Tips for Making it 'Small' in Hollywood May Just Lead to Making it Big

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"Cleverness is overrated, and heart is underrated," wrote comedian and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia in an article in The New York Times last week titled 6 Tips for Making It Small in Hollywood. Or Anywhere. Birbiglia became widely known for a fun film a few years ago called Sleepwalk With Me, and has an interesting film out now called Don't Think Twice.

Let's go through his six tips with some SIPA-fication.

1. Don't Wait. "There's no substitute for actually doing something," he wrote. "Don't talk about it anymore. Maybe don't even finish reading this essay." Figuring that customers shouldn't wait either, Business and Legal Resources (BLR) has just launched HR Hotline, a new subscription service that gives expert answers from experienced law attorneys within one business day. "Our Ask the Experts tool on our portal products is a very popular feature, but many of our customers have requested quick deliveries for their many employment law and HR questions," said Patricia Trainor, VP of content & events at BLR. "Introducing HR Hotline allows us to deliver custom answers in a tailored subscription to our customers with a very fast turnaround time."

2. Fail. "The bedrock of all good pieces of writing is 10 bad drafts," Birbiglia wrote. "Maybe 20. I wrote 12 drafts of Don't Think Twice, 14 drafts of... Sleepwalk With Me." I asked Rajeev Kapur, CEO of 1105 Media and a keynote speaker at our upcoming Business Information & Media Summit (BIMS), Nov. 14-16 in Fort Lauderdale, how he builds an atmosphere where his staff can feel okay to fail. "I tell everybody that works for me that I'd rather have them try and fail than not try," he said. "And that I want them to make a decision. We can fix a bad decision; we can't fix a no-decision... I reward people who try, people who think outside the box..."

3. Learn from the failure. "I once heard an interview where Ron Howard said that he tests the rough cuts of his movies with a ton of audiences," Birbiglia wrote. "He doesn't do it to be told what the movie's vision should be, but to understand whether his vision is coming across. If not, he makes changes." Arno Langbehn (pictured), CEO, B. Behr's Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, has a similar belief. He said that interviewing your customers is not enough—you should go to their offices "to [better] understand their behavior in their environment." By concentrating on the real pain point of their customers, Langbehn's company developed more than 60 products last year in all media.

4. Maybe quit. Wrote Birbiglia: "There was a great column in The New York Times recently where Angela Duckworth writes, 'Rather than ask, 'What do I want to be when I grow up?' ask, 'In what way do I wish the world were different? What problem can I help solve?' This puts the focus where it should be—on how you can serve other people." This aligns well with number three. What you want to focus on should be secondary to what solutions your customer needs.

5. Be bold enough to make stuff that's small but great. Eight years ago Birbiglia developed a network sitcom that didn't get picked up. After that, he went outside the system where he didn't need a gatekeeper to approve what he did, and he succeeded. His stuff was better because it wasn't watered down. Try one podcast or one quiz or one blog post (or attend one SIPA Publishers Roundtable on Sept. 14) and see what happens.

6. Cleverness is overrated, and heart is underrated. "Plus, there are fewer people competing for heart, so you have a better chance of getting noticed," Birbiglia wrote. In a webinar earlier this year, copywriter Bob Bly referred to a group trying to sell a communications workshop to IT professionals. The initial effort—"Interpersonal Skills for IT"—fell flat. So Bly asked, "What beliefs, desires and feelings do they have? They're smarter. IT is a most important technology. They also want to be respected... There's an adversarial feeling with the users who don't know what they want and can't explain it." So they did a Beliefs, Desires, Feelings (BDF) analysis and decided to write about that adversarial feeling with this lead: "Important news for every systems professional who has ever felt like telling an end user [to go off]." It generated six times the response.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…