• Humor Columns
  • Let them eat bread (or gluten-free air)

    Because lately we keep hearing how healthy foods like salad make us fat (why don’t they just come out and say that even air is high in carbs?), I have to hand it to Oprah. She recently lost 26 pounds while eating bread every day. It’s no surprise the Weight Watchers stock soared after she said the equivalent of “Let them eat bread!”

    I could also make the case that bread makes me lose weight. The avoidance of bread, that is. But talking about my own gluten-free diet would cause stock to crash, not soar. Even Ted Cruz spoke derisively about the gluten-free diet the other day, saying he wouldn’t make gluten-free meals available to the military.

    It was being on a leprosy medication a few months ago that drove me to my current diet. I had a terrible, blistering rash caused by accidental gluten ingestion. For some reason, leprosy medication is the treatment for it.

    Unfortunately, the rash attacked my face, making me look constantly embarrassed. which, technically, I was. Another downside is this also made me appear as if I was had just come back from exercising at the gym, which, technically was accurate, I guess, as the Prednisone I was also on made me run around as if I was constantly working out.

    After that ordeal, I changed my diet to go beyond gluten-free, which it has been for many years due to celiac disease, and is now also anti-inflammatory. It even includes things like putting grass-fed butter in tea, which a normal person would find scary. I’m now that annoying person who when going out with a group usually can’t eat much of anything, especially at a potluck.

    I realized things were perhaps a bit out of control when I got all excited over a frozen desert that was pitched on the “Shark Tank” show. The entrepreneurs recited a lengthy list of ingredients not in the dessert (no gluten, sugar, nuts, dairy, etc.). The investors were unimpressed with the taste and no offers were made. But that didn’t deter me. “A food that has nothing in it!” I exclaimed to the family members in the room. “I have to order it!”

    I’ve looked longingly for this product on the shelves of the local grocery stores but to no avail. It seems Monona and Madison stores are committed to selling me food that isn’t made out of nothing and has actual ingredients in it. Go figure. Oh well. At least air is gluten-free.

    This Humor Me column of mine originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on March 3, 2016.

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  • Books
  • On parallel careers and creating your life list

    Being multi-dimensional is the key to happiness according to Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life. This book is packed with helpful tips on how to reevaluate your work in the second half of life, particularly if you are a knowledge worker.

    A second successful second half of life includes:

    Developing a second career.

    Having parallel careers. These are something that didn’t previously exist in your life and are noncompetitive with your main career. They can morph into a second career or post-retirement career. They give you a window into other worlds and don’t necessarily give you an income. Of course these should not turn into the shadow careers Steven Pressfield warns against.

    Social entrepreneurship and volunteer work.

    There is an exercise called a Total Life List that is central to the book. It’s a private, ongoing exercise that involves creating a list of:

    1. Immediate family (current and future)
    2. Extended family (current and future)
    3. Closer work colleagues (people you interact with most often in the workplace)
    4. Friends (current and future goals)
    5. People in your various professional networks (current and future goals)
    6. Various places of current employment and (briefly) what your work entails (current and future goals)
    7. Professional affiliations and associations (current and future goals)
    8. Ongoing learning activities (current and future goals)
    9. Teaching (if any)(current and future goals)
    10. Volunteer activities (current and future goals)
    11. Work with nonprofit organizations, or social entrepreneurship (current and future goals)
    12. Mentoring (current and future goals)
    13. Outside interests of all types, including areas such as sports leagues, amateur interest societies, religious/spiritual activities or study, book groups, or creative areas such as writing, art, or playing music (current and future goals)
    14. Exercise and other mind-body activities (current and future goals)

    If, like me, you have never read any of Peter Drucker’s 40 books, then this book is a good place to start because it is a synthesis of his main teachings.

     

     

  • Email Copywriting
  • Should you email your list every day?

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    I’ll let Jesus answer this one:

    “Salt is great, but if salt has lost its tang, how can its saltiness come back? It’s not good for the soil or for the manure heap. Throw it away. If you’re not deaf, listen.”
    — Luke 14: 34-35

    Replace the word “salt” with “email” and you have yourself a maxim that every email copywriter should read regularly.

    I love how blunt and to the point Jesus is. Not only is lost of tang not good for the soil, it’s not even good enough for the manure heap. Throw the salt away.

    How many emails are you throwing away?

    That is probably the more pertinent question to ask rather than how many emails you send per day or week.

    In a recent interview Seth Godin, who writes a daily blog post and sets the gold standard for every marketer, says his ratio is about 3:1. He usually writes three or so different post drafts and only publishes one.

    The reason the composers Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven are remembered today is because they wrote a much greater volume of musical works than any other composer. Their fantastic works are only a tiny fraction of what they actually produced. Because they threw away more music than other composers, they had more great works than their peers.

    Therefore, the more blog posts or emails you write, the more you’ll be throwing away.

    If you’re not throwing some away, then the emails will lose their tang quickly.

    Throwing away is painful. I write a weekly humor column for my local newspaper and it pains me when I have a great idea but can’t come up with a great closing sentence. So the draft just sits there in purgatory.

    I’ve thrown away countless emails for clients that my clients never saw.

    They may have hired me for seven emails but I threw away more than that.

    So if you have a commitment to writing an email every day is a commitment to throwing away perhaps as many as 100 email ideas per month.

    Inside my A Year of Email Copywriting I share a strategy I observed from my behind the scenes perch writing email copy for successful clients. It gives a more nuanced spin on the “to email every day or not to email every day” question.

    I also show you can get tips on writing daily emails from a small town police sergeant, of all people, who writes for over 100,000 Facebook fans.

    After you sign up I’ll send you a separate email with a document that has all of the emails I’ve written so far in the course, Plus you’ll continue to get the emails one by one each Sunday for 52 weeks.

    Do you like business books? I’ve started regularly posting reviews of business books here on my blog. Click here to check out the recent ones. I also occasionally post my humor columns. To see all my posts as they appear, feel free to subscribe to the RSS feed or follow me on Twitter.

  • Books
  • On playing hurt and abandoning shadow careers: Steven Pressfield’s guide to creating your life’s work

    Sometimes a slim volume is packed with wisdom. Such is the case with Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work by Steven Pressfield.

    His concept of “shadow careers” is very interesting and one I hadn’t ever thought of before:

    “Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.

    …Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you?…Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you’re afraid to risk becoming an innovator yourself?

    …If you’re dissatisfied with your current life, as yourself what your current life is a metaphor for. That metaphor will lead you towards your true calling.”

    That insight alone is worth the brief amount of time it takes to read this book. Fortunately there’s more:

    The amateur dreads becoming who she really is because she fears that this new person will be judged by others as ‘different.’

    […]

    Here’s the truth: the tribe doesn’t give a shit.

    There is no tribe.

    […]

    Each individual is so caught up in his own bullshit that he doesn’t have two seconds to worry about yours or mine, or to reject or diminish us because of it.

    When we truly understand that the tribe doesn’t give a damn, we’re free. There is no tribe, and there never was.

    Our lives are entirely up to us.

    Pressfield also writes about how a professional trusts mystery and that the Muse always delivers. Here are his five axioms derived from this principle:

    1. Work over your head. It’s possible to write from a place that is far deeper than your personal ego. For example, an author who writes a character who is smarter than they are.
    2. Write what you don’t know. Pressfield wrote a screenplay about prison life even though he had never set foot in a prison. More than one person asked him afterwards where he did his time.
    3. Take what the defense gives you. There are bad stretches in any endeavor where you feel like giving up. To fight the resistance Pressfield urges us to “take what you can get and stay patient. The defense may crack late in the game. Play for tomorrow.”
    4. Play hurt. There is never a good time to switch careers or start a new project. “Athletes play hurt. Warriors fight scare. The professional takes two aspirin and keeps on truckin’.
    5. Sit chilly.  This maxim comes from a famous teacher of horsemanship. Horses are highly sensitive creatures and will pick up on any anxiety the rider feels in the saddle. “Sit chilly” means to stay in your seat even in moments of terror or panic.

    I’m embarrassed to admit I still haven’t read Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles even though I’ve come across dozens of admonitions to read this classic book. That one will now go to the top of my reading heap.

    Are you active on Goodreads? If so, please follow my reviews there. I will continue to post my reviews of business books here on my blog.

     

  • Books
  • How to find fulfilling work

    The topic of how to find fulfilling work is such a first world problem that I was prepared for How to Find Fulfilling Work to be a book worthy of dissing. Additionally, because none of the stories and advice in the first half of address people who have the responsibility of providing for children, and therefore don’t have the luxury of taking a “radical sabbatical” and so forth, I was ready to toss it aside.

    But then I came to the three exercises on pages 88-93. The first exercise asks you to spend 10 minutes making a map of sorts of all the jobs you’ve held. I went ahead and listed everything, from my part-time jobs in high school and college, the temp jobs in between my “real” jobs, and also my self-employment. It’s the first time I’ve studied my work history in this way, rather than as something simply to put on a resume, and it was eye-opening. Another exercise asks you to list five jobs you might want to try if you have a year off to work any job you wanted. It was interesting to note both the patterns and wild disparities. The third exercise is to write a half page personal advertisement about yourself wherein you describe your interests and motivations (but don’t mention specific jobs) and then show it to 10 people you know in different walks of life and ask them to read it and recommend 2-3 different careers for you. I haven’t done that exercise yet but can see how it could be helpful.

    I liked the story of the poet Wallace Stevens. His day job was in insurance and he even declined a professor job at Harvard after he became famous. The Marie Curie story was interesting too.

    Yep: “without work, all life goes rotten, but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies.” – Albert Camus.

    “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation. – Aristotle. That sounds good but how to achieve it? This book will at least spark a few ideas about vocation and career.

    Are you active on Goodreads? If so, please follow my reviews there. I will continue to post my reviews of business books here on my blog.

  • Books
  • Creating work that matters

    Seth Godin describes listening to audiobooks as a “practice.” It’s only very recently that I’ve taken up the practice of listening to audiobooks, preferring those that are talks and don’t also exist in print form. An expanded podcast, of sorts. Leap First: Creating Work That Matters is such a book.

    If you read his blogs and have read some of his books then there won’t be much new here, but that’s fine with me, because I haven’t tired of his message yet.

    Plus as one who endeavors to practice art, which he defines as the “emotional labor we bring to the table to make a connection” it’s a message I need to hear regularly. Audiobooks lend themselves to repeat listens more easily than rereading a book. I plan on listening to this one regularly.

    Are you active on Goodreads? If so, please follow my reviews there. I will continue to post my reviews of business books here on my blog.

  • Books
  • How high will you fly?

    Seth Godin’s inspirational manifestos always hit the spot and The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? is no exception.

    Sure, some, if not all, of the ideas in this book are variations of what he has said elsewhere, but it’s always good to revisit them. I should probably reread one Godin book each month or so. I like the 14 stories at the end of the book about various people who picked themselves and pursued their type of art even at the cost of stable jobs.

    Here are some of my favorite things from the book:

    “The resistance is a symptom you’re on the right track. The resistance is not something to be avoided; it’s something to seek out. That’s the single most important sentence in this book.”

    Habits of Successful Artists:

    Learn to sell what you’ve made.
    Say thank you in writing.
    Speak in public.
    Fail often.
    See the world as it is.
    Make predictions.
    Teach others.
    Write daily.
    Connect others.
    Lead a tribe.

    Six Daily Habits for Artists:

    Sit alone; sit quietly
    Learning something new without any apparent benefit.
    Ask individuals for bold feedback; ignore what you hear from the crowd.
    Spend time encouraging other artists.
    Teach, with the intent of making change.
    Ship something that you created.

    Are you active on Goodreads? If so, please follow my reviews there. I will continue to post my reviews of business books here on my blog.

  • Books
  • On cracking the code of your life

    If you want to strengthen your emotional intelligence, then Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success by Chip Conley will give you many practical steps to accomplish that.

    In addition to drawing on stories of his own difficult experiences as a CEO, he includes stories about Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Victor Frankel, Andre Agassi, Oprah Winfrey, Charles Darwin, and many others.

    The equations seem a bit dry at first but I appreciate the pithiness of them. They appeal to the left brained part of me.

    He lists many questions throughout the first half of the book to help you dig deeper to solve your problems. Questions such as “If pondering whether to do something or not ask yourself: Is it repeatable? Can it be repaired if something goes wrong?”

    He provides an unique exercise for working through fear: create a series of training steps that would help someone else understand how you obsess about a particular issue that gives you fear, such as financial issues.

    Don’t overlook the notes section at the end of the book. He suggests more books to read and additional insights.

    I like this Zen parable that he shares on page 226:

    My friend Sandeep reminded me of the parable of a rich man, fond of felines, who asked a famous Zen ink painter to draw him a cat. The master agreed and asked the man to come back in three months. When the man returned, he was put off, again and again, until a year had passed. Finallly, at the man’s request, the master drew out a brush, and with grace and ease, in a single fluid motion, drew a picture of a cat, the most marvelous image the man had ever seen. First he was stoned. Then he grew angry. “That drawing took you only thirty seconds! Why did you make me wait a year?” he demanded. Without a word, the master opened a cabinet, and out fell thousands of good, bad, and ugly drawings of cats. How can you become th Zen master who cracks the code of your life?

    Are you active on Goodreads? If so, please follow my reviews there. I will continue to post my reviews of business books here on my blog. Sign up below for my newsletter on email copywriting.

     

  • Subject Lines
  • Give me your huddled emails yearning to breathe free

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    It’s Subject Line Sunday, a new service I will occasionally offer in my Sunday emails.

    Today I did some spring cleaning. The one advantage to not diligently removing clutter from the house on a regular basis is that it develops archaeology skills as we unearth old toys and drawings and such from years past. It’s fun to uncover those.

    It also got me to thinking about how rearranging furniture we already own makes a difference in how the room looks.

    If you ever look around a room and are bored with it and think you need to buy new furniture, just rearrange things.

    It makes all the difference.

    It’s like that with email too.

    You don’t always have to create new emails from scratch if the ones in your autoresponder aren’t getting the open rates and sales that you want.

    A new subject line will often do the trick.

    A new opening sentence, which is often visible in the inbox before the reader opens it, is helpful too.

    A little tip: it’s best not to clutter that opening sentence with a greeting, because that opening sentence is like a second subject line.

    Anyway, I could go on about subject line tips, but you could just grab up to 10 emails from your autoresponder, and hand them over to me.

    I’ll create a new subject line for each one.

    If you want, I can create a new opening sentence for each one too in addition to the subject lines, for double the awesomeness.

    Click here and let’s get started.

    So there you go. This will help you get started on your email spring cleaning. I’m in a good mood after my own spring cleaning, so this offer is ridiculously generous for now. Hope you take advantage of it.

     

     

     

    Photo: storebukkebruse

  • Email Copywriting
  • The cold in your email copy never bothered me anyway

    Frozen is the tale of sisters Anna and Elsa, whose relationship is captured in music by songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

    There’s a little known fact about the movie Frozen that, once you learn it, will improve your email copywriting.

    Before the song Let it Go was written, Frozen was a very different story.

    Elsa was originally meant to play the role of villain. But the songwriters viewed her as someone struggling to come to terms with her powers. They decided to not make her a villain and focus on what they thought Elsa really felt.

    They went with their gut and the result was the hit song “Let It Go.”

    But then the producers had to make a decision.

    Keep the song and change the story?

    Or keep the story and ditch the song?

    They went with the former and the rest is history.

    Now, how does this apply to business and copywriting?

    An email is like a song in a soundtrack.

    It advances the larger story in your business. The Hero’s Journey story, as I like to call it, and as I go into detail about inside my A Year of Email Copywriting course.

    Like the “Let It Go” song, sometimes a single email story will have such an impact that it changes the overall Hero’s Journey story or the direction of your business.

    Years ago I wrote an email for a list of mine that resulted in dozens of new opt-ins to my list because, apparently, the readers enjoyed the story so much that they forwarded it to friends. It was a funny story about driving around in a Wisconsin snowstorm and I never would have guessed that one email would have an impact.  It prompted me to change my business approach and the way I communicated with this list.

    Not only do you have to understand the importance of stories, but you also need to be open enough to know when your story should change. The more you include stories in your email, the more dynamic your product will be and responsive to the needs of your market.

    The first three months of A Year of Email Copywriting are complete and three of the lessons are all about how to write stories. When you sign up, I will email to you a document that the first three months of emails in it. You will also receive each email on a weekly basis for 52 weeks. I enjoy interacting with students by email and look forward to your questions and input.