Terry McDougall is an executive and career coach and the author of the new book, Winning the Game of Work.
In this episode of the podcast, I spoke to Terry about her fascinating idea of seeing work as a type of game. She considers her book as part of her calling card, and she had some fantastic insights into how the book is potentially helping her find more clients for her coaching practice.
If you have an interesting work story and you want to go out on your own as a consultant or coach, then writing a non-fiction book is a way to help you grow your business or your practice.
In this episode, we discuss:
Terry: Blogging was an easy way to dip my toe in the water, start putting content out, getting feedback from people, and I feel like it was sort of like a lucky happenstance that I had all of this content before I really kind of came out with the intention of writing the book.
Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: Could writing a book help you build your business if you’re a coach?
Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast.
Many coaches that I followed or talked to have books. They have a book because it’s like a calling card that helps them build their business. In other words, they don’t necessarily write a book because they want the book in itself to become something that helps them earn money and they don’t write a book because it’s a massive creative project like a novelist or somebody who’s writing a thriller series.
They write a book because it helps them get their message out into the world and because it will potentially help them find more clients.
Now, one of the most impactful career books that I’ve read is What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. Richard sadly passed away in 2017 but this career book came out I think it was in the late 1960s and Richard updated the career book every year since he first published it. And the book contains fantastic advice for job seekers and that’s actually when I came across it.
Basically, back in 2009, 2010, I was out of work after the recession, and I spent quite some time firing off CVs into the ether and getting no response. So, I was wondering what I was doing wrong and I started Googling career books and I found this particular career book online and, basically, in it, he explains how one of the biggest mistakes you can make is just sending off a CV and sending off your cover letter and expecting to get a response.
You actually need to spend time building relationships with potential companies that you want to work for, with potential hiring managers and just talking to people who work in those companies. So, what I started to do based on the advice from this particular career book is just e-mail people that I knew and asked them if I could meet them for an informal chat, like a coffee or lunch, and I just asked them about what it was like to work in that company.
And this actually helped me quite a lot because, at the time, I thought I wanted a job in public relations so I e-mailed a guy I knew in public relations and he invited me into the office for coffee, which he didn’t mind doing because I wasn’t looking for a job so he didn’t have to make a hiring decision, and he explained to me what his day was like and he explained how much PR people typically get paid and who he works for and then I explained some of the things that I wanted from a job and I came away from the whole thing thinking that, you know what, I don’t want a career in public relations after all.
This type of work where you’re promoting something for somebody else isn’t really for me and, after that, I stopped applying for public relations companies and it’s probably something I should have done sooner because I would have saved myself a year of headache sending out CVs and cover letters to companies. Now, Richard updated his particular book every year with new advice about whatever was happening in the jobs market and Richard, like many career coaches and coaches, rely on a book as a type of calling card.
I recently had the chance to talk to Terry McDougall. She’s an executive and career coach and the author of the new book, Winning the Game of Work, and I wanted to talk to Terry because she has a fascinating idea about how she sees work as a type of game, which I’d encourage you to hang on for. Terry also considers this book as part of her calling card and she had some fantastic insights into how the book is potentially helping her find more clients for her coaching practice. So, if you have an interesting work story and you want to go out on your own, you know, as a consultant or a type of coach, then perhaps writing a nonfiction book is a way that will help you grow your business or your practice.
Now, if you do find today’s show helpful, please consider leaving a short review on iTunes, Stitcher, Overcast, Spotify, or wherever you’re listening or hit the Share button. And if you really like the show, for just a couple of dollars a month, you can become a Patreon supporter using the link in the show notes. I’ll give you discounts on my writing software, courses, and books.
Now, with that said, let’s go over to this week’s interview with Terry.
Bryan: So, Terry, I wanted to talk to you today for a couple of different reasons. You have a really interesting take on work, which I thought was fascinating because I think it applies to other areas of life too, which we’ll get to in a moment. And I also wanted to talk to you about writing a career book. But before we get into any of that, could you give listeners a flavor for your background?
Terry: Yeah, sure. So, I’ve been an executive and career coach for about four years now and, before that, I was in the corporate world for 30 years and I worked in marketing that entire time.
The last 21 years, I was in financial services and then, my last job, I was there for 12 years and I rose to lead marketing for several of the businesses that they had within this large bank and, you know, so I had a pretty long career and, over the course of that time. I, you know, made a lot of observations in my, I’m not gonna say struggles but my efforts to rise within the organizations and, you know, ultimately, that led me to want to become a coach to help other people get past some of the obstacles that I sort of struggled over myself. Because I truly believe that, you know, there’s a lot of great, smart, hardworking people out there that are pouring a lot more energy into trying to get ahead at work, in many cases sacrificing happiness, and I truly believe that if we look at things differently and “played the game” a little bit differently, that we can get better results without too much stress and anxiety and unhappiness, which I saw a lot of when I was in the corporate world.
Bryan: Yeah, yeah, work can certainly be stressful, especially over the past 12 to 18 months. I was working full-time for a software company but I took a career break. So, I’m curious, one of the key ideas in your book is that work is like a game. Could you elaborate on that? Because I think that’s a fantastic metaphor that applies to lots of areas of life.
Terry: Yeah, you know, I was a good student in school and I wanted to be successful in the corporate world and I came into the workplace just thinking that if I just do the same things that I did at school, then I’m gonna have the same levels of success in the workplace and, you know, a lot of the lessons that we learn in school are, you know, keep your head down, raise your hand, wait to be called on, wait your turn, you know? Just be a good kid and you’re gonna move to the next grade next year, right?
Bryan: Yeah, or the next promotion.
Terry: Yes, exactly. That is not how it works in the corporate world and, in fact, there’s a lot of things that are counterintuitive and I was very confused for a long time. I, just to give you a little bit of my background, my dad worked for the phone company. He was a blue-collar guy. My parents didn’t go to college. I was the first person in my family to go to college so, you know, working in a corporate environment was not anything that I had any exposure to and I didn’t have anybody in my family to guide me or tell me, “This is how it works,” but I was very keen to find out and, as time went on, you know, especially in those early years of my career.
I was looking around and I did not understand what was going on around me. I mean, it really was like I was playing a game. I didn’t know I was playing a game but I also did not know the rules of the game and, you know, I learned those a lot of times the hard way and then I was lucky along the way to have a couple of really good mentors who took me under their wing and kind of pulled back the curtain of what was going on and started pointing out, “This is what’s really going on here,” and once you get that sense of what’s going on, you know, you can step back and you can kinda see the whole playing field, it totally changes things. It gives you a lot more understanding of how you can navigate within that environment and not just, you know, be beat up or feel like, you know, you’re playing American football without the pads on.
Bryan: Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting you said about raising your hand until somebody calls you. A couple of years ago — well, a long time ago now, I was working in a radio station as a researcher and I’d just wait my turn ’til the producer called on me to suggest story ideas and he took me aside one day and he said, “Stop waiting until you’re called. You need to like just speak up when you have an idea.”
Bryan: That was one of my first lessons in the workplace. Could you maybe describe some of the strategies that you came across that would help people succeed, I suppose, at the game of work?
Terry: Well, you know, I tell a number of stories in the book and some of them are the people that, you know, are heads down, that don’t want to like maybe go out for happy hour with their colleagues after work. They’re like, “Nope, I’m just gonna stay here and finish this report and, you know, I don’t think that work and social life should overlap at all,” and one of the things that I have recognized, and I don’t think I really understood this on the right level early in my career, was that people are the only thing that make things happen in the corporate world and having and maintaining good relationships and good networks with people, you know, that’s sort of your currency of how you’re going to be able to move ahead and it could be that, you know, you’re nice to somebody’s administrative assistant and they give you a heads up about something —
Bryan: Or the person in IT when you have a broken computer.
Terry: Yeah, exactly, exactly. If, you know, if you’re nice to the guy that comes and fixes your computer and then he’s probably gonna put you at the top of the list versus somebody who yells at him, but I think that people, a lot of times, ignore the fact that having strong relationships are important. Another thing that I’ve seen is that people think that if they wanna move up that the only way to move up is just straight up the ladder and, quite often, what works better is that maybe you’ve heard people talking about, you know, moving up in the organization, it’s more like a jungle gym than a ladder, that may be making a lateral move or going into a different business or even leaving your company altogether is gonna get you to where you wanna go faster than just, you know like we were saying, sitting there, you know, being a good corporate citizen and waiting for your turn.
Terry: There’s plenty of really smart, hardworking people that are not moving along at the pace that they possibly could because they literally are not playing by rules that would get them ahead more quickly.
Bryan: In your book, you talk about how goals, strategies, objectives, and results can help people advance in work and outside of work. Had you documented those kind of lessons and stories while you were at your last day job or did you start reflecting on your career to date once you’d left?
Terry: Well, I definitely — once I started understanding the rules, I put it into motion and I would say that, you know, I mentioned that, at my last company, I was there for 12 years and I was recruited from another bank to come in and lead US marketing for the investment bank and I would say that that was almost like a master’s level course in how to navigate, how to play, you know, positive corporate politics because it was a very demanding business to work within and, you know, investment bankers are really, really smart people, they are traveling all the time, they’re interacting with CEOs and, you know, to put it bluntly, they don’t suffer fools and so I really had to stay on my toes and, you know, I took a few punches, you know, figuratively, and, once you do, you start to learn how to bob and weave and how to play the game to influence and to maintain positive relationships, you know?
I used to say to my team like play a good game of offense, meaning like do your job, do your job very well, but also play a good game of defense, meaning like look around you and understand the environment in which you are operating because you could be doing a fantastic job and literally get blindsided by something because you didn’t realize that maybe somebody you’re working with is — you haven’t gotten back to them and so they complained to your boss’s boss’s boss and, all of a sudden, like something blows up that you really could have controlled had you just understood what was going on around you.
Bryan: Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. I was reading an interview where you said that one of your most influential books was What Color Is Your Parachute?
Bryan: And that book actually helped me about 10 years ago when I was out of work as well so, yeah, it’s fantastic. Did you have that book in mind when you were writing your book?
Terry: You know, I feel like that book laid the foundation for how I look at careers because, honestly, you know, when I was a kid, you know, I worked in restaurants, ice cream stores, you know, like I was just doing whatever I could to make the most money when I was, you know, growing up and had I not gotten the advice from my boyfriend’s mom who gave me that book and she said, “Do not start looking for your post-college job until you’ve read this book and done the exercises,” I never really would have been introspective and looked at myself and said, “What are my strengths? What do I like to do?” and use that as sort of the compass to point me in the right direction towards a career that would be satisfying.
So, I wouldn’t say — well, actually, I should say this because I actually interviewed Richard Bolles’s son, Gary. Richard Bolles passed away I think in 2017 and he was in his 90s.
Bryan: And he released that book every year.
Terry: Every single year from like 1970 —
Bryan: Yeah. He updated it.
Terry: — and I continue to recommend that to people that are looking for jobs, but Gary Bolles is his son and he has continued the good work. He’s a career counselor and he’s a writer and a speaker on career topics and I interviewed him for my book so I guess you would say that, you know, it all came full circle.
Bryan: Yeah. Fantastic. I like that a lot. Did it take you long then to write your book when you had, you know, more free time?
Terry: Well, I actually blogged for a couple of years on career topics and a lot of that was me sort of just processing thoughts that I had, kind of thinking back over lessons and somebody along the way said, “Well, how many words do you have?” because I blogged for like two years. That prompted me to download everything and I had like 25,000 words, which was definitely, you know, a strong foundation for the beginning of a book and I started — I mean, so I started with a lot of content.
I had to do a lot of massaging and editing and so forth but I started it in July of 2019 and then the book came out in April of 2020 so, you know, I did a lot of additional writing but, you know, it was less than a year from — I had a lot of content but it was less than a year from when I started to when it was published.
Bryan: Yeah. The blog-to-book strategy is a fantastic one for non-fiction writers and authors. Would you have any tips for anybody who’s considering doing that, anything that you’d do differently looking back?
Terry: No, I mean, you know, this happened kind of organically for me. I didn’t — I mean, I suppose, as a marketer, I always did a lot of writing so I’m comfortable writing and, in the back of my head, I thought, well, yeah, maybe someday I’ll write a book. I wasn’t sure what the topic would be or anything but I would say that blogging was an easy way to dip my toe in the water, start putting content out, getting feedback from people, and I feel like it was sort of like a lucky happenstance that I had all of this content before I really kind of came out with the intention of writing the book because, for a lot of people, I’ve actually referred many people to the program that I went through and a lot of them ask me lots of questions like, “Oh, you know, pretty nervous,” because some people start with nothing, right? The things —
Bryan: What was the program?
Terry: It’s called Creators Institute and it was started by a professor named Eric Koester and he developed this at Georgetown University for undergrads and then it was, you know, he had so many students who published that he opened it up to people outside of the university setting.
Bryan: Okay. What does the program teach? I’m not familiar with it.
Terry: Well, he spends 12 weeks, you know, it was like Zoom, virtual, teaching techniques for writing and, really, a lot of it was even mindset around, you know, like one of the first assignments in the class was to go out to LinkedIn and put “author” and the working title of the book because he’s like, “Okay, even if you haven’t written one word but you have this intention, you’re an author, so start stepping into that,” and I loved that, right? Because it did get me into that mindset and then one of the other lessons was when people ask you what your book’s about, what you’re gonna tell them, it’s about the intersection of x and y and that really helped me sort of start thinking about this is the environment and my book is about the intersection of professional success and personal happiness —
Bryan: Okay, I like that too.
Terry: Yeah. Yeah.
Bryan: Did it take you long to come up with that intersection?
Terry: No, and I think that this was one of the tremendous benefits of having blogged for that time is that I — this was coming from my heart. It wasn’t an intellectual exercise. This was flowing from me because of my experience and really me wanting to help other people be happier and more successful at work and, you know, because I see a lot of people, especially my coaching business, I see a lot of people, when they come to me, they’re really smart, really hardworking, have had success and, you know, a lot of times, when they seek out coaches, you know, they are kind of suffering or they’re feeling in pain or stressed or burnt out because they’ve hit a wall or an obstacle that they don’t know how to get past.
And when that happens, there’s a lot of self-judgment, there’s a lot of doubts that creep in about like, “Oh, maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was,” and, you know, so I really try to help shift people and part of this is, you know, like I mentioned before, stepping back and seeing the whole playing field, you know? Not being in the middle of the scrum and so close to what’s going on that, you know, you don’t see your own value and the whole environment of work.
Bryan: Those fears you mentioned, they’re all fears that new authors go through as well.
Terry: It’s true. Yeah, my gosh, like the whole writer’s block —
Terry: — boy, that is a real thing and I definitely had times where I was just almost, you know, fearful and paralyzed, worried that, okay, I’m gonna put all this time in and it’s gonna suck and —
Bryan: Yeah, everybody — yeah, a lot of authors think like that at the start of their book. I mean, obviously, you got around writer’s block because you have a book, and you blog pretty consistently. What did your writing process look like on a normal day?
Terry: I wrote much the way I do everything else which is in fits and starts so there were days that I was, you know, sitting for 18 hours writing and editing. There were weeks when I was completely avoiding, you know, and I would force myself to look at something and edit but I was kind of avoiding because, you know, I was having these like fears but, yeah, I tend to like write in chunks.
Bryan: Okay. And the fact that you’ve been blogging and publishing it on your site, you also have a lot of media appearances as well. Did you write articles for other people’s sites as well to promote your book or to promote your writing or ideas?
Terry: I’m trying to think like what I did before. I think when I was writing the book, I was on a couple of podcasts. After the book came out, I mean, unfortunately, the timing was bad, right? Because it was April of 2020 when the book came out so I wasn’t able to do any in-person promotions. I wanted to do like a book launch party and signings and all that so that led me to respond to a lot of requests on a platform called Help a Reporter Out where, you know, reporters put their requests for experts in particular areas and I responded to a lot of those requests and that’s where I initially got a lot of quotes.
Bryan: Yeah, you have some pretty high-profile mentions on your site. Psychology Today was one that stood out.
Terry: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, the Chicago Tribune. I — most of the time, the reporters will let you know when they quote you. That was one that they did not let me know and somebody else said, “Oh, I saw I saw your name in the Chicago Tribune,” and I was like what?
Terry: Yeah. Yeah, that was a nice surprise.
Bryan: So, if I had a non-fiction book and I wanted to use Help a Reporter Out, which actually I do want to start using it again, what tips would you offer for responding to a journalist?
Terry: Well, the one thing that I would say is that it’s very, very time consuming but I had sort of a bit of a boilerplate, you know, like I would start off with my credentials of who I am and why I’m qualified to speak on that topic and then, you know, the requests are all very different but I try to, you know, be specific and maybe even provide some quotes that they could just pick up and use because, most of the time, they do not wanna spend the time to interview you.
I probably had maybe two or three interviews out of the 60 or 70 times that I was quoted. Most of the time, they just wanna like cut and paste stuff that you wrote so, you know, recognize that and write in full sentences, you know, think about the timeliness or realize that, you know, this is news, right? So they’re looking for ways to connect whatever you say to something that’s timely so I think positioning is really important.
Bryan: So, Help a Reporter Out sends out an e-mail every day, depending on your interests. Were you checking that every day and setting aside half an hour to respond —
Terry: Yeah, well, they send it out three times a day, Monday through Friday. It’s very time consuming. I actually have shifted away from responding to those now and I actually am spending most of my time on podcasts. I have my own podcast now and —
Bryan: Marketing Mambo.
Bryan: Great name.
Terry: Yeah. Thank you.
Bryan: So, let’s go back to your book then. So you have the book ready, did you go through much of an editing process?
Terry: Yeah, I mean, it was a pretty rigorous editing process. It was, I think, I guess ready manuscript. It wasn’t final final but that was probably, I don’t know, five months after I started writing, that’s when the manuscript needed to like start going into the editing phase and I still had some writing to do but, for the most part, the framework of the book was there, most of the content was in the book where it needed to be and, you know, through the book writing program, I was given an editor that helped me to, you know, organize it and edit it.
You know, one of the tips that I used and I would share with anybody is that when you’re writing a book, you’ve written it, you’ve read it countless times, and you start to go blind to what’s on the page so I, actually, I had my computer read me the content back and I found that I could hear the parts that didn’t read well. I could hear missing words or typos or whatever better than I could see them, because I literally had become blind to the content. And also I speeded it up, you know? I would speed it up and have it read back to me like twice the normal rate and because I was so familiar with it, I understood what it was saying because it’s my content, but if something sounded weird, I would just stop it and then I would go back and read it very carefully and be like, “Oh, yeah, there’s a missing word,” or maybe I need to switch the order of the sentence or something like that. That helps a lot.
Bryan: Yeah, yeah. One strategy I’ve used is changing the font and printing it out and also reading it aloud and, depending on how much time you have, you can record yourself reading it aloud as well. I think just changing the format, because you’re right, you do get blindness when you’ve been looking at your manuscript for quite a long time.
Terry: For sure.
Bryan: So your book is out and, you know, many people listening will probably say, “Does a coach need a book in the first place?” How does a non-fiction book help somebody in your position build a business?
Terry: I am a certified coach. I went and got trained and I’ve got a certification through the International Coaching Federation but there are a lot of people out there that hang up a shingle that say, “I’m a coach,” and they don’t have any kind of training or credentials and I feel like the book credentializes me a lot more. You know, I can point to that, “I’m not only a coach but I’m an author.” I also point, you know, clients to particular chapters within the book. One of the other things that I found to be very helpful with the book is that, you know, it’s really my ambassador that is out there exposing my ideas to other people without me having to do anything else.
You know, I put that effort in in 2019 and 2020 and now it’s out there in the world. I actually use this analogy. I’ve got three kids and the closest thing that I would compare it to is being a mother, right? Because you go through a lot of pain as you’re gestating your children, right? And it’s kind of a painful process to go through but once they’re out, they’re out, right? And they’re out in the world running around on their own and that’s kind of the same thing with the book, right?
Terry: I mean, it does have a life of its own now.
Bryan: Yeah, that’s a good metaphor. I have three kids as well and you do find that some — I wrote a book years ago and sometimes I get e-mails about it and like it’s not something I’ve worked on it a long time and it’s always surprising that somebody is reading something that you might have worked on, you know, years ago.
Terry: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I actually had a client hire me recently and, you know, when I asked her, “Well, how did you find out about me?” and she initially saw a post that I put on LinkedIn but that caused her to sort of research me and then she found my book, she bought the book, she started reading it, and she said to me, when she called me, “I started reading the book and I felt like you were talking directly to me,” you know? And so that’s wonderful, right? That people can experience my voice and my thoughts and perspectives without me having — I mean, there’s only 24 hours in a day, right? I can’t talk to everybody individually. This is a great way to scale and maybe help people that I never will meet but, you know, they pick up the book someplace.
Bryan: The book can do something when you’re not there. So I worked on a content marketing team and one thing I found is that marketing yourself and marketing your own business is very different to marketing within a team within a larger company.
Bryan: What changes or differences have you noticed?
Terry: Well, I mean, for one thing, I was marketing director that had a team of people that reported to me and I was part of a much larger organization where there were a lot of shared resources, you know, graphic design, analytics, whatever, that I could just go to so I could come up with the idea and delegate or go to specialists within the organization to get things done and, as a solopreneur, I’m delivering the service, I have to come up with the strategy, I have to, you know, develop the content — I don’t have to but I haven’t yet, you know, found people that I, you know, feel like I can rely on to do that for me and I think that that’s the biggest thing is that it’s like it’s very difficult to keep everything on your plate. I feel like, as soon as I come up with a new idea, something else falls off. Yeah.
Bryan: It’s a balancing act.
Terry: And then I think the other thing is that, you know, when you’re working for a company, it’s not personal, right? You can be very strategic. You know, it’s the company, people have probably heard of it, you know, it’s your job. When you’re doing it for yourself, it’s you. Even though if I’m, you know, I’m running a business, the business is named after me, it feels very personal and sometimes that’s made me hesitate to do certain things from a marketing standpoint that I never would have hesitated to do, you know, like just, for example, how much I e-mail or some of my friends and people that I know professionally on my e-mail list, are they gonna think I’m scamming them, right? And when you’re doing marketing for big companies, you never think twice about that, you’re like, ah, like if somebody unsubscribes, you know, but it’s like me and my picture out there and so sometimes like just that personal sense of like rejection, even though that’s not what it is, you know, that can sometimes stop you.
Bryan: You mentioned you’re using HARO or you were using HARO and you have your podcast. Are there any other marketing strategies that are working quite well for your book or your coaching business?
Terry: You know, before COVID, I was doing a lot of networking and I spoke, as a former marketer, I was involved in the Chicago Chapter of the American Marketing Association and I spoke in a couple of their events and that’s very helpful. I mean, again, that’s something that helps credentialize but also, you know, if you’re speaking in front of a room of 100 people, you’re speaking to 100 people instead of having to have individual conversations and, you know, I’m very pleased. I’m at a point in my business where I’m starting to get more and more referrals, you know? And it’s so interesting to ask people like, “Okay, well, how did you hear of me?” “Oh, I met somebody at a lunch and they saw you speak,” or, you know, somebody — actually, I just had somebody who I had a prospecting meeting with the wife two years ago and she actually decided to quit her job rather than get coaching because it’s not a good situation and she just referred her husband to me two years later.
Terry: Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, I love referral business and that’s the best. That’s the best. So, I don’t know if I’m fully answering your question but I think just being out there and being active and being authentic, you know, having good, productive conversations with people, I’m finding that those are the seeds that tend to have the most blossoms.
Bryan: So, Terry, where can people find you or your book or listen to your podcast?
Terry: Well, people can find me at my website, which is terrybmcdougall.com. If people are interested in Marketing Mambo where I cha-cha-chat with marketing movers and shakers from around the globe, you can find that on any of the podcast platforms but if you wanna get there directly and subscribe from the website, it’s marketingmambo.net. And my book is available on Amazon worldwide and, again, the name is Winning the Game of Work. Thank you, Bryan.
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