My “forties” seemed so far away when I was a kid. Looking back from today’s perspective, life has raced by in a flash.
Don’t worry; this isn’t a blog post where I bemoan getting older or I get all introspective or whatever. I’m actually going to talk about something else: growth, evolution, and change.
MY PERSONAL DEFINITION
It starts when I was a kid: For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. Other kids wanted to be astronauts or firefighters, I wanted to write.
Every chance I’d get, I’d write. My family and teachers
humored encouraged me with it, which I suspect is probably how most kids develop skills in anything. For example, whenever my family played Scrabble, we’d write down all the words played during the game and then I would go write a story with all of those words in it. And a high school teacher let me skip all of those little English writing assignments if I wrote a book by the end of the year (I did). There are many other examples, too.
As I got older, though, the reality of what I could do to earn a living as a writer started to come into question. Book authoring was (and still can be) a who-you-know industry; and journalism wasn’t for me (I tried it and felt like an ambulance chaser). Copywriting wasn’t even something I realized existed (which is probably my biggest regret — that I didn’t start studying copywriting until well after college).
I pursued a different career in college before realizing that I would die if I didn’t write for a living. So, right after college, I started my first business. (I won’t bore you with the details here… you can read about it in my blog post Aaron Hoos — More Than You Need To Know Plus 8 Random Facts About Me.)
Anyway, my point is, I only ever wanted to be a writer. I worked my ass off and I am proudly living my life-long dream today.
All has been good since I started writing full time. Sure, there were some lean years early on but I’ve built enough skill and reputation that things have been pretty good.
But things have taken an unexpected turn lately, in a way I couldn’t have predicted: business has been REALLY good. Almost too good. So good, actually, that it’s a problem.
THE PROBLEM OF GROWTH
For years, my business grew steadily and predictably. But in 2013, after I made some tweaks to my branding and services and my prices and my target market, BOOM — my business started growing exponentially. This year it hit a point where it was too big.
I should have seen the signs throughout 2015 but by December 2015 I had SO much work, regardless of my higher rates, that I was turning away many people. And it was starting to impact my clients, too. At the beginning of 2016, 3 of my biggest clients each came to me and offered to put me on 100% retainer — essentially “buying” 100% of my time. And when I turned them down, they all suggested I think about expanding my business by hiring junior writers because they had so much work to send me and I couldn’t keep up.
And here’s where the problem lies…
… there is a cluster of mental obstacles that prevented me from hiring other writers to do my work:
- I’ve hired an occasional writer from time to time and was never truly happy with the results.
- In a previous business I was a manager in charge of a team and I didn’t love it, and later I was an editor-in-chief of a magazine and didn’t love that experience either.
- I’m a very fast writer with specialized knowledge of my industry, so in the time it would take me to assign a project and then edit it afterward, I could have written the content myself.
- Perhaps the biggest challenge: I’ve always defined myself as a writer… the person who sits at a keyboard and creates copy… I was afraid I’d be giving that up to become an editor (and editing other peoples’ work is a task I don’t love doing).
These were hurdles. I could ignore them for a long time (years) because it never really impacted me or my clients.
But starting in December, and growing in intensity in the first quarter of this year, I’ve had to make a change; I was my own bottleneck and it was well beyond the crisis point. I may define myself as a writer but I have clients and they need to be served so I’m rethinking how I run and grow my business.
AM I STILL A WRITER?
I’m building a team. I’ll continue to do what I do (writing, consulting, etc.) but I’ll be rearranging my business to work on some of the higher level stuff (and the higher-end copy and consulting) while the smaller stuff gets handed off to a team member. In fact, as I write this, I’ve hired 2 writers and have a short list of 2 more that I will likely hire shortly.
It’s not going to be easy because I’ve spent nearly 41 years defining myself as a writer and right now it feels like I’m giving that part up. (Okay, I’m sure I’m not fully “giving that part up” but it kind of feels that way right now.)
On the other hand, ever since I made the mental shift to grow my business in this way, and I started reaching out to other writers to hire them, I am thrilled by new opportunities that have presented themselves to grow my business in ways I wasn’t thinking about before. I have a number of new ventures that have come to the forefront in the past couple of days because of this, plus I also see the possibility of maybe being able to take a well-earned vacation (sometimes I probably should do more of but always resisted in the past).
I’m a little scared because last year at this time it certainly wasn’t where I expected to be in a year. On the other hand, we have to keep changing and growing and this could very well be the next step in my evolution.
I don’t fear change; I love it. But I also want to find a way to remain aligned with my goals and vision for my life and I’m embarking on the next step of a venture in which the path is less clear and the risk of misalignment feels very high. But I’m taking the step anyway.
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