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Are you building a Skyscraper or a Strip Mall?

Jay Clouse
Jay Clouse
6 min read

I was reflecting this week on some of the big decisions I've made in my business over the last 3-6 months and I had a pretty cool realization...

The biggest improvements in my business have all stemmed from conversations I've recorded on Creative Elements.

Now nearly 100 interviews into the show, there are so many decisions that I've made that I can tie directly to one or more episodes of the show!

In the startup world, we had this phrase called "dogfooding" which was short for "eating your own dogfood." The idea is that if you are actively using the product that you are creating, you have a much tighter feedback loop because YOU can experience the same pain points that your customers might have (and not be telling you).

Well, I am definitely dogfooding Creative Elements – and that's a great sign.

The Skyscraper vs. Strip Mall framework

This week I published my conversation with Nathan Barry, the founder and CEO of ConvertKit. I love ConvertKit – this very email was sent with ConvertKit, and I'm a proud customer and affiliate!

And I'm not the only one...according to their public Baremetrics data, ConvertKit has nearly 40,000 users and earns $2.5M in Monthly Recurring Revenue! 🤯

All that to say, Nathan has his finger on the pulse of the creator economy.

And he told me that he sees most creators choose between two business models: either building a skyscraper or a strip mall.

So I like to think about it in terms of, do you want to build a strip mall, or a skyscraper – and a lot of creators want to build strip malls. And what I mean by that is that you get 5,000 subscribers on an email list, you know, 'okay, let me sell them this.' And a certain number of people buy that. 'Okay, let me add this other thing.' And a certain number of people buy that. 'Okay, now, let me add this third thing.' You have all of these different 'properties' built out on your real estate, and look, you're earning a great living. You know, we're now at $50,000 or $100,000 a year from that. But it's all spread.

Nathan's counter-example was the skyscraper approach:

An example of someone building a skyscraper, and I quote them a lot, is James Clear. For years, he was like, 'I'm not going to monetize my email list. I don't care about making money from it, how do I keep writing content and buildings, build the biggest possible list.'...He got to the point where he was like, 'Okay, I do need to make some money for this...' And so once a quarter, he would teach a habits workshop. And he would promote that workshop, I think the first one made $20,000, which was quite a lot. And by the time he stopped doing them, they're making like $200,000 apiece. But that was the only thing he allowed himself to do. Everything else went into building the skyscraper of the email list, taller and taller. And the result is that he now has an email list of over a million people.

Nathan finished his point saying there's nothing right or wrong with either model – it's just being intentional (and honest!) about which one you're building.

I built a Strip Mall

To get to the point where I am today, living as a professional creator, I've definitely built a strip mall.

I've built four courses, seven paid workshops, I had a small paid newsletter at one point, and two different memberships...

In January, it all added up to 24 different revenue streams!

I'm not going to knock the strip mall model – even though I think we can agree even the term "strip mall" is less aspirational than "skyscraper." That approach got me to a point where I can earn a comfortable living as a professional creator.

But it was definitely hard to identify what should I be promoting at any given time. How do I help people find the right product or experience for them without constantly pushing something?

Well, as they say, "What got you here won't get you there." My aspirations as a professional creator are a lot bigger than what I've built so far, and now I have the ability to be more thoughtful about how I'm building this business.

So I asked myself – what does my business look like as a skyscraper?

Renovating my Strip Mall to become a Skyscraper

For me, it looked like re-aligning everything behind a singular brand: Creative Companion. I often go on podcasts, YouTube channels, etc., and am introduced with a whole slew of projects.

"This is Jay! Jay is the host of Creative Elements, he is the creator of Freelancing School, the creator of the #Tweet100 challenge, he has a course Podcast Like the Pros..."

People have a very difficult time knowing HOW to think of me. And that makes building authority behind any one of my projects more difficult.

So, to simplify, I decided to align all of my creative projects behind the brand Creative Companion. And I sharpened my positioning too – Creative Companion exists to help people become professional creators. Even Creative Elements is a project underneath the Creative Companion brand.

So now when someone asks me what do I do...

I introduce myself as either a.) the founder of Creative Companion; or b.) someone who helps people become professional creators. That's the intro! And if someone wants to dig deeper, we can absolutely do that.

I launched a new website for Creative Companion at creativecompanion.club. I believe that giving a project its own digital footprint makes it feel more legitimate.

So instead of directing people to jayclouse.com to subscribe to my newsletter, I wanted this new brand and my newsletter to have their own digital property to call home.

I rolled up my courses and workshops underneath the Creative Companion brand as well, adding them as a subdomain: courses.creativecompanion.club.

And I shut down several projects, including two small existing memberships, my paid newsletter, and further separated the Freelancing School brand.

The signature product

In the Skyscraper model, I believe you need a signature product or a small, aligned suite of signature products.

A challenge I've always had is that because my audience is fairly broad and diverse (professional creators could be newsletters, podcasts, YouTube, etc.) I've had a hard time creating one single product that I knew could serve the average subscriber.

I have a podcasting course, an email workshop, a couple of community-building workshops, etc. Those products are all great! But they are all pretty specific to certain types of creators.

But at the same time as I was thinking about this problem, I was really interested in building a membership community for creators.

So after a couple of months of thoughtful design, the Creative Companion Club was born! That membership is going to be the product I put the most time and effort into and what my entire Creative Companion skyscraper is built to serve.

Where I'm going from here

Now that I've realigned my projects behind a single brand, I have a clear mission (helping people become professional creators), and a signature product (the Creative Companion Club), I'm really excited.

Now I can really focus my effort on creating incredible free resources. Information wants to be free – and the more that I can create and share for free, the faster I'll build a strong reputation. Not only as someone who knows his stuff, but who is also generous and truly helpful.

I'll likely continue to create a new paid product from time to time (including a community-building course this year) but the majority of my effort will be in creating great free content and pouring love on members of the Creative Companion Club.

One final question for you

If this all sounds inspirational and aspirational to you, then there's only one question you need to consider...

👉 What would the Skyscraper version of your business look like?

Personally, if I could start over, I would've started with this framework in mind. Renovating a strip mall is quite a bit of work. But if you could build with the end in mind...you'll give yourself quite the leg up.

Listen to the full episode:

Core Concepts

Jay Clouse Twitter

Writer, podcaster, and community-builder helping people become professional creators. I write this blog and host Creative Elements, a narrative-interview podcast talking with today's top creators.

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