Embracing the tiny, Day 13: Slightly better

how to take a great photo with a point and shoot, by felicia perretti Early last year, I started touring my little how-to-market-yourself-without-being-a-tool talk at a series of conferences hosted by the American Society for Media Photographers (ASMP).

I like to keep things lively, so I tend to use a lot of photos, much as I do here on the bloggity-blog. And, because I've never been especially good—okay, because I've sucked at taking photos, I've tended to use a lot of screencaps or terrific photos from Flickr to do the illustrating.

But occasionally, I cannot find the image I'm looking for elsewhere, and am forced to come up with it myself. This is how a truly horrible photo of a truly awesome thank-you note ended up in the presentation.

horrible photo of a nice thank-you note

My point was—and is—that all the fancy visual branding in the world does you no good unless you have great behavior to back it up. In this case, Chris Guillebeau combines great visual identity work (designed for him by the delightful Reese Spykerman) with the right action of sending a handwritten thank-you note, something he did for every single one of the 500 attendees of the first conference he hosted. It turned what was essentially a piece of collateral marketing (albeit a pretty one—yay, Reese!) into a meaningful memento. And really, that's what you want to do with all of your marketing: create stuff that either literally or metaphorically passes The Fridge Test.*

I did the best I could with my shaky skills and rudimentary equipment, then tacked on a self-deprecating credit line at the bottom, "Horrible photo taken by yours truly" and turned my nonexistent skillz into a joke. Because (a), play to your strengths, and (b), always head 'em off at the pass.

What I did not expect was for an enthusiastic young photographer named Felicia Perretti to bound up to me after the talk in Philadelphia and assure me in no uncertain terms that I could learn to take better photos, even with "just" a point-and-shoot, and that she could show me how. She seemed sincere enough, but as it was a heat-of-the-moment situation, I did not take it seriously. Nor did I take it seriously when she followed up with emails #1,2, and 3, a few days, weeks, and months after the presentation.

four tips on taking better photos

It was not until I received a birthday card in the mail—hand-drawn, with individual tips and a likeness of me holding a point-and-shoot camera—that I realized this girl not only was a woman of her word, but that she truly found joy in turning people on to the incredible things she'd already learned.

tips! on taking better photos

So when I had to expand my presentation from 60 minutes to 90 (and from 211 slides to 300!), naturally, the first great marketing story I had to add was the one about how selfless actions can end up being the best kind of marketing there is. Because some eight months after a sincere offer to help, Felicia Perretti was now a fixture in the canon, her name, story, and website plastered all over screens everywhere as an example of Doing It Right.

the author as as a happy Weegie

There is no guarantee that a small thing you do will make any difference in someone else's life, much less have a huge ripple effect. If you are using actions as lottery tickets, stop it now. (Or don't, but know that's what you're doing.)

But the things you are moved to do, big or small, "successful" or "failed",  will always make a difference to you. After almost eight years of writing posts here, I can promise you that. Many, many times when I hit the "publish" button, I was sure that THIS post was (god help us all) going to be the one that ignited the blogosphere, that THIS brilliant thought would make me, would usher in fame and fortune. No such luck—which is good, because it would have been the shittiest kind of luck.

It is not what ignites or explodes or propagates that matters. It is scribbling in journals, doodling on margins, pausing to take a photo—and another, and another, and then, applying the Rule of Thirds, thoughtfully, another—that matters. Conscious effort to improve yourself, your world, and the way you interact with it. Meaningful work, engagement with other life forms, and, as I am finally (finally!) on the verge of learning, having some damned fun in your life.

I have good teachers. Thanks to them, I am slightly better than I was last year, last month, last week, a moment ago.

And, god willing and the creek don't rise, I'll be slightly better than that tomorrow.

xxx c

This is Day 13 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Click through to see the full series of how-to photos on Flickr.

Knowing you're getting your money's worth [video]


[Watch "Entertainment Book Hack" on YouTube; 1:45, I'm gettin' there!]

One of the most baffling (but flattering) bits of feedback I kept getting last year was that I should post more videos.

WHATEVER. I mean, who watches videos when they can read? Only, well, I get it. There's a je ne sais quoi about seeing someone on video, where the "quoi" is "you get a much better real-time feel for what they're really like." And not everyone can come to the excellent and lively Biznik mixers I host out here in Los Angeles, or to SXSW, or wherever, so there you go. Me, out loud and in your damned face, from the comfort of your desk. Or the couch, if you're on an iPad.

I will try like crazy to keep these like me, on the short side, but as you know if you've met me in person, I am one loquacious motherf*cker. This one clocks in at 1:45, which ain't bad. On the other hand, there's probably :15  worth of actual info, so, you know, not great, either.


I have been buying those stupid Entertainment Books for years, since getting roped in by a fellow Toastmaster who was helping his Girl Scout daughter raise money.

The cover of this thing says "OVER $18,200 IN SAVINGS," but frankly, if you ate that much fast food and saw that many stupid Hollywood blockbusters, you'd need twice that amount in colon hydrotherapy, plus a good smack upside the head.

Still, theoretically there are enough good deals in there for most of us IF we plan carefully and use them. So this year, I'm taking it out of the theoretical and into the measurable. You can, too. Here's how:

  1. Affix large Post-It type sticky note to front of book.
  2. Write down amount paid for book.
  3. Each time you realize savings, write down the item/date/amount.
  4. Add up at end of year and see if you've been a sucker or a smarty-pants. (NB: I have not done this part yet.)

That's it!

As per usually, feel free to leave comments and suggestions here, or email me if you're feeling shy: colleen AT communicatrix DOT com.

And if you have awesome money-saving tips to share with other frugal types, do leave them in the comments.

Oh, most importantly, if you have ideas for things you think would make good videos, please please please let me know. Until I learn to orient myself toward video thinking, it's gonna be an uphill slog.



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.

There's only one secret to increased productivity

sleeping on the day job It's not often I get tagged for memes of a business nature. But spiritual business coach par excellence, Mark Silver, saw through my fluffy exterior and knew I'd have something to add to the best productivity tips in all the land, the rapidly escalating group effort to corral the best of entrepreneurial wisdom by my former Great Big Small Business Show collaborator, Ben Yoskovitz. So here goes nothin'...

You don't have to explain the beauty of a project like this to a listmaker. We revel in lists: the how-to, to-do, tip-mad fests that other people put together. We live for memes, boy howdy.

What intrigued me most about this exercise was the one limitation placed on those of us who saw fit to pick up the gauntlet: Challenge yourself to pick one. Because, of course, the delicious truth is, while there are many excellent "hacks" to improve productivity, my number one tip is to choose the one that works for you.

Yup, that's it...suckers.

No, seriously, it's deceptively simple, for it means spending some time identifying what's tripping me up at any given moment. And yes, it also means I need to reassess from time to time, because my barriers to productivity shift, as well. What trips me up Monday, lack of sleep, say, or needing an injection of Karin's fun after a weekend of too much work and not enough play, may not be the issue on Tuesday, when I'll about needing to do some of the "sprints" that Dawud Miracle mentions, or Hump Day, when I'd give my right arm for some of Monk-at-Work Adam Kayce's clarity.

Of course, I won't cop out there; I'll play nice and share One Great Thing I've found that's been working for me lately. (Which I know, I know, makes this post technically about two tips, but my #1 tip is so meta, it makes my head swim.)

Are you ready for this life-changing, earth-shattering Tip of Tips?

Keep things tidy.

Yes, literally by keeping my desk clear, or at least, of all jobs but the one I have going right that second, and my surroundings neat and the dishes done and every other stupid, mundane thing my Swedish grandmother told me mattered back in 1964, when I got fobbed off on her during my parents' second honeymoon, actually makes a difference.

Hi-Baby, the CEO. Who knew?

xxx c

P.S. They may have been tagged already, this meme's been bubbling for a few days, but I'm tagging:

  • Ilise Benun (because coaches always have the best tips)
  • Scott Ginsburg (because that whippersnapper has output that puts people twice his age to shame)
  • Rebecca Morgan (because to keep so many plates spinning, she must be a productivity guru)
  • Bonnie Gillespie (because girlfriend could write four books on productivity in the time it took me to write this), and...
  • Danny Miller (mainly because I don't think anyone ever asks him any business-y questions either, but even if he knows nothing about productivity, which I'm sure ain't so, he is one of my all-time favorite writers)

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

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.

More about me(me)

Being a bossy, self-involved chick who's all about the unsolicited 411, I'm way lovin' this this meme from Jon Strande, of 100 Bloggers fame (which reminds me, I must get my butt in gear).

  • What do you do? - Current (commercial) actress. Former (and, for rare clients, current) copywriter. Budding designer. Aspiring communicatrix (a pundit-like position I imagine will fuse all of these, way, shape or form, TBD).
  • What are the challenges? - Keeping my head from exploding.
  • How do you overcome them? - By excluding from my life that which is neither useful nor beautiful.
  • What is a typical day like? - No such thing, really, allthough a "median" day might include an audition, some writing, a bit of design work and, hopefully, some form of head-clearing stuff: a walk, a trip to the gym, a lie-down...
  • How do you manage information? (Email, Blogs, etc) - TypePad hosts my blog, love that UI! I like Entourage for my main email and use gmail and Yahoo! accounts for public interface. I swear by the bucket method of brain emptying/information collection that David Allen outlines in the most excellent Getting Things Done; my Palm and the lined notebook(s) I always carry with me are my main buckets. I use NewsFire for my RSS feeds locally and Bloglines on the road. I am a geek; I make no apologies for this...
  • What are your 3 or 5 favorite books The Artist's Way - life change ain't easy, but it's always worth it Factotum - Buk is my go-to guy when I'm feeling blue The Razor's Edge - I gave my crappy honors thesis novella the same title out of undying undergrad lust for Maugham Bread and Jam for Frances - if you've got a kid, go buy it; if you don't, go buy it anyway Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life - whether or not you believe in feng shui, you must admit that to focus intention on something changes it...and I got two checks for $10,000 each when I focused on my kitchen/prosperity bagua
  • What are your favorite web sites/blogs? I'm always happy when I see updates to the feeds from Gawker, michaelnobbs-dot-com and Crossroads Dispatches. I wish 2Blowhards had a feed.
  • What tools/technology do you use? - PowerMac G5 (mostly Photoshop, Quark XPress, Final Draft and MS Word), G4 PowerBook
  • What's your favorite quote? - "Every valuable human being must be a radical and a rebel for what he must aim at is to make things better than they are." , Niels Bohr
  • What is your "secret to success"? - You don't have to be the brightest kid on the block if you're willing to work ten times harder than the one who is.
  • What are your greatest accomplishments? Personal? Professional? - Learning to live in the present.
  • What are your hobbies? Or, how do you break the monotony and stay energized? - After too many years of tedium, I'm happy to report that there is no monotony in my life. But when I need a break, I bust out the guitar, the sketchbook (this is a new one, for which I owe a debt of gratitude to Michael and Brenton), take a long walk or unplug and curl up with a book. The thing that energizes me most is connecting with kindred spirits, a long talk with one of my gals, a birthday party for which fifty of my closest friends come out on a school night, being in the loving arms of a brilliant cast in a genius piece of art.

Grab the Q's, add your own A's (on your own blog, if you fancy, or in the comments if you don't). Don't forget to trackback me and Jon if you're a bloggin' baby.

In other words, share the love. In case you hadn't heard, it's the answer...

xxx c

List #1: Shake That Funk!

Since my brush with death (well, okay, my brush with losing my colon) and subsequent epiphany two years ago, I'm a pretty happy gal 99.99% of the time. No lie.

I have not, however, reached that zen-like state of peace wherein the joy with which I greet each morning stays unflaggingly through a Day of Horror.

There are many things that bring me joy, but many of them require time (Caddyshack, trip to New York), money (shopping, trip to New York), or serendipity (random compliments, first date that blows your doors off, seeing that asshat Expedition get pulled over 1/2 mile down the I-10 for blowing through the on-ramp light in the carpool lane).

Plus, sometimes I'm not really even looking for joy. Sometimes, not-funk will do me just fine.

Also, making lists is one of those things that makes me happy. Heck, even reading other people's lists makes me happy.

So here are five things I've discovered that not only will shake your funk, but will often leave your home looking better, cleaner and more organized than before. The hawk-eyed will note a repetitive quality to most of the items. That's because these are really meditations in disguise. There's a monkey-work thing to occupy the chattery part of your brain so the real you can re-calibrate and get some goddam (mental) peace and quiet. As my first shrink/astrologer liked to say, meditation doesn't have to mean parking your ass on a cushion.

Five Ways to Shake Your Funk, Domestic-Goddess Style

  1. Wash all* your dishes. By hand.
  2. Scrub your tile grout with bleach** and a toothbrush.
  3. Iron your sheets***.
  4. Shampoo your wall-to-wall carpet...with a hand-held spot cleaner.
  5. Sew something. Curtains seems to work the best, since they have long seams. (NOTE: Do not sew curtains made from burlap with a chiffon
    backing, no matter how good an idea it seems at the time.)


*This works really well because generally, the dishes have piled up in direct proportion to the size of the funk.

**Actually, I use all-purpose cleaner with bleach, but go ahead and be as environmentally conscious, or not, as you want. Mother Earth will do better with your head screwed on right.

***Only works with all-cotton sheets. If you dig percale, substitute window-washing or vertical-blind cleaning. And never iron dirty sheets! Ew! Stinky!