Quality-Quality-Quantity: How To Succeed Online According To The Highest Paid Writer On The Internet (Ben Thompson)
Today is post two on Ben Thompson. In the first post, How Ben Thompson Got 40,000+ Paid Newsletter Subscribers, I share his amazing approach for creating high-quantity, high-quality content:
He writes four posts per week (quantity)
He leverages mental models he’s refined over time to have instant rare and valuable insights (quality)
In today’s video lesson, which is clipped from the great interview of Thompson and Packy McCormick on theShow, Thompson shares another critical nuance on the quantity vs quality debate that completely changed my perspective when I first heard it.
How you come down on the quantity vs quality debate is one of the most important decisions you can make as a thought leader. So, I would NOT recommend skipping this post.
Today’s Game Plan
Today’s post is split into three parts:
Some context on polarities to help you better understand the quality vs quantity debate at a deeper level, which will then help you understand the power of Thompson’s approach.
Quick summary on Thompson’s Quality-Quality-Quantity approach. Short version of his approach you can easily remember and share with others.
Breakdown of each step in the approach. The first step of the three steps is free. The second two steps are for paid subscribers.
First, Some Context Before We Jump In (Optional)
As I get older, I realize that polarities are a fundamental pattern that appear across all fields. For example, when it comes to thought leadership, some of the big polarities are:
Quantity vs quality
Free vs paid
Short vs long
Evergreen vs timely
Your approach to these polarities can be the difference between success and failure.
The good news is that although there are a lot of polarities, the best approach to solve them is universal. Therefore, when you learn the universal approach you can better navigate ALL polarities, including the quantity vs quality polarity.
With that said, here is a super quick primer…
When it comes to polarity, most people just take one side and only argue for points that support their team and ignore/attack points that don’t. This is black and white, all or nothing thinking.
Black and white thinking is a sure recipe for delusional thinking. Because one side is never always right. And the other side is never always wrong.
Therefore, the best approach is to map the pros and cons of each side, understand the nuances of timing/context, and then synthesize.
Below is a 3-step breakdown on how to implement the three steps necessary to succeed with polarities…
#1: Map the polarity
Understand that there are two sides rather than just one side
Understand the pros and cons of each side
Understand the limits of each side
#2: Understand the nuances (relativism)
Find the best timing to use one approach or the other
Find the best context to use one approach or the other
Make tradeoffs and accept the consequences when the pros outweigh the cons
#3: Find the best of both worlds (synthesis)
Discover a way to cancel out the negatives
Discover a way to compound the positives
Keep looking for opportunities to get the best of both worlds
Now that you understand a little bit about polarities, let’s jump into how Thompson resolves the Quantity vs Quality polarity…
Quick Summary Of The Quality-Quality-Quantity Approach
In a similar vein to how Gary Vaynerchuk has a Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook philosophy (give, give, give, get help) for social media, Thompson has a Quality-Quality-Quantity approach for thought leadership.
Rather than making the case that quantity or quality is always better, Thompson makes the case that it depends on your stage as a thought leader:
Then he suggests what approach (quality or quantity) to follow based on your stage:
Quality First: When you’re just beginning and people don’t know you, you want them to read your post and say to themselves, “Wow! Who is this person? Let me read more of their writing.”
Quality Second: When people read your second post, you want them to be as blown away by it as the first one so that they become a true fan.
Quantity Third: Trade off some quality in return for quantity so that you become such a regular and valued part of people’s lives, they are willing to pay a subscription.
Breakdown Of Each Step Of The Approach
AUTHOR NOTE The first of the three steps is free. The second two steps are for paid subscribers.
In short, Thompson recommends that when you start off as a thought leader, you focus on quality first:
I think particularly when you're starting, [frequency is] very overrated. Your 100 subscribers... Who cares if they show up every day, right?
As the famous quote goes…
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
At the same time, you shouldn’t take quality to such an extreme that you become a perfectionist who never publishes anything. Something is always better than nothing. One needs a certain amount of quantity in order to refine one’s voice and topic, which Thompson mentions in the clip:
You need to iterate. So you need to be regular 'cause you need to figure it out. You need to figure out what your voice is, what your topic is, etcetera.
I 100% agree. Rising above the noise of the Internet is hard:
There are companies who spend millions of dollars on ads and/or teams to create high-quality content.
There are talented creators who have spent years honing their craft and building a following.
So just showing up with no skill, no money, and no following and then sharing work that isn’t your best is a delusional waste of time. It’s like buying a lottery ticket and expecting to win big. It’s like showing up to a gun fight with knives. It’s like being the mark in a room full of poker sharks.
There are people who hit it big early on, but I would say those people generally succeed because of one of four things:
Prehistory. They have a prehistory of amazing results in their life, great communication skills, or supernormal knowledge accumulation that helps them create at a high quality level early on.
Niche. They find a great niche with little competition where low quality content is better than nothing.
Lucky Experiment. They perform an experiment with a new post format, voice, medium, etc. that happens to succeed. I say lucky because it is in the nature of experimentation that most experiments fail. And the failure rate is higher if you’re new to a field.
Flat Out Luck. They have the right idea at the right time. But afterwards, their audience disappears, because they don’t have the skill to retain them. This is just like many lottery winners who go bankrupt, because they never learned how to manage money.
Even with these exceptions, quality is still best. First, you shouldn’t have an approach based on luck. Second, even if you have an awesome prehistory and niche, it’s still worth it to put your best foot forward in order to make a solid first impression.
This is where Thompson’s advice starts to become more unique.