Every few days it seems a leader messages me about getting started or breaking through as a writer, blogger or podcaster.
I appreciate the question because for years, I wondered about what it took to write books, blog or launch a podcast.
Over the last 7 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do all three. I’m currently writing my fourth book (this one with Penguin/Waterbrook), have seen this five-year-old blog grow to 350,000 page views a month and my not-quite three year old Leadership Podcast reach 3.8 million downloads.
It’s been both overwhelming in seasons and is still always surprising to me to see what’s happened, but along the way I’ve learned a few things.
First, there was a ton of grace involved. I don’t always understand why some things ‘take off’ and others don’t, and I can assure I never envisioned a growing reach like this. My wildest dreams were passed a long time ago.
Second, I’m not sure every pastor or leader needs a platform. I outline my reasons here. I write, create and podcast out of a deep sense of calling I feel to help leaders.
To that end, some of you may be called to write, called to help others and have a message in you that needs to get out. At times, it can seem intimidating sitting at your dining room table or blogging in your basement wondering if anyone will ever read what you wrote or listen to what you created. I get that.
Here are 9 leadership lessons I learned from writing, blogging and podcasting over the last few years. I hope they both encourage you and provide some tangible direction and some hope.
And whether you ever blog, write and podcast or not, the insights apply far more broadly than that. I think they apply to anyone trying to start anything.
1. Anything is possible from anywhere
I always tell people I’m from Toronto, but the truth is I live an hour north of that wonderful city in a rural community in the middle of nowhere.
It can be easy to tell yourself that you don’t live in the right city to make an impact, have the right connections or know the right people to make a difference in the lives of others.
But then the internet happened. And suddenly, location meant less than it ever has.
You can’t use your location as an excuse anymore. Connection with anyone, anywhere, any time is a reality.
This principle applies quite broadly.
Think your church or organization can’t grow because of its location? Just a few miles from my house (in the middle of nowhere) we saw God transition three small dying churches into the fastest growing and one of the largest churches in the country in our denomination. (I tell that story here.)
I also have a friend in Van Wert Ohio who has seen his church grow to an average attendance of 1200 in a town of 10,000. In fact, over 25% of his community now calls LifeHouse Church home.
I’m also doing a future episode of my Leadership Podcast on rural multisite, which is really starting to take off.
If you’re trying to use location as an excuse, you need a new excuse.
2. Don’t set out to be successful, set out to help
Motive checks are always a great idea in leadership, not to mention life.
Ask yourself: why do you want to write, blog or podcast. Why do you want to do something bigger?
I’ve met more than a few people who want to do it for the money, or to be known or recognized in their field, or to address some underlying insecurity or sense of inferiority they want to address.
People can smell a selfish motive from miles away.
If your motive is poor, this isn’t the time to start something new.
Don’t set out to be successful. Set out to help people.
If there’s one filter through which I run everything I do, it’s this: I want it to help people. And when I talk to readers and listeners about my work, so many invetabilty said they keep coming back because they find my material helpful.
For that, I’m so grateful.
Even though most of what I do is free (it costs the reader or listener no money), people still pay with their time. If someone invests 60 seconds skimming your article or 60 minutes listening to a podcast, they’re running a value proposition through their head.
The question: “Was this worth my time?” Most people will answer yes to that question if they feel helped.
By the way, you usually find that the most successful leaders (those whose personal and public lives are the best) usually never set out to be successful. They set out to help people.
3. Money and design are not actually barriers to entry
When you want to launch something, it’s easy to create all kinds of barriers to launch in your head.
You tell yourself you don’t have the right design, or that it’s going to cost a pile of money to launch.
I launched my blog for $79.
I launched my leadership podcast for just under $1000 investment, half of which was a microphone. (BTW…this is the exact step-by-step guide I used to start my podcast—thank you Pat Flynn!)
Was my blog particularly well designed for $79? Of course not. But honestly, it didn’t matter that much.
Design doesn’t get you in the door. Helpful content does.
Think about it. So many organizations you admire started on a shoe string budget. Yours can too.
Does it cost $79 to run anymore? Absolutely not. I have a team who works hard behind the scenes to make sure it all comes together. But you don’t have to start that way.
4. Help beats hype 1000:1
A lot of leaders wonder how they will get noticed. After all, in a world where anyone can start anything, there are millions of options out there.
It’s easy to think you need a lot of hype to get noticed. You don’t.
What gets you noticed over time is simple this: your willingness to help others.
Hype tries to convince you a bad product is good. Help quietly shows you a better future.
If there’s one filter through which I try to run everything I write and produce, it’s this: is it helpful? I believe people will come back again and again if they’re helped.
If you want to be helpful, focus on the reader or listener, not on yourself. People don’t care about your story; they care about theirs. If you can keep a singular focus on helping people, you’ll be amazed at what you see.
I know that can sound threatening. It’s not.
If you put your own needs aside and focus on helping others, and amazing thing happens: eventually, your needs will be met too.
New life comes to us on the way to somebody else. Or as Jesus promised, if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll find it.
5. The best way to start is to simply begin
People always ask me, how do I become a writer?
My first question is always the same: what have you written?
The number one answer? They’ve written nothing.
If you want to be a writer, start writing. Even if what you write isn’t close to a finished product, you’ll have something to show an agent or publisher one day. Or you’ll have a first draft of a manuscript you can publish yourself.
The best way to start something is to simply begin.
If you’re waiting to launch until you feel completely ready, you’ll never launch.
6. Consistency paves the way to breakthrough
So what gives many writers and launchers their breakthrough?
I think it’s consistency.
The truth is this blog goes back almost a full decade. I launched it when we were starting Connexus Church. But once we got through launch phase, I did what most bloggers do: wondered what the purpose was, wrote in seasons and then stopped.
Every January, I would blog prolifically like some guy going back to the gym at New Year’s. By March, my posts would slow to a trickle or just stop.
But then almost five years ago, I decided to start blogging three times a week. That would be the most I had ever blogged. And I decided I would never violate that promise to myself.
I made no other changes other than to blog consistently and share my posts via social. That alone tripled traffic in the first few months, and saw the blog grow to hundreds of thousands of page views in that first year.
While I no longer blog 3x a week because I’m also podcasting, writing and doing other things, but there is still fresh content every single week on the blog. And there’s always a new post on Monday.
Three years into the podcast, we have never missed an episode launch on a Tuesday. Ever.
The point is not to log three times a week or podcast weekly. The point is this: however frequently you decide to release material, be consistent. If you’re a monthly blogger, never miss a month. If you’re a weekly writer, never miss a week.
Consistency is important because it fosters trust. It helps your readers and listeners understand that you’re going to do what you said you’re going to do when you said you’re going to do it. They can have the confidence that every Monday, or every 3rd Thursday (whatever your pattern is), you’re going to deliver on your promise.
7. Your bad ideas generate your good ideas
So wha happens when you decide on a content schedule, it’s time to ship and you don’t think you have a good idea?
You blog anyway.
What should you do when you’re writing a book and you’re not having a good day? Write anyway.
Ditto with when you don’t feel like podcasting, you do it anyway.
Here’s what I’ve learned from years of creating content: your bad ideas generate your good ideas. Quantity moves you to quality.
I had to write some bad posts to find the ideas in the good posts. When you’re blogging, it’s okay to publish so-so material on your way to producing a few gems.
If you’re a writer, either an editor or you yourself will cut your bad material out, or reshape it into something better. So no worries. At least you wrote.
And if you’re a podcaster, well many times I thought I wasn’t that great, but for the most part, I’ve discovered listeners don’t hear much of a difference. They’re grateful for fresh content.
If you’re waiting for your words to be perfect, you’ll never publish. So write.
8. Authority isn’t given; it’s earned
I’ve seen some writers and content creators who want to be instantly known as authorities in their field.
But that’s not the way it works. Authority, if it’s established at all, isn’t given; it’s earned.
You can’t decide to be an authority on an issue; people decide that for you by the way they treat you.
Most people who want be an authority never become one, but those who set out to help, assist and offer quiet insight often become authorities. See insights 2 and 4 for more.
9. The rules are more fluid than you think
Pay attention to what others say about a field, but don’t be bound by what they say the rules are.
For example, when I started blogging seriously, conventional wisdom said blogs were getting shorter, not longer. 300-500 words max is all anyone had time for.
Many of my posts are over 1500 words. Some run well over 2000 (like this one). Almost every post is over 1000 words. Guess what? Lots of people still read them.
I use lot of white space, headings and bullet points to make sure you can capture the essence of the article without reading every word, but still, I love the idea of longer form blogging because I worry that long form thought is a dying art in our culture that wants to reduce everything to a sound bite or an all caps social media opinion.
Similarly, when I launched my leadership podcast, I was told 17-22 minutes was all listeners would endure. After all, that’s the time of the average commute.
But what I was trying to reproduce in my podcasts were the conversations I was having with leaders over meals, in green rooms and backstage at conferences. The good ones were never 17 minutes. They were more like an hour.
So I just did what I felt I needed to do, and if no one listened, well, no one listened. But I knew the longer length conversations were interesting and helpful to me, so I thought they might help others.
The point is simple: if you have a good reason for breaking the rules, break them. Conventional wisdom isn’t always the best wisdom. The internet will tell you whether you’re along in your views or not.
What Are You Learning?
I hope you found this post helpful. I feel like it’s answering 1000 emails we get about these issues.
But I’d also love to hear from you. What are you learning about blogging, podcasting and writing?
Scroll down and leave a comment!