The Content Delusion (or, why you still need to hustle)

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There’s this unfortunate delusion that’s been sold in the world of entrepreneurship, especially in the online space…


The road to growth is paved with content. Write, film, record and produce killer content. Put it out there, and the world will rush to your doorstep.

You don’t have to put your “self” out there anymore, just put your content out there. #boom. #success. #winning!

But, then, there’s that nagging little thing called…reality.

Forget the fact that I hate the word content for the moment. The problem with this strategy and the claims that go along with it, is that it preys on a particular fear, and it’s based on a lie.

The fear is exposure and judgment. We’re terrified of exposing ourselves to “in the flesh” failure and rejection. We don’t want to go “out there,” be “in the room” or even “in the world” when the lightbulbs don’t go on and everything we’ve worked to create falls flat. It’s easier to just put our “content” out into that scary space. That way, we can stay cloistered and protected in our little content creation caves and have everyone come running to us. If it fails, it’ll still hurt, but not nearly as badly as if we’d been face-to-face, talking to someone and being rejected by them out there in the bountiful, yet exposed badlands.

We tell ourselves, when people reject content, it’s about an idea. When they reject conversation it’s about us. And, it’s easier to handle a failed idea than a denied self. So, we hide. Not just behind an idea, but behind the screens that serve as both a shield and a sword. Because, we’re afraid of being in the room when the other shoe falls.

So, that’s the fear. But, what about the lie?

The big content fib is that it’s the end-all be-all. It’s that content done-well is all you need to do.

Content, we’re told, is king. It’s a fantastic mechanism to build an idea into a platform, a brand, a reputation, position, entity, business or organization. This, in fact, is a partial truth. Crafted, curated and distributed in the right way, over a window of time, it can make a huge difference. I’ve leverage the power of editorial, video and audio to build what I’m here to build with great effect…over 8 years. And, I will continue to do more and more of it.

That said, with the exception of the unicorn-rare and largely non-reproducible viral outlier, content is more about sustained growth, positioning, trust and, yes, eventually, leads, than it is a high-probability vehicle for launch and accelerated growth. It’s important, but increasingly, I wonder if it’s also a way to hide from the other piece of the launch and growth pie. The hustle side of the equation.

Content is your long-game, but hustle is your now game.

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And, by hustle, I’m talking old-school, or what the cool kids now call “outbound” marketing. That includes things like:

  • Street teams
  • Guerrilla marketing
  • Advertising (yes, despite rumors of its demise, it still works)
  • Hosting and attending meet-ups, gatherings and events
  • Engineering publicity opportunities
  • Speaking to the right people, in the right place about the right things
  • Building and participating in groups, both online and offline
  • Coffees, lunches, brunches and drinks
  • Being stunningly generous and building meaningful relationships
  • Calling everyone you’ve ever known and begging for help (aka, “inviting partnership”)

When you are looking to go from zero to real, unless you are either willing to risk an extremely low-probability viral moonshot or take a longer, slower path to growth, you cannot just put videos, podcasts, editorial and images out there, hope someone will discover them, follow them back to you, fall in love and pay you money.

Yes, those things have power. Create them. Use them as levers to move people. But don’t rely exclusively on them. And don’t hide behind them because you are afraid of the more deeply felt pain of a failed hustle. Understand that, with rare exception, these elements are players in a longer, more nuanced content game, not an instant path to attention, income and impact.

When you are in launch mode, content does not let you off the hustle hook.

Both matter, and both operate most effectively over different time horizons. Hustle is your now game. Content is your medium to long game, with the occasional now-game hit.

Are there outliers? Yes. Of course.

Might you be one? Sure.

And we all love to point to the successes of those outliers in defense of our desire to hide behind the page or the screen or the mic in a protected room. To lean solely on the desire to create assets that go into the world and do the work, rather than getting off our asses to do the same in real life.

If taking a content-driven moonshot were the only approach to launching a business or brand or practice, I’d say “have at it.” But, it’s not.

I’m often asked to advise authors, consultants, private practice pros and other wisdom-workers on how to launch a book, a practice, a company, product or brand. They all want to go big, fast. But, I’m not all that interested in conversations about how to invest a lot of time and money into a .0001% chance to explode virally, when a much higher probability path to success exists, even if that path requires you to do things that force you to drop the delusion, leave the cave and get past the fear of the hustle.

As an introverted, sensitive maker, I don’t like that any more than you. Doesn’t change the reality on the ground.

“Content is a compliment to hustle, not a replacement for it.”

My friend, Lewis Howes, is a great example of this. When he launched his book, The School of Greatness, he’d already spent years building an audience around content in the form of a popular podcast. But the book was a new product, a new venture. He knew he wanted to hit the New York Times bestseller list and that was measured in sales over a one-week window.

So, he didn’t just rely on content. He hustled like I’ve never seen anyone hustle before. He got on planes, trains and automobiles, traveled to where people were, pitched himself all over the place, made deals, trades, spoke, consulted, pushed hard in mainstream media, created publicity opportunities and more.

We’re seeing this same thing in real time with another legendary content-creator, Gary Vaynerchuk a/k/a the King of Hustle. Rising to digital fame as the host of Wine Library TV a few years back, he built a mega-keynoting business, launched a few giant-selling books (with a new one just coming out now), then leveraged his notoriety to co-found a digital media agency, Vayner Media, along with his brother A.J..

He now produces a life-streaming video show, a regular advice series, and has built a sizable audience, along with a podcast. Thing is, he and his team didn’t build Vayner Media, a world-class speaking career and launch mega-books by creating content and waiting for clients to arrive. As is Gary’s mantra, he worked fiercely. He hustled maniacally.

Even fellow introvert and Quiet author, Susan Cain, stepped into hustle mode to make the leap from aspiring author to international circuit speaker, bestseller and then founder of an enterprise-level consulting firm around the unique needs and capabilities of introverts in business and education and life. Yes, she wrote a tremendous book that gave voice to millions. And she hired a crew to create a website and populate it with editorial content and now a podcast.

But, she traveled almost non-stop for the better part of two years, speaking at large organizations and events and building relationships that could eventually turn into allies, evangelists, introductions and clients, both before and after the book and brand hit. And, she built a team to continue on the seeds she planted with her own fierce blend of content and hustle.


This brings up an interesting question. Actually, two.

What if you’re an introvert, and being “out there” empties you out?

Do you still have to do it? Short answer…”yes, but.” You can do it in a way that honors your own engagement style. Build opportunities to step fiercely out, then as fiercely back in and create deliberate windows and activities that refuel your tank. One approach that works well for this introvert is to step out into the container of a smaller, safer group (my team) who I then empower to step into the bigger world in an expanded and partially delegated “hustle ripple.”

Also, it’s important to know that your definition of hustle is not the same as anyone else’s. What is sustainable for one person, might destroy another. So, be sure to do it in a way that moves the needle, but also allows you to be okay, physically, emotionally, spiritually and energetically. Keep it aligned with what matters most to you.

That brings us to the second question…

What if you just don’t care about speed?

If you have your needs covered, if you have alternative sources of business and revenue that will allow you the gift of breathing room for a longer, slower launch and build, you may be able to rely on really well-crafted content to play a much bigger role in not just your positioning, but your audience building and lead-generation.

If you have the runway for a slow-build, hustle becomes less of an issue.

But, if you have limited financial or temporal space to play with, if you need to make things happen quickly, if you have bills to pay, expectations or commitments to meet, with very rare exception, content alone is not enough.

And, if you’re looking toward content as a way to not just grow, but also hide, it’s a safe bet that’ll eventually catch up to you. So, you might as well explore how to peacefully navigate the hustle now, when the stakes are lower and room to breath more available.

Think of it this way…

Content + hustle are the flour and yeast in your launch bread.

Together, they rise. Divided, they fall.

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33 responses

33 responses to “The Content Delusion (or, why you still need to hustle)”

  1. For me, man, it’s “why you still need content.”

    Hustle works, it’s predictable. It makes a predictable mix of friends and enemies.

    Content – and delivery – really works. A few key pieces created dozens of leads. I didn’t repeat the process, and the lead flow slowed down.

    Without both, you squander the other. An epoxy.

  2. This makes me want to cry. Everyone talks about taking massive action, hustle, etc. As the mom of a toddler who builds my business PT while being a stay at home mom, I struggle with the filter that I have to sacrifice something (myself or my family) in order to get this business launched. I am in my calling and I will keep working this until it “takes,” but I have been determined not to lose my priorities. And maybe it is just a faulty filter (I call myself a recovering workaholic so I have a few loopy filters in this area), but when I read this it seems impossible to remain balanced…Maybe I just need to bring my little goober with me sometimes while I “hustle.”
    And despite the fact that I’m wrestling with this particular post…I absolutely LOVE your stuff!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Noelle – I hear you. That’s why I also included this – “it’s important to know that your definition of hustle is not the same as anyone else’s. What is sustainable for one person, might destroy another. So, be sure to do it in a way that moves the needle, but also allows you to be okay, physically, emotionally, spiritually and energetically. Keep it aligned with what matters most to you.”

      Do it in the way that honors you, your life and it’s very real opportunities and constraints. Your hustle should never be “judged” by someone else’s. They don’t have your life. So, do what you can and, if that means take a longer lens, then take it.

  3. Tanmay Vora says:

    Thank you for the provocation, Jonathan. Real accomplishments (and the real effort that goes behind it) are the starting point of any influence. Content is the style and real effort is the substance.

    Style without substance is short-lived (if it lives at all).

  4. Judi says:

    Oh this is soooo good!!! I’m launching my business full time later this year and my business plan … Go old school!!!! Pick up the phone, research, market, get support from my tribe, hustle. This really resonated and further reinforced that the hustle is critical and that hustle will look differently to everyone. Thank tiu for your work!!!

  5. Sharon says:

    Timely! After having spent the last 4 years building up tons of content using inbound marketing, we decided to organize a conference to bring people together around a healthier process for divorce, plus scheduling lots of one on one meetings with therapists and other professionals. I kept thinking – why am I organizing this big event? I shun strict deadlines and event planning creates all kinds of urgency. And it’s for this reason – real change cannot happen through an ebook. So I hired an event planner to take care of logistics (cringe at that word), so I can focus on the fun stuff – making the website, and meeting with people to get the word out. Grateful for the encouragement, Jonathan!

  6. While there is a lot of truth in this, I wonder if it might be more accurate to say that content is a particular form of hustle? As you say for every one great book breakthrough there are hundreds of successful ‘thought leaders’ (with you on hating that phrase, but can’t think of a better one right now) for whom regular, engaging content is a key part of their hustle.

    Many of the aforementioned ‘thought leaders’ who have found a resonance in me – not least yourself Jonathan, have done so in part because of the content they have created. Content isn’t the only way of putting yourself out there, but it can certainly be powerful. I started watching, listening to and reading you because I came across content that made me see you as likeable, authoritative and authentic. Of course, because I’ve never actually met you in the flesh, the real picture may be totally different. You might be an evil, know-nothing con-artist; in which case I’ve just been taken in by an especially slick marketing operation, but I like to think not.
    Content may not be king, but it can certainly be a powerful and attractive expression of who we are.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      S’why I mentioned it’s not an “either, or,” it’s a “yes, and.” BTW, this comment was not posted by my evil automated marketing minions, just me behind the keyboard over here. lol. 😉

  7. Mike says:

    As the husband of an entrepreneurial wife, running a ‘bricks and mortar’ kitchen design and installation business in the UK, I take this post as my signal to back off. I’ve been on her case from day one. I built her a website and set up her blog, then proceeded to hassle her constantly about writing articles, tweeting and Pintrest. I was convinced she needed to be focussed on her online presence. She did the right thing by ignoring me and simply got on with her job. She has grown the business naturally through high quality work and a total devotion to customer satisfaction. She’s very hands on, designing, looking after her clients and project managing kitchen installations. Obviously that can’t be done so easily in the online space and it does limit her ability to scale. My wife loves what she does and she’s doing great. She doesn’t need me as her back seat driver. I have a full time job that I should focus on because that gives her the ‘breathing room’ she needs to keep going.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Haha. I think the common awakening in the conversation in the comments is that it’s not about content OR hustle, it’s about leveraging both in the way that is most appropriate for both the living and life you’re building. There is no one-size-fits-all. Both matter, in differing amounts to different people.

  8. Jonathan,

    Thank you for this perfectly-timed kick in the pants!!! I am getting ready to launch a new virtual project and because I will be interacting with all of my clients via phone and Internet, it feels like I should also be able to enroll all of my clients via phone and Internet, too. Maybe, if I had a big enough audience, that might be possible, but for me, it really just isn’t and you made an excellent case for why that’s true.

    The thing that is holding me back more than anything is that I am currently dealing with some health issues and my weight is higher than it’s ever been. I’m scared I won’t be able to portray the image I want in order to get the clients I need. But I won’t know if I don’t try. I really do appreciate this powerful dose of truth from you!

    Thanks for all you do.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Kristine – thanks so much for sharing what’s up in your world now. You bring up a really interesting invitation to explore. What if you’re at a point where, without casting blame or taking on shame, you’re just not comfortable with yourself, physically, emotionally or in some blend of the two? Can you still work the “outbound” part of the growth equation?

      Sure. As I shared, the idea is to make it your own. Explore what level of engagement, what modes of engagement and outreach, what tools, applications, settings would allow you to feel good and at the same time, take a step into the world and make things happen on a level you’re okay with.

      Another path is potentially even turn what you see as a “temporary negative” into a powerful positive. To stand in the fact that, ya know, you’ve had to deal with some things over the last few years, we all do, and it’s had an impact on your health and your body. But, you know what, that doesn’t define you, you are still stunning capable of making a difference. We all go through our own challenges and you made the decision that your challenges won’t stop you from helping people whose lives and businesses or whatever is it that you do, you can make a difference in.

      Rather than waiting to be “there” before you feel the confidence to go out and make things happen, reverse it. Go out and make things happen as a demonstration of the fact that life got hard for you, and you chose to rise up and bring your gifts to the world, even as you commit to your comeback. There’s a certain honor and grace and power in that, one that the people who matter won’t shun, but rather embrace and even be inspired by. Because either they’ve been you, or someday will be you. And, what happens to us doesn’t define us nearly as deeply as the way we respond to what happens to us.

      Okay, that got a leeeeeeeetle bit soap boxy, lol. Apologize if I’ve overstepped, I just want to see you rise, to own your beautiful self, to define your readiness and worthiness from the inside out, not the outside. 🙂

  9. A. Thomas says:

    Sounds like you’ve been listening to Gary Vee, Johnathan.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Haha. Gary and I both believe in the hustle, especially when you’re in launch mode. Though, we also define and live it profoundly differently.

  10. Charlie says:

    Remember back in the day when we used to comment on websites. #KickinItOldSchool

    I so love this post, for many of the reasons we’ve talked about. It turns out that building a business that really works sounds suspiciously like work.

    And full of uncertainty. (Does it count as a plug if it’s your book?)

    And not sexy.

    And fraught with things like having to shave and put on actual pants. Oh, the insanity of it all.

    I especially appreciate the ending that it’s both. I’ve been a victim of hustling without producing content as much as I’ve been a victim of producing content without hustling. Walking that just right line between the two is one of those easier said than done things.

  11. Kristin Misik says:

    This is a really interesting piece Jonathan. I can’t personally imagine a day when I’m not hustling and putting myself in front of living breathing humans for my business.

    While I consider myself a pretty thoughtful writer (based primarily on the types of feedback I am given on my writing) and invest a lot of time and energy into writing, there is no way I generate as much excitement for what I have to offer as I do when I am face to face with prospects.

    I love the hustle….it’s scary as shit, I won’t pretend it isn’t, but there is no greater rush than throwing yourself to the wolves and coming out alive. To stand in a board room with 40 pairs of unfamiliar eyeballs staring back at you, to see the look of boredom or curiosity on a face less than 15 feet away, and to be subject to an unpredictable line of questioning, takes courage.

    The hustle is the place I learn the most about myself, my services, my potential clients. I’m glad you still see the value in the hustle, I certainly do!

  12. […] bud Jonathan Fields recently published The Content Delusion (Or Why You Still Need to Hustle), a post that every entrepreneur should read. The “content delusion” he’s […]

  13. Just Me says:

    I think a major problem with today’s personality-cult world is that there is too much hustle and not enough content. Style seems to be consistently valued over substance. If it weren’t, TV shows like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” wouldn’t be so popular.

    I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with hustle or style, but without content and substance respectively, they are just so much empty fluff (see KUWTK example above). I agree with those posters who have said both are necessary, but content and substance must come first: Without substance there is nothing to which to apply style, and without content, there is nothing with which to hustle.

    But rock-solid substance can be overlooked without some snazzy style, and content might just sit unused without some hustle to get it the attention it deserves. The Buddha’s middle way is the wisest.

  14. Andrrea says:

    I’m the unicorn, I guess!! My business is 100% content marketing and sales. Actually, it was letting go of the hustle and speaking and networking and focusing on content that finally helped me break through to seven figures.

    But I agree – it’s not for most people. And certainly for new entrepreneurs, it’s so important to have real-life conversations and get to know their ideal client up close and personally. And, quite frankly, learn to deal with rejection!

    And yet … some of us are just made for online marketing, I think. I still hustle – driving massive traffic, marketing automation, etc. are all essential to reaching the number of people it takes to be successful online. I think most transformational experts just don’t know the sheer volume it takes – I know I didn’t!

    Great article!!

  15. Alice Bandy says:

    Wow. Did I ever need to hear this? I’ve been so tired of the hustle, that I’m falling back heavily on content for my new business. And moving over to books in a major way. I know that this is also an area that needs hustle . But still looking for the magic bullet in all of this, i.e. the balance that is going to work for me. Your comments arrived, as they usually do, right on time for me. Changing my life yet again. Thank you.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      So glad to hear, Alice. Stay tuned, too, essay on using books as a business tool coming soon. 🙂

  16. Andres from Hong Kong says:

    Jonathan, thank you very much for sharing. 6 months ago I left the oil & gas corporate world in Asia and gone on my own and have been trying to build content and hustle to promote myself out there and get some traction. Your thoughts have been extremely encouraging to face the tremendous professional and family challenges that leaving the comfort of corporate life and going on my own entails.

    • Janik L. says:


      I’m in Hong Kong too but I left the Canadian corporate world to come here. Knowing the culture here, going your own way is not the easiest thing to do…Hats off to your motivation.

  17. Timely article.

    I’m a Content Creation Queen (two print books + hundreds of articles + videos in the last few years, and NZ’s most popular online yoga magazine).

    Yet it hasn’t taken me where I thought it would and I couldn’t quite figure out where I was falling down. And I’ve just hired someone to… do the hustle for me. Get me out there, on the speaking circuit, doing my thing. Because I wasn’t making it happen for me. Partly because I’m balanced teaching + writing + single parenting. And partly because I don’t like hustling – it’s my edge for sure.

    Funny thing though, since hiring a manger to hustle for me, I’ve been doing more “natural hustling” for myself and wondering why I never did that before. (Like asking my peers on the speaking circuit for support & help.)

    You never know where your massive blind spots are until someone points them out. And you’ve just named the elephant in the room I’ve been tripping over constantly and still not been able to see. (Would someone move the elephant out already!)

    Because I do just want to sit in my bedroom and create. I do just want my stuff to float out there into the universe and be found. I do just want someone to call or email me and offer me that speaking gig, book contract, hosting job, whatever.

    I have been operating under the delusion that’s what was going to happen… and then wondering what was wrong with me because it hadn’t.

    Did I need to hire someone else to do the hustle for me?

    It’s sure kicking me in the butt because it’s putting the financial pressure on. (I’m paying her more than I pay myself!)

    I guess the proof will be in the bookings. Maybe I am talent that needs a manager so I don’t have to hustle. Maybe I just need to learn to hustle better in my own way. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. Maybe I’ll turn out to be a purple unicorn and someone will stumble across my brilliance and wave their magic wand and no more hustle will ever be required.

    Regardless, you’ve given me something to contemplate in my bedroom while I churn out the content…

  18. Tess Mabon says:

    Oh, new insight, thank you!
    I believe I have both Content AND Hustle. And now I know that I have to feel and find out more what is my yeast and my flour. Which is which? For me.

    And also to find the balance in these two, I do not believe in any way that balance is 50/50.


  19. Anthony says:

    Excellent content Jonathan (there is a little irony there considering your topic:). And good to meet you…I have come over from Early to Rise…nosing around, taking in the wisdom.
    Constructive criticism on your comments section: not a big fan of the pictures in your comments section, makes it annoyingly hard to read them.

  20. Wanda says:

    I was really starting to get worried reading the…Top 100 this, the Top 10 that. I started to think, where are the real people? Then I picked yours to look at. Thank God, is all I can say.

    So, here is my question, what happens when you live in a small place where there really isn’t any opportunities too hustle? (and part of my introverted self is saying, thank God to that as well)

    I bought Jon Morrows monthly program thingy to help me figure stuff out for my up coming website, and of course your writing is in conflict of his opinions–which I like by the way–this too feel real to me. So I’m gonna read you for a while and breath many sighs of relief (I suspect).
    And thank you, I mean it.

  21. […] bud Jonathan Fields just lately revealed “The Content Delusion (Or Why You Still Need to Hustle)”, a submit that each entrepreneur ought to learn. The “content material delusion” […]

  22. Ariana says:

    Thanks for the swift kick in the butt Jonathan! I’m working on my first book now and finding my rhythm for hustling is a continuous process…one I can certainly improve upon and you have given me much to think about here.

  23. David Graham says:

    Great post Jonathan. Content is table stakes and is the bare minimum expected by potential clients/customers. It is a great way to build credibility, establish yourself as a thought leader, stay top-of-mind and nurture opted-in connections, followers and subscribers until they are in a buying cycle. I was told by a colleague once that you can present the best value proposition however you still need to “drag” the prospect kicking and screaming to sign the contract. We use content very effectively to attract interest and whet the appetite of potential clients, however that is only the beginning. Once presented with a “door-opening” opportunity we are only at the start of a sales process. Thank you for a great article. I hope you will accept my LinkedIn connection request which will be coming your way shortly. Regards David Graham

  24. This is so true. This is what I’m trying to tell people, that it’s not just content marketing you need to still do the offline work, it works man, even cold calling businesses you didn’t know.
    Gary or any other business person will not tell you how many hours they spend in meetings, pitching and so on. Like for me from 8-7 every day is working on the agency and before 08am and after 7pm is all about content development.
    Thank you man.