Wednesday, December 17, 2014

12 Lessons from Free Marketing Events

mobile marketing trends

I am hungry for knowledge. If that knowledge comes without a price, even better!

I attend as many free networking events, classes, or workshops as I can, if I think it will help me become a better marketer. I'd love to share some bits of wisdom I learned at recent events.

The first 6 lessons are from the 12 Essentials on the Future of Mobile Marketing event, organized by the team behind Sleek Marketing University and hosted by Impact Hub Boston on December 2, 2014. The speaker was Joseph Carrabis, neuroscientist-turned-marketer and founder of NextStage. His claim to fame is harnessing the brain's natural tendencies to guide customers along the marketing funnel.

1. Consumers connect to brands faster on mobile.

This has something to do with the fact that you're physically holding the device. Deep inside our lizard brains, we trust what we can touch. Therefore, by default we trust the messages we receive on our mobile devices.

2. We treat our mobile phones like weapons

A sociological study compared our relationship with our mobile devices to how we treated swords in the Middle Ages. Back then it was customary to carry a weapon on your person at all times, often with your hand resting on it idly. You'd feel naked without it. You'd pull it out when feeling defensive or threatened. There's a sentimental attachment to the item, it's a symbol of status, the comparisons go on and on.

3. To maximize conversion, order designs like so: maybe yes no

This is a fun little mind trick. Designers can capitalize on ternary logic to guide outcomes: offer 3 choices with the first option a 'maybe' commitment, the last one a 'no,' and the middle as the intended CTA. The brain defaults to the middle ground whenever possible. And since the brain can't conceive of a negative without first understanding the positive, you should order the options in 'maybe-yes-no.' 

4. Humans can only be happy or sad. There is no intermediate. 

At least in terms of your brand impression. Surveys reveal stark evidence that when someone interacts with your brand on their mobile device, it's either a positive or negative experience, but almost never neutral.

5. Mobile menu interfaces must be iconographic

A picture is worth 1000 words, so you'd best use images to get your point across on a small screen!

6. Branded apps with a social factor perform better than mobile sites

If your product is both digital and social, this stat should convince your CTO to invest in mobile app development.

Here are 6 more lessons from the 20 Million Visitors: Content Distribution Secrets from The Daily Beast event, hosted by Boston Content on December,  2014. The speaker here was Managing Director of The Daily Beast, Mike Dyer.

7. People read longer content on mobile devices (rather than on desktops).

Maybe people are catching up on their blogs and news stories while commuting?

8. Evergreen content is always more valuable than topical content

Makes sense: people search for evergreen topics for year-round, whereas seasonal topics get a bump once a year and then a long lull. Topical content thrives only if it goes viral.

9. It's better to produce fewer, better pieces of content than to pump stuff out constantly

This is such a relief to hear from an expert! Please, free us from the rat race of constant tweeting!

10. Headlines should be tailored for their medium

Think about it: it would be weird to see a headline on Facebook that abbreviates 'you' as 'u', but you'd be foolish NOT to do that on Twitter if you need to space.

11. One way to distinguish content from advertising: content solves the user's problem first, and the brand's problem second

This hammers home the fact that content is great at generating leads and inbound traffic because people are seeking a solution for themselves. Advertising is responsible for seeking out customers in an outbound fashion. Different tactics demand different priorities.

12. Don't chase social media engagement unless it drives web traffic. 

I've wondered if I should be counting and tracking metrics like number of Twitter follows, repins, or Facebook comments. At the end of the day none of that matters if it's not generating site traffic.

There you have it! If you've got any tips to add, please share in the comments.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Can You Ever Really Trust a Brand?

Uber scandal

The tech world is reeling from the Uber scandal and new, damning revelations about Amazon

These scandals have me in a bit of an existential crisis as a marketer. A marketer's job is to communicate and build trust in a brand in order to attract paying customers. We are brand builders and brand ambassadors.

But what is a brand, really? 

Is a brand more like a company or like a person?

Is it a product or is it a feeling? 

Does brand loyalty mean you're loyal to the people running the company, or loyal to the product or service they provide?

Let's look at Amazon, for example.

As a consumer, I love Amazon. I buy from Amazon on a regular basis, I have the Amazon rewards VISA card, and my parents sell books on Amazon as a side business. 

As a business professional, I admire Amazon. It defined e-commerce as we know it, helped hundreds of thousands of small businesses bypass retail to sell direct to consumer, and pioneered innovations in recommendation algorithms.

But as a decent human being, I don't know how to feel about Amazon anymore. 

If I think of a brand as a person, I'm going to project human emotions onto the actions of the company or its leaders; as a result, I'll react to bad behavior as if I were betrayed.

But if I think of a brand as the-faceless-entity-that-delivers-product-X, and I am very pleased with product X, I'm not going to change my buying habits.

Contrary to Citizens United, I believe that corporations are NOT people, so I shouldn't anthropomorphize my relationship with companies. So by that logic, I should continue riding in Ubers and ordering from Amazon.

Then what's that icky feeling inside?

I'm really curious how people feel about this. What breaks your brand loyalty? Feel free to comment below.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Biz Saturday...Startup Sunday?

Startup Sunday seed fund

Happy Turkey Day!

In the great American tradition of capitalist gratitude, get ready for an onslaught of discounts, deals, and pleas for your patronage. It seems like every year another day in the post-Thanksgiving week is claimed for a cause.

Well here's a new one for you:

Startup Sunday!

What is Startup Sunday?

Startup Sunday (#StartupSunday) is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and it's a chance to support and discover companies that are just getting their start.

Why observe Startup Sunday?

'Tis the season to give back to people who need your help. Entrepreneurs are taking a huge personal and professional risk by starting a new venture, and they should be rewarded for their efforts.

They say it takes a village to raise a child; it takes a critical mass of villages to raise a company. Show your support for startups in your community or industry this Sunday.

How do I observe Startup Sunday?

  • Browse Kickstarter for new inventions and projects that intrigue you. Back the project if you can. If you don't have the funds to do so, share them on social media.
  • If you have the means to invest, join Angel List or Gust. Discover startups in their seed stage and contribute to their growth fund.
  • If you know an angel or VC investor, introduce them to an entrepreneur you believe in. In-person, email, or LinkedIn intros will work.
  • Follow a startup you like on Twitter and send them a shout-out with #StartupSunday for some well wishes.
  • Write a blog post highlighting the startups you're rooting for and send some link-love their way.
  • Try out a startup's product! Check Product Hunt, find one you like, and download the app, browse the site, or join their beta testing list.
  • Buy holiday gifts from a retail startup like The Grommet, or pool money to buy big gifts as a group using Splitzee.*

To recap the week ahead:

Thanksgiving - relax with family and friends, give thanks for your loved ones, and gorge on turkey and potatoes.

Black Friday - go to your nearest shopping mall or mega department store and go ballistic grabbing half-priced electronics.

Small Business Saturday - visit independent book stores, mom 'n' pop shops, and specialty boutiques to support local businesses.

Startup Sunday - support innovation (see list above) #StartupSunday

Cyber Monday - troll, eBay, and Etsy for special deals delivered to your door.

Giving Tuesday - donate to a charity or non-profit that is near and dear to your heart.

We're Out Of Cash Wednesday - get back to work, you've got a credit card bill to pay off now!


Up Next: Never Work for a Jerk

*Full disclosure: I work there

Back This Kickstarter If You Want To Hear More Women's Voices in Tech!

Mass Innovation Nights

Hi folks,

First off: my apologies for falling behind on my blog.

I've been super busy blogging and tweeting and posting for Splitzee, the startup I joined in September. It's been a whirlwind, but all the blood, sweat, and tears are worth it because we provide a truly amazing service: the ability to easily and securely split the cost of buying things as a group. If you haven't tried it yet (and if I haven't talked your ear off about it yet), please check it out.

</shameless plug>

Second: I want to share this very important Kickstarter campaign for Innovation Women.

If you're in the greater Boston startup scene, you're doubtless familiar with Bobbie Carlton's Mass Innovation Nights, a labor of love that provides a monthly product launch opportunity to generate buzz for local startups.

In response to the dismal ratio of women represented on boards and top leadership of venture-backed companies, Bobbie is launching Innovation Women.

Innovation Women is an online database of female tech and entrepreneurial professionals. It will be searchable by event managers who are seeking diverse voices on their panels. The idea is that if we see more women in the spotlight speaking publicly, getting press, and acting as role models, we can start to shift the gender ratio in the industry.

The Kickstarter campaign just launched this week, and it has 26 days left to reach its $22K goal.

If you want to see more women represented in public events, speaking about their experiences in tech and startup life, here are some things you can do to help:

Up Next: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Biz Saturday...Startup Sunday?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Oops! I Started A Business

accidental entrepreneur
Whoopsie! There I go, starting a business again!
I'm an accidental entrepreneur. What does that mean?

It means:
  • I find something I enjoy doing. 
  • I do it.
  • I learn how to do it better.
  • I try to be the best at it that I can be.
And without realizing it, I turn my hobbies into businesses. Here's an example.

When I was 13, I thought it would be fun to be in a movie. I found an ad for unpaid extras to be in an indie film shooting near my hometown. They needed students, so I fit the bill. I showed up with my dad and a friend of mine who agreed to come along. It was my first time on a set, but it was the final day of filming for the crew, so everyone was in high spirits. I ended up being a "featured extra," with a close-up and some interaction with the lead actress. When we wrapped for the day, everyone on set applauded. It was awesome!

After that, I researched other film opportunities online. I read books about film acting and auditioning for the camera. I interned at a casting agency. With Christmas money, I hired a makeup artist and photographer to take professional headshots. I wrote my acting resume and auditioned for other projects.

Thirteen years later, I've held 2 leading roles, 2 supporting roles, and been an extra in dozens of student, indie, and studio films. I've done 4 commercials, an industrial video, and a TV pilot. And yes, many of those roles were paid. In a small but legitimate way, I became a professional actress. And I did all this without missing school or quitting my day job. It was a hobby-turned-side-business, and the product was me.

The key here wasn't that I wanted to be a movie star. I didn't dream of seeing myself on screen -- in fact I dreaded it, and I still do, to a degree. But I enjoyed the process of working on a film. I was motivated to participate in the action, not to chase after the result.

indie film
Movie Poster for indie film "A Separate War." I'm the glowing heroine in the center. I'm 14 in this photo. 
1930s woman
At 18 years old, in full period costume on the set of The Great Debaters
21-year-old me as female lead "Libitina" in Emerson grad student film "Lizard the Mod." 

Here's another example. A year and a half ago, my boyfriend and I went to 'goth prom.' It's a yearly event hosted by Excess Boston, an alternative nightlife producer. They rent a Boston nightclub in May where guests dress up in goth formal wear and dance to vintage goth music.

"What does a goth wear to a formal event?" my boyfriend asks. I answer, "black button-down shirt, black pants, black boots...and how about a bow tie?" I bought a red bow tie at a dollar store and glued some black rhinestones onto it. When he wore it to goth prom, it was a huge hit. People flocked to him with compliments, asking him where he got it. My business sense was tingling (there's demand!).

I had a lot of fun making the bow tie, and since so many people were interested, I considered making more and selling them. I visited a local costume shop and asked on a whim if they offer consignment of goods from local vendors. The owner said yes, what have you got? I told him I bedazzle bow ties, and he proceeded to offer me access to bulk orders of rhinestones and bow ties at wholesale rates, as well as shelf space for my product.

A year later, I've got my bow ties in 2 shops, I've got a Facebook page and business cards, and I've vended at craft fairs, live shows, and even the Boston Pride Festival (special rainbow bow ties!). My bow ties have been worn by professional circus performers and dancers.

Oops, I started another business.

rhinestoned bowties
One recent order from a repeat customer

Let's break this down very clearly:

What's a hobby? It's an activity you enjoy doing for the sake of doing it.

What's a business? It's something you do to provide value for others and make money.

I ask you: why not do both? If you're an entrepreneur, you love what you do, and if what you do happens to help others and earn money in the process, you've succeeded. I tend to do this accidentally.

If you have a story about starting an accidental business, please share it in the comments.


Up Next: Back This Kickstarter If You Want To Hear More Women's Voices in Tech!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Thought Nuggets on: Risk

Risk is scary. But it's more fun than it is scary. At least for me.

Risk gets me out of bed in the morning. If my day is 100% predictable, how can I get excited? How will that challenge me? How can I grow?

According to this study, people who embrace risk-taking tend to be more successful.

Risk scares people because the outcome is uncertain. But life is full of risks that you can't control. You could get hit by a bus. Your significant other could dump you. The economy could tank. Your house could burn to the ground. At any point, you can lose everything. Your life can change in an instant. This is a fact of life.

Your life can also change in an instant for the better. This is more likely to happen if you take a risk. A smart risk.

Gambling thousands of dollars in a casino? Dumb risk. 
Gambling your career on a promising new company? Smart risk. 
Investing your children's college fund in bitcoin? Dumb risk. 
Risking rejection as you kneel to propose? Smart risk.

Smart risks can pay off, but they won't pay off unless you take them.

How do I know if a risk is worth taking? I compare it to the only thing scarier than failure: regret.

I ask myself, "Will I regret not taking this risk?" If the answer is yes, it's a risk worth taking. Even if that choice results in failure, it's better than living your life wondering "what if...?"


Up Next: Oops! I Started A Business

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sleeping Your Way to Success

napping at desk
This guy has the right idea
I love sleep. I do it every night, and I always have. (Seriously, I've never pulled an all-nighter.) I'm also pretty good at sleeping during the day. If you give me 5 minutes and a comfortable chair or couch, I can go out like a light.

I love napping, but not because I'm lazy (I don't think I've ever been accused of that). I love napping because it's such a satisfying way to recharge. If I've been working hard all day, especially if I had to wake up early, midday I'll feel my mind start to get cloudy, and my energy will drop.

Most people experience this and rush out for their afternoon coffee. I don't drink coffee, since I'm overly sensitive to caffeine. I also would prefer not to drug myself daily just to remain functional. So weird of me, right, America?

I would much prefer to take a nap. It's nature's energy boost. I find that after a short power nap, I'm more focused, alert, energetic, and creative. Often I'll awake from my nap and tackle a problem that had me stumped just minutes ago. I'll brainstorm ideas and feel motivated to execute them. And I just plain feel better.

I truly believe that my commitment to napping has helped me to be more efficient, productive, and successful. And I'm not alone.

Guess who else regularly took naps? Winston Churchill. Thomas Edison. Napoleon. Leonardo da Vinci. Eleanor Roosevelt. John F. Kennedy. John D. Rockefeller. And look where they ended up.

We're seeing the stirrings of a nap revolution. Despite centuries of stigma, the nap is starting to gain acceptance in the business world, mostly in tech startups. In 2011, about 6% of workplaces had a designated space for napping. Hubspot, for example, has a special nap room, complete with plush carpet and hammock, which staff can reserve like a conference room for a private snooze. Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan defends napping as a catalyst for inspiration.

napping room
Hubspot's nap room
In a given month, I do a lot of very mediocre stuff, but once in a while I come up with a really good idea. Maybe I’ll come up with two in a month. Those two inevitably happen when I’m either falling into a nap, or coming out of a nap, or waking up slowly on a Saturday morning. I’m trying to engineer more of those in my life. I’m trying to encourage more people to have naps because, hopefully, more people will have these brilliant ideas." -- Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot
And where has that pro-napping attitude gotten Hubspot? A $100 million IPO. Imagine that!

I kickstarted another napping thought-leader, the creators of the Napwell, a high-tech sleeping mask that stimulates your circadian rhythms for a gentle awakening experience. Their blog has some compelling data on nap history and nap research. They've even launched an online petition to lobby for pro-napping workplace reform. I can hear the rallying cry now: "We're here! We're sleepy! We...mmm....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!"

sleeping mask
Napwell: The World's First Napping Mask
Perhaps the most hilarious napping innovation to hit the market is the ostrich pillow. I see where the designers are coming from. It's very practical. But, much like the snuggy, practicality and comfort can't always overcome public embarrassment. Maybe your time will come, ostrich pillow. Let's sleep on it.

napping pillow
The Ostrich Pillow: The World's Silliest Napping Pillow
If you're not a napper, no pressure. Enjoy your coffee. Enjoy the jitters, the highs and lows, the long lines at Starbucks and the constant drain on your wallet. I'll always favor the nap, because it's always a good idea to listen to your body. If you're sleepy, sleep. Your body will thank you for it.

Up next: Thought Nuggets on: Risk

Monday, August 18, 2014

WAIT - Why Am I Talking?

shhhh quiet

During my first week at Startup Institute, we discussed emotional intelligence, or EQ. The first and most important skill is self-awareness.

My classmate Nicole Nguyen shared a brilliant tactic that I want to trumpet from the heavens. It's called WAIT, which stands for "Why Am I Talking?"

Think you might be rambling? WAIT.

Sense some awkwardness? WAIT.

Feel like no one's listening? WAIT.

After you've paused to ask yourself "Why Am I Talking?", try answering these questions:

Who benefits from this conversation?

A conversation is only valuable if both parties benefit from it. For example, my friend and successful comedian Josh Gondelman hates it when people describe a crazy dream they had the other night. While it may be cathartic for the dreamer to recount their epic story, Josh gets nothing from it, since dreams aren't real. He resents the dreamer for being indulgent, even selfish. While Josh exaggerates this dynamic in his routine, he hits on a very salient point about how conversations should work.

Consider the topic of conversation. Are you providing useful information to the listener? Is this something that would interest them? If the answer is no, it's time to stop talking.

Who is hurt by this conversation?

Gossip is toxic. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all! Because anything negative you say can and will be held against you.

Bad-mouthing people has obvious repercussions. If the subject would be hurt to overhear what you've said, it's best not to say it. Gossips damage their own reputation by degrading trust and confidentiality with their peers. Bad news all around.

Beyond gossip, there are subtler forms of harmful talk. Consider how the person you're talking to feels. If you're giving them criticism, would hearing what you have to say help them or hurt them? Are you the best person to deliver that message, at this time, in this place, and under these circumstances?

Also beware the back-handed compliment. For example, if you're on a team of 5 people, and you single out 3 of your teammates for public praise, omitting the fourth, that's insulting to your neglected teammate. Those you praised feel uncomfortable accepting such attention, and frankly, you'll look like an asshole. All things to consider.

Are people listening?

If no one's listening, you shouldn't be talking. How can you tell if they're listening? Observe the other person. Here are signs that they're listening:
  • Eye contact
  • Nodding
  • Smiling
  • Ignoring distractions
  • Verbal reactions ("mhm", "oh?", "huh")
  • Body language: facing towards you, especially if their feet/lower half are pointed at you.
If most of these are not happening, you've lost them. If you continue talking after all signs of listening have waned, you're wasting the person's time, and you'll look foolish while doing it. Once you notice their attention straying, you should wrap things up. Even better, strive for brevity next time.

Have I been listening?

It's tempting to want to share your thoughts and feelings and ideas with the world the moment they spring to mind. But first consider if sharing would be redundant. Ask yourself: am I sharing something new? Or am telling them something they already know/reiterating what's already been said/stating the obvious?

Live by the WAIT mantra, and you'll have more meaningful conversations with people that respect you for it.


Up next: "Sleeping Your Way to Success."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

10 Tips for Writing Killer Copy

           When you’re watching TV, do you look forward to the commercials? Are you excited to read the ads in your morning paper? Do you find radio spots riveting? If you’re like the rest of the planet, the answer is NO.
            No one wants to pay attention to commercials. We all have better things to do. So face reality: no one wants to read copy.
            That’s where you come in. You’ve got an incredible service/product/website that you want to share with the world. What do you do if the world doesn’t want to listen? Convince them you’re worth listening to. Your copy has to be irresistible. And not only do you need people to read your copy, but you need them to take action, too, by investing their time and money in your company. How do you fight for their attention? Here are 10 tips that will give you the edge:

1) Reel Them In

            It’s statistically proven that for every 10 people that read a headline, only 2 read further. The odds of snagging a reader are already stacked against you, big time. The headline is like the gatekeeper to your copy. A weak headline locks that gate forever. That’s why you need — absolutely need — a strong headline. A successful headline needs to be several things, as summarized by the American Writers & Artists’ “four U’s”:
1)     Useful: your headline must promise that what follows will be useful to the reader. A great headline offers something not just useful, but essential. It should make the reader think, “I’d be stupid not to read this!”
2)     Urgent: your potential customers are busy, busy, busy. You have one chance: if they don’t read your copy now — immediately — then they never will.  Create this sense of urgency for them.
3)     Unique: why should they read about what you have to offer when there are millions of others offering the same thing? Show them why you’re different. Tell them — in the headline — what no one else can tell them. Offer what no one else can offer. Ask what no one has asked before. You need to stand out from the crowd in order to be noticed.
4)     Ultra-specific: If you ask any famous, successful actor, they will tell you that the key to a fabulous performance is making specific choices. That’s how they convince an audience that their character is believable. As a copywriter, you must be as captivating and believable as Marlon Brando or Meryl Streep. Be specific in your tactics, your offer, and your message. Be specifically useful, unique, and urgent. Your audience will reward you for it.

2) Don’t Make a Promise You Can’t Keep
When a potential customer reads your copy, they expect to get something in return. They’ve read your headline, and now they ask themselves:
“Will reading further make me smarter/happier/healthier/richer/better off?” The answer must be yes, or else they will stop right there. That is why your headline offers a promise to make the reader smarter, healthier, richer, etc. Of course, then you must fulfill your promise. If you promise “Top Ten Secrets to Losing Ten Pounds,” you’d better deliver those ten secrets. Of course, they don’t have to be secrets, just information or advice that feels exclusive and will be useful to the reader; that’s what they really care about. Beware of two pitfalls:
  • Making an outrageous claim: if your claim is too ridiculous (or impossible), the reader will dismiss you as untrustworthy from the start. It’s better to balance shock value with reality.
  • Making the wrong promise: if your headline promises one thing, but your copy gets off-topic, you’ve let the reader down. They won’t trust you and they won’t help you. That’s why it’s wise to begin with a strong headline and, as you write, check that your content matches it.

3) Offer Proof

            Whether you’re writing a news article or a sales pitch, you need credible, citable proof that what you’re writing is accurate. Statistics, testimonials from customers, endorsements from certified experts, consumer reports, results of focus groups: these are all methods to prove you’re telling the truth. Sometimes proof is subjective, but it’s better than nothing.

4) Don’t Be Modest

            Copywriting is competitive. You’re competing to beat out all other stimuli for a few precious moments in which your voice can be heard. That means presenting yourself or your company in the best possible light. Just as you would never degrade yourself in a job interview, you should never focus on the negative when discussing your product. In fact, be loud and proud about what you do best. Convince us that you’re amazing, and we just might believe it.

5) Love Lists

            Lists are:
  • Quick and easy to read
  • An organized way to summarize your thoughts
  • Attractive on the page or screen
  • Concise and to-the-point
  • Effective

6) Make It Fun

            It’s important to deliver information in your copy, but it’s equally important how you deliver it. If your copy reads like a school lecture, your readers will be gone faster than you can say “class dismissed.” Reading can feel like a chore, so you need to make it fun. A conversational tone, an understanding attitude, and a touch of humor will do the trick.

7) Omit Needless Words

            Standard advice, but it never gets old. Time is precious. The moment your reader feels their time is wasted, they move on. Avoid this by sharpening your copy to include only what is necessary to communicate a persuasive, precise message.

8) Remember to Write for Humans

            This seems obvious, but with the SEO crowd’s obsession over keywords, it’s worth noting. Yes, great copy must include the keywords associated with your topic. But be sensible about it. Readers aren’t dumb. They can smell keyword stuffing from a mile away, and it smells like weak writing, lazy marketing, and sketchy salesmen. No matter how many keywords you cram into your copy, it’s not worth a dime unless people read it. Quality writing trumps keyword hierarchy because it harnesses the strongest marketing tool in existence: word of mouth.

9) Make It Easy For Them

            So you’ve captured that elusive 20% who saw your headline and they’ve read your copy. Now what? You want them to act on what they’ve read. It’s your job to make that next step as easy as possible. If the goal of your copy is to generate buzz, leave links to your Facebook or Twitter pages. If you want them to subscribe to your blog or site, make it as easy as a click of a button. Same goes for buying a good or service: buttons and links immediately following your copy make the next step obvious and effortless for the consumer.

10) Finish Strong

            Psychological studies show that your memory of an experience is heavily influenced by how it ends. If you’ve written an excellent article but then taper off, the reader is left unimpressed and probably a little confused. You need to wow them at the end — they’ve gotten that far! Prove to them it was worth reading. Summarize the greatest benefits you’ve given them and send them home happy.

Follow these 10 pointers, and your writing will shine. Quality writing shows you value the reader’s time and want to give them a pleasant experience. So pleasant, in fact, that they barely noticing they’re reading copy. And that’s how you know you’ve done it right.

Monday, July 28, 2014

How Job Hunting Is Not Like Dating

A few days ago, I published the post "How Job Hunting Is Like Dating." There are many similarities between a first interview and a first date, but they are decidedly NOT the same thing.

In the startup world, jobs are won through network connections rather than keyword-optimized resumes. The whole job application process is more personal. Often connections are forged through informal coffee chats with employees and hiring managers of a company of interest.

Here are some rules for ensuring your coffee chat doesn't turn into a coffee date.

Don't Make a Big Deal Over Who Pays

(This is only relevant in the "coffee chat" setting, where you meet with a professional contact at a cafe to discuss things over a drink. Obviously, if you're meeting in an office, it's not applicable.)

There's no hard-and-fast rule for who pays, so don't feel pressured either way. Most often both parties will go dutch (pay for their own drink). If you arranged the get-together, you can offer to pay, but it is not expected. Plan to pay for your own drink and don't read into any offers (or lack thereof) to pick up the bill.

Don't Get A Meal

A meal implies a deeper level of intimacy than is needed for an initial professional meeting. Mostly, it's about time. If you ask for a meal with this person, it's going to take 60-90 minutes. Compare that to a coffee meeting, which runs 30-60 minutes. Choose the shorter cafe meeting format to ensure you're respecting the other person's time. A brief meeting condenses your conversation so that it's efficient and focused on professional topics, as opposed to a leisurely meal that sends ambiguous signals.

Also, it's much easier to talk in between sips than in between bites.

Get Personal, But Not Too Personal

When you're meeting a professional contact, it's great to find common grounds. I recently had an interview where the hiring manager mentioned she used to ride horses in college, and we went off on a tangent about horse-back-riding for a few minutes. This made the conversation way more memorable than a dry discussion of my experience.

Common interests, mutual friends, places you're both visited -- these are great topics to connect on. If you can find an opportunity to make a personal connection like his during an interview, you're golden. Just make sure to steer the conversation back to on track.

No Flirting

This one should be obvious, right? You'd be surprised.

There is a fine line between charisma and flirtation. Some aspects of flirtation are appropriate for a job interview: eye contact, smiling, active listening, receptive body language, humor. What doesn't fly:

  • Comments about your romantic life
  • Suggestive jokes
  • Physical contact beyond a handshake
  • Compliments on someone's physical appearance
Crossing the line into flirting will get you into hot water. It puts the company at risk of sexual harassment lawsuits, so maintain clear boundaries.

Keep It Classy

This advice applies to everything from how you dress to where you meet. Make sure that your clothing and makeup reflect a clean, put-together, personal style. Hint: what you wear to a coffee chat should not be the same outfit you wear to a nightclub -- nor to a rummage sale.

As for where to meet, pick someplace neutral and convenient for both parties. Cafes are best, but public parks or libraries work, too. Don't suggest a bar as a meeting place. Bars can be dark, loud, and sketchy. Remember that not everyone drinks alcohol, so be respectful and don't assume they do.

Don't Get Drunk

It's generally discouraged to drink in a professional setting, especially when you're making a first impression. But some startups have a casual, fun-loving culture that encourages social drinking. If you're meeting with a contact and they suggest you meet at a bar, it's fine to say yes. This does not mean you are required or expected to drink; you can order a soda or juice instead. If you're comfortable having a beer or a glass of wine, only do so if your contact is drinking, too. And keep it to one drink, no hard liquor.

In a nutshell: Don't confuse professional interest with romantic interest.


Up next: 10 Tips for Writing Killer Copy

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How Job Hunting Is Like Dating

Job Interview
First Date or Coffee Chat?
Your palms are sweating. Your mouth is dry. Your heart is pounding a little more than you'd like. You check to make sure your hair is neat, your clothes tidy. You take a deep breath and tell yourself, "I'm wonderful. They'll love me," and walk through the door.


It's funny how much dating and job hunting have in common. Even at the career prep sessions at the Startup Institute, the instructors often admit that the similarities are uncanny. Here's what goes through your mind in either courtship:

"How do I look?"

primping for job interview
Does this mascara make me look employable?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- and of the hiring manager, apparently. Studies reveal a beauty bias towards attractive candidates when making a hiring decision (and when evaluating employees, awarding raises, etc). The unfortunate truth is that your looks matter, at least on a subconscious level. So go ahead and get gussied up for the occasion.

"Stay positive."

Nothing kills a date like a tirade about a psycho ex. That sort of thing tends to reflect badly on the person complaining. You want to paint yourself in the best possible light, so avoid negative topics and focus on the awesome things you've done. It's also a good idea to avoid polarizing comments about politics or religion that might spoil the mood. (Oh, and in a job interview, such topics of conversation can put the company at risk of lawsuit for job discrimination, so DEFINITELY do not bring these up, even in pre-interview small talk.)

"Must. Keep. Talking."

On a first date, the pressure is on. You want to say all the right things. You dread the moment when you falter and an awkward silence descends. The false assumption people make is that if you run out of interesting things to say, then you must not be that interesting.

These people need to chill out.

Silence is not evil. It's your friend. It gives you a chance to breathe, observe, THINK. It only feels awkward because you're nervous. It's far better to embrace a healthy pause, collect your thoughts, and make sure that what you're saying is truly worth sharing. This is especially true in a job interview, where long-winded answers might bore your interviewer, or worse, make them think you're incapable of brevity.

"Am I coming on too strong?"

There's a big difference between "I think you're really cool" and "what would you want to name our kids?" Likewise, it's possible to come off as too eager for a job. Overeagerness in an interview can read as desperation, which is a major turn off for hiring managers. Sometimes 'doing your homework' on the company (or your date's Facebook page) can veer into stalker territory if you're a little too fanatic. Bottom line: express your interest genuinely, but don't freak them out.

"Are they into me?"

It's easy to get preoccupied with this one. You want to make a good impression and be, well, impressive to the person across the table. So you notice their body language, eye contact, what they have to say. Are they listening? Are they interested? Do they like me?

Keep a gentle awareness of their engagement, but don't obsess. You can't control how they react, only how you behave, so focus on that and let the chips fall where they may.

"Am I into them?"

Job interviews and dates are a 2-way street. It's a chance for you to get to know them and see if they're really as cool as they seem. This is super important, because you don't want to get involved with them if they're not so great after all.

"Was there chemistry?"

company culture fit
Golly, your company culture sounds swell.
After the date/interview, check in with yourself. Was there a connection? If you need to rationalize pros and cons, they probably aren't the best fit. When you meet Mr. Right/Ms. Right/Right inc., you'll have a gut feeling. Something clicks. With that said, there's not just one match for you out there. You may be happy with a number of different partners or employers depending on the stage you're at in your life.

"I hope they call soon!"

Just ring, already!
When the meeting is over, the waiting game begins.You're anxious to hear back with the verdict: do they want to see me again? You fear rejection and hope for the best, but no matter what they decide, you want the answer ASAP.

The most important thing to keep in mind on a date or on a job interview: let your personality shine through. You want to show this person who YOU are, not some polished, white-washed version of you. Push through your nerves, be yourself, and you'll eventually find your match.


Up next: How Job Hunting Is Not Like Dating

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Board Games Made Me a Better Entrepreneur

Board Game Settlers of Catan
Settlers of Catan - "gateway drug of board games"

A few years ago, I met one of the loves of my life: Settlers of Catan. This is known in the gaming world as the "gateway drug of board games." Once I got a taste of this genius tabletop, I was hooked. I went on a binge. I played Settlers 9 times in 7 days. I spread the gospel of Catan to all my friends, and promptly whooped them all. From there, I played Citadels, Ticket to Ride, Munchkin, Coup, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Avalon, Talisman, and most recently, Dominion.

Why do I find board games so addictive? For the same reasons I love startup culture. Board games are a fantastic training ground for budding entrepreneurs. Here's why:


When I play a game, it is ON! I'm in it to win it. I've got a healthy sense of competition, and I'm not afraid to go after what I want. And like they say, "if you want to make an omelette, sometimes you have to crack some eggs." I'd never resort to sabotage or unethical game play, but sometimes you can't play nice. In a game of Settlers, I have no hesitation about putting the robber on my boyfriend's #8 brick hexel. My strategy can be relentless and cutthroat, though never malicious. Sometimes that's what it takes to make it in business.


On the other hand, sometimes you have to work together as a team in order to succeed. I love cooperative games. In co-op games, players help each other out in order to beat the game itself. For example, Sentinels of the Multiverse is a co-op tabletop card game that pits "hero" players against a "villain" deck of cards. The heroes strategize together, combining complementary strengths for attack, defense, and healing. In the end, the heroes vanquish the villain, or else we all die. Co-op games are the antidote to the sometimes volatile dynamic of competitive games. They're also a reminder that in a startup company you need to work as a team to beat out your competitors.

Board Game Sentinels of the Multiverse
Sentinels of the Multiverse - an awesome co-op game

Settlers of Catan may be solely responsible for developing all my negotiation skills. Trade is a crucial part of the game. You get the best trade rates working with other players rather than with the resource "bank." Settlers taught me to keep an eye out for advantageous trades and propose them whenever possible. After all, you can't get what you want if you never ask for it.

Trading resources in Setters is great practice in the art of negotiation: the dramatic give-and-take, feeling out someone's intentions, offers and counter-offers, emphatic persuasion. I've tried all psychological tactics, from pity to reverse psychology to bluffing. I'll create a sense of urgency and pressure, or else use humor and compassion. I've seen what works best, what works sometimes, and what makes other players not want to trade with you at all. Board games are a safe environment to test the bounds of negotiation so that you can find that balance between pursuing your goals and respecting trade relations. I'd much rather learn those hard lessons around a table with friends than with a hiring manager or business partner.


If you don't take risks, you'll never win. True of board games and of entrepreneurs.

Board games have low stakes, so there's nothing to lose if your gamble falls flat. There are consequences, of course, but games are a safe place to get comfortable taking calculated risks.

Anecdotally, I find that those who play it safe in a board game tend to play it safe in life. They will second-guess their strategy, overthinking the benefits and drawbacks of each move, and often regret their choices later on.

My secret strategy? Don't overthink it, and go with your gut. If I go with my gut over my sometimes-too-rational mind, I'll take risks that have a greater payoff.


Just when I feel like I've mastered a game, I'll mix it up by adding an expansion. Expansion packs add more variables to the mix, experiment with different rules, and essentially create whole new versions of the game.

Board Games Settlers of Catan expansions
Settlers of Catan expansion packs
You can't sit pretty in a startup. The world moves too fast, the market shifts, new technologies emerge. The rules change, new players enter...sound familiar?


I play a lot of board games. I win a lot, and I lose a lot. Even if you're very skilled, losses are inevitable. Board games taught me to not take losing personally. I've developed a good sense of sportsmanship; I'll congratulate the winner on a good game and genuinely look forward to playing again. Perseverance and humility in the face of failure is essential.

Having fun

At the end of the day, win or lose, games are fun! You only truly lose if you don't enjoy yourself. And if I didn't love the thrills of startup culture, I wouldn't be playing at being an entrepreneur.


Up next: How Job Hunting is Like Dating

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What Argentine Tango Taught Me About Management

Argentine Tango Ballroom Dance
Argentine Tango

Three years ago, I started dancing Argentine tango pretty intensely. I would take classes at least once a week with the MIT Argentine Tango Club, and regularly go to "practicas" -- informal practice sessions -- and "milongas" -- formal social dances.

In tango, there is a leader and a follower. The leader is responsible for setting the pace and direction of the dance, asking for specific steps or sequences, and using the space safely (no collisions). The follower listens closely to the leader's cues and performs the steps in her own style.

I've noticed many similarities between partner dancing and the manager-employee relationship. Tango confirmed what I suspected to be true about management:

1. The best leaders know how to follow.

Historically, Argentine men would train to dance as a follower for a long time before trying to lead. It's much easier to learn how moves are supposed to feel when you've done them yourself. Leaders who know how to follow understand how a follower likes to be treated, and they tend to have a less controlling embrace. Sounds like good management to me!

2. Leaders need to stay in the moment, yet keep their eyes on the future.

Tango leaders must be aware of their surroundings. Part of tango etiquette is to use space when it opens up so that you don't create a traffic jam.

Leaders are responsible for ensuring the safety of their partners and other dancers. Sometimes legs go flying, and a jab with a high heel is no fun. Part of preventing collisions is being aware of dangers posed by less conscientious pairs whizzing around the dance floor. 

This is a lot to keep track of, but the best leaders maintain this spacial awareness without sacrificing their presence in the moment. So, too, do good managers support their team's current activities while forecasting possible threats and maintaining a clear vision for the future.

3. Success happens when both parties listen to each other.

Partner dance is a two-way street. The leader may call the shots, but they have no authority if the follower isn't paying attention. Likewise, an oblivious leader may lead moves too advanced or too quick for the follower to keep up. In both cases, the dance is a mess.

An ideal tango involves an interchange of ideas and signals between both partners. It's even better when both people also listen to the music, integrating musicality so they stay in sync. 

In business, the best teams have a give and take between management and employees. The team stays focused on achieving their common goals.

4. Good leaders challenge their followers.

Tango should be a thrilling adventure. But with a predictable leader, it's a bore. To keep his partner engaged, a leader can't get stuck in a rut, repeating the same sequence of moves. He has to spice it up, test his follower's boundaries, see what she's capable of. 

Employees love managers who push their comfort zone and help them grow. Boredom kills.

5. The leader should always take responsibility for mistakes.

There's a saying in tango: "it's always the leader's fault." This applies to obvious errors, like hitting the wall or stepping on someone's foot. But it also applies to subtler mistakes, like miscommunication. If a follower misinterprets a leader's signal, it's because the leader wasn't crystal clear. Even if the follower is sloppy and inexperienced, it's the leader's fault for not giving his partner a lead she can follow.

Leading tango with a poor follower is an exercise in humility. It teaches you to take responsibility for your partner's shortcomings and adjust your leadership so that you both succeed. Just as in business, the leader is to blame for the team's failure.

6. A good leader makes the follower look good.

As the old adage goes: "Good leaders take the blame and share the credit."

My favorite dance partners have the same selfless attitude. They care more about making me look good than showing off what they can do. They take joy in seeing their partner succeed. 

7. You don't have to know what's coming next.

One of the reasons I love dancing tango is that I can stop thinking. I just focus on listening and reacting. I cannot and should not plan ahead. I'm totally in the moment.

If I try to guess what my leader will do next, we get out of sync. So I have to trust my leader and embrace the fact that I don't know what's going to happen next. It's incredibly liberating.

I find this attitude helpful in a business setting, as both a follower and a leader. Employees need to trust their managers and believe in their vision. And sometimes even the manager doesn't know what's going to happen next. But they know how to listen and react, adapting to changes.


Stay tuned for my next post, How Board Games Made Me a Better Entrepreneur.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hello, World!

Hello, world! It's me. My name is Emily Griffin, and I have a lot to say.

About what, you ask?

About the art of living life to the fullest, being the best person you can be, and getting sh*t done.

How do I know what I'm talking about?

Well, I'm alive. That's about as much qualification as anyone has for forming an opinion on life. Every brilliant, successful person I've known has confessed that they never knew what they were doing anyway.

We're all in the same boat. This is just how I like to steer it.