Uff Da and Up Helly Aa

Every now and again, folks ask me why I write more about life experiences, book writing, and my experience as an author newb, and less about the things I do that actually make money. After all, content marketing, sponsored content work, writing, editing, and communications strategy consulting is kind of my jam. Shouldn't I be spouting all of that wisdom?

The answer is a little more complicated than a straight-up yes or no.

First, I get paid for that wisdom because I'm a fixer. In fact, that's a big reason why I went freelance a couple of years ago. A fixer is the person in a particular role (and often not the role that's supposed to be responsible), who gets called when one or more of their collaborators are flat-out stumped. He or she can cut through the hemming and hawing, set a path, define a strategy, ask new questions, or Google it (fer pete's sake) to help clear a roadblock. 

A fixer often can't turn off what others might assume is "playing devil's advocate" or "always having to be right." So, as a staff member, she or he may annoy the bejeepers out of colleagues, throw off the curve for hourly estimating ("I'm done already. What's next?"), and become someone everyone respects but no one likes. As a freelancer, a fixer is often very well-liked and a welcome addition to temporary teams. After all, she or he will swoop in, help make things better, and leave. Confident, happy, reassuring, efficient!

Since I hung out my own shingle, I've been very fortunate to receive plenty of calls and emails from former coworkers who went on to other endeavors. They reach out to me, specifically, when they reach the stumped point. "Our advancement office needs ..." "I don't know what I'm dealing with yet, but we're gonna need you ..." "So we got this RFP and I don't know how to ..."  

That means I tailor the wisdom to my clients' specific needs. I don't believe in one-size-fits-all writing, editing, or strategy ... which is typically what winds up in blog posts. Instead, I believe in discussing business goals, challenges, resources, preparation ... all of the pieces of the puzzle. In initial meetings with clients, before they ever pay a cent or even have a contract in place, I try to provide some value that can help them as soon as they walk out the door or hang up the phone.

Second, marketing is manipulation. Folks don't like to hear it, but it's true. Marketing is the art of manipulating people to do what you want them to do, while making them think it was their idea. It can wear a white hat or a black hat. I've worn both.

I prefer the white one. That's another reason I chose to go freelance. Slowly but surely, I'm gaining more control over the projects I take on and the tenor of the relationships I form with clients. I'm also starting to dabble in the shift back to the storytelling, journalistic writing I originally loved. The kind that's less about manipulation and more about elucidation. 

As a result, I have a pigheaded resistance to marketing-as-usual. I work in communications. I specialize in making complicated things easy for people to understand. 

You want the big secret of marketing? It doesn't matter what you say. It matters what you do.

Run your organization responsibly, provide a valuable product or service, and treat both your customers and employees like they matter. That's. It. I can help you talk about that once you're doing it. What I can't do is wave a shiny wand and make everything okay if you're not on the up-and-up.

Finally, I prefer to work with people who know me. That doesn't mean I don't want to meet new people! But it does mean that I am a whole person, and so are each of my clients and each of my collaborators. If someone gets sick, takes a vacation, needs to make a soccer game, or whatever, it's not a crisis. It's life. We can handle it.

That's why I write about other things in my world. Where I am, what I'm observing, stuff I'm learning, how I'm feeling, things I'm writing, what I'm celebrating. I expect to learn the same about my clients. It helps me know how to plan ahead and how to interact with different people.

So, what's up with the post title? I just happened to be feeling a little Viking-y today.

Uff da is a Scandinavian-American expression picked up from Norwegian immigrants. It's used exactly as it sounds ... kind of like an oy vey for the Norsk, Dansk, and Svensk set.

Up Helly Aa is a festival in the village of Lerwick, in Shetland, which involves much merrymaking and the burning of a life size, floating Viking galley. It takes place at the end of January. (Along with the Chincoteague Pony Swim in July, it's one of the events I would most like to attend, but that's not the point.) This year, it's the time by which I hope to have a number of administrative, work, book, and life ducks in a row. Which I will likely celebrate by setting something more modest aflame, possibly while wearing a Viking helmet.