Start with thanks.

One of my long-time clients celebrated a milestone a few weeks ago. The business that she built purely out passion (while raising twin boys as a single mom), turned ten. Ten years thriving as a small business owner in a tough economic climate, now that says something!

I really couldn’t be happier for her, or more proud to have been part of her team from the start.

Sara had seized the anniversary as an opportunity to re-brand and after lots of sweat (and possibly a few tears), she had a beautiful new website that she was eager to share.

So when we talked about the messaging to announce her anniversary, we assumed it would be all about the launch—the new brand and website. All about her.

The new brand was exciting for Sara and her team. But not so much for everyone else. Besides being all about her, it also missed the most important thing we needed to celebrate: the gratitude Sara feels to have grown a successful business doing what she loves.

Getting in touch with gratitude left us with one simple, essential thing to say: thank you. We needed to make it a love note! And to give her gratitude some heat, Sara offered a discount on any of her services to the first 10 people to reply.

A thank you love note

On the day she sent the email, Sara’s inbox filled with woots! and praise. Over 20 people, many of them brand new clients, wanted to schedule.

This is obviously a success story, but the success, in terms of dollars or new clients, isn’t really the point.

The point is that it is always good form, in business and in life, to start with thanks—even or especially when you don’t know you’ll get anything in return. 

Thank you is a recognition of another person’s value, and it is an opening, an invitation. It shifts the energy of just about any situation toward connection and generosity and opens the door to all kinds of good.

So the next time you aren’t sure what to say, try starting with thanks. Those two little words work hard when you mean ’em.

A Smart, No-Sell Marketing Campaign

I’m a nerd when it comes to smart marketing. When done right, it’s about telling stories and making connections. Real human stuff.

Not everyone gets that, but my clients, Redstone Pictures, do. Take this email campaign they launched last year: The Craft Revolution.

Redstone Craft Campaign

(click photo to enlarge)

Here are three things I love about it:

1) Clear purpose. Specific target. For this campaign, the Redstones wanted to reach art and creative directors at advertising agencies. They had already met or been in touch with these people and wanted a creative way to stay in touch that was explicitly not a sales pitch.

No pitch?! No call to action?! Most marketers consider such omissions a kiss of death, but I’m all for a no-sell approach when executed right. Because sometimes it’s nice to not be sold stuff.

2) It’s a little bit personal. The Redstones are foodies, travelers, and artists. The kind of people who discover and support cool local businesses. They knew their target audience was into this kind of thing, too, so the campaign was all about making a personal connection—sharing their discoveries of cool new “craft” brands and the amazing photos they took along the way.

3) Strong execution. Ok, these guys are photographers so their stuff really has to look good. But I think all of us could stand to care so much.

Their audience is creative but also very busy, so the message needed to be short and sweet with strong visual impact. The message was designed with the audience’s needs as a top priority, and to feel like a fun, snappy reprieve in their inbox in the middle of the day.

In the end, I love this campaign because it shows, rather than tells or describes, a little something of what the Redstone brand is all about. And that, even for a word person like me, makes a good story.

How to Say What You Mean in Writing: 5 Tips

You don’t need to me to tell you that there’s an awful lot of static in the world today. While there are more opportunities to connect and have a voice through the written word, it takes some work to actually be heard.

This goes for business proposals and blog posts as much as it does for poems and personal essays. To connect, make your point, to get new and better business or mend a rift with someone you love, you have to be willing and able to say what you truly mean.

Sounds simple enough, but doing so with tact is both harder and easier than it seems.

Avoid being an a–hole and cheesy clichés.

The hard part is being willing to give the process a little time and attention, not just blurting out whatever rant or unsolicited insight is on your mind. That can get you into trouble and make you look like an a–hole.

But dumbing down your opinions, thoughts, and desires through hyperbole or cheesy cliché isn’t effective either.

Saying what you really mean through clear, tactful, honest writing takes a bit of harvesting. It requires digging into your heart and mind (yes, businesses have hearts, too) and applying the right tools to share what you find.

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

1.  Purge first. Before you start shaping what you want to say into coherent, appropriately punctuated thoughts, do a brain dump. Get it all out, unedited.

Simply set a timer for 15 minutes (or however long you want), open your laptop or put pen to paper, and let it rip. At the top of the page write: What I really mean is…, and fill in the blank. Don’t analyze, filter, or edit. Don’t even let periods or other punctuation slow you down. When one train of thought fizzles out, write the prompt again and start over.

This may seem like a waste of time, but trust me: If you jump right into making your message sound pretty before you’re clear on what you mean, you are way more likely to get swept away from your real point.

2.  Talk like a real person. When it comes to shaping your message, keep it simple. Unless you are, in fact, a brain surgeon presenting your latest research to fellow brain surgeons, cut the jargon and fancy talk.

It’s a natural tendency to complicate or fluff up our words when we’re feeling unsure of or vulnerable about what what we have to say. I get sucked into this trap, too.

But big words and complex sentences don’t impress your reader. They make your reader work harder to figure out what you’re trying to say, and that makes them annoyed and about a zillion times more likely to tune out or go away.

3.  Talk to a real person. If you want to be heard, and especially if you want your message to inspire a particular outcome or action, you have to consider the human on the other side.

Where are they coming from? What are their needs in this particular situation? Would using a little more humor or empathy or data help them connect with what you have to say?

When I’m trying to get to the heart of something sticky, I literally picture the face of the person I’m addressing—whether it’s my mom or a hot new prospective client—and I write directly to them.

I have already done the brain dump from step 1 to get to the core of my message so I’m not going to lose sight of that. I simply shape it with my reader in mind to increase the odds that they will get what I’m trying to say.

4.  Be vulnerable. Remember in high school when it was cool to ignore your biggest crush? Yeah, well that doesn’t work in grown-up life or in business.

Everyone wants to feel like they matter. Everyone wants to be wanted and appreciated, so don’t be afraid to put some emotion in your message. Put some stake in the game. Take a risk by being clear about what you really want.

Vulnerability brings clarity for both you and your reader. In business, it can be the hook that makes you more memorable.

5.  Practice out loud. Once you have a good working draft, read it out loud. Does it sound human? Does it sound like you or like the voice of your brand?

There is a natural tone and rhythm to human speech that helps us convey meaning more effectively. A common pitfall is to lose this natural rhythm when we write and make things more stuffy and awkward than they need to be, and than you would ever speak. So, you have to practice.

Again, unless you are writing something highly technical or academic, it should feel conversational. Read it out loud and circle the spots that feel awkward, then go back and simplify your message even more.

Everything is awkward at first.

You may be thinking: But it’s not that easy! And you’re right. It’s not that easy if you’re trying it out for the first time.

But then neither was eating with a fork or learning how to sign your name.

Think back to gripping that stubby little pencil, willing it to create the dizzying loops and swirls of your name. So awkward! The frustration!

And look at you now. I bet you don’t even give that signature, an essential part of who you are, a second thought.

Editing the “I” from “I love you.”

Have you noticed how nobody says “I love you” anymore? It’s just, “love you.” A shortcut.IMG_4517

Or is it? Is it about bad text habits and the extra effort to type or tap or even say that extra letter, or is the omission of “I” from our I love you’s a sign of something else?

Granted, I’m a language nerd so I think all communication matters. Language is one of the more powerful ways we put our thoughts and feelings into form to be shared with others. Our tone of voice, the words we choose, the pace and style of our communication all say something about who we are. So yes, I think that all matters quite a lot.

But I’m also not naive. I know smart phones and social media are shaping the way we communicate in fundamental ways, presenting both opportunities and sacrifices when it comes to integrity, clarity, and thoughtfulness.

Rants about sloppy shortcut communication (of which I have many) aside, it’s this disappearance of the “I” when the “I” really matters that I find particularly curious.

Say these phrases out loud:

Love you.

Miss you.


Wish you all the best.

And now say these:

I love you. 

I miss you. 

I’m sorry. 

I wish you all the best. 

They feel different, right? “I love you” feels like just that: I love you. It says, I’m clear about this and I want you to know it.

“Love you,” on the other hand, feels more like I kinda love you or I really like you a lot but I don’t want to make too big of a deal about it. It’s like “I love you” Light.

It’s not such a bad thing, this “I love you” Lightbut it seems ironic given how hungry we all are for connection and to have a voice. At a time when it is easier than ever to speak up and make meaningful connections, we are editing ourselves out of some of our most simple, yet intimate, exchanges. A subtle yet potent dumbing down.

The next time you’re tempted to send or say love you or miss you or sorry, stop to consider what you really mean. If you truly mean I love you, trying putting yourself, your “I,” back into it.

And if you don’t really mean it, maybe you should say something else.