How ‘Same Old, Same Old’ Can Make You a Successful Writer

How 'Same Old, Same Old' Can Make You a Successful Writer

In July, I moved into a farmhouse in Montana on 20 acres of land.  It’s a dream I never seriously thought I’d realize – a home in the country. And in almost every way, the dream has met its promise.

I said almost: The dream didn’t provide much guidance on Internet access.

Turns out that there’s no cable or DSL at my new dream home. So I relied on my wireless hotspot and for about two weeks, life was good.

But the introduction of 4G confused my blinky little friend, and I began losing my connection.

I switched to a company that promised the latest radio technology. And when it was good, it was very good. And when it wasn’t good, I spent hours watching the death spiral on my computer screen.

I need the Internet to make a living. Without it, my dreams turned Dickensian, and I pictured bankruptcy, foreclosure and debtor’s prison. Out of desperation, I used my iPhone as a personal hotspot.

At least it worked.

Which brings me to my point:

In the end, I didn’t care about stellar performance.

I cared about reliable and ‘good enough’.

As my pal Jeff Berry wrote in his recent book, The Unbreakable Rules of Marketing, “consistently good is better than occasionally excellent”.

And after my internet experience (or lack thereof), I began to think that maybe consistency is what we should all start aiming for. Here are some great places to get started:

Consistent branding. If you’re a company of one, as I am, you may not have given a lot of thought to your brand. In fact, you may know the Apple and Coca-Cola and Avis brands better than your own.

That’s too bad.

If clients and prospects don’t connect with you on a psychological and emotional level – or in plain English, if they don’t have a gut feeling about your brand – then you’re bland and forgettable. Worse, if their gut feeling keeps changing, then you seem as psychotic as Sybil.

For 20 years, I’ve been associated with quirky quality. The tools of the writing trade have changed – when I went into business, no one ever asked me to write a blog or a tweet or even an email.

But my promise to clients has stayed the same: Publishable first drafts. Few revisions and cheerfully carried out when needed. A tolerable amount of zaniness.

I produce solid work, often for high-tech Fortune 500 companies, but I refuse to write corporate-speak. I’ll do backflips for my clients – as long as they don’t need one before 8 am. I’m here whenever they need me – as long as they don’t care where “here” is on the map.

(Actually my clients delight in asking where I am, because the answer can range from “home on the ranch” to “sailing the seven seas”.)

What’s your brand mission, personality, experience? Decide who you are. Then stick with it. You may find a whole group of people who think it’s really cool that a writer with a man’s name wears women’s underpants.

Consistent delivery. In my early 20s, I lived in New Orleans. I loved it – the gumbo, the music, the beignets, the parties, the po-boys, the parades. Did I mention the food? New Orleans runs slower and later than any other U.S. city, meaning midnight sometimes found me in a club instead of bed.

Over time, I became pals with a pianist I’ll call David. One night he invited me to the Quarter to hear him and the District Attorney’s kid play. The kid – let’s call him Harry – was 17. David introduced him to me. Not as talented as David, but super nice.

Problem was, you could never count on David to show up. If he did, he was excellent. If he didn’t, you had an empty stage and customers heading for the door.

Not so with Harry. He was dependable. He was hard-working.  And by the age of 22, he was world-renowned as the jazz musician and Grammy winner Harry Connick Jr.

Am I a bad judge of talent? Apparently. But I think Woody Allen is right when he says 80% of success is just showing up.

And doing what you say you will.

When I tell a client they’ll have an email by Tuesday at noon, it’s there by 11 am just in case I forgot to spring forward. Even with my Internet spiraling out of control, I never missed a deadline. I know it’s boring to be on schedule, but find some other way to be interesting.

Don’t promise what you can’t do. Don’t make excuses, even valid ones. Yes, you have kids, you’re sick, they’re sick, you got a flat on the way to the doctor. Trust me, no one cares.

Make sure you deliver. Always.

Consistent experience. Ever go to McDonald’s for lunch? Quit denying it: Of course you do. How else have they managed to serve 35 times the planet’s population?

You know just what to expect when you go there. If you order a cheeseburger, it’ll be so flat you’ll miss the meat. If you order a shake, it’ll have an oddly chemical taste. Even the milk tastes as though it was drawn from an artificial cow. The quality – or lack thereof – is no surprise.

And that’s why you’re there: no surprises.

Your clients want to know what to expect. If you always bill them by the hour, don’t start charging by the project without discussing it. If you always send an outline first, then don’t deliver the first draft without one. If you always post your blog on Tuesday, don’t go for the gold star by putting it up on Monday.

And if you’ve been a curmudgeon for 10 years, don’t adopt a sunny personality. Stay mean – your clients like it.

From first contact to last, keep the experience familiar.

Consistent performance. Back in 1994, Andre Agassi was one of the brightest stars in tennis. He was also an underachiever. So Agassi and his manager approached Brad Gilbert, a tennis veteran with solid skills but a rep as an overachiever, to coach Agassi.

They wanted to know what Gilbert thought of Agassi’s game. In Agassi’s book, “Open: An Autobiography,” he shares Gilbert’s answer:

You always try to be perfect, he says, and you always fall short, and it f**ks with your head. Your confidence is shot, and perfectionism is the reason. You try to hit a winner on every ball, when just being steady, consistent, meat and potatoes, would be enough to win ninety percent of the time.

I aim for consistent performance too – consistently excellent. Do I achieve it all the time? No. I go back and read some of my earlier work and I’m surprised, both in a good way and in a bad way.

I have a deal with my clients: If they don’t like my work, they don’t have to pay me. I know when my work just doesn’t hit the mark. Maybe the client’s OK with it, but I’m not.

In fact, when a situation occurred with web copy a few years back, I asked the client if I could rewrite it even after it went live, at no charge. He said yes, and the copy improved in the second round.

Was it fantastic? No, not even then. But the client realized I was invested in the company’s success as much as I was in my own $$$.

You won’t always hit a winner. But being steady and consistent keeps you in the game.

P.S. For those of you wondering whether I’m still using my iPhone to access the Internet, the answer is no. I’m using a company I’ll call ConsistentConnect. They’re not that fast, but they sure are consistently reliable.

 

 

Post by Diana Kightlinger

Diana Kightlinger is a top content writer and marcom strategist who tells you how-to and what-for in the EclipseWriter blog. Follow #eclipsewriter on Twitter to find out what she’s thinking and doing.

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  1. I loved this post Diana, it’s not the usual post from writers – blah blah grammer, blah blah best writing – you know what I mean? I’ve always maintained that showing up and showing up often is the key to being successful in life. the more you show up, the more you are recognized and the more opportunities will appear :)

    Would have loved to have heard a young Harry Connick Jr :)

  2. Yep, being reliable more often is a lot better than being occasionally awesome. I won’t argue with that. You get to build your reputation with a consistent style and overall performance. One thing that I might add though, is that there’s always room for improvement in everything. If you think you can improve on one aspect of your career and you can keep it up in the long run, go for it and avoid stagnation.

  3. Excellent post Dianna,

    The #1 tip I hear the most successful people repeat is consistency.

    It’s easy to try something for a while it’s hard to stick with it until it works out.

    It’s even harder to stay humble enough to improve as you go when you hear feedback that’s not always positive.

  4. I agree completely Jacko: One of my great challenges is sticking to the program long enough to see results. Thanks for the reminder! As far as humility, I made up my mind long ago that everyone who criticizes me has my best interest at heart. So the only response is “Thank you very much. I truly appreciate your input.” Then you can decide whether or not you need to improve–and if so, how you should go about it.

  5. It’s really amazing that you talk about consistence. My friend, Nick, just gave a speech about the rules of marketing. And one of the rules is consistence! Nick manages small businesses ad complains online.

    If you say one thing do another. If you have consistence in delivery. That type of thing.

    That’s why YouTube stars like Rhett and Link are super popular. Never fail they will come up with a video a day. Without fail they will have unique and entertaining content.

    Wonderful tips!

    Ps. My friend and I are from Madison Wisconsin and it was a networking event he was talking at. Just amazing!

    • Hi, Thanks for your kind words. I think your friend Nick has it completely write. But I note that Jeffery Berry makes a good point below: consistent improvement is certainly something to strive for too. Good luck!

  6. “Psychotic as Sybol” I won’t be forgetting that in a long time! Thank you for underpinning my hesitancy in posting when I’m not on my ‘mark’. It could be perfectionism… But I loved that analogy! Thank you for making me laugh!

    • I used to want everything to be perfect too. Then I saw those pesky non-perfectionists passing me by because there were out there! So go for it–it’s OK not to be perfect; it’s not OK to be invisible ;-).

  7. Muchas gracias for the plug and link, Diana. Obviously I agree with you whole heartedly here. One aspect of being consistent you underscored is that it in no way means you never improve. Consistency doesn’t mean being consistently complacent, it means keeping up the same pressure for improvement. Constant acceleration is also consistent.

    And I thought the analogy to the very talented kid who only showed up for his gigs infrequently was apt.

  8. I think this is cool and important for writers. The problem is that when you’re relatively new, you might not know your brand yet. It might evolve, you might have to carve it out over time. I think consistency, excellence, and always showing up, however, are appropriate for any brand at any time.

    • You may be right about not knowing your brand when you start out, but you do know yourself. And if you’re a solo entrepreneur, that may be all you need. I knew I’d never be able to be a “serious” writer, so I didn’t try. But I am serious about serving my clients well!

  9. ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’

    An old English saying I’ve tried to live by since my teenage years. I still seek perfectionism, though, even at 43 (today).

    A useful post to remind us to maintain perspective in everything we do, not just our writing.

    Thank you, Diana.

    • Thanks, Robert. I think that people who strive for awesomeness always tend to burn out. If you’re a trust funder, fine; otherwise, you need to keep the candle burning at a pace you can sustain for years. Good luck!

  10. Awesome article, just what I needed as I have plans to go my own way soon! This is definitely worth the print out and keeping on file!

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  1. […] Does dependably consistent trump occasionally awesome? Find out in my guest post for Men with Pens. […]

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