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Let's make every work 'strategic'

Thinking 10,000 ft above sea level.

A 'strategic' wrapper can turn a $100 work into a $10,000 work.

Thinking 10,000 ft. above sea level pays more. It’s a win-win for both sides.

If we take a look at the field of writing, the standard rates in this profession, as well as what writers do, usually the rates border around:

  • Writing content: $200 / article
  • Style guide: $2,000
  • Content strategy: $20,000

Drafting a content strategy is a high-leverage activity as that strategy can be incorporated into any subsequent product. You do it once, the company uses it twice, thrice, or more.

Every project exists in multiple overlapping contexts - here’s some of the types of context to look for:

  • People (who are the stakeholders? what do they care about?)
  • Resources (what can they realistically do with your work?)
  • Brand (what is the position of the company?)
  • Marketing (audiences, channels, analytics)
  • Business model (revenue, profit)
  • Product (how does their product work, what is possible?)
  • The user (who is the user? What do they care about?)

Tom Critchlow, a freelance consultant talks about his experience involving the leadership team from the very beginning of his assignment. He talks about how this helped him gather crucial context while pitching his work.

I was working as a marketing advisor for a client and early in the engagement (partly because we were discussing me becoming the full-time CMO) I was invited to sit in on their quarterly board meeting. This experience was formative in better understanding the drivers and motivations of the business - by understanding who literally owned the business better. This context was crucial for proposing work and for ensuring that pitching that work to the board was smooth.

Providing strategic work makes the work more valuable. The more valuable the work is, the more pricey it becomes.

Let’s imagine you’re a writer - commissioned to write for a client’s branded content site. Let’s say you get paid $200 per article. The work: writing.

From Writing to Strategic Writing

Here’s a list of context that one should ask for and where it’s not available or it’s done poorly offer to step in:

Creating a style guide for all the writers Competitive analysis for other branded content sites, who writes for them and how they operate A content marketing plan for the branded content site A content marketing plan across the whole brand Themed content franchises that can scale beyond individual posts SEO research into keywords they care about targeting

From Designing to Strategic Designing

How might we think of designing-in-context?

You’re being commissioned to design a landing page for the client’s brand. Let’s say you get paid $1000 for the landing page.

  • Creating a brand identity, brand DNA for the company
  • Competitive analysis of other branded websites. What is their overall design approach and how they communicate?
  • Understanding user behavior and goals. This helps enhance the effectiveness of the landing page as we know who we’re targeting.
  • Incorporating conversion optimization techniques: As the landing page is designed for conversion, strategic design here involves working closely with marketing teams to understand campaign objectives.

Work is highly valuable when the work is delivered in-context. Strategic design is exactly that. 10 years ago, We never had the job profile of a ‘strategic designer’. Fast forward now, and we have a whole gamut of design-related job roles ranging from strategic designers to business designers. Design is now both a noun and a verb.

From writing to designing, or any work in general, the path to strategic work looks something like this:

  • Ask questions and be curious (about the business, the industry, the people)
  • Explicitly ask to see surrounding context (e.g. as a writer, ask for the content strategy, as a marketer ask for the strategic roadmap)
  • Then, next time explicitly ask to be included in the creation of the surrounding context
  • Then, start offering and leading the projects to add the surrounding context
  • Repeat as you expand your context

Being strategic is a mindset. A new way of navigating and understanding the work and it’s surrounding context. A $100 work with a ‘strategic’ wrapper can turn into a $10,000 work.

When I said, any work, I literally mean any work. Let’s take the business of Twitter Ghostwriters. Businessesmen in Hong Kong and the Middle East pay up to $25 an hour for someone to talk to them in English, helping them improve their skills. Yes, even Twitter thread creators. Nobody has time, everybody wants attention. In this context, the ‘strategic wrapper’ could possibly include a social media strategy and calendaring. In this case, it becomes a $10,000 work as execution is easy. You can easily outsource it. Hard thinking is hard.

So, next time you’re getting into a project with a client — get strategic!