Platforms come and go. Algorithms control what we consume. The rules are always changing. We need to “pay to play”.
Does this sound familiar?
The Internet was founded on a belief in an open exchange of information.
And in many ways, that’s exactly what it is.
But as tech matures, big players have amassed major audiences on the back of your content. Companies like Google, Facebook, Medium, Shopify, and more.
Now, they throttle attention, decide what people see, and/or constantly change the rules without notice.
If you rely too much on any of these platforms for your business, you’re putting yourself at some degree of risk.
- Search engines like Google push your website further down the search results, putting ads front and centre instead.
- Social media sites like Facebook show your posts to fewer than 10% of your followers.
- Shopify limiting integrations with MailChimp because it conflicts with their interests.
- Apple setting the rules for companies like HEY in their app store.
- Platforms like Medium get you to invest your content in their platform only to put a paywall in front of it several years later.
- Companies like Amazon suddenly changing their affiliate commissions from ~8 to ~3%.
Copyblogger popularized a term for this called digital sharecropping (originally coined by Nicolas Carr). It stems from the feudalistic farming days when people would grow crops on land owned by the landlord—becoming subject to their rules.
There are endless examples of companies changing the rules and putting businesses in jeopardy.
As an independent professional, you need to decide what you’re going to “own” and what you’re going to “borrow”.
My advice is to own your core platform and not build it on borrowed land.
The four ingredients of an independent platform
There are at least four things you can “own” as part of your marketing stack/platform.
- A domain such as yourname.com. This is the foundation for everything.
- A self-hosted, open-source website with your domain pointed to it.
- An email newsletter and mailing list.
- A podcast/blog RSS feed.
Building your business with these four ingredients will make your business less vulnerable to disruption.
Why? Because they are mostly open. As long as the internet exists, they are free to use with limited disruption.
Much like a ham radio, they’re in the hands of independent people.
But aren’t you still beholden to third parties?
Yes, it’s possible for your domain registrar to shut down (pick a good one). But I’ve never heard of that happening and there would be upstream ways to reclaim your domain if it did.
Yes, it’s possible for your website host to shut down your site. But you can always move it, or at worst, host it from your own computer.
Yes, it’s possible for companies like Gmail to mark your domain as spam across their platform. But if you own your list, you can always switch sending addresses.
Yes, it’s possible for Apple to hide your podcast from their app. But anyone with your self-hosted RSS feed can add it manually.
As much as a person can have a truly independent platform, this is what it looks like.
There’s something romantic about an independent platform. Your voice, your message, your rules.
And while that idea might seem idealistic, it’s closer to the truth than not (assuming you’re not doing illegal things).
As an independent professional with a voice, I plan to be around a long, long time. Platforms will come and go. Social media sites will die off and change.
But your domain, website, email address, mailing list, and podcast feed are all yours to keep. You can transport them anywhere you want.
So, those are where I will invest most of my time, resources, and content.
From there, I’ll supplement my presence with social media, advertising, and other things that rely on third-parties. They’re still valuable.
But I’ll never build my house in those places. I’ll never rely on a single platform for anything.
My house is an open-source, self-hosted website built on a domain I own, with an email list I own, and perhaps a podcast coming in the future.
Got something to add? Leave a comment below!