Four Ways to Maximize “Minimalist” Marketing

clutter

Familiar with the tiny house, declutter, and downsizing trends? Then you may have heard of the “Minimalist” movement too. The concept has taken off, with more than four million followers of its books, podcasts, a documentary, and tons of media attention.

But what the heck is this minimalist thing and why does it matter to marketing?

First some backstory: the Minimalists idea emerged from two 30’s, corporate worker bees who walked away six-figures jobs in the throes of typical American “success.” They were miserable on the endless hamster wheel and wanted to find more meaning in their lives. The Minimalist Guys (yep that’s what they call themselves) decided to strip away the life clutter. Disengage from rampant capitalistic culture. Find happiness and make time for what matters―stronger connections, personal growth, and happiness.

Intrigued by this idea, I watched the “The Minimalists” documentary. It begins with quick-cuts of the ‘90s consumerism excesses as the narrator quietly judges our complicity. It was a stark reminder that not much has changed in the digital age. “More” is still the mantra. The time is ripe for marketing to adopt own brand of minimalist philosophy.

Here are some ways you can apply the Minimalist principle to your marketing and be more effective with less.

Keep your content clean (NOT the NSFW kind)

When you’re living the Minimalist life, your home won’t be packed with “stuff”. No knick- knacks. Electronic devices gathering dust. Pictures that don’t bring you joy. Yet every day (every waking moment, let’s get real) consumers are overstimulated by busy websites trying to get us to click, crowded social media news feeds, red notification lights blinking and buzzing incessantly. We, as marketers, should help our readers focus on the most important messages. There’s a reason why Apple, Volkswagen, and other iconic brands share the legacy of of the best advertising around: there is a strong visual element, few words, and a supporting message hammered home. Adopt this principle of simplicity wherever you communicate. Keep everything you need and nothing you don’t.

Channel Your Inner Editor

The life of a minimalist means that you don’t overcomplicate things. Take what you need. Give what you can, but do no more than that. As marketers, the writing practice should be just as disciplined. Don’t let the important messages you have to say get lost in a word jumble. As a writer, I strive for brevity but it often tempered (and tempted) by wordiness. Instead, deliberately choose your language wisely and say no more (there’s this thing called editing. And more editing.). And don’t overwhelm your reader with messages. Make more impact with less. Something else to ponder: if you can’t say what you need to in a sentence, go back to the drawing board. The last benefit? Readers will notice what you say instead of staring into a sea of words.

Social Media Master of None

Minimalists don’t do five things at a time and multi-task the hell out of them, they one or two very well. Visit a friend, make a connection, focus on the beauty of the moment. When it comes to social media marketing, we tend to view all channels as one unit―incorrectly. Social media now an established part of the marketing mix, but you don’t need to be everywhere―just where your customers are. Some companies hop on the latest platforms because they’re “cool” or for novelty’s sake. Sure, test the waters, but don’t invest tons of time and energy with a square peg in a round hole. Spend social capital with what works best for your business. If your target audience is young, Snapchat. If you have a visual product or can creatively express your business on Instagram, post away. If you’re B2B, LinkedIn and Twitter make sense. If you have a start up, there are other considerations. Reign in your social media in and you’ll reach the people that matter.

Choose Quality Over Quantity 

Though the Minimalist Guys hug as many people as possible at their events, their philosophy is about making the space to spend time with those that really matter. In the same way, as a marketer, don’t try to attract every audience. Do a spring cleaning of your database and get rid of the dead-weight; take a hard look at your personas and see if you’ve overdone it and can condense or toss a few; drop excess mailing lists you’ve been on that aren’t paying off; and finally, scrub “we’ve always done it this way”from your marketing vocabulary. Excising marketing programs can be a painful pill to swallow for marketing organizations, but a worthwhile change.

These are a few ideas but certainly is not an exhaustive list. What would you do to pare down your marketing? What will be the first thing you cut?

 

Answer These Questions Before Starting Your Freelance Business

Every year, millions of corporate employees fantasize about breaking out of their cube shackles to start a consulting business. In fact, freelancers make up 35% of our national economy—that’s 53 million people! Are you going to be one of them in 2017?

Before you make that jump, answer these nine questions.

#1 Are you obsessed with it?
enOk that sounds a bit extreme and stalker-ish but like most things, if you don’t really (really) want it and aren’t fully committed, it won’t happen. You’ll find excuses, you’ll delay, you’ll talk about it but never take action. It has to be at the top of your priority list. Something you can’t stop thinking about. An itch you have to scratch. If you don’t feel this way, you’re not in 100% and that’s a recipe for failure. I’ve witnessed this as colleagues “trial” freelancing it but don’t go all-in, and unsurprisingly end with a thud (and feeling bad about themselves). Freelancing isn’t like going vegetarian for a month – it’s going to be a big part of your life. Take it VERY seriously or don’t take it at all.

#2 Does it scare the sh*t out of you? (in a good way)

f6There is a saying “Fear is the great extinguisher of  dreams…Conversely, it can be your best mentor and source of motivation.” Though my uncorporate lifestyle seems natural to me now with the built-in highs and lows, life wasn’t always this way. Freelancing to me is “controlled risk”: you look fear in the face most of the time but also get the rewards of your efforts. When you close the door on corporate, you  hit salary, benefits, and other cozy securities on the way out (not to mention those awesome free snacks). As a freelancer, you may have periods of “stability,” but get used to those air quotes – that word won’t be in your vocab often.


#3 Do you get bored with routines?            

f1Sure there are built-in habits we all have, whether it’s the rabid commitment to three cups of coffee before you talk to anyone, or lunch with your bestie every Friday, or being crazy busy during tax season if you’re an accountant. But the guts of your business – the pace, the timeline of work, the daily schedule, the ups and downs, will have a choreography of their own. One evening you can burn the midnight oil for a deadline and the next morning scout for a new client, or go for a walk in the middle of the day  – but you need to thrive on the variety, not fear it.  Which leads me to my next question…

#4 Are you exceptionally self-disciplined?
f3Yes, you’ll have an ever-changing life, but you also have to hunker down when you need to – big time. This is a core characteristic of freelancing. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I’m tempted to watch TV all day (no, just while eating lunch); or if I get up at 10am (nope again, but I don’t get up at 5am either). Like a regular job, you have to prioritize work and get it done in a timely fashion. The difference?  You won’t have a boss in your face pressing you on a deadline or cube mates noticing when you leave the office. And sometimes you’re working with two or three clients at a time so you practice your juggling skills. Sure there are times you can relax with wiggle room, but the majority is spent working or hustling for new work (or both).

#5 Do you have back up in the bank?
small busThis is another biggie if you’re going out on your own. How much is up to you. I recommend six months to cover personal expenses (not to mention start-up costs for your business). I realize not everyone can do this. However, a baseline of financial security provides a good balance of work-your-butt-off to-get-clients but also know that you have resources to live and take the stress level down a notch. Yes, you could challenge yourself to go out on your own without funds, but you may make decisions you regret – like take a client you’re not crazy about, sign up for work beneath your level, or even slog some lattes at Starbucks if you’re that desperate. The healthiest balance is to have a financial security blanket as you build your business.

#6 Are you able to turn off the perfectionist gene?        
78
Here’s a secret: it’s pretty darn easy to start a freelance business. A lot of people think it’s tons of work and get overwhelmed and scrap the idea altogether. You don’t need an elaborate marketing plan, payroll system, or office space – especially these days with a computer, connection, and tons of online freelancer services for everything from productivity to accounting. Don’t spend tons of money on your business when you’re just starting out. A few years ago, a colleague delayed her coaching business until she built this complicated client interface that cost thousands of dollars. Start professional but lean. Pivots are common and your work focus can change, especially at the beginning. Pick and choose the must-haves. It’s easy to feel pressure to have the crème de la crème when you start out, but it’s better to iterate your business as you go.

#7 Do you enjoy your own company?
f2This is not a question we often ask ourselves. When I went out on my own in 1999 the world of the internet was a lot smaller. Yes, there was email and the “net”, but there was no social media, Skype, apps, smartphones, and the rest of technology we rely on to keep us connected (and often distracted by). Back then, you had to be very purposeful in daytime socializing. Even though now we have a plethora of red notification lights continuously assaulting our senses, you’ll likely still spend a lot of time by yourself. There are ways to reduce alone time if it bothers you: join a co-working space, go to your client’s office, or schedule social time every day, but it won’t make solo time disappear.  If you find this inherently bothersome, freelancing may not be for you.

#8 Are you a natural or unlikely sales person?
smmmmGet that used car salesperson image out of your head. We’re all in sales one way or the other. Think of when you sell an idea to your boss with a PowerPoint presentation, or try to convince an employer to hire you, or sweet-talk a friend into trying a new cuisine she’s unfamiliar with. Freelancing forces you to be a natural connector. That means everything from going to networking events to having your elevator pitch down for random people you meet, to branding on social media. One trap I’ve seen (usually accompanied by the disdain for selling) is to rely on one client. That work could go away at a moment’s notice for a variety of reasons, but more importantly, it flies again why started a business in the first place. I know one colleague that only works for her former employer as a contractor, so she’s just working the same job for the same company without benefits.

#9 Are you prepared for blowback?
f4You’ll be starting a business, running a business, and thinking of your business – a lot. All of this “business” bleeds often over to your family, friends, vacation plans, and other important parts of your life. Some people may not understand why you work for yourself or worry about you. You’ll likely hear comments from certain corners like: “You work too much” or questioning your judgement with “Don’t you want an easier life?” and negative comments that (mostly) come from care. For this reason, make sure you cultivate plenty of social opportunities with supportive people who either have their own business or appreciate it. Join consulting groups, have coffee (or drinks for venting get-together) with other freelancers, and always remember why you stepped out on your own in the first place.

Well there you have it…did you answer a Big Fat Yes to all of these? Yes, there are many other factors that go into deciding to go freelance, but you’re off to a great start!

 

 

Five Marketing Takeaways From This Crazy Presidential Election

 

clinton_vs_trump_2575979Tomorrow morning we’ll wake up with a new President-Elect.

And make no mistake: it’s been difficult to find positive aspects of this grueling election season, but marketers take heed: we’ve been given the gift that keeps on giving. Witness all the branding, advertising and other dos and so-do-not-dos we’ve seen this election cycle.

Here are five stand outs. They also speak directly to the candidates’ values and vulnerabilities.

Hillary Clinton’s unpopular logo

Remember that less-than-stellar debut? Everyone was suddenly a graphic designer and had an opinion. It was too plain; it was ridiculously old fashioned. It looked like a mash of arrows. It was even officially trashed. But Hillary was resolute to her commitment to the logo and did not back down and change it. Remember when Airbnb was crucified for their logo? They kept it – but this is the exception not the rule. Gap, Coke, and other brands all fell prey to public discourse about their graphic sensibilities and new brand identity. What message does that send about your company and your brand?

Branding taglines: they work!

Every company needs a tagline and so does every politician? Some say Hillary’s “Stronger Together” is as uninspired and uninteresting as her logo, but it’s a quick hit about what she’s fighting for – a unified country. Trump’s theme is “Make America Great Again” in his best attempt to be folksy and send a clear message to his voter. But what exactly is #MAGA referring to? Segregation? 1776? That’s the “MAGIC” of #MAGA –  it’s open to interpretation by his true believers. As an awkward punctuation mark, Trump consistently sports a MAGA baseball hat paired with a suit and red power tie. Which leads us to our next topic…

Damage to the Trump Brand

No other election has seen the circus atmosphere as this one. And what better way to usher it in than a businessman known for his showmanship, brashness, and hucksterism. Though Donald Trump has both collected and nauseated and millions of voters with his polarizing rhetoric, it’s become clear that he’s also permanently tarnished his brand. This is definitely not a case of “Any PR is good PR.” In addition to his divisive popularity, this election also brought out his dirty laundry out in the public for a wash: failed businesses, tax evasion, proclivity for suing people, sexual misconduct. The list goes on. Trump Hotel sales are down even before the election is over. He’s even done damage to his daughter’s successful clothing line. So what happens after the election? He’s lost his well-heeled consumers but gained lower-income fans that can’t afford his brand but who will flock to his much-hyped “Trump TV” or whatever else he cooks up. But no one will ever look at the Trump name in gold the same again.

Hillary’s marketing tactics aren’t so different than our own

Everyone talks about Hillary’s strong “ground game” – they should see her online presence. As someone in marketing and has a low tolerance for overly-zealous campaigns, it’s been a challenge to stay on Hillary’s marketing list. With the regularity of daily emails, texts, and phone calls from multiple sources, I tried to turn down the volume – no such luck. The marketing faucet is either on or off. But given the importance and short-term of this election, I summoned the tolerance of a saint. The campaign employs typical B2C/B2B email tactics, with subject lines with “Re:” as if they were responding to my email (oldest trick in the book); guilt attempts “Can We Count On You, Janice?”; and even “personal” letters from President Obama, Joe Biden, and other political superstars. The HRC campaign get points for their veracity, volume and variety to get my attention. But they get knocked for their seemingly blind-eye to the communication avalanche. In the end, both campaigns have had their email marketing pros and cons.

“Market Research” aka Polling

The media loves polls more than anyone and the public gobbles it up – no matter how valuable it is. After every bombshell announcement of the election cycle –  whether it’s the FBI doing further Clinton private server investigation or Donald Trump’s famous Access Hollywood bus ride, daily WikiLeaks, or women suing Trump for sexual harassment, It felt more like an insane sporting event: Monday Hillary: 1; Trump: 0. By Wednesday the score is reversed in the others’ favor for talking points at their next rally (we can also thank our illustrious media for rapt attention no matter if rumor or proven fact). Bottom-line is that polls are overvalued sentiment throughout the election. Like brands, measuring customer opinions should have a before and after – not the equivalent of a constant heart monitor. This creates a skewed data points that have no relevance if the pulse is taken on a daily basis.

Crisis Communications is Alive and Well

With the lowest likability ever for presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle, whether the Trump or Clinton campaign, each of their crisis comms person isn’t just on speed dial, but I suspect perched next to them 24/7. There hasn’t been a week, day, or sometimes hour where the PR spin room wasn’t summoned for either candidate. Why? Both candidates have lots of bad PR on irregularly-regular basis. For Clinton, it’s a legacy of attacks dating back to her husband’s presidency, but “emails” is the word that creates the drip-drip every single day. Then there’s WikiLeaks and a host of other perceived missteps and mistakes. For Trump, the light shining on his pre-politics life that is dark as night: the many sordid details about his business dealings, personal behaviors, and temperament that allows him to send rabid tweets at 3am. Ironically there were so many crisis moments for both candidates, that as a public, we tended to become accustomed to the drama of the campaign and even non-plussed at times. Crisis communications became normal news of the day. This is not where you want your brand to be.

Persuasion “Secrets”

Remember Scott Adams of the comic strip “Dilbert” fame? He’s famous for something else: he is a persuasion expert (who knew?!). When Trump was inching closer to nabbing the Republication nomination, Adams did the talk show circuit to explain how this unthinkable candidate could possibly make it to the top of the GOP ticket. Think: “Crooked Hillary” “Little Marco” and all the other short nicknames Trump developed that we remember. It makes an impact. Adams outlines all of the persuasion techniques used by Trump quite effectively on the human brain. Marketing is all about appealing to emotions. Trump takes it to an extreme with his base – and now we know the science behind why it works.

But I’ve saved my most powerful marketing lesson of all for last, and it’s really short: go vote.

 

 

 

Newbie Does Content Marketing World: The Good, the Bad, and the Orange

This is not a top 10 takeaways listicle. Or a shameless crop of speaker quotes to get retweets. This is a story of a thrifty writer who went to Content Marketing World in Cleveland, the apparent “Capital of Content,” thanks to doubling down on promo codes.  It was everything—and nothing I expected. 

Cult of Orange Kool-Aid

If you didn’t know this by now, the Content Marketing Institute LOVES its orange. A lot. I urge you to bring shades if you go to CMW. Be prepared for hordes of attendees that wear it on various parts of their bodies; from hats to shoes to everything in-between. Then there are the signage, carpet, and yes, even orange food-colored products (that I did not imbibe in). In my complete ignorance of Planet Orange, I thought it would be mildly amusing to wear my coincidentally-coral top to the first evening reception. Bad idea. I became an instant, unwilling cult participant. Part of me likes the rah-rah team spirit and the other thinks it’s a tad creepy. I do love purple, so maybe if it was Planet Purple I could have gotten into the color craze more.

Run With Precision of Surgery

Speaking as a former event planner and attendee of a bajillion conferences, it’s my second nature to find mistakes or mental note what I would change–-you know for the fun of it and to feel superior. But I was hard-pressed to find any major boo-boos no matter how hard I tried. CMW was a well-oiled logistics machine from start to finish. The sessions started on time, the speakers were 90% top notch, and the events were memorable. Even the most basic details like lunches—normally a hassle when you have to leave the conference or sit in a stuffy banquet room— were grab-and-go to run to a session or hang out at the convention center. It’s a detail, but one that makes a difference in the overall experience. The opening reception held in the newly-revamped Flats area had it all: food, drinks, a pool, networking, groovy lighting, content geeks awkwardly dancing. But it worked. Cheap Trick concert in one word: epic. Though I loved them when I was a teen, I wasn’t that excited, thinking they were more AARP than OMG. Boy was I wrong, these badasses put on a rockin’ show. I even got one of the guitar picks that was tossed in the audience! #groupiemoment

Mix and Match Theme

Make no mistake: the theme of the show was “Content Strikes Back” and there were Star Wars posters everywhere, cheesy references to it in most presentations, and the grand stage opened with Joe Pulizzi on a starship deck that looked like it came from community theater (I think on purpose?). Added strange bonus: Pulizzi’s ending included a contentized Matrix scene, replete with Keanu Reeve’s trademark black jacket. Similarly, many attendees, including myself, wondered what the hell the former Luke Skywalker could contribute to the content conversation. But we were wrong—the guy proved to be an engaging, funny, and honest speaker about celebrity content and could talk a good game about his Twitter-follower competition with Carrie Fisher. He even trashed Star Wars franchise for making him lose 50 pounds for his one scene in “The Force Awakens”that only showed his face. Other daily keynotes were engaging—in fact the speaker with the highest rating automatically gets top spot at the start of the conference.

Attack of the Corporate Packs

There are an estimated 3,500 people that attended CMW event from 50 countries and 50 of the Fortune 100. In other words, the vast majority are from a corporate environment, which was evident through the massive content marketing teams traveling in packs. Armed with occasional orange clothing and an expense account, the roamed the convention center hallways in droves. Admittedly, I did feel like an oddball as a freelancer. But there were plenty of friendly people to network with. It would have been more inclusive, however, to have sessions catering to us content outliers.The closest was one on best practices to hire freelance writers (you can bet I was there). There was also a “Writing Salon” for consultants  in the spiffy new Hilton, away from the action. In the future, I would like to see more events for corporate and freelancers to network directly.

Dare to be “Different” or Die

Remember I said this won’t be a list of takeaways? Indulge me with my few random observations. Speakers in many of the sessions said in their own unique way that content has reached peak so you must think and do differently. As content marketers, we can no longer crank out the same old stuff—with so much noise you absolutely, unequivocally must stand out. Obvious yes, but how to get around it? Idea-planting included: call attention to a provocative question that no one else answers in the industry; take a stand on an industry issue; find that missing stat and capitalize on it in a big way; extract insight from data for a non-obvious answer; dig for interesting correlations and weird ideas to pounce on; come up with “unthinkable” ideas no one else is doing (like freeing gated content or doing a negative campaign that speaks the truth). Though none of these ideas were exclusively new, together they lent a shot of creativity and deeper thought to bring home.

Fuzzy Line Between Journalism and Content: Demolished

As a former journalist (and a cynical reporter at heart) I was surprised, elated and deflated to see that the rise of “brand newsrooms” (oxymoron anyone?) is a real, established thing. Among content marketers and journalists alike, there is a resigned acceptance that newspapers are dying, content is thriving, and a way to make a buck on the side (which has become the main entree). As one speaker and former reporter put it: journalists don’t think they need anything from content, but content marketers know they need journalists. A journalism style brings a dose of reality to content. In essence, the mindset of journalism can lead to greater content marketing.  We should always be asking ourselves with every piece of content we produce: will it pass skeptic test? The only thing I disagreed with: that the pace of content marketing is significantly slower than daily deadlines of journalism, but then again, maybe it’s just my clients (and you know who you are).

KISS Principle lives aka no Friction

Several speakers focused on the importance of content simplicity from writing to delivery. Cut the resistance between where you are and where you want to go to make it easier for your readers. We’re not just left-brained or right-brained about decision-making. Our reptilian brain likes simple choices and hates change. This or that. Chocolate or vanilla. Try or buy. That also means that content should stay away from any sort of difficult, interruptive reading experiences, like rotating banners or tons of links. We need to prepare and communicate our content simply, elegantly and concisely, whether it’s an ad campaign, landing page, a blog post or even social media post. Another fact: Consumers don’t care where they get their information from, they just want it. So don’t be concerned about “credit,” be concerned about giving readers what they want—they’ll thank you later. Again, not rocket science, but  good to remind ourselves of every time we’re producing content, it’s not about us, it’s about freely delivering value and and solving problems for our readers. In other words, the fantastically-jargonny word: customer centricity.

My content marketing awards

Unsurprisingly, the award session didn’t include best freelance content marketer of the year or other  honored oddities. However, I’ve devised some of my own to fill in the gap. You’re welcome.

Best opportunity: 1% on the web are creating content, the rest are lurkers and contributors; this means infinite opportunity for content creators who want mindshare to be a leader not sheep

Best reality check: You may have great content, but quality alone cannot overcome the competitive landscape

Best quote: If you’re writing for everyone, you’re not writing for anyone

Best anti-best practice: Don’t follow best practices, great marketers craft their own

Strangest buzzphrase: “children of personas”: I dare you to bring it up in your next content strategy meeting just to see the dazed expressions

Most unrealistic concept: “empathy meetings”one presenter said, is when he meets with clients weekly to discuss and solve core problems; My empathy starts when I have to go to a meeting at all

Most overused word: Friction—it just rubs me the wrong way

Best live tweeting: Selfie Humblebrag aka @Shumblebrag. Brilliant at keeping the pretention, ridiculousness, and conference clichés in check. We need more of that—everywhere.

In a nutshell, I think CMW was worth the price (including my discounts, of course). It was some good learning, easy networking, and fun entertainment—but please don’t expect me to wear orange next year.

Author’s note: Next post I’ll be taking a look at the content produced by CMW trade show exhibitors to assess who is eating their own dog food and who needs to bulk up.

 

 

Size Matters: What Small Business Wish You Knew

smmmSan Francisco Small Business Week came and went in May, but we carry on long after the most pricey city in the land pays homage to its 85,000 independents. The mom and pop shops. The consultants. The entrepreneurs (I refuse to legitimize  solopreneurs). We’re growing like crazy, but still the outliers of the American worker.

SMBs appreciate the attention once a year, but here’s what you should know about us—from those curious to start their own business to others who cannot fathom how we slog through this life after year.

We work 24/7

sb3I’m not a drama queen. Believe me, I know people with “regular day jobs” work their butts off too—it’s not a competition, but a very different life. You get a salary no matter what you do. Us? Nope. We only get paid when and how hard we work. And that’s not including the time we think about work on “off” hours. Waking up with a bright idea at 3am, worrying about the client who didn’t pay us, following up on the stale lead from last month. It’s very tough to go on vacation without having concerns. Anxiety-filled questions flood your head, like: will a client find someone new and completely forget me? Did the person I left in charge do a great job or make me look like a putz? And inevitably…Will I ever work again? (OK maybe I am a drama queen). My sister loves to reminds me of a visit years ago to Boston with the promise of helping her move out of her apartment.  I spent 75 percent of the time with one ear to the phone with a client and the other taping boxes (did I mention what a great multi-tasker I am?).

Our Relationship Skills Are Constantly Challenged

 sb2Most of small biz owners do not have psychology degrees and must rely on our smarts—specifically social IQ—to deal with the cacophony of situations, thorny problems, and awkwardness that can occur on a daily basis. There is no playbook for dealing with a wide range of emotions and intelligence we encounter—whether clients or potential customers. We are pushed to rely on our best communication skills (when we don’t have them tee’d up), make instant decisions (which we may instantly regret) or screw something up wildly on the spot (see question above about future employment opportunities). And let’s face it, there are certain people that make working together more difficult than it needs to be. Think of it like communication kung-fu, but without the black belt. One of my first clients (through a friend, even more awkward) included a permanently-agitated, resentful employee who constantly tried to point out flaws, and went from passive to aggressive without the hyphen. I learned early on from this experience and others like it to try and put myself in that person’s shoes. Maybe the person was competitive, or worried I was angling for their job, or stressed about something at home, or maybe, just maybe, was just a certified jerk.  I remained professional and reserved my self-control, which has served me well to deal with the next client problem child(s). Thankfully there haven’t been tons of these “learning opportunities.” And though I would like to think I get better at it every year, there is inevitably a new angle on it each time and I think about what I would do in the future. Speaking of which…

Small Biz Can Reinvent

enSure, the word “pivot” is cliché, along with “disruption” and the crop of other Silicon Valley tech-y jargon. No matter what you call it, change happens, whether you bring it on yourself or it comes hurling to your doorstep. From big decisions to small tweaks: the move from project fees to hourly rates, to add new products and services, to never taking a client to a restaurant again because the waiter was rude. For me, my Reinvention Moment was the day I broke up with Events. We were together for years, though admittedly had a love/hate relationship (mostly hate). I spent years laboriously tending to Events, yet wanted to leave more than a semiconductor show in Orange County. Do I ever miss the great money? Yep. The beauty when a perfectly orchestrated event goes off without a hitch? Uh-huh. But do I want the headaches, lugging crap around all the time, and the stress of  planning and fussing over every detail. Heck no.  And once I quit, I never looked back. I created my own change and freed up more time for writing projects, my first work love. Another great thing about having your own biz? If I ever wanted to get back together with Events—I could. (But we all know how round two usually goes).

There is No “Us” in Brand

smmmmWhether you have a teeny retail shop, a thriving online business, or sell hot dogs on  the streets of New York City, you’re still the boss and Head Honcho of Everything. If an employee screws up your Twitter account, a customer gets ridiculously overcharged, or the hot dogs end up burnt— that comes back to you—it’s your baby, whether you like it in that moment or not. Now is not the time to hide behind excuses (nor tall employees). When something goes awry—as it often does—we own up to it and fix it. Small business takes this commitment very seriously. And if we don’t, things will go south in a hurry. SMB knows better than anyone, the one thing that is difficult—if not impossible to repair—is your reputation. Once you’re “damaged goods,” it’s near-impossible to get your coveted spot back. Think of vendors, stores and customer experiences  you never want to revisit. For a famous brand, say Tylenol or Toyota, or celebrity like Martha Stewart, redemption is granted through time. Humans love that schadenfreude stuff. But these are on-of-a-kind and popular cultural brand icons we want to like (and purchase from). Those same rules don’t apply to small business. Once you screw up royally, it’s pretty much over and onto the next.

We’re a Different Breed

sm5Not to be too black and white. Or Type A or B. But you’re a small business owner—or you’re not. I could rattle off the qualities that make it so, but that would be superficial. I never fashioned working away at my small business when I grew up, but I somehow caught the bug and here I am 17 years later. I think what separates a committed independent is best encapsulated in a conversation recently with a pilot friend of 25 years. He is passionate about flying for a major airline and can’t imagine doing anything else with his life—that’s why he gets up at the crack-ass of dawn, goes through constant sleep deprivation, and curbs his drinking long before the evening wears on. He asked me what job would get me up early and go to a corporate job. I sat there for a minute, paused, and said “nothing” (besides the fact that I despise getting up early). This is exactly where I want to be and in the life I want—like a Silicon valley innovation, it’s designed, produced, marketed, and constantly iterated. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

LinkedIn Tries to Wiggle Out of Its Work Khakis

Think fast: what social networks do you expect girls in bikinis, political statements, and religious rants? Facebook…Instagram…LinkedIn. Wait what??

Insert screeching brakes sound here.

These types of posts are becoming more and more common on LinkedIn. In fact, a war is being waged in the LinkedIn community upon itself. Newsfeeds are filling up fast with complaints of personal, off-color or racy images, mixed with those defending it. And it’s gotten downright nasty, taking up more real estate than ever.

Examples? (replete with thousands of comments pro and con)

– Before-and-after photos of a woman in a skimpy outfit to demonstrate a personal trainer’s results

– an image of a fast food employees praying through the drive-through window with a customer

– An image of an orange-faced businessman with bad hair who happens to be running for president

-A dad showing off the breakfast food porn his kids made that morning

-Posts complaining about these types of posts

-Posts complaining about posts complaining about these posts

…Get the idea?

The fact is, many LinkedIn members want the network to remain the buttoned-up workplace they know, while others choose to use it as a fertile sharing ground for anything.

While LinkedIn does have a community behavior policy in its terms of agreement (like other networks), its ambiguity leaves the policy’s implementation frayed at the edges and open to interpretation (also like other networks). The specific clause forbids a LinkedIn member to “Act dishonestly or unprofessionally, including by posting inappropriate, inaccurate, or objectionable content.”

But what do those words mean in the age of social media and increasingly blurry lines between personal and work lives?

The grandaddy of social networks has made it clear it wants to stay out of this touchy conversation and leave it to members “work it out.”

But me thinks there is something much bigger going on here.

The loud silence gives voice to the idea that the old network is simply
“pivoting” in true Silicon Valley fashion. All of the signs and symptoms are there. And it would seem like the next logical step to attempt unicorn social media status and attain relevancy in all parts of its users lives.

But no matter how it dresses for casual Friday, LinkedIn screams work. It’s decidedly not the go-to for a fun fix like a Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook. And that’s why the company is taking its cue from the blue-logoed, most popular social network in the world.

Look at the mounting evidence: the red notification that excites and brings on that Pavlovian response for more; the “like” button for posts and new jobs; larger, multi-size imagery; more targeted ads and messages on the sides of the pages; the ability to publish (ala post); the new chat feature replacing messages; network birthday notifications, a snazzy new Facebook-like app, and other telltale signs.

The only thing that’s missing so far? Community acceptance.

The fact is, something is not quite connecting for  millions of LinkedIn users. Could it be that the community DOES like a modicum of  personal and work life to remain separate? Most people feel uncomfortable sharing vacation photos, opining their views on political candidates, or ranting about lousy customer service to a network mostly from former and current employers, professional event or other work circumstances.  We have lots of other places to do that, thank you very much.

LinkedIn wants to have it both ways—to be the “world’s largest professional network”— but  change the definition of what that means in order to grow and more deeply engage its users.

And it may be fighting a losing battle and in the process turn off community members to what is perceived as a degredated, cheapened network.

The fact is, we all have our own definitions and standards of what stays in the outer circle but there are some common threads—that’s not going to change much over time. It’s the reason we don’t wear shorts to an interview. Or tell our boss we got in a big fight with our mate. Or share that we’re going to a political rally on the weekend. It’s this thing called “boundaries.”

My rule of thumb is if it’s not something I would say to a colleague, it doesn’t go on LinkedIn. That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun or a sense of humor or show my personality— it just means I have no interest in doing more than that on LinkedIn.

This is as personal as it gets.

 

 

 

An Author, Agent, and Publisher Walk into a Writing Conference…

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As we sat huddled at crowded tables in the Peacock Room of the elegant Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, my deja vu struck: I was watching a Tony Robbins motivational conference on PBS.

The dozen or so men and women on stage, all shapes, sizes and ages, stood up and gripped the mic—some with more confidence than others—and told their stories: “Three years ago, I too was sitting where you are, my book idea barely conceived, uncomfortable and unproven but here I am now a published author with an advance and another book on the way.” Riotous clapping ensues. Rinse and repeat with other inspiring stories.

I realized that the attendees at the 50+ tables wide-eyed and straining to listen, weren’t attending this conference to refresh grammar rules, learn story arcs, or methods to hone their pitch. They were here to fulfill their dream: The ecstatic giddiness of writing a book and getting it published.

I also understood clearly at that moment that it wasn’t just about writing the book, it was the desire for others to read your book. It made me wonder: could one exist without the other? I loved writing but if no one read it, did it count?  If I don’t have feedback does it mean I won’t know if my writing is good? Does any of this even matter? My mind raced with “If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it…” questions, but was brought back to the noisy excitement of more clapping.

Once I checked back into the reality of the room, I felt a sense of shame and idiocy recalling the one-in-a-million chances and fakery we’ve all seen on TV: The faith healer raising a small boy out of his wheelchair. “The Price is Right” contestant who wins a car because she reveals a stapler in her purse to Bob Barker. The lottery winner on TV grinning ear to ear. Could this dream really happen to me?

But then I checked myself.

I too could be on that stage. I too could write that book. I too had that passion—and it was nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it was one of those rare moments I felt a deep sense of camaraderie with every person in the room for their passion to write, no matter how different we were. And believe me, we were miles apart.

From the young woman writing about birthing in the wilderness to the female coach advising how to say “no” without guilt. Or the San Francisco hipster taxi driver musing on his rides to the serial dater writing about her kooky love misadventures. Then there was the doctor penning a story of a 5th grader doing surgery and a famous cartoonist’s son spinning historical fiction. The list goes on.

This quilt of ideas and passion in the room strangely seemed to fit together: We all have a story to get out and conversely, want someone to read it. But I still couldn’t help asking myself if I was part of a group of unrealistic dreamers or soon-to-be successes.

Throughout the weekend I attended classes about parables, platforms, and pitches, which only served to fuel the strike-it-big fantasy. Excitement was sparked by topics like: how to option your book; rules for media interviews; scheduling out book series.

Though I became weary of all the advice, potential triumphs, and scribbling notes, I nonetheless stayed motivated by the possibilities of writing dreams. In the evenings, between sips of wine and bites of networking snacks, we tested our pitches and ruminated on fears and fantasies for our books.

But there was the subtext buzzing beneath the surface during the entire conference: Self-publishing is the last resort if you don’t get published. It’s the First-Class versus Coach of the industry. The unspoken message is that if you are a published author, you’re legitimized, if you self-published, not so much. After all, anyone can publish a book these days. That doesn’t make it a bad option, but it means you have no other option. Some authors don’t care. But some care very much.

Of course, the (again one-in-a-million) example heard of self-publishing throughout the weekend was the lucky author of the “The Martian” discovered online, then part of an Oscar-nominated movie, and the rest is history. Yes, sometimes luck, talent, and timing really do intersect in life. But how many lives? How many times?

By the end of the conference, through all the classes, writers, agents, and publishers I encountered, the biggest discovery had nothing to do with potential book fame—it only had to do with my relationship to writing.

For those who lament with words every day, it is not a choice, it’s something we must do, no matter how painful or glorious it is. It’s more than getting our thoughts on the virtual paper, or praising ourselves for the beauty of perfect prose strung together, or slogging through that final edit that renders us broken but exhilarated. It’s about completeness. The End. Ready for Prime Time—whatever form that takes.

The truth is that writing is the least of the work if you want to be a published author—whether you seek a contract or self-publish. For those of us who live in the world of feared procrastination just looking at the blank screen, that alone can be enough to click on Facebook for life.

You’ll be eeking out every page, editing and re-editing, creating your platform, finding publishing options, hiring a coach or an editor, getting educated on contracts. It can make your head spin. And maybe if you have the time, reading other works to continue that inspiration. It’s enough to look at your book as a side project, which it is already if you are working to support yourself to write (99% of us).

This isn’t all bad though, it means that it will light a fire under your ass—or it won’t. The passion you feel for your project comes completely from within. Being a “published author” can come in many forms —but that flotation device in an ocean of words that keeps you above water is shaky at best and may or may not sink at any point.

But then I slipped into my imagination and clearly saw a snapshot of the glossy cover of my book, the title a bit fuzzy and the image splashy color but illegible. But what I did see with extreme clarity, was my name in big bold letters staring back at me.

And as I learned from 74-year-old Walter at the conference, now is when you should write your book. “I don’t have a lot more time to tell my story so I need to do it now.” He see’s the ultimate deadline and in doing so, has accomplished the seemingly impossible.