This past year I had the opportunity to meet and learn about the work of Blair Enns. Blair, if you don’t know him, is a man of personal mastery. He is on a mission. His mission is to change the sales process for creative consulting firms. He wants to change the process so that the outcomes are both better for clients and better for the firms and people providing the service. In Blair’s world, he’s seen the influence of the Request for Proposal (RFP) process become the dominant way that clients procure work from agencies. Blair has seen what I know. The process is mostly broken and he is on a mission with his Win Without Pitching work to change the way this process works for the better for all involved. You can read more about Blair’s work by reading his manifesto or following his work at winwithoutpitching.com. You’ll see here too that I have written a short review of his work on Amazon. It was the least I could do for what I was given.
One of the key ways Blair advocates that this work can happen rests in the writing of the agencies providing the work; not just any part of their writing, it rests in their thought leadership. His position is that directing the sales process away from RFPs to conversations requires that the agencies working with this approach take a leadership position with their thinking. That their thinking and expertise becomes the demonstrable case for why the client should hire them, not the RFP process. That in many cases the RFP process can be circumvented when agencies can reassure clients through their thought leadership, process and expertise. The win for both parties becomes that the client and agency are both moving toward working with one another more quickly, more confidently and that they are better matched for each others needs.
On Writing Well
There are numerous ways we demonstrate thought leadership. The most obvious is our writing. Inspiration in this area for Blair came from the writings of William Zinsser and on recommendation from Blair I’ve read the most recent edition of Zinsser’s classic ‘On Writing Well’. Writing has always been a challenge for me. Conversations, ideas, creativity and collaboration. These are my strengths. If I could write like I’m able to engage with people, I might become a good writer. But my own experiences and inspirations around writing having been limited. It wasn’t until meeting Blair and reading Zinsser that I actually became inspired to put more intention into my writing. Don’t mis-understand. I’ve been writing for years and writing often, but the format has been limited to business communication, presentations and personal reflections. These are important forms of thought leadership, but you can also hide out in them. You can hide out in design and the visual nature of some of this communication. After having read Zinssers work, the first book I’ve ever read about writing, I’m working to put more focus on this deeply important craft.
While working my way through ‘On Writing Well’ came a series of bullet points. Simple inspirations distilling the big patterns and themes of Zinsser. Something I thought that I could read easily before I sat down to write any of my work. And I want to share it with you, but not before I too encourage you to go out and read Zinsser’s ‘On Writing Well’. My little list here is only that. The short list can’t replace the richness of the book. If you’re going to use this list for anything, use it to take action to get your own copy and read it. Really, it’s worth it. If you care about the written word, or have as I have been, challenged to write, it will more than help.
In no particular order. My pre-writing inspiration list, inspired by William Zinsser:
- The most important line is the first line. Lead with a strong line to hook/encourage the reader
- Precision. Look for a precision of words with colour and fact
- Trust your material and don’t bury the lead
- Write something unique. What is your unique insight about which you are writing?
- Follow your affections and you will write well. Write about that which you enjoy
- There is magic in harnessing the concerns and issues of the day
- Employ your ideas so that they serve the people who are reading them
- Give people something useful to use and something to put into service
- Writing is a public trust. Handle what people say as a gift
- Connect the reader to some element that touches his life
- Be natural and clear. Avoid pretense that hides your thinking, or lack of it, from the reader
- Bring humanity to your words
- Bring humanity to your subject as a way to connect with the people for whom you are writing
- A simple style does not reflect a simple mind
- A simple style is a the result of hard work and hard thinking
- Don’t be a victim of trying to sound important
- The most powerful tool you possess are your words
- People connect with people not abstract concepts
The last of Zinsser’s sage advice?. The second most important line is this next one. The one you leave the reader with; the last one.