November 19, 2012

The Audience Is Listening (Hopefully)

“People used to expect companies to take care of them,” he said. “Now you’re in charge of your own destiny, for better or worse.”

-From a recent article about the decline of the app-making industry as a road to riches.

I used to run several little businesses that produced a good income, but they were completely dependent on external factors such as Google rankings or the lack of competition in my space. It was fun while it lasted, but when efficiency entered the marketplace, I had to move on.

Looking back, I can now see that I didn’t really have a business; I was merely taking advantage of an opportunity. And most critically of all, I didn’t have an audience.

Starting a business used to mean seeking out capital—borrowing money one way or another. Borrowing from yourself may be better than borrowing from others, but it still creates an environment of risk.

Ironically, in the new economy a business like app development should be low-cost. But as the article reveals, you can always find reasons to spend money or take unnecessary risks.

“Now you’re in charge of your own destiny, for better or worse.”

It’s for better, for many of us. But the destiny comes with a requirement that we make something valuable, not just something of our own interest or for our own benefit.

When you devote your attention to cultivating and enriching an audience over time, you have much more security. You aren’t dependent on the whims of Apple, the fluctuations of Google rankings, or whether a publisher will return your calls.

Listen closely and the audience will tell you what they want. Even if you don’t always get it right, well, keep caring and you’ll get another chance.

In my work as an author, I have a good relationship with my publishers and appreciate the value they provide through partnership. I’m not dependent on them, though—if I didn’t want to work with them, I wouldn’t have to. The same can’t be said for the app business, aside from those few developers who have worked hard to develop direct relationships with their customers.

It is a new economy out there, but it still offers an old lesson: don’t invest your life savings without a clear basis for expecting success, and don’t rely on someone else for your success or failure.

Make something valuable and interesting. Bootstrap it whenever possible.

Whatever you do, make sure your work serves an audience. This premise will never change.

###

*Congrats to Tim Ferriss on the upcoming publication of The Four-Hour Chef—everything you’ve ever wanted to know about cooking anything, catching street pigeons, learning languages quickly, and more.

Image: Goflo