business development, craft, Writing improvement

Stop Saying “Thank You”

There are times when saying “Thank you” is appropriate. When the person in front of you holds a door open, you should be appreciativeWhen you receive a gift, Thank you is totally fine. Expected, even. If you don’t say that, if you don’t express gratitude, you’re indicating a supreme lack of character or knowledge about the world. And unless you’re 3 years old, claiming that you didn’t know what to do isn’t going to cut it.

But there are other situations when Thank you isn’t right. Even worse, Thank you so much has become my pet peeve. I’ll leave that for another time, because right now I’d like to expand on why saying Thank you is sometimes inappropriate, and may even be confusing your audience. Paradoxically, this may be one of reasons you’re seeing lower engagement and ultimately poorer results than you may be able to achieve.

The thing is, that audience likely doesn’t even recognize what’s going on, because it’s not so obvious. It’s pretty subtle.

The biggest problem right now with Thank you is that people and businesses are using it at the wrong time. Where is it most wrong? [Wrongest? Incorrectest? Least right? Whatever.] Ironically, it’s most wrong in the place it shows up the most these days: In an autoresponder.

Now, if you’re like I think you are, you probably just said, “Wait, what?” Allow me to explain.

But first, let me back up. Just a little.

 

What Is An Autoresponder?

You’ve seen the list-building tool which is a [SIGN UP FOR OUR MAILING LIST] button on virtually all websites. I think it’s something like 99.9% of the websites in the world have this option. You put your name and e-mail address into a couple of boxes, click a button, and you’re good to go.

Now, the company presenting the website has your e-mail address, and they use this to send you an e-mail automatically. It’s responding to your action of giving up your address, and it happens automatically. Thus, autoresponder.

Very rarely is it an altruistic gesture on your part to give up your e-mail address. You’ve done it because you want something – perhaps some cryptocurrency trading tips, or a special report on the future of self-cleaning clothes. Whatever that thing is, it’s billed as a fair and open transaction: you signed up, the company (or the individual) send you a message, and you both are supposed to go on about your day.

 

You Don’t Like Autoresponders?

That’s not what I’m saying. I’m talking about the message that those autoresponders are sending to your clients. And in this case, the message is not the left-to-right words on the page. It’s not even the e-mail newsletter or publication list itself. I’m talking, specifically, those first Thank you for signing up messages that everyone uses. Because they present a different immediate image than was intended.

These e-mail newsletters are, on the surface, supposed to be ways for the audience to stay informed, or to get specific [insert business here] tips, or ideas to spark joy, or something like that.

In reality, the businesses are using these lists to create additional brand loyalty, or to drive a potential sale, or to add you to the funnel for future sales.  They don’t tell you that, but that is what’s happening. 

They often look like this: (I’m paraphrasing from one in my e-mail inbox right now. I’m going to change the details a little bit so I don’t sour the relationship with this guy :-/)

Welcome!

Thanks again for subscribing to our [business type] tip e-newsletter.

Keep watching for more helpful hints over the next couple of weeks. You’ll get a message every Thursday.

So, if you’re a rational person, you’re wondering how can I possibly have a problem with that? It’s polite, it’s not pushy and asking for a sale too quickly, it’s a fast response from the time of sign-up (virtually instantaneous!) so the audience doesn’t forget what they’ve done, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space in my mind. Quick, easy, simple, what could be wrong with that?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that.

He [generic he, insert “she” for any females who do similar actions] said Thanks.

Wait…

 

Is That A Problem?

Yeah. I think it is.

Remember, when you say Thank you, you recognize that someone else has done something for your benefit. Holding the door; picking up dropped books; giving you the best orgasm you ever had. You, the recipient of the action, feel better for the experience. And so you respond in the only appropriate way: you say Thank you.

In this situation, an e-mail list owner saying Thank you for signing up is giving the impression that the action was done for the e-mail list owner’s benefit.

Not for the benefit of the one who signed up!

This is cognitive dissonance at its best: the action and reaction aren’t part of the same sequence. Action: sign up for a list to receive tips about [whatever business]. Reaction: instead of getting tips, get sold products through that list (or corresponding actions, like phone calls, direct mail, etc.). At least, that’s the impression your audience is receiving, when you present the image that their sign-up benefited you.

Now, I’m not advocating that you shouldn’t use an e-mail list. Frankly, it can be a pretty powerful tool, given appropriate list selection, message, timing, offer, etc.

And I’m not advocating to eliminate your autoresponder. Both are valuable.

Provided, that is, your audience doesn’t feel like they’ve been deceived. If they get that dissonant experience, they’ll likely start building a subconscious picture of you as a deceiver. Not one that they could put into words, but just a feeling they have.

And, to be frank, most people won’t recognize it. Not on the surface, anyway. It’s going to go much deeper than that. Something just doesn’t sit right with them when they receive your e-mails. Perhaps they don’t open them, or if they do, only open every so often. Why?

Well, if you ask that audience, they might say, “I’m too busy.” Or, “It’s too long.” Maybe even “I get so much already, I don’t have time to read something else!” Well, then, I’d ask, Why did you sign up for the e-mail in the first place? And what changed?

The original sign-up was to get tips and tricks for [whatever] business. What changed was the perception of that business from one that wanted to educate me and give me tips, to one that wanted to sell to me. Thus my disengagement and disinterest with your e-newsletter.

 

What Does That Mean?

At the simplest, it means that people who actually do sign up for your e-mail list will immediately get the impression that what they’ve done is for your benefit, not theirs. That attitude will persist throughout their life on your list. And because that’s their perception, they’ll be less likely to stay on the list… less likely to buy… less likely to tell someone else about it.

In short, saying Thank you at this point is completely wrong, because it turns the focus back to the company, rather than keeping it squarely on the audience.

 

So, What Should We Do Differently?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with being polite. And there’s nothing wrong with selling someone through your list. But just be clear about the intentions up-front. Don’t act with a bait-and-switch mentality.

That means that instead of thanking them for signing up for the list, congratulate them. And perhaps it’s not so obvious as “Congratulations, you could be a winner!” That’s just as false. But there are plenty of other ways to think about the customer’s perspective in that action, and acknowledge it in a way that matches their intention.

It could be as simple as only a few words of revision that are needed. Maybe it’s as easy as rewriting the example from above as:

Welcome!

You’ve done a good thing today. The [business type] tips you’ll receive every Thursday will help you [do that business better].

Can you see how it’s a subtle shift? Thank you puts the emphasis on the business as the beneficiary. Turning it around with You’ve done a good thing is consistent with what the signer-upper thought they were doing, and keeps the action and reaction in the same line.

This consistency is likely to lead to greater reader open rates… greater engagement… higher reputation… and, ultimately, a better-performing list.

Give it a try. Change up your autoresponder, and see what happens with those who sign up and receive the Well done message instead of the Thank you message. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

craft, Writing improvement

A Reading List For Life

In the next couple of months I’m going to be rolling out a book review series of business-type titles I’ve read recently. These are on my list because others have recommended them to me as I’m building my freelance business, as I’m networking, and as I’m just coming across interesting titles. That’s for another time, though. For now, I’d like to offer a different kind of reading list.

A reading list for anyone, regardless of what business you’re in, what job you do, or where you are in your relationships, spiritual journey, or in your training to hike the Sonora Desert with just two tubs of peanut butter for sustenance.

These are books that I think anyone would enjoy. Moreover, these are books that anyone would get value from, either in a new perspective on the world, new insights about personhood, or an interesting, deeper view of a subject than you can find on social media.

 

Writing Books

Elements of Style; Strunk & White

Strunk and White cover

This is the classic “how to make your writing better” book. It’s short, to the point, and doesn’t pull any punches. Whether you write for a living or not, reading this will give you a more persuasive way to say virtually anything you write.

The 10% Solution; Ken Rand

10Percent solution

This short volume challenges anyone to go back after they’ve gotten everything written and then cut 10% . Rand gives some tips on how to do it, but, more importantly, it’s the why that matters. When you’re trying to influence another, whether it be through written or spoken word, forcing a cut of 10% while still keeping the main message ensures that you’ve critically thought about what you want to say and the most effective way to say it.

Writing Down the Bones; Natalie Goldberg

writing down the bones

My instructor introduced this book when I was taking a creative writing course in college. Written by a poet and writer, about the writing process, Writing Down the Bones has been my guide for directing my writing practice for over 20 years. Highly recommended for inspiration on how to break away from the world, some rules to follow when writing, and general ideas about what to write about.

 

Inspiration / Memoir

Into Thin Air; John Krakauer

Into thin air

Krakauer tells the true-life story of a tragedy on Mount Everest. He is a journalist, so he brings a deft touch to telling the story of loss and misfortune. However, more than simply reporting what happened, Krakauer tells a true-life story with an intensity and authenticity rarely experienced in other narratives, because he lived it. He was a member of the expedition whose goal was to summit the highest peak on the planet, and his unique combination of journalistic skill and mountaineering background give readers a perspective unmatched in exploration narratives.

Never Let Go; Dan John

Never Let Go

Dan John is a former weight lifting and throwing coach for the United States Olympic Track & Field Team (at least, that’s how I remember it). This combination of memoir / essay / just-do-it missive is the first book I’ve ever read cover-to-cover and then went immediately to page 1 to do it again. John talks about weightlifting, about training, about mental and physical discipline, about diet, and about how to actually achieve results, not just talk about them.

When Breath Becomes Air; Paul Kalanithi

when breath becomes air

What do you do when diagnosed with a terminal illness? Kalanithi, a highly-acclaimed surgeon, decided to write down his thoughts as he experienced them, and luckily for us decided to publish them. “That morning, I made a decision; I would push myself to return to the OR. Why? Because I could. Because that’s who I was. Because I would have to learn to live in a  different way, seeing death as an imposing itinerant visitor but knowing that even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.”

 

Reframe Everything You Thought You Knew About A Popular Subject

Why We Get Fat; Gary Taubes

why we get fat

The old adage is Calories In (minus) Calories Out (equals) Change in Weight. If Calories In is more than Calories Out, we’ll gain weight, and vice versa. Taubes distills his weighty academic tome Good Calories, Bad Calories into a popular version, and for the good. Why We Get Fat examines, and refutes, many simplistic notions of weight gain and loss using scientific research. And he points out places where it would be good for more science, but we just don’t have it yet. This is essential for understanding that sometimes (okay, often), complex systems are complex.

Dataclysm; Christian Rudder

dataclysm

We’ve all seen the rise in dating apps like Tinder and OK Cupid. Dataclysm is from OK Cupid founder Christian Rudder, and provides a lot of behind-the-scenes information and analysis. The point of this book is that as much as people may say they wish for certain characteristics in their romantic partner, their actions tell a different story. Applications to marketing, to business, and to personal life abound.

The Prophet; Khalil Gibran

the prophet

This is a blend of philosophy, religion, and poetry. In The Prophet, the Prophet himself educates a town on their ignorance of the true valuable priorities in life: what work is, what money is, what society is, what love is. I loved reading this simply for the different perspective it offers on how to live a good life and the interconnectedness of us all.

 

Good Fun

The Calvin & Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book; Bill Watterson

calvin and hobbes

Watterson was at the top of the world with Calvin & Hobbes, his beloved comic strip about a young boy and his best friend. The 10th Anniversary Book explains much of Watterson’s thought process around developing the strip, the characters, even his arguments with his syndicate over licensing issues. Not just for fans,

The Sparrow; Mary Doria Russell

the sparrow

This sci-fi novel tells of the journey and return of Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest sent to Rakhat to proselytize the natives and save their souls. Many times sci-fi completely glosses over or ignores religion, both of us and them. In my opinion, this book provides the best treatment of considerations of religion in such a context.

The Time Traveler’s Wife; Audrey Niffenegger

time travelers wife

Another sci-fi, and this one was just amazing. Henry and Claire have a fantastic relationship, despite his inability to control his time traveling. But be careful – Henry’s life and Claire’s intersect in ways too numerous to count, and with consequences neither could have foreseen.

Hooway for Wodney Wat; Helen Lester

wodney wat

I love this book! I read it out loud to my daughter one evening, and the first time through I could not stop laughing. Yes, it’s a great children’s story with a classical message, but the physical joy of reading this one out loud is what makes it special.

 

What Do You Think?

Have you read any of these? Would you recommend something different to add to this list? Think I’m completely off-base? Leave me a message and let’s start the discussion. Cheers.

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

And 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 will learn to Research once, write thrice and become that much better at what they do.