Many reading this are starting (or in the middle of) our own businesses, and we need people to notice and spread our work to their friends. But most of us feel the sting of being passed over and ignored.
So how do we get more people to care?
One day in grade school, I was over at a friend’s house playing video games in his basement. I happened upon a can of shaving cream.
Like most 5th graders, I enjoyed self-propelled shooting of all kinds - squirt guns, silly string, dart guns - and now I’ve got a can of shaving cream to play with.
Down in this basement, there was a dark, unlit room I couldn’t even see into. It reminded me of the dark rooms in my parent’s basement, which were unfinished, concrete floored, storing a bunch of junk, and rarely visited.
So, every so often while we played video games that day, I’d walk over to this dark room and shoot some shaving cream into it - I wanted to see the gel blast out of the can.
A couple hours later, his mom comes downstairs and turns on the light in that room.
It’s not the unfinished storage room I imagined at all. It’s a room this family uses. It’s very much finished and carpeted. And now, like an asshole, I’ve sprayed shaving cream all over it.
The story sticks with me because it seemed so unlike me. I didn’t deface people’s property. I didn’t go “bombing” on Halloween with kids who sprayed shaving cream all over people’s houses and each other. I didn’t “tag” anything or create graffiti.
But, for some reason, this black box, anonymous room seemed like one of those rooms people ignored. Somewhere no one cared about.
It wasn’t that at all.
There was a great story recently in the Pacific Standard about the origin of the new artisinal food trend in San Francisco: toast.
John Gravios, the article’s author, traced the likely origin of the trend to a cafe called Trouble, started by a woman named, Giulietta Carrelli.
The core of the article is really about the obstacles Giulietta has overcome in life to get to this point where she’d even have an influence on a trend.
Ever since she was in high school, Carrelli says, she has had something called schizoaffective disorder, a condition that combines symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolarity.
When an episode comes on, she describes the experience as a kind of death: Sometimes she gets stuck hallucinating, hearing voices, unable to move or see; other times she has wandered the city aimlessly.
As you read the article you learn a bit more about what Giulietta has lost along the way of battling her disorder, and what she’s used to defend herself against it.
One thing that immediately caught my attention was how unique Giulietta looks. She is covered in tattoos. She even has freckles tattooed onto her face.
As Gravios explains, it’s for survival:
The trick was to be identifiable: The more people who recognized her, the more she stood a chance of being able to recognize herself.
“I’m wearing the same outfit every day,” she says. “I take the same routes every day. I own Trouble Coffee so that people recognize my face—so they can help me.”
My obstacles aren’t as profound as Giulietta’s, but her form of self-defense resonates with me.
I’m often asked why I make my business so personal, and why it’s not more “professional”.
If you’ve used the writing software my business makes, Draft, you’ve gotten personal communication from me. If you check out Draft’s purchase page, you’ll see a picture of my dog, Bailey. If you read an announcement about a Draft feature, you’ll probably hear something about how awesome my wife is and what she’s done to help me. If you get an email from me, you’ll hear about my own struggles with writing and running a business, and you’ll be encouraged to read even more on my personal blog and Twitter account.
I do all this because those personal things add up to something unique. Something you’ll recognize.
If I were to build my business using the same website templates, logos, writing style, and impossibly-happy-people-around-a-desk stock photography as everyone else, I might get a few more people to say, “Ah, now that looks more professional.” But, then you wouldn’t recognize me from all the other websites you come across and forget about the very next day. You wouldn’t help me spread the word about Draft.
I do all this so I’m not treated like that dark, unlit, anonymous room.
P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter: here.
Or please let me send you my latest newsletter.