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Embracing the Non-Monetary Benefits of Entrepreneurship

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


no money funI’ve shared my insight before on how fellow entrepreneurs and business owners might choose to price their services. It’s a fine balance between earning what you’re worth and remaining competitive. One of the biggest challenges comes when you’re just starting out. With little to no prior experience and only a small portfolio of work to showcase, new clients often hire you on a hope and a prayer that you’re half as good as what you promise. This situation often requires you to charge far less than market value for your time to even get your foot in the door. Even a seasoned entrepreneur can recall such a time in their career. The glitz and glamour of being a “business owner” can quickly become jaded by the lack of money, time and sleep in return for countless hours of hard work. So how do successful entrepreneurs overcome this starting hurdle? When I was first building Bennis Inc from the ground up, had I measured my success and happiness in income, I may have thrown in the towel before I ever really got going. Instead, I quickly learned that I had to embrace the non-monetary benefits of entrepreneurship until I reached market value. If you’ve also taken the entrepreneurial leap, focusing on these benefits can help you overcome the “I’m WAY underpaid“ blues.

Flexibility

Even when I was just making ends meet, this didn’t impact my ability to enjoy life’s no-cost luxuries. I was (and still am) able to go for a run whenever I feel like it. I can grocery shop at non-peak hours and enjoy a peacefully empty store all to myself. I can take an early weekend (say, starting on Tuesday?) or grab coffee with a friend who’s swinging through town. With my 9-5 job, I felt guilty even scheduling a doctor’s appointment during the day. Now I can get a haircut whenever it’s most convenient—completely guilt free. Of course, this type of free time and flexibility is balanced by sometimes having to work late into the evenings or on the weekends, but at least it’s at my discretion. When I have work to do, I do it and when I don’t, I’m not stuck chained to a desk. As an entrepreneur, soak this up! Your friends may have chosen a more stable, traditional career, but they likely can’t do work from a park on a sunny summer day.

Creative Freedom

You’re a business owner – that means you also own every decision that’s made. This can be a scary reality, but also an incredibly rewarding one. While you might not be raking in the “big bucks” just yet, remember that the ability to make a decision and not have it be second-guessed or turned down is a luxury most people would place a pretty big price tag on.

Building Something All Your Own

This is all you. When you’re building a business you get to take complete ownership over how every piece comes together. Do you want to steer things in a new direction? Sure! Is your goal to someday have 100+ employees? Go for it! Is your goal to work remotely and travel 10 months out of the year? It can be done! The beauty of building your own business is that you have the ability to make it unique and custom fit to your goals. I have yet to see an example of a corporate job that allows for the same.

Leadership

During my time of really embracing the non-monetary benefits of entrepreneurship, I found that this is truly one of life’s ultimate leadership experiences. It requires a great deal of self-confidence, trust in your instincts and quick thinking. I always felt like I had leadership qualities inside of me that would shine through when it was required, but as an entrepreneur, leadership is required every day. Some might say it’s baptism by fire, but I think one of the greatest benefits of entrepreneurship is the “leadership boot camp” it provides. You’re forced to step into this role quickly and without hesitation.

At the end of the day, it’s important that we remind ourselves that we’ve chosen the entrepreneurial path for a reason. Hopefully it wasn’t for the money (because that can take many, many years to get flowing) but rather it was for the flexibility, creative freedom, ability to create something new and unique and life’s ultimate leadership experience that is entrepreneurship. Before long, the money will follow, but if you embrace these non-monetary benefits early, the money will no longer be the ultimate goal.

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5 Things Consultants and Freelancers Need to Stop Doing

5 Things Consultants and Freelancers Need to Stop Doing

As a Public Relations consultant, I work with a lot of other consultants and freelancers. The majority of these interactions are fun, inspiring and seamless. However, over the last seven years I’ve run into some consultants and freelancers who do things a little differently.

Don’t get me wrong; I love people who think outside the box. However, when it comes to how some consultants and freelancers bill, I get a little discouraged when I see practices that take advantage of clients. In particular, there are five billing practices that quite frankly I find to be cheap shots. And for this reason, I never do this to my clients or other partners I work with.

Learn what they are!

  1. Making sales tax an added line-item

For many purchases, seeing sales tax as a line item on your bill is a pretty standard thing. When it comes to how consultants and freelancers bill, however, I find it a bit tacky to make sales tax an additional line item. Just include it in your hourly rate! Sure, you might feel like you’re making 6% more on every job, but I promise you’re turning off future business that would result in a lot more income long-term. Unless you’re selling someone and actual product or good, adding on sales tax feels like you’re grasping for more dollars.

  1. Billing for an initial meeting

As a business owner, you know you need to invest in business development. And yes, this means sitting through a ton of coffee meetings and networking mixers. I never charge a client for an initial meeting, unless it’s specifically scoped out as a service with deliverables – and we’re all clear on the cost and terms. I’ve seen some consultants and freelancers charge their hourly rate for an initial meeting. Especially if that first meetings turns into more work, it’s best to chalk that time up to business development and build trust with your client by not immediately slapping them with a bill. After all, they didn’t bill you for their time to meet with you!

  1. Billing for answering emails and phone calls

Maybe even worse than billing for an in-person meeting is billing for every phone call and email you answer for a client. I’ll admit, I’ve run into some long-winded and chat happy people who require more of my time than others, but unless email and phone responses are scoped out in a proposal, I don’t sneak that into a client’s bill. If you’re truly bothered by answering client messages, or you feel like they’re getting out of control, the better thing to do is address it head on with your client and set boundaries for your time.

  1. Padding time sheets

Over the last seven years, I’ve gotten a pretty good feel for the amount of time it takes to complete certain projects. It’s pretty essential to giving clients accurate proposal, remaining competitive and staying on budget. What this also means is it’s easy to identify when another consultant or freelancer is listing really high hours for a job you know couldn’t have taken that long to complete. I’ve gone to bat for my clients a time or two to challenge how it takes 2.5 hours to switch out one word on a graphic. The best way to earn more money is to do good work, and more opportunities will come. Padding a time sheet will only help momentarily, then clients will catch on and move to the next freelancer with more reasonable costs and billing practices.

  1. Going over budget without notice

My final pet peeve is when consultants or freelancers give you a proposal for the scope of work, but when it comes time to invoice the price has increased – and without notice. I fully understand how projects can expand beyond the initial scope of the proposal, but again the right way to handle this is communication. Inform the client as soon as they’ve exhausted your scoped hours and ask them how they wish to proceed. Better yet, give them a budget for the additional expense to finish the project the way they want it done. More often than not the client will give you the green light to proceed, but it makes a huge difference to get permission, and to be upfront about the larger invoice that will be coming their way.

Do you have another pet peeve to share when it comes to working with consultants and freelancers? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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5 Things My Clients Have Taught Me About Public Relations

5 Things My Clients Have Taught Me About Public Relations

Throughout my career as a public relations consultant, sure I’ve taught my clients a lot. But what’s been most surprising is how much they’ve taught me in return! Working in a wide range of industries has afforded me the ability to track some powerful trends and spot inconsistencies that require us to rethink strategies.

It should be obvious, yet all too often it’s overlooked at larger firms, that every single organization must have its own unique public relations strategy if they want to see the best return on their investment. Even for businesses in the very same industry, no two strategies should be identical. It simply doesn’t work!

So what are the most valuable PR lessons my clients have taught me along the way? Here are the top PR “best practices” I have learned, not from a textbook, classroom or industry group, but from my clients!

  1. Public Relations is a lot more than writing.

When earning my Public Relations degree it felt like the vast majority of what I was doing was creating content in some form or another – pitches, press release, op-eds, video scripts, media talking points, website content, social media content – and the list goes on infinitely!

However, now as a PR consultant in “the real world” I see that content is only the starting point. My clients have taught me that the real value I bring to the table is what I do with the content I create for them. Never should this fall on their shoulders! Rather, I take the lead with our dissemination strategy, never giving up until we get the full attention the content deserves.

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.

My clients have also taught me that I cannot be (nor should I desire to be) a one-man-band of solutions. Rather, I’ve learned to rely on my network of fellow contractors and consultant who serve in a variety of fields and specialties. These counterparts lend advice and expertise to the unique challenges my clients face from time to time. Whether that’s monitoring new SEO trends, understanding advertising best practices or learning how to save some money on the way we design and print a marketing piece, having a network of trusted professionals is what allows me to see my own blind spots. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know!

  1. There is no template or formula that works for everyone.

I love the vast variety of industries my clients expose me to. It’s challenging yet rewarding to be able to develop a mini expertise in so many different categories.  What this has taught me, more than anything else, is that there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to creating a public relations strategy. Everything I do must be custom built. Sure, some similar tactics may carry over, but they will be heavily tailored so that no two email blasts, no two direct mail pieces and no two press releases will ever be the same.

Even the same event for the same client, year-after-year will continue to morph until it’s almost unrecognizable from its first year. That’s a good thing! Through this, my clients teach me that there are no shortcuts, no templates and no magic formula. The value of what I provide is complete customization in everything I do.

  1. Complacency will kill your business.

I love when clients come to me with new ideas for how they can revamp their communications efforts! It shows they value the power of communications and also that they’re keeping their eyes and ears open to new trends. What they’re also teaching me is that complacency is a business’s worst enemy. I learn from example. This same passion and drive for trying new things is what inspires me to also try new things! It’s the kick in the butt I need to always strive to take my offering of services to the next level, to forge power partnerships and to restructure business relationships so that everyone benefits.

  1. Persistence is key.

Finally and most importantly, I’ve learned that in order to see the greatest return on your investment when it comes to public relations strategy, you have to remain persistent and consistent with your efforts. We live in a society where instant results and instant gratification are expected. However, communication takes time! It also takes many touch points with your target audience for them to really start to pay attention to what you’re saying.

Through having many of my clients serve as examples, I’ve been reminded time and time again that investing in forming real, meaningful relationships with your target audience always yields the great return – and this simply takes persistence!

In your own industry, have you found that your clients or customers have actually helped you to learn things you didn’t know before? Share your story by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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20 Fun Facts About Bennis Public Relations

20 fun factsI love sharing insights into the business I started more than seven years ago, Bennis Public Relations. At just 23 years old, I was well aware I didn’t have everything figured out. Actually I was pretty certain I knew nothing about the entrepreneurial journey I was about to embark upon, but I was certain I was passionate about following this calling and would do whatever it took to make this a successful career.

On a fun and light-hearted note, I want to share some of the little known facts about Bennis Public Relations, and me personally. Entrepreneurs are quarky people, and I am no exception. So as I draw back the curtain a little further, I hope you’ll get a kick out of these facts that are fun, interesting and maybe even a bit strange.

1. My business is named after my maiden name, and my son is also named Bennis. I love that when he gets a little older he’ll realize the business I started from ground up and poured a lot of passion into, also shares his name. Hey, maybe he’ll take it over someday?

2. Less than 2 months after I started this blog on WordPress (as a trial for my own blog building services) I was featured on WordPress’s homepage and as a result I got almost 7,000 views in 1 day. August 24, 2011 still holds my record for most views.

3. My only overhead expenses are $10 a month to Hootsuite and $40 per year to the PA Public Relations Society. Almost unbelievable I know, but it’s true. I don’t pay any other subscriptions, memberships, fees, payroll, rent, etc. (Taxes are a whole other story, of course). I love running a lean business!

4. I have no desire to have employees. I continue to grow every year without having to hire employees by raising my hourly rates, taking on new clients and finding ways to be more efficient with my time. It’s just me (and my network of vendors) and that’s how I like it.

5. One of my titles is the Executive Director of the Carwash Association of Pennsylvania. That’s right, CAP has been my client for several years and for the particular services I provide to them, I serve as the E.D.

6. I rarely work more than 6 hours per day. Again, I LOVE efficiency and I love that with my business model, the more efficient I am, the more time I have to devote to other passions and projects. Some days/weeks I work well over that! But I know those long hours every so often afford me short work days most every other day.

7. When I first started my business, I had just enough clients to pay the rent. I hadn’t figured out how to pay for other expenses or even taxes when I made the entrepreneurial leap to quit my former job. But I hustled hard and went into survival mode. That work ethic had afforded me what I have today.

8. I have successfully turned nearly all “competition” into partnerships and collaboration opportunities. I love meeting with other PR professionals because nearly every time I do I’m able to identify our unique differences and turn them into collaboration opportunities.

9. I started doing freelance public relations work when I was still in college. During my senior year at Penn State University, I met a professional speaker and best-selling author through one of the events I planned through an internship and he and I started doing work together that last for about 5 years. He’s how I bought my first car!

10. My husband is a serial entrepreneur too. Between the two of us, we run four businesses. His current and largest venture right now is a tech startup that provides performance-based fundraising – and it’s changing the world! Read the stories at http://www.pledgeit.org and you’ll see I’m not exaggerating.

11. Throughout running my business, we grew our family by two sons. As an entrepreneur, I can’t really take a maternity leave, so I literally never missed a day of work, even if it meant answering emails from the hospital (yes I packed my laptop in my hospital bag). It’s one of the hard truths of running our own business, but the payback is so worth it!

12. My dad is part owner of Bennis Public Relations. He gave me the money I needed to fully incorporate Bennis Inc. in 2011. He jokes that Jeff Bezos’s dad was the first to invest in Amazon. I don’t know if I’ll afford him quite that payback!

13. My cat, Pinot, has been the closest thing I’ve had to a colleague. She’s been with me since day 1 of starting Bennis Public Relations and lays by my side just about every time I open my lap top to write. She’s also been my most popular blog topic by far!

14. Most of my friends and family have no idea what I do. I’m not offended! Unless you’ve studied it or work in the industry, public relations doesn’t really fit in a standard “box” especially with how it’s evolved thanks to technology. I usually just say I do a lot of writing, and leave it at that.

15. As far as I am aware, I’ve never run into a roadblock for my gender. In the day and age when everyone is shouting “the future is female,” I’ve never found I needed to apologize or compensate for being a female business owner. I simply let my work ethic speak for itself. In fact, I’ve beat many male businesses for different jobs, not based on gender, but based on the ideas and follow-through I bring to the table.

16. A lot of people confuse me with a publicist. Frankly, I think I’d make an awful publicist. While I have worked with people to enhance their personal brand, I most commonly work to enhance the communications and branding for businesses and organizations.

17. In high school I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” I thought it was silly at the time – and my mom thought it was pretentious and borderline offensive. Now looking back, I think that title may have subliminally inspired me. And though I didn’t get “Best Dressed,” I think this one has served me a lot better.

18. Though I have a dedicated home office (behind a hidden door to boot) and several office locations in downtown Harrisburg I can use as I wish, I prefer to work from our home living room. I’m a creature of habit!

19. I still have my very first client on retainer – that’s been 7 years now! The work has ebbed and flowed over the years, but I love being able to say I have the consistency of working with clients for many years, some even from the start.

20. And for #20 the fun fact I want to end with is that I’m proud to say I have had the privileged to serve 100+ clients from coast to coast in just seven short years. It may sound crazy, but I serve 25 different client accounts monthly, with many more one-time projects scattered throughout. Entrepreneurship has been a crazy one, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!

So now that you know a little but more about what shapes me, and as a result by public relations business, what fact do you find more interesting? Or maybe you’d like to share your own quarky and random fact.

Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Create the Job You Want

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


hand drawing cloud network

Now entering my seventh year of managing my own Public Relations firm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I’ve learned quite a few things about creating the job you want.

I was fortunate to have the realization early on in my career that my dream job didn’t exist. If I wanted it, I had to create it. So I did. That sounds simple enough, but I will be the first to tell you it was anything but simple or easy. That’s not a reason to continue with a job you dislike, if anything it should be motivation to buckle up for the wild ride of entrepreneurship, if you feel this is your calling.

Maybe you’re ready to take the leap, or maybe you’ve only just begun to wonder what being an entrepreneur could look like for you. No matter where you are on the journey, let me offer you some advice on how to begin creating the job you want.

Confirm it doesn’t already exist

Do your research! Does the job you want already exist? It’s possible your current company or another company offer a role that’s close to exactly what you want, but you just need to work to get there. That’s great! Establish a plan for how you you’re going to move toward this role. There’s no need to take on the added stress and complication of trying to recreate your dream job if it already exists.

In contrast, your research might confirm that your dream job is something so unique you must forge ahead as an entrepreneur to create it. Knowing that no other job currently out there matches the job you want should give you inspiration and drive to move forward with the career of self-employment, because not doing so would mean compromising your dreams.

Get real about what you want

Okay, so you have a clear understanding of whether the job you want already exists or whether you need to create it. Now it’s time to be honest with yourself about what makes this job so appealing to you. Is it the expected pay, flexible work schedule, power, purpose, fulfillment or something else? If in this process you discover the job you want is really centered on a perceived salary or title, this should be a red flag that maybe your priorities are a bit skewed.

Entering entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, or the mildly committed. To be a successful entrepreneur, you must want it with every fiber of your being. You will never stick with it long term, through the highs and lows, if you’re only in it for the pay or power – those don’t come for many years, if at all. Get real about what you want out of your dream job and check your priorities again and again.

Then, get real about why you want it

Similar to the point above, once you know what it is you want out of the job you’re going to create, take it one step further. Ask yourself “Why do I want it?” If you can’t confidently answer this question, that’s another red flag that maybe you’re not cut out to forge your own career path outside of the corporate box.

While there are no “correct” answers to this question, the following answers are often good indicators that you’re entering entrepreneurship for the right reasons: I want to make a difference; I want to control my own destiny; I want to apply my passion toward a purpose; I want to maintain a better work-life balance. Be crystal clear about what you want out of your dream job and why you want it.

Talk with someone who has already done it

Next, I urge you to talk to someone who has created the job they wanted and have progressed along this career path for five years or more. They are going to be a wealth of knowledge to you as you consider creating the job you want. They can also help assess your business model, motives and drive to help determine if this is the right choice for you at this time in your life. If you find someone who really inspires you, ask them to mentor you on your entrepreneurial journey!

Develop your model

To create the job you want, you need a clear business model for how you’re going to make a profit. Are you selling a product or a service? Who are your target customers? How will you promote your business? What is your expected overhead? How can you minimize this, especially in the first few years? Work to clearly outline your business model, because you’re going to need it for the next critical step.

Test your model

Yes, you have to first test your business model to prove it works. A lot of business opportunities seem great in theory, but what if you’re answering a problem that doesn’t exist? Or what if you’re pricing model sucks? Fully commit to creating the job you want by fist doing a soft launch of your business to test the market. Is your marketing strategy attracting new customers? Can your friends or family offer constructive feedback? First testing your business model, and further refining it before your full rollout will help you present a more professional and polished first impression of your business.

Commit fully

This is the most important step in creating the job you want, and the biggest determination of whether you will fail or succeed. Will you commit fully to your dream? I said it above and I’ll say it again, entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Daily you will experience, setbacks, uncertainties, crises, losses and criticism. If you are anything but fully committed, this will surely have you headed for the hills and back to the corporate world before you complete your first quarter.

Keep in mind that the first five years of running your own business is still its infancy. That seems like a long time, but if you’re in this for the long-haul it will be only a blip of the full history of your career. Don’t allow yourself to give up in those five years; push through. Think of it as a hike up a steep hill. Those first few miles really test your endurance. At times you will think it’s better to turn around before you’ve reached the top. But I promise you, if you can make it five years creating the job you want, you will see some magnificent views along the way and be rewarded with renewed strength and commitment to keep forging ahead, higher and higher.

What’s your dream job? How do you plan to pursue it? Share your personal career goals by leaving a comment.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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4 Tips for Taking Control of Your Monday Routine

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Mondays have such a bad reputation! I wish I could say it was completely unfounded, yet I too found myself fatigued and overwhelmed by the start of the new work week. That was until I noticed that by making a small series of changes to my workday, particularly my Mondays, I was able to regain control of my time and workflow and break through the mental barrier of Monday’s insurmountable task list.

Take a look at my four tried and true tips for taking control of your Monday routine so that you can dominate – not dread the start of your work week. Here they are!

 1. Wake Up Early

This doesn’t sound fun and frankly it’s not, at least for the first several times you try it as part of your new routine. So often we allow ourselves to come off the weekend feeling groggy and unfocused. Monday morning hits hard and it’s tempting to want to hit snooze up until the last minute. All this does is start you on a crazy cycle – a cycle where you’re waking up already feeling behind, and not really any more rested than if you hadn’t slept that extra hour.

My first tip is to commit to waking up one hour earlier than you normally do on Monday (and eventually every work day). The reason is that starting your day one hour earlier will help you stay ahead of your task list the rest of the day, and also better react to those unexpected and emergency tasks that might pile onto your schedule. In one hour you can take care of a ton of “little” tasks that can weigh on your mind. You’ll then be able to dig into your bigger tasks with a clear focus and less stress.

2. Take Care of the Easy/Little Tasks

Inevitably there will be a list of little tasks and emails that have piled up over the weekend. Start your day by getting these off your plate. Answer the emails that only take a minute or two to address. Knock off those tasks that require less than 10 minutes of your time. Check your voice mail and respond to phone calls. This may take an hour or two of your morning, but you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished so much. This encouragement will fuel you to carry on with other, bigger tasks.

3. Prioritize Your Big Tasks

Speaking of the “big” tasks that are on your to-do list, it’s so important to be realistic about what you can accomplish in one day, especially on Monday. You simply can’t do it all, nor should you have to. Instead focus on the most urgent and important tasks, particularly ones that help move other tasks forward for you. Even if this is just one thing, or one section of a larger project, a clearly defined to-do list for the day will help you to manage your own expectations. Additionally, it keeps you accountable to at least accomplishing at least one task. You can no longer fall back on the excuse of “I had so much to do I didn’t know where to start.” Give yourself a starting point, and an ending point for the day and aim for those bench marks.

4. Do Something for You

Finally and most importantly, be sure that you do at least one thing just for yourself on Monday. For me, this is getting to the gym for an exercise class I really enjoy. When my task list piles up for the day, I don’t allow myself to make an excuse for not going. The result isn’t that I necessarily get any more work done. Rather, I just feel cranky the whole day and like I’m working, working, working with no reward. That class is my reward and I try to never deprive myself of it! I can move other tasks, meetings and phone calls around this one piece of my day – and I’m always grateful I do! It’s my motivation to work hard and get my tasks done the rest of the day so I can accommodate this hour for myself.

Do you dread – or dominate Mondays? Do you plan to use these 4 tips for taking control of your day today? Or share some other tips that you’ve found helpful for time management, especially on Mondays!

 

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Overcoming Writer’s Block with Automatic Transcription

descriptIf you’re a writer — of books, essays, scripts, blog posts, whatever — you’re familiar with the phenomenon: the blank screen, a looming deadline, and a sinking feeling in your gut that pairs poorly with the jug of coffee you drank earlier.

If you know that rumble all too well: this post is for you. Maybe it’ll help you get out of a rut; at the very least, it’s good for a few minutes of procrastination.

Here’s the core idea: thinking out loud is often less arduous than writing. And it’s now easier than ever to combine the two, thanks to recent advances in speech recognition technology.

Of course, dictation is nothing new — and plenty of writers have taken advantage of it. Carl Sagan’s voluminous output was facilitated by his process of speaking into an audio recorder, to be transcribed later by an assistant (you can listen to some of his dictations in the Library of Congress!) And software like Dragon’s Naturally Speaking has offered automated transcription for people with the patience and budget to pursue it.

But it’s only in the last couple of years that automated transcription has reached a sweet spot — of convenience, affordability and accuracy—that makes it practical to use it more casually. And I’ve found it increasingly useful for generating a sort of proto-first draft: an alternative approach to the painful process of converting the nebulous wisps inside your head into something you can actually work with.

I call this process idea extraction (though these ideas may be more accurately dubbed brain droppings).

Part I: Extraction

Here’s how my process works. Borrow what works for you and forget the rest — and let me know how it goes!

  • Pick a voice recorder. Start talking. Try it with a topic you’ve been chewing on for weeks — or when an idea flits your head. Don’t overthink it. Just start blabbing.
  • The goal is to tug on as many threads as you come across, and to follow them as far as they go. These threads may lead to meandering tangents— and you may discover new ideas along the way.
  • A lot of those new ideas will probably be embarrassingly bad. That’s fine. You’re already talking about the next thing! And unlike with text, your bad ideas aren’t staring you in the face.
  • Consider leaving comments to yourself as you go — e.g. “Maybe that’d work for the intro”. These will come in handy later.
  • For me, these recordings run anywhere from 20–80 minutes. Sometimes they’re much shorter, in quick succession. Whatever works.

Part II: Transcription

Once I’ve finished recording, it’s time to harness ⚡️The Power of Technology⚡️

A little background: over the last couple of years there’s been an explosion of tools related to automatic speech recognition (ASR) thanks to huge steps forward in the underlying technologies.

Here’s how ASR works: you import your audio into the software, the software uses state-of-the-art machine learning to spit back a text transcript a few minutes later. That transcript won’t be perfect—the robots are currently in the ‘Write drunk’ phase of their careers. But for our purposes that’s fine: you just need it to be accurate enough that you can recognize your ideas.

Once you have your text transcript, your next step is up to you: maybe you’re exporting your transcript as a Word doc and revising from there. Maybe you’re firing up your voice recorder again to dictate a more polished take. Maybe only a few words in your audio journey are worth keeping — but that’s fine too. It probably didn’t cost you much (and good news: the price for this tech will continue to fall in the years ahead).

A few more tips:

  • Use a recorder/app that you trust. Losing a recording is painful — and the anxiety of losing another can derail your most exciting creative moments (“I hope this recorder is working. Good, it is… @#*! where was I?”)
  • Audio quality matters when it comes to automatic transcription. If your recording has a lot of background noise or you’re speaking far away from the mic, the accuracy is going to drop. Consider using earbuds (better yet: Airpods) so you can worry less about where you’re holding the recorder.
  • Find a comfortable space. Eventually you may get used to having people overhear your musings, but it’s a lot easier to let your mind “go for a walk” when you’re comfortable in your environment.
  • Speaking of walking: why not go for a stroll? The pains of writing can have just as much to do with being stationary and hunched over. Walking gets your blood flowing — and your ideas too.
  • I have a lot of ideas, good and bad, while I’m thinking out loud and playing music at the same time (in my case, guitar — but I suspect it applies more broadly). There’s something about playing the same four-chord song on auto pilot for the thousandth time that keeps my hands busy and leaves my mind free to wander.

The old ways of doing things — whether it’s with a keyboard or pen — still have their advantages. Putting words to a page can force a sort of linear thinking that is otherwise difficult to maintain. And when it comes to editing, it’s no contest: QWERTY or bust.

But for getting those first crucial paragraphs down (and maybe a few keystone ideas to build towards)? Consider talking to yourself. Even if you wind up with a transcript full of nothing but profanity — well, have you ever seen a transcript full of profanity? You could do a lot worse.

This article is originally published by Descript.

 

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