How To Use Templating To Supercharge Your Learning and Performance.
benefits of templates

Benefits of templates

Patagonia, the clothing company with a penchant for environmental activism, has found a way to scale upcycling into a profitable business model – templating.

Upcycling is the process of re-purposing waste, like the billions of new clothes condemned to landfill into a product for use.

Landfill clothing has been on Patagonia’s hit list for years, and in 2019 they started ReCrafted, an experimental enterprise tasked with unearthing a scale-able product process for creating fashion garments out of discarded clothes.

Making clothes from new material can be done efficiently on a factory line; a design is created and then replicated quickly. However, using the landfill pile means creating a new design each time, one that suits the fabric, and it isn’t easy to make it time and labour efficient.

Recrafted streamlined the process by creating a set of twelve pre-made clothing templates that could quickly be matched to different fabrics; taking away the design step from the process and allowing the sewers to get straight onto the making.

As freelancers, creatives or small businesses/startups we’re all pretty savvy when it comes to distractions and the danger zones resulting in lost creation time, but what about wastage in the process?

Creating a template for each of the things you do regularly is one way to cut down that waste.

If you’re a one entrepreneur band, it might also be the quickest way to ensure continuous, efficient learning in your business journey.

How To Create A Template.

In sewing a template is just a pattern, in software, it’s a mould and organisationally speaking it’s just a list of things that make up your process.

Maybe it’s steps or decisions — every bit of thinking you need to get a job done should go into your template.

My simple templates originate in Word or Excel. Sometimes I go a bit fancy and copy them over the Canva, but the gold is in the doing, rather than the output.

It’s a live document that you can pick up every time you start a new venture, as long as you’ve taken the time to create it.

Benefits of templating

  • When you write down the steps in a process, you’re automatically applying some analysis, whereas if you just waited for the next project, you’d lose some learning.
  • You’re streamlining some of the slow starts. For me, this is where procrastination breeds; when I’m ambling at the beginning of a business proposal or blog.
  • You own your development in a way that is stronger than adapting to anyone else’s templates.
  • You are increasing your industry expertise and building your library of knowledge.

Below is a list of my favourite business and creative templates.

1. Business Pitch/Proposal Template

I’ve had a good run with proposals recently; long may it last. My current template includes:

Price and detailed work scope.

Well-articulated ideas x 2

A detailed schedule

A deliverables list, including a snippet report of ideas that the client can use after the project has finished for marketing or content.

The template enables me to remember what’s important — creating a proposal that fits the client’s requirements, rather than getting lost in a storm of what other people seem to be doing.

Having a hit list will save you time and energy, and you are operating with an amount of authority because this is what is working for you.

2. Online Course Template

Given the terrible statistics for finishing online courses, I wonder what percentage of people put the learnings into practice?

At Open University I got into a good habit of reading content, highlighting it and creating a set of notes; this process fared me well throughout the degree, but my approach has since lagged and maybe my learning too.

A template may help you finish the course, write up the findings and prepare for the next time.

Start with the notes and build it into a template that you can pick up and run with rather than fumbling around at the beginning of whatever activity you took the course to complete.

The action of creating the template will make you think and commit to putting your learning into practice.

The template includes:

Three key points

Three action points to put into practice.

Summary of the course tutor; will I use them again? Will I recommend this to someone else?

3. Project Execution Template

So, you’ve got the project…then what? This is a template that I wish I’d put into place so much earlier.

Now, how are we going to share and exchange information, how are we going to capture critical decisions and actions, and how will we keep up the energy of the project?

My template involves:

Kick-Off Meeting

Action Register

Weekly or Fortnightly Video Check-ins

Shared Drive To Exchange information

Deliverables Schedule (Planned Start, Actual Start, Planned Finish, Actual Finish)

The check-ins are proving popular with the clients. Even on a three-week turnaround project the value of proposing this lets then know you’re on side and the value of touching base regularly, even for a ten minute.

4. Project Plan

Engineering and construction industries have complex project planning software. Probably finance, healthcare and tech too but we don’t need this as small businesses. Like the project execution template above a plan should include all of the little steps along the way. The more micro you can make them, the better.

It’s the key steps you can put into a template to make your process smoother and make you more professional with clients and others.

Suppose you’ve never made a planning template before I’d recommend it. Sit yourself down and create a simple list of all of the steps required in the delivery of a project and not just your steps; where you need input from others include those.

Make sure you list the potential pitfalls and schedule hold-ups. If you develop this as a list, you’ll be as pre-warned as they come as a freelancer.

5. Story or Article Template

In the past few decades myths about creativity being best delivered in spontaneous Rimbaudian bursts of inspiration. Sure, we need the inspiration, but that’s the easy bit.

Completing your writing project is the tricky bit and we are working against an old narrative that conveniently drops the discipline element of the fulfilment of a creative project.

So this is one of my favourite templates to create.

I’ve made them for short stories, films, second draft rewrites and now I’ve got one for the novel I’m working on.

My favourite thing to include is the quirky character exercises in each story. Do I know what my character’s point of no return is? The thing they would never do that ultimately they must do in my story.

But if you’re writing an article, storytelling elements like structure and theme are still essential and make up a good template.

6. Output Template

I call it output; it is a template for each writing type that I create for a client — a website or microsite template, a strategy, a script, a story, a blog etc.

What are the essential pieces of the process that need to go into every project? What worked really well? What can you offer up in the proposal phase that will impress?

An example across all of mine would be the audience expectations which are often different to the client’s needs. Other pieces of work will call for specific details. Each time you capture them into a template, you get a little better at what you do.

7. Book Template

Book, audiobook or kindle; whatever your preference is in business, you should be consuming and learning about your craft. Nothing less will do if you’re in a competitive space, but we’re busy people and a full set of book notes isn’t always time-efficient.

A live template of the things you’re looking for in a craft or business book will allow you to extract the most value from reading it?

I try and note down three key takeaways from each business book, and importantly, what I’m going to do with the information.

8. Mentor Template

Maybe you don’t have an official mentor, but the web is full of advice; some amazing, some you’ve heard a hundred times before but there’s no excuse not to have a shadow mentor.

This might feel a bit stalky but that is life on-line. What are they working on? What are they writing about? What channels aren’t they on. What amazing advice are they giving?

You’ll soon decide whether they’re a good shadow mentor or not.

A Templating Mindset

Taking on a templating mindset means you’re consistently on a learning and improvement cycle. It’s a mindset that means you’re always analysing and critiquing your process and by definition, continually growing.

Think of templating as creating your own factory line.

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in similar articles about learning and development as a freelancer, you might be interested in this blog about upskilling.

I’m on a mission to unpick the myth of creative genius and have put together a short, digestible guide on creativity and how small businesses can develop this mindset.   Find out more here.


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