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Freelancing and consulting: Creativity is way overrated

Creativity is fine if that is what the freelance or consulting assignment calls for, but it is easy for a solopro to miss the mark on an assignment by being too creative.

This is especially true for projects that are well-defined by the client. I’m thinking of content writing, because that’s the kind of work I often do, but this can apply to other fields as well.

I discovered this the hard way when employed full-time in corporate jobs. The boss would explain what she wanted. She would say, “Start the executive’s quotation in the press release with, ‘We are excited to announce.’”

Later we would discuss it again and she would remind me, “Start the quotation with, ‘We are excited to announce.’”

In my early days, I would intentionally begin with something else, possibly, “We are pleased to announce.” But other times I would go off in a totally different direction.

I realize that you are not dumbstruck by the significance of these changes. Seems like pretty much the same thing either way.

But at the time I believed it was important to demonstrate creativity, that they were paying me to come up with something new and different.

It took work to develop these variations, and furthermore, the copy was often amended after it left my desk to something closer to what my supervisor recommended in the first place.

Eventually I learned that it is not laziness to follow directions. It saves time and gets the job done more effectively.

Following directions is not the drone way out of bringing more to the job. It’s simple common sense unless there is something clearly wrong with the original directions.

In many tasks, there is no single right way. So why not do the job as directed?

This is even truer in self-employment. As corporate staffing is trimmed and more solopros are given assignments to fill in the gaps, it makes even more sense to work closely with what we are given.

Content intent that is fed to us has been polished in-house as it wends its way through processes. Let’s make life easier for both ourselves and our clients by following the most direct route from Point A (data that has been provided to us) to Point B (what we submit to meet the client assignment).

Some consulting assignments do call for greater creativity. Consulting assignments to solve a problem that no one has been able to solve to date. Advertising or other creative campaigns where solopros have been brought in specifically to add their special sauce to the project.

However, many assignments result simply from the need to apply more manpower to the task at hand.

As we bring our creativity to bear on the work, we must always consider if our unique approach is really more effective or if we are on an ego trip to convince ourselves we are so utterly creative even though the work we submit receives substantial reworking by the client.

The client decides what they want and what they don’t want. Some assignments are done right when the client decides they are done right. So let’s not kill ourselves creating what they don’t want.

The purpose of a paying assignment is to meet client expectations, not to build our own portfolio. We are not “exceeding expectations” simply by doing our own thing.

Originally posted 8-21-13

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