I work on the internet. Even now, in The Year Two-Thousand Fourteen, I have to describe what I do with those five words. A talk I heard recently by Heather Corinna, another person who works on the internet, who spoke about working on the internet, was a reminder of this for me, as I found myself relating to everything she said. Five words still when it should really be two:
“On the internet” means a ton of things to a ton of different people. “That’s so techy” or “my, how quickly things change!” often translates to me as “ARE YOU FROM THE FUTURE?”
For some people “on the internet” undoes the “I work” part: “Oh, neat, yeah, but what’s your real job?”
This is my real job.
We live in the future, people. There are no flying cars (soon! wanna go halfsies?), but there are shabbily-dressed people working on laptops in coffee shops. The future is here, and it’s unshaven. The only reason we’re still making the “on the internet” distinction is because of the [sometimes willful] ignorance about what the world looks like and how much things have changed in a short amount of time.
If you want to play catch up (please, do not think any of what I’m suggesting here is anywhere near the cutting edge), let me share with you a few starter steps for working on the internet.
1. Stop asking for permission
Do you know who gave me approval when I decided to start writing articles and publishing doodles about social justice a couple years ago on It’s Pronounced Metrosexual? My mom. Kidding. “Nobody” is the answer you knew I was going to say because context clues.
The internet is the ultimate field leveler, the gate unkeeper, the ivory ground level apartment without a lock. This is good and bad. It means you can do whatever you want, not have to worry about passing some muster, and know that you’ll at least be able to get your foot in the door and start doing your thing. But it also means that you may spend a lot of time working on something you’re not actually good at and think you’re awesome because there’s nobody there to fire you.
Also, there’s plenty of room for you. If you think, “So and So is already doing [blank]. I don’t want to cramp their style.” Stop. Just do it. There is no cramping. There are too many people on the internet, and it’s only getting more peopley.
2. “Done is better than perfect.”
Publish, publish, publish. Regardless of what you’re doing, if you’re going to hack it on the web you gotta hack at it. Facebook notoriously has the internal slogan “done is better than perfect” and this applies to working on the internet in general.
Whether you’re selling things online, trying to generate revenue through traffic or referrals to a site, or just using the internet as your e-office to peddle some other service or good in real life, you’re already behind. You need to create content on a consistent, constant basis. Now, don’t get me wrong: you don’t need to do something every day. But that would help.
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If you’re coming from academia or a traditional job, it’s natural to think that your work needs to reach a certain level of perfection before you send it on to your boss or peers. Shirk this feeling. I’m not suggesting you publish a bunch of steamed trash, but I am saying that good enough is good enough. 90% is better than 100% when attaining that last 10% takes 90% of the time, as it often does. If you can crank out ten 90%ers in the time it would take you to polish one 100%, you’re doing yourself and your community 800% more good.
That’s just math, folks. Can’t argue with math.
3. Get a Great Website Today for about $12
People hear that [blank] corporation payed [super crazy high] dollars for their website and assume that websites are all tens of thousands of dollars. Let me clear this up for you. To have a great website, you only need to pay for two things: hosting and a domain. And both are incredibly cheap.
You don’t need to pay more than a few dollars a month for hosting, and you can generally get a domain for under $10/year. You don’t have to pay to have a business email, for extra storage, or for any other goodies — they’re all like undercoating on a car (total bee-ess). I recommend Bluehost ($4.95/month hosting — I’m not an affiliate, just a fan) for hosting, and Cheapnames for the domain (because they throw in WHOIS protection and don’t publicly support misogyny and endangered species murder, but your call).
You can teach yourself to code for free at Codecademy, and it’s actually really fun. Or if coding isn’t your thing, you can install WordPress (totally free, and can be automagically installed via Bluehost Control Panel) and choose from one of the literally tens of thousands of free themes for your site. If you learn HTML and CSS you’ll be able to customize and tweak your site to enhance your brand, but that’s not necessary right now. Right now you just need to publish, publish, publish.
If you want a custom site (which I do recommend, but it’s not necessary) pay $1K-$3K for a quality independent developer. This should get you a solid showcase site built on WordPress, but if you want a custom online store you might have to pay a bit more. I highly (highly!) do not recommend going with one of the WYSIWYG site services you see advertised a lot on TV, because you are essentially locking yourself into a closed system that will suck dollars out of you if you want to grow. On WordPress you can grow exponentially and never have to pay a dollar.
Most importantly, just get a website up and start doing your thing. Remember, done is better than perfect.
4. Ignore the Haters, Ignore the Superfans
Randi Zuckerberg said this wonderful thing that I used in a keynote I gave a few weeks back. Here’s the slide:
(I know. My slides are so pretty. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Let’s move on.)
Everyone will tell you to ignore the ultra-negative, hatemail and deathmail sending jerks you’ll encounter when you work online. And you should. But it’s just as important to ignore the superfans. Actually, that’s a bit harsh. Don’t ignore them. Thank them for being wonderful, sweet people. But also don’t lean on superfan feedback when it comes to shaping future decisions, tweaking your business, or embarking on new ventures.
Focus instead on the middle people. The folks who follow your work, comment occasionally, ask questions, leave feedback, call you out when you screw up, give you a “like” when you do something really well. These people are the closest thing you’ll get to a barometer or a compass. And barometers and compasses are privileges when sailing the Internet Seas.
5. Start Right Now
If you have an idea, even if it seems farfetched, there’s no way to know until you try it. It’s silly to let an idea bounce around in your head for months or years when you could know right now if it’s great or garbage. If it’s great, great! You’ve got a thing! Keep doing it. Publish, publish, publish. If it’s garbage, great! Now you’re not wasting your mind hamsters spinning wheels that aren’t going anywhere. Toss it out and move on to the next idea. Publish, publish, publish.
I thought about titling this section “Start Yesterday” because that’s another misconception I want to debunk, but I didn’t even want to ironically affirm it. You’re already behind, for sure, but you’re also ahead. That’s the thing about the internet: every new idea is in a quantum state of uncertainty, simultaneously ahead of its time and behind the curve. The only way to know if it’s the right time is to make it real, to observe it. Right now. And if it doesn’t work, it might be because you’re too late, or it might be because you’re too early. There are many Huge Company examples of this, and I have several personal testaments to the idea as well.
So, what are you waiting for?
Start right now.