StoryStudio Chicago Words for WorkStoryStudio Chicago Words for Work

by Jill Pollack

It’s always in the details.

Small business owners are the busiest people on the planet so we’re always looking for a faster, easier way to grow. We’re admonished to move quickly so as not to give up market share to a competitor. And of course, we want to increase revenue and build our staffs.

So what if you have to cut a few corners to be the first one out of the gate? Think Big and you can build it. Right?

Call me crazy, but I’m obsessed with thinking small.

Last week a writing student asked me, “Can you just tell us the steps to writing a story?” The answer, I reminded her, was simply to “focus on the details.”

As a writer and teacher, I’ve learned that details are what separate the good from the bad. I tell my students that good writing–even a memo about payroll schedules–should be a conversation, a dialogue between writer and reader. Otherwise, why bother?

Successful business owners understand this concept too. We’re not just selling a service, we’re building a relationship and that’s hard work. But paying attention to the details can make it a whole lot easier.


We’re All Storytellers

Entrepreneurs need to learn what fiction writers have long known: the success of a story rests in finding “the significant details” as Eudora Welty once wrote. In good stories, it’s the details that captivate us, that allow us to “see” the story and that invite the reader to get involved in the conversation.

If I tell you “my first bicycle was pink with training wheels,” that’s not much to go on.

But if I tell you “my first bike was built by the boy down the street who added training wheels and ribbons, and then jogged down the sidewalk with me, holding the banana seat with one hand while I learned how to pedal…” now I’ve given you enough details to “see” the image. I’ve gotten you involved in my story.

In business, the same is true. Attending to the details–even ones as small as providing pen and paper at a meeting–can mean the difference between a client who feels uninvolved and un-invested and one who is now your project partner.


Slow Down to Speed Up

Things are moving fast. Really fast.

But is that the best way to do business? Especially for those of us in the business of creating unique stories and marketing materials? What happens to all those details that we don’t have time to consider?

Your customers don’t care how long an idea was in the making. They care that it works to their satisfaction. So before you jump into the fray, make sure you can deliver what you promise.


The Slow Creative Movement

Okay. I admit it. The Slow Creative Movement may be just wishful thinking on my part. But still, churning out a lot products and ideas seems to be the measure of good business these days. We want stuff NOW.

But in reality, it’s when we slow down to consider the ramifications of an idea or an action that we save ourselves time and money. Considering the details early on in the process can not only help you avoid mistakes, but more importantly, they can lead to better ideas and streamlined processes.

Productivity experts and Getting It Done (GTD) affiicionados will tell that if we take time during the day to move a little bit slower, then our productivity will actually speed up. How? Because instead of trying to answer email as soon as it comes in or half answering your staff’s questions, you focus completely on the task at hand. That means you get it done quicker.

It also means you won’t miss the important details.

It was almost eight months–start to finish–before StoryStudio launched its expanded Words for Work program. Why the wait? We had been running many elements of the program for a couple years, we already had clients and successful engagements. But we had so many good ideas and not enough details on each to make sure they would all be successful.

So like the fiction writers we are, we “murdered our darlings” and culled only the best ideas. Then we took some more time to flesh those out and tested them to ensure excellent student experiences.

That eight-month creative process helped us to deliver a tight package of service offerings and a clear “story” that we can easily share with clients. We’ve managed to cut down our RFP response time by more than 60 percent, and can onboard a new client in a matter of days.


Details are for my staff. I’m the Visionary.

Yes. I like to think this way, too.

But don’t think of “vision” and “detail” as being mutually exclusive. They should be partners, two sides of the same coin. Implementing the details may be left to others on the team, but considering and planning the details should be everyone’s responsibility.

Thinking in small parcels also offers another important benefit: it can help you see an interaction from the customer’s perspective. Website user experience offers reams of evidence of how often we design our marketing communications from our own experience rather from the customer’s. It’s these small details that will cost you.

Just because you know that little blue icon is a link to the product information, doesn’t mean your customer does.

Seriously. Just Tell Me the Three Things I Need to Know.

  1. Moving fast is great. But while those big thoughts are swirling in your head and making their way on to the ideaboard, remember to also have a column for “details.” You don’t need to have all of them worked out in advance, but the more planning you do, the better off you’ll be.
  2. Big problems can sometimes be caused by one small detail. When you get stuck on a project or have to deal with an unhappy customer, think small and focus on “the significant” detail that may be buried within the issue. Ask a lot of questions to pull out as much information as you can about this one part of the process until you find what you can alter and make your client happy again.
  3. Execute. Execute. Execute. Finding the details is necessary. Following through on them, essential.


A version of this article was first published on Huffington Post. 

Jill Pollack
About Jill Pollack
 Jill Pollack is Chief Story Wrangler of StoryStudio Chicago, where she founded a creative writing school and the Words for Work business writing training. She now co-leads the Story Mode program with Beth Nyland, working with company teams and business people who are really artists in their hearts to become great storytellers, presenters, and creatives. She was a co-founder of the content marketing conference, Content Jam in Chicago, IL, and is a frequent podcast guest and speaker on the power of stories in our personal and professional lives.
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