Write like a pro: 1 of 6

Thousands of bloggers and guru wannabes tell you to write great content. Many also share their rehashed “wisdom” about what to write.


Forget the snake oil salesmen. Instead, steal these five proven, actionable and customizable content tips. They’re based on the experience of an award-winning journalist and former newspaper editor who began writing 50 years ago.

And my business training/public speaking experience makes them useful for better presentations and webinars, too.

Writing can be fun and productive. If you can’t find time to apply these proven principles, stop writing immediately!  Fill your site or blog with pretty pictures instead. Posting lousy content is less productive than postng nothing.

  1. Set a high quality standard, and hold yourself to it.
    1. Whatever you write–everything from a tag line to white paper or article–should be clear, concise and compelling. Plan your piece using a Mind Map to improve its flow; keep your words, sentences and paragraphs breathtakingly short; rely on your ears to tell you if what you’ve written is true and direct. And merciless eliminate anything that’s fluffy, confuding or opaque.
    2. A good written piece is like a great conversation–always rich with relevance, proof and value.
      1. To add relevance, “listen” closely to your audience (in LinkedIn groups, etc) before you begin “talking.” And avoid the pronouns “I,” “me” etc.–you aren’t relevant to any stranger; just make sure your ideas and suggestions are.
      2. To increase credibility, load your content with social proof or other evidence that you know what you’re talking about. Always show, don’t tell.
      3. Readers already have hundreds of ways to spend their precious time. They only keep reading when you give plenty of take-away value. Invite them to steal those hard-won secrets you’re sharing. If you’re good you have plenty other great stuff, anyway.

And remember, the more you listen, the better you’ll write.

[Tomorrow: “Hook ‘em, don’t overload ‘em”]

A team for the ages

Two afternoons a week I become a kid again, as a volunteer advisor for a small but dynamic team of fourth and fifth graders in a YMCA after-school program at William L. Cobb Elementary School in San Francisco. We’re the Newspaper Club.

Besides giving me a chance to work with some great kids, it’s teaching me a lot about the nature of social media team dynamics.

This isn’t baby-sitting. Trying to publish our school newspaper by Thanksgiving is challenging for many reasons. Here are just a few:

  1. Only one of the kids–an Asian boy–comes for every session. Even our Editor In Chief misses one now and then. They might love being in the group, but something more immediately appealing tends to come up.
  2. For preteens, every day lasts a lifetime. So their interests, energy and capabilities change completely between sessions. They lose interest or a train of thought between sessions–often even between thoughts.
  3. Half the students don’t even stay for the full 40 minutes. Yesterday one “reporter” was just getting started, finally writing an article, when her mother came to take her home; another left 15 minutes later.
  4. Every kid has a different reason to be there. A couple of them are excited to see their names on a published piece. One student who’s too smart and capable to succeed in a normal school environment loves exploring her leadership potential. Another girl will pout and drag her feet whenever her best friend isn’t there.
  5. The overworked classroom computers don’t always work. They may be missing Word, or turn off and on for no reason, or spring other technical difficulties on us. And it isn’t unusual for an article to just vanish, so reporters often have to start over from scratch.
  6. As their advisor or leader, whatever doesn’t get finished is my responsibility to fix, complete or recreate. My authority is based completely on my ability to help the kids when they need it. Achieving anything else–preparing students to become better readers and writers, more confident and able leaders, etc.–is a wonderful goal that I don’t realistically have the time or resources to meet.

That’s life in an after-school program for inner city kids. And it’s how life is shaping up for professionals, managers or workers in the social media age.

I’m determined to make this brief, unruly and lively experience pay off for these extraordinary youngsters. Whatever team, group or company you happen to be a part of, expect to face similar challenges and reap similar rewards.

Everyone you work with, or who buys your products/services, expects their experience to be personal, temporary and tactically rewarding. My newspaper club is an extreme example of future enterprises, and very close to what you’ll be part of in the near future. Maybe even tomorrow.

Mission statements and crusade statements

Many individuals and business owners have what they consider mission statements. What they usually have are vapid “crusade” statements.

That’s too bad. The internet age makes it possible for an extraordinary mission statement to “go viral” and spark a movement; or at least coalesce a great business tribe. A crusade statement only labels you as a self-absorbed, unimaginative follower.

History books remind us of the difference. Over the centuries, the best leaders had such a powerful sense of mission, they eventually made life better for many men and women. Crusaders only made things worse for anybody within their reach.

Of course, a poorly conceived mission statement is merely our innocent attempt to communicate what makes our business unique and extraordinary. But it often accomplishes the exact opposite of what we intended: it just inspires the best people to keep looking.

Luckily, within a few minutes of finishing that unworthy attempt we can dig beneath the glib phrases and discover our true mission. And digging for a more subtle and elusive statement is always worth the effort.

Try these five easy steps.

  1. Forget all the time and effort you put into your existing statement. Read it aloud as if it just occurred to you (recording may help).
  2. Check for a pulse in your statement. Does reading it make your voice rise with excitement and commitment? Probably not, since it was an intellectual exercise.
  3. So add persuasive personal details about why you’re in this business, until you can feel the excitement in your voice. What great outcomes are you on the verge of achieving?
  4. Quickly write down whatever you said just before the excitement became noticeable. It may have nothing to do with your industry, but everything to do with why your business is worth the effort (finding a cure for cancer? making people more fulfilled and productive? helping people connect and get more productive?). If it isn’t in your own words, you’ll hear the excitement escaping like air from a flat. Keep going.
  5. Rewrite your magic phrase until a kid could understand it. Clear, concise and compelling. Now that’s a mission statement! Throw away that useless earlier attempt, or use it in a sales pitch. The crusade’s over, but your new movement is just beginning.
(This subject came up during a daily call with a terrific internet marketing coach, Jarom Adair. Do your online business a big favor and check out www.imfbo.com!)

Putting It Bluntly

A few minutes ago, during a Skype conversation with an online service provider, he thanked me for being direct and honest in my comments about his website content.

“Anything less,” I typed, “and I’d be wasting your time.”

Matt replied, “The world would be a better place if more people understood that! haha.”

We all try to cram as much as possible into our overheated schedules, and jealously guard every minute. We get irritated when people waste our time with frivolous comments, and patently irrelevant or clueless messages.

Yet we think nothing of sharing pointless information and self-important “wisdom,” that is only valuable to the kind of procrastinator who’ll read anything because it allows him or her to put off doing something meaningful.

Being pompous, pointless and presumptive in real-life conversations is unacceptable behavior, but being a human smoke machine has became the norm in online communications. We’re much too concerned about being misunderstood or judged, and much less focused on being productive, than is healthy. Here’s a time-tested way to avoid attracting people with nothing to offer you in return:

  1. Make sure you understand the interests and goals of the person or people you’re talking to
  2. Think about what information or insights they would find helpful
  3. Start at the beginning, continue until you’re finished saying what you have to say, then stop. On a dime.

If you can’t routinely follow this process, you’re much more self-indulgent, unproductive and lazy than you think.

To put it bluntly.


Supercharge your business plan

Face it, your last marketing plan was probably a waste of money, time and effort.

Designed to attract funding and help a business develop a cohesive business strategy/game plan, it failed on both counts–unless you’re well-heeled enough to have hired an expensive consulting firm.

Hundreds of experts hawk templates and consulting services to small and medium sized businesses. But according to a Growthink report, fewer than one percent of the business plans streaming across the desks of venture capitalists are funded. Even Angel investors, with stronger reasons to support a business, fund only 11% of the plans presented to them.

And the chances of this trend reversing in the near future: slim to none. The number of SBA loans has decreased 56% or more over the last few years. Business failure is more common than ever: 80% of new businesses go under within 5 years, and 91% within ten years.

This isn’t only about entrepreneurs. The revenues of larger businesses has remained flat over the past five years.

Every business needs a business plan to gain funding, credibility and reliable strategies. But the plans being written today follow outdated models and push anemic, unpersuasive “happy talk” arguments.

Companies still overlook the main goal of any successful business or marketing plan: making it easy for readers to know, like and trust them.

And in a turbulent business environment, the plan must provide hope for the business owner. More than simply offering a bunch of answers, it should give him or her new confidence, minimizing the risk of reaching a decision and optimizing their willingness and capability to engage.

It must help a business deal with an always dynamic, uncertain and surprising marketplace.

The bad news is that no other solution addresses this need, and shows you how to answer it convincingly. The good news is likedandtrusted.com.

Why Entrepreneurs Fail

Almost every entrepreneur has worked for someone else, and didn’t enjoy the experience.

They still remember having to do tasks they weren’t good at, and weren’t trained to do well. What they did well wasn’t appreciated.

Some manager or executive made the plans and decisions, jealously guarding their access to the reins of power.

And many higher-ups got paid a lot more money for doing what seemed like just a bit more work.

The first chance they get, these entrepreneurs escaped the system to start their own businesses. Unfortunately, many fail because they never define an alternative dream:

They still believe that success comes from a better plan, and wielding enough authority to make it work.

That was good enough a few decades ago, but today’s success stories have a very different plot.

They are built instead around a strong sense of mission, energized by strong personal responsibility to our supporters.

Even people who understand how things have changed still mimic the managers they couldn’t wait to get away from. Why? Because it’s easier.

Hundreds of experts tell us how to construct solid plans. And thousands of motivational gurus assure us that we deserve the authority to manage those plans profitably.

All those successful people rarely even mention the importance of “missions” and other intangibles–except their own, ad nauseum.

Defining and communicating our mission, and being responsible to those around us, may seem to lead us down a lonely, poorly defined road.

But there are proven, fulfilling and inclusive techniques available. Let’s get started.

To fit in, stand out.

Three essential requirements for any business today are:

  • To make it easier for people to know, like and trust you,
  • To establish a Unique Selling Proposition or value of your product or service, and
  • To communicate your unique qualities and value so nobody will confuse you with the competition.

Showing why your business is special will make customers and prospects feel more special when doing business with you. The underlying message of every marketing campaign is still “we’re different.”

Yet most Americans also prefer working with someone who proves their ability to work effectively with other companies and customers. The hidden message of every proof statement is “we fit in.”

Most marketing material reflects one or the other message: “we’re different” or “we fit in.” Banks and insurance companies project an image of stability and deliberate action, reminding us how they support traditional values without taking risks. High-tech companies or fashion houses, on the other hand, project an image of creativity and willingness to work outside the box: ”damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead.”

In a sense, banks and insurance companies perform like passenger jetliners, trying to make as few mistakes as possible so they’ll attract a risk-averse customer base, focused on reaching the destination safely. While high-tech companies and fashion houses resemble “Top Gun” pilots. They push the envelope and worry less about risk than banality as they get the job done.

Small businesses in the social media age must be careful about their message: they talk to many people who are hearing about them for the first time. And every marketing piece only has a few seconds to make a positive first impression.

Should a business market its intrinsic qualities (personal appeal, sense of responsibility etc.) or strong corporate attributes (track record, accomplishments and so on)?

The trend these days is away from stability and toward innovation and risk taking–even financial institutions, BP oil etc. are less concerned about risk. But we still seek businesses that help us breathe more easily and avoid anxiety or uncertainty.

For any small business in our dynamic “convergence culture,” there’s a lot riding on the quality of the brand. It must instantly suggest a dedication to people, alongside a commitment to systems that work well and continue to improve. It should make us think that everyone in your business is customer-centric and working on the same page, too.

Such nuanced, balanced messaging is new to most business owners. They need something different and cutting-edge. An easily implemented, non-disruptive and very inclusive process to help build a new, social-media friendly brand from the inside out.

Let’s discover your uniqueness, while conveying a proven ability to set and achieve goals. We’ll give you the tools and process to do that. You’ll enjoy the steady growth and glowing reputation.

“When three joggers ran across the Sahara . . . “

The 2007 documentary feature film “Running the Sahara” gives a fascinating close-up view of an almost unimaginable expedition. Three runners–one from Taiwan, one Canadian and one American–jogged 7,500 kilometers across the Sahara without stopping, for 111 days.

In addition to their sometimes crippling physical effort, the three men allowed themselves and their very dedicated support team to be filmed as they struggled against heat, cold, and indecisive governments to reach their goal of touching the Red Sea.

The film’s almost microscopic record of their very human strengths and weaknesses provides many lessons for entrepreneurs, which I plan to write about some day soon. It also points out some of the pitfalls and barriers shared by too many American startups.

Based on the documentary, all three men overcame huge psychological and physical odds. Their initial shared passion to succeed gradually morphed into expressions of more personal passions, priorities and perspectives, as days turned into grueling weeks and months.

The Taiwanese runner was sustained by his years of training, as well as unselfish support from his girlfriend and a dozen friends who’d flown from Taipei to be with him in the journey’s last leg. The Canadian strengthened his resolve to help create and maintain programs bringing water to African deserts, and environmental consciousness to students around the world. Meanwhile, the American finished the race wondering how far ahead of his teammates he could get.

Of course it’s wrong to stereotype or judge, based on one record of one trio’s very unusual experience. And maybe years spent teaching international business culture leads me to jump to conclusions. But I don’t think the American runner’s consistent personalization of this enormous team project, supported by dozens of dedicated people, is atypical. It’s just one more hurdle many American entrepreneurs must overcome–the self-aggrandizing tendency to overlook others’ potential and efforts so we can magnify our personal achievements and generate greater profits.

This national characteristic, noted as long ago as in 1831 by Alexis de Tocqueville, obviously served us well for centuries, and helped turn the US into a preeminent world power. But it also contributed to our proud nation’s crippling economic meltdown.

Moving into a new decentralized age, in which teamwork and “paying it forward” are becoming the hallmarks of success, each of us should acknowledge and resist a tendency to make short-sighted and self-centered business decisions. This tendency hobbled the American runner’s dream of glory, and can do the same to our growth potential.

In other words, always think of success as a group effort, rather just asking others to do it.

Somebody To Love

Yesterday I had a great conversation with a charming European lady who has enjoyed a stellar career as controller, financial advisor and tax consultant. For decades, she used her talent with numbers and hard-nosed analysis to succeed as an employee, consultant and financial services provider.

She recently decided to put her enthusiasm to more good use, becoming an entrepreneur in an entirely new industry. So over lunch we worked on a “brand” for her new venture.

Last week I’d shown her my original personal development process, which has helped many individuals and a company or two create a new professional or business persona for themselves. And now, digging into a savory Ruben sandwich, she was amazed to discover a powerful yet overlooked talent.

This talent would help her authentically engage with future prospects and customers. It would also make work more fulfilling and enjoyable. And as a big bonus, help her honor two extraordinary people–her mother and grandmother–by “channeling” their ability to tell a great tale.

She’s actually a gifted story-teller. And since everyone responds to a great story, perfecting this newly discovered skill will help her nurture more profitable business relationships.

Like 99% of us, she’s spent her life overlooking what she’s truly capable of, and can offer to clients and friends. For most of her life her comfort zone was bounded by society’s two-dimensional definition of who she is and what she’s really worth.

Most of my clients have had similar breakthrough experiences. For example, one experienced telecom manager and officer in the Air Force Reserve discovered a new calling as a counselor to teenagers.

They’re both doing more than learning how to persuade prospects and customers to know, like and trust them. They’re discovering a powerful new reason to like and trust themselves.

She is one more person who has met somebody to love. Herself.

Making Decisions, for Fun & Profit

It gets easier for us to do nothing all the time.

Opting out used to be much more difficult. We were only expected to make a meaningful decision every few days at most, because most decisions had usually already been made for us. Our education, family background or income determined how we lived and what real choices we had about what to do or how to act.

Moving to a new house or job. Getting married or divorced. Choosing a school for our kids or a political party to support.

Back then, whenever we had to make a decision more people noticed and cared. Their own decisions often depended on what we were doing. And when a letter could take a week or more to reach someone else’s mailbox, and long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive, we had much more time to gather facts and weigh possible courses of action.

But now, many big decisions must be made in a matter of seconds. We almost never have time to collect reliable information, much less talk it over with family or trusted advisors. Within just the last few years search engines have become decision engines. We can narrow our choices down to a couple of products or companies before we finish reading the first page of search results. We can even share news about our personal relationships with a digital “It’s complicated.”

Our friends and family feel pressured to make decisions at a supersonic clip almost every hour, too. They’re much less likely to notice what we decide–or if we’ve decided not to make a decision.

In this environment, it’s easy to find people telling us what we should do. Complete strangers urge us to confirm our instant decision by sending them some hard-earned money, without taking time to carefully consider alternatives.

“Decision fatigue” is even described in mainstream media as a prevalent social problem, which leads us to make big decisions without any due diligence, or even a second opinion.

We each need a place to get thoughtful, dependable advice from successful and caring people. Where we can make important decisions about what to do when we’re ready. It might be the last place you’d look. It’s definitely worth looking for.