Shortcuts get a bad rap. They imply sloppy work that values saving time over quality progress. However, there may be some places in your day where you’re allowing the “hard way” to be “the only way.”
Three examples below talk through how to get what you need from clients, pitch what will win your C-level team’s approval and condense your compelling message without losing readers.
Timewaster: Working without clear direction
The client knows his budget constraints and a rough idea of what he wants – Yet what he calls “rough,” you call “nonexistent.” With a shrug, you begin working on the project, pairing your creative with the few ideas he shared.
Why’d you give in so readily? Guessing your client’s needs and taste wastes way too much time working toward the wrong goal. You’ll spend hours researching, trying to suss out what the client wants, while not taking enough action.
Shortcut: It’s so simple: Ask the questions you want the answers to, and do so by pinpointing the problem instead of offering a solution. In other words, ask “Which of these two typefaces do you prefer?” instead of saying “I have a few ideas for typefaces, but I’d like to hear your ideas, too.”
Create an onboarding form – it might be as simple as using Google or Survey Monkey – with fields for answers you always need, and include project-specific questions about deadline goals, their brand’s hex values, their Oxford comma preference, logo approvals or whatever you need to be successful. Encourage your clients to help you make more decisions instead of have more discussions.
Timewaster: Pitching your marketing strategy to executives
Marketers love the story behind their creative because they know narratives engage audiences.
“The very linguistic features of stories that command attention and memory – concrete, vivid descriptions and active voice, present tense verbs – also compel emotional investment and lend the quality of persuasiveness to the speech act they constitute.” writes Dennis K. Mumby in Narrative and Social Control: Critical Perspectives.
Your C-level execs, though? You might spy them peeking at their watches. It isn’t personal: You simply approach projects from a different place. They’re more concerned with solutions and the outcome than how your strategy follows the brand storyline you’ve constructed.
Shortcut: Take a look at your entire strategy and ask yourself “So what?” until you reach an end point, the bottom line of your data. For example: You’re changing the days and times you post to Facebook. So what? Thursdays and Fridays are the highest-performing days. So what? You’re seeing the most shares during working hours. So what? You need a new team member solely dedicated to social efforts to manage the work. Well, OK, then.
“The best advice I got was from our VP of sales,” said Jacob Rouser, a content creator for an elearning company. “He told me to frame my projects around 3 P’s: Purpose, Process and Payoff. By identifying these three things, I show that this idea has been fully thought out and conceptualized from beginning to end.”
Executives want to see case studies, competitors’ work and only the information most relevant to their roles. Give them the broad strokes to show your strategy’s value, and relate your project back to their corporate goals.
“When talking with the C-level, I find it very important to tie it back to business concerns and [not to] get too granular,” Rouser said. “Let them ask questions around the process, and be prepared to defend the purpose and payoff.”
Rouser also said he includes “what we can learn from failing” as part of his presentations “to help assuage fears of not getting anything back.”
Timewaster: Focusing on lengthy content over effective content
We all want to grow our audience, get more comments, increase shares, drive more traffic and generate discussion. When readers feel there’s little merit to a book-length piece, they move on soundlessly.
Many executives want lengthy content because they feel there’s more value in these report-like thought pieces. Often, there is. But so often, we see opportunities to cut down on the filler so all that’s left is concise, killer content that packs a punch.
Shortcut: Start with your headline to determine what you want to achieve, and keep referring back to it when you find yourself meandering. It’s like a job title: An unclear job title (Ideation Ninja, anyone?) makes for an ambiguous role. When you can loop back to a straightforward job title, you’re able to refocus on necessary duties and tasks.
When researching and writing, ask yourself two questions:
- How much content is actually needed to communicate the message?
- What’s the valuable takeaway in the end for readers?
When revising your work, take a machete to it and cut out everything that isn’t interesting and doesn’t support your point. If you truly need 3,500 words to delve into a topic, then you need 3,500 words. If you’re using lots of prepositional phrases to stretch to 3,500 words, break out that machete and get to hacking!