How to overcome perfectionism without faking it

Estimated read time: 8 minutes

We all want to look good and show our best or better side. Yup. Why do you think makeup or photoshop exists? Let’s touch up that family photo or Instagram selfie some for that perfect look. Some of that of course is fine, but overcoming perfectionism or at least the need to be perfect can help us create more and even better content. It’s also more real when we aren’t fake.

Partially it’s possible to overcome perfectionism by getting into a mindset of shipping products. Seth Godin’s latest book discusses the topic and he joined me on this episode of the podcast to chat about that.

Read next: How to be creative [includes podcasts]

But how do we get there? Let’s discuss some of the topics at play.

Be authentic

But when we are authentic we aren’t always looking our marketing-type self. And that’s OK. Why wouldn’t it be? Don’t get me wrong here. It’s certainly necessary to present ourselves and our brands in a professional manner. And I’m not advocating making mistakes on purpose.

But lives aren’t polished and as more generations grow up in the digital world where many things are public – including sometimes the private ones – we will likely become more tolerant of true authenticity. With so many people working remotely due to COVID while their kids are virtually learning in a room nearby, I’ve also seen a trend for more acceptance of human things happening in meetings and even during livestreams.

For example, during the beginning of this livestream with Lead Forensics, one of my cats was trying to jump on my desk. I assumed his meowing could be heard on the live stream. I simply acknowledged it and we moved forward with our conversation.

When people – and brands, too, are authentic they attract the right friends and customers – the ones that actually want to be associated with them. Mark Schaefer talks about creating a brand of humanness in his book “Marketing Rebellion” and discussed the importance on this episode of the Business Storytelling Podcast.

Instead of calling and interrupting everyone over the dinner hour, we live our lives and connect with those who are actually interested in connecting.

Lately AI CEO Kate Bradley Chernis also discussed this topic on this livestream of the podcast.

The gift of being done

I was reminded of the importance of being done when I read Jon Acuff’s book “Finish: Give yourself the gift of done.”

Researcher Mike Peasley actually looked into what makes people more successful in a new project over time. The results as explained in the book were that when people took the pressure of being perfect off in a project they were much more likely to be productive.

I’ve been preaching the don’t go for the perfect thing for a while but it’s good to see the research back it up. Of course, there’s also a fine line to being  too fast and sloppy.

When I was speaking at the Best of Content Marketing conference in Berlin in 2017 this topic actually came up when I mentioned how uniqueness can outrank perfect content.  Some people didn’t necessarily love hearing that and I get it because being better by producing more perfect content should be a differentiator. And it can be but not if it only rehashes what everybody else is already saying.

I  joked at the conference that I’ve created a niche in creating highly unique but slightly above average content. What I mean by that is that most of the content I produce won’t win a literary award. But much of my content does work for my key audiences because it’s unique  and useful to them.

If every post on my blog was perfect I would probably only have one to two posts. Instead, I’ve filed over half a million words for close to 2 million readers. That doesn’t mean I don’t aim for perfection, but at some point, the publish button has to be pushed. Or else, the post won’t get published.

Sounds simple? 

But yet, blog posts, articles, anything we publish can be held up because we just have to read it one more time. Or add one more detail. Of course, at this point, we won’t catch many mistakes if there are any left anyway. We’ve read it 43 times already. And that additional detail? We don’t really know what it should be, but we know there might be, probably would be something that we might be able to add. Sounds wishy-washy to me.

Read next: Don’t get hung up in approval hell

Maybe we have to run the article by 21 people for approval. Everyone fiddles with it. One person changes something. The next person changes it back. Once that process is complete – eight weeks later – the article is published. And it didn’t go viral in the first two minutes.

But it was perfect based on the time investment. Maybe it’s not to the audience or perhaps the distribution strategy wasn’t perfect.

Read next: What’s the difference between promotions and distribution strategies in digital marketing?

And now since that article didn’t go viral – most content doesn’t – we question if the strategy is working. But that’s the wrong question – especially early on in storytelling (aka content marketing) strategies. Most authentic storytelling strategies take at least a year to develop and starting to work.

Some keys to consider to overcome perfectionism

Executive buy-in and expectations: Make sure decision-makers understand the timeline.

Think of it this way: Most executives didn’t become executives overnight. It took time and lots of work to get there.

Team buy-in: Make sure to celebrate the small successes and enjoy the plowing ahead part. Authentic storytelling pays off long-term. Did I mention that it takes time? 🙂

Relevant content: The best intentions will fail if the content is not relevant to audiences, doesn’t solve an audience’s problem, and is written in marketing speak.

Constant: Content needs to be shared constantly – though what constant is can vary by brand and industry. For example, Twitter streams move so quickly and for some users can turn over completely in seconds. Our attention spans get shorter and our time is limited. We consume what’s there and relevant to us.

Consistent: Don’t change what you talk about constantly. Pick a topic, define it, and talk about that. You can’t be an expert in everything.

New: Share new things. People pay attention to new stories. There’s a fine line between just coming up with an outrageous (and new) opinion and sharing that through your digital channels and sharing actual new things of value.

But don’t fake it until you make it

Sabrina Horn wrote “Make it. Don’t Fake it” and reiterated the point that, yes, we need to get things done, but we need to know what we are doing. It’s okay to be vulnerable, to be learning, but don’t just make it up.

How about mistakes?

Some of us writers live in fear of the typ0.

We are so afraid of making one that we sometimes forget about telling a good story at all. At least that average story had no typos!

Don’t get me wrong here. We don’t want typos. I don’t want typos. But we also don’t need people – writers and editors for example – hyperventilating when a typo does happen.

In digital of course we can just fix it. It can take seconds via mobile apps – like the WordPress one.

But I know typos suck. Especially when they can’t be fixed – like in print. I caught one the other day on a corporate website. For all I know I may have caused it. But who cares? Fixing it took seconds.

Do you know what typo might be the worst to fix? When the wrong airline name is printed on a plane. True story. That happened to Cathay Pacific in 2018.

And what did they do? They just tweeted about it:

Their tweet said “oops” and that this plane is going back to the shop to get fixed.

Yes, oops is the most we need to say about typos. Then fix them as we can.

No reason to explain, excuse, and debate it further. No reason to say “I should have done better.” We know!

Cathay Pacific handled this one perfectly. Recognize when something happens, determine what you have to do and then move forward quickly and transparently.

Certainly, they wouldn’t want to be flying around a plane with the incorrect name on it so that’s an easy choice, and then sending a tweet as they did hopefully didn’t take all day to decide but was the right public relations move.

And why not?


At the end of the day, content won’t perform if it doesn’t ship. So create, get better. Ship, ship, ship. Just be authentic as you do that and don’t make things up.

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