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craft, Writing improvement

How “Stanley the Mason” Helped Me Be a Better Writer

The Background

Measure twice, cut once. It’s a famous adage in construction. The point is simple: you don’t want to mark your board (or brick, or soffit, or shingle, or stud, or wire, or tile… you get the picture) wrong, and cut it based on that incorrect marking. You’ll end up with either:

  • A piece that’s too long, and you have to trim it again; thus taking extra time you don’t really want to spend; or
  • A piece that’s too short, doesn’t fit, and requires you to make a second fill-in piece, or to shove in extra fill material, or just scrap it altogether and add to your waste pile.

Neither of these is a good option.

But where does this education come from? It comes from those men who’ve spent thirty years or more on the scaffolding laying ten thousand bricks to build a wall; or standing in the hole laying blocks for hours and hours and hours to make a foundation; or in the 101-degree oven of a Midwestern July afternoon fitting a re-roof and sweating gallons. These professionals know the value of efficiency and the cost of inefficiency. They’re Stan, and John, and Darren, and J.D., who I worked with for many summers growing up. I labored for them, and they taught me lessons I’m applying 25 years later.

So when they say to “measure twice”, you know they’re talking truth. They know the value of maximizing the precision of your first effort and minimizing the chance of re-doing it.

The Current Situation

But how does this apply to writing? Or business in general? I can’t very well measure my paper, or my computer monitor. I mean, I could, but neither would do me much good. Instead of pulling out a ruler, I’m going to apply that idea to research and writing. I’m going to look for a way to be efficient with the set-up work I do and the production that results.

When I’m researching for a client, I’ll think not only about the specific piece I’m immediately delivering. I’ll also think about related pieces I could produce if I wanted to reuse a portion for another purpose. Or, whether what I’m doing for this first project might also make sense as part of another, broader project. For example, if I were to write an article about solar panel adoption in Missouri, I’d probably also make sure to gather background statistics on solar panel adoption in the Midwest in general, as well as alternative renewable energy sources in Missouri. Having done all that work, I can write one article, and be prepared to write others with minimal new research.

The Advice

Instead of Measure twice, cut once, let’s change that a little. How about, Research once, write thrice. That’s got a similar ring, and sets you up for better results. Because putting that mindset into practice will ensure your research is comprehensive enough that you don’t have to do the same searches again the next time you have an assignment.

Plus, it gives you an opportunity to suggest follow-ups to your audience. That’s what’s known as a win-win. Thanks, Stan. You really did teach me something. And hopefully, my audience today will learn to Research once, write thrice and become that much better at what they do.

business development, fundraising industry

Hey Nonprofits! Why Aren’t You Spending MORE on Fundraising?

It’s a pretty simple question, really.

Why don’t you spend more time, more effort,

and more MONEY on fundraising? 

Look, we all know that fundraising is hard. Direct mail returns sometimes seem too low to justify the effort. Email response rates are dismal. And grant applications? Who wants to get rejected 7 times out of 10? No, thanks.

Plus, all that time spent doing fundraising is taking time away from your mission: saving animals, restoring the local greenways, or ensuring that kids don’t have to go home hungry over the weekend. I get it – fundraising isn’t why you got into the industry in the first place.

But it’s a necessary component of running your nonprofit. And there’s a hidden switch inside your fundraising process that could magically expand your funds available to do the good work waiting for you, why wouldn’t you flip it?

The good news is, it’s already there.

The bad news, though, is that you’re going to have to do some work to make it happen.

As much as I might like to say I’m the expert in everything, I’m not. I’m no botanist, social scientist, or playwright. However, I do know numbers. And the one that sticks out to me is the Cost to Raise a Dollar.

This is the standard metric within the nonprofit world, and it represents how much it takes to bring $1 in the door. For some charities, it’s less than a dime. For others, it’s up over $0.40. That’s not to judge either one as right or wrong. In fact, the national average is around $0.20 (see link for details).

So this, to me, signals the opportunity. If it only costs $0.20 to raise a dollar, that means you have a 5-to-1 return on every penny spent on fundraising! That’s up in the realm of stratospheric returns promised by many financial gurus hawking investment newsletters. If that’s the opportunity available, why wouldn’t you continue to spend more to get more?

The difference is, they’re selling you something that may or may not pan out, while you, in your organization, KNOW what your costs are and what your returns are. So, if it costs you $0.25 to raise $1.00, you can be fairly confident that if you expand your fundraising operations next year by $25,000, you should bring in an additional $100,000.

What else could you do with an additional $75,000? That’s $75,000 more rescued kittens, low-income student scholarships, or innovative gallery exhibits. Or, think about this. Maybe you reinvest that excess the next year and turn it into $300,000. Do it once more and now you’re at $1,000,000. WHOA.

It comes down to this: If you could earn those additional funds next year, simply by flipping the switch and expanding your fundraising operations, what’s stopping you? If you can think of three good reasons why putting more time and money into fundraising wouldn’t provide you with the standard 3-to-1, 5-to-1, or even 10-to-1 returns, then you shouldn’t do it.

But I’m betting you won’t have those three good reasons. Probably just one, “It’s not in our budget.” And if that’s true, then we have another conversation to have. But, if you’re willing to at least ask the question of whether you can get more by doing more, it means it’s probably time to consider expanding your fundraising efforts. So: what’s holding you back?

business development, craft, fundraising industry

The 7 People You Meet While Networking; and Why You’ll Only Work With 1 of Them

There’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times:

You’ll only work with people you know, like, and trust.

And after a year of freelancing and building my brand and business, I’m fully convinced of the truth of that statement. Since I’ve been on my own, I’ve met quite a few people. And I’m not working with them all. Nor should I.

This article will explain the 7 different people you meet while networking and demonstrate why they’re not right for you. Whether you want to work with someone is all based on combinations of knowing, liking, and trusting them.

1. People you KNOW, but don’t LIKE or TRUST.

It’s easy to meet people. Walk up to them, stick out a hand, and say, “Hi, I’m Stephan.” Have a 3-minute conversation, and you’ll know someone.

But you might not like them, or trust them. You might not like their business – perhaps they recycle old tired into playground cover material, and you are adamant that those old tires should be burnt. And you might not trust them, either, to do what they say they’re going to do. Perhaps that’s because you saw a LinkedIn endorsement that says “Hey, K. is a fabulous real estate agent,” and one from just a month before that says “K. Is the most awesome kindergarten teacher in the county.” If you see that, do you trust that K. is now going to be dedicated to your cause of IT recruiting?

Who knows, which is why K. is someone you might not trust. And so you’re not going to work with her. She’s just as likely to come in tomorrow as to leave you high and dry. And you can’t afford downtime like that.

2. People you LIKE, but don’t KNOW or TRUST

This category is for people in the public eye who align with your goals, but you don’t know them personally. YouTube stars, television celebrities, paid endorsers of one kind or another. Even local celebrities of one kind or another. Or to put it more blunt: “St. Louis Famous.” They might champion causes you agree with. You might know these [Your City Here] Famous people, but you probably won’t agree to do business with them. If they were to approach you with an opportunity, you’d politely decline.

Why? Because you don’t know them or trust them. You don’t know them because it’s hard to get to know them. It’s hard to understand whether these people really like you, too, or if it’s an act. They’re pretty good at the act, which is usually how they got to be however famous they are, and because of that it will take a longer time to get there.

3. People you TRUST, but don’t KNOW or LIKE

These are, again, people with reputations, but not the kind you want to be associated with. In the political world, they might be the Koch Brothers (on the right) or labor unions (on the left). The point is, you TRUST them to live out certain values, but you don’t like what values they espouse. So why would you want to do business with them?

More personally, this might be people you meet who just rub you the wrong way. Maybe you hear about them from another in your networking group. Maybe you read an article they’re featured in and decide, “Yeah, not worth my time.” However you learn about them, it’s clear you’re not going to be seeking them out.

So that’s all the people who only fit one category. What about those who fit 2?

4. People you KNOW and LIKE, but don’t TRUST

This is your lazy friend from high school. You know, the one who’s always promising to pay you back next Tuesday for a hamburger today. [Somebody get that reference!] When you see these people, you like them. You’ve hung out with them. You’ve joked around and kidded with them.

But, in the end, you realize that they’re just not going to follow through on what they said. They’ll promise one thing and fail to deliver. Then they’ll try to convince you that it wasn’t their fault, that something else got in the way, and that you should give them just one more chance. Please! They’re good for it.

And if you agree, they’ll fail you once more. For going against what you know you should do, you deserve that one.

5. People you KNOW and LIKE, but don’t TRUST

So who falls into this category? These are the people who have parallel non-business interests as you. They could be intelligent, well-read, travel in the same social circles as you do, and have similar hobbies. It wouldn’t be surprising to find many in this world like that. So what’s the problem?

Mostly it’s people who have different goals than you do. They might be trying to build your next new competitor. Or they might be trying to take down one of your current business partners. Perhaps they just got a new contract that’s going to squeeze your supply chain and potentially put you out of business. Not a good fit.

The fact that their goals don’t align with yours mean that you can’t trust them to do business together. They might say that they would be able to handle a conflict of interest, but when it comes down to it, we’re all going to look out for ourselves. We might say we’d act independently. In reality, though, we’re more likely to perform in ways which further our own vested self-interest. Same goes for them. Steer clear.

6. People you LIKE and TRUST, but don’t KNOW

These are the celebrities (local, regional, national, or international names) who are perfect for you. They align with your brand, your goals, and your ways of doing business.

The only problem is that you can’t talk to them. You don’t know them! You want to, and you want to be able to have that relationship. So you send a dozen e-mails one week, and call every day the next, and even blog about your future perfect partnership, calling them out and tagging on every social media platform. But you just can’t get any traction.

Because to them, you’re just another face in the crowd. You’ll need some way to stand out. And until you do, until you have that one-on-one connection, probably from someone who already knows the two of you and can bring you together, it’s going to remain just a dream.

And that brings us to your ideal business partner:

7. People you KNOW, LIKE, and TRUST

It’s been said before, and it will be said again, but these are your ideal business or referral partners. These are the people who are aligned with you, your goals, and the way you do business.

And it doesn’t even mean they’ll be your clients, or vice versa. These could be referral partners who know you, know your business, and what you’re trying to do. They could be simply advocates for you, and provide you a good little testimonial or endorsement. They could write you a LinkedIn recommendation. [I just did that today! Three months late, but who’s counting?] There’s lots of different ways to maximize this relationship.

The point is, you’ll have lots of connections. You might not be able to immediately figure out which category people will fall into when you first meet them. Give it time. Don’t rush it, because mistakes could hurt your bottom line and your reputation. But when you find those that you know, like, and trust, you’ll both be better off for it.

In Conclusion

You’ll run across many of these 7 people when you’re out building a business, no matter what that business is, and no matter whether that business is for-profit or not-for-profit. You’ll even meet these people in your personal relationships, or you might find them in a governing body like your city council. You’ll meet all of them at one point or another, and eventually you’ll see that they’re not all wrong.

They’re just not all right.