Finding the right small pond for you

More than 12 years ago I sat on the couch with my laptop and did something that would change my career and my life.

I started a blog.

In particular, I started a blog about a small sliver of the media world: business-to-business journalism. I wasn’t the first person to blog about journalism. I wasn’t even the first person to blog about B2B journalism. But I was the first person to blog exclusively about B2B journalism.

In the years after I launched the blog, loads of people asked me why I chose to focus on such a narrow part of the media world. I answered honestly that I wanted to write about something small enough that it would be possible to “master” the subject, rather than just cover it.

Some of those people, mostly the ones without a highly developed sense of diplomacy, also asked why I chose to focus on such an unglamorous part of the media. I answered honestly that I wanted to write for an audience that other people ignored. There might turn out to be nothing of value in what I wrote, I said, but I wanted to tell the folks who worked in B2B that they, themselves, were valuable. I chose to write about B2B as a way to say that B2B was worth writing about.

And the least diplomatic of my friends and associates asked some version or another of the following question: But isn’t B2B sort of boring? And I answered, honestly, that it was no such thing to me. I loved B2B. I thought B2B was exciting. And I loved the idea that there might be other people who loved what I loved.

Now, all these years later, I know why the B2B media niche worked for me. And I know how my answers to those questions that my friends asked can serve as the basis of choosing any Small Pond in which to work, live or play.

To follow the Big Fish approach, consider these three questions when choosing a pond:

  1. Is it possible for you to “master” this pond? Is this a place (an industry, a department of a company, a parish, a neighborhood, etc.) where it’s possible for you to become truly knowledgeable about what matters to others in the pond? You don’t necessarily need to be the top source of knowledge. Nor do you need to know everything there is to know. But the possibility that you could become that person must exist. If you don’t understand math, for example, you can’t be a Big Fish in the accounting department.
  2. Do you see a “value” in this pond that others do not? And is this a place where you could contribute additional value? Could that contribution then increase the value of the pond? And would the value of the pond then increase the value of your contribution? is there something about this pond that makes it possible that 1+1 really does = 3?
  3. Do you “love” this pond? And I don’t mean that you love the potential of the pond or love what it could do for you. I mean do you love this pond in the way that parents love their children, the way some soldiers love the Army, the way athletes sometimes love their team? In other words, do you think of this pond as a community you want to serve because you’re part of the community?

When you know the answers to those questions, you’ll know if you’ve found the right Small Pond for you.

In an upcoming post I’ll talk about what it was like to realize that, suddenly and unexpectedly, I’d become a Big Fish in the Small Pond of B2B media.

In the meantime, if you’re new to this blog, you may want to read this brief overview of the Big Fish approach.

— by Paul Conley