7 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Writers

It takes a thick skin to be a writer.  You’ve got to battle criticism and rejection on a daily basis and power through to get the piece and the job done.  It’s actually a lot like being a business owner.  What lessons can entrepreneurs learn from writers? Check out these 7 tips that can easily be applied to writing or running a business.

1.    Read everything.

Any writer will tell you that the first rule of being a good writer is to be widely read.  A novice writer learns how to write well by reading good writing and learning to imitate it.  Reading different types of writing (e.g. poetry, prose, fiction, ad copy), written in different styles (e.g. lyrical, straightforward, persuasive, Meta, etc.) informs your own predilection and style choices.

Business owners are not so different from writers.  They must read everything from books on various managerial styles to case studies on successful businesses to profiles of successful entrepreneurs to self-improvement books.  Being knowledgeable about how other successful people run their businesses informs your own leadership style and business choices.

As a business person, you might tell yourself that you’re too busy to sneak a read in here and there, but you should always make time for learning.  Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, would call this a Quadrant II activity.  Quadrant II activities are those which we never seem to make time for (because we’re dealing with the immediate problems and daily crises of Quadrant I), but which would benefit us in the long run.  Devote some time to Quadrant II and you’ll be all the better for it.  Tell yourself you’ll read one new book a week (or pick any other goal).  Write it down.  You’ll be surprised at how valuable an activity it really is.

2.    Edit yourself as much as possible.

Good writers are able to recognize their own mistakes and even prevent them from occurring.  This is done by editing one’s own work.  By editing, I not only mean making sure you follow the proper rules or grammar, mechanics and language; I also mean narrowing the scope or focus of your writing so that you’re as precise and concise as possible.

Similarly, business owners should consult lawyers, bankers, accountants, other business owners and anyone else who can help them comply with laws, rules and regulations.  Business owners should also be wary of overcomplicating things and overreaching.  Try not to do too much or attempt to offer an array of services or products all at once.  Start with a niche and work outwards from there.  Focus on doing one thing right, and then expand and diversify.  Although it’s tempting to go the Wal-Mart route (i.e. do a little bit of everything), you don’t want to spread yourself too thin.  Quality over quantity is never a bad thing.

3.    Write about what you know best.

James Joyce, author of the most dense and premier postmodern fiction book Ulysses, was preoccupied with describing the city of Dublin so accurately that future people would be able to re-create the city long after it disappeared, based on reading his book.  Even fiction writers start with something real that they know well, whether it be a city like Dublin or a background in science (for science fiction).

You probably got into business to begin with because you had a passion and ability to do something well.  Whatever you’re doing, it’s what you know best.  And if it’s not, then ask yourself why you’re doing it.  Again, it’s perfectly natural to expand or diversify, but do so only when you’re prepared for it.  Do your homework.  If a writer has no clue what is possible by the laws of science, he or she cannot write realistic, believable science fiction.  These writers often consult with scientists, doctors and other people who have the knowledge they lack.  Again, don’t hesitate to seek out and consult with people who can guide you and your business in the right direction.

4.    Write in a way that makes people feel smart.

A good writer can write something that everyone can understand, but a great writer can write it in a way that also makes you feel smart when you’re reading it.  The writer does this by getting into your head and speaking to in a way that aligns with your own point of view.  Writers study their audience(s) before they write.  They always know who they need to appeal to and what they need to say to sound appealing.  They aren’t condescending, but they’re able to enlighten you in a way that nobody else could.

To run your business, you’ve got to be a good leader.  This means that you have the ability to motivate people, mitigate problems and make them focus on goals.  Smart leaders don’t talk down to their employees.  They make everyone feel smart and that they’re contributing members of the team.  Before you criticize or write them off, try to understand the needs of your employees, as well as those of your customers, clients and business partners.  Motivate in a positive way, not in a negative way.

A big mistake both large and small businesses make is that they only ever talk about themselves and not what the customers/clients want.  Whether you’re writing email newsletters, press releases, online fax material or content to build a website, make sure that you’re speaking directly to the needs and desires of your customers/clients.  If they think you understand them, they’ll be much more receptive to what you have to say.

5.    Don’t take criticism personally.

Writers often get rejected.  Sometimes nobody wants to buy your articles.  Sometimes your work gets marked up with red ink.  Sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board and re-write the entire thing.  If you don’t let these things roll off your back, then you’d have a huge self-esteem problem.  Writers know that criticism is part and parcel of daily life and that it’s really the only way that they learn and get any better.

Starting a business is going to have its share of rough patches, its ups and downs.  But, you always have the ability to turn things around.  Maybe a few customers wrote negative reviews of you on Yelp.  Use it as an opportunity to learn and get better.  Maybe next time you’ll try to prevent the bad reviews from happening, by asking for customer feedback in your store, on your website or in your email newsletter.  You could also appeal to their desires and offer them free items or invite them to come back with the promise of something better.

There are going to be a lot of people who criticize you and even tell you “no.”  For instance, you might get rejected by a bank or investor for a business loan.  But, don’t get discouraged and don’t take it personally.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a great business plan.  It might mean that you need to go to a different bank or appeal to different investors, or maybe you could try bootstrapping and bartering small business services for a while.

As famous TV painter Bob Ross would say, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”  To be a successful entrepreneur, you must subscribe to this glass half-full idea.

6.    Remember that your first draft should be crappy.

The bad writers get stuck on the first draft and never finish the piece.  Why? It’s part perfectionism, part vanity.  They want to get it right the first time around, and so they spend hours, days, or weeks trying to get everything just right.  But, the first draft isn’t the end; it’s only a means to an end.  Good writers know that it’s what happens after the first draft that matters most: the re-conceptualizing, the editing, the revisions, the proofreading.

Being an entrepreneur requires you to power through your “first drafts” to get to the second and third and fourth.  Have no idea how to build a website? Don’t have any money to hire a designer? It doesn’t matter…put something on the web!  It doesn’t have to be pretty.  It’s just got to have your contact information, business hours and a way for people to find you.  Can’t get an investor to buy in? It doesn’t matter; it’s great that you’ve got the confidence in your business idea to put yourself out there.  So, go back to the drawing board, write a new pitch and do it all over again.

7.    Remember to proofread.

Writers are detail people.  “The Devil’s in the details,” as they say, and so writers proof their work for mistakes lurking within their magical block of text.  As a small business person, you can’t just power through everything without stopping to check the details.  If you aren’t a meticulous person, hire an employee or find a business partner who is.  That person can act as your editor; they can spot what you can’t.  It might be easier to take everything on your shoulders as a sole proprietor, but not a lot of people are equipped to do that.  If you do decide to go it alone, be sure that you’ve got a strong support system and surround yourself with people who can keep you in check and/or be a safety net.

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