Categories
communities Content Neuroscience

Building a buzzing (+ kind) community

This week: Community polyamory. Ness Labs’ success – how to build, grow and nurture your network; creating deeper connections; the evolution of digital behaviour; how the use of the internet is causing us to lose empathy; Freelance Business Month: the future of work as open talent.

Happy October! I’ve signed up for Sungod’s Strava challenge – runs or rides every Sunday in October to get as much daylight as possible before the clocks change on 31 October 😱

Excellent performance sunnies and a growing online community – a brand to watch.

Speaking of communities, I’ve been exploring as many as I can lately, and the one I keep coming back to is Ness Labs. It’s inspiring to see how Anne-Laure has built a buzzing, kind community and worth a look at why it works. Read her AMA with Product Hunt here.

Growing a newsletter and a website to 35K subscribers and 100K visitors per month in 2 years. AMA👇

Ness LabsEvidence-based content around productivity, creativity, mental health and knowledge management. 2K community members.

AL now has two full-time employees and hires freelance writers via Upwork. Her main source of revenue is sponsored interviews and paid memberships. She does a bit of 1:1 coaching but says that’s negligible. 

It’s interesting to see how she’s done it in a crowded space of personal development and productivity. Some thoughts on why it works…

Building a kind community 

  • A personal journey: Anne-Laure loves learning in public and shares her successes and failures openly. She’s active in the community with regular Q&As. I’m curious to follow her progress and happy to support a creator. Personal onboarding is a nice touch, and sharing content on a closed platform gives a sense of psychological safety. It’s interesting to see most people have their cameras on during workshops, which creates intimacy.
  • Great value for money: it’s ridiculously cheap compared to other online communities. I paid $35 to access a growing library of content and community. AL says the biggest surprise was people writing to her telling her to increase the price and gifting memberships. 
  • Values of kindness and pay it forward: People are engaged, generous and want to be seen, and it’s down to the topics she’s exploring – personal development, mental health and creativity. It’s not overly self-promotional – there have been a few posts lately from coaches, so she’s created a coaching directory/channel where they can promote their services at no extra charge.
  • Content-first approach: I like the Circle platform – it’s simple, easy to use, minimal friction. The focus is on high-quality content that’s easy to find. It’s organised by channel so you can follow your interests, contribute topics and connect with members.

    *Creator Spark* is a new space where members can host a talk or moderate a panel in a safe, supportive space (people said they felt shy about sharing their stuff). It’s a shame we’ve been conditioned to see sharing our work as boasting and bragging – it causes so many hangups. You have to get your work out there on different platforms: 50% writing, 50% marketing.

    Emotional and informational content works!
  • Online and offline meetups around the world. I’ve signed up for the London event on 18 October, so meeting some of the community in person will be interesting.
  • The zeitgeist – Ness Labs has grown organically during lockdown – we all need connection. It’s also tapping into the current mood – the great resignation, a power shift to the creator, working smarter, not harder, and mental health and burnout at work.

People have set up sub-groups on and off-platform – a sign of a healthy community. I’ve joined the Newsletter Mastermind – an active Twitter group and weekly Zoom.

My only criticism is there’s too much good content in the newsletter! I don’t have time to read all the articles in one go, so I bookmark stuff to come back to (my Pocket is sagging) This can be demotivating – sometimes less is more. I’m mindful of that with this newsletter and being respectful of people’s time.

What communities do you find useful – and how do you make the most of them? 

I carry a notebook around with me for ideas, quotes and things I’m curious about so I can build up a bank of content. I need to get ahead rather than writing last minute. Taking publishing breaks in August and at Xmas gives me time to catch up.

I love online communities but I need my local tribes too. I’m on a mission to turn Hastings into a tech hub. I left London 14 years ago – part of the second wave of regeneration and we have the third wave with the pandemic. It’s good to see new faces, startups and energy – I love all that. Hearing a few moans about how “it’s all gone too far” and property prices…


🔗🖐5 Things 

☁️ Rosie Sherry on how communities are cool again and everybody wants to own a (profitable) one. The tools exist to make it happen but it gets complicated, messy and fragmented pretty easily. I’m using WordPress and Substack and have held back on the community aspect for this reason. I don’t want to complicate things with more platforms. The best and most impactful communities are custom-built like Nomadlist – something we need to talk about more.

🌱 Building, Growing & Nurturing a Kind Community: Q&A with Anne-Laure from Ness Labs. Whether you run a community or are thinking of starting one, here are some solid community-building tips and strategies based on her experiences. Friendliness, the personal touch and psychological safety are important and interactive events that bring people together.

🕵🏻‍♀️ Tribes, Flocks, and Single Servings – the evolution of digital behaviour by Rahaf Harfoush. Nice work creating a visual framework to help her capture the spaces she’s tracking. The interesting bit is the overlap and changes that occur. Rahaf is my go-to for digital culture analysis – Hustle & Float is excellent.

🤔 How the internet is causing us to lose empathy by Eli Baum – written in 2014 but still super relevant – why are we not talking about this more in MSM? Empathy is valuable and the fact it’s declining is alarming – we need people skills, useful products and deeper connections. We can’t slow down tech but we can get the story out to promote change and be mindful of it in ourselves – do the EQ test.

👩‍💻 Freelance Business Month – the largest global event for freelancers. Talks on the future of freelancing, starting and growing your business, freelancing in Europe, the future of work as open talent and more. Learn new skills, speak, and connect with the community – founded by the amazing Elina Jutelyte who is totally on it and open to collaboration. Programme and registration here – there are a few free tickets left.

I’ll be there!

Nicci


I’m a digital writer studying UX and content design – a badass life path 🙂

My mission:

• Making delightful digital products that improve people’s lives.

• Bringing more humanity and creativity to business and technology.

• Solving your problems using better communications – data-driven writing and design thinking skills.

The Shift is my lab where I explore digital culture, creativity, mindful productivity and independent work. I have a ‘pay what you can’ model – you can buy me a coffee or make a regular contribution to support what I do via my Ko-fi page.

Want to talk? Find me online at Polywork, Twitter @niccitalbot or email nicci@niccitalbot.io.

Help me build a forest! To offset the carbon emissions of my online work, I plant 12 trees every month via Ecologi 🌱 🌳

Categories
future of work Neuroscience Portfolio careers Wellness

Tame your inner critic🙄

I’ve joined a Newsletter Mastermind, and ‘not feeling ready’ came up on this week’s call. “I’m on my 100th issue, and it’s the same every time – the day before it goes out, and I still don’t know what I’m going to write about. Yet somehow, every week, it gets pushed over the finishing line.” It turned into a discussion on how to be ‘inner critic ready’ led by @ReddyToGo – he’s the man.

I said I’m the same. Working on things last minute (writing this on Saturday night) or running late. I had an argument with a friend once about my lateness, and she said: “It’s because you don’t feel ready.” She was right. I was trying to do too much – hustling hard in London at that time. It’s probably the most helpful thing anyone’s said to me. 

Tame your inner critic

The inner critic mixes negative critical comments from our parents, siblings, peers, and teachers when we were growing up. It isn’t a bad thing, says writer and author Jennifer Nelson“Researchers agree that a little self-awareness can be a reality check, but a constant barrage of self trash-talk is debilitating.”

In her talk on listening to shame, Brene Brown says it relies on you buying into it – tell yourself something often enough, and you’ll eventually believe it to be true. “Shame needs three things to percolate: secrecy, silence and perception of judgement.” 

It can be an issue for portfolio professionals as we’re working on short term projects in new environments with different teams. You’re expected to hit the ground running, be an expert and produce good work quickly. But each project is different and team dynamics and nuances take a while to figure out. You’re learning as you go and you make mistakes. You also have to put yourself out there, pitching for gigs, negotiating rates and dealing with rejection.

The inner critic is a feature of the tricky brain. Unfortunately, we can’t fire them, but they can be an extra rather than centre-stage…


Some strategies to help you deal with your inner critic

(and have a better, more productive relationship with yourself)

  • Give them a name. There are two actors in constant conversation – the nurturer and the critic. Mine is called Nancy. She’s an out of work theatre critic (failed actress, really) who never has a good word to say about anyone, except Cliff Richard. She’s 6”2, wears heels, diamante and a purple wig (a bit Dame Edna). Except she always wears black. @readyforthefuneral. She’s had no work during the pandemic and is taking her frustrations out on me. My nurturers are the Caring Committee – Spock, Jarvis, Oprah, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Mr Miyagi, Gandalf, Sean Bean, & Ted Hastings, who rally around to big me up. Never a dull day! It helps me distance myself from the drama and be a calm witness. 
  • Be mindful. The cure is empathy, says Brene. Say to yourself, “I understand, but those thoughts aren’t true.” And replace ‘I can’t’ with ‘I might’. Notice negative thoughts when they come up and write them down. Look for moments in the day when others see the effort you’ve made. Write them down. If the conversation is getting a bit one-sided, I know I’m tired and need a break. 
  • Stop ruminating – I had some negative feedback on a piece of copy this week. It wasn’t quite right, so we had to redo it after a call with the client. A bit disappointing as it’s a new gig and I wanted to make a good impression. I felt a bit flat, thinking about what I could have done better. But I’ve only been on the job for two days and don’t have much context. I let myself replay it for a bit, then distracted myself with something else: went for a walk and watched something on Netflix. Learn and let go.
  • Set deadlines – No over-editing and over-researching, i.e. procrastinating. Anne-Laure at Ness Labs says she only edits her articles once before publishing them. The aim is to get the conversation started and tweak things based on feedback. I like that. Nothing is set in stone online. 
  • Dress smarter – it’s easier to silence your inner critic when you’re looking sharp and feeling good. We had a good discussion at TPC this week on personal branding, and this came up. Fiona’s tip: Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. She’s also big on ‘fake it till you make it.’ 
  • Finding your why – LA-based writer, activist and wellness expert Katie Horwitch says the inner critic is a filler for uncertainty about your purpose. Get clear on the common thread in all you do and what you’re offering the world. What’s your story? Workshop it. It’s easier to do this with others than on your own. Others see things in you that you don’t. 

Nancy and I had a bust-up this week. She went off on one when I told her about the project feedback. Then I mentioned my podcast idea – interviewing hip hop entrepreneurs about their lives and work, and she sighed and rolled her eyes. “You don’t have the time, energy or contacts for that. You’re not in that world! Forget it, darling!” 

“Don’t patronise me. That’s the point. I don’t want to interview people like me. We have enough echo chambers out there….I want to do something different. ” 

We’re going for tea with the committee later, so let’s see what they have to say about it.  

She’s not coming on holiday with me (not till she apologises anyway). 


5 things🖐

👩‍💻LinkedIn Marketplace (launching Sept) – a new service for freelancers. Connect with employers, showcase your services, and do deals directly via the platform (initially focusing on design, marketing and software development). Good to see Microsoft investing in developing a bigger content platform with Creator mode, Services, Open to Work, trending stories. A bit of competition for Fiverr and Upwork.

✍️And some great tips from Ben Legg, CEO & Co-founder of The Portfolio Collective, on how to make the most of LinkedIn. Interesting comments on ageism. Noted and actioned! Thanks to Claire Moss for sending her notes. 

👨🏽‍🎤Personal branding. How do you make yourself stand out from a sea of competition? What makes you memorable? It’s much more than your logo. A deep dive into finding your why with brand gurus Fiona Chorlton-Voong and Alex Pitt. More on the inner critic and celebrating your differences. Inspiring to hear Alex’s story on launching her branding agency, Strange. 

💰Self-belief, reinvention and hard work: How to earn £100k+ as a freelance journalist. “I did it. So why not you? I had an end game, creativity and a pathological inability to take “No” for an answer.” Andrew Don on his 40-year journalistic career, self-belief and reinvention in his new book: The Bounty Hunter. His 10 essential ingredients to help you make serious money as a freelancer. 

🇮🇹All the Voices of the NUJ – a project helping international writers who are new to the UK by matching them up with a member who speaks their language. The guest speaker was John Worne, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, who talked about the joy and pleasure of languages. He flagged a few issues members have raised – it’s sad to hear languages aren’t being prioritised in the UK curriculum.

I’m trying to learn French and Italian, and Nancy pipes up frequently with her helpful comments. Along with my secondary school French teacher, Mrs Marchant, who told me not to do it at A-Level as I’d struggle. A fascinating chat about how being bilingual can put you in two minds: having different personalities in each language, and not taking it too seriously. Play with it and have a go🇮🇹


The future of work is now

Let’s build it. The Shift is your guide to running a successful minimalist business. Start living and working on your own terms🚀 Your weekly dose of inspiration, ideas and solutions.

Question or comment? Fancy doing a guest issue or contributing a section?
Email nicci@niccitalbot.io.
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To offset the carbon emissions of this newsletter and my online work, I plant 12 trees every month via Ecologi. I encourage you to do the same in your country – here’s a list of climate action groups. We’ve got 10 years to sort this out – no time to waste🌍

Categories
childcare Creator economy remote working

The Shift: It’s (not) business as usual🤹🏻‍♀️

School’s out – but not for summer. Over 375,000 kids in the UK were sent home this week. 96% aren’t confirmed cases but only isolating as a precaution. We have a two-week shutdown here, so it’s back to homeschooling until 12 July.

My reality is at odds with what I’m seeing online about ‘business as usual’ and getting back to the office – it makes a mockery of it all. This is big stuff – exams cancelled, sports day and end of year events off – all a rite of passage for kids. There’s been a massive disruption to their education this year, and it’s time to call an end to the self-isolation madness.

Kids are struggling too – their lives have been turned upside down. There’s been a 40% increase in anti-depressants prescribed to under 17-year-olds. One of Julieta’s classmates jumped onto the train tracks on the way home and said he didn’t want to live anymore. They had to stop the train and call the police, and the school is organising therapy for the kids there. A friend’s 21-year-old son killed himself last month, and I’ve heard similar stories from others. 

The summer holidays are coming up, and many working parents rely on grandparents to help out with childcare. If the current vaccines are less able to protect against the Delta variant, that puts older people at risk. Grandparents aren’t a stress-free, low-cost solution for expensive childcare. 

Grazia has launched a campaign with the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, calling for an independent review of childcare in the UK. UK childcare is the 2nd most expensive in the world, over 35% of the average family income. 

The lack of accessible, affordable, well-funded childcare is perhaps the single biggest barrier to women’s career progress – and the Covid-19 pandemic, when women have had to shoulder the bulk of the extra care, has accelerated the problem into a mounting crisis. 

We have a massive brain drain – 50% of the working population. We’re not reinventing the wheel here – Scandinavian countries have good models we can work from.  

Childcare isn’t just a women’s issue.  

You can sign their petition, calling for an independent review of childcare funding and affordability, here. And tweet your MP using the link in this post.

Let’s keep the pressure on.


The five-hour workday 

I’m fortunate to work remotely and don’t need childcare anymore (a butler, yes), but I had years of it and support my sisters who do. I’m doing a double shift again – cooking, cleaning, making lunch. There’s a lot of context switching during the day, making it harder to focus and do deep work. I have a full-time project for the next two weeks, so I need to get my head down and minimise distractions. I have a plan!

Notifications Off! The Distraction-free Benefits of Five-Hour Work Days. Digital Enabler is the first company in Germany to implement a five-hour workday and say it’s been a resounding success. Taking this approach has led to a new company mission and revenue – they now do workplace strategy. ‘I still believe motivated employees will do the best job. Instead of counting work hours, we now count good work.’ This could be a good solution for working parents over the summer.

Let me know how you’re managing the juggle and if you’re working from anywhere interesting. My friend Rebecca is converting her shed into a ceramic studio for her side hustle. 

Big shoutout to all the winners, shortlisted, highly commended and nominated at the UK Freelance Writing Awards. Nicola Slawson judged two categories and said the breadth of talent was phenomenal. Many said they’d never been shortlisted before – just goes to show there’s something wrong with the industry, not the talent – we need opportunities and to celebrate good work more often. Check out the winners and their fab projects here 👏 🎉

Nicci 


Tools for thought 

👨🏽‍💻Anywhere Jobs: Reshaping the Geography of Work. A new report finds roughly one in five jobs in the UK, or 6 million jobs, can now be classified as ‘Anywhere Jobs’, with characteristics that mean they can be done remotely as efficiently or more efficiently than in normal office working. A big change that requires the government to develop a strategy. On average, companies took just 11 days to implement digital technology for remote work and collaboration (43x faster than predicted). Post-pandemic, larger firms are more likely to make labour a variable cost using additional freelancers and contractors. 

🤹🏻‍♂️Mental health for creators. There are 50 million content creators across social media platforms. The creator economy is changing how people earn and creating financial independence, but the rough side of the experience is burnout. It’s a unique job – you have to be authentic, open and posting regularly, and for most, it’s solo work. LinkedIn spoke to two creators to find out how they make it work. I told Julieta I’m going to try TikTok, and she gave me a withering look. ‘Just no. I’ll delete your account. It’s for teenagers, not middle-aged women.’ Cheeky bint. You know me. I like a challenge 🤗 

🏠The Work-from-Anywhere Index. A new study highlights the most attractive destinations for digital nomads in search of a new home, according to legislation and livability factors such as the weather, cost of living, and equality. Digital nomad and freelancer visas. I’m surprised to see London at number five – it’s great for work and socialising but too expensive to rent a property. Nomadlist has similar criteria and networking on the road. 

✍️Notes on Quentin Tarantino’s writing routine. Joe Rogan asked QT about his writing habits. Pre-2009 (his best work?), he described himself as ‘an amateur mad little writer’ who would work late at night in restaurants: ‘order some shit, drink a lot of coffee, and be there for four hours with all my shit laid out.’ He decided he wanted a more professional routine, so he now writes during the day – writes then floats – and says it’s become a really nice, enjoyable way to work. I agree – I write then run.

QT is the ultimate digital minimalist – he writes scripts by hand, hates smartphones and bans them on set, and he doesn’t use email – you have to call him on the landline and leave a message on the answerphone. 

🎧Susan David: The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage. On the tyranny of positivity and wellness, and how emotional suppression doesn’t work. How we deal with emotions shapes everything – our career, relationships, happiness, health. Brilliant talk and podcast. I did an exercise on letting go of stuff that’s not working and had a little cry. I broke up with my therapist this week, not easy to do but very empowering. 

We’ll be chatting about Susan’s book, Emotional Agility, at the Collective Shelf Club this month – check it out here.


The future of work is now

Let’s build it. The Shift is a newsletter about humans, technology and wellness. Rethinking how we live, work + play. Weeklyish curated tools for thought and ideas to share ✍️

Question or comment? nicci@niccitalbot.io
Enjoy the read? Share it on Twitter. Tip me: I run on caffeine and Amaretti biscuits 🇮🇹
Discover something new in my bookshop 

To offset the carbon emissions of this newsletter and my online work, I plant 12 trees every month via Ecologi. I encourage you to do the same in your country – here’s a list of climate action groups. There’s no time to waste 🌍

Categories
newsletters remote working The internet writing

1729: The first newsletter that pays you

Weekly curated tools for thought and ideas to share ✍️

I signed up to 1729.com this week, the first newsletter that pays you. Daily bitcoin bounties for completing paid tasks and tutorials with $1000+ in crypto prizes every day. It’s also a platform for distributing a new free book app called The Network State. 

Earn crypto, learn new skills and join a community of tech progressives. ‘That means people who are into cryptocurrencies, startup cities, mathematics, transhumanism, space travel, reversing ageing (bring it on!), and initially-crazy-seeming-but-technologically-feasible ideas,’ says the founder, Balaji – see his past work here. You can subscribe for updates and follow @oneseventwonine on Twitter. 

Truth, health and wealth 

Here’s how it differs from a regular newsletter or website. Firstly, it has tasks – e.g. the latest is to learn how to make a Discord bot with Replit for $100-$1000 in BTC. The first challenge posted in March was to set up a newsletter for tech progressives at your own domain to incentivise the decentralisation of media. They paid $100 BTC each for the 10 best sites. See the winners here.

Secondly, it has tutorials – bitesize learning with incentives to complete. Thirdly (love this!) a focus on digital health and the body. Startup culture can lead to burnout as we sacrifice health for business. This is false economy ‘because missing daily workouts is a physical debt that’s even harder to pay than technical debt, and fitness is as good for cognition as it is for health.’ So you can submit a proof-of-workout to earn a little crypto. Stay fit today and contribute to age reversal tomorrow. 

Fourth, it’s international and Indian to show how you build a global operation from an Indian base and expand to the rest of the world. Much as Silicon Valley started as ‘American’ and is now in the Cloud. They’ve named the project 1729 after Ramanujan, India’s greatest mathematician known for his contribution to number theory which underpins crypto. So exploring how we can use technology to help talent rise in developing countries around the world as Ramanujan did. 

Bootstrapping voices

It’s a global talent search to invest in diverse, unreported voices around the world. Enabling anyone with an internet connection to improve their knowledge and bank account through paid microtasks. Learning, earning and burning.

I like the ethos – earning recordable crypto credentials for completing and creating tasks, open-source education, and bootstrapping talent around the world. Balaji says he uses Twitter to hire people as you get a sense of their values and potential from their online content.

Imagine if we applied this process to job boards – rather than stating your skills, education or interest, you could prove it by gaining badges or rewards for mini tasks completed on a site. So you could log in and start working immediately. There’s also a focus on quality content – the tasks require some thought, time and writing skill – raising the value of online content to be on par with design.

Finally, building a ☁️ 👋 Cloud Community – a network of tech progressives interested in exploring things like startup cities, online communities, organising economies around remote work, enforcing laws with smart contracts, and simulating architecture in VR. A global, mobile social network with ‘digital bylaws, crowdfunding capability, a track record of collective bargaining on behalf of its members, and a numerically quantifiable level of social capital’.

It’s a step up from the organic online communities like subreddits and Facebook groups forming for the last 20 years. More on that here.  

It’s the most exciting media project I’ve come across lately. I love the ambition and focus on giving you content that strengthens rather than depletes you (clickbait, social media where there’s no reward for your posts, likes and shares). They’ve allocated enough money to fund a full year of daily tasks, and the goal is to build a scalable business and find individuals and companies that want to post sponsored projects for the community. 

Here’s Tim Ferris’ interview with Balaji about the project. It’s by far the longest podcast I’ve listened to (almost four hours!) but worth it. A deep dive into the future of media, founding vs inheriting (‘own a media company or be owned by one), podcasting, citizen journalism vs corporate journalism, and how the media scripts human beings. ‘If code scripts machines, media scripts human beings, even in ways we don’t fully appreciate.’ His point is that once we’re equal on distribution (a decentralised media), we can speak to each other as peers. 

I agree that journalism’s greatest blind spot is it draws from a limited pool of people with a similar background and class who can’t see the perspectives of people who aren’t like them, and it drives out people who don’t fit in. Is the answer radical decentralisation of media? Citizen journalism instead of corporate journalism – the notion that ‘everybody writes’ – drawing on local expertise, e.g. nurses writing about nursing, and writing as a duty rather than for-profit. But we’ll still need editors and proofreaders.

I want to build up those citizen journalists, those content creators. Second, I want to invest in a cumulative form of education, open-source education, where these folks are doing tutorials. So that people get paid for creating educational tasks others can do. Bootstrapping talent all over the world. Anywhere there’s a phone, there’s a job. 

It’s the digital native solution to education

Other ideas – if you want financial independence, you need to radically reduce your expenses. ‘Check Nomadlist or Teleport, do a spreadsheet and optimise your personal runway.’ (not easy for families to do this, but not impossible) – check out Reddit groups like r/leanfire and r/FIREUK (financial independence, retire early). Find a remote job that pays well and move to a cheaper location to stop the burn and save money over time, i.e. so you can work for a year and then take time out to pursue other things. 

How we’re going back to a hunter/gatherer way of life, but with technology. Relocation and digital nomadism will be huge – taking over from traditional tourism for long-term economic migration.

The best quality of life will actually be available to the digital nomad who has a minimum number of possessions, can pick up and move stakes at any point because mobility is leveraged against a state. 

New politics will form, and ways of self-governance that are network-based rather than state-based. How the virtual world dominates our lives, and the physical world comes second – something we’ve had a glimpse of over the last year with Covid, though not for everyone. Lots of emphasis on our virtual lives here, but we can’t underestimate the physical world. I understand the appeal of Miami as a startup city. We’re social beings and want to be around and work with like-minded peers.

If you’re constantly on the move as a nomad, you’ll struggle to maintain relationships and build community. And what about people getting left behind with technology?

Super interesting chat with lots of positive takeaways about building and shaping the future with a global vision, which he’s also exploring in his book. By changing the media narrative around big tech as evil and seeing technology as a force for good, we can work together across borders to solve problems. And all this work means A LOT of content creation – writing, podcasts, video so opportunities for creators everywhere to learn, earn and burn 💪

I’m excited to see where this goes – here’s to our decentralised and interconnected future.

It’s time we started funding community founders as well as company founders.

Interested? Sign up here.

– Nicci 


Goings-On(line) 

Projects + pieces from around the web.

🏙 The Network State – the Start of Startup Cities. Miami demonstrates that the era of startup cities is now underway. It was the first city to buy Bitcoin and put a BTC whitepaper on Miami.gov. What mayor Suarez has done is being studied by cities around the world. 

👨🏽‍💻 Remote work and the tech-enabled exit – where to live? And why? Doug Antin on the rise of the sovereign individual class and how freedom of movement will become a luxury good.

📬 Newsletter OS by Janel – a cross between an ebook, a project manager, a dashboard and a wiki. 130 resources to help you write, grow and learn with your writing.

🏝Work Travel Summit, 9-12 June. How to thrive in remote work and the new normal. Free 4-day virtual event for networking and learning.

✍️Open notes from this week’s Freelance Business for Writers event.

🎙Plumia’s Speaker Series, an ongoing series of public conversations with academics, policy-makers, and founders who are reimagining democracy and policy in the internet world.


Playlist of the week →


The future of work is now

Let’s build it. The Shift is a newsletter exploring remote work, internet culture, technology, creativity, and writing. If you enjoy the content, please share it with friends or on social media.

Work Better. Live Smarter. Be Happier 🙂

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Categories
Creator economy journalism newsletters technology

🕵🏻‍♀️Substack: the Marketplace of Ideas

Weekly curated tools + resources for writers – thinkers, makers and builders ✍️

Interesting read from Ben Smith in The New York Times on the Substack debate. Media company vs tech platform, their editorial role (or not), the advances paid out by Substack Pro, and their biggest challenge: competitors like Ghost and Twitter/Revue.

The quote from John O’Nolan, Ghost CEO sums it up: Subscription newsletter publishing was ‘destined to be commoditized.’

The news is that Substack has signed up two high profile transgender writers – Danny and Grace Laverty so we have a household with two Substack incomes. A smart move, as it helps counter the backlash they’ve had from some writers who don’t want to share the platform with people who they said were anti-trans. It shows they want to be a platform for all – even those who criticise the company.

There’s been a media storm around Substack over the past year – about money, mostly (they are VC funded and valued at $650 million (Axios), the compatibility of VC funding and journalism, and the ethics of paying writers to join the platform. Why not? Authors get book advances, and we don’t bat an eyelid. And subscriptions are a much better deal for writers.

As Casey Newton said, Substack is taking up a lot of mindspace and has become a target for ‘a lot of people to project their anxieties.’

Substack has captivated an anxious industry because it embodies larger forces and contradictions. For one, the new media economy promises both to make some writers rich and to turn others into the content-creation equivalent of Uber drivers, even as journalists increasingly turn to labour unions to level out pay scales. – Ben Smith.

Some writers (a minority) are making big money on Substack – good for them. It’s inspiring to check the leaderboard and see what’s possible – it introduces a bit of friendly competition. They’ve built a following over time and bought their audiences with them.

But most (like me) are making money via support from readers, not paid advances. It’s a side hustle alongside their main job or freelance projects. It’s fun. I’m learning as I go, and it’s an opportunity to have a product and a platform. There’s no obligation to stay – I can take my work and publish it elsewhere.

Power to the creator 

The power shift has been happening for a while – Patreon CEO Jack Conte talks about it here. Substack isn’t creating it, but it’s part of it and riding the wave. There’s a cultural shift towards the creator economy, valuing good content and being willing to pay for it. David Lat calls it the ‘great reset’ of charging for content (we all need to get used to paying more for content!). And the fear is that it’s helping writers to discover their market value.

The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no going back!

And it’s not legacy media vs Substack either – we have broad tastes, and there’s room for all types of media. I’m not paying for news on Substack; I’m getting opinion, analysis, and diverse views from people who may not fit the traditional media mould/niche, which is refreshing. Journalism is still largely a white, middle-class profession.

I am excited about Substack – it’s the biggest tech challenge in a while, and captures the spirit of early blogging with diverse views and a dose of reality. Columnist Heather Havrilesky is taking ‘Ask Polly’ from The New Yorker Magazine to Substack to ‘regain some of the indie spirit and sense of freedom that drew me to want to write online in the first place.’

As long as they keep adding value, supporting writers, and building community, I’ll stick around. It feels good to be part of a bigger mission.   

As a writer on the platform, the pain points are SEO – very important!! I’m giving away my Google juice. So I publish on my site first, tell Google I own the content and then share it to other platforms – Substack, Medium, and social media. And for those writers earning a living here, the 10% commission is a killer and needs to come down.

As a consumer, it’s expensive to subscribe to lots of newsletters – see this thread from Laura Hazard Owen. I can claim expenses if they are work-related, but I’d love to see more ‘bundling up’ newsletters in similar industries to offer value to readers. I’ve seen posts on Reddit asking if people are interested in joint subscriptions to split the cost.

Companies need to get in on the act, too – newsletter bundles would be a great perk for employees – fresh ideas and perspectives enhance workplace culture.


What are publishers doing to solve the ‘Substack problem’? 

  • The New York Times has bought columnist Paul Krugman’s free Substack to their platform.
  • @Choire is stepping down from the NYT Style desk and ‘taking on a new and exciting challenge, as a senior editor charged with a project to help expand our newsletter portfolio alongside Sam Dolnick and Adam Pasick.’
  • Vanity Fair meets Substack – former VF editor Jon Kelly is launching a new, private equity-backed publication. ‘Writers have been offered equity and a percentage of the subscription revenue they would generate.’

As Ben points out, the biggest threat to Substack isn’t politics amongst writers but another tech stack with a different (cheaper) model, e.g. Ghost, Twitter/Revue. Ghost is open-source and non-profit, which will appeal to many publishers.

They are aware of this and working hard on ‘brand Substack’. Good to see they’ve announced a $1 million initiative to support a new group of local news writers on the platform (non-famous writers ;-).

This is not a grants program, nor is it inspired by philanthropic intent. Our goal is to foster an effective business model for independent local news that provides ample room for growth.

There’s more to come. ‘We will make a large investment in a support program that includes initiatives related to healthcare, personal finance, editing, distribution, design, and coworking spaces.’ Which gives them the edge.

And writers will find creative solutions for siloed working and isolation. 💪

Today, eight writers with paid newsletters on tech and culture, including Casey Newton, Anne Helen Petersen, and Delia Cai, are launching Sidechannel –

‘A shared Discord server where our paid subscribers can meet, hang out, and participate in a vibrant daily conversation about tech, culture, and society.’

They have big plans – shared channels, jobs, networking, and Clubhouse-style chats where you can ask questions. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is their first guest tomorrow.

Let’s celebrate Substack’s success. Indie media is super important, as is diversity – we need more voices. Please support your favourite writers, artists, and musicians via Substack, Patreon, Podia, Soundcloud, and Stack Magazines – leave a tip or comment, share and like a post – a little goes a long way to help.

Self-publishing is a hard, lonely job 🎻

From the NYT comments:

In a media ecosystem where six companies own systems that deliver 90% of the news, indie platforms can only be a good thing.

Substack is filled with cancelled, edgy writers. It’s where Ernie Pyle, Hunter Thompson and Martha Gellhorn would be if they were alive and writing today.


Go deeper 🛠

✍️ Sovereign Writers and Substack (Stratechery) – Ben Thompson on ‘the fundamental issues about the Substack model specifically, and the shift to sovereign writers generally, that are being misunderstood.’

📬 Newsletters: The market is booming! (Marie Dollé). Mapping the newsletter ecosystem. ‘Creating content for and with your audience is exciting and crucial, especially when you realize that the community builder is the creator too!’ Brands, take note!

📣 You’ve Got Mail (Anna Wiener, The New Yorker) on the history of newsletters and embracing change: ‘Carving out new ways for writers to make money from their work is surely a good thing: the US lost 16,000 newsrooms jobs this year. I ❤️ Hayley Hahman’s comments on how writing her newsletter ‘Maybe Baby’ has made her reflect on how she measures success. 

👩‍🎨 Li Jin on the Passion Economy and the Future of Work (andreessen horowitz). ‘Gig work isn’t going anywhere—but there are now more ways to capitalize on creativity. This has huge implications for entrepreneurship and what we’ll think of as a ‘job’ in the future.’ 

And some newsletters resources for you 🤗

Categories
Creator economy future of work newsletters

🕵🏻‍♀️Twitter takes on Substack; A new revenue opportunity for writers

Thinking big 💡

Last week Twitter announced it has acquired Revue, a newsletter platform for writers and publishers. Their first move into building out long-form content on the platform and getting into the subscription revenue space.

Twitter wants all creators to join the platform – experts, curators, journalists & publishers and will offer an all-in-one integrated service that “will all work seamlessly within Twitter” said Product Lead Kayvon Beykpur and VP of Publisher Products Mike Park. They will add new features that help writers connect with their audiences, like allowing them to host chats with their subscribers and invest in community resources and other revenue streams later on. 

The platform will be free for all users, and Twitter will collect just 5% of paid subscriptions revenue compared to Substack’s 10%. They say writers will get paid compensation for how many Twitter users they convert to subscribers. It will strengthen its relationship with writers of all kinds who want a platform to share their content and ideas.

Twitter has been heading in this direction for a while. First, they expanded the character count on tweets, then stopped including photos and links in the count so you can write more. Then they introduced threads, so you can build a story. Last year they talked about acquiring a newsletter company, and there were rumours they were going after Substack, which co-founder Hamish McKenzie said was not going to happen. Of course, they want to keep writers on the platform – right now they publish their long-form content elsewhere.

I thought they might go for Medium given its history with Twitter, but Revue makes sense as it’s a small company and presumably hasn’t cost too much. They will remain an independent brand within Twitter, and Twitter will expand the Revue team over time.

Following the announcement, Hamish tweeted comparing the social media companies’ efforts to oil companies trying to be more environmentally friendly, but then wrote this post welcoming the competition. The media ecosystem needs a shakeup, competition is healthy, and platforms that put writers and readers in charge are better. Creators also need proper business models.

There are now more than 500,000 paid subscriptions across Substack, and the top ten writers collectively make more than $15 million a year. It’s still early days, but this thing is happening – Hamish McKenzie, Substack co-founder.

Newsletters are booming and of course, tech firms and publishers want a slice of the Substack pie. Facebook is also working on a newsletter tool for journos and writers (launching this summer). Forbes has launched a massive expansion into paid newsletters and has a 10-year history in this space with its contributor network.

There’s Ghost, Lede, LinkedIn, Podia, Patreon & many more. Mailchimp has bought Courier Media – the best mag, newsletter and podcast for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Hubspot has bought The Hustle, an email newsletter and content company in a deal valued at roughly $27 million.

Why are we newsletter nerds? Because the web is a vast space and cluttered. We don’t have time to filter through the crap to find the good stuff, and we want a personal subscription service that delivers content straight to our inbox. We’re happy to pay trusted curators to do the job. I look forward to reading daily Morning Briefings in my inbox – no more trawling through news sites, doom scrolling and dodging pop-ups and paywalls.

Niche media is a powerful tool.


A new revenue opportunity for writers ✍️

Substack has said it will remain ad-free, but the pressure is on. At least three startups – Swapstack, Upstart.me and Letterwell have begun helping small newsletters find interested advertisers. We’re already seeing some Substack newsletters running ads and sponsorship so it will be interesting to see how they respond if this becomes widespread. If writers can make money without turning on the paywall it’s not great news for Substack as that’s their business model – the platform is free for writers. They may have to rethink that decision.

I’ve signed up to Swapstack so let’s see how it goes. Good to have alternative income streams as I’m not comfortable pushing paid subscriptions in the middle of a global pandemic and recession – which is why I also have a tip me button. It also means you can keep your work accessible to all and not behind a paywall.


The advice 💬

2021 will be the year that publishers start to form strategies to deal with the “Substack problem”. By that, I mean they’ll need to find ways to discourage their star writers from leaving to launch their own Substack newsletters. In the most likely scenario, they’ll make deals with writers to launch the newsletter under the media company’s banner. They might structure the deal, so the writer gets to keep their current salary and then some percentage of the subscriber income they generate – similar to the advances and royalties that book publishers dole out. This will entice the writers because they get to maintain job security while also benefiting directly from their success. They can also grow their audience much more quickly with the help of the media company. It’s a win-win for both parties. – Simon Owens’ Media Newsletter


Go deeper 🕵🏻‍♀️

📩 Revue asked its readers to predict how newsletters will evolve in 2021

✍️ A new revenue opportunity for writers: Ads emerge on Substack’s ‘ad-free’ newsletters

🎧 Axios Re:Cap digs in on Substack and the future of media

👻 The Ghost team on how to build a sustainable newsletter growth machine

💻 A joy to read! Robin Rendle on Newsletters; or an enormous rant about writing on the web


Welcome to my bookshop! 📚

I’ll be sharing books in my bag and recommended reads on Bookshop.org. They pay a 10% commission on every sale and give a matching 10% to local bookstores, an integral part of our culture and communities. Check it out here.


Work with me 🙋🏻‍♀️

Leopard print, always. Worry less and rock a red lip. Remote work evangelist, problem solver, internet person.

💡 Thoughts, ideas, feedback? Leave a comment or email nicci@niccitalbot.io.

☕️ Tip me! My Ko-fi page

📩 Subscribe to The Shift here

Categories
Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

The Shift: Issue #23

Frazzled Café: it’s ok, to not be ok; Creating community; Support for creative workers; Career development tips; #NaNoWriMo.

Feeling frazzled? I am. Here we go again with #lockdown2 which all feels a bit pointless as it’s not working. I’ve had my mother ranting down the phone this week. “You can’t stop a virus spreading! We’re just kicking the tin can down the road. They should sack the Sage lot! I’m listening to the other scientists…”

The Great Barrington Declaration is back on Google – big tech has no place censoring debate. It takes a holistic approach – we can’t focus on one virus at the expense of everything else – the economy, our mental health. Partial protection seems like the sensible option – protect the elderly and vulnerable and let the rest of us get on with it. There has to be a better way than full lockdown. We should at least have more public debate on this.

I’ve signed up to join the Frazzled Café, a charity providing a safe space to share your stories. “A place to connect with others to help us cope with the overwhelming stresses of modern life. A place where it’s ok, to not be ok,” i.e. to vent your frustrations!!! See more.

Categories
Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

The Shift: Issue #8

Back in Business

Did you go out yesterday? Super Saturday. It was raining here, so I didn’t bother. Not in the mood for shopping or being in a crowded pub, so I stayed home and made some calls. It’s been a busy week, and I had to take my daughter to Heathrow on Tuesday. She’s spending the rest of the summer in Sardinia with her dad, so I’m getting used to being on my own again.

A friend made a comment the other day about being an unpaid skivvy and how she’s glad to get back to work (she runs a vegan café and has been doing takeaways). I know how she feels. I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my daughter and having a co-working buddy, but it’s been hard work. Lots of shopping, cooking and cleaning on top of my paid work, which women tend to do more of.

I need a break. 

A friend said her neighbours are having an existential crisis about having jobs with no meaning. The pandemic has polarised jobs into two camps: essential and nonessential. We’re celebrating key workers—teachers, doctors, nurses, supermarket staff and delivery drivers because they’re out there doing important (and visible) jobs. It’s easy to feel demoralised and fed up if you’ve been furloughed, worrying about redundancy, or doing less visible work like IT, marketing and social media.

If you’re feeling that way there are some good tips in this piece by The Enterprisers Project. Read more