This past weekend, I hung out with my girlfriends Kate and Jodi in a cozy cottage at the lovely Serenbe (in Atlanta). On Saturday night, we sat by the fire — ¬†equipped with wine, notepads and pens, and lots of business ideas we wanted feedback on.
We’re all writers, but we have three fairly different business models. Jodi is still keeping the faith with magazine journalism (and totally killing it) and has a successful coaching and teaching practice aimed at freelance writers. Kate is a total mind/body thought leader, writing very cool stuff about wellness and coaching busy women on how to breathe (literally and metaphorically).
And then there’s me. (I'm the one doing the handstand.) You know me.
Or do you?
This was one of the biggest insights I got from our fireside chat: I don’t always do a great job talking about WHAT I do and with whom I work.
At one point, Jodi was like: “Why do I not know any of this about you? You are working with all of these big clients — why don’t I know that? Why aren’t you talking about it?”
To which I said, “Um, I don’t know.” Some of it involves proprietary stuff — I just can’t go into any details about certain things. But a lot of it is just me not taking the time to figure out how to talk more about specifics. Case in point: the portfolio page on my site is pretty terrible (I’m not even going to link to it — you can dig and find it if you want). It’s been on my list to re-do forever, and I actually am going to now. This month. For real.
This isn’t a newsletter telling you all about what I do. Well, it is, actually. But that’s because it’s a newsletter about why outside perspective matters so much. Because as a copywriter and storyteller for companies — I AM that outside perspective.
And yet, as my weekend with colleagues proves, I still desperately need it myself.
Four Reasons to Go Outside
Lots of companies count “seeking outside perspective” among their core operating principles. So it’s not an innovative idea. But it is a game-changing one.
I see four big ways that getting an outside voice can make a pretty substantial difference in your business.
1. The view from inside your business is obstructed.
Like a cheaper theater seat where you can’t see the entire thing, the view from deep inside your business misses half the stage sometimes. The obstructed view makes you think that because you know something and live it every day, everyone you’re working with (or want to work with) also knows it. You simply can’t see their state of not-knowing-ness.
You need an outsider to say: “Um, explain that to me.” That explaining process is golden, because it forces you to revisit thinking that may have gone stale. It also gives you a chance to say it to someone who doesn’t hear it every day (and to get their feedback). Which leads to #2 . . .
2. You, repeated back to you, sounds different.
Eye-opening different. When you hear what you’re saying, rephrased into an outsider’s language and thought process, it’s so much easier to spot gaps and misinformation — as well as to see where you are wonderfully clear.
Clients download things to me all of the time. Sometimes they do a fantastic job outlining it perfectly, and all I have to do is execute and deliver an article or script or collateral piece. But other times, after I re-upload what they’ve downloaded, they see the brand or project or product in a totally new way. And not even because I’m trying to get them to see it in a new way. Rather, it’s because I’m synthesizing it all back to them through fresh eyes. That synthesizing often leads to a direction neither one of us could have anticipated.
Companies often avoid the outside perspective because this uncertainty makes them far too uncomfortable.
I pretty much think that uncertainty is awesome, and the only way to get to something great.
3. Someone needs to call you on your crap.
No matter who you are (as a business), you’ve got crap. I’ve got it. My friends Kate and Jodi have it (and we all called each other on it). Apple has it. The American Cancer Society has it. The bakery down the street has it. The personal trainer just striking out on her own has it.
Crap is the stuff like: “We can’t talk about ourselves in that way because it won’t sound professional enough and ultimately we are playing small and afraid of being judged,” or “What makes me different than any other person hanging a shingle out on the street doing this? I’m not special enough,” or “The expectations have become too great; failing is too big of a risk right now, so we better play it safe.”
Just to be clear: crap isn’t bad. Crap is an opportunity for juju and pixie dust to find its way back to you. But only if someone calls you on it. Otherwise, it just festers into inaction and mediocrity. And instead of pixie dust, it’s more like cigarette butts.
4. You get the chance to be wrong.
I love to be right, and I love to be wrong. The right thing? Well, I spent my life getting As. What do you expect? But the wrong thing is something I’ve come to understand more recently, and it goes like this: I’m hardly ever going to suspend judgment. I’m not patient enough for that. I think fast, I make associations and connections quickly, and I make up my mind quickly about things. And then I hold space that I am completely, completely wrong, and pre-release myself from self-judgment about it. (If you build in that pre-release thing, realizing you’re wrong is beautifully liberating.)
But it’s hard to discover you’re wrong without an outside perspective.
And by wrong, I don’t mean a “you’re a bad person” wrong. Goodness. Save the drama. I mean the wrong associated with thinking you really had something nailed, and then realizing it’s probably the opposite.
Let someone outside show you/your organization that you’re wrong. Because you’ll come out a better version of yourself from seeing it.
The last thing I’ll say about getting an outside perspective is choose carefully. When you’re putting work out into the world, there are a lot of voices you have to just ignore.
But I think you probably have a good idea of where to find the ones you shouldn’t ignore. The ones that will be productive instead of destructive. It’s just a matter of inviting them in and holding space for the magic.