Strengthen Your Business Through Journaling

by Mark Levy

When I started doing positioning a decade ago, I didn’t have a defined methodology. I worked intuitively.

I’d hang out with a client, talk to their customers, study their marketing materials, and scan their field. A few weeks, and dozens of phone calls later, we’d have their marketplace position, competitive advantages, elevator speech, talking points, and case studies.

My informal approach worked well. The client got what they wanted, and I was able to conduct business in a way that felt natural.

One day a colleague asked me how I got my results, and I told him about my loose approach. A heavy-duty structure guy, he assured me that clients would be more at ease if they knew I had a codified process with predictable steps.

Since I was relatively new to consulting, I decided to take his advice. What I didn’t want to do, though, was create a process that was phony, mundane, or that got in my way.

That’s when I turned to my old freewriting files.

Freewriting is a way of thinking onto paper that helps you get to your best problem-solving ideas. Whenever I had a client positioning project, I’d open an empty document and would use freewriting to clarify my thoughts and create ideas. It was scratchpad thinking done for my eyes only.

Fortunately, I’d saved much of this exploratory freewriting. It sat in my computer throughout dozens of throwaway documents. I sifted through them.

Not only did I discover that I, indeed, had methods I’d called upon again and again and, therefore, had a kind of rough process; I also found I’d used tactics and had insights I’d completely forgotten about. For me, reading through my rough writing was revelatory. By studying it, I created a process and steps that were based on who I was and what I actually did.

What I stumbled on, you might want to do on purpose.

That is, keep a project journal that you can write in daily or at least a few times a week. The journal can be a physical book, or a file in your computer. Whatever format you choose, use it to talk to yourself about what’s happening in a particular project.

You can, for instance, write about a session you held, a question you were asked, a piece of advice you gave, a discovery you made, an insight your client had, a road block you experienced, a process you created, a list of things to stay away from, a list of things to do again, big successes, small successes, bits of dialogue, or an image that flashed into your mind.

The act of keeping a project journal can help you immediately, as you’re doing the writing. It can also help you long after the fact – as you review it days, months, or even years later.

Consider, too, asking a client to keep a project journal. Doing so will help them work out problems, remind them of strategies and ideas that they can use over and over, and get them focused on how things are changing due to the work you’re doing together.

Each week, you could schedule time to review their journal with them. They don’t have to read the actually writing, unless they’d like to. Instead, ask them to summarize interesting findings.

By the way, make no bones about asking them to look for changes and results in their writing. Say things like, “What problems have you had? What solutions have you tried? And what results have you seen?”

If you do this enough, people start focusing on results. They start looking for progress.

Without a results-oriented focus, some people forget how far they’ve come. When you point it out to them, or when they discover it for themselves, it inspires them to do more.

Make sure you point out all the ways they’re progressing personally, their company is progressing, and their own customers are progressing.

If you or your clients have kept a project journal, I’d love to hear about it. What insights did you gain? What snags did you encounter? What might we learn from your experience?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Marcaccio

Hey Mark, I’m a huge believer in this approach (freewriting) whether it comes to coming up with solutions for my business or developing myself personally.

Definitely helps get some perspective on your situation and gets you out of the repetitive thought loops in your head.

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Mark Levy

I agree wholeheartedly with you, Scott, about how freewriting gives perspective.

Whenever I feel locked into one way of seeing, I often use the technique to help me expand my view and help me take in vantage points I may be missing.

Thanks so much for your comments.

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