a labour of love

I have mentioned over the years that you have to own your data and that many online platforms are set up for crowd-milking. One of the latest platforms for writers to make-it-rich is Substack, where the top writers may earn six figures. Substack lets writers set up paid subscriptions and takes 10 percent. However, the platform also paid high profile writers in advance to get them to use the platform, and in turn could say how much money writers were making. Annalee Newitz described this scam, ironically, on Substack [as an aside, I think that Newitz is a great writer].

Simon Owens recently discussed the gritty reality of Substack’s middle class. He has turned down full-time writing and editorial jobs and is completely focused on producing content, both free and paid. His observations include:

“you really have to minimize time spent on anything other than content creation”
“You need some sort of financial cushion.” — “I think it’s safe to say that you’ll want to have a minimum of one year’s salary in the bank before even considering making the plunge.”
“While I was constantly experimenting with small tweaks during this time, there was simply no way to collect quantitative data on whether they were actually effective.”
“I do think it’s very much possible for the average person to join this middle class, but it’s important that everyone understands the punishing economics at play.”

Owens does not reveal how much he makes on the platform. As a writer I can say that it is very difficult to make money at it. My blog is free, as it is how I connect with others, show some of my skills, and perhaps find new clients. It’s indirect and like Owens has said, hard to collect quantitative data. This is why I removed reader-tracking a few years ago. I have been paid to write white papers and some blog posts but even that line of business has dried-up in the past five years.

What has worked is to diversify my work, using the blog as a point of entry. Almost all of my clients have been introduced to my work through my blog. I have also set up a community of practice — the perpetual beta coffee club — with paid membership. It does not generate significant revenue but members get my attention and we learn a lot from other. It  has been a wonderful refuge during the pandemic.

The PKM online workshops are another source of income and are also good at introducing potential client organizations to my work. I also do public speaking which has dropped significantly since March 2020. My e-book series generates a bit of money which helps when times are tough. My main source of revenue is consulting or advisory work. By mixing business offerings and having one add to the other I have been able to carve out a business since 2003. The market keeps changing and an attitude of perpetual beta is necessary.

So you could focus all your effort on writing, as long as you have a partner with another source of income, or a year’s salary in the bank. Or you can diversify your offerings so that you might weather the next storm. I survived the 2008 Great Recession [barely] and am making it through this pandemic. On this Labour Day 2021, I thought I would share a bit about my own labour. I thank all the people who subscribe to my blog and especially those who offer constructive criticism or new ideas.

young labourers early 20th century

Young labourers early 20th century

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