Savvy Speaks: Getting up to Speed - FAST

Savvy Speaks: Getting up to Speed - FAST
Savvy Sisters - Wed Jan 04, 2012 @ 03:49AM
Comments: 92

If you work as a freelance professional of any sort, sooner or later a client will ask you to work on a project where you have had little to no experience in the subject matter. Savvy professionals have methods they use to hit the ground running and get up to speed fast. This week, the Savvy Sisters share their best tips.



Immerse Yourself

Ask your client to provide a few key pieces that will help you get your head around the topic and the theme they want to tackle. Supplement that with your own research on the topic. Scour the Internet for blog posts, analyst reports, articles, conference videos, press releases, etc. covering the topic. Keep an eye out for perspectives that support your client's position as well as those that present an opposing point of view. When it comes to executing the project, you may find it valuable to reference those in agreement while addressing opposing POVs. These nuggets can also serve as talking points in your interviews with subject matter experts.


Responsible Recon 

Tip #1: If you're taking on a project about an unfamiliar topic, make sure you include research and "immersion" time in your project budget. You can eat up a LOT of hours digging through reference documents, reading collateral, and running web searches. Include this time in your estimate.

Tip #2: Get really clear with the client about who is providing what research and reference materials. As noted in Tip #1, the time you need to spend can mount pretty quickly, but it will vary greatly depending on whether the client is sourcing all the materials and handing them to you, sourcing and annotating/summarizing them, or just leaving you to your own devices. Make sure you know which scenario is in play.

Tip #3: Read, take notes, and ask questions. Read everything you can get your hands on (intenal materials, competitor materials, news stories, etc). Make notes as you go along so you can find specific passages and facts later on. Ask as many questions as you need to. Remember, you're being hired for your stratetic and/or writing skills, not your knowledge about the topic. Asking questions won't make you look stupid.  


Ask the right questions

I have a list of questions I ask every client when we kick off a new project. Of course I tweak it based on the project, but in general I get really nosy about the three C's: Core offering, Customers, and the Competition. Then, whether or not I know anything about the topic going in, I ask questions like a curious two-year-old until I get to the heart of why their solution matters to customers.


Pretend you are buying

When I begin a new project I try to put myself in their buyers shoes.  When I find out who their current customers are and what their buying decisions were then you can begin to understand what matters to decision makers.  I find talking to field sales reps about the actual objections they get, RFP questions, etc allows us to anticipate some of those issues and make sure the web copy, white paper, addresses them in advance.

I also agree with Kate's mention of surveying the competition.  Particularly if your customer is not the industry leader.  Don't look to the competition to copy but instead to differentiate.  Zig when they Zag!


Sometimes not knowing the subject gives you the edge

Sometimes my best assignments have been those of which I didn't have a clue about the subject matter. That puts me in the wonderful position of being a new user. I just keep asking questions until I can completely understand. If I can figure out what is going on, then I can write about it in such a way that my audience will be able to understand the topic and follow directions. 

Also like Jamie noted, it's important to leave enough time for research. Books, magazines, internet searches, and interviews, it's all an important part of the job when trying to get up to speed. 


Have you ever accepted a job outside of your comfort zone?

How do YOU get up to speed quickly?

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