What it takes to hew to you (Part 2)

leaf growing through a board fence This piece builds on this one, which you may or may not want to read as well.

Once upon a time, when I was very much like I am today, only with a lot more income and a lot less happiness, I found myself shopping in a store that sold nothing but sexy ladies' underwear.

Now, if you know me in even the most passing of ways, you know this is a very unusual thing, and if you've known me in the Biblical sense, you're probably re-reading the above sentence to make sure it says what you think it said. For I am no more a lady of lingerie than I am a lady of pedicures, blender drinks or fancy jewelry. Not that I judge! To each her own, and more power to her. But I buy my panties plain, on the cheap and under duress. Any top/bottom color coordination happens strictly by accident, luck of the drawer, if you will, and most of it looks better off than on. Which, to my mind, anyway, is the main point of underwear vis-à-vis your vis-à-vis-type situations.

True to form, I was there at this sexy lingerie store under duress as well. My boss at the time, a chic and lovely woman whom I'm sure had no end of matching drawers in her own drawers, had extracted from me a promise: that while I was in Los Angeles on my next production gig, I would go to this particular lingerie store and buy myself some high-end undergarment of the completely superfluous variety. It had to be expensive, in other words, and it had to be sexy.

Half of the store was dripping with lace and the rest of it vibrated with the various colors of the rainbow. Promises or no promises, there were some depths to which I would not stoop, which pretty much left Sheer, Black and Clingy. I found some one-piece something or other that looked okay, sexy, even, I guess, given the right lighting and enough liquor. It cost $75 (I still remember!), it itched (the better, I supposed, for wishing oneself out of it) and served no actual, foundational purpose.

I tried it on at least fifty times, and wore it exactly three. Each time I felt not only stupid for having wasted $75 on a shitty piece of nylon but whatever the opposite of sexy is. And itchy. Off it went to Goodwill.

I am sure it made a terrific addition to some girl's Slutty Olympic Swimmer costume that Halloween.

* * * * *

I was having coffee with The Chief Atheist while back, one of those occasional treats I look forward to with a genuine pleasure I would not have believed possible ten years ago when we were fresh out of the marriage. He is a sincere, smart and forthright fellow; also, he is hilarious. And for my part, I am fairly pleasant to be around now that I'm not a miserable wannabe stewing in her own hot soup of envy and denial.

At some point during the conversation, we were talking about the shapes our day-to-day lives had taken now that we were no longer together, and now that I was (finally) living alone. His, as always, is filled with lots of laughter and activity, always well-populated with friends, colleagues, or loved ones. Mine, by contrast, is filled mostly with quiet and work, punctuated by spikes of peopled activity, and dotted lightly with extremely low-key relaxation amongst one or two close friends. Excepting perhaps the financial freedom to have it all more so, neither one of us could be happier with the way things had turned out.

We had just about wrapped up the topic when he paused, smiled just a bit and said, "I never really got it while we were together, but I finally realized it recently: you weren't kidding; you really did need more time alone than most people."

He's right, I really do.

* * * * *

The good news about the Internet is that it makes it really easy to get ideas; the bad news is that it makes it really easy to think you should be applying them to yourself, now!

The always-on, always-up nature of the Internet is great when you're feeling low and need to get you some hot baby penguin action. It's not so great when you're feeling unmoored and adrift, in an in-between phase, unsure of what the next shore will look like, much less how to get there. This accounts for a lot of the business bipolar disorder you see on the web: constant overhauling of business models, flip-flopping of pricing, re-branding of websites, and of course, rampant copycatting of UI elements, visual identity and even language.

I'm not talking about evolution or emulation. Things can and should change, and we all learn by adopting and mimicking the styles of those we admire, all of us, even the geniuses (and if you don't believe me, go rent the Scorsese documentary on Dylan. It'll blow your mind.)

But if you're doing things because you see other people doing them, beware. If you're using things because so-and-so is, beware.1 Not only do you have no idea of why they've chosen do x, y, or z, you can't even be sure it's working for them. Or that it will for much longer. To borrow Seth Godin's astute summing-up of the futility of emulation in this era of constant and rapid-fire change, "if you're looking for a've totally missed the point." He was talking about business models, but it works for positioning, for identity, for personal trajectory as well. Today's opportunity lies in uniqueness and novelty, in innovation and personal touch, and the quickest way to quash that is to lose the thread of yourself in the tangle of other people's business.

Does this mean you should not surround yourself with people you admire? Read good things? Take in with an eye toward what works, what draws you in and delights you? Of course not. If anything, I would do more of it, and more broadly. As with food, so with brain food: the healthiest diets seem to be the most varied (provided you're not just varying which drive-thru window you pull up to).

A good exercise for making sure you're hewing to you is to be able to point to any element of your life and say why you chose it and why you love it. A sofa. A fragrance. A logo. An entrée. A cellphone. A lover. A project. A pair of jeans. A business partnership. A morning spent on Facebook. An evening spent with American Idol.

Even a blog post.

I wrote this one because I get challenged a lot for my business and marketing decisions, or the lack thereof.2 I can point to much of what looks crazy to the outside world and tell you why I do it my way. But there's a distressing amount that I cannot explain with anything better than I don't want to be like them. Or I hate that thing, over there. Or just I don't wanna! You can't make me!

Which, for a person who not only is into the whole self-actualization thing but who also hires herself out to help people sort out what's working and what's not, is not only hypocritical, but more than a little nutty.

On the other hand, who among us isn't a work in progress?

* * * * *

Are you a philistine for not personally sweating each individual detail of your life? Hell, no. Neither am I, and I'll wager I have a helluva lot more free time to muse about these things than you.

Could you benefit by thoughtful ongoing review of particular elements of your life, your work, your outward face, your inner workings? I cannot see how you couldn't. The unexamined life, and all that.

If you don't know who you are, start there. If you've got a pretty good handle on that, pick one aspect of your life (or your business, or your marketing) and start doing an inventory to see if things jibe.

Is this me or is this something I'm defaulting to? Is this something I want, or something I think someone else wants of me? Is this an outdated me, and am I okay with changing it?

It is not a speedy process; when you rush it, you end up with things like a $5000 website you hate in three months and want to completely change. Or a $75 onesie for whores.

Do not look to the left or the right. Look at yourself.

Chances are, that's what that other guy you admire so much did...

xxx c

1And of course, if you're using things you dislike because you think you should, or you think it will get you there faster, just stop right now.

2A lack of a decision is always a decision. Think of it as passive-aggression against yourself, and see if that doesn't move you to get off the dime and do something about something.

Image by k david clark via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Taking my own medicine

the author kissing a fave client on the cheek It has been happening for some time now, probably since I shuttered my design business, definitely since I quit acting, but the polite and puzzled apologies that "I don't know exactly what it is that you do" have escalated to a point where I can no longer shrug, laugh or otherwise play them off.

"I write and I talk" is true, but coy. It's good for keeping myself clear on my priorities, but is far from useful to anyone else.

"I do marketing consulting for solopreneurs and very small businesses" is true, but leaves out a lot. Like me, for instance. I mean, please, do I look like a marketing consultant? (For that matter, do I write like a marketing consultant?) By which I really mean, "Do I do anything that looks like a descriptor you'd find in a drop-down list titled 'Employment', wedged between 'Manufacturing' and 'Media'?" I do not. At least, I hope not.

My attempts at self-description have been many, but ultimately disappointing.

First, because not being able to succinctly describe what it is that I do is embarrassing, to say the least, a whole lot of "physician, heal thyself" going on there.

Also, it's ungracious. It's confusing, which wastes everyone's time, ungracious! (Worse, it makes some people feel stupid, like they're missing something, and that's beyond ungracious, it's so mean as to be unacceptable.)

Finally, it makes me a lot less money. Because as any graduate of Marketing 101 knows, given you can deliver the goods (the "All Things Being Equal" Rule), to be easily categorized is to be easily recalled, recommended and other good things that begin with "r". Like "rich," which seems like it would be delightful, if only for the possibilities it promises regarding the equitable (i.e., by me) redistribution of wealth. Although to be able to fill up the car without feeling faint, visit the doctor as necessary, and at least occasionally buy the good tea wouldn't hurt, either.

* * * * *

What has sustained me throughout my feeble, murky swipes at self-promotion has been this: the great reward of doing at least some of what I love every day; and the equally great (and incredibly humbling) reward of being appreciated for it. Getting hired despite my laughable inadequacies around making myself hirable is the most tangible, not to mention remarkable, form of appreciation, but the support of readers throughout these six-plus years I've been slinging hash on the interwebs has been no less important.*

If you take nothing else from this post, that would be a good thing to take: You must in some small way always provide your own source of joy through some kind of work, whether it's things or ideas or self-improvement or self-understanding. And if you do it with all your might, chances are good the universe will throw a bone your way.

* * * * *

Here's how I have talked about myself that might serve as a starting point for wrestling this bear to the ground:

  • I help creative people sell themselves effectively in the postmodern marketplace. (on Biznik)
  • I provide creatively-minded people with the tools, ideas and practices they need to share their awesomeness with the world. (on my current "hire me" page)
  • I help entrepreneurs get clear on their core truth and assist them in finding the best ways possible for putting it out there. (on LinkedIn)
  • Better living through content strategy.** (on Facebook)

Each falls short in its own, special way. The LinkedIn one falls so far short that if it were a person, he would have cracked its chin open on the curb and been rushed to urgent care for stitches.

But they are the truth, if a little lackluster and faint of voice. They can't touch my mission statement*** for awesomeness and other things that get me up in the morning, but they are a place to begin.

* * * * *

I will eventually, as the Brits say, get this sorted. In the meantime, I'm going to do something radical (for me): not worry about it. Nope. I'm going to go about fixing things, here and there, tweakity-tweak, again, just as I advise certain clients to do. This is an iterative process, getting clear on who we are. And, given the current and projected future rate of change, will probably continue to be so. Over the past week, I've added:

  • clearer "contact me" info (because really, I was kind of a jackass about making people hunt it down)
  • social sharing buttons on each post (because really, "ditto" for making it harder for people to share my work)
  • dedicated "consulting" and "speaking" buttons in the top navigation (because what? I want to make it HARDER for people to hire me?)

It's scary, and it's fun. And it's good for me, because this is the kind of stuff I help other people do, and the more I understand exactly where, how and why it's scary, and come up with ways of handling it so it's fun, simple and sustainable, the better off we'll all be.

xxx c

P.S. If you're reading this in email, I'd love for you to click through and take a look at that top navigation. And if something looks hinky to you, or is in any way confusing, to let me know in the comments or privately, via email.

P.P.S. If it isn't obvious, this is one of the most excruciatingly painful posts I've ever written. I wasn't kidding about that embarrassment factor, above. On the other hand, for some of us, excruciating pain is the only thing that will move us off the dime. So here's hoping!

*It is one of the chief reasons I encourage writers to blog, the other being a weird kind of accountability it creates. And this doesn't even get into that other "hot" reason, the author platform.

**I didn't realize that this was a "thing" until about a year ago, when my friends at Mule Design assigned it to me in a bio for that year's BattleDecks. The Mules are nothing if not articulate, and I find much to emulate in the way they move through the world. They've been particularly astute over the last several months about intentionally raising their profile, executing each move with style and grace, and, in a way that deeply satisfies me, reinforcing the truth of The Three Behaviors. Which is good, because they're all over my presentation. Anyway, since discovering this magical thing of "content strategy," I've been devouring books and other, uh, content on the topic. As it turns out, much of what I do could be summed up fairly well as being content strategy. Expect more on this topic, including a series of book reviews, in the coming months.

***"To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love." Everyone should have a mission statement, just not one of those icky, '80s-corporate, b.s.-style ones.

Photo of me and my beloved client, Susan Carr, Education Director supreme of the ASMP, at SB3 Chicago, by my other beloved client, Judy Herrmann, who introduced us. This is how it works, people!

Poetry Thursday: Slow death by bullshit happiness

old clip-art dude holding sign: Dead inside. You? You think to yourself: "I can do this!" or "This will be good for me!" or even "It doesn't matter."

And so you smile when someone asks how things are going, broadly, you smile, with most of your teeth, and you flick aside what's left of your heart, and you stick out your hand and say, "Grrrreat!" or "Couldn't be better!" or, when life is particularly bleak, "Things are looking up!"

And you recite from memory a menu, several pre-selected items from columns "A" and "B", of all the marvelous wins and fabulous opportunities and other stale pellets of extruded terror formed into appetizing, life-like shapes, tarted up with brio and garnished with a wilted sprig of false humility until you question whether you can even remember what it felt like to really, truly feel anything.

What happens, I wonder, when you just fucking say, "Damn, I'm tired. Business sucks, traffic was awful, my husband left me, my hard drive crashed, the dog has cancer, and the Emperor's ass is a flat, pale, pockmarked bucket of sad the sight of which is going to take years to wipe from my memory banks. What's new in YOUR world?"

Whether everything is awful right now or everything is perfect right now everything IS right now.

And I can't think of a single thing that doesn't get a little bit better served up fresh and truthfully, with humor, with tenderness, with the judiciously-chosen expletive, dependent on company.

Besides, what's the alternative, slow death by bullshit happiness?

The end is coming, either way.

And I'm guessing, just guessing, mind you, that if you let at least some of it hang out, the two of you might even toast to the ironies of life, and the way a bump in the road can turn two complete strangers into fellow travelers.

xxx c

Whom will you offend today?

a bunch of kids with their hands over their ears

I have been on an unsubscribing kick lately. And I'm not the only one.

People who track and parse the trends of social media (which is currently being transitioned into "the new media" and which will, soon enough, become just "media") have been saying this for a long time: attention is the new currency. In other words, if you've been paying any kind of attention, this is non-news.

But from the dismaying and ever-expanding swath of garbage I have to wade through every day to get to fresh, open waters, I'd say most people have yet to get the memo. And I say that having already deliberately and painstakingly filtered the firehose down to a relative trickle. I follow fewer than 100 people on Twitter. I have only a dozen or so "always" blogs in my Google Reader. I use delicious and FriendFeed to collect and collate, not chat nor find new material. I stay the hell away from YouTube entirely, just reading the comments there is often enough to lower one's IQ 50 points, not to mention plunge one into a black hole of depression. I will visit HuffPo only out of absolute necessity, and only long enough enough to hit the "Instapaper-izer" bookmarklet I installed on my browser to strip it and its ilk of their Downtown Vegas-like flashing carnival lightshow of crappery.

And yes, Facebook "friends", many of you who are redundant, dour, knee-jerk cheerful, or too talky, especially around the business offerings, just don't show up in my feed at all anymore.

I am not a highly-sensitive person like my friend, Havi, and I never saw that old '90s movie where Julianne Moore became allergic to everything, but as I let go of the clutter I've used both to insulate myself from and inure myself to sensation, I'm freaking out a little bit over how crowded and noisy everything has gotten in the past seven or so years. I mean, I'm as delighted as the next gal about the democratization of dissemination that owning the means of production has created, but does EVERYONE have to make EVERYTHING ALL the time? And with quite so many %#@$ modal windows?

A brief history of the Web 2.0 gold rush

It's not like any of this is news. When most normal people, i.e., non-ADD types and non-change addicts, first come to social media, they ask the same question: how do you deal with the noise?1

To which the standard reply from a responsible social media tour guide is two-fold:

  1. Reduce input to what is necessary
  2. Filter the rest with tools and processes

In the beginning, we tended to err on the side of too much info and rely on tools and processes to manage it. Them was heady times, the land-grab days, and we didn't want to miss a minute of it. And yes, it sounds goofy, but there was a great big bunch of us who were writing about the same stuff we were reading about, the stuff we were always interested in, that we were now finally able to swap stories about (productivity pr0n was a big one) and the stuff that was brand spanking new that we were trying to wrap our heads around (i.e. social/"the new" media). I was as guilty as anyone, and guess what? I'm not even the least bit ashamed. This was well before social media hit pop-will-eat-itself levels. There were a handful of gossip bloggers. There were (blessedly) no mommybloggers.2 Back then, it was such a relief to be able to have conversations and interactions instead of just consuming page after mind-numbing page of webular data, I loved it all, including the then-occasional "10 Best Whatever" post. I subscribed to blogs, to newsletters, I joined forums and Yahoo! groups. I did way too much, but I learned a lot, which I was then able to sift through, process, and synthesize in purportedly useful ways to people joining the party late.

And then, all of a sudden, a little bit at a time, I realized: I was done.

Done with ubiquity. Done with ravenous, voracious intake. I am back to reading judiciously about process, and intensely in new areas of interest. So I unsubscribed, and unfollowed, and deactivated, and generally went elsewhere. There are plenty of people who have a deep and enduring interest in exploring and sharing the stuff I once did, and some of them are even doing it responsibly, thank goodness, meaning they are not just yakking about social effing media, but talking about it from some sort of useful context. If you're climbing aboard now, you should find one of these people. They're fairly easy to spot, if you like the tenor of my blog.

Walking my own (not-)talk

In February of this year, I did something fairly radical for me: I told people to unsubscribe.

The engagement levels of my newsletter had been dropping for a few months, and I was despondent. Not that I don't spend a great deal of time on this blog, I do!, but I spend even more time on my newsletter, proportionately, plus it costs me money to send out every month. This is one thing when you're working, and when your newsletter is bringing you clients; it's quite another when you're purposely on self-imposed sabbatical and essentially paying for other people to read your work and they're not.

The solution suddenly seemed simple: tell the people who were disinterested that it was fine for them to go. So I did. My unsubscribe rates are now just about dead even with my subscribe rates, so the cost is holding steady. But the range of feelings I was suddenly exposed to was far more valuable than the few bucks that went back into my pocket.

I would be offended and/or surprised at who left, and almost immediately after, I would be joyous. I was letting go! They were letting go! We were all free to go wherever we pleased! I got a taste of what it feels like to be filtered out, along with a kind of permission to filter more honestly. Walking the talk! What a concept!

The remains of the day

What's left is a profound gratitude for who's left, because they're really choosing to be fully present with me, plus a kind of focus I never felt before. I am paying more and more attention to what it is that interests me, and trusting that everyone else is grownup enough to do the same. I'm enjoying the hell out of the time I do spend in social media, and what I read and share there. Out of the nothing, a something emerges, and I realize that this is all one process, and that it doesn't end until we do: we take in, we interact, we synthesize, we release. The landscape of our lives is always changing, just like life is always changing. It's so obvious, it's ridiculous, but there it is.

I look at what is left of all I've learned from so much time spent absorbing these various modalities of communication, at what has stayed with me, and I start to get a sense of how I might be useful to people when I emerge from self-imposed sabbatical. I've been playing with it a bit here and there, quietly test-driving it with a few longtime clients who are, for whatever reasons, also happy to play in this space, to cop a coach-y term. I'm hopeful that by February, when the odometer on my year rolls over, I'll have some clear and useful offering to extend more widely.

In the meantime, though, I hope that if you are here, you will be really here with me. And that if you are not, you will feel free to let go. And that if there are impediments to your finding utility here, a lack of organization in some critical area, or a missing delivery system, you'll let me know, either via a comment or an email. Comments and emails remain a constant, I do not see giving them up anytime soon.

You are my great love, giver of useful feedback, engager in meaningful conversation. I will give up much to share in this way...


1In fairness, the first question many people ask is, "What the hell is the point of this crap?", but these folk are unlikely to use social media for any purposes, good or ill.)

2There were plenty of mothers who happened to blog, and some outstanding blogs from them. They just weren't the ad-splattered, Proctor-and-Gamblized, black holes of mediocrity you find in such woeful numbers today.

Image by woodley wonderworks via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Book review: Influence

author Robert Cialdini and his book, INFLUENCE

How out-of-date is the library-sale copy of Influence: The Power of Persuasion I finished recently? When my 1984-minted paperback was printed, its subtitle was "The New Psychology of Modern Persuasion." (Italics mine, of course.)

Today, the psychology Robert Cialdini outlines in his now-classic book is so not-new, it's almost shocking to think that anyone could ever have been sucked in by any of examples of Cialdini uses to illustrate the six "Weapons of Influence" he describes. If you're not a small-business owner or one of the bajillions of marketing freaks the social web has spawned, you may not be able to list all of the terms by name, but you sure as hell can recognize them when they're coming at you.

That friendly car salesman who gets you to take a test drive, who goes to the mat with his boss in the back room to get a better deal for you, who confides that the exact model you want is due to come in tomorrow, but only one of them, and only if you sign on the dotted line today? You might not know that he's employing Weapons #1, 5 and 7, a.k.a. "Reciprocation," "Liking," and "Scarcity", but you know he's hustling you.1 His going-to-the-mat b.s. has already been debunked for you in several mainstream Hollywood films. Hell, chances are you've already used the Google to find out exactly how many cars were made with those options, when they shipped, and what the dealer price is.

So why read a 25-year-old book about "modern" persuasion in a postmodern world like ours, populated by savvy, heck, jaded consumers like us?

Because while the book is 25 years old, the techniques themselves are thousands of years older, as old as the first person trying to get the first other person to do something. And whether you are an honest person trying to get your message across or an honest person trying to keep from getting shafted, it behooves you to gain a real understanding of what motivates your fellow human beings, and what's fueling the transactions between us every single day.

And I'm not just talking about learning how to sell sell sell, or, on the other hand, to avoid being sold sold sold. The way we are moved has ramifications in all sorts of interpersonal situations, and there's terrific advice in Influence that will help you do better at everything from buying soap to choosing lovers to raising children. The chapter on Commitment & Consistency alone has more useful information about smart relationships than 99% of the crap targeted to women in the self-help section.

Which brings me to another huge plus for Cialdini's book over most of what's out there purporting to illuminate the darker corners of our souls: it's well-written, and downright enjoyable to read. Somewhere during the chapter on Social Proof, it hit me, with its mix of footnoted and well-researched information, great illustrative stories and (thank you!) wry humor, Cialdini reminded me of not a little of Malcolm Gladwell. Cialdini is far more earnest and not nearly as sophisticated, but then, he was at it a full 10 years before Gladwell. (And, yeah, okay, Gladwell is just a singularly silky and sexy and fabulous wizard with words. You bewitch me, Malcolm!)

I will likely release my ancient copy of Influence back into the wild and pick up a revised version, if only to see how the text has been updated. I'd love to hear Cialdini's take on Bernie Madoff's use of the Weapons of Influence, for instance (although you can read one take on it here.)

But if you are a marketer, or a buyer, or a person who wants to be in a good relationship, or to NOT end up in that oh-so-bewildering place of "how the hell did I get here?", I'd pick up a copy, any copy, old or new, of this fantastic book.


1The six "Weapons of Influence," in the order Cialdini describes them in the book, are: Reciprocation, Commitment & Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity.

Photo of Robert Cialdini © Jason Petze, used with permission.

Disclosure! Links to the book(s) in the above post are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: while small, it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

When you can't hire me


I raised the price on my main consulting package today.

Well, okay, technically, I raised it several days ago, and then I lowered it slightly to a number that was still higher, but not quite so much. But still, the price ($475) is higher now than it was ($250) a couple of weeks ago. And while I noted it in my newsletter, pretty much the only place I pimp stuff like that, you may have missed the big, fat, hairy announcement.

While I raised my prices almost 100%, the truth is that I just brought the price in line with what it actually costs me to do these things. I started consulting verrrrry tentatively, at the request of a friend who became my first client, over a year ago.

I then created the Main Thing I Offer by way of consulting, the "Full Monty" (still in beta!), as I call it, about 10 months ago, and purposely kept the price low, even as the Monty grew in depth and scope (and goodies, which I've added). I've done a slew of them, and so far, everyone has walked away from the experience ecstatic, unless they're lying to me. They come out of it with clarity and excitement and a plan, and I get to share all this great stuff I've learned and assimilated over the past 20-odd years, and it's awesome. It's a billion times more satisfying, not to mention useful, than writing ads or even acting in them. (And let's not even mention the design, which was an ulcer-inducing year for me.)

Which means that people who need it are happy with it, and I'm happy with it, and it should all be sunshine and roses. And it was, except for what it was taking out of me. Because while I got better and better at doing them, they still require tons of prep. Shit-tons of energy. All good, but completely unsustainable at the old rate.

Problem is, even though it's a reasonable increase given everything that goes into it and still a pretty awesome value considering what you get, it's also a big jump, percentage-wise and I recognize that it's going to put me out of range for even more people than before, an unfortunate but unavoidable reality.


I'm working on some ideas for putting what I do for clients with the not-too-high-priced (but still not cheap, I realize) one-on-one consulting stuff into a do-it-yourself, low-priced alternative. It's a little tricky, but I'll figure it out. This ain't rocket science, and plenty of other fine people have figured it out before me. But in the meantime, until I get these magical, mysterious, as-yet-unknown things out into the universe, what do you do when you can't hire me but you want some help sorting out your marketing messaging, here's what I'd suggest:

1. Comb through the newsletter archives. They're right here. There are a lot of ideas and exercises embedded in the monthly thingamajiggy I put out which, because I am a barefoot cobbler's child and can come up with no better, I call a "newsletter." It is not really a "newsletter", since by weight, it's only about 2% news, if that. (The price hike thingy is news, I guess, as are my occasional "Come here and hear me speak" items.)

The "newsletters" are archived chronologically, with a little description for each. Browse them, see what catches your eye, then pick two or three to work on.

And then subscribe. Seriously. A lot of what I do with my clients is help them apply the stuff I talk about in the newsletter to their specific needs. You won't get a custom fit, but trust me, you're a smart enough cookie to figure it out yourself with a little extra effort.

2. Do the Formula exercise. The Formula kicks ass. Seriously. And it's the foundation of doing ANYTHING right, marketing-wise, on or off the web. Remember: at its core, marketing is the truth of you, translated into the language of them. Here's an example of it in action on my old design website. Here's another one, on Conrad Winter's copywriting site. More as I think of them.

3. Download the DIY version of the homework. Seriously, download it. Won't cost you a cent. No, you don't get me going over it with The Mixmasterâ„¢ (my brain, didn't know it had a name, did you?) Then DO it. If not now, put a time down in your calendar to do it.

BONUS EXTRA: If you want help in any particular area, getting up to speed on social media, becoming a better copywriter, being more productive, check out my copious delicious and StumbleUpon links in your area of choice. Yeah, yeah, there are a lot of tags to sort through. Do a search for what you need, or use one of the bundles I created for delicious. These two spots are where I bookmark most of the truly awesome stuff I find on the web. Again, you'll have to do a bit of the legwork yourself, searching through them, but it's there.

As any real productivity nerd will tell you, a huge part of getting things done is just doing it, starting it. Start with these. Do, read, write, think. See how far along you can get yourself. It takes a while, but it's possible; after all, it's how I learned to do all this stuff.

And if there are specific things you'd like me to address, let 'er rip in the comments. Like I said last week in the Very First Screencast Ever on Communicatrix, I'm looking to do more stuff with audio and video to help share the crazy tricks and tips I've picked up along the way.

Basically, I'm open for suggestions. Wide open. What do you want? What would make your life better/stronger/faster?

If you're just "here for the beer," as we used to say, that's cool, too. But if there are particular things you're looking for, problems you wish I would tackle in my uniquely communicatrix-y way, this would be an excellent time to let me know.

Thank you, and have at it...


Image by sittered via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Book review: Trust Agents


Anyone who's been in shouting distance of me since I tore through the first 75pp of Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith's hot-diggity-damn-dog book on the wherefores of social media already knows that this is the one book I'm recommending to anyone who's trying to wrap their head around the web.

And the reason why is exactly because it's a book about wherefores, not "do these!" (although there are plenty of actionable tips and explanatory sidebars; they just manage to be supportive and unobtrusive, not glaring and Dummies-like). The authors finally wrote the book I've been praying for when I'm met with the hungry eyes ringed ever so gently with panic: that look that says, "Oh, god...I'm really going to have to learn about this Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn stuff, aren't I? Please direct me to some real help and/or a spoon with which to gouge out my hungry, gently-panic-ringed eyes."

The full title of the Brogan/Smith opus is Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Relationships, and Earn Trust, and right there, you have your main wherefore. The web does not exist for you to sell yourself; it exists to facilitate connections and communication. To initiate them and to deepen them, in tandem with real-life meeting-up-in-actual-person, not to do drive-by shilling or scoop the digital equivalent of a fistful of business cards into your pocket. One of the more delightful parallels the authors draw more than once is that of the social web meeting to the real-life, business networking event: don't be "That Guy" on the web, glad-handing and hard-selling and speed-networking your way through life.

Almost everything about this book is an unqualified surprise and delight, from the bazillion-notches-above-your-typical-business-book quality of the writing to the examples Chris and Julien use to point out right (and very, very wrong) use of the social web to the actual structure of the book. It's carved up into six main chapters, each of which explores a different characteristic of what they've dubbed "Trust Agents" (i.e. people who are using the social web the right way, to do the stuff they break out in the book's subtitle). About the only part I took any issue with at all was a mercifully brief foray into the ethics of paid blogging, nothing (thankfully) that most people who need to read the book even need to read about, and a reasonable discussion of which is simply beyond the scope of the book. And in the interests of 100% disclosure, any book (or post, or article) that looked at posts-for-pay on 99.99% of blogs as being okay I'd most likely look at with suspicion at best and loathing at worst. Commerce is cool, but only within very, very narrow and well-defined parameters for this stinky hippie.

A quibble, really. The book is outstanding. It's not a web book so much as it's a marketing book, which is why I love it so (well, that and the great writing, which I'm a sucker for, I admit). Every speech I give, every client I advise, every line about so-called social media that I write, I do my best to tie to the underpinnings of the works, which is marketing, baby.

So if you're looking for a great book about marketing, buy Trust Agents. And if you're looking for a great book that will explain how to do (some of) your marketing on the web, buy Trust Agents.

It's the book I'd have written if I'd gotten there first...


Photo of Julien Smith & Chris Brogan by ambernaslund via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

You, amplified (a poem about marketing)


is not yelling.

It is not even selling.

It is not bears
dancing around a cereal box
or yellow highlighter pixels
on top of BUY ME NOW pixels
or naked juggling smash-cut ladies on fiery unicycles.

It is not taglines or jingles,
one-sheets or tri-folds,
slide decks
special offers
or branding branding branding.

is offering.

It is talking to people
with words
and sounds
and gestures
and pictures
specially chosen
so that the people who need to hear
what you have to share
and clearly.

is the truth of you,
into the language of them:
in the room
on the page
over the air.

It is you
giving of yourself
to the people
who are ready to receive.

And that thing you say
that hand you shake
that ad
that tag
that special bonus extra
is really you, amplified.

Loud enough so they can hear
soft enough so they can hear themselves think
and feel themselves feeling
and find themselves connecting
with you.

It is a thing
of poetry
not a practice
to abuse.

Express yourself
with love
and no fear
and you will find yourself
surrounded by the best
the world has to offer:

Your "them."

Drawn to you
for what they need
and not what you are trying to make them want.

You, amplified,
do this.

At just the right level
in just the right time
with truth
and honor
and love
and fun
and heat
and light
and fart jokes,


Image by Jared Goralnick (@technotheory) via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Referral Friday is on hiatus this week, being replaced by Poetry Thursday, which is a little late, but which I'm still thinking of as "Poetry Thursday." Feel free to browse, shop or otherwise support any of the fine people and businesses mentioned here on other Referral Fridays, or just go out and buy a book at your local bookstore or a cuppa from your locally-owned, neighborhood coffee shop. Or hey! Support me by signing up for my newsletter or tweeting/Facebook-ing/whatever-ing this. Or double-hey! Just leave a swell comment below. I love comments!

Nerd Love, Day 12: How to write a bulletproof newsletter

coaster news I've been sitting on this post for what seems like eons. Every time I sign up for a new newsletter, I cross my fingers and hope and hope and hope. And almost invariably, I am disappointed.

It's very hard, apparently, to get a newsletter right, and really, really easy to fuck it up.

And so, in the interest of me, me, me...

The communicatrix's top 10 tips for creating a newsletter people will read every time it hits their inbox:

1. Content is king

I'm a designer. I like things to look nice. My two favorite newsletters? The only ones I will recommend at the end of this post? One is text-only and one is, um, ugly. There, I said it. Who cares? I read that sucker every Friday morning, stem to stern. Like I said, content is king.

2. Leave me wanting more

People who subscribe to newsletters usually subscribe to lots. If yours is too long, guess what? There are others that come just as regularly, and aren't. Of course, there is almost no such thing as too long if your content is good enough. But why kill yourself? You've got 51 more weeks to fill, cowboy. Besides, the point of the newsletter, as I understand it, is to get someone interested in your business. I would think the two greatest ways to do that are to tell me incredibly useful information, thereby establishing yourself as an expert, and to leave me wanting more of your expertise.

3. Watch the ads

Hey, it's your dime and your time. I can understand an ad or promo here or there. Just be careful. No one's content is that good.

4. Be as regular as taxes.

Those "when I feel like it" newsletters? Those are articles. Unless you are one of maybe 25 people whose words I hang on, I'm not interested in your articles. Really, I'm not.

5. Regular means once per week, per two weeks and if you're amazing, per month.

I mean, go ahead and send me that once per month email. But know that there are some people sending me an emailed newsletter with great content every week. Which means maybe consider #1 & #2 and go back to the drawing board.

6. Think long and hard before using that email I gave you to send me something else.

I'll give you one, maybe two shots. Then you're outta there.

7. Keep the self-congratulations for friends and family.

I almost never care if you've won something. Unless it directly affects me, in which case, knock yourself out.

8. An HTML email with links back to your site instead of embedded content is not a newsletter.

It is a pain in the ass standing in the way of me and information. Don't do it.

9. Keep it within your purview, but useful to me.

This is incredibly hard to do, but it's really how you hit it out of the park. One of my new favorite newsletters is Mark Silver's Business Heart. It's all text, has a dopey-ass name and is outstanding almost every single week. Silver's area of expertise is "heart-centered business practice", in other words, how to do business without feeling like a tool. He's focused and passionate about what he does, and communicates simply and elegantly about all sorts of things I find helpful, like how to approach writing a book, how to think about marketing in a way that doesn't make you cringe, etc. He's consistent, respectful, gives openly and doesn't push. Guess who I'm going to refer someone to first when they're looking for a coach like him? (UPDATE 6/17/09: Mark's newsletter is HTML-beautiful and easy to read. Slam dunk, baby!)

10. When in doubt, offer tips.

Everyone loves tips. Well, everyone who subscribes to newsletters, anyway. Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly's SpeakerNet News gets read first, every Friday, even before I click on my Salon links. I'm not even a speaker, but (UPDATE 6/17/09: I am now!) It's chock full of excellent tips on stuff like self-promotion, marketing, travel, organizing, systems, etc. In fact, if someone has a newsletter for me that is as good as SNN and has only organizational stuff, I will pay you five American dollars. (I must subscribe to it for at least one month before you receive your prize.)



UPDATE: I just found another great point about what makes a great newsletter in, you guessed it, a newsletter!

11. Don't forget outbound links.

This is kind of a corollary of Rule #1, but enough of a good point to bear mentioning on its own. I like goodies! All people like goodies! Give away goodies! Lots of other good stuff in this article, although the newsletter itself breaks Rule #8, so it doesn't make the hit parade.

Nick Usborne in "Four Ways the Best Newsletters Are Like Blogs," from the newsletter (link)

UPDATE (11/30/07): I'm going to start a list here of additional newsletters to add to the canon:

  • Michael Katz's newsletter (bi-weekly) continues to hold up to the test of time. Great writing, good information, highly motivating. It should be: he wrote the book on it. (And a great book, which I still recommend for people starting out.)
  • Robert Genn's newsletter (bi-weekly) is crafted for fine artists, but great for any kind of creative soul (and possibly, inspiring for those who don't consider themselves creative)
  • The Lefsetz Letter (mostly daily) is a different sort of "newsletter", really, it's blog posts, sent out via an email service. But it's addictive in the best way that newsletters are, filled with interesting things to check out. Bob's beat is the music industry, so if you're in any creative industry undergoing upheaval, you'll find lots of great info here.
  • Power Writing (bi-weekly) Professional writer Daphne Gray-Grant has tons of useful things to say about writing more easily and having more fun doing it.
  • The MOOsletter (bi-weekly) Outstanding tips on marketing from one of the smartest companies around. A joy to read and chock full of awesome, week after week.

Image (and headline) by Eammon via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

the communicatrix elsewhere: bonus GBSBS

GBSBS contributorsThere's a new bonus episode of the Great Big Small Business Podcast up featuring yours truly on online resources. Only I'm calling it a bonehead episode, since a major reason it happened is because I (drumroll, please) emailed my original MP3 contribution to myself.

Clearly, I have no business advising anyone else about business. Other than that, it's all good...

xxx c


the communicatrix elsewhere: The Marketing Mix!

colleen bugToday marks the launch of a new, collaborative venture I'm really excited about. It's called The Marketing Mix, and it's the official blog of Ilise Benun & Peleg Top's amazing coaching and consulting business, Marketing Mentor. Full disclosure: I am not just the webmistress for the Marketing Mentor blog; I'm also a client. I was turned on to Peleg's famous Pricing & Marketing Workshop for designers via uber-networker and class-A unsophisticated bastard, Spencer Cross; it was such a transfomative day that I signed on as a coaching client with his partner, Ilise, almost immediately after that, despite an almost overwhelming skepticism towards coaching as a viable concept.

Color me converted.

In case you haven't noticed from reading communicatrix-dot-com, in the four months since Ilise and I started working together, I...: did (blogging) standup; got my logo and business cards finished; went to 10 networking events and one conference; picked up two new clients; designed a line of Famous Angeleo "trading cards" for, got hired to write a monthly column for actual cash money; did a slot on a brand new podcast (with a business topic, no less) and did all my regular-usual work at the same time.

What's next? Who knows. A long, long nap is in order, that's for sure. Then again, I still don't have the websites up.

And Michael Blowhard has been after me to start a video podcast...

xxx c

Cheering the Hell Up, Day 10: It takes a village to brand a communicatrix

beaneyeslogo Spend ten years writing ads and another ten acting in them and you get very, very good at marketing...


Proof? When I started my little sideline graphic design business, I had the genius idea to name it "BeanEyes Communications", impossible for people to fathom, vaguely embarrassing when they did.

That's only the most obviously idiotic mistake I've made on my road to Financial Solvency Outside Of Acting. I've also isolated myself, underpriced myself and been generally clueless about promotion, position, networking and a host of other really useful aspects of marketing.

But I'm learning. With the help of a number of smart people, including The BF, several hotshot designers and my terrific marketing mentor, I'm overcoming my terminal cleverness and might actually have a viable business one of these days.

So RIP, BeanEyes. Long live communicatrix!

Oh, and happy June...

xxx c

On hummers, moral rectitude and paying the rent

hummerbird.jpg A couple of days ago, I read a brief article/interview with Tim Robbins in this month's issue of Los Angeles magazine. Mostly it just reinforced my impression of Robbins as a smart, talented guy whose impressions of himself are exactly the same, only more so, but there was one item which caught my eye.

Despite the popularity of his 1992 political mockumentary, Bob Roberts, Robbins elected not to release a CD of the original songs created for the film for fear that they might one day be used out of context by the very people he was satirizing. I think of this very real possibility for artists every time I listen to (gulp) the Dr. Laura show on my local yak-radio station, KFI*. Because while some of the musicians whose songs her engineer plays as bumpers might be alright with the implicit endorsement of a rather inflexible if well-meant credo, others would likely be aghast.

I suppose there's no way around it in radio land. I'm not familiar with fair use rules on commercial radio, but I'm guessing that if you or your station pays publishing clearinghouses ASCAP and BMI**, you're allowed to bumper away.

In advertising land, of course, it's a different story. When I started out as a copywriter in the early 1980s, the first uses of boomer pop as boomer bait were just turning up. Naive young pup that I was, I remember being surprised when some people actually took umbrage at the co-opting of "art" for commerce. Me? I figured if someone wanted to sell their shit, that was their own damned business.

I'm [of] divided opinion now. Obviously, for many years I've made my own livelihood has depended upon either shilling directly for The Man or, briefly, filing papers and designing PowerPointâ„¢ presentations for him. I've written and acted in commercials for plenty of superfluous consumer crap products, and in my last day job, I designed the company's greatest presentation ever for one of the most insidious marketing tacks it's been my distaste to come across. On the other hand, I had my limits: I've always refused to work on tobacco products and feminine deoderant products, finding them equally morally reprehensible.

The new limit, it seems, is the Hummer.

While it's unlikely that I'll ever be asked shill for Hummer, plenty of musicians have been approached about it. Poor, struggling, indie musicians, whose tuneage has the gloss of rebel cool Hummer would like to co-opt for its ads. And apparently, they're saying "no" in droves, even the starving ones. "We figured it was almost like giving music to the Army, or Exxon," said one member of a D.C. group, Trans Am.

I'd chalk it up, some of it anyway, to political correctness, only the amounts that were being thrown around were too huge to dismiss, especially for starving artists. They start at about $50K; one went up to $180K. That's a lot of scratch for anyone, but especially for people whose mode of transportation often doubles as their home.

My tolerance level for SUVs falls far short of the Hummer. After years of driving in steel canyons created by the piggy hugemobiles of the drivers surrounding me, I am over the high clearance vehicle, period. If you drive one, basically, you can go fuck yourself. (I make an exception for minivan drivers, who are actually choosing a responsible transportation option for hauling rugrats and for light truck drivers who actually use their truck beds to haul truck-appropriate items.) Tax 'em, make 'em park in the "c" lot ghetto, bar them from carpool lanes unless every seat in the motherfuckers are occupied.

On the other hand, I briefly dated someone who drove an SUV. I've never established a no-fly rule on SUVs with my agent. There are, fortunately, good men out there who still drive sedans (cf The BF) but as money gets harder and harder to make, will it get harder and harder for me to exercise my moral principles? It is one thing to be Tim Robbins and turn down the money; it's another to be an indie rocker or someone with three kids to support or me, in transition, and do it.

I have an audition today for Philip Morris. That's Philip Morris, not its parent company, Altria Group, which also manufactures various food brands. The client declined to give out specific information, a common practice with a new product. So when I got the call, I confirmed with the proviso that if it turned out to be a tobacco product, I was out. Unfortunately, I won't find out what this mysterious new Philip Morris product is until I drive out to Santa Monica and sign the NDA to audition for it. Which means that I might drive 25 miles out of my way today for nothing.

Oh, well. At least I'll be doing it in a Corolla.

xxx c

*More on my love/hate of the strident, inflexible Laura Schlessinger later...

**Bonus little-known fact: I am actually a member of BMI, owing to a filthy little ditty I wrote with Ana Gasteyer about our twats.

UPDATE: The audition was not for a tobacco product, but an anti-tobacco message. I took it, still conflicted, but secure in the knowledge that (a) my getting it is a million-to-one shot; and (b) I'm heading to SXSW the day of the callback, turning that million-to-one shot into a billion-to-one shot.

Photo, "Opinion," by Evan G. via Flickr.

Best of the flyer table

flyertableOne of my continual frustrations as a theater rat with a scrabbly foot in the design world is the unforgivable lack of pretty in most show flyers. They'll pay the lighting designer, they'll pay the costume designer, they'll sure as shit pay the director, they'll get everything on stage looking Sunday-go-to-meetin' purty, and then crap all over themselves with an ill-conceived, poorly designed flyer. It's like my crazy Polish art teacher whined about back in silkscreen class: the packaging on materials being sold to artists is among the dullest and horsiest design there is. Ah, sweet irony. (Of course, I say this knowing full well that our website is among the ugliest in town, but I'm not web-proficient enough to do anything about that end of the design thing. So there.) [UPDATE 10/9/07: our beautiful new site, designed by me and developed by Jen Rocha, is available for viewing here.]

Anyway, out of the (no lie) 25+ (!!!) flyers on Evidence Room's box office entry table, above left are the few I found that I wish I'd done myself. Designers, feel free to step forward and introduce yourselves:

  • REDCAT's tasty season brochure. Yum, yum. Of course, they've got funding out the wazoo and ties to one of the West coast's greatest art communities. They'd be stoned for anything less than stellar design.
  • Jon Rivera's Dogeaters flyer. Great use of oversize medium, color and imagery. Love the crazy low-end Photoshop work on Imelda's eyes, too.
  • For juicy, juicy printing alone, the flyer for Phacts of Life (show running at The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's Renberg Theater). Chris Rooney did the design; may have to email him for his printer's digits. The show looks kinda cute, too, and features the always-hilarious Sam Pancake and a stellar roster of guest stars: Mink Stole, Kate Flannery and Mike Hitchcock.
  • Finally, I just plain liked the image on the flyer advertising Todd Noel's work. Not as nuts about the rest of the stuff on his site (and not crazy about the font the Toddster chose for the flyer, either), but it got me to type in a URL and click, which is more than most of those flyer jockeys do.

xxx c

"Drive, drive, drive; branding, branding, branding."

admanBack in the go-go '80s, my art director and I made silk purses out of some serious sow's-ear assignments and so were let into the inner sanctum: pitching spots for the second pool of a wildly successful TV campaign for the agency's big, fat American car account.

The campaign was the first (yes, really) to use Boomer music to sell to Boomers. It was such a radical notion back then that many of the artists passed on the opportunity to score cash, either for fear of compromising their art or of tarnishing their image among their fanbase (i.e., diluting their own brand). Hell, it was such a new thing, maybe no one knew what to ask for. End result was the client had to pay scads of money for really expensive soundalikes for many, many executions.


Kate (art director) & I were pretty passionate about creating good work back then, and, in my Virgo-perfectionist-good girl way, I was even then concerned with adhering to Campaign Strategy, Brand Personality and Unique Selling Proposition. Not really a problem; to the contrary, I enjoy working within the confines of an assignment way more than blue-sky creativity. Blank pages make me panicky.

And we could be mostly honest! The cars had been restyled to look hipper. They had even re-engineered some stuff to make better and stuff. So we wrote spots to tell (boomer) America how these cars were made just for them, with (boomer) music and (boomer-relevant) stories to match. But for the client, there was always one thing missing: enough "branding."

We puzzled and puzzled over this: the campaign had, we thought, successfully redefined the brand. People were talking about it (buzz), people were buying cars (sales), what exactly was the problem here?

Our older, wiser creative director, a real Car Guy from the three-martini-lunch days, explained: frames on the storyboard that featured close-ups of the car brand doohickey affixed to the vehicle. Lots of them. So we added them, alternating them with driving shots, until there was an acceptable ratio. Which Kate, as an Advertising & Branding Specialist, would point out when she took the clients through the visuals: "Drive, drive, drive; branding, branding, branding."

So the magical, mythical marketing tool of "branding" came down to this: two young women slapping more product shots on a storyboard so we could get this sucker in the hands of directors, producers and stylists who would do the real work of making this product seem meaningful to the consumer. And this was considered successful branding. By everyone. At least, everyone I came in contact with back then.

And in a way, it was. The process (of advertising, movies, film, etc) has become so transparent to consumers that even the hipper advertising of the 1970s, 1980s & 1990s seems quaint, if not outright camp. The emperor is buck naked; branding is dead. Hugh MacLeod speaks of it elegantly (and way more concisely) here. (He'll also lead you to lots more great links on the topic because he's good like that.)

I've no doubt that as the marketplace has shifted, the processes at agencies have gotten more sophisticated to try to adapt to the new reality. I doubt that our impertinent display of cynicism would be tolerated in a meeting, especially a client meeting, today.

But while I've been out of the development game for awhile, I'm still a consumer. And an employee: I act in these masterpieces of marketing that I then see on TV (as often as possible, I hope, if they're airing National Network). And I gotta say, I think there are still a lot of marketing peeps out there more interested in ramming a USP down someone's throat than they are in initiating a dialogue.