Thursday 18 March 2010

Edit your way to success

Editing is the most important activity for a writer. Writers need ideas, structure, and to make their prose sing, but all that hard work is wasted without editing. How do I know? Because too often I’m a lousy editor! Editing always improves my writing and my thinking.

It’s just as true in business. What we exclude is more important than what we include. Here’s why:
  1. It's difficult to serve a defined customer niche exceptionally well. But it’s much more difficult to serve many markets. The Virgin Group try to make their brand elastic, but the failures of Virgin Cola, Virgin Brides, Virgin Cosmetics and Virgin Vodka demonstrate that it ain’t so easy. Define which markets to exclude, so as to improve the message to your chosen market(s).
  2. Too many priorities means nothing gets done well, important stuff gets missed, and half-finished jobs tug at your attention. To Do lists should be edited ruthlessly: Delete, Automate, or Delegate. Doing is a last resort but it means that important stuff gets done well.
  3. Cluttered filing systems (paper and electronic), full in-boxes, unread books and magazines are a constant distraction if left unattended. Keeping things “just in case” seems to be in my genes, but when I force myself to shed the junk my mind is clearer and more focused.
  4. Exclude “nice to have” objectives from your business plan so as to free resources and thinking time for essentials. It’s more motivating at the end of the year to see that all objectives were achieved, rather than a long list that gets quietly forgotten.
Editing, excluding and choosing are easier to write about than to do, but are hugely effective as a business tool. So if in doubt: edit, edit, edit!


  1. I'm not wholly convinced the Virgin brand failed in those areas for exactly that reason alone, although it probably played a part.

    The marketing message has to match the brand content otherwise customers will rumble you as a fraud.

    Firstly Richard Branson is a savvy crook who got his breakthrough by falsely reclaiming millions in import duty on Tubular Bells (Mike Oldfield lived on the opposite side of my road back then), and Virgin again cut corners on the quality of the product, as anyone who ever tried the vodka will tell you (I was given a free promotional bottle and ended up giving it away to some poor unsuspecting friend).

    There were similar PR calamities involved in each of the other products, and I was actually a bit surprised it didn't have a bigger negative impact on the brand.

    Sorry, but Virgin is a pet hate of mine.

    Otherwise, absolutely, clarity in organisation is essential.

  2. Virgin are a mystery to me. How they can be knowledgeable enough to be successful in music, airlines, trains, broadband, wines (actually very good) and now Formula One is something I have trouble getting my head around. Having said that, GE has managed it very successfully with a number of disparate businesses. Although not to the same extent as Virgin.

    I don't have inside information on Virgin, but the sorry end of these buisnesses indicates either poor market research, or a belief that the brand is strong enough to support anything.

    But Virgin are still making waves, and money, so must be doing something right.

  3. The Virgin Group is certainly an interesting case study.

    From what I know of them they don't do the business - they do the management of the business.

    This has two sides to it - Branson's affable public persona is pretty much all that separates the group from becoming a standard anonymous conglomerate ruled by accountants, but any success they have by association goes to further the myth that they actually do do it all.

    His involvement as a link between high society and global finance puts him in a peculiar position to profit from his connections and add glamour to the proceedings. It's an intoxicating mix and apparently good fun, but carries inherent dangers.

    In many cases the myth of the Virgin brand built through high-profile exploits and the cache of involvement in glamorous industries is enough to compensate staff for lower wages than the market would normally expect.

    This seems to incentivise creative workers whose work gets put in the public eye (musicians, vintners, air stewardesses etc), but can have a detrimental effect when dealing with less elastic basic costs (ie ingredients in vodka, cola and toothpaste, material in wedding dresses etc).

    This is pretty much the case in F1 - last year he found a progressive team setting itself up and looking for a sponsor, Branson swoops in as a saviour and piggybacks on their ability, learning where he can add corporate value by replacing excessive costs with something more creative.

    This year he's out again with a new team to gamble on putting his judgement into practice. The Virgin Racing team announced they would forego the standard (and expensive) wind-tunnel testing regime and do all the aerodynamic work through virtual simulation, despite the unreliable nature of the technology. This gives a much reduced cost base (I think by 40%)and they languish at the back of the pack.

    It's an interesting gamble, but they are handsomely compensated by getting invited to all the parties!

    I should also add Branson is a recent non-dom political donor - that's not business, it's buying favours and rigging the market.

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