Clarity & Fresh Perspectives Come From Strange Places

What do you love most about the way you work.  About your process?

For me, it's all about the Heartlines Creative Brief, which is a bit of a misnomer at 51 questions long.  I ask everything about you, your company, your service (or product) and your target market.  And every client I work with goes through the brief.

Some have even found the questions so thought-provoking they asked for copies of their answers.


I get scared before every new project.  Maybe I've never written for that industry before & I don't know much about it (Google only calms my nerves so much).  Or I'm worried I won't have anything original to say about industries I've already written for.  Whatever the reason there's some level of butterflies, of trepidation, of can-I-pull-off-something-beautiful-that-speaks-to-both-my-client-AND-their-target-market?  All by the agreed upon deadline.

The Magic of the Brief

When you have a process that works for you, you can simply roll up your sleeves and get to work.  It allows you to shove all the nerves and doubts and what-if-I-f*ck-this-up's aside. (PS I'd love to hear about your process in the comments.)  There's nothing particularly glamorous about it:

1. New clients get a brand new notebook all their own.

2. I transcribe their answers in my handwriting into the notebook.  There are a number of psychology-based reasons for this I don't want to bore you with but it has to do with
a) memory
b) creativity
c) maximizing connections
d) voice
e) and easily referencing notes when I'm writing offline without distractions.  
Okay, that last one had nothing to do with psychology.

Here's what ALWAYS happens

And where it starts to feel a little like magic.  I immediately start to pick out what's important.  What I'll need to remember when I'm writing the copy and maybe even words or phrases I love & might be able to incorporate somehow. (after all, I need to preserve the integrity of my client's voice and not make it sound like me)  The margins slowly fill with arrows, stars and brackets (the fancy looking ones) so I know what to come back to.

Then the ideas start to explode like popcorn in my brain.  And I'll scribble notes in the margin or across the top of the page.  What about this?  Try that angle?  Expand this idea?  Or even a great line or two of copy, which may or may not ever make it into a draft.

Sometimes at the end of the brief, I immediately have to turn to a fresh page and write down the flood of ideas as fast as my pen can move across the page.  Those little kernels of thought are colliding and bumping into each other and their hot buttery goodness is multiplying faster than I can keep up with.

Other times I simply sit back and smile.  Feeling reassured.  The ideas are there, I can feel them but they're still below the surface.  And it's time to walk away and do something completely different.  Allow my subconscious the time and space it needs to do its thing.  When I come back the next day (or even 2 days later) and go through my notes and my client's answers with fresh eyes it usually doesn't take long for the ideas to bubble to the surface and start popping.

So I reasoned if it works for them, maybe it could work for me.  If you've been reading my blog lately you'll know I've been feeling a little lost.  A little directionless with my own business.  Not sure what my next creative leap should look like. 

So I decided to be my own client and take my own creative brief.

Stange?  Maybe.  But I was hoping I'd get some fresh ideas, insights (and maybe new Homepage copy) out of it.

So I grabbed a new notebook, clicked into the back end of my brief and set to work.  I answered question after question.  I got to the end and re-read my answers...

Nothing.  Not a spark.  Not a single star scratched into the margin.

Sigh.  I couldn't even feel the promise of ideas under the surface.  So I closed the book, walked away and left it untouched for a week.  

Then I came back with fresh eyes.  As objective as I'll ever get about my own business.  Often we can walk into a client's biz and easily offer new ideas, a different take, something they haven't considered because we have distance.  We haven't lived and breathed their business the way they have.

But it's also why it can seem so daunting to do the same thing for yourself.  Why writing your About Page can feel icky, even if you're a writer.  Or why you get bogged down in details and overthink everything when it comes to redesigning your own site even if you're a designer.

That's when the magic happened...just like it always does.

I started drawing arrows towards the phrases I liked.  Fancy brackets appeared around something I felt surprisingly strongly about but hadn't really talked about anywhere.  Hmm, maybe I should?

I noticed common threads among my clients who before I saw as a pretty diverse bunch of individuals.  Because that's how I got to know them.  As the unique, amazing people they are.  I wasn't looking for common threads.  I wasn't sure how to see the bigger picture from the individual parts before.

I chastised myself for not going deep enough on some answers.  And I realized I needed a new strategy for pricing and packaging my services based on how people are actually buying (stay tuned).

It's so hard to do this for ourselves because we're too close.  Too involved and too emotionally invested in everything we've created in our business.  But by applying the process I use with clients to myself I was able to gain some distance and insight.  And it will probably fuel some changes around here :)

PS I think I've figured out what the pricing package overhaul will look like thanks to an appetizer menu and indecision at my favourite coffee shop.  Yep, clarity and fresh perspectives can come in the strangest of places. (Now how to make that vision a reality...)

How do you gain distance to get the perspective you need to make changes in your business?  Or what's the favourite part of your process (of the way you work)?