I have had steady work on the freelance writing, speaking and spokesperson front ever since I put down my corporate briefcase and picked up my pen, about 14 years ago. I often get asked how I get these great jobs and get the opportunity to work with great people. Here are what I consider to be my secrets to success. Some of them might surprise you.
#1: Be Early: Never, ever be late for a meeting or appointment. I am routinely over an hour early for meetings. Not only does it relieve stress (yours) and frustration (theirs) but that hour gives you ample preparation time, or time to finish other work and errands while you have a coffee. Plan to be an hour early for everything you can; including leaving that hour buffer in your plans as you head from meeting to meeting, if possible.
#2: Go to Bed Early: Have never been able to figure out why it’s so exciting to stay up late. I do it myself, on weekends, but during the week, I can’t wait to get into bed, read a book and disconnect from outside messages, and get inside another world. A challenge of going to bed early can be that your brain is still functioning (and this can be a good thing) so keep paper and pen on your bedside table so you can jot notes about things you want to get to the next day. Lying in bed is a great way for these thoughts to come to you, not incidentally. We all need to make space in our lives for creative thinking.
#3: Work Out: You can find the time to work out. If not every day, then most days. You binge watch shows? You have time to work out. You surf the net? You have time to work out. It’s not a timing issue; it’s an intent issue. And the benefits are manifold, both physically and mentally. Focusing on your body and feeling good is imperative to a healthy outlook. Schedule your work outs in your calendar, just like you would a meeting. Pick at least one more work out than you might want to do, so you a) have leeway should something unexpected come up and b) if you do the extra one, you’ll feel like a Rock Star.
#4: Be Nice (To Everyone): It costs nothing to be nice to people, yet I am constantly surprised by how many people ignore this basic rule of success. Not only does being nice make you feel intrinsically better, but it is a very smart business move. If that sounds mercenary and disingenuous, it isn’t meant to be. It becomes more like a “fake it til you make it” proposition when put into practice. Being nice to people is smart. You never know when people are going to turn up and re-turn up in your lives. Why would you NOT want them to have a good impression of you? Compliment them on their hard work, their professionalism. Take the time to send their bosses a note singing their praises; it will get back to them.
#5: Be Easy (To Work With): The Diva never wins. Help out the PR person who is working on her first campaign and doesn’t do everything quite right, instead of criticizing her and refusing to do the work she asks of you. A contract outlines the scope and understanding of the work you’re going to do with someone; if they are asking for reasonable adjustments during the course of the contract, make them. Don’t push back on every new or unexpected demand, do what you can do and tell them you’re happy to do it.
#6: Turn Up: 99% of success is showing up. Of course it’s relatively easy to show up for things that you are being paid to show up for. But it’s also important to show up for things that other people are getting paid for, to show your support. Being present in your work community is so important. You need to be where everyone else is. If you’re not, people will assume a) You think you’re too big to show up for something like this, or b) You weren’t invited. I’m honestly not sure what’s worse.
#7: Under Promise & Over Deliver: Go over and above. Every. Single. Time. No matter what the task. Try to keep something in your back pocket – an interview you know you can secure, media placement you are fairly certain will come through – giving that extra coverage will make both you and your PR contact look like superstars.
#8: Be Thoughtful/Say Thanks: I am quite often asked for advice in the fields of writing, marketing, branding, social media and broadcast media. I’m often also asked for connections and opportunity suggestions. I like helping people I like, so I often am quite willing to oblige. But I am constantly disappointed by the number of people I feel I have genuinely helped, who aren’t in the least bit thankful. Take the time at the end of the week and be thankful to those who have helped you. When you’ve finished a contract for a client? Send them a thank you. Just do it.
#9: Good Manners: Everything from table manners to please and thank you. I once had a lunch meeting, and I arrived five minutes early (see Rule 1). The woman I was meeting had arrived a half hour early, had ordered her lunch, and was halfway through it before I sat down. RUDE. She was asking ME for a business favour for a charity I support, and it was hard for me to overcome her lack of manners to find the giving spirit to help her out. If you want someone to help you out, you need to accommodate them. That’s part of being nice and being easy to work with.
#10: Dress For Success: Why are you so dressed up?” I was asked the other day “Don’t you work from home?” Our definition of what is “dressed up” has changed so dramatically in the past 50 years. Everyone is fawning over shows like Mad Men but it hasn’t caused a revolution…yet…in the way we dress for work and every day. You can never be overdressed. Go for it. Wear the good clothes, while they still fit. Or maybe go back to rule number three if they don’t.
My last piece of advice would be to make sure you understand the importance of networking. The word “work” is right there in the word. How do you successfully network? That’s another column for another day.