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Since January this year (2018) I have been taking Wednesdays off to stretch myself and write a screenplay. Along the way, I’ve had a tiny, hardcore set of fans on Patreon who have followed along. I put this system in place to make me accountable. But what it’s done is much more significant.
Having a reflective writing practice has taught me how to to learn faster.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been engaged in a practise of adding to a Writing Journal throughout the writing day. The very act of doing this has increased the speed of completion. It’s done this because the Writing Journal encourages reflection while also doing. This is where its power lies.
In fact, once I’d started doing this, it dawned on me that this was exactly why my uni course insisted we journal the writing practise while we write. It seems redundant (we’re already writing, right?) but it’s the single most powerful learning tool I’ve ever encountered. Well, except perhaps for learning how to read a book properly.
It turns out that this is known as Double Loop Learning.
So, you might ask, why have I not been active in reflecting on learning how to grow my business?
Good question, pilgrim. Very good question. It changes today.
Where would this have helped me at work this year?
The most significant thing I have learned the hard way this year is all the stuff I know intellectually about capabilities. Play to your strengths, you will succeed, etc etc. It’s not a platitude, it’s a very big deal. This year, I’ve learned that the Pixie is rubbish in a bunch of areas, and very narrowly avoided being sued because I failed to take action when I knew that I ought to. I didn’t, because I didn’t unpack Step 1 of that action soon enough. I would have known what that action was a lot sooner (like, 10 months sooner) if I had paid attention by keeping a reflective journal alongside the process.
What journalling becomes… and what it should be.
Sometimes journalling becomes a whole lot of I did this, then I did that.
That doesn’t help.
Then, it becomes a whole lot of I suck at this and oh I had a win there.
That also doesn’t help.
This happens because at the end of the day you are no longer in the situation and aren’t having the same thought patterns. Unless you are a very structured person (many male entrepreneurs who write on the topic seem to be this way inclined, I have to point out), you require a formal set of questions to guide your thinking.
That also doesn’t help – eventually – because all you do is follow the process. You don’t learn how to do it on your own. It would be smarter to capture the story at the moment the story is in full flight, right?
Journalling that works happens at the same time as the work.
Doing this in business is exactly the same thing as reflecting immediately after a dance class. It’s in the immediacy of the act, not the act itself.
Why is that? My theory is that it allows you to capture your inner narrative as it happens. Then, because you go to the next task, your subconscious can continue to process it by finding the solution, rather than repeating the narrative.
This is why capturing it later is bullshit. Doing it at the end of the day means you’ve lost that shining moment when your subconscious is in full-swing telling itself a story, and you’ve missed the opportunity to let it cogitate on the reasons why.
To be really effective, reflection is immediate. It captures the narrative (freeing your mind), it allows your mind to consider the whys and wherefores, and it gives you space. Once you go back to the journal, you’ll be surprised to find that you already know the answer.
Right? Catching an issue in the moment means you don’t dwell on it; you just move on. The solution hits you later, often through inspired insight that people tend only to experience after sleep.
This is why immediacy in journalling speeds up the process.
And you want to know the most amazing thing about this, dear reader? It was a screenplay project that taught me to use the skills I already had… and that, too, comes back to capabilities. Incredible, huh.
I read The Godfather by Mario Puzo recently, because I saw it quoted in another book as ‘the best business book ever written’. (That was a business book, buggered if I can remember its title!) Having read a vast number of business books in the past five years, I thought, ‘game on’.
And what do you know, it was right.
As I read the book, I collated its key rules of business. They are below. And if you want a copy yourself, you can download it here.
Enjoy! ~ L x
The Godfather’s Business Rules
The Godfather’s business rules are in four sections: Foundations, Leadership, Operations, and Communications.
- Friendship is everything. It’s more than money or assets. It’s almost equal to family.
- Show your friendship first.
- Go to your closest friends when they need you, even if it’s on your daughter’s wedding day.
- Respect everyone: Elders, those senior to you, family, peers, friends.
- Consider your life partner to be your own Don.
- Never discuss business at home… or anywhere outside the business. Silence is virtuous.
- Keep good working habits, no matter the circumstances.
- Acquire knowledge, contacts, experience, before all else.
- Help everyone who comes to you for help.
- Be supremely organised.
- Pick up good deeds like securities.
- Learn from your mistakes.
- Count punctuality among your virtues.
- Run your own world better than the outside world runs itself.
- Always be fair, never arbitrary even in the little things.
- Your friends should underestimate your virtues, and your enemies should overestimate your faults.
- When called upon to work, go fully to the task, no matter whether it is early or late.
- Be, yourself, a person “of respect”. Rely on the force of your own personality.
- Run business using Simple Rules that everyone knows intimately.
- Carefully assess risk: To your business AND to your associates’ businesses.
- Have a tried and tested 2IC who can replace you immediately… any time.
- Set about to achieve monopoly, because monopoly is efficient.
- Seek to own assets you can use for work AND for leisure.
- Insulate yourself from any operational act, with at least 5 layers.
- Supreme organisation + intelligence = victory.
- Don’t allow witnesses to any order that you give to any of your top people.
- Have friends, and gain intelligence, wherever you might need them.
- Test your future executives, without them realising they’re being tested.
- Not keeping your empire in order is unforgivable. This ‘order’ includes your people’s behaviour.
- Watch the world and anticipate what is ahead – and prepare for it. Be alert, foresighted.
- Look after your people well, and their families, no matter what happens, and they will be forever loyal to you.
- Keep counsel with those you trust & respect. Seek their advice often, and before any major (or potentially major) decision.
- Ally yourself with truthful people who have long memories.
- Negotiate with reasonableness and calm.
- Never utter threats, even if you need to swallow others’ insults.
- Don’t take it personally.
- Be a good listener.
- Be softly spoken.
- If dealing with an angry person, identify the heart of the anger and deal with that first.
- You are never above apologising in areas in which you have no power or reign.
- Use irresistible logic.
- Always give people the option of saying no.
- Learn to say no.
- You can’t say No to the people that you love, not often. When you do, it has to sound like Yes, or you have to make them say no. Take the time and trouble to do so.
- Say only meaningful things.
- Make sure nobody loses.
Want your own copy of these rules? Download the PDF here for free.
In what is perhaps the most significant pivot I’ve made at Brutal Pixie to date, I’ve re-arranged the business to focus on writing. Content writing, copywriting, ghostwriting, editorial, whatever you want to call it. In what is not a total surprise, business is ticking along rather nicely.
Today over brunch with a friend, I was asked how I got to this point. and because the machinations of business decisions like this are not often transparent, decided to publish it here.
So, here’s how it happened. There were multiple factors that contributed to the transition.
Factor 1: Dissatisfaction with broken systems
What I mean is, last year and the year prior, I built systems for the wrong stuff. I embedded inefficient administration systems, instead of underpinning delivery systems. Once I realised what I had done, I dismantled it and started again.
Factor 2: Serious decision-making
Growing a business requires serious commitment. I wanted to make sure that my husband had the opportunity to weigh into the impact it would have on our lives. Committing to growth means committing to less time together, because business development means events, people, meetings, and potentially additional hours.
When I ran my thinking past him, he said, Well if you never change, you may as well be dead.
Yes indeed! I knew I married the right guy! While I didn’t need his permission, it at least allowed us to have the conversation. Can you imagine living in a fair partnership and not sharing a decision that would impact both of you? Urgh, it’s totally not me.
However, I was ecstatic that the conversation was wholehearted agreement, and that we didn’t have to wade through difficult scenarios.
Factor 3: Sales analysis
After deciding that growth is what I’m after, I got serious about where I’m taking the company. To grow, I can’t deliver all the work, so needed to work out what we were selling most of at Brutal Pixie?
It’s content writing. It was nine-tenths of the service provision. What would I need to do this? Both people and systems. When a few little things came together, I found myself with three rockstar writers. We started testing the system I’d built in Jira just for myself, and suddenly we found ourselves in a state of ease of briefing, production, workflow and delivery.
Factor 4: Focus on capabilities & strengths
Given my career, my greatest strengths are in editorial and publishing for particular strategic impacts. What I had been selling was a skillset that was a little bit off-centre of this. Content strategy is an important component of our work, but it’s a tool rather than a product.
There was also a whole subset of content strategy that contains capabilities that we fundamentally don’t have (and aren’t interested in offering). Those are in technical architectures, content-as-data (from the perspective of database management), and so on.
When I made the decision, had the team, and had the system, I did the final, necessary step: Rethink the offering, and rethink the audience. While the Sales Analysis showed us that we provide content writing, it was actually more specific than this. It was copywriting for thought leadership. It’s not quite public relations (no crisis management) and not quite marketing (no ads, SEO, social media). But it’s in the sweet spot where I play very well – right between PR, publicity, copywriting, books, and publishing – and in which I have deep experience as an effective director and producer.
Also, I love it.
Factor 5: Rethink the approach to the target market
The cool thing about thought leadership is that it requires editorial and strategic publishing. That’s how I came to redefine the audience for the business as Evolvers (individuals and businesses who want to be thought leaders); Gap Fillers (large enterprises with a skills gap); and Collaborators (other B2B services who want to make their own clients more amazing). This level of market segmentation then made creating the Persona File much easier.
So in playing to the strengths of the business, I nailed down a lot of loose boards that were causing us to take on water. The ship is a lot more robust, and so are its mechanisms.
Factor 6: Re-price everything
In examining all the components of the business, I came to realise that I run a company with a brand that is like Chanel, but with a price point like Cheap as Chips. I also came to realise that there were industry standard pricing that I had ignored. That changed, and fast.
The pricing of the business is now in line with the branding and with industry standards set by two professional bodies (both the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, and the Australian Society of Authors; I’m an active member of both). The result is that we finally have professional coherence, a real story about how pricing is structured, and a method of giving certainty about professionalism to everyone with whom we work.
Sometimes you can ignore what’s important
When you are creating, launching, running your own company it becomes easy to make it all about you, rather than about what people buy.
The funny thing about this transition is that in my first year of business, I was advised to sell content writing because (a) it’s simple, (b) people need it, and (c) it’s scalable. I fought it because I’d been a commercial writer most of my life and wanted to do something that I perceived to be ‘more valuable’.
What I’ve realised is that the value is in the framework and methodology, and the intention and purpose for which the copy is designed. We are still strategic advisors. But the advisory is focused on the greatest strengths of the business, in a skillset that scales, and in a market that needs what we provide.
It’s a much stronger position, and I’m proud to have been able to change direction quickly, easily, with (relatively) minimal effort. What I need to do now is keep up the business development work and manage projects and time effectively to make sure that nothing slides backwards.
The best thing? It’s paying off. Since making this change, our pipeline has grown significantly, and the types of clients we’re getting through the door are what we need and want. Good times!
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