A Beautiful Wish To Turn Hobby Into Your Profession, Meng Diary #2

Not all hobbies are meant to become a job: some simply cannot bring money and others turn out boring if done regularly for a tedious amount of time. Trying too hard to make your hobby a job can kill the joy you once had. Nevertheless it is a brave and beautiful idea, to go against conventions and try to earn money from something weirdly specific and unparalleled. The wisest teachers always encourage their students to seek a profession that they would enjoy doing instead of wasting their youth (or life) doing something unenjoyable, in equally inspiring money pursuit – and by doing that people risk driving themselves into a depression hole.

In the past month a thought of putting an end to @mengmandarin came across my mind many times.

Recently I spent half of the year doing an internship at a small startup company. I put all my heart and dedication into this time, especially at the beginning, but at some point I had to admit that I am wasting my time by doing something I do not enjoy doing. Money I fortunately earnt there was the only good reason to stay there as long as I did. Start-ups are led by motivated creators who fulfil their dream for one or another reason. Not all of them are sustainable, not all of them are ethical. My boss kept reminding us that only 1% of all new companies survive past the first year. For him this start-up was his dream of building a successful company from scratch before his approaching retirement. Me and my colleagues were working our asses off in the most unthankful way in the most ridiculously organised framework possible, just to help our boss realise his big dream. I can imagine many start-ups that we never heard of function exactly like that. 

It was a unique experience with a grain of personal growth. 

Second anniversary since the very first post of Meng Mandarin is approaching and the word 梦 (meng4, dream) was used in the name since the very beginning. I had a dream too, to have a big social media account, to run my own posts about Chinese because I thought I could do it better than others. Truthfully, it was never about money. Yet I loved every inch of the process and I am sure the image of the page depicts it very vividly. Looking at the start-ups or small projects, some of them give a familiar impression right away: a lot of passion and effort, yet without a proper expertise on how and why. Often run by youngsters, recent graduates or even school drop-outs, or just rich enthusiasts with their pet project. Meng Mandarin falls in this category, and so did my start-up company I was an intern at. They are both run by amateurish dilettants with many blatant structural and organisational flaws. But the key difference lies in the purpose of the project. Meng was run for teaching and spreading the knowledge, not for making any profit, which already makes it unqualified to be in the same row with all the regular business model creations. 

As my time as a student is slowly running off, I have to become more down-to-earth.

So how do you turn your passion project without any profit channel into a sensible business idea? This is a tricky question, and some people do think that being a big social media page automatically brings you tons of money. I used to think that too – reality is more complex. Currently our instagram page is at 12.000 solid followers where it was for many months (given page wasn’t worked on for over 6 months), which is honestly meaningless in the grand scheme of social media. You can generate a solid profit off that if you are an influencer in a hot category like fashion or video games, and all your 12k followers are actually active and comment/like under your content. Meng on the other hand has an extremely passive audience, and to be honest 99% of our content was never meant for any interaction. Education is also a not super hot branch to get sponsorship or promotion deals. The fact that we got a generous offer from Super Chinese App back in the days was rather an exception than anything else. At the very least it gave us a good idea who would be interested in working with us, or paying us to make ads for them. 

While technically we could be pursuing random sponsorships for whatever cash is offered to us but that would be as unethical as unenjoyable. 

What is bad about Meng Mandarin as of now? 

  • Inconsistency, whenever im busy with my personal life page just “dies” =>
    Dependency on one person in the head (me) => lack of structure in organisation and perhaps lack of seriousness from my side
  • Full dependency on Instagram (not a direct income source, not a platform on the rise) 
  • Lack of business model (what do we even offer, what do we sell?) => accordingly no earning from doing this work

Instagram is a great platform if you invest in it, posts that I promote with paid ads are very price efficient, many new followers plus quite an impressive reach for reasonably small investment. Already in 2021 it was visible that if you post without any videos or just a single image – the algorithm won’t push your post much. Instagram promotes reels for the sake of competition with TikTok. This year there was another change with a forced ratio of the feed for each user. There is a dedicated space for promoted stuff, there is a dedicated space for reels and videos (suggested, usually not from the accounts that you follow); and only then come posts from accounts that you actually follow. Our last return to posting content also showed a significant decrease in reach and likes. 

Instagram is explicitly breaking the fiercly fought for connection between creators and their followers. A middle finger towards everyone.

Don’t chase the numbers, many artists say that. I am neither an artist nor a business, to have a reason to do either. But it does kill the idea of posting daily and putting effort into it. Unless you promote every single post, every day. This issue once again reminds me to focus on making business and earning money, instead of optimistically posting on social media such as Instagram and hoping for some miraculous sponsorship deal out of the thin air. I don’t believe that it will ever bring this page to the place of success. Meng will start selling “products” instead, and our posts we made until now will become just supporting content, to maintain our social media presence.

I always had an idea that Meng could be a hub where teachers (of Chinese) and students (of Chinese) could find each other, connect, and have lessons together. Unfortunately with the development of Instagram it doesn’t seem to be plausible anymore. Instead I firmly believe I should elevate myself as a teacher and offer lessons through the platform I created, that way I can benefit directly without wasting my time on being a facilitator. If this scheme works well, with myself as a tester-teacher – we could try “hiring” another teacher to be “Meng teacher”, in the future potentially in other languages too.

Other than that we can transform our prior posts into sellable books on platforms like Amazon (unless there are better alternatives we can find); and keep free .pdf versions on our website for anyone else too. Under the original idea that education should be accessible to anyone but if someone can support us – then here they have an option of buying a physical copy. And at last we can start selling our merchandise through print-on-demand services; I always enjoyed designing and creating on Photoshop, we could add some other collaborators and make decent final products. Whether people will actually buy any of this is only a question of advertisement, I believe. In the end we have these three main streams of potential income we can focus on. 

Meng 2.0:

  1. Ebooks and printable books, sold on platforms such as Amazon (could be transferred from our posts’ content and vice versa)
  2. Meng Merchandise – endless options, boosted with Instagram marketing and design/influencers collaborations
  3. Dai Xin classes – elevate your Chinese by taking classes from the creator of Meng Mandarin. Group classes with a bigger team to supervise the process are also possible. 

What will happen to the thing we have been doing for the… 2 years? It will still be run and maintained, but with less intensity, and will be tightly tied with what is being worked on co-laterally. If I work on some teaching stuff for my classes – these things can become posts. If I have something else in the books to promote our other projects we plan to sell – then those can also become posts. Beyond that – I will still finish all the projects we already started as a group. Finished ones can serve for reposts too. We could also passively push them on other social media like Facebook/YouTube/TikTok and have potential “extra dollar” from there. 

Among other ideas I have for Meng Mandarin is a WeChat group (perhaps an exclusive one) for our members (perhaps premium members?) where they can not only chat in Chinese but ask questions to native speakers any time, and of course make friends. Secondly, potential partnership and friendship with institutions worldwide, such as bubble tea stores, China-Town shops, to have mutual promotions. Meng Mandarin has worldwide followership and can attract visitors to these places, and we can dedicate posts about these places – there should certainly be a mutual interest for such collaboration. First we need products to sell, though. Merch, classes, books and ebooks.

Meng Mandarin – Chinese Language Hub

  • Private or Group Lessons with Tutor
  • Exclusive Books and Learning Materials
  • Merchandise and Clothing designed for Chinese learners
  • VIP Chat with Native Speakers for Meng Members

That’s how new Meng could look like. Time will tell which ideas will work out and which are fated to die out. Maybe I will have to close the project upon my graduation in 6 months. Maybe it will survive past its “first year” and become one of the 1%. Beautiful gamble with the time. 

I plan to announce official changes in September towards our second anniversary. Before that there might be another blog about dreams about the dream (Meng). See you all! 

Best,

Dainis 戴鑫

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