Recently, Tom Coughlin, author of the Forbes Storage Bytes column (and 2019 IEEE-USA president), offered insights into the habits that helped him become a contributing writer for such a prestigious organization. While Tom’s primary business is running his technical consulting company, Coughlin Associates, Inc., he also writes a regular column for IEEE Consumer Electronics magazine, has published a wide variety of scholarly articles in technical journals like AVS, APS and IEEE, and wrote the book, Digital Storage for Consumer Electronics. He has cultivated a symbiotic relationship between his Forbes column, which he began writing in 2011, his consulting company, and his other publications so that each one feeds into the others, cultivating new opportunities and connections. After more than 20 years in the industry, Tom has four tips to share with prospective writers as to how he has grown his following and leveraged it for new platforms.
You are never too young or too old, and no publication is too small. At age 12, Tom began working with local newspapers. In high school, he was published for the first time in the South Dakota Academy of Science. Based on his experience, he says, the first step is to figure out what you have to say and find your audience. From there, keep learning. Tom does this by keeping up with written literature and attending conferences that focus on his field. Additionally, he recommends attending related events as a member of the press, when possible, as a way to build your knowledge base and network. This sets you up as an “expert and communicator of ideas” in your field.
Develop Your Skills as a Writer
Anyone who has looked into being a writer knows how important it is to invest time in reading and writing — a lot. Besides recommending this tried and true advice, Tom would additionally recommend having people review it. He is always “striving to improve” and has received some “very constructive negative criticism.” If your reviewers say good things about your writing, have more people review it until you find someone who will tell you bad things. Then it is your job to think hard about what they say. No one is a perfect writer. Seek constructive criticism. Seek growth.
As Walt Disney said, “Keep moving forward”
Don’t wallow in the articles that flop or topics that get a backlash. You will make mistakes. Own them and learn from them. That will make you exceptional (or “the exception”) in our society. When talking about important lessons he has learned, Tom said, ”Over time, I have made lots of mistakes — and tried to correct them as soon as possible.” That’s it right there. As you are constantly learning and growing in your field, it may become necessary to re-evaluate and correct previously held assumptions. Fix old mistakes and proceed to make new ones. A lack of mistakes is lack of learning and growth.
Compensation is not Just Financial
When asked about blogging for Forbes, Tom replied that the biggest compensation for him is the exposure. Financial compensation is only one kind of currency in the blogging world. Each new writing opportunity can widen your readership and not only add new followers to your primary blog but create networking opportunities and other potential platforms for new articles.
In a market that is saturated with potential bloggers, it is our job to make sure we are putting in the work to hone our craft. It is not enough just to hope for the best. We must write. A lot. We must get feedback. All the time. We must be learning more about our field. Constantly. And we have to shelve our pride and seize whatever writing opportunities are available to us. Simply put, we have to work our butts off. So, on that note, from one blogger to another, happy writing!
Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Jacquelyn is the CEO and Founder of Ristole, a consulting business that transforms corporations through engaging employee training. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.