Ep 14 - What To Work On
Ricky Richards Represents:
How to decide what projects you should and shouldn't take on.
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF THE PODCAST
How to decide what projects you should and shouldn't take on.
It’s said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Well just recently I’ve found myself, for probably the fourth or fifth time in the last few years, in a state of overwhelming tension due to the cognitive overload, that I’ve once again willingly embraced, so not to seemingly restrict myself or disappoint anybody. However, the result of said action has actually achieved exactly what I sought to avoid, leaving me in a state of insomnia and weariness, as well as failing to deliver to my fullest potential on all that I claimed I could.
Despite my failings to deliver to those I promised, my biggest source of disappointment has come because of my failings to myself, and the ones I love most. At times when I take too much on, I become cantankerous and robotic, as I attempt to work my way toward the completion of my promises. Every time emerging from such times no better off than when I started, only annoyed by the fact that my personal long-term projects are no closer to completion. Even this podcast, which at the time of recording, is without doubt the passion project I am most enjoying, has had to be put on hold whilst I finish jobs I don’t really care for.
Having done this several times, I realise that these afflictions are self-induced and that it is up to me to rectify the problem. My unwillingness to say ‘NO’ to good intentioned people who simply wish to utilise my time and skills, on the surface seems like a noble thing for me do, but in actual fact, it’s doing myself and those I help a dis-service.
For the sake of my relationships and my own sanity, I have recently undergone some introspection to clarify what projects I should and should not undertake. I hope that the results will be enlightening to not just myself, but anyone else who, like me, finds themselves in similar positions from time to time.
To begin my ramblings, I want to start by repeating the words of Hungarian born Poet, who’s name I’m 100% going to get wrong -Gyerk Fadulgy, who when asked why he became a poet at the age of seven, replied ‘Because I was afraid to die’
For those of us creative types, who possess a realistic sense of our relative insignificance in the grand scheme of life, we often seek only to transcend the limitations of our bodies by means of self-expression. Hopefully having left the world better off for our existence.
The ideal means of doing such is to be completely free to express ourselves and our own ideas. The unfortunate reality however, is that for the vast majority, our means of self expression do not provide adequate financial returns. To live a life that is not frivolous, but comfortable, and should we have the option, it is unlikely that we would willingly do commercial work, where we have to sacrifice our creative integrity. But neither do we wish to live the life of a starving artist.
The question then, is ‘How do you become selective in choosing which commercial jobs to undertake? In order that you can maximise the time you can spend on projects that have lasting value and that ultimately fulfil you?’
If you’re unaware of how to identify a project of this nature, then ask yourself…..’If you only had 6 months to live. Would you still choose to undertake this project?’
Should you be working on a project right now for which you would say no to this question, I would argue that it’s a project you would ideally not undertake.
I appreciate that this is a rather idealistic approach to life, and one that many people are not fortunate enough to contemplate, but that makes it all the most important for those individuals who can, to not squander their privilege, and to instead use it to the best of their ability, and hopefully in ways that benefit the greater good.
Suppose you see this reality as feasible, but not yet achieved. The task at hand is to try and maximise profits in the short term, so to open up adequate leeway to concentrate on those life goal projects that require significant time, but no guaranteed financial reward.
So how can you achieve this?
The answer, I believe, lies in the types of work in which creative undertake, and to switch from a short term, to long terms perspective when it come to creative projects. The vast majority of creative professionals primarily seek to perform tasks that fall into the first of a three-tier project hierarchy.
Credibility builders, product ecosystems and passive projects.
So lets get into it, what are credibility builders?
Credibility builders account for the vast majority of projects undertaken by creative professionals. They are projects that seek to reinforce credibility in a given area, this might be by working for a big name client, or at a large organisation, or delivering exceptional results to a client. The result of these types of projects is that individuals are given money in return for their services. The problem with this as a means of earning money, is that it’s a perpetual cycle. You work to earn money, and then often at times spend that money whilst seeking new opportunities to earn more money and so the cycle continues.
The only value to be taken from this first tier, is the lasting value of credibility and experience. For many people however, these factors become the driving force to make them continue to try and achieve in any given area. The mistake people make, is that even once people reach high levels of success in a given space, they continue to work on projects that add nothing to increase their credibility or expertise, but instead merely reinforce it. Instead of being overly selective over which projects to undertake, and only taking on projects that can significantly raise their bar, people tend to take on any projects that pay, and hence, spend years treading hypothetical water.
Now, is this a bad thing? Not always.
If you genuinely, whole heartedly, love the projects you undertake, then who am I to say you’re wasting your time, but for the sake of this argument, I’m assuming that most people would rather be working on their own dream projects, as apposed to fulfilling those of others.
So lets assume that you’ve already reached high levels of credibility in your field. As a side note, if you haven’t…..get back to work!
But if you have, this is my suggestion…..
If you find yourself in a position regularly where you’re unable to say ‘no’ to people offering you projects, as I sometimes do, a great technique is to price yourself out of 95% of the market. This will mean that if projects don’t arise that can significantly push your credibility forward, at least you will be being paid well, and therefore you can increase the duration of time you go between projects, which then presents you with the opportunity to work on those projects that you would do, if you knew your demise was only months away.
I want to point out, that I’m fully aware that debating death is quite morbid. But I do believe that posing this hypothetical situation, is the best way to assess if you really are concentrating on projects that are important to you.
Now onto the second tier projects, product ecosystems.
Second tier projects are referred to as your product ecosystem. Product ecosystems in the context of creative professionals, refers to how you can package a product or expertise in a way that productises it, ie, turning it into something you can sell repeatedly. The basic principle of product ecosystems, is that by productising your offering, it allows you to sell it at scale. As you increase your credibility with tier one projects, you slowly build enough recognition to encourage people to partake or buy into your tier two ecosystems. As an example, those who know me will know that I run a number of ideas workshops. This is my way of productising what I do as a day job. Instead of coming up with ideas and selling them to clients, I’m selling the means of coming up with those ideas by creating workshops that multiple people can attend. The benefit of this productisation is that I can offer someone a great experience for very little money, but when extrapolated over numerous people, I’m still able to make significantly more than I would doing a tier one project.
To put this into content. A day of my time may cost a client £400 and they would consider me to be expensive. But an attendee paying £120 to spend a day learning a skill they can apply for the rest of their lives would consider it a relative bargain. But with 30 people each paying £120 I could earn up to £3600 in a day, assuming I don’t partner and have access to a free space to host the events. As you can see, the financial benefits of productising your expertise can come with significant financial rewards, and as such, you can reduce the time it takes to make lump sums of money, therefore giving you more time to work on those life goal projects. For those that are able to get their head around packaging their expertise, it is likely that this second tier will account for the vast majority of your earing potential, and the scale of your offering is relatively limitless.
The third and final tier on the product hierarch, are passive projects, which are rightly seen as the ‘mecca’ of all projects, not necessarily for being fantastically creative, but because successful passive projects give creatives the only resource we can’t buy- time. For those who are capable of creating passive projects, it provides huge amounts of leeway, and can be the difference between getting by with a handful of freelance projects as apposed to having to work a full time day job. Passive projects are projects that once created, have value but effectively run themselves. Creating projects that are completely passive is extremely difficult, but a good place to start, is to ask yourself, what could I create, that once made, people would be prepared to pay for, but that requires little to no upkeep? Typically people tend to emphasise two areas when trying to create passive projects
1. Will people really pay it?
2. Will it really require little to no upkeep?
The second part of this equation is important, because the most undervalued element of creating passive projects, is how will people find out about what you’ve created? If you don’t have an effective delivery method, or way of people discovering your project, then it’s unlikely you’ll make any money from the project, and your time will have been wasted.
Many people try to create assets that are capable of being passive, but they fall short because without significant effort, they’re unable to drive people to their product, platform or asset. So be sure to make your method of delivery, your third question, when debating if an idea is worthy of pursuing.
Now, let me bring this back to the point of this ramble in the first place, what projects should you be working on?
As an overarching statement I would encourage people to try where possible to work on their ‘bucket list’ projects. But when that’s not feasible in the short term, try to identify projects that give you the greatest money / time benefit in the long term.
This means prioritising projects that people love, are prepared to pay for, and that once completed, require minimal upkeep. And lets not forget that added aspect, of having a means of getting said idea to people in the first place.
If you don’t have any means of distributing your work, products and ideas, then I would consider building your credibility by either working on highly respectable tier one projects, that you purposely select because they deliver disproportionate returns for their time investment. Or second tier projects, that provide enough financial return, credibility boost, and networking opportunities, until you reach a point where passive projects become a viable option.
If you stick to this as a means of selecting your projects, then I believe you’re well on your way to establishing a base that can sustain you long enough to work on the projects that are most important to you, and that you feel will be a good reflection of the contribution that you can make in the world.
Finally, before I go. I assume that many of you will be somewhere in the middle of this process already. In which case I encourage you to get even more granular as to what a project needs to deliver in order for you to work on it. Maybe your aspirations are to travel, so it needs to involve moving around. Maybe you prefer brands that have an ethical stint and so you’re going to focus on projects for ethical brands. Or maybe you’re a vocal social justice warrior and want all your projects to tell people how much they suck and how awesome your values are. Ultimately, I don’t know your goals, I only know mine. But if you’d be curious to see the in depth breakdown of how I currently choose the kind of projects I work on, from the subject matter through to the partners I work with. I’ve included a free PDF download that outlines all my due diligence that I pledge to go through, before accepting projects moving forward. So if you’re lazy, feel free to steal my checklist. But if you want to customise it for yourself, feel free to take the structure and make it your own. I’m sure taking the time out to create it, will be well worth the time investment.
For now it’s bye from me. Tune in next time when I’ll be posting another great interview with an inspiring individual, or maybe I’ll just be ranting again… who knows?
Wherever you are in the world, have a great day and bye for now.