I recently watched a commencement speech by Neil Gaiman to the University of Arts in 2012 and Neil said something along the lines of, “To learn how to write I started working as a journalist. It’s amazing! I got paid to learn how to write.”
It was then that I realized that that may be the best option for those who want to learn all their life. Not journalism per se, but the approach of creating content as a way to learn.
A learning dropout
When I dropped out of #1 business-school in the U.S., Babson College in 2016 I wanted to continue learning. I did it through a mix of 3 things:
a) something I called ‘Faldin University’ (Faldin is my last name) — a personal education program that I co-created together with my tutor in Moscow
b) intense reading and content-absorbing (podcasts, articles, books, etc.)
c) interviewing 10 people whom I admired or could see as my role model (famous entrepreneurs, authors, etc.) in a project called “10 mentors”
The most profound insights and learning opportunities came from the third one, of course.
Getting to sit down in one room with role models inspires, motivates and makes you think much bigger. It’s amazing.
And the best thing: you get media coverage. Over the course of 2 months I got interviewed or written about in almost every popular Russian business-media, including Inc. Russia.
If I decided to monetize the project from ads or sponsorships (I declined 100% of the incoming proposals like this), I would have made money by simply learning.
Which is crazy, if you think about. And absolutely wonderful.
Blogging = modern journalism
Neil Gaiman went to work as a journalist to become a writer because he realized that to be one has to, you know, write. He needed to learn and he needed money. Journalism job provided both of these, so it was a no-brainer.
Modern bloggers and content-makers are a lot like traditional journalists. Bloggers (good ones, at least) create content about a certain subject and make money off ads — just like their journalistic predecessors. Although, blogging allows you to do it on your terms and there is no cap to the upside you can earn from your blog or selling courses and webinars. It is, in essence, decentralized, liberal journalism.
And today, influencers have all the attention.
They make money off ads from brands like Coca-Cola. They are popular. They do public speaking. They write books. Some of them even play in movies.
Instagram is planning to launch a whole new type of business account called ‘content-maker’, so that users who have a solid following can make money off brand sponsorships more easily in one unified interface.
It’s great being a blogger, isn’t it? You talk about your life and you make money off of it. In certain cases you don’t need money at all.
Some bloggers even travel the world moneyless, staying at hotels and buying airplane tickets with a ‘barter’ — getting free services by tagging the brand in an Instagram Story.
Moreover, with blogging you won’t even need a marketing budget for your business.
A different approach to marketing
Business schools tell us: write a business-plan, build a product, do focus-groups and figure out how to sell your thing. But that’s too risky. No wonder only 1 out of 10 ventures survive.
The correct way is to forget about the product and focus on audience-development first. How?
By becoming a blogger. (For entrepreneurs: or at least hire one)
The idea is to create a blog around the service or product that you want to sell before you have the business itself.
By building a loyal audience — you save money, and you can figure out exactly what your audience wants months before the product is developed. If your audience is large (and loyal) enough, you won’t even need a marketing budget once you launch.
Such approach is counter-intuitive to what the business professors teach us. It’s also smart and practical in the modern content-driven world.
I recently interviewed a founder of the fastest-growing HR-startup in Russia. He told me a story of how they began by setting themselves an ambitious goal of ‘creating the best HR blog in Russia’. In 6–8 months almost every HR in Moscow was reading the blog. Once the service launched, they already had a loyal audience waiting for it and insights on what features to focus on.
For companies that are already on the market, shifting the focus from ‘product-first’ to ‘content-first’ is essential to survive in today’s world. Become your own media and save on marketing.
The same works for people. If you want to learn about something — you don’t have to take risks, go into debt or pay a high-cost tuition.
You can create simply write about.
Learning for a living
With the accelerating pace of change a lot of people are struggling with the question of: How do you continue learning all your life? And while I believe that education is a personal matter, and you might have your own answer to this question, I’ve found blogging to be my answer.
Every time I fall in love with a new subject or idea I start talking about it. I tell all my friends, colleagues, partners, family and probably blog a few times on the subject.
When I went to college in the U.S. — I created a blog to document my experiences as an international student from Russia.
When I dropped out of college — I continued learning by interviewing people who answered my questions on a YouTube show.
When I started a video-production business in Moscow — I blogged about it.
When I fell in love with Stoicism — I created a blog for that, too.
A few days ago I created another blog — this time about content in general. Because I think content is amazing.
I am a bit crazy about it, but I love it.
I love teaching what I am learning, while I am learning it. Sharing allows me to reflect more and to solidify my insights.
And for people like me (with the ‘blogger gene’, I guess), blogging is a great way to learn all your life.
Create a blog around your area of interest. Start documenting your journey of getting educated on the subject. Teach other people what you know. Build a following. Create high-quality content.
And soon enough, you’ll have brands knocking on your door asking for sponsorship deals.
Let’s say you want to be a VC. You like money and you like startups and you dream to become a big venture capitalist (with a mustache). But right now, you know next to 0 about finance. No problem, we’ve got you.
Pick a medium (text, audio, video, visual) — something you feel naturally closer to, it’s different for everyone. Once you do that, choose a platform. Focus on 1, don’t be GaryVee from the very beginning and everywhere at once. Start telling your truth. Your intro post should say something along the lines of:
“Hey, I really want to be a VC, but I know nothing about it. But I’ll be learning and I’ll be sharing what I learn here, in this blog. Please, bear with me on this wonderful journey!”.
Then learn and create regular content.
Say, you want to learn Spanish. Great! Create a blog for those who also want to learn Spanish and teach them what you learn on a daily basis.
Want to learn how to cook? Create a YouTube channel or an Instagram blog and show the world new cooking ideas.
This approach is not even ‘fake it until you make it’. It’s more ‘teach as you learn as you go’. And if you do it long enough, you’ll have sponsors come to you asking to write a special piece of content for their brand or just talk about their stuff between the lines as native advertising.
The caveat here is to stick with it. Everyone can start to be a blogger, but not everyone really becomes one. It all comes down to patience.
Wealth, success, freedom and fulfillment comes to those who are diligent and industrious. So be patient. The good news is that you don’t need a million subscribers. All you need is a 1000 or so loyal readers.
Imagine for a second
Living free and a life full of adventure. Isn’t it amazing?