The inbound myth

In Founders, Freelancers, Lessons Learned by Jay Clouse

Last week, my local coworking/maker space brought in RJD2 to speak with its members. RJD2 is a producer and hip hop artist (not the robot from the overrated space movies).

RJ has had a successful career as an artist, put out several records, produced the theme to shows like Mad Men, etc. After he humored me in my question asking him his opinion on Kanye West, someone asked about his particular path to success.

It was a pretty common story to what I’ve heard from countless of celebrities, artists, entrepreneurs…he was toiling away for years, probably at the detriment to some of his own personal relationships, and eventually something hit and he got “lucky.”

For RJ, that lucky moment was when he gave a demo tape to a friend of his who was on his way to visit New York City. Through some meetings (I’m not sure if they were planned or not) the friend met someone at a record label, shared that demo, and RJ was on his way.

He said, “I think about that all the time. What if I just wouldn’t have given that demo to my friend? Where would my career have gone? I mean maybe I would’ve pushed through and made it…but it’s hard to know.”

On a smaller scale, I’ve had similar moments in just getting to where I am now. What if I hadn’t chosen Ohio State? What if I hadn’t been placed in the dorm that I was? What if I had left my first Startup Weekend event?

It’s a bit of a mindf*** and I try not to spend a ton of time thinking about it.

But in just about all cases I’ve heard about, the “luck” or trigger came from an outbound effort. What I mean by that is that the individual who experienced the “luck” or “break” got that due to outbound efforts — putting his or her voice or work out into the world. Proactively getting on front of people.

In the age of the internet, we are easily seduced by the idea of the passive systems made possible by technology.

If I create this email sequence, which leads to this webpage, which has a payment processor and retargeting ads…I could make a fortune without even trying!

And sure, some people make that work like a charm. What a beautiful reality to aspire to!

But, so far in my experience, to build a system like that that is sustainable, provides true value to your customers, and creates a real relationship built on trust — that will take a lot of time. And, in the immediate term, you’re best served focusing on outbound efforts, even if you’re building a system that can foster inbound requests.

The more time I spend on outbound effort, proactively meeting and talking with people instead of waiting for people to come to me, the faster my business grows. The faster I personally grow.

And if business is like the flywheel analogy people talk about — hard to get going and then near impossible to stop once it’s spinning — then outbound efforts are your best tool for getting momentum going.

No matter what you’re selling — your services, products, or just yourself (because you’re always selling yourself) — focus on outbound. Be an advocate. Find the people you want to get in front of, and get in front of them! It’s the shortest distance between the two points of where you are now, and where you want to be.