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.