Ink-Dipped Advice: Your Disorganization Is Not My Emergency

 

The downside of the technological age is that people expect an instant response. One of my small business clients has this problem all the time. The staff is small and part-time. The office is closed on weekends. If someone places an order at 11 PM on Friday, it gets filled and shipped as soon as someone arrives on Monday. Yet, nine times out of ten, there are a dozen or more nasty messages on the answering machine and/or emails having a hissy fit because it hasn’t arrived by Monday. It’s very clear on the site that it is a small business and there is no 24-hour fulfillment staff. The shipping date ranges are also clear. The auto-acknowledge is also clear. But people throw tantrums anyway. Supposedly, they’re buying from my client because it’s unique, one-of-a-kind merchandise. But they act like spoiled toddlers.

I’m audience engagement, not customer service, so I don’t have to deal with them, thank goodness.

When I have a big event or plan to be out of the office for a day or more, I let clients know ahead of time. I often put up on “out-of-office” message on my email. I complete anything they need AHEAD of time, and remind them, when I send it, that I am not available on days X, Y, and Z. I will get back to them as soon as possible after Day Z.

It never fails that, any scheduled day out of the office or doing an event for another client, the clients WHO HAVE ALL THEIR MATERIALS AHEAD OF TIME start making demands on something they need RIGHT THIS SECOND.

Which, of course, they don’t. Because they received everything they needed ahead of time, and there is plenty of time in the schedule to take the next steps on time WHEN I AM DONE WITH MY DAYS AWAY.

This is when firm boundaries are vital.

If I’m only out a single day for an event, I simply wait until the following day, when I’d be officially back in the office to respond. If I’m out multiple days, I send a reminder that I told them I was not available during this time, they have the materials they needed AHEAD of time, and we will continue when I get back.

If there is a GENUINE emergency (which are few and far between), I respond as best I can.

Most of it is panic or a want to prove that I will drop everything to respond.

I don’t work that way.

In the situations where there is continued escalating demands for instant attention (especially without reason), I wait until I am back on the clock. I wind up the project, on time, and on schedule, as per our contract.

Then I don’t work with them again. If they want to set up another project and the panic demands have only happened once, I have a discussion about the panic demands and solutions so it doesn’t happen again. If it DOES happen again, I don’t take on any more projects with the client. I let them know our working styles aren’t compatible and wish them well.

One of the discussions we freelancers often have is how we set up the terms and schedules in the contract, we turn in our part of a project on time, but don’t get back what we need from the client on time, and then they expect us to scramble to make up the difference.

I handle this with clear communication, reminders, and reminders about the contract terms (because this issue is contained in the contract). If (and when) it continues, I start charging the additional fees as stipulated in the contract.

I am not staying up until 4 AM to meet a deadline when I’ve met all my fulfillment dates and the other party hasn’t. Not without additional money.

It’s vital that we make these terms clear and hold them. Far too many clients don’t think what we do is work already. If we continue to let them create unnecessary emergencies and we continue to clean up their messes without charging for it, and showing that there are consequences, then we encourage and enable their behavior.

Which makes it harder for everybody.

How do you deal with clients who fabricate emergencies and expect you to drop everything to tend to them?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Mutual Information Sessions, Not “Interview”

Back in the days when I was starting out in the working world, before I worked my way up in theatre to a level where I was paid a living wage so I didn’t have to work temp jobs around show schedules (and then later supplement my income at the rack track), I had a specific attitude toward interviews. I interview them as much as they interview me.

Not much has changed over the years.

What is my purpose, my end game, when I meet potential clients? Why am I pitching myself to them?

My purpose is to be paid a fair fee for using my creative skills to engage and enlarge their audience. The “fair fee” is comprised of my skill, the unusual training and experience I bring to the table, what the work is worth in the competitive marketplace, and how well it achieves my clients’ goals of expanding their business and brand recognition.

I pitch myself to particular clients because what they do interests me, and I believe I’d be a good addition to their team so that they can achieve their goals of business expansion and brand recognition.

Work styles and workplace culture are important to this. If I’m working on site, there are certain things I need: dedicated workspace, the equipment to do the work expected, and uninterrupted work time. I want the environment to be upbeat, friendly, and creative. Preferably with a lot of laughter.

If I’m working remotely, again, I don’t want to be interrupted every two seconds by phone calls or demands. Let me do my work. I’m far more productive and, in the long run, it costs the client less money.

I think I mentioned on this blog (or maybe it was on Ink in My Coffee), the interview I had with a local business a couple of years ago where none of the above was true. It was supposed to be a marketing/writing position. Only my “desk” would be a board set up across two oil drums and a stool. They’d “prefer” I brought in my own laptop, but that it be one that was “dedicated” to their business. (I’m supposed to purchase multiple lap tops for different clients? I think not). I would have to cover reception at least a couple of times a week during lunch. I also had to accept that there would be inappropriate remarks or physical contact because “that’s who these guys are.” For a rate that was less than half of my usual rate, part-time, no benefits or paid holidays or vacation or anything else.

Uh, no.

I thanked them for their time and left.

I spend more time in the early conversations asking about a typical day, the environment, etc. than I used to. I spend at least as much time on that as I do on the actual tasks.

I’m not twenty, on my first job. I know I’m up to the tasks, or I wouldn’t have pitched in the first place.

I also ask where they see the company in the next year, the next three years, the next five years. What are their goals? How do they see the company growing? Do they see a shift in focus? Where do they see themselves in the political, economic, and social contexts? What do they see as their place in the world?

These are not questions for anyone in the Human Resources Department. In the decades since I’ve started my professional working life, I have yet to get any accurate information on anything other than a pay stub from someone assigned to “human resources.” These are questions I ask to the people with whom I’d be directly working.

Very often, I build on my answers to their questions to ask my own questions. This means we cover a lot of ground that is often left in their last question, which is to ask if I have any questions. I usually have one or two, but often I can say, “We’ve covered them in our previous conversation.” That shows that yes, I HAD questions, but we’ve talked about them, and there’s no point in repeating ourselves.

After the interview process (because it’s usually more than one talk), I send handwritten thank you notes. I used to do it after each conversation, but that got too complicated, especially if multiple conversations are set up over a short period of time. The more companies expand globally, the more people in different regions are factored into the equation.

I take notes during the conversation, to make sure nothing is missed — or later changed. I’ve had that, too, especially in terms of money. “That’s not what we talked about.” Actually, yes, it is, and I have the notes to prove it. I date the notes. Sometimes I’ll type them up, but I always, ALWAYS keep handwritten notes during a conversation, dated and timed.

When the conversation leads into a quote or letter or agreement or contract as the next step, I type a letter/memo based on the notes and the conversation to make sure we all agree. So we are, literally, on the same page.

And then we build from there, with the actual work.

How do you handle initial meetings and/or interviews? What are some of your favorite questions to ask? What are questions you’re asked that make you roll your eyes?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Short and Long Term Trade-Offs

Most of us are doing the best we can to stay on top of all the demands on us, especially the financial ones. The Narcissistic Sociopath’s determination to crash the economy and send us into recession while he grifts from taxpayers isn’t helping.

Too often in all of this, we are so focused on mere survival moment-to-moment, we forget to look at whether what we’re doing works in the bigger plan we need for our lives, both in our careers and elsewhere.

We have to ask ourselves, with each project:
–What are the trade-offs between creativity, money, purpose?
–Are those trade-offs worth it?

Sometimes they are. It might not be the most fascinating gig, but if it pays the bills and the people are pleasant, it can be worth it.

Eventually, though, it won’t be. Whether it’s a living situation, a work situation, or a creative situation, each of us has personal boundaries where the trade-offs stop making it worthwhile, and it starts to eat away at our well-being on multiple levels.

That’s when we need to stop and take a step back.

Time to ask:

WHY have we made these trade-offs?

WHEN did they stop working for us?

HOW can we adjust in the short-term in order to pave the way for the long term?

It’s going to be different in every situation. We need X amount of money in order to survive. But if, in order to earn our Survival Pay, we destroy our health and happiness, it’s time to take a look at other options.

I always try to overlap. I want to be able to transition from one situation to the other, have them overlap so that it’s less traumatic.

The reality of my life rarely works that way. I often have to make a complete break with one situation in order to make room for something better.

I hate it.

I like to put pieces in place and transition, not jump. But time and time again, I’m forced to take a leap. To gamble.

Sometimes it works, other times it does not.

I’m trying to change that pattern, trying to get it into something smoother and more positive. Can’t say it will work. But I’m trying to move pieces into place in a logical fashion.

I know the changes I want to make. I’m just not entirely sure how to make them happen. I’m also feeling pressure to make them happen within a specific time frame that has to do with contracts, and an eye to how the economy is getting ready to crash and send us into a recession. We don’t have leadership that can get us out of it this time, the way we did last time, and the regulations that helped steady us and get us back on track have been rolled back.

How do you make major career shifts? How much planning do you put into place before you make the change? How often have things gone to plan? How do you deal with it when it doesn’t?

Ink-Dipped Advise: Personal Strategic Plan – Use Opportunity to Offset Threat

 

This is a good week to go back to our personal strategic plan and talk about the “T” in “SWOT” which stands for “threats.”

One of the threats involved with being a freelancer is that often, we are part of the 78% of the population living paycheck to paycheck, without enough of a financial cushion for the unexpected. I’ve certainly been struggling with that the last few weeks, dealing with a major, unexpected car repair.

Something that brings down fair pay for all freelancers is content mill work, where the “writer” is expected to churn out dozens of articles per week for well under market rate. Most of us have hit points where every penny matters; but when we stay mired in the low-paying markets, we don’t just hurt ourselves; we hurt our colleagues.

We face daily threats from the outside world – those who don’t value our skills, our talents, try to control our bodies, deny us health care and housing and more.

It’s important to break down long-term and short-term threats in the same way you need to break down long-term and short-term opportunities. Which threat has to be dealt with immediately? Which threat has to be part of your own personal long game, which will need adjustment as you continue? You don’t ignore it; you’re aware of it in the background. You chip away at it. But it’s not necessarily your first priority.

Using opportunity to counteract threat is a strong choice.

Each job for which you pitch should have a place in the web of the career you’re building. Each job should have a definable goal, be it “this article is a little bit under the rate I want, but it’ll be a solid clip and it pays the light bill this month.” Then BUILD ON IT. Don’t stay in that market, because it’s easy and comfortable. Use the clip to climb to a higher-paying tier.

I participated in panel discussion last week about the submission process. One of the pushbacks from several audience members was that they “didn’t like” the business aspect of writing, and that they felt it got in the way of “art.”

You’re not the literary Lana Turner, and you’re not going to be discovered as the Next Big Novelist in the produce section of Stop N Shop. You need to get out there, make connections, make sure each publication is a building block to the next one, and that you’re expanding your reach. No one OWES you discovery. You have to make your work worth discovering, and then you have to make it discover-able.

You also have to pick and choose the venues and the opportunities that value your work. Which often includes fair pay.

Learn to say “no.” “Exposure” is the oldest trick in the book to let others profit from your work, while you get nothing.

Don’t let the biggest threat to your growth in art, craft, and career be yourself.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Adversity

Those of you who have followed along on Ink in My Coffee and on social media know that last week, I was hit with a crisis. I had an unexpected major car repair, far more than I had put aside. Yes, I am one of the 78% of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck who cannot afford an emergency.

I’d thought the month of May was the start of my road out of that, and that I might even have enough of a cushion to take a few much-needed days off, but then I was hit with the car repair.

The repair is being done in stages. Phase One, the most expensive one, was to get the car back on the road. I live in an area where public transportation is a joke, unless you’re going from Hyannis or Barnstable into Boston.

The hard part is, I had to ask for help to do it. That nearly killed me. Which is not logical, because I do my best to help anyone else who asks whenever I can. Yet not having enough of a cushion to fund this major, unexpected repair myself makes me feel like a failure.

But I asked for help. I received far more than I expected. I also sent out another spate of pitches, some at a much higher rate than I expected. I received payment for a big job just completed (which had been marked for other bills and a couple of days of rest for me, but oh well). I landed an assignment from a quick-pay publication, and have another spec assignment on a bigger-than-I-usually-work-for pub that would pay well (although a few months down the line). I sent some LOIs to companies I might not have initially approached, but circumstances made me do so now.

It’s more immediate pressure on me right now, but if I can keep myself mentally in the game, and not break down physically, I should be able to do it.

But it sharpens into focus some of the things I’ve been trying to change, and forces me to change them sooner rather than later.

This is a catalyst for change.

It will be good in the long run. If I can only survive in the short run.

How do you deal with unexpected adversity? What are your most helpful tools?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Conference Follow-Up

 

I was honored to teach at the NECRWA Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference over the last weekend of April.

I’m in the process of follow up from the conference. I usually try to get it done in the first two business days after I return. I was so wiped out from the month of April that I crashed and burned last week, and I’m still working on my usual post-conference protocols.

I’ve written about this before, last year, in the Authors Publish newsletter. I haven’t referred to that copy for this post — I’m simply sharing what I do. Returning from a conference can be overwhelming, when you unpack and look at all you’ve brought back.

Thank the Conference Organizers
I believe this is the most important piece of follow-up. It takes an enormous amount of time, energy, and emotional stamina as well as physical stamina to put on a conference. The organizers deserve a little thanks.

I thanked them in person on the final night, and I’ve thanked them across several social media platforms.

I’m behind in the written thank you, but that went out at the beginning of the week.

All of that matters.

Send out Promised Materials
Did you meet with any agents or editors? Did they ask for something specific? Get it out, as soon as possible. Some of them will ask you to wait a week or two after the conference, because they have a lot to catch up on. Make a note on your calendar, and send it when requested.

Make sure to send the materials while it’s still fresh for them.

This is also true if it was a trade show style conference and you spoke with vendors about possible freelance jobs.

If you talked to agents, editors, or publishers who didn’t ask for anything specific, just send them a quick note or email saying you enjoyed the conversation. Not every interaction has to be an immediate submission. There are plenty of agents and editors I love talking to at conferences. But I don’t write what they represent or publish, so I don’t submit or query what they don’t want. I do, however, keep in touch. If I ever do write something in their wheelhouse, I’ve laid the basis for a relationship.

If you met a potential critique partner and talked about exchanging manuscripts, or a fellow writer, where you did a book exchange, send the materials or say thanks. If it was a book exchange in the moment, make the time to sit down and read the book within the next two weeks. Tossing it on the TBR pile and not getting to it for a year isn’t helpful. Be the partner that you seek.

Thank presenters
Did you attend presentations you particularly enjoyed? Most presenters include their website or social media information in their presentation or handouts. Send them a quick e-mail and thank them on social media.

Even if we intellectually know our presentations went well, it’s a big emotional boost when a participant takes the time to say “thank you.”

Follow up with fellow conference goers
I collect cards, flyers, bookmarks, postcards from everyone. If we’ve had a conversation, I follow up as soon as possible, either to say I enjoyed the conversation, or to continue it.

Sort the Swag
In addition to picking up material from those I meet, I also accumulate plenty of material from those I didn’t.

When I get home, I sort it.

Agents, Editors, Publishers go in one pile. This is AFTER I follow up with promised materials, as stated above.

Authors I met go in another pile.

Authors I didn’t meet, but picked up material go in a third pile.

I follow up with authors I met first. That includes buying at least one of their books, if I didn’t do so at the conference. And reading that book in a timely manner. And then, LET THEM KNOW YOU READ IT — especially if you liked it. Leaving a review is also helpful.

I research the agents, editors, and publishers, especially if I didn’t get a chance to meet or cross paths with them at the conference. Do I have anything I think will suit? Does what I have meet their guidelines? Are they open for queries?

There have been times when I’ve been signed with an agent, and I run into an editor or publisher at a conference with whom I click. I then discuss it with my agent, and together we decide if there’s anything to query, or if we save it for another time.

If I have good conversations with an agent or agents while l’m under representation, I let them know. I don’t want my agent to feel I’m doing anything behind their back; I don’t want the agent I talk with to think I’m behaving that way either.

I go through the pile of authors I didn’t meet last, and check out their books and websites. Conferences are one of my favorite ways to find new-to-me authors.

File Information
I have files of conference programs, handouts, and promotional materials. I often remember a particular author or business by which conference I “discovered” them, so that’s how I file. I file the information AFTER I’ve done all of the above, because if I put away a file, my subconscious believes I’ve finished the project. I need unfinished files in front of me.

I keep files for far too long. Basically, I have an Archive. But that’s my choice. Do what suits you.

Normally, I’d have my initial contacts done early in the first week I was back, and be working my way through the Authors-I-Didn’t-Meet pile. But I’m behind, so I’m still working on thanking presenters and following up with other authors I met.

If the above sounds like a lot of work — hey, it is! But it pays off in connections and building friendships and finding great new reading material.

It’s all worth it.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Opportunity

 

We’re still working on the personal strategic plan. This week, we discuss the category called “Opportunities.”

What does that mean in a strategic plan?

I define it as taking a closer look at where you (either an individual or a business) are not utilizing your strengths and recognizing the chance to grow.

Part of that is not approaching potential new customers with a negative.

The Positive Approach
Let’s say there’s a small business in your town. You’d like to work with them. You know you’d be a good hire. You could handle their marketing, social media, get them connected to other businesses and events in the community that will grow their profile and, by extension, their business.

You do your research. The social media profile has very few followers and they aren’t following a whole heck of a lot, either. There are some marketing posts, but no engagement. There are typos in their signage and on the website. The website is a static page on a free site that doesn’t draw in the viewer.

Lots to fix, right?

An opportunity, right?

But HOW do you approach them? By telling them what’s wrong with their site and their approach?

Not unless they ask you, in the interview, what you would do differently.

If you pitch them with what’s wrong with their site, they won’t bother to listen.

If you pitch them with how your skills will grow their audience, their engagement, and their business, there’s a better chance they’ll pay attention.

How to lose them: “I looked at your site. You have typos galore, it’s obvious you’re not paying for a web host, and your social media profile is practically non-existent. If you hire me, I’ll fix it.”

How to get them interested: “I was drawn to your site by your mission and your passion. It’s difficult to keep on top of all the communication and audience engagement needs when you’re so busy. If you’re ever interested in bringing in someone to ease that pressure, I’m interested. I have some ideas to engage and expand your audience. I’d love to meet with you and talk through ideas.” And then add in your particular skills that are appropriate.

See the difference?

Every interaction can be an opportunity, and it doesn’t need to be a hard sell in the moment. Meet people. Exchange cards. Follow up. If it’s not something that’s your area of interest or expertise, keep an eye open to see where you can recommend someone else. If you come across a helpful article or piece of information, send it on.

Instead of drive-by marketing, build relationships.

Stay in contact with people. That’s vital. I find reminder postcards more useful than emails, but not more than quarterly. I send out a batch of cards with a simple, “how are you? I was thinking of you. I thought I’d check in to see if you need anything.”

I’m big on holiday cards at the end of the year. It’s a way to let people know you’re thinking of them.

Expanding Your Repertoire
Is there something that interests you, but you haven’t worked much in that area?

Research companies/businesses that work in that area.

Frame your pitch so you convince them that the skills you have are what they need, and that you can learn the details of their particular business quickly.

My marketing and social media skills apply to a variety of fields. I’ve written for sports, individual artists and musicians, a marine life non-profit, museums, an independent clothing designer, an organic landscaper, a record producer, a chef, and much, much more.

I found things that interested me, and applied my skills.

As a bonus, I now understand more about how those businesses work. That’s useful in both business writing AND in my fiction and scripts. Because everything is material.

Best Advice
The biggest advice I have in the opportunity category is: Don’t wait for opportunity. Create opportunity.

How do you create opportunities?

Where would you like to expand?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan – Goals

 

Last week, I noted that I’m not comfortable publicly stating my goals on this site, when it comes to the Personal Strategic Plan. We all have the choice how much to reveal and how much not to reveal. There are times where stating a goal or a dream or a resolution publicly makes you take firmer action and have accountability. There are also times when talking a goal too early dilutes it from becoming a reality.

I have a site where I keep monthly to do lists and work on my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions for the month and the year. Of course, it’s called “Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions” and can be found here. I work on a series of questions through autumn that help me define my GDRs for the coming year.

Then life comes and things change. We all have to decide where to be adaptable and flexible, where to let go of what no longer works, and where we’re just giving up.

For me, goals are things I can break down into actual steps. I can put a finite time limit on them. Dreams are more fluid. I often need more time and thought and resources before I can turn a dream into a goal. A resolution is where I work on something in myself that I want to improve.

In a strategic plan, the goals are closely tied to the vision/mission statement, and use the strengths and weaknesses. (We will talk about opportunities and threats in a future post — I’m rolling my eyes just thinking about it).

Goals have to do with knowledge of what you can and can’t control.

For example, a novelist can have the goal of writing and polishing the next novel, and getting it out on submission. Becoming a best-selling author within a year might be a dream, but until the book is written and out on submission, it’s not a goal. Once the book is in publication, there are plenty of parts of the “best-seller” mode that the author can’t control, but the author can take specific steps to turn it from a dream into a goal by a comprehensive marketing plan and hand-selling, one-on-one, to as many potential bookstores, conferences, readers, etc.

But without a manuscript on paper, “best-seller” is a dream, not a goal.

Even once the book is out there, there are plenty of factors that might make “best seller” impossible. You can then set goals for sales increases based on the physical work you are able to do in any given period, and your advertising budget. You might not meet them, but you’re closer to tangibles and actions.

Goals are about action. “I am here, I want to be THERE.”

A reasonable goal is “I will pitch 4 articles and 10 LOIs this month.”

A more difficult goal is that you will SELL 4 articles and that all 10 LOIs will wind up in assignments, because there are too many factors outside of your control.

The more experience you have, the more research you do prior to the pitches and the LOIs, the more likely each one is to hit true and get you a paid assignment, but the goal is to do your homework and get good pitches out there.

A resolution would be to take any rejections, examine them, learn from them, and apply that knowledge moving forward so that you have a higher percentage of
acceptances.

By learning and applying new knowledge, you are more likely to have your pitches and LOIs result in paid assignments. You will see your percentage go up.

You may well hit the point where you pitch 4 articles and 10 LOIs in a month and they all hit.

Then, you have to ask yourself, “Is this what I want, or am I playing it safe?”

It may be time to adjust the goals.

Can you send out the 4 pitches and the 10 LOIs that hit, but also send out one or two more pitches and a couple of LOIs to places that are a stretch? More visible markets at higher pay? Maybe they won’t hit, but if they do, you’re moving up a tier.

You’re building on the achieved goals.

When you sit down to list goals, list plenty. Then break them down to see which are goals and which are dreams. Which dreams need work on resolutions, so that you can turn them into goals?

You’ll notice I’m avoiding a lot of market-speak in this piece. Mostly because those terms make me want to hurl. Certain terms get overused and are thrown around instead of action. Especially in meetings, where people try to impress executives with a lot of hot air.

I was on the board of a non-profit a few years ago. We worked on the organization’s strategic plan. I was the one in the room who kept saying, “What do you MEAN by those phrases? What are you going to DO to create these goals?”

Which, of course, was met with blank looks. Until someone took a breath and threw out another string of market-speak, to which I said, “How?”

Which was met with more blank looks.

The terminology does not replace the action.

Goal setting takes time. It requires thought. It requires self-evaluation and sometimes painful honesty.

But once you separate the goals from the dreams, and figure out how current goals support longer-term dreams, you can start breaking down the goal into steps you can actually take to see results, instead of getting overwhelmed by the whole project.

You will need to stop and re-assess along the way. You may need to change elements of the goal or the path to achieve it.

But without taking definitive action, it’s all talk. It’s a list of meaningless phrases that doesn’t get you anywhere.

How do you come up with your goals?

How do you break your goals down into steps?

How do you motivate yourself to TAKE that first step, and then the next?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Strengths & Weaknesses

Today, we talk about SWOT, the part of the personal strategic plan — or any strategic plan — that makes me feel like I’m entering the land of the psychobabble. I’m using myself as an example, not because I think I’m so wonderful, but because I hope sharing portions of my own journey will help you find ways to look at your own possibilities.

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

The “threats” part of it make me wonder if someone arranged the letters so it would be close to SWAT. Unless I’m worried about corporate espionage, or unless I’m living in a dangerous neighborhood or factoring in climate change, “threats” are a misnomer. I think that’s a toxic element to add into an organization’s discussion of a way to move forward. Even if that organization is facing a rough stretch. When it’s part of a personal plan — I think it sets a tone of paranoia, instead of positive forward motion.

Most strategic plans create a scorecard for four topics within each of these four topics: financial, customer, internal, and learning/growth.

Finding, acknowledging, dealing with, and improving upon these facets is important, whether it’s a business, a non-profit, or your personal plan.

Rather than putting those four topics under the S, W, O, T headings, I would put them the other way around.

We will focus on Strengths & Weaknesses this week.

Question: What are the areas important and relevant to your life?

My list includes:
Creativity
Home/Family/Friends
Financial concerns
Health
Work
Long Term Goals

Under Creativity, I create the following list:
Strengths:
–Steady flow of ideas and inspiration from almost everything around me;
–Ability to integrate and absorb different ideas and techniques into a whole;
–High bullshit detector;
–Love of research and learning;
–Fast learning curve;
–Insatiable curiosity;
–Ability for intense, prolonged concentration;
–Willingness to try new things and expand skills.

Weaknesses:
–Can hyper-focus on a single task and demand total immersion;
–Impatience with self and others.
–Overwork and don’t realize it until it’s too late and I’m past the point of diminishing return;

Home/Family/Friends
Strengths:
–Loyalty;
–Compassion;
–Humor;
–Inclusion;
–Stubbornness/tenacity.

Weaknesses:
–Sometimes misplaced loyalty;
–Need for large amounts of solitude and silence;
–Impatience;
–Zero tolerance for stupidity and chosen ignorance;
–Introversion;
–Tenacity/tenacity.

Financial Concerns:
Strengths:
–Multi-skilled;
–Fast learning curve;
–Contract skills;
–Inventive frugality;

Weaknesses:
–Living in an area that does not respect my work/skills and doesn’t want to pay for them;
–Instability of freelancing;
–Not enough time spent marketing the fiction;
–Some impulse buying, especially when it comes to books;
–Not enough savings;
–Not enough of a financial cushion for meaningful vacation breaks or emergencies.

Health
Strengths:
–Daily yoga and meditation practices;
–Weight training;
–Healthy eating (most of the time)

Weaknesses:
–Poor health insurance options;
–Distrust of the medical profession and the insurance system;
–Not enough physical activity;
–Not enough breaks/vacation time.

Work:
Strengths:
–The entire list from the creativity section is relevant here;
–Ability to adapt quickly and integrate new skills;
–Willingness to do more than the minimum;
–Can read a little bit in more than English;
–A refusal to work for those who I believe lack integrity.

Weaknesses:
–The list from the creativity section is relevant here;
–Willingness to do more than the minimum often ends up in my being expected to clean up for lazier or less-skilled co-workers without appreciation or remuneration.
–As I age, I no longer want to have to adapt constantly. I want to do the job I’m there to do, and that’s it;
–Am only fluent in English;
–Because I believe the work is not about me, but about the work, my contributions are sometimes minimized.

Long Term Goals
I am not comfortable sharing these publicly right now. It’s a case of talking before doing doesn’t help me manifest, but hurt me manifest.

But in the Long-Term Goals category, I find that it helps to define a SMALL set of goals (three to five, not fifteen to twenty), and then list how my strengths and weaknesses affect each goal.

This is different than the way most organizations talk about their long-term goals, but again, it’s different for an individual than for an organization. You use the techniques that have personal value in each type of situation.

Examining the strengths and the weaknesses, it helps to ask where one can build on the strengths. For me, some of my strengths are also weaknesses. Sometimes, it depends on context.

Once you figure out what strengths you can build on (and, in many cases, it’s almost all of them; we are rarely at the pinnacle of our capabilities), then it’s time to examine the weaknesses.

I ask myself:
–Where can I turn a perceived weakness into a strength?
–Where does a weakness indicate a type of job or situation I should avoid because it runs counter to my own core integrity?
–What are weaknesses that can be lessened if I change my perspective or put in time to learn more skills?
–Where do either my strengths or weaknesses become obstacles in my goals, and how can I change that?

There are dozens more questions you can ask on each of these topics, but the above questions are the ones I find most useful.

Also, more than one factor from more than one area often plays in to what we can change at this moment, and where we need to use patience and persistence to make small changes now that will add up to larger changes in the future.

How do you analyze your strengths and weaknesses?