TODAY is Sunday. Time-travel and the entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur, I love being location-independent, as long as I stay properly oriented to time and place. I hope I didn’t disorient too many of my readers when you woke up to yesterday’s blog, one of my regular “Song for a Sunday” series.

As I sat down to write this I realized that TODAY is Sunday, which must mean yesterday was some other day. Saturday? I understand that’s the way those things usually go.

How could I make such an egregious error? Let’s blame:

a) the three-day conference I was at that started on Thursday. Even the conference leader kept referring to its final day as Sunday.


b) the cold and flu that knocked me flat for the—well, I was going to say “the better part of the week,” but believe me there was nothing “better” about it.

Entrepreneur-ing While Sick

entrepreneur-ing while sickEntrepreneur-ing While Sick is like the IronMan of Entrepreneuring. So where the eff is my gold medal?

I suppose it could have been worse: I’d pre-written most of my blog posts, so I wasn’t required to write cogently until late in the week. But I couldn’t think cogently, either, and that was truly annoying.

I cancelled a one-on-one coaching because I was afraid I’d turn my writer’s lovely piece into word salad. But I had to interview someone for one of my corporate clients—haven’t re-read my notes yet; they should be interesting.

And I managed to lead a Weekly What discussion group on Monday, if you use “lead” in the loosest possible sense. At one point my brain got as stopped-up as my bronchial tubes; one of my writers had to supply the word I was searching for, sliding in a gently whispered: “adjectives.”

Adjectives! What, I ask you, is a writer who forgets adjectives? Well, I don’t know about “forgets,” but James Baldwin managed to craft some mighty descriptive paragraphs with only one adjective or adverb per 100 words or so. That’s genius.

“Genius” was not my problem on Monday. Nor Tuesday. Nor Wednesday, nor…you get the drift. I did manage some insights at the conference the night before last. Which I now understand was Friday.

I’m grateful to be on the mend now. And grateful to have patient and understanding clients—every entrepreneur should be so blessed. And now I have something else to be grateful for:

It’s Sunday.

Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change. (Includes the Weekly What—check it out!)

Dorie Clark: How Writing a Book Can Score You a Job

Dorie Clark
Photo by Thitiwat Nookae

I’m thrilled to introduce you to today’s guest expert, Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of business best-sellers Reinventing You and Stand Out, and she offers readers a free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook. Take her up on the offer (after you read this post). — Elaine

How Writing a Book Can Score You a Job

by Dorie Clark

What’s the best way to land your dream job? It certainly isn’t sending in a resume and waiting to hear back. Instead, Miranda Aisling Hynes – whom I profile in my new book Stand Out – used “inbound marketing” to ensure her future employer was dying to talk to her.

She dreamed of a career in arts management. But it’s a crowded and competitive field. For her master’s thesis in community art, instead of writing an ivory tower treatise, she self-published a manifesto on creativity, Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something (published under her middle name, Miranda Aisling). She wanted it to inspire regular people, not just practicing artists or those inside academia. The term “art” is loaded, she’d come to believe; it signified something rarefied that most people couldn’t imagine aspiring to. “But everyone is creative,” she says. “Whether they use that creativity is a different issue, but it’s an innate human skill like curiosity, and your creativity can manifest itself in any number of ways . . . Most people do want to be creative; they just had it squashed out of them at some point.”

She gave a copy of her book to a friend who worked at a local arts center; he passed along the copy to his boss after he’d finished reading it. When Hynes later applied for a job at the organization, the director was extremely enthusiastic, praising it during her interview and again in front of the entire staff when she went in for the second round. “The book definitely opened the door,” she says. She got the job.

She recognizes that self-publishing probably won’t make her rich or famous. “I think you have to have realistic expectations about what you’re going to get out of it,” she says. “It’s an entrance [for other people] to my ideas. I haven’t really made a profit; I’ve pretty much broken even.” But the book landed her the job, and is bringing her closer to her long-term vision of opening a “community art hotel” that connects visitors with local artists. “The more stuff you create—a blog, websites, books—the more articulate you become about your passion and purpose,” she says. “And the more articulate you become, the more people flock to your message.”

It’s about creating a variety of touch points that can draw people in and keep them engaged. Someone discovering her website might order a copy of her book, sign up for her e-newsletter, and perhaps start attending the regular art and music gatherings she hosts. “Instead of building the arts center and hoping the community will come,” she says, “I’m building the community first and hoping they’ll help me make the arts center.”

Writing your own book might seem like an enormous challenge. But you don’t have to dive into your masterpiece right away. Start by listening and learning about the major issues in your field, as you begin to formulate your own point of view. Then, begin to share your thoughts via blogging and social media. Finally, as you’ve built up a following that’s interested in your perspective—and asking for more—you can expand those concepts into a book that encapsulates your philosophy and how you see the world. That will be your calling card to attract like-minded people to you and your ideas, and to help ensure that they spread.

If someone hasn’t worked with you before, hiring you can feel like a significant risk. If it doesn’t work out, they may have wasted months and tens of thousands of dollars. But when someone reads your book – or even just hears about it and recognizes the thought and expertise that went into creating it – it gives them a far deeper understanding of who you are and how you think. That provides an extra level of reassurance that makes it easier for them to say yes to you.

So ask yourself, if a book could serve as a calling card for you, what message would you want it to convey? What does the world need to hear? Set aside an hour on your calendar sometime this week to brainstorm – maybe during a walk over lunch, or as you relax in the evening. As Hynes’ story shows, self-publishing a book may seem an unlikely route to winning your dream job – but because it helps you stand out from the competition, it’s a powerful one.

Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me (Elaine!) for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

“How important are writing skills for professionals?” — Frequent Question

Q: How important are writing skills for professionals?
A: That depends. Do you want people to listen to you?

I did a podcast interview yesterday afternoon—I’ll let you know when it’s released—and that was one of the host’s questions.

I enjoyed the interview; the host seems like a smart guy. But when I’m not making my living writing for professionals, professionals pay me to teach them how to write for themselves. So how important do you think I think writing skills are? Um, very.

These days, everything in business happens in writing: Texts. Private messages. Tweets. Emails. Presentations. Your writing skills—or lack thereof—convey your ideas, connect you to your colleagues, give you visibility with your leadership.

How important is all of that?

Maybe it’s time to hone your writing skills

I’ll give you a sneak peek at some of the tips I offered on this podcast:

  1. Focus on your audience: what they want from you and what you want from them. Always have those two pieces of information in mind when you start to write—or at least when you start to revise your first draft. They’ll guide you to the right content.
  2. Be yourself. One mistake many business writers make is trying to sound formal or sophisticated—you know, the way they think a businessperson should sound. Well, guess what? You’re a businessperson. So sound like yourself. People will connect with you much more easily and they’ll remember what you have to say.
  3. Tell stories. Don’t just reel off a list of facts. Add value to the items on that list by setting them in a story. Stories make facts more memorable. And if you don’t want people to remember what you’re saying, then why are you bothering to say it?
  4. Read widely. Make sure you read things outside of work, even if you only have 5 or 10 minutes a day to do it. Read for fun, but read good writing. Whether you read books or magazine articles, you’ll unconsciously come to understand the difference between good writing and…well, less-good writing. Aim to emulate the former.
    build your writing skills. Write. Now.
  5. Write. Every day. Yes, I know you’re busy doing Great Things. Changing the business world and all that. But if you can spend just 15 minutes a day writing, you’ll notice the improvement. I’ll have another 5-day writing challenge starting in September. Click here to get on the waiting list and I’ll let you know when to register.

Well, what are you waiting for? Write. Now.

Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

Aaaand they’re off! The 5×15 Writing Challenge returns

What’s the most important part of the 5×15 Writing Challenge?

5x15 Writing Challenge
Feedback from the very first writing challenge

Is it the donations the writers earn for charity? Our first three challenges have raised about $1,200 for Room to Read, a fantastic nonprofit promoting global literacy.

Is it the discipline of developing a daily writing practice? Many veterans of the 5-day challenges are on track to finish the more daunting 90-day challenge that finishes on June 30th. (And yes, there’s another 90-Day Challenge right behind that one, starting July 1st.)

Certainly both of those are important outcomes. But my favorite parts of the 5-day-long challenge are the discoveries people make along the way.

Challenge writers push through their fears and discover that when you push through your fears often enough, they go away. Or at least subside long enough for you to write.

People who haven’t written for pleasure in years—or perhaps ever—discover the joy of being creative. Being silly, even. And people who write for a living use the challenge to dig into those memoirs they’ve been meaning to write.

Entrepreneurs who know they should be blogging bank some blog posts. One participant this time has committed to writing that five-email sequence she’s been meaning to create for her new followers.

Challengers have written satire, fiction, odes to their pet gerbils. I’m inspired by their creativity. And humbled by the care and generosity they demonstrate in our Facebook group.

I’ve said often that the 5×15 Writing Challenge may be the best idea I had in all of 2016. I’m excited to see how it’s flourished—this round has the highest enrollment yet. And I can’t wait to see what’s next for these writers.

Writing is just the first part of the process. Revising—that’s the secret sauce that gives your writing zing. Join my free webinar on revising.

Changing perspectives — data with a human face

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “Data”? Unless you’re a science fiction fan, chances are you’re thinking “numbers.” One of our jobs as writers is changing perspectives on data—helping people to grasp what those numbers mean. What they reflect about the world, about us.

Changing perspectives
Sallie Krawcheck knows how to tell a story with data. Photo by Grace Villamil, CC BY 2.0

Sallie Krawcheck does this about as well as anyone I’ve encountered—including master storyteller and genius investor Warren Buffett. But that doesn’t surprise me. Krawcheck started out as a financial analyst. And successful analysts know how to turn numbers into memorable prose, raw data into recommendations people will follow.

Today, as CEO of the global professional women’s network Ellevate, she’s set her sights on changing perspectives—women’s perspectives about their relationship to money; the business world’s perspectives about its relationship to women. Judging from her book Own It: The Power of Women at Work, she’s doing a damn fine job of that, too.

Changing perspectives — name your data points

Let’s take the subject of how few women hold seats on corporate boards of directors. Depending on how you slice the pie, it’s 15%, 14%...I haven’t seen any number larger than 20%.

Now there are lots of ways to talk about 20%—one in five, two out of ten. Admit it: your eyes are already starting to glaze over. And you care about this stuff. Imagine trying to sell it to someone who doesn’t see how it affects him.

So what does Sallie Krawcheck do? Instead of reeling off numbers, she names her data points:

“There are literally more men named John, Robert, William, or James on corporate boards than there are women.”

Is that brilliant positioning or is that brilliant positioning?

Okay, it doesn’t tell you the actual data—she leaves that for the footnote. But giving human form to the numbers turns the data from an abstraction into something people can easily relate to.

Changing perspectives—getting people to look at a familiar subject in a new way—helps people develop empathy, and empathy creates change. We need a whole lot more empathy in the world. Telling stories instead of reciting data seems a great place to start.

Shape your stories to make them memorable—discover how in my hands-on revision workshop. Click here and I’ll let you know when we launch.

Conversation vs. conversion — Do you hate networking?

“Everything good in life—a cool business, a great romance, a powerful social movement—begins with a conversation.”

That’s from Dan Pink’s book To Sell is Human. Notice what word does not appear in that quotation?


Conversation not conversionI used to hate networking with a passion. I always felt dirty, somehow, like I was trying to get something from people. That’s probably because I was. Every person I met had a neon sign hovering over them: “Prospect!”

I might still hate networking. It’s hard to know for sure, because I don’t do it anymore. Instead, I have conversations. And I no longer see “Prospects!” I see People.

So when I walk into a roomful of 900 businesswomen—as I did last week—I don’t get overwhelmed. I zero in on someone interesting and have a conversation.

A conversation, not a come-on

Usually, this works like a charm. Turns out People enjoy having a conversation, especially when they sense you’re not trying to sell them anything. Well, except for this one man at a tech conference last month…

He was wearing great glasses, so I said, “Hey, great glasses.”

What?” The way he jumped, you would think he’d just heard a ghost. Seriously. My friend Robyn was sitting right next to me—ask her.

I weighed my options: slink away in embarrassment or try a second time. I repeated my compliment

Clearly this flustered the poor man. His brain was not prepared to process compliments from a random female: Is she coming on to me? [Reader, I was not.] If she’s not coming on to me, why is she speaking? 

Talk to connect

That odd encounter aside, I still believe that talking to people remains the best way of connecting. Perhaps even better than writing

My conversations with People have not yet begun a great romance or a powerful social movement—Mr. Pink may have oversold that a little. But they have allowed me to connect with a range of interesting folks. Some of whom have found me interesting as well. Interesting enough to join my mailing list, where we can continue our conversation.

Shape your stories to make them memorable—discover how in my hands-on editing workshop. Click here and I’ll let you know when we launch.

“Anyone can write” — um, no. Just…no.

Anyone can writeYesterday, a client told me a story about a friend of hers at another company. A company reorganizing its communications department by stuffing it full of marketers with no particular communications expertise.

My client said something like, “But can they write?” And her friend replied confidently:

“Oh, anyone can write.”

Reader, I screeched in horror.

Fortunately my client was right there with me. She understands that while anyone can write—most people have the requisite number of fingers to work a keyboard, the opposable thumbs to hold a pen—not everyone should.

“Anyone can write?” Have you read some of the stuff out there?

Some people are born storytellers. They captivate their audiences with memorable messages that stick long after the speech is over, the opinion piece read.

Other people…well, they’re handy to have around when insomnia strikes.

Of course, most of us write every day. Emails, texts, Mother’s Day cards (that’s your Public Service Announcement: it’s tomorrow).

But stringing words together to thank Mom for the meatloaf, or to remind your colleagues about the strategy meeting on Monday—that’s not writing. It’s not going to inspire anyone (well, maybe Mom). It’s not something you need your readers to remember forever; just until the meeting starts.

How many mush-mouthed corporate mission statements have you read? How many reports that say nothing? Or—the opposite sin—that say so much you can’t uncover the real message? Those, my friends, were written by Anyone—the “anyone” who “can write.”

Anyone can learn to write

Now, there’s hope for Anyone—because Anyone can learn to write. But, as with everything, the first step is recognizing you have a problem. In this case, it’s the company’s problem: they don’t understand why good writing matters.

I’ve always said that my favorite clients were smart enough to know good writing when they read it, but too busy to do it themselves. That’s where I come in.

Now that I’ve added webinars to the mix of services I offer, I should tweak that slightly:

My favorite clients are smart enough to know good writing when they read it and savvy enough either to get the support they need to do it themselves or to find a great writer to do it for them.

Okay, that’s a mouthful. I’ll work on it.

Still, I feel sorry for those poor marketers being shoehorned into comms jobs because the boss thinks “anyone can write.”

Anyone—if you’re reading this, call me. I can help.

Write better when you write more often. Join my 5-day writing challenge: Write for 15 minutes a day and I’ll donate your registration fee to a global literacy nonprofit. More info and registration link here.

Three times? No thank you, thank you, thank you.

I spent most of last week at the Infusionsoft conference, ICON17. I loved hearing so many presenters talk about the importance of storytelling and emotional connection. Yes, even at a tech conference. But a couple of the folks onstage exhibited a strange rhetorical tic: They said things three times.

One strode out on stage the first day and said, “Welcome, welcome, welcome.” The next day a speaker offered us the opportunity to support to Mentor International, a fine organization that offers micro loans and mentoring to budding entrepreneurs in developing nations. After a pause for us to whip out our smart phones and donate, the speaker said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

So here’s the problem. First, the delivery: the third “welcome” or “thank you” was identical to the first. Same tone, same physicalization, same level of engagement. If they had ramped up the intensity with each thank you, I might have bought it. Maybe. But I’d still have a problem with the repetition, because…

Three times not “the charm”

Repeating things doesn’t make them more true. In fact, it can have the opposite effect. Think back to when you were a teenager and a parent caught you in a lie. You protested your innocence, of course. Did you do it more than once? I rest my case.

A single “welcome” or “thank you” would be perfectly adequate if it were authentic and emotionally connected. But say you have a speaker who’s a little wooden. He could be the nicest man on the face of the earth when you’re talking with him one-on-one, but put him on stage in front of 2,000 people and he reverts to a scared 3rd grader delivering an oral book report. No shame in that—we’ve all been there.

In a case like that, the speech needs to help clue the audience in on the emotion the speaker wants to express. But repeating the same word is not going to get you there. Find some other words that expand on the idea of “welcome” or “thank you” and build a sentence or two.

“Welcome! My team and I are so glad you’re here.”

Or, better yet

“My team and I have been working on this event since the day after the last one ended, so I am absolutely thrilled to be able to say—finally—Welcome to ICON 17!”

Notice the difference there? When you’re welcoming someone, “welcome” doesn’t have to be the first word out of your mouth. But if it is, please don’t let it be the second and third as well.

Want to get better at writing speeches? Click here to get my free tips for speakers and I’ll notify you when my next speechwriting webinar launches.

FAWTSY — maybe acronyms aren’t all bad

One of the first things I noticed on stepping into Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, wasn’t the very impressive ballpark. It was a button on the ticket-taker’s shirt.

FAWTSY — funny word, great concept

An acronym. I hate acronyms—usually. I hate them because they’re confusing. Because they break the flow of your writing, as readers search for their secret agent decoder rings to translate your alphabet soup into usable English. I had to see the button a few times before I could read the translation—the button I saw on Sunday was a newer design, with smaller explanatory type.

So, yes, if I came across it while reading, “FAWTSY” would confuse me. Or at the very least make me stop thinking about the ideas the writer intended to present. But that brief cognitive interruption is exactly what makes this acronym a valuable marketing tool.

FAWTSY — Find a Way to Say Yes.

“Find a Way to Say Yes” is a great commitment to have your public-facing employees make. And a fantastic promise to your customers. If United Airlines employees had been held to the FAWTSY standard, the company would have avoided several recent public relations disasters. Not to mention a meltdown in their market capitalization.

FAWTSY, coined by the club’s former SVP of Communications and curgent CEO, Derrick Hall, has alowed the Diamondbacks to put their commitment to customers and other stakeholders front and center. But would it work in a speech?

I think you’d need the right audience—and the right speaker. Someone who could commit to the joke of making a nonsense word the centerpiece of their speech. And someone equally committed to the business message behind the “nonsense word.”

And it couldn’t be a one-off. You’d need to commit to this word for at least several months, rolling it out several times in speeches to diverse groups of stakeholders. You’d need some collateral, too—buttons, tennis balls, posters—whatever made sense for the company and the message.

If the message is important enough, and the company committed enough to it, then I would FAWTSY to a request to write a speech centered on an acronym. Now I wish someone would ask me: It sounds like fun.

“YOU’RE a professional?” Unconscious bias, it’s still here

Bella Abzug, a true professional
Bella Abzug, Library of Congress

The inimitable Bella Abzug always wore a hat. Not because her head was cold, or because she wanted to be ready if the Royal Family asked her to tea. No, Abzug—a lawyer, activist, and politician who represented Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the U.S. Congress for six years in the 1970s—wore a hat because it marked her as a professional. Back when most of the women in the workforce were secretaries, that was an important distinction.

The 1970s—nearly half a century ago. Women comprise a significantly larger percentage of the professional workforce. Yet people still make assumptions about what we can and cannot do, based on how we look.

Tessa Ann Taylor, Senior Software Engineer at The New York Times, says she still encounters people who seem mystified by the fact that she can be female and an engineer.

Speaking at last week’s Smith College Women’s Leadership Conference, Taylor said that people—okay, male people—have literally asked her “How are you a software engineer?”

Bella Abzug understood this mentality. She once said that while men have been told to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” for women it was “talk softly and carry a lipstick.” That may have been a guaranteed laugh line, but Abzug’s journal entries are less jocular:

“I spend all day figuring out how to beat the machine and knock the crap out of the political power structure.”

Taylor may not be trying to “knock the crap” out of the corporate power structure, but she does do a lot of training to help people recognize the Unconscious Biases That Will Not Die. Or at least That Haven’t Died Yet.

Women of color in professional leadership

On the final day of the conference, I attended a workshop called “Leadership as Disruption: Women of Color and their Allies Moving Beyond the Boundaries,” led by Aziza Jones, MSW. Jones challenged us to identify strategies to support and increase opportunities for women of color to lead. And also to identify ways in which we can support them as allies.

The bottom line for all of this work: Be willing to have difficult conversations. The more we can share our reality—and understand our privilege, for those of us who have it in this crazy world—the more we’ll be able to connect with others. Whether those others are women of a different race, or the clueless men who ask questions like “How are you an engineer?”

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” —Alice Walker

Talk. Connect. Use your power—for yourself and for each other. It’s time for us to change the world, don’t you think?

Want to communicate more courageously? Click here to get my e-book Do It Anyway: Tips for Courageous Writing