Michael Ashcroft

Thinking Out Loud No. 52 // Saturday 5 March 2022 // 6 minute read

Embracing discomfort in online marketing and reframing why I work

Hey everyone!

I’m here in sunny Oaxaca, Mexico, where I’ll be for another two weeks.

It’s been quite the change of pace from London and so far the focus has been on Spanish lessons, eating tacos and letting it sink in that this isn’t just a long holiday.

The question on my mind is… now what? And I’m excited to find out.

Not wanting to be that super annoying online marketer person

The part of the Internet I occupy contains a few kinds of people. Many of them are just humans hanging out and having fun, but a lot of them are also people whose livelihoods depend on selling their stuff to others, including their ‘audience’.

A while ago I was firmly in the first group, hanging out and chatting about stuff I like. For more than a year now, though, I’ve made my living selling things to people via the Internet.

If you’ve been reading my stuff for any amount of time, you’ll know that online business is not my background. In many ways this has been a good thing, as it’s helped me avoid some of the bad practices and mindsets that exist in Online Marketer World, but in other ways it’s holding me back.

The last two weeks have been an interesting example of some of the dynamics at play here. Since I’ve been in Oaxaca, I’ve been on Twitter less, and have generally felt less inclined to say “hey, I have this course you can buy if you want!” The effect was that sales dropped basically to zero for the last two weeks, until… I started talking about it again. At which point, 10 people bought the course in a single day.

For context, the purple line is the last 7 days, while the grey line is the previous 7 days. The big number on the left is this week’s revenue, while the smaller greyer number on the right is last week’s revenue.

This basically shows you how dependent my livelihood is on people buying my course, largely via Twitter. I’m very fortunate to be in this position, of course. But I do need to sell things if this enterprise is to remain viable.

It feels like I am caught between those two worlds, neither able to ‘just hang out’, nor willing to go full “Money Twitter”.

And, as I sit with this, it’s clear that neither of these should be my goal. If the only options I give myself are “lean into a way of being I don’t like” or “do nothing”, it should come as no surprise that I’m not moving.

The question I should be asking myself instead is: “what would it look like to continue down this path while remaining true to myself?” Or, put another way, rather than trying to emulate other people who are 10x further down the road, what would ‘10x me’ look like?

For now, it seems to involve creating a ‘sales’ tweet that is pinned to my profile and talking more about things related to the thing I am selling.

What comes next I think will be something like sincere play. I continue to tread on new ground, for me, and it’s clear that the thing I don’t want to do is copy others. I want to create my own paths. not follow those laid down already!

Reframing why I work

On a related note, I’ve noticed that I have some interesting anchors around money.

For full transparency, I’ve earned around £4000 per month after tax in corporate land since I was 27 (I’m now 34). Aside from a several-month dip in 2021 as my new business scaled up, I am now back at £4000 a month after tax.

The main difference now is that I work much less and more flexibly, which is nice. But despite the good salary from 28-33 ish, my background is not a wealthy one, and I don’t have much in savings. Getting the money together to buy a house seems like a pipe dream, for example.

So, now that I have a business I can grow and time to grow it, surely I should press on past that £4000 and save more and more, right?

In theory, sure, but that’s not what’s actually happening.

Instead, it seems as though I’ve got myself back to my familiar financial homeostasis and am now working less. This is a good position to be in and I’m grateful for my good fortune, but what interests me is that, clearly, money itself is not what motivates me to work, at least beyond a certain point that feels familiar.

I’ve never been someone to pursue money for its own sake. The only reason my income anchor is where it is is because I moved up the corporate hierarchy in particular kinds of jobs. But beyond that, I don’t really understand the drive to make as much money as possible, which many people seem to have.

All this opens up a question… if more money isn’t intrinsically motivating, what are my new motivations to keep going? I know I have greater ambitions, but what are these ambitions aiming towards?

Two ideas come immediately to mind.

The first is the desire to help more people through my work. There are now more than 700 students in Fundamentals of Alexander Technique, and I’ve been getting more and more comments suggesting that the ideas I’m teaching are helping people. That is extremely motivating. The ambition then becomes “how do I reach the next 10,000 people?”

The second lies in the recognition that having resources means I can do useful things with those resources. This sounds obvious, of course, but it’s one thing to know this in the abstract and another to have a clear idea of what I would do if I had those resources. For example, I could give generously to causes that matter to me, I could create grants and competitions for things I’d like to see in the world, or I could hire people in my communities who need a little help setting up on their own.

Reframing my work in these terms is MUCH more motivating than thinking about the financial reward. In fact, I am reminded of the quote from Viktor Frankl on happiness, from Man’s Search For Meaning:

“For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

It seems to me that you could substitute ‘happiness’ or ‘success’ with ‘money’ and it would still be just as true.

So as 2022 rolls on, I am going to focus on discovering who “10x me” looks like and exploring how that version of me can be of service to more and more people.

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I publish a newsletter called Thinking Out Loud, which chronicles my journey as an online maker of things, but it's also is where I talk about whatever I'm interested in at the time.​ There are almost 1000 of us now, come play!