Why You Need to Choose Between Success and Popularity

Why You Need to Choose Between Success and Popularity

“Do you want to be popular or do you want to make money?”

When James asked me that, I was flabbergasted.

What did she mean? Aren’t they the same thing?

If you’re popular, you’re already successful. At the very least, you have to be popular before you can be successful. Right?

Turns out, like millions of freelance writers out there, I was wrong. (And James, as always, was right. But let’s not tell her that.)
The thing about popularity is … it doesn’t pay the bills.

At least, not on its own.

Having hordes of social media followers doesn’t automatically translate into money. You can have thousands of Twitter followers, be in hundreds of G+ circles, and have fans clambering to add you as a connection on Facebook and LinkedIn.

But all those fans and followers don’t mean squat – not unless they’re buying something from you.

And when you start working on getting them to buy something from you, you’re pursuing success, not popularity.

Every businessperson I know receives emails from their subscribers after they pitch a new product to their massive list of followers. These emails all go something like this:

“I used to really like what you were doing, but now it seems every second or third email is trying to get me to buy something.’”

And they unsubscribe.

In short, when you start pursuing success, your popularity is going to take a hit. The opposite is just as true.

Popularity and success aren’t friends – they’re competitors.

You can’t chase one and expect the other to follow. Popularity and success are polar opposites. They can complement each other if you’re strategic about it, but pursuing one will always cause the other to take a hit.

Which is why you should choose to pursue success – and that goes double if you’re just starting out.

You may be popular as all get-out, but if you’re not making any money, you’re only hurting yourself. Popularity is a luxury you can’t afford to chase if you haven’t made any money yet, because you’ll need income to sustain yourself while you do.

Success first, then popularity. Then success again. Then popularity. Then success.

But always, always choose success first.

It’s time to choose: Popularity or success?

Popularity and success require different tactics, so you have to decide between fame and fortune. Ask yourself this:

What’s more important for your business right now?

For most, the answer is as obvious as the balance in your bank account: you need fortune, not fame.

Popularity has its perks. If you’re financially comfortable, you can afford to take the time to build up a larger audience so that you can eventually pitch them your services or products. If your business is already succeeding, you can rest on your laurels a little to network with peers in your industry and create bigger opportunities down the line.

But you’re fooling yourself that getting tons of retweets on Twitter is going to put money in the bank. You’ll need to rethink your decision – or you’ll end up with a huge following but no rent money.

The biggest difference between success and popularity is how you measure results.

For success, you don’t count followers, fans, or even subscribers. Instead, you count the number of leads your marketing generated. You keep tabs on how many of those leads turned into sales and paid work. And you calculate how much money you earned in three months, in six months, in 12 months.

In short, it’s all about the money.

It’s the opposite for popularity. You’re still counting numbers, but instead of money, you’re counting how many people follow you on social media. You’re keeping tabs on the retweets your status updates get. You’re calculating how much your following grew in three months.

In this case, it’s not about the money.

This is a really simple way to determine whether your efforts are pursuing success or popularity. If you’re doing a marketing campaign on social media, for example, you may be getting lots of retweets and likes and shares – but you’re counting the number of sales you make.

In that case, you may appear to be pursuing popularity, but the fact that you’re counting the money as a measure of whether you’re doing well means you’re pursuing success.

Same goes for the reverse: if you launch a new website and ask people for their opinions on social media, you’re counting the likes, shares, and retweets. You’re not counting the money – because there isn’t any. That’s pursuing popularity.

The next time you want to make a big move for your business, ask yourself honestly which results you’ll be measuring: popularity or success?

Do you want to be popular or do you want to make money?

I’d emailed James to tell her I was considering taking up guest blogging for a client but was worried about the bad rep it had in the industry (even though the company was legit and nothing unethical was involved).

I certainly wasn’t expecting that loaded question as her response. It hit me right between the eyes and made me reevaluate everything I believed about success and popularity.

My answer to her question has turned my freelance writing business around and transformed the way I do business — even the way I think about business, each and every day.

I no longer strive for popularity. To me, being able to support my family, save for a rainy day and invest in my business are more important than how many fans I have. And every time I have to make a business decision, I ask myself, “Do I want to be popular or do I want to make money?”

The answer hasn’t led me astray yet.

Share your thoughts with me. Have you ever fallen in the popularity trap thinking it’ll lead to success? What would you do differently if you knew back then what you know now? I’d love to hear about it!

Post by Samar Owais

Samar Owais is a freelance writer and blogger. She loves writing (kinda goes without saying), road trips, and helping writers succeed in their freelance writing businesses. Download her free report 10 Unexpected Places to Find Freelance Writing Clients to jump start your freelance career today.

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  1. Hey Samar,

    Looks like this question hits every freelancer once in their career. It did to me. I’m glad your post came timely and gave me the real deal I’ve been waiting for. I’ve realized that focusing more on the paid part matters the most – both for short-term and the long-term.

    Honestly speaking, I’m trying to balance both acts, but I now know what really matters to keep me in the business.


    • I’ve found that there is no balance when it comes to success or popularity. It’s an either/or situation. Trying to achieve both at the same time is putting way too much pressure on yourself.

      Glad this post helped, Sabita. Don’t forget to ask yourself what you want (fame or money?) the next time you have a business decision to make 🙂

  2. Nice post, and I totally agree.

    Before I got into seriously freelance writing, I thought you had to be popular to be successful. But then, when I had to pay the bills and seeking popularity wasn’t an option, I noticed that when I simply went after the gigs that *paid*, I was successful, popularity be damned. It didn’t matter at all that no one had ever heard of me, as long as I had a decent portfolio to speak for itself, that’s what got gigs that paid the bills.

    • Hey Chelsea. Love that you have it figured out. It took James to show me the light. Otherwise, I’m quite sure I’d be still chasing popularity.

      And hey, as long as your clients have heard of you. That’s a kind of popularity too – the right kind 😀

  3. Ah, well done with this! As a newly published writer, I find myself getting caught up more in my social media (thinking that they will sell my books, which I can say they have not). So many “experts” say to “build your platform” and all that rot, but the question you posed is MUCH more important than building a platform. At root, I’m motivated to sell books and make money. You’ve gained a new fan here. All best to you!

  4. Social media doesn’t even get you all that much traffic (let alone sales). Glad you’ve realized early on the futility of chasing sales through social media.

    Create a game plan for promoting your books – without social media.

  5. Great post, thanks. I had thought about this before, but not in the same terms or at the same depth. I definitely want to make money. With money I can buy time with my family and my best friend. I much prefer being with the people who really care about me to having a lot of strangers “like” me.

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head with your last sentence, Angie. Understanding that we only need a small group of close-knit well-wishers is half the battle.

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. Hi Samar,
    For most people im sure its money, but some fame will come with it don’t you think?

    • You’re right, Robert. With money, some fame always comes your way. But the same is not true for the opposite. Not in our business.

  7. Samar,
    I hate to say it. But I think you’re right. Social media is only useful for those few, key connections you need to make for paying work.

    You may only have 47 people on your email list, but if they’re the right 47 people for your business, you don’t need 50,000 more.

    Hopefully James will never see your post or she’s going to be impossible to live with.

  8. I got some advice recently: don’t write for money. You probably won’t make it. Not many people do. Write because you love it and maybe, just maybe, you might scrape a living one day. Not very optimistic.
    Is it realistic, though? The more I read online, the easier it appears to make money doing what I love…and the less I believe it. I don’t care about popularity, and success for me would be able to to write enough words to one support myself. Can I hope for such things? I often ask myself.

  9. Your question reminds me of the saying, “Begin with the end in mind.”

    When we started our site in 2008, right from the get go we were not shy about showing up with invitations to buy from us. And all these years later, we still aren’t. So, one of the reasons that people are perfectly fine with getting invitations to buy something from us is because since Day 1, they’ve never felt like we’d pulled the switch-e-roo on them and went from “just being the cool person supplying a bunch of free stuff” to “Marketing machine” overnight. From Day 1 we’ve been a hybrid of both of these and our audience has been perfectly accommodating.

    I think another reason for this is because there’s over 400 free posts people have access to on our site that are extraordinarily valuable for our perfect prospect. Our perfect prospect knows that even if they never gave us a cent they’ve received actionable value from us so they don’t begrudge us inviting them to buy what we have to offer.

    We might not have the fame and nine jillion shares and comments on our posts but we’ve got a hyper responsive email list that has brought us all the fortune we’ve needed and has supported us both financially and emotionally for six years now.

    So, obviously my experience says that the advice you’re giving is well worth paying attention to. I hope that by following it yourself Samar, that you will build a loving list that rallies to support you during your years in business as well. 🙂

  10. But what about celebrities? They are super popular and still millionaires. You just need to find a balance and then you will be able to combine these 2 statuses. It’s possible

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