Founders, Interviews, Marketing & Comms

Balancing the Grind With Michelle Ives, Founder & Word Chief at Wordy and Smith

July 8, 2019

Michelle Ives is the Founder & Word Chief at Wordy and Smith, a copywriting and strategic communications studio, servicing a range of organisations, ranging from startups to digital agencies and government and corporate sector.

In addition to Wordy and Smith, Michelle is also a blogger for That Girl On Fire, a blog covering money topics such as financial independence, minimalism and spending tips.

Balance had the pleasure of speaking with Michelle about running Wordy and Smith, a day in her life, the tools and software that help her every day, her goal of achieving FIRE (financial independence retire early) and more.

This conversation is brought to you by HelloFresh, delivering delicious ingredients and simple recipes straight to your doorstep each week.

1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

I’ve always had a great nose for a story and knew from a young age that I wanted to tell them – everything you come across and everyone you meet is fascinating if only we take the time to listen.

I remember taking a school internship when I was 16 at a local newspaper and within the month, I had two front-page stories published – so, I knew I was probably onto something with being a writer.

I went on to study and work as a journalist for papers and mags for a while before falling down the rabbit-hole managing the communications and PR for startups – first Loocl, a hyperlocal deals marketplace for SMB’s and then Sendle, a 100% carbon-neutral delivery provider.

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

Eventually the mystery and pull of running my own show became too strong, and a change in circumstances provided the perfect opportunity to give it a go.

Now, I’m the Founder and Word Chief behind Wordy and Smith, a copywriting studio taking care of all your wordy needs.

I also blog at That Girl On Fire, a hub about my mission to become financially independent and retire early – helping others do the same if they believe a life beyond work is possible for them, too.

3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I never do emails first thing. The most beautiful thing about working for yourself (and why I think everyone do it at least once in their career) is that you get to construct the kind of working life you want.

In the morning, I read some of my latest book, or skim the news and have a coffee – it’s a slow process. I put as much focus on winding up as I do on winding down.

They’re both important and that slow introduction makes the day more enjoyable, makes me more grateful and I believe it’s more biologically in tune with how we are wired.

Actually, this is a big part of my ethos behind why I want to retire early – I wasn’t put on this earth only to work and my contribution to the world is not solely by my hours put in.

Once I head into my Chippendale office, I get started straightaway. I’m really clear in the morning and know that it’s my best and most lucid time to write.

So, I start with the most challenging piece or the task that requires the most brain power and I’ll usually power through until lunch.

I always have my meetings in the afternoon because I’m not fully present in the morning if I know I have a big piece to work on – and that’s unfair for whoever I’m meeting (it goes for virtual calls, too).

I spend my afternoon brainstorming, “human-resourcing” (i.e managing and looking after existing clients or new leads), working on smaller copy tasks or checking in with remote contractors I’ve brought on for more diverse projects.

I usually finish my day up around 6pm and a couple times a week, I’ll go straight for a long walk around Blackwattle Bay near my house. I don’t go to the gym on weekdays – it’s too busy and I don’t enjoy it in the evenings.

My lovely husband and I have dinner together and normally watch a series (we’re really into Roman Empire and Versailles at the moment) or read. I’m an early bird, in bed by 9pm.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you prioritise your workload?

I plan my week in advance on a Sunday, as simply as using notes on my phone. It literally looks like Monday – one major item, three minor items, HR task, admin task in dot points. I cross the item off when done and that’s my cue to send it off.

It’s by no means fancy but the simplicity is what’s so functional.

There’s no logging into detailed software and spending hours updating things – plus, once something is ticked off, it’s ticked off across all my devices – I use multiple so this is important. I use a higher-level project view through Trello.

In a small business, it’s so crucial to automate. On any given day, I’m sending out scope of work proposals, new client contracts, email newsletters, invoices, on-boarding documentation, work-in-progress documents, analytics.

It’s heavy going.  The devil is in the detail, so I’ve set up some great tools to help me along.

A lot of the time now, I just fill in the blanks and the software does everything else – I recommend:

  • Qwilr (proposals, contracts, on-boarding)
  • Mailchimp (emails and analytics)
  • Online Invoices (logging sent and received)
  • Wave (detailed accounting)

And finally, from a personal point of view – if I’m overloaded and fatigued, I go to bed.

So many small business owners regale horror stories of staying up all night to finish something off – especially if, like me, they stake their reputation on delivering work that makes clients get the good ol’ fuzzies when they see it.

But this isn’t how I’d deliver good work because I’m not a night owl. So, instead of staying up, I hit the hay and set my alarm for 5am to finish it off.

I’m fresh, alert and I’ve had time to marinate on the work in my sleep – sometimes I get better ideas in the morning.

5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

Balance isn’t something I find time for – balance is present in every area of my professional and personal life, otherwise it wouldn’t work for me.

That means more than just taking leisurely breaks, finishing early or penning in time to spend with a partner, friends or family – it’s about setting boundaries that work for you beforehand with clients and being firm in your conviction with them.

I always include an extra time buffer on every project in case something unexpected pops up that I need to prioritise, or I find myself not enjoying something and zoning out.

I can take a break, build up that motivation again and come back to it without anyone being impacted.

6) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?

I read, a lot. I think that comes with being someone who has a deep-rooted appreciation for the written word.

And reading is double-pronged for someone like me, as it’s an escape as much as it is a kind of market research on how others put the old pen to paper.

I’m also a very social person in measures, so I like to be around people to get that fix – both in a working capacity and personal capacity.

I like catching up with people who do the same thing as me, seeing friends and family and going to networking events or talks.

7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

I don’t try and be everything to everyone. I’m a copywriter who has spent years honing my craft and I take a lot of pride in my work and the way I conduct myself in business.

I’m not interested in filling up every minute of the day with work – instead, what tickles me is producing really excellent work for clients I think are good eggs and doing important things or being awesome in their field.

That means I need to have breathing room on projects, and I need to be completely clear headed when I’m working. Logically, in order for that to happen, I must not put myself position where I ever feel overloaded.

And yes, it feels counter-intuitive to turn down work, there’s an element of guilt to managing a wait list of clients all patiently waiting for their turn.

It feels tempting to sit at my office for just a couple more hours at the end of the day to finish something off but in that case, I’m not staying true to that ethos of delivering really good work, every time.

8) Are there any books you’ve read that have helped you with work-life balance?

For me, the best read on achieving work-life balance was finding Mr Money Mustache’s blog. In fact, it’s what first got me into FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) in the first place.

Finding the elusive work-life balance actually starts with understanding what kind of life you want in the first place – you architect the work portion out from that.

It’s really insightful reading and what I’ve tried to hone in on on my own blog.

9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Get enough sleep. I’m just a better, more functional and healthier person when I do.

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