Everything I Know About Business I Learned from Writing

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1. Get clear on your purpose. What value are you uniquely qualified to provide to the world?

2. Know how you want your story to end. Without vision, you’re just rambling.

3. Create an outline. Give some structure to your plan by splitting up and prioritizing your work into smaller tasks.

4. Know your audience. Appeal to your ideal customer.

5. Put it all on paper. Give it all you’ve got. The best stories are risky.

6. Expect writer’s block. Accept your limitations but don’t let them stop you for long. Tap into resources to push through obstacles.

7. Check your tone. Attitude is everything.

8. Create margins. Give yourself a little breathing room to rest, exercise, and have a little fun.

9. Expect mistakes. The first draft is usually rough.

10. Seek feedback. Surround yourself with people you trust who are wiling to say the hard things.

11. Reflect. Give yourself time to take another look tomorrow with fresh eyes.

12. Edit. Prune out the clutter that distracts you from your purpose.

13. Meet your deadline. Stay accountable. Honor your commitment to yourself and others.

14. Sign your name. Own your brand. Share the successes and take responsibility for the failures.

15. Get published. Accept that you’ll never reach perfection. Put yourself out there and be vulnerable.

16. Keep reading. Learn from others’ style and techniques. Stay humble.

17. Celebrate each step of the process. You’re never totally done, so recognize your milestones along the way!

Ella Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based editing and writing company that delivers quality content on time to business leaders, publishers, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

The Most Dangerous Leadership Myth

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Scholar Warren Bennis once said, “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born — that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” Bennis’ insight is what made him a pioneer in the contemporary field of Leadership studies, and his truth still holds today.

An Unlikely Leader

The unlikely rise to leadership of an executive I admire proves Bennis’ theory. As a young man, he said, “I didn’t like my body — I felt ugly and fat — and had zero confidence. I didn’t have my first girlfriend until I was in college because I was too shy to approach anyone. Nobody knew who I was.”

He began to systematically challenge his beliefs and change his reality. He read the classics, became involved in his community, practiced speaking, surrounded himself with people he admired, and developed his faith. His desire to learn and grow was — and still is — insatiable. Today, he is an eloquent speaker and successful businessman who is well-loved by his family and employees. He has been made into a leader. And the best part is that he knows he always has room to improve. (He overcame his shyness around women, by the way, because he married this writer.)

Inner Circle Leaders

We can improve our capacity for great leadership of our companies, communities, and homes by surrounding ourselves with others who have paved the way before us. For example, my writing mentor, Tracey, is a shark with nearly 20 years of experience who has helped me handle my largest contracts and find reliable team members. And monthly meetings and quarterly business retreats with my business coach, Glenn Smith, has provided solid structure and accountability to my personal and professional vision. In fact, you’re invited to attend his upcoming May 21 seminar, which is perfect for you if you’re an executive or owner of a business for more than three years and have three or more employees. Industry leaders like Tracey and Glenn can help us pinpoint our blind spots and fill our personal and professional gaps.

Recommended Books

We can also reach beyond our community to learn from others through fantastic books. The top choices of my corporate friends include Good to Great, by Jim Collins, and Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, as well as the classics: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey) and How to Win Friends and Influence People (Carnegie).

Professional Events

Seminars and speakers are other great resources for raising our leadership capacity. Check out Leadercast 2015 in Tomball, Texas, this Friday, May 8, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The leadership event, which is sponsored in part my friends at Duolos Wealth Management, has assembled speakers across industries, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, NFL MVP Peyton Manning, best-selling author Seth Godin, Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, and more.

With the help of “inner circle” leaders, good books, and leadership events, we can bust through the myth — and raise our capacity for incredible leadership!

Ella Hearrean Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based freelance editing and writing company for business leaders, publishers, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website to find out more.

How to Get Your Writer to Write Like You Talk

talkingheads“This sounds nothing like me,” a client recently confided about his content from another writer. “It’s not what I wanted.”

His disappointment was evident–and not uncommon.

What do you do when you read your first draft of content from your writer in high hopes . . . and feel disappointment instead?

Some people give up on their writer and return to cobbling together their own words. Some seek another writer, hoping to find The One that will magically breathe life into their content.

To be sure, not all writers are equal. Some are better than others at certain forms of writing, such as blogging, business, or advertising. And some are simply just better writers.

But before you ditch your writer, consider this: Have you provided her with enough guidance? Have you taken the time to tell her about you and what you want? Writers are a bit like hairstylists: Provide little instruction, and you’re likely to get a mohawk instead of that simple trim you wanted.

My clients are usually sure about one thing: They want a writer who can write like they talk. And a good writer changes her tone to accommodate each client as easily as she changes her wardrobe.

But what clients aren’t always certain of is how to communicate what they want to their writers.

To get your writer on board with your expectations, consider these four simple ideas:

  1. Compile a style guide, which is simply a list of what you want in your written communication. The most well-developed guide I’ve seen so far is that of Explore God, a nonprofit organization that invests deeply in its team of writers. In addition to six instructions dedicated to tone alone, the organization provides 15 more parameters as guidance—down to the ideal number of words to include in a sentence.
  2. Provide your writer with any existing corporate materials that help her get a feel for the way you’ve been presenting your company, including your online materials such as your website and social media forums as well as print materials such as article, brochures, and flyers.
  3. Provide direct, specific feedback. You’d be surprised how many people hesitate to tell their writer they’re unhappy with their content in an effort to avoid an awkward conversation. Experienced writers, however, already know that their writing will not satisfy every client, particularly a first draft. They appreciate clients who are honest and specific about what they want to change.
  4. Perhaps the most critical—and most overlooked—piece of information is the published version of your content. Don’t let your busyness or fear of an awkward conversation get in the way of this step. In addition to providing specific guidance to your writer, she can begin compiling a study guide based on the final product. That way, you both win.

With a little effort and communication, you can align your writer with your expectations – and you might get a better haircut to boot. What other strategies have you used to communicate with your writer?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for companies, publishers, and organizations. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website to continue the conversation.

The Most Successful Failure in the World: Review

Published February 2015, Chart House Press.
Published February 2015, Chart House Press.

“To every lost entrepreneur and dreamer who is looking for a better way.”

This dedication says it all in Jeff Hastings’ new book, The Most Successful Failure in the World.

As a fellow entrepreneur and business owner with her own share of work-life struggles, it was a privilege to edit Jeff’s compelling tale of the rise, fall, and redemption of billionaire CEO Alex Moss. His character learns through tragedy to create a life and business of meaning, and anyone who has wrestled with the sacrifices of having a business and having a family knows that his struggles are relevant and his consequences are real.

Jeff is artful in his ability to step back and forth between the worlds of fiction and nonfiction: Each fast-faced chapter ends with a few pages of business learning and notes. One moment his writing teeters in drama; a moment later, it is planted solidly in a business conversation. But that is the unique perspective of his character, Alex Moss: He speaks from a dual perspective of failure — with its missed opportunities and relentless aftertaste — and success — both his rise and redemption.

But what really sets this book apart is the poignancy of it and its author. Jeff is an entrepreneur and business coach who bustles with frenetic energy and new ideas but who also, in quieter moments, reveals a thoughtful sadness. Sitting across from him at lunch last week, intensely punctuating my opinion about a plot twist with chopsticks, I was suddenly struck by realization that this story is more personal than I know. This man has experienced highs and lows like Alex Moss, and readers will wonder how much of Jeff’s own life parallels the life of his character.

The Most Successful Failure in the World is for everyone. Whether you or someone you know is starting a new venture or reevaluating life, riding the waves of success or standing in rubble, wanting to talk business or simply wanting to enjoy a good story — this book offers something for all of us.

To purchase an e-book for only $10 or to find information on signing and radio events, go to The Most Successful Failure in the World.

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, organizations, and publishers. To learn more, connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website.