While exploring how to build in public, I stumbled across a wonderful insight by watching Narayan doing it. He is currently turning his expertise in personal branding into a cohort-based online course and does so by building it in public.
I still find it hard to get a clear picture of what it specifically entails to build in public. Sure, somehow you should be open and share your findings with the world but how exactly? Are you writing on your blog? Are you posting on Twitter? What exactly do you share?
Recently I saw Narayan hosting a workshop on the topic of his upcoming course. A few days before the workshop he asked for feedback by sharing his agenda. This seems like a good example of sharing something openly and inviting feedback, doesn't it?
From my perspective, it didn't feel particular motivated at this point. I had a look at the outline and tried to imagine the workshop but struggled to see where to add value. I am not an expert on personal branding like Narayan, what could I contribute to the agenda? To be completely transparent, even the "why" was a little questionable to me. Like everyone else I am struggling to focus my attention these days and try avoiding to spread myself thin.
When the day of the workshop came, Narayan lead us through a clear framework and useful exercises. It made the concept and usefulness of a personal branding much more tangible to me. I got lots of value from the workshop and was happy that I took the time.
A few hours after the session, Narayan sent a quick reflection with the following three sections:
- what went well
- what could be improved
- an ask
Without much thinking, I immediately started to give feedback. But this time I was highly engaged. I gave specific examples of what worked well from my perspective and what didn't and how it felt for me to participate in the workshop.
Right in the middle, I had this key insight into what it means to build in public. This time Narayan nailed it to involve me in a meaningful way. I was busily providing feedback and it felt light and fun. So what changed? I realized that it had something to do with the following aspects:
- I had context - because I participated in the workshop and knew exactly what he was talking about.
- I felt motivated - because I received value from Narayan in the form of the workshop and was happy for the opportunity to give back.
- I felt connected - because I saw Narayan being transparent and vulnerable when he shared what worked for him and especially what didn't.
I am sure that other workshop participants provided similarly enthusiastic feedback to Narayan based on his reflections.
My concrete takeaway for how to build in public well is this:
- Before you ask, create enough context for people about what you are building, e.g. by creating a blog post, a video, a newsletter, or a Twitter thread. People can then self-select whether they are interested in the subject or not. Provide a method to stay in touch (newsletter, hashtag, podcast) so that you can build even more context over time.
- Provide value to those who expressed interest, e.g. by sharing content from your course, or the process of how exactly you are building it, or communicate with them directly e.g. on Twitter or in a Zoom call. Everybody likes to be seen.
- Be transparent and vulnerable. Talk about how you feel, talk about what works and what doesn't work. Be open, be human. That's all part of the value you are providing. It facilitates building up a connection.
- Then you can move forward with your ask. Invite feedback, ask for help, ask for ideas, or even referrals. Now your question doesn't come out of the blue but rather from a point of involvement. You are also asking the right people, those that expressed interest and received value from you in the process.
Being on the receiving end opened up my understanding of what it exactly means to build in public well. The difference between Narayan's first question on the agenda and his second question on the review in both, timing and content, was huge for me. I believe more people should start to build in public, as it creates win-win situations for both sides.