Would They Miss You If You Were Gone?
A simple definition for doing work that matters
Four years ago, after six months of hard work, I finally did it: My email list reached 10,000 subscribers. I was ecstatic.
10,000 people. That’s a small stadium. Imagine a sold out arena, waiting for you — just for you — to share your latest work. This would be my big break. I was sure of it. With 10,000 people marching behind me, nothing I make would ever fall flat again.
You can see where this is going. I’m about to swallow a bitter pill here.
Later that year, I heard Seth Godin define permission marketing:
If that email you were going to send to 10,000 people tomorrow — if it didn’t go out — how many of the 10,000 people would say: “Where is the email?!” If the answer is none, then you don’t have permission. You’re just being tolerated.
Convinced that my dedicated subscribers loved me, I decided to run an experiment: That week, I didn’t send out my newsletter. No announcement. No warning. I just skipped one email. What would happen? Who would ask for it? How many people? Would they be concerned? What would they say?
I woke up the next morning to a sobering realization: No one had emailed me. No one had asked for the newsletter. I waited. One day. Two. Three. Nothing. Crickets. No one missed me when I was gone. Ouch.
The all-important question in marketing, art, and doing great work is this: “What does it mean to matter?” According to Seth, there is a simple answer:
Would they miss you if you were gone? I don’t know who they are, I don’t know what gone means, but those people that you’re seeking to have an impact on, would they miss you if you didn’t show up tomorrow?
In my case, people didn’t. Maybe, they thought my newsletter was nice. Maybe, they enjoyed an article or two of mine. Clearly, however, none of my readers considered my work essential. They could easily do without it.
It hurts to find out that the tribe you’ve assembled with your blood, sweat, and tears will disband the second you stop talking to them, but the message it sends is clear: You never formed a real tribe in the first place. You just talked enough people into following along. You convinced them to take the flyer, to try the free sample, to sign up for the trial subscription — but you didn’t do the hard work of building a loyal relationship.
You just did “the hustle dance,” as Seth calls it:
Would they miss you if this new product, this new project didn’t come to the world? Or do you have to do that whole hustle dance, “Look at me, look at me,” jump up and down, offer for a limited time, bla bla bla… To game it so they’ll actually transact with you. That work doesn’t feel like it matters to me.
It’s easy to think you’re doing work that matters. That, somehow, your marketing is different. You have good intentions. You really want your audience to succeed. But you might still cut corners. We all succumb to the temptation sometimes.
Clickbait is still clickbait, even if you deliver on your promise. Selling is still selfish if your main goal is to make money. Giving gifts is not generous if it comes with expectations. In many ways, reciprocity has been corrupted.
If what you’re doing feels like playing a game, chances are, not many will miss you when you’re gone. You’re just another player who dropped out. Fine. Less competition. Less hassle. Less clutter in my inbox.
Here’s another question: Where is the sacrifice? How much are you really sweating? If we can’t see your effort in what you make for us, how can we know you mean what you say?
The only way to show people you have their best interest at heart is to actually do. You can’t fake it. You either do something selfless, or you don’t. It’s one of the few things in life that are surprisingly black and white and, most of the time, plain to see — at least on a long enough timeline.
When I didn’t hear back from my fans, when no one missed me when I was gone, I was devastated. I questioned everything I was doing. I changed things. I tried to do better.
Last year, I started another newsletter. I put in hard work. Real work. It grew fast. It was free. I sent it every day. I came up with themes. I wanted to help so badly. I really tried.
To this day, it’s not as big as my first one. It has about 5,000 subscribers. But, often, when I missed a day or didn’t share something in a while, a few people checked in. “Hey, Nik, are you okay?” “Hey Nik, where are the emails?”
It’s great to see you’re moving in the right direction. It feels good to be missed when you’re gone.
It’s okay. You’re not perfect. Take your time. Learn to stop dancing. Start making. Take your ego out of the equation. Not for a while. Not for this one thing. Completely.
Watch what happens. Watch how, slowly, the magic unfolds. Watch them start to miss you when you’re gone.
Write like a pro,
PS: Want to take your writing game to the next level? Check out Write Like A Pro.