There’s an old joke about a man living in the flood plains. A hundred-year flood strikes and the waters start rising. The man has great faith and trusts that God will save him.
He sits on his front porch with the floodwaters licking at the top step. A boat pulls up and the driver says, “Hop in.” “No, thanks,” the man says. “God will save me.”
Later that day, he’s sitting in his second-story window with the water just inches below the sill. Another boat, another driver, another offer of rescue. The man refuses again, trusting that his miracle will come.
As the sun is setting, the man sits on his roof with the water lapping at the eves. A helicopter tries to rescue him, but he waves it away. Finally, the water crests the roof, washing the man away, and he drowns.
At the holy gates, he asks Saint Peter what gives. “I had faith that God would save me, and here I am, dead.”
Peter answers, “Well, we sent two boats and a helicopter … what more did you want?”
I’ve always liked that joke because it rings so true. I’ve seen so many people convinced they know what path their success will take — they are so certain of the exact shape of the opportunity they expect to present itself, that they miss huge opportunities they are practically tripping over, simply because they don’t recognize them for what they are.
I’ve done this myself a time or two. If you think back on your career, I bet you can find an opportunity you missed because you failed to recognize it for what it was.
But, the truth is, the most successful people in this world don’t wait for opportunity to present itself fully formed. They create their own opportunities, instead.
Seeing Opportunity in Everything
The first step toward creating opportunities is learning to recognize where opportunities exist. Most of us live with a powerful censor in our minds. As a web writer, you’re positioned to know this better than anyone.
You know what it’s like when you sit down to write and you can barely get through a sentence without finding six things wrong with it. You’re probably very familiar with that little voice in your head — your censor — pointing out things to change. One of the tricks you learn as a web writer is to keep that censor in check until you need it. This is really just a matter of practice. You start writing, the censor clicks on, and as soon as you recognize it, you click it back off and keep writing.
Once you have a draft done, you invite your censor in to help make it better. But not during the writing, because it slows you down too much. (I realize this isn’t the case for everyone — some people learn to write and edit simultaneously, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.)
That internal censor is also what keeps you from seeing opportunities. It shuts down your creative process before it ever really gets started, often without you even realizing.
So, the first step in creating your own opportunities is to put that self-censor in check when it comes to ideas.
Every question you come across, every problem you hear about or experience, every introduction, every setback … they can all be transformed into opportunities. You just have to mold them a little.
For example, I recently went to a local trade show for authors and book publishers. I’ve got a novel I’ve started to shop around, so it seemed like a useful place to be. It wasn’t at all what I expected, though. There were plenty of self-publishers there, a few print-on-demand shops, a book retailer or two, a couple of non-fiction publishers, and several booths selling knickknacks. No agents and no representatives from traditional publishers, even though both were promised in the advertising materials.
I was frustrated. What a waste of time! That was my internal censor, blocking me from seeing the opportunities around me. Sure, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for Heather the Novelist. But, for Heather the Ghostwriter, there was a great opportunity for networking. Non-fiction publishers always need ghostwriters, so I turned a wasted, irritating afternoon into an opportunity to connect with a couple of potential clients and build my local contact base.
If I’d listened to my internal censor, though, I’d never have seen the possibilities.
Recognizing opportunities is a great first step toward creating your own opportunities. Yet, it isn’t enough — for two reasons.
First, the simple act of recognizing opportunities doesn’t mean you are cultivating them. And second, even once you learn to see all the opportunities around you, you’ll never be able to act on them all … there are just too many.
So, the next step in creating your own opportunities is to take what you see, determine if it’s a good fit for you, and then take significant action while you have the exhilarating sense of momentum behind you.
To see how this works, let’s take a look at the typical life cycle of an opportunity.
Recognition: This is the first step. You’ve got to see the opportunity and recognize it before your censor shuts you down. If someone has a question, there’s an opportunity. If someone has a problem, there’s an opportunity. Whenever you make a new connection, there’s an opportunity. Start training your mind to recognize these.
Inception: This is where you transform your recognition of an opportunity into an idea. Let’s say you’re at a restaurant and you hear someone asking about gluten-free options on the menu. You hear the server say they don’t have any gluten-free options. You recognize there’s an opportunity there (Step 1). Your next step is to form an idea that fulfills that opportunity. In this case, maybe you decide to develop a website guide to gluten-free restaurant dining.
Planning: Once you’ve conceived the basic shape of your opportunity, it’s time to do some planning while you’re still excited by what you’ve discovered. Answer the basic questions: Who is my target audience? What will I offer them? When will it be ready? How will I deliver my idea? How will I monetize it? Keep this step simple. You want to have plenty of momentum going into the next step.
Development: Once you know who, what, when, and how, your next step is to start developing the materials you need for your opportunity grow into something fully formed that can deliver a return on your investment of time and creativity. Right away, dedicate as much time as you can to development. This is usually the time of peak excitement, when you have the most energy and momentum. You’ll get more done — in less time, and at a higher quality — during this phase, so take as much advantage of it as you can. When that initial excitement has worn off, start planning specific time each week to continue developing your opportunity.
Review: When you’ve finished developing the product or service you plan to offer to meet the opportunity you’ve discovered, take it through a review process. This is the time to invite your internal censor to have its say. Also, present your materials to several people you trust to provide honest criticism and feedback. Try to include at least one person from your target audience in your reviewers. Make any refinements you need to, based on the feedback you receive.
Production: Develop the channels you need to, in order to market and fulfill your new product or service.
Delivery: This is the stage where you start selling what you’ve developed to people who need or want it, thus filling the opportunity you recognized in the first stage of the cycle.
Putting Yourself in the Path of Opportunities
The connections you make with other people in your industry are one of the most under-utilized sources of opportunity. Often, the combined creativity and talent of two or three web writers is much greater than the potential of each alone.
That means you can do bigger things — on a bigger scale — when you cultivate relationships within the industry and develop partnerships. Besides, getting to know other people in the web-writing world is just fun.
The single fastest and best way to develop these kinds of connections is to attend an event like the upcoming Web Writing Intensive. The Intensive is just a few days away, so I imagine at this point, your plans are probably in place.
For those of you who are going, I’m looking forward to meeting you. And, I have a challenge for you. Try to find at least one unexpected opportunity while you’re there, and report it to us here in the comments.
For those of you who aren’t going, I have a little surprise for you. I’m going to be doing a live blog of the event right here on the Wealthy Web Writer site. The live blog will be exclusively for members of Wealthy Web Writer. Each day of the Intensive, you’ll get hourly updates of the juiciest tips, most insightful strategies, and funniest moments.
Plus, you can interact with attendees in the comments area of the live blog. It’s going to be fun, so tune in … and who knows? You might discover a few unexpected opportunities of your own!