How to Break Through “Portfolio Paralysis” in 60 Minutes or Less
It seems to be the #1 roadblock to getting moving in a B2B writing career: Portfolio Paralysis.
No track record.
Maybe there are marketing managers out there prepared to hire a rookie like me. Maybe they’ll do so on the basis of a well-written prospecting letter and a visit to my website. Maybe the web copy on my site will impress them enough that they won’t question the missing “Portfolio” tab. Maybe. Heck, probably. Smarter people than me say so.
But it’s a mental game, isn’t it? Psychologically, it’s the equivalent of that “naked dream” we all hate so much. You know the one. You’re back at high school, it’s exam day, and you haven’t studied. Suddenly, everyone’s laughing at you, and you look down and realize that you’re naked.
If you allow it to, Portfolio Paralysis can intimidate you into the one state of being that does not permit success. Ever. The state of not taking action.
I was feeling the icy fingers of Portfolio Paralysis starting to get a grip on me, but it suddenly occurred to me that there’s not a single B2B writer on planet earth that was born with a sack full of samples. Every single one who is now making a living as a freelancer faced this barrier at some point. And if there are thousands of such working writers, then it must be a tissue paper barrier.
I determined right then and there that I was going through it.
Where to start? I decided that I was going head-down/tail-up to put every possible iron into the fire. But which iron first?
Listening to Steve Slaunwhite, Ed Gandia, Peter Bowerman, and others, they’ve all said the place to start was with your own personal network. Your family, friends, and co-workers. Do work for cheap, or even pro bono if you have to, but the important thing is to get those first few runs on the board.
The problem was that this was where paralysis had begun for me. I suspect I’m not the only one whose day job or circumstances makes this seem almost impossible. In my case, for the last 23 years I’ve been a pastor. Rule #2 in the smart pastor playbook is “don’t allow business to be conducted in the congregation on Sundays.” It’s a big no no. I’ve insisted on that rule, and I’m not going to be the one to break it. On top of the rule, there are many church folk who actually take a dim view of their pastor moonlighting. My network seemed off limits.
Now, your situation may not be exactly the same as mine, but the bottom line is that there are lots of us who, for one good reason or another, think that our personal network is an empty fishing hole.
I decided to take another look at that. I’d dismissed it very quickly, and so maybe it deserved some more thought, even if it was a long shot.
Sit down, Morgan. Cup of coffee. Check. Legal pad and a nice pen. Check. Quiet spot with one clear hour ahead (for me, a working father of four, that had to be middle of the night). Check.
I began to think through every relational connection in my life. I didn’t limit myself to people in my immediate geographical area, or even in the present day. I began to draw circles on the pad in front of me; one was labeled “past places,” another “college days,” and so on.
Suddenly, a name occurred to me and I wrote it down. A guy I’ve seen once in the last 10 years who was in a church I led on the other side of the world. He had his own small IT support company — a B2B firm! Why on earth hadn’t I thought of him before? I’ll tell you why, because it’s a mental game. I had convinced myself that my own personal network was an empty fishing hole, and my mind wasn’t going past that.
Then another name. An old college friend I haven’t seen in 25 years who I’d heard was now working for a corporation in Vietnam. I Googled him and discovered that he’s a Communications Director.
Then two more names hit me. My sons both work for companies in our area with under 50 employees, and I knew their owners quite well through my sons. What was stopping me from talking to them? I began to think about who did their marketing, and decided to check out their websites. I discovered that one of them didn’t even have a website! The other did, but there was a lot of room for improvement, including a “news” page that was in desperate need of some properly written press releases.
In the end, my one hour of brainstorming produced four prospects that I thought had real potential. I was stunned as I looked at the list in front of me. I didn’t think my own network could produce even a single possibility.
Over the next few days, I wrote an email to each of my overseas friends, and arranged to “bump into” my sons’ bosses. Result? My friend with the IT company emailed me back and said he was sure to have some work he could send my way (especially as I was offering it pro bono). Both my sons’ bosses acknowledged their dire need of some help with marketing materials, and would love to sit and talk with me about it. I never heard back from my old college buddy in Vietnam, but three out of four ain’t bad!
I’ve discovered that I can run a long way on a little encouragement. This little exercise did even more for me than the few portfolio samples it looks like it will produce. The funny thing is that once I received back the validation of these few people, it energized me to get going on that portfolio with several other ideas, and that in turn has now led to my first paying job! (A story for another day.)
But here’s the take-away. If you think your own network is a dead end, think again. Shake off that deathly Portfolio Paralysis and take action now. Find one quiet hour (get up early if you have to), and gather the necessary equipment: a cup of your favorite beverage, a legal pad and pen, and your best attitude with no limiting thoughts allowed for that 60 minutes.
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