My business has been going through a lot of changes lately. Earlier this year, I left a full-time marketing position to pursue freelance video editing full time.
Pretty quickly, I realized things weren't working. In a matter of weeks, I felt utterly disinterested in the work. It felt like the quality was suffering.
So I started hiring some of the creators I know that do great work. They nailed it, but the profit margins still weren't making me enough even to scrape by. I refuse to deliver shoddy quality work, so I'm not going to outsource to the cheapest bidder.
Scalability with freelance is an issue too. The only way to grow a freelance business is to turn into an agency by hiring more people or raise your rates significantly. It's just not a game that seems like it would play out well.
So I've spent the last few weeks trying to separate my past interests with a plan to take advantage of my strengths. Here are some of the insights I've come across.
difference between interests & STRENGTHS
It's essential to notice and get real about the difference between interests and strengths.
I have a ton of interests. Painting, music, video, writing. That doesn't mean those are right career paths for me.
Some experts might disagree, but it's not a closed debate by any means.
Months ago, I saw a video by Improvement Pill about "The Japanese Formula For Happiness" called Ikigai. The idea struck me pretty hard as the reason following passion alone wasn't working out.
The idea is that true fulfillment can come when you're spending your time doing something that you are good at, society needs, you can be paid well for, and you enjoy doing.
The trouble is figuring out what you're good at, what you can be paid well for, and what society needs. The only way to figure out what you enjoy is to try a bunch of things.
At this point, I already know the kinds of work I enjoy (luckily it's a lot of different things). I keep running into the issue of something I can objectively know I'm good at, get paid well for, and society needs.
Discover Strengths Objectively
Humans aren't exactly good at discovering objective truths about ourselves without outside feedback.
There are three main ways that I went about looking to find what were objective strengths in my work so that I could refocus my work in these areas.
The obvious way is to ask your clients.
I sent out a text to a few of my clients that I know are pretty thoughtful people.
You could do this via a long email explaining your thought process. You could send a survey. In my case, I just sent a text asking, "From working with me so far, what do you think my biggest professional strength is?"
There were a few different responses I received. None of them had anything to do with my creative talents or skill.
More or less, they all summed up to Communication, Strategic Thinking, and Creative Problem Solving.
Cool. Now let's see what the people who do work for and with me think.
Think of collaborators broadly. For me, that was a few co-workers from past jobs that I worked with closely AND some creatives I've worked closely with over the years.
The text was the same, but obviously, you can vary that up to reflect the specific circumstances of your working relationships with these people.
Again, not one responded with anything related to creative talent. One did say "You're incredibly talented" but wasn't able to describe what specific talent to which they were referring.
The takeaways were Decisive Problem Solving, Clear Communication, and Idea Generation.
There was still a feeling that there might be some personal biases at play here. You'll never be able to remove those entirely. This last one was about as objective as I could get.
We're all familiar with personality tests by now, but I'm not talking about something like the Meyers-Briggs here. Those can be useful for containing personality traits and learning how to work with others, but I didn't feel that reflected a work-scenario.
Back when I worked at Priority Communications (which is a great place to work by the way), they had some of us take the CliftonStrengths assessment — formerly Clifton StrengthsFinder.
I'm oversimplifying here, but basically, it's a long assessment that will result in a ranking of 34 potential strengths. The ones we want to focus on are the top 5 of those strengths.
My top five were:
You might notice that these don't sound like the strengths of a creative, do they?
No, they don't. These line up pretty perfectly with the responses I got from clients and collaborators.
Hopefully going through this process can lead you to identify the common strengths as well.
Why this matters?
Except for maybe Ideation, these sound like a different person than the professional creative I was trying to portray through my business. That's a problem.
Why is that a problem?
If someone hires you because you "sell" yourself as a particular thing, they expect you to deliver that person. If you turn out to be something entirely different, they're not going to be happy.
You'll probably stumble on some people that didn't know they needed someone like you. That's happened to me a lot-- luckily.
Still, a lot of this explains this constant sense of Imposter Syndrome, I feel when I'm doing paid creative work.
The only time I don't feel like an imposter is when I'm sitting with a client, addressing their business issues, and helping them develop a clear strategy to move forward.
If you’re searching for a company to help you manage your digital marketing then you probably do plenty of research on them first... or at least I hope so.
About two years ago I was searching for a digital marketing agency to work for and I started to recognize a strange trend: digital marketing companies don’t keep up with their own digital marketing.
Not only was this discouraging from an employment standpoint, but I also imagined how a company or person looking to use these agencies would feel if they did their research.
I'd give some examples but I don't want to effect the reputation of some very good companies. This isn't to say every digital company does this, but service-based agencies seem to be the biggest culprit. Myself included.
If you happen to find yourself on Priority Digital's website (the company I work for), and go to the blog tab... you'll only find two posts. They were both from February of 2018.
I made those posts when I started in my current position and my assumption was that content would be an important part of our sales strategy.
It turns out I was wrong.
Content is important. However, getting client-content finished is more important. When you're a small company of only a few employees and don't charge enough to outsource everything (or don't want to for service reasons), writing your own content falls lower and lower on the priority list.
The only time I write articles or make videos now about digital marketing is in the late evening (like when I'm writing this). That time isn't always the most productive for me, and not only does the quantity suffer, but sometimes the quality of the output isn't up to par for what I expect either.
To check in on my own content creation, I did some research. Over the last two years, I marked down how many pieces of content I created for my own websites vs. my client's websites.
This graph includes this website, videos on my YouTube that are business-related, Priority Digital's blog, and www.Sideline-Pictures.com (the movie company that Vincent Barnard and I make movies through).
My client list is changing and growing constantly, but on this list it includes 7 different websites that I currently create or help create content for on a monthly basis. It also includes the WinklerGallery.Org site that I manage.
The trend wasn't as dramatic as I had assumed, but this may be due to my spurts of creative inspiration where I create content like a mad-man for a few weeks and then disappear from the internet for a few months.
That same strategy doesn't work for my clients-- obviously-- so their content output is much more consistent.
What are your thoughts?
Have you noticed this or disagree with me completely?
Do you care if your digital marketing consultant or agency practices what they preach?
Comment down below or @craiginzana on Twitter.
AN EASY, STEP-BY-STEP OVERVIEW TO MAKE BLOG POSTS THAT GET READ
Blogging has become a huge part of having a successful website. Especially in Business to Business sales, having a good blog can bring sales to your doorstep.
Additionally, blogging can answer those questions you get from customers and clients over and over and over again. In fact, that's how I have come up with my most successful posts.
It turns out there are usually thousands of other people out there looking for answers to that question too.
Follow these steps and track the amount of views your blog posts receive. You won't be disappointed. If you do really well, some of those views should turn into paying customers!
Download the free checklist PDF to help you remember these steps.
1. will the topic add value?
Before you do anything, make sure the topic of your blog post matches your target audience.
It helps to imagine your IDEAL customer.
What are they typing into that search bar?
What blog post would they click on?
What topic would be most valuable to them?
Can you add a unique perspective?
Will this make them trust you more and more likely to buy from you?
Social media addiction is something I’ve struggled with for years. When I start to feel my thoughts influenced by those online and consuming content mindlessly constantly, then I know there’s a problem.
In this video and blog post I talk about the three steps you can use to control social media overuse.
Step One: Acceptance
The first step is accepting you have a problem. There’s a reason that people say this. No need to get all melodramatic about it, but you do have to accept that “Yeah, I am a little addicted to this.”
You need to accept it and you need to say, “I’m going to do something about this.”
STEP TWO: QUIT
The second step is to quit cold turkey. Don’t delete your profile. You don’t need to do that. A part that keeps people from diving in is that you’re afraid to quit. You don’t want to delete all those years of history. You don’t need to delete your account to quit.
Am I doing too much?
A few weeks ago I was underemployed and struggling to get any freelance projects off the ground. Through weekly talk therapy and an amazing support system I was keeping focused on the opportunities rather than dwelling on all the little things that kept not working on. Then suddenly the pace shifted.
Let me start with this admission: I want to be successful.
To some that might sound obvious, but in other crowds the word “success” is a dirty one. Artists and working class friends sneer at the idea as selfish and unaware.
Some of success is money. Enough money to make decisions with your money rather than your money making decisions for you.
One of my favorite songs by a Pittsburgh musician (Crisp Lake), and friend of mine, says “When you see the wheel, I hope you know which way to steer.” I hope so too.
That song wasn’t written about me. He wrote it before we ever met. However, I always feel like that line is speaking at me directly.
I am the artist friend who focuses a lot more than my friends on the business aspect of the field. A lot of the time I’m made to feel like a sellout either directly or indirectly.
A lot of my time is spent on self-improvement. I’m a bit of a workaholic, but even work-life balance is something I’m committed to figuring out. Maybe I’m a control freak because I want to control every facet of my life.