The necessary evil of “putting yourself out there”

The necessary evil of putting yourself out there | Irregular Entrepreneur

No entrepreneur ever became successful by building a company, writing a book or generally making something amazing and then never letting anyone know about it.

As much as we all know the importance of marketing on an intellectual level, if you’re anything like me it can be very difficult to actually get started. Even letting friends and family know about your project can be terrifying! Anxious thoughts rear their head: What if what we’ve made isn’t good enough? What if the people we know and love and respect laugh at us?

Well, if the people you know and love and respect laugh at you for trying to build something, the’re probably not worth your knowing and love and respect. But that’s a whole other conversation.

For years I wanted to create things. Not just for the money (though of course that helps) but because I simply enjoy creating things. It hardly even matters what the thing is, as long as I’m creating something.

Many years ago I stumbled across the Envato Marketplaces, home to a seemingly endless supply of website themes, graphics, videos, audio and more recently code scripts / CMS plugins from independent creatives. Many years later, my efforts to become a seller there have resulted in 2 or 3 small graphic files that sell a copy maybe once every six months, and no website themes at all.  This isn’t for lack of trying, in fact my project archive is full of half-finished themes and graphics that were never submitted,  it’s all just because the nerves got to me.

This pattern has repeated with many goals over the years, and I’m sick of it.

Right now I’m working on a big web app project (details in a later post) and I can feel the same negative thoughts creeping up on me again. What if nobody uses it? How can I advertise it without anyone I know in real life seeing it and laughing? What if there are bugs and all the users hate me? (Spoiler: there will be bugs, users will cope)

Will all this work go to waste because I’m too afraid to share it with the world?

No. I am determined. Over the last couple of years I’ve managed to figure out a few ways to ease myself in to letting people know about my work, and writing them down will be a good reminder of how far I’ve come so here we go:

Start out small

I couldn’t release a best-selling WordPress theme and cope with hundreds of customers and their constant support requests, but I could release one tiny WordPress plugin for free. Free meant no responsibility to provide support (although I do, sometimes it’s just a little slow), and tiny meant I could get the whole thing done and released in a couple of days before my brain had too much time to freak out about it.

Easy Image Display now has around 13,000 downloads and while it does result in fairly regular support requests, it also results in nice emails and Paypal or Patreon donations. Most importantly, it made me realise I can make things and people will want to use them.

Contribute to someone else’s project

If you don’t yet have the confidence to go it alone, you can help someone else and gain valuable experience in the meantime. Examples:

Before releasing Easy Image Display, I contributed a really (I mean really) minor bugfix to another WordPress plugin I was using. The developer was grateful to me for spotting it, and I felt like a competent person for once even though I’d only changed one line of code. This helped immeasurably with the confidence to go through with my own release.

Before listing my first knitting patterns (yes you read that right, I sell knitting patterns) publicly for sale, I used my graphic design skills to help a friend with the layout for her own patterns. I saw how the whole process of creating and listing a pattern worked and was left with one less “unknown” to deal with, plus got lots of advice on the technical side of pattern-writing from my friend. In the meantime she got a professional graphic design service for free. It was win/win, and both of us came out of the deal with an enthusiastic supporter.

Before letting anyone know about this blog (Which I still haven’t done, but soon. Soooooooon.) I contributed a video as a guest post for a product I use and admire. They get free content, I get to see the lovely reaction from people who enjoyed it, that’s a big confidence boost! Nobody even commented on my stupid voice, which is frankly amazing to me because we all know how YouTube commenters can be.

Find someone you trust

If you can tell one close friend or family member about your new venture and get their support, you’ll feel a lot better about going public. Try not to undermine your own work while showing it to them, or make apologies for things being rough around the edges. The goal here is to show just one person your work and be able to feel proud of it! Easier said than done, but once you know you can trust this person to be supportive (while still giving constructive criticism, of course) it makes all the difference.

If all else fails . . . go anonymous!

Writer? Pick a pen name or ten, and go wild. Knowing that my books can’t be traced back to me from the pen name(s) on Amazon gives me a sense of freedom and bravery that would otherwise just be more terror and crying and hiding under a blanket.

Artist or coder? Why does anyone need to know who made your stuff anyway? Come up with a cool internet handle and you’re set.

Startup founder? That’s a little trickier, but there’s no rule that says you absolutely HAVE TO put your name and mugshot on the about page. Use your company name, refer to yourself as “we” instead of “I” and have an anonymous email like “support@example.com” instead of  the more personal “joe@example.com”. Yes this affects your branding, but if it’s a choice between going anonymous and not seeming quite as approachable, or just wallowing in fear and never trying to build anything, I know which one I’d pick.

I’d love to hear how other anxious types deal with the stress of “outing” yourself to friends and family. Or do you struggle more with showing your work to strangers than to friends? Share your tips in the comments!

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