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You can't build a writing career on luck, but you can build it on developing a creative process that works for the long-term. In today's show, Jeff Haden explains how high achievers set themselves up to win.
In the intro, I talk about the shake-ups in publishing this week: Kindle Worlds shuts down, the Indie Author Support Network approaches Amazon on behalf of authors impacted by KU scammers, and Romantic Times (RT) shuts down after 37 years. [Shelf Awareness]. I talk about how the changes will keep coming and what we can all do to protect ourselves with multiple streams of income.
Plus, my personal update and how the various aspects of How to Write Non-Fiction: Turn your Knowledge into Words are coming along. I'm doing ebook, paperback, audiobook, Workbook, Large Print edition, and a multimedia course, and selling those on multiple platforms. And yes, trying to launch it all on 31 May … we shall see if I make it 🙂 I also mention seeing Amanda Palmer in concert, the Guardian article on Patreon, and poet Ben Okri's amazing book, Mental Fight.
Today's show is sponsored by IngramSpark, who I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 39,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries and more. It's your content – do more with it through IngramSpark.com.
Jeff Haden is an author, ghostwriter, speaker, LinkedIn Influencer and contributing editor to “Inc. Magazine.” His latest book is The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- From working in manufacturing to ghostwriting
- Tips for working at a side-hustle and transitioning to full-time author
- Why routine and process are essential for productivity – even for writers
- Why measuring small milestones is the key to success with big projects (like writing a book)
- The One Question that can help you achieve everything you want to achieve
- Balancing multiple passions with being productive
You can find Jeff Haden at JeffHaden.com and on Twitter @jeff_haden
Transcript of Interview with Jeff Haden
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com. And today I'm here with Jeff Haden. Hi, Jeff.
Jeff: Hi, how are you?
Joanna: I'm good. It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Jeff is an author, ghostwriter, speaker, LinkedIn Influencer and contributing editor to “Inc. Magazine.”
His latest book is “The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win.” Which is a fantastic book and Jeff, I got to tell you, I read the advanced copy that you sent me. I also bought it in hardback. That's how good it is.
Jeff: Oh, thank you. That makes you my new best friend.
Joanna: And it's interesting because when I read books that I think ah, yes, I want to remember that I read that. I'm now buying books in print again because I'm more settled.
Let's wind the clock back. I'm fascinated by your background.
How did you go from manufacturing to writing? Give us a bit of a potted history.
Jeff: I worked my way through college in a manufacturing plant. That's how I paid my way through college and I really liked it.
When I graduated I looked around for jobs and it seemed like all of them were with 40-year-old men working in cubicles. And at the time that seemed horrible. Of course, now I'm way past 40 so it would be awesome to be that. But I just couldn't see it.
There was another plant in the town that I lived in that had just started up and it turned out to be an RR Donnelley plant. They're the world's largest commercial printers and actually, they print tons of books. Half of the books behind you they probably printed in one of their factories.
The plant was just starting up and so the HR manager where I was working said, “You know if you want to do manufacturing you should go over there because you can ground up.” So I thought okay so I started on the shop floor as an entry-level worker.
I was the college boy which was okay. My goal was to be, I wanted to run a plant, aim high, right? So I worked my way up, went through a lot of different jobs, a lot of different roles and responsibilities, finally I found myself running a plant.
Three years into that I found myself not wanting to run a plant anymore. Not that it was a bad job and not that the people were bad or anything else but I just wanted to do something different.
There's a longer story there but I won't tease that I'll just say it people would come into my office and within a sentence and a half of talking to me, I would know where the conversation was going to go. What I was gonna end up saying, all the things that were going to happen but it took 20 minutes to get there because you have to listen and you have to empathize. I just wanted to say, “Shut up, go out and get along with Joe and do your job,” but I couldn't do that.
Joanna: You didn't want to be a manager.
Jeff: It's sad to say because everyone aspires to be a leader and I had aspired to be a leader. But I got to the point where I didn't want to lead and I thought if that's how I'm feeling, then I'm not serving the people that I'm supposed to lead.
I was whining about the fact that I didn't love my job anymore and my wife would say, “Well, then do something different.” And I would whine and she would say, “Do something different,” and so finally she said, “What do you want to do?”
I said, “I think I would like to write.” Which seemed really strange because the only thing I had ever written were things that I wrote for work. So, I didn't go to school, none of that.
I whined for about six more months and one day she came home and she said, “Okay, you said you wanted to be a writer, I got your first job. I met a guy who needs a press release for his company.” And I thought I don't know how to write press releases.
This is early internet days and so it was kind of hard to find press releases to use for an example, and it's the worst paying job I have ever had. Because it took me probably 5 hours to write this one-page press release, and I think I made the princely sum of like $40 or something like that you know.
So I'm sitting here and I'm thinking, “Okay, here's what I make at my real job. Here's what I made for that.” But it was interesting and he liked it and he hired me to do a few more things and I thought, “Well, let's just give this a go.”
I didn't quit my full-time job because I think that's foolish. If people say, “Well, you got to go all in,” and I think all in is good at some point but you really do need to prove that there is a business there for you.
I would work nights and weekends and I was doing, I was getting a lot of work off of Elance which I think is called Upwork.
I was getting a lot of projects there, fairly low paying because I didn't have a lot of background but I was getting practice, I was getting the experience, I was learning how to work with clients. I was figuring kind of the business out.
I got to a point where I said, “Okay, I think that I can make a go of this.” And so I worked really, really hard for a really long time to make a go of it and here I am.
Joanna: There's a lot of people listening who are married and their partners would love them to be happy but that switch is very difficult. It took me five years to go from, “I have to get out,” to making the jump.
I did the side hustle for five years. How long did it take you?
Jeff: About a year.
Joanna: Oh, wow, that's really quick.
Jeff: Here's the thing. When people ask me about side hustles and keeping full-time jobs, if you're going to do that, the first thing you have to do is say, “I will be the best at my full-time job of anyone there.”
Because typically what happens is your attention starts to drift and you slide in a few things during your regular work time and you're focused on other stuff. And you owe better to your employer, you owe better to yourself and I just think it's a poor way to start.
So I worked really, really hard at my job which was good but then I worked every night. I worked most weekends. And I just I tried to shorten that cycle because there's a certain amount of time it's going to take on your side hustle for you to build it up to where you can make that your real hustle.
You can shorten that time by how hard and how much you work. Really like from a guy he was a skipper of one of the America's Cup winning yacht teams and he says, “Never have I seen where doing less than the other guy is a winning strategy,” or something like that.
I'm not that smart, I'm not that talented, I had some good experience but not in writing but I had other experience, but I can outwork you.
You can always outwork other people and you can always do a lot. And so I just decided that if I really, really worked hard at it one, it would help me prove to myself fairly quickly whether there was a business here, because I didn't want it to drag on forever.
And two, if there was a business there, well let's get to that, because I don't want to do what it is I'm doing. So when people say to me, “Hey, what's your best advice about the side hustle thing?” Work really hard in your job so that you keep your job and something bad doesn't happen there. But then work really, really hard at your side hustle and if people will say, “Well, what about me time?”
Joanna: There's no me time.
Jeff: Well, me time should be the time that you're putting towards accomplishing something you really want to accomplish, because isn't that the best me time of all? Me time is not vegging on TV and watching whatever the best of the available options are, because that's kind of dull.
Now, if you have something you really want to watch that's different. But me time should be, what will make me feel good about myself? And what made me feel good about myself was transitioning from I work for somebody else to I work for myself. So there you go, so that's perfect me time.
Joanna: I would say one caveat for the screenwriters listening, watching movies with the screenplay is always a good piece of work to be doing.
What you're talking about really it relates to one of the main themes of the book, which is everybody wants this kind of lightning strike success, inspiration, the new career to pop out the sky. But you emphasize routine and process and those kind of words that aren't very sexy. People want the sexy success, the seven-figure deal.
Why are routine and process more important for achievement?
Jeff: I guess the real premise of that comes from and we will probably get to this. But I'm lucky enough now that I get to meet some really, really successful people and talk to them about how they got there.
None of them ever describe this little lightning bolt moment or “I hacked my way to success” or I found this shortcut that got me there. Every one of them worked harder than everyone else around them and they had a goal, they figured out how they were going to get there.
And they were relentless about not focusing on the goal but focusing on what they did every day that would get them to that goal.
For me, process is how you win, process is how you succeed because it weeds out all of the other stuff like talent or education or connections and all those things that people say, “Well, I don't have these things and if I did life would be great.”
You get those things by your process. I wrote some bizarre stuff along the way. I get to work with really cool people now but I wrote a book about hydroponics. And I've tried to repress that experience because I never want to think about growing plants in water again.
I wrote a book about card tricks. I didn't know about any card tricks, I wrote a book about card tricks. How sexy is that? It's not but it paid and it helped me learn. The most unusual one is I wrote a book, it was personal finance for exotic dancers.
Joanna: That's brilliant.
Jeff: Yeah, and it didn't have any pictures.
Joanna: Very “Inc.”
Jeff: It probably hurt its sales and I can actually talk about that experience because I didn't get paid. What's odd about that is that's the only time in all of that time of doing freelance work that I didn't get paid.
I would go into my gigs saying, “Look, you don't know me. You don't know whether I'm good or not so here's the fee. If you're happy with that, you pay me at the end.”
I wasn't even taking money up front because I didn't need the money so to speak because I had my job. But two, I wanted to prove to people and that got me past that hurdle of, “I don't know how you're going to be, I don't know how you going to work.”
I was doing everything ghostwritten and so the problem with ghostwriting is it's like fight club. And the first rule of fight club is you can't talk about fight club and you can't talk about who you write for. It's really hard to market yourself when you're a ghostwriter.
So that was my twist on that and it worked out really well which took me way around the barn from your original question. But if I sum that up it's I just sat there and said, “Okay, if I want to get to here, what are all my steps?”
And then I'm going to focus on my steps and I'm going to do the work that gets me there because then I can look back and say, “Okay, that worked.” And if I'm constantly looking for a hack or a trick or a shortcut or something, you spend all your time looking for that and you don't develop the skill you need to actually be the thing that it is you want to be.
Joanna: I've worked in manufacturing. I worked in business process engineering back in the day and worked in factories and with robots, making stuff.
You really learn in a manufacturing plant that things have to happen in an order and they keep, if they keep happening in an order you have a business.
Why should it be any different with brain work and writing?
I do want to ask you about your process for writing because obviously as a freelance writer, ghostwriter you have to do the words, like you say, even if it's a project you don't really care that much about.
What's your process for getting the words done?
Jeff: That's interesting and it actually ties to a theme that's in my book where I talk about when you do something for long enough you become the thing that you are trying to do.
I had a very rigid process early on and it was, okay, I've got this number of hours today. I knew what I needed to get done. I played it like manufacturing. It was sort of like okay, here's my target. I want this much per period of time.
I'm not going to allow reflection time and stuff, because I could think about what I needed to write somewhere else. I even had a word target but what I would do is if I didn't get to my target within the time I had that meant I had to stay up late because I was going to get to that target.
I know that sounds for people that feel that some of the creativity and inspiration and things like that have to come to you which I do think is true and so, therefore, you're forcing it. I think there is some success to be found in forcing because it's easy to sit there and say, “Wow, I don't quite have this figured out so I'm going to walk away.”
Sometimes you figure it out when you stay on it and you keep chugging and suddenly the places you wanted to go, they actually do reveal themselves. But they don't reveal themselves if you are not there doing it. They don't for me the way.
Now, every once in a while I do have a cool thought when I'm away and I'll think, “Oh, that's the way to handle that.” Half the time I forget it by the time I get back to where I was, it pisses me off.
But I think that there's lots of people, there's lots of research that shows that people that are the most innovative, they're not dreamers and tinkerers and they're not floating off in the clouds somewhere. They're doing the work every single day and the good ideas come out of the bad ideas but it's a numbers game of sorts.
And so for me, that process was it was a numbers game and I'm going to do a certain amount, partly because I had deadlines, but also I'm going to do a certain amount. And if it takes me longer to do that then boo on me and I need to learn to be more efficient.
I do think you can be a more efficient writer. There are productivity things you can do as a writer and that should be part of your job because the less time it takes you to do quality work the better.
Joanna: Now you've set it up so people want your productivity tips for writing. I can hear my audience go, “Oh, he's mentioned there are productivity tips.” So now you have to tell us.
Just give us a couple of yours.
Jeff: Let's say I'm writing an article for “Inc.”
I have my first paragraph in my head before I start, for instance. I have three or four things usually they're in my head now but I used to bullet out three or four things. And I would have this little quick map on the side that said, “Okay, here's my first paragraph,” roughly. “Here's the four things I want to get across. Here's how to I want to tie it up,” because you can only accomplish so much in an article.
Those are my things so now stick them on my document and let's flesh them out. And it actually worked really well instead of trying to be linear. So if point four was easy to write I started with point four which usually made point three easier because when you've got practice you get to the point where you go, “Oh, okay, I already can figure out how I can tie this and then that figures out how to tie that.” And it all comes together in your head if you have a little bit of a map.
Then the other thing that I do, I'll give you one more. If I'm writing a 700-word article, if I can't write it in 25 minutes and have it be 98% right, I stop. Because I haven't figured out what I want to say and that's the bane of most writers' existence.
I feel like writer's block, if there is such a thing, because I don't think there is, but if there is such a thing it's just because you haven't figured out what you want to say.
Maybe you haven't figured out who your audience is, maybe you haven't figured out who your client if you're writing for somebody else. There's all kinds of variables, but ultimately you haven't figured out what you want to say.
If you know what you want to say it should flow. If you've put in the time and effort to get good at your craft to where you can translate what's in your head down to your fingers.
Joanna: To the page. I'm really interested in understanding what you want to say.
Fiction writers do the same thing; know what you want to say before you say it. Same with dictation. I think in general it's that thinking process.
But you've ghostwritten books. You write a lot of articles. You've got your own book.
What was the difference in writing process with your own book compared to ghostwriting other people's and the articles you do?
Jeff: I am much better at doing work for other people and meeting their deadlines than I am for my own.
If I'm working on my own thing and there's a deadline but then if something comes up or if somebody needs something, I like to please. And so pleasing myself is kinda boring, but coming through for someone else is really cool.
I was terrible about being rigid about what I needed to do for myself. I would find myself in these little periods where it's like, “Oh, crap I'm really behind.” I have to do my own thing and my editor will agree that I was really terrible at that.
To be honest, I haven't figured that part out really well.
When I write articles for “Inc.” that's pretty easy because they don't take me that long. I write something every day for “Inc.” I don't always publish it. But I'm at least knocking out one thing a day.
That's just what I do, I don't even have to think about it and so that goes and then I do some other stuff.
But then like with my book, that was always last and I think for a lot of people if you write for clients and then you try to transition to doing some of your own stuff, it is a really hard transition to make because you will always put yourself last. And somehow you have to find a way to say, “Okay. I'm first now.”
What I eventually did to your question again in a really long-winded way, I eventually carved out days and said, “Okay, Sunday, is just my book day and I'm not going to do anything else.”
I would have my wife help me. She would say, “Okay, are you headed off so that you can just do that?” She would kind of prime me and I would just pick out days and say, “This is the only thing I can do.” Sometimes it was because I planned it and sometimes it was because it was a necessity, whereas the only thing I can do is my book.
Joanna: Got to get it done.
Jeff: It's hard and I think that's a struggle for a lot of people to put yourself first. But you have to if you're going to pull that off.
Joanna: It fits into the process idea. One of the quotes from the book I've got here is, “The key is to enjoy small, seemingly minor successes on a regular basis.”
That is difficult like you say seemingly minor success in an increasingly busy publishing environment, writing environment.
What are we talking about in terms of measurement and how do you measure those minor successes?
Jeff: I don't measure them the way I used to because again, it's all that part of becoming. So whenever you start something that's probably the best time for that and I'll use a non-writing example. Let's talk about running a marathon.
Say you decide you want to run a marathon, lots of people would like to, but you're not a runner. So you know that eventually, you have to run 26 miles. You can't right now.
If you go out today and run a mile and you come home and you lay on your couch and feel terrible because you're not a runner, and you allow yourself to think about the 26 miles you someday have to run, you're going to quit because the distance from here to there is just too far.
Same with if the listener decides they want to write a book. If they sit down and struggle their way through the first 500 words, finally get something on paper and look up and go, “Oh, gosh, and I need 80,000 of these,” you'll probably quit.
But if you set yourself up and say, “Okay, what I'm going to do is every day I'm gonna do 500 words.” They may not be perfect, they may need to be revised. It's just a start but every day I'm going to do 500 words”.
If you just focus on that and don't look out into the distance to the 80,000 you need to get to, then every day you get to feel good about yourself because when you've done your 500 you can go, “Cool, got my 500.”
That feels good. I accomplished what I set out to do today which makes you happy, gives you a little bit of motivation and it makes it easier to do it again tomorrow because you're feeding off of that cool little virtuous flywheel.
People always talk about you need to have this big goal, you need to have a laser-like focus on it. I think you need a big goal and you let that inform the process that you create that will allow you to achieve that goal and then you focus on your process.
Because if you're checking off your process every day you get to feel really good about yourself, which is a motivation that you need to keep going and you can do it forever.
It's a really dumb example but one year I decided that I wanted to do 100,000 push-ups which I think is in my book.
Joanna: Yes, I think it is.
Jeff: I don't know why I picked that. So I broke it down, I said, “Okay, that's 274 push-ups a day so if I do 274 I'll have 100,000 at the end of the year.”
It was a meaningless goal, because we're taught that goals are supposed to be meaningful and all that stuff. Well, this is a meaningless goal. It gets me nothing but I just worked my process and I did 300 a day so I had a little bit of a buffer in case I had a day I couldn't do it.
And within a month that's just what I did. That was how I did things and it bugged me the times that I missed it because I couldn't put the little 300 on my spreadsheet that I was adding up. And I didn't have the total at the bottom.
I didn't foot my column because I didn't want to look down and go, “Oh, no, 91,000 more.” I just wanted to see that number for that day and it chugged right along and so that was fun in itself because every time I did my day I put my little 300 down, felt really good. Tomorrow's another day.
It's the Jerry Seinfeld approach to building a stand-up act where he has his calendar and he puts a red X on every day he writes a joke. And he's got years of these calendars with all these red X's.
It's the accumulation of small wins that gets you to this big place at the very end. And so for writers, you break down whatever it is you're trying to accomplish into something that has a process.
And then you focus really hard on the process, knowing that if you do the process right the end result takes care of itself in large part. Or at least it gets you really close so that then when you get there you can say, “Okay, I've got this body of work. I've got this book. It's not perfect but now I have something to fix.”
Joanna: I think that's so true. We keep circling back to process. It's not a magical process to write a book. I mean there is an element, some kind of spark of something but it is a process to get the work done.
But it's funny because there you're talking about the daily little checkbox or the number but you've also got this section in the book titled “One question provides nearly every answer.” Which is actually about the big picture and strategy and long-term thinking.
I know that authors are far more likely to get obsessed with like Amazon rankings and don't step back.
What are your tips for that stepping back and working on strategy in long term?
Jeff: The part of that question is mainly it's great for warding off temptation. The genesis of that came from Herb Kelleher, he's the CEO of Southwest Airlines. Makes 8,000 decisions a day, which seems like it would be an impossible job.
But he basically asks himself one question to everything that comes to him, “Will this make Southwest Airlines the low-cost provider? If it's yes, we'll look at that. If it's no, well, then we're not going to mess with that because that's not what we're focused on.”
That kind of question is perfect when you're trying to accomplish something big and you're tempted to slough off, like say in my marathon example you're like, “Well, I don't really want to run today.” Is skipping a workout what a person that wants to run a marathon would do? No, so go do your thing.
If you're trying to write a book and your goal is 500 words a day and you're Stephen King, who does it every day, and you don't want to do it today, well, would a published author not write today? No, so there you go.
It's a big picture way of framing things down. If you're trying to lose weight, is a person trying to lose weight going to have a second piece of chocolate cake? No.
It's a perfect way to frame that to allow you to say, “All right, what do I really want to accomplish here and does whatever this temptation is, allow me to do that?” And if the answer is no then it's really clear.
Otherwise if you loosen that up, you can play the game of, “Well, yeah, I'm trying to lose weight so if I have another piece of chocolate cake, well I'll run tomorrow, I'll do this tomorrow, I'll do whatever.”
You negotiate with yourself and we're really good at negotiating with ourselves but we're not very good at coming through on the end result of the negotiation. That's really hard.
So that was the premise of that; it goes back to what is your big goal?
If there are writers out there that are trying to get to someplace. What is it that you want to accomplish? Are you trying to write a novel? Okay, frame your life around the fact that you want to write a novel and you are going to do so.
It's not a dream. It's not an idea because an idea without action is it's a dream. Idea should be verb I think.
Joanna: Yes, to idea.
Jeff: Seriously, you should otherwise it's a just dream.
Joanna: Well, it's to create.
Jeff: Right, so figure out what that is that you want to do and then say, “What does a person who accomplishes that goal do?” And then don't try to reinvent the wheel, don't try to come up with some special bespoke process that works for your individual…we're not that individual.
We're all about the same. See what other people have done and say, “You know, what? For right now I'm going to model that.” And someday when I get through if I look at it and say, “Well, you know, that worked for me but I could tweak that a little bit.”
You can tweak it based on experience not based on, “Well, I didn't really feel like doing it that way.” Because usually when you say I don't feel like doing it that way, what you're really saying is that I don't feel like accomplishing what I want to accomplish.
The goal is you figure out your goal, figure out what people do to achieve that and then model yourself.
Joanna: I think that modelling is really important and I did that way back when I was way back so I'm so old now. But 10 years ago when I decided I wanted to leave my job and make a living online and be a writer, I found people to model and have continued to find people to model at different points on the journey.
You've got this thing called the one question which I get and we just talked about that. But also and I like the book, “The ONE thing” by Gary Keller. It's a good book, but you also like me are what many people are now calling a multi-passionate.
Joanna: As in, you're writing your books, you're ghostwriting, you're speaking, you're an editor, you're writing articles, you do all these different things too. I struggle with this all the time because I write under three different names, I'm a podcaster, I'm now taking speaker off my list but I do a lot of things.
How do you balance this one question with being multi-passionate?
Jeff: I like to call what you just described the serial achiever, which means you do one thing, get to a point where you're like, “Wow, I've gotten really good at that but I'd like to something else,” that's cool.
Or you can do multiple things at the same time, but again, you can balance them out however you want and they actually work in harmony with each other really well.
If you pretended I'm Amazon, because they didn't coin the term, but there's a flywheel affect to the Amazon business and I promise I'm going to get to a point. They're selling stuff online, free shipping makes people more likely to buy which increases their business.
More people going to Amazon causes the fulfill by Amazon folks that's like, if you decide to sell a product on Amazon you can do so and they'll fulfill it for you. That gets more of those which gets more customers which gets more people that want free shipping which gets more customers and so this thing feeds itself.
And so for me, I write for “Inc.” because that was a way for me to basically advertise my ghostwriting because it's hard to market yourself when you're a ghostwriter. And I figured that if someone saw something I wrote and liked it and noticed I was a ghostwriter and needed a ghostwriter, they might call me. Worked out really well and the cool thing is, it is as if “Inc.” is paying me to advertise my services.
We'll take that and plus it's my writing for it because I'm paid for it by the page view and I do really well there, it's very lucrative so that's part of my flywheel. So that fed to the ghostwriting part that also got me lots of social media followers.
I have 960,000 some followers on LinkedIn or something. That helps me drive traffic to my “Inc.” articles, that helped a publisher say, “Wow, he's got a platform. Maybe we should be interested in a book.”
Having a book, having my “Inc.” stuff helps my speaking, because if you like that speaking helps the other and so I've got this little flywheel where they seem like they're different pursuits and they kind of are. But they all feed that one thing, which is, I like to write helpful, useful, practical stuff that maybe will help people do something a little better than they were doing before.
And if I get lucky and change somebody's life just a teeny, teeny bit, then that's awesome and that's really what I'm trying to do, and all those things feed that.
So if you look at anything that I write it's all intended to be practical, useful, helpful, let me make a difference for you. Let's hope you achieve whatever it is you're trying to achieve. That's the place I go and all of those things feed that.
And take a step back and say, “What am I really trying to accomplish?” And then you can make what appear to be different facets actually fit together really well.
Joanna: I agree and my overarching goal is to make a living with my writing, or make a very good living with my writing, which I think you feel as well.
I love that you mention your page reads because I love that the information, you put in the book how you upped your payments at “Inc.” by learning copywriting skills.
Also I just realized you do these great lists of books which I link to all the time especially because you put one of my books in the list.
Jeff: And why wouldn't I? It was great.
Joanna: Thank you for that and I was like, “Oh, wow, he's awesome.” Which is great obviously lists linking out to authors is fantastic.
Tell people about that.
Why does copywriting skill mean that you get paid more for your articles, because I think it's brilliant?
Jeff: “Inc.” is a media site and so they have advertising. They have major advertisers that are there. When people read articles then “Inc.” gets paid by the advertisers because they had views of some of their advertisements.
So the more views that “Inc.” gets ,the more money that “Inc.” can make, so they naturally share that with people like me.
The more views that I get, the more money that I can make. And so you know, clearly the goal, if you're doing this, is you would like lots of page views because you get paid that way. Like you said, you wanted to be a writer that got paid well for writing. Me too.
So I looked at it and said, “Okay, what do people like to read, what do they enjoy, what do they benefit from, what do they like to share?”
If you look at my stuff, I have never written a negative thing about anyone ever, partly because that's my personality. I'm snarky in person, like on the side I can be as sarcastic as anybody, but I don't feel like saying bad things about people in print because I would just rather not say anything at all.
I'm positive. I don't do controversial stuff, I don't try to clickbait people in. I don't do any of that. If I write something that you benefit from and you think, “Wow, that's really good for me,” you will probably share that with people you care about, because you'll think, “You know what? Nancy would really benefit from this or Nancy would enjoy that.”
That sharing thing is really where I got my audience. It wasn't because “Inc.” just pushes it in front of people. It was people saying, “Hey, I like this. I think I'll share that,” and that's how I ended up being a LinkedIn Influencer.
Long ago, used to be LinkedIn had like LinkedIn Today where they would aggregate articles from everywhere. And so the way that your stuff ended up on one of their category pages was if a large velocity of LinkedIn users were sharing something in a period of time and they would say, “Oh, that's getting a lot of attention, let's pop it over.”
I did really well with that, and so LinkedIn when they were starting the influencer program where they wanted people to write directly for LinkedIn, which now everyone can do but at first it was just the influencers, they said, “Clearly you know what our audience likes. Would you like to do this?”
You don't get paid. But it's shopped a ton of traffic back over to my “Inc.” stuff and it built the platform that we talked about a little bit ago.
It was all because I knew how to write things that people wanted to share with other people. And I don't write stuff that they want to share because it's controversial or because it pisses them off or any of those other things that other people do. And good on them if they do, I don't care. That's not my thing.
But if I can help you then you'll probably share it and that's how I look at that. So that, the genesis of all that though was that I looked and said, “All right, if I'm going to be in this game writing for “Inc.” and I would like to win the game, which means make more money, what do I need to do?”
I don't know if you're going to ask me this but the biggest lesson or biggest thing that I would like people who are freelance writers to take away from this is if you want to make a good living you have to take a step back and say, “My job is to write what my client wants. My job is not to write whatever satisfies my inner creative person.” Do that on your own time.
“My job is to write what other people want.” And I got a lot of jobs along the way because I was willing to be the contractor that takes the blueprint for the house and builds the house the client asked for.
Instead of, “Wow, but that doesn't feel good to me and you know, I want to express myself.” Go express yourselves somewhere else. I always say that to people. Seriously. If you are paid to do something your job is to make the person that paid you, be delighted that they hired you. And if you focus that way and deliver what they want, then you can get work all day long.
I probably get 10 e-mails a week where people say, “Hey, I'm trying to get started and I can't get anybody to hire me and you know, it's really a bummer because I really like to write about so and so and nobody will hire me to do that.”
And I'll say, “Okay, you really like to write about that, but it doesn't sound like anybody needs that or wants to read it so if you want to get paid, you've got to go where the money is.” And I don't mean that in a harsh way.
It's just if writing about Mountain Dew bottles and nobody cares then you do that for yourself. But if writing about cell phones is paying then hey, go do that. And I know people don't want to hear that.
It's like that in any profession.
Jeff: You have to do what it is that people need, and if you're good at giving people what they need and want, you're in.
Joanna: I think you know my audience are used to the business stuff and I definitely share quite a lot of your articles. I think they're great and as I say you link to a lot of books so if people like reading business books, I think you're posting on LinkedIn.
Jeff: I like books. I like authors.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly.
Jeff: And I read something that I like I never link, I never put anything on any list that I don't like, and that I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend.
People ask me if I will review lots of products and I'll look at something and if I don't really like it then I don't write about it. But if I do then I say so, because I don't know what's to be but book lists if I like it cool. I hope other people read it because I am decidedly average.
Let's put it that way. I am an average white bread kind of guy, and so if I like something chances are, there are a lot of people that would probably like it too. Because I'm in the middle of that bell curve somewhere.
Joanna: I'm in the middle of that curve as well because I like a lot of the books you like too. I think that works well. But we are out of time so where can people find you and your books and everything you do and your articles online?
Jeff: I write for “Inc.” If you go to Inc.com and just search my name there's about 1,600 or so now. I'm on LinkedIn. I connect with people and I'm happy to do so and I do answer questions and I mean, I do it in a day. But I do answer questions and I'm happy to help folks. I'm on Twitter but I don't really care about Twitter, Twitter doesn't fit. Twitter is not a good social platform for me or for the stuff that I do so. And my book is wherever you want to find it.
Joanna: Fantastic, well thanks so much for your time, Jeff, that was great.
Jeff: Thank you.
Joe Moore says
Interesting podcast about how Jeff got started with no formal training and sort of fell into
freelancing and took it from there. As well as the ghostwriter/fight club analogy.
As for working in factories, Charles Bukowski made it look like something to avoid, and here, there is an upside.
Listened to this podcast episode while on my morning walk to get coffee. I love the reminder that writing is a two-way partnership and the process is important – thank you to both you and Jeff!
This interview provoked some great thoughts and self-examination.
You always seem to find just the right person to interview when I need them.
I loved the line:
“me time should be the time that you’re putting towards accomplishing something you really want to accomplish”
Just ordered a Sony PX333 and a Sony PX370 so that I can dictate more and be more productive.
Michael Licavoli says
As far as his die-hard commitment to his full-time employer, this is pretty foolish advice for most people employed in the U.S. at least. Corporate loyalty should not even be a consideration as your employer will not reciprocate when it comes time for buyouts and layoffs. I almost found his comments insulting to Joanna who’s five-year hard work plan is more relevant to most of us.