Create Consistent Thought Leadership AND Run a Company Without Breaking the Space-Time Continuum: Part 1 of 3

I realize content is important. I’m the CEO of a content creation company, for heaven’s sake. And that’s why my own content is one of my top 5 priorities every single year—yet somehow it doesn’t hit even my top thirty on any given day. 

Sound familiar? Clients. Sales. Product. Finance. HR. Non-stop onslaught of horrific news stories that can bite you at any time. Oh, and children… How does one find time to sit back, concentrate, and share your thoughts on virtual paper?!

And, if you’re like me, you and the other leaders at your company are likely overcome with paralysis when you think about writing your blog. Or even worse—when marketing tells you that it’s time for your next big thought leadership piece. It can’t possibly be my turn again, can it?

Nevertheless, here I am, with a full three-part series coming your way. Part One is all about getting by with a little help from my friends, and a trick I like to call the 70 percent draft.

Step One: Admit You Have a Problem

You may have brilliant thought leadership insight coming out your ears, but, unless you’re that rare breed who is capable of churning out content like clockwork on your own, you likely need help getting it down on paper.

That’s okay. I admit that I also have a content writing problem. 

Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re not a great writer—in fact, I pride myself on my writing. It means you simply don’t have either the time or mental space to write regularly, with the quality and consistency that you want.

Step Two: Enlist a Writer

Find a friend, a freelance writer, someone on your staff—or, you know, your friendly neighborhood content creation platform, Verblio. You use key strategic services in everything else you do, from payroll to bookkeeping to project management. Why wouldn’t you get help with writing? 

Great writers possess a skillset of which I’m envious. In addition to the obvious part of their skills—great writing—they also possess the ability to quickly digest new information, identify the crux of what is interesting and compelling in that research, and then structure a clear way to convey these insights. 

“But Wait…” You Say

If the idea of entirely outsourcing your thought leadership piece seems absurd, you’re right—it is. A writer will never know your business or your industry as well as you do, and you can’t outsource wisdom.

Great writing, however, is a skill based on structuring and telling a story, and that can (and in many cases, should!) be left to someone who knows what they’re doing.

This brings us to a choice between the quality and consistency of a professional writer, and the insight and voice of a true thought leader (you):

Option 1. Clockwork consistency: You share your ideas with your writer in an outline up front, but then cut the apron strings and let them run free. A post with your name on it is published to your blog every day. It’s well-written, kind of sounds like you, and gets the job done. You couldn’t pick it out of a lineup if your life depended on it, though—and neither could anyone who knows you.

Option 2. Industry-transforming insight: The piece reads like it was crafted by your silver-tongued inner genius on his best day. Your industry wisdom is perfectly captured in all its nuanced originality, and everyone who reads it can recognize your unmistakable voice from the very first word. It took a year to produce.

See a problem?

In writing, nothing is ever perfect. One of the challenges of being creative is accepting that there could always be one more revision. It’s completely different from so many other things I do as a CEO. Wanting greatness, though, is an inevitable part of the job, and it’s worth striving for when it comes to your thought leadership.

So do not despair! There is a solution.

Step Three: Curb Your Enthusiasm

No one will ever know your company and your thoughts as well as you. If you’re looking for a writer who can do the Spock mindmeld with you or download your brain from the matrix, you simply need to write everything yourself or spend a lot of moolah on your own personal author. 

A writer can’t provide 100 percent of your thought leadership piece—and if you expect them to, you’ll invariably grow frustrated, complain that “no one can write like me,” and give up on the endeavor altogether. 

Adjust your expectations, though, and you can get your ideas published with both the quality and voice you want, and consistently.

The Cure: The 70% Draft 

Here’s how the 70 percent draft works: I tell one of the writers in our community what I’m thinking about, she writes a 70 percent draft in the time it takes me to open Word, and I add additional insight and voice to get it to the published piece. Bam! I love this approach for a number of reasons:

  • Consistency: I know regular posting is important for our SEO strategy, but I’m also self-aware enough to realize bi-weekly thought leadership is never going to happen on my own.
  • Avoid Writer’s Block: I truly enjoy editing, and I like having pieces to move around and improve. Facing a blank page? Terrifying.
  • Retain My Voice: I get to flesh out the writing with my own ideas, my own obscure references, and my own individual voice. What I don’t have to do is figure out how to get from one idea to another, or how it all ties together.
  • Save Time: Enough said.

In sum, the 70% draft means you actually create content consistently, and it really feels like your work. (As a recent example, if you think I brought this piece into the world on my own, you’re sorely mistaken.)

Sidebar: More on why 70% is an awesome number to aspire to

I didn’t pick this number at random.

It turns out that 70 percent isn’t the barely passing grade we all thought it was in high school. As CEO, if you can find a way for somebody else to replicate 70 percent of your expertise and insight, that’s significant. It’s enough to allow you to devote your time elsewhere, while still reaping a majority of the benefits.

Talking with Joey on The Verblio Show
Check out Episode 7 of The Verblio Show for more Joey

This 70 percent rule is as true in writing as it is in sales, as agency consultant Joey Gilkey and I discussed on our episode of The Verblio Show. Just as a CEO may think they’re the only ones capable of writing their thought leadership piece, CEOs also often  believe they need to handle sales because they’re the ones who know their business best. And it’s true, they do know their business better than anyone—but, if a sales rep is able to replicate even 70 percent of the CEO’s best sales practices, the CEO is then freed up to focus on the other aspects of growing and scaling the company.

It’s a classic case of diminishing returns. Call it the 70/30 rule—and it’s the new 80/20.

While it may be precisely your top, most unique ten or twenty percent of insight and ability that makes you an effective CEO, in some processes—like sales or writing—that final increment isn’t necessary to get the bulk of returns. Somebody who can get 70 percent of the way there is sufficient, and, if you insist on doing it yourself to get all the way to 100, you’re only going to get marginally better results, while getting less overall value for your time than if you were spending it elsewhere in your organization.

Step Four: Find Your Own Ass-Kicker

If you want your voice to come through in your content, you need to be sure you do edit and give feedback on your writer’s draft. This takes far less time than writing a piece from scratch, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still slide down to the bottom of your to-do list. What you don’t want is the draft from your writer languishing in your inbox for weeks before you finally get around to it. Don’t forget: consistency matters.

The solution? Find yourself a good ass-kicker and have them hold you accountable. Make a bet with another executive outside your company. Make your goals very public. Tell your board what you’ll publish and by when. Put your own money into a company fund, and, if you don’t post something by a certain date, everyone on your team gets their likeness carved in butter and frozen for perpetuity at the Minnesota State Fair.

Whatever works.

The good news is that the process will only get easier as you build a relationship with your writer. No matter how good they are, there may be some initial trial and error. Writers—even our talented bunch—aren’t mind readers, but, as you give feedback and make changes, they’ll learn your voice and get a better handle on your style. Before you know it, they’ll be finishing your sentences (and starting them.)

If you thought Verblio was just for your marketing team, I don’t blame you— they’re definitely our people too. Our writers can write, though. And they do it all, including blogs and thought leadership pieces for industry leaders and company execs.

We can’t attend your board meeting for you, we can’t decide what your company’s five-year plan should look like, and we can’t solve your personnel problems. Your thought leadership, though? We can help with that. Get in touch and let us take one thing off your plate. 

(And check out Part Two to learn another way I keep the ball rolling with repurposed content.)

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Steve Pockross

As CEO, Steve brings more than 20 years of startup, nonprofit, and Fortune 500 experience to not only running the business of Verblio, but also setting the culture, vision, and purpose of the team. Outside the office, Steve enjoys ultimate frisbee, telemark skiing, hosting jazz concerts, and spending time with his two boys.

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