“Successful people simply practice successful habits.” – Brian Tracy
Successful business leaders are more than great visionaries. Their success is in their everyday habits — the small choices that build an empire over time.
One notable empire is the basketball career of Michael Jordan. Houston business coach Glenn Smith recently shared Jordan’s incredible story of successful habits with me.
“Michael Jordan without a doubt was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA,” he said. “But Jordan was not born a star basketball player. He was actually cut from his high school varsity team.
However, he didn’t let that stop him. He worked hard to play high school ball and even earn a shot at playing in college. He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted to play for — North Carolina State — and he wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have chosen him.
But Jordan never let any of this get in his way. At college, his coaches were taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else. Even at the height of his success with the Chicago Bulls, his coach called him ‘a genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.'”
Michael Jordan’s story is a fantastic example of successful habits. Most notable is his daily investment of time and energy toward his vision in spite of obstacles and rejection.
Another notable habit was Jordan’s decision to resist distractions. Surely he was tempted at times to steer his attention toward other promising activities, people, or purposes, but he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he focused solely on doing one thing very well — “upgrading his genius.”
Like Jordan, successful business leaders define their vision and practice successful habits daily in spite of obstacles and rejections. But they also resist promising distractions. Even a worthy task, such as blogging, can prove to be an ineffective, distracting effort if a leader doesn’t have the time to maintain it properly. Business success includes tapping into resources and delegating tasks in order to remain focused on your primary genius.
What daily investments will you make — and what distractions will you delegate — to upgrade your genius this year?
Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, organizations, and publishers. Connect with her on LinkedIn or on her website.
Business leaders depend on writers for great words. But did you know that a great writer can also be a great leader? The next time you’re looking for a leader in initiatives related to corporate communications, human resources, or public relations, consider your writer at the top of the list. Here are the reasons why:
1. A great writer will make sense of your vision.
The sole purpose of a writer is to communicate your thoughts to an audience. So, a great writer can quickly grab hold of your vision and provide an easy translation for your people. This means your writer will draw on your strengths — your clearly defined goals — and use them to motivate your team.
But a writer also offers a fresh perspective that can pinpoint your weaknesses — the areas of your message that are vague and need development. With this honest feedback, your vision can be presented to your team in a powerful way that sets a clear direction.
2. A great writer will provide better documentation.
A writer clearly understands her role within your project: to create order for your people the same way she creates order for your words. While your people — the subject matter experts — to do their job, she can plan a schedule, maintain deadlines, and document processes. Her excellent documentation will complement your existing people and processes.
3. A great writer will be more productive.
This is especially true if you hire a freelancer with whom you’ve agreed upon a flat project fee. Her time is her currency, so she will be motivated to get the job done as efficiently as possible. Regardless, without the distractions of office politics and competing job duties, she’ll remain committed to a schedule and will hold people accountable to deadlines.
4. A great writer will provide more resources.
Many freelancers network with other providers across industries. So, tapping into the knowledge of a freelance writer also means tapping into her network of resources. Through her, you’ll be able to get connected to other writers, graphic designers, website developers, and cartoonists, for example. And with more resources, your vision can move in more creative directions.
Not all writers have the skills to lead all projects, so find out about their experience in project management. You’ll likely find a writer who has the experience and insight to lead through a clearly defined vision, better documentation, more productivity, and more resources.
What I’m about to say may sound counterintuitive, but trust me on this.
The best way to get the most out of your freelance writer is to provide him or her with content.
Yes, I just said you should provide content to your freelance writer. You may be scratching your head at that logic. You probably think I’m one of those people who straightens her home before a housekeeper arrives.
Actually, I am one of those people. I do straighten my home before it is cleaned by a professional. I’ve realized that if I move some things off the floor and countertops, a housekeeper can do a better job. When basic things are out of her way, she can stop wasting time on straightening up and instead start focusing on what I really need from her, which is deep cleaning.
The same principle goes for freelance writing. When a client takes the time to provide basic information about himself, his business, and his industry, he is freeing the writer to spend less time on understanding industry basics and more time on meeting the deeper, more unique needs of his business communication.
Your writer will welcome any material that helps him or her get to know you and your business. Examples of helpful materials include your website, blog, business card, existing marketing materials, previous projects, and business plan.
If you don’t have existing materials for the project, you can provide content in two ways. First, take the time to answer questions about your business in person or in writing. Your writer will be able to guide you with a list of questions. Second, share the websites and marketing materials of your competitors. They will provide some industry standards.
So, what’s in it for you? When you take the time to provide content for your writer, you receive three benefits:
1. Faster results. The more information you provide, the faster your writer understands who you are and what you need to deliver your work. Unless you’ve hired a writer who is an expert in your field, a brief explanation on your part may save a lot of research on the part of your writer.
2. Cheaper costs. If your writer charges an hourly rate, saving time could mean hundreds of dollars in savings.
3. Greater effectiveness. When you provide information about the basics of your business, your writer can move beyond nuts and bolts and buzzwords to focus on deeper, more meaningful things, like communicating your unique strengths in an authentic way that is most appealing to your audience.
So, before you hire a writer to “deep clean” your business communication, take some time to “straighten up” your business materials. When you receive quality content in less time and with less money, you’ll be glad you did.
So, a man walks into a workshop and hires the wrong writer.
“Wait, what do you mean I hired the wrong writer?” he asks.
“You hired a book writer,” I say. “What you need is a social media writer.”
I look again at his LinkedIn profile, the one he had paid $600 for her to write. It describes his humble beginnings, his growing ventures in business, and finally his success as a business coach. It is a masterfully written story that slowly bulges with details. If I want a writer that really understands how to build a story for a book, this woman is clearly the real deal.
But this man needs someone who knows how to write a LinkedIn profile.
“Aren’t all writers the same?” he asks. No, they are not.
LinkedIn is no place for a story that simmers to a satisfying climax. No, LinkedIn bucks traditions and flips stories on their heads. Good social media content starts with a climax and follows with a story.
And the kind of writer you hire needs to know this.
You see, most professionals on LinkedIn aren’t going to wade through endless paragraphs to find out what you’re about. They’re busy, and they don’t want to work for information. When they open your profile, they want to know three things within seconds: What do you do? Are you good at it? How can you benefit me?
A writer who has had experience with social media will understand how to adapt her content to the fast pace of LinkedIn readers. She will take your glorious story, shave it down, flip it on its head, and reach your audience quickly. In other words, she will speak to your audience in a way that grabs them.
Before you hire a writer for social media, find out about her experience. Has she written anything like what you need? Can she provide a sample of her writing? Does she have a proven track record?
And then when you’ve found her, prepare to be flipped.
Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and organizations. Connect with her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie.
Writers are strategists. A well-written story looks deceptively simple but actually requires a great deal of planning.
One of my favorite ways to approach the structure of an article is the Diamond Method. This method mimics the shape of a diamond: The focus of the writing starts small, grows to span more information, then returns to its original small point.
This method provides two benefits to your reader. First, it allows the reader to slowly ease into your information. As a result, he or she is able to fully absorb your message. Second, this method establishes trust with your reader. Starting small entices your reader to follow you to larger, unfamiliar places. And when you return them to their original location, they are glad they went on the journey.
Here are six steps to a well-structured article.
1. Find the heart.
Dig through your notes and find a small, single, most poignant item. An item works best when it includes a satisfying result.
For example, I was hired by a nonprofit art organization to write about its volunteer efforts at a home for neglected teenagers. When I visited the home, I felt most inspired when a group of teens — some troubled residents, some volunteers — set aside differences to record lyrics together into a microphone. I decided to use this as my “heart” of the piece.
2. Open with a small anecdote.
After you identify your heart, give your reader a glimpse of it in a personable first sentence. Consider your first sentence a “tease” with which you can appeal to the emotions of your reader to get his or her attention.
This was the first sentence of my article about the nonprofit art organization:
“I’m nervous!” says a Fort Bend County high school student as she steps up to a microphone.
3. Take one step back to provide informative context.
Now that you have the attention of your reader, you can give slightly broader information about your anecdote.
The next few sentences in my article provided more information:
She is one of 150 student volunteers who have mobilized across Fort Bend County one Saturday. One group records spoken word compositions alongside foster children at Parks Youth Ranch in Richmond; another group stamps clay designs at an ARTreach studio in Sugarland. A third group cooks traditional meals with teenage refugees in the community of Rio Bend in Richmond.
4. Zoom out to include the big picture.
The role of the next few paragraphs is to step further and further away from your anecdote until you have covered all of the information that you need to get across. These paragraphs reveal the big picture to your reader; they are less emotional and more informative.
Because my article covered the collaboration of several groups, my writing zoomed out several times. Each paragraph covered a different aspect of the collaboration:
These emerging leaders are part of the Youth in Philanthropy (YIP) team, a group of 11th and 12th grade students selected by the George Foundation to experience volunteerism and philanthropy in the nonprofit sector. “Every Fort Bend County high school is represented by these kids,” says YIP coordinator Dee Koch. In addition to developing students’ generosity, leadership skills, and connections to the community, Koch says participating in YIP is an eye-opening experience for the students. “Many are surprised at the commitment it takes to be a true volunteer.”
The unifying thread between these programs is ARTreach, a nonprofit organization that is celebrating its 10th anniversary of partnering with social service agencies to provide art-related programs to the underprivileged and underserved. Executive Director Terri Bieber says collaboration produces many benefits. “When we partner with others, we share resources and expenses, are more efficient, and combine our creative energy.”
5. Tell medium-sized details.
After you have reached the widest, or most informative, part of your story, now you can scale back from the information. Give your reader some examples, stories, or quotes to warm the article and make the topic more tangible. This part is not as big as the big picture, but this is not as small as your heart; it is an area of the article that supports the two parts and serves as a sort of bridge.
For example, in my article, I dedicated the next six paragraphs to telling about specific people in and results from the nonprofit organization. I told about the contributions of a regional director, the feelings of a teenage resident, the observations of an executive director, and other happenings at the event. I also talked about ways that readers could donate or contribute to the cause.
6. End with the small anecdote.
This is the step of the Diamond Method that makes this approach so satisfying to your readers. Now that you have teased the emotions of your reader, have zoomed out to provide big pieces of information, and have told medium-sized stories, it’s time to deliver your reader back to the familiar starting point. End the article by providing the second half of your heart, or anecdote.
Remember the nervous teen who was recording a song into a microphone at the beginning of my article? My article concluded with the rest of the story:
At the end of the day, Gamez plays back the words and music that were recorded by the group at Parks Youth Ranch. The students clap, hoot, and high-five in celebration of their completed product, talking excitedly as they file outside and back to their lives. The record continues to play, even after the room is empty, a lingering legacy:
“To my dreams I strive;
Determination is where truth lies.
Love is here; love is now. Love will never leave you down. . . “
Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritche.
Ah, summer: three blissful months of sunshine, sprinklers, and snow cones.
Or, if you’re a freelance writer with children at home: three desperate months of intermittent work while one child screams from a headlock by his brother. Cue the circuit of summer camps and playdates.
In addition to community events, here are three favorite places that satisfy both me and my kids:
While my friends flock to Chick-fil-a, we head instead to McDonald’s. My kids eat pancakes and enjoy a large play area that includes two computers with video games and a television streaming cartoons. Meanwhile, I sip $1 coffee and work with free Wi-Fi. The best part is that the kids, parents, and all entertainment are in one room. Call or scope out locations before you go, though, because not all locations have these features.
2. The library.
After picking out books, my kids scramble to sit by each other at a table of computers so they can play free online games together: pbskids.org, abcya.com, and funbrain.com top their list of favorites. The best part is that our library offers a weekly summer activity program during which parents are encouraged to stay in the lobby.
3. Inflatable places.
Monkey Joe’s is my go-to place when I need to meet a deadline. The kids happily eat pizza and jump with friends all day while I work with free Wi-Fi. The only downside is the cost: The entry fee and snack bar are a bit expensive, so I reserve this spot for a long day of work.
And there’s my signal to end this post — my children are tangled in a battle over a video game controller. Stay tuned for a blog post on how not to parent. In the meantime, what are the places around town that are preserving your sanity this summer?
Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie.