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Back in college, my pal Sandy and I used to dream of owning a store front where we had two desks and just answered questions all day from passersby for a small fee. It was some combination of Lucy's advice booth from Peanuts and our work together at the Carolina Union information desk.

Sandy Curry and me (seated) at the Carolina Union Information Desk, circa 1983. (Photo by Stretch Ledford or Scott Sharp)

We never achieved that dream, but earlier this year I successfully launched a related one: office hours. My friend Keebe, who owns McIntyre's Books, generously offered me and Steve space in her store to hang out for a few hours one afternoon a month.

Steve Peha and me during office hours at McIntyre's Books
(photo by Keebe Fitch)

During that time, we're available to chat with people who wander in and with those who show up specifically for some help with writing, to chat about publishing or just hang out. We can even have brief drop-ins with clients there.

It's a great way to cultivate new relationships (some of them paying), raise our profile in the community (since we both work mainly nationally), build our brand and have some fun.

The same concept might make sense for you -- even if you work in a company. Could you set up shop in the breakroom or common area? I bet you could.

Making yourself open and accessible to other people for casual interaction builds relationships and trust, and expands your circle of influence and influencers.

Give it a try today.

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We picked up a new client a while back, adding capacity to a busy PR team. My experience in journalism has always been a handy tool for PR writing, but what has really wowed the client was the quick turn-around we offer. Now they're sending us short pieces that need a quick revision or copy edit in addition to the writing work.

The quality of the content was what got us the gig and what made them see we could help as editors, too. Executing that quality in a timely way is what convinced them to expand our scope of work.

Always deliver what you promised, of course, and look for opportunities -- tangible or intangible -- to add even more value. This is what separates you from everyone else on the team or in the marketplace.

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Constraints fuel creativity

It's easy to feel like open spaces and blue skies are required to boost creativity. And they certainly can. But the real world offers few opportunities for that, thanks to time, resource and other factors. That's why it's important to learn how to use constraints to fuel creativity.

I use constraints two ways:

1. Time constraints to support creativity

When I've got a problem to solve or am stuck in my writing, I'll often set a time for 25 minutes with a goal of seeing how far I can get with idea generation or content creation. The only rules are to work continuously until the bell rings. If I find my groove, another 25 goes on the clock. If I'm still struggling, I grab a little blue sky (or gray) by going outside for a quick break to reset. Then I'm back to the clock. I like this approach because even if it takes a couple of reps to get the creative juices flowing, I'm not thrashing around aimlessly for hours or avoiding the work altogether.

2. Intellectual constraints to drive creative thinking

A laptop and notebook illustrating a post on memos from writing coach Margot Lester of The Word Factory

A blank page can be freeing or freezing. When I'm struggling with a problem, especially a content issue, I avoid blank-page paralysis with a handful of frameworks that include prompts and restrict space. I often write about the Content-Purpose-Audience Strategy(c) and how I use it to plan projects. A hidden value to the worksheet is that it's got finite spaces for my thinking. I usually work through it by hand on paper, which slows my brain down just enough to process more effectively. When I do use it on my computer, I work in a PDF, again because it forces concision. The combination of the directed questions and the limited space creates a fertile environment for clear thinking and creation.

Try these tactics next time you need a shot of creativity or to get unstuck.

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Our most-read posts of the quarter, served again in case you missed them.

Team training icon on The Word Factory corporate training page

Write better faster

Writing is processing and processing is necessary work. Good work. But it takes time and it's messy. Here are some fast and effective strategies for going from good to effective as quickly as possible.

 

Be a better client

When you low-key fire or just plain neglect a contractor or agency, when you just let things go, there are ripple effects you might not have considered that affect your partner and your brand. Margot explains.

 

Are you violating a copyright?

Not being clear on copyright is dangerous. Even if you don't have a ton of assets that make you a viable candidate for a lawsuit, if a pissed off client gets in trouble for because you violated someone's copyright, they can at the very least never work with you again and tell all their colleagues to steer clear of you, too. That could end your career.

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Mid-year is a logical time to review, retool and recommit.

Mid-Year Review

A pen icon illustrating The Word Factory training page

Take a look back at the what you did during the first half of the year. What worked? What didn't? What were the big learnings? What could you change to increase the odds of success in the second half of the year? Capture these thoughts in writing, preferably by hand. Putting these thoughts on the page makes them more concrete. Doing that by hand slows down our brains, which increases the opportunity for deeper reflection. Learn more about why writing by hand is helpful.

Mid-Year Retool

Entrepreneurs and founders work with Margot Lester

Brainstorm strategies for operationalizing your learnings and creating tangible to-dos that move the ball on those odds-increasing ideas. Then identify a couple of processes that you can streamline -- maybe using technology or maybe easing bottlenecks. Create a definition of done for each item on these lists -- an important step that helps us figure out the steps necessary on the road to successful completion. Get as incremental as you can. Related: Stop valuing craft over process

Mid-Year Recommit

Increase content marketing output with The Word Factory

Prioritize the items on your Retool lists (I like the weighted, shortest job first model from Agile) and assign deadlines to them. Then take all those incremental steps and create deadlines for them, too. This is your backlog (another Agile artifact) I like doing this on a separate calendar at first to uncover logjams when too many increments are due at one time, or to address competing priorities. Once you've got the workflow optimized, integrate it into your main calendar and recommit to knocking this stuff out.

Taking time for these activities may seem like a luxury during a short holiday week. But a small investment of time here at midyear will produce downstream benefits later in the year.

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