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Leaving the Liminal Space
A 3-month update on my life and business since returning from sabbatical.
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Heads up: At some point in the next month, our baby is going to arrive. I’m likely going to hit pause on the newsletter for a couple of weeks when that happens. If you don’t hear from me, that’s why.
It’s been three months since I shared that I was “Off Sabbatical”. Today, I thought I’d share a personal update on how things are going in my life and work.
This is a bit different from my usual posts on community so, if you’re not interested, feel free to skip this one. No hard feelings.
Otherwise, let’s dive in…
I reread my “Off Sabbatical” post and I can feel the tension that I was experiencing at the time. I wrote:
"I know as soon as I hit send on that tweet, pandora’s box will open. Back to the life of constantly creating content, checking notifications, the drama, the competition, the news, and the hours and hours spent scrolling.”
I talked in that post about being in a “liminal space”. It's the space between the disintegration and reintegration phases of transition. You’ve let go of the past, and you haven’t yet taken that first step into the future. You’re just still.
I experienced a sense of safety in my liminal space. I tend to overthink life decisions. Since there are no big decisions in liminal spaces, you can’t make the wrong decision. There’s no pressure. No goals. No expectations.
It’s not easy. Doing nothing might be the hardest thing in the world for me. But I found comfort in having all my options ahead of me.
Suddenly, I’m writing a weekly newsletter, consulting, and running a talent collective. I’m posting on social media, in large part to promote the newsletter. I’m finding creators who are where I hope to be and setting goals.
That’s not what’s stressing me though. I’m enjoying the work.
My biggest fear now is whether I’m on the right path. In the liminal space, all the paths are ahead of you. As soon as you take one step, some of those paths close off. Of course, every step gives you a new vantage point and opens up a web of new paths.
I had this narrative in my head that I should completely reinvent what I do. It’s what you so often hear about, right? Someone spends 30 years in finance then discovers they were meant to write children's books.
I figured I'd find something different to do. Comedy, art, education…something other than community and business.
But that’s not what happened. I've gone back to writing about community, to helping community builders.
My brain still feels drawn to communiy. It’s still all I think about. I guess I wasn’t done with community. Or is it because it’s what feels safe?
I find myself wondering if I sat long enough in the “liminal space” or if I started working on things again too soon.
I’ve still left a lot of time open in my life for exploration by only working three days a week. But as my friend Steve Schlafman reminded me the other day, “liminal spaces are meant to be sat in, not moved through quickly." I don’t think I’m in the liminal space anymore.
I judge myself for not trying other things. But in truth, a lot is different:
I’m only working three days a week.
I have no boss.
I have no employees.
I’m writing and creating every day.
I keep my calendar delightfully empty.
I’m spending more time with my family.
I moved across the country and to the suburbs.
I’m solely responsible for my financial wellbeing.
This looks very different from my life as the CEO of CMX and VP of Community at Bevy. I feel freer and more independent. I’m a different person with different values and boundaries.
I didn’t change what I’m doing. But I did change how I’m doing it.
And, as much as I get in my head, I am enjoying what I’m doing now. I’m enjoying the challenge of making it as an independent creator. I love getting to spend every morning writing. I enjoy getting to work on unique, complex community challenges with clients.
So that’s the update on what's happening in my mind. Now I’ll share some in-the-weeds updates about how my path as a creator is going.
I’d like to be as open with my numbers as possible to help others who are on similar journeys, and to invite you to share your feedback and advice with me. If you see opportunities for me to improve, please hit reply and let me know.
I am experiencing financial stress in a way I didn’t when I had a salary.
We have a new baby coming in a month, and my wife and I are both not working, so it’s hard not to think about money.
We have savings. We’ll be okay. But we’re burning through a good chunk of it, and we hope to buy a house, so we can’t sacrifice too much.
I have to remind myself often to be patient. It takes most creators years before they’re making a real salary. It’s not going to happen for me overnight.
I’m currently bringing in about $5-9k per month. In a future update, I’ll start providing a regular breakdown of my revenue and where it’s coming from.
Most of my income comes from consulting right now. The Talent Collective has brought in less than $1k so far (launched two months ago). It will bring in more income soon, and since it’s recurring, it will be more sustainable and predictable. It needs time.
The newsletter has been growing at a pretty healthy clip. On a good week, it’s growing by about 100 subscribers. On slower weeks, it’ll bring in 40. I’m at 2,172 subscribers so far.
Engagement has been strong, maintaining a 50% open rate. I receive a lot of thoughtful responses from readers, which always makes me happy.
Total traffic is growing week-over-week. The last four posts have done especially well.
I’d like to experiment with different ways of growing the newsletter. So far, most subscribers come from social media. A lot of the growth so far has come from my existing network, and at some point soon that audience will be tapped out.
The Substack network does a good job of sending subscribers to my newsletter. 18% of subscribers are coming from Substack’s recommendation features.
Having newsletters with bigger followings recommend you is impactful. You can see the majority of subscriptions are coming from Loic’s recommendation. I'm super grateful for every newsletter that recommends mind, regardless of numbers.
It’s cool to see that my recommendations have driven some growth for other newsletters as well.
I'm going to try guest posting for other big newsletters to see if that has an impact on growth. Otherwise, I’m staying focused on writing consistently and increasing content quality.
The newsletter doesn't make money. I’ve started receiving more requests to sponsor this newsletter. I haven’t taken them yet because I’m enjoying keeping this space ad-free.
I think putting ads in a newsletter can be worth it if it’s bringing in enough income. At the current audience size, I’m not sure how much I can charge per placement. Since this is a pretty niche newsletter, I can charge a premium. Almost all the sponsor interest is from companies that sell community software.
If I could charge something like $250 (is that too low?) per placement, with 4-5 newsletters per month and two placements in each one, it could drive $2,000-$2,500 per month. It’s not nothing.
I’m enjoying consulting a lot more than I thought I would. I’m grateful to have clients who are a good fit for the way that I like to consult and the kinds of problems I like to solve.
This newsletter and my book bring in a pretty healthy flow of inbound consulting leads. Most aren’t a good fit.
I put a one-pager on my website with my consulting offering and pricing. I decided to share it publicly so that when I get on a call with a potential client I know they’re a good fit for my services and have budget.
I’m finding a sweet spot with the kinds of companies I work best with:
Series A-C startups (not too small, not too big, though small teams within big companies are good too)
Launching new community programs, usually focused on growth and/or retention (not support)
Has not hired a VP-level community lead yet (I will help them get to that point)
Needs help designing strategy and community experiments (has people able to execute)
These aren’t hard rules on who I will or won’t work with, but they’re good signals.
I’m playing the “fractional VP of Community” role, helping them get their strategy together. I get them to the point where they can hire a community lead to take the strategy and run.
I’m capping the number of clients I take on to three at a time. I’m not taking on any new clients until after the baby is born and we get our life in order.
The Talent Collective (link)
It’s been a difficult time to launch this kind of product, with so many layoffs and hiring freezes happening.
It’s made getting companies to sign up difficult.
The big, well-known companies who are hiring for community are getting overwhelmed with applications. They’re not looking for help. It’s startups who don’t have huge brand recognition who are signing up for the collective and getting a lot of value from it.
I’ve given most companies the first month free to entice them to join with no risk. Even with that offer, it’s hard to get them to sign up (they still need to enter a credit card).
Candidates have been easier to attract. It’s up to over 100 candidates now and the quality of people in there is super high. After the initial rush of applications, I’m getting about 15 new applications per week. I’ve been accepting around 30-40% of them.
Here are the stats so far:
It's been difficult at times to decide who to accept to the collective. Of course, I want to be able to help everyone, but there has to be a bar of quality.
I’ve started putting together some criteria that I use as “signals” to decide if someone is a fit or not. It’s far from perfect:
3+ years in a community position
If not 3+ years experience, do they have deep experience in a related field?
If junior/entry-level, do I know them well enough to vouch for them?
Have they worked at recognizable brands?
Are they based in regions where companies in the collective are hiring (primarily US and UK right now)?
Financially, the talent collective hasn’t moved the needle yet. It’s brought in about $1000 so far.
My hope is that companies continue to get value from it and stay subscribed after their free trial is done. And when the market gets better, the collective will be full of quality candidates.
I don’t need the Talent Collective to make a lot of money. I’d like to get it to $20k-$30k annually as one piece of my income puzzle.
I’ve also been thinking about other ways to support the candidates in my collective. I’ve been playing with ideas like:
Hot seats where I give candidates feedback on their resumes, profiles, and interviews
Peer-to-peer interview feedback
Peer-to-peer resume and profile reviews
A private space for candidates to support each other and share opportunities
I’ve enjoyed working with the Pallet team, which is the tool I’m using to host the collective. The product is still early. Features are limited and some of it is duct-taped together. The team is super attentive though. They're applying my feedback and supporting me with operations.
I’ve been strict about saying no to things.
I’ve been asked to cofound new companies, launch new communities, develop new training programs… I’ve said no to everything.
I also don’t want to commit to anything too big before our new baby arrives and we find our footing in that new world.
My conversations with VC funds have been interesting. I’d work with them on two levels:
Serve as an “in-house” consultant for their portfolio companies. This would give me predictable income.
Join as a part-time partner, investing in community businesses and software. I’ve wanted to try out investing for a while. I don't want to raise my own fund. This could be a win-win for a VC that wants to tap into the deal flow I get in this space.
The podcast continues to be on my mind. I have a feeling I’ll start that up again next year. I miss that format. I’ve been keeping a list of dream guests that come to mind. If I bring it back, I’m going big. And I want to make sure I have sponsors on day one so that it can be an income generator.
Launching another training program has been on my mind as well. It's an obvious product for me as it aligns with my content and can generate passive income. I don’t know what the focus of a new course would be yet. I don’t want to repeat the courses I’ve done in the past. Still waiting for inspiration to strike here.
I like Jay Clouse’s framing of “creator seasons”:
My season right now is consistently writing and growing this audience, and supporting my clients. I’m excited to think about what the focus of future seasons will be.
One season at a time.
Mentally, I’m doing well. I’ve felt very grateful for the time I’m getting to spend with my family. I’m really excited for this baby to arrive!
Work-wise, I’ve had ebbs and flows.
There are days when I feel like I’m on the right path and the stars are aligning. There are days when I feel lost and I find myself questioning all the decisions I’ve made.
I’d like to reach a point of more financial stability, which tends to be the biggest stressor of my mental health.
I’m excited for the day when I have a few different products working and bringing in passive income, and I’m less reliant on consulting income.
A lot of people have asked me if I would consider taking another full-time community role. I’m reaching a point where I would have the energy for that again, but it would have to be an opportunity that knocked my socks off. It would have to be worth sacrificing the freedom and autonomy that staying indie is affording me.
It’s a bit hard to share an update like this. I feel pressure to paint a rosy picture. My creator friends all seem to be crushing it.
It certainly feels good if you think that I’m making lots of money and know exactly what I’m doing. The truth is more nuanced. I’d like to hold myself to a high bar of transparency with you all.
I’m thinking about sharing an update like this with you every three months. Let me know if you think that would be valuable, or if this post was a total waste of your time. I guess if you’ve read this far, it wasn’t too bad (=
Raw notes on what I’m reading and thinking about…
“Online communities are not a democracy, as much as long-tenured members would often like them to be. It is the responsibility of a Community Manager to set the terms of engagement and to enforce them for all members.” - Sarah Hawk on managing toxicity in communities
Nadia Asparouhova’s new piece on Understanding climate as tribes, not a social cause is a fascinating breakdown of the different mental models that exist in the climate space. Before reading this, I saw them all as environmentalists of some kind. It’s much more nuanced. I’m also thinking about how to use this model of breaking down spaces into it’s philosophical tribes. For example, what are the different tribes that exist in the community space?
“If [members] were featured in a blindfold test, where they had to identify our community solely by their conversations and interactions with its members—they’d know which one is Generalist World immediately.” - Milly Tamati on Designing Intentional Communities
On defining community-led growth: “…it's when your community helps you achieve such ubiquity and such name recognition that it actually allows you to start moving upmarket into the enterprise.”- Camille Ricketts on How Notion leveraged community to build a $10B business
Belonging is “discoverable value” in that members only experience it after they join a community. It’s not something that can be promoted explicitly. I took a whole page of notes like this from Jay Clouse’s podcast interview. Highly recommend, especially for creators building community.
That’s all for this week!
I’m enjoying the first snow of the year in the Hudson Valley.
Here’s the view out our front window:
Stunning. I’ve been really grateful for the changing of seasons since I moved back to New York. It’s something I missed in SF.
Ok… off to watch the season finale of White Lotus.
See you all next week!