Our good friend Simon Hertnon put it perfectly when he said, ‘We need to get [the cost of] writing onto the balance sheet and into the boardroom.’ Like any other production and distribution process, writing has a direct cost, in terms of salaries and resources, that can be measured and improved. When you invest in producing something, you expect a return. Right?
In reality the cost of writing, and its value to an organisation, is usually invisible and rarely makes it onto the balance sheet. If a piece of writing does its job, you’re in the black. If it doesn’t, there’s a loss somewhere — and a clear case for trying to get better value next time. But mostly nobody is looking.
Lots of time is wasted. And the production process doesn’t always work. Unsuccessful bids and business cases, rejected board papers, unclear emails that need follow-up, confusing instructions on a form — everyday realities like these often fly under the radar, with no one asking, ‘What value did we get from that? Can we do better?’
You can! And you might be amazed at the value you add. Could you save $1.5 million annually, simply by revising a difficult form? Or get done by lunchtime a writing task that used to take all day? Or get a seven-fold increase in your proposal win rate? A government agency, a large bank, and a small utilities company reported those gains to us (and more). We get pretty excited by results like that.
Feeling inspired and ready for a challenge? The key is to remember that writing is an investment that should bring a return. Here are some very doable ways to start.
Realise that every document comes with a price tag. Just thinking that way will help you make different decisions. You’ll naturally get more efficient.
Whether you’re writing an email or a large report, figure out what you want to say before you start. Jot down your points, get them in order, and you’ll save a lot of time. If you’re writing at the request of someone else, get really clear on what’s needed!
‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ is generally true about writing! The more people you involve in one writing task, the higher the cost and (mostly) the greater the waste. If you have to write by committee, or you have an approvals process, go back to step 2 and agree on what you want to say, what each person’s role is, and your deadlines.
At a personal level — get honest feedback on your writing and try to think in terms of always giving value.
And at an organisational level — get the cost and value of writing into the boardroom! Start figuring out how many hours (and how many people) it takes to write a particular type of document. Get out your calculator. Ask writers and readers for feedback. Do some user-testing. Start building a picture of the true cost and value of writing at your place.
Rewrite: How to overcome daily sabotage of your brand and profit has more ideas about getting more value from your daily investment in writing.