Transparency & Privilege: A Call To Action For Online Business Owners And Creatives
There’s something that’s been on my mind for a while now, which I’ve struggled to put into words and felt pretty nervous to write about. And if online businesses and blogging have taught me anything, it’s that when you feel like that, that’s *exactly* when you should be hitting publish and starting the conversation.
So here’s what I’ve been wanting to talk about:
Putting all our cards on the table and being transparent about our circumstances (and our privileges) when working online.
I remember when I was starting out - blogging, building an online business, freelancing - how much I bought into the myths of passive income, earning six figures within your first year and life becoming a beautiful Instagram feed. Mainly because it was EVERYWHERE. And when you’re provided with enough proof, sometimes the sceptic in you bites the bullet and decides to take it on (even if only partially) as truth.
I also remember that when I was starting out, I was in a pretty dark place and was looking for an alternative. I hated my job and I started to wonder about different ways of doing things, and that’s how I stumbled upon the online business world. I fell in love with the idea of lifestyle design, building a business around your passions and using your skills and strengths to build a life you love. And I’m still in love with those things. But I also discovered the empire that is online business gurus and the art of making ‘easy’ money online.
It was really exciting, and I know I’m not alone in this. A lot of people come across this whole world of online business and content creating from a similar place: hating the job they have, feeling unfulfilled and in the midst of an existential crisis or looking for a way to combine their strengths, skills and talents in a way that not only brings in an income, but makes the world a brighter place.
But when you’re going through a shit time, you’re more vulnerable than normal. You’re more susceptible than normal to really buying into this projected idealised life, because you want SO bad to believe it’s true. And an awful lot of marketers will try to capitalise on that. (I’ve also learned that there are also wonderful people doing great things about ethical marketing, running a business and selling).
Now, I’m really not judging - it’s certainly been one of my stories.
But three years down the line, I don’t feel that way, and I’ve woken up to smell the bullshit. While there are some great resources out there to help you build an authentic and ethical business, they definitely seem to be in the minority.
The online business world in general is very different. It has become a lot more nuanced than just showing beautiful women with laptops on a beach in Australia and the idealised life is being perpetuated even more (I wrote more in more depth about the nuances here).
Now, instead of being framed as a possible alternative, the story has changed. Instead, a lot of people in the industry are selling this whole starting your online business thing with an unwritten pact of promises. You can have your website up within a matter of days, start selling from day one, and work your way to Passive Income Paradise within your first month, right?
It’s not that you can’t earn a good income from your online business, have a really fulfilling career and love the work you do. You can. And people do.
But a lot of people starting out on this path, a lot of the experts?
People can be pretty creative about what they omit from their stories.
It’s now increasingly easy to believe that everyone who has an online business is traditionally successful, is able to provide a full-time income for themselves, and dedicate their working life to building it.
But the truth is that a lot of the people that we all assume have it all figured out are doing it on the side as a part-time gig or still have a full-time job.
And there is nothing wrong with that. I repeat, there is nothing wrong with that.
The problem for me comes in deliberately not mentioning their circumstances. They’re not lying - it’s just that a certain amount of truths have been…missed out.
It’s just that it’s not as simple or easy as people would make you believe, and there are certain things you need: extra time, energy, money and space to develop. And those things are privileges.
And most of the people online work really fucking hard. We make sacrifices, we make hard decisions and it’s far from a walk in the park. But we don’t talk about those things because they’re not as glamorous and we fear we’ll turn people off or look like a fraud.
But the opposite is true.
It’s exactly when we project this glamorous image that the problems start.
The comparison starts, the expectations get higher, and people start to believe that they don’t have what it takes to be successful and that it’s never going to happen.
But it’s when we start talking about our real circumstances and sharing our stories, instead of turning people off, we do the opposite. We reassure them, help them to feel less alone and give them the courage to keep going.
I can’t really blame those who don’t share the whole story, especially in a world where you’re supposed to be an expert and reputation is everything.
And I get it. It can be embarrassing - shame-inducing even - to go on the record and be really honest about your behind the scenes, especially when it doesn’t match up to those widely perpetuated ideals.
But I think the power of telling your truths and sharing your real life stories are more important than pride or appearing like you have all your shit together (no one does).
It’s important in terms of genuine and authentic leadership and helping pave the path for the people who are just getting started. No one wants to have to wade through piles of bullshit before they even get to stage one.
Now, before you start worrying, this isn’t a call to arms for everyone to publish their income reports, every failure they’ve ever had and the colour of the knickers they happen to be wearing today. Sometimes it isn’t professional to share everything. It’s just not appropriate for some businesses.
Instead it’s a call to action to stop perpetuating the bullshit, and getting more conscious about what we put out there and what we omit.
It’s a call to action to start having internal conversations about our privileges and how we let them play out in the way we show up online.
It’s a call to action to start thinking about what ideals and values we’re perpetuating, and whether we’re happy with what we’re showing. Both on social media and the conversations we have with our audiences, clients, customers and supporters.
It’s a call to action to stop giving such a wide platform and listening to those people who intentionally or not perpetuate those ideas.
It’s a call to actions to be proud and open about the way you’re building your business, and the circumstances you’re in. If you’re building your business (whatever that means to you) on the side, or you have a loving partner who’s helping you out financially while you get things stable, tell people about it. They’ll want to support you, and will eagerly be following along with your journey to see how things are going.
Together we HAVE to stop holding up this prescribed picture and start having the difficult conversations and get honest about our privileges.
I think if we can start to be transparent about our circumstances, then we can start to change the narrative.
And because I believe in walking the talk, I’ll go first. (Yes, this is scary). Here are my circumstances.
Along with That Hummingbird Life, I’m a graphic designer, working with wonderful doers, makers and world shakers to create colourful and quirky brands. Right now, graphic design, is my main income, with THL starting to provide an income through coaching.
For the past two years I’ve been living with Mr. Meg’s family which has meant my overheads, both business wise and personal wise, have been much lower. This has allowed me to extend my options of how I work, and how I can focus on building and playing the long game. We’re moving next April, so a lot of plans need to come into fruition to provide the sustainable and predictable income I will need when going back to renting. Mr. Meg is traditionally employed with a regular pay-check, and I would be lying if I said this didn’t provide a safety net. It provides a lot of reassurance and I have little fear of being in a situation where I’m not able to meet my basic needs.
Couragemakers (and content creation for That Hummingbird Life) doesn’t bring in an income, and I’m passionate about remaining independent and advert free. Right now, I’m looking into Patreon as a way to both give Couragemaker listeners more value and build a community and to have the podcast bring in some money.
I’ve got a lot of plans to develop encouraging and rebel-rousing projects and products, and it’s my hope that I’m going to be starting to release them soon. Right now, I’m in the process of figuring out my project and product schedule through to the new year. I know that there’s no such thing as passive income and that marketing will be a huge part of making this work, so I’m also learning about ethical selling and what will feel good to both Couragemakers and myself.
I write a lot about dream-chasing and putting the things only you can do into the world. I think transparency is the way forward when it comes to dream chasing, talking about how we’re working towards our dreams and the circumstances that let us invest energy and time into them. I always strive to be bullshit-free in everything I do, and it’s my hope that this post can start the conversation about being transparent online and standing behind our truths with pride.
So tell me, Couragemakers - what is your story? What are you afraid to be transparent about? What do you think could change if you got really honest about your stories? Let me know in the comments below!