Preparing for Success (and finding more time to write)

For so many writers and creative professionals, a key challenge they face is feeling stretched beyond their limits: maxed out on time and energy. This leads to a sense of frustration, and begins to encourage them to OVERLOOK opportunities because they are just “trying to get by” with an already burdensome workload.

And worse: their art suffers. They spend less time CREATING, and more time MANAGING all the ‘stuff’ that is supposed to be in service of the art. Let’s face it: that sucks. My biggest goals for my clients are simple:

  1. I want them to have MORE time & creative energy to write and develop their craft.
  2. I want their work to not only reach an audience, but have a meaningful effect on their lives.

So what gets in the way of these things? I remember hearing an interview on Mixergy.com once where someone talked about how, when launching a business, they were so busy protecting themselves from failure, that they forgot to prepare for success. The person told a story of how, when things began going well, that he couldn’t react quickly enough to the opportunity and growth because he didn’t have systems in place to do so. He hit maximum capacity too quickly.

I can understand why people ‘prepare for failure’ in order to mitigate risk and protect their personal and professional lives. The thinking here is often “If things work out, I’ll gladly figure out how to take advantage of it if that really does happen – what a wonderful “problem” to have!”

So what is wrong with this? They are not prepared to take advantage of opportunities when those rare serendipitous moments do arrive.

I have been thinking about this in terms of the writers I work with, and for how I can provide more value to them. I have been obsessing about PREPARING FOR SUCCESS. Let’s explore three ways I digging into this right now:

  1. Getting help
  2. Recording and optimizing systems
  3. Integrating tools into daily work processes

This is all about allowing you to grow beyond your own personal capacity. I am integrating these three things into my company right now, but before I do that, I want to give you examples of how an individual writer could consider value in each:

  1. Getting Help: you can’t do it all, and let’s face it, publishing is a process of partnerships. I have written in the past in terms of one client: Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, which outlines the many partners in her work. As she moves forward for her next book, she is taking a step further, exploring the idea of hiring an assistant or intern to be there with her on a weekly basis. In other words, as her writing career grows, she is considering how she can grow with it.
  2. Recording and optimizing systems: We all do things a certain way, and often feel that we are so busy, that we don’t have time to write down a guide to how we do what we do. But how can a writer effectively partner with editors, publishers, cover designers, publicists, booksellers, readers, and so many others in the process when they can’t effectively communicate their process, their timeline, and how everything fits together.

    What I find is that without this ability to communicate process and timeline, life becomes a series of just dealing with the next catastrophe. Sometimes people call this “putting out fires,” and it always confused me because I wondered what it meant that things in your life are always on fire. Wouldn’t it be awesome to live life on a day to day basis without things on fire? To just, you know, ENJOY life while still moving forward with an ambitious writing career? That is the problem we are tackling here.

  3. Integrating tools into daily work processes: when I work with an author on a book launch, there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of potential actions we can take. Likewise, for the author themselves, they are managing even more: the process of writing and publishing, in addition to developing a readership for their book. Oftentimes, they collect bookmarks of blog posts filled with ideas, and they lose sleep trying to remember things to do. Their life begins to feel like an unorganized mess, and they can easily become jaded on so many aspects of what it means to publish – to SHARE your work with readers.

    In this case, a system can help them select which actions to take, and which to let go; keep track of all the moving parts; record what they did, what worked, and what didn’t so that they can reuse the best processes for the NEXT book launch; integrate the various partners into their process. That is a big part of what I provide authors I work with, but I am finding there are ways to improve these processes.

Let’s dig into how each of these things are playing out for my own work:

Getting Help

As an entrepreneur who runs his own company, everything I do is driven by enthusiasm. I love what I do and who I work with, so it is easy to build a business based on my own personal enthusiasm alone.

For years, I have resisted hiring employees, and integrating them into my daily work processes because I thought I could never slow down enough to integrate them. I’m changing that, and to be honest, I should have done this a long time ago. I have recently hired three interns to help me frame how this goes from a company of one, to something that allows me to grow beyond my personal capacity – not in terms of quantity of how many people hire me, but in terms of the QUALITY of what I can provide to each individual.

This is akin to what many of my own clients do – they get to a point where they say: “boy, this would be so much more fun and powerful if I wasn’t doing all of this alone.”

In the first month alone, each of the interns have helped me move forward, and have been an absolute joy to work with. A basic description of what we have been doing so far:

  • Diane Krause: has been getting systems setup, with a primary focus on my consulting work.
  • Kathi Gadow: has been doing the initial research for an event I am planning.
  • Rachel Burns: has been helping develop a new online course I will be running later this year.

It’s incredible to know that each of these projects are being moved forward every week by Diane, Kathi, and Rachel, and their skills and creative input has been not only increasing the quality of each project, but it has simply been more FUN for me.

I’m not going to lie, ENJOYING the journey is important.

Recording and Optimizing Systems

WeGrowMedia is four years old now, and my daily life is filled with critical work processes that I have never written down. Each day, I sort of make up the same process again and again. This means I am wasting creative energy that should be put elsewhere.

That is now changing. Why? A few reasons:

  • Writing down systems and checklists for common situations allows me to integrate others (see above), and create a workflow that can scale (see below.)
  • Less of my mindspace is filled trying to remember things or rewrite the same thing over and over. So one thing we are doing is creating some scripts based off of notes I have written again and again (and again), always from memory.
  • I am finding opportunities in the details. So as Diane and I write down each step of onboarding a new client, we are finding gaps that need to be filled, and more importantly: new ways to add value in the process.

A simple example of this: how I communicate with a client between the time that we sign an agreement and work begins. That timeframe differs for each client, but already we are standardizing the timeliness of messages in order to better set expectations. This means that there is less confusion, and that on day one, I can make an even more powerful difference. It also allows us to consider prompts such as: “How can I ‘wow’ a client even before we have our very first meeting?”

None of this is rocket science. So much of success is about communication and trust, and key outputs from this process are asking better questions and sending better email. And yet, there is SO MUCH opportunity to be found here.

Integrating Tools Into Daily Work Processes

I am integrating nearly every single one of my clients into a full-on project management tool, allowing us to create efficiencies that does three things:

  1. Give them more time to write because the rest of the ‘stuff’ is so organized.
  2. Better manage the many actions we are taking – prioritizing, assigning, aligning to a timeline.
  3. Reduce stress and anxiety in the process. It’s hard to overstate how important this is, and how it frees up parts of your brain and emotions which leads to… (you guessed it)… more time and energy to WRITE.

While this is a huge shift – moving my daily workflow and clients into a system like this – I am already seeing incredible benefits for my clients.

I will admit that I held a lot of resistance to implementing a system like this. Maybe I was just concerned that it seemed less human. What I am finding is that it is an enormous stress reliever for all involved. And you know what, it simply FEELS more professional.

It also offers unforeseen benefits. For example, with one author I am working with, our using the project management software allows their publisher to keep track of what we are working on more efficiently – they can just check into the project management system and take a glance. So much of success is about communication, and I’m finding that this system is already increasing the quality of how this happens for clients and partners.

Another system I have been integrating for awhile now (more than a year) is what would traditionally be called “customer relationship management,” or a CRM system. At the most basic level, this is an address book. And even if we stopped right there, that is enough. How often have you had a friend post to Facebook: “I lost my phone, can each of you resend me your contact info?!”

But clearly it’s more: it helps me better communicate with clients, partners, colleagues and friends. For the pure business stuff, I have a much clearer view of the most important part of my work: the PEOPLE.

For writers and creative professionals, so much of success is about relationships. And I’m finding that taking a CRM system seriously creates more potential opportunity in how their work spreads.

All of this is about building better habits. Focusing on quality, not quantity. I find that a lot of people who run a small business as I do, feel that ‘growth’ is only about getting more clients, growing their email list, and becoming “bigger.” More more more.

While that is nice, most of my focus has been on increasing the QUALITY of my work, and how I can deliver even more value to my existing clients. And yes, I am aware that if I become better at what I do, if I PREPARE FOR SUCCESS, that it would hopefully mean that I not only have even more clients in the future, but that I am better able to provide value with the resources I have put into place.

Even though so much of what I talk about above is about “systems,” this is all an inherently HUMAN process. For the work I do, the writers I work with are often pushing themselves past very personal boundaries. My goal is to help them reduce fear, better manage stress, and take confusion out of the process.

I want to be an even better partner for the writers I work with. The goals stated above are worth repeating here… I endeavor to provide two things:

  1. I want them to have MORE time & creative energy to write and develop their craft.
  2. I want their work to not only reach an audience, but have a meaningful effect on their lives.

I want to increase capacity, without increasing stress. To have systems in place to efficiently take care of the little stuff, so that it frees up creative capacity (time and energy) for authors to do what matters most: WRITE.

Have you looked into integrating systems such as this? What benefits and challenges have you found?

Thanks!
-Dan

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