Creativity is Dangerous but Healthy

While I edited a polished-up interview this morning, I started thinking about all of the trite phrases that small business owners use. The female attorney whose interview I was editing loved phrases like “I think; life can change at a moment’s notice; utilizing my creativity; you have to be passionate about what you do; I didn’t let obstacles stop me; if you try hard enough you can reach any goal that you want; put your mind to it [success]; don’t be a self-fulfilling prophecy; retrain your brain; I didn’t know how but I was going to make it work; treat people with respect”.

They boil down to three or four main concepts:

  1. Believe and act on positive things about yourself, despite obstacles, because they’re possible;
  2. Women need empowerment to build businesses;
  3. Be creative and enthused about the work you do; and
  4. Treat others as they would like to be treated (Golden Rule).

What’s the problem? These things have been said so many times that they lack punch. There was very little unique information offered about the work that she did as an attorney, or any of the obstacles that she actually encountered, other than online resources giving bad legal advice to people. The overall impression being given to the reader was that she had found obstacles years ago and conquered them. End of story.

Lack of Detail = Boring Story

The bare allusions to interesting tidbits weren’t quite enough to hold interest. She’d had to borrow money to pay for law school, but didn’t say how much or how long it took. She’d wanted to become a vet, but couldn’t stand the sadness of people losing their furry friends. She’d moved from Big Important Fish law firms with hundreds of attorneys, to opening her own firm. Her vague dream of the future was that she would move back to her small hometown, and do artsy things with her former best friend who still lives there. Why the lack of detail?

Add Unique Detail

If you want to show yourself as a dynamic, creative business person, add unique detail to your stories. Blandness results when the details are impersonal; add just enough Everyman flavor for people to relate to the overall gist, then a few items that really relate to you.

Spice with Life

For instance, I could say that I went through some hard financial times for a few years, but now I’m thinking about hiring some more permanent helpers and expanding an editing business. That’s true, but boring.

What if I described those financial disasters? Say, the many wasted nights that I spent filling out editing contract invitations on oDesk (now Upwork) and Elance and PeopleperHour, only to have them rejected for ‘another contractor’. Or the $500 that I spent on repairing the Mac that had suffered the Hand of God + Coffee Attack. (Literally, I was typing furiously on a deadline, and a strong breeze swept through my open window, sent my coffee cup flying right over the naked keyboard, so that I had to replace the keyboard that refused to type certain letters.)

Add Realistic Hope

Small business owners LOVE to hear about people who make it to some sort of success level, because we all know many people (sometimes ourselves) who haven’t made it anywhere positive. They’ve lost their original dreams or goals, or they had to bite the bullet and fill out applications at highly uncreative environments. They now have this sad, wistful expression in their eyes as they describe (a) what they lost and (b) how resignation replaced determination. Nobody truly wants to live a resigned and sorrowful life, but it does happen.

Realistic hope is for both you and your audience – both know that most small business owners are a few hundred dollars away from some creditor or federal agency telling them to shut down. If they lose that one linchpin person that holds their organization together, or if one big client goes out of business, they’re finished.

Make the Business Pay You First

Hope means looking toward light and life. For instance, yesterday I explained the concept of ‘Pay Yourself First‘ to my mom. (If you don’t know that phrase or concept, try Finance Gym or anything Dave Ramsey.) In our kitchen at 11 a.m., before we went to pick up her medications at CVS, I told her an eternal truth: “If you regularly set aside some earnings in a separate account, you’ll actually have something to show for all your work in the business, instead of it being eaten up every month. When you see money in the checking account, your brain gets creative in thinking up ways to spend it. Once it’s somewhere else, you can save it for important things -like retirement.”

Realism means that big changes don’t happen overnight. It took me five years to manage my conflicting brainwaves stating opposite things: (a) your business is too small to pay you first, and (b) isn’t it a shame that you can’t save any money, so (c) you must be a failure.

Now I take a small amount ($150) or a little extra, and put it into the savings account. This will be month 4. I’m also keeping enough in the checking account so that I can repair something small that breaks. This is a very tiny but important victory.

Do not despise the day of small beginnings.  (paraphrased Zechariah 4:10)

P.S. Every editor needs an editor!


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