So, what does it take?
And while we’re at it, what does it look like?
Whatever “it” is for you, it probably doesn’t look like waking up one day to realize you’ve reached it. It’s probably not a single moment when you’ve made it or a single achievement that let’s you know you’ve done it.
In reality, “it” is a boulder that you push, inch by inch. It is not a destination. It is the process of continually moving forward, day after day, every single day.
But we like to think “it” is a destination that, once reached, solves our problems or fulfills our desires. And so we all tell ourselves the same story: To be successful, we need more. We need a bigger audience. We need more budget. We need more free time. To be successful, we need more, more, more.
And guess what? You’re right. You do need more.
You don’t need more audience, of course. You don’t need more followers, more budget, or more free time.
But you do need more.
You need more reps.
You need to take more shots.
Note that I’m not saying, “Take your shot.” That implies the one perfect shot. Instead, I’m saying take A TON OF SHOTS. Stop reading or watching videos about how to shoot. Stop buying all the gear you think you need to shoot well. And for the love of God, stop asking others to meet to “pick their brains” about shooting.
Pick up the damn ball. Walk onto the damn court. And just start shooting.
And yes, you’re gonna miss. More often than you make it, you will miss. But those few times you connect are oh-so-sweet, and you’ll only wind up connecting consistently by starting with tons of misses.
Don’t take your shot. Take lots of shots. What are you waiting for?
Now, I know this sounds nice in theory. But what does it LOOK like?
I can’t say what it looks like for you, but I can show you what it’s looked like for me through age 31. Below, I’ve listed every side project I’ve ever started (that I could remember). These are my reps, or at least the reps I took outside my core work.
Although I tried to make it entertaining, I don’t really expect you to read the list — because who cares what I’ve launched? I’m nobody. I’m nothing. But I am pushing my boulder, every single day, day after day. I am taking lots of shots, over and over and over again. And guess what? Most of these shots clanked off the rim. Hell, most of my shots missed so badly that I had to pick up my gym bag (and my ego) and go sprinting after the ball.
But then comes the truly hard part: picking up that damn ball, walking back to that damn court, and shooting more shots.
My Side Project Body of Work
1. Sammy the Snake
- Book series created as a kid. Hand-drawn with markers.
- Results: 1 edition created. Never landed that elusive book deal 😉
2. Mike & Mack
- Stick figure cartoon strips created with a friend in middle school. Pen drawings on a few yellow pages of paper (that kind with the dotted line going through the middle of the rows to show you where lower case letters should stop versus upper-case).
- Results: 10-12 cartoons created each. The New Yorker never picked us up though. Their loss…
- Sports blog created in college. Wrote random musings on national sports stories that interested me.
- Results: 12 people and my mom read it. Google interviewers did ask me an awful lot about this project before they hired me though.
- Sports blog created just after college. Wrote random musings on being a New York Yankees fan living in Boston.
- Results: 12 people and my mom and one of my mom’s friends read it. (This is a true story. Her friend loved it. She was kinda pissed when I stopped.)
- Sports blog created just before I left Google. Wrote random musings about the then-emerging fan blogging niche.
- Results: 12 people and my mom read it. (I lost her one friend. She was really only interested in my take on the Yankees.)
6. Jay Acunzo-dot-com
- My first blog about marketing and business in general, hosted on Tumblr. I would get a coffee behind my apartment in the morning a few days a week and write whatever came to mind.
- Results: Even my mom stopped reading at this point.
- A community group I co-created to connect local content marketers.
- Results: At first, it was a few folks in a bar commiserating and dreaming over drinks. Today, it has 1,500 members, and I’ve handed the reins to a committee of volunteers to run it.
8. The Startup
- A cheap imitation of the TV show The Office but built by a bunch of startup people for a bunch of startup people.
- Results: We filmed half an episode on an iPhone and realized we mostly just liked staying late to drink beers and make fun of the startup world. Creating an actual series felt like way more work.
9. The Daily Content
- A daily newsletter emailing one great piece of content marketing each weekday, with a brief analysis of what made it so creative.
- Results: Grew it to 900 subscribers and quickly burned myself out. Ended it a few years ago. I might bring it back someday though.
- My personal blog where I finally decided to let it all hang out — all my love for creativity, as well as my strongest opinions on the marketing world and my disdain for the short-term thinking that dominates it.
- Results: Grew it to 1,200 subscribers and a few hundred uniques per post. Gained enough attention from the right readers to get a few speaking gigs. It’s no longer active but still exists as a personal brochure.
11. Tech It Fwd
- A podcast created for a Boston-based nonprofit, profiling a nonprofit founder and tech founder each episode. A friend of mine asked what they should do for their content, and I immediately said, “A podcast. And I’ll launch it!”
- Results: Launched 3 episodes with some acclaim, little audience. Ultimately backed away when my contact at the nonprofit decided to leave.
- A podcast about how startups start. Launched as one small part of my work at NextView Ventures on a whim.
- Results: Grew it to 5K downloads per episode per month. Landed in publications like Forbes and the TechStars blog at the top of their podcast rankings after just a few episodes. I still run the show twice monthly today.
13. Creativity Cove
- A newsletter sharing a curated roundup of smart or awe-inspiring longford articles about content marketing or creativity.
- Results: Designed a logo. Bought the URL. Never launched it.
14. Turks & Rose
- A newsletter that would replace the hole in the internet (and in my heart) left by ESPN’s decision to kill Grantland once Bill Simmons left. It would be business writing so good and creative it could replace your pleasure reading.
- Results: Designed a logo. Never launched it
15. Content Marketing Masters
- A Slack community connecting veteran content marketers. There’s so much 101-level content marketing knowledge out there, I thought people with more experience would want to learn from each other.
- Results: Turns out, yes, just not through Slack …or at least THIS Slack group. Killed it last year.
- A weekly podcast trying to understand how intuition works and sharing stories of people in business who used theirs to do exceptional things.
- Results: Currently at 1,500 downloads per episode per month and about to launch Unthinkable 3.0 with a renewed focus and format (starts in June). Mainly, the show drives leads for me (speaking gigs; offers to produce series for other brands) rather than massive top-line audience into which I’d inject sponsors.
17. Marketing Vent Line
- A phone line you could call to vent about marketing.
- Results: Designed the logo. Set up the number and voicemail. Got zero adoption so I killed it.
18. Sparks and Procreation
- A parody of the TV show Parks and Recreation which my cousins and I wrote, filmed, and edited for my sister’s wedding last summer.
- Results: It was hilarious, and my sister and brother-in-law loved it. (No, I will not share it with you. This is a gift meant only for my family.)
- Longer series of snaps on Snapchat to teach various topics in both tech and marketing.
- Results: Got some decent attention relative to my other snaps (~150 views per snap) but decided to kill it to focus more on Unthinkable.
- A meetup at Content Marketing World 2016 for those who love to create content, first and foremost. The goal was to spin it off into a community group.
- Results: The goal was not achieved. I started a Slack group afterwards to connect everyone, but that quickly died. But I will say that the people who attended the breakfast absolutely loved it.
21. Social Media Marketing World documentary series
- A series of narrative podcast episodes (later turned into videos) created for Social Media Examiner in order to tell behind-the-scenes stories of their big annual event, Social Media Marketing World.
- Results: It got great qualitative feedback (both online and live at the event), and some decent traction online (tens of thousands of views across 8 mini-episodes).
22. Brand Podcast Masters
- A Slack community connecting in-house brand podcasters.
- Results: 7 early members all seem excited about it, but considering I started this last week, results are TBD.
Side Projects: Your Creative Gym
I created these projects purely for myself, because I wanted to, because they felt fun. I didn’t set out to get any kind of result. I think that would have cheapened what I did and what I learned — and I did learn a ton from each of these things. But in the end, I didn’t care if they blew up or went nowhere (which was good, because most of them went nowhere). That’s the beauty of side projects: They act as your creative gym, allowing you to work out whenever, wherever, however you like. They make you stronger every day.
Don’t take your shot. Take lots of shots.
Listen to the episode of Unthinkable that inspired this post here. (Go easy, it was my second-ever episode. I hadn’t take enough shots for this show yet!)
PS: I haven’t done jack squat in my career. I really feel that way. Every day feels hard. Every free moment, when I’m washing the dishes, or walking the dog, or driving to visit family, I agonize over doing my work better, more, or in a way that is more broadly known. I want you to know that because this post could be misconstrued as me saying, “I’ve made it, and so can you.” Nope. I haven’t. But the “so can you” part still very much applies. You’re not that far away.
PPS: Now that I have SOME people paying attention to my work, I’ve had a few disheartening interactions where people assume they need something external to do great work. You don’t. You just need to START.
PPPS: How many PSes are you allowed to write? OK. I’m done.
PPPPS: (Sorry, I just wanted to see it with one more P. It’s not as satisfying as I’d hoped. This was a mistake. Over and out…)