I promised I’d tell you how to find your people in the last blog, but when I did that, I had no idea what a monumental task it would be to put that into actual words. Then a friend of mine made a post on Facebook about loneliness (it was a helpful post for people feeling lonely, she’s a good egg). And although this blog is meant to be for your personal development, over time it’s also come to be very useful for people in their personal lives, too, so it kind of got me thinking.
Marketing yourself to the wrong people IS a lot like hanging out with people who don’t get you, which can be a source of loneliness. The constant miscommunication and disappointment that you’re having to explain your core essence to someone is the same whether personal or professional.
Even though we, as creatives, have a job that requires we learn to handle A LOT of rejection, it still stings. It still can generate professional setbacks if there are too many losses in a row. This is why it’s SO much easier to just find your people than to try to force yourself to be someone that you’re not. After all, this world is built on niches upon niches, there is absolutely someone who gets you out there, and almost certainly enough of those people to allow you to make a living.
After all, NO ONE is *that* special. Not really. We’re all just meaty bags of pulp at the end of the day.
Identifying Your Segment, Sector, Humans, or Fleshy Bags of Wonder
Before you can find the people who will hold on to you and understand the unique talents you possess, you’re gonna have to do some real soul-searching and, frankly, be painfully honest with yourself. I’m sorry, but this is the only way.
I’ve met a lot of young writers who really want to be a certain sort of writer: clever, sarcastic, witty, sardonic, intense, intellectual, the list is long, but who were really something entirely different. And there’s no sinnin’ in learning how to write like someone else, or to get better at networking with some kind of self-help reading, or to generally improve your skill base.
But there’s a difference between doing this and trying to overwrite who you are at your very core. It’s that heart that makes you you, and, as far as I’ve ever seen, that bit doesn’t really change a lot once you’re a fully mature person. This is where the honesty thing comes in, because you need to recognize who that is, what it is that makes your heart beat, and harness the fuck outta it.
Maybe you want to be a clever writer, but you’re really an analytical one. You know what? That’s ok, there are so many places you are amazingly useful and people who WANT a naturally analytical writer will fall all over themselves to find one who will embrace that. There are also places where your cheek is way too fucking much and you’ll get kicked to the curb for being sassy. I am both a highly analytical thinker and have a bad case of the sassypants, so I speak from experience here.
But you know who I want to be? Or who I used to want to be, before I realized that I could only be who I am anyway? I wanted to be one of those writers who sound so, so smart. They pull in quotes from philosophers I’ve never even heard of, they speak four languages fluently, they are all that is intellect and class. That’s who I used to want to be. That’s the round hole I used to try to pound myself into.
You know who I am? I’m a walking dad joke wrapped in rural folksisms. I’m a person with a great deal of practical knowledge, not nearly enough formal education, and no fear. I’m a force of nature, just like you, but I would have never realized this until I really took a long look at myself.
So, step one is to really understand who you are and what your skill set looks like. Because, as I’ve said so many times in the past, as writers, we’re not in competition with one another. The client will hire the best fit for what their brain eyeballs see. They hire the person who they think is the right person, there’s really not even a contest.
It’s like dating, really. Just because you go on a bunch of dates doesn’t mean those people are competing with one another. What you’re really doing is sizing them up to see if any of them are the right person to help build the future in your mind. Honestly, this whole blog came about because I was thinking about how much dating was just like sending out job inquiries. Every potential match is different and there’s a certain amount of self-understanding that’s required to figure out which ones are the best for your overall well-being.
Where Do Your People Live?
The biggest trick to finding your people is to figure out where they live. That mainly means in professional circles, so please don’t go knocking on doors asking around. There are personalities that exist in all realms, of course, but some tend to attract certain types, and the real trick is to find where your type hangs out.
This is kind of like an intro to audience segmentation, honestly. To find your people ask yourself this simple question: Who do you connect with easily? Women aged 25-40 with college educations? Blue collar men in the trades under age 50? Be specific and honest. The more specific you can get, the closer you’re going to get to their homes.
Social media is a great place to fish for people, but you can’t exactly do that when you’re looking for writing work. Clients tend to frown on you stalking them.
What you have to do, instead, is set out a lot of bait and see who comes swimming up. That bait needs to be all you, as you are, and nothing less. I’ve hired a lot of writers over the years and I can tell you, I rarely hire the ones that sound like carbon copies of one another. I hire the ones that have teeth and voice and have zero shits to give.
Your Opinion in a Relationship Matters, Too
So, this is where I’m gonna go into the actual actionable stuff. Like ya do. See, the whole point of casting the bait and reelin’ them in is so you can actually talk to these people and get a feel for what they’re about. In your professional life, social life, actual life, doesn’t even matter. It’s the same trick.
You may not be yet ready to walk up to every new person and treat them like you’ve known them all your life, but you can get a bead on them and whether or not a relationship with them will end up making you happier or more miserable, whether you’ll feel like a member of a team or increasingly isolated.
These are my top tips for feeling out strangers (not feeling up strangers, that’s against the law):
1. Be honest about who you are. In a job interview, you should obviously be a bit more formal than you would in your life life, but it’s still important to be honest about who you are, what your needs are, and how you believe those can be met. For example, when I meet with a potential client for the first time, I get the money talk out of the way right away. If they won’t pay me what I deserve, there’s no reason to waste anyone’s time. We’re not going to be compatible if they don’t value my work at the same level I do.
In the same vein, I also make sure they understand that I’m not a churn and burn content flipper, I don’t do fast content, I do good content, and the things I generate for them will make them money for years to come. That’s who I am. I’m slow sometimes, but I am always methodical. I am all about doing the job right. If they’re not for that, then it’s probably not going to be a good match because we simply don’t have the same values when it comes to work.
I have ethical lines in the sand I won’t cross. For example, I won’t overuse the fear button just for a sale; I’m more of a hopey-changey type. I’ll sell hope all fucking day long, man. But fear, that’s not me, even if that’s what the client thinks they need. I’ll walk before I support that shit, because I know who I am now.
2. Have some personality. Along with being honest about who you are in a professional way, you should be honest about how you work. What’s it like to be around you? Are you a miserable prat that no one likes? Well, maybe keep that under your hat… but if you’re someone like me who is super casual with everyone, well, you definitely need to get that out. Don’t lead with fart jokes, but don’t give the impression that you’ve got a stick up your ass, either, because that’s who that client will expect to meet time after time.
3. Interview the interviewer. Because of my background in journalism and sales, it’s second nature to me to ask a lot of questions and to size people up. This is admittedly not a skill that comes easily to a lot of people, but anyone can learn how to do it with some practice. A job interview, just like a first date, should go both ways. They ask you questions, you ask them questions, you have a proper conversation. If you get little red flags popping up all over the place, maybe you decide this one is best left alone, or, at very least, to be watched very carefully for signs of going toxic.
4. Allow yourself to say no. I’ll be apologizing for this forever, I’m afraid, because I used to say that writers should always say yes and never say no. Admittedly, the environment was a lot different back then, but that was still really miserable advice to offer. You should absolutely tell people no when you mean no. No, I won’t do this. No, this price isn’t gonna work. No, I have zero experience writing about cooking waffles for ducks. It’s ok to say no. It’s not a dirty word. It’s a limit on how many of your resources you’re willing or able to spend.
If the client isn’t giving you answers you like, say no. Maybe there’s a way you can work together differently, maybe there’s not, but you won’t know until you say no and offer a compromise. No, I don’t do DropBox. How do you feel about Google Drive? No, WordPerfect isn’t an appropriate word processor for the 2020s. I can send you anything that’s MS Word compatible. No, I won’t take any goddamn paper money, get that shit out of my face.
I’ve learned that how people respond to “no” says a whole lot more about them than how they respond to “yes.” With yes, they know they’re getting what they want and it’s all good. With no, well, it’s anybody’s guess. Maybe they’ll get what they want eventually, maybe not, but they won’t get their EXACT way, and there are some intolerable assholes who will out themselves quickly when you drop the N-word. No, I mean…
This is only really a basic primer on finding your people. What I know about this subject could fill a book, so if you have any specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask here in the comments or via my FaceBook account, Waterworth Writes.