When is Using a Motivational Quote a Bad Idea?

A favourite thing about my post-news reporter life is that I spend my time with one foot in the entrepreneurial world and one foot in the creative.  Both these types seem to LOVE the motivational quote.

I mainly deal directly with CEOs to help them blog and tell the story of their business in a compelling way. I am also a sculptor of dessert jewelry, so I’m part of a strong maker community. We support each other in growing our handmade businesses together.

For whatever reason, the love of a powerful inspirational quote travels on the DNA of both those species of human. And hey– I get it! A good motivational quote is a powerful thing.

Isn’t that what I spent 15 years looking for as a TV news reporter? That perfect, memorable soundbite? I spent all day, everyday recording my conversations with everyone I met, only to distill each one down to the perfect 15-second pithy snippet. I was a quote machine, baby.

Maybe that’s why I’m still something of a quote connoisseur. I collect ones that inspire me in a special journal. I build graphic quotes to illustrate my content on social media, my blog and my presentation decks. I have a special fondness for pertinent song lyrics.

However there is a limitation to the motivational quote. There is a time when the words of Henry Ford, Martin Luther King Jr or Eleanor Roosevelt simply won’t suffice. Sometimes, the only words that will motivate are your own.

Picture this. Your child wants to try out for the team, but he or she is scared. You trot out that favourite adage attributed to The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. “Kid,” you say, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Your kid nods soberly and realizes you’re right. He/ she laces up, tries out and makes the team!

Except, no.

Because your kid is eight.

His/her ability to apply a metaphor from a famous person to his/her own life and use it to overcome his/her difficulty is limited at best. In this case, the motivational quote isn’t as targeted to YOUR audience as YOUR words.

This is almost always true when dealing with your own customers. No one knows them like you do. If you don’t know them, that is a whole other problem, and getting to know them is a process that the folks over at SplashOPM have perfected.

Back to Junior, if instead of Gretzky’s words, you share the true story of how frightened you were to go out for the school play, how nervous you were to sing at the audition, how you didn’t get cast the first time, but next time you got the role of Linus in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” now THAT is likely resonate with the kid.

Someone he/she loves, personally knows and has a real connection with, going through what they’re going through. Just like your audience. How bout that?

Because really– what is a “motivational quote” anyway? It’s simply good storytelling. It’s writing that makes your audience relate and feel something. And you know your audience better than Audrey Hepburn, Henry David Thoreau  and Steve Jobs combined.

What is a “motivational quote” anyway? It’s simply good storytelling. It’s writing that makes your audience relate and feel something.

I am working with a client now who is reworking his web copy. He is a gifted life coach who has helped hundreds of people find success reaching their goals. Previously, the first words visitors saw when coming to his website were those of Aristotle. Don’t get me wrong, they were powerful! But not as powerful as my client, explaining how his coaching process works.

This is a man who has helped his clients beat addiction, lose weight, turn failing businesses around. His own explanation of this is more motivating than any famous stranger’s platitude.

If you are passionate, authentic and you know your audience, then you’re the person whose words will motivate the most. Take some time to craft that quote, and then put it out there to inspire us!

Myths of “Being Your Own Boss”

 

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I like to refer to myself as a #bossbabe, but let’s be honest, I’m only the boss of myself. Without me, Create That Communications consists of (to further quote The Gilmore Girls) some stationery, a coffee maker, and some rubber pencil grips.

My cats occasionally provide inspiration, but as I do not pay them, they are not employees. They are cranky, lazy doorstops, who eat for free and fancy themselves indispensable. If they drew a salary for this, we would call them senators.

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World’s laziest intern

I’m not complaining. When you start a consultancy, you have to decide if you want to do the thing you do, or if you want to start a business that does the thing you do. I chose the former.

I want to be a writer, not the administrator of a writing firm, and this is a very important distinction that I’ve chosen by observing others. Salespeople who becomes sales managers. Reporters who become news directors. I learned just because you’re competent at something doesn’t mean you’re competent at leading others who do that something, and perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t mean you’ll like it.

I once worked for a talented communicator who had a gift for serving her clients. Unfortunately she could barely manage to invoice those clients, and if they opted not to pay, she had zero skills at collecting. She therefore did not manage to pay her employees with any great regularly.

Although at the time, I was annoyed that I didn’t get paid, (I should have known something was up when my coworkers didn’t seem surprised by this) in hindsight, I just feel sorry for her. She had abandoned a job she was good at for a job at which she has no skill whatsoever.

I got into the business of writing & content creation because it brings me the most joy. Doing the thing that brings you joy and running a business that does the thing that brings you joy are definitely not the same. I’m very clear on this, which means I also have to be okay with taking on only the number of clients I can serve by myself. As Elaine from The Solopreneur Specialist puts it, solopreneurs “want a business that’s profitable, but that doesn’t take over their life.” To me, that’s what success looks like.

coffee notebook

While I never wanted to be anyone’s boss, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a boss. I hear a lot of solopreneurs talk about starting a consultancy so they can “be their own boss.” This is not my experience.

Sure, I don’t have anyone who makes me check before I get a haircut (like I did as a television news reporter) or who makes me take down a tweet they don’t think is appropriate. (also common in television news) But I routinely find myself dropping everything to help a client who has a last minute emergency. I think of what my clients would think before I publish anything online, and I care far more about what my clients think than I ever did about what my boss thought.

Because I’m a solopreneur and can only work with a few clients, these amazing organizations are hand-selected. I am so grateful to have them, and want them to understand how much I appreciate them and their business every day. They are absolutely my bosses.

I’ve been lucky so far in that my clients have all come to me. That may not/will likely not always be the case, but I do believe that having a clear picture of what you want your consultancy to look like will help you attract clients that meet your goals, and allow you to help them meet theirs.

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Do I miss news?

Well, I miss my coworkers. But the rest of it? I feel like I managed to survive a nautical disaster. I miss news like the passengers miss the Costa Concordia.

The beginning of the vacation was amazing. You try not to think about the fact that you’re dumping thousands of pounds of sewage every day and the person in charge seems to only care about their own glory, you’re on a boat, motherf***ers, a BOAT!

All your friends are in some campground somewhere. Look around! Is this awesome? Hells yeah!

Then, the thing starts to sink. Damn. You wonder if maybe you should have just gone to Disneyland. You had the money for Disneyland. It looked fun.

Surely someone will fix this, right? Like, they’re going to right this ship, right? No, it looks like the solution is to just throw a bunch of shit overboard. Are you serious?!? We’re capsizing, you morons! Who is in charge here? The water used to be thousands of leagues deep and now it’s a goddamn kiddie pool! Whose idea was it to try to steer a cruise ship into a kiddie pool and just hope for the best? Oh, the guy who likes his fat paycheque. Got it.

My take on diminishing ad revenues: whose idea was it to try to steer a cruise ship into a kiddie pool and just hope for the best?

And now people are jumping ship. Well, that’s all well and good for them, but it’s dark out there. And cold. And a long flippin’ way to the water before you can even start to swim. Can I even swim? It feels like forever since I’ve done anything but stand on the deck of this ship and wave at all those people in the water. Those lesser fools, who aren’t enjoying the luxury of being the biggest on the water.

But now we’re really listing. I mean SHIT, things are going sideways. Like, every minute we’re walking around at damn angle and that’s how we’re trying to get things done now. That is the new normal. Everything is harder at an angle. The people in charge are treating us like cattle now, shouting garbled directions, saying we’ll be fine, everything is fine, but what the hell do the people in charge know? They’re just following orders, too. They have families, too.

What the hell do the people in charge know? They’re just following orders, too. They have families, too.

Nah, man. I’m out of here. I loved this vacation, but I am out of here. And I feel like an idiot. I should have known better than to put my faith in a wasteful behemoth that is a blight on the ecosystem. Time to jump ship and swim.

So do I miss it? Yes. Absolutely. I had an opportunity that few have, that I was so blessed to have, that was so much fun and has given me more incredible memories than I can possibly count. But no one has those opportunities now, because they no longer exist. When I look at the wreckage of what’s left, I’m so, so sad and so grateful to be paddling a wee life boat, no matter the weather.

 

***Author’s Note: 32 people died in the real Costa Concordia disaster of 2012, off the shore of Isola di Giglio, Italy. I was working in news at the time, and I remember writing about the disaster. I felt, and feel immense sadness for the families of those who lost loved ones in the wreck. My probably-belaboured metaphor here is an analogy, nothing more. I certainly don’t intend to imply that the steaming wreckage that is the news industry is in any way as tragic as true loss of life, such as those families experienced. As a former news reporter, I likely have much to atone for when it comes to offending families who have lost someone. It’s never my intention to worsen someone’s loss by making light of it.**

A Metaphor for the News Business

Don’t Rely on PR

we keep getting richer

Some people ask me why PR isn’t my main hustle, and it’s a valid question.

For most ex-journalists, public relations or media relations seem like the most obvious way to turn skills into income, and many do.

Trying to hack it as a writer seems like a long shot. It sure did to me, yet here I am.

I have done full time traditional PR gigs a few times throughout my life, but I think I’m pretty bad at them, because I like to start every client conversation by explaining how PR, in its traditional sense, is a usually a fat waste of time and money.

PR, in its traditional sense, is usually a fat waste of time and money.

People who own PR agencies do not usually agree with me on this point. My first post-journalism job, my ‘rebound job,’ was in PR. It also involved a non-competition agreement that states, among other things, I won’t start a directly competing business for one calendar year, so one reason I don’t run a tactical PR company is contractual obligation. However, there’s another, better reason. I don’t like journalists.

Ha! KIDDING. Just seeing if you’re still reading. I was, of course, a journalist for the better part of 15 years. I love journalists!

It’s actually gatekeepers I dislike. I don’t like other people deciding if I’m going to get what I need.

I don’t like other people deciding if I’m going to get what I need.

I didn’t like it when I was a journalist (government flaks, police spokespeople) and I don’t like it now. I’m more of a gatecrasher, myself. If there is a gatekeeper between your message and your audience, as there is in most traditional PR, it is in my opinion, a bullshit waste of effort that could be better spent in other areas.

Here’s why:

1) Holes-in-One vs Horseshoes

Newsrooms, (mainstream or alternative) all accept or turn down pitches for plenty of reasons besides quality. You’ll never know why yours was ignored. Maybe it sucked. Maybe paid advertisers have all the spots on this week’s morning shows. Maybe you spelled the editor’s name wrong. Maybe you used a font they don’t like. Why on earth would you put business development into efforts where the results are this difficult to quantify, predict and replicate?

Why on earth would you put business development into efforts where the results are this difficult to quantify, predict and replicate?

It would be like deciding you want to get a hole in one every time you play golf. Even if you get one, do you know what you did well enough to replicate it again and again? If you didn’t get one, can you say exactly why, with enough data that you can get one next time?

The best kind of publicity is more like horseshoes. Anything that gets you close is good enough. So basically, anything where you’re speaking to your audience directly, no gatekeeper. This could be a blog, or Twitter, or a periodic lunch n’ learn. A hairdresser I know just offered a course in the very specialized service she performs, and is getting the word out about that on Instagram.

It doesn’t matter what method you choose, the people with whom you engage this way become real relationships, your community, your tribe.

What you do with your community is up to you, but you don’t have to ask a journalist or a “social media influencer” to talk to them for you. YOU get to talk to them yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I build a lot of my business through my own conversations with people, so this kind of community seems much more valuable that any kind of traditional PR where I have to beg some random -a person who doesn’t even have a stake in my business- to be my mouthpiece.

2) Their word vs. yours

It is 100% true that most journalists are not out to get you, that they really care about making their work accurate, and they want to do a good job. It’s also true that they don’t care if you look good, that being 100% accurate can also be unflattering for their interview subjects, and their job isn’t to be your marketing department.

 Their job isn’t to be your marketing department.

So better than aiming to be interviewed or covered by media, mainstream or emerging, is to be a featured contributor somewhere, and also to have your own blog. This is why, while I don’t typically do tactical PR, I will do PR strategy. This includes brokering contributed pieces and segments. Contributed columns, blogs and segments offer you the ability to ensure your message remains largely unedited.

3) Bang for your buck

Public relations people get mighty cagey when the money folks start talking about ROI. That’s because to someone in PR, ROI tends to equal number of media stories garnered, and social media mentions. Huh? Even if that number is good, it doesn’t change the fact that PR is a cost, not a revenue source. There is no reason your marketing endeavours can’t offer you PR value and be a top line revenue source.

You can create videos that get shares and drive revenue. You can create infographics that drive traffic to your website. Your blog can get you invited to TedX, which rolls registration at your own conference, which has paid registrations that make your company a shipload of money.

That hairdresser who is offering courses to spread the word about her expertise? She’s charging for them, obviously. She’s making straight-up cash off her marketing endeavour.

You don’t need paid PR for any of this. In fact, all of these projects or in PR gobbeldygook “activations” promote themselves and make money to boot.

I picked writing over PR instinctively, because to me, the most important job for all of us is to get clear on our message.If you know your story, and you can tell it in a compelling way to everyone you meet, you don’t need PR. You might need some help finding the time, or ideas for ways to tell it, but you’ll never need to pay someone else to tell it for you, or to convince a gatekeeper to let you.

Writer for Hire

Flatlay

 

Since I left my role as a senior reporter for CTV News in November 2015, lots of people have asked why, or asked what I’m doing now.

In reality it was both a move away, and a move toward.
Somehow in 15 years in news, I avoided seven rounds of layoffs. Sticking around for much longer seemed like, as they say in blackjack, hitting on 19.
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I had some personal reasons for going. What felt like my 97th story about domestic violence that ended in a woman’s tragic death, and the two most negative elections of my career caused a little “pop” in my brain. I call it my “planeurism.”
Planeurism (n): that moment your life plan implodes, and your future is suddenly a dark, formless abyss. (see also: panic attack, midlife crisis)

 The truth was, I knew I had gone as far as I could go in news. I had accomplished 80% of what I set out to do, and some things I’d never even dreamed of. I knew I was never going to be the next Paula Zahn, Diane Sawyer or Lois Lane.

I was also moving toward something new. Like a dog chasing a fuzzy new tennis ball.

I took what I refer to as my “rebound job” in PR, while I got to work building a writing business in both Toronto and Calgary. It was both exciting and terrifying.

I always wanted to be a writer, in fact that’s how I ended up as a journalist; it involved writing. If I hadn’t been a journalist, my dream job would have been Saturday Night Live sketch writer. (If anyone from SNL is reading this, I have a great sketch about a nursing home for aging musicians, starring Kenon Thompson as Stevie Wonder and Kate McKinnon as Mick Jagger. Call me.)

I never really thought “writer” was a real job, even though I’ve been making my Starbucks money moonlighting as a writer for awhile now and have been working away at my novel for more than a year.

It’s really hard to stop worrying about how I’m going to properly make a living as a writer and realize that -hey- I AM properly making a living as a writer.

One of my first clients is still my biggest client. I am so grateful to this amazing company and its brilliant leadership for trusting me, and giving me so much opportunity.

This client also taught me my number one writer/ boss babe lesson: a working writer needs to know how to do more than write. I do PR strategy and PR tactical, design work and layout, script writing, client interview and research.

For other clients, I do video or photography plus writing.

To me, the answer to the question “how can a person make a living as a writer?” is “by being more than a writer.”

I have plenty of good prep for this, because my advice for anyone who wants to make a living as a journalist (besides “give your head a shake” or “go to law school instead”) is “do whatever it takes.” In that regard and many others, the two careers aren’t all that different, really.

Actually, my real best advice for writer/boss babes is “get an accountant.” Trust me, you’ll thank yourself for that someday.

 

*Desk contents in flatlay photo, clockwise from left

  • My vintage Olivetti typewriter, Craigslist, $30.
  • Girl Guide reporting badge, Brownie writing badge.
  • A compass my husband bought me when I left news.
  • Best writing guide I know, Stephen King’s ‘On Writing.’
  • Post-its. A news director once told me to write everything like it’s on a Post-it: make it stick, don’t be afraid to throw it out.
  • A gold stapler. Make the most mundane tasks fancy.
  • My first writing award, eighth grade. Inexplicably has bowling pins on it.
  • Turtle totem. According to my hero Martha Beck, writers need to keep slowly plodding & have tough shells. Love it.
  • My fourth grade writing journal. Good reminder that I once did this for fun & no money, and I can always go back.
  • My writing journals from just the last year.
  • My dad’s awesome vintage Canon 35 mm.
  • Jar of pens: if the words aren’t coming, try another colour.