When I first started to write my book, I did what I do with any of my projects. I started researching how to do it. I read all sorts of articles on topics from production to promotion. One of the recurring themes was that to be successful I needed to build my platform. For practical purposes, this meant that I had to start a blog, which for me, extended into a podcast. I created them and have been producing content for both for many years now. Overtime, I realized that I was challenged by the rule of 2.5. If you haven’t read my article on the topic, the rule tries to identify the relationship between time limitations and goals. By my definition, it means you can only do two and a half things in life. One of those big things is work, the other is family. Whatever is left over is really just a part-time gig for a family person. I quickly realized I couldn’t build a platform that included a blog, a podcast, and make any progress on the book as all three really are part-time jobs in and of themselves if you do it correctly. I devised a plan where I would double down on the blog, which I did, and I got a couple of years ahead with automated posts. This allowed me to concentrate on finishing the book which at the time of this writing is in editing.
My focus was on writing the book, but unbeknownst to me, it turns out the platform is more important that the media. I learned this when I tried to acquire an agent and publisher. They didn’t care about the product in the least. Every conversation they had was about the platform. They wanted to know what kind of reach I already had before they committed any resources towards my manuscript. I learned a truth that Agents and publishers don’t find quality products and figure out a way to help you sell it, they look for audiences first and help you get a product to them. For example, If I had a syndicated radio show with a reasonably sized audience, I would have had a book deal before I even wanted to write a book. Ditto for any other platform that has mass reach.
This whole experience got me thinking about platforms in general. The word is generic, but it means different things to many different people. I have come to the conclusion that we all need platforms in our life which we own or are the nexus of. But for those who are new to the concept, let me do a brief review. I’ll start with the technical platform as it is a manifestation of the more broad definition.
A platform digitally is an infrastructure that other things can be built upon. The easiest platforms to understand are digital in nature. Think of popular operating systems like iOS, Android, or Microsoft Windows. Other people who do not work for Apple, Google, or Microsoft, can build programs that work on those operating system platforms. In the digital world competing platforms very quickly coalesce around one or two vendors. We don’t have 20 cell phone operating systems like we did just as the smartphone market started up, the market settled around iOS and Android very quickly. This is because if there is a standardized platform the ecosystem that works off of the platform is bigger and more successful. No matter what the digital platform is, the players are usually hyper aggressive about trying to win the platform wars. Once you are the standard thing that everybody builds their stuff too the platform owners power in the market is unrivaled and the prophets from the platform are virtually limitless. This has been going on as long as tech has been around and even before computers were a thing. The modern equivalent of operating systems are cloud services. Think Facebook, LinkedIn, or Salesforce. For the most part, digital platforms are a lot like the line from the Highlander movies in that there can be only one who wins.
This is not the case for the platform that the book agents and publishers want. What they mean when they ask about your platform is more akin to an audience. Owning the platform in this case, means you are the nexus of the movement. If you write a blog post you’ll have thousands of people reading it, and if you go on YouTube, you’ll have thousands of subscribers.
Another way to think about it is that the platform can be extended. It’s easy to extend a platform that includes software or an audience. All you need is more people clicking on your links. Well I say it’s easy, but growing an audience is getting harder by the moment as the total volume of media noise in the world is going up exponentially.
There is another type, a physical platform. I work for a community college, and I also am engaged with a little brewery and tap room in my hometown. They both have something in common. The owner of the tap room has grown the business beyond just a place to get craft brews into a platform unto itself. It started with just partnering with other entities to fill holes in the services offered by the tap room. To keep their business lean, they only provide the craft beers. They have food trucks come in to provide the meals to patrons. The food truck industry has become more of an outlet for culinary artisans who don’t wish to spend millions on permanent restaurants. It’s not uncommon to see trucks highlighting things like lobster dishes, authentic creole food, designer desserts, and hundreds of other options that would please the foodie community. On top of this, the owners have also developed relationships with artisan groups such as local theater troops, dance instructors, alternative health and wellness practitioners, and other artists of every type. Hugger Mugger, the name of this little brewery, can now be thought of as a platform for promotion of the arts and a place to get an amazing craft beer. I don’t think the owner started out with that intention, but it’s definitely a reality.
The community college I work for and most of the others in the system are formally tasked with doing the same thing. I don’t think it works as well on the college campus as its role in promoting the arts is legislated, not organic, and it’s not really complementary to the core mission of the school. When somebody goes to see something at the Hugger Mugger taproom there’s a very high probability they will also enjoy a craft beer. If somebody goes to see an art exposition hosted by the community college, the odds are they’re not going to take a class as well.
There’s an important lesson here as we consider our own personal platforms. The platform has to have a core and anything engaged with the platform needs to be well aligned in a virtuous cycle. Going back to my platform, it’s not set up this way. People who listen to the podcast don’t want to go read the blog and people who read the blog aren’t necessarily podcast listeners. There’s a potential for that but I would have to have a huge audience.
I have another platform in my professional life. Although not a part of my job description, I’m the tech guy at work. I learn and talk about technology as much as I can, and so when people have questions they come to me. Over time when others have questions about some form of technology and my network finds out about it, they refer the people to me. This has put me in the pole position for many different tech related initiatives. I’m into tech, so I talk about tech, which gets me involved in more tech projects, which gives me more to learn and talk about. It’s a virtuous cycle unrelated to my job duties where I’m serving businesses. If I would look at it as a platform, it would be something akin to a tech knowledge network. I’m also doing the same thing with social media although that has grown more slowly.
It’s important to note that the platform that you choose in your professional life is different than your actual job but it can be aligned with it. For example our curriculum HR professor also leads the local SHRM group. SHRM, an acronym that is spelled S-H-R-M is the Society of Human Resource Managers. I reached out to them for some advice about potential job candidates they may know from their SHRM network and found out that they have an after-hours HR consulting group. This individual isn’t just the HR instructor, human resources is their platform that also happens to be related to their day job.
I always question when people say to follow your passions with your job. Your day job, the thing that brings in the majority of your income, is really about income more than anything else. We need money to put a roof over our head, food on our table, and to get us the transportation and health care we need to be productive in life. We also should have the ability to buy the stuff that we want if there’s any money left over. The purpose of your job should be to get the most money possible. Being passionate about it is nice, but I know a bunch of people who are passionate about their work but who struggle day in and day out because they’re not making enough to live.
I do think you should follow your passions with your platform. If it’s aligned to your work that’s great! If it’s not, that’s okay too. Figure out your thing, and then run with it. Do more, create more, connect more. Keep in mind that it’s hard to grow a platform if you don’t have sufficient time to do it. That’s why I cited the rule of 2.5 earlier. If my full-time job was the blog, book, and podcast, I think it would have worked much better than it currently does. In my case I struggle to grow the blog and the podcast and the book all at once because of my limited time bandwidth. Even though my current efforts are supposed to be aligned, they aren’t as much as I would have liked. I have learned through the years that If I concentrate on any one of those things to the exclusion of the others, then I tend to make some progress. In my case, if I just focused on the blog, created great content and spent every other moment trying to promote it, I probably would have an audience a thousand times bigger than the one I have now. The same could be said for my other efforts. Even as I write this I know it will be very difficult for me to give up two out of the three things. I suspect that focusing on a core effort is difficult for anybody who is engaged in lots of different areas.
It doesn’t matter if your platform is a civic group, a digital effort, or personal initiative or interest of some sort, it is really good to have one. If you are the perceived expert in something, if you are the go-to person, if you are at the center of whatever that effort is, good things usually will grow out of it. Who knows, you may even get to the point like my HR instructor friend where the lines blur between your platform and your career. Then you would get to spend almost all of your time growing a platform that you are passionate about. What a great place to be! If you ever get there, let me know, I’ll be happy to celebrate with you by buying you a drink. I know a place that sells awesome craft beer!