Stop Working So Hard

In this post by Chicago ASBPE Treasurer Betty Hintch, she tells us why taking time off to smell the roses from time to time is a key ingredient to success for B2B journalists.

Over the last six months, newspapers, magazines and other media outlets have been churning out a staggering number of articles about the negative impact of workplace stress. I edit publications for the human resource and workplace safety fields, so I am immersed daily in reports about the state of American workplaces. Frankly, the picture doesn’t look good. Thirty percent of managers said they are more stressed today than they were one year ago, according to an OfficeTeam survey. In addition, 28 percent of respondents expect their anxiety levels to increase.

As business-to-business editors, we have our share of stress. The reasons include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Demanding workloads that grow every time a new media platform comes along.
  • Managing the pressure to produce high-quality content that catches the eyes of readers who are battling information overload.
  • Struggling to seize new opportunities with staffs and budgets that were decimated during the recession.
So what’s a B2B editor to do? Stop working so hard, says one business expert. In her new book, Conquer CyberOverload: Get More Done, Boost Your Creativity and Reduce Stress, Joanne Cantor, Ph.D., emphasizes the importance of taking breaks to recharge and cultivate creativity.

However, not all breaks are created equal. She emphasizes the power of “brain-enhancing” breaks. Examples include physical exercise and experiencing nature. In other words, stop and smell the roses.

If you subscribe to Cantor’s logic, working 14-hour days or always eating lunch at your desk could be hurting your publication, rather than helping it. In fact, your boss may thank you for being a good steward of your work/rest balance. Here’s why: Information-free breaks allow your brain to make room for the important issues at hand. The brain has space to devise solutions or to gather energy to spit out your next award-winning idea.

Cantor shares other simple but intriguing suggestions, especially in this age of 24-hour connections and multiple messages vying for our attention:
  • Don’t be a workaholic. That’s easier said than done for many of us. We trick ourselves into thinking we need to put in more hours to meet deadlines and produce high-quality content. Cantor says a nose to the grindstone won’t see the big picture. Instead, alternate intense work with periods of relaxation. You’ll find that an uncluttered, relaxed mind is working double duty on your most pressing issues.
  • Sleep strategically. There’s a lot of truth in those two words. Cantor suggests scheduling your workload so that a night’s rest occurs before you turn in your finished product. While you sleep, your brain processes experiences that occurred during the day. You’ll wake up with new ideas and the enthusiasm to implement them.
I’ll take Cantor’s idea one step further and say that scheduling your demanding work when you are most productive allows you to create better content in less time. If you have to work late, perform easier tasks, such as answering simple email messages or administrative tasks, after hours when your mind is tired. That takes planning, but it is well worth it.

Most of us have heard Cantor’s advice sometime during our careers, but as hard-working editors and writers, it is hard to follow through. From personal experience, I have used most of Cantor’s suggestions and they work. The challenge is to resist tendencies to let bad habits creep in.

I’ll close by suggesting a Huffington Post article that includes case studies about how successful people have discovered they can accomplish more by taking rejuvenating breaks. In fact, these people are taking care of themselves while they save the world. That says a lot about the benefits of planning strategic work and rest periods to get more done.

Betty Hintch is Editor at Briefings Media Group LLC. She edits online ezines and newsletters in the HR, workplace safety, marketing and sales, and customer service industries.

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Opportunities for Business Journalists – Despite the Economy!

In this post, freelance writer Lin Grensing-Pophal, shares some tips for how business journalists can ride out the remainder of the current economic crisis.

I’ve been a business journalist for more years than I care to think about and I’ve certainly seen the ebb and flow in demand for freelance work, but none more significant than what we’ve experienced over the past couple of years.

Still, through my own experience and that of others I interact with on a regular basis, I’ve found that even in tough times, good journalists can—and do—consistently find work.

Some observations:

  • Existing relationships matter. Journalists who have had ongoing relationships with editors even in tight markets can still benefit from those relationships and should stay in touch even when budgets are tight and if rates may be declining.
  • “Not now,” doesn’t mean “not ever.” Patience matters and can make a difference. I’ve probably learned this over time, and others have said it, but it’s amazing how many projects come to light even years after the initial contact.
  • Professionalism is critical. Editors can tell – and are supremely offended – when you don’t take the time to read their guidelines or their publications. They don’t like it when the material you turn in doesn’t reflect the original assignment, was hastily pulled together and isn’t on target with their audiences’ needs. And speaking of audience…
  • Regardless of who you’re writing for, you need to focus on the end user audience needs and “what’s in it for them.” Might be my advertising roots, but I always try to be firmly focused on what the reader might be interested in, what questions they might have, what additional information they might need, what value I might provide, etc.
  • Consider non-traditional writing options. Over the past couple of years I’ve written blog posts, e-letters, grants and applications, news releases, etc. For business journalists, in particular, there are a wide range of corporate projects available (and even moreso as organizations are downsizing or freezing their staff and harried communication departments turn outside for assistance).
  • Be thorough and accurate. Editors tell me that it is far too common for them to receive queries from writer-wannabes that contain errors ranging from misspelled words to grammar problems to – ugh! – incorrect publication or editors’ names.
  • Use your network! Editors or clients you’ve worked with in the past may know of other editors or contacts who are in need of someone with your writing skills. Contacts you build through social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter can also lead to new opportunities and new connections.
  • Don’t give up. Editors are busy these days. Chances are if you don’t hear back immediately, it’s more because these editors are swamped than because they’re not interested. It pays to follow up.
  • Don’t burn bridges. It can be tempting sometimes to close the door on a relationship with an editor whose assignments are few and far between, whose heavy-handed editing seems entirely irrational, or whose snarky feedback makes you want to respond in kind–but don’t do it. You just never know where either you or that editor may land in the future and, trust me, your paths may someday cross again!
Lin Grensing-Pophal has written on topics ranging from health and wellness, to relationships, careers, profiles and HR-related topics, to marketing communications and social media. She’s written books, articles, white papers, reports, newsletters, e-letters, brochures, web sites and blogs.

More is More: 6 Ways to Serve Readers in a Down Economy

As the economy struggles to right itself after the 18-month Great Recession, readers need business-to-business publications more than ever. But the recession has affected practically every sector, publishing included.

So how, with smaller staffs and anemic page counts, can you continue to deliver relevant content to your audience? Conventional wisdom states that those who work smarter than ever to succeed during the bad times will find themselves far ahead of those who hunker down and wait for salad days to return. Here are a few tips for working smarter and delivering practical coverage for helping readers to do the same.

1. Acknowledge the bad times. Don't hide behind Pollyanna optimism and spin, and don’t ignore what’s going on in the hopes that you’ll lift your readers’ spirits. This isn’t business as usual.

2. Offer hope and encouragement. As the editor of a publication geared toward insurance producers, the news isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. But with everything we do – illustration, photography, story tone – we attempt to imbue a sense of “you can do it.” It’s in nobody’s best interest to be so full of gloom that your readers decide to jump ship and switch to another career field.

3. Feature reader-generated stories and advice. My magazine features a two-person editorial staff and a less-than-amazing freelance budget. Yet our most popular story to date – one that has been in the top five most popular stories on our website every month since it first ran in December 2009 – was one called “52 Prospecting Tips for 52 Weeks.” We asked readers, regular contributors, and other experts for their best tips on finding new clients in a new economy. Often, five minutes spent putting a call out for such submissions – on Twitter, in LinkedIn groups, on your Facebook fan page, on the home page of your magazine and within its pages, via email – can net a feature package that serves your readers better than any 2,000-word staff-written story.

4. Run more content than ever. Your budgets and print magazines are shrinking, so this advice probably sounds crazy. But when you take advantage of the limitless space of your website, your social media presence, your blogs, you have plenty of space to bring readers the insight they need to survive. And when you turn to readers and industry contributors to supply you with this content, budgets shouldn’t be an issue.

5. Diversify your reach. Consider how different readers want to receive your content, and deliver it that way. Despite what you may think, this is actually a great time to experiment with new technologies and delivery media. Many companies and service providers are offering lower rates and free trials to try their technology. Can you experiment with ways to optimize your content for the iPad or mobile devices? Can you look into e-newsletters packaged around specific reader needs? What about digital publication of your online issues to expand your audience without cramping your postage and printing budget? Get creative now so your new strategy is firmly in place when the clouds begin to lift.

6. Talk to readers on their turf. The worst thing you can do is guess at your readers’ needs and blindly throw content at them. Instead, reach out to your readers on a regularly basis. Visit (and participate in) online discussion forums, amp up your social media presence and interact with readers where they already are, comment on blogs, attend professional events – even travel, if you can. Get personal. Find out what their pain points are. Then, you can figure out what they need before they need it – and deliver.

Christina Pellett is the editor of the Agent's Sales Journal, a business-to-business publication for life and health insurance agents. Follow her on Twitter at @cpellett.

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Compelling Stories Await Alert, Aggressive Trade Publications

In this post, Tom Zind — the 2010 recipient of the Stephen Barr Award — explains why B2B publications are perfectly capable of producing stories that can trigger meaningful change.

There’s no rule, written or unwritten, that only publications lucky enough to get to compete for the Pulitzer Prize get to do great journalism.

Trade publications, too, are fully capable of producing the same kind of impactful investigative reporting as their cousins in the consumer press.

I’ve been reminded of that fact this year, having had the good fortune to win the ASBPE’s 2010 Stephen Barr Award, as well as a Gold Azbee, for a story that appeared in EC&M magazine in 2009.

Missteps and Oversights. In the story, which explored the linkage of military and military-contractor missteps and oversights to the tragic electrocution deaths of several U.S. soldiers in Iraq, we attempted to frame the problem, cite the possible causes, allocate responsibility and highlight multi-pronged efforts to correct the situation and reduce the hazard.

Though we’ll never know just how much impact the story had on subsequent strong corrective actions initiated by the Pentagon or military contractors, we take heart in knowing that we did our journalistic duty. We saw a problem, one both our national leaders and our readers deserved and needed to understand, and did our best to fairly and accurately lay it out. EC&M editors accurately spotted a compelling and important story, allowed a reporter the time and resources to investigate and put the story through the careful editing and fact-checking paces before letting it see the light of day.

More Attuned to Safety Going Forward. The result, we think, is an industry that’s now more knowledgeable about the nature of electrical safety hazards in military environments and more aware of the dedication of some its members, as well as a military and civilian contractor community more attuned to safety going forward.

Granted, stories like this that blend life and death, rumors of official negligence and a compelling human-interest angle, don’t come across the typical trade publication editor’s desk very often. But they don’t have to. Trade publication editors and writers who stay clued in to events taking place outside their industries, think creatively about how national stories can be spun with an angle “local” to their readers’ interests and allow their imaginations free rein to at least consider what stories they’d pursue in “a perfect world” not beset by industry political concerns, might be surprised at what gems they uncover.

Always an Audience for Compelling Journalism. Moreover, they’re likely to find an audience whose interest in compelling journalism that may even ruffle a few feathers in the process is unrivaled. Trade publication subscribers are acutely interested in issues that affect their industries and professions. Many increasingly understand that in an age of blogging and social media, secrets are harder to keep and openness is a preferential strategy. That can translate to more willing and cooperative sources than might be imagined, and an engaged readership eager to be told the truth, even in a more unvarnished form.

In short, all of the elements needed for solid journalism – stories begging to be told, sources with intimate knowledge and readers clamoring for facts – are in place for trade publishers. The only missing piece? Just more editors and writers willing and able to turn the key.

By Tom Zind

Zind, who lives in Lee’s Summit, Mo., is a 1979 graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism, and has worked as a freelancer for the last 13 years.



'Boots on the Ground' Proves to be Winning Approach for Homeland Security Magazine

It was very gratifying for Homeland Security Today to win ASBPE’s national gold award for best feature series but I have to admit — it was frustration with the existing Azbee rules that drove me to do it.

When we launched our magazine in 2004 I was determined that we weren’t going to put out what I called “another @$&*# trade pub,” as I put it. After the attacks of 9/11, all of us who formed the company and launched the magazine took homeland security too seriously to give it anything less than our best effort. I knew we could produce a high-quality magazine that could stand against any competitor in the trade or consumer media.

From the very beginning as well, I realized that to cover U.S. homeland security, we also had to cover Canada and Mexico because the security of all three countries is intimately intertwined.

Going Beyond ‘Virtual’ Reporting. I’ve always believed in “boots on the ground” reporting. Sure, someone can work the phones or use e-mail, but to get real reporting from a place you have to be there.

Accordingly, over the years we’ve built a network of correspondents around the world. In this case, finding a capable Canadian correspondent was relatively easy, but finding someone who could write consistently good material in English from Mexico City proved much more difficult. Ultimately, I did find Jana Schroeder, a veteran American journalist living and working near Mexico City, and we began working together.

We actually did several series over the years. In 2006 all three countries had elections, so we did an issue with reporting from all three capitals on their likely impact on security in each country.

In 2007, when Al Qaeda began threatening oil installations, we did a three-article package in our September issue called “Petrojihad — The Next Front?” covering petroleum security in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Feature Series Category. I wanted to submit that group of articles for the 2008 Azbee feature series category, but I was told the articles had to be in successive issues. Next time, I resolved, we’d string it out over three issues.

* * *

Things began unraveling in Mexico in 2006 when President Felipe Calderon decided to break the back of the narco-cartels in that country. To everyone’s surprise, the cartels began fighting back — hard.

At Homeland Security Today we issue a homeland security report card every September, looking back at the events of the previous year, and when I looked at the events between Sept. 11, 2007, and Sept. 11, 2008, I was shocked by what I saw going on in Mexico.

Today many people have heard about the brutality and savagery of the narco-cartels. There were Mexican killings and gang shootings in 2008, but what was really surprising was the number of assassinations of high-level government officials.

In May, Edgar Milan Gomez, the acting chief of Mexico’s federal police, was gunned down. In June, Igor Labastida, the top official in charge of combating contraband, was murdered as he ate lunch. Then, in November, the interior minister and the top national security adviser and prosecutor were killed when their plane crashed near Mexico City.

These weren’t just random gang killings, they were targeted, strategic assassinations. If this happened in the United States, you would have to imagine that in the space of seven months the heads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the attorney general and the national security adviser were all killed.

An Important Story. Something serious was going on. Someone was trying to break the Mexican government, and anything that affected Mexico this directly was going to affect U.S. homeland security.

I also had the opportunity to sit next to Border Patrol Agent Sal Zamora at a dinner honoring outstanding public servants, and we discussed the seriousness of the border situation and the cartels.

Then, several things came together. Anthony Kimery, our senior reporter, who lives in Oklahoma City (in part a reason for his interest in homeland security) said he wanted to go to the border because of the carnage he was hearing about there. I had the same idea and we were able to send him to meet up with Zamora and the two toured the area together.

I also had lunch with Brian Jenkins, a renowned, veteran counterterrorism analyst, when he was in Washington to discuss his new book, Will Terrorists Go Nuclear? There are a lot of people who claim to be counterterrorism experts, but Brian is the real deal, he’s truly been on the front lines, he’s looked those people in the face and he’s had access to the secrets that the rest of us can only imagine.

His full time job is as adviser to the head of the RAND Corporation. As we talked, I expressed my concern about what was going on in Mexico and he said that his next project was analyzing the situation down there, which he agreed was very grave. I asked him if he would write an article on it for us and he agreed.

Team Reporting. Kimery’s reporting would supply eyewitness “boots-on-the-ground” reporting, in an introductory story called “Savage Struggle on the Border.” Jenkins would supply the analysis of where Mexico was going in a story called “Could Mexico Fail?” but we needed reporting and analysis on how Mexico had gotten to this point, and I turned to Jana in Mexico City. She agreed to do the story that filled in the gap. She had excellent access to Mexican officials and academics and her story was called “The War for Mexico’s Future.” We now had the three parts of a series that would give the serious reader a complete picture of the situation.

There was something more — we had the story to ourselves and it was a critical story that needed to be told and fell squarely within our mandate. In the United States, most media was taken up with the 2008 presidential election and Mexican developments weren’t even on the radar.

Frankly, by and large the American media treat Mexico as a slummy back yard and don’t take developments there seriously. It was even worse in 2008. Here was a war — and that’s what it was, a war — going on next door that could have a profound effect on the United States homeland and there was barely a word about it in the general media. It was crucial, it was dangerous and there was no one else doing it.

The series appeared in the January, February and March 2009 issues of the magazine under the collective title, “Savage Struggle on the Border.” We were very gratified by the reaction. At one congressional hearing, Anthony Placido, head of intelligence for the Drug Enforcement Administration, held up the magazine with Brian’s cover story, “Could Mexico Fail?” in order to emphasize the seriousness of the situation.

* * *

We’ve since continued our coverage of the border and the narco war in Mexico and Kimery has made another trip down there. At this point I would say that what’s going on in Mexico is more dangerous than the threat of terrorism from the Middle East.

What made this series compelling was the fact that we had an important story that hadn’t seen the light of day anywhere else, and by breaking it into three parts, we were able to examine it from three different angles. Anyone reading the whole thing will get a much fuller understanding of the overall situation and be able to put breaking news events into context. (You can see it in a special section on our website.

Keys to Series Success. If there are any secrets to a good series, I would say they are: Make sure each installment advances the reader’s understanding of the situation you’re covering. Have a great story. And examine it as completely and thoroughly as you can.

There’s another element to this that I find gratifying: In a tough economic environment, when publications are hanging on by their fingernails, it’s sometimes hard to remember that good writing and good reporting are the foundations for not just journalistic success, but commercial success as well.

The kind of people who read print publications today enjoy reading, they look to it for information and they’re willing to invest time in a well-written article. They appreciate it. As editors we have to make sure their expectations aren’t disappointed.

That raises one last point: In the struggle to survive we’re all trying to appeal to advertisers. That’s necessary for our survival and it’s the system in which we publish. However, as editors we always have to remember that the focus of our efforts is the reader, and we have to serve that reader with the best crafted and researched content we can possibly produce. Good content will result in good revenues. Nothing less will do.

By David Silverberg

David Silverberg, the 2009 recipient of ASBPE's Journalism that Matters Award, is the editor of HS Today.



Enter the Contest. And Go to the Banquet.

We editors receive no shortage of feedback these days. Between the comments sections that accompany our online articles, postings on LinkedIn and Facebook, tweets, e-mails, and even old-fashioned phone calls, it sometimes can seem like our readers spend more time reacting to our words than we spent writing and editing them.

How uplifting it is, then, to receive feedback of a different kind — feedback that lets you know that not only are you fulfilling your publication’s or Web site’s mission of informing, showcasing, and entertaining your readers, but also your goal to remain at the forefront of your own profession, the profession of journalism.

Independent editorial and design competitions, like those sponsored by ASBPE and others, offer an important opportunity for that kind of feedback — an opportunity we ought not to squander, for many reasons.

Just the act of assembling the entries for such competitions is an uplifting experience. Many times we begin the process wondering if, in the course of our ever-more hurried workweeks, we really have managed to produce anything outstanding this past year, anything that we could objectively deem award-worthy. But the act of paging through our past issues and Web postings reassures us that we have, in fact, produced some amazing work.

Whether we win an award or not, the act of assembling the entries and writing the descriptions of the enterprise that went into creating them reminds us that we really did perform some minor miracles. Even if we never win an award, it is more than worthwhile to take a few minutes to revel in the year’s accomplishments.

Reassurance. Of course, it’s great to win. When we do, we are reassured that our work is meeting not only the standards we set for ourselves, but the standards set by the profession at large as well. It signifies that our editorial staffs are producing content that other editors would deem to be outstanding, and this is critical to ensuring that we remain at the cutting edge of the profession.

Awards also serve as important tools for reiterating to our employer organizations that we are doing an outstanding job. As many ASBPE Webinar speakers have noted recently, finding ways to quantify and therefore measure what we do as B2B editors can sometimes be a challenge; enumerating our awards to our employers can be a concrete way to demonstrate the service that we provide to our readers and value that we add to our organizations.

And though this may seem trivial, it’s important to participate in the awards presentations and the banquets or luncheons that accompany them. In this era of online education courses and Webinars, we rarely have the opportunity to interact with each other face to face anymore. Attending the awards presentations in person gives us the opportunity to renew ties with former colleagues, meet the new faces of the profession, and examine each other’s work.

Sizing Up the Competition. Communications experts tell us that the vast majority of all messages are delivered in nonverbal ways; how can we possibly communicate with each other, learn from each other, and get to know one another without laying eyes on one another? How can we judge our work against others’ if we never see the work produced by others?

The next time “awards season” rolls around, consider taking the time to enter. And if you’re lucky enough to win (and maybe even if you’re not), go to the lunch. It’s worth the effort.

By Laurie Shuster

Laurie Shuster is the managing editor of Civil Engineering magazine in Reston, Virginia.

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A Turn Toward Youth Puts B2B Mag on Road to Success

This begins a series of posts from ASBPE Editorial Excellence Award winners who tell the story-behind the story that got them to the podium to receive a coveted Azbee in 2010.

First up is
Rejuvenate magazine's Jennifer Garrett, who explains how a "youth movement" paved the way for her publication's success.

The June 2009 issue of Rejuvenate magazine, which included “Youth Outreach,” the winner of the National Editorial Gold Azbee Award for special section, was a turning point for the publication.

Rejuvenate magazine is for faith-based meeting and convention planners. Since it was first published in 2006, it has been a leading provider of education to this market, but it has faced the same challenge that many of its readers face: finding the proper tone for its faith-based audience.

Traditional vs. Youthful Tone. Many churches, faith-based organizations and ministries grapple with whether they should retain a traditional, formal tone or adopt a more youthful, high-energy, high-tech approach that appeals to a broader audience, including younger readers.

For the June 2009 issue, the editorial staff made that change. Until that point, the magazine maintained a formal tone and long-form stories that appealed to a traditional audience. The June issue was the perfect time to try a new look, tone and voice because it focused on a major issue in the faith-based meetings industry: reaching out to a new generation. The main package, “Youth Outreach,” educated readers about how to use the latest technology and trends to reach youth. We had to practice what we preached.

We assigned the entire package to the younger members of the editorial staff, who worked on it from story planning and development to design. The stories clearly explained new technology, trends, ideas and concepts that might be “outside the box” for our planners. We used an upbeat and fun design and voice that reflected the content, including short briefs, web throws and screen shots from social networks and other websites.

Youth Immersion Process. Our writers attended youth events to talk to students, interviewed individuals and organizations known for being successful at reaching a younger demographic, and took advantage of the very technologies we wrote about, including Facebook and Twitter, to learn what our readers were doing to engage youth.

The younger staff members’ familiarity with social media, the most important and yet most confusing outlet for many of our readers, came through in a clear and concise way. We included as many young voices (and faces) as possible in the articles while still reaching out to all of our readers, hoping it would help them understand and relate to the subject matter.

Based on response to the issue, it did. Readers liked the new look, design and format. The magazine has not turned back. It continues to maintain that fresh, modern design, shorter stories, web throws and a growing social media community. Our goal is to provide the same high level of education and news, but present it in a more readable and engaging way.

Altering a magazine’s style and format can be risky. Our June 2009 Rejuvenate, with its shorter articles and illustrated cover, was a departure from our previous style, but it has been the best decision we made for the magazine. But that’s just coming from one of the younger members of the staff.

By Jennifer Garrett, Associate Editor of Rejuvenate magazine



Is Your Job the Enemy of Your Career?

“ ‘I don't know that there will be jobs. There will be careers,’ said Charles Whitaker, a professor at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, which teaches more about the business side of media than in the past. ‘We're telling students they need to be much more entrepreneurial about their careers.’ ” — The Baltimore Sun, March 31, 2009
I was privileged to participate in an ASBPE webinar last week with editorial consultant and ASBPE Lifetime Achievement Award winner Howard Rauch. Our topic was the impact of digital media on editorial jobs and careers. I took the big-picture approach, looking at how to manage your career in the social-media era, while Howard offered a close-up, quantitative view of how digital media is adding to editorial workloads.

One thing we did not have the chance to address was the relationship between a job and a career. I suspect most editors tend to equate the two, not intellectually so much as practically. If you have a job, that is, doing it — whether badly or well — tends to constitute your entire effort to build your career. For most of us, it’s only when you don’t have a job that you start to think intensely about career-building.

When jobs weren’t so hard to find, and weren’t changing so rapidly, this blind spot wasn’t a big issue. But these days, if you don’t think explicitly and consistently about your career while still employed, you’re heading for trouble. Don’t let your job be the enemy of your career.

So if you’re currently employed, ask yourself who’s in control: you or your job? The fact is, before you can master your career, you have to master your job. To put your job in the proper perspective, and to give your career its due, I suggest the following three tactics:

Triage, baby, triage. Frankly, most of what you do in your job doesn’t matter.That may sound harsh, but for most editors, busywork is a major job component. Add to that the ill-advised projects and misguided digital initiatives that tend to increase in scope and number as advertising declines, and you may find that a majority of your time is spent on fruitless tasks.

Even in the best situations, the Pareto principle, or 80/20 rule, tells us that 80% of your achievement as an editor will come from 20% of your work. By prioritizing — triaging, really — you can focus your best efforts on the parts of your job that matter most. Both your employer and your career will benefit.

Nurture your inner freelancer. Chances are, at some point in the past you were a freelancer, and you found out just how hard it is to make a living that way. So when you got your job, you may well have said good riddance to your freelancing ways.

Bad move. I don’t so much mean that you should keep taking freelance assignments — although if you can, more power to you. More important is the freelancing attitude. If you think of your job as a long-haul freelance gig, you’ll have more control over both it and the direction of your career. As Seth Godin has pointed out, all of us are already self-employed. We just need to start acting like it.

Be a blockhead: write for free. It’s one thing to freelance when you’re getting paid. But why would you do it for free? In effect, you’re extending your working day by many hours for no monetary return. As Samuel Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” But sometimes, being a blockhead pays off in other ways.

Don’t get me wrong: at some point, you have to be paid in cold, hard cash for your writing and editing work. But there are other reasons than money to write, such as building your reputation, developing new contacts, and sharpening your skills. Your job often provides too small a canvas to allow you to show what you can do and to make the most of your talents and interests. So offer to write a guest post on one of your favorite blogs (such as the ASBPE National Blog, of course), or create and write for your own blog — or better yet, both. Who knows? At some point your unpaid sideline may turn into a whole new career.

As professor Whitaker suggests, the day may come when there are no more jobs, only careers. If you have a job now, great. But your job is fickle. Don’t let it distract you from developing something you can count on: your career.

By John Bethune

John Bethune is an editorial consultant and the publisher of the B2B Memes website, which focuses on how new and social media are transforming the B2B publishing business. Previously he was vice president for content at Canon Communications, where he oversaw both print and online publications. John's ASBPE involvement includes ethics committee membership and Azbee Awards judging. You can reach him at john [dot] bethune [at] or follow him on Twitter at @johnbethune.

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