13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 2

13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 2

This will take you about 20 minutes to read. So make sure it’s for you.

Here’s how you can tell:

  • You’re a solopreneur (or freelancer) overwhelmed with marketing yourself. Where does this writing frenzy end, you wonder. And will it actually bring you business?
  • You’re a mid-sized business with budgets out of agency range, in a market where CMO talent is rare to non-existent. You do the best you can with what’s available.
  • You’re a thought leader with lots of experience in the field but without the personal branding tool kit. You have results nobody can possibly contest. You want more spread for your magic.
  • You have precious assets that could sell internationally. If only you had marketing that doesn’t scream Eastern Europe.
  • You’re a productivity addict and sooo into crisp, punchy copy.

Have you checked any of the boxes?

Read on, I might just have good stuff for you.

Before we get to it, you know there’s a part 1, right? Read that first here.

You need a routine

Something you do every morning.

Do it for enough days (66 they say) until it’s a habit and you no longer spend a dime of willpower on it.

Here’s my sequence: drag out of bed, brush my teeth and my nose (a must if you’re the sinus infection-prone type, a savior, I promise), then off to yoga for 30. In the living room, that is.

I already know what I’m doing. I have a playlist on my subscription site. I don’t need to think. Just do.

Then put the kettle on and make cocoa. With it, I go to the laptop, straight to 750words.com. I pour my mind out there for 750 words. Hence the title. No thinking required.

Occasionally I catch a streak and I copy-paste stuff at the end in my writing docs.

But mostly, it’ll be ranting about something. Mantras like “I need to figure this out.” “I need to do this better.”

That sort of thing. Yes, it’s probably Favella (you know who she is, ’cause you’ve read Part 1, right?).

It needs to come out there, so it doesn’t pop out later.

– Bring it on, Favella, it’s your time to shine. Then go back to your box, will you?

Sometimes I also meditate for 15, right at the end of the yoga thing. Or after the words.

Which is when I go to breakfast and may binge on youtube.

Once I check that, I sit at my desk.

Want some extra points out of reading this? Take a pen and paper and list yours.

You need to track your day

No guilt-tripping. Just knowing.

You need to know, on average, when you actually start work.

For how long you focus. When you actually start having ideas. That kind of thing.

For years I used Chrome’s browsing history, estimating here and there.

One of my teachers recommended RescueTime.

I didn’t get much use of the free version, to be honest. On a spree, I got one year’s subscription at a discount. I’m beginning to see the light.

I have a goal for deep work for four hours per day.

Because, it turns out, we only have four hours of quality work per day in us anyway.

It’s all in this book I got as compulsory reading from a strategy masterclass. It’s completely worth your time. If you don’t have seven hours to give it, just go to the mattresses:

Don’t plan for more than four hours of quality work per day. You just don’t have it. Or you’ll be a zombie the next day.

I don’t always meet my number. But I see what I do by the hour and can update my turnaround times.

You’ll need those, too, by the way.

They’re numbers and come as answers to the question of “How long does it take me to do X?”.

Because you’ll need systems. You can’t reinvent the wheel over and over again.

Give each day a theme

Marketing is on Wednesdays for me. It’s the only day I deal with marketing stuff.

On Thursday, if I have a marketing idea, I put on the to-do list and I look at it next week. It gives me some structure.

Not much gets done without.

And even on marketing days, if I don’t do much because the task is vague and I can’t get it together, I still acknowledge it was a marketing day and I did not get things done.

It’s called holding space. Hello, creation jargon!

No names dropping, but big fancy CEOs have been doing it for years.

You need 3 to 5 recipes on heavy rotation

Because you’ll need to have meals taken care of. And unless you have a chef or a family-run restaurant around the corner, I strongly suggest meal prep.

I learned that from my health coach client and have been thanking her ever since. You do the cooking once a week, maybe Sunday. And you put everything in casseroles, ready to serve.

My go-to’s: roasted veggies. Eggplant, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, or pumpkin. Cut them in cubes, with oil, salt, and pepper at the minimum or more herbs if you’re a pro, and shove them into the oven.

Add a side of greens with seeds and vinaigrette and roasted meatloaf.

(Got me here, I love pork. I run on pork, chocolate, broccoli, roasted veggies, and lentils, actually.)

And grains. Rice, lentils, buckwheat, or you name it. And boiled eggs a bit runny in the yoke (you get that if you boil them for 4-5 minutes).

And apple galette.

But you get bored of things. So you may need to shuffle up. That’s what zucchini bread is for. Oatmeal with cinnamon. Or sea bream in a salt crust.

You get the idea.

You need a power playlist

Or at least one song to play on repeat when you’re getting a wave off the ground. Like some mantra, it will rock your mind and flip that inner switch.

Before you know it, you’re flowing into deep work.

Here’s a few of my lucky bets: Sailing ships from White Snake, Pink’s Who knew, ACDC’s Are you ready, the intros of House of Cards and Westworld, almost anything James Taylor, and the soundtrack of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy.

And Mulan’s. (The cartoon from decades ago, that is.)

(Please don’t ask. I’ve been practicing a contemporary martial art for 18 years now. I can’t help it.)

Enough with the soft stuff, let’s go back to the main field:

Online courses market with best avatar results. Is that you?

After investing in them enough to pay off half of my remaining mortgage (I’ve just realized that OMG, I could have shaved how many years off my plan?) I have a thing or two to say:

No course gets you results if you don’t do the work.

You know that.

But also,

the course’s marketing is based on results from people who aced it. And they aced it for at least two reasons: they were the kind of person who benefit most from that kind of course, AND they did the work.

Not every business growth course is equal.

Some are for people or businesses who already have a hot Facebook community. If you’re not one of those, selling high tickets to a group of five, one of whom is your mother, might not work out.

Other courses are for people or businesses who have lists of emails they’ve groomed for years. At least 2,000 fans or so.

Don’t apply if you’re not there yet.

If the creator is for real, you’re not getting admitted anyway.

A word of caution about those dedicated Facebook communities.

Most people will look like they have it together big time. Few actually do.

They will post high flyer insights and outrageously priced offerings until you’ll read they have to live out of the car as of next month.

You can’t really blame them for wanting to look good to the course leader and to the community. Just don’t believe everything you read.

Stick to your guns and resist the temptation to doubt yourself.

Also,

Look up the success stories. Do they sound like you? Are they facing the same kind of to-dos you’re dealing with?

Then decide for yourself and save yourself the trouble. Fancy sales pages are there to lure you, of course. They’re written by professionals like me.

But save yourself the trouble and resist the bling thing.

Your WHY matters to you. Not necessarily to others.

I know there’s a huge crowd out there chanting to the Simon Sinek tune: start with your why.

And you do start with your why. It’s what sets you into motion.

But your clients might not be so interested. Not unless it’s deeply connected to what they want.

What do I mean by that?

Here’s what I want, as much as I can articulate it: I had the arrogant claim (that comes with these highly evolved times we live in) that I should love what I do every day.

So instead of working to make it till my next holiday, every day should feel like one.

Find what you love doing and you’ll never work a day in your life. Remember?

Well, kind of like that, but with real bills to pay.

We’re going to call that living the mission.

I want that.

And I have walked away from corporate scripts and titles to do that. Life has a way of rearranging itself so you do. And if you resist, it smacks you over the head. (I’m not reading this from the playbook, by the way.)

I’ll have my spirit awake and busy, FYI.

I want to live the mission and I want life to use me. It’s why I’m here.

Also, I have this outrageous itch to be able to connect and be great with whoever comes my way.

Not just my besties. Everyone. I guess I want to be able to walk into everyone’s world and talk to them like we’re equals. Maybe even jam.

Remember Al Pacino in The devil’s advocate? Street-smart like that, but on the bright side.

Also, not the kind that gets impressed with some pompous what’s-his-name because they’re flashing bling, wounds, or titles at me.

I’m here to be real and great with people.

And after 17 years or so as a corporate power dresser and marketing and sales wonder worker, I took a long hard look at what I can put out there into the world, rather than share other people’s pictures of cats.

It’s a mix of strategy, coaching, and copywriting. I call it positioning and copywriting for thought leaders.

Do you really care why I do it or do you want me to nail it for you and that’s enough? You tell me. For real, tell me in the comments. I actually really, really want to know.

Please don’t come to me with the usual suspects. You know them, the cardboard words. I don’t understand a thing.

Here’s how you know if you want to work with me.

Do you want aliveness?

Like, real-life conversation. People talking to people. With the occasional spice. I was going to say flamboyance. I say that. Sometimes. Not always.

So anyway, do you? If you do, we just might hit it off.

Oh, and don’t tangle up in The Force. Let if flow freely.

Which means all of what I’ve just said but also this: don’t hold up sh*t.

Go through it and clean your room.

Before you do, though…

13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 1

13 life lessons from my first 5 years in business as a solopreneur – Part 1

This will take you about 20 minutes to read. So make sure it’s for you.

Here’s how you can tell:

  • You’re a solopreneur (or freelancer) overwhelmed with marketing yourself. Where does this writing frenzy end, you wonder. And will it actually bring you business?
  • You’re a mid sized business with budgets out of agency range, in a market where CMO talent is rare to non-existent. You do the best you can with what’s available.
  • You’re a thought leader with lots of experience in the field, but without the personal branding tool kit. You have results nobody can possibly contest. You want more spread for your magic.
  • You have precious assets that could sell internationally. If only you had marketing that doesn’t scream Eastern Europe.
  • You’re a productivity addict and sooo into crisp, punchy copy.

Have you checked any of the boxes?

Read on, I might just have good stuff for you.

Have you heard the story of the corporate high flyer turned entrepreneur?

That would be me.

After 17 years in marketing and selling an Eastern European film studio to Hollywood producers, public utility TV campaigns that won all the right prizes and fundraising for UNICEF, I decided to make the switch.

It seems a lifetime away now, five years and an intensive diet of entrepreneurial and online marketing courses later.

I wish someone told me what you’ll read below, from the “yes, mom” kind of tips to insider info on how to deal with The Force.

No, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan. But The Force is still The Force, whatever you call it.

(I know it sounds a bit on the edge. I promise you it isn’t. I’m a movie girl turned conversion copywriter. And nothing tells a story like the movies.)

Let’s get to it.

In your little corner of the world, you’re the ultimate maker.

Can you think of any envy rants about life as a freelancer? How about that one with the lazy mornings?

The chorus line goes a bit like “I can’t believe your freedom.” My clients say that to me. A lot.

Which is when I say:

“Actually, I’m a company of one.”

Yes, sometimes you can sleep in on grey mornings. And you’ll be up at midnight just as well. Here’s what doesn’t get said on the subject:

A job isn’t just a pay check. It’s a network of things wiring through your life.

And when you’re on your own, you’ll have to work hard not just at doing the things that give you the pay check.

You’ll need to build that invisible wire, too. The net. The container.

You don’t really see it, unless you reach out for what should be there and isn’t, because you didn’t make it. That’s when you feel the void and a new, vague to-do lands in.

It sound like this: “who is my ideal client, anyway?”, or “how will they hear about me?”, or “my marketing should be better.”

It can take months or years until you actually get what you should do for that. And you might know it in theory. It needs to land, though. And that takes time, I promise you.

You basically need two things: mindset and systems. And you’re in charge of both.

That includes the cheering up, the vision setting, all the boring meetings you dragged your feet to and checked your phone for most of the time.

Now you have to create the materials, set it up, attend and cheer in stride. Also, the procedures. Until further notice, you are in charge of operations. Also, marketing, sales, product and delivery.

You may not ace all of them. That would be really hard. But you can go for the essentials. For what moves the needle.

And welcome to your new jargon.

Moving the needle tops all the charts.

Before you go through the terra bytes you’ll find on the issue, let me give you the short version:

Have an idea, get it in front of your client and see if it works, then make it better.

Give them the best you’ve got.

And iterate till the cows come home.

Everything else is ancillary, social media plans included.

(Business models vary of course.)

So, social media will matter only if it’s an actual way of getting in front of your client. Otherwise it is what it is. Trap. Pacifier. Time killer. Digital cigarette. Etc.

Handle this well, and at the end you’ll have lists of actions booked in advance in your calendar and drills to go with them.

And when a new client comes along, or when you need to go for leads, you’ll have a better idea of what you actually need to do and how long it takes you and your team to actually do them.

As for operations, one of the most valuable things I’ve ever learned was in The 90 Day Year:

(full disclosure: I’m in to be an affiliate for that. Meaning if you buy it through me, I get a commission and you get my bonuses. I think the program is completely worth your time and money. And if you click this link and sign up, I’ll tell you more about it in private.)

 

You’ll look for who’s got it. Or whatever can check you out.

Cats. Or dogs. Those always do the trick. (Which makes me think that even in 200 years time, they will still rule.)

You’ll actually compare yourself to others. I know you know you shouldn’t but you still do. Unless you’re a really lucky sort and we almost hate you for it.

I did compare myself endlessly to people in New York. Or to people who’ve been in business three times as long as I have. Nothing good came of it. My therapist was patient, though.

Chances are you’ll look for people who’ve made it before you.

You might actually have a crash on some.

And that’s fine.

Time will make you see cracks through their postcard perfect posts. And with every disappointment, you will grain an ounce of courage to be your voice, come what may.

You may actually even unfollow some. And that’s how you know you’re on the right track.

You live the mission, and money for fill-in-the-blanks shows up.

I came to think that after years on stressing out about money.

Affectionate, mostly concerned about money, my 750words.com dashboard analysis said to me day in, day out, for months. (More on that in a bit, in the routine section.)

But, yes, I was obsessed about not having enough. Actually, about the possibility of not having enough.

It took years to figure out I had not missed a single payment, had been to Japan twice, invested almost as much as an MBA in my entrepreneurial education. And I was still freaked out.

Now, I do UX copy. Voice of customer. I take pride I don’t write a single word without seeing what the client actually thinks.

So I looked at my own data. Checked the vitals. My mind was all over the place. My finances were actually reasonably well.

Every time I needed something, it somehow came together. So I decided that was The Force holding me. And decided to give into it.

Rather than stress out about money, I would actually think about something else: how can I be useful? Is my work useful to anyone? How?

And when the freaked out voice was going for a solo on how I’d be on the streets, I decided to play the trump card: the big book says The Big Guy knows I need stuff and will provide. Let’s not criticise before He’s had a chance to do the job.

“People make it through hard times in two ways,” my therapist had said: “they believe in God or they believe in themselves. You have a faith crisis.” I did.

Getting past that is no small feat. It helps to have the eyes on the prize: the chance to be you.

To say what you actually want. Because you do, anyway. And otherwise it will siphon into dreams and Freudian slips. What the heck. Just do it.

The little voice inside your head (you know which one) will say you can’t.

I’m giving it to you straight. You can’t silence it. But you can name the effer. It’s a villain alright.

Now here’s another piece of final truth:

There’s no villain without a super hero. None.

So name the villain. And the hero.

Write the villain first. He or she will define your hero.

I got that from Dan Brown’s Masterclass. (Masterclass.com, by the way, is amazing.)

I actually want you to sit down and write what your villain and hero are like. What they say. Who that voice belongs to. What you think they look like. Do they smoke? Do they have a lisp?

My villain: Favella Belittle.

Since she always insists other people are better than me. I gave her a big ass. Felt better, too.

The superhero: Belinda Fragette.

No idea how I came up with these names. (Actually, I have a secret about that, too. I’ll write about it soon). She’s Frenchy French, has a huge mustard coat and detects BS by a mile.

Also, she’s totally game for books, manicures and steak tartare.

I googled Fargette. It turns out there was a French mafia dude with that name. No connection. My Fargette stays on the bright side.

You’ll actually feel The Force.

It’s not just some Maz Kanata sh*t. It is. But it isn’t.

If your work calls to you like the Jedi sword, then you are a hero on a journey. And on that journey, at some point, you will feel the Force.

“It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes. Feel it. It’s always been there. It will guide you.”

– Maz Kanata

Sooner or later, you will reach what will seem like rock bottom. And that’s when you might just feel around the edges of your will to live.

That would be, more precisely, your drive to be part of this big thing called life, whomever may be in yours.

You’ve seen it in so many movies, you’re probably sick of it already. Here’s the difference in real life.

There’s no score.

Most times you’ll be in bed at night, corpse posture, eyes on the ceiling, working out ways to breathe, your mind racing on fear scripts. What if clients don’t come out of nowhere? What if you won’t make the next mortgage payment? What if you just don’t have it?

Putting clothes on and going through the usual will feel like a victory. And it actually will be. Which is why you’ll need your routines in place. They’ll get you out of the darkest pit.

More on that later.

Back to the rock bottom.

If you’re alive, you’re a knot in a network that invested you with meaning: faith, feelings, use or simply habit. Meaning warm bodies who believe, love, need or got used to you.

At that rock bottom moment, whatever you do to climb out will be either for those other people, or for your deepest of selves.

You’ll get through one more day to not give them one more thing to worry about.

Or because if this were to be the end, you still have a fight or two inside you. And you’re not done quite yet.

That’s The Darkest Hour kind of moment.

I love the scene in the actual movie.

Churchill and King George sit on the sofa, shot from behind. Churchill is terrified.

But hear me out, that’s when there’s always a flicker of light. And for him it’s a stuttering king who extends a hand and says “I will work with you no matter what. I’ll stand by you.”

It’s what makes the actual difference. In your darkest hour, you are not alone. Fear not.

That’s one of the times you will actually see The Force.

Breathe It in.

And get in line with It.

Now, about the routines…

There will be days you will rule the world. Wake up clear in the head, go straight to the laptop and pour that proposal out of you. You may even focus for over 4 hours.

That’s rare for me. But I’ve done it with brain.fm. It works for me that way.

And there will be others when your day will not amount to much. Chain youtubing, maybe, and dog videos on Facebook.

Five years of traps later, I boiled it down to this wisdom…

… which is when Scheherazade would strategically break for intended suspense.

As do I.

I’ll be back soon. Just keep your eyes peeled to my blog.

Before you go, though…

Who are you for your clients?

Who are you for your clients?

Autodidacts out there, hear the swoosh of my virtual bow. I taught myself to read many, many years ago, but on days like these it looks like there’s not much else I’ll do for myself.

Figuring out other people’s main message is piece of cake compared to writing your own editorial plan. Your own anything, actually.

It’s not that there’s any dark art about it, by the way. We all drop clues, walk around with a cloud over our head, our message on the rainbow. It takes a reader to look and serve it back to us on a silver platter.

The reading, of course, has its method. The right questions to open the way.

But the actual looking for it, curiously engaged with a message extractor by your side does most of the job.

Because we all want to be known and gotten for who we are.

You want your tribe to know what you’re about. You want them to look at your work and say it has your name all over it. A classic you, they’ll say and smile.

Which is why when the website is nowhere near there, you’d rather not speak about it.

Let’s put an end to this Boogie man, though. I’ll say it for you.

Other than your actual place of business, your website is your main shop window. Where people come in to see what you’re about. Actually they come in for what they want you to do for them. Sometimes, something about you will get them in the door even when that message’s not clear. They’ll be intrigued. Or charmed. Either way, if there’re in, it’s on you to get the conversation started.

What do you say? If you skip the awkward hellos, they’ll want to know what you can do for them.

It rarely goes beyond a few lines. It could be even one. And it’s the mightiest of copy. Your hero copy.

Hero, because that’s where you put it, on the first window of your website. And the name says it all. It’s there to save the day.

Good hero copy is what has your clients at hello. It’s the recipe for love at first sight.

But here’s the thing about good hero copy. It doesn’t just happen.

Good hero copy is a sign the house is in order. Meaning your messaging, what you want to say to your clients, is neatly stacked, colour coded and cherished, like DVDs in the ‘90s. Like Star Wars action figures on your teen dorm mantelpiece.

And that only happens when who you are is crystal clear.

You know yourself as a business down to your DNA.

Do you know what that’s like? To just know?

Yes, you do.

You meet someone and know in the first seconds you’ll get along. And you sure know how it feels when this really isn’t going to work. Those Manolos may be gorgeous. But they’re not for you. You’d rather be in Birkenstocks all summer. You say “it’s just not me,” and you walk.

That’s what I do for you, by the way.

I spare you the search. Actually, I spare your clients the doubts.

I write your DNA.

I tell you who you are for your clients.

Call me an oracle. Or a nose. Or, my favourite, the un-tangler.

If your hero copy is nowhere near where you want it to be, it just might be you need some DNA work.

What do I mean?

Say why you think you’re in business is to empower entrepreneurs. It’s who you think you are. Empowering entrepreneurs is a universe. Noble, but vague.

Are you an online platform for personal development dedicated to entrepreneurs? Are you a tech company that offers accounting software for start-ups? Are you a start-up fund?

But if who you are is someone who plants the seeds of entrepreneurship, that’s empowerment in a very specific way. A filter that calls forth a different kind of reality.

And you keep at it until you have it. Maybe it is that you’re a hub for entrepreneurial resilience.

If your unique value proposition is vague, that’s where you need to look. That’s where the work needs to happen. Not in the copy. Copy comes easy when the house is in order.

That’s why good copy can only happen if you have strategy handled first. Here’s a secret good copywriters share: copy is walking strategy.

And a good copywriter is always a good strategist. Which is actually what you need your copywriter to be. Someone who can read your game and power it up with words.

I see brilliant entrepreneurs with websites that breathe who they are, the cloud and rainbow over their head, but no real hero copy. It’s fixable.

Somewhere in that cloud of emotion, the message is sitting tight like a needle in the haystack, waiting patiently.

You could do it on your own. If you’re an autodidact. I put together a guideline that will walk you through it. Get it here and use it to bits. It’s why it’s there for. Then drop me a line. I’d love to know who you are.

How to pitch with 2% success rate and not lose it

How to pitch with 2% success rate and not lose it

I’ve been sitting on this for way too long but somehow, this will see the light of day. Today.

Does that recall anything? Feet up on the desk, I stare into the screen and occasionally peep out the window at the seagull floating by. I can’t help a “lucky bastard” or two.

He deserves it, by the way, for making it look absolutely effortless.

The thing is, I have no clue what to with it. It’s probably why I sat on it. Waiting for some grand idea to make this happen.

And then I went over the notes again and decided to take Joel’s medicine.

“Go somewhere for an hour and come back with 100 ideas on what to do with it.”

I’m doing this right now, just so we’re clear, while I’m hoping my body will go into ketosis (it most likely won’t, but let’s not get discouraged. Writing is hard anyway.)

Joel, just so we’re clear, is Joel Evey as in the creative director of Gap. I met him last September when he was in town for, mind you, an idea festival. They exist and they’re actually a good idea. Like TED without the hat.

This one – Unfinished – drew a neatly curated crowd.

Corporates looking for a breath of oxygen, creatives mingling with youtube stars, the last batch of entrepreneurial successes stating it with or without help from the Tom Ford jacket. And the understated brainiacs.

I’m missing a lot. But six months later, I’m allowed. I can’t even remember if Joel was the one with the statement striped socks.

Were you, Joel?

Joel has ideas for a living. And when you do that job, I’ve learned, there’s got to be something better anchoring you into results than inspiration and brain.fm. (Not a commercial placement. I learned of it in Tim Ferriss’s podcast and tried it. It does a decent job keeping me glued to the chair.)

How does Joel do it, though?

“You get really good at the sell. And you stay at the edges because that’s where you develop the idea,” he said in the panel session.

How is the obvious question, which is why I went after him with it.

“What I would add is you get really good at editing. So the hundred ideas [you just went and had for an hour], like, eventually the hundred ideas you edit them yourself.

So then maybe you only show one or two ideas, but you’re going to have a hundred first. And most of them are going to be trash.

Yeah, just write them down like, just have any idea off the top of your head and that’s going to train you to iterate really fast.

And that’s the thing that’s really important is to be able to say, like, we could do this, we could do this, we could do this, we could do this and you kind of know at the end of the day that, like, a lot of those ideas are going to be bad.

But a few of them will be good and I want to like be able to have the lens or the focus or the intentionality, say, like, here’s the three good ones. Let’s work on this a little more.

I’m going to iterate on it a little bit. Okay, I’ve had all my ideas. All right. Now I’m going to try and like pull some reference images for it or start making, like, comps and make some, like, design, just do a few treatments.

Then you look at it again and you’re like, which one of those is strongest and then you’re like that’s the one I think is really going to work, and then you make it a little more, and a little more, and eventually you, like, get better and better and more confident with yourself, like, that process will get shorter and shorter and it seems less daunting because eventually you don’t even have to write a hundred ideas down, you’ll just have thought through them in your head and you’ll be like, I do this I, can do this, I can do this, and eventually then you sort of just start with the three and then you make the one.

If you train yourself to think that way, the idea has become less precious, but they become more valuable because you’re not like, this was my first idea, it really has to be this. I’m really inflexible if it changes.

I can’t do it because that doesn’t really happen in, like, real client culture.

It’s always going to change so you wanna be able to say okay I’ve had the idea. Now, how do I shift it? How do I change it?

You know, like, as the generation of ideas gets faster and faster, it’ll get easier and easier and then I’ll get more and more flexible and you can kind of put things together.

[And] they’re compelling and overarching.”

Then we went into podcasts and books. I got on Philosophize This ever since. Am still to go into “The Dialectic of Enlightenment.”

For my money, the cherry on top was when he explained what glued his choices all together.

“Those guys are just talking about how systems function and what I do as a design practice and as an educator a lot of times it’s just talking about, like, how systems function but the systems I’m interested in is cultural systems.

Why is something cool versus it’s not cool. Why is it like trendy versus not trendy?”

How does that even happen? As with the 100 ideas, as you go about your regular idea pushups, “there’s this other part of like developing your instinctuality when you look at something, you’re just, like, that’s cool.

No one has to tell you that it’s cool. You just know that it’s cool.

And I think a lot of times it takes a little while to build up that skill, but you want to just have tuned your personal taste so much, and I’ve looked at so many blogs, and looked at so many things where you’re just, like, that’s intrinsically amazing.

I know the reference points. I know why it exists. This is a cool thing.

Just in case you catch me perusing Vogue or Wisecrack on youtube on a deadline, I’m sharpening my inner blades. Joel does it too. His playground’s design. Mine is words.

All wrought down to “hey, let’s vet your ideas, vet your process, vet your positioning.”

No worries, you don’t have to teach yourself to me. I pick that up.

Will plug in and download the chip of who you are. Your matrix.

I take you, boil it to the balsamic reduction of you and give you the copy.

To be fair, I picked some of these from Jill Kargman. I have not read a word she wrote. But saw a nice video of her apartment on youtube.

Yes, I was on a deadline.

Rule #1: Assume nothing

Rule #1: Assume nothing

Given the luxury, I will sit around and wait for it.

Something will get my attention, like my eyebrows, which I will diligently proceed to pluck, or, God forbid, some Youtube title from the usual suspects (John Oliver, Wisecrack, Peaceful Cuisine or the Nerdwriter. Chanel, too, I’m not ashamed to say. I may end up with perfect make-up on a day I have no meetings, and that’s just fine.)

Sometimes, this will pour out of me. Sometimes it just drips, Chinese style, like some perverse hide and seek routine. Either way, I will need to pace myself.

If this doesn’t sound in the least familiar, think of your last presentation deadline.

Did you get a slice of the elephant done each day or did you gulp it all the night before? And how did you work your mind into it?

Maybe this will help. Smarter people than me have done it.

Book time to stare at the wall. Have a pad and pen ready. Eventually, a thought will cross your mind.

It might happen in an hour, but it might not. (I mean, for real, book me for an hour and I’ll have 10 ideas. Sometimes, one may be it, but can I guarantee that? Here’s what I can guarantee, who guarantees it is bs-ing you. Because you just don’t know. But you will get something, that’s for sure. And something takes you somewhere. I’m not channeling the Cheshire cat, I promise. I’ve just done this for a while.)

Back to the wall. It can get excruciating, and I totally understand why you would want to walk away from it. And by all means do, if you can. Outsource it to the likes of me.

But since we’re not faking it here, let me tell you, there’s no way you can outsource all of it. And you don’t want to, anyway.

Because what happens while you stare at your metaphysical wall is precious. It’s time you gift yourself into the ivory tower to see where you are. Possibly glimpse where you’re heading.

You might want to start that on your own. It helps to have someone to bounce ball with, throw stuff around, just to see what they hear and, ideally, rephrase it. Distill it into one liners, key questions or koans. The air will clarify around you, I promise. There’s nothing like the cold crisp tingle of an idea. Then you write it all down, real quick.

I always record these conversations. What you’ll say in the first one, you may never repeat.

It’s a twilight zone, where doors of perception swing open. I used to quote Huxley in high-school without really getting it (“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: Infinite”). I was a Doors fan, very much intrigued but not fully engaging the idea. For that, I can forgive myself. High-school is a good time to believe in the esoteric.

At 40, I’m more into basic questioning. What makes you say that? I’ll ask the dumbest of questions fearlessly. I’ll assume nothing. I have learned that to be the key.

Some of the most revealing conversations I’ve had had that in common: allow myself the time to be in the presence of the idea. Assume nothing.

Then, go through the same process: can I recreate it? Say it exactly as you say it. Can I generate it? Say it as if I was you, owning it. Can I generate from your world? Put on my magic VR glasses, enter your world and see what’s in there and describe it as your audience needs to hear it.

That, actually, is what I do. It’s how I get to your DNA (core, why, what, X-factor or whatever else you call them out there) and then am able to phrase it into your one liner, your pitch, your mini bio, your home and about page or your deck.

In one of the monthly sessions copy mama Amy Posner does at the Copy Clinic (Hogwarts for the likes of me), I’ve met this wonderful fellow copywriter from Toronto who specialises in interviews. Hannah Shamji is also a nearly registered counsellor, diving deep into issues she needs to keep contained but be able to capture. Think Harry Potter, pouring from his potion bottles to get lucky or go through other people’s memories.

Hannah and me, it turns out, have both a thing for immersion into other worlds to come out truth in hand, and the same Flat Iron Building poster from New York in our respective homes. My favourite takeaway from our first conversation: don’t question, ask. When you question, you’re already implying things, and that’s you, not them. Didn’t I say it? Yes, I did. Assume nothing.

I love playing for time, by the way. The more I get, the better. Something inside is shifting into focus, while on the outside I go for yoga or watch series. “How do I explain to my wife that when I look out the window I’m working?” Joseph Conrad, whom I have never read a line from and will not pretend otherwise, said it. And it’s true. I even moved my desk now, so I have a better view.

(I only work with innovators, btw. If you read this far, chances are you’re one. Lovely to meet you. Sign up for my posts, I’ll have good idea stuff coming your way.)

You catch that thought right now. (Take notes. They’re precious.)

You catch that thought right now. (Take notes. They’re precious.)

Listen, I have to break it to you, I love my writing. Before the world decides to jump on the wagon and call me the next best thing since David Sedaris, I’ll be in this tight corner, reading my own blog posts, not sure when I really came up with that.

Do you ever read your own words (emails, decks etc.)? And if you don’t know who David Sedaris is, do yourself a huge favour and grab any of his books.

I was laughing myself to sleep last night with his recount on the grieving owl. The one who peeks in people’s windows just to see how they decorate? Then will do the absolute faux pas: engage the prey. Bullet proof prescription for killing the killer instinct. But hey, it’s all for stuff that’s supposed to make him (it’s a guy, a widower, actually) a more rounded individual. Say something important and you get to walk.

Not that that’s what I wanted to say. I’m just sitting here waiting for Lady Grace to whisper something good into my ear. Instead she had me look through my notes. And here’s what I found:

***

So you lost your way: that tends to happen if you live long enough.

No idea when I wrote that. I think it came to me one late night. I must have jumped out of bed to write it down. It happens sometimes. When it does, it does.

***

You don’t get harmony without the cacophony. The instrument registers both. Did you get amazed at the beauty? Ascertain the abyss too. The creator’s, btw.

I got that after being really sad for many days in a row. It just dawned on me that this is probably why Beethoven was deaf. Too much music passing through the pipes kills it eventually. You end up hearing it all in your head. Purer. Does the tormented genius cliche ring your front door bell? There’s something in there. Not that I’m advertising for it.

***

On the Southbank quarter, a homeless person said good afternoon to me, some union newspaper in hand for sale. I barely heard him, and as I walked by he said “Do you have any idea what it’s like to be ignored this way?” and I felt so ashamed.

I was in London for the day and as I passed him by and heard I nearly cried. I did not go back to talk to him, it would have been the thing to do. Instead I pulled out my phone and dictated the above. It came out wrong and misspelled, but enough for me to remember years later.

***

– Have you tried, have you dated lately?

– I have a bit and when I say a bit I mean once in a year.

No idea when that happened. It must have been one of those sympathetic conversations, meant to push you in the right direction with the appearance of no agenda. So happy I took that down. For two reasons: 1. I will use it some day in my romantic comedy screenplay, my life’s work and humble homage to Nora Ephron. You saw her movies, if you’re from planet Earth. You’ve got mail, Julie & Julia, When Harry met Sally. 2. When I die a spinster, I will take this to my judgement day and prove goodwill.

***

For still mind to exist, there has to be a distinction that says thought-free. There’s no such thing as garbage free on a garbage field. (It’s garbage all the way down.)

That one came to me as I was playing Placebo’s Life’s what you make it on repeat. I have no recollection whose tag lines I was working on. (My mind needs that kind of workout to catch the next crisp wave of words.) It starts with emaciated kids rummaging an endless field of garbage somewhere far away enough so it stays a concept. It doesn’t.

***

Are you gonna be the boss of him or his goose?

That’s not even mine, but it so passes the crispness test. My cousin said it to me when he brought the dog over. Have a blast, the goose won’t mind. She thinks she’s the boss.

Anyway, what I mean is take notes. They’re golden. They help you know your product better. And our mind is such a cheater. We only remember 13 per cent of our flow. I’m working with these tech guys these days. They’re awesome. I’ve rarely seen someone know their product so well. I bet you they have shelves and shelves of notes somewhere.

PS. I love pig, I’m pork based. Pretty good, huh?

Go play. Grab a pad.

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