Monday, May 3, 2010
Writing a Book
Before I even considered writing a book, all I heard was “You have to write a book!” Then those same people would continue on with all of the reasons to actually write one, or reasons they think are important. To me, the reasons they gave sounded decent but were not strong enough to make me YES!
Looking back, I think my biggest reservation was that I was completely revamping my business. So putting a book together seemed like another thing I had to figure out. I felt I couldn’t write about what I hadn’t figured out for myself. So that became my hook!
I created a benchmarking process for companies to go through. They would be helping me with my research with real data to put together a process for my business and I would promote their participation. It was a win-win situation—until things started. There was a big learning curve on everything from how to gather the information, what to do with the information all the way through to presenting it. Here are a few lessons I learned and ways to make your process run smoother.
• Clearly define your process: This will take time and be modified as you learn what does and doesn’t work for you. But make sure you clearly spell out what their required obligations are and what you will provide for them and when. When is extremely important! At first I tried giving the companies perks throughout the process, thinking I was dangling a carrot in front of them. What I learned was that they would participate until they got the perk they wanted (and it wasn’t always the most valuable one), then they would disappear. So I withheld all perks until all requirements were met.
• Gather all information upfront: At first I simply relied on the companies saying they met my criteria. I soon learned not all of them were telling the truth and I had a hard time remembering which company was which. To solve this problem, I put together a comprehensive company profile that became a requirement. Implementing this also became a challenge. At first the companies would put this off because they didn’t have time for paper work and I would be stuck chasing them for it. After a few instances, I made it a requirement that the profile had to be filled out before we would schedule the interviews (or move onto the next step). This solved almost every problem I was having.
• Who to interview: Before you approach interviewing someone, clearly define the information you are looking for and identify who is going to convey that to you best. For the information I was looking for, I needed personal answers from the owner or CEO, the CMO, and the HR Director. When I interviewed a smaller company that outsourced HR, they asked if a mid-level manager would do. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this piece completed and made my process more accurate. It became the checks and balances process that I was looking for!
• What to ask them: I started with a base of eight questions and ended with 15. Each interview I did revealed a gap that I had not seen before or one that I did not know how to fix. Adding questions was not what solved the missing information problem I was having—changing the order of the questions did. Seeing how people responded to the flow of questions allowed me to put them in an order that helped the people I was interviewing want to open up to me. Also, made sure to end every interview with “Is there something I should’ve asked but didn’t or anything you would like to elaborate on further?” This question revealed insights I never could have imagined.
• What to do with all of that information: Knowing I would have a lot of information from the beginning, I recorded every interview. I made it known to the companies that the recording was for my use only. Making sure every person I interviewed understood that was vital, as some people were not willing to open up until after I explained what I was going to do with the recording. While I did keep everything digital, I found that for me, I needed to have my notes and the company profiles printed as well. Next time, I will invest in having the interviews transcribed, as it will make gathering quotes and finding specific information much easier.
• Organizing the book:Honestly I ignored this part as long as I could. I suspected I would end up profiling a few companies in detail, but the economy had another idea. As the economy changed and I was no longer able to consider profiling companies in detail, I took another look at my notes and discovered that strong prevalent trends prevailed. I was aware of them before, but was not considering them as ‘topics’ or ‘chapters’. Once I thought about them like this, the book wrote itself.
I hope these lessons learned help make your process just a little smoother. There will be bumps in the road, but if you are quiet and look at what caused them, they normally reveal the solution as well. Good Luck!
Visit Mel on her website here: http://www.contractorsdoingitright.com/