My son Leo was born on April 20th, 2012. He came into the world three weeks early, catching us totally off guard. As my wife and I scrambled to sort out all the last minute things we had forgotten to do, much of my day to day life came to a temporary halt. Among other things, this caused me to cancel the publication of one of my Practicing Ruby articles.
I wrote an email to subscribers letting them know what had happened, and apologized for not planning ahead better. I felt bad doing this because there have been more than a few schedule hiccups lately for a number of reasons, but I knew that it was the right thing to do. I try not to ship rushed work, and the idea of spending several hours under stress trying to produce a mediocre article was utterly unappealing to me.
The reaction to this apology email was predictable, because I had seen it several other times when announcing unexpected changes in plans to my subscribers: about a dozen folks unsubscribed right away, and about the same amount sent me encouraging emails telling me not to be so hard on myself and to take all the time I need to get back into the swing of things. Every time this happens, it forces me to think about my business and the different kinds of customers it serves.
Some folks subscribe to Practicing Ruby thinking that they are paying a certain amount of money for a certain amount of content over a certain amount of time. Whenever I mess with the production schedule, I inevitably lose some of those folks, and from a transactional perspective that is exactly what I should expect to happen, because it is perfectly ordinary consumer behavior.
However, other folks subscribe to Practicing Ruby for a different reason entirely. These subscribers stick around out of appreciation for my work and a desire to help me sustain my efforts. For that reason, they are more likely to trust my judgement when I need to take a break, and more likely to be optimistic about any changes I want to make to the service. I like to consider these folks my supporters, because they seem to always consider my needs as well as their own.
When running a business, it is tempting to look at the money coming in the door and judge the decisions you make as being successful or unsuccessful based on their impact to your bottom line. But by doing so, you end up optimizing your business for consumers and not supporters, and that makes it less and less enjoyable to work on over time. This is what giant companies do all the time, and it’s pretty obvious that while it may be a profitable way of doing business, it leads to miserable results for customers in the end.
A better way of looking at things is to judge your progress by how happy you make those who truly believe in what you are trying to do. If you build up trust with your supporters, they will go along for the ride with you whether it is smooth sailing or not. While this may not be the most profitable thing to do economically speaking, it builds genuine sustainability for your business that cannot be gained through embracing the consumer mindset.
What I have found with Practicing Ruby is that by trusting the folks who are actively supportive of my efforts, I can maintain a steady revenue stream without second guessing myself every time I hit a bump in the road. This gives me the freedom to take a much more human approach to my business, and that is something I could never put a price on.
Written by Gregory Brown on 01 May 2012. If you enjoyed this essay, please share it with your friends.