Doing well by doing good

Photo: Tim Green

I’m on track for a very good year in a very bad year. How did I get here? By helping people that need help — and saying “yes” as much as possible.

This is a terrible year for many of us. Some of our friends are sick, and many of us have lost our jobs. We’re afraid to get on airplanes. If we’re public speakers, many of our speeches have been cancelled. If you’re in pain right now, I feel you.

I’m dealing with my own challenges, including a college student in my family who is debating how and whether to go back to school in the fall.

And my 2020 started with $12,000 worth of committed business vaporizing in an instant as one of my clients made extensive budget cuts.

But, I’m almost embarrassed to say that after that setback, 2020, at least through the end of June, has been the best half-year of my five years as a freelancer. And I got here by saying yes to people who needed help.

Saying yes was a good strategy

The rest of you are shut up in your home offices. I am, too, but I love it. I have been working out of this space for five years. I was already working remotely and on video, and the rest of my family is fine at fending for itself. This has positioned me for some good milestones in 2020 — every one of which came from saying yes to people who needed help.

  • I said yes to remote workshops. I have delivered or committed to do ten clear writing workshops in 2020. Only one was done in person. Seven are for a single large entertainment company, where internal referrals keep introducing me to new groups within the company. How did this happen? The leads came from my blog and books. When the virus hit, I worked hard to figure out how best to adapt the workshop to remote delivery. This included varying the timing — for example, I delivered workshops to people in Asia at 9:30 at night my time, in two 90-minute sessions. The result of this adaptation is, in many ways, better than delivery in person, because I can see every participant’s face, challenge them on the exercises we do, and adjust the content for their particular needs. These sessions are easy to set up, easy to deliver, and easy to consume. And I learn and improve the content after each session.
  • I said yes to authors. I’ve worked with seven different business book authors in 2020. They include experts on AI, transportation, business networking, productivity, leadership, creativity, and entertainment. They’re Black, white, and Asian men and women ranging in age from their 30s to their 60s. I’ve refined their ideas, brainstormed their titles, written their book proposals, coached them, edited them, hired artists to create book covers for them, ghost written their articles, and even done their indexes. The diversity of the clients and the work doesn’t just challenge me, it excites me. Turning authors and their ideas into something compelling is the most thrilling possible work.
  • I said yes to corporations that needed clarity. Companies have a hard time understanding who they are and what they want to say. This year, I worked with a security startup, an autonomous driving startup, a small but highly creative services firm, and a group of futurists on defining the best way to talk about themselves and their ideas. I’ve found this work frustrating in the past, since there are often too many cooks in the kitchen. But when it’s defined well, it’s as exciting as working on the books. Both types of projects are about people explaining who they are and what they stand for through the clarity of their ideas.
  • I said yes to visibility. I reluctantly agreed to a video interview about business book authoring — it’s now the number one result on a YouTube search of “How to Write a Business Book.” An event I was supposed to speak at went virtual — I made videos of my presentations and workshops for them, and thousands of people viewed them. I blogged about everything from systemic racism to Scrabble, which tripled my blog traffic, has pushed my total views past 3 million, and is about to lead to my being quoted in a major newspaper.

People need help. I try to help.

I can only talk about what works for me. But I think right now there is so much need to go around. That need may be in your own family, in your community, in your political party, or in your professional network.

My inclination is to identify and help with that need — to say yes. That is why I invited another person to live with us; it was the best thing for my family. It is why I do calls with almost anyone, regardless of whether there is immediate business coming from it. I don’t ask “Will this pay off?” I ask “Can I help this person?”

An important effect of this attitude is that I feel better about what I’m doing every day. Work is not a slog when you love your clients and their ideas.

I don’t work for free. But when you are generous and establish trust with people in need, it often leads to positive things. Sometimes people hire me. Sometimes I send them to somebody else who is a better fit, and make a friend. Sometimes I start or solidify an important relationship. And sometimes I just feel like I’m doing something helpful, and that is its own reward.

I’m not desperate right now, and I recognize that that’s an unfair advantage for me. I know other people are hurting. All I can tell you is that trying to help has been good for me.

You should try it. What have you go to lose?

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