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Altruism and profit

Last night, I had the opportunity to be a panelist at a pitching event where local entrepreneurs present their businesses and ask for feedback around one specific question.

When it came to the final pitch, an interesting conversation popped up.

The entrepreneur mentioned they were including an altruistic component to their business model and one of the other panelists responded by saying, “You can focus on being altruistic once you scale up. As a startup, you need to focus on making mountains and mountains of big, ugly money.”

Maybe I’m just naive, but I couldn’t agree less.

Sure, if you want to eventually become a fully-sustainable company, you have to (eventually) have revenue coming in, but the idea that altruism and profit are mutually exclusive is ludicrous.

One of the smartest things you can do when starting a company is to focus on growing a community around your company.

Can you guess one thing people care about when it comes to the brands they support and the products/services they purchase?

A cause.

In today’s world, it’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate based on product alone. You have to plant your flag and stand for something when others may not.

If you ask me, doing good will always be good for business.

Change your environment

I hate work-life balance.

In my ideal world, my work informs my life and vice versa.

In fact, I desperately seek work that fulfills me each day and I love the feeling that comes with getting lost in something you care about.

The thing is, I don't get the chance to talk about these things with most of my friends. The conversations are usually limited to food, sports, music, and other group interests.

Don't get me wrong - I love sharing experiences with others and, at my age, many of these experiences happen in bars and other hangouts.

Yesterday, I met up with one of my best friends over lunch and our conversation drifted into this territory.

My friend has known me since seventh grade, which means he has seen all of the ups and downs that I've encountered while stumbling down my unconventional path. He knows how much pressure I put on myself and he is usually able to keep me in check when my ambition gets the best of me.

I mentioned how I wish our friends could share more of their work lives with each other and, as always, he dropped a little nugget of truth:

"If you want those types of conversations, maybe you should consider creating those types of environments."

I'm stubborn, but I couldn't deny how right he was.

The conversation I want doesn't usually happen at bars or while playing beer pong - it happens in a more intimate setting like coffee shops or at home.

Our environments really do impact our lives and the time we spent with others.

If you're looking for a change, try changing your environment first.

When worlds collide

There is no better feeling than when old friends meet new friends.

I love it when these worlds collide, the feeling you experience when the world shrinks just a little bit.

In fact, I wish it happened more often.

Unfortunately, work and other responsibilities get in the way.

Despite this inconvenience, I want to make more of an effort to facilitate these types of experiences, both for myself and others.

I wonder what type of format would work best. Dinner? Drinks? Some sort of shared activity or interest? These all work, but there are already plenty of options like these out there.

Personally, I would like to connect people using shared ideas and/or creative projects. This would give others the chance to flex their creative muscles a little more while meeting others at the same time.

As someone who values shared experiences, I always look for ways to include others as much as possible, even if I don't know a group of people.

After all, strangers are just friends you haven't made yet.

Quality time

I value quality time with others.

It's only Saturday, and I've already had quality time with several close friends.

From kitchen conversations to walks in the park, I've had the chance to check in with people I care about.

I realize I don't do this often enough. Unfortunately, it's far-too-easy to get stuck in our own little worlds and forget that our friends and family members have problems, too.

Whether you agree or not, there is a certain expectation you put in place when you call someone a "friend." It doesn't mean you're available 24/7 to talk whenever they need it, but it does mean that you care about their hopes, dreams, fears, goals, and ambitions.

These are things we all have but don't often get the chance to share.

Instead of waiting for your turn to talk, try giving someone you care about the chance to voice what matters to them.

Sometimes listening is the easiest way to turn regular time into quality time.

What's your story?

As much as I try, there is always more I could do to put myself out there.

For the last few months, I've wanted to start sharing my ideas via video. As many of you already know, this takes a little more preparation than writing and it requires a higher level of vulnerability.

After all, you're attaching your face to the delivery of your ideas, not just your words.

At the end of the day, all I want to do is connect people with ideas and help them pursue their own path. It doesn't matter if this is through writing, video, speaking, of all of the above.

These are just different formats for delivering the same message to others.

The thing is, you can't with others unless you have something to say in the first place. Focus on creating a story will resonate with your audience and the platform won't matter.

What's your story? 

Small steps

Things are always a little more complicated than we realize.

I was reminded of this while writing the first draft of my first book. I figured it would be as "simple" as writing a draft, shopping it around to potential agents, and then eventually finding a publisher.

For those of you who have already gone through the submission process, I'm sure you're scoffing at my audacity. After all, you know there is much more to it than this.

While writing the first draft, I quickly learned that for nonfiction, writers usually submit a proposal before finishing the entire manuscript.

OK, no sweat. I'll just put together a proposal. 

While starting that process, I then learned that before the proposal, it's standard procedure to first send prospective agents a query letter. 

Hm, fine. It's time to start drafting a query letter.

Even the query letter has a few steps in order for it to be presentable to agents.

As you can tell, I'm not the "plan everything out" kind of guy. Instead, I usually dive in head first and tackle each step as it pops up.

In my mind, things don't have to be that complicated. Any big goal (writing a book, starting a company, etc.) can be broken down into a series of smaller steps. Some of these steps are obvious and some aren't.

None of us can control the number of steps. All we can do is focus on doing each one to the best of our ability and then move on to the next one.

If we stick with it, eventually we'll get to where we want to go.

People will support you

A funny thing happens when you put you and your work out there for everyone to see.

People start supporting you.

I'm talking about people you've never met in real life. They will comment on your writing, like your posts, and even buy your products.

Find enough people like this, and you might be able to make a living.

The thing is, this doesn't magically happen overnight. It takes days, weeks, months, and even years to grow a community around your work.

After fumbling through this process over the past decade, I've learned that it really comes down to two "simple" steps:

  1. Do good work. If you're not there yet, practice until you are. And then keep practicing.
  2. Share that work with people. In the beginning, you'll probably have no idea who your audience is. Just put your work out there and people will naturally gravitate towards it.

Be patient while repeating these two steps and, eventually, you'll have a community to call your own.

The small things

I'm in Kansas City for a wedding and I can't help but notice the small things.

Sure, this city is filled with great food, colorful art, and more hipsters than you can imagine, but there is so much more than meets the eye.

Whether it's the perfect lines of the street murals or the finishing touches to every dish, you can tell this city cares about the details.

Somehow, it embraces the different cultures of each neighborhood while also rallying behind a united front.

From the grassroots efforts of the people to the institutional traditions, this city knows how to connect the dots in a way that St. Louis doesn't.

We could learn a thing or two from our neighbors to the west.

But not beer or baseball - We've already got that covered.

The old boys' club

I'm surrounded by a bunch of old white guys in suits.

This could be because it's 1 PM and I'm sitting at the counter of a downtown coffee shop next to the towering skyscrapers of St. Louis. These corporate warriors could be taking a long lunch or grabbing a quick pick-me-up before returning to their corner offices and conference calls.

In almost any other major city, I would be enveloped in a sea of diversity - I'm talking diversity of race, color, creed, gender, thought, age, and many other provocative themes.

Instead, it's as if I was somehow dropped smack-dab in the middle of the old boys' club.

Is St. Louis to blame? Is it the Midwest?

Some would respond with a resounding, "Yes!" while trying to do something about it. Others would avoid the question altogether, afraid of interrupting the status quo.

It's easy to ignore things when you're comfortable and complacent which, unfortunately, is exactly how I would describe this city.

Take a few minutes to stop and look at the world around you. 

Do you like what you see?

If not, you can always choose to do something about it.

Real life is underrated

If you're like me, you spend hours on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat (and LinkedIn if you're looking for a job).

When used correctly, social media is amazing. It allows us to easily connect with others who share our ideas and interests.

Personally, I try and use it in order to build communities around my work in a way that provides real value for others. This is a great goal to have, but honestly, I still rely on it a little too much, and I'm assuming I'm not the only one.

We've all forgotten that we're humans. We're social creatures that crave face-to-face connection with others and we need it in order to thrive.

Whether you're looking for new opportunities or a new friend, in-person meetups can help spark a conversation that makes a difference and can shake up the monotony that creeps into everyday life.

I always leave these conversations with a fire under my ass which is why I want to try and meet someone in-person at least once a week.

If you're not used to this, start small by setting up a coffee meeting once a month. It's a great, low-pressure way to meet someone new.

Also, who doesn't like coffee?

Cut through the noise

There's a lot of noise online.

Companies trying to sell you something, writers promoting their new books, people sharing all of their accomplishments. It can be a little overwhelming.

On one hand, I completely understand. After all, I've been working for myself for about a decade and I've learned that if you want to be heard, you have to speak up.

At the same time, I can't help but notice an overall lack of awareness.

These companies aren't acknowledging their customers as people. These writers aren't addressing how their book will help make your life better. And these people are spending too much time speaking and not enough listening.

Over the years, I've learned that trying to be everywhere at once isn't a strategy - it's quite the opposite. It shows that you have no idea who your audience is and, even if you did know, you aren't patient enough to learn about them as individual people.

We need to stop viewing the people in our audience as numbers, conversion rates, and potential sales and start seeing for what they really are - humans. 

Build a community

I've been thinking a lot about building a community online.

Since I work for myself, I'm always focused on sharing my work with others. Some call this "self-promotion" while others call it "content marketing."

Do you want to know what I call it?

Building a community.

For me, the difference is the intent.

These days, the internet allows you to do some amazing things:

• Work for yourself from wherever you want
• Self-publish an entire book
• Teach others outside of a classroom
• Connect with people from all over the world

Unfortunately, it can also make it much easier to spam people without listening to what they want.

When I first started writing, I shared my blog posts everywhere. I'm ashamed to admit this even included Tinder (back when I was single).

Three years later, my process has become a little more refined.

Even though I'm always focused on being more helpful to others, I'd like to think this job is never finished. When sharing work online, you can always listen more, pay closer attention, and provide even more value to your readers and viewers.

As I start my next phase of building a community, I'm going to focus even more on quality over quantity.

I suggest you do the same.