Oh it’s been ages since I wrote anything. And it’s for no good reason, except that we moved countries, I sold my interest in a product I made and I had loads of client work. What I wanted to write about this time is something that is really bugging me at the moment: I call it the hurry-up-and-wait-syndrome.
A client told me something awesome recently. They said “you’re amazing at copywriting for us, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without you.” I love that sense of need, I love being able to solve a problem with a solution that comes easy to me. However, there was a caveat to their praise. “But.” They said. “You need to work slower. You’re too fast. You work faster than we have time to review or send you more work.”
This is the curse of creatives everywhere and since time immemorial.
YOU. WORK. TOO. FAST.
I’ve been freelancing as a creative entrepreneur for a few years now. I write books, I educate, I speak and present, I do branding, I create visuals and before all of that I worked as a salaried drone on a project. Projects which in the industry I worked in, seldom came to fruition and it frustrated me so badly that I decided to go it alone. I remember working for a games company where I had written the plot of an extravaganza 10 months in advance. My boss, bless him, looked as though the blood had drained from his face when I told him that I had enough material for us to edit and turn around, thus giving all of the other departments involved (graphics, animation, art, engine, design) enough work to last them probably two years.
“You can’t do that,” he said and took me off into a side office. Eh? Of course I could do that. I had done it. I’d even had it signed off by the licence owner.
“You can’t do that, Kelly,” he repeated. “You have to work within the constraints that are set by the producer.”
I thought about that carefully. He was right of course. We were in an agile environment. I actually enjoy working in agile conditions because it produces fruit in most cases. After a sprint you can really see things taking shape. However, I found myself looking for a new job almost immediately after that chat. Not because I couldn’t stand it there, I loved it there! But because there was nothing to do. I could spend a day wandering from desk to desk in the studio, chatting, idling, and everyone in that studio was doing the same. They weren’t doing any more than maybe two or three hours work a day. The rest was taken up with meetings, water cooler moments, 360s, one-to-ones and it was as though everyone knew that this product would never make it to market.
When I went freelance, the kind of same thing happened. I worked at my usual speed, sent in the work as requested and waited for feedback. Sometimes I’d wait for two weeks, sometimes longer. One of my clients suggested working a little slower. “Just take the money,” they said “and we’ll catch up to you.” It felt weird to take money from someone, an SME or an organisation just because they were out of sync. And I started to unravel this series of eureka moments where as a salaried professional or a professional freelancer it was sometimes your job to just take the money, go off and idle (so long as the boss didn’t catch you) and rest assured that half of the stuff you created in good faith and with your own creative mind would never make it to the consumer anyway.
Is that ok? Is it ok to give yourself over in that way? Often work that you really enjoy and give a lot of yourself to in the pursuit of nothing? More recently, I have found myself having conversations with clients where the parting shot is “we’re just not there yet.” Why? Why aren’t you there? Don’t you want to be successful? Don’t you want to move onward, upward and somewhere more productive? Don’t you want to turn a profit? I do.
And I think that’s the point of this article. Being productive surely has to be about products: making them, releasing them, earning from them and learning from them. If you’re going to simply dither and idly wander through a whole production schedule because you’re not sure, or you (as a company or IP owner) can’t see that finished product then what on earth are you doing here? Marketplaces are generally competitive but they are becoming lazy and we’re falling into that trap.
So: let’s make a mid-year resolution; let’s agree to not hurry-up-and-wait. Let’s stride forward with purpose! Let’s corner that marketplace before our competitors and let’s look at our employees and service providers as the conduit to success and not to “keeping warm”, “keeping our investors happy”, or “biding our time”. Guys, we’re not here for long. Let’s HURRY UP AND WIN.
- Set your stall out with all of the stakeholders involved in your product. Give clear approximations of leadtimes and expectations.
- Take a minute to stop and look occasionally. I do ballroom dancing for a hobby and we’re always told to stop mid-flow and make sure our feet are in the right place, our head is pointed in the direction we are going and that we have a good balance. Why can’t you do the same in business.
- What are your staff doing? Do you know? Get to know. Find out what makes them tick. If they’re idling it’s because they are bored. Can they multi-task? Do they have some secret super-human power that you haven’t tapped into yet?
- Do you even reflect? Reflection isn’t just a tool for agile drones. It’s a time to look at the end of a project and post-mortem. If you’re not acting upon what you see, feel or experience, you’re not nearly as productive as you could be.
- Who are the fast workers in your team. Identify them. Are they producing quality or just producing? Either way, channel them. It’s a little like point 3. These guys are your vanguard. Drive them forward into your next sucess. Set up your braintrust now and get these guys thinking, creating and doing.
At the moment I have about 5 clients and I still need more to satisfy my insatiatble appetite for being creative. My output is as high now as it has always been, but, I have learned to take a little of what you bosses and business leaders have to say about us fast turn-around freelancers. I’m not slowing down, no siree! Instead I’m teaching you to catch up with us. We’ll pretend it’s your idea… ok?
This article was first published over at Linkedin (April 2017). I’ve got literally no contacts there, so, no one reads what I write!