themes that we talk about right here on the show. You can do that by going to StackingtheBricks.com.
I hope you have a great rest of your day and don’t forget to keep on stacking those bricks!
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