Writing tips from the experts

Writing tips from the experts

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Need some inspiration? Here are selected quotes that can help you put pen to paper.

Cut the boring parts

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” — Elmore Leonard

More than ever, you need to fight for the attention of your readers. There’s no point in publishing content that isn’t useful and interesting.

Eliminate unnecessary words

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete itand the writing will be just as it should be.” — Mark Twain

Write with passion.

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” — William Wordsworth

The pro-tip here is that if you’re not excited about what you are writing no one else will be, either.

Paint a picture

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov

This dude gets it. Simply stating something is fine, but when you need to capture attention, using similes, metaphors and vivid imagery to paint a picture creates a powerful emotional response.

Squash your inner critic

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy of creativity is self-doubt.” — Sylvia Plath

Regardless of your endeavor, you’ll face criticism, so why do it to yourself? Create your best work and put it out there.

Keep it simple

“Vigorous writing is concise.” — William Strunk Jr.

Maybe it was all of those late nights, struggling to fill out mandatory 10 page papers, but many people still seem to think that worthwhile writing is long and drawn out. It’s more difficult (and effective) to express yourself in the simplest possible manner.

Do it for love

“Write without pay until somebody offers to pay.” — Mark Twain

When you’re just starting out it’s hard to decide where to begin. So don’t. Just start writing. A blog is a good place to start. The most valuable benefit is the feedback.

Learn to thrive on criticism

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” — Ray Bradbury

Writing means putting yourself at the mercy of hecklers, sycophants and haters. Learn to make the most of the insults and be skeptical of the praise.

Write all the time

“The way you’ll define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn’t behave that way you would never do anything.” — John Irving

Write what you know…or what you want to know

“Learn as much by writing as by reading.” — Lord Acton

Successful writing is all about trust and authority. It makes sense to write about your area of expertise. If you don’t have a particular expertise, reading and writing is the best way to develop one and put it on display.

The power of persistence

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” — Octavia E. Butler

Nothing good comes easy, perseverance and consistency makes it look easy. Everyone watches the Olympics, but no one is at the skating rink at 5AM seeing the work that gets put into the performance.

Be unique and unpredictable

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” — Oscar Wilde

Following what works will only get you so far. Experiment with new styles, even if it means taking criticism. Without moving forward, you’ll be left behind.

Why blog?

Why blog?

Photo credit Ed Yourdon

Photo credit Ed Yourdon

There’s an old Latin saying, “Qui docet, discit.” (He who teaches, learns.)

The best teachers don’t preach to others, they learn from others.

You don’t need to wait until you have a teaching certificate, a particular degree, enough gray hair, or a 100k followers to pass on knowledge and skills or inspire others.

You know more than you think you know; you bring your own unique set of skills, point of view, and life experiences to the table.
Don’t worry about not having all of the answers, you never will and neither will anyone else. Instead, approach each day with the question, “I don’t know but I’ll find out.” Then share what you learn.

Business lessons from “Pawn Stars”

Business lessons from “Pawn Stars”

Negotiation is a cornerstone of business, and like business, it’s an ancient art. There are many books on the subject, from Robert Cialdini’s Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion to Trump’s Art of the Deal. But while watching the History Channel I realized that some key business essentials can be gleaned from the show, “Pawn Stars.”

In the program, a Las Vegas pawn shop is run by a cast of colorful characters including a curmudgeonly “Old Man,” his affable son Rick, and his rebellious grandson “Big Hoss.” The show incorporates a blend of historical insight, humor, and good old fashioned business wheeling and dealing.

Here are some takeaways:

Start with a firm number, not a “hope.” If you are interested in selling something, and asked for your price, don’t say, “Well I was hoping to get $5,000.” No one cares what you are hoping for, and right then and there they know to stick a pin in your balloon of hope and hit you with a lower offer.

Know all you can about a situation. These days there’s no excuse not to run a search on the item you want to sell (or buy) and the people or organization you’ll be dealing with. I’m amazed to watch people walk into the pawn shop without knowing anything about what they want to sell or what it might be worth. P.T. Barnum had a word for people like that and how there’s one born every minute.

Don’t be wishy-washy. Often, sellers on the show say they are “looking to get $400 or $500” for their flea market find. If you say that then the $500 is immediately off the table because you’ve already negotiated with the other side by saying you’re open to $400. Don’t let the other guy help you decide where to start a deal.

Remove emotional attachment. Do you want to sell something or not? Once you have decided to sell then you have moved into the realm of a business transaction, and any sentimental value the item has to you will be irrelevant to the buyer. (“Well, you know, my grandmother used to keep this in her kitchen…”)

Always be ready to walk away from a deal. The Pawn Stars guys regularly turn down unique, cool items not because they don’t like them, but because acquiring them makes no business sense.

Know your business. Business owners can only stay in the black if they can readily sell an item for more than they bought it. If they can’t do this they can’t buy your item no matter what you think it’s worth. Whenever they deviate from their core business and think they can invest more money in an item to fix it up, they increase the risk of losing money.

Retain SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). For Rick and his crew, the job is to run a pawn shop, not to be be experts on esoteric obscure objects of historical interest. That’s why they are quick to call in experts on vintage guitars, toys, currency, or antique weapons. Build your own network of subject matter experts you can call on, legal, tax, sales, marketing, real estate.

Finally…Never underestimate the power of a good poker face.

Managing dual personal brands

Managing dual personal brands

Many of us know the importance of maintaining our own personal brands. From Twitter and Facebook, to business cards and personal brochures, we’ve heard the message.  Determine your brandand own the spaceas business today is all about niche marketing.

But what happens when there’s more to you than just one brand? What if you are a polished finance-type during the week but on Saturday nights front a hard rock band? Maybe you’re in marketing by day but a writer of trashy romance novels at night, or perhaps you pay the rent as a department manager while off hours auditioning for theater roles.

How should a person effectively manage more than one personal brand, or dual identity, without jeopardizing career prospects or compromising artistic pursuits? Let’s look at some real-world examples.

Be upfront

By day, Juliette Mutzke-Felippelli works in PR in Orange County, CA. But when the sun goes down she’s part of a husband-and-wife DJ team pumping out the hottest House and Techno mixes in clubs from Rio to New York. Mutzke-Felippelli believes the best bet is to be straight up about her two roles and show how they are not only compatible, but offer a strategic advantage.

“At my job interview I was asked to bring in press releases I’d written, so I showed examples from my DJ/music producing project,” Mutzke-Felippelli says. “I also got to show off my experience in designing and managing the social media profiles that I use.”

Mutzke-Felippelli has found a way to combine her two brands, and the skills she learns in one complement the other. “As a DJ in my free time I can practice the skills I’m learning in PR and social media to enhance exposure for my side project, which makes me better at what I do in all areas.”

Jeff Perry of Minneapolis-St. Paul is another believer in marketing the different facets of one’s life. He bills himself on Linkedin as a “Recruitment advertising executive by day and a professional, conservatory-trained musician by night.” Perry advises those with alter-egos to look for employers that are compatible with your artist brand and to showcase the advantages your talents bring to the table.

“I used to think a music degree and the skills that go with it—composition, performance, improvisation, arrangement, project management—was not valuable in the business world until I realized one thing: good companies don’t seem to complain when someone has imagination and knows how to apply it. For musicians and other artists this is second nature.”

Christine Tieri, Creative Director of Smith & Jones advertising in Boston, agrees. “For many years, we employed a graphic designer who was one of the most professional, talented and buttoned-down employees by day, but also played bass in a very successful hardcore band,” Tieri says. The same creativity, energy, and team work he brought to the band he also brought to the office.  “Our clients actually thought it was pretty cool he was on our staff, and they loved him.”

Keep it undercover

Not everyone wants their off-hours activities under the purview of their employer, however. Performers and writers have have long used a stage name or nom de plume to indulge the artist within and avoid potential reprisals.

Michael Lovas is a business consultant in Spokane, Washington. But when he’s not speaking or coaching professionals and entrepreneurs on building credibility and emotional intelligence, he plays drums in a blues/funk band where he’s known by the moniker “Psycho” to the musicians and bikers he relaxes with.

“I associate with some pretty strange looking people,” Lovas says. “It doesn’t serve anyone to co-mingle the identities. I had a stage name long before the internet, and as I bump into people who knew me back then, it’s always a surprise when I realize that don’t know what my real name is. I kind of like the anonymity.”

But what if you already use your given name in your weekend band but don’t want to have to water down your rocker persona for the corporate world?  Here’s a tip to promote your band while keeping yourself below the radar. “You can circumvent the search engines by creating a JPG art work incorporating the names of the band members,” says William Howard, a marketing and communications professional in Charlotte, NC.  “Make sure the name of the JPG file doesn’t include your name to keep it from being discovered in an image search.” People searching for the band will find it— and see your glam-rock self—but the site won’t come up when that finance recruiter searches your name on Monday.

Leverage the unusual

Vanessa Holmes, a London-based Brand Development Director, sees an alter-ego as a way of differentiating oneself in the marketplace. Holmes has a friend who is a dapper healthcare economist and college lecturer. However, in his off hours he communes with the hereafter through tarot card readings and séances. At first these identities appear to contradict one another. But Holmes realized economics and fortune telling both involve predicting human behavior based on making observations.  “Since this is his personal brand we are talking about, all aspects of his character seem equally important so we figured one area could potentially inform the other,” Holmes says.

They let the professor’s dual identity out of the bag and as it turned out, the professor’s undergraduate students liked the idea of attending a séance delivered in a more intellectual way, one that demystified illusions and explored their fascination with the unknown.  And what of his peers and business associates? “We found that a little bit of magic can certainly help liven up business meetings and economic presentations,” Holmes says.

If you can find compatible ideas that can guide both your day and evening jobs this can help make you a more interesting person in both endeavors and you will probably feel more satisfied not having to be at war with yourself.

“Authenticity and relevance are of the utmost importance in personal branding today,” Holmes says. “The trick is to find a way of communicating one’s personality, skills and interests in cohesive, well differentiated and meaningful ways.”

Perspective from 13,000 feet: Q&A with marketing expert Chris Worth

Perspective from 13,000 feet: Q&A with marketing expert Chris Worth

Photo courtesy of Chris Worth

Chris Worth is a London-based entrepreneur, marketing pro, Warwick MBA, and intrepid skydiver. From the boardroom to the back country, Chris sees life—and business—as a bold adventure. We tracked Chris down and threw him some questions about  marketing, B-school, books, and what he’s doing to keep the spirit of adventure alive in our kids (all while keeping his lively British spelling intact).

Edward Klink: Chris, your self-titled blog was mentioned in that popular “Cluetrain Manifesto” book a decade ago and you’ve since pounded out a thousand or so posts for over a million pairs of eyeballs. So what are the elements of a good blog?

Chris Worth: A million? Wow, yes it must be—it hit 60,000 page views a month in its prime. The reason I started it (back in 1997) was perhaps due to one of those elements: I was living in Asia and having an interesting time both inside and outside work, so I just wrote about the parts of those cultures that inspired me. The streets, the bars, even the local noodle shop. That’d be my reason 1: be interesting.

Second, remember Strunk & White. Write in proper sentences with concrete nouns and active verbs; use punctuation properly. A blog in Swedish Chef dialect may be amusing the first time you read it, but the English language coalesced into its current grammar and vocab precisely because that was what most people understood. I’m still working on this: just yesterday I was criticised for referring to a woman as “my gf”, which is txt-speak a man approaching 40 probably shouldn’t affect.

Edward Klink: : Well, we live and learn. What else do you like in a blog?

Chris Worth: True, Ed. Let’s see, a third good element? I like to be episodic. Even a business blog—driven by advice rather than personality—should still be bylined, written by a recognisable person in a narrative context. If you learned something today, write about it today. If next week you learn something that adds to it (or contradicts it completely), write about that and refer back to the previous blog.

One of my most-read posts was about something very down-to-earth: studying for the GMAT exam to enter business school. It was a simple day-by-day account of doing practice tests and the questions I had trouble with, yet I still get emails about once a week thanking me for it.

Edward Klink: After years in the working world you recently went back and earned an MBA from Warwick, a top-ranked business school. What’s a great nugget of advice you learned  in the program?

Chris Worth: People do MBAs far too young, and end up treating a legitimate qualification as some sort of “badge of rank”, rather than for what it is—a toolbox. The biggest thing I learned is that these techniques –everything from strategic analysis to financial modeling—are only useful if you actually put them into practice, and keep practicing, every day. The last two years have been the most rewarding of my life, and I still go back to Warwick and talk to current students as often as I can. I’m still in the Skydiving Club there, after all [laughs].

Edward Klink: You’ve also done a lot of world traveling, much of it with a backpack. What’s the best business lesson you learned out on the road?

Chris Worth: From a little shopkeeper in Tokyo: just remember who your customers are. He was an amateur cartoonist, and behind the counter he had little pictures of all his regular customers, to which he’d add little notes over time!  (“You liked this beer last week, you’ll like this beer tonight…”) That’s an example of perfect CRM:  remember their names, note their behaviour, and treat them in a way that maximises the value of their interaction with you—on both sides. I probably spent Y2000 more each visit than in an average corner shop, and walked away with better wine and more interesting snacks.

Edward Klink:  What are some of your favorite books these days?

Chris Worth: The “100 Bullets” graphic novel series by Azzarello and Risso. The way these guys develop narrative—over what, for them, was an eight-year writing project—is astounding: characters speak to each other as real people, not actors there for your entertainment, and few concessions are made to the reader. I think Garth Ennis described it thus: “If a character doesn’t know what’s going on, he’s doomed.” And the last panel of the last issue is one of those that genuinely, completely, explain everything.

Edward Klink:  That’s true, especially since we’re all characters in a story. What about marketing and business?

Chris Worth: I still love “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne (and I loved it before one of their associated businesses became my client in Paris). Why? Because an innovative business premise is strongly supported by the hardscrabble work of research and “doing the numbers.”  I use the method with my clients a LOT.

Also, “Molecular Biology of the Cell” by Alperts et al. It’s everything a textbook should be: clear, concise, and brilliantly written and illustrated, a perfect piece of information design. Read it as a copywriter and you’ll swoon with delight.

Edward Klink:  Three to take to the beach! As a marketing director, what are the biggest mistakes you see in campaigns? What’s the biggest misconception people have about marketing?

Chris Worth: Oddly, I’ve just written a couple of campaigns again after three years as a “pure marketer” not getting involved in the creative aspect, and quite enjoyed it. The mistakes I see in campaigns today are the same as when I started in 1993!

First off, arrogance.  “Our product’s the best”, “run don’t walk”, “you’d be a fool not to.”  Nothing turns real people off faster than being talked down to. The great creative director John Hegarty once summed up a great ad in one word:  “Irreverence.”  So the biggest misconception in marketing is that we’re actively trying to treat you, the consumer, as a fool. And far too often, that “misconception” is correct.

I have the luxury of being able to pick my clients these days—after all, there are perhaps 150,000 businesses that could use me, and I have a capacity of about 3! The ones I work with are those who genuinely care about changing the world and have great, innovative ideas for doing it.

Edward Klink:  What’s your favorite all-time marketing campaign and why?

Chris Worth: A single roadside print ad many years ago for a British beer brand, John Smith’s. On a billboard, they’d made it look as if there was a previous poster beneath the half-pasted John Smith’s one, for something very feminine (the John Smith’s brand is very working-class and masculine).

So in flowing feminised script were the words, “Make it a night to remember with…” and then (apparently on the half-pasted poster over it) “JOHN SMITH’s!”

Then below, “Just watch her face when she finds out…” “THE LADS ARE COMING ‘ROUND!” It had everything: irreverence, laugh-out-loud funny, and credited the consumer with intelligence.

Edward Klink:  I like it, Chris. The big thing now of course is social media. How do you believe social media is affecting marketing for the long term?

Chris Worth: What interests me is just how quickly social media becomes anti-social once you bring money into it. Like pyramid selling or multi-level marketing, the whole basis of trusted connections gets frayed the moment financial incentives are slanted towards one party. Social media is a great method of communication, but it’s the communication of a rock concert (you’re there because a lot of people whose opinions you share are there) rather than the sales seminar (you’re there because you believe you’ll gain financially from it). I think this is positive: a LOT more reasons to keep your marketing true to itself, believable AND authentic.

Edward Klink: Who is one of your biggest inspirations?

Chris Worth: I’ve always felt close to the musician David Bowie, for the way he’s reinvented himself not once but a dozen times. Imagine it’s 1971, you’re just starting to make money, and everyone around you – your manager, your agent, your bank – is screaming at you to carry on doing more of the same. Then one night in Hammersmith you sack your band live on stage and change what you’re doing completely. And take that risk every couple of years as if it’s the normal thing to do, even coming up with non-musical innovations like selling bonds backed by your future output. It probably gets easier when you’ve trousered $60m.

Edward Klink: You like to jump out of planes…so would you put an ad on your parachute? Is there any place marketing shouldn’t be?

Chris Worth: Well, as you become a better parachutist you use smaller canopies and come down faster, so the advertising real estate shrinks in two dimensions as you improve, not a great marketing strategy! [laughs] Yes, I think marketing should stay out of anywhere it’s not pulling its weight by contributing cash or content.

A case in point is Britain’s BBC—it doesn’t carry advertising, but instead levies a £120 tax on every household. One of those crazy things I ought to vehemently oppose, but I don’t. Like a lot of things in Britain—with its unelected upper house, its combined legislative and executive branches of government, its extraordinary police-state powers but whose cops don’t carry guns—it works in practice but not in theory.

I spent a month Stateside recently and I’m always shocked by the sheer volume of ads crammed into each TV hour. Great marketing doesn’t need to be everywhere;  it just needs to be effective. I love Tabasco, but I wouldn’t chug a bottle.

Edward Klink: Speaking of extreme, on June 12th you are going to abseil—or rappel—off a tower in London for a cause, to “put the adventure back in.” How important is it that people—especially youth—experience adventure? How sedate and comfortable have we become?

Chris Worth: Britain’s recently-departed Labour government introduced, largely by stealth, some of the most liberty-unfriendly legislation ever known—some of it destroying centuries-old freedoms enshrined in the Magna Carta—along with a library’s worth of new laws designed to trammel and control the population. For example, the UK has the highest penetration of CCTV cameras and the largest DNA database in the world.

Edward Klink:  I saw “V for Vendetta.”

Chris Worth: Yes, and all this has had a corrosive effect:  young people are growing up with a sense that their safety and liberty are… in the hands of the government. That they don’t have to do anything for themselves, which prevents them developing a proper perspective on risk. So yes, I think we are moving towards a “comfortably numb” society, where risk and adventure are frowned upon rather than celebrated. And that’s bad. Especially in a country that spawned some of the world’s greatest explorers and adventurers.

The British Schools Exploration Society, which puts underprivileged youths in adventure training situations in the world’s wilder places, attempts to change that perspective. As part of their fundraising efforts, I’m abseiling down the outside of 322ft London building! My sponsorship page is here and all donations will be warmly acknowledged.

Edward Klink:  Sounds dangerous, but that’s our kind of cause! We encourage readers to support your efforts, Chris. Thanks for standing still long enough to share your insights with us.

For more info check out Chris Worth at RedPump and on Twitter.

Edward Klink

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