Why I’m A Coward

04fWe all have something that we really want in our lives. Perhaps it is a dream that we actively and purposefully ignore; maybe it is something just on the periphery of our awareness. In my opinion, either we are honest about what we really want or we allow ignorance of it to guide our actions.

For me, it is wanting to be a screenwriter.

I’ve found a way to work on my own terms and make money; I’ve created a universe where I can write novels and short stories, while working freelance, without having to show up to a traditional 9-5 job. Even so, if I’m being honest, I have failed to really pursue what I want to do.

It is right there, in the forefront of my mind, when I wake up every morning.

It is right there, within reach, in everything I do.

But I don’t go after it.

Why? Fear.

I’m afraid of what it will cost me to pursue it.

Or at least what I think it will cost me.

I make excuses about not wanting to move to LA or put my wife in the position of us not making enough money. I talk about wanting to be able to provide a standard of living as a means to not jump in with both feet. The reality is that it is achievable if I wanted it bad enough; if I wanted more than I wanted comfort, more than I wanted to succumb to fear and let it guide my behavior.

I’m a chicken-shit when it comes to the thing I will regret as I lay dying.

Sure, I’ve published a lot of books and I’ve manged a modicum of success. However, I talk about becoming successful enough with my books that Hollywood will take notice. If I were being truly fearless, I would doggedly pursue that dream, hustling and working toward it without regard for failure. I wouldn’t wait for my success and my dream to overlap. I would go out and get, leaving nothing on the table when I do.

I wanted to end this with something powerful like no more or  I will pursue it now that I have laid it bare. But really, I remain afraid of upsetting what I have. I will continue down the path of least resistance, holding the idea with me each day that my dream will remain beyond my reach as long as I don’t pursue it. I will continue to be honest about not pursuing it, but will likely remain afraid to go after it in some misguided notion of homeostasis.

I will live a great life with the woman I love, but I will always know that I was too scared to pursue the personal goal that, objectively, would not have upset my life, but more than likely given a rich texture to it I would have cherished.

I will continue to be a coward hiding behind a veil of simpler personal success accented by easy-to-attain personal goals that are easier to recover from if I fail.

I can do better.

You, dear reader, don’t have to be a coward like me.

Take chances. Chase your dreams.

The Psychological Advantage

Business-Psychology-Learning-how-to-Make-your-Products-Stand-out-to-Potential-CustomersAccording to Forbes, 39.2% of psychology majors coming right out of college had an offer for a job somewhere. Of course, the knowledge and skill base of your average graduate is pretty variable, but it does speak to the utility of a background in psychology. Most companies, at some point or another, fall into a trap of the latest psychological-metric trend guaranteed to increase growth and productivity, or lend a hand to HR in order to hire the right folks.

However, let’s talk about using psychology to your benefit.

Watson and Skinner, the pioneers of behaviorism, taught us a lot about human behavior and how to understand behavioral contingencies. It was Skinner, however, who gifted us operant conditioning and a quick path to behavior modification that could yield actionable goal-setting (and adherence) behavior.

Alright, let’s back up.

That was a lot of jargon coming at your fast.

Understand the behavior. So what is that you are trying to do? Be accurate and honest here. Are you trying to write more every day? Do you want more conversions from your marketing campaign? Do you want to be more productive and complete more things on your to-do list? Whatever the thing is that you want to do, define it, and describe it well.

Salient, powerful reward. This is really the tricky part for program adherence. When we think of rewarding ourselves, we generally land on something that we could do without, or something we have a lot of ways to get. What you want to do is choose something specific, salient, and powerful; and by that I mean something that you couldn’t go through the day without. How about an example? A good friend of mine really wanted to finish the novel he had been talking about for a decade. The problem was: he didn’t make the time; and he lacked the discipline to stick to a writing schedule. He asked me what he could do differently since I am a productivity and discipline junkie. I asked what he did every day; he shrugged. As we were sitting over coffee, I noticed that he checked his phone a few times. I asked him what had captured his attention. Apparently, he had become addicted to one of those app games where you built little towns and went to war with other players. He explained that if he didn’t check in often, his town and little digital population would be decimated. That was the a-ha moment: I had successfully found what he couldn’t live without. The solution was simple. He would have to write a certain amount of words in order to check on his digital world. Lo and behold, the strategy worked because the reward was very clear.

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Volume. Behavior change takes time; as such, you will have lots of opportunities to fail (which is the currency of success), but, more importantly, you will be able to repeat the behavior-reward dyad enough times to truly turn it into a habit. The actual amount of time it takes for this kind of habituation varies based on psychological makeup, the task, the reward, and a host of other things. Some estimates put it as low as 10 days and more conservative suggestions put it at closer to eight weeks. Either way, volume is your friend; when in doubt, keep working that behavioral contingency.

Make the behavior as easy as possible to guarantee program adherence. Human beings like to complicate things. We want difficult explanations to simple problems, because we can’t imagine that the answer shouldn’t be multi-faceted and complex. You might talk about looking for a simple solution, but what you really mean is you want an easy answer, which is not the same.

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Zen and the Art of Making Mistakes

zen-stones-1395147656aNVWe all make mistakes. Anyone who says they don’t make mistakes, simply doesn’t feel comfortable admitting this about themselves to others. A lack of mistakes is incongruent with growth, and we should all be growth junkies and productivity hackers of our own lives. Mistakes are the currency of success, landmarks on the road to our goals. When you do make mistakes, it is important to put them into perspective.

Step back and breathe. A mistake can overwhelm our senses, make our minds go blank for a moment. There is nothing wrong with feeling that way. It’s what you do next that matters. Once you’ve let it in, step away from your desk; or put down the phone, unplug, and just breathe for a moment. Take some deep breaths. Breathe the mistake in, and then breathe it out.

Own it. It was your mistake; now, take ownership of it. Understand what you did wrong and how you might have avoided it. Don’t wallow; don’t be ashamed. Search for what you did that made things turn out like this. It won’t be the end of the world; if anything, it will be the beginning of a new way of thinking that will make you happier and more productive.

Avoid misplaced blame. Sometimes, running away from something is the easiest, and only, thing you can think to do (or blaming the problem on someone else). Avoid misappropriating the decision-making process or the reasons why something happened at all costs. It was your mistake, not someone else’s. Don’t worry, I’m sure they will make a mistake soon enough.

Be timely. When you realize you’ve done something wrong, the instinct is to walk away from it slowly, looking around to see if anyone else saw what you saw. Delaying recognition of the mistake only exacerbates its effects. When something goes wrong, meet it head on, right there, and work through it. Avoidance will only make the process that much harder.

Apologize. Nothing reinvigorates a relationship like apologizing for something you’ve done. Don’t let your ego get in the way; don’t equivocate on the weight of blame. Just apologize and move on.

Offer solutions. Worry less about reporting the details of what you did wrong, and focus more on solutions to the problems your mistake has created. Finding solutions and not presenting problems is a good way to approach mistakes in general.

Keep your promises. You made a mistake, so what? You still have to deliver on what you promised, and now it’s more important than ever because the big, bright light of ownership isn’t currently shining on the results; it is firmly placed on this new mistake. Deliver on what you said you would do.

Follow up. Did your mistake have a lasting effect on others? Check in to make sure things have soldiered on in order to maintain and nurture that personal (or professional) relationship. Doing so will make all parties feel better.

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Procrastinate Procrastination (Or How I Learned to Love Setting Goals)

Procrastination_(No_Wall_Uncovered_VII)There are countless articles spread across the vast universe that is the internet on how to eliminate procrastination; to put a finer point on it, all that has been said on the subject has been studied, collated, optioned, and opined about. We all know that procrastination is kryptonite for successful business practices (and not to mention writing goals). But what can we do about it?

I love talking about time management; no, seriously, that was not meant as joke. (Stop laughing.) Being productive means growth, and I am all about growing early and often. Here are some of my favorite methodologies:

Chunking. This method is often used to memorize numbers and names. If you wanted to remember a phone number, remember it as two numbers: 434 and 7133 (instead of 434-7133). For tasks in a given day, put a few different tasks together as a block and complete all of them together before taking a break or rewarding yourself with something salient or moving on. (More on behavior modification in a bit.)

Momentum and motivation. Motivating yourself can be difficult; often, people hide behind a lack of motivation when explaining away why they didn’t complete a project r finish that novel. The easiest way to overcome this is to give yourself some motivation: do something you really want after completing the task. Even better, once you get some momentum, knock out some more goals!

Location. Some places lend themselves to procrastinating more so than other places. Sitting in front of your TV binge-watching a show is not the best place to get some work done (or meet your writing goals). Relocate to a distraction-free zone (as best you can) and set yourself up for success.

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Establish rewards and consequences. Behavior modification remains one of the few tried and true methods for creating behavior change (like procrastinating less). For the purposes of simplicity, let’s say that it is building a contingent relationship with clear rewards and consequences. For instance, if you wanted to write a certain number of words a day, say 2000, then you would want to reward the action of writing 2000 words with something you can only get from completing the task; you don’t write the words, you don’t get your reward. Pretty simple, right? Building your day out of a series of contingent relationships like this can pay real dividends in terms of getting things done.

Create and adhere to deadlines. Setting deadlines has been proven to help people reach their goals. Knowing that there is a finish line helps you to think about your time in a meaningful way. Adhering to those deadlines, over time, makes you averse to procrastinating in the future.

Share your goals for increased accountability. Sometimes, letting other people know about what you need to do can create a network of accountability: people asking you throughout your day whether or not you finished what you intended can keep the task on the top of your mind. Fair warning: this can be very exhausting, especially if you are have difficulty adhering to your plan (or if you are easily upset).

Adapt your goals accordingly. In many ways, this might be the most important tool. Things change, and it is important to change with them. Too often, we just keep doing things the same way to reach the same goals with little real success. We become accustomed to doing something because we have always done it this way. If you want different results, think about doing things a different way.

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Changing of the Guard: What Behavioral Marketing Has to Become

8468788107_6a1b3ae1ea_oWhat it was

Behavioral marketing is still the go-to for major companies, as well as smaller professionals. The purpose being very simple: use information to tailor a personal experience instead of bludgeoning people with the same message time and again. The digital age helped usher in this type of advertising, as analytics and cookies overtook data collection. Retargeting and direct targeting was simpler than ever and you were one step away from closing the loop and using information collected during an internet search to get your product in front of a potential customer.

What you like determines what you are shown.

For an older generation, this kind of marketing has great value. The demographic for Facebook users continues to rise, and it should come as no surprise that among internet giants, Facebook represents the most nuanced approach to behavioral marketing: bundling, collating, and redirecting interests and behaviors in or to show you relevant ads. Our feeds are increasing filled with bright and shiny advertisements created specifically for our enjoyment.

So why does it need to change?

Simply put: the population is getting older, which means a young generation (millennials) are increasingly involved in traditionally robust purchasing activities (cars, homes, condos, interior design). Unsurprisingly, this contrarian generation has little interest in being advertised to; in point of fact, a Forbes article from April 2015 suggested that they were moving away from this kind of “talking at you” approach in favor of a more authentic conversation.

If you want to sell to the millennial generation, then perhaps you need to pivot to a more transformational type of marketing; one that involves millennials in the conversation, as opposed to trying to out-think them in a technological space (where they are very adept).


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What it needs to become

Buzzfeed adopted a native advertising approach that has been paying dividends in terms of engagement and interest. Not all companies are set up for this kind of information-driven type of advertising, and suggesting that they adopt it would be foolish.

Nativism need not be about company pitches written as clickbait articles.

Culture, not trends. What millennials care about is sharing a culture, not just sharing the trend that everyone else is riding. This generation has been sourcing things digitally for nearly their entire lives; what they are searching for is a meaningful relationship with a brand that also provides a service or product. Trending topics dominate the digital sphere, but the best companies bend them to meet the needs of their subscriber base and not the other wall around.

Less noise, more perspective. Let’s face it, repurposing articles and talking about whatever is current becomes noise once you get past the first or second page of a feed or search.  Every company has a story or a narrative, and that is what you should be advocating: your perspective. What makes you unique? How do you provide something different, meaningful, and valuable?

Be agile and offer value. Content marketing has value because it checks a lot of the boxes we are talking about. You want to craft content, not just refurbish generalities from other similar sites you gleaned doing a long-tail keyword search. Returning to this idea of native marketing, it is not likely you will be able to replicate Buzzfeed’s model. You can take a step in the right direction by leaning more heavily on generating organic conversations through social media instead of bombarding visitors to your site with a barrage of pop-ups and squeeze pages.

Authenticity matters. This shows empathy by not immediately doubling down on sales scripts triggered by SEO and redirected landing pages. By imagining the customer’s experience, putting yourselves in the shoes of someone coming to your site, you are harnessing an approach that better sets up having a conversation, as opposed to a hard sales pitch. It is in avoiding this kind of sales deafness that you can tap into something that really matters for millennials: mindfulness. Replace the salesman with a teacher, someone who wants to share powerful information that can change someone’s life; this fosters social proof, one of the most valuable things in business.

Highlight the transformative process, not the product. One of the most tangible ways to experience a paradigm shift in your sales is to see social outreach as a transformative process that turns cold leads into advocates. And the simplest way to accomplish this is to be present, to focus on being a part of the conversation as opposed to scheduling the conversation.

The tools of the trade may change, but one thing as always been true about marketing and sales development: consistency. Day in and day out, you need to have a plan, delegate accordingly, and prepare for market and industry shifts. The millennials represent a new shift, and it is time to adapt.

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Cut the Spam and Offer Value

CTA_mailinglistWe have all experienced the deluge of spam emails from companies we have subscribed to with the good-faith idea that we would be getting value, not fluff. On the other hand, many business professionals have been in the unenviable position of knowing that an email marketing campaign converts (and they really do), but not really know what to include in order to get subscribers engaged with the material. No one wants to receive spam, and no one sends out subscriber emails wanting them to end up in a spam filter.

Often, the difference between spam email marketing and good email marketing is minimal. However, if you can’t learn to recognize the difference, then your subscriber base will taper off and potential clients will start to tune you out.

Spam email precludes a relationship with your subscriber base. It demonstrates a lack of understanding for what they want to read, how often they want to read, and how they like to consume information. Whenever your instinct is to send something out in bulk or as unsolicited, then I can almost guarantee you either are meaning to spam or, at the very least, are being an unintentional spammer.

There are plenty of instances of digital communication that qualifies as unsolicited without necessarily being spam, like an email to a potential client or reaching out to a blogger or journalist for an interview even though you had not previously networked with them. Unless you are being very negligent in your prospect research, you will at least address it to the right person, use the correct name, and have a real reason for contacting them.

However, the moment you drop a slew of captured emails into a newsletter and blast a generic sales pitch or clickbait article, you’ve adopted the questionable practice of spam email marketing. Try to remember why people come to your blog (or website) in the first place. Why did they even bother signing up for a newsletter? I can be fairly certain it was not to read generic sales pitches sent to their email with alarming frequency.

So what can you do?

Offer value. A growing trend in content marketing (and digital marketing in general) is offering meaningful networking that nurtures relationships, as opposed to hammering the sales goal relentlessly in each and every communication. Generic content just makes sure search engines pick it up; you want to cultivate content that people read who use search engines to find it. More than half of folks will not even bother reading an impersonal and irrelevant-looking email sent to their inbox. If that doesn’t scream caution when sending out your newsletter, then perhaps spam marketing is for you.

Keep it honest. If they signed up, then, at least initially, they felt like you were someone they could trust. By staying true to your initial focus for creating a newsletter or email campaign in the first place, your subscribers will be more likely to open and engage with your content. Don’t overwhelm them with erroneous or unrelated information that does not speak to why they signed up in the first place.

Keep it simple. There are basic email practices for a reason. Don’t barrage the subject line with titles where all the letters are capitalized or relies on an over-usage of spam-like keywords that people believe work all the time. Learn your email client so that instead of a generic salutation, you can actually include the subscriber’s name. Relevancy rears its ugly head again; don’t bother sending them content that tries to trick them into a sale. The simple math is if you keep sending things people don’t want, there will not be any subscribers to send content to.

Content and email marketing is all about making a real connection with your readers. Why would you bother with spam if you can offer something meaningful?

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The customer is not always right

Customer_Relationship_Management
One great colloquialism has ruled business as long as there has been commerce: the customer is always right. While being exhaustively customer-facing can be lucrative, there is a real possibility for burnout and creating distance from your core values. The long-term success of a business depends on emotional and financial currency, though not always in equal measure.

So why has this catchphrase stood the test of time? Fear.

Fear of lost opportunities, fear of lost sales, and fear of failure have driven a business culture afraid to do something novel: question the wishes of the customer. I can imagine a collective gasp at such a notion, but let me take a step back and explain what I mean. I will start with a simple question: why does your customer purchase from you?

Are they looking for sales or administrative support? How about a trusted thought partner? Are they looking to generate more productivity, or perhaps replicate the practices of top performers in their industry? Are you providing an invaluable service? Regardless of the specific reason, I would venture to say they have to come to you because you differentiated yourself in your space and have become an expert, even if only by degrees.

It is in this expertise that your social currency has grown to create traffic, allowed you to source leads, and helped you close new business. Your customers have come to you because you have provided a solution to a problem, often a solution or a problem they didn’t realize they needed or had (respectively) until your reach overlapped with their search. So if they are looking for the best possible service, why would you settle for only reaching the very low benchmark of what they want?

I want to stress that I am not advocating for ignoring customer needs; instead, I am saying go beyond the bare minimum and find out what they really want. Ask questions, actively listen, and empathize with their position in order to create a smoother process to offer the greatest possible customer experience (or product).

It leads you away from taking ownership. Always assuming the customer is right sets up a situation where ownership of the core values of your process, service, or product has becomes about a customer’s emotional state during the sale. For you to continue to provide a high level of service, you need to understand what took you there in the first place: ownership of your process, product, or service. If a customer thinks the best way to do something is in direct contrast to your best practices (that have continuously yielded results), then own that and sell them on the value of your approach; after all, they need help and you are there to provide it (not the other way around).

Always assume innocence. Try not to see something nefarious where there is nothing; remember that hoof-beats mean horses, not zebras. If a customer wants to do things a certain way, it doesn’t mean that they are doing so to be purposefully belligerent. They might not understand why you have a process in place. Being empathetic to their position and assuming ignorance in lieu of belligerence will keep you from feeling marginalized or resentful of a customer request. You can learn a lot from listening to an angry or dissatisfied customer with an open mind.

Look for teaching opportunities. Realizing that the customer might not always be right opens up opportunities to teach your process or the value of your product. The reason why people dislike salespeople who pressure them is because they feel like they are being sold to; there is no real connection to speak of. Seeing the sales process as educating a lead or potential client on the value of what you provide not only makes them feel like the sale is a discussion, but helps you to better understand what you are doing. Really understanding yourself and your process pays dividends: it makes you both a better person and a better businessperson.

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