At 27 years old, I accumulated more writing accolades than most professional writers.
I remember back when I was seventeen (2007), I had one of the most-read gaming strategy blogs on the Internet. The story I always tell is that I was sitting in my first journalism class of college, at arguably one of the top journalism schools in the country, the University of Missouri, and the professor started explaining that this new thing called “blogging” would never become a thing.
In the massive auditorium of five hundred plus students, I raised my hand.
“I disagree,” I said, my brown hoodie zipped up to my neck with my laptop open on my lap.
The professor raised an eyebrow and the sea of students turned all eyes on me.
“Well, I think it’s safe to say that in order for a blog to even approach the realm of professional, the blogger would need at least ten thousand people reading his or her blog every day,” he said.
The class started to laugh along with him. Ten thousand readers. A decade ago, that sort of independent audience was practically unheard of.
I raised my hand again.
“I have that,” I said. “I have over ten thousand daily readers on my blog. And I don’t think it’s a trend. I think it’s the future of journalism.”
Nobody believed me, and the professor went on to continue teaching all five hundred students about the religion of the newspaper.
I transferred colleges the next year.
In the past ten years, I have devoted myself to writing online.
From gaming, I moved to health and fitness, building an audience on Instagram micro-blogging about my journey as a bodybuilder.
I wrote guest blogs for massive fitness sites. I was a launch blogger for a handful of wellness apps. And I eventually started sharing my fitness stories on Quora, answering people’s questions about lifting weights.
From health and fitness, I eventually broadened my scope and realized that what I had done in the gaming space and the fitness space was essentially the art of personal branding. I had a firm grasp on exactly how to pick a niche, study the marketplace, establish a voice, and ultimately become a thought leader with an audience.
When I graduated college and started as a copywriting intern at a digital advertising agency in Chicago, I set my sights on tackling the world of entrepreneurship and personal branding.
It’s safe to say I have written well over 1,500 blog posts, columns, Quora answers, guest blogs, eBooks, and more (and that’s not counting the high volume ghostwriting I now do for other prominent voices). In fact, in the past four years alone is where the bulk of that content was created, having written over 600 full-length answers on Quora and over 200 columns here on Inc.
And do you want to know the biggest lesson I have learned after writing more content in the past ten years than most writers and content creators publish in a lifetime?
I am a writer with the mentality of an athlete, a professional gamer, a bodybuilder. In every single thing I do, I treat it with the same ferociousness that I have treated any other one of my passions. And in order to be successful, I know I need to show up day after day after day.
After really diving into the world of marketing, entrepreneurship, and most importantly personal branding, I have been astounded at the number of people who want to “go viral.” They want to create one piece of content and then have it be everywhere. As a mentor of mine would say, “They want fireworks. They don’t want to build a constellation.”
I have taken the opposite approach. I don’t set out to go viral. I don’t sit down and say to myself, “I’m going to work really hard on this one single blog post and then I’m going to hope that it explodes.”
What I do is live by the habit and the mantra “volume wins.” If today’s piece of content doesn’t perform well, tomorrow’s will. And even if tomorrow’s doesn’t, I am going to continue hitting the pavement day after day after day.
I have had work published in every single major publication: TIME, Forbes, Fortune, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Slate, The Chicago Tribune, Fox News, Apple News, etc. And, of course, I have my (favorite) column here on Inc. I have had single articles accumulate over a million views. I have had dozens and dozens of content pieces accumulate between 100,000 and 900,000 views. And I have generated more PR and awareness for my writing online than the vast majority of “professional” columnists and even famous authors. In fact, my work in the digital work has been viewed over 20,000,000 times (truthfully, that’s a low estimate).
- It frustrates me when content writers that publish five or six blogs get complain because their work isn’t “going viral.”
- It frustrates me when a client says they have a small budget and only want to post two blogs a month, and yet expect to build this huge audience for themselves and their company.
- It frustrates me when people think that “going viral” is the result of just thinking really hard about a topic and then editing the draft fifty times before hitting “publish.”
Let me shed some real light on the situation, as someone who has gone viral many, many times: becoming a thought leader and establishing your voice online has nothing to do with any of those things.
1,500+ pieces of content later, and I can tell you that the only reliable way to win is volume.
Publishing a few pieces and hoping to go viral is the equivalent of playing the lottery.
Sure, every once in a blue moon someone wins, and there’s nothing people love more than an overnight success story. But that’s not the majority, and it’s certainly not a success percentage any intelligent individual would bet on.
However, if you pump out volume, you will win.
It’ll take time, but you will find your voice, you will figure out what content resonates most with people, you will build an audience, and you will ultimately turn yourself into a thought leader within your space.
The problem is that most people don’t have that kind of patience. They don’t want to work. They don’t want to invest the time in mastering their craft — and that’s the issue with the Internet. All the tools are so accessible that people tend to forget it’s human skill behind the ones who win.
So, take it from someone out here hitting the pavement, day after day after day. Do you want to attract more people to your company blog? Do you want to build yourself into a thought leader? Do you want an audience? Do you want to “go viral?”
Then stop trying to “go viral.”
Instead, sit down, day after day after day, and ask yourself one question:
“What can I share people that would be really, really valuable to them?”
Write that. Share that.
And then sit down and do it all over again the next day.