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Nick Wolny on the LGBTQ Economy

The LGBTQ economy is changing advertising, and provides many creators with a viable alternative to traditional employment. Guest Nick Wolny is a prolific writer and the founder of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. Nick offers advice for anyone considering becoming an independent creator, and explains the LGBTQ economy is pushing the importance of values and ethics within brands. Nick also shares his views on artificial intelligence-based writing tools.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Nick Wolny: For gay men, there are two inflection points that happen in our lives. The first is the coming out process. And then the second is you know, actually the self-acceptance process and not feeling like you have to overcompensate for everything.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. Back in January, the writer, Nick Wolny, was our guest to talk about the creator economy. Nick is the founder of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. He also writes approximately 200 articles a year for Business Insider, Fast Company, and Entrepreneur magazine among many others. In addition, he somehow manages to find the time to publish a weekly email newsletter. Today’s episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS includes highlights from our first conversation as well as previously unpublished material. To discuss his life as a solopreneur and share his personal observations about the LGBTQ economy, Nick joined us from his office in Los Angeles. [MUSIC]

Adrian Tennant: Nick, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Nick Wolny: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So Nick, what led you to your career as a writer?

Nick Wolny: Well, it’s funny that now I’m doing mainly writing, because my background could not be more opposite from what I’m doing today, which I think is probably a lot of people these days, actually. My background is that I went to music school. I went to school for classical music. I have two degrees in classical French horn, which is, quite unemployable as a degree as I soon discovered. But what was valuable in that is that in music school, or if anyone, you know, played a sport at an elite level growing up, anything like that, you focus a lot about practice and mastery of a craft or of a particular skill. There’s much more of an emphasis on developing skill, rather than just getting a piece of sheepskin that you can pin to the wall and tell everyone that you’re smart, right? Like you’re training to develop real time application. So when I started to get involved more and more in digital marketing, marketing consulting, in my foray into consulting was brick and mortar fitness studios. What we found is that, you know, working on copywriting and working on marketing strategies that were really writing based yielded a really good results. And I think that’s kind of countercurrent to what we often hear in marketing, which is the video is everything. Writing is still cool. Writing is still cool, everyone. And I think that the writing piece, what drew me to it as well is that writing is a craft. It requires practice. It requires skill, and fluency, having a way with words and developing a way with words. I also think what comes up a lot for us as professionals is that we think of ourselves as good writers or that we already can handle writing. Perhaps we wrote term papers or things like that in university. And then we go to write some content, and they’ve just start to fall flat on our face with that. Right? Like it is a skill, it’s a, it’s a muscle to be developed. It atrophies when you don’t work on it, when you don’t flex it or exercise it. And so all of the different modalities for creating marketing think writing is what really attracted me. And a lot of it’s based in that skill-building essence, yeah.

Adrian Tennant: Nick, you write and publish around 200 articles a year. That’s a lot of content. How do you generate ideas?

Nick Wolny: Now what I’ll say is I’m not a huge Gary Vaynerchuk fan! I understand that Gary Vaynerchuk is all about being everywhere all the time. I’ve kind of mixed feelings about that. He does say something though that I think is really valuable and he says is “document, don’t create.” And I think what often happens when we get into content creation, particularly as this creator economy energy has really begun to surge, in our internet landscape, people get in their heads a lot about content creation and having to have it be especially rigorous with regard to research and making it more difficult than it needs to be. And so if you take the mentality of “document, don’t create,” just going in and capturing the things you’re already doing, the things you’re already saying with your clients, with your audience, with your peers, with your customers, that can be a really easy way to get into flow. You’re already pulling from your own expertise, your own experiences. If you just sat down and you spoke with a client about three recommendations for their strategy on Instagram, those three things that you just recommended, that’s content, you know what you’re doing with your clients and what you’re doing for your audience each day. Simply the documentation of that can often be the easiest way to break loose with regard to being more prolific with content creation.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. Well, with that many articles to publish across multiple outlets, what does your content planning process look like?

Nick Wolny: For writing for different publications or writing on Medium, or perhaps even my personal email list, the first thing that we look at when we want to separate out the different types of content is we look at what the verticals are going to be for these different publications. So for me, writing for different media outlets, what I’m going to write for Entrepreneur magazine is obviously going to be squarely in the field of entrepreneurship, solopreneurship, WANTrepreneurship! A lot of Entrepreneur magazine’s readership is people who are not yet entrepreneurs, but they want to be someday, right? They want those more entrepreneurial tips, but they are still an employee, or if you’re a manager or an executive. That’s fine. And then you have an outlet like Fast Company, which is going to be much more focused on creativity, innovation, productivity, and new approaches to classic problems. And so we first look at that, that kind of helps me determine what I’m going to write for which outlets. And also, I think more importantly, what content is not going to work for certain outlets, and how I need to be planning that accordingly. The other big piece is I want to make sure that I don’t, fry myself, right. It’s a lot of articles! I get that it’s a lot of articles. And so in terms of pacing it to ensure that I don’t get stacked up with too many deadlines in a given week, for example, I’ll plan, maybe three to four weeks ahead at most, just so that I can keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening on the internet and in the creator economy landscape. Looking specifically at what do I have to complete each week? What has to be turned in by a certain time? What deadlines are flexible and which deadlines are not flexible? for anyone who’s pitching media on a regular basis, anything like that, something else that I try to do with editors is once I’ve developed a rapport with an editor pitching multiple articles at once. Saying, “Hey, I’m planning out my quarter. Here are eight article ideas that I have, and here are the deadlines that I would project having them done by. Do you like this? Should we proceed in this way? Are any of these a ‘yes.’ Are any of these a ‘no’?” And almost every single time, the first thing the editor will say is ” thank you for doing this so that we have some semblance of planning.” And then the other piece is, “okay, let’s do it, let’s make it happen.” And so that kind of forms the skeleton of my editorial calendar and my content planning. What are the things that have non-negotiable deadlines? Those things come first. And then I will build some of my other writing efforts around those deadlines to ensure that I don’t have a week where I hate my life with regard to how much stuff is due by Friday afternoon.

Adrian Tennant: Today, you’re the founder and CEO of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. What inspired you to start the business?

Nick Wolny: So the first thing I’ll say is that I think there is a shift happening in the creator economy and online entrepreneurship landscape. Historically, we’ve had a lot of activity happening at the opposite ends of the spectrum. You have a lot of people who are doing low ticket, online courses, trip wires, other information products that are low in price, you get to whet your appetite a little bit in terms of learning about, someone in particular. We look at platforms like Udemy or Skillshare or Masterclass that have really exploded over the last couple of years with these low ticket, information product style offers. So you had a lot of activity happening there, and then you have a lot of activity happening at the very high end, right? Done for you services, agency services, one-on-one coaches, business coaches, VIP days, lots of intense one-on-one activity for a higher price point. And historically, there’s been kind of a gap in terms of that group program experience or having an accelerator experience where you’re working on the business, or you’re working on growing your platform and you want some handholding. But you don’t need someone to feed you the baby food with a spoon, right? You’re just wanting a little bit of guidance. You can ride the tricycle, or the bicycle with the training wheels on it, but you want someone to push you along the way. Adrian, I’m seeing how many analogies I can smash into this one response. So the idea of that, and in my experience as well with regard to digital marketing, is that it would either be these lower ticket courses or it was these higher end copywriting or digital marketing build out services. And I wanted something in between, that people were saying that they wanted, they wanted my eyes on what they were doing. They wanted a small, intimate community of people like them who are at a similar stage of business to where they are. So Camp Wordsmith, it’s intended for coaches, consultants, and creators. It’s a business and writing incubator. So we focus on writing, improving your output of writing, but at the end of the day, we want that content to drive toward an offer of some type. There’s a lot of writing energy online that is a little bit more influencer-focused or perhaps, you know, even like having an online diary and there’s not enough conversation happening about how written content leads to sales: how written content leads to landing more clients, making more money, being able to measure your content marketing efforts effectively, right? We want that feedback. We want those metrics. and so having an incubator, having a group program container that is specifically writing focused, that’s the intention of the program. It also speaks to my music school background. My experience was always that when I went to summer camp for music, I was there with other people who were working on getting better, together. Even if people play different instruments and they were taking different classes over the course of the summer, whatever. People were there to get better together, you loved being there, there was a rapport and you were improving your craft, your skillset that you were there to work on. And so that’s really the spirit of the business as well.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Well, when we talk about the creator economy, many of us, think of influencers, YouTubers, Instagram, and TikTok, but there are also platforms for writers. Now, before we get into those, what do you see as the main differences between the so-called “gig economy” and the “creator economy?

Nick Wolny: I think there’s a lot of crossover between the two of them. Probably the biggest difference I see is that if someone is pursuing the creator economy, they need an audience. With the gig economy, you don’t necessarily need an audience, right? You can go on Fiverr. You can go on Upwork. People make good money on Upwork, right? If they have a very niche skillset, that’s in demand. And even LinkedIn recently announced that they’re going to be building out a freelancers’ platform, a jobs platform within LinkedIn itself. With those different platforms, you don’t need to necessarily have an audience, you just need to have something that people want, a skill that people want to outsource, right? That’s the only prerequisite. If you have a track record, that’s certainly going to help. If you have a portfolio of past happy clients, that’s certainly going to help. But the need for a specific audience, that is reading about your methodology and your perspectives on a regular basis is not necessary to be successful in the gig economy. People are still going to order their Uber’s and their Lyfts, regardless of who’s driving. With the creator economy, on the other hand, you do have this need for an audience. You’re sharing a perspective, you are sharing an opinion. You are seeking out a lane and looking to be a presence in that particular niche. And then from that audience, from that engaged, critical mass of followers, that’s where you’re able to take it in wherever direction that you want to take it. Some people want to be influencers. They just want absolutely as many eyeballs as possible, and they want to then monetize the access to those eyeballs that’s totally fine. And you’ve got other people who are more in the space of, what I like to call infopreneurs, right? That would be myself. Having people in my audience who want to do business similar to how I do business, or they want to learn something specific about writing or about email marketing, something very writing based. And they’re gonna follow me for that. I’m a subject matter expert in their eyes for that reason, so they want to purchase something from me. They want to hand me some dollars later on. My presence, my opinion, and my perspectives are part of what have led them to make that decision. Whereas with the gig economy, they just want their Uber so that they can get to the club at a reasonable hour, right? So I, I think that’s the biggest difference that, that I see at my end, from a 10,000 foot view.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for May is Influencing Shopper Decisions: Unleash the Power of Your Brand to Win Customers by Rebecca Brooks and Devora Rogers. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Influencing Shopper Decisions, go to KoganPage.com – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022.

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse construct, as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, that the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. to not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complementary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice, but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping teller.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s Envision 2022. For details, go to bigeyeagency.com/insights.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to an interview with the writer, Nick Wolny, who joined us back in January of this year. In this previously unpublished interview, Nick discusses the LGBTQ economy and how being a part of the queer community has influenced Nick’s approach to business. [MUSIC]

Adrian Tennant: In an article from last year, published on entrepreneur.com, you wrote that being gay is one of your most powerful weapons. How so?

Nick Wolny: Well, I think the first piece of it is the coming out process, right? You know, for me, there was a stage of life where I was not out of the closet. And then I had this inflection point in which I was coming out of the closet. And it’s a rip the bandaid off experience. It is awful for the first 70 times you do it, right. And there’s just a lot of self-reflection that happens before, during, and after that process. Um, you know, for me, it was really easy to catastrophize the potential consequences of all of that. There’s a book by a psychologist named Alan Downs called The Velvet Rage, talking a lot about how, for gay men, there are two inflection points that happen in our lives. The first is the coming out process. And then the second is you know, actually the self acceptance process and not feeling like you have to overcompensate for everything, to, kind of make up for this inherent part of yourself, um, who you are as a person. I think another piece of it is that you often have to develop a chosen family. People have varying degrees of family relatedness after their coming out process. And unfortunately for some people, the subsequent family relatedness is that they’re not related to their family anymore. Their family doesn’t want to be connected to them anymore. And so they have to sort of rebuild their definition of family, what family means to them. And with that comes choice and intention. And so I think for me personally, anyway, that process of determining, “okay, who am I going to be around and why?” and “how am I going to redefine the word family for myself?” Um, you know, it just causes you to discern who you want to be around, what you want to be around, what you’re going to let in, what you’re not going to let in. And I think a lot of that carries over into entrepreneurship. You have resolve, you have intention with what you’re doing, and you absolutely need that when you’re in the hot seat. Even if you’re in management, you’re an executive, you know, or if you’re an entrepreneur or a CEO or a founder, there is a degree of discernment that happens. And when it’s already happened in your personal life, whether it’s a coming out process or otherwise, that often carries over into your work aspirations in my experience.

Adrian Tennant: In that same article you wrote for Entrepreneur magazine, you sought out perspectives on resilience by conducting interviews with several members of the LGBTQ community. Nick, what did you learn from your research?

Nick Wolny: A big theme that came up that was really interesting was resilience and also how being out and proud or being this fully realized version of yourself, was part of the vision for a lot of these different founders, right? They wanted to feel fully expressed. They wanted to, in most, if not all cases, be free from any kind of corporate dynamic, any kind of corporate situation where who they were as a person was going to potentially impact their trajectory in life, and their future. And so being able to step in and call the shots for yourself, you know, for many of us, we ended up becoming entrepreneurs because of something we’re passionate about, or we’re interested in pursuing, or we want a higher degree of control over our careers or our work lives or our personal lives. And I think for several of these founders or these CEOs, it wasn’t just that they wanted to do that, it’s that they needed to do it. Like they actually needed to do it. They weren’t going to have the same degree of opportunities or wealth trajectory or visibility even, if they were to stay in the systems or in the corporate environments that they were currently in. It just kind of left things up to chance, right? Like if their new manager didn’t like who they were as a person, there’s like a loss of control there over your career and over your work life that you don’t have in entrepreneurship, right? You don’t have that when you’re the boss. There are plenty of other really fricking hard things that come up when you’re the CEO, but that isn’t one of them. Like you have the locus of control back in your court. And that was the most consistent theme that came up, um, in the research for that particular article.

Adrian Tennant: Gallup’s February 2021 update on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identification found that 5.6% of US adults identify as LGBT up from 4.5% in Gallup’s previous update, which was based on 2017 data. The 2021 data also showed that one in every six adults belonging to generation Z considers themselves LGBT. Nick, do you see the LGBT economy evolving to reflect these data points?

Nick Wolny: Absolutely. I think on a macro level, people care about the values of the brands that they work with. You see consumers much more interested in where corporations are, donating dollars potentially to different political organizations, things like that. There has never been a time where consumers cared more about the values and ethics of the companies that they purchase from. And so I think on that level, that definitely within the LGBTQ economy, there’s a shift happening there. There’s just a shift in buying styles in that way. I think also we’re seeing a lot of different layers within the LGBTQ experience and it’s a pleasant surprise. It’s exciting to now get to this point where people are aware that LGBTQ means more than one thing, considering the, the phenomenon of rainbow washing, for example, which is that, you know, we have these pride parades. We were, how are having these pride parades and they’re great. But it’s kind of like a superficial way of saying, “we care about you. We care about your experience.” But my experience as a white gay cisgender man is very different than someone else’s experience within the LGBTQ community. And we’re just starting to realize from a consumer perspective that there are all of these different subcultures and sub experiences, things like that. And just an increased appreciation for that. I also think in terms of the numbers and in terms of the needle moving, I mean, we know that sexuality is a spectrum. The Kinsey scale first came out in the 1940s. This is not new information, but it appears that there’s like a normalization happening. You know, for Gen Z to self-identify as queer in those numbers indicates a degree of normalization, regarding sexuality and gender identity that I don’t think we had in previous generations. And so with that level of comfort and looking at what younger generations like Gen Z are looking for in brands and in organizations as they become working adults with disposable income, I think that that will actually cause the LGBTQ economy to really expand in a lot of different ways. So it’s exciting to see how it’s going to play out.

Adrian Tennant: So Nick, how has being part of the queer community shaped you as an entrepreneur?

Nick Wolny: Well, I think a lot of entrepreneurship feels like activism in a way. You see that there are needs, and you see forces that are preventing those needs from being met. And then you get to decide whether you’re going to do something about that. Like, are you going to sit on the sidelines and let it happen, or are you actually going to get on the court and start to take action towards creating the changes that you want to see? And that is how activists are operating. And that is also often how entrepreneurs are operating. They see that a need for change exists and that if they’re just sitting on the sidelines, nothing’s going to be done, nothing’s going to happen, nothing’s going to change. And that they’re fed up with that. And so I think that drawing on that drawing on, the lived experience of “this is important. I need to take action. If I’m not taking action, nothing’s happening, nothing’s gonna move the needle is not going to move. No one else is going to do it. I’m going to step in and do it.” That really helps to stay proactive, I think. And, and to not, uh, sit back on your heels and to not take anything for granted, and I think also even going back to what you were speaking about earlier, Adrian, one of the challenges of the LGBTQ economy is that we just don’t have a lot of data. You even look at things like the United States census. We’re at the beginning of documenting the experience of LGBTQ people, just even being acknowledged we exist, you know. Nielsen added LGBTQ couples into their household demographics only recently, I believe certainly within the last 10 years, if not sooner than that. We don’t have much information about trans and non-binary entrepreneurs and, what they’re making, and what the size of their payroll is, and stuff like that. It hasn’t been that level of data and that’s not granular in that way. You know, we have that data for, women. We have that data for BIPOC entrepreneurs. We are still in an emerging stage with getting that information from the LGBTQ community. And so I think as more and more of that is done and published, and more data appears that can really help people get a clear picture on how the two of those things connect.

Adrian Tennant: Nick, what are you working on next in your business?

Nick Wolny: Two words, Camp Wordsmith. We spent a lot of 2021 iterating, testing different frameworks, working with clients and determining what leads to results. And what emerged from that was this program, camp wordsmith. I don’t think there are a lot of other things like it on the market right now. There are loads of courses I could throw my coffee mug right now down the hallway and probably hit six online courses on the way down. You know, it’s not a course and it’s not a full-out one-on-one coaching or agency services. It’s in between. It’s the best of both worlds. Often what happens when people purchase high ticket group programs is that you get intimacy with the face of the program on a webinar or on a sales call. And then you sign up, you fork over your $5,000 or whatever, and then you are dumped into a VAT of prerecorded content and you’re told thanks for the dollars. Good luck, sayonara. See you later, right? Here’s a Facebook group where you can ask some questions and get answers from your peers. And so you know, that’s not enough support. That’s actually still not enough support. There is going to be an emerging interest in incubator programs and accelerator programs, particularly as you have millions of people who are now thinking about the creator economy, maybe they resigned from their job and they are getting started with their online business. They are in the process of buying a $20 course here, buying a $20 course there. They’re in that process right now. In a year or two, they’re going to be like, okay, you know what? I need a little bit more handholding. I’ve got some traction. I need a little bit of assistance, a little bit of help. And so, I’m gonna enroll in an accelerator or in an incubator of some kind. And now we’re ready to tell everyone in their mom about this program. We think it’s fantastic and yeah, and I think that it’s going to be a pleasure to have some other fellow business and writing nerds, here in our corner, writing quickly and well and getting monetary results along the way.

Adrian Tennant: Nick, thank you very much for being our guest today on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Nick Wolny: Thank you so much for having me. This has been great.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve been listening to an encore episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS with guest, Nick Wolny. To learn more about Nick, his writing, and Camp Wordsmith, go to the website at NickWolny.com. The transcript for this episode is posted on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com – just select Podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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