There is Nothing More Valuable Than Human Equity

There is Nothing More Valuable Than Human Equity

When I had to make the difficult transition from journalist at a real life newspaper to a pen for hire, I was forced to face a lot of hard truths about the very dirty world that is copywriting.  The hardest? That the people of the digital world don’t matter.

Writers are regularly dropped with no warning, projects end without so much as a “sorry, but it’s not working out,” and one illness can spell total unemployment. As if life wasn’t precarious enough as it is for a lot of people in the gig economy…

What Do You Have Without Your Team?

I know the writing world is a hard one, so I’ve long tried to keep the doors of communication open for my people.  In fact, they’re the most valuable part of my business. Without them, I don’t have anything to sell or I’m left doing all the writing, design and what have you myself, which isn’t a situation that’s even tenable now.

My creatives are my rockstars, and they’re all parts of the engine that drives my company forward.  There’s not a single asset my company has that’s anywhere near as valuable. When I tell other business owners this is my philosophy, they look at me like I have two heads.

Don’t I ever fire anybody?  Sure. I’ve had to let a few people go, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  I don’t make a habit out of it. I don’t love it, especially when 90 percent of the things that cause those kinds of issues can be cured with a little talky talky or some time off.

More Carrots, Fewer Sticks

Look, I’m not saying you suck for firing people because life has thrown them a curveball.  But you really do. If your people are paid based on their performance, if they’re paid on what they do, there’s no reason to throw them to the wolves when they can’t.  They’re still people, just like you and your friends and your parents and your niblings. Being a decent human costs you zero dollars.

Of course your people will face challenges, they’ll have to sometimes withdraw to focus on their own mental health, they’ll have to deal with life changes like everybody.  Judging them harshly because they’re only human really belies your lack of compassion or preparedness. Choose the one you find most appropriate.

There are ways to treat your people with respect and humanity, without firing them for being people.  You could:

  • Have a backup plan.  However you handle your work, have someone on standby who can pick up the slack if a team member goes down.  Make sure they understand the work is temporary, that when the person who normally does this job is back, you’ll be reassigning the task.  That way no one gets too dependent on any additional income that might be involved or get too hopeless because they feel overwhelmed.
  • Train people in pairs.  I try as much as I can to work people in teams.  Often our work necessitates that a team handle a content order anyway, so I might as well have people who can pick up the slack if someone gets sick before a deadline hits.  Life happens. My policy is to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
  • Be prepared to jump in and actually get your hands dirty.  I’ve known too many business owners who refuse to do the work that got them where they are.  For whatever reason (I suspect it’s often a lack of field experience), said owner seems to not be willing or capable of any actual productive work.  As a leader, it’s your job to fill in for the man that’s down until you can get an extra hand or a temporary helper in place. That’s extra help, not replacement help.

I don’t know about yours, but my company would be nothing without my people (you guys know who you are and thank you for sticking with me for so long).  Without those writers, editors, designers and all around geniuses, I’d have nothing, I’d have zero on the reputation meter, I’d have nothing at all to show for my effort because I’d not be able to both field the calls, service the customers and do the actual work that needs to be done.  

It’s too much for any one person and it would serve you all to remember that if you betray your team, they won’t hesitate to find someone who will value them.

Copywriting, like so much in life, is a team sport.  We rise and fall together, but at the end of it all, we each know the others will be standing there doing what they can.  No one is perfect and I’m frankly thrilled that my team is made of humans. They’re the most valuable asset I have in my company.